Lucky Starr And The Moons of Jupiter (Lucky Starr #5)

Chapter 3

chapter
Chapter

And so it came about that Lucky Starr, Earthman, and his small friend, Bigman Jones, born and bred on Mars, [4] traveled beyond the asteroid belt and into the outer reaches of the solar system. And it was for this reason also that a native of Venus, not a man at all, but a small mind-reading and mind-influencing animal, accompanied them.

They hovered, now, a thousand miles above Jupiter Nine and waited as a flexible conveyer tube was made fast between the Shooting Starr and the commander's ship. The tube linked air lock to air lock and formed a passageway which men could use in going from one ship to the other without having to put on a space suit. The air of both ships mingled, and a man used to space, taking advantage of the absence of gravity, could shoot along the tube after a single initial push and guide himself along those places where the tube curved with the gentle adjusting force of a well-placed elbow.

The commander's hands were the first part of him visible at the lock opening. They gripped the lip of the opening and pushed in such a way that the commander himself leapfrogged out and came down in the Shooting Starr's localized artificial gravity field (or pseudo-grav field, as it was usually termed) with scarcely a stagger. It was neatly done, and Bigman, who had high standards indeed for all forms of spacemen's techniques, nodded in approval.

"Good day, Councilman Starr," said Donahue gruffly. It was always a matter of difficulty whether to say "good morning," "good afternoon," or "good evening" in space, where, strictly speaking, there was neither morning, afternoon, nor evening. "Good day" was the neutral term usually adopted by spacemen.

"Good day, Commander," said Lucky. "Are there any difficulties concerning our landing on Jupiter Nine that account for this delay?"

"Difficulties? Well, that's as you look at it." He looked about and sat down on one of the small pilot's stools. 'Tve been in touch with Council headquarters but they say I must treat with you directly, so I'm here."

Commander Donahue was a wiry man, with an air of tension about him. His face was deeply lined, his hair grayish but showing signs of having once been brown. His hands had prominent blue veins along their backs, and he spoke in an explosive fashion, rapping out his phrases in a quick succession of words.

"Treat with me about what, sir?" asked Lucky.

"Just this, Councilman. I want you to return to Earth."

"Why, sir?"

The commander did not look directly at Lucky as he spoke. "We have a morale problem. Our men have been investigated and investigated and investigated. They've all come through clear each time, and each time a new investigation is started. They don't like it and neither would you. They don't like being under continual suspicion. And I'm completely on their side. Our Agrav ship is almost ready and this is not the time for my men to be disturbed. They talk of going on strike."

Lucky said calmly, "Your men may have been cleared but there is still leakage of information."

Donahue shrugged. "Then it must come from elsewhere. It must…" He broke off and a sudden incongruous note of friendliness entered his voice. "What's that?"

Bigman followed his eyes and said at once, "That's our V-frog, Commander, I'm Bigman."

The commander did not acknowledge the introduction. He approached the V-frog instead, staring into the enclosed water-filled cage. "That's a Venus creature, isn't it?"

"That's right," said Bigman.

"I've heard of them. Never saw one, though. Cute little jigger, isn't it?"

Lucky felt a grim amusement. He did not find it strange that in the midst of a most serious discussion the commander should veer off into an absorbed admiration for a small water creature from Venus. The V-frog itself made that inevitable.

The small creature was looking back at Donahue now out of its black eyes, swaying on its extensible legs and clicking its parrot beak gently. In all the known universe its means of survival was unique. It had no defensive weapons, no armor of any sort. It had no claws or teeth or horns. Its beak might bite, but even that bite could do no harm to any creature larger than itself.

Yet it multiplied freely along the weed-covered surface of the Venusian ocean, and none of the fierce predators of the ocean's deeps disturbed it, simply because the V-frog could control emotion. They instinctively caused all other forms of life to like them, to feel friendly toward them, to have no wish whatever to hurt them. So they survived. They did more than that. They flourished.

Now this particular V-frog was filling Donahue, quite obviously, with a feeling of friendliness, so that the army man pointed a finger at it through the glass of its cage and laughed to see it cock its head and sink down along its collapsing legs, as Donahue moved his finger downward.

"You don't suppose we could get a few of these for Jupiter Nine, do you, Starr?" he asked. "We're great ones for pets here. An animal here and there makes for a breath of home."

"It's not very practical," said Lucky. "V-frogs are difficult to keep. They have to be maintained in a carbon-dioxide-saturated system, you know. Oxygen is mildly poisonous to them. That makes things complicated."

"You mean they can't be kept in an open fish-bowl?"

"They can be at tunes. They're kept so on Venus, where carbon dioxide is dirt cheap and where they can always be turned loose in the ocean if they seem to be unhappy. On a ship, though, or on an airless world, you don't want to bleed carbon dioxide continuously into the air, so a closed system is best."

"Oh." The commander looked a bit wistful.

"To return to our original subject of discussion," said Lucky briskly, "I must refuse your suggestion that I leave. I have an assignment and I must carry it through."

It seemed to take a few seconds for the commander to emerge from the spell cast by the V-frog. His face darkened. "I'm sure you don't understand the entire situation." He turned suddenly, looking down at Big-man. "Consider your associate, for instance."

The small Martian, with a stiffening of spine, began to redden. "I'm Bigman," he said. "I told you that before."

"Not very big a man, nevertheless," said the commander.

And though Lucky placed a soothing hand on the little fellow's shoulder at once, it didn't help. Bigman cried, "Bigness isn't on the outside, mister. My name is Bigman, and I'm a big man against you or anyone you want to name regardless of what the yardstick says. And if you don't believe it…" He was shrugging his left shoulder vigorously. "Let go of me, Lucky, will you? This cobber here…"

"Will you wait just one minute, Bigman?" Lucky urged. "Let's find out what the commander is trying to say."

Donahue had looked startled at Bigman's sudden verbal assault. He said, "I'm sure I meant no harm in my remark. If I've hurt your feelings, I'm sorry."

"My feelings hurt?" said Bigman, his voice squeaking. "Me? Listen, one thing about me, I never lose my temper and as long as you apologize, we'll forget about it." He hitched at his belt and brought the palms of his hands down with a smart slap against the knee-high orange and vermilion boots that were the heritage of his Martian farm-boy past and without which he would never be seen in public (unless he substituted others with an equally garish color scheme).

"I want to be very plain with you, Councilman," said Donahue, turning to Lucky once more. "I have almost a thousand men here at Jupiter Nine, and they're tough, all of them. They have to be. They're far from home. They do a hard job. They run great risks. They have their own outlook on life now and it's a rough one. For instance, they haze newcomers and not with a light hand, either. Sometimes newcomers can't stand it and go home. Sometimes they're hurt. If they come through, everything's fine."

Lucky said, "Is this officially permitted?"

"No. But it is permitted unofficially. The men have to be kept happy somehow, and we can't afford to alienate them by interfering with their horseplay. Good men are hard to replace out here. Not many people are willing to come to the moons of Jupiter, you know. Then, too, the initiation is helpful in weeding out the misfits. Those that don't pass would probably fail hi other respects eventually. That is why I made mention of your friend."

The commander raised his hands hurriedly. "Now make no mistake. I agree that he is big on the inside and capable and anything else you want. But will he be a match for what lies ahead? Will you, Councilman?"

"You mean the hazing?"

"It will be rough, Councilman," said Donahue. "The men know you are coming. News gets around somehow."

"Yes, I know," murmured Lucky.

The commander scowled. "In any case, they know you are to investigate them and they will feel no kindness toward you. They are in an ugly mood and they will hurt you, Councilman Starr. I am asking you not to land on Jupiter Nine for the project's sake, for my men's sake, and for your own. There you have it as plainly as I can put it."

Bigman stared at the change that came over Lucky. His usual look of calm good nature was gone. His dark brown eyes turned hard, and the straight lines of his lean and handsome face were set in something that Bigman rarely saw there: bitter anger. Every muscle of Lucky's tall body seemed tense.

Lucky said ringingly, "Commander Donahue, I am a member of the Council of Science. I am responsible only to the head of the Council and to the President of the Solar Federation of Worlds. I outrank you and you will be bound by my decisions and orders.

"I consider the warning you have just given me to be evidence of your own incompetence. Don't say anything, please; hear me out. You are obviously not in control of your men and not fit to command men. Now hear this: I will land on Jupiter Nine and I will conduct my investigations. I will handle your men if you cannot."

He paused while the other gasped and vainly attempted to find his voice. He rapped out, "Do you understand, Commander?"

Commander Donahue, his face congested almost beyond recognition, managed to grind out, "I will take this up with the Council of Science. No arrogant young whipsnap can talk like that to me, councilman or no councilman. I will match my record as a leader of men against that of anyone in the service. Furthermore, my warning to you will be on record also and if you are hurt on Jupiter Nine, I will run the risk of court-martial gladly. I will do nothing for you. In fact, I hope-I hope they teach you manners, you…"

He was past speech once more. He turned on his heel, toward the open lock, connected still with the space tube to bis own ship. He clambered in, missing a hand hold in his anger and stumbling badly,

Bigman watched with awe as the commander's heels disappeared down the tube. The other's anger had been so intense a thing that the little Martian had seemed to feel it in his own mind as though waves of heat were rolling in upon him.

Bigman said, "Wow, that cobber was really going! You had him rocking."

Lucky nodded. "He was angry. No doubt about it."

Bigman said, "Listen, maybe he's the spy. He'd know the most. He'd have the best chance."

"He'd also be the most thoroughly investigated, so your theory is doubtful. But at least he's helped us out in a little experiment, so when I see him next I will have to apologize."

"Apologize?" Bigman was horrified. It was his firm view that apologies were strictly something that other people had to do. "Why?"

"Come, Bigman, do you suppose I really meant those things I said?"

"You weren't angry?"

"Not really."

"It was an act?"

"You could call it that. I wanted to make him angry, really angry, and 1 succeeded. I could tell that firsthand."

"Firsthand?"

"Couldn't you? Couldn't you feel the anger just pouring out of him all over you?"

"Sands of Mars! The V-frog!"

"Of course. It received the commander's anger and rebroadcast it on to us. I had to know if one V-frog could do it. We tested it back on Earth, but until I tried it under actual field conditions, I wasn't sure. Now I am."

"It broadcast fine."

"I know. So at least it proves we have a weapon, one weapon, after all."


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