The Planet Explorer
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by Murray Leinster
Category: Science Fiction Hugo Award Winner
Description: The heroic story of a trail-blazer to the unknown--outer-space service officer Bordman, who uses incredible knowledge and skill to make the star-flung outposts of civilization ready to receive new, vast surges of humanity! Partially based on Leinster's 1956 Hugo Award-winning novelette, "Exploration Team."
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 1957 USA
eBookwise Release Date: March 2007
23 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [301 KB]
Reading time: 178-249 min.
I SOLAR CONSTANT
Bordman waked that morning when the partly-opened port of his sleeping-cabin closed of itself and the room-warmer began to whir. He found himself burrowed deep under his covering, and when he got his head out of it the already-bright room was bitterly cold and his breath made a fog about his head.
He thought uneasily it's colder than yesterday! But a Senior Colonial Survey Officer is not supposed to let himself seem disturbed in public, and the only way to follow that rule is to follow it in private too. So Bordman composed his features, while gloom filled him. When one has just received senior service rating and is on one's very first independent survey of a new colonial installation, the unexpected can be appalling. The unexpected was definitely here, on Lani III.
He'd been a Survey Candidate on Khali II and Taret and Arepo I, all of which were tropical, and a Junior Officer on Menes III and Thotmes--one a semi-arid planet and the other temperate-volcanic--and he'd done an assistant job on Saril's solitary world, which was nine-tenths water. But this first independent survey on his own was another matter. Everything was wholly unfamiliar. An ice planet with a minus point one habitability rating was upsetting in its peculiarities. He knew what the books said about glacial-world conditions, but that was all.
The denseness of the fog his breath made seemed to grow less as the room-warmer whirred and whirred. When by the thinness of the mist he guessed the temperature to be not much under freezing, he climbed out of his bunk and went to the port to look out. His cabin, of course, was in one of the drone-hulls that had brought the colony's equipment to Lani III. The other emptied hulls were precisely ranged in order outside. They were connected by tubular galleries, and painstakingly leveled. They gave the impression of impassioned tidiness among the upheaved, ice-coated mountains all about.
He gazed down the long valley in which the colony lay. There were monstrous slanting peaks on either side that partly framed the morning sun. Their flanks were ice. The sky was pale, and the sun had four sun-dogs geometrically about it. Normally post-midnight temperatures in this valley ranged from ten below zero Fahrenheit--and this was technically summer. But it was colder than ten degrees below zero now. At noon there were normally tiny trickling rills of surface-thaw running down the sunlit sides of the mountains, but they froze again at night. And this was a sheltered valley, warmer than most of the planet's surface. The sun had its sun-dogs every day, on rising. There were nights when the brighter planets had star-pups, too.
The phone-plate lighted and dimmed and lighted and dimmed. They did themselves well on Lani III; the parent world was in this same solar system, making supply easy. That was rare. Bordman stood before the plate and it cleared. Herndon's face peered unhappily out of it. He was even younger than Bordman, and inclined to lean on the supposedly vast experience of a Senior Officer of the Colonial Survey.
"Well?" said Bordman, feeling undignified in his sleeping garments.
"We're picking up a beam from home," said Herndon anxiously. "But we can't make it out."
Because the third planet of the sun Lani was being colonized from the second, inhabited world, communication with the colony's base was possible. A tight beam could span a distance which was only light-minutes across at conjunction, and not much over a light-hour at opposition, as now. But the beam communication had been broken for the past few weeks, and should be possible again for some weeks more. The sun lay between. One wouldn't expect normal sound-and-picture transmission until the parent planet had moved past the scrambler-fields of Lani. But something had come through. It would be reasonable for it to be pretty much hash when it arrived.
"They aren't sending words or pictures," said Herndon. "The beam is wobbly and we don't know what to make of it. It's a signal, all right, and on the regular frequency. But there are all sorts of stray noises and still in the midst of it there's some sort of signal we can't make out. It's like a whine, only it stutters. It's a broken-up sound of one pitch."
Bordman rubbed his chin. He remembered a course in information theory just before he graduated from the Service Academy. Signals were made by pulses, pitch-changed, and frequency-variations. Information was what couldn't be predicted without information. And he remembered with gratitude a seminar on the history of communication, just before he'd gone out on his first field job as a Survey Candidate.
"Hm," he said with a trace of self-consciousness. "Those noises, the stuttering ones. Would they be, on the whole, of no more than two different durations? Like--hm.--Bzz bzz bzzzzzzz bzz?"
He felt that he lost dignity by making such ribald sounds. But Herndon's face brightened.
"That's it!" he said relievedly. "That's it! Only they're high-pitched like--" His voice went falsetto. "Bz bz bz bzzz bz bz."
Bordman thought, we sound like idiots. He said:
"Record everything you get, and I'll try to decode it." He added, "Before there was voice communication, there were signals of light and sound in code which rendered words. Very crude system, but it worked when there was a lot of interference, as in the early days. If there's some emergency, your home world might try to get through the sun's scrambled-field that way."
"Undoubtedly!" said Herndon, with even great relief. "No question, that's it!"
He regarded Bordman with respect as he clicked off. His image faded.
He thinks I'm wonderful, thought Bordman wryly. Because I'm Colonial Survey. But all I know is what's been taught me. It's bound to show up sooner of later. Damn!
He dressed. From time to time he looked out the port again. The intolerable cold of Lani III had intensified, lately. There was some idea that sunspots were the cause. He couldn't make out sunspots with the naked eye, but the sun did look pale, with its accompanying sun-dogs, the result of microscopic ice-crystals suspended in the air. There was no dust on this planet, but there was plenty of ice! It was in the air and on the ground and even under it. To be sure, the drills for the foundation of the great landing-grid had brought up cores of frozen humus along with frozen clay, so there must have been a time when this world had known clouds and seas and vegetation. But it was millions, maybe hundreds of millions of years ago. Right now, though, it was only warm enough to have an atmosphere and very slight and partial thawings in direct sunlight, in sheltered spots, at midday. It couldn't support life, and there is a temperature below which a natural ecological system can't maintain itself. And for the past few weeks, the climate had been such that even human-supplied life looked dubious.
Bordman slipped on his Colonial Survey uniform with its palm-tree insignia. Nothing could be much more inappropriate that palm-tree symbols on a planet with sixty feet of permafrost, Bordman reflected. The construction gang calls it a blast, instead of a tree, because we blow up when they try to dodge specifications. But specifications have to be met! You can't bet the lives of a colony or even a ship's crew on half-built facilities!
He marched down the corridor from his sleeping-room, with the dignity he tried to maintain for the sake of the Colonial Survey. It was a pretty lonely business, being dignified all the time. If Herndon didn't look so respectful it would have been pleasant to be more friendly. But Herndon revered him. Even his sister Riki...
But Bordman put her firmly out of his mind. He was on Lani III, which had very valuable mineral resources that made colonization worthwhile, to check and approve the colony installations. There was the giant landing-grid for spaceships, which took power from the ionosphere to bring space vessels gently to the ground, and also to supply the colony's power needs. It likewise lifted visiting spacecraft the necessary five planetary diameters out when they took off again. There was power storage in the remote event of disaster to that giant device. There was a food reserve and the necessary resources for its indefinite stretching in case of need. That usually meant hydroponic installations. All these things had had to be finished, operable, and inspected by a duly qualified Colonial Survey officer before the colony could be licensed for unlimited use.
It was all very normal and official, but Bordman was the newest Senior Survey Officer on the list, and this was the first of his independent operations. He felt inadequate at times.
He passed through the vestibule between this drone-hull and the next and went directly to Herndon's office. Herndon, like himself, was newly endowed with authority. He was actually a mining-and-minerals man and a youthful prodigy in that field, but when the director of the colony was taken ill while a supply-ship was aground, he went back to the home planet and command devolved on Herndon. I wonder, thought Bordman, if he feels as shaky as I do.
When he entered the office, Herndon sat listening to a literal hash of noises coming out of a speaker on his desk. The cryptic signal had been relayed to him, and a recorder stored it as it came. There were cracklings and squeals and moaning sounds, sputters and rumbles and growls. But behind the façade of confusion there was a tiny, interrupted, high-pitched noise. It was a monotone whining not to be confused with the random sounds accompanying it. Sometimes it faded almost to inaudibility, and sometimes it was sharp and clear. But it was a distinctive sound in itself, and it was made up of short whines and longer ones of two durations only.
"I've put Riki at making a transcription of what we've got," said Herndon with relief as he saw Bordman. "She'll make short marks for the short sounds, and long ones for the long. I've told her to try to separate the groups. We've got a full half-hour of it, already."
Bordman made an inspired guess.
"I would expect it to be the same message repeated over and over," he said. He added. "And I think it would be decoded by guessing at the letters in two-letter and three-letter words, as clues to longer ones. That's quicker than statistical analysis of frequency."
Herndon instantly pressed buttons under his phone-plate. He relayed the information to his sister, as if it were gospel. But it wasn't, Bordman remembered. It's simply a trick remembered from boyhood, when I was interested in secret languages. My interest faded when I realized I had no secrets to record or transmit.
Herndon turned from the phone-plate.
"Riki says she's already learned to recognize some groups," he reported, "but thanks for the advice. Now what?"
Bordman sat down. "It seems to me," be observed, "that the increased cold out here might not be local. Sunspots--"
Herndon wordlessly handed over a sheet of paper with observation figures on top and a graph below them which related the observations to each other. They were the daily, at-first-routine, measurements of the solar constant from Lani III. The graph-line almost ran off the paper at the bottom.
"To look at this," he admitted, "you'd think the sun was going out. Of course it can't be," he added hastily. "Not possibly. But there is an extraordinary number of sunspots. Maybe they'll clear. But meanwhile the amount of heat reaching us is dropping. As far as I know there's no parallel for it. Night temperatures are thirty degrees lower than they should be. Not only here, either, but at all the robot weather-stations that have been spotted around the planet. They average forty below zero minimum, instead of ten. And--there is that terrific lot of sunspots..."
Bordman frowned. Sunspots are things about which nothing can be done. Yet the habitability of a borderline planet, anyhow, could very well depend on them. An infinitesimal change in sun-heat can make a serious change in any planet's temperature. In the books, the ancient mother Earth was said to have entered glacial periods through a drop of only three degrees in the planet-wide temperature, and to have been tropic almost to its poles from a rise of only six. It had been guessed that those changes on the planet where humanity began had been caused by a coincidence of sunspot maxima.
Lani III was already glacial to its equator. Sunspots could account for worsening conditions here, perhaps. That message from the inner planet could be bad, thought Bordman, if the solar constant drops and stays down awhile. But aloud he said:
"There couldn't be a really significant permanent change. Not quickly, anyhow. Lani's a sol-type star, and they aren't variables, though of course any dynamic system like a sun will have cyclic modifications of one sort or another. But they usually cancel out."
He sounded encouraging, even to himself.
There was a stirring behind him; Riki Herndon had come silently into her brother's office. She looked pale. She put some papers down on the desk.
"That's true," she said. "But while cycles sometimes cancel, sometimes they enhance each other. They heterodyne. That's what's happening."
Bordman scrambled to his feet, flushing. Herndon said sharply:
"What? Where'd you get that stuff, Riki?"
She nodded at the sheaf of papers she'd just laid down.
"That's the news from home." She nodded again, to Bordman. "You were right. It was the same message, repeated over and over. And I decoded it like children decode each other's secret messages. I did that to Ken once. He was twelve, and I decoded his diary, and I remember how angry he was that I'd found out he didn't have any secrets."
She tried to smile. But Herndon wasn't listening. He read swiftly. Bordman saw that the under sheets were rows of dots and dashes, painstakingly transcribed and then decoded. There were letters under each group of marks.
Herndon was very white when he'd finished. He handed the sheet to Bordman. Riki's handwriting was precise and clear. Bordman read: * * * *
FOR YOUR INFORMATION THE SOLAR CONSTANT IS DROPPING RAPIDLY DUE TO COINCIDENCE OF CYCLIC VARIATIONS IN SUNSPOT ACTIVITY WITH PREVIOUS UNOBSERVED LONG CYCLES APPARENTLY INCREASING THE EFFECT MAXIMUM IS NOT YET REACHED AND IT IS EXPECTED THAT THIS PLANET WILL BECOME UNINHABITABLE FOR A TIME ALREADY KILLING FROSTS HAVE DESTROYED CROPS IN SUMMER HEMISPHERE IT IS IMPROBABLE THAT MORE THAN A SMALL PART OF THE POPULATION CAN BE SHELTERED AND WARMED THROUGH DEVELOPING GLACIAL CONDITIONS WHICH WILL REACH TO EQUATOR IN TWO HUNDRED DAYS THE COLD CONDITIONS ARE COMPUTED TO LAST TWO THOUSAND DAYS BEFORE NORMAL SOLAR CONSTANT RECURS THIS INFORMATION IS SENT YOU TO ADVISE IMMEDIATE DEVELOPMENT OF HYDROPONIC FOOD SUPPLY AND OTHER PRECAUTIONS MESSAGE ENDS FOR YOUR INFORMATION THE SOLAR CONSTANT IS DROPPING RAPIDLY DUE TO COINCIDENCE OF CYCLIC-- * * * *
Bordman looked up. Herndon's face was ghastly. Bordman said:
"Kent IV is the nearest world your planet could hope to get help from. A mail liner will make it in two months. Kent IV might be able to send three ships--to get here in two months more. That's no good!"
He felt sick. Human-habited planets are far apart. There is on an average between four and five light-years of distance between suns, two months' spaceship journey apart. And not all stars are Sol-type or have inhabited planets. Colonized worlds are like isolated islands in an unimaginably vast ocean, and the ships that fly between them at thirty light-speeds seem merely to creep. In ancient days on the mother-planet Earth, men sailed for months between ports, in their clumsy sailing-ships. There was no way to send messages faster than they could travel. Nowadays there was little improvement. News of the Lani disaster could not be transmitted. It had to be carried, as between stars, and carriage was slow and response to news of disaster was no faster.
The inner planet, Lani II, had twenty million inhabitants, as against the three hundred people in the colony on Lani III. The outer planet was already frozen, but there would be glaciation on the inner world in two hundred days. Glaciation and human life are practically exclusive. Human beings can survive only so long as food and power hold out, and shelter against really bitter cold cannot be quickly improvised for twenty million people. And, of course, there could be no help on any adequate scale. News of the need for it would travel too slowly. It would take five Earth-years to get a thousand ships to Lani II, and a thousand ships could not rescue more than one percent of the population. But in five years there would not be nearly so many people left alive.
"Our people," said Riki in a thin voice, "all of them ... Mother and father and the others. All our friends. Home is going to be like that!"
She jerked her head toward a port which let in the frigid colony-world's white daylight.
Bordman was aware of an extreme unhappiness on her account. For himself, of course, the tragedy was less. He had no family, and very few friends. But he could see something that had not occurred to them as yet.
"Of course," he said, "it's not only their trouble. If the solar constant is really dropping like that, things out here will be pretty bad, too. A lot worse than they are now. We'll have to get to work to save ourselves!"
Riki did not look at him. Bordman bit his lips. It was plain that their own fate did not concern them immediately. When one's home world is doomed, one's personal safety seems a trivial matter.
There was silence save for the crackling, confused noised that came out of the speaker on Herndon's desk.
"We," said Bordman, "are right now in the conditions they'll face a good long time from now."
Herndon said dully:
"We couldn't live here without supplies from home. Or even without the equipment we brought. But they can't get supplies from anywhere, and they can't make such equipment for everybody! They'll die!" He swallowed. "They--they know it, too. So they warn us to try to save ourselves because they can't help us any more."
Bordman felt lonely. He could understand that nobody would want to live as the only human alive. Nobody would want to live as a member of the only group of people left alive. And everybody thinks of his home planet as all the world there is. I don't think that way, thought Bordman. But maybe it's the way I'd feel about living if Riki were to die. It would be natural to want to share any danger or any disaster she faced.
"L-look!" he said, stammering a little. "You don't see! It isn't a case of your living while they die! If your home world becomes like this, what will this be like? We're farther from the sun, colder to start with. Do you think we'll live through anything they can't take? Food supplies or no, equipment or no, do you think we've got a chance? Use your brains!"
Herndon and Riki stared at him. And then some of the strained look left Riki's face and body. Herndon blinked, and said slowly:
"Why, that's so! We were thought to be taking a terrific risk when we came here. But it'll be as much worse here. Of course! We are in the same fix they're in!"
He straightened a little. Color actually came back into his face. Riki managed to smile. And then Herndon said almost naturally:
"That makes things look more sensible. We've got to fight for our lives too! And we've very little chance of saving them. What do we do about it, Bordman?"
The sun was halfway toward mid-day, still attended by its sun-dogs, though they were fainter than at the horizon. The sky was darker. The icy mountain peaks reached skyward, serene and utterly aloof from the affairs of men. The city was a fleet of metal hulks, neatly arranged for the building of the colony. Not far away, the landing-grid stood. It was a gigantic skeleton of steel, rising from legs of unequal length bedded in the hillsides and reaching two thousand feet toward the stars. Human figures, muffled almost past recognition, moved about a catwalk three-quarters of the way up. There was a tiny glittering below where they moved. The men were using sonic ice-breakers to shatter the frost which formed on the framework at night. Falling shards of crystals made a liquid-like flashing. The landing-grid needed to be cleared every ten days or so. Left uncleared, it would aquire an increasingly thick coating of ice, and in time it would collapse. But long before that time it would have ceased to operate, and without its operation there could be no space-travel. Rockets for lifting spaceships were impossibly heavy, for practical use. But the landing-grids could lift them out to the unstressed space where Lawlor drives could work, and draw them to ground with cargoes they couldn't possibly have carried if they'd needed rockets.
Bordman reached the base of the grid on foot. He was dwarfed by the ground-level upright beams. He went through the cold-lock to the small control house at the grid's base.
He nodded to the man on standby as he got out of his muffling garments.
"Everything all right?" he asked.
The standby operator shrugged. Bordman was Colonial Survey. It was his function to find fault, to expose inadequacies in the construction and operation of colony facilities. It's natural for me to be disliked by men whose work I inspect, thought Bordman. If I approve it doesn't mean anything, and if protest, it's bad.
"I think," he said, "that there ought to be a change in maximum no-drain voltage. I'd like to check it."
The operator shrugged again. He pressed buttons under a phone-plate.
"Shift to reserve power," he commanded, when a face appeared on the plate. "Gotta check no-drain juice."
"What for?" demanded the face in the plate.
"You-know-who's got ideas," said the grid operator scornfully. "maybe we've been skimping something. Maybe there's some new specification we didn't know about. Maybe something! But shift to reserve power."
The face in the screen grumbled. Bordman swallowed. It was not a Survey officer's privilege to maintain discipline. And anyhow, there was no particular virtue in discipline here and now. He watched the current-demand dial. It stood a little above normal day-drain, which was understandable. The outside temperature was down. There was more power needed to keep the dwellings warm, and there was a lot of power needed in the mine the colony had been formed to exploit. The mine had to be warmed for the men who worked to develop it.
The current-demand needle dropped abruptly, hung steady, and dropped again and again as additional parts of the colony's power uses were switched to reserve. The needle hit bottom and stayed there.
Bordman had to walk about the standby man to get to the voltmeter. It was built around standard, old-fashioned vacuum-tubes, and he tested it. He pushed in the contact plugs, read the no-drain voltage, licked his lips and made a note. He reversed the leads, so it would read backward. He took another reading. He drew in his breath very quietly.
"Now I want the power turned on in sections," he told the operator. "The mine first, maybe. It doesn't matter. But I want to get voltage readings at different power take-offs."
The operator looked pained. He spoke with unnecessary elaboration to the face in the phone-plate, and grudgingly went through the process by which Bordman measured the successive drops in voltage with power drawn from the ionosphere. The current available from a layer of ionized gas is, in effect, the current-flow through a conductor with marked resistance. It is possible to infer a gas's ionization from the current it yields.
The cold-lock door opened. Riki Herndon came in, panting a little.
"There's another message from home," she said sharply. Her voice seemed strained. "They picked up our answering-beam and are giving the information you asked for."
"I'll be along," said Bordman. "I just got some information here."
He got into his cold-garments again, and followed her out of the control-hut.
"The figures from home aren't good," said Riki, when mountains visibly rose on every hand around them. "Ken says they're much worse than he thought. The rate of decline in the solar constant's worse than we figured or could believe."
"I see," said Bordman, inadequately.
"It's absurd!" said Riki angrily. "There've been sunspots and sunspot cycles all along--I learned about them in school. I learned about a four-year and a seven-year cycle, and that there were others. They should have known, they should have calculated in advance! Now they talk about sixty-year cycles coming in with a hundred-and-thirty year cycle to pile up with all the others.... What's the use of scientists if they don't do their work right and twenty million people die of it?"
Bordman did not consider himself a scientist, but he winced. Riki lagged as they moved over the slippery ice. Her breath was an intermittent cloud about her shoulders, and there was white frost on the front of her cold-garments. Even so quickly the moisture of her breath congealed.
He held out his hand quickly as she slipped, once.
"But they'll beat it!" said Riki in a sort of angry pride. "They're starting to build more landing-grids, back home. Hundreds of them! Not for ships to land by, but to draw power from the ionosphere! They figure that one ship-size grid can keep nearly three square miles of ground warm enough to live on. They'll roof over the streets of cities and pile snow on top for insulation. Then they'll plant food-crops in the streets and gardens, and do what hydroponic growing they can. They're afraid they can't do it fast enough to save everybody, but they'll try!"
Bordman clenched his hands inside their bulky mittens.
"Well?" demanded Riki. "Won't that do the trick?"
"I just took readings on the grid, here. The voltage and the conductivity of the layer we draw power from, both depend on ionization. When the intensity of sunlight drops, the voltage drops and the conductivity drops too. It's harder for less power to flow to the area the grid can tap--and the voltage pressure is lower to drive it."
"Don't say any more!" cried Riki. "Not another word!"
Bordman was silent. They went down the last small slope, and passed the opening of the mine, a great drift which bored straight into the mountain. Looking into it, they saw the twin rows of brilliant roof-lights going toward the heart of the stony monster.
They had almost reached the village when Riki said in a stifled voice:
"How bad is it?"
"Very," admitted Bordman. "We have here the conditions the home planet will have in two hundred days. Originally we could draw less than a fifth the power they count on from a grid on Lani II.
Riki ground her teeth.
"Go on!" she said.
"Ionization here is down ten percent," said Bordman. "That means the voltage is down, somewhat more. A great deal more. And the resistance of the layer is greater. Very much greater. When they need power most, on the home planet, they won't draw more from the grid than we do now. It won't be enough."
They reached the village. There were steps to the cold-lock of Herndon's office-hull. They were ice-free, because like the village walkways they were warmed to keep frost from depositing on them. Bordman made a mental note.
In the cold-lock, the warm air pouring in was almost stifling. Riki said defiantly:
"You might as well tell me now!"
"We usually can draw one-fifth as much power, here, as the same sized grid would yield on your home world," he said. "We are drawing--call it sixty percent of normal. A shade over one-tenth of what they expect to draw when the real cold hits them. Their estimates are nine times too high. One grid won't warm three square miles of city. About a third of one is closer. But--"
"That won't be the worst," said Riki in a choked voice. "Is that right? How much good will a grid do?"
Bordman did not answer.
The inner cold-lock door opened. Herndon sat at his desk, even paler than before, listening to the hash of noises that came out of the speaker. He tapped on the desktop, quite unconscious of the action. He looked almost desperately at Bordman.
"Did she tell you?" he asked in a numb voice. "They hope to save maybe half the population. All the children anyhow...."
"They won't," said Riki bitterly.
"Better go transcribe the new stuff that's come in," said her brother. "We might as well know what it says."
Riki went out of the office. Bordman shed his cold-garments. He said:
"The rest of the colony doesn't know what's up yet. The operator at the grid didn't, certainly. But they have to know."
"We'll post the message on the bulletin board," said Herndon. "I wish I could keep it from them. It's not fun to live with. I--might as well not tell them just yet."
"To the contrary," insisted Bordman. "They've got to know right away! You're going to issue orders and they'll need to understand how urgent they are."
Herndon looked hopeless.
"What's the good of doing anything?" When Bordman frowned, he added: "Seriously, is there any use? You're all right. A Survey Ship's due to take you away. It's not coming because they know there's something wrong, but because your job should be finished by now. But it can't do any good! It would be insane for it to land at home. It couldn't carry away more than a few dozen refugees, and there are twenty million people who're going to die. It might offer to take some of us, but I don't think many of us would go. I wouldn't. I don't think Riki would."
"I don't see--"
"What we've got right here," said Herndon, "is what they're going to have back home. And worse. But there's no chance for us to keep alive here! You are the one who pointed it out. I've been figuring, and the way the solar-constant curve is going--I plotted it from the figures they gave us--it couldn't possibly level out until the oxygen, anyhow, is frozen out of the atmosphere here. We aren't equipped to stand anything like that, and we can't be equipped. There isn't equipment to let us stand it indefinitely! Anyhow, the maximum cold conditions will last two thousand days back home--six Earth-years. And there'll be storage of cold in frozen oceans and piled-up glaciers. It'll be twenty years before home will be back to normal in temperature, and the same here. Is there any point in trying to live--just barely to survive--for twenty years before there'll be a habitable planet to go back to?"
Bordman said irritably:
"Don't be a fool! Doesn't it occur to you that this planet is a perfect experiment station, two hundred days ahead of the home world, where ways to beat the whole business can be tried? If we can beat it here, they can beat it there!"
"Can you name one thing to try here?"
"Yes," snapped Bordman. "I want the walk-heaters and the step-heaters outside turned off. They use power to keep walkways clear of frost and door-steps not slippery. I want to save that heat!"
Herndon said, "And when you've saved it, what will you do with it?"
"Put it underground to be used as needed!" Bordman said. "Store it in the mine! I want to put every heating-device we can contrive to work in the mine, to heat the rock. I want to draw every watt the grid will yield and warm up the inside of the mountain while we can draw power to do it with. I want the deepest part of the mine too hot to enter! We'll lose a lot of heat, of course. It's not like storing electric power. But we can store heat now, and the more we store the more will be left when we need it!"
Herndon thought. Presently he stirred slightly.
"Do you know, that is an idea..." He looked up. "Back home there was a shale-oil deposit up near the ice-caps. It wasn't economical to mine it. Sot they put heaters down in boreholes and heated up the whole shale deposit. Drill-holes let out the hot oil vapors to be condensed. They got out every bit of oil without disturbing the shale. And then the shale stayed warm for years! Farmers bulldozed soil over it and raised crops with glaciers all around them. That could be done again. They could be storing up heat back home!"
Then he drooped.
"But they can't spare power to warm up the ground under cities. They need all the power they've got to build roofs ... And it takes time to build grids."