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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesUnwise Child - Chapter 20
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Unwise Child - Chapter 20 Post by :traffic-tart Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :502

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Unwise Child - Chapter 20

If you ignite a jet of oxygen-nitrogen in an atmosphere of hydrogen-methane, you get a flame that doesn't differ much from the flame from a hydrogen-methane jet in an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. A flame doesn't particularly care which way the electrons jump, just so long as they jump.

All of which was due to give Mike the Angel more headaches than he already had, which was 100 per cent too many.

Three days after the _Brainchild landed, the scout group arrived from the base that had been built on Eisberg to take care of Snookums. The leader, a heavy-set engineer named Treadmore, who had unkempt brownish hair and a sad look in his eyes, informed Captain Quill that there was a great deal of work to be done. And his countenance became even sadder.

Mike, who had, perforce, been called in to take part in the conference, listened in silence while the engineer talked.

The officers' wardroom, of which Mike the Angel was becoming heartily sick, seemed like a tomb which echoed and re-echoed the lugubrious voice of Engineer Treadmore.

"We were warned, of course," he said, in a normally dismal tone, "that it would be extremely difficult to set down the ship which carried Snookums, and that we could expect the final base to be anywhere from ten to thirty miles from the original, temporary base." He looked round at everyone, giving the impression of a collie which had just been kicked by Albert Payson Terhune.

"We understand, naturally, that you could not help landing so far from our original base," he said, giving them absolution with faint damns, "but it will entail a great deal of extra labor. A hundred and nine miles is a great distance to carry equipment, and, actually, the distance is a great deal more, considering the configuration of the terrain. The...."

The upshot of the whole thing was that only part of the crew could possibly be spared to go home on the _Fireball_, which was orbiting high above the atmosphere. And, since there was no point in sending a small load home at extra expense when the _Fireball could wait for the others, it meant that nobody could go home at all for four more weeks. The extra help was needed to get the new base established.

It was obviously impossible to try to move the _Brainchild a hundred miles. With nothing to power her but the Translation drive, she was as helpless as a submarine on the Sahara. Especially now that her drive was shot.

The Eisberg base had to be built around Snookums, who was, after all, the only reason for the base's existence. And, too, the power plant of the _Brainchild had been destined to be the source of power for the permanent base.

It wasn't too bad, really. A little extra time, but not much.

The advance base, commanded by Treadmore, was fairly well equipped. For transportation, they had one jet-powered aircraft, a couple of 'copters, and fifteen ground-crawlers with fat tires, plus all kinds of powered construction machinery. All of them were fueled with liquid HNO_{3}, which makes a pretty good fuel in an atmosphere that is predominantly methane. Like the gasoline-air engines of a century before, they were spark-started reciprocating engines, except for the turbine-powered aircraft.

The only trouble with the whole project was that the materials had to be toted across a hundred miles of exceedingly hostile territory.

Treadmore, looking like a tortured bloodhound, said: "But we'll make it, won't we?"

Everyone nodded dismally.

* * * * *

Mike the Angel had a job he emphatically didn't like. He was supposed to convert the power plant of the _Brainchild from a spaceship driver into a stationary generator. The conversion job itself wasn't tedious; in principle, it was similar to taking the engine out of an automobile and converting it to a power plant for an electric generator. In fact, it was somewhat simpler, in theory, since the engines of the _Brainchild were already equipped for heavy drainage to run the electrical systems aboard ship, and to power and refrigerate Snookums' gigantic brain, which was no mean task in itself.

But Michael Raphael Gabriel, head of one of the foremost--if not _the foremost--power design corporations in the known Galaxy, did not like degrading something. To convert the _Brainchild's plant from a spaceship drive to an electric power plant seemed to him to be on the same order as using a turboelectric generator to power a flashlight. A waste.

To make things worse, the small percentage of hydrogen in the atmosphere got sneaky sometimes. It could insinuate itself into places where neither the methane nor the ammonia could get. Someone once called hydrogen the "cockroach element," since, like that antediluvian insect, the molecules of H_{2} can insidiously infiltrate themselves into places where they are not only unwelcome, but shouldn't even be able to go. At red heat, the little molecules can squeeze themselves through the crystalline interstices of quartz and steel.

Granted, the temperature of Eisberg is a long way from red hot, but normal sealing still won't keep out hydrogen. Add to that the fact that hydrogen and methane are both colorless, odorless, and tasteless, and you have the beginnings of an explosive situation.

The only reason that no one died is because the Space Service is what it is.

Unlike the land, sea, and air forces of Earth, the Space Service does not have a long history of fighting other human beings. There has never been a space war, and, the way things stand, there is no likelihood of one in the foreseeable future.

But the Space Service _does fight, in its own way. It fights the airlessness of space and the unfriendly atmospheres of exotic planets, using machines, intelligence, knowledge, and human courage as its weapons. Some battles have been lost; others have been won. And the war is still going on. It is an unending war, one which has no victory in sight.

It is, as far as we can tell, the only war in human history in which Mankind is fully justified as the invading aggressor.

It is not a defensive war; neither space nor other planets have attacked Man. Man has invaded space "simply because it is there." It is war of a different sort, true, but it is nonetheless a war.

The Space Service was used to the kind of battle it waged on Eisberg. It was prepared to lose men, but even more prepared to save them.

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Unwise Child - Chapter 21 Unwise Child - Chapter 21

Unwise Child - Chapter 21
Mike the Angel stepped into the cargo air lock of the _Brainchild_, stood morosely in the center of the cubicle, and watched the outer door close. Eight other men, clad, like himself, in regulation Space Service spacesuits, also looked wearily at the closing door. Chief Multhaus, one of the eight, turned his head to look at Mike the Angel. "I wish that thing would close as fast as my eyes are going to in about fifteen minutes, Commander." His voice rumbled deeply in Mike's earphones. "Yeah," said Mike, too tired to make decent conversation. Eight hours--all of them spent tearing down

Unwise Child - Chapter 19 Unwise Child - Chapter 19

Unwise Child - Chapter 19
The interstellar ship _Brainchild orbited around her destination, waiting during the final checkup before she landed on the planet below. It was not a nice planet. As far as its size went, it could be classified as "Earth type," but size was almost the only resemblance to Earth. It orbited in space some five hundred and fifty million miles from its Sol-like parent--a little farther away from the primary than Jupiter is from Sol itself. It was cold there--terribly cold. At high noon on the equator, the temperature reached a sweltering 180 deg. absolute; it became somewhat chillier toward the poles.