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

Chapter 7

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Bigman shrank back. "I'm sorry."

"No need to be sorry," Norrich said cheerfully. "I'm used to it and I can get along. I'm holding a master technician's rank and I'm in charge of constructing experimental jigs. I don't need anyone to help me, either, any more than I need help in my threedees."

"I imagine the threedees offer good exercise," said Lucky.

Bigman said, "You mean you can put those things together without even being able to see them? Sands of Mars!"

"It's not as hard as you might think. I've been practicing for years and I make them myself so I know the tricks of them. Here, Bigman, here's a simple one. It's just an egg shape. Can you take it apart?"

Bigman received the light-alloy ovoid and turned it in his hands, looking over the pieces that fit together smoothly and neatly.

"In fact," Norrich went on, "the only thing I really need Mutt for is to take me along the corridors." He leaned down to scratch the dog behind one ear, and the dog permitted it, opening his mouth wide in a sleepy yawn, showing large white fangs and a length of pink lolling tongue. Lucky could feel the warm thickness of Norrich's affection for the dog pour out via the V-frog.

"I can't use the Agrav corridors," Norrich said, "since I'd have no way of telling when to decelerate, so I have to walk through ordinary corridors and Mutt guides me. It makes for the long way around, but it's good exercise, and with all the walking Mutt and I know Jupiter Nine better than anybody, don't we, Mutt?… Have you got it yet, Bigman?"

"No," said Bigman. "It's all one piece."

"Not really. Here, give it to me."

Bigman handed it over, and Norrich's skinful fingers flew over the surface. "See this little square bit here? You push it and it goes in a bit. Grab the part that comes out the other end, give it half a turn clockwise, and it pulls out altogether. See? Now the rest conies apart easily. This, then this, then this, and so on. Lin© up the pieces in order as they come out; there are only eight of them; then put them back in reverse order. Put the key piece in last, and it will lock everything into place."

Bigman stared dubiously at the individual pieces and bent close over them.

Lucky said, "I believe you wanted to discuss the reception committee I met up with when I arrived, Mr. Norrich. You said you wanted to talk about my fight with Armand."

"Yes, Councilman, yes. I wanted you to understand. I've been here on Jupiter Nine since Agrav project started and I know the men. Some leave when their hitch is up, some stay on, greenhorns join up; but they're all the same in one way. They're very insecure."

"Why?"

"For several reasons. In the first place, there is danger involved in the project. We've had dozens of accidents and lost hundreds of men. I lost my eyes five years ago and I was fortunate in a way. I might have died. Secondly, the men are isolated from friends and family while they're here. Really isolated."

Lucky said, "I imagine there are some people who enjoy the isolation."

He smiled grimly as he said that. It was no secret that men who in one way or another had gotten entangled with the law sometimes managed to find work on some of the pioneer worlds. People were always needed to work under domes in artificial atmospheres with pseu-do-grav fields, and those who volunteered were usually not asked too many questions. Nor was there anything very wrong with that. Such volunteers aided Earth and its people under difficult conditions, and that, in a way, was a payment for misdeeds.

Norrich nodded at Lucky's words. "I see you're not naive about it and I'm glad. Leaving the officers and the professional engineers to one side, I imagine a good half of the men here have criminal records on Earth, and most of the rest might have such records if the police knew everything. I doubt that one in five gives his real name. Anyway, you see where tension comes in when investigator after investigator arrives. You're all looking for Sirian spies; we know that; but each man thinks that maybe his own particular trouble will come out and he'll be dragged back to jail on Earth. They all want to go back to Earth, but they want to go back anonymously, not at the other end of a set of wrist locks. That's why Red Summers could rouse them so."

"And is Summers something special that he takes the lead? A particularly bad record on Earth?"

Bigman looked up briefly from his threedee to say bitterly, "Murder, maybe?"

"No," said Norrich with instant energy. "You've got to understand about Summers. He's had an unfortunate life: broken home, no real parents. He got into the wrong crowds. He's been in prison, yes, for being involved in some minor rackets. If he'd stayed on Earth, his life would have been one long waste. But he's come to Jupiter Nine. He's made a new life here. He came out as a common laborer and he educated himself. He's learned low-grav construction engineering, force-field mechanics, and Agrav techniques. He's been promoted to a responsible position and has done wonderful work. He's respectable, admired, well liked. He's found out what it is to have honor and position and he dreads nothing more than the thought of going back to Earth and his old life."

"Sure, he hates it so much," said Bigman, "that he tried to kill Lucky by gimmicking the fight."

"Yes," said Norrich, frowning, "I heard he was using a sub-phase oscillator to kill the councilman's control response. That was stupid of him, but he was in panic. Look, fundamentally the man is goodhearted. When my old Mutt died-"

"Your old Mutt?" asked Lucky.

"I had a Seeing Eye dog before this one which I also called Mutt. It died in a force-field short circuit that killed two men besides. He shouldn't have been there, but sometimes a dog will wander off on his own adventures. This one does, too, when I'm not using him, but he always comes back." He leaned down to slap his dog's flank lightly, and Mutt closed one eye and thumped his tail against the floor.

"Anyway, after old Mutt died, it looked for a while as though I mightn't get another and I would have to be sent home. I'm no use here without one. Seeing Eye dogs are in short supply; there are waiting lists. The administration here at Jupiter Nine didn't want to pull any strings because they weren't anxious to publicize the fact that they were employing a blind man as construction engineer. The economy bloc in Congress is always waiting for something like that to make bad publicity out of. So it was Summers who came through. He used some contacts he had on Earth and got me Mutt here. It wasn't exactly legal, it was even what you might call the black market, but Summers risked his position here to do a friend a favor and I owe him a great deal. I'm hoping you'll remember Summers can do and has done things like that and that you'll go easy on him for his actions earlier today."

Lucky said, "I'm not taking any action against him. I had no intention of doing so even before our conversation. Still, I'm sure that Summers' real name and record are known to the Council and I'll be checking on the facts."

Norrich flushed, "By all means, do so. You'll find he's not so bad."

"I hope so. But tell me something. Through all that has just taken place, there was no attempt on the part of the project administration to interfere. Do you find this strange?"

Norrich laughed shortly. "Not at all. I don't think Commander Donahue would have cared much if you'd been killed, except for the trouble it would have taken to hush it up. He's got bigger troubles on his mind than you or your investigation."

"Bigger troubles?"

"Sure. The head of this project is changed every year; army policy of rotation. Donahue is the sixth boss we've had and far and away the best. I've got to say that. He's cut through red tape and he hasn't tried to make an army camp out of the project. He's given the men leeway and let them raise a bit of cain now and then so he's gotten results. Now the first Agrav ship will be ready to take off any time. Some say it's a matter of days."

"That soon?"

"Could be. But the point is that Commander Donahue is due to be relieved in less than a month. A delay now could mean that the launching of the Agrav ship won't take place until Donahue's successor comes in. Donahue's successor would get to ride in it, have the fame, go down in the history books, and Donahue would miss out."

"No wonder he didn't want you on Jupiter Nine," Bigman said hotly. "No wonder he didn't want you, Lucky."

Lucky shrugged. "Don't waste temper, Bigman."

But Bigman said, "The dirty cobber! Sirius can gobble up Earth for all he cares as long as he can get to ride his miserable ship." He lifted a clenched fist, and there was a muted growl from Mutt.

Norrich said sharply, "What are you doing, Bigman?"

"What?" Bigman was genuinely astonished. "I'm not doing a thing."

"Are you making a threatening gesture?"

Bigman lowered his arm quickly. "Not really."

"You've got to be careful around Mutt. He's been trained to take care of me… Look, I'll show you. Just step toward me and make believe you're going to throw a punch at me."

Lucky said, "That's not necessary. We understand-"

"Please," said Norrich. "There's no danger. I'll stop Mutt in time. As a matter of fact, it's good practice for him. Everyone on the project is so careful of me that I swear I don't know if he remembers his training. Go ahead, Bigman."

Bigman stepped forward and raised his arm halfheartedly. At once Mutt's ears flattened, his eyes slitted, his fangs stood sharply revealed, his leg muscles tensed for a spring, and a harsh growl issued from the recesses of his throat.

Bigman drew back hastily, and Norrich said, "Down, Mutt!" The dog subsided. Lucky could sense, clearly, the gathering and relaxation of tension in Bigman's mind and the fond triumph in Norrich's.

Norrish said, "How are you doing with the threedee egg, Bigman?"

The little Martian, in exasperation, said, "I've given up. I've got two pieces put together and that's all I can do."

Norrich laughed. "Just a matter of practice, that's all. Look."

He took the two pieces out of Bigman's hand and said, "No wonder. You've got these together wrong. He flipped one piece end for end, brought the two together again, added another piece and another until he held seven pieces in the shape of a loose ovoid with a hole through it. He picked up the eighth and key piece, slipped it in, gave it a half turn counterclockwise, pushed it the rest of the way, and said, "Finished."

He tossed the completed egg into the air and caught it, while Bigman watched in chagrin.

Lucky got to his feet. "Well, Mr. Norrich, we'll be seeing you again. I'll remember your remarks about Summers and the rest. Thank you for the drink." It still rested untouched on the desk.

"Nice to have met you," said Norrich, rising and shaking hands.

It was some time before Lucky could fall asleep. He lay in the darkness of his room hundreds of feet below the surface of Jupiter Nine, listening to Bigman's soft snoring in the adjoining room, and thought of the events of the day. Over and over them he went.

He was bothered! Something had happened that shouldn't have; or something had not happened that should have.

But he was weary and everything was a bit unreal and twisted in the half-world of half-sleep. Something hovered at the edge of awareness. He clutched at it, but it slipped away.

And when morning came there was nothing left of it.

Bigman called out to Lucky from his own room as Lucky was drying himself under the soft jets of warm air after his shower.

The little Martian yelled, "Hey, Lucky, I've recharged the V-frog's carbon-dioxide supply and dumped in more weed. You'll be taking it down to our meeting with that blasted commander, won't you?"

"We certainly will, Bigman."

"It's all set then. How about letting me tell the commander what I think of him?"

"Now, Bigman."

"Nuts! It's me for the shower now."

Like all men of the solar system brought up on planets other than Earth, Bigman reveled in water when he could get at it, and a shower for him was a leisurely, loving experience. Lucky braced himself for a session of the tenor caterwauling that Bigman called singing.

The intercom sounded after Bigman was well launched into some dubious fragment of melody that sounded piercingly off-key and just as Lucky completed dressing.

Lucky stepped to it and activated reception. "Starr speaking."

"Starr!" Commander Donahue's lined face showed in the visi-panel. His lips were narrow and compressed and his whole expression was one of antagonism as he gazed at Lucky. "I have heard some story of a fight between yourself and one of our workers."

"Yes?"

"I see you have not been hurt."

Lucky smiled. "All's well."

"You'll remember I warned you."

"I am making no complaints."

"Since you aren't, and in the interest of the project, I would like to ask if you plan making any report concerning it."

"Unless it turns out to have some direct bearing on the problem which concerns me here, the incident will never be mentioned by me."

"Good!" Donahue looked suddenly relieved. "I won- der if I could extend that attitude to our meeting this morning. Our meeting might be taped for confidential records and I would prefer-"

"There will be no need to discuss the matter, Commander."

"Very good!" The commander relaxed into what was almost cordiality. "I'll be seeing you in an hour then."

Lucky was dimly aware that Bigman's shower had stopped and that his singing had subsided to a humming. Now the humming stopped, too, and there was a moment of silence.

Lucky said into the transmitter, "Yes, Commander, good-" when Bigman exploded into a wild, near-incoherent shout,

"Lucky!"

Lucky was on his feet with smooth speed and at the door connecting the two rooms in two strides.

But Bigman was in the doorway before him, eyes big with horror. "Lucky! The V-frog! It's dead! It's been killed!"


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