The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 12

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"Dachmann, Graham. Over here."

"Oh, oh." Dachmann sighed. "Here's trouble. Wizow doesn't come out here unless he's got something."

The blocky production chief looked coldly at them as they approached the car.

"It'll be a lot better," he growled, "if you two clear through my office before you start wandering all over the grounds." He looked at Stan.

"Got a problem for you. Maybe we'll get some action out of you on this one." He held out a few sheets of paper.

"Hold up over in the components line." He jabbed at a sheet with a forefinger.

"Take a trip over there and kick it up." He glanced at Dachmann. "Got another one for you."

Stan took the papers, studying them. Then he looked up. There was very little question as to the bottleneck here. Each material shortage traced back to one machine. He frowned.

"Maintenance people checked over that machine yet?" he asked.

Wizow shrugged impa.s.sively. "You're a staffman," he said coldly. "Been on parole to us long enough, you should know what to do, so I'm not going to tell you how. Just get to the trouble and fix it. All I want is production. Leave the smart talk to the technical people." He turned.

"Get in, Dachmann. I've got a headache for you."

Stan examined the tabulated sheets again. The offending machine was in building nine thirty-two. Number forty-one.

He walked over to the parking lot and climbed on the skip-about he had bought on his first pay day. The machine purred into life as he touched a b.u.t.ton and he raised the platform a few inches off the ground, then spun about, to glide across the field toward block nine.

Fabricator number forty-one was a multiple. A single programming head actuated eight spinaret a.s.semblies, which could deliver completed module a.s.semblies into carriers in an almost continuous stream. It was idling.

Stan visualized the flow chart of the machine as he approached. Then he paused. The operator was sitting at the programming punch, carefully going over a long streamer of tape. Stan frowned and looked at his watch. By this time, the tapes should be ready and the machine in full operation. But this man was obviously still setting up.

He continued to watch as the operator laboriously compared the tape with a blueprint before him. There was something familiar in the sharp, hungry-looking features. The fellow turned to look closely at the print and Stan nodded.

"Now I remember," he told himself. "Sornal. Wondered what happened to him. Never saw him after the first day up in Opertal."

Sornal came to the end of the tape, then scrabbled about and found the beginning. He commenced rechecking against the print. Stan shook his head in annoyance.

"How many times is he going to have to check that thing?" he asked himself. He walked toward the man.

"Got trouble?"

Sornal looked up, then cringed away from him.

"I'll get it going right away," he whined. "Honest! Just want to make sure everything's right."

"You've already checked your tape. I've been watching you."

Sornal flinched and looked away.

"Yeah, but these things is tricky. You get some of this stuff out of tolerance, it can wreck a whole s.h.i.+p. They got to be right."

"So, why not a sample run-through? Then you can run test on a real piece."

"This is a very complicated device. Can't check those internal tolerance without you put in on proof load. These got to be right the first time."

Stan shook his head wearily.

"Look. Get up. I'll give your tape a run-through, then we'll pull a sample and check it out. Got a helper?"

"Some place around here." Sornal got out of his chair and stood, looking at the floor.

Stan picked up the tape and sat down.

"All right, go find him then. And bring him over here while I run out the sample. We can make with the talk after that."

The tape was perfect, with neither patch nor correction. Stan finally raised his head, growling to himself.

"Guy's competent enough at programming, anyway. Now, what's wrong with him?"

He snapped the power switch from stand-by to on, then waited as the indicators came up. Delicately, he turned a couple of microdrive dials till the needles settled on their red lines. Then he opened the control head, poked the tape in, and punched the starter lever.

The tape clicked steadily through the head. Stan kept his eyes moving about as he checked the meters.

The tape ran out of the head and dropped into the catcher basket and hydraulics squished as a delivery arm set a small block on the sample table. Stan picked it up, turning it over to examine it.

It was a simple, rectangular block of black material, about the size of a cigarette lighter. On five sides were intricate patterns of silvery connector dots. An identifying number covered the sixth. Inside, Stan knew, lay complex circuitry, traced into the insulation. Tiny dots of alloy formed critical junctions, connected by minute, sprayed-in threads of conductor material. He glanced around.

Sornal watched anxiously. He looked at the little module block as though it were alive and dangerous.

"Here," Stan told him, "stick this in the test jig and run it."

Sornal carefully set the block into an aperture, then reached for a switch. His hand seemed to freeze on the switch for a moment, then he looked back at Stan and snapped it on. Needles rose from their pins, flickered, then steadied.

Sornal appeared to gain a little confidence. He turned a dial, noted the readings on a few meters, then twisted another dial. Finally, he faced around.

"Looks all right," he said reluctantly, "only--"

"Looks all right, period." Stan turned to the helper.

"Get that machine rolling," he ordered. "And keep your eyes on those meters. Let's get this run finished right." He moved his head.

"Come on, friend, I'll buy you a mug of tea."

Sornal backed away.

"You ain't gonna--Look, ain't I seen you some place before? Look, I just--"

"I said I'd buy you a mug of tea. Then, we'll talk, and that's all. I mean it."

"I just got outta--Listen, I can't take it so good any more, see?"

"Don't worry. We aren't going to have any games this morning. Come on, let's go."

When Sornal started talking, the flow of words was almost continuous.

He had come to Kellonia almost four years before, on a standard one-year contract. For over twenty years, he'd moved around, working in s.p.a.ce-yards over the galaxy. He'd worked on short contracts, banking his profits on his home planet. And he'd planned to finally return to his original home on Thorwald, use his considerable savings to buy a small business, and settle down to semi-retirement.

But an offer of highly attractive rates had brought him to Kellonia for one last contract with Janzel.

"They got my papers somewhere around here," he said, "only I can't get 'em back any more." He shook his head wearily and went on.

Everything had gone smoothly for the first half of his contract period. He'd drawn impressively large checks and deposited them. And after thinking it over, he had indicated he would like an extension.

"That was when they nailed me down," he said. "There was just that one bad run, only that was the job that sneaked through the inspection and went bust at Proof."


Sornal grinned sourly.

"Blowup, you want to know? Even took out one of the tractor supports. Real mess. Oh, you think they weren't mad about that!"

"You say there was just one bad run? Then everything came out normally again?"

"Yeah. I ran a check, see? Test sample was perfect Beautiful. So then the power went off for a while. Crew was working around. Well, they found the trouble and cleared it, just before lunch time. I went ahead and finished my run. It was only ten gyro a.s.semblies--control job.

"I don't know--guess they were out of balance. Maybe the shaft alloys came out wrong. Anyway, I finished the run and went for chow. Came back and set up a new run."

He stared into his cup.

"Along about quitting time, they came after me. Mister, I don't like to think of that! I been beat up a lot since, but them's just little reminders. Those guys really enjoyed their work!"

Sornal shuddered and set his cup down. Finally, he sighed and continued.

He had left the hospital, muttering grim threats of the legal action he would take. And he'd limped over to file a complaint at the Federation Residency.

"I didn't get there. Next thing I knew, I was in some cell." He looked up at Stan.

"Now I know where I see you. You're in that van, going out of some jail."

"Yeah." Stan nodded, looking at his own empty cup.

"Tell me something," he said slowly. "When that maintenance crew was working around your machine, did they have a gravito clamp!"

"Clamp? Yeah ... yeah, I suppose they might have. Use 'em a lot around here when they've got heavy stuff, and those guys had a lot of stuff to move."

"I see. Wonder if the field head got pointed at your machine?"

"I don't think ... I dunno, I didn't watch 'em close." Sornal looked sharply at Stan.

"You mean, they mighta--"

"Well, what could cause a temporary misflow?"

"Yeah!" Sornal bobbed his head slowly. "Funny I didn't think of that."

"So anyway, you went up to Opertal?"

"Yeah. Had me for evasion of obligation. Said I owed the company plenty for the damage done by the blowup. Claimed I'd tried to run out.

"They wouldn't let me in the machine shop up there. Had me out hauling stuff for the landscape crew. Then, they paroled me back here. Back to the machines again, only I ain't a contract man any more. Junior machinist. Oh, it's better than helper, I guess, only they don't pay much." Sornal pushed himself away from the table.

"I'm going to be real careful with my work from now on," he said. "They got me for quite a while, but that sentence'll run out one of these days. I'll get me out of parole and pay off that claim, then I'm getting out of here. They aren't hanging another one on me."

"Only one trouble," Stan told him. "You're getting so careful, you're setting yourself up."


"Yeah. They'll tack you down for malingering if you don't watch it." Stan got to his feet.

"Tell you what you do. Run things just as you did when you were a contract man. Only one thing--if any crew comes around, pull a sample after they leave. And check it. You know how to check for magnetic and gravitic deviations. Do that, then go ahead with your run. Now go back to your machine. I'm going to do a little work."

He strode out of the refreshment room, watched Sornal as he took over the production run, then swung around and walked over to the Personnel office.

"Like to see the package on a man named Sornal," he told the clerk.

The man hesitated. "We aren't supposed to release a whole file. I can look up any specific information for you."

Stan frowned. "Don't argue with me. I want to see this guy's package. Need his complete history. Now get it."

The clerk started to make an objection, then turned and went to the files. He flipped an index, then punched a combination of numbers on his selector. Finally, he came back with a folder.

Stan took it and flopped it open on the counter.

"All right, now just stay here while I go through this. I'll give it back in a few minutes."

He looked through the records, looking closely at one exhibit.

"Wow!" he told himself silently.

"Eleven thousand, six hundred ninety-two interstells. Only way he'll ever pay that off is by making a big dent in his savings."

He flipped the paper over, noting the details of the determination of responsibility.

As he examined the payroll data, he nodded. It all balanced out nicely. They'd get several years of production out of the man for bare subsistence.

"Very neat," he told himself.

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 12

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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 12 summary

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