THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 818, April 19, 2015
The difference between libertarianism and every other
social or political philosophy is its answer to the
question "Who owns your life?" Everything else flows
naturally from the answer to that question.
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
He could feel it through the floor.
As the gigantic Marshall Services' hangar door rolled thunderously to the oil-stained but well-scrubbed concrete floor below, and sealed with a pneumatic hiss, the cavernous space began to fill with air and light and warmth. Watching gauges, Billy Ngu pulled his helmet off for an unobstructed look at the craft that was going to be his first command.
A cloud of water vapor formed around the ship which had been outside, but in the shade at nearly Absolute Zero for a long time. It needed to be opened up and warmed. It would probably require several hours.
It would be unfair, he thought, to call the Alice Z. Rosenbaum a junker. She was more of a tub. She had been, Fritz Marshall had informed him proudly, fond memories shining, just behind his eyes, the very first of what was now his formidable commercial fleet. Like many another frontier entrepreneur, Fritz had failed utterly at mining, but had gotten rich by serving miners. It made him think about the Levi brothers.
Alice Z. Rosenbaum. He wondered who she'd been named after. She stood before him unprepossessingly, basically a short, squat cylinder seventy-five feet in diameter, about three times as wide as she was long, about the same proportions as a big wheel of cheese or a hockey puck.
She had been constructed, his studies of history told him, almost two generations ago, to haul modest volumes of cargo, and a handful of passengers at a time, as cheaply as it could be done, from worldlet to worldlet, among the countless planetoids of the Asteroid Belt. In that sense, an historic sense, she was the modern version of a covered wagon.
Today she remained admirably undecorated in any way, Billy thought approvingly, aside from her name and her home port—"Alice Z. Rosenbaum, Port Peary, Pallas"—stenciled along her side, the plain scuffed medium gray of the space-worthy composites she was made of, patched or welded here and there, standing on three yard-high skeletal landing legs, her single engine-nozzle just visible beneath her.
Or aft, he corrected himself. The way most modern spaceships were designed, "up" is forward, and "down" is aft. He would try to remember.
The ship was of the old fusion-powered "constant boost" ion-drive persuasion, he knew, the original pattern on which even the great ships like his father's technologically advanced Fifth Force were based.
Their basic design hadn't been changed fundamentally for several decades. Unlike the purely ballistic rockets of the previous two centuries, which hit their highest speeds very shortly after launch and then coasted to their destinations, Alice was intended to gather speed continuously along her starry flightpath, maintaining a tenth of a Standard Gravity acceleration, and achieving startling velocities by mid-course, then turning end-for-end and decelerating—shedding velocity or matching it to the destination for the remainder of her trip.
Newly-designed asteroid hunters were being built right now on Pallas, he knew. He'd seen a 3DTV documentary on it. They were not at all like this, but built for speed, for power, and for maximum maneuverability. About 95 percent engine, by mass, they had powerful tools for observation. They were equipped to capture and deftly manipulate whatever material they discovered. Someday he'd have one of those vessels, himself. Spaceships had turned out to be very different from the way they'd once been imagined. But then, so had everything else.
Atop her blunt hull, even now, she carried a full "fuel basket" fashioned of heavy metal reinforcement rod and filled with football sized asteroid chunks—mostly chondritic—to be used as reaction mass.
These were fed through a central aperture, in the "roof", ground to a consistency finer than flour or talcum powder, heated white-hot, ionized, and expelled, with an electrical boost, through the ship's fusion reactor at velocities approaching lightspeed. Given sufficient time, the ship itself could achieve close to that speed, although new reaction mass might prove a problem. In the Asteroids, electromagnetic Bussard Mass Collectors were thought to be too dangerous to employ. Some ships—private yachts—only took on mass in its pre-powdered form.
There were some legends (he hoped merely apocryphal) about pioneer explorers feeding furniture and clothing into the hopper just to get home.
Thrusting up, around the rim of the hull, around the basket stood the empty masts meant for radar, lidar, and communications of several types.
Somewhat cramped and odd-shaped living and control spaces wrapped around the reactor on Alice's one and only deck. He planned to pull the consoles out and run the ship from his laptop. The engine would be on a lower deck on bigger vessels. Cargo was accessible under the deck plates, each of which could be lifted at need. The overhead was stuffed full of wiring and component technology to keep the vessel running.
Eight long weeks inboard this flying coffin, crowded together with three of his siblings? Billy shuddered slightly and valorously pressed onward.
Getting to Mars wasn't really the problem, he thought. From the Asteroids, you could do it in a rowboat. He was planning to add a trio of self-contained solid chemical rockets to her hull for the last few minutes of the landing on Mars. She would never rise again from that planet—they would probably make some kind of monument of her, as they had the first landing sites on the Moon—lift-off from a one third Gee field being too much to ask of even the stout little vessel. They all understood that this was going to be a strictly one-way voyage, at least until someone from home came to rescue them. But if she got them there and down in one piece, she would have served her purpose.
He saw the rocket boosters now, brand new and quite intimidatingly large, sitting in their plastic factory crates in one corner of the hangar.
He shook his head to clear his mind. With a determined breath, Billy took a step toward Alice, wondering what she was like on the inside.
After two or three dozen orbits, and a minute pixel-by-pixel analysis of the photographs of the Martian surface they took, they finally decided on a landing site, no more than two miles from the Seventh Expedition's camp. It had to be close. Once they were down, they had no means of surface transportation but the boots on their feet.
The little ship carried no acceleration couches—they were far too heavy, and they took up far too much room—but the four of them sat on the plastic-laminated flooring, their backs to the inner hull, on what little padding their sleeping bags afforded. They had decided among themselves to travel to the Red Planet extraordinarily lightly, for the sake of the cargo they bore and the landing they were about to make.
Billy nodded at his sister, Mirelle, who was acting as the pilot. She nodded back, and her fingers began to fly over her laptop keyboard. Gyros slewed the ship around, pointing her flat stern in the current direction of her orbit around the planet. All three engines started, jarring the ship and its passengers above them. At the proper moment, the enormou balute deployed, and inflated itself with helium gas, taking what advantage of the world's thin atmosphere they could. He could watch the balute through the port slanting above him. But he kept his eye on the altimeter and airspeed gauges on his own laptop screen.
The balute, having worked perfectly to slow them down and moderate their fall, was automatically jettisoned at the correct predetermined altitude and velocity, and sailed away on what little wind Mars offered.
He heard Teal speak: "Thank you, Leonardo da Vinci."
As their ship descended, they felt little or nothing of the deceleration stresses—stretched facial features, pressures on their chests—they had expected. The little Pallatian rocket ship did just about everything else that they had imagined possible, and even more that they hadn't imagined. She rattled and shook violently, responding to several vibrations occurring differently—different frequencies and amplitudes, different directions—at once, as she rapidly shed velocity and altitude. she whistled and whined and keened loud enough to hurt their ears as fuel flowed through her propulsion systems, acting first as an engine coolant. And, of course, the thin Martian air—although it was a thousand times scarcer than that of Pallas or Earth—whistled through the undercarriage, along and through the hull.
Billy watched a big box of computer print-outs fall on Brody's head and spill itself everywhere. It was meant to be the ship's log, kept by the ship herself. He let out a shriek, more in anger than in fear.
The girls, Mirella and Teal, remained stoically silent and clung to one another. But nothing loose stayed in its place. Billy thought he'd fastened everything down, or put it away in latched cupboards. Now, as a pencil flew past his head, point first, and clattered off the metal rim of a viewing port, he knew that he was wrong. It felt as if the little spacecraft could flip herself over, upside down at any second. It was like riding a beach ball supported by fountain or a fire hose.
The engines cut off abruptly, a theoretically perfect three feet from the surface, and the ship fell jarringly. Dust rose and fell again in only a second. For an eerily silent moment, they listened to various clanks and ticking of the cooling engines, then the craft lurched suddenly, as one of the landing struts beneath them collapsed, or maybe sank into the orange sand. The deck stood at an odd angle, perhaps ten degrees off level. No matter, thought Billy. She wasn't going anywhere else. Her engines would never roar again. They were all alive and uninjured. Alice Z. Rosenbaum had touched down on Mars.
Another five minutes passed, then, curiously, they heard a polite, even diffident knocking at the hatch door. Re-cocking his Grizzly in its antique holster, Billy grabbed a stanchion and dragged himself to his feet, suddenly feeling heavy in the Martian gravity, six times more powerful than the field he'd grown up in. Staggering from one brace-point to another across the slanting deck, when he reached the hatch, he left the inner, transparent plastic door in place—it was virtually a vacuum out there, and cold—he cranked the outer door open.
Just outside, stood a fantastic figure. They'd met their first Martian.
He wore a spacesuit, or rather several spacesuits, different colors, red, green, yellow and blue, patched together skillfully from what Billy guessed were the spacesuits of many expeditions—perhaps all of them. His first or second generation helmet seemed to be filled with hair and beard—grizzled blonde—rather than head, but it couldn't hide his broad and welcoming grin. At his waist he wore a sword.
"Welcome to Barsoom!" he told Billy, "I am John Carter, Jeddak of Jeddacks ... no, no. that's not quite right. I'm actually—well, I can't quite remember who I am today. I'll look it up when I get home and let you know!" He eyed the huge .45 Winchester Magnum on Billy's hip.
You're also crazy as a bag of frogs, thought Billy, who had never seen a frog. "I'm Billy Ngu, of the Pallatian spaceship Alice Z. Rosenbaum. We've come here to help the latest colonists to this planet."
"I'm not a latest colonist, son. I came out here to help you, if y'need it. Don't need help, thanks. Over yonder there's them newbies. They don't know it yet, but they're gonna need all the help they can get real bad. Whatcha bring? I gotta say, this tub don't look all that palatial."
"That's Pallas, second largest of the Belt Asteroids, first of the Settled worlds. It's where we're from. Did you remember who you are?"
After several moments' silence and several tortured-looking expressions, the strange elderly apparition standing before Billy told him, "You just call me 'the Old Survivor', son. Everybody else does."
You can buy yourself a copy of Pallas and/or Ceres
from these links right here:
You can buy yourself a copy of Pallas and/or Ceres from these links right here:
Just click the red box (it's a button!) to pay the author
This site may receive compensation if a product is purchased