Read Jupiter Project Online

Authors: Gregory Benford

Jupiter Project (18 page)

BOOK: Jupiter Project
2.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Maybe they’ll find something before the
Argosy
arrives,” I said hopefully. “That would pull our chestnuts out of the fire.”

“True.” Dad sighed. “But some of our working time will be taken up with packing, shutting down the Lab, and compiling all the data we already have.”

“Well, we can
try.

“Of course. But don’t expect miracles.”

My mother said, “Paul, do you think there’s something to this idea of leaving some of us here to keep the Can alive? Honestly?”

“Ummmm. Well, maybe.”

My mother curled one side of her mouth down, looking the way she sometimes does when she’s thinking out a decision. “Well,” she finally said, “in that case… I’m going to volunteer, too.”


You
, Leyetta?”

“Mom,
why?

She looked steadily at us. “When I made that little speech last night, did you think I was talking like some kind of housewife? I must admit I sounded that way to myself. I was just trying to oppose that Mrs. Schloffski. But I came out here for reasons of my own, remember—not just to follow your father, Matt.”

This was a facet of my mother I didn’t know very well. “What do you mean. Mom?”

“Things are tight back on Earth, Matt. They have been for decades. That’s why women haven’t been getting jobs. The best work goes to men first. That’s why there are women like Mrs. Schloffski. They hang on their men and get a lot of their identity out of what their husbands do. Mrs. Schloffski came out here to follow her family, not from any real interest in the Can. She’s never really had anything better to do than housekeeping-type jobs, either on Earth or here in the Can. That’s what makes her so, well, tedious.”


I
’ll say.”

She smiled, her eyes distant. “I understand her fairly well, I think. That’s what society can do to a woman. But some of us are lucky enough to have some work we’re really interested in.
I
am. And that’s why I’ll stay, if I can.”

Dad murmured softly. “Even if I can’t?”

Her face crinkled. She was close to tears. “I don’t know, Paul. I don’t know.”

I sat there and felt uncomfortable. These were layers in my parents I didn’t know very well. The pressure and tension of these days was peeling them back, so I could see these inner parts for the first time. What my mother said applied to all the women in the Can, I supposed. Including Jenny. She hadn’t said much about it, but Jenny wasn’t the sort of female who would go back to a humdrum existence Earthside. Jenny had guts, just like my Mom. For Mom to even think of staying on while Dad shipped Earthside—well, that was a revelation. Sure, it wouldn’t be forever, but still…

I sat there, mulling things over. Gradually, from the expressions on my parent’s faces, I saw that it might be a good idea to leave them alone for a while. I jumped up and stammered out some reason to take off.

I went for a walk. Mom and Dad were trying to cover over their emotions some, but I could tell they were depressed. They liked life in the Can, despite the inconveniences—everybody did, except Mrs. Schloffski and other boneheads.

I passed by a work gang and looked for somebody I knew well enough to talk to. No luck. They were patching some resealant. I stopped for a moment and watched. Pressure imbalances and faults get a lot of attention. If you ever want to see people really move in the Can, holler “Vac alert!” I’d seen a kid do that once as a gag. He was on report for two years. I watched the women checking their work, and admired a slim calf or two. Everything was getting sort of jumbled up in my head these days—work and politics and sex (or the lack of it). I shook my head. Maybe all teenagers got as confused as I did, but I doubted it like hell.

I walked halfway around the hub and took an elevator inward to the Student Center. There was a big line of guys near the office. I prowled around and found Zak at the end of it.

“What’s up?”

“They’re taking names of men who want to stay behind.”

“That’s for me.” I got in line. “Quite a few ahead of us.”

“Guys have been waiting around all morning. I don’t figure it matters when you sign up, though. They’ll pick us by abilities.”

“Seems reasonable.”

“Okay for you, maybe. I’ll probably wash out the first time the bridge officer reads the list.”

“How come?”

“I ride herd on computers, and that’s
all.
I can’t pilot a shuttle, like you, and I don’t know any electronics. I’ve spent all my time on math and learning how to tickle answers out of that overgrown abacus.”

“Maybe you’re right. If you’ve got a small staff, you might as well fill it with triple-threat men if you can.”

“My reasoning exactly. I’m going through the motions anyway. Earthside will be bad, but I’ll be better off than some of you guys.”

“Why?”

“Remember that advertising slogan? ‘You never outgrow your need for computers.’ I can always get work somewhere, partake of the leisure of the theory class.”

“Uh. I guess there won’t be much to do for a shuttle pilot, now that space research is getting the axe.”

“Next!” It was Zak’s turn. He gave the standard information and was waved away. A bridge officer looked up at me with a sour expression.

“Matt Bohles,” I said. “Any idea bow many have signed up?”

“Too many. What’s your job?”

“Shuttle pilot. I know some electronics, too—”

“Who doesn’t?”

“—and I put in some time in Monitoring.”

“Your father is in charge of Monitoring, isn’t he?”

“Yes, but—”

The officer made a note. Maybe he figured Dad had just carried me on the rolls for a while. “How are you going to choose the men?” I said.

“We’ll start with the ones who don’t ask questions. Next!”

I wandered around with Zak. There were people everywhere; it felt like a festival day, only people were clumped together in knots, talking. We fooled around for a while and I mentioned my idea about hiding the skeleton crew instead of forcing the
Argosy
’s crew to leave them behind. Some of the other kids liked it; others said they preferred a fight, even if the Can’s hull got punctured by accident. They seemed to be looking for a showdown and any handy enemy would do.

The talk wasn’t getting anywhere—good grief, the
Argosy
was seven months away—so I dropped out and ambled down to Mr. Jablons’ lab.

He wanted to talk politics, too. He’d though! of my idea, and found a hole in it big enough to drive a truck through: what if somebody like Mrs. Schloffski blabbed? That stumped me. We couldn’t very well gag her, and the skeleton crew wouldn’t tolerate leaving her behind. It looked like the only answer was a fight.

I swore off talking about politics; it made my head hurt.

“What I came down here for was some advice,” I said, changing the subject. “I went out yesterday and found a crummy old Faraday cup on Satellite Fourteen. Can’t we rig up something better?”

“Ummm.” Mr. Jablons said. “What about that design you and I roughed out last year?”

“Well—” I hesitated. “The ones we built worked okay here in the lab, but they haven’t been tried in space.”

“We gave them two thousand hours of baking, bursts of radiation, the works. They came through.”

“Right. They’ll sure be better than the ancient one I saw.”

“Which satellite?”

“Number Fourteen.”

“Oh. that’s it. Number Seventeen has the same type. I’ve been nagging people to change those Faraday cups for years. Both Fourteen and Seventeen are in near-polar orbits. That makes them harder to reach by shuttle, and thus far nobody’s wanted to take the time just to replace a part that’s working fine as it is.”

“Well, I’ll do it. Those old ones aren’t sensitive enough for the job. Let’s get the ones we designed out of storage.”

It was a couple of hours before I got the new Faraday cups all checked out and packaged for carrying on the shuttle. They are delicate instruments and can’t be thrown around like freight. It felt good to work with my hands and forget ISA, Yuri, the whole stinking mess.

I went up to the bridge to request a flight plan that intercepted Fourteen and Seventeen both; no use in making two trips. I could have requested the plan over intercom, but I wanted to stick a nose into the nerve center of the Can and sniff around.

The bridge is about two-thirds of the way out toward the rim. smack in the spot most thoroughly shielded from radiation by the mass of the rest of the Can. That’s mostly to protect the magnetic memory elements in the computers; it also shortens lines of communication.

I got past one watch officer, but that was it. At the door to the bridge itself I was stopped and my request taken. I could see into the darkened volume beyond, where viewscreens shifted and threw up lines of incoming data faster than an untrained eye could read them. Commander Aarons was talking to some civilians—I couldn’t tell who—and gesturing at a big display of an Earth-Jupiter orbit, probably the
Argosy’s.

Then the officer cleared his throat, asked me if I had any more business, and suggested I move along. I shrugged and went to find Jenny.

It wasn’t hard. She was standing in line to sign up for the skeleton crew.

“What’s this?” I said.

“What does it look like?”

“Sheeg!” I said. “Every fish wants to be a whale.”

“Any reason why a girl shouldn’t be on the skeleton crew?”

“No, none really.” Then I thought of something. “Do you imagine the Commander will pick
two
shuttle pilots, though?”

“Of course not. Oh… I see what you mean. They’ll split us up.”

“If they take a shuttle pilot at all. Which I doubt. The skeleton crew is strictly a holding operation. No extras.”

Her turn came just then. The bridge officer raised an eyebrow but said nothing; the military has never been a booster of equality for women.

When she was through I said, “Ready to do some work?”

“On what?”

I explained about the Faraday cups.

“Sure,” she said. “Anything to get out of this madhouse.”

I told my father over intercom that I would be gone until after midnight, ship’s time, and to tell Mom not to wait supper on me; I would take enough suit rations. Dad hadn’t heard anything new other than scuttlebutt. The latest rumor was that Commander Aarons had lodged a formal protest with ISA, without expecting it to do any good.

Dad mentioned that Monitoring had picked up more showers of rock orbiting into the Jovian poles; they seemed to be a regular occurrence now. The astronomers were busy trying to explain where they came from.

I told Jenny about the rumor on the way to the lock.

“Is
that
all he can do, lodge a formal protest?” she said. “Fat lot of good that is.”

“All he can do until the
Argosy
arrives is talk. There will be plenty of time for action then. The Commander has already sacrificed enough for the Lab as it is.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look, all the bridge officers are military men. When Lt. Sharma made that speech he was advocating that the Commander violate his orders—and Aarons accepted it. Even if he gets us Earthside and leaves a skeleton crew, he’ll be cashiered. The bridge officers effectively ended their careers last night.”

“Oh. I didn’t realize that.”

“We’re civilians, we don’t think in those terms. The Commander will never mention it, but it’s a bald fact. After we’re Earthside we’ll see a story in the fine print of a newsfax somewhere, and that will be it.”

Jenny was quiet after that; I don’t think she had realized quite what was going on.

We took the
Roadhog
again, with me in the pilot’s chair. The orbit was already in
Roadhog
’s computer with a launch time about fifteen minutes later than we needed; I had asked the bridge for the margin, just in case I couldn’t find Jenny right away.

Jupiter was a brownish, banded crescent, thinner than it was during our last flight. We boosted away from the Can on a long, elliptical orbit. Changing from equatorial to polar orbit costs fuel and time. We had to alter our velocity vector quite a bit to make rendezvous. Flight time was over six hours. I settled down to wait but I kept nervously checking meters and controls. I was jumpy.

“Hey,
sei still, Freund,
” Jenny said. “
Was gibt?

“What gives? Oh, maybe I’m worried about meteoroids.” I said, knowing I wasn’t.

“I know what you mean.” Jenny said, taking me seriously. “I found out from the bridge that Ishi was caught in one of those funny swarms we’ve been having.”


What
? Why didn’t they warn him?”

“The swarm was well clear of him, on radar. There must’ve been some small stuff that didn’t show. It looked okay.”

“How come they’re letting us go out at all?”

“There’s a lull, they say. No bunches of meteoroids coming in from the asteroid belt—”

“If that’s where they’re from. We don’t know a frapping thing about them, or these storms, or what in hell is going to happen to us, to the Lab, to…”

“Hey, hey, easy,” Jenny said softly, patting my gloved hand. “Just talk them out slowly. Don’t let all your problems stack up on you.”

So we talked. I told her about the mess with Yuri, about how I was angry and scared of him at the same time. I couldn’t put it into words very well. My feelings were all mixed up inside. Compared to me Jenny seemed serene and sure of herself, and after talking to her I began to feel a little better, too. Between check-ins with the bridge, monitoring the storm activity, eating and getting some rest, we talked and mused about what was happening out here. The time passed quickly.

Satellite Seventeen was a glimmering white dot that swelled into a tarnished ball, even more decrepit than Satellite Fourteen. There were grainy patches where the polished metal skin had dulled and turned bluish-gold, for some reason. I snapped a few photographs for Mr. Jablons.

It took pretty long to install the new Faraday cups. The adhesive patch on my chest was crowded with components and I had to be sure I had all the microchips right.

Jenny left the
Roadhog
to help because it was impossible for me to hold everything in place and make high-vacuum welds at the same time. I couldn’t even use magnetic clamps to hold all the parts in place, either, since the fields might disturb some of the instruments inside the satellite.

BOOK: Jupiter Project
2.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Three Monarchs by Anthony Horowitz
Gabriel by Nikki Kelly
Frederick's Coat by Duff, Alan
The Solitary Envoy by T. Davis Bunn
Stolen by Botefuhr, Bec
Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz