THE FIXER ***
By WESLEY LONG
Illustrated by Kramer
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Astounding Science-Fiction, May 1945.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Sandra Drake sat in her perfect apartment on Telfu, and cursed in an
unladylike manner. She was plying a needle with some difficulty, and
the results of her work were decidedly amateurish. But her clothing
was slowly going to pieces, and there was not a good tailor in nine
light-years of Sandra Drake.
The Telfan tailors didn't understand Solarian tailoring; Sandra was
forced to admit that they were good - for Telfans. But for Solarians,
they didn't come up to the accepted standards.
They had tried, she gave them credit for that. But the Telfan figure
did not match the Solarian, especially the four-breasted female Telfan
woman did not match Sandra's thin-waisted, high breasted figure. Her
total lack of the Telfan skin; part feathers, part hair, but actually
classifiable as neither, caused a different "hang" to the clothing.
Telfans wore practically nothing because of the pelt and though
Sandra's figure was one of those that should have been adorned in
practically nothing, Telfu was not sufficiently warm to go running
around in a sunsuit.
And making over Telfan clothing to fit her was out of the question. She
stood half a head above their tallest women, and the only clothing that
would have fit was clothing made in outsizes for extremely huge Telfan
women. Needless to say this size of garment was shapeless.
Sandra finished her mending, tried on the garment and made a wry face.
"I used to curse the lack of humans here," she told her image in the
mirror, "but now I'm glad I'm the only one. I'd sure hate to have any
of my old friends see me looking like this."
The image that repeated silently was not too far a cry from the Sandra
Drake that had called the _Haywire Queen_ in for a landing on Telfu
some months ago. But they hadn't waited, and she now knew why. Well,
she was forced to admit that her try at either trapping them here or
getting off with them had failed, and therefore she had been outguessed.
That made her burn. Being outguessed by a man was something that Sandra
didn't care to have happen. She could live through it; but it was the
aftermath that really hurt. The Telfans came to understand her too well
after that incident. They no longer looked upon her as a leading figure
in her system. They knew that her knowledge of Solarian science was
sketchy and incomplete. Therefore she had lost her hold upon Telfu,
and was now forced to do her own mending.
On the other hand, Sandra Drake was an intelligent woman. Her contempt
for the Telfan language was gone. It went on that memorable day when
she discovered that everyone who understood any Terran had gone to
greet the landing _Haywire Queen_ and had left her unable to convey her
desires. From that time on, Sandra plied herself and was quite capable
of conversing in Telfan, and fluently.
So Sandra Drake had been living with the Telfans for several months.
She had been forced to live with her wits and her mind and she found
it interesting. Telfans were quite cold to her charms, which made her
angry at times; on Terra she was used to admiration from anything
masculine from fourteen to ninety-eight. Below fourteen they didn't
know any better and over ninety-eight they didn't care, but the years
between were aware of Sandra Drake. On Telfu, posturing, posing, and
offering had no effect. They looked upon her as an encyclopedia; an
animate phonograph, which, upon proper stimulation, could be made to
They had their machinery of action, too. Either Sandra assisted
them - or she did not find things easy. It was adjustable, too, and the
better assistance she gave, the better she found things.
Well, thought Sandra, it has been interesting -
She was startled by a knock upon her door. She admitted two Telfan men
and a Telfan woman. The woman she knew.
"Yes, Thuni?" she asked the woman.
"Sandrake," announced the woman, putting the Telfan pronunciation on
the Terran name, "These are Orfall and Theodi, both of whom are among
the leading medico-physicists of Telfu. They desire your help."
Sandra reflected quickly. After all, this ability to be of assistance
did give her a sop to her vanity. The fact that as little as she really
knew of Terran science she could assist, and at times direct, gave her
first feeling of real self-assurance.
"I shall, if I can," she told them.
"You, in spite of your untrained mind, have been extremely valuable,"
Orfall said simply. "While you do not know the details, you at least
have some knowledge of the channels of Terran science, and you may, and
have, explained down which channel lies truth, and along which line of
endeavor lies but a blank wall. That in itself is valuable."
"Another item of interest," said Theodi, "is the fact that the books
left us by the _Haywire Queen_ are ponderous and often obscure; they
assume that we have a basic knowledge which we have not. You have been
able to direct us to the proper place in them to find the proper answer
to many of our questions."
"I see," said Sandra. All too seldom had anyone told her she was
valuable and interesting. It had been more likely a statement of her
headstrong nature, her utter uselessness, and her nuisance value.
"As you know, we of Telfu are slightly ahead of you in chemistry.
Yet there are things in chemistry that can not be solved without an
advanced knowledge in the gravitic spectrum that Terra has exploited.
Perhaps it was the lack of a channel in the gravitic that drove us into
higher chemical development; but we are planet-locked until your people
return to remove the block."
"Go on," said Sandra impatiently. "I gather that you are in trouble of
"We are, indeed. A plague of ... ah, there is no word for it in
Terran" - he switched to Telfan, "Andryorelitis," and back again
to Terran - "which is an air-borne disease of the virus type. No
inoculation has been discovered, and no immunity zone can be
established. Telfu is in danger of halving the population."
"It is terrible. It strikes unknown. Its incubation period is several
days, and then the victim gets the first symptoms. Nine days later, the
victim is dead. Unfortunately, the victim is a carrier of andryorelitis
during the incubation period, and therefore isolation is impossible."
"Sounds like real trouble to me," said Sandra. "Will examination reveal
"Of course," answered Orfall. "But what planet can examine the
"I see the impossibilities. Then what do you hope? We have nothing
that will combat it; knowing nothing of it in Sol would preclude any
possibility. What can we do?"
"To return to chemistry," said Theodi, "I will explain. Our
chemico-physicists have predicted the combination of a molecule which
will combat the virus selectively. It is a complex protein molecule of
unstable nature - so unstable, unfortunately, that it will not permit us
to compound it. We have used every catalyst in the book, and nothing
"I think so," said Sandra. "What keeps it from forming?"
"As I said, it is very unstable. The atomic lattice appears to be
structurally unsound. That happens in a lot of cases, you know. At any
rate, we can make this molecule - and have made it successfully. But its
yield is less than four ten-thousandths of one percent, and the residue
precipitates out in an insoluble compound that can not be reprocessed."
"Otherwise you would keep the process going until completion?"
"Precisely. If reprocessing would work, we could leave the batch to
cook until all of it went into combination. Or we could add fresh 'mix'
to the processing batch and make the process continuous. But the stuff
is not re-processable. We must complete each batch, and then go on a
long process of fractionation to distill the proper compound out of
the useless residue."
"I can see that a process of that inefficiency would be bothersome,"
"Not bothersome, Sandrake. Impossible. Imagine going into a project
giving about .000,37% yield for two hundred-fifty billion Telfans.
The required dose of the antibody is forty-seven milligrams. Call it
fifty, for round numbers, Sandrake, and you get a total figure of
one trillion, two hundred-fifty billion milligrams, or one million
two hundred fifty thousand kilograms. At four ten-thousandths of one
percent yield, we'd have to process something like three hundred
billion kilograms of raw material and then rectify it through that
long and laborious process of fractional crystallization, partial
electrolysis, and fractional distillation - with a final partial
crystallization. Processing that much raw material would be a lifetime
job at best. Doing it under pressure, with the planning and procurement
problems intensified by the certainty of the few short weeks we
have ... ah, Sandrake, it is impossible."
"What is this trouble specifically?"
"The final addition of silicon. It will not enter the compound, but
forces something less active from the combination."
"Making it useless?"
"You've tried it?"
"And it works," nodded Orfall.
"And knowing that you of Terra have some wonders in science, we would
like to know - "
"You see," interrupted Orfall, "they've figured that the catalyst would
be less than sixty-one percent efficient, if we could combine the
silicon with it and let it replace into the other compound. That would
work. But again we are stuck. The catalyst is stable as it is. What has
Terra done to assist in forcing combination in unstable compounds?"
"Must be something," said Sandra, thoughtfully. "May I have a moment to
"And one thing more. Haven't you anything that even resembles tobacco
on this sterile planet?"
"I'm afraid not," said Theodi. "Believe me, we have sought it."
"Thanks," said Sandra. "I know it was for me. But, fellows, I think
better with a cigarette."
"We have analyzed the one you gave us, and haven't found a similar
weed - "
"O.K., I'll do my thinking in a higher plane," smiled Sandra.
* * * * *
A thought, fleeting as the touch of a moth's wing, crossed Sandra's
mind. She fought to reclaim it. It had some association with an
experience - some experience in which she had failed, somewhere.
Recently? It might have been.
Sandra didn't think so.
She sat there silent, and the Telfans left with a short statement to
the effect that she might be able to think better alone. They would
It had to do with something highly scientific; something of a nature
that staggered her imagination. It was coupled with something vast,
something deep, something complex.
Her eyes fastened on a spot of brilliant light, reflected from a
polished and silvered glass vase at her bedside, and as she sat there
with her eyes unseeing, deep in concentrated thought, her mind focused
upon the one thing of vastness that she had been involved in.
Sandra's mind was good, in spite of her inferiority complex. It was
sharp, retentive, and above all, imaginative. It is a point for
speculation whether the imaginative qualities might not have been
responsible for her antics; certainly her escapades were the result
of some imaginative desire to excel. At any rate, she fastened her
eyes on the spot of light, and concentrated herself into a partial
self-hypnosis. The train of thought went on before her unseeing eyes
with the vividness of a color moving picture, and she was not living
the scene, but seeing herself live through a train of events that
seemed to jump the unimportant parts like a well-planned motion picture.
Her semihypnotized mind seemed to know the right track, though Sandra's
wide-awake mind either ignored the key to the problem or was not
certain of the right path to follow.
She was in a room of steel. Steel and machinery and gleaming silver
bars. There was some chaos there, too. The silver busbars had lost
their die-straightness, and in one place, a single lamination of the
main bus hung down askew. It was about a foot wide and one inch thick,
and the nine-foot section that hung from the ceiling was slightly lower
than the top of her head.
There was blood on the sharp corner, and Sandra looked down to see the
red splotch on the floor. She shuddered.
Cables ran in wriggly tangles across the floor. Some were still smoking
from some overload, and others, still new from their reels, were
obviously part of a jury-rigged circuit. Boxes of equipment were broken
open and their contents missing, though the spare parts in the boxes
were intact. The whole scene spelled -
The floor was not level; a slight tilt made standing difficult, until a
man from some other room shouted:
"The mechanograv is working - hold on!"
And the floor rotated until it was the usual, level platform. The huge
busbar swung gently on its loose mooring like a ponderous, irresistible
And there was a man who came striding in. His contempt for her still
hurt, and Sandra winced. Even in that motion-picture dreaming, wherein
the girl in the picture seemed apart from Sandra Drake, the ire vented
upon the red-headed image made Sandra writhe in sympathy.
And then she heard the words come from the man's lips. They were clear
and concise, and seemed to come from the man himself instead of from
within her own memory:
"The electronic charge is great enough to force an inert
element - xenon - to accept an additional electron in its ring-system.
This permits combination with active elements such as bromine. When
xenon-bromide forms, we know that our intrinsic charge is highly
* * * * *
The scene within Sandra's mind dissolved, and she shook her head. It
cleared, but the words remained.
"Orfall," she called. "Theodi! Thuni - bring them here!"
They returned. "McBride," she said. "He can do it!"
"How?" asked Theodi skeptically.
"You've read their books," said Sandra Drake. "You know the principle
of the Plutonian Lens - and also that the alternating stations require
terrible electronic charges to maintain the lens that focuses Sol
on Pluto. They check that with the formation of xenon-bromide for
negative, and decomposition of tetrachloro dibromo-methane for the
positive charge. They can do it."
"Can't they do it on a planet?" asked Orfall sadly.
"Not unless they can raise the whole planet to a high negative charge,"
snapped Sandra. "What do you think?"
"I don't know - none of us do. Can they?"
"Then - ?"
"We'll call them, tell McBride what's the matter and what we need.
He'll fix it."
"It sounds like a fool's gesture to me," said Theodi.
"Utterly impossible. How are we going to get in touch with them in the
"Look," said Theodi. "We can call them. See what McBride says and put
the problem to them. If there's a way out, fine. If not, we've lost
"But how are we going to call them over nine light-years of space?"
"Ah - yes," said Theodi. "We can't."
"Maybe I can," said Sandra. "That'll be my contribution. I think I can
"Nine light-years - " objected Theodi.
"Remember that the gravitic spectrum propagates at the speed of light
raised to the 2.71828 ... th power. That'll make talking to Terra like
calling across the room. May I try?"
"You think they'll be listening for you?"
"Can't miss," said Sandra with a positive gesture. "My ship, the
_Lady Luck_, is equipped with the standard communications set. It
puts out right in the middle of the main communications band of the
electrogravitic. If I can get enough power to beam towards Sol, it'll
hit them right in the middle."
"You intend to use the set in the _Lady Luck_?"
"Overloaded to the utmost. They tell me that they'll take one hundred
percent overloads for an hour. Make that one thousand percent, and
it may last ten minutes. Ten minutes is all I need to give them our
trouble - they have recorders if McBride isn't there to hear it in
"Where are you going to get that power?" asked Theodi.
"Impossible, Sandrake. You know that there is not sufficient power
available to make such a program possible."
"Ridiculous. The resources of a planet are unmeasurable."
"Perhaps so," said Theodi. "But remember that our power, like Terra's
power, is spread out all over the face. The transmission of power such
as you will require would be impossible because the line losses will
be greater than the power input. It might be possible to connect the
networks together and draw the entire power output of Telfu into one
district, but line losses would prohibit its operation."
"I only need ten minutes maximum," said Sandra.
"You're asking us to sacrifice - ? You mean - overload every plant within
efficiency-distance of your ship until it breaks down?"
"What have you to lose?"
"Can we do it?" asked Orfall.
"Of course," said Sandra. "You run your machinery at low load until it
is running at ten times the velocity, and then I cram on the power.
Momentum will carry me through."
"And if one machine goes, under that load, the entire district will go
"Oh no," said Sandra. "The closer and most powerful one will not be
used. That one will be used to talk to the boys when they arrive.
They'll only have a distress signal, and the details must be held until
they come investigating. They can't land, and so we'll have to tell 'em
the story while they're in space. We'll need that power."
"Small consolation. Then Indilee will be an oasis of power in a radius
of powerless country."
Sandra looked Theodi in the eye and said in a cold voice:
"Then go on out and die with the rest of your kind. What good will
your machinery do you if you're all dead?"
"This is a democracy, Sandrake. We cannot just take the machinery and
the equipment of others - even to save ourselves."
"How's your red tape factory?" she asked with a smile.
"Either you get those power plants or die. I don't care if you steal
them, buy them, or borrow them. But get them - and quick."
"But there is a chance to save Telfu," suggested Orfall.
"Sensible fellow," smiled Sandra. In her mind she cursed the whole
planet. This was a place for Sandra to undulate a bit; to turn on those
two-million kilovolt-ampere eyes; to stretch one rounded arm out
straight, putting the other hand below the ear and raising the elbow to
a level just above those eyes and shielding the victim from the warmth
in them. This showed off Sandra's svelte figure to perfection, and
few men in Sol could have refused Sandra anything after that perfect
But they were very few.
The Telfan ideal of beauty did not include Sandra Drake's perfection.
She could have postured from now until galaxy's end, and they wouldn't
have known her intent. Against their women, Sandra was alien - not
sickeningly ugly or deformed, but alien and acceptable - and totally
Sandra sighed, told the subconscious mind not to bother with the
spotlights and provocative sultriness, and tried to think her way to
the mastery of these Telfans.
* * * * *
"Couldn't we divert the electrical supply plants across Telfu?"
objected Theodi. "Seems to me - "
"Not a chance," said Sandra. "You have no idea of the power required.
I must shoot the works all at once. The set, the generators, and the
supply lines will all go out at once. That'll give me ten minutes, I
"But the dissipation of such power - Where can we collect it?"
"There's only one place on Telfu. That's in the power room of the _Lady
Luck_. That is still intact?"
"Yes. Handled, inspected, photographed, and manipulated without
driving power, of course, but it is still intact."
"Should be," commented Sandra wryly. "After all, my trouble was not
being able to make the drive work. Couldn't get any push. Used up my
entire stock of cupralum. So, do we?"
"I hate to say 'yes,'" said Theodi.
"Look," said Sandra, realizing something for the first time. "We have
lots of gravitic machinery. Give me your useless power plants and I'll
see that you get gravitic machinery to replace them."
"Look, Theodi, you're used to thinking in Telfan terms - which means
no gravitics. Think in Terran terms. You are no longer alone in the
universe. You are in contact with a race that has gravitic power."
"Well - "
Sandra smiled. "Take it or leave it - and die," she told him. "Think of
it. Andryorelitis comes like a thief in the night, giving no warning.
Like the black wings of a gigantic, clutching bat, silent and ominous
and unseen it comes and spreads its horde of hell on the city. Men go
on in their way, meeting other men and inoculating them, passing the
germ of death to whomever the black visitor may have missed on his
visit. Men take it to their families and spread it from hand to hand,
from lip to lip, from mother to babe to grandparent and beyond. The
unborn is as cursed as the almost-dead, for it is within their bodies.
The days pass in which every soul is given the opportunity of catching
and spreading the dread disease.
"Then in this peaceful, unawareness of the terror, nine days pass and
one sees a red spot on his arm. He shies away from his friends not
knowing that they, too, have red blotches. The city is made of slinking
men, ashamed women, and scared children. The newspaper headlines scream
of the plague, but none will buy, for they fear inoculation on the part
of the newsboy. They fight and fear one another, and the plague has its
way, spreading across the city like the falling of night and missing
"The Grim Reaper swings his sharp scythe, and the populace falls like
"And the stricken city becomes a place of horror. The smell of rotting
bodies taints the air and makes life impossible for those unlucky few
who have not been given the peace of death. None are interested in the
cries of the dying, and no one sees the sunken cheeks, the withered
bodies, the redding flesh. Do you like that picture, Theodi?"
"You speak harshly, Sandrake."
"You paint a prettier one," said Sandra, scorning him. "Go home
and dream. Let your imagination roam - or haven't you Telfans got
"We have, but - "
"You utter fool! To stand there like a stick of wood between Telfu and
some lumps of worthless metal! Like the drowning man that clutched his
gold - which pulled him under. Fool's gold. Theodi."
"There is much in what she says, Theodi," added Orfall.
"It is hard to think, sometimes," said Theodi slowly.
"Men!" sneered Sandra. "The whole sex is the same, here or on any
inhabited planet. You know so much! Your vaunted power of reasoning
is so brilliant. You pride yourselves on your inflexible wills or
your willingness to accept new ideas, depending upon which your utter
self-esteem thinks is best to exhibit at the instant. Thuni, what do
"The metal is of little importance to dead men," said Thuni promptly.
"And you claim that Terra and Pluto have machines in abundance. The
answer is obvious."
"You see?" said Sandra triumphantly.
"I've forgotten," admitted Theodi. "I'd been taught from childhood that
high power was hard to get. It is hard to think that another star has
it a-plenty and is willing, and able, to give us enough for our needs.
It is a revolutionary thought and seems unreal. A story, perhaps. Yes,
Sandrake, you shall have your power."
"Good," said Sandra, taking a deep breath. "And thanks. I'll also need
your best students for the job."
"Our best are poor enough. Gravitics were known in theory only. A
detectable phenomenon, utterly useless. We could not pass the initial
doorway - the power generating bands - because of our satellite's
absorption of the primary effects. To study the higher and more
complex effects was impossible save in theory. But you shall have them."
"I have some practical working knowledge of the stuff," said Sandra.
"One can't live and work with McBride and Hammond and the rest without
getting a bit of it. Oh, I was only with them for a few weeks at best,
but they are ardent teachers. I'll get along with the help of your