Cochrane ate with a sort of angry vigor. Then he snapped:
"If you want to know, we've got to land! We're sunk if we don't go outside and move around! We'll spoil our story-line. This is the greatest adventure-serial anybody on Earth ever tuned in to follow! If we back down on exploration, our audience will be disgusted and resentful and they'll take it out on our sponsors!"
Babs said softly, to Holden:
"That's my boss!"
Cochrane glared at her. He didn't know how to take the comment. He said to Holden:
"Tomorrow we'll try to figure out some sort of test and try the air. I'll go out in a space-suit and crack the face-plate! I can close it again before anything lethal gets in. But there's no use stepping out into a bed of coals tonight. I'll have to wait till morning."
Holden smiled at him. Babs regarded him with intent, enigmatic eyes.
Neither of them said anything more. Cochrane finished his meal. Then he found himself without an occupation. Gravity on this planet was very nearly the same as on Earth. It felt like more, of course, because all of them had been subject only to moon-gravity for nearly three weeks. Jones and the pilot had been in one-sixth gravity for a much longer time. And the absence of gravity had caused their muscles to lose tone by just about the amount that the same time spent in a hospital bed would have done. They felt physically worn out.
It was a healthy tiredness, though, and their muscles would come back to normal as quickly as one recovers strength after illness—rather faster, in fact. But tonight there would be no night-life on the space-ship. Johnny Simms disappeared, after symptoms of fretfulness akin to those of an over-tired small boy. Jamison gave up, and Bell, and Al the pilot fell asleep while Jones was trying to discuss something technical with him. Jones himself yawned and yawned and when Al snored in his face he gave up. They retired to their bunks.
There was no point in standing guard over the ship. If the bed of hot ashes did not guard it, it was not likely that an individual merely sitting up and staring out its ports would do much good. There were extremely minor, practically unnoticeable vibrations of the ship from time to time. They would be volcanic temblors—to be expected. They were not alarming, certainly, and the forest outside was guarantee of no great violence to be anticipated. The trees stood firm and tall. There was no worry about the ship. It was perfectly practical, and even necessary simply to turn out the lights and go to sleep.
But Cochrane could not relax. He was annoyed by the soreness of his muscles. He was irritated by the picture given him of the expedition as a group of heedless ignoramuses who'd taken off without star-charts or bacteriological equipment—without even apparatus to test the air of planets they might land on!—and who now were sternly warned not to make any use of their achievement. Cochrane was not overwhelmed by the achievement itself, though less than eighteen hours since the ship and all its company had been aground on Luna, and now they were landed on a new world twice as far from Earth as the Pole Star.
It is probable that Cochrane was not awed because he had a television-producer's point of view. He regarded this entire affair as a production. He was absorbed in the details of putting it across. He looked at it from his own, quite narrow, professional viewpoint. It did not disturb him that he was surrounded by a wilderness. He considered the wilderness the set on which his production belonged, though he was as much a city man as anybody else. He went back to the control-room. With the ship standing on its tail that was the highest point, and as the embers burned out and the smoke lessened it was possible to look out into the night.
He stared at the dimly-seen trees beyond the burned area, and at the dark masses of mountains which blotted out the stars. He estimated them, without quite realizing it, in view of what they would look like on a television screen. When light objects in the control-room rattled slightly, he paid no attention. His rehearsal-studio had been rickety, back home.
Babs seemed to be sleepless, too. There was next to no light where Cochrane was—merely the monitor-lights which assured that the Dabney field still existed, though blocked for use by the substance of a planet. Babs arrived in the almost-dark room only minutes after Cochrane. He was moving restlessly from one port to another, staring out.
"I thought I'd tell you," Babs volunteered, "that Doctor Holden put some algae from the air-purifier tanks in the airlock, and then opened the outer door."
"Why?" asked Cochrane.
"Algae's Earth plant-life," explained Babs. "If the air is poisonous, it will be killed by morning. We can close the outer door of the lock, pump out the air that came from this planet, and then let air in from the ship so we can see what happens."
"Oh," said Cochrane.
"And then I couldn't sleep," said Babs guilelessly. "Do you mind if I stay here? Everybody else has gone to bed."
"Oh, no," said Cochrane. "Stay if you like."
He stared out at the dark. Presently he moved to another port. After a moment he pointed.
"There's a glow in the sky there," he said curtly.
She looked. There was a vast curving blackness which masked the stars. Beyond it there was a reddish glare, as if of some monstrous burning. But the color was not right for a fire. Not exactly.
"A city?" asked Babs breathlessly.
"A volcano," Cochrane told her. "I've staged shows that pretended to show intellectual creatures on other planets—funny how we've been dreaming of such things, back on Earth—but it isn't likely. Not since we've actually reached the stars."
"Why since then?"
"Because," said Cochrane, half ironically, "man was given dominion over all created things. I don't think we'll find rivals for that dominion. I can't imagine we'll find another race of creatures who could be—persons. Heaven knows we try to rob each other of dignity, but I don't think there's another race to humiliate us when we find them!"
After a moment he added:
"Bad enough that we're here because there are deodorants and cosmetics and dog-foods and such things that people want to advertise to each other! We wouldn't be here but for them, and for the fact that some people are neurotics and some don't like their bosses and some are crazy in other fashions."
"Some crazinesses aren't bad," argued Babs.
"I've made a living out of them," agreed Cochrane sourly. "But I don't like them. I have a feeling that I could arrange things better. I know I couldn't, but I'd like to try. In my own small way, I'm even trying."
"That's because you are a man. Women aren't so foolish. We're realists. We like creation—even men—the way creation is."
"I don't," Cochrane said irritably. "We've accomplished something terrific, and I don't get a kick out of it! My head is full of business details that have to be attended to tomorrow. I ought to be uplifted. I ought to be gloating! I ought to be happy! But I'm worrying for fear that this infernal planet is going to disappoint our audience!"
Babs chuckled again. Then she went to the stair leading to the compartment below.
"What's the matter?" he demanded.
"After all, I'm going to leave you alone," said Babs cheerfully. "You're always very careful not to talk to me in any personal fashion. I think you're afraid I'll tell you something for your own good. If I stayed here, I might. Goodnight!"
She started down the stairs. Cochrane said vexedly:
"Hold on! Confound it, I didn't know I was so transparent! I'm sorry, Babs. Look! Tell me something for my own good!"
Babs hesitated, and then said very cheerfully:
"You only see things the way a man sees them. This show, this trip—this whole business doesn't thrill you because you don't see it the way a woman would."
"Such as how? What does a woman see that I don't?"
"A woman," said Babs, "sees this planet as a place that men and women will come to live on. To live on! You don't. You miss all the real implications of people actually living here. But they're the things a woman sees first of all."
"I'm not so conceited I can't listen to somebody else. If you've got an idea—"
"Not an idea," said Babs. "Just a reaction. And you can't explain a reaction to somebody who hasn't had it. Goodnight!"
She vanished down the stairs. Some time later, Cochrane heard the extremely minute sound of a door closing on one of the cabins three decks down in the space-ship.
He went back to his restless inspection of the night outside. He tried to make sense of what Babs had said. He failed altogether. In the end he settled in one of the over-elaborately cushioned chairs that had made this ship so attractive to deluded investors. He intended to think out what Babs might have meant. She was, after all, the most competent secretary he'd ever had, and he'd been wryly aware of how helpless he would be without her. Now he tried painstakingly to imagine what changes in one's view the inclusion of women among pioneers would involve. He worked out some seemingly valid points. But it was not a congenial mental occupation.
He fell asleep without realizing it, and was waked by the sound of voices all about him. It was morning again, and Johnny Simms was shouting boyishly at something he saw outside.
"Get at it, boy!" he cried enthusiastically. "Grab him! That's the way—"
Cochrane opened his eyes. Johnny Simms gazed out and down from a blister-port, waving his arms. His wife Alicia looked out of the same port without seeming to share his excited approval. Bell had dragged a camera across the control-room and was in the act of focussing it through a particular window.
"What's the matter?" demanded Cochrane.
He struggled out of his chair. And Johnny Simms' pleasure evaporated abruptly. He swore nastily, viciously, at something outside the ship. His wife touched his arm and spoke to him in a low tone. He turned furiously upon her, mouthing foulnesses.
Cochrane was formidably beside him, and Johnny Simms' expression of fury smoothed out instantly. He looked pleasant and amiable.
"The fight stopped," he explained offhandedly. "It was a good fight. But one of the creatures wouldn't stay and take his licking."
Alicia said steadily:
"There were some animals there. They looked rather like bears, only they had enormous ears."
Cochrane looked at Johnny Simms with hot eyes. It was absurd to be so chivalrous, perhaps, but he was enraged. After an instant he turned away and went to the port. The burned-over area was now only ashes. At its edge, charcoal showed. And now he could see trees and brushwood on beyond. The trees did not seem strange, because no trees would have seemed familiar. The brush did not impress him as exotic, because his experience with actual plants was restricted to the artificial plants on television sets and the artificially arranged plants on rooftops. He hardly let his eyes dwell on the vegetation at all. He searched for movement. He saw the moving furry rumps of half a dozen unknown creatures as they dived into concealment as if they had been frightened. He looked down and could see the hull of the ship and two of the three take-off fins on which it rested.
The airlock door was opening out. It swung wide. It swung back against the hull.
"Holden's making some sort of test of the air," Cochrane said shortly. "The animals were scared when the outside door swung open. I'll see what he finds out."
He hurried down. He found Babs standing beside the inner door of the airlock. She looked somehow pale. There were two saucers of greenish soup-like stuff on the floor at her feet. That would be, of course, the algae from the air-purifying-system tanks.
"The algae were alive," said Babs. "Dr. Holden went in the lock to try the air himself. He said he'd be very careful."
For some obscure reason Cochrane felt ashamed. There was a long, a desperately long wait. Then sounds of machinery. The outer door closing. Small whistlings—compressed air.
The inner door opened. Bill Holden came out of the lock, his expression zestfully surprised.
"Hello, Jed! I tried the air. It's all right! At a guess, maybe a little high in oxygen. But it feels wonderfully good to breathe! And I can report that the trees are wood and the green is chlorophyll, and this is an Earth-type planet. That little smoky smell about is completely familiar—and I'm taking that as an analysis. I'm going to take a walk."
Cochrane found himself watching Babs' face. She looked enormously relieved, but even Cochrane—who was looking for something of the sort without realizing it—could not read anything but relief in her expression. She did not, for example, look admiring.
"I'll borrow one of Johnny Simms' guns," said Holden, "and take a look around. It's either perfectly safe or we're all dead anyhow. Frankly, I think it's safe. It feels right outside, Jed! It honestly feels right!"
"I'll come with you," said Cochrane, "Jones and the pilot are necessary if the ship's to get back to Earth. But we're expendable."
He went back to the control-room. Johnny Simms zestfully undertook to outfit them with arms. He made no proposal to accompany them. In twenty minutes or so, Cochrane and Holden went into the airlock and the door closed. A light came on automatically, precisely like the light in an electric refrigerator. Cochrane found his lips twitching a little as the analogy came to him. Seconds later the outer door opened, and they gazed down among the branches of tall trees. Cochrane winced. There was no railing and the height bothered him. But Holden swung out the sling. He and Cochrane descended, dangling, down fifty feet of unscarred, shining, metal hull.
The ground was still hot underfoot. Holden cast off the sling and moved toward cooler territory with an undignified haste. Cochrane followed him.
The smells were absolutely commonplace. Scorched wood. Smokiness. There were noises. Occasional cracklings from burned tree-trunks not wholly consumed. High-pitched, shrill musical notes. And in and among the smells there was an astonishing freshness in the feel of the air. Cochrane was especially apt to notice it because he had lived in a city back on Earth, and had spent four days in the moon-rocket, and then had breathed the Lunar City air for eighteen days more and had just come from the space-ship whose air was distinctly of the canned variety.
He did not notice the noise of the sling again in motion behind him. He was all eyes and ears and acute awareness of the completely strange environment. He was the more conscious of a general strangeness because he was so completely an urban product. Yet he and Holden were vastly less aware of the real strangeness about them than men of previous generations would have been. They did not notice the oddity of croaking sounds, like frogs, coming from the tree-tops. When they had threaded their way among leaning charred poles and came to green stuff underfoot and merely toasted foliage all around, Cochrane heard a sweet, high-pitched trilling which came from a half-inch hole in the ground. But he was not astonished by the place from which the trilling came. He was astonished at the sound itself.
There was a cry behind them.
"Mr. Cochrane! Doctor Holden!"
They swung about. And there was Babs on the ground, just disentangling herself from the sling. She had followed them out, after waiting until they had left the airlock and could not protest.
Cochrane swore to himself. But when Babs joined them breathlessly, after a hopping run over the hot ground, he said only:
"Fancy meeting you here!"
"I—I couldn't resist it," said Babs in breathless apology. "And you do have guns. It's safe enough—oh, look!"
She stared at a bush which was covered with pale purple flowers. Small creatures hovered in the air about it. She approached it and exclaimed again at the sweetness of its scent. Cochrane and Holden joined her in admiration.
In a sense they were foolishly unwary. This was completely strange territory. It could have contained anything. Earlier explorers would have approached every bush with caution and moved over every hilltop with suspicion, anticipating deadly creatures, unparalleled monsters, and exotic and peculiar circumstances designed to entrap the unprepared. Earlier explorers, of course, would probably have had advice from famous men to prepare them for all possible danger.
But this was a valley between snow-clad mountains. The river that ran down its length was fed by glaciers. This was a temperate climate. The trees were either coniferous or something similar, and the vegetation grew well but not with the frenzy of a tropic region. There were fruits here and there. Later, to be sure, they would prove to be mostly astringent and unpalatable. They were broad-leafed, low-growing plants which would eventually turn out to be possessed of soft-fleshed roots which were almost unanimously useless for human purposes. There were even some plants with thorns and spines upon them. But they encountered no danger.
By and large, wild animals everywhere are ferocious only when desperate. No natural setting can permanently be so deadly that human being will be attacked immediately they appear. An area in which peril is continuous is one in which there is so much killing that there is no food-supply left to maintain its predators. On the whole, there is simply a limit to how dangerous any place can be. Dangerous beasts have to be relatively rare, or they will not have enough to eat, when they will thin out until they are relatively rare and do have enough to eat.
So the three explorers moved safely, though their boldness was that of ignorance, below gigantic trees nearly as tall as the space-ship standing on end. They saw a small furry biped, some twelve inches tall, which waddled insanely in the exact line of their progress and with no apparent hope of outdistancing them. They saw a gauzy creature with incredibly spindly legs. It flew from one tree-trunk to another, clinging to rough bark on each in turn. Once they came upon a small animal which looked at them with enormous, panic-stricken blue eyes and then fled with a sinuous gait on legs so short that they seemed mere flippers. It dived into a hole and vanished.
But they came out to clear space. They could look for miles and miles. There was a savannah of rolling soil which gradually sloped down to a swift-running river. The grass—if it was grass—was quite green, but it had multitudes of tiny rose-colored flowers down the central rib of each leaf. Nearby it seemed the color of Earth-grass, but it faded imperceptibly into an incredible old-rose tint in the distance. The mountain-scarps on either side of the valley were sheer and tall. There was a great stony spur reaching out above the lowland, and there was forest at its top and bare brown stone dropping two thousand feet sheer. And up the valley, where it narrowed, a waterfall leaped out from the cliff and dropped hundreds of feet in an arc of purest white, until it was lost to view behind tree-tops.
They looked. They stared. Cochrane was a television producer, and Holden was a psychiatrist, and Babs was a highly efficient secretary. They did not make scientific observations. The ecological system of the valley escaped their notice. They weren't qualified to observe that the flying things around seemed mostly to be furry instead of feathered, and that insects seemed few and huge and fragile,—and they did not notice that most of the plants appeared to be deciduous, so indicating that this planet had pronounced seasons. But Holden said:
"Up in Greenland there's a hospital on a cliff like that. People with delusions of grandeur sometimes get cured just by looking at something that's so much greater and more splendid than they are. I'd like to see a hospital up yonder!"
Babs said, shining-eyed:
"A city could be built in this valley. Not a tall city, with gray streets and gardens on the roofs. This could be a nice little city like people used to have. There would be little houses, all separate, and there'd be grass all around and people could pluck flowers if they wanted to, to take inside.... There could be families here, and homes—not living-quarters!"
Cochrane said nothing. He was envious of the others. They saw, and they dreamed according to their natures. Cochrane somehow felt forlorn. Presently he said depressedly:
"We'll go back to the ship. You can work out your woman's viewpoint stuff with Bell, Babs. He'll write it, or you can give it to Alicia to put over when we go on the air."
Babs made no reply. The absence of comment was almost pointed. Cochrane realized that she wouldn't do it, though he couldn't see why.
They did go back to the ship. Cochrane sent Babs and Holden up the sling, first, while he waited down below. It was a singular sensation to stand there. He was the only human being afoot on a planet the size of Earth or larger, at the foot of a cliff of metal which was the space-ship's hull. He had a weapon in his hand, and it should defend him from anything. But he felt very lonely.
The sling came down for him. He felt sick at heart as it lifted him. He had an overwhelming conviction of incompetence, though he could not detail the reasons. The rope hauled him up, swaying, to the dizzy height of the air-lock door. He could not feel elated. He was partly responsible for humankind's greatest achievement to date. But he had not quite the viewpoint that would let him enjoy its contemplation.
The ground quivered very faintly as he rose. It was not an earthquake. It was merely a temblor, such as anyone would expect to feel occasionally with six smoking volcanic cones in view. The green stuff all around was proof that it could be disregarded.
In the United States, some two-hundred-odd light-years away, it happened to be Tuesday. On this Tuesday, the broadcast from the stars was sponsored by Harvey's, the national men's clothing chain. Harvey's advertising department preferred discussion-type shows, because differences of opinion in the shows proper led so neatly into their tag-line. "You can disagree about anything but the quality of a Harvey suit! That's Superb!"
Therefore the broadcast after the landing of the ship on the volcanic planet was partly commercial, and partly pictures and reports from the Spaceways expedition, and partly queries and comments by big-name individuals on Earth. Inevitably there was Dabney. And Dabney was neurotic.
He did his best to make a shambles of everything.
The show started promptly enough at the beginning. There was a two-minute film-strip of business-suited puppets marching row on row, indicating the enormous popularity of Harvey's suits. Then a fast minute hill-billy puppet-show about two feuding mountaineers who found they couldn't possibly retain their enmity when they found themselves in agreement on the quality of Harvey suits. "That's Superb!" The commercial ended with a choral dance of madly enthusiastic miniature figures, dancing while they lustily sang the theme-song, "You can disagree, yes siree, you can disagree, About anything, indeed everything, you and me, But you can't, no you can't disagree, About the strictly super, extra super, Qualitee of a Har-ve-e-e-e suit! That's superb!"
And thereupon the television audience of several continents saw the faded-in image of mankind's first starship, poised upon its landing-fins among trees more splendid than even television shows had ever pictured before. The camera panned slowly, and showed such open spaces as very few humans had ever seen unencumbered by buildings, and mountains of a grandeur difficult for most people to believe in.
The scene cut to the space-ship's control-room and Al the pilot acted briskly as the leader of an exploration-party just returned—though he actually hadn't left the ship. He introduced Jamison, wearing improvised leggings and other trappings appropriate to an explorer in wilderness. Jamison began to extrapolate from his observations out the control-room port, adding film-clips for authority.
Smoothly and hypnotically, he pictured the valley as the ship descended the last few thousand feet, and told of the human colony to be founded in this vast and hospitable area just explored. Mountainside hotels for star-tourists would look down upon a scene of tranquility and cozy spaciousness. This would be the first human outpost in the stars. In the other valleys of this magnificent world there would be pasture-lands, and humankind would again begin to regard meat as a normal and not-extravagant part of its diet—on this planet, certainly! There were minerals beyond doubt, and water-power. The estimate was that at least the equivalent of the Asian continent had been made available for human occupation. And this splendid addition to the resources of humanity ...
The second commercial cut Jamison off. Naturally. The sponsor was paying for time. So for Jamison was substituted the other fiction about the poor young man who found himself envied by the board of directors of the firm which employed him. His impeccable attire caused him to be promoted to vice-president without any question of whether or not he could fill the job. Because, of course, he wore a Harvey suit.
Alicia Keith showed herself on the screen and gave the woman's viewpoint as written about by Bell. She talked pleasantly about how it felt to move about on a planet never before trodden by human beings. She was interrupted by the pictured face of the lady editor of Joint Networks' feminine programs, who asked sweetly:
"Tell me, Alicia, what do you think the attainment of the stars will mean to the Average American housewife in the immediate future? Right now?"
Then Dabney came on. His appearance was fitted into the sequence from Lunar City, and his gestures were extravagant as anybody's gestures will be where their hands and arms weigh so small a fraction of Earth-normal.
"I wish," said Dabney impressively, "to congratulate the men who have so swiftly adapted my discovery of faster-than-light travel to practical use. I am overwhelmed at having been able to achieve a scientific triumph which in time will mean that mankind's future stretches endlessly and splendidly into the future!"
Here there was canned applause. Dabney held up his hand for attention. He thought. Visibly.
"But," he said urgently, "I admit that I am disturbed by the precipitancy of the action that has been taken. I feel as if I were like some powerful djinni giving gifts which the recipients may use without thought."
More canned applause, inserted because he had given instructions for it whenever he paused. The communicator-operator at Luna City took pleasure in following instructions exactly. Dabney held up his hand again. Again he performed feats of meditation in plain view.
"At the moment," he said anxiously, "as the author of this truly magnificent achievement, I have to use the same intellect which produced it, to examine the possibility of its ill-advised use. May not explorers—who took off without my having examined their plans and precautions—may not over-hasty users of my gift to humanity do harm? May they not find bacteria the human body cannot resist? May they not bring back plagues and epidemics? Have they prepared themselves to use my discovery only for the benefit of mankind? Or have they been precipitous? I shall have to apply myself to the devising of methods by which my discovery—made so that Humanity might attain hitherto undreamed-of-heights—I shall have to devise means by which it will be truly a blessing to mankind!"
Dabney, of course, had tasted the limelight. All the world considered him the greatest scientist of all time—except, of course, the people who knew something about science. But the first actual voyagers in space had become immediately greater heroes than himself. It was intolerable to Dabney to be restricted to taking bows on programs in which they starred. So he wrote a star part for himself.
The bearded biologist who followed him was to have lectured on the pictures and reports forwarded to him beforehand. But he could not ignore so promising a lead to show how much he knew. So he lectured authoritatively on the danger of extra-terrestrial disease-producing organisms being introduced on Earth. He painted a lurid picture, quoting from the history of pre-sanitation epidemics. He wound up with a specific prophecy of something like the Black Death of the middle ages as lurking among the stars to decimate humanity. He was a victim of the well-known authority-trauma which affects some people on television when they think millions of other people are listening to them. They depart madly from their scripts to try to say something startling enough to justify all the attention they're getting.
The broadcast ended with a sentimental live commercial in which a dazzlingly beautiful girl melted into the arms of the worthy young man she had previously scorned. She found him irresistible when she noticed that he was wearing a suit she instantly knew by its quality could only come from Harvey's.
On the planet of glaciers and volcanoes, Holden fumed.
"Dammit!" he protested. "They talk like we're lepers! Like if we ever come back we'll be carriers of some monstrous disease that will wipe out the human race! As a matter of fact, we're no more likely to catch an extra-terrestrial disease than to catch wry-neck from sick chickens!"
"That broadcast's nothing to worry about," said Cochrane.
"But it is!" insisted Holden. "Dabney and that fool biologist presented space-travel as a reason for panic! They could have every human being on Earth scared to death we'll bring back germs and everybody'll die of the croup!"
"Good publicity—if we needed it! Actually, they've boosted the show. From now on every presentation has a dramatic kick it didn't have before. Now everybody will feel suspense waiting for the next show. Has Jamison got the Purple Death on the Planet of Smoky Hilltops? Will darling Alicia Keith break out in green spots next time we watch her on the air? Has Captain Al of the star-roving space-ship breathed in spores of the Swelling Fungus? Are the space-travellers doomed? Tune in on our next broadcast and see! My dear Bill, if we weren't signed up for sponsors' fees, I'd raise our prices after this trick!"
Holden looked unconvinced. Cochrane said kindly:
"Don't worry! I could turn off the panic tomorrow—as much panic as there is. Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe had a proposal they set great store by. They wanted to parcel out a big contest for a name for mankind's second planet. They had regional sponsors lined up. It would have been worldwide! Advertisers were drooling over the prospect of people proposing names for this planet on box-tops! They were planning five million prize-money—and who'd be afraid of us then? But I turned it down because we haven't got a helicopter. We couldn't stage enough different shows from this planet to keep it going the minimum six weeks for a contest like that. Instead, we're taking off in a couple of hours. Jones agrees. The astronomers back home have picked out another Sol-type star that ought to have planets. We're going to run over and see what pickings we can find. Not too far—only twenty-some light-years!"
He regarded Holden quizzically to see how the last phases affected him. Holden didn't notice it.
"A contest—It doesn't make sense!"
"I know it isn't sense!" said Cochrane. "It's public-relations! I'm beginning to get my self-respect back. I see now that a space-exploration job is only as good as its public-relations man!"
He went zestfully to find Babs to tell her to leave the communicator-set and let queries go unanswered as a matter of simple business policy.
The sling which swung out of the airlock now became busy. They had landed on this planet, and they were going to leave it, and there had been a minimum of actual contact with its soil. So Jamison took his leggings—put on for the show—and he and Bell went down to the ground and foraged through the woods. Jamison carried one of Johnny Simms' guns, which he regarded with acute suspicion, and Bell carried cameras. They photographed trees and underbrush, first as atmosphere and then with fanatic attention to leaves and fruits or flowers. Bell got pictures of one of the small, furry bipeds that Cochrane and Holden had spied when Babs was with them. He got a picture of what he believed to be a spider-web—it was thicker and heavier and huger than any web on Earth—and rather fearfully looked for the monster that could string thirty-foot cables as thick as fishing-twine. Then he found that it was not a snare at all. It was a construction at whose center something undiscoverable had made a nest, with eggs in it. Some creature had made an unapproachable home for itself where its young would not be assailed by predators.
Al, the pilot, went out of the lock and descended to the ground and went as far as the edge of the ash-ring. But he did not go any farther. He wandered about unhappily, pretending that he did not want to go into the woods. He tried to appear quite content to view half-burnt trees for his experience of the first extra-terrestrial planet on which men had landed. He did kick up some pebbles—water-rounded—and one of them had flecks of what looked like gold in it. Al regarded it excitedly, and then thought of freight-rates. But he did scrabble for more. Presently he had a pocket-full of small stones which would be regarded with rapture by his nieces and nephews because they had come from the stars. Actually, they were quite commonplace minerals. The flecks of what looked like gold were only iron pyrates.
Jones did not leave the ship. He was puttering. Nor Alicia. Holden urged her to take a walk, and she said quietly:
"Johnny's out with a gun. He's hunting. I don't like to be with Johnny when he may be disappointed."
She smiled, and Holden sourly went away. There had been no particular consequences of Johnny Simms' inability to remember what was right and what was wrong. But Holden felt like a normal man about men whose wives look patient. Even psychiatrists feel that it is somehow disreputable to illtreat a woman who doesn't fight back. This attitude is instinctive. It is what is called the fine, deep-rooted impulse to chivalry which is one of the prides of modern culture.
Holden settled dourly down at the communicator to get an outgoing call to Earth, when there were some hundreds of incoming calls backed up. By sheer obstinacy and bad manners he made it. He got a connection to a hospital where he was known, and he talked to its bacteriologist. The bacteriologist was competent, but not yet famous. With Holden giving honest guesses at the color of the sunlight, and its probable ultra-violet content, and with careful estimates of the exactness with which burning vegetation here smelled like Earth-plants, they arrived at imprecise but common sense conclusions. Of the hundreds of thousands of possible organic compounds, only so many actually took part in the life-processes of creatures on Earth. Yet there were hundreds of thousands of species prepared to make use of anything usable. If the sunlight and temperature of the two worlds were similar, it was somewhat more than likely that the same chemical compounds would be used by living things on both. So that there could be micro-organisms on the new planet which could be harmful. But on the other hand, either they would be familiar in the toxins they produced—and human bodies could resist them—or else they would be new compounds to which humans would react allergically. Basically, then, if anybody on the ship developed hives, they had reason to be frightened. But so long as nobody sneezed or broke out in welts, their lives were probably safe.
This comforting conclusion took a long time to work out. Meanwhile Babs and Cochrane had swung down to the ground and went hiking. Cochrane was armed as before, though he had no experience as a marksman. In television shows he had directed the firing of weapons shooting blank charges—cut to a minimum so they wouldn't blast the mikes. He knew what motions to go through, but nothing else.
They did not explore in the same direction as their first excursion. The ship was to take off presently, as soon as this planet had turned enough for the space-ship's nose to point nearly in the direction of their next target. They had two hours for exploration.
They came upon something which lay still across their path, like a great serpent. Cochrane looked at it startledly. Then he saw that the round, glistening seeming snake was fastened to the ground by rootlets. It was a plant which grew like a creeper, absorbing nourishment from a vast root-area. Somewhere, no doubt, it would rear upward and spread out leaves to absorb the sun's light. It used, in a way, the principle of those lateral wells which in dry climates gather water too scarce to collect in merely vertical holes.
They went on and on, admiring and amazed. All about them were curiosities of adaptation, freaks of ecological adjustment, marvels of symbiotic cooperation. A botanist would have swooned with joy at the material all about. A biologist would have babbled happily. Babs and Cochrane admired without information. They walked interestedly but unawed among the unparalleled. Back on Earth they knew as much as most people about nature—practically nothing at all. Babs had never seen any wild plants before. She was fascinated by what she saw, and exclaimed at everything. But she did not realize a fraction of the marvels on which her eyes rested. On the whole, she survived.
"It's a pity we haven't got a helicopter," Cochrane said regretfully. "If we could fly around from place to place, and send back pictures ... We can't do it in the ship ... It would burn more fuel than we've got."
Babs wrinkled her forehead.
"Doctor Holden's badly worried because we can't make as alluring a picture as he'd like."
Cochrane halted, to watch something which was flat like a disk of gray-green flesh and which moved slowly out of their path with disquieting writhing motions. It vanished, and he said:
"Yes. Bill's an honest man, even if he is a psychiatrist. He wants desperately to do something for the poor devils back home who're so pitifully frustrated. There are tens of millions of men who can't hope for anything better than to keep the food and shelter supply intact for themselves and their families. They can't even pretend to hope for more than that. There isn't more than so much to go around. But Bill wants to give them hope. He figures that without hope the world will turn madhouse in another generation. It will."
"You're trying to do something about that!" said Babs quickly. "Don't you think you're offering hope to everybody back on Earth?"
"No!" snapped Cochrane. "I'm not trying anything so abstract as furnishing hope to a frustrated humanity! Nobody can supply an abstraction! Nobody can accomplish an abstraction! Everything that's actually done is specific and real! Maybe you can find abstract qualities in it after it's done, but I'm a practical man! I'm not trying to produce an improved psychological climate, suitable for debilitated psychos! I'm trying to get a job done!"
"I've wondered," admitted Babs, "what the job is."
"You wouldn't believe it, Babs."
There was an odd quivering underfoot. Trees shook. There was no other peculiarity anywhere. Nothing fell. No rocks rolled. In a valley among volcanoes, where the smoke from no less than six cones could be seen at once, temblors would not do damage. What damage mild shakings could do would have been done centuries since.
Babs said uneasily:
"That feels—queer, doesn't it?"
Cochrane nodded. But just as he and Babs had never been conditioned to be afraid of animals, they had been conditioned by air-travel at home and space-travel to here against alarm at movements of their surroundings. Temblors were evidently frequent at this place. Trees were anchored against them as against prevailing winds in exposed situations. Landslides did not remain poised to fall. Really unstable slopes had been shaken down long ago.
"I wish we had a helicopter," Cochrane repeated. "The look of the mountains as we came down, with glaciers between the smoking cones—that was good show-stuff! We could have held interest here until we worked that naming contest. We could use the extra capital that would bring in! As it is, we've got to move on with practically nothing accomplished. The trouble is that I didn't think we would succeed as we have! Heaven knows I could have gotten helicopters!"
He helped her up a small steep incline, where rock protruded from a hillside.
The ground trembled again. Not alarmingly, but Babs' hold of his hand tightened a little. They continued to climb. They came out atop a small bare prominence which rose above the forest. Here they could see over the treetops in a truly extensive view. The mountains all about were clearly visible. Some were ten and some twenty miles away. Some, still farther, were barely visible in the thin haze of distance. But there was a thick pall of smoke hovering about one of the farthest. It was mushroom-shaped. At one time in human history, it would have seemed typically a volcanic cloud. To Cochrane and Babs, it was typically the cloud of an atomic explosion.
The ground shook sharply underfoot. Babs staggered.
Flying things rose from the forests in swarms. They hovered and darted and flapped above the tree-tops. Temblors did not alarm the creatures of the valley. But ground-shocks like this last were another matter.
A great tree, rearing above its fellows, toppled slowly. With ripping, tearing noises, it bent sedately toward the smoking, far-away mountain. It crashed thunderously down upon smaller trees. There were other rending noises. The flying things rose higher, seeming agitated. Echoes sounded in the ears of the two atop the hill.
There was another sharp shock. Babs gave a little, inarticulate cry. She pointed.
There was much smoke in the distance. Over the far-away cone, which was indistinct in the smoke of its own making—over the edge of the distant mountains a glare appeared. It was a thin line of bright white light. With infinite deliberation it began to creep down the slanting, blessedly remote mountainside.
The ground seemed to shift abruptly, and then shift back. Across and down the valley, five miles away, a portion of the stony wall detached itself and slid downward in seeming slow motion. Two more great trees made ripping sounds. One crashed. There was an enormous darkness above one part of the sky. Its under side glowed from fires as of hell, in the crater beneath it. There were sparkings above the mountaintop.
Very oddly indeed, the sky overhead was peacefully blue. But at the horizon a sheet of fire rolled down mile-long slopes. It seemed to move with infinite deliberation, but to move visibly at such a distance it must have been traveling like an express-train. It must have been unthinkably hot, glaring-white molten stone, thin as water, pouring downward in a flood of fire.
There was no longer a sensation of the ground trembling underfoot. Now the noticeable sensation was when the ground was still. Temblors were practically continuous. There were distinct sharp impacts, as of violent blows nearby.
Babs stared, fascinated. She glanced up at Cochrane. His skin was white. There were beads of sweat on his forehead.
"We're safe here, aren't we?" she asked, scared.
"I think so. But I'm not going to take you through falling trees while this is going on! There's another tree down! I'm worrying about the ship! If it topples—."
She looked at the nose of the space-ship, gleaming silver metal, rising from the trees about the landing-spot it had burned clear. A third of its length was visible.
"If it topples," said Cochrane, "we'll never be able to take off. It has to point up to lift."
Babs looked from the ship to him, and back again. Then her eyes went fearfully to the remote mountain. Rumblings came from it now. They were not loud. They were hardly more than dull growlings, at the lower limit of audible pitch. They were like faint and distant thunder. There were flashings like lightning in the cloud which now enveloped the mountain's top.
Cochrane made an indescribable small sound. He stared at the ship. As explosion-waves passed over the ground, a faint, unanimous movement of the treetops became visible. It seemed to Cochrane that the space-ship wavered as if about to fall from its upright position.
It was not designed to stand such violence as a fall would imply. Its hull would be dented or rent. It was at least possible that its fuel-store would detonate. But even if its fall were checked by still-standing trees about it, it could never take off again. The eight humans of its company could never juggle it back to a vertical position. Rocket-thrust would merely push it in the direction its nose pointed. Toppled, its rocket-thrust would merely shove it blindly over stones and trees and to destruction.
The ship swayed again. Visibly. Ground-waves made its weight have the effect of blows. Part of its foundation rested on almost-visible stone, only feet below the ground-level. But one of the landing-fins rested on humus. As the shocks passed, that fin-foot sank into the soft soil. The space-ship leaned perceptibly.
Flying creatures darted back and forth above the tree-tops. Miles away, insensate violence reigned. Clouds of dust and smoke shot miles into the air, and half a mountainside glowed white-hot, and there was the sound of long-continued thunder, and the ground shook and quivered....
There were movements nearby. A creature with yellow fur and the shape of a bear with huge ears came padding out of the forest. It swarmed up the bare stone of the hill on which Babs and Cochrane stood.
It ignored them. Halfway up the unwooded part of the hill, it stopped and made plaintive, high-pitched noises. Other creatures came. Many had come while the man and girl were too absorbed to notice. Now two more of the large animals came out into the open and climbed the hill.
Babs said shakily:
"Do you—think they'll—do you think—"
There was a nearer roaring. The space-ship leaned, and leaned.... Cochrane's lips tensed.
The space-ship's rockets bellowed and a storm of hurtling smoke flashed up around it. It lifted, staggering as its steering-jets tried frantically to swing its lower parts underneath its mass. It lurched violently, and the rockets flamed terribly. It lifted again. Its tail was higher than the trees, but it did not point straight up. It surged horribly across the top of the forest, leaving a vast flash of flaming vegetation behind it. Then it steadied, and aimed skyward and climbed....
Then it was not. Obviously the Dabney field booster had been flashed on to get the ship out to space. The ship had vanished into emptiness.
The Dabney field had flicked it some hundred and seventy-odd light-years from Earth's moon in the flicker of a heart-beat. It might have gone that far again. Whoever was in it had had no choice but to take off, and no way to take off without suicidal use of fuel in any other way.
Cochrane looked at where the ship had vanished. Seconds passed. There came the thunderclap of air closing the vacuum the ship's disappearance had left.
There were squealings behind the pair on the hilltop. Eight of the huge yellow beasts were out in the open, now. Tiny, furry biped animals waddled desperately to get out of their way. Smaller creatures scuttled here and there. A sinuous creature with fur but no apparent legs writhed its way upward. But all the creatures were frightened. They observed an absolute truce, under the overmastering greater fear of nature.
Far away, the volcano on the skyline boomed and flashed and emitted monstrous clouds of smoke. The shining, incandescent lava on its flanks glared across the glaciers.
Babs gasped suddenly. She realized the situation in which she and Cochrane had been left.
Shivering, she pressed close to him as the distant black smoke-cloud spread toward the center of the sky.
Before sunset, they reached the area of ashes where the ship had stood. Cochrane was sure that if anybody else had been left behind besides themselves, the landing-place was an inevitable rendezvous. Only three members of the ship's company had been inside when Babs and Cochrane left to stroll for the two hours astronomers on Earth had set as a waiting-period. Jones had been in the ship, and Holden, and Alicia Simms. Everybody else had been exploring. Their attitude had been exactly that of sight-seers and tourists. But they could have gotten back before the take-off.
Apparently they had. Nobody seemed to have returned to the burned-over space since the ship's departure. The blast of the rockets had erased all previous tracks, but still there was a thin layer of ash resettled over the clearing. Footprints would have been visible in it. Anybody remaining would have come here. Nobody had. Babs and Cochrane were left alone.
There were still temblors, but the sharper shocks no longer came. There was conflagration in the wood, where the lurching ship had left a long fresh streak of forest-fire. The two castaways stared at the round, empty landing-place. Overhead, the blue sky turned yellow—but where the smoke from the eruption rose, the sky early became a brownish red—and presently the yellow faded to gold. Unburned green foliage all about was singularly beautiful in that golden glow. But it was more beautiful still as the sky turned rose-pink and then carmine in turn, and then crimson from one horizon to the other save where the volcanic smoke-cloud marred the color. Then the east darkened, and became a red so deep as to be practically black, and unfamiliar bright stars began to peep through it.
Before darkness was complete, Cochrane dragged burning branches from the edge of the new fire—the heat was searing—and built a new and smaller fire in the place where the ship had been.
"This isn't for warmth," he explained briefly, "but so we'll have light if we need it. And it isn't likely that animals will be anything but afraid of it."
He went off to drag charred masses of burnable stuff from the burned-out first forest fire. He built a sort of rampart in the very center of the clearing. He brought great heaps of scorched wood. He did not know how much was needed to keep the fire going until dawn.
When he finished, Babs was silently at work trying to find out how to keep the fire going. The burning parts had to be kept together. One branch, burning alone, died out. Two red-hot brands in contact kept each other alight.
"I'm sorry we haven't anything to eat," Cochrane told her.
"I'm not hungry," she assured him. "What are we going to do now?"
"There's nothing to do until morning." Unconsciously, Cochrane looked grim. "Then there'll be plenty. Food, for one thing. We don't know, actually, whether or not there's anything really edible on this planet—for us. It could be that there are fruits or possibly stalks or leaves that would be nourishing. Only—we don't know which is which. We have to be careful. We might pick something like poison ivy!"
"But the ship will come back!"
"Of course," agreed Cochrane. "But it may take them some time to find us. This is a pretty big planet, you know."
He estimated his supply of burnable stuff. He improved the rampart he had made at first. Babs stared at him. After four or five minutes he stepped back.
"You can lean against this," he explained. "You can watch the fire quite comfortably. And it's a sort of wall. The fire will light one side of you and the wall will feel comforting behind you when you get sleepy."
Babs nodded. She swallowed.
"I—think I see what you mean when you say they may have trouble finding us, because this planet is so large."
Cochrane nodded reluctantly.
"Of course there's this burned-off space for a marker," he observed cheerfully. "But it could take several days for them to see it."
Babs swallowed again. She said carefully:
"The—ship can't hover like a helicopter, to search. You said so. It doesn't have fuel enough. They can't really search for us at all! The only way to make a real search would be to go back to Earth and—bring back helicopters and fuel for them and men to fly them.... Isn't that right?"
"Not necessarily. But we do have to figure on a matter of—well—two or three days as a possibility."
Babs moistened her lips and he said quickly:
"I did a show once about some miners lost in a wilderness. A period show. In it, they knew that part of their food was poisoned. They didn't know what. They had to have all their food. And of course they didn't have laboratories with which to test for poison."
Babs eyed him oddly.
"They bandaged their arms," said Cochrane, "and put scraps of the different foodstuffs under the bandages. The one that was poisonous showed. It affected the skin. Like an allergy-test. I'll try that trick in the morning when there's light to pick samples by. There are berries and stuff. There must be fruits. A few hours should test them."
Babs said without intonation:
"And we can watch what the animals eat."
Cochrane nodded gravely. Animals on Earth can live on things that—to put it mildly—humans do not find satisfying. Grass, for example. But it was good for Babs to think of cheering things right now. There would be plenty of discouragement to contemplate later.
There was a flicker of brightness in the sky. Presently the earth quivered. Something made a plaintive, "waa-waa-waaaaa!" sound off in the night. Something else made a noise like the tinkling of bells. There was an abstracted hooting presently, which now was nearby and now was far away, and once they heard something which was exactly like the noise of water running into a pool. But the source of that particular burbling moved through the dark wood beyond the clearing.
It was not wholly dark where they were, even aside from their own small fire. The burning trees in the departing ship's rocket-trail sent up a column of white which remaining flames illuminated. The remarkably primitive camp Cochrane had made looked like a camp on a tiny snow-field, because of the ashes.
"We've got to think about shelter," said Babs presently, very quietly indeed. "If there are glaciers, there must be winter here. If there is winter, we have to find out which animals we can eat, and how to store them."
"Hold on!" protested Cochrane. "That's looking too far ahead!"
Babs clasped her hands together. It could have been to keep their trembling from being seen. Cochrane was regarding her face. She kept that under admirable control.
"Is it?" asked Babs. "On the broadcast Mr. Jamison said that there was as much land here as on all the continent of Asia. Maybe he exaggerated. Say there's only as much land not ice-covered as there is in South America. It's all forest and plain and—uninhabited." She moistened her lips, but her voice was very steady. "If all of South America was uninhabited, and there were two people lost in it, and nobody knew where they were—how long would it take to find them?"
"It would be a matter of luck," admitted Cochrane.
"If the ship comes back, it can't hover to look for us. There isn't fuel enough. It couldn't spot us from space if it went in an orbit like a space platform. By the time they could get help—they wouldn't even be sure we were alive. If we can't count on being found right away, this burned-over place will be green again. In two or three weeks they couldn't find it anyhow."
Cochrane fidgeted. He had worked out all this for himself. He'd been disturbed at having to tell it, or even admit it to Babs. Now she said in a constrained voice:
"If men came to this planet and built a city and hunted for us, it might still be a hundred years before anybody happened to come into this valley. Looking for us would be worse than looking for a needle in a haystack. I don't think we're going to be found again."
Cochrane was silent. He felt guiltily relieved that he did not have to break this news to Babs. Most men have an instinctive feeling that a woman will blame them for bad news they hear.
A long time later, Babs said as quietly as before:
"Johnny Simms asked me to come along while he went hunting. I didn't. At least I—I'm not cast away with him!"
Cochrane said gruffly:
"Don't sit there and brood! Try to get some sleep."
She nodded. After a long while, her head drooped. She jerked awake again. Cochrane ordered her vexedly to make herself comfortable. She stretched out beside the wall of wood that Cochrane had made. She said quietly:
"While we're looking for food tomorrow morning, we'd better keep our eyes open for a place to build a house."
She closed her eyes.
Cochrane kept watch through the dark hours. He heard night-cries in the forest, and once toward dawn the distant volcano seemed to undergo a fresh paroxysm of activity. Boomings and explosions rumbled in the night. There were flickerings in the sky. But there were fewer temblors after it, and no shocks at all.
More than once, Cochrane found himself dozing. It was difficult to stay in a state of alarm. There was but one single outcry in the forest that sounded like the shriek of a creature seized by a carnivore. That was not nearby. He tried to make plans. He felt bitterly self-reproachful that he knew so few of the things that would be useful to a castaway. But he had been a city man all his life. Woodcraft was not only out of his experience—on overcrowded Earth it would have been completely useless.
From time to time he found himself thinking, instead of practical matters, of the astonishing sturdiness of spirit Babs displayed.
When she waked, well after daybreak, and sat up blinking, he said:
"Er—Babs. We're in this together. From now on, if you want to tell me something for my own good, go ahead! Right?"
She rubbed her eyes on her knuckles and said,
"I'd have done that anyhow. For both our good. Don't you think we'd better try to find a place where we can get a drink of water? Water has to be right to drink!"
They set off, Cochrane carrying the weapon he'd brought from the ship. It was Babs who pointed out that a stream should almost certainly be found where rain would descend, downhill. Babs, too, spotted one of the small, foot-high furry bipeds feasting gluttonously on small round objects that grew from the base of a small tree instead of on its branches. The tree, evidently, depended on four-footed rather than on flying creatures to scatter its seeds. They gathered samples of the fruit. Cochrane peeled a sliver of the meat from one of the round objects and put it under his watchstrap.
They found a stream. They found other fruits, and Cochrane prepared the same test for them as for the first. One of the samples turned his skin red and angry almost immediately. He discarded it and all the fruits of the kind from which it came.
At midday they tasted the first-gathered fruit. The flesh was red and juicy. There was a texture it was satisfying to chew on. The taste was indeterminate save for a very mild flavor of maple and peppermint mixed together.
They had no symptoms of distress afterward. Other fruits were less satisfactory. Of the samples which the skin-test said were non-poisonous, one was acrid and astringent, and two others had no taste except that of greenness—practically the taste of any leaf one might chew.
"I suppose," said Cochrane wryly, as they headed back toward the ash-clearing at nightfall, "we've got to find out if the animals can be eaten."
Babs nodded matter-of-factly.
"Yes. Tonight I'm taking part of the watch. As you remarked this morning, we're in this together."
He looked at her sharply, and she flushed.
"I mean it!" she said doggedly. "I'm watching part of the night!"
He was desperately tired. His muscles were not yet back to normal after the low gravity on the moon. She'd had more rest than he. He had to let her help. But there was embarrassment between them because it looked as if they would have to spend the rest of their lives together, and they had not made the decision. It had been made for them. And they had not acknowledged it yet.
When they reached the clearing, Cochrane began to drag new logs toward the central place where much of last night's supply of fuel remained. Matter-of-factly, Babs began to haul stuff with him. He said vexedly:
"Quit it! I've already been realizing how little I know about the things we're going to need to survive! Let me fool myself about masculine strength, anyhow!"
She smiled at him, a very little. But she went obediently to the fire to experiment with cookery of the one palatable variety of fruit from this planet's trees. He drove himself to bring more wood than before. When he settled down she said absorbedly:
"Try this, Jed."
Then she flushed hotly because she'd inadvertently used his familiar name. But she extended something that was toasted and not too much burned. He ate, with weariness sweeping over him like a wave. The cooked fruit was almost a normal food, but it did need salt. There would be trouble finding salt on this planet. The water that should be in the seas was frozen in the glaciers. Salt would not have been leached out of the soil and gathered in the seas. It would be a serious problem. But Cochrane was very tired indeed.
"I'll take the first two hours," said Babs briskly. "Then I'll wake you."
He showed her how to use the weapon. He meant to let himself drift quietly off to sleep, acting as if he had a little trouble going off. But he didn't. He lay down, and the next thing he knew Babs was shaking him violently. In the first dazed instant when he opened his eyes he thought they were surrounded by forest fire. But it wasn't that. It was dawn, and Babs had let him sleep the whole night through, and the sky was golden-yellow from one horizon to the other. More, he heard the now-familiar cries of creatures in the forest. But also he heard a roaring sound, very thin and far away, which could only be one thing.
"Jed! Jed! Get up! Quick! The ship's coming back! The ship! We've got to move!"
She dragged him to his feet. He was suddenly wide-awake. He ran with her. He flung back his head and stared up as he ran. There was a pin-point of flame and vapor almost directly overhead. It grew swiftly in size. It plunged downward.
They reached the surrounding forest and plunged into it. Babs stumbled, and Cochrane caught her, and they ran onward hand in hand to get clear away from the down-blast of the rockets. The rocket-roaring grew louder and louder.
The castaways gazed. It was the ship. From below, fierce flames poured down, blue-white and raging. The silver hull slanted a little. It shifted its line of descent. It came down with a peculiar deftness of handling that Cochrane had not realized before. Its rockets splashed, but the flame did not extend out to the edge of the clearing that had been burned off at first. The rocket-flames, indeed, did not approach the proportion to be seen on rockets on film-tape, or as Cochrane had seen below the moon-rocket descending on Earth.
The ship settled within yards of its original landing-place. Its rockets dwindled, but remained burning. They dwindled again. The noise was outrageous, but still not the intolerable tumult of a moon-rocket landing on Earth.
The rockets cut off.
The airlock door opened. Cochrane and Babs waved cheerfully from the edge of the clearing. Holden appeared in the door and shouted down:
"Sorry to be so long coming back."
He waved and vanished. They had, of course, to wait until the ground at least partly cooled before the landing-sling could be used. Around them the noises of the forest continued. There were cooling, crackling sounds from the ship.
"I wonder how they found their way back!" said Babs. "I didn't think they ever could. Did you?"
"Babs," said Cochrane, "you lied to me! You said you'd wake me in two hours. But you let me sleep all night!"
"You'd let me sleep the night before," she told him composedly. "I was fresher than you were, and today'd have been a pretty bad one. We were going to try to kill some animals. You needed the rest."
Cochrane said slowly:
"I found out something, Babs. Why you could face things. Why we humans haven't all gone mad. I think I've gotten the woman's viewpoint now, Babs. I like it."
She inspected the looming blister-ports of the ship, now waiting for the ground to cool so they could come aboard.
"I think we'd have made out if the ship hadn't come," Cochrane told her. "We'd have had a woman's viewpoint to work from. Yours. You looked ahead to building a house. Of course you thought of finding food, but you were thinking of the possibility of winter and—building a house. You weren't thinking only of survival. You were thinking far ahead. Women must think farther ahead than men do!"
Babs looked at him briefly, and then returned to her apparently absorbed contemplation of the ship.
"That's what's the matter with people back on Earth," Cochrane said urgently. "There's no frustration as long as women can look ahead—far ahead, past here and now! When women can do that, they can keep men going. It's when there's nothing to plan for that men can't go on because women can't hope. You see? You saw a city here. A little city, with separate homes. On Earth, too many people can't think of more than living-quarters and keeping food enough for them—them only!—coming in. They can't hope for more. And it's when that happens—You see?"
Babs did not answer. Cochrane fumbled. He said angrily:
"Confound it, can't you see what I'm trying to say? We'd have been better off, as castaways, than back on Earth crowded and scared of our jobs! I'm saying I'd rather stay here with you than go back to the way I was living before we started off on this voyage! I think the two of us could make out under any circumstances! I don't want to try to make out without you! It isn't sense!" Then he scowled helplessly. "Dammit, I've staged plenty of shows in which a man asked a girl to marry him, and they were all phoney. It's different, now that I mean it! What's a good way to ask you to marry me?"
Babs looked momentarily up into his face. She smiled ever so faintly.
"They're watching us from the ports," she said. "If you want my viewpoint—If we were to wave to them that we'll be right back, we can get some more of those fruits I cooked. It might be interesting to have some to show them."
He scowled more deeply than before.
"I'm sorry you feel that way. But if that's it—"
"And on the way," said Babs. "When they're not watching, you might kiss me."
They had a considerable pile of the red-fleshed fruits ready when the ground had cooled enough for them to reach the landing-sling.
Once aboard the ship, Cochrane headed for the control-room, with Jamison and Bell tagging after him. Bell had an argument.
"But the volcano's calmed down—there's only a wall of steam where the lava hit the glaciers—and we could fix up a story in a couple of hours! I've got background shots! You and Babs could make the story-scenes and we'd have a castaway story! Perfect! The first true castaway story from the stars—. You know what that would mean!"
Cochrane snarled at him.
"Try it and I'll tear you limb from limb! I've put enough of other people's private lives on the screen! My own stays off! I'm not going to have even a phoney screen-show built around Babs and me for people to gabble about!"
Bell said in an injured tone:
"I'm only trying to do a good job! I started off on this business as a writer. I haven't had a real chance to show what I can do with this sort of material!"
"Forget it!" Cochrane snapped again. "Stick to your cameras!"
Jamison said hopefully:
"You'll give me some data on plants and animals, Mr. Cochrane? Won't you? I'm doing a book with Bell's pictures, and—"
"Let me alone!" raged Cochrane.
He reached the control-room. Al, the pilot, sat at the controls with an air of special alertness.
"You're all right? For our lined up trip, we ought to leave in about twenty minutes. We'll be pointing just about right then."
"I'm all right," said Cochrane. "And you can take off when you please." To Jones he said: "How'd you find us? I didn't think it could be done."
"Doctor Holden figured it out," said Jones. "Simple enough, but I was lost! When the ground-shocks came, everybody else ran to the ship. We waited for you. You didn't come." It had been, of course, because Cochrane would not risk taking Babs through a forest in which trees were falling. "We finally had to choose between taking off and crashing. So we took off."
"That was quite right. We'd all be messed up if you hadn't," Cochrane told him.
Jones waved his hands.
"I didn't think we could ever find you again. We were sixty light-years away when that booster effect died out. Then Doctor Holden got on the communicator. He got Earth. The astronomers back there located us and gave us the line to get back by. We found the planet. Even then I didn't see how we'd pick out the valley. But Doc had had 'em checking the shots we transmitted as we were making our landing. We had the whole first approach on film-tape. They put a crowd of map-comparators to work. We went in a Space Platform orbit around the planet, transmitting what we saw from out there—they figured the orbit for us, too—and they checked what we transmitted against what we'd photographed going down. So they were able to spot the exact valley and tell us where to come down. We actually spotted this valley last night, but we couldn't land in the dark."
Cochrane felt abashed.
"I couldn't have done that job," he admitted, "so I didn't think anybody could. Hm. Didn't all this cost a lot of fuel?"
Jones actually smiled.
"I worked out something. We don't use as much fuel as we did. We're probably using too much now. Al—go ahead and lift. I want to check what the new stuff does, anyhow. Take off!"
The pilot threw a switch, and Jones threw another, a newly installed one, just added to his improvised control-column. A light glowed brightly. Al pressed one button, very gently. A roaring set up outside. The ship started up. There was practically no feeling of acceleration, this time. The ship rose lightly. Even the rocket-roar was mild indeed, compared to its take-off from Luna and the sound of its first landing on the planet just below.
Cochrane saw the valley floors recede, and mountain-walls drop below. From all directions, then, vegetation-filled valleys flowed toward the ship, and underneath. Glaciers appeared, and volcanic cones, and then enormous stretches of white, with smoking dots here and there upon it. In seconds, it seemed, the horizon was visibly curved. In other seconds the planet being left behind was a monstrous white ball, and there were patches of intolerable white sunlight coming in the ports.
And Cochrane felt queer. Jones had given the order for take-off. Jones had determined to leave at this moment, because Jones had tests he wanted to make.... Cochrane felt like a passenger. From the man who decided things because he was the one who knew what had to be done, he had become something else. He had been absent two nights and part of a day, and decisions had been made in which he had no part—
It felt queer. It felt even startling.
"We're in a modification of the modified Dabney field now," observed Jones in a gratified tone. "You know the original theory."
"I don't," acknowledged Cochrane.
"The field's always a pipe, a tube, a column of stressed space between the field-plates," Jones reminded him. "When we landed the first time, back yonder, the tail of the ship wasn't in the field at all. The field stretched from the bow of the ship only, out to that last balloon we dropped. We were letting down at an angle to that line. It was like a kite and a string and the kite's tail. The string was the Dabney field, and the directions we were heading was the kite's tail."
Cochrane nodded. It occurred to him that Jones was very much unlike Dabney. Jones had discovered the Dabney field, but having sold the fame-rights to it, he now apparently thought "Dabney Field" was the proper technical term for his own discovery, even in his own mind.
"Back on the moon," Jones went on zestfully, "I wasn't sure that a field once established would hold in atmosphere. I hoped that with enough power I could keep it, but I wasn't sure—"
"This doesn't mean much to me, Jones," said Cochrane. "What does it add up to?"
"Why—the field held down into atmosphere. And we were out of the primary field as far as the tail of the ship was concerned. But this time we landed, I'd hooked in some ready-installed circuits. There was a second Dabney field from the stern of the ship to the bow. There was the main one, going out to those balloons and then back to Earth. But there was—and is—a second one only enclosing the ship. It's a sort of bubble. We can still trail a field behind us, and anybody can follow in any sort of ship that's put into it. But now the ship has a completely independent, second field. Its tail is never outside!"
Cochrane did not have the sort of mind to find such information either lucid or suggestive.
"So what happens?"
"We have both plates of a Dabney field always with us," said Jones triumphantly. "We're always in a field, even landing in atmosphere, and the ship has practically no mass even when it's letting down to landing. It has weight, but next to no mass. Didn't you notice the difference?"
"Stupid as it may seem, I didn't," admitted Cochrane. "I haven't the least idea what you're talking about."
Jones looked at him patiently.
"Now we can shoot our exhaust out of the field! The ship-field, not the main one!"
"I'm still numb," said Cochrane. "Multiple sclerosis of the brain-cells, I suppose. Let me just take your word for it."
Jones tried once more.
"Try to see it! Listen! When we landed the first time we had to use a lot of fuel because the tail of the ship wasn't in the Dabney field. It had mass. So we had to use a lot of rocket-power to slow down that mass. In the field, the ship hasn't much mass—the amount depends on the strength of the field—but rockets depend for their thrust on the mass that's thrown away astern. Looked at that way, rockets shouldn't push hard in a Dabney field. There oughtn't to be any gain to be had by the field at all. You see?"
Cochrane fumbled in his head.
"Oh, yes. I thought of that. But there is an advantage. The ship does work."
"Because," said Jones, triumphant again, "the field-effect depends partly on temperature! The gases in the rocket-blast are hot, away up in the thousands of degrees. They don't have normal inertia, but they do have what you might call heat-inertia. They acquire a sort of fictitious mass when they get hot enough. So we carry along fuel that hasn't any inertia to speak of when it's cold, but acquires a lunatic sort of substitute for inertia when it's genuinely hot. So a ship can travel in a Dabney field!"
"I'm relieved," acknowledged Cochrane. "I thought you were about to tell me that we couldn't lift off the moon, and I was going to ask how we got here."
Jones smiled patiently.
"What I'm telling you now is that we can shoot rocket-blasts out of the Dabney field we make with the stern of the ship! Landing, we keep our fuel and the ship with next to no mass, and we shoot it out to where it does have mass, and the effect is practically the same as if we were pushing against something solid! And so we started off with fuel for maybe five or six landings and take-offs against Earth gravity. But with this new trick, we've got fuel for a couple of hundred!"
"Ah!" said Cochrane mildly. "This is the first thing you've said that meant anything to me. Congratulations! What comes next?"
"I thought you'd be pleased," said Jones. "What I'm really telling you is that now we've got fuel enough to reach the Milky Way."
"Let's not," suggested Cochrane, "and say we did! You've got a new star picked out to travel to?"
Jones shrugged his shoulders. In him, the gesture indicated practically hysterical frustration. But he said:
"Yes. Twenty-one light-years. Back on Earth they're anxious for us to check on sol-type suns and Earth-type planets."
"For once," said Cochrane, "I am one with the great scientific minds. Let's go over."
He made his way to the circular stairway leading down to the main saloon. On his clumsy way across the saloon floor to the communicator, he felt the peculiar sensation of the booster-current, which should have been a sound, but wasn't. It was the sensation which had preceded the preposterous leap of the space-ship away from Luna, when in a heart-beat of time all stars looked like streaks of light, and the ship traveled nearly two light-centuries.
Sunshine blinked, and then shone again in the ports around the saloon walls. The second shining came from a different direction—as if somebody had switched off one exterior light and turned on another—and at a different angle to the floor.
Cochrane reached the communicator. He felt no weight. He strapped himself into the chair. He switched on the vision-phone which sent radiation along the field to a balloon two hundred odd light-years from Earth—that was the balloon near the glacier planet—and then switched to the field traveling to a second balloon then the last hundred seventy-odd light-years back to the moon, and then from Luna City down to Earth.
He put in his call. He got an emergency message that had been waiting for him. Seconds later he fought his way frantically through no-weight to the control-room again.
"Jamison! Bell!" he cried desperately. "We've got a broadcast due in twenty minutes! I lost track of time! We're sponsored on four continents and we damwell have to put on a show! What the devil! Why didn't somebody—"
Jamison said obviously from a blister-port where he swung a squat star-telescope from one object to another:
"Noo-o-o. That's a gas-giant. We'd be squashed if we landed there—though that big moon looks promising. I think we'd better try yonder."
"Okay," said Jones in a flat voice. "Center on the next one in, Al, and we'll toddle over."
Cochrane felt the ship swinging in emptiness. He knew because it seemed to turn while he felt that he stayed still.
"We've got a show to put on!" he raged. "We've got to fake something—."
Jamison looked aside from his telescope.
"Tell him, Bell," he said expansively.
"I wrote a script of sorts," said Bell apologetically. "The story-line's not so good—that's why I wanted a castaway narrative to put in it, though I wouldn't have had time, really. We spliced film and Jamison narrated it, and you can run it off. It's a kind of show. We ran it as a space-platform survey of the glacier-planet, basing it on pictures we took while we were in orbit around it. It's a sort of travelogue. Jamison did himself proud. Alicia can find the tape-can for you."
He went back to his cameras. Cochrane saw a monstrous globe swing past a control-room port. It was a featureless mass of clouds, save for striations across what must be its equator. It looked like the Lunar Observatory pictures of Jupiter, back in the Sun's family of planets.
It went past the port, and a moon swam into view. It was a very large moon. It had at least one ice-cap—and therefore an atmosphere—and there were mottlings of its surface which could hardly be anything but continents and seas.
"We've got to put a show on!" raged Cochrane. "And now!"
"It's all set," Bell assured him. "You can transmit it. I hope you like it!"
Cochrane sputtered. But there was nothing to do but transmit whatever Bell and Jamison had gotten ready. He swam with nightmarelike difficulty back to the communicator. He shouted frantically for Babs. She and Alicia came. Alicia found the film-tape, and Cochrane threaded it into the transmitter, and bitterly ran the first few feet. Babs smiled at him, and Alicia looked at him oddly. Evidently, Babs had confided the consequence of their casting-away. But Cochrane faced an emergency. He began to check timings with far-distant Earth.
When the ship approached a second planet, Cochrane saw nothing of it. He was furiously monitoring the broadcast of a show in which he'd had no hand at all. From his own, professional standpoint it was terrible. Jamison spouted interminably, so Cochrane considered. Al, the pilot, was actually interviewed by an offscreen voice! But the pictures from space were excellent. While the ship floated in orbit, waiting to descend to pick up Babs and Cochrane, Bell had hooked his camera to an amplifying telescope and he did have magnificent shots of dramatic terrain on the planet now twenty light-years behind.
Cochrane watched the show in a mingling of jealousy and relief. It was not as good as he would have done. But fortunately, Bell and Jamison had stuck fairly close to straight travelogue-stuff, and close-up shots of vegetation and animals had been interspersed with the remoter pictures with moderate competence, if without undue imagination. An audience which had not seen many shows of the kind would be thrilled. It even amounted to a valid change of pace. Anybody who watched this would at least want to see more and different pictures from the stars.
Halfway through, he heard the now-muffled noise of rockets. He knew the ship was descending through atmosphere by the steady sound, though he had not the faintest idea what was outside. He ground his teeth as—for timing—he received the commercial inserted in the film. The U. S. commercials served the purpose, of course. He could not watch the other pictures shown to residents of other than North America in the commercial portions of the show.
He was counting seconds to resume transmission when he felt the slight but distant impact which meant that the ship had touched ground. A very short time after, even the lessened, precautionary rocket-roar cut off.
Cochrane ground his teeth. The ship had landed on a planet he had not seen and in whose choice he had had no hand. He was humiliated. The other members of the ship's company looked out at scenes no other human eyes had ever beheld.
He regarded the final commercial, inserted into the broadcast for its American sponsor. It showed, purportedly, the true story of two girl friends, one blonde and one brunette, who were wall-flowers at all parties. They tried frantically to remedy the situation by the use of this toothpaste and that, and this deodorant and the other. In vain! But then they became the centers of all the festivities they attended, as soon as they began to wash their hair with Rayglo Shampoo.
Holden and Johnny Simms came clattering down from the control-room together. They looked excited. They plunged together toward the stair-well that would take them to the deck on which the airlock opened.
"Jed! Creatures outside! They look like men!"
The communicator-screen faithfully monitored the end of the commercial. Two charming girls, radiant and lovely, raised their voices in grateful song, hymning the virtues of Rayglo Shampoo. There followed brisk reminders of the superlative, magical results obtained by those who used Rayglo Foundation Cream, Rayglo Kisspruf Lipstick, and Rayglo home permanent—in four strengths; for normal, hard-to-wave, easy-to-wave, and children's hair.