A STRUGGLE AGAINST THE IMPOSSIBLE
For a long time Barbicane and his companions looked silently and sadly upon that world which they had only seen from a distance, as Moses saw the land of Canaan, and which they were leaving without a possibility of ever returning to it. The projectile's position with regard to the moon had altered, and the base was now turned to the earth.
This change, which Barbicane verified, did not fail to surprise them. If the projectile was to gravitate round the satellite in an elliptical orbit, why was not its heaviest part turned toward it, as the moon turns hers to the earth? That was a difficult point.
In watching the course of the projectile they could see that on leaving the moon it followed a course analogous to that traced in approaching her. It was describing a very long ellipse, which would most likely extend to the point of equal attraction, where the influences of the earth and its satellite are neutralized.
Such was the conclusion which Barbicane very justly drew from facts already observed, a conviction which his two friends shared with him.
"And when arrived at this dead point, what will become of us?" asked Michel Ardan.
"We don't know," replied Barbicane.
"But one can draw some hypotheses, I suppose?"
"Two," answered Barbicane; "either the projectile's speed will be insufficient, and it will remain forever immovable on this line of double attraction----"
"I prefer the other hypothesis, whatever it may be," interrupted Michel.
"Or," continued Barbicane, "its speed will be sufficient, and it will continue its elliptical course, to gravitate forever around the orb of night."
"A revolution not at all consoling," said Michel, "to pass to the state of humble servants to a moon whom we are accustomed to look upon as our own handmaid. So that is the fate in store for us?"
Neither Barbicane nor Nicholl answered.
"You do not answer," continued Michel impatiently.
"There is nothing to answer," said Nicholl.
"Is there nothing to try?"
"No," answered Barbicane. "Do you pretend to fight against the impossible?"
"Why not? Do one Frenchman and two Americans shrink from such a word?"
"But what would you do?"
"Subdue this motion which is bearing us away."
"Yes," continued Michel, getting animated, "or else alter it, and employ it to the accomplishment of our own ends."
"That is your affair. If artillerymen are not masters of their projectile they are not artillerymen. If the projectile is to command the gunner, we had better ram the gunner into the gun. My faith! fine savants! who do not know what is to become of us after inducing me----"
"Inducing you!" cried Barbicane and Nicholl. "Inducing you! What do you mean by that?"
"No recrimination," said Michel. "I do not complain, the trip has pleased me, and the projectile agrees with me; but let us do all that is humanly possible to do the fall somewhere, even if only on the moon."
"We ask no better, my worthy Michel," replied Barbicane, "but means fail us."
"We cannot alter the motion of the projectile?"
"Nor diminish its speed?"
"Not even by lightening it, as they lighten an overloaded vessel?"
"What would you throw out?" said Nicholl. "We have no ballast on board; and indeed it seems to me that if lightened it would go much quicker."
"Neither slower nor quicker," said Barbicane, wishing to make his two friends agree; "for we float is space, and must no longer consider specific weight."
"Very well," cried Michel Ardan in a decided voice; "then their remains but one thing to do."
"What is it?" asked Nicholl.
"Breakfast," answered the cool, audacious Frenchman, who always brought up this solution at the most difficult juncture.
In any case, if this operation had no influence on the projectile's course, it could at least be tried without inconvenience, and even with success from a stomachic point of view.