Operation: Outer Space
Chapter 2

Public Domain

Cochrane stood when the stewardess’ voice authorized the action. With sardonic docility he unfastened his safety-belt and stepped out into the spiral, descending aisle. It seemed strange to have weight again, even as little as this. Cochrane weighed, on the moon, just one-sixth of what he would weigh on Earth. Here he would tip a spring-scale at just about twenty-seven pounds. By flexing his toes, he could jump. Absurdly, he did. And he rose very slowly, and hovered--feeling singularly foolish--and descended with a vast deliberation. He landed on the ramp again feeling absurd indeed. He saw Babs grinning at him.

“I think,” said Cochrane, “I’ll have to take up toe-dancing.”

She laughed. Then there were clankings, and something fastened itself outside, and after a moment the entrance-door of the moonship opened.

They went down the ramp to board the moon-jeep, holding onto the hand-rail and helping each other. The tourist giggled foolishly. They went out the thick doorway and found themselves in an enclosure very much like the interior of a rather small submarine. But it did have shielded windows--ports--and Babs instantly pulled herself into a seat beside one and feasted her eyes. She saw the jagged peaks nearby and the crenelated ring-mountain wall, miles off to one side, and the smooth frozen lava of the “sea.” Across that dusty surface the horizon was remarkably near, and Cochrane remembered vaguely that the moon was only one-fourth the size of Earth, so its horizon would naturally be nearer. He glanced at the stars that shone even through the glass that denatured the sunshine. And then he looked for Holden.

The psychiatrist looked puffy and sleepy and haggard and disheveled. When a person does have space-sickness, even a little weight relieves the symptoms, but the consequences last for days.

“Don’t worry!” he said sourly when he saw Cochrane’s eyes upon him. “I won’t waste any time! I’ll find my man and get to work at once. Just let me get back to Earth...”

There were more clankings--the jeep-bus sealing off from the rocket. Then the vehicle stirred. The landscape outside began to move.

They saw Lunar City as they approached it. It was five giant dust-heaps, from five hundred-odd feet in height down to three. There were airlocks at their bases and dust-covered tunnels connecting them, and radar-bowls about their sides. But they were dust-heaps. Which was completely reasonable. There is no air on the moon. By day the sun shines down with absolute ferocity. It heats everything as with a furnace-flame. At night all heat radiates away to empty space, and the ground-temperature drops well below that of liquid air. So Lunar City was a group of domes which were essentially half-balloons--hemispheres of plastic brought from Earth and inflated and covered with dust. With airlocks to permit entrance and exit, they were inhabitable. They needed no framework to support them because there were no stormwinds or earthquakes to put stresses on them. They needed neither heating nor cooling equipment. They were buried under forty feet of moon-dust, with vacuum between the dust-grains. Lunar City was not beautiful, but human beings could live in it.

The jeep-bus carried them a bare half mile, and they alighted inside a lock, and another door and another opened and closed, and they emerged into a scene which no amount of television film-tape could really portray.

The main dome was a thousand feet across and half as high. There were green plants growing in tubs and pots. And the air was fresh! It smelled strange. There could be no vegetation on the rocket and it seemed new and blissful to breathe really freshened air after days of the canned variety. But this freshness made Cochrane realize that he’d feel better for a bath.

He took a shower in his hotel room. The room was very much like one on Earth, except that it had no windows. But the shower was strange. The sprays were tiny. Cochrane felt as if he were being sprayed by atomizers rather than shower-nozzles until he noticed that water ran off him very slowly and realized that a normal shower would have been overwhelming. He scooped up a handful of water and let it drop. It took a full second to fall two and a half feet.

It was unsettling, but fresh clothing from his waiting baggage made him feel better. He went to the lounge of the hotel, and it was not a lounge, and the hotel was not a hotel. Everything in the dome was indoors in the sense that it was under a globular ceiling fifty stories high. But everything was also out-doors in the sense of bright light and growing trees and bushes and shrubs.

He found Babs freshly garmented and waiting for him. She said in businesslike tones:

“Mr. Cochrane, I asked at the desk. Doctor Holden has gone to consult Mr. Dabney. He asked that we stay within call. I’ve sent word to Mr. West and Mr. Jamison and Mr. Bell.”

Cochrane approved of her secretarial efficiency.

“Then we’ll sit somewhere and wait. Since this isn’t an office, we’ll find some refreshment.”

They asked for a table and got one near the swimming pool. And Babs wore her office manner, all crispness and business, until they were seated. But this swimming pool was not like a pool on Earth. The water was deeply sunk beneath the pool’s rim, and great waves surged back and forth. The swimmers--.

Babs gasped. A man stood on a board quite thirty feet above the water. He prepared to dive.

“That’s Johnny Simms!” she said, awed.

“Who’s he?”

“The playboy,” said Babs, staring. “He’s a psychopathic personality and his family has millions. They keep him up here out of trouble. He’s married.”

“Too bad--if he has millions,” said Cochrane.

“I wouldn’t marry a man with a psychopathic personality!” protested Babs.

“Keep away from people in the advertising business, then,” Cochrane told her.

Johnny Simms did not jounce up and down on the diving board to start. He simply leaped upward, and went ceilingward for easily fifteen feet, and hung stationary for a full breath, and then began to descend in literal slow motion. He fell only two and a half feet the first second, and five feet more the one after, and twelve and a half after that ... It took him over four seconds to drop forty-five feet into the water, and the splash that arose when he struck the surface rose four yards and subsided with a lunatic deliberation.

Watching, Babs could not keep her businesslike demeanor. She was bursting with the joyous knowledge that she was on the moon, seeing the impossible and looking at fame.

They sipped at drinks--but the liquid rose much too swiftly in the straws--and Cochrane reflected that the drink in Babs’ glass would cost Dabney’s father-in-law as much as Babs earned in a week back home, and his own was costing no less.

Presently a written note came from Holden:

Jed: send West and Jamison right away to Dabney’s lunar laboratory to get details of discovery from man named Jones. Get moon-jeep and driver from hotel. I will want you in an hour.--Bill.

“I’ll be back,” said Cochrane. “Wait.”

He left the table and found West and Jamison in Bell’s room, all three in conference over a bottle. West and Jamison were Cochrane’s scientific team for the yet unformulated task he was to perform. West was the popularizing specialist. He could make a television audience believe that it understood all the seven dimensions required for some branches of wave-mechanics theory. His explanation did not stick, of course. One didn’t remember them. But they were singularly convincing in cultural episodes on television productions. Jamison was the prophecy expert. He could extrapolate anything into anything else, and make you believe that a one-week drop in the birthdate on Kamchatka was the beginning of a trend that would leave the Earth depopulated in exactly four hundred and seventy-three years. They were good men for a television producer to have on call. Now, instructed, they went out to be briefed by somebody who undoubtedly knew more than both of them put together, but whom they would regard with tolerant suspicion.

Bell, left behind, said cagily:

“This script I’ve got to do, now--Will that laboratory be the set? Where is it? In the dome?”

“It’s not in the dome,” Cochrane told him. “West and Jamison took a moon-jeep to get to it. I don’t know what the set will be. I don’t know anything, yet. I’m waiting to be told about the job, myself.”

“If I’ve got to cook up a story-line,” observed Bell, “I have to know the set. Who’ll act? You know how amateurs can ham up any script! How about a part for Babs? Nice kid!”

Cochrane found himself annoyed, without knowing why.

“We just have to wait until we know what our job is,” he said curtly, and turned to go.

Bell said:

“One more thing. If you’re planning to use a news cameraman up here--don’t! I used to be a cameraman before I got crazy and started to write. Let me do the camera-work. I’ve got a better idea of using a camera to tell a story now, than--”

“Hold it,” said Cochrane. “We’re not up here to film-tape a show. Our job is psychiatry--craziness.”

To a self-respecting producer, a psychiatric production would seem craziness. A script-writer might have trouble writing out a psychiatrist’s prescription, or he might not. But producing it would be out of all rationality! No camera, the patient would be the star, and most lines would be ad libbed. Cochrane viewed such a production with extreme distaste. But of course, if a man wanted only to be famous, it might be handled as a straight public-relations job. In any case, though, it would amount to flattery in three dimensions and Cochrane would rather have no part in it. But he had to arrange the whole thing.

He went back to the table and rejoined Babs. She confided that she’d been talking to Johnny Simms’ wife. She was nice! But homesick. Cochrane sat down and thought morbid thoughts. Then he realized that he was irritated because Babs didn’t notice. He finished his drink and ordered another.

Half an hour later, Holden found them. He had in tow a sad-looking youngish man with a remarkably narrow forehead and an expression of deep anxiety. Cochrane winced. A neurotic type if there ever was one!

“Jed,” said Holden heartily, “here’s Mr. Dabney. Mr. Dabney, Jed Cochrane is here as a specialist in public-relations set-ups. He’ll take charge of this affair. Your father-in-law sent him up here to see that you are done justice to!”

Dabney seemed to think earnestly before he spoke.

“It is not for myself,” he explained in an anxious tone. “It is my work! That is important! After all, this is a fundamental scientific discovery! But nobody pays any attention! It is extremely important! Extremely! Science itself is held back by the lack of attention paid to my discovery!”

“Which,” Holden assured him, “is about to be changed. It’s a matter of public relations. Jed’s a specialist. He’ll take over.”

The sad-faced young man held up his hand for attention. He thought. Visibly. Then he said worriedly:

“I would take you over to my laboratory, but I promised my wife I would call her in half an hour from now. Johnny Simms’ wife just reminded me. My wife is back on Earth. So you will have to go to the laboratory without me and have Mr. Jones show you the proof of my work. A very intelligent man, Jones--in a subordinate way, of course. Yes. I will get you a jeep and you can go there at once, and when you come back you can tell me what you plan. But you understand that it is not for myself that I want credit! It is my discovery! It is terribly important! It is vital! It must not be overlooked!”

Holden escorted him away, while Cochrane carefully controlled his features. After a few moments Holden came back, his face sagging.

“This your drink, Jed?” he asked dispiritedly. “I need it!” He picked up the glass and emptied it. “The history of that case would be interesting, if one could really get to the bottom of it! Come along!” His tone was dreariness itself. “I’ve got a jeep waiting for us.”

Babs stood up, her eyes shining.

“May I come, Mr. Cochrane?”

Cochrane waved her along. Holden tried to stalk gloomily, but nobody can stalk in one-sixth gravity. He reeled, and then depressedly accommodated himself to conditions on the moon.

There was an airlock with a smaller edition of the moon-jeep that had brought them from the ship to the city. It was a brightly-polished metal body, raised some ten feet off the ground on outrageously large wheels. It was very similar to the straddle-trucks used in lumberyards on Earth. It would straddle boulders in its path. It could go anywhere in spite of dust and detritus, and its metal body was air-tight and held air for breathing, even out on the moon’s surface.

They climbed in. There was the sound of pumping, which grew fainter. The outer lock-door opened. The moon-jeep rolled outside.

Babs stared with passionate rapture out of a shielded port. There were impossibly jagged stones, preposterously steep cliffs. There had been no weather to remove the sharp edge of anything in a hundred million years. The awkward-seeming vehicle trundled over the lava sea toward the rampart of mighty mountains towering over Lunar City. It reached a steep ascent. It climbed. And the way was remarkably rough and the vehicle springless, but it was nevertheless a cushioned ride. A bump cannot be harsh in light gravity. The vehicle rode as if on wings.

“All right,” said Cochrane. “Tell me the worst. What’s the trouble with him? Is he the result of six generations of keeping the money in the family? Or is he a freak?”

Holden groaned a little.

“He’s practically a stock model of a rich young man without brains enough for a job in the family firm, and too much money for anything else. Fortunately for his family, he didn’t react like Johnny Simms--though they’re good friends. A hundred years ago, Dabney’d have gone in for the arts. But it’s hard to fool yourself that way now. Fifty years ago he’d have gone in for left-wing sociology. But we really are doing the best that can be done with too many people and not enough world. So he went in for science. It’s non-competitive. Incapacity doesn’t show up. But he has stumbled on something. It sounds really important. It must have been an accident! The only trouble is that it doesn’t mean a thing! Yet because he’s accomplished more than he ever expected to, he’s frustrated because it’s not appreciated! What a joke!”

Cochrane said cynically:

“You paint a dark picture, Bill. Are you trying to make this thing into a challenge?”

“You can’t make a man famous for discovering something that doesn’t matter,” said Holden hopelessly. “And this is that!”

“Nothing’s impossible to public relations if you spend enough money,” Cochrane assured him. “What’s this useless triumph of his?”

The jeep bounced over a small cliff and fell gently for half a second and rolled on. Babs beamed.

“He’s found,” said Holden discouragedly, “a way to send messages faster than light. It’s a detour around Einstein’s stuff--not denying it, but evading it. Right now it takes not quite two seconds for a message to go from the moon to Earth. That’s at the speed of light. Dabney has proof--we’ll see it--that he can cut that down some ninety-five per cent. Only it can’t be used for Earth-moon communication, because both ends have to be in a vacuum. It could be used to the space platform, but--what’s the difference? It’s a real discovery for which there’s no possible use. There’s no place to send messages to!”

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