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The stars, my brothers, p.1
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       The Stars, My Brothers, p.1

           Edmond Hamilton
 
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The Stars, My Brothers


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  THE STARS, MY BROTHERS

  By EDMOND HAMILTON

  Illustrated by FINLAY

  _He was afraid--not of the present or the future, but of the past. He was afraid of the thing tagged Reed Kieran, that stiff blind voiceless thing wheeling its slow orbit around the Moon, companion to dead worlds and silent space._

  1.

  Something tiny went wrong, but no one ever knew whether it was in anelectric relay or in the brain of the pilot.

  The pilot was Lieutenant Charles Wandek, UNRC, home address: 1677Anstey Avenue, Detroit. He did not survive the crash of his ferry intoWheel Five. Neither did his three passengers, a young Frenchastrophysicist, an East Indian expert on magnetic fields, and aforty-year-old man from Philadelphia who was coming out to replace apump technician.

  Someone else who did not survive was Reed Kieran, the only man in WheelFive itself to lose his life. Kieran, who was thirty-six years old, wasan accredited scientist-employee of UNRC. Home address: 815 Elm Street,Midland Springs, Ohio.

  Kieran, despite the fact that he was a confirmed bachelor, was in WheelFive because of a woman. But the woman who had sent him there was nobeautiful lost love. Her name was Gertrude Lemmiken; she was nineteenyears old and overweight, with a fat, stupid face. She suffered fromhead-colds, and sniffed constantly in the Ohio college classroom whereKieran taught Physics Two.

  One March morning, Kieran could bear it no longer. He told himself, "Ifshe sniffs this morning, I'm through. I'll resign and join the UNRC."

  Gertrude sniffed. Six months later, having finished his training for theUnited Nations Reconnaissance Corps, Kieran shipped out for a term ofduty in UNRC Space Laboratory Number 5, known more familiarly as WheelFive.

  Wheel Five circled the Moon. There was an elaborate base on the surfaceof the Moon in this year 1981. There were laboratories and observatoriesthere, too. But it had been found that the alternating fortnights ofboiling heat and near-absolute-zero cold on the lunar surface could playhavoc with the delicate instruments used in certain researches. HenceWheel Five had been built and was staffed by research men who wererotated at regular eight-month intervals.

  * * * * *

  Kieran loved it, from the first. He thought that that was because of thesheer beauty of it, the gaunt, silver deaths-head of the Moon foreverturning beneath, the still and solemn glory of the undimmed stars, thefilamentaries stretched across the distant star-clusters like shiningveils, the quietness, the peace.

  But Kieran had a certain intellectual honesty, and after a while headmitted to himself that neither the beauty nor the romance of it waswhat made this life so attractive to him. It was the fact that he wasfar away from Earth. He did not even have to look at Earth, for nearlyall geophysical research was taken care of by Wheels Two and Three thatcircled the mother planet. He was almost completely divorced from allEarth's problems and people.

  Kieran liked people, but had never felt that he understood them. Whatseemed important to them, all the drives of ordinary day-to-dayexistence, had never seemed very important to him. He had felt thatthere must be something wrong with him, something lacking, for it seemedto him that people everywhere committed the most outlandish follies,believed in the most incredible things, were swayed by pureherd-instinct into the most harmful courses of behavior. They could notall be wrong, he thought, so he must be wrong--and it had worried him.He had taken partial refuge in pure science, but the study and then theteaching of astrophysics had not been the refuge that Wheel Five was. Hewould be sorry to leave the Wheel when his time was up.

  And he was sorry, when the day came. The others of the staff werealready out in the docking lock in the rim, waiting to greet thereplacements from the ferry. Kieran, hating to leave, lagged behind.Then, realizing it would be churlish not to meet this young Frenchmanwho was replacing him, he hurried along the corridor in the big spokewhen he saw the ferry coming in.

  He was two-thirds of the way along the spoke to the rim when ithappened. There was a tremendous crash that flung him violently from hisfeet. He felt a coldness, instant and terrible.

  He was dying.

  He was dead.

  The ferry had been coming in on a perfectly normal approach when thetiny something went wrong, in the ship or in the judgment of the pilot.Its drive-rockets suddenly blasted on full, it heeled over sharply, itsmashed through the big starboard spoke like a knife through butter.

  Wheel Five staggered, rocked, and floundered. The automatic safetybulkheads had all closed, and the big spoke--Section T2--was the onlysection to blow its air, and Kieran was the only man caught in it. Thealarms went off, and while the wreckage of the ferry, with three deadmen in it, was still drifting close by, everyone in the Wheel was in hispressure-suit and emergency measures were in full force.

  * * * * *

  Within thirty minutes it became evident that the Wheel was going tosurvive this accident. It was edging slowly out of orbit from theimpetus of the blow, and in the present weakened state of theconstruction its small corrective rockets could not be used to stop thedrift. But Meloni, the UNRC captain commanding, had got first reportsfrom his damage-control teams, and it did not look too bad. He firedoff peremptory demands for the repair materials he would need, and wasassured by UNRC headquarters at Mexico City that the ferries would beloaded and on their way as soon as possible.

  Meloni was just beginning to relax a little when a young officer broughtup a minor but vexing problem. Lieutenant Vinson had headed the smallparty sent out to recover the bodies of the four dead men. In theirpressure-suits they had been pawing through the tangled wreckage forsome time, and young Vinson was tired when he made his report.

  "We have all four alongside, sir. The three men in the ferry were prettybadly mangled in the crash. Kieran wasn't physically wounded, but diedfrom space-asphyxiation."

  The captain stared at him. "Alongside? Why didn't you bring them in?They'll go back in one of the ferries to Earth for burial."

  "But--" Vinson started to protest.

  Meloni interrupted sharply. "You need to learn a few things aboutmorale, Lieutenant. You think it's going to do morale here any good tohave four dead men floating alongside where everyone can see them? Fetchthem in and store them in one of the holds."

  Vinson, sweating and unhappy now, had visions of a black mark on hisrecord, and determined to make his point.

  "But about Kieran, sir--he was only frozen. Suppose there was a chanceto bring him back?"

  "Bring him back? What the devil are you talking about?"

  Vinson said, "I read they're trying to find some way of restoring a manthat gets space-frozen. Some scientists down at Delhi University. Ifthey succeeded, and if we had Kieran still intact in space--"

  "Oh, hell, that's just a scientific pipe-dream, they'll never find a wayto do that," Meloni said. "It's all just theory."

  "Yes, sir," said Vinson, hanging his head.

  "We've got trouble enough here without you bringing up ideas like this,"the captain continued angrily. "Get out of here."

  Vinson was now completely crushed. "Yes, sir. I'll bring the bodies in."

  * * * * *

  He went out. Meloni stared at the door, and began to think. A commandingofficer had to be careful, or he could get skinned alive. If, by someremote chance, this Delhi idea ever succeeded, he, Meloni, would be infor it for having Kieran buried. He strode to the door and flung itopen, mentally cursing the young snotty who had had to bring this up.

  "Vinson!" he shouted.

  The lieutenant turned back, startled. "Yes, sir?"


  "Hold Kieran's body outside. I'll check on this with Mexico City."

  "Yes, sir."

  Still angry, Meloni shot a message to Personnel at Mexico City. Thatdone, he forgot about it. The buck had been passed, let the boys sittingon their backsides down on Earth handle it.

  Colonel Hausman, second in command of Personnel Division of UNRC, wasthe man to whom Meloni's message went. He snorted loudly when he readit. And later, when he went in to report to Garces, the brigadiercommanding the Division, he took the message with him.

  "Meloni must be pretty badly rattled by the crash," he said. "Look atthis."

  Garces read the message, then looked up. "Anything to this? The Delhiexperiments, I mean?"

  Hausman had taken care to brief himself on that point and was able toanswer emphatically.

  "Damned little. Those chaps in Delhi have been playing around
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