To those who have read parts 1 to 7 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).
"How many are in this new party from Earth that's coming? What sort?" said Plutey-pots to Jet Jack as the Jetters asteroid miner group helped to get Aulien landing field ready, "I still can't really get used to the rate those two moons Arda's got move against the stars; the one that's up now's moved its width past those three stars since we started this job. Not much light from them, after Earth's moon. Lucky there's plenty of light otherwise right now. Some people'll miss sun eclipses here: our moons aren't big enough to cover our sun.".
"17, they say they're all biologists and geologists." said a local man who lived in Aulien. He had a propulsor spacesuit (they had seen him in it before), but now he was in ordinary overalls. He was one of the sort who only flew in atmosphere or space when he had to, and sometimes needed prodding to get him to keep in practise of space flying.
"There's sure plenty light to work by, from that Altaloke!" said Laser Larry, "Look at its tails spreading up over nearly half the sky! If someone told me before that we'd see a comet that big, so often, I'd never've believed him.".
"The sun heats its head and boils the gas and dust out of it, and the sunlight blows it out into tails." Rattler explained, "Some say that a few thousand years ago the Solar System had a big comet a bit like that, but it broke up. Some of those old stories ...".
A loud intruder alarm interrupted him. They went into defensive position, but a stand-down came over Jet Jack's radio. "It's animals." a computer voice said as a man wearing a backpack helicopter motor and rotor set over a spacesuit undersuit flew out of an airfield workshop to chase them off. One of the light running two-legged dinosaurlike animals was tangled spectacularly in the perimeter fencing; the others ran towards a mound near the fence and jumped back out over the fence from it. The animals, each about as heavy as a man but taller and thinner, ran into the bush, picking at leaves and fruit as they went, and after a mile swerved both sides away from something. As the helirig man flew down to see what it was, he saw something that back on Earth would have merely been pretty, but after several years on Arda made the back of his neck creep: white butterflylike flowers; but the leaf shape was slightly but comfortingly different. It was thankfully Pseudokeraunus imitans, a species of `false landmine bush', evolved to look like the real thing without using up energy and growth material making landmines, but very poisonous to Ardan animals. As the animals moved on, one of them put its head into a dense bush and with a quick scooping gulp emptied a bird nest that had been built too low. "Sitting bird and all. Another week and they'd've fledged." he thought angrily, for he shared many men's affection for songbirds; but nature in the wild is like that. After the various attacks and alarms that had been he wondered briefly if Aulien, or the Anor system, was itself a `nest built too near Earth' for ISAB (an Earth body, International Space Administration Board) to scoop empty and take over with sudden massive force; then he shook off such thoughts and unfolded his helirig's counter-rotating coaxial rotors and took off and returned to his workshop.
By then Altaloke's huge head had risen above the northeastern horizon. Against the streaky whiteness of its tails spreading upwards, a dark dot appeared and grew and descended. The plane's styling was directly functional with a tail like an outsized missile's. He had left Earth business life too soon to have heard of the alarm which an Arda-made plane's missile-like styling had caused as it approached Manchester airport in England carrying some men from WAIA (West African Industrial Area). Its lower tail fin folded sideways as it landed.
On the ground it was nearer and smaller than he had thought it was. Without room for an aisle, how would the passengers get to doors? Its sides hinged down, revealing the passengers, who were all in spacesuits in an unpressurized volume little bigger than themselves. In airless space all their suit propulsors had been remote controlled by the pilot to help to manoeuvre it, for there had not been time before the journey for them to learn well enough how to suit propulsor fly. Sometimes such a craft would be used in space without its body casing, the passengers strapped into open seats with their suit tethers tied in along the craft's backbone. The passengers got out onto the world beyond space, many of them in a shock of alienness suddenly realizing the abyss of black void that separated them from all that their parents could ever have reached or known of.
"Well, that wasn't quite what I expected." said a passenger pulling his spacesuit hood and breathing mask off, "Like once when I was promised a lift to inspect a building site and it turned out to be the back of an open lorry along with a load of building site workmen. He didn't even come straight here, he poked about asteroids first, thought we might like to see the sights. That base Ilmenost on that asteroid looks quite a place. I come in my best [office] suit to give a good impression, and I'm told to undress and stuffed into a spacesuit like I was only expecting as an emergency if the cabin leaked. And they haven't heard of baggage handlers round here, so we'll have to do the unloading. And I hate to think what being spaced has done to some of the things in my luggage. That man in the spacesuit with the jet fighter fight painted all over his cylinders and helmet, I suppose he's that Jet Jack that I was told would meet us. Typical asteroid miner type rough, by the look of him. Lucky I'd heard before about conditions here.". He remembered an interview a year before when no amount of best business manners could cancel out a badly scraped shoe and muddy trouser knees after a stumble cutting in a hurry across long grass, and only saliva and a handkerchief available to try to patch up the damage in time. He wondered how long it would be before a local boss in respectable clothes came out and said "Thankyou, that'll be enough." to the assortment of dirty overalls and spacesuits and spacesuit undersuits that had come out to meet them.
"Not the first time." said another as he thankfully rid himself of his bulky spacesuit, "In the 1920's before airliners were pressurized, airliner passengers often had to wear oxygen masks as routine. Lets hope that out here there's some such weird masterpiece of alien technology as a powerpoint that my shaver and computer can run off. Well, we're here, `Arda, the place of 'ard work', as they say, like that management expert who came to their main asteroid base called Ilmenost hoping to set up a new government department or the like and ended up here in Aulien as a foundryman. I'm John Delaville, a geologist. I suppose that if we get on a field trip while we're here, whenever I need to get to bedrock I'll have to dig down myself. On Earth there's excavation exposures all over the place. Here there'll only be natural outcrops, and no roads to most places to get powered plant to site. Oh well, we knew before we came what it'll be like, no city comforts and all that. I've got a set of CD-ROM's about what's known about Arda geology, but it's 6 months old.".
"Here's an update." said Jet Jack handing him a CD-ROM. "And here's something to help you dig down: hold onto that tree while I put it on you, it's heavy." he said, fastening a heavy metal-cased backpack to Mr.Delaville's back. It'll run for months without refuelling, no exhaust gas, and you can run quite a powerful rockdrill off it. The drills we've got here can either rotate or jab, and they can take a shovel bit for cutting earth.".
"Looks like the sort of thing I'd like also." said visitor with several environmental action group stickers and badges on his clothes, a Mr.Newton, "I came from Earth to get away from pollution and everything spoilt. Back home we say to use natural means only, but -".
"It's too much like 'ard work, 'ere on Arda where everything's not been done already for you." said Plutey-pots, taking another of the backpacks out of a ground vehicle and strapping it to Mr.Newton's back.
"Ye spirits, that's a load, ruining my good [office] suit strapping that thing on me over it. At least it's too small to be a -" said Newton, staggering under its weight, but he gradually got used to it. Plutey-pots was in his undersuit only, and the usual asteroid miner smell; the visitors would have to put up with it. So far none of the visitors had seen him in his spacesuit or put two and two together about what its oxygen cylinders were made of.
Thus some of them treated the journey as routine; but others took longer to get over the shock and lost feeling of being on land which was on no map or globe of their known world and no compass direction and distance of land or sea journey from anywhere known. Their only link with their homes was the alienness of hyperspace, and men in strange equipment who had appeared from nowhere and with them had vanished into nowhere, often as little accountable to Earth men as was any alien of old space tales. From that old airfield in London they had gone in none of the four directions, nor up or down, nor any combination of them, but they had gone, and were now deposited far away having to shed spacesuits and get back into ordinary clothes in the open to try to be presentable in time. Seeing men, however clothed, and buildings made by men, was some sort of anchor for their minds to hold on to as practicality gradually returned.
"Where do we go?" one of them asked, "At least just here there's some sort of civilization nearby.".
"Not here, right around here's already well known." said Jet Jack, "People keep on wanting to stay near the `bright lights'. Arda's a new world and it needs field work to discover things, not cosy conferencing in posh hotels.".
"Well, where then?" said Delaville, not hiding his disappointment at another journey ahead of him taking him far from what town comforts were to be had among the factories and reactor-domes and barrack-like housing of Aulien, as he looked around at the rocky Orlando Hills southwards and the landmine-bush-ridden alien scrub stretching into the distance. There were other towns on Arda, and perhaps a long tiring flight away they would be taken to another place with a building vaguely resembling something fit to hold a formal conference in. Native flies and midges buzzed round but rejected their off-world body smell and did not bite them. Something with brown and white barred pterodactyl-like wings and four legs flew overhead and away over the airfield. Anor steadily climbed and grew hotter.
"Oh, is it? After all we were told about a conference, we're going straight on a rough field trip? I should have expected that with Ilmenostians! What's on those crates?: `seismic blasting charges', now we'll have to learn explosives handling on the job, and why the @#% stick a picture of pretty flowers on each of the crates!?": thus another visitor, Mr.Jackson, complained as his trapped alien lost feeling returned and his comfortable hoped-for business atmosphere evaporated into a reality of manual work and heavy power tools far from his home; but to anyone who has been on Arda for a while the leaf shape and white butterflylike flowers depicted had an ominous relevant meaning, and a similar design was often borne by Ardan explosive experts and their vehicles.
"Everybody who comes here seems to want to look at that area in the Ered Kal' where those ores are, that helped to make ISAB want so badly to take us over that time. No harm letting you see it, I suppose, since all Earth seems to know about it already. That leaked out a long time ago.".
"Oh. `The Mountains of Light'. That Tolkien stuff that those [asteroid miners called the] X-100's named such a lot of places in when they discovered [a star that they named] Anor and [its planets including] Arda.". Thus many people called those mountains near the eastern sea, but it was not the full name.
"Same as Arda has only one continent, a huge one, and it's called Ilyarda, which means `All the Earth'.".
"That lot and their funny codenames, [after] poisonous snakes and all sorts, like that one called Plutey-pots. I presume his [spacesuit] cylinders aren't really made of element 94 like I read in one of the tabloid papers once.".
"Now to see what you lot've brought with you." Jet Jack announced.
"Oi! What's this?" one asked sharply, and others likewise. Dark rumours awoke in their minds from scare tales, of men unwillingly brought there and undergoing the first stages of being reprocessed into workmen for the local spacemen, some calling despairingly beneath star constellations seen in no Earth sky for police who 400 light years separated them from, while their luggage was shared as loot.
"Just a kit inspection." said Jet Jack somewhat roughly, "There's a limit to what we can carry about with us. I see a lot of you are being prompt to change back into best office suits, out come handy little emergency packages to repair such hideous damage as scuffed shoes or a day's beard: as they say `there's no second chance to make a first impression'. Lets see what you've brought, I'll start with you - infinity nicely starched white shirts that won't stand a bit o' work wear - a bottle o' nancy-boy cologne that's all boiled off to @#% in space - lab clothes, they'll be some use - that thin city plastic mac ain't enough outdoor wear for 'ere, at least you next to 'im 'ad the sense to come in an anorak - the usual flimsy city shoes, and a change of ditto carefully wrapped to keep the shine on them - you're not running that off kit batteries draining them, you'll just 'ave to grow a beard - there's no cash machines to put that in this side o' the Pleiades - if that bulge is an 'ip flask, pour it out and refill it with water now - never mind, measure 'em all and kit 'em out in overalls and work boots like the last lot. Where's the other one of you?: I can only count 16 of you here.".
Realizing tiredly that space travel technology had not advanced to unlimited luggage capacity travel everywhere any more than to real subspace radio or the like, and surprised and annoyed at how severe the weight and volume restriction was, they set to and weeded out their luggage. One of them, not pleased that his name badge on his overall chest said merely `R.Taylor' with no `Mr.' and no room to insert it, started apportioning his luggage among the others.
"No you don't." Rattler (Jetters) ordered, "They need their luggage room for themselves. That flashy office suit for a start'll 'ave to stay 'ere during. And all that paperwork you've brought.".
"Tell your man to keep his fingers off it. I'll have no outsized space thug going through my confidential documents. And I'll thank you not to countermand me." Taylor said to Jet Jack in a tone of managerial annoyance, "And about the missing man, one of us, er, couldn't make it.".
"I'll talk with them directly. Going through middlemen wastes time." said Jet Jack irritatedly, "Yes, lets see what this stuff is that's so important that you pinch people's luggage room for it: Holborn Holdings Ltd. annual report - some investment company in Chicago - offer of a consultany to advise about an opening in trading in futures for a new manganese discovery in Gabon, reams and reams of RD'ings about likely market trends and zero about how the stuff's to be dug and processed - etc etc: what ain't geology out o' that lot'll 'ave to stop 'ere during, also. I know 'ow much there'll be time and cargo room for.".
"I protest about this - routine hyperspace jump space travel to 400 light years from Earth and we're back to ancient evils such as having to prove need for the journey and tight limits on body plus luggage weight." said Mr.Taylor, bristling with managerial self-assurance and importance, "My great-grandfather told me of a man in the 1930's flying back from a business trip cum holiday and out there he'd picked up 9 pounds of body fat and 11 pounds of business reference matter, even had to have an emetic and an enema and a Turkish bath to dump enough gut contents and sweat to get within the flight company's weight limit rather than have to abandon valuable personal property and he'd run out of money to pay through the nose for the extra because of that stupid limit on how much money he could take out of his country, important business or not. And now I'm told to dress and work like a navvy in my position. If I lose any business because I couldn't catch up with relevant paperwork during spare moments here, I'm suing for damages.".
"If you were going to do other people's paperwork most of the time instead of expedition work, you should've stayed on Earth to do it and not taken a place that could've gone to someone else. It's just the `bazaar effect' again: in the bazaar food and essential supplies are unnecessary rehandled and rerehandled so much by people trading in time taken off work that they cost so much that to afford to buy enough people have to take time off work to trade in stuff on the side in the bazaar, and it takes a tight and strictly enforced street trading licence system to put a stop to it. We don't waste fuel rod in the wilds just to do in exotic surroundings what we could've done at home. This is a working field trip, not conferences and deciding policy. It was all in the brochure we sent. If it wasn't in what you received, query it with whoever at your end rehandled the information that we sent them, or we will. Same as I am directly ordering you to give them back NOW every penny of that fat registration fee that we never said you could charge them and you haven't passed a penny of it onto us who made the transport and kit that you are using. And your overall goes on instead of your office suit, not over it, in the places we'll be going and the ways we'll be travelling. If you're looking for a boss here to complain to, I'm him, spacesuit and all. If you're in charge of this lot, where on Arda have you lot decided to go?".
"Now we've seen what facilities we've got here, we'd better decide now." said Mr.Taylor to the rest of the visitors, "The meeting now starts to decide who of us is best suited to be members of a committee to coordinate with the local men and make recommendations what to do and to ask them why we can't do it here at Aulien instead of having to fly again, me chairing as was agreed, Mr.Jackson to record the minutes ...".
"We can't wait while you go through all that 'ere. " Jet Jack interrupted irritatedly, "I was told you'd've decided before you came. The meeting of who?, anyway.".
"Five of us who I chose, who I consider the most responsible.".
"It's the south Ered Kal'." said Jet Jack, "Start loading the plane.".
"I've got to maintain appearance and formality. It's too easy to get slack, casual clothes get let past, meetings degenerate into random arguing instead of proper motions and everything through the chair[man]. You spacemen go on about your rights and the freedom to choose ...".
"You lot 'ad plenty o' time to decide on the way 'ere or before, as I said.".
"I came here to get on with geology, not to wait about while meetings pass recommendations to other meetings and then review and re-review decisions in the light of, etc, and it spends most of its time discussing arrangements." another visitor interrupted, "Some of us tried to suggest where to go, and you said `not yet, there's a proper procedure.'. Now we at last know where we're going.".
Several of them agreed with him aloud, for the feel of Ardan soil safely there under their boots and the empty void between them and home made them much more ready to speak out. Taylor muttered but said nothing more aloud just then. An asteroid miner group called the Typhoons came up to see what was happening and talked with some of them; the tone became indignant, but the only words of it that Plutey-pots caught were: "Oh did he indeed, just for that!? I'll see about that!, however far I've got to 'jump and back.".
The flight on was in a craft that had proved practical and never mind oddness of appearance: a reproduction Dakota with a hyperspace jumper in it. They loaded their kit and supplies into its rear end, and got in it. It took off eastwards.
Their expectations of several days flight across Ilyarda and furnace-like refuelling stops in the endless dreaded interior Karnelitse desert, but at least letting them catch up with paperwork and laptop computer work on the way, were cut short when the Aulien plain scrub below them disappeared behind blank grey which cleared to show a high snow-backed mountain range, and Anor much further northwest behind `mare's tails' and thickening high cloud coming in from the eastern sea. The plane flew south past the glaciers and three-spiked top of Nelderasse, over a deep cold lake called Nen Argollug, over more mountains covered in pine-like native trees, and down to an airstrip cut out of forest on the only flat land anywhere near, where a small lake had filled with silt a few centuries before.
It landed. They were down, away from what passed for city life on Arda, among alien metal ores in the heart of a high jagged alien mountain range, where a long curved side range joined the long straight main range. Such were the Ered Kalashnikov, named by the X-100's from their shape as seen from space. An unmade lorry road went off up a valley below a forested hillside with patches of ground cover including a trailing plant with big blousy dayglo orange flowers - a plant as ominous as the name of the mountains for those who knew about it. They got out. A cold wind from the southeast blew up the valley. In a tree by the road a pack of six-legged baboon-sized hairy animals trumpeted at something. The sky was covered in deepening cloud. Taylor complained when put into a chain of men passing the hold luggage out of the back of the plane, and guessed that given a suppply system for mining in the area there may be a reasonable conference room and accommodation somewhere near after all.
The open lorry waiting there was obviously the local passenger transport. They climbed onto its back and loaded their kit on it. Thankfully its back was covered in soft foam goods-packing.
"I'll ride in the cab." said Mr.Jackson, one of the visitors, to the rest, "I've got to coordinate matters with Mr.Jet Jack, since he seems to be the local man in charge. Some of you find something for me to step up on; the rest load up like he said.".
"That's only the driver in front. I'm here." said Jet Jack getting on the back with the rest, "And they can understand me directly.".
"Er - no shotgun, on this sort of mountain road their driver likely needs to see all he can on both sides." said another visitor.
"Shotgun what? - I thought you lot had scanned clean of firearms." Jet Jack said annoyedly, and reached for a metal detector.
"How's shotgun come to mean the seat beside the driver, anyway? Confusing use. With me a gun's a gun and what ain't a gun ain't." said Rattler.
"It started with armed guards sitting beside horse stagecoach drivers.".
The lorry started and set off up the valley. Multicoloured birds flew among alien trees clinging to black crags of uraninite rock with a U-235 proportion much higher than Earth's 0.7%, above a river tumbling over rocks further and further below the road. Four miles further it came to a work area. A processing plant and a reactor were tucked into a side stream gorge that had been widened by quarrying; a high sunward cliff of unfamiliar multicoloured rock was covered in solar panels. "Right around here's been quite well mapped," said Jet Jack, "but south along from here there's an interesting unmapped area, part of the collision zone where a small loose crust plate hit Ilyarda and stuck onto it and raised these mountains. There's somewhere you can sleep tonight - hallo, that building up there on that ledge is new. I and the Jetters 'aven't been 'ere for a while. What's on that notice outside it?". He climbed to it up a steep stepped path and started to read it. "All those placenames in `X-100-ese' are quite enough to cope with, without having to decipher text written in it also.", he growled, and tried to decipher it.
Thus the inscribed block of local limestone read: "Hic Ardae ultra spatiam vastitatem aedificata est haec ecclesia Sanctae Mariae et Sancti Johannis Patmensis in Montibus Kalashnikovinis, ut aliquid Verbi Dei audietur in hac terra actinidum et incultorum spatiensium.".
"It's not X-100-ese." said a man in an overall coming out of the building, "It's good Latin. Here on Arda beyond the vastness of space is built this church of `St.Mary and St.John of Patmos in the Kalashnikov Mountains', so that some of the Word of God can be heard in this land of actinides and wild spacemen. Thus this stone says. I built this church as I could here with mining gear and local stone. Come in and have some peace of mind for a while, if you wish, whether or not you are of my faith.".
Thus was piously carved by a Catholic priest who found his way there, enacting solemn Earthly ceremonial once every seven Ardan days, altering his yearly and weekly Church routine as much as he had to, using the old Latin forms among spacemen two thousand million million miles from home below the high cliff of alien plutonite rock, under a magnesium-white alien sun which had never `stood still over Gibeon' or shone on any of the sacred events that he knew so well. Galileo or not, some who live largely by the Bible still somewhat believe the Bible's cosmology, and it had been a shock being reminded so drastically that real space was otherwise as he first stepped on the soil of a world that according to strict Papal doctrine had nowhere to exist except as part of some demon-realm where living men had no right to go.
"Man needs more than merely practical things." he said, "Yes, I know how the `Faithful Brethren' closed religious order on that asteroid ended: a perfect Company police type cleanout raid, except it was our own people the X-100's did it. Oh well. The Faithful Brethren got too big, too commanding, left the ways of humility and forgot that Our Lord moved among unclean people and didn't shut Himself away in a sacred area or try to become a power like those He spoke out against, and so on the Faithful Brethren came the inevitable retaliation. It is said: `Thou shalt not steal.', and goodness or badness of the end purpose, or calling the theft by some other word, makes no difference, when well-meaning people think they need someone else's stuff, as has made many well-meaning people unpopular down the ages.
So here I am, among the mine traffic; most of them just go past, but some come in sometimes needing somewhere quiet or a sympathetic ear. A week ago I saw a miner at the altar praying about some family matter back on Earth that he had heard of, kneeling in work overalls, with a reactor-pack still on his back - that's a sort of portable generator to run power tools off, since you lot down there look new here. I just have to put up with that sort of thing, same as when The Arbiter, that man in Ilmenost who sorts out disputes and the like, landed and came in here, complete with his fancy shiny showoff curium-247 spacesuit oxygen cylinders. Practicalities keep intruding, same as that the Arbiter often has more weighing on him than merely those cylinders of his: for example, a girl called Dianthus in the Quasars jumped groups to the Actinides to be with a man called Californium that she fancied, without asking her father or her group's leader. The Actinides are 15 men from NASA who quit on office jobs and went to space and codenamed themselves after the 15 actinide elements.
Still, it was a sad sight, when I put a propulsor spacesuit on and ventured out of atmosphere and into our asteroids to see the Faithful Brethren's base as the 30% who hadn't deserted during the action tried to patch it up. It was a long journey at spacesuit propulsor speed. All sacred books gone in case any of them were accounts or records. Holes everywhere where those one-man torpedo craft called MST's had cut in and in. Of the Brethren remaining, three deserted while I was there, and the Quasars asteroid miner group came wanting supplies and somewhere to suit-off and got threatening when the Brethren tried to order them off. OK, I know all that about what the place's founder turned out to be, and about the methods allegedly used to stop desertions before.
Miners tell me that, needing bright stone to decorate things, I was over free with stuff that on Earth belongs only in secure nuclear premises: plutonite, a cherry red crystal called seaborgite, curite, and the rest, all the transuranic element minerals that have been here since (they say) several supernovas in the last hundred million years doused Arda with their fallout. They are around here in the rocks, so I used them, to depict sacred events and ideas, before I found what they were. I'd put too much into it to hack it all out and remake it with ordinary minerals, like some say I should. It is sufficient to keep me in a sense of service and knowing that I belong in the world and not shut away from it, same as the name the X-100's gave these mountains reminds me that in the real world there are wars and troubles whether or not I want things to be otherwise.
I get candle wax by scraping it off the stems of a shrub that grows round here - no need on Arda to rob bees of their house and home to get wax, another thing to thank God for, and wonder of wonders it doesn't smell of teargas when I burn it. Some Ardan life smells like a chemical works. I suppose the shrub grows it to keep insects off; whatever Man takes from nature, something loses out. I have to get altar flowers from the forest about: there's a good variety of them, but I don't care for people bringing pluteweed in, that stuff with the big dayglo orange flowers that tells miners there's plutonium in the soil. Yes, that stuff, natural in the rocks here. All isotope 244, won't fission as itself and far less radioactive than plute-239 like they make from uranium back on Earth. Better radiation shielding than lead, and strong enough to use structurally: lead's soft and uranium's brittle. In a place like this I can't avoid picking up stuff about isotopes and halflives and all that, same as my grandfather running a church in a coalmining area soon learned a lot of mine jargon. I came from Earth with the mail in a pressurized craft, one of those Dakotas, so I was spared having to wear a spacesuit with a radioactive powerpack for the journey. I survive and keep this place going. I've got a sound synthesizer for hymn music and the like; I've too much else to do to try to get a pipe organ out here and find somewhere to keep it and someone to service it.".
Thus he said, and would have said more, but rain was starting in a quick dark evening and they had to leave him and find beds before Anor above the clouds finally set behind the high cliff of unearthly minerals. They unloaded, and 400 light years from home slept among their kit in a spare miners' lodging in a blind black night without Earth's city lights as rain lashed the wild forest and a few peals of thunder rolled. Night insects had to stay under cover; native animals had a night thankfully free of their bites.
About 3 am the rain stopped and the clouds finally tattered and cleared, and as Altaloke's tails rising covered the northeast sky Anor's light reflected off them lit the mountains. Beneath its alien jazzy-patterned glow and the strange constellations the geological party woke, dressed, ate food synthesizer output, and sleepily came out to their first morning on a new world.
"Aagherh - waking us at this ungodly sort of hour -" said one of them, "in that place Aulien there were fun spots that the workmen had set up for themselves. Rough and ready, and the whole place was dead after 8pm; but it was something. Why can't he have let us stay there a day or two?, instead of straight in, transship, and straight out to site in the middle of nowhere and the stars are all different so I can't find my way by them.".
"Next to no roads yet, so it'll be fly or boat if possible, except in open country flat enough for four-wheel-drive vehicles." said another, "In any case we'll have to stay in reach of whatever airfields and ports and oilwells exist yet. Or our own feet and carry everything.".
"In some places there are plants that produce fuel oil, if we can find them." a local man said, "Or we can RD vegetation to get it, but that means humping a big enough RD about with us. I've RD'ed my back enough before man-hauling loads to remote sites.".
"Can't we hire a few horses or mules to carry the heavy stuff? - what are that lot looking at me like that for? - have I said something silly? -".
"What are they going to graze on around here!? the incompatible biochemistry, and we haven't got far domesticating local animals. Most species that are big and strong enough are too ornery or the wrong shape to saddle or fasten a load on. They'll need several generations of selecting for manageability, same as Earth wild cattle cows were as dangerous as bulls, or for size, same as Earth wild horses were more like ponies and only good for a short fast light run.".
"OK, OK, geology happens where the rocks are, not always near the fleshpots, same as everybody wants to work the Swiss Alps where the fancy ski spots are. Why can't we borrow some emergency breathing sets from that factory we passed and try a day or so of scuba diving in that Lake Golliwog that we flew over?".
"Nen Argollug, it's called," said Jet Jack, "and it's too cold without proper diving suits. You may get a chance to scuba dive with proper kit at Magazine Head, that big underwater wall, after we finish before you go back.".
"Lets see what alien miracle of luxury transport we'll be flying in here beyond the stars: nothing in here where that man Plutey-pots said, but a load of spare helicopter motors with rotors on - not very big and they've all got backpack straps on like rucksacks - oh no -".
"Oh yes." said Plutey-pots, "We're all going helirig flying. Handy to get in and out of forest and rocky corners. They've got good autopilots in to stop you colliding and suchlike, so it won't take you long to get used to them. They're powerful enough for you to carry heavy kit between you.".
"Oh no." said Taylor, "Helirigs. Strap a vibrating heavy motor and rotor with a gassy exhaust pipe on my back at my age as if I was some docker-type rough, and my legs dangling over nothing. I came here expecting reasonable facilities, I can accept flying in a helicopter, not being turned into one.".
"You're going to have trouble with some of these." Plutey-pots said quietly to Jet Jack, "I know the type, from what I was before I went into space. A lot of these are head-of-geology-department types who pulled seniority to have first pick at this unusual opportunity. They were expecting plenty of local students and porters to do the routine stuff and running-around-after for them. Jackson and Taylor on their forms left their jobs and academic qualifications mind-your-own-business blank: that plus how they've acted so far likely means they're just department administrators with no more geology than secondary school, hoped to be important passing on our orders to the rest and speaking on behalf of the rest and being waited on by the rest; well, they're unlucky, we're quite capable of talking with this many Earth men directly."
Jet Jack did know the type, and their atmosphere of business managerialism made his hackles rise. "Who told them?" he said, "Not the brochure we sent them. More likely people down there [on Earth] passing it on rewording it each time. I've 'ad this afore, the amount of business-promotion-ese and waffle they put in. $%@ silly trick, why can't people leave messages in their original words? Well, they'll soon find out, and they'll look for someone to accuse, and so it'll go on.".
As they were packing for the flight, a man in a spacesuit appeared from hyper near them. His suit badges said he was Tarpan, leader of the Typhoons asteroid miner group; he was towing a small pressure bag containing a man in jeans and a leather jacket, who on being let out addressed Taylor directly and not politely: "And here I am!, after all my planning for this trip you tell me at the last moment at the airport sorry but I can't go 'cos I'm not respectably dressed: I @#% thought that rule was your invention and not in the original, from what I know of this place, and him having to waste his time and the wear on his spacesuit flying kit going 400 light years each way alone specially to fetch me; and here you are in overalls and heavy boots anyway. Well, I'm ready.".
Mr.Taylor looked angry, but, like the rest, had inevitably to strap the heavy helicopter motor on his back and start it and nervously watch the lethal-looking counter-rotating four-bladed rotors spinning two feet above his head. He had never flown anything before. He had no taste at all for having equipment fastened directly to his body instead of to a vehicle, or when he took off to feel his weight dangling from a parachute-type backpack harness open to the weather instead of resting in an comfortable enclosed seat. Why ever did he have to rush off into a pioneering remote place at his age? Why ever had he believed all that stuff promising all sorts of modern facilities above what he had heard of Arda before one way and another? Some of the younger men tried aerobatics and whooped wildly, revelling in the feeling of freedom; so often back on Earth did city backstreet wild types who got hold of helirigs. The ground and the little nest of work buildings in the narrow valley dropped horribly remote below his dangling feet as he perforce followed the others. There was a small enclosed aircraft to carry some of the heavy kit. Mountain slopes and gorges passed below them as they flew southwards. After 46 miles they found a clearing made by a landslide the previous year, and landed warily.
"These new geological periods that we've got to learn: what's the matter with the proper list that we learned back in school?" said one as they thankfully rid themselves of their helirigs and found somewhere safe to stack them.
"The life history developments and extinction crises and tectonic events that mark their boundaries happened on a different list here." said another, "For example, we can't talk of the Carboniferous period in the singular here, where there were two main coal periods and many local coal beds laid down at different other times. There's a few mollusc shells here: according to that CD-ROM they might be Eridanian period. Some of them are new; is that enough different for it to be likely that we're on the island side of the collision line? Yes: early Eridanian shelly sea-sandstone dipping 62 degrees, west 10 degrees south. Looks like some folds on that cliff up there - that great tree I'll have to squeeze past with this load on to get there - ugly big spider webs sticky across the way - looks like a basalt dike here - lets get there.".
He scrambled up and sideways over fallen rocks, and had nearly reached the tree and a promise of its trunk to lean on when he jumped back with an alarmed yell as a hot laser beam hit a rock in front of him and someone ordered everyone to stand still. He looked to his right to see three men in full space kit aiming heavy lasers at him and those near him.
They advanced towards him, aiming their guns. He had heard tales of rogue ISAB space-commando squads left over from the big battle, or what were they? In either case, he knew the likelihood him and the rest of being arrested and held for interrogation or reprocessed under guard into space or on-ground workmen or the like. One of them pushed past him holding a stick, and said one word.
"Propanodendron." the spaceman said, and hit a short growth sticking out of the tree's trunk. A two-foot-long sharp spike stabbed out of the growth with a pistol-shot noise, and hissed from its hollow end; there was a sudden gas smell.
"High-pressure propane and carbon dioxide mixture." the spaceman said, "I'll spare you the biology lesson how the tree makes it. Meant to see off big native animals rearing up it to eat its leaves.". He went round the tree, setting off all the tree's natural gas-injectors that he could find and reach. "And keep on keeping away from it." he ordered, "Over a week or so those spikes pull back in and re-arm themselves. That natural hazards booklet that we sent you explained about it, if you read it, if they bothered to copy it and pass it on. A group of us called the Typhoons lost their only hyper jumper man from one of these once, and that left them stranded down on planet till someone heard them radioing for help: that was before we all had spacesuit propulsors strong enough to get us off planets. If you think it's rough here and not much facilities, the X-100's had it worse when they came here: there was nothing, and they had to set up on that asteroid Ilmenost with only what they'd brought with them.".
"What on earth's this here?" said one of them, "- someone's idea of a joke, a fossil missile!?, making fun of us - oh, it's one of those torpedo creatures, I saw some video of some once, `Presteroides' the program called them.", chipped it away from the rock, recorded and packed it, started his helirig (which he was still wearing), and with two others flew across a valley to look at another rock exposure. There he found a rock called serpentine made from old ocean bed caught in a continent collision. Where now were high cold mountains a long way inland a deep sea once separated two warm coasts full of sea-life, until the island at a runaway speed of 3 centimeters a year hit Ilyarda and stuck to it, crumpling and half-melting their edges. The island was called `South Kalashnia'; that sort of perpetration is common when geologists name reconstructed past land features. Mr.Newton was less enthusiastic than some others at sorting out the remains of this sort of geological high-speed traffic accident rather than working on easy structures, and he said so. A movement in a tree overhead brought him back to the present day and proved to be the disagreeable sight of a large snake holding on by its tail while it bundled a flapping bird down its throat. They finished mapping that area and flew on, along the collision line and the mountain land each side, much more wary of the vegetation than before. For some of them it was much more geology and much less administration than they had done for years.
Taylor and Jackson finally accepted that Jet Jack, a typical asteroid miner group leader not used to having a chain of command under him, was no office-type `organization man' and had no intention of managing the visitors through the two instead of directly. After all the time they had spent on polishing their formal appearance and confident efficient managerial manner in letters of application for the visiting party's managership and submanagership and at that interview in that university's administration block, they had been pushed aside by a rough smelly-undersuited spaceman leader. "That Jet Jack would have made a good space-marine officer, if he was on the right side, and I know what Army types in offices are like." Taylor said angrily, "All these workman-type roughs expecting me to walk and helirig fly all over these mountains with scanners and heavy power tools like them. I don't know about actinides in the rocks around here, but there's a lot too much actinide in ornaments on their spacesuits. Not my fault I'm not a geologist: if a science department's admin man is a scientist, he's likely to favour his fellow scientists too often, and the job of enforcing controls and cuts is pushed up to his superior who has enough else to do. And it's quite clear the rest won't obey me or Mr.Jackson any more, two of them have already called me a `slick-suited deskbound sorrybut', that insulting asteroid miner expression for space metals Company management men.". There the two were, far from home, deposed, found to have no scientific skill or action leadership qualities too late to be dumped at Aulien with the left-luggage. To pay their way they were found what assistant-type work they could do; Jackson picked up the beginnings of a useful skill in identifying minerals while he was with them.
"Aarh, this rock's hard." Mr.Newton said at the next site, twenty miles further among high mountains with contorted patterns on their sides, "The geology looks like it's been in a car crusher, and I'm expected to sort it out. I need to cut some big samples here, it'll take forever with a hand hammer...".
"Well, put this on." said a local man in a full propulsor spacesuit landing behind him, holding a backpack power supply connected to a large rockdrill.
"Oh it's you again." Mr.Newton said, seeing the name `Plutey-pots' on his safety helmet and looking suspiciously at his shiny spacesuit oxygen cylinders, "That heavy thing again. How does it work?".
"Never mind. Just use it." said Plutey-pots, strapped it to Mr.Newton's back, and went away to spacesuit propulsor fly about a cliff following and examining contorted strata.
"How does this thing work?" Mr.Newton wondered as he leaned under its weight against the heavy vibrating rockdrill. "I came here to get away for a while from industry and everything spoilt, and they're building nuclear reactors including fast breeders here already. As long as they don't expect me to work in or near one. Likely much of this geology information'll end up telling miners where to devastate the land to get minerals, the sort of things that as a Greenpeace etc member I'm against, as he should know from my badges. Now I'm starting to weed the sheep from the goats, all these petty contortions making the pattern hard to spot, this cliff here's starting to look like another nappe nose on top of Nappe 5. Why can't we go somewhere easier? The geology here looks like it's been in a scrap metal chopper and baler. While I've got this thing on I better use it to cut out a safe path here. How come this thing is so powerful for its size and it hasn't needed refuelling yet??". He continued at his work.
They mapped the rocks and examined the animals and plants, flew on again, and so continued, and slept wherever night found them. Newton used the power pack routinely, and soon got a good skill with the rockdrill that ran off it.
Three of the biologists scuba dived in cold mountain-lakes by the way to see what underwater life they could find, using light easily portable Arda-made kit that the expedition had brought from Aulien. At one such site Jet Jack spotted Jackson with a handful of papers looking for a quiet corner and ordered him to dive in this kit to help a geologist to survey the rest of a rock pattern that vanished below a cold glacier lake.
"I've enough heavy manual work that I wasn't told I'd be getting, without having to learn to scuba dive now, and not even in usual kit but in this stuff that makes me look like some patrol boat's frogman looking for trouble." Jackson complained, for he had been hoping to catch up on what of his business paperwork he could remember the details of and handwrite on odd paper, but he had to obey. He put the kit on. Tough kevlar-reinforced drysuit over his overall; 30 to 40 minutes duration Salvus oxygen rebreather with small absorbent canister and oxygen cylinder on a metal plate strapped to the left side by a belt and a diagonal shoulder strap leaving the back and chest free; no weights to cart around between dive sites but a ballast bag filled on site with any stones or sand found; safety helmet. A breathing tube like a gasmask's went from the gasmask-like fullface mask to the canister, and another from the canister to the breathing bag round his neck and upper chest. The absorbent absorbs the carbon dioxide that the diver breathes out; he lets more oxygen in from the cylinder. The Salvus is an old British design which Ardans revived, unattractive but effective, made to the old tested plan but with its breathing bag reinforced with kevlar. As this left the back free, sometimes they wore a backpack motor and propeller: some watching did not care for the idea of `being turned into a motorboat instead of riding in one'. A new medication prevented oxygen depth poisoning to as deep as air aqualung divers can easily go; with only oxygen in circuit, diver's bends risk was far less.
After scrambling over slippery boulders to the water edge and filling his ballast bag there, as he swam down and took two more stones on board for weight he found it more enjoyable than he had expected - but next time in warmer water please. The Salvus is incredibly light and compact, and with it he was far more agile than with a bulky aqualung as he swam about and twisted and turned in the clear cold water in an alien mountain range under a magnesium-white sun far from Earth. The new experience drove away for a while his shock of loss of the submanagerial importance that he had expected.
Cold-adapted native fish whose heads opened into four jaws snapped at nearly invisible water-fleas which filtered plankton out. The water was deep and clear and he could see far. The lake bottom of unsorted sand and stones melted out of the glacier sheltered assorted worms and eels. He pulled a stone up to examine it, revealing a crab. Before the crab could find other hiding a bigger thickset fish darted in and shovelled it up and with a loud demolishing crunch compacted it for swallowing. On one side of the lake a submerged sandstone rock face showed random cross sections of huge fossil tropical sea-shells. It was too cold for Ardan freshwater octopuses like he had seen elsewhere climbing upstream over stones and poking about among them. A water bird dived from flight to catch fish. His small oxygen cylinder got nearly empty and he had to finish and come out onto the stony shore. The water was clean and fresh, so they did not have to wash their kit afterwards. They refilled their sets' cylinders and emptied and refilled their canisters. The absorbent was a sort that could be regenerated in a heating chamber run off Newton's powerpack (safety note: not all breathing set absorbents are!); they had three big oxygen cylinders to refill breathing set cylinders from. They finished their work there and packed their kit and flew on.
Anor sank behind the western mountains. They had found a sheltered hollow to camp in. The trees there were bonsai-ified by nibbling animals and their roots having to scrabble among buried scree for food, but some were tall enough for them to sling from their branches fluorescent lights run off two of the backpack power supplies resting among angular boulders and scanty ground vegetation. Newton again wondered how they worked. Fuel cell? If so, they seemed to give a mighty lot of power for a very long time on one refuelling. By this light they took notebooks and laptop computers out and noted the day's findings and work. One of Anor's two moons was up but did not help much. Altaloke would not start to rise until the small hours. Taylor was heard complaining that his computer's hard disk was nearly full and wanting a plug-in hard disk pack to offload into.
"Already?" Jet Jack queried.
"Yes, this Anor system issue thing instead of my own that you made me leave at Aulien.".
"What's it full with?".
"That's" Taylor said, and managed to clamp his tongue just in time against the admission-of-guilt word "private.".
"Lets see." said Jet Jack, sitting beside Taylor.
"It's technical stuff, nothing you'd understand.".
"Lets see.". Jet Jack reached across into Taylor's lap, switched the computer on, and waited irritatedly while it went through its usual startup ritual. Its BIOS ran. It said "bzonk" from its floppy drive finding there was no floppy in there. It started DOS. He called the directory tree explorer.
"c:\eredkal\this and that, c:\supplies\, etc, looks OK;" he said, "c:\gabon\, c:\s&j\consult\, c:\holborn\annrep\, etc, look in a few files in them. What's that directory?, that file looks like a readme, says it's a business statistics trends analyser program. Oh. All that again, likely smuggled across from your own computer. You're right, it is `nothing that I understand' the reason for working on it 'ere instead of expedition work. Delete it. Other people need our offload disk packs for proper work.".
"I protest. I was assured the managership and that this trip was largely consultancy, and we find it's a field trip under very rough conditions and I end up as everybody's spare hand. At least let me catch up in spare moments with what I was assured I'd have plenty opportunity for instead of dragging me about in the back of beyond. I'm sick of overalls and heavy boots and helirigs and helirig exhaust. I want my good office suit and a proper seat in an aircraft.".
"Likely you do. All that sort of thing's made by someone's proper work. Now I know why it took so long on Earth between us telling them we had an expedition available and them finally replying, and all the rewording and rerewording and organizational @#%'ing about in n different offices instead of leaving our message alone as we wrote it. Comes from trusting an agent down there instead of sending round ourselves.".
"Likely they did," Taylor said, "if that brochure you showed us was what Arda sent, that curt misspelt casual little thing like a boys' club notice announcing a trip to the seaside and no decent business promotion style at all.".
"And/or they didn't like it being yet another field trip and junior staff that can take rough conditions go and get the glory, so they said it was something seniors'd like to go on, hoping we'd change the trip into what they described else it'd make us look bad. Well, we didn't change the trip. We couldn't anyway, we haven't got very much to theorize a lot of details from, that's why it's all field trips here now, to get facts for you posh suit types to discuss at comfortable conferences later.".
He saw no point saying any more about the matter there. Some people got sleepy and some did not. Jet Jack gave ten minutes warning that the powerpacks would be switched off; a few objected. Everybody got in their sleeping bags, and slept as night flying animals sought their own food regardless of the human intrusion into the remote places and roadless valleys of the Ered Kalashnikov 400 light years from home. Next day they explored the area and flew on again.
"You were complaining about reactors: I know where the biggest artificial nuclear reactor on Arda is: it's at Aulien." Plutey-pots said a few days later to Newton at a high cold site by a glacier near the south end of the mountains; the ice-filled valley stretched away eastwards between steep bare cliffs.
"Yes, I know you're already building those things here.". Newton said, "And that place that you call Nunarien.".
"And I know where the smallest is!".
"You're quite near it.".
"Oh, am I? How near?"
"I don't see it." he said, turning round and walking thirty feet.
"It's still as far from you as it was.".
"In that case. what is this thing on my back? I'm starting to have a horrible idea - that priest talked about something called a `reactor-pack' - OH NO!!" Newton said, and went rigid with fright and dismay. "You - space sewage -" he said, "I'm in all the environmental groups and Greenpeace, and I swore I'd totally boycott anything nuclear, and now I find you've tricked me into wearing a mini nuclear power station on my back every day! And you'll likely show off photos of me with it on using it looking like one of your workmen, caption about me `sporting a reactor-pack' as if I was proud to wear such an abomination. I used up good Greenpeace stickers on its casing made of I dare not guess what metal. What sort of reactor is it, anyway?".
"Yes, you've got a little fast breeder on your back. It runs on curium-245." said Plutey-pots as the spacemen laughed roughly at Newton's expostulations, "Yes, we are space sewage and proud of it, not polite city people, as you know by the smell when we open our spacesuits. Reactor, liquid sodium cooling circuit, generator, the lot, all nestling handily on your back in a handy plutonium-244 casing to support it and absorb the radiation.".
"And for neutrons to gradually turn it into more curium-245. OK, I know how these things go on, the world's caught up with me again. I should have expected something like this, instead of thinking that `beyond the world all is good and clean and perfect'. I better start using it again." he said, feeling overloaded and shocked and radioactive, "I'll cut out a big sample of that mineral vein. And someone'll have to help clear a patch of level ground somewhere near for the next fuel and supplies drop. And with all those thick trees around it means someone with a portable power supply, i.e. me. Back on Earth I spent all that on body-building to get some muscle to scare off troublemakers, and all I get from it is to end up here among all those unnatural transuranic element minerals as `the biggest carthorse gets the biggest load' carrying `Sizewell C' or wherever it's called about.". He set to work again. He restarted his rockdrill, leaning against it. On his back, little control rods lifted, and fission started, making power to run the drill. Among the alien scenery he shivered at the idea of a hot reactor core a few inches from his back, but he carried on. When he had cut his rock sample free, he switched off and noted the sample's site and orientation.
A week later they reached the south or `muzzle' end of the Ered Kalashnikov and thankfully finally collated their notes and results. `South Kalashnia' also ended there, and the sea was only 21 miles away. They loaded up for the last time and flew northeastwards. The endless forest became red-leaved as the land rose beneath them in the south tip of the Emyn Gaer (Red Hills). One of the party landed on a hilltop and pick-and-shovelled down to rock; as expected from native Ardan surveys it was andesitic lava, and he took a sample of it. At the sea the tide was out. They landed on the edge of the beach.
"Phew, that's over at last!" said Newton and others as they thankfully unslung their helirigs and loads and lay on the sand.
"'Ten-shun!" Jet Jack shouted, "Form a line down the beach and advance northwards checking for soft patches as far as where that stream comes out!".
"We're not at some fancy ready-made airport here!" Plutey-pots added. They complained and obeyed; often a job appears to be finished when it is not. The plane came in over the inland hills and landed on the beach, scaring sea birds.
"What's all that gore on its left propeller and motor casing?" said someone.
"Eridanus valley, as usual. Big blue-and-grey river pterodactyl tried to prove it was boss. Prop'll need checking when I get back to Aulien." its pilot radioed to them curtly.
"I've got an ultrasound crack-detector, if I can get any help to cut wood to make a stand for me to reach the prop." said Rattler, one of the Jetters.
"OK, OK." said Newton, and sighed tiredly, "My back becomes a site for a nuclear power station again, after I thought I'd seen the last of that thing.". While others loaded the kit into the plane, he put his reactor-pack on again, connected an electric chainsaw to it, cut down a tree in the salt-scrub by the beach, and cut it up for others of the party to make it into scaffolding below the suspect propeller. One blade proved to be slightly out of line but there were no cracks.
"You said we could scuba dive on the Magazine Head Wall and then hyper jump straight home." said someone.
"I said we might. I'm not going further than I need with this propeller if I can avoid it, and I'm not going to 'jump out of radio reach of backup with it, and Aulien's the nearest place there's a spare." said the pilot, "We can run an instrument transect as we fly back to Aulien; if the prop gets too bad we can 'jump the rest of the way. I don't like using up hyper jumper time if I can avoid it, they're valuable and wear out and use a lot of energy.".
"OK, OK, I suppose it'll give us a chance to see more of this planet.".
"And for me to offload things that Earth authorities might take fright at or take a fancy to.".
"Such as a great lot of stuff that they say you lot shouldn't have been making for yourselves out here." said one of the visiting party, a Mr.Faulkner, who couldn't or wouldn't hide his sympathy for the Companies' and then ISAB's side in what had happened down the years.
"We 'ad to, all too often. I'm not goin' into all that again." said Jet Jack, "F'r instance, suit RD's, those little RD's built into suit life support kit to RD the -er- body waste: I know they can't take everything a big RD can, but Company ones often wore out so quick they jammed on the least thing: like one 'o my men's suit RD jammed tight on a lump o' chewin' gum that had `passed through' 'im, caused our suit mechanic a lot o' dirty messin' about in #$% in a little pressure bag an A.U. [= radius of Earth's orbit] and an 'alf from anywhere proper to unsuit. About as much use as your computer's RD.".
"Erh? I didn't know computers had RD's in?".
"RD: Remove Directory: that MS-DOS computer command: it's supposed to get rid of file directories, but it only takes empty directories, it refuses if these's even one file in the directory, even an empty file.".
"It's time someone slung that old pun in the RD." said Delaville, "That lot getting here before anyone official could: it's happened before. When Europe was discovering the rest of the world, often uncontrolled roughs got to places and named and claimed them before proper armies or navies could. Rudyard Kipling called such people `the legion that never was [en]listed' in a poem that he wrote called `The Lost Legion'.".
"Like those X-100's could have made very efficient space marines if they'd been on our side." said Mr.Faulkner.
"In Kipling's poem they call themselves `our wholly unauthorized horde'.".
"Yeehaa!! That's us! Unauthorized and proud of it, and so's our kit!" Laser Larry in the Jetters exclaimed, "No sorry-but'ing paper-shuffling clerk or manager ever signed for my group's on-suit hyperspace jumper! We ain't got permission from no Earth committee, and we don't need it!".
"His poem `The Song of the Dead' says the same sort of thing but rather depressing.".
"Never mind. I hereby declare the poetry appreciation group suspended till the work's been done." Jet Jack interrupted.
They removed the stand and finished loading and got on board. During the delay the tide had come in; as the plane taxied its wheels splashed through shallow water and tried to bog down until Jet Jack worked the plane's hyperspace jumper's controls in a way he knew, and the plane jerked upwards. It flew up southwards and turned west inland over a wide strip of plain. On the right was the end of the Ered Kalashnikov, now familiar to them. To the left the high jagged ice-backed crest of the Har-Lossered (South Snow Mountains) stretched alien and unknown away to the south along the coast of Ilyarda; far out of sight the great inland river Eridanus looped round its south end to reach the sea.
The plane flew across the wide Eridanus valley, and the huge inland desert of Karnelitse (Red Sand) beyond, for day after day, landing each night to refuel where a mineral or vegetation fuel source was to be found, running instruments to add one to many previous low-level survey transects of gravity and magnetic variations and suchlike, and collecting readings from automatic recording seismographs. The left propeller began to sound indefinably different.
They crossed the Eridanus where a big tributary from inland joined it. Higher dry ground nearby offered easy crossing points and a flood-free site; mineral and fuel deposits were nearby. Plutey-pots from his former life well knew the city that on Earth men would have built at such a meeting of natural routes; here would likely have been the downtown area, here the river docks, here the factories and workmen's area, and all around the suburbs; here roads and railways might have run. But all was empty and wild, and herds of huge animals pushed through alien forest even where he had placed the financial area and the most profit from property values and satisfying business discussions with others of his former kind there. But he thought of the empty distance between there and anywhere where such ideas were reality, and shivered; the returned ghost of his own business suit which had vanished into Levitsky's asteroid base RD evaporated into Ardan pioneering reality as the plane flew away from the place, and his spacesuit undersuit's familiar asteroid miner smell evaporated such fantasies. His spacesuit with its well-known oxygen cylinders waited for him at the back of the plane, and he was once again not Mr.Blore but Plutey-pots.
At night in the Eridanus grassland herds of animals grazed like by day, and ran away from predators, and demolished bushes with a loud crunching of twigs and branches, and many-coloured birds and insects were there in plenty; but in the Karnelitse the ancient silence descended and the night wind blew the sand ever on for a thousand miles and a few drought-hardy insects and small animals looked for seeds left by plants that grew up after rain that might not come in twenty years: in the night cool snakes and stinging creatures came out for prey, and men realized why ancient Egyptians had believed that every night the snake demon Aapep with his army of snakes and shadows tried to take over the world - and some areas there was not even that much life. The alien constellations of the Anor system sky slowly circled above them.
Around the next night landing site at last a few tufts of native grass with branched blades fought with the sand, and larger animals lived. The wind still blew sand ever on, hissing over the land. In a hollow, ground water rose and an oasis of woodland bound the sand. As they refuelled, a small herd of sheep-sized antelopelike animals were grazing. One of the herd suddenly tried in vain to jump away, as if caught in a leg trap; there was a heaving of brown coils as the Sand Python took its prey. Biologists call it `Psammopython shaihulud', and it burrows to reach its prey; but it lives and breeds like other snakes, and can tolerate water. After dark, wondering what impression of them later visitors would be given, they watched videos made on site of what they had been doing, projected against the outside of the plane by a video-projector run off a reactor-pack leaning against a tree trunk while night creatures called and prowled in the dark wood around on a planet 400 light years from their home.
They took off in the morning. The slightly off-balance left propeller began to vibrate more and more. The grass became denser and after they crossed a range of rocky hills became dry scrub which they droned monotonously over. Streams joined into a river which drained westwards, passed Aulien, turned northwest, and was great by the time it cut through the coast range and reached the sea near Iron Bay; the X-100's, seeing that river from survey orbits, called it the Taipan after one of them who had died in a gunfight with Company men. Half an hour before sunset they landed on a dusty airstrip which someone had jocularly named `Heathrow', and the name had stuck. There was a crude weather shelter, and a local stone lockup for tools. An ominously heavy-duty armed tracked RD-truck was steadily crunching up bush to make fuel-oil. It stopped, sounded a siren, and fired one of its heavy mounted flamethrowers. A large landmine bush exploded in the flames and set off others. The RD-truck advanced, swallowing the burning remains. A small young landmine bush's dreaded root tubers exploded under its left track to no effect. John Delaville shivered, for once near his home town after a riotsquad stopped a big unauthorized pop concert he saw a similar RD-truck consuming musical instruments and staging and tents and personal property regardless as it cleaned up, unaffected by petrol explosions as its mechanism sliced up swallowed fuel-cans; and he had heard dark rumours of their traceless effectiveness cleaning out tramp dosses. A small fuel-tanker filled up from it and drove up to their plane.
Next day they flew over endless miles of more of the same. In the long flight some of them had written much of their scientific reports and articles. Such is a longhaul flight by Dakota. The left propeller still vibrated. Instruments fastened to the plane's outside still read the air and the ground. Anor reached the western rim of Arda and vanished, and the plane still droned on.
"Mickey Mouse at last!" the pilot exclaimed suddenly. He meant a radar beacon on one of the Orlando Hills, which were so named nostalgically by ex-NASA men after a Disneyland in Florida where they had often gone on weekends and holidays before they came to the Anor system. Aulien was near at last. The pilot saw at last on his radar screen the welcome echo pattern of the Orlando Hills with their odd-looking Disney names. As he got near them, runway lights came on north of them. He descended, and at last landed at Aulien, a place that they now thought of as a metropolis of civilized comfort and mains electricity after long weary crossing of a continent far bigger than any that Earth now has.
They unloaded beneath the alien stars. The left propeller had held out; they helped the pilot to change it. They hosed the undercarriage out very well, for there was a sort of local seed that they certainly did not want to take where they were going. After that, they looked for what entertainment could be found. There was better food to be had than the portable synthesizer's output that they had been living off. A large misspelling-ridden notice mentioned a cafe and tried to keep some sort of order in who went where on the airfield. They followed a sign to a storehouse at the east end of the town. Inside it was a typical workmen's den decorated with a random mixture of pin-ups and pictures of machinery and equipment. Some local men hung up a large bedsheet at one end and set up a video-projector. The film was `The Discovery of Anor', which some of them had seen before - or thought they had, for this was not the Earth version but the original Ilmenostian version with its totally uncensored opinions of the space trading Companies and their methods and the free spacemen's image of the old business and financial climate that had led to so many asteroid miners cutting loose. Some of the matter was live-acted, some computer reconstructed.
The businessman manners of the space metals Company directors notorious for hard rule in Solar System space bases, had been portrayed with varying accuracy and some overdoing by rough asteroid miner actors. Plutey-pots watched to see how his former identity as Mr.Blore, London financier, had been handled. A ground workman from Port Quasar on Ilyarda's west coast made a fair showing as Mr.Fletcher, director of Fletcher Mining. Mr.Milford of Milford Metals Brokers was acted by one of the Pallas-2 asteroid miner group: of them, Red Scorpion would have been the best choice for height and limb length and eye colour, but he was too muscular (but so were several of the actors for their roles), and he had a strong Birmingham accent to lose; but there was another reason, and so the role went to Long Tom. Many of the spacemen involved acted as themselves. It had a noticeable air of having been made under another sky than Earth's, although such things as the Ardan constellation of Denethor reflected in a hotel bedroom mirror over a London skyline had by then been corrected. The film showed everything of how Fletcher's set up `Project Sardaukar' to breed a squad of identical multiplet cloned XYY hard trained Company enforcers, and how on their first mission against disobedient asteroid miners they deserted and themselves became a free asteroid miner group called the Sardies, and so the free spacemen got a hyperspace jumper and copied it. The story was long and exciting, as on the screen the X-100's fought free of the Companies, got a hyperspace jumper, found Anor and Arda, and founded Ilmenost.
The film ended. They went out, went to what passed for a hotel in Aulien, and slept. They spent three days resting looking round Aulien and the land about, and some of them including Jackson scuba dived in a nearby lake.
They laid out the plans of a geology paper and biology papers about what they had found; they had so much new source matter that the geology paper would have to be book-sized and not a routine periodical article. As a change from food synthesizer output they had a dinner of Earth-type food grown or raised in some new large buildings that they had seen on the southwest edge of Aulien. More than half of the visitors stayed in their overalls for it.
Next morning they collected their left-luggage and loaded their luggage and rock samples and biological samples into the plane. The Jetters sealed their spacesuits and took off into orbit, glad to get back into space for a while. The plane took off north over where the Taipan River looped round the end of a line of low hills. Arda vanished behind blank grey and the plane's engines stopped as it hyperspace jumped into the Solar System and then into Earth's atmosphere. Its engines restarted and it landed on Northolt Airfield in northwest London. They were home. Seeing their un-spaceshiplike plane sitting on English soil some wondered if they indeed had been to such a place as Arda so far away; but they had their samples and photos, and some had Ardan plant seeds which they planted. And, as the plane came in to land, despite all precautions three other seeds fell out of its undercarriage as it was lowered and fell onto Earth soil on weed-grown waste ground.
They in due course published their findings and results, and some became celebrities within their immediate work circles; life went on as men gradually built up the geological picture of a new world. And also the sociological picture; many now accepted the independence of the Anor system settlers and spacemen, but some in ISAB and the successors to the Companies did not, but planned to rearm and retrain a space-navy and wait their time and collect what useful information they could from what came back via the miscellaneous comings and goings between Earth and the Anor system.
Meanwhile in the Anor system life went on. Red Scorpion the electronics man, who had never bothered with scuba diving on Earth, learned it at last in a lake near Aulien and then in Arda's alien ocean, including many dives at Magazine Head where the big sidespur of the Ered Kalashnikov mountains meets the eastern sea, a spectacular dive site like Earth's Ras Muhammad Wall (at the south tip of Sinai) but many miles of it. He seemed to pick up scuba diving very quickly - "as if he had done it before somewhere", as his trainer said. - the Company director Mr.Milford used to scuba dive, and was due to go on a diving holiday when he and other important Company men vanished that time.
"This lot here seem to have little idea of office organization." a visiting Earth biologist who was diving with him said, "Like once I read of back on Earth where the king of some small Asian nation brought in a man from Birmingham in England as a `new broom to try to sweep clean' to set up a new Treasury after the king sacked all the old one for corruption; the palace people hoped for a really big new organization to live off and peculate, but he did all guarding and metal-casting and coin-making and accounting etc himself and bought a sleeping bag and a Kalashnikov and metalworking kit and a powerful backpack propane flamethrower and slept among the treasure like a dragon. His idea of a Treasury accounts computer department was to stack gold and silver blocks into a crude seat which he sat in with a laptop computer across his knees connected to a laser printer on the floor in a corner. He did the job honestly and well, and had a nightmarish job sorting out a tangle of contradictory account books that the previous people had left. But people who reckon organization man success by how many men he has under him, didn't care for it much.".
Red Scorpion said: "I've very little respect for paperwork. F'r instance I started electronics when I was 9, but when I got to secondary school the beaks [= schoolmasters, here] piled more and more homework and then holiday projects on so I had no time of my own, nothing but write write write, then a blitz on writing standards so everything had to be slowly carefully engrossed in the neatest presentation hand taking ages else it'd come back, till one day. Two days before I'd mended a radio for the science master, and so it got about that I had a hobby that took time from their $%& precious homework and revision. Back came some history that I'd left some dates out in 'cos I'd had enough else to learn. Back like a boomerang for writing and a few grammar faults came an English essay that I'd already had to rewrite once, this time twice and an imposition, and the original not given back so I had to compose it again. OK, so I'd left it till after all the other homework that evening. `Write out 100 times `I must not leave any homework item till last'': one beak actually told a boy to do that. Idiot bully. Of course with all that homework one job must be the last. Every beak wanted his homework to be the first in the evening before the boy got sleepy. Well everybody can't be first. And an order to give up the electronics and the part-time jobs that I had to pay for stuff for it.
I just refused, and my father backed me up, and he said so: "Your electronics is your best way to a career, and it's been at a standstill for 4 months thanks to all that @#$ toilet paper school work and school rules in case their #$% precious homework suffers. Well, just defy it, and get back to your electronics. If I'm pushed, I push back. If they keep you in, stay at home next day to get the time back, if you need the time to do something. And I'm not going to arrange the family's weekends around your #@% homework any more. We're going to Wales for Whitsun, all of Whitsun; and from now on if I catch you doing school work when there's proper work for you to do in the workshop the school work goes on the fire.". That started a total war between parents and masters for their children's time there. Once a father grabbed his son out of detention by force to get him home to help with urgent proper work in his workshop and that started a pitched battle in a corridor and in it three of the fathers grabbed and caned a master who'd been too fond of keeping boys in and so on.
Of course it ended up in the papers and the court; soon after that I chucked school once and for all and that was good riddance to that. I got a job on Swansea docks. After that I went into space, I thought there'd be all sorts of jobs for electronics men in something like that, but the Companies had all that sewn up and I ended up as just an asteroid miner. But I soon found more use for electronics mending men's kit instead of them wasting time and money buying another at some Company supplies, they say I'm about the best space electronics man around. I've invented or improved a lot of things that the men here use.".
"The men here say they were mighty glad to get you back after you vanished for 3 and a part years that time;" the biologist said, "but others also would like particular important men back. Someone's got to organize big matters, and all those Company directors, Milford and Fletcher and Sir Engisham and the rest who coordinated such a lot of big business, vanishing that time didn't help much. There's not many people in a thousand that can properly keep track of that many matters at once. They tied a lot of business and finance together, and a lot went down crash and upset things and put people out of work when they went. You lot out here'd be glad of that, for it badly delayed plans to restore Earth law and order out in the asteroid belt. They were needed back. Badly. It took ages to tie everything together into one organization again. Milford and his scuba diving: a lot of firms have rules against important men having risky sports, as well as the trouble getting hold of them when needed and then they're in holiday casuals and nothing fit for an important meeting. Where are they? On the way here I met an asteroid miner group called the F-15's, all kitted up heavy for work and breathing-masked with only their eyes showing, and their leader called Hot-pots - my Geiger counter told me just in time to keep right away from his spacesuit oxy tanks - they didn't know any more than anyone else round here.".
The F-15's coming, and him noticing them more than other Anor system spacemen that he met, seemed mere chance; but something undefinable drew his eyes to them. He had come with some Earth businessmen and favoured their side in matters; knowing this had drawn the F-15's there like a shadowy tractor beam pulling at some of their minds, a ghost of the past that gradually evaporated as they got near leaving them wondering why they had left their asteroid mining and space base construction work to stare at yet another lot of Earth visitors.
But this was not on Plutey-pots's mind as the Jetters went to the coastal mountains west-north-west of Aulien. They activated their spacesuit propulsors to bring them out of an equatorial retrograde orbit, descending over Arda's ocean to Port Quasar, a settlement on the continent's west coast named after the first man to land there. They landed in a developing industrial area and scuba dived a few times in warm coral sea to get clean and a change from spacesuits and geology. On one dive they thought for a moment that the fishing voyage that they had heard of was not the only one ever after all, for they saw such a net again, and backed away from it, for sea and large lake patrol craft have been known to keep a fishing trawl onboard as an easily stored way to catch unwelcome scuba divers. But as their sense of distance returned they saw that it was much nearer and smaller than thought. From otter boards somewhat bigger than a man's hand and six feet apart thin warps converged to an ring on the breathing set harness of a scuba diver with a backpack motor who had just passed above them. They watched the odd sight for a while: it was a biologist after specimens.
Next morning they resuited and took off towards the jagged-backed mountains to the east. Many Ardan placenames were with a sometimes excessive persistence in Tolkien's languages, the main literary taste of the X-100 asteroid miner group who had discovered and first explored the Anor system, but some people chose otherwise; after Port Quasar was founded the X-100 name `Ered Falas Dun' = "West Coast Mountains" was overtaken by "Quasar Range", referring also to the amount and explosiveness of the volcanoes along its ridge line.
The first man to map this area in detail liked the book `Captains Courageous' by Rudyard Kipling (a story about deepsea fishermen) and let all Arda know by his choice of mountain names. In a land with no central place-naming authority such things happened. The new railway from Port Quasar to Aulien scrambled over the range by a scarily narrow high notch under the knife-crested peak of Penn, whose western face was marked by a contorted pattern of limestone folded and refolded in with dark rock. They looked briefly at a workmen's shelter at the top of the pass; to Jet Jack's surprise it was built of well-squared marble. The reason was all round them: the line was cut there through seven miles of it, where heat and pressure had upheaved and melted old coral reef limestone deposit as the mountains rose. On Earth builders would have paid a fortune for marble that clear, for the metamorphism had digested all fossils, and native octopuses and fish in the original reef had kept the deposit clear of dark-shelled molluscs; but here it went unheeded.
They flew south along the range. They detoured west round the blasting crater and cone of Harvey, and the volleys of stones and ash, and the volcanic gases like a hundred polluting chemical works at once, and the din, and the teargas smell of Ardan jungle burning as the lava flowed. Forty miles further on Disko, the highest mountain in the range, stood quiet, a perfect single cone, with only a suspicious uniform youngness in the forest on its slopes and along two nearby rivers to show that 50 years before it had awoken and summarily blown out the contents of its crater lake and shed a massive lethal mud-flow and then twenty feet thick of hot ash; thankfully there had been no men there then.
Those mountains named after fictional fishermen looked down inappropriately on a sea which such men sailed only once ever in reality, when some years before some out-of-work shipbuilders who had gone to space settled at Iron Bay further north on that coast and reverted to their old trade, and made boats, and then an trawler, the first of an intended local fleet, and sailed it, and brought to port a holdful of Ardan fish hard-won from storms and native sea monsters, and only then someone told them about biochemical incompatibility. That trawler had to be hyperspace jumped to Earth and sold there for what they could get, the unlikeliest sort of ship ever to travel in space, and they built no more of them, and hung up their sea-waterproofs and helmets with spray visors and the port's badge as a regret and a longing for what might have been. Men computer generated film of that fishing voyage, every detail of it, for it was the only such voyage. But such local craft and their voyages were many in the inevitable fiction which men write to work off their longings for impossible things.
The Jetters flew along the mountains, seeking their destination. When past the high two-pointed peak of Salters, they looked at their maps. It was a routine ore deposit survey; Plutey-pots, scanning his area with various instruments, propulsor flew over a narrow side valley and saw a cluster of buildings in it. Human settlement was scarce on Arda, and he landed there to look. Some of them were brick in a style surprisingly like English old inner city backstreet, and seemed to have been artificially aged. He felt uneasy. Inside were assorted work kit and many books and CD-ROM's about electronics. As he was looking at a clutter of `alternate reality' equipment and unidentified kit, he felt colder and colder although Anor was rising above the valley side in a clear sky. He crossed a yard towards another room; some feathery two-legged dinosaurlike animals about 3 feet tall eating weeds growing between flagstones kept several yards away from him. Wondering who lived there, he went in and looked around. Among unidentified medical-looking kit a man was sitting at a table going through papers and reports, often looking at both the room's doors as if waiting impatiently for a caller who was late; something about his eyes told that he was on his last thin hope. He seemed vaguely familiar and wore a well-cut executive business suit and city shoes, clothes rarely seen on Arda except on visitors, and which Plutey-pots had never worn since Jet Jack's spacemen had reprocessed and consumed his old identity as Mr.Blore, City of London financier. Plutey-pots felt a sudden urge not to disturb, went out, and found that the room had been cold although Anor was shining into it full through a large window.
He walked round the outside of the base and examined holes where brick clay had been dug. The vegetation on five acres of one side of the valley was a few years old recovering from being slashed to the ground, as if to make room to lay solar panels out; a flat dug-out slightly radioactive area told of a portable reactor having been there. What had been done there? There were a few Ardan and Karnilian geology maps on walls; but also a detailed map of part of south Birmingham in England, a place 400 light years away and utterly irrelevant. To the south the steaming craters and cone of Long Jack stood over the place.
He heard another man coming, pushing through the alien red and blue leaved jungle. The man appeared, clothed in a way much more usual for Arda, thick tough overalls over an unwashed spacesuit undersuit. The emanating stale sewer smell, which would have disgusted many, that badge of free-roaming spacemen who hardly ever need to go to base or into pressure and unsuit, seemed welcoming after how he had felt in those rooms. Plutey-pots excused himself and went ahead of the spaceman into the medical kit room, and shivered, thinking that he knew the businessman's face now, as someone he had traded with sometimes in what seemed like a previous existence, when he had been Mr.Blore. The businessman looked at the two for a moment, swept his papers into his briefcase with an annoyed look that clearly meant "I'm sorry, but I can't attend to you, I have another urgent engagement. I thought I wouldn't get distractions here.", and walked briskly off - straight through a wall. Nothing appeared on the other wide of the wall. Anor shining into the room seemed to regain its proper warmth. The place seemed clean again, and Plutey-pots turned to what he had come for; he searched the area with his geology instruments, and left, saying nothing about what had found in the building. But he knew that all too likely it was there, so far from his office that Earth's Sun's light took 400 years to reach there, that Mr.Milford, founder and main director of the big space metals trading Company Milford Metals Brokers and much else, who had controlled spacecraft, and guards, and space bases, and the lives and fates of many asteroid miners, and offices on Earth and Mars and many asteroids, and much non-space finance and business and directorships and control, had had there his last brief distorted waking memory of being himself.
After that they spacesuit propulsor flew back along the mountains to Aulien with their survey results. They landed there after dark; night animals called in the scrub outside the town's perimeter fence. Plutey-pots went into a building of local stone roofed and furnished with alien-smelling local timber; it was a library. In one room was a somewhat-sorted collection of Company documents which asteroid miners had got hold of one way and another down the years; memories of his old life, and a need to find about the enemy, led him to read some of them. Some of them were very distressing to such as he now was who valued good hardy far-travelling space kit above paper profits and business control and rules about patents. He went to a shelf rack labelled with `Milfords' and an rough copy of a Milford's Company logo out of place 400 light years from anywhere Mr.Milford's businesses had ever wielded their power or traded, leafed through papers and reports, and found one which he read carefully.
Below an authorizing signature and an emblem of enforcement which years and light-years had made totally irrelevant, he read: "The very harmful effect on asteroid mining investment profitability of various spacesuit improvements made unauthorizedly by asteroid miners in remote places ... they make the wearers too independent of bases for too long and remove most of their need to mine metals to sell to the Companies to pay for replacement parts.... Captured unauthorized spacesuits and other kit must not be allowed to accumulate in store until quantities of them are rescued in raids or sold by dishonest storemen. Salvaging parts while dismantling them is forbidden as this depresses the market in new parts and risks them being used to make more unauthorized space kit. A type of propulsor (sometimes called a `PL-prop') that can fly the wearer on and off Earth-sized planets without aid of spacecraft has been found recently on some such spacesuits; this duplicate of a top-secret Company research project is a kit item of obvious dangerous potential and is totally forbidden except under a very strict licence which is only available to the armed forces; such propulsors must be destroyed under tight security as soon as possible and there must be no risk of any getting back into circulation. A general-purpose RD of grade at least Industrial-3 or GR-4 with a grade at least 2 radioactive materials module will safely and completely consume these and all sorts of unauthorized long-trip spacesuit and man-portable space weapon met so far. Oxygen and other compressed gas cylinders should be emptied first. Recovered radioisotopes from powerpacks will need the usual handling precautions including preventing fissile critical masses forming. Spacesuits should be fed in one at a time, unfolded, to prevent jams; an Industrial-3 RD can consume 50 to 100 of them per day...".
In his new mentality since he had stopped being the City of London financier Mr.Blore, he felt an anger at people who for regulations would do such a deed - and thought it strange that in a nearby building Aulien had recently designed and made a heavy-duty automatic reactor-pack destructor. For men also come to treat reactor-packs as companions, and give them personal names, and sometimes call them `him' rather than `it'; but their life is limited. Sometimes an old reactor-pack can be saved for further use, with some inside parts replaced; but inside the thin-looking but effective shielding neutrons from the hot little reactor transmute and distort mechanical parts and wiring and cooling sodium and turn safe shielding plutonium-244 into dangerous fissile curium-245, until one day its control system shuts it down and refuses to let it run again, the sooner the longer it has been used without bringing it in for service to replace its reactor's inner shielding. Then the machine must swallow it and inside itself break it up like any other scrap metal object, and separate all metals from the parts, likely to use what it can to make more reactor-packs. Some time some of Sardie #4's `Jimmy''s Pu-244 casing will become some of the next generation's Cm-245 fuel rods, much more Cm-245 than was used to make it, and the excess is fuel for a big reactor whose excess neutrons are used to turn stable elements into useful spacesuit powerpack radioactives; but some of his faithfully circulating circuit sodium will find there no re-use, for stray neutrons will have pushed it up to calcium, which as a metal was little use for them.
In that same design building also lay in store a spent ISAB message-missile. Its hold had contained something that had been worked on in a ship in space far from the security leaks that plague ground labs among populous cities. To save its hold's contents from capture or loss it had been fired during the battle at another ISAB craft that seemed safely away from the action; but that craft was attacked and had to dodge, and the missile fell onto Arda and lay in hot dry soda deposit two miles below sea level in the feared hot hollow of Kumnearen, the Empty Ocean. ISAB had deemed it safely lost in thousands of square miles where men would never go, but yet men later went there and by chance found it. Now Anor system free spacemen examined its contents as they prepared for another official visiting party from Earth.
The group came, in a pressurized craft, in late afternoon. Steady rain was falling from a leaden sky, and they could not see the Orlando Hills. As the main landing strip was under repair after being badly cut up by heavy planes landing when it was soft from wet, they landed on a secondary strip without built-in landing lights and marked by a double line of small liquid fires on the ground.
It landed. They came out and unloaded their luggage, knowing by now not to expect baggage handlers out there. A line of ground staff in identical overalls presented-arms with the nozzles of their powerful-looking pressurized-liquid flamethrowers. At one end of their line were two jeeps whose fresh tyre tracks ran from the two edges of the runway.
"Who's them? What's happening!?" one of the visitors asked in alarm at the unusual and dangerous-looking choice of display weapon.
"They made the flarepath. When it's this dull, we need a flarepath even by day. We've got radar, but the pilot prefers to see something as well.".
"Uhh." the visitor said flatly, needing time to get used to the idea of napalm as an aircraft landing aid, and realizing that recent events had given the Anor system men good reason for as much of their work kit as possible to be some use in defence. In a time when some sorts of mobile refuse disposal kit were more and more lethal-looking, such things were to be expected.
Their first need was a meal and a night's sleep; after that a day to get over jet-lag and the usual various feelings of alienness and shock at being so far from Earth. The Jetters, who were there to meet them, were glad to go with them to what passed for a night spot in that pioneering place on an alien planet, thankful for the Anor system as a remote safe base where they could relax away from Earth city downtown area bad characters and undesirables official and otherwise. A film started; it had been made there and in space nearby, largely computer-simulated, showing a typical part of what might all too likely have happened if ISAB in the big attack had chosen other tactics and had not yielded to pressure to get for the men and organizations and governments that financed ISAB some sort of visible return quickly regardless. As often with work and action types, the audience had chosen it for pace and action and powerful participants rather than for emotions and polite relationships and the like.
In it, an emergency plan meeting of about 200 men from many free spaceman groups was well underway when with only two seconds warning from a small on-suit hyperspace jump field detector three spacecraft appeared surrounding them about half a kilometer away. The crafts' shape and markings told them that they were seeing what very many Anor system men had met but few ever had got away to tell of. ISAB PSC-5's, roaming the Anor system in radio and radar silence, knowing from previous survey where all objects were where men are likely to be. A modern interrogation drug, easily overcoming all loyalties and determinations, had got all details of this meeting from someone they had caught before. The craft fired from their missile guns volleys of the small fast one-man or by this time more usually sentient-computer-controlled missile-shaped craft called MST's.
The spacemen desperately bunched into a tight ball round their hyper jumpr man and started to try to 'jump out. A laser beam from one of the craft accurately destroyed Protak Pete's small on-suit hyper jumper: a heavy sensitive on-ship hyper jump field detector had done its routine job. An unexpected sudden gravity field threw them about, stopping attempts to fire warning radio beam signals at other groups and bases. Another group leader tried to 'jump out with those he could take with him. A powerful laser beam, controlled by PSC-5-84's sentient onboard computer thinking a thousand times faster than a man ever could, burnt through three men to reach him and knocked out his hyper jumper. The rest could do nothing but untether and try to scatter. Their hand-held lasers achieved nothing. They found themselves being pulled towards whichever they were nearest to of the efficient-looking craft with the dreaded ISAB insignia on. Modern spacesuit propulsors that had often got them on and off planets against strong gravity were easily defeated by whatever was pulling them. Too late they realized that again technology had put an end to an established assumption.
"Tractor beam! Everybody says there's no such thing!".
"Some fancy development of a lopsided wide-range ship-size hyper jump field, I bet! Haven't you seen the way our 'jumpers sometimes pull things in when we're using them!?".
"Lot of work to perfect it, I bet. Big labs, big budget; big field generator that we couldn't carry on a suit. Forget it, they've caught up with us again.".
A whirl of MST's caught those who were out of range of the tractor beams. The few that escaped all this were shot and scooped up later. The rest, running their spacesuit propulsors at emergency overload in vain, were rapidly pulled in towards the wide steel intakes of the ISAB spacecraft, and vanished inside, and the intake doors closed behind them. The craft found and scooped up the few scatterers and debris, and were gone. Puff Adder in the X-100's, the last one uncaught, twisted and turned despite the racking pullings of his overpowered suit propulsor, trying to evade MST PSC-5-84-15's rushing charges and shooting, until MST PSC-5-92-17 shot his propulsor out and untelescoped as it scooped him into itself and returned to PSC-5-92 and pumped him into the hard-hold as it went back into its missile magazine. No message or memory of what had happened was left on site. The big cleanup was continuing as planned.
The captured men were quickly pumped in a tangle of their tethers into highly armoured holds. Design had progressed far since Fletcher Mining's trick loader craft and the Jetters' hyper jump escape from its hold into its cockpit and so taking it over; in the wall of craft PSC-5-93's hold a hyper field detector easily spotted an attempt at repeating that deed. Inward-pointing detectors and lasers found and burnt out the mechanisms of all remaining on-suit hyper jumpers and of all other unwelcome `stomach contents' including a 400-kiloton atom bomb that one of the spacemen had: a desperate plan to `take one of them with me' had come to nothing. The holds' armoured lining could withstand all conventional explosives small enough to be concealed. Spacesuit outside pack contents and propulsors and group-towed cargo were stowed into object holds. The prisoners, when thoroughly searched and safe, were pushed into the crafts' large collapsible prisoner-holds, leaving the hard-holds for intaking and cleaning the next catch. They were left for the moment in their spacesuits as the readiest means of life-support until interrogation and processing onboard or later in a bulk prisoner carrier, when interrogation drugs quickly got from them much more of their affairs and where in the endless distances of the Anor star system many more of them were likely to be. The craft stored separated metals in containers as their heavy-duty onboard RD's consumed whatever and whoever was no longer needed as the craft went on their planned search routes.
Meanwhile the Actinides hyper jumped to a base which had once housed an isolationist group called `the Faithful Brethren', and was still sometimes called `Brethren's'; now a small industrial area in a straggle of structures had developed round it. But as the greyness and distortion of their hyper jump field cleared they saw much new damage on the base and on three Anor system loader craft tethered to it. Near it were two ISAB PSC-5's with their collapsible prisoner-holds nearly full, and they knew what that meant. Their leader, whose helmet forehead carried his codename `Actinium', at once reactivated his on-suit hyper jumper, knowing that although certainly a bulky long-range sensitive hyper jump field detector in one of the PSC-5's had detected them coming, they were too far away for a missile to reach them before the jump field could separate from normal space. But again the tight law and order and control that a big power organization needs to run and spread and keep its manpower and means of enforcement supplied, had overcome and consumed rogue self-declared freedom and wildness. ISAB scientists, now with much more freedom to research (for ISAB had learned the hard way the results of delaying development work while waiting for permissions and committees' findings), with the resources of large planetary nations behind them, had overtaken them again, when freed from officialdom delays which had often kept them behind free spacemen in space technology.
There now was something that accelerated away faster than a hyper jumper. That was a special hyper jumper that could form and separate a jump field much faster than the old type, but to do so needed a power source much bulkier than it could jump out along with itself. Before the Actinides could get away, the stars near them distorted and an MST-like small craft appeared. Its jump field coalesced with theirs, which flattened back into normal space as the missile destroyed Actinium's on-suit hyper jumper with a shot. In half a second, at what to it was an easy pace, for its onboard sentient computer thought far faster than a man, it did that and scooped them up in a net as it detected and snatched or shot out all laser guns and the like. They ran their suit propulsors maximum power to get away towing it, but it jumped, this time at ordinary rate on its own powerpack, at once to in front of its parent craft's open scoop, where the tractor field sucked them in, and the scoop shut behind them, and they were gone. Inside its impersonally efficient-looking powerful bulk the PSC-5 routinely pushed its scoop contents into its hard-hold where it removed their suit propulsors and cargo and remaining weapons, and pumped them into a store compartment.
The two PSC-5's stayed there a while, their holds gradually collapsing to empty as they processed their contents and their heavy-duty onboard RD's ran steadily. As an ISAB base mechanic opened PSC-5-92's onboard RD afterwards, the smell of stale long-trip asteroid miner spacesuit told him what it had likely been used for and why its grinder blades were so worn down and battered.
This base-busting was largely an MST job, and this time the order "Enemy technology investigation: capture the base and its staff and contents as intact as possible." had gone according to plan; the PSC-5's had scientists and others on board to help in the processing and sorting.
Like many, the Actinides were found guilty of desertion, in their case from NASA (whose successor was ISAB), and the sentence was summary. Into the crafts' fuel stores went all separated actinide metals that their onboard RDs' output: spacesuit and tool powerpack contents, group tow-crate cargo, flashy spacesuit ornaments, the token piece of each member's name actinide metal which each one up to Californium wore (shielded if necessary); one of ISAB's fleet of massive specialized RD-and-foundry craft was on its way to consume the unwanted parts of the captured free-spaceman base, and its powerful onboard fission reactors were not choosy. So ended the men called `the Actinides', and again no news got away.
As often in films showing an enemy triumphant, the free spacemen found a way to fight back at the last, and the survivors regained the Anor system and over many years bred back lost numbers and rebuilt. But fiction stories and dangers and disasters depicted in them come to an end, and safe reality returned. In the audience a visitor from Earth, from ISAB but not saying so, as well as finding yet again that the Anor system men were being kept alert and aware of risks of attack and needs for precautions, and regretting what might have been instead of the `Bay of Pigs'-style actual disaster caused by hastiness, wondered whether a particular device used in the story was merely a conventional fiction, or not.
Some ISAB men from the battle were indeed loose in space; on the 3rd planet of a single star which they called Itan, about halfway between Aldebaran and the Hyades, they were gradually setting up a self-sustaining base in the hope that when they chose to tell Earth where they were ISAB would keep them on its books and not demobilize them to unemployment to save money. There time passed as they repeated the X-100s' tasks setting up without support on a planet which unlike Arda was in a Pre-Cambrian state with little free oxygen and no life out of water. Their officers tried to keep tight naval discipline and drill and parades against an endless tide of work and research and surveying taking up men's time, and crying babies, and unauthorized personal and room ornaments, and workman mentality, and unauthorized slang names for men and kit, and women leaving ordered duty undone to look after their own children rather than leaving them to the duty minder, and individualism in general. Needing some sort of armed action to bring men back to their proper purpose as space law and order enforcers, they armed and equipped a squad of 20 men, and ordered them to raid supplies from the Anor system, as a tethered group with three on-suit hyperspace jumpers.
In the morning the Earth party were shown the usual sights and given the usual information handouts. By then they knew such things as that the nearest to best clothes that they were likely to see on Ardans were freshly-washed work clothes. The spacemen there had the usual exotic variety of ornaments; for example, a Koh-i-Noor-sized diamond found in a carbonaceous asteroid was as likely to be worn in its original uncut octahedron shape on a spacesuit among calcite and seaborgite and the like as to be sold quickly to the Earth jewellery trade.
They wanted to get on with their business at once, but knew that many of them could not yet, and cursed the human body's procrastination when forced to change step in its tight inborn programming to the Earth-type day and night cycle. They went north out of Aulien to the Taipan River. Along its banks continuous forest and swamp covered what on Earth would be valuable river-dock land with factories behind. Once London's East End was like that, and natives in deer skins dragged dugout canoes through wolf and bear infested alder forest to fish in water where big ships now dock. In one place men had hacked the forest back and made the timber into piles and planks and build wharves. Launches and small barges were exploring and charting the river, and starting to pull out the flood-washed driftwood logs that lay in wait everywhere for boats' hulls; but before they could reach the distant salt water much heavy civil engineering would be needed in the huge canyon where the Taipan River cuts through the coast range. They went back to Aulien along the dusty bush track which one day might be a busy Dock Road, saw what sights there were in the town, ate a dinner of locally-grown natural Earth-type food, and slept. In the morning the meeting started.
They asked why Ilmenostians had broken an undertaking not to sell or further develop a particular spacesuit navigation kit device until negotiations among Earth bodies about them were complete and a particular committee had given the go-ahead. There followed a tedious argument which was in part:
"We waited a reasonable time and we weren't going to wait forever for a piece of paper while men need the device." said a man from Ilmenost who was there.
"You still gave us a firm undertaking that you would await our reply.".
"We did, but it never came. You kept on and on conferencing and committeeing about different things, like that fortnight on the effect on the pound and the dollar, whatever that had to do with it. And now you're going on forever about the knock-on effects on costs, not the cost of anything in particular but just costs.". A satisfyingly general topic that had promised at least two months of expense accounts and speeches and feeling important. The words `deliberate stalling' hovered unspoken in the background.
"We were waiting for you to offer us terms much more favourable than you had offered us so far. We have recourses." said the leader of the Earth delegation.
"Meaning you thought you had us over a barrel for a piece of paper. If that last bit was a veiled threat: whatever it threatens, ISAB tried it that time, in great force, and we saw them off and they lost a lot of men and attack craft.".
"Meaning that just like Anor system men usually do, you kept on developing on the sly and in the end went ahead anyway. The regard Anor system men pay to pieces of paper is minimal. Someone should tell them that we on Earth have more officialdom to consult than a few asteroid miner group leaders and him with the curium-247 oxy tanks. Well, that's the end of that, same as you invented PL-props, that's planet-landing spacesuit propulsors, and simply started selling them all over the place letting allsorts get on and off planets bypassing the official space landing sites and routes and security checkpoints. Yes, official Earth space bodies were developing them and had them nearly to a prototype, but they were being properly tight careful about who were allowed to have one or to know how to make them. Ditto on-spacesuit hyperspace jumpers. That's what finally ruined proper Earth tight control of what was going on in space.".
"And there's turning up on Earth from here a lot too many of that dangerous old anti-aircraft missile the Dakota that we thought we'd at last seen the last of." said one of the party, one of two from an American aircraft company.
This caused very odd looks from the Anor men. One of the neo-Dakotas on the ground outside indeed had a missile-tail, four equal square-ended fins round its rear end (the lower one folded sideways when on the ground); but it was a one-off, and the rest followed the old tried and tested design, except for such necessary space adaptations as an airlock in the tail and a large hyper jumper.
"OK, I'll be more explicit." he said, "I was speaking of aircraft being not just shot down after flying a while, but prevented from existing in the first place, because old Dakotas went on for ever. They stopped being made in 1946 I think it was, but 50 years later there were plenty of them still around. Most of them wore out at last, thank God, and people were buying new air freight planes; but you lot here are making Dakotas all over again to keep going forever ruining the market for new cargo planes. We can't stop you using them yourselves, but Earth in-atmosphere air freight people have been getting hold of them. Now we know why when after 1945 when the war ended, when some clever idiot came up with a Dakota successor called the Accountant [and in reality; Author], someone made sure and smartish to kill the project and get the prototype scrapped.".
Thus an angry extreme metaphor in the old conflict between people who want kit to last and people who want trade selling replacements, a conflict with no easy resolution. There was no point trying anything more there, except for the usual tourist-type looking around; the visiting party soon went back to Earth.
In England on Earth a middle-sized mongrel dog wandered onto waste ground near Northolt Airfield to get away from traffic and feet. That a Dakota made far farther away than any earthly factory, and long after the last Dakota was made on Earth, landed there sometimes, it neither knew nor cared: from planes came only disturbance and shooing-off, no scavenge and no interesting smells, as the men there were too tidy nowadays. Nor did it know anything about space or Arda. As its scruffy dim canine mind turned to its favourite preoccupation of finding the most unwantedly obvious place to deposit its dirty intestine's filthy waste, it found in a thicket a bush with white flowers and an unusual chemical-type smell, which it routinely overwrote with its own smell. Then, not on Ilyarda but in northwest London, there was a blasting roar and a hail of hardwood shrapnel.
The alarm and cordoning-off caused by the explosion upset plans for engineers to fly from there to Leeds (England) spaceport. Relations between ISAB etc and independent Mars had improved recently, and spaceliners travelled between them routinely. Aided by Ilmenostian technology, spacecraft had got bigger, and could carry heavy cargo in and out of planet gravity easily. And could also carry more and more luxury equipment for rich travellers, which was far from the intentions of the Ilmenostian space engineers involved, who only rode in any sort of craft rather in a propulsor spacesuit when hurry or heavy load compelled it. The engineers should have checked things on the spaceliner Alcyone which was due to take off; the liner should have waited for them, but businessmen and government men who were on it or had sent reps on it threatened consequences for resulting missed meetings and the like and by the resulting chain reactions of delays to things, and the liner took off without the engineers. Again the same attitude.
Twenty men from Itan in armoured long-trip spacesuits came out of hyper in the Anor system, and 'jumped again to the nearest base that they knew of. A hyper jump field detector on the base activated. They decided to hide and observe for a while first. After a while an armed spacecraft approached, a PSC-5. Momentary hope faded into a flat realization as they saw on it stars arranged in a syringe pattern, the usual Ilmenostian craft symbol which originated as a hurried choice copied from a prominent Anor system sky constellation. It was named Tiger Shark: still many Anor system men's minds felt back to the planet where their species had arisen. "Yes, look what they can make!" one of them thought irritatedly. They waited a while. They knew the interior layout of PSC-5's. A short hyper jump, shoot a few scared local maintenance men, and they would have a great prize to pilot back to Itan whose coordinates no Earth or Anor man knew.
"If it isn't battle-ready by now, as is likely." their commander said, "We could pretend to be a new local asteroid miner group and infiltrate the local population for a while. But other ISAB commando squads tried that, and meanwhile the Anor system was infiltrating them, and they went native. Even our Admiral Lintzford went native and is living near Aulien on Arda. OK, in we go!".
They got into the craft's main crew compartment and quickly overpowered two engineers, but the pilot's compartment was locked and too small for enough of them to jump into. The stars seen through a porthole disappeared behind blank grey. The idea of trying to hyper jump out of a large hyper jump field in mid jump gave their hyper jumper men such Hieronymus Bosch-like weird images of the likely multidimensional result and destinations that they decided not to try it. The craft reappeared off Ilmenost, covered by heavy fixed guns. They started to 'jump out; the craft went partway into hyper. They started to laser through to the pilot to get at the controls; sparks flew and metal melted. Other spacemen appeared from hyper in the craft, and there was a mutual-gunpoint confrontation. Seen from close up, the un-Anor-like spacesuits and the ISAB badges could not be missed or denied. They had intended in such a case to firing-squad any armed opposion while enemy shot bounced in vain off their armoured spacesuits; but those Anor men also wore armoured spacesuits. After a while of standoff the Itan men had to retreat quietly. Such is the effect of the time since the big battle, and the result of trying too late a plan of attack that at a previous time would have won. And the PSC-5's pilot was alarmedly thankful that he secured his compartment door routinely when often told that it was unnecessary.
The Itan men waited for what might happen. Itan had much fewer men than Anor, and they had been ordered to avoid risk of heavy casualties; they were too much needed for work back at base to unnecessarily `fight there and fall in a far country'. The radio chatter of an assortment of people told them that the Tiger Shark was going to the Solar System, to Mars, on a courtesy visit, for Mars and the Anor system both had had to fight for their freedom. Trying to evade the pursuing Anor men, they tried the unexpected: they made a short jump at the outside of the Tiger Shark as it jumped away. The jump fields coalesced, and they were carried to the Solar System. Once away from pursuit they could 'jump back from the Sun to Itan as easily as from Anor to Itan. Their commander on Itan would be glad of current information about what was happening back home. The Tiger Shark, too big to do much effective at the display except fly past, settled on the ground for a thorough service while its magazineful of agile little one-man MST craft eddied about in fancy patterns in the thin Mars air.
The Alcyone, named after the brightest star in the Pleiades, sped on from Earth to Ceres, where the old base had been repaired and partly reoccupied as the asteroid metals trade picked up again. Onboard rich men feasted and gambled and sought pleasure as in a hotel, and all was spotless and well-appointed; but all was not well. Important people demanded quick turnrounds; maintenance was rushed. They wanted every means to entertain and confer with important clients in flight: extra rooms for this and that were packed closely against the hull. Micrometeorite erosion built up as threats of consequences for causing delay told pilots not to detour round micrometeorite swarm tracks. Crew members complained to the captain, who passed to his ship's owners recommendations which were filed and forgotten in a maze of considerations and other business arising.
Around her in the outer darkness asteroid mining went on much as before: groups of men in long-trip propulsor spacesuits explored and dug at asteroids, or made weeks-long crossings of emptiness, or hyper jumped for speed if they had a hyper jumper and thought that the wear on it was justified. They towed processing equipment around, and traded metals for supplies at bases official and unofficial, and sometimes did not unsuit for months on end. To them spaceliners were as always irrelevant `moving star' images on radar displays, unless one stopped at an asteroid base; then sometimes venturesome passengers would come out in spacesuits and poke about tethered to a safety craft, and some would try asteroid miners' tools, to the amusement of genuine asteroid miners.
Captain Itzinger of the Alcyone did not thank independent asteroid miners for much; each person who travelled cheaply in a spacesuit tethered in with asteroid miners who were going that way was one less to pay much more for a liner seat; thriller fiction raids by gangs of spacemen hyper jump raiding spacecraft and bases and planets made him less trustful of the real thing; and free spacemen making their own kit and supplies in space had wrecked the old space trading Company system that had provided so many valuable first-class passengers. But asteroid miners both Company and free had found many of the known meteor swarms that never crossed Earth's orbit to show as annual meteor showers. Now as he was passing near Mars he was approaching such a swarm, and it was so dense that he avoided it despite important passengers' growls at the delay. In the vastness of space such collision risk may seem unlikely; but after such incidents as the 1866 collision between the Leonid swarm and Earth causing hundreds of `shooting stars' a second for ground astronomers, space pilots were wary of the densest meteor swarms. So he avoided it, and then had to turn back onto course to Ceres.
Something snapped, or a stray meteor hit it. Pressure strained, then blew out, breaking control wires that ran past the place. The crew frantically suited up and went out and tried to repair the leak from the outside, but the leak continued. He told the passengers nothing and then that the trouble was minor and would be rectified soon, but in the end radioed unscrambled for help.
And on Mars the Jetters and the Sardies heard. They balled and 'jumped to the place. The Tiger Shark and its MST's would have to drop out of the air and space craft display this time, for its men had other things to do.
The Jetters and the Sardies, who were going to display in it, hyper jumped to near the Alcyone. The Sardies then jumped into a large public room forwards. Sardie #1 pushed into the control room and found the captain.
"What - asteroid miners!? - at least you look like you could do the job - if you could get this done quietly - avoid panic -" the captain said. From aft, metal creaked as partitions warped under pressure as the air loss spread. Outside, the ship's crew backed off as the hull damage suddenly blew open wider.
"Right, everybody on board listen." Sardie #1 ordered, grabbing and switching on what was labelled as a public address system, "This ship's hull is leaking air badly, aft roof. Get into the pressure refuges NOW! Get into the pressure refuges NOW! Never mind luggage! That's an order!".
"Get out!" the captain ordered, "I said prevent panic, not cause it! I've got important people on board, you can't just march in everywhere. I said `get the leak mended and keep it quiet'. Pressure refuges? Pressure refuges??". Shouting and running about started on board; all intercom phones rang and their indicators showed a big and fast growing number of queued calls.
"Typical." Plutey-pots thought, "Told there's nothing much wrong, now they know there is, the panic'll be worse with them scrabbling for `essentials' which they could've packed before if they'd been warned.".
"To the pressure refuges? Why not?" Sardie #1 demanded, switching his gun on.
"Pressure refuges -" the neatly uniformed captain started helplessly, as stumped as an airliner captain told by some total ignoramus in authority to order all his passengers to parachute out.
"At least shut all emergency internal pressure doors!! Where's the control?".
"Here." the captain said, and operated it. There followed a series of bangs and slammings from inside, but fewer than Sardie #1 had hoped.
"OK. We're taking over. That damage is spreading. We've got to get everybody out, or into pressure somehow, and depressurize the ship before anything else blows out and damages any more controls. Then someone can mend its works. Where's a plan of the ship and a copy of the passenger list and the crew list?".
"That's confidential, both normally and as this is a security flight.".
"The lists, or else. We'll need to know how many people are still missing.".
The captain little liked the look of the Sardies, as identical as photocopies, very tall and bulky, in their unattractively functional Ilmenostian long-trip spacesuits. He radioed about frantically as his first officer handed over some plans and maps and lists. A wind blew everything about as the Jetters, who had given up trying to mend the spreading leak against the air blasting out of it, 'jumped in also and ran aft into a food-serving area.
"Where's the firefighting kit?" Plutey-pots asked frantically.
"Mr.Esh's stuff's down ..." said a steward.
"I don't want some passenger's #%$ baggage, I want the firefighting kit! Are there any breathing sets in it or anywhere!?".
"I was just telling you, Mr.Esh's stuff's in room ...".
"No #@% no, unless he's got any spacesuits or breathing sets of 'is own." Plutey-pots shouted, unable to waste any more time, reaching for his laser and turning its beam power down, "I - want - the - firemen's - stuff.".
"OK, OK." the steward pleaded, "put your `interrogation aid' away, OK, OK, you ignoramus work rough, the -firemen's kit-" he continued, gulping at the effort of breaking years of hard conditioning to refer to fire, air leakage, radiation, and such things that risk passenger panic if overheard, only by his company's proper codewords when on duty in public, and said where it was.
Plutey-pots cursed the steward for a thickhead and ran to the place directed, reflecting that "re radiation it'd be him who'd panic if he knew what my spacesuit oxy tanks are made of". He lasered the lock out and opened the door. It was the firemen's room. In it he found seven breathing sets, and thankfully they were rebreathers, and without a bulky hard casing. In an unlabelled room near he found other things, kept in secret in case the worst happened to a passenger on board. He told some passengers to follow him with them.
"Lie down in that." he told a 14-year-old boy among the passengers.
"You're not putting him in THAT while he's alive!" the boy's mother shrieked.
"It's pressure-tight, and that's all matters now!" Plutey-pots rapped, put a breathing set's mask on the boy's face, turned it on, laid the living boy down in the adult-sized coffin, arranged the breathing set in the remaining space, and closed and clipped the lid shut. It just about closed. "The ghoul's not me but whoever didn't put enough proper pressure refuges in this flying #%@$ Las Vegas and whorehouse!!, so we must use what there is!" Plutey-pots said angrily as they scavenged about for more makeshift pressure shelters to add to their pressure bags. Someone in the control room said that a ship-sized radar echo had suddenly appeared, perhaps by 'jumping in. They managed to get into secure pressure everybody found in that area.
Somewhere aft with a bang like a bomb a partition burst under uneven pressure, bypassing an emergency pressure door. All lights went out in the stern roof area. The ship's motor ran at the same power whatever the captain and crew tried to do. The spacemen ran their suit propulsors hard against a gale of escaping air to get back to the cockpit to find the captain and those with him putting spacesuits on. They went aft again. Jet Jack magnetic-clamped himself to a wall and made a partial hyper jump field to keep air in while they got through a pressure door and shut it behind them, and wondered how many more times he could do that before he would have to abort out and get his hyper jumper serviced.
Behind they found more people to be pushed into any shelter found. The first class dining room door choked as people pushed different ways, until a few laser gun burns taught the culprits not to push against the flow to recover items. The cabins and luxury suites were separated mostly by soundproof-and-plywood sandwiching, but they found a storeroom that seemed solid enough. The business traveller in a vulnerable neat office suit needing a huge catering facility, and the long-trip space workman with his life-support system compactly built into his tough spacesuit, looked at each other, separated by more than merely the spaceman's hard breathing mask and eye-windows. Friends and relatives pushed different ways trying to meet. The spacemen pushed as many people as they could into the storeroom, welded its door shut, and noted its coordinates. A small boy's crying pleading for `Jimmy' tied up three men for four minutes finding what proved to be no man or boy but a stuffed-toy lion far too big to be allowed room in a pressure bag with rescued people.
Along the corridor laser fire and animal dying yowls sounded as the Sardies emptied the ship's kennel room: an unheroic deed of target shooting with no expression on their identical faces behind their breathing masks, but they had their own opinion on scared dogs getting underfoot of men handling injured people in narrow places and on how many people can be killed by a pressure bag bursting in vacuum where a terrified cat has scratched it. That done, the room proved to be all solid metal walled and another possible pressure refuge.
The approaching radar echo proved to be a smallish fast craft with a large collapsible hold. Jet Jack hailed it.
"This flight of the Alcyone is security listed." the craft replied, "You are not an authorized security rescue squad. You are under arrest for breaking this law, and to find what secret matter you have seen, and other matters. Back out of there and ditch all your weapons, or we fire or force an entry.".
"No we ain't." said Sardie #1, irritated at the totally inappropriate order, "We are engaged in an urgent rescue operation. If you've come to take over from us: right NOW, on the starboard side, in the middle of the `E' of the name `Alcyone', fit a [self-fixing] boarding airlock and go in with spacesuits or pressure bags and rescue at least 10 people who are trapped in there.".
"Portable airlock?" came a reply with the annoyed tone of a small English village grocer who has been asked for caviare or mangoes, and then, recovering his official tone, "That flight is security listed. Important people with confidential documents are in it. You are under arrest. You should have stayed in your Anor system where you shouldn't be anyway, or stuck to asteroid mining, and minded your own business and left it to an official rescue force. We are ISAB police and we don't take orders from unauthorized rogue spacemen.".
Scrambled radio sound followed as the space cop commander gives orders, until Jet Jack turned his suit radio power up to override it. "By which time it'll be too late. Meaning that you useless thugs with no rescue kit or rescue training came here just to get in the way to protect some $%# dogturd bunch of official PAPERS!!" he yelled, "If you can force entry like you were threatening, you must have a portable assault-boarding airlock. Use it!".
"We've got electronic overriders for the controls of all authorized airlocks and internal doors and for many unauthorized sorts. Authorised issue, proved always to work, unjammable. We can come in." the commander said.
"@#% useless. Go in the blowout hole, go into the corridor running forwards from it, use your fancy efficient official `hands up you're under arrest' laser guns to weld it airtight behind you with a piece of wreckage the right size, then cut in, and get them all into suits or pressure bags or whatever you can find or you've brought with you.".
"That's trained space mechanics' work with special space mechanics' guns. Who do you think we are? Who do you think you are? And we can't hyper jump in, ISAB says we don't need a man-portable hyper jumper, won't let us have one. And you lot are still under arrest.".
"No we aren't. We're finishing the job, since you lot obviously can't, even if you can't stand being told that you can't do everything yourself. @#$ hell ISAB must be short of cash if you lot's all they could find in range, after all that lot they sent against the Anor system that time! Or 'as it slid back to what it got like afore, @#% idle share'olders and City slickers eating it all?", and then to his own people "Ten of the Jetters stay out and watch those #@%'s, the rest of us back to work with me.".
Others were watching and listening, and their commander's hard-drilled-in determination to uphold his superiors' side in matters finally broke. "@#% useless." he radioed from somewhere, "You helpless idiot cops follow us in, we're the 20 ISAB space-commando hard suits, form a chain behind us and pass pieces out as we cut in. We're going in astern roof.". What had looked like a random lump of debris broke up into 20 men in armoured spacesuits. The Jetters saw them, and knew the spacesuit type and badges of the dread that struck from remoteness, and knew that this time they had no need to fight them off. The Itan men propulsor flew to the Alcyone aft, went in through the original damage hole, and began cutting through a maze of partitions in a second-class cabin area. Each time they had to drill a small hole, push an infrared spy micro-camera in, and check for life inside. Their three hyper jumpers told in the race in; at each door or partition a partly-formed jump field held air in until anyone found inside could be pushed into pressure bags, as long as they had pressure bags.
People turned up in all sorts of corners. In a room which was pressure tight but not designed as such, they pushed a man in pyjamas and someone else's wife into the same pressure bag despite embarrassed protests a few minutes before a patch where a water pipe went through a wall blew out. In the next room an important-looking man pulled a revolver to try to commandeer the rest of his pressure bag for his briefcases and luggage. They had no time to treat specially a near-term pregnant woman in a red dress complaining of belly pains. Passengers unused to weightlessness blundered about. A little girl pleaded for something, but her words were unrecognizable through sobbing and in the urgency they had to turn away from her. Dolls made too realistically like babies were one unwanted distraction; personal names given to a variety of inanimate possessions were another. A 9-year-old boy directed them to `Winnie the Pooh' urgently, and was ignored, for they had time for people only, but an electronic heartbeat detector led men to someone in the room described; it was a Chinese delegate to ISAB, named Erh-wang Pu, not pleased at the interruption to his plans plus the persistent nickname plus having just found why the Alcyone's company's booking clerk had thought it amusing to put him in a cabin numbered 94. They finally found all living people there.
They went along a corridor. Their mood got rougher after a strong security grille to prevent entry to the `Fun Zone' without paying delayed them laser gun cutting through blowtorch-resisting alloy. Just after it an airtight door had not done its job, for its cutting edge, still sheathed by the piece of decor designed to hide it in its resting position, had failed to chop shut through the motor block of a large food and drinks trolley.
Past it, they found an area whose decor gave them a sickness of distaste at decadence and waste when they like Anor men were used to rough conditions and doing things for themselves. "And this sort of trash we were trained to fight and arrest and raid and risk ourslves to protect it!" some of them muttered. They pushed two `girlies' and a man found with one of them into a steel cupboard which they welded airtight shut, for unlike the helpless cops they had had to learn such things as how to use their guns for welding; they cut the cupboard loose, and the cops following them had at least the skill to pass it out back. A careful gun burn and a rip at sexy decorations revealed the inside of the ship's hull which should not have been boarded over like that preventing routine engineer access. In a bar area they found only the dead, blown and dried out in space vacuum, for a pressure door into a storage area had closed only three inches and jammed on dropped cutlery in its lower slide track. The bar bouncer had used his size and weight against desperate customers to reach and commandeer a long-trip spacesuit which was displayed in a glass case as an ornament, but they found him suffocated dead in it; a knife slash into its life-support pack revealed polystyrene and thin wood and no working parts, for it was a film prop imitation made from an old Milford's day's-work suit. Outside through a porthole the untwinkling stars shone unconcerned in the black void as they always had.
Aft of them was the aftmost pressure bulkhead; they got through the corridor pressure door in it and shut it. It led to public rooms and storerooms, some with portholes. 17 people in a games room were wondering what on earth was happening, and seeing fully-equipped long-trip spacemen push in startled them badly. Through the bulkhead came a muffled bang as the bouncer's one-way glass viewing window blew through from the still air-holding main part of the Fun Zone into the airless bar. They had just found a securable solid steel food-storage cold-room when with a dreadful detonation a gale sucked them forwards, and they had an experience that finally shocked out of them any idea of treating Earth or ISAB policy as unqueryable any more. There was nothing else they could do there, so they went back into the Fun Zone - by another way than they had left it.
Next ahead was a large solidly air-holding section. A pressure door and an ordinary door six feet apart formed a leaky but usable airlock of sorts, but would lose a lockful of air each time used, when one of them had used valuable time torching its lock out and replacing it with a valve cannibalized from some nearby pipework. Inside the people had had more time to get ready; carefully packed and stacked luggage, some retrieved from a hold, waited to be taken out with its owners as if at an ordinary arrival. The unexpected and unobeyable order to go into pressure refuges had led to nothing much that seemed to affect them, except suddenly locked doors in the corridors; likely soon the leak would be mended and the flight would resume. The ship's steady unaimed acceleration towards about a degree northwest of Beta Ophiuchi thankfully stopped at last.
As the first lockful of the Itan men went in, again business travellers and the like in smart office suits needing lavish catering room saw the spacemen's unattractive functional spacesuits with their air-regeneration kit, undisguised sewage ducting running up from between their legs to the suit RD's, compact food synthesizers, nuclear powerpacks, and navigation kit, and with a shock realized what others before had.
By now the Itan men, and the unfortunate cops with them, had no more pressure bags. They looked around for an all-metal sealable compartment, and found none. They had no spare suits, for they had planned a quick raid-and-out and not to be so far from base for so long, and Itan was still well behind Ilmenost in making its own space kit. Then a door marked `crew only' opened, and someone came out of it. It was Rattler (Jetters), and others followed him.
The two groups of spacemen looked at each other, and knew that this time they would part without shooting despite their opposing purposes in space. But urgency called; Jet Jack, who followed Rattler, saw the crowd of passengers and said there was a sealable engineers' room in the engine area. The passengers picked up their luggage and carefully went down the access door; men helped women along.
An 8-year-old boy suddenly remembered and pleaded that `Kanga' was still in bed in another room, and the Itan leader started to issue urgent orders; but the name awoke Laser Larry's childhood Winnie the Pooh from his long buried sleep just in time to get Laser Larry to ask what species the target of the rescue plan was, and so four men's time, including Jet Jack's with his on-suit hyper jumper to make a pressure bridge across a now airless corridor, was not wasted rescuing a stuffed-toy kangaroo. Such things happen when handling children. They were much too busy to attend much to suddenly changing numbers on one of them's portable hyper jump field detector's display.
"Leave the luggage and hurry!" Jet Jack shouted.
"What's the matter with where we are?" a passenger queried.
"#@$ captain saying that everything's OK and you believed him, the great god `Avoiding Panic', and then something blew out and cut the public address wires before he could tell truth. It isn't OK. Get in there and leave all that junk.".
"Why?" the passenger said, unwilling to leave his luggage, used to being sheltered and waited on in airliners and spaceliners and not really realizing how dangerous space can be.
Somewhere fore-and-port another partition blew through; the lights dimmed, went out, then came on again as emergency batteries cut in.
"That's an example of why.".
The passengers had to obey, at gunpoint if they would not shift otherwise. That got everybody alive into some sort of pressure shelter at last.
The Tiger Shark had come, as soon as the men servicing it could put everything back and close everything up and pull out. Captain Itzinger, following the rest out after doing what he could, had only read of the new deadly space enforcement craft called the PSC-5, and now he was seeing one, hopefully one of a fleet come to dispose of uncontrolled space nomadism once and for all. Then he saw the Ilmenostian symbols on it, and had a feeling of total wrongness: that ultimate means of law and order was in the uncontrolled element's hands. He watched in distress as its powerful multiple laser guns, designed to make short work of large swarms of unauthorized propulsor-spacesuited men, aimed and efficiently sliced into the Alcyone as it separated the parts that still contained pressure and life, cutting regardless through expensive fittings and furniture. Then some of the men who had come with the confidential documents felt uneasy as something invisible which `rang a bell' in the wrong part of their brains pulled all these pieces towards the PSC-5, where they gathered in a cluster in front of its open front scoop. The smaller pieces went inside; MST's came out and attached boarding airlocks to the larger pieces. Three of the MST's came out and returned the vacated pressure bags and spare spacesuits to their owners.
"The survivors are all safe, I've tanked them all in .7 [of an atmosphere] of oxy." the PSC-5, itself rather than its pilot, radioed, "With help from a handy little device that someone kindly dropped its plans in the Kumnearen on Arda in a burning hot soda flat just where someone was bound to find them soon. No serious injuries, just shock and fright and what my men's first-aid kits can handle. I'm gradually dropping the pressure to .2 of oxy, that's enough to live on. If you let people straight down from 1 at. of air to .2 at. of oxy they risk bends like divers from nitrogen coming out of them. Now will you finally send something that can collect them from me, or shall I take them away and suit them all up and let my people reprocess them into yet more long-trip work spacemen?".
"What about my ship!?" Captain Itzinger complained as he and his crew inexperiencedly tried to suit propulsor fly along with the Sardies, "It was my world, same as your ship is yours, and you simply cut it up for target practice. And it was valuable property.".
"If you 'ad proper pressure refuges with air supply for long enough, your passengers could've stayed in them while your ship was mended and re-presht [= repressurized] or got to a base. As it is, we 'ad to get them out and into my tank as fast as we could. This was nearly the Titanic again: not enough lifeboats! How many of its crew are out there in spacesuits?".
"12. And we can't stay out here forever, we've only got short-trip ship-issue spacesuits on.".
"Your passenger and crew lists are wrong." the PSC-5 said a bit later, "The Jetters are still going through the people inside me, but they've already found 3 bar floosies 'oo ain't on your lists. And an official type 'oo wouldn't say 'oo 'e was, and when they searched 'im for ID 'e wasn't on the list either, 'e said 'e'd come at the last moment instead o' someone 'oo'd cancelled, then another time 'e said summat else, like some o' the funnybusiness we've 'ad at Company bases afore. I s'pose that now everyone alive's safe you'll want us to go back in and get property out. And one o' the Jetters just told me that why the back end bit o' the Alcyone blew out to vacuum spacing people afore we could rescue them was the pressure bulk'ead in front of it blowing through where someone'd cut a door through it and then changed their mind and filled the door 'ole with flimsy stuff and not properly.".
"Yes, I was there." said an Itan man, "We'd just got in there when that door hole filling went bang, people spaced as we watched them, bursting and frothing out and drying and we couldn't do anything about it. Five minutes more and we'd've had them safe welded up in a big steel cold-store that was there.".
"The high-ups decided that another door to the aft first-class lounge was needed." said Itzinger, "I objected, but they hinted at replacing me and told me to shut up. They closed that door off when they made the lounge into part of the Fun Zone.", and then to his crew, "That thing talks like an asteroid miner. And, pot calling the kettle black, I wonder how much pressure refuge it's got onboard - forget it, doesn't matter among people who nearly all seem to live in spacesuits. Last minute changes that don't get listed, `please Captain I was going to tell you but you were busy', and anonymous confidentials, and as long as men are male they'll try to keep the means of satisfying the lusts of the flesh whatever rules say. I'll find the culprits when we're back at a base.".
"And add one to your passenger list: I've just had my first baby born onboard me." the PSC-5 interrupted.
Another craft appeared nearby. Earth officialdom had heard what was happening, and with much frantic arguing and delays while radio travelled finally scratched together a security-cleared rescue force and sent them there - from Earth: they refused to security-clear anyone from Mars because of the old rebellion there. They came in an PSC-4R, a PSC-4 police spacecraft adapted for space rescue but still heavily armed. With them was a top ISAB director called Mr.Parker and three of his associates, not liking at all having to leave their desks and their international communication links and be stuffed into propulsor spacesuits: PSC-4's and the like are not designed for crew who need atmosphere, as its captain said in definite language when Mr.Parker asked for a first-class cabin to himself and another for his associates. But the job had already been done.
The PSC-4R had inevitably to approach point-blank the threatening alien bulk of the Tiger Shark and dock with it hold-airlock to hold-airlock, rather than leave security-sensitive ISAB men in custody of Ilmenostians any longer while the Tiger Shark took them to Mars (perish the thought) or a secure ISAB base or Earth to unload. As Mr.Parker went across into the Tiger Shark, many of its crew aimed guns at him, but it was no trap but merely wariness, and he realized that an ISAB boarding squad with him would not have got far. They transshipped the rescued people as fast as possible and undocked and backed away.
They listened well to the account of the rescue, and asked careful questions, trying to find how likely the papers were to be recovered for ISAB or destroyed or safely lost beyond recovery by anyone at all rather than be found and seen by unauthorized eyes. Then the long account neared its end.
"You say that something pulled all of you into that PSC-5: that, or did it go around and scoop you all up? How much acceleration did you feel?". In space, which of two things is moving and which is stationary can be hard to define.
"None, but it pulled us all towards each other as it pulled us in. I was in a transparent pressure bag and I saw it all. Magnetic and non-magnetic stuff the same. From nearly half a mile away. Odd that." said a passenger.
Other accounts agreed. Mr.Parker realized with a sick shock that `Project X', planned in the secret papers that the space cops had gone all that way to protect, the reason why ISAB had sent important men to Ceres on as expensive a craft as the Alcyone to coordinate with research at a remote site away from nosy eyes, ISAB's last secret weapon program and final hope of victory and cleanup, almost certainly had no more any purpose to be kept secret. Arda and Ilmenost were first to yet another important space invention, and uncontrolled free spacemen were the first to have a working tractor beam.
"Before you go, one thing." Jet Jack radioed to everybody, "You new ISAB men plus those in the passengers are enough to be quorate for an ISAB board meeting. We know your rules by now. Right, while all the witnesses are here and their memories are fresh:-
The meeting starts now at - I'll save the coordinate numbers for the minutes.
Motion: to enquire into the Alcyone mishap. Rattler here says he seconds it.
(1) Why didn't the Alcyone have passenger pressure refuges?".
"The matter of possible requirement for them was discussed thoroughly before, that time. It was officially decided they aren't needed enough for ...".
"This affair seems to show they are. It was nearly the Titanic again: far too few lifeboats for everybody aboard.
(2) If ISAB controls Earth space matters as well as it claims to, why did it let the Alcyone be worked continuously so long without adequate servicing? Even I could spot that without furtive spying about: Alcyone flight timetables showed continuous flight after flight for years without time for servicing except what could be squeezed into turnaround time at spaceports.
(3) Non-removable decor and room walling fixed to much of the pressure hull's inside preventing routine engineer access to inspect and repair.
(4) A charge of manslaughter by negligence, by having visible in a public area emergency kit that did not work and was not clearly marked as not working, namely a spacesuit, which a man ...".
"That wasn't emergency kit and wasn't marked as such, it was decor.".
"It still looked like the real thing, and someone put it on and died in it.
(5) An airtight door that should have helped to isolate part of the ship jammed on the motor pack of a food trolley that it shut on. Not well enough designed to chop shut through everything in its way. For one thing, it was expected to cut straight, no good, a shearing action is needed. And its edge was too well disguised to be the best for the job.".
"Yes, I've seen those pressure doors in a craft that you Anor lot made for us, undisguised cutting edge like something out of the first stage of a heavy-duty RD's grinder, devil of a job it was designing decor to hide them properly.".
"Even more exacting requirement than in RD's:" said the PSC-4R's engineer, "when a corporation RD-truck is grinding up an old washing machine, or an inshore patrol boat's onboard RD is digesting seized unauthorized scuba divers' gear and its large object crusher has to break up aqualungs, the blade can throw the bulk back and have several goes at it, but an emergency airtight door has to chop shut first time through everything in its way. And mobile onboard kit like those trolleys should be designed so those emergency doors can't jam on them.".
"(6) If instead of insisting on standard air to be as much like a posh hotel on Earth as possible and keep the pressure normal to keep the boiling point of water normal else the fancy cordon bleu onboard cooks'd moan, you'd used a fifth of an at. of oxygen and not wasted power carting nitrogen about, there'd have been only a fifth of the pressure inside and far fewer partitions blowing out during the rescue. Thank #$% we all stayed in spacesuits during it.
(7) A multiple charge of manslaughter by negligence, I was tempted to say by sabotage: an atrociously bad repair to the rearmost pressure bulkhead," Jet Jack said, and described the incident as above.
"Several times I told them I wanted time for a proper service and going-o...," said Captain Itzinger, grabbing a microphone inside the PSC-4R, before someone switched the circuit off.
"Let him speak." said the Tiger Shark sharply, "And anyone else here who wants to say anything relevant. One at a time and let people finish talking.".
"and going-over, but all I the answer I got was `not earning while it's idle, valuable customers waiting, if you keep raising queries like this I'll have to consider reviewing your position', undertone of threat, and suchlike. And, Mr.Parker's a 30% shareholder of Starlink Ltd who own the Alcyone, two fingers to their secrecy rules about financial interests on the side, and I don't care what happens to me for spilling those beans out here!".
"Meaning you say we're stalled 'cos Starlink ain't 'ere. We can soon get them 'ere, in about 4 hours time when their office hours start in Washington-DC. We can find their office easy enough." said Sardie #1 threateningly.
"Oh. Now we're into hyperspace jump kidnapping, like in thrillers, `Terror of the Space Pirates' and all that." said Mr.Parker.
"Or arresting, depending on 'ow you look at it. OK. Parker and one of 'is men come with us to make it official for ISAB." said Sardie #1.
"As regards crime accusations," a rescued passenger said, "what about them, armed robbery? We were in the aft first class area. When we went into their pressure bag some of us packed in with us a little luggage that we needed, and they specially used time to gas us and snatch it off us so they'll get it when they scavenge what's left of the ship. Sardie 3 fired the gas, I saw his number badge. One day somewhere a bunch of the sort of hard rescue type that won't let rescued people take any of their property away with them's going to catch a packet in a damages court. I need the papers in my briefcase, and the clothes in my suitcase to be presentable for the office and meetings, if I'm to even start to pick up the pieces after this, taking me back to Earth when I should be on Ceres and next on to Herculina to finalize some deals. Things can be taken too far. Not so easy just to do it again later: asteroids and the bases on them move about at different speeds, confusing.".
"Yes I did!" said Sardie #3, "We were busy, so we trusted that lot to get into a big pressure bag by themselves. After a bit we sent more people to go in that bag, but it was full already well before we thought it'd be and we heard arguing: those #@$'s had taken all sorts of luggage in with them from briefcases to three $%@ great steamer trunks. No time to argue: I fired tranquillizer gas in and we went in and slung all the luggage out and that fitted 9 more people in there. Most luggage doesn't mind being spaced. People do.".
"Oh no. That lot want us to hold the enquiry and trial and scapegoat-hunt right here now in space with a talking PSC-5 as chairman, no time for us to assemble documents or decide policy or consult lawyers ...".
"- or write fancy gaseous time-wasting speeches. What documents needed for what? The facts and the evidence are right here and have just happened and everybody here's memory's still fresh. Lets start. If you want a lawyer, there's one here: one of the Jetters was a barrister before he went into space, he calls himself `Judge Dread'".
"That may be standard asteroid miner court rules, but it isn't standard Earth court rules. People have to be notified, time allowed for anyone to submit anything relevant ...".
"As long as it is done, not adjourned for ever and ever or everybody ends up whitewashed." the Tiger Shark said, "And I suppose I better fasten the Alcyone together well enough for it to be towed in and collect all loose bits for the court's engineers to examine it and then for salvage and so people can get their property back including those precious papers that the cops came for.".
"If I had a pound every time ISAB, and the Companies before them, and ruling committees in general, did the same and suddenly held extra-ordinary meetings at little or no notice and when most people heard of it yet another controversial matter was cut-and-dried and to make them budge it took a riot or a strike, or illegality till they gave up trying to enforce it. Like all that about spacesuit spares that we all had in the old times." Jet Jack said.
"`Tiger Shark': am I talking to its captain, or who, or to a fancy boxful of talking electronics like in that talking jet fighter that one of your men turned up in at Milwaukee in USA that time?" said Mr.Parker irritatedly.
"To a fancy boxful of talking electronics." the Tiger Shark said as it started turning about sucking in all loose debris with what was now all too undeniably a powerful tractor beam made in reality and not in fiction or on paper.
"I'm Mr.Lambert, ISAB board member." said another voice in the PSC-4R's radio, "I was on the Alcyone and here I am without even my briefcase in nothing but a dirty Ilmenostian overall over my pyjamas. We on the - important confidential matter - were promised all the first class to ourselves for privacy, and ISAB had booked all the first class places to ensure this: would Capt.Itzinger please explain why despite this they let a load of outsiders come onboard with us? - never mind, it'll be some idiot at Starlink's office saw the empty seats a bit before takeoff and by reflex action put bottoms in them off the standby queue.".
"That asteroid miner leader ordering us to use boarding airlocks that we hadn't got, where were you with yours!?" the leader of the original cop squad queried, in his irritation at being defied and found at fault in public being less shocked than might have been expected at finding that the voice that he had been casually arguing with dwelt in a huge dangerous electromechanical body.
"I was down on Mars being serviced. Spacecraft need servicing, as this affair has shown. It took time for them to put everything back and get out of me.".
"And so you were needed when you were down. Same as the last time we'd left the Alcyone off schedule for a full service, three lots of important people with influence over members of our top board came wanting a flight right then or there'd be trouble.".
"And after that you tried to keep it serviced on the run during turnarounds and flights and stopovers.".
"We've got our own work to do, asteroid mining and exploring and so on," said Jet Jack, "we don't like having to waste time and risk kit in hazardous rescues of people with no connection with us just because Starlink's engineers haven't the bottle to defy the jetset fatcats and people with influence moaning about the break in flight service and take the Alcyone off schedule for a full proper service at base. Well, it's got a good long unscheduled break in flights now.".
"We'll never hush this up." Mr.Parker said to his associates privately by intercom wire as they and the two Earth craft's crews left the continuing arguing and poked about in the Alcyone's confused and fragmented interior for a while and gave up, "Those wild spacemen'll be on every front page as heroes, and never mind rules or reputations - watch out!". A laser beam from the Tiger Shark hit him low power and made a bright patch on his chest. They tiredly recognized a space version of a building site workman shouting at someone to shift out of the way of work, and obeyed. The Alcyone had been deeply cut into to extract air-holding parts that contained passengers, and in one place it was nearly in half. The Tiger Shark and its MST's managed to reassemble the Alcyone enough for its lasers to weld the joins up after a fashion. The result looked like a crudely-mended toy, but was towable and about proof against any more escape of parts or luggage or property. Finally its crew got its propulsors working and it limped home and helped to land itself back at Leeds in England; the engineer examination and general enquiry were very thorough and very public.
The Jetters and the Sardies went to Mars in the Tiger Shark for the rest of its interrupted servicing. The Itan men went with them and accepted some tow-crates of supplies in thanks and hyper jumped out without saying where they had come from; some had recognized them from their insignia as a space-commando squad missing since the big failed attack, and guessed their purpose variously. A full log of the events on a CD-ROM found its way via the mail from Mars to ISAB central office, where Mr.Parker reluctantly but inevitably transcribed it as a minutes of an ISAB meeting despite its unusual circumstances, and endured the inevitable public row and news sensation as long as it lasted.
The Itan men returned to Base Langton on Itan III, where their undamaged
spacesuits and kit showed so clearly that they had `not raided but traded, and I
don't mean `trading shots'' that they had no option but to tell the truth; the
commander there realized tiredly that a fullscale court-martial for disobedience
and fraternizing would cause more trouble than it was worth, as he struggled to
keep up a hard authoritarian action-ready naval-base spirit in the face of ever
more calls of non-combatant work needed in a place that had to maintain itself
far from supply and backup, and of sympathy with others who like them had to
live in space or travel across it.