The Quantum Jump,
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+------------------------------------------------------------------+ | | | Transcriber's note: | | | | This story was published in _Amazing Science Fiction Stories_, | | October 1958. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence | | that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. | | | +------------------------------------------------------------------+
THE QUANTUM JUMP
By ROBERT WICKS
_Captain Brandon was a pioneer. He explored the far reaches of space and reported back on how things were out there. So it was pretty disquieting to find out that the "far reaches of space" knew more about what went on at home than he did._
Brandon was looking at the Milky Way. Through his perma-glas canopy, hecould see it trailing across the black velvet of space like a whitebridal veil. Below his SC9B scout-ship stretched the red dust deserts ofSirius Three illuminated by the thin light of two ice moons. He lookedat the Milky Way.
He looked at it as a man looks at a flickering fireplace and thinks ofother things. He thought of the sun, 52 trillion miles away, a pinpointof light lost in the dazzle of the Milky Way--the Earth a speck of dustin orbit just as this planet was to its master, Sirius.
Nine light years away. Of course, thirteen years had passed on Earthsince they had left, because the trip took four years by RT--relativetime. But even four years is a long time to be shut up in Astro One withfive other men, especially when one of them was the imperious ColonelTowers.
"A quantum jump--that's the way to beat the Reds," the colonel had saida thousand times. His well-worn expression had nothing to do withquantum mechanics--the actual change in atomic configuration due to theapplication of sufficient energy. Rather, it was a slang expressionreferring to a major advance in inter-planetary travel due to a maximumscientific and technological effort.
"Let 'em have Mars and Venus," the colonel would say--"Let 'em have thewhole damn Solar System! We'll make a quantum jump--leap-frog ahead of'em. We'll be the first men to set foot on a planet of another solarsystem."
Four years had gone by in the ship; thirteen years on Earth. Four yearsof Colonel Towers. Military discipline grew more strict each day. Spacedoes funny things to some men. The "we'll be the first men" had turnedinto, "_I'll_ be the first _man_."
But it was Captain Brandon who drew the assignment of scouting SiriusThree for a suitable landing place for Astro, of sampling its atmosphereand observing meteorological conditions. Even as Brandon climbed intothe scout-ship, Towers had cautioned him.
"Remember, your assignment is to locate a firm landing site with ampleprotection from the elements. Under no circumstances are you to landyourself. Is that clearly understood?"
Brandon nodded, was launched and now was cruising one hundred thousandfeet above the alien planet.
Brandon tilted the ship up on one wing and glanced down at the brick-redexpanse of desert. Tiny red mists marked dust storms. Certainly this wasno place to set down the full weight of Astro nor to protect the crewand equipment from abrasive dust.
He righted the ship. Far on the horizon was a bank of atmosphericclouds. Perhaps conditions were more promising there. He shoved thepower setting to 90 per cent.
A fire warning indicator light blinked on. Instantly Brandon's eyes wereon the instrument panel. The tailpipe temperature seemed all right. Itcould be a false indication. He eased back on the power setting. Maybethe light would go out. But it didn't. Instead he felt a surging rumbledeep in the bowels of the ship. Luminous needles danced and a second redlight flashed on.
He snapped the vidio switch and depressed the mike button.
"Astro One, this is Brandon. Over."
A steady crackling sound filled his earphones; a grid of light andshadow fluttered on the screen. A thought entered his mind. Maybe he hadput too much planet curvature between Astro and himself.
"Astro One, this is Brandon. Come in, please."
A series of muffled explosions rocked the ship. He chopped the powerback all the way and listened intently.
"May Day! May Day! Astro, this is Brandon. May Day!"
A faint voice sputtered in his ear, the face of Reinhardt, the radiomanappeared before him. "Brandon, this is Astro One. What is your position?Over."
Brandon's voice sounded strange and distant as he talked to his oxygenmask. "Heading--one-eight-zero. Approximately six hundred miles fromyou. Altitude one hundred thousand feet."
"What is the nature of your trouble, Brandon?"
Before Brandon could answer, the face of Colonel Towers appeared besidethe radioman's.
"Brandon, what're you trying to pull?"
"Engine trouble, sir. Losing altitude fast."
"Do you know the nature of the trouble?"
"Negative. Might have thrown a compressor blade. Got a fire indication,then a compressor surge. Chopped off the power."
Towers frowned. "Why didn't you use straight rocket power?"
"Never mind now. You may have encountered oxygen or hydrogen-richatmosphere--melted your compressor blades. Try an air start on straightrocket. I want that ship back, Brandon. Repeat, I want that ship back!"
"I may be able to ride it down. Get it on the deck intact."
"Try an air start, Brandon." Towers leaned forward, his eyes fixed onBrandon. "I don't want you to set foot on that planet, get me?"
But there wasn't time to try anything. The cabin was filling with fumes.Brandon looked down. A fringe of blue flame crept along between thefloor and the bottom of the pilot's capsule. A cold ache filled thecavity of his stomach.
"Too late. I'm on fire! Capsuling out. Repeat, capsuling out."
The colonel's glaring face flicked off as Brandon pushed thepre-ejection lever into the lock position severing all connectionsbetween the ship and the pilot's capsule. Brandon had a strange,detached feeling as he pushed the ejection button.
There was an explosion and the pilot's capsule shot up like a wet bar ofsoap squeezed out of a giant's hand.
The ship turned into a torch and sank beneath him. Brandon closed hiseyes for a moment.
When he opened them he was staring at the Milky Way, then the desert ashe tumbled over and over. He talked to the Milky Way.
"Ten seconds. Should wait at least ten seconds before releasing thedrogue chute so I'll clear the ship." Then he spoke to the desert. "Andmaybe another ten to give the capsule time to slow down."
He counted then pulled the chute release. Nylon streamed out behind himand snapped open with a tremendous jar. A moment later, bundles of metalribbons floated out and billowed into a giant umbrella. The last thinghe remembered was the taste of blood on his lips.
When Brandon opened his eyes he was staring at the silvery disks of thetwin moons. They were high in the sky, obscuring the center of the MilkyWay. Funny he should be lying on his back looking at the sky, hethought. Then he remembered.
The capsule was on its back and Brandon was still strapped securely tothe seat. His whole body ached. Tendons had been pulled, musclesstrained from the force of the ejection. His oxygen mask was still inplace, but his helmet hung partly loose. He adjusted it automatically,then unbuckled the seat straps. He took a deep breath. Under the oxygenmask, he was aware of dried blood clotted in his nostrils, caked aroundthe corners of his lips.
With an effort he sat up on the seat back and looked throug
Ahead of him, behind some low hills, he could see a dull red glow. Theship, he thought. Astro may already be hovering over it.
He dragged the survival kit from behind the seat and pulled out somerations, a first-aid kit, finally a tele-talkie. Raising the antenna, heplugged in the mike cord from his mask and held down the "talk" key withhis thumb.
"Astro One, this is Brandon. Come in."
As he talked a picture flickered on the screen. It was the radio room onAstro One. Colonel Towers was pacing back and forth in front of theradioman.
"Shall I keep trying to raise him?" he heard Reinhardt ask.
"Damn fool stunt," Towers sputtered.