Are You Hurt?
Momentum of the ship didn't cease when the rockets stopped, of course. They were still moving, but not very fast and not in the direction they wanted to go. Gingerly Docchi tried out the magneslippers; he was clumsy, but no longer helpless in the gravityless ship. He stared futilely at the instruments as if he could wring more secrets than the panel had electronic access to.
"It's mechanical trouble of some sort," he said uneasily. "There's one way of finding out."
Before he could move, Anti was in the corridor that led away from the control compartment.
"Stay here, Anti," he said. "I'll see what's wrong."
She reached nearly from the floor to the ceiling. She missed by scant inches the sides of the passageway. Locomotion was easy enough for her; turning around wasn't. Anti didn't turn.
"Look, honey," her voice floated back. "You brought me along for the ride. That's fine, but I'm not satisfied with it. I want to earn my fare. You stay and run the ship because you know how and I don't. I'll find out what's wrong."
"But you won't know what to do, Anti." There was no answer. "All right," he said in defeat. "Both of us ought to go. Jordan, you stay at the controls."
Anti led the way because Docchi couldn't get around her. Determinedly he shuffled along. There was a trick to magneslippers that he had nearly forgotten. Slowly it was coming back to him--shuffle instead of striding.
It was a dingy, poorly lighted passageway in an older ship. Handicap Haven definitely didn't rate the best equipment that was produced. On one side was the hull of the ship; on the other, a few small cabins. None were occupied. Anti stopped. The passageway ended in a cross corridor that led to the other side of the ship.
"We'd better check the stern rocket tubes," he said, still unable to see around her. "Open it up and we'll take a look."
"I can't," said Anti. "There are handles, but the thing won't open. There's a red light, too. Does that mean anything?"
His heart sank. "It does. Don't try to open it. With your strength, you might be unlucky enough to do it."
"That's a man for you," said Anti sharply. "First he wants me to open it, and then he tells me not to."
"There's a vacuum in there. The combustion cap has been retracted. That's the only thing that will actuate the warning signal. You'd die in a few seconds if you somehow managed to open the lock to the rocket compartment."
"What are we waiting for? Let's get busy and fix it."
"Sure, fix it. You see, Anti, that didn't happen by itself. Someone, or something, was responsible."
"Did you see anyone when we were loading your tank in the ship?"
"Nothing. I heard Cameron shouting, a lot of noise. All I could see was what was directly overhead. What does that have to do with it?"
"I think it has to do with a geepee. I thought they all dropped outside. Maybe there was one that didn't."
"Why a geepee?" she asked blankly.
"In the first place, no man is strong enough to move the combustion cap. But if he should somehow manage to exert super-human effort, as soon as the cap cleared the tubes, rocket action would cease. The air in the compartment would exhaust into space and anyone in there would die."
"So we have a dead geepee in there."
"A geepee doesn't die. Not even become inactive; it doesn't need air." Docchi tried to think the thing through. "Not only that, a geepee might be able to escape from the compartment. The lock would close as soon as the pressure dropped. But a geepee...."
Anti settled down grimly. "Then there's a geepee on the loose, intent on sabotage?"
"I'm afraid so," he admitted worriedly.
"What are we standing here for? We'll go back to controls and pick up the robot on radio. What it damaged, it can repair." She was partly turned around now and saw Docchi's face. "Don't tell me," she said. "I suppose I should have thought of it. The signal doesn't work inside the ship."
Docchi nodded. "It doesn't. Robots are never used aboard, so the control is set in the bow antenna and the ship, of course, is insulated."
"Well," said Anti happily, "we've got a robot hunt ahead of us."
"We do. And our bare hands to hunt it with."
"Oh, come now! It's not as bad as all that. Look, the geepee was back here when the rockets stopped. Could it get by the control compartment without our seeing it?"
"It couldn't. There are two corridors leading through the compartment, one on each side of the ship."
"That's what I thought. We came down one corridor and no geepee was in it. It has to be in the other. If it goes into a cabin, a light will shine on the outside. It can't really hide from us."
"Sure, we'll find out where it is. But what are we going to do with it when we find it?"
"I was thinking," said Anti. "Can you get around me when I'm standing like this?"
"Neither can a geepee. All I need is a toaster, or something that looks like one, and I can drive the robot into the control compartment for Jordan to pick off." Determinedly, she began to move toward the opposite corridor. "Hurry back to Jordan and tell him what we're doing. There ought to be another toaster on the ship. Probably there's one somewhere in the control compartment. Bring it back to me."
Docchi bit his lip and stared at the back of the huge woman. "All right," he answered. "But stay where you are. Don't try anything until I get back."
Anti laughed. "I value my big, fat life," she said. There were other things she valued, but she didn't mention them.
Docchi went as fast as the magneslippers would allow, which wasn't very fast. The strategy was simple, but it didn't follow that it was sound--a toaster for Jordan and one for Anti, if another could be found.
Anti would block the corridor. A geepee might go through her, but it could never squeeze past her. The robot would have to run for it. If it came toward Anti, she might be able to burn it down. But she would be firing directly into the control room. If she missed even partially--
The instruments were delicate.
It wasn't better if Jordan got the chance to bring down the robot. Anti would be in the line of fire. No, that wasn't good, either. They'd have to think of something else.
"Jordan," called Docchi as he entered the control compartment. Jordan wasn't there. Nona was, still gazing serenely at the gravity indicator.
Lights were streaming from the corridor on the opposite side of the compartment. Docchi hurried over. Jordan was just inside the entrance, the toaster clutched grimly in his hand. He was hitching his truncated body slowly toward the stern.
Coming to meet him was Anti--unarmed, enormously fat Anti. She wasn't walking; somehow it seemed more like swimming, a bulbous, flabby sea animal moving through the air. She waved her fins against the wall and propelled herself forward.
"Melt him down!" she cried.
It was difficult to make out the vaguely human form of the geepee. The powerful, shining body blended into the structure of the ship itself--unintentional camouflage, though the robot wasn't aware of that. It was crouched at the threshold of a cabin, hesitating between the approaching dangers.
Jordan raised the weapon and as instantly lowered it. "Get out of the way," he told Anti.
There was no place for her to go. She was too big to enter a cabin, too massive to let the geepee squeeze by her even if she wanted it to.
"Never mind that. Get him," she answered.
A geepee was not a genius even by robot standards. It didn't need to be. Heat is deadly; a human body is a fragile thing. This it knew. It ran toward Anti. Unlike man, it didn't need magneslippers. It had magnetic metal feet which could move fast, and did.
Docchi couldn't close his eyes, though he wanted to. He had to watch. The geepee torpedoed into Anti. And it was the robot that was thrown back. Relative mass favored the monstrous woman.
The electronic brain obeyed its original instructions, whatever those were. It got to its feet and rushed toward Anti. Metal arms shot out with dazzling speed and crashed against the flesh of the fat woman. Docchi could hear the thud. No ordinary person could take that kind of punishment and live.
Anti wasn't ordinary; she was strange, even for an accidental, living far inside a deep armor of flesh. It was possible that she never felt the crushing force of those blows. Amazingly, she grasped the robot and drew it to her. And the geepee lost the advantage of leverage. The bright arms didn't flash so fast nor with such lethal power.
"Gravity!" cried Anti. "All you've got!"
She leaned against the struggling machine.
Gravity. That was something he could do. Docchi turned, took two steps before the surge of gravity hit him. It came in waves, the sequence of which he was never able to disentangle. The first wave staggered him; at the second his knees buckled and he sank to the floor. After that his eardrums hurt. He thought he could feel the ship quiver. He knew dazedly that an artificial gravity field of this magnitude was impossible, but that knowledge didn't help him move.
It vanished as suddenly as it had come. Painfully his lungs expanded. Each muscle ached. He rolled to his feet and lurched past Jordan.
He didn't find the mass of broken flesh he expected. Anti was already standing.
"Oof!" she grunted and gazed with satisfaction at the twisted grotesque shape at her feet. The electronic brain had been smashed, the body flattened.
"Are you hurt?" asked Docchi gently, awed.
She waggled the extremities of her body. "Nope, I can't feel anything broken," she said solemnly. She moved back to get a better view of the robot. "I'd call that throwing my weight around. At the right time, of course. The secret's timing. And I must say you picked up your cue with the gravity well." Her laughter rolled through the ship.
"It wasn't I," said Docchi.
"Jordan? No, he's just getting up. Then who?"
"Nona," said Docchi. "It had to be her. She saw what had to be done and did it. But how she got that amount of gravity--"
"Ask her," said Anti with fond irony.
Docchi grimaced and limped back into the control room, followed by Anti and Jordan. Nona was at the gravity panel, her face pleasant and childlike.
"Gravity can be turned on or off," said Docchi puzzledly, searching her face for some sign. "And regulated, within certain narrow limits. But somehow you doubled or tripled the normal amount. How?"
Nona smiled questioningly.
"Gravity engineers would like to know that too," said Jordan.
"Everybody would like to know," Anti interrupted irritably. "Except me. I'm too pragmatic, I suppose, but I want to know when we start the rockets and be on our way."
"It isn't that easy," sighed Jordan. "A retracted combustion cap in flight generally means at least one burned-out tube." He made his way to the instrument panel and looked at it glumly. "Three."
"A factor." Docchi nodded. "But I was thinking about the robot."
Anti was impatient. "An interesting subject, no doubt. What about it?"
"Where did it get instructions? Not radio; the hull of the ship cuts off all radiation. The last we knew, it was in our control."
"All right, how?"
"Voice," said Docchi. "Cameron's voice, to be exact."
"But he was in the rocket dome," Jordan objected.
"Think back to when we were loading the tank. We had to look through the telecom and the angle of vision was bad. We couldn't see much of the cargo lock. Anti couldn't see anything that wasn't directly overhead. Both Cameron and the geepee managed to get inside and we didn't know it."
Jordan hefted his weapon. "Looks like we've got another hunt on our hands. This time a nice normal doctor."
"Keep it handy," said Docchi, glancing at the toaster. "But be careful how you use it. One homicide and we can forget what we came for. I think he'll be ready to surrender. The ship's temporarily disabled; he'll consider that damage enough."