Vault of the Beast
|"Vault of the Beast"|
|Author||A. E. van Vogt|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction short story|
|Media type||Print (Newspaper, Magazine, Hardback & Paperback)|
|Publication date||August 1940|
"Vault of the Beast" is a science fiction short story by A. E. van Vogt.
Beings from another dimension have sent a living plastic "robot" to Earth to find the "greatest mathematical mind in the Solar System," and get that person to open a vault on Mars, containing one of the race of its creators. It is able to imitate any form of matter, and to tap the thoughts of the being it duplicates. The creature kills its way to one man, Jim Brender, who it believes is the man. The creature, in the form of another man, reveals that the Martian vault was built by the Ancient Martians, made up of an 'ultimate metal'. The vault is known as the "Tower of the Beast", located in a buried Martian city. It says that the key to opening it is 'factoring the ultimate prime number'.
Brender does not believe the tale and the creature causes a stock market crash, bankrupting Brender to achieve its aim. Brender is forced by his circumstances to take a job as a space pilot. The creature accompanies him to Mars, but is found out. He shoots it and weakens it, allowing its masters to take control of it. They explain that the "Beast" imprisoned in the vault is actually a scientist of their kind, Kalorn, who discovered how to bridge their two spaces. They intend to use the knowledge of Kalorn to conquer all spaces.
To do this they need to open the lock, a time lock. They get Brender to solve the combination, which is both simple and complex. However, releasing the lock has catastrophic consequences for Kalorn: exposed to the different timeflow of our universe (billions of times faster), Kalorn ages into dust when the vault is opened.
The opening of the vault also destroys the robot. Brender returns to Earth again wealthy, the finder and thereby partial owner of the contents of the buried city, worth billions.
Is there really an "ultimate prime number"?
No. The concept of an ultimate prime number is mathematically false. Euclid provided the first proof that there is an infinitude of prime numbers. Given any finite number, no matter how large, if we multiply all the primes below that number and then add 1 to the product, the resulting number will be either (1) a prime larger than the original given number, or (2) the product of primes all of which must be larger than the original given number. For example, if the given number is 10, the primes up to that number are 2, 3, 5, and 7; the product of these primes is 210; and adding 1 to this product gives us 211, which is, itself, a prime number larger than the original given number. Thus, there can be no such thing as an "ultimate prime number."
However, it should be pointed out that this "ultimate prime number" is in the fictional mathematics of the ancient martians, whose concept of math was radically different from our own.
The story was originally published in Astounding (1940) and has been published in several collections and anthologies, such as Monsters, The Other Side of the Moon and Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 2 (1940).
- Vault of the Beast at MathFiction.