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The Rolling Stones

Robert A. Heinlein


  Published by

  Charles Scribner’s Sons







  By Other Publishers


  (edited by R.A.H.)











  A condensed version of this book was published in Boy’s Life under the title, “Tramp Space Ship.”





  The Unheavenly Twins


  A Case for Dramatic License


  The Second-Hand Market


  Aspects of Domestic Engineering


  Bicycles and Blast-Off


  Ballistics and Buster


  In the Gravity Well


  The Mighty Room


  Assets Recoverable


  Phobos Port


  “Welcome to Mars!”


  Free Enterprise


  Caveat Vendor


  Flat Cats Factorial


  “Inter Jovem Et Martem Planetam Interposui”


  Rock City


  Flat Cats Financial


  The Worm in the Mud


  The Endless Trail




  stood looking the old wreck over. “Junk,” decided Castor.

  “Not junk,” objected Pollux. “A jalopy—granted. A heap any way you look at it. A clunker possibly. But not junk.”

  “You’re an optimist, Junior.” Both boys were fifteen; Castor was twenty minutes older than his brother.

  “I’m a believer, Grandpa—and you had better be, too. Let me point out that we don’t have money enough for anything better. Scared to gun it?”

  Castor stared up the side of the ship. “Not at all—because that thing will never again rise high enough to crash. We want a ship that will take us out to the Asteroids—right? This superannuated pogo stick wouldn’t even take us to Earth.”

  “It will when I get through hopping it up—with your thumb-fingered help. Let’s look through it and see what it needs.”

  Castor glanced at the sky. “It’s getting late.” He looked not at the Sun making long shadows on the lunar plain, but at Earth, reading the time from the sunrise line now moving across the Pacific.

  “Look, Grandpa, are we buying a ship or are we getting to supper on time?”

  Castor shrugged. “As you say, Junior.” He lowered his antenna, then started swarming up the rope ladder left there for the accommodation of prospective customers. He used his hands only and despite his cumbersome vacuum suit his movements were easy and graceful. Pollux swarmed after him.

  Castor cheered up a bit when they reached the control room. The ship had not been stripped for salvage as completely as had many of the ships on the lot. True, the ballistic computer was missing but the rest of the astrogational instruments were in place and the controls to the power room seemed to be complete. The space-battered old hulk was not a wreck, but merely obsolete. A hasty look at the power room seemed to confirm this.

  Ten minutes later Castor, still mindful of supper, herded Pollux down the ladder. When Castor reached the ground Pollux said, “Well?”

  “Let me do the talking.”

  The sales office of the lot was a bubble dome nearly a mile away; they moved toward it with the easy, fast lope of old Moon hands. The office airlock was marked by a huge sign:





  (AEC License No. 739024)

  They cycled through the lock and unclamped each other’s helmets. The outer office was crossed by a railing; back of it sat a girl receptionist. She was watching a newscast while buffing her nails. She spoke without taking her eyes off the TV tank: “We’re not buying anything, boys—nor hiring anybody.”

  Castor said, “You sell spaceships?”

  She looked up. “Not often enough.”

  “Then tell your boss we want to see him.”

  Her eyebrows went up. “Whom do you think you are kidding, sonny boy? Mr. Ekizian is a busy man.”

  Pollux said to Castor, “Let’s go over to the Hungarian, Cas. These people don’t mean business.”

  “Maybe you’re right.”

  The girl looked from one to the other, shrugged, and flipped a switch. “Mr. Ekizian—there are a couple of Boy Scouts out here who say they want to buy a spaceship. Do you want to bother with them?”

  A deep voice responded, “And why not? We got ships to sell.”

  Shortly a bald-headed, portly man, dressed in a cigar and a wrinkled moonsuit, came out of the inner office and rested his hands on the rail. He looked them over shrewdly but his voice was jovial. “You wanted to see me?”

  “You’re the owner?” asked Castor.

  “Dealer Dan Ekizian, the man himself. What’s on your mind, boys? Time is money.”

  “Your secretary told you,” Castor said ungraciously. “Spaceships.”

  Dealer Dan took his cigar out of his mouth and examined it. “Really? What would you boys want with a spaceship?”

  Pollux muttered something; Castor said, “Do you usually do business out here?” He glanced at the girl.

  Ekizian followed his glance. “My mistake. Come inside.” He opened the gate for them, led them into his office, and seated them. He ceremoniously offered them cigars; the boys refused politely. “Now out with it, kids. Let’s not joke.”

  Castor repeated, “Spaceships.”

  He pursed his lips. “A luxury liner, maybe? I haven’t got one on the field at the moment but I can always broker a deal.”

  Pollux stood up. “He’s making fun of us, Cas. Let’s go see the Hungarian.”

  “Wait a moment, Pol. Mr. Ekizian, you’ve got a heap out there on the south side of the field, a class VII, model ’93 Detroiter. What’s your scrap metal price on her and what does she mass?”

  The dealer looked surprised. “That sweet little job? Why, I couldn’t afford to let that go as scrap. And anyhow, even at scrap that would come to a lot of money. If it is metal you boys want, I got it. Just tell me how much and what sort.”

  “We were talking about that Detroiter.”

  “I don’t believe I’ve met you boys before?”

  “Sorry, sir. I’m Castor Stone. This is my brother Pollux.”

  “Glad to meet you, Mr. Stone. Stone… Stone? Any relation to—The ‘Unheavenly Twins’—that’s it.”

  “Smile when you say that,” said Pollux.

  “Shut up, Pol. We’re the Stone twins.”

  “The frostproof rebreather valve, you invented it, didn’t you?”

  “That’s right.”

  “Say, I got one in my own suit. A
good gimmick—you boys are quite the mechanics.” He looked them over again. “Maybe you were really serious about a ship.”

  “Of course we were.”

  “Hmm…you’re not looking for scrap; you want something to get around in. I’ve got just the job for you, a General Motors Jumpbug, practically new. It’s been out on one grubstake job to a couple of thorium prospectors and I had to reclaim it. The hold ain’t even radioactive.”

  “Not interested.”

  “Better look at it. Automatic landing and three hops takes you right around the equator. Just the thing for a couple of lively, active boys.”

  “About that Detroiter—what’s your scrap price?”

  Ekizian looked hurt. “That’s a deepspace vessel, son—it’s no use to you, as a ship. And I can’t let it go for scrap; that’s a clean job. It was a family yacht—never been pushed over six g, never had an emergency landing. It’s got hundreds of millions of miles still in it. I couldn’t let you scrap that ship, even if you were to pay me the factory price. It would be a shame. I love ships. Now take this Jumpbug…”

  “You can’t sell that Detroiter as anything but scrap,” Castor answered. “It’s been sitting there two years that I know of. If you had hoped to sell her as a ship you wouldn’t have salvaged the computer. She’s pitted, her tubes are no good, and an overhaul would cost more than she’s worth. Now what’s her scrap price?”

  Dealer Dan rocked back and forth in his chair; he seemed to be suffering. “Scrap that ship? Just fuel her up and she’s ready to go—Venus, Mars, even the Jovian satellites.”

  “What’s your cash price?”



  Ekizian hesitated, then mentioned a price. Castor stood up and said, “You were right, Pollux. Let’s go see the Hungarian.”

  The dealer looked pained. “If I were to write it off for my own use, I couldn’t cut that price—not in fairness to my partners.”

  “Come on, Pol.”

  “Look, boys, I can’t let you go over to the Hungarian’s. He’ll cheat you.”

  Pollux looked savage. “Maybe he’ll do it politely.”

  “Shut up, Pol!” Castor went on, “Sorry, Mr. Ekizian, my brother isn’t housebroken. But we can’t do business.” He stood up.

  “Wait a minute. That’s a good valve you boys thought up. I use it; I feel I owe you something.” He named another and lower sum.

  “Sorry. We can’t afford it.” He started to follow Pollux out.

  “Wait!” Ekizian mentioned a third price. “Cash,” he added.

  “Of course. And you pay the sales tax?”

  “Well…for a cash deal, yes.”


  “Sit down, gentlemen. I’ll call in my girl and we’ll start the papers.”

  “No hurry,” answered Castor. “We’ve still got to see what the Hungarian has on his lot—and the government salvage lot, too.”

  “Huh? That price doesn’t stand unless you deal right now. Dealer Dan, they call me. I got no time to waste dickering twice.”

  “Nor have we. See you tomorrow. If it hasn’t sold, we can take up where we left off.”

  “If you expect me to hold that price, I’ll have to have a nominal option payment.”

  “Oh, no, I wouldn’t expect you to pass up a sale for us. If you can sell it by tomorrow, we wouldn’t think of standing in your way. Come on, Pol.”

  Ekizian shrugged. “Been nice meeting you, boys.”

  “Thank you, sir.”

  As they closed the lock behind them and waited for it to cycle, Pollux said, “You should have paid him an option.”

  His brother looked at him. “You’re retarded, Junior.”

  On leaving Dealer Dan’s office the boys headed for the spaceport, intending to catch the passenger tube back to the city, fifty miles west of the port. They had less than thirty minutes if they were to get home for supper on time—unimportant in itself but Castor disliked starting a family debate on the defensive over a side issue. He kept hurrying Pollux along.

  Their route took them through the grounds of General Synthetics Corporation, square miles of giant cracking plants, sun screens, condensers, fractionating columns, all sorts of huge machinery to take advantage of the burning heat, the bitter cold, and the endless vacuum for industrial chemical engineering purposes—a Dantesque jungle of unlikely shapes. The boys paid no attention to it; they were used to it. They hurried down the company road in the flying leaps the Moon’s low gravity permitted, making twenty miles an hour. Half way to the port they were overtaken by a company tractor; Pollux flagged it down.

  As he ground to a stop, the driver spoke to them via his cab radio: “What do you want?”

  “Are you meeting the Terra shuttle?”

  “Subject to the whims of fate—yes.”

  “It’s Jefferson,” said Pollux. “Hey, Jeff—it’s Cas and Pol. Drop us at the tube station, will you?”

  “Climb on the rack. Mind the volcano—come up the usual way.” As they did so he went on, “What brings you two carrot-topped accident-prones to this far reach of culture?”

  Castor hesitated and glanced at Pollux. They had known Jefferson James for some time, having bowled against him in the city league. He was an old Moon hand but not a native, having come to Luna before they were born to gather color for a novel. The novel was still unfinished.

  Pollux nodded. Castor said, “Jeff, can you keep a secret?”

  “Certainly—but permit me to point out that these radios are not directional. See your attorney before admitting any criminal act or intention.”

  Castor looked around; aside from two tractor trucks in the distance no one seemed to be in line-of-sight. “We’re going into business.”

  “When were you out of it?”

  “This is a new line—interplanetary trade. We’re going to buy our own ship and run it ourselves.”

  The driver whistled. “Remind me to sell Four-Planet Export short. When does this blitz take place?”

  “We’re shopping for a ship now. Know of a good buy?”

  “I’ll alert my spies.” He shut up, being busy thereafter with the heavier traffic near the spaceport. Presently he said, “Here’s your stop.” As the boys climbed down from the rack of the truck he added, “If you need a crewman, keep me in mind.”

  “Okay, Jeff. And thanks for the lift.”

  Despite the lift they were late. A squad of marine M.P.s heading into the city on duty pre-empted the first tube car; by the time the next arrived the ship from Earth had grounded and its passengers took priority. Thereafter they got tangled with the changing shift from the synthetics plant. It was well past suppertime when they arrived at their family’s apartment a half mile down inside Luna City.

  Mr. Stone looked up as they came in. “Well! the star boarders,” he announced. He was sitting with a small recorder in his lap, a throat mike clipped to his neck.

  “Dad, it was unavoidable,” Castor began. “We—”

  “It always is,” his father cut in. “Never mind the details. Your dinner is in the cozy. I wanted to send it back, but your mother went soft and didn’t let me.”

  Dr. Stone looked up from the far end of the living room, where she was modelling a head of their older sister, Meade. “Correction,” she said. “Your father went soft; I would have let you starve. Meade, quit turning your head.”

  “Check,” announced their four-year-old brother and got up from the floor where he had been playing chess with their grandmother. He ran towards them. “Hey, Cas, Pol—where you been? Did you go to the port? Why didn’t you take me? Did you bring me anything?”

  Castor swung him up by his heels and held him upside down. “Yes. No. Maybe. And why should we? Here, Pol—catch.” He sailed the child through the air; his twin reached out and caught him, still by the heels.

  “Check yourself,” announced Grandmother, “and mate in three moves. Shouldn’t let your social life distract you from your game, Lowell.”
br />   The youngster looked back at the board from his upside down position. “Wrong, Hazel. Now I let you take my queen, then—Blammie!”

  His grandmother looked again at the board. “Huh? Wait a minute—suppose I refuse your queen, then—Why, the little scamp! He’s trapped me again.”

  Meade said, “Shouldn’t let him beat you so often, Hazel. It’s not good for him.”

  “Meade, for the ninth time, quit turning your head!”

  “Sorry, Mother. Let’s take a rest.”

  Grandmother snorted. “You don’t think I let him beat me on purpose, do you? You play him; I am giving up the game for good.”

  Meade answered just as her mother spoke; at the same time Pollux chucked the boy back at Castor. “You take him. I want to eat.” The child squealed. Mr. Stone shouted, “QUIET!”

  “And stay quiet,” he went on, while unfastening the throat mike. “How is a man to make a living in all this racket? This episode has to be done over completely, sent to New York tomorrow, shot, canned, distributed, and on the channels by the end of the week. It’s not possible.”

  “Then don’t do it,” Dr. Stone answered serenely. “Or work in your room—it’s soundproof.”

  Mr. Stone turned to his wife. “My dear, I’ve explained a thousand times that I can’t work in there by myself. I get no stimulation. I fall asleep.”

  Castor said, “How’s it going, Dad? Rough?”

  “Well, now that you ask me, the villains are way ahead and I don’t see a chance for our heroes.”

  “I thought of a gimmick while Pol and I were out. You have this young kid you introduced into the story slide into the control room while everybody is asleep. They don’t suspect him, see?—he’s too young so they haven’t put him in irons. Once in the control room—” Castor stopped and looked crestfallen. “No, it won’t do; he’s too young to handle the ship. He wouldn’t know how.”

  “Why do you say that?” his father objected. “All I have to do is to plant that he has had a chance to…let me see—” He stopped; his face went blank. “No,” he said presently.