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Title: Make Mine Homogenized
Author: Raphael, Rick, 1919-1994
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 "Make Mine Homogenized" ***

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



Transcriber's Note: This e-text was produced from Astounding Science
Fiction, April, 1960. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence
that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.



MAKE MINE HOMOGENIZED


By RICK RAPHAEL

Illustrated by Freas


Anyone looking for guaranteed sound science will have to look
elsewhere. But if it's fun you want ... try the world's most potent
eggnog!


"Shoo," Hetty Thompson cried, waving her battered old felt hat at the
clucking cluster of hens eddying around her legs as she plowed through
the flock towards the chicken house. "Scat. You, Solomon," she called
out, directing her words at the bobbing comb of the big rooster
strutting at the edge of the mob. "Don't just stand there like a
satisfied cowhand after a night in Reno. Get these noisy females outta
my way." She batted at the hens and they scattered with angry squawks
of protest.

Hetty paused in the doorway of the chicken house to allow her eyes to
become accustomed to the cool gloom after the bright glare of the ranch
yard. She could feel the first trickles of sweat forming under the
man's shirt she was wearing as the hot, early morning Nevada sun beat
down on her back in the doorway.

Moving carefully but quickly through the nests, she reached and groped
for the eggs she knew would be found in the scattered straw. As she
placed each find carefully in the bucket she carried, her lips moved in
a soundless count. When she had finished, she straightened up and left
the chicken house, her face reflecting minor irritation.

Again the hens swirled about her, hoping for the handfuls of cracked
corn she usually tossed to them. On the other side of the yard Solomon
stepped majestically along the edge of the vegetable garden, never
crossing the hoed line separating garden from yard.

"You'd better stay over there, you no-account Lothario," Hetty growled.
"Five eggs short this morning and all you do is act like you were just
the business agent for this bunch of fugitives from a dumpling pot."
Solomon cocked his head and stared Hetty down. She paused at the foot
of the backporch steps and threw the rooster a final remark. "You don't
do any better than this you're liable to wind up in that pot yourself."
Solomon gave a scornful cluck. "Better still, I'll get me a young
rooster in here and take over your job." Solomon let out a squawk and
took out at a dead run, herding three hens before him towards the
chicken house.

With a satisfied smile of triumph, Hetty climbed the steps and crossed
to the kitchen door. She turned and looked back across the yard towards
the barn and corrals.

"Barneeeeey," Hetty yelled. "Ain't you finished with that milking yet?"

"Comin' now, Miz Thompson," came the reply from the barn. Hetty let the
screen door slam behind her as she walked into the kitchen and placed
the bucket of eggs on the big work table. She had her arm up to wipe
her moist forehead on the sleeve of her shirt when she spotted the
golden egg lying in the middle of the others in the galvanized bucket.

She froze in the arm-lifted position for several seconds, staring at
the dully glowing egg. Then she slowly reached out and picked it up. It
was slightly heavier than a regular egg, but for the dull, gold-bronze
metallic appearance of the shell, looked just like any of the other
twenty-odd eggs in the bucket. She was still holding it in the palm of
her hand when the kitchen door again slammed and the handy man limped
into the room. He carried two pails of milk across the kitchen and set
them down near the sink.

"Whatcha lookin' at, Miz Thompson?" Barney Hatfield asked.

Hetty frowned at the egg in her hand without answering. Barney limped
around the side of the table for a closer look. Sunlight streaming
through the kitchen windows glinted on the shell of the odd egg.
Barney's eyes grew round. "Now ain't that something," he whispered in
awe.

Hetty started as though someone had snapped their fingers in front of
her staring eyes. Her normal look of practical dubiousness returned.

"Huh," she snorted. "Even had me fooled for a second. Something wrong
with this egg but it sure is shootin' ain't gold. One of them fool hens
must of been pecking in the fertilizer storeroom and got herself an
overdose of some of them minerals in that stuff.

"What are you staring at, you old fool," she glared at Barney. "It
ain't gold." Hetty laid the egg at one side of the table. She walked to
the sink and took a clean, two-gallon milk can from the drainboard and
set it in the sink to fill it from the pails of rich, frothy milk
Barney had brought in the pails.

"Sally come fresh this morning, Miz Thompson," he said. "Got herself a
real fine little bull calf."

Hetty looked at the two pails of milk. "Well, where's the rest of the
milk, then?"

"That's Queenie's milk," Barney said. "Sally's is still out on the
porch."

"Well bring it in before the sun clabbers it."

"Can't," Barney said.

Hetty swung around and glared at him. "What do you mean, you can't? You
suddenly come down with the glanders?"

"No'm, it's just that Sally's milk ain't no good," he replied.

                     *      *      *      *      *

A frown spread over Hetty's face as she hoisted one of the milk pails
and began pouring into the can in the sink. "What's wrong with it,
Barney? Sally seem sick or something?" she asked.

Barney scratched his head. "I don't rightly know, Miz Thompson. That
milk looks all right, or at least, almost all right. It's kinda thin
and don't have no foam like you'd expect milk to have. But mostly, it
sure don't smell right and it danged well don't taste right.

"_Phooey._" He made a face at the memory of the taste. "I stuck my
finger in it when it looked kinda queer, and took a taste. It shore
tasted lousy."

"You probably been currying that mangey old horse of yours before you
went to milking," Hetty snorted, "and tasted his cancerous old hide on
your fingers. I've told you for the last time to wash your hands before
you go to milking them cows. I didn't pay no eighteen hundred dollars
for that prize, registered Guernsey just to have you give her bag fever
with your dirty hands."

"That ain't so, Miz Thompson," Barney cried indignantly. "I did too,
wash my hands. Good, too. I wuzn't near my horse this morning. That
milk just weren't no good."

Hetty finished pouring the milk into the cans and after putting the
cans in the refrigerator, wiped her hands on her jeans and went out
onto the porch, Barney trailing behind her. She bent over and sniffed
at the two milk pails setting beside the door. "_Whew_," she
exclaimed, "it sure does smell funny. Hand me that dipper, Barney."

Barney reached for a dipper hanging on a nail beside the kitchen door.
Hetty dipped out a small quantity of the milk, sipped, straightened up
with a jerk and spewed the milk out into the yard. "Yaawwwk," she
spluttered, "that tastes worse 'n Diesel oil."

She stirred distastefully at the swirling, flat-looking liquid in the
pails and then turned back to the kitchen. "I never saw the like of
it," she exclaimed. "Chickens come out with some kind of sorry-looking
egg and now, in the same morning, an eighteen hundred dollar
registered, fresh Guernsey gives out hogwash instead of milk." She
stared thoughtfully across the yard at the distant mountains, now
shimmering in the hot, midmorning sun. "Guess we could swill the hogs
with that milk, rather'n throw it out, Barney. I never seen anything
them Durocs wouldn't eat. When you get ready to put the other swill in
the cooker, toss that milk in with it and cook it up for the hogs."

Hetty went back into her kitchen and Barney turned and limped across
the yard to the tractor shed. He pulled the brim of his sweat-stained
Stetson over his eyes and squinted south over the heat-dancing sage and
sparse grasslands of Circle T range. Dust devils were pirouetting in
the hazy distance towards the mountains forming a corridor leading to
the ranch. A dirt road led out of the yard and crossed an oiled county
road about five miles south of the ranch. The county road was now the
only link the Circle T had to the cattle shipping pens at Carson City.
The dirt road arrowed south across the range but fifteen miles from the
ranch, a six-strand, new, barbed-wire fence cut the road. A white metal
sign with raised letters proclaimed "Road Closed. U.S. Government
Military Reservation. Restricted Area. Danger--Peligre. Keep Out."

The taut bands of wire stretched east and west of the road for more
than twenty miles in each direction, with duplicates of the metal sign
hung on the fence every five hundred yards. Then the wires turned south
for nearly a hundred miles, etching in skin-blistering, sun-heated
strands, the outlines of the Nevada atomic testing grounds at
Frenchman's Flat.

When the wire first went up, Hetty and her ranching neighbors had
screamed to high heaven and high congressmen about the loss of the road
and range. The fence stayed up. Now they had gotten used to the idea
and had even grown blasé about the frequent nuclear blasts that rattled
the desert floor sixty miles from ground zero.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Barney built a fire under the big, smoke-blackened cauldron Hetty used
for cooking the hog swill. Dale Hamilton, the county agent, had given
Hetty a long talk on the dangers of feeding the pigs, raw, uncooked and
possibly contaminated, garbage. When Hamilton got graphic about what
happened to people who ate pork from such hogs, Hetty turned politely
green and had Barney set up the cooking cauldron.

After dumping the kitchen slops into the pot, Barney hiked back across
the yard to get the two pails of bad milk.

Hetty was sitting at the kitchen table, putting the eggs into plastic
refrigerator dishes when the hog slop exploded in a whooshing roar,
followed a split second later by an even louder blast that rocked the
ranch buildings. The eggs flew across the room as the lid of the slop
cauldron came whistling through the kitchen window in a blizzard of
flying glass and buried itself, edgewise, in the wall over the stove.
Hetty slammed backwards headfirst into a heap of shattered eggs. A
torrent of broken plaster, and crockery fragments rained on her stunned
figure. Through dazed eyes, she saw a column of purple-reddish fire
rising from the yard.

A woman who has been thrown twenty-three times from a pitching bronco
and kicked five times in the process, doesn't stay dazed long. Pawing
dripping egg yokes and plaster from her face, Hetty Thompson struggled
to her feet and staggered to the kitchen door.

"Barneeey," she bawled, "you all right?"

The column of weird-colored flame had quickly died and only a few
flickering pieces of wood from the cauldron fire burned in scattered
spots about the yard. Of the cauldron, there wasn't a sign.

"Barney," she cried anxiously, "where are you?"

"Here I am, Miz Thompson." Barney's blackened face peered around the
corner of the tractor shed. "You O.K., Miz Thompson?"

"What in thunderation happened?" Hetty called out. "You try to build a
fire with dynamite for kindling?"

Shaken but otherwise unharmed, Barney painfully limped over to the
ranch house porch.

"Don't ask me what happened, m'am," he said. "I just poured that milk
into the slop pot and then put the lid back on and walked off. I heered
this big '_whoosh_' and turned around in time to see the lid fly off
and the kettle begin to tip into the fire and then there was one
helluva blast. It knocked me clean under the tractor shed." He fumbled
in his pocket for a cigarette and shakily lighted it.

Hetty peered out over the yard and then looking up, gasped. Perched
like a rakish derby hat on the arm of the towering pump windmill was
the slop cauldron. "Well I'll be...." Hetty Thompson said.

"You sure you didn't pour gas on that fire to make it burn faster,
Barney Hatfield?" she barked at the handy man.

"No siree," Barney declaimed loudly, "there weren't no gas anywhere
near that fire. Only thing I poured out was that there bad milk." He
paused and scratched his head. "Reckon that funny milk coulda done
that, Miz Thompson? There ain't no gas made what'll blow up nor burn so
funny as that did."

Hetty snorted. "Whoever heard of milk blowing up, you old idiot?" A
look of doubt spread. "You put all that milk in there?"

"No'm, just the one bucket." Barney pointed to the other pail beside
the kitchen door, now half-empty and standing in a pool of liquid
sloshed out by the blast wave. Hetty studied the milk pail for a minute
and then resolutely picked it up and walked out into the yard.

"Only one way to find out," she said. "Get me a tin can, Barney."

She poured about two tablespoons of the milk into the bottom of the can
while Barney collected a small pile of kindling. Removing the milk pail
to a safe distance, Hetty lighted the little pile of kindling, set the
tin can atop the burning wood and scooted several yards away to join
Barney who had been watching from afar. In less than a minute a booming
_whoosh_ sent a miniature column of purple, gaseous flame spouting
from the can. "Well whadda you know about that?" Hetty exclaimed
wonderingly.

The can had flown off the fire a few feet but didn't explode. Hetty
went back to the milk pail and collecting less than a teaspoon full in
the water dipper, walked to the fire. Standing as far back as she could
and still reach over the flames, she carefully sprinkled a few drops of
the liquid directly into the fire and then jumped back. Miniature balls
of purple flame erupted from the fire before she could move. Pieces of
flaming kindling flew in all directions and one slammed Barney across
the back of the neck and sent a shower of sparks down his back.

The handy man let out a yowl of pain and leaped for the watering trough
beside the corral, smoke trailing behind him. Hetty thoughtfully
surveyed the scene of her experiment from beneath raised eyebrows. Then
she grunted with satisfaction, picked up the remaining milk in the pail
and went back to the ranch house. Barney climbed drippingly from the
horse trough.

The kitchen was a mess. Splattered eggs were over everything and broken
glass, crockery and plaster covered the floor, table and counters. Only
one egg remained unbroken. That was the golden egg. Hetty picked it up
and shook it. There was a faint sensation of something moving inside
the tough, metallic-looking shell. It shook almost as a normal egg
might, but not quite. Hetty set the strange object on a shelf and
turned to the task of cleaning up.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Johnny Culpepper, the ranch's other full-time hand and Hetty's
assistant manager, drove the pickup into the yard just before noon. He
parked in the shade of the huge cottonwood tree beside the house and
bounced out with an armload of mail and newspapers. Inside the kitchen
door, he dumped the mail on the sideboard and started to toss his hat
on a wall hook when he noticed the condition of the room. Hetty was
dishing out fragrant, warmed-over stew into three lunch dishes on the
table. She had cleaned up the worst of the mess and changed into a
fresh shirt and jeans. Her iron-gray hair was pulled back in a
still-damp knot at the back after a hasty scrubbing to get out the
gooey mixture of eggs and plaster.

"Holy smoke, Hetty," Johnny said. "What happened here? Your pressure
kettle blow up?" His eyes widened when he saw the lid of the slop
cauldron still embedded in the wall over the stove. His gaze tracked
back and took in the shattered window.

"Had an accident," Hetty said matter-of-factly, putting the last dishes
on the table. "Tell you about it when we eat. Now you go wash up and
call Barney. I want you to put some new glass in that window this
afternoon and get that danged lid outta the wall."

Curious and puzzled, Johnny washed at the kitchen sink and then walked
to the door to shout for Barney. On the other side of the yard, Barney
released the pump windmill clutch. While Johnny watched from the porch,
the weight of the heavy slop cauldron slowly turned the big windmill
and as the arm adorned by the kettle rotated downward, the cast-iron
pot slipped off and fell to the hard-packed ground with a booming
clang.

"Well, for the luvva Pete," Johnny said in amazement. "Hey, Barney,
time to eat. C'mon in."

Barney trudged across the yard and limped into the kitchen to wash.
They sat down to the table. "Now just what have you two been up to,"
Johnny demanded as they attacked the food-laden dishes.

Between mouthfuls, the two older people gave him a rundown on the
morning's mishaps. The more Johnny heard, the wilder it sounded. Johnny
had been a part of the Circle T since he was ten years old. That was
the year Hetty jerked him out of the hands of a Carson City policeman
who had been in the process of hauling the ragged and dirty youngster
to the station house for swiping a box of cookies from a grocery store.
Johnny's mother was dead and his father, once the town's best mechanic,
had turned into the town's best drunk.

During the times his father slept one off, either in the shack the man
and boy occupied at the edge of town, or in the local lockup, Johnny
ran wild.

Hetty took the boy to the ranch for two reasons. Mainly it was the
empty ache in her heart since the death of Big Jim Thompson a year
earlier following a ranch tractor accident that had crushed his chest.
The other was her well-hidden disappointment that she had been
childless. Hetty's bluff, weathered features would never admit to
loneliness or heartache. Beneath the surface, all the warmth and love
she had went out to the scared but belligerent youngster. But she never
let much affection show through until Johnny had become part of her
life. Johnny's father died the following winter after pneumonia brought
on by a night of lying drunk in the cold shack during a blizzard. It
was accepted without legal formality around the county that Johnny
automatically became Hetty's boy.

She cuffed and comforted him into a gawky-happy adolescence, pushed him
through high school and then, at eighteen, sent him off to the
University of California at Davis to learn what the pundits of the
United States Department of Agriculture had to say about animal
husbandry and ranch management.

                     *      *      *      *      *

When Hetty and Barney had finished their recitation, Johnny wore a look
of frank disbelief. "If I didn't know you two better, I'd say you both
been belting the bourbon bottle while I was gone. But this I've got to
see."

They finished lunch and, after Hetty stacked the dishes in the sink,
trooped out to the porch where Johnny went through the same examination
of the milk. Again, a little fire was built in the open safety of the
yard and a few drops of the liquid used to produce the same
technicolored, combustive effects.

"Well, what do you know," Johnny exclaimed, "a four hundred octane
Guernsey cow!"

Johnny kicked out the fire and carried the milk pail to the tractor
shed. He parked the milk on a workbench and gathered up an armful of
tools to repair the blast-torn kitchen. He started to leave but when
the milk bucket caught his eye, he unloaded the tools and fished around
under the workbench for an empty five-gallon gasoline can. He poured
the remaining milk into the closed gasoline can and replaced the cap.
Then he took his tools and a pane of glass from an overhead rack and
headed for the house.

Hetty came into the kitchen as he was prying at the cauldron lid in the
wall.

"You're going to make a worse mess before you're through," she said,
"so I'll just let you finish and then clean up the whole mess
afterwards. I got other things to do anyway."

She jammed a man's old felt hat on her head and left the house. Barney
was unloading the last of the supplies Johnny had brought from Carson
in the truck. Hetty shielded her eyes against the metallic glare of the
afternoon sun. "Gettin' pretty dry, Barney. Throw some salt blocks in
the pickup and I'll run them down to the south pasture and see if the
pumps need to be turned on.

"And you might get that wind pump going in case we get a little breeze
later this afternoon. But in any case, better run the yard pump for an
hour or so and get some water up into the tank. I'll be back as soon as
I take a ride through the pasture. I want to see how that Angus
yearling is coming that I picked out for house beef."

A few minutes later, Hetty in the pickup disappeared behind a hot swirl
of yellow dust. Barney ambled to the cool pump house beneath the
towering windmill. An electric motor, powered either from the REA line
or from direct current stored in a bank of wet cell batteries, bulked
large in the small shed. To the left, a small, gasoline-driven
generator supplied standby power if no wind was blowing to turn the
arm-driven generator or if the lines happened to be down, as was often
the case in the winter.

Barney threw the switch to start the pump motor. Nothing happened. He
reached for the light switch to test the single bulb hanging from a
cord to the ceiling. Same nothing. Muttering darkly to himself, he
changed the pump engine leads to DC current and closed the switch to
the battery bank. The engine squeaked and whined slowly but when Barney
threw in the clutch to drive the pump, it stopped and just hummed
faintly. Then he opened the AC fuse box.

Johnny had freed the cauldron lid and was knocking out bits of broken
glass from the kitchen window frame before putting in the new glass
when Barney limped into the room.

"That pot busted the pump house 'lectric line, Johnny, when it went
sailing," he said. "Miz Thompson wants to pump up some water and on top
of that, the batteries are down. You got time to fix the line?"

Johnny paused and surveyed the kitchen. "I'm going to be working here
for another hour anyway so Hetty can clean up when she gets back. Why
don't you fire up the gasoline kicker for now and I'll fix the line
when I get through here," he said.

"O.K.," Barney nodded and turned to leave. "Oh, forgot to ask you. Miz
Thompson tell you about the egg?"

"What egg?" Johnny asked.

"The gold one."

Johnny grinned. "Sure, and I saw the goose when I came in. And you're
Jack and the windmill is your beanstalk. Go climb it, Barney and cut
out the fairy tales."

"Naw, Johnny," Barney protested, "I ain't kidding. Miz Thompson got a
gold egg from the hens this morning. At least, it looks kinda like gold
but she says it ain't. See, here it is." He reached into the cupboard
where Hetty had placed the odd egg. He walked over and handed it to
Johnny who was sitting on the sink drain counter to work on the
shattered window.

The younger man turned the egg over in his hand. "It sure feels funny.
Wonder what the inside looks like?" He banged the egg gently against
the edge of the drain board. When it didn't crack, he slammed it
harder, but then realizing that if it did break suddenly, it would
squish onto the floor, he put the egg on the counter and tapped it with
his hammer.

The shell split and a clear liquid poured out on to the drain board,
thin and clear, not glutenous like a normal egg white. A small, reddish
ball, obviously the yolk, rolled across the board, fell into the sink
and broke into powdery fragments. A faint etherlike odor arose from the
mess.

"I guess Miz Thompson was right," Barney said. "She said that hen musta
been pecking in the fertilizer chemicals. Never seen no egg like that
before."

"Yeh," Johnny said puzzledly. "Well, so much for that." He tossed the
golden shell to one side and turned back to his glass work. Barney left
for the pumphouse.

Inside the pumphouse, Barney opened the gasoline engine tank and poked
a stick down to test the fuel level. The stick came out almost dry.
With another string of mutterings, he limped across the yard to the
tractor shed for a gas can. Back in the pumphouse, he poured the engine
tank full, set the gas can aside and then, after priming the
carburetor, yanked on the starter pull rope. The engine caught with a
spluttering roar and began racing madly. Barney lunged for the throttle
and cut it back to idle, but even then, the engine was running at near
full speed. Then Barney noticed the white fluid running down the side
of the engine tank and dripping from the spout of the gasoline can. He
grinned broadly, cut in the pump clutch and hurriedly limped across the
yard to the kitchen.

"Hey, Johnny," he called, "did you put that milk o' Sally's into a gas
can?"

Johnny leaned through the open kitchen window. "Yeh, why?"

"Well, I just filled the kicker with it by accident, and man, you orter
hear that engine run," Barney exclaimed. "Come see."

Johnny swung his legs through the window and dropped lightly to the
yard. The two men were halfway across the yard from the pumphouse when
a loud explosion ripped the building. Parts of the pump engine flew
through the thin walls like shrapnel. A billowing cloud of purple smoke
welled out of the ruptured building as Johnny and Barney flattened
themselves against the hot, packed earth. Flames licked up from the
pump shed. The men ran for the horse trough and grabbing pails of
water, raced for the pumphouse. The fire had just started into the
wooden walls of the building and a few splashes of water doused the
flames.

They eyed the ruins of the gasoline engine. "Holy cow," Johnny
exclaimed, "that stuff blew the engine right apart." He gazed up at the
holes in the pumphouse roof. "Blew the cylinders and head right out the
roof. Holy cow!"

Barney was pawing at the pump and electric motor. "Didn't seem to hurt
the pump none. Guess we better get that 'lectric line fixed though, now
that we ain't got no more gas engine."

The two men went to work on the pump motor. The broken line outside the
building was spliced and twenty minutes later, Johnny threw the AC
switch. The big, electric motor spun into action and settled into a
workmanlike hum. The overhead light dimmed briefly when the pump load
was thrown on and then the slip-slap sound of the pump filled the shed.
They watched and listened for a couple of minutes. Assured that the
pump was working satisfactorily, they left the wrecked pumphouse.

Johnny was carrying the gasoline can of milk. "Good thing you set this
off to one side where it didn't get hit and go off," he said. "The way
this stuff reacts, we'd be without a pump, engine, or windmill if it
had.

"Barney, be a good guy and finish putting in that glass for me will
you? I've got the frame all ready to putty. I've got me some fiddlin'
and figurin' to do."

Johnny angled off to the tractor and tool shed and disappeared inside.
Barney limped into the kitchen and went to work on the window glass.
From the tractor shed came the sounds of an engine spluttering, racing,
backfiring and then, just idling.

When Hetty drove back into the ranch yard an hour or so later, Johnny
was rodeoing the farm tractor around the yard like a teen-ager, his
face split in a wide grin. She parked the truck under the tree as
Johnny drove the tractor alongside and gunned the engine, still
grinning.

"What in tarnation is this all about?" Hetty asked as she climbed down
from the pickup.

"Know what this tractor's running on?" Johnny shouted over the noise of
the engine.

"Of course I do, you young idiot," she exclaimed. "It's gasoline."

"Wrong," Johnny yelled triumphantly. "It's running on Sally's milk!"

                     *      *      *      *      *

The next morning, Johnny had mixed up two hundred gallons of Sally's
Fuel and had the pickup, tractor, cattle truck and his 1958 Ford and
Hetty's '59 Chevrolet station wagon all purring on the mixture.

Mixing it was a simple process after he experimented and found the
right proportions. One quart of pure Sally's milk to one hundred
gallons of water. He had used the two remaining quarts in the gasoline
can to make the mixture but by morning, Sally had graced the ranch with
five more gallons of the pure concentrate. Johnny carefully stored the
concentrated milk in a scoured fifty-five gallon gasoline drum in the
tool shed.

"We've hit a gold mine," he told Hetty exultantly. "We're never going
to have to buy gasoline again. On top of that, at the rate Sally's
turning this stuff out, we can start selling it in a couple of weeks
and make a fortune."

That same morning, Hetty collected three more of the golden eggs.

"Set 'em on the shelf," Johnny said, "and when we go into town next
time I'll have Dale look at them and maybe tell us what those hens have
been into. I'll probably go into town again Saturday for the mail."

But when Saturday came, Johnny was hobbling around the ranch on a
wrenched ankle, suffered when his horse stumbled in a gopher hole and
tossed him.

"You stay off that leg," Hetty ordered. "I'll go into town for the
mail. Them girls can just struggle along without your romancing this
week." Johnny made a wry face but obeyed orders.

"Barneeey," Hetty bawled, "bring me a quarter of beef outta the
cooler." Barney stuck his head out of the barn and nodded. "I been
promising some good beef to Judge Hatcher for a month of Sundays now,"
Hetty said to Johnny.

"If you're going to stop by the courthouse, how about taking those
crazy eggs of yours into the county agent's office and leave them there
for analysis," Johnny suggested. He hobbled into the kitchen to get the
golden eggs.

Barney arrived with the chilled quarter of beef wrapped in burlap. He
tossed it in the bed of the pickup and threw more sacks over it to keep
it cool under the broiling, midmorning sun. Johnny came out with the
eggs in a light cardboard box stuffed with crumpled newspapers. He
wedged the box against the side of beef in the forward corner of the
truck bed. "One more thing, Hetty," he said. "I've got a half drum of
drain oil in the tractor shed that I've been meaning to trade in for
some gearbox lube that Willy Simons said he'd let me have. Can you drop
it off at his station and pick up the grease?"

"Throw it on," Hetty said, "while I go change into some town clothes."

Johnny started to hobble down the porch steps when Barney stopped him.
"I'll get it boy, you stay off that ankle." Barney climbed into the
pickup and drove it around to the tractor shed. He spotted two oil
drums in the gloomy shed. He tilted the nearest one and felt liquid
slosh near the halfway mark, then rolled it out the door. Barney heaved
it into the truck bed, stood it on end against the cab and drove the
pickup back to the ranch house door as Hetty came out wearing clean
jeans and a bright, flowered blouse. Her gray hair was tucked in a neat
bun beneath a blocked Stetson hat.

She climbed into the truck, waved to the two men and drove out the
yard. As she bumped over the cattle guard at the gate, the wooden plug
that Johnny had jury-rigged to cork the gasoline drum with its
twenty-gallon load of pure Sally's milk, bounced out.

A small geyser of white fluid shot out of the drum as she hit another
bump and then the pickup went jolting down the ranch road, little
splashes of Sally's milk sloshing out with each bump and forming a pool
on the bottom of the truck. When Hetty cowboyed onto the county road,
the drum tipped dangerously and then bounced back onto its base. This
time a fountain of milk geysered out and splashed heavily into the box
of golden eggs. Hetty drove on.

But not for long.

With a ranch woman's disregard for watching the road, Hetty constantly
scanned the nearby range lands where small bands of her cherished black
Angus grazed. She prided herself on the fact that despite her sixty
years, her eyes were still sharp enough to spot a worm-ridden cow at a
thousand yards.

Two miles after she turned onto the county road, which ran through
Circle T range land, her roving gaze took in a cow and calf on a
hillside a few hundred yards south of the road. Hetty slowed the pickup
to fifty miles an hour and squinted into the sun. She grunted with
satisfaction and slammed on the brakes. The truck swerved and skidded
to a halt at the left side of the deserted road. Hetty leaped from the
truck and began a fast walk up the hillside for a closer look at the
cow and calf.

She never heard the dull thump of the milk drum tipping onto the edge
of the truck bed. Hetty topped the hill and walked slowly towards the
cow and calf that were now edging away from her. As she eased down the
far side of the hill out of sight of the pickup, a steady stream of
Sally's milk was engulfing the box of golden eggs. A minute later, the
reduced contents caused the drum to shift and slip. It fell onto the
eggs, cracking a half dozen.

                     *      *      *      *      *

The earth split open and the world around Hetty erupted in a roaring
inferno of purple-red fire and ear-shattering sound. The rolling
concussion swept Hetty from her feet and tumbled her into a drywash
gully at the base of the hill. The gully saved her life as the
sky-splitting shock wave rolled over her. Stunned and deafened, she
flattened herself under a slight overhang.

The rolling blast rocked ranches and towns for more than one hundred
miles and the ground wave triggered the seismographs at the University
of California nearly two hundred miles away and at UCLA, four hundred
miles distant. Tracking and testing instruments went wild along the
entire length of the AEC atomic test grounds, a mere sixty miles south
of the smoking, gaping hole that marked the end of the Circle T pickup
truck.

In a direct line, the ranch house was about eight miles from the
explosion.

Johnny was lounging in Hetty's favorite rocking chair on the wide back
verandah, lighting a cigarette and Barney was perched on the porch
railing when the sky was blotted out by the dazzling violet light of
the blast. They were blinking in frozen amazement when the shock wave
smashed into the ranch, flattening the flimsier buildings and buckling
the side and roof of the steel-braced barn. Every window on the place
blew out in a storm of deadly glass shards. The rolling ground wave in
the wake of the shock blast, rocked and bounced the solid, timber and
adobe main house.

The concussion hit Johnny like a fist, pinwheeling him backwards in the
rocker against the wall of the house. It caught Barney like a sack of
sodden rags and flung him atop the dazed and semiconscious younger man.

The first frightened screams of the horses in the barns and corrals
were mingling with the bawling of the heifers in the calf pens when the
sound of the explosion caught up with the devastation of the shock and
ground waves.

Like the reverberation of a thousand massed cannon firing at once, the
soul-searing sound rumbled out of the desert and boiled with almost
tangible density into the shattered ranch yard. It flattened the
feebly-stirring men on the porch and then thundered on in a tidal wave
of noise.

Barney moaned and rolled off the tangle of porch rocker and stunned
youth beneath him. Johnny lay dazed another second or two and then
began struggling to his feet.

"Hetty," he croaked, pointing wildly to the south where a massive,
dirty column of purple smoke and fire rose skyward like the stem of a
monstrous and malignant toadstool. "Hetty's out there."

He stumbled from the porch and broke into a staggering run to the pile
of broken planks that seconds ago had been the tractor shed. As he
crossed the yard, a great gust of wind whipped back from the north,
pumping clouds of dry, dusty earth before it. The force of the wind
almost knocked the bruised and shaken Johnny from his feet once again
as it swept back over the ranch, in the direction of the great pillar
of purple smoke.

"Implosion," Johnny's mind registered.

He tore at the stack of loose boards leaning against the station wagon,
flinging them fiercely aside in his frantic efforts to free the
vehicle. Barney limped up to join him and a minute later they had
cleared a way into the wagon. Johnny squeezed into the front seat and
drove it back from under more leaning boards. Three of the side windows
were smashed but the windshield was intact except for a small, starred
crack in the safety glass. Clear of the debris, Barney opened the
opposite door and slid in beside Johnny. Dirt spun from beneath the
wheels of the car as he slammed his foot to the floor and raced towards
the smoke column that now towered more than a mile and a half into the
air.

Beneath her protective overhang, Hetty stirred and moaned feebly. Twin
rivulets of dark blood trickled from her nostrils. Thick dust was
settling on the area and she coughed and gasped for breath.

On the opposite side of the hill, a vast, torn crater, nearly a hundred
feet across and six to ten feet deep, smoked like a stirring volcano
and gave off a strange, pungent odor of ether.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Johnny Culpepper's dramatic charge to the rescue was no more dramatic
than the reaction in a dozen other places in Nevada and California.
Particularly sixty miles south where a small army of military and
scientific men were preparing for an atomic underground shot when the
Circle T pickup vanished.

The shock wave rippled across the desert floor, flowed around the
mountains and tunneled into Frenchman's Flat, setting off every
shock-measuring instrument. Then came the ground wave, rolling through
the earth like a gopher through a garden. Ditto for ground-wave
measuring devices. Lastly, the sound boomed onto the startled
scientists and soldiers like the pounding of great timpani under the
vaulted dome of the burning sky.

On mountain top observation posts, technicians turned unbelieving eyes
north to the burgeoning pillar of smoke and dust, then yelped and swung
optical and electronic instruments to bear on the fantastic column.

In less than fifteen minutes, the test under preparation had been
canceled, all equipment secured and the first assault waves of
scientists, soldiers, intelligence and security men were racing north
behind white-suited and sealed radiation detection teams cradling
Geiger counters in their arms like submachine guns. Telephone lines
were jammed with calls from Atomic Energy Commission field officials
reporting the phenomena to Washington and calling for aid from West
Coast and New Mexico AEC bases. Jet fighters at Nellis Air Force base
near Las Vegas, were scrambled and roared north over the ground
vehicles to report visual conditions near the purple pillar of power.

The Associated Press office in San Francisco had just received word of
the quake recorded by the seismograph at Berkeley when a staffer on the
other side of the desk answered a call from the AP stringer in Carson
City, reporting the blast and mighty cloud in the desert sky. One fast
look at the map showed that the explosion was well north of the AEC
testing ground limits. The Carson City stringer was ordered to get out
to the scene on the double and hold the fort while reinforcements of
staffers and photographers were flown from 'Frisco.

Before any of the official or civil agencies had swung into action, the
Circle T station wagon had rocketed off the ranch road and turned onto
the oiled, county highway leading both to Carson City--and the
now-expanding but less dense column of smoke.

Johnny hunched over the wheel and peered through the thickening pall of
smoke and dust, reluctant to ease off his breakneck speed but knowing
that they had to find Hetty--if she were alive. Neither man had said a
word since the wagon raced from the ranch yard.

                     *      *      *      *      *

There was no valid reason to associate the explosion with Hetty, yet
instinctively and naggingly, Johnny knew that somehow Hetty was
involved. Barney, still ignorant of his error of the oil drums, just
clung to his seat and prayed for the best.

The dust was almost too thick to see, forcing Johnny to slow the
station wagon as they penetrated deeper into the base of the smoke
column. Hiding under his frantic concern for Hetty was the half-formed
thought that the whole thing was an atomic explosion and that he and
Barney were heading into sure radiation deaths. His logic nudged at the
thought and said, "If it were atomic, you started dying back on the
porch, so might as well play the hand out."

A puff of wind swirled the dust up away from the road as the station
wagon came up to the smoking crater. Johnny slammed on the brakes and
he and Barney jumped from the car to stand, awe-struck, at the edge of
the hole.

The dust-deadened air muffled Johnny's sobbing exclamation:

"Dear God!"

They walked slowly around the ragged edges of the crater. Barney bent
down and picked a tiny metallic fragment from the pavement. He stared
at it and then tapped Johnny on the arm and handed it to him,
wordlessly. It was a twisted piece of body steel, bright at its torn
edges and coated with the scarlet enamel that had been the color of the
Circle T pickup.

Johnny's eyes filled with tears and he shoved the little scrap of metal
in his pocket. "Let's see what else we can find, Barney." The two men
began working a slow search of the area in ever-widening circles from
the crater that led them finally up and over the top of the little hill
to the south of the road.

Fifteen minutes later they found Hetty and ten minutes after that, the
wiry, resilient ranchwoman was sitting between them on the seat of the
station wagon, explaining how she happened to be clear of the pickup
when the blast occurred.

The suspicion that had been growing in Johnny's mind, now brought into
the open by his relief at finding Hetty alive and virtually unhurt,
bloomed into full flower.

"Barney," Johnny asked softly, "which oil drum did you put in the back
of the pickup?"

The facts were falling into place like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle
when the Carson City reporter, leading a caravan of cars and emergency
vehicles from town by a good ten minutes and beating the AEC and
military teams by twenty minutes, found the Circle T trio sitting in
the station wagon at the lip of the now faintly smoldering crater.

A half hour later, the AP man in San Francisco picked up the phone.

"I've just come back from that explosion," the Carson City stringer
said. The AP man put his hand over the phone and called across the
desk. "Get ready for a '95' first lead blast."

"O.K.," the San Francisco desk man said, "let's have it." He tucked the
phone between chin and shoulder and poised over his typewriter.

"Well, there's a crater more than one hundred feet across and ten feet
deep," the Carson City stringer dutifully recounted. "The scene is on
County Road 38, about forty miles east of here and the blast rocked
Carson City and caused extensive breakage for miles around."

"What caused it," the AP desk man asked as he pounded out a lead.

"A lady at the scene said her milk and eggs blew up," the Carson City
stringer said.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Ten miles south, the leading AEC disaster truck stopped behind the
six-strand fence blocking the range road. Two men with wire cutters,
jumped from the truck and snipped the twanging wires. The metal "Keep
Out" sign banged to the ground and was kicked aside. The truck rolled
through the gap and the men swung aboard. Behind them was a curtain of
dust rising sluggishly in the hot sky, marking the long convoy of other
official vehicles pressing hard on the trail of the emergency truck.

When the range road cut across the county highway, the driver paused
long enough to see that the heaviest smoke concentrations from the
unknown blast lay to the west. He swung left onto the oiled road and
barreled westward. In less than a mile, he spied the flashing red light
of a State trooper's car parked in the center of the road. The scene
looked like a combination of the San Francisco quake and the Los
Angeles county fair.

Dozens of cars, trucks, two fire engines and a Good Humor man were
scattered around the open range land on both sides of the vast crater
still smoldering in the road. A film of purple dust covered the
immediate area and still hung in the air, coating cars and people.
Scores of men, women and children lined the rim of the crater, gawking
into the smoky pit, while other scores roamed aimlessly around the
nearby hill and desert.

A young sheriff's deputy standing beside the State trooper's car raised
his hand to halt the AEC disaster van. The truck stopped and the
white-suited radiation team leaped from the vehicle, counters in hand,
racing for the crater.

"Back," the chief of the squad yelled at the top of his lungs.
"Everybody get back. This area is radiation contaminated. Hurry!"

There was a second of stunned comprehension and then a mad, pan-demonic
scrambling of persons and cars, bumping and jockeying to flee. The
radiation team fanned out around the crater, fumbling at the level
scales on their counters when the instruments failed to indicate
anything more than normal background count.

All of the vehicles had pulled back to safety--all except a slightly
battered station wagon still parked a yard or two from the eastern edge
of the crater.

The radiation squad leader ran over to the wagon. Three people, two men
and a dirty, disheveled and bloody-nosed older woman, sat in the front
seat munching Good Humor bars.

"Didn't you hear me?" the AEC man yelled. "Get outta here. This area's
hot. Radioactive. Dangerous. GET MOVING!"

The woman leaned out the window and patted the radiation expert
soothingly on the shoulder.

"Shucks, sonny, no need to get this excited over a little spilt milk."

"Milk," the AEC man yelped, purpling. "Milk! I said this is a hot area;
it's loaded with radiation. Look at this--" He pointed to the meter on
his counter, then stopped, gawked at the instrument and shook it. And
stared again. The meter flicked placidly along at the barely-above-normal
background level count.

"Hey, Jack," one of the other white-suited men on the far side of the
crater called, "this hole doesn't register a thing."

The squad chief stared incredulously at his counter and banged it
against the side of the station wagon. Still the needle held in the
normal zone. He banged it harder and suddenly the needle dropped to
zero as Hetty and her ranch hands peered over the AEC man's shoulder at
the dial.

"Now ain't that a shame," Barney said sympathetically. "You done broke
it."

The rest of the disaster squad, helmets off in the blazing sun and
lead-coated suits unfastened, drifted back to the squad leader at the
Circle T station wagon. A mile east, the rest of the AEC convoy had
arrived and halted in a huge fan of vehicles, parked a safe distance
from the crater. A line of more white-suited detection experts moved
cautiously forward.

With a stunned look, the first squad leader turned and walked slowly
down the road towards the approaching line. He stopped once and looked
back at the gaping hole, down at his useless counter, shook his head
and continued on to meet the advancing units.

By nightfall, new strands of barbed wire reflected the last rays of the
red Nevada sun. Armed military policemen and AEC security police in
powder-blue battle jackets, patrolled the fences around the county road
crater. And around the fence that now enclosed the immediate vicinity
of the Circle T ranch buildings. Floodlights bathed the wire and cast
an eerie glow over the mass of parked cars and persons jammed outside
the fence. A small helicopter sat off to the right of the impromptu
parking lot and an NBC newscaster gave the world a verbal description
of the scene while he tried to talk above the snorting of the
gas-powered generator that was supplying the Associated Press
radio-telephone link to San Francisco.

Black AEC vans and dun colored military vehicles raced to and from the
ranch headquarters, pausing to be cleared by the sentries guarding the
main gates.

The AP log recorded one hundred eighteen major daily papers using the
AP story that afternoon and the following morning:

CARSON CITY, NEV., May 12 (AP)--A kiloton eggnog rocked the scientific
world this morning.

"On a Nevada ranch, forty miles east of here, 60-year-old Mehatibel
Thompson is milking a cow that gives milk more powerful than an atomic
bomb. Her chickens are laying the triggering mechanisms.

"This the world learned today when an earth-shaking explosion
rocked...."

                     *      *      *      *      *

Inside the Circle T ranch house, Hetty, bathed and cleaned and only
slightly the worse for her experiences, was hustling about the kitchen
throwing together a hasty meal. Johnny and Barney had swept up a huge
pile of broken glass, crockery and dirt and Hetty had salvaged what
dishes remained unshattered by the blast.

She weaved through a dozen men grouped around the kitchen table, some
in military or security police garb, three of them wearing the uniform
of the atomic scientist in the field--bright Hawaiian sports shirts,
dark glasses, blue denims and sneakers. Johnny and Barney huddled
against the kitchen drainboard out of the main stream of traffic. The
final editions of the San Francisco _Call-Bulletin_, Oakland _Tribune_,
Los Angeles _Herald-Express_ and the Carson City _Appeal_ were spread
out on the table. Hetty pushed them aside to put down dishes.

The glaring black headlines stared up at her. "Dairy Detonation
Devastates Desert," the alliterative _Chronicle_ banner read; "Bossy's
Blast Rocks Bay Area," said the _Trib_; "Atomic Butter-And-Egg Blast
Jars LA," the somewhat inaccurate _Herald-Ex_ proclaimed; "Thompson
Ranch Scene of Explosion," the _Appeal_ stated, hewing to solid facts.

"Mrs. Thompson," the oldest of the scientists said, "won't you please
put down those dishes for a few minutes and give us the straight story.
All afternoon long its been one thing or another with you and all we've
been able to get out of you is this crazy milk-egg routine."

"Time enough to talk after we've all had a bite to eat," Hetty said,
juggling a platter of steaks and a huge bowl of mashed potatoes to the
table. "Now we've all had a hard day and we can all stand to get on the
outside of some solid food. I ain't had a bite to eat since this
morning and I guess you boys haven't had much either. And since you've
seemed to have made yourselves to home here, then by golly, you're
going to sit down and eat with us.

"Besides," she added over her shoulder as she went back to the stove
for vegetables and bread, "me 'n Johnny have already told you what
story there is to tell. That's all there is to it."

She put more platters on the now-heaping table and then went around the
table pouring coffee from the big ranch pot. "All right, you men sit
down now and dig in," she ordered.

"Mrs. Thompson," an Army major with a heavy brush mustache said, "we
didn't come here to eat. We came for information."

Hetty shoved back a stray wisp of hair and glared at the man.

"Now you listen to me, you young whippersnapper. I didn't invite you,
but since you're here, you'll do me the goodness of being a mite more
polite," she snapped.

The major winced and glanced at the senior scientist. The older man
raised his eyes expressively and shrugged. He moved to the table and
sat down. There was a general scuffling of chairs and the rest of the
group took places around the big table. Johnny and Barney took their
usual flanking positions beside Hetty at the head of the board.

Hetty took her seat and looked around the table with a pleased smile.
"Now that's more like it."

She bowed her head and, after a startled glance, the strangers followed
suit.

"We thank Thee, dear Lord," Hetty said quietly, "for this food which we
are about to eat and for all Your help to us this day. It's been a
little rough in spots but I reckon You've got Your reasons for all of
it. Seein' as how tomorrow is Your day anyway, we ask that it be just a
mite quieter. Amen."

The satisfying clatter of chinaware and silver and polite muttered
requests for more potatoes and gravy filled the kitchen for the next
quarter of an hour as the hungry men went to work on the prime Circle T
yearling beef.

                     *      *      *      *      *

After his second steak, third helping of potatoes and gravy and fourth
cup of coffee, the senior scientist contentedly shoved back from the
table. Hetty was polishing the last dabs of gravy from her plate with a
scrap of bread. The scientist pulled a pipe and tobacco pouch from his
pocket.

"With your permission, m'am," he asked his hostess. Hetty grinned. "For
heaven's sake, fire it up, sonny. Big Jim--that was my husband--used to
say that no meal could be said properly finished unless it had been
smoked into position for digestion."

Several of the other men at the table followed suit with pipes, cigars
and cigarettes. Hetty smiled benignly around the table and turned to
the senior scientist.

"What did you say your name was, sonny?" she asked.

"Dr. Floyd Peterson, Mrs. Thompson," he replied, "and at forty-six
years of age, I deeply thank you for that 'sonny'."

He reached for the stack of newspapers on the floor beside his chair
and pushing back his plate, laid them on the table.

"Now, Mrs. Thompson, let's get down to facts," he rapped the headlines
with a knuckle. "You have played hell with our schedule and I've got to
have the answers soon before I have the full atomic commission and a
congressional investigation breathing down my neck.

"What did you use to make that junior grade earthquake?"

"Why, I've already told you more'n a dozen times, sonny," Hetty
replied. "It must of been the combination of them queer eggs and
Sally's milk."

The brush-mustached major sipping his coffee, spluttered and choked.
Beside him, the head of the AEC security force at Frenchman's Flat
leaned forward.

"Mrs. Thompson, I don't know what your motives are but until I find
out, I'm deeply thankful that you gave those news hounds this ... this,
butter and egg business," he said.

"Milk and eggs," Hetty corrected him mildly.

"Well, milk and eggs, then. But the time has ended for playing games.
We must know what caused that explosion and you and Mr. Culpepper and
Mr. Hatfield," he nodded to Johnny and Barney sitting beside Hetty,
"are the only ones who can tell us."

"Already told you," Hetty repeated. Johnny hid a grin.

"Look, Mrs. Thompson," Dr. Peterson said loudly and with ill-concealed
exasperation, "you created and set off an explosive force that dwarfed
every test we've made at Frenchman's Flat in four years. The force of
your explosive was apparently greater than that of a fair-sized atomic
device and only our Pacific tests--and those of the Russians--have been
any greater. Yet within a half hour or forty-five minutes after the
blast there wasn't a trace of radiation at ground level, no aerial
radiation and not one report of upper atmosphere contamination or
fallout within a thousand miles.

"Mrs. Thompson, I appeal to your patriotism. Your friends, your
country, the free people of the world, need this invention of yours."

Hetty's eyes grew wide and then her features set in a mold of firm
determination. Shoving back her chair and raising to stand stiffly
erect and with chin thrust forward, she was every inch the True Pioneer
Woman of the West.

"I never thought of that," she said solemnly. "By golly, if my country
needs this like that, then by golly, my country's going to have it."

The officials leaned forward in anticipation.

"You can have Sally's Cloverdale Marathon III and I don't want one cent
for her, either. And you can take the hens, too."

There was a stunned silence and then the Army major strangled on a
mouthful of coffee; the security man turned beet red in the face and
Dr. Peterson's jaw bounced off his breastbone. Johnny, unable to hold
back an explosion of laughter, dashed for the back porch and collapsed.

                     *      *      *      *      *

The kitchen door slammed and Dr. Peterson stamped out on to the porch,
pipe clamped between clenched teeth, his face black with anger and
frustration. He ignored Johnny who was standing beside the rail wiping
tears from his eyes. Culpepper recovered himself and walked over to the
irate physicist.

"Dr. Peterson you're a man of science," Johnny said, "and a scientist
is supposed to be willing to accept a fact and then, possibly determine
the causes behind the fact after he recognizes what he sees. Isn't that
so?"

"Now, look here," Peterson angrily swung around to face Johnny. "I've
taken all I intend to take from you people with your idiotic story. I
don't intend to...."

Johnny took the older man by the elbow and gently but firmly propelled
him from the porch towards the barn. "I don't intend to either insult
your intelligence, Dr. Peterson, or attempt to explain what has
happened here. But I do intend to show you what we know."

Bright floodlights illuminated the yard and a crew of soldiers were
stringing telephone wires from the guarded front gate across the open
space to the ranch house. Beyond the new barbed wire fence, there was
an excited stir and rush for the wire as a sharp-eyed newsman spotted
Johnny and the scientist crossing the yard. The two men ignored the
shouted requests for more up-to-the-minute information as they walked
into the barn. Johnny switched on the lights.

The lowing of the two prize Guernseys in the stalls at the right of the
door changed to loud, plaintive bawling as the lights came on. Both
cows were obviously in pain from their swollen and unmilked udders.

"Seeing is believing. Doc?" Johnny asked, pointing to the cows.

"Seeing what?" Peterson snapped.

"I knew we were going to have some tall explaining to do when you
fellows took over here," Johnny said, "and, of course, I don't blame
you one bit. That was some blast Hetty set off out there."

"You don't know," Dr. Peterson murmured fearfully, "you just don't
know."

"So," Johnny continued, "I deliberately didn't milk these cows, so that
you could see for yourself that we aren't lying. Now, mind you, I don't
have the foggiest idea WHY this is happening, but I'm going to show you
at least, WHAT happened."

He picked up a pair of milk buckets from a rack beside the door and
walked towards the cow stalls, Peterson trailing. "This." Johnny said,
pointing to the larger of the two animals, "is Queenie. Her milk is
just about as fine as you can get from a champion milk producing line.
And this," he reached over and patted the flank of the other cow, "is
Sally's Cloverdale Marathon III. She's young and up to now has given
good but not spectacular quantities or qualities of milk. She's from
the same blood line as Queenie. Sally had dried up from her first calf
and we bred her again and on Wednesday she came fresh. Only it isn't
milk that she's been giving. Watch!"

Kicking a milking stool into position, he placed a bucket under
Queenie's distended bag and began squirting the rich, foaming milk into
the pail with a steady, fast and even rhythm. When he had finished, he
set the two full buckets with their thick heads of milk foam, outside
the stall and brought two more clean, empty buckets. He moved to the
side of the impatient Sally. As Peterson watched, Johnny filled the
buckets with the same, flat, oily-looking white fluid that Sally had
been producing since Wednesday. The scientist began to show mild
interest.

Johnny finished, stripped the cow, and then carried the pails out and
set them down beside the first two.

"O.K., now look them over yourself," he told Peterson.

The scientist peered into the buckets. Johnny handed him a ladle.

"Look, Culpepper," Peterson said, "I'm a physicist, not a farmer or an
agricultural expert. How do you expect me to know what milk is supposed
to do? Until I was fifteen years old, I thought the milk came out of
one of those spigots and the cream out of another."

"Stir it," Johnny ordered. The scientist took the ladle angrily and
poked at the milk in Queenie's buckets.

"Taste it," Johnny said. Peterson glared at the younger man and then
took a careful sip of the milk. Some of the froth clung to his lips and
he licked it off. "Taste like milk to me," he said.

"Smell it," Johnny ordered. Peterson sniffed.

"O.K., now do the same things to the other buckets."

Peterson swished the ladle through the buckets containing Sally's milk.
The white liquid swirled sluggishly and oillike. He bent over and
smelled and made a grimace.

"Go on," Johnny demanded, "taste it."

Peterson took a tiny sip, tasted and then spat.

"All right," he said, "I'm now convinced that there's something
different about this milk. I'm not saying anything is wrong with it
because I wouldn't know. All I'm admitting is that it is different. So
what?"

                     *      *      *      *      *

"Come on," Johnny took the ladle from him. He carried the buckets of
Queenie's milk into the cooler room and dumped them in a small
pasturizer.

Then carrying the two pails of Sally's milk, Johnny and the physicist
left the barn and went to the shattered remains of the tractor shed.

Fumbling under wrecked and overturned tables and workbenches, Johnny
found an old and rusted pie tin.

Placing the tin in the middle of the open spaces of the yard, he turned
to Peterson. "Now you take that pail of milk and pour a little into the
pan. Not much, now, just about enough to cover the bottom or a little
more." He again handed the ladle to Peterson.

The scientist dipped out a small quantity of the white fluid and
carefully poured it into the pie plate.

"That's enough," Johnny cautioned. "Now let's set these buckets a good
long ways from here." He picked up the buckets and carried them to the
back porch. He vanished into the kitchen.

By this time, the strange antics of the two men had attracted the
attention of the clamoring newsmen outside the fence and they jammed
against the wire, shouting pleas for an interview or information. The
network television camera crews trained their own high-powered lights
into the yard to add to the brilliance of the military lights and began
recording the scene. Dr. Peterson glared angrily at the mob and turned
as Johnny rejoined him. "Culpepper, are you trying to make a fool of
me?" he hissed.

"Got a match?" Johnny queried, ignoring the question. The pipe-smoking
scientist pulled out a handful of kitchen matches. Johnny produced a
glass fish casting rod with a small wad of cloth tied to the weighted
hook. Leading Peterson back across the yard about fifty feet, Johnny
handed the rag to Peterson.

"Smell it," he said. "I put a little kerosene on it so it would burn
when it goes through the air." Peterson nodded.

"You much of a fisherman?" Johnny asked.

"I can drop a fly on a floating chip at fifty yards," the physicist
said proudly. Johnny handed him the rod and reel. "O.K., Doc, light up
your rag and then let's see you drop it in that pie plate."

While TV cameras hummed and dozens of still photographers pointed
telescopic lenses and prayed for enough light, Dr. Peterson ignited the
little wad of cloth. He peered behind to check for obstructions and
then, with the wrist-flicking motion of the devoted and expert
fisherman, made his cast. The tiny torch made a blurred, whipping
streak of light and dropped unerringly into the pie plate in the middle
of the yard.

The photographers had all the light they needed!

The night turned violet as a violent ball of purple fire reared and
boiled into the darkened sky. The flash bathed the entire ranch
headquarters and the packed cars and throngs outside the fence in the
strange brilliance. The heat struck the dumfounded scientist and young
rancher like the suddenly-opened door of a blast furnace.

It was over in a second as the fire surged and then winked out. The
sudden darkness blinded them despite the unchanged power of the
television and military floodlights still focused on the yard.
Pandemonium erupted from the ranks of newsmen and photographers who had
witnessed the dazzling demonstration.

Peterson stared in awe at the slightly smoking and warped pie tin.
"Well, cut out my tongue and call me Oppenheimer," he exclaimed.

"That was just the milk," Johnny said. "You know of a good safe place
we could try it out with one of those eggs? I'd be afraid to test 'em
anywhere around here after what happened to Hetty this morning."

                     *      *      *      *      *

An hour later, a military helicopter chewed its way into the night,
carrying three gallons of Sally's milk from the ranch to Nellis AFB
where a jet stood ready to relay the sealed cannister to the AEC
laboratories at Albuquerque.

In the ranch house living room Peterson had set up headquarters and an
Army field telephone switchboard was in operation across the room.

An AEC security man was running the board. Hetty had decided that one
earthquake a day was enough and had gone to bed. Barney bewildered but
happily pleased at so much company, sat on the edge of a chair and
avidly watched and listened, not understanding a thing he saw or heard.
At the back of the room, Johnny hunched over Big Jim Thompson's
roll-top desk, working up a list of supplies he would need to repair
the damages from the week's growing list of explosions.

Peterson and three of his staff members were in lengthy consultation at
a big table in the middle of the room. The Army field phone at
Peterson's elbow jangled.

Across the room, the switchboard operator swung around and called:
"It's the commissioner, Dr. Peterson. I just got through to him."
Peterson picked up the phone.

"John," he shouted into the instrument, "Peterson here. Where have you
been?" Tinny, audible squawks came from the phone and Peterson held it
away from his ear.

"Yes, I know all about it," he said. "Yes ... yes ... yes. I know
you've had a time with the papers. Yes, I heard the radio. Yes, John, I
know it sounds pretty ridiculous. What? Get up to the ranch and find
out. Where do you think I'm calling from?"

The squawking rattled the receiver and Peterson winced.

"Look, commissioner," he broke in, "I can't put a stop to those
stories. What? I said I can't put a stop to the stories for one reason.
They're true."

The only sound that came from the phone was the steady hum of the line.

"Are you there, John?" Peterson asked. There was an indistinct mumble
from Washington. "Now listen carefully, John. What I need out here just
as quickly as you can round them up and get them aboard a plane is the
best team of biogeneticists in the country.

"What? No, I don't need a team of psychiatrists, commissioner. I am
perfectly normal." Peterson paused. "I think!"

He talked with his chief for another fifteen minutes. At two other
telephones around the big table, his chief deputy and the senior
security officer of the task force handled a half dozen calls during
Peterson's lengthy conversation. When Peterson hung up, the machinery
was in motion gathering the nation's top biochemists, animal
geneticists, agricultural and animal husbandry experts and a baker's
dozen of other assorted -ists, ready to package and ship them by plane
and train to the main AEC facility at Frenchman's Flat and to the
Circle T.

Peterson sighed gustily as he laid down the phone and reached for his
pipe. Across the table, his assistant put a hand over the mouthpiece of
his telephone and leaned towards Peterson.

"It's the Associated Press in New York," he whispered. "They're hotter
than a pistol about the blackout and threatening to call the President
and every congressman in Washington if we don't crack loose with
something."

"Why couldn't I have flunked Algebra Two," Peterson moaned. "No, I had
to be a genius. Now look at me. A milkmaid." He looked at his watch.
"Tell 'em we'll hold a press conference at 8:00 a.m. outside the ranch
gate."

The assistant spoke briefly into the phone and again turned to
Peterson. "They say they want to know now whether the milk and egg
story is true. They say they haven't had anything but an official
runaround and a lot of rumor."

"Tell them we neither deny nor confirm the story. Say we are
investigating. We'll give them a formal statement in the morning,"
Peterson ordered.

He left the table and walked to the desk where Johnny was finishing his
list of building supplies.

"What time do you usually get those eggs?" he asked.

"Well, as a rule, Hetty gets out and gathers them up about nine each
morning. But they've probably been laid a couple of hours earlier.

"That's going to make us awfully late to produce anything for those
babbling reporters," the scientist said.

"Come to think of it," Johnny said thoughtfully, "we could rig up a
light in the chicken house and make the hens lay earlier. That way you
could have some eggs about four or five o'clock in the morning."

Barney had been listening.

"And them eggs make a mighty fine breakfast of a morning," he
volunteered cheerfully. Peterson glared at him and Johnny grinned.

"I think the doctor wants the golden kind," he said with a smile.

"Oh, them," Barney said with a snort of disgust. "They wouldn't make an
omelet fit for a hog. You don't want to fuss with them, doc."

                     *      *      *      *      *

Under Johnny's direction, a crew of technicians ran a power line into
the slightly-wrecked chicken house. There were loud squawks of
indignation from the sleeping hens as the men threaded their way
through the nests. The line was installed and the power applied. A
one-hundred-fifty-watt bulb illuminated the interior of the chicken
house to the discordant clucking and cackling of the puzzled birds.

Solomon, the big rooster, was perched on a crossbeam, head tucked under
his wing. When the light flooded the shed he jerked awake and fastened
a startled and unblinking stare at the strange sun. He scrambled
hastily and guiltily to his feet and throwing out his great chest,
crowed a shrieking hymn to Thomas A. Edison. Johnny chuckled as the
technicians jumped at the sound. He left the hen house, went back to
the house and to bed.

He set his alarm clock for 4:00 a.m. and dropped immediately into a
deep and exhausted sleep.

When he and the sleepy-eyed Peterson went into the chicken house at
4:30, there were eleven of the golden eggs resting on the straw nests.

They turned the remainder of the normal eggs over to Hetty who whipped
up a fast and enormous breakfast. While Peterson and Johnny were
eating, a writing team of AEC public information men who had arrived
during the night, were polishing a formal press release to be given to
the waiting reporters at eight. The phones had been manned throughout
the night. Peterson's bleary-eyed aide came into the kitchen and
slumped into a chair at the table.

"Get yourself a cup of coffee, boy," Hetty ordered, "while I fix you
something to eat. How you like your eggs?"

"Over easy, Mrs. Thompson and thanks," he said wearily. "I think I've
got everything lined up, doctor. The eggs are all packed, ready to go
in your car and the car will be ready in about ten minutes. They're
still setting up down range but they should be all in order by the time
you get there.

"The bio men and the others should be assembled in the main briefing
room at range headquarters. I've ordered a double guard around the
barn, to be maintained until the animal boys have finished their
on-the-ground tests. And they're padding a device van to take Sally to
the labs when they're ready.

"And ... oh yeah, I almost forgot ... the commissioner called about ten
minutes ago and said to tell you that the Russians are going to make a
formal protest to the U.N. this morning. They say we're trying to wipe
out the People's Republic by contaminating their milk."

The sound of scuffling in the yard and loud yells of protest came
through the back porch window. The door swung open and a spluttering
and irate Barney was thrust into the room, still in the clutches of a
pair of armed security policemen.

"Get your hands offn me," Barney roared as he struggled and squirmed
impotently in their grip. "Doc, tell these pistol-packing bellhops to
turn me loose."

"We caught him trying to get into the barn, sir," one of the officers
told Peterson.

"Of course I was going into the barn," the indignant ranch hand
screamed. "Where'd you think I would go to milk a cow?"

Peterson smiled. "It's all right, Fred. It's my fault. I should have
told you Mr. Hatfield has free access."

The security men released Barney. He shook himself and glared at them.

"I'm terribly, sorry, Barney," Dr. Peterson said. "I forgot that you
would be going down to milk the cows and I'm glad you reminded me. Do
me a favor and milk Sally first, will you? I want to take that milk, or
whatever it is, with us when we leave in a few minutes."

                     *      *      *      *      *

The sun was crawling up the side of the mountains when Johnny and Dr.
Peterson swung out of the ranch yard between two armored scout cars for
the sixty-mile trip down the range road. Dew glistened in the early
rays of light and the clear, cool morning air held little hint of the
heat sure to come by midmorning. There was a rush of photographers
towards the gate as the little convoy left the ranch. A battery of
cameras grabbed shots of the vehicles heading south.

It was the beginning of a day that changed the entire foreign policy of
the United States. It was also the day that started a host of the
nation's finest nuclear physicists tottering towards psychiatrists'
couches.

In rapid order in the next few days, Peterson's crew reinforced by
hundreds of fellow scientists, technicians and military men, learned
what Johnny Culpepper already knew.

They learned that (1) Sally's milk, diluted by as much as four hundred
parts of pure water, made a better fuel than gasoline when ignited.

They also learned that (2) in reduced degrees of concentration, it
became a substitute for any explosive of known chemical composition;
(3) brought in contact with the compound inside one of the golden eggs,
it produced an explosive starting at the kiloton level of one egg to
two cups of milk and went up the scale but leveled off at a peak as the
recipe was increased; (4) could be controlled by mixing jets to produce
any desired stream of explosive power; and (5) they didn't have the
wildest idea what was causing the reaction.

In that same order it brought (1) Standard Oil stock down to the value
of wallpaper; (2) ditto for DuPont; (3) a new purge in the top level of
the Supreme Soviet; (4) delight to rocketeers at Holloman Air Force
Research Center, Cape Canaveral and Vandenburg Air Force Base; and (5)
agonizing fits of hair-tearing to every chemist, biologist and
physicist who had a part in the futile attempts to analyze the two
ingredients of what the press had labeled "Thompson's Eggnog."

While white-coated veterinarians, agricultural experts and chemists
prodded and poked Sally's Cloverdale Marathon III, others were giving a
similar going-over to Hetty's chicken flock. Solomon's outraged screams
of anger echoed across the desert as they subjected him to fowl
indignities never before endured by a rooster.

Weeks passed and with each one new experiments disclosed new uses for
the amazing Eggnog. While Sally placidly chewed her cuds and continued
to give a steady five gallons of concentrated fury at each milking,
Solomon's harem dutifully deposited from five to a dozen golden spheres
of packaged power every day. At the same time, rocket research
engineers completed their tests on the use of the Eggnog.

                     *      *      *      *      *

In the early hours of June 4th, a single-stage, two-egg, thirty-five
gallon Atlas rocket poised on the launching pads at Cape Canaveral.
From the loud-speaker atop the massive block-house came the countdown.

"X minus twenty seconds. X minus ten seconds. Nine ... eight ...
seven ... six ... five ... four ... three ... two ... FIRE!"

The control officer stabbed the firing button and deep within the Atlas
a relay clicked, activating a solenoid that pushed open a valve. A thin
stream of Sally's milk shot in from one side of the firing chamber to
blend with a fine spray of egg, batter coming from a jet in the
opposite wall.

Spewing a solid tail of purple fire, the Atlas leaped like a wasp-stung
heifer from the launching pads and thundered into space. The fuel
orifices continued to expand to maximum pre-set opening. In ten seconds
the nose cone turned from cherry-red to white heat and began sloughing
its outer ceramic coating. At slightly more than forty-three thousand
miles an hour, the great missile cleaved out of atmosphere into the
void of space, leaving a shock wave that cracked houses and shattered
glass for fifty miles from launching point.

A week later, America's newest rocket vessel, weighing more than thirty
tons and christened _The Egg Nog_, was launched from the opposite coast
at Vandenburg. Hastily modified to take the new fuel, the weight and
space originally designed for the common garden variety of rocket fuel
was filled with automatic camera and television equipment. In its stern
stood a six-egg, one-hundred-gallon engine, while in the nose was a
small, one-egg, fourteen-quart braking engine to slow it down for the
return trip through the atmosphere.

Its destination--Mars!

A week later, _The Eggnog_ braked down through the troposphere, skidded
to a piddling two-thousand miles, an hour through the stratosphere,
automatically sprouted gliding wing stubs in the atmosphere and planed
down to a spraying halt in the Pacific Ocean, fifty miles west of
Ensenada in Baja, California. Aboard were man's first views of the red
planet.

The world went mad with jubilation. From the capitals of the free
nations congratulations poured into Washington. From Moscow came word
of a one-hundred-ton spaceship to be launched in a few days, powered by
a mixture of vodka and orange juice discovered by a bartender in
Novorosk who was studying chemistry in night school. This announcement
was followed twenty-four hours later by a story in _Pravda_ proving
conclusively that Sally's Cloverdale Marathon III was a direct
descendant of Nikita's Mujik Droshky V, a prize Guernsey bull produced
in the barns of the Sopolov People's Collective twenty-six years ago.

Late in August, Air Force Major Clifton Wadsworth Quartermain climbed
out of the port of the two-hundred-ton, two dozen-egg, two-hundred-thirty
gallon space rocket _Icarus_, the first man into space and back. He had
circled Venus and returned. No longer limited by fuel weight factors,
scientists had been able to load enough shielding into the huge
_Icarus_ to protect a man from the deadly bombardment of the Van Allen
radiation belts.

On September 15th, Sally's Cloverdale Marathon III, having been milked
harder and faster than any Guernsey in history, went dry.

Less than half of the approximately twelve-hundred gallons of fuel she
had produced during her hay days, remained on hand in the AEC storage
vaults.

Three days later, Solomon, sprinting after one of his harem who was
playing hard to get, bee-lined into the path of a security police jeep.
There was an agonized squawk, a shower of feathers and mourning. A
short time later, the number of golden eggs dropped daily until one
morning, there were none. They never reappeared. The United States had
stockpiled twenty-six dozen in an underground cave deep in the Rockies.

Man, who had burst like a butterfly into space, crawled back into his
cocoon and pondered upon the stars from a worm's eye point of view.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Banging around in the back end of a common cattle truck, Sally's
Cloverdale Marathon III came home to the Circle T in disgrace. In a
corner of the truck, the late Solomon's harem cackled and voiced loud
cries of misery as they huddled in the rude, slatted shipping coop. The
truck turned off the county road and onto the dirt road leading to the
main buildings. It rattled across the cattle guard and through the
new-unprotected and open gate in the barbed wire fence. Life had
returned almost to normal at the Circle T.

But not for long.

Five days after Sally's ignominious dismissal from the armed forces, a
staff car came racing up to the ranch. It skidded to a halt at the
back-porch steps. Dr. Peterson jumped out and dashed up to the kitchen
door.

"Well, for heaven's sake," Hetty cried. "Come on in, sonny. I ain't
seen you for the longest spell."

Peterson entered and looked around.

"Where's Johnny, Mrs. Thompson?" he asked excitedly. "I've got some
wonderful news."

"Now ain't that nice," Hetty exclaimed. "Your wife have a new baby or
something? Johnny's down at the barn. I'll call him for you." She moved
towards the door.

"Never mind," Peterson said, darting out the door, "I'll go down to the
barn." He jumped from the porch and ran across the yard.

He found Johnny in the barn, rigging a new block and tackle for the
hayloft. Barney was helping thread the new, manila line from a coil on
the straw-littered floor.

"Johnny, we've found it," Peterson shouted jubilantly as he burst into
the barn.

"Why, Doc, good to see you again," Johnny said. "Found what?"

"The secret of Sally's milk," Peterson cried. He looked wildly around
the barn. "Where is she?"

"Who?"

"Sally, of course," the scientist yelped.

"Oh, she's down in the lower pasture with Queenie," Johnny replied.

"She's all right, isn't she?" Peterson asked anxiously.

"Oh, sure, she's fine, Doc. Why?"

"Listen," Peterson said hurriedly, "our people think they've stumbled
on something. Now we still don't know what's in those eggs or in
Sally's milk that make them react as they do. All we've been able to
find is some strange isotope but we don't know how to reproduce it or
synthesize it.

"But we do think we know what made Sally give that milk and made those
hens start laying the gold eggs."

Johnny and Barney laid down their work and motioned the excited
scientist to join them on a bench against the horse stalls.

"Do you remember the day Sally came fresh?" Peterson continued.

"Not exactly," Johnny replied, "but I could look it up in my journal. I
keep a good record of things like new registered stock births."

"Never mind," Peterson said. "I've already checked. It was May 9th."

He paused and smiled triumphantly.

"I guess that's right if you say so," Johnny said. "But what about it?"

"And that was the same day that the hens laid the first golden egg too,
wasn't it?" Peterson asked.

"Why it sure was, Doc," Barney chimed in. "I remember, cause Miz
Thompson was so mad that the milk was bad and the eggs went wrong both
in the same day."

"That's what we know. Now listen to this, Johnny," the scientist
continued. "During the night of May 8th, we fired an entirely new kind
of test shot on the range. I can't tell you what it was, only to say
that it was a special atomic device that even we didn't know too much
about. That's why we fired it from a cave in the side of a hill down
there.

"Since then, our people have been working on the pretty good assumption
that something happened to that cow and those chickens not too long
before they started giving the Eggnog ingredients. Someone remembered
the experimental test shot, checked the date and then went out and had
a look at the cave. We already had some earlier suspicions that this
device produced a new type of beam ray. We took sightings from the
cave, found them to be in a direct, unbroken line with the Circle T. We
set up the device again and using a very small model, tried it out on
some chick embryos. Sure enough, we got a mutation. But not the right
kind.

"So we're going to recreate the entire situation right here, only this
time, we're going to expose not only Sally but a dozen other Guernseys
from as close to her blood line as we can get.

"And we already knew that you had a young rooster sired by Solomon."

"But, Doc," Johnny protested. "Sally had a calf early that morning.
Isn't that going to make a difference?"

"Of course it is," Peterson exclaimed. "And she's going to have another
one the same way. And so are all the other cows. You're the one that
told me she had her calf by artificial insemination, didn't you?"

Johnny nodded.

"Well, then she's going to have another calf from the same bull and so
will the other cows."

"Pore Sally," Barney said sorrowfully. "They're sure takin' the romance
outta motherhood for you."

                     *      *      *      *      *

The next day the guards were back on the gate. By midafternoon twelve
fine young Guernseys arrived, together with a corps of veterinarians,
biologists and security police. By nightfall, Sally and her companions
were all once again in a "delicate condition."

A mile from the ranch house, a dormitory was built for the
veterinarians and biologists and a barracks thrown up for the security
guards. A thirty-five thousand dollar, twelve-foot high chain link
fence, topped by barbed wire, was constructed around the pasture and
armored cars patrolled the fence by day and kept guard over the
pregnant bovines by night in the barn.

Through the fall, into the long winter and back to budding spring
again, the host of experts and guards watched and cared for the new
calf-bloated herd.

The fact that Sally had gone dry had been kept a carefully guarded
national secret. To keep up the pretense and show to the world that
America still controlled the only proven method of manned space travel,
the Joint Chiefs of Staff voted to expend two hundred gallons of the
precious, small store of milk on hand for another interplanetary
junket, this time to inspect the rings around Saturn.

Piloting a smaller and more sophisticated but equally-well protected
version of _Icarus_, Major Quartermain abandoned the fleshpots of earth
and the adulation of his coast-to-coast collection of worshiping
females to again hurtle into the unknown.

"It was strictly a milk run," Major Quartermain was quoted as saying as
he emerged from his ship after an uneventful but propaganda-loaded
trip.

By the middle of May, it was the consensus of the veterinarians that
Delivery Day would be July 4th. Plans were drafted for the repeat
atomic cave shot at 9:00 p.m., July 3rd. The pregnant herd was to be
given labor-inducing shots at midnight, and, if all went well,
deliveries would start within a few hours. Just to be sure that nothing
would shield the cows from the rays of the explosion, they were put in
a corral on the south side of the barn until 9:30 p.m., on the night of
the firing.

Solomon's successor and a new bevy of hens were already roosting in the
same old chicken house and egg production was normal.

On the night of July 3rd, at precisely 9:00 p.m., a sheet of light
erupted from the Nevada hillside cave and the ground shook and rumbled
for a few miles. It wasn't a powerful blast, nor had been the original
shot. Sixty miles away, thirteen Guernsey cows munched at a rick of
fresh hay and chewed contentedly in the moonlight.

At 3:11 a.m., the following morning the first calf arrived, followed in
rapid order by a dozen more.

Sally's Cloverdale Marathon III dropped her calf at 4:08 a.m. on
Independence Day.

At 7:00 a.m., she was milked and produced two and a half gallons of
absolutely clear, odorless, tasteless and non-ignitable fluid. Eleven
other Guernseys gave forth gushing, foaming, creamy rich gallon after
gallon of Grade A milk.

The thirteenth cow filled two buckets with something that looked like
weak cocoa and smelled like stale tea.

But when a white-smocked University of California poultry specialist
entered the chicken house later in the morning, he found nothing but
normal, white fresh eggs in the nests. He finally arrived at the
conclusion that Solomon's old harem had known for some time; whatever
it was that Solomon had been gifted with, this new rooster just didn't
have it.

A rush call went out for a dozen of the precious store of golden eggs
to be sent to the testing labs down range.

Two hours later, Dr. Peterson, surrounded by fellow scientists, stood
before a bank of closed circuit television monitors in the Frenchman's
Flat headquarters building. The scene on the screens was the interior
of a massive steel-and-concrete test building several miles up range.
Resting on the floor of the building was an open, gallon-sized glass
beaker filled with the new version of Sally's milk.

Poised directly above the opened beaker was a funnel-shaped vessel
containing the contents of one golden egg.

Dr. Peterson reached for a small lever. By remote control, the lever
would gradually open the bottom of the funnel. He squeezed gently,
slowly applying pressure. An involuntary gasp arose from the spectators
as a tiny trickle of egg fluid fell from the funnel towards the open
beaker.

Instinctively, everyone in the room clamped their eyes shut in
anticipation of a blast. A second later, Peterson peered cautiously at
the screen. The beaker of milk had turned a cloudy pale blue. It
neither fizzed nor exploded. It just sat.

He levered another drop from the funnel. The stringy, glutenous mass
plopped into the beaker and the liquid swirled briefly and turned more
opaque, taking on more of a bluish tinge.

A babble of voices broke through the room when it was apparent that no
explosion was forthcoming.

Peterson slumped into a nearby chair and stared at the screen.

"Now what?" he moaned.

                     *      *      *      *      *

The "what" developed twelve hectic hours later after time lost
initially in shaking, bouncing and beaming the new substance on the
outside chance it might develop a latent tendency towards demolition.

Satisfied that whatever it was in the beaker wasn't explosive, the
liquid was quickly poured off into sixteen small half-pint beakers and
speeded to as many different laboratories for possible analysis.

"What about the other stuff?" Peterson was asked, referring to the
brownish "milk" subsequently identified as coming from a dainty young
cow known as Melody Buttercup Greenbrier IV.

"One thing at a time," replied Peterson. "Let's find out what we have
here before we got involved in the second problem."

At 9:00 p.m., that night, Peterson was called to the radiation labs. He
was met at the door by a glazed-eyed physicist who led him back to his
office.

He motioned Peterson to a seat and then handed him a sheaf of
photographic papers and other charts. Each of the photo sheets had a
clear, white outline of a test beaker surrounded by a solid field of
black. Two of the papers were all white.

"I don't believe it, Floyd," the physicist said, running his hands
through his hair. "I've seen it, I've done it, I've tested it, proven
it, and I still don't believe it."

Peterson riffled the sheaf of papers and waited expectantly.

"You don't believe what, Fred?" he asked.

The physicist leaned over and tapped the papers in Peterson's hands.
"We've subjected that crazy stuff to every source and kind of high and
low energy radiation we can produce here and that means just about
everything short of triggering an H-device on it. We fired alphas,
gammas, betas, the works, in wide dispersion, concentrated beam and
just plain exposure.

"Not so much as one neutron of any of them went beyond the glass
surrounding that forsaken slop.

"They curved around it, Floyd. They curved around it."

The physicist leaned his head on the desk. "Nothing should react like
that," he sobbed. He struggled for composure as Peterson stared dazedly
at the test sheets.

"That's not the whole story," the physicist continued. He walked to
Peterson's side and extracted the two all-white sheets.

"This," he said brokenly, "represents a sheet of photographic paper
dipped in that crud and then allowed to dry before being bombarded with
radiation. And this," he waved the other sheet, "is a piece of photo
paper in the center of a panel protected by another sheet of ordinary
typing paper coated with that stuff."

Peterson looked up at him. "A radiation-proof liquid," he said in awed
tones.

The other man nodded dumbly.

"Eight years of university," the physicist whispered to himself. "Six
years in summer schools. Four fellowships. Ten years in research.

"All shot to hell," he screamed, "by a stinking, hayburning cow."

Peterson patted him gently on the shoulder. "It's all right, Fred.
Don't take it so hard. It could be worse."

"How?" he asked hollowly. "Have this stuff milked from a kangaroo?"

                     *      *      *      *      *

Back in his office, Peterson waved off a dozen calls while he gave
orders for fresh quantities of the blue milk to be rushed to the
Argonne laboratories for further radiation tests and confirmation of
the Nevada results. He ordered a test set up for the brown fluid for
the following morning and then took a call from the AEC commissioner.

"Yes, John," he said, "we've got something."

Operation Milkmaid was in full swing!

The following morning observers again clustered about the monitoring
room as Peterson prepared to duplicate the tests, using a sample of the
Melody's brownish milk.

There was the same involuntary remote cringing as the first drop of egg
fell towards the beaker, but this time, Peterson forced himself to
watch. Again the gentle plop was heard through the amplifiers and
nothing more. A similar clouding spread through the already murky fluid
and when the entire contents of one egg had been added, the beaker took
on a solid, brown and totally opaque appearance. The scientists watched
the glass container for several minutes, anticipating another possible
delayed blast.

When nothing occurred, Peterson nodded to an assistant at an adjoining
console. The aide worked a series of levers and a remotely-controlled
mechanical arm came into view on the screen. The claw of the arm
descended over the beaker and clasping it gently, bounced it lightly on
the cement bunker floor. The only sound was the muffled thunk of the
glass container against the concrete.

The assistant wiggled his controls gently and the beaker jiggled back
and forth, a few inches off the floor.

Peterson, who had been watching closely, called out. "Do that again."

The operator jostled the controls. "Look at that," Peterson exclaimed.
"That stuff's hardened."

A quick movement confirmed this and then Peterson ordered the beaker
raised five feet from the floor and slowly tipped. Over the container
went as the claw rotated in its socket. The glass had turned almost
180° towards the floor when the entire mass of solidified glob slid
out.

The watchers caught their breath as it fell to the hard floor. The glob
hit the floor, bounced up a couple of inches, fell back, bounced again
and then quivered to a stop. What was soon to be known as Melody's
Mighty Material had been born.

The testing started. But there was a difference. By the time the brown
chunk had been removed from the bunker it had solidified to the point
that nothing would break or cut it. The surface yielded slightly to the
heaviest cutting edge of a power saw and then sprang back, unmarked. A
diamond drill spun ineffectually.

So the entire block started making the rounds of the various labs. It
was with downright jubilation that radiation labs reported no
properties of resistance for the stuff. One after the other, the test
proved nothing until the physical properties unit came up with an idea.

"You can't cut it, break it or tear it," the technician told Peterson,
as he hefted the chunk of lightweight enigma. "You can't burn it, shoot
holes in it, or so much as mark the surface with any known acid. This
stuff's tougher than steel and about fifty times lighter."

"O.K.," Peterson asked, "so what good is it?"

"You can mold it when you mix it," the technician said significantly.

"Hey, you're right," Peterson jumped up excitedly. "Why, a spacer cast
out of this stuff and coated with Sally's paint would be light enough
and shielded enough to work on regular missile fuels."

                     *      *      *      *      *

Working under crash priorities, the nation's three leading plastics
plants turned out three, lightweight, molded, one-man space vehicles
from the government-supplied Melody's Mix. A double coating of Sally's
Paint then covered the hulls and a single stage liquid fuel rocket
engine was hooked to the less-than-one-ton engineless hull.

Twenty-eight days after the milk first appeared, on a warm August
evening, the first vehicle stood on the pads at Cape Canaveral,
illuminated by towers of lights. Fuel crews had finished loading the
tanks which would be jettisoned along with the engine at burn-out.
Inside the rocket, Major Quartermain lounged uncomfortably and cramped
in the take-off sling for a short but telling trip through the Van
Allen radiation fields and back to Earth.

The take-off sling rested inside an escape capsule since the use of
chemical fuel brought back many of the old uncertainties of launchings.
On the return trip, Quartermain would eject at sixty thousand feet and
pull the capsule's huge parachute for a slow drop to the surface of the
Atlantic where a recovery fleet was standing by. The light rocket hull
would pop a separate chute and also drift down for recovery and
analysis.

Inside the ship, Quartermain sniffed the air and curled his nose.
"Let's get this thing on the road," he spoke into his throat mike.
"Some of that Florida air must have seeped in here."

"Four minutes to final countdown," blockhouse control replied. "Turn on
your blowers for a second."

Outside the ship, the fuel crews cleared their equipment away from the
pad. The same ripe, heavy odor hung in the warm night air.

At 8:02 p.m., twenty-eight days after the new milks made their first
appearance, Major Quartermain blasted off in a perfect launching.

At 8:03 p.m., the two other Melody Mix hulls standing on nearby pads,
began to melt.

At 8:04 p.m., the still-roaring engine fell from the back end of
Quartermain's rocket in a flaming arc back towards Earth. Fifteen
seconds later, he hurtled his escape capsule out of the collapsing
rocket hull. The parachute opened and the daring astronaut drifted
towards the sea.

Simultaneously, in a dozen labs around the nation, blocks and molds of
Melody's Mix made from that first batch of milk, collapsed into piles
of putrid goo. Every day thereafter, newer blocks of the mix reached
the twenty-eight-day limit and similarly broke down into malodrous
blobs.

                     *      *      *      *      *

It was a month before the stinking, gooey mess that flowed over the
launching pads at the Cape was cleaned up by crews wearing respirators
and filter masks. It took considerably longer to get the nation's three
top plastics firms back in operation as the fetid flow of unfinished
rocket parts wrecked machinery and drove personnel from the area.

The glob that had been Quartermain's vehicle fell slowly back to Earth,
disintegrating every minute until it reached the consistency of thin
gruel. At this point, it was caught by a jet air stream and carried in
a miasmic cloud halfway around the world until it finally floated down
to coat the Russian city of Urmsk in a veil of vile odor. The United
States disclaimed any knowledge of the cloud.

                     *      *      *      *      *

    "LAS VEGAS, NEV., May 8 (AP)--The Atomic Energy Commission today
    announced it has squeezed the last drop from Operation Milkmaid."

    "After a year of futile experimentation has failed to get anything
    more than good, Grade A milk from the world's two most famous cows,
    the AEC says it has closed down its field laboratory at the Circle
    T ranch."

    "Dr. Floyd Peterson, who has been in charge of the attempt to again
    reproduce Sally's Milk, told newsmen that the famed Guernsey and
    her stablemate, Melody, no longer gave exotic and unidentifiable
    liquids that sent man zooming briefly to the stars."

    "For a while, it looked like we had it in the bag," Peterson said.
    "You might say now, though, that the tests have been an udder
    failure."

    "Meanwhile, in Washington, AEC commissioner...."


THE END





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