Hanging by a Thread

by: Douglas

Publisher: DigiLibraries.com
Language: English
Published: 1 week ago
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ayjay Kelvin was sitting in the lounge of the interplanetary cargo vessel Persephone, his feet propped up on the low table in front of the couch, and his attention focused almost totally on the small book he was reading. The lounge itself was cozily small; the Persephone had not been designed as a passenger vessel, and the two passengers she was carrying at the time had been taken on as an accommodation rather than as a money-making proposition. On the other hand, the Persephone and other ships like her were the only method of getting to where Jayjay Kelvin wanted to go; there were no regular passenger runs to Pluto. It's hardly the vacation spot of the Solar System.

On the other side of the table, Jeffry Hull was working industriously with pencil and paper. Jayjay kept his nose buried in his book—not because he was deliberately slighting Hull, but because he was genuinely interested in the book.

"Now wait," said Masterson, looking thoughtfully at the footprints on the floor of the cabin where Jed Hooker had died. "Jest take another look at these prints, Charlie. Silver Bill Greer couldn't have got much more than his big toe into boots that small! Somethin' tells me the Pecos Kid has...."

"... Traveled nearly two billion miles since then," said Hull.

Jayjay lifted his head from his book. "What?" He blinked. "I'm sorry; I wasn't listening. What did you say?"

The younger man was still grinning triumphantly. "I said: We are approaching turnover, and, according to my figures, nine days of acceleration at one standard gee will give us a velocity of seventeen million, five hundred and fifty miles per hour, and we have covered a distance of nearly two billion miles." Then he added: "That is, if I remembered my formulas correctly."

Jayjay Kelvin looked thoughtfully at the ceiling while he ran through the figures in his head. "Something like that. It's the right order of magnitude, anyway."

Hull looked a little miffed. "What answer did you get?"

"A little less than eight times ten to the third kilometers per second. I was just figuring roughly."

Hull scribbled hastily, then smiled again. "Eighteen million miles an hour, that would be. My memory's better than I thought at first. I'm glad I didn't have to figure the time; doing square roots is a process I've forgotten."

That was understandable, Jayjay thought. Hull was working for his doctorate in sociology, and there certainly wasn't much necessity for a sociologist to remember his freshman physics, much less his high-school math.

Still, it was somewhat of a relief to find that Hull was interested in something besides the "sociological reactions of Man in space". The boy had spent six months in the mining cities in the Asteroid Belt, and another six investigating the Jovian chemical synthesis planes and their attendant cities. Now he was heading out to spend a few more months observing the "sociological organization Gestalt" of the men and women who worked at the toughest job in the System—taking the heavy metals from the particularly dense sphere of Pluto.

Hull began scribbling on his paper again, evidently lost in the joys of elementary physics, so Jayjay Kelvin went back to his book.

He had just read three words when Hull said: "Mr. Kelvin, do you mind if I ask a question?"

Jayjay looked up from his book and saw that Jeffry Hull had reverted to his role of the earnest young sociologist. Ah, well. "As I've told you before, Mr. Hull, questions do not offend me, but I can't guarantee that the answers won't offend you."

"Yes; of course," Hull said in his best investigatory manner. "I appreciate that. It's just that ... well, I have trained myself to notice small things....