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One man against the basic energy of the universe, unleashed in ravening fury that was Storm Cloud. Unique was the only way to describe him, yet alone in his single-handed battle. The appalling destructiveness of a loose atomic vortex could be cancelled out only by destroying the vortex itself. While not even the most massive and modern of electronic computers could figure out how to destroy a loose vortex, Storm Cloud could and did. To Galactic Civilization, the loose vortices were just one menace among many. It was Storm’s unique brain, itself a computer with fantastic powers that enabled him to select and direct a duodecaplylatomate bomb with exactly the right energy to snuff each vortex out of existence. The day a runaway vortex exploded in his home was the day Storm Cloud became the Vortex Blaster!
8,500 words, with a reading time of ~ 0.5 hours (~ 34 pages), and first published in 1941. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2011.
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Safety devices that do not protect.
The “unsinkable” ships that, before the days of Bergenholm and of atomic and cosmic energy, sank into the waters of the earth.
More particularly, safety devices which, while protecting against one agent of destruction, attract magnet-like another and worse. Such as the armored cable within the walls of a wooden house. It protects the electrical conductors within against accidental external shorts; but, inadequately grounded as it must of necessity be, it may attract and upon occasion has attracted the stupendous force of lightning. Then, fused, volatilized, flaming incandescent throughout the length, breadth, and height of a dwelling, that dwelling’s existence thereafter is to be measured in minutes.
Specifically, four lightning rods. The lightning rods protecting the chromium, glass, and plastic home of Neal Cloud. Those rods were adequately grounded, grounded with copper-silver cables the bigness of a strong man’s arm; for Neal Cloud, atomic physicist, knew his lightning and he was taking no chances whatever with the safety of his lovely wife and their three wonderful kids.
He did not know, he did not even suspect, that under certain conditions of atmospheric potential and of ground-magnetic stress his perfectly designed lightning-rod system would become a super-powerful magnet for flying vortices of atomic disintegration.
And now Neal Cloud, atomic physicist, sat at his desk in a strained, dull apathy. His face was a yellowish-gray white, his tendoned hands gripped rigidly the arms of his chair. His eyes, hard and lifeless, stared unseeingly past the small, three-dimensional block portrait of all that had made life worth living.
For his guardian against lightning had been a vortex-magnet at the moment when a luckless wight had attempted to abate the nuisance of a “loose” atomic vortex. That wight died, of course–they almost always do–and the vortex, instead of being destroyed, was simply broken up into an indefinite number of widely-scattered new vortices. And one of these bits of furious, uncontrolled energy, resembling more nearly a handful of material rived from a sun than anything else with which ordinary man is familiar, darted toward and crashed downward to earth through Neal Cloud’s new house.
That home did not burn; it simply exploded. Nothing of it, in it, or around it stood a chance, for in a fractional second of time the place where it had been was a crater of seething, boiling lava–a crater which filled the atmosphere to a height of miles with poisonous vapors; which flooded all circumambient space with lethal radiations.
Cosmically, the whole thing was infinitesimal. Ever since man learned how to liberate intra-atomic energy, the vortices of disintegration had been breaking out of control. Such accidents had been happening, were happening, and would continue indefinitely to happen. More than one world, perhaps, had been or would be consumed to the last gram by such loose atomic vortices. What of that? Of what real importance are a few grains of sand to an ocean beach five thousand miles long, a hundred miles wide, and ten miles deep?
And even to that individual grain of sand called “Earth”–or, in modern parlance, “Sol Three,” or “Tellus of Sol”, or simply “Tellus”–the affair was of negligible importance. One man had died; but, in dying, he had added one more page to the thick bulk of negative results already on file. That Mrs. Cloud and her children had perished was merely unfortunate. The vortex itself was not yet a real threat to Tellus. It was a “new” one, and thus it would be a long time before it would become other than a local menace. And well before that could happen–before even the oldest of Tellus’ loose vortices had eaten away much of her mass or poisoned much of her atmosphere, her scientists would have solved the problem. It was unthinkable that Tellus, the point of origin and the very center of Galactic Civilization, should cease to exist.