Wanted-7 Fearless Engineers! - Cover

Wanted-7 Fearless Engineers!

Public Domain

Chapter VI: An Engineer's Mettle

In the morning the earthmen were called together. They came with smiling faces, which slowly changed to apprehension.

There were many suggestions in as many minutes, but none that gave a possibility of accomplishing the impossible. They had to stretch the fuel--without visible means of stretching it!

The women believed the meeting was a routine course in mechanics, and went on enjoying their entertainment. The men explained they were bothered by a knotty question about the machinery to account for their worried concentration. It would have been a terrible handicap if the women discovered the truth.

Three lix passed with little change. The fuel had been cut down for a while, but the ship didn’t hold its course. Every tube had been fired to hold the direct route for Jupiter. They were constantly cutting into the meager supply that remained--and had to overcome the deficiency!

Due to the slight conservation of fuel the ship had been operating far below efficiency, and the cold of space began to seep through the walls. This affected the dome people more than the earthmen, and they suffered torture. Any change in temperature was unknown to them, they were chilled at a few degrees below normal heat.

Suddenly, during dinner on the third evening, Peter Yarbro jumped up from the table. The other men fastened eager eyes on his face, while the women watched in amazement.

He started to speak, then remembered the women, sat down quietly. “I--I think I’ve found the answer--to our problem! If you will join me in the hold, when we finish eating, I would like to talk it over with you.”

Mrs. Yarbro was even more amazed. “Peter! I’m surprised at you. Jumping up from the table so excited, just because you happened to think of the answer to a problem! You ought to be ashamed.”

In spite of his worries Dick lowered his head to hide the smile. If only Peter’s wife knew what that problem was, she might not think it so strange.

Hardly a man touched his food, and as soon as they were out of earshot of the women, he spoke what was in his mind. The crew heard him at the table and many of them gathered to listen. For the first time in their lives they were worried. Their lives depended on the earthmen before they even reached their planet.

Yarbro hesitated. “I’m not so sure now, that I have found the answer. When it came to me, I thought it was simple, but now it seems more like a dream.

“Since knowing that the fuel was low I’ve racked my brain for something that might be used--and it had to be on the ship. Every other man was looking for a mechanical answer, and my efforts would be of little use. So I’ve searched for a chemical.

“Water is the only liquid in any quantity. I discarded it so many times that it left a headache, but my search always came back to the same place. It’s the only thing we’ve got.

“All other liquids are in too small amounts, even if they could be used, and the ship is equipped only for chemical fuel--in liquid form!

“At dinner when I became so excited, I thought that water would do the trick. Now I don’t know. It has oxygen in large amounts, which is vitally needed, but that’s the only advantage.

“Even if we dared try, it might injure the tubes. Still I believe it’s the only chance of salvation. It’s the one substance on board, in any large quantity. What do you think?”

There wasn’t a sound as the minutes passed. Each man searched frantically for the slightest hope; searched for the one chance in a thousand!

Dick finally broke the silence. “What is your plan, Peter? You must have thought of something?”

“No, that’s just the trouble. I thought that water might mix with the fuel, even fire with it. It was only a brain storm I’m afraid.”

After a moment Dick spoke again. “It can’t be! Since there is no other substance--we must use water! There has to be a way--and we’ve got to find it! We might as well use up the water and die of thirst, as to drift around in space until we starve to death, or die in the dive at Jupiter.”

Twice Mrs. Martin came down the ramp to take her husband to bed, but Dick sent her away. The men would stay there until they had found a solution--they had to! The fuel was fast disappearing!

Morquil still sat in the background. The other men from Jupiter had gone to their quarters. He could offer no suggestion, but listened carefully to every word they spoke. Finally he stood up.

“I hope that you can forgive me. In the last three lixs I have regretted that I ever saw your earth. It were better that my people die, than for us to carry people from a happy planet to die in space--because of our stupidity. We are no better than children without cares or worries. The men of the crew realized the risk, before they left the domes--but it is not your fault!”

“Aw, sit down you big-headed numbskull!” McCarthy’s voice boomed out. “We don’t blame you! We’ll find some way to run this crate, and get there in one piece. You just made us go to work before we expected. Why! A problem like this is simple on earth--they’d solve it in no time! You just go to bed and stop worrying. We’ll have everything fixed by morning.”

Morquil’s expression changed slightly, and he almost smiled. He started for the ramp as if taking the words literally, but half way up he faced the little gathering again. “Thank you, John. But I haven’t forgotten that you were a famous liar in your home town--and you haven’t lost your ability. Thank you anyway, you’re very kind.”

When McCarthy turned toward the others, he looked rather sheepish. But the forced smiles he received made him feel a lot better.

Hours passed, while each man told everything he had known about water. At last Dick stood up. “We’ve covered every possible reaction, and many that are seemingly impossible, but have overlooked one very vital point that will either help or hinder greatly.

“The fuel is subjected to terrific pressure. Naturally, any water that was used would receive the same treatment. In the compression chamber the pressure rises very fast, which must develop high temperature. The result is that we would not have water--we’d have steam! It would be almost dry steam!

“Water in the liquid form couldn’t discharge oxygen fast enough to affect the fuel, but as steam it might. There is a good chance that steam may even increase the explosive power to a point that we can’t even imagine. There’s only one way to find out--try it!

“Every man here will admit that John has the most practical mechanical brain. It will be his job to find a means of injecting the water in the proper amounts. The rest of us can try to find any kinks in the system that he suggests. He knows every piece of equipment on board, and can pick whatever is best suited for the purpose.”

As Dick sat down, John got to his feet. “This is one time that I’m ahead of you. While you’ve been talking I’ve been planning a way to do just that. There’s an extra firing tube that can hold the pressure we want.

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