Operation: Outer Space
Chapter 3

Public Domain

It is a matter of record that the American continents were discovered because ice-boxes were unknown in the fifteenth century. There being no refrigeration, meat did not keep. But meat was not too easy to come by, so it had to be eaten, even when it stank. Therefore it was a noble enterprise, and to the glory of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, to put up the financial backing for even a crackpot who might get spices cheaper and thereby make the consumption of slightly spoiled meat less unpleasant. Which was why Columbus got three ships and crews of jailbirds for them from a government still busy trying to drive the Moors out of the last corner of Spain.

This was a precedent for the matter on hand now. Cochrane happened to know the details about Columbus because he’d checked over the research when he did a show on the Dikkipatti Hour dealing with him. There were more precedents. The elaborate bargain by which Columbus was to be made hereditary High Admiral of the Western Oceans, with a bite of all revenue obtained by the passage he was to discover--he had to hold out for such terms to make the package he was selling look attractive. Nobody buys anything that is underpriced too much. It looks phoney. So Cochrane made his preliminaries rather more impressive than they need have been from a strictly practical point of view, in order to make the enterprise practical from a financial aspect.

There was another precedent he did not intend to follow. Columbus did not know where he was going when he set sail, he did not know where he was when he arrived at the end of his voyage, and he didn’t know where he’d been when he got back. Cochrane expected to improve on the achievement of the earlier explorer’s doings in these respects.

He commandeered the legal department of Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins, and Fallowe to set up the enterprise with strict legality and discretion. There came into being a corporation called “Spaceways, Inc.” which could not possibly be considered phoney from any inspection of its charter. Expert legal advice arranged that its actual stock-holders should appear to be untraceable. Deft manipulation contrived that though its stock was legally vested in Cochrane and Holden and Jones--Cochrane negligently threw in Jones as a convenient name to use--and they were officially the owners of nearly all the stock, nobody who checked up would believe they were anything but dummies. Stockholdings in West’s, and Jamison’s and Bell’s names would look like smaller holdings held for other than the main entrepreneurs. But these stock-holders were not only the legal owners of record--they were the true owners. Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe wanted no actual part of Spaceways. They considered the enterprise merely a psychiatric treatment for a neurotic son-in-law. Which, of course, it was. So Spaceways, Inc., quite honestly and validly belonged to the people who would cure Dabney of his frustration--and nobody at all believed that it would ever do anything else. Not anybody but those six owners, anyhow. And as it turned out, not all of them.

The psychiatric treatment began with an innocent-seeming news-item from Lunar City saying that Dabney, the so-and-so scientist, had consented to act as consulting physicist to Spaceways, Inc., for the practical application of his recent discovery of a way to send messages faster than light.

This was news simply because it came from the moon. It got fairly wide distribution, but no emphasis.

Then the publicity campaign broke. On orders from Cochrane, Jamison the extrapolating genius got slightly plastered, in company with the two news-association reporters in Lunar City. He confided that Spaceways, Inc., had been organized and was backed to develop the Dabney faster-than-light-signalling field into a faster-than-light-travel field. The news men pumped him of all his extrapolations. Cynically, they checked to see who might be preparing to unload stock. They found no preparations for stock-sales. No registration of the company for raising funds. It wasn’t going to the public for money. It wasn’t selling anybody anything. Then Cochrane refused to see any reporters at all, everybody connected with the enterprise shut up tighter than a clam, and Jamison vanished into a hotel room where he was kept occupied with beverages and food at Dabney’s father-in-law’s expense. None of this was standard for a phoney promotion deal.

The news story exploded. Let loose on an overcrowded planet which had lost all hope of relief after fifty years in which only the moon had been colonized--and its colony had a population in the hundreds, only--the idea of faster-than-light travel was the one impossible dream that everybody wanted to believe in. The story spread in a manner that could only be described as chain-reaction in character. And of course Dabney--as the scientist responsible for the new hope--became known to all peoples.

The experts of Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe checked on the publicity given to Dabney. Strict advertising agency accounting figured that to date the cost-per-customer-mention of Dabney and his discovery were the lowest in the history of advertising. Surveys disclosed that within three Earth-days less than 3.5 of every hundred interviews questioned were completely ignorant of Dabney and the prospect of travel to the stars through his discovery. More people knew Dabney’s name than knew the name of the President of the United States!

That was only the beginning. The leading popular-science show jumped eight points in audience-rating. It actually reached top-twenty rating when it assigned a regular five-minute period to the Dabney Field and its possibilities in human terms. On the sixth day after Jamison’s calculated indiscretion, the public consciousness was literally saturated with the idea of faster-than-light transportation. Dabney was mentioned in every interview of every stuffed shirt, he was referred to on every comedy show (three separate jokes had been invented, which were developed into one thousand eight hundred switcheroos, most of them only imperceptibly different from the original trio) and even Marilyn Winters--Little Aphrodite Herself--was demanding a faster-than-light-travel sequence in her next television show.

On the seventh day Bill Holden came into the office where Cochrane worked feverishly.

“Doctor Cochrane,” said Holden, “a word with you!”

“Doctor?” asked Cochrane.

“Doctor!” repeated Holden. “I’ve just been interviewing my patient. You’re good. My patient is adjusted.”

Cochrane raised his eyebrows.

“He’s famous,” said Holden grimly. “He now considers that everybody in the world knows that he is a great scientist. He is appreciated. He is happily making plans to go back to Earth and address a few learned societies and let people admire him. He can now spend the rest of his life being the man who discovered the principle by which faster-than-light-travel will some day be achieved. Even when the furor dies down, he will have been a great man--and he will stay a great man in his own estimation. In short, he’s cured.”

Cochrane grinned.

“Then I’m fired?”

“We are,” said Holden. “There are professional ethics even among psychiatrists, Jed. I have to admit that the guy now has a permanent adjustment to reality. He has been recognized as a great scientist. He is no longer frustrated.”

Cochrane leaned back in his chair.

“That may be good medical ethics,” he observed, “but it’s lousy business practice, Bill. You say he’s adjusted to reality. That means that he will now have a socially acceptable reaction to anything that’s likely to happen to him.”

Holden nodded.

“A well-adjusted person does. Dabney’s the same person. He’s the same fool. But he’ll get along all right. A psychiatrist can’t change a personality! All he can do is make it adjust to the world about so the guy doesn’t have to be tucked away in a straight-jacket. In that sense, Dabney is adjusted.”

“You’ve played a dirty trick on him,” said Cochrane. “You’ve stabilized him, and that’s the rottenest trick anybody can play on anybody! You’ve put him into a sort of moral deep-freeze. It’s a dirty trick, Bill!”

“Look who’s talking!” said Holden wearily. “I suppose the advertising business is altruistic and unmercenary?”

“The devil, no!” said Cochrane indignantly. “We serve a useful purpose! We tell people that they smell bad, and so give them an alibi for the unpopularity their stupidity has produced. But then we tell them to use so-and-so’s breath sweetener or whosit’s non-immunizing deodorant they’ll immediately become the life of every party they attend! It’s a lie, of course, but it’s a dynamic lie! It gives the frustrated individual something to do! It sells him hope and therefore activity--and inactivity is a sort of death!”

Holden looked at Cochrane with a dreary disinterest.

“You’re adjusted, Jed! But do you really believe that stuff?”

Cochrane grinned again.

“Only on Tuesdays and Fridays. It’s about two-sevenths true. But it does have that much truth in it! Nobody ever gets anything done while they merely make socially acceptable responses to the things that happen to them! Take Dabney himself! We’ve got a hell of a thing coming along now just because he wouldn’t make the socially acceptable response to having a rich wife and no brains. He rebelled. So mankind will start moving to the stars!”

“You still believe it?”

Cochrane grimaced.

“Yesterday morning I sweated blood in a space-suit out in the crater beyond Jones’ laboratory. He tried his trick. He had a small signal-rocket mounted on the far side of that crater, --twenty-some miles. It was in front of the field-plate that established the Dabney field across the crater to another plate near us. Jones turned on the field. He ignited the rocket by remote control. I was watching with a telescope. I gave him the word to fire ... How long do you think it took that rocket to cross the crater in that field that works like a pipe? It smashed into the plate at the lab!”

Holden shook his head.

“It took slightly,” said Cochrane, “slightly under three-fifths of a second.”

Holden blinked. Cochrane said:

“A signal-rocket has an acceleration of about six hundred feet per second, level flight, no gravity component, mass acceleration only. It should have taken a hundred seconds plus to cross that crater--over twenty miles. It shouldn’t have stayed on course. It did stay on course, inside the field. It did take under three-fifths of a second. The gadget works!”

Holden drew a deep breath.

“So now you need more money and you want me not to discharge my patient as cured.”

“Not a bit of it!” snapped Cochrane. “I don’t want him as a patient! I’m only willing to accept him as a customer! But if he wants fame, I’ll sell it to him. Not as something to lean his fragile psyche on, but something to wallow in! Do you think he could ever get too famous for his own satisfaction?”

“Of course not,” said Holden. “He’s the same fool.”

“Then we’re in business,” Cochrane told him. “Not that I couldn’t peddle my fish elsewhere. I’m going to! But I’ll give him old-customer preference. I’ll want him out at the distress-torp tests this afternoon. They’ll be public.”

“This afternoon?” asked Holden. “Distress-torp?”

A lunar day is two Earth-weeks-long. A lunar night is equally long-drawn-out. Cochrane said impatiently:

“I got out of bed four hours ago. To me that’s morning. I’ll eat lunch in an hour. That’s noon. Say, three hours from now, whatever o’clock it is lunar time.”

Holden glanced at his watch and made computations. He said:

“That’ll be half-past two hundred and three o’clock, if you’re curious. But what’s a distress-torp?”

“Shoo!” said Cochrane. “I’ll send Babs to find you and load you on the jeep. You’ll see then. Now I’m busy!”

Holden shrugged and went away, and Cochrane stared at his own watch. Since a lunar day and night together fill twenty-eight Earth days of time, a strictly lunar “day” contains nearly three hundred forty Earth-hours. To call one-twelfth of that period an hour would be an affectation. To call each twenty-four Earth hours a day would have been absurd. So the actual period of the moon’s rotation was divided into familiar time-intervals, and a bulletin-board in the hotel lobby in Lunar City notified those interested that: “Sunday will be from 143 o’clock to 167 o’clock A.M.“ There would be another Sunday some time during the lunar afternoon.

Cochrane debated momentarily whether this information could be used in the publicity campaign of Spaceways, Inc. Strictly speaking, there was some slight obligation to throw extra fame Dabney’s way regardless, because the corporation had been formed as a public-relations device. Any other features, such as changing the history of the human race, were technically incidental. But Cochrane put his watch away. To talk about horology on the moon wouldn’t add to Dabney’s stature as a phoney scientist. It didn’t matter.

He went back to the business at hand. Some two years before there had been a fake corporation organized strictly for the benefit of its promoters. It had built a rocket-ship ostensibly for the establishment of a colony on Mars. The ship had managed to stagger up to Luna, but no farther. Its promoters had sold stock on the promise that a ship that could barely reach Luna could take off from that small globe with six times as much fuel as it could lift off of Earth. Which was true. Investors put in their money on that verifiable fact. But the truth happened to be, of course, that it would still take an impossible amount of fuel to accelerate the ship--so heavily loaded--to a speed where it would reach Mars in one human lifetime. Taking off from Luna would solve only the problem of gravity. It wouldn’t do a thing about inertia. So the ship never rose from its landing near Lunar City. The corporation that had built it went profitably bankrupt.

Cochrane had been working feverishly to find out who owned that ship now. Just before the torp-test he’d mentioned, he found that the ship belonged to the hotel desk-clerk, who had bought it in hope of renting it sooner or later for television background-shots in case anybody was crazy enough to make a television film-tape on the moon. He was now discouraged. Cochrane chartered it, putting up a bond to return it undamaged. If the ship was lost, the hotel-clerk would get back his investment--about a week’s pay.

So Cochrane had a space-ship practically in his pocket when the public demonstration of the Dabney field came off at half-past 203 o’clock.

The site of the demonstration was the shadowed, pitch-dark part of the floor of a crater twenty miles across, with walls some ten thousand jagged feet high. The furnace-like sunshine made the plain beyond the shadow into a sea of blinding brightness. The sunlit parts of the crater’s walls were no less terribly glaring. But above the edge of the cliffs the stars began; infinitely small and many-colored, with innumerable degrees of brightness. The Earth hung in mid-sky like a swollen green apple, monstrous in size. And the figures which moved about the scene of the test could be seen only faintly by reflected light from the lava plain, because one’s eyes had to be adjusted to the white-hot moon-dust on the plain and mountains.

There were not many persons present. Three jeeps waited in the semi-darkness, out of the burning sunshine. There were no more than a dozen moon-suited individuals to watch and to perform the test of the Dabney field. Cochrane had scrupulously edited all fore-news of the experiment to give Dabney the credit he had paid for. There were present, then, the party from Earth--Cochrane and Babs and Holden, with the two tame scientists and Bell the writer--and the only two reporters on the moon. Only news syndicates could stand the expense-account of a field man in Lunar City. And then there were Jones and Dabney and two other figures apparently brought by Dabney.

There was, of course, no sound at all on the moon itself. There was no air to carry it. But from each plastic helmet a six-inch antenna projected straight upward, and the microwaves of suit-talkies made a jumble of slightly metallic sounds in the headphones of each suit.

As soon as Cochrane got out of the jeep’s air-lock and was recognized, Dabney said agitatedly:

 
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