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´╗┐Title: Sand Doom
Author: Leinster, Murray, 1896-1975
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sand Doom" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: Cover Page]



[Illustration]
SAND DOOM

BY MURRAY LEINSTER

Illustrated by Freas

    +--------------------------------------------------------------+
    | _The problem was as neat a circle as one could ask for;      |
    | without repair parts, they couldn't bring in the ship that   |
    | carried the repair parts!_                                   |
    +--------------------------------------------------------------+


Bordman knew there was something wrong when the throbbing, acutely
uncomfortable vibration of rocket blasts shook the ship. Rockets were
strictly emergency devices, these days, so when they were used there was
obviously an emergency.

He sat still. He had been reading, in the passenger lounge of the
_Warlock_--a very small lounge indeed--but as a senior Colonial Survey
officer he was well-traveled enough to know when things did not go
right. He looked up from the bookscreen, waiting. Nobody came to explain
the eccentricity of a spaceship using rockets. It would have been
immediate, on a regular liner, but the _Warlock_ was practically a
tramp. This trip it carried just two passengers. Passenger service was
not yet authorized to the planet ahead, and would not be until Bordman
had made the report he was on his way to compile. At the moment, though,
the rockets blasted, and stopped, and blasted again. There was something
definitely wrong.

The _Warlock's_ other passenger came out of her cabin. She looked
surprised. She was Aletha Redfeather, an unusually lovely Amerind.
It was extraordinary that a girl could be so self-sufficient on a
tedious space-voyage, and Bordman approved of her. She was making the
journey to Xosa II as a representative of the Amerind Historical
Society, but she'd brought her own bookreels and some elaborate
fancywork which--woman-fashion--she used to occupy her hands. She
hadn't been at all a nuisance. Now she tilted her head on one side
as she looked inquiringly at Bordman.

"I'm wondering, too," he told her, just as an especially sustained and
violent shuddering of rocket-impulsion made his chair legs thutter on
the floor.

There was a long period of stillness. Then another violent but much
shorter blast. A shorter one still. Presently there was a half-second
blast which must have been from a single rocket tube because of the mild
shaking it produced. After that there was nothing at all.

Bordman frowned to himself. He'd been anticipating groundfall within a
matter of hours, certainly. He'd just gone through his specbook
carefully and re-familiarized himself with the work he was to survey on
Xosa II. It was a perfectly commonplace minerals-planet development, and
he'd expected to clear it FE--fully established--and probably TP and NQ
ratings as well, indicating that tourists were permitted and no
quarantine was necessary. Considering the aridity of the planet, no
bacteriological dangers could be expected to exist, and if tourists
wanted to view its monstrous deserts and infernolike wind
sculptures--why they should be welcome.

But the ship had used rocket drive in the planet's near vicinity.
Emergency. Which was ridiculous. This was a perfectly routine sort of
voyage. Its purpose was the delivery of heavy equipment--specifically a
smelter--and a senior Colonial Survey officer to report the completion
of primary development.

Aletha waited, as if for more rocket blasts. Presently she smiled at
some thought that had occurred to her.

"If this were an adventure tape," she said humorously, "the loudspeaker
would now announce that the ship had established itself in an orbit
around the strange, uncharted planet first sighted three days ago, and
that volunteers were wanted for a boat landing."

Bordman demanded impatiently:

"Do you bother with adventure tapes? They're nonsense! A pure waste of
time!"

Aletha smiled again.

"My ancestors," she told him, "used to hold tribal dances and make
medicine and boast about how many scalps they'd taken and how they did
it. It was satisfying--and educational for the young. Adolescents became
familiar with the idea of what we nowadays call adventure. They were
partly ready for it when it came. I suspect your ancestors used to tell
each other stories about hunting mammoths and such. So I think it would
be fun to hear that we were in orbit and that a boat landing was in
order."

Bordman grunted. There were no longer adventures. The universe was
settled; civilized. Of course there were still frontier planets--Xosa II
was one--but pioneers had only hardships. Not adventures.

       *       *       *       *       *

The ship-phone speaker clicked. It said curtly:

"_Notice. We have arrived at Xosa II and have established an orbit about
it. A landing will be made by boat._"

Bordman's mouth dropped open.

"What the devil's this?" he demanded.

"Adventure, maybe," said Aletha. Her eyes crinkled very pleasantly when
she smiled. She wore the modern Amerind dress--a sign of pride in the
ancestry which now implied such diverse occupations as interstellar
steel construction and animal husbandry and llano-planet colonization.
"If it were adventure, as the only girl on this ship I'd have to be in
the landing party, lest the tedium of orbital waiting make the"--her
smile widened to a grin--"the pent-up restlessness of trouble-makers in
the crew----"

The ship-phone clicked again.

"_Mr. Bordman. Miss Redfeather. According to advices from the ground,
the ship may have to stay in orbit for a considerable time. You will
accordingly be landed by boat. Will you make yourselves ready, please,
and report to the boat-blister?_" The voice paused and added, "_Hand
luggage only, please._"

Aletha's eyes brightened. Bordman felt the shocked incredulity of a man
accustomed to routine when routine is impossibly broken. Of course
survey ships made boat landings from orbit, and colony ships let down
robot hulls by rocket when there was as yet no landing grid for the
handling of a ship. But never before in his experience had an ordinary
freighter, on a routine voyage to a colony ready for its final
degree-of-completion survey, ever landed anybody by boat.

"This is ridiculous!" said Bordman, fuming.

"Maybe it's adventure," said Aletha. "I'll pack."

She disappeared into her cabin. Bordman hesitated. Then he went into his
own. The colony on Xosa II had been established two years ago. Minimum
comfort conditions had been realized within six months. A temporary
landing grid for light supply ships was up within a year. It had
permitted stock-piling, and it had been taken down to be rebuilt as a
permanent grid with every possible contingency provided for. The eight
months since the last ship landing was more than enough for the building
of the gigantic, spidery, half-mile-high structure which would handle
this planet's interstellar commerce. There was no excuse for an
emergency! A boat landing was nonsensical!

But he surveyed the contents of his cabin. Most of the cargo of the
_Warlock_ was smelter equipment which was to complete the outfitting of
the colony. It was to be unloaded first. By the time the ship's holds
were wholly empty, the smelter would be operating. The ship would wait
for a full cargo of pig metal. Bordman had expected to live in this
cabin while he worked on the survey he'd come to make, and to leave
again with the ship.

Now he was to go aground by boat. He fretted. The only emergency
equipment he could possibly need was a heat-suit. He doubted the urgency
of that. But he packed some clothing for indoors, and then defiantly
included his specbook and the volumes of definitive data to which
specifications for structures and colonial establishments always
referred. He'd get to work on his report immediately he landed.

He went out of the passenger's lounge to the boat-blister. An engineer's
legs projected from the boat port. The engineer withdrew, with a strip
of tape from the boat's computer. He compared it dourly with a similar
strip from the ship's figurebox. Bordman consciously acted according to
the best traditions of passengers.

"What's the trouble?" he asked.

"We can't land," said the engineer shortly.

He went away--according to the tradition by which ships' crews are
always scornful of passengers.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bordman scowled. Then Aletha came, carrying a not-too-heavy bag. Bordman
put it in the boat, disapproving of the crampedness of the craft. But
this wasn't a lifeboat. It was a landing boat. A lifeboat had Lawlor
drive and could travel light-years, but in the place of rockets and
rocket fuel it had air-purifiers and water-recovery units and
food-stores. It couldn't land without a landing grid aground, but it
could get to a civilized planet. This landing boat could land without a
grid, but its air wouldn't last long.

"Whatever's the matter," said Bordman darkly, "it's incompetence
somewhere!"

But he couldn't figure it out. This was a cargo ship. Cargo ships
neither took off nor landed under their own power. It was too costly of
fuel they would have to carry. So landing grids used local power--which
did not have to be lifted--to heave ships out into space, and again used
local power to draw them to ground again. Therefore ships carried fuel
only for actual space-flight, which was economy. Yet landing grids had
no moving parts, and while they did have to be monstrous structures they
actually drew power from planetary ionospheres. So with no moving parts
to break down and no possibility of the failure of a power
source--landing grids couldn't fail! So there couldn't be an emergency
to make a ship ride orbit around a planet which had a landing grid!

The engineer came back. He carried a mail sack full of letter-reels. He
waved his hand. Aletha crawled into the landing-boat port. Bordman
followed. Four people, with a little crowding, could have gotten into
the little ship. Three pretty well filled it. The engineer followed them
and sealed the port.

"Sealed off," he said into the microphone before him.

The exterior-pressure needle moved halfway across the dial. The
interior-pressure needle stayed steady.

"All tight," said the engineer.

The exterior-pressure needle flicked to zero. There were clanking
sounds. The long halves of the boat-blister stirred and opened, and
abruptly the landing boat was in an elongated cup in the hull-plating,
and above them there were many, many stars. The enormous disk of a
nearby planet floated into view around the hull. It was monstrous and
blindingly bright. It was of a tawny color, with great, irregular areas
of yellow and patches of bluishness. But most of it was the color of
sand. And all its colors varied in shade--some places were lighter and
some darker--and over at one edge there was blinding whiteness which
could not be anything but an ice cap. But Bordman knew that there was no
ocean or sea or lake on all this whole planet, and the ice cap was more
nearly hoarfrost than such mile-deep glaciation as would be found at the
poles of a maximum-comfort world.

"Strap in," said the engineer over his shoulder. "No-gravity coming, and
then rocket-push. Settle your heads."

Bordman irritably strapped himself in. He saw Aletha busy at the same
task, her eyes shining. Without warning, there came a sensation of acute
discomfort. It was the landing boat detaching itself from the ship and
the diminishment of the ship's closely-confined artificial-gravity
field. That field suddenly dropped to nothingness, and Bordman had the
momentary sickish dizziness that flicked-off gravity always produces. At
the same time his heart pounded unbearably in the instinctive,
racial-memory reaction to the feel of falling.

Then roarings. He was thrust savagely back against his seat. His tongue
tried to slide back into his throat. There was an enormous oppression on
his chest. He found himself thinking panicky profanity.

Simultaneously the vision ports went black, because they were out of the
shadow of the ship. The landing boat turned--but there was no sensation
of centrifugal force--and they were in a vast obscurity with merely a
dim phantom of the planetary surface to be seen. But behind them a
blue-white sun shone terribly. Its light was warm--hot--even though it
came through the polarized shielding ports.

"Did ... did you say," panted Aletha happily--breathless because of the
acceleration--"that there weren't any adventures?"

Bordman did not answer. But he did not count discomfort as an adventure.

       *       *       *       *       *

The engineer did not look out the ports at all. He watched the screen
before him. There was a vertical line across the side of the lighted
disk. A blip moved downward across it, showing their height in thousands
of miles. After a long time the blip reached the bottom, and the
vertical line became double and another blip began to descend. It
measured height in hundreds of miles. A bright spot--a square--appeared
at one side of the screen. A voice muttered metallically, and suddenly
seemed to shout, and then muttered again. Bordman looked out one of the
black ports and saw the planet as if through smoked glass. It was a
ghostly reddish thing which filled half the cosmos. It had mottlings.
Its edge was curved. That would be the horizon.

The engineer moved controls and the white square moved. It went across
the screen. He moved more controls. It came back to the center. The
height-in-hundreds blip was at the bottom, now, and the vertical line
tripled and a tens-of-miles-height blip crawled downward.

There were sudden, monstrous plungings of the landing boat. It had hit
the outermost fringes of atmosphere. The engineer said words it was not
appropriate for Aletha to hear. The plungings became more violent.
Bordman held on--to keep from being shaken to pieces despite the
straps--and stared at the murky surface of the planet. It seemed to be
fleeing from them and they to be trying to overtake it. Gradually, very
gradually, its flight appeared to slow. They were down to twenty miles,
then.

Quite abruptly the landing boat steadied. The square spot bobbed about
in the center of the astrogation screen. The engineer worked controls to
steady it.

The ports cleared a little. Bordman could see the ground below more
distinctly. There were patches of every tint that mineral coloring could
produce. There were vast stretches of tawny sand. A little while more,
and he could see the shadows of mountains. He made out mountain flanks
which should have had valleys between them and other mountain flanks
beyond, but they had tawny flatnesses between, instead. These, he knew,
would be the sand plateaus which had been observed on this planet and
which had only a still-disputed explanation. But he could see areas of
glistening yellow and dirty white, and splashes of pink and streaks of
ultramarine and gray and violet, and the incredible red of iron oxide
covering square miles--too much to be believed.

The landing-boat's rockets cut off. It coasted. Presently the horizon
tilted and all the dazzling ground below turned sedately beneath them.
There came staccato instructions from a voice-speaker, which the
engineer obeyed. The landing boat swung low--below the tips of giant
mauve mountains with a sand plateau beyond them--and its nose went up.
It stalled.

Then the rockets roared again--and now, with air about them and after a
momentary pause, they were horribly loud--and the boat settled down and
down upon its own tail of fire.

There was a completely blinding mass of dust and rocket fumes which cut
off all sight of everything else. Then there was a crunching crash, and
the engineer swore peevishly to himself. He cut the rockets again.
Finally.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bordman found himself staring straight up, still strapped in his chair.
The boat had settled on its own tail fins, and his feet were higher than
his head, and he felt ridiculous. He saw the engineer at work
unstrapping himself. He duplicated the action, but it was absurdly
difficult to get out of the chair.

Aletha managed more gracefully. She didn't need help.

"Wait," said the engineer ungraciously, "till somebody comes."

So they waited, using what had been chair backs for seats.

The engineer moved a control and the windows cleared further. They saw
the surface of Xosa II. There was no living thing in sight. The ground
itself was pebbles and small rocks and minor boulders--all apparently
tumbled from the starkly magnificent mountains to one side. There were
monstrous, many-colored cliffs and mesas, every one eaten at in the
unmistakable fashion of wind-erosion. Through a notch in the mountain
wall before them a strange, fan-shaped, frozen formation appeared. If
such a thing had been credible, Bordman would have said that it was a
flow of sand simulating a waterfall. And everywhere there was blinding
brightness and the look and feel of blistering sunshine. But there was
not one single leaf or twig or blade of grass. This was pure desert.
This was Xosa II.

Aletha regarded it with bright eyes.

"Beautiful!" she said happily. "Isn't it?"

"Personally," said Bordman, "I never saw a place that looked less
homelike or attractive."

Aletha laughed.

"My eyes see it differently."

Which was true. It was accepted, nowadays, that humankind might be one
species but was many races, and each saw the cosmos in its own fashion.
On Kalmet III there was a dense, predominantly Asiatic population which
terraced its mountainsides for agriculture and deftly mingled modern
techniques with social customs not to be found on--say--Demeter I, where
there were many red-tiled stucco towns and very many olive groves. In
the llano planets of the Equis cluster, Amerinds--Aletha's
kin--zestfully rode over plains dotted with the descendants of buffalo
and antelope and cattle brought from ancient Earth. On the oases of
Rustam IV there were date palms and riding camels and much argument
about what should be substituted for the direction of Mecca at the times
for prayer, while wheat fields spanned provinces on Canna I and highly
civilized emigrants from the continent of Africa on Earth stored jungle
gums and lustrous gems in the warehouses of their spaceport city of
Timbuk.

So it was natural for Aletha to look at this wind-carved wilderness
otherwise than as Bordman did. Her racial kindred were the pioneers of
the stars, these days. Their heritage made them less than appreciative
of urban life. Their inborn indifference to heights made them the
steel-construction men of the cosmos, and more than two-thirds of the
landing grids in the whole galaxy had their coup-feather symbols on the
key posts. But the planet government on Algonka V was housed in a
three-thousand-foot white stone tepee, and the best horses known to men
were raised by ranchers with bronze skins and high cheekbones on the
llano planet Chagan.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, here, in the _Warlock's_ landing boat, the engineer snorted. A
vehicle came around a cliff wall, clanking its way on those eccentric
caterwheels that new-founded colonies find so useful. The vehicle
glittered. It crawled over tumbled boulders, and flowed over fallen
scree. It came briskly toward them. The engineer snorted again.

"That's my cousin Ralph!" said Aletha in pleased surprise.

Bordman blinked and looked again. He did not quite believe his eyes. But
they told the truth. The figure controlling the ground car was
Indian--Amerind--wearing a breechcloth and thick-soled sandals and three
streamlined feathers in a band about his head. Moreover, he did not ride
in a seat. He sat astride a semi-cylindrical part of the ground car,
over which a gaily-colored blanket had been thrown.

[Illustration]

The ship's engineer rumbled disgustedly. But then Bordman saw how sane
this method of riding was--here. The ground vehicle lurched and swayed
and rolled and pitched and tossed as it came over the uneven ground. To
sit in anything like a chair would have been foolish. A back rest would
throw one forward in a frontward lurch, and give no support in case of a
backward one. A sidewise tilt would tend to throw one out. Riding a
ground car as if in a saddle was sense!

But Bordman was not so sure about the costume. The engineer opened the
port and spoke hostilely out of it:

"D'you know there's a lady in this thing?"

The young Indian grinned. He waved his hand to Aletha, who pressed her
nose against a viewport. And just then Bordman did understand the
costume or lack of it. Air came in the open exit port. It was hot and
desiccated. It was furnace-like!

"How, 'Letha," called the rider on the caterwheel steed. "Either dress
for the climate or put on a heat-suit before you come out of there!"

Aletha chuckled. Bordman heard a stirring behind him. Then Aletha
climbed to the exit port and swung out. Bordman heard a dour muttering
from the engineer. Then he saw her greeting her cousin. She had slipped
out of the conventionalized Amerind outfit to which Bordman was
accustomed. Now she was clad as Anglo-Saxon girls dressed for beaches on
the cool-temperature planets.

For a moment Bordman thought of sunstroke, with his own eyes dazzled by
the still-partly-filtered sunlight. But Aletha's Amerind coloring was
perfectly suited to sunshine even of this intensity. Wind blowing upon
her body would cool her skin. Her thick, straight black hair was at
least as good protection against sunstroke as a heat-helmet. She might
feel hot, but she would be perfectly safe. She wouldn't even sunburn.
But he, Bordman----

He grimly stripped to underwear and put on the heat-suit from his bag.
He filled its canteens from the boat's water tank. He turned on the
tiny, battery-powered motors. The suit ballooned out. It was intended
for short periods of intolerable heat. The motors kept it inflated--away
from his skin--and cooled its interior by the evaporation of sweat plus
water from its canteen tanks. It was a miniature air-conditioning system
for one man, and it should enable him to endure temperatures otherwise
lethal to someone with his skin and coloring. But it would use a lot of
water.

He climbed to the exit port and went clumsily down the exterior ladder
to the tail fin. He adjusted his goggles. He went over to the chattering
young Indians, young man and girl. He held out his gloved hand.

"I'm Bordman," he said painfully. "Here to make a degree-of-completion
survey. What's wrong that we had to land by boat?"

Aletha's cousin shook hands cordially.

"I'm Ralph Redfeather," he said, introducing himself. "Project engineer.
About everything's wrong. Our landing grid's gone. We couldn't contact
your ship in time to warn it off. It was in our gravity field before it
answered, and its Lawlor drive couldn't take it away--not working
because of the field. Our power, of course, went with the landing grid.
The ship you came in can't get back, and we can't send a distress
message anywhere, and our best estimate is that the colony will be wiped
out--thirst and starvation--in six months. I'm sorry you and Aletha have
to be included."

Then he turned to Aletha and said amiably:

"How's Mike Thundercloud and Sally Whitehorse and the gang in general,
'Letha?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Warlock_ rolled on in her newly-established orbit about Xosa II.
The landing boat was aground, having removed the two passengers. It
would come back. Nobody on the ship wanted to stay aground, because they
knew the conditions and the situation below--unbearable heat and the
complete absence of hope. But nobody had anything to do! The ship had
been maintained in standard operating condition during its two-months'
voyage from Trent to here. No repairs or overhaulings were needed. There
was no maintenance-work to speak of. There would be only stand-by
watches until something happened. There would be nothing to do on those
watches. There would be off-watch time for twenty-one out of every
twenty-four hours, and no purposeful activity to fill even half an hour
of it. In a matter of--probably--years, the _Warlock_ should receive
aid. She might be towed out of her orbit to space in which the Lawlor
drive could function, or the crew might simply be taken off. But
meanwhile, those on board were as completely frustrated as the colony.
They could not do anything at all to help themselves.

In one fashion the crewmen were worse off than the colonists. The
colonists had at least the colorful prospect of death before them. They
could prepare for it in their several ways. But the members of the
_Warlock_'s crew had nothing ahead but tedium.

The skipper faced the future with extreme, grim distaste.

       *       *       *       *       *

The ride to the colony was torment. Aletha rode behind her cousin on the
saddle-blanket, and apparently suffered little if at all. But Bordman
could only ride in the ground-car's cargo space, along with the sack of
mail from the ship. The ground was unbelievably rough and the jolting
intolerable. The heat was literally murderous. In the metal cargo space,
the temperature reached a hundred and sixty degrees in the sunshine--and
given enough time, food will cook in no more heat than that. Of course a
man has been known to enter an oven and stay there while a roast was
cooked, and to come out alive. But the oven wasn't throwing him
violently about or bringing sun-heated--blue-white-sun heated--metal to
press his heat-suit against him.

The suit did make survival possible, but that was all. The contents of
its canteens gave out just before arrival, and for a short time Bordman
had only sweat for his suit to work with. It kept him alive by forced
ventilation, but he arrived in a state of collapse. He drank the iced
salt water they gave him and went to bed. He'd get back his strength
with a proper sodium level in his blood. But he slept for twelve hours
straight.

When he got up, he was physically normal again, but abysmally ashamed.
It did no good to remind himself that Xosa II was rated minimum-comfort
class D--a blue-white sun and a mean temperature of one hundred and ten
degrees. Africans could take such a climate--with night-relief quarters.
Amerinds could do steel construction work in the open, protected only by
insulated shoes and gloves. But Bordman could not venture out-of-doors
except in a heat-suit. He couldn't stay long then. It was not a
weakness. It was a matter of genetics. But he was ashamed.

Aletha nodded to him when he found the Project Engineer's office. It
occupied one of the hulls in which colony-establishment materials had
been lowered by rocket power. There were forty of the hulls, and they
had been emptied and arranged for inter-communication in three separate
communities, so that an individual could change his quarters and
ordinary associates from time to time and colony fever--frantic
irritation with one's companions--was minimized.

Aletha sat at a desk, busily making notes from a loose leaf volume
before her. The wall behind the desk was fairly lined with similar
volumes.

"I made a spectacle of myself!" said Bordman, bitterly.

"Not at all!" Aletha assured him. "It could happen to anybody. I
wouldn't do too well on Timbuk."

There was no answer to that. Timbuk was essentially a jungle planet,
barely emerging from the carboniferous stage. Its colonists thrived
because their ancestors had lived on the shores of the Gulf of Guinea,
on Earth. But Anglos did not find its climate healthful, nor would many
other races. Amerinds died there quicker than most.

"Ralph's on the way here now," added Aletha. "He and Dr. Chuka were out
picking a place to leave the records. The sand dunes here are terrible,
you know. When an explorer-ship does come to find out what's happened to
us, these buildings could be covered up completely. Any place could be.
It isn't easy to pick a record-cache that's quite sure to be found."

"When," said Bordman skeptically, "there's nobody left alive to point it
out. Is that it?"

"That's it," agreed Aletha. "It's pretty bad all around. I didn't plan
to die just yet."

Her voice was perfectly normal. Bordman snorted. As a senior Colonial
Survey officer, he'd been around. But he'd never yet known a human
colony to be extinguished when it was properly equipped and after a
proper pre-settlement survey. He'd seen panic, but never real cause for
a matter-of-fact acceptance of doom.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a clanking noise outside the hulk which was the Project
Engineer's headquarters. Bordman couldn't see clearly through the
filtered ports. He reached over and opened a door. The brightness
outside struck his eyes like a blow. He blinked them shut instantly and
turned away. But he'd seen a glistening, caterwheel ground car stopping
not far from the doorway.

He stood wiping tears from his light-dazzled eyes as footsteps sounded
outside. Aletha's cousin came in, followed by a huge man with remarkably
dark skin. The dark man wore eyeglasses with a curiously thick, corklike
nosepiece to insulate the necessary metal of the frame from his skin. It
would blister if it touched bare flesh.

"This is Dr. Chuka," said Redfeather pleasantly, "Mr. Bordman. Dr.
Chuka's the director of mining and mineralogy here."

Bordman shook hands with the ebony-skinned man. He grinned, showing
startlingly white teeth. Then he began to shiver.

"It's like a freeze-box in here," he said in a deep voice. "I'll get a
robe and be with you."

He vanished through a doorway, his teeth chattering audibly. Aletha's
cousin took half a dozen deliberate deep breaths and grimaced.

"I could shiver myself," he admitted "but Chuka's really acclimated to
Xosa. He was raised on Timbuk."

Bordman said curtly:

"I'm sorry I collapsed on landing. It won't happen again. I came here to
do a degree-of-completion survey that should open the colony to normal
commerce, let the colonists' families move in, tourists, and so on. But
I was landed by boat instead of normally, and I am told the colony is
doomed. I would like an official statement of the degree of completion
of the colony's facilities and an explanation of the unusual points I
have just mentioned."

The Indian blinked at him. Then he smiled faintly. The dark man came
back, zipping up an indoor warmth-garment. Redfeather dryly brought him
up to date by repeating what Bordman had just said. Chuka grinned and
sprawled comfortably in a chair.

"I'd say," he remarked humorously, in that astonishingly deep-toned
voice of his, "sand got in our hair. And our colony. And the landing
grid. There's a lot of sand on Xosa. Wouldn't you say that was the
trouble?"

The Indian said with elaborate gravity:

"Of course wind had something to do with it."

Bordman fumed.

"I think you know," he said fretfully, "that as a senior Colonial Survey
officer, I have authority to give any orders needed for my work. I give
one now. I want to see the landing grid--if it is still standing. I take
it that it didn't fall down?"

Redfeather flushed beneath the bronze pigment of his skin. It would be
hard to offend a steelman more than to suggest that his work did not
stand up.

"I assure you," he said politely, "that it did not fall down."

"Your estimate of its degree of completion?"

"Eighty per cent," said Redfeather formally.

"You've stopped work on it?"

"Work on it has been stopped," agreed the Indian.

"Even though the colony can receive no more supplies until it is
completed?"

"Just so," said Redfeather without expression.

"Then I issue a formal order that I be taken to the landing-grid site
immediately," said Bordman angrily. "I want to see what sort of
incompetence is responsible! Will you arrange it--at once?"

Redfeather said in a completely emotionless voice:

"You want to see the site of the landing grid. Very good. Immediately."

He turned and walked out into the incredible, blinding sunshine. Bordman
blinked at the momentary blast of light, and then began to pace up and
down the office. He fumed. He was still ashamed of his collapse from the
heat during the travel from the landed rocket-boat to the colony.
Therefore he was touchy and irritable. But the order he had given was
strictly justifiable.

He heard a small noise. He whirled. Dr. Chuka, huge and black and
spectacled, rocked back and forth in his seat, suppressing laughter.

"Now, what the devil does that mean?" demanded Bordman suspiciously. "It
certainly isn't ridiculous to ask to see the structure on which the life
of the colony finally depends!"

"Not ridiculous," said Dr. Chuka. "It's--hilarious!"

He boomed laughter in the office with the rounded ceiling of a remade
robot hull. Aletha smiled with him, though her eyes were grave.

"You'd better put on a heat-suit," she said to Bordman.

He fumed again, tempted to defy all common sense because its dictates
were not the same for everybody. But he marched away, back to the
cubbyhole in which he had awakened. Angrily, he donned the heat-suit
that had not protected him adequately before, but had certainly saved
his life. He filled the canteens topping full--he suspected he hadn't
done so the last time. He went back to the Project Engineer's office
with a feeling of being burdened and absurd.

       *       *       *       *       *

Out a filter-window, he saw that men with skins as dark as Dr. Chuka's
were at work on a ground car. They were equipping it with a sunshade and
curious shields like wings. Somebody pushed a sort of caterwheel
handtruck toward it. They put big, heavy tanks into its cargo space. Dr.
Chuka had disappeared, but Aletha was back at work making notes from the
loose-leaf volume on the desk.

[Illustration]

"May I ask," asked Bordman with some irony, "what your work happens to
be just now?"

She looked up.

"I thought you knew," she said in surprise. "I'm here for the Amerind
Historical Society. I can certify coups. I'm taking coup-records for the
Society. They'll go in the record-cache Ralph and Dr. Chuka are
arranging, so no matter what happens to the colony, the record of the
coups won't be lost."

"Coups?" demanded Bordman. He knew that Amerinds painted feathers on the
key-posts of steel structures they'd built, and he knew that the posting
of such "coup-marks" was a cherished privilege and undoubtedly a
survival or revival of some American Indian tradition back on Earth.
But he did not know what they meant.

"Coups," repeated Aletha matter-of-factly. "Ralph wears three
eagle-feathers. You saw them. He has three coups. Pinions, too! He built
the landing grids on Norlath and--Oh, you don't know!"

"I don't," admitted Bordman, his temper not of the best because of what
seemed unnecessary condescensions on Xosa II.

Aletha looked surprised.

"In the old days," she explained, "back on Earth, if a man scalped an
enemy, he counted coup. The first to strike an enemy in a battle counted
coup, too--a lesser one. Nowadays a man counts coups for different
things, but Ralph's three eagle-feathers mean he's entitled to as much
respect as a warrior in the old days who, three separate times, had
killed and scalped an enemy warrior in the middle of his own camp. And
he is, too!"

Bordman grunted.

"Barbarous, I'd say!"

"If you like," said Aletha. "But it's something to be proud of--and one
doesn't count coup for making a lot of money!" Then she paused and said
curtly: "The word 'snobbish' fits it better than 'barbarous.' We are
snobs! But when the head of a clan stands up in Council in the Big Tepee
on Algonka, representing his clan, and men have to carry the ends of the
feather headdress with all the coups the members of his clan have
earned--why one is proud to belong to that clan!" She added defiantly,
"Even watching it on a vision-screen!"

Dr. Chuka opened the outer door. Blinding light poured in. He did not
enter--and his body glistened with sweat.

"Ready for you, Mr. Bordman!"

Bordman adjusted his goggles and turned on the motors of his heat-suit.
He went out the door.

       *       *       *       *       *

The heat and light outside were oppressive. He darkened the goggles
again and made his way heavily to the waiting, now-shaded ground car. He
noted that there were other changes beside the sunshade. The cover-deck
of the cargo space was gone, and there were cylindrical riding seats
like saddles in the back. The odd lower shields reached out sidewise
from the body, barely above the caterwheels. He could not make out their
purpose and irritably failed to ask.

"All ready," said Redfeather coldly. "Dr. Chuka's coming with us. If
you'll get in here, please----"

Bordman climbed awkwardly into the boxlike back of the car. He bestrode
one of the cylindrical arrangements. With a saddle on it, it would
undoubtedly have been a comfortable way to cover impossibly bad terrain
in a mechanical carrier. He waited. About him there were the squatty
hulls of the space-barges which had been towed here by a colony ship,
each one once equipped with rockets for landing. Emptied of their
cargoes, they had been huddled together into the three separate,
adjoining communities. There were separate living quarters and mess
halls and recreation rooms for each, and any colonist lived in the
community of his choice and shifted at pleasure, or visited, or remained
solitary. For mental health a man has to be assured of his free will,
and over-regimentation is deadly in any society. With men
psychologically suited to colonize, it is fatal.

Above--but at a distance, now--there was a monstrous scarp of mountains,
colored in glaring and unnatural tints. Immediately about there was raw
rock. But it was peculiarly smooth, as if sand grains had rubbed over it
for uncountable aeons and carefully worn away every trace of unevenness.
Half a mile to the left, dunes began and went away to the horizon. The
nearer ones were small, but they gained in size with distance from the
mountains--which evidently affected the surface-winds hereabouts--and
the edge of seeing was visibly not a straight line. The dunes yonder
must be gigantic. But of course on a world the size of ancient Earth,
and which was waterless save for snow-patches at its poles, the size to
which sand dunes could grow had no limit. The surface of Xosa II was a
sea of sand, on which islands and small continents of wind-swept rock
were merely minor features.

Dr. Chuka adjusted a small metal object in his hand. It had a tube
dangling from it. He climbed into the cargo space and fastened it to one
of the two tanks previously loaded.

"For you," he told Bordman. "Those tanks are full of compressed air at
rather high pressure--a couple of thousand pounds. Here's a
reduction-valve with an adiabatic expansion feature, to supply extra air
to your heat-suit. It will be pretty cold, expanding from so high a
pressure. Bring down the temperature a little more."

Bordman again felt humiliated. Chuka and Redfeather, because of their
races, were able to move about nine-tenths naked in the open air on this
planet, and they thrived. But he needed a special refrigerated costume
to endure the heat. More, they provided him with sunshades and
refrigerated air that they did not need for themselves. They were
thoughtful of him. He was as much out of his element, where they fitted
perfectly, as he would have been making a degree-of-completion survey on
an underwater project. He had to wear what was practically a diving suit
and use a special air supply to survive!

He choked down the irritation his own inadequacy produced.

"I suppose we can go now," he said as coldly as he could.

Aletha's cousin mounted the control-saddle--though it was no more than a
blanket--and Dr. Chuka mounted beside Bordman. The ground car got under
way. It headed for the mountains.

       *       *       *       *       *

The smoothness of the rock was deceptive. The caterwheel car lurched
and bumped and swayed and rocked. It rolled and dipped and wallowed.
Nobody could have remained in a normal seat on such terrain, but Bordman
felt hopelessly undignified riding what amounted to a hobbyhorse. Under
the sunshade it was infuriatingly like a horse on a carousel. That there
were three of them together made it look even more foolish. He stared
about him, trying to take his mind from his own absurdity. His goggles
made the light endurable, but he felt ashamed.

"Those side-fins," said Chuka's deep voice pleasantly, "the bottom ones,
make things better for you. The shade overhead cuts off direct sunlight,
and they cut off the reflected glare. It would blister your skin even
if the sun never touched you directly."

Bordman did not answer. The caterwheel car went on. It came to a patch
of sand--tawny sand, heavily mineralized. There was a dune here. Not a
big one for Xosa II. It was no more than a hundred feet high. But they
went up its leeward, steeply slanting side. All the planet seemed to
tilt insanely as the caterwheels spun. They reached the dune's crest,
where it tended to curl over and break like a water-comber, and here the
wheels struggled with sand precariously ready to fall, and Bordman had a
sudden perception of the sands of Xosa II as the oceans that they really
were. The dunes were waves which moved with infinite slowness, but the
irresistible force of storm-seas. Nothing could resist them. Nothing!

They traveled over similar dunes for two miles. Then they began to climb
the approaches to the mountains. And Bordman saw for the second
time--the first had been through the ports of the landing-boat--where
there was a notch in the mountain wall and sand had flowed out of it
like a waterfall, making a beautifully symmetrical cone-shaped heap
against the lower cliffs. There were many such falls. There was one
place where there was a sand-cascade. Sand had poured over a series of
rocky steps, piling up on each in turn to its very edge, and then
spilling again to the next.

They went up a crazily slanting spur of stone, whose sides were too
steep for sand to lodge on, and whose narrow crest had a bare thin
coating of powder.

The landscape looked like a nightmare. As the car went on, wabbling and
lurching and dipping on its way, the heights on either side made Bordman
tend to dizziness. The coloring was impossible. The aridness, the
desiccation, the lifelessness of everything about was somehow shocking.
Bordman found himself straining his eyes for the merest, scrubbiest of
bushes and for however stunted and isolated a wisp of grass.

The journey went on for an hour. Then there came a straining climb up a
now-windswept ridge of eroded rock, and the attainment of its highest
point. The ground car went onward for a hundred yards and stopped.

They had reached the top of the mountain range, and there was
doubtlessly another range beyond. But they could not see it. Here, at
the place to which they had climbed so effortfully, there were no more
rocks. There was no valley. There was no descending slope. There was
sand. This was one of the sand plateaus which were a unique feature of
Xosa II. And Bordman knew, now, that the disputed explanation was the
true one.

Winds, blowing over the mountains, carried sand as on other worlds they
carried moisture and pollen and seeds and rain. Where two mountain
ranges ran across the course of long-blowing winds, the winds eddied
above the valley between. They dropped sand into it. The equivalent of
trade winds, Bordman considered, in time would fill a valley to the
mountain tops, just as trade winds provide moisture in equal quantity on
other worlds, and civilizations have been built upon it. But----

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well?" said Bordman challengingly.

"This is the site of the landing grid," said Redfeather.

"Where?"

"Here," said the Indian dryly. "A few months ago there was a valley
here. The landing grid had eighteen hundred feet of height built. There
was to be four hundred feet more--the lighter top construction justifies
my figure of eighty per cent completion. Then there was a storm."

[Illustration]

It was hot. Horribly, terribly hot, even here on a plateau at
mountaintop height. Dr. Chuka looked at Bordman's face and bent down in
the vehicle. He turned a stopcock on one of the air tanks brought for
Bordman's necessity. Immediately Bordman felt cooler. His skin was dry,
of course. The circulated air dried sweat as fast as it appeared. But he
had the dazed, feverish feeling of a man in an artificial-fever box.
He'd been fighting it for some time. Now the coolness of the expanded
air was almost deliriously refreshing.

Dr. Chuka produced a canteen. Bordman drank thirstily. The water was
slightly salted to replace salt lost in sweat.

"A storm, eh?" asked Bordman, after a time of contemplation of his inner
sensations as well as the scene of disaster before him. There'd be some
hundreds of millions of tons of sand in even a section of this plateau.
It was unthinkable that it could be removed except by a long-time sweep
of changed trade winds along the length of the valley. "But what has a
storm to do----"

"It was a sandstorm," said Redfeather coldly. "Probably there was a
sunspot flare-up. We don't know. But the pre-colonization survey spoke
of sandstorms. The survey team even made estimates of sandfall in
various places as so many inches per year. Here all storms drop sand
instead of rain. But there must have been a sunspot flare because this
storm blew for"--his voice went flat and deliberate because it was
stating the unbelievable--"for two months. We did not see the sun in all
that time. And we couldn't work, naturally. The sand would flay a man's
skin off his body in minutes. So we waited it out.

"When it ended, there was this sand plateau where the survey had ordered
the landing grid to be built. The grid was under it. It is under it. The
top of eighteen hundred feet of steel is still buried two hundred feet
down in the sand you see. Our unfabricated building-steel is piled ready
for erection--under two thousand feet of sand. Without anything but
stored power it is hardly practical"--Redfeather's tone was
sardonic--"for us to try to dig it out. There are hundreds of millions
of tons of stuff to be moved. If we could get the sand away, we could
finish the grid. If we could finish the grid, we'd have power enough to
get the sand away--in a few years, and if we could replace the machinery
that wore out handling it. And if there wasn't another sandstorm."

He paused. Bordman took deep breaths of the cooler air. He could think
more clearly.

"If you will accept photographs," said Redfeather politely, "you can
check that we actually did the work."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bordman saw the implications. The colony had been formed of Amerinds for
the steel work and Africans for the labor the Amerinds were congenitally
averse to--the handling of complex mining-machinery underground and the
control of modern high-speed smelting operations. Both races could
endure this climate and work in it--provided that they had cooled
sleeping quarters. But they had to have power. Power not only to work
with, but to live by. The air-cooling machinery that made sleep possible
also condensed from the cooled air the minute trace of water vapor it
contained and that they needed for drink. But without power they would
thirst. Without the landing grid and the power it took from the
ionosphere, they could not receive supplies from the rest of the
universe. So they would starve.

And the _Warlock_, now in orbit somewhere overhead, was well within the
planet's gravitational field and could not use its Lawlor drive to
escape with news of their predicament. In the normal course of events it
would be years before a colony ship capable of landing or blasting out
of a planetary gravitational field by rocket-power was dispatched to
find out why there was no news from Xosa II. There was no such thing as
interstellar signaling, of course. Ships themselves travel faster than
any signal that could be sent, and distances were so great that mere
communication took enormous lengths of time. A letter sent to Earth from
the Rim even now took ten years to make the journey, and another ten for
a reply. Even the much shorter distances involved in Xosa II's
predicament still ruled out all hope. The colony was strictly on its
own.

Bordman said heavily:

"I'll accept the photographs. I even accept the statement that the
colony will die. I will prepare my report for the cache Aletha tells me
you're preparing. And I apologize for any affront I may have offered
you."

Dr. Chuka nodded approvingly. He regarded Bordman with benign warmth.
Ralph Redfeather said cordially enough:

"That's perfectly all right. No harm done."

"And now," said Bordman shortly, "since I have authority to give any
orders needed for my work, I want to survey the steps you've taken to
carry out those parts of your instructions dealing with emergencies. I
want to see right away what you've done to beat this state of things. I
know they can't be beaten, but I intend to leave a report on what you've
tried!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Warlock_ swung in emptiness around the planet Xosa II. It was
barely five thousand miles above the surface, so the mottled terrain of
the dry world flowed swiftly and perpetually beneath it. It did not seem
beneath, of course. It simply seemed out--away--removed from the ship.
And in the ship's hull there was artificial gravity, and light, and
there were the humming sounds of fans which kept the air in motion and
flowing through the air apparatus. Also there was food, and adequate
water, and the temperature was admirably controlled. But nothing
happened. Moreover, nothing could be expected to happen. There were
eight men in the crew, and they were accustomed to space-voyages which
lasted from one month to three. But they had traveled a good two months
from their last port. They had exhausted the visireels, playing them
over and over until they were intolerable. They had read and reread all
the bookreels they could bear. On previous voyages they had played chess
and similar games until it was completely predictable who would beat
whom in every possible contest.

Now they viewed the future with bitterness. The ship could not land,
because there was no landing grid in operation on the planet below them.
They could not depart, because the Lawlor drive simply does not work
within five diameters of an Earth-gravity planet. Space is warped only
infinitesimally by so thin a field, but a Lawlor drive needs almost
perfectly unstressed emptiness if it is to take hold. They did not have
fuel enough to blast out the necessary thirty-odd thousand miles against
gravity. The same consideration made their lifeboats useless. They could
not escape by rocket-power and their Lawlor drives, also, were
ineffective.

The crew of the _Warlock_ was bored. The worst of the boredom was that
it promised to last without limit. They had food and water and physical
comfort, but they were exactly in the situation of men sentenced to
prison for an unknown but enormous length of time. There was no escape.
There could be no alleviation. The prospect invited frenzy by
anticipation.

A fist fight broke out in the crew's quarters within two hours after the
_Warlock_ had established its orbit--as a first reaction to their
catastrophe. The skipper went through the ship and painstakingly
confiscated every weapon. He locked them up. He, himself, already felt
the nagging effect of jangling nerves. There was nothing to do. He
didn't know when there would ever be anything to do. It was a condition
to produce hysteria.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was night. Outside and above the colony there were uncountable
myriads of stars. They were not the stars of Earth, of course, but
Bordman had never been on Earth. He was used to unfamiliar
constellations. He stared out a port at the sky, and noted that there
were no moons. He remembered, when he thought, that Xosa II had no
moons. There was a rustling of paper behind him. Aletha Redfeather
turned a page in a loose-leaf volume and painstakingly made a note. The
wall behind her held many more such books. From them could be extracted
the detailed history of every bit of work that had been done by the
colony-preparation crews. Separate, tersely-phrased items could be
assembled to make a record of individual men.

There had been incredible hardships, at first. There were heroic feats.
There had been an attempt to ferry water supplies down from the pole by
aircraft. It was not practical, even to build up a reserve of fluid.
Winds carried sand particles here as on other worlds they carried
moisture. Aircraft were abraded as they flew. The last working flier
made a forced landing five hundred miles from the colony. A caterwheel
expedition went out and brought the crew in. The caterwheel trucks were
armored with silicone plastic, resistant to abrasion, but when they got
back they had to be scrapped. There had been men lost in sudden
sand-squalls, and heroic searches for them, and once or twice rescues.
There had been cave-ins in the mines. There had been accidents. There
had been magnificent feats of endurance and achievement.

Bordman went to the door of the hull which was Ralph Redfeather's
Project Engineer office. He opened it. He stepped outside.

It was like stepping into an oven. The sand was still hot from the
sunshine just ended. The air was so utterly dry that Bordman instantly
felt it sucking at the moisture of his nasal passages. In ten seconds
his feet--clad in indoor footwear--were uncomfortably hot. In twenty the
soles of his feet felt as if they were blistering. He would die of the
heat at night, here! Perhaps he could endure the outside near dawn, but
he raged a little. Here where Amerinds and Africans lived and throve, he
could live unprotected for no more than an hour or two--and that at one
special time of the planet's rotation!

He went back in, ashamed of the discomfort of his feet and angrily
letting them feel scorched rather than admit to it.

Aletha turned another page.

"Look, here!" said Bordman angrily. "No matter what you say, you're
going to go back on the _Warlock_ before----"

She raised her eyes.

"We'll worry about that when the time comes. But I think not. I'd
rather stay here."

"For the present, perhaps," snapped Bordman. "But before things get too
bad you go back to the ship! They've rocket fuel enough for half a dozen
landings of the landing boat. They can lift you out of here!"

Aletha shrugged.

"Why leave here to board a derelict? The _Warlock_'s practically that.
What's your honest estimate of the time before a ship equipped to help
us gets here?"

Bordman would not answer. He'd done some figuring. It had been a
two-month journey from Trent--the nearest Survey base--to here. The
_Warlock_ had been expected to remain aground until the smelter it
brought could load it with pig metal. Which could be as little as two
weeks, but would surprise nobody if it was two months instead. So the
ship would not be considered due back on Trent for four months. It would
not be considered overdue for at least two more. It would be six months
before anybody seriously wondered why it wasn't back with its cargo.
There'd be a wait for lifeboats to come in, should there have been a
mishap in space. There'd eventually be a report of noncommunication to
the Colony Survey headquarters on Canna III. But it would take three
months for that report to be received, and six more for a
confirmation--even if ships made the voyages exactly at the most
favorable intervals--and then there should at least be a complaint from
the colony. There were lifeboats aground on Xosa II, for emergency
communication, and if a lifeboat didn't bring news of a planetary
crisis, no crisis would be considered to exist. Nobody could imagine a
landing grid failing!

Maybe in a year somebody would think that maybe somebody ought to ask
around about Xosa II. It would be much longer before somebody put a note
on somebody else's desk that would suggest that when, or if, a suitable
ship passed near Xosa II, or if one should be available for the inquiry,
it might be worth while to have the noncommunication from the planet
looked into. Actually, to guess at three years before another ship
arrived would be the most optimistic of estimates.

"You're a civilian," said Bordman shortly. "When the food and water run
low, you go back to the ship. You'll at least be alive when somebody
does come to see what's the matter here!"

Aletha said mildly:

"Maybe I'd rather not be alive. Will you go back to the ship?"

Bordman flushed. He wouldn't. But he said doggedly;

"I can order you sent on board, and your cousin will carry out the
order!"

"I doubt it very much," said Aletha pleasantly.

She returned to her task.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were crunching footsteps outside the hulk. Bordman winced a
little. With insulated sandals, it was normal for these colonists to
move from one part of the colony to another in the open, even by
daylight. He, Bordman, couldn't take out-of-doors at night! His lips
twisted bitterly.

Men came in. There were dark men with rippling muscles under glistening
skin, and bronze Amerinds with coarse straight hair. Ralph Redfeather
was with them. Dr. Chuka came in last of all.

"Here we are," said Redfeather. "These are our foremen. Among us, I
think we can answer any questions you want to ask."

He made introductions. Bordman didn't try to remember the names.
Abeokuta and Northwind and Sutata and Tallgrass and T'ckka and
Spottedhorse and Lewanika---- They were names which in combination would
only be found in a very raw, new colony. But the men who crowded into
the office were wholly at ease, in their own minds as well as in the
presence of a senior Colonial Survey officer. They nodded as they were
named, and the nearest shook hands. Bordman knew that he'd have liked
their looks under other circumstances. But he was humiliated by the
conditions on this planet. They were not. They were apparently only
sentenced to death by them.

"I have to leave a report," said Bordman curtly--and he was somehow
astonished to know that he did expect to leave a report rather than make
one; he accepted the hopelessness of the colony's future--"on the
degree-of-completion of the work here. But since there's an emergency, I
have also to leave a report on the measures taken to meet it."

The report would be futile, of course. As futile as the coup-records
Aletha was compiling, which would be read only after everybody on the
planet was dead. But Bordman knew he'd write it. It was unthinkable that
he shouldn't.

"Redfeather tells me," he added, again curtly, "that the power in
storage can be used to cool the colony buildings--and therefore condense
drinking water from the air--for just about six months. There is food
for about six months. If one lets the buildings warm up a little, to
stretch the fuel, there won't be enough water to drink. Go on half
rations to stretch the food, and there won't be enough water to last and
the power will give out anyhow. No profit there!"

There were nods. The matter had been thrashed out long before.

"There's food in the _Warlock_ overhead," Bordman went on coldly, "but
they can't use the landing boat more than a few times. It can't use ship
fuel. No refrigeration to hold it stable. They couldn't land more than a
ton of supplies all told. There are five hundred of us here. No help
there!"

He looked from one to another.

"So we live comfortably," he told them with irony, "until our food and
water and minimum night-comfort run out together. Anything we do to try
to stretch anything is useless because of what happens to something
else. Redfeather tells me you accept the situation. What are you
doing--since you accept it?"

Dr. Chuka said amiably:

"We've picked a storage place for our records, and our miners are
blasting out space in which to put away the record of our actions to the
last possible moment. It will be sandproof. Our mechanics are building a
broadcast unit we'll spare a tiny bit of fuel for. It will run
twenty-odd years, broadcasting directions so it can be found regardless
of how the terrain is changed by drifting sand."

"And," said Bordman, "the fact that nobody will be here to give
directions."

Chuka added benignly:

"We're doing a great deal of singing, too. My people are ... ah ...
religious. When we are ... ah ... no longer here ... there have been
boastings that there'll be a well-practiced choir ready to go to work in
the next world."

White teeth showed in grins. Bordman was almost envious of men who could
grin at such a thought. But he went on grimly:

"And I understand that athletics have also been much practiced."

Redfeather said:

"There's been time for it. Climbing teams have counted coup on all the
worst mountains within three hundred miles. There's been a new record
set for the javelin, adjusted for gravity constant, and Johnny Cornstalk
did a hundred yards in eight point four seconds. Aletha has the records
and has certified them."

"Very useful!" said Bordman sardonically. Then he disliked himself for
saying it even before the bronze-skinned men's faces grew studiedly
impassive.

Chuka waved his hand.

"Wait, Ralph! Lewanika's nephew will beat that within a week!"

Bordman was ashamed again because Chuka had spoken to cover up his own
ill-nature.

"I take it back!" he said irritably. "What I said was uncalled for. I
shouldn't have said it! But I came here to do a completion survey and
what you've been giving me is material for an estimate of morale! It's
not my line! I'm a technician, first and foremost! We're faced with a
technical problem!"

Aletha spoke suddenly from behind him.

"But these are men, first and foremost, Mr. Bordman. And they're faced
with a very human problem--how to die well. They seem to be rather good
at it, so far."

Bordman ground his teeth. He was again humiliated. In his own fashion he
was attempting the same thing. But just as he was genetically not
qualified to endure the climate of this planet, he was not prepared for
a fatalistic or pious acceptance of disaster. Amerind and African,
alike, these men instinctively held to their own ideas of what the
dignity of a man called upon him to do when he could not do anything but
die. But Bordman's idea of his human dignity required him to be still
fighting: still scratching at the eyes of fate or destiny when he was
slain. It was in his blood or genes or the result of training. He simply
could not, with self-respect, accept any physical situation as hopeless
even when his mind assured him that it was.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I agree," he said coldly, "but still I have to think in technical
terms. You might say that we are going to die because we cannot land the
_Warlock_ with food and equipment. We cannot land the _Warlock_ because
we have no landing grid. We have no landing grid because it and all the
material to complete it is buried under millions of tons of sand. We
cannot make a new light-supply-ship type of landing grid because we have
no smelter to make beams, nor power to run it if we had, yet if we had
the beams we could get the power to run the smelter we haven't got to
make the beams. And we have no smelter, hence no beams, no power, no
prospect of food or help because we can't land the _Warlock_. It is
strictly a circular problem. Break it at any point and all of it is
solved."

One of the dark men muttered something under his breath to those near
him. There were chuckles.

"Like Mr. Woodchuck," explained the man, when Bordman's eyes fell on
him. "When I was a little boy there was a story like that."

Bordman said icily:

"The problem of coolness and water and food is the same sort of problem.
In six months we could raise food--if we had power to condense
moisture. We've chemicals for hydroponics--if we could keep the plants
from roasting as they grew. Refrigeration and water and food are
practically another circular problem."

Aletha said tentatively:

"Mr. Bordman----"

He turned, annoyed. Aletha said almost apologetically:

"On Chagan there was a--you might call it a woman's coup given to a
woman I know. Her husband raises horses. He's mad about them. And they
live in a sort of home on caterwheels out on the plains--the llanos.
Sometimes they're months away from a settlement. And she loves ice cream
and refrigeration isn't too simple. But she has a Doctorate in Human
History. So she had her husband make an insulated tray on the roof of
their trailer and she makes her ice cream there."

Men looked at her. Her cousin said amusedly:

"That should rate some sort of technical-coup feather!"

"The Council gave her a brass pot--official," said Aletha. "Domestic
science achievement." To Bordman she explained: "Her husband put a tray
on the roof of their house, insulated from the heat of the house below.
During the day there's an insulated cover on top of it, insulating it
from the heat of the sun. At night she takes off the top cover and pours
her custard, thin, in the tray. Then she goes to bed. She has to get up
before daybreak to scrape it up, but by then the ice cream is frozen.
Even on a warm night." She looked from one to another. "I don't know
why. She said it was done in a place called Babylonia on Earth, many
thousands of years ago."

Bordman blinked. Then he said decisively:

"Damn! Who knows how much the ground-temperature drops here before
dawn?"

"I do," said Aletha's cousin, mildly. "The top-sand temperature falls
forty-odd degrees. Warmer underneath, of course. But the air here is
almost cool when the sun rises. Why?"

"Nights are cooler on all planets," said Bordman, "because every night
the dark side radiates heat to empty space. There'd be frost everywhere
every morning if the ground didn't store up heat during the day. If we
prevent daytime heat-storage--cover a patch of ground before dawn and
leave it covered all day--and uncover it all night while shielding it
from warm winds---- We've got refrigeration! The night sky is empty
space itself! Two hundred and eighty below zero!"

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a murmur. Then argument. The foremen of the Xosa II
colony-preparation crew were strictly practical men, but they had the
habit of knowing why some things were practical. One does not do modern
steel construction in contempt of theory, nor handle modern mining tools
without knowing why as well as how they work. This proposal sounded like
something that was based on reason--that should work to some degree.
But how well? Anybody could guess that it should cool something at least
twice as much as the normal night temperature-drop. But somebody
produced a slipstick and began to juggle it expertly. He astonishedly
announced his results. Others questioned, and then verified it. Nobody
paid much attention to Bordman. But there was a hum of absorbed
discussion, in which Redfeather and Chuka were immediately included. By
calculation, it astoundingly appeared that if the air on Xosa II was
really as clear as the bright stars and deep day-sky color indicated,
every second night a total drop of one hundred and eighty degrees
temperature could be secured by radiation to interstellar space--if
there were no convection-currents, and they could be prevented by----

It was the convection-current problem which broke the assembly into
groups with different solutions. But it was Dr. Chuka who boomed at all
of them to try all three solutions and have them ready before daybreak,
so the assembly left the hulk, still disputing enthusiastically. But
somebody had recalled that there were dewponds in the one arid area on
Timbuk, and somebody else remembered that irrigation on Delmos III was
accomplished that same way. And they recalled how it was done----

Voices went away in the ovenlike night outside. Bordman grimaced, and
again said:

"Damn! Why didn't I think of that myself?"

"Because," said Aletha, smiling, "you aren't a Doctor of Human History
with a horse-raising husband and a fondness for ice cream. Even so, a
technician was needed to break down the problem here into really simple
terms." Then she said, "I think Bob Running Antelope might approve of
you, Mr. Bordman."

Bordman fumed to himself.

"Who's he? Just what does that whole comment mean?"

"I'll tell you," said Aletha, "when you've solved one or two more
problems."

Her cousin came back into the room. He said with gratification:

"Chuka can turn out silicone-wool insulation, he says. Plenty of
material, and he'll use a solar mirror to get the heat he needs. Plenty
of temperature to make silicones! How much area will we need to pull in
four thousand gallons of water a night?"

"How do I know?" demanded Bordman. "What's the moisture-content of the
air here, anyhow?" Then he said vexedly, "Tell me! Are you using
heat-exchangers to help cool the air you pump into the buildings, before
you use power to refrigerate it? It would save some power----"

The Indian project engineer said absorbedly:

"Let's get to work on this! I'm a steel man myself, but----"

They settled down. Aletha turned a page.

The _Warlock_ spun around the planet. The members of its crew withdrew
into themselves. In even two months of routine tedious voyaging to this
planet, there had been the beginnings of irritation with the mannerisms
of other men. Now there would be years of it. At the beginning, every
man tended to become a hermit so that he could postpone as long as
possible the time when he would hate his shipmates. Monotony was already
so familiar that its continuance was a foreknown evil. The crew of the
_Warlock_ already knew how intolerable they would presently be to each
other, and the foreknowledge tended to make them intolerable now.

Within two days of its establishment in orbit, the _Warlock_ was manned
by men already morbidly resentful of fate; with the psychology of
prisoners doomed to close confinement for an indeterminate but ghastly
period. On the third day there was a second fist fight. A bitter one.

Fist fights are not healthy symptoms in a spaceship which cannot hope to
make port for a matter of years.

       *       *       *       *       *

Most human problems are circular and fall apart when a single trivial
part of them is solved. There used to be enmity between races because
they were different, and they tended to be different because they were
enemies, so there was enmity--The big problem of interstellar flight was
that nothing could travel faster than light, and nothing could travel
faster than light because mass increased with speed, and mass increased
with speed--obviously!--because ships remained in the same time-slot,
and ships remained in the same time-slot long after a one-second shift
was possible because nobody realized that it meant traveling faster than
light. And even before there was interstellar travel, there was
practically no interplanetary commerce because it took so much fuel to
take off and land. And it took more fuel to carry the fuel to take off
and land, and more still to carry the fuel for that, until somebody used
power on the ground for heave-off instead of take-off, and again on the
ground for landing. And then interplanetary ships carried cargoes. And
on Xosa II there was an emergency because a sandstorm had buried the
almost completed landing grid under some megatons of sand, and it
couldn't be completed because there was only storage power because it
wasn't completed, because there was only storage power because----

But it took three weeks for the problem to be seen as the ultimately
simple thing it really was. Bordman had called it a circular problem,
but he hadn't seen its true circularity. It was actually--like all
circular problems--inherently an unstable set of conditions. It began to
fall apart when he saw that mere refrigeration would break its solidity.

In one week there were ten acres of desert covered with
silicone-wool-felt in great strips. By day a reflective surface was
uppermost, and at sundown caterwheel trucks hooked on to towlines and
neatly pulled it over on its back, to expose gridded black-body surfaces
to the starlight. And the gridding was precisely designed so that winds
blowing across it did not make eddies in the grid-squares, and the
chilled air in those pockets remained undisturbed and there was no
conduction of heat downward by eddy currents, while there was admirable
radiation of heat out to space. And this was in the manner of the night
sides of all planets, only somewhat more efficient.

       *       *       *       *       *

In two weeks there was a water yield of three thousand gallons per
night, and in three weeks more there were similar grids over the colony
houses and a vast roofed cooling-shed for pre-chilling of air to be used
by the refrigeration systems themselves. The fuel-store--stored
power--was thereupon stretched to three times its former calculated
usefulness. The situation was no longer a simple and neat equation of
despair.

Then something else happened. One of Dr. Chuka's assistants was curious
about a certain mineral. He used the solar furnace that had made the
silicone wool to smelt it. And Dr. Chuka saw him. And after one blank
moment he bellowed laughter and went to see Ralph Redfeather. Whereupon
Amerind steel-workers sawed apart a robot hull that was no longer a fuel
tank because its fuel was gone, and they built a demountable solar
mirror some sixty feet across--which African mechanics deftly
powered--and suddenly there was a spot of incandescence even brighter
than the sun of Xosa II, down on the planet's surface. It played upon a
mineral cliff, and monstrous smells developed and even the African
mining-technicians put on goggles because of the brightness, and
presently there were threads of molten metal and slag trickling--and
separating as they trickled--hesitantly down the cliff-side.

And Dr. Chuka beamed and slapped his sweating thighs, and Bordman went
out in a caterwheel truck, wearing a heat-suit, to watch it for all of
twenty minutes. When he got back to the Project Engineer's office he
gulped iced salt water and dug out the books he'd brought down from the
ship. There was the specbook for Xosa II, and there were the other
volumes of definitions issued by the Colonial Survey. They were
definitions of the exact meanings of terms used in briefer
specifications, for items of equipment sometimes ordered by the Colony
Office.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Chuka came into the office, presently, he carried the first crude
pig of Xosa II iron in his gloved hand. He gloated. Bordman was then
absent, and Ralph Redfeather worked feverishly at his desk.

"Where's Bordman?" demanded Chuka in that resonant bass voice of his.
"I'm ready to report for degree-of-completion credit that the mining
properties on Xosa II are prepared as of today to deliver pig iron,
cobalt, zirconium and beryllium in commercial quantities! We require one
day's notice to begin delivery of metal other than iron at the moment,
because we're short of equipment, but we can furnish chromium and
manganese on two days' notice--the deposits are farther away."

He dumped the pig of metal on the second desk, where Aletha sat with her
perpetual loose-leafed volumes before her. The metal smoked and began to
char the desk-top. He picked it up again and tossed it from one gloved
hand to the other.

"There y'are, Ralph!" he boasted. "You Indians go after your coups!
Match this coup for me! Without fuel and minus all equipment except of
our own making--I credit an assist on the mirror, but that's all--we're
set to load the first ship that comes in for cargo! Now what are you
going to do for the record? I think we've wiped your eye for you!"

Ralph hardly looked up. His eyes were very bright. Bordman had shown him
and he was copying feverishly the figures and formulae from a section of
the definition book of the Colonial Survey. The books started with the
specifications for antibiotic growth equipment for colonies with
problems in local bacteria. It ended with definitions of the required
strength-of-material and the designs stipulated for cages in zoos for
motile fauna, subdivided into flying, marine, and solid-ground
creatures: sub-sub-divided into carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores,
with the special specifications for enclosures to contain abyssal
creatures requiring extreme pressures, and the equipment for maintaining
a healthfully re-poisoned atmosphere for creatures from methane planets.

Redfeather had the third volume open at, "Landing Grids, Lightest
Emergency, Commerce Refuges, For Use Of." There were some dozens of
non-colonized planets along the most-traveled spaceways on which refuges
for shipwrecked spacemen were maintained. Small forces of Patrol
personnel manned them. Space lifeboats serviced them. They had the
minimum installations which could draw on their planets' ionospheres for
power, and they were not expected to handle anything bigger than a
twenty-ton lifeboat. But the specifications for the equipment of such
refuges were included in the reference volumes for Bordman's use in the
making of Colonial surveys. They were compiled for the information of
contractors who wanted to bid on Colonial Survey installations, and for
the guidance of people like Bordman who checked up on the work. So they
contained all the data for the building of a landing grid, lightest
emergency, commerce refuge for use of, in case of need. Redfeather
copied feverishly.

Chuka ceased his boasting, but still he grinned.

"I know we're stuck, Ralph," he said amiably, "but it's nice stuff to
go in the records. Too bad we don't keep coup-records like you Indians!"

Aletha's cousin--Project Engineer--said crisply:

"Go away! Who made your solar mirror? It was more than an assist! You
get set to cast beams for us! Girders! I'm going to get a lifeboat aloft
and away to Trent! Build a minimum size landing grid! Build a fire under
somebody so they'll send us a colony ship with supplies! If there's no
new sandstorm to bury the radiation refrigerators Bordman brought to
mind, we can keep alive with hydroponics until a ship can arrive with
something useful!"

Chuka stared.

"You don't mean we might actually live through this! Really?"

Aletha regarded the two of them with impartial irony.

"Dr. Chuka," she said gently, "you accomplished the impossible. Ralph,
here, is planning to attempt the preposterous. Does it occur to you that
Mr. Bordman is nagging himself to achieve the inconceivable? It is
inconceivable, even to him, but he's trying to do it!"

"What's he trying to do?" demanded Chuka, wary but amused.

"He's trying," said Aletha, "to prove to himself that he's the best man
on this planet. Because he's physically least capable of living here!
His vanity's hurt. Don't underestimate him!"

"He the best man here?" demanded Chuka blankly. "In his way he's all
right. The refrigeration proves that! But he can't walk out-of-doors
without a heat-suit!"

Ralph Redfeather said dryly, without ceasing his feverish work:

"Nonsense, Aletha. He has courage. I give him that. But he couldn't walk
a beam twelve hundred feet up. In his own way, yes. He's capable. But
the best man----"

"I'm sure," agreed Aletha, "that he couldn't sing as well as the worst
of your singing crew, Dr. Chuka, and any Amerind could outrun him. Even
I could! But he's got something we haven't got, just as we have
qualities he hasn't. We're secure in our competences. We know what we
can do, and that we can do it better than any--" her eyes
twinkled--"paleface. But he doubts himself. All the time and in every
way. And that's why he may be the best man on this planet! I'll bet he
does prove it!"

Redfeather said scornfully:

"You suggested radiation refrigeration! What does it prove that he
applied it?"

"That," said Aletha, "he couldn't face the disaster that was here
without trying to do something about it--even when it was impossible. He
couldn't face the deadly facts. He had to torment himself by seeing that
they wouldn't be deadly if only this one or that or the other were
twisted a little. His vanity was hurt because nature had beaten men. His
dignity was offended. And a man with easily-hurt dignity won't ever be
happy, but he can be pretty good!"

Chuka raised his ebony bulk from the chair in which he still shifted the
iron pig from gloved hand to gloved hand.

"You're kind," he said, chuckling. "Too kind! I don't want to hurt his
feelings. I wouldn't, for the world! But really ... I've never heard a
man praised for his vanity before, or admired for being touchy about his
dignity! If you're right ... why ... it's been convenient. It might even
mean hope. But ... hm-m-m---- Would you want to marry a man like that?"

"Great Manitou forbid!" said Aletha firmly. She grimaced at the bare
idea. "I'm an Amerind. I'll want my husband to be contented. I want to
be contented along with him. Mr. Bordman will never be either happy or
content. No paleface husband for me! But I don't think he's through here
yet. Sending for help won't satisfy him. It's a further hurt to his
vanity. He'll be miserable if he doesn't prove himself--to himself--a
better man than that!"

Chuka shrugged his massive shoulders. Redfeather tracked down the last
item he needed and fairly bounced to his feet.

"What tonnage of iron can you get out, Chuka?" he demanded. "What can
you do in the way of castings? What's the elastic modulus--how much
carbon in this iron? And when can you start making castings? Big ones?"

"Let's go talk to my foremen," said Chuka complacently. "We'll see how
fast my ... ah ... mineral spring is trickling metal down the
cliff-face. If you can really launch a lifeboat, we might get some help
here in a year and a half instead of five----"

       *       *       *       *       *

They went out-of-doors together. There was a small sound in the next
office. Aletha was suddenly very, very still. She sat motionless for a
long half-minute. Then she turned her head.

"I owe you an apology, Mr. Bordman," she said ruefully. "It won't take
back the discourtesy, but--I'm very sorry."

Bordman came into the office from the next room. He was rather pale. He
said wryly:

"Eavesdroppers never hear good of themselves, eh? Actually I was on the
way in here when I heard--references to myself it would embarrass Chuka
and your cousin to know I heard. So I stopped. Not to listen, but to
keep them from knowing I'd heard their private opinions of me. I'll be
obliged if you don't tell them. They're entitled to their opinions of
me. I've mine of them." He added grimly, "Apparently I think more highly
of them than they do of me!"

Aletha said contritely:

"It must have sounded horrible! But they ... we ... all of us think
better of you than you do of yourself!"

Bordman shrugged.

"You in particular. 'Would you marry someone like me? Great Manitou,
no!'"

"For an excellent reason," said Aletha firmly. "When I get back from
here--_if_ I get back from here--I'm going to marry Bob Running
Antelope. He's nice. I like the idea of marrying him. I want to! But I
look forward not only to happiness but to contentment. To me that's
important. It isn't to you, or to the woman you ought to marry. And I
... well ... I simply don't envy either of you a bit!"

"I see," said Bordman with irony. He didn't. "I wish you all the
contentment you look for." Then he snapped: "But what's this business
about expecting more from me? What spectacular idea do you expect me to
pull out of somebody's hat now? Because I'm frantically vain!"

"I haven't the least idea," said Aletha calmly. "But I think you'll come
up with something we couldn't possibly imagine. And I didn't say it was
because you were vain, but because you are discontented with yourself.
It's born in you! And there you are!"

"If you mean neurotic," snapped Bordman, "you're all wrong. I'm not
neurotic! I'm not. I'm annoyed. I'll get hopelessly behind schedule
because of this mess! But that's all!"

Aletha stood up and shrugged her shoulders ruefully.

"I repeat my apology," she told him, "and leave you the office. But I
also repeat that I think you'll turn up something nobody else
expects--and I've no idea what it will be. But you'll do it now to
prove that I'm wrong about how your mind works."

She went out. Bordman clamped his jaws tightly. He felt that especially
haunting discomfort which comes of suspecting that one has been told
something about himself which may be true.

"Idiotic!" he fumed, all alone. "Me neurotic? Me wanting to prove I'm
the best man here out of vanity?" He made a scornful noise. He sat
impatiently at the desk. "Absurd!" he muttered wrathfully. "Why should I
need to prove to myself I'm capable? What would I do if I felt such a
need, anyhow?"

Scowling, he stared at the wall. It was irritating. It was a nagging
sort of question. What would he do if she were right? If he did need
constantly to prove to himself----

He stiffened, suddenly. A look of intense surprise came upon his face.
He'd thought of what a self-doubtful, discontented man would try to do,
here on Xosa II at this juncture.

The surprise was because he had also thought of how it could be done.

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Warlock_ came to life. Her skipper gloomily answered the emergency
call from Xosa II. He listened. He clicked off the communicator and
hastened to an exterior port, deeply darkened against those times when
the blue-white sun of Xosa shone upon this side of the hull. He moved
the manual control to make it more transparent. He stared down at the
monstrous, tawny, mottled surface of the planet five thousand miles
away. He searched for the spot he bitterly knew was the colony's site.

He saw what he'd been told he'd see. It was an infinitely fine,
threadlike projection from the surface of the planet. It rose at a
slight angle--it leaned toward the planet's west--and it expanded and
widened and formed an extraordinary sort of mushroom-shaped object that
was completely impossible. It could not be. Humans do not create visible
objects twenty miles high, which at their tops expand like toadstools on
excessively slender stalks, and which drift westward and fray and grow
thin, and are constantly renewed.

But it was true. The skipper of the _Warlock_ gazed until he was
completely sure. It was no atomic bomb, because it continued to exist.
It faded, but was constantly replenished. There was no such thing!

He went through the ship, bellowing, and faced mutinous snarlings. But
when the _Warlock_ was around on that side of the planet again, the
members of the crew saw the strange appearance, too. They examined it
with telescopes. They grew hysterically happy. They went frantically to
work to clear away the signs of a month and a half of mutiny and
despair.

It took them three days to get the ship to tidiness again, and during
all that time the peculiar tawny jet remained. On the sixth day the jet
was fainter. On the seventh it was larger than before. It continued
larger. And telescopes at highest magnification verified what the
emergency communication had said.

Then the crew began to experience frantic impatience. It was worse,
waiting those last three or four days, than even all the hopeless time
before. But there was no reason to hate anybody, now. The skipper was
very much relieved.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was eighteen hundred feet of steel grid overhead. It made a
crisscross, ring-shaped wall more than a quarter-mile high and almost to
the top of the surrounding mountains. But the valley was not exactly a
normal one. It was a crater, now: a steeply sloping, conical pit whose
walls descended smoothly to the outer girders of the red-painted,
glistening steel structure. More girders for the completion of the grid
projected from the sand just outside its half-mile circle. And in the
landing grid there was now a smaller, elaborate, truss-braced object. It
rested on the rocky ground, and it was not painted, and it was quite
small. A hundred feet high, perhaps, and no more than three hundred
across. But it was visibly a miniature of the great, now-uncovered,
re-painted landing grid which was qualified to handle interstellar cargo
ships and all the proper space-traffic of a minerals-colony planet.

A caterwheel truck came lurching and rolling and rumbling down the side
of the pit. It had a sunshade and ground-reflector wings, and Bordman
rode tiredly on a hobbyhorse saddle in its back cargo section. He wore a
heat-suit.

The truck reached the pit's bottom. There was a tool shed there. The
caterwheel-truck bumped up to it and stopped. Bordman got out, visibly
cramped by the jolting, rocking, exhausting-to-unaccustomed-muscles
ride.

"Do you want to go in the shed and cool off?" asked Chuka brightly.

"I'm all right," said Bordman curtly. "I'm quite comfortable, so long as
you feed me that expanded air." It was plain that he resented needing
even a special air supply. "What's all this about? Bringing the
_Warlock_ in? Why the insistence on my being here?"

"Ralph has a problem," said Chuka blandly. "He's up there. See? He needs
you. There's a hoist. You've got to check degree-of-completion anyhow.
You might take a look around while you're up there. But he's anxious for
you to see something. There where you see the little knot of people. The
platform."

Bordman grimaced. When one was well started on a survey, one got used to
heights and depths and all sorts of environments. But he hadn't been up
on steel-work in a good many months. Not since a survey on Kalka IV
nearly a year ago. He would be dizzy at first.

He accompanied Chuka to the spot where a steel cable dangled from an
almost invisibly thin beam high above. There was a strictly improvised
cage to ascend in--planks and a handrail forming an insecure platform
that might hold four people. He got into it, and Dr. Chuka got in beside
him. Chuka waved his hand. The cage started up.

Bordman winced as the ground dropped away below. It was ghastly to be
dangling in emptiness like this. He wanted to close his eyes. The cage
went up and up and up. It took many long minutes to reach the top.

There was a platform there. Newly-made. The sunlight was blindingly
bright. The landscape was an intolerable glare. Bordman adjusted his
goggles to maximum darkness and stepped gingerly from the swaying cage
to the hardly more solid-seeming area. Here he was in mid-air on a
platform barely ten feet square. It was rather more than twice the
height of a metropolitan skyscraper from the ground. There were actual
mountain-crests only half a mile away and not much higher. Bordman was
acutely uncomfortable. He would get used to it, but----

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well?" he asked fretfully. "Chuka said you needed me here. What's the
matter?"

Ralph Redfeather nodded very formally. Aletha was here, too, and two of
Chuka's foremen--one did not look happy--and four of the Amerind
steel-workers. They grinned at Bordman.

"I wanted you to see," said Aletha's cousin, "before we threw on the
current. It doesn't look like that little grid could handle the sand it
took care of. But Lewanika wants to report."

A dark man who worked under Chuka--and looked as if he belonged on solid
ground--said carefully:

"We cast the beams for the small landing grid, Mr. Bordman. We melted
the metal out of the cliffs and ran it into molds as it flowed down."

He stopped. One of the Indians said:

"We made the girders into the small landing grid. It bothered us because
we built it on the sand that had buried the big grid. We didn't
understand why you ordered it there. But we built it."

The second dark man said with a trace of swagger:

"We made the coils, Mr. Bordman. We made the small grid so it would work
the same as the big one when it was finished. And then we made the big
grid work, finished or not!"

Bordman said impatiently:

"All right. Very good. But what is this? A ceremony?"

"Just so," said Aletha, smiling. "Be patient, Mr. Bordman!"

Her cousin said conversationally:

"We built the small grid on the top of the sand. And it tapped the
ionosphere for power. No lack of power then! And we'd set it to heave up
sand instead of ships. Not to heave it out into space, but to give it up
to mile a second vertical velocity. Then we turned it on."

"And we rode it down, that little grid," said one of the remaining
Indians, grinning. "What a party! Manitou!"

Redfeather frowned at him and took up the narrative.

"It hurled the sand up from its center. As you said it would, the sand
swept air with it. It made a whirlwind, bringing more sand from outside
the grid into its field. It was a whirlwind with fifteen megakilowatts
of power to drive it. Some of the sand went twenty miles high. Then it
made a mushroom-head and the winds up yonder blew it to the west. It
came down a long way off, Mr. Bordman. We've made a new dune-area ten
miles downwind. And the little grid sank as the sand went away from
around it. We had to stop it three times, because it leaned. We had to
dig under parts of it to get it straight up again. But it went down into
the valley."

Bordman turned up the power to his heat-suit motors. He felt
uncomfortably warm.

"In six days," said Ralph, almost ceremonially, "it had uncovered half
the original grid we'd built. Then we were able to modify that to heave
sand and to let it tap the ionosphere. We were able to use a good many
times the power the little grid could apply to sand-lifting! In two days
more the landing grid was clear. The valley bottom was clean. We shifted
some hundreds of millions of tons of sand by landing grid, and now it is
possible to land the _Warlock_, and receive her supplies, and the
solar-power furnace is already turning out pigs for her loading. We
wanted you to see what we have done. The colony is no longer in danger,
and we shall have the grid completely finished for your inspection
before the ship is ready to return."

Bordman said uncomfortably:

"That's very good. It's excellent. I'll put it in my survey report."

"But," said Ralph, more ceremonially still, "we have the right to count
coup for the members of our tribe and clan. Now----"

Then there was confusion. Aletha's cousin was saying syllables that did
not mean anything at all. The other Indians joined in at intervals,
speaking gibberish. Aletha's eyes were shining and she looked incredibly
pleased and satisfied.

"But what ... what's this?" demanded Bordman when they stopped.

Aletha spoke proudly.

"Ralph just formally adopted you into the tribe, Mr. Bordman--and into
his clan and mine! He gave you a name I'll have to write down for you,
but it means, 'Man-who-believes-not-his-own-wisdom.' And now----"

Ralph Redfeather--licensed interstellar engineer, graduate of the
stiffest technical university in this quarter of the galaxy, wearer of
three eagle-pinion feathers and clad in a pair of insulated sandals and
a breechcloth--whipped out a small paint-pot and a brush from somewhere
and began carefully to paint on a section of girder ready for the next
tier of steel. He painted a feather on the metal.

"It's a coup," he told Bordman over his shoulder. "Your coup. Placed
where it was earned--up here. Aletha is authorized to certify it. And
the head of the clan will add an eagle-feather to the headdress he wears
in council in the Big Tepee on Algonka, and--your clan-brothers will be
proud!"

Then he straightened up and held out his hand.

Chuka said benignly:

"Being civilized men, Mr. Bordman, we Africans do not go in for
uncivilized feathers. But we ... ah ... rather approve of you, too. And
we plan a corroboree at the colony after the _Warlock_ is down, when
there will be some excellently practiced singing. There is ... ah ... a
song, a sort of choral calypso, about this ... ah ... adventure you have
brought to so satisfying a conclusion. It is quite a good calypso. It's
likely to be popular on a good many planets."

Bordman swallowed. He was acutely uncomfortable. He felt that he ought
to say something, and he did not know what.

But just then there was a deep-toned humming in the air. It was a
vibrant tone, instinct with limitless power. It was the
eighteen-hundred-foot landing grid, giving off that profoundly bass and
vibrant, note it uttered while operating. Bordman looked up.

The _Warlock_ was coming down.

[Illustration]


THE END

    +--------------------------------------------------------------+
    | Transcriber's Notes & Errata                                 |
    |                                                              |
    | This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction      |
    | December 1955. Extensive research did not uncover any        |
    | evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was     |
    | renewed.                                                     |
    |                                                              |
    | Illustrations have been moved to their appropriate places in |
    | the text.                                                    |
    |                                                              |
    | The following typographical errors have been corrected.      |
    |                                                              |
    | |Error                    |Correction        |               |
    | |                         |                  |               |
    | |dessicated               |desiccated        |               |
    | |Anglo-Anglo-Saxon--girls |Anglo-Saxon girls |               |
    | |carrousel                |carousel          |               |
    | |dessication              |desiccation       |               |
    | |derelect                 |derelict          |               |
    | |sand-swept               |sand swept        |               |
    +--------------------------------------------------------------+





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