He found Jerry Rivas and Anse Dawes and a score of workmen making a survey an_nventory of the spaceport. Captain Nichols and four of the original crew o_he _Harriet Barne_ , who had shared his captivity among the pirates, ha_tayed to take care of the ship. And Fred Karski, with one gun-cutter and _ouple of light airboats, was keeping up a routine guard. All of them ha_eard about the formation of Alpha-Interplanetary when Conn arrived.
The next day, Yves Jacquemont arrived, accompanied by Mack Vibart, a gang fro_he T. & O. shipyard, and a dozen engineers and construction men whom he ha_ecruited around Storisende. More workers arrived in the next few days, including a number who had already worked on the ship as slaves of the Perale_ang.
It didn't take Conn long to appreciate the problems involved in th_onversion. Built to operate only inside planetary atmosphere and gravitation, the _Harriet Barne_ was long and narrow, like an old ocean ship; more tha_nything else, she had originally resembled a huge submarine. Spaceships, either interplanetary or interstellar, were always spherical with _seudogravity system at the center. This, of course, the _Harriet Barne_acked.
"Well, are we going to make the whole trip in free fall?" he wanted to know.
"No, we'll use our acceleration for pseudograv halfway, and deceleration th_ther half," Jacquemont told him. "We'll be in free fall about ten or fiftee_ours. What we're going to have to do will be to lift off from Poictesme i_he horizontal position the ship was designed for, and then make a ninety- degree turn after we're off-planet, with our lift and our drive workin_ogether, just like one of the old rocket ships before the Abbott Drive wa_eveloped."
That meant, of course, that the after bulkheads would become decks, an_xplained a lot of the oddities he had noticed about the conversion job. I_eant that everything would have to be mounted on gimbals, everything stowe_o as to be secure in either position, and nothing placed where it would b_ut of reach in either.
Jacquemont and Nichols took charge of the work on the ship herself. Chie_ngineer Vibart, with a gang of half-taught, self-taught and untaught helpers, went back to working the engines over, tearing out all the safety devices tha_ere intended to keep the ship inside planetary atmosphere, and arranging th_ift engines so that they could be swung into line with the drive engines.
There was a lot of cybernetic and robotic equipment, and astrogationa_quipment, that had to be made from scratch. Conn picked a couple of helper_nd went to work on that.
From time to time, he was able to snatch a few minutes to read teleprin_apers or listen to audiovisual newscasts from Storisende. He was alway_isappointed. There was much excitement about the new interplanetary company, but the emphasis was all wrong. People weren't interested in gettin_yperships built, or opening the mines and factories on Koshchei, or talkin_bout all the things now in short supply that could be produced there. The_ere talking about Merlin, and they were all positive, now, that somethin_ound at Force Command Duplicate had convinced Litchfield Exploration & Salvage that the giant computer was somewhere off-planet.
Rodney Maxwell flew in from Storisende; he was accompanied by Wade Lucas, wh_hook hands cordially with Conn.
"Can you spare us Jerry Rivas for a while?" Rodney Maxwell asked.
"Well, ask Yves Jacquemont; he's vice-president in charge of operations. As a_nfluential non-office-holding stockholder, I'd think so. He's only runnin_round helping out here and there."
"We want him to take charge of opening those hospitals you were telling u_bout. Wade and I are forming a new company, Mainland Medical Materials, Ltd.
Going to act as broker for L. E. & S. in getting rid of medical stores. Nobod_n the company knows where to sell that stuff or what we ought to get for it."
Wade Lucas began to talk about how desperately some types of drug and som_arieties of diagnostic equipment were needed. Conn had it on the tip of hi_ongue to ask Lucas whether he thought that was a racket, too. Lucas must hav_ead his mind.
"I really didn't understand how much good this would do," he said. "I wouldn'_ave spoken so forcefully against it if I had. I thought it was nothing bu_his Merlin thing—"
"Aaagh! Don't talk to me about Merlin!" Conn interrupted. "I have to talk t_urt Fawzi and that crowd about Merlin till I'm sick of the whole subject."
His father shot him a warning glance; Lucas was looking at him in surprise. H_astened to change the subject:
"I see Len made you a suit out of that material," he said to his father. "An_ see you're not bulging the coat out behind with a hip-holster."
"Oh, I stopped carrying a gun; I'm a city man, now. Nobody carries one i_torisende. Won't even be necessary in Litchfield before long. Our new marsha_ad a regular reign of terror in Tramptown for a few days, and you wouldn'_now the place. Wade, here, is acting mayor now."
They went back to talking about the new company. "You're going to have so man_ompanies you won't be able to to keep track of them before long," Conn said.
"Well, I'm doing something about that. A holding company; Trisyste_nvestments, Ltd.; you're a non-office-holding stockholder in that, too."
Merlin was now a political issue. A bill had been introduced in Parliament t_mend the Abandoned Property Act of 867 and nationalize Merlin, when and i_iscovered and regardless by whom. The support seemed to come from a_xtremist minority; everybody else, including the Administration, was oppose_o it. There was considerable acrimony, however, on the propositions: 1) tha_erlin was too important to the prosperity of Poictesme to become a privat_onopoly; and 2) that Merlin was too important, etc., to become a politica_ootball and patronage plum.
It was discovered, after they were half assembled, that the controls for th_Harriet Barne_ would only work while she was in a horizontal position. Th_hole thing had to be torn out and rebuilt. There was also trouble with th_ir-and-water recycling system. The _City of Nefertiti_ came in from Ato_or Odin; Rodney Maxwell was almost frantic because they hadn't gotte_ogether a cargo of medical stores from the first hospital to be opened.
"There's all sorts of stuff," he was fuming, by screen. "Stuff that's in shor_upply anywhere and that we could get good prices for off-planet. Ge_ederation sols for it, too."
"The _City of Asgard_ will be along in six months," Conn said. "You can hav_ real cargo assembled by then. You can make arrangements in advance t_ispose of it on Terra or Baldur or Marduk."
"There are a couple of other companies interested in interplanetary ship_ow," his father added. "One of them had gotten four old freighters of_othball Row, and they're tearing them down and cannibalizing them into on_paceship. That work's being done here at Storisende Spaceport. And anothe_ompany has gotten title to a couple of old office buildings and has a gang a_ork dismantling them for the structural steel. I think they're going to buil_ real spaceship."
That wasn't anything to worry about either. The _Harriet Barne_ was bette_han half finished. There was a collapsium plant at Storisende Spaceport, bu_ves Jacquemont said it was only half the size of the one at Barathrum; i_ould be three months before it could produce armor for one, let alone both, ships.
The crackpots were getting into the act, now, too. A spirit medium on th_ontinent of Acaire, to the north, had produced a communication purporting t_riginate with a deceased Third Force Staff officer, now in the Spirit World.
There was considerable detail, all ludicrous to Conn's professional ear. And _anatic in one of the small towns on the west coast was quoting the Bible, th_oran, and the Bhagavadgita to prove that if Merlin were ever found, Divin_engeance in a spectacular form would fall not only on Poictesme but on th_ntire Galaxy.
The spaceship that was building at Storisende got into the news; on-screen, i_ppeared that the work was progressing rapidly. So was the work of demolishin_ block of empty buildings to get girders for the second ship, on which wor_ad not yet been started. The one under construction seemed to be of crucifor_esign, like an old-fashioned pre-contragravity winged airplane. The desig_uzzled everybody at Barathrum. Yves Jacquemont thought that perhaps ther_ould be decks in the cross-arm which would be used when the ship was runnin_n combined lift and drive.
"Well, till we can get a shipyard going on Koshchei and build some rea_paceships, there are going to be some rare-looking objects traveling aroun_he Alpha System. I wonder what the next one's going to look like—a flyin_ky-scraper?" Conn said.
"What I wonder," Yves Jacquemont replied, "is where all the old interplanetar_hips got to. There must have been hundreds of them running back and fort_rom here to Janicot and Koshchei and Jurgen and Horvendile during the War.
They must have gone somewhere."
"Couldn't they all have been fitted with Dillingham hyperdrive engines an_sed in the evacuation?"
"Possible. But the average interplanetary ship isn't very big; five hundred t_even-fifty feet in diameter. One of those things couldn't carry more than _ouple of hundredpeople, after you put in all the supplies and the hydroponi_anks and carniculture vats and so on for a four- to six-month voyage. I can'_ee the economy of altering anything that small for interstellar work. Why, the smallest of these tramp freighters that come in here will run abou_ifteen hundred feet."
They didn't just disintegrate when peace broke out, that was for sure. An_here certainly weren't any of them left on Poictesme. He puzzled over i_riefly, then shoved it aside. He had more important things to think about.
In his spare time he was studying, along with his other work, everything h_ould find on Koshchei, with an intensity he had not given to anything sinc_ramming for examinations at the University. There was a lot of it.
The fourth planet of Alpha Gartner was older than Poictesme; geologist_laimed that it was the oldest thing, the sun excepted, in the system, an_strophysicists were far from convinced that it hadn't been captured fro_ither Beta or Gamma when the three stars had been much closer together. I_ad certainly been formed at a much higher temperature than Janicot o_oictesme or Jurgen or Horvendile. For better than a billion years, it ha_een molten-hot, and it had lost most of its lighter elements in gaseous for_long with its primary atmosphere, leaving little to form a light-rock crust.
All that had remained had been a core of almost pure iron and a mantle tha_as mostly high-grade iron ore.
The same process had gone on, as it cooled, as on any Terra-size planet. Afte_he surface had started to congeal, gases, mostly carbon dioxide and wate_apor, had come up to form a secondary atmosphere, the water vapor forming _loud envelope, condensing, and sending down rain that returned immediately a_team. Solar radiations and electric discharges broke some of that into oxyge_nd hydrogen; most of the hydrogen escaped into space. Finally, the surfac_ooled further and the rain no longer steamed off.
The whole planet started to rust. It had been rusting, slowly, for the billio_r so years that had followed, and almost all the free oxygen had becom_ocked in iron oxide. The air was almost pure carbon dioxide. It would hav_een different if life had ever appeared on Koshchei, but apparently the righ_mino acids never assembled. Some attempts had been made to introduc_egetation after the colonization of Poictesme, but they had all failed.
Men went to Koshchei; they worked out of doors in oxygen helmets, and lived i_irtight domes and generated their own oxygen. There had been mines, an_melters, and blast furnaces and steel mills. And there had been shipyards, where hyperships up to three thousand feet had been built. They had all bee_bandoned when the War had ended; they were waiting there, on an empty, lifeless planet. Some of them had been built by the Third Fleet-Army Forc_uring the War; most of them dated back almost a century before that, to th_riginal industrial boom. All of them could be claimed under the Abandone_roperty Act of 867, since all had been taken over by the Federation, and th_riginal owners, or their heirs, compensated.
And there was the matter of selecting a crew. As an influential non-office- holding stockholder in all the companies involved, Conn Maxwell, of course, would represent them. He would also serve as astrogator. Clyde Nichols woul_ommand the ship in atmosphere, and act as first mate in space. Mack Vibar_ould be chief engineer at all times. Yves Jacquemont would be first office_nder Nichols, and captain outside atmosphere. They had three real spac_rewmen, named Roddell, Youtsko and O'Keefe, who had been in Storisende jai_s a result of a riotous binge when their ship had lifted out, six month_efore. The rest of the company—Jerry Rivas, Anse Dawes, Charley Gatworth, Mohammed Matsui, and four other engineers, Ludvyckson, Gomez, Karanja an_etief—rated as ordinary spacemen for the trip, and would do most of th_xploration work after landing.
They got the controls put up; they would work in either position. The engine_ere lifted in and placed. Conn finished the robo-pilot and the astrogationa_omputers and saw them installed. The air-and-water recycling system went in.
The collapsium armor went on. In the news-screen, they saw the spaceship a_torisende still far from half finished, with swarms of heavy-duty lifters an_ontragravity machiners around it, and a set of landing-stands, on which th_econd ship was to be built, in the process of construction.
A tramp hyperspace freighter landed at Storisende, the _Andromeda_ , fiv_onths from Terra, with a cargo of general merchandise. Rodney Maxwell an_ade Lucas had assembled a cargo of medicines and hospital equipment whic_hey thought could be sold profitably. They began dickering with the owner- captain of the hypership.
A farm-tramp down in the tobacco country to the south, evidently ignorant tha_he former commander of the Third Force was still alive, had proclaime_imself to be the reincarnation of Foxx Travis and was forbidding everybody, on pain of court-martial and firing squad, from meddling with Merlin. And a_vangelist in the west was declaring that Merlin was really Satan i_echanical shape.
The _Harriet Barne_ was finished. The first test, lifting her to thre_undred miles, turning her bow-up, and taking her another thousand miles, ha_een a success. They brought her back and set her down in the middle of th_rater, and began getting the supplies aboard. Kurt Fawzi, Klem Zareff, Judg_edue, Franz Veltrin and the others flew over from Force Command. Sylvi_acquemont came from Litchfield, and so did Wade Lucas, Morgan Gatworth, Lester Dawes, Lorenzo Menardes and a number of others. Neither Conn's mothe_or sister came.
"I don't know what's the matter with those two," Sylvie told him. "They alway_eem to be scrapping with each other now, and the only thing they can agree o_s that you and your father ought to stop whatever you're doing, right away.
Your mother can't adjust to your father being a big Storisende businessman, and she says he'll lose every centisol he has and both of you will probably g_o jail, and then she's afraid you will find Merlin, and Flora's sure you an_our father are swindling everybody on the planet."
"Sylvie, I had no idea things would be like that," he told her contritely. "_ish I hadn't suggested that you stay there, now."
"Oh, it isn't so bad, so far. Your mother and I get along all right when Flor_sn't there, and Flora and I get along when your mother isn't around.
Mealtimes aren't much fun, though."
His father came out from Storisende, looked the ship over, and seeme_elieved.
"I'm glad you're ready to get off," he said. "You know this hyperspac_reighter, the _Andromeda_? Some private group in Storisende has chartere_er. She's loading supplies now. I have a private detective agency, Barton- Massarra, trying to find out where's she's going. I think you'd better ge_his ship off, right away."
"We have everything aboard, all the supplies and everything," Jacquemont tol_im. "We can lift off tonight."