"Why, yes, that's true."
"He says the fuel will not work then, senor. He says it is low-grade fuel and the platform must have high octane gasoline."
Jan threw up his hands and went back into the dome.
"I should have known that," he said unhappily. "I would have known if I had thought of it."
"What is to be done, then?" asked Sanchez.
"There's nothing that can be done," answered Jan. "They may as well put the fuel back in my groundcar."
Sanchez called orders to the men at the platform. While they worked, Jan stared out at the furiously spinning windmills that dotted Rathole.
"There's nothing that can be done," he repeated. "We can't make the trip overland because of the chasm out there in Den Hoorn, and we can't fly the platform because we have no power for it."
Windmills. Again Jan could imagine the flat land around them as his native Holland, with the Zuider Zee sparkling to the west where here the desert stretched under darkling clouds.
Jan looked at his watch. A little more than two hours before the G-boat's blastoff time, and it couldn't wait for them. It was nearly eight hours since he had left Oostpoort, and the afternoon was getting noticeably darker.
Jan was sorry. He had done his best, but Venus had beaten him.
He looked around for Diego. The boy was not in the dome. He was outside, crouched in the lee of the dome, playing with some sticks.
Diego must know of his ailment, and why he had to go to Oostpoort. If Jan was any judge of character, Sanchez would have told him that. Whether Diego knew it was a life-or-death matter for him to be aboard the Vanderdecken when it blasted off for Earth, Jan did not know. But the boy was around eight years old and he was bright, and he must realize the seriousness involved in a decision to send him all the way to Earth.
Jan felt ashamed of the exuberant foolishness which had led him to spout ancient history and claim descent from William of Orange. It had been a hobby, and artificial topic for conversation that amused him and his companions, a defense against the monotony of Venus that had begun to affect his personality perhaps a bit more than he realized. He did not dislike Spaniards; he had no reason to dislike them. They were all humans--the Spanish, the Dutch, the Germans, the Americans, even the Russians--fighting a hostile planet together. He could not understand a word Diego said when the boy spoke to him, but he liked Diego and wished desperately he could do something.
Outside, the windmills of Rathole spun merrily.
There was power, the power that lighted and air-conditioned Rathole, power in the air all around them. If he could only use it! But to turn the platform on its side and let the wind spin the propellers was pointless.
He turned to Sanchez.
"Ask the men if there are any spare parts for the platform," he said. "Some of those legs it stands on, transmission belts, spare propellers."
"Yes," he said. "Many spare parts, but no fuel."
Jan smiled a tight smile.
"Tell them to take the engines out," he said. "Since we have no fuel, we may as well have no engines."
Pieter Heemskerk stood by the ramp to the stubby G-boat and checked his watch. It was X minus fifteen--fifteen minutes before blastoff time.
Heemskerk wore a spacesuit. Everything was ready, except climbing aboard, closing the airlock and pressing the firing pin.
What on Venus could have happened to Van Artevelde? The last radio message they had received, more than an hour ago, had said he and the patient took off successfully in an aircraft. What sort of aircraft could he be flying that would require an hour to cover eighty kilometers, with the wind?
Heemskerk could only draw the conclusion that the aircraft had been wrecked somewhere in Den Hoorn. As a matter of fact, he knew that preparations were being made now to send a couple of groundcars out to search for it.
This, of course, would be too late to help the patient Van Artevelde was bringing, but Heemskerk had no personal interest in the patient. His worry was all for his friend. The two of them had enjoyed chess and good beer together on his last three trips to Venus, and Heemskerk hoped very sincerely that the big blond man wasn't hurt.
He glanced at his watch again. X minus twelve. In two minutes, it would be time for him to walk up the ramp into the G-boat. In seven minutes the backward count before blastoff would start over the area loudspeakers.
Heemskerk shook his head sadly. And Van Artevelde had promised to come back triumphant, with a broom at his masthead!
It was a high thin whine borne on the wind, carrying even through the walls of his spacehelmet, that attracted Heemskerk's attention and caused him to pause with his foot on the ramp. Around him, the rocket mechanics were staring up at the sky, trying to pinpoint the noise.
Heemskerk looked westward. At first he could see nothing, then there was a moving dot above the mountain, against the indigo umbrella of clouds. It grew, it swooped, it approached and became a strange little flying disc with two people standing on it and something sticking up from its deck in front of them.
No. The platform hovered and began to settle nearby, and there was Van Artevelde leaning over its rail and fiddling frantically with whatever it was that stuck up on it--a weird, angled contraption of pipes and belts topped by a whirring blade. A boy stood at his shoulder and tried to help him. As the platform descended to a few meters above ground, the Dutchman slashed at the contraption, the cut ends of belts whipped out wildly and the platform slid to the ground with a rush. It hit with a clatter and its two passengers tumbled prone to the ground.
"Jan!" boomed Heemskerk, forcing his voice through the helmet diaphragm and rushing over to his friend. "I was afraid you were lost!"
Jan struggled to his feet and leaned down to help the boy up.
"Here's your patient, Pieter," he said. "Hope you have a spacesuit in his size."
"I can find one. And we'll have to hurry for blastoff. But, first, what happened? Even that damned thing ought to get here from Rathole faster than that."
"Had no fuel," replied Jan briefly. "My engines were all right, but I had no power to run them. So I had to pull the engines and rig up a power source."
Heemskerk stared at the platform. On its railing was rigged a tripod of battered metal pipes, atop which a big four-blade propeller spun slowly in what wind was left after it came over the western mountain. Over the edges of the platform, running from the two propellers in its base, hung a series of tattered transmission belts.
"Power source?" repeated Heemskerk. "That?"
"Certainly," replied Jan with dignity. "The power source any good Dutchman turns to in an emergency: a windmill!"
THE FLYING CUSPIDORS.
by V. R. Francis
This was love, and what could be done about it? It's been happening to guys for a long time, now.
Hotlips Grogan may not be as handsome and good-looking like me or as brainy and intellectual, but in this fiscal year of 2056 he is the gonest trumpet-tooter this side of Alpha Centauri. You would know what I mean right off if you ever hear him give out with "Stars Fell on Venus," or "Martian Love Song," or "Shine On, Harvest Luna." Believe me, it is out of this world. He is not only hot, he is radioactive. On a clear day he is playing notes you cannot hear without you are wearing special equipment.
That is for a fact.
Mostly he is a good man--cool, solid, and in the warp. But one night he is playing strictly in three or four wrong keys.
I am the ivory man for this elite bunch of musicians, and I am scooping up my three-dee music from the battered electronic eighty-eight when he comes over looking plenty worried.
"Eddie," he says, "I got a problem."
"You got a problem, all right," I tell him. "You are not getting a job selling Venusian fish, the way you play today."
He frowns. "It is pretty bad, I suppose."
"Bad is not the word," I say, but I spare his feelings and do not say the word it is. "What gives?"
He looks around him, careful to see if anybody in the place is close enough to hear. But it is only afternoon rehearsal on the gambling ship Saturn, and the waiters are busy mopping up the floor and leaning on their long-handled sterilizers, and the boys in the band are picking up their music to go down to Earth to get some shut-eye or maybe an atomic beer or two before we open that night.
Hotlips Grogan leans over and whispers in my ear. "It is the thrush," he says.
"The thrush?" I say, loud, before he clamps one of his big hands over my kisser. "The thrush," I say, softer; "you mean the canary?"
He waves his arms like a bird. "Thrush, canary--I mean Stella Starlight."
For a minute I stand with my mouth open and think of this. Then I rubber for the ninety-seventh time at the female warbler, who is standing talking to Frankie, the band leader. She is a thrush new to the band and plenty cute--a blonde, with everything where it is supposed to be, and maybe a little extra helping in a couple spots. I give her my usual approving once-over, just in case I miss something the last ninety-six approving once-overs I give her.
"What about her?" I say.
"It is her fault I play like I do," Hotlips Grogan tells me sadly. "Come on. Leave us go guzzle a beer and I will tell you about it."
Just then Frankie comes over, looking nasty like as usual, and he says to Grogan, "You are not playing too well today, Hotlips. Maybe you hurt your lip on a beer bottle, huh?"
As usual also, his tone is pretty short on sweetness and light, and I do not see why Grogan, who looks something like a gorilla's mother-in-law, takes such guff from a beanpole like Frankie.
But Grogan only says, "I think something is wrong with my trumpet. I have it fixed before tonight."
Frankie smirks. "Do that," he says, looking like a grinning weasel. "We want you to play for dancing, not for calling in Martian moose."
Frankie walks away, and Hotlips shrugs.
"Leave us get our beer," he says simply, and we go to the ferry.
We pile into the space-ferry with the other musicians and anyone else who is going down to dirty old terra firma, and when everybody who is going aboard is aboard, the doors close, and the ferry drifts into space. Hotlips and I find seats, and we look back at the gambling ship. It is a thrill you do not get used to, no matter how many times you see it.
The sailor boys who build the Saturn--they give it the handle of Satellite II then--would not know their baby now, Frankie does such a good job of revamping it. Of course, it is not used as a gambling ship then--at least not altogether, if you know what I mean. Way back in 1998 when they get it in the sky, they are more interested in it being useful than pretty; anybody that got nasty and unsanitary ideas just forgot them when they saw that iron casket floating in a sky that could be filled with hydrogen bombs or old laundry without so much as a four-bar intro as warning.
Frankie buys Satellite II at a war surplus sale when moon flights become as easy as commuters' trips, and he smoothes out its shape so it looks like an egg and then puts a fin around it for ships to land on. After that, it does not take much imagination to call it the Saturn. Then he gets his Western Hemisphere license and opens for business.
My daydreaming stops, for suddenly Hotlips is grabbing my arm and pointing out the window.
"What for are you grabbing my arm and waving your fist at the window, Hotlips?" I inquire politely of him.
"Eddie," he whispers, all nervous and excited from something, "I see one."
I give him a blank stare. "You see one what?"
"One flying cuspidor," he says, his face serious. "I see it hanging out there by the Saturn and then suddenly it is gone. Whoosh."
"Hallucination," I tell him. But I look out hard and try to see one too. I don't, so I figure maybe I am right, after all.
I do not know about this "men from space" gimmick the science-fiction people try to peddle, but lots of good substantial citizens see flying cuspidors and I think to myself that maybe there is something to it. So I keep looking back at the Saturn, but nothing unusual is going on that I can see. My logic and super-salesmanship evidently convinces Hotlips, for he does not say anything more about it.
Anyway, in a few minutes we joggle to a stop at Earthport, pile out, wave our identification papers at the doorman with the lieutenant's bars, and then take off for the Atomic Cafe a block away.
Entering this gem of a drinking establishment, we make our way through the smoke and noise to a quiet little corner table and give Mamie the high-sign for two beers. A few minutes later she comes bouncing over with the order and a cheery word about how invigorating it is to see us high-class gentlemen instead of the bums that usually hang around a joint like this trying to make time with a nice girl like her.
"That is all very nice," I say to her politely, "and we are overjoyed beyond words to see you too, Mamie, but Hotlips and I have got strange and mysterious things to discuss, so I would appreciate it if you would see us later instead of now." With this, I give her arm a playful pat, and she blushes and takes the hint.
When we are alone, I ask Hotlips, now what is the trouble which he has.
"Like I tell you before," Hotlips says, "I have a problem. So here it is." He takes a deep breath and lets fly all at once. "I am in love of the thrush, Stella Starlight."
I am drinking my beer when he says this, and suddenly I get a snootful and start coughing, and he whams me on the back with his big paw so I stop, more in self-defense than in his curing me. Somehow, the idea of a big bruiser like Hotlips Grogan in love of a sweet fluffy thing like Stella Starlight seems funny.
"So?" I say.
"So that is why I play so bad tonight," he says. Seeing I do not quite catch on to the full intent of his remarks, he continues. "I am a happy man, Eddie. I got my trumpet, a paid-for suit of clothes, a one-room apartment with green wallpaper. Could a man ask for much more?"
"Not unless he is greedy," I agree.
Hotlips Grogan is staring at his beer as though he sees a worm in it and looking sadder than ever. "It is a strange and funny thing," he says, dreamy-like. "There she is singing, and there I am giving with the trumpet, and all of a great big sudden--whammo!--it hits me, and I feel a funny feeling in my stomach, like maybe it is full of supersuds or something, and my mouth is dry just like cotton candy."
"Indigestion," I suggest.
He shakes his big head. "No," he says, "it is worse than indigestion." He points to his stomach and sighs. "It is love."
"Fine," I say, happy it is not worse. "All you got to do is tell her, get married and have lots and lots of kids."
Hotlips Grogan's big eyebrows play hopscotch around his button nose, so I can tell he does not think I solve all his troubles with my suggestion.
"You are a good man, Eddie," he tells me, "but you are too intellectual. This is an affair of the heart." He sighs again. "I am never in love of a girl before," he goes on, more worried, "and I do not know how to act. Besides, the thrush is with us only a day, and Frankie already is making with the eyes."