Resources for Beginning SF Writers

Taking a pause from the stories, "A Princess of Mars" and "Space Platform," I direct your attention to some resources I enjoy from the "writing" of SF perspective. So, if you are considering writing science fiction, here are a couple of resources for you:

If you're in the process of writing start with "Frequently Asked Questions Answered for Beginning Writers." This FAQ material was developed as a service to writers by members of GEnie's Science Fiction Roundtable, many of them professional writers and editors. Contributors include James Brunet, John C. Bunnell, Gregory Feeley, Larry Hammer, David M. Harris, Glenn Hauman, John E. Johnston III, Tappan King, Damon Knight, James D. Macdonald, Beth Meacham, Kevin O'Donnell Jr., Elizabeth Perry, Susan Shwartz, Martha Soukup, Judith Tarr and Mitch Wagner. It was compiled by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury.

It is a resource linked through the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America site on the Articles About Writing page.

FAQ for Beginning Writers

A second resource I've found extremely helpful is hosted and developed by the writer, Jeffrey C. Carver. He is well known for his works: Eternity's End, one of the Star Rigger Universe series, and his latest Sunborn, Book 4 in The Chaos Chronicles series. (Information on his books is available at his website.)

Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy is a course for aspiring young writers of all ages which he decided to offer it for free as a public service to young aspiring writers. It is self-paced and had its genesis in both an interactive TV program and and in-home study course on CD-ROM. While he aims it at middle and high school level aspiring authors, I found it especially helpful as an orientation to the process and thought provoking. Please check it out.

Thanks for your time. Our serialized stories will return tomorrow with Chapter 7 of "A Princess of Mars."


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Space Platform, Chapter 7

Space Platform, Murray Leinster, 1953. Note: The copyright for this book has expired in the United States and was not renewed, thus, Space Platform now resides in the public domain.

Nobody could have gone through the changes of emotion Joe had experienced that morning and remained quite matter-of-fact. Seeing a dead man who had more or less deliberately killed himself so that he wouldn't have to kill Joe--for one--had its effect. Knowing that it was certainly possible the man hadn't killed himself in time had another. Being checked over for radiation burns which would mean that he'd die quite comfortably within three or four days, and then learning that no burns existed, was something of an ordeal. And Sally--of course her feelings shouldn't have been as vivid as his own, but the fact that she'd been scared for him held some significance. When, on top of all the rest, he went into the Space Platform for the first time, Joe was definitely keyed up.

But he talked technology. He examined the inner skin and its lining before going beyond the temporary entrance. The plating of the Platform was actually double. The outer layer was a meteor-bumper against which particles of cosmic dust would strike and explode without damage to the inner skin. They could even penetrate it without causing a leak of air. Inside the inner skin there was a layer of glass wool for heat insulation. Inside the glass wool was a layer of material serving exactly the function of the coating of a bulletproof gasoline tank. No meteor under a quarter-inch size could hope to make a puncture, even at the forty-five-mile-per-second speed that is the theoretical maximum for meteors. And if one did, the selfsealing stuff would stop the leak immediately. Joe could explain the protection of the metal skins. He did.

"When a missile travels fast enough," he said absorbedly, "it stops acquiring extra puncturing ability. Over a mile a second, impact can't be transmitted from front to rear. The back end of the thing that hits has arrived at the hit place before the shock of arrival can travel back to it. It's like a train in a collision which doesn't stop all at once. A meteor hitting the Platform will telescope on itself like the cars of a railroad train that hits another at full speed."

Sally listened enigmatically.

"So," said Joe, "the punching effect isn't there. A meteor hitting the Platform won't punch. It'll explode. Part of it will turn to vapor--metallic vapor if it's metal, and rocky vapor if it's stone. It'll blow a crater in the metal plate. It'll blow away as much weight of the skin as it weighs itself. Mass for mass. So that weight for weight, pea soup would be just as effective armor against meteors as hardened steel."

Sally said: "Dear me! You must read the newspapers!"

"The odds figure out, the odds are even that the Platform won't get an actual meteor puncture in the first twenty thousand years it's floating round the Earth."

"Twenty thousand two seventy, Joe," said Sally. She was trying to tease him, but her face showed a little of the strain. "I read the magazine articles too. In fact I sometimes show the tame article writers around, when they're cleared to see the Platform."

Joe winced a little. Then he grinned wryly.

"That cuts me down to size, eh?"

She smiled at him. But they both felt queer. They went on into the interior of the huge space ship.

"Lots of space," said Joe. "This could've been smaller."

"It'll be nine-tenths empty when it goes up," said Sally. "But you know about that, don't you?"

Joe did know. The reasons for the streamlining of rockets to be fired from the ground didn't apply to the Platform. Not with the same urgency, anyhow. Rockets had to burn their fuel fast to get up out of the dense air near the ground. They had to be streamlined to pierce the thick, resisting part of the atmosphere. The Platform didn't. It wouldn't climb by itself. It would be carried necessarily at slow speed up to the point where jet-motors were most efficient, and then it would be carried higher until they ceased to be efficient. Only when it was up where air resistance was a very small fraction of ground-level drag would its own rockets fire. It wouldn't gain much by being shaped to cut thin air, and it would lose a lot. For one thing, the launching process planned for the Platform allowed it to be built complete so far as its hull was concerned. Once it got out into its orbit there would be no more worries. There wouldn't be any gamble on the practicability of assembling a great structure in a weightless "world."

The two of them--and the way they both felt, it seemed natural for Joe to be helping Sally very carefully through the corridors of the Platform--the two of them came to the engine room. This wasn't the place where the drive of the Platform was centered. It was where the service motors and the air-circulation system and the fluid pumps were powered. Off the engine room the main gyros were already installed. They waited only for the pilot-gyros to control them as a steering engine controls an Earth ship's rudder. Joe looked very thoughtfully at the gyro assembly. That was familiar, from the working drawings. But he let Sally guide him on without trying to stop and look closely.

She showed him the living quarters. They centered in a great open space sixty feet long and twenty wide and high. There were bookshelves, and two balconies, and chairs. Private cabins opened from it on different levels, but there were no steps to them. Yet there were comfortable chairs with straps so that when a man was weightless he could fasten himself in them. There were ash trays, ingeniously designed to look like exactly that and nothing else. But ashes would not fall into them, but would be drawn into them by suction. There was unpatterned carpet on the floor and on the ceiling.

"It's going to feel queer," said Sally, oddly quiet, "when all this is out in space, but it will look fairly normal. I think that's important. This room will look like a big private library more than anything else. One won't be reminded every second, by everything he sees, that he's living in a strictly synthetic environment. He won't feel cramped. If all the rooms were small, a man would feel as if he were in prison. At least this way he can pretend that things are normal."

Her mind was not wholly on her words. She'd been frightened for Joe. And he was acutely aware of it, because he felt a peculiar after-effect himself.

"Normal," he said drily, "except that he doesn't weigh anything."

"I've worried about that," said Sally. "Sleeping's going to be a big problem."

"It'll take getting used to," Joe agreed.

There was a momentary pause. They were simply looking about the great room. Sally stirred uneasily.

"Tell me what you think," she said. "You've been in an elevator that started to drop like a plummet. When the Platform is orbiting it'll be like that all the time, only worse. No weight. Joe, if you were in an elevator that seemed to be dropping and dropping and dropping for hours on end--do you think you could go to sleep?"

Joe hadn't thought about it. And he was acutely conscious of Sally, just then, but the idea startled him.

"It might be hard to adjust to," he admitted.

"It'll be hard to adjust to, awake," said Sally. "But getting adjusted to it asleep should be worse. You've waked up from a dream that you're falling?"

"Sure," said Joe. Then he whistled. "Oh-oh! I see! You'd drop off to sleep, and you'd be falling. So you'd wake up. Everybody in the Platform will be falling around the Earth in the Platform's orbit! Every time they doze off they'll be falling and they'll wake up!"

He managed to think about it. It was true enough. A man awake could remind himself that he only thought and felt that he was falling, and that there was no danger. But what would happen when he tried to sleep? Falling is the first fear a human being ever knows. Everybody in the world has at one time waked up gasping from a dream of precipices down which he plunged. It is an inborn terror. And no matter how thoroughly a man might know in his conscious mind that weightlessness was normal in emptiness, his conscious mind would go off duty when he went to sleep. A completely primitive subconscious would take over then, and it would not be satisfied. It might wake him frantically at any sign of dozing until he cracked up from sheer insomnia ... or else let him sleep only when exhaustion produced unconsciousness rather than restful slumber.

"That's a tough one!" he said disturbedly, and noticed that she still showed signs of her recent distress. "There's not much to be done about it, either!"

"I suggested something," said Sally, "and they built it in. I hope it works!" she explained uncomfortably. "It's a sort of blanket with a top that straps down, and an inflatable underside. When a man wants to sleep, he'll inflate this thing, and it will hold him in his bunk. It won't touch his head, of course, and he can move, but it will press against him gently."

Joe thought over what Sally had just explained. He noticed that they were quite close together, but he put his mind on her words.

"It'll be like a man swimming?" he asked. "One can go to sleep floating. There's no sensation of weight, but there's the feeling of pressure all about. A man might be able to sleep if he felt he were floating. Yes, that's a good idea, Sally! It'll work! A man will think he's floating, rather than falling!"

Sally flushed a little.

"I thought of it another way," she said awkwardly. "When we go to sleep, we go way back. We're like babies, with all a baby's fears and needs. It might feel like floating. But--I tried one of those bunks. It feels like--it feels sort of dreamy, as if someone were--holding one quite safe. It feels as if one were a baby and--beautifully secure. But of course I haven't tried it weightless. I just--hope it works."

As if embarrassed, she turned abruptly and showed him the kitchen. Every pan was covered. The top of the stove was alnico-magnet strips, arranged rather like the top of a magnetic chuck. Pans would cling to it. And the covers had a curious flexible lining which Joe could not understand.

"It's a flexible plastic that's heatproof," said Sally. "It inflates and holds the food down to the hot bottom of the pan. They expected the crew to eat ready-prepared food. I said that it would be bad enough to have to drink out of plastic bottles instead of glasses. They hung one of these stoves upside down, for me, and I cooked bacon and eggs and pancakes with the cover of the pan pointing to the floor. They said the psychological effect would be worth while."

Joe was stirred. He followed her out of the kitchen and said warmly--the more warmly because these contributions to the Space Platform came on top of a personal anxiety on his own account: "You must be the first girl in the world who thought about housekeeping in space!"

"Girls will be going into space, won't they?" she asked, not looking at him. "If there are colonies on the other planets, they'll have to. And some day--to the stars...."

She stood quite still, and Joe wanted to do something about her and the world and the way he felt. The interior of the Platform was very silent. Somewhere far away where the glass-wool insulation was incomplete, the sound of workmen was audible, but the inner corridors of the Platform were not resonant. They were lined with a material to destroy reminders that this was merely a metal shell, an artificial world that would swim in emptiness. Here and now, Joe and Sally seemed very private and alone, and he felt a sense of urgency.

He looked at her yearningly. Her color was a little higher than usual. She was not just a nice kid, she was swell! And she was good to look at. Joe had noticed that before, but now with the memory of her fright because he'd been in danger, her worry because he might have been killed, he thought of her very absurd but honest offer to cry for him.

Joe found himself twisting at the ring on his finger. He got it off, and there was some soot and grease on it from the work he'd been doing. He knew that she saw what he was about, but she looked away.

"Look, Sally," he said awkwardly, "we've known each other a long time. I've--uh--liked you a lot. And I've got some things to do first, but----" He stopped. He swallowed. She turned and smiled at him. "Look," he said desperately, "what's a good way to ask if you'd like to wear this?"

She nodded, her eyes shining a little.

"That was a good way, Joe. I'd like it a lot."

There was an interlude, then, during which she very ridiculously cried and explained that he must be more careful and not risk his life so much! And then there was a faint, faint sound outside the Platform. It was the yapping sound of a siren, crying out in short and choppy ululations as it warmed up. Finally its note steadied and it wailed and wailed and wailed.

"That's the alarm," exclaimed Sally. She was still misty-eyed. "Everybody out of the Shed. Come on, Joe."

They started back the way they'd come in. And Sally looked up at Joe and grinned suddenly.

"When I have grandchildren," she told him, "I'm going to brag that I was the very first girl in all the world ever to be kissed in a space ship!"

But before Joe could do anything about the comment, she was out on the stairs, in plain view and going down. So he followed her.

The Shed was emptying. The bare wood-block floor was dotted with figures moving steadily toward the security exit. There was no hurry, because security men were shouting that this was not an alarm but a precautionary measure, and there was no need for haste. Each security man had been informed by the miniature walkie-talkie he wore. By it every guard could be told anything he needed to know, either on the floor of the Shed, or on the catwalks aloft or even in the Platform itself.

Trucks lined up in orderly fashion to go out the swing-up doors. Men came down from the scaffolds after putting their tools in proper between-shifts positions--for counting and inspection--and other men were streaming quietly from the pushpot assembly line. Except for the gigantic object in the middle, and for the fact that every man was in work clothes, the scene was surprisingly like the central waiting room of a very large railroad station, with innumerable people moving briskly here and there.

"No hurry," said Joe, catching the word from a security man as he passed it on. "I'll go see what my gang found out."

The trio--Haney and Mike and the Chief--were just arriving by the piles of charred but now uncovered wreckage. Sally flushed ever so slightly when she saw the Chief eye Joe's ring on her finger.

"Rest of the day off, huh?" said the Chief. "Look! We found most of the stuff we need. They're gonna give us a shop to work in. We'll move this stuff there. We're gonna have to weld a false frame on the lathe we picked, an' then cut out the bed plate to let the gyros fit in between the chucks. Mount it so the spinning is in the right line."

That would be with the axis of the rotors parallel to the axis of the earth. Joe nodded.

"We'll be able to get set up in the mornin'," added Haney, "and get started. You got the parts list off to the plant for your folks to get busy on?"

Sally said quickly: "He's sending that by facsimile now. Then----"

The Chief beamed in benign mockery. "What you goin' to do after that, Joe? If we got the rest of the day off----?"

Sally said hurriedly: "We were--he was going off on a picnic with me. To Red Canyon Lake. Do you really need to talk business--all afternoon?"

The Chief laughed. He'd known Sally, at least by sight, back at the Kenmore plant.

"No, ma'am!" he told her. "Just askin'. I worked on that Red Canyon dam job, years back. That dam that made the lake. It ought to be right pretty around there now. Okay, Joe. See you as soon as work starts up. In the mornin', most likely."

Joe started away with Sally. Mike the midget called hoarsely: "Joe! Just a minute!"

Joe drew back. The midget's seamed face was very earnest. He said in his odd voice: "Here's something to think about. Somebody worked mighty hard to keep you from getting those gyros here. They might work hard to keep them from getting repaired. That's why we asked for a special shop to work in. It's occurred to me that a good way to stop these repairs would be to stop us. Not everybody would've figured out how to rebalance this thing. You get me?"

"Sure!" said Joe. "You three had better look out for yourselves."

Mike stared at him and grimaced.

"You don't get it," he said brittlely. "All right. I may be crazy, at that."

Joe rejoined Sally. The idea of a picnic was brand new to him, but he approved of it completely. They went to the small exit that led to the security building. They were admitted. There was remarkable calm and efficiency here, even though routine had been upset by the need to stop all work. As they went toward Major Holt's office, Joe heard somebody dictating in a matter-of-fact voice: "... this attempt at atomic sabotage was defeated outside the Shed, but it never had a chance of success. Geiger counters would have instantly shown any attempt to smuggle radioactive material into the Shed...."

Joe glanced sidewise at Sally.

"That's for a publicity release?" he asked.

She nodded.

"It's true, too. Nothing goes in or out of the Shed without passing close to a Geiger counter. Even radium-dial watches show up, though they don't set the sirens to screaming."

Joe said: "I'll get my order for new parts off on the facsimile machine."

But he had to get Major Holt's secretary to show him where to feed in the list. It would go east to the nearest facsimile receiver, and then be rushed by special messenger to the plant. Miss Ross gloomily set the machine and initialed the delivery requisition which was part of the document. It flashed through the scanning process and came out again.

"You and Sally," remarked Sally's father's secretary with a morose sigh, "can go and relax this afternoon. But there's no relaxation for Major Holt. Or for me."

Joe said unhopefully: "I'm sure Sally'd be glad if you came with us."

Major Holt's plain, unglamorous assistant shook her head.

"I haven't had a day off since the work began here," she said frowning. "The Major depends on me. Nobody else could do what I do! You're going to Red Canyon Lake?"

"Yes," agreed Joe. "Sally thought it might be pleasant."

"It's terribly dry and arid here," said Miss Ross sadly. "That's the only body of water in a hundred miles or more. I hope it's pretty there. I've never seen it."

She handed Joe back his original memo from the facsimile machine. An exact copy of his written list, in his handwriting, was now in existence more than fifteen hundred miles away, and would arrive at the Kenmore Precision Tool plant within a matter of hours. There could be no question of errors in transmission! It had to be right!

Sally came out, smiled at her father's secretary, and led Joe down to the entrance.

"I have the car," she said cheerfully, "and there'll be a lunch basket waiting for us at the house. I agreed that the lake was too cold for swimming, though. It is. Snow water feeds it. But it's nice to look at."

They went out the door, and the workers on the Platform were just beginning to pile into the waiting fleet of busses. But the black car was waiting, too. Joe opened the door and Sally handed him the key. She regarded the men swarming on the busses.

"There'll be bulletins all over Bootstrap," she observed, "saying that Braun tried to dust-bomb the Shed. They'll say that he may have carried the cobalt about with him, and so he may have burned other people--in a restaurant, a movie theater, anywhere--while he was carrying the dust and dying without knowing it. So everybody's supposed to report to the hospital for a check-up for radiation burns. Some people may really have them. But Dad thinks that since you weren't burned, Braun didn't carry it around. If anyone is burned, it'll be the person who brought the cobalt here to give him. And--well--he'll turn up because everybody does, and because he's burned he'll be asked plenty of questions."

Joe stepped on the starter. Then he pressed the accelerator and the car sped forward.

They stopped at the house in the officers'-quarters area on the other side of the Shed. Sally picked up the lunch basket that her father's housekeeper had packed on telephoned instructions. They drove away.

Red Canyon was eighty miles from the Shed, and the only way to get there was through Bootstrap, because the only highway away from the Shed led to that small, synthetic town. It was irritating, though they had no schedule, to find that the long line of busses was ahead of them on that twenty-mile stretch. The busses ran nose to tail and filled the road for a half-mile or more. It was not possible to pass so long a string of close-packed vehicles. There was just enough traffic in the opposite direction to make that impracticable.

They had to trail the line of busses as far as Bootstrap and crawl through the crowded streets. Once beyond the town they came to a security stop. Here Sally's pass was good. Then they went rolling on and on through an empty, arid, sun-baked terrain toward the hills to the west. It looked remarkably lonely. Joe thought for the first time about gas. He looked carefully at the fuel gauge. Sally shook her head.

"Don't worry. Plenty of gas. Security takes care of that. When I said where we were going and that I wanted the car, Dad had everything checked. If I live through this, I'll bet I stay a fanatic about cautiousness all my life!"

Joe said distastefully: "I suppose it gets everybody. Mike--the midget, you know--called me back just now to suggest that the people who tried to spoil the gyros might try to harm the four of us to hinder their repair!"

"It's not just foolishness," Sally admitted. "The strain is pretty bad, especially when you know things. You've noticed that Dad's getting gray. That's strain. And Miss Ross is about as tense. Things leak out in the most remarkable way--and Dad can't find out how. Once there was a case of sabotage and he could have sworn that nobody had the information that permitted it but himself and Miss Ross. She had hysterics. She insisted that she wanted to be locked up somewhere so she couldn't be suspected of telling anybody anything. She'd resign tomorrow if she could. It's ghastly." Then she hesitated and smiled faintly: "In fact, so Dad wouldn't worry about me this afternoon----"

He took his eyes off the road to glance at her.


"I promised we wouldn't go swimming and----" Then she said awkwardly: "There are two pistols in the glove compartment. Dad knows you. So I promised you'd put one in your pocket up at the lake."

Joe drew a deep breath. She opened the glove compartment and handed him a pistol. He looked at it: .38, hammerless. A good safe weapon. He slipped it in his coat pocket. But he frowned.

"I was looking forward to--not worrying for a while," he said wryly. "But now I'll have to remember to keep looking over my shoulder all the time!"

"Maybe," said Sally, "you can look over my shoulder and I'll look over yours, and we can glance at each other occasionally."

She laughed, and he managed to smile. But the trace of a frown remained on his forehead.

Joe drove and drove and drove. Once they came to a very small town. It may have contained a hundred people. There were gas pumps and a restaurant and two or three general stores, which were certainly too many for the permanent residents. But there were cow ponies hitched before the stores, and automobiles were also in view. The ground here was slightly rolling. The mountains had grown to good-sized ramparts against the sky. Joe drove carefully down the single street, turning out widely once to dodge a dog sleeping placidly in an area normally reserved for traffic.

Finally they came to the foothills, and then the road curved and recurved as it wound among them. And two hours from Bootstrap they reached Red Canyon. They first saw the dam from downstream. It was a monstrous structure of masonry, alone in the mountains. From its top a plume of falling water jetted out.

"The dam's for irrigation," said Sally professionally, "and the Shed gets all its power from here. One of Dad's nightmares is that somebody may blow up this dam and leave Bootstrap and the Shed without power."

Joe said nothing. He drove on up the trail as it climbed the canyon wall in hairpin slants. It was ticklish driving. But then, quite suddenly, they reached the top of the canyon wall and the top of the dam and the level of the lake at once. Here there was a sheet of water that reached back among the barren hillsides for miles and miles. It twisted out of sight. There were small waves on its surface, and grass at its edge. There were young trees. The powerhouse was a small squat structure in the middle of the dam. Not a person was visible anywhere.

"Here we are," said Sally, when Joe stopped the car.

He got out and went around to open the door for her. But she was already stepping out with the lunch basket in her hand when he arrived. He reached for it, and she held on, and they moved companionably away from the car carrying the basket between them.

"There's a nice place," said Sally, pointing.

A small ridge of rock stretched out into the lake, and rose, and spread, and formed what was almost a miniature island some fifty feet across. There were some young trees on it. Sally and Joe climbed down the slope and out the rocky isthmus that connected it with the shore.

Sally let down the lunch box on a stone and laughed for no reason at all as the wind blew her hair. It was a cool wind from over the water. And Joe realized with a shock of surprise that the air felt different and smelled different when it blew over open water like this. Up to now he hadn't thought of the dryness of the air in Bootstrap and the Shed.

The lunch basket was tilted a little. Joe picked it up and settled it more solidly. Then he said: "Hungry?"

There was literally nothing on his mind at the moment but the luxurious, satisfied feeling of being off somewhere with grass and a lake and Sally, and a good part of the afternoon to throw away. It felt good. So he lifted the lid of the lunch basket.

There was a revolver there. It was the other one from the glove compartment of the car. Sally hadn't left it behind. Joe regarded it and said ironically: "Happy, carefree youth--that's us! Which are the ham sandwiches, Sally?"
A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1911. Note: The copyright for this story has expired in the United States and, thus, now resides in the public domain.

The thing, which more nearly resembled our earthly men than it did the Martians I had seen, held me pinioned to the ground with one huge foot, while it jabbered and gesticulated at some answering creature behind me. This other, which was evidently its mate, soon came toward us, bearing a mighty stone cudgel with which it evidently intended to brain me.

The creatures were about ten or fifteen feet tall, standing erect, and had, like the green Martians, an intermediary set of arms or legs, midway between their upper and lower limbs. Their eyes were close together and non-protruding; their ears were high set, but more laterally located than those of the Martians, while their snouts and teeth were strikingly like those of our African gorilla. Altogether they were not unlovely when viewed in comparison with the green Martians.

The cudgel was swinging in the arc which ended upon my upturned face when a bolt of myriad-legged horror hurled itself through the doorway full upon the breast of my executioner. With a shriek of fear the ape which held me leaped through the open window, but its mate closed in a terrific death struggle with my preserver, which was nothing less than my faithful watch-thing; I cannot bring myself to call so hideous a creature a dog.

As quickly as possible I gained my feet and backing against the wall I witnessed such a battle as it is vouchsafed few beings to see. The strength, agility, and blind ferocity of these two creatures is approached by nothing known to earthly man. My beast had an advantage in his first hold, having sunk his mighty fangs far into the breast of his adversary; but the great arms and paws of the ape, backed by muscles far transcending those of the Martian men I had seen, had locked the throat of my guardian and slowly were choking out his life, and bending back his head and neck upon his body, where I momentarily expected the former to fall limp at the end of a broken neck.

In accomplishing this the ape was tearing away the entire front of its breast, which was held in the vise-like grip of the powerful jaws. Back and forth upon the floor they rolled, neither one emitting a sound of fear or pain. Presently I saw the great eyes of my beast bulging completely from their sockets and blood flowing from its nostrils. That he was weakening perceptibly was evident, but so also was the ape, whose struggles were growing momentarily less.

Suddenly I came to myself and, with that strange instinct which seems ever to prompt me to my duty, I seized the cudgel, which had fallen to the floor at the commencement of the battle, and swinging it with all the power of my earthly arms I crashed it full upon the head of the ape, crushing his skull as though it had been an eggshell.

Scarcely had the blow descended when I was confronted with a new danger. The ape's mate, recovered from its first shock of terror, had returned to the scene of the encounter by way of the interior of the building. I glimpsed him just before he reached the doorway and the sight of him, now roaring as he perceived his lifeless fellow stretched upon the floor, and frothing at the mouth, in the extremity of his rage, filled me, I must confess, with dire forebodings.

I am ever willing to stand and fight when the odds are not too overwhelmingly against me, but in this instance I perceived neither glory nor profit in pitting my relatively puny strength against the iron muscles and brutal ferocity of this enraged denizen of an unknown world; in fact, the only outcome of such an encounter, so far as I might be concerned, seemed sudden death.

I was standing near the window and I knew that once in the street I might gain the plaza and safety before the creature could overtake me; at least there was a chance for safety in flight, against almost certain death should I remain and fight however desperately.

It is true I held the cudgel, but what could I do with it against his four great arms? Even should I break one of them with my first blow, for I figured that he would attempt to ward off the cudgel, he could reach out and annihilate me with the others before I could recover for a second attack.

In the instant that these thoughts passed through my mind I had turned to make for the window, but my eyes alighting on the form of my erstwhile guardian threw all thoughts of flight to the four winds. He lay gasping upon the floor of the chamber, his great eyes fastened upon me in what seemed a pitiful appeal for protection. I could not withstand that look, nor could I, on second thought, have deserted my rescuer without giving as good an account of myself in his behalf as he had in mine.

Without more ado, therefore, I turned to meet the charge of the infuriated bull ape. He was now too close upon me for the cudgel to prove of any effective assistance, so I merely threw it as heavily as I could at his advancing bulk. It struck him just below the knees, eliciting a howl of pain and rage, and so throwing him off his balance that he lunged full upon me with arms wide stretched to ease his fall.

Again, as on the preceding day, I had recourse to earthly tactics, and swinging my right fist full upon the point of his chin I followed it with a smashing left to the pit of his stomach. The effect was marvelous, for, as I lightly sidestepped, after delivering the second blow, he reeled and fell upon the floor doubled up with pain and gasping for wind. Leaping over his prostrate body, I seized the cudgel and finished the monster before he could regain his feet.

As I delivered the blow a low laugh rang out behind me, and, turning, I beheld Tars Tarkas, Sola, and three or four warriors standing in the doorway of the chamber. As my eyes met theirs I was, for the second time, the recipient of their zealously guarded applause.

My absence had been noted by Sola on her awakening, and she had quickly informed Tars Tarkas, who had set out immediately with a handful of warriors to search for me. As they had approached the limits of the city they had witnessed the actions of the bull ape as he bolted into the building, frothing with rage.

They had followed immediately behind him, thinking it barely possible that his actions might prove a clew to my whereabouts and had witnessed my short but decisive battle with him. This encounter, together with my set-to with the Martian warrior on the previous day and my feats of jumping placed me upon a high pinnacle in their regard. Evidently devoid of all the finer sentiments of friendship, love, or affection, these people fairly worship physical prowess and bravery, and nothing is too good for the object of their adoration as long as he maintains his position by repeated examples of his skill, strength, and courage.

Sola, who had accompanied the searching party of her own volition, was the only one of the Martians whose face had not been twisted in laughter as I battled for my life. She, on the contrary, was sober with apparent solicitude and, as soon as I had finished the monster, rushed to me and carefully examined my body for possible wounds or injuries. Satisfying herself that I had come off unscathed she smiled quietly, and, taking my hand, started toward the door of the chamber.

Tars Tarkas and the other warriors had entered and were standing over the now rapidly reviving brute which had saved my life, and whose life I, in turn, had rescued. They seemed to be deep in argument, and finally one of them addressed me, but remembering my ignorance of his language turned back to Tars Tarkas, who, with a word and gesture, gave some command to the fellow and turned to follow us from the room.

There seemed something menacing in their attitude toward my beast, and I hesitated to leave until I had learned the outcome. It was well I did so, for the warrior drew an evil looking pistol from its holster and was on the point of putting an end to the creature when I sprang forward and struck up his arm. The bullet striking the wooden casing of the window exploded, blowing a hole completely through the wood and masonry.

I then knelt down beside the fearsome-looking thing, and raising it to its feet motioned for it to follow me. The looks of surprise which my actions elicited from the Martians were ludicrous; they could not understand, except in a feeble and childish way, such attributes as gratitude and compassion. The warrior whose gun I had struck up looked enquiringly at Tars Tarkas, but the latter signed that I be left to my own devices, and so we returned to the plaza with my great beast following close at heel, and Sola grasping me tightly by the arm.

I had at least two friends on Mars; a young woman who watched over me with motherly solicitude, and a dumb brute which, as I later came to know, held in its poor ugly carcass more love, more loyalty, more gratitude than could have been found in the entire five million green Martians who rove the deserted cities and dead sea bottoms of Mars.

An Audio version is available at this link.

Space Platform, Chapter 6

Space Platform, Murray Leinster, 1953. Note: The copyright for this book has expired in the United States and was not renewed, thus, Space Platform now resides in the public domain.

Major Holt wasn't to be found when Joe got out to the Shed. And he wasn't in the house in the officers'-quarters area behind it. There was only the housekeeper, who yawned pointedly as she let Joe in. Sally was presumably long since asleep. And Joe didn't know any way to get hold of the Major. He assured himself that Braun was a good guy--if he weren't he wouldn't have insisted on taking a licking before he apologized--and he hadn't said there was any hurry. Tomorrow, he'd said. So Joe uneasily let himself be led to a room with a cot, and he was asleep in what seemed seconds. But just the same he was badly worried.

In fact, next morning Joe woke at a practically unearthly hour with Braun's message pounding on his brain. He was downstairs waiting when the housekeeper appeared. She looked startled.

"Major Holt?" he asked.

But the Major was gone. He must have done with no more than three or four hours' sleep. There was an empty coffee cup whose contents he'd gulped down before going back to the security office.

Joe trudged to the barbed-wire enclosure around the officers'-quarters area and explained to the sentry where he wanted to go. A sleepy driver whisked him around the half-mile circle to the security building and he found his way to Major Holt's office.

The plain and gloomy secretary was already on the job, too. She led him in to face Major Holt. He blinked at the sight of Joe.

"Hm.... I have some news," he observed. "We back-tracked the parcel that exploded when it was dumped from the plane."

Joe had almost forgotten it. Too many other things had happened since.

"We've got two very likely prisoners out of that affair," said the Major. "They may talk. Also, an emergency inspection of other transport planes has turned up three other grenades tucked away in front-wheel wells. Ah--CO2 bottles have turned out to have something explosive in them. A very nice bit of work, that! The sandy-haired man who fueled your plane--ah--disappeared. That is bad!"

Joe said politely: "That's fine, sir."

"All in all, you've been the occasion of our forestalling a good deal of sabotage," said the Major. "Bad for you, of course.... Did you find the men you were looking for?"

"I've found them, but--."

"I'll have them transferred to work under your direction," said the Major briskly. "Their names?"

Joe gave the names. The Major wrote them down.

"Very good. I'm busy now----"

"I've a tip for you," said Joe. "I think it should be checked right away. I don't feel too good about it."

The Major waited impatiently. And Joe explained, very carefully, about the fight on the Platform the day before, Braun's insistence on finishing the fight in Bootstrap, and then the tip he'd given Joe after everything was over. He repeated the message exactly, word for word.

The Major, to do him justice, did not interrupt. He listened with an expression that varied between grimness and weariness. When Joe ended he picked up a telephone. He talked briefly. Joe felt a reluctant sort of approval. Major Holt was not a man one could ever feel very close to, and the work he was in charge of was not likely to make him popular, but he did think straight--and fast. He didn't think "hot" meant "significant," either. When he'd hung up the phone he said curtly: "When will your work crew get here?"

"Early--but not yet," said Joe. "Not for some time yet."

"Go with the pilot," said the Major. "You'd recognize what Braun meant as soon as anybody. See what you see."

Joe stood up.

"You--think the tip is straight?"

"This isn't the first time," said Major Holt detachedly, "that a man has been blackmailed into trying sabotage. If he's got a family somewhere abroad, and they're threatened with death or torture unless he does such-and-such here, he's in a bad fix. It's happened. Of course he can't tell me! He's watched. But he sometimes finds an out."

Joe was puzzled. His face showed it.

"He can try to do the sabotage," said the Major precisely, "or he can arrange to be caught trying to do it. If he's caught--he tried; and the blackmail threat is no threat at all so long as he keeps his mouth shut. Which he does. And--ah--you would be surprised how often a man who wasn't born in the United States would rather go to prison for sabotage than commit it--here."

Joe blinked.

"If your friend Braun is caught," said the Major, "he will be punished. Severely. Officially. But privately, someone will--ah--mention this tip and say 'thanks.' And he'll be told that he will be released from prison just as soon as he thinks it's safe. And he will be. That's all."

He turned to his papers. Joe went out. On the way to meet the pilot who'd check on his tip, he thought things over. He began to feel a sort of formless but very definite pride. He wasn't quite sure what he was proud of, but it had something to do with being part of a country toward which men of wholly different upbringing could feel deep loyalty. If a man who was threatened unless he turned traitor, a man who might not even be a citizen, arranged to be caught and punished for an apparent crime against a country rather than commit it--that wasn't bad. There can be a lot of things wrong with a nation, but if somebody from another one entirely can come to feel that kind of loyalty toward it--well--it's not too bad a country to belong to.

Joe had a security guard with him this time, instead of Sally, as he went across the vast, arc-lit interior of the Shed and past the shimmering growing monster that was the Platform. He went all the way to the great swinging doors that let in materials trucks. And there were guards there, and they checked each driver very carefully before they admitted his truck. But somehow it wasn't irritating. It wasn't scornful suspicion. There'd be snide and snappy characters in the Security force, of course, swaggering and throwing their weight about. But even they were guarding something that men--some men--were willing to throw away their lives for.

Joe and his guard reached one of the huge entrances as a ten-wheeler truck came in with a load of shining metal plates. Joe's escort went through the opening with him and they waited outside. The sun had barely risen. It looked huge but very far away, and Joe suddenly realized why just this spot had been chosen for the building of the Platform.

The ground was flat. All the way to the eastern horizon there wasn't even a minor hillock rising above the plain. It was bare, arid, sun-scorched desert. It was featureless save for sage and mesquite and tall thin stalks of yucca. But it was flat. It could be a runway. It was a perfect place for the Platform to start from. The Platform shouldn't touch ground at all, after it was out of the Shed, but at least it wouldn't run into any obstacles on its way toward the horizon.

A light plane came careening around the great curved outer surface of the Shed. It landed and taxied up to the door. It swung smartly around and its side door opened. A bandaged hand waved at Joe. He climbed in. The pilot of this light, flimsy plane was the co-pilot of the transport of yesterday. He was the man Joe had helped to dump cargo.

Joe climbed in and settled himself. The small motor pop-popped valiantly, the plane rushed forward over hard-packed desert earth, and went swaying up into the air.

The co-pilot--pilot now--shouted cheerfully above the din: "Hiya. You couldn't sleep either? Burns hurt?"

Joe shook his head.

"Bothered," he shouted in reply. Then he added, "Do I do something to help, or am I along just for the ride?"

"First we take a look," the pilot called over the motor racket. "Two kilometers due north of the Shed, eh?"

"That's right."

"We'll see what's there," the pilot told him.

The small plane went up and up. At five hundred feet--nearly level with the roof of the Shed--it swung away and began to make seemingly erratic dartings out over the spotty desert land, and then back. Actually, it was a search pattern. Joe looked down from his side of the small cockpit. This was a very small plane indeed, and in consequence its motor made much more noise inside its cabin than much more powerful engines in bigger ships.

"Those burns I got," shouted the pilot, staring down, "kept me awake. So I got up and was just walking around when the call came for somebody to drive one of these things. I took over."

Back and forth, and back and forth. From five hundred feet in the early morning the desert had a curious appearance. The plane was low enough for each smallest natural feature to be visible, and it was early enough for every shrub or hummock to cast a long, slender shadow. The ground looked streaked, but all the streaks ran the same way, and all were shadows.

Joe shouted: "What's that?"

The plane banked at a steep angle and ran back. It banked again. The pilot stared carefully. He reached forward and pushed a button. There was a tiny impact underfoot. Another steep banking turn, and Joe saw a puff of smoke in the air.

The pilot shouted: "It's a man. He looks dead."

He swung directly over the small prone object and there was a second puff of smoke.

"They've got range finders on us from the Shed," he called across the two-foot space separating him from Joe. "This marks the spot. Now we'll see if there's anything to the hot part of that tip."

He reached over behind his seat and brought out a stubby pole like a fishpole with a very large reel. There was also a headset, and something very much like a large aluminum fish on the end of the line.

"You know Geiger counters?" called the pilot. "Stick on these headphones and listen!"

Joe slipped on the headset. The pilot threw a switch and Joe heard clickings. They had no pattern and no fixed frequency. They were clickings at strictly random intervals, but there was an average frequency, at that.

"Let the counter out the window," called the pilot, "and listen. Tell me if the noise goes up."

Joe obeyed. The aluminum fish dangled. The line slanted astern from the wind. It made a curve between the pole and the aluminum plummet, which was hollow in the direction of the plane's motion. The pilot squinted down and began to swing in a wide circle around the spot where an apparently dead man had been sighted, and above which puffs of smoke now floated.

Three-quarters of the way around, the random clickings suddenly became a roar.

Joe said: "Hey!"

The pilot swung the plane about and flew back. He pointed to the button he'd pushed.

"Poke that when you hear it again."

The clickings.... They roared. Joe pushed the button. He felt the tiny impact.

"Once more," said the pilot.

He swung in nearer where the dead man lay. Joe had a sickening idea of who the dead man might be. A sudden rush of noise in the headphones and he pushed the button again.

"Reel in now!" shouted the pilot. "Our job's done."

Joe reeled in as the plane winged steadily back toward the Shed. There were puffs of smoke floating in the air behind. They had been ranged on at the instant they appeared. Somebody back at the Shed knew that something that needed to be investigated was at a certain spot, and the two later puffs of smoke had said that radioactivity was notable in the air along the line the two puffs made. Not much more information would be needed. The meaning of Braun's warning that his tip was "hot" was definite. It was "hot" in the sense that it dealt with radioactivity!

The plane dipped down and landed by the great doors again. It taxied up and the pilot killed the motor.

"We've been using Geigers for months," he said pleasedly, "and never got a sign before. This is one time we were set for something."

"What?" asked Joe. But he knew.

"Atomic dust is one good guess," the pilot told him. "It was talked of as a possible weapon away back in the Smyth Report. Nobody's ever tried it. We thought it might be tried against the Platform. If somebody managed to spread some really hot radioactive dust around the Shed, all three shifts might get fatally burned before it was noticed. They'd think so, anyhow! But the guy who was supposed to dump it opened up the can for a look. And it killed him."

He climbed out of the plane and went to the doorway. He took a telephone from a guard and talked crisply into it. He hung up.

"Somebody coming for you," he said amiably. "Wait here. Be seeing you."

He went out, the motor kicked over and caught, and the tiny plane raced away. Seconds later it was aloft and winging southward.

Joe waited. Presently a door opened and something came clanking out. It was a tractor with surprisingly heavy armor. There were men in it, also wearing armor of a peculiar sort, which they were still adjusting. The tractor towed a half-track platform on which there were a crane and a very considerable lead-coated bin with a top. It went briskly off into the distance toward the north.

Joe was amazed, but comprehending. The vehicle and the men were armored against radioactivity. They would approach the dead man from upwind, and they would scoop up his body and put it in the lead-lined bin, and with it all deadly radioactive material near him. This was the equipment that must have been used to handle the dud atom bomb some months back. It had been ready for that. It was ready for this emergency. Somebody had tried to think of every imaginable situation that could arise in connection with the Platform.

But in a moment a guard came for Joe and took him to where the Chief and Haney and Mike waited by the still incompletely-pulled-away crates. They had some new ideas about the job on hand that were better than the original ones in some details. All four of them set to work to make a careful survey of damage--of parts that would have to be replaced and of those that needed to be repaired. The discoveries they made would have appalled Joe earlier. Now he merely made notes of parts necessary to be replaced by new ones that could be had within the repair time for rebalancing the rotors.

"This is sure a mess," said Haney mournfully, as they worked. "It's two days just getting things cleaned up!"

The Chief eyed the rotors. There were two of them, great four-foot disks with extraordinary short and stubby shafts that were brought to beautifully polished conical ends to fit in the bearings. The bearings were hollowed to fit the shaft ends, but they were intricately scored to form oil channels. In operation, a very special silicone oil would be pumped into the bearings under high pressure. Distributed by the channels, the oil would form a film that by its pressure would hold the cone end of the bearing away from actual contact with the metal. The rotors, in fact, would be floated in oil just as the high-speed centrifuge the Chief had mentioned had floated on compressed air. But they had to be perfectly balanced, because any imbalance would make the shaft pierce the oil film and touch the metal of the bearing--and when a shaft is turning at 40,000 r.p.m. it is not good for it to touch anything. Shaft and bearing would burn white-hot in fractions of a second and there would be several devils to pay.

"We've got to spin it in a lathe," said the Chief profoundly, "to hold the chucks. The chucks have got to be these same bearings, because nothing else will stand the speed. And we got to cut out the bed plate of any lathe we find. Hm. We got to do our spinning with the shaft lined up with the earth's axis, too."

Mike nodded wisely, and Joe knew he'd pointed that out. It was true enough. A high-speed gyro could only be run for minutes in one single direction if its mount were fixed. If a precisely mounted gyro had its shaft pointed at the sun, for example, while it ran, its axis would try to follow the sun. It would try not to turn with the earth, and it would wreck itself. They had to use the cone bearings, but in order to protect the fine channellings for oil they'd have to use cone-shaped shims at the beginning while running at low speed. The cone ends of the shaft would need new machining to line them up. The bearings had to be fixed, yet flexible. The----

They had used many paper napkins the night before, merely envisioning these details. New problems turned up as the apparatus itself was being uncovered and cleaned.

They worked for hours, clearing away soot and charred material. Joe's list of small parts to be replaced from the home plant was as long as his arm. The motors, of course, had to be scrapped and new ones substituted. Considering their speed--the field strength at operating rate was almost imperceptible--they had to be built new, which would mean round-the-clock work at Kenmore.

A messenger came for Joe. The security office wanted him. Major Holt's gloomy secretary did not even glance up as he entered. Major Holt himself looked tired.

"There was a man out there," he said curtly. "I think it is your friend Braun. I'll get you to look and identify."

Joe had suspected as much. He waited.

"He'd opened a container of cobalt powder. It was in a beryllium case. There was half a pound of it. It killed him."

"Radioactive cobalt," said Joe.

"Definitely," said the Major grimly. "Half a pound of it gives off the radiation of an eighth of a ton of pure radium. One can guess that he had been instructed to get up as high as he could in the Shed and dump the powder into the air. It would diffuse--scatter as it sifted down. It would have contaminated the whole Shed past all use for years--let alone killing everybody in it."

Joe swallowed.

"He was burned, then."

"He had the equivalent of two hundred and fifty pounds of radium within inches of his body," the Major said unbendingly, "and naturally it was not healthy. For that matter, the container itself was not adequate protection for him. Once he'd carried it in his pocket for a very few minutes, he was a dead man, even though he was not conscious of the fact."

Joe knew what was wanted of him.

"You want me to look at him," he said.

The Major nodded.

"Yes. Afterward, get a radiation check on yourself. It is hardly likely that he was--ah--carrying the stuff with him last night, in Bootstrap. But if he was--ah--you may need some precautionary treatment--you and the men who were with you."

Joe realized what that meant. Braun had been given a relatively small container of the deadliest available radioactive material on Earth. Milligrams of it, shipped from Oak Ridge for scientific use, were encased in thick lead chests. He'd carried two hundred and fifty grams in a container he could put in his pocket. He was not only dead as he walked, under such circumstances. He was also death to those who walked near him.

"Somebody else may have been burned in any case," said the Major detachedly. "I am going to issue a radioactivity alarm and check every man in Bootstrap for burns. It is--ah--very likely that the man who delivered it to this man is burned, too. But you will not mention this, of course."

He waved his hand in dismissal. Joe turned to go. The Major added grimly: "By the way, there is no doubt about the booby-trapping of planes. We've found eight, so far, ready to be crashed when a string was pulled while they were serviced. But the men who did the booby-trapping have vanished. They disappeared suddenly during last night. They were warned! Have you talked to anybody?"

"No sir," said Joe.

"I would like to know," said the Major coldly, "how they knew we'd found out their trick!"

Joe went out. He felt very cold at the pit of his stomach. He was to identify Braun. Then he was to get a radiation check on himself. In that order of events. He was to identify Braun first, because if Braun had carried a half-pound of radioactive cobalt on him in Sid's Steak Joint the night before, Joe was going to die. And so were Haney and the Chief and Mike, and anybody else who'd passed near him. So Joe was to do the identification before he was disturbed by the information that he was dead.

He made the identification. Braun was very decently laid out in a lead-lined box, with a lead-glass window over his face. There was no sign of any injury on him except from his fight with Haney. The radiation burns were deep, but they'd left no marks of their own. He'd died before outer symptoms could occur.

Joe signed the identification certificate. He went to be checked for his own chances of life. It was a peculiar sensation. The most peculiar was that he wasn't afraid. He was neither confident that he was not burned inside, nor sure that he was. He simply was not afraid. Nobody really ever believes that he is going to die--in the sense of ceasing to exist. The most arrant coward, stood before a wall to be shot, or strapped in an electric chair, finds that astoundingly he does not believe that what happens to his body is going to kill him, the individual. That is why a great many people die with reasonable dignity. They know it is not worth making too much of a fuss over.

But when the Geiger counters had gone over him from head to foot, and his body temperature was normal, and his reflexes sound--when he was assured that he had not been exposed to dangerous radiation--Joe felt distinctly weak in the knees. And that was natural, too.

He went trudging back to the wrecked gyros. His friends were gone, leaving a scrawled memo for him. They had gone to pick out the machine tools for the work at hand.

He continued to check over the wreckage, thinking with a detached compassion of that poor devil Braun who was the victim of men who hated the idea of the Space Platform and what it would mean to humanity. Men of that kind thought of themselves as superior to humanity, and of human beings as creatures to be enslaved. So they arranged for planes to crash and burn and for men to be murdered, and they practiced blackmail--or rewarded those who practiced it for them. They wanted to prevent the Platform from existing because it would keep them from trying to pull the world down in ruins so they could rule over the wreckage.

Joe--who had so recently thought it likely that he would die--considered these actions with an icy dislike that was much deeper than anger. It was backed by everything he believed in, everything he had ever wanted, and everything he hoped for. And anger could cool off, but the way he felt about people who would destroy others for their own purposes could not cool off. It was part of him. He thought about it as he worked, with all the noises of the Shed singing in his ears.

A voice said: "Joe."

He started and turned. Sally stood behind him, looking at him very gravely. She tried to smile.

"Dad told me," she said, "about the check-up that says you're all right. May I congratulate you on your being with us for a while?--on the cobalt's not getting near you?--or the rest of us?"

Joe did not know exactly what to say.

"I'm going inside the Platform," she told him. "Would you like to come along?"

He wiped his hands on a piece of waste.

"Naturally! My gang is off picking out tools. I can't do much until they come back."

He fell into step beside her. They walked toward the Platform. And it was still magic, no matter how often Joe looked at it. It was huge beyond belief, though it was surely not heavy in proportion to its size. Its bright plating shone through the gossamer scaffolding all about it. There was always a faint bluish mist in the air, and there were the marsh-fire lights of welding torches playing here and there. The sounds of the Shed were a steady small tumult in Joe's ears. He was getting accustomed to them, though.

"How is it you can go around so freely?" he asked abruptly. "I have to be checked and rechecked."

"You'll get a full clearance," she told him. "It has to go through channels. Me--I have influence. I always come in through security, and I have the door guards trained. And I do have business in the Platform."

He turned his head to look at her.

"Interior decoration," she explained. "And don't laugh! It isn't prettifying. It's psychology. The Platform was designed by engineers and physicists and people with slide rules. They made a beautiful environment for machinery. But there will be men living in it, and they aren't machines."

"I don't see----"

"They designed the hydroponic garden," said Sally with a certain scorn. "They calculated very neatly that eleven square feet of leaf surface of a pumpkin plant will purify all the air a resting man uses, and so much more will purify the air a man uses when he's working hard. So they designed the gardens for the most efficient production of the greatest possible leaf surface--of pumpkin plants! They figured food would be brought up by the tender rockets! But can you imagine the men in the Platform, floating among the stars, living on dehydrated food and stuffing themselves hungrily with pumpkins because that is the only fresh food they have?"

Joe saw the irony.

"They're thinking of mechanical efficiency," said Sally indignantly. "I don't know anything about machinery, but I've wasted an awful lot of time at school and otherwise if I don't know something about human beings! I argued, and the garden now isn't as mechanically efficient, but it'll be a nice place for a man to go into. He won't smell pumpkin plants all the time, either. I've even gotten them to include some flowers!"

They were very near the Platform. And it was very near to completion. Joe looked at it hungrily, and he felt a great sense of urgency. He tried to strip away the scaffolding in his mind and see it floating proudly free in emptiness, with white-hot sunshine glinting from it, and only a background of unwinking stars.

Sally's voice went on: "And I've really put up an argument about the living quarters. They had every interior wall painted aluminum! I argued that in space or out of it, where people have to live, it's housekeeping. This is going to be their home. And they ought to feel human in it!"

They passed into one of the openings in the maze of uprights. All about them there were trucks, and puffing engines, and hoists. Joe dragged Sally aside as a monstrous truck-and-trailer came from where it had delivered some gigantic item of interior use. It rumbled past them, and she led the way to a flight of temporary wooden stairs with two security guards at the bottom. Sally talked severely to them, and they grinned and waved for Joe to go ahead. He went up the steps--which would be pulled down before the Platform's launching--and went actually inside the Space Platform for the first time.

It was a moment of extreme vividness for him. Within the past hour he'd come to think detachedly of the possibility of death for himself, and then had learned that he would live for a while yet. He knew that Sally had been scared on his account, and that her matter-of-fact manner was partly assumed. She was at least as much wrought up as he was.

And this was the first time he was going into what would be the first space ship ever to leave the Earth on a non-return journey.