Spacehounds of Ipc
Castaways Upon Ganymede
Upon awakening, the man’s first care was to instruct the girl in the operation of the projectors, so that she could keep the heavily-armored edge of their small section, which she had promptly christened “The Forlorn Hope,” between them and the grinding, clashing mass of wreckage, and thus, if it should become necessary, protect the relatively frail inner portions of their craft from damage.
“Keep an eye on things for a while, Nadia,” he instructed, as soon as she could handle the controls, “and don’t use any more power than is absolutely necessary. We’ll need it all, and besides, they can probably detect anything we can use. There’s probably enough leakage from the ruptured accumulator cells to mask quite a little emission, but don’t use much. I’m going to see what I can do about making this whole wedge navigable.”
“Why not just launch what’s left of this lifeboat? It’s space-worthy, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but it’s too small. Two or three of the big dirigible projectors of the lower band are on the rim of this piece-of-pie-shaped section we’re riding, I think. If so, and if enough batteries of accumulators are left intact to give them anywhere nearly full power, we can get an acceleration that will make a lifeboat look sick. Those main dirigibles, you know, are able to swing the whole mass of the Arcturus, and what they’ll do to this one chunk of it--we’ve got only a few thousand tons of mass in this piece--will be something pretty. Also, having the metal may save us months of time in mining it.”
He found the projectors, repaired or cut out the damaged accumulator cells, and reconnected them through the controls of the lifeboat. He moved into the “engine-room” the airtanks, stores, and equipment from all the other fragments which, by means of a space-suit, he could reach without too much difficulty. From the battery rooms of those fragments--open shelves, after being sliced open by the shearing ray--he helped himself to banks of accumulator cells from the enormous driving batteries of the ill-fated Arcturus, bolting them down and connecting them solidly until almost every compartment of their craft was one mass of stored-up energy.
Days fled like hours, so furiously busy were they in preparing their peculiar vessel for a cruise of indefinite duration. Stevens cut himself short on sleep and snatched his meals in passing; and Nadia, when not busy at her own tasks of observing, housekeeping, and doing what little piloting was required, was rapidly learning to wield most effectively the spanner and pliers of the mechanic and electrician.
“I’m afraid our time is getting short, Steve,” she announced, after making an observation. “It looks as though we’re getting wherever it is we’re going.”
“Well, I’ve got only two more jobs to do, but they’re the hardest of the lot. It is Jupiter, or can you tell yet?”
“Jupiter or one of its satellites, I think, from the point where they reversed their power. Here’s the observation you told me to take.”
“Looks like Jupiter,” he agreed, after he had rapidly checked her figures. “We’ll pass very close to one of those two satellites--probably Ganymede--which is fine for our scheme. All four of the major satellites have water and atmosphere, but Ganymede, being largest, is best for our purposes. We’ve got a couple of days yet--just about time to finish up. Let’s get going--you know what to do.”
“Steve, I’m afraid of it. It’s too dangerous--isn’t there some other way?”
“None that I can see. The close watch they’re keeping on every bit of this junk makes it our only chance for a get-away. I’m pretty sure I can do it--but if I should happen to get nipped, just use enough power to let them know you’re here, and you won’t be any worse off than if I hadn’t tried to pull off this stunt.”
He donned a space-suit, filled a looped belt with tools, picked up a portable power-drill, and stepped into the tiny air-lock. Nadia deftly guided their segment against one of the larger fragments and held it there with a gentle, steady pressure, while Stevens, a light cable paying out behind him, clambered carefully over the wreckage, brought his drill into play, and disappeared inside the huge wedge. In less than an hour he returned without mishap and reported to the glowing girl.
“Just like shooting fish down a well! Most of the accumulator cells were tight, and installing the relays wasn’t a bad job at all. Believe me, girl, there’ll be junk filling all the space between here and Saturn when we touch them off!”
“Wonderful, Steve!” Nadia exclaimed. “It won’t be so bad seeing you go into the others, now that you have this one all rigged up.”
Around and around the mass of wreckage they crept, and in each of the larger sections Stevens connected up the enormous fixed or dirigible projectors to whatever accumulator cells were available through sensitive relays, all of which he could close by means of one radio impulse. The long and dangerous task done, he stood at the lookout plate, studying the huge disk which had been the upper portion of the lower half of the Arcturus and frowning in thought. Nadia reached over his shoulder and switched off the plate.
“Nix on that second job, big fellow!” she declared. “They aren’t really necessary, and you’re altogether too apt to be killed trying to get them. It’s too ghastly--I won’t stand for your trying it, so that ends it.”
“We ought to have them, really,” he protested. “With those special tools, cutting torches, and all the stuff, we’d be sitting pretty. We’ll lose weeks of time by not having them.”
“We’ll just have to lose it, then. You can’t get ‘em, any more than a baby can get the moon, so stop crying about it,” she went over the familiar argument for the twentieth time. “That stuff up there is all grinding together like cakes of ice in a floe; the particular section you want is in plain sight of whoever is on watch; and those tools and things are altogether too heavy to handle. You’re a husky brute, I know, but even you couldn’t begin to handle them, even if you had good going. I couldn’t help you very much, even if you’d let me try; and the fact that you so positively refuse to let me come along shows how dangerous you know the attempt is bound to be. You’d probably never even get up there alive, to say nothing of getting back here. No, Steve, that’s out like a light.”
“I sure wish they’d left us weightless for a while, sometime, if only for an hour or two,” he mourned.
“But they didn’t!” she retorted, practically. “So we’re just out of luck to that extent. Our time is about up, too. It’s time you worked us back to the tail end of this procession--or rather, the head end, since we’re traveling ‘down’ now.”
Stevens took the controls and slowly worked along the outer edge of the mass, down toward its extremity. Nadia put one hand upon his shoulder and he glanced around.
“Thanks, Steve. We have a perfectly wonderful chance as it is, and we’ve gone so far with our scheme together that it would be a crying shame not to be able to go through with it. I’d hate like sin to have to surrender to them now, and that’s all I could do if anything should become of you. Besides...” her voice died away into silence.
“Sure, you’re right,” he hastily replied, dodging the implication of that unfinished sentence. “I couldn’t figure out anything that looked particularly feasible anyway--that’s why I didn’t try it. We’ll pass it up.”
Soon they arrived at their objective and maintained a position well in the van, but not sufficiently far ahead of the rest to call forth a restraining ray from their captors. Already strongly affected by the gravitational pull of the mass of the satellite, many of the smaller portions of the wreck, not directly held by the tractors, began to separate from the main mass. As each bit left its place another beam leaped out, until it became apparent that no more were available, and Stevens strapped the girl and himself down before two lookout plates.
“Now for it, Nadia!” he exclaimed, and simultaneously threw on the power of his own projectors and sent out the radio impulse which closed the relays he had so carefully set. They were thrown against the restraining straps savagely and held there by an enormous weight as the gigantic dirigible projectors shot their fragment of the wreck away from the comparatively slight force which had been acting upon it, but they braced themselves and strained their muscles in order to watch what was happening. As the relays in the various fragments closed, the massed power of the accumulators was shorted dead across the converters and projectors instead of being fed into them gradually through the controls of the pilot, with a result comparable to that of the explosion of an ammunition dump. Most of the masses, whose projectors were fed by comparatively few accumulator cells, darted away entirely with a stupendous acceleration. A few of them, however, received the unimpeded flow of complete batteries. Those projectors tore loose from even their massive supports and crashed through anything opposing them like a huge, armor-piercing projectile. It was a spectacle to stagger the imagination, and Stevens grinned as he turned to the girl, who was staring in wide-eyed amazement.
“Well, ace, I think they’re busy enough now so that it’ll be safe to take that long-wanted look at their controls,” and he flashed the twin beams of his lookout light out beyond the upper half of the Arcturus--only to see them stop abruptly in mid-space. Even the extremely short carrier-wave of Roeser’s Rays could not go through the invisible barrier thrown out by the tiny, but powerful globe of space.
“No penetration?” Nadia asked.
“Flattened them out cold. ‘However, ‘ as the fox once remarked about the grapes, ‘I’ll bet they’re sour, anyway.’ We’ll have some stuff of our own, one of these days. I sure hope the fireworks we started back there keep those birds amused until we get out of sight, because if I use much more power on these projectors we may not have juice enough left to stop with.”
“You’re using enough now to suit me--I’m so heavy I can hardly lift a finger!”
“You’d better lift ‘em! You must watch what’s going on back there while I navigate around this moon.”
“All x, chief ... They’ve got their hands full, apparently. Those rays are shooting around all over the sky. It looks as though they were trying to capture four or five things at once with each one.”
“Good! Tell me when the moon cuts them off.”
At the awful acceleration they were using, which constantly increased the terrific velocity with which they had been traveling when they made good their escape, it was not long until they had placed the satellite between them and the enemy; then Stevens cut down and reversed his power. Such was their speed, however, that a long detour was necessary in order to reduce it to a safe landing rate. As soon as this could be done, Stevens headed for the morning zone and dropped the “Hope” rapidly toward the surface of that new, strange world. Details could not be distinguished at first because of an all-enshrouding layer of cloud, but the rising sun dispelled the mist, and when they had descended to within a few thousand feet of the surface, their vision was unobstructed. Immediately below them the terrain was mountainous and heavily wooded; while far to the east the rays of a small, pale sun glinted upon a vast body of water. No signs of habitation were visible as far as the eye could reach.
“Now to pick out a location for our power-plant. We must have a waterfall for power, a good place to hide our ship from observation, and I’d like to have a little seam of coal. We can use wood if we have to, but I think we can find some coal. This is all sedimentary rock--it looks a lot like the country along the North Fork of the Flathead, in Montana. There are a lot of coal outcrops, usually, in such topography as this is.”
“We want to hide in a hurry, though, don’t we?”
“Not particularly, I think. If they had missed us at all, they would have had us long ago, and with all the damage we did with those projectors they won’t be surprised at one piece being missing--I imagine they lost a good many.”
“But they’ll know that somebody caused all that disturbance. Won’t they hunt for us?”
“Maybe, and maybe not--no telling what they’ll do. However, by the time they can land and get checked up and ready to hunt for us, we’ll be a mighty small needle, well hidden in a good big haystack.”
For several hours they roamed over the mountainous region at high velocity, seeking the best possible location, and finally they found one that was almost ideal--a narrow canyon overhung with heavy trees, opening into a wide, deep gorge upon a level with its floor. A mighty waterfall cascaded into the gorge just above the canyon, and here and there could be seen black outcrops which Stevens, after a close scrutiny, declared to be coal. He deftly guided their cumbersome wedge of steel into the retreat, allowed it to settle gently to the ground, and shut off the power.
“Well, little fellow-conspirator against the peace and dignity of the Jovians, I don’t know just where we are, but wherever it is, we’re here. We got away clean, and as long as we don’t use any high-tension stuff or anything else that they can trace, I think we’re as safe as money in a bank.”
“I suppose that I ought to be scared to death, Steve, but I’m not--I’m just too thrilled for words,” Nadia answered, and the eager sparkle in her eyes bore out her words. “Can we go out now? How about air? Shall we wear suits or go out as we are? Have you got a weapon of any kind? Hurry up--let’s do something!”
“Pipe down, ace! Remember that we don’t know any more about anything around here than a pig does about Sunday, and conduct yourself accordingly. Take it easy. I’m surprised at the gravity here. This is certainly Ganymede, and it has a diameter of only about fifty seven hundred kilometers. If I remember correctly, Damoiseau estimated its mass at about three one-hundredths that of the Earth, which would make its surface gravity about one-sixth. However, it is actually almost a half, as you see by this spring-balance here. Therefore it is quite a little more massive than has been...”
“What of it? Let’s go places and do things!”
“Calm yourself, Ginger, you’ve got lots of time--we’ll be here for quite a while, I’m afraid. We can’t go out until we analyze the air--we’re sure lucky there’s as much as there is. I’m not exactly the world’s foremost chemist, but fortunately an air-analysis isn’t much of a job with the apparatus we carry.”
While Nadia controlled her impatience as best she could, Stevens manipulated the bulbs and pipettes of the gas apparatus.
“Pressure, fifty-two centimeters--more than I dared hope for--and analysis all x, I believe. Oxygen concentration a little high, but not much.”
“We won’t have to wear the space-suits, then?”
“Not unless I missed something in the analysis. The pressure corresponds to our own at a height of about three thousand meters, which we can get used to without too much trouble. Good thing, too. I brought along all the air I could get hold of, but as I told you back there, if we had to depend on it altogether, we might be out of luck. I’m going to pump some of our air back into a cylinder to equalize our pressure--don’t want to waste any of it until we’re sure the outside air suits us without treatment.”
When the pressure inside had been gradually reduced to that outside and they had become accustomed to breathing the rarefied medium, Stevens opened the airlock and the outside doors, and for some time cautiously sniffed the atmosphere of the satellite. He could detect nothing harmful or unusual in it--it was apparently the same as earthly air--and he became jubilant.
“All x, Nadia--luck is perched right on our banner. Freedom, air, water, power, and coal! Now as you suggested, we’ll go places and do things!”
“Suppose it’s safe?” Her first eagerness to explore their surroundings had abated noticeably. “You aren’t armed, are you?”
“No, and I don’t believe that there was a gun of any kind aboard the Arcturus. That kind of thing went out quite a while ago, you know. We’ll take a look, anyway--we’ve got to find out about that coal before we decide to settle down here. Remember this half-gravity stuff, and control your leg-muscles accordingly.”
Leaping lightly to the ground, they saw that the severed section of fifty-inch armor, which was the rim of their conveyance, almost blocked the entrance to the narrow canyon which they had selected for their retreat. Upon one side that wall of steel actually touched the almost perpendicular wall or rock; upon the other side there was left only a narrow passage. They stepped through it, so that they could see the waterfall and the gorge, and stopped silent. The sun, now fairly high, was in no sense the familiar orb of day, but was a pale, insipid thing, only one-fifth the diameter of the sun to which they were accustomed, and which could almost be studied with the unshielded eye. From their feet a grassy meadow a few hundred feet wide sloped gently down to the river, from whose farther bank a precipice sprang upward for perhaps a thousand feet--merging into towering hills whose rugged grandeur was reminiscent of the topography of the moon. At their backs the wall of the gorge was steep, but not precipitous, and was covered with shrubs and trees--some of which leaned out over the little canyon, completely screening it, and among whose branches birds could now and then be seen flitting about. In that direction no mountains were visible, indicating that upon their side of the river there was an upland plateau or bench. To their right the river, the gorge, and the strip of meadow extended for a mile or more, then curved away and were lost to sight. To their left, almost too close for comfort, was the stupendous cataract, towering above them to a terror-inspiring height. Nadia studied it with awe, which changed to puzzled wonder.
“What’s the matter with it, Steve? It looks like a picture in slow motion, like the kind they take of your dives--or am I seeing things?”
“No, it’s really slow, compared to what we’re used to. Remember that one-half gravity stuff!”
“Oh, that’s right, but it certainly does look funny. It gives me the creeps.”
“You’ll get used to it pretty quick--just as you’ll get used to all the rest of the things having only half their earthly weight and falling only half as fast as they ought to when you drop them. Well, I don’t see anything that looks dangerous yet--let’s go up toward the falls a few meters and prospect that outcrop.”
With a few brisk strokes of an improvised shovel he cleared the outcrop of detritus and broke off several samples of the black substance, with which they went back to the “Forlorn Hope.”
“It’s real coal,” Stevens announced after a series of tests. “I’ve seen better, but on the other hand, there’s lots worse. It’ll make good gas, and a kind of a coke. Not so hot, but it’ll do. Now we’d better get organized old partner, for a long campaign.”
“Go ahead and organize--I’m only the cheap help in this enterprise.”
“Cheap help! You’re apt to be the life of the party. Can you make and shoot a bow and arrow?”