Spacehounds of Ipc
Chapter 6

Public Domain

A Frigid Civilization

“Hi, Percival Van Schravendyck Stevens!” Nadia strode purposely into Stevens’ room and seized him by the shoulder. “Are you going to sleep all the way to Saturn? You answered me when I pounded on the partition with a hammer, but I don’t believe that you woke up at all. Get up, you--breakfast will be all spoiled directly!”

“Huh?” Stevens opened one sluggish eye; then, as the full force of the insult penetrated his consciousness, he came wide awake. “Lay off those names, ace, or you’ll find yourself walking back home!” he threatened.

“All x by me!” she retorted. “I might as well go home if you’re going to sleep all the time!” and she widened her expressive eyes at him impishly as she danced blithely back into the control room. As she went out she slammed his door with a resounding clang, and Stevens pried himself out of his bunk one joint at a time, dressed, and made himself presentable.

“Gosh!” he yawned mightily as he joined the girl at breakfast. “I don’t know when I’ve had such a gorgeous sleep. How do you get by on so little?”

“I don’t. I sleep a lot, but I do it every night, instead of working for four days and nights on end and then trying to make up all those four nights’ sleep at once. I’m going to break you of that, too, Steve, if it’s the last thing I ever do.”

“There might be certain advantages in it, at that,” he conceded, “but sometimes you’ve got to do work when it’s got to be done, instead of just between sleeps. However, I’ll try to do better. Certainly it is a wonderful relief to get out of that mess, isn’t it?”

“I’ll say it is! But I wish that those folks were more like people. They’re nice, I think, really, but they’re so ... so ... well, so ghastly that it simply gives me the blue shivers just to look at one of them!”

“They’re pretty gruesome, no fooling,” he agreed, “but you get used to things like that. I just about threw a fit the first time I ever saw a Martian, and the Venerians are even worse in some ways--they’re so clammy and dead-looking--but now I’ve got real friends on both planets. One thing, though, gives me the pip. I read a story a while ago--the latest best-seller thing of Thornton’s named ‘Interstellar Slush’ or some such tr...”

“Cleophora--An Interstellar Romance,” she corrected him. “I thought it was wonderful!”

“I didn’t. It’s fundamentally unsound. Look at our nearest neighbors, who probably came from the same original stock we did. A Tellurian can admire, respect, or like a Venerian, yes. But for loving one of them--wow! Beauty is purely relative, you know. For instance, I think that you are the most perfectly beautiful thing I ever saw; but no Venerian would think so. Far from it. Any Martian that hadn’t seen many of us would have to go rest his eyes after taking one good look at you. Considering what love means, it doesn’t stand to reason that any Tellurian woman could possibly fall in love with any man not of her own breed. Any writer is wrong who indulges in interplanetary love affairs and mad passions. They simply don’t exist. They can’t exist--they’re against all human instincts.”

“Inter-planetary--in this solar system--yes. But the Dacrovos were just like us, only nicer.”

“That’s what gives me the pip. If our own cousins of the same solar system are so repulsive to us, how would we be affected by entirely alien forms of intelligence?”

“May be you’re right, of course--but you may be wrong, too,” she insisted. “The Universe is big enough, so that people like the Dacrovos may possibly exist in it somewhere. May be the Big Three will discover a means of interstellar travel--then I’ll get to see them myself, perhaps.”

“Yes, and if we do, and if you ever see any such people, I’ll bet that the sight of them will make your hair curl right up into a ball, too! But about Barkovis--remember how diplomatic the thoughts were that he sent us? He described our structure as being ‘compact, ‘ but I got the undertone of his real thoughts, as well. Didn’t you?”

“Yes, now that you mention it, I did. He really thought that we were white-hot, under-sized, overpowered, warty, hairy, hideously opaque and generally repulsive little monstrosities--thoroughly unpleasant and distasteful. But he was friendly, just the same. Heavens, Steve! Do you suppose that he read our real thoughts, too?”

“Sure he did; but he is intelligent enough to make allowances, the same as we are doing. He isn’t any more insulted than we are. He knows that such feelings are ingrained and cannot be changed.”

Breakfast over, they experienced a new sensation. For the first time in months they had nothing to do! Used as they were to being surrounded by pressing tasks, they enjoyed their holiday immensely for a few hours. Sitting idly at the communicator plate, they scanned the sparkling heavens with keen interest. Beneath them Jupiter was a brilliant crescent not far from the sun in appearance, which latter had already grown perceptibly smaller and less bright. Above them, and to their right, Saturn shone refulgently, his spectacular rings plainly visible. All about them were the glories of the firmament, which never fail to awe the most seasoned observer. But idleness soon became irksome to those two active spirits, and Stevens prowled restlessly about their narrow quarters.

“I’m going to go to work before I go dippy,” he soon declared. “They’ve got lots of power, and we can rig up a transmitter unit to send it over here to our receptor. Then I can start welding the old Hope together without waiting until we get to Titan to start it. Think I’ll signal Barkovis to come over, and see what he thinks about it.”

The Titanian commander approved the idea, and the transmitting field was quickly installed. Nadia insisted that she, too, needed to work, and that she was altogether too good a mechanic to waste; therefore the two again labored mightily together, day after day. But the girl limited rigidly their hours of work to those of the working day; and evening after evening Barkovis visited with them for hours. Dressed in his heavy space-suit and supported by a tractor beam well out of range of what seemed to him terrific heat radiated by the bodies of the Terrestrials, he floated along unconcernedly; while over the multiplex cable of the thought-exchanger he conversed with the man and woman seated just inside the open outer door of their air-lock. The Titanian’s appetite for information was insatiable--particularly did he relish everything pertaining to the earth and to the other inner planets, forever barred to him and to his kind. In return Stevens and Nadia came gradually to know the story of the humanity of Titan.

“I am glad beyond measure to have known you,” Barkovis mused, one night. “Your existence proves that there is truth in mythology, as some of us have always believed. Your visit to Titan will create a furor in scientific circles, for you are impossibility incarnate--personifications of the preposterous. In you, wildest fancy had become commonplace. According to many of our scientists, it is utterly impossible for you to exist. Yet you say, and it must be, that there are millions upon millions of similar beings. Think of it! Venerians, Tellurians, Martians, the satellite dwellers of the lost space-ship, and us--so similar mentally, yet physically how different!”

“But where does the mythology come in?” thought Nadia.

“We have unthinkably ancient legends which say that once Titan was extremely hot, and that our remote ancestors were beings of fire, in whose veins ran molten water instead of blood. Since our recorded history goes back some tens of thousands of Saturnian years, and since in that long period there has been no measurable change in us, few of us have believed in the legends at all. They have been thought the surviving figments of a barbarous, prehistoric worship of the sun. However, such a condition is not in conflict with the known facts of cosmogony, and since there actually exists such a humanity as yours--a humanity whose bodily tissues actually are composed largely of molten water--those ancient legends must indeed have been based upon truth.

“What an evolution! Century after century of slowly decreasing temperature--one continuous struggle to adapt the physique to a constantly changing environment. First they must have tried to maintain their high temperature by covering and heating their cities.--Then, as vegetation died, they must have bred into their plants the ability to use as sap purely chemical liquids, such as our present natural fluids--which also may have been partly synthetic then--instead of the molten water to which they had been accustomed. They must have modified similarly the outer atmosphere; must have made it more reactive, to compensate for the lowered temperature at which metabolism must take place. As Titan grew colder and colder they probably dug their cities deeper and ever deeper; until humanity came finally to realize that it must itself change completely or perish utterly.

“Then we may picture them as aiding evolution in changing their body chemistry. For thousands, and thousands of years there must have gone on the gradual adaptation of blood stream and tissue to more and more volatile liquids, and to lower and still lower temperatures. This must have continued until Titan arrived at the condition which has now obtained for ages--a condition of thermal equilibrium with space upon one hand and upon the other the sun, which changes appreciably only in millions upon millions of years. In equilibrium at last--with our bodily and atmospheric temperatures finally constant at their present values, which seem as low to you as yours appear high to us. Truly, an evolution astounding to contemplate!”

“But how about power?” asked Stevens. “You seem to have all you want, and yet it doesn’t stand to reason that there could be very much generated upon a satellite so old and so cold.”

“You are right. For ages there has been but little power produced upon Titan. Many cycles ago, however, our scientists had developed rocket-driven space-ships, with which they explored our neighboring satellites, and even Saturn itself. It is from power plants upon Saturn that we draw energy. Their construction was difficult in the extreme, since the pioneers had to work in braces because of the enormous force of gravity. Then, too, they had to be protected from the overwhelming pressure and poisonous qualities of the air, and insulated from a temperature far above the melting point of water. In such awful heat, of course, our customary building material, water, could not be employed...”

“But all our instruments have indicated that Saturn is cold!” Stevens interrupted.

“Its surface temperature, as read from afar, would be low,” conceded Barkovis, “but the actual surface of the planet is extremely hot, and is highly volcanic. Practically none of its heat is radiated because of the great density and depth of its atmosphere, which extends for many hundreds of your kilometers. It required many thousands of lives and many years of time to build and install those automatic power plants, but once they were in operation, we were assured of power for many tens of thousands of years to come.”

“Our system of power transmission is more or less like yours, but we haven’t anything like your range. Suppose you’d be willing to teach me the computation of your fields?”

“Yes, we shall be glad to give you the formulae. Being an older race, it is perhaps natural that we should have developed certain refinements as yet unknown to you. But I am, I perceived, detaining you from your time of rest--goodbye,” and Barkovis was wafted back toward his mirrored globe.

“What do you make of this chemical solution blood of theirs, Steve?” asked Nadia, watching the placidly floating form of the Titanian captain.

“Not much. I may have mentioned before that there are one or two, or perhaps even three men who are better chemists than I am. I gathered that it is something like a polyhydric alcohol and something like a substituted hydrocarbon, and yet different from either in that it contains flourin in loose combination. I think it is something that our Tellurian chemists haven’t got yet; but they’ve got so many organic compounds now that they may have synthesized it, at that. You see, Titan’s atmosphere isn’t nearly as dense as ours, but what there is of it is pure dynamite. Ours is a little oxygen, mixed with a lot of inert ingredients. Theirs is oxygen, heavily laced with flourin. It’s reactive, no fooling! However, something pretty violent must be necessary to carry on body reactions at such a temperature as theirs.”

“Probably; but I know even less about that kind of thing than you do. Funny, isn’t it, the way he thinks ‘water’ when he means ice, and always thinks of our real water as being molten?”

“Reasonable enough when you think about it. Temperature differences are logarithmic, you know, not arithmetic--the effective difference between his body temperature and ours is perhaps even greater than that between ours and that of melted iron. We never think of iron as being a liquid, you know.”

“That’s right, too. Well, good night, Steve dear.”

“‘Bye, little queen of space--see you at breakfast,” and the Forlorn Hope became dark and silent.

Day after day the brilliant sphere flew toward distant Saturn, with the wreckage of the Forlorn Hope in tow. Piece by piece that wreckage was brought together and held in place by the Titanian tractors; and slowly but steadily, under Stevens’ terrific welding projector, the stubborn steel flowed together, once more to become a seamless, spaceworthy structure. And Nadia, the electrician, followed close behind the welder. Wielding torch, pliers and spanner with practised hand, she repaired or cut out of circuit the damaged accumulator cells and reunited the ends of each severed power lead. Understanding Nadia’s work thoroughly, the Titanians were not particularly interested in it; but whenever Stevens made his way along an outside seam, he had a large and thrillingly horrified gallery. Everyone who could possibly secure permission to leave the sphere did so, each upon his own pencil of force, and went over to watch the welder. They did not come close to him--to venture within fifty feet of that slow moving spot of scintillating brilliance, even in a space-suit, meant death--but, poised around him in space, they watched with shuddering, incredulous amazement, the monstrous human being in whose veins ran molten water instead of blood; whose body was already so fiercely hot that it could exist unharmed while working practically without protection, upon liquefied metal!

Finally the welding was done. The insulating space was evacuated and held its vacuum--outer and inner shells were bottle-tight. The two mechanics heaved deep sighs of relief as they discarded their cumbersome armor and began to repair what few of their machine tools had been damaged by the slashing plane of force which had so neatly sliced the Forlorn Hope into sections.

“Say, big fellow, you’re the guy that slings the ink, ain’t you?” Nadia extinguished her torch and swaggered up to Stevens, hands on hips, her walk an exaggerated roll. “Write me out a long walk. This job’s all played out, so I think I’ll get me a good job on Titan. I said give me my time, you big stiff!”

“You didn’t say nothing!” growled Stevens in his deepest bass, playing up to her lead as he always did. “Bounce back, cub, you’ve struck a rubber fence! You signed on for duration and you’ll stick--see?”

Arm in arm they went over to the nearest communicator plate. Flipping the switch, Stevens turned the dial and Titan shone upon the screen; so close, that it no longer resembled a moon, but was a world toward which they were falling with an immense velocity.

“Not close enough to make out much detail yet--let’s take another look at Saturn,” and Stevens projected the visiray beam out toward the mighty planet. It was now an enormous full moon, almost five degrees in apparent diameter, [1] its visible surface an expanse of what they knew to be billowing cloud, shining brilliantly white in the pale sunlight, broken only by a dark equatorial band.

[Footnote 1: The moon subtends an angle of about one-half of a degree.]

“Those rings were such a gorgeous spectacle a little while ago!” Nadia mourned. “It’s a shame that Titan has to be right in their plane, isn’t it? Think of living this close to one of the most wonderful sights in the Solar System, and never being able to see it. Think they know what they’re missing, Steve?”

“We’ll have to ask Barkovis,” Stevens replied. He swung the communicator beam back toward Titan, and Nadia shuddered.

“Oh, it’s hideous!” she exclaimed. “I thought that it would improve as we got closer, but the plainer we can see it, the worse it gets. Just to think of human beings, even such cold-blooded ones as those over there, living upon such a horrible moon and liking it, gives me the blue shivers!”

“It’s pretty bleak, no fooling,” he admitted, and peered through the eyepiece of the visiray telescope, studying minutely the forbidding surface of the satellite they were so rapidly approaching.

Larger and larger it loomed, a cratered, jagged globe of desolation indescribable; of sheer, bitter cold incarnate and palpable; of stark, sharp contrasts. Gigantic craters, in whose yawning depths no spark of warmth had been generated for countless cycles of time, were surrounded by vast plains eroded to the dead level of a windless sea. Every lofty object cast a sharply outlined shade of impenetrable blackness, beside which the weak light of the sun became a dazzling glare. The ground was either a brilliant white or an intense black, unrelieved by half-tones.

“I can’t hand it much, either, Nadia, but it’s all in the way you’ve been brought up, you know. This is home to them, and just to look at Tellus would give them the pip. Ha! Here’s something you’ll like, even if it does look so cold that it makes me feel like hugging a couple of heater coils. It’s Barkovis’ city the one we’re heading for, I think. It’s close enough now so that we can get it on the plate,” and he set the communicator beam upon the metropolis of Titan.

“Why, I don’t see a thing, Steve--where and what is it?” They were dropping vertically downward toward the center of a vast plain of white, featureless and desolate; and Nadia stared in disappointment.

“You’ll see directly--it’s too good to spoil by telling you what to look for or wh...”

“Oh, there it is!” she cried. “It is beautiful, Steve, but how frightfully, utterly cold!”

A flash of prismatic color had caught the girl’s eye, and, one transparent structure thus revealed to her sight, there had burst into view a city of crystal. Low buildings of hexagonal shape, arranged in irregularly variant hexagonal patterns, extended mile upon mile. From the roofs of the structures lacy spires soared heavenward; inter-connected by long, slim cantilever bridges whose prodigious spans seemed out of all proportion to the gossamer delicacy of their construction. Buildings, spires, and bridges formed fantastic geometrical designs, at which Nadia exclaimed in delight.

“I’ve just thought of what that reminds me of--it’s snowflakes!”

“Sure--I knew it was something familiar. Snowflakes--no two are ever exactly alike, and yet every one is symmetrical and hexagonal. We’re going to land on the public square--see the crowds? Let’s put on our suits and go out.”

The Forlorn Hope lay in a hexagonal park, and near it the Titanian globe had also come to rest. All about the little plot towered the glittering buildings of crystal, and in its center played a fountain; a series of clear and sparkling cascades of liquid jewels. Under foot there spread a thick, soft carpet of whitely brilliant vegetation. Throngs of the grotesque citizens of Titania were massed to greet the space-ships; throngs clustering close about the globular vessel, but maintaining a respectful distance from the fiercely radiant Terrestrial wedge. All were shouting greetings and congratulations--shouts which Stevens found as intelligible as his own native tongue.

“Why, I can understand every word they say, Steve!” Nadia exclaimed, in surprise. “How come, do you suppose?”

“I can, too. Don’t know--must be from using that thought telephone of theirs so much, I guess. Here comes Barkovis--I’ll ask him.”

The Titanian commander had been in earnest conversation with a group of fellow-creatures and was now walking toward the Terrestrials, carrying the multiple headsets. Placing them upon the white sward, he backed away, motioning the two visitors to pick them up.

“It may not be necessary, Barkovis,” Stevens said, slowly and clearly. “We do not know why, but we can understand what your people are saying, and it may be that you can now understand us.”

“Oh, yes, I can understand your English perfectly. A surprising development, but perhaps, after all, one that should have been expected, from the very nature of the device we have been using. I wanted to tell you that I have just received grave news, which makes it impossible for us to help you immediately, as I promised. While we were gone, one of our two power-plants upon Saturn failed. In consequence, Titan’s power has been cut to a minimum, since maintaining our beam at that great distance required a large fraction of the output of the other plant. Because of this lack, the Sedlor walls were weakened to such a point that in spite of the Guardian’s assurances, I think trouble is inevitable. At all events, it is of the utmost importance that we begin repairing the damaged unit, for that is to be a task indeed.”

“Yes, it will take time,” agreed Stevens, remembering what the Titanian captain had told him concerning the construction of those plants--generators which had been in continuous and automatic operation for thousands of Saturnian years.

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