But perhaps the combination was not so strange, for Tombu, also, was of the aristocracy--an aristocracy that could perhaps be measured in terms of years extending far behind the comparable times for any European aristocracy.
Tombu was Swahili, a minor king of a minor country which had never been recognized by the white man when he invaded Africa and set up his vast protectorates that took no account of the peoples and their tribal traditions; protectorates that lumped together many hundreds of individual nations and tribes into something the white man looking at maps could label "Congo."
Tombu himself, educated in the white man's schools to the white man's ways, and probing ever deeper into the white man's knowledge, was only vaguely aware of his ancestral origin. He counted his kingdom in negative terms, terms that were no longer applicable in a modern world. Where national boundaries everywhere were melting further and further into disuse, it would seem to his mind foolish to lay claim to a kingship that had been nonexistent for more than one hundred years over a people that had been scattered to the four winds and ground together with other peoples in the Belgian Congo protectorate.
Odd the combination might be; but together the two machinists worked well, with a mutual respect for each other's abilities and a mutual understanding that is rare to find among members of different races.
Quickly they lashed and anchored the crate containing the lathe and hauled it in towards the main south lock of the big wheel.
These were not the only activities in and around the wheel, or other places in space. Man already had a toehold in space, and that toehold was gradually growing into a real beachhead. Swarms of satellites in their short, fast orbits down close to Earth had been performing their tasks for many years. Astronauts had come and gone, testing, checking, probing however briefly; bravely clawing their way up the sides of the long gravitic well that separated Earth from space.
The moon project that had originally been forecast for immediate accomplishment had met with delay. As yet there was no base on the moon, though men had been there, and this was bound to occur.
But the lab was not here so much as a stepping stone to the moon as it was to provide information for the future manned trips out towards Mars and the asteroids; and in towards Venus and the sun.
Besides research, the big wheel would provide living quarters for men building other projects; would provide a permanent central for the network of communications beams that was gradually encompassing man's world and would eventually spread to the other planets as well. Cooperating with this master communications central, other satellites, automatic so far, occupied the same orbit, leading and lagging by one hundred twenty degrees.
A twenty-four hour orbit would have been more advantageous from the point of view of communications, except for the interference that would have been occasioned by the vast flood of electrons encircling Earth in the outer Van Allen belt. These electrons, trapped by Earth's magnetic field from the solar wind of charged particles escaping the sun, unfortunately occupied the twenty-four hour orbit, and, as their orbit expanded and contracted under the influence of the shifting magnetic field and solar flares, could produce tremendous havoc even in automatic equipment, so that it had been deemed economically impractical to set up the originally-postulated three satellites in stationary twenty-four orbits as communications terminals.
As the next best choice, the thirty-six-hour orbit had been selected. It gave a slow rate of angular displacement, since the satellite itself moved ten degrees an hour, while Earth moved 15, for a differential rate of only five degrees an hour, making fairly easy tracking for the various Earth terminals of the communications net; and making possible a leisurely view of more than ninety per cent of Earth's surface every seventy-two hours.
The other two power and communications stations which led and lagged Space Lab One by 120 each, would combine to command a complete view of Earth, lacking only a circle within the arctic regions, so that they could provide power and communications for the entire world--a fact which had been the political carrot which had united Earth in the effort to create the labs with their combined technologies.
The danger of such powerful instruments as Hot Rod, concentrating megawatt beams of solar energy for relay to earth, and which could also be one of man's greatest weapons if it fell into unscrupulous hands, had been carefully played down, and also carefully countered in the screening by the Security Forces of U.N. of the personnel board.
T minus three and counting.
On the zero signal Mike in the engineer's quarters would change the now idly-bubbling air jets in the rim-rivers over to the fully-directional drive jets necessary to spin the fluid in counter-rotation through the rim tanks.
The suiting-up and strapping down were probably unnecessary, Mike thought, but in space you don't take chances.
"T minus two and counting." Bessie's voice rang over the com circuit in officially clipped clarity.
From the physics lab came a rather oddly pitched echo. "Allee allee in free fallee! Hold it, please, as Confusion would say! Paul forgot to secure the electrolite for the ECM equipment. Can't have these five-gallon bottles bouncing around!"
"And we can't have you bouncing around either, Dr. Chi Tung. Get that soup under wraps quick. How much time do you need?" came the captain's voice from his console angled over Bessie's head.
Clark's voice could be heard murmuring into his Earth-contact phone. "T minus two. Holding."
Less than two minutes later, Dr. Chi released the hold by announcing briefly, "Machine shop and physics department secure."
"T minus two and counting...."
"T minus one and counting...." Bessie continued officially. "Fifty, forty, thirty, twenty...."
The faint whine of high-speed centrifugal compressors could be heard through the ship.
"Ten...." The jets that had previously bubbled almost inaudibly took on the sound of a percolating coffee pot.
"... Four, three, two, one, mark."
The bubbling became a hiss that settled into a soft susurrus of background noise, as the jets forced air through the river of water in the circular tanks of the rim.
The water began to move. By reaction, the wheel took up a slow, circular motion in the opposite direction.
Then, gently, the wheel shook itself and settled into a complacently off-center motion that placed Bessie somewhere near the actual center of rotation.
"We're out of balance, Mr. Blackhawk," said the captain, one hand on the intercom switch.
"Bessie, ask the Cow what's off balance." It was Mike's voice from engineering control. "Thought we had this thing trued up like a watch."
But the computer had already taken over, and was controlling the flow of water to the hydrostatic balance tank system, rapidly orienting the axis of spin against the true axis of the wheel.
The wobble became a wiggle; the wiggle became the slightest of sways; and under the computer's gentle ministrations, the sways disappeared and Space Lab One rolled true.
Slowly Mike inched the jet power up, and the speed and "gravity" of the rim rose--from 0.009 to 0.039 to the pre-scheduled 0.15 of a gravity--two RPM--at which she would remain until a thorough test schedule over several days had been accomplished. Later tests would put the rim through check-out tests to as high as 1.59 gee, but "normal" operation had been fixed at two RPM.
In the background, the susurrus of the air jets rose slightly to the soft lullaby-sound that the wheel would always sing as she rolled.
New, experimental, her full complement of six hundred scientists and service personnel so far represented by only one hundred sixty-three aboard, the big wheel that was Space Lab One rotated majestically at her hydrodynamically controlled two revolutions per minute.
She gave nearly half her mass to the water that spun her--huge rivers of water, pumped through the walls of the wheel's rim, forming a six-foot barrier between the laboratories within the rim and the cosmic and solar radiations of outer space.
Arguments on Earth had raged for months over the necessities--or lack of them--for the huge mass of water aboard, but the fluid mass served many purposes better than anything else could serve those purposes.
As a radiation shield, it provided sufficient safety against cosmic radiations of space and from solar radiations, except for solar flare conditions, to provide a margin of safety for the crew over the three months in which they would do their jobs before being rotated back to Earth for the fifteen-month recovery period.
The margin was nearly enough for permanent duty--and there were those who claimed it was sufficient--but the claim had not been substantiated, and the three months maximum for tour was mandatory.
Originally, shielding had not been considered of vital importance, but experience had proven the necessity. The first construction personnel had been driven back to Earth after two weeks, dosimeters in the red. The third crew didn't make it. All five died of radiation exposure from a solar flare. An original two weeks' limit was raised as more shielding arrived--three weeks, four, five--now the shadowy edge of the theoretic ninety-day recovery rate from radiation damage and the ninety days required to get the maximum safe dosage overlapped--but safety procedures still dictated that a red dosimeter meant a quick return to Earth whether the rate of recovery overlapped or not.
The question was still open whether more shielding would be brought up to make the overlap certain, or whether it would be best to maintain a personnel rotation policy indefinitely. Some factions on Earth seemed determined that rotation must remain not only a procedural but an actual requirement--their voices spoke plainly through the directives and edicts of U.N. Budget Control--but from what source behind this bureaucratic smokescreen it would have been difficult to say.
As a heat sink, the water provided stability of temperature that would have been difficult to achieve without it. Bathed in the tenuous solar atmosphere that extends well beyond the orbit of Earth, and with a temperature over 100,000 C, maintenance of a livable temperature on board the big wheel was not the straight-forward balancing of radiation intercepted/radiation outgoing that had been originally anticipated by early writers on the subject.
True, the percentage of energy received by convection was small compared to that received by radiation; but it was also wildly variable.
As a biological cultural medium, the hydraulic system provided a basis for both air restoration and food supplies. When the proper balance of plankton and algae was achieved, the air jets that gave the ship its spin would also purify the ship's air, giving it back in a natural manner the oxygen it was now fed from tanks.
As a method of controlling and changing the rate of rotation of the wheel, the rivers of water had already proven themselves; and as a method of static balancing to compensate for off-center weights, masses of it could be stopped and held in counterbalance tanks around the rim, thus assuring that the observatory, in its stationary position on the hub, would not suddenly take up an oscillatory pattern of motion as the balance within the wheel was shifted either by moving equipment or personnel.
In effect, the entire ship operated against a zero-M-I calculation which could be handled effectively only by the computer. The moment of inertia of the ship must be constantly calculated against the moment of inertia of the hydraulic mass flowing in the rim. And the individual counterbalance tanks must constantly shift their load according to the motions of the crew and their masses of equipment that were constantly being shifted during installation. For already the observatory was hard at work, and its time must not be stolen by inappropriate wobbles of the hub.
A continuously operating feedback monitor system was capable of maintaining accuracy to better than .01% both in the mass inertial field of centrifugal force affecting the rim; and in overall balance that might otherwise cause wobbles in the hub.
While such fine control would not be necessary to the individual comfort of the personnel aboard, it was very necessary to the accuracy of scientific observation, one major purpose of the lab; and even so, many of the experimenters would require continuous monitor observation from the computer to correct their observations against her instantaneous error curve.
The mass of water in the rim formed a shell six feet through, surrounding the laboratories and living quarters--walls, floor and ceiling--since its first function was that of radiation shielding.
But the bulk of this water was not a single unit. It was divided into separate streams, twenty in number, in each of which various biological reactions could be set up.
While a few of the rivers were in a nearly chemically pure state, most of them were already filling with the plankton and algae that would form the base of the major ecological experiments, some with fresh water as their medium, others using sea water, complete with its normal micro-organisms supplemented from the tanks of concentrate that Dr. Millie Williams had brought aboard. One or two of the rivers were operating on different cycles to convert human waste to usable forms so that it might reenter the cycles of food and air.
Several of the rivers were operating to provide fish and other marine delicacies as part of the experiment to determine the best way of converting algae to food in a palatable form.
Within, the rivers were lighted fluorescently--an apparent anomaly that was due to the fact that the problems of shielding marine life from direct sunlight in such a shallow medium had not yet been worked out; while the opaque plastic that walled the laboratories within the rivers was a concession to their strength, since the clear plastic that would have provided aquarium walls for the lab and complete inspection for a constant and overall check of the ecological experiments had been overruled by U.N. Budget Control. Portholes at various spots made the seaquariums visible from any part of the rim, but in Dr. Millie's laboratory alone were the large panels of clear plastic that gave a real view into the rivers.
This ecological maze of rivers and eddies and balance tanks; of air jets and current and micro-life; of spin-rate-control and shielding, were all keyed to servo-regulated interdependence that for this self-contained world replaced the stability achieved in larger ecologies through survival mechanisms.
Within the maze, existing by it and contributing to it, were the laboratories concerned with other things, but surrounded by the waters that had made life's beginnings possible on Earth, and the continuance of life possible in space. Man might some day live in space almost totally without water, but for now they had brought a bit of the mother waters with them.
Sitting in complacent control of these overall complexities that must be met with automatic accuracy was the Starrett Analogue/Digital Computer, Optical Wave type 44-63, irreverently referred to by the acronymically-minded as Sad Cow, though more frequently as the Sacred Cow, or simply Cow.
Most of the computer's intricate circuits were hidden behind the bulkhead in a large compartment between the control center and the south polar lock; but it was from this console in the control center that her operation was keyed.
From this position, every function of the wheel was ordered.
This was the bridge.
Spaced equally around its thirty-two-foot ring-shaped floor were the computer's console where Bessie presided; the com center in charge of Communications Officer Clark; and the command console where Captain Naylor Andersen, commanding officer of Space Lab One had his formal, though seldom-occupied post.
At the moment, Nails Andersen was present, black cigar clamped firmly between his teeth; hamlike Norwegian hands maneuvering a pencil, he was making illegible notes on a scrap of paper--illegible to others because they were in his own form of shorthand that he had worked out over the years as he tried to make penciled notes as fast as his racing mind worked out their details.
Whether Nails were politician or scientist would be hard to say. Certainly his rise through the ranks of U.N. Bureaus had been rapid; certainly in this rise he had been political, with the new brand of politics that men were learning--world, rather than national politics. Certainly, also, he was a scientist; and certainly he had used his political abilities on the behalf of science, pushing and slashing at red-tape barriers.
Nails was more than most responsible for the very existence of U.N. Space Lab One, and Project Hot Rod besides. He was also a sponsor of many other projects, both those that had been done and those that were yet to be done.
The justification of a space project in these times was difficult indeed; for no longer could nations claim military superiority as a main reason for pushing forward across the barriers of the inner marches of space; for spending billions in taxes in experimental research. For a project to achieve reality now, it must have benefits, visible benefit, for the majority of mankind. It must have a raison d'etre that had nothing of a military flavor. And occasionally Nails had been hard put to explain why, to people who did not understand; to explain his feeling that men must expand or die; that from a crowded planet there could be only one frontier, and that an expansion outward into space.
Of course there were, Nails admitted to himself, other frontiers. The huge basin of the Amazon had been by-passed and ignored by man, and quite possibly would be in the future as well. The oceans, covering seventy-five per cent of Earth's surfaces also presented a challenge to man, and the possibility of a new frontier of conquest.
But these did not present the limitless frontier for expansion offered by space. Men must look upon them as only temporary challenges, and cherish them as remaining problems, never to be solved for fear of a loss of the problem itself.
Yet space was different. Here man's explorations could touch upon infinities that were beyond comprehension, into that limitless void man could plunge ever outward for thousands of generations without ever reaching a final goal or solving a last problem. Here was a frontier worthy of any man, against which the excess energies of a warrior spirit might be expended without harm to their fellows.
To open a crack in this frontier was Nails' supreme goal, because, once opened, men need never fight again amongst themselves for lack of a place to go or a thing to do.
Space Lab One had been in spin for two days.
On Earth, TV viewers no longer demanded twenty-four hours of Lab newscasts, and were returning to their normal cycles of Meet the Press, the Doctor's Dilemma, and the Lives of Lucy, and other juicier items of the imagination that, now that their lab was a functioning reality, seemed far more exciting than the pictures of the interminably spinning wheel and the interviews with scientists aboard that had filled their screens during the spin-out trial period.
On the wheel itself, life was settling into a pattern, with comments about being able to stand upright becoming old hat.
In rim sector A-9, Dr. Claude Lavalle's birds and beasts had adapted themselves to the light gravity; and their biological mentor had evolved feeding, watering, and cleaning methods that were rapidly becoming efficient.
Next door, Dr. Millie Williams' FARM had survived the "take-off" and the plants, grateful for their new, although partial gravity, were now stretching themselves towards the overhead fluorescents in a rather fantastic attempt to imitate the early growing stages of Jack's famous beanstalk.
In the machine shop, Paul Chernov carefully inspected the alignment of the numeric controlled laser microbeam milling and boring machine, brought it to a focus on a work piece, and pressed an activation switch that started the last pattern of tiny capillary holes in the quartz on which he was working. In moments the pattern was completed.
Gently removing the work piece from its mounting, he turned to the open double bulkhead that served as an air lock in emergencies and that separated his shop from the physics lab beyond, where Dr. Y. Chi Tung, popularly known as Ishie, was busy over a haywire rig, Chief Engineer Mike Blackhawk and Tombu beside him.
Reverently, Dr. Chi took the part from Paul's hands. "A thousand ancestral blessings," he said. "Confusion say the last piece is the most honored for its ability to complete the gadget, and this is it.
"Of course," he added, "Confusion didn't say whether it would work or not."
"What does the gadget do?" asked Paul.
"Um-m-m. As the European counterpart of Confusion, Dr. Heisenberg might have explained it, this is a device to confuse confusion by aligning certainties and creating uncertainties in the protons of this innocent block of plastic." The round, saffron-hued Chinese face looked at Paul solemnly.
"As the good Dr. Heisenberg stated, there is a principle of confusion or uncertainty as to the exact whereabouts of things on the atomic level, which cannot be rendered more exact due to disturbance caused by the investigation of its whereabouts. My humble attempt is to secure a sufficiently statistical sample of aligned protons to obtain data on the distortion of the electron orbits caused by an external electrostatic field, thus rendering my own uncertainties more susceptible of analysis in a statistical manner."
Suddenly he grinned. "It's a take-off," he said, "from the original experiments in magnetic resonance back in '46.
"The fields generated in these coils are strong enough to process all the protons so that their axis of spin is brought into alignment. At this point, the plastic could be thought of as representing a few billion tiny gyroscopes all lined up together.
"Matter of fact," he said in an aside, "if you want a better explanation of that effect, you might look up the maintenance manual on the proton gyroscopes that Sad Cow uses. Or the manuals for the M.R. analyzer in the chem lab. Or the magnetometer we use to keep a check on Earth's magnetic field.
"So far, about the same thing.
"What I'm trying to do is place radio frequency fields and electrostatic fields in conjunction with the D.C. magnetic field, so as to check out the effect of stretching the electron orbits of the hydrogen atoms in predictable patterns.
"I picked this place for it, because it was as far away from Earth's field as I could get. And Mike, when I get ready to test this thing, I'm going to pray to my ancestors and also ask you to turn off as many magnetic gadgets as you safely can."
Mike was squatting on his heels by the haywire rig, built into what looked suspiciously like a chassis extracted from one of the standard control consoles of the communication department.
Reaching gingerly in through the haywire mass of cables surrounding the central components, he pointed to one of the coils and exclaimed in the tones of a Sherlock Holmes, "Ah-ha, my dear Watson! I have just located the final clue to my missing magnaswedge. I suppose you know the duty cycle on those coils is only about 0.01?"
"Not after I finished with them!" Ishie grinned unrepentant. "Besides, I don't want to squash anything in the field. I just want a nice, steady field of a reasonable magnitude. As Confusion would say, he who squashes small object may unbalance great powers."
While he talked, Ishie had been busy inserting the carefully machined piece of quartz plate that Chernov had brought, into a conglomeration of glassware that looked like a refugee from the chem lab, and flipped a switch that caused a glowing coil inside a pyrex boiler to heat a small quantity of water, which must escape through the carefully machined capillary holes in the plate he had just installed. Each jet would pass through two grids, and on towards a condenser arrangement from which the water would be recirculated into the boiler by a small pump which was already beginning to churkle to itself.
"O.K.," Mike said. "I dig the magnetic resonance part. And how you're using the stolen coils. But what's this gadget?" and he pointed to the maze of glass and glass tubing.
"Oh. Permit me to introduce Dr. Ishie's adaptation of a French invention of some years previous, which permits the development of high voltages by the application of heat to the evaporation of a fluid medium such as water--of which we have plenty aboard and you won't miss the little that I requisitioned--causing these molecules to separate and pass at high speed through these various grids, providing electrostatic potentials in their passage which can be added quite fantastically to produce the necessary D.C. field which...."