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Title: Let'Em Breathe Space
Author: Del Rey, Lester, 1915-1993
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 "Let'Em Breathe Space" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

     This etext was produced from Space Science Fiction July 1953.
     Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
     copyright on this publication was renewed.


                        LET'EM BREATHE SPACE!


                          BY LESTER DEL REY


                        ILLUSTRATED BY EBERLE


     Eighteen men and two women in the closed world of a space
     ship for five months can only spell tension and trouble--but
     in this case, the atmosphere was _literally_ poisoned.


                            [Illustration]

       *       *       *       *       *



Five months out from Earth, we were half-way to Saturn and
three-quarters of the way to murder. At least, I was. I was sick of
the feuding, the worries and the pettiness of the other nineteen
aboard. My stomach heaved at the bad food, the eternal smell of
people, and the constant sound of nagging and complaints. For ten lead
pennies, I'd have gotten out into space and tried walking back to
Earth. Sometimes I thought about doing it without the pennies.

But I knew I wasn't that tough, in spite of what I looked. I'd been
built to play fullback, and my questionable brunet beauty had been
roughed up by the explosion years before as thoroughly as dock
fighting on all the planets could have done. But sometimes I figured
all that meant was that there was more of me to hurt, and that I'd had
more experience screaming when the anodyne ran out.

Anyhow, whole-wheat pancakes made with sourdough for the ninth
"morning" running was too damned much! I felt my stomach heave over
again, took one whiff of the imitation maple syrup, and shoved the
mess back fast while I got up faster.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a mistake. Phil Riggs, our scrawny, half-pint meteorologist,
grinned nastily and reached for the plate. "'Smatter, Paul? Don't you
like your breakfast? It's good for you--whole wheat contains bran. The
staff of life. Man, after that diet of bleached paste...."

       *       *       *       *       *

There's one guy like that in every bunch. The cook was mad at us for
griping about his coffee, so our group of scientists on this cockeyed
Saturn Expedition were getting whole wheat flour as punishment, while
Captain Muller probably sat in his cabin chuckling about it. In our
agreement, there was a clause that we could go over Muller's head on
such things with a unanimous petition--but Riggs had spiked that. The
idiot liked bran in his flour, even for pancakes!

Or else he was putting on a good act for the fun of watching the rest
of us suffer.

"You can take your damned whole wheat and stuff it--" I started. Then
I shrugged and dropped it. There were enough feuds going on aboard the
cranky old _Wahoo_! "Seen Jenny this morning, Phil?"

He studied me insolently. "She told Doc Napier she had some stuff
growing in hydroponics she wanted to look at. You're wasting your time
on that babe, boy!"

"Thanks for nothing," I muttered at him, and got out before I really
decided on murder. Jenny Sanderson was our expedition biologist. A
natural golden blonde, just chin-high on me, and cute enough to earn
her way through a Ph. D. doing modelling. She had a laugh that would
melt a brass statue and which she used too much on Doc Napier, on our
chief, and even on grumpy old Captain Muller--but sometimes she used
it on me, when she wanted something. And I never did have much use for
a girl who was the strong independent type where there was a man to do
the dirty work, so that was okay.

I suppose it was natural, with only two women among eighteen men for
month after month, but right then I probably liked Doc Napier less
than the captain, even. I pulled myself away from the corridor to
hydroponics, started for observation, and then went on into the
cubbyhole they gave me for a cabin. On the _Wahoo_, all a man could do
was sleep or sit around and think about murder.

Well, I had nobody to blame but myself. I'd asked for the job when I
first heard Dr. Pietro had collected funds and priorities for a trip
to study Saturn's rings at close hand. And because I'd done some
technical work for him on the Moon, he figured he might as well take
me as any other good all-around mechanic and technician. He hadn't
asked me, though--that had been my own stupid idea.

Paul Tremaine, self-cure expert! I'd picked up a nice phobia against
space when the super-liner _Lauri Ellu_ cracked up with four hundred
passengers on my first watch as second engineer. I'd gotten free and
into a suit, but after they rescued me, it had taken two years on the
Moon before I could get up nerve for the shuttle back to Earth. And
after eight years home, I should have let well enough alone. If I'd
known anything about Pietro's expedition, I'd have wrapped myself in
my phobia and loved it.

But I didn't know then that he'd done well with priorities and only
fair with funds. The best he could afford was the rental of the old
Earth-Mars-Venus triangle freighter. Naturally, when the _Wahoo's_
crew heard they were slated for what would be at least three years off
Earth without fancy bonus rates, they quit. Since nobody else would
sign on, Pietro had used his priorities to get an injunction that
forced them back aboard. He'd stuffed extra oxygen, water, food and
fertilizer on top of her regular supplies, then, filled her holds with
some top level fuel he'd gotten from a government assist, and set
out. And by the time I found out about it, my own contract was
iron-bound, and I was stuck.

As an astrophysicist, Pietro was probably tops. As a man to run the
Lunar Observatory, he was a fine executive. But as a man to head up an
expedition into deep space, somebody should have given him back his
teething ring.

Not that the _Wahoo_ couldn't make the trip with the new fuel; she'd
been one of the early survey ships before they turned her into a
freighter. But she was meant for a crew of maybe six, on trips of a
couple of months. There were no game rooms, no lounges, no bar or
library--nothing but what had to be. The only thing left for most of
us aboard was to develop our hatreds of the petty faults of the
others. Even with a homogeneous and willing crew, it was a perfect
set-up for cabin fever, and we were as heterogeneous as they came.

Naturally the crew hated the science boys after being impressed into
duty, and also took it out on the officers. The officers felt the same
about both other groups. And the scientists hated the officers and
crew for all the inconveniences of the old _Wahoo_. Me? I was in
no-man's land--technically in the science group, but without a pure
science degree; I had an officer's feelings left over from graduating
as an engineer on the ships; and I looked like a crewman.

It cured my phobia, all right. After the first month out, I was too
disgusted to go into a fear funk. But I found out it didn't help a bit
to like space again and know I'd stay washed up as a spaceman.

       *       *       *       *       *

We'd been jinxed from the start. Two months out, the whole crew of
scientists came down with something Doc Napier finally diagnosed as
food poisoning; maybe he was right, since our group ate in our own
mess hall, and the crew and officers who didn't eat with us didn't get
it. Our astronomer, Bill Sanderson, almost died. I'd been lucky, but
then I never did react to things much. There were a lot of other small
troubles, but the next major trick had been fumes from the nuclear
generators getting up into our quarters--it was always our group that
had the trouble. If Eve Nolan hadn't been puttering with some of her
trick films at the time--she and Walt Harris had the so-called night
shift--and seen them blacken, we'd have been dead before they
discovered it. And it took us two weeks of bunking with the sullen
crew and decontamination before we could pick up life again. Engineer
Wilcox had been decent about helping with it, blaming himself. But it
had been a mess.

Naturally, there were dark hints that someone was trying to get us;
but I couldn't see any crewman wiping us out just to return to Earth,
where our contract, with its completion clause, would mean he wouldn't
have a dime coming to him. Anyhow, the way things were going, we'd all
go berserk before we reached Saturn.

The lunch gong sounded, but I let it ring. Bullard would be serving us
whole wheat biscuits and soup made out of beans he'd let soak until
they turned sour. I couldn't take any more of that junk, the way I
felt then. I heard some of the men going down the corridor, followed
by a confused rumble of voices. Then somebody let out a yell. "Hey,
_rooob_!"

That meant something. The old yell spacemen had picked up from carney
people to rally their kind around against the foe. And I had a good
idea of who was the foe. I heard the yell bounce down the passage
again, and the slam of answering feet.

Then the gravity field went off. Or rather, was cut off. We may have
missed the boat in getting anti-gravity, if there is such a thing, but
our artificial gravity is darned near foolproof.

It was ten years since I'd moved in free fall, but Space Tech had done
a good job of training good habits. I got out of my bunk, hit the
corridor with a hand out, bounced, kicked, and dove toward the mess
hall without a falter. The crewmen weren't doing so well--but they
were coming up the corridor fast enough.

I could have wrung Muller's neck. Normally, in case of trouble,
cutting gravity is smart. But not here, where the crew already wanted
a chance to commit mayhem, and had more experience than the
scientists.

Yet, surprisingly, when I hit the mess hall ten feet ahead of the
deckhands, most of the scientists were doing all right. Hell, I should
have known Pietro, Sanderson and a couple others would be used to
no-grav; in astronomical work, you cut your eye teeth on that. They
were braced around the cook, who huddled back in a corner, while our
purser-steward, Sam, was still singing for help.

The fat face of the cook was dead white. Bill Sanderson, looking like
a slim, blond ballet dancer and muscled like an apache expert, had him
in one hand and was stuffing the latest batch of whole wheat biscuits
down his throat. Bill's sister, Jenny, was giggling excitedly and
holding more biscuits.

The deckhands and Grundy, the mate, were almost at the door, and I had
just time enough to slam it shut and lock it in their faces. I meant
to enjoy seeing the cook taken down without any interruption.

Sam let out a final yell, and Bullard broke free, making a mess of it
without weight. He was sputtering out bits of the biscuit. Hal Lomax
reached out a big hand, stained with the chemicals that had been his
life's work, and pushed the cook back.

And suddenly fat little Bullard switched from quaking fear to a blind
rage. The last of the biscuit sailed from his mouth and he spat at
Hal. "You damned hi-faluting black devil. You--_you_ sneering at my
cooking. I'm a white man, I am--I don't have to work for no black
ni...."

       *       *       *       *       *

I reached him first, though even Sam started for him then. You can
deliver a good blow in free-fall, if you know how. His teeth against
my knuckles stopped my leap, and the back of his head bounced off the
wall. He was unconscious as he drifted by us, moving upwards. My
knuckles stung, but it had been worth it. Anyhow, Jenny's look more
than paid for the trouble.

The door shattered then, and the big hulk of Mate Grundy tumbled in,
with the two deckhands and the pair from the engine room behind him.
Sam let out a yell that sounded like protest, and they headed for
us--just as gravity came on.

I pulled myself off the floor and out from under Bullard to see the
stout, oldish figure of Captain Muller standing in the doorway, with
Engineer Wilcox slouched easily beside him, looking like the typical
natty space officer you see on television. Both held gas guns.

"All right, break it up!" Muller ordered. "You men get back to your
work. And you, Dr. Pietro--my contract calls for me to deliver you to
Saturn's moon, but it doesn't forbid me to haul you the rest of the
way in irons. I won't have this aboard my ship!"

Pietro nodded, his little gray goatee bobbing, his lean body coming
upright smoothly. "Quite right, Captain. Nor does it forbid me to let
you and your men spend the sixteen months on the moon--where _I_
command--in irons. Why don't you ask Sam what happened before you make
a complete fool of yourself, Captain Muller?"

Sam gulped and looked at the crew, but apparently Pietro was right;
the little guy had been completely disgusted by Bullard. He shrugged
apologetically. "Bullard insulted Dr. Lomax, sir. I yelled for someone
to help me get him out of here, and I guess everybody got all mixed up
when gravity went off, and Bullard cracked his head on the floor. Just
a misunderstanding, sir."

Muller stood there, glowering at the cut on my knuckles, and I could
feel him aching for a good excuse to make his threat a reality. But
finally, he grunted and swung on his heel, ordering the crew with him.
Grundy threw us a final grimace and skulked off behind him. Finally
there was only Wilcox, who grinned, shrugged, and shut the door
quietly behind him. And we were left with the mess free-fall had made
of the place.

I spotted Jenny heading across the room, carefully not seeing the
fatuous glances Pietro was throwing her way, and I swung in behind.
She nodded back at me, but headed straight for Lomax, with an odd look
on her face. When she reached him, her voice was low and businesslike.

"Hal, what did those samples of Hendrix's show up?"

Hendrix was the Farmer, in charge of the hydroponics that turned the
carbon dioxide we breathed out back to oxygen, and also gave us a bit
of fresh vegetables now and then. Technically, he was a crewman, just
as I was a scientist; but actually, he felt more like one of us.

Lomax looked surprised. "What samples, Jenny? I haven't seen Hendrix
for two weeks."

"You--" She stopped, bit her lip, and frowned. She swung on me. "Paul,
have you seen him?"

I shook my head. "Not since last night. He was asking Eve and Walt to
wake him up early, then."

"That's funny. He was worried about the plants yesterday and wanted
Hal to test the water and chemical fertilizer. I looked for him this
morning, but when he didn't show up, I thought he was with you, Hal.
And--the plants are dying!"

"All of them?" The half smile wiped off Hal's face, and I could feel
my stomach hit my insteps. When anything happens to the plants in a
ship, it isn't funny.

She shook her head again. "No--about a quarter of them. I was coming
for help when the fight started. They're all bleached out. And it
looks like--like chromazone!"

That really hit me. They developed the stuff to fight off fungus on
Venus, where one part in a billion did the trick. But it was tricky
stuff; one part in ten-million would destroy the chlorophyll in
plants in about twenty hours, or the hemoglobin in blood in about
fifteen minutes. It was practically a universal poison.

Hal started for the door, then stopped. He glanced around the room,
turned back to me, and suddenly let out a healthy bellow of seeming
amusement. Jenny's laugh was right in harmony. I caught the drift, and
tried to look as if we were up to some monkey business as we slipped
out of the room. Nobody seemed suspicious.

Then we made a dash for hydroponics, toward the rear of the ship. We
scrambled into the big chamber together, and stopped. Everything
looked normal among the rows of plant-filled tanks, pipes and
equipment. Jenny led us down one of the rows and around a bend.

The plants in the rear quarter weren't sick--they were dead. They were
bleached to a pale yellow, like boiled grass, and limp. Nothing would
save them now.

"I'm a biologist, not a botanist--" Jenny began.

Hal grunted sickly. "Yeah. And I'm not a life hormone expert. But
there's one test we can try."

He picked up a pair of rubber gloves from a rack, and pulled off some
wilted stalks. From one of the healthy tanks, he took green leaves. He
mashed the two kinds together on the edge of a bench and watched. "If
it's chromazone, they've developed an enzyme by now that should eat
the color out of those others."

       *       *       *       *       *

In about ten seconds, I noticed the change. The green began to bleach
before my eyes.

Jenny made a sick sound in her throat and stared at the rows of
healthy plants. "I checked the valves, and this sick section is
isolated. But--if chromazone got into the chemicals.... Better get your
spectroanalyzer out, Hal, while I get Captain Muller. Paul, be a dear
and find Hendrix, will you?"

I shook my head, and went further down the rows. "No need, Jenny," I
called back. I pointed to the shoe I'd seen sticking out from the edge
of one of the tanks. There was a leg attached.

I reached for it, but Lomax shoved me back. "Don't--the enzymes in the
corpse are worse than the poison, Paul. Hands off." He reached down
with the gloves and heaved. It was Hendrix, all right--a corpse with a
face and hands as white as human flesh could ever get. Even the lips
were bleached out.

Jenny moaned. "The fool! The stupid fool. He _knew_ it was dangerous
without gloves; he suspected chromazone, even though none's supposed
to be on board. And I warned him . . ."

"Not against this, you didn't," I told her. I dropped to my knees and
took another pair of gloves. Hendrix's head rolled under my grasp. The
skull was smashed over the left eye, as if someone had taken a
sideswipe at Hendrix with a hammer. No fall had produced that. "You
should have warned him about his friends. Must have been killed, then
dumped in there."

"Murder!" Hal bit the word out in disgust. "You're right, Paul. Not
too stupid a way to dispose of the body, either--in another couple of
hours, he'd have started dissolving in that stuff, and we'd never have
guessed it was murder. That means this poisoning of the plants wasn't
an accident. Somebody poisoned the water, then got worried when there
wasn't a report on the plants; must have been someone who thought it
worked faster on plants than it does. So he came to investigate, and
Hendrix caught him fooling around. So he got killed."

"But who?" Jenny asked.

I shrugged sickly. "Somebody crazy enough--or desperate enough to turn
back that he'll risk our air and commit murder. You'd better go after
the captain while Hal gets his test equipment. I'll keep watch here."

It didn't feel good in hydroponics after they left. I looked at those
dead plants, trying to figure whether there were enough left to keep
us going. I studied Hendrix's body, trying to tell myself the murderer
had no reason to come back and try to get me.

I reached for a cigarette, and then put the pack back. The air felt
almost as close as the back of my neck felt tense and unprotected. And
telling myself it was all imagination didn't help--not with what was
in that chamber to keep me company.


II

Muller's face was like an iceberg when he came down--but only after he
saw Hendrix. Before then I'd caught the fat moon-calf expression on
his face, and I'd heard Jenny giggling. Damn it, they'd taken enough
time. Hal was already back, fussing over things with the hunk of tin
and lenses he treated like a newborn baby.

Doc Napier came in behind them, but separately. I saw him glance at
them and look sick. Then both Muller and Napier began concentrating on
business. Napier bent his nervous, bony figure over the corpse, and
stood up almost at once. "Murder all right."

"So I guessed, Dr. Napier," Muller growled heavily at him. "Wrap him
up and put him between hulls to freeze. We'll bury him when we land.
Tremaine, give a hand with it, will you?"

"I'm not a laborer, Captain Muller!" Napier protested. I started to
tell him where he could get off, too.

But Jenny shook her head at us. "Please. Can't you see Captain Muller
is trying to keep too many from knowing about this? I should think
you'd be glad to help. Please?"

Put that way, I guess it made sense. We found some rubber sheeting in
one of the lockers, and began wrapping Hendrix in it; it wasn't
pleasant, since he was beginning to soften up from the enzymes he'd
absorbed. "How about going ahead to make sure no one sees us?" I
suggested to Jenny.

Muller opened his mouth, but Jenny gave one of her quick little laughs
and opened the door for us. Doc looked relieved. I guessed he was
trying to kid himself. Personally, I wasn't a fool--I was just hooked;
I knew perfectly well she was busy playing us off against one another,
and probably having a good time balancing the books. But hell, that's
the way life runs.

"Get Pietro up here!" Muller fired after us. She laughed again, and
nodded. She went with us until we got to the 'tween-hulls lock, then
went off after the chief. She was back with him just as we finished
stuffing Hendrix through and sealing up again.

Muller grunted at us when we got back, then turned to Lomax again. The
big chemist didn't look happy. He spread his hands toward us, and
hunched his shoulders. "A fifty-times over-dose of chromazone in those
tanks--fortunately none in the others. And I can't find a trace of it
in the fertilizer chemicals or anywhere else. Somebody deliberately
put it into those tanks."

"Why?" Pietro asked. We'd filled him in with the rough details, but it
still made no sense to him.

"Suppose you tell me, Dr. Pietro," Muller suggested. "Chromazone is a
poison most people never heard of. One of the new _scientific_
nuisances."

Pietro straightened, and his goatee bristled. "If you're hinting . . ."

"I am _not_ hinting, Dr. Pietro. I'm telling you that I'm confining
your group to their quarters until we can clean up this mess, distil
the water that's contaminated, and replant. After that, if an
investigation shows nothing, I _may_ take your personal bond for the
conduct of your people. Right now I'm protecting my ship."

"But captain--" Jenny began.

Muller managed a smile at her. "Oh, not you, of course, Jenny. I'll
need you here. With Hendrix gone, you're the closest thing we have to
a Farmer now."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Captain Muller," Pietro said sharply. "Captain, in the words of the
historical novelists--drop dead! Dr. Sanderson, I forbid you to leave
your quarters so long as anyone else is confined to his. I have ample
authority for that."

"Under emergency powers--" Muller spluttered over it, and Pietro
jumped in again before he could finish.

"Precisely, Captain. Under emergency situations, when passengers
aboard a commercial vessel find indications of total irresponsibility
or incipient insanity on the part of a ship's officer, they are
considered correct in assuming command for the time needed to protect
their lives. We were poisoned by food prepared in your kitchen, and
were nearly killed by radioactivity through a leak in the
engine-room--and no investigation was made. We are now confronted with
another situation aimed against our welfare--as the others were wholly
aimed at us--and you choose to conduct an investigation against our
group only. My only conclusion is that you wish to confine us to
quarters so we cannot find your motives for this last outrage. Paul,
will you kindly relieve the captain of his position?"

They were both half right, and mostly wrong. Until it was proved that
our group was guilty, Muller couldn't issue an order that was
obviously discriminatory and against our personal safety in case there
was an attack directed on us. He'd be mustered out of space and into
the Lunar Cells for that. But on the other hand, the "safety for
passengers" clause Pietro was citing applied only in the case of
overt, direct and physical danger by an officer to normal passengers.
He might be able to weasel it through a court, or he might be found
guilty of mutiny. It left me in a pretty position.

Jenny fluttered around. "Now, now--" she began.

I cut her off. "Shut up, Jenny. And you two damned fools cool down.
Damn it, we've got an emergency here all right--we may not have air
plants enough to live on. Pietro, we can't run the ship--and neither
can Muller get through what's obviously a mess that may call for all
our help by confining us. Why don't you two go off and fight it out in
person?"

[Illustration]

Surprisingly, Pietro laughed. "I'm afraid I'd put up a poor showing
against the captain, Paul. My apologies, Captain Muller."

Muller hesitated, but finally took Pietro's hand, and dropped the
issue.

"We've got enough plants," he said, changing the subject. "We'll have
to cut out all smoking and other waste of air. And I'll need Jenny to
work the hydroponics, with any help she requires. We've got to get
more seeds planted, and fast. Better keep word of this to ourselves.
We--"

A shriek came from Jenny then. She'd been busy at one of the lockers
in the chamber. Now she began ripping others open and pawing through
things inside rubber-gloves. "Captain Muller! The seeds! The seeds!"

Hal took one look, and his face turned gray.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Chromazone," he reported. "Every bag of seed has been filled with a
solution of chromazone! They're worthless!"

"How long before the plants here will seed?" Muller asked sharply.

"Three months," Jenny answered. "Captain Muller, what are we going to
do?"

The dour face settled into grim determination. "The only sensible
thing. Take care of these plants, conserve the air, and squeeze by
until we can reseed. And, Dr. Pietro, with your permission, we'll turn
about for Earth at once. We can't go on like this. To proceed would be
to endanger the life of every man aboard."

"Please, Danton." Jenny put her hand on Pietro's arm. "I know what
this all means to you, but--"

Pietro shook her off. "It means the captain's trying to get out of the
expedition, again. It's five months back to Earth--more, by the time
we kill velocity. It's the same to Saturn. And either way, in five
months we've got this fixed up, or we're helpless. Permission to
return refused, Captain Muller."

"Then if you'll be so good as to return to your own quarters," Muller
said, holding himself back with an effort that turned his face red,
"we'll start clearing this up. And not a word of this."

Napier, Lomax, Pietro and I went back to the scientists' quarters,
leaving Muller and Jenny conferring busily. That was at fifteen
o'clock. At sixteen o'clock, Pietro issued orders against smoking.

Dinner was at eighteen o'clock. We sat down in silence. I reached for
my plate without looking. And suddenly little Phil Riggs was on his
feet, raving. "Whole wheat! Nothing but whole wheat bread! I'm sick of
it--sick! I won't--"

"Sit down!" I told him. I'd bitten into one of the rolls on the table.
It was white bread, and it was the best the cook had managed so far.
There was corn instead of baked beans, and he'd done a fair job of
making meat loaf. "Stop making a fool of yourself, Phil."

He slumped back, staring at the white bun into which he'd bitten.
"Sorry. Sorry. It's this air--so stuffy. I can't breathe. I can't see
right--"

Pietro and I exchanged glances, but I guess we weren't surprised.
Among intelligent people on a ship of that size, secrets wouldn't
keep. They'd all put bits together and got part of the answer. Pietro
shrugged, and half stood up to make an announcement.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Beg pardon, sirs." We jerked our heads around to see Bullard standing
in the doorway.

He was scared stiff, and his words got stuck in his throat. Then he
found his voice again. "I heard as how Hendrix went crazy and poisoned
the plants and went and killed himself and we'll all die if we don't
find some trick, and what I want to know, please, sirs, is are what
they're saying right and you know all kinds of tricks and can you save
us because I can't go on like this not knowing and hearing them
talking outside the galley and none of them telling me--"

Lomax cut into his flood of words. "You'll live, Bullard. Farmer
Hendrix did get killed in an accident to some of the plants, but we've
still got air enough. Captain Muller has asked the help of a few of
us, but it's only a temporary emergency."

Bullard stared at him, and slowly some of the fear left his
face--though not all of it. He turned and left with a curt bow of his
head, while Pietro added a few details that weren't exactly lies to
Lomax's hasty cover-up, along with a grateful glance at the chemist.
It seemed to work, for the time being--at least enough for Riggs to
begin making nasty remarks about cooked paste.

Then the tension began to build again. I don't think any of the crew
talked to any of our group. And yet, there seemed to be a chain of
rumor that exchanged bits of information. Only the crew could have
seen the dead plants being carried down to our refuse breakdown plant;
and the fact it was chromazone poisoning must have been deduced from a
description by some of our group. At any rate, both groups knew all
about it--and a little bit more, as was usual with rumors--by the
second day.

Muller should have made the news official, but he only issued an
announcement that the danger was over. When Peters, our
radioman-navigator, found Sam and Phil Riggs smoking and dressed them
down, it didn't make Muller's words seem too convincing. I guessed
that Muller had other things on his mind; at least he wasn't in his
cabin much, and I didn't see Jenny for two whole days.

My nerves were as jumpy as those of the rest. It isn't too bad cutting
out smoking; a man can stand imagining the air is getting stale; but
when every unconscious gesture toward cigarettes that aren't there
reminds him of the air, and when every imagined stale stench makes him
want a cigarette to relax, it gets a little rough.

Maybe that's why I was in a completely rotten mood when I finally did
spot Jenny going down the passage, with the tight coveralls she was
wearing emphasizing every motion of her hips. I grabbed her and swung
her around. "Hi, stranger. Got time for a word?"

She sort of brushed my hand off her arm, but didn't seem to mind it.
"Why, I guess so, Paul. A little time. Captain Muller's watching the
'ponics."

"Good," I said, trying to forget Muller. "Let's make it a little more
private than this, though. Come on in."

She lifted an eyebrow at the open door of my cabin, made with a little
giggle, and stepped inside. I followed her, and kicked the door shut.
She reached for it, but I had my back against it.

"Paul!" She tried to get around me, but I wasn't having any. I pushed
her back onto the only seat in the room, which was the bunk. She got
up like a spring uncoiling. "Paul Tremaine, you open that door. You
know better than that. Paul, please!"

"What makes me any different than the others? You spend plenty of time
in Muller's cabin--and you've been in Pietro's often enough. Probably
Doc Napier's, too!"

Her eyes hardened, but she decided to try the patient and
reason-with-the-child line. "That is different. Captain Muller and I
have a great deal of business to work out."

"Sure. And he looks great in lipstick!"

It was a shot in the dark, but it went home. I wished I'd kept my
darned mouth shut; before I'd been suspecting it--now I knew. She
turned pink and tried to slap me, which won't work when the girl is
sitting on a bunk and I'm on my feet. "You mind your own business!"

"I'm doing that. Generations should stick together, and he's old
enough to be your father!"

She leaned back and studied me. Then she smiled slowly, and something
about it made me sick inside. "I like older men, Paul. They make
people my own age seem so callow, so unfinished. It's so comforting to
have mature people around. I always did have an Electra complex."

"The Greeks had plenty of names for it, kid," I told her. "Don't get
me wrong. If you want to be a slut, that's your own business. But when
you pull the innocent act on me, and then fall back to sophomore
psychology--"

This time she stood up before she slapped. Before her hand stung my
face, I was beginning to regret what I'd said. Afterwards, I didn't
give a damn. I picked her up off the floor, slapped her soundly on the
rump, pulled her tight against me, and kissed her. She tried
scratching my face, then went passive, and wound up with one arm
around my neck and the other in the hair at the back of my head. When
I finally put her down she sank back onto the bunk, breathing heavily.

"Why, Paul!" And she reached out her arms as I came down to meet them.
For a second, the world looked pretty good.

Then a man's hoarse scream cut through it all, with the sound of heavy
steps in panic flight. I jerked up. Jenny hung on. "Paul.... Paul...."
But there was the smell of death in the air, suddenly. I broke free
and was out into the corridor. The noise seemed to come from the shaft
that led to the engine room, and I jumped for it, while I heard doors
slam.

This time, there was a commotion, like a wet sack being tossed around
in a pentagonal steel barrel, and another hoarse scream that cut off
in the middle to a gargling sound.

       *       *       *       *       *

I reached the shaft and started down the center rail, not bothering
with the hand-grips. I could hear something rustle below, followed by
silence, but I couldn't see a thing; the lights had been cut.

I could feel things poking into my back before I landed; I always get
the creeps when there's death around, and that last sound had been
just that--somebody's last sound. I _knew_ somebody was going to kill
me before I could find the switch. Then I stumbled over something, and
my hair stood on end. I guess my own yell was pretty horrible. It
scared me worse than I was already. But my fingers found the switch
somehow, and the light flashed on.

Sam lay on the floor, with blood still running from a wide gash
across his throat. A big kitchen knife was still stuck in one end of
the horrible wound. And one of his fingers was half sliced off where
the blade of a switch-blade shiv had failed on him and snapped back.

Something sounded above me, and I jerked back. But it was Captain
Muller, coming down the rail. The man had obviously taken it all in on
the way down. He jerked the switch-blade out of Sam's dead grasp and
looked at the point of the knife. There was blood further back from
the cut finger, but none on the point.

"Damn!" Muller tossed it down in disgust. "If he'd scratched the other
man, we'd have had a chance to find who it was. Tremaine, have you got
an alibi?"

"I was with Jenny," I told him, and watched his eyes begin to hate me.
But he nodded. We picked Sam up together and lugged his body up to the
top of the shaft, where the crowd had collected. Pietro, Peters, the
cook, Grundy and Lomax were there. Beyond them, the dark-haired,
almost masculine head of Eve Nolan showed, her eyes studying the body
of Sam as if it were a negative in her darkroom; as usual, Bill
Sanderson was as close to her as he could get. But there was no sign
now of Jenny. I glanced up the corridor but saw only Wilcox and Phil
Riggs, with Walt Harris trailing them, rubbing the sleep out of his
eyes.

Muller moved directly to Pietro. "Six left in my crew now, Dr. Pietro.
First Hendrix, now Sam. Can you still say that the attack is on _your_
crew--when mine keep being killed? This time, sir, I demand . . ."

"Give 'em hell, Captain," ape-man Grundy broke in. "Cut the fancy
stuff, and let's get the damned murdering rats!"

Muller's eyes quartered him, spitted his carcass, and began turning
him slowly over a bed of coals. "Mister Grundy, I am master of the
_Wahoo_. I fail to remember asking for your piratical advice. Dr.
Pietro, I trust you will have no objections if I ask Mr. Peters to
investigate your section and group thoroughly?"

"None at all, Captain Muller," Pietro answered. "I trust Peters. And I
feel sure you'll permit me to delegate Mr. Tremaine to inspect the
remainder of the ship?"

Muller nodded curtly. "Certainly. Until the madman is found, we're all
in danger. And unless he is found, I insist I must protect my crew and
my ship by turning back to Earth."

"I cannot permit that, sir!"

"Your permission for that was not requested, Dr. Pietro! Yes,
Bullard?"

The cook had been squirming and muttering to himself for minutes. Now
he darted out toward Grundy, and his finger pointed to Lomax. "He done
it! I seen him. Killed the only friend I had, he did. They went by my
galley--and--and he grabbed my big knife, that one there. And he
killed Sam."

       *       *       *       *       *

"You're sure it was Lomax?" Muller asked sharply.

"Sure I'm sure. Sam, he was acting queer lately. He was worried. Told
me he saw something, and he was going to know for sure. He borrowed my
switch-blade knife that my wife gave me. And he went out looking for
something. Then I heard him a-running, and I looked up, and there was
this guy, chasing him. Sure, I seen him with my own eyes."

Eve Nolan chuckled throatily, throwing her mannish-cut hair back from
her face. She was almost pretty with an expression on her countenance,
even if it was amused disgust. "Captain Muller, that's a nice story.
But Dr. Lomax was with me in my darkroom, working on some
spectroanalysis slides. Bill Sanderson and Phil Riggs were waiting
outside for us. And Mr. Peters saw us come out together when we all
ran down here."

Peters nodded. Muller stared at us for a second, and the hunting lust
died out of his eyes, leaving them blank and cold. He turned to
Bullard. "Bullard, an explanation might make me reduce your
punishment. If you have anything to say, say it now!"

The cook was gibbering and actually drooling with fear. He shook, and
sweat popped out all over him. "My knife--I hadda say something. They
stole my knife. They wanted it to look like I done it. God, Captain,
you'da done the same. Can't punish a man for trying to save his life.
I'm a good man, I am. Can't whip a good man! Can't--"

"Give him twenty-five lashes with the wire, Mr. Grundy," Muller said
flatly.

Pietro let out a shriek on top of the cook's. He started forward, but
I caught him. "Captain Muller's right," I told him. "On a spaceship,
the full crew is needed. The brig is useless, so the space-enabling
charter recognizes flogging. Something is needed to maintain
discipline."

Pietro dropped back reluctantly, but Lomax faced the captain. "The man
is a coward, hardly responsible, Captain Muller. I'm the wounded
party in this case, but it seems to me that hysteria isn't the same
thing as maliciousness. Suppose I ask for clemency?"

"Thank you, Dr. Lomax," Muller said, and actually looked relieved.
"Make it ten lashes, Mr. Grundy. Apparently no real harm has been
done, and he will not testify in the future."

Grundy began dragging Bullard out, muttering about damn fool
groundlubbers always sticking their noses in. The cook caught at
Lomax's hand on the way, literally slobbering over it. Lomax rubbed
his palm across his thigh, looking embarrassed.

Muller turned back to us. "Very well. Mr. Peters will begin
investigating the expedition staff and quarters; Mr. Tremaine will
have free run over the rest of the ship. And if the murderer is not
turned up in forty-eight hours, we head back to Earth!"

Pietro started to protest again, but another scream ripped down the
corridor, jerking us all around. It was Jenny, running toward us. She
was breathing hoarsely as she nearly crashed into Dr. Pietro.

Her face was white and sick, and she had to try twice before she could
speak.

"The plants!" she gasped out. "Poison! They're dying!"


III

It was chromazone again. Muller had kept most of the gang from coming
back to hydroponics, but he, Jenny, Pietro, Wilcox and myself were
enough to fill the room with the smell of sick fear. Now less than
half of the original space was filled with healthy plants. Some of the
tanks held plants already dead, and others were dying as we watched;
once beyond a certain stage, the stuff acted almost instantly--for
hours there was only a slight indication of something wrong, and then
suddenly there were the dead, bleached plants.

Wilcox was the first to speak. He still looked like some nattily
dressed hero of a space serial, but his first words were ones that
could never have gone out on a public broadcast. Then he shrugged.
"They must have been poisoned while we were all huddled over Sam's
body. Who wasn't with us?"

"Nonsense," Pietro denied. "This was done at least eighteen hours ago,
maybe more. We'd have to find who was around then."

"Twenty hours, or as little as twelve," Jenny amended. "It depends on
the amount of the dosage, to some extent. And...." She almost managed
to blush. "Well, there have been a lot of people around. I can't even
remember. Mr. Grundy and one of the men, Mr. Wilcox, Dr. Napier--oh, I
don't know!"

Muller shook his head in heavy agreement. "Naturally. We had a lot of
work to do here. After word got around about Hendrix, we didn't try to
conceal much. It might have happened when someone else was watching,
too. The important thing, gentlemen, is that now we don't have reserve
enough to carry us to Saturn. The plants remaining can't handle the
air for all of us. And while we ship some reserve oxygen...."

He let it die in a distasteful shrug. "At least this settles one
thing. We have no choice now but to return to Earth!"

"Captain Muller," Pietro bristled quickly, "that's getting to be a
monomania with you. I agree we are in grave danger. I don't relish the
prospect of dying any more than you do--perhaps less, in view of
certain peculiarities! But it's now further back to Earth than it is
to Saturn. And before we can reach either, we'll have new plants--or
we'll be dead!"

"Some of us will be dead, Dr. Pietro," Wilcox amended it. "There are
enough plants left to keep some of us breathing indefinitely."

Pietro nodded. "And I suppose, in our captain's mind, that means the
personnel of the ship can survive. Captain Muller, I must regard your
constant attempt to return to Earth as highly suspicious in view of
this recurrent sabotage of the expedition. Someone here is apparently
either a complete madman or so determined to get back that he'll
resort to anything to accomplish his end. And you have been harping on
returning over and over again!"

Muller bristled, and big heavy fist tightened. Then he drew himself up
to his full dumpy height. "Dr. Pietro," he said stiffly, "I am as
responsible to my duties as any man here--and my duties involve
protecting the life of every man and woman on board; if you wish to
return, I shall be _most_ happy to submit this to a formal board of
inquiry. I--"

"Just a minute," I told them. "You two are forgetting that we've got a
problem here. Damn it, I'm sick of this fighting among ourselves.
We're a bunch of men in a jam, not two camps at war now. I can't see
any reason why Captain Muller would want to return that badly."

Muller nodded slightly. "Thank you, Mr. Tremaine. However, for the
record, and to save you trouble investigating there is a good reason.
My company is now building a super-liner; if I were to return within
the next six months, they'd promote me to captain of that ship--a
considerable promotion, too."

For a moment, his honesty seemed to soften Pietro. The scientist
mumbled some sort of apology, and turned to the plants. But it
bothered me; if Muller had pulled something, the smartest thing he
could have done would be to have said just what he did.

Besides, knowing that Pietro's injunction had robbed him of a chance
like that was enough to rankle in any man's guts and make him work up
something pretty close to insanity. I marked it down in my mental
files for the investigation I was supposed to make, but let it go for
the moment.

Muller stood for a minute longer, thinking darkly about the whole
situation. Then he moved toward the entrance to hydroponics and pulled
out the ship speaker mike. "All hands and passengers will assemble in
hydroponics within five minutes," he announced. He swung toward
Pietro. "With your permission, Doctor," he said caustically.

The company assembled later looked as sick as the plants. This time,
Muller was hiding nothing. He outlined the situation fully; maybe he
shaded it a bit to throw suspicion on our group, but in no way we
could pin down. Finally he stated flatly that the situation meant
almost certain death for at least some of those aboard.

"From now on, there'll be a watch kept. This is closed to everyone
except myself, Dr. Pietro, Mr. Peters, and Dr. Jenny Sanderson. At
least one of us will be here at all times, equipped with gas guns.
Anyone else is to be killed on setting foot inside this door!" He
swung his eyes over the group. "Any objections?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Grundy stirred uncomfortably. "I don't go for them science guys up here.
Takes a crazy man to do a thing like this, and everybody knows...."

Eve Nolan laughed roughly. "Everybody knows you've been swearing you
won't go the whole way, Grundy. These jungle tactics should be right
up your alley."

"That's enough," Muller cut through the beginnings of the hassle. "I
trust those I appointed--at least more than I do the rest of you. The
question now is whether to return to Earth at once or to go on to
Saturn. We can't radio for help for months yet. We're not equipped
with sharp beams, we're low powered, and we're off the lanes where
Earth's pick-ups hunt. Dr. Pietro wants to go on, since we can't get
back within our period of safety; I favor returning, since there is no
proof that this danger will end with this outrage. We've agreed to let
the result of a vote determine it."

Wilcox stuck up a casual hand, and Muller nodded to him. He grinned
amiably at all of us. "There's a third possibility, Captain. We can
reach Jupiter in about three months, if we turn now. It's offside, but
closer than anything else. From there, on a fast liner, we can be back
on Earth in another ten days."

Muller calculated, while Peters came up to discuss it. Then he nodded.
"Saturn or Jupiter, then. I'm not voting, of course. Bullard is
disqualified to vote by previous acts." He drew a low moan from the
sick figure of Bullard for that, but no protest. Then he nodded. "All
those in favor of Jupiter, your right hands please!"

I counted them, wondering why my own hand was still down. It made some
sort of sense to turn aside now. But none of our group was voting--and
all the others had their hands up, except for Dr. Napier. "Seven,"
Muller announced. "Those in favor of Saturn."

Again, Napier didn't vote. I hesitated, then put my hand up. It was
crazy, and Pietro was a fool to insist. But I knew that he'd never get
another chance if this failed, and....

"Eight," Muller counted. He sighed, then straightened. "Very well, we
go on. Dr. Pietro, you will have my full support from now on. In
return, I'll expect every bit of help in meeting this emergency. Mr.
Tremaine was correct; we cannot remain camps at war."

Pietro's goatee bobbed quickly, and his hand went out. But while most
of the scientists were nodding with him, I caught the dark scowl of
Grundy, and heard the mutters from the deckhands and the engine men.
If Muller could get them to cooperate, he was a genius.

Pietro faced us, and his face was serious again. "We can hasten the
seeding of the plants a little, I think, by temperature and
light-and-dark cycle manipulations. Unfortunately, these aren't
sea-algae plants, or we'd be in comparatively little trouble. That was
my fault in not converting. We can, however, step up their efficiency
a bit. And I'm sure we can find some way to remove the carbon dioxide
from the air."

"How about oxygen to breathe?" Peters asked.

"That's the problem," Pietro admitted. "I was wondering about
electrolyzing water."

Wilcox bobbed up quickly. "Can you do it on AC current?"

Lomax shook his head. "It takes DC."

"Then that's out. We run on 220 AC. And while I can rectify a few
watts, it wouldn't be enough to help. No welders except monatomic
hydrogen torches, even."

Pietro looked sicker than before. He'd obviously been counting on
that. But he turned to Bullard. "How about seeds? We had a crop of
tomatoes a month ago--and from the few I had, they're all seed. Are
any left?"

Bullard rocked from side to side, moaning. "Dead. We're all gonna be
dead. I told him, I did, you take me out there, I'll never get back.
I'm a good man, I am. I wasn't never meant to die way out here.
I--I--"

He gulped and suddenly screamed. He went through the door at an
awkward shuffle, heading for his galley. Muller shook his head, and
turned toward me. "Check up, will you, Mr. Tremaine? And I suggest
that you and Mr. Peters start your investigation at once. I understand
that chromazone would require so little hiding space that there's no
use searching for it. But if you can find any evidence, report it at
once."

Peters and I left. I found the galley empty. Apparently Bullard had
gone to lie on his stomach in his bunk and nurse his terror. I found
the freezer compartments, though--and the tomatoes. There must have
been a bushel of them, but Bullard had followed his own peculiar
tastes. From the food he served, he couldn't stand fresh vegetables;
and he'd cooked the tomatoes down thoroughly and run them through the
dehydrator before packing them away!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a cheerful supper, that one! Bullard had half-recovered and his
fear was driving him to try to be nice to us. The selection was good,
beyond the inevitable baked beans; but he wasn't exactly a chef at
best, and his best was far behind him. Muller had brought Wilcox,
Napier and Peters down to our mess with himself, to consolidate
forces, and it seemed that he was serious about cooperating. But it
was a little late for that.

Overhead, the fans had been stepped up to counteract the effect of
staleness our minds supplied. But the whine of the motors kept
reminding us our days were counted. Only Jenny was normal; she sat
between Muller and Pietro, where she could watch my face and that of
Napier. And even her giggles had a forced sound.

There were all kinds of things we could do--in theory. But we didn't
have that kind of equipment. The plain fact was that the plants were
going to lose the battle against our lungs. The carbon dioxide would
increase, speeding up our breathing, and making us all seem to
suffocate. The oxygen would grow thinner and thinner, once our
supplies of bottled gas ran out. And eventually, the air wouldn't
support life.

"It's sticky and hot," Jenny complained, suddenly.

"I stepped up the humidity and temperature controls," I told her. She
nodded in quick comprehension, but I went on for Muller's benefit.
"Trying to give the plants the best growing atmosphere. We'll feel
just as hot and sticky when the carbon dioxide goes up, anyhow."

"It must already be up," Wilcox said. "My two canaries are breathing
faster."

"Canaries," Muller said. He frowned, though he must have known of
them. It was traditional to keep them in the engine-room, though the
reason behind it had long since been lost. "Better kill them, Mr.
Wilcox."

Wilcox jerked, and his face paled a bit. Then he nodded. "Yes, sir!"

That was when I got scared. The idea that two birds breathing could
hurt our chances put things on a little too vivid a basis. Only Lomax
seemed unaffected. He shoved back now, and stood up.

"Some tests I have to make, Captain. I have an idea that might turn up
the killer among us!"

I had an idea he was bluffing, but I kept my mouth shut. A bluff was
as good as anything else, it seemed.

At least, it was better than anything I seemed able to do. I prowled
over the ship, sometimes meeting Peters doing the same, but I couldn't
find a bit of evidence. The crewmen sat watching with hating eyes. And
probably the rest aboard hated and feared us just as much. It wasn't
hard to imagine the man who was behind it all deciding to wipe one of
us out. My neck got a permanent crimp from keeping one eye behind me.
But there wasn't a shred of evidence I could find.

In two more days, we began to notice the stuffiness more. My breathing
went up enough to notice. Somehow, I couldn't get a full breath. And
the third night, I woke up in the middle of my sleep with the feeling
something was sitting on my chest; but since I'd taken to sleeping
with the light on, I saw that it was just the stuffiness that was
bothering me. Maybe most of it had been psychological up until then.
But that was the real thing.

The nice part of it was that it wouldn't be sudden--we'd have days to
get closer and closer to death; and days for each one to realize a
little more that every man who wasn't breathing would make it that
much easier for the rest of us. I caught myself thinking of it when I
saw Bullard or Grundy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then trouble struck again. I was late getting to the scene this time,
down by the engine room. Muller and Bill Sanderson were ahead of me,
trying to separate Hal Lomax and Grundy, and not doing so well. Lomax
brought up a haymaker as I arrived, and started to shout something.
But Grundy was out of Muller's grasp, and up, swinging a wrench. It
connected with a dull thud, and Lomax hit the floor, unconscious.

I picked Grundy up by the collar of his jacket, heaved him around and
against a wall, where I could get my hand against his esophagus and
start squeezing. His eyeballs popped, and the wrench dropped from his
hands. When I get mad enough to act that way, I usually know I'll
regret it later. This time it felt good, all the way. But Muller
pushed me aside, waiting until Grundy could breathe again.

"All right," Muller said. "I hope you've got a good explanation,
before I decide what to do with you."

Grundy's eyes were slitted, as if he'd been taking some of the Venus
drugs. But after one long, hungry look at me, he faced the captain.
"Yes, sir. This guy came down here ahead of me. Didn't think nothing
of it, sir. But when he started fiddling with the panel there, I got
suspicious." He pointed to the external control panel for the engine
room, to be used in case of accidents. "With all that's been going on,
how'd I know but maybe he was gonna dump the fuel? And then I seen he
had keys. I didn't wait, sir. I jumped him. And then you come up."

Wilcox came from the background and dropped beside the still figure of
Lomax. He opened the man's left hand and pulled out a bunch of keys,
examining them. "Engine keys, Captain Muller. Hey--it's my set! He
must have lifted them from my pocket. It looks as if Grundy's found
our killer!"

"Or Lomax found him!" I pointed out. "Anybody else see this start, or
know that Lomax didn't get those keys away from Grundy, when _he_
started trouble?"

"Why, you--" Grundy began, but Wilcox cut off his run. It was a shame.
I still felt like pushing the man's Adam's apple through his medulla
oblongata.

"Lock them both up, until Dr. Lomax comes to," Muller ordered. "And
send Dr. Napier to take care of him. I'm not jumping to any
conclusions." But the look he was giving Lomax indicated that he'd
already pretty well made up his mind. And the crew was positive. They
drew back sullenly, staring at us like animals studying a human
hunter, and they didn't like it when Peters took Grundy to lock him
into his room. Muller finally chased them out, and left Wilcox and me
alone.

Wilcox shrugged wryly, brushing dirt off his too-clean uniform. "While
you're here, Tremaine, why not look my section over? You've been
neglecting me."

I'd borrowed Muller's keys and inspected the engine room from, top to
bottom the night before, but I didn't mention that. I hesitated now;
to a man who grew up to be an engineer and who'd now gotten over his
psychosis against space too late to start over, the engines were
things better left alone. Then I remembered that I hadn't seen
Wilcox's quarters, since he had the only key to them.

I nodded and went inside. The engines were old, and the gravity
generator was one of the first models. But Wilcox knew his business.
The place was slick enough, and there was the good clean smell of
metal working right. I could feel the controls in my hands, and my
nerves itched as I went about making a perfunctory token examination.
I even opened the fuel lockers and glanced in. The two crewmen watched
with hard eyes, slitted as tight as Grundy's, but they didn't bother
me. Then I shrugged, and went back with Wilcox to his tiny cabin.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was hit by the place before I got inside. Tiny, yes, but fixed up
like the dream of every engineer. Clean, neat, filled with books and
luxuries. He even had a tape player I'd seen on sale for a trifle over
three thousand dollars. He turned it on, letting the opening bars of
Haydn's Oxford Symphony come out. It was a binaural, ultra-fidelity
job, and I could close my eyes and feel the orchestra in front of me.

This time I was thorough, right down the line, from the cabinets that
held luxury food and wine to the little drawer where he kept his
dress-suit studs; they might have been rutiles, but I had a hunch they
were genuine catseyes.

He laughed when I finished, and handed me a glass of the first decent wine
I'd tasted in months. "Even a small ozonator to make the air seem more
breathable, and a dehumidifier, Tremaine. I like to live decently. I
started saving my money once with the idea of getting a ship of my own--"
There was a real dream in his eyes for a second. Then he shrugged. "But
ships got bigger and more expensive. So I decided to live. At forty, I've
got maybe twenty years ahead here, and I mean to enjoy it. And--well,
there are ways of making a bit extra...."

I nodded. So it's officially smuggling to carry a four-ounce Martian
fur to Earth where it's worth a fortune, considering the legal duty.
But most officers did it now and then. He put on Sibelius' Fourth
while I finished the wine. "If this mess is ever over, Paul, or you
get a chance, drop down," he said. "I like a man who knows good
things--and I liked your reaction when you spotted that Haydn for
Hohmann's recording. Muller pretends to know music, but he likes the
flashiness of Möhlwehr."

Hell, I'd cut my eye teeth on that stuff; my father had been first
violinist in an orchestra, and had considered me a traitor when I was
born without perfect pitch. We talked about Sibelius for awhile,
before I left to go out into the stinking rest of the ship. Grundy was
sitting before the engines, staring at them. Wilcox had said the big
ape liked to watch them move ... but he was supposed to be locked up.

       *       *       *       *       *

I stopped by Lomax's door; the shutter was open, and I could see the
big man writhing about, but he was apparently unconscious. Napier came
back from somewhere, and nodded quickly.

"Concussion," he said. "He's still out, but it shouldn't be too
serious."

"Grundy's loose." I'd expected surprise, but there was none. "Why?"

He shrugged. "Muller claimed he needed his mate free to handle the
crew, and that there was no place the man could go. I think it was
because the men are afraid they'll be outnumbered by your group." His
mouth smiled, but it was suddenly bitter. "Jenny talked Pietro into
agreeing with Muller."

Mess was on when I reached the group. I wasn't hungry. The wine had
cut the edge from my appetite, and the slow increase of poison in the
air was getting me, as it was the others. Sure, carbon dioxide isn't a
real poison--but no organism can live in its own waste, all the same.
I had a rotten headache. I sat there playing a little game I'd
invented--trying to figure which ones I'd eliminate if some had to
die. Jenny laughed up at Muller, and I added him to the list. Then I
changed it, and put her in his place. I was getting sick of the little
witch, though I knew it would be different if she'd been laughing up
at me. And then, because of the sick-calf look on Bill Sanderson's
face as he stared at Eve, I added him, though I'd always liked the
guy. Eve, surprisingly, had as many guys after her as Jenny; but she
didn't seem interested. Or maybe she did--she'd pulled her hair back
and put on a dress that made her figure look good. Either flattery was
working, or she was entering into the last-days feeling most of us
had.

Napier came in and touched my shoulder. "Lomax is conscious, and he's
asking for you," he said, too low for the others to hear.

I found the chemist conscious, all right, but sick--and scared. His
face winced, under all the bandages, as I opened the door. Then he saw
who it was, and relaxed. "Paul--what happened to me? The last I
remember is going up to see that second batch of plants poisoned.
But--well, this is something I must have got later...."

I told him, as best I could. "But don't you remember anything?"

"Not a thing about that. It's the same as Napier told me, and I've
been trying to remember. Paul, you don't think--?"

I put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back gently. "Don't be a
damned fool, Hal. I know you're no killer."

"But somebody is, Paul. Somebody tried to kill me while I was
unconscious!"

He must have seen my reaction. "They did, Paul. I don't know how I
know--maybe I almost came to--but somebody tried to poke a stick
through the door with a knife on it. They want to kill me."

[Illustration]

I tried to calm him down until Napier came and gave him a sedative.
The doctor seemed as sick about Hal's inability to remember as I was,
though he indicated it was normal enough in concussion cases. "So is
the hallucination," he added. "He'll be all right tomorrow."

In that, Napier was wrong. When the doctor looked in on him the next
time, the big chemist lay behind a door that had been pried open, with
a long galley knife through his heart. On the bloody sheet, his finger
had traced something in his own blood.

"_It was_...." But the last "s" was blurred, and there was nothing
more.


IV

I don't know how many were shocked at Hal's death, or how many looked
around and counted one less pair of lungs. He'd never been one of the
men I'd envied the air he used, though, and I think most felt the
same. For awhile, we didn't even notice that the air was even thicker.

Phil Riggs broke the silence following our inspection of Lomax's
cabin. "That damned Bullard! I'll get him, I'll get him as sure as he
got Hal!"

There was a rustle among the others, and a suddenly crystallized hate
on their faces. But Muller's hoarse shout cut through the babble that
began, and rose over even the anguished shrieking of the cook. "Shut
up, the lot of you! Bullard couldn't have committed the other crimes.
Any one of you is a better suspect. Stop snivelling, Bullard, this
isn't a lynching mob, and it isn't going to be one!"

"What about Grundy?" Walt Harris yelled.

Wilcox pushed forward. "Grundy couldn't have done it. He's the logical
suspect, but he was playing rummy with my men."

The two engine men nodded agreement, and we began filing back to the
mess hall, with the exception of Bullard, who shoved back into a
niche, trying to avoid us. Then, when we were almost out of his sight,
he let out a shriek and came blubbering after us.

I watched them put Hal Lomax's body through the 'tween-hulls lock, and
turned toward the engine room; I could use some of that wine, just as
the ship could have used a trained detective. But the idea of watching
helplessly while the engines purred along to remind me I was just a
handyman for the rest of my life got mixed up with the difficulty of
breathing the stale air, and I started to turn back. My head was
throbbing, and for two cents I'd have gone out between the hulls
beside Lomax and the others and let the foul air spread out there and
freeze....

The idea was slow coming. Then I was running back toward the engines.
I caught up with Wilcox just before he went into his own quarters.
"Wilcox!"

He swung around casually, saw it was me, and motioned inside. "How
about some Bartok, Paul? Or would you rather soothe your nerves with
some first-rate Buxtehude organ...."

"Damn the music," I told him. "I've got a wild idea to get rid of this
carbon dioxide, and I want to know if we can get it working with what
we've got."

He snapped to attention at that. Half-way through my account, he
fished around and found a bottle of Armagnac. "I get it. If we pipe
our air through the passages between the hulls on the shadow side, it
will lose its heat in a hurry. And we can regulate its final
temperature by how fast we pipe it through--just keep it moving enough
to reach the level where carbon dioxide freezes out, but the oxygen
stays a gas. Then pass it around the engines--we'll have to cut out
the normal cooling set-up, but that's okay--warm it up.... Sure, I've
got equipment enough for that. We can set it up in a day. Of course,
it won't give us any more oxygen, but we'll be able to breathe what we
have. To success, Paul!"

I guess it was good brandy, but I swallowed mine while calling Muller
down, and never got to taste it.

It's surprising how much easier the air got to breathe after we'd
double-checked the idea. In about fifteen minutes, we were all milling
around in the engine room, while Wilcox checked through equipment. But
there was no question about it. It was even easier than we'd thought.
We could simply bypass the cooling unit, letting the engine housings
stay open to the between-hulls section; then it was simply a matter of
cutting a small opening into that section at the other end of the ship
and installing a sliding section to regulate the amount of air flowing
in. The exhaust from the engine heat pumps was reversed, and run out
through a hole hastily knocked in the side of the wall.

Naturally, we let it flow too fast at first. Space is a vacuum, which
means it's a good insulator. We had to cut the air down to a trickle.
Then Wilcox ran into trouble because his engines wouldn't cool with
that amount of air. He went back to supervise a patched-up job of
splitting the coolers into sections, which took time. But after that,
we had it.

I went through the hatch with Muller and Pietro. With air there there
was no need to wear space suits, but it was so cold that we could take
it for only a minute or so. That was long enough to see a faint, fine
mist of dry ice snow falling. It was also long enough to catch a sight
of the three bodies there. I didn't enjoy that, and Pietro gasped.
Muller grimaced. When we came back, he sent Grundy in to move the
bodies to a hull-section where our breathing air wouldn't pass over
them. It wasn't necessary, of course. But somehow, it seemed
important.

By lunch, the air seemed normal. We shipped only pure oxygen at about
three pounds pressure, instead of loading it with a lot of useless
nitrogen. With the carbon dioxide cut back to normal levels, it was as
good as ever. The only difference was that the fans had to be set to
blow in a different pattern. We celebrated, and even Bullard seemed to
have perked up. He dug out pork chops and almost succeeded in making
us cornbread out of some coarse flour I saw him pouring out of the
food chopper. He had perked up enough to bewail the fact that all he
had was canned spinach instead of turnip greens.

But by night, the temper had changed--and the food indicated it again.
Bullard's cooking was turning into a barometer of the psychic
pressure. We'd had time to realize that we weren't getting something
for nothing. Every molecule of carbon-dioxide that crystallized out
took two atoms of oxygen with it, completely out of circulation.

       *       *       *       *       *

We were also losing water-vapor, we found; normally, any one of our
group knew enough science to know that the water would fall out before
the carbon dioxide, but we hadn't thought of it. We took care of that,
however, by having Wilcox weld in a baffle and keep the section where
the water condensed separate from the carbon dioxide snowfall. We
could always shovel out the real ice, and meantime the ship's controls
restored the moisture to the air easily enough.

But there was nothing we could do about the oxygen. When that was
gone, it stayed gone. The plants still took care of about two-thirds
of our waste--but the other third was locked out there between the
hulls. Given plants enough, we could have thawed it and let them
reconvert it; a nice idea, except that we had to wait three months to
take care of it, if we lived that long.

Bullard's cooking began to get worse. Then suddenly, we got one good
meal. Eve Nolan came down the passage to announce that Bullard was
making cake, with frosting, canned huckleberry pie, and all the works.
We headed for the mess hall, fast.

It was the cook's masterpiece. Muller came down late, though, and
regarded it doubtfully. "There's something funny," he said as he
settled down beside me. Jenny had been surrounded by Napier and
Pietro. "Bullard came up babbling a few minutes ago. I don't like it.
Something about eating hearty, because he'd saved us all, forever and
ever. He told me the angels were on our side, because a beautiful
angel with two halos came to him in his sleep and told him how to save
us. I chased him back to the galley, but I don't like it."

Most of them had already eaten at least half of the food, but I saw
Muller wasn't touching his. The rest stopped now, as the words sank
in, and Napier looked shocked. "No!" he said, but his tone wasn't
positive. "He's a weakling, but I don't think he's insane--not enough
to poison us."

"There was that food poisoning before," Pietro said suddenly. "Paul,
come along. And don't eat anything until we come back."

We broke the record getting to the galley. There Bullard sat, beaming
happily, eating from a huge plate piled with the food he had cooked. I
checked on it quickly--and there wasn't anything he'd left out. He
looked up, and his grin widened foolishly.

"Hi, docs," he said. "Yes, sir, I knowed you'd be coming. It all came
to me in a dream. Looked just like my wife twenty years ago, she did,
with green and yellow halos. And she told it to me. Told me I'd been a
good man, and nothing was going to happen to me. Not to good old Emery
Bullard. Had it all figgered out."

He speared a big forkful of food and crammed it into his mouth,
munching noisily. "Had it all figgered. Pop-corn. Best damned pop-corn
you ever saw, kind they raise not fifty miles from where I was born.
You know, I didn't useta like you guys. But now I love everybody. When
we get to Saturn, I'm gonna make up for all the times I didn't give
you pop-corn. We'll pop and we'll pop. And beans, too. I useta hate
beans. Always beans on a ship. But now we're saved, and I love
beans!"

He stared after us, half coming out of his seat. "Hey, docs, ain't you
gonna let me tell you about it?"

"Later, Bullard," Pietro called back. "Something just came up. We want
to hear all about it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Inside the mess hall, he shrugged. "He's eating the food himself. If
he's crazy, he's in a happy stage of it. I'm sure he isn't trying to
poison us." He sat down and began eating, without any hesitation.

I didn't feel as sure, and suspected he didn't. But it was too late to
back out. Together, we summarized what he'd told us, while Napier
puzzled over it. Finally the doctor shrugged. "Visions. Euphoria.
Disconnection with reality. Apparently something of a delusion that
he's to save the world. I'm not a psychiatrist, but it sounds like
insanity to me. Probably not dangerous. At least, while he wants to
save us, we won't have to worry about the food. Still...."

Wilcox mulled it over, and resumed the eating he had neglected before.

"Grundy claimed he'd been down near the engine room, trying to get
permission to pop something in the big pile. I thought Grundy was just
getting his stories mixed up. But--pop-corn!"

"I'll have him locked in his cabin," Muller decided. He picked up the
nearest handset, saw that it was to the galley, and switched quickly.
"Grundy, lock Bullard up. And no rough stuff this time." Then he
turned to Napier. "Dr. Napier, you'll have to see him and find out
what you can."

I guess there's a primitive fear of insanity in most of us. We felt
sick, beyond the nagging worry about the food. Napier got up at once.
"I'll give him a sedative. Maybe it's just nerves, and he'll snap out
of it after a good sleep. Anyhow, your mate can stand watching."

"Who can cook?" Muller asked. His eyes swung down the table toward
Jenny.

I wondered how she'd get out of that. Apparently she'd never told
Muller about the scars she still had from spilled grease, and how
she'd never forgiven her mother or been able to go near a kitchen
since. But I should have guessed. She could remember my stories, too.
Her eyes swung up toward mine pleadingly.

Eve Nolan stood up suddenly. "I'm not only a good cook, but I enjoy
it," she stated flatly, and there was disgust in the look she threw at
Jenny. She swung toward me. "How about it, Paul, can you wrestle the
big pots around for me?"

"I used to be a short order cook when I was finishing school," I told
her. But she'd ruined the line. The grateful look and laugh from Jenny
weren't needed now. And curiously, I felt grateful to Eve for it. I
got up and went after Napier.

I found him in Bullard's little cubbyhole of a cabin. He must have
chased Grundy off, and now he was just drawing a hypo out of the
cook's arm. "It'll take the pain away," he was saying softly. "And
I'll see that he doesn't hit you again. You'll be all right, now. And
in the morning, I'll come and listen to you. Just go to sleep. Maybe
she'll come back and tell you more."

He must have heard me, since he signalled me out with his hand, and
backed out quietly himself, still talking. He shut the door, and
clicked the lock.

Bullard heard it, though. He jerked to a sitting position, and
screamed. "_No!_ No! He'll kill me! I'm a good man...."

He hunched up on the bed, forcing the sheet into his mouth. When he
looked up a second later, his face was frozen in fear, but it was a
desperate, calm kind of fear. He turned to face us, and his voice
raised to a full shout, with every word as clear as he could make it.

"All right. Now I'll never tell you the secret. Now you can all die
without air. I promise I'll never tell you what I know!"

He fell back, beating at the sheet with his hand and sobbing
hysterically. Napier watched him. "Poor devil," the doctor said at
last. "Well, in another minute the shot will take effect. Maybe he's
lucky. He won't be worrying for awhile. And maybe he'll be rational
tomorrow."

"All the same, I'm going to stand guard until Muller gets someone else
here," I decided. I kept remembering Lomax.

Napier nodded, and half an hour later Bill Sanderson came to take over
the watch. Bullard was sleeping soundly.

The next day, though, he woke up to start moaning and writhing again.
But he was keeping his word. He refused to answer any questions.
Napier looked worried as he reported he'd given the cook another shot
of sedative. There was nothing else he could do.

Cooking was a relief, in a way. By the time Eve and I had scrubbed all
the pots into what she considered proper order, located some of the
food lockers, and prepared and served a couple of meals, we'd evolved
a smooth system that settled into a routine with just enough work to
help keep our minds off the dwindling air in the tanks. In anything
like a kitchen, she lost most of her mannish pose and turned into a
live, efficient woman. And she could cook.

"First thing I learned," she told me. "I grew up in a kitchen. I guess
I'd never have turned to photography if my kid brother hadn't been
using our sink for his darkroom."

Wilcox brought her a bottle of his wine to celebrate her first dinner.
He seemed to want to stick around, but she chased him off after the
first drink. We saved half the bottle to make a sauce the next day.

It never got made. Muller called a council of war, and his face was
pinched and old. He was leaning on Jenny as Eve and I came into the
mess hall; oddly, she seemed to be trying to buck him up. He got down
to the facts as soon as all of us were together.

"Our oxygen tanks are empty," he announced. "They shouldn't be--but
they are. Someone must have sabotaged them before the plants were
poisoned--and done it so the dials don't show it. I just found it out
when the automatic switch to a new tank failed to work. We now have
the air in the ship, and no more. Dr. Napier and I have figured that
this will keep us all alive with the help of the plants for no more
than fifteen days. I am open to any suggestions!"

       *       *       *       *       *

There was silence after that, while it soaked in. Then it was broken
by a thin scream from Phil Riggs. He slumped into a seat and buried
his head in his hands. Pietro put a hand on the man's thin shoulders,
"Captain Muller--"

"Kill 'em!" It was Grundy's voice, bellowing sharply. "Let'em breathe
space! They got us into it! We can make out with the plants left! It's
our ship!"

Muller had walked forward. Now his fist lashed out, and Grundy
crumpled. He lay still for a second, then got to his feet unsteadily.
Jenny screamed, but Muller moved steadily back to his former place
without looking at the mate. Grundy hesitated, fumbled in his pocket
for something, and swallowed it.

"Captain, sir!" His voice was lower this time.

"Yes, Mr. Grundy?"

"How many of us can live off the plants?"

"Ten--perhaps eleven."

"Then--then give us a lottery!"

Pietro managed to break in over the yells of the rest of the crew. "I
was about to suggest calling for volunteers, Captain Muller. I still
have enough faith in humanity to believe...."

"You're a fool, Dr. Pietro," Muller said flatly. "Do you think Grundy
would volunteer? Or Bullard? But thanks for clearing the air, and
admitting your group has nothing more to offer. A lottery seems to be
the only fair system."

He sat down heavily. "We have tradition on this; in an emergency such
as this, death lotteries have been held, and have been considered
legal afterwards. Are there any protests?"

I could feel my tongue thicken in my mouth. I could see the others
stare about, hoping someone would object, wondering if this could be
happening. But nobody answered, and Muller nodded reluctantly. "A
working force must be left. Some men are indispensable. We must have
an engineer, a navigator, and a doctor. One man skilled with
engine-room practice and one with deck work must remain."

"And the cook goes," Grundy yelled. His eyes were intent and slitted
again.

Some of both groups nodded, but Muller brought his fist down on the
table. "This will be a legal lottery, Mr. Grundy. Dr. Napier will draw
for him."

"And for myself," Napier said. "It's obvious that ten men aren't going
on to Saturn--you'll have to turn back, or head for Jupiter. Jupiter,
in fact, is the only sensible answer. And a ship can get along without
a doctor that long when it has to. I demand my right to the draw."

Muller only shrugged and laid down the rules. They were simple enough.
He would cut drinking straws to various lengths, and each would draw
one. The two deck hands would compare theirs, and the longer would be
automatically safe. The same for the pair from the engine-room. Wilcox
was safe. "Mr. Peters and I will also have one of us eliminated," he
added quietly. "In an emergency, our abilities are sufficiently
alike."

The remaining group would have their straws measured, and the seven
shortest ones would be chosen to remove themselves into a vacant
section between hulls without air within three hours, or be forcibly
placed there. The remaining ten would head for Jupiter if no miracle
removed the danger in those three hours.

Peters got the straws, and Muller cut them and shuffled them. There
was a sick silence that let us hear the sounds of the scissors with
each snip. Muller arranged them so the visible ends were even. "Ladies
first," he said. There was no expression on his face or in his voice.

Jenny didn't giggle, but neither did she balk. She picked a straw, and
then shrieked faintly. It was obviously a long one. Eve reached for
hers--

And Wilcox yelled suddenly. "Captain Muller, protest! Protest! You're
using all long straws for the women!" He had jumped forward, and now
struck down Muller's hand, proving his point.

"You're quite right, Mr. Wilcox," Muller said woodenly. He dropped his
hand toward his lap and came up with a group of the straws that had
been cut, placed there somehow without our seeing it. He'd done a
smooth job of it, but not smooth enough. "I felt some of you would
notice it, but I also felt that gentlemen would prefer to see ladies
given the usual courtesies."

He reshuffled the assorted straws, and then paused. "Mr. Tremaine,
there was a luxury liner named the _Lauri Ellu_ with an assistant
engineer by your name; and I believe you've shown a surprising
familiarity with certain customs of space. A few days ago, Jenny
mentioned something that jogged my memory. Can you still perform the
duties of an engineer?"

Wilcox had started to protest at the delay. Now shock ran through him.
He stared unbelievingly from Muller to me and back, while his face
blanched. I could guess what it must have felt like to see certain
safety cut to a 50 per cent chance, and I didn't like the way Muller
was willing to forget until he wanted to take a crack at Wilcox for
punishment. But....

"I can," I answered. And then, because I was sick inside myself for
cutting under Wilcox, I managed to add, "But I--I waive my chance at
immunity!"

"Not accepted," Muller decided. "Jenny, will you draw?"

It was pretty horrible. It was worse when the pairs compared straws.
The animal feelings were out in the open then. Finally, Muller,
Wilcox, and two crewmen dropped out. The rest of us went up to measure
our straws.

It took no more than a minute. I stood staring down at the ruler,
trying to stretch the tiny thing I'd drawn. I could smell the sweat
rising from my body. But I knew the answer. I had three hours left!

       *       *       *       *       *

"Riggs, Oliver, Nolan, Harris, Tremaine, Napier and Grundy," Muller
announced.

A yell came from Grundy. He stood up, with the engine man named
Oliver, and there was a gun in his hand. "No damned big brain's
kicking me off my ship," he yelled. "You guys know me. Hey,
_roooob_!"

Oliver was with him, and the other three of the crew sprang into the
group. I saw Muller duck a shot from Grundy's gun, and leap out of the
room. Then I was in it, heading for Grundy. Beside me, Peters was
trying to get a chair broken into pieces. I felt something hit my
shoulder, and the shock knocked me downward, just as a shot whistled
over my head.

Gravity cut off!

Someone bounced off me. I got a piece of the chair that floated by,
found the end cracked and sharp, and tried to spin towards Grundy, but
I couldn't see him. I heard Eve's voice yell over the other shouts. I
spotted the plate coming for me, but I was still in midair. It came on
steadily, edge on, and I felt it break against my forehead. Then I
blacked out.


V

I had the grandaddy of all headaches when I came to. Doc Napier's face
was over me, and Jenny and Muller were working on Bill Sanderson.
There was a surprisingly small and painful lump on my head. Pietro and
Napier helped me up, and I found I could stand after a minute.

There were four bodies covered with sheets on the floor. "Grundy, Phil
Riggs, Peters and a deckhand named Storm," Napier said. "Muller gave
us a whiff of gas and not quite in time."

"Is the time up?" I asked. It was the only thing I could think of.

Pietro shook his head sickly. "Lottery is off. Muller says we'll have
to hold another, since Storm and Peters were supposed to be safe. But
not until tomorrow."

Eve came in then, lugging coffee. Her eyes found me, and she managed a
brief smile. "I gave the others coffee," she reported to Muller.
"They're pretty subdued now."

"Mutiny!" Muller helped Jenny's brother to his feet and began helping
him toward the door. "Mutiny! And I have to swallow that!"

Pietro watched him go, and handed Eve back his cup. "And there's no
way of knowing who was on which side. Dr. Napier, could you do
something...."

He held out his hands that were shaking, and Napier nodded. "I can use
a sedative myself. Come on back with me."

Eve and I wandered back to the kitchen. I was just getting my senses
back. The damned stupidity of it all. And now it would have to be
done over. Three of us still had to have our lives snuffed out so the
others could live--and we all had to go through hell again to find out
which.

Eve must have been thinking the same. She sank down on a little stool,
and her hand came out to find mine. "For what? Paul, whoever poisoned
the plants knew it would go this far! He had to! What's to be gained?
Particularly when he'd have to go through all this, too! He must have
been crazy!"

"Bullard couldn't have done it," I said slowly.

"Why should it be Bullard? How do we know he was insane? Maybe when he
was shouting that he wouldn't tell, he was trying to make a bribe to
save his own life. Maybe he's as scared as we are. Maybe he was making
sense all along, if we'd only listened to him. He--"

She stood up and started back toward the lockers, but I caught her
hand. "Eve, he wouldn't have done it--the killer--if he'd had to go
through the lottery! He knew he was safe! That's the one thing we've
been overlooking. The man to suspect is the only man who could be sure
he would get back! My God, we saw him juggle those straws to save
Jenny! He knew he'd control the lottery."

She frowned. "But ... Paul, he practically suggested the lottery!
Grundy brought it up, but he was all ready for it." The frown
vanished, then returned. "But I still can't believe it."

"He's the one who wanted to go back all the time. He kept insisting on
it, but he had to get back without violating his contract." I grabbed
her hand and started toward the nose of the ship, justifying it to her
as I went. "The only man with a known motive for returning, the only
one completely safe--and we didn't even think of it!"

She was still frowning, but I wasn't wasting time. We came up the
corridor to the control room. Ahead the door was slightly open, and I
could hear a mutter of Jenny's voice. Then there was the tired rumble
of Muller.

"I'll find a way, baby. I don't care how close they watch, we'll make
it work. Pick the straw with the crimp in the end--I can do that, even
if I can't push one out further again. I tell you, nothing's going to
happen to you."

"But Bill--" she began.

I hit the door, slamming it open. Muller sat on a narrow couch with
Jenny on his lap. I took off for him, not wasting a good chance when
he was handicapped. But I hadn't counted on Jenny. She was up, and
her head banged into my stomach before I knew she was coming. I felt
the wind knocked out, but I got her out of my way--to look up into the
muzzle of a gun in Muller's hands.

"You'll explain this, Mr. Tremaine," he said coldly. "In ten seconds,
I'll have an explanation or a corpse."

"Go ahead," I told him. "Shoot, damn you! You'll get away with this,
too, I suppose. Mutiny, or something. And down in that rotten soul of
yours, I suppose you'll be gloating at how you made fools of us. The
only man on board who was safe even from a lottery, and we couldn't
see it. Jenny, I hope you'll be happy with this butcher. Very happy!"

He never blinked. "Say that about the only safe man aboard again," he
suggested.

I repeated it, with details. But he didn't like my account. He turned
to Eve, and motioned for her to take it up. She was frowning harder,
and her voice was uncertain, but she summed up our reasons quickly
enough.

And suddenly Muller was on his feet. "Mr. Tremaine, for a damned
idiot, you have a good brain. You found the key to the problem, even
if you couldn't find the lock. Do you know what happens to a captain
who permits a death lottery, even what I called a legal one? He
doesn't captain a liner--he shoots himself after he delivers his ship,
if he's wise! Come on, we'll find the one indispensable man. You stay
here, Jenny--you too, Eve!"

Jenny whimpered, but stayed. Eve followed, and he made no comment. And
then it hit me. The man who had _thought_ he was indispensable, and
hence safe--the man I'd naturally known in the back of my head could
be replaced, though no one else had known it until a little while ago.

"He must have been sick when you ran me in as a ringer," I said, as we
walked down toward the engine hatch. "But why?"

"I've just had a wild guess as to part of it," Muller said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Wilcox was listening to the Buxtehude when we shoved the door of his
room open, and he had his head back and eyes closed. He snapped to
attention, and reached out with one hand toward a drawer beside him.
Then he dropped his arm and stood up, to cut off the tape player.

"Mr. Wilcox," Muller said quietly, holding the gun firmly on the
engineer. "Mr. Wilcox, I've detected evidence of some of the Venus
drugs on your two assistants for some time. It's rather hard to miss
the signs in their eyes. I've also known that Mr. Grundy was an
addict. I assumed that they were getting it from him naturally. And as
long as they performed their duties, I couldn't be choosy on an old
ship like this. But for an officer to furnish such drugs--and to
smuggle them from Venus for sale to other planets--is something I
cannot tolerate. It will make things much simpler if you will
surrender those drugs to me. I presume you keep them in those bottles
of wine you bring aboard?"

Wilcox shook his head slowly, settling back against the tape machine.
Then he shrugged and bowed faintly. "The chianti, sir!"

I turned my head toward the bottles, and Eve started forward. Then I
yelled as Wilcox shoved his hand down toward the tape machine. The gun
came out on a spring as he touched it.

Muller shot once, and the gun missed Wilcox's fingers as the
engineer's hand went to his hip, where blood was flowing. He collapsed
into the chair behind him, staring at the spot stupidly. "I cut my
teeth on _tough_ ships, Mr. Wilcox," Muller said savagely.

The man's face was white, but he nodded slowly, and a weak grin came
onto his lips. "Maybe you didn't exaggerate those stories at that," he
conceded slowly. "I take it I drew a short straw."

"Very short. It wasn't worth it. No profit from the piddling sale of
drugs is worth it."

"There's a group of strings inside the number one fuel locker," Wilcox
said between his teeth. The numbness was wearing off, and the
shattered bones in his hip were beginning to eat at him. "Paul, pull
up one of the packages and bring it here, will you?"

I found it without much trouble--along with a whole row of others,
fine cords cemented to the side of the locker. The package I drew up
weighed about ten pounds. Wilcox opened it and scooped out a
thimbleful of greenish powder. He washed it down with wine.

"Fatal?" Muller asked.

The man nodded. "In that dosage, after a couple of hours. But it cuts
out the pain--ah, better already. I won't feel it. Captain, I was
never piddling. Your ship has been the sole source of this drug to
Mars since a year or so after I first shipped on her. There are about
seven hundred pounds of pure stuff out there. Grundy and the others
would commit public murder daily rather than lose the few ounces a
year I gave them. Imagine what would happen when Pietro conscripted
the _Wahoo_ and no drugs arrived. The addicts find out no more is
coming--they look for the peddlers--and _they_ start looking for their
suppliers...."

He shrugged. "There might have been time and ways, if I could have
gotten the ship back to Earth or Jupiter. It might have been
recommissioned into the Earth-Mars-Venus run, even. Pietro's
injunction caught me before I could transship, but with another
chance, I might have gotten the stuff to Mars in time.... Well, it was
a chance I took. Satisfied?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Eve stared at him with horrified eyes. Maybe I was looking the same.
It was plain enough now. He'd planned to poison the plants and drive
us back. Murder of Hendrix had been a blunder when he'd thought it
wasn't working properly. "What about Sam?" I asked.

"Blackmail. He was too smart. He'd been sure Grundy was smuggling the
stuff, and raking off from him. He didn't care who killed Hendrix as
much as how much Grundy would pay to keep his mouth shut--with murder
around, he figured Grundy'd get rattled. The fool did, and Sam smelled
bigger stakes. Grundy was bait to get him down near here. I killed
him."

"And Lomax?"

"I don't know. Maybe he was bluffing. But he kept going from room to
room with a pocketful of chemicals, making some kind of tests. I
couldn't take a chance on his being able to spot chromazone. So I had
Grundy give him my keys and tell him to go ahead--then jump him."

And after that, when he wasn't quite killed, they'd been forced to
finish the job. Wilcox shrugged again. "I guess it got out of hand.
I'll make a tape of the whole story for you, Captain. But I'd
appreciate it if you'd get Napier down here. This is getting pretty
messy."

"He's on the way," Eve said. We hadn't seen her call, but the doctor
arrived almost immediately afterwards.

He sniffed the drug, and questioned us about the dose Wilcox had
taken. Then he nodded slowly. "About two hours, I'd say. No chance at
all to save him. The stuff is absorbed almost at once and begins
changing to something else in the blood. I'll be responsible, if you
want."

Muller shrugged. "I suppose so. I'd rather deliver him in irons to a
jury, but.... Well, we still have a lottery to hold!"

It jerked us back to reality sharply. Somehow, I'd been fighting off
the facts, figuring that finding the cause would end the results. But
even with Wilcox out of the picture, there were twelve of us left--and
air for only ten!

Wilcox laughed abruptly. "A favor for a favor. I can give you a better
answer than a lottery."

"Pop-corn! Bullard!" Eve slapped her head with her palm. "Captain,
give me the master key." She snatched it out of his hand and was gone
at a run.

Wilcox looked disappointed, and then grinned. "Pop-corn and beans. I
overlooked them myself. We're a bunch of city hicks. But when Bullard
forgot his fears in his sleep, he remembered the answer--and got it so
messed up with his dream and his new place as a hero that my complaint
tipped the balance. Grundy put the fear of his God into him then. And
you didn't get it. Captain, you don't dehydrate beans and
pop-corn--they come that way naturally. You don't can them, either, if
you're saving weight. They're seeds--put them in tanks and they grow!"

He leaned back, trying to laugh at us, as Napier finished dressing his
wound. "Bullard knows where the lockers are. And corn grows pretty
fast. It'll carry you through. Do I get that favor? It's simple
enough--just to have Beethoven's Ninth on the machine and for the
whole damned lot of you to get out of my cabin and let me die in my
own way!"

Muller shrugged, but Napier found the tape and put it on. I wanted to
see the louse punished for every second of worry, for Lomax, for
Hendrix--even for Grundy. But there wasn't much use in vengeance at
this point.

"You're to get all this, Paul," Wilcox said as we got ready to leave.
"Captain Muller, everything here goes to Tremaine. I'll make a tape on
that, too. But I want it to go to a man who can appreciate Hohmann's
conducting."

Muller closed the door. "I guess it's yours," he admitted. "Now that
you're head engineer here, Mr. Tremaine, the cabin is automatically
yours. Take over. And get that junk in the fuel locker cleaned
out--except enough to keep your helpers going. They'll need it, and
we'll need their work."

"I'll clean out his stuff at the same time," I said. "I don't want any
part of it."

He smiled then, just as Eve came down with Bullard and Pietro. The fat
cook was sobered, but already beginning to fill with his own
importance. I caught snatches as they began to discuss Bullard's
knowledge of growing things. It was enough to know that we'd all
live, though it might be tough for a while.

Then Muller gestured upwards. "You've got a reduced staff, Dr. Pietro.
Do you intend going on to Saturn?"

"We'll go on," Pietro decided. And Muller nodded. They turned and
headed upwards.

I stood staring at my engines. One of them was a touch out of phase
and I went over and corrected it. They'd be mine for over two
years--and after that, I'd be back on the lists.

Eve came over beside me, and studied them with me. Finally she sighed
softly. "I guess I can see why you feel that way about them, Paul,"
she said. "And I'll be coming down to look at them. But right now,
Bullard's too busy to cook, and everyone's going to be hungry when
they find we're saved."

I chuckled, and felt the relief wash over me finally. I dropped my
hand from the control and caught hers--a nice, friendly hand.

But at the entrance I stopped and looked back toward the cabin where
Wilcox lay. I could just make out the second movement of the Ninth
beginning.

I never could stand the cheap blatancy of Hohmann's conducting.

       *       *       *       *       *





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