Asteroid of Fear

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6. 'I Called The Cops'



He awoke to blink at blazing sunshine. Then his whole body became clammy with perspiration, as he thought of his lapse from responsibility; glancing over, he saw that Rose was sleeping as soundly as the kids. His wide eyes searched for the disaster that he knew he'd find....

But the wide roof was all the way up, now--intact. It made a great, squarish bubble, the skin of which was specially treated to stop the hard and dangerous part of the ultra-violet rays of the sun, and also the lethal portion of the cosmic rays. It even had an inter-skin layer of gum that could seal the punctures that grain-of-sand-sized meteors might make. But meteors, though plentiful in the asteroid belt, were curiously innocuous. They all moved in much the same direction as the large asteroids, and at much the same velocity--so their relative speed had to be low.

The walls of the small tent around Endlich sagged, where they had bulged tautly before--showing that there was now a firm and equal pressure beyond them. The electrolysis apparatus had been left active all night, and the heating units. This was the result.

John Endlich was at first almost unbelieving when he saw that nothing had been wrecked during the night. For a moment he was elated. He woke up his family by shouting: "Look! The bums stayed away! They didn't come! Look! We've got five acres of ground, covered by air that we can breathe!"

His sense of triumph, however, was soon dampened. Yes--he'd been left unmolested--for one night. But had that been done only to keep him at a fruitless and sleepless watch? Probably. Another delicate form of hazing. And it meant nothing for the night to come--or for those to follow. So he was in the same harrowing position as before, pursued only by a wild and defenseless drive to get things done. To find some slight illusion of security by working to build a sham of normal, Earthly life. To shut out the cold vacuum, and a little of the bluntness of the voidal stars. To make certain reassuring sounds possible around him.

"Got to patch up the pieces of the house, first, and bolt 'em together, Rose," he said feverishly. "Kids--maybe you could help by setting out some of the hydroponic troughs for planting. We gotta break plain ground, too, as soon as it's thawed enough. We gotta...." His words raced on with his flying thoughts.




It was a mad day of toil. The hours were pitifully short. They couldn't be stretched to cover more than a fraction of all the work that Endlich wanted to get done. But the low gravity reduced the problem of heavy lifting to almost zero, at least. And he did get the house assembled--so that Rose and the kids and he could sleep inside its sealed doors. Sealed, that is, if Neely or somebody didn't use a blaster or an explosive cap or bullet--in an orgy of perverted humor.... He still had no answer for that.

Rose and the children toiled almost as hard as he did. Rose even managed to find a couple of dozen eggs, that--by being carefully packed to withstand a spaceship's takeoff--had withstood the effects of Neely's idea of fun. She set up an incubator, and put them inside, to be hatched.

But, of course, sunset came again--with the same pendent threat as before. Nerve-twisting. Terrible. And a vigil was all but impossible. John Endlich was out on his feet--far more than just dog-tired....

"That damned Neely," he groaned, almost too weary even to swallow his food, in spite of the luxury of a real, pullman-style supper table. "He doesn't lose sleep. He can pick his time to come here and raise hob!"

Rose's glance was strange--almost guilty. "Tonight I think he might have to stay home--too," she said.

John Endlich blinked at her.

"All right," she answered, rather defensively. "So to speak, Johnny, I called the cops. Yesterday--with the small radio transmitter. When you and Bubs and Evelyn were up in those old buildings. I reported Neely and his companions."

"Reported them?"

"Sure. To Mr. Mahoney, the boss at the mining camp. I was glad to find out that there is a little law and order around here. Mr. Mahoney was nice. He said that he wouldn't be surprised if they were cooled in the can for a few days, and then confined to the camp area. Matter of fact, I radioed him again last night. It's been done."

John Endlich's vast sigh of relief was slightly tainted by the idea that to call on a policing power for protection was a little bit on the timid side.

"Oh," he grunted. "Thanks. I never thought of doing that."

"Johnny."

"Yeah?"

"I kind of got the notion, though--from between the lines of what Mr. Mahoney said--that there was heavy trouble brewing at the camp. About conditions, and home-leaves, and increased profit-sharing. Maybe there's danger of riots and what-not, Johnny. Anyhow, Mr. Mahoney said that we should 'keep on exercising all reasonable caution.'"

"Hmm-m--Mr. Mahoney is very nice, ain't he?" Endlich growled.

"You stop that, Johnny," Rose ordered.

But her husband had already passed beyond thoughts of jealousy. He was thinking of the time when Neely would have worked out his sentence, and would be free to roam around again--no doubt with increased annoyance at the Endlich clan for causing his restraint. If a riot or something didn't spring him, beforehand. John Endlich itched to try to tear his head off. But, of course, the same consequences as before still applied....