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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Out of the Sun

Ben Bova

Tor Books


Out of the Sun


Is Dedicated To


who started this book
some thirty-five years ago
without knowing it.
Codes and Guides
Here are some aids to help you explore the amazing world of the laser.
World scientists now use the metric system rather than the older and clumsier English system of inches, pounds, and so forth.

1 millimeter (mm) = 0.03937 inch
1 centimeter (cm) = 0.3937 inch
1 meter (m) = 100 cm = 39.37 inches, or 3.28 feet
1 kilometer (km) = 1000 m = 0.62137 mile
1 mile = 1.6093 km
1 inch = 2.5400 cm = 25.400 mm

1 gram (gm) = 0.0353 ounce = 0.0022046 pound
1 kilogram (kg) = 1000 gm = 2.2046 pounds
1 metric ton = 1000 kg = 2204.6 pounds
Three temperature scales are in common use today. The Kelvin, or Absolute, scale is used most in this book. The Kelvin scale starts at absolute zero, the temperature where, theoretically, all molecular motion stops and the energy we call heat ceases to exist. There are no minus numbers in the Kelvin scale.
The centigrade scale uses the same "sized" degrees as the Kelvin. The only difference between the two scales is that the centigrade scale places its zero at the freezing point of fresh water. In converting from centigrade to Kelvin, merely add 273; to go from Kelvin to centigrade, subtract 273. The Fahrenheit scale is older and much different. To convert from centigrade degrees to Fahrenheit, multiply by 9/5 and then add 32. To go from Fahrenheit to centigrade, subtract 32 and then multiply by 5/9.

Such terms as megawatts and kilovolts are simple ways of labeling even units. Prefixes that denote large and small units include:

tera = 1012
giga = 109
mega = 106
kilo = 103
hecto = 102
deka = 10
deci = 10-1
centi = 10-2
milli = 10-3
micro = 10-6
nano = 10-9
pico = 10-12

In writing very large or very small numbers, the powers of ten notation saves work and space.

10 = 101
100 = 102
1000 = 103
1,000,000 = 106
1,000,000,000 = 109
1 = 100
0.1 = 10-1
0.01 = 10-2
0.000001 = 10-6
0.000000001 = 10-9

A plus superscript tells how many zeroes are to the left of the decimal place, and a minus superscript tells how many digits (not only zeroes) are to the right of the decimal. To write out a number such as 83 billion we say:

83 x 109or 8.3 × 1010

The fighter plane was nicknamed Arrow One. It was cruising eight miles high above the frozen white of the Arctic Ocean, not far from the North Pole.
Hundreds of miles away, the long-ranged radars on the coast of Alaska picked up an unknown bomber. Ground command sent Arrow One to check on it.
"Got him," the radar man said to the pilot, and he pointed to the screen in the middle of his control panel.
The pilot, sitting on the left side of the two-man cockpit, glanced at the blip of light on the radar screen. He pushed the throttles forward and winged over toward the oncoming bomber.
Arrow One raced ahead at Mach 3, three times the speed of sound. Within minutes the bomber was in sight.
"No markings on him," the pilot muttered. "Better radio back to ground command that ..."
He never finished the sentence.
Arrow One fell apart. Instantly. No warning, no chance of escape. The plane shattered into a thousand pieces. The pilot and radar man were dead before they could take another breath.

Paul Sarko edged along the narrow aisle of the big jet airliner. His suitcase felt heavy and clumsy. He held it out in front of himself so that it wouldn't bang on the seats as he walked through.
He smiled at the stewardess who was standing at the main hatch, then ducked through into the bright springtime sunlight.
Standing at the bottom of the stairs, squinting up at the passengers as they left the plane, was Dr. Ratterman. Sarko hurried down the stairs and shook hands with his ex-boss.
"Hello, Leon! You finally finished building your swimming pool, didn't you?"
Dr. Ratterman looked surprised. Then his hand went up to touch his tanned and peeling bald head.
With a smile, he said, "You're still a detective, Paul."
Sarko laughed. He had a roundish face with large, alert, dark eyes that seemed to probe everywhere. His hair was straight and black. He was a lanky, restless six-footer; much bigger than the short, thin Dr. Ratterman.
A jet roared off from the runway as they started across the airport parking apron. Dr. Ratterman pointed toward an Air Force helicopter standing off to one side of the terminal building.
Sarko's eyebrows hitched upward. "You must be in a hurry, Leon."
The older man nodded, dead serious now. An Airman ran up to them and took Sarko's suitcase. They followed him to the 'copter and climbed in. The pilot started the engines as they strapped themselves into the bucket seats. As soon as the Airman had hopped aboard, they lifted straight up.
"Why all the mystery on the phone?" Sarko asked, over the whine of the turbine engines. "What's so important that you have to yank me away from my job? And why me, anyway? I'm not ..."
Dr. Ratterman waved him into silence. "You'll see in a few minutes."
The 'copter cut straight across a small town and out over several miles of farmland. Then the huge runways of the air base slid into view. Beyond them was a fair-sized city of gray cinder-block buildings and white frame houses and barracks. Sarko knew every building, inch by inch. Especially the research labs. He had spent six years of his life there. He had left nearly a year ago, thinking that he'd never come back.
They landed at the far end of one of the runways, next to a giant hangar.
"They'll take your luggage," Dr. Ratterman said, nodding at the Airman and pilot. "You'll be living on the base for the time being."
"For the time being?" Sarko began to feel uneasy as he climbed down from the helicopter to the cement paving. "What's this all about, Leon? What's the secret? I had a good job in Seattle, and now ..."
But Dr. Ratterman didn't answer. He headed for the hangar. Sarko had no choice except to follow him.
Through a set of double doors. An Air Policeman stood between the doors, with an automatic pistol strapped to his hip. Inside ...
The Arrow.
Sleek. Dead black. Two huge fan-jet engines with afterburners. Stubby, swept-back wings. Flat-bottomed delta-shaped body squatting on three sets of triple wheels. She could fly twenty miles high, travel two thousand miles without refueling, at three times the speed of sound. The Air Force's fastest fighting plane, the Mach 3 Arrow.
Despite himself, Sarko felt a thrill. He walked slowly alongside the plane and put out a hand to touch the smooth black metal that he had created. It had taken six years of his life to make that metal perfect.
"This is the first time you've seen her, isn't it?" Dr. Ratterman's voice rang hollow in the vast, quiet hangar.
Sarko nodded.
"She's your baby, as much as anybody's."
Sarko turned on the older man. "No, she's not! She's a weapon. I didn't work on a weapon. I did a research job. I just wanted to make a metal alloy that would stand up to Mach 3 speeds. You turned the metal into a weapon. The Arrow is yours, not mine."
"All right," Dr. Ratterman said, raising his hands. "All right. So now you're out of the Air Force and working on Mach 3 airliners."
"I was--until you drafted me. What did you tell my boss? He looked as though World War Six had just hit him."
Instead of answering, Dr. Ratterman said, "Come up here with me."
They climbed a metal staircase to a catwalk that ran around the inside walls of the hangar. Their footsteps clanked on the metal deck. Dr. Ratterman led Sarko back to the farthest end of the hangar. There they could look down into a section that had been screened off from the main hangar floor.
Sarko looked down, and felt his knees wobble. "What ... what happened?"
Spread across the floor was wreckage. There wasn't enough left to tell what the plane had looked like before its crash, except that it probably had been painted black, and might have had stubby, swept-back wings.
"It's an Arrow." Dr. Ratterman said flatly. "We've built four. That was the first one. She crashed over the Arctic Ocean two weeks ago. That's all the Navy could find of her. The rest is at the bottom of the ocean."
Sarko leaned forward and grabbed the handrail in front of him with both fists. For a moment he thought he was going to be sick.
"It ... how did it happen?"
Dr. Ratterman shook his head. "That's why we need a detective. A detective who knows about the metals in that plane. Two more Arrows are flying right now. You saw the fourth one when we came in here. We've got to find out why this one crashed ... and make sure the same thing doesn't happen to the other three."
THE AMAZING LASER Copyright© 1971, 1983 by Benjamin W. Bova. Originally published by The Westminster Press.