Chapter 1 Summary
Reinhold Hammond watches the Pacific island of Taratua in the fading light. Though the volcano that created Taratua has been extinct for thousands of years, it will soon be ablaze with the flames from the take-off of “Columbia,” the spaceship bound for outer space. Reinhold loved the island; it saddened to know that it would be devastated by the ignition of the spaceship’s engines.
Out in the ocean, the “James Forrestal” carrier stands guard, watching for any Russian submarines that may approach the island. Reinhold thinks back to the end of the Second World War in 1945. He and his friend, Konrad Schneider, had watched the downfall of Germany and had faced the decision where their future would lie. Reinhold chose the West, while Schneider traveled to Moscow and joined the burgeoning space program of the Soviet Union.
Colonel Sandmeyer of Technical Intelligence had been the one to tell him of Schneider’s involvement in the Russian program. Reinhold had assumed that his friend had died long ago. Sandmeyer tells him that the Russians have developed a new kind of atomic drive, which might be as effective as that of the Americans. Sandmeyer gives him a list of Russian scientists involved in the program, and Reinhold sees Schneider’s name at the top of the list. He wonders what technological marvels Schneider has created with the resources of the Soviet Union at his fingertips.
In the Soviet Union’s space base at Lake Baikal, Konrad Schneider attend the testing of their new atomic drive. Grigorievitch, the Assistant Commissar for Nuclear Science tells Schneider that soon they will surpass the Americans, but Schneider is not so optimistic. Schneider hears the soldiers and workers shouting out. He wonders what could have disturbed the strict Soviet discipline. He looks out the window. What he sees causes him to despair for the first time in his life.
On Taratua, Reinhold walks down the hill, looking at the aircraft carrier sweeping the sea with search lights. The “Columbus” is lit up. Reinhold hears dance music coming from the living quarters. He feels some premonition when he comes to the bottom of the hill. He glances from the land and back to the sea, but sees nothing. Then he looks up. At that moment, Reinhold Hoffman, like Konrad Schneider, knows that he has lost the space race. He sees the space ships shutting out the light from the distant stars. The entire world sees the ships approaching Earth. Only one thought echoes in Reinhold’s mind: The human race is no longer alone.