This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction October and November 1963. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
"WHERE I WASN'T GOING"
"The Spaceman's Lament" concerned a man who wound up where he wasn't going ... but the men on Space Station One knew they weren't going anywhere. Until Confusion set in....
WALT AND LEIGH RICHMOND
ILLUSTRATED BY JOHN SCHOENHERR
I studied and worked and learned my trade I had the life of an earthman made; But I met a spaceman and got way-laid— I went where I wasn't going!
THE SPACEMAN'S LAMENT
* * * * *
Making his way from square to square of the big rope hairnet that served as guidelines on the outer surface of the big wheel, Mike Blackhawk completed his inspection of the gold-plated plastic hull, with its alternate dark and shiny squares.
He had scanned every foot of the curved surface in this first inspection, familiarizing himself completely with that which other men had constructed from his drawings, and which he would now take over in the capacity of chief engineer.
Mike attached his safety line to a guideline leading to the south polar lock and kicked off, satisfied that the lab was ready for the job of turning on the spin with which he would begin his three months tour of duty aboard.
The laws of radiation exposure set the three-month deadline to service aboard the lab, and he had timed his own tour aboard to start as the ship reached completion, and the delicate job of turning her was ready to begin.
U.N. Space Lab One was man's largest project to date in space. It might not be tremendous in size by earth standards of construction, but the two hundred thirty-two foot wheel represented sixty-four million pounds of very careful engineering and assembly that had been raised from Earth's surface to this thirty-six-hour orbit.
Many crews had come and gone in the eighteen months since the first payload had arrived at this orbit—but now the first of the scientists for whom the lab was built were aboard; and the pick of the crews selected for the construction job had been shuttled up for the final testing and spin-out.
Far off to Mike's left and slightly below him a flicker of flame caught his eye, and he realized without even looking down that the retro-rockets of the shuttle on which he had arrived were slowly putting it out of orbit and tipping it over the edge of the long gravitic well back to Earth. It would be two weeks before it returned.
Nearing the lock he grasped the cable with one hand, slowing himself, turned with the skill of an acrobat, and landed catlike, feet first, on the stat-magnetic walk around the lock.
He had gone over, minutely, the inside of the satellite before coming to its surface. Now there was only one more inspection job before he turned on the spin.
Around this south polar hub-lock, which would rotate with the wheel, was the stationary anchor ring on which rode free both the stat-walk and the anchor tubes for the smaller satellites that served as distant components of the mother ship.
Kept rigid by air pressure, any deviation corrected by pressure tanks in the stationary ring, the tubes served both to keep the smaller bodies from drifting too close to Space Lab One, and prevented their drifting off.
The anchor tubes were just over one foot in diameter, weighing less than five ounces to the yard—gray plastic and fiber, air-rigid fingers pointing away into space—but they could take over two thousand pounds of compression or tension, far more than needed for their job, which was to cancel out the light drift motion caused by crews kicking in or out, or activities aboard. Uncanceled, these motions might otherwise have caused the baby satellites to come nudging against the space lab; or to scatter to the stars.
There had been talk of making them larger, so that they might also provide passageway for personnel without the necessity for suiting up; but as yet this had not been done. Perhaps later they would become the forerunners of space corridors in the growing complex that would inevitably develop around such a center of man's activities as this laboratory in its thirty-six hour orbit.
At the far end of the longest anchor tube, ten miles away and barely visible from here, was located the unshielded, remote-controlled power pile that supplied the necessary energy for the operation of the wheel. Later, it was hoped, experimental research now in progress would make this massive device unnecessary. Solar energy would make an ideal replacement; but as yet the research was not complete, and solar energy had not yet been successfully harnessed for the high power requirements of the Lab.
Inside this anchor tube ran the thick coaxial cable that fed three-phase electric power from the atomic pile to the ship.
At the far end of the second anchor tube, five miles off in space, was Project Hot Rod, the latest in the long series of experiments by which man was attempting to convert the sun's radiant energy to useful power.
At the end of the third anchor tube, and comparatively near the ship, was the dump—a conglomeration of equipment, used and unused booster rocket cases, oddments of all sorts, some to be installed aboard the wheel, others to be used as building components of other projects; and some oddments of materials that no one could have given a logical reason for keeping at all except that they "might be useful"—all held loosely together by short guidelines to an anchor ring at the tube's end.
* * * * *
Carefully, Mike checked the servo-motor that would maintain the stationary position of the ring with clocklike precision against the drag of bearing friction and the spin of the hub on which it was mounted; then briefly looked over the network of tubes before entering the air lock.
Inside, he stripped off the heavy, complicated armor of an articulated spacesuit, with its springs designed to compensate for the Bourdon tube effect of internal air pressure against the vacuum of space, appearing in the comfortable shorts, T-shirt, and light, knit moccasins with their thin, plastic soles, that were standard wear for all personnel.
He was ready to roll the wheel.
Feeling as elated as a schoolboy, Mike dove down the central axial tube of the hub, past the passenger entrances from the rim, the entrances to the bridge and the gymnasium-shield area, to the engineering quarters just below the other passenger entrances from the rim, and the observatory that occupied the north polar section of the hub.
The engineering quarters, like all the quarters of the hub, were thirty-two feet in diameter. Ignoring the ladder up the flat wall, Mike pushed out of the port in the central axis tunnel and dropped to the circular floor beside the power console.
Strapping himself down in the console seat, he flipped the switch that would connect him with Systems Control Officer Bessandra Khamar at the console of the ship's big computer, acronymically known as Sad Cow.
"Aiee-yiee, Bessie! It's me, Chief Blackhawk!" he said irreverently into the mike. "Ready to swing this buffalo!"
Bessie's mike gave its preliminary hum of power, and he could almost feel her seeking out the words with which to reprimand him. Then, instead, she laughed.
"Varyjat! Mike, haven't you learned yet how to talk over an intercom? Blasting a girl's eardrums at this early hour. It's no way to maintain beautiful relationships and harmony. I'm still waiting for my second cup of coffee," she added.
"Wait an hour, and this cup of coffee you shall have in a cup instead of a baby bottle," Mike told her cheerfully. "Space One's checked out ready to roll. Want to tell our preoccupied slipstick and test-tube boys in the rim before we roll her, or just wait and see what happens? They shouldn't get too badly scrambled at one-half RPM—that's about .009 gee on the rim-deck—and I sort of like surprises!"
"No, you don't" Bessie said severely. "No, you don't. They need an alert, and I need to finish the programming on Sad Cow to be sure this thing doesn't wobble enough to shake us all apart. Even at a half RPM, your seams might not hold with a real wobble, and I don't like the idea of falling into a vacuum bottle as big as the one out there without a suit."
"How much time do you need?"
"On my mark, make it T minus thirty minutes. That ought to do it. O.K., here we go." There was a brief pause, then Bessie's voice came formally over the all-stations annunciator system.
"Now hear this. Now hear this. All personnel. On my mark it is T minus thirty minutes to spin-out check. According to program, acceleration will begin at zero, and the rim is expected to reach .009 gee at one-half revolutions per minute in the first sixty seconds of operation. We will hold that spin until balance is complete, when the spin will slowly be raised to two revolutions per minute, giving .15 gee on the rim deck.
"All loose components and materials should be secured. All personnel are advised to suit up, strap down and hang on. We hope we won't shake anybody too much. Mark and counting."
Almost immediately on the announcement came another voice over the com line. "Hold, hold, hold. We've got eighteen hundred pounds of milling equipment going down Number Two shaft to the machine shop, and we can't get it mounted in less than twenty minutes. Repeat, hold the countdown."
"The man who dreamed up the countdown was a Brain," Bessie could hear Mike muttering over his open intercom, "but the man who thought up the hold was a pure genius."
"Holding the countdown." It was Bessie's official voice. "It is T minus thirty and holding. Why are you goons moving that stuff ahead of schedule and without notifying balance control? What do you think this is, a rock-bound coast? Think we're settled in to bedrock like New York City? I should have known," she muttered, forgetting to flip the switch off, "my horoscope said this would be a shaky sort of day."
Chad Clark glanced up from his position at the communications console across the bridge from Bessie, to where her shiny black hair, cut short, framed the pert Eurasian features of the girl that seemed to be hanging from the ceiling above him.
"Is it really legal," he asked, "using such a tremendously complicated chunk of equipment as the Sacred Cow for casting horrible scopes? What's mine today, Bessie? Make it a good one, and I won't report you to U.N. Budget Control!"
"Offhand, I'd say today was your day to be cautious, quiet and respectful to your betters, namely me. However," she added in a conciliatory tone, "since you put it on a Budget Control basis, I'll ask the Cow to give you a real, mathematicked-out, planets and houses properly aligned, reading.
"Hey, Perk!" Her finger flipped the observatory com line switch. "Have you got the planets lined up in your scopes yet? Where are they? The Sacred Cow wants to know if they're all where they ought to be."
Out in the observatory, designed to swing free on the north polar axis of the big wheel, Dr. P. E. R. Kimball, PhD, FRAS, gave a startled glance at the intercom speaker.
"I did not realize that you would wish additional observational data before the swing began. I am just getting my equipment lined up, in preparation for the beginnings of the swing, and will be unable to give you figures of any accuracy for some hours yet. Any reading I could give you now would be accurate only to within two minutes of arc—relatively valueless." The voice was cheerful, but very precise.
"Anything within half an hour of arc right now would be O.K." Bessie's voice hid a grin.
"In that case, the astronomical almanac data in the computer's memory should be more than sufficiently precise for your needs." There was a dry chuckle. "Horoscopes again?"
* * * * *
As Bessie turned back to the control side of her console, she saw a hand reach past her to pick up a pad of paper and pencil from the console desk. She glanced around to find Mike leaning over her shoulder, and grinned at him as she began extracting figures from the computer's innards for a "plus or minus thirty seconds of arc" accuracy.
Mike sketched rapidly as she worked, and she turned as she heard him mutter a disgusted curse.
"These are angular readings from our present position," he said in an annoyed tone. "Get the Cow to rework them into a solar pattern."
"Yes, sir, Chief Blackhawk, sir. What did you think I was doing?"
"You're getting them into the proper houses for a horoscope. I want a solar pattern. Now tell that Sacred Cow that you ride herd on to give me a polar display pattern on one of the peepholes up there," he said, glancing at the thirty-six video screens above the console on which the computer could display practically any information that might be desired, including telescopic views, computational diagrams, or even the habitats of the fish swimming in the outer rim channels.
The display appeared in seconds on the main screen, and Mike growled as he saw it.
"Have the Cow advance that pattern two days," he said furiously. Then, as the new pattern emerged, "I should have known it. It looks like we're being set up for a solar flare. Right when we're getting rolling. It might be a while, though. Plenty of time to check out a few gee swings. But best you rehearse your slipstick jockeys in emergency procedures."
"A flare, Mike? Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm not sure. But those planets sure make the conditions ripe. Look." And he held his pencil across the screen as a straight line dividing the pattern neatly through the center.
"Look at the first six orbits, Jupiter's right on the line. And Mercury won't be leaving until Jupe crosses that line." The "line" that Mike had indicated with his pencil across the screen would have, in the first display shown all but one of the first six planets already on the same side of the sun and in the new display, two days later, it showed all six of the planets bunched in the 180 deg. arc with Earth only a few degrees from the center of that arc.
"Hadn't thought to check before," he said, "but that's about as predictable as anything the planets can tell you. We can expect a flare, and probably a dilly."
"Why, Mike? If a solar flare were due, U.N. Labs wouldn't have scheduled us this way. What makes you so sure that means there's a solar flare coming? I thought they weren't predictable?"
"It's fairly new research—but fairly old superstition," Mike said. "You play with horoscopes—but my people have been watching the stars and predicting for many moons. I remember what they used to say around the old tribal fires.
"When the planets line up on one side of the sun, you get trouble from man and beast and nature. We weren't worried about radio propagation in those days, but we were worried about seasons, and how we felt, and when the buffalo would be restless.
"More recently some of the radio propagation analysts have been worrying about the magnetic storms that blank out communications on Earth occasionally when old Sol opens up with a broadside of protons. Surely plays hell with communications equipment.
"Yep, there's a flare coming. Whether it's caused by gravitational pull, when you get the planets to one side of Sol; or whether it's magnetism—I just don't know."
"Shucks," she said, "we had a five-planet line-up in 1961; and nothing happened; nothing at all. The seers—come to think of it, some of them were Indians, but from India," she added, "not Amerinds—the seers all predicted major catastrophes and the end of the world and all kinds of things, and nothing happened."
"Bessie," Mike's voice was serious. "I remember 1961 as well as you do. You had several factors that were different then—but you had solar flares then. Quite spectacular ones. You just weren't out here, where they make a difference of life or death.
"Don't let anybody hold us too long getting this station lined up and counted down and tested out. Because we've got things building up out there, and we may get that flare, and it may not be two days coming," he finished.
With that the Amerind sprang catlike to a hand-hold on the edge of the central tunnel and vanished back towards the engineering station, from which he would control the test-spin of the big wheel.
* * * * *
Bessandra Khamar, educated in Moscow, traced her ancestry back to one of the Buryat tribes of southern Siberia, a location that had become eventually, through the vast vagaries of history, known as the Buryat Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.
She was of a proud, clannish people, with Mongolian ancestry and a Buddhist background which had not been too deeply scarred by the political pressures from Western Russia. Rebellious of nature, and of a race of people where women fought beside their men in case of necessity, she had first left her tribal area to seek education in the more advanced western provinces with a vague idea of returning to spread—not western ideologies amongst her people—but perhaps some of their know-how. This she had found to be a long and involved process; and more and more, with an increase of education, she had grown away from her people, the idea of return moving ever backwards and floundering under the impact of education.
She had been an able student, though independent and quite argumentative, with a mind and will of her own that caused a shaking of heads amongst her fellow students.
Having sought knowledge in what, to her, were the western provinces of her own country, she had delved not only into the knowledge of things scientific, but into the wheres and whyfores of the political situations that made a delineation between the peoples of Russia and the other peoples of the world.
Somehow she had been accepted as part of a trade mission to South America, and with that first trip out of her own country her horizons had broadened. Carefully she had nurtured that which pleased others in such a way that she had been recommended to other, similar tasks. And eventually she had gone to the U.N. on an extended tour of duty. It was here for the first time that she had heard of the recruitment of a staff for the new U.N. Space Lab project, and here she had made a basic decision: To seek a career, not in her own country or back among the peoples of her own clan, but in the U.N. itself, where she could better satisfy the urge to know more of all people.
She had, of course, been educated in a time of change. As a child she had attended compulsory civilian survival classes, as had nearly every person in the vast complex of the Soviet Union. She had learned about atomic weapons; and that other peoples for unknown reasons as far as she could determine, might declare her very safety and life forfeit to causes she did not understand.
Later, as she had made her way westward seeking reasons and causes for these possible disasters, and more knowledge in general, her country had undergone what amounted to a revolutionary change. Not only her country, but the entire world had moved during her lifetime from an armed camp or set of camps with divided interests and the ability for total annihilation, towards a seeking of common goals—towards a seeking of common understandings.
The catastrophe that had threatened to engulf the entire world and claim the final conquest had occurred while she was a very junior student in Moscow, when the two major nations that were leaders—or had thought themselves to be leaders, so far as atomic weaponry and such were concerned—had stood almost side by side in horror, and attempted to halt the conflagration that had been sparked by a single bomb landed on the mainland of China by Formosa.
While Russia and the United States had stood forth in the U.N. and renounced any use of atomic weapons, the short and bitter struggle which reached its termination in a mere five days had brought the world staggering to the ultimate brink of atomic war, as the Formosan Chinese made their final bid for control of mainland China.
The flare of atomic conflict had been brief and horrible. Where the bombs had come from had been the subject of acrimonious accusations on the floor of the U.N. The United States had forsworn knowledge, and for a time no one had been able to say from whence they had come. Later, shipping records had proven their source in the Belgian Congo as raw material, secretly prepared and assembled on Formosa itself, and it became obvious to the entire world that an atomic weapon was not something that could be hidden in secrecy from the desires of desperate men.
* * * * *
The Chinese mainland had responded with nuclear weapons of its own; weapons they, too, had not been known to possess, but had possessed.
That the rest of the world had not been sucked into the holocaust was a credit to the statesmen of both sides. That disarmament was agreed to by all nations was a matter of days only from the parallel but unilateral decisions of both Russia and the United States, that disarmament must be accomplished while there was yet time.
Under the political pressures backed by the human horror of all nations, the nuclear disarmament act of the U.N. had given to the U.N. the power of inspection of any country or any manufacturing complex anywhere in the world; inspection privileges that overrode national boundaries and considerations of national integrity, and a police force to back this up—a police force comprised of men from every nation, the U.N. Security Corps.
The United Nations, from a weak but hopeful beginning, had now stepped forth in its own right as an effective world government. There was no political unity at a lower echelon amongst the states or sub-governments of the world. To each its own problems. To each its own ideologies. To each, help according to its needs from the various bureaus of the U.N. And from each the necessary taxes for the support of the world organization.
In Russia the ideology of Marx-Lenin was still present. And in other countries other ideologies were freely supported. But the world could no longer afford an outright conflict of ideologies, and U.N. Security was charged not only with the seeking out and destruction of possible hoards of atomic weapons, but also with the seeking out and muzzling of those who expressed an ideology at all costs, even the cost of the final suicide of war, to their neighbors.
No hard and fast rules could be drawn to distinguish between a casual remark made in another country as to one's preference for one's own country, and an active subversion design to subvert another country to one's own ideology. But nevertheless, the activity of subversion had become an illegal act under the meaning of "security." And individual governments had recalled agents from their neighboring countries—not only agents, but simple tourists as well. For the stigma of having an agent arrested in another country and brought to trial at the U.N. was a stigma that no government felt it could afford.
Over the world settled a pall. The one place outside of one's own country, where one's ideology could be spoken of with impunity, was within the halls of the U.N. Assembly itself, under the aegis of diplomatic immunity. Here the ideologies could rant and rave against each other, seeking a rendering of a final decision in men's age-old arguments; but elsewhere such discussions were verboten, and subject to swift, stiff penalties.
There were some who thought quietly to themselves that perhaps in the reaction to horror they had voted too much power to a small group of men known as Security, but there were others, weary of the insecurity of world power-politics, who felt that Security was a blessing, and would for all time protect all men in the freedom of their own beliefs. The pressures had been great, and the pendulum of political weight had swung far in an opposite direction. In fact, man had achieved that which he would deny—in a reach for freedom, he had made the first turn in the coil that would bind him—in the coil that would bind the mass of the many to the will of the very few.
* * * * *
In school in Moscow, these things touched Bessandra's life only remotely. The concepts, the talk, the propaganda from Radio Moscow, these she heard, but they were not her main interests.
Her main interests were two—one, the fascination which the giant computer at Moscow University held for her; and two, the students around her. People, she had noted, had behavior patterns very similar to the complex computer; not as individual units, though as individual units they could also be as surprisingly obtuse as the literal-minded reaction of the computer; but in statistical numbers they had an even greater tendency to act as the computer did.
The information fed them and their reactions to it had a logic all its own; not a logic of logic, but a logic of reaction. And the reaction could be controlled, she noted, in the same self-corrective manner that was applied to logic in the interior of the computer—the feedback system.
It was obvious that with a statistical group of people, the net result of action could be effectively channeled by one person in an obscure position acting as a feedback mechanism to the group, and with selective properties applied to the feedback.
At one point she had quietly, and for no other reason than to test this point to her own satisfaction, sat back and created a riot of the women students at the University, without once appearing either as the cause or the head or leader in the revolt. The revolt in itself had been absolutely senseless, but the result had been achieved with surprisingly little effort on the part of one individual.
Computers and people had from that day become her tools, whenever she decided to bend them to her will.
Even earlier in her career, she had managed to put her rebellious nature under strict control, never appearing to be a cause in herself; never appearing as a leader among the students; merely a quiet student intent upon the gain of knowledge and oblivious to her surroundings.
Later as she realized her abilities, she had sought council with herself and her Buddhist ancestry, to determine what use her knowledge should serve. And to her there was but one answer: Men were easily enslaved by their own shortcomings; but men who were free produced more desirable results; and if she were to use their shortcomings at all, it must be to bend them in the path of freedom that she might be surrounded by higher achievements rather than sheeplike activities which she found to be repugnant.
Gradually she had achieved skill in the manipulation of people; always towards the single self-interest of creating a better and more pleasant world in which she herself could live.
* * * * *
In rim sector A-9, Dr. Claude Lavalle was having his troubles. Free fall conditions that were merely inconvenient to him were proving near-disastrous to the animals in the cages around him.
Many and various were the difficulties that he had had with animals during his career, but never before such trifles that built peu a peu—into mountains.
Claude Lavalle had originally planned to leave his stock of animals, which contained sets of a great many of the species of the small animals of Earth, on their own gravity-bound planet until well after the spin supplied pseudo-gravity to the ship; but the schedule of the shuttles' loads had proved such as to make possible the trip either far in the future, or to put him aboard on this trip, with spin only a few hours away.
The cages, with their loads of guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and other live animals to be used in the sacrificial rites of biochemical research were, to put it mildly, a mess. Provision had been made for feeding and watering the animals under free-fall conditions, but keeping them sanitary was proving a near-impossible task; and though the cages were sealed to confine the inevitable upset away from the remainder of the lab, it was good to hear that the problem was nearly over as the news of the imminent countdown came over the loud-speaker.
Meantime, Dr. Claude Lavalle was having his difficulties, and he wished fervently that his assistants could have been sent up on the shuttle with him.
* * * * *
In rim-sector A-10, the FARM (Fluid Agricultural Recirculating Method control lab, according to the U.N. acronym), Dr. Millie Williams, her satiny brown skin contrasting to her white T-shirt and shorts, was also having her troubles.
The trays of plants, in their beds of sponge plastic and hydroponic materials, were all sealed against free-fall conditions, but should be oriented properly for the pseudo-gravity as the great wheel was given its rotational spin.
The vats of plankton and algae concentrates were not so important as to orientation, but should be fed into their rim-river homes as soon as possible, although this could not be done until the rim spin was well under control.
The trays, the plants, the plankton, the algae—even a large proportion of the equipment in the lab, were all new, experimental projects, designed to check various features of the food and air cycles that would later be necessary if men were to send their ships soaring out through the system.
The primary purpose of Lab One was a check of the various survival systems and space ecology programs necessary to equip the future explorations under actual space conditions. Her job on the FARM would be very important to the future feeding and air restoration of spacemen; but more important, the efficient utilization of the wheel itself, since success in shipboard purification of air and production of food would free the shuttle to bring up other types of mass.
At present, the ship's personnel were existing almost entirely on tanked air, but within two weeks one of the three air-restoration projects on the satellite—either hers, in which hydroponic plants and algae were the basic purifiers; or projects in the chem and physics labs—would have to be already functioning in the job, or extra shuttles would have to be devoted to air transportation until they were ready.
The provision of good fresh vegetables and fresh, springlike air would almost certainly be up to her department. The other two labs, Dr. Carmencita Schorlemmer in chemistry, and Dr. Chi Tung in physics, were both working on the air-restoration problem by different means—electro-chemistry in the one case; gas dialysis membranes in the other.
The work of the physics labs was operating on the differential ability of various gas molecules to "leak" through plastic membranes under pressure, causing separation of the various molecular constituents of the atmosphere; shunting carbon dioxide off in one direction, and returning oxygen and the inert nitrogen and other gases back to the surrounding atmosphere.
This latter method had proved highly satisfactory back on Earth, where it was separating out fissionable materials in large quantities and high purities from closely similar isotopes; and would now be tested for efficiency versus weight in some of the new problems being encountered in space.
A fourth method, direct chemical absorption by soda lime, had been discarded early in the program, although it was still used in spacesuit air cleaners, and for the duration of the canned air program under which they were now operating.
The lab was like that—no problem has a single solution. And it was the lab's job to evaluate as many solutions as possible so that the best, under different conditions, might be proved and ready for use in later programs.
* * * * *
Paul Chernov, ordinary spaceman—which meant that he had only a little more specialized training than the average college graduate—was working in the dump, surrounded by much of the equipment that remained to be placed aboard Space Lab One, and trying to identify the particular object he sought.
Looking down almost directly over the eastern bulge of the African coast, he sighted what was probably the ECM lathe he was after, and kicked towards it, simultaneously pulling his pistol-gripped Rate of Approach Indicator from the socket in his suit.
The RAI gun, he sometimes felt, was the real reason he'd become a spaceman in these tame days. Even if he couldn't be a space pirate, it gave him the feel.
Humming to himself, he aimed the search beam from the tiny gallium-arsenide laser crystal that was the heart of the gun at the bulky object, and read off the dial at the back of the "barrel" the two meter/second approach velocity and the twenty-eight meter distance.
He could as easily have set the RAI gun to read his velocity and distance in centimeters or kilometers, and it would have read as well his rate of retreat, if that had been the factor.
Paul's RAI gun might be, to others, a highly refined, vastly superior great-grandson of the older radar that had required much more in the way of equipment than the tiny bulk of this device, but to him, alone in his spacesuit, the galaxy spread around him, it was the weapon with which he had conquered the stars.
In the distance, off beyond the wheel in a trailing orbit, the huge spherical shape of Project Hot Rod glowed its characteristic green—another application of the laser principle, but this one macroscopic in comparison to the tiny laser rate-of-approach gun.
Happily, Paul burst into song.
"There's a sky-trail leading from here to there And another yonder showing; But I've a yen for gravity— This is where I wasn't going!"
From the other side of the dump, Tombu's voice bellowed into his ears over the intercom. "If you're going to audition for the stars, cut down the volume!"
Paul grinned and reached for the volume control.
"O.K., M'Numba, 's m'numba!—I'm a space-yodler from way out. Heave a line over this way and let's get this ECM lathe aboard."
Tombu's "last name" M'Numba had delighted Paul from the moment he'd heard the story of its origin. By the customs of his own country, Tombu had only a single name. However, when he had first enrolled as a student in England there had been a lack of comprehension between him and the rather flustered registrar and, when he had muttered something about "my number," the registrar had misunderstood and put him down as M'Numba. Tombu had let it stand.
Paul Chernov, fine-boned, blond, with an ancestral background of the Polish aristocracy, and his side-kick, Tombu, black, muscular giant from the Congo, were one of the strangest combinations of this international space lab crew. Yet it was perhaps even stranger that the delicate-looking blond youth was a top machinist, a trade that he had plied throughout his student days in order to economically support an insatiable thirst for knowledge. A trade that had led him to this newest center of man's search for knowledge.
But perhaps the combination was not so strange, for Tombu, also, was of the aristocracy—an aristocracy that could perhaps be measured in terms of years extending far behind the comparable times for any European aristocracy.
Tombu was Swahili, a minor king of a minor country which had never been recognized by the white man when he invaded Africa and set up his vast protectorates that took no account of the peoples and their tribal traditions; protectorates that lumped together many hundreds of individual nations and tribes into something the white man looking at maps could label "Congo."
Tombu himself, educated in the white man's schools to the white man's ways, and probing ever deeper into the white man's knowledge, was only vaguely aware of his ancestral origin. He counted his kingdom in negative terms, terms that were no longer applicable in a modern world. Where national boundaries everywhere were melting further and further into disuse, it would seem to his mind foolish to lay claim to a kingship that had been nonexistent for more than one hundred years over a people that had been scattered to the four winds and ground together with other peoples in the Belgian Congo protectorate.
Odd the combination might be; but together the two machinists worked well, with a mutual respect for each other's abilities and a mutual understanding that is rare to find among members of different races.
Quickly they lashed and anchored the crate containing the lathe and hauled it in towards the main south lock of the big wheel.
* * * * *
These were not the only activities in and around the wheel, or other places in space. Man already had a toehold in space, and that toehold was gradually growing into a real beachhead. Swarms of satellites in their short, fast orbits down close to Earth had been performing their tasks for many years. Astronauts had come and gone, testing, checking, probing however briefly; bravely clawing their way up the sides of the long gravitic well that separated Earth from space.
The moon project that had originally been forecast for immediate accomplishment had met with delay. As yet there was no base on the moon, though men had been there, and this was bound to occur.
But the lab was not here so much as a stepping stone to the moon as it was to provide information for the future manned trips out towards Mars and the asteroids; and in towards Venus and the sun.
Besides research, the big wheel would provide living quarters for men building other projects; would provide a permanent central for the network of communications beams that was gradually encompassing man's world and would eventually spread to the other planets as well. Cooperating with this master communications central, other satellites, automatic so far, occupied the same orbit, leading and lagging by one hundred twenty degrees.
A twenty-four hour orbit would have been more advantageous from the point of view of communications, except for the interference that would have been occasioned by the vast flood of electrons encircling Earth in the outer Van Allen belt. These electrons, trapped by Earth's magnetic field from the solar wind of charged particles escaping the sun, unfortunately occupied the twenty-four hour orbit, and, as their orbit expanded and contracted under the influence of the shifting magnetic field and solar flares, could produce tremendous havoc even in automatic equipment, so that it had been deemed economically impractical to set up the originally-postulated three satellites in stationary twenty-four orbits as communications terminals.
As the next best choice, the thirty-six-hour orbit had been selected. It gave a slow rate of angular displacement, since the satellite itself moved ten degrees an hour, while Earth moved 15 deg., for a differential rate of only five degrees an hour, making fairly easy tracking for the various Earth terminals of the communications net; and making possible a leisurely view of more than ninety per cent of Earth's surface every seventy-two hours.
The other two power and communications stations which led and lagged Space Lab One by 120 deg. each, would combine to command a complete view of Earth, lacking only a circle within the arctic regions, so that they could provide power and communications for the entire world—a fact which had been the political carrot which had united Earth in the effort to create the labs with their combined technologies.
The danger of such powerful instruments as Hot Rod, concentrating megawatt beams of solar energy for relay to earth, and which could also be one of man's greatest weapons if it fell into unscrupulous hands, had been carefully played down, and also carefully countered in the screening by the Security Forces of U.N. of the personnel board.
* * * * *
T minus three and counting.
On the zero signal Mike in the engineer's quarters would change the now idly-bubbling air jets in the rim-rivers over to the fully-directional drive jets necessary to spin the fluid in counter-rotation through the rim tanks.
The suiting-up and strapping down were probably unnecessary, Mike thought, but in space you don't take chances.
"T minus two and counting." Bessie's voice rang over the com circuit in officially clipped clarity.
From the physics lab came a rather oddly pitched echo. "Allee allee in free fallee! Hold it, please, as Confusion would say! Paul forgot to secure the electrolite for the ECM equipment. Can't have these five-gallon bottles bouncing around!"
"And we can't have you bouncing around either, Dr. Chi Tung. Get that soup under wraps quick. How much time do you need?" came the captain's voice from his console angled over Bessie's head.
Clark's voice could be heard murmuring into his Earth-contact phone. "T minus two. Holding."
Less than two minutes later, Dr. Chi released the hold by announcing briefly, "Machine shop and physics department secure."
"T minus two and counting...."
"T minus one and counting...." Bessie continued officially. "Fifty, forty, thirty, twenty...."
The faint whine of high-speed centrifugal compressors could be heard through the ship.
"Ten...." The jets that had previously bubbled almost inaudibly took on the sound of a percolating coffee pot.
"... Four, three, two, one, mark."
The bubbling became a hiss that settled into a soft susurrus of background noise, as the jets forced air through the river of water in the circular tanks of the rim.
The water began to move. By reaction, the wheel took up a slow, circular motion in the opposite direction.
Then, gently, the wheel shook itself and settled into a complacently off-center motion that placed Bessie somewhere near the actual center of rotation.
"We're out of balance, Mr. Blackhawk," said the captain, one hand on the intercom switch.
"Bessie, ask the Cow what's off balance." It was Mike's voice from engineering control. "Thought we had this thing trued up like a watch."
But the computer had already taken over, and was controlling the flow of water to the hydrostatic balance tank system, rapidly orienting the axis of spin against the true axis of the wheel.
The wobble became a wiggle; the wiggle became the slightest of sways; and under the computer's gentle ministrations, the sways disappeared and Space Lab One rolled true.
Slowly Mike inched the jet power up, and the speed and "gravity" of the rim rose—from 0.009 to 0.039 to the pre-scheduled 0.15 of a gravity—two RPM—at which she would remain until a thorough test schedule over several days had been accomplished. Later tests would put the rim through check-out tests to as high as 1.59 gee, but "normal" operation had been fixed at two RPM.
In the background, the susurrus of the air jets rose slightly to the soft lullaby-sound that the wheel would always sing as she rolled.
* * * * *
New, experimental, her full complement of six hundred scientists and service personnel so far represented by only one hundred sixty-three aboard, the big wheel that was Space Lab One rotated majestically at her hydrodynamically controlled two revolutions per minute.
She gave nearly half her mass to the water that spun her—huge rivers of water, pumped through the walls of the wheel's rim, forming a six-foot barrier between the laboratories within the rim and the cosmic and solar radiations of outer space.
Arguments on Earth had raged for months over the necessities—or lack of them—for the huge mass of water aboard, but the fluid mass served many purposes better than anything else could serve those purposes.
As a radiation shield, it provided sufficient safety against cosmic radiations of space and from solar radiations, except for solar flare conditions, to provide a margin of safety for the crew over the three months in which they would do their jobs before being rotated back to Earth for the fifteen-month recovery period.
The margin was nearly enough for permanent duty—and there were those who claimed it was sufficient—but the claim had not been substantiated, and the three months maximum for tour was mandatory.
Originally, shielding had not been considered of vital importance, but experience had proven the necessity. The first construction personnel had been driven back to Earth after two weeks, dosimeters in the red. The third crew didn't make it. All five died of radiation exposure from a solar flare. An original two weeks' limit was raised as more shielding arrived—three weeks, four, five—now the shadowy edge of the theoretic ninety-day recovery rate from radiation damage and the ninety days required to get the maximum safe dosage overlapped—but safety procedures still dictated that a red dosimeter meant a quick return to Earth whether the rate of recovery overlapped or not.
The question was still open whether more shielding would be brought up to make the overlap certain, or whether it would be best to maintain a personnel rotation policy indefinitely. Some factions on Earth seemed determined that rotation must remain not only a procedural but an actual requirement—their voices spoke plainly through the directives and edicts of U.N. Budget Control—but from what source behind this bureaucratic smokescreen it would have been difficult to say.
As a heat sink, the water provided stability of temperature that would have been difficult to achieve without it. Bathed in the tenuous solar atmosphere that extends well beyond the orbit of Earth, and with a temperature over 100,000 C, maintenance of a livable temperature on board the big wheel was not the straight-forward balancing of radiation intercepted/radiation outgoing that had been originally anticipated by early writers on the subject.
True, the percentage of energy received by convection was small compared to that received by radiation; but it was also wildly variable.
As a biological cultural medium, the hydraulic system provided a basis for both air restoration and food supplies. When the proper balance of plankton and algae was achieved, the air jets that gave the ship its spin would also purify the ship's air, giving it back in a natural manner the oxygen it was now fed from tanks.
As a method of controlling and changing the rate of rotation of the wheel, the rivers of water had already proven themselves; and as a method of static balancing to compensate for off-center weights, masses of it could be stopped and held in counterbalance tanks around the rim, thus assuring that the observatory, in its stationary position on the hub, would not suddenly take up an oscillatory pattern of motion as the balance within the wheel was shifted either by moving equipment or personnel.
* * * * *
In effect, the entire ship operated against a zero-M-I calculation which could be handled effectively only by the computer. The moment of inertia of the ship must be constantly calculated against the moment of inertia of the hydraulic mass flowing in the rim. And the individual counterbalance tanks must constantly shift their load according to the motions of the crew and their masses of equipment that were constantly being shifted during installation. For already the observatory was hard at work, and its time must not be stolen by inappropriate wobbles of the hub.
A continuously operating feedback monitor system was capable of maintaining accuracy to better than .01% both in the mass inertial field of centrifugal force affecting the rim; and in overall balance that might otherwise cause wobbles in the hub.
While such fine control would not be necessary to the individual comfort of the personnel aboard, it was very necessary to the accuracy of scientific observation, one major purpose of the lab; and even so, many of the experimenters would require continuous monitor observation from the computer to correct their observations against her instantaneous error curve.
The mass of water in the rim formed a shell six feet through, surrounding the laboratories and living quarters—walls, floor and ceiling—since its first function was that of radiation shielding.
But the bulk of this water was not a single unit. It was divided into separate streams, twenty in number, in each of which various biological reactions could be set up.
While a few of the rivers were in a nearly chemically pure state, most of them were already filling with the plankton and algae that would form the base of the major ecological experiments, some with fresh water as their medium, others using sea water, complete with its normal micro-organisms supplemented from the tanks of concentrate that Dr. Millie Williams had brought aboard. One or two of the rivers were operating on different cycles to convert human waste to usable forms so that it might reenter the cycles of food and air.
Several of the rivers were operating to provide fish and other marine delicacies as part of the experiment to determine the best way of converting algae to food in a palatable form.
Within, the rivers were lighted fluorescently—an apparent anomaly that was due to the fact that the problems of shielding marine life from direct sunlight in such a shallow medium had not yet been worked out; while the opaque plastic that walled the laboratories within the rivers was a concession to their strength, since the clear plastic that would have provided aquarium walls for the lab and complete inspection for a constant and overall check of the ecological experiments had been overruled by U.N. Budget Control. Portholes at various spots made the seaquariums visible from any part of the rim, but in Dr. Millie's laboratory alone were the large panels of clear plastic that gave a real view into the rivers.
This ecological maze of rivers and eddies and balance tanks; of air jets and current and micro-life; of spin-rate-control and shielding, were all keyed to servo-regulated interdependence that for this self-contained world replaced the stability achieved in larger ecologies through survival mechanisms.
* * * * *
Within the maze, existing by it and contributing to it, were the laboratories concerned with other things, but surrounded by the waters that had made life's beginnings possible on Earth, and the continuance of life possible in space. Man might some day live in space almost totally without water, but for now they had brought a bit of the mother waters with them.
Sitting in complacent control of these overall complexities that must be met with automatic accuracy was the Starrett Analogue/Digital Computer, Optical Wave type 44-63, irreverently referred to by the acronymically-minded as Sad Cow, though more frequently as the Sacred Cow, or simply Cow.
Most of the computer's intricate circuits were hidden behind the bulkhead in a large compartment between the control center and the south polar lock; but it was from this console in the control center that her operation was keyed.
From this position, every function of the wheel was ordered.
This was the bridge.
Spaced equally around its thirty-two-foot ring-shaped floor were the computer's console where Bessie presided; the com center in charge of Communications Officer Clark; and the command console where Captain Naylor Andersen, commanding officer of Space Lab One had his formal, though seldom-occupied post.
At the moment, Nails Andersen was present, black cigar clamped firmly between his teeth; hamlike Norwegian hands maneuvering a pencil, he was making illegible notes on a scrap of paper—illegible to others because they were in his own form of shorthand that he had worked out over the years as he tried to make penciled notes as fast as his racing mind worked out their details.
Whether Nails were politician or scientist would be hard to say. Certainly his rise through the ranks of U.N. Bureaus had been rapid; certainly in this rise he had been political, with the new brand of politics that men were learning—world, rather than national politics. Certainly, also, he was a scientist; and certainly he had used his political abilities on the behalf of science, pushing and slashing at red-tape barriers.
Nails was more than most responsible for the very existence of U.N. Space Lab One, and Project Hot Rod besides. He was also a sponsor of many other projects, both those that had been done and those that were yet to be done.
The justification of a space project in these times was difficult indeed; for no longer could nations claim military superiority as a main reason for pushing forward across the barriers of the inner marches of space; for spending billions in taxes in experimental research. For a project to achieve reality now, it must have benefits, visible benefit, for the majority of mankind. It must have a raison d'etre that had nothing of a military flavor. And occasionally Nails had been hard put to explain why, to people who did not understand; to explain his feeling that men must expand or die; that from a crowded planet there could be only one frontier, and that an expansion outward into space.
Of course there were, Nails admitted to himself, other frontiers. The huge basin of the Amazon had been by-passed and ignored by man, and quite possibly would be in the future as well. The oceans, covering seventy-five per cent of Earth's surfaces also presented a challenge to man, and the possibility of a new frontier of conquest.
But these did not present the limitless frontier for expansion offered by space. Men must look upon them as only temporary challenges, and cherish them as remaining problems, never to be solved for fear of a loss of the problem itself.
Yet space was different. Here man's explorations could touch upon infinities that were beyond comprehension, into that limitless void man could plunge ever outward for thousands of generations without ever reaching a final goal or solving a last problem. Here was a frontier worthy of any man, against which the excess energies of a warrior spirit might be expended without harm to their fellows.
To open a crack in this frontier was Nails' supreme goal, because, once opened, men need never fight again amongst themselves for lack of a place to go or a thing to do.
* * * * *
Space Lab One had been in spin for two days.
On Earth, TV viewers no longer demanded twenty-four hours of Lab newscasts, and were returning to their normal cycles of Meet the Press, the Doctor's Dilemma, and the Lives of Lucy, and other juicier items of the imagination that, now that their lab was a functioning reality, seemed far more exciting than the pictures of the interminably spinning wheel and the interviews with scientists aboard that had filled their screens during the spin-out trial period.
On the wheel itself, life was settling into a pattern, with comments about being able to stand upright becoming old hat.
In rim sector A-9, Dr. Claude Lavalle's birds and beasts had adapted themselves to the light gravity; and their biological mentor had evolved feeding, watering, and cleaning methods that were rapidly becoming efficient.
Next door, Dr. Millie Williams' FARM had survived the "take-off" and the plants, grateful for their new, although partial gravity, were now stretching themselves towards the overhead fluorescents in a rather fantastic attempt to imitate the early growing stages of Jack's famous beanstalk.
In the machine shop, Paul Chernov carefully inspected the alignment of the numeric controlled laser microbeam milling and boring machine, brought it to a focus on a work piece, and pressed an activation switch that started the last pattern of tiny capillary holes in the quartz on which he was working. In moments the pattern was completed.
Gently removing the work piece from its mounting, he turned to the open double bulkhead that served as an air lock in emergencies and that separated his shop from the physics lab beyond, where Dr. Y. Chi Tung, popularly known as Ishie, was busy over a haywire rig, Chief Engineer Mike Blackhawk and Tombu beside him.
Reverently, Dr. Chi took the part from Paul's hands. "A thousand ancestral blessings," he said. "Confusion say the last piece is the most honored for its ability to complete the gadget, and this is it.
"Of course," he added, "Confusion didn't say whether it would work or not."
"What does the gadget do?" asked Paul.
"Um-m-m. As the European counterpart of Confusion, Dr. Heisenberg might have explained it, this is a device to confuse confusion by aligning certainties and creating uncertainties in the protons of this innocent block of plastic." The round, saffron-hued Chinese face looked at Paul solemnly.
"As the good Dr. Heisenberg stated, there is a principle of confusion or uncertainty as to the exact whereabouts of things on the atomic level, which cannot be rendered more exact due to disturbance caused by the investigation of its whereabouts. My humble attempt is to secure a sufficiently statistical sample of aligned protons to obtain data on the distortion of the electron orbits caused by an external electrostatic field, thus rendering my own uncertainties more susceptible of analysis in a statistical manner."
Suddenly he grinned. "It's a take-off," he said, "from the original experiments in magnetic resonance back in '46.
"The fields generated in these coils are strong enough to process all the protons so that their axis of spin is brought into alignment. At this point, the plastic could be thought of as representing a few billion tiny gyroscopes all lined up together.
"Matter of fact," he said in an aside, "if you want a better explanation of that effect, you might look up the maintenance manual on the proton gyroscopes that Sad Cow uses. Or the manuals for the M.R. analyzer in the chem lab. Or the magnetometer we use to keep a check on Earth's magnetic field.
"So far, about the same thing.
"What I'm trying to do is place radio frequency fields and electrostatic fields in conjunction with the D.C. magnetic field, so as to check out the effect of stretching the electron orbits of the hydrogen atoms in predictable patterns.
"I picked this place for it, because it was as far away from Earth's field as I could get. And Mike, when I get ready to test this thing, I'm going to pray to my ancestors and also ask you to turn off as many magnetic gadgets as you safely can."
Mike was squatting on his heels by the haywire rig, built into what looked suspiciously like a chassis extracted from one of the standard control consoles of the communication department.
Reaching gingerly in through the haywire mass of cables surrounding the central components, he pointed to one of the coils and exclaimed in the tones of a Sherlock Holmes, "Ah-ha, my dear Watson! I have just located the final clue to my missing magnaswedge. I suppose you know the duty cycle on those coils is only about 0.01?"
"Not after I finished with them!" Ishie grinned unrepentant. "Besides, I don't want to squash anything in the field. I just want a nice, steady field of a reasonable magnitude. As Confusion would say, he who squashes small object may unbalance great powers."
* * * * *
While he talked, Ishie had been busy inserting the carefully machined piece of quartz plate that Chernov had brought, into a conglomeration of glassware that looked like a refugee from the chem lab, and flipped a switch that caused a glowing coil inside a pyrex boiler to heat a small quantity of water, which must escape through the carefully machined capillary holes in the plate he had just installed. Each jet would pass through two grids, and on towards a condenser arrangement from which the water would be recirculated into the boiler by a small pump which was already beginning to churkle to itself.
"O.K.," Mike said. "I dig the magnetic resonance part. And how you're using the stolen coils. But what's this gadget?" and he pointed to the maze of glass and glass tubing.
"Oh. Permit me to introduce Dr. Ishie's adaptation of a French invention of some years previous, which permits the development of high voltages by the application of heat to the evaporation of a fluid medium such as water—of which we have plenty aboard and you won't miss the little that I requisitioned—causing these molecules to separate and pass at high speed through these various grids, providing electrostatic potentials in their passage which can be added quite fantastically to produce the necessary D.C. field which...."
As he spoke, Mike's finger moved nearer a knob-headed bolt that seemed to be one of the two holding the glass device to its mounting board, and an inch and a half spark spat forth and interrupted the dissertation with a loud "Yipe!"
"Confusion say," Ishie continued as Mike stuck his finger in his mouth, "he who point finger of suspicion should be careful of lurking dragons!
"Anyhow, that's what it does. There are two thousand separate little grids, each fed by its capillary jet, and each grid provides about ninety volts."
Tombu took the opportunity to inquire, "Have you got that RF field-phase generator under control yet?" He pointed to still another section of the chassis.
"Oh, yes." The physicist nodded. "See, I have provided a feedback circuit to co-ordinate the pick-up signal with the three-phase RF output. The control must be precise. Can't have it skipping around or we don't get a good alignment."
There was a gurgling churkle from the innocent-looking maze as the "borrowed" aerator pump from the FARM supplies began returning the condensate back to the boiler.
* * * * *
Major Steve Elbertson stood on the magnetic stat-walk of the south polar loading lock, gazing along the anchor tube to Project Hot Rod five miles away.
"There are no experts in the ability to maneuver properly in free fall," he told himself, quieting his dissatisfaction with his own self-conscious efforts at maintaining the military dignity of the United Nations Security Forces in a medium in which a man inevitably lost the stances that to him connotated that dignity.
Awkwardly, he attached the ten-pound electric device affectionately known to spacemen as the scuttlebug, to the flat ribbon-cable that would both power and guide him to Hot Rod.
As the wheels of the scuttlebug clipped over the ribbon-cable, one above and two below, and made contact with the two electrically conductive surfaces, he saw the warning light change from green to red, indicating that the ribbon was now in use, and that no one else should use it until he had arrived at the far end.
Seeing that the safety light was now in his favor, he swung his legs over the seat—a T-bar at the bottom of the rod which swung down from the drive mechanism—grasped the rod, and pulled the starting trigger.
The accelerative force of one gee, the maximum of which the scuttlebug was capable, provided quite a jolt, but settled down very quickly to almost zero as he picked up speed and reached the maximum of one hundred twenty miles per hour.
A very undignified method of travel, he thought. Yet for all that, the scuttlebugs were light and efficient, and reduced transit time between outlying projects and the big wheel to a very reasonable time, compared to that which it would take for a man to jump the distance under his own power—and, he thought, without wasting the precious mass that rockets would have required.
The low voltage power supplied by the two flat sides of the ribbon was insufficient to have provided lethal contact, even if the person were there without the insulation of a spacesuit around him, a very unlikely occurrence. Furthermore, the structure of the cable, with the flat, flexible insulation between its two conductive surfaces, made it practically impossible to short it out; and the flanged wheels of the scuttlebug clipped over it in such a fashion that, once locked, it was thought to be impossible that they could lose their grip without being unlocked.
As Steve gained speed along the ribbon, "his" Project Hot Rod was in view before him—appearing to be a half moon which looked larger than the real moon in the background behind it; and seeming to stand in the vastness of space at a distance from the far end of the long anchor tube, a narrow band of bright green glowing near its terminator line.
From the rounded half of the moon, extending sunward, four bright, narrow traceries seemed to outline a nose that ended in a pale, globular tracery at its tip, pointing to the sun.
The narrow traceries were in actuality four anchor tubes, similar to the one beside which he rode; and mounted in their tip was the directing mirror that would aim Hot Rod's beam of energy.
* * * * *
Project Hot Rod was actually a giant balloon eight thousand feet in diameter, one-half "silvered" with a greenish reflective surface inside that reflected only that light that could be utilized by the ruby rods at its long focal center; and that absorbed the remainder of the incident solar radiation, dumping it through to its black outside surface, and on into the vastness of space. This half of the big balloon was the spherical collector mirror, facing, through the clear plastic of its other half, the solar disk.
Well inside the balloon, at the tip of the ruby barrel that was its heart, were located the boiler tubes that activated the self-centering inertial orientation servos which must remain operational at all times. If the big mirror were ever to present its blackened rear surface to the sun for more than a few minutes, the rise in temperature would totally destroy the entire project. Therefore, these servos had been designed as the ultimate in fail-safe, fool-proof control to maintain the orientation of the mirror always within one tenth of one degree of the center of Sol.
Their action was simplicity itself. The black boiler tubes were shielded in such a way that so long as the aim was dead center on the sun they received no energy; but let the orientation shift by a fraction of a degree, and one of these blackened surfaces would begin to receive reflected energy from the mirror behind it; the liquid nitrogen within would boil, and escape under pressure through a jet in such manner as to re-orient the position to the center of the tracking alignment.
Since the nitrogen gas escaped into the balloon, the automatic pressure regulator designed to maintain pressure within the balloon would extract an equal quantity of gas, put it back through the cooling system on the back side of the mirror, and return it as liquid to the boiler.
These jets were so carefully and precisely balanced that there was virtually no "hunting" in the system.
The balloon itself was attached to its anchor tube by a one hundred meter cable that gave free play to these orientation servos. The anchor point was the exact center of the black outside surface of the mirror-half of the balloon; and beside that anchor point was the air lock to the control center, to which Steve was now going.
From the control room, a column extended up through the axis of the balloon for thirty-five hundred feet—and most of the surface of this column was covered with the new type, high power ruby rods, thirty feet long and one-half inch in diameter, mounted in tubular trays of reflective material which took up sufficient space to make each rod occupy two inches of the circumference of the tube on which it was mounted.
These ruby rods were the heart of the power system, converting the random wave fronts of noncoherent light received from the mirror into a tremendous beam of coherent infrared energy which could be bundled in such a pattern as to reach Earth's surface in a focal point adjustable from here to be something between twenty-two feet in diameter to approximately one mile in diameter.
The banks of rods were so arranged that each of the one hundred sections comprising the three thousand feet of receptive surface at the focus of the mirror formed a concentric circle of energy beams; each circle becoming progressively smaller in diameter, so that the energy combined into one hundred concentric circles, one within the other, as it left the rods; but these circles were capable of the necessary focusing that could bring them all together into a single small point near Earth's surface.
* * * * *
The beam leaving the rods represented three hundred seventy-five million watts of energy, tightly packaged for delivery to Earth. But this was only a small fraction of the solar energy arriving at the big mirror.
The remainder, the loss, must be dumped by the black surface at the back; and to account for the loss in the rods themselves, to prevent their instantaneous slagging into useless globules of aluminum oxide, their excess loss energy must also be dumped.
A cooling bath of liquid nitrogen therefore circulated over each rod and brought the excess heat to the rear of the big lens, where it, too, could be dumped into the blackness of space beyond.
For all its size and complexity, Hot Rod was only a trifle over six per cent efficient; but that six per cent of efficiency arriving on Earth would be highly welcome to supplement the power sources that statistics said were being rapidly depleted.
The spherical shape of the mirror itself, one of the easiest possible structures to erect in space, had dictated the placement of the rods through its center since there was no single focal point for the entire mirror surface.
But it had also added a complication. From this position, the rods could have been designed to fire either straight forward or straight back.
However, due to the hollow nature of the thirty-five hundred foot laser barrel; the necessity for access to the rods from inside that barrel; and the placement of the control booth at its outside end, the firing could only be forward, straight towards the sun on which the mirror was focused.
But to be useful, the beam must be able to track an ever-moving target.
This problem had been solved by one of the largest mirror surfaces that man had ever created—flat to a quarter of a wave-length of light, and two hundred fifty feet in diameter, the beam director, from this distance looking as though it were a carelessly tossed looking-glass from milady's handbag, anchored one diameter forward of the big power balloon.
For all its size, this director mirror had very little mass. Originally it had been planned to be made of glass in much the same manner as Palomar's 200-inch eye. But this plan had been rejected on the basis of the weight involved.
Instead, its structure was a rigid honeycomb of plastic; surfaced by a layer of fluorocarbon plastic which had been brought to its final polish in space, and then carefully aluminized to provide a highly reflective, extremely flat surface.
This mirror was also cooled by the liquid nitrogen supplied from the back side of the big mirror. Necessarily so, since even its best reflectivity still absorbed a sufficient portion of the energy from the beam it deflected to have rapidly ruined it if it were not properly cooled.
The several tons of ruby rods in the barrel, with their clear sapphire coatings, were far more valuable than any gems of any monarch that had ever lived on Earth. Synthetic though they were, Steve Elbertson, the project's military commander, knew they had been shipped here at fantastic cost and were expected to pay for themselves many thousands of times over in energy delivered.
* * * * *
As yet, the project had had no specific target; nor had it been fully operational as of midnight yesterday.
But this "morning" for the first time the terrific energy of the laser beam would be brought to bear on the Greenland ice cap—three hundred seventy-five million watts of infrared energy adjusted to a needle-point expected to be twenty-two feet in diameter at Earth's surface, delivering one million watts per square foot, that should put a hole a good way through the several thousand feet of glacier there in its fifteen minutes of operation, possibly even exposing the bare rock beneath, and certainly releasing a mighty cloud of steam.
Focused to this needle sharpness, the rate of energy delivery was many orders of magnitude higher than that delivered by man's largest nuclear weapons only a few yards from ground zero.
Today's test was primarily scheduled as a test of control in aiming and energy concentration. Careful co-ordination of the project by ground control was vital, so that no misalignment of the beam could possibly bring it to bear on any civilized portion of Earth's surface. For, fantastic as this Project Hot Rod might be as a source of power for Earth, Major Elbertson knew that it was also the most dangerous weapon that man had ever devised.
Therefore, the scientists were never alone in the control booth, despite the mile-long security records of each. Therefore, he and his men were in absolute control of the men who controlled the laser.
Therefore, too, Steve told himself, as the time came when there would be a question of command between himself and Captain Nails Andersen, science advisor to the U.N. and commander of Space Lab One, his own secret orders were that he was to take command—and the rank that would give him that command was already bestowed, ready for activation.
Nails Andersen, Steve reminded himself with amusement, had originated the laser project; had fought it through against the advice of more cautious souls; and had, through that project, attained command of the space lab, and the rank that made that command possible, all in the name of civilian science.
But not command of the laser project, Steve told himself.
Not of the most dangerous military weapon ever devised—dangerous and military for all that it was a civilian project, developed on the excuse that it would power Earth, which was rapidly eating itself out of its power sources.
Not in command of that, Steve told himself. Nobody but a military man could properly protect—and if necessary, properly use—such power.
Those were his secret orders; and he had the papers—and the authority from Earth—to back him up. And orders to shoot to kill without hesitation if those orders were questioned.
Meantime, today's peacetime experiment would bring forcibly to the attention of Earth both the power for good and the power for destruction of the laser which he commanded.
Project Hot Rod was manned twenty-four hours a "day." The new shift of scientists—the ones who would turn on the powerful—or deadly—beam, would come aboard in about half an hour. The men who had put the finishing touches on the project during the past shift would remain for another hour. His own crew of Security men shifted with the scientists—but he, himself, shifted at will.
The immensity around him went unheeded as Steve Elbertson, eyes on Project Hot Rod, savored the power of the beam that could control Earth.
* * * * *
In the observatory, Perk Kimball and his assistant Jerry Wallace were having coffee as the various electronic adjuncts to the instruments of the observatory warmed up. Transistors and other solid state components that made up the majority of the electronic equipment in the observatory required no "warm up" in the sense that the older electron tubes had—but when used in critical equipment, they were temperature sensitive, and he allowed for time to reach a stable operating temperature. Then, too, the older electron tubes had not been entirely replaced. Many of them were still in faithful service.
The day would not be spent in the observation which was their main job there, because calibration of many of the instruments remained to be done, and the observatory was behind schedule, having had a good deal of its time taken up in the sightings required by the communications lab and Project Hot Rod.
Both of the astronomers were heartily sick of spending so much of their observational time with recalcitrant equipment; and in making observations of the globe from which they had come. After all, why should an astronomer be interested in Earth? Though admittedly this was the first observatory in man's entire history that had had the opportunity for such a careful scrutiny.
"This flare business, that our captive Indian was predicting," Jerry asked. "Think there's anything to it? Or am I just learning rumors about my profession from lay sources?"
"A rather presumptuous prediction, though he may be right." Perk's clipped tone was partly English, partly the hauteur of the professional. To him, solar phenomena were strictly sourced on the sun, and if they were to be understood at all, it would be in reference to the internal dynamics of the sun itself.
"The torroidal magnetic fields dividing the slowly rotating polar regions from the more rapid rotation near the solar equator," he said slowly, rather pedantically, but as though talking to himself, "should have far more effective control over solar phenomena than the periodic unbalance created by the off-center gravitic fields when the inner planets bunch on the same side of their solar orbits.
"To imply otherwise would be rather like saying that the grain of sand is responsible for the tides.
"Yet," he added honestly, "the records compiled by some of the communications interests that used to be greatly disturbed by the solar flares' influence on radio communications, seem to indicate that there is a connection. So there is the possibility, however remote, that our captive redskin might be right; or rather, that there is a force involved that makes the two coincidental."
But even as he talked, an unnoticed needle on the board began an unusual, wiggling dance, far different from its ordinary, slow averaging reactions. Twice, without being noticed, it swung rapidly towards the red line on its meter face; and then on its third approach the radiation counter swung over the red line and triggered an alarm.
From only one source in their environment could they expect that level of X-ray intensity. Without so much as a pause for thought, as the alarm screamed, barely glancing at the counter, Perk reached for the intercom switch and intoned the chant that man had learned was the great emergency of space: "Flare, flare, flare—take cover."
Simultaneously, he flipped three switches putting the observatory, the only completely unshielded area within the satellite, on automatic, to record as much as it could of the progress of the solar flare with its incomplete equipment, while he and Jerry dove through the open air lock down the central well to the emergency shield room in the center of the hub.
It was a poor system, Perk thought, that hadn't devised sufficient shielding for the observatory so that they could watch this phenomenon more directly. "We'll have to work on that problem," he told himself and since his recommendations would carry much weight after this tour of duty, he could be sure that any such system that he could devise would be instrumented.
* * * * *
Major Steve Elbertson, caught in mid-run between the lab and Project Hot Rod, resisted the temptation to reverse the scuttlebug on the line and pull himself to a fast stop, as the flare warning from the observatory came to him over the emergency circuit of his suit, followed by Bessie's clipped official voice saying:
"A flare is in progress. Any personnel outside the ship should get in as rapidly as possible. Personnel in the rim have seven minutes in which to secure their posts and report to the flare-shield area in the hub. Spin deceleration will take effect in three minutes; and we are counting on my mark towards deceleration. Mark, three minutes."
The Security officer squeezed the trigger of the "bug" tighter in a vain effort to force it and himself forward at a higher speed.
The lesser shielding of the Hot Rod control room would not provide a sufficient safety factor even for the X rays that he knew were already around him; but he must supervise the security of the shutdown; and he could only be very thankful that he was already nearly there and would not have to make the entire round trip under emergency conditions.
The scuttlebug automatically reversed and began slowing for the end of its run—tripped by a block signal set in the ribbon cable. As it came to a stop at the end of the long anchor tube, Steve dismounted and kicked over the short remaining distance, which was spanned only by a slack cable to permit the inertial orientation servos of Hot Rod unhindered freedom to maintain their constant tracking of the solar disk.
Passing through the air lock of the control room, he reflected that his exposure would probably be sufficient to give a touch of nausea in the first half hour.
Inside Hot Rod control there was little excitement. The equipment was being turned off in the standard approved safety procedures necessary to turn control over to the laser communication beam which would put the project under Earth control at Thule Base, Greenland, until the emergency was over.
This separate, low-power control beam, focused on Thule Base nearly eighty miles away from the main focus of Hot Rod on its initial target, carried all of the communications and telemetry necessary for the close co-ordination between Thule and the project.
As Elbertson entered, the Hot Rod communications officer was switching each of the control panels in turn to Earth control, while Dr. Benjamin Koblensky, project chief, stood directly behind him, supervising the process. Elbertson took up his post beside Dr. Koblensky, replacing the Security aide who had had the past shift. "Suit up," he said to the man briefly.
As the communications officer completed the turnover, and the other five scientists in the lab left their posts to suit up, the com officer glanced up, received a nod from Dr. Koblensky, and said into his microphone "All circuits have now been placed in telemetry security operation. On my mark it will be five seconds to control abandonment. Mark," he said after another nod from Dr. Koblensky. "Four, three, two, one, release."
His hand on the master switch, he waited for the green light above it to assure him that the communications lag had been overcome, and as the green light came on, pushed the switch and rose from the console.
Major Elbertson stepped behind him, scanned the switches, inserted his key into the Security lock, and turned it with a final snap, forcing a bar home through the handles of all of the switches to prevent their unauthorized operation by anyone until the official Security key should again release them. In the meantime, no function could be initiated within the laser system by anyone other than the Security control officer at Thule Base on Earth.
Hot Rod was secured, and its crew were taking turns at the lock to make the life-saving run back to the flare-shield area in the hub of Lab One.
Last man out, three minutes after the original alarm, Steve glanced carefully around his beloved control booth, entered the now-empty air lock, and reaching the outside vacuum dove fast and hard toward the anchor terminal and the scuttlebug that would take him swiftly to the big wheel and its comparative safety.
* * * * *
In the gymnasium that served under emergency conditions as the flare-shield area of the hub, long since dubbed the "morgue," the circular nets of hammocks that made it possible to pack six hundred personnel into an area with a thirty-two foot diameter and a forty-five foot length, were lowered. They would hardly be packed this time, since less than one-third of the complement were yet aboard.
Even so, each person aboard had his assigned hammock space, two and a half feet wide; two and a half feet below the hammock above; and seven feet long; and each made his way toward his assigned slot.
At one end of the morgue was the area where the cages of animals from Dr. Lavalle's labs were being stored on their assigned flare-shield shelves; and where Dr. Millie Williams was supervising the arrangements of the trays and vats of plants that must be protected as thoroughly as the humans.
At the other end of the morgue, the medics were setting up their emergency treatment area, while nearby the culinary crew pulled out and put in operating condition the emergency feeding equipment.
The big wheel's soft, susurrus lullaby had already changed to a muted background roar as her huge pumps drew the shielding waters of the rim into the great tanks that gave the hub twenty-four feet of shielding from the expected storm of protons that would soon be raging in the vacuum outside.
The ship was withdrawing the hydraulic mass from its rim much as a person in shock draws body fluids in from the outer limbs to the central body cavities. The analogy was apt, for until danger passed, the lab was knocked out, only its automatic functions proceeding as normal, while its consciousness hovered in interiorized, self-protective withdrawal.
On the panel before Bessie the computer's projection of expected events showed the wave-front of protons approaching the orbit of Venus, and on the numerical panel directly below this display the negative count of minutes continued to march before her as the wave-front approached at half the speed of light.
The expected diminishment of X rays had not yet occurred. Normally, there would be a space of time between their diminishment and the arrival of the first wave of protons; but so far it had not happened.
Six minutes had passed, and the arriving personnel of Project Hot Rod came in through the locks from the loading platform, diving through the central tunnel over Bessie's head and on to the shielded tank beyond.
Seven minutes; and from Biology lab came an excited voice. "I need some help! I've lost a rabbit. I came back for the one I'd been inoculating but he got away from me, and I can't corner him in this no-gravity!"
Bessie wasn't sure what to say, but Captain Andersen spoke into his intercom. "Dr. Lavalle," he said in a low voice, but with the force of command, "ninety per cent of your shielding has already been withdrawn. Abandon the rabbit and report immediately to the hub!"
The pumps were still laboring to bring in the last nine per cent of the water that would be brought. The remaining one per cent of the normal hydraulic mass of the rim had been diverted to a very small-diameter tube at the extreme inner portion of the rim, and was now being driven through this tube at frantically higher velocities to compensate for the removal of the major mass, and to maintain a small percentage of the original spin, so that the hub would not be totally in free fall, though the pseudo-gravity of centrifugal force had already fallen to a mere shadow of a shadow of itself, and some of the personnel were feeling the combined squeamishness of the Coriolis effect near the center of the ship, and the lessening of the gravity, pseudo though it had been, that they had had with them in the rim.
As the last tardy technician arrived, the medics were already selecting out the nearly ten per cent of the personnel who had been exposed to abnormally dangerous quantities of radiation during the withdrawal procedure, which included, of course, all the personnel that had been aboard Project Hot Rod at the time of the flare.
Even as the medics went about injecting carefully controlled dosages of sulph-hydral anti-radiation drugs, the beginnings of nausea were evident among those who had been overexposed. However, only the dosimeters could be relied on to determine whether the nausea was more from the effects of radiation; the effects of the near-free-fall and Coriolis experienced in the hub; or perhaps some of it was psychosomatic, and had no real basis other than the fear engendered by emergency conditions.
Major Steve Elbertson was already in such violent throes of nausea that his attending medic was having difficulty reading his dosimeter as he made use of the plastic bag attached to his hammock; and he was obviously, for the moment at least, one of the least dignified of the persons on board.
Displays of the various labs in the rim moved restlessly across most of the thirty-six channels of the computer's video displays, as Bessie scanned about, searching for dangerously loose equipment or personnel that might somehow have been left behind.
In the Biology lab, the white rabbit that had escaped was frantically struggling in the near-zero centrifugal field with literally huge bounds, seeking some haven wherein his disturbed senses might feel more at home, and eventually finding a place in an overturned wastebasket wedged between a chair and a desk, both suction-cupped to the floor. Frightened and alone, with only his nose poking out of the burrow beneath the trash of the wastebasket, he blinked back at the silent camera through which Bessie observed him, and elicited from her a murmur of pity.
Seven minutes and forty-five seconds. The digital readout at the bottom of Bessie's console showed the computer's prediction of fifteen seconds remaining until the expected flood of protons began to arrive from the sun.
As radiation monitors began to pick up the actual arrival of the wave front, the picture on her console changed to display a new wave front, only fractionally in advance of the one that the computer had been displaying as a prediction.
* * * * *
The storm of space had broken.
Captain Andersen's voice came across the small area of the bridge that separated them. "Check the rosters, please. Are all personnel secured?"
Bessie glanced at the thirty-two minor display panels, checking visually, even as her fingers fed the question to the computer.
The display of the labs, now that the rabbit was settled into place, showed no dangerously loose equipment other than a few minor items of insufficient mass to present a hazard, and no personnel, she noted, as the Cow displayed a final check-set of figures, indicating that all personnel were at their assigned, protected stations in the morgue, in the engineering quarters, and on the bridge.
"All secure," she told the captain. "Evacuation is complete."
"Well handled," he said to her, then over the intercom: "This is your captain. Our evacuation to the flare-shield area is complete. The ship and personnel are secured for emergency conditions, and were secured well within the time available. May I congratulate you.
"The proton storm is now raging outside. You will be confined to your posts in the shield area for somewhere between sixteen and forty-eight hours.
"As soon as it is possible to predict the time limit more accurately, the information will be given to you."
As he switched out of the ship's annunciator system, Captain Nails Andersen leaned back in his chair and stretched in relief, closing his eyes and running briefly over the details of the evacuation.
When he opened them again, he found a pinch bottle of coffee at his elbow, and tasting it, found it sugared and creamed to his preference. His eyes went across the bridge to the computer console, and lingered a moment on the slender, dark figure there.
Amazing, he thought. The dossier, the personal history, her own and all the others aboard, he had studied carefully before making a selection of the people who would be in his command for this time. Not that the decision had been totally his, but his influence had counted heavily.
This one he had almost missed. Only by asking for an extra survey of information had he caught that bit about the riot at Moscow University that had raged around her ears, apparently without touching or being influenced by or influencing her own quiet program.
That they didn't think alike was evident. That this was a competent sociologist, and not just a computer technician had not at first been evident. But Nails was well pleased with his decision in the selection of this particular unit of his command.
Things would go well in her presence, he felt. Details he might have struggled with would iron out or disappear, and scarcely come to his attention at all.
Very competent, he thought. And attractive, too.
* * * * *
In the engineering compartment, Mike was adjusting the power output from the pile ten miles away, down from the full emergency power that had been required to pump the more than five hundred thousand cubic feet of water from the rim to the hub in seven minutes, to a level more in keeping with the moderate requirements of the lab as it waited out the storm.
As he threw the last switch, he became aware of a soft scuffling sound behind him, and turned to see tiny Dr. Y Chi Tung, single-handedly manhandling through the double bulkhead the bulky magnetic resonance device on which he had been working when the flare alarm sounded, and having the utmost difficulty even though the near free-fall conditions made his problem package next to weightless.