The ship lurched slightly. In the outside screens, the lights around, th_rowd that was waving good-bye, and the floor of the crater began receding.
The sound pickups were full of cheering, and the boom of a big gun at one o_he top batteries, and the recorded and amplified music of a band playing th_raditional "Spacemen's Hymn."
"It's been a long time since I heard that played in earnest," Jacquemont said.
"Well, we're off to see the Wizard."
The lights dwindled and merged into a tiny circle in the darkness of th_rater. The music died away; the cannon shots became a faint throbbing.
Finally, there was silence, and only the stars above and the dark land and th_tarlit sea below. After a long while a sunset glow, six hours past o_arathrum, appeared in the west, behind the now appreciable curvature of th_lanet.
"Stand by for shift to vertical," Captain Nichols called, his voice echoin_rom PA-outlets through the ship.
"Ready for shift, Captain Nichols," Jacquemont reported from the duplicate- control panel.
Conn went to the after bulkhead, leaning his back against it. "Ready here, Captain," he said.
Other voices took it up. Lights winked on the control panels.
The deck began to tilt, and then he was lying on his back, his feet agains_he side of the control room, which had altered its shape and dimensions.
There was a jar as the drive went on in line with the new direction of th_ift and the ship began accelerating. He got to his feet, and he and Charle_atworth went to the astrogational computer and began checking the data an_etting the course for the point in space at which Koshchei would be in _undred and sixty hours.
"Course set, Captain," he reported to Jacquemont, after a while.
A couple of lights winked on the control panel. There was nothing more to d_ut watch Poictesme dwindle behind, and listen to the newscasts, and tak_urns talking to friends on the planet.
They approached the halfway point; the acceleration rate decreased, and th_ravity indicator dropped, little by little. Everybody was enjoying the ne_ense of lightness, romping and skylarking like newly landed tourists on Luna.
It was fun, as long as they landed on their feet at each jump, and the foo_nd liquids stayed on plates and in glasses and cups. Yves Jacquemont bega_osting signs in conspicuous places:
> **WEIGHT IS WHAT YOU LIFT, MASS IS WHAT HURTS > WHEN IT HITS YOU.
> WEIGHT DEPENDS ON GRAVITY; MASS IS ALWAYS CONSTANT.**
His father came on-screen from his office in Storisende. By then, there was _0-second time lag in communication between the ship and Poictesme.
"My private detectives found out about the _Andromeda_ ," he said. "She'_oing to Panurge, in the Gamma System. They have a couple of computermen wit_hem, one they hired from the Stock Exchange, and one they practicall_hanghaied away from the Government. And some of the people who chartered th_hip are members of a family that were interested in a positronic-equipmen_lant on Panurge at the time of the War."
"That's all right, then; we don't need to worry about that any more. They'r_ust hunting for Merlin."
Some of his companions were looking at him curiously. A little later, Pie_udvyckson, the electromagnetics engineer, said: "I thought you were lookin_or Merlin, Conn."
"Not on Koschchei. We're looking for something to build a hypership out of. I_ had Merlin in my hip pocket right now, I'd trade it for one good ship lik_he _City of Asgard_ or the _City of Nefertiti_ , and give a keg of brand_nd a box of cigars to boot. If we had a ship of our own, we'd be selling lot_f both, and not for Storisende Spaceport prices, either."
"But don't you think Merlin's important?" Charley Gatworth, who had overhear_im, asked.
"Sure. If we find Merlin, we can run it for President. It would make a bette_ne than Jake Vyckhoven."
He let it go at that. Plenty of opportunities later to expand the theme.
The gravitation gauge dropped to zero. Now they were in free fall, and i_asted twice as long as Yves Jacquemont had predicted. There were a fe_isadventures, none serious and most of them comic—For example, when Jerr_ivas opened a bottle of beer, everybody was chasing the amber globules an_atching them in cups, and those who were splashed were glad it hadn't bee_ot coffee.
They made their second, 180-degree turnover while weightless. Then they bega_ecelerating and approached Koshchei stern-on, and the gravity gauge bega_limbing slowly up again, and things began staying put, and they were walkin_nstead of floating. Koshchei grew larger and larger ahead; the polar icecaps, and the faint dappling of clouds, and the dark wiggling lines on the otherwis_niform red-brown surface which were mountain ranges became visible. Finall_hey began to see, first with the telescopic screens and then withou_agnification, the little dots and specks that were cities and industria_enters.
Then they were in atmosphere, and Jacquemont made the final shift, t_orizontal position, and turned the ship over to Nichols.
For a moment, the scout-boat tumbled away from the ship and Conn was back i_ree fall. Then he got on the lift-and-drive and steadied it, and pressed th_rigger button, firing a green smoke bomb. Beside him, Yves Jacquemont put o_he radio and the screen pickups. He could see the ship circling far above, and the manipulator-boat, with its claw-arms and grapples, breaking away fro_t. Then he looked down on the endless desert of iron oxide that stretched i_ll directions to the horizon, until he saw a spot, optically the size of _ive-centisol piece, that was the shipbuilding city of Port Carpenter. H_urned the boat toward it, firing four more green smokes at three-secon_ntervals. The manipulator-boat started to follow, and the _Harriet Barne_ , now a distant speck in the sky, began coming closer.
Below, as he cut speed and altitude, he could see the pock-marks of open-pi_ines and the glint of sunlight on bright metal and armor-glass roofs, th_lunt conical stacks of nuclear furnaces and the twisted slag-flows, like th_ncient lava-flows of Barathrum. And, he reflected, he was an influential non- office-holding stockholder in every bit of it, as soon as they could scree_torisende and get claims filed.
A high tower rose out of the middle of Port Carpenter, with a glass-dome_ushroom top. That would be the telecast station; the administrative building_ere directly below it and around its base. He came in slowly over the city, above a spaceport with its empty landing pits in a double circle around _raffic-control building, and airship docks and warehouses beyond. More stee_ills. Factories, either hemispherical domes or long buildings with rounde_ops. Ship-construction yards and docks; for the most part, these were empty, but on some of them the landing-stands of spaceships, like eight-and ten- legged spiders, waiting for forty years for hulls to be built on them. A fe_pherical skeletons of ships, a few with some of the outer skin on. It wasn'_ntil he was passing close to them that he realized how huge they were. An_tacks of material—sheet steel, deckplate, girders—and contragravity lifter_nd construction machines, all left on jobs that were never finished, th_right rustless metal dulled by forty years of rain and windblown red dust.
They must have been working here to the very last, and then, when th_vacuation elsewhere was completed, they had dropped whatever they were doing, piled into such ships as were completed, and lifted away.
The mushroom-topped tower rose from the middle of a circular building pile_evel on level, almost half a mile across. He circled over it, saw an airshi_ock, and called the _Harriet Barne_ while Jacquemont talked to Jerry Rivas, piloting the manipulator-boat. Rivas came in and joined them in the air; the_overed over the dock and helped the ship down when she came in, nudging he_nto place.
By the time Conn and Jacquemont and Rivas and Anse Dawes and Roddell an_outsko and Karanja were out on the dock in oxygen helmets, the ship's airloc_as opening and Nichols and Vibart and the others were coming out, towing _ouple of small lifters loaded with equipment.
The airlocked door into the building, at the end of the dock, was closed; whe_omebody pulled the handle, it refused to open. That meant it was powered fro_he central power plant, wherever that was. There was a plug socket beside it, with the required voltage marked over it. They used an extension line from _ower unit on one of the lifters to get it open, and did the same with th_nner door; when it was open, they passed into a dim room that stretched awa_head of them and on either side.
It looked like a freight-shipping room; there were a few piles of boxes an_ases here and there, and a litter of packing material everywhere. A lon_ounter-desk, and a bank of robo-clerks behind it. According to the air- analyzer, the oxygen content inside was safely high. They all pulled off thei_ishbowl helmets and slung them.
"Well, we can bunk inside here tonight," somebody said. "It won't be s_rowded here."
"We'll bunk here after we find the power plant and get the ventilator fan_oing," Jacquemont said.
Anse Dawes held up the cigarette he had lighted; that was all the air-analyze_e needed.
"That looks like enough oxygen," he said.
"Yes, it makes its own ventilation; convection," Jacquemont said. "But you g_o sleep in here, and you'll smother in a big puddle of your own exhaled CO_2.
Just watch what the smoke from that cigarette's doing."
The smoke was hanging motionless a few inches from the hot ash on the end o_he cigarette.
"We'll have to find the power plant, then," Matsui, the power-engineer said.
"Down at the bottom and in the middle, I suppose, and anybody's guess how dee_his place goes."
"We'll find plans of the building," Jerry Rivas said. "Any big dig I've eve_een on, you could always find plans. The troubleshooters always had them; security officer, and maintenance engineer."
There were inside-use vehicles in the big room; they loaded what they had wit_hem onto a couple of freight-skids and piled on, starting down a passag_oward the center of the building. The passageways were well marked wit_irection-signs, and they found the administrative area at the top and center, around the base of the telecast-tower. The security offices, from whic_olice, military guard, fire protection and other emergency services wer_andled, had a fine set of plans and maps, not only for the building itsel_ut for everything else in Port Carpenter. The power plant, as Matsui ha_urmised, was at the very bottom, directly below.
The only trouble, after they found it, was that it was completely dead. Th_eactors wouldn't react, the converters wouldn't convert, and no matter ho_any switches they shoved in, there was no power output. The insid_elemetered equipment, of course, was self-powered. Some of them were dead, too, but from those which still worked Mohammed Matsui got a uniforml_isheartening story.
"You know what happened?" he said. "When this gang bugged out, back in 854, they left the power on. Now the conversion mass is all gone, and th_lutonium's all spent. We'll have to find more plutonium, and tear this whol_hing down and refuel it, and repack the mass-conversion chambers—provide_othing's eaten holes in itself after the mass inside was all converted."
"How long will it take?" Conn asked.
"If we can find plutonium, and if we can find robots to do the work inside, and if there's been no structural damage, and if we keep at it—a couple o_ays."
"All right; let's get at it. I don't know where we'll find shipyards lik_hese anywhere else, and if we do, things'll probably be as bad there. We cam_ere to fix things up and start them, didn't we?"