"Perhaps I wasn't considering pole faces," Ishie answered. "Our investigation has already shown that once initiated the thrust-effect works best in a very low magnetic field.
"Such a low, parallel magnetic field would quite probably be found inside of a simple solenoid coil."
"O.K.," Mike answered, "but you have also found that a very high magnetic field is required to initiate the action. How do you get that inside a solenoid without an iron core?"
"As you say, a strong field must initiate the action. Let us try another experiment, Mike."
Ishie turned the Confusor off, selected a piece of wire from Mike's supplies, and wound a ten-turn coil over the large magnetic coils of the experimental device.
The leads from this he ran to a pulse-generator that could be accurately adjusted to supply pulses of anything from a tenth microsecond to a tenth second.
Selecting the shortest possible duration, he then set the magnetic field adjustment on the experimental device to a point just below that point on which it had turned on previously.
"Now we see." Turning on the device, he glanced at the display panel which still showed zero thrust. Then he triggered a single one-microsecond pulse into the additional ten turns of winding. The readout display showed zero thrust. He triggered a ten microsecond pulse. Nothing happened. One hundred microseconds. Nothing. One thousand microseconds--the display changed, dropping so quickly into position that the pulse thrust itself was not recorded--but the figure turned up seven hundred thirty pounds thrust on the display panel.
"So," said Ishie, "we can initiate thrust with a one thousand microsecond pulse. Can you design a power supply that would achieve that field for that time in a solenoid having ... say ... one per cent as high a field strength as the one we are using here?"
"O.K.," said Mike. "I get you. Sounds to me like this thing is going to look like a barrel when we get through with it.
"I wish," he added, "that we could get one point one gee. And land this thing on Earth. And have a big parade, with Space Lab One hovering just overhead to the cheers and the blaring bands and the--"
"Confusion say, he who would poke hole in hornets nest had best be prepared with long legs." Ishie grinned. "You don't think anybody would really appreciate our doing that, do you Mike? Outside of the people themselves, that is, that aren't directly concerned with man's welfare? We haven't done this in the proper manner of team research and billions spent in experiments and planned predicted achievements made with the proper Madison Avenue bow to the financier that made it possible. You know what they do to wild-haired individualists down there, don't you?"
Mike shrugged. "Oh, well," he said, "you're right of course. But it was a beautiful dream. How do you suppose we can build these and still keep all the scientists aboard and on Earth happy that they're just innocent magneto-ionic effect cancelers? Boy, that was a beauty, Ishie!"
"Best we have two sets of drawings. The ones for us can be sketchy, and need not have too much exactitude of design. We know what we're doing--at least, I hope we do.
"But let us make a second set of drawings that is somewhat different, though of a simpler shape and design, on which other scientists aboard can speculate, and which can be sent to Earth to confuse the confusion."
The two went to work with a will, and as the two sets of drawings emerged, they were indeed different. The set from which they would actually work was only mildly described as sketchy. The papers looked like the notations a man makes for himself to get the figures he will set into a formalized pattern as it takes shape, before throwing his penciled figurings into the wastebasket.
The second set was exact; created with drawing instruments on Mike's drafting board, and each of the component circuits would have created an effect that would have interlocked in the whole, but it would take the most erudite of persons to figure each into its effect, and its effect into the whole, and the effect of the whole was somewhat that somebody might someday figure out--but would possibly cancel a magneto-ionic effect if such existed. The drawings looked extremely impressive.
As the second set of drawings neared completion, Ishie glanced at the clock, then turned to the Cow's vocoder.
"How soon will Space Lab One reach the northernmost point of her present orbit and begin a swing to the south?" he asked.
Mike looked puzzled, but the Cow answered, "In ten minutes, thirty-seven seconds. At precisely 05:27:53 ship time."
"I think," said Ishie, "we'd best put a switch on our magnetic field so that we can reverse the field and the thrust."
"Why?" asked Mike.
"Because," Ishie explained, "when we reach the top of our course northward, then the thrust of the Confusor and Earth's gravity come into conflict, moving our entire orbit off-center and bringing us closer to the pole. In not too many orbits, that eccentricity in our orbit might pull us into the Van Allen belt. We can't afford that. Now, if we reverse the thrust at the right time, our orbit will be enlarged and we stay out of troubled spaces."
Mike was still puzzled. "I don't see how that works," he said. "Why wouldn't we just go off in a spiral on our present thrust?"
"The acceleration of Earth is a much greater influence," Ishie tried to make it clear, "than our little mosquito here. As long as they work together, things go well. But when Earth dictates that we will now swing south, be it ever so few degrees south, our mosquito is overpowered and can only drag us clear to Earth-center on a closing spiral, which would eventually lead us to crash somewhere in the southern hemisphere, a good many orbits from now.
"I hope," he said, "reversing the magnetic field will indeed reverse our little mosquito's thrust." He moved toward the Confusor.
"Hold it," said Mike. "The displacement in orbit won't be very much, at least on the first few go-arounds, will it? and if we switch it now, somebody'll start getting suspicious of this magneto-ionic effect. The effect that's doing all this. A sudden reversal might not be in its character, if it had a character. And anyhow, we don't want to give another jerk on Hot Rod. We might jerk something loose this time. We've already wiped out Thule Base--and there's no use adding scalps to an already full belt."
"O.K.," said Ishie. "Then now, I think it is time that we presented our formal drawings to the captain; and I think that when we present them we will suggest that we start work immediately on construction, even while he is checking out our drawings through his experts, so that the project will not be delayed."
On the bridge, the captain received the drawings with relief.
"Thank you, gentlemen. If these prove out, you may have saved the satellite by the rapidity of your work. Dr. Kimball calculated that our present acceleration will take us dangerously close to the Van Allen belt in about three orbits, and I need not tell you what that would mean."
Ishie spoke up immediately. "In that case, captain, perhaps Mr. Blackhawk and I had better start construction on this device immediately, without waiting for you to complete the check-out. That may save us invaluable time."
"Of course," said the captain. "What assistance will you need?"
"Of the greatest priority," replied Ishie gravely, "is access to the machine shop. The solar flare should be about wearing itself out."
"Oh ... of course. It may be." The captain's face was slightly red as he realized he had not thought to check this point. "Bessie, ask the computer...."
"Yes, sir," she answered quickly, and returned shortly. "The computer says the radiation count is down to ten M.R. above normal."
"It's a fairly low reading, even if it is above the Cow's normal-safe mark. That reading could go on for hours, which we may not have," commented Ishie. "Perhaps we could disregard so narrow a differential...."
"In your opinion, doctor," the captain asked, "would it be safe to return the personnel to the rim? Of course, I would have to return the entire ship to normal conditions in order to give the machine shop or any other part of the rim its normal six-foot shielding," he added, "so please consider your answer carefully."
"I think you would be quite safe to do so, captain. Considering the fact that otherwise we may go into the Van Allen belt, I think it should be done without question."
To himself, Mike chortled gleefully. This grave, pedantic physicist was about as unlike the co-conspirator with whom he had worked for the past nearly ten hours as was possible. "The guy's a genius at a lot of things," he thought to himself. "Puts on the social mock-up expected of him like you'd put on a suit of clothes--and takes it off just as completely," he added as an afterthought.
The return to the rim was slower than had been the evacuation--but it was complete within twenty minutes of the decision to return the satellite to normal.
In the machine shop, Paul and Tombu, with Ishie and Mike, were gathering the materials they'd need for the odd construction--Paul singing to himself as he worked.
"I got in the shuttle, thought it went to the Base; I'd learned my trade; there I'd take my place Safely on Earth; but I found me in space-- I'd went where I wasn't going!"
"What's that song?" asked Ishie of the spaceman.
"Oh, that's just 'The Spaceman's Lament.' You make it up as you go along." His voice grew louder, taking the minor, wailing key at a volume the others could hear.
"I got on the wheel, thought I'd stay for the ride-- I'd found a funny suit in which to hide-- But I went through a closet--and I was outside! I'd went where I wasn't going!"
Tombu and Mike joined happily in the chorus, bawling it out at the top of their lungs as they began the work that would make the big Confusor.
"Oh ... there's a sky-trail leading from here to there And another yonder showing-- But when I get to the end of the run It'll be where I wasn't going!"
Meanwhile, facsimile copies of the official drawings had been made for the other interested scientists aboard, and also sent by transfax to U.N. headquarters for distribution among Earth's top-level scientists.
They were innocent enough in concept, and sufficiently complex in design to require a great deal of study by these conservative individuals who would never risk a hasty guess as to the consequences of even so simple an action as sneezing at the wrong time.
Major Steve Elbertson awoke with a start, to see a medic's eyes inches from his own. For a moment, fearing himself under physical attack, he struck out convulsively, and then as the face withdrew he sat up slowly.
He was slightly nauseous; very dizzy; and his instincts told him that he needed a gallon of coffee as soon as he could get it. Then the medic's voice penetrated.
"Please, sir, you must rest. No excitement."
Almost, he was persuaded. It would be so easy to relax; to give someone else the responsibility. But the concept of responsibility brought him struggling up again.
Hot Rod was a dangerous weapon. He could not act irresponsibly.
"How long was I out?" he muttered.
The medic glanced at the clock. "Just over nineteen hours, sir."
"Wha-at? You dared to keep me off duty that long? I must report for duty at once."
"Please, sir. No excitement. You must rest. Just a moment and I'll call Dr. Green." With that the medic turned and fled.
As Dr. Green approached, Steve Elbertson was already on his feet, swaying dizzily, white as a sheet, but perhaps the latter was more from anger than from anything else.
"Major Elbertson. You received a severe dose of radiation. You are under my personal supervision and will return to bed at once."
"Is the flare over?" Elbertson asked the question, although already vaguely aware that the ship was again spinning, that he was standing on the floor fairly firmly, and that, therefore, the emergency must be over.
"In that case, sir, my duty is to my post on Hot Rod."
"Hot Rod's out of commission and so are you. I cannot be responsible for the consequences if you do not follow my orders."
"Explain that, please. About Hot Rod, I mean."
"Why, it was struck by a meteor shortly after the flare last night. I think I heard someone say that it burned out Thule Base before they managed to turn it off."
Without waiting for more, Elbertson brushed past the doctor and headed for the bridge.
The captain was startled by the mad-looking, unshaven scarecrow of an officer that approached him, demanding in a near-scream, "What happened? What have you done? What did you DO to Project Hot Rod? No one should have tampered with it without my direct order! Captain, if that mechanism has been ruined, I'll have them nail your hide to the door!"
"Major!" The captain stood. "This may be a civilian post, but you are still an officer and I am your superior. Return to your quarters and clean up. Then report to me properly!"
For a moment there was seething rebellion on Elbertson's already wild features. Then, automatonlike, he turned and walked stiffly away without saluting.
But the stiffness left him as he passed through the door. Momentarily he sagged against a wall for support, far weaker than he thought possible for a man of his youth and what he thought of as his condition. Making his way almost blindly to Security's quarters in rim-section B-5, he staggered through the door and on towards the latrine, shouting at Chauvenseer to "Get out of that sack and give me a detailed report on events since the flare. Oh, and send somebody for coffee--lots of coffee."
On the bridge the captain flipped the intercom to Dr. Green's station. "Is Major Elbertson under the influence of any unusual drugs, doctor?" he asked when he'd reached the medical staff chief. "Anything that might make his behavior erratic?"
"Only sedatives, captain. And, oh yes, those new sulph-hydral anti-radiation shots. We're not too familiar with what they do, though the reports indicate the worst effect is a mild anoxemia, which generally results in something of a headache. Of course, that's if the quantity of the drug was precisely calibrated. They can be fatal," he added as an afterthought.
"Would anoxemia cause a change in character, doctor?"
"It might. It might make one behave either stupidly or irrationally--temporarily or permanently, depending on the severity of the effect."
"Did Major Elbertson seem normal to you when you discharged him from hospital?"
"I did not discharge him, captain. I ordered him to remain under my care. But he seemed greatly upset, and short of force I could not have kept him from leaving."
"I see." The captain paused, then asked: "Doctor, please consider carefully. Would you consider Major Elbertson's condition serious enough to warrant confining him to bed by force?"
"Probably not. He should come out of it in a few hours. Exercise may possibly be good for him, though I doubt if he's capable of much of it." The doctor chuckled as though at a private joke with himself, then added, "He's really quite weak physically, you know, even without the after effects of radiation and drugs."
"Thank you, doctor."
Back in his quarters, Elbertson was refusing to admit to himself the fact of his own weakness. He had been quite ill in the shower, had managed to slash himself rather badly with the razor while shaving, but was now smartly attired in a clean pair of the regulation coveralls, with the insignia of his rank properly in place--and so weak he could hardly move.
The coffee hadn't helped much.
The briefing had helped even less. The major knew himself guilty of negligence while on duty. Inadvertently, but as though by his very hand, certainly through the agency of some saboteur he had failed to spot, his weapon had been turned on his own troops at Thule, key post in the plan.
It was possible that the entire plan had been sabotaged, though that seemed quite unlikely. Its ramifications were too great. So long as Hot Rod still existed, was still within their reach, the plan was operational.
The nonsense about a magneto-ionic effect he discarded without hesitation. Obviously it was sabotage, possibly by someone with a plan of his own, more probably by someone in the pay of one of the big power companies that would like to see the operation at least postponed. Obviously--he gave up.
Nothing would be obvious until he knew in exact detail what had occurred, what the plans of the enemy would be, where next they would strike--and who was the enemy.
But that last, at least, was almost obvious. Who else, but the man who had carried the political battle, against all odds, that Hot Rod be created? Who else but Captain Naylor Andersen could possibly have delivered this sneaking, underhanded attack against himself and his comrades?
Who else, he thought, but a man so callous as to order him, sick as he was, as though he were a mere cadet, to leave the bridge.
Major Elbertson's mind was made up as to the identity of the enemy.
But he would have to proceed with care, or he would key the plan before the time was ripe. There must be no great shake-up in personnel, or undue attention from Earth to the potentials of Project Hot Rod.
Perhaps the saboteur's cover-story of a magneto-ionic effect would serve his ends as well--at least until his comrades on Earth signaled that the time was ripe.
Yet now that Hot Rod had proved its power, the time was ripe. It was that proof on which the plan had waited. And perhaps this very sabotage would prove to be the "incident" on which the plan hinged....
Even as he fought to clear his normally organized mind of the weariness of his body that now sapped at its strength, the call came.
Chauvenseer appeared at his side, saluting smartly. "Com Officer Clark, sir, reports a message from Earth. The message, sir. 'Begin Operation Ripe Peach.'"