The cold equationstom Godwin



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Mother of InventionEditor's note: This story, as with the previous one, is a celebration of tenacity and perseverance in the face of disaster. The enemy here, however, is simply nature. But, whether facing death because of intelligent hostility or accidental misadventure, Godwin's heroes in this story are cut from the same cloth as all of his "survivors."   The Star Scout's normal-space speed was far below that of light when she dropped out of hyperspace beyond the rim of the Thousand Suns. Two last stars lay beneath her; a binary composed of a small yellow sun and a larger blue-white sun. Observations were taken and instruments noted the tiny, shining mote that swung four hundred million miles out from the blue-white sun. Other instruments determined the new destination and the Star Scout vanished again into hyperspace.When she dropped once more into normal space the shining mote had become a planet that blazed like a great, radiant gem against the black void beyond. The planet grew as the hours went by, filling the viewscreen as Blake braked for the descent into its atmosphere. Land masses and small oceans were faintly discernible through the fiery, opalescent haze that blanketed the planet. The image swelled and enlarged, the surplus running off the four sides of the screen, until the western side of a continent and a small portion of ocean filled the screen.The four men in the deceleration chairs behind Blake, and held as helplessly as he by the force, watched the image on the viewscreen and the multiple hands of the air analyzer. The hands began to move as the first thin sample of air was scooped into the analyzer, then settled into position a few minutes later."Breathable." The gray-haired Taylor spoke with difficulty against the deceleration."Less carbon dioxide than New Earth," Wilfred commented. Young, short and stocky, he was far less affected by the deceleration than the elderly ex-dean. "I can't understand why the spectroscope showed such an incredibly high percentage of carbon. How could any planet's crust contain such an excess of carbon?""The carbon must be in the crust, rather than in the atmosphere," Taylor said. "Either that or the old spectroscope is erroneous. We know the air analyzer is a new and reliable instrument, but these old Warden spectroscopes, like men, develop eccentricities with age. If we had a new—""Hang on," Blake interrupted, his eyes on the instruments before him. "I'm going to have to brake a little harder."The increased deceleration settled them all deeper in their chairs and no one spoke while the section of continent on the viewscreen became a hazy desert or plain through which ran dim wrinkles. The surplus slid away and the wrinkle in the center of the screen became a range of mountains. Blake watched the translucent white dot in the center of the screen that represented their point of landing and saw it would be along the eastern side of the mountain range. It would do as well as any other unknown section of the unknown world and he let the ship hold its course.The green line of a tree-bordered creek appeared, hugging the mountain's foothills, with the white dot between the creek and the mountain. The area covered by the dot became a small delta of alluvium from one of the canyons with a few trees scattered across it. The delta swept up to meet them, slowing as it came, with the white dot in a flat clearing that seemed to be of some curiously glittering sand.The Star Scout halted ten feet above the ground with a staccato of blasts from the drive tubes that sent the bright sand swirling in heavy clouds, then it dropped, cushioned by the drive, to touch the ground with a slight lurch. The wide tail fins settled in the sand and Blake cut off the drive."And here we are," he remarked.* * *The others were already hurrying to read the data recorded on the instruments; Taylor and Wilfred, Lenson and Cooke. Blake watched them, interested by their reactions. None of them had ever been off New Earth before, let alone on a world hitherto unknown to exist, and they were as excited as children with a new toy. Taylor, steeped in the academic environment all his life, was the most enthusiastic of them all. He had once told Blake: "With all due respect to ivied walls of stone, they can become a prison. I want to see a few things before I grow any older; deep space and distant suns and strange worlds—" Lenson, a tall, lean man with the easy grace of a cat, stood a full head taller than the pink young Wilfred; a pleasant sort of a man with a slow smile and a tolerant understanding of the foibles of others.There was the indefinable mark of the intellectual upon all three of them and among them the paradox, Cooke, stood out like a black sheep among white. He was, Blake knew, fully as intelligent as any of the others; he, like the others, had been selected by Taylor because his intelligence and knowledge were considerably greater than the intelligence and knowledge of the average graduate. But he did not look the part. His dark, hard-jawed face was not that of an intellectual. Neither were his broken nose and glittering black eyes. Blake watched him, thinking: He doesn't belong with the others; he belongs on Old Earth three hundred years ago, on the deck of a pirate ship with a bloody cutlass in his hand.But, for all his appearance of being a man of sanguine physical violence, Cooke seemed to be content to do no more than laugh at what his black eyes found in others and in life, itself."Earth-type in every important respect," Taylor was saying. "Gravity, temperature, air. No indications of any harmful bacteria—we've been incredibly fortunate.""We had about one chance out of several thousand of this being an Earth-type planet, didn't we, Red?" Lenson asked, looking over at Blake.Blake nodded his red head. "Quite a few thousand, since this isn't a class-G sun. As Taylor said, we were incredibly lucky to hit the jackpot the very first try.""Then let's get out and look our find over," Cooke said, shifting restlessly. "Let's get out and romp across the sand and breathe some air we haven't breathed a million times already."Taylor looked questioningly at Blake and Blake nodded. "I don't see any reason why we shouldn't," he said. He checked the readings on the control board instruments from long habit and saw the red line that indicated the drive room's temperature. It was climbing rapidly, and he turned a knob marked: DRIVE ROOM—OUTSIDE VENTILATION. This would open the ports in the drive room and start the blower to rushing its great volumes of cool outside air through the overheated room. "Drive room's mighty hot from the decelerating," he said as he followed the others to the elevator. "If we had had a little more money left over, we could have had full-size coolers installed.""We were lucky to scrape up enough money to buy what we have," Wilfred said, dropping the elevator to the cabin level."Our worries are over, now," Cooke declared. "Anyone who owns an Earth-type world isn't just rich—he's lord of all he surveys."* * *They stopped at the cabin level only long enough to procure a sidearm each. "You can't tell what you may run into on an alien planet," Blake said as he stepped back into the elevator. "No signs of any intelligent, civilized life, but there might be animals. Sometimes animals don't wait for you to run into them—they take a deep breath and do their level best to run into you and tramp you into the ground."They dropped to the lower air lock and went through it. The boarding ramp was dropped to the ground and they descended into the cloud of dust that still swirled about the ship."The blower is filling the drive room with this dusty air," Blake said, sneezing. "I didn't realize it was so thick. But the drive room door is shut and none of this dust can get into the rest of the ship."They walked out away from the ship and the dust and stood in the glittering sand, looking about them curiously. The mouth of the canyon was visible above them, with the iridescent haze hiding the higher peaks. The trees were almost like those of the desert regions of New Earth, scattered very thinly across the mountain's foot, and viciously thorned bushes grew among them. Some of them, Blake noticed, were in bloom with exotically beautiful blossoms, ranging from delicate pink to vivid scarlet."Pretty," Cooke commented. "A little dangerous to try to pick one, I'd say; those thorns are Nature's ice picks.""We ought to name it . . . this world," Taylor said. "What shall we call it?""Aurora," Lenson said instantly. "She was the goddess of the dawn in ancient mythology. She was beautiful and she wore a veil. This world is beautiful and it wears a veil—that shining haze.""A good name," Taylor agreed. He looked toward the creek a few hundred feet away, the creek itself hidden by the green trees that grew thickly along its banks. "Let's get a sample of the water for analysis."They walked toward the creek, each of them unconsciously glancing back at the towering bulk of the ship as they went their way. Men always did that, Blake had noticed, when they set down on an alien planet. They would go out from their ship with their eyes alertly watching for danger ahead, and they never failed to look back at the ship as though to reassure themselves that its ponderous mass was still there. It was a normal thing to do; when a man set down on an alien world he was on his own and his only link with other humans and other worlds was his ship. It had brought him there; it, alone, could take him back. A man walked out from his ship knowing that it would be waiting for him to return, like a great, patient dog; waiting and ready to hurl itself into space at his command. Sometimes an alien planet held death for the bipeds who ventured to explore it, such as the spider-monsters of Nelson 14, and the ship would be the sword of vengeance for those who lived to fight their way back to it. The ship would avenge the fallen with fury in the thunder of its voice and annihilation in its flaming breath, leaving only drifting ashes where once had been alien things that had made the mistake of killing a human.Without their ship, men on a hostile, alien world would be near-helpless; with their ship, they were invincible conquerors."Flowers, even," Cooke exclaimed as they neared the trees by the creek. "Red, blue, yellow, purple; green trees and good air—what more could we offer colonists?"* * *Blake had been examining the shining sand with increasing curiosity and he stopped to inspect a bright crystal half the size of his hand. It was not quartz. He scratched at it with his knife point but could not make any impression. The same would have been true of quartz, but the crystal did not have the appearance of quartz. It was alive with internal fires and the crystal system, such as he could tell from its rounded, worn form, was distinctly not that of quartz. A little way farther on he found one that glowed a deep ruby red. He paused to pick it up, then hurried on at an excited exclamation from Lenson, who had gone with the others to the edge of the creek. "Look at this!""This" was a crystal at the very edge of the creek's roiling, opalescent waters, the same deep ruby red as the one he had in his hand but a foot in diameter. Near it were other, smaller, crystals of blue-white, yellow, red, blue, green, with the blue-white ones predominating. The sand, gravel and rocks of the creek bed seemed to be composed exclusively of the bright mineral."Did you ever see so many quartz crystals in your life?" Lenson was asking the others. "Or so many different colors? Look at this one—it looks like a ruby."Blake failed to hear the reply of the others, a thought he had had upon first examining the bright sand suddenly losing the fantastic quality which had caused him to dismiss it. It all checked, the lack of any mineral other than the one in the creek bed, the "erroneous" spectroscope that had shown the world to possess an impossible percentage of carbon, the high index of refraction possessed by the mineral.He could find out very quickly."Let me have your diamond ring," he said to Wilfred.Wilfred pulled it off his finger and handed it to him with a look of questioning surprise. Blake scratched the diamond in the ring across the red crystal he still held in his hand. It left no impression and he repeated the performance on several other crystals scattered on the ground near him. On none of them could he produce the faintest scratch with the diamond in Wilfred's ring, no matter how heavily he bore down."The spectroscope was right," he said, wondering if the others would find it as hard to believe as he did. "I don't see how it could be, but it is.""Is what?" Wilfred asked."Carbon—all these crystals are diamonds!"They stared at him, incredulous. "They couldn't be!" Wilfred objected. Lenson asked, "How can you tell for certain? Are you sure?""The diamond in this ring won't scratch them," he replied. "The only mineral a diamond can't scratch is another diamond.""Then they really are diamonds?" Taylor said, dropping to his knees to pick up a deep, bright-blue one that lay beside the ruby-red stone that Lenson had found. "But the variations in color—are they all diamonds?""All those that are any size," Blake told him. "The softer silica would soon be reduced to a powder by the grinding action of the diamonds in the creek bed. Anything of any appreciable size that shines is pretty certain to be a diamond.""Hmm-m-m!" Cooke grunted, and shook his head in amazement. "I'm delighted to hear it, but it's still hard to believe. Talk about luck—here we sink our last cent to make this one trip, with the odds all in favor of our finding nothing, and the first thing we do is hit a double jackpot; not only an Earth-type—almost—planet but also an unlimited fortune in diamonds. Such luck is incredible.""It is incredible," Blake agreed. "It just isn't the sort of thing that—"* * *His voice was drowned by a thunderous bellow from the ship. He whirled toward it, as did the others, wild disbelief on the faces of all of them. The same thought flashed in their minds at the same instant; they were all five there—there was no one in the ship! The ship shot into view, leaping high enough in the air that they could see it above the trees that surrounded them. A gout of blue-white flame was lashing from a hole torn in its stern, then the flame vanished and the ship poised motionlessly for a moment; a great, metal monster halted in mid-flight and pinned against the background of hazy sky. Then the nose dropped, the tail went up, and it fell. It fell in a horizontal position, its impact hidden from them by the trees but the sound of it loud and terrible to hear; the muffled scream of rending metal shrill above the ground-jarring thud of the impact.Blake ran past the others, toward the ship. He was vaguely aware of someone yelling, "What—" then he broke through the concealing trees and stopped, appalled by the sight that met his eyes.Spaceships were made to withstand the pull of gravity when at rest on their tail fins; to withstand the thrust of the drive which, whether accelerating or decelerating, was only the equivalent of gravitic attraction from the stern. They were constructed to possess great longitudinal strength, with no great cross-sectional strength needed. They were not constructed to withstand a horizontal drop.The Star Scout was broken in two.Taylor stopped beside him, white and shaken."What . . . what was it?" someone asked. "What happened . . .  how could it happen?""The converter blew up," Blake said, his lips feelings oddly stiff and numb. "It was my fault—I should have had brains enough to think about it before it was too late.""What do you mean?" Cooke demanded."I left the blower going, driving cool air into the drive room. The air was loaded with the dust we stirred up when we landed, and that dust was mainly diamond dust.""Oh!" Cooke's eyes were fixed on Blake. "So that was it. Diamond dust—carbon—catalyst!""But how?" Taylor asked. "How could the diamond dust have gotten into the converter?""I don't know." Blake shook his head. "Maybe the inspection crew forgot to put the cover back on the fuel inlet—maybe the clamps broke while we were en route. Anyway, it happened—somehow enough of the dust got into the fuel inlet to put the amount of catalyst past a critical percentage and the converter exploded. I shouldn't have started the blower until I first went in and made a check of the fuel inlet.""Why?" Cooke asked. "Did you ever hear of anything like this ever happening before?""No.""Then why should you have checked? You had no reason to think the fuel inlet might be open, and neither did you discover this was diamond dust until about a minute before the explosion. You couldn't have done anything about it in only one minute.""I suppose not," Blake agreed, "but I can't help feeling I should have been more careful. But that's all water under the bridge; here we are among our diamonds with no way of getting home—not for a long time at best, I'm afraid. So let's see just how long that may be, just how great the damage to the ship is.""From here," Cooke observed as they walked toward the ship, "the situation looks hopeless. Our ship looks exactly like an overripe watermelon that's had a bad fall. It's not only broken in two, with a few girders holding the broken halves together, it's also sort of flattened now, rather than round like it once was.""And gaping open at every seam," Wilfred added.* * *They passed the stern of the ship, where the rim of the ragged hole still glowed redly with half-molten metal, and Blake motioned toward the deep furrow blasted in the ground where the ship had stood. "The blast was directional," he said. "If it hadn't been, it would have destroyed the lower half of the ship.""It didn't make such a big hole in the stern," Cooke remarked with a return of his characteristic optimism. We could patch it.""Of course," he added bleakly, "we'd only have half a ship to drive, and no converter to power our drive—if we have a drive left."They entered the ship by the gap where it had broken apart, climbing through the bent and broken steel. The elevator shaft, now a horizontal passageway, was accessible by climbing up the ragged, torn sheet metal and girders. Blake made a suggestion to the older Taylor before they climbed up into the elevator shaft."I'd like to look at the drive room and the repair shop. So, suppose Cooke and I do that while you and the others see what the damage is in the forward half of the ship?""Anything you say, Red," Taylor answered. "I have an idea we'll find nothing but wreckage either way.""First, I'll get some lights for you," Blake said.He climbed up into the elevator shaft and made his way to the supply level of the ship. The door to the room he entered opened with considerable difficulty and the scene inside, as revealed by his pocket lighter, was utter confusion and chaos. He found the locker that held the emergency lights under a mass of miscellaneous supplies, equipment and broken containers and took five lights from it.He went back to the gap in the ship and tossed three of the lights to the others. They began to climb up into their own section of the ship and Cooke scrambled up to where he stood."How did it look where you were?" Cooke asked."Just a little untidy," he answered, leading the way to the drive room.They forced the now-horizontal drive room door open and a gush of warm air struck them. The drive room was fairly well lighted by the hole the converter's explosion had produced and they appraised the damage, not caring to drop the ten feet to the new floor."That shapeless gob over there by the hole—that's all that remains of our converter," Blake said. "The explosion was directional, all right, and the converter was working at minimum output—if it had been up to as much as quarter output, it couldn't have remained directional and at a quarter output the entire ship would have vanished in a blaze of glory."He flashed his light down into the shadowy corners of the room and found what he sought. "Look—see that square metal thing?" he asked. "That's the fuel inlet cover. Sure enough, it wasn't in place—they must have forgotten to tighten down the clamps.""And we paid them to do that?" Cooke asked bitterly, flashing his own light over the cover.* * *Blake moved his light slowly over the drive assembly. Originally equipped with the old Harding atomic drive, the transformation to the hyperspace drive had—for financial reasons—been confined to the installation of the space-shift units and the installation of the nuclear converter to supply the enormous energy required by the hyperspace units to wrench the ship from normal space into hyperspace. Although a modern drive would have been preferred, their limited capital had forced them to compromise by leaving the atomic rocket drive intact and modifying its fuel chambers to accept the tailor-made fuel prepared for it by the converter."How does it look?" Cooke asked. "I can't see where the blast did any damage to it. Am I right?""I think you are—the directional blast missed it and its construction was rugged enough that the fall didn't affect it. This is more than I had dared hope for—we can alter those fuel chambers back to the way they were and we have a rocket drive again."If," he added, "we can find uranium.""And then what? Won't we be a little bit old and feeble by the time we get home through normal space, thirty thousand years from now?""Well, I don't know of any outpost of civilization we can reach in less than two hundred years," Blake said, "which would be too far to do us any good. However, to get anywhere in hyperspace, we still have to have a drive, you know. We have to have a drive to get off this planet so we can get in hyperspace in the first place.""Once we fix up our drive and get away from here—how do we get into hyperspace with no converter to power the space-shift units?" Cooke asked."That is the question, and I don't know the answer. But I was taking first things first. If we can find uranium—and we surely can—we can soon solve every problem but that one."He passed his light over the squat generator that had served to supply the ship with electrical power before the installation of the converter. It hung by two of its mounting bolts from the vertical floor, but it seemed undamaged."There's our power—if we had some way to store it," he said. "If we could devise a perfect condenser of unlimited capacity, we could accumulate enough power to give the space-shift units the wallop that would jump us into hyperspace. Anyway, whatever we do, we're going to need that generator. We're going to need electrical power for operating the lathe—if it isn't smashed beyond repair—welding, perhaps even for refining metals with some sort of an electric furnace.""How do we power the generator?" Cooke asked."That can be done," Blake said. "Provided we have a lathe to build what we want."He turned away from the drive room without further explanation and Cooke followed him to the repair shop. As with all other rooms in the ship's new position, the door was horizontal, but the repair shop was smaller than the drive room and it was no more than a six-foot drop to the new floor. Blake saw, with a sense of vast relief, that the lathe was still solidly bolted to the vertical floor. The other equipment was a jumbled mass on the floor and they poked into it curiously for a few minutes."Not much in the way of broken stuff here," Cooke said. "Steel tools seem to stand up pretty good when a ship does a belly-whopper. I hope the transmitter fared as well.""That's something we're all hoping, but you're the first one to speak out loud about it," Blake said. "I don't see how it could have survived—a transmitter is big, heavy and fragile.""Neither do I. I suppose that's why no one dared even say he hoped it wouldn't be smashed.""Let's see about our truck," Blake said. "If the transmitter is smashed beyond repair, we'll have to try to find uranium and we'll stand little chance of prospecting these ranges on foot."Again, luck had been with them. The little truck was unharmed but for a crumpled fender. Some of its bright red enamel had been knocked off by the fall of the diamond drill rods but the diamond drill, itself, seemed untouched."And that covers the important things in our end of the ship," Blake said. "Let's see what luck the others had."* * *Wilfred was just descending from the broken elevator shaft, carrying a load of food and cooking utensils. "We'll camp out for a while, it looks like," he said. "With the new floors knee deep in wreckage and the doors six feet to ten feet up on the walls, living in the ship would be just a little inconvenient.""We'll have to cut a passageway along the bottom side of the ship's hull," Blake said. "We can dodge the girders and just cut through the old flooring.""How did it look up there?" Cooke asked. "What about the transmitter?""We won't send any SOS," Wilfred said flatly. "The transmitter tubes are smashed to fragments.""I was afraid they would be," Blake said. "Do the others need help with their loads?""They could use some help, all right," Wilfred said, climbing down with his own.They crossed the gap and met Lenson and Taylor in the elevator shaft, each with a burden of sleeping bags and various other things needed for a comfortable night outside. Blake and Cooke relieved them of part of their loads and the four of them carried their burdens to the clean, sandy spot near one of the trees where Wilfred had set up their "kitchen."Blake dropped his load and spoke to Taylor. "So the transmitter is ruined?" he asked."The final power stage is," Taylor replied. "The drive stage took the fall pretty well and we could couple that in,
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