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Chapter 10
 Jed Webber came in noisily. His left foot was heavy and his left arm swung more than it should. Otherwise there wasn't much that remained of the timid awkward man of weeks ago.
Docchi looked up. "Did my calculations check?"
Webber grinned. "I thought they would but I wanted to be sure. It's one of the Centauris."
"Is that as close as you can come?"
"With that telescope it is. It's pretty wobbly. Who made it, anyway?"
"I did."
Webber grinned again. "In that case it's pretty damned good." With difficulty Webber kept himself from looking down but Docchi could see that his real foot was wriggling.
"Thanks. Did you get an estimate of the speed?"
Webber grunted. "Not a spectroscope on the place and without one how can I measure the light shift?" He rubbed his arm slowly. "Unless you made one of those too and have it stored away."
"I don't. I made the telescope when I first came here. I didn't see that it proved anything even to myself so I stopped." Docchi thought briefly. "There's an analyzer in the medical lab. You can borrow it but don't change it in any way. We can't risk ruining the only means we have of checking our synthetics."
"We don't have to know how fast we're going. We'll get there just as soon. I'll look into that analyzer after my work period. There's a chance it will do what I want it to."
"What you're doing is work. You don't have to put in more hours than anyone else."
Webber smiled unhappily. "Oh—I'm as lazy as the next person. We're short handed in hard labor. I thought I'd fill in for a while."
The reference was what he'd expect from Webber, not at all subtle. "You mean that there's criticism over the shortage of geepees?"
"I didn't want to say anything—but yes, there is."
"I've heard the same complaint. You're not revealing something I don't know." Docchi leaned back. "To you it seems like ingratitude and I suppose it is. More than anyone else Nona is responsible for what we've achieved. I don't object to anything she wants—twice as many geepees if she needs them and we have them. We'll get it back in ways we didn't expect."
"I agree. But not everyone feels the same way."
"It doesn't hurt. In times of hardship everyone complains, and they may as well direct it at her. Actually it's a measure of how important they feel she is—and the accusations are so ill-founded they can't believe them themselves."
Webber got up. For the first time since he entered the mechanical and muscular halves of his body failed to coordinate. "You're right. I thought if I had something to tell them they'd be less uncertain."
"Perhaps they would, for a while. I'm not keeping secrets. The truth is I don't know what she's using the geepees for."
If the explanation failed to be completely convincing it was because Webber didn't want to believe. There were others like him. He didn't blame anyone for wanting an accounting for every piece of equipment on the asteroid. And yet the attitude was an advantage. Discontent, real or fancied, wouldn't become a problem as long as it was openly displayed. There would be time to worry if Webber didn't mention his dissatisfaction. Docchi watched him leave and then bent over his work.
A few hours and a score of unimportant details later Cameron hurried in. "Need a couple of lab workers," he said on entering.
"I thought Jeriann was doing all right."
"She is—indispensable. We can't have that. Suppose she should get sick? I want her to teach someone else the synthesizers. She's got too much on her hands."
Docchi hooked his knee on a corner of the desk and tilted the chair back. "Sounds reasonable. Do you have anyone in mind?"
"Jeriann says two women have worked with her in the past. She won't have to start from scratch. She'll give you their names." Cameron rifled the files and jotted down the information. He folded the sheet, stuffing it in his pocket. "Here's something for you. We've reduced the unsolved deficients to three. All the rest we can synthesize for."
From forty-two to nine and now it was three. It was all the progress they could hope for, and much of it was due to Cameron. He had misjudged the doctor's reasons for staying and he was thankful he could admit it to himself. The man was sincere—and he was also very fond of Nona.
Coupled with an increased food supply the major hazards were vanishing. Power, of course, never had been a problem and never would be. There was only one small doubt that remained and though there was no basis for it he couldn't get it out of his mind. He wished there was some way to reassure himself.
"We weren't able to replace everything the deficients need," Cameron was saying. "However they'll get along on what we manufacture."
"Then they're still deficients?"
"Hardly," said Cameron. "The body's more versatile than you think. Long ago it was learned that certain vitamins can be created in the body from simpler substances.
"In several cases we're depending on an analogous process. We supply simple compounds and depend on the body to put it together. Afterwards, when we checked, the body did create the new substance."
"Good. When will you take the remaining three off the emergency list?"
"Two are minor. It doesn't matter when we get to them as long as it's within the next few years."
He didn't have to be told who the third was. Maureen. He'd all but forgotten her. It was the doctor's responsibility, but he didn't feel that way.
"She's not causing trouble," emphasized Cameron. "Daily she is growing more feminine and we'd have positive proof of it except that we've taken steps."
"Confinement?"
"No, except the solitude of her mind. Hypnotics. We tell her she's getting the regular injections and it's these which cause her to want to be left alone."
It was more stringent than he cared for but he didn't have a better suggestion. "How long can she continue on hypnotics?"
"Depends. The reaction varies with the person. She can tolerate quite a bit more."
Docchi's face darkened. "You said you can't transfer tissue from any of us. Is that also true of hormones concentrated from blood donations?"
"Let's put it this way: blood won't help Maureen at all. We can't extract the complete hormone spectrum from blood—the basic factors she must have to utilize the rest just don't exist there. If I thought it would help I'd have asked for donations long ago."
Docchi tried to shut out the pictures that were coming fast. Maureen alone in a room in which she had darkened the windows so she wouldn't look outside. The door would swing open at the touch of her hand, but she would never touch it. The lock was intangible and hence unbreakable. It would break when her mind broke.
"That's all you've planned," said Docchi, "wait and see what happens?"
"Hardly. I'm having Jeriann work solely on synthesizing those hormone fractions we can't extract from blood. If she gets even a few we'll call for blood and between the two sources we'll have Maureen out of trouble."
Docchi refrained from asking what chance of success Jeriann had. It might be better not to know. Before he could question the doctor further Jordan wandered in, buoyant and cheerful. Tacitly they let the subject of Maureen drop.
"Where have you been the last few days?" said Cameron. "I've been wanting you to fix some of my equipment."
"I've been busy tearing down a robot."
"That's important but the hospital comes first," said Docchi.
"Not before this one," said Jordan. "It was erratic and I had to get out those faulty circuits before it decided to look into a nuclear pile. If I'd let it go there might be no robot, power plant or asteroid. Not to mention a hospital."
"You're exaggerating."
"No I'm not. You should have seen it. It had more curiosity than—well, Anti."
"Or you?" suggested Docchi, smiling faintly at the man's good nature. "Get to the doctor's equipment when you can."
"I'm not in a real hurry," said Cameron. "By the way, I saw Anti yesterday. She's coming along nicely with your treatment, looking almost human."
"She always did seem human to me," said Jordan.
"Sorry. No offense."
"Sure, I know. It was a compliment." The tension left Jordan again; he was relaxed and easy. "Anyway, you should see her today. Better yet. I don't have to rig the scale in her favor. I can let her read the honest figures."
"Good. But don't overdo the encouragement. It will make it harder when she finds she won't be walking for years."
"She'll be up long before you think," said Jordan mildly but the doctor chuckled at the wrong time and the mildness vanished. Jordan had come to tell them but now he couldn't. Cameron thought he was good and so he was but he forgot he wasn't dealing with ordinary people. His rules just didn't apply to Anti, nor to Nona, Jordan, or even the spectacularly useless robot. The doctor didn't understand and because of that he'd have to wait, Docchi too.
"I discovered where Nona does most of her work these days," Jordan muttered. He described where it was, omitting the details of how he got there. He was also careful not to mention anything he saw.
Cameron looked out the window as Jordan talked. "Glad you told me," he said. "I've been meaning to see what I could do for her. It might help if I watched her working."
"Very ordinary," said Jordan. "She putters around—but things fall together when she touches them."
"I imagine. I've seen great surgeons operate." Cameron gathered up his notes and left.
Jordan lingered for a while trying to make up his mind whether to tell Docchi what he had refrained from discussing while the doctor was present. He wanted to, but the longer he kept it to himself the harder it was to share. Eventually Docchi tired of chatting and bent over his work and Jordan wandered out, his secret still safe, too safe.
Docchi stopped foggily when he was alone again. Cameron would soon be trying to help Nona. Somebody had to and he, Docchi, couldn't. It was enough to settle all the prosaic details that must be attended to if the place were to function properly.
It was a relief to know that he no longer be concerned about her. Nevertheless a certain grayness descended that didn't lift until Jeriann came in to check on a patient's file.
 


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