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ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



IN ITS time Space Station No. 1 was unique in the solar system and probably the universe, for, of all the worlds that swung around the sun, it alone was a creation of mortal engineers and mechanics, built of materials artificially prepared, shaped and joined, for civilized purposes and profit.

Without it the Martio-Terrestrial League's Jovian colonies might well have failed at the start. Jupiter's moons abounded in valuable minerals, offered broad lands for development and settlement by emigrants, but they were almost too far away. Only once in two years were Mars and Jupiter in conjunction, close enough for liners and freighters to ply between. A few days thus, then the planets drifted apart on their orbits, the gap widening to an impossible distance for two years more.

Wherefore the League's experts planned and built Space Station No. 1, to circle the sun along Mars' orbit, but on the far side of the sun from Mars. Old Sol's gravity carried the synthetic planetoid in approximate position, as the current of a whirlpool carries a chip of wood in an endless circle. Occasional rocket blasts kept the station exactly where it should be. Thus, when the planet was in opposition and at its farthest from Jupiter, the station was at its closest, a halfway house for the refueling of Jupiter-bound ships from Earth and Mars. Supplies and other relief could reach the colonists once each year instead of once each two years.

Viewed from afar against the star-dusted black of space, the station looked like an exaggerated mimicry of ringed Saturn. The spherical center was an outmoded and awkward space-hulk two hundred meters in diameter. Construction ships had towed it into position, then clamped great girders all around its equator to extend like spokes from a hub. These in turn were braced with smaller crosswise girders and cables and the whole decked over with metal plates to make a circular plane a mile across, extending collar-like from and around the ball-shaped center. This deck was the landing port. The hulk in the middle did duty as administration building, storehouse, and living quarters.

For men lived there. And though the League and the colonies found Space Station No. 1 practical and valuable, its attendants found it all but unendurable.

There were two of them, standing just now on the outer rim of the deck, clad in space-overalls of insulated fabric, magnetized boots that held them to the almost gravityless plating, and bell-like glass helmets, slightly clouded against the sun's unimpeded glare, The taller was Lane Everitt, a tough-bodied young Terrestrial, who was glaring as fiercely as the sun itself. He had had enough of Space Station No. 1, this cramped corner where he must live in dingy cabins, corridors and holds, and swaddle himself in glass and fabric whenever he ventured out for exercise.

A full year of this prison-like boredom, and why? Because he, a simple navigator of Spaceways, Inc., had loved and been loved by Fortuna Sidney, daughter of the corporation's director-general. Now he was out here, doomed to the most deadly routine job in the universe, while she was shut up in the strictest schools with instructions to forget him.

"Rats!" he growled aloud, and his own voice, echoing inside the helmet, startled him. He must stop mumbling to himself— yes, and lying awake, and cheating at solitaire—or he'd go crazy, like that chap Ropakihn he had relieved out here. And if he went crazy, he, too, would be clapped in an asylum. No job, no freedom. No Fortuna. He gazed down from the deck's verge into the endlessness of space, found no comfort there, then turned his head inside the transparent helmet to glance back along the level expanse of deck. He felt like a very small fly on the rim of a very big tray, with the hulk for an apple in its center. And Earth and the solar system valued him at less than a fly.

"Did you mention rats, Ev? You require rodents for some purpose?"

IT WAS the mechanically expressionless voice of Zeoui, his Martian associate, who stood beside him. Zeoui's chrysanthemum-like face—if face it really was—tilted toward him questioningly.

Zeoui was one of those Martians destined from birth and before to live and work with Terrestrials. Eugenic breeding and medical alteration had brought his shape to approximate that of an Earth man. His soft, bladder-like body had been elongated, stiffened with artificial spine, and raised erect upon two slender limbs. Its upper corners were even shaped into shoulders, and bore in lieu of arms two tentacles with sensitive tips, just now concealed in his space-mittens. At the top, under the helmet, was his large and fragile braincase, shaggy all over with the petal-like fronds and tags of tissue housing his Martian awareness of conditions that approximated the five Terrestrial senses. Thus developed and equipped, Zeoui could walk and work w...

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