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They accused Conoway of trying to cheat the government. It seemed there was a good reason for the charge; otherwise why would he send tons of mosquito netting to the North Pole?
EVERYONE likes to predict things, especially- rare and surprising things, affairs of magnitude; and secretly everyone feels he can. The more confounding it is when it happens, the more one hears, afterward, "I saw the whole thing coming."
Well, here's something I see coming, and I'm not waiting. Today, November 2, 1953, I say for the record that any day now I expect the emergence of Dr. Theo. Schpritzer and Daniel Conoway as world figures. I believe entirely Conoway's stories of a lush tropical island in the frozen Arctic, where polar bears climb palm trees and crack coconuts. I foresee the news that Conoway successfully duplicated Dr. Schpritzer's weather machine, and for the second time located the lost Schpritzer Expedition. I say all this aware that what is involved here will likely alter not only the course of human destiny, but the destiny of the planet we inhabit.
There's just one thing, though, that might go wrong, and I think it would be better if I explained it in advance.
Conoway's story begins the day he was sent for by his superior and put on the carpet. Conoway was then employed by the Department of Agriculture, in the Agricultural Research Administration, where he had specialized for a decade in insect control. It was the first time in a tranquil and dedicated career that he had ever been in official trouble.
"Mr. Conoway, to what extent did you commit the A.R.A. in supporting the Schpritzer Expedition?"
"The Schpritzer Expedition? What is it?"
"It's a mess, Mr. Conoway."
"...Yes? Well, I never committed the A.R.A. to support it."
"Mr. Conoway, the few months that I have lived in Washington have been sufficient to give me a deep understanding of the pressures of government life, social, economic, political. We are every one of us subject to great pressures, Mr. Conoway, and we all make mistakes."
"I never heard of the Schpritzer Expedition."
"Perhaps this will refresh your memory..."
Conoway took the proffered folder. What he found inside did somewhat refresh his memory, but it made the rest of him feel very tired. "If I may," he said, "I'd like to study these before I say anything else."
LATER in the day he received photostats. He went through the stuff carefully, unable to shake off the growing conviction that he was wasting his time on nonsense.
The Schpritzer Expedition, it turned out, was a private scientific venture, for the purpose of polar weather observation, which had been granted a sizable Federal loan. The last funds of this loan had been spent in March, 1952, on an order for several bales—or was it tons?—of mosquito netting. The netting was shipped to Point Barrow, Alaska, to await further instructions. More than a year had passed but it was still unclaimed, mouldering in a warehouse.
Now, apparently, someone was trying to figure out this strange circumstance, with a view toward fixing responsibility for the loan, but half a dozen Federal agencies were tangled in the netting, and all were thrashing about, denying it. Conoway found voluminous correspondence from the National Security Resources Board, the Commodity Credit Corporation, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, the Joint Meteorological Board and the Fruit- Frost Service of the Weather Bureau, and the Defense Fisheries Administration. The last one had written the Weather Bureau asking what they knew about Dr. Schpritzer; the Bureau had referred this to its J.M.B. and F.F.S., and the F.F.S. had passed the request on to the A.R.A.
There it had come to Conoway's desk, and though he did not remember the incident, he found a photostat of his answer:
Dr. Schpritzer is mentioned in our files as a "rainmaker" who practices largely on the west coast. In Washington State he is known as "The Wizard of Wynooche."
The Weather Bureau had forwarded this to the D.F.A., which sent copies to the other agencies, after which one of them had done business with Dr. Schpritzer.
Conoway's trouble was that this brief statement, copied verbatim from the A.R.A. files, had been used as the basis for an endorsement of the doctor and his expedition. When he discovered how this had come about, Conoway went back to his superior.
"It's quite clear now," he said. "Somebody in the C.C.C. took my note, looked up Wynooche's rainfall—141 inches that year —and concluded that Dr. Schpritzer was really a wizard as a rainmaker. I consider it a ridiculous mistake."
"Mr. Conoway, there's more to this than you think."
"You see, Wynooche is in the Olympic Mountains in Washington, and its annual precipitation is normally the highest in the country."
"The Department of Justice may be called in."
"Under the circumstances, I suppose that being called 'The Wizard of Wynooche' is actually a form of derision."
"The new administration is determined to ferret out and prosecute every instance of corruption."
"It may well be that this Schpritzer is a humbug."
"Mr. Conoway, there is a feeling among some members of a certain Congressional committee that the Schpritzer Expedition was basically a paper organization, I mean a swindle."
"Some rain-makers, of course, do seem to get results."
"In fact, Mr. Conoway, there seems to be a conspiracy here to mulct the Federal Treasury—and at this point, you are considered to have had a part in it."
At this point, violently enough, Dan Conoway woke up.
CONOWAY'S solution was as novel as it was desperate. He went to Alaska to prove that the Schpritzer Expedition was a fraud.
What he really wanted to do, of course, was to find Schpritzer and get, say, an affidavit, or something, to show that he had had nothing whatever to do with the expedition or its leader. But for Conoway to get anyone to underwrite such an effort to clear himself was a far more difficult affair than getting himself assigned to—as his superior termed it—an undercover pre-investigative investigation. The assumption was that he had decided to cooperate, and was anxious that the record early demonstrate his concrete help. He let them think what they liked, and looked remorseful...
In retrospect, Conoway's plan seems to have little to commend it. What made him think he could or would find Dr. Schpritzer in Alaska?—or that, finding the redoubtable doctor, he could wring an affidavit out of him, or even a comforting word?—or that such a document, if he got it, would mean anything to anyone?
But he had no real alternative. He had talked his head off for a few days, seeking out people he knew, for advice or some exercise of influence, and had soon learned that mere announcement of his trouble made him an untouchable. Waiting, doing nothing, he faced impending suspension... for how long? After that he would have to get along somehow, living under a cloud, hoping for ultimate exoneration. There was no doubt that it was better to try not to be accused, than to be proved innocent....
And there was something else. Conoway did have a little to go on. His digging had produced two nubbins of information, First the Schpritzer Expedition had been scheduled to start north, from San Diego, in May, 1951. Second, the order for the mosquito netting had been signed by Dr. Schpritzer, in Point Barrow, on March 12, 1952. So that if the doctor had indeed left on schedule, and had spent the next nine or ten months in Alaska, or thereabouts, it was not impossible to hope he had stayed even longer.
It wasn't much of a chance, but it was something.
On May 6, 1953, Conoway took off for Alaska.
AN Air Force plane got him to Anchorage, another flew him to Fairbanks. There his credentials were honored with a secret briefing that—while it raised questions almost as important as those it answered—apparently ended Conoway's investigation.
The big question it settled was: Was there currently a Schpritzer Expedition? The Air Force said no.
They knew because on March 19, 1952, the A.F. had landed a C-47 on an ice island—named "T-3" but known also as Fletcher Island—one hundred miles from the North Pole. They had established a permanent weather station which communicated by radio, and was staffed and supplied by air.
"Our reports show that 'T-3' hasn't heard a peep from the Expedition since December 25, 1952. Christmas Day. What possible significance that has, I don't know."
"Does that mean," asked Conoway, "that 'T-3' did hear from the Expedition before last Christmas Day?"
"Yes, often. Almost every day during last April and May, then less frequently. By December, the average was down to once a week, and Christmas Day was the last time."
"What was it you'd hear from them?"
"Nothing much, usually requests for weather information."
"Where was the Expedition located?"
"We're not sure. 'T-3' reported radio fixes several times, but always different ones. A bad signal, possibly, or interference, magnetic influences, who knows? Things happen up here."
"But wasn't the Expedition ever seen?"
"We're not satisfied that it was. There were reports that it had been sighted on a peninsula on Parry Island, at Ballantyne Straits... latitude 77.58, longitude 118.11... but only from June through October, 1951. If it was the Schpritzer Expedition, it never responded to signals and never identified itself, so we really don't know. But if it was there, it isn't there now, and it hasn't been sighted since October, 1951."
"Have you been searching for it?"
"No, not particularly."
"But why not?"
"Why yes, Mr. Conoway? First, Parry Island is deep in Canadian, territory; we cooperate but we try not to infringe. Second, keep in mind the sequence. Even if we had wanted to search for the Expedition—assuming its identity—winter in the arctic is a pretty hopeless season for searching. Then, by spring of '52, after we established our 'T-3' station, searching seemed unnecessary because 'T-3' was hearing from the Expedition. When that stopped on Christmas Day, we were up against winter again. Well, this is May, and I suppose we could institute a search, if we knew what we were looking for and where to begin—and if we were interested. But frankly, Mr. Conoway, we've plenty of other things to do, and we don't give a damn."
Nevertheless, Conoway left there for Point Barrow with a sense of elation. Mysterious though the evidence was, he could see a possible case building at least for the past existence of a Schpritzer Expedition, and there was a great difference between a mysterious, or lost, or doomed expedition, and a swindle.
The Air Force's "T-3" had assumed the Expedition's existence until five months ago. The next step was to verify Dr. Schpritzer's presence in Point Barrow, nine months before that, when he had ordered the mosquito netting. Then back to the States, to San Diego, to see if he could establish a departure date for the Expedition.
He had stopped thinking in terms of finding the doctor.
BUT in Point Barrow a very strange thing happened, and basically it had to do with crickets.
Conoway had gone to the warehouse to see the mosquito netting, enormous bales of it; it was depressing. Then he had gone to the telegraph office where Dr. Schpritzer's order had been placed. The manager remembered the doctor very well, for many reasons, among them the doctor's great girth, his black spade beard, and his booming laugh. Surely a memorable individual, but there was more. The manager had had occasion to recall Dr. Schpritzer because a neighbor had a tape recording with the doctor's unmistakable, wild laughter on it, and they had quarreled about it.
How had this come about? The manager's neighbor was a short wave enthusiast, whose joy in life it was to contact distant regions; the more distant, the better; except that people he knew were skeptical when he boasted. He had therefore bought a tape recorder and improved his reputation. But one morning he picked up Hawaiian music and recorded five minutes of it before it ended abruptly, without anyone speaking or otherwise identifying the source of the music. Not that there weren't voices; they were numerous, in the background, singing and laughing, and among them, loudest of all (said the manager), were the happy stentorian tones of Dr. Schpritzer.
"For all I know," said the manager, "it was Hawaii, and the doctor was there. After all, the one time I saw him was in March, and this was November, so it was possible, even though I've been craming [sic] ever since that it wasn't. The thing I do know, and I'd bet on it, is that it positively is Dr. Schpritzer laughing."
Understandably, this did sound odd to Conoway, because "T-3" had still been hearing from Schpritzer in November, and not from Hawaii.
So Conoway went to the manager's neighbor, the short wave bug, and said enough to get the tape played. He listened carefully to the music (it was beautiful), the voices, the laughter, and had no trouble deciding which laugh was supposed to be Schpritzer's. When it was over, he shrugged. He had heard the crickets in the background, too, but that didn't mean anything to him yet.
"Now that you've heard it," said the man, "wouldn't you swear I had Hawaii? Wasn't that Hawaiian music?"
"I'd say so, yes."
"Well, seeing you've got a legitimate interest in this, I'll tell you something, if you'll promise to keep it to yourself. You see, I can't back down from saying it's Hawaii, and nobody can prove it ain't—but I know it ain't."
"How do you know?"
"Listen to this."
HE played another tape. On it, Conoway heard two men conversing briefly about technical weather details. At one point there was a pause, a muffled aside, and an explosive burst of laughter before the conversation resumed. Unquestionably, this was the same voice on both tapes. The second tape had no music, and no crickets, but when the talking ended, the voice that had laughed merely said, "Thank you very much. Good morning,"—while the other identified himself as Air Force Weather Observation Station "T-3" and concluded, "Good morning, Dr. Schpritzer."
"You see?" said the man. "It was somebody right around here, on both tapes. I made them one day apart, at the same hour, on the same wavelength. The only way I explain it—why, I ain't in a position to say—is that the first time they must've been playing some sort of recording with Hawaiian music on it."
But now Conoway was stirring; indeed, like the crickets he had heard on the first tape, he was vibrating at a very high rate. He listened to the tape again, unconcerned with whether the music was a recording—though he thought not—but to hear the crickets. Certainly the crickets were not on a recording (who beside Conoway had ever recorded crickets anyway?).
He listened to the tape a third time, slowing it sufficiently to count the chirping against the second-hand on his watch. He did this several times during the playing, and by the time the tape ended, Conoway knew that somehow, somewhere, he had to find Dr. Schpritzer or his Expedition.
Why? Because now Conoway knew that last November, with winter well on the way, Dr. Schpritzer—assuredly somewhere in the Arctic Zone—had been not only where there were crickets, but where the crickets told him the local temperature there was about ninety degrees, Fahrenheit.
You see, Conoway knew there is a relationship between air temperature and the tempo of a cricket's chirp.
This is true; every insect man knows it; count the number of chirps in 14 seconds, add 40, and you have the temperature within a few degrees. Conoway had counted 50 or more chirps in each interval.
That did it. The whole weird affair had him going now. His bad situation back home had become quite secondary. Now he was determined to find out whether those crickets had been telling the truth about a temperature that seemed well suited to Hawaiian music—or else he was going to come back with a new species of polar cricket, and make insect history.
IT took a few days to complete arrangements for the next leg of Conoway's investigation. It took, also, a series of urgent phone calls to Washington, D.C., to authorize it, but Conoway was a man with a mission, capable of anything. He lied open-handedly, letting out hints of a vast, looming scandal, and everything went smoothly.
On May 12, 1953, an Air Force plane flew him from Point Barrow to Aklavik, in the Canadian Yukon Territory. There he was turned over to a private flier, a bush pilot, who had come on from Coppermine to meet him, and they were granted further authority for reconnaissance flying. He then proceeded to Mackenzie Bay, then due east along the coast to Amundsen Gulf, then north across Banks Island to Cape Prince Alfred, where the plane could be serviced and sheltered.
The morning of May 15, Conoway's pilot took him up to begin the reconnaissance. They crossed the McClure Straits and flew over Parry Island, toward a point marked on their charts as latitude 77.58, longitude 118.11. This was where the Schpritzer Expedition had presumably been sighted, for the last time, in October, 1951.
It was a lovely day. The deep intense blue of the surf-lit sky showed scarcely a cloud. Below them the icebound sea stretched white and endless, and land was discernible only where winds had torn away the snow from barren crags, or where shadows marked elevations.
When they reached the point on their charts, there was nothing to see. The plane flew within fifty feet of the surface, throttle way down, criss-crossing the immediate area, then slowly enclosing a larger area as it began to gain altitude. There was not a trace, not a sign that anything alive had ever preceded them here. The one noteworthy feature of the landscape was that the northeast peninsula of Parry Island—supposedly the Expedition's site—was considerably smaller than represented on the charts. The pilot remarked on it, and Conoway sighed, deep in gloom and disappointment, reflecting on how such an inconsequential error might one day, if it became known, ruin the life of some cartographer in Montreal...
They rose higher, crossing the Ballantyne Straits to Brock Island. Beyond it they saw Borden Island, and beyond that—where, in the direction they faced, there should have been only the bright waste of ice fields, they saw a long, slender black line.
A moment later it had vanished. Individually, each doubted his vision, but not when they agreed. Neither had any idea of the true dimensions of the black line, or its distance from Borden Island, but they decided to head toward where they had seen it.
Ten minutes went by without sighting anything, then suddenly a mist seemed to be hanging in the sky. Seconds later, they were in it, flying in a heavy vapor that veiled the sun and swiftly cut down visibility. But at the last moment before they were flying blind, they not only saw the black line again, but realized with astonishment that it was actually a sizable, irregular oval of unfrozen open sea. They flew on for perhaps another minute or so, and then it began to rain. All at once the rain ended. The plane dipped sharply earthward, recovered, ascended, and started to circle back. The rain and the mist were gone. The ice fields reached unbroken to the horizon.
THEN the plane started losing altitude swiftly and dangerously. The rain had frozen into a sheath of ice around it, and only excellent flying brought it down safely to a short, bumpy landing on its skis.
Conoway and his pilot talked a little then, when they had found breath, and concluded there was nothing to discuss, that of course they had to find that open water again. The immediate prospect, however, involved getting the plane to fly again.
"How long should that take?" Conoway asked.
"Until we get the ice off," said the pilot.
They never did get the ice off. An hour later, still chipping away laboriously at the tail surfaces, numb with cold, they looked up and found themselves facing six fur-clad men armed with rifles.
THE long arctic day was ending when they reached their destination. Conoway could not estimate how far they had come, or in what direction. The going, on foot and by dog-sled, had been uneven; moreover, in the dog-sled he had slept for an indeterminate period, overwhelmed by fatigue.
In all the time they traveled, no one said a word to-Conoway. His pilot was in another sled, and the four men (two had stayed behind with the plane) who conducted the dog teams were a silent group. They did not identify themselves, they gave no explanations, they answered no questions, but they managed to be thoroughly understood merely by pointing their rifles.
By sundown they were in a strange area of fantastic icy gorges, of cliffs and pinnacles, twisted and deformed by monstrous polar winds. Here the party halted. Two of the armed men took the dog- sleds, the other two led Conoway and the pilot farther on. Not long afterward, they entered a cave hewn in the base of a huge cone of ice. Inside, the cave expanded sufficiently to house three large tents made of hide, and two smaller ones of canvas.
Prom one of the canvas tents came the sound of wood being sawed; a shouted call from the armed men brought it to an end. The tent flap parted and out came a bareheaded, flaxen-haired young woman, dressed like an Eskimo. She came closer and Conoway saw that she was quite beautiful, with eyes that were as cold and unfathomable and blue as the Northern sky.
She said to Conoway and the pilot, "Dobró pozhálovat'."
Conoway said. "I don't speak Russian."
"No matter," said the girl! "All I said was 'Welcome.'"
THEY were Russians, all of them, eight men and a girl. Conoway was with them five days, and from what he saw, and what they told him (several spoke English), he learned a lot about them; certainly he discovered what was important about them.
Probably the best way to describe them was to say they were spies, but they were both more and less than spies. They were a versatile group of arctic specialists; exploiters, weather observers, a mining engineer (the girl), a botanist, a physicist, and more; in a sense, they were merely scientists at work in a zone considered to be international. On the other hand, scientists did not take prisoners by force of arms, and did not confine their activity to spying on another scientist.
Needless to say, they were spying on Dr. Theo. Schpritzer, who was apparently somewhere in the vicinity....
Conoway found this out on his second day in captivity. He was in one of the canvas tents, working on a boat. Earlier, there had been four of them working, but now only he and the girl were there, he hammering and she sawing. When the girl stopped for one of her infrequent rest periods, he stopped with her. In the adjoining canvas tent, where a second boat was also nearing completion, drills and hammers could be heard. Conoway wondered how the pilot was doing there; they had been kept separated after their arrival.
"Weather belongs to the people!" the girl announced.
(Her name was Natasha; she had announced that the day before; indeed, most of her meager conversations with him consisted of announcements, often with an accusatory inflection.)
Conoway nodded. "Yes," he said, "I think it's safe to say that it does."
Natasha looked doubtful. "Not in your country," she said.
"Which—the weather, or the saying so?"
"Both. In America it is dangerous to tell the truth, and what is the truth?—the weather is being kept from them. Pardon, I mean the good weather. But, no matter, this is wrong."
"Yes, it is."
"Don't say it just to please me."
"I'm not. I honestly mean it."
"Then why do you take part in it?" She shook her head at him. "Be ashamed, but do not deny it. We know from your papers that you represent your government. We know your mission is so secret it has been necessary to fool even the Canadian government. But we are not fooled. We know as well as you the present location of Dr. Schpritzer's island, and what he is doing there. Are you surprised?"
"Yes," said Conoway, "I think it's safe to say that I am."
She smiled, picked up her saw, and went back to work on the boat. Conoway took his hammer, resisted the impulse to pound himself on the head a little, and joined her.
THE next day, Natasha was more friendly. "Everyone is capable of reforming," she declared.
"I believe in that," said Conoway.
"Everyone can be educated to think as we do."
"I sometimes wonder."
"You must be more hopeful. It depends on your willingness to study. We will see after we capture the island."
"Good.... How soon will that be?"
"When the boats are finished. We need them for the invasion."
"Yes, I realize that."
"Tomorrow the other one will be ready for testing."
Conoway could hardly wait.
ON the fourth day, Conoway saw open water again. The shore, a ledge of ice, stretched for some distance before it curved out of sight, but the water was visible for only some fifty or sixty feet out. The rest of it faded way in a thick mist that rose from the surface.
Conoway was amazed to find that the Russian camp was not far from the water. It had taken a full day overland to reach the camp from where the plane had landed; flying, the water and their landing place had been minutes apart.
The Russians had loaded a boat on runners, and a party that included Conoway and Natasha had shoved and hauled it to the water in a quarter of an hour. They launched the boat, attached an outboard motor of odd design, and two men jumped in. Soon they were sailing back and forth along the shore.
In the stillness, the motor made a tremendous sound; even the water washing back from the bow seemed unnaturally loud.
Conoway asked Natasha, "How far away is the island?"
"It varies. A half mile, a mile, a mile and a half.... Why?"
"Can't the motor be heard there?"
"Very likely. But what can they do? This is the first time it has happened. They know nothing about us, they are unprepared for us, and even if they communicate with Station 'T-3' for help (you see, we know everything), it will come too late."
"I see," said Conoway.
When they were through testing the boat, a roaring success, it was beached and covered with tarpaulin. The party was about to head for camp when they stopped and stared up into the sky.
A rainbow was forming, a magnificent arch, with delicate bands of spectral color as pure as though refracted through a prism. It hung over the mist in a breathtaking spectacle, holding them in silence for the five minutes or so it lasted. At the end, Natasha was pressing Conoway's heavily-mittened hand in her own. "Is it right," she whispered, "to keep such things for a chosen few?"
"No," said Conoway sincerely. He let go of her hand. The others were waiting for them, watching.
Now the party started moving. Conoway and the girl brought up the rear, walking slowly, letting the others pull away. By the time the others had reached outlying formations of the grotesque blocks and boulders that hid their camp, these two were only a third of the way there. They began to walk faster, when a flurry of snow blew by them. Conoway turned and looked back. The air over the water was filled with falling snow.
"Hurry," said Natasha in alarm. "There may be a storm."
But in a moment the storm was upon them. A great wind sprang up suddenly, racing across the ice fields toward the water, pushing them back. Briefly, Conoway glimpsed the others waving them on, then they had disappeared among the boulders. The wind was screaming now, powerful enough to send large jagged fragments of ice scudding, raising huge masses of loose, swirling crystals. It was impossible to fight it, to attempt reaching camp, or to remain there. Conoway took firm hold of Natasha and led her, stumbling and staggering, back toward the water, looking for the boat.
WHEN they found it, the tarpaulin had almost torn loose; they pulled it in under the boat with them, wrapped themselves in it, and prepared to wait out the storm.
The wind howled, the water foamed; inside, all was snug....
An hour later, when the storm had abated, a rescue party arrived to dig them out.
Reassured by the condition of the refugees and the boat, they went on quickly to another task awaiting them at the water's edge. Natasha joined them and Conoway sat alone on the boat, in a daze. Not far away, the Russians were shouting happily, and he turned to watch with only small interest as they hauled up lobsters and clams from a shoal. Nor did he react when they returned, and he observed that the lobsters were already boiled, and the clams nicely steamed. He had experienced too many of nature's capricious wonders in too brief a time.
WHEN night came, he lay awake through the few hours of darkness. He thought about the men who shared his tent, snoring in a foreign language; about Natasha, sleeping with the pack dogs in the tent next to his; about the pilot, with the group in the tent beyond. He thought about the storm, and winds that could distort and destroy ice mountains. When his watch told him it was time, he crawled silently out of the tent and through the cave.
The inky sky was becoming luminous. He ran in the direction of the water. By the time he reached the boat, the horizon was flaming. He got the boat into the sea, started the motor, and headed into the mist.
THEY welcomed Conoway to Dr. Schpritzer's island in a variety of languages, with songs and flowers. A fleet of outriggers escorted his boat as soon as it penetrated the vapor and nuzzled into tropical sunlight; people waved from canoes and rafts; finally, coming in on a long comber to the palm-fringed shore, he had to be careful about swimmers. They met him on the beach and hung him with vivid blossoms. A mixed chorus sang Chloe, jugglers performed, then dancers, then groups of instrumentalists. Others emerged from the verdant depths of the island to spread a lavish feast in an orange grove, and scores of men and women of every description sat down to break breadfruit with Conoway. Birds with incredible plumage called in the trees, the air was fragrant, the gentlest of breezes came from the sea. Conoway passed out, but a nimble-witted diner thought to remove his hooded parka and fur boots. They revived him, gave him more suitable clothes and a cigar, and the feast continued.
Twice Conoway slept. He awoke the first time refreshed, and judged he had slept a good while. But the position of the sun had scarcely altered, and enthusiasm at the feast seemed undiminished, so he decided he was wrong. The second time he came to with a start, the din of crickets loud in his ears, thinking he had had a mere snooze, but it was night; stars were shining; the grove was softly lit with Japanese lanterns, and a five-piece band was playing Begin The Beguine for dancers in a pavilion.
Close by, engaged in conversation, stood a huge, round man with a black spade beard. Befuddled as he was, Conoway knew he was at last in the presence of Dr. Schpritzer, and called him by name.
The doctor turned and smiled. "Hello. How are you?"
"I must talk to you," said Conoway.
"Not now. Why don't you join the dance?"
"I have something to tell you, something very urgent."
"Let it wait. Tomorrow, maybe..."
"But it can't wait."
"Just wait and see," said the doctor reassuringly. "I'm sorry you don't dance. This nocturnal interlude was in your honor, a romantic notion, but it seems to have confused you. Well," he smiled, "we'll throw some light on the subject." With this, he chose a turkey leg and departed.
Minutes later the darkness lifted with frightening abruptness. The night sky was gone. A dazzling sun was back in place, high in the heavens, and Conoway's first day on the island was over and done with.
THE next time they met was probably three or four days later—according to extra-island calculation—but Conoway was not sure. The hours there had a way of slipping by with great speed, but in retrospect each day seemed to have been several days long; moreover, this was sometimes literally true; the hours of day and night were subject to change, depending on who got to the doctor with what reason, and he was reputed to be a most amenable man. But he was not easy to find. Some said he had gone fishing, others thought not, and Conoway, roaming the length and breadth of the island in pursuit of Schpritzer, had met increasing evasiveness from the islanders. By the time he found the doctor, Conoway was in a terrible state.
It came about when he heard Schpritzer laughing, and traced the sound to the yard behind the island barber shop. The doctor was engaged in shearing a large, docile polar bear. "You look agitated," he remarked to Conoway.
"Dr. Schpritzer, you must talk to me..."
"I'll be very pleased to. What about?"
"You must tell me what's going on here."
"Indeed. I thought you wanted to tell me something?"
"I do... it's very important... but that was days ago, and since then..." He gestured futilely. "No one here will explain anything to me. I ask them who they are, or how they got here, or why they're here, and they look at me and go away..."
"Yes, I've heard," said the doctor, snipping away at the bear's foreleg. "People think it odd you've come all the way here, just to ask where you are. The only ones who've stumbled on the place are the Eskimos, and a fellow I believe was hunting pitchblende. Not that you have to tell me, but what did make you come?"
Conoway sat down. "My name," he began, "is Daniel Conoway. I work for the Agricultural Research Administration..."
The doctor listened and worked without interruption, and when Conoway's recital ended, it was clear that the bear was getting a poodle trim. "What an adventure," Schpritzer sighed. "And just think, it all started with mosquito netting, and crickets.... Did you check up on the crickets?"
"Good. You'll be all right. One of these days you'll get the idea of the island, and everything will be fine."
"...Doctor, I'm trying to tell you that one of these days there may not be an island."
"Come, don't be depressed. There'll always be an island. We've a song that goes like that."
"But what about the Russians?"
"I'm sure we have a few," said Schpritzer reflectively. "We have all sorts here. Of course, eight men and a girl, and the pilot is nine—if he's still alive, and they bring him—not a very balanced group, but we leave those things to the law of averages. I suppose we should shortly get a run of females."
"How soon did you say we can expect them?"
"When they make another boat. They've got spare motors."
"Bless their hearts, we can use a few motors."
"...You're not afraid of what they might do to the island?"
"No. The shoe is on the other foot. Let them come, you'll see what I mean." He put down his shears and kicked the polar bear's rump. The depilated beast waddled off to a nearby palm, shimmied his way up, and sat among the leaves cracking coconuts. "Come, take a walk with me to the weather shack, and I'll do my best to answer your questions... as long as they still seem important to you..."
They walked, and Conoway asked, "Who are the people here?"
"Just people. Who is anyone? Who are you?"
"What are they doing here?"
"Whatever you see. Some read, some garden, some sleep, some make love, some go sailing... whatever you see, or care to infer..."
"How did they get there?"
"One way or another. People manage. You did."
"But I had a reason."
"So did they, I imagine."
"What are their reasons?"
"I can't say. You're one of the very few I've ever asked. Ordinarily I wouldn't think of prying."
"But this isn't just a matter of politeness..."
"No, it isn't. I just don't care. Neither does anyone else."
"But it's your island."
"Exactly, and everyone here, though uninvited, is perfectly welcome to be my guest."
"For how long?"
"It would be inhospitable to ask."
"...But how did they find out about the place?"
"Oh, word gets around... You'd be surprised."
"What's going to happen when everyone knows about it?"
"Who can say? So far we're not the least bit crowded. The island is fruitful, and somehow, whatever needs doing gets done. True, I am not precisely advertising for people, but if they keep coming, I may decide to expand... You mustn't think I'm not proud of what I've done."
"...Then this island is not a phenomenon of nature?"
"What a question. Have you ever seen nature more phenomenal?"
"I meant an accidental phenomenon."
"Certainly not. I created it with my weather machine..." Two ladies rode by on bicycles. "... Good morning, ladies."
"Lovely day, doctor."
"Thank you," said Schpritzer, and to Conoway, "In a story by O. Henry—I believe it was called A Fog In Santone—I once read, 'We may achieve climate, but weather is thrust upon us.' Here I have achieved weather."
"But, Dr. Schpritzer, this is of inestimable value to the world. You owe it to humanity to protect and communicate this achievement."
"I daresay you're right... I've been thinking. Ah, here we are at the weather shack. I shall go in now and perform my magic."
"Please, let me go in with you... It's not secret, is it?"
The doctor laughed. "An unguarded, unlocked shack a secret? No, it's just a tedium explaining, and always unnecessary, if I can postpone it a little. Another day, perhaps. Meanwhile, you might go over to the fig plantation. I'm going to settle a very small cloud blanket on the crop to cool it off..."
Conoway went, and saw the doctor keep his promise. But, considering that on the way he had seen people in adjacent fields digging up baked yams, and taking ice-cold watermelon right off the vine, it was a minor marvel.
IN succeeding days, the more incomprehensible things were, the less extraordinary they seemed. A change came over Conoway, too profound, too subtle for his own perception...
"Hello, Conoway, what brings you here?" It was Dr. Schpritzer, seated in a camp chair on a grassy knoll overlooking the sea, fussing with a small round box. "Walking by," said Conoway. "That's not a concertina, is it?"
"No, it's a portable element from my machine. I'm going to make a rainbow."
"Do you play a musical instrument?"
"Yes, the piano."
"Well, we don't have a piano. But I've thought of importing a few things, as soon as I see to the financing... a helicopter, for one. And I find it's no good relying on people to bring current books. What I need is an outside purchasing agent. Would you care to be my agent?"
"No volunteers, that's my story... How are things?"
"I'm all set, I think. Shall I explain what I do?"
"...I'm going to see it, aren't I?"
"Yes, but don't you want to hear how I make the weather?"
"...Not just now... tomorrow perhaps..."
Later, Conoway recalled he had meant to talk to the doctor about the Russians, but when he thought it over, he realized he didn't really give a damn.
WELL, the Russians came. The outriggers welcomed them too, but a few pistol shots soon restored order...
From a bamboo stockade (to enclose the weather shack) where they set established headquarters, the new regime congratulated the islanders for seizing power, after which identity cards were issued. Mottos to celebrate the historic occasion, and edicts to consolidate it, flowed in pressured streams, and activity was everywhere. They took inventories of the island's resources. They hung up pictures of Lenin, Stalin, and Marx (the last was really an old engraving of Walt Whitman, but no one minded). They caught Conoway and sentenced him to jail; when it turned out there wasn't any, they ordered him to make one. To demonstrate fairness, Conoway's pilot, still their captive, was given amnesty (but this, as the pilot subsequently told Conoway, was because they had forced him to fly the plane closer to the island, presumably awaiting further use). And there was talk of the more splendid things to come, like moving the island to Siberia (they knew it could move) —as soon as they got the hang of Dr. Schpritzer's weather machine.
No one was alarmed, from the doctor, who had experienced island life longest, to Conoway, the last of the acclimatized immigrants.
Schpritzer's status improved as the Russians studied his machine. First he had been arrested and denounced. A peoples' trial was held, and the doctor cheerfully confessed, in an hour-long lecture, the details of his incomparable invention. It was attended only by some drowsy Russians and Conoway, who was a prisoner, and resulted in a decision to put off tampering with the machine. The doctor was then paroled, then pardoned, then consulted. Then, after a particularly long day of unusual heat, which kept everyone at the beach, negotiations began to drag. From day to day, as every islander could see, the Russians were slackening their pace. They began postponing nonsensical projects along with useful ones, and there was also—since Natasha was the only woman they had seen in a long while, and she had preferred to bed down with Pravda—a certain amount of fraternizing. From these signs and others, there was confidence that the invasion would turn into a friendly visit, and the visit into residence...
As for Conoway, he had long since accepted his sentence. He disappeared into the interior, accompanied by Natasha, who was, after all, a mining engineer, and who had gone along to supervise the erection of the jail.
THEN came the big rain. Instead of the gentle showers that Dr. Schpritzer occasionally arranged, this was a torrent, and the result of meddling from Tibor.
Tibor was the Russians' political commissar. His behavior alone had given steady concern. From the outset, he refused to get sunburned; when he caught a compatriot making water skis, he spit on him and called him a Californian; he complained bitterly when the five-day plan became a five-week plan. Furthermore, he had had plans for Natasha which were not materializing. When she did not return from her labor of love, and Conoway's whereabouts proved a mystery, Tibor determined to flood them out.
With one careless move on the complex, regulated machine, Tibor produced a vast cloud and ruptured it.
The island was drenched, and Dr. Schpritzer was hours drying it out. A wild scene followed. The doctor forbade Tibor ever to touch the machine, Tibor ordered the doctor arrested. But there was no one to enforce the order. Tibor went for a weapon and returned with a water-logged rifle; every firearm on the island had been rendered useless by the downpour, and Schpritzer rose to the occasion by smashing a mandolin on Tibor's head, and deposed him.
Life resumed its accustomed abnormal cycle, and the island was once again serene...
ON July 24th—as Conoway later found out—when the idyll came to an end. The day before there had been an announcement of the wedding festival for Conoway and Natasha. It stirred Tibor from the lethargy that had replaced his ferociousness. There had been rumors before this that Tibor was fermenting fruit juices; now he staggered up and down the beach, well juiced, shouting, "Bourgeois rot!" until Conoway clubbed him with an oar.
The next morning, the 24th, Tibor was seen to get into a motorboat and vanish with it through the curtain of mist. No one thought what it could mean, and no one worried—until he returned, and by then it was too late.
Tibor came back with a tommy-gun. He cleared the beach with a few rounds, came ashore, and headed inland. He was next seen returning with two captives, Natasha and the pilot. He ordered them into the boat, bound them hand and foot, and went inland again.
Conoway heard about it in the barber shop, where he had fallen asleep under a hot towel. He immediately raced for the beach. When he reached it, the sound of gunfire came from the direction of the weather shack. Instantly a wind sprang up, warm and wet, but Conoway did not falter. Swiftly he untied Natasha. She ran for the woods. There was more gunfire, and the wind suddenly took on a whirling motion. Conoway kneeled to release the pilot. The wind knocked him down.
All at once, the sea heaved itself up. A gigantic wave, its top towering above the trees, raced from the shoreline straight for the spinning, swirling mist—and atop this wave rode the boat, with Conoway and the pilot in it.
In a twinkling, they were through the mist, rushing toward the icy ledge that bordered the open water—only that, even before they had reached the other side, there was no longer any open water. When they looked behind them, the mist too was gone, and in its place stood an immense dome of ice, enclosing the entire area of the surrounding sea and the island within.
CONOWAY did not get back to Washington, D.C. until two weeks later, and it was then I heard the story. He stayed with me during the time he remained in the city because he was afraid to be alone, afraid that a fit of despondency would overcome his resolve to be heard—to prove his story—and to return to the site of Dr. Schpritzer's island and rescue the people inside the dome of ice.
Because Conoway is certain that they survived. He and the pilot remained at the scene for two days. They found warm clothing in the Russians' camp, and the plane sheltered and with enough fuel to guarantee their escape. They hacked at the great convex wall of ice, and penetrated it several times, but it kept freezing almost as fast as they chopped and dug. On the second day they realized there were warm drafts inside that were responsible for the continued freezing over—and once aloft, they circled the dome and found that the top, 3000 feet up, was open. Conoway says that enough sunlight can reach the island to keep its inhabitants alive.
He does not know for how long. This depends on how badly Tibor wrecked the machine. I heard a lot about that machine—all that Conoway learned from Dr. Schpritzer's lecture on its principles—and I include it here.
One must remember (Conoway told me) that summer and winter are not caused by the distance of the sun from the earth, but rather—and it is surprising to be reminded of this elementary fact—because of the angle at which the sun's rays strike the surface of the earth. The reason for this angle is the tilt in the earth's axis—about 23.5 degrees—which causes the parallel rays of the sun to strike with varying degrees of obliqueness.
Now, as Schpritzer did, let us explain what is a mirage, and how it is made. A mirage is a thin layer of very hot air, usually on a surface like a road or a desert or water, with an air layer immediately above it that is much cooler. The difference in the density of the two layers is so great—often 40 degrees in a few feet—that it bends light rays upward, as if a mirror had been placed between the cool air and the ground. What you then see is not the road or desert or water, but the sky, reflected on the surface.
All right? Step three, then: Six or seven miles up, in the stratosphere, the air temperature ceases to fall off with height. It remains constant and cold—say, 120 degrees below zero. What Schpritzer's machine does (or did) is to shoot up very short electromagnetic or radio waves to that constant cold layer, creating a hot layer right above it.
This "mirage" seven miles up is actually a mirror, and Dr. Schpritzer's machine turned this mirror to bend or deflect the rays of the sun... in other words, controlling the obliqueness of the angle at which the rays normally strike.
With the mirror turned completely away—night.
With the mirror turned back—day.
WITH the mirror constantly bombarding one area with direct, vertical rays, another factor entered—since temperature depends not only on the amount of heat received, but the amount of heat radiated away. This means that Schpritzer was able to heat up his island for long periods, controlling the radiation both ways. With practice, he learned to use the pristine cold, dry arctic air, to load it with vapor, to make insulating clouds, to make rain, to boil or freeze small or large areas of land or water.
One more thing; a word about the island moving. Conoway told me that Schpritzer had indeed first located his Expedition on the northeast peninsula of Parry Island—the missing peninsula which itself became an island, because downward diffusion of heat, so ineffective in the arctic, ordinarily, that large tracts never thaw out below a foot from the surface—in this case, thawed out so much that it broke off from the main body of Parry Island. All Schpritzer then had to do was keep melting ice wherever he wanted to go, and when the wind was right, the island moved....
It is strange that this particular bit of information kept recurring to Conoway, but this is perhaps because it was tied up with the wedding that never was held. It was because of this controllable movement that Dr. Schpritzer felt his island could legally be regarded as a vessel, and he, as master, could perform marriages, which, all in all, the climate encouraged remarkably.
Unfortunately, no one listened to Conoway, except in Fairbanks, where physicians listened and put him on sick leave. When he got to Washington, it was almost August. Congress was adjourning, the city was hot and empty. In vain he gave responsible authorities the dozen and one details that so well support his story.
But why go on? Either you believe it or you don't. Conoway has been missing for weeks, and the last I heard from him, he had two crack scientists working on a duplicate of Dr. Schpritzer's machine with the highest hopes for success.
So if Conoway has gone back up there, to unfreeze that dome and free the island, I expect to hear from him—-unless that one thing I mentioned right at the beginning goes wrong. And that explains, also, why Schpritzer stopped communicating with Weather Station "T-3" and why he never claimed the mosquito netting.
First, he solved the instantaneous making of weather to a point where he just killed off all the mosquitoes with a quick series of cold spells. Second, he no longer needed the sort of information that "T-3" furnished. And third, once he had everything working so well, he just—as Conoway learned for himself—didn't give a damn about the outer world.
The danger now, you see, is that Conoway will go up there and succeed in his mission... and if that happens, he just might not care whether he comes back or not. The way he described it, it's pretty easy to go native—tropical fashion—up there at the North Pole.