The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol X Part 149

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Keeter: Well, let's see. First there's the fuel test.

Humper: Fuel test?

Keeter: Let me explain, all very simple really. Let's take the case of a planet that seems to be qualified for Federation members.h.i.+p in every respect but one. They don't have interstellar flight. Now--since members.h.i.+p imposes duties requiring commercial, diplomatic and scientific intercourse between member worlds, the applicant must be able, within a comparatively short time, to engineer its own transportation. Follow me?

Humper: Yes. Yes, go on.

Keeter: Well, since the biggest technological stumbling block for most planets in such a situation is the development of the necessary fuel, we'll help them along. In other words, we give them the fuel test; we supply a sample quant.i.ty of Z-67As--our standard thermonuclear power source. If the applicant, working with the sample, is able to reproduce the fuel in quant.i.ty, then that's it. They've pa.s.sed that portion of the test, and at the same time have developed the means for interstellar flight. Follow me?

Humper: Yes, of course. Now how about the second part of the test?

Keeter: Oh, yes, that's the weapons section.

Humper: I'm sorry, I'm afraid I didn't hear you. I thought you said weapons.

Keeter: I did. You see, it's a matter of self defense. There are a number of primitive worlds that have developed interstellar flight, but have not achieved the cultural and social levels that would qualify them for members.h.i.+p. As a result, they become rather nasty about this exclusion, and devote themselves to warring against any Federation s.h.i.+p that comes within range. You'd call them pirates, I think. Anyway, the Federation Patrol keeps them pretty well in hand, but occasionally, the Blues--that's our nickname for them since all their s.h.i.+ps are blue--do manage to waylay a s.h.i.+p or raid a Federation planet. So naturally, every s.h.i.+p must carry suitable armament; the standard equipment is an R-37ax computor missile--even more complicated for an applicant to manufacture than the reactor fuel. Therefore we provide a sample missile along with our blessings. The rest is up to the applicant.

Humper: And the last part of the test?

Keeter: Oh, that's genetic. We require a specimen, a woman from the applicant's world. She's taken to a Federation laboratory, evaluated genetically, physiologically, psychologically. Our people are able to extrapolate the future racial--and to some degree cultural--development of the entire planet after about two weeks works. Needless to say, the entire process of testing is painless; the subject is made as comfortable as possible. And after the test period, the specimen is returned as quickly as possible to her home world.

Humper: Well, now, don't you think--after what you've seen of us--that we might possibly qualify, at least qualify to take the test? I'm sure you'll be surprised-- Keeter: Oh, no you don't! I've fulfilled whatever obligation I had by answering your questions. That was the agreement, remember? Information in exchange for the transistors. Now, gentlemen, if you'll excuse me-- Keeter allowed himself to be delivered back to the s.h.i.+p in a staff car. Beemish and several others were on hand to see him off. He shook hands all around--a custom which amused him immensely, since the same act meant something tremendously different in most other parts of the universe.

Back in the s.h.i.+p, he walked to his cabin, stripped off his clothes, showered, ate, dressed again. Going into the control room, he checked a number of detectors, found no evidence that any Blues were hunting for him, left the control room and walked back to a supply room.

Here, he selected a plastic vacuum solenoid from a rack, hefted it in one hand for a moment, then deliberately let it drop to the floor. He picked it up, squinted at it, then walked out to the airlock.

General Beemish was delighted. Everyone was delighted. "No trouble at all," said Beemish, who had already made a phone call that had galvanized two thousand scientists and technicians into action. "We'll have it for you in no time."

"I certainly hope so," said Keeter. Some of the flippancy had left him, and it was apparent that this new bid for a.s.sistance was causing him considerable embarra.s.sment--for a short time, anyway.

"Yes sir," said Beemish, grinning. "Glad to be of help, in fact, we're flattered that you'd let us, primitive as we are, help at all. We primitives don't often have an opportunity to do this sort of thing, you know." Beemish believed in rubbing while the rubbing was good.

The solenoids, forty in all, were delivered the following morning. They were packaged in a small black box lined with velvet. This time Keeter made no comment about the packaging. Instead, he rose from his chair in the conference room, tucked the box under an arm, and addressed the group. "Gentlemen, I'd like you to know just how much I appreciate this favor. Evidently, I misjudged your level of technology, and for this I apologize. I don't know how I can repay you for this latest favor, but if you'd like, I'll be glad to formally submit your planet's application for Federation Members.h.i.+p as soon as I return to Aldebaran."

"When will that be?" asked Senator Humper unceremoniously.

"Oh, about ten of your years, at a guess."

"Ten years! My G.o.d, man. Can't you do something sooner?"

"Well--I suppose, I could administer the first two parts of the test myself. Why, yes, I suppose I could drop off your samples and your specimen at the Federation branch laboratory in Andromeda--."

"Wonderful!" shouted Beemish. "When do we begin?"

He was genuinely awed when three weeks later they began loading enormous quant.i.ties of Z-67As into his s.h.i.+p. He did not check the stuff, but had no doubts that it was, atom for atom, identical to the sample of fuel he had given them.

The R37Ax computor missiles arrived the same afternoon. There were four hundred of them. He selected one at random and had it taken into the s.h.i.+p's laboratory. Here, he ran a number of routine tests. The missile was not identical to the sample! They had made a number of improvements in the circuitry! Keeter reflected grimly that a race such as this would probably be able to deduce a launching and firing system for the thing, would probably have the planet ringed with launching stations within weeks. If the Blues had picked up a trace of him, he reflected, they would be atomized before they got within half a million miles of the planet.

The specimen for genetics, which he had almost forgotten about, arrived an hour before he was scheduled to depart. He was stunned again. She was undoubtedly the most attractive woman Keeter had ever set eyes on.

"Oh, I'm so excited," said the young lady, in a voice slightly suggestive of the virgin on the way to the sacrifice.

"I'm excited, too," said Keeter honestly.

In the control room, Keeter set a course for Arcturus. He then tripped a lever which fed a month's supply of the earthmen's fuel into the s.h.i.+p's almost empty reaction chambers. Another lever fed 50 computor missiles into 50 completely empty launching racks.

He checked the detectors, but found no trace of the blue s.h.i.+ps of the Federation Patrol. Keeter allowed himself the luxury of a sigh. It was a long way to Arcturus, a long, lonely way--even for a hardened pirate, he reflected sadly. Then he remembered that that was why he had asked for the girl.


The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol X Part 149

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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol X Part 149 summary

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