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"No, you don't" Bessie said severely. "No, you don't. They need an alert, and I need to finish the programming on Sad Cow to be sure this thing doesn't wobble enough to shake us all apart. Even at a half RPM, your seams might not hold with a real wobble, and I don't like the idea of falling into a vacuum bottle as big as the one out there without a suit."

"How much time do you need?"

"On my mark, make it T minus thirty minutes. That ought to do it. O.K., here we go." There was a brief pause, then Bessie's voice came formally over the all-stations annunciator system.

"Now hear this. Now hear this. All personnel. On my mark it is T minus thirty minutes to spin-out check. According to program, acceleration will begin at zero, and the rim is expected to reach .009 gee at one-half revolutions per minute in the first sixty seconds of operation. We will hold that spin until balance is complete, when the spin will slowly be raised to two revolutions per minute, giving .15 gee on the rim deck.

"All loose components and materials should be secured. All personnel are advised to suit up, strap down and hang on. We hope we won't shake anybody too much. Mark and counting."

Almost immediately on the announcement came another voice over the com line. "Hold, hold, hold. We've got eighteen hundred pounds of milling equipment going down Number Two shaft to the machine shop, and we can't get it mounted in less than twenty minutes. Repeat, hold the countdown."

"The man who dreamed up the countdown was a Brain," Bessie could hear Mike muttering over his open intercom, "but the man who thought up the hold was a pure genius."

"Holding the countdown." It was Bessie's official voice. "It is T minus thirty and holding. Why are you goons moving that stuff ahead of schedule and without notifying balance control? What do you think this is, a rock-bound coast? Think we're settled in to bedrock like New York City? I should have known," she muttered, forgetting to flip the switch off, "my horoscope said this would be a shaky sort of day."

Chad Clark glanced up from his position at the communications console across the bridge from Bessie, to where her shiny black hair, cut short, framed the pert Eurasian features of the girl that seemed to be hanging from the ceiling above him.

"Is it really legal," he asked, "using such a tremendously complicated chunk of equipment as the Sacred Cow for casting horrible scopes? What's mine today, Bessie? Make it a good one, and I won't report you to U.N. Budget Control!"

"Offhand, I'd say today was your day to be cautious, quiet and respectful to your betters, namely me. However," she added in a conciliatory tone, "since you put it on a Budget Control basis, I'll ask the Cow to give you a real, mathematicked-out, planets and houses properly aligned, reading.

"Hey, Perk!" Her finger flipped the observatory com line switch. "Have you got the planets lined up in your scopes yet? Where are they? The Sacred Cow wants to know if they're all where they ought to be."

Out in the observatory, designed to swing free on the north polar axis of the big wheel, Dr. P. E. R. Kimball, PhD, FRAS, gave a startled glance at the intercom speaker.

"I did not realize that you would wish additional observational data before the swing began. I am just getting my equipment lined up, in preparation for the beginnings of the swing, and will be unable to give you figures of any accuracy for some hours yet. Any reading I could give you now would be accurate only to within two minutes of arc--relatively valueless." The voice was cheerful, but very precise.

"Anything within half an hour of arc right now would be O.K." Bessie's voice hid a grin.

"In that case, the astronomical almanac data in the computer's memory should be more than sufficiently precise for your needs." There was a dry chuckle. "Horoscopes again?"

As Bessie turned back to the control side of her console, she saw a hand reach past her to pick up a pad of paper and pencil from the console desk. She glanced around to find Mike leaning over her shoulder, and grinned at him as she began extracting figures from the computer's innards for a "plus or minus thirty seconds of arc" accuracy.

Mike sketched rapidly as she worked, and she turned as she heard him mutter a disgusted curse.

"These are angular readings from our present position," he said in an annoyed tone. "Get the Cow to rework them into a solar pattern."

"Yes, sir, Chief Blackhawk, sir. What did you think I was doing?"

"You're getting them into the proper houses for a horoscope. I want a solar pattern. Now tell that Sacred Cow that you ride herd on to give me a polar display pattern on one of the peepholes up there," he said, glancing at the thirty-six video screens above the console on which the computer could display practically any information that might be desired, including telescopic views, computational diagrams, or even the habitats of the fish swimming in the outer rim channels.

The display appeared in seconds on the main screen, and Mike growled as he saw it.

"Have the Cow advance that pattern two days," he said furiously. Then, as the new pattern emerged, "I should have known it. It looks like we're being set up for a solar flare. Right when we're getting rolling. It might be a while, though. Plenty of time to check out a few gee swings. But best you rehearse your slipstick jockeys in emergency procedures."

"A flare, Mike? Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm not sure. But those planets sure make the conditions ripe. Look." And he held his pencil across the screen as a straight line dividing the pattern neatly through the center.

"Look at the first six orbits, Jupiter's right on the line. And Mercury won't be leaving until Jupe crosses that line." The "line" that Mike had indicated with his pencil across the screen would have, in the first display shown all but one of the first six planets already on the same side of the sun and in the new display, two days later, it showed all six of the planets bunched in the 180 arc with Earth only a few degrees from the center of that arc.

"Hadn't thought to check before," he said, "but that's about as predictable as anything the planets can tell you. We can expect a flare, and probably a dilly."

"Why, Mike? If a solar flare were due, U.N. Labs wouldn't have scheduled us this way. What makes you so sure that means there's a solar flare coming? I thought they weren't predictable?"

"It's fairly new research--but fairly old superstition," Mike said. "You play with horoscopes--but my people have been watching the stars and predicting for many moons. I remember what they used to say around the old tribal fires.

"When the planets line up on one side of the sun, you get trouble from man and beast and nature. We weren't worried about radio propagation in those days, but we were worried about seasons, and how we felt, and when the buffalo would be restless.

"More recently some of the radio propagation analysts have been worrying about the magnetic storms that blank out communications on Earth occasionally when old Sol opens up with a broadside of protons. Surely plays hell with communications equipment.

"Yep, there's a flare coming. Whether it's caused by gravitational pull, when you get the planets to one side of Sol; or whether it's magnetism--I just don't know."

"Shucks," she said, "we had a five-planet line-up in 1961; and nothing happened; nothing at all. The seers--come to think of it, some of them were Indians, but from India," she added, "not Amerinds--the seers all predicted major catastrophes and the end of the world and all kinds of things, and nothing happened."

"Bessie," Mike's voice was serious. "I remember 1961 as well as you do. You had several factors that were different then--but you had solar flares then. Quite spectacular ones. You just weren't out here, where they make a difference of life or death.

"Don't let anybody hold us too long getting this station lined up and counted down and tested out. Because we've got things building up out there, and we may get that flare, and it may not be two days coming," he finished.

With that the Amerind sprang catlike to a hand-hold on the edge of the central tunnel and vanished back towards the engineering station, from which he would control the test-spin of the big wheel.

Bessandra Khamar, educated in Moscow, traced her ancestry back to one of the Buryat tribes of southern Siberia, a location that had become eventually, through the vast vagaries of history, known as the Buryat Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

She was of a proud, clannish people, with Mongolian ancestry and a Buddhist background which had not been too deeply scarred by the political pressures from Western Russia. Rebellious of nature, and of a race of people where women fought beside their men in case of necessity, she had first left her tribal area to seek education in the more advanced western provinces with a vague idea of returning to spread--not western ideologies amongst her people--but perhaps some of their know-how. This she had found to be a long and involved process; and more and more, with an increase of education, she had grown away from her people, the idea of return moving ever backwards and floundering under the impact of education.

She had been an able student, though independent and quite argumentative, with a mind and will of her own that caused a shaking of heads amongst her fellow students.

Having sought knowledge in what, to her, were the western provinces of her own country, she had delved not only into the knowledge of things scientific, but into the wheres and whyfores of the political situations that made a delineation between the peoples of Russia and the other peoples of the world.

Somehow she had been accepted as part of a trade mission to South America, and with that first trip out of her own country her horizons had broadened. Carefully she had nurtured that which pleased others in such a way that she had been recommended to other, similar tasks. And eventually she had gone to the U.N. on an extended tour of duty. It was here for the first time that she had heard of the recruitment of a staff for the new U.N. Space Lab project, and here she had made a basic decision: To seek a career, not in her own country or back among the peoples of her own clan, but in the U.N. itself, where she could better satisfy the urge to know more of all people.

She had, of course, been educated in a time of change. As a child she had attended compulsory civilian survival classes, as had nearly every person in the vast complex of the Soviet Union. She had learned about atomic weapons; and that other peoples for unknown reasons as far as she could determine, might declare her very safety and life forfeit to causes she did not understand.

Later, as she had made her way westward seeking reasons and causes for these possible disasters, and more knowledge in general, her country had undergone what amounted to a revolutionary change. Not only her country, but the entire world had moved during her lifetime from an armed camp or set of camps with divided interests and the ability for total annihilation, towards a seeking of common goals--towards a seeking of common understandings.

The catastrophe that had threatened to engulf the entire world and claim the final conquest had occurred while she was a very junior student in Moscow, when the two major nations that were leaders--or had thought themselves to be leaders, so far as atomic weaponry and such were concerned--had stood almost side by side in horror, and attempted to halt the conflagration that had been sparked by a single bomb landed on the mainland of China by Formosa.

While Russia and the United States had stood forth in the U.N. and renounced any use of atomic weapons, the short and bitter struggle which reached its termination in a mere five days had brought the world staggering to the ultimate brink of atomic war, as the Formosan Chinese made their final bid for control of mainland China.

The flare of atomic conflict had been brief and horrible. Where the bombs had come from had been the subject of acrimonious accusations on the floor of the U.N. The United States had forsworn knowledge, and for a time no one had been able to say from whence they had come. Later, shipping records had proven their source in the Belgian Congo as raw material, secretly prepared and assembled on Formosa itself, and it became obvious to the entire world that an atomic weapon was not something that could be hidden in secrecy from the desires of desperate men.

The Chinese mainland had responded with nuclear weapons of its own; weapons they, too, had not been known to possess, but had possessed.

That the rest of the world had not been sucked into the holocaust was a credit to the statesmen of both sides. That disarmament was agreed to by all nations was a matter of days only from the parallel but unilateral decisions of both Russia and the United States, that disarmament must be accomplished while there was yet time.

Under the political pressures backed by the human horror of all nations, the nuclear disarmament act of the U.N. had given to the U.N. the power of inspection of any country or any manufacturing complex anywhere in the world; inspection privileges that overrode national boundaries and considerations of national integrity, and a police force to back this up--a police force comprised of men from every nation, the U.N. Security Corps.

The United Nations, from a weak but hopeful beginning, had now stepped forth in its own right as an effective world government. There was no political unity at a lower echelon amongst the states or sub-governments of the world. To each its own problems. To each its own ideologies. To each, help according to its needs from the various bureaus of the U.N. And from each the necessary taxes for the support of the world organization.

In Russia the ideology of Marx-Lenin was still present. And in other countries other ideologies were freely supported. But the world could no longer afford an outright conflict of ideologies, and U.N. Security was charged not only with the seeking out and destruction of possible hoards of atomic weapons, but also with the seeking out and muzzling of those who expressed an ideology at all costs, even the cost of the final suicide of war, to their neighbors.

No hard and fast rules could be drawn to distinguish between a casual remark made in another country as to one's preference for one's own country, and an active subversion design to subvert another country to one's own ideology. But nevertheless, the activity of subversion had become an illegal act under the meaning of "security." And individual governments had recalled agents from their neighboring countries--not only agents, but simple tourists as well. For the stigma of having an agent arrested in another country and brought to trial at the U.N. was a stigma that no government felt it could afford.

Over the world settled a pall. The one place outside of one's own country, where one's ideology could be spoken of with impunity, was within the halls of the U.N. Assembly itself, under the aegis of diplomatic immunity. Here the ideologies could rant and rave against each other, seeking a rendering of a final decision in men's age-old arguments; but elsewhere such discussions were verboten, and subject to swift, stiff penalties.

There were some who thought quietly to themselves that perhaps in the reaction to horror they had voted too much power to a small group of men known as Security, but there were others, weary of the insecurity of world power-politics, who felt that Security was a blessing, and would for all time protect all men in the freedom of their own beliefs. The pressures had been great, and the pendulum of political weight had swung far in an opposite direction. In fact, man had achieved that which he would deny--in a reach for freedom, he had made the first turn in the coil that would bind him--in the coil that would bind the mass of the many to the will of the very few.

In school in Moscow, these things touched Bessandra's life only remotely. The concepts, the talk, the propaganda from Radio Moscow, these she heard, but they were not her main interests.

Her main interests were two--one, the fascination which the giant computer at Moscow University held for her; and two, the students around her. People, she had noted, had behavior patterns very similar to the complex computer; not as individual units, though as individual units they could also be as surprisingly obtuse as the literal-minded reaction of the computer; but in statistical numbers they had an even greater tendency to act as the computer did.

The information fed them and their reactions to it had a logic all its own; not a logic of logic, but a logic of reaction. And the reaction could be controlled, she noted, in the same self-corrective manner that was applied to logic in the interior of the computer--the feedback system.

It was obvious that with a statistical group of people, the net result of action could be effectively channeled by one person in an obscure position acting as a feedback mechanism to the group, and with selective properties applied to the feedback.

At one point she had quietly, and for no other reason than to test this point to her own satisfaction, sat back and created a riot of the women students at the University, without once appearing either as the cause or the head or leader in the revolt. The revolt in itself had been absolutely senseless, but the result had been achieved with surprisingly little effort on the part of one individual.

Computers and people had from that day become her tools, whenever she decided to bend them to her will.

Even earlier in her career, she had managed to put her rebellious nature under strict control, never appearing to be a cause in herself; never appearing as a leader among the students; merely a quiet student intent upon the gain of knowledge and oblivious to her surroundings.

Later as she realized her abilities, she had sought council with herself and her Buddhist ancestry, to determine what use her knowledge should serve. And to her there was but one answer: Men were easily enslaved by their own shortcomings; but men who were free produced more desirable results; and if she were to use their shortcomings at all, it must be to bend them in the path of freedom that she might be surrounded by higher achievements rather than sheeplike activities which she found to be repugnant.

Gradually she had achieved skill in the manipulation of people; always towards the single self-interest of creating a better and more pleasant world in which she herself could live.

In rim sector A-9, Dr. Claude Lavalle was having his troubles. Free fall conditions that were merely inconvenient to him were proving near-disastrous to the animals in the cages around him.

Many and various were the difficulties that he had had with animals during his career, but never before such trifles that built peu a peu--into mountains.

Claude Lavalle had originally planned to leave his stock of animals, which contained sets of a great many of the species of the small animals of Earth, on their own gravity-bound planet until well after the spin supplied pseudo-gravity to the ship; but the schedule of the shuttles' loads had proved such as to make possible the trip either far in the future, or to put him aboard on this trip, with spin only a few hours away.

The cages, with their loads of guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and other live animals to be used in the sacrificial rites of biochemical research were, to put it mildly, a mess. Provision had been made for feeding and watering the animals under free-fall conditions, but keeping them sanitary was proving a near-impossible task; and though the cages were sealed to confine the inevitable upset away from the remainder of the lab, it was good to hear that the problem was nearly over as the news of the imminent countdown came over the loud-speaker.

Meantime, Dr. Claude Lavalle was having his difficulties, and he wished fervently that his assistants could have been sent up on the shuttle with him.

In rim-sector A-10, the FARM (Fluid Agricultural Recirculating Method control lab, according to the U.N. acronym), Dr. Millie Williams, her satiny brown skin contrasting to her white T-shirt and shorts, was also having her troubles.

The trays of plants, in their beds of sponge plastic and hydroponic materials, were all sealed against free-fall conditions, but should be oriented properly for the pseudo-gravity as the great wheel was given its rotational spin.

The vats of plankton and algae concentrates were not so important as to orientation, but should be fed into their rim-river homes as soon as possible, although this could not be done until the rim spin was well under control.

The trays, the plants, the plankton, the algae--even a large proportion of the equipment in the lab, were all new, experimental projects, designed to check various features of the food and air cycles that would later be necessary if men were to send their ships soaring out through the system.

The primary purpose of Lab One was a check of the various survival systems and space ecology programs necessary to equip the future explorations under actual space conditions. Her job on the FARM would be very important to the future feeding and air restoration of spacemen; but more important, the efficient utilization of the wheel itself, since success in shipboard purification of air and production of food would free the shuttle to bring up other types of mass.

At present, the ship's personnel were existing almost entirely on tanked air, but within two weeks one of the three air-restoration projects on the satellite--either hers, in which hydroponic plants and algae were the basic purifiers; or projects in the chem and physics labs--would have to be already functioning in the job, or extra shuttles would have to be devoted to air transportation until they were ready.

The provision of good fresh vegetables and fresh, springlike air would almost certainly be up to her department. The other two labs, Dr. Carmencita Schorlemmer in chemistry, and Dr. Chi Tung in physics, were both working on the air-restoration problem by different means--electro-chemistry in the one case; gas dialysis membranes in the other.

The work of the physics labs was operating on the differential ability of various gas molecules to "leak" through plastic membranes under pressure, causing separation of the various molecular constituents of the atmosphere; shunting carbon dioxide off in one direction, and returning oxygen and the inert nitrogen and other gases back to the surrounding atmosphere.

This latter method had proved highly satisfactory back on Earth, where it was separating out fissionable materials in large quantities and high purities from closely similar isotopes; and would now be tested for efficiency versus weight in some of the new problems being encountered in space.

A fourth method, direct chemical absorption by soda lime, had been discarded early in the program, although it was still used in spacesuit air cleaners, and for the duration of the canned air program under which they were now operating.

The lab was like that--no problem has a single solution. And it was the lab's job to evaluate as many solutions as possible so that the best, under different conditions, might be proved and ready for use in later programs.

Paul Chernov, ordinary spaceman--which meant that he had only a little more specialized training than the average college graduate--was working in the dump, surrounded by much of the equipment that remained to be placed aboard Space Lab One, and trying to identify the particular object he sought.

Looking down almost directly over the eastern bulge of the African coast, he sighted what was probably the ECM lathe he was after, and kicked towards it, simultaneously pulling his pistol-gripped Rate of Approach Indicator from the socket in his suit.

The RAI gun, he sometimes felt, was the real reason he'd become a spaceman in these tame days. Even if he couldn't be a space pirate, it gave him the feel.

Humming to himself, he aimed the search beam from the tiny gallium-arsenide laser crystal that was the heart of the gun at the bulky object, and read off the dial at the back of the "barrel" the two meter/second approach velocity and the twenty-eight meter distance.

He could as easily have set the RAI gun to read his velocity and distance in centimeters or kilometers, and it would have read as well his rate of retreat, if that had been the factor.

Paul's RAI gun might be, to others, a highly refined, vastly superior great-grandson of the older radar that had required much more in the way of equipment than the tiny bulk of this device, but to him, alone in his spacesuit, the galaxy spread around him, it was the weapon with which he had conquered the stars.

In the distance, off beyond the wheel in a trailing orbit, the huge spherical shape of Project Hot Rod glowed its characteristic green--another application of the laser principle, but this one macroscopic in comparison to the tiny laser rate-of-approach gun.

Happily, Paul burst into song.

"There's a sky-trail leading from here to there And another yonder showing; But I've a yen for gravity-- This is where I wasn't going!"

From the other side of the dump, Tombu's voice bellowed into his ears over the intercom. "If you're going to audition for the stars, cut down the volume!"

Paul grinned and reached for the volume control.

"O.K., M'Numba, 's m'numba!--I'm a space-yodler from way out. Heave a line over this way and let's get this ECM lathe aboard."

Tombu's "last name" M'Numba had delighted Paul from the moment he'd heard the story of its origin. By the customs of his own country, Tombu had only a single name. However, when he had first enrolled as a student in England there had been a lack of comprehension between him and the rather flustered registrar and, when he had muttered something about "my number," the registrar had misunderstood and put him down as M'Numba. Tombu had let it stand.

Paul Chernov, fine-boned, blond, with an ancestral background of the Polish aristocracy, and his side-kick, Tombu, black, muscular giant from the Congo, were one of the strangest combinations of this international space lab crew. Yet it was perhaps even stranger that the delicate-looking blond youth was a top machinist, a trade that he had plied throughout his student days in order to economically support an insatiable thirst for knowledge. A trade that had led him to this newest center of man's search for knowledge.

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