Comets burial, p.1
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       Comet's Burial, p.1

           Raymond Z. Gallun
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Comets Burial


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

  BRINKER BRINKER in footprints]

  _A man may be a scoundrel, a crook, a high-phased confidence man, and still work toward a great dream which will be worth far more than the momentary damage his swindles cost._

  _Comet's Burial_

  _by_ RAYMOND Z. GALLUN

  Outside Tycho Station on the Moon, Jess Brinker showed Arne Copeland theodd footprints made in the dust by explorers from Mars, fifty millionyears ago. A man-made cover of clear plastic now kept them from beingtrampled.

  "Who hasn't heard about such prints?" Copeland growled laconically."There's no air or weather here to rub them out--even in eternity.Thanks for showing a fresh-arrived greenhorn around..."

  Copeland was nineteen, tough, willing to learn, but wary. His wide mouthwas usually sullen, his grey eyes a little narrowed in a face thatdidn't have to be so grim. Back in Iowa he had a girl. Frances. But lovehad to wait, for he needed the Moon the way Peary had once needed theNorth Pole.

  Earth needed it, too--for minerals; as an easier, jump-off point to theplanets because of its weak gravity; as a place for astronomicalobservatories, unhampered by the murk of an atmosphere; as sites forlabs experimenting in forces too dangerous to be conducted on aheavily-populated world, and for a dozen other purposes.

  Young Copeland was ready for blood, sweat, and tears in his impulse tohelp conquer the lunar wastes. He sized up big, swaggering Jess Brinker,and admitted to himself that this man, who was at least ten years hissenior, could easily be a phony, stalking suckers. Yet, Copelandreserved judgment. Like any tenderfoot anywhere, he needed anexperienced man to show him the ropes.

  He already knew the Moon intimately from books: A hell of silence, someof it beautiful: Huge ringwalls. Blazing sunlight, inky shadow. Greyplains, black sky. Blazing stars, with the great blurry bluish globe ofEarth among them. You could yearn to be on the Moon, but you could gobats and die there, too--or turn sour, because the place was too roughfor your guts.

  Afield, you wore a spacesuit, and conversed by helmet radiophone.Otherwise you lived in rooms and holes dug underground, and sealed up.The scant water you dared use was roasted out of gypsum rock. The oxygenyou breathed was extracted from lunar oxides by a chemical process. Thenair-rejuvenator apparatus reseparated it from the carbon-dioxide youexhaled, so that you could use it over and over.

  Copeland had read the tales: With that kind of frugality as the price ofsurvival, lunar prospectors could turn selfish to the point ofqueerness. Afraid somebody might follow them to their mineral claims,they'd take more pains to leave as little spoor as possible than a foxbeing tracked by dogs.

  "Speaking of how footprints last around here," Copeland remarked for thesake of conversation, "I understand you've got to be careful--stick tohigh ridges, and to parts of the flat _maria_ where there's no oldvolcanic ash or dust of thermal erosion."

  "Guys who do that are misers and old women, kid," Brinker scoffed."Hell--it sure ain't because they're modest that they're so cautious!Me--I do things right."

  He lifted a foot from the dust beside the path, revealing the mark ofthe specially etched steel sole of his spaceboot. A name was stampedacross the print: BRINKER.

  "I'm proud of where I've been and where I'm going--like a trueexplorer," the big man said. "Get some soles like mine made foryourself, fella, and come along with me."

  Copeland was intrigued. "Let me think about it a little."

  * * * * *

  During the next few hours he heard quite a lot.

  A big, blonde nurse--one of the two women in the sealed warrens of TychoStation, said: "Young man, I _love_ Jess Brinker. But keep away fromhim, or you'll wind up in the prison pits, or worse."

  And Copeland heard about Tom Brinker, Jess' dad--the kind of swindleralways found in rough new territory, anywhere. He had promoted the ideaof a real city on Lunar. Yeah--one with trees and flowers. Whatsentimental bait that was for home-starved, desolation-sick wanderers!No wonder somebody had murdered him recently.

  By common opinion, twenty-odd years was the only difference between Jessand his father. "Stay clear," was the warning; the name of Brinker wasmud and poison.

  Arne Copeland was a cagey youngster; nobody influenced him when he madeup his mind. He was no cow-eyed hero-worshipper; yet, on his own, hekind of liked the large, battered, egotist. Copeland knew that hewas an egotist himself. He also knew that merely to be on thesketchily-explored Moon was to take chances.

  So he said "Okay," to Brinker, and got some metal boot-soles made, withhis name etched into them in reverse, as in a rubber stamp.

  * * * * *

  Under packs that no coolie could ever have lifted against Earth gravity,they left Tycho Station and moved toward the fringe of that lunarhemisphere which is never seen from Terra--though it is no differentfrom the visible half in general character.

  Wherever their feet found a medium that would take an impression, theyleft their trademark behind them. Copeland could brush a name out with aglove; otherwise those names were about as permanent as if carved fromgranite, for there was no wind to blow the dust, and no rain to wash itaway. Passing tractor-caravans would never blot out all of thefootprints. Not in ages of time.

  "At least we got us a monument, Jess," Copeland said once, feelingsomewhat thrilled. "That's what guys out exploring and prospecting need.A legend. A reputation."

  Jess Brinker's eyes narrowed, making him look sinister. "Yeah, Cope," hedrawled. "But in my case it's a _counter_-reputation, with a little ofRobin Hood thrown in, to help blow the stink of my Old Man off me. Iwant some friends and backing, so I can do what Dad really wanted todo--though he was as much of a rogue as a saint. You listening, Cope?"

  Copeland kept his face stony. "Tell me what you want to, and then stop,"he said softly.

  "Thanks," Brinker answered. "It doesn't matter too much that I can guesswho killed Pop, and would like to square things. Yeah, a hatchet-facedex-partner who turned pious and legal on the outside, after he got thebreaks. How old is that story, I wonder?... It doesn't even rile meterribly, knowing that Dad wasn't all crook, knowing he _believed_ hisidea was good for everybody, and was trying to get funds to put itacross."

  Brinker sighed and went on: "The idea is the _important_ thing, Cope. Aplace with trees and flowers, a city, maybe--an antidote for the Moon'sdesolation. Anyone here feels the need in his bones and nerves. But itwould take more air and water than could ever be imported, or drawn fromthe lunar crust. You wouldn't know it on the dead surface, but twohundred miles deep in the Moon there's still molten lava, plentifulwater in the form of steam, volcanic carbon-dioxide gas--the makings ofoxygen. There's nitrogen, too.

  "How to reach that stuff is the question. Drills break under thepressure of depth at a tenth of the distance. Pop's idea involvedBrulow's Comet, which will be coming back sunward from far space inthree years. Imagine--a comet! It could be dangerous, too; nobody couldever get permission for an attempt."

  Brinker paused again. Copeland and he were plodding through a jaggedvalley. The stars were merciless pinpoints, the silence brittle andgrating.

  "But there must be a way of blasting down to those life-givingraw-materials, Cope," Brinker continued. "Maybe with atomic explosive.Experiments call for funds and backing. So I save my money, and wish Ihad a head for making it faster. And I look for weak spots in the lunarcrust with radar. And I try to get people to know I'm around, and tolike me...."

  Copeland realized that what he had just heard could be a line of malarkymeant to kid a yokel, or a bid to get him involved in something. But hefound himself kind of falling for the yarn. More than ever he su
spectedthat folks were wrong about Jess Brinker; his warning instincts werebeing lulled to sleep.

  * * * * *

  Month-long lunar days passed, while the two men ranged over a segment ofthe hidden hemisphere. They trod plains and crater-walls unsullied byhuman feet before; they took photographs to be sold to the LunarTopographical Commission; they located deposits of radioactive metals,which could be registered for investigation by an assaying party, andfor possible royalties. Periodically they visited scattered supplystations, and then set out once more.

  Such a life had its poisons even for Brinker and Copeland, who werebraced for meeting the unknown and the strange.

  Living in space suits for weeks at a time; smelling their own unwashedbodies; slipping an arm out of a heavy sleeve to
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