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Last Resort   By:

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This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction April 1963. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.


The phenomenon of "hysterical strength" at the physical level is well known. Wonder what the equivalent phenomenon at the psychological level might do....



I inflated a rubber balloon and set it adrift. The idea was that in free fall the balloon would drift slowly in the direction of the leak. This was the first thing I did after I had discovered the trouble. I mean it was the first action I took. I had been thinking about it for some time. I had been thinking about what a great distance it was from Pacific Grove, California to Mars, and how I would never breathe the odor of eucalyptus again.

I watched the white balloon floating in the middle of the cabin. Light reflected from a spot on its surface, and it made me think of a Moonglobe I used to keep on my desk when I was in college. I had turned off the fan, and tried to hold my breath to keep from disturbing the air. The balloon drifted slowly a few feet aft, wobbled there for a minute or two, then began to drift forward again. I decided to indulge in the rare luxury of a cigarette. I lighted one, reached over, and popped the balloon. The piece of rubber hung in the air, limp and twisted. I had not expected that trick to work.

The rate of leakage was very low. It had been some thirty six hours since I'd first noticed it. This was one of those things, of course, that were not supposed to happen in space, and often did. Every precaution had been taken against it. The outer shell of the ship was tough enough to stop medium velocity meteoroids, and inside the shell was a self sealing goo, like a tubeless tire. Evidently the goo hadn't worked. Something had got through the hull and made a pinhole leak. In fact the hole was so small that it had taken me nearly thirty five hours to compute the rate of leakage exactly. But it was big enough, it would do.

I had held the clipboard in my hand for a long time, rechecking the little black numbers on it again and again. Then I had warmed up the transmitter, raised Lunar Base, and reported what had happened. I had not reported before because I had not even been sure I had a leak. There's a normal seepage rate, of course; a certain amount of air will seep right through the molecular structure of the hull. That's what the reserve tanks are for. But I had been out a long time, and there wasn't enough left in the tanks to compensate for this. Not quite.

So I reported to Base. The operator on the other end told me to stand by for instructions. That was for my morale. Then I spent some time thinking about Pacific Grove, and the white house there, and the stand of eucalyptus. Then I blew up the balloon and popped it. As I was watching the piece of rubber hang motionless in the air the receiver began clicking. I waited till it stopped, then pulled out the tape and read it. It said, HAVE YOU INSPECTED HULL? I switched on the send key and tapped out, JUST GOING TO. STAND BY.

I opened the locker and broke out my spacesuit. This was the first time I had put it on since lift off. Without help, it took me nearly half an hour to get it on and then check it out. I always did hate wearing a spacesuit, it's like a straitjacket. In theory I could have kept it on, plugged directly into the ship's oxygen supply, and ridden all the way back to Earth that way. The trouble with that idea was that the suit wasn't designed for it. You couldn't eat or drink through the helmet, and no one had ever thought up a satisfactory method of removing body wastes. That would be the worst way to go, I thought, poisoned slowly in my own juices.

When I finally did get the thing on, I went out the air lock... Continue reading book >>

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