Then we had reached Tom and Joe Kivelson. Oscar grabbed Joe by the arm.
"Come on, Joe; let's get moving," he said. "Hallstock's Gestapo are on the way. They have orders to get you dead or alive."
"Like blazes!" Joe told him. "I never chickened out on a fight yet, and—"
That's what I'd been afraid of. Joe is like a Zarathustra veldtbeest; the only tactics he knows is a headlong attack.
"You want to get your crew and your son killed, and yourself along with them?" Oscar asked him. "That's what'll happen if the cops catch you. Now are you coming, or will I have to knock you senseless and drag you out?"
Fortunately, at that moment somebody took a swing at Joe and grazed his cheek. It was a good thing that was all he did; he was wearing brass knuckles. Joe went down a couple of feet, bending at the knees, and caught this fellow around the hips with both hands, straightening and lifting him over his head. Then he threw him over the heads of the people in front of him. There were yells where the human missile landed.
"That's the stuff, Joe!" Oscar shouted. "Come on, we got them on the run!"
That, of course, converted a strategic retreat into an attack. We got Joe aimed toward the doors and before he knew it, we were out in the hall by the elevators. There were a couple of Ravick's men, with sergeant-at-arms arm bands, and two city cops. One of the latter got in Joe's way. Joe punched him in the face and knocked him back about ten feet in a sliding stagger before he dropped. The other cop grabbed me by the left arm.
I slugged him under the jaw with my ten-sol right and knocked him out, and I felt the wrapping on the coin roll break and the quarters come loose in my hand. Before I could drop them into my jacket pocket and get out the other roll, one of the sergeants at arms drew a gun. I just hurled the handful of coins at him. He dropped the pistol and put both hands to his face, howling in pain.
I gave a small mental howl myself when I thought of all the nice things I could have bought for ten sols. One of Joe Kivelson's followers stooped and scooped up the fallen pistol, firing a couple of times with it. Then we all rushed Joe into one of the elevators and crowded in behind him, and as I turned to start it down I could hear police sirens from the street and also from the landing stage above. In the hall outside the meeting room, four or five of Ravick's free-drink mercenaries were down on all fours scrabbling for coins, and the rest of the pursuers from the meeting room were stumbling and tripping over them. I wished I'd brought a camera along, too. The public would have loved a shot of that. I lifted the radio and spoke into it:
"This is Walter Boyd, returning you now to the regular entertainment program."
A second later, the thing whistled at me. As the car started down and the doors closed I lifted the handphone. It was Bish Ware again.
"We're going down in the elevator to Second Level Down," I said. "I have Joe and Tom and Oscar Fujisawa and a few of the Javelin crew with me. The place is crawling with cops now."
"Go to Third Level Down and get up on the catwalk on the right," Bish said. "I'll be along to pick you up."
"Roger. We'll be looking for you."
The car stopped at Second Level Down. I punched a button and sent it down another level. Joe Kivelson, who was dabbing at his cheek with a piece of handkerchief tissue, wanted to know what was up.
"We're getting a pickup," I told him. "Vehicle from the Times."
I thought it would save arguments if I didn't mention who was bringing it.
ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR KIVELSON
Before we left the lighted elevator car, we took a quick nose count. Besides the Kivelsons, there were five Javelin men—Ramon Llewellyn, Abdullah Monnahan, Abe Clifford, Cesario Vieira, and a whitebeard named Piet Dumont. Al Devis had been with us when we crashed the door out of the meeting room, but he'd fallen by the way. We had a couple of flashlights, so, after sending the car down to Bottom Level, we picked our way up the zigzag iron stairs to the catwalk, under the seventy-foot ceiling, and sat down in the dark.
Joe Kivelson was fretting about what would happen to the rest of his men.
"Fine captain I am, running out and leaving them!"
"If they couldn't keep up, that's their tough luck," Oscar Fujisawa told him. "You brought out all you could. If you'd waited any longer, none of us would have gotten out."
"They won't bother with them," I added. "You and Tom and Oscar, here, are the ones they want."
Joe was still letting himself be argued into thinking he had done the right thing when we saw the lights of a lorry coming from uptown at ceiling level. A moment later, it backed to the catwalk, and Bish Ware stuck his head out from the pilot's seat.
"Where do you gentlemen wish to go?" he asked.
"To the Javelin," Joe said instantly.
"Huh-uh," Oscar disagreed. "That's the first place they'll look. That'll be all right for Ramon and the others, but if they catch you and Tom, they'll shoot you and call it self-defense, or take you in and beat both of you to a jelly. This'll blow over in fifteen or twenty hours, but I'm not going anywhere near my ship, now."
"Drop us off on Second Level Down, about Eighth Street and a couple of blocks from the docks," the mate, Llewellyn, said. "We'll borrow some weapons from Patel the Pawnbroker and then circulate around and see what's going on. But you and Joe and Oscar had better go underground for a while."
"The Times," I said. "We have a whole pillar-building to ourselves; we could hide half the population."
That was decided upon. We all piled into the lorry, and Bish took it to an inconspicuous place on the Second Level and let down. Ramon Llewellyn and the others got out. Then we went up to Main City Level. We passed within a few blocks of Hunters' Hall. There was a lot of noise, but no shooting.
Joe Kivelson didn't have anything to say, on the trip, but he kept looking at the pilot's seat in perplexity and apprehension. I think he expected Bish to try to ram the lorry through every building we passed by or over.
We found Dad in the editorial department on the top floor, feeding voice-tape to Julio while the latter made master sheets for teleprinting. I gave him a quick rundown on what had happened that he hadn't gotten from my radio. Dad cluck-clucked in disapproval, either at my getting into a fight, assaulting an officer, or, literally, throwing money away.
Bish Ware seemed a little troubled. "I think," he said, "that I shall make a circuit of my diocese, and see what can be learned from my devoted flock. Should I turn up anything significant, I will call it in."
With that, he went tottering over to the elevator, stumbling on the way and making an unepiscopal remark. I watched him, and then turned to Dad.
"Did he have anything to drink after I left?" I asked.
"Nothing but about five cups of coffee."
I mentally marked that: Add oddities, Bish Ware. He'd been at least four hours without liquor, and he was walking as unsteadily as when I'd first seen him at the spaceport. I didn't know any kind of liquor that would persist like that.
Julio had at least an hour's tape to transcribe, so Dad and Joe and Tom and Oscar and I went to the living room on the floor below. Joe was still being bewildered about Bish Ware.
"How'd he manage to come for us?" he wanted to know.
"Why, he was here with me all evening," Dad said. "He came from the spaceport with Walt and Tom, and had dinner with us. He called a few people from here, and found out about the fake riot and police raid Ravick had cooked up. You'd be surprised at how much information he can pick up around town."
Joe looked at his son, alarmed.
"Hey! You let him see—" he began.
"The wax on Bottom Level, in the Fourth Ward?" I asked. "He won't blab about that. He doesn't blab things where they oughtn't be blabbed."
"That's right," Dad backed me up. He was beginning to think of Bish as one of the Times staff, now. "We got a lot of tips from him, but nothing we give him gets out." He got his pipe lit again. "What about that wax, Joe?" he asked. "Were you serious when you made that motion about a price of seventy-five centisols?"
"I sure was!" Joe declared. "That's the real price, and always has been, and that's what we get or Kapstaad doesn't get any more wax."
"If Murell can top it, maybe Kapstaad won't get any more wax, period," I said. "Who's he with—Interstellar Import-Export?"
Anybody would have thought a barbwire worm had crawled onto Joe Kivelson's chair seat under him.
"Where'd you hear that?" he demanded, which is the Galaxy's silliest question to ask any newsman. "Tom, if you've been talking—"
"He hasn't," I said. "He didn't need to. It sticks out a parsec in all directions." I mentioned some of the things I'd noticed while interviewing Murell, and his behavior after leaving the ship. "Even before I'd talked to him, I wondered why Tom was so anxious to get aboard with me. He didn't know we'd arranged to put Murell up here; he was going to take him to see that wax, and then take him to the Javelin. You were going to produce him at the meeting and have him bid against Belsher, only that tread-snail fouled your lines for you. So then you thought you had to stall off a new contract till he got out of the hospital."
The two Kivelsons and Oscar Fujisawa were looking at one another; Joe and Tom in consternation, and Oscar in derision of both of them. I was feeling pretty good. Brother, I thought, Sherlock Holmes never did better, himself.
That, all of a sudden, reminded me of Dr. John Watson, whom Bish perceived to have been in Afghanistan. That was one thing Sherlock H. Boyd hadn't deduced any answers for. Well, give me a little more time. And more data.
"You got it all figured out, haven't you?" Joe was asking sarcastically. The sarcasm was as hollow as an empty oil drum.
"The Times," Dad was saying, trying not to sound too proud, "has a very sharp reportorial staff, Joe."
"It isn't Interstellar," Oscar told me, grinning. "It's Argentine Exotic Organics. You know, everybody thought Joe, here, was getting pretty high-toned, sending his daughter to school on Terra. School wasn't the only thing she went for. We got a letter from her, the last time the Cape Canaveral was in, saying that she'd contacted Argentine Organics and that a man was coming out on the Peenemuende, posing as a travel-book author. Well, he's here, now."
"You'd better keep an eye on him," I advised. "If Steve Ravick gets to him, he won't be much use to you."
"You think Ravick would really harm Murell?" Dad asked.
He thought so, too. He was just trying to comfort himself by pretending he didn't.
"What do you think, Ralph?" Oscar asked him. "If we get competitive wax buying, again, seventy-five a pound will be the starting price. I'm not spending the money till I get it, but I wouldn't be surprised to see wax go to a sol a pound on the loading floor here. And you know what that would mean."
"Thirty for Steve Ravick," Dad said. That puzzled Oscar, till I explained that "thirty" is newsese for "the end." "I guess Walt's right. Ravick would do anything to prevent that." He thought for a moment. "Joe, you were using the wrong strategy. You should have let Ravick get that thirty-five centisol price established for the Co-operative, and then had Murell offer seventy-five or something like that."
"You crazy?" Joe demanded. "Why, then the Co-op would have been stuck with it."
"That's right. And as soon as Murell's price was announced, everybody would drop out of the Co-operative and reclaim their wax, even the captains who owe Ravick money. He'd have nobody left but a handful of thugs and barflies."
"But that would smash the Co-operative," Joe Kivelson objected. "Listen, Ralph; I've been in the Co-operative all my life, since before Steve Ravick was heard of on this planet. I've worked hard for the Co-operative, and—"
You didn't work hard enough, I thought. You let Steve Ravick take it away from you. Dad told Joe pretty much the same thing:
"You don't have a Co-operative, Joe. Steve Ravick has a racket. The only thing you can do with this organization is smash it, and then rebuild it with Ravick and his gang left out."
Joe puzzled over that silently. He'd been thinking that it was the same Co-operative his father and Simon MacGregor and the other old hunters had organized, and that getting rid of Ravick was simply a matter of voting him out. He was beginning to see, now, that parliamentary procedure wasn't any weapon against Ravick's force and fraud and intimidation.
"I think Walt has something," Oscar Fujisawa said. "As long as Murell's in the hospital at the spaceport, he's safe, but as soon as he gets out of Odin Dock & Shipyard territory, he's going to be a clay pigeon."
Tom hadn't been saying anything. Now he cleared his throat.
"On the Peenemuende, I was talking about taking Mr. Murell for a trip in the Javelin," he said. "That was while we were still pretending he'd come here to write a book. Maybe that would be a good idea, anyhow."
"It's a cinch we can't let him get killed on us," his father said. "I doubt if Exotic Organics would send anybody else out, if he was."
"Here," Dad said. "We'll run the story we have on him in the morning edition, and then correct it and apologize to the public for misleading them and explain in the evening edition. And before he goes, we can have him make an audiovisual for the 'cast, telling everybody who he is and announcing the price he's offering. We'll put that on the air. Get enough publicity, and Steve Ravick won't dare do anything to him."
Publicity, I thought, is the only weapon Dad knows how to use. He thinks it's invincible. Me, I wouldn't bet on what Steve Ravick wouldn't dare do if you gave me a hundred to one. Ravick had been in power too long, and he was drunker on it than Bish Ware ever got on Baldur honey-rum. As an intoxicant, rum is practically a soft drink beside power.
"Well, do you think Ravick's gotten onto Murell yet?" Oscar said. "We kept that a pretty close secret. Joe and I knew about him, and so did the Mahatma and Nip Spazoni and Corkscrew Finnegan, and that was all."
"I didn't even tell Tom, here, till the Peenemuende got into radio range," Joe Kivelson said. "Then I only told him and Ramon and Abdullah and Abe and Hans Cronje."
"And Al Devis," Tom added. "He came into the conning tower while you were telling the rest of us."
The communication screen began buzzing, and I went and put it on. It was Bish Ware, calling from a pay booth somewhere.
"I have some early returns," he said. "The cops cleared everybody out of Hunters' Hall except the Ravick gang. Then Ravick reconvened the meeting, with nobody but his gang. They were very careful to make sure they had enough for a legal quorum under the bylaws, and then they voted to accept the new price of thirty-five centisols a pound."
"That's what I was afraid of," Joe Kivelson said. "Did they arrest any of my crew?"
"Not that I know of," Bish said. "They made a few arrests, but turned everybody loose later. They're still looking for you and your son. As far as I know, they aren't interested in anybody else." He glanced hastily over his shoulder, as though to make sure the door of the booth was secure. "I'm with some people, now. I'll call you back later."
"Well, that's that, Joe," Oscar said, after Bish blanked the screen. "The Ravick Co-op's stuck with the price cut. The only thing left to do is get everybody out of it we can, and organize a new one."
"I guess that's so," Joe agreed. "I wonder, though if Ravick has really got wise to Murell."
"Walt figured it out since the ship got in," Oscar said. "Belsher's been on the ship with Murell for six months. Well, call it three; everything speeds up about double in hyperspace. But in three months he ought to see as much as Walt saw in a couple of hours."
"Well, maybe Belsher doesn't know what's suspicious, the way Walt does," Tom said.
"I'm sure he doesn't," I said. "But he and Murell are both in the wax business. I'll bet he noticed dozens of things I never even saw."
"Then we'd better take awfully good care of Mr. Murell," Tom said. "Get him aboard as fast as we can, and get out of here with him. Walt, you're coming along, aren't you?"
That was what we'd agreed, while Glenn Murell was still the famous travel-book author. I wanted to get out of it, now. There wouldn't be anything happening aboard the Javelin, and a lot happening here in Port Sandor. Dad had the same idea, only he was one hundred per cent for my going with Murell. I think he wanted me out of Port Sandor, where I wouldn't get in the way of any small high-velocity particles of lead that might be whizzing around.
ABOARD THE JAVELIN
We heard nothing more from Bish Ware that evening. Joe and Tom Kivelson and Oscar Fujisawa slept at the Times Building, and after breakfast Dad called the spaceport hospital about Murell. He had passed a good night and seemed to have thrown off all the poison he had absorbed through his skin. Dad talked to him, and advised him not to leave until somebody came for him. Tom and I took a car—and a pistol apiece and a submachine gun—and went to get him. Remembering, at the last moment, what I had done to his trousers, I unpacked his luggage and got another suit for him.
He was grateful for that, and he didn't lift an eyebrow when he saw the artillery we had with us. He knew, already, what the score was, and the rules, or absence thereof, of the game, and accepted us as members of his team. We dropped to the Bottom Level and went, avoiding traffic, to where the wax was stored. There were close to a dozen guards there now, all heavily armed.
We got out of the car, I carrying the chopper, and one of the gang there produced a probe rod and microscope and a testing kit and a microray scanner. Murell took his time going over the wax, jabbing the probe rod in and pulling samples out of the big plastic-skinned sausages at random, making chemical tests, examining them under the microscope, and scanning other cylinders to make sure there was no foreign matter in them. He might not know what a literary agent was, but he knew tallow-wax.
I found out from the guards that there hadn't been any really serious trouble after we left Hunter's Hall. The city police had beaten a few men up, natch, and run out all the anti-Ravick hunters, and then Ravick had reconvened the meeting and acceptance of the thirty-five centisol price had been voted unanimously. The police were still looking for the Kivelsons. Ravick seemed to have gotten the idea that Joe Kivelson was the mastermind of the hunters' cabal against him. I know if I'd found that Joe Kivelson and Oscar Fujisawa were in any kind of a conspiracy together, I wouldn't pick Joe for the mastermind. It was just possible, I thought, that Oscar had been fostering this himself, in case anything went wrong. After all, self-preservation is the first law, and Oscar is a self-preserving type.
After Murell had finished his inspection and we'd gotten back in the car and were lifting, I asked him what he was going to offer, just as though I were the skipper of the biggest ship out of Port Sandor. Well, it meant as much to us as it did to the hunters. The more wax sold for, the more advertising we'd sell to the merchants, and the more people would rent teleprinters from us.
"Eighty centisols a pound," he said. Nice and definite; quite a difference from the way he stumbled around over listing his previous publications. "Seventy-five's the Kapstaad price, regardless of what you people here have been getting from that crook of a Belsher. We'll have to go far enough beyond that to make him have to run like blazes to catch up. You can put it in the Times that the day of monopolistic marketing on Fenris is over."
* * * * *
When we got back to the Times, I asked Dad if he'd heard anything more from Bish.
"Yes," he said unhappily. "He didn't call in, this morning, so I called his apartment and didn't get an answer. Then I called Harry Wong's. Harry said Bish had been in there till after midnight, with some other people." He named three disreputables, two female and one male. "They were drinking quite a lot. Harry said Bish was plastered to the ears. They finally went out, around 0130. He said the police were in and out checking the crowd, but they didn't make any trouble."
I nodded, feeling very badly. Four and a half hours had been his limit. Well, sometimes a ninety per cent failure is really a triumph; after all, it's a ten per cent success. Bish had gone four and a half hours without taking a drink. Maybe the percentage would be a little better the next time. I was surely old enough to stop expecting miracles.
The mate of the Pequod called in, around noon, and said it was safe for Oscar to come back to the ship. The mate of the Javelin, Ramon Llewellyn, called in with the same report, that along the waterfront, at least, the heat was off. However, he had started an ambitious-looking overhaul operation, which looked as though it was good for a hundred hours but which could be dropped on a minute's notice, and under cover of this he had been taking on supplies and ammunition.
We made a long audiovisual of Murell announcing his price of eighty centisols a pound for wax on behalf of Argentine Exotic Organics, Ltd. As soon as that was finished, we loaded the boat-clothes we'd picked up for him and his travel kit and mine into a car, with Julio Kubanoff to bring it back to the Times, and went to the waterfront. When we arrived, Ramon Llewellyn had gotten things cleared up, and the Javelin was ready to move as soon as we came aboard.
On the Main City Level, the waterfront is a hundred feet above the ship pools; the ships load from and discharge onto the First Level Down. The city roof curves down all along the south side of the city into the water and about fifty feet below it. That way, even in the post-sunset and post-dawn storms, ships can come in submerged around the outer breakwater and under the roof, and we don't get any wind or heavy seas along the docks.
Murell was interested in everything he saw, in the brief time while we were going down along the docks to where the Javelin was berthed. I knew he'd never actually seen it before, but he must have been studying pictures of it, because from some of the remarks he made, I could tell that he was familiar with it.
Most of the ships had lifted out of the water and were resting on the wide concrete docks, but the Javelin was afloat in the pool, her contragravity on at specific-gravity weight reduction. She was a typical hunter-ship, a hundred feet long by thirty abeam, with a squat conning tower amidships, and turrets for 50-mm guns and launchers for harpoon rockets fore and aft. The only thing open about her was the air-and-water lock under the conning tower. Julio, who was piloting the car, set it down on the top of the aft gun turret. A couple of the crewmen who were on deck grabbed our bags and hurried them inside. We followed, and as soon as Julio lifted away, the lock was sealed.
Immediately, as the contragravity field dropped below the specific gravity of the ship, she began submerging. I got up into the conning tower in time to see the water of the boat pool come up over the armor-glass windows and the outside lights come on. For a few minutes, the Javelin swung slowly and moved forward, feeling her way with fingers of radar out of the pool and down the channel behind the breakwater and under the overhang of the city roof. Then the water line went slowly down across the windows as she surfaced. A moment later she was on full contragravity, and the ship which had been a submarine was now an aircraft.
Murell, who was accustomed to the relatively drab sunsets of Terra, simply couldn't take his eyes from the spectacle that covered the whole western half of the sky—high clouds streaming away from the daylight zone to the west and lighted from below by the sun. There were more clouds coming in at a lower level from the east. By the time the Javelin returned to Port Sandor, it would be full dark and rain, which would soon turn to snow, would be falling. Then we'd be in for it again for another thousand hours.
Ramon Llewellyn was saying to Joe Kivelson: "We're one man short; Devis, Abdullah's helper. Hospital."
"Get hurt in the fight, last night? He was right with us till we got out to the elevators, and then I missed him."
"No. He made it back to the ship about the same time we did, and he was all right then. Didn't even have a scratch. Strained his back at work, this morning, trying to lift a power-unit cartridge by hand."
I could believe that. Those things weighed a couple of hundred pounds. Joe Kivelson swore.
"What's he think this is, the First Century Pre-Atomic? Aren't there any lifters on the ship?"
Llewellyn shrugged. "Probably didn't want to bother taking a couple of steps to get one. The doctor told him to take treatment and observation for a day or so."
"That's Al Devis?" I asked. "What hospital?" Al Devis's strained back would be good for a two-line item; he'd feel hurt if we didn't mention it.
That was all right. They always sent in their patient lists to the Times. Tom was griping because he'd have to do Devis's work and his own.
"You know anything about engines, Walt?" he asked me.
"I know they generate a magnetic current and convert rotary magnetic current into one-directional repulsion fields, and violate the daylights out of all the old Newtonian laws of motion and attraction," I said. "I read that in a book. That was as far as I got. The math got a little complicated after that, and I started reading another book."
"You'd be a big help. Think you could hit anything with a 50-mm?" Tom asked. "I know you're pretty sharp with a pistol or a chopper, but a cannon's different."
"I could try. If you want to heave over an empty packing case or something, I could waste a few rounds seeing if I could come anywhere close to it."
"We'll do that," he said. "Ordinarily, I handle the after gun when we sight a monster, but somebody'll have to help Abdullah with the engines."
He spoke to his father about it. Joe Kivelson nodded.
"Walt's made some awful lucky shots with that target pistol of his, I know that," he said, "and I saw him make hamburger out of a slasher, once, with a chopper. Have somebody blow a couple of wax skins full of air for targets, and when we get a little farther southeast, we'll go down to the surface and have some shooting."
I convinced Murell that the sunset would still be there in a couple of hours, and we took our luggage down and found the cubbyhole he and I would share with Tom for sleeping quarters. A hunter-ship looks big on the outside, but there's very little room for the crew. The engines are much bigger than would be needed on an ordinary contragravity craft, because a hunter-ship operates under water as well as in the air. Then, there's a lot of cargo space for the wax, and the boat berth aft for the scout boat, so they're not exactly built for comfort. They don't really need to be; a ship's rarely out more than a hundred and fifty hours on any cruise.
Murell had done a lot of reading about every phase of the wax business, and he wanted to learn everything he could by actual observation. He said that Argentine Exotic Organics was going to keep him here on Fenris as a resident buyer and his job was going to be to deal with the hunters, either individually or through their co-operative organization, if they could get rid of Ravick and set up something he could do business with, and he wanted to be able to talk the hunters' language and understand their problems.
So I took him around over the boat, showing him everything and conscripting any crew members I came across to explain what I couldn't. I showed him the scout boat in its berth, and we climbed into it and looked around. I showed him the machine that packed the wax into skins, and the cargo holds, and the electrolytic gills that extracted oxygen from sea water while we were submerged, and the ship's armament. Finally, we got to the engine room, forward. He whistled when he saw the engines.
"Why, those things are big enough for a five-thousand-ton freighter," he said.
"They have to be," I said. "Running submerged isn't the same as running in atmosphere. You ever done any swimming?"
He shook his head. "I was born in Antarctica, on Terra. The water's a little too cold to do much swimming there. And I've spent most of my time since then in central Argentine, in the pampas country. The sports there are horseback riding and polo and things like that."
Well, whattaya know! Here was a man who had not only seen a horse, but actually ridden one. That in itself was worth a story in the Times.
Tom and Abdullah, who were fussing around the engines, heard that. They knocked off what they were doing and began asking him questions—I suppose he thought they were awfully silly, but he answered all of them patiently—about horses and riding. I was looking at a couple of spare power-unit cartridges, like the one Al Devis had strained his back on, clamped to the deck out of the way.
They were only as big as a one-liter jar, rounded at one end and flat at the other where the power cable was connected, but they weighed close to two hundred pounds apiece. Most of the weight was on the outside; a dazzlingly bright plating of collapsium—collapsed matter, the electron shell collapsed onto the nucleus and the atoms in actual physical contact—and absolutely nothing but nothing could get through it. Inside was about a kilogram of strontium-90; it would keep on emitting electrons for twenty-five years, normally, but there was a miniature plutonium reactor, itself shielded with collapsium, which, among other things, speeded that process up considerably. A cartridge was good for about five years; two of them kept the engines in operation.
The engines themselves converted the electric current from the power cartridges into magnetic current, and lifted the ship and propelled it. Abdullah was explaining that to Murell and Murell seemed to be getting it satisfactorily.
Finally, we left them; Murell wanted to see the sunset some more and went up to the conning tower where Joe and Ramon were, and I decided to take a nap while I had a chance.
PRACTICE, 50-MM GUN
It seemed as though I had barely fallen asleep before I was wakened by the ship changing direction and losing altitude. I knew there were clouds coming in from the east, now, on the lower air currents, and I supposed that Joe was taking the Javelin below them to have a look at the surface of the sea. So I ran up to the conning tower, and when I got there I found that the lower clouds were solid over us, it was growing dark, and another hunter-ship was approaching with her lights on.
"Who is she?" I asked.
"Bulldog, Nip Spazoni," Joe told me. "Nip's bringing my saloon fighter aboard, and he wants to meet Mr. Murell."
I remembered that the man who had roughed up the Ravick goon in Martian Joe's had made his getaway from town in the Bulldog. As I watched, the other ship's boat dropped out from her stern, went end-over-end for an instant, and then straightened out and came circling around astern of us, matching our speed and ejecting a magnetic grapple.
Nip Spazoni and another man climbed out with life lines fast to their belts and crawled along our upper deck, catching life lines that were thrown out to them and snapping onto them before casting loose the ones from their boat. Somebody at the lock under the conning tower hauled them in.
Nip Spazoni's name was Old Terran Italian, but he had slanted Mongoloid eyes and a sparse little chin-beard, which accounted for his nickname. The amount of intermarriage that's gone on since the First Century, any resemblance between people's names and their appearances is purely coincidental. Oscar Fujisawa, who looks as though his name ought to be Lief Ericsson, for example.
"Here's your prodigal, Joe," he was saying, peeling out of his parka as he came up the ladder. "I owe him a second gunner's share on a monster, fifteen tons of wax."
"Hey, that was a good one. You heading home, now?" Then he turned to the other man, who had followed Nip up the ladder. "You didn't do a very good job, Bill," he said. "The so-and-so's out of the hospital by now."
"Well, you know who takes care of his own," the crewman said. "Give me something for effort; I tried hard enough."
"No, I'm not going home yet," Nip was answering. "I have hold-room for the wax of another one, if he isn't bigger than ordinary. I'm going to go down on the bottom when the winds start and sit it out, and then try to get a second one." Then he saw me. "Well, hey, Walt; when did you turn into a monster-hunter?"
Then he was introduced to Murell, and he and Joe and the man from Argentine Exotic Organics sat down at the chart table and Joe yelled for a pot of coffee, and they started talking prices and quantities of wax. I sat in, listening. This was part of what was going to be the big story of the year. Finally they got that talked out, and Joe asked Nip how the monsters were running.
"Why, good; you oughtn't to have any trouble finding one," Nip said. "There must have been a Nifflheim of a big storm off to the east, beyond the Lava Islands. I got mine north of Cape Terror. There's huge patches of sea-spaghetti drifting west, all along the coast of Hermann Reuch's Land. Here." He pulled out a map. "You'll find it all along here."
Murell asked me if sea-spaghetti was something the monsters ate. His reading-up still had a few gaps, here and there.
"No, it's seaweed; the name describes it. Screwfish eat it; big schools of them follow it. Gulpers and funnelmouths and bag-bellies eat screwfish, and monsters eat them. So wherever you find spaghetti, you can count on finding a monster or two."
"How's the weather?" Joe was asking.
"Good enough, now. It was almost full dark when we finished the cutting-up. It was raining; in fifty or sixty hours it ought to be getting pretty bad." Spazoni pointed on the map. "Here's about where I think you ought to try, Joe."
* * * * *
I screened the Times, after Nip went back to his own ship. Dad said that Bish Ware had called in, with nothing to report but a vague suspicion that something nasty was cooking. Steve Ravick and Leo Belsher were taking things, even the announcement of the Argentine Exotic Organics price, too calmly.
"I think so, myself," he added. "That gang has some kind of a knife up their sleeve. Bish is trying to find out just what it is."
"Is he drinking much?" I asked.
"Well, he isn't on the wagon, I can tell you that," Dad said. "I'm beginning to think that he isn't really sober till he's half plastered."
There might be something to that, I thought. There are all kinds of weird individualities about human metabolism; for all I knew, alcohol might actually be a food for Bish. Or he might have built up some kind of immunity, with antibodies that were themselves harmful if he didn't have alcohol to neutralize them.
The fugitive from what I couldn't bring myself to call justice proved to know just a little, but not much, more about engines than I did. That meant that Tom would still have to take Al Devis's place, and I'd have to take his with the after 50-mm. So the ship went down to almost sea surface, and Tom and I went to the stern turret.
The gun I was to handle was an old-model Terran Federation Army infantry-platoon accompanying gun. The mount, however, was power-driven, like the mount for a 90-mm contragravity tank gun. Reconciling the firing mechanism of the former with the elevating and traversing gear of the latter had produced one of the craziest pieces of machinery that ever gave an ordnance engineer nightmares. It was a local job, of course. An ordnance engineer in Port Sandor doesn't really have to be a raving maniac, but it's a help.
Externally, the firing mechanism consisted of a pistol grip and trigger, which looked all right to me. The sight was a standard binocular light-gun sight, with a spongeplastic mask to save the gunner from a pair of black eyes every time he fired it. The elevating and traversing gear was combined in one lever on a ball-and-socket joint. You could move the gun diagonally in any direction in one motion, but you had to push or pull the opposite way. Something would go plonk when the trigger was pulled on an empty chamber, so I did some dry practice at the crests of waves.
"Now, mind," Tom was telling me, "this is a lot different from a pistol."
"So I notice," I replied. I had also noticed that every time I got the cross hairs on anything and squeezed the trigger, they were on something else when the trigger went plonk. "All this gun needs is another lever, to control the motion of the ship."
"Oh, that only makes it more fun," Tom told me.
Then he loaded in a clip of five rounds, big expensive-looking cartridges a foot long, with bottle-neck cases and pointed shells.
The targets were regular tallow-wax skins, blown up and weighted at one end so that they would float upright. He yelled into the intercom, and one was chucked overboard ahead. A moment later, I saw it bobbing away astern of us. I put my face into the sight-mask, caught it, centered the cross hairs, and squeezed. The gun gave a thunderclap and recoiled past me, and when I pulled my face out of the mask, I saw a column of water and spray about fifty feet left and a hundred yards over.
"You won't put any wax in the hold with that kind of shooting," Tom told me.
I fired again. This time, there was no effect at all that I could see. The shell must have gone away over and hit the water a couple of miles astern. Before Tom could make any comment on that shot, I let off another, and this time I hit the water directly in front of the bobbing wax skin. Good line shot, but away short.
"Well, you scared him, anyhow," Tom said, in mock commendation.
I remembered some of the comments I'd made when I'd been trying to teach him to hit something smaller than the target frame with a pistol, and humbled myself. The next two shots were reasonably close, but neither would have done any damage if the rapidly vanishing skin had really been a monster. Tom clucked sadly and slapped in another clip.
"Heave over another one," he called. "That monster got away."
The trouble was, there were a lot of tricky air currents along the surface of the water. The engines were running on lift to match exactly the weight of the ship, which meant that she had no weight at all, and a lot of wind resistance. The drive was supposed to match the wind speed, and the ship was supposed to be kept nosed into the wind. A lot of that is automatic, but it can't be made fully so, which means that the pilot has to do considerable manual correcting, and no human alive can do that perfectly. Joe Kivelson or Ramon Llewellyn or whoever was at the controls was doing a masterly job, but that fell away short of giving me a stable gun platform.
I caught the second target as soon as it bobbed into sight and slammed a shell at it. The explosion was half a mile away, but the shell hadn't missed the target by more than a few yards. Heartened, I fired again, and that shot was simply dreadful.
"I know what you're doing wrong," Tom said. "You're squeezing the trigger."
I pulled my face out of the sight-mask and looked at him to see if he were exhibiting any other signs of idiocy. That was like criticizing somebody for using a fork instead of eating with his fingers.
"You're not shooting a pistol," he continued. "You don't have to hold the gun on the target with the hand you shoot with. The mount control, in your other hand, does that. As soon as the cross hairs touch the target, just grab the trigger as though it was a million sols getting away from you. Well, sixteen thousand; that's what a monster's worth now, Murell prices. Jerking won't have the least effect on your hold whatever."
So that was why I'd had so much trouble making a pistol shot out of Tom, and why it would take a special act of God to make one out of his father. And that was why monster-hunters caused so few casualties in barroom shootings around Port Sandor, outside of bystanders and back-bar mirrors. I felt like Newton after he'd figured out why the apple bopped him on the head.
"You mean like this?" I asked innocently, as soon as I had the hairs on the target again, violating everything I held most sacredly true about shooting.
The shell must have passed within inches of the target; it bobbed over flat and the weight pulled it up again into the backwave from the shell and it bobbed like crazy.
"That would have been a dead monster," Tom said. "Let's see you do it again."
I didn't; the next shot was terrible. Overconfidence. I had one more shot, and I didn't want to use up another clip of the Javelin's ammo. They cost like crazy, even if they were Army rejects. The sea current was taking the target farther away every second, but I took my time on the next one, bringing the horizontal hair level with the bottom of the inflated target and traversing quickly, grabbing the trigger as soon as the vertical hair touched it. There was a water-spout, and the target shot straight up for fifty feet; the shell must have exploded directly under it. There was a sound of cheering from the intercom. Tom asked if I wanted to fire another clip. I told him I thought I had the hang of it now, and screwed a swab onto the ramrod and opened the breech to clean the gun.
Joe Kivelson grinned at me when I went up to the conning tower.
"That wasn't bad, Walt," he said. "You never manned a 50-mm before, did you?"
"No, and it's all backward from anything I ever learned about shooting," I said. "Now, suppose I get a shot at a monster; where do I try to hit him?"
"Here, I'll show you." He got a block of lucite, a foot square on the end by two and a half feet long, out of a closet under the chart table. In it was a little figure of a Jarvis's sea-monster; long body tapering to a three-fluked tail, wide horizontal flippers like the wings of an old pre-contragravity aircraft, and a long neck with a little head and a wide tusked mouth.
"Always get him from in front," he said. "Aim right here, where his chest makes a kind of V at the base of the neck. A 50-mm will go six or eight feet into him before it explodes, and it'll explode among his heart and lungs and things. If it goes straight along his body, it'll open him up and make the cutting-up easier, and it won't spoil much wax. That's where I always shoot."
"Suppose I get a broadside shot?"
"Why, then put your shell right under the flukes at the end of the tail. That'll turn him and position him for a second shot from in front. But mostly, you'll get a shot from in front, if the ship's down near the surface. Monsters will usually try to attack the ship. They attack anything around their own size that they see," he told me. "But don't ever make a body shot broadside-to. You'll kill the monster, but you'll blow about five thousand sols' worth of wax to Nifflheim doing it."
It had been getting dusky while I had been shooting; it was almost full dark now, and the Javelin's lights were on. We were making close to Mach 3, headed east now, and running away from the remaining daylight.
We began running into squalls of rain, and then rain mixed with wet snow. The underside lights came on, and the lookout below began reporting patches of sea-spaghetti. Finally, the boat was dropped out and went circling away ahead, swinging its light back and forth over the water, and radioing back reports. Spaghetti. Spaghetti with a big school of screwfish working on it. Funnel-mouths working on the screwfish. Finally the speaker gave a shrill whistle.
"Monster ho!" the voice yelled. "About ten points off your port bow. We're circling over it now."
"Monster ho!" Kivelson yelled into the intercom, in case anybody hadn't heard. "All hands to killing stations." Then he saw me standing there, wondering what was going to happen next. "Well, mister, didn't you hear me?" he bellowed. "Get to your gun!"
Gee! I thought. I'm one of the crew, now.
"Yes sir!" I grabbed the handrail of the ladder and slid down, then raced aft to the gun turret.
There was a man in the turret, waiting to help me. He had a clip of five rounds in the gun, the searchlight on, and the viewscreen tuned to the forward pickup. After checking the gun and loading the chamber, I looked in that, and in the distance, lighted by the boat above and the searchlight of the Javelin, I saw a long neck with a little head on the end of it weaving about. We were making straight for it, losing altitude and speed as we went.
Then the neck dipped under the water and a little later reappeared, coming straight for the advancing light. The forward gun went off, shaking the ship with its recoil, and the head ducked under again. There was a spout from the shell behind it.
I took my eyes from the forward screen and looked out the rear window, ready to shove my face into the sight-mask. An instant later, the head and neck reappeared astern of us. I fired, without too much hope of hitting anything, and then the ship was rising and circling.
As soon as I'd fired, the monster had sounded, headfirst. I fired a second shot at his tail, in hope of crippling his steering gear, but that was a clean miss, too, and then the ship was up to about five thousand feet. My helper pulled out the partly empty clip and replaced it with a full one, giving me five and one in the chamber.
If I'd been that monster, I thought, I'd have kept on going till I was a couple of hundred miles away from this place; but evidently that wasn't the way monsters thought, if thinking is what goes on inside a brain cavity the size of a quart bottle in a head the size of two oil drums on a body as big as the ship that was hunting him. He'd found a lot of gulpers and funnelmouths, and he wasn't going to be chased away from his dinner by somebody shooting at him.
I wondered why they didn't eat screwfish, instead of the things that preyed on them. Maybe they did and we didn't know it. Or maybe they just didn't like screwfish. There were a lot of things we didn't know about sea-monsters.
For that matter, I wondered why we didn't grow tallow-wax by carniculture. We could grow any other animal matter we wanted. I'd often thought of that.
The monster wasn't showing any inclination to come to the surface again, and finally Joe Kivelson's voice came out of the intercom:
"Run in the guns and seal ports. Secure for submersion. We're going down and chase him up."
My helper threw the switch that retracted the gun and sealed the gun port. I checked that and reported, "After gun secure." Hans Cronje's voice, a moment later, said, "Forward gun secure," and then Ramon Llewellyn said, "Ship secure; ready to submerge."
Then the Javelin began to settle, and the water came up over the window. I didn't know what the radar was picking up. All I could see was the screen and the window; water lighted for about fifty feet in front and behind. I saw a cloud of screwfish pass over and around us, spinning rapidly as they swam as though on lengthwise axis—they always spin counterclockwise, never clockwise. A couple of funnelmouths were swimming after them, overtaking and engulfing them.
Then the captain yelled, "Get set for torpedo," and my helper and I each grabbed a stanchion. A couple of seconds later it seemed as though King Neptune himself had given the ship a poke in the nose; my hands were almost jerked loose from their hold. Then she swung slowly, nosing up and down, and finally Joe Kivelson spoke again:
"We're going to surface. Get set to run the guns out and start shooting as soon as we're out of the water."
"What happened?" I asked my helper.
"Must have put the torp right under him and lifted him," he said. "He could be dead or stunned. Or he could be live and active and spoiling for a fight."
That last could be trouble. The Times had run quite a few stories, some with black borders, about ships that had gotten into trouble with monsters. A hunter-ship is heavy and it is well-armored—install hyperdrive engines in one, and you could take her from here to Terra—but a monster is a tough brute, and he has armor of his own, scales an inch or so thick and tougher than sole leather. A lot of chair seats around Port Sandor are made of single monster scales. A monster strikes with its head, like a snake. They can smash a ship's boat, and they've been known to punch armor-glass windows out of their frames. I didn't want the window in front of me coming in at me with a monster head the size of a couple of oil drums and full of big tusks following it.
The Javelin came up fast, but not as fast as the monster, which seemed to have been injured only in his disposition. He was on the surface already, about fifty yards astern of us, threshing with his forty-foot wing-fins, his neck arched back to strike. I started to swing my gun for the chest shot Joe Kivelson had recommended as soon as it was run out, and then the ship was swung around and tilted up forward by a sudden gust of wind. While I was struggling to get the sights back on the monster, the ship gave another lurch and the cross hairs were right on its neck, about six feet below the head. I grabbed the trigger, and as soon as the shot was off, took my eyes from the sights. I was just a second too late to see the burst, but not too late to see the monster's neck jerk one way out of the smoke puff and its head fly another. A second later, the window in front of me was splashed with blood as the headless neck came down on our fantail.
Immediately, two rockets jumped from the launcher over the gun turret, planting a couple of harpoons, and the boat, which had been circling around since we had submerged, dived into the water and passed under the monster, coming up on the other side dragging another harpoon line. The monster was still threshing its wings and flogging with its headless neck. It takes a monster quite a few minutes to tumble to the fact that it's been killed. My helper was pounding my back black and blue with one hand and trying to pump mine off with the other, and I was getting an ovation from all over the ship. At the same time, a couple more harpoons went into the thing from the ship, and the boat put another one in from behind.
I gathered that shooting monsters' heads off wasn't at all usual, and hastened to pass it off as pure luck, so that everybody would hurry up and deny it before they got the same idea themselves.
We hadn't much time for ovations, though. We had a very slowly dying monster, and before he finally discovered that he was dead, a couple of harpoons got pulled out and had to be replaced. Finally, however, he quieted down, and the boat swung him around, bringing the tail past our bow, and the ship cut contragravity to specific-gravity level and settled to float on top of the water. The boat dived again, and payed out a line that it brought up and around and up again, lashing the monster fast alongside.
"All right," Kivelson was saying, out of the intercom. "Shooting's over. All hands for cutting-up."
I pulled on a parka and zipped it up and went out onto the deck. Everybody who wasn't needed at engines or controls was there, and equipment was coming up from below—power saws and sonocutters and even a solenoid jackhammer. There were half a dozen floodlights, on small contragravity lifters; they were run up on lines fifty feet above the ship's deck. By this time it was completely dark and fine snow was blowing. I could see that Joe Kivelson was anxious to get the cutting-up finished before the wind got any worse.
"Walt, can you use a machine gun?" he asked me.
I told him I could. I was sure of it; a machine gun is fired in a rational and decent manner.
"Well, all right. Suppose you cover for us from the boat," he said. "Mr. Murell can pilot for you. You never worked at cutting-up before, and neither did he. You'd be more of a hindrance than a help and so would he. But we do need a good machine gunner. As soon as we start throwing out waste, we'll have all the slashers and halberd fish for miles around. You just shoot them as fast as you see them."
He was courteous enough not to add: "And don't shoot any of the crew."
The boat came in and passed out the lines of its harpoons, and Murell and I took the places of Cesario Vieira and the other man. We went up to the nose, and Murell took his place at the controls, and I got back of the 7-mm machine gun and made sure that there were plenty of extra belts of ammo. Then, as we rose, I pulled the goggles down from my hood, swung the gun away from the ship, and hammered off a one-second burst to make sure it was working, after which I settled down, glad I had a comfortable seat and wasn't climbing around on that monster.
They began knocking scales loose with the jackhammer and cutting into the leathery skin underneath with sonocutters. The sea was getting heavy, and the ship and the attached monster had begun to roll.
"That's pretty dangerous work," Murell said. "If a man using one of those cutters slipped...."
"It's happened," I told him. "You met our peg-legged compositor, Julio. That was how he lost his leg."
"I don't blame them for wanting all they can get for tallow-wax."
They had the monster opened down the belly, and were beginning to cut loose big chunks of the yellow tallow-wax and throw them into cargo nets and swing them aboard with lifters, to be chucked down the cargo hatches. I was only able to watch that for a minute or so and tell Murell what was going on, and then the first halberd fish, with a spearlike nose and sharp ridges of the nearest thing to bone you find on Fenris, came swimming up. I swung the gun on the leader and gave him a second of fire, and then a two-second burst on the ones behind. Then I waited for a few seconds until the survivors converged on their dead and injured companions and gave them another burst, which wiped out the lot of them.
It was only a couple of seconds after that that the first slasher came in, shiny as heat-blued steel and waving four clawed tentacles that grew around its neck. It took me a second or so to get the sights on him. He stopped slashing immediately. Slashers are smart; you kill them and they find it out right away.
Before long, the water around the ship and the monster was polluted with things like that. I had to keep them away from the men, now working up to their knees in water, and at the same time avoid massacring the crew I was trying to protect, and Murell had to keep the boat in position, in spite of a steadily rising wind, and every time I had to change belts, there'd be a new rush of things that had to be shot in a hurry. The ammunition bill for covering a cutting-up operation is one of the things that runs up expenses for a hunter-ship. The ocean bottom around here must be carpeted with machine-gun brass.
Finally, they got the job done, and everybody went below and sealed ship. We sealed the boat and went down after her. The last I saw, the remains of the monster, now stripped of wax, had been cast off, and the water around it was rioting with slashers and clawbeaks and halberd fish and similar marine unpleasantnesses.
Getting a ship's boat berthed inside the ship in the air is tricky work under the best of conditions; the way the wind was blowing by now, it would have been like trying to thread a needle inside a concrete mixer. We submerged after the ship and went in underwater. Then we had to wait in the boat until the ship rose above the surface and emptied the water out of the boat berth. When that was done and the boat berth was sealed again, the ship went down seventy fathoms and came to rest on the bottom, and we unsealed the boat and got out.
There was still the job of packing the wax into skins, but that could wait. Everybody was tired and dirty and hungry. We took turns washing up, three at a time, in the little ship's latrine which, for some reason going back to sailing-ship days on Terra, was called the "head." Finally the whole sixteen of us gathered in the relatively comfortable wardroom under the after gun turret.
Comfortable, that is, to the extent that everybody could find a place to sit down, or could move about without tripping over somebody else. There was a big pot of coffee, and everybody had a plate or bowl of hot food. There's always plenty of hot food to hand on a hunter-ship; no regular meal-times, and everybody eats, as he sleeps, when he has time. This is the only time when a whole hunter crew gets together, after a monster has been killed and cut up and the ship is resting on the bottom and nobody has to stand watch.
Everybody was talking about the killing, of course, and the wax we had in the hold, and counting the money they were going to get for it, at the new eighty-centisol price.
"Well, I make it about fourteen tons," Ramon Llewellyn, who had been checking the wax as it went into the hold, said. He figured mentally for a moment, and added, "Call it twenty-two thousand sols." Then he had to fall back on a pencil and paper to figure shares.
I was surprised to find that he was reckoning shares for both Murell and myself.
"Hey, do we want to let them do that?" I whispered to Murell. "We just came along for the ride."
"I don't want the money," he said. "These people need every cent they can get."
So did I, for that matter, and I didn't have salary and expense account from a big company on Terra. However, I hadn't come along in the expectation of making anything out of it, and a newsman has to be careful about the outside money he picks up. It wouldn't do any harm in the present instance, but as a practice it can lead to all kinds of things, like playing favorites, coloring news, killing stories that shouldn't be killed. We do enough of that as it is, like playing down the tread-snail business for Bish Ware and the spaceport people, and never killing anybody except in a "local bar." It's hard to draw a line on that sort of thing.
"We're just guests," I said. "We don't work here."
"The dickens you are," Joe Kivelson contradicted. "Maybe you came aboard as guests, but you're both part of the crew now. I never saw a prettier shot on a monster than Walt made—took that thing's head off like a chicken on a chopping block—and he did a swell job of covering for the cutting-up. And he couldn't have done that if Murell hadn't handled the boat the way he did, and that was no easy job."
"Well, let's talk about that when we get to port," I said. "Are we going right back, or are we going to try for another monster?"
"I don't know," Joe said. "We could stow the wax, if we didn't get too much, but if we stay out, we'll have to wait out the wind and by then it'll be pretty cold."
"The longer we stay out, the more the cruise'll cost," Abdullah Monnahan, the engineer, said, "and the expenses'll cut into the shares."
"Tell the truth, I'm sort of antsy to get back," Joe Kivelson said. "I want to see what's going on in Port Sandor."
"So am I," Murell said. "I want to get some kind of office opened, and get into business. What time will the Cape Canaveral be getting in? I want a big cargo, for the first time."
"Oh, not for four hundred hours, at the least," I said. "The spaceships always try to miss the early-dark and early-daylight storms. It's hard to get a big ship down in a high wind."
"That'll be plenty of time, I suppose," Murell said. "There's all that wax you have stored, and what I can get out of the Co-operative stores from crews that reclaim it. But I'm going to have a lot to do."
"Yes," I agreed. "Dodging bullets, for one."
"Oh, I don't expect any trouble," Murell said. "This fellow Ravick's shot his round."
He was going to say something else, but before he could say it there was a terrific roar forward. The whole ship bucked like a recoiling gun, throwing everybody into a heap, and heeled over to starboard. There were a lot of yells, particularly from those who had been splashed with hot coffee, and somebody was shouting something about the magazines.
"The magazines are aft, you dunderhead," Joe Kivelson told him, shoving himself to his feet. "Stay put, everybody; I'll see what it is."
He pulled open the door forward. An instant later, he had slammed it shut and was dogging it fast.
"Hull must be ruptured forward; we're making water. It's spouting up the hatch from the engine room like a geyser," he said. "Ramon, go see what it's like in the boat berth. The rest of you, follow him, and grab all the food and warm clothing you can. We're going to have to abandon."
He stood by the doorway aft, shoving people through and keeping them from jamming up, saying: "Take it easy, now; don't crowd. We'll all get out." There wasn't any panic. A couple of men were in the doorway of the little galley when I came past, handing out cases of food. As nothing was coming out at the instant, I kept on, and on the way back to the boat-berth hatch, I pulled down as many parkas and pairs of overpants as I could carry, squeezing past Tom, who was collecting fleece-lined hip boots. Each pair was buckled together at the tops; a hunter always does that, even at home ashore.
Ramon had the hatch open, and had opened the top hatch of the boat, below. I threw my double armload of clothing down through it and slid down after, getting out of the way of the load of boots Tom dumped ahead of him. Joe Kivelson came down last, carrying the ship's log and some other stuff. A little water was trickling over the edge of the hatch above.
"It's squirting up from below in a dozen places," he said, after he'd sealed the boat. "The whole front of the ship must be blown out."
"Well, now we know what happened to Simon MacGregor's Claymore," I said, more to myself than to anybody else.
Joe and Hans Cronje, the gunner, were getting a rocket out of the locker, detaching the harpoon and fitting on an explosive warhead. He stopped, while he and Cronje were loading it into the after launcher, and nodded at me.
"That's what I think, too," he said. "Everybody grab onto something; we're getting the door open."
I knew what was coming and started hugging a stanchion as though it were a long-lost sweetheart, and Murell, who didn't but knew enough to imitate those who did, hugged it from the other side. The rocket whooshed out of the launcher and went off with a deafening bang outside. For an instant, nothing happened, and I told Murell not to let go. Then the lock burst in and the water, at seventy fathoms' pressure, hit the boat. Abdullah had gotten the engines on and was backing against it. After a little, the pressure equalized and we went out the broken lock stern first.
We circled and passed over the Javelin, and then came back. She was lying in the ooze, a quarter over on her side, and her whole bow was blown out to port. Joe Kivelson got the square box he had brought down from the ship along with the log, fussed a little with it, and then launched it out the disposal port. It was a radio locator. Sometimes a lucky ship will get more wax than the holds' capacity; they pack it in skins and anchor it on the bottom, and drop one of those gadgets with it. It would keep on sending a directional signal and the name of the ship for a couple of years.
"Do you really think it was sabotage?" Murell was asking me. Blowing up a ship with sixteen men aboard must have seemed sort of extreme to him. Maybe that wasn't according to Terran business ethics. "Mightn't it have been a power unit?"
"No. Power units don't blow, and if one did, it would vaporize the whole ship and a quarter of a cubic mile of water around her. No, that was old fashioned country-style chemical explosive. Cataclysmite, probably."
"Ravick?" he asked, rather unnecessarily.
"You know how well he can get along without you and Joe Kivelson, and here's a chance to get along without both of you together." Everybody in the boat was listening, so I continued: "How much do you know about this fellow Devis, who strained his back at the last moment?"
"Engine room's where he could have planted something," Joe Kivelson said.
"He was in there by himself for a while, the morning after the meeting," Abdullah Monnahan added.
"And he disappeared between the meeting room and the elevator, during the fight," Tom mentioned. "And when he showed up, he hadn't been marked up any. I'd have thought he'd have been pretty badly beaten—unless they knew he was one of their own gang."
"We're going to look Devis up when we get back," somebody said pleasantly.
"If we get back," Ramon Llewellyn told him. "That's going to take some doing."
"We have the boat," Hans Cronje said. "It's a little crowded, but we can make it back to Port Sandor."
"I hope we can," Abe Clifford, the navigator, said. "Shall we take her up, Joe?"
"Yes, see what it's like on top," the skipper replied.
Going up, we passed a monster at about thirty fathoms. It stuck its neck out and started for us. Monnahan tilted the boat almost vertical and put on everything the engines had, lift and drive parallel. An instant later, we broke the surface and shot into the air.
The wind hit the boat as though it had been a ping-pong ball, and it was several seconds, and bad seconds at that, before Monnahan regained even a semblance of control. There was considerable bad language, and several of the crew had bloody noses. Monnahan tried to get the boat turned into the wind. A circuit breaker popped, and red lights blazed all over the instrument panel. He eased off and let the wind take over, and for a while we were flying in front of it like a rifle bullet. Gradually, he nosed down and submerged.
"Well, that's that." Joe Kivelson said, when we were back in the underwater calm again. "We'll have to stay under till the wind's over. Don't anybody move around or breathe any deeper than you have to. We'll have to conserve oxygen."
"Isn't the boat equipped with electrolytic gills?" Murell asked.
"Sure, to supply oxygen for a maximum of six men. We have sixteen in here."
"How long will our air last, for sixteen of us?" I asked.
"About eight hours."
It would take us fifty to get to Port Sandor, running submerged. The wind wouldn't even begin to fall in less than twenty.
"We can go south, to the coast of Hermann Reuch's Land," Abe Clifford, the navigator, said. "Let me figure something out."
He dug out a slide rule and a pencil and pad and sat down with his back to the back of the pilot's seat, under the light. Everybody watched him in a silence which Joe Kivelson broke suddenly by bellowing:
"Dumont! You light that pipe and I'll feed it to you!"
Old Piet Dumont grabbed the pipe out of his mouth with one hand and pocketed his lighter with the other.
"Gosh, Joe; I guess I just wasn't thinking..." he began.
"Well, give me that pipe." Joe put it in the drawer under the charts. "Now you won't have it handy the next time you don't think."
After a while, Abe Clifford looked up. "Ship's position I don't have exactly; somewhere around East 25 Longitude, South 20 Latitude. I can't work out our present position at all, except that we're somewhere around South 30 Latitude. The locator signal is almost exactly north-by-northeast of us. If we keep it dead astern, we'll come out in Sancerre Bay, on Hermann Reuch's Land. If we make that, we're all right. We'll be in the lee of the Hacksaw Mountains, and we can surface from time to time to change air, and as soon as the wind falls we can start for home."
Then he and Abdullah and Joe went into a huddle, arguing about cruising speed submerged. The results weren't so heartening.
"It looks like a ten-hour trip, submerged," Joe said. "That's two hours too long, and there's no way of getting more oxygen out of the gills than we're getting now. We'll just have to use less. Everybody lie down and breathe as shallowly as possible, and don't do anything to use energy. I'm going to get on the radio and see what I can raise."
Big chance, I thought. These boat radios were only used for communicating with the ship while scouting; they had a strain-everything range of about three hundred miles. Hunter-ships don't crowd that close together when they're working. Still, there was a chance that somebody else might be sitting it out on the bottom within hearing. So Abe took the controls and kept the signal from the wreck of the Javelin dead astern, and Joe Kivelson began speaking into the radio:
"Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. Captain Kivelson, Javelin, calling. My ship was wrecked by an explosion; all hands now in scout boat, proceeding toward Sancerre Bay, on course south-by-southwest from the wreck. Locator signal is being broadcast from the Javelin. Other than that, we do not know our position. Calling all craft, calling Mayday."
He stopped talking. The radio was silent except for an occasional frying-fat crackle of static. Then he began over again.
I curled up, trying to keep my feet out of anybody's face and my face clear of anybody else's feet. Somebody began praying, and somebody else told him to belay it, he was wasting oxygen. I tried to go to sleep, which was the only practical thing to do. I must have succeeded. When I woke again, Joe Kivelson was saying, exasperatedly:
"Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Mayday..."
DARKNESS AND COLD
The next time I woke, Tom Kivelson was reciting the Mayday, Mayday incantation into the radio, and his father was asleep. The man who had been praying had started again, and nobody seemed to care whether he wasted oxygen or not. It was a Theosophist prayer to the Spirit Guides, and I remembered that Cesario Vieira was a Theosophist. Well, maybe there really were Spirit Guides. If there were, we'd all be finding out before long. I found that I didn't care one hoot which way, and I set that down to oxygen deficiency.
Then Glenn Murell broke in on the monotone call for help and the prayer.
"We're done for if we stay down here another hour," he said. "Any argument on that?"
There wasn't any. Joe Kivelson opened his eyes and looked around.
"We haven't raised anything at all on the radio," Murell went on. "That means nobody's within an hour of reaching us. Am I right?"
"I guess that's about the size of it," Joe Kivelson conceded.
"How close to land are we?"
"The radar isn't getting anything but open water and schools of fish," Abe Clifford said. "For all I know, we could be inside Sancerre Bay now."
"Well, then, why don't we surface?" Murell continued. "It's a thousand to one against us, but if we stay here our chances are precisely one hundred per cent negative."
"What do you think?" Joe asked generally. "I think Mr. Murell's stated it correctly."
"There is no death," Cesario said. "Death is only a change, and then more of life. I don't care what you do."
"What have we got to lose?" somebody else asked. "We're broke and gambling on credit now."
"All right; we surface," the skipper said. "Everybody grab onto something. We'll take the Nifflheim of a slamming around as soon as we're out of the water."
We woke up everybody who was sleeping, except the three men who had completely lost consciousness. Those we wrapped up in blankets and tarpaulins, like mummies, and lashed them down. We gathered everything that was loose and made it fast, and checked the fastenings of everything else. Then Abdullah Monnahan pointed the nose of the boat straight up and gave her everything the engines could put out. Just as we were starting upward, I heard Cesario saying:
"If anybody wants to see me in the next reincarnation, I can tell you one thing; I won't reincarnate again on Fenris!"
The headlights only penetrated fifty or sixty feet ahead of us. I could see slashers and clawbeaks and funnelmouths and gulpers and things like that getting out of our way in a hurry. Then we were out of the water and shooting straight up in the air.
It was the other time all over again, doubled in spades, only this time Abdullah didn't try to fight it; he just kept the boat rising. Then it went end-over-end, again and again. I think most of us blacked out; I'm sure I did, for a while. Finally, more by good luck than good management, he got us turned around with the wind behind us. That lasted for a while, and then we started keyholing again. I could see the instrument panel from where I'd lashed myself fast; it was going completely bughouse. Once, out the window in front, I could see jagged mountains ahead. I just shut my eyes and waited for the Spirit Guides to come and pick up the pieces.
When they weren't along, after a few seconds that seemed like half an hour, I opened my eyes again. There were more mountains ahead, and mountains to the right. This'll do it, I thought, and I wondered how long it would take Dad to find out what had happened to us. Cesario had started praying again, and so had Abdullah Monnahan, who had just remembered that he had been brought up a Moslem. I hoped he wasn't trying to pray in the direction of Mecca, even allowing that he knew which way Mecca was from Fenris generally. That made me laugh, and then I thought, This is a fine time to be laughing at anything. Then I realized that things were so bad that anything more that happened was funny.
I was still laughing when I discovered that the boat had slowed to a crawl and we were backing in between two high cliffs. Evidently Abdullah, who had now stopped praying, had gotten enough control of the boat to keep her into the wind and was keeping enough speed forward to yield to it gradually. That would be all right, I thought, if the force of the wind stayed constant, and as soon as I thought of that, it happened. We got into a relative calm, the boat went forward again, and then was tossed up and spun around. Then I saw a mountain slope directly behind us, out the rear window.
A moment later, I saw rocks and boulders sticking out of it in apparent defiance of gravitation, and then I realized that it was level ground and we were coming down at it backward. That lasted a few seconds, and then we hit stern-on, bounced and hit again. I was conscious up to the third time we hit.
The next thing I knew, I was hanging from my lashings from the side of the boat, which had become the top, and the headlights and the lights on the control panel were out, and Joe Kivelson was holding a flashlight while Abe Clifford and Glenn Murell were trying to get me untied and lower me. I also noticed that the air was fresh, and very cold.
"Hey, we're down!" I said, as though I were telling anybody anything they didn't know. "How many are still alive?"
"As far as I know, all of us," Joe said. "I think I have a broken arm." I noticed, then, that he was holding his left arm stiffly at his side. Murell had a big gash on top of his head, and he was mopping blood from his face with his sleeve while he worked.
When they got me down, I looked around. Somebody else was playing a flashlight around at the stern, which was completely smashed. It was a miracle the rocket locker hadn't blown up, but the main miracle was that all, or even any, of us were still alive.
We found a couple of lights that could be put on, and we got all of us picked up and the unconscious revived. One man, Dominic Silverstein, had a broken leg. Joe Kivelson's arm was, as he suspected, broken, another man had a fractured wrist, and Abdullah Monnahan thought a couple of ribs were broken. The rest of us were in one piece, but all of us were cut and bruised. I felt sore all over. We also found a nuclear-electric heater that would work, and got it on. Tom and I rigged some tarpaulins to screen off the ruptured stern and keep out the worst of the cold wind. After they got through setting and splinting the broken bones and taping up Abdullah's ribs, Cesario and Murell got some water out of one of the butts and started boiling it for coffee. I noticed that Piet Dumont had recovered his pipe and was smoking it, and Joe Kivelson had his lit.
"Well, where are we?" somebody was asking Abe Clifford.
The navigator shook his head. "The radio's smashed, so's the receiver for the locator, and so's the radio navigational equipment. I can state positively, however, that we are on the north coast of Hermann Reuch's Land."
Everybody laughed at that except Murell. I had to explain to him that Hermann Reuch's Land was the antarctic continent of Fenris, and hasn't any other coast.
"I'd say we're a good deal west of Sancerre Bay," Cesario Vieira hazarded. "We can't be east of it, the way we got blown west. I think we must be at least five hundred miles east of it."
"Don't fool yourself, Cesario," Joe Kivelson told him. "We could have gotten into a turbulent updraft and been carried to the upper, eastward winds. The altimeter was trying to keep up with the boat and just couldn't, half the time. We don't know where we went. I'll take Abe's estimate and let it go at that."
"Well, we're up some kind of a fjord," Tom said. "I think it branches like a Y, and we're up the left branch, but I won't make a point of that."
"I can't find anything like that on this map," Abe Clifford said, after a while.
Joe Kivelson swore. "You ought to know better than that, Abe; you know how thoroughly this coast hasn't been mapped."
"How much good will it do us to know where we are, right now?" I asked. "If the radio's smashed, we can't give anybody our position."
"We might be able to fix up the engines and get the boat in the air again, after the wind drops." Monnahan said. "I'll take a look at them and see how badly they've been banged up."
"With the whole stern open?" Hans Cronje asked. "We'd freeze stiffer than a gun barrel before we went a hundred miles."
"Then we can pack the stern full of wet snow and let it freeze, instead of us," I suggested. "There'll be plenty of snow before the wind goes down."
Joe Kivelson looked at me for a moment. "That would work," he said. "How soon can you get started on the engines, Abdullah?"
"Right away. I'll need somebody to help me, though. I can't do much the way you have me bandaged up."
"I think we'd better send a couple of parties out," Ramon Llewellyn said. "We'll have to find a better place to stay than this boat. We don't all have parkas or lined boots, and we have a couple of injured men. This heater won't be enough; in about seventy hours we'd all freeze to death sitting around it."
Somebody mentioned the possibility of finding a cave.
"I doubt it," Llewellyn said. "I was on an exploring expedition down here, once. This is all igneous rock, mostly granite. There aren't many caves. But there may be some sort of natural shelter, or something we can make into a shelter, not too far away. We have two half-ton lifters; we could use them to pile up rocks and build something. Let's make up two parties. I'll take one; Abe, you take the other. One of us can go up and the other can go down."
We picked parties, trying to get men who had enough clothing and hadn't been too badly banged around in the landing. Tom wanted to go along, but Abdullah insisted that he stay and help with the inspection of the boat's engines. Finally six of us—Llewellyn, myself, Glenn Murell, Abe Clifford, old Piet Dumont, and another man—went out through the broken stern of the boat. We had two portable floodlights—a scout boat carries a lot of equipment—and Llewellyn took the one and Clifford the other. It had begun to snow already, and the wind was coming straight up the narrow ravine into which we had landed, driving it at us. There was a stream between the two walls of rock, swollen by the rains that had come just before the darkness, and the rocks in and beside it were coated with ice. We took one look at it and shook our heads. Any exploring we did would be done without trying to cross that. We stood for a few minutes trying to see through the driving snow, and then we separated, Abe Clifford, Dumont and the other man going up the stream and Ramon Llewellyn, Glenn Murell and I going down.
A few hundred yards below the boat, the stream went over a fifty-foot waterfall. We climbed down beside it, and found the ravine widening. It was a level beach, now, or what had been a beach thousands of years ago. The whole coast of Hermann Reuch's land is sinking in the Eastern Hemisphere and rising in the Western. We turned away from the stream and found that the wind was increasing in strength and coming at us from the left instead of in front. The next thing we knew, we were at the point of the mountain on our right and we could hear the sea roaring ahead and on both sides of us. Tom had been right about that V-shaped fjord, I thought.
We began running into scattered trees now, and when we got around the point of the mountain we entered another valley.
Trees, like everything else on Fenris, are considerably different from anything analogous on normal planets. They aren't tall, the biggest not more than fifteen feet high, but they are from six to eight feet thick, with all the branches at the top, sprouting out in all directions and reminding me of pictures of Medusa. The outside bark is a hard shell, which grows during the beginning of our four hot seasons a year. Under that will be more bark, soft and spongy, and this gets more and more dense toward the middle; and then comes the hardwood core, which may be as much as two feet thick.
"One thing, we have firewood," Murell said, looking at them.
"What'll we cut it with; our knives?" I wanted to know.
"Oh, we have a sonocutter on the boat," Ramon Llewellyn said. "We can chop these things into thousand-pound chunks and float them to camp with the lifters. We could soak the spongy stuff on the outside with water and let it freeze, and build a hut out of it, too." He looked around, as far as the light penetrated the driving snow. "This wouldn't be a bad place to camp."
Not if we're going to try to work on the boat, I thought. And packing Dominic, with his broken leg, down over that waterfall was something I didn't want to try, either. I didn't say anything. Wait till we got back to the boat. It was too cold and windy here to argue, and besides, we didn't know what Abe and his party might have found upstream.
We had been away from the boat for about two hours; when we got back, I saw that Abdullah and his helpers had gotten the deck plates off the engine well and used them to build a more substantial barricade at the ruptured stern. The heater was going and the boat was warm inside, not just relatively to the outside, but actually comfortable. It was even more crowded, however, because there was a ton of collapsium shielding, in four sections, and the generator and power unit, piled in the middle. Abdullah and Tom and Hans Cronje were looking at the converters, which to my not very knowing eye seemed to be in a hopeless mess.
There was some more work going on up at the front. Cesario Vieira had found a small portable radio that wasn't in too bad condition, and had it apart. I thought he was doing about the most effective work of anybody, and waded over the pile of engine parts to see what he was doing. It wasn't much of a radio. A hundred miles was the absolute limit of its range, at least for sending.
"Is this all we have?" I asked, looking at it. It was the same type as the one I carried on the job, camouflaged in a camera case, except that it wouldn't record.
"There's the regular boat radio, but it's smashed up pretty badly. I was thinking we could do something about cannibalizing one radio out of parts from both of them."
We use a lot of radio equipment on the Times, and I do a good bit of work on it. I started taking the big set apart and then remembered the receiver for the locator and got at that, too. The trouble was that most of the stuff in all the sets had been miniaturized to a point where watchmaker's tools would have been pretty large for working on them, and all we had was a general-repair kit that was just about fine enough for gunsmithing.