"No-o-o," came the placid reply.
"If it's pulling us south, then why--" He stopped himself. Any "why" required inductive reasoning, and of that the Cow was not capable. Instead of asking why they were moving north with a south thrust, Mike broke his question into parts. He'd have to answer the "why" himself, he knew.
"Is Hot Rod pulling us south?" he asked.
"No-o-oo," came the answer.
This time he was more careful. "In which direction is the thrust on Hot Rod oriented?" he asked.
"Then Hot Rod is--" Quickly he stopped and rephrased the statement which would have had a question in its tone but not its semantics, into a question that would read semantically. "Is Hot Rod pulling us north?"
"No-o-oo," came the reply.
Carefully. "Is Hot Rod pulling us?"
Mike was stumped. Then he figured a literalness in his phrasing.
"Is Hot Rod pushing or in any other way giving motion to Space Lab One?" he asked.
"No-o-oo," came the answer.
Now Mike was stumped.
"Is Space Lab One under acceleration?" he asked.
"Ye-es," said the Cow.
"Then where in hell is that acceleration coming from?" Mike was exasperated.
"We a-are uunder no-o-o acceleration fro-om he-ell," the literal mind told him.
Mike laughed ruefully. No acceleration from hell--well, that was debatable. But no thrust from the hellmaker was not a debatable point. The Cow wasn't likely to be wrong, though her appalling literalness was such that an improperly phrased question might make her seem to be.
Computers, he thought, would eventually be the salvation of the human race, whetting their inventors' brains to higher and higher efforts towards the understanding of communications.
Very carefully now he rephrased his question. "From what, and from what point is the acceleration of Space Lab One originating?"
"From the co-ontinu-ous thrust o-originating at a po-oint thirteen fe-et from the a-axial center of the whe-el, in hu-ub section five no-orth, one hundred twelve degrees fro-om reference ze-ero of the engine-eering lo-ongitude references sta-ation assigned in the con-struction ma-anual dealing with relative po-ositions o-of ma-asses lo-ocated o-on Spa-ace La-ab O-one."
Mike glanced up at the tube overhead, which represented the axial passageway down the hub of the wheel. Thirteen feet from the imaginary center of that tube, and in his own engineering compartment.
Then his gaze traveled on around the oddly built, circular room with its thirty-two-foot diameter. The reference to hub section five north meant this compartment. The degrees reference referred to the balancing co-ordinates by which the Cow kept the big wheel statically balanced during rotation. There was a bright stripe of red paint across the floor which indicated zero degrees; and degrees were counted counterclockwise from the north pole of the wheel.
His eyes strayed across the various panels and racks and came to rest in the one hundred twelve degree area. A number of vacant racks, some holding the testing equipment he had moved there not too many hours before--and churkling quietly in its rack near the floor, Ishie's Confusor of Confusion.
Mike contemplated the device with awed respect, then phrased another question for the Cow.
"Exactly how much thrust is being exerted on that point?" he asked.
The computer reeled off a string of numbers so fast that he missed them, and was still going into the far decimal places when Mike said: "Whoa! Approximate number of pounds, please."
"A-approximately six hundred forty. You-u didn't specify the limits o-of a-accuracy tha-at you-u wanted." The burred tone was still complacent.
"Just what acceleration has that given us?" asked Mike, still looking at the Confusor. "Approximately," he added quickly.
"Present a-acceleration is a-approximately eight point nine five ti-imes te-en to the mi-inus third ce-entimeters per se-econd per se-econd. I ca-an ca-arry that to-o-o several mo-ore de-ecimal pla-aces if you-u wi-ish."
"No, thanks, I think you've told me enough."
Mike stood up.
This, he thought, needs Ishie. And coffee, he told himself as a second thought.
And then as a third thought, he turned back to his secret vocoder panel, and said: "The information you have just given me is to be regarded as top secret and not to be discussed except over this channel and by my direct order. Absolutely nothing that would give any one a clue to the fact that there is a method of acceleration aboard. Understood?"
Mike switched off the vocoder, flipped his intercom to the temporary galley in the morgue, and ordered two breakfasts readied. Then he set off for the morgue.
Mike Blackhawk located Dr. Y. Chi Tung's hammock, and nudged the scientist unceremoniously. The small physicist awoke and attempted to sit up in one gesture; bumped his head on the hammock above, and laid back down just as suddenly.
"Come on down to engineering will you Ishie?" The request was spoken softly.
"Hokey, dokey," said Ishie and crawled out of the narrow aperture with the agility of a monkey.
Gesturing to the other to follow him, Mike led the way to the galley first, where the two picked up the readied breakfast and took them to Mike's quarters.
The "cups" of coffee were squeeze bottles; the trays were soft plastic packages, similar to the boil-in-the-bag containers of frozen food that had been common on Earth for some time.
Mike hesitated at the entrance to his engineering quarters, considering whether to shut the bulkhead, but discarded the idea as being more of an attention-getter than a seal for secrecy. He gestured Ishie to the bunk, and parked himself at his console.
"We're in trouble," he said. "You and I together are responsible for the first space attack on Earth."
He stopped and waited, owl-eyed, but the small physicist simply tackled his breakfast with no further comment than a raised eyebrow.
"We," said Mike solemnly, "wiped out Thule Base last night."
"As Confusion would say, there's no Thule like a dead Thule. What are you getting at Mike? You sound serious."
"You mean you slept through ... you didn't know we ... you didn't hear the ... yes, I guess you slept! Well...."
Rapidly Mike sketched the events of the past nine hours, bringing his story completely up to date, including the information he'd gleaned from the Cow, but making no reference to his access to the computer's knowledge. Instead, he attributed the conclusions to himself.
The physicist sat so still when he had finished that Mike became seriously concerned. "Thule...." he began, but Ishie started to speak.
"Mike, it did? It couldn't ... but ... of course, it must have ... the fields ... six hundred forty pounds of thrust! Only six hundred forty, yet ... yes, it could, if the thrust were exactly aligned ... thrust ... Mike, thrust! Mike, thrust! Real thrust! Mike do you know what this means?" His eyes were alight. His voice was reverent. He sprang from the bunk and knelt before the rack that held the churkling Confusor.
"My pretty," he said. "My delicate pretty. What you have done! Mike, we've got a space drive!"
"Ishie. Don't you realize? We wiped out Thule!"
"Thule, schmule--Mike, we've got a space drive!"
Mike grinned to himself. He needn't have worried. Not about Ishie, any how.
But now Ishie was gesturing him over.
"Mike," he said, "you must show me in detail. In exact detail. What did you do? What was your procedure?"
Mike came over and casually reached towards the churkling device, saying "Why, I--" but Ishie reacted with catlike swiftness, blocking the man before he could even touch the rack.
"No, don't touch it! Just tell me what you did!"
Carefully now, Mike began outlining in detail his inspection of the device and each step he had taken as he added to its complexities.
When he had finished, the two sat back on their heels thinking. Finally, Mike spoke.
"Ishie, will you please tell me just how does this thing ... this Confusor ... get that thrust? Just exactly what is involved here?"
Ishie took his time answering, and when he did his words come slowly. "Ah, yes. Confusor it is. I was attempting to confound Heisenberg's statement; but instead I think between us we have confused the issue.
"Heisenberg said that there was no certainty in our measurement of the exact orbit of an electron. That the instrument used to measure the position of the electron must inevitably move the electron; and the greater the attempt at precise measurements, the greater the error produced by the measurements.
"It was my hope," he went on, "to provide greater accuracy of measurement, by use of statistics over the vast number of electrons in orbit around the hydrogen atoms within the test mass. But this, apparently, will not be.
"Now to see what it is we have done.
"First, let us make a re-expression of the laws of math-physics. You understand that I am feeling my way here, for what we have done and what I thought I was doing are quite different, and I am looking with hindsight now at math-physics from the point of reality of this thrust.
"As I understand it, there's a mutual exclusiveness of particles, generally expressed by the statement that two particles may not occupy the same space at the same time.
"But as I would put it, this means each particle owns its own place. Now, inertia says that each particle not only owns its own place, but owns its own temporal memory of where it's going to be unless something interferes with it.
"Now let me not confuse you with semantics. When I say 'memory' and 'knowing' I am not implying a sentient condition. I am speaking of the type of memory and knowing that is a strain in the structure of the proton or atom. This is ... well, anyhow, not sentient. You will have to translate for yourself.
"So to continue, inertia, the way I would put it, says that each particle not only owns its own place, but owns its own temporal memory of where it is going unless it is interfered with.
"In other words, the particle arriving here, now, got here by remembering in this other sense that it was going from there to there to there with some inherent sort of memory. This memory can't be classified as being in relation to anything but the particle itself. No matter how you move the things around it, as long as the things around it don't exert an influence on the particle, the particle's memory of where it's been and where it's going form a continuous straight line through space and must, therefore, have spatial co-ordinates against which to form a 'memory' pattern of former and future action.
"Now as I understand gravity, it's simply the statement that all particles in space are covetous, in this same non-sentient sense, of the position in space of all their neighboring particles. In other words, it's a contravention or the attempted contravention of the statement that two particles may not be in the same place at the same time. It seems that all particles have an urge to try to be in each other's space. And this desire is modified by the distance that separates them.
"This adds up to three rules: "1. No two particles may occupy the same space at the same time.
"2. Even though they can't, they try.
"3. They all know where they're going, and where they've been without relation to anything but the spatial co-ordinates around them.
"That third statement seems to me to knock something of a hole in Einstein's relativity theory. Unless you wish to grant all these particles some method of determining their relationship to particles that are not near them.
"Communication between particles by any means is apparently limited by the speed of light, which is a relationship between space and time, but apparently, from what we know of inertia, if the universe contained only a single particle, and that particle was in motion, it would continue to move regardless of the fact that its motion could not be checked upon in relation to other particles.
"This indicates to me that the particle has an existence in space because it is created out of space, and that space must, therefore, have some very real properties of its own regardless of what is or is not in it. The very fact that there is a limiting speed to light and particle motion introduces the concept that space has physical properties.
"In order to have an electromagnetic wave, one must have a medium in which an electric field or a magnetic field may exist. In order to have matter, which I believe to be a form of electromagnetic field in stasis, one must have special properties which make the existence of matter possible. In order to have inertia, one must also have spatial properties which make the existence of inertia possible.
"People are fond of pointing out that there's nothing to get hold of in free space in order to climb the ladder of gravity, or in order to move between the planets, and that the only possibility of motion of a vehicle in space is to throw something away, or, in other words, lose mass in order to gain speed by reaction. Which is simply a statement that as far as we can tell a force can only be exerted relative to two points--or between two points or masses.
"But this does not account for the continuance of motion once started.
"Inertia says a body will move once started, but it doesn't say why or how. How does that particle once started gain the knowledge to continue without some direct control over its spatial framework? That it will continue, we know. That in the presence of a gravitic field or a magnetic field or other attractive force at right angles to its motion, we can create an acceleration which will maintain it in an exactly circular path called an orbit. But how does it remember, as soon as that field ceases to exist, where it was going before it was last influenced? That it will continue in a straight line indefinitely, without such an influence, we know. That it can be influenced over a distance by various field effects, we also know. But what is the mechanism of influence whereby it influences itself to continue in a straight line? And what handle did we get hold of to convert that influence of self to our own advantage in moving this ship?"
Mike stared at Ishie with vast respect.
"I thought you physics boys did it all with math," he said softly, "and here you've outlined the facts of space that an Indian can feel in his bones--and you've done it in good, solid English that makes some sense.
"In other words," Mike was almost talking to himself as he tried to reword Ishie's theorizing into his own type of thinking, "the particle in motion creates a strain in the fabric--the field--of space; and that fabric must attempt to relieve itself of the strain. A particle in motion makes it possible for the fabric of space to smooth itself out behind the particle; and the fabric attempts to smooth itself on through the area occupied by the particle while it is moving, and so the fabric of space smoothing itself is a constant thrust behind the particle's motion, continuing that motion and making the particle scat to where he wasn't going.
"When that same particle is stopped," Mike was visualizing the process to himself, "the force of the attempt to smooth itself out by the fabric of space exists equally around the particle on all sides; so that the particle will be held stopped by the attempt of the fabric to smooth itself until set into motion again by a force greater than that of inertia--for inertia, then, is the attempt of the fabric of space to smooth itself.
"Quite possibly," Mike was speaking very slowly now as he mocked up and watched the forces of this inertia, "matter itself is created out of the fabric of space, and in its creation, in the stasis condition that keeps it existing as a particle rather than dissolving back into the original fabric, it creates the strain in the fabric--in space--that will then seek to smooth itself so long as the particle shall exist.
"Thus this, then, is inertia--the attempt of the fabric of space to smooth itself; to get rid of the strain of the particle that has been created from itself."
Ishie shook his head. "Not quite," he said, "but you're getting close."
Mike shook himself like a dog coming out of water.
"Oh, well," he said. "Anyway, we've got a space drive--flea sized. Now the question before the board becomes, just what are we going to do with it? Turn it over to the captain?"
"Confusion say," said Ishie, "he who has very little is often most generous. But he who has huge fortune is very cautious about dispersing it. Let's first be sure what we've got," he grinned slyly at Mike, "before we become overgenerous with information."
Mike heaved a huge sigh of relief. He had been afraid he would have to argue Ishie into this point of view.
"Speaking of math, Mike, you're no slouch at it yourself, if you figured out all those orbit co-ordinates in your head, and arrived at an exact figure on the amount of thrust. It would be very nice for our future investigations if we had some method of putting the Cow to work on this." The little physicist sat back, grinned knowingly, and continued: "Where's your secret panel, Mike? We've got to keep this information from going to anybody else."
"Oh, I already--" Mike stopped. "I mean," he floundered, "uh ... how did you know?" A foolish grin spread over his face. "It's right behind you," he said. "And I've got it by voice," he said. "Just push the switch in the corner and talk to it."