“Trilby, the human boy you like so much, is on the screen.” said Larn.
She appeared in the hatch to the scanner section and slid through the narrow opening gracefully. He admired her as he had done many times. Three feet tall, she looked very much like an upright walking cat though she was tailless with striped black and white fur and large blue eyes. She tapped him on the head lightly reprimanding him, reminding him that she was the Captain and he was only a crew member. He acknowledged her position with a bow of his head.
“What is he doing in the Matter Transmitter Bay at this time of day?” she asked humor in her voice at the youngling's little foibles. He was one of her favorite crew members.
“The new children are being given an orientation tour, and Kipling and Hemingway are included. They must in their terms, 'Be bored out of their skulls' right at the moment.'” and he hissed with laughter. “They've been here for almost a year and they must know every nook and cranny of the complex. Kipling spends four hours a day, six days a week in the Matter Transmitter Bay and he's having a tough time keeping awake as the tour guide drones on and on about the marvelous technological marvel. With his natural politeness, he's trying valiantly to hide it, but Hemingway isn't even trying. He's tuned him out.”
She looked longingly at the screen at the little boy she had come almost to think of as her own. She explained her position to the young crewman. “I know you think it strange, Larn, that I could like a kit so much who is not even of our species. But despite the fact that he's human, he has many of the qualities that I would want in my own younglings if we were still able to have them. Despite his youth, he is aware of his responsibilities when he's standing a watch in the Matter Transmitter Bay, and he never fools around. Yet the moment his watch is over he is suddenly a child again.” She went on discussing both his good qualities and his faults, and the ache of being unable to have her own younglings returned full force.
“Bored, Kip?” Paul Myers, the watch commander, said as I yawned, carefully covering my mouth. Mr. Pless had taken an instant dislike to me for some reason, and I didn't want to add more ammunition to his arsenal.
“Right now I am. I wonder why.” and I grinned, and he smiled back at me. I heard Pless's penetrating voice, “Well, Mr. Tenison doesn't seem to be very interested in what I'm talking about. You already know everything about a matter transmitter chamber, do you, Mr. Tenison.”
I said politely, “Not everything, sir, but...” and he cut me off.
“Well then, would you please tell the other children exactly what you do know.” he said sarcastically.
I stood up straight. Saying, “Incon is one hundred and five lights years from Terra. Since starships at the moment are limited to one hundred and ten times the speed of light, it will take approximately eleven and a half months to get here by starship. Matter transmission, on the other hand, is almost instantaneous. This chamber is a Mark 4 Matter Transmission Chamber. It is primarily used to transport people, but it can be used for cargo as well. Like all matter transmitters it can only take one occupant at a time. When used with cargo it can send containers full of cargo, but such can not be done with living things. In other words if you had a dozen rabbits to send, you couldn't just put them into a container and send them, because a matter transmitter can do strange things to living matter. It has a maximum weight limit of three hundred and fifty pounds, the other four are Mark 5's and can transmit double that amount and then of course there's the cargo transmitter and it can transport up to ten thousand pounds.”
I explained, “In each chamber there are four banks of transmitters. One each in the floor and the ceiling, and the other two are curved and form the wall of the chamber. The floor also doubles as a weigh scale, and it will not allow initiation of transport unless there is enough power to complete the transmission, though once transmission is initiated the operator has up to nine seconds to abort. For each aborted transmission, you lose one point of power for each three second period or part of that time period. If you delayed for six point five seconds you would lose three points of power.”
I waved my hand, saying, “Each bank of transmitters contains five primary emitters and each of the primary emitters has ten secondary emitters for a total of two hundred in all four banks. It is possible to lose one bank once transmission actually starts, and still have a successful transmission, because they have a safety factor which adds up to a twenty-five percent safety margin. However such transmissions can be dangerous and ten percent of such transmissions are a failure. The person or cargo is transmitted but it cannot be received and simply disappears. With the correct calibration by the operator three banks can be used quite safely.”
I looked at Pless and he had his mouth open, and his eyes bulged out. I told him, “I didn't mind the tour, but it was a little silly to include Hemingway and me in it. Our father is the chief engineer and we came out with him. We've been here for over a year. Hemy at twelve spends a six hour shift in Hydroponics. I'm only ten but I work here four hours a day, before I do my schoolwork. Four hours here is a full shift, because of the mental concentration that is needed.”
Trilby gave a hiss of laughter. “He can be somewhat outspoken and he doesn't like pompous individuals like Mr. Pless. A fault perhaps, but then he didn't begin the conversation and Mr. Pless wouldn't look so foolish if he had bothered to let Kipling finish his first statement.”
I stopped there and left it to Pless. If he was smart he would have left it there. He wasn't smart. “Why, you little bastard...” and he was cut off by Paul Myles at that point.
“Mr. Pless.” Paul said coldly, “Restrain your language. Kip was simply telling you what you asked for. That pin that Kip is wearing on the collar of his T shirt is not an affectation, or something his father gave him to wear. He started out as a cadet and six months ago he was appointed an acting-Midshipman in the Colonial Survey, and three months ago that rank was changed to a full Midshipman. He was also given full status as a Primary Operator Class 1, which means that he stands his watch alone. Since Incon Station is not intended to be a colony, but simply a transfer point, the Colonial Survey Branch will retain control of it. His father as chief engineer and head of the Incon Station is in command, and the rank hierarchy follows the chain of rank in the Survey, and as a Midshipman, Kipling Tenison outranks the civilian employees, which includes you. While normally he would not use that rank, he does have it.”
I felt Hemy dig his fingers into my ribs and I tried to avoid giggling, squirming to get away from his tickling fingers as he said in a whisper filled with humor, “Way to go little brother, that put him in his place.”
“Trilby!!” Larn said with alarm in his voice and she looked at him and his normally light blue eyes had darkened to a dark blue telling of his anxiety.
He said urgently, “Tracking indicates that a meteor cluster has just entered the gravity of Incon. There are half a dozen small meteorites and they are followed by three larger ones. Their projected path indicates that they will skim the surface and hit the dome complex, destroying it completely, in four minutes.”
Trilby heart fluttering in fear, flipped on her communicator, “Trell, is there anything that we can do?”
Trell said, “We buried the ship so that it couldn't be detected. The tractor beams can penetrate our covering but they will lose ninety percent of their power doing so. We can bunch the meteorites up so that they may miss part of the complex, but that's the most we can do.”
Trilby asked, “Exactly what type of damage are we talking about if we do that?”
Trell said, “The smaller meteorites will hit about two minutes before the others. They won't cause a lot of damage but the three following will take out the main dome and two of the smaller domes and the power dishes but will miss the Transmitter dome. That means the children will be spared, and they'll be able to use the matter transmitter, but their power will be limited, since they will be left with stored power only.”
Trilby snapped, “Do it! From what we have learned about humans they value children as much as we do, and it's the type of decision that they would make if they were able.”
The sudden alarm interrupted the confrontation between Paul and Pless. The other children might not know what it was but Hemy and I did. Meteor strikes. That claxon was calling everybody to emergency stations. Orders came immediately over the speaker. 'Meteors will strike the complex in 4 minutes. All doors will be sealed in three minutes. Shut down all equipment except SOP 32 Emergency Equipment. Don breathing apparatuses. Start preparing space suits.' Usually either Paul or Trent Lane would remain in the Matter Transmitter Bay, but Paul snapped at me, “Take over Kip. Contact Terra and shut down all incoming transmissions. We were expecting several large shipments to begin in about ten minutes.”
Paul and Trent headed for their backup stations, while Pless headed for his primary station. I threw myself into the command chair and hit the Halt all Transmissions button and I saw the light above it go from green to red indicating that it had been received on Terra.
Everybody went rigid, and some of the children started to scream as we felt the impact from the first, smaller stones, exactly at the same time as the main lights switched off, and the low power emergency lights turned on. Then we waited and I counted to one hundred very slowly, because that couldn't be all. Such a minor strike wouldn't have warranted a major alert.
And then the world seemed to end as the sound of an incredible explosion reached our ears, and the entire Matter Transmitter Bay dome began to shake and even the emergency lights went out.
The computer automatically went into vocal mode. 'Main power supply gone, switching to stored power.' and half of the lights came back on, much dimmer in disaster mode. I could hear some of the younger children crying, and I felt like it as well, but I shoved it into the background.
I suddenly felt someone grab the back of my chair and I knew it was Hemy. I patted him on the hand to show I was okay, and took a look at the board. We had power to the transmitters but the receivers were down. I flipped a couple of switches and the computer screen showed the cross-connections between the two banks, the transmitters and the receivers. Most of it was gone and I went hollow, the receivers were dead and there was no way to transfer power to them. The connections had been under the surface of the main dome.
Full of foreboding I said, “Computer, can you give me any external views?”
It replied, “I can access the camera placed on the transmitter dish, but no others are responding.”
I ordered, “Give me a view of the dome complex, please.” and it came on screen. I wasn't surprised, but I had to blink the tears out of my eyes. Our father had been there in the main dome, and all of the friends we had made over the last year, and they were all gone, Where they had been was a gouge in the earth fifty feet deep and there was no sign that there had ever been any construction. All that was left was the Matter Transmitter dome, hanging on the lip of the cut in the earth, and all we had was stored power, because the power arrays were gone.
I put my sorrow in the background, I would have to cry later but I heard Hemingway choking back his sorrow. I said sombrely, “Computer give me a list of the children who came through yesterday. They will all be listed under Human, Children 15 and younger.”
They were listed on the screen, and I said, “Add Hemingway and Kipling Tenison to the list.” and our names were added to the end. “Correlate the power consumption needed to transmit all to Terra, and the power that we have.”
I held my breath and released it when it showed that we had the power and a little bit of leeway as well, and with eighteen people we shouldn't get any but it allowed for one abort if necessary, possibly even two. Hemy grasped my shoulder and squeezed reassuringly, and I put my hand on his glad for support. I said quietly, “Hem take care of the other children, and make sure everybody keeps their breathing apparatuses handy, and check to see whether there are any breaches in the dome.”
“Computer contact Houston Control. Voice only.” I said, trying to remove the emotion from my mind and my voice.
I heard the words with dread. “Houston, we've got a problem here on Incon Station.” in the treble voice of Kipling Tenison and I wondered how many times those words had been received in this command center in the past twelve hundred years. Connie Chu took it.
“Yes, Kip this is Connie, what is the nature of the problem?” she asked calmly.
“We had a major meteor strike.” His voice wobbled for a moment then steadied as he continued. “The only thing left is the transmitter dome. All of the children are safe. They were here on an orientation tour, but all others have been lost.”
“Can we send a rescue party?” Connie asked.
Kip said solemnly, “Negative. We've only got stored power. It's a direct connect to the transmitters, but the cross-connections to the receivers were under the main dome, and there's just a gouge, fifty feet deep where it used to be. According to the computer we've got enough power to transmit everyone to Terra, but though we've got some power to spare, it isn't very much. As the senior officer on scene as is my right, I will call all aborts from here.”
“Acknowledged. You have the right to call aborts.” Connie answered.
Admiral Yearly said to me, “How old is that child!!” he demanded.
I explained absently, “Kipling Tenison is ten years old Admiral. However he has the rank of full Midshipman, and by the regulations of the Colonial Survey the commanding officer on scene of a disaster is in charge. Not even the commanding officer of the Survey can override his decisions.” I should have looked at him more closely and I would have realized that he didn't accept my decision which was based on the experience of over six hundred years of using matter transmitters. He was considering Kipling Tenison's age and he had no idea of his experience nor his abilities.
“I am sending a list of the children and the preliminary order in which they will be sent, with myself last of course.” Kip said, in a calm voice which I knew must have been covering an enormous feeling of insecurity, and an equal amount of sorrow. The list was put on the big screen, but I ignored it, the actual order would probably be completely different. Primary Operators such as Kip had an intuitive ability and he had the highest rating I had ever seen. That was the only reason a boy as young as he was had gone in with the original construction crew. Primary Operators played hunches and in over one hundred abort procedures he had allowed seventy-five and disallowed twenty-eight and he had never been wrong.
Kip said with a bit of humor in his voice. “In order to save as much power as I can I will be sending the children through naked, so please have blankets or clothing ready. I will begin transmission in five minutes as soon as alignment is complete. The computer of course has it's own internal power supply, but the oxygen scrubbers and the heating does not. They will last approximately one hour before they go out, so I will be sending one child every five minutes, using Chamber One only.”
I saw Connie speaking into her microphone to the Transmitter Chamber, informing the people there of the problem, and the need for clothing or blankets. He must really be desperate for power if he figured the few pounds saved by sending the children through without clothing was necessary.
I pushed the button which put me into the circuit, and automatically activated the privacy circuits. “Kip, it's Hooper, how much power do you have?”
He told me, “I've got enough Hoop, but I'm only four points over, the two tenths of a point that I save by sending them through naked may not be needed, but then it may.” and he allowed the fear to show in his voice since he was talking only to be me. “The matter transmitter stored power source is always kept fully charged and it's a direct connect. The scrubbers and the heaters are on a different circuit and are only at ten percent. They normally use stored power which is just outside of this dome, in a chamber between this dome and the main dome, but that went with the main dome, which is why I have to send the children through so quickly.”
He explained, “As you know this bay is a large open space and ten percent power isn't going to last very long for the heaters. Remember it is night time here, and with no natural atmosphere, the outside temperature is now minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit. The computer says the temperature will drop twenty degrees over the next hour, and when the heating is gone it will be forty in the second hour and sixty in the third hour. There are no environmental suits suitable for children here, the two we had were also in the chamber just outside this dome so they're gone as well. Or as good as gone, even if they're still there, we can't get to them. Let’s hope everything goes smoothly. Even so it will be freezing here before the last children can come through.”
Kip spoke to Connie and the privacy circuit was switched off, “Initiating first transmission, Connie.”
Everything went well and all she had to do was hold her hand over the abort key, which would tell Kip that there might be a problem, but he had the override. She hit it on he fourth transmission when one of her lights turned red.
Calmly Kip said, “My board is green. Disallowed.” and we held our breath which probably alarmed the admiral. We trusted Kip but even so there was always tension when an abort was disallowed until the transmission was complete.
Connie looking at her instruments, said, “Transmission completed successfully. Running diagnostic on board.” she flipped four switches, to perform a diagnostic test. “Diagnostics says I had a faulty circuit, it's been switched out and a new one switched in.”
On the big screen as each transmission was performed one person was checked off. As I said it was a preliminary list, and it used the order in which had originally been sent to us. According to the list Margaret Yearly, the Admiral's granddaughter was tenth.
Connie said, “Abort.” when one of her lights went red.
Kip's calm voice said, “My board is green. Disallowed.”
The Admiral knew more about our instrumentation than I realized and he lunged at Connie's instrument board and hit the Chamber Offline switch. Connie ignoring the Admiral who was being corralled by the security guards, yelled, “Abort, Chamber offline.”
“Abort, aye.” answered Kip and there was tension in his voice.
Connie said a little unsteadily, “Running diagnostics.” and reading the results, “Diagnostics read no problem detected.”
“What happened, Connie. I have override.” Kip said plaintively. “That cost me three points of power.”
I said calmly, suppressing my anger, “Naval officer Admiral Yearly is here, Kip. He was going to be talking to his granddaughter. When he read her name on the screen, and Connie called abort and you didn't accept it he lunged at her board and switched the Chamber offline.”
There was silence and I could hear Kip breathing loudly, then Kip said coldly, “I hereby file a formal complaint against Admiral Yearly. It may be admirable to want to save a relative's life. But I'm in command, not him. Tell him he threw his career away for nothing. It wasn't his granddaughter in the chamber at the time, but my brother. Just the normal switch that an operator makes. Reinitiating transmission.”
I looked at the admiral and he was standing shock on his face and his hands clenched in the cuffs which held his hands behind his back. I looked back at Connie and the transmission went fine as did the next, but there was problems with the twelfth, and I felt sick as Kip called,
“Aborting transmission.” he said with no emotion in his voice. He was under his limit. He wouldn't be coming home.
“Running diagnostics....... Diagnostics says that Primary Emitter Five in Bank Two is out of alignment.”
Trilby sighed, saying with sadness and respect, in her voice, “Oh that is admirable, Larn. To give up your life for someone you have good reason to dislike. What went through his mind when the light turned red on Margaret Yearly's Chamber. Possibly hatred, yet he overcame it and aborted the transmission knowing that he no longer would have the chance to get home.”
I felt sick as I saw the red light. My intuition was telling me it was legitimate. What was I feeling? I don't really know, sadness was the main part of it. I was ten years old and I didn't want to die, and it was all for nothing, because an interfering busybody couldn't trust us, but my hand was reaching for the abort button even before I had made my final decision.
“Aborting transmission.” I said with no emotion in my voice. I was under my limit and I was going to die. “Running diagnostics...... Diagnostics says that Primary Emitter Five in Bank Two is out of alignment.”
I considered what I should do. Normally operating a Matter Transmitter Chamber with one Primary Emitter gone was no problem. You only lost five percent and as I told Pless earlier, even if you lost a bank during transmission, the odds were nine to one that you would make it. If it was a Mark 5 Chamber instead of a Mark 4 I would have ignored it, the possibility of cascade failure was almost non-existent. But the Mark 4's were prone to cascade failures. This was an updated model, which had supposedly cured that problem, but I was still wary. I decided to switch to Chamber Two. It took a little more power to operate, which is why I was using One in the first place, but it no longer mattered.
I flipped the com to Chamber One, “Margaret, please move to Chamber Two, there is a problem in One and I don't want to take any chances. I have to move fast, it is already down to 35 degrees here.” I flipped the switch so the board was showing Chamber Two instead of One and all the lights were red. It ran an automatic diagnostic. When the diagnostics were complete only the five red lights indicating that the chamber was unoccupied and the door open were still red, and they went green ten seconds later as Margaret entered the chamber and the door shut. It was hard to wait out the five minutes, while the alignment was made. Finally, I had a green light telling me alignment was finalized.
“Initiating transport.” I said, and I couldn't control my voice, and it showed the shock I had received. The final six transmissions went smoothly. “All transports complete. Shutting down Transmission Chamber.” I said and I was shivering. I was only wearing a T shirt and a pair of shorts, and the temperature readout read ten degrees, and it would drop another twenty degrees in the next thirty minutes.
“All transport complete. Shutting down Transmission Chamber.” Kip said and his voice was trembling from the cold. “Bringing up a list of everything that was transported and hadn't been moved into the main dome. Transmitting the list. I have one idea. Any others would be appreciated.”
When I saw the two Stasis Chambers on the list, my hopes rose, but then plummeted. They were so big that obviously Kip knew about them, if he wasn't trying to use them there must be a good reason.
I heard Connie ask the question I didn't want to ask. “You have two Stasis Chambers, can you do anything with those?”
Kip said, “They don't have their power modules. They were scheduled for today's shipment, since you don't ship them with the Chambers themselves. As you know they tend to take that type of treatment as well as animal matter in containers, in other words badly, and can blow up if left in place. Both the receptor at the end of the Matter Transmitter line and the one used by the storage module are the same, but they can't be used to connect directly to each other. The Matter Transmitters use a large amount of power in a very short period of time. The Stasis Chambers on the other hand use a constant supply over a long period of time. The computer tells me that I need a converter, but that I will lose ninety to ninety-five percent of the power in the conversion process. For every five percent that I have, the Stasis Chamber can be powered for three months.”
Kip explained, “The computer has no remotes to make the converter so I will have to do it and I'll be starting in a few minutes. I'm transmitting the data to you now, and everything I have that I can use. If you can come up with anything to improve on what I have give me a squeal, otherwise this is my last transmission. It's now five degrees Fahrenheit here, and it will take me approximately forty minutes to complete the converter according to the computer. It'll probably take longer because of the falling temperatures. By the time I'm finished it will be twenty to sixty degrees below zero, and I'll be entering the chamber immediately.”
He told us, “Once I go off line I'll put the computer in suspend mode, since it can't do anything else. Since it's unlikely that I will still be alive when the rescue ship arrives, please tell my mother and especially Hemingway, that I'm sorry I was so busy that I didn't have a chance to say goodbye. Since I know most of you it would take me forever to say individual good-byes, so I'll make it to everyone. Goodbye Houston. Incon signing off.” And the transmission line went dead.
I felt the tears in my eyes, as I shouted, “Attention.” and every man and woman who wasn't busy looking over Kipling's data, stood to attention. “Please give a salute to one of our own, Midshipman Kipling Tenison.” And we gave a crisp salute and held it for a count of ten and then brought our hand to our side, and observed a minute of silence at attention, before I yelled, “Stand easy.”
Larn said, “He's not following the computer plan. There's quite a bit of difference.”
Trilby said, “Yes, but our computer working with the same plan says that he's using his intuition and he's improved the converter by five percent, and he's at fifteen percent, overall, giving a much better estimation than the Incon computer. Oh, our computer says that he just made a major mistake. He stays where he is instead of improving to thirty percent, which would have given him eighteen months instead of nine, which would give his people plenty of time for them to reach him. Why? His intuition has never deserted him before.”
Sadly Trilby watched Kip strip off his clothes and climb into the Stasis Chamber. He hit the button and the plasteel slid upward covering the opening, and it went dark and she knew the boy would already be asleep and heading into deep stasis.
Larn explained, “He didn't make a mistake. Our scanner says that with the circuit complete, the last connector is faulty. If it had gotten thirty percent power instead of fifteen percent it would have failed within two months. Since this is my responsibility anyway, I sent the information to the Council Representative, and he says since we can do it surreptitiously, we may correct the flaw. The whole crew has been following this drama and almost everyone has volunteered to help you in this project.”
I looked at my board for a few seconds after I said goodbye. Then I shook myself out of the shock I felt, and said, “Computer go into suspend mode, leaving emergency sensors on line.”
“Going into suspend mode.” the computer answered and it began shutting itself down. In ten seconds, only the emergency sensors were still green and the two lights looked very lonely, almost as lonely as I felt.
I got up from my chair. I had already been shivering for several minutes, and it was going to get much worse. If I took too long then I wasn't going to be able to finish the converter in time, and I'd simply freeze to death. Not that it mattered, I thought forlornly, by the time the rescue ship got here I would have been dead for five months.
I took a look at the clothing that had been left. Some of it was piled neatly but most of it was puddled where it landed, as the children kicked it off or threw it from them. I had to grin a little despite the way I felt when I saw Hemy's clothing piled neatly and precisely just like his personality.
I picked out a pair of socks, and pulled them on over my sandals and then added a second pair. I took Hemy's trousers and shirt and pulled them on over my own. At least if I was going to die, I could have something of a loved one close. I couldn't put anything on my hands, I was going to need all the dexterity that I had.
Picking up the Comm Padd into which the computer had downloaded the schematic for the converter I went into the tool room. Most of the tools were on the same circuit as the receivers and were dead. Fortunately, there were plenty of portable tools to do the job, some of them would even help prevent frostbite since they heated up during operation though they only got warm.
The Comm Padd had a built in thermometer but I didn't want to know so I left it switched off. My hands were trembling a little from the cold as I got a box out to put the circuitry in. I was soon absorbed in my task and the tools I was using did help keep my hands a little warm. But as it gradually got colder, I learned I had to turn sidewise when breathing out, to avoid frost smoke clouding, and possibly short-circuit the panels I was working on. I didn't follow the circuitry blindly. My intuitive ability was psionic and over the next hour I stopped and thought eleven different times before changing the plans that I had been given by the computer.
By now I was shivering, I had goosebumps all over, and my breath made a solid frost smoke. I felt the skin in the face go white and insensitive, and icicles were building up under my nose and eyebrows. I could no longer touch metal, as my skin would stick to it. Seeing and feeling some skin being torn off the inside of my left hand taught me that fast. As I cried in pain, I knew I couldn’t risk that happening again, so I went back to the clothes pile, took two of the thickest pair of socks I could find, cut off the toes and made a hole in the side for my thumb. Thus my hands were covered by makeshift gloves, and I still had my fingertips available for the sensitive work I still had to do.
I was prompted a twelfth time, but as I started to make the change I knew something was wrong, and I ended up leaving it as it was. Since I could feel the cold slowing down my thinking, I just hoped I made the right decision. I trust my capabilities, but never have I had to rely upon them under such extreme conditions. I attached one of the two connectors that I had to a two foot length of wire coming out of the box. That would go into the power circuit from the transmitter. The second outlet from the box was connected to sixty feet of wire, and my hands were trembling almost uncontrollably from the cold and fastening the wire to the connector which should have taken me ten seconds must have taken close to five minutes.
Carefully I picked up the box, which I could hardly feel in my numb hands, and slowly, as my joints were getting stiffer, wobbled out into the main room, to the end of the power line which powered the five Matter Transmitters. The receptacle was there so additional chambers could be added. Kneeling down I pushed the connector towards the receptacle and it took three or four tries before I heard the click that told me I had a solid connection, feeding out the wire I made my way to the Stasis Chamber my body trembling from the cold. I knelt down and reached into the portable power container and fumbled with the connector and I thought with despair that I wasn't going to make it. I had to keep wiggling my toes and shift my knees and elbows around to keep up the blood circulation. I began to get seriously worried about frostbite and whether I'd ever be able to complete the task, but finally I heard the click telling me I had a solid connection with the Stasis Chamber as well.
Getting to my feet I blew on my freezing hands once again, and then I flipped the two buttons, for diagnostics, and I felt weak with relief when they both went green. I hit the opening button and the plasteel slid downward. It was hard to get my clothes off but finally I managed it and I climbed into the Chamber, threw out my makeshift gloves, and lay down. I closed my eyes and though I didn't feel it I knew what was happening. I was being injected with a drug which would put me to sleep, and I heard the covering start to close but I knew I would be asleep by the time it made the clunk that would signal a complete seal.
“Houston, this is Incon Station.” I looked at Connie and she tensed, though we could tell that it was simply the computer. But what did it have to transmit?
Connie said, “Incon Station this is Houston Control. We are receiving you.”
“I have been brought out of suspend mode by an anomaly detected by the emergency sensors. I provided a schematic, and predicted a five or ten percent conversion rate. The schematic was not followed. Obviously using his intuition, Kip has made a dozen separate changes, and over the last two days, the result has gone from ten percent at the completion of the circuit to thirty percent. I have throttled the power back to ten percent, and the Stasis Chamber now has enough stored power to last for eighteen months.”
There was a moment of complete silence, then the whole control room burst into cheering, and I was doing my share.
Imperturbably the Incon computer waited until there was silence before, asking. “Should I remain active? The Stasis Chamber does not usually operate on external power, and its computer is not designed for that type of thing, while my circuits have a much wider latitude, and will have no problem monitoring the power going into the Stasis Chamber.”
I answered as calmly as I could though my heart was pumping much faster than normal. “Yes, Incon computer, stay active. The ship will be leaving in a week and Kip's brother and his mother will be going along, and it will contain the equipment to set up a new station. Whether it will be in the old position isn't known yet. Everything that we know of Incon indicates the meteor strike was an abnormality, and shouldn't happen again, but the Colonial Survey will do a new study just to make sure. That area is nearly always turned toward Terra by the freak of nature in the orbit and rotation that made us select that planet and spot in the first place, and since there already is a functional transmitter dome available on site, there is a good possibility we will.”
I certainly didn't expect to wake up. But when I sneezed half a dozen times and a familiar voice said, “Here blow your nose.” it was certainly a mundane way to wake up. I opened my eyes and saw my uncle Washington Tenison. Sorry, Dr. Washington Tenison. He handed me some tissues. I blew my nose as I was told and then dropped the tissues into the waste container by my bunk, and watched them disappear with a puff.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You survived obviously.” he said with apparent disgust, and I stuck my tongue out at him.
“Obviously. But how? I didn't have enough power to last for a year.” I told him.
He expained, “You didn't follow the schematics that the computer gave you, and with the twelve changes that you made, the power level you were able to get from the storage units went to thirty percent. That gave you time and to spare.”
I was quiet. I knew that I had only made eleven changes. I had been going to make a twelfth but I had changed my mind. If a twelfth change had been made, I hadn't made it, so who had? He continued, “We kept you under for an additional three months in a regular Stasis Chamber, just to make sure there were no problems. In that time the Colonial Survey made a new study and judging from crater impacts determined that this point was as safe as any other, they've almost completed the new dome, it's fifty feet lower than the old one, but I think Steve would be glad we didn't move it. We will however protect more of the critical equipment in deep tunnels and with armor, as well as having more redundancy built in.”
I had to agree about that, but that reminded me of my father's death and that of my friends and I began to cry silently then. Uncle Wash bailed out as usual at that point and he called in my mother and Hemingway. My mother took me on her lap, rocking me gently, and Hem put his arm around us both as I cried out part of my sorrow. It would never be gone completely, but then that was true of everyone who had family here on Incon.
Finally, when I was cried out, I leaned against my Mother's shoulder and that felt good. I had never expected to feel those loving arms around me again. She kissed the top of my head, saying, “We're all proud of you, Kip. It was hard losing Stevenson, but knowing that you would still be alive when we got here, made losing your father a little easier to bear. The Colonial Survey as a whole is proud of you and I have thousands of messages from individuals telling you about that fact.”
She explained, “Hoop Carston nominated you for the Stellar Cross, when he thought you wouldn't be alive to receive it and he and all of the others who were on duty at Houston are glad that it won't be a posthumous award. You will be the youngest person ever to receive the Colonial Survey's highest award, and one of the few alive to do so.”
Hemingway said, “Margaret was so sorry that her grandfather almost killed you, and she sends her love, but she also said she can't hate her grandfather for trying to save her life.”
I nodded, “I don't know right now if I hate him or not. I certainly can't condone what he did but I do understand it.”
I embraced Hemy and he stroked my back. I said, “Your clothes kept me just that little bit warmer that was necessary while I was making the converter. That way you felt close to me.”
“I'm glad little brother, and I'm so glad you're still alive.” and I was astonished when Hemy kissed me on the forehead. He didn't normally show his emotions so openly, and I hugged him harder.
Larn said with triumph, “Trilby, Kipling is back in the Matter Transmitter Bay.”
She slid through the narrow opening as she had done once in the past to what had been both a tragedy and for one small boy, a triumph. He asked Hooper Carston. “What happened to the Admiral, Hoop, nobody seems to want to tell me?”
Hooper looked uncomfortable as well, but he answered the question, “He was kicked out of the service, Kip, but because he wasn't aware of exactly what your abilities were, he was allowed to keep his pension. I think many people feel that you wouldn't consider he had been punished enough because there were indications that political influence was used on his behalf.”
Kip shrugged his shoulders, saying dryly, “It happened in the past, I don't know what I felt even at the time. He thought he was trying to help a relative, and I could understand it even if I couldn't condone it.” Changing the subject he asked, “I see that you tried out Chamber One. What happened?”
Hoop said with disgust, “We had a major cascade failure in two banks, and they didn't start until the transmission was already in progress. Nobody would have survived the transmission. The Colonial Survey has had enough of the Mark 4's. They're all being withdrawn from service.”
“Good!” said Kip, emphatically. He turned and held up a note for a second and then folded it and put it back in his pocket. He left soon after that.
“Let's see what the note was, Larn. Obviously it was for us.” she said dryly. “Evidently he remembered he only made eleven changes, while there were twelve when he woke up.”
Larn ran the viewer back and stopped where Kipling was showing the note and he enlarged it.
'It's quite obvious that you can understand our language. I'm assuming that you can also read it. Hemingway and I have gotten permission to sign out two space suits on a regular basis. Not difficult since they're the only space suits for children, and we're the only children. We will be taking walks starting this afternoon. Please contact us, if it is allowed. I would like to thank you in person.
Trilby chuckled, “Unless the Council representative objects I think we can meet them.”
It was on the third day that we were waylaid. Oh, not in a physical sense. Our observers simply showed up in front of us on a hill, where they couldn't be seen from the station, or the ship.
They motioned to us and we followed them into a narrow passageway. Hem had to bend almost in two but I only had to stoop a little. We finally came to a metal doorway which slid aside and we went into an airlock. It was quite large, obviously made to handle cargo as well as the occupants. The airlock door closed behind us, and the lock filled with air. One of them looked at a telltale as I was to find on her wrist, and unlatched her helmet and flipped it back, as did her companion.
Hem and I did the same. They looked like intelligent cats, and her fur was white and black striped, while his was ginger, and they both had blue eyes. She said in Standard English that was better than mine. All right, much better than mine. “Hello Kipling, Hemingway, I am Trilby, captain of this ship and this is Larn, our scanner officer. We don't really have the time to go into the ship, nor the space, it's made for our people. Have a seat.” and suiting her invitation to words she and Larn sat down and we joined them.
“We cannot spend long, perhaps fifteen minutes. You have been out of sight for that long, but any longer and you will alarm your people.” she said.
I said empatically, “You made the twelfth change. I only made eleven. I started to make the twelfth and I was very confident I was right, but suddenly I knew I wasn't. How did you make it work?”
She nodded, saying, “In fact, Kip, you were right. The twelfth change would have given you thirty percent of power. However, your psionic ability found a flaw in the connector to the Stasis Chamber. If it had received thirty percent power for even a few minutes it would have failed within two months, probably destroying the circuitry in the Stasis Chamber. All we did, was replace the connector and make the change you had already contemplated. Aside from the flaw in the connector you would have been entirely responsible for saving your own life.” Trilby said.
“But I did not!!” I said forcefully. “I owe you a debt, and my ability is at your disposal if you can use it. As you mentioned it's a psionic ability, and it allows Primary Operators to read the future just a little bit. A Class 1 like me is almost never wrong about things like operating a matter transmitter and anything that might fail or succeed. That's how I was able to make the schematic changes, and know they were right. What can I do for you?”
Trilby explained, “Our people, the Kaan, are dying. Our sun had a solar flare twenty years ago, and it emitted a radiation previously unknown to us. It wasn't until several months later when no kits were conceived that we realized the enormity of the problem. Looking back we found the radiation that was causing the problem, and realized that it had sterilized our whole population. We are strong in the physical sciences but are weaker in the life sciences. We went to two races we considered our friends and they refused to help us. That's when ships like mine were sent out in their hundreds to locate peoples who were further advanced in the life sciences than we were.”
She told us, “Some ships were to act as emissaries, but most, like mine were to operate in secret trying to contact single individuals or small groups who could help us, since we were no longer sure of races as a whole. I don't know if the Council Representative would have allowed us to help you and the other children if we had needed to reveal our presence to do so.” She took a container out of a suit pouch and handed it to me. “This contains the DNA of my people on this ship. We simply ask that you get it to what you refer to as geneticists. There is no particular rush, our life span is just about the same as yours, two hundred and fifty to three hundred years.”
I said, with a grin, “Getting it to a geneticist won't be hard. I just have to hand it over to my mother. She stayed on Terra during the building of the first stage of the original station. The second phase would have included laboratories for scientists, and it would have included a genetics lab.”
She smiled and it meant the same thing for them as for us. “Thank you Kipling. I must admit I had a fondness for you when we were watching you. You had many of the qualities I would have liked my kits to have. Your calmness and courage under the supreme test just confirmed my feelings. If one of the ships is successful I hope that my kits will be like you.”
I went red with embarrassment, and she hissed with obvious laughter and Hem and I joined her. Hem and I left soon after that, and no one except for my mother ever knew of their existence.
“It's very unusual, Trilby, they've blocked our scans and we can no longer see anything. Why would they do that? In fact how do they know about our scanners in the first place?” Larn asked. No longer a youngling, he was a powerfully built Kaan and had become one of the more important members of the ship's crew.
Trilby said calmly, though her heart was fluttering with incipient joy “There's only one way for them to know about our scanners. Either Kipling or Hemingway told them. Kipling said if they were ever successful that he would tell his people about us.”
Larn turned to look at her and his eyes were wide with astonishment and the joy that hers contained. They looked at the screen which changed from black to the features of a very familiar man. Kipling said, “Hello, Trilby. It's time to unbury yourself and land at the spaceport. Hemingway, my mother and I will be there to meet you.”
My heart was filled with joy at the news I had to give Trilby, and much more than news as well. The door of the airlock slid aside and several of the crew I had come to know so well over the years, Trilby, Larn, Trell and Sarn the Council representative.
They could hardly restrain their eagerness, and I certainly couldn't blame them. I put my hand on top of the bot I had with me. I said, “G1 here has all the information that is needed to clone your people, but I have much more for you.” I gave a whistle and half a dozen kits came tumbling into the room, rushing to meet their fathers and mothers. The adult Kaan's eyes went wide at the sight, and they went to their knees to greet the little scamps as Hem and mother followed them.
“We were able to produce clones within twenty years after my mother first started research, and Hemingway and I joined her as soon as we finished at the Colonial Survey academy. There was of course a desire to tell you at once, but that wouldn't necessarily be good news. We had to wait for those first clones to reach adulthood to see whether they would be able to breed.”
I explained, “We were successful, they were able to breed, however while they acknowledge you as their parents, they have become Terran and wish to remain so. They will not meet you at this time and since they are adults we cannot force them to do so.” I said with a little sadness, and Trilby and Trell nodded.
Trilby said, “We were aware of that possibility and as you say they are adults and have the right to chose, and we would not take that right away from them.”
I told her, with joy in my voice, “These little ones are direct clones of the four of you, and unlike the older ones we took great care to make them realize that you were their parents. Since they were born in the Federation they automatically have Federation citizenship, but they are aware as your children they will be going to your world and they are excited to be doing so.” and looking at the kits I saw no sadness in their eyes. They had been united with the parents they had never known, yet they were completely at home with them, and I smiled at that, glad that such a nice race of beings were going to survive, and that Trilby would finally have the kits she had so desperately wanted.
Why the fact that a primary emitter was out of alignment was so important: There is one hundred and five lights years between Incon and Terra. After each transmission the computer automatically realigns the emitters to stay on target, and it takes about four minutes to realign them. When a primary emitter is out of alignment it will burn out, and the chamber used was a Mark 4. When one primary emitter burned out in a Mark 4 a possible cascade affect develops which burns out the other primary emitters in that bank, and it's possible that it will jump from one bank to a second, which when it was tested later after the rescue ship arrived, is exactly what happened.