The Currents of Space (Page 65)
"It wasn’t," blazed Elk. "It couldn’t have been."
"The Spatio-analyst had a ship," said Junz. "Where is it?"
"On the scrap heap long ago," said Terens. "An order scrapping it was sent out. My superior signed it. A Sarldte never reads papers, of course. It was scrapped without question."
"And Elk’s papers? You said he showed you papers!"
"Surrender that man to us," said Fife suddenly, "and we’ll find out what he knows."
"No," said Junz. "His first crime was against the I.S.B. He kidnaped and damaged the mind of a Spatio-analyst. He belongs to us."
Abel said, "Junz is correct."
Terens said, "Now look here. I don’t say a word without safeguards. I know where Rik’s papers are. They’re where no Sarkite or Trantorian will ever find them. If you want them you’ll have to agree that I’m a political refugee. Whatever I did was out of patriotism, out of a regard for the needs of my planet. A Sarkite or a Trantorian may claim to be patriotic; why not a Florinian as well?"
"The Ambassador," said Junz, "has said you will be given over to the I.S.B. I assure you that you will not be turned over to Sark. For your treatment of the Spatio-analyst, you will be tried. I cannot guarantee the result, but if you co-operate with us now, it will count in your favor."
Terens looked searchingly at Junz. Then he said, "I’ll take my chance with you, Doctor… According to the Spatio-analyst, Florina’s sun is in the pre-nova stage."
"What!" The exclamation or its equivalent came from all but Valona.
"It’s about to explode and go boom," said Terens sardonically. "And when that happens all of Florina will go poof, like a mouthful of tobacco smoke."
Abel said, "I’m no Spatio-analyst, but I have heard that there is no way of predicting when a star will explode."
"That’s true. Until now, anyway. Did Elk explain what made him think so?" asked Junz.
"I suppose his papers will show that. All I can remember is about the carbon current."
"He kept saying, ‘The carbon current of space. The carbon current of space.’ That, and the words ‘catalytic effect.’ There it is.
Steen giggled. Fife frowned. Junz stared.
Then Junz muttered, "Pardon me. I’ll be right back." He stepped out of the limits of the receptor cube and vanished.
He was back in fifteen minutes.
Junz looked about in bewilderment when he returned. Only Abel and Fife were present.
He said, "Where-"
Abel broke in instantly. "We have been waiting for you, Dr. Junz. The Spatio-analyst and the girl are on their way to the Embassy. The conference is ended."
"Ended! Great Galaxy, we have only begun. I’ve got to explain the possibilities of nova formation."
Abel shifted uneasily in his seat. "It is not necessary to do that, Doctor."
"It is very necessary. It is essential. Give me five minutes."
"Let him speak," said Fife. He was smiling.
Junz said, ‘Take it from the beginning. In the earliest recorded scientific writings of Galactic civilization it was already known that stars obtained their energy from nuclear transformations in their interiors. It was also known that, given what we know about conditions in stellar interiors, two types, and only two types, of nuclear transformations can possibly yield the necessary energy. Both involve the conversion of hydrogen to helium. The first transformation is direct: two hydrogens and two neutrons combine to form one helium nucleus. The second is indirect, with several steps. It ends up with hydrogen becoming helium, but in the intermediate steps, carbon nuclei take part. These carbon nuclei are not used up but are re-formed as the reactions proceed, so that a triffing amount of carbon can be used over and over again, serving to convert a great deal of hydrogen to helium. – The carbon acts as a catalyst, in other words. All this has been known back to the days of prehistory, back to the time when the human race was restricted to a single planet, if there ever was such a time."
"If we all know it," said Fife, "I would suggest that you are contributing nothing but a waste of time."
"But this is all we know. Whether stars use one or the other, or both, nuclear processes has never been determined. There have always been schools of thought in favor of each of the alternatives. Usually the weight of opinion has been in favor of the direct hydrogen-helium conversion as being the simpler of the two.
"Now Elk’s theory must be this. The hydrogen-helium direct conversion is the normal source of stellar energy, but under certain conditions the carbon catalysis adds its weight, hastening the process, speeding it up, heating up the star.
"There are currents in space. You all know that well. Some of these are carbon currents. Stars passing through the currents pick up innumerable atoms. The total mass of atoms attracted, however, is incredibly microscopic in comparison to the star’s weight and does not affect it in any way. Except for carbon! A star that passes through a current containing unusual concentrations of carbon becomes unstable. I don’t know how many years or centuries or millions of years it takes for the carbon atoms to diffuse into the star’s interior, but it probably takes a long time. That means that a carbon current must be wide and a star must intersect it at a small angle. In any case, once the quantity of carbon percolating into the star’s interior passes a certain critical amount, the star’s radiation is suddenly boosted tremendously. The outer layers give way under an unimaginable explosion and you have a nova.
"Do you see?"
Fife said, "Have you figured all this out in two minutes as a result of some vague phrase the Townman remembered the Spatb-analyst to have said a year ago?"