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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesUnwise Child - Chapter 10
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Unwise Child - Chapter 10 Post by :traffic-tart Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :908

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Unwise Child - Chapter 10

The _Brainchild lifted from Antarctica at exactly 2100 hours, Greenwich time. For three days the officers and men of the ship had worked as though they were the robots instead of their passenger--or cargo, depending on your point of view.

Supplies were loaded, and the great engine-generators checked and rechecked. The ship was ready to go less than two hours before take-off time.

The last passenger aboard was Snookums, although, in a more proper sense, he had always been aboard. The little robot rolled up to the elevator on his treads and was lifted into the body of the ship. Miss Crannon was waiting for him at the air lock, and Mike the Angel was standing by. Not that he had any particular interest in watching Snookums come aboard, but he did have a definite interest in Leda Crannon.

"Hello, honey," said Miss Crannon as Snookums rolled into the air lock. "Ready for your ride?"

"Yes, Leda," said Snookums in his contralto voice. He rolled up to her and took her hand. "Where is my room?"

"Come along; I'll show you in a minute. Do you remember Commander Gabriel?"

Snookums swiveled his head and regarded Mike.

"Oh yes. He tried to help me."

"Did you need help?" Mike growled in spite of himself.

"Yes. For my experiment. And you offered help. That was very nice. Leda says it is nice to help people."

Mike the Angel carefully refrained from asking Snookums if he thought he was people. For all Mike knew, he did.

Mike followed Snookums and Leda Crannon down the companionway.

"What did you do today, honey?" asked Leda.

"Mostly I answered questions for Dr. Fitzhugh," said Snookums. "He asked me thirty-eight questions. He said I was a great help. I'm nice, too."

"Sure you are, darling," said Miss Crannon.

"Ye gods," muttered Mike the Angel.

"What's the trouble, Commander?" the girl asked, widening her blue eyes.

"Nothing," said Mike the Angel, looking at her innocently with eyes that were equally blue. "Not a single solitary thing. Snookums is a sweet little tyke, isn't he?"

Leda Crannon gave him a glorious smile. "I think so. And a lot of fun, too."

Very seriously, Mike patted Snookums on his shiny steel skull. "How old are you, little boy?"

Leda Crannon's eyes narrowed, but Mike pretended not to notice while Snookums said: "Eight years, two months, one day, seven hours, thirty-three minutes and--ten seconds. But I am not a little boy. I am a robot."

Mike suppressed an impulse to ask him if he had informed Leda Crannon of that fact. Mike had been watching the girl for the past three days (at least, when he'd had the time to watch) and he'd been bothered by the girl's maternal attitude toward Snookums. She seemed to have wrapped herself up entirely in the little robot. Of course, that might simply be her method of avoiding Mike the Angel, but Mike didn't quite believe that.

"Come along to your room, dear," said Leda. Then she looked again at Mike. "If you'll wait just a moment, Commander," she said rather stiffly, "I'd like to talk to you."

Mike the Angel touched his forehead in a gentlemanly salute. "Later, perhaps, Miss Crannon. Right now, I have to go to the Power Section to prepare for take-off. We're really going to have fun lifting this brute against a full Earth gee without rockets."

"Later, then," she said evenly, and hurried off down the corridor with Snookums.

Mike headed the other way with a sigh of relief. As of right then, he didn't feel like being given an ear-reaming lecture by a beautiful redhead. He beetled it toward the Power Section.

* * * * *

Chief Powerman's Mate Multhaus was probably the only man in the crew who came close to being as big as Mike the Angel. Multhaus was two inches shorter than Mike's six-seven, but he weighed in at two-ninety. As a powerman, he was tops, and he gave the impression that, as far as power was concerned, he could have supplied the ship himself by turning the crank on a hand generator.

But neither Mike nor Multhaus approached the size of the Supply Officer, Lieutenant Keku. Keku was an absolute giant. Six-eight, three hundred fifty pounds, and very little of it fat.

When Mike the Angel opened the door of the Power Section's instrument room, he came upon a strange sight. Lieutenant Keku and Chief Multhaus were seated across a table from each other, each with his right elbow on the table, their right hands clasped. The muscles in both massive arms stood out beneath the scarlet tunics. Neither man was moving.

"Games, children?" asked Mike gently.

_Whap! The chief's arm slammed to the table with a bang that sounded as if the table had shattered. Multhaus had allowed Mike's entrance to distract him, while Lieutenant Keku had held out just an instant longer.

Both men leaped to their feet, Multhaus valiantly trying not to nurse his bruised hand.

"Sorry, sir," said Multhaus. "We were just--"

"Ne' mind. I saw. Who usually wins?" Mike asked.

Lieutenant Keku grinned. "Usually he does, Commander. All this beef doesn't help much against a guy who really has pull. And Chief Multhaus has it."

Mike looked into the big man's brown eyes. "Try doing push-ups. With all your weight, it'd really put brawn into you. Sit down and light up. We've got time before take-off. That is, we do if Multhaus has everything ready for the check-off."

"I'm ready any time you are, sir," Multhaus said, easing himself into a chair.

"We'll have a cigarette and then run 'em through."

Keku settled his bulk into a chair and fired up a cigarette. Mike sat on the edge of the table.

"Philip Keku," Mike said musingly. "Just out of curiosity, what kind of a name is Keku?"

"Damfino," said the lieutenant. "Sounds Oriental, doesn't it?"

Mike looked the man over carefully, but rapidly. "But you're not Oriental--or at least, not much. You look Polynesian to me."

"Hit it right on the head, Commander. Hawaiian. My real name's Kekuanaoa, but nobody could pronounce it, so I shortened it to Keku when I came in the Service."

Mike gave a short laugh. "That accounts for your size. Kekuanaoa. A branch of the old Hawaiian royal family, as I recall."

"That's right." The big Hawaiian grinned. "I've got a kid sister that weighs as much as you. And my granddad kicked off at ninety-four weighing a comfortable four-ten."

"What'd he die of, sir?" Multhaus asked curiously.

"Concussion and multiple fractures. He slammed a Ford-Studebaker into a palm tree at ninety miles an hour. Crazy old ox; he was bigger than the dam' automobile."

The laughter of three big men filled the instrument room.

After a few more minutes of bull throwing, Keku ground out his cigarette and stood up. "I'd better get to my post; Black Bart will be calling down any minute."

At that instant the PA system came alive.

"_Now hear this! Now hear this! Take-off in fifteen minutes! Take-off in fifteen minutes!_"

Keku grinned, saluted Mike the Angel, and walked out the door.

Multhaus gazed after him, looking at the closed door.

"A blinking prophet, Commander," he said. "A blinking prophet."

* * * * *

The take-off of the _Brainchild was not so easy as it might have appeared to anyone who watched it from the outside. As far as the exterior observers were concerned, it seemed to lift into the air with a loud, thrumming noise, like a huge elevator rising in an invisible shaft.

It had been built in a deep pit in the polar ice, built around the huge cryotronic stack that was Snookums' brain. As it rose, electric motors slid back the roof that covered the pit, and the howling Antarctic winds roared around it.

Unperturbed, it went on rising.

Inside, Mike the Angel and Chief Multhaus watched worriedly as the meters wiggled their needles dangerously close to the overload mark. The thrumming of the ship as it fought its way up against the pull of Earth's gravity and through the Earth's magnetic field, using the fabric of space itself as the fulcrum against which it applied its power, was like the vibration of a note struck somewhere near the bottom of a piano keyboard, or the rumble of a contra bassoon.

As the intensity of the gravitational field decreased, the velocity of the ship increased--not linearly, but logarithmically. She shrieked through the upper atmosphere, quivering like a live thing, and emerged at last into relatively empty space. When she reached a velocity of a little over thirty miles per second--relative to the sun, and perpendicular to the solar ecliptic--Mike the Angel ordered her engines cut back to the lowest power possible which would still retain the one-gee interior gravity of the ship and keep the anti-acceleration fields intact.

"How does she look, Multhaus?" he asked.

Both of the men were checking the readings of the instruments. A computerman second class was punching the readings into the small table calculator as Multhaus read off the numbers.

"I think she weathered it, sir," the chief said cautiously, "but she sure took a devil of a beating. And look at the power factor readings! We were tossing away energy as though we were S-Doradus or something."

They worked for nearly an hour to check through all the circuits to find what damage--if any--had been done by the strain of Earth's gravitational and magnetic fields. All in all, the _Brainchild was in pretty good shape. A few circuits needed retuning, but no replacements were necessary.

Multhaus, who had been understandably pessimistic about the ship's ability to lift herself from the surface of even a moderate-sized planet like Earth, looked with new respect upon the man who had designed the power plant that had done the job.

Mike the Angel called the bridge and informed Captain Quill that the ship was ready for full acceleration.

Under control from the bridge, the huge ship yawed until her nose--and thus the line of thrust along her longitudinal axis--was pointed toward her destination.

"Full acceleration, Mister Gabriel," said Captain Quill over the intercom.

Mike the Angel watched the meters climb again as the ship speared away from the sun at an ever-increasing velocity. Although the apparent internal acceleration remained at a cozy one gee, the acceleration in relation to the sun was something fantastic. When the ship reached the velocity of light, she simply disappeared, as far as external observers were concerned. But she still kept adding velocity with her tremendous acceleration.

Finally her engines reached their performance peak. They could drive the _Brainchild no faster. They simply settled down to a steady growl and pushed the ship at a steady velocity through what the mathematicians termed "null-space."

The _Brainchild was on her way.

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"What I want to know," said Lieutenant Keku, "is, what kind of ship is this?" Mike the Angel chuckled, and Lieutenant Mellon, the Medical Officer, grinned rather shyly. But young Ensign Vaneski looked puzzled. "What do you mean, sir?" he asked the huge Hawaiian. They were sitting over coffee in the officers' wardroom. Captain Quill, First Officer Jeffers, and Lieutenant Commander von Liegnitz were on the bridge, and Dr. Fitzhugh and Leda Crannon were down below, giving Snookums lessons. Mike looked at Lieutenant Keku, waiting for him to answer Vaneski's question. "What do I mean? Just what I said, Mister Vaneski.
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Captain Sir Henry (Black Bart) Quill was seated in an old-fashioned, formyl-covered, overstuffed chair, chewing angrily at the end of an unlighted cigar. His bald head gleamed like a pink billiard ball, almost matching the shining glory of his golden insignia against his scarlet tunic. Mike the Angel had finally found his way through the maze of underground passageways to the door marked _wardroom 9 and had pushed it open gingerly, halfway hoping that he wouldn't be seen coming in late but not really believing it would happen. He was right. Black Bart was staring directly at the door when it
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