In the machine shop, Mike was rummaging around in one of the tool lockers. "Any sort of a small telescope," he muttered, almost to himself. Then "Paul, is there a theodolite or anything like that left lying around in here?"
"Yes," said Paul, moving off to a cabinet in another part of the room. "We needed them when we were putting the wheel together."
"O.K." Mike turned back to the laser milling machine. "Now can we take the focusing lens off of this, and rig something to give me a focus at about 4.5 miles? Or would it need focusing at all? Shooting at that distance?"
"Depends on what you shoot, Mike. The unfocused beam can make a black surface very hot very quick. But from a mirror surface, it would just bounce, unless it's carefully focused."
"It ought to take care of the plastic at least, then."
"Go right through it. You gonna laser Hot Rod?"
"No. Just the anchor tubes that hold the mirror; and maybe a slash through the nitrogen tank at the back. Here, make me a bracket to fit these two things together, so I can see what I'm aiming at." He handed the theodolite telescope and the laser milling-head to Paul.
"How much of the machine do I have to take to power that milling-head?" he asked Tombu.
"Oh, most of it's just control circuits. This box on the back is the power supply. Plugs right in to ship's power."
"Hey!" Mike called over to Paul now busy constructing a bracket. "Make that bracket to hold this power supply, too. Oh, and round me up about sixty feet of extension cord, Tombu."
"But, Mike, how are you going to get out there?" Millie's voice was concerned. "They've probably got men all over the place out here on the rim. If you try to go through the corridor towards an emergency lock, they'll have you sure with their needle guns. You heard Elbertson delegate three men to kill you!"
"I expect I can find a place where they aren't." And picking up the Security radio from the intercom bench, he turned it on and spoke into it.
"Elbertson, this is Mike Blackhawk. You now have twenty minutes to surrender," and he cut off.
Mike turned to Tombu. "Get me some plastic wrapping material. Preferably a plastic bag. I've got to make this stuff waterproof."
When the power supply, telescope, milling head and extension cord were rigged and carefully wrapped in plastic to make a waterproof package, he attached them with a shoulder rope.
"Too bad we didn't make a lock in the wall right here," he muttered. "But I don't suppose the Security guards will be guarding those empty labs over in the R-12 sector. Guess I'm going for a swim now." And with that, Mike reached down and carefully removed the inspection plate from one of the floor tanks, and lowered himself over the edge into the racing waters.
Hanging there with one hand, he carefully pulled his plastic bag into position beside and slightly behind his body, and let go. Instantly he was sucked away into the subdued blue fluorescent-lighted glow of the waters of the rim.
"Glad they figured these planktons need light," he thought to himself. "I'd have a time finding where I'm going in the dark."
Forty-five seconds later, he reached up and snatched at a passing hand-hold, next to a plate marked with the numbers of the lab he sought.
Wrenching the handle of the inspection plate and pushing it free, he climbed out into the deserted lab; made his way out into the corridor, his unwieldy package hanging to his shoulder and runlets of water making a trail behind him--and stepped into the nearby emergency lock.
In the lock he quickly donned one of the emergency spacesuits that hung there, gathered up his bundle again, and stepped out on the catwalk of the inner part of the rim, under the brilliant night sky at the moment, but turning towards its "sunrise." He opened his plastic package.
"Major Elbertson," he said, turning on the Security radio, "you now have five minutes to surrender."
Attaching his suit to the guideline nearby, part of the rim's "hairnet," he crept out over the inside edge of the rim. From this position he had a full view of the glowing bubble that was Hot Rod for the few seconds until the movement of the rim took him past the "sunrise" point and turned him sunwards.
Last time Mike had been out on the rim, the wheel had not been turning. There'd been no reference of up and down, other than the rim itself as an oddly curved floor. Now he felt disoriented. The wheel was spinning, the hub, therefore, seemed "up." And from the edge of the rim where he clung to its hairnet, all directions were down.
The stars seemed to sweep beneath his feet and over his head; and though it was a slow pattern, only twice as fast as the crawl of a second hand around the face of a clock, it was, nevertheless, disorienting.
Bracing himself carefully into the net, with his back wedged firmly against the rim, he adjusted his bizarre "gun" to rest on his knees so that he could sight in the direction that was, to his body's senses, straight down.
Not at all, he thought, like trying to shoot fish in a barrel. More like being the fish and trying to shoot the people outside the barrel.
Back in the shadow again. Not really shadow where he sat, but the rim around him, below him, and curving away from him, had disappeared in its brief nightside, and there came Hot Rod again. Carefully he tracked it; then putting his eye to the scope he focused briefly on one of the high-pressure supporting tubes that formed the rigid structure from which the aiming mirror was held in place.
The tube burst, noiselessly but quite spectacularly. And the mirror itself shuddered shook, as the tube's gases escaped.
Now he was in bright sunlight again, quickly closing his eyes as the sun itself looked full into his vision, and slowly passed to be following by Earth, to be followed by a blank stretch of starry space, and here again was Hot Rod.
Carefully he tracked another of the supporting tubes.
And again a spectacular, writhing collapse--and this time, the mirror fell free, supported by only two tubes, and permanently out of focus, incapable of aiming the monster beam.
This time, Hot Rod was definitely secure from the misapplication of Security.
"Three minutes," he spoke into the radio. "Your weapon is dead. My next shot will be through the nitrogen tank at your air-lock. I wouldn't advise you to be there."
The wheel turned once more, as the radio came alive from the other end.
"Mr. Blackhawk, do you realize that what you are doing constitutes mutiny in space and will be dealt with accordingly on Earth? I have officially taken control of Hot Rod at the command of my superiors in the new U.N. Security Control Command."
Mike didn't bother to answer. As the wheel turned him towards Hot Rod again, he said into the radio, "Two minutes."
Elbertson's voice came again. "With this new weapon we control Earth. Don't you realize that you can't stand up against the new people's government of Earth?"
The wheel came around. Mike replied: "One minute."
The lock on the Hot Rod control room opened. Frantic tiny figures burst forth, activated scuttlebugs, and started on the five-mile trek back towards the big wheel.
Mike worked his way back through the clinging net to the catwalk, failing completely to see the tiny figure that dodged beneath the rim as he approached.
Glancing around he carefully scanned over the entire inner rim before stepping out into the sunlight of the catwalk itself. Nothing.
Then a blink caught his eye, and he glanced up toward the observatory. There. In the observatory.
He thought for a minute it was someone signaling, but it was only a touch of sunlight on the shiny surface of the automatic tracking telescope, which was poked out of the open shutters of the airless observatory, still doing its automatic job of recording solar phenomena in the absence of the astronomers.
Instead of re-entering the lock as he had intended, Mike linked his safety line to one of the service lines that lay along the nearest spoke, and kicked up it.
On Earth, he could have jumped maybe four feet with that motion. But here, it carried him the full distance to the outer wall of the hub-shielding tank, where he grasped another line, quickly transferred his safety line, and began working his way toward the observatory.
As the intersection of the rim where Mike had been passed into darkness, another figure moved and jumped up the same line he had taken. But this Mike did not notice.
Reaching the bulge at the end of the shielding tank and crawling up over it, Mike made his way up, at an odd reversed angle, through the netting; and into the observatory dome through its open shutter.
Making his way about in the open vacuum in free-fall conditions of the observatory, Mike carefully checked the lock at the main axis to make sure that he could get into it without arousing an alarm for any guards that might be nearby.
The lock showed vacant, and empty. Just as he was about to enter it, he saw another figure in a spacesuit come drifting through the open shutter where he had entered.
Mike stepped into the lock, closed the door behind him as though he had not noticed, and cycled the lock. But he did not remove his suit and did not leave.
As the lock showed clear, the observatory door opened again, and the two spacesuited figures stood face to face. Mike with needle gun raised checked himself in surprise. Then he motioned the other figure into the lock.
"And just what are you doing here?" he inquired as the air around them became sufficient to carry his voice.
"You might have needed help," answered Dr. Millie Williams in a small, scared voice as she took off her helmet and shook out her long hair.
"And just what," Mike inquired, "were you planning to do about it besides having me shoot you by mistake?"
Millie held up an oversize pair of calipers. "The Security people," she said, "are not the only ones with weapons. I borrowed this from the machine shop."
Mike stared down at the odd-looking "weapon."
"It's hard," Millie continued, "to look at more than one thing at a time through a spacesuit helmet. I could've got 'em in the air hose while you held their attention."
Mike's chuckle was just a trifle ragged, and his mutter about blood-thirsty panthers didn't really go unheard as he began shucking his spacesuit.
This was the most dangerous point, Mike knew. The axis tube went from the observatory straight through to the south polar lock, with nothing to block sight or sound from traveling its length. They'd have to simply chance it. The spacesuits shucked, he opened the lock.
Their luck held. No Security man was stationed opposite the mouth of the axis tube at the south polar lock.
Halfway to the engineering quarters, Mike stopped, used a special key to open an inspection plate, and they dropped lightly into the huge shielding tank that now held only air. From there the pair back-tracked Mike's original path to the inspection plate in the engineering quarters, and so into his own bailiwick, where they found Ishie standing on catlike guard, a wrench in one hand, waiting for whatever might come up.
"Confusion say," the grinning Chinese physicist declared, "two for one is good luck."
General Steve Elbertson made his way wearily in through the south lock and on to the bridge where he found the communications officer in complete charge with two Security men for assistants. The captain and Bessie were effectively bound, and placed in spare console seats.
General Elbertson made his way to the captain's console and seated himself.
Hot Rod was dead, but their control was by no means lessened.
That he himself had not been shot dead on the way from Hot Rod was, to him, a confirmation of the weakness of his enemies.
The satellite was under his control. The scientists would repair Hot Rod--and well he knew how to see to it that they did so.
U.N. Security Forces were in complete, dictatorial command of Earth.
He had only to eliminate the renegade Indian, and long before the Security scuttlebug, now on its way from Earth loaded with crack troops, should arrive, Security would be in complete command not only of the Space Lab, but of the weapon, which would by then be in repair.
As a final test of its operation, it would be amusing to use the Indian, Blackhawk, as a target; and perhaps the captain as well, though he might have to use them as examples sooner--the captain and some others.
The fortuitous accident that had put Hot Rod in operation ahead of schedule had also stepped many plans months ahead. No violence had actually been planned until the weapon had been thoroughly tested; but now things looked to be working in orderly fashion; working with the well-oiled precision of a master-plan, properly designed and properly executed in the proper military manner.
Only one small difficulty marred the current smoothness of the operation. The Security men were attempting to instruct the computer to precess the wheel back to its original position.
In reply, for every figure of any type sent over the keyboard, the Cow sent back a half-yard of confused, rambling figures and would do nothing else.
General Elbertson snapped a single command. "Turn the thing off. We'll get to that later."
Busily the men switched the keys to the "off" position. Just as busily the Cow continued to pour out figures, interspersed with rambling pages of physics covering such odd subjects as the yak population of the Andes, the number of buffalo that were purported to be able to dance on the rim of the Grand Canyon--a fantastic figure--some confused statement about the birth rate in Indo-China, and an equally confused statement about the learning rate in schools in Haddock.
Eventually, if one cared to sort it out, the Cow might produce the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for the year 1911; and then again, possibly for the year 33,310. Actually, it only depended on what you wished to select. It was a vast mass of material that was being happily upchucked into the lap of the confused communications officer and his two, unhelpful assistants.
Not a single one of the view panels, either those at the computer's console or the ones at the captain's console, were presenting a readable picture. Hodgepodges and flickerings, yes. Scraps of star-lit sky--perhaps. Or vaguely wavy electronic patterns that would have been familiar to anyone who ever looked at a broken TV set.
The Cow was really wild.
Leaning back in the captain's chair, watching the screen casually, General Elbertson chuckled.
He didn't, he noticed, feel nearly so weary.
The position actually was good, even if those idiots didn't know what they were doing with the computer. That could be straightened out.
Somewhere, he was sure, there was cause for great pride in his actions.
The peaceful glow of victory seemed to settle about him.
He HAD won. He was in the captain's chair of the only space station that man had ever put in orbit.
His worst enemy was tied to a chair only a few feet away.
At times like this a man could glow, could feel expansive even towards his enemies.
Naylor wasn't such a bad chap. If he hadn't thrown in with the scientists he might even now be a fellow officer, entitled to full respect and honor.
General Elbertson did not consider it odd that his face was suddenly flushed with triumph. There was a glow of energy. Why, he could even get up and dance a jig--and this he proceeded to do.
Around him, the two Security men joined in, followed by the communications officer--and then, realizing that their friends couldn't dance with them, they undid the ropes and invited the captain and Bessie to join them.
Soon they were all whirling giddily, though there was hardly the space for it. Maybe they should go next door, into the large clear area that was the ship's gymnasium when not being used as a morgue.
Surprisingly, amidst these dancing figures, a head emerged from the floor. All of them leaned over to laugh at it; and even the needle gun failed to frighten them.
Bessie had a hangover. She groaned and stretched. There certainly must have been lots of vodka at that party last night.
Party? What party?