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Charles L. Fontenay.

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10-credit fine he would be assessed for assaulting a spaceport employee.

* * * * *

The Space Control Commission's hearing room in Mars City was almost
empty. The examiner sat on the bench, resting his chin on his hand as he
listened to testimony. In the plaintiff's section sat Jonner, flanked by
Deveet and Lana Elden. In the defense box were the Mars Corporation
attorney and Captain Russo Baat of the _Marsward XVIII_. Kruger, seated
near the rear of the room, was the only spectator.

The Mars Corporation attorney had succeeded in delaying the final
hearing more than a 42-day Martian month by legal maneuvers. Meanwhile,
the _Marsward XVIII_ had blasted down to Phobos, and G-boats had been
shuttling back and forth unloading the vessel and reloading it for the
return trip to Earth.

When testimony had been completed, the examiner shuffled through his
papers. He put on his spectacles and peered over them at the litigants.

"It is the ruling of this court," he said formally, "that the plaintiffs
have not presented sufficient evidence to prove tampering with the fuel
line of the G-boat of the spaceship _Radiant Hope_. There is no evidence
that it was cut or burned, but only that it was broken. The court must
remind the plaintiffs that this could have been done accidentally,
through inept handling of cargo.

"Since the plaintiffs have not been able to prove their contention, this
court of complaint has no alternative than to dismiss the case."

The examiner arose and left the hearing room. Baat waddled across the
aisle, puffing.

"Too bad, Jonner," he said. "I don't like the stuff Marscorp's pulling,
and I think you know I don't have anything to do with it.

"I want to win, but I want to win fair and square. If there's anything I
can do to help...."

"Haven't got a spare G-boat in your pocket, have you?" retorted Jonner,
with a rueful smile.

Baat pulled at his jowls.

"The _Marsward_ isn't carrying G-boats," he said regretfully. "They all
belong to the port, and Marscorp's got them so tied up you'll never get
a sniff of one. But if you want to get back to your ship, Jonner, I can
take you up to Phobos with me, as my guest."

Jonner shook his head.

"I figure on taking the _Radiant Hope_ back to Earth," he said. "But I'm
not blasting off without cargo until it's too late for me to beat you on
the run."

"You sure? This'll be my last ferry trip. The _Marsward_ blasts off for
Earth at 0300 tomorrow."

"No, thanks, Russo. But I will appreciate your taking my ship's doctor,
Dr. Elden, up to Phobos."

"Done!" agreed Baat. "Let's go, Dr. Elden. The G-boat leaves Marsport in
two hours."

Jonner watched Baat puff away, with the slender, white-clad brunette at
his side. Baat personally would see Lana Elden safely aboard the
_Radiant Hope_, even if it delayed his own blastoff.

Morosely, he left the hearing room with Deveet.

"What I can't understand," said the latter, "is why all this dirty work,
why didn't Marscorp just use one of their atom-drive ships for the
competition run?"

"Because whatever ship is used on a competition run has to be kept in
service on the franchised run," answered Jonner. "Marscorp has millions
tied up in hydrazine interests, and they're more interested in keeping
an atomic ship off this run than they are in a monopoly franchise. But
they tie in together: if Marscorp loses the monopoly franchise and
Atom-Star puts in atom-drive ships, Marscorp will have to switch to
atom-drive to meet the competition."

"If we had a franchise, we could force Space Fuels to sell us
hydrazine," said Deveet unhappily.

"Well, we don't. And, at this rate, we'll never get one."

* * * * *

Jonner and Deveet were fishing at the Mars City Recreation Center. It
had been several weeks since the _Marsward XVIII_ blasted off to Earth
with a full cargo. And still the atomic ship _Radiant Hope_ rested on
Phobos with most of her Marsbound cargo still aboard; and still her crew
languished at the Phobos space station; and still Jonner moved back and
forth between Mars City and Marsport daily, racking his brain for a
solution that would not come.

"How in space do you get twenty tons of cargo up to an orbit 5,800 miles
out, without any rocket fuel?" he demanded of Deveet more than once. He
received no satisfactory answer.

The Recreation Center was a two-acre park that lay beneath the plastic
dome of Mars City. Above them they could see swift-moving Phobos and
distant Deimos among the other stars that powdered the night. In the
park around them, colonists rode the amusement machines, canoed along
the canal that twisted through the park or sipped refreshment at
scattered tables. A dozen or more sat, like Jonner and Deveet, around
the edge of the tiny lake, fishing.

Deveet's line tightened. He pulled in a streamlined, flapping object
from which the light glistened wetly.

"Good catch," complimented Jonner. "That's worth a full credit."

Deveet unhooked his catch and laid it on the bank beside him. It was a
metal fish: live fish were unknown on Mars. They paid for the privilege
of fishing for a certain time and any fish caught were "sold" back to
the management at a fixed price, depending on size, to be put back into
the lake.

"You're pretty good at it," said Jonner. "That's your third tonight."

"It's all in the speed at which you reel in your line," explained
Deveet. "The fish move at pre-set speeds. They're made to turn and catch
a hook that moves across their path at a slightly slower speed than
they're swimming. The management changes the speeds once a week to keep
the fishermen from getting too expert."

"You can't beat the management," chuckled Jonner. "But if it's a matter
of matching orbital speeds to make contact, I ought to do pretty well
when I get the hang of it."

He cocked an eye up toward the transparent dome. Phobos had moved across
the sky into Capricorn since he last saw her. His memory automatically
ticked off the satellite's orbital speed: 1.32 miles a second; speed in
relation to planetary motion....

Why go over that again? One had to have fuel first. Meanwhile, the
_Radiant Hope_ lay idle on Phobos and its crew whiled away the hours at
the space station inside the moon, their feet spinning faster than their
heads ... no, that wasn't true on Phobos, because it didn't have a spin
to impart artificial gravity, like the space stations around Earth.

He sat up suddenly. Deveet looked at him in surprise. Jonner's lips
moved silently for a moment, then he got to his feet.

"Where can we use a radiophone?" he asked.

"One in my office," said Deveet, standing up.

"Let's go. Quick, before Phobos sets."

They turned in their rods, Deveet collecting the credits for his fish,
and left the Recreation Center.

When they reached the Atom-Star Company's Martian office Jonner plugged
in the radiophone and called the Phobos space station. He got T'an.

"All of you get aboard," Jonner ordered. "Then have Qoqol call me."

He signed off and turned to Deveet. "Can we charter a plane to haul our
Earthbound cargo out of Marsport?"

"A plane? I suppose so. Where do you want to haul it?"

"Charax is as good as any other place. But I need a fast plane."

"I think we can get it. Marscorp still controls all the airlines, but
the Mars government keeps a pretty strict finger on their planetbound
operations. They can't refuse a cargo haul without good reason."

"Just to play safe, have some friend of yours whom they don't know,
charter the plane in his name. They won't know it's us till we start
loading cargo."

"Right," said Deveet, picking up the telephone. "I know just the man."

* * * * *

Towmotors scuttled across the landing area at Marsport, shifting the
cargo that had been destined for the _Radiant Hope_ from the helpless
G-boat to a jet cargo-plane. Nearby, watching the operation, were Jonner
and Deveet, with the Marsport agent of Mars Air Transport Company.

"We didn't know Atom-Star was the one chartering the plane until you
ordered the G-boat cargo loaded on it," confessed the Mars-Air agent.

"I see you and Mr. Deveet are signed up to accompany the cargo. You'll
have to rent suits for the trip. We have to play it safe, and there's
always the possibility of a forced landing."

"There are a couple of spacesuits aboard the G-boat that we want to take
along," said Jonner casually. "We'll just wear those instead."

"Okay." The agent spread his hands and shrugged. "Everybody at Marsport
knows about you bucking Marscorp, Captain. What you expect to gain by
transferring your cargo to Charax is beyond me, but it's your business."

An hour later, the chartered airplane took off with a thunder of jets.
Aboard was the 20-ton cargo the _Radiant Hope_ was supposed to carry to
Earth, plus some large parachutes. The Mars-Air pilot wore a light suit
with plastic helmet designed for survival in the thin, cold Martian air.
Jonner and Deveet wore the bulkier spacesuits.

Five minutes out of Marsport, Jonner thrust the muzzle of a heat-gun in
the pilot's back.

"Set it on automatic, strap on your parachute and bail out," he ordered.
"We're taking over."

The pilot had no choice. He went through the plane's airlock and jumped,
helped by a hearty boost from Jonner. His parachute blossomed out as he
drifted down toward the green Syrtis Major Lowland. Jonner didn't worry
about him. He knew the pilot's helmet radio would reach Marsport and a
helicopter would rescue him shortly.

"I don't know what you're trying to do, Jonner," said Deveet
apprehensively over his spacehelmet radio. "But whatever it is, you'd
better do it fast. They'll have every plane on Mars looking for us in
half an hour."

"Let 'em look, and keep quiet a while," retorted Jonner. "I've got some
figuring to do."

He put the plane on automatic, took off the spacesuit handhooks and
scribbled figures on a scrap of paper. He tuned in the plane's radio and
called Qoqol on Phobos. They talked to each other briefly in Martian.

The darker green line of a canal crossed the green lowland below them.

"Good, there's Drosinas," muttered Jonner. "Let's see, time 1424 hours,
speed 660 miles an hour...."

Jonner boosted the jets a bit and watched the terrain.

"By Saturn, I almost overran it!" he exclaimed. "Deveet, smash out those
ports."

"Break out the ports?" repeated Deveet. "That'll depressurize the
cabin!"

"That's right. So you'd better be sure your spacesuit's secure."

Obviously puzzled, Deveet strode up and down the cabin, knocking out its
six windows with the handhooks of his spacesuit. Jonner maneuvered the
plane gently, and set it on automatic. He got out of the pilot's seat
and strode to the right front port.

Reaching through the broken window, he pulled in a section of cable that
was trailing alongside. While the baffled Deveet watched, he reeled it
in until he brought up the end of it, to which was attached a
fish-shaped finned metal missile.

Jonner carried the cable end and the attached missile across the cabin
and tossed it out the broken front port on the other side, swinging it
so that the 700-mile-an-hour slipstream snapped it back in through the
rearmost port like a bullet.

"Pick it up and pass it out the right rear port," he commanded. "We'll
have to pass it to each other from port to port. The slipstream won't
let us swing it forward and through."

In a few moments, the two of them had worked the missile and the cable
end to the right front port and in through it. Originating above the
plane, it now made a loop through the four open ports. Jonner untied the
missile and tied the end to the portion which came into the cabin,
making a bowline knot of the loop. Deveet picked up the missile from the
floor, where Jonner had thrown it.

"Looks like a spent rocket shell," he commented.

"It's a signal rocket," said Jonner. "The flare trigger was
disconnected."

He picked up the microphone and called the _Radiant Hope_ on Phobos.

"We've hooked our fish, Qoqol," he told the Martian, and laid the mike
aside.

"What does that mean?" asked Deveet.

"Means we'd better strap in," said Jonner, suiting the action to the
words. "You're in for a short trip to Phobos, Deveet."

Jonner pulled back slowly on the elevator control, and the plane began a
shallow climb. At 700 miles an hour, it began to attain a height at
which its broad wings - broader than those of any terrestrial
plane - would not support it.

"I'm trying to decide," said Deveet with forced calm, "whether you've
flipped your helmet."

"Nope," answered Jonner. "Trolling for those fish in Mars City gave me
the idea. The rest was no more than an astrogation problem, like any
rendezvous with a ship in a fixed orbit, which Qoqol could figure.
Remember that 6,000-mile television cable the ship's hauling? Qoqol just
shot the end of it down to Mars' surface by signal rocket, we hooked on
and now he'll haul us up to Phobos. He's got the ship's engine hooked
onto the cable winch."

The jets coughed and stopped. The plane was out of fuel. It was on
momentum - to be drawn by the cable, or to snap it and fall.

"Impossible!" cried Deveet in alarm. "Phobos' orbital speed is more than
a mile a second! No cable can take the sudden difference in that and the
speed we're traveling. When the slack is gone, it'll break!"

"The slack's gone already. You're thinking of the speed of Phobos, _at
Phobos_. At this end of the cable, we're like the head of a man in the
control section of a space station, which is traveling slower than his
feet because its orbit is smaller - but it revolves around the center in
the same time.

"Look," Jonner added, "I'll put it in round numbers. Figure your cable
as part of a radius of Phobos' orbit. Phobos travels at 1.32, but the
other end of the radius travels at zero because it's at the center. The
cable end, at the Martian surface, travels at a speed in
between - roughly 1,200 miles an hour - but it keeps up with Phobos'
revolution. Since the surface of Mars itself rotates at 500 miles an
hour, all I had to do was boost the plane up to 700 to match the speed
of the cable end.

"That cable will haul a hell of a lot more than twenty tons, and that's
all that's on it right now. By winching us up slowly, there'll never be
too great a strain on it."

Deveet looked apprehensively out of the port. The plane was hanging
sidewise now, and the distant Martian surface was straight out the
left-hand ports. The cable was holding.

"We can make the trip to Earth 83 days faster than the _Marsward_," said
Jonner, "and they have only about 20 days' start. It won't take us but a
few days to make Phobos and get this cable and the rest of the cargo
shot back to Mars. Atom-Star will get its franchise, and you'll see all
spaceships switching to the atomic drive within the next decade."

"How about this plane?" asked Deveet. "We stole it, you know."

"You can hire a G-boat to take it back to Marsport," said Jonner with a
chuckle. "Pay Mars-Air for the time and the broken ports, and settle out
of court with that pilot we dropped. I don't think they'll send you to
jail, Deveet."

He was silent for a few minutes.

"By the way, Deveet," said Jonner then, "radio Atom-Star to buy some
flonite cable of their own and ship it to Phobos. Damned if I don't
think this is cheaper than G-boats!"







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Online LibraryCharles L. FontenayAtom Drive → online text (page 2 of 2)