To those who have read parts 1 to 6 I apologize for repetitions hereinafter; but I felt that some explanation is due to those who have not read them.
`RD' = `recycler-destructor and materials separator': it sorts and separates the component chemical elements of whatever is put in it.
`actinides' = elements 89 to 103, including uranium (92) and plutonium (94).
After this unsuccessful attempt to capture the free spacemen's remote bases in the Anor star and planets system by sudden massive attack by its most advanced craft, ISAB, International Space Administration Board, successor to NASA and ESA, incorporating many space metals and supplies trading Companies, reassembled and repaired its badly reduced attack and patrol fleet and wondered what to do. It saw no reason to do anything but go public about all that had happened, since the free spacemen told Earth their side of it, as they sent boxes containing the solid part of the RD'ings of each of the ISAB casualties after their usual spaceman's funeral (for they were unwilling to bury Earth bodies in Ardan soil whose microorganism system cannot properly absorb Earth-type organic matter naturally), all too many hundred such boxes, each the end of a promise of pioneering excitement across the light-years that died at the hands of other men who were desperately defending their new homes and freedom and likely their lives against business-suited office-ruled ambitions and desires to control, rather than by natural hazards of distance and exploring.
The free spacemen were in shock at seeing death in such numbers where they had hoped to get away from such things, and that they lost many fewer than the enemy did not make it much easier to accept. All too many of their own men lost; at their industrial base called Aulien on Anor's Earth-like planet Arda the mass carnage of ISAB ground troops in the huge wreckage of the shot-down ISAB troop transport T2 and of two other ISAB craft that it had fallen onto; dead of both sides in shot-open wrecked spacesuits many of which had been made at Aulien or in the Anor spacemen's main asteroid base Ilmenost and bought by Earth agencies and now used against their makers; torn bodies of a squad of the special hard ISAB security men who called themselves `Space Marines', who had died on Arda not by the hand of man but by that Ardan natural dread the Keraunorrhiza bush which has natural landmines on its roots as defence against browsing animals and obeys no nation's war conventions on explosives. The spirits of Gagarin and his successors seemed to cry out against the violent deaths and misuse of space kit for war beyond the light years where they had hoped it would never happen. But the Anor men had had to fight for their freedom and likely their lives against armed Company controllism and monopolyism and narrowly managed to win, and the end result happened and had to be tidied up. `Turning the other cheek' usually achieves nothing useful: "It takes one side to make a war, not two, and those without swords can still die on them.", as was written once by Tolkien whose books (as CD-ROM's) were still much read and prompted the X-100 asteroid miner group to their choice of names for what they discovered out in the wilds 400 light years from Earth pressures and power struggles which had now reached out to them after all.
The unexpected defeat had spoilt ISAB's plans to have already `suppressed all rogue asteroid miner disobedience' when it become public as sole authority over all areas outside the Earth which Man had yet reached. As Protak Pete, leader of the X-100's, commented, "Us naming things from Tolkien: well, now we've had our Seige of Gondor, and no Rohan to ride to our aid, except that one old man who holed the T2 fatally kamikazeing into it on that little man-rider torpedo of his, and we only just won. Lucky the T2 stayed still long enough for him to aim at it from far enough away to build up enough speed. Like Theoden he perished at the moment of his victory. Nothing like enough of him found afterwards to be worth RD'ing separately with commemoration, as should have been done.".
"Talking about losing a man, what about all of our men who'll only come back in RD'ings boxes?!" a captured ISAB commander replied, "Some people don't like it when men die without facing the enemy: the sunk or shot-down troop transport, the bombed and strafed Army convoy, the wrecked troop train, the elite cavalry shot by arrows from ambush, landmines on roads, delays from scruffy petty theft of supplies and sabotage of transport, the dirty native diseases that troops die of, all the unfair losses that have happened down history: and do-gooders whinge when after all that troops hit back at some dirty native village that's been supporting terrorists. And some people don't hold with their dead being RD'ed like common rubbish, even though you wild spacemen seem to treat it as normal.".
"Little, but enough. We were attacked suddenly and had to defend ourselves.".
On Earth, some familiar with fictional space battles read about this real battle excitedly; but those more following the real space tradition of Gagarin first into space and Aldrin and Armstrong and Carpenter first to the moon and the X-100's first to another star, were horrified that desire to keep control of asteroid miners and maximize profitability of asteroid metals trading Companies, versus the asteroid miners naturally wanting personal freedom, had escalated via developing more and more advanced space-police craft and techniques to what the space pioneers had hoped would never happen, a fullscale spacecraft battle in reality and not in fiction. Men asked what had gone wrong. Asteroid metals trading company share values crashed again, and, hit badly in their pockets, financial men doubted previously trusted motives and thought again about policy. As people demonstrated against what had happened, ISAB pulled back some steps from a damaging expensive space arms race with the Anor system free spacemen and wondered whether to admit what its spacecraft fleet had in effect become despite a condition in their charter, by officially recognizing the naval rank names given by the Anor men and some Earth public media to the various levels of its spacefleet's command structure.
But if armed spacecraft are used, who would their weapons be aimed at? They had not met space-travelling aliens, but already in the Anor system they had met men who had gone ahead of official control and settled and set up on their own, and likely the same would happen again; and the question would arise each time whether to restore central control over them or to leave them, in the endless distances and empty vastnesses far greater than any distance imaginable to any ruler of a far-scattered empire on Earth.
The free asteroid miners and other free spacemen lamented NASA, who had been like-minded to them. After the first bad financial crash of asteroid metals Companies NASA pulled itself free from the Companies when drink and exasperated feelings turned a joint formal dinner into a rowdy confrontation which escalated to fists and chairs and handguns when men asked awkward questions such as why the Companies had suppressed the hyperspace jumper development project for many years while men could have been using them to explore and discover. After that NASA and ESA were their own masters for a while; but now, after a general international conference to reappraise and re-plan space matters, they were gone, swallowed, their establishments and bases under ISAB control, NASA's exploration plans heavily cut back, and ISAB retired many old-guard NASA top men or gave them figurehead jobs.
ISAB, now putting all Earth's main space interests under one control, looked like having a unity of purpose and an avoiding of duplications; but also an officialdom grown too big, and top-heaviness, and remoteness from practicalities of the few top men who were their own masters, and reluctance to let anything happen that they could not get money profit from or could not have a finger in, and a tendency when away from planetary public opinion to resort to hard tight controls. To such tendencies the Anor system spacemen and their traditions of freedom were a valuable antidote, at least while it was untroubled by that oldest and hardest of enemies of freedom, namely overpopulation and overcrowding, and many of the adventurous from Earth got to the Anor system and a new life far from secrecy and controls and lack of room.
And ISAB's asteroid mining role could not control another competitor: a while before, ever-improving RD technology led to the common RD-equipped dredger-sub, bringing out of the sea huge amounts of metals natural in the sediment or lost by Man, using as fuel any oxidizable matter in its dredgings, cleaning up seabed fouled by pollution or wreckage, in many designs and sizes grab or suction or with a front scoop - including small fast types of dark rumour when used as patrollers - owned by many sea work groups from fishing villages to large companies. From them is derived the fast submersible patrol and capture craft called the FSPB, more like a surface boat that can duck-dive. Digging out and RD'ing old rubbish tips on land also recovered huge amounts of valuable metals.
And protests continued. "To this sort of stuff I had to turn ..." said Mr.Melinitski, under-manager at the ESA and then ISAB Leeds (England) spaceport, showing some books, at a later meeting with free spacemen who had come to trade.
"Yes. Those `Blast Benton' space stories that you wrote and circulated in here and at that science fiction club." said another ISAB manager, "There's infinity spaceship fiction stories without you adding more instead of catching up with our paperwork in your evenings. They caused our security department a lot of extra work reading through them to check that no real space business or information was in them under changed names. And your indiscipline about telling us how to get hold of you when you are away, like that Easter you said you were staying at that hotel but you wandered off and instead of a quick pickup in a fast car and off to an urgent finance meeting that had arisen, after a six-hour yomp across sodden bog and having to pay the hotel bar's publican-and-sinner a fortune for alleged lost trade while he shut down and went off with his helirig [= backpack motor and rotor set] on to help look for you; and when we found you you were in God-awful holiday casuals and we had to hire a business suit for you 'cos it was too long to get your own from home and you hadn't brought it to the hotel even. And at the meeting your @#% great hiking boots sticking out of business suit trousers: we'd missed those in the hurry you'd caused us. Like that two that had to be carpeted about keeping on being unavailable on long deep scuba dives when things arose in their time off; they thought they'd obeyed the rule by diving in those special diving suits that can act as pressure suits so they can surface without decompressing; but they still had to sit through an important meeting in them looking like spacemen like when we had those five men from the asteroids in that time. What about your stories anyway?".
"All those while you had hyperspace jumpers and never used them, all the exploration that men could have gone on, and all that ever happened was routine asteroid mining traffic and I was never allowed to talk to anybody involved or suggest any places to go, or any way to find what was happening out there except Company business reports and overhearing things and the grapevine. I hate business report language. I've heard of Company scientists who had all sorts of hassle getting hold of the full text of relevant scientific papers instead of business report digests of them. Nearly every time NASA tried to get scientists into space they got nothing but excuses and `sorry but our schedule's full' from the Companies who controlled most of the spaceports, although it was NASA and not the Companies who'd started space travel and got it routine and safe. OK, OK, I know why: `We don't want to open up any more at any one time than we can adequately control, and it is us and not you who keep space profitable.', and the endless @#$% Company secrecy in case public or a competitor heard anything. Oh, information leaked, people wrote memoirs and articles and risked being sued for breaking undertakings of secrecy in their terms of employment; and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't keep what was happening on Mars secret, particularly when people involved started not liking what was going on. Then tales of free spacemen landing started, either by appearing from nowhere or by PL-props, that's spacesuit propulsors powerful enough to get on and off planets; the Companies said they were the same thing as when people see UFO crew aliens landing and denied that anything was happening, until that case in front of a lot of people. Then they had to restart the hyper jumper project, and there was that fist and gun fight in NASA's conference dinner room.
In the meantime I'd got so sick of hearing next to nothing officially about real space and real spacemen that I wrote stories about a fictional lot of them. All the contact I had with space was seeing spacecraft coming and going but never being allowed on board one in all the time of Fletcher's and Milford's and the other space Companies, keeping the stores and accommodation, telling them about weather hazards, endless sealed packages, and never a chance even to try a spacesuit on; only tales and rumours and leaks, and what asteroid miners managed to find out and bring back and tell of. No wonder some office-bound Company men deserted and became asteroid miners under false names. No wonder my character Captain `Blast' Benton explored space; there he and his men were, like any fictional characters, just out of reach behind the surface of the page, and the screen when I computer-generated video of it, ordinary sort of stuff, and my idea of how his ship's hyperspace jumper and other kit worked was nothing like the real thing; but they were the only spacemen who I routinely knew what they were doing and what they discovered. It got less and less like reality as time went on, as often is when a fictional scenario gets short of ideas; but his ship that came from the shipyard of my mind and only flew in my stories, was the only one whose crew I could meet; and I even flew to other stars in it sometimes - in my dreams, and it dissolved like a ghost in the morning light. The stories include me as one of his crew. Imaginary deeds with imaginary companions written for escapism, and I knew all the time that real men were working in space and I was allowed no access to their deeds or discoveries.
Until real asteroid miners got hyperspace jumpers and PL-props and started landing on Earth bypassing Company-controlled space routes, and I knew that all the time I'd had to resort to fiction, the real X-100's had discovered and were exploring a new planetary system 400 light years away, and at last I had real space pioneers to write about, and their risks with untested flight kit across the unknown.
It could have been otherwise. They could have had help from Earth space organizations, instead of them and their like having to make their own kit out in the emptiness and being persecuted by Companies for infringing monopoly on making replacement suit parts. Some royal family or government member could have watched them take off and radioed greetings to them while they were in range. They could have had public media and fame waiting for them when they returned, and experts and supplies to help them set up a new base over there. They could have gone in a good-sized spacecraft with room to unsuit whenever they wanted to and to carry supplies and rock samples in. But instead they had to do everything for themselves with no more help than what other asteroid miners could spare - and now some of the companies and governments on Earth realize what fames and names and honours they've missed because of past policies, and look for scapegoats, and sometimes even expensively send years-late re-explorations of what is already known, with full pioneering kit as if to a new place; or else and more usefully they look for a space area where Ilmenostians haven't already been in their explorings about. Anyway, now we know that Ilmenost's self-defence precautions and unwillingness to carry idlers were very much justified.".
"Yes, it could have been otherwise. Even the best and highest who go to Anor have to go in native copies of our patrol craft and usually in a spacesuit for weeks. Their first so-called spaceliner was a rough man's personnel carrier complete with a big gun firing those little one-man torpedo craft called MST's. Like when some important businessman in his best executive suit is promised a lift to a meeting and it turns out to be a dirty bumpy open jeep in the weather and he brought no waterproof except an umbrella. Like a marine biologist I heard of who'd been promised every modern facility at a research site but he found little there except an ex-naval frogman kit and he ended up in it wet and cold smelling of shut-in rubber and sodalime dust having to get specimens up himself (that was before sport scuba diving had been heard of much). When that lot at Ilmenost in the Anor system that they discovered did make several of something somewhat like a passenger craft it was nothing styled to look the part. The first fleet of interstellar passenger craft: copies of Dakotas with a hyper jumper stuck in each! Like that fiction story I [and I also: Author] read where the first nation to get further out than the Moon was Denmark and Earth's first proud interplanetary craft was a rusty old submarine with a spaceship propulsor stuck in it that they'd just developed. Except that those space Dakotas are real and I've ridden in one. I saw a picture recently of a sort of open rack-shaped spacecraft that a visiting party in spacesuits can sit in, instead of in a PSC's or loader's hold, at last.".
"These are the space pioneers that people tend to think of first: Gagarin; Armstrong and Aldrin - and Carpenter, the third, the other: people keep forgetting him, he had to stay in the command module; and now, it seems, Protak Pete and his men who are called the X-100's. We know the first three crews to Mars, but then the Companies took over most space flight and their secrecy started. But now at last news has come back, and I got a video of the film about the X-100's: the proper Ilmenostian version, not the don't-offend-the-Companies Earth version.".
"I know, and the amount of international business policy secrets revealed, and the things that it accused international business of. I saw the X-100's when they came to Paris with it to that film festival that time: they kept their spacesuits on all the time. They say it's because they have to be wary on the ground in strange places: but I suspect that it's partly from some of them starting to get spacesuit dependent: those modern long-trip spacesuits with their fancy microchip-ized life-support and medical monitoring kit are too much like personal mini intensive care wards.".
"How come those modern long-trip spacesuits that all these matters depend on, last so long away from a base or mothercraft, anyway?" said someone, "Surely any sensible-sized spacesuit oxygen tanks can only last a day or so at the most? I'm sorry to show my ignorance, but everyone in these controversies assumes that people know all about them same as people are expected to know about cars.".
"The spacesuit has in its kit a little RD, usually on its wearer's left hip. RD means `recycler destructor', it's an advanced derivative of the fuel cell, it sorts everything into separated chemical elements and simple oxides and gets any energy of oxidation out as electricity. Like in corporation refuse destructor depots but far smaller. The suit RD consumes all its wearer's body and personal waste and oxidizes it completely and tracelessly. Then the spacesuit's powerpack (usually run by a hot steady-heat radioisotope) splits out the oxygen, and a chemicals synthesizer turns what's left into all the food biochemicals that the wearer needs. The oxygen in the cylinders is only an emergency top-up and to get enough into circuit when closing up the suit before going into space.".
"Apart from details of how your dirty long-trip spacesuits work and the smell when you finally unsuit: at one moment you Ilmenostians praised NASA, the next moment you sabotaged them by poaching their men. For example, those 15 NASA office men who deserted and went as an asteroid miner group under false names and called themselves `the Actinides': their department couldn't afford to lose so many men at once, and the one of them who they called `Einsteinium' was a fairly important lab man there. It got to the stage when people daredn't put an ex-spaceman anywhere important else he'd suddenly desert to get back into space, leaving his department a man short in the middle of something important, and likely entice others to go with him.".
"It was their idea to go back into space, not ours. Have you ever had the freedom of space or the air for one trip or for a while and then been suddenly grounded and put in a dead-end desk job without asking you if you wanted the change? There's far too many officials and clerks. In the RAF they called it "flying a desk", and many men so treated resigned and became civilian pilots to get back into the air.".
"Yes, they do. One such man I knew of was discharged on medical grounds, but once out his illness miraculously cleared up and next thing I knew he was a pilot for an air freight firm. I remember that James Sopotsky who tested a backpack jetpack-and-wings flying set for NASA, so they called him Jet Jack, and then they let him have a whole five years in one of their first long-trip spacesuits exploring asteroids prospecting for valuable metals, but at the end of it he disobeyed a direct order to return to base, and he's still out there.".
"Yes I did." said Jet Jack, "That's me here. I'd rather be thrown into the base's security-destructor RD than be suddenly grounded and become a #@& penpushing supplies clerk, and the only thing I'd done wrong was become a year too old for some #%@ regulation.".
"Meaning an overgrown clerk. I'd rather command men in space than penpushers, having to tell people sorry but this and that regulation, and knowing that all sorts of new things were happening in space and I couldn't be part of it.".
"You were allowed three men under you in case anything arose, not thirty like you ended up with in that asteroid miner group called the Jetters that developed by itself and never authorized to do so and [the authority on] the ground was not even officially told about it, but NASA and the Companies had to work out a bit at a time who was in what group and who was de facto leader of each, all those wild-sounding codenames they chose for themselves and their groups making it hard to sort out who was who. I suppose it had to happen, the eternal complaint of men posted on away from places and people they knows.".
"Never mind stray legalities about spacemen's work agreements." said someone, "I'm a geologist, and the sooner the Anor system trust us again so geologists and biologists and the like can get there the better. Earth's about `mined out' for new big things for us to discover, and Arda's a whole new Earth for us to explore. We can't work with ISAB controlling Anor and everything: too likely things'd go back to like it was when the old Companies, Fletcher's and Milford's and the rest, controlled asteroid metals trading and most spaceports and hardly ever let non-Company scientists find and publish anything saying where there were metals in case a competitor heard of it or some City speculation market got scared there was too much or too little of something. I'm not having that again. Good asteroid geology information in the scientific press was like hen's teeth. For instance, the amount of europium in a space mineral's a good pointer to its history, but that wasn't allowed out because `europium's a lanthanide and the rules say that lanthanides are in the list of restricted information metals'.".
I once did get Milford's to take me into space to look at a few asteroids. They did it as a public relations job, I suppose: few outside scientists ever were allowed even that much. The spacesuit they let me use was Company issue and its radio could only receive and transmit their Company suit radio frequency and two others, and couldn't receive anything else at all. Incredible list of things that asteroid miners weren't allowed to talk to other miners about. That was early in a hard area before Company rules slackened off so much. I once saw what Company base-guards did to an miner when they found his nav scope had been tweaked so it could pick up BBC World Service. A patrol squad watched me all the time and I had to pay for their time out of my research grant; they didn't let me go out with a group of miners. When I got back I had to do all my research work in a Company lab instead of my own, not allowed to take anything out, and I was searched whenever I went out. When I'd written up a Company censor slashed my article to pieces with his `blue pencil' and what was left was only fit for the popular press, and even that was only allowed into print if I put in a load of fawning flattery about the Company's space work and facilities. The only way an independent scientist could get samples or information of his own choosing back was to go into space as an asteroid miner trainee, say falsely that he had no academic or law qualifications else they'd never let him go out there, put up with all the rough conditions and having to do miner's work most of the time, smuggle any necessary instruments and reference material into space or have it made out there `on the side', and as much aggro and risk getting his notes and samples back to Earth and away from Company control.".
"Yes, as we found out. Not only independents. Such as when Dr.Karl Enzheimer, nuclear scientist who Milford's couldn't easily afford to lose that suddenly, turned himself into Peter Hesketh, out-of-work unskilled labourer, went as an asteroid miner, joined the X-100's, called himself first Long Pete and later Control Rod, and now he's `in heaven' literally and metaphorically being an Ilmenostian atomic scientist passing on his skills to all the wrong people. Where's Ilmenost got all its people from? Where did they get the manpower to set up like that over there so quickly? There's at least several ten thousand people in the Anor system now, perhaps even over 100,000. It's like Mars again: every time the Companies who ran Mars looked there were more unauthorized settlers there until trying to enforce proper Company control blew up into a war of independence.".
"The Companies did a lot of it. In the later stages their old tight control and security degenerated to throwing more and more men at the asteroids trying to keep production up without bothering much where they were ending up, and a lot of them cut loose from Company orders and became more and more free spacemen. When we found out about hyperspace jumpers and how to make them we could make our own contacts with Earth and its eager young wanting to go out into the wilds to explore instead of hanging about the streets getting into trouble. Plus that our people have been in space long enough for them to raise children out there. At least having our own contact route to Earth means that a lot of people down there know that their relatives who went into space are still alive and not lost in space.".
"Yes, I know, some nations using space as a dump for their restless types, even to at least one case in Honduras of police waiting till two big teenage street gangs were having a big set-piece battle, then rounding up the lot and telling a bunch of you free spacemen with a hyper jumper to take the whole crime-ridden caboodle of them off their hands and as far away as possible.".
"I'll admit to that when I hear of it and know its source. There's all sorts of wild rumours going about about what we do and what our kit can do. Talking about metals again: all the Companies' records about what metals are where, all that valuable asteroid geology knowledge: where is it? We found a lot of copies of Fletchers records in that place Fletchmin-1 after wherever it was happened there; but where's the rest? What NASA and the other outsiders got to know is mostly what we asteroid miners put together and told them. They got far more asteroid samples unauthorizedly from us directly than through the Companies. After we got hyper jumpers to bypass Company spaceports and then NASA pulled free from Companies at that meeting that turned violent, the scientists had to start years late finding the sort of things that astronomers want to know, such as how the asteroids evolved, which ones can be found out from trace element amounts to be broken pieces of the same original body, which ones' crystalline structure shows fission damage from old Pu-244 decays and so haven't been remelted since the Solar System's original Pu-244 all decayed away, and so on.".
"Yes, Pu-244. Like you on Arda've still got a lot of from the recent doses of supernova fallout that Arda's had, such as that great bed of natural plutonite rock that I saw a photo of once. Which reminds me: you lot'd be liked more if you didn't go for your indiscriminate nuclear proliferation campaign and disrupting trade patterns by encouraging all sorts of small Earth nations to set up their own industry and nationalize foreign-owned mining concessions.".
"Why not? They've a right to their minerals, same as you have yours. If they find they've been bullied or tricked into selling them off cheap, they're entitled to take them back when they can.".
"It's bad enough seeing our industry go down and down from competition by the whole cattery of `Asian economic tigers', Japan, Korea, China, etc, and now Vietnam, without having to cope with `African economic lions' as well, watching helplessly while yet another mining area or oilfield is nationalized and used to develop a general-purpose industrial area. You lot can't deny that it was a bunch of free spacemen who rediscovered that offshore oilfield at Ghana and told them about it and then 'jumped a lot of the natives to Arda to train them in how to run an oilfield. That plus some metal ore mines inland: I went there as a tourist and saw some of it: factories everywhere and more being built, dirty smell of building site diesel exhaust, and to me smellier because I knew that the fuel used to make it wasn't planned to be used for 50 years and then on our streets and work sites. Plus forever having to `avoid faeces' from work elephants, and nearly trodden on by them twice: first time I'd seen African elephants used for work. Plus where did that other West African nation get all that uranium they had? We thought we'd mined out all there was.".
"Yes. That's why the USA won't reprocess its used reactor fuel but keeps on importing new. They want to be sure of as much as possible for themselves and rob everybody else out, scared in case someone sets up an army and air force big enough to defy big-power bullying. Remember! Back in the 18th century you in the USA were where we and Mars were recently!, ruled by officials from Britain, no say in your own affairs, expected to pay for all surplus production from other colonies that was dumped on you, till something snapped and there was a war of independence, and even after that you had to attack British Canada in 1812 to make the British navy leave your shipping alone. Ditto the South American reps here: before their countries' war of independence from Spain in the 1820's their colonists weren't allowed to make the least thing for themselves, not even wine and tobacco, but they had to buy everything from Spain and from nowhere else.
About the uranium mystery that you mentioned: we gave them some to replace what you took. You and the big power business setup in general got it by keeping them unable to do anything with it but sell it for a pittance, and threatening to send in the Marines if they nationalized the mines etc; but after the space trading Companies collapsed and set off more big business collapses and nations started nationalizing foreign subsidiaries, the resulting disorders showed what they showed. After Vietnam in the 1960's your reach has shortened: Khomeini's successors in Iran are still there, for a start; and the WAIA [West African Industrial Area]'s well started and away and we gave them training and technical help to build its new west-to-east railway through the area. And you told one nation there that you'd left some uranium ore for them to go at later, but after they'd expensively set up processing equipment etc there they found that the place'd been picked clean.".
(They had indeed given that nation plenty of replacement uranium, but it did not come from the Anor system. Determined to make the thief pay, they some years before had hyper jump entered a big USA nuclear materials store. The security there was impressive but did not include a hyperspace jump field detector; it was some years before existence of real hyper jumpers became public knowledge or even not-security-cleared official knowledge. They took out the equivalent of what had been taken from the African nation involved: used fuel rods, depleted uranium, and plenty of old warhead plutonium to replace the U-235 that had been used out of it. After reprocessing in Aulien to hide its identity and not make it easy to make atom bombs from it too soon, they 'jumped it to its destination. The USA storekeepers, unable to guess a possible way of entry and scared of sack and prosecution for stealing it, covered up the shortage and said nothing.)
"Yes, WAIA, the Zambian Copperbelt, the South African Rand after Mandela came to power, etc, and Russia. Russia's another `dirty man' not caring who it gives that sort of help to: a lot worse than just selling a few jet fighters for a few native pilots to show off in. When I went to one of Russia's nuclear areas I didn't need any fancy spy training to tell what had been going on there: on that old radioactive materials accident site there it didn't take much to recognize the space-alien weeds growing on site or to work out how their seeds had got there: the `Nunarien's control rods' and the pluteweed and the rad-thorn like I'd seen in National Geographic Magazine articles about natural radioactive sites on Arda. No attempt to hide it, and likely no attempt by those spacemen to clean alien seeds out of their kit before they 'jump; we don't want landmine bush seeding itself about on Earth. Or the spacemen planted Ardan plants there on purpose to remind them of home. I suppose the spacemen were after fission waste to RD for hot radioisotopes to run spacesuit powerpacks.".
"I remember one of Nigeria's best atom men:" said the Ilmenostian who had spoken before, "he went to Europe for nuclear science. Up to PhD they thought that the bush-native trying to learn nuclear physics was merely amusing, likely; but when he stayed on for postgraduate it was a different matter. Finally he got the course under a false name saying he was a black American, and a long job for him learning Americanism of manner and speech which he hadn't cared for before, and having to never speak his own language and having to disown all things West African for the duration. Likely despite that someone suspected; first he lost a lot of stuff in a funny burglary: they took all his notes and floppies, not only valuables that could sell ...".
"Are you accusing us of undercover funny-business -?" the previous speaker interrupted threateningly.
"But his government sent him more grant to buy replacement kit, and he remade his notes and floppies from copies that he'd hidden in case anything like that happened. A bit later an official dug up an excuse and he was grabbed in the street and bounced onto a plane home without even being let back to his flat to collect his luggage, and he never saw it again, for before the student's friends could mail it back the official's men grabbed it all with a warrant including a laptop computer that he'd paid a lot for. A bit over a year later when we are in Nigeria with WAIA we heard of this, and we took him to Aulien and gave him stuff to replace what he'd lost before, and he finished his course there under our men Control Rod and Muon, along with a lot more like him who had to go beyond the Pleiades to get fair treatment.".
"Yes, he `died and went to heaven' as we call it: nothing smells quite so dead-too-long as a man who's just taken off a long-trip asteroid miner spacesuit for the first time in three months without an in-suit wash first. That or stale sewer, and intergrades. That sort of interfering when we try to stop nuclear proliferation does not endear you with some people down here, any more than some of you being so brazen show-off that you've bypassed us that they planted pluteweed and that Nunarien rad-thorn with those mauve and red flowers that look like butterflies gone wrong all over that contaminated area near Chelyabinsk.".
"Yes, there's been some undercover funny-business. At one WAIA site in Togo where we'd hyper jumped a reactor in, some superstitious tribalism arose and rioters invaded the site, and when the police had restored order the reactor was out of action. Trouble was, how it had been put out of action: where would bush subsistence farmers get a lot of boron beads from to fill it with, or even know what boron was or what it had to do with nuclear reactors?, as well as some of the other things done to it. Some of us were on site at the time, and (a) truth drug had it from some of the rioters that a man with a half American half German accent trying to hide a business office manner of speech had put them up to it with a lot of talk about evil spirits, and (b) we promptly 'jumped the dead reactor back to Aulien and a new one in instead, and the site was running again in a week; over the weeks we repaired the old one.".
"Oh you did, did you!?" the man who had spoken before exclaimed, in his anger unable to obey secrecy any more, forgetting where he was, "And nobody on the ground told, so I at headquarters thought that the old reactor was still working or repaired so soon and that the two agents returning saying `mission accomplished' had bungled or dodged the job and lied! We've ways with agents who bungle jobs, and I'd accused them wrongly - God rest their souls and forgive me. 400 light years each way and you dirty space sewage just replace it and tell nobody as casually as a shop replacing a faulty toaster bought by someone living a few miles away! Well, thanks to that sort of thing and fast breeders all over the place WAIA also has got too big to be stopped easily and we've got another `African economic lion' competing with us and making weapons to arm a local power bloc so we aren't free to act there or protect our investors there any more. All those divisive groups to have to negotiate with made it far harder and longer setting up ISAB and bringing it to one mind and full operational unity, and by that time you also were too big to stop, and instead of a quick cleanup ISAB had and lost a pitched battle.".
"Yes, I admit it. Like deciding to start using hyperspace jumpers, that time: any proper people would have consulted committees all over the place, and written hundreds of huge reports, and worked out its effect on the pound, and the dollar, and the mark, and the international financial situation, and investment, and how these'd affect other things, such a complicated network of all sorts of things tied in with each other that only a schizophrenic and not all of those could properly keep track of all of it at once, taking twenty years expense-account committeeing and conferencing before starting any work; but us unprincipled space sewage and proud of it (as you can tell by the smell when we take our spacesuits off for the first time in several weeks) just got on with making and using them, and now we're well set up in the Anor star system that some of us discovered. I notice that ISAB always talks of getting rid of us, never of asking us to join them.".
"So much for all these side issues that have got brought in." said the leader of the ISAB team, "The sum and summary of it all is this: that we're stuck with you lot as a wild factor upsetting plans and every month there's more of you. You lot using PSC-4's (and likely it'll soon be PSC-5's) for most transport needs, like a 1970's story about one man from each nation boasting about the fancy luxurious vehicles they travelled abroad in, and the Russian said `I go by tank'.". They turned to unorganized chatter about the outcome of the battle.
They had to admit that the defeat came from ISAB risking a set-piece battle with what they had then to get quick results to show to shareholders and other backers. Other tactics that take longer would have been likelier to win. In the Solar System the orbits of most asteroids are known, and in a new system such as the Anor system a few space-telescopes with modern computerized astronomy packages would in a year or two find them all, a job that in old times with no computers effective for it and views only possible from Earth or nearby and thus no triangulation possible took astronomers decades. While that is done, an industrial economy the size of Earth's could easily make modern efficient space patrol craft such as the PSC-5 by the hundred and train crews for them once officialdom stops committeeing and at last orders action.
In the endless millions of miles between planets it is easier to find roaming spacemen than may seem at first, for they are far likelier to be at an asteroid or comet where useful materials can be got than somewhere far from sizeable matter. Such craft could hyper jump from asteroid to asteroid in radio and radar silence, replacing from comets all the hydrogen used by the fusion reactors that powered their weapons and ship-sized propulsors and hyperspace jumpers. Its multiple lasers and missiles and missile-shaped capture craft would quickly routinely destroy any unprotected propulsor-spacesuited groups that it found, or else capture them. Onboard afterwards modern truth drugs and the like would quickly find all the captives knew and make it unnecessary to develop a system of informers; no spacesuit hyper jumper yet can jump out quick enough to escape from multiple power-laser beams or a fast missile fired from close up. Unless the free spacemen develop countermeasures; so the more need to have started this method first and quietly, few ever of the free spacemen knowing of the ISAB craft except as a rumour and a long list of groups not coming back from their latest mining or exploring trip until few are left, and if those left have not meanwhile unconditionally surrendered and put themselves under ISAB command the final clearup of their main bases is easy. Perhaps some may have fled to a remote refuge and started to set up there again, until they are found and the process repeats.
And unless, as the months needed pass, emptiness and alienness and awesome distances prey on the minds of the search-and-destroy patrol spacecraft captains and crews, and feelings come that they also are heirs of many real and fictional space heroes and pioneers, gradually overcoming even the hardest space police barracks training and indoctrination, and some start to feel sympathy for the Anor men and want to go native, and some turn from their orders to exploring, and some obey ISAB orders and training and conditioning until the last Anor system free spacemen vanish impersonally into their powerful crafts' collapsible prisoner-holds but then realize that with the job done their future is likely dispersion and unemployment or dead-end static office or guard duty jobs and so at last they do what the free spacemen did before, by ingenuity overcoming all attempts to stop them setting up an independent self-increasing and reproducing community somewhere far from Earth, even as had been done before them by runaway asteroid miners who by chance got hold of a hyperspace jumper and had the means and skill to copy it and set up on their own in the Anor star system.
So they talked, and turned to current practicalities. Astronomers wanted lifts to remote sites: if the Anor men carried the expense of the expeditions, then ISAB wouldn't have to, after its losses in the battle. And rules about kit were brought up.
"You complained about Company rules about kit," said an Acle Investments manager, "but when an agency that we'd hired sent a man out to Ceres in the Sun's asteroids, a bunch of your men took his kit on an excuse and searched it, and he had private stuff in it. Just like you used to accuse us of doing. All right, so he was in a short-trip suit on a photon torpedo, old-style stuff and not your standard issue. But you let some of your men keep on using them.".
"I was there." said Jet Jack, "There's a limit to what we like seeing men in. I've seen men in space in kit that'd make your hair stand on end. We've seen plenty in space in Mars settler pressure suits as short-trip suits, spesh'ly like when they hyper jump straight from Earth to somewhere and hope to trade and jump back while their oxy tanks last, risky trick that we call `space-diving', not the ideal but at least they're made so they'll stand up to scrapes and cuts and rough work. But not what he had on.", and described the incident.
A bit before, he and other asteroid miners gathered at an abandoned Company base on the Sun's biggest asteroid Ceres. A distant undersized Sun shone on the little spherical world, a thousand kilometers diameter. They stayed `balled' in tight bunches, and their hyper men kept a hand on the controls of their hyper jumpers in case; but all that came was, as promised, Mr.Kiernan, an Earth man from a business contact agency hired by Acle Investments, to organize trading. Between his flesh and the void was only a jet fighter pilot's pressure suit naked to the distant stars. When he talked it was clear that his home-rigged suit radio had no undistorter to remove gasmaskyness caused by talking into a small breathing mask. Strapped to his back and connected to the suit's oxygen mask was a scuba diver's long-dive rebreather roughly adapted for space in a basement workshop. He was riding an LTRC one-man riding craft, commonly called a photon torpedo, like were used before one man's long-trip survival and transport gear got small enough to fit on a spacesuit. But he was not connected to its onboard sewage-destructor RD or food synthesizer or air regenerator.
He clearly had little experience of space, and presumed to finish his business and be picked up by the spaceliner that had left him before his set ran out of oxygen. The torpedo's sides near its rear end still bore Company logos and a model code showing that it was a somewhat unreliable early Milfords make. It was donkey's years overdue for servicing and its powerpack replacing, and was only still working because it had been in store for many years instead of being used. Red Scorpion in the Pallas-2's, who were also there, opened its servicing hatch and poked about in its electronics, and swore in alarm in his strong Birmingham accent, and was reminded how he got his blowtorch burn down his left side, in a fight in Swansea in Wales before he went into space, when he had refused similar bad work presented by an outside supplier who seemed very desperate for it to be accepted and paid for at once. Now, far from Earth many years later, similar design threatened more serious consequences than making a train late. Seeing the Milfords logos made something move briefly in its sleep in a deep place in his mind; but it caused no effect. The agent felt around to switch on his suit radio, which seemed to have been home-adapted from a riotsquad sergeant's in-helmet two-way radio; he had switched it off to save its battery.
"Will this take long? I've got other calls when I get back to Earth after this." the agent said.
"As long as it takes. There's the usual at least five parts of this old thing need replacing - like I did enough times in the old days and saved enough men from being stranded in space by transport breakdown, like'll happen to you likely if you keep on using this old thing as it is. Torn edge of newspaper here to stop this from rattling, `Daily Mirror' Tuesday 23th of - @#$ hell the year on it!, so that part can't've been #@$ opened or looked at since then. I thought I'd done this sort of patching up for the last time long ago, before I had that scrape with Fletchmin's trick loader. Where ever did you get it and that attempt at a spacesuit from?! Can't Acle's for all its size and power and ISAB behind it, even @#$ find you one modern long-trip propulsor spacesuit!? They had plenty to supply that navy they sent against us, to get shot to scrap in the battle, waste of good kit.".
"I'm not in Acle's, I'm in an agency that they called in. They were left with this old torp after something with Milford's was dropped suddenly when someone thought again about security letting outsiders into space with them. My boss's car mechanic rigged up the spacesuit in his workshop in spare moments, in case they had to send a man into space, since they already had this torp.".
"It looks like it. And likely they believed all Company blah about their kit including their torps being the best and superefficient etc.".
"Will it take long!?" the agent repeated insistently.
"It'll take all the rest of your life, if you go into shadow without a suit heater and radiate body heat away till your fingers get frostbite and you can't operate controls. Or if you tear that thin suit on something, not wearing even an overall over it. Or if something that you came to talk about takes longer and you forget the time and miss the return flight, like the way Plutey-pots here stopped being a businessman and started being an asteroid miner. Or if your return flight's late. Not as easy as on Earth to get home another way and sue the railway/etc company for loss caused by the delay. Have you been in space before?".
"I've been in a big vacuum chamber and on simulators.".
"Not the same. Same as you can keep on crashing flight simulators and no harm done.".
"I've been on two space trips like this before. My suit had a pinhole in it after the second time, a blood blister where it was, but no harm from it. My trading offer. Do you want it or not?, very favourable, and all I get from you is a load of reprimand about my kit for me to have to play back from my recorder and reword into a proper recommendation in the right tone for me to address to a superior, before you decide to send it to him unaltered rough.".
"And we want you back home alive with our reply to your offer, and with the replies to any other offers that you may go into space with in the future. You said you've already had a decompression injury!".
"This bit in his torp's propulsor won't last more than one more trip, if that, and I'll have to make a replacement made specially." Red Scorpion interrupted as he rummaged about in the torpedo's innards, "And his suit hasn't even got a sewage tank for me to connect the torp's RD to, only a `watchman's urinal' [a type of adult-size napkin]. I might be able to patch the torp up to last a bit longer.".
This sort of argument had happened, with variations, several times down the years, but this time things were different.
"While you lot are arguing, I better radio Earth, if one of you could aim the signal." the agent said, "Just before the spacecraft took off, I got the latest `Business World' from the passenger magazine rack, and it talked of new things happening on the market, someone big went bankrupt and it's set everything by the ears and they still didn't know how it'd settle. There's about time for a signal to get to Earth and back before the spaceliner comes to pick me up.".
"You're cutting it #@$ fine with the signal travel times and the liner coming and your oxy tanks holding out. Ten minutes delay being switchboarded about or getting him to a phone from somewhere, and the whole thing goes into the RD.".
"No it won't. Anyone that causes that sort of avoidable delay to Company matters gets sued or sacked or disciplined. Time is money. Only way to do it. Same as when I went on a space basics course before I came out here the first time, one thing we were taught is to think of everything the first time like with writing a letter so no query'll arise that he'll have to ask back and your firm's kept waiting while the signal travels there and back a second time.".
"Yes, we know all that, we're out here all the time. Not like one man from New York who went on a Space Explorer holiday and thought his tour leader's radio was subspace like in stories, so cocksure he never bothered to check although the brochure said very clearly there's no such thing, till near the asteroid Pallas he suddenly decided to ring his broker and then he found about radio signal travel times and `time taken = distance divided by the speed of light'.".
That sort of thing had happened before, and will keep on happening, when money business and space travel meet, but this time matters were complicated again.
"Not with that great sun-flare blasting particles at us. There's a radio blackout coming." said Rattler, "'E'll 'ave to wait 'ere till it's blown past, or trade 'ere now 'thout radioing, or one of us'll 'ave to rig up a buddy 'ose to 'im from [the air recycling system of] one of our suits in an 'urry, and being siamese gets in the way of work. It may make the liner late: a flare that size @#$'s up long-range radio good and proper. Surely you saw that whacking great sunspot cluster coming to centre of disk like some #@$ great particle beam gun muzzle? The sun's onboard fusion reactor can be %$# dirty at times.".
"A what? - but my boss told me to - if I buy now without consulting, and the market turns out that he could have got it in Detroit for less and without spaceshipping costs in this sudden market uncertainty ..." the agent pleaded, "Isn't there any way you could get a signal through? Why didn't you warn me, you lot knowing everything about space?".
"You didn't tell me you'd need to radio back. I thought you'd've sorted all the prices out and checked what the `weather' is out here before you came.".
So they argued, businessmen meeting workmen, not completely understanding each other, each thinking that the other was in some amount unreasonable, as has been down the ages.
"I was too busy reading reports and writing speeches on the way up, to listen to a load of astronomy on the passenger earphones. I'm in other things also, and my time's valuable. Enough without that cargo-man getting stroppy about fitting my torpedo into the hold, so it had to be fastened on outside, and I had to act Gagarin in magnetic boots on the craft's outside to reach my torpedo. Boss promised me a rocket pack for that sort of thing, but the man who was going to make it went down with flu, or at least that's what he said. The only time I do want to `get a rocket' from my boss, I don't. Things have gone down: in the old days every base was manned and pressurized and I could have done all this in atmosphere. Will this take much longer? My suit radio battery won't last much longer. OK, someone of us has to go to these places to trade with them: the more we stay down there so they must come to Earth themselves, the more they learn about market prices and the like and trade directly with people and bypass us: tell me the old old story." he said, wearily and not caring who he was talking to or in radio-earshot of, "We've had this ever since you wild space-miners got your own hyperspace jumpers and PL-props. That's why ISAB tried to clean up that place Ilmenost that you set up out there, and all they did was lose a lot of men and ships and make you wary and annoy the Earth space-fan public.".
This small-scale replay of Man's struggles to design and improve space kit, ever since real men ventured into thin upper air and fictional men into space in the 1920's and 1930's, caught the free spacemen's sympathy, for many of their space techniques and devices were independent rediscoveries of what Companies already knew and kept secret, and the more people attack a problem independently the more chance of one finding something that others missed. At another time and place the mechanic might have followed his crude attempt by better designed and made kit leading to a long line of modern efficient space kit, even as the big British excavator makers JCB started with James Cyril Bamford making a farm cart from war-surplus oddments in 1945. But space is dangerous for the inexperienced without better backup than a car mechanic's basement workshop, in those days when some sorts of space kit are easily available. The first query is `why was he allowed to airlock out using that kit?', but refusing passengers for nature of kit (often allegedly unserviceable but actually having parts made by asteroid miners in space in breach of (legal enforceability disputed) Company patents) had caused many successful lawsuits for breach of promise to carry, and yet more customers drifting away to rough-and-ready free-spaceman-type transport in a tethered group in a long-trip propulsor spacesuit each; and needs too much searching and examining of luggage. And Mr.Kiernan in his odd-looking kit had returned safely twice already, so the spaceport staff let him board.
But facts told, and Mr.Kiernan as he was was all too likely on his last and unreturning mission, or would be next time. Two of the Pallas-2's untethered him from his photon torpedo (which Red Scorpion was still poking about inside), towed him to a large ominously industrial-looking device with Ilmenost logos and several inspection and feed hatches which was anchored to the bare rock of Ceres near the base, and shoved him protesting into a hatch, and it swallowed him. A little later it ejected his pressure suit and clothes, all too reminiscent of an owl ejecting the baled undigested fur and bones of a mouse. Time passed. The suit radio noise from the sun flare grew as an immense scattered mass of various charged and neutral atomic particles sped through the huge interplanetary emptinesses away from the Sun. Earth was not in the line of fire, so its polar regions saw no unusual auroras.
A little later it opened its end hatch and ejected into a collecting cage a man in a standard Ilmenostian long-trip propulsor spacesuit. It was Kiernan, and the device was not a destructor as he had been told in workman's rough humour but an auto resuiter. "I designed it." said Red Scorpion, "It can work through 50 men one after another like that.". (And it had, quite recently, when the Honduras police paid some landing Ilmenostians to take two arrested street gangs away with them and the further the better. In went teenage street warriors from a big pressure bag, out came spacemen; the mental rather than physical part of the reprocessing came later and was another matter.) He chalked `Kiernan' on the helmet forehead.
"Now that's over and you're in proper safe kit, nuclear powerpack and no silly little torch batteries to run out, the business that you came for." said Jet Jack, "500 tons of ingots of various lanthanide metals (and yttrium). Price had been agreed but you say something's `dropped boron beads into' the market and you can't radio Earth about it for that @#$ sun flare. What's your local time? - oh, it's evening there. In that case, nothing we can do till your office opens, 9am or so. I've put you on half a mile of tether fastened to the base: get some practice in propulsor flying and get some sleep in the meantime. Read your suit manual: it's in your left outside pocket.". The spaceliner passed and went away towards Earth; Kiernan, who had booked a return seat on it, wondered how the commodities price of boron or someone wearing a necklace of it came into it (for he knew little about how nuclear reactors work), and cursed all things that take longer than planned and mess up complicated tight schedules, for he was scheduled to return not to Cape Canaveral but to a spaceport in Germany and straight on to several important clients around there.
Jet Jack paid (platinum and USA dollars) for the suit that he had got from the resuiter. Kiernan looked round at the encrusting untwinkling stars (including many far southern constellations that he had never seen before except from space), and the free asteroid miners who he suddenly looked like one of, and their codename plates and variously fanciful ornaments. He saw one with a large praseodymium rampant lion bas-relief on his chest and `Plutey-pots' on his helmet forehead; he knew enough about space not to be surprised at a wild asteroid miner sporting oxygen cylinders made of atom bomb fuel and boasting about it. Plutey-pots's eyes through his breathing mask's small eye windows looked at Kiernan and seemed to recognize him. Kiernan wondered where in all the wilderness of space was the financier Blore whose businesses had crashed suddenly some years before and fouled the market and investment structure badly.
Kiernan practised propulsor flying for a while, then floated inert while he thought in that alien place in that alien kit how to reschedule his appointments and explain what had happened. The Jetters and the others turned to the various recourses of spacemen with nothing to do. Some switched their portable lasers on at low power and practised target shooting and space fighting in case ISAB or anyone tried trouble again. Cobra passed Plutey-pots an intercom wire and started telling him a new not-for-polite-company story using star constellation patterns as ready-made illustrations; Laser Larry, coming that way in the simulated battle, let his suit aerial touch the intercom wire, tapping it, and told them sharply to "lets 'ave that again, on radio so we all can 'ear it". Kiernan looked warily at the distant sun reflected off Plutey-pots's bulky shiny backpack cylinders. Rattler checked the contents of the group's tow crates.
Kiernan, and a new member of the Pallas-2's with callsign Banksia who had not been to Ceres before, explored about inside the base, in total vacuum lit by a naked tungsten filament without glass bulb on her helmet forehead. It was a big base, with a suite of offices and guardrooms and storerooms allocated to each of the main space Companies of the old days. But the Companies were gone, and offices open to space vacuum contained desks which the officials named on their doors had not sat behind in authority for many years. Ceres base was cavernous and dark and empty, and the Pallas-2's used one corner of it. Even so after the fall of the Roman empire native farmers and invading barbarians camped and built huts in the shells of Roman cities and wondered how Men could ever have built such vast structures in what had become the middle of nowhere. They crossed the base's biggest conference room, 40 by 100 feet and 10 feet high, 40000 ornate cubic feet once all pressurized that far from Earth, supplied from a kitchen like a hotel's, all for what men now did in spacesuits by tethering together to anything handy and passing intercom wires. A few cobwebs showed that cleaning, and disinfesting whatever came from Earth, had got slack letting insects arrive and breed feeding spiders before the base's air had been salvaged or let escape.
Two other spacemen followed them. Banksia (whose safety helmet had her callsign on its forehead and her name flowers painted on its top and sides on a dark blue background) floated into one office and sat behind its desk and started to mimic her idea of officialese style with much "I'm sorry but ..." and referring to regulations. The others within radio earshot laughed, but Kiernan wished that he was in that office, lit and in gravity and full of air, in office clothes negotiating the deal not with rough wandering spacemen but with the `Mr.Clifham, assistant sales manager, Milford's (Ceres)' who was still named on its door. He thought of a highly-trained well-armed ISAB space police order-reestablishing squad in armoured constant-volume spacesuits arriving and entering in radio silence until they could suddenly overpower all persons found and take the base back and teach that cheeky asteroid miner girl and her fellows the proper respect for an official, and an official's office and desk, and an official's speech manners.
But such a squad did not come, and he and the rest came out and retethered; he reflected that one of the various things that helped to bring the old Companies down was the cost in money and materials of maintaining so much Earth-style comfort and convenience at every remote space base and on all passenger craft going between them, and wondered whether ISAB in its new spirit of unitedness and cleaning-up and getting things done would succeed any better.
He for the first time slept in his spacesuit, dreamed of being a wartime frogman, woke, felt an urgency, and knew the convenience of having his suit's sewage pipes permanently plugged in to his body's natural waste outlets. He sucked from the pipe that led from his suit's food synthesizer, and wondered just what metal the two bas-relief space shuttles on Long Tom's suit chest were made of. Jet Jack called them to ball closely together with the metal and Kiernan's torpedo and old suit among them. He told Kiernan's office's address to Rattler, who got a large street atlas of New York out of his suit outside pack and looked in it. The stars distorted and faded into greyness.
Kiernan had read and heard enough about space to know what that meant. "No, stop, stop!" he exclaimed in alarm and inexperience on several frequencies at once, making men's ears ring with feedback howl and heterodyne wailing. The nearly-complete hyper jump field collapsed back into flat normal space as Jet Jack switched his on-suit hyper jumper off and asked what the panic was.
"No, all that metal doesn't go in our office foyer! It'd get in the way, and the floorboards won't take the load, we've got no heavy loading and unloading facilities, and we're not planning zoned to store that sort of stuff.".
"I was going to put in your basement.".
"Our building's basement's someone else's night club, except a bit at the back that's our car garage.".
"Well, where's your warehouse, then?".
"No, erh, perhaps I didn't make my firm's position clear." said Keirnan, returning to something like a formal business manner, "We're metals brokers, we arrange metals deals for other people. We've got no warehousing facilities of our own. We're not stockists. You'll have to keep the metal until you get our instructions where to dispatch it.".
Again City and space had met and misunderstood each other.
"We'll have to leave it here and tell the Pallas-2's what to do with it. They're running this place right now, and we've got to move on. And the metal's still got to be paid for.".
"`Pallas-2's': is that an asteroid miner group? What is the legal status of their occupation of this base?".
"All we know is a lot of the Companies went down at once that time and the men who ran this base and a lot of others pulled out. Someone's got to run a base here for the men around here to call at and get kit serviced and mended.".
Knowing via business connections the end result of many previous attempts to enforce unpopular rules on asteroid miners, Kiernan realized that this was no place and time to raise points of law about abandoned building shop-squatting. He offered a cheque book, and a promissory note from his firm, and a card.
"Where's the bank to cash any of those out 'ere, and what's that?" said Long Tom in the Pallas-2's, looking at the American Express card through his breathing mask eye-windows in a well-rehearsed air of dense incomprehension.
"OK! OK! You asteroid miners, like a lot of other workmen types, can't understand anything except cash paid at once, valuable metals or hard currency only. There were 3 branches of big banks here in Ceres base, in Company times, but they became financially unviable, so the banks ceased operations here. It's most inconvenient being in foreign places where my cheque book doesn't work.".
"Meaning they shut sudden, and a #%$ of a job it was for several lots of us to get their money back, that 'ad started banking their money 'ere. #&$ banks.".
Being out of reach of his relied-on bank account in that weightless place finally brought on him the often-resisted lonely feeling of awesome depth and remoteness and huge distances. Between and around them the ancient void stretched forever; Man's attempt during the Company years to shut it out of a volume around Ceres's north pole had not lasted long, and sporadic craft and hyper-jumping men carrying mail across the vastness didn't change matters much. He knew to hold onto his card firmly when showing it, for he knew of cases in rough places of offered credit cards disappearing into a drawer or pocket held as security instead of being processed in the usual way, and he was millions of miles from police for him to threaten to call for.
"How long's that lot going to be stuck 'ere?" Long Tom queried, "Yet another thing for us to 'ave to 'jump out sudden with us if some Company comes to take this base back. A while back some broker tried what you're trying, and left 1000 ton o' neodymium 'ere cluttering the place awaiting instructions and no answer ever when we wrote to them asking about it. After a year the people who were running this base 'ad to sell it to get shut of it. We still 'aven't 'ad no shipping instructions for it.".
Kiernan sighed. That sort of thing had been happening ever since the big collapse left many of the metals dealers having to trade with random groups of space nomads instead of the old big Companies. Pieces of paper representing metals are traded about or held as security, etc, by businessmen too busy to send someone to check the goods. No point starting a fraud case: the base's current occupants had made a sort of attempt at checking if the stuff was wanted, and as for sending investigators and enforcers into all the quadrillions of cubic miles of emptiness - the well-known big heavily-armed attempt by ISAB had failed spectacularly recently. "Which brokers?" he asked, so that he knew who to tell to write the missing metal off.
"I don't know, we only know what the Sardies told us, they were running this base then. They told us when they wanted to move on and we came in instead.".
"Where are the Sardies? I know who they are: it was in the papers that time, Project Sardaukar, cloned XYY enforcers named after something in the `Dune' space stories and all that and yet they ran away to space as asteroid miners.".
"Ilmenost or Aulien working likely. There's a lot to mend there after the battle.".
"Or wandering in space round Anor somewhere. Forget it. By the time someone sends a man to chase it up via that man of theirs called the Arbiter with his showoff shiny curium-247 spacesuit oxygen cylinders that I've heard of, who settles disputes among them and sometimes is a sort of general leader of theirs - never mind, after the amount firms invested on the battle and lost the lot. But how can I relate the vastness of space to your talk of being so short of storage room out here that you've got to sell other people's property to make room for things?".
"The secure storage here isn't so vast. The Sardies wrote to him sev'ral times asking what he wanted doing with it. It's easy enough now getting letters from Earth to the main space bases. It's not just officious bits of charges and percent like the Companies kept doing to us. We've known piles of city firms' stuff to be left cluttering up base storerooms for 5 years and no answer however many times the base wrote to ask what wanted doing with it, and at Herculina it got so bad once they had to build another storeroom to keep it all in.".
Kiernen sighed again. The consumer and workman mentality, imagining that failure to answer a letter was voluntary wickedness unless caused by a physical barrier. Not his fault if company secrecy rules mean that the only few people allowed to communicate with outsiders about where metals are, are too busy to do so or too busy to be contacted, and workman types get impatient at unanswered letters and at being cluttered with absentee strangers' stuff, and that what was planned as another quick in-and-out trip had become a time-wasting sidetracky discussion in strange kit with strange people floating about in emptiness among the asteroids. "OK, I know the various ways stuff and money gets lost track of." he said, "Like, three years ago we changed offices and the new people in our old offices binned our mail instead of forwarding it. We prosecuted them for it, but that didn't bring the letters back. And firms are renamed or taken over and the post office loses track of who became who. Now, the lanthanides you've got for us now. OK, you want us you take it away and pay for it now and never mind that we're agents and not stockists, we arrange deals, not handle stuff ourselves. I know a warehousing firm in Brooklyn that'll probably have space, I mean room, for it. They won't like it, us just hyperspace jumping in with it without warning. Oo-er, I've never been hyperspace jumped before. OK, here we go.".
Kiernan told the address, trying to feel confident in his shivery feeling of the unknown knowing that he was going to be pulled out of his familiar three orderly dimensions and hurled God-knows-where in an alien void. He had trouble out there thinking in three dimensions instead of two; how ever could that man Rattler of theirs with the shiny ytterbium bas-relief rattlesnakes on his oxygen cylinders so casually find his way about in four or five? Rattler looked at his New York street atlas again. They jumped to a fast close-in oblique prograde Earth orbit. As they orbited, Kiernan thankfully saw his home world again and looked in wonder at ocean and mountain and desert and wide lands passing below him, and in the night hemisphere saw the glitter of town and city lights.
After a few orbits they got over New York and Rattler found the warehouse with a telescope. They jumped into the warehouse. The warehousemen gaped at the unearthly way of arrival, which they had read about, usually in fiction, but never seen before, then started to pick up and sort the vortex of papers that had blown off shelves and desks in the air displaced by the incoming hyper jump field and then filling the volume of space vacuum that had been jumped in. Kiernan took his suit's hood and unpressurized safety helmet off and thankfully breathed USA air after a longer and more exciting space exploration than he had expected. He had his firm's documents in a suit outside pocket, but the warehousemen did not seem to know what to do. Jet Jack, who was no office man and more forthright than Kiernan and wanted to get away, looked in rooms until he found the manager, who growled, listened to the alien-looking spaceman telling him what had happened, and filled in the required papers.
The manager came out of his office and saw what had happened, not much liking spacemen manifesting from nowhere like demons in his warehouse any more than any other sort of delivery men expecting him suddenly to find storage for all that stuff without warning, or being reminded how hyper jumpers even more than helirigs had ruined the implicit assured reliableness of security perimeters and enclosures, or the gross moral turpitude of invading the coffee room and interrupting him from his coffee.
Needing to get themselves and Kiernan's bulky heavy torpedo to Kiernan's office, they accepted the manager's scared offer of transport in a large warehouse van. The undercover way of getting them away reminded them of old rumours and stories of official cover-ups of findings of UFO wreckage. It cost much less energy than a short hyper jump, and them leaving visibly by propulsor flying would risk unwanted attention for the warehouse. They arrived by the backyard door, and went in. Jet Jack told Kiernan's manager Mr.Sullivan what had happened, and asked why Kiernan hadn't been found a better spacesuit.
"No, I didn't buy him a spacesuit like yours." said Mr.Sullivan, "They cost, and too many people run away to space in them and don't come back. I send a man into space and its risks to avoid spacemen coming here, and it ends up anyway with me having to negotiate with spacemen come here, and my man in a spacesuit like yours.", and looked irritatedly at them in there without having to get through or over anything, and their unattractively functional far-travelling kit with such things as undisguised sewage pipes running from their body outlets to a little RD on the left of the suit's waist. "`Plutey-pots' on that one's helmet:" he said, "oh help, it's him with the cylinders, bringing that stuff in here, I've read about him, crazy showoff trick. OK, we better negotiate a price. The market still hasn't properly settled down, but we'll have to deal now. I suppose you want dollar bills or valuable metals now, can't wait for payment, I know rough-country foreigners and spacemen. Once a firm I know sent a man to Afghanistan to try to buy stuff, and where he went the local currency was cattle or gold for big money and sheep or Kalashnikov ammunition as small change: the natives didn't trust the local paper money further than they could throw it. So we'll be left owning all that metal tying up capital and having to pay storage charges on it until we find a customer for it.".
The metal was paid for. Kiernan unsuited, unwillingly, for he had tasted the freedom of the long-trip spacesuit with a modern propulsor that can get on and off planets and a powerpack and life support system that can last twenty years or more. The mechanic lowered the torpedo into the basement with a hoist through a floor hatch in a back room. Jet Jack copied into one of the office computers a file containing a strong recommendation about safety of space kit and Red Scorpion's list of what needed doing very urgently to the torpedo. They went into the backyard as the agency's men removed or battened down everything that hyper jump wind could blow about. Grey distortion filled the yard, and the spacemen were gone, back to Ceres. Disturbed dust and litter settled; it was if the visitation had never happened. But their Mr.Kiernan was back, and they had a text computer file that had been composed among the asteroids.
Mr.Kiernan was back - there and not in Germany, not having contacted two men who were to board the same spaceliner on its way home, culture-shocked and weary, and, if told to fly to Germany at once and get back on his schedule, all too likely to desperately plead for a day's or a weekend's rest to recover; all concerned had been too startled to think in time to ask the spacemen to take him there. Mr.Sullivan tiredly listed the damage which outsider suppliers had done to his firm's plans not by ill will but merely by choosing without consulting what to do when things changed. As the old space trading Companies had often experienced, affairs had fouled on sun flare radio blackouts and malfunctioning spacecraft and space kit and the unavoidable mathematics of interplanetary distances. The office stank of asteroid miner, for some of them had opened their spacesuits while they were on the ground. A man was in the wrong place, a common nuisance more usually caused by airliners diverted for fog. They urgently had to revise the firm's arrangements for contacting space metals producers.
Mr.Sullivan rang a hotel in Schaffhausen in Switzerland to order another agent off a holiday to attend to the German jobs, but the agent had moved on: he was helirig flying about among the Alps, battery removed from his bleeper and mobile phone switched off, sleeping in a different climbers' hostel each night, himself also desperate for uninterrupted time off to relax and unwind, knowing nothing of the events until a fortnight later he came back to Mr.Sullivan who by now knew wearily too much of human nature to get far with the standard reprimand for being incommunicado and his firm's oft-repeated rule that `staying' at a hotel means `remaining' there available whenever needed and not wandering away from it for hours. The German clients went to an Ilmenostian ground contact office in Munich and got their supplies straight off a loader spacecraft when it landed.
And what about Mr.Kiernan for his next space trip? Limited-range propulsor spacesuits could be got, allowing a few days in space if something took longer than expected but not equipping him to go off with long-trip asteroid miners and never see his firm again. Mr.Sullivan sold the torpedo, and the fighter pilot pressure suit with the modified scuba on it, to a science museum as examples of early space travel kit. He printed the floppy disk out and tried to understand the space kit technical jargon on it, and got back to ordinary business life.
And the young still went into space. The Hondurans described above soon looked on what was happening to them as a new adventure, except for the inevitable few who for a while suffered agonies of sudden abuse drug withdrawal. Others sought space willingly via Ilmenostian contact offices. After the weary shortages and restrictions of many modern cities, many compare going to the Anor system with the afterlife. The spacemen needed the manpower but were in an excited alert security-minded state after the big ISAB attack, and the entrants had to put up with a moderate truth drug interrogation as a `Purgatory before Heaven': it was much easier to endure than rumoured, and weeded out many psychiatric conditions and hard criminal types and the like; it was no more than what came to entrants to some security-dependent jobs on Earth. Some raised issue against this, saying moral reasons but actually because it made it harder to get spies into the Anor system; but it enforced honesty, even as the common asteroid miner's remote metal analysers forced honesty in metals dealing, as had been found the hard way once by a Company storeman, desperate to get square from a tangle of losing dishonest trading on the side, who tried to pass off a fake alloy as gold to the X-100's. If there is one thing that can be learned from crime stories, it is that one dishonest man can spoil matters for many honest men.
By now, official attempts to tightly control who went into space were much opposed by knowing that space was a useful outlet for the restless who need room as in an ever more crowded world each inevitably had less work and leisure room and freedom. People use legal or illegal severe measures to keep work areas safe from intrusions; leisure groups' solicitors resist such restrictions. People and dogs from edge of town treat nearby farmland as a public park until aggressive horned cattle are the only crop that can resist the pressure. Sea sport anglers increase and increase until they must be controlled like freshwater anglers. The sport scuba diver spills from crowded diving sites seeking new water, trained and equipped safe from all sea hazards, aided by his club solicitor against all attempts to restrict him, treating nosing in security areas like a commando as fair adventure, until a patrolling RD-equipped naval or Company dredger-sub or FSPB, unseen underwater ordered to keep the area secret, swallows him equipment and all at a grabful. More and more hikers invade a moorland area until the authorities have to restrict numbers or lay the paved paths that the hikers went there to get away from. A modern variant of motorcycle gangs is helirig gangs who casually fly over boundaries which had once securely ensured privacy or that all who enter pay. In public opinion, between `Safety for all.' and `Let the wild types kill themselves in spacesuits or scuba gear if they want to, playing at space explorers or frogmen, rather than hanging about the streets until boredom turns them into criminals.', there are many intergrades.
Some ancient peoples knew of Space, although they had no way to go there or send instruments there: the Greeks called the primal void `Chaos', from `kha-' or `kh-n-' meaning "gape, be wide open" (the modern meaning "disorder" came from wrong guesses by mediaeval theologians); the Vikings called it `Ginnunga Gap', "the Yawning Gap". But at last men could now routinely go into it and cross it and bring tales of what lay beyond it.
And beyond the `Yawning Gap' an organization that had done much to get Man into space reformed itself. Between the old exploring space tradition and later asteroid metals control enforcenent and trading system there was conflict: NASA had wanted to explore and publish and research, but the Companies had not wanted more to be spent than need be on exploring for its own sake making more accessible than could be controlled, or so much metal discovery published that finance prices suffered. Some in authority were simply scared of the unknown: while Man was earth-bound, the stars were merely pretty patterns in telescopes; but now Man can go to them, the abysses of distance and fear of unknown things afar that men could awake, oppressed their minds. For this and other reasons the Companies for many years had suppressed the hyperspace jumper and said it was impossible, except one undercover use - and those on the mission deserted with it and let asteroid miners copy it, and from that much came. Many said that NASA-type pioneering times and need for NASA were over; but still some wanted to explore, as often is. So exploration was taken over by wild asteroid miners, and Earth only gradually found what was happening; and, after the lost gamble of the big attack and competing for money with the ordinary needs of maintaining an ever more crowded Earth, ISAB was for now unwilling to venture much.
So it happened that some ex-NASA men, relegated by ISAB to the job of going to the Anor system to coordinate tracing ISAB men still missing after the battle, made their own plan of undercover contacting and gathered others of their kind and their families and by various ways got to Anor, in spacesuits packed round a hyper jumper operator, or in assorted spacecraft, usually of the rough and ready type such as in a loader's hold, which was pressurized for them; some travelled in that Ilmenostian unstylistic approximation to a spaceliner, a copy of a 1940's Dakota with a hyper jumper in it and an airlock in the rear tip of its cabin. They gathered at Ilmenost, and after the inevitable security check the unsuited were found spacesuits and trained to use them. For some of them it was the first time in space, and for others it was a thankful return after years stuck at a desk. Mr.Melinitski was there, at last in a real spacesuit in space instead of having to console himself with fiction: and, needing a space callsign name, he took his fictional spaceship captain's name `Blast Benton' as his own; he did not extend his fiction stories further, for he at last had enough real in space and on alien worlds to chronicle. In the sky the alien constellations, and the hugely enlarged reversed Pleiades like a picture in an astronomy book, gave him a fearsome shock of exile and remoteness, but he recovered from it.
For them it was much as for others before: as there is a limit to accuracy of long-range hyper jumps, the first jump was not straight to the destination on Anor but to orbit round it, and they marvelled at the alien world below them and its single oval supercontinent stretching from pole to pole. Then again grey hid everything, and when it cleared they were in gravity in atmosphere under a blue sky on an airfield near Aulien. The Arbiter met them; his spacesuit was largely unadorned, and Anor's white light shone off his oxygen cylinders. They announced themselves and thanked him, and declared NASA with its old exploratory spirit to be cut loose from ISAB and reestablished there and willing to help and join the Anor system men.
Arduous was the refounding of NASA in exile there beyond the Pleiades. Instead of fertile Florida countryside and every modern town pleasure, alien dry scrub risky with landmine bushes stretched into the distance. Much of the wildlife was like nothing they had seen before, and all of it was utterly poisonous to Earth life: no more could any of them live off wild fruit and what he shot and fished. Housing was crude, and most food came from synthesizers. As they knew would be from reports and tales that came to Earth, the industrial support was much smaller than Earth's, and they had to do much for themselves that on Earth they paid others to do: like all able-bodied people there they had to obey work and rescue callouts and defence training when needed, and sometimes when asking for a metal they were told where the ore quarry was and lent mining and portable smelting kit: they remembered that in old times farmers needing clothes often had to do every stage of making them from the sheep's backs to their own backs. In pioneering conditions people have to do many sorts of work for themselves.
They named a nearby area of contorted rocky hills `Orlando' in memory of a town of fanciful buildings in Florida housing Walt Disney's characters that they had often visited. Thankfully there were several large lakes in the area to scuba dive in as a change from work, and by now a railway had been hacked from Aulien through jagged spine-backed volcano-ridden mountains and across a wide jungle-choked coastal plain to a coral reef area of the western sea. Others came later and joined them; they put up NASA's emblem large and bold on their first building at Aulien and on their first space base structure at Ilmenost.
Both learned new things. Too many of the NASA men who came were older planner and manager types and had to get used again to work and action and not letting paperwork multiply. The Anor men had gradually got out of practise in exploring outside Anor's asteroids and inner planets, for they, busy with exploring and defending their their base area, had got unwilling to scatter their strength by going elsewhere as much as might have been expected, except nearby stars and taking visiting Earth astronomers to such often-wanted places as the Pleiades and Aldebaran and Capella; they realized that some Anor men, like ISAB, were getting local-minded and control-minded, and wondered whether the needs of armed readiness to fight off repeated ISAB attacks would in the end turn the Anor men into a duplicate of ISAB. Thus the NASA men coming started a new period of space exploration there.
Anor asked the NASA men for any new information about what was happening or planned on Earth, but got little, for ISAB did not fully trust ex-NASA upper staff. But there was suspicion that ISAB and its predecessors had planned and perhaps still hoped to wind up as much remote human space activity as possible and to end that involvement in remote places, ever since at the big Company collapse some years ago an order had gone round to recall all asteroid miners and wait for all financial dust to settle allowing a general replanning of space matters. That order had been widely ignored, for asteroid miners had got able to maintain themselves away from planets; the recent ISAB attack may have a part of that plan, or of a plan to spread Earth's direct rule across the near stars.
In the Anor system men were far fewer than on Earth and their time mattered and kit had to last; for example, in future years titanium alloy experimental hard articulated constant-volume spacesuits that some NASA men wore on a long surveying star-hop in and around the Orion Nebula meant more when the men using them for their far-travelling exploring and eagerly-awaited discoveries had dug the titanium as ore, sweating with heavy rock-drills below the looming peaks of the Otsonelki (Seven Teeth) on the north edge of the Aulien plain, for there was no massive taxpayer population there to live off. But they had escaped from the darkness of takeover by ISAB and forced retirement or relegation to dead-end paperwork or figurehead or patrol jobs to a new day of space exploration.
Bases and equipment were smaller than in old Earth days: in these days of modern spacesuit and spacecraft propulsors there were no more tall hard-blasting space shuttle launchers, and men travelled to places far further than Anor's two moons with space kit far smaller than the leftover Saturn moon-rocket that still lay on its side at Cape Canaveral in Florida on Earth ready for an Apollo 18 Moon mission that never flew except in fiction. These things were not now needed as tools; but they were missed as symbols of past efforts and achievements; one NASA man who had been a shuttle pilot soon imitated Long Tom in the Pallas-2 asteroid miner group and adorned his spacesuit chest with two bas-relief model space shuttles, but in his case made of chromium, shining in Anor's light as his spacesuit propulsor took him from Arda into orbit with a 30-kilogram geostationary communication satellite strapped to his chest.
Less expected and less welcome was an odd mixture of botany and entomology and flamethrower drill that they had had to go through, but it was necessary, as Melinitski (who now had his codename `Blast Benton' on his safety helmet) drove south with others from Aulien towards the Orlando Hills. Nearly all the way a level hard road now ran, but on the edge of the hills they had to dismount and unload their tools and walk. Some said that their choice of names for each of the hills looked too odd on maps; but some of the NASA men who had known the characters commemorated at the Florida Orlando all their lives said that the X-100's were not the only group who could raid a favourite fictional scenario for placenames. But they had not gone for pleasure; they were making a recording satellite to put in orbit round Karnil, and they needed cadmium for rechargeable batteries to store solar electric power while that satellite, and others later, were in shadow; so they, and an experienced miner to advise them, hacked and scrambled through rocky scrub, one burdened with a flamethrower, another with a rockdrill and a heavy backpack generator, and wondered how later to make a light mine-truck railway from the road to the site. A name that they had allotted light-heartedly as a relief from work had become a name of a place of work, and in the base of a three-lobed rock pinnacle that they had named `Goofy' was a seam of cadmium ore. And something else: they knew the leaf shape and the white butterfly-like flowers, and as they followed their asteroid miner type remote metal analyser/detector's signal in that narrow place there was no way round it.
It showed no sign of the characteristic sickness showing attack on its roots by the insect Tetrathyrsoceros keraunorrhizae, so there was no point leaving it and coming back later. It was 20 feet high and 12 feet in branch spread. Thankfully it has a very characteristic leaf and is evergreen. They measured and took cover behind boulders. One of them shot his laser low power at a nearby bird's nest, trying to make the sitting bird fly safely away in time, but it sat tight. `Blast Benton' wished briefly that he had not rashly put 400 light years between himself and people to do maths and work for him, calculated, primed his flamethrower, set its power, aimed, and fired. The jet of burning petrol-jelly arched over the boulder and stuck in the branches of the landmine bush, killing all woody parts that might have grown on from scattered bits later; it was not in seed then. Then the heat set off the natural landmines in its roots. There was a blasting roar and a hail of stones and bits of branches and burning stuff and the unpleasant hardwood flechettes and blades that that sort of bush grows in its roots, and they again realized that there is no use waving treaties and war conventions at the blind natural happenchances of evolution and geology.
They waited for all debris to settle, then a while longer, knowing tales of big landslides caused by landmine bush explosions; but `Goofy''s quartz-veined sandstone bulk withstood the shock. They came out of shelter. He switched his flamethrower off and put its nozzle in its holder across his chest. It was as it often was in the war between Man and that natural Ardan hazard. The crater stank of explosion and burnt vegetation. The area smelt of napalm, a substance that before coming to Arda he had not met and certainly not expected to have to make and then strap a pressure-tank of it on his own back; those on the good side in his fiction scenario had not used it. This unexpected use of it reminded one of the men who had been in an army, of a time lost in a desert when they had long ago used all firewood and, desperate for a meal, had killed a camel and cooked it over a mixture of napalm and dry desert sand, which burnt steadily enough for the job; the meat tasted of petrol, but that had to be ignored. But the lethal bush and all its roots were gone and no flying living bit of it rooted and became another bush, and no torn body of a native browsing animal lay there for scavengers to quarrel over. Small Ardan birds, attracted by the noise, started pecking and scratching about for insects and worms in the disturbed soil.
The place was now safe, so they walked on, and soon came to the ore exposure. They unslung their tools and set to work, following the ore seam and hand sorting the cadmium mineral from the waste until the men who were unloaded before had a heavy packful each when Anor got near the western horizon. So far the work had been easy; but as they or others got further in in the future they would need more work and safety kit than merely a few wood pitprops cut from the bushes about. They loaded their kit and ore and set off back towards the road.
"You are under arrest in the name of ISAB!!".
The loudhailered order and shots over their heads from bushes to their left startled them into inaction while 23 men in armoured spacesuits propulsor hovered out of hiding and surrounded them. The thing that they dreaded. The ISAB emblems, serial numbers and no code or personal names, and heavy high-powered weapons made it clear that they were seeing something that many would likely see but few ever get away to tell of, if it turned out that not as many as hoped of such squads would merely surrender and ask to be shipped home; they realized too well that the flame splatter had told anything flying over that the bang had not been caused by an animal. The scenery started to distort and go grey. That sort of commando squad does not take prisoners unless it has to, and then only for as long as needed.
`Blast Benton' stumbled in surprise as a stone rolled under his foot. As he fell, he turned round and caught his flamethrower's trigger and safety catch on thorny twigs. His shock inactivity thus broken, he fired, and the jet of burning liquid hit some of the attackers. Their suit armouring withstood it, and soon space vacuum would put the flames out as they stuffed the prisoners into towed pressure bags during hyperspace jump to a remote interrogation site. It was a thankfully easy pickup, caught unsuited and unprepared in the open; too many similar attempts had ended in a shootout or a dangerous in-hyperspace tug-of-war between opposing hyper men trying to steer the same hyper-jumping bubble of normal space; and after a raid on one apparently unwary target a similar squad found after much wasted interrogation effort that their prisoners were all useless due to advanced Alzheimer's Disease or other mental afflictions and that their risky raid and dangerous escape under fire with several fatal casualties had served only to clean out a native in-space mental incurables home.
The napalm did little against ISAB space-commando armour; but it caught both the squad's hyper jumper men and its heat made them take their hands off their on-suit hyper jumpers. As the grey and distortion faded, the Ardans took cover among rocks with such weapons as they had at the ready, and radioed for help, saved only by the commando sergeant's order to take all alive if possible; else the squad would have turned the flamethrower against its users by shooting its pressure-tank open and efficiently cleaned up the rest in a minute or so in a few accurate shots each.
"To whoever's coming against us: we shoot this lot if you don't do what we say!" an ISAB man radioed as nearly 100 miles away a hole in the rock opened and fired five native jet fighters at them from a huge buried magazine. But the planes came anyway, plus 43 propulsor-spacesuited armed Anor men who had landed nearby for a rest and a spell in gravity and luckily had not unsuited yet. The ISAB men knew how effective specially equipped and programmed police jet fighters were in atmosphere against unauthorized propulsor spacemen incursions and helirig gangs and the like, and were shocked to be unexpectedly on the receiving end of it.
"If you want us as `your ticket home', all you had to do was turn up at our spaceport and we'd've shipped you home! Some time ago your Admiral Lintzford ordered the rest of his men to surrender to us or get back to Earth.".
"We'll take no facilities `please kindly' from you #@% deserters and space rats! If you're NASA men like those badges say, NASA's part of ISAB now and that makes you deserters; else you're displaying a symbol falsely. We go under our own command, and you carry us under our orders and under our guns.".
"Never mind!" `Blast Benton' exclaimed on his radio, "Shoot even if you must shoot us along with them!, that's better than what they'll likely do with us.".
"Oh, very gallant.".
By now the ISAB hyper jumper men could use their jumpers again, but the jet fighters were near enough to be heard and radared, and both sides now had the missile that homed on developing hyper jump fields. They knew from overheard native radio that some official Earth bodies were contacting Anor again, and some had doubts about the legal consequences if they attacked groups that Earth men were negotiating with. But those ISAB men had been trained hard to fight for Earth ISAB authority in remote places, and for once refused to be ordered off an unfinished job by politicians and traders who had not served one day in an armed force. They spread out, and a wild swirling fight with dead and wounded on both sides developed between them and the incoming Anor men in the air among the rock peaks named after cartoon characters and on the ground below. Men with their spacesuit propulsors shot out fell to earth, and sometimes were caught and put on the ground safely, but sometimes not.
The jet roar with its whining overtone approached fast: 100 miles are soon gone at Mach 2. The flying Anor men landed to let the fighters clean up; the fighters' onboard sentient computers, thinking far faster than a man, could usually tell which target was on which side, but it was safer to keep out of their way. The ISAB men were so well armoured that it took a hard shot or heavy blast to stop each one, but the job was being got through. Another Anor man's propulsor was shot out, and he fell far. A fighter fired an antipersonnel missile backwards at him as it went after other targets, and he knew the fate of accidental own-side victims of war; but the missile matched speed with him as he fell, and did not attack him, but let him hold onto it as he could, with his head against its lethal warhead full of blast-propelled antipersonnel bolts. His one-sided unaerodynamic bulk strained its guidance system, but it flew level carrying him and with nearly the last of its fuel landed him safely; and he knew that even in confused fast action AJ-12 had recognized one of its own people.
7 of the ISAB men packed into bullet shape and tried to `sky' quickly to space, but a jet fighter soared after them and disposed of them. An ISAB hyper jumper man gathered 4 others that he could quickly and jumped away to pass on the bad news when he met more of his kind. The fighter free-fell back from its pursuit, levelled off, and to save fuel settled on a rock peak on lookout with its name code AJ-17 on its sides and its fleet's emblem of one of Arda's bright northern star constellations along its wings. VTOL ability and rear-pointing guns change much. The rest of the ISAB men landed and surrendered. The jet roar faded as the other fighters settled nearby to add more gunpoint on the ground to what the defenders had.
Melinitski and many others felt the unreal feeling of sudden ending of danger. Luckily such attacks were rare and getting rarer. This time they could look at the lethal powerful hard-blasting streamlined bulks of the jet fighters and not fear them, for they had his own side's emblems on. At the big ISAB attack that he had heard of, the feared thing did come, anti-spaceman jet fighters with ISAB emblems on, pumped out over Aulien by two big ISAB space-transports. The ISAB men unsuited, sullen and not speaking unless they had to. AJ-13 sat silently alert on its undercarriage, nose and guns towards them. They shivered at the inappropriate Earth-city images raised by a hypodermic syringe pattern of stars along each wing, although they knew where that pattern came from: they were too wearily familiar with the Anor sky's constellations including the one that it was a copy of in months of orbiting Anor and intermittent jumping about to try to find what was happening and how to get to a friendly base. The Disney names that the natives had given to the hills now jarred badly with what had happened there, as they saw AJ-17 perched like an ominous and ill-boding crow on the hill that they now knew was called Donald Duck. They were down and stranded, fated to be shipped back to probable unemployment or dead-end ground job on Earth, unless they deserted and stayed on Arda and went native as others had before.
This was not the first time and unlikely the last that giving a place a light pleasant name ended inappropriately. Red Bill in the Jetters, who met the NASA men afterwards as he got out of AJ-13's cockpit, remembered reading about a part of the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods) in Austria where there are places called the German for Nut Village, Nut Mountain, Birdsong Mountain, pretty little names more like a small child's reading book than the real world, as far as possible from anything with rough associations as if a local lord's lady had disliked the old names; but in 1683 the Turks under Kara Mustafa [and in reality: Author] attacked Austria and beseiged Vienna hard and long, and Nussdorf (Nut Village) among other places got fame as a place of battle despite its name when cavalry led by Jan Sobieski king of Poland arrived and relieved the desperate seige just in time.
After all that Melinitski and the rest collected their cadmium ore and took it to NASA's building in Aulien, where next day they processed it for its contained metals and used it to make rechargeable batteries as planned. Things used up in war or anything else unproductive have to be made by someone. Anor was near the jagged ridges and volcano-peaks of the western mountains, and looking for wreckage had to wait until morning, with the usual natural risks in the scrub of the Aulien plain. Four months before, biologists there discovered a biochemical that if sprayed on a landmine bush goes to its roots and reliably deactivates for a while the plant's thousands of natural detonators, each with its own trigger hair; but the chemical was scarce and takes time to work and was only used when one of the bushes grew up where an explosion could not be allowed.
Two days later as they were shovelling the processing waste into a workshop RD to detoxify it - some Ardan life needs trace amounts of cadmium, but still does not care for too much of it - another visitation came, but this time welcome. Going out of the building they saw a two-man bubble spacecraft about twelve feet long, powered by a spacesuit hyper jumper and a larger version of a spacesuit propulsor. A big crowd, some in spacesuits, some in spacesuit undersuits, some in overalls or other ground clothes, had gathered to see it come, and for a chance to exchange news and scientific discoveries. The Jetters spaceman group were there, including Plutey-pots; Melinitski, who had heard of him, looked nervously at his shiny spacesuit oxygen cylinders. The two men in the spacecraft were less concerned, as they came out, and the factory manager welcomed them. The craft's registration and the two men's Mars pressure suits showed where it had come from; the pilot had been to Arda before, but the passenger, who was from the WAIA industrial area on Earth and was seeing with an unreal feeling of alienness for the first time the planet where those who had helped his people came from, was surprised at the manager's workshop-smelling overalls and factory safety helmet and nothing like business office clothes, and the impression that most people who were anything describable as managerial carried their offices around in backpacks and were as accustomed to manual work as those under them.
"Well, here I am." said the craft's passenger, a Mr.Ulongu, "We've all got a lot to tell each other, I reckon. I heard of your scrap with ISAB that time, and again just now. I've been in space before, and I've learned a fair lot of atomic and subatomic stuff; I didn't care for the idea of having to live in a spacesuit for weeks coming here, but I never thought I'd ride in `Spaceship Neutrino'!".
Some of the crowd laughed, for astronomers sometimes call the neutrino particle `Spaceship Neutrino' because unlike light and other particles it comes undelayed out of the middles of stars and thus scientists with neutrino detectors can tell what is happening in there just then. And the little craft's nameplate bore the name of a Mars spaceport and its own name `Neutrino'. Things are named after atomic particles sometimes, as is to be expected.
"They say I may be out of this pressure suit when I'm old." its pilot said, "The air on Mars is getting nearer and nearer to 100 millibars of oxygen, thin like the oxygen part of up on the Andes in Peru, but we'll live on it. A lot sooner than we used to think it'd be. There's a deep copper and nickel mine in the Hellas hollow [on Mars] where miners have already been known to unsuit at the bottom in the open and get away with it.".
There had been no particular trouble on Mars, but its people were wary after the recent events: Mars had won a violent war of independence from space trading Company control years before there was much spaceman disobedience further away in the asteroids, like Ireland in the 1920's when the rest of the British Empire had held together nearly half a century longer. There were births and deaths and marriages to report. Ilmenostians had found in captured ISAB craft something unexpected although in books familiar, reminding them uncomfortably that Earth could still catch up with them. A biologist handed over a boxful of CD-ROM's and papers of new discoveries about Ardan and Karnilian wildlife and geology.
"If you lot out here are so advanced and clever, first to make PL-props and PSC-4's, and suchlike, when are you going to invent the total conversion reactor?" said the Earth biologist.
"It turns matter into energy completely, energy = mass times speed of light squared.".
"Oh, annihilating matter with antimatter. That needs antimatter. Even if any remote galaxies are made of antimatter, like I've seen speculations of, they're far too far away for us to reach with any hyperspace jumper that's ever likely to be invented. Pity: it'd be a thousand times as powerful per weight as fissile actinide.".
"I know about antimatter. I mean turning ordinary matter into all energy.".
"Quite easy. Heat it. Then inside the protons and neutrons in it, the thermal movements knock two quarks right into each other so they make an X particle or a Z particle. Trouble is, it needs 10 to the 27th degrees to do it, 'cos an X particle weighs 10 to the 15th times as much as a proton and making all that mass needs a lot of energy, even though you'd get it all back and more when the X or Z splits into an antimatter quark and a positron which then annihilate with the proton or neutron's other quark and an electron. Not even the insides of the biggest hottest star ever's managed that. If you wait for a proton to decay like that by itself, the half life's about 10 to the 30th years.".
"If it's so hard to react via the X-particle," someone said naively, "why can't you just take a bit of space out with one of your hyper jumpers and sort of put it back the other way up? If so, would that invert the matter in it to antimatter and vice versa? If so, you could make antimatter reactor fuel any time you like.".
"Or something equally unlikely like designing a neutrino catcher. Neutrinos are a @#$ waste of energy in reactors and it'd take ten light years thick of solid matter to stop most of them. The only Neutrino that's any use round here's this one these two came in. Really, the ideas some people come out with.".
"Never mind puns and fantasy. Lets net up and pass on what we've found." said a scientist. Some took laptop computers out of their packs. The factory manager took two out, one with a bigger casing than most, and also a long cat o' nine tails of computer link wire. He plugged its root into his larger computer's COM-2 port, and passed the free ends around the others. Ulongu looked surprised: he had seen and used computer Local Area Networks (LAN's) plenty of times, but never one formed on the spot out in the wilds or floating in remote space with its net server carried about among a packful of kit and tools. Neutrino's pilot plugged one end into his little craft's onboard computer. The manager recorded everybody's login names and plugged one link into a socket in the ground to connect to other computers in the area; by then they were used to having to go through net setup procedure whenever they met, something which most computer users only have to do once in years. Ulongu decided to stay there for two or three weeks longer.
They met, and went their ways, another routine chance meeting; and elsewhere others met. The ISAB squads before the big battle had arranged a time and place of meeting, if as happened they could not be picked up by their fleet; and thus now such of them as had survived the natural and human hazards of the area and were still too minded enough on authority and control to go native, met in the middle of the largest crater on the biggest moon of Anor's gas giant planet Alkarinque, a bright object and easy to find. They met, and wondered what to do, whether to return to Earth, or to still try to harass the Anor men, or what. They chose a command structure among themselves, and planned.
"Squad 4B leader reporting." said one, "We tried an action against a bunch of them called the Typhoons, and lost 14 men. We'd hoped to capture a few men to interrogate, but they fought back better than we thought they would. And kit damage; we need somewhere to mend it.".
"If we go back to Earth now, they may put us in another action fleet; or likelier pay us off and we'll be grounded on Earth out of work, and many of you know what it's like leaving an armed force and looking for work, unless you've got a useful skill like electronics or aeroplane flying. I say we find a place to set up a self-supporting remote ISAB base, really far away where this lot of deserters won't find us. Then ISAB will thank us and may let us stay here to man it. Then we can gradually get many and cost Earth little, until we are so strong that Anor won't know what hit them and they're under proper control again. I think there are enough good trained and equipped mechanics and so on here.".
"And we become deserters. We should report back to Earth." said another.
"To Earth, or our own remote base? We must decide. Those wild miners cost us Mars, then the asteroids, and now likely all of space if they spread everywhere before we can. Law, order, control! Remember! We obey orders, we talk in name and rank and serial number, not back-street rough type nicknames. We keep to uniform regulations, and no spacesuit ornaments except what command authorizes for each rank and unit. We find a place and set up there so we're self supporting. When we've made our first space-navy craft, we send one of those craft to Earth carrying a detachment to contact ISAB command and report for duty there. If those runaway miners can do it, we can, ISAB can boast of an exploration deed as good as what those too much heard-of X-100's did. No more raiding the Anor system till command says it's time to. Then while we build up and train and arm they'll get slack in peace, and then we'll see. And that PSC-4 we've got'll be needed for transport, it's too valuable to risk in action now.".
This was decided, in radio silence by link wires, like many remote groups do. Scout groups jumped about, and after less time than feared they found a single star about halfway between Aldebaran and the Hyades, and computer-generating a random name codenamed it Itan. Its Earth-warmth planet was in a pre-Cambrian stage with next to no free oxygen and no life on land; its continents were sand or rock desert except where ice lay. It was very cold at nights, and fierce sandstorms blew. Nothing living had a fossilizable shell yet. But they found metal ores, and oil, and uranium ore. They mined, and built a crude small nuclear power station, and later a bigger better one, and called the place Base Langton after a squad-leader of theirs who had died in the recent minor action near Aulien. Men explored in a cave, looking for minerals, and found in a pool far from light a numerous community of small freshwater animals that seemed to have no outside energy source, for on Itan there were no cave bats or the like to fly out and eat insects and fly in and leave droppings. It seemed irrelevant, so they were ordered away from it. They puzzled about it silently as they laboured setting up an industrial support structure, and their command debated how to stop the men from sliding into a workman and colonist mentality. Time passed until those men were heard of again.
Meanwhile Ulongu and the Pallas-2's in their locally-made long-trip spacesuits orbiting Arda tethered to each other knew nothing of this, but wondered where the next sudden ISAB hyper jump raid would come to try to weaken them and keep them off balance. The emptiness around seemed no longer isolating and protecting but a high-road for enemies, like the North Sea for Anglo-Saxon England's east coast when Vikings learned to make ships good enough to raid across it. But Anor men had the kit and will to raid also if they had to, and Earth and ISAB knew that. So they were left alone, and both sides and Earth's public preferred their rulers to leave alone, after the shock of a real space battle when they had been thankful that such things were safely remote in the pages of exciting fiction.
Among them, Red Scorpion woke from yet another tangled jangled dream of being many different people all of who met unpleasant ends in close succession, and was glad to suck from his spacesuit's food synthesizer and stretch and get to work. What had happened to him? He hardly ever had that sort of dream before his scrape with Fletcher Mining's trick loader near the Sun's asteroid Vesta that time. He did not care much either for where his group was due to explore next: a large rectangular depression in the south edge of the dreaded Kumnearen, the dry bed of a small ocean which had been cut off from the sea long ago. Their work site was two and a half miles below sea level but dry to the sunlight except for rare flash floods when summer rain in the Sornoronti (Eagle Mountains) to the southwest was unusually heavy. This rain drained in through massive volcanic ash outpourings and washed out of it natural soda and potash and accumulated it deep and ancient in the hot hollow. But no Ardan analogue of heat-loving algae and brine shrimps came there, and nothing flew in to feed there. Long Tom remembered long ago seeing millions of flamingos feeding in the African Rift Valley soda lakes, and the green around, and longed for Earth briefly as he thought of the hot dead hollow where they would be surveying for minerals. The exploring X-100's had used Tolkien's languages to name many Anor system places and space objects, but not that place: men called it the Devil's Canister, after the canisters filled with sodalime or the like which are in many breathing sets to absorb exhaled carbon dioxide. At the right time they activated their spacesuit propulsors to take them out of orbit and down to the place.
As he went into atmosphere flying configuration horizontal with spacesuit wings fitted and knees and hips calipered straight for streamlining, he wondered what ever had led him from his father's workshop in Birmingham in England to many sorts of jobs here and there including a spell as a docker in Swansea in Wales and ending up looking like a cross between an aeroplane and a fighter pilot and a flying sewage works orbiting an alien planet among men equipped the same. Once they had swooped down like this to his old home in Birmingham, and, finding the area bullied by tinkers and tramps who nobody in authority seemed to want to control, had been only just persuaded not to shoot the lot; but instead they had taken all the vagrants of both sorts into space, and reprocessing them into useful space or Arda workmen had been long and hard.
One of them was there, and bore the result of his attitude when the spacemen asked him for his name: `Noddy' he had said, in low street-rough cheek, and as Noddy he had been listed and it was still on his helmet forehead, although he regretted it and the day he had moved to that doss near Red Scorpion's father's. But he would not have fitted back in his old life easily and he knew it: his low mentality had quickly turned to complete spacesuit dependence even when in atmosphere, although he knew little of space travel except to set his propulsor controls as his group's navigator Blue Shark said. He had drifted away from school and delayed and delayed looking for a job until it was too late, until at last 400 light years from home he was forced painfully and very late to get used to steady fulltime work. The childish name jarred among the exotic rough names on many of the other men's helmets, and some of the men wondered why they had to have such a type with them; but Red Scorpion all too well remembered the thefts and ordeal his parents and their neighbours had gone through, and the threats what would happen if anyone called the police, and having to hide or bury valuables, and was still determined to make the culprits pay and not merely chase them away and let them make trouble somewhere else.
The group descended through the atmosphere, past a flock of birds migrating in high cool air irrelevantly high above the hot wilderness, over the advancing front of a sandstorm, down and down into the dry hot depths where long ago the waves had rolled two miles overhead and hunting sea-creatures never saw light except from luminous organisms, un-calipered their legs and turned upright, and landed.
They folded their wings, and kept their suits sealed sheltering among rocks until the storm blew over and the stinging driven soda dust settled. Noddy was on a planet for the first time in a very long time, and he did not like it. All the places of human comfort he had flown over, and his group had to land here. Ulongu crouching next to him was thankful that he could seal his suit outside pack securely from inside his suit, and still in some culture shock at the alien world. Noddy, after a long spell crossing emptiness in a spacesuit that he had never asked to be stuffed into and nothing to see but stars and the same group of spacemen, merely hated hot heavy places where there was nothing to pick over and sell and nowhere to buy or cadge drink but plenty of manual work waiting and still no chance of getting away and nowhere to go if he did. At least by now he could understand most asteroid miner jargon. The standard Anor system long-trip spacesuit with its food and water and oxygen regenerating and recycling systems is very foolproof when in its maximum safety mode. They kept their suits sealed and did not breathe the desert air, as that would have cost them far too much body fluid, as even Noddy had had drilled into him by then. At least it was not Urnunie, the salt-glaring main floor plain of Kumnearen, half a mile deeper.
"My suit cooler's working as hard as if I was at Elemmire [Anor's equivalent of Mercury]. Where the #%$ are we gonna find to sleep?" Blue Shark complained.
The wind remained hard northwest. Above them pelting rain from a rare shower all evaporated long before it reached the ground. They dug sleeping hollows in a sheltered patch of sand, and slept in their spacesuits as they waited for the morning.
When they awoke the stars shone and the air was clear. The Pleiades cluster, reversed and as big as Earth's sky's Orion, lit the ground; many of its stars were as bright as Ulongu remembered Venus as being. Aldebaran was above the eastern hills. Beside it the huge comet Altaloke was returning, still distant and looking small, but later in months to come it would at times cover much of the sky. Ulongu took a booklet out of his spacesuit outside pack and tried to identify the Anor sky constellations. The X-100's, first men to Anor, had named them in their usual choice of language, but others had insisted on English, and so many Ardan and Ilmenostian sky maps followed.
At least Anor system settlers had one established constellation and star name set, and were spared what happened later on a planet a long way from Anor that men later settled and named simply `New Earth'. There the settlers' official astronomy committee refused constellations but divided the sky along coordinate lines into areas lettered along and numbered down; but popular astronomy and people navigating or finding time or date by the stars wanted constellations, and used them despite official astronomical rules that observations however good that used constellations were to be rejected. Various religious and other bodies invented sets, which finally had to be listed and cross-correlated. Men adapted as they sought fit: for example, one coastal sailing and fishing community, lacking anything better to name navigational stars by, for a long time used the `Childish-A' constellation set crudely adultified with unprintable alterations. A set invented hurriedly at a sea-navigation school finally won, and New Earth's fleet of passenger spacecraft were named after them - and when its flagship on their first scheduled flight came to Cape Canaveral spaceport on Earth and a crowd waiting, it bore the name `Alcapone'. The one-word spelling, and the accompanying picture of a quarryman with a large rockdrill overlain by the named constellation's star pattern, merely emphasized the wrongness.
It was too late to rename the constellation or the ship. If whoever at the Nav School with an over-fascination with old gangster stories, taking the first name that came into his head for that star pattern (which undeniably did look like a man with a big gun), had chosen another such man's name, people would have asked who the man commemmorated was, and the matter would been put right; but starting with `Al-' it went unnoticed among many Arabic star names starting with `Al-' meaning "The", some transplanted from old Earth's sky, some given new by men treating Arabic as the right language for star names like Latin and Greek for constellation names, for most men there were far too busy with settling a new world to keep much track of bad men of old Earth. Nor was the matter put right by a man who, trying to remake the Latin and Greek tradition on an alien world, in an `Arateia' written in Homeric Greek about the New Earth sky stars, wrote the name as `Alko-ponos', "He who labours mightily", who with his huge rockdrill carved out the valleys and lakebeds when the world was young, in creation legends invented for those who like such stories; he knew nothing of the evil heritage of him who the name really referred to. The truth came out in the end, and some said that having such a character in the sky was an ill omen for the future there. But that was in the future and elsewhere; in the Anor system sky the constellation used on some aeroplane wings was enough inappropriateness, as the stars moved across until they faded and Anor rose.
They laid out a powerful ground-vibrator and a pattern of vibration detectors, to make seismo soundings of how deep the soda deposit was and get some idea of what lay below it. The surface proved to be sodium and potassium carbonates and little else; most of the visible geology was on the edges of the hollow. The group's geologist Yansen (respelt for `Jansen' to stop mispronunciation) told everybody who was to take what where. "Spanner go look that triangular rock east there. Noddy go with him to carry samples." he said while looking at a nearby black cliff of vertical layers of upheaved ocean floor basalt. They had not been turned from horizontal but had each been injected from below as ocean floor split as it steadily spread. He examined those few pages of the long book of Arda's past, reading about some long-ago movement of Arda's continents before they all drifted together to make the single supercontinent that space-faring men had found there, ignoring a predictable suit radio whine in reply that "I'm Reggie, not what yer call me, I were only dossin' there ...", until Long Tom asked something and overpowered the rest. The geologist suddenly listened to the often-ignored bleat, for it showed that Noddy was some way further away than Long Tom and not where he should have been.
"Override! Noddy's wandered off! DF [= radio direction find] and search!" Yansen shouted on the energency frequency, not knowing whether the heat or whatever else had caused it.
Some walked, crushing the soda crystal `flowers' and wind ripples of dust. Some found it easier to spread their suit wings and switch their propulsors on and fly over the burning plain, looking briefly at cooling shower clouds over the Sornoronti range on the edge of sight far to the west, angry at the delay to work and the extra time in the summer incinerator heat of Kumnearen. The drifts and dunes of sand and soda dust, crusts that broke through into hollows, and white glare from the ground, seemed to go on for ever as Anor never seemed to get lower or cooler; dust-devils threw the fliers about. Their metal detectors found a spent ISAB message-carrying missile and three meteorites, but at last Noddy's spacesuit shallowly buried under loose soda. Undersuit footprints led away from it until they were lost in hard ground.
"I've found 'is undersuit." came a radio voice later with the characteristic noises of air over suit wings at near stalling speed. "That's all 'is kit back. 'E'll 'ave gone for a drive with Big Ears. Leave the idle @#% and 'is endless &%$ excuses to dodge work." he continued, sourly and angrily, but calmer advice from others won. They flew up and down in a search pattern, overheating.
"@#% Noddy. $%& place. Are there any Earendil suits at Aulien, and 'ave we the time to 'yper over there to get some?" said someone. Earendil is the Anor system equivalent of Venus, and visiting its surface needs special heat and pressure resisting oversuits that can withstand conditions far worse than Kumnearen.
"No. We'll 'ave to carry on as we are.".
The search continued. Two men flying, affected by heat dizziness, nearly collided, and then two others. Finally Long Tom found Noddy, naked, dehydrated nearly to death, stumbling on across the floor of hell towards something that kept retreating from him. He swooped, caught Noddy in his arms, and skyed three miles into cooler air not long before heat delirium would have overcome him. "I got 'im just in time. 'E went for a swim." he announced.
It was clear what Long Tom meant. A ground layer of hotter air refracts light causing a delusion of rippling water that has mocked desert travellers down the ages. That, and the effects of heat and white glare and alienness on a brain damaged somewhat by meths abuse in his vagrant days. They flew to the nearest land high enough to be decently cool, stuffed Noddy back into his spacesuit, switched its systems to full intensive care mode, and reflected that his name indeed matched his mentality. Anyway, any real water down there would have been scalding hot caustic. In late afternoon cool they flew back down into the hollow and finished what work they could before dark. The geology on the north side proved to be more upheaved ocean bed rock with two middle-sized patches of copper ore; seismic results and underground sonar showed that the soda hid washed-in continent sediments like formed the long southern slopes that led up to wet and coolness and life.
They had too much work on to do much to Noddy except curse him and top up his suit's water and salt reserves, and to watch that he did not again slip just out of sight away from work and sleep on a rock in full sun daydreaming of his old life uncomplicated by space and work until overheating came on him. His sanity returned as his suit's systems cooled and rehydrated him, and he realized what he had nearly done. They slept in their spacesuits, and he with them, both knowing that another unavoidable day's work lay ahead.
They woke before sunrise. Aldebaran and Altaloke were again clear of the eastern hills. Anor's planet Karnil, not as red as the Sun's Mars, was lowish in the west. The Pleiades were nearly overhead.
"What's my suit doing to me?" Ulongu asked puzzledly, "Since I came down here I haven't wanted to sleep in in the mornings. Is it dosing me with something? If so, what?, and what'll happen when it's withdrawn when I get back home?".
"Nothing." Blue Shark said, "Most people's brains want to live by a day and night about 25 hours long, not 24. That's likely so, back in the Stone Age, they wouldn't get active before light and get caught by things like leopards that prowl at night. That risk's stopped, but on Earth people are still about an hour jet-lagged every morning, but they get used to it. But here on Arda the day and night are about 25 Earth hours long. On Mars it's about 24 and a half hours.".
Ulongu looked at the stars and his Anor star map again. "I'm beginning to learn what most of these constellations are. I miss Earth's constellations. That's Arwen; that's the Laser; that's the Northern Snake: a lot of it's Tolkien and space kit, to be expected, those X-100's who named a lot of it.".
"All right if you're staying here." said another of the Pallas-2's, "If you move about a lot, like we are now with this new exploring since NASA came, you'd have more to do than learn names for every small apparent group that scatters when you hyper jump a few light years sideways. `Orome's Horn' over there south above that two-pointed mountain: you've only got to learn one shape for it, but we've got to recognize it from any direction, and it can look lots of different shapes. And in three dimensions, not two like a sea sailor. If you hyper jump 30 light years towards Capella, that big constellation that you call Denethor is scattered over a third of a hemisphere, but Orome's Horn and the Torpedo each stay together. Depends on if the stars in it are really together in space.".
"At Aulien they say the wet season'll start soon when the Syringe, that big bright constellation in the north, is upright needle down at first dark. It tends to be the first constellation that new people here notice, apart from the Pleiades.".
"Indeed it is. So realistic it's not easy to think of anything else to call it. That great thing in the Anor sky and copied on Ardan jet fighters' wings gives me the shivers sometimes. Trouble is, it fits so handily along a plane wing, which the Pleiades or Denethor or so on don't. It's fine if you live on a planet where the stars go round so you can tell the time and date by them. Not out in space.".
By now it was light enough to see to work, and they checked equipment. An automatic recorder had a fault in a disk controller, and Red Scorpion, well known as one of the best electronics men in the Anor system, had to get his instruments out of his suit pack and poke about with them among microchips and transistors for over ten minutes in the thankful dawn cool with his suit gloves off before finding and bypassing the fault. He had been into electronics since he was nine. As he probed with a magnifying glass among tiny parts, working out what each did, thankful that there was no wind to blow soda dust into the works, something in the bottom of his brain twitched briefly and caused a momentary indeterminate feeling, but it left him and he ignored it. They finished setting up, and flew out to cool off while the instruments ran. In the evening the geologist examined the results and found what may have been oil structures under the southern slope. Halfway up them was a large area of small and middle-sized veins and patches of various metal ores, small-scale and to mine them needing many small mines with a few men each with hand tools rather than a huge Company-sized quarry.
They finished the job, packed their instruments into the aeroplane-shaped tow crates that spaceman groups tend to use when they have to land on planets with them, and returned to Aulien. The missile was found to be not booby-trapped, and its message was deciphered there from a captured ISAB codebook; and more came from that later. They resumed normal life.
Meanwhile the Jetters had been asteroid mining fairly near to Arda. "This bunch of Atens [= asteroids orbiting within Arda's orbit] 've been useful" said Rattler, "All this gallium and indium out of it: last time I was over there = near Earth] I heard of someone who might want it." and gave an address on Earth.
"Yes, I know, you said before about them, I told them we'd send someone down to them." said Jet Jack, "Get this lot to Ilmenost so we can put it with anything else that's due for the Long Jump.".
They got there as the by now fairly regular weekly contact with Earth and the Solar System was in. The usual two tow-crates of mail a week were there. Three visiting scientists were returning to Earth, a bit disconcerted at being stuffed into asteroid miner's long-trip spacesuits instead of being found a pressurized spacecraft. One man was in a craft, of somewhat unexpected type. They jumped to Earth orbit with the return mail; the stars changed to those that most of the Jetters had been born under. Rattler unfolded a parabolic aerial down from geostationary orbit to a space communication aerial near Houston in Texas, on a frequency set aside for such calls. He pressed some keys on his spacesuit computer, and the radio link telephoned on. Jet Jack took over and arranged a trading contact on Earth.
"I suppose this one isn't a trap." Cobra growled doubtfully, "Well, they won't be as eager to try things on the man we send down, with - our new group member - with him. We call ourselves the Jetters: now he really is one!".
"Lets hope this Ilmenostian does come alone, like he said he would." said Mr.Jackson in his firm's office in Milwaukee, "They come in a big bunch in spacesuits tethered together, and even if one does come into the office by himself, always he's in radio touch with the others left outside, and however skilled and convincing our man is, and however fast a talker, to get us a favourable deal, always one of his bunch spots it and chimes in and says `Oi, what about ...', and it ends up as usual. The only way is to say `I'm sorry, but we're busy, we can't wait while you finish policy discussion that you should have finished before you came here.', and threaten to walk out of it until the one finalizes the deal by himself. ... What's that? Not again, I hope.".
A sudden wind rattled windows and a patch of grey distortion appeared on the car park outside. Something was hyperspace jumping in, and by the size of the field it was more than just one man. But the grey cleared to reveal not a large group of men but a jet fighter. An odd choice of executive jet, but he had heard of it happening before, with a few foreign Earth government representatives. He knew the Ilmenostian symbol along its foldable wings. It had the code `AJ-17' on its sides. A bulge fastened underneath it was probably a hyper jumper. Seeing its air-breathing jet motors, he wondered how it moved locally in airless space; he remembered a blunder in a childhood talking vehicle cartoon where an airliner orbited Earth in space. He knew how lethal unexpected Ardan jet fighters had been against ISAB troops propulsor-landing on Aulien on Arda in the big attack; now he saw with some shock one of them there on Earth with an alien Ilmenostian wing emblem, a star pattern which is in no Earth astronomy book. Its cockpit opened, and one man in a spacesuit got out. It sat there silently while he followed Jackson into an office in the firm's building. The deal was to be technical knowledge from the firm in exchange for Anor system asteroid metals. Mr.Jackson, his business negotiational confidence this time not weakened by wondering what the man's associates might interrupt with, started his routine.
The spaceman had the codename `Space Hawk' on his helmet forehead, and shiny ornaments on his suit; Mr.Jackson decided not to wonder which were of metals that on Earth belong only inside nuclear reactors, as he had heard tales of. The spaceman did not unsuit, thankfully, as Mr.Jackson did not want to renew his acquaintance with asteroid miner undersuit smell. On being wined and dined Space Hawk proved to be teetotal. "Great. Now I daren't drink my fill while he stays sober." he thought resignedly; a slight shadow on the event. He went into his usual sales pitch, and showed videos and computer displays. Space Hawk listened, and after some hours seemed convinced. Mr.Jackson sighed with great relief that he had managed to secure an agreement as favourable as his bosses in very definite terms had ordered him to. He handed over some CD-ROM's, and brought out the agreement to sign. The deal was proceeding as planned.
"I better check that lot on my onboard computer while you're here. And you said earlier among all that fast talking that you'd mail those research papers to us. The delay getting mail to Anor: couldn't we have them now?" said a voice, not Space Hawk's, from somewhere near the steel-cased bulge of his spacesuit's waste-recycler RD on his left hip.
The sudden second voice from nowhere another man could be, sent Jackson into a brief wave of schizophrenic and demonic images, until reason took over, and he realized that that part of his office was not as tight a `Faraday cage' as he had hoped. The room was tense. "You gave me your solemn assurance that I would not be negotiating with a team." he said, "You'd better give that lot back.".
"Why?" said Space Hawk, "Yes, I'd prefer to have the research details now, then I've got them. My plane's got a baggage compartment and a missile rack clip-on container that'll hold them all.".
"Indeed why?" said Jackson as Space Hawk moved towards the door, "I assured you that I'd send them on. Or what are you imputing? Where are the metals?".
"In Earth orbit, as I said." said Space Hawk, "That bit `and as usual a market variation adjustment option' that you said quickly and quietly 13 minutes into it: what does it mean?".
"It ensures that we maintain our maximization of profitability if before our next deal the market price drops below ..." said Jackson, hiding his anger and panic at the exactly timed replay coming so soon.
"But you also said that the price was so much and nothing said about extras, that means that much fullstop and no extras and bits taken back and so on, whatever the market does. You said nothing about giving me some back if the market swings the other way.".
The discussion went on tediously. Mr.Jackson wondered where the other man was, for there was clearly nobody else in the plane. He made a phone call, and went back to the talking, determined to get either the crucial favourable deal that he had promised his bosses, or something else as valuable. Discussion continued, getting nowhere much. There was a jet noise outside, and Space Hawk looked out to see his plane gone.
"Right." said Jackson, "If we can't get an adequate return on our valuable time that we've used up with you, my firm at least can take something against all the amounts that you spacemen haven't paid for things: unpaid trading tax, unpaid handling charges, and all sorts. I got a warrant for that plane of yours through just now. My company's aerospace branch'd have paid quite a lot to get one of those to take apart. Now what about you?".
Space Hawk propulsor hovered two feet off the floor for a ten seconds, long enough to show that he had other ways out than the door. Jackson remembered when other people had tried to shut a propulsor spaceman inside a building to arrest him but got nothing out of it but a glazier's bill. But now he had something valuable out of it, and he felt thankful as he tried to come to what trading agreement he could. Jet noise approached outside. "That'll be the cop jet come in case you try to sky off. Off with that fancy spacesuit and under arrest now, we've things to ask you." said another man running in.
Space Hawk let himself be led into a corridor, then suddenly propulsor hovered and bulleted up a staircase. Suit-flying wingless in Earth gravity in twisty confined places is difficult, but it had to be done. He sped across a large hall towards a large double-glazed window, thick to resist storm-blown debris, and his hard helmet and tough suit kept all sharp edges off him as he drove through it. A jet fighter was coming, but it bore not a police badge but Anor's symbol. It came down fast at crash speed, but in the last few seconds blasted hard down and forward and landed short, ripping up rose and camellia bushes with its undercarriage and missile racks. Its cockpit opened. Mr.Jackson ran out, and Space Hawk landed.
"Get out of me, you two." said the plane.
It was the same voice that had come out of Space Hawk's spacesuit radio. There was no doubt now where it came from. Jackson felt weak. He had not considered talking vehicles as a fact of life since early childhood stories. He stood rigid scared as a security man and one of his bosses struggled to climb out over the rim of its cockpit, then realized that courage was the better part of some chance of keeping his job, and ran to help them out. They got out and stood, wobbly and needing support, on a layer of strewn petals and torn thorny twigs. The air smelt of an ill-matched mixture of disturbed rose scent and jet exhaust, for it kept its engines on idle. And as he got near it another smell, for an expensive business lunch eaten by the manager earlier with another client was splattered over its controls and cockpit floor. "Lucky I had to collect my man, else not so likely I'd've come back specially with them." it said as the two slowly went back to their office.
"I was in the Air Force." the security man said faintly, "That's why he called me in. I took off in it, but after that it ignored its controls and went off by itself. Fancy autopilot it must have. And it started questioning us. Oh.....", and heaved again painfully from an already empty stomach.
"That wasn't just a very sophisticated battle computer, it's sentient." said Mr.Jackson, "I've heard of sentient computers, but not very many. Unnatural thing, thinking far faster than a man, picking over my speech at leisurely literary study rate and telling you what it thought over a radio link. That's plain cheating. It's bad enough when someone I'm seeing records a discussion or speech without me knowing it. That thing's shot down more than just a raiding gang or the like. I invited you here so I could negotiate with a man, not a team or a talking aeroplane.".
"Oh my God, those aerobatics with us in it and not strapped in." the security man groaned, "I hate to think what we told that electronic thing else it'd've gone on with more of the same. If it can think like a man, I'm treating it like a man, I'm suing it, or arresting it, if I can.".
"All I know is you tried to steal me on excuses, I said excuses, not reasons." said the plane, "You say crucial parts of things under your breath far too fast in code, and you complain when someone points them out in time. No, you start trading fair. And those CD-ROM's are mostly stuff we know already. If you'd traded fair you'd have the metals now at quite a fair price and we'd be away, instead of nearly getting there and then all that lot about handing charges and that sort of stuff. Handling what? If anyone's got the right to ask for extra money for handling stuff, it's our goods hyper jumper man up in geostaish [= geostationary orbit] with that mass of metals to have to jump down to exactly on ground level.".
"Etc etc stale parrot like that consumer rights program." said the manager, "And meaning that that thing knows advanced metallurgy. Gah. Plus it sounding just like some dirty asteroid miner or some bunch of dockers suddenly wanting an extra rate. That syringe pattern in stars along its wings gives me the creeps. A talking mind with no flesh or bone for it to live in. I see its lethal great jet nozzles and stern-chaser missiles are pointing right at my office. I suppose it'll want a full service free off us and its cockpit hosing out. Well, we can't, we aren't an airfield. Apart from that, how does that thing move about in space without having to hyper jump every time?".
"We can use a hyper jumper as an ordinary propulsor. It happens sometimes when a hyper jumper gets out of adjustment and its field gets lopsided as it starts up. Trick is to make it happen as you want it to." said Space Hawk, while his plane stood silent and impassive-seeming, and the manager feigned interest in odds and ends of space kit talk and hints that the metals deal may be on after all, to try to keep them there. Time passed.
"I better go, and here's your CD-ROM's back." said Space Hawk, suddenly propulsor jumping over Jackson and three more men who had come out as four police cars pulled up and stopped. The plane took off, scooped Space Hawk into its cockpit, and was gone.
"Well, that one's gone nasty on us. Bang goes a quick simple trading visit, all along of him trying to make it complicated and negotiational and cheat on it and `put me in my place'." said Space Hawk, "OK, OK, I tried the easy quick way, sell it all at once to a stockist.".
"If he's a stockist, I'm a Dakota." said AJ-17 as it hedge-hopped towards an industrial area, "My radar isn't some fancy `sensor' like in those stories, but from that close it can give me a fair idea what's in buildings, and there's no storeroom and no bulk metals in there. One mass of steel, that'll be the heating boiler. Two of those CD-ROM's had useful info in: I copied them to my D: disk. After those two @&$ got out of me, they got in line with my rear end in handy incineration range, and I was nearly tempted.".
"Yes, afterburners have more than one use. Meaning he's yet another #&% broker wanting a fat rake-off to keep me and people who use stuff at arm's length. I thought I'd try him and give you an easier landing. I can trust Ellisham and Franz's where I've been before, but I know what you'd say about having to VTOL into that lorry yard of theirs.".
"Try these places again. I'll land where I can, and if the men there don't want right then what we've got, no waiting while people go for people go for people, I'm off, even if I've got to send a capture missile after you. That scrape back there's set the area buzzing, I can hear the radioing - hang on, those cops are relaying back that Jackson's side of the story, pack of lies. I shouldn't cut in on their frequency, but it's the safest way now to tell them what really happened. ".
"That's a different story!" said an overheard police voice a minute later, "4 cars and he tried to bring our jet into it, for some business agreement dispute? Never mind some city slicker's `very valuable time'. And I doubt the grounds that he got that warrant on. If all that spaceman did with that jet fighter is use it as transport, that's not a firearms offence! If it's an air traffic control offence, we haven't been told it yet, it's the airforce's job chasing something like that. Leave it, we've got other things to do. One spaceman `hit-and-run' trading or not. Any missed tax, the tax office'll have to chase it up with the spaceman's customers down here. We've got other things to do.".
"It wasn't in atmosphere long. The air traffic control people had listed it as a UFO, they said. They didn't bother with it much: they'd had three big angels already this morning." said another overheard voice.
"A radar angel means a diffuse echo, usually a flock of birds.".
"But what it did to those two men ...".
"Yes, they sure got more of a ride than they expected!", and the voice trailed off into hearty laughter on channel.
Space Hawk landed by one of the factories and found its management willing to buy some of the metals and pay cash in dollars on the spot, while AJ-17 taxied by itself to another of the factories. It startled the workmen, and business negotiating with a talking jet fighter was a shock for the factory's owner, but it found customers for the rest of the metals. It spread a directional aerial and radioed upwards. Far above, the Jetters group heard. They hyper jumped the metals down while some of the local workmen refuelled AJ-17 and hosed its cockpit out well; the matter had ended better than feared. Space Hawk went back to AJ-17 and got in it. The Jetters clung to its undercarriage and missile racks as they and it jumped back home to the Anor system where it had been made.
The matter ended, adding one to the list of mutual minor complaints and ruffled feathers to be sorted out next time an official party from Earth went to Ilmenost, usually with the mail. Among them was the inevitable query where ISAB men were who were still missing after recent and older incidents; but Anor did not know, and the matter had to be left. Little new came from ISAB's Admiral Lintzford and his family, in early retirement near Aulien on Arda after he surrendered in the big battle, unwilling to return to Earth to face the legal and other consequences of defeat, becoming steadily more sympathetic with the settlers that he had led a fleet against; ISAB appointed a replacement for him.
"If, as you claim, you runaway spacemen want an accord with us," said an ISAB delegate then, "I must again point out that the naval ranks that you persist in attributing to our men who you captured in that battle, and all too successfully encouraging our public media to imitate, seriously compromise a condition in our charter, which concerns what sort of fleet we could have. As we said before, they were police and officials, and contractors to help clear up afterwards. Never mind: it has been agreed to alter our charter and allow us to call our fleet and its men by those naval ranks and designations. So, you will no doubt be happy to know that that disagreement has been settled in your favour.".
This did little except remove a few theoretical legality queries, for the supposed company-type structure of board and committees and subcontractors had a long time before de-facto hardened into a naval-type command system; efficient internal security had digested out all trade unions and the like. Until the big losing battle, when the system had fallen apart into its components; but it was rebuilding itself, around Earth and elsewhere.
At Base Langton on Itan III the men still worked and trained and built up. Despite precautions and orders the first Itanian native arose, unintended, by one of the men out of one of the inevitable women that action-minded men by seemingly magical means too often manage to bring with them, and later others. They saw the small wet new face that had intruded into their tidy disciplined trained world, and some realized what was to come.
And a biologist among them found something utterly unexpected and against what to him was a basic rule of nature, but should have been expected to turn up some time somewhere eventually.
"This alga thing growing in complete dark in that cave: I've an idea how it grows." he said one day.
"How? Be brief and prove its usefulness now, or you're on a charge. I'm not letting science for its own sake take over and keep getting more expensive to keep, like a mastiff puppy. We've got a fleet to build and arm, not to keep whitecoats in supplies so they can give fancy Latin names to creepy-crawlies.".
"You may not believe it, but it gets its energy by capturing Brownian motion energy. ...".
"Brown motion!? Now what sort of RD'ings are you talking?!" the sergeant rapped, "If something of this doesn't lead to a good energy source or tool or weapon to support ISAB you're down the manganese mine now.".
"It's when something's hot and all its atoms move about at random bumping each other. The energy of them moving about's why things are hot." the biologist said in a panic of frantic explanation. "This stuff's actually found a way to capture it and use it! Smash tinkle goes the 2nd law of thermodynamics! Of course it happens in a small way in every endothermal reaction, that's a reaction that takes in heat energy, but so far there's been no way to capture the energy thus taken in. The amount of times I'd had the entropy laws drummed into me, and now look what's turned up.".
"OK. I about understood some of that. You've got an Itan III year to turn that into a useful energy source, preferably portable. And, one word of wanting to publish a paper about it and breaking ISAB secrecy for the sake of scientist-ism and fame for yourself instead of putting ISAB and helping to give ISAB the means of enforcing law and order in space first, and you're under full guard and no privileges, as a security risk.".
So they built up and gradually established their remote base.