Sand Doom
by William Fitzgerald Jenkins
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* * * * *

"Well?" he asked fretfully. "Chuka said you needed me here. What's the matter?"

Ralph Redfeather nodded very formally. Aletha was here, too, and two of Chuka's foremen—one did not look happy—and four of the Amerind steel-workers. They grinned at Bordman.

"I wanted you to see," said Aletha's cousin, "before we threw on the current. It doesn't look like that little grid could handle the sand it took care of. But Lewanika wants to report."

A dark man who worked under Chuka—and looked as if he belonged on solid ground—said carefully:

"We cast the beams for the small landing grid, Mr. Bordman. We melted the metal out of the cliffs and ran it into molds as it flowed down."

He stopped. One of the Indians said:

"We made the girders into the small landing grid. It bothered us because we built it on the sand that had buried the big grid. We didn't understand why you ordered it there. But we built it."

The second dark man said with a trace of swagger:

"We made the coils, Mr. Bordman. We made the small grid so it would work the same as the big one when it was finished. And then we made the big grid work, finished or not!"

Bordman said impatiently:

"All right. Very good. But what is this? A ceremony?"

"Just so," said Aletha, smiling. "Be patient, Mr. Bordman!"

Her cousin said conversationally:

"We built the small grid on the top of the sand. And it tapped the ionosphere for power. No lack of power then! And we'd set it to heave up sand instead of ships. Not to heave it out into space, but to give it up to mile a second vertical velocity. Then we turned it on."

"And we rode it down, that little grid," said one of the remaining Indians, grinning. "What a party! Manitou!"

Redfeather frowned at him and took up the narrative.

"It hurled the sand up from its center. As you said it would, the sand swept air with it. It made a whirlwind, bringing more sand from outside the grid into its field. It was a whirlwind with fifteen megakilowatts of power to drive it. Some of the sand went twenty miles high. Then it made a mushroom-head and the winds up yonder blew it to the west. It came down a long way off, Mr. Bordman. We've made a new dune-area ten miles downwind. And the little grid sank as the sand went away from around it. We had to stop it three times, because it leaned. We had to dig under parts of it to get it straight up again. But it went down into the valley."

Bordman turned up the power to his heat-suit motors. He felt uncomfortably warm.

"In six days," said Ralph, almost ceremonially, "it had uncovered half the original grid we'd built. Then we were able to modify that to heave sand and to let it tap the ionosphere. We were able to use a good many times the power the little grid could apply to sand-lifting! In two days more the landing grid was clear. The valley bottom was clean. We shifted some hundreds of millions of tons of sand by landing grid, and now it is possible to land the Warlock, and receive her supplies, and the solar-power furnace is already turning out pigs for her loading. We wanted you to see what we have done. The colony is no longer in danger, and we shall have the grid completely finished for your inspection before the ship is ready to return."

Bordman said uncomfortably:

"That's very good. It's excellent. I'll put it in my survey report."

"But," said Ralph, more ceremonially still, "we have the right to count coup for the members of our tribe and clan. Now——"

Then there was confusion. Aletha's cousin was saying syllables that did not mean anything at all. The other Indians joined in at intervals, speaking gibberish. Aletha's eyes were shining and she looked incredibly pleased and satisfied.

"But what ... what's this?" demanded Bordman when they stopped.

Aletha spoke proudly.

"Ralph just formally adopted you into the tribe, Mr. Bordman—and into his clan and mine! He gave you a name I'll have to write down for you, but it means, 'Man-who-believes-not-his-own-wisdom.' And now——"

Ralph Redfeather—licensed interstellar engineer, graduate of the stiffest technical university in this quarter of the galaxy, wearer of three eagle-pinion feathers and clad in a pair of insulated sandals and a breechcloth—whipped out a small paint-pot and a brush from somewhere and began carefully to paint on a section of girder ready for the next tier of steel. He painted a feather on the metal.

"It's a coup," he told Bordman over his shoulder. "Your coup. Placed where it was earned—up here. Aletha is authorized to certify it. And the head of the clan will add an eagle-feather to the headdress he wears in council in the Big Tepee on Algonka, and—your clan-brothers will be proud!"

Then he straightened up and held out his hand.

Chuka said benignly:

"Being civilized men, Mr. Bordman, we Africans do not go in for uncivilized feathers. But we ... ah ... rather approve of you, too. And we plan a corroboree at the colony after the Warlock is down, when there will be some excellently practiced singing. There is ... ah ... a song, a sort of choral calypso, about this ... ah ... adventure you have brought to so satisfying a conclusion. It is quite a good calypso. It's likely to be popular on a good many planets."

Bordman swallowed. He was acutely uncomfortable. He felt that he ought to say something, and he did not know what.

But just then there was a deep-toned humming in the air. It was a vibrant tone, instinct with limitless power. It was the eighteen-hundred-foot landing grid, giving off that profoundly bass and vibrant, note it uttered while operating. Bordman looked up.

The Warlock was coming down.


Transcriber's Notes & Errata This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction December 1955. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Illustrations have been moved to their appropriate places in the text. The following typographical errors have been corrected. Error Correction dessicated desiccated Anglo-Anglo-Saxon girls Anglo-Saxon girls carrousel carousel dessication desiccation derelect derelict sand-swept sand swept


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