By CHARLES L. FONTENAY
When you have an engine with no fuel, and fuel
without an engine, and a life-and-death deadline
to meet, you have a problem indeed. Unless you are
a stubborn Dutchman—and Jan Van Artevelde was
the stubbornest Dutchman on Venus.
JAN WILLEM van Artevelde
claimed descent from William
of Orange. He had no genealogy
to prove it, but on Venus there
was no one who could disprove it,
Jan Willem van Artevelde
smoked a clay pipe, which only a
Dutchman can do properly, because
the clay bit grates on less
Jan needed all his Dutch stubbornness,
and a good deal of pure
physical strength besides, to maneuver
the roach-flat groundcar
across the tumbled terrain of
Den Hoorn into the teeth of the
howling gale that swept from the
west. The huge wheels twisted
and jolted against the rocks outside,
and Jan bounced against his
seat belt, wrestled the steering
wheel and puffed at his pijp. The
mild aroma of Heerenbaai-Tabak
filled the airtight groundcar.
There came a new swaying
that was not the roughness of
the terrain. Through the thick
windshield Jan saw all the
ground about him buckle and
heave for a second or two before
it settled to rugged quiescence
again. This time he was really
Jan mentioned this to the
"That's the third time in half
an hour," he commented. "The
place tosses like the IJsselmeer
on a rough day."
"You just don't forget it isn't
the Zuider Zee," retorted Heemskerk
from the other end. "You
sink there and you don't come up
"Don't worry," said Jan. "I'll
be back on time, with a broom at
"This I shall want to see,"
chuckled Heemskerk; a logical
reaction, considering the scarcity
of brooms on Venus.
Two hours earlier the two men
had sat across a small table playing
chess, with little indication
there would be anything else to
occupy their time before blastoff
of the stubby gravity-boat. It
would be their last chess game
for many months, for Jan was a
member of the Dutch colony at
Oostpoort in the northern hemisphere
of Venus, while Heemskerk
was pilot of the G-boat from
the Dutch spaceship Vanderdecken,
scheduled to begin an
Earthward orbit in a few hours.
It was near the dusk of the
485-hour Venerian day, and the
Twilight Gale already had arisen,
sweeping from the comparatively
chill Venerian nightside into
the superheated dayside. Oostpoort,
established near some outcroppings
that contained uranium
ore, was protected from
both the Dawn Gale and the Twilight
Gale, for it was in a valley
in the midst of a small range of
Jan had just figured out a combination
by which he hoped to
cheat Heemskerk out of one of
his knights, when Dekker, the
burgemeester of Oostpoort, entered
the spaceport ready room.
"There's been an emergency
radio message," said Dekker.
"They've got a passenger for the
Earthship over at Rathole."
"Rathole?" repeated Heemskerk.
"What's that? I didn't
know there was another colony
within two thousand kilometers."
"It isn't a colony, in the sense
Oostpoort is," explained Dekker.
"The people are the families of a
bunch of laborers left behind
when the colony folded several
years ago. It's about eighty kilometers
away, right across the
Hoorn, but they don't have any
vehicles that can navigate when
the wind's up."
Heemskerk pushed his short-billed
cap back on his close-cropped
head, leaned back in his chair
and folded his hands over his
"Then the passenger will have
to wait for the next ship," he
pronounced. "The Vanderdecken
has to blast off in thirty hours to
catch Earth at the right orbital
spot, and the G-boat has to blast
off in ten hours to catch the Vanderdecken."
"This passenger can't wait,"
said Dekker. "He needs to be
evacuated to Earth immediately.
He's suffering from the Venus
Jan whistled softly. He had
seen the effects of that disease.
Dekker was right.
"Jan, you're the best driver in
Oostpoort," said Dekker. "You
will have to take a groundcar to
Rathole and bring the fellow
So now Jan gripped his clay
pipe between his teeth and piloted
the groundcar into the teeth
of the Twilight Gale.
Den Hoorn was a comparatively
flat desert sweep that ran
along the western side of the
Oost Mountains, just over the
mountain from Oostpoort. It was
a thin fault area of a planet
whose crust was peculiarly subject
to earthquakes, particularly
at the beginning and end of each
long day when temperatures of
the surface rocks changed. On
the other side of it lay Rathole, a
little settlement that eked a precarious
living from the Venerian
vegetation. Jan never had seen it.
He had little difficulty driving
up and over the mountain, for the
Dutch settlers had carved a
rough road through the ravines.
But even the 2½-meter wheels of
the groundcar had trouble amid
the tumbled rocks of Den Hoorn.
The wind hit the car in full
strength here and, though the
body of the groundcar was suspended
from the axles, there was
constant danger of its being flipped
over by a gust if not handled
The three earthshocks that had
shaken Den Hoorn since he had
been driving made his task no
easier, but he was obviously
lucky, at that. Often he had to
detour far from his course to
skirt long, deep cracks in the
surface, or steep breaks where
the crust had been raised or
dropped several meters by past
The groundcar zig-zagged
slowly westward. The tattered
violet-and-indigo clouds boiled
low above it, but the wind was as
dry as the breath of an oven.
Despite the heavy cloud cover,
the afternoon was as bright as
an Earth-day. The thermometer
showed the outside temperature
to have dropped to 40 degrees
Centigrade in the west wind, and
it was still going down.
Jan reached the edge of a
crack that made further progress
seem impossible. A hundred
meters wide, of unknown depth,
it stretched out of sight in both
directions. For the first time he
entertained serious doubts that
Den Hoorn could be crossed by
After a moment's hesitation,
he swung the groundcar northward
and raced along the edge of
the chasm as fast as the car
would negotiate the terrain. He
looked anxiously at his watch.
Nearly three hours had passed
since he left Oostpoort. He had
seven hours to go and he was
still at least 16 kilometers from
Rathole. His pipe was out, but
he could not take his hands
from the wheel to refill it.
He had driven at least eight
kilometers before he realized
that the crack was narrowing.
At least as far again, the two
edges came together, but not at
the same level. A sheer cliff
three meters high now barred
his passage. He drove on.
Apparently it was the result
of an old quake. He found a spot
where rocks had tumbled down,
making a steep, rough ramp up
the break. He drove up it and
turned back southwestward.
He made it just in time. He
had driven less than three hundred
meters when a quake more
severe than any of the others
struck. Suddenly behind him the
break reversed itself, so that
where he had climbed up coming
westward he would now
have to climb a cliff of equal
height returning eastward.
The ground heaved and buckled
like a tempestuous sea.
Rocks rolled and leaped through
the air, several large ones striking
the groundcar with ominous
force. The car staggered forward
on its giant wheels like a
drunken man. The quake was so
violent that at one time the vehicle
was hurled several meters
sideways, and almost overturned.
And the wind smashed down
on it unrelentingly.
The quake lasted for several
minutes, during which Jan was
able to make no progress at all
and struggled only to keep the
groundcar upright. Then, in unison,
both earthquake and wind
died to absolute quiescence.
Jan made use of this calm to
step down on the accelerator and
send the groundcar speeding
forward. The terrain was easier
here, nearing the western edge
of Den Hoorn, and he covered
several kilometers before the
wind struck again, cutting his
speed down considerably. He
judged he must be nearing Rathole.
Not long thereafter, he rounded
an outcropping of rock and it
lay before him.
A wave of nostalgia swept
over him. Back at Oostpoort, the
power was nuclear, but this little
settlement made use of the
cheapest, most obviously available
power source. It was dotted
with more than a dozen windmills.
Windmills! Tears came to
Jan's eyes. For a moment, he
was carried back to the flat
lands around 's Gravenhage. For
a moment he was a tow-headed,
round-eyed boy again, clumping
in wooden shoes along the edge
of the tulip fields.
But there were no canals here.
The flat land, stretching into the
darkening west, was spotted
with patches of cactus and
leather-leaved Venerian plants.
Amid the windmills, low domes
protruded from the earth, indicating
that the dwellings of Rathole
were, appropriately, partly
He drove into the place. There
were no streets, as such, but
there were avenues between lines
of heavy chains strung to short
iron posts, evidently as handholds
against the wind. The savage
gale piled dust and sand in
drifts against the domes, then,
shifting slightly, swept them
There was no one moving
abroad, but just inside the community
Jan found half a dozen
men in a group, clinging to one
of the chains and waving to him.
He pulled the groundcar to a
stop beside them, stuck his pipe
in a pocket of his plastic venusuit,
donned his helmet and
The wind almost took him
away before one of them grabbed
him and he was able to
grasp the chain himself. They
gathered around him. They were
swarthy, black-eyed men, with
curly hair. One of them grasped
"Bienvenido, señor," said the
Jan recoiled and dropped the
man's hand. All the Orangeman
blood he claimed protested in
Spaniards! All these men were
Jan recovered himself at once.
He had been reading too much
ancient history during his leisure
hours. The hot monotony of
Venus was beginning to affect
his brain. It had been 500 years
since the Netherlands revolted
against Spanish rule. A lot of
water over the dam since then.
A look at the men around him,
the sound of their chatter, convinced
him that he need not try
German or Hollandsch here. He
fell back on the international
"Do you speak English?" he
asked. The man brightened but
shook his head.
"No hablo inglés," he said,
"pero el médico lo habla. Venga
He gestured for Jan to follow
him and started off, pulling his
way against the wind along the
chain. Jan followed, and the
other men fell in behind in single
file. A hundred meters farther
on, they turned, descended
some steps and entered one of
the half-buried domes. A gray-haired,
bearded man was in the
well-lighted room, apparently
the living room of a home, with
a young woman.
"Él médico," said the man who
had greeted Jan, gesturing. "Él
He went out, shutting the airlock
door behind him.
"You must be the man from
Oostpoort," said the bearded
man, holding out his hand. "I
am Doctor Sanchez. We are very
grateful you have come."
"I thought for a while I
wouldn't make it," said Jan ruefully,
removing his venushelmet.
"This is Mrs. Murillo," said
The woman was a Spanish
blonde, full-lipped and beautiful,
with golden hair and dark, liquid
eyes. She smiled at Jan.
"Encantada de conocerlo,
señor," she greeted him.
"Is this the patient, Doctor?"
asked Jan, astonished. She looked
in the best of health.
"No, the patient is in the next
room," answered Sanchez.
"Well, as much as I'd like to
stop for a pipe, we'd better start
at once," said Jan. "It's a hard
drive back, and blastoff can't be
The woman seemed to sense
his meaning. She turned and
A boy appeared in the door, a
dark-skinned, sleepy-eyed boy of
about eight. He yawned. Then,
catching sight of the big Dutchman,
he opened his eyes wide
The boy was healthy-looking,
alert, but the mark of the Venus
Shadow was on his face. There
was a faint mottling, a criss-cross
of dead-white lines.
Mrs. Murillo spoke to him rapidly
in Spanish and he nodded.
She zipped him into a venusuit
and fitted a small helmet on his
"Good luck, amigo," said Sanchez,
shaking Jan's hand again.
"Thanks," replied Jan. He donned
his own helmet. "I'll need it,
if the trip over was any indication."
Jan and Diego made their way
back down the chain to the
groundcar. There was a score of
men there now, and a few
women. They let the pair go
through, and waved farewell as
Jan swung the groundcar around
and headed back eastward.
It was easier driving with the
wind behind him, and Jan hit a
hundred kilometers an hour several
times before striking the
rougher ground of Den Hoorn.
Now, if he could only find a way
over the bluff raised by that last
The ground of Den Hoorn was
still shivering. Jan did not realize
this until he had to brake the
groundcar almost to a stop at one
point, because it was not shaking
in severe, periodic shocks as it
had earlier. It quivered constantly,
like the surface of quicksand.
The ground far ahead of him
had a strange color to it. Jan,
watching for the cliff he had to
skirt and scale, had picked up
speed over some fairly even terrain,
but now he slowed again,
puzzled. There was something
wrong ahead. He couldn't quite
figure it out.
Diego, beside him, had sat
quietly so far, peering eagerly
through the windshield, not saying
a word. Now suddenly he
cried in a high thin tenor:
"Cuidado! Cuidado! Un abismo!"
Jim saw it at the same time
and hit the brakes so hard the
groundcar would have stood on
its nose had its wheels been
smaller. They skidded to a stop.
The chasm that had caused
him such a long detour before
had widened, evidently in the big
quake that had hit earlier. Now
it was a canyon, half a kilometer
wide. Five meters from the edge
he looked out over blank space
at the far wall, and could not see
Cursing choice Dutch profanity,
Jan wheeled the groundcar
northward and drove along the
edge of the abyss as fast as he
could. He wasted half an hour before
realizing that it was getting
There was no point in going
back southward. It might be a
hundred kilometers long or a
thousand, but he never could
reach the end of it and thread
the tumbled rocks of Den Hoorn
to Oostpoort before the G-boat
There was nothing to do but
turn back to Rathole and see if
some other way could not be
Jan sat in the half-buried room
and enjoyed the luxury of a pipe
filled with some of Theodorus
Neimeijer's mild tobacco. Before
him, Dr. Sanchez sat with crossed
legs, cleaning his fingernails
with a scalpel. Diego's mother
talked to the boy in low, liquid
tones in a corner of the room.
Jan was at a loss to know how
people whose technical knowledge
was as skimpy as it obviously
was in Rathole were able to build
these semi-underground domes to
resist the earth shocks that came
from Den Hoorn. But this one
showed no signs of stress. A religious
print and a small pencil
sketch of Señora Murillo, probably
done by the boy, were awry
on the inward-curving walls, but
that was all.
Jan felt justifiably exasperated
at these Spanish-speaking people.
"If some effort had been made
to take the boy to Oostpoort from
here, instead of calling on us to
send a car, Den Hoorn could have
been crossed before the crack
opened," he pointed out.
"An effort was made," replied
Sanchez quietly. "Perhaps you do
not fully realize our position
here. We have no engines except
the stationary generators that
give us current for our air-conditioning
and our utilities. They
are powered by the windmills. We
do not have gasoline engines for
vehicles, so our vehicles are operated
"You push them?" demanded
"No. You've seen pictures of
the pump-cars that once were
used on terrestrial railroads?
Ours are powered like that, but
we cannot operate them when the
Venerian wind is blowing. By the
time I diagnosed the Venus Shadow
in Diego, the wind was coming
up, and we had no way to get
him to Oostpoort."
"Mmm," grunted Jan. He
shifted uncomfortably and looked
at the pair in the corner. The
blonde head was bent over the
boy protectingly, and over his
mother's shoulder Diego's black
eyes returned Jan's glance.
"If the disease has just started,
the boy could wait for the
next Earth ship, couldn't he?"
"I said I had just diagnosed it,
not that it had just started,
señor," corrected Sanchez. "As
you know, the trip to Earth takes
145 days and it can be started
only when the two planets are at
the right position in their orbits.
Have you ever seen anyone die
of the Venus Shadow?"
"Yes, I have," replied Jan in a
low voice. He had seen two people
die of it, and it had not been
Medical men thought it was a
deficiency disease, but they had
not traced down the deficiency responsible.
Treatment by vitamins,
diet, antibiotics, infrared
and ultraviolet rays, all were useless.
The only thing that could
arrest and cure the disease was
removal from the dry, cloud-hung
surface of Venus and return to a
moist, sunny climate on Earth.
Without that treatment, once
the typical mottled texture of the
skin appeared, the flesh rapidly
deteriorated and fell away in
chunks. The victim remained unfevered
and agonizingly conscious
until the degeneration
reached a vital spot.
"If you have," said Sanchez,
"you must realize that Diego cannot
wait for a later ship, if his
life is to be saved. He must get
to Earth at once."
Jan puffed at the Heerenbaai-Tabak
and cogitated. The place
was aptly named. It was a ratty
community. The boy was a dark-skinned
little Spaniard—of Mexican
origin, perhaps. But he was
a boy, and a human being.
A thought occurred to him.
From what he had seen and
heard, the entire economy of Rathole
could not support the tremendous
expense of sending the
boy across the millions of miles
to Earth by spaceship.
"Who's paying his passage?"
he asked. "The Dutch Central
Venus Company isn't exactly a
"Your Señor Dekker said that
would be taken care of," replied
Jan relit his pipe silently, making
a mental resolution that Dekker
wouldn't take care of it alone.
Salaries for Venerian service
were high, and many of the men
at Oostpoort would contribute
readily to such a cause.
"Who is Diego's father?" he
"He was Ramón Murillo, a very
good mechanic," answered Sanchez,
with a sliding sidelong
glance at Jan's face. "He has
been dead for three years."
"The copters at Oostpoort can't
buck this wind," he said thoughtfully,
"or I'd have come in one of
those in the first place instead of
trying to cross Den Hoorn by
land. But if you have any sort of
aircraft here, it might make it
downwind—if it isn't wrecked on
"I'm afraid not," said Sanchez.
"Too bad. There's nothing we
can do, then. The nearest settlement
west of here is more than
a thousand kilometers away, and
I happen to know they have no
planes, either. Just copters. So
that's no help."
"Wait," said Sanchez, lifting
the scalpel and tilting his head.
"I believe there is something,
though we cannot use it. This
was once an American naval base,
and the people here were civilian
employes who refused to move
north with it. There was a flying
machine they used for short-range
work, and one was left behind—probably
with a little help
from the people of the settlement.
"What kind of machine? Copter
"They call it a flying platform.
It carries two men, I believe.
"I know them. I've operated
them, before I left Earth. Man,
you don't expect me to try to fly
one of those little things in this
wind? They're tricky as they can
be, and the passengers are absolutely
"Señor, I have asked you to do
"No, you haven't," muttered
Jan. "But you know I'll do it."
Sanchez looked into his face,
smiling faintly and a little sadly.
"I was sure you would be willing,"
he said. He turned and
spoke in Spanish to Mrs. Murillo.
The woman rose to her feet
and came to them. As Jan arose,
she looked up at him, tears in
"Gracias," she murmured. "Un
millón de gracias."
She lifted his hands in hers
and kissed them.
Jan disengaged himself gently,
embarrassed. But it occurred to
him, looking down on the bowed
head of the beautiful young
widow, that he might make some
flying trips back over here in his
leisure time. Language barriers
were not impassable, and feminine
companionship might cure
his neurotic, history-born distaste
for Spaniards, for more
than one reason.
Sanchez was tugging at his
"Señor, I have been trying to
tell you," he said. "It is generous
and good of you, and I wanted
Señora Murillo to know what a
brave man you are. But have you
forgotten that we have no gasoline
engines here? There is no
fuel for the flying platform."
The platform was in a warehouse
which, like the rest of the
structures in Rathole, was a
half-buried dome. The platform's
ring-shaped base was less than a
meter thick, standing on four
metal legs. On top of it, in the
center, was a railed circle that
would hold two men, but would
crowd them. Two small gasoline
engines sat on each side of this
railed circle and between them on
a third side was the fuel tank.
The passengers entered it on the
The machine was dusty and
spotted with rust, Jan, surrounded
by Sanchez, Diego and a dozen
men, inspected it thoughtfully.
The letters USN*SES were
painted in white on the platform
itself, and each engine bore the
Jan peered over the edge of the
platform at the twin-ducted fans
in their plastic shrouds. They
appeared in good shape. Each
was powered by one of the engines,
transmitted to it by heavy
Jan sighed. It was an unhappy
situation. As far as he could determine,
without making tests,
the engines were in perfect condition.
Two perfectly good engines,
and no fuel for them.
"You're sure there's no gasoline,
anywhere in Rathole?" he
Sanchez smiled ruefully, as he
had once before, at Jan's appellation
for the community. The inhabitants'
term for it was simply
"La Ciudad Nuestra"—"Our
Town." But he made no protest.
He turned to one of the other
men and talked rapidly for a few
moments in Spanish.
"None, señor," he said, turning
back to Jan. "The Americans, of
course, kept much of it when
they were here, but the few
things we take to Oostpoort to
trade could not buy precious gasoline.
We have electricity in
plenty if you can power the platform
Jan thought that over, trying
to find a way.
"No, it wouldn't work," he
said. "We could rig batteries on
the platform and electric motors
to turn the propellers. But batteries
big enough to power it all
the way to Oostpoort would be
so heavy the machine couldn't lift
them off the ground. If there
were some way to carry a power
line all the way to Oostpoort, or
to broadcast the power to it....
But it's a light-load machine,
and must have an engine that
gives it the necessary power from
very little weight."
Wild schemes ran through his
head. If they were on water, instead
of land, he could rig up a
sail. He could still rig up a sail,
for a groundcar, except for the
chasm out on Den Hoorn.
The groundcar! Jan straightened
and snapped his fingers.
"Doctor!" he explained. "Send
a couple of men to drain the rest
of the fuel from my groundcar.
And let's get this platform above
ground and tie it down until we
can get it started."
Sanchez gave rapid orders in
Spanish. Two of the men left at a
run, carrying five-gallon cans
Three others picked up the
platform and carried it up a ramp
and outside. As soon as they
reached ground level, the wind
hit them. They dropped the platform
to the ground, where it
shuddered and swayed momentarily,
and two of the men fell
successfully on their stomachs.
The wind caught the third and
somersaulted him half a dozen
times before he skidded to a stop
on his back with outstretched
arms and legs. He turned over
cautiously and crawled back to
Jan, his head just above
ground level, surveyed the terrain.
There was flat ground to
the east, clear in a fairly broad
alley for at least half a kilometer
before any of the domes protruded
up into it.
"This is as good a spot for
takeoff as we'll find," he said to
The men put three heavy ropes
on the platform's windward rail
and secured it by them to the
heavy chain that ran by the
dome. The platform quivered and
shuddered in the heavy wind, but
its base was too low for it to
Shortly the two men returned
with the fuel from the groundcar,
struggling along the chain.
Jan got above ground in a
crouch, clinging to the rail of the
platform, and helped them fill
the fuel tank with it. He primed
the carburetors and spun the
He turned the engines over
again. One of them coughed, and
a cloud of blue smoke burst from
its exhaust, but they did not
"What is the matter, señor?"
asked Sanchez from the dome entrance.
"I don't know," replied Jan.
"Maybe it's that the engines
haven't been used in so long. I'm
afraid I'm not a good enough
mechanic to tell."
"Some of these men were good
mechanics when the navy was
here," said Sanchez. "Wait."
He turned and spoke to someone
in the dome. One of the men
of Rathole came to Jan's side and
tried the engines. They refused
to catch. The man made carburetor
adjustments and tried
again. No success.
He sniffed, took the cap from
the fuel tank and stuck a finger
inside. He withdrew it, wet and
oily, and examined it. He turned
and spoke to Sanchez.
"He says that your groundcar
must have a diesel engine," Sanchez
interpreted to Jan. "Is that
"Why, yes, that's true."
"He says the fuel will not work
then, señor. He says it is low-grade
fuel and the platform must
have high octane gasoline."
Jan threw up his hands and
went back into the dome.
"I should have known that," he
said unhappily. "I would have
known if I had thought of it."
"What is to be done, then?"
"There's nothing that can be
done," answered Jan. "They may
as well put the fuel back in my
Sanchez called orders to the
men at the platform. While they
worked, Jan stared out at the
furiously spinning windmills that
"There's nothing that can be
done," he repeated. "We can't
make the trip overland because
of the chasm out there in Den
Hoorn, and we can't fly the platform
because we have no power
Windmills. Again Jan could
imagine the flat land around
them as his native Holland, with
the Zuider Zee sparkling to the
west where here the desert
stretched under darkling clouds.
Jan looked at his watch. A
little more than two hours before
the G-boat's blastoff time, and it
couldn't wait for them. It was
nearly eight hours since he had
left Oostpoort, and the afternoon
was getting noticeably
Jan was sorry. He had done his
best, but Venus had beaten him.
He looked around for Diego.
The boy was not in the dome. He
was outside, crouched in the lee
of the dome, playing with some
Diego must know of his ailment,
and why he had to go to
Oostpoort. If Jan was any judge
of character, Sanchez would have
told him that. Whether Diego
knew it was a life-or-death matter
for him to be aboard the
Vanderdecken when it blasted
off for Earth, Jan did not know.
But the boy was around eight
years old and he was bright, and
he must realize the seriousness
involved in a decision to send him
all the way to Earth.
Jan felt ashamed of the exuberant
foolishness which had
led him to spout ancient history
and claim descent from William
of Orange. It had been a hobby,
and artificial topic for conversation
that amused him and his
companions, a defense against
the monotony of Venus that had
begun to affect his personality
perhaps a bit more than he realized.
He did not dislike Spaniards;
he had no reason to dislike
them. They were all humans—the
Spanish, the Dutch, the Germans,
the Americans, even the
Russians—fighting a hostile
planet together. He could not understand
a word Diego said when
the boy spoke to him, but he
liked Diego and wished desperately
he could do something.
Outside, the windmills of Rathole
There was power, the power
that lighted and air-conditioned
Rathole, power in the air all
around them. If he could only use
it! But to turn the platform on
its side and let the wind spin the
propellers was pointless.
He turned to Sanchez.
"Ask the men if there are any
spare parts for the platform," he
said. "Some of those legs it
stands on, transmission belts,
"Yes," he said. "Many spare
parts, but no fuel."
Jan smiled a tight smile.
"Tell them to take the engines
out," he said. "Since we have no
fuel, we may as well have no
Pieter Heemskerk stood by the
ramp to the stubby G-boat and
checked his watch. It was X
minus fifteen—fifteen minutes
before blastoff time.
Heemskerk wore a spacesuit.
Everything was ready, except
climbing aboard, closing the airlock
and pressing the firing pin.
What on Venus could have happened
to Van Artevelde? The last
radio message they had received,
more than an hour ago, had said
he and the patient took off successfully
in an aircraft. What
sort of aircraft could he be flying
that would require an hour to
cover eighty kilometers, with the
Heemskerk could only draw the
conclusion that the aircraft had
been wrecked somewhere in Den
Hoorn. As a matter of fact, he
knew that preparations were being
made now to send a couple of
groundcars out to search for it.
This, of course, would be too
late to help the patient Van Artevelde
was bringing, but Heemskerk
had no personal interest in
the patient. His worry was all for
his friend. The two of them had
enjoyed chess and good beer together
on his last three trips to
Venus, and Heemskerk hoped
very sincerely that the big blond
man wasn't hurt.
He glanced at his watch again.
X minus twelve. In two minutes,
it would be time for him to walk
up the ramp into the G-boat. In
seven minutes the backward
count before blastoff would start
over the area loudspeakers.
Heemskerk shook his head sadly.
And Van Artevelde had promised
to come back triumphant,
with a broom at his masthead!
It was a high thin whine borne
on the wind, carrying even
through the walls of his spacehelmet,
that attracted Heemskerk's
attention and caused him
to pause with his foot on the
ramp. Around him, the rocket
mechanics were staring up at the
sky, trying to pinpoint the noise.
Heemskerk looked westward.
At first he could see nothing,
then there was a moving dot
above the mountain, against the
indigo umbrella of clouds. It
grew, it swooped, it approached
and became a strange little flying
disc with two people standing on
it and something sticking up
from its deck in front of them.
No. The platform hovered and
began to settle nearby, and there
was Van Artevelde leaning over
its rail and fiddling frantically
with whatever it was that stuck
up on it—a weird, angled contraption
of pipes and belts topped
by a whirring blade. A boy stood
at his shoulder and tried to help
him. As the platform descended
to a few meters above ground,
the Dutchman slashed at the contraption,
the cut ends of belts
whipped out wildly and the platform
slid to the ground with a
rush. It hit with a clatter and its
two passengers tumbled prone to
"Jan!" boomed Heemskerk,
forcing his voice through the helmet
diaphragm and rushing over
to his friend. "I was afraid you
Jan struggled to his feet and
leaned down to help the boy up.
"Here's your patient, Pieter,"
he said. "Hope you have a spacesuit
in his size."
"I can find one. And we'll have
to hurry for blastoff. But, first,
what happened? Even that
damned thing ought to get here
from Rathole faster than that."
"Had no fuel," replied Jan
briefly. "My engines were all
right, but I had no power to run
them. So I had to pull the engines
and rig up a power source."
Heemskerk stared at the platform.
On its railing was rigged a
tripod of battered metal pipes,
atop which a big four-blade propeller
spun slowly in what wind
was left after it came over the
western mountain. Over the
edges of the platform, running
from the two propellers in its
base, hung a series of tattered
"Power source?" repeated
"Certainly," replied Jan with
dignity. "The power source any
good Dutchman turns to in an
emergency: a windmill!"