Cosmic engineers, p.1
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       Cosmic Engineers, p.1

           Clifford D. Simak
 
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Cosmic Engineers


  Scanned & proofed by Anada Sucka.

  Converted to HTML, cleaned, re-formatted & proofread by nukie.

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  Cosmic Engineers

  Clifford D. Simak

  * * *

  Title: Cosmic Engineers

  Author: Clifford D. Simak

  Original copyright year: 1950

  Genre: science fiction

  Book price (of scanned edition): US$ 0.50

  Comments: To my knowledge, this is the only available e-text of this book.

  Source: scanned and OCR-read from a paperback edition with Xerox TextBridge Pro 9.0, proofread in MS Word 2000.

  Date of e-text: August 16, 1999

  Prepared by: Anada Sucka

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  Anticopyright 1999. All rights reversed.

  ––––––––––––––––––––––––

  * * *

  Table of Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  * * *

  From the original short novel by the same author, Copyright 1939 by Street and Smith Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

  * * *

  “…apart from your assignments, you must always be receptive to, be prepared for, and act upon all news potential from strange sources though it may lead you to the end of the solar system—perhaps even to the very edge of the universe…” From the Interplanetary Newsman’s Manual

  Chapter One

  ^ »

  HERB HARPER snapped on the radio and a voice snarled, billions of miles away: “Police ship 968. Keep watch for freighter Vulcan on the Earth-Venus run. Search ship for drugs. Believed to be…”

  Herb spun the dial. A lazy voice floated through the ship: “Pleasure yacht Helen, three hours out of Sandebar. Have you any messages for us?”

  He spun the dial again. The voice of Tim Donovan, radio’s ace newscaster, rasped “Tommy Evans will have to wait a few more days before attempting his flight to Alpha Centauri. The Solar Commerce commission claims to have found some faults in the construction of his new generators, but Tommy still insists that those generators will shoot him along at a speed well over that of light. Nevertheless, he has been ordered to bring his ship back to Mars so that technicians may check it before he finally takes off.

  Tommy is out on Pluto now, all poised for launching off into space beyond the solar system. At last reports he had made no move to obey the order of the commission. Tommy’s backers, angered by the order, call it high-handed, charge there are politics back of it…”

  Herb shut off the radio and walked to the door separating the living quarters of the Space Pup from the control room.

  “Hear that, Gary?” he asked. “Maybe we’ll get to see this guy, Evans, after all.”

  Gary Nelson, puffing at his foul, black pipe, scowled savagely at Herb.

  “Who wants to see that glory grabber?” he asked.

  “What’s biting you now?” asked Herb.

  “Nothing,” said Gary, “except Tommy Evans. Ever since we left Saturn we haven’t heard a thing out of Donovan except this Tommy Evans.”

  Herb stared at his lanky partner.

  “You sure got a bad case of space fever,” he said. “You been like a dog with a sore head the last few days.”

  “Who wouldn’t get space fever?” snapped Gary. He gestured out through the vision plate. “Nothing but space,” he said. “Blackness with little stars.

  Stars that have forgotten how to twinkle. Going hundreds of miles a second and you wonder if you’re moving. No change in scenery. A few square feet of space to live in. Black space pressing all about you, taunting you, trying to get in…”

  He stopped and sat down limply in the pilot’s chair.

  “How about a game of chess?” asked Herb.

  Gary twisted about and snapped at him:

  “Don’t mention chess to me again, you sawed-off shrimp. I’ll space-walk you if you do. So help me Hannah if I won’t.”

  “Thought maybe it would quiet you down,” said Herb.

  Gary leveled his pipestem at Herb.

  “If I had the guy who invented three-way chess,” he said, “I’d wring his blasted neck. The old kind was bad enough, but three-dimensional, twenty-seven man…”

  He shook his head dismally.

  “He must have been half nuts,” he said.

  “He did go off his rockers,” Herb told him, “but not from inventing three-way chess. Guy by the name of Konrad Fairbanks. In an asylum back on Earth now. I took a picture of him once, when he was coming out of the courtroom. Just after the judge said he was only half there. The cops chased hell out of me but I got away. The Old Man paid me ten bucks bonus for the shot.”

  “I remember that,” said Gary. “Best mathematical mind in the whole system. Worked out equations no one could understand. Went screwy when he proved that there actually were times when one and one didn’t quite make two.

  Proved it, you understand. Not just theory or mathematical mumbo-jumbo.”

  Herb walked across the control room and stood beside Gary, looking out through the vision plate.

  “Everything been going all right?” he asked.

  Gary growled deep in his throat.

  “What could go wrong out here? Not even any meteors. Nothing to do but sit and watch. And there really isn’t any need of that. The robot navigator handles everything.” The soft purr of the geosectors filled the ship. There was no other sound. The ship seemed standing still in space. Saturn swung far down to the right, a golden disk of light with thin, bright rings.

  Pluto was a tiny speck of light almost dead ahead, a little to the left.

  The Sun, three billion miles astern, was shielded from their sight.

  The Space Pup was headed for Pluto at a pace that neared a thousand miles a second. The geosectors, warping the curvature of space itself, hurled the tiny ship through the void at a speed unthought of less than a hundred years before.

  And now Tommy Evans, out on Pluto, was ready, if only the Solar Commerce commission would stop its interference, to bullet his experimental craft away from the solar system, out toward the nearest star, 4.29 light-years distant. Providing his improved electro-gravitic geodesic deflectors lived up to the boast of their inventors, he would exceed the speed of light, would vanish into that limbo of impossibility that learned savants only a few centuries before had declared was unattainable.

  “It kind of makes a fellow dizzy,” Herb declared.

  “What does?”

  “Why,” said Herb, “this Tommy Evans stunt. The boy is making history. And maybe we’ll be there to see him do it. He’s the first to make a try at the stars—and if he wins, there will be lots of others. Man will go out and out and still farther out, maybe clear out to where space is still exploding.”

  Gary grunted. “They sure will have to hurry some,” he said, “because space is exploding fast.”

  “Now look here,” said Herb. “You can’t just sit there and pretend the human race has made no progress. Take this ship, just for example. We don’t r
ely on rockets any more except in taking off and landing. Once out in space and we set the geosectors to going and we warp space and build up speed that no rocket could ever hope to give you. We got an atmosphere generator that manufactures air. No more stocking up on oxygen and depending on air purifiers. Same thing with food. The machine just picks up matter and energy out of space and transmutes them into steaks and potatoes—or at least their equivalent in food value. And we send news stories and pictures across billions of miles of space. You just sit down in front of that spacewriter and whang away at the keys and in a few hours another machine back in New York writes what you have written.”

  Gary yawned. “How you run on,” he said, “We haven’t even started yet—the human race hasn’t. What we have done isn’t anything to what we are going to do. That is, if the race doesn’t get so downright ornery that it kills itself off first.”

  The spacewriter in the corner of the room stuttered and gibbered, warming up under the impulse of the warning signals, flung out hours before and three billion miles away.

  The two men hurried across the room and hung over it.

  Slowly, laboriously, the keys began to tap.

  NELSON, ABOARD SPACE PUP, NEARING PLUTO. HAVE INFO EVANS MAY TAKE OFF FOR CENTAURI WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION OF SCC. MAKE ALL POSSIBLE SPEED TO PLUTO.

  HANDLE SOONEST. MOST IMPORTANT. RUSH. REGARDS. EVENING ROCKET.

  The machine burped to a stop. Herb looked at Gary.

  “Maybe that guy Evans has got some guts after all,” said Gary. “Maybe he’ll tell the SCC where to stick it. They been asking for it for a long time now.”

  Herb grunted. “They won’t chase after him, that’s sure.” Gary sat down before the sending board and threw the switch. The hum of the electric generators drowned out the moan of the geosectors as they built up the power necessary to hurl a beam of energy across the void to Earth.

  “Only one thing wrong with this setup,” said Gary. “It takes too long and it takes too much power. I wish someone would hurry up and figure out a way to use the cosmics for carriers.”

  “Doc Kingsley, out on Pluto, has been fooling around with cosmics,” said Herb. “Maybe he’ll turn the trick in another year of two.”

  “Doc Kingsley has been fooling around with a lot of things out there,” said Gary. “If the man would only talk, we’d have more than one story to send back from Pluto.”

  The dynamos had settled into a steady hum of power. Gary glanced at the dials and reached out his fingers. He wrote:

  EVENING ROCKET. EARTH. WILL CONTACT EVANS AT ONCE IF STILL ON PLUTO. IF NOT WILL SEND STORY ON FLIGHT. NOTHING TO REPORT OUT HERE. WEATHER FINE. HERB DROPPED OUR LAST QUART AND BROKE IT. HOW ABOUT A RAISE.

  “That last,” he said, “will get ‘em.”

  “You didn’t have to put that in about the Scotch,” Herb declared. “It just slipped out of my fingers.”

  “Sure,” said Gary. “It just slipped out of your fingers. Right smack-dab onto a steel plate and busted all to hell. After this, I handle the liquor.

  When you want a drink, you ask me.”

  “Maybe Kingsley will have some liquor,” Herb said hopefully. “Maybe he’ll lend us a bottle.”

  “If he does,” declared Gary, “you keep your paws off of it. Between you sucking away at it and dropping it, I don’t get more than a drink or two out of each bottle. We still got Uranus and Neptune to do after Pluto and it looks like a long dry spell.”

  He got up and walked to the fore part of the ship, gazing out through the vision plate.

  “Only Neptune and Uranus ahead,” he said. “And that’s enough. If the Old Man ever thinks up any more screwball stunts, he can find someone else to do them. When I get back I’m going to ask him to give me back my old beat at the space terminal and I’m going to settle down there for the rest of my natural life. I’m going to watch the ships come in and take off and I’m going to get down on my hands and knees and kiss the ground each time and be thankful I’m not on them.”

  “He’s paying us good dough,” said Herb. “We got bank accounts piling up back home.”

  Gary pretended not to hear him.

  “Know Your Solar System,” he said. “Special articles run every Sunday in the Evening Rocket. Story by Leary Nelson. Pictures by Herbert Harper.

  Intrepid newsmen brave perils of space to bring back true picture of the solar system’s planets. One year alone in a spaceship, bringing to the readers of the Rocket a detailed account of life in space, of life on the planets. Remember how the promotion gang busted a gut advertising us. Full page ads and everything.”

  He spat.

  “Stuff for kids,” he said.

  “The kids probably think we’re heroes,” said Herb. “Probably they read our stuff and then pester the folks to buy them a spaceship. Want to go out and see Saturn for themselves.”

  “The Old Man said it would boost circulation,” declared Gary. “Hell, he’d commit suicide if he thought it would boost circulation. Remember what he told us. Says he:

  ‘Go out and visit all the planets. Get first-hand information and pictures.

  Shoot them back to us. We’ll run them every Sunday in the magazine section.’ Just like he was sending us around the corner to cover a fire.

  That’s all there was to it. Just a little over a year out in space. Living in a spaceship and a spacesuit. Hurry through Jupiter’s moons to get out to Saturn and then take it on the lam for Pluto. Soft job. Nice vacation for you. That’s what the Old Man said. Nice soft vacation, he said.”

  His pipe gurgled threateningly and he knocked it out viciously against the heel of his hand.

  “Well,” said Herb, “we’re almost to Pluto. A few days more and we’ll be there. They got a fueling station and a radio and Doc Kingsley’s laboratories out there. Maybe we can promote us a poker game.”

  Gary walked to the telescopic screen and switched it on.

  “Let’s take a look at her,” he said.

  The great circular screen glowed softly. Within it swam the image of Pluto, still almost half a billion miles away. A dead planet that shone dully in the faint light of the far distant Sun. A planet locked in the frigid grip of naked space, a planet that had been dead long before the first stirring of life had taken place on Earth.

  The vision was blurred and Gary manipulated dials to bring it more sharply into focus.

  “Wait a second,” snapped Herb. His lingers reached out and grasped Gary’s wrist.

  “Turn it back a ways,” he said. “I saw something out there. Something that looked like a ship. Maybe it’s Evans coming back.”

  Slowly Gary twisted the dial back. A tiny spot of light danced indistinctly on the screen.

  “That’s it,” breathed Herb. “Easy now. Just a little more.”

  The spot of light leaped into sharper focus. But it was merely a spot of light, nothing more, a tiny, shining thing in space. Some metallic body that was catching and reflecting the light of the Sun.

  “Give it more power,” said Herb.

  Swiftly the spot of light grew, assumed definite shape. Gary stepped the magnification up until the thing filled the entire screen.

  It was a ship—and yet it couldn’t be a ship.

  “It has no rocket tubes,” said Herb in amazement. “Without tubes how could it get off the ground? You can’t use geosectors in taking off. They twist space all to hell and gone. They’d turn a planet inside out.”

  Gary studied it. “It doesn’t seem to be moving,” he said. “Maybe some motion, but not enough to detect.”

  “A derelict,” suggested Herb.

  Gary shook his head. “Still doesn’t explain the lack of tubes,” he said.

  The two men lifted their eyes from the screen and looked at one another.

  “The Old Man said we were to hurry to Pluto,” Herb reminded Gary.

  Gary wheeled about and strode back to the controls. He lowered his gangling frame into the pilot’s chair and disconnected the robot control. H
is lingers reached out, switched off the geosectors, pumped fuel into the rocket chambers.

  “Find something to hang onto,” he said, grimly. “We’re stopping to see what this is all about.”

  * * *

  Chapter Two

  « ^ »

  The mysterious space-shell was only a few miles distant. With Herb at the controls, the Space Pup cruised in an ever-tightening circle around the glinting thing that hung there just off Pluto’s orbit.

  It was a spaceship. Of that there could be no doubt despite the fact that it had no rocket tubes. It was hanging motionless. There was no throb of power within it, no apparent life, although dim light glowed through the vision ports in what probably were the living quarters just back of the control room.

  Gary crouched in the airlock of the Space Pup, with the outer valve swung back. He made sure that his pistols were securely in their holsters and cautiously tested the spacesuit’s miniature propulsion units.

  He spoke into his helmet mike.

  “All right, Herb,” he said, “I’m going. Try to tighten up the circle a bit. Keep a close watch. That thing out there may be dynamite.”

  “Keep your nose clean,” said Herb’s voice in the phones. Gary straightened and pushed himself out from the lock.

  He floated smoothly in space, in a gulf of nothing, a place without direction, without an up or down, an unsubstantial place with the fiery eyes of distant stars ringing him around.

  His steel-gloved hand dropped to the propulsion mechanism that encircled his waist. Midget rocket tubes flared with tiny flashes of blue power and he was jerked forward, heading for the mystery ship. Veering too far to the right, he gave the right tube a little more fuel and straightened out.

  Steadily, under the surging power of the spacesuit tubes, he forged ahead through space toward the ship. He saw the gleaming lights of the Space Pup slowly circle in front of him and then pass out of sight.

 
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