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A New Dimension
NOT LEAST AMONG THE effects of the Australian Revolution was the sudden modernization of the art of warfare. In 1880 there were already in existence many weapons, or potential weapons, which, thanks to the conservatism of the admirals, generals and politicians, were either derided or completely ignored. There was, for example, the steam-operated Gatling cannon, with its rate of fire far higher than that of the hand-operated models. There was the Andrews Airship, a dirigible that flew successfully, with a crew of four, over New York in 1865. Quite fantastically its inventor, Dr. Solomon Andrews, was unable to obtain the backing of either military or commercial interests. (Today’s readers, of course, will be familiar with the Andies, the small, unpowered airships that are now used only for sport and pleasure.)
It was the Andrews Airship that added an extra dimension to warfare.
Nonetheless it cannot be denied that chance played a great part in the history of our infant nation. Had it not been for the severe injuries sustained by Ned Kelly at the Second Battle of Glenrowan, as a result of which his days as a horseman were finished, it is unlikely that, even though he was an innovator, he would have taken the interest that he did in what many of his lieutenants referred to as “new-fangled contraptions.”
As it was, however, he took personal command of the first of the armored trains—although it is said that he wept openly when his quick-firing Gatling guns mowed down Colonel Sturrock’s cavalry in the action just south of Wangaratta. He never took kindly to the painfully slow, armored traction engines, effective war vehicles though they were.
But Francis Bannerman’s salesman, representing both his employer and Solomon Andrews II (the son of the inventor), had no great difficulty in interesting him in the Aereon. One attractive feature was that the ship—or ships—could be manufactured locally. The gas cells would be made from varnished linen. There was plenty of light wood—or even bamboo—for the basket. The necessary cordage could soon be obtained from the Port Melbourne ship chandlers.
With every ship constructed, however, a substantial royalty would have to be paid to Mr. Solomon Andrews in Perth Amboy. It is said that this factor almost persuaded Kelly not to go ahead with the deal, notwithstanding the substantial monetary contributions pouring in from Kelly sympathizers in the United States and elsewhere.
The salesman played his trump card. If the deal were made regarding the Andrews Airship, then the Army of the Revolution could have, for no charge whatsoever, the complete specifications of Professor Lowe’s mobile hydrogen gas generator, the device used for inflating the Northern observation balloons during the War Between the States.
“What about an instructor?” asked Kelly, on the point of signing on the dotted line.
“Surely you’ve a balloonist or two in your country, General,” countered the salesman. “And don’t forget that I’ll be supplying all of old Dr. Andrews’ records. Why, once you get the hang of it it’ll be as easy as riding a horse!”
For a moment—if we are to believe Kelly’s own records of the war—it was touch and go. That reference to horses hit him where it hurt. And yet … like riding a horse? Would it be like riding a horse? There would be skill required, great skill not unlike the skills of horsemanship. There would be speed, and the sensation of speed, and the wind in his hair and his beard.
In essential details those early Andrews dirigibles differed little from today’s racing models, although, of course, they were much larger. Positive buoyancy, however, was attained by the dumping of ballast; for negative buoyancy it was necessary to valve gas. Helium, as a lifting medium, was not yet dreamed of—but, apart from its flammability, hydrogen is superior. The battery-driven compressor, by means of which, in the modern Andy, lift is reduced, was still many years in the future.
But there was the double “hull”, the two side-by-side sausages. There was the intricate network of
cordage from which depended the almost canoe-like basket. There was the rudder, mounted abaft the gasbags, with the control lines from it to a simple tiller. Just forward of the tiller and to one side was the inclinometer, no more than a pendulum and a graduated scale.
In those days, however, there were no easily handled cylinders of helium gas. Instead there was the lead-lined wooden tank on wheels, in which were the shelves upon which the iron filings were spread. There were the carboys of undiluted sulphuric acid and the barrels of water and, from the tank itself, the pipe running first to the box-like purifier (in which a lime solution removed undesirable taints from the hydrogen), then to the cooler (in which the gas was bubbled through water), then to the slowly swelling balloons.
It was a “Professor” Duval who became General Kelly’s Chief Aeronaut.
Duval, with free ballooning experience in both Europe and the USA, had come to Australia some weeks prior to the First Battle of Glenrowan (still referred to by the English as the Glenrowan Massacre), hoping to make money for himself by exhibition flights. With the outbreak of the Revolution, however, there was no great demand for such entertainment. The Francis Bannerman salesman knew of him, however, found him in his squalid lodgings in Melbourne, and persuaded him to enlist under the banner of the Harp and Southern Cross.
His expertise was of great value in the construction of the first Aereon. He was inclined to sulk because there was no silk available for making the gasbags, but, said Kelly, if varnished linen had been good enough for Dr. Andrews it should be good enough for him. He refused, too, to have anything to do with Lowe’s mobile hydrogen gas generator.
“I’m an aeronaut, General!” he exclaimed, “not a chemist!”
“How did ye fill yer balloons, then?” asked Kelly.
“Even in Australia,” said Duval, “almost every town has its gasworks.”
“An’ am I to fight my battles, Mr. Duval, only in places where there’s a gasworks handy?” Kelly asked rhetorically.
“But … but, General, do you mean to fight in that thing?”
“But I thought it was just for observation.”
“Who wants to observe when he can be doing something useful?”
So it was a Mr. Brown, erstwhile chemist’s assistant, who became what was, in effect, Chief of the Ground Staff. The men detailed to assist him hated the work.
But Brown drilled them, and drilled them, and by the time that the first dirigible was completed the chemist was confident that, using two generators, inflation could be carried out in-less than six hours.
Actually it was nearer to seven.
Work was commenced at sunrise, at about 5:30 AM, and at 12:30 the double gasbag was taut-skinned, the sunlight reflected from the shiny brown surface. The bottom of the car, however, was resting on the ground, Duval having seen to it that a considerable weight of stones had been loaded into it. Fortunately there was no wind; the ground crew had yet to gain experience in handling an airship prior to lift-off in all conditions.
Kelly emerged from the tent in which he had been lunching with his officers. He looked, Joe Byrne said later, as though he were dressed for a wedding. He was wearing a well-tailored green uniform, high-collared, double-breasted, with brightly gleaming brass buttons. There was more gold at his collar and on his sleeves, and the golden harp badge shone brightly on the band of his wide-brimmed green hat. His flared breeches were thrust into highly polished black boots.
“All that was missing,” said Byrne, “was a pair of golden spurs…. ” But he was limping badly,
lurching, almost. It must have spoiled the effect.
Duval, too, was in uniform, one of his own design, based on that of a Hungarian Hussar officer. (It was the rig that he had always worn as a showman when making his free balloon ascents. He looked, said Byrne, like an organ grinder’s monkey.) He was a little man, dwarfed by the giant, bearded Kelly.
According to all accounts, despite the bravely upthrusting points of his waxed moustache, he looked
scared. “But Ned,” (Byrne again), “he looked like a boy on his way to tumble some fair colleen…. “
While Brown, in his shabby, acid-spotted clothing, fussed around like an anxious mother hen, the two men clambered into the car—first Duval, then the General. Duval —who, after all, was an experienced balloonist—negotiated the network of suspension lines without great difficulty. The much larger Kelly had trouble. But he got through at last.
Then an argument started, audible to all around the dirigible. Kelly, it was obvious, was insisting that he was in command for this maiden flight.
“But, General,” Duval was expostulating, “you’re not a balloonist. I am. Am I not your Chief Aeronaut?”
“Have ye ever flown one o’ these things, before, Mr. Duval? Tell me the truth.”
“No, but…. “
“Then just do as ye’re told. Start heavin’ out the rocks!”
The little man obeyed while General Kelly stood in the after part of the car, his big right hand grasping the tiller. Brown was looking more and more worried. According to his calculations—and to those of Duval — there was enough lift in those two-hundred-foot-long sausages to carry five men of Kelly’s weight aloft, all being well….
Then the forward end of the car was lifting from the ground. There was a ragged cheer as men saw that the dirigible was gliding ahead, was lifting. She was airborne, gliding upwards at a shallow angle, with General Kelly standing tall and proud at the tiller. She was increasing speed through the air as she lifted. Something green fell from the car, fluttered slowly earthwards. It was the General’s hat.
But would she clear those tall eucalyptus trees? Men heard, faintly, Kelly roaring orders to Duval.
More rocks were jettisoned and then the little man scampered aft to trim the ship further by the stern.
She cleared the treetops with feet to spare.
She was turning then, coming around in a great, lazy arc, still rising. When she returned over the camp she was all of a thousand feet high. “It ain’t natural!” somebody was shouting. “It ain’t natural! It’s the Devil’s own work!”
“God made the laws of nature.” said Brown, who, it seems, had his pious moments. “God made the laws of nature, and we’re doing no more than to use what He gave us…. “
The airship was no more than a speck in the northern sky, almost invisible in the glare of the sun, when she turned again. She was losing altitude slowly, gliding in at a shallow angle. Before long those with keen eyesight could see that Duval was now at the tiller and that Kelly was in the middle of the car, leaning outwards. He was holding something in his hands.
In spite of Brown’s protests somebody had lit a cooking fire, although it was some distance from the gas generators. Over it was a tripod, and hanging from this a cauldron in which was cooking a mutton stew for an evening meal for some of the men. The falling rock struck one leg of the tripod, which collapsed. Contents of the cauldron were scattered over the grass and into the fire.
Everybody, except the men whose meal had been ruined, thought that it was very funny.
Then, slowly, the ship settled, almost in exactly the same place from which she had lifted. Brown and his men took hold of the edges of the car and the suspension network, while others hurried to the scene with more rocks. It would not do to waste too much hydrogen to compensate for the loss of weight when the two aeronauts disembarked.
Joe Byrne lounged up.
“And so ye’re goin’ ter drop rocks on the English bastards, Ned?”
“Not rocks, Joe,” said the General. “Not rocks…. “
At that time the only military explosive in general use was gunpowder. The bombshell, fired from muzzle-loading cannon, was a hollow ball filled with black powder and with a fuse ignited by the discharge. Nonetheless dynamite was in existence, although used only in mining operations. Fulminate of mercury and guncotton were both available.
Until the Australian Revolution, Francis Bannerman in New York had dealt only in second-hand
arms. Among his employees, however, were those who were sympathetic to the Australian rebels (as he
was himself) and who, like Ned Kelly, were innovators. It could be argued, of course, that Kelly’s use of body armor during his early career was a backward rather than a forward step—but had it not been for this protection it is probable that he would not have survived to become the founding father of the Australian Republic.
There are fragmentary records of a meeting held between Francis Bannerman and his more imaginative salesmen in the offices of the Army & Navy Surplus Stores on Broadway, New York.
One of the salesmen said, “The trouble with you, Frankie, is that you’re selling the weapons of yesterday’s war to fight today’s battles.”
“As long as the customers pay, cash on the nail, why should I worry, Mick?”
“Sure, Frankie, they’re paying. But that’s not the way for us to make real money.”
“Show me a better one.”
“Sell the customers the weapons of tomorrow’s war to fight today’s battles. We’ve a marvelous proving ground Down Under. There’ll be observers from all the major powers. We’ll buy the rights to construct the Andrews Airship from old Dr. Solomon Andrews’ son. We’ll encourage Dr. Gatling to do what he’s always talking about—make a machine gun worked by a little steam engine instead of some poor bastard sweating his guts out turning a handle. We’ll…. “
“That airship,” said Bannerman thoughtfully. “Would it carry guns? Could it lift one of those new-fangled Gatlings you’re talking about, complete with ammunition and the steam engine and the coal to boil the boiler …?”
“The Steam Gatling,” said the salesman, “will be an ideal weapon to fit aboard steamships and armored trains. But not aboard an airship. Apart from anything else there’s the fire hazard…. “
“So what’ll your bold aeronauts be using, Mick? Bows and arrows?”
“No, Frankie. Bombs.”
“Then, taking the words from your own mouth, what about the fire hazard? Somebody’ll have to strike a match to light the bomb fuses before droppin ’em.”
“I’ve a man, Frankie, who’s a mining engineer. He’s used to working with dynamite. He’s told me how a dynamite bomb could be made. There’ll be the main charge and, sitting inside it in its own little cannister, what he calls the primer. Guncotton he’s thinking of using. And inside of the primer there’ll be the detonator —fulminate of mercury. I don’t need to tell you that that’s very touchy stuff. So—you drop the bomb. It hits, hard. The fulminate goes off. The guncotton goes off. Then the dynamite. I, for one, wouldn’t want to be around when the Big Bang happens.”
“And if these bombs work,” said Bannerman thoughtfully, “we’ll be in on the ground floor. If the airships work, that is…. All right, Mick, you just carry on unloading the second-hand stuff on to Hanrahan
so that the next shipload of Irish Volunteers is armed as well as the Union Army was at Gettysburg. And I’ll be seeing Mr. Solomon Andrews in Perth Amboy and Dr. Gatling at Hartford….
“I’ll say this for you—you’re a salesman. I like the way you put it—fighting today’s war with the weapons of the next one. Now all you have to do is convince the man Kelly and his American backers. I hope you do —if only to wipe the grin off the faces of the lousy British!”
The eventual success of the Australian Revolution owed much to the inventive genius of two men—Solomon Andrews and Richard Gatling. Both were prolific inventors. Both were more than merely competent physicians—and yet they owe their fame to the killing machines that they produced. The British and pro-British forces fighting in Australia were, of course, equipped with Gatling guns but, once the supply of arms from the USA was in full swing, only the Australian Army and Navy had at their disposal the steam-operated weapons with their bigger caliber and far higher rate of fire. It is on record that both Francis Bannerman and Dr. Gatling tried to interest the British military establishment in these weapons. One elderly General is supposed to have said, “Damn it, sir! Warfare is for soldiers, not engineers!”
Similarly, neither the War Office nor the Admiralty wanted anything to do with Dr. Solomon Andrews’ Aereon. High-ranking bureaucrats, admirals, and generals were quite unanimous: “If God had meant us to fly, He’d have given us wings.”
British sympathizers must have seen the test flights of the first of the Andrews airships —Pride of Erin. Word must have reached Imperial Army Headquarters in Sydney of the thing that flew against the wind, swooping and soaring, circling. But neither for the first time in history nor the last were eyewitness reports disbelieved and derided.
So the rebels had a balloon. So what? Observation balloons were nothing new. They had their uses but, in the long run, they were rather more trouble than they were worth. A balloonist could watch a cavalry charge but he couldn’t do anything to stop it.
Meanwhile the first consignment of dynamite bombs arrived in Adelaide—then still in Imperial hands
— packed in cases which, according to the ship’s manifest, contained canned meats. By an overland route they found their way first to Melbourne and then to General Kelly’s headquarters at Glenrowan.
The arrival of the train with the new bombs was the only good news that day. The pro-British forces were making a determined thrust south from the New South Wales border, with horse, foot and artillery. General Kelly had sent one of his armored trains, under Colonel Hart, north to stem the advance. In an earlier action, near Wangaratta, the Imperial cavalry had attempted to charge one of these monsters but had been mown down—but even the cavalry commanders of those days were capable of learning by experience.
This time there was a pretended retreat, a withdrawal before the deadly 11/2-inch Gatling cannon, firing cannister, could be brought to bear. A small party of brave men, hidden in the bushes at the side of the track, remained behind. It was their duty to jerk the wires that would initiate the detonation of the mines buried under the permanent way.
It was a Lieutenant Coverley of the Royal Artillery who was in charge. Had he survived the engagement it is probable that he would have reached high rank in the military profession. He allowed the two leading cars, which were forward of the locomotive, to pass over the explosive charges, giving the order to fire only when the engine was almost at the danger point.
According to contemporary accounts the locomotive rose bodily into the air in a cloud of smoke and steam, disintegrating as it did so. When it came down there was another explosion— this time the boiler. Colonel Hart, the driver, Angus McPhail, and the two firemen, Peter Wherret and Isaac Sangster, were all killed.
But, fantastically, none of the cars was overturned although those behind the engine, four of them, were all derailed. In one of these were six horses. Captain McVicar ordered these disembarked and then sent Sergeant Murphy and Private Kennedy galloping to Wangaratta, which was in Rebel hands, so that an urgent telegram, with news of the disaster, could be despatched to Glenrowan.
The news reached Kelly while Brown—now Major Brown— the pharmacist turned military engineer, was supervising the unpacking of the dynamite bombs. They had been shipped unassembled—the bombs themselves, plain metal cylinders with open tubes running through them longitudinally, the primers, smaller cylinders that would fit inside the tubes, and the “pistols”, each with a nipple containing fulminate of mercury that, when the bomb was armed, would fit snugly into the can of guncotton. Each item, of course, was in its own packing case and the detonators were nested in cotton wool.
Major Brown became aware that Kelly was bellowing orders.
“Duval—I want the Pride of Erin airborne! Yes, now! Never mind the leak —just daub it with tar or something! Brown! Where the hell are ye? Get that generator o’ yours workin’! An’ how many riflemen can the Pride carry?”
Brown walked to where Kelly was still roaring orders. “What’s wrong, General?”
“What’s wrong, ye ask? The bastard British have got Steve and his train, that’s what. At Byawalla. The only way that we can get help to them in time is by air…. “
“With four riflemen in an airship, General?”
“How else, damn ye?”
“But the bombs have come.”
“The bombs… ,” repeated Kelly. “The bombs…. ” Then, “Are ye sure they’ll work?”
“The thing that scares me,” said Brown, “is that they might work too soon!”
Fortunately his men were capable of operating the hydrogen gas generator without his supervision, and while he was assembling the bombs—priming but not arming them—the Pride of Erin, the wrinkles smoothing out from her starboard gasbag (the one with the slow leak), was straining at the mooring lines that secured her to the ground. Duval—according to Joe Byrne—looked as though he were about to shit himself as he watched. Kelly had decided that the Chief Aeronaut would be the pilot and that he, himself, would be the bombardier. Apart from anything else, he was one of the few men in the camp capable of lifting one of the dynamite cannisters by himself.
Brown had four of the bombs loaded into the car and ballast thrown out to compensate. Using a fifth bomb he gave Kelly hasty instructions. “When the bombs are primed, General, they’re still fairly safe—but once you shove home the ‘pistol,’ the detonator, like so, the slightest jar is apt to set them off. Here are the four ‘pistols’ for the bombs that you’ll be carrying….
“Arm the bombs now!” ordered Kelly.
“But, General…. “
“When I carry a weapon, Major Brown, I want it ready for use at once, not after ten minutes or so fartin’ about!” So Brown armed the four bombs in the airship’s car.
At three o’clock on the afternoon of a fine summer’s day, with the wind blowing from the north at about five knots, the Pride of Erin lifted sluggishly from the Kelly headquarters. Many history books give this date, December 14, 1883, as that of the first bombing raid in history. This is not correct. In
1849 the Austrians attempted to bomb Venice from unmanned Montgolfier balloons. Nonetheless the Battle of Byawalla was the first occasion when bombs were dropped from a manned aircraft.
Despite the head wind the Pride of Erin made good time. The hastily applied patch on the envelope of the starboard gasbag— a square of linen stitched on with coarse thread and smeared with hot beeswax — seemed to be holding. Ballast—there was not much of it to play with—was dumped, and the dirigible glided skywards at a shallow angle. At about 2000 feet Duval, increasingly worried about the untested repairs, valved hydrogen and made a downwards swoop. It was a shallow dive; of necessity he was sacrificing speed for the conservation of lift and ballast.
There was an altercation between the General and his Chief Balloonist, but Kelly finally saw reason— or Duval’s version of it—and allowed the aeronaut to do things his way. (It has been suggested that Duval was afraid that too steep an ascent or descent might cause the primed and armed dynamite bombs to roll, to come into violent contact with each other, thus jarring the unstable fulminate of mercury into premature detonation.)
The Aereon passed over Wangaratta, where people in the streets of the little town stared upwards, pointed, and waved. She followed the railway line to the north-east. Duval climbed again in preparation for the final swoop. The armored train was within sight. Its crew was still holding out. They were protected by the armored sides of the cars and, very fortunately as it turned out, Colonel Hart had insisted that rifles and ammunition for the entire crew be carried. Somebody had managed to convert one of the Gatlings to manual operation, but its fire was slow and hesitant.
On both sides of the track were the Imperial forces, pouring volley after disciplined volley into the crippled train. Perhaps they were not—as yet—doing much damage, but their supply of ammunition was not likely to run out.
And there was the artillery that had been brought up, two six-pounders. The guns had not yet been brought into action but they were being deployed, the crews manhandling them to a position on a low hill to the east of the railway track. The gunners, in their blue and scarlet uniforms, must have been sweating like pigs in the hot afternoon sun but they were working with calm efficiency, hauling up the ammunition carts with balls and powder, the water tubs, and the sponges on their long handles.
Nobody, either aboard the train or on the ground, looked up as the Pride of Erin swept overhead. It was General Kelly’s intention to turn and to bomb the six-pounder battery on the return run to the southward. The wind, however, was now somewhat west of north and increasing, and the dirigible was
blown off course. Duval did his best to cope with the changing circumstances, but on her final,
downswooping run the airship was coming from almost directly behind the gunners, who were in a direct line with the crippled armored train. And those cannon were now loaded, were being laid and trained.
Kelly, grunting with the effort, lifted the first of the dynamite bombs, held it out over the side of the car. He dropped it. He turned and stooped, picked up the second one, then the third, then the fourth. The Pride of Erin was rising steeply now, almost out of control. Looking down and astern Kelly saw the first bomb hit, saw the flash, and heard the ear-shattering roar. It was not quite a direct hit, but the two guns were knocked off their wheeled carriages. There was a secondary explosion as the ammunition cart went up. He saw the second and third bombs strike—falling, as he had intended, among the infantrymen.
The fourth bomb, he was to admit afterwards, he should never have dropped. He should have realized that with the rapidly increasing altitude of the airship its trajectory was extended. It scored a direct hit on that car of the armored train in which the bulk of the Gatling ammunition had been stored.
But that, at the moment, was the least of his worries.
The hastily applied patch had blown and the airship was losing altitude. Fortunately, with all his faults, Duval had developed into a superb airshipman and the Pride of Erin, with the following wind assisting her, almost made it back to Glenrowan, finally touching down on the railway lines with everything possible jettisoned, even to the uniforms of the two men, in the fight for buoyancy.
“‘Tis a pity, Ned,” said Joe Byrne, “that ye had to get our train as well as the British guns…. Sort of
throwing out the baby with the bath water…. “
“Such is life,” the General is supposed to have growled.
Dr. Solomon Andrews (1806-1872) was both a physician and a remarkably prolific inventor. His “Aereon” was patented in 1864, after its first successful flights. Quite fantastically, he was unable to gain support from either military or commercial interests and, even more fantastically, he is not represented in the Lighter Than Air Gallery of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D. C. Nonetheless, I have to thank Mr. Philip D. Edwards, one of NASM’s Technical Information Specialists, for finally unearthing for me the patent taken out by Dr. Andrews.
Professor Lowe was the Union Army’s Chief Balloonist during the War Between The States. He invented the mobile hydrogen gas generator, which was used for the inflation of observation balloons. I must thank Miss Brenda Beasley, of the National Archives, Washington, D.C., for helping me to find the specifications and operating instructions for this device.
Francis Bannerman set up as a second-hand arms merchant shortly after the conclusion of the War Between the States, purchasing both Union and Confederate weaponry and selling it to anybody as long as it was “cash on the nail.” He is reputed to have armed just about every South American revolution during the late 1800’s. I am indebted to Mr. Goins, curator of the Division of Military History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., for valuable information regarding Bannerman and his activities.
Dr. Richard Gatling invented the machine gun that bears his name, patenting it in 1862. Perhaps the steam-operated Gatling is my invention—although Gatling himself must have toyed with the idea. Nonetheless he did produce an electrically-operated gun, with a very high rate of fire, in 1890. So far as I know there were no buyers. The electrically operated Vulcan machine gun, however, used by today’s American air forces, is a direct descendant of the Gatling.
With respect to the dynamite bombs used in this story, I admit that they are modeled very closely on the depth charges that were among my toys during World War Two, although with these the ‘Pistol” was fired hydrostatically and not by impact. In actual history the first use of modern high explosive in warfare was during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).
Finally, as we know from comparatively recent history, civil wars are ideal opportunities for helpful outsiders to try out new and hitherto untested weapons.
WE PAID OFF ON Faraway, having brought the old Epsilon Pavonis all the way across the Galaxy to hand her over to her new owners, Rim Runners Incorporated. The Commission’s branch manager booked us in at the Rimrock House, one of the better hotels in Faraway City. All that we had to do was to wait for the arrival of Delta Bootis, in which vessel we were to be shipped back to Earth. The services to and from the Rim Worlds are far from frequent and none of the big passenger liners ever call there; they are not planets that one would ever recommend for a vacation. There’s that dreariness, that ever-present sense that one is hanging by one’s eyebrows over the very edge of the ultimate cold and dark. The cities on none of the Rim Worlds are cities, real cities, but only overgrown—and not so very overgrown at that—provincial towns. The people are a subdued mob who take their pleasures sadly and their sorrows even more sadly. Somebody once said that the average Rim World city is like a graveyard with lights. He wasn’t so far wrong.
Delta Bootis was a long time coming. She was delayed on Waverley by a strike, and then she had to put in to Nova Caledon for repairs to her Mannschenn Drive unit. Some of us didn’t worry overmuch—after all, we were being paid, and well paid, for doing nothing, and the branch manager was footing our weekly bill without a murmur. Some of us worried a lot, even so. In the main, with one exception, it was the married men who were doing the worrying.
The one exception was Peter Morris, our P.R.O.—Psionic Radio Officer to you—our bright young man from the Rhine Institute, our tame telepath. Yet he was single, and so far as any of us knew, had no girl waiting for him on any of the colonized worlds or on Earth. But if there had been a first prize for misery he would have won it.
I liked Peter. During the run out we had formed a friendship that was rather unusual between a telepath and a normal human being—or, as the average graduate of the Institute would put it, between a normal human being and a psionic deficient. I liked Peter, I suppose, because he was so obviously the odd man out and I have a strong tendency towards being odd man out myself. So it was that during our sojourn on Faraway we developed the routine of leaving the others to prop up the bar of the Rimrock House while we, glad to get away from the reiteration of the bawdy jokes and boring personal anecdotes, wandered away from the hotel and through the city, finding some small pleasant drinking place where we could sip our beer in relative peace and quiet.
We were in such a place that morning, and the drinks that we had imbibed had done nothing at all to cheer Peter up. He was so gloomy that even I, who am far from being a cheerful type myself, remarked upon it.
“You don’t know what it’s like, Ken,” he told me. “As a psionic deficient you’ll never know. It’s the aura of… of…. Well, there’s fear, and there’s loneliness, and a sort of aching emptiness, and together they
make up the feel of these Rim Worlds. A telepath is always lonely until, if he’s very lucky, he finds the right woman. But it’s so much worse here.”
“There’s Epstein, the P.R.O. at the port,” I said. “And there’s Mrs. Epstein. Why don’t you see more of them?”
“That,” he declared, “would make it worse. When two telepathy marry they’re a closed circuit to an extent that no p.d. couple can ever be…. ” He drank some more beer. “Finding the right woman,” he
went on, “is damned hard for us. I don’t know what it is, but the average Esper female is usually frightfully unattractive, both mentally and physically. They seem to run to puddingy faces and puddingy minds….
You know, Ken, I needn’t have come on this trip. There are still so few of us that we can afford to turn down assignments. I came for one reason only—just hoping that by making a voyage all the way across the Galaxy I’d find somebody.”
“You still might on the way back,” I told him.
“I still might not,” he replied.
I looked at him with a rather irritated pity. I could sense, after a fashion, what he was driving at. He
was so much the typical introvert —dark of hair and face, long and lean—and his telepathic talent could do nothing but add to the miseries that come with introversion.
“You’d better have something stronger,” I told him. I caught the bartender’s eye. “Two double whiskies, please.”
“Make that three,” said a too hearty voice. I looked around, saw that Tarrant, our Second Mate, had just come in.
“Got tired of the same old stories at last?” I asked unkindly.
“No,” he said. “But somebody had to go to find you two, and I was the most junior officer present, so….
“Who wants us?” I demanded. “And why?”
“The Old Man wants you.” He lifted his glass. “Here’s to crime.”
“What does he want us for?”
“I don’t know. All that I know is this. Some meteor-pitted old bastard calling himself Captain Grimes came barging into the pub and demanded an audience with our lord and master. They retired to confer privily. Shortly thereafter the call for all hands to battle stations went out.”
“Grimes … ,” I said slowly. “The name rings a bell. I seem to remember that when we handed the old Eppy Swan over somebody mentioned that Captain Grimes, the Chief Superintendent for Rim Runners, was away on Thule.”
“Could be,” admitted Tarrant. “He has the look of a chairborne spaceman. In which case we’ll have another drink. It’s bad enough having to run to the beck and call of our own supers without having to keep those belonging to a tuppenny ha’penny concern like Rim Runners happy.”
We had another drink, and another. After the third whisky Peter’s gloom seemed to be evaporating slightly, so he ordered a fourth one. The Second Mate and I each ordered another round, after which we thought that we had better discover what was cooking. We walked rather unsteadily into the untidy street, hailed a ground cab and were driven back to the Rimrock House.
We found them all waiting for us in the lounge— the Old Man and the rest of the officers, the chunky little man whose appearance justified Tarrant’s description of him as a “meteor-pitted old bastard.”
“Sir,” said the Old Man stiffly, “here are my Third Officer, Mr. Wilberforce, and my Psionic Radio Officer, Mr. Morris. I have no doubt that they will show as little enthusiasm for your project as any of my other officers. Yours is essentially a Rim World undertaking, and should be carried out by Rim World personnel.”
“They can decide, sir,” said Captain Grimes. “You have told me that these officers have no close ties on Earth or elsewhere; it is possible that they may find the proposition attractive. And, as I have already told you, we guarantee repatriation.”
“What is it all about, anyhow?” asked Tarrant.
“Sit down, gentlemen,” said Grimes, “and I’ll tell you.” While we were finding chairs he filled and lit a foul pipe. “I’ll have to recapitulate for your benefit; I hope that the rest of you don’t object.
“Well, as you are no doubt aware, we of the Rim Worlds consider ourselves the orphans of the Galaxy. You know why these planets were colonized in the first instance—the Central Government of those days feared an alien invasion sweeping in from outside the Galaxy. The general idea was to set up a huge ring of garrisoned planets, a fortified perimeter. That idea has died over the years and, as a result, only a very small arc of the Rim has been explored, even.
“We of the Rim Worlds wish to survive as a separate, independent entity. Starved as we are of trade and shipping, we have little chance of surviving at all. So it has been decided that we take our own steps, in our own way, to achieve this end.
“You’ve heard, of course, of the odd pieces of wreckage that come drifting in, from time to time, from somewhere. It was such flotsam that first gave the Central Government the idea that there might be an invasion from some other galaxy. Now, we don’t think that those odd bits and pieces ever did come from outside. We think that there are inhabited planets all around the Rim, and that advantageous trade would be possible with them.
“For years we’ve been trying to persuade the brass hats of the Survey Service to carry out a systematic exploration, but the answer’s always the same. They haven’t the ships, or they haven’t the men, or they haven’t the money. So, at last, we have decided to carry out our own exploration. Your old ship, Epsilon Pavonis, is being fitted out for the job. She’s being renamed, by the way—Faraway Quest.
“And what,” asked Tarrant, “has this to do with us?”
Captain Grimes hesitated, seemed almost embarrassed. “Frankly,” he said, “the trouble is this. We don’t seem to breed spacemen, real spacemen, on the Rim Worlds. Puddle jumpers, that’s all they are. They’ll venture as far as Ultimo, or Thule, or the Shakespearean Sector, but they just aren’t keen to fare any further afield….
“There’s too much fear on these worlds.” said Peter Morris suddenly. “That’s the trouble. Fear of the cold and the dark and the emptiness…. “
Grimes looked at him. “Of course,” he said, “you’re the telepath…. If—”
“Yes, I’m the telepath. But you don’t need to be any kind of an Esper to sense the fear.”
“All right then,” said Grimes. “My own boys are just plain scared to venture so much as a single light-year beyond the trade routes. But I’ve got a Master for Faraway Quest—myself. I’ve a Purser, and Chief and Second Mannschenn Drive Engineers, and one Rocket Engineer. I’ve a Chief Officer and a Surgeon-cum-Biochemist, and an Electronic Radio Officer. All of us are from the Center, none of us was born out here, on the Rim. But this is a survey job, and I shall need a well-manned ship.
“I can promise any of you who volunteer double your current rates of pay. I can promise you repatriation when the job is over, to any part of the Galaxy.”
“Most of us,” said our Captain, “have homes and families waiting for us. We’ve been out for too long now.”
“You’re sure that there are inhabited worlds out along the Rim?” asked Peter. “What of their people?”
“Purple octopi for all I know,” replied Grimes.
“But there’s a chance, just a chance, that they might be humanoid, or even human?” insisted the Psionic Radio Officer.
“Yes, there’s a chance. Given a near infinitude of habitable worlds and an infinitude of time for evolution to take its course, then anything is possible.”
“The purple octopi are more probable,” I said.
“Perhaps,” almost whispered Peter. “Perhaps …. But I have limited, very limited, premonitory
powers, and I have a definite feeling that ….”
“That what?” I asked.
“Oh, never mind.” To Grimes he said, “I take it that you can use a P.R.O., Captain?” “That I can,” declared Grimes heartily.
I sighed. “Your offer about double the pay,” I said. “I’m Third Officer in the Commission’s fleet, as you know. If I come with you as Second, do I get twice the Commission’s rate for that rank?”
“Count me in,” I said.
“You must be mad,” said Tarrant. “Both of you—but Wilberforce is less mad than Morris. After all, he’s doing it for money. What are you doing it for, Crystal Gazer?”
“Mind your own business!” he snapped.
Some hours later, when we were out at the spaceport looking over the structural alterations that were being made to Faraway Quest, I asked him the same question.
He flushed. “What do people do things for, Peter?”
“Money,” I replied. “Or power. Or ….”
“Precisely,” he said, before I could finish. “It’s only a hunch, but I have a strong feeling that this is the chance, the only chance, to find her.”
I remember that I said, “I hope you’re right.”
Delta Bootis dropped down at last to Port Faraway, and all of our shipmates, openly jubilant,
boarded her. We saw them off, Peter and I. We had our last drinks with them in the little smoking room and then, feeling rather lost and lonely (at least, I did), scrambled out of the airlock and down the ramp as the last warning bell started to sound. We stood with the other spectators at a safe distance from the blast-off area, watched her lift on her column of pale fire, watched her vanish into the clear, twilit sky. With her departure I realized the irrevocability of my action in volunteering for this crazy survey voyage.
There was no backing out now.
We walked to the corner of the field where work was still progressing on Faraway Quest. Outwardly she was little changed, except for the addition of two extra boat blisters. Internally she was being almost rebuilt. Cargo space was being converted into living accommodation. In spite of the shortage of trained space-faring personnel, Grimes had found volunteers from other quarters. Two professors of physics from Thule City were signing on as assistant engineers, and there were three astronomers from Ultimo as well as a couple of biologists. Grimes—who, we had learned, had served in the Survey Service as a young man—had persuaded the local police force to lend him three officers and fifty men, who were being trained as Space Marines. It began to look as though Faraway Quest would be run on something approaching Survey Service lines.
We looked at her, standing tall and slim in the light of the glaring floods.
I said, “I was a little scared when I watched Delta Bootis blast off, Peter, but now I’m feeling a little happier.”
“I am too,” he told me. “That … that hunch of mine is stronger than ever. I’ll be glad when this old girl is ready to push off.”
“I don’t trust hunches,” I told him. “I never have, and never will. In any case, this female telepath with the beautiful mind you’re hunting for may turn out to be nothing but a purple octopus.”
He laughed. “You’ve got purple octopi on the brain. To hear you talk, one would think that the Galaxy was inhabited by the brutes…. “
“Perhaps it is,” I said. “Or all the parts that we haven’t explored yet.”
“She exists,” he told me seriously. “I know. I’ve dreamed about her now for several nights running.” “Have you?” I asked. Other people’s dreams are, as a rule, dreadfully boring, but when the other
person is a telepath with premonitory powers one is inclined to take some interest in them. “What did you dream?”
“Each time it was the same,” he said. “I was in a ship’s boat, by myself, waiting for her to come to me. I knew what she was like, even though I’d never actually met her. She wasn’t quite human. She was a little too tall, a little too slim, and her golden hair had a greenish glint to it. Her small ears were pointed at the tips. As I say, I knew all this while I sat there waiting. And she was in my mind, as I was in hers, and she was saying, over and over, I’m coming to you, my darling. And I was sitting there in the pilot’s chair, waiting to close the outer airlock door as soon as she was in…. “
“It’s hard to describe. I’ve had women in real life as well as in dreams, but never before have I experienced that feeling of utter and absolute oneness…. “
“You’re really convinced, aren’t you?” I said. “Are you sure that it’s not autohypnosis, that you haven’t built up from the initial hunch, erecting a framework of wish-fulfillment fantasy?”
“I’d like to point out, Ken,” he said stiffly, “that you’re a qualified astronaut, not any sort of psychologist. I’d like to point out, too, that the Rhine Institute gives all its graduates a very comprehensive course in psychology. We have to know what makes our minds tick—after all, they are our working tools.”
“Sorry,” I said. “The main thing is that you feel reasonably sure that we shall stumble across some intelligent, humanoid race out there.”
“Not reasonably sure,” he murmured. “Just certain.”
“Have you told Grimes all this?”
“Not all, but enough.”
“What did he say?”
“That I was in charge of communications, not prognostications, and that my most important job was to see to it that my amplifier was healthy and functioning properly.”
We all had to stand out on the field in a cold drizzle while the Presidents of Faraway, Ultimo and Thule made their farewell speeches. We were drawn up in a rather ragged line behind Captain Grimes, dapper in uniform, very much the space captain. The ex-policemen, the Marines, were a little to one side, and made up for what we lacked in the way of smartness. At last the speechmaking was over. Led by Grimes we marched up the ramp to the airlock, went at once to our blasting-off stations. In the control room Grimes sat chunkily in his acceleration chair with Lawlor, his Chief Officer, to one side of him. My own chair was behind theirs, and at my side was Gavin, one of the astronomers from Ultimo, who was on the ship’s books as Third Officer.
Reports started coming in. “Interplanetary Drive Room—manned and ready!” “Interstellar Drive Room—manned and ready!” “Hydroponics—all secured!” “Steward’s store—all secured!”
“Mr. Wilberforce,” ordered Grimes, “request permission to proceed.”
I spoke into the microphone of the already switched-on transceiver. “Faraway Quest to Control Tower, Faraway Quest to Control Tower. Have we your permission to proceed?”
“Control Tower to Faraway Quest. Permission granted. Good luck to all of you!”
Gavin was counting aloud, the words carried through the ship by the intercom. “Ten … Nine … Eight … Seven … ” I saw Grimes’s stubby hand poised over the master firing key. “Six … Five … Four … ” I looked out of the nearest viewport, to the dismal, mist-shrouded landscape. Faraway was a good world to get away from, to anywhere —or even nowhere. “Three … Two … One … Fire!”
We lifted slowly, the ground falling away beneath us, dropping into obscurity beneath the veil of drifting rain. We drove up through the low clouds, up and into the steely glare of Faraway’s sun. The last of the atmosphere slipped, keening shrilly, down our shell plating and then we were out and clear, with the gleaming lens of the Galaxy to one side of us and, on the other, the aching emptiness of the Outside.
For long minutes we accelerated, the pseudo-gravity forcing us deeply into the padding of our chairs. At last Grimes cut the drive and, almost immediately, the thunder of the rockets was replaced by the high, thin whine of the ever-precessing gyroscopes of the Mannschenn unit. The Galactic Lens twisted itself into an impossible convolution.
The emptiness Outside still looked the same.
That emptiness was with us all through the voyage.
Star after star we circled; some had planetary families, some had not. At first we made landings on all likely-looking worlds, then, after a long succession of planets that boasted nothing higher in the evolutionary scale than the equivalent to the giant reptiles of Earth’s past, we contented ourselves by making orbital surveys only. Peter succeeded in talking Grimes into entrusting him with the task of deciding whether or not any planet possessed intelligent life — and, of course, cities and the like could be spotted from space.
So we drove on, and on, settling down to a regular routine of Interstellar Drive, Interplanetary Drive, Closed Orbit, Interplanetary Drive, Interstellar Drive, Interplanetary Drive…. Everybody was becoming
short-tempered. Grimes was almost ready to admit that the odd pieces of flotsam falling now and then to the Rim Worlds must have come from Outside and not from somewhere else along the Rim. Had our purpose been exploration as a prelude to colonization, we should have felt a lot more useful—but the Rim Worlds have barely enough population to maintain their own economies.
Only Peter Morris maintained a certain calm cheerfulness. His faith in his hunch was strong. He told me so, more than once. I wanted to believe him but couldn’t.
Then, one boring watch, I was showing Liddell, one of the astronomers, how to play three-dimensional noughts and crosses in the Tri-Di chart. He was catching on well and I was finding it increasingly hard to beat him when suddenly the buzzer of the intercom sounded. I answered it. It was Peter, speaking from his Psionic Communications Room.
“Ken!” he almost shouted. “Life! Intelligent life!”
“Where?” I demanded.
“I don’t know. I’m trying to get a rough bearing. It’s in towards the Lens from us, that much I can tell you. But the bearing doesn’t seem to be changing.” “No parallax?” asked Liddell. “Could it be, do you think, a ship?”
“It just could be,” I said doubtfully.
“Ken, I think it’s a ship!” came Peter’s voice. “I think that they, like ourselves, have Psionic Radio….
Their operator’s vaguely aware of me, but he’s not sure…. No—it’s not he. . It’s a woman; I’m pretty
certain of that…. But it’s a ship all right. Roughly parallel course, but converging … “
“Better tell old Grimy,” I suggested, hastily clearing the noughts-and-crosses lattice from the Tri-Di chart. To Liddell I said, “I’m afraid Peter’s imagining things. Not about the ship—she’s probably a stray Survey vessel—but about the female operator. When psionic radio first started we used to carry them, but the average woman telepath is so unintelligent that they were all emptied out as soon as there were enough men for the job.”
“It could be an alien ship,” said Liddell.