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We also walk dogs, p.2
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       We Also Walk Dogs, p.2

           Robert A. Heinlein
 
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  Beaumont fitted his fingertips carefully together. “You walk dogs for a fee. But of course you do—you walk my pair. Five minim-credits seems rather cheap.”

  “It is. But a hundred thousand dogs, twice a day, soons runs up the gross take.”

  “The ‘take’ for walking this ‘dog’ would be considerable.”

  “How much?” asked Francis. It was his first sign of interest. Beaumont turned his eyes on him. “My dear sir, the outcome of this, ah, roundtable should make a difference of literally hundreds of billions of credits to this planet. We will not bind the mouth of the kine that treads the corn, if you pardon the figure of speech.”

  “How much?”

  “Would thirty percent over cost be reasonable?”

  Francis shook his head. “Might not come to much.”

  “Well, I certainly won’t haggle. Suppose we leave it up to you gentlemen—your pardon, Miss Cormet!—to decide what the service is worth. I think I can rely on your planetary and racial patriotism to make it reasonable and proper.”

  Francis sat back, said nothing, but looked pleased.

  “Wait a minute,’ protested Clare. “We haven’t taken this job.”

  “We have discussed the fee,” observed Beaumont.

  Clare looked from Francis to Grace Cormet, then examined his fingernails. “Give me twenty-four hours to find out whether or not it is possible,” he said finally, “and I’ll tell you whether or not we will walk your dog.”

  “I feel sure,” answered Beaumont, “that you will.” He gathered his cape about him.

  “Okay, masterminds,” said Clare bitterly, “you’ve bought it.”

  “I’ve been wanting to get back to field work,” said Grace.

  “Put a crew on everything but the gravity problem,” suggested Francis. “It’s the only catch. The rest is routine.”

  “Certainly,” agreed Clare, “but you had better deliver on that. If you can’t, we are out some mighty expensive preparations that we will never be paid for. Who do you want? Grace?”

  “I suppose so,” answered Francis. “She can count up to ten.”

  Grace Cormet looked at him coldly. “There are times, Sance Francis, when I regret having married you.”

  “Keep your domestic affairs out of the office,” warned Clare. “Where do you start?”

  “Let’s find out who knows most about gravitation,” decided Francis. “Grace, better get Doctor Krathwohl on the screen.”

  “Right,” she acknowledged, as she stepped to the stereo controls. “That’s the beauty about this business. You don’t have to know anything; you just have to know where to find out.”

  Dr Krathwohl was a part of the permanent staff of General Services. He had no assigned duties. The company found it worthwhile to support him in comfort while providing him with an unlimited drawing account for scientific journals and for attendance at the meetings which the learned hold from time to time. Dr Krathwohl lacked the single-minded drive of the research scientist; he was a dilettante by nature.

  Occasionally they asked him a question. It paid.

  “Oh, hello, my dear!” Doctor Krathwohl’s gentle face smiled out at her from the screen. “Look—I’ve just come across the most amusing fact in the latest issue of Nature. It throws a most interesting sidelight on Brownlee’s theory of—“

  “Just a second, Doc,” she interrupted. “I’m kinda in a hurry.”

  “Yes, my dear?”

  “Who knows the most about gravitation?”

  “In what way do you mean that? Do you want an astrophysicist, or do you want to deal with the subject from a standpoint of theoretical mechanics? Farquarson would be the man in the first instance, I suppose.”

  “I want to know what makes it tick.”

  “Field theory, eh? In that case you don’t want Farquarson. He is a descriptive ballistician, primarily. Dr Julian’s work in that subject is authoritative, possibly definitive.”

  “Where can we get hold of him?”

  “Oh, but you can’t. He died last year, poor fellow. A great loss.”

  Grace refrained from telling him how great a loss and asked, “Who stepped into his shoes?”

  “Who what? Oh, you were jesting! I see. You want the name of the present top man in field theory. I would say O’Neil.”

  “Where is he?”

  “I’ll have to find out. I know him slightly—a difficult man.”

  “Do, please. In the meantime who could coach us a bit on what it’s all about?”

  “Why don’t you try young Carson, in our engineering department? He was interested in such things before he took a job with us. Intelligent chap—

  I’ve had many an interesting talk with him.”

  “I’ll do that. Thanks, Doc. Call the Chief’s office as soon as you have located O’Neil. Speed.” She cut off.

  Carson agreed with Krathwohl’s opinion, but looked dubious. “O’Neil is arrogant and non-cooperative. I’ve worked under him. But he undoubtedly knows more about field theory and space structure than any other living man.”

  Carson had been taken into the inner circle, the problem explained to him. He had admitted that he saw no solution. “Maybe we are making something hard out of this,” Clare suggested. “I’ve got some ideas. Check me if I’m wrong, Carson.”

  “Go ahead, Chief.”

  “Well, the acceleration of gravity is produced by the proximity of a mass—right? Earth-normal gravity being produced by the proximity of the Earth. Well, what would be the effect of placing a large mass just over a particular point on the Earth’s surface. Would not that serve to counteract the pull of the Earth?”

  “Theoretically, yes. But it would have to be a damn big mass.”

  “No matter.”

  “You don’t understand, Chief. To offset fully the pull of the Earth at a given point would require another planet the size of the Earth in contact with the Earth at that point. Of course since you don’t want to cancel the pull completely, but simply to reduce it, you gain a certain advantage through using a smaller mass which would have its center of gravity closer to the point in question than would be the center of gravity of the Earth. Not enough, though. While the attraction builds up inversely as the square of the distance—in this case the half-diameter—the mass and the consequent attraction drops off directly as the cube of the diameter.”

  “What does that give us?”

  Carson produced a slide rule and figured for a few moments. He looked up. “I’m almost afraid to answer. You would need a good-sized asteroid, of lead, to get anywhere at all.”

  “Asteroids have been moved before this.”

  “Yes, but what is to hold it up? No, Chief, there is no conceivable source of power, or means of applying it, that would enable you to hang a big planetoid over a particular spot on the Earth’s surface and keep it there.”

  “Well, it was a good idea while it lasted,” Clare said pensively. Grace’s smooth brow had been wrinkled as she followed the discussion. Now she put in, “I gathered that you could use an extremely heavy small mass more effectively. I seem to have read somewhere about some stuff that weighs tons per cubic inch.”

  “The core of dwarf stars,” agreed Carson. “All we would need for that would be a ship capable of going light-years in a few days, some way to mine the interior of a star, and a new space-time theory.”

  “Oh, well, skip it.”

  “Wait a minute,’ Francis observed. “Magnetism is a lot like gravity, isn’t it?”

  “Well - yes.”

  “Could there be some way to maqnetize these gazebos from the little planets? Maybe something odd about their body chemistry?”

  “Nice idea,” agreed Carson, “but while their internal economy is odd, it’s not that odd. They are still organic.”

  “I suppose not. If pigs had wings they’d be pigeons.”

  The stereo annunciator blinked. Doctor Krathwohl announced that O’Neil could be found at his summer home in Portage, Wisconsin. He h
ad not screened him and would prefer not to do so, unless the Chief insisted.

  Clare thanked him and turned back to the others. “We are wasting time,” he announced. “After years in this business we should know better than to try to decide technical questions. I’m not a physicist and I don’t give a damn how gravitation works. That’s O’Neil’s business. And Carson’s. Carson, shoot up to Wisconsin and get O’Neil on the job.”

  “Me?”

  “You. You’re an operator for this job—with pay to match. Bounce over to the port—there will be a rocket and a credit facsimile waiting for you. You ought to be able to raise ground in seven or eight minutes.”

  Carson blinked. “How about my job here?”

  “The engineering department will be told, likewise the accounting. Get going.”

  Without replying Carson headed for the door. By the time he reached it he was hurrying.

  Carson’s departure left them with nothing to do until he reported back—nothing to do, that is, but to start action on the manifold details of reproducing the physical and cultural details of three other planets and four major satellites, exclusive of their characteristic surface-normal gravitational accelerations. The assignment, although new, presented no real difficulties—

  to General Services. Somewhere there were persons who knew all the answers to these matters. The vast loose organization called General Services was geared to find them, hire them, put them to work. Any of the unlimited operators and a considerable percent of the catalogue operators could take such an assignment and handle it without excitement nor hurry.

  Francis called in one unlimited operator. He did not even bother to select him, but took the first available on the ready panel—they were all “Can do!” people. He explained in detail the assignment, then promptly forgot about it. It would be done, and on time. The punched-card machines would chatter a bit louder, stereo screens would flash, and bright young people in all parts of the Earth would drop what they were doing and dig out the specialists who would do the actual work.

  He turned back to Clare, who said, “I wish I knew what Beaumont is up to. Conference of scientists—phooey!”

  “I thought you weren’t interested in politics, Jay.”

  “I’m not. I don’t give a hoot in hell about politics, interplanetary or otherwise, except as it affects this business. But if I knew what was being planned, we might be able to squeeze a bigger cut out of it.”

  “Well,” put in Grace, “I think you can take it for granted that the real heavy-weights from all the planets are about to meet and divide Gaul into three parts.”

  “Yes, but who gets cut out?”

  “Mars, I suppose.”

  “Seems likely. With a bone tossed to the Venerians. In that case we might speculate a little in Pan-Jovian Trading Corp.”

  “Easy, son, easy,” Francis warned. “Do that, and you might get people interested. This is a hush-hush job.”

  “I guess you’re right. Still, keep your eyes open. There ought to be some way to cut a slice of pie before this is over.”

  Grace Cormet’s telephone buzzed. She took it out of her pocket and said, “Yes?”

  “A Mrs Hogbein Johnson wants to speak to you.”

  “You handle her. I’m off the board.”

  “She won’t talk to anyone but you.”

  “All right. Put her on the Chief’s stereo, but stay in parallel yourself. You’ll handle it after I’ve talked to her.”

  The screen came to life, showing Mrs Johnson’s fleshy face alone, framed in the middle of the screen in flat picture. “Oh, Miss Cormet,” she moaned, “some dreadful mistake has been made. There is no stereo on this ship.”

  “It will be installed in Cincinnati. That will be in about twenty minutes.”

  “You are sure?”

  “Quite sure.”

  “Oh, thank you! It’s such a relief to talk with you. Do you know, I’m thinking of making you my social secretary.”

  “Thank you,” Grace said evenly; “but I am under contract.”

  “But how stupidly tiresome! You can break it.”

  “No, I’m sorry Mrs Johnson. Good-bye.” She switched off the screen and spoke again into her telephone. “Tell Accounting to double her fee. And I won’t speak with her again.” She cut off and shoved the little instrument savagely back into her pocket. “Social secretary!”

  It was after dinner and Clare had retired to his living apartment before Carson called back. Francis took the call in his own office.

  “Any luck?” he asked, when Carson’s image had built up.

  “Quite a bit. I’ve seen O’Neil.”

  “Well? Will he do it?”

  “You mean can he do it, don’t you?”

  “Well—can he?”

  “Now that is a funny thing—I didn’t think it was theoretically possible. But after talking with him, I’m convinced that it is. O’Neil has a new outlook on field theory—stuff he’s never published. The man is a genius.”

  “I don’t care,” said Francis, “whether he’s a genius or a Mongolian idiot—can he build some sort of a gravity thinnerouter?”

  “I believe he can. I really do believe he can.”

  “Fine. You hired him?”

  “No. That’s the hitch. That’s why I called back. It’s like this: I happened to catch him in a mellow mood, and because we had worked together once before and because I had not aroused his ire quite as frequently as his other assistants he invited me to stay for dinner. We talked about a lot of things (you can’t hurry him) and I broached the proposition. It interested him mildly—the idea, I mean; not the proposition—and he discussed the theory with me, or, rather, at me. But he won’t work on it.”

  “Why not? You didn’t offer him enough money. I guess I’d better tackle him.”

  “No, Mr Francis, no. You don’t understand. He’s not interested in money. He’s independently wealthy and has more than he needs for his research, or anything else he wants. But just at present he is busy on wave mechanics theory and he just won’t be bothered with anything else.”

  “Did you make him realize it was important?”

  “Yes and no. Mostly no. I tried to, but there isn’t anything important to him but what he wants. It’s a sort of intellectual snobbishness. Other people simply don’t count.”

  “All right,” said Francis. “You’ve done well so far. Here’s what you do: After I switch off, you call EXECUTIVE and make a transcript of everything you can remember of what he said about gravitational theory. We’ll hire the next best men, feed it to them, and see if it gives them any ideas to work on. In the meantime I’ll put a crew to work on the details of Dr O’Neil’s background. He’ll have a weak point somewhere; it’s just a matter of finding it. Maybe he’s keeping a woman somewhere—“

  “He’s long past that.”

  “--or maybe he has a by-blow stashed away somewhere. We’ll see. I want you to stay there in Portage. Since you can’t hire him, maybe you can persuade him to hire you. You’re our pipeline, I want it kept open. We’ve got to find something he wants, or something he is afraid of.”

  “He’s not afraid of anything. I’m positive about that.”

  “Then he wants something. If it’s not money, or women, it’s something else. It’s a law of nature.”

  “I doubt it,’ Carson replied slowly. “Say! Did I tell you about his hobby?”

  “No. What is it?”

  “It’s china. In particular, Ming china. He has the best collection in the world, I’d guess. But I know what he wants!”

  “Well, spill it, man, spill it. Don’t be dramatic.”

  “It’s a little china dish, or bowl, about four inches across and two inches high. It’s got a Chinese name that means ‘Flower of Forgetfulness’.”

  “Hmmm—doesn’t seem significant. You think he wants it pretty bad?”

  “I know he does. He has a solid colorgraph of it in his study, where he can look at it. But it hurts him to talk about i
t.”

  “Find out who owns it and where it is.”

  “I know. British Museum. That’s why he can’t buy it.”

  “So?’ mused Francis. “Well, you can forget it. Carry on.”

  Clare came down to Francis’ office and the three talked it over. “I guess we’ll need Beaumont on this,” was his comment when he had heard the report. “It will take the Government to get anything loose from the British Museum.” Francis looked morose. “Well—what’s eating you? What’s wrong with that?”

  “I know,” offered Grace. “You remember the treaty under which Great Britain entered the planetary confederation?”

  “I was never much good at history.”

  “It comes to this: I doubt if the planetary government can touch anything that belongs to the Museum without asking the British Parliament.”

  “Why not? Treaty or no treaty, the planetary government is sovereign. That was established in the Brazilian Incident.”

  “Yeah, sure. But it could cause questions to be asked in the House of Commons and that would lead to the one thing Beaumont wants to avoid at all costs—publicity.”

  “Okay. What do you propose?”

  “I’d say that Sance and I had better slide over to England and find out just how tight they have the ‘Flower of Forgetfulness’ nailed down—and who does the nailing and what his weaknesses are.”

  Clare’s eyes travelled past her to Francis, who was looking blank in the fashion that indicated assent to his intimates. “Okay,” agreed Clare, “it’s your baby. Taking a special?”

  “No, we’ve got time to get the midnight out of New York. Bye-bye.”

  “Bye. Call me tomorrow.”

  When Grace screened the Chief the next day he took one look at her and exclaimed, “Good Grief, kid! What have you done to your hair?”

  “We located the guy,” she explained succinctly. “His weakness is blondes.”

  “You’ve had your skin bleached, too.”

  “Of course. How do you like it?”

  “It’s stupendous—though I preferred you the way you were. But what does Sance think of it?”

 
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