The Pirates of Ersatz-Sixty-Three

The Pirates of Ersatz-Sixty-Three

Before their eyes he turned out an irrigation pump on an automatic shaper. He showed them that the shaper went on, by itself, making other pumps without further instructions than the by-hand control of the tools that formed the first.

The mechanics stirred uneasily. They had watched without comprehension. Now they listened without enthusiasm. Their eyes were like those of children who watch marvels without comprehension.

He made a sledge whose runners slid on air between themselves and whatever object would otherwise have touched them. It was practically frictionless. He made a machine to make nails–utterly simple. He made a power hammer which hummed and pushed nails into any object that needed to be nailed. He made–

He stopped abruptly, and sat down with his head in his hands. The people of the fleet faced so overwhelming a catastrophe that they could not see into it. They could only experience it. As their leader would have been unable to answer questions about the fleet’s predicament before he’d poured out the tale in the form it had taken in his mind, now these mechanics were unable to see ahead. They were paralyzed by the completeness of the disaster before them. They could live until the supplies of the fleet gave out. They could not grow fresh supplies without jungle-breaking machinery. They had to have jungle-breaking machinery. They could not imagine wanting anything less than jungle-breaking machinery–Hoddan raised his head. The mechanics looked dully at him.

“You men do maintenance?” he asked. “You repair things when they wear out on the ships? Have you run out of some materials you need for repairs?”

After a long time a tired-looking man said slowly:

“On the ship I come from, we’re having trouble. Our hydroponic garden keeps the air fresh, o’course. But the water-circulation pipes are gone. Rusted through. We haven’t got any pipe to fix them with. We have to keep the water moving with buckets.”

Hoddan got up. He looked about him. He hadn’t brought hydroponic-garden pipe supplies! And there was no raw material. He took a pair of power snips and cut away a section of cargo space wall-lining. He cut it into strips. He asked the diameter of the pipe. Before their eyes he made pipe–spirally wound around a mandril and line-welded to solidity.

“I need some of that on my ship,” said another man.

The bearded man said heavily:

“We’ll make some and send it to the ships that need it.”

“No,” said Hoddan. “We’ll send the tools to make it. We can make the tools here. There must be other kinds of repairs that can’t be made. With the machines I’ve brought, we’ll make the tools to make the repairs. Picture-tape machines have reels that show exactly how to do it.”

[Illustration]

It was a new idea. The mechanics had other and immediate problems beside the overall disaster of the fleet. Pumps that did not work. Motors that heated up. They could envision the meeting of those problems, and they could envision the obtaining of jungle-plows. But they could not imagine anything in between. They were capable of learning how to make tools for repairs.

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