"Could have been worse," said Cowalczk.
"Wasn't anybody out in it."
"Hey, Chuck," another technician, Lehman, broke in, "you could maybe get hurt that way."
"I doubt it," Cowalczk answered, "most of these were pinhead size, and they wouldn't go through a suit."
"It would take a pretty big one to damage a servo bearing," Cade commented.
"That could hurt," Cowalczk admitted, "but there was only one of them."
"You mean only one hit our gear," Lehman said. "How many missed?"
Nobody answered. They could all see the Moon under their feet. Small craters overlapped and touched each other. There was--except in the places that men had obscured them with footprints--not a square foot that didn't contain a crater at least ten inches across, there was not a square inch without its half-inch crater. Nearly all of these had been made millions of years ago, but here and there, the rim of a crater covered part of a footprint, clear evidence that it was a recent one.
After the sun rose, Evans returned to the lava cave that he had been exploring when the meteor hit. Inside, he lifted his filter visor, and found that the light reflected from the small ray that peered into the cave door lighted the cave adequately. He tapped loose some white crystals on the cave wall with his geologist's hammer, and put them into a collector's bag.
"A few mineral specimens would give us something to think about, man. These crystals," he said, "look a little like zeolites, but that can't be, zeolites need water to form, and there's no water on the Moon."
He chipped a number of other crystals loose and put them in bags. One of them he found in a dark crevice had a hexagonal shape that puzzled him.
One at a time, back in the tractor, he took the crystals out of the bags and analyzed them as well as he could without using a flame which would waste oxygen. The ones that looked like zeolites were zeolites, all right, or something very much like it. One of the crystals that he thought was quartz turned out to be calcite, and one of the ones that he was sure could be nothing but calcite was actually potassium nitrate.
"Well, now," he said, "it's probably the largest natural crystal of potassium nitrate that anyone has ever seen. Man, it's a full inch across."
All of these needed water to form, and their existence on the Moon puzzled him for a while. Then he opened the bag that had contained the unusual hexagonal crystals, and the puzzle resolved itself. There was nothing in the bag but a few drops of water. What he had taken to be a type of rock was ice, frozen in a niche that had never been warmed by the sun.
The sun rose to the meridian slowly. It was a week after sunrise. The stars shone coldly, and wheeled in their slow course with the sun. Only Earth remained in the same spot in the black sky. The shadow line crept around until Earth was nearly dark, and then the rim of light appeared on the opposite side. For a while Earth was a dark disk in a thin halo, and then the light came to be a crescent, and the line of dawn began to move around Earth. The continents drifted across the dark disk and into the crescent. The people on Earth saw the full moon set about the same time that the sun rose.
Nickel Jones was the captain of a supply rocket. He made trips from and to the Moon about once a month, carrying supplies in and metal and ores out. At this time he was visiting with his old friend McIlroy.
"I swear, Mac," said Jones, "another season like this, and I'm going back to mining."
"I thought you were doing pretty well," said McIlroy, as he poured two drinks from a bottle of Scotch that Jones had brought him.
"Oh, the money I like, but I will say that I'd have more if I didn't have to fight the union and the Lunar Trade Commission."
McIlroy had heard all of this before. "How's that?" he asked politely.
"You may think it's myself running the ship," Jones started on his tirade, "but it's not. The union it is that says who I can hire. The union it is that says how much I must pay, and how large a crew I need. And then the Commission ..." The word seemed to give Jones an unpleasant taste in his mouth, which he hurriedly rinsed with a sip of Scotch.
"The Commission," he continued, making the word sound like an obscenity, "it is that tells me how much I can charge for freight."
McIlroy noticed that his friend's glass was empty, and he quietly filled it again.
"And then," continued Jones, "if I buy a cargo up here, the Commission it is that says what I'll sell it for. If I had my way, I'd charge only fifty cents a pound for freight instead of the dollar forty that the Commission insists on. That's from here to Earth, of course. There's no profit I could make by cutting rates the other way."
"Why not?" asked McIlroy. He knew the answer, but he liked to listen to the slightly Welsh voice of Jones.
"Near cost it is now at a dollar forty. But what sense is there in charging the same rate to go either way when it takes about a seventh of the fuel to get from here to Earth as it does to get from there to here?"
"What good would it do to charge fifty cents a pound?" asked McIlroy.
"The nickel, man, the tons of nickel worth a dollar and a half on Earth, and not worth mining here; the low-grade ores of uranium and vanadium, they need these things on Earth, but they can't get them as long as it isn't worth the carrying of them. And then, of course, there's the water we haven't got. We could afford to bring more water for more people, and set up more distilling plants if we had the money from the nickel.
"Even though I say it who shouldn't, two-eighty a quart is too much to pay for water."
Both men fell silent for a while. Then Jones spoke again: "Have you seen our friend Evans lately? The price of chromium has gone up, and I think he could ship some of his ore from Yellow Crater at a profit."
"He's out prospecting again. I don't expect to see him until sun-down."
"I'll likely see him then. I won't be loaded for another week and a half. Can't you get in touch with him by radio?"
"He isn't carrying one. Most of the prospectors don't. They claim that a radio that won't carry beyond the horizon isn't any good, and one that will bounce messages from Earth takes up too much room."
"Well, if I don't see him, you let him know about the chromium."
"Anything to help another Welshman, is that the idea?"
"Well, protection it is that a poor Welshman needs from all the English and Scots. Speaking of which--"
"Oh, of course," McIlroy grinned as he refilled the glasses.
"Slainte, McIlroy, bach." [Health, McIlroy, man.]
"Slainte mhor, bach." [Great Health, man.]
The sun was halfway to the horizon, and Earth was a crescent in the sky when Evans had quarried all the ice that was available in the cave. The thought grew on him as he worked that this couldn't be the only such cave in the area. There must be several more bubbles in the lava flow.
Part of his reasoning proved correct. That is, he found that by chipping, he could locate small bubbles up to an inch in diameter, each one with its droplet of water. The average was about one per cent of the volume of each bubble filled with ice.
A quarter of a mile from the tractor, Evans found a promising looking mound of lava. It was rounded on top, and it could easily be the dome of a bubble. Suddenly, Evans noticed that the gauge on the oxygen tank of his suit was reading dangerously near empty. He turned back to his tractor, moving as slowly as he felt safe in doing. Running would use up oxygen too fast. He was halfway there when the pressure warning light went on, and the signal sounded inside his helmet. He turned on his ten-minute reserve supply, and made it to the tractor with about five minutes left. The air purifying apparatus in the suit was not as efficient as the one in the tractor; it wasted oxygen. By using the suit so much, Evans had already shortened his life by several days. He resolved not to leave the tractor again, and reluctantly abandoned his plan to search for a large bubble.
The sun stood at half its diameter above the horizon. The shadows of the mountains stretched out to touch the shadows of the other mountains. The dawning line of light covered half of Earth, and Earth turned beneath it.
Cowalczk itched under his suit, and the sweat on his face prickled maddeningly because he couldn't reach it through his helmet. He pushed his forehead against the faceplate of his helmet and rubbed off some of the sweat. It didn't help much, and it left a blurred spot in his vision. That annoyed him.
"Is everyone clear of the outlet?" he asked.
"All clear," he heard Cade report through the intercom.
"How come we have to blow the boilers now?" asked Lehman.
"Because I say so," Cowalczk shouted, surprised at his outburst and ashamed of it. "Boiler scale," he continued, much calmer. "We've got to clean out the boilers once a year to make sure the tubes in the reactor don't clog up." He squinted through his dark visor at the reactor building, a gray concrete structure a quarter of a mile distant. "It would be pretty bad if they clogged up some night."
"Pressure's ten and a half pounds," said Cade.
"Right, let her go," said Cowalczk.
Cade threw a switch. In the reactor building, a relay closed. A motor started turning, and the worm gear on the motor opened a valve on the boiler. A stream of muddy water gushed into a closed vat. When the vat was about half full, the water began to run nearly clear. An electric eye noted that fact and a light in front of Cade turned on. Cade threw the switch back the other way, and the relay in the reactor building opened. The motor turned and the gears started to close the valve. But a fragment of boiler scale held the valve open.
"Valve's stuck," said Cade.
"Open it and close it again," said Cowalczk. The sweat on his forehead started to run into his eyes. He banged his hand on his faceplate in an unconscious attempt to wipe it off. He cursed silently, and wiped it off on the inside of his helmet again. This time, two drops ran down the inside of his faceplate.
"Still don't work," said Cade.
"Keep trying," Cowalczk ordered. "Lehman, get a Geiger counter and come with me, we've got to fix this thing."
Lehman and Cowalczk, who were already suited up started across to the reactor building. Cade, who was in the pressurized control room without a suit on, kept working the switch back and forth. There was light that indicated when the valve was open. It was on, and it stayed on, no matter what Cade did.
"The vat pressure's too high," Cade said.
"Let me know when it reaches six pounds," Cowalczk requested. "Because it'll probably blow at seven."
The vat was a light plastic container used only to decant sludge out of the water. It neither needed nor had much strength.
"Six now," said Cade.
Cowalczk and Lehman stopped halfway to the reactor. The vat bulged and ruptured. A stream of mud gushed out and boiled dry on the face of the Moon. Cowalczk and Lehman rushed forward again.
They could see the trickle of water from the discharge pipe. The motor turned the valve back and forth in response to Cade's signals.
"What's going on out there?" demanded McIlroy on the intercom.
"Scale stuck in the valve," Cowalczk answered.
"Are the reactors off?"
"Yes. Vat blew. Shut up! Let me work, Mac!"
"Sorry," McIlroy said, realizing that this was no time for officials. "Let me know when it's fixed."
"Geiger's off scale," Lehman said.
"We're probably O.K. in these suits for an hour," Cowalczk answered. "Is there a manual shut-off?"
"Not that I know of," Lehman answered. "What about it, Cade?"
"I don't think so," Cade said. "I'll get on the blower and rouse out an engineer."
"O.K., but keep working that switch."
"I checked the line as far as it's safe," said Lehman. "No valve."
"O.K.," Cowalczk said. "Listen, Cade, are the injectors still on?"
"Yeah. There's still enough heat in these reactors to do some damage. I'll cut 'em in about fifteen minutes."
"I've found the trouble," Lehman said. "The worm gear's loose on its shaft. It's slipping every time the valve closes. There's not enough power in it to crush the scale."
"Right," Cowalczk said. "Cade, open the valve wide. Lehman, hand me that pipe wrench!"
Cowalczk hit the shaft with the back of the pipe wrench, and it broke at the motor bearing.
Cowalczk and Lehman fitted the pipe wrench to the gear on the valve, and turned it.
"Is the light off?" Cowalczk asked.
"No," Cade answered.
"Water's stopped. Give us some pressure, we'll see if it holds."
"Twenty pounds," Cade answered after a couple of minutes.
"Take her up to ... no, wait, it's still leaking," Cowalczk said. "Hold it there, we'll open the valve again."
"O.K.," said Cade. "An engineer here says there's no manual cutoff."
"Like Hell," said Lehman.
Cowalczk and Lehman opened the valve again. Water spurted out, and dwindled as they closed the valve.
"What did you do?" asked Cade. "The light went out and came on again."
"Check that circuit and see if it works," Cowalczk instructed.
There was a pause.
"It's O.K.," Cade said.
Cowalczk and Lehman opened and closed the valve again.
"Light is off now," Cade said.