FROMER ADVISES TELL YOU SHIPS PHYSICIAN HAS PUT R'THAGNA BAR IN REFRIGERATOR.
SEC HDQ QUEMOS. COM. RLY. 43.4SC.
TAKE OUT OF REFRIGERATOR! THIS AN ORDER! WHY UNDRESSED?.
BULLARD MAKING MODEL OF MY DRAWINGS. READY SOON. R'THAGNA BAR OUT OF REFRIGERATOR AS REQUESTED BUT SHIPS PHYSICIAN VERY ANGRY AND WANTS TO PUT BACK IN. COLOR ON STOMACH PINK AND YELLOW WITH BLUE SQUARES. THIS SIGNIFICANT?.
It went on like this for several more days. Hansen, at first amused, was now alarmed and completely convinced that both Quemos and Bullard were thoroughly useless. The messages were his only source of information, since both "experts" were too immersed in their work to talk with him. As his alarm grew, he decided that he might at least try to strike up a friendship with someone on board Captain Fromer's sealed ship--someone who might have something comforting to report. He called up the ship's navigator.
"This is Hansen. How're things going up there?"
"What's that mean? Good or bad?"
"It means," the navigator said, while yawning, "that things are falling apart rapidly. In fact, in a day or two I don't think it'll make much difference whether or not they open that damn door."
"You, er, care to fill me in?"
"Why not?" said the navigator, with the voice of a man who knows that it is too late for anything to matter. "The members of the crew are divided into two factions. It appears that our physician has rallied half the crew to support his medical contention that our exhalted passenger belongs in the refrigerator. The good captain, with some justice, one must admit, thinks that he is in command of the ship, and prefers to believe that R'thagna Bar belongs out of the refrigerator."
"Who seems to be winning the argument?"
"Argument? There's no argument, old man--it's open warfare. No weapons aboard, of course, but the two teams are grappling up and down the corridors and shuttling our exhalted passenger in and out of the ice box about four times each hour. Quite a sight, really. Right now he's in the refrigerator, but the other team--"
"Let me know who's ahead from time to time, will you?" Hansen heard himself say.
"Glad to oblige," the navigator said, yawning again. "Oh, incidentally, have they sent for help yet?"
Hansen said with some surprise, "Why, as a matter of fact, Sector Headquarters is sending some help. How did you know?"
"Bound to happen sooner or later, old man. When the going really gets tough they always get around to sending a Gypsy. Only way to get anything done, you know."
"I don't know," Hansen said reluctantly. "Why is it that everyone knows except me? What, please, is a Gypsy?"
"You're too young to know everything, old man," the navigator said. "You're especially too young to know about one of the Federation's best kept secrets. But you might as well, I suppose. The fact is that a Gypsy is a generally vagrant, dirty, thieving, clever scoundrel who will not work, who has absolutely no respect for order or authority, who believes that our institutions are effete and--"
"But then why--"
"Patience, patience," cautioned the navigator, haughtily, "if I am to reveal everything I know, I must do it in my own way. The description I just gave you is not necessarily true. It is simply the way that Sector Headquarters feels about Gypsies. Common jealousy, really. It seems that from time to time, our perfect little galactic society spawns men who don't care to be cast in the common mold. In short, there are a few men around with brains who don't think that it means very much to wear pretty uniforms or fancy titles."
"Uniforms like yours?" asked Hansen.
"Precisely," the navigator said sadly. "The truth of the matter is, of course, that I only play at being a navigator. I couldn't get this ship off course, if I tried. The same is true with the four engineering officers who stand around watching the Hegler drive units. They occasionally make a ceremonial adjustment, but beyond that, they simply stand around looking pretty."
"No moving parts." Hansen said.
"No moving brains, if you like. Anyway, a Gypsy has--somewhere along the line--learned how to do things. They'll take an emergency call about once a year--if they happen to feel like it. Then they charge about half a million credits."
"You mean they have an organization, standard rates and--"
"Heavens no!" the navigator said. "They hate anything that smells like organization. They don't even specialize in any certain kind of work. One year they'll be fascinated by sub-nucleonics, the next by horse racing. Very erratic. Can't keep attention on any one thing. Heard of one once who engaged in fishing and alcohol drinking. Brilliant mathematician, too. But he'd only take a call once every three years or so."
"For a half million credits a crack, eh? You could live pretty well for three years on that."
"Strangely enough," the navigator said thoughtfully, "they don't really have any interest in money. If you'd ever met one, you'd know that the high fee is sort of a penalty they mete out to everyone else for being so dumb."
"Well, one thing for sure," Hansen said, "if Bullard and Quemos are the cream of the crop, I'm on the side of the Gypsies."
"Ah, youth!" the navigator said, "I, too, once had such dreams--"
"We'll see about the dreams," Hansen said, almost menacingly, "I didn't spend six years in that damn school just to sit around in a pretty uniform for the rest of my life."
"Oh, you'll get used to it. In fact, you'll like it after a while. The home leaves. The fuss your friends will make over you when you step off the ship. The regular and automatic promotions in grade with the extra gold band added to your sleeve; the move from one outpost to an always larger installation. You'll never do much, of course, but why should you? After all, there aren't any moving parts."
Hansen cut the communicator off. He stood there for a moment, feeling depressed and betrayed. Automatically he reached down and flicked imaginary dust from his blue sleeve with its narrow solitary gold band. Ten minutes later the Gypsy's ship signaled for landing.
The man who walked into Hansen's control room was hardly the ogre he had been prepared for. He looked, Hansen was later to reflect, like Santa Claus with muscles in place of the fat. Wearing an almost unheard of beard and dressed in rough clothes, he walked across the room and made short work of the usual formalities. "Name's Candle," said the man. "Where's those two phonies I'm supposed to replace?"
"You'll have to go suit up and go back through the airlock," Hansen said, motioning to the door. "They're in their ship. It's the one next to yours. Want me to tell them you're on your way over?"
"Hell, no," said Candle, grinning, "I'll surprise 'em. Now, suppose you and me sit down and have a little chat."
They sat and Candle pumped Hansen of everything he knew about the entire situation. An hour later, Hansen felt almost as if he had been had. "Is that all?" he asked, wearily.
"I got the facts," Candle said. "Now let's go throw those experts out." It wasn't quite that simple. Neither Bullard nor Quemos had any intention of simply clearing out. "Who the hell you think you are," Bullard said, "to come over here and order us off? We didn't even ask for help. And, God knows, you couldn't supply it anyway." Bullard, with evident distaste, ran his eyes up and down Candle's clothing.
Dr. Quemos had some ideas, too. "Letter of authority or no letter of authority," Quemos said, pointing a manicured forefinger at the paper in Candle's hand, "you'll ruin everything! You have no idea what you're up against. We've spent weeks working this thing out--"
Candle grinned. "What've you worked out?"
"Why--why we know that this is a metal double enveloping worm gear."
"Wrong," Candle said. "It's a single enveloping worm gear. It's made of steel with an aluminum alloy wheel gear and the two parts have corroded and stuck. The whole mechanism was originally designed for submarines."
Quemos started to say something, then turned and looked at Bullard for reassurance. "He's crazy," Bullard said, "he's making it up as he goes along. How could he possibly know what he's talking about? Why, there haven't been any submarines for centuries."
"I'm tired of playing games," Candle said, no longer grinning. "The boy and I have work to do. You two are in the way. You'll only take up time if I have to work with you and show you what to do. I want you and your ship out of here in half an hour."
"Who's going to make us?" Bullard asked with great originality.
Everybody turned around to see who else had entered the conversation. It was Hansen. "I'm going to give you fifteen minutes, not thirty," Hansen said. "Then I'm going to turn the grid power on at full intensity. You can either use it to take off, or sit around and roast alive inside your ship." Candle turned and looked at Hansen with new respect. "Okay ... Let's go back to your place. I've still got some things to figure out."
Quemos was on the verge of hysteria. "You're bluffing! You wouldn't dare. I'll report this!"
Fifteen minutes later, the ship headed for space.
Back in Hansen's room, the two men ate a quick lunch, then sat at the table and talked about Candle's plans for opening the reluctant door. "The way I figure it," Candle said, "I think that we can handle the whole thing by radio. Which reminds me, one of these days I'm going to build a telescreen that will transmit and receive through pseudo-met. Not too difficult really if you approach the problem--"
"I better get Fromer for you," Hansen said hurriedly.
"Fromer here," said the bass voice.
"This is Candle. Let me talk to one of your so-called engineering officers."
"Who the hell--"
"Shut up and go get 'em," Candle growled back. "And one more yelp out of you and you'll stay in that ship till you rot."
There was a pause, then Fromer again, a meek Fromer. "My chief engineering officer is with me."
"Okay. Now get this. Come to think of it, you'd better record it. Number one: By now you know which component is a worm gear. You will notice, I'm quite certain, that it engages a large notched wheel. The reason that the door will not move is because at the point where the two gears meet, some of the metal has oxidized. For possible use in future emergencies, I offer this explanation. The entire mechanism is subject to periodic vacuum, when the airlock door is operated. In between times, the mechanism is in the ship's atmosphere. A condition of lower oxygen content thus obtains around the sealed off area, and such an area is anodic--in other words, corrodible with respect to the surrounding areas in which oxygen has free access. Now, since this door has opened and closed successfully for about five hundred years, it appears that there's a special reason why it suddenly refuses to function. At a guess, you would experience this condition of intense corrosion only when the aluminum in the wheel gear is exposed to something like sodium hydroxide, and only at the point where it controls the worm gear. Now, has this ship landed recently within such an atmosphere?"
"Three weeks ago on Ghortin IV," said the weak voice of the engineer. "We landed to get some pictures of the cloud formations for souvenirs. We dropped on the edge of a large body of water because the view was better--"
Candle shook his head sadly and said, "You could have avoided trouble by coming in over the land instead of the water. The heat from the ship boiled the water which undoubtedly contained sodium carbonate and calcium hydroxide; presto, and the air was filled with clouds of sodium hydroxide.
"I suggest that you steer away from all such wicked places in the future. Of course, if you'd learn how to mine ore, smelt metal, machine components--"
"First they'd have to discover fire," Hansen said out of the corner of his mouth.
"You're catching on, son," Candle said, out of the corner of his mouth. "Now, gentlemen, to open the door it will be necessary to break the corroded area apart. This is a large heavy mechanism, as such things go. Since you have no tools heavy enough to batter the corroded area apart, you'll have to make some."
"How can we?"
Candle sighed. "I wish I had time to teach you to think, but instead, you'll have to do as I tell you to do. I think you can probably make a battering ram out of water. You just--don't interrupt--find or make a long cylindrical container, fill it with water and quick-freeze it in your refrigerator--"
"But they put R'thagna Bar in the refrigerator again--"
"Then I suggest you get him the hell out," Candle said.
An hour later ten men smashed a half-ton cylinder of ice against the corroded junction of the two gears. Following Candle's instructions, they next applied the ram to the door itself, which smoothly swung open. "You'll find," Candle explained, "that the only damage will be the two missing teeth on the aluminum gear. Since only two teeth are ever in contact at any time, you can simply slide the gear forward and engage it at a point where the teeth are intact. You'll find, I'm quite sure, that your door will function properly. Also, Captain, don't pull out of here until I'm aboard. I think I'd like to bring an assistant along, too."
"An assistant?" Hansen asked.
Candle twirled the ends of his long white moustache. "You, my lad, if you'd like to go along." He pulled a letter from his pocket and fanned the air with it. "I'm in complete command of this expedition--at least until His Exalted Excellency gets home to plant his seed."
Hansen's face glowed. "I can't think of anything I'd rather do. Let's get a couple of messages off to Sector Headquarters and get on board ship."
"It may not be any joy ride," Candle said thoughtfully. "You probably haven't heard about it, but there've been a number of ship emergencies in the past few weeks."
"No. At least none that I've heard of. But at least two Hegler drives have stopped working in mid space."
"But, but there's nothing to stop working--"
Candle's eyes twinkled. "No moving parts, eh?"
Hansen reddened. "I hope I've outgrown that silly notion."
Candle peered into Hansen's eyes. "I'm sure you have. I'm sure that you will find out a lot more things for yourself. You're the kind. And we're going to need a lot of your kind, because failures--failures of so-called perfect mechanisms--are becoming more and more commonplace." Candle pointed to the emergency light on the traffic control panel. "That light will be flashing with more and more frequency in the months to come. But not just to signal trouble in space. If I were a superstitious man, I'd think that the age of the perfect machine is about to be superseded by the age of the perfect failure--mechanical failures that can't be explained on any level. I have several friends who've been in touch with me recently about--"
"You think that it's time for a change?"
Candle smiled quickly. "That's the idea. And the truth of the matter is that I am a superstitious man. I really believe, childishly, that the mechanics and motions of the galaxy may turn themselves upsidedown just to snap man out of his apathy and give him some work to do."
Upsidedown turned out to be a good word. They boarded the big ship an hour later and were respectfully ushered into the presence of Captain Fromer and his staff.
"We're underway," Captain Fromer said. "We'll be landing in nine days to deliver R'thagna Bar home."
"How is he?" Hansen asked.
Fromer shrugged. "He's been thawed out, frozen, and thawed out so many times, it's anybody's guess. Take a look for yourself."
Someone pulled back a curtain to expose the recumbent, thawing, steamy form of His Exhalted Excellency R'thagna Bar.
"Why's he undressed?" Hansen asked.
"Funny, now that you mention it," Fromer said, puzzled, "why is he undressed?"