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   Chapter 13 No.13

The Space Pioneers By Carey Rockwell Characters: 16123

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The first real community problem came when it was learned that the entire supply of school study spools were lost in the crashed ships. There was talk among the colonists of sending a ship back to Earth at once for replacements, but Vidac stepped in and took over. He called a meeting with the three Space Cadets, Jeff Marshall, and Professor Sykes, and told them of his plan.

"I want you to make new study spools on every subject you can remember," Vidac ordered. "Simple arithmetic, spelling, geography, celestial studies, physics, in fact, everything that you learned in prep school-and before that."

"That may be all right for boys," grumbled Professor Sykes, still smarting under the refusal of his violent protest at being taken from his uranium studies and placed in charge of the school problem. "But what about the girls? There are quite a few of them and they need special consideration."

"What kind of consideration?" asked Vidac.

"Well, whatever it is a girl has to know. Sew, cook, keep house, take care of children and-and-" The professor sputtered, hesitated, and concluded lamely, "A-a lot of things!"

Vidac smiled. "Very well. I'll speak to a few of the mothers and see if I can't get you some assistance. In the meantime, I want you, Corbett, Manning, Astro, and Marshall to do what you can about beginning the children's schooling."

"All right," snorted Sykes, "but I can think of better ways to spend the next two or three weeks."

"And one more thing, Professor," continued Vidac. "I want it clearly understood that you are responsible for the cadets. For what they do, or don't do!"

The faces of the three cadets began to flush under the sarcasm.

"And I want you to pay particular attention to Manning," Vidac went on. "He seems to have the biggest mouth in the unit."

"Well, he'd better watch his step with me or he'll find himself in a space hurricane!" Sykes said gruffly.

Vidac turned to Roger, but the blond-haired cadet was staring down at his boots. Vidac suppressed a smile. A few days under the whiplash tongue of Sykes, who would be anxious to finish the project and return to his own studies, and Manning would either buckle or flare up in open revolt. The lieutenant governor considered the possibilities and nodded in satisfaction.

"That's all, Professor Sykes," he said, rising and then turning to the cadets. "And I'd advise you boys to give the professor all the aid you can."

"Yes, sir," said Tom. "We understand. We'll do our best."

"Dismissed," said Vidac.

The three cadets and Marshall saluted sharply and filed out of the room. But Professor Sykes hesitated and turned to Vidac.

"I'd like to speak to you a moment about the-ah-"

"That's been taken care of, Professor," replied Vidac. "Nothing to worry about."

"Has the complete report been sent back?" asked Sykes.

"I said it had been taken care of," answered Vidac coolly. "That's all you have to know! Dismissed!"

Sykes hesitated, nodded, and finally followed the cadets from the room.

Vidac turned and flipped on the intercom. "I want Ed Bush in here and I want him fast!" he barked. Then, swinging his chair around, he gazed out the window. He could see the entire city of Roald spread out before him and the sight filled him with pleasure. With the ownership of the uranium deposit and full control of the colony, mastery of the entire satellite and possibly the star system itself was only one short step away.

The door opened and Ed Bush hurried breathlessly into the room. "You sent for me, boss?" he asked.

Vidac swung around to face his lieutenant. "How much do you know about electronics and astrophysics?" he snapped.

"Why, as much as the average guy, I guess," answered Bush.

"Well, you're going to learn more," said Vidac. He began to outline his plan quickly. "I want you to hang around Sykes and the cadets on this new education project. They're going to make study spools for the colony kids. Manning will be in charge of electronics and astrophysics. Now here's what I want you to do...."

While the lieutenant governor was outlining his plan to his henchman, the three cadets were entering their new quarters on the lower floor of the Administration Building.

"Can you imagine that guy?" asked Astro. "Picking on Roger in front of Professor Sykes? He as good as told the professor to give Roger a hard time!"

As the big Venusian slammed one hamlike fist into the other, Tom nudged him in the ribs and then turned to Roger with a smile.

"Don't worry about it, Roger," said Tom. "We've got a job to do. Getting the school system going here on Roald is important, and whether you like him or not, Professor Sykes is the best man to handle it."

"I realize that, Tom," said Roger. "But I don't know how long I can-"

Jeff Marshall suddenly appeared in the doorway of their quarters. "Professor Sykes wants to see us right away, fellows," he announced. "And watch your temper, Roger. Just do the best you can, and the professor will leave you alone."

"You said it," agreed Tom. "Nothing in the universe talks as loudly as hard work. Let's all show him."

The three cadets followed the enlisted spaceman out of the room and headed toward Sykes's quarters. Tom's thoughts were confused. He wasn't sure of his feelings any more. So much had happened since their departure from Space Academy. Then, suddenly, he realized that he hadn't sent his second report to Captain Strong. He wasn't even sure whether his first report had gotten through. He turned to Astro and remarked casually, "I wonder what Captain Strong is doing right now?"

"I don't know," replied Astro. "But I sure wish he was here!"

"Say it again, spaceboy," growled Roger. "Say it again!"

At that moment over fifty-five billion miles away, in his office high in the Tower of Galileo, Commander Walters was talking with Captain Steve Strong and Dr. Joan Dale. The stern-faced, gray-haired commander of Space Academy frowned as he read a report Joan Dale had just given him.

"Are you sure of this, Joan?" he asked.

"I'm positive, Commander," replied the beautiful young doctor of astrophysics. "The tests are conclusive. There is uranium on Roald!"

"But I don't understand why it wasn't discovered before this?" mused Strong. "It's been nearly a year since the first exploratory expedition out to Roald."

"Samplings of the soil of Roald were taken from all sections of the satellite, Steve," replied Joan. "On-the-spot tests were made by the scientists of course, but there were no indications of uranium then. But cadets majoring in planetary geology tested the soil samples as part of their training. Several of them reported uranium findings. And I checked all their examinations carefully, besides making further tests of my own. That report is the result." She indicated the paper on Walters' desk.

"But you say the deposit is probably a large one," Walters protested. "How could it have been missed?"

"Not necessarily large, sir," said Joan, "but certainly of the purest quality."

Walters looked up at Strong. "Well, Steve?"

"Joan told me about it, sir," said Strong. "And since an investigation is probably the next step, I came over, hoping you'd let me go along." He paused and looked at Joan.

"Steve would also like to see his crew of Space Cadets." Joan smiled. "He hasn't received a report from them yet, and I think he's worried they might be involved in some mischief!"

"No report, eh?" asked Walters.

"No, sir," replied Steve. "I thought one would be waiting for me when I got back from Pluto. But there wasn't any."

"Ummmh!" mused Walters. He looked at his calendar. "About time for them to send in a second report too. Tell you what, Steve. They might be having a tough time setting up things out there on Roald. Suppose you get things organized to investigate the uranium report. And if no word comes in from the cadets by the end of the week, then you can blast off."

"Thank you, sir," said Strong. "Will you excuse me, sir? I'd like

to get to work right away."

At Walters' nod, Strong saluted briskly and left the office. Walters turned to Joan.

"You know, I don't think he's half as interested in finding a big uranium deposit as he is in seeing those boys!"

* * *

In four separate soundproof cubicles in a small office in the Administration Building on Roald, the three space cadets and Jeff Marshall racked their brains to remember simple equations and formulas, knowledge learned years ago but long-since forgotten, for the more complicated subjects of space, time, and rocket travel. Now, trying to recall simple arithmetic and other elementary studies, the cadets and Marshall worked eighteen hours a day. Speaking directly into soundscribers and filling what seemed to be miles of audio tape, the four spacemen attempted to build a comprehensive library of a hundred carefully selected subjects for the children of Roald. Professor Sykes listened to the study spools as they were completed. He listened carefully, reviewed their work, edited it, and made notes for follow-up comment. Then, at the end of the day, he would hold a final meeting with them, outline what he wanted the next day, and reject spools that he felt were not satisfactory. For older children's studies, the three cadets and Jeff had divided their work into four classifications. Roger covered electronics, astrophysics, astrogation, and allied fields. Astro took charge of rockets, missiles, power machinery, and applied uses of atomic energy. Jeff's work was biological, bacteriological, mineralogical, and geological. Tom covered social studies, government, economy, and history.

Resting as comfortably as possible, each of the four spacemen would sit and think. And when he had gone as far back as he could in his memory of formal education and acquired knowledge, he would begin to talk into the soundscriber. Of all the spools, Tom's were edited the least. And Professor Sykes had unbent enough to compliment the curly-haired cadet for his lucid thinking and acute memory. Astro's work needed the most editing. The giant Venusian found it difficult to explain what he did when he repaired atomic power plants, or how he could look at a piece of machinery and know instinctively when it was out of order. He worked twice as hard as the others, simply because Sykes made him do everything over.

On the other hand, Roger sailed along as smoothly as a jet boat. His grasp of the fundamentals in his field made it easy for him to fill the study spools with important information. Jeff, too, found it easy to explain the growth of plants, the function of bacteria, the formation of planet crusts, and other allied subjects.

So, day after day, Tom, Astro, Roger, and Jeff Marshall spent their waking hours in the cubicles searching their minds for every last precious drop of knowledge they could impart to the children of Roald.

Vidac's warning to Professor Sykes to keep an eye on Roger had been forgotten by everyone in the concerted effort to do a good job. And when the cadets and Jeff left their work one night after a loud argument between the professor and Roger over the best way to explain the theory of captive planets, they thought nothing of it. The argument hadn't been unusual. It had happened many times on the same score. Professor Sykes was prone to favor dry, factual explanations. And the cadets believed some of the theories needed explanations in terms a youngster could understand. Sykes did not object to this method, but was wary of losing facts and clarity in the method of instruction. In this particular case, Roger had given in to Sykes, but only after a heated argument. And when they went back to their quarters, there was none of the usual discussion. They were too tired. They fell asleep as soon as their heads touched their pillows.

The next morning, still groggy, their heads filled with facts and figures, buzzing with dates and explanations, they returned to their cubicles for more of the same. Sykes met them at the office door.

"Well, Manning!" he snapped. "You still insist you know more, and can teach better than I, eh?" He glowered at the cadet.

"I don't understand, sir," said Roger.

"You don't, eh?" screamed Sykes. "You came back here last night and changed that spool to your liking!"

"I did what?" asked Roger, incredulous. Only a few moments before he could hardly drag himself from his bunk. The idea of returning to the office before the required time was incredible. "I'm sorry, sir," he said, "but I only got out of bed a few minutes ago."

Ed Bush and several colonists suddenly appeared and Sykes whirled around to face them.

"Well! What do you want?" he demanded.

"Governor Vidac said we could pick up some of the spools that were ready," said Bush.

"Well, there isn't anything ready now," growled Sykes. "When I'm finished, I'll let Vidac know." He turned back to Roger.

"Well, Manning? What have you got to say for yourself?"

"I don't know what you're talking about, sir!" answered Roger.

"Cadet Manning," shouted Sykes, "do you remember our conversation last night on the subject of circular motion of captive planets around a sun star?"

"Yes, sir," said Roger.

"And do you recall your childish manner of explaining it?" sneered Sykes.

"Now just a minute, sir," said Roger, "I might be wrong-but-"

"Quiet!" The professor was screaming now. He turned around and inserted a study spool in a soundscriber. Turning it on he waited, glaring at Roger. The blond-haired cadet's voice came over the machine's loud-speaker clearly and precisely.

" ... the idea of motion of one satellite around a mother planet, or planet around a sun star, can best be explained by the use of a rock tied to the end of a rope. If you swing the rope around your head, the rock will maintain a steady position, following a measured orbit. The planets, and their captive satellites, work on the same principle, with the gravity of the mother planet substituted for the rope, and the satellite for the rock ..."

Sykes stopped the machine, turned, and glared at Roger. "Do you deny that that is your voice?"

Roger shook his head. "It's my voice all right but-"

"And do you deny that last night, before we left, it was decided that my explanation would be used?"

Roger's face reddened. "No, sir," he said tightly.

"Then how do you explain that your voice with your explanation is now on the master spool?" screamed Sykes.

"I-I-can't explain it, sir," said Roger, fighting to control his temper.

"I can!" snapped Sykes. "You sneaked back in here last night and substituted your original recording-the one I threw out!"

"But he couldn't have done that, Professor," interjected Tom. "He was asleep all night!"

"Were you awake all night, Corbett?" asked Sykes coldly.

"No, sir," replied Tom.

"Then you couldn't possibly know if he was sleeping or down here recording, could you?"

"No, sir," said Tom quietly.

"Cadet Manning, this is the most disgusting, disgraceful performance I've ever seen by a Space Cadet!"

"Then you're calling me a liar, sir," said Roger quietly, "when I deny that I did it."

"Can you explain it?" demanded Sykes.

Roger shook his head and remained silent.

"Get out!" screamed Sykes. "Vidac warned me about you! Go on! Get out! I won't work with a liar and a cheat!"

Before anyone could stop him, Roger leaped forward and stood in front of Sykes, grabbing him by the front of his uniform. "I've had enough of your insults and accusations!" he shouted. "If you weren't an old man, I'd drag you out of that Solar Guard uniform and beat your ears off! You're so crazy, you make everyone around you nuts! If you have any complaints about my work, put them in writing and give them to the governor!"

He turned and stalked out of the office.

"Roger, wait!" called Tom, rushing after his unit mate with Astro at his heels.

The colonists began to whisper to each other excitedly, but Ed Bush merely stood in the doorway and smiled!

* * *

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