Read SOLARITE: CHAPTER VIII of The Black Star Passes , free online book, by John Wood Campbell, on ReadCentral.com.

The Solarite sped swiftly toward the southwest. The sky slowly grew lighter as the miles flashed beneath them. They were catching up with the sun. As they saw the rolling ocean beneath them give way to low plains, they realized they were over Kaxorian land. The Solarite was flying very high, and as they showed no lights, and were not using the invisibility apparatus, they were practically undetectable. Suddenly they saw the lights of a mighty city looming far off to the east.

“It’s Kanor. Pass well to the west of it. That’s their capital. We’re on course.” Arcot spoke from his position at the projector, telling Wade the directions to follow on his course to the berth of the giant planes.

The city dropped far behind them in moments, followed by another, and another. At length, veering southward into the dusk, they entered a region of low hills, age-old folds in the crust of the planet, rounded by untold millennia of torrential rains.

“Easy, Wade. We are near now.” Mile after mile they flashed ahead at about a thousand miles an hour then suddenly they saw far off to the east a vast glow that reached into the sky, painting itself on the eternal clouds miles above.

“There it is, Wade. Go high, and take it easy!”

Swiftly the Solarite climbed, hovering at last on the very rim of the cloud blanket, an invisible mote in a sea of gray mist. Below them they saw a tremendous field carved, it seemed, out of the ancient hills. From this height all sense of proportion was lost. It seemed but an ordinary field, with eighteen ordinary airplanes resting on it. One of these now was moving, and in a moment it rose into the air! But there seemed to be no men on all the great field. They were invisibly small from this height.

Abruptly Arcot gave a great shout. “That’s their surprise! They’re ready far ahead of the time we expected! If all that armada gets in the air, we’re done! Down, Wade, to within a few hundred feet of the ground, and close to the field!”

The Solarite flashed down in a power dive down with a sickening lurch. A sudden tremendous weight seemed to crush them as the ship was brought out of the dive not more than two hundred feet from the ground. Close to blacking out, Wade nevertheless shot it in as close to the field as he dared. Anxiously he called to Arcot, who answered with a brief “Okay!” The planes loomed gigantic now, their true proportions showing clearly against the brilliant light of the field. A tremendous wave of sound burst from the loudspeaker as the planes rolled across the ground to leap gracefully into the air half a million tons of metal!

From the Solarite there darted a pale beam of ghostly light, faintly gray, tinged with red and green the ionized air of the beam. It moved in a swift half circle. In an instant the whirr of the hundreds, thousands of giant propellers was drowned in a terrific roar of air. Great snowflakes fell from the air before them; it was white with the solidified water vapor. Then came a titanic roar and the planet itself seemed to shake! A crash, a snapping and rending as a mighty fountain of soil and rock cascaded skyward, and with it, twisting, turning, hurled in a dozen directions at once, twelve titanic ships reeled drunkenly into the air!

For a barely perceptible interval there was an oppressive silence as the ray was shut off. Then a bedlam of deafening sound burst forth anew, a mighty deluge of unbearable noise as the millions of tons of pulverized rock, humus and metal fell back. Some of it had ascended for miles; it settled amid a howling blizzard snow that melted as it touched the madly churned airfield.

High above there were ten planes flying about uncertainly. Suddenly one of these turned, heading for the ground far below, its wings screaming their protest as the motors roared, ever faster, with the gravity of the planet aiding them. There was a rending, crackling crash as the wings suddenly bent back along the sides. An instant later the fuselage tore free, rocketing downward; the wings followed more slowly twisting, turning, dipping in mile-long swoops.

The Solarite shot away from the spot at maximum speed away and up, with a force that nailed the occupants to the floor. Before they could turn, behind them flared a mighty gout of light that struck to the very clouds above, and all the landscape, for miles about, was visible in the glare of the released energy.

As they turned, they saw on the plain, below a tremendous crater, in its center a spot that glowed white and bubbled like the top of a huge cauldron.

Nine great planes were circling in the air; then in an instant they were gone, invisible. As swiftly the Solarite darted away with a speed that defied the aim of any machine.

High above the planes they went, for with his radar Arcot could trace them. They were circling, searching for the Solarite.

The tiny machine was invisible in the darkness, but its invisibility was not revealed by the Kaxorian’s radio detectors. In the momentary lull, Fuller asked a question.

“Wade, how is it that those ships can be invisible when they are driven by light, and have the light stored in them? They’re perfectly transparent. Why can’t we see the light?”

“They are storing the light. It’s bound it can’t escape. You can’t see light unless it literally hits you in the eye. Their stored light can’t reach you, for it is held by its own attraction and by the special field of the big generators.”

They seemed to be above one of the Kaxorian planes now. Arcot caught the roar of the invisible propellers.

“To the left, Wade faster hold it left ah!” Arcot pushed a button.

Down from the Solarite there dropped a little canister, one of the bombs that Arcot had prepared the night before. To hit an invisible target is ordinarily difficult, but when that target is far larger than the proverbial side of a barn, it is not very difficult, at that. But now Arcot’s companions watched for the crash of the explosion, the flash of light. What sort of bomb was it that Arcot hoped would penetrate that tremendous armor?

Suddenly they saw a great spot of light, a spot that spread with startling rapidity, a patch of light that ran, and moved. It flew through the air at terrific speed. It was a pallid light, green and wan and ghostly, that seemed to flow and ebb.

For an instant Morey and the others stared in utter surprise. Then suddenly Morey burst out laughing.

“Ho you win, Arcot. That was one they didn’t think of, I’ll bet! Luminous paint and by the hundred gallon! Radium paint, I suppose, and no man has ever found how to stop the glow of radium. That plane sticks out like a sore thumb!”

Indeed, the great luminous splotch made the gigantic plane clearly evident against the gray clouds. Visible or not, that plane was marked.

Quickly Arcot tried to maneuver the Solarite over another of the great ships, for now the danger was only from those he could not see. Suddenly he had an idea.

“Morey go back to the power room and change the adjustment on the meteorite avoider to half a mile!” At once Morey understood his plan, and hastened to put it into effect.

The illuminated plane was diving, twisting wildly now. The Solarite flashed toward it with sickening speed, then suddenly the gigantic bulk of the plane loomed off to the right of the tiny ship, the great metal hull, visible now, rising in awesome might. They were too near; they shot away to a greater distance then again that ghostly beam reached out and for just a fraction of a second it touched the giant plane.

The titanic engine of destruction seemed suddenly to be in the grip of some vastly greater Colossus a clutching hand that closed! The plane jumped back with an appalling crash, a roar of rending metal. For an instant there came the sound like a mighty buzz-saw as the giant propellers of one wing cut into the body of the careening plane. In that instant, the great power storage tank split open with an impact like the bursting of a world. The Solarite was hurled back by an explosion that seemed to rend the very atoms of the air, and all about them was a torrid blaze of heat and light that seemed to sear their faces and hands with its intensity.

Then in a time so brief that it seemed never to have happened, it was gone, and only the distant drone of the other ships’ propellers came to them. There was no luminous spot. The radium paint had been destroyed in the only possible way it was volatilized through all the atmosphere!

The Terrestrians had known what to expect; had known what would happen; and they had not looked at the great ship in that last instant. But the Kaxorians had naturally been looking at it. They had never seen the sun directly, and now they had been looking at a radiance almost as brilliant. They were temporarily blinded; they could only fly a straight course in response to the quick order of their squadron commander.

And in that brief moment that they were unable to watch him, Arcot dropped two more bombs in quick succession. Two bright spots formed in the black night. No longer did these planes feel themselves invulnerable, able to meet any foe! In an instant they had put on every last trace of power, and at their top speed they were racing west, away from their tiny opponent in the only direction that was open to them.

But it was useless. The Solarite could pick up speed in half the time they could, and in an instant Arcot again trained his beam on the mighty splotch of light that was a fleeing plane.

Out of the darkness came a ghostly beam, for an instant of time so short that before the explosive shells of the other could be trained on it, the Solarite had moved. Under that touch the mighty plane began crumbling, then it splintered beneath the driving blow of the great wing, as it shot toward the main body of the plane at several miles a second driving into and through it! The giant plane twisted and turned as it fell swiftly downward into the darkness and, again there came that world-rocking explosion, and the mighty column of light.

Again and yet again the Solarite found and destroyed Kaxorian super-planes, protected in the uneven conflict by their diminutive size and the speed of their elusive maneuvering.

But to remind the men of the Solarite that they were not alone, there came a sudden report just behind them, and they turned to see that one of the energy bombs had barely fallen short! In an instant the comparative midget shot up at top speed, out of danger. It looped and turned, hunting, feeling with its every detector for that other ship. The great planes were spread out now. In every direction they could be located and all were leaving the scene of the battle. But one by one the Solarite shot after them, and always the speed of the little ship was greater.

Two escaped. They turned off their useless invisibility apparatus and vanished into the night.

The Solarite, supported by her vertical lift units, coasted toward a stop. The drone of the fleeing super-planes diminished and was gone, and for a time the thrum of the generator and the tap-dance of relays adjusting circuits was the only sound aboard.

Wade sighed finally. “Well, gentlemen, now we’ve got it, what do we do with it?”

“What do you mean?” Morey asked.

“Victory. The Jack-pot. Having the devices we just demonstrated, we are now the sole owners, by right of conquest, of one highly disturbed nation of several million people. With that gadget there, we can pick it up and throw it away.

“Personally, I have a feeling that we’ve just won the largest white elephant in history. We don’t just walk off and leave it, you know. We don’t want it. But we’ve got it.

“Our friends in Sonor are not going to want the problem either; they just wanted the Kaxorians combed out of their hair.

“As I say we’ve got it, now but what do we do with it?”

“It’s basically their problem, isn’t it?” protested Fuller. Morey looked somewhat stricken, and thoroughly bewildered. “I hadn’t considered that aspect very fully; I’ve been too darned busy trying to stay alive.”

Wade shook his head. “Look, Fuller-it was their problem before, too, wasn’t it? How’d they handle it? If you just let them alone, what do you suppose they’ll do with the problem this time?”

“The same thing they did before,” Arcot groaned. “I’m tired. Let’s get some sleep first, anyway.”

“Sure; that makes good sense,” Wade agreed. “Sleep on it, yes. But go to sleep on it well, that’s what the not-so-bright Sonorans tried doing.

“And off-hand, I’d say we were elected. The Kaxorians undoubtedly have a nice, two thousand year old hatred for the Sonorans who so snobbishly ignored them, isolated them, and considered them unfit for association. The Sonorans, on the other hand, are now thoroughly scared, and will be feeling correspondingly vindictive. They won this time by a fluke our coming. I can just see those two peoples getting together and settling any kind of sensible, long-term treaty of mutual cooperation!”

Arcot and Morey both nodded wearily. “That is so annoyingly correct,” Morey agreed. “And you know blasted well none of us is going to sleep until we have some line of attack on this white elephant disposal problem. Anybody any ideas?”

Fuller looked at the other three. “You know, in design when two incompatible materials must be structurally united, we tie each to a third material that is compatible with both.

Sonor didn’t win this fight. Kaxor didn’t win it. Earth in the persona of the Solarite did. Earth isn’t mad at anybody, hasn’t been damaged by anybody, and hasn’t been knowingly ignoring anybody.

“The Sonorans want to be let alone; it won’t work, but they can learn that. I think if we run the United Nations in on this thing, we may be able to get them to accept our white elephant for us.

“They’ll be making the same mistake Sonor did if they don’t knowingly ignoring the existence of a highly intelligent and competent race. It doesn’t seem to work, judging from history both at home and here.”

The four looked at each other, and found agreement.

“That’s something more than a problem to sleep on,” Morey said. “I’ll get in touch with Sonor and tell ’em the shooting is over, so they can get some sleep too.

“It’s obvious a bunch of high-power research teams are going to be needed in both countries. Earth has every reason to respect Sonoran mental sciences as well as Kaxorian light-engineering. And Earth as we just thoroughly demonstrated has some science of her own. Obviously, the interaction of the three is to the maximum advantage of each and will lead to a healing of the breach that now exists.”

Arcot looked up and yawned. “I’m putting this on autopilot at twenty miles up, and going to sleep. We can kick this around for a month anyway and this is not the night to start.”

“The decision is unanimous,” Wade grinned.