Child, it was, of the now ancient H-bomb. New. Untested. Would its terrible power sweep the stark Saturnian moon of Titan from space ... or miraculously create a flourishing paradise-colony?
Under the glow of Saturn and his Rings, five of the airdomes of the new colony on Titan were still inflated. They were enormous bubbles of clear, flexible plastic. But the sixth airdome had flattened. And beneath its collapsed roof, propped now by metal rods, a dozen men in spacesuits had just lost all hope of rescuing the victims of the accident.
Bert Kraskow, once of Oklahoma City, more recently a space-freighter pilot, and now officially just a colonist, was among them. His small, hard body sagged, as if by weariness. His lips curled. But his full anger and bitterness didn't show.
"Nine dead," he remarked into the radio-phone of his oxygen helmet. "No survivors." And then, inaudibly, inside his mind: "I'm a stinkin' fool. Why didn't we act against Space Colonists' Supply Incorporated, before this could happen?"
His gaze swung back to the great rent that had opened in a seam in the airdome--under only normal Earthly atmospheric pressure, when it should have been able to withstand much more. Instantly the warmed air had rushed out into the near-vacuum of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Those who had been working the night-shift under the dome, to set up prefabricated cottages, had discarded their spacesuits for better freedom of movement. It was the regulation thing to do; always considered safe. But they had been caught by the sudden dropping of pressure around them to almost zero. And by the terrible cold of the Titanian night.
For a grief-stricken second Bert Kraskow looked down again at the body beside which he stood. You could hardly see that the face had been young. The eyes popped. The pupils were white, like ice. The fluid within had frozen. The mouth hung open. In the absence of normal air-pressure, the blood in the body had boiled for a moment, before the cold had congealed it.
"Your kid brother, Nick, eh, Bert?" an air-conditioning mechanic named Lawler said, almost in a whisper. "About twenty years old, hunh?"
"Eighteen," Bert Kraskow answered into his helmet-phones as he spread the youth's coat over the distorted face.
Old Stan Kraskow, metal-worker, was there, too. Bert's and Nick's dad. He was blubbering. There wasn't much that anybody could do for him. And for the other dead, there were other horrified mourners. Some of them had been half nuts from homesickness, and the sight of harsh, voidal stars, even before this tragedy had happened.
It was Lawler who first cut loose, cursing. He was a big, apish man, with a certain fiery eloquence.
"Damned, lousy, stinkin' obsolete equipment!" he snarled. "Breathe on it and it falls apart! Under old Bill Lauren, Space Colonists' Supply used to make good, honest stuff. I worked with it on Mars and the moons of Jupiter. But now look what the firm is turning out under Trenton Lauren, old Bill's super-efficient son! He was so greedy for quick profits in the new Titan colonization project, and so afraid of being scooped by new methods of making these fizzled-out worlds livable, that he didn't even take time to have his products decently inspected! And that, after not being able to recognize progress! Hell! Where is that dumb, crawlin' boob?"