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Chapter 12

  • 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."