It was maybe midnight when the kid showed at the table again, looking kind of dazed. I was drunker than I ought to be by midnight, so I said I was going for a walk. He tagged along and we wound up on a bench at Screwball Square. The soap-boxers were still going strong. Like I said, it was a nice night. After a while, a pot-bellied old auntie who didn't give a damn about the face sat down and tried to talk the kid into going to see some etchings. The kid didn't get it and I led him over to hear the soap-boxers before there was trouble.
One of the orators was a mush-mouthed evangelist. "And, oh, my friends," he said, "when I looked through the porthole of the spaceship and beheld the wonder of the Firmament--"
"You're a stinkin' Yankee liar!" the kid yelled at him. "You say one damn more word about can-shootin' and I'll ram your spaceship down your lyin' throat! Wheah's your redlines if you're such a hot spacer?"
The crowd didn't know what he was talking about, but "wheah's your redlines" sounded good to them, so they heckled mush-mouth off his box with it.
I got the kid to a bench. The liquor was working in him all of a sudden. He simmered down after a while and asked: "Doc, should I've given Miz Rorty some money? I asked her afterward and she said she'd admire to have something to remember me by, so I gave her my lighter. She seem' to be real pleased with it. But I was wondering if maybe I embarrassed her by asking her right out. Like I tol' you, back in Covington, Kentucky, we don't have places like that. Or maybe we did and I just didn't know about them. But what do you think I should've done about Miz Rorty?"
"Just what you did," I told him. "If they want money, they ask you for it first. Where you staying?"
"Y.M.C.A.," he said, almost asleep. "Back in Covington, Kentucky, I was a member of the Y and I kept up my membership. They have to let me in because I'm a member. Spacers have all kinds of trouble, Doc. Woman trouble. Hotel trouble. Fam'ly trouble. Religious trouble. I was raised a Southern Baptist, but wheah's Heaven, anyway? I ask' Doctor Chitwood las' time home before the redlines got so thick--Doc, you aren't a minister of the Gospel, are you? I hope I di'n' say anything to offend you."
"No offense, son," I said. "No offense."
I walked him to the avenue and waited for a fleet cab. It was almost five minutes. The independents that roll drunks dent the fenders of fleet cabs if they show up in Skid Row and then the fleet drivers have to make reports on their own time to the company. It keeps them away. But I got one and dumped the kid in.
"The Y Hotel," I told the driver. "Here's five. Help him in when you get there."
When I walked through Screwball Square again, some college kids were yelling "wheah's your redlines" at old Charlie, the last of the Wobblies.
Old Charlie kept roaring: "The hell with your breadlines! I'm talking about atomic bombs. Right--up--there!" And he pointed at the Moon.
It was a nice night, but the liquor was dying in me.
There was a joint around the corner, so I went in and had a drink to carry me to the club; I had a bottle there. I got into the first cab that came.
"Athletic Club," I said.
"Inna dawghouse, harh?" the driver said, and he gave me a big personality smile.
I didn't say anything and he started the car.
He was right, of course. I was in everybody's doghouse. Some day I'd scare hell out of Tom and Lise by going home and showing them what their daddy looked like.
Down at the Institute, I was in the doghouse.
"Oh, dear," everybody at the Institute said to everybody, "I'm sure I don't know what ails the man. A lovely wife and two lovely grown children and she had to tell him 'either you go or I go.' And drinking! And this is rather subtle, but it's a well-known fact that neurotics seek out low company to compensate for their guilt-feelings. The places he frequents. Doctor Francis Bowman, the man who made space-flight a reality. The man who put the Bomb Base on the Moon! Really, I'm sure I don't know what ails him."
The hell with them all.
ALL DAY SEPTEMBER.
By ROGER KUYKENDALL
Some men just haven't got good sense. They just can't seem to learn the most fundamental things. Like when there's no use trying--when it's time to give up because it's hopeless....
The meteor, a pebble, a little larger than a match head, traveled through space and time since it came into being. The light from the star that died when the meteor was created fell on Earth before the first lungfish ventured from the sea.
In its last instant, the meteor fell on the Moon. It was impeded by Evans' tractor.
It drilled a small, neat hole through the casing of the steam turbine, and volitized upon striking the blades. Portions of the turbine also volitized; idling at eight thousand RPM, it became unstable. The shaft tried to tie itself into a knot, and the blades, damaged and undamaged were spit through the casing. The turbine again reached a stable state, that is, stopped. Permanently stopped.
It was two days to sunrise, where Evans stood.
It was just before sunset on a spring evening in September in Sydney. The shadow line between day and night could be seen from the Moon to be drifting across Australia.
Evans, who had no watch, thought of the time as a quarter after Australia.
Evans was a prospector, and like all prospectors, a sort of jackknife geologist, selenologist, rather. His tractor and equipment cost two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Fifty thousand was paid for. The rest was promissory notes and grubstake shares. When he was broke, which was usually, he used his tractor to haul uranium ore and metallic sodium from the mines at Potter's dike to Williamson Town, where the rockets landed.
When he was flush, he would prospect for a couple of weeks. Once he followed a stampede to Yellow Crater, where he thought for a while that he had a fortune in chromium. The chromite petered out in a month and a half, and he was lucky to break even.
Evans was about three hundred miles east of Williamson Town, the site of the first landing on the Moon.
Evans was due back at Williamson Town at about sunset, that is, in about sixteen days. When he saw the wrecked turbine, he knew that he wouldn't make it. By careful rationing, he could probably stretch his food out to more than a month. His drinking water--kept separate from the water in the reactor--might conceivably last just as long. But his oxygen was too carefully measured; there was a four-day reserve. By diligent conservation, he might make it last an extra day. Four days reserve--plus one is five--plus sixteen days normal supply equals twenty-one days to live.
In seventeen days he might be missed, but in seventeen days it would be dark again, and the search for him, if it ever began, could not begin for thirteen more days. At the earliest it would be eight days too late.
"Well, man, 'tis a fine spot you're in now," he told himself.
"Let's find out how bad it is indeed," he answered. He reached for the light switch and tried to turn it on. The switch was already in the "on" position.
"Batteries must be dead," he told himself.
"What batteries?" he asked. "There're no batteries in here, the power comes from the generator."
"Why isn't the generator working, man?" he asked.
He thought this one out carefully. The generator was not turned by the main turbine, but by a small reciprocating engine. The steam, however, came from the same boiler. And the boiler, of course, had emptied itself through the hole in the turbine. And the condenser, of course-- "The condenser!" he shouted.
He fumbled for a while, until he found a small flashlight. By the light of this, he reinspected the steam system, and found about three gallons of water frozen in the condenser. The condenser, like all condensers, was a device to convert steam into water, so that it could be reused in the boiler. This one had a tank and coils of tubing in the center of a curved reflector that was positioned to radiate the heat of the steam into the cold darkness of space. When the meteor pierced the turbine, the water in the condenser began to boil. This boiling lowered the temperature, and the condenser demonstrated its efficiency by quickly freezing the water in the tank.
Evans sealed the turbine from the rest of the steam system by closing the shut-off valves. If there was any water in the boiler, it would operate the engine that drove the generator. The water would condense in the condenser, and with a little luck, melt the ice in there. Then, if the pump wasn't blocked by ice, it would return the water to the boiler.
But there was no water in the boiler. Carefully he poured a cup of his drinking water into a pipe that led to the boiler, and resealed the pipe. He pulled on a knob marked "Nuclear Start/Safety Bypass." The water that he had poured into the boiler quickly turned into steam, and the steam turned the generator briefly.
Evans watched the lights flicker and go out, and he guessed what the trouble was.
"The water, man," he said, "there is not enough to melt the ice in the condenser."
He opened the pipe again and poured nearly a half-gallon of water into the boiler. It was three days' supply of water, if it had been carefully used. It was one day's supply if used wastefully. It was ostentatious luxury for a man with a month's supply of water and twenty-one days to live.
The generator started again, and the lights came on. They flickered as the boiler pressure began to fail, but the steam had melted some of the ice in the condenser, and the water pump began to function.
"Well, man," he breathed, "there's a light to die by."
The sun rose on Williamson Town at about the same time it rose on Evans. It was an incredibly brilliant disk in a black sky. The stars next to the sun shone as brightly as though there were no sun. They might have appeared to waver slightly, if they were behind outflung corona flares. If they did, no one noticed. No one looked toward the sun without dark filters.
When Director McIlroy came into his office, he found it lighted by the rising sun. The light was a hot, brilliant white that seemed to pierce the darkest shadows of the room. He moved to the round window, screening his eyes from the light, and adjusted the polaroid shade to maximum density. The sun became an angry red brown, and the room was dark again. McIlroy decreased the density again until the room was comfortably lighted. The room felt stuffy, so he decided to leave the door to the inner office open.
He felt a little guilty about this, because he had ordered that all doors in the survey building should remain closed except when someone was passing through them. This was to allow the air-conditioning system to function properly, and to prevent air loss in case of the highly improbable meteor damage. McIlroy thought that on the whole, he was disobeying his own orders no more flagrantly than anyone else in the survey.
McIlroy had no illusions about his ability to lead men. Or rather, he did have one illusion; he thought that he was completely unfit as a leader. It was true that his strictest orders were disobeyed with cheerful contempt, but it was also true his mildest requests were complied with eagerly and smoothly.
Everyone in the survey except McIlroy realized this, and even he accepted this without thinking about it. He had fallen into the habit of suggesting mildly anything that he wanted done, and writing orders he didn't particularly care to have obeyed.
For example, because of an order of his stating that there would be no alcoholic beverages within the survey building, the entire survey was assured of a constant supply of home-made, but passably good liquor. Even McIlroy enjoyed the surreptitious drinking.
"Good morning, Mr. McIlroy," said Mrs. Garth, his secretary. Morning to Mrs. Garth was simply the first four hours after waking.
"Good morning indeed," answered McIlroy. Morning to him had no meaning at all, but he thought in the strictest sense that it would be morning on the Moon for another week.
"Has the power crew set up the solar furnace?" he asked. The solar furnace was a rough parabola of mirrors used to focus the sun's heat on anything that it was desirable to heat. It was used mostly, from sun-up to sun-down, to supplement the nuclear power plant.
"They went out about an hour ago," she answered, "I suppose that's what they were going to do."
"Very good, what's first on the schedule?"
"A Mr. Phelps to see you," she said.
"How do you do, Mr. Phelps," McIlroy greeted him.
"Good afternoon," Mr. Phelps replied. "I'm here representing the Merchants' Bank Association."
"Fine," McIlroy said, "I suppose you're here to set up a bank."
"That's right, I just got in from Muroc last night, and I've been going over the assets of the Survey Credit Association all morning."
"I'll certainly be glad to get them off my hands," McIlroy said. "I hope they're in good order."
"There doesn't seem to be any profit," Mr. Phelps said.
"That's par for a nonprofit organization," said McIlroy. "But we're amateurs, and we're turning this operation over to professionals. I'm sure it will be to everyone's satisfaction."
"I know this seems like a silly question. What day is this?"
"Well," said McIlroy, "that's not so silly. I don't know either."
"Mrs. Garth," he called, "what day is this?"
"Why, September, I think," she answered.
"I mean what day."
"I don't know, I'll call the observatory."
There was a pause.
"They say what day where?" she asked.
"Greenwich, I guess, our official time is supposed to be Greenwich Mean Time."
There was another pause.
"They say it's September fourth, one thirty A.M."
"Well, there you are," laughed McIlroy, "it isn't that time doesn't mean anything here, it just doesn't mean the same thing."
Mr. Phelps joined the laughter. "Bankers' hours don't mean much, at any rate," he said.
The power crew was having trouble with the solar furnace. Three of the nine banks of mirrors would not respond to the electric controls, and one bank moved so jerkily that it could not be focused, and it threatened to tear several of the mirrors loose.
"What happened here?" Spotty Cade, one of the electrical technicians asked his foreman, Cowalczk, over the intercommunications radio. "I've got about a hundred pinholes in the cables out here. It's no wonder they don't work."
"Meteor shower," Cowalczk answered, "and that's not half of it. Walker says he's got a half dozen mirrors cracked or pitted, and Hoffman on bank three wants you to replace a servo motor. He says the bearing was hit."
"When did it happen?" Cade wanted to know.
"Must have been last night, at least two or three days ago. All of 'em too small for Radar to pick up, and not enough for Seismo to get a rumble."
"Sounds pretty bad."