"Hold it, Kip!" Dad snapped. "Stop it."
Mother said, "Oh, dear!"
I heard the M.C. saying, "-present the lucky winner, Mrs. Xenia Donahue, of Great Falls, Montana... . Mrs. Donahue!"
To a fanfare a little dumpy woman teetered out. I read the cards again. They still matched the one in my hand. I said, "Dad, what happened? That's my slogan."
"You didn't listen."
"They've cheated me!"
"Be quiet and listen,"
"-as we explained earlier, in the event of duplicate entries, priority goes to the one postmarked first. Any remaining tie is settled by time of arrival at the contest office. Our winning slogan was submitted by eleven contestants. To them go the first eleven prizes. Tonight we have with us the six top winners-for the trip to the Moon, the weekend in a satellite space station, the jet flight around the world, the flight to Antarctica, the-"
"Beaten by a postmark. A postmark!"
"-sorry we can't have every one of the winners with us tonight. To the rest this comes as a surprise." The M.C. looked at his watch. "Right this minute, in a thousand homes across the land... right this second- there is a lucky knock on a lucky door of some loyal friend of Skyway-"
There was a knock on our door.
I fell over my feet. Dad answered. There were three men, an enormous crate, and a Western Union messenger singing about Skyway Soap. Somebody said, "Is this where Clifford Russell lives?"
Dad said, "Yes."
"Will you sign for this?"
"What is it?"
"It just says ‘This Side Up.' Where do you want it?"
Dad passed the receipt to me and I signed, somehow. Dad said, "Will you put it in the living room, please?"
They did and left and I got a hammer and sidecutters. It looked like a coffin and I could have used one.
I got the top off. A lot of packing got all over Mother's rugs. At last we were down to it.
It was a space suit.
Not much, as space suits go these days. It was an obsolete model that Skyway Soap had bought as surplus material-the tenth-to-hundredth prizes were all space suits. But it was a real one, made by Goodyear, with air conditioning by York and auxiliary equipment by General Electric. Its instruction manual and maintenance-and-service log were with it and it had racked up more than eight hundred hours in rigging the second satellite station.
I felt better. This was no phony, this was no toy. It had been out in space, even if I had not. But would!-someday. I'd learn to use it and someday I'd wear it on the naked face of the Moon.
Dad said, "Maybe we'd better carry this to your workshop. Eh, Kip?"
Mother said, "There's no rush, dearest. Don't you want to try it on, Clifford?"
I certainly did. Dad and I compromised by toting the crate and packing out to the barn. When we came back, a reporter from the Clarion was there with a photographer-the paper had known I was a winner before I did, which didn't seem right.
They wanted pictures and I didn't mind.
I had an awful time getting into it-dressing in an upper berth is a cinch by comparison. The photographer said, "Just a minute, kid. I've seen ‘em do it at Wright Field. Mind some advice?"
"Uh? No. I mean, yes, tell me."
"You slide in like an Eskimo climbing into a kayak. Then wiggle your right arm in-"
It was fairly easy that way, opening front gaskets wide and sitting down in it, though I almost dislocated a shoulder. There were straps to adjust for size but we didn't bother; he stuffed me into it, zippered the gaskets, helped me to my feet and shut the helmet.
It didn't have air bottles and I had to live on the air inside while he got three shots. By then I knew that the suit had seen service; it smelled like dirty socks. I was glad to get the helmet off.
Just the same, it made me feel good to wear it. Like a spacer.
They left and presently we went to bed, leaving the suit in the living room.
About midnight I cat-footed down and tried it on again.
The next morning I moved it out to my shop before I went to work. Mr. Charton was diplomatic; he just said he'd like to see my space suit when I had time. Everybody knew about it-my picture was on the front page of the Clarion along with the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and the holiday fatalities. The story had been played for laughs, but I didn't mind. I had never really believed I would win-and I had an honest-to-goodness space suit, which was more than my classmates had.
That afternoon Dad brought me a special delivery letter from Skyway Soap. It enclosed a property title to one suit, pressure, serial number so-and-so, ex-US-AF. The letter started with congratulations and thanks but the last paragraphs meant something:
Skyway Soap realizes that your prize may not be of immediate use to you. Therefore, as mentioned in paragraph 4 (a) of the rules. Skyway offers to redeem it for a cash premium of five hundred dollars ($500.00). To avail yourself of this privilege you should return the pressure suit via express collect to Goodyear Corporation (Special Appliances Division, attn: Salvage), Akron, Ohio, on or before the 15th of September.
Skyway Soap hopes that you have enjoyed our Grand Contest as much as we have enjoyed having you and hopes that you will retain your prize long enough to appear with it on your local television station in a special Skyway Jubilee program. A fee of fifty dollars ($50.00) will be paid for this appearance. Your station manager will be in touch with you. We hope that you will be our guest.
All good wishes from Skyway, the Soap as Pure as the Sky Itself.
I handed it to Dad. He read it and handed it back.
I said, "I suppose I should."
He said, "I see no harm. Television leaves no external scars."
"Oh, that. Sure, it's easy money. But I meant I really ought to sell the suit back to them." I should have felt happy since I needed money, while I needed a space suit the way a pig needs a pipe organ. But I didn't, even though I had never had five hundred dollars in my life.
"Son, any statement that starts ‘I really ought to-‘ is suspect. It means you haven't analyzed your motives."
"But five hundred dollars is tuition for a semester, almost."
"Which has nothing to do with the case. Find out what you want to do, then do it. Never talk yourself into doing something you don't want. Think it over." He said good-bye and left.
I decided it was foolish to burn my bridges before I crossed them. The space suit was mine until the middle of September even if I did the sensible thing-by then I might be tired of it.
But I didn't get tired of it; a space suit is a marvelous piece of machinery-a little space station with everything miniaturized. Mine was a chrome-plated helmet and shoulder yoke which merged into a body of silicone, asbestos, and glass-fiber cloth. This hide was stiff except at the joints. They were the same rugged material but were "constant volume" -when you bent a knee a bellows arrangement increased the volume over the knee cap as much as the space back of the knee was squeezed. Without this a man wouldn't be able to move; the pressure inside, which can add up to several tons, would hold him rigid as a statue. These volume compensators were covered with dural armor; even the finger joints had little dural plates over the knuckles.
It had a heavy glass-fiber belt with clips for tools, and there were the straps to adjust for height and weight. There was a back pack, now empty, for air bottles, and zippered pockets inside and out, for batteries and such.
The helmet swung back, taking a bib out of the yoke with it, and the front opened with two gasketed zippers; this left a door you could wiggle into. With helmet clamped and zippers closed it was impossible to open the suit with pressure inside.
Switches were mounted on the shoulder yoke and on the helmet; the helmet was monstrous. It contained a drinking tank, pill dispensers six on each side, a chin plate on the right to switch radio from "receive" to "send," another on the left to increase or decrease flow of air, an automatic polarizer for the face lens, microphone and earphones, space for radio circuits in a bulge back of the head, and an instrument board arched over the head. The instrument dials read backwards because they were reflected in an inside mirror in front of the wearer's forehead at an effective fourteen inches from the eyes.
Above the lens or window there were twin headlights. On top were two antennas, a spike for broadcast and a horn that squirted microwaves like a gun-you aimed it by facing the receiving station. The horn antenna was armored except for its open end.
This sounds as crowded as a lady's purse but everything was beautifully compact; your head didn't touch anything when you looked out the lens. But you could tip your head back and see reflected instruments, or tilt it down and turn it to work chin controls, or simply turn your neck for water nipple or pills. In all remaining space sponge-rubber padding kept you from banging your head no matter what. My suit was like a fine car, its helmet like a Swiss watch. But its air bottles were missing; so was radio gear except for built-in antennas; radar beacon and emergency radar target were gone, pockets inside and out were empty, and there were no tools on the belt. The manual told what it ought to have-it was like a stripped car.
I decided I just had to make it work right.
First I swabbed it out with Clorox to kill the locker-room odor. Then I got to work on the air system.
It's a good thing they included that manual; most of what I thought I knew about space suits was wrong.
A man uses around three pounds of oxygen a day-pounds mass, not pounds per square inch. You'd think a man could carry oxygen for a month, especially out in space where mass has no weight, or on the Moon where three pounds weigh only half a pound. Well, that's okay for space stations or ships or frogmen; they run air through soda lime to take out carbon dioxide, and breathe it again. But not space suits.
Even today people talk about "the bitter cold of outer space"-but space is vacuum and if vacuum were cold, how could a Thermos jug keep hot coffee hot? Vacuum is nothing-it has no temperature, it just insulates.
Three-fourths of your food turns into heat-a lot of heat, enough each day to melt fifty pounds of ice and more. Sounds preposterous, doesn't it? But when you have a roaring fire in the furnace, you are cooling your body; even in the winter you keep a room about thirty degrees cooler than your body. When you turn up a furnace's thermostat, you are picking a more comfortable rate for cooling. Your body makes so much heat you have to get rid of it, exactly as you have to cool a car's engine.
Of course, if you do it too fast, say in a sub-zero wind, you can freeze- but the usual problem in a space suit is to keep from being boiled like a lobster. You've got vacuum all around you and it's hard to get rid of heat.
Some radiates away but not enough, and if you are in sunlight, you pick up still more-this is why space ships are polished like mirrors.
So what can you do?
Well, you can't carry fifty-pound blocks of ice. You get rid of heat the way you do on Earth, by convection and evaporation-you keep air moving over you to evaporate sweat and cool you off. Oh, they'll learn to build space suits that recycle like a space ship but today the practical way is to let used air escape from the suit, flushing away sweat and carbon dioxide and excess heat-while wasting most of the oxygen.
There are other problems. The fifteen pounds per square inch around you includes three pounds of oxygen pressure. Your lungs can get along on less than half that, but only an Indian from the high Andes is likely to he comfortable on less than two pounds oxygen pressure. Nine-tenths of a pound is the limit. Any less than nine-tenths of a pound won't force oxygen into blood-this is about the pressure at the top of Mount Everest.
Most people suffer from hypoxia (oxygen shortage) long before this, so better use two p.s.i. of oxygen. Mix an inert gas with it, because pure oxygen can cause a sore throat or make you drunk or even cause terrible cramps. Don't use nitrogen (which you've breathed all your life) because it will bubble in your blood if pressure drops and cripple you with "bends." Use helium which doesn't. It gives you a squeaky voice, but who cares?
You can die from oxygen shortage, be poisoned by too much oxygen, be crippled by nitrogen, drown in or be acid-poisoned by carbon dioxide, or dehydrate and run a killing fever. When I finished reading that manual I didn't see how anybody could stay alive anywhere, much less in a space suit.
But a space suit was in front of me that had protected a man for hundreds of hours in empty space.
Here is how you beat those dangers. Carry steel bottles on your back; they hold "air" (oxygen and helium) at a hundred and fifty atmospheres, over 2000 pounds per square inch; you draw from them through a reduction valve down to 150 p.s.i. and through still another reduction valve, a "demand" type which keeps pressure in your helmet at three to five pounds per square inch-two pounds of it oxygen. Put a silicone-rubber collar around your neck and put tiny holes in it, so that the pressure in the body of your suit is less, the air movement still faster; then evaporation and cooling will be increased while the effort of bending is decreased. Add exhaust valves, one at each wrist and ankle-these have to pass water as well as gas because you may be ankle deep in sweat.
The bottles are big and clumsy, weighing around sixty pounds apiece, and each holds only about five mass pounds of air even at that enormous pressure; instead of a month's supply you will have only a few hours-my suit was rated at eight hours for the bottles it used to have. But you will be okay for those hours-if everything works right. You can stretch time, for you don't die from overheating very fast and can stand too much carbon dioxide even longer-but let your oxygen run out and you die in about seven minutes. Which gets us back where we started-it takes oxygen to stay alive.
To make darn sure that you're getting enough (your nose can't tell) you clip a little photoelectric cell to your ear and let it see the color of your blood; the redness of the blood measures the oxygen it carries. Hook this to a galvanometer. If its needle gets into the danger zone, start saying your prayers.
I went to Springfield on my day off, taking the suit's hose fittings, and shopped. I picked up, second hand, two thirty-inch steel bottles from a welding shop-and got myself disliked by insisting on a pressure test. I took them home on the bus, stopped at Pring's Garage and arranged to buy air at fifty atmospheres. Higher pressures, or oxygen or helium, I could get from the Springfield airport, but I didn't need them yet.
When I got home I closed the suit, empty, and pumped it with a bicycle pump to two atmospheres absolute, or one relative, which gave me a test load of almost four to one compared with space conditions. Then I tackled the bottles. They needed to be mirror bright, since you can't afford to let them pick up heat from the Sun. I stripped and scraped and wire-brushed, and buffed and polished, preparatory to nickel-plating.
Next morning, Oscar the Mechanical Man was limp as a pair of long johns.
Getting that old suit not just airtight but helium-tight was the worst headache. Air isn't bad but the helium molecule is so small and agile that it migrates right through ordinary rubber-and I wanted this job to be right, not just good enough to perform at home but okay for space. The gaskets were shot and there were slow leaks almost impossible to find.
I had to get new silicone-rubber gaskets and patching compound and tissue from Goodyear; small-town hardware stores don't handle such things. I wrote a letter explaining what I wanted and why-and they didn't even charge me. They sent me some mimeographed sheets elaborating on the manual.
It still wasn't easy. But there came a day when I pumped Oscar full of pure helium at two atmospheres absolute.
A week later he was still tight as a six-ply tire.
That day I wore Oscar as a self-contained environment. I had already worn him many hours without the helmet, working around the shop, handling tools while hampered by his gauntlets, getting height and size adjustments right. It was like breaking in new ice skates and after a while I was hardly aware I had it on-once I came to supper in it. Dad said nothing and Mother has the social restraint of an ambassador; I discovered my mistake when I picked up my napkin.
Now I wasted helium to the air, mounted bottles charged with air, and suited them. Then I clamped the helmet and dogged the safety catches.
Air sighed softly into the helmet, its flow through the demand valve regulated by the rise and fall of my chest-I could reset it to speed up or slow down by the chin control. I did so, watching the gauge in the mirror and letting it mount until I had twenty pounds absolute inside. That gave me five pounds more than the pressure around me, which was as near as I could come to space conditions without being in space.
I could feel the suit swell and the joints no longer felt loose and easy. I balanced the cycle at five pounds differential and tried to move- And almost fell over. I had to grab the workbench.
Suited up, with bottles on my back, I weighed more than twice what I do stripped. Besides that, although the joints were constant-volume, the suit didn't work as freely under pressure. Dress yourself in heavy fishing waders, put on an overcoat and boxing gloves and a bucket over your head, then have somebody strap two sacks of cement across your shoulders and you will know what a space suit feels like under one gravity.
But ten minutes later I was handling myself fairly well and in half an hour I felt as if I had worn one all my life. The distributed weight wasn't too great (and I knew it wouldn't amount to much on the Moon). The joints were just a case of getting used to more effort. I had had more trouble learning to swim.
It was a blistering day: I went outside and looked at the Sun. The polarizer cut the glare and I was able to look at it. I looked away; polarizing eased off and I could see around me.
I stayed cool. The air, cooled by semi-adiabatic expansion (it said in the manual), cooled my head and flowed on through the suit, washing away body heat and used air through the exhaust valves. The manual said that heating elements rarely cut in, since the usual problem was to get rid of heat; I decided to get dry ice and force a test of thermostat and heater.
I tried everything I could think of. A creek runs back of our place and beyond is a pasture. I sloshed through the stream, lost my footing and fell -the worst trouble was that I could never see where I was putting my feet. Once I was down I lay there a while, half floating but mostly covered. I didn't get wet, I didn't get hot, I didn't get cold, and my breathing was as easy as ever even though water shimmered over my helmet.
I scrambled heavily up the bank and fell again, striking my helmet against a rock. No damage, Oscar was built to take it. I pulled my knees under me, got up, and crossed the pasture, stumbling on rough ground but not falling. There was a haystack there and I dug into it until I was buried.
Cool fresh air ... no trouble, no sweat.
After three hours I took it off. The suit had relief arrangements like any pilot's outfit but I hadn't rigged it yet, so I had come out before my air was gone. When I hung it in the rack I had built, I patted the shoulder yoke. "Oscar, you're all right," I told it. "You and I are partners. We're going places." I would have sneered at five thousand dollars for Oscar.
While Oscar was taking his pressure tests I worked on his electrical and electronic gear. I didn't bother with a radar target or beacon; the first is childishly simple, the second is fiendishly expensive. But I did want radio for the space-operations band of the spectrum-the antennas suited only those wavelengths. I could have built an ordinary walkie-talkie and hung it outside-but I would have been kidding myself with a wrong frequency and gear that might not stand vacuum. Changes in pressure and temperature and humidity do funny things to electronic circuits; that is why the radio was housed inside the helmet.
The manual gave circuit diagrams, so I got busy. The audio and modulating circuits were no problem, just battery-operated transistor circuitry which I could make plenty small enough. But the microwave part- It was a two-headed calf, each with transmitter and receiver-one centimeter wavelength for the horn and three octaves lower at eight centimeters for the spike in a harmonic relationship, one crystal controlling both. This gave more signal on broadcast and better aiming when squirting out the horn and also meant that only part of the rig had to be switched in changing antennas. The output of a variable-frequency oscillator was added to the crystal frequency in tuning the receiver. The circuitry was simple-on paper.
But microwave circuitry is never easy; it takes precision machining and a slip of a tool can foul up the impedance and ruin a mathematically calculated resonance.
Well, I tried. Synthetic precision crystals are cheap from surplus houses and some transistors and other components I could vandalize from my own gear. And I made it work, after the fussiest pray-and-try-again I have ever done. But the consarned thing simply would not fit into the helmet.
Call it a moral victory-I've never done better work.
I finally bought one, precision made and embedded in plastic, from the same firm that sold me the crystal. Like the suit it was made for, it was obsolete and I paid a price so low that I merely screamed. By then I would have mortgaged my soul-I wanted that suit to work.
The only thing that complicated the rest of the electrical gear was that everything had to be either "fail-safe" or "no-fail"; a man in a space suit can't pull into the next garage if something goes wrong-the stuff has to keep on working or he becomes a vital statistic. That was why the helmet had twin headlights; the second cut in if the first failed-even the peanut lights for the dials over my head were twins. I didn't take short cuts; every duplicate circuit I kept duplicate and tested to make sure that automatic changeover always worked.
Mr. Charton insisted on filling the manual's list on those items a drugstore stocks-maltose and dextrose and amino tablets, vitamins, dexedrine, dramamine, aspirin, antibiotics, antihistamines, codeine, almost any pill a man can take to help him past a hump that might kill him. He got Doc Kennedy to write prescriptions so that I could stock Oscar without breaking laws.
When I got through Oscar was in as good shape as he had ever been in Satellite Two. It had been more fun than the time I helped Jake Bixby turn his heap into a hotrod.
But summer was ending and it was time I pulled out of my daydream. I still did not know where I was going to school, or how-or if. I had saved money but it wasn't nearly enough. I had spent a little on postage and soap wrappers but I got that back and more by one fifteen-minute appearance on television and I hadn't spent a dime on girls since March- too busy. Oscar cost surprisingly little; repairing Oscar had been mostly sweat and screwdriver. Seven dollars out of every ten I had earned was sitting in the money basket.
But it wasn't enough.
I realized glumly that I was going to have to sell Oscar to get through the first semester. But how would I get through the rest of the year? Joe Valiant the all-American boy always shows up on the campus with fifty cents and a heart of gold, then in the last Chapter is tapped for Skull-and-Bones and has money in the bank. But I wasn't Joe Valiant, not by eight decimal places. Did it make sense to start if I was going to have to drop out about Christmas? Wouldn't it be smarter to stay out a year and get acquainted with a pick and shovel?
Did I have a choice? The only school I was sure of was State U. -and there was a row about professors being fired and talk that State U. might lose its accredited standing. Wouldn't it be comical to spend years slaving for a degree and then have it be worthless because your school wasn't recognized?
State U. wasn't better than a "B" school in engineering even before this fracas.
Rensselaer and CalTech turned me down the same day-one with a printed form, the other with a polite letter saying it was impossible to accept all qualified applicants.
Little things were getting my goat, too. The only virtue of that television show was the fifty bucks. A person looks foolish wearing a space suit in a television studio and our announcer milked it for laughs, rapping the helmet and asking me if I was still in there. Very funny. He asked me what I wanted with a space suit and when I tried to answer he switched off the mike in my suit and patched in a tape with nonsense about space pirates and flying saucers. Half the people in town thought it was my voice.
It wouldn't have been hard to live down if Ace Quiggle hadn't turned up. He had been missing all summer, in jail maybe, but the day after the show he took a seat at the fountain, stared at me and said in a loud whisper, "Say, ain't you the famous space pirate and television star?"
I said, "What'll you have, Ace?"
"Gosh! Could I have your autograph? I ain't never seen a real live space pirate before!"
"Give me your order, Ace. Or let someone else use that stool."
"A choc malt. Commodore-and leave out the soap."
Ace's "wit" went on every time he showed up. It was a dreadfully hot summer and easy to get tempery. The Friday before Labor Day weekend the store's cooling system went sour, we couldn't get a repairman and I spent three bad hours fixing it, ruining my second-best pants and getting myself reeking. I was back at the fountain and wishing I could go home for a bath when Ace swaggered in, greeting me loudly with "Why, if it isn't Commander Comet, the Scourge of the Spaceways! Where's your blaster gun, Commander? Ain't you afraid the Galactic Emperor will make you stay in after school for running around bare-nekkid? Yuk yuk yukkity yuk!"
A couple of girls at the fountain giggled.
"Lay off, Ace," I said wearily. "It's a hot day."
"That's why you're not wearing your rubber underwear?" The girls giggled again.
Ace smirked. He went on: "Junior, seein' you got that clown suit, why don't you put it to work? Run an ad in the Clarion: ‘Have Space Suit-Will Travel.' Yukkity yuk! Or you could hire out as a scarecrow."
The girls snickered. I counted ten, then again in Spanish, and in Latin, and said tensely, "Ace, just tell me what you'll have."
"My usual. And snap it up-I've got a date on Mars."
Mr. Charton came out from behind his counter, sat down and asked me to mix him a lime cooler, so I served him first. It stopped the flow of wit and probably saved Ace's life.
The boss and I were alone shortly after. He said quietly, "Kip, a reverence for life does not require a man to respect Nature's obvious mistakes."
"You need not serve Quiggle again. I don't want his trade."
"Oh, I don't mind. He's harmless."
"I wonder how harmless such people are? To what extent civilization is retarded by the laughing jackasses, the empty-minded belittlers? Go home; you'll want to make an early start tomorrow."
I had been invited to the Lake of the Forest for the long Labor Day weekend by Jake Bixby's parents. I wanted to go, not only to get away from the heat but also to chew things over with Jake. But I answered, "Shucks, Mr. Charton, I ought not to leave you stuck."
"The town will be deserted over the holiday; I may not open the fountain. Enjoy yourself. This summer has worn you a bit fine. Kip."
I let myself be persuaded but I stayed until closing and swept up. Then I walked home, doing some hard thinking.
The party was over and it was time to put away my toys. Even the village half-wit knew that I had no sensible excuse to have a space suit. Not that I cared what Ace thought... but I did have no use for it-and I needed money. Even if Stanford and M.I.T. and Carnegie and the rest turned me down, I was going to start this semester. State U. wasn't the best-but neither was I and I had learned that more depended on the student than on the school.
Mother had gone to bed and Dad was reading. I said hello and went to the barn, intending to strip my gear off Oscar, pack him into his case, address it, and in the morning phone the express office to pick it up. He'd be gone before I was back from the Lake of the Forest. Quick and clean.
He was hanging on his rack and it seemed to me that he grinned hello. Nonsense, of course. I went over and patted his shoulder. "Well, old fellow, you've been a real chum and it's been nice knowing you. See you on the Moon-I hope."
But Oscar wasn't going to the Moon. Oscar was going to Akron, Ohio, to "Salvage." They were going to unscrew parts they could use and throw the rest of him on the junk pile.
My mouth felt dry.
("It's okay, pal," Oscar answered.)
See that? Out of my silly head! Oscar didn't really speak; I had let my imagination run wild too long. So I quit patting him, hauled the crate out and took a wrench from his belt to remove the gas bottles.
Both bottles were charged, one with oxygen, one with oxy-helium. I had wasted money to do so because I wanted, just once, to try a spaceman's mix.
The batteries were fresh and power packs were charged.
"Oscar," I said softly, "we're going to take a last walk together. Okay?"
I made it a dress rehearsal-water in the drinking tank, pill dispensers loaded, first-aid kit inside, vacuum-proof duplicate (I hoped it was vacuum-proof) in an outside pocket. All tools on belt, all lanyards tied so that tools wouldn't float away in free fall. Everything.
Then I heated up a circuit that the F.C.C. would have squelched had they noticed, a radio link I had salvaged out of my effort to build a radio for Oscar, and had modified as a test rig for Oscar's ears and to let me check the aiming of the directional antenna. It was hooked in with an echo circuit that would answer back if I called it-a thing I had bread hoarded out of an old Webcor wire recorder, vintage 1950.
Then I climbed into Oscar and buttoned up. "Tight?"
I glanced at the reflected dials, noticed the blood-color reading, reduced pressure until Oscar almost collapsed. At nearly sea-level pressure I was in no danger from hypoxia; the trick was to avoid too much oxygen.
We started to leave when I remembered something. "Just a second, Oscar." I wrote a note to my folks, telling them that I was going to get up early and catch the first bus to the lake. I could write while suited up now, I could even thread a needle. I stuck the note under the kitchen door.
Then we crossed the creek into the pasture. I didn't stumble in wading;
I was used to Oscar now, sure-footed as a goat.
Out in the field I keyed my talkie and said, "Junebug, calling Peewee. Come in, Peewee."
Seconds later my recorded voice came back: " ‘Junebug, calling Peewee. Come in, Peewee.'"
I shifted to the horn antenna and tried again. It wasn't easy to aim in the dark but it was okay. Then I shifted back to spike antenna and went on calling Peewee while moving across the pasture and pretending that I was on Venus and had to stay in touch with base because it was unknown terrain and unbreathable atmosphere. Everything worked perfectly and if it had been Venus, I would have been all right.
Two lights moved across the southern sky, planes I thought, or maybe helis. Just the sort of thing yokels like to report as "flying saucers." I watched them, then moved behind a little rise that would tend to spoil reception and called Peewee. Peewee answered and I shut up; it gets dull talking to an idiot circuit which can only echo what you say to it.
Then I heard: "Peewee to Junebug! Answer!"
I thought I had been monitored and was in trouble-then decided that some ham had picked me up. "Junebug here. I read you. Who are you?"
The test rig echoed my words.
Then the new voice shrilled, "Peewee here! Home me in!"
This was silly. But I found myself saying, "Junebug to Peewee, shift to directional frequency at one centimeter—and keep talking, keep talking!" I shifted to the horn antenna.
"Junebug, I read you. Fix me. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven—"
"You're due south of me, about forty degrees. Who are you?"
It must be one of those lights. It had to be.
But I didn't have time to figure it out. A space ship almost landed on me.