Masters of Space
Copyright© 2012 by E. E. Smith (Edward Elmer) & Edward Everett Evans
The Orion hung in space, a couple of thousands of miles away from an asteroid which was perhaps a mile in average diameter. Hilton straightened up.
"Put Triple X Black filters on your plates and watch that asteroid." The commanders did so. "Ready?" he asked.
Hilton didn't move a muscle. Nothing actually moved. Nevertheless there was a motionlessly writhing and crawling distortion of the ship and everything in it, accompanied by a sensation that simply can not be described.
It was not like going into or emerging from the sub-ether. It was not even remotely like space-sickness or sea-sickness or free fall or anything else that any Terran had ever before experienced.
And the asteroid vanished.
It disappeared into an outrageously incandescent, furiously pyrotechnic, raveningly expanding atomic fireball that in seconds seemed to fill half of space.
After ages-long minutes of the most horrifyingly devastating fury any man there had ever seen, the frightful thing expired and Hilton said: "That was just a kind of a firecracker. Just a feeble imitation of the first-stage detonator for what we'll have to have to crack the Stretts' ground-based screens. If the skipper and I had taken time to take the ship down to the shops and really work it over we could have put on a show. Was this enough so you iron-heads are ready to listen with your ears open and your mouths shut?"
They were. So much so that not even Elliott opened his mouth to say yes. They merely nodded. Then again--for the last time, he hoped!--Hilton spoke his piece. The response was prompt and vigorous. Only Sam Bryant, one of Hilton's staunchest allies, showed any uncertainty at all.
"I've been married only a year and a half, and the baby was due about a month ago. How sure are you that you can make old Gordon sit still for us skimming the cream off of Terra to bring out here?"
"Doris Bryant, the cream of Terra!" Elliott gibed. "How modest our Samuel has become!"
"Well, damn it, she is!" Bryant insisted.
"Okay, she is," Hilton agreed. "But either we get our people or Terra doesn't get its uranexite. That'll work. In the remote contingency that it doesn't, there are still tighter screws we can put on. But you missed the main snapper, Sam. Suppose Doris doesn't want to live for five thousand years and is allergic to becoming a monster?"
"Huh; you don't need to worry about that." Sam brushed that argument aside with a wave of his hand. "Show me a girl who doesn't want to stay young and beautiful forever and I'll square you the circle. Come on. What's holding us up?"
The Orion hurtled through space back toward Ardry and Hilton, struck by a sudden thought, turned to the captain.
"Skipper, why wouldn't it be a smart idea to clamp a blockade onto Fuel Bin? Cut the Stretts' fuel supply?"
"I thought better of you than that, son." Sawtelle shook his head sadly. "That was the first thing I did."
"Ouch. Maybe you're 'way ahead of me too, then, on the one that we should move to Fuel Bin, lock, stock and barrel?"
"Never thought of it, no. Maybe you're worth saving, after all. After conversion, of course ... Yes, there'd be three big advantages."
Sawtelle raised his eyebrows.
"One, only one planet to defend. Two, it's self-defending against sneak landings. Nothing remotely human can land on it except in heavy lead armor, and even in that can stay healthy for only a few minutes."
"Except in the city. Omlu. That's the weak point and would be the point of attack."
"Uh-uh. Cut off the decontaminators and in five hours it'll be as hot as the rest of the planet. Three, there'd be no interstellar supply line for the Stretts to cut. Four, the environment matches our new physiques a lot better than any normal planet could."
"That's the one I didn't think about."
"I think I'll take a quick peek at the Stretts--oh-oh; they've screened their whole planet. Well, we can do that, too, of course."
"How are you going to select and reject personnel? It looks as though everybody wants to stay. Even the men whose main object in life is to go aground and get drunk. The Omans do altogether too good a job on them and there's no such thing as a hangover. I'm glad I'm not in your boots."
"You may be in it up to the eyeballs, Skipper, so don't chortle too soon."
Hilton had already devoted much time to the problems of selection; and he thought of little else all the way back to Ardry. And for several days afterward he held conferences with small groups and conducted certain investigations.
Bud Carroll of Sociology and his assistant Sylvia Banister had been married for weeks. Hilton called them, together with Sawtelle and Bryant of Navy, into conference with the Big Eight.
"The more I study this thing the less I like it," Hilton said. "With a civilization having no government, no police, no laws, no medium of exchange..."
"No money?" Bryant exclaimed. "How's old Gordon going to pay for his uranexite, then?"
"He gets it free," Hilton replied, flatly. "When anyone can have anything he wants, merely by wanting it, what good is money? Now, remembering how long we're going to have to live, what we'll be up against, that the Masters failed, and so on, it is clear that the prime basic we have to select for is stability. We twelve have, by psychodynamic measurement, the highest stability ratings available."
"Are you sure I belong here?" Bryant asked.
"Yes. Here are three lists." Hilton passed papers around. "The list labeled 'OK' names those I'm sure of--the ones we're converting now and their wives and whatever on Terra. List 'NG' names the ones I know we don't want. List 'X'--over thirty percent--are in-betweeners. We have to make a decision on the 'X' list. So--what I want to know is, who's going to play God. I'm not. Sandy, are you?"
"Good Heavens, no!" Sandra shuddered. "But I'm afraid I know who will have to. I'm sorry, Alex, but it'll have to be you four--Psychology and Sociology."
Six heads nodded and there was a flashing interchange of thought among the four. Temple licked her lips and nodded, and Kincaid spoke.
"Yes, I'm afraid it's our baby. By leaning very heavily on Temple, we can do it. Remember, Jarve, what you said about the irresistible force? We'll need it."
"As I said once before, Mrs. Hilton, I'm very glad you're along," Hilton said. "But just how sure are you that even you can stand up under the load?"
"Alone, I couldn't. But don't underestimate Mrs. Carroll and the Messrs. Together, and with such a goal, I'm sure we can."
Thus, after four-fifths of his own group and forty-one Navy men had been converted, Hilton called an evening meeting of all the converts. Larry, Tuly and Javvy were the only Omans present.
"You all knew, of course, that we were going to move to Fuel Bin sometime," Hilton began. "I can tell you now that we who are here are all there are going to be of us. We are all leaving for Fuel Bin immediately after this meeting. Everything of any importance, including all of your personal effects, has already been moved. All Omans except these three, and all Oman ships except the Orion, have already gone."
He paused to let the news sink in.
Thoughts flew everywhere. The irrepressible Stella Wing--now Mrs. Osbert F. Harkins--was the first to give tongue. "What a wonderful job! Why, everybody's here that I really like at all!"
That sentiment was, of course, unanimous. It could not have been otherwise. Betty, the ex-Ames, called out:
"How did you get their female Omans away from Cecil Calthorpe and the rest of that chasing, booze-fighting bunch without them blowing the whole show?"
"Some suasion was necessary," Hilton admitted, with a grin. "Everyone who isn't here is time-locked into the Perseus. Release time eight hours tomorrow."
"And they'll wake up tomorrow morning with no Omans?" Bernadine tossed back her silvery mane and laughed. "Nor anything else except the Perseus? In a way, I'm sorry, but ... maybe I've got too much stinker blood in me, but I'm very glad none of them are here. But I'd like to ask, Jarvis--or rather, I suppose you have already set up a new Advisory Board?"
"We have, yes." Hilton read off twelve names.
"Oh, nice. I don't know of any people I'd rather have on it. But what I want to gripe about is calling our new home world such a horrible name as 'Fuel Bin, ' as though it were a wood-box or a coal-scuttle or something. And just think of the complexes it would set up in those super-children we're going to have so many of."
"What would you suggest?" Hilton asked.
"'Ardvor', of course," Hermione said, before her sister could answer. "We've had 'Arth' and 'Ardu' and 'Ardry' and you--or somebody--started calling us 'Ardans' to distinguish us converts from the Terrans. So let's keep up the same line."
There was general laughter at that, but the name was approved.
About midnight the meeting ended and the Orion set out for Ardvor. It reached it and slanted sharply downward. The whole BuSci staff was in the lounge, watching the big tri-di.
"Hey! That isn't Omlu!" Stella exclaimed. "It isn't a city at all and it isn't even in the same place!"
"No, ma'am," Larry said. "Most of you wanted the ocean, but many wanted a river or the mountains. Therefore we razed Omlu and built your new city, Ardane, at a place where the ocean, two rivers, and a range of mountains meet. Strictly speaking, it is not a city, but a place of pleasant and rewardful living."
The space-ship was coming in, low and fast, from the south. To the left, the west, there stretched the limitless expanse of ocean. To the right, mile after mile, were rough, rugged, jagged, partially-timbered mountains, mass piled upon mass. Immediately below the speeding vessel was a wide, white-sand beach all of ten miles long.
Slowing rapidly now, the Orion flew along due north.
"Look! Look! A natatorium!" Beverly shrieked. "I know I wanted a nice big place to swim in, besides my backyard pool and the ocean, but I didn't tell anybody to build that--I swear I didn't!"
"You didn't have to, pet." Poynter put his arm around her curvaceous waist and squeezed. "They knew. And I did a little thinking along that line myself. There's our house, on top of the cliff over the natatorium--you can almost dive into it off the patio."
Immediately north of the natatorium a tremendous river--named at first sight the "Whitewater"--rushed through its gorge into the ocean; a river and gorge strangely reminiscent of the Colorado and its Grand Canyon. On the south bank of that river, at its very mouth--looking straight up that tremendous canyon; on a rocky promontory commanding ocean and beach and mountains--there was a house. At the sight of it Temple hugged Hilton's arm in ecstasy.