9

It did not take two weeks. Nine days and eight hours after the men had returned to the station, Silbert saw two spacesuited figures standing on the lock half a mile away, and called his companion’s attention to them.

“They must be desperate by this time,” remarked Bresnahan. “We’d better call them before they decide to risk the jump anyway.” He activated the transmitter which Silbert indicated, and spoke.

“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Weisanen. Do you want us to send the cobweb down?”

The voice that answered was female.

“Thank God you’re there! Yes, please. We’d like to come up for a while.” Silbert expected some qualifying remarks from her husband, but none were forthcoming. At Bresnahan’s gesture, he activated the spring gun which launched the web toward the satellite.

“Maybe you’d better suit up and go meet them,” suggested the computerman. “I don’t suppose either of them is very good at folding the web, to say nothing of killing angular speed.”

“I’m not sure I care whether they go off on their own orbit anyway,” growled the spaceman, rising with some reluctance to his feet.

“Still bitter? And both of them?” queried Bresnahan.

“Well — I suppose not. And it would take forever to repair the web if it hit the station unfolded. I’ll be back.” Silbert vanished toward the hub, and the younger man turned back to watch his employers make the leap from Raindrop. He was not too surprised to see them hold hands as they did so, with the natural result that they spun madly on the way to the web and came close to missing it altogether.

When his own stomach had stopped whirling in sympathy, he decided that maybe the incident was for the best. Anything which tended to cut down Weisanen’s self-assurance should be helpful, even though there was good reason to suspect that the battle was already won. He wondered whether he should summon the pair to his and Silbert’s quarters for the interview which was about to ensue, but decided that there was such a thing as going too far.

He awaited the invitation to the Weisanens’ rooms with eagerness.

It came within minutes of the couple’s arrival at the air lock. When Bresnahan arrived he found Silbert already in the room where they had first reported on their brief visit to Raindrop. All three were still in spacesuits; they had removed only the helmets.

“We’re going back down as soon as possible, Mr. Bresnahan,” Weisanen began without preliminary. “I have a rather lengthy set of messages here which I would like you and Mr. Silbert to transmit as soon as possible. You will note that they contain my urgent recommendation for a policy change. Your suggestion of starting construction of smaller farms from Raindrop’s outer layers is sound, and I think the Company will follow it. I am also advising that material be collected from the vicinity of the giant planets — Saturn’s rings seem a likely source — for constructing additional satellites like Raindrop as private undertakings. Financing can be worked out. There should be enough profit from the farms, and that’s the logical direction for some of it to flow.

“Once other sources of farm material are available, Raindrop will not be used further for the purpose. It will serve as Company headquarters — it will be more convenient to have that in orbit anyway. The closest possible commercial relations are to be maintained with Earth.”

“I’m glad you feel that way, sir,” replied Bresnahan. “We’ll get the messages off as soon as possible. I take it that more of the Company’s officials will be coming up here to live, then?”

“Probably all of them, within the next two years or so. Brenda and I will go back and resume surveying now, as soon as we stock up with some food. I’ll be back occasionally, but I’d rather she kept away from high weight for the next few months, as you know.”

“Yes, sir.” Bresnahan managed, by a heroic effort, to control his smile — almost. Weisanen saw the flicker of his lip, and froze for a moment. Then his own sober features loosened into a broad grin.

“Maybe another hour won’t hurt Brenda,” he remarked. “Let’s have a meal together before we go back.”

He paused, and added almost diffidently, “Sorry about what happened. We’re human, you know.”

“I know,” replied Bresnahan. “That’s what I was counting on.”

“And that,” remarked Silbert as he shed his helmet, “is that. They’re aboard and bound for the core again, happy as clams. And speaking of clams, if you don’t tell me why that stubborn Finn changed his mind, and why you were so sure he’d do it, there’ll be mayhem around here. Don’t try to make me believe that he got scared about what he’d nearly done to us. I know his wife was on our side, basically, but she wasn’t about to wage open war for us. She was as worried about their kid as he was. Come on; make with the words, chum.”

“Simple enough. Didn’t you notice what he wanted before going back to Raindrop?”

“Not particularly — oh; food. So what? He could live on the food down there — or couldn’t he? Don’t you believe what he said?”

“Sure I believe him. He and his wife can digest cellulose, Heaven help them, and they can live off Raindrop’s seaweed. As I remarked to him, though — you heard me, and he understood me — they’re human. I can digest kale and cauliflower, too, and could probably live off them as well as that pair could live off the weeds. But did you ever stop to think what the stuff must taste like? Neither did they. I knew they’d be back with open mouths — and open minds. Let’s eat — anything but liver!”

Contents