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Lucky Starr And The Rings Of Saturn ls-6

Isaac Asimov

  Lucky Starr And The Rings Of Saturn

  ( Lucky Starr - 6 )

  Isaac Asimov

  Isaac Asimov

  Lucky Starr And The Rings Of Saturn

  To the memory of Henry Kuttner and Cyril Kombluth


  Back in the 1950s, I wrote a series of six derring-do novels about David "Lucky" Starr and his battles against malefactors within the Solar System. Each of the six took place in a different region of the system, and in each case I made use of the astronomical facts-as they were then known.

  Now, a quarter-century later, Fawcett is bringing out the novels in new editions; but what a quarter-century it has been! More has been learned about the worlds of our Solar System hi this last quarter-century than in all the thousands of years that went before.

  LUCKY STARR AND THE RINGS OF SATURN was written in 1957, but in 1967, a French astronomer, Audouin Dollfus, discovered a tenth satellite of Saturn, one that was closer to the planet than any of the others, 22,000 miles closer to Saturn than Mimas is. This new satellite has been named Janus.

  If I were writing the book today, I would certainly mention that satellite and I might have used it instead of Mimas.

  Moreover, it was not until 1977 that astronomers discovered that Saturn was not the only ringed planet. Uranus, it turns out, also has rings. They are very thin rings and very faint ones-but they're there. I would surely have mentioned that in this book if I were writing it today.

  I hope my Gentle Readers enjoy the book anyway, as an adventure story, but please don't forget that the advance of science can outdate even the most conscientious science-fiction writer and that my astronomical descriptions are no longer accurate in all respects.

  Isaac Asimov

  1. The Invaders

  The Sun was a brilliant diamond in the sky, just large enough to the naked eye to be made out as something more than a star; as a tiny white-hot pea-sized globe.

  Out here in the vastness of space, near the second largest planet of the Solar System, the Sun gave out only one per cent of the light it cast on man's home planet. It was still, however, the brightest object in the sky, as four thousand full Moons would be.

  Lucky Starr gazed thoughtfully at the visiplate which centered the image of the distant Sun. John Bigman Jones watched with him, an odd contrast to Lucky's tall and rangy figure. When John Bigman Jones stretched himself to his full height, he stood five foot two exactly. But the little man did not measure himself in inches and he allowed people to call him by his middle name only: Bigman.

  Bigman said, "You know, Lucky, it's nearly nine hundred million miles away. The Sun, I mean. I've never been out this far."

  The third man in the cabin, Councilman Ben Wes-silewsky, grinned over his shoulder from his place at the controls. He was another large man, though not as tall as Lucky, and his shock of yellow hair topped a face that had grown space-brown in the service of the Council of Science.

  He said, "What's the matter, Bigman? Scared way out here?"

  Bigman squawked, "Sands of Mars, Wess, you get your hands off those controls and say that again."

  He had dodged around Lucky and was making for the Councilman, when Lucky's hands came down on Bigman's shoulders and lifted him bodily. Big-man's legs still pumped, as though carrying him toward Wess at a charge, but Lucky put his Mars-born friend back in his original position.

  "Stay put, Bigman."

  "But, Lucky, you heard him. This long cobber thinks there's more to a man just because there's more of him. If that Wess is six feet tall, that just means there's an extra foot of flab… "

  "All right, Bigman," said Lucky. "And, Wess, let's save the humor for the Sirians."

  He spoke quietly to both, but there was no questioning his authority.

  Bigman cleared his throat and said, "Where's Mars?"

  "On the other side of the Sun from us."

  "Wouldn't you know," said the little fellow disgustedly. Then, brightening, "But hold on, Lucky, we're a hundred million miles below the plane of the Ecliptic. We ought to be able to see Mars below the Sun; peeking out from behind, sort of."

  "Uh-huh, we should. Actually, it's a degree or so away from the Sun, but that's close enough for it to be drowned out in the glare. You can make out Earth, though, I think."

  Bigman allowed a look of haughty disgust to cross his face. "Who in space wants to see Earth? There isn't anything there but people; mostly groundhogs who've never even been a hundred miles off the surface. I wouldn't look at it if that were all there was in the sky to look at. You let Wess look at it That's his speed."

  He walked moodily away from the visiplate.

  Wess said, "Hey, Lucky, how about getting Saturn on and taking a good look at it from this angle? Come on, I've been promising myself a treat."

  "I don't know," said Lucky, "that the sight of Saturn these days is exactly what you might call a treat."

  He said it lightly, but for a moment silence fell uneasily within the confined pilot room of The Shooting Starr.

  All three felt the change in atmosphere. Saturn meant danger. Saturn had taken on a new face of doom to the peoples of the Terrestrial Federation. To six billion people on Earth, to additional millions on Mars, the Moon, and Venus, to scientific stations on Mercury, Ceres, and the outer moons of Jupiter, Saturn had become something newly and unexpectedly deadly.

  Lucky was the first to shrug off that moment of depression, and, obedient to the touch of his fingers, the sensitive electronic scanners set into the hull of The Shooting Starr rotated smoothly on their universal gimbals. As that happened, the field of vision in the visiplate shifted.

  The stars marched across the visiplate in steady procession, and Bigman said with a curl of hatred in his upper lip, "Any of those things Sirius, Lucky?"

  "No," said Lucky, "we're working through the Southern Celestial Hemisphere and Sirius is in the Northern. Would you like to see Canopus?"

  "No," said Bigman. "Why should I?"

  "I just thought you might be interested. It's the second brightest star and you could pretend it was Sirius." Lucky smiled slightly. It always amused him that the patriotic Bigman should be so annoyed because Sirius, home star of the great enemies of the Solar System (though themselves descendants of Earth-men), was the brightest star in Earth's heavens.

  Bigman said, "Very funny. Come on, Lucky, let's see Saturn, and then when we get back to Earth you can get on some comedy show and panic everybody."

  The stars kept their smooth motion, then slowed and stopped. Lucky said, "There it is-unmagnified, too."

  Wess locked the controls and twirled in the pilot's seat so that he might see also.

  It was a half-moon in appearance, somewhat bulging into more than half, just large enough to be seen as such, bright with a soft yellow light that was dimmer in the center than along the edges.

  "How far away are we?" Bigman asked in astonishment.

  Lucky said, "About a hundred million miles, I think."

  "Something's wrong," Bigman said. "Where are the rings? I've been counting on a good look."

  The Shooting Starr was high above the south pole of Saturn. From that position it should see the rings broad on.

  Lucky said, "The rings are blurred into the globe of the planet, Bigman, because of the distance. Suppose we magnify the image and take a closer look."

  The spot of light that was Saturn expanded and stretched in every direction, growing. And the half-moon that it had seemed to be broke up into three segments.

  There was still a central globe, half-mooned. Around it, however, touching the globe at no point, was a circularly curved ribbon of light, divided into two unequal halves
by a dark line. As the ribbon curved about Saturn and entered its shadow, it was cut off in darkness.

  "Yes, sir, Bigman," said Wess, lecturing, "Saturn itself is only seventy-eight thousand miles in diameter. At a hundred million miles, it would just be a dot of light, but count in the rings and there are nearly two hundred thousand miles of reflecting surface from one end to the other."

  "I know all that," said Bigman indignantly.

  "And what's more," continued Wess, unheeding, "at a hundred million miles, the seven-thousand-mile break between Saturn's surface and the innermost portion of the rings just couldn't be seen; let alone the twenty-five-hundred-mile break that divides the rings in two. That black line is called Cassini's division, you know, Bigman."

  "I said I know," roared Bigman. "Listen, Lucky, that cobber is trying to make out I didn't go to school. Maybe I didn't get much schooling, but there isn't anything he has to tell me about space. Say the word, Lucky; say you'll let him stop hiding behind you and I'll squash him like a bug."

  Lucky said, "You can make out Titan."

  At once Bigman and Wess said in chorus, "Where?"

  "Right there." Titan showed as a tiny half-moon about the size, under current magnification, that Saturn and its ring system had appeared to be without magnification. It was near the edge of the visiplate.

  Titan was the only sizable moon in the Sarurnian system. But it wasn't its size that made Wess stare at it with curiosity and Bigman with hate.

  It was, instead, that the three were almost certain that Titan was the only world in the Solar System populated by men who did not acknowledge the over-lordship of Earth. Suddenly and unexpectedly it had been revealed as a world of the enemy.

  It brought the danger suddenly closer. "When do we get inside the Saturnian system, Lucky?"

  Lucky said, "There's no real definition as to what is the Saturnian system, Bigman. Most people consider a world's system to include all the space out to the distance where the farthermost body is moving under the gravitational influence of that world. If that's so, we're still outside the Saturnian system."

  "The Sirians say, though… " began Wess.

  "To Sun-center with the Sirian cobbers!" roared Bigman, slapping his high boots in anger. "Who cares what they say?" He slapped his boots again as though every Sirian in the system were under the force of his blows. His boots were the most truly Martian thing about him. Their raucous coloring, orange and black in a curving checkerboard design, was the loud proclamation that their owner had been born and bred among the Martian farms and domed cities.

  Lucky blanked out the visiplate. The detectors on the ship's hulls retracted, leaving the ship's outer skin smooth, gleaming, and unbroken except for the bulge that ringed the stern and held The Shooting Starr's Agrav* attachment.

  Lucky said, "We can't allow ourselves the luxury of the who-cares-what-they-say attitude, Bigman. At the moment the Sirians have the upper hand. Maybe we'll get them out of the Solar System eventually, but right now the only thing we can do is to play it their way for the while."

  Bigman muttered rebelliously, "We're in our own system."

  "Sure, but Sirius is occupying this part of it and, pending an interstellar conference, there isn't anything Earth can do about it, unless it's willing to start a war."

  There was nothing to be said to that. Wess returned to his controls, and The Shooting Starr, with minimum expenditure of thrust, making use of Saturn's gravity to the maximum, continued to sink rapidly toward the polar regions of the planet.

  Down, down, deeper into the grip of what was now a Sirian world, its space swarming with Sirian ships some fifty trillion miles from then [1] home planet and only seven hundred million miles from Earth. In one giant step Sirius had covered 99.999 per cent of the distance between itself and Earth and established a military base on Earth's very doorstep.

  If Sirius were allowed to remain there, then in one sudden moment Earth would sink to the status of second-class power at Sirius's mercy. And the interstellar political situation was such that for the moment all of Earth's giant military establishment, all of her mighty ships and weapons were helpless to deal with the situation.

  Only three men in one small ship, on their own initiative and unauthorized by Earth, were left to try, by skill and craft, to reverse the situation, knowing that if they were caught they could be executed out of hand as spies-in their own Solar System by invaders of that Solar System-and that Earth could not do a solitary thing to save them.

  2. Pursuit

  As little as a month ago there had been no thought of the danger, no barest notion, until it exploded in the face of Earth's government. Steadily and methodically the Council of Science had been cleaning up the nest of robot spies that had riddled Earth and its possessions and whose power had been broken by Lucky Starr on the snows of Io [2].

  It had been a grim job and, in a way, a frightening one, for the espionage had been thorough and efficient and, moreover, had come within an ace of succeeding and damaging Earth desperately.

  Then, at the moment when the situation seemed completely in the clear at last, a crack appeared in the healing structure, and Hector Conway, Chief Councilman, awakened Lucky in the small hours one night. He showed signs of hurried dressing, and his fine white hair was in rumpled disarray.

  Lucky, blinking sleep out of his eyes, offered coffee and said in amazement, "Great Galaxy, Uncle Hector" (Lucky had called him that since his early orphaned days, when Conway and Augustus Henree had been his guardians), "are the visiphone circuits out?"

  "I dared not trust the visiphone, my boy. We're in a dreadful mess."

  "In what way?" Lucky asked the question quietly, but he removed the upper half of his pajamas and began washing.

  Bigman came in, stretching and yawning. "Hey, what's all this Mars-forsaken noise about?" Recognizing the Chief Councilman, he snapped into wakeful-ness. "Trouble, sir?"

  "We've let Agent X slip through our fingers."

  "Agent X? The mysterious Sirian?" Lucky's eyes narrowed a bit. "The last I heard of him, the Council had decided he didn't exist."

  "That was before the robot spy business turned up. He's been clever, Lucky, darned clever. It takes a clever spy to convince the Council he doesn't exist. I should have put you on his track, but there always seemed something else you had to do. Anyway____________________"


  "You know how all this robot spy business showed there must be a central clearing agency for the information being gathered and that it pointed to a position on Earth itself as the location of the agency. That got us on the trail of Agent X all over again, and one of the strong possibilities for that role was a man named Jack Dorrance at Acme Air Products right here in International City."

  "I hadn't known this."

  "There were many other candidates for the job. But then Dorrance took a private ship off Earth and blasted right through an emergency block. It was a stroke of luck we had a Councilman at Port Center who took the right action at once and followed. Once the report of the ship's block-blasting reached us, it took only minutes to find that of all the suspects only Dorrance was out of surveillance check. He'd gotten past us. A few other matters fit in then and-anyway, he's Agent X. We're sure of it now."

  "Very well, then, Uncle Hector. Where's the harm? He's gone."

  "We know one more thing now. He's taken a personal capsule with him, and we have no doubt that that capsule contains information he has managed to collect from the spy network over the Federation, and, presumably, has not yet had time to deliver to his Sirian bosses. Space knows exactly what he has, but there must be enough there to blow our security to pieces if it gets into Sirian hands."

  "You say he was followed. He has been brought back?"

  "No." The harassed Chief Councilman turned pettish. "Would I be here if he had been?"

  Lucky asked suddenly, "Is the ship he took equipped to make the Jump?"

  "No," cried the ruddy-faced Chief Councilman, and he smoothed hi
s silvered thatch of hair as though it had risen in horror at the very thought of the Jump.

  Lucky drew a deep breath of relief too. The Jump was, of course, the leap through hyperspace, a movement that carried a ship outside ordinary space and brought it back again into a point in space many light-years away, all in an instant.

  In such a ship Agent X would, very likely, get away.

  Conway said, "He worked solo; his getaway was solo. That was part of the reason he slipped through our fingers. And the ship he took was an interplanetary cruiser designed for one-man operation."

  "And ships equipped with hyperspatials don't come designed for one-man operation. Not yet, anyway. But, Uncle Hector, if he's taken an interplanetary cruiser, then I suppose that's all he needs."

  Lucky had finished washing and was dressing himself rapidly. He turned to Bigman suddenly. "And how about you? Snap into your clothes, Bigman."

  Bigman, who was sitting on the edge of the couch, virtually turned a somersault getting off it.

  Lucky said, "Probably, waiting for him somewhere in space, is a Sirian-manned ship that is equipped with hyperspatials."

  "Right. And he's got a fast ship, and with his start and speed, we may not catch him or even get within weapons range. And that leaves… "

  "The Shooting Starr. I'm ahead of you, Uncle Hector. I'll be on the Shooter in an hour, and Bigman with me, assuming he can drag his clothes on. Just get me the present location and course of the pursuing ships and the identifying data on Agent X's ship and we'll be on our way."

  "Good." Conway 's harried face smoothed out a bit. "And, David"-he used Lucky's real name, as he always did in moments of emotion-"you will be careful?"

  "Did you ask that of the personnel on the other ten ships too, Uncle Hector?" Lucky asked, but his voice was soft and affectionate.

  Bigman had one hip boot pulled up now and the other in his hand. He patted the small holster on the velvety inner surface of the free boot. "Are we on our way, Lucky?" The light of action glowed in his eyes, and his puckish little face was wrinkled in a fierce grin.