irrational concept, to say the least.
Well, not really. Let's say that it's an emotional concept. A man feels better if he has the comfortable notion that the position of the sun has something to do with the numbers on the clock. It gives him a sense of security. Only the fact that a man in the Belt—or anywhere else in the System, for that matter—is not dependent on Sol for lighting purposes makes it possible to establish a Standard Time for everyone.
Oddly enough, Greenwich Standard Time serves an emotional and religious purpose, too. It's only by the clock that a Jew can tell when the Sabbath begins; it's only by the clock a Catholic can tell when to begin his abstinence on Friday; it's only by the clock that a Moslem can tell when to begin and end the fasts of Ramadan.
And it is only by the clock that the various eight-hour work shifts can operate in the Belt. On Earth, the four-hour workday is standard, but there's a lot more work to be done in the Belt.
I got up and got dressed and took the tubeway to Viking Test Area Four, where McGuire was the ruler of the roost. The guard at the main door took one look at my pass, smiled me in, and headed for his phone as soon as I went inside. By the time I had arrived at the office of Chief Engineer Sven Midguard, the whole staff had been alerted, and the top men were waiting for me in Midguard's office.
Midguard himself met me in his outer office—a graying man in his sixties, still handsome in the telly-idol way, but running a bit to paunch now that he was approaching middle age.
"Mr. Oak! So glad to see you! So glad we could get you to help us."
"Happy to be of service," I said.
"Yes, yes, of course. Come along, come on in and meet the staff. They're ... uh ... anxious to meet you."
I'd have bet they would be. As far as they knew, I was just the guy who was supposed to take the boss' daughter to school on Luna, empowered only to make sure she didn't get into trouble, and had accidentally become McGuire's lord and master when I'd gone to take her off the ship. I was an errand boy who'd managed to get control of a spaceship that was worth millions, a layman who was holding up the work of responsible scientists and technicians. In simple words, a jerk.
In spite of the socially acceptable smiles on all their faces, every one of them managed to convey his or her opinion of me by facial expression alone when Miguard introduced me around.
Ellsworth Felder was short, big-bellied, round-faced, and slightly red-nosed, like a well-shaved Santa Claus. He was introduced as the head of the Viking robotics staff, and he shook hands firmly when he said he was glad to meet me.
Irwin Brentwood, the electronocist, was a slight, spare man with the body of a young boy and a gentle, soft tenor voice. His "How do you do, Mr. Oak" was almost apologetic, and his small hand in mine exerted more pressure than I'd expected.
Theodore Videnski looked more like a wrestler than a robotics expert. He was as tall as I was and much wider and heavier, and his expression and voice conveyed the idea that he could have lived a good deal longer without missing my acquaintance.
Vivian Devereaux was the only one of the five who gave the impression that she could, if given a chance, begin to like me. She was a tough-cored, no-nonsense, finely-muscled, alert, and very pretty woman in her late twenties—a not uncommon type in the Belt, although they usually don't come as lovely as that. The red, silver, and blue pattern of her union suit didn't at all distract my attention from the magnificently molded body beneath; I made a mental note to write a letter to the editor of a certain psychological journal. I decided that if this gal could think as good as she looked, she was probably one hell of a fine mathematician.
The conference room was small, cozy, and ringed with couches. On Earth, they would have been called padded benches, and they would have been uncomfortably hard, but you don't need innersprings and sponge rubber when your weight has dropped by ninety-seven per cent.
Midguard served coffee all around while we all kept up a patter of chatter that served to get us acquainted before we launched into deep thinking and heavy conversation.
"Well," said Midguard, when he finally sat down, "now that Mr. Oak is here, I suggest we begin scheduling our program."
There was a momentary silence, then the boyish Brentwood said, "I think we ought to explain to Mr. Oak just what our problem is."
That was generally agreed on, and for the next half hour I heard another re-run of information I already had. I just tried to look receptive and kept my mouth shut.
"... So you see," Midguard finally wound up, "in order to put McGuire through his paces, your co-operation is vitally necessary."
"The first thing to do," rumbled the barrel-chested Videnski, "is to run a verbal check on him, to see how the brain is functioning."
"His circuits should be checked, too," said Brentwood softly. "But that can be done later. I'll get my testing equipment ready, so that I can hook it in immediately after you get through with the verbal check." He looked over at Miss Deveraux. "Vivian?"
"I thought perhaps it might be quicker if we ran a few straight math checks on him before the verbal check," she said. "It wouldn't take long, and if there's anything wrong in that area, we'll know what to look for in the later checks. Would that be all right with you, Ted?"
Videnski nodded. "Certainly, certainly. Save us some backtracking, maybe."
Nobody asked me anything. I was just a tool; I was the switch that would turn on the machine these people wanted to play with, that was all. I could see a long, boring day ahead for Daniel Oak.
If anything, my prediction was short-sighted. Not only was that day boring, but so were the next three. In effect, I told McGuire that he should let the nice people into his hull and answer all their pretty questions.
After that, there was nothing much to do but stand around and watch while the others worked. Mostly, I watched Brentwood doing his circuit checks; it was a great deal more interesting to watch lights flash and meter needles wiggle and lines dancing on oscilloscope plates than it was to listen to conversations that sounded as if they'd been lifted from C. L. Dodgson's treatise on logic.
"A man is marooned on an asteroid without food or water and only one day's supply of air in the tanks of his vac suit. If there is an emergency air tank on the asteroid, it contains enough air to last him for two weeks. If there is a flare bomb on the asteroid, then there is an air tank. There is either a dismantled communicator on the asteroid or an emergency water supply, but not both. There is either an emergency food package, or flare bomb, or a single hibernine injection; or there is both an emergency food package and a flare bomb, but no hibernine. If there is an emergency water supply, it contains enough water to last the man four days. If there is a hibernine injection, then there is a dismantled communicator on the asteroid. If there is an emergency food package, there is enough in it to last him for one day, and there is a dismantled communicator, but if they are not both there, then neither is there. If there is emergency air tank, then there is an emergency water supply.
"If there is a flare bomb, he can set it off immediately, and rescue will arrive within two days. If there is a dismantled communicator, it will take the man one day to put it together before he can call for help, and rescue will arrive in an additional two days.
"If there is an emergency water tank, there is either a single hibernine