Spillthrough, p.1Daniel F. Galouye
Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
By Daniel F. Galouye
[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Imagination Stories ofScience and Fantasy January 1953. Extensive research did not uncover anyevidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
[Sidenote: Ships switching from hyper to normal space had to do it in amicro-second--if the crews were to live. But it would take Brad suicidalminutes!]
Like the sibilant, labored breathing of a dying monster, the torturedship wailed its death sobs as it floundered in deep hyperstellar space.
_Clank-sss, clank-sss_, went the battered safety valve of the pilecooling system.
_BOOM ... boom ... BOOM ... boom._ A severed and dangling piston rodcrashed in monotonous rhythm against a deck beam as the rest of theauxiliary compression unit strained to satisfy its function.
An off-beat bass viol strum added its depressive note to the symphony ofdestruction's aftermath--_throom-throom ... throom-throom_. It was thepersistent expansion of plate metal reacting to heat from a rupturedtube jacket.
Forward, in the control compartment of the cargo craft, the sounds weremuted. But the intervening bulkheads did not lessen their portent.
Brad Conally ran a hand over the stubbles on his cheek and swayedforward in the bucket-type seat, his head falling to rest against thecontrol column.
Somewhere aft the ship groaned and metal scraped against metal with asickening rending sound.
There was a lurch and Brad was jerked to one side, his head rammingagainst the inclination control. The ventral jet came to life inunexpected protest and fired once.
His hand shot out instinctively to return the loose, displaced lever toneutral. But the force of the single burst had already taken effect andthe lower part of his stomach tied itself in a knot.
Centrifugal force reeled him to the fringe of consciousness. Hestruggled to reach the dorsal-ventral firing lever, praying that thelinkage was not severed and the mechanism was still operative. His handfound the lever and jerked. The dorsal jet came to life with a roar. Hejockeyed the control back and forth across neutral position. The twojets fired alternately. The sickening, end-over-end gyration becamegentler.
The ship steadied itself again into immobility. But a snap sounded fromback aft. It was followed by a grating noise that crescendoed andculminated in a terrific crash. His ears popped. A _clang_ reverberated,evidence of an automatic airlock sealing off another punctured sectionof the vessel.
Shrugging fatigue from his body, he looked up at the panel. Themassometer showed a decrease of six tons. The explanation was simple,Brad laughed dryly: A good one-quarter of his load of crated inter-calcaudio retention banks had rammed through the hull and floated intospace.
He glanced at the scope. The twenty odd crates, some of them taking upan orbital relationship with the vessel, were blips on the screen.
Twisting the massometer section selector, he read off the figures. HoldOne showed full cargo of inter-calc equipment. Hold Two, with its thirtybins of hematite, was intact. The third cargo compartment, containingmore crated inter-calc units, was the damaged one. The massometerreading for that hold accounted for the missing weight.
* * * * *
"How're you doing, Brad?" the receiver rasped feebly. He recoiled at theunexpected sound.
"She's still in one piece, Jim," he shouted to compensate for thestrength the signal would lose in traveling the distance to the fleeinglifecraft. "Have you cleared through your second hyperjump yet?"
"Getting ready to go into the third. There won't be any morecommunicating after that ... not with this short-range gear and yourfaulty transmitter. Find out the trouble yet?"
Brad ignored the question. "How long, Jim?" His voice was eager. "Howlong before you get to port?"
"Three jumps in one day. Seven more to go. That figures out to a littleover two more days. I'm making better time than we expected with thispeanut. Allow two more days for the slow tows to return.... Still thinkit'll hold together?"
Brad was silent.
"Brad," Jim's voice went into low gear. "I've still got enough juiceto come back and pick you up. After all, one ship and one load ofcargo ... it's just not worth it."
Brad listened to the ominous convulsions of the ship for a moment. "Yourorders are to continue to Vega IV. I'm sticking."
"But, skipper! Dammit! There's always the chance of spilling throughinto normal! That's a torturous way to go!"
Brad's lips brushed roughly against the bulkhead mike. "If I fallthrough it's just me, isn't it?"
Although the sound level was too low, he knew there was a sigh on theother end. "Okay," the speaker whispered. "If I can't convince you...."
Brad leaned against the bulkhead and shivered. He'd have to see whetherhe couldn't get more output from the heat converter--if he could chancegoing past the leaking pile again. Or _was_ it the cold that was causinghim to tremble?--If he entered normal space at less than minimumbreakthrough speed.... He didn't complete the distasteful mentalpicture.
He thought of his only functioning hyperdrive tube. Its gauge showed apower level that was only high enough to boost the craft back onto thehyperspace level when it started to conform with the normal tendency tofall through. How many times the tube could be counted on to repeat theperformance he couldn't guess. It might be painful if he should let thedrop gain too much momentum before correcting--human beings were builtto cross the barrier in nothing longer than a micro-second. But, heresolved, he would worry about that when the time came.
"Why don't you let it go, Brad?" the voice leaped through the gratingagain.
Brad started. He thought Jim had cut the communication.
"You know the score. If we swing this we can get all of West ClusterSupplies' work. We'll need an extra ship--several of them. But with thecontract we'll be able to borrow as much as we want."
Jim laughed. "At least I'm glad there's a rational, mercenarymotive. For a while I thought you were going through with thatgo-down-with-the-ship routine."
Boom ... _Boom_ ... BOOM. The loose rod pounded with suddenly increasingfury.
He lunged through the hatch. At least the compression unit was forwardof the faulty pile. And, while he did the job which automatic regulatorshad abandoned, he would not have to keep track of his time of exposureto hard radiation.
* * * * *
"Calling Space Ship Fleury. Repeat: Calling Space Ship Fleury.... Answerplease."
Brad jerked his head off the panel ledge. Hot coffee from a containerthat his limp hand half-gripped sloshed over the brim and spilled on thedeck. He turned a haggard, puzzled face to the bulkhead speaker.
It had flooded the compartment with sound--live, vibrant sound. Thesignal had been loud and clear. Not weak. Not like the one from Jim'slifecraft two jumps away.
"This is the SS Fleury!" he shouted, stumbling forward eagerly andgripping the gooseneck of the mike. "Come in!"
"Fleury from SS Cluster Queen.... Answering your SOS."
His hopes suddenly vanished. "Is that Altman? What are you doing on thisrun?"
"Yeah, Conally. This is Altman. Freeholding to Vega.... What's yourtrouble? Anything serious?"
Altman had come in to unload at Arcturus II Spaceport while the Fleurywas still docked, Brad recalled. The huge ship had been berthed next tohis.
"Main drive jacket blown out in the engine compartment," Brad saidhoarsely. "It happened at the end of the eighth jump. We're about ahalf-notch into hyper--just barely off the border."
"That's tough." There was little consolation in the tone. "Got an
"No. None this trip. I'm solo now. My engineer's gone off in the craft."
"Can't you replace that jacket and limp through?"
"Got a faulty gasket on the replacement. Can't be patched up."
"You're in a helluva fix, Conally. Even a Lunar ferry pilot's got enoughsense to check his spare parts before blastoff."
"I check mine after each landing. There isn't much that can happen to itwhen the pile's cold.... Can you give me a tow, Altman?"
"Can't do that, Conally. I'm not...."
"If you'll just give me a boost then. To the crest of this hyperjump.Then I won't have to worry about slipping through."
"Like I started to tell you," Altman
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