To those who have read parts 1 to 5 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).
As the Jetters in the star Anor's asteroid belt were handling the contact with Mr.Acle of Acle Investments Ltd who had come from Earth to trade, another asteroid miner group, the Quasars, were orbiting Earth. As they passed near the Azores they spread their suit wings and activated their backpack propulsors to get them out of orbit. At the speed they were going, even the thin upper edge of the atmosphere made the tethers between them trail behind in loops and made them hot from friction as they gradually descended and slowed. The blue edge of the Earth gradually thickened and became a blue sky; the Earth changed from a sky object to a world below them. Counted by the rotation of Earth, rather than of Anor's Earth-like planet Arda as used to reckon time in their remote base 400 light years away at Ilmenost on an asteroid orbiting Anor, it was Sunday. Tiger Tim, their navigator, listened to the local air traffic radios and so found there were no aircraft near enough to be a risk. The deep sea was below them as they descended through overcast stratocomulus clouds and approached the coast of the USA state of Maine, from the heavens where men freely wandered to the surface of the crowded regulated Earth of their origin. They crossed the coast three miles north of Kennebunkport, and 20 miles further on landed in the grounds of a factory near Sanford, and stood on Earth in their far-travelling space kit much of which had been made in the light of a different sun than Earth's. The trading in materials and research results with the factory's manager was routine and unremarkable in this time of established space travel; after it they returned to space before officials could arrive to make delays on excuses. An ordinary visit, except for an incident before they reached Sanford.
As they neared the beaches and high forested cliffs, one of them saw a movement in the sea, looked again, and called the group to look closer at it. They swooped below sight of land-based radar, to sixty feet height. They saw a fifty-foot fast submersible equipped for dredging and flotsam collecting with a large front scoop, and probably a heavy-duty onboard RD whose oxidation energy output could power its rear end waterjet as it tracelessly consumed anything organic or metal that it could scoop up and pump into its capacious dredgings tank. Intended as a work craft, useful recovering some of the huge amount of valuable or useful metals that men have lost in the sea. Once a deep wave trough showed enough of its stern to show its fishing boat type registration code, an ominous pointer to its onboard sentient computer brain's likely sympathies, treated by the local inshore fishermen as one of themselves, `he' rather than `she', aggressively like-minded about people who take to sea for pleasure and spoil livelihoods by choking harbours or needing time-wasting rescuing or taking shellfish (and with weekend and holiday sport anglers who usurp the title `fisherman' as if they had to do it every day all weathers for a living).
Ten minutes later the Quasars would merely have seen and ignored a fast light dredger-sub going slow ahead awash comfortably replete as its heavy-duty onboard RD digested the contents of a full dredgings tank; but as it was they were in time to see something darkly spoken off but rarely proven, as yet again local people despite national law took to ultimate measures in defence against ever-multiplying public who intrude on a work sea or other area being used to provide for them. It was at speed towards ten or so scuba divers who were clearly sport divers and not work divers. As ever more outdoor sport enthusiasts including sport divers look for ever more uncrowded sites the Quasars knew as well as many others did of disputes around shellfish fishing ports over sport and outsider scuba divers taking shellfish as well as over constant developer intrusion on work beaches and fisherman's houses, even to the point in one country where a new government had had to use seizure-order and explosive and bulldozer to rip a gap in a continuous barricade of expensive seaside hotels, to make room to give its country a deepsea fishing port to help to feed itself.
Pickshaft, leader of the Quasars, was at first minded to let the fifty-foot steel-hulled member of the heirs of the sea-hardy men who Rudyard Kipling in 1897 described in his book `Captains Courageous' set in nearby seas, clean up its men's fishing area with sonar and ultrasound power-blast and two twisting dives with its scoop open, and as it RD'ed the result onboard itself to let news of a traceless group disappearance scare off many more such intruders, for his own men also had to scratch a living from a pathless emptiness; but the sub's methods reminded him uncomfortably of things done in the past to independent asteroid miners by an RD-equipped craft disguised as a loader belonging to space metals trading Companies; and the scuba divers with their kit strapped to their bodies reminded him of the beginnings of his own kind's venture away from atmosphere which Man can breathe unaided. He ordered some of his men to untether and reel their tethers in and fold their spacesuit wings, and dive.
Two of them picked up the divers' brightly coloured boat's steersman and standby diver. The rest plunge-dived like gannets into the sea. Spacesuit propulsors that carried them across millions of miles of space now achieved lesser speeds against buoyancy and dense salt water, but they reached the divers in time. Scared fish fled. The frustrated sub's ultrasound blasts at overlong range jolted the spacemen as they grabbed a diver each and surfaced and flew up with them. The divers saw the sea retreating below their dangling dripping foot-fins, and soon knew why, as below them the sub crushed and swallowed the boat and its contents, and shot at the Quasars with its heavy mounted silent electromagnet-coil-powered nailguns that had often stopped fleeing poachers' boats; but the Quasars packed into a bullet-shaped mass to cut air resistance and got out of range unhurt, even as sometimes before free spaceman groups before had had to `bullet' to get away quickly from ground or in-air dangers.
One of the divers told the spaceman carrying him which beach to take them back to; they flew there and landed. The Quasars' two electronics men had to open and hot-wire several of the divers' cars for them, for their keys and much else had been in the boat's dry-locker, leaving some of the divers with no way to buy petrol to reach home. After the distances of space, distances on Earth seemed petty to them; but they are not petty to Earthmen without means of transport. They realized how far from Earth life-style they had got, as they went over what they had in their tow crates that could be used to buy things with, as the two sorts of breathing-set-equipped men looked at each other across the gulf between their life-modes. Spare spacesuits and power tools, parts thereof. Reactor fuel rods, often used as currency in the Anor system among free spacemen, but not on Earth. Curium-247 rods, curium-245 rods, neither used in any reactor on Earth. Plutonium-239 rods, uranium rods. Miniature gold and platinum metals fuel rods, not jewellery but to represent easily their money value each, even as in the beginnings of metal coinage copper was often cast into standard pieces the value and shape of an oxhide. Coins made in space and on Anor's planet Arda of many metals with various imprints, but always `on its metal standard', i.e. its face value equalled its scrap value. Gold is accepted as valuable on Earth, but not casually by the wary unless they have a remote metal analyzer or the like. But the Quasars had and gave some USA dollars, and flew up and departed inland.
The divers, shocked, thankful at rescue which had come from beyond the stars, unkitted into their cars and drove away in their diving suits without stopping to let those who still had clothes change into them, quickly before any further action by the sub's sea-hardy manual-work-roughened human fellows. Some of them had lost house keys and personal papers with the boat and had to get police or firemen to get their doors open, which needed proof of identity, in one case of an uninjured living man by dental records. It had a few days' public media attention, lessened by the Quasars being out of reach of interviewing pestering reporters, and the sub's associates' predictable statement that it was only checking what the divers were doing. The sub's role caused a three-week `flamethrower fight' of angry exchanges of letters and articles in the public media and sea-users' organizations' periodicals, but the matter, as expected, trailed off in a maze of complications and side issues and conflicting interest groups and caused at last no prosecutions or changes of regulations.
The matter seemed to end with little lasting result; but two of the divers were staff of Acle Investments Ltd and two from other big companies with space trading connections. One of them in thankfulness paid for the rescue to be painted on a previously blank wall in his local church, as is occasionally with unexpected deliverances, and so the standard Ilmenostian spacesuit was depicted in an unexpected place. The Acle Investments two on return to their offices got promotion, but wished they had not, for it was to fill vacancies left by two who had gone with their diving club's other expedition that weekend, camping in a remote site about 40 miles south, near Kittery Point, also in a shellfish area.
Before the dawn after they had arrived, about twenty local inshore shellfish fishermen with identical dark blue sailors' waterproofs with area badges, helmets with spray visors, riotsquad kit, and silent battery-electric-powered nailguns arrived in boats as the trippers were getting ready for an early dive. Four of them took backpack helicopter motor and rotor sets out of compartments, flew to shore from behind a headland, and blocked the escape route inland; the rest landed from the boats a little later. They overpowered the sport divers in a brief fight, `arrested and charged' them with shellfish poaching and going equipped for same, and other charges, and carried out a very rough detailed interrogation. The sport divers heard then another opinion than that of city office-working suburbanism. Unlimited freedom does not live well with overcrowding. A few small numbers multiplied rather than added, soon become big, such as a few lobsters and some crabs taken each day by sport divers in each inshore port's area, times the days in the lobster season, times the sale price they would have fetched to pay the bills, plus other complaints.
"No point anyone going to the cops about this." the squad leader said to them, "I am the local cop, I come from a fishing family, and I know when landsmen's law makes sense and when not, their fancy club solicitors `lock-picking' through every last #@% thing we try to do to protect our livelihood, their laws saying we must send our children to town schools learning nothing but paper work till they're nearly old enough to vote and end up only fit for paperwork. A lot of us were going to sea from 10 and fulltime from 13. Lets end this and clean up here and get on with a day's fishing.". Poor weather kept other trippers away from such a remote place. The coastguards slept; three sparrows roosted undisturbed on their helicopter, which no alerting message had come to. The low-flying space-faring Quasars crossed the coast not there but 40 miles away and hours too late. A cold wind blew through dark clifftop woods as the sky lightened to the east. The arrested shellfish poachers, some still wearing portions of sport diving gear, strained at their bonds and gags. In the real world there is no all-seeing power guarding all who get into risk, nothing making sure that help comes in time, but there are men who still think that productive work comes before outsiders' pleasure. The last thing the captured shellfish-poaching sport divers saw was the firing squad of six of the inshore shellfish fishermen in identical efficient sea work and action kit, unslinging and raising and aiming their silent electromagnetic-coil-powered nailguns.
Newspapers guessed but no facts came out, for there are many hazards at sea; too many sport divers chasing too few good safe diving sites read them and `for a while were wise'. Some alleged yet again that the Navy or Marines, weary of rejecting recruits for poor physique and lack of hard-mindedness in this age when most people got little to encourage physical and mental hardness, had encouraged this sort of direct local action tradition to build up a stock of hardy and hard action-ready seamen for future wars. This revealing of one but not both of two occurences happened when some asteroid miners and some Company men crossed paths briefly; and among these companies there had been and were other events also, and other conflicts involving the business world as ever more people chase the same facilities and attempts to impose restrictions.
There was a plan to grant businessmen and officials an `Important Business Warrant' giving them the power to bounce other people out of booked accomodation and public transport seats (and even theatre and restaurant bookings and the like) to make `important' journeys undelayed, but parliaments and public started up such a stink and threats of defiance that the idea was dropped, leaving the originating committee to curse the public media. "One nation had better sense that way, even re traffic holdups!" said one of them in a pub near his office, "In Communist Russia any Zil car was to be assumed to be on important business, so any vehicle driver in front of a Zil in a traffic jam could be prosecuted for delaying official business [and in reality: Author]. It certainly made people decide whether they really had to take the car out every time. Same as we need a law allowing businesses and official departments to forbid important employees from private activity which might (a) make them unavailable or incommunicado when needed quickly, or (b) risk their personal safety, like those Acle Investments two in the paper who disappeared scuba diving, which has messed up their firm's routine in the middle of something big called `Operation Toybox', and like when Mr.Blore needed one of his men at once to go to secure a most important consultancy but the man had let his son engage his home phone chattering and then he swanned off to a theatre for the evening.".
"I've had that before." another objected, "Wherever I went I was effectively under house-arrest there in case the phone rang or a fax came, I couldn't wear casual clothes in case I was needed at once for a meeting, and twice I was rushed away so quick that I had to abandon luggage. What's `Operation Toybox'?".
"And while my man can't be got hold of or he's being got out of hiking kit or whatever into something fit for a meeting, important business is left and money gets lost." said another, "Go read `Business World' back issues for the chain reaction end consequences of Blore's going under, all from a phone tied up for silly petty scuba diving chitchat and a man going incommunicado to a theatre! so Mr.Blore had to leave his office to go on a business trip himself, into space indeed, and while he was away his businesses unsupervised went down crash, brought much else down and caused a lot of trouble, and they say he got so panicked at the result that to hide from the fraud laws he became an asteroid miner indeed. Once scuba divers were called `frogmen' and only dived for work or war action or law enforcement.", and re `Operation Toybox' realized that yet again drink and talkativeness had loosened a tongue, and prayed that that plus someone repeating the name loudly immediately after would not reach wrong ears.
After the big crash of several big asteroid metals trading Companies after several important Company directors vanished, some nations inevitably took the opportunity to nationalize property of big companies found in their territory. With a persistence of those Companies' determination in such matters as trying to keep hard control of asteroid miners, some decided to accept such seizures by small nations no more but to call it theft and to treat nationalized property and interests as stolen, and anything made by a nationalized factory as property of the company who had owned the factory or of its Receivers in bankruptcy and liable to be seized when found imported. Sometimes anything went in trying to stop nationalizers from using nationalized property; credit and technical help were refused, even by forbidding one man to travel on excuse of a 20-years-old motoring conviction. Trouble started among men and among nations; some stirred memories of such past excuses for restrictions as profitably claiming exclusive patent on small obvious ideas. Affected nationalizers retaliated as they could. Finally among the threats of unspecified action, and the takings back by any means to hand of the value or equivalent of seized items, and the bombs and Kalashnikovs, and more and more issues other than space and asteroids being brought into it, and the messy legal actions in the World Court, and the diplomatic incidents, tempers simmered down and common sense prevailed; and the free spacemen in the Sun's asteroids and in their new remote backup base of Ilmenost 400 light years away in the Anor star system saw it all from outside.
During all this, free spacemen traded where they would, propulsor landing and hyperspace jumping in and out, for they felt that, after the way the Companies had often behaved towards them, they owed the Earth business system little, and had sympathy with small Earth nations harassed by big companies, and technical help from beyond the Pleiades bypassed many a determined concerted plan to blockade nationalizers into obedience, and nuclear reactors hyper jumped in from afar enabled many small nations to use their uranium ore for their own power needs instead of having to export it raw for little profit; and some seeing their plans thus bypassed expressed dislike of free spacemen; but there was an amazingly high demand for Ilmenostian spacesuits and hyper jumpers and the like, much more than could be seen to be needed for known space travel.
"They call the star Anor, and its planets in order out Narien, Elemmire (like Mercury), Earendil (like Venus), Arda (like Earth), Karnil (like Mars but has rings), a lot more asteroids than the Sun has, Alkarinque, Lumbar, Luinil, Nenar (gas giants). They're Tolkien's names for the Sun and its planets in his books; the group that found the place liked his books. Their main base there is on an asteroid and they call it Ilmenost, it means `Space Town'." said Mr.Pulham's boss, "That's in case you hear the words used. Our company needs to know certain things. Watch out: too many company men have gone out there to investigate and caught the space bug and ended up as more free spacemen. Just try to find where those space vagrants are organizing the Earth end of their link with people here, and what's going on there in secret as well as openly.".
Thus he said, but such plans often go wrong. Mr.Pulham told the contact man that he wanted to go with the free spacemen, and arranged, and at the time appointed went to an airfield east of Birmingham in England, where he saw no rocket-ship ready for blastoff, or alien-looking Ilmenostian PSC-4 like he had seen a picture of, but what long ago in the 1930's when real space travel was thought to be forever impossible, had been the symbol of passenger transport helping to tie Empire together, but now relegated to goods transport. A Dakota. Often still working as good as new when 50 years old. Its registration code was of an unfamilar type. He wondered briefly why one of those rather than something more modern was being used to take them to wherever the spacecraft was, then got into it, for he needed to see where the spacecraft started from; once there, he would observe and record or remember what he could, then make an excuse and get back to his office with his report of it.
Inside the old, once familiar, aisle sloped steeply up forwards between 32 seats. He did what many had done long ago on their way to India in 4 days or Australia in 8, or only reaching America by refuelling in western Ireland and Newfoundland and the shortest possible Atlantic crossing. At least they had been promised transport in atmosphere and not to be stuffed like asteroid miners into a long-trip spacesuit each with a propulsor bolted to his back and its sewage destructor system etc built into it. The luggage went in the back of the plane, not in a hold under the passenger floor. Among the luggage was equipment that did look more suited for where he was going. Something large between the wing roots pushed the 4th row of seats well away from the 3rd. He managed to get a window seat, and stowed his hand luggage. One of the crew mentioned rabies and toxocara worm and summarily ejected a noxious little dog-dirt-coloured dog that a passenger had tried to bring in with him. Its engines started.
It took off. The tangle of motorways and railway and National Exhibition Centre sank away behind as they rose above the summit level of the distant Pennines. So much like some pleasure Dakota flight like is sometimes offered for the nostalgic. It flew northwards, above the bare highland between Buxton and Ashbourne, and landed near Leeds. The Dakota well tolerates the rough landing strips which were common long ago when the mighty Manchester Airport was a hut in a field on Yewtree Lane. More people got into it. He still saw no sign of a spacecraft. What sort would it be? Rocket or space shuttle? PSC or loader, and the image of a tribe of wild asteroid miners yahooing about in what the old space metals trading Companies had intended as a space police craft, whence the initials? Flying saucer shaped? He had heard of all of these. The flying saucer shape seemed somewhat unable to be taken seriously as a real craft, but it had its uses landing in rough areas where a taller craft might topple over.
He heard discussion outside, and went to hear what he could. He went to the plane's front. "Yes, I'd know these aero engines anywhere ..." he thought. Then he knew with a shiver that the old familiar shape, symbol of a simpler more orderly time when the European nations' empires held together and modern free and easy mass consumerism had not arisen, had been made in no factory on Earth and had first flown under a sun and stars that had never shone on his world, for when a mechanic checking something opened the covering of one of its circular many-cylindered engines, its nameplate bore the name not of Pratt & Whitney but Aulien, the main on-planet industrial area on Arda.
He got in again, to the old familiar interior with 32 seats in rows of four, sloping steeply up forwards. He strapped himself in. They shut its doors. The doors' pressure seals were much stronger than in ordinary airliners; that, and the alien name on the engines, were the only thing different from what one of his ancestors in the 1930's might have expected in some flight to help hold Empire together. That, and the asteroid miner spacesuits among the hold luggage.
It took off and flew west above the Pennines. Below him the M62 trailed across the high wilderness of Moss Moor. Perhaps all this about going into space was merely a game and a pretence. Likely they would land next at Blackpool, or in Ireland. Then through the cabin windows England disappeared behind a grey blankness, and the engines stopped.
The grey cleared. It was night. Looking out he could not certainly tell where the stars stopped and the scattered ground lights started, as is sometimes high above some countries which waste less power on public town lighting. Some of the ground lights, that he thought at first were a small town, were arranged like the Pleiades cluster, but mirror-imaged and far brighter and wider apart. Then with a shock of cold remoteness he realized the truth, as a large planet showing a thin crescent of its lit hemisphere came into view as the plane rolled slowly.
The second hyperspace jump took the plane into the atmosphere of the planet. The plane's engines started with their very un-space-travel-like spluttering exhausty startup noises and carried them over a land of nearly continuous alien forest and a jagged volcano-ridden mountain range.
"So that's their idea of a space-liner!" he thought, "An old-style lumbering Dakota with a hyperspace jumper stuck in it! What matters first to this lot is that it gets them here and its cabin's pressurizable, I suppose. It can tolerate short and rough airfields, it uses much less fuel than a fast jet, it goes on nearly for ever and they won't have to use power and factory time replacing it for many years yet. Back on Earth they lasted too long, and people won't buy a new plane while one of these they've got keeps on flying endlessly. They stopped making them in 1946 since there were so many war surplus about. Now they're wearing out at last - and now here's a new one, and I suppose we'll see them sold everywhere as well as Ilmenostian nuclear reactors and the like.".
In the rain-shadow beyond the mountains the forest reduced to dry scrub as the plane gradually descended to a place where a large river flowed past the end of a line of low hills. There Man had pushed the scrub back, and there were landing areas, buildings, barracks-like housing, nuclear reactors in containment domes, construction vehicles, factories. Few signs of office blocks, nor did he expect them, from what he knew of the free spacemen. A small island of habitation in a huge wilderness beyond the endless emptiness of space. Such was Aulien. A few roads and railways trailed away into the scrub and hills about. All men there still considered themselves to be spacemen and kept a propulsor spacesuit, but for how long? Already some people, tired of food synthesizer output, had cleared patches of the alien scrub to grow Earth food plants, for the local life was poisonous and its biochemistry was very unlike Earth's; the tight asteroid miner structure of named groups flying through enptiness tethered to each other was less needed and less noticeable on the ground. On the airfield he saw four more Dakotas and a PSC-4, the old and the new together. The plane landed on the alien world, and stopped. He stepped out onto odd-coloured grass with branched blades after a journey that he had not intended to take, under a hot sun called Anor which was white and not Earth's Sun's yellow.
As one of the crew checked another of the engines, he saw its maker's plate. On it, as well as English, was an unfamiliar curvy script, yet another product of the pervasive Tolkien theme of the X-100 asteroid miner group who had discovered the Anor and Arda star system and named many of the places and bodies in it: `karna Auliendesse Ardasse', "made in Aulien on Arda", as ornament rather than to communicate, for the X-100's had a set of CD-ROM's of Tolkien's works to keep boredom away in their many weeks-long journeys across emptiness between the planets, and it showed itself in many astronomical and place names chosen by them; an interest not shared by all who came with or after them. He looked for somewhere to sit while his luggage was brought out, but was told to go to the back of the plane and help unload it and to load its new cargo into it. Aulien clearly was not in the habit of waiting on people. He saw a small airlock built into the rear tip of the cabin. Someone told him to carry one end of a large roll of spacesuit fabric. He knew that back in Earth's solar system the asteroid miners accepted USA dollars and British pounds far readier than the Company credits which were supposed to have been the only legal tender away from Earth; but would they accept his UK pounds here?, at least the cash, for 400 light years separated him from any bank that was likely to honour his cheques.
How long could he live on what he had on him, giving an air of being something vaguely official? Likely not long, before someone noticed his lack of working clothes and, finding him lacking in scientific qualifications, crossed out 7 years of business experience from his life and either put him on some arduous training course or used him as unskilled labour? Or would he buy a ticket back at once, if allowed, and return with little useful or relevant information that was not already known? He remembered dark tales of Company and other Earth men and their families who were in the wrong place at the wrong time when settler disobedience blew up into the Mars War of Independence, and, after the Companies lost a big army of police and officials in the disaster in the Argyre basin, were stuck there as unwilling Mars settlers, and only some of them trickled back years later. He could not plead that he had been abducted, for he had told them he was coming to the Anor system to settle there, and they had let him come.
He knew that nosing about the Anor system to spy was a doubtful prospect. The asteroid miner group structure, and people still few enough for most people to know of most other people, made it easy to spot a stranger, particularly as he had come in a business suit to the sort of place where they think that both sexes look their best in working clothes. He remembered previous attempts that he knew of to send agents: a nuclear scientist who called himself Nuke Nick, and slid into treating his mission as a scientific visit and those he met as colleagues, and brought back to New York much but none of it of strategic use; another, calling himself Eland, went pretending to be a biologist and never came back, for, found out by a real biologist, he blew his cover by panicking and running, joining an exploring party whose destination did nothing to encourage him to think of his Company rather than of self survival, for it was to Nunarien the dread, a natural nuclear reactor whose radioactive outflow was the headwater of a river, where among jungle-covered mountains on Arda geological forces had collected uranium until it went critical; and Mr.Acle's agent Abu-Bakr Hasan who died of a stroke while with a group orbiting Elemmire and incriminating papers were found in his suit packs when they looked in them to find who to tell about his death; and Mr.Acle, coming himself later to trade, did not improve Earth's image on Ilmenost by curtly refusing with a thin excuse an in-atmosphere dinner they had laid out for him, an unusual treat for the spacemen but for him yet another unwanted fattening business meal.
Between the two jumps the plane had manoeuvred in space for several minutes so it would be in a correct flying attitude after the second jump. If a hyperspace jumper is badly adjusted, a resulting lopsided field can cause movement in local normal space before or instead of the jump. This at first was merely a nuisance, but scientists at Ilmenost (the free spacemen's main base on an asteroid in the Anor system) managed the difficult job of producing this effect in a controlled way, so that a hyper jumper can be used as a propulsor for local movement, but nothing like as powerful as a special-purpose propulsor. He remembered space stories written by or for the childish or ignorant, that showed air-breathing jets, and once even a helicopter, flying in airless space. Space stories written by spacemen don't make such errors, not even in the well-known Ilmenostian cartoon series `Jettie' about a blundering Earth police jet fighter pilot who never quite manages to catch any of the free spacemen who keep unauthorizedly landing in his area. But now the supposedly absurd had happened: he had flown 400 light years to beyond the Pleiades in a Dakota.
He wondered what defence precautions the free spacemen had: as Aulien grew, it would have to be got as possible through the size range where it is a tempting prize for some Earth-based power to try to seize but is not yet big enough to support adequate self-defence against such attempts. Is everywhere someone in reach of a trigger of a powerful wide-field hyper jumper, to scram out with everything important in case of attack too big to be fought off? Or what? Likewise Ilmenost on its asteroid? As people in Aulien and elsewhere on Arda increased and settled and became less space-minded, even as the descendants of Viking settlers in northern England often knew nothing of the sea or ships or raiding except tales from their grandfathers, would Ilmenost in its turn find itself where the Companies had been before, trying in vain to stop Arda from breaking away and becoming a society of ground-dwellers like Earth? Likely many families on Arda would keep as awesome ancestral relics, but not know how to use, be unable to use as parts wore out and radioactive powerpack elements decayed away, the propulsor spacesuits and hyperspace jumpers that brought their ancestors there across the deeps of space.
He thought of the descendants of the hardy far-travelling X-100's, discoverers of Anor, living as primitive subsistence farmers, fighting off with spears and arrows with difficulty dangerous forest animals that once a laser gun would have made a quick end of, imagining that only gods now could travel among the stars, in ceremonies with kit crudely made from woven fibre and wood and bark miming space travel trying to keep in memory the ways and histories of spacemen, ever less accurately as generations passed, until it degenerated into ordinary tribal attempted magic and tales of gods, or was competed out by new religions founded by schizophrenic holy men and reformers and the like. He shivered at the cold remoteness and abysses of time that such thoughts awoke. Perhaps some men would stay in space and keep far travel and the ways of space. He shook his brain clear and looked for something of the current place and time to think about, such as where the airport ticket office was in such a pioneering type place.
Two local men went into a building and came out with four large anti-aircraft missiles of a type that Mr.Pulham recognized. Two they loaded onboard; the other two they fastened under the plane's wings. The pilot went onboard, pushing his seat back to its stop to fit him in a spacesuit which he had been putting on. Before he could pay much heed to this second incongruity, the two men pushed him away from the plane and asked him curtly why he hadn't seen a warning light. As the plane took off, the missiles under its wings fired but did not release. With this extra power, the plane took off although heavily overloaded. It is lucky that Dakotas are forgiving to such heavy-handedness. Along with admiration for adaptiveness in a remote place of scarcity, he felt a spasm of pity for wasted war-production effort as, once again, weapons made by labour of men on Earth for war but obsoleted by countermeasures, won booty not from a defeated enemy but from a buyer. Even so, some French SAM missiles never saw action but after lying long in cobweb-ridden stores ended up beyond the Pleiades used as jatos, so far from home that the distance could not be counted in miles. When the plane was airborne at speed, it jettisoned them; parachutes came out of their emptied warheads, and they lay in alien scrub until men found time to risk the landmine bushes and territory-defending animals to retrieve them for salvage.
He saw no sign there of modern jet warplanes, but that didn't mean they didn't have them. At least the back end of a propeller plane (without jatos) is less dangerous on the ground, as he well knew after seeing in a thriller film some years before what an airforce base commander who had caught some enemy agents and could not spare men or room to hold them and could not risk releasing them, used the back end of a jet fighter on afterburn for. He overheard enough to know that the next flight to Earth in atmosphere may not be for some time, and that to get off this planet at will he would have to get hold of and learn how to use a long-trip spacesuit fitted with a modern propulsor powerful enough to take off from an Earth-sized planet, comnmonly called a PL-prop. In such spacesuits with a PL-prop on each, and on the group leader's spacesuit a small hyperspace jumper which the group packed closely round during jumps, men wandered space freely without needing pressurized craft, or any craft except to carry big loads. He followed the rest into a building, where he was distracted from his gloomy thoughts by hearing some of his fellow passengers talk. He listened, in case any of it was relevant to him.
"Someone gave me a copy of a paper called `The Biology and Ecology of the Ardan Psychanthacous Plant Genus Keraunorrhiza, the Landmine Bush', by Cobra (Jetters) and Black Serpent (X-100's) -" said a man holding a sheaf of stapled papers, "those space-rough codenames of theirs even in a formal place like that - about time a good long complete study of that bush came out, @#% dangerous stuff - that order name, why on earth `Mind-flowered'? Its flowers look just like a swarm of butterflies landed on the bush [Note: Greek psyche also means `butterfly'], very pretty, but what its roots can do's not so pretty - lets read some of it:-
`... Keraunorrhiza species, the Ardan landmine bush ... storage tubers evolved into natural landmines on its roots ... an all too well known dangerous infestation which often causes need for an Army-style flail-tank when clearing land for building or other human occupation ... luckily its density is severely controlled by infestation and destruction of its mines and roots by the larvae of the insect Tetrathyrsoceros keraunorrhizae.', all those Greek biological names, `Its larvae reproduce parthenogenetically paedogenetically ... and are often parasitized by the larvae of the wasp Endolissokares tetrathyrsocerotis. This parasite is heavily hyperparasitized and controlled by the small wasp Thysanopteron endolissokaretis; this is fortunate, as was seen when K. detonans was accidentally introduced by Man (probably as seeds stuck to spacesuits) to a southern part of Ilyarda which lacked it before. Areas many square miles big quickly became carpeted with solid landmine bush thicket, to the great detriment of human activity and local wildlife, with no affordable countermeasure except firing the bush when it was driest at the end of the dry season, which also caused much destruction to local indigenous wildlife. Emergency research discovered Tetrathyrsoceros, which was introduced and in a year destroyed the infestation, which however reappeared massively when Endolissokares arrived in the area (probably wind-borne), but died down again when Man introduced Thysanopteron.
The nature of Keraunorrhiza mines keeps Tetrathyrsoceros larvae largely safe from predation by birds and other Ardan vertebrates, except at the end of the infestation with the host bush's mines have been eaten out and the host bush is easily seen to be dying. At this stage, larvae full of hard resting eggs behave in a way that encourages predation by birds; the eggs survive passage through migrating birds' guts and are thus distributed further than Tetrathyrsoceros adults could fly ...
A new form provisionally named Endolissokares schuis has been found parasitizing Te. keraunorrhizae larvae infesting the small but vicious hill-country species Keraunorrhiza schu. It has differences in the genitalia and the thoracic bristles. Our work has shown that hybrids between E. schuis and E. tetrathyrsocerotis are very subfertile, and thus that E. schuis is a new species and not a variety or an environmental variant. Our work has shown that E. schuis in captivity has no preference for K. schu over the other two currently known Keraunorrhiza species. Probably its adults and K. schu favour the same type of country.
Similar research is needed with the provisional form Te. claymoris found specifically infesting K. claymore in two oases in the Karnelitse desert.
The larvae of the moth Calliphyllophthora keraunorrhizae attack the leaves: this is important because sometimes a heavy infestation damages the foliage so much that the characteristic leaf shape is not easily recognized ...
... likely trouble about expense about the special remote handling equipment needed when working with living Keraunorrhiza ... but yet we need to find all we can about this most dangerous Ardan plant genus ...'.
Etc etc, over 30 closely-printed A4 pages of it, explosives handling and bugs and beetles all mixed together, `a lot of stuff about small creepy-crawlies and ignoring the beauty of the trees and other bushes all around them' as some would call it. I certainly agree about the expense that pure scientists can cause sometimes. I suppose some of all this research for its own sake will end up as something useful. Landmine bush is a #@%. If you don't know, Ilyarda's the continent on Arda. It's `X-100-ese' for `All Earth', after the single giant supercontinent called Pangaea that Earth had in the Permian and Triassic. That name Endolissocares means `Inside-(dwelling) smooth-headed': looks like whoever invented it likes Homer, using kare instead of kephale for `head'.".
"If it wasn't for pure research that seemed to be no practical use at the time, we wouldn't be here in the Anor system discussing all this!" said another, "Spacesuit propulsors, hyper jumpers, spacesuit life support systems, RD's,", patting the steel-cased bulk on his left waist of his spacesuit's RD which just then was making dirty noises as it destroyed yet another batch of its wearer's gassy sewage, "all those come from `pure research' that turned out to have some use in the end.".
"I saw a paper called `Geomagnetic and Palaeontological Evidence for the Past Movements of North and South Kalashnia'." another said, "He means the country between the Ered Kalashnikov and the sea, on the southeast coast of Ilyarda.". Most maps call that area Talath Ferin and Emyn Gaer and so on. `Emyn Gaer' means `Red Hills', because a lot of the trees there have red leaves, shows up in low orbit very obviously. `Talath Ferin' means `Plain of Beeches', because they found a common sort of tree there that looks like Earth beech, it was one of the few places where they landed that soon: there were no PL-props then (that's a spacesuit propulsor that can get on and off planets), and they only had one hyperspace jumper and they didn't want to use it more than they needed to.".
"I've heard of the Ered Kalashnikov, that mountain range where they found that big lot of actinide ore recently. Odd mixture, that name. When the X-100's were surveying Arda from orbit early on, they had so many places to name in a hurry; they named it after its shape as seen from space. Some people shorten the name to `Ered Kal', that's "Mountains of Light' in the language the X-100's used. They didn't call anywhere Kalashnia though: that name sounds like some geologist's perpetration later, like Wrangellia and Beringia etc on Earth.".
"Yes, continental drift and all that: they say the Kalashnias were two big islands that drifted about at the usual centimeter a year or so as the ocean bed flows till about 20 million years ago they hit Ilyarda and stuck to it and rucked up the Ered Kalashnikov mountains on the collision lines; the side shain that forms its magazine's where the Kalashnias hit each other. South Kalashnia broke in two parts in the crash; North Kalashnia stayed whole. They had quite different histories before that. A lot of mountains form from that sort of slow-motion geological traffic accident. Where the magazine meets the sea there's some spectacular cliffs, and it's as spectacular under the sea; when the sea's quiet it wouldn't half be a popular scuba diving area if there were more people about: like that place Ras Muhammad at the south end of Sinai on Earth, but miles of it. And near that big mountain Nelderasse where the magazine meets the main range, some children from Ilmenost landed by a lake for the scenery on a school trip and filled their spacesuit outside packs with junk and pretty stones, and some time later a mineralogist saw that some of them were that plutonium silicate mineral called seaborgite, and that's how all that actinide ore was found. Too much of it, if you ask me: it's too likely to attract Companies and all sorts wanting to take us over to get hold of it.".
"Yes. I heard of the place. It's called Lake Golliwog.".
"Correctly `Nen Argollug'.".
"What on earth language is that!?".
"Yet more `X-100-ese'. It means `Lake King - cloak - snake-or-dragon', after one of them who's called King Cobra.".
Later that day he wandered along a road into some hills, found a workmen's transport stopped, got in it, rode with the other passengers for a while, then got off, hoping to observe what he could and get back for the night to the airport, where there seemed to be the most chance of a decent bed and somewhere to book a seat back home, or if, there was no other way, to get back in a spacesuit with a group whose leader had a spacesuit hyperspace jumper on. He heard work noises, and went to look. As Mr.Pulham described it afterwards: "I saw some men helping to dig a cutting through rock for a new railway. They were nearly 7 feet tall, about 20 stone and none of it fat, and as identical as photocopies; each one had a badge on saying `Sardie' and a number. They didn't have names, only numbers. I felt uneasy: they looked unpleasant, and were obviously not conceived from parents in any way acceptable or otherwise, but something that I had only heard dark hints of: human clones.
They were spacemen who were taking a turn on planet as a chance for a suit-off and to get plenty of exercise in gravity. I meard later they were bred by one of those Companies as `enforcers' called Sardaukar after something in an old space story series, a second-rate idea with an unplanned result, for they'd cut loose and joined the free asteroid miners instead of catching any of them. He said they were XYY's. Number 4 of them was drilling blasting holes with a powerful locally-made electric rockdrill run off a backpack power supply, as the ground just there was too rough to move a wheeled towed generator about. It made motor noises, but not anything like exhaust noise. It had radioactivity symbols on: likely it had a bit of isotope in some instrument inside it.
I watched for a while, wondering just how it worked, for it blew a lot of hot air down and back, but only air; no exhaust smell. The rockdrill was far too powerful to have run off a storage battery that size for that long. I thought he'd have to refuel it a time or two through the day, but he never did, and something started to feel nervous at the back of my mind. He stopped for a rest and to eat some blocks of synthesized food, sitting on a fallen tree with his backpack still on but supported by two branches. (I remembered all too well when back in Manchester I'd had to ventilate my department's offices through in 12 degrees of frost to get rid of diesel exhaust from a backpack generator that a contractor came in wearing when he'd been told we were sorry but he couldn't run a lot of powerful stuff off our firm's electricity bill and unplugging stuff at random to free a power point in each room he worked in: $&@ trick, I've had to confiscate a cleaner's vacuum cleaner before now because she kept on unplugging the first thing she saw to free a power point for it.) I still can't get used to the sort of man that can march about all in heavy boots with a lot of heavy kit fastened to him. Back to the point. I saw no refuelling filler cap on it, and said so.
`I see you've noticed Jimmy.' he said to me, `I can't open 'im up 'ere among unshielded people, but 'ere's a picture of 'is insides.'.
I looked at the picture. I saw all too well how it worked, and was so powerful for so long for its size without refuelling. I backed away from it hurriedly. It was a backpack nuclear reactor, for #%$'s sake. Inside the unrevealing rectangular backpack casing strapped to his back were in miniature but working all the parts of a nuclear power station as I knew them from books: reactor core, liquid sodium cooling circuit, control rod system, water-steam circuit, circulation pumps, turbine, dynamo, and a powerful fan to blow air over its steam recondenser. All fitted together to use every bit of space inside an ominously thin-looking but stated to be effective outer shell of shielding which to my unease was too hard and shiny to be lead.
`What's it run on?' I asked.
`Curium-245. It's made when plute-244 catches a neutron. Actinide with an odd number o' neutrons, so it'll chain fission. No moderator, or not much, that'd make 'im too 'eavy and big. What they call a fast reactor.'.
`What's it shielded with? It doesn't look like lead.'.
Along with the habit some workmen have of personifying tools as if they were workmates (derrick = Derek, lorry = Laurie, jack = Jack are old examples which became type-names), I recognized a common slang form of `plutonium', and that I had come to a very unsafe place among very unsafe people.
He saw my alarm and laughed roughly. `It's plute-244!' he said, `Not plute-239 like you make from U [= uranium]. 244's only about a thousandth as 'ot and won't fission as it is. 'Alflife 81 million year. There's a lot of it around in the wild on Arda: the geologists say we've 'ad sev'ral big supernova fallouts in the last 'undred or so million years and lots o' fresh actinides in 'em. It's good as a metal: U's brittle and lead's soft. Earth's plute-244 all decayed away to thorium-232 billions o' years ago, most of their plute's 239 from reactors. We can tell 'oo's fresh up from Earth, dead scared of any plute they get near. Same wi' curium-247 like we mine in a few places, 'alf life 16 million year, [chain] fissions if there's enough together in the right (or wrong) shape, but elsewise OK enough to 'andle. People from Earth act even more scared of it, most o' their curium's 244 out o' used U [fuel], that stuff is @%$ 'ot, we don't use that stuff as ordinary metal or flash it about as spacesuit ornaments.'.
OK, OK, I'd heard of Ilmenostian casualness and showoff-ness with actinides. Now I'd come across it. `Jimmy' was certainly a masterpiece of small-scale engineering, as the art of fitting parts into a small space develops, even as a laptop computer the size of a handbag contains many times the speed and storage that in the 1960's filled a big room with electronics and transistors and back-wiring.
`It gradj'ly turns to curium-245 as it catches the neutrons that get out.' he continued, `When the neutrons start gettin' through 'is shell, we'll wrap 'im up in a sort o' boiler laggin' full o' boron and lead or plute-244 scale-armourin', but that'll make 'im a lot 'eavier and won't last forever, and 'is shieldin'll need changin' (at least the inner layer of it) and RD'in' to get the curium out afore the outside gets too 'ot. Cm-245 makes a lot o' neutrons as it fissions, that's why this little of it can go critical so we can 'ave a reactor so small. It's 'ot enough just decayin' to keep the sodium liquid between anyone usin' 'im. It is as @#% dangerous from radioactivity to 'andle as a lot of Earth story writers think plute-239 is. 'E costs in replacin' 'is old shieldin' rather 'n in fuel: a lot more Cm-245 RD's out of 'is old shieldin' than 'e's used up in 'is fuel rods. Yes, you in that slick business suit and necktie tied just right like some Ministry official come to say sorry-but this and that #@& petty regulation like I thought we were 400 @$% light years away from: now you've seen what the #%$ antinuclear protestors like the #$% least, a fast breeder, and it ain't shut up in some fancy place full o' security but strapped to my back!'.
`The only fast breeder I've ever had is a pet rabbit.' I thought, hoping that a stale pun might ease the tension. Again, the loneliness of distance from home filled me with coldness as beyond the stars I saw a man wearing an unearthly device that could never have been made in the Solar System, needing the alien element Pu-244 for shielding and mechanical support at once to save bulk, got from ore dug in no mine on Earth, or made in an Earth reactor in small amounts at great cost. OK, not really a new element, but so different from Earth Pu-239 radioactively that it is virtually so. But still, `Jimmy' weighed 50 kilograms, and only a very strong man could wear it routinely on his back for long. An Earth factory engineer would have looked in despair at it or its plans, unable to get Pu-244 or an equivalent material in quantity any more than he could have got any of the nonexistent chemical elements that abound in fantasy stories.
`We've got a few of these now. Control Rod in the X-100's and Muon of Ilmenost designed 'em.' he said, `'Andy things to get to difficult places with to run a really powerful drill or whatever. Easier than 'eavin' a pneumatic drill compressor about ev'rywhere an' forever truckin' in diesel for it. [The men on Arda had already found an oilfield and built a small refinery.] That reminds me o' somethin' that 'appened once 'ere.
Two @#% silly idealist types came 'ere' to set up an ideal society down on planet 'ere: once in a while that sort o' character turns up. They dumped their spacesuits and went off chantin' to some spirit or another. Straight towards some landmine bushes. But number 5 [of us] saw it in time an' made 'em lie down in an 'ole while we set off the @%$ bushes with our lasers.' he said, aiming a bulky industrial-looking laser gun at Mr.Pulham, `Nothing quite looking down the 'ot end o' one o' these to teach yer 'oo's boss. We can do a lot more wi' these lasers than just `bang, dead'. Plus knowin' there's nowhere to run away to, what wi' landmine bushes all over the @#% place and all the plants and animals are poisonous. They soon learned what work was. We soon got 'em out o' their fancy 'ippy robes wi' silly little bells on, and stuffed 'em into overalls like we wear and made 'em work along with us. They were fine at protestin' at things, but not at workin'. Plenty o' muscle but @#% soft 'ands: all gym exercise and no work. We made 'em wear one o' these each runnin' a rockdrill diggin' rock all day for a week. Then the looks on their faces when them rabid antinuclear types found they'd each 'ad not an ordinary big battery like I'd told them afore but a fast breeder reactor on 'is back all that time!'.
`Not only these things.' I said, `Also such things as that Ilmenostian man the Arbiter's spacesuit's shiny showoff curium-247 oxygen cylinders, and neptunium and Pu-242 and whatever spacesuit ornaments, the wild showoff lot, and suchlike IOMFA's. Yes, I know. To a lot of Earth antinuclear types it is `pollutonium' and the next thing to seeing the Devil made visible.'.
`What the #&$'s an iomfa?' said Sardie 17.
`It's not X-100-ese,' I said tiredly, `it's an official term, it's short for `Inappropriate Object Made From Actinide', such as a Pu-239 statuette of that man G.T.Seaborg who first made Pu-239, that a bored radiochemist once made in a lab in America. Likely these'll be the next thing that'll keep getting sold to Earth on the quiet, breaking every Earth nuclear regulation in the book, and Earth can't copy them. I suppose we could redesign its reactor to use Pu-239, but where are we going to get all that Pu-244!? The only way's to leave Pu-239 in a reactor till each atom's picked up 5 neutrons, a long time and very expensive, and least 70% of it fissions at once and a lot of the rest at 241 or 243, that's what plute's for!, or it `goes upstairs' to americium and curium. Only a little bit of it ever reaches 244. No way I know to use other metals instead and not make it far too heavy. I learned some nuclear physics in my spare time at home.'.
`Then 'ow did all this 'ere on Arda get made in the @%# first place? The nuke fairy wave 'er @&% little magic wand at it!?'.
`A big star falls in and goes into meltdown like a reactor that's gone wrong. That's a supernova. Everything gets squashed into neutrons which come blasting out, far denser than Man ever can except in atom bombs, and all the atoms about catch them, and lead-208 or whatever gets turned into lead-244 or whatever in a moment, that's far too many neutrons to balance, so it blasts off electrons and ends up as Pu-244 or whatever, missing the fission zone and also the bad patch starting at polonium-212 where the atoms chuck an alpha particle in microseconds so the slow steady buildup route can't get any further. When and if we ever make an efficient powerful neutron gun that doesn't use up scarce elements that we can't remake afterwards, we may imitate that; but not yet.'.
`And that sort of gun'd be a @#& 'andy weapon also. You seem to know a $%# lot about work. What's that the natives in East Africa say?:' Sardie 1 their leader answered roughly, ``Let a guest be a guest for 2 days: on the 3rd day, give him a hoe.': Nah, we can't wait that &%$ long. 'Ere's yours.' he said, and threw a thick rough overall and a pack and a pair of heavy boots at me. Then him and two others turned their lasers' power right down and ever so neat like surgeons cut my expensive business office suit and city shoes off me with them from 20 feet away without burning my skin much. Real neat job. That left me in burn-damaged underclothes in the weather: I had to put the overall on. And the boots. I'm not used to a hobnailed marching noise every time I take a step, or the weight of them. I managed to get my briefcase and my overnight bag and the stuff from my [office] suit pockets into the pack without them looking, along with some tools they issued to me. After that I was stuck working there with them levering and heaving rocks until they went back into space. As one of them said, `This is Arda, the world of 'ard work where we can get on wi' work and not 'ave to pay all sorts of idlers to give orders in things they know #%$ nothing abaht. I thought yer'd look better in what you're wearin' now.'.
Another lot who think that any given man looks his best in an overall and preferably some unattractive-looking work kit. (Like once I heard of when some company director wanted his portrait in oilpaint and symbols of his company: he expected himself in his boardroom chair, but what he got back from an artist jumping to a wrong conclusion from his company's onward and action sounding name was himself in an overall, safety helmet with visor, heavy boots, blowtorch (which he was cutting through a heavy steel door with) fed from cylinders strapped to his back, chest pouch full of tools, and a baton hanging from his belt and a teargas grenade gun in case of trouble, mixture of two different sorts of action man. His firm's only connection with any sort of engineering was to be sales agents and consultants for dealers in engineered products, no idea how things are made. The picture got into the papers, and his company got all sorts of orders like it was an engineering firm. Every so often someone gets impatient at too many businessmen chasing too few primary products for something to rehandle, and too many officials chasing too few things to organize or control to charge fees and feel important. The matter blew over at last.)
There I was stuck with them navvying among those heavies, and two of them with those reactor-packs on that I didn't like the idea of being within a mile of. #4 with his on was cutting into the rock with his drill like he was one of those coal-cutting machines in coalmines, and climbing all over the place with it on. After a while I'd put a lot of muscle on from the work and likely from anabolic steroids also, and that made the work easier: I bet none of my [office] suits'll fit when and if I get home. Near the end they made me use one myself. Holy neutrons it was heavy, using my back as a site for an atomic power station. And the rockdrill that was run off it seemed even heavier. I was put just ahead of the tracklayers cutting away the odd lumps of rock left in the way. They didn't even get my name right, they called me `Pulley', typical space-rough's nickname after some machine part or whatever, and put that on my overall.
When the Sardies went back into space, they stuffed me into one of their spare spacesuits and took me with them into orbit. The ground shrank below me until I could see the whole landscape and the sky became space black. First time I'd been in any sort of spacesuit or anything like one, and they expected me to know all about it at once. They handed me over to a group called the Jetters.".
Thus when a company agent on undercover investigation, accustomed to a settled world of many people and an elaborate legal system where a complicated business structure could maintain itself, came by mischance to a land still in its early development where rules are different. There the wild element, unable to satisfy its instincts freely on Earth, had room for itself, and could explore and name new places; and every hand was needed for work to set up a new society. Later he found his way back to Aulien and an in-atmosphere flight home, for there was no systematic plot to detain him there; but he had so little comprehended the empty distances of space that he had travelled across in the plane or in a spacesuit that, again, he could tell little of strategic or commercial use when he got back to his office long after he had intended to, in the overalls and boots that the Sardies had given him, carrying much extra muscle which he had little use for and largely served to make it expensive to find clothes to fit him. His tale of the reactor-pack interested them, and thus he knew that the Company nuclear scientist Dr.Enzheimer who, disliking Company policy in handling asteroid miners, had run away to space under the name Control Rod, had beyond the world achieved a design impossible to those who live on it.
But now he was passed onto the Jetters to look after, for the Sardies, being all genetically identical, knew much of each others' minds, as identical twins often do; they do not take in recruits from outside their group; much later as middle age neared the Sardies had a brood of successors cloned from themselves.
The Jetters gave the Sardies an empty spacesuit to replace the spacesuit that `Pulley' was handed over in, and wondered what to do with him, as they flew up into orbit to survey the geology below them with special electromagnetic kit; and far away on Earth men also went about their affairs, living in gravity, moving about in the open without spacesuits, and with their own various opinions of space matters as largely learned from the public media, particularly about Mars and the Battle of Argyre on Mars, names that still stung the ears of some businessmen and government agencies. And planning `Operation Toybox' was at last back on track after a delay caused by a group scubadiver disappearance including two of the men involved and having to hurriedly instruct replacements.
The Mars War of Independence against the space trading Companies had ended some time ago in a patched-up peace treaty, but after it problems remained including the question of families raised on Mars in defiance of Company rules and deported by Company security forces, for Company rules had allowed no more settlements or production on Mars than needed to support the mines producing metals for shipping out, and certainly not enough to become a local population that might pass environmental and workers' rights etc laws restricting Company activities like the Companies had gone off Earth to get away from. The treaty said that all prisoners were to be released, and all deportees returned; but sometimes deported unauthorized settler families had not been kept together, but the adults had been sent to asteroid mining bases with conditions as harsh as they were back then, and children adopted by Company officials; and when after independence Mars wanted them back by the terms of the treaty many of the adopters made legal delays and got town council welfare officials to declare that Mars was no place to raise children, and suchlike, until some such cases and their distressing conflicting `tug of love' emotions ended spectacularly and distressingly in late snatchback by space raid by the children's real parents when spread of independent long-trip spacesuits and spacesuit hyperspace jumpers made this possible.
In one such case, an unauthorized settler couple in Elysium on Mars had been sent to the asteroids, and their three children born there had been deported to Earth aged 4 and 5 and 6 and adopted by a Company manager who became a businessman when his Company folded at the big crash; and their real parents in modern long-trip asteroid miner spacesuits and with several asteroid miners with them, years later tracked them down and landed in their back garden and caught them and stuffed them into Mars pressure suits. By then the children were into their teens, and only the oldest had any substantial memory of Mars; they had not been told they had been adopted. Their real parents were angry at Company doings and wanted their children back, and needed them to help settle and develop Mars, and felt that they had more right to them. "I'm not having our children raised with paperwork-only education getting no physical skills except useless ball sports and ending up as useless idle businessmen or officials or penpushers when they should have been all this time with us on Elysium learning how to run the settlement after us. Thanks to businessmen and officials like you vermin we had to rebuild our settlement from the ground up when we got to Phobos and landed back on Mars after Mars got its freedom. We're taking them back.", leaving the shocked adopters to see their family evaporate in a cloud of grey distortion as the spacemen hyper jumped out with them, "same as if you buy a stolen car you lose it and the money you paid for it when its owner finds it", as the real father said harshly.
Nor did the children, shocked and knowing little of space matters, and except the youngest too old to be persuaded to treat the events as `playing at space explorers', see anything of the journey, except a few hours sight of their birth planet from orbit before a second jump to a nearly airless dead sand and stone plain which was their new home, and being assumed and ordered to know at once how to operate the settlement's machinery including its reactor as if they had been there right through from birth, instead of having just come from a modern city where there were men at hand to do every sort of job.
Of the way children are taught even from the nursery from not to do things for themselves, Jet Jack, who was one of the spacemen on that action, spoke roughly: "In one of the story books I found there, a teddy bear's house's roof loses slates in a gale, and 'e pays a fancy price to a kewpie doll 'oo lives near to put new slates on, 'stead o' going up a ladder and doing the job 'isself although bears are supposed to be big and strong and tough and intelligent, and same sort o' thing but gradj'ly getting less childish in nearly ev'ry story that cosy comfortable Earth suburban children get to read or watch as they get older, and nothing like the old sort of farmer and 'is wife who could do ev'ry part o' making clothes right through from the sheep's backs to their own backs.".
Nor did the children take easily to pressure suit and airlock drill every time they went out, or to learning to make and service and mend things themselves, or to having no town places of easy pleasure near; but their parents were not going to lose time or settlement development as a result of anything that Companies had done. The Mars suits had no propulsors or recyclers, but kept them alive in space for the journey, until they saw the pressure dome in the bare plain and were told that it was their birthplace and real home, and had late and painfully to get used to a pioneering life and helping to give Mars a usable atmosphere and ecosystem and to hope that perhaps at least their grandchildren when old would be able to go outside without pressure suits and see the land green. When the years at last brought to spacemen the PL-prop (= planet-landing spacesuit propulsor), and to the three the means of getting hold of them and not needing a spaceship to leave Mars, they knew that they had missed so many years of Earth experience in life that they had little chance of a job with good prospects, and they knew that they were stuck as Martians, unless they moved out to the asteroids: a suggestion refused, for they wanted a planet under their feet.
And in Richmond in London an ex-Associated Space Metals manager and his wife saw their nest go suddenly empty, and rued that they had ever supported Company colonial policy, and cursed the suburban comfortable fashionableness that had persuaded them to have their own reproductive systems altered to prevent breeding, until at last to soothe their loss they swallowed their distaste and had themselves cloned from and started again with babies, which this time they had to endure thorough their early noisy messy years, children that many thought were grandchildren, named after the earlier three, to reach adulthood as the parents reached old age - and saw the expected few years of fit adulthood together and someone to be with them and look after them in their old age, evaporate as the girl married and left and the two boys found no work to their liking in the area but despite their parents' pleas went to space, young blood eager to get away and explore, not caring what old deep-rooted memories and shock the sight of them in spacesuits awoke, leaving an old man and an old woman to look at whichever of Mars and the Pleiades was visible on clear nights.
Necessity is hard, and work needs doing, and settling a new planet needs much work; they were far from suburban genteel at having much hard pioneering work negated by officials and police types, and, like many manual workers down the ages, were far from gentle in getting back on such losses when they had a chance to. Such takings-back were sometimes rough and ready: in one case two council welfare officials who pushed in to serve an order during an initially peaceful discussion on the matter achieved nothing except to be hyper jumped out also, and thus a settlement in a fault-gorge in the confused block-faulted area of Hydaspes Chaos near Margaritifer on Mars unexpectedly got two more workmen; in another case the Company police had deported the wife with her children, and she had remarried on Earth, and her new husband suffered the rough consequences of being found in adultery when her Martian husband and men with him found her and her family and took her back.
Earth nations and big organizations found other queries to raise with free spacemen, along the fairly regular communication that had by now developed between them as the human population of the Anor star system gradually became larger and better established. Some of the matters were small, but small grievances can add up. There was another meeting to sort things out. Delegates from various Earth organizations flew in a pressurized craft with serices to hand to an orbiting space station, a short unremarkable journey then, but what at the beginnings of space travel in the 1960's was a mighty achievement. But the free spacemen's delegates had to come from the limitless distances between the asteroids and comets that they mined, and some by hyperspace jump from the Anor star system 400 miles away where some of them had settled. They came in no craft, for each man was himself a spacecraft, in a long-trip spacesuit with his life-support system and propulsor fastened to him; their leader's suit had an extra steel-cased bulge which was a hyperspace jumper. They could be in space in those suits for months on end. They could easily have landed unaided on Earth, but free spacemen had had reasons to be very wary about coming to preannounced places on Earth. They arrived from the remote distance. A cluster of moving stars grew into a group of men in kit-laden spacesuits, tethered to each other. They airlocked in. The meeting started. Many issues were raised, not only those quoted here, between men in well-cut office suits accustomed to an established modern society and men in work clothes setting up remote outposts.
"You restrict and read our mail, like Soviet Russia used to, and you say you like freedom." said a USA business representative, who had a concern more than that of an ordinary letter writer, that certain mail should get through.
"We had to, that time." said an Ilmenostian, in full space kit; his leader kept a finger on his hyper jumper's trigger, and his men stayed close together, "What started as a tow-crateful a week was getting more like a loaderful a day, and we can't handle that much. So we put one big lot through a computerized reader, and 96% of it was circulars one to every man here that you knew of, like nearly always goes straight from the doormat to the kitchen waste bin, or with us into his group's towed RD: buy this, invest in that, we are researching into the possible desire for such-and-such, please tell me all your personal details, including a whacking great 32-page A4 thing one each for everybody. We're a frontier society, we can't take all that junk mail; the stuff it's trying to sell us is no use to us except to create more need to pass paper about later. One lot marked `confidential, most important' turned out to be only selling insurance, whoever wrote it had tried to adapt it for work spacemen but clearly hadn't been in space much if at all. We did send to all your head post offices asking them to pass on that we can't cope with all this much paper sent in, but it kept coming. And, more seriously, one lot from a committee in USA demanding a lot of statistics said `you are required by law to inform us', etc, despite quite a lot of nations now recognizing us as independent; any `By Order' from Earth goes to our man The Arbiter first for him to say whether to act on it.".
"Oh. I see. We and our businesses there are hostage to a weakling paper boy who delivers the Saturday papers ages late because he splits his Saturday bag and goes back for the second half of it, or his shop leaves out all the Saturday supplements to lighten the bagful." said another Earth rep, "It's like writing to my brother when he was in the Army that time, tightly restricted mail volume plus no guarantee of privacy, although my solicitor wrote severely to them."; but the absurdly suburban-like nuisance complained of had a more serious purpose, and other organizations than merely a few advertizing departments had reason to want to know who was where and had and did what in the Anor system.
"I should think so!" said a base cleaner-and-cook who had come in with coffee, unable to contain her anger at the rep's tone any more, "My friend's son had a paper round, one Saturday he tripped and fell against a front garden wall and broke his arm, in plaster 3 months. In hospital his bag weighed 51 pounds! even without what he'd already delivered, more and more people want more and more paper. And that time my brother was ill and I had to wade through 11 circulars before I found a letter telling me how he was. No wonder these spacemen from `Ilma-whatever' complain about junk mail load, all that distance to carry it.". Thus she said, understanding little the vastness of space distances or the scale difference between a nation's affairs and an individual's; but it was relevant.
"That'll be all, thankyou, leave the trolley, we'll help ourselves." said the USA rep curtly, and to the chairman: "I move that that irrelevant matter she said be struck from the record, she isn't on the list of delegates.".
Someone said "Seconded.", and there were a few mutterings; the supposedly neutral chairman quickly declared the motion passed before the Ilmenostians could contradict. But what she said had been heard by them, and influenced them.
"What - matters - more," said the rep insistently, "that man The Arbiter, he seems to be all their central bureaucracy, all of it, wearing every official hat in Ilmenost like some cowboy town with one law-man who had to do everything, him with his fancy shiny spacesuit oxygen cylinders made out of curium-247 just to show off, breaking every nuclear materials regulation in the book. Halflife 16 million years alpha, if you must know. Him, and the group leaders who are all over the place with their groups. That lot don't need houses, they live in their spacesuits with the fancy long-trip survival gear on, they move about so much, over a whole solar system as big as ours. We need more substance to their official system than that, to negotiate with properly.
We found and sent one very good man to Ilmenost [some Earth men used the word to mean the Anor system in general] with several excellent qualifications and much experience ready for a high managerial position, to organize even a new Government department if he had to, but when he managed to get a letter to Earth it turned out you were using him as a foundryman! in a place called Aulien on your planet Arda, that all day and in the evenings ordered to study metallurgy and RD technology, all his years of office experience crossed out and him turned into an engineering apprentice as if he was a working-class school leaver.".
"Yes." said the Ilmenostian, "For one thing, we saw a list of appointees he'd made up: every one from Earth, to be kept in a special quarters away from the natives, to be regularly rotated with fresh men from Earth so they wouldn't get sympathetic with the natives or go native. Like what Ireland had under British rule before they fought for their independence in the 1920's. Like what Spanish South America had for two centuries until a riot in Buenos Aires in the 1820's flared into a war that chucked Spain right out of South America, and like Mars they had their Argyre: the final battle at a place called Sucre in what is now Bolivia that finally forced Spain to get out. All that although he knew full well that we're a separate nation. And we'd have been expected to provide and keep supplied a huge pressurized complex for them, more than what ten times as many of our people'd have needed. And them needing to keep track of everything'd cause huge delays in everything, and the applications for permissions, and the sorry-but-ing. We well remember what Mars went through. We can't afford to carry all those paperworkers anyway, we've other uses for what producers produce.".
"Yes, and anyone we send there has to live in an asteroid miner spacesuit or stay on Arda, little idea of pressurized spacecraft with living accomodation in. Like one country on Earth where as soon as our rep arrived he had to learn to ride a mule, and carry an ammunition bag for the Kalashnikov cartridges he kept getting given as change to use as money, understandable there, I suppose, most good coins hoarded and the local official paper money inflated to @#%.".
"Talking about spacesuits," said the Ilmenostians' leader, "our Mexico City legation's had some very odd conduct by some men sent by some finance company. When our people come to Earth and must leave their spacesuits, they leave them in one of our legations for safety. In case anyone forgets diplomatic immunity we've got other precautions to guard them [including someone with his hand always near the trigger of a powerful hyperspace jumper to evacuate the lot if anyone official or unofficial tries to take any of it on any excuse or reason or authority at all]. Well, those men arrived, and started negotiating with us; we soon saw it was like a hostage negotiation except there were no hostages. They said they wanted the spacesuits. I said they weren't having them, as we knew whose they all were and that lot weren't them. This went on for a while; finally it came out that some bailiffs had `sold them in absentia', that is, they hadn't got hold of them so they'd sold the right to them like selling cotton futures and the like. I'd never heard of such a thing before. I'd heard of trying a man in absentia. What debt were they so-called-sold to pay? They came out with a lot of blah, which meant that old #%$ about interest so-called-owed by asteroid miners to those old Companies before the big crash, all sorts of extra bits of money owed tacked on that'd never've stood up for a moment in a law case between Earth men. Finally they realized we hadn't forgotten after all about the big writing-off at that big final meeting that time. Then they tried to claim that that writing-off didn't apply under this and that nation's law, but they cleared off at last. That and other incidents, I still think someone somewhere's still spoiling for a fight against us. That, and a lot of secret spacecraft building that you won't say what it is. Yes, we can tell something's happening.".
"You lot do need a proper authority over you." said a German rep sharply, playing his ultimate proof of the utter wrongness of leaving free spacemen to themselves, "For a start, I know that you and your fast breeder reactors sold all over the place, you've already had one fast breeder meltdown and blowout, a bad one, far worse than Chernobyl, a good fraction of a million square miles so dosed with plutonium it'll be unusable for ages, within a man's lifetime you're turning your fine new innocent paradise Arda into a desert. And don't call those dirty space-pirate dens of yours down here `legations' just because you think you're untouchable because a few banana republics say they recognize you.".
This caused shocked emphatic agreement among the Earth delegates, until an Ilmenostian who had `Black Hawk' written on his helmet forehead interrupted tiredly and said "You heard it somewhere, you mean. Read this, all of you. We heard you lot've started to make an issue of it.", handing round several copies of a scientific paper.
"Nothing about `tragic' or whatever, even, cold-blooded lot." the USA man said summarizing and commenting irritatedly on his copy, "Arda Geology Journal, year this, pages that to that. A lot of excuses, likely, just like you blame us for as cover-ups. The 7 mya Natural Fast Breeder Blowout at this north, that east. What's a mya? In a world where fissile actinides are much more plentiful than on Earth due to fallout from several recent nearby supernovas, astronomy lesson, natural reactors develop from time to time, where ground water accumulates uranium. A well-known example is Nunarien at (number N, number E) which is active now. Ye gods, now? I know there was one at Oklo in Gabon in Africa two billion years ago. What's that to do with the inevitable result of a few rogue spacemen trying to build fancy reactors out in the wilds? That Dr.Enzheimer ran away to space and calls himself Control Rod, he's a scientist only, trying to be a reactor design engineer out there. We're not talking about a plain uranium criticality accident. A big deposit of nearly pure plutonite (PuO2), OK, I know of Ardan natural Pu-244, ever since that alien Ardan plant they call pluteweed or Seaborgia turned up on an atom bomb test site in Nevada from seed 'jumped in on one of their dirty spacesuits, only grows where there's plutonium in the soil. Expecting us to wade through a scientific report here, I had to reprimand one of my men a month ago for giving a busy important man this sort of stuff as-is instead of a short clear crisp digest of the relevant matter in it.".
"What you describe is called an `abstract'." said Black Hawk tiredly, "There's one at the top of the article, and at the top of most scientific articles.".
"But not explaining how it's relevant to each reader's businesses. Faulting put some of it adjacent to part of a 20-foot-thick layer of curite (Cm2O3) which then was 15%, yes, The Arbiter's oxy tanks, I believe it, decipher the figures, what's this footnote say?, his oxy tanks came from part of that same curite deposit. This let ground water concentrate the curite in some places without enough aluminium admixture to stop it going critical, escaping neutrons started turning the Pu-244 into Cm-245, which is fissionable and added to the reactor fuel, this spread faster and faster, ground water steam explosion, equations ad infinitum, blew out like a volcano and involved an overlying coal deposit. I suppose `mya' means `millions of years ago'. I - I - think I understand it now. Unfissioned Cm-245 decayed Pu-241, Am-241, Np-237, which has mostly decayed to bismuth, but a little remains. A load more equations. This is the cause of the previously puzzling narrow `Bi-Np-Pu' layer noticeable in sediments of this age over much of that part of Ilyarda and the adjacent part of the ocean.".
"Oh. Now I know." said a British aerospace delegate, shuddering, "They can keep that planet of theirs. The images I've had of Mother Nature as all `green' and natural, and there she plays about with nuclear stuff. On Earth she put her anti-radiation suit away back in the Precambrian long before any life came outo land or even got a hard shell. On Arda she's still at it, even making a fast breeder by herself and then can't control it properly. OK, OK, that's the end of that. That was our ace of trumps point that we had to score against those wild space nomads claiming everywhere before we can, and now everybody'll soon know that it was taken from a different and irrelevant pack that isn't in play.".
As these arguments and their results went on on Earth, Rattler (Jetters) took Pulley to Aulien and left him there; then Rattler went back into orbit towing the spacesuit that Pulley had been using, and after some radioing and radaring rejoined his group. Mr.Pulham, to revert to his original name as he did, got a seat on a pressurized locally-made craft going to Mars 6 days later, and finally got home to Edgbaston near Birmingham in England, wearing the overalls and pack and heavy boots that the Sardies had given him, with a long traveller's-tale about his experiences; but again less than expected was of much strategic use. They knew already about the space-Dakota, and had assumed that he would know already; but he didn't, and was not thankful about the lack of warning. They expressed distaste at the idea of reactor-packs with Earth rules and feelings about nuclear materials being as they were. His spare office suit did not fit over the extra muscle he had developed. He resumed normal work.
Plutey-pots and the rest of the Jetters were in a type of orbit that he had not been in before round Arda: steeply inclined retrograde. He still wore on his back the oxygen cylinders that his name referred to. He had been far from anywhere to take them off or change them, when was first told what they were made of; but after much far travel with them he now treated them as a part of himself, along with the rest of his spacesuit. He had seen before, more than once, the huge and terrible interior desert of Karnelitse, the Red Sand, a sand sea bigger than any now on Earth, like the huge central desert of Earth's Pangaea which made the New Red Sandstone long ago. That fearsome Earth wasteland is safely shut away in geology textbooks; but now one like it was reality below men as they orbited, between the final limit penetration of wet wind from the western sea and the great mountains that shut out all wet from the eastern sea.
But he now was to see a more terrible desert than Karnelitse, for they were over the inland of the north of Ilyarda, where was the land that the surveying X-100's with their persistent Tolkien theme had named Urnunie. As they flew west beyond the high snow-capped coastal mountains with their glacier carved valleys and deep fiords, the dry steppe, endlessly blank white under winter snow, dropped down to sea level again, but not to sea, as the land level dropped down and down below them, hot bare rock and sand, windblown dunes, plains of anhydrite (calcium sulphate) deposit, until the flat salt bottom three miles below sea level but dry glaring white to the burning heat of Anor and winds far hotter than sea level, as sea level is hotter than mountain tops. Such was Urnunie, the Burning Depression, the dreaded central plain of the deep hollow of Kumnearen, the Empty Ocean. Once Earth's Mediterranean was like that, in the late Miocene, thankfully flooded long ago and made into a deep life-giving sea. But Kumnearen was a real image of dread at the present day to their eyes looking down from low orbit at the furnace land that had once been an ocean. Long ago it had been Arda's Tethys, full of fish and life, giving the winds rainwater to give life to the lands about, until it had been cut off as Arda's continents finished drifting together long ago to form Ilyarda, and its water evaporated. A few rivers carved canyons as they flowed down off the continent until the heat made an end of them. Dried-out deepsea ooze mixed with sand blew about in dunes, and settled in hot brine-lakes that occasionally formed when the rains were heavy in high mountains far away. Fossils had told explorers of forests long dead and of great herds that had needed those forests to feed from, where now was empty heat and hot white and the barren lands about.
"They say that if the Med on Earth got cut off like that now, it'd evaporate dry in about a thousand years." said one, "I suppose it's lucky there were no sentient Ardan aliens about then, to see their lands around the inland sea dry up and everything seaside they'd built by the ocean slowly get flooded as all that water rained out elsewhere. It's quite enough to see deep borehole samples from the Med with weird mixtures of the deep sea and the dry desert such as a windblown cross-bedded deposit of broken foraminifera skeletons and quartz sand interbedded with rock salt. The sooner we get past this lot, the better.".
Some men call Urnunie the Big White, for it is the only big permanent white land there, and Arda has no polar icecaps. It is there then as was long ago when Earth's Pangaea was whole, for the continent stretches from pole to pole, and the winds and sea currents flow strangely. In the winter in the polar areas plants rest, and animals hibernate, or dig in ever-deepening snow for food, kept warm by thick fur or blubber as they wander under the polar stars in a winter night that lasts for months. But as summer comes in warm lands far away, the continent warms much faster than the ocean, and the monsoon blows clear across the pole. At the melting of the snow great floods wash vegetation and the bones of the winter's kill into lakes and hollows as summer life starts again under Anor which after a short spring of days and nights circles without setting for long months of life-renewing summer. But no life comes to Urnunie.
As they orbited, their instruments detected big copper ore deposits in the oceanic basalt under the salt layer. Laser Larry, a geologist in the Jetters, remembered Cyprus, which the metal copper is named after, and is likewise made of old deep ocean bed, but in its case thankfully heaved up above sea level and easily habitable. "Some time men will have to live and work down there to mine that copper." some of them thought ominously. They reached the end of the depression, orbited 30 times more, and returned to Aulien. The routines of life and travel in space and on planet continued; intermittent contact with the various nations and organizations of Earth and the Solar System let them keep track of what was happening over there. and what Earth knew and thought of them.
Out in the Anor system it was too easy for some to start thinking of Earth as a single compact nation that had one mind on any given matter; they had to keep track of Earth affairs as well as more immediate space matters, and wondered how long before an Earth body or alliance of bodies made a really determined attempt to `restore order' over the unauthorized remote colonies which had developed from what had started as a tightly controlled asteroid mining program, by NASA originally, until commercial companies had gradually taken over most space work. Modern spacemen looked on Armstrong and Aldrin of Apollo 11 who first walked in the Moon, as remote heroic figures of the ancient days before the Companies and before most relevant history. When space travel within the Solar System became routine and regular, the First Age of space was over, even as in due course in USA the `Frontier' of heroic `Western' tales reached the western sea over its full length and its time ended; rogue loners and wild groups became less and less welcome as the Companies sought all possible ways to maximize their profits and be their own masters in their own affairs. But if Company bosses want freedom, so do space workers, and so space affairs developed. Financial upsets and less demand for asteroid metals upset matters; tight rule slackened as Company officials preferred desk jobs in atmosphere, despite assorted new space patrol equipment. And when an intended hard enforcement squad deserted with the first hyperspace jumper let away from the secret labs and became a free spacemen group called the Sardies, a new Frontier developed, and Earth-based central authorities only gradually found what was happening out there.
Base-bound space workmen in an endless round of work in the emptiness looked back to the space pioneers, but also needed heroes of their own time, such as ones and groups that constantly evaded Company enforcement, some real and some legendary, stated to have various unusual abilities, stories chosen the best to pass the time in the emptiness rather than for literary quality; in their search for spectacular tales a legend of a free spaceman who could get in and out of anywhere to rescue prisoners and seized kit, with oxygen cylinders made out of plutonium-239 (strong enough and making less dangerous radiation than many fear) to make him sound more impressive, was one of many such tales. Company and Earth men collected such tales as curiosities, but some Company management disliked them as symbols of workers' resistance; and when Mr.Blore, failed City of London financier, went to a remote Company asteroid base to hide from creditors, a Company storeman tricked him into putting an asteroid miner spacesuit on and then shoved him out through an airlock (for one worker more was always welcome out there) - with plutonium-239 oxygen cylinders to mock that legend, for the storeman had a quantity of it in store that the accounts lists said that he should not have had, left there by a metals fraud by superiors that was suddenly aborted when two of them were moved away. So a real Plutey-pots started to roam space with the Jetters. But the Jetters had an unauthorized hyper jumper, one of several copied in a remote unauthorized workshop from the first one, and he not in tale but in reality was involved in more than one risky rescue of asteroid miners arrested on excuses of money owed and unauthorized kit and the like.
There was only just enough warning. Aulien on Arda, Ilmenost on its asteroid, Parmondo (`X-100-ese' for `Book-stone', as it is on an asteroid with layer marks like Mars's Phobos has), and other important Anor system bases, each heard one short tightly-beamed radio warning of the trouble. They switched on powerful hyperspace jump field detectors that could not be left running permanently because of excess power needs. They did what they could to guard or disperse noncombatant people and equipment, and sent men hurriedly hyper jumping about the Anor system hunting for and bringing in what men they could find. Some cursed what they thought was likely yet another drill; but it was needed.
Around Ilmenost grey distortion hid much of the starry sky and solidified into five large well-armed craft covering all directions. They bore the letters ISAB, International Space Administration Board, before then known only as a remote discussion committee that met intermittently in various Earth cities. Radio signals on all known spacesuit and base freqencies called for surrender. The five craft emitted over a hundred one-man missile-like fast craft from missile guns, and fired warning shots from astonishingly powerful lasers. Now the Anor system knew. Earth's space interests had clearly recovered from disunity and financial collapse shocks and had caught up with them, even as riot-police and armoured bulldozers and RD-trucks clear and consume an unauthorized shanty-town or itinerant camp which had developed during a period of slack rule, and shacks and shanties and their contents soon all vanish into powerful armoured RD-trucks and incinerator-trucks. This had not happened nearer to Earth yet, but it need not have. Cleaning up unauthorizedness in the Solar System would be far easier with the free spacemen's remote backup area in the Anor system taken out first, same as England never managed to conquer Wales by attack from the east until King Edward I also blocked Wales's supply routes from their main remote backup food supply in Anglesey. These main bases captured would soon become powerful ISAB bases for cleaning up the rest of the Anor system from, while other forces cleaned up the Sun's asteroid belt and Mars. The free spacemen would be deported to Earth as unreliable, and everywhere re-manned and renamed without reference to them, with much use of names of Companies and their members and politicians, all the names that the free spacemen disliked the most, even as the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britain effaced nearly all memories of old Celtic times in England.
Ilmenost shot back. The free spacemen's first PSC-4, now named Defender, shot off its magazineful of missile-like one-man craft (MST's), and shot back. Ground lasers shot back, their working parts sheltered deep in the ancient nickel-iron mass of the asteroid that Ilmenost is built on. A large building exploded open and 34 more native MST's sped out of it like from a kicked wasps'-nest. Men died on both sides. The five ISAB craft emitted a cloud of smaller objects - hundreds of highly trained and well-armed men in armoured spacesuits with powerful propulsors, called Space Marines. They had no vulnerable high-pressure oxygen cylinders to burst like bombs when shot; when on-suit recycling gear generates needed oxygen, cylinders are only an emergency backup. This was called a police action, but it was a war in space, the thing that Armstrong and Gagarin and their fellows long ago utterly rejected any idea of. At Parmondo and other free spacemen bases it was similar and simultaneous. A swarm of PSC-4's and hyper-jumping long-trip-suited commando squads followed to mop up smaller stray groups and settlements, and soon ditto in the Sun's asteroid belt and on Mars when this operation was over. Soon the Jetters, and the far-travelling X-100's who had discovered Anor, and all the rest, would be stuffed into bulk prisoner transports and stripped of kit, their Earth origins found by any means, and tried for deserting from Company authority or enticing / enabling same or whatever charge could be dug up. Both sides knew that men could not live on Ardan wild food; cultivation clearings to grow Earth-type crops would be seen from air or orbit, and an ISAB patrol would soon catch yet another rebel holdout group. The big cleanup and restoration of central control had begun at last.
ISAB warcraft appeared over Aulien also. Two of them fired a volley of air-breathing jet fighters with special computer-controlled gun and missile systems, the one and dreaded thing that can routinely reach in time and demolish by the hundred suit-propulsor spacemen who try to descend to planet or rush up to space. Another ISAB craft approached, a huge flying-saucer-shaped thing marked T2, keeping away from the battle for now, for Aulien also shot back, and fired missiles. The four native PSC-4's that had been there were up and in action; the Dakotas were hidden and camouflaged in remote forests. One ISAB craft dropped a swarm of 1500 Space Marines, with orders to take all buildings that needed personal flying kit to enter easily, and hold them until ground troops arrived. Operation Toybox was underway.
The name was inspired by the name `Lake Gollywog', a misrendering of `Nen Argollug' (`X-100-ese' for `Lake King Cobra' after one of their men), a lake in the Ered Kalashnikov mountains (named from their shape on a map) where a school landing party from Ilmenost had found `pretty stones' that were the first guide to a supermassive find of actinide ore which may well have tipped the balance towards getting companies and governments to set up and finance ISAB and equip it in secret. Actinides to make electricity to appease ever more demanding and numerous consumer populations to keep them quiet and voting the desired way. Actinides to power enforcement craft and weapons. Uranium, far more naturally enriched than on Earth. Pu-244, which can be fast-breedered efficiently to Cm-245, and a vital part of that handy-sounding little device the reactor-pack that Mr.Pulham had just told of, just the thing e.g. to power a really powerful handheld laser gun. Natural Cm-247 even. With the Anor system safely in its stomach, Earth interstellar power could grow huge. But in this the free spacemen who discovered it would have no part and would never be in a spacesuit again.
The operation slowed, as if the ISAB commanders were police-minded and had not expected so much resistance. Propulsor-suited men and MST's and larger craft fought and evaded each other in a confused swirling swarm. The free spacemen after being in space for years on end were much more skilled in understanding and moving about and keeping track of location in 3-dimensional weightlessness, less confused by lies told by their natural balance systems which still wanted an up and a down and bodyweight. Now many free spacemen saw why the Sardies and the X-100's had been so unpopularly police-like efficient in keeping alcohol and abuse drug synthesizers out of men's spacesuits, including rough interrogation to track down one man who was making such things, as they sought to keep the space population clear of things that would distract from combat training to fill time during long journeys through interplanetary emptiness. The local men knew every small space object to hide behind, forcing ISAB craft and men to be wary near any asteroid found.
"You're - ow! - as bad as Company guards!, seizing stuff." the Actinides (15 ex-NASA men codenamed after elements 89 to 103) had said during a suit-off in Parmondo the X-100's searched their spacesuits and ripped out from them and destroyed 13 alcohol synthesizers and 6 nitrous oxide synthesizers that the Actinides had paid quite a lot for; but now they were thankful, that often after weeks in emptiness flying between work sites they had arrived combat-practised and not in a haze of weeks-long binge; such misuse of chemicals is unusual among the free spacemen. Much of their time was taken up with making defence weapons and with training for defence; it is regrettable when outside threat makes a people's economy and social rules lopsided towards armed readiness, but it happens.
A free spaceman group called the F-15's, toughened by years of work in space and on planet, remembering little of life before they went into space, attacked some Space Marines who were cutting in to get into a large reactor building in Aulien; several on both sides fell, but the Marines backed off. An MST from ISAB craft F4 tried to interfere, but its pilot was unused to narrow places in air and gravity, and he hit a ventilation chimney and crashed.
The Anor system men were fighting for their freedom, and perhaps their lives, for the ISAB fleet's `tail' of work craft included huge powerful RD-craft and foundry-craft that could swallow and digest a PSC-4 whole and a small base in a few bites, and very likely would replace many free-flying asteroid miners. But a Company bulk RD would be an end preferred to the only likely way they would be let stay on Arda, as some such thing as Company convict labour mining copper ore in Urnunie which Plutey-pots had looked down on in dread, even deeper and hotter than now because they would have to dig down through deep salt and anhydrite and then hardened deepsea ooze to reach it, and then as deep as the ore went. Likely many free spaceman groups would hyper jump off with what they could, and in a painful arduous repeat of their pioneering set up elsewhere where a star had asteroids, and multiply until Earth found them and with its increased power digest them even easier this time, and so on repeated indefinitely.
Elsewhere small groups sought and fought each other in the vastness. The ISAB craft PSC-4-17 found the base that had once been the isolationist Faithful Brethren's, and wasted much time knocking out apparent guns, while its MST's cut into it, to find it empty and evacuated. Those who had been Faithful Brethren were very thankful that the X-100's in their own PSC-4 had cleaned the place out some time before in efficient textbook style, and returned them to free spaceman mainstream life so they were now helping to arm and defend the Anor system, instead of being shot by PSC-4-17's MST's or scooped up as they still prayed and then pumped from its hold into its onboard RD like a pike digesting frogs.
54 Space Marines landed in dry scrub near Aulien and tried a land attack on an isolated and reportedly important laboratory. They would have already finished there and moved on, except for what the detachment leader called "silly orders by those high-ups: I know #@$ well 'ow to take a buildin': some prop[ulsor fly] in windows while some blast the door in, shoot everything that moves and doesn't surrender at once, grenade into anywhere a man may be 'idin'; but some places but not others we mustn't #$% do that properly, they say `capture the staff and contents intact with the least possible damage done.', so we must #&% about with riotsquad stuff and take far longer.". As they followed animal paths through the alien scrub, one of their section leaders stopped to look doubtfully at white things fluttering on bushes. "Never mind the `pwetty butterfwies'! Keep goin'!" his commander shouted. He obeyed, and he and many of his men knew no more. Keraunorrhiza detonans, the Ardan landmine bush, as it had been doing for millions of years, not thinking to aid either side in the current battle, had again defended itself against something that might have been a browsing animal. And biologists call its plant family Psychanthaceae from their butterfly-like flowers. But some other squads reached their targets.
PSC-5-2 swooped at the Jetters as it saw them over bushland near Aulien, and routinely fired an AG2 (anti-group type 2) shrapnel missile at them. If they stayed apart, it would explode directly; if they `bulleted', it would push in among them and first explode a small charge to separate them and expose them all to the main charge's shrapnel. The number `5' rather than `4' told them all too clearly that here ready and working was the PSC-4's rumoured successor, with many advances in its weapons systems. The Jetters were already starting to hyper jump out, else their story would have ended there. The missile, deflected by the space warping around the developing 'jump field, careered downwards and started a bush fire and a series of secondary explosions from a dense patch of landmine bush, which PSC-5-2 reported in error as "I knocked out a concealed ammunition store.". The Jetters vanished.
They reappeared inside PSC-5-2, filling its hold, which was open to the cabin to give room for its MST-pilots to kit up and get ready quickly (in fighter pilots' pressure suits instead of spacesuits), as it had been ordered to keep them onboard for action a little later. The ISAB crew, startled, blown about by the air displaced by the incoming hyper field, recovered and fought back. One of them saw Plutey-pots's name on his helmet, and backed off in alarm at that figure of enemy heroic legend seen real and alive. "He's not the real thing! Just shoot them!" the captain shouted, but one of his men in haste had picked up a gun-like Geiger counter instead of a gun. Before realizing to drop the useless thing, he had `fired' it - and it gave a strong radioactivity reading. He waved it about twice. "Get back, both sides, there's something `hot' in here!" he shouted in alarm, "- It's that one's oxy tanks. Oh my God, they are made of plutonium! 239, atom bomb fuel! It is him! Get him away from us!".
Panic spread. Nobody in war likes men who turn their backs on the enemy, but Plutey-pots had good reason to do it. As the dreaded radioactive backpack cylinders appeared in full to their view as he turned, the crew backed away from the Jetters, into the hold, which Laser Larry bolted shut. The captain and remaining two crew were soon tied up in a corner. The Jetters radioed their people to say that PSC-5-2 was now theirs. This saved at least two isolated ground establishments from a quick land-and-burst-in-and-shoot-the-lot cleanout.
"Typical Earth rats, @#$-scared of plutonium. That was a nasty narrow escape. If it wasn't for both the real and the fictional Plutey-potses." said Jet Jack, and looked for action as most of the Jetters got one each into the craft's MST's which were stowed in its missile gun's magazine. It arrived over the roofs and reactor-domes of Aulien, where its `AK-47000' (a nickname for its missile gun) fired its MST's at the nearest battle where there was acceptably little risk of them being attacked in error by defenders. They attacked a large force of descending light-armour Space Marines rather than the desperate local defenders; a volley of reprimand followed by dismayed noises came from PSC-5-2's incoming radio ISAB-code decoder until Jet Jack called his MST's in to cluster close round while he hyper jumped to Ilmenost.
A small shape, ignored by most, sped in from the north. It was a type of space gear that was once common: a man, now old, in an old Company-type day-trip suit made long-trip by connecting it to recycling gear built into a small riding craft often called a photon torpedo, that he rode. Once most of the (then much fewer) free-wandering asteroid miners used them, before long-trip kit for one man got small enough to be fastened to a spacesuit. Once Plutey-pots had met him, with a class of space-children in Ilmenost. He sped towards T2, ignoring all shot in his fury at seeing some new Company come even to his free Arda in his old age. His torpedo's propulsor, a recent much more powerful replacement for the original, had been building up his speed for 45 miles now, straight towards T2 which was still standing above the battle awaiting events. He did not swerve, and at the end as T2 tried too late to turn its unwieldy bulk on edge to let him pass, he hit it and at his speed drove through its hull and four internal bulkheads like a tornado driving a straw through a wooden plank, scattering ruin inside. So he ended, using a real photon torpedo as an anti-ship missile like the fictional weapon that it was nicknamed after.
T2 burst open widely, jetting air and spacesuitless men, for it was a bulk ground-troop transport. Its helmsman tried to get past the warships to reach atmosphere to save the rest of its men, but three missiles shot out of a ground silo broke it up more, and it hit two more ISAB craft badly. The ground opened a slot and emitted its own jet fighters with a hypodermic syringe pattern of stars along their wings, a hurried choice of emblem copied from a prominent bright star constellation of the Anor system sky; while the rest kept the ISAB fighters busy elsewhere two of them went straight into the descending Space Marines and worked ruination among them with missiles and machine guns so well computer controlled that every bullet found a separate target despite their intensely rapid fire rate. "Yeehaa! We can do that also!!" one of their pilots radioed in plain code. Luckily those Marines wore flak-jackets only and lightweight spacesuit kit, not full armour, for better agility on the ground. Against the full space-battle suit, bullets and shrapnel and (in atmosphere) flamethrower would have been in vain, and it would need a long burn by a very hot laser to achieve much. Some tried to `bullet' and `sky' to space, but the fighters stood on their tails and soared, and at limit altitude fired heavy shrapnel missiles upwards, while rear-pointing machine guns picked off men below them. At the end of their fuel the missiles pushed among each group, separated them, and exploded, demolishing them. The Aulien ISAB commander suddenly lost his will to risk more lives in war for a secret agency's power plans, and called retreat.
At Ilmenost the attacking Space Marines were in full armour, and the defenders had little answer. Such armour withstands most things, except a nearby heavy explosion. Laser fired into the eye-windows makes the eye-windows go black too quickly to allow eye-damage; the resulting loss of sight lasts for a minute or so. They picked their targets, ignoring defending shot. But PSC-5-2's new multiple laser gun system was hot enough and followed point targets well enough, to routinely hole this armour, and the Space Marines backed away from it, dismayed that one of their side's new craft had been captured already.
Despite this the attackers at Ilmenost were steadily gaining ground, despite ground fire, when at Aulien ISAB men, panicked, seeing their promised first choice of loot and captured women evaporate (for often such low-minded hopes make that sort of rough eager for action, and the space age does not change such mentality) proved braver against their own craft's radio-room guards and radio operators, and in plain language and in ISAB code tight-beamed news of disaster wherever they knew their side were operating; one man even Morse-coded it using a radar transmitter, ineffectually, but such happened as the high-hoping ISAB force fell apart into its component nationalitles and social groups when its well-thought plan faltered. No desperate danger to their own homes and ways of life at the hands of free spacemen drove them, but only the plans of a power bloc, despite much showing onboard and before in training of fiction films set on an Earth constantly attacked by free spacemen raiding Viking-style with every violence that film-writers could think of. The fleet commander in geostationary orbit round Arda gave up, and called to surrender, for he knew the consequences to himself and all relatives connected with any of the Companies involved if he returned to base having failed; the offer was accepted on condition that he and his men surrendered all craft and weapons and equipment undamaged. Of the ISAB craft, some obeyed, some 'jumped back to Earth with admission of defeat, some departed and sought their fortune on their own.
These, and many other events of battle, happened, and there were many deeds on both sides, but it ended. But the matter was not over at once. First, both sides' MST's and suchlike had to chase about frantically retrieving valuable wreckage and the dead and wounded and drifting and stranded before they drifted too far away. War is messy. "All the fictional space battles that I've read about, and now there's been a real one, the waste of men and equipment that could have had a better use. The first thing I want to say is: `I hope that such a thing never happens again.'." said Plutey-pots during this.
"That's what a magistrate said about the first fatal car accident ever. Human nature is as it is, not as you'd like it to be." said Jet Jack ominously.
The wounded had to be treated: bullet wounds, laser burns, decompression, and so on. And the dead. Many war dead down the ages had to `lie in a foreign field' which relatives and old war-comrades had to travel far to visit graves; but here that field would be of alien grass with branched blades beyond the Pleiades. So the funerals had to be spaceman fashion, but with Earth dead the solid part of the RD'ings of each were boxed separately for sending back to next of kin; and in the huge scattered wreckage of T2 the dead were many. The surrendering living were kept in enclosures on Arda until safe-conduct was established to take them back to Earth or an Earth space-base in pressure bags in loaders.
They looked for whoever had radioed the warning in just in time, but could not find him. Some wondered if it was a drill alarm, which by chance coincided with the surprise attack. Others realized that that would be too unlikely, and guessed otherwise. Much later they found that one of ISAB's craft F3's radio operators had before leaving Earth found by an unauthorized radio contact that two ISAB men who he knew, who had been seconded from Acle Investments Ltd, were two of the sport scuba divers who some free asteroid miners had saved from the inshore fishermen's patrolling RD-submersible; the two were on Operation Toybox as hurried replacements for two others who had been in a group of scubadivers who disappeared off Kittery Point in Maine (USA) the same day.
There were losses on both sides. Of ASC (= Anor System Craft) PSC-4-1, named Defender, manned at the time by the Quasars in desperate defence of Ilmenost, little more than half its MST's ever returned to its onboard magazine, and only two more of their pilots; and there were many more losses. Of those who could be found and summoned in time, every fit man and woman had fought, or manned something, leaving no reserves. But the enemy had been seen off - for this time. In the vastness of space some groups were missed in the haste: 8 days later the Typhoons, who a month before in mid-space had suddenly decided to go and explore Alkarinque's moons, came to Parmondo to hand in asteroid metals and get their group-towed RD serviced, and to buy things, and on hearing what had happened while they were away felt pain of guilt at their intact numbers and unused laser guns and tow-crateful of missiles, and their present and future children having to admit that their fathers were not in the battle; but in space that happens.
Of the hyper-jumping hard long-trip-suited commando squads, some roamed the Anor system for months or years, like stray Japanese soldiers who hid in jungles for many years after 1945. Their long-trip spacesuits lasted for months without servicing or refilling, but not for ever. Some managed to hyper jump back to Earth unaided by many trial-and-error jumps, guided as they could by the rule of making the sky star pattern as much like Earth's as they could, if there was a good astronomer among them. A few tried raiding for a living, and lost men each time in shoot-outs (and in one such shoot-out the Typhoons took part, and got honour in battle after all). Many got hold of tools and worked to get goods to trade for a living as they gathered strategic information, and gradually went native as hope of ISAB's main force coming to relieve them became remote. Many surrendered ISAB men saw no need to return to unemployment on an overcrowded Earth after a venture that they had joined for the adventure had gone wrong, and stayed on Arda as settlers, or were allowed spacesuits again and went to Anor's asteroids.
As suspected, few on Earth knew of ISAB's plans until after; the plan was to tell the public as accomplished facts that "In a series of armed space-police actions against runaway asteroid miners and other unauthorized uncontrolled space groups, Earth law and order has been restored in settlements in the Anor star system. This has deprived the Solar System's over-celebrated rogue asteroid miners of their backup supply source; within a year or two they will be forced to obey the law and return to their proper functions. It has opened up to proper exploitation and control many valuable new resources of metals and nuclear fuels. This much needed and overdue action was made possible by development of new space travel and weapons technology. A new body called ISAB, International Space Administration Board, has been set up, to control or supersede all existing space affairs and spaceflight organizing bodies and companies.", and inevitably soon later "On Mars ISAB armed space-police using new space-landing equipment in coordinated simultaneous actions have restored Earth control over more than 300 population centres and production and storage facilities; remaining holdout rebels will be cleaned up within a year.". Various small and medium nations who had recognized Mars and the Anor system as independent, and groups complaining of neocolonialism and the like, would have complained loudly but in vain. `Unity is strength', it is said, and sometimes that unity has to be enforced by force against small independence-loving component groups.
The part about Mars would have been all too true, and perhaps in the future will be all too true. Mars won its independence when spacecraft were much less advanced. Against troops landing with modern powerful spacesuit propulsors and full suit armouring (that some at Aulien had only flak jackets was the result of an official decision that only just made it), many small hyper-jumping commando squads cleaning out remote settlements one after another, close-orbiting spotter satellites, and modern armed spacecraft, and with camouflaging Mars sandstorms such as had enabled the Argyre disaster prevented by settlers over-efficiently covering Mars with genetically engineered vegetation, Mars rebels would have had no more chance than a tomcat held in a cleanup truck's mobile scrap grab.
But this did not happen; and in the Anor system the ISAB men were held grounded on Arda, and all surrendered ISAB craft were safely guarded and added to the Anor system's fleet, and repairs were well under way, and evacuated noncombatant people and equipment were returned to their places, and life was getting back to normal. And the Arbiter, and the Jetters, and others, saw no reason not to 'jump to Earth and into a UN conference in New York to give their side of the story. After some hours in the blank grey of hyperspace, a brief sight of Earth from 300,000 miles away, and a second short jump, they arrived. The current discussion was about tedious financial matters, which the spacemen in their anger saw no reason whatever not to interrupt.
Displaced air wind blew papers about as they were suddenly in the conference room in their unattractively functional long-trip space kit, faces hidden by breathing masks with eye-windows, large laser guns slung on belts. Earth's yellow Sun shone through a window on the Arbiter's shiny Cm-247 backpack oxygen cylinders mined under the light of a white sun far away, and on Plutey-pots's cylinders which had once been Russian nuclear missile warheads. By now neither had any fear of those metals; luckily the delegates seeing them automatically thought that the shinyness was chrome. People pressed alarm buttoms.
"This isn't a hostage taking, and you can leave when you want to. If you've called security, stand them down." the Arbiter announced, "We as representatives of the settlers in the Anor star system hereby request audience now or soon, on a matter which I think is more important than stale ends of finance. It has come out that some of the various recent spacecraft building programs have not been for exploring as stated, but the various bodies involved were fronts for ISAB, International Space Administration Board, a name which I suspected from the beginning was too big for the small backroom discussion committee which it had presented itself as before. Why we're unwilling now to ago anywhere except in full kit and armed, will become clear soon. I should remind you that various nations recognise us and Mars as independent nations, and routine trading and scientific visiting has been going on between us and various Earth bodies for some time now. Suddenly we were attacked by a big well-armed space war fleet, and only just managed to overcome them. You have the right to put all Earth's space effort under a single command for efficiency etc, but not for that single command's first action to be a sudden attack on us without good excuse of self defence and without accusing us formally of anything first. I admit that we aren't a member of the UN yet, although our application's been in your system for long enough.". He described the battle, and some earlier events.
"In the captured craft and space kit we found many spacesuits and parts and powerpacks that we had made and sold to various Earth bodies, and in the battle were used against us. We have that and many other matters to raise, and we would appreciate a hearing as soon as possible - I hope with more result than when Emperor Haile Selassie appealed in vain to the League of Nations that time to get his country back from an Italian colonial takeover.".
The UN granted them an audience the same day, and there were many of the same arguments as before. They stayed in their spacesuits.
"You spy to steal scientific secrets." a delegate accused the spacemen, "How else do you get all those advances of yours, so much secret matter duplicated and published to all and sundry. Likely by hyperspace jumping into places. In the wrong hands hyper jumpers are the worst security menace. They should be banned except under strict control. Like those cheap backpack helicopter motor and rotor packs called helirigs so anyone can get in over any security fencing, and the teenage helirig gang problem and all sorts.".
"How do we get so well on in making and designing stuff without spying for the plans??" said the Arbiter, "For one thing, because we don't wait for ever while committees study feasibility and report on each others' findings forever, we just get on with the job.".
The matter of the fast breeder blowout, and Anor system fast breeders in general, was raised again, with too many opinions relying on matter mutilated and remutilated by newspapers' reporters and subeditors. "From what I read, it seems that with those PL-props and hyper jumpers and fast police-type spacecraft for all and sundry to yahoo about in, to reach the accident quickly, and all your fancy kit to stop it with, and you got there TOO LATE!" said a delegate.
"This is not a courtroom. You are not a public prosecutor." the Arbiter replied, enraged, "Yes, we did get there too late, seven million years too late! It happened way back in what you call the Miocene period by natural geology forces bringing stuff together. It happens, on planets with more fissile actinide about than on Earth. Read the original article properly, we've sent you enough copies of it, not some ignorant newspaper garbling of it, or some clerk assistant's digest of inaccurate summaries and bits snipped out of it. The fast breeders that we make are perfectly safe. But back to what we came to say.
Something on Earth caused us so much need to defend ourselves that like Israel's our economy's got lopsided towards defence; that itself is a complaint, us having to use warcraft for nearly every work and transport job because we haven't the capacity to make or man enough separate civilian craft. Of course, f'r example, we'd rather carry visitors in something with seats instead of stuffed into a loader's hold! Just now we found those precautions were needed: that body ISAB, in the middle of peaceful trading and scientific relations without declaration of war or defiance given, without telling the public the truth about what it wanted all those men and spacecraft for, equipped a fleet to arrest us all like criminals and deport us all from there which we had made our home and done all the first work of exploring and setting up bases in. We were all to be tried for resisting Company-and-then-ISAB authority, as if there was no such thing as the Geneva Conventions saying that being an enemy at war is not to be tried as a common crimimal offence. If you refuse to believe an Anor man about this, there were at least 8 Earth visiting geologists and biologists stuck in Aulien through it all, and they saw it all. And 3 Earth men come to buy stuff were stuck in Ilmenost through it all. We shoved them all into spacesuits in case it got bad and we had to bolt off to space and take them with us for safety. Some of them are still there continuing their work, some are back on Earth now. Our delegation leader at our last meeting with Earth reps on that orbiting space station, he could tell that some Company or government body or another on Earth was spoiling for a fight against us; well, it's happened.
There has been the first fullscale shooting war battle in space, complete disregard of what Armstrong and Gagarin and the rest hoped for. That war was not of our making, unless defying a sudden order to surrender at once can be called warmongering. Israel had this in here in 1968, and they had to remind Russia then that `the UN is not a Moscow courtroom, and [the delegate for] Bulgaria is not the assistant public prosecutor.'. USA had this after their War of Independence, and it took their 1812 attack on British Canada to make the British navy stop harassing USA shipping.
What is Mr.Acle of Acle Investments Ltd 's part in all this? The name sounds like some ordinary financiers. He said that he didn't know what those two of his men had been doing when they were away with ISAB. But Acle's, like ISAB, turned out to be running things in space, trying to be a new Company like Fletcher's and Milford's etc, even a new asteroid belt space gulag that time.".
"Oh yes, that, you abducted all the workers, and it was a proper work base.".
"That Acle base. No. We only gave them a long-trip spacesuit each. They then exerted their natural right of leaving the place, now they had the means to leave. Any of them could have stayed there if they'd wanted to.
I want ISAB's assurance that, if they want us to join them or help support them, they'll approach us properly and negotiate with us, and not under threat. Quite a lot of nations have recognized us and Mars as independent. But ISAB plans that we captured said they planned to take Mars back after they'd cleaned us out. And we should all know by now what drove Mars to rebel that time.
We've had enough attempts to infiltrate us. That Mr.Clifham who called himself Eland while with us, said he was a biologist, but he turned out to know little about biology, and we found Acle's and ISAB and American CIA and FBI warrant cards on him. That Acle man Abu-Bakr Hasan who died of a stroke in space with us and we found that sort of card on him also, not from a fashion clothes firm like he said. (He'd've found no call for fashion stuff anyway, among us.) Likely why some bodies have been so eager to aid us to set up our own bureaucracy is that you can't infiltrate our bureaucracy if we haven't got a big enough bureaucracy to infiltrate.".
"Yes, I know: your idea of a fashion shop is a nuclear materials store. Like when one of my men was on Arda with some Earth biologists, they got him to scuba dive, and afterwards he found that his diving weights were not depleted uranium but very much undepleted plutonium, which, typically for Ilmenostian casualness with actinides, was being made to do some more useful work than sitting about in a storeroom while waiting to meet its destiny in a nuclear power station. Typical free spaceman trick, making fun of Earth nuclear naterials rules.".
"I want some progress on getting the Anor system a seat here. You said you would, but something, likely some Company, likely ISAB, kept making delays. It took Mars ages to get their seat in here, what with Milford's etc stirring up trouble against it.".
"You can't deny there's been cases of free spacemen abducting Earth people to space. I've got all these cases on file here.".
"Lets see them. It's not our fault every time someone has an abduction by UFO aliens hallucination or dream like there've been cases of even before anyone'd been further than the Moon.".
"But there have been provable real cases, like some tramps in Birmingham UK.".
"One of us called Red Scorpion landed to visit his parents, now he'd got a PL-prop, that's a spacesuit propulsor powerful enough to get on and off Earth with; the tramps and the tinkers were bullying the area about, and the law couldn't or wouldn't do anything about it, and the tinkers were @#$ well armed and drilled and hard; so we grabbed the lot. Sharp fight it was. The law'd had long enough to do its own job, but it hadn't done it.
Those tramps were lucky. We heard that another lot of tramps who settled in the same doss a bit later, a Corporation RD-truck put its pickup arm into the doss and swallowed everything, and that was the end of them. Which reminds me as a sideline: it wasn't us who designed that `Project Ancalagon', those three nuclear flamethrowers we found in that Fletcher's asteroid gulag Fletchmin-1 after it was abandoned after that bad explosion or whatever happened there. What were they for? Not to use in space, they're air-breathing. Like I heard of happening in New York once when some dockers got sick of some aggressive tramps, so they kitted up in their identical docks issue thick rough overalls, riotsquad gear, cloth masks, and each had a powerful industrial propane flamethower, one of those that looks like a jet engine, run off a 50-kilo backpack propane tank; and a big heatproof riotshield with a hole to fire the flamethrower through. Those dockers can carry some weight, the work they have to do. They ignited and closed in on the tramps against a wall. When they withdrew, nothing was left.
Those we got, we simply made them do a regular steady day's work each, like we ourselves do. So, accusing us of mistreating tramps is `the curium accusing the plutonium of being radioactive', as we say. Apart from the local law mistreating the local residents by not removing a chronic petty crime vagrant nuisance.".
"He means: `the pot calling the kettle black', that nuke-minded lot." said a delegate, "Anyway, those spacemen also grabbed two nuclear scientists: that's a far more serious matter. Dr.Enzheimer from a Milford's subsidiary, tall thin man, that's why they call him Control Rod now; and one that they call Muon.".
"Dr.Enzheimer left by himself. Deserting a firm isn't a crime, nor is failing to return such a deserter. He was in a company, not an armed force. He didn't like what was going on in his Company. Muon was one of those tramps: he claimed to be a nuclear science graduate, and Control Rod gave him a very stiff oral and written test, and he really was one. He'd gone vagrant when he came out of university and found his parents had moved while he was away, he couldn't find a job to pay for lodgings. So we got him back into good health and he stayed with us. He could have gone back to Earth if he'd wanted to, but he never did.
Back to the main point: if ISAB wants the Anor system, or Mars, to join or support them, it should ask them, same as they'd ask some Earth nation or company to support or help them. Or are we and Mars appealing in vain, and nothing to come except a larger more powerful ISAB fleet, and the chances of battle to go otherwise, and no personal rights in a future with who has what kit tightly controlled to keep an authoritarian space empire working efficiently?".
The vote, with small nations outnumbering big nations, inevitably supported Mars and the Anor system, called for an enquiry into ISAB, and condemned the recent attack. Anor, as it became called at the UN, also got its UN seat at last. But the amalgamation or subordination of NASA and ESA and various other space bodies and aerospace and finance companies to form ISAB, persisted, and those who sought support from NASA, which in recent events including drawn guns and a violent fist and chair fight in its boardroom had pulled clear of space trading Company control and returned to its old exploring spirit, found instead ISAB, which was more patrol and control minded; ISAB, now openly, ran much of the Solar System's routine space transport, tried to regulate the trade in asteroid metals and to keep track of spacemen and events, and to build up its fleet, and awaited better times and perhaps another chance of action. It knew that trying to control supply of space travel kit was like building a tool lockup with one wall missing, as long as the Anor system traded where it would.
ISAB, and Anor, explored more star systems, and found occasional ones with planets. Separately, for it was long before anyone in the Anor system wanted to see the name ISAB again. Some opinions on Earth favoured leaving some spacemen uncontrolled, as it provided an outlet for the restless young other than making trouble: e.g. a teenage helirig gang could use up its wildness and young energy exploring a forest-choked alien river gorge rather than by bullying pedestrians who ventured onto open ground in or near its town. But ISAB still developed space-police craft; perhaps they will be needed, if some group of PL-prop and hyper jumper spacemen actually does ever develop a persistent raiding habit.
In describing space affairs it is easy to slip into talking of `Earth' as a single compact nation with one mind and one policy. But on it are many peoples and many bodies with many life styles and many opinions. Most of them only know of space travel as something to read about or see on a screen, or to watch spacecraft landing and taking off. But ordinary people with little influence tend to sympathize with small groups than big groups, now that the public media makes them aware of matters far away, if not over-influenced by nationalism towards their own group, and each made his own choice which of the various competing bodies concerned with space to treat as real representatives of the many fictional space story heroes that have been written of since the 1920's. Thus, some objected to the ISAB assault on the Anor spacemen as unjust, and some because it failed and lost the expense of mounting it and also cost lives.
After the UN vote, contact between Earth and Anor resumed warily, complicated by the need to tidy up the loose ends that the battle and truce had left.
"The matter arises again, of not returning all prisoners that you are holding" said von Aschheim, a spokesman for ISAB, at a meeting on an asteroid near Vesta, where recently a powerful foundry-craft had consumed the broken shell of Fletchmin-1 as an unwelcome symbol of unwanted allegations and tales, and built a new base on its site, "For instance, you are still holding Mr.Lintzford, one of our directors, who directed overall the action referred to.".
"Admiral Lintzford surrendered to us on condition that we kept him in Anor and also fetched from Earth particular of his relatives. He did not trust his personal safety if he returned to Earth having failed.". said the Arbiter.
"In Anor: inside your sun!? And he is Mister, yet again. You mean he doesn't want to be prosecuted for losing valuable craft. It's a lot more serious financially than a careless lorry driver writing his lorry off!".
"Sorry, that's spaceman-talk, that habit of saying `in or on a star' for `in its planetary system' or `on a planet orbiting it.'. As to what that penalty from you is to be, if Admiral Lintzford wants us to help him to appeal to proper USA state or federal law above your Company rules, we will help him to.".
"Mister. Are you feeling all right?".
"Admiral. Yes. As far as we're concerned, that fleet he was leading was a navy, and we describe its officers by titles appropriate. We will not recognise these attempts (likely to dodge some law by technicalities) on your side to claim that that lot was workmen and law officers and businessmen with a police escort like some bailiff squad going with an RD-truck and a prison van to evict squatters. It was a navy, at war, and so the Geneva Conventions apply, all of them: including that we are not liable to criminal charges resulting from that battle, if we turn up on Earth or in ISAB-run bases etc. What claim do you have on the Anor system, anyway? It was nobody's before and not even the astronomers knew it was there, we found it, we explored it, we mapped it, we searched it for minerals, we built its factories and laboratories and education places, we made a lot of space and nuclear technology advances and other things there, and you lot knew that, because some of those Space Marines that we captured complained about being hampered by orders from above to capture particular buildings with staff and contents as intact as possible. What is ISAB's legal status? If that lot was an organization's private security force, then we're allowed to defend ourselves against it, since it came without any valid court warrant that we know of allowing them to use force against us. And if, as seems sometimes, ISAB, like Fletcher's and Milford's etc before it, is de facto its own law-making and courts when out in space, that makes its space area a separate nation and ISAB's board its government, or virtually so, and if we are its subjects we demand fair elections and a democratic parliament. We've had this before, with the old Companies' men. As surely as landmine bushes go `bang'.".
"On that list of prisoners that you sent to us, those naval ranks that you stuck on their names were most confusing. Some of them do have Armed Forces or police ranks, different from what you called them. The so-called Petty Officer Yvonne Burnhope of the PSC-5-2 on your list was a prostitute that some of the men smuggled in, likely dressed in a Company workman overall to get her past security; likely when you poshly asked her for `name, rank, serial number' she told lies to get better quarters: that sort of woman can't be trusted. Also, the men that you list as Space Marines were a civilian special private security firm subsidiary of ours. It seems they've been calling themselves by army names again to sound tougher or whatever: they'll be disciplined for it when we get them back. Anyway, there's still a lot of our men unaccounted for.".
"A lot of those hyper jumping commando squads still haven't been found. The T2 crashed so badly that likely we didn't find every body there. Same in those two craft it crashed into. No dogtags on a lot of the men: that didn't help much. No serial numbers either for a lot of them, or they didn't know them, so we had to give numbers to them, to tell them apart when there were several with the same surname. Some of them gave silly false names or wouldn't say any name at all.".
"Oh. And, yes, Mr.Lintzford is due for severe penalties for messing this up, not just a cosy `golden handshake'. You played on his fears to grab a lot of craft belonging to us and our subsidiaries and contractors.".
"We had to. If they'd just retreated away, next year they'd have too likely been refitted and re-armed and attacking us again, us having to withstand seige after seige without help until one attack too many, fine handy way to test your weapons systems that you are developing. What'll likely happen if the unlikely happens and you ever do meet an alien race which has space travel?".
"I should remind you that all of our men that you are holding, must be returned.".
"A lot of the prisoners don't want to go back. It being a punishable offence to desert, as it seems to here, is an armed forces rule and makes that fleet even more like a navy at war, and as I said before. If Admiral Lintzford wants political asylum with us, he can have it. Can we please sort out the exact legal status of everybody involved in this?".
"Democratic? Space isn't some cosy little established nation on a planet. It needs far more and skilled organizing than running some farming and suburban nation, and far more complication travelling about, and tight control over who and what goes where. Unity is strength, even if we've got to rope in stray loner groups by force. For example, those actinide ores in those mountains that you call Ered Kalashnikov (OK, they do look like one on a map), and other big deposits, so much actinide that you've found the remains of old natural criticality accidents all over the place, and one still active. The sheer size of space fleet that lot could power, and you just leave it and nibble at it a bit like one man with a 10-foot coal seam all to himself. You talk about the law and that nobody can make law unless authorized by another lawmaker of the correct sort: what is the start of most national laws that you appeal to? Some tribe or army long ago marched in and took over and its leader said `I'm king here now.'. Even ever so just and famed British law started when German tribes alias Anglo-Saxons landed and took over after the Romans left. What if we must make and declare our own authority?, out here hundreds of Earth-diameters away, or out there hundreds of light-years away. Law and order must start somewhere.".
"Then why didn't you come in one ship to Ilmenost or Aulien, and discuss it with us quietly? Now it seems you've done what the old Companies didn't manage to do, and successfully swallowed NASA who supported us as it could in exploring and wanting to be left alone, and we've got you lot instead, it seems that we are on our own now. Surely space is big enough for both of us?".
"Like I said," said another ISAB man to von Aschheim, forgetting that he was not at a private ISAB meeting, "In [the] Anor [system] there's some mighty good space-marine and space-police material wasted yahooing about in the wild sporting actinide ornaments on their spacesuits. As well as explorers. We should have gradually got them around to our side. Forget getting Mars back yet, that'd cause too much aggro from sympathizers on Earth. Until we've got so much in space that we don't need help from Earth any more. Then we'll see.".
"How long before we see?" said von Aschheim, "No point leaving it until its atmosphere reaches 100 millibars and they won't need pressure suits or breathing sets any more. It started about 7 mb mostly carbon dioxide, and they're pulling a lot of oxygen out of the rocks so it's become mostly oxygen already; they fill the upper air with greenhouse effect gases so it's getting warmer and warmer there and the icecaps and the permafrost melts. Meanwhile they breed and the settlements get more and more until they're too many and too strong for us to take on. At 100 mb the air'll be very thin like the oxygen part of the air up on the Andes plateau in Bolivia, but they'll live on it. Let their government watch out they don't end up where we are, when its people get more and more and separate bits of Mars develop cultural differences and each wants its own national independence. Or when the people on Arda breed to more and more until they want independence from Ilmenost, and then separate Ardan nations want independence from each other.".
"Can't Mars be left alone?" said Plutey-pots, who had come with the Arbiter, "As he said, you and us have each got all space to go at. Anyway, if you make an enemy of the people that live in some place, you'll find that that place is less use without people to do the work there, and better the people bred there who know it properly than having to import and train new people. We've already had so much in space for years now that we haven't needed Earth much if anything. Comes partly from us living in spacesuits with backpack propulsors and not needing to make and refuel pressurized craft, or any craft much except to carry big loads. And for defence. When the X-100's 'jumped to Anor and founded and named Ilmenost, they had a hard struggle with what tools they had with them before they managed to make their first complete new spacesuit and then the means to make a new one of everything they had with them, but they did it.".
"While they should have been asteroid mining in the Sun's asteroids for the Companies who employed them. Leaving no official space body whatever with the honour of being first to another star, an honour equal to Gagarin first in space and the Apollo 11 crew first on the Moon. Those wild roughs and their codenames: what sort of estate of streets could be named after them to honour them!?: Control Rod Street, King Cobra Street, Puff Adder Street, Twelve Finger Joe Street, etc: forget it. Those Companies got slack, they let the miners wander free with kit that should have been for explorers only, and some of it for Company staff and security men only, so the miners wanted more kit, and made it themselves in unauthorized workshops out in the wilds, till that hyper jumper got loose and they copied it, and we now have the end-result. Gah. If every word that's been said or printed about this by our side had been a bullet or a laser shot, and every carefully worded article had been a missile or MST, we'd have cleaned that lot up long ago. Now it looks like we're stuck with them.".
The meeting went on for a while longer, discussing small matters, then ended, and all the participants departed and went back to their normal routines.
Some years ago, seeming to Plutey-pots and many others to be most of a
lifetime ago, the space metals trading and finance Companies had tried to form a
complete monopoly and unified command over supplying and handling asteroid
miners. But Plutey-pots by chance had seen a runaway from Fletchmin-1, and so
the Jetters found the place, and, hyperspace jump raiding it and releasing its
captives, found secret Company papers about that cartel's secret founding
conference. They hyper jump raided the conference and stopped the cartel from
forming, and so the free asteroid miners were saved from being starved back into
the old hard base-bound rule, and many useful firms without direct space
involvement were saved from being taken over and closed down by the same cartel.
But good luck is not necessarily repeated, and ISAB formed and established
itself undisturbed - after the free asteroid miners had become able to make for
themselves in space and later on Arda everything they needed.