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Title: Blow the Man Down
Author: Fontenay, Charles L.
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 "Blow the Man Down" ***

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                           BLOW THE MAN DOWN

                        BY CHARLES L. FONTENAY

                 _Hijacking the_ By Jove! _was
                      quite elementary. Hijacking
                     the crew was something else.
                   And therein lay Captain Vebrug's
                       margin for error...._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
               Worlds of If Science Fiction, March 1955.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


When Captain Albrekt Vebrug of the Flanjo intelligence service took
over the Mars-Titan freighter _By Jove!_, it was no such terrestrial
foolishness as mercy that prevented him from liquidating the ship's
three-man crew.

Sure in his own wolfish strength, his attitude was that three
peace-loving merchant spacemen could do much to contribute to his
personal comfort, if kept under iron control. Besides, with adequate
brain-washing to eliminate loyalty to the Solar Council, their
technical skills could make them quite valuable to the somewhat
undermanned Flanjo base on Rhea.

On the other hand, his concern for the others aboard the ship was so
slight that he would not, on his own, have warned them of the impending
acceleration, which could have injured or killed them.

He made his move at 10 minutes before zero hour. As a paying passenger
from Mars City to Titan, he had the run of the ship, and had been
lounging in the control room for half an hour. Migl, the engineer,
was on duty and was sorting the blast-pattern tapes, a job Qoqol had
started during his shift.

Albrekt simply took a heat gun from the rack, stuck it in Migl's back
and ordered him to leave the control room. Migl took it as a joke, at
first.

"It's no joke," Albrekt assured him, nudging him with the weapon. "Get
below, if you don't want to get burned."

Puzzlement written all over his swarthy face, Migl unstrapped himself
from the captain's chair and pushed himself across the room. Albrekt
slid into the chair, buckled himself in and pulled two rolls of
magnetic tape from the breast pocket of his coveralls. He found the
roll marked "No. 1," stuck the other in the rack beside him and
inserted the end of his tape in the automatic pilot.

Migl paused at the top of the gangway.

"You're not going to blast?" demanded Migl in amazement.

"I am," retorted Albrekt, holding the heat gun steady.

"_Por Dios_, Carrel's not strapped in!" exclaimed the engineer. "You'll
break every bone in his body if you don't give him warning!"

Albrekt glanced at his watch.

"You have five minutes to warn him and strap yourself in," he said. "I
can't be bothered."

Migl vanished down the hatch and Albrekt flicked the switch that closed
and locked it. A moment later the intercom system erupted with Migl's
frantic voice from below:

"General alarm! Prepare for emergency acceleration! General alarm!
Hurry, Carrel!"

Albrekt smiled grimly.

The second hand swept around the face of the chronometer, boosting the
reluctant minute hand forward in jerks. At exactly 1300 hours, Albrekt
pushed the firing button.

The tape chattered through the automatic pilot. Apparently, the makers
of the tape had planned on a fast-get-away: the pressure must have
approached 5-G, pinning Albrekt painfully back against the cushioned
reclining chair.

He was able to move his eyes to watch the outside screens. The other
eleven ships of the convoy, coasting in formation in their orbit,
dwindled behind them and swung gradually to one side.

In a few moments, everything cut off, and weightlessness returned.
Red lights were flashing all over the control board, and distant alarm
bells were clanging in the depths of the ship. Albrekt had no idea what
they meant. He was no spaceman.

The radio loudspeaker crackled and blared. The convoy had discovered
the _By Jove!_'s defection.

"_Themis_ to flagship! _Themis_ to flagship! _By Jove!_ has changed
course! Moving away fast. Position, RA 16-2-1/2, D minus 19-40."

After a moment:

"Flagship to _Themis_: acknowledged. Flagship to _By Jove!_ Flagship to
_By Jove!_ Carrel, what the hell?"

Albrekt grinned.

"_Themis_ to flagship," called the loudspeaker, when silence greeted
the query. "Shall we follow?"

"Flagship to _Themis_ and all vessels. If you're that flush with fuel,
how about passing some around? No pursuit authorized. All vessels take
readings on _By Jove!_'s new orbit as long as it's in range. We'll
alert the patrol to investigate when we're in radio range."

The ship's intercom buzzed.

"Albrekt!" It was the voice of Carrel, the captain.

"Yes?"

"We'll get to the reason for this damn fool stunt later. Right now, do
you plan any further acceleration?"

"Later. I'll warn you in time to strap down."

"I should hope so. Those G's nearly killed Qoqol. This ship wasn't
built for that sort of acceleration, you idiot. Half the seams are
sprung and leaking air."

"Repair them, then," snapped Albrekt. "You'll have time."

During the long silence that ensued, Albrekt sat back and took stock
of the situation. So far, everything had worked perfectly. The other
tape given him by the Flanjo agent on Mars was to be run through the
automatic pilot exactly 200 hours after the first one, when the _By
Jove!_'s diverging orbit carried it beyond range of the convoy's meager
radar equipment.

The control room would be his headquarters for the next few months,
simply because the control room was the only deck of the _By
Jove!_ which could be locked against the rest of the ship. All the
weapons--the heat guns--were in the control room, so Albrekt expected
no trouble on that score.

It was going to be a dull journey from here on out, and Albrekt decided
he would do well to learn as much as he could about handling a space
ship. He swung the chair around and ran his eyes along the shelves of
Carrel's microfilm library. The title _Sailing Space_, by Dr. Russo
Alin, caught his attention.

Albrekt inserted the spool in the projector and started it. An intense
bearded face appeared on the screen, and the recorder said:

"It is not generally known, except to students of technological
history, that the steam powered and electric powered automobile gave
the familiar gasoline powered automobile of the last century a close
race for preference in early automotive history. The factors that
caused the gasoline powered automobile to become predominant are not
important here. What is important is that there were alternative
methods of automotive propulsion...."

This didn't start off well. Albrekt ran the spool up about half way
and tried again. This time, the author was pointing to a well-chalked
blackboard.

"The radiation is so much stronger at Venus than farther out, that it
is here we find most common use of the principle," he said. "Using our
formula, which, you remember, is F equals rA over 2 plus gM, we...."

Disgusted, Albrekt switched it off and took out the spool. He found
another, _Survival for Spacemen_, and tried it. It was a primer on
conditions to be met in space travel, handled in popular vein. It was
the sort of thing Albrekt wanted, and he settled back to listen to it.

It was about nine hours before the last red light on the control board
winked out and the clanging of the last alarm bell died out below. Then
Carrel's voice demanded an accounting over the intercom.

"I'm in command of the ship now," answered Albrekt, awakened from a
light doze by the call. "I intend to remain so. As long as you and the
others recognize that, you won't be harmed."

There was a brief silence.

"The only thing I can figure is that you've gone space happy," said
Carrel at last. "Albrekt, you're no spaceman. You can't have known what
you were doing when you switched on the jets."

Albrekt did not answer.

"Look," said Carrel, "it'll take several days to figure out what sort
of orbit that blast threw us into, and I'm not sure we have enough fuel
to correct it. You'd better let us in."

"We may as well understand each other," said Albrekt. "I'm no spaceman,
but some very good spacemen figured out that blast tape--and the other
one I'm going to use later. I'm a captain in the Flanjo military, and
I've taken this ship and its cargo over, to deliver them to the Flanjo
patrol. None of you will be hurt if you cause no trouble."

"So that's it!" snorted Carrel. "Damned pirate high-jacker! My advice
to you, Albrekt, is to come out of there and let me put you under
arrest, because if you don't we'll be coming in after you."

"Try it, and I'll burn you," retorted Albrekt.

       *       *       *       *       *

After sleeping several times, Albrekt was ready to concede it was not
going to be as cozy in the control room as he had thought at first.
It offered basic comforts of home, but the showers were on the larger
navigation deck below. Several months without a bath promised to be
uncomfortable. All decks carried plenty of emergency rations in case
they were sealed off by a meteor collision, but the rations were not
too tasty, Albrekt's mouth was beginning to water at the thought of the
frozen meals stored two decks below, available to the crew.

Most of Carrel's book tapes were too technical to interest him, but he
spent much of his time listening to those which offered him information
in simple terms. The pattern of meaning of all the dials, switches and
buttons crowded into the control room became a little clearer to him.

Albrekt did not see how the crew, weaponless and locked below, could
challenge his mastery of the ship. He detected the first effort in this
direction about 80 hours after the _By Jove!_ had left the convoy.

Albrekt was eating a meal of emergency rations when he glimpsed
movement on one of the rear screens. He turned his attention to it at
once.

A spacesuited figure was emerging from the airlock, which was in a
narrow waist between the vessel's personnel sphere and the huge cargo
cylinder beneath it. From the suit, it was either Carrel or Migl.

The figure moved cautiously up on the outside of the airlock, gripping
its surface with heavy magnetic shoes. In the hooks of the spacesuit,
it carried two sledge hammers.

Albrekt flipped on the switch to the intercom, which was tuned to the
spacesuit helmet radios as well as the ship's system.

"I'd advise the man in the spacesuit to forget it, and get back
aboard," he said gently. "If he doesn't, I'll sweep the outside surface
with machine gun fire in exactly two minutes."

His fingers hovered over the firing buttons of the heavy weapons the
_By Jove!_ carried for defense against possible marauders. But in a
moment the spacesuited figure reentered the airlock.

"It would take you some time to break into the control room with a
sledge hammer," Albrekt said conversationally into the microphone. "At
the first blow, I'll blast anyone who tries it. That's fair warning."

It was several days later that Albrekt began to feel sleepy long
before his sleeping time. The realization hit him suddenly that for
some time he had been yawning and stretching, relaxing more and more
in the chair, his eyelids getting heavier and heavier. His head was
beginning to ache a little. He slept by the clock and awoke by the
clock. He should not be sleepy for hours yet.

Rousing himself with an effort, he swung bleary eyes around the control
room, anxiously. He could see nothing out of order. But how would one
detect something that made one abnormally sleepy? What could it be?

Illness?

If there were harmful bacteria aboard the ship, they should have struck
many days ago. There was no disease in space itself.

Gas?

If such ships as the _By Jove!_ carried any sort of gas, Albrekt didn't
know about it. He had been briefed on the weapons he might face. Surely
gas would have been mentioned.

Perhaps it was chance, or perhaps some part of his mind was swiftly
scanning what he had learned through his reading of the last few days:
his eyes fell on a bank of dials ranged side by side on the control
board. The hands of all of them were lined up at the same angle--all
but one. It had sunk far to the left.

The legend above the bank of dials read: "OXYGEN." The plate below the
lagging dial read: "Control Room."

Albrekt unstrapped himself from the chair with nervously fumbling
hands. Somehow the crew of the _By Jove!_ was interfering with his
oxygen supply.

Albrekt was beginning to feel a little nauseated. His head throbbed.
He pushed himself across the control room and grabbed the helmet of
the spacesuit that hung there. He did not take time to put on the suit
itself, but pulled the helmet down over his head and switched on the
suit's oxygen supply.

In a moment his head cleared, leaving only a slight headache.

As well as Albrekt remembered from the reading tapes, the ship's oxygen
supply was on one of the lowest decks. The crew evidently had blocked
the line to the control room.

"You'd think there'd be some alarm system for that sort of thing,"
he muttered to himself. But then, of course, the hull had not been
punctured. The dials were supposed to be checked frequently.

The question that faced Albrekt now was how to get out of this trap. He
couldn't live in the spacesuit indefinitely. His hand brushed the heat
gun at his side.

Filling his lungs with deep gulps, he ducked from beneath the helmet
and returned to the control board. He unlocked and opened the hatch
to the navigation deck below. There was an upward swirl of air, and
Albrekt permitted himself to breathe again.

A head poked itself cautiously up the companionway. Carrel. The
captain's face was a strong one, lined with years of decision,
golden-brown with the tan that one gets only from years in the thin air
of Mars. Carrel's dark hair was beginning to gray, but his electric
blue eyes were still young.

He stopped when he saw Albrekt at the control board. Albrekt held the
heat gun on the captain steadily.

"I'm not anywhere near overcome," said Albrekt. "You'd better turn
around and go back down."

Carrel did.

As long as the hatch stayed open, oxygen could not be cut off from
the control room. Albrekt decided he could afford to leave it open,
since he had possession of the weapons. He would have to lock it while
asleep, of course. But, even with the oxygen supply cut off, the
control room should contain enough to carry him for eight hours. If
not, he could set an alarm to wake him every four hours, or even every
two hours, to open the hatch and refresh his air.

The fact that he could leave the hatch open safely gave him another
idea. He was hungry for some food besides the dry emergency rations.

Albrekt checked the chronometer. Within the next two hours, he was
scheduled to run the other blast tape. He would have time.

Heat gun in hand, he moved quietly to the hatch. The companionway was
clear. From below came the murmur of voices. He moved cautiously a few
steps down the metal ladder until he could see beneath the ceiling of
the navigation deck.

Migl was taking a shower on the other side of the room, while Carrel
and Qoqol relaxed in contour chairs beside the dead-reckoning tracer.

"What is Flanjo, Carrel?" asked the booming voice of Qoqol, the
navigator.

Qoqol was a Martian. His round body with its huge oxygen storage hump
was not quite as big as a human body, but his thin arms and legs, each
equipped with half a dozen double joints, were longer than a tall
man's height. They were wrapped around him now, out of the way, and
his big-eyed, big-eared head peered through them like an urchin's face
through a tangle of vines.

"The Flanjos are members of a fanatic sect who believe in human
supremacy," answered Carrel soberly. "More than that, they believe in
their own supremacy over other humans. They revolted against the Solar
Council and have a hidden base our forces haven't been able to locate
yet."

"They are _loco_, Qoqol," said Migl from the shower. "Crazy. They'd
make all you Martians slaves. Us too, probably."

"Why they want this ship?" asked Qoqol.

"For the ship itself, partly," said Carrel. "But our cargo's pretty
strategic, too. It's mostly lithium, which they can use in nuclear
weapons and power plants. They can use the plastics, tools and
machinery we're carrying to improve conditions at their base. The
general opinion I've heard is that their objective is to take over
the Mars colonies. They need fusion weapons for that, but it's hard
to get light elements on the outer moons, where their base is thought
to be. Whatever they have already, 100 tons of lithium will help them
immensely."

"Immensely," assented Albrekt, stepping off the ladder to drift to the
floor. He held the heat gun lightly in his hand. "I'm afraid I'm going
to require all of you to go ahead of me down to the storage deck and
remain there while I enjoy a good lunch."

Silently they complied. The living quarters, where the food was, were
one deck down, the storage deck below it.

Albrekt ate his meal, keeping a watchful eye on the opening between the
living quarters and the storage deck. Then he returned to the control
room, locked the hatch and strapped himself down for blasting.

He kept his promise to Carrel and broadcast a warning of the blast over
the intercom system. At the appointed moment, he ran the blast tape
through the automatic pilot.

The acceleration was not as heavy this time. The ship, safe from the
prying of the convoy's radar, swung slowly from its course and into a
new prearranged orbit, on which a Flanjo vessel was to intercept it in
approximately six months.

       *       *       *       *       *

Space is a lonely place--lonelier than any place on Earth, lonelier
than any place on Mars. No expanse of desert or ocean is so empty as
space, for there one at least has something material beneath him and
around him.

"An experienced spaceman would rather be burned than left alone in
space," said Carrel. "It'll drive most men completely crazy in a pretty
short time. I think you've realized that by now, Albrekt. That's why
you won't kill us."

Albrekt was eating a meal at the table in the living quarters, his
heat gun lying beside his hand. The others were seated on bunks across
the room. Since the only necessity was to protect himself and keep
the others out of the control room, he had discontinued the practice
of making the crew go below while he ate. Despite the atmosphere
of enmity, the conversation and companionship filled a need he was
beginning to recognize more keenly.

"That's true," answered Albrekt agreeably. "For that and other reasons,
I won't kill you unless I'm forced to."

"But there's nothing to prevent our killing you and retaking the ship,"
reminded Carrel.

"Nothing but this." Albrekt laid his hand on his heat gun.

"As a matter of fact, I don't want to kill you, Albrekt," said Carrel.
"I want to capture you alive, and take you back to Mars. I imagine you
have some information about Flanjo plans that would be pretty valuable
to the council."

Albrekt laughed.

"I admire your courage, Carrel," he said. "But I've been in dangerous
positions before, for longer periods than this. I don't intend to let
my guard down."

Carrel apparently was blessed with iron self-control and Qoqol, like
all Martians, habitually showed emotion in ways no Earthman could
interpret. But Albrekt's practiced eye detected Migl's restlessness.
When the crew's move came, two days later, Albrekt was ready for it.

As he had anticipated, it happened at mealtime. Albrekt was beginning
to spend more time outside the control room, always keeping the others
from getting between him and the hatch to higher decks, but mealtime
was the logical time for his guard to be lax.

At some signal Albrekt failed to catch, Carrel and Qoqol launched
themselves directly at him from opposite sides of the round room.
Simultaneously, Migl drove through the air for the hatch to the upper
decks.

Albrekt's muscles reacted like steel springs. Scooping up the heat gun,
he dove across the table and twisted in the air as he floated swiftly
between Carrel and Qoqol. Ignoring them for the moment, he trained the
gun on the hatch to the navigation deck above and pressed the trigger.
Migl had to grab the ladder frantically to keep from drifting head-on
into the sizzling beam that barred his way.

Albrekt anchored himself to a bunk and waved the heat beam in an arc
above their heads. The metal ceiling smoked faintly.

"I won't kill you all unless I have to," he said calmly. "I can get
along easily without one or two of you, though. Before you try anything
like this again, I'd suggest you think seriously about which of you
wants to die first."

Silence answered him. Migl still clung to the companionway ladder,
about halfway up. Carrel clasped his knees in a sitting position about
six inches off the floor near the round table in the center of the
room. Qoqol, unable to stand upright anywhere aboard the ship, crouched
like a spider against the farther wall.

Albrekt switched off the heat beam and motioned at Migl with the gun.
Watching them closely, Albrekt moved to the companionway and pushed
himself up through the hatch.

Locking himself in the control room, he devoted himself to serious
thought for a while. Despite his warning, this sort of thing was likely
to happen often. Eventually it must succeed, if only by the law of
averages.

The trouble was, Albrekt was actually at a slight disadvantage. He knew
by now that the absolute need for companionship in space was not idle
talk. He had no intention of coasting alone, in a silent ship, for five
and a half more months, and being shot as hopelessly insane when his
Flanjo colleagues picked him up at the rendezvous.

One solution, of course, was to kill two of the crew members. Then
neither of the two men left could afford to kill the other. For several
reasons, Albrekt preferred to find another solution. He had heard
rumors that personality conflicts between two people cooped up together
in a spaceship drove them eventually at each other's throats. Another
factor was that, as long as there were three of the others, Albrekt
could hold the threat of killing one or two of them over them. Besides,
their technical knowledge would be valuable to the Flanjos, and Albrekt
wanted to face no disciplinary action for destroying any of them
unnecessarily.

What was the substance of their threat to him, then? He examined it.
Their threat was that they might reach the control room. He could not
lock it from the outside, and he must come outside for good food and
necessary companionship, so that line of reasoning got him nowhere.

But what was behind the threat of their reaching the control room? They
might (a) obtain weapons to match his own; (b) communicate the ship's
position to warships of the Solar Council; (c) swing the ship off its
prearranged course and avoid the rendezvous with the Flanjo vessel.

Solution? Albrekt laughed shortly. There was a solution to all three
problems.

With his heat gun, he reduced the radio transmitter to a molten mess.
Now the _By Jove!_ could still receive, but not send.

Piling all the heat guns in the center of the room, he gave them the
same treatment. The beam left them almost unrecognizeable in the midst
of a shallow crater. He had come very near to burning a hole through
into the navigation deck.

The last step was the most daring of all. It meant that he must trust
absolutely to the accuracy of the two blast tapes he had run through
the automatic pilot. He threw the switches that jettisoned the fuel
tanks.

In the screens, he watched the spheres of hydrazine and nitric acid,
hurled from the ship by spring action, go drifting slowly away into the
void. In effect, the _By Jove!_ was now a voiceless derelict.

Albrekt went below.

"This means that I intend to stand for no more foolishness," he said
harshly when he had told the others what he had done. "If you prefer,
you may draw lots to decide which two I shall kill and which one
shall have the pleasure of my company for the rest of the trip. The
continued existence of all three of you will depend strictly on your
good behavior."

Migl, lolling on a bunk, curled a sardonic lip at him.

"You seem to have gone to a great deal of unnecessary trouble,
_ladrón_," he said. "It is still worth the risk of at least one of our
lives to destroy or capture you."

"You're wrong, Migl," said Carrel soberly. "Now we have no fuel, we
have no radio. The ship is in orbit, and we're helpless to change it.
No matter what we do aboard, the Flanjo ship will intercept us. The
Flanjos will destroy us then if they don't find Albrekt alive and safe."

"An accurate analysis," agreed Albrekt briskly. "You're showing good
sense now, Carrel."

Carrel shrugged and spread his hands. Albrekt felt a little sorry for
him in defeat. He admired Carrel's bravery and resourcefulness.

Albrekt's sleep that night was more carefree than it had been since
the _By Jove!_ pulled free from its satellite orbit around Mars. There
was still danger, of course. He had to be on the alert for a desperate
attempt to disarm him, or an effort to overcome him in the control room
by tampering with the ship's machinery, despite Carrel's surrender. But
it was less likely now.

       *       *       *       *       *

Relations were on a much more cordial basis from then on. Their
conversation returned, almost, to the friendly terms of the earlier
portion of the trip.

"Ever been to the outer planets before, Albrekt?" Carrel asked casually
one day, munching a beef sandwich.

"I spent ten years at the base, before they sent me back to work on
Mars and Earth," Albrekt replied. "I was born on Earth. My father took
me out to the base when I was a boy."

"The base?" repeated Carrel, even more casually.

"On Rhea," said Albrekt deliberately. His faint smile recognized the
attempt to elicit information. "Now, figure some way to tell them back
on Mars!"

He thought Carrel flushed slightly, but could not be sure.

"Ever been to Venus?" asked Carrel.

"Never that far in, I'm afraid," answered Albrekt.

"I don't suppose you passed quite this close to Jupiter on your other
trips?" said Carrel.

"How should I know?" demanded Albrekt. "I'm no spaceman. I don't know
how close to Jupiter we're going now. I don't remember anything said
about Jupiter on my trips."

"They'd have opened the ports and let all of you see, if you were going
within several million miles of it," said Carrel. "Qoqol's figured it
out. We're going pretty close this time."

"You want me to open the ports and let you see Jupiter?" asked Albrekt
sarcastically.

"Something more serious than that," answered Carrel gravely. "It's the
radiation."

Albrekt pushed himself back from the table and stared quizzically at
Carrel.

"You wouldn't take advantage of my ignorance to rib me a little, would
you now, Carrel?" he chided gently. "I studied elementary astronomy,
you know."

"You're proving right now that you didn't study astrogation," retorted
Carrel sharply. "Any spaceman can tell you the reaction of cosmic rays
on Jupiter's atmosphere is fatal at the distance we'll pass in this
orbit. If our convoy had been passing so close, every ship would have
been shielded."

"Carrel, I can't see your object in lying, but I think you are. Some
damned good spacemen plotted this orbit."

"And what do they care about your life or ours?" demanded Carrel hotly.
"You know your Flanjo buddies as well as I do. We'll live long enough
for them to get all the information they want out of us."

Albrekt studied him closely. Carrel returned his gaze with serious eyes.

"Maybe you're telling the truth," said Albrekt slowly. "If you're
lying, I can't see your reason. You know I won't panic, and we can't
change orbit."

"I'm trying to impress you with the seriousness of this thing, because
there's something we can do about it if you'll let us," said Carrel
patiently. "All it takes is a thin metal shield at a proper distance
from the ship, and we can build that out of the cargo we're carrying."

"The only metal aboard is lithium," demurred Albrekt sternly. "That
lithium's slated for nuclear reactors and weapons and it's going to
reach Rhea intact!"

"We're not going to burn up any of your precious lithium!" exploded
Carrel. "All I ask is to use half of it to build a shield. They can use
the damn stuff out of the shield as easy as out of cargo bars. It'll
all be there, just the same."

Albrekt hesitated. It was quite conceivable that his superiors had not
bothered about such a trifle as his slow death from radiation. They
would have plotted the most effective orbit for their purposes, and if
the _By Jove!_ didn't happen to be shielded--well, casualties had to be
expected in any military operation.

"You have my permission to build the shield," he said stiffly at last,
"under my strict supervision, of course."

"That's all right with me," consented Carrel with a sigh of relief.
"And I give you my word as a space captain, Albrekt, nobody aboard the
_By Jove!_ will lift a hand against you while it's being built."

Despite Carrel's reassurance, Albrekt, wary of some stratagem, held to
his determination to oversee every step of the shield construction,
with gun handy.

Fifty tons of such a light metal as lithium is a pretty large volume of
the stuff. Albrekt assumed that Carrel's shield was to be a square or
disc of the metal, rather thick to absorb the radiation, which would be
interposed between the _By Jove!_ and Jupiter. When work began, after
several days of planning, it became apparent that the construction task
was something more than cutting out and fastening together chunks of
lithium.

Instead of working inside the ship, the crew moved a furnace to the
outside of the cargo hull and anchored it down. The Earthmen wore
spacesuits, of course, but Qoqol did not, as Martians do not breathe,
but extract oxygen from solid matter and store enough of it to last
several hours at a time.

To Albrekt's surprise, they next hauled out some of the big packages
which were plastic domes for use on Titan. At extra-terrestrial bases,
these hemispherical domes were inflated to form huge air bubbles in
which humans could live.

"Plastic?" said Albrekt through his helmet radio. "I thought you were
going to use lithium."

"We are," replied Carrel's voice. "We'll fasten some of these domes
together to form an airtight sphere, then inflate it from the oxygen
supply. It won't take much pressure, and we can recover the oxygen
later with the ship's compressor.

"Before we recover the oxygen, we'll charge the plastic sphere
electrically, so it'll stay rigid. Then we'll vaporize the lithium in
the boiler and spray it over half the plastic sphere. We'll blacken
the plastic and melt it with solar heat, returning it to the boiler
by charging the boiler. I'm afraid we're going to ruin a few of the
plastic domes, but that's not important now."

"Spray the lithium? Fifty tons of it?"

"Wait and see," Carrel said. "This will be a bigger shield than you
expected."

Later, at mealtime, Carrel brought a worry to the surface of Albrekt's
mind which the Flanjo agent had been trying to keep suppressed.

"That was a pretty rash business, jetting all the fuel," said Carrel.
"What do we do if we're off orbit?"

"It seems to me I've mentioned before that some very good spacemen
plotted this orbit," replied Albrekt.

"The best orbits sometimes require minor corrections, when they're this
long," said Carrel.

"I couldn't make them, anyhow, and I certainly wouldn't trust any of
you at the controls," said Albrekt. "Don't you think my superiors
thought of that when they planned this?"

"Maybe," said Carrel.

Albrekt was amazed at the size of the shield Carrel was building. The
inflated plastic sphere was bigger than a small asteroid, some six to
eight miles in diameter. Carrel had spliced together several of the
biggest plastic domes available. Nowhere but in free space, could the
sphere have been inflated with so little gas pressure.

The ship could have floated around in Carrel's sphere like a cork in a
water bucket.

"It has to be big, because the shield is going to be about 20 miles
away from the ship, attached to it by lithium wires," explained Carrel.
"So the diameter of the shield has to be this big, to eclipse the disc
of Jupiter at the distance we'll pass the planet."

"I don't understand the principle of this at all," said Albrekt
irritably. "It seems to me a smaller, heavier shield closer to the ship
would be just as effective."

"That's because you don't understand this type of radiation," replied
Carrel.

When the shield was completed and the plastic framework removed,
it was a tissue-thin metal hemisphere, attached to the ship like a
parachute. Migl used up several oxygen cylinders as makeshift rockets
to push the shield out to the proper distance from the ship, while the
attaching wires were unreeled from the cargo winches.

"We leave the wires on the winches, because we'll have to shift the
position of the shield from time to time by shortening some wires and
lengthening others," Carrel said.

When the task was complete and the shield glimmered in the sunlight
like a nearby moon, they all returned to the living quarters.

"Qoqol, you'll be in charge of keeping the shield at the proper angle,"
said Carrel. "And, Albrekt, the truce is over."

"What do you mean by that?" growled Albrekt, his hand dropping to his
heat gun.

"I've kept my promise while the shield was being built," answered
Carrel. "Now, if we can catch you off guard, and do it without being
burned down, I warn you we're going to try to disarm and capture you."

Albrekt relaxed.

"You won't get the chance," he promised. "If you did, what good would
it do you? We rendezvous with my ship in less than four months now."

       *       *       *       *       *

Despite Carrel's threat, Albrekt was still in control of the situation
when the hour of rendezvous approached. The necessity for keeping alert
against possible attack was a considerable strain on him, but he had
been under strain many times before in his life. Neither Carrel nor
either of the others had made any overt move.

Assured in his own mind that the risk became less and less as the
trysting place neared, Albrekt had permitted the crew into the control
room except when he slept above a locked hatch. Half an hour before the
scheduled time of meeting with the Flanjo ship, Carrel, Migl and Qoqol
filed up through the hatch. Albrekt offered no objection, and they
floated across the control room to seats.

"Looks like your ship would be on the screens by now, doesn't it,
Albrekt?" suggested Carrel quietly.

"They don't have to make the rendezvous exactly on time," replied
Albrekt, a little uneasily. "They know the orbit. They can pick us up
anywhere along it."

"We're not in the orbit," said Carrel flatly.

Albrekt scowled at him, but his eyes were drawn back irresistibly to
the screens, empty except for the silvery lithium shield and, perched
just above its edge, the small but baleful disc of Jupiter.

"Qoqol checked the blast tapes you used, and we're not in the orbit
they're suppose to put us in," insisted Carrel. "Qoqol's been making
sightings for the last six weeks. Jupiter's pulled us off orbit,
Albrekt."

"Is true," boomed Qoqol. "We long way off."

"This sort of thing's doing you no good," snapped Albrekt. "I'm not a
spaceman and I can't check your figures, but I don't think we're off
orbit."

"And if your ship doesn't make the rendezvous?" asked Carrel.

"If it doesn't now, it will later on. And, by Saturn, we're going to
sit tight in this kettle till it does, Carrel! Last minute propaganda
won't work."

There was silence for a few minutes, as the chronometer hand ticked on
toward the hour of meeting.

The radio buzzed. Leaning forward, Albrekt turned up the volume,
eagerly.

"Captain Albrekt Vebrug," called the radio. "Flanjo patrol ship
_Bavaria_ to Captain Albrekt Vebrug."

Albrekt turned a triumphant face to Carrel. But Carrel gestured at the
screens. They were still empty. And the radio voice was not coming in
strongly.

"Vebrug, we don't find the _By Jove!_ on our screens," said the radio,
fading a little, then getting louder. "If you get this call, Vebrug,
break radio silence and reply. Do you hear this, Vebrug? Break radio
silence and reply!"

Perspiration broke out on Albrekt's forehead. He could not reply. The
ship's transmitter was a pile of junk.

"Vebrug, Vebrug," intoned the radio insistently. "We don't find you in
orbit. If you hear this, break radio silence and reply."

Carrel rose from his seat, floating slightly upward. Albrekt, sweating,
dropped his hand to his heat gun.

"We can't stay in this sector, Vebrug," whispered the radio. "Blasting
back to base now. Will call every five minutes for the next two hours.
If you hear this, break radio silence and reply."

The radio squawked. Then there was nothing but stellar static.

"Well, Albrekt?" said Carrel.

Albrekt felt his iron nerve cracking. He felt that he was breaking
apart physically.

"Keep your distance, all of you!" he croaked, drawing the gun. "They'll
be back. They'll search all space for us!"

Carrel floated a little closer and Albrekt levelled the gun at him.
Migl and Qoqol moved in slightly. Albrekt swung the gun in an arc.

"I'll blast all three of you," he warned desperately. "Carrel...."

"Why?" asked Carrel. "We're all in the same boat, Albrekt. We're
spiralling into Jupiter."

"You lie!" shouted Albrekt. "I don't believe you, Carrel!"

Carrel laughed shortly.

"Where's your nerve, Albrekt?" he asked. "You've done pretty well up to
now. Does the immediate prospect of dying frighten you so much?"

Albrekt lowered the gun slightly.

"If I were afraid to die I wouldn't be here," he replied. "You're not
baiting me for nothing, Carrel. What are you after?"

"I don't think you realize how many millions of miles your Flanjo ship
had to come to the rendezvous point," said Carrel. "As much as your
friends want this cargo, they won't stay around long. Solar Council
ships probably heard that broadcast."

"What makes you think they can find us?" sneered Albrekt. "We can't
call them either."

"They can't find us," replied Carrel calmly. "The chances are a million
to one against it, and we don't have enough time for chances like
that."

Ice seemed to enter Albrekt's veins. He glared at them from angry eyes.
They were inching closer to him. Already they were halfway across the
control room.

"Stand back!" he said, his voice trembling. "I'll burn all of you!"

"And die alone, Albrekt?" Carrel's brittle voice was like the blow of a
hammer against rock.

On the screen behind Carrel, the orb of Jupiter floated off the port
bow, red and ominous. Giant of the heavens, its tremendous mass could
snatch them from the sky, crush and break them like moths.

All the vast loneliness of space swept over Albrekt on wings of fear.
It was too much for a planet-bound mind to face. The last companionship
even of enemies was better than solitary death.

"No," he muttered, beaten, and the heat gun drooped in his hand.
Qoqol's eight-foot arm reached in like a striking snake to lift it from
his nerveless grasp.

"Good work, Qoqol," said Carrel heartily. "I had an idea the Flanjo
tradition of superiority would break in the face of the inevitable. It
was worth risking, now that we know we're safe."

"Safe?" said Albrekt bitterly. "Safe for what? To fall into Jupiter?"

"Well, now," said Carrel drolly, "I believe I neglected to say that
our spiral toward Jupiter will intercept the Solar Council base on
Callisto, didn't I? Yes sir, it's one of the neatest orbits Qoqol has
ever plotted."

"What?" demanded Albrekt, stunned. "You mean we're in a controlled
orbit?"

"Why, yes, my Flanjo friend. We started pulling out of the orbits your
blast tapes set about four months ago. If we hadn't, we wouldn't have
come anywhere near Jupiter."

"You lie!" shouted Albrekt. "You lie, Carrel! You couldn't! There's no
fuel!"

"I'm afraid we're going to have to keep you tied up to one of the bunks
for the next few weeks, Albrekt," said Carrel. "You're too valuable a
prisoner to take a chance on your doing away with yourself."

"There's no fuel," repeated Albrekt. He was almost whimpering.

"I'll relieve your mind on that score," said Carrel. "Have you ever
seen a sailing ship on Earth?"

Albrekt stared at him, uncomprehending.

"A sailing ship doesn't need fuel because it gets its power from the
wind," said Carrel. "Neither do we, now. I'm afraid that story I told
you about dangerous radiation from Jupiter was made up of whole cloth,
Albrekt. There isn't any.

"That lithium hemisphere we built isn't a shield. It's a sail."

"But there's no wind--there's no air--"

"The wind that blows between the worlds," said Carrel solemnly. "Solar
radiation. Its pressure will move a ship if you provide a sail that's
big enough and light enough--and that's what we did."

"It's impossible," muttered Albrekt, crouching back against the
automatic pilot.

"Not impossible, just extremely unusual this far out," said Carrel.
"If they ever let you out of prison, Albrekt, I think a trip to Venus
would be worth your while. I think you'd find the annual space regatta
particularly interesting."





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