Sparks? You seeing pink rhinoceroses again? 'Cause if you are—"
"I'm not," I told him with quiet dignity," and they aren't pink rhinos, they're lavender lobsters, and anyway, I haven't had a drink for months. Or maybe it's since yesterday? Anyhow, here's the grief." And I gave him the wire.
He read it. Read it, your Aunt Nellie—he screamed out loud.
"Uranus!" he bellowed. "This crate make that trip? They must be stark, staring mad?
"Them," I agreed, "or me. Flip a coin. What shall I do, Skipper? Tell 'em we can't do it? Tell 'em—?"
"No, wait a minute." Cap Hanson's brow looked like a freshly ploughed field. I knew why. The Saturn is an old lugger. And by old, I do mean ancient. It was built before the turn of the century, and by all laws of logic and reason should have been taken off the spaceways long ago, only that Cap Hanson and our screwball First Mate, Lancelot Biggs, had demonstrated time and time again, and in startlingly devious ways, that the old scow was still spaceworthy.
But if the Saturn were removed from active service, the chances were ten to one that Hanson would be junked with her. Which was Reason Numero Uno—and a damned good one—why the skipper couldn't risk refusing this order.
"We'll go, Sparks," he said slowly. "We've got to. But I could wring his scrawny neck, blast his jets!"
I didn't have to ask whom he meant. "Scrawny neck" would mean only one inmate of our void-perambulating asylum. Lancelot Biggs. Genius and crackpot, scarecrow and sage—and soon to become son-in-law of the skipper.
I said, "But why blame Biggs for this, Skipper? Is it his fault if the Home Office has gone squirrelly?"
"It is," grumbled Hanson savagely. "I should never have agreed to let Diane marry him. He started this mess at my house. Colonel Brophy and him was having dinner with me and Biggs told Brophy all about that new 'velocity intensifier' he invented—"
I shuddered. "You mean the gadget which got us all bolixed up in the negative universe? Till Hank Cleaver came from the past to get us out?"
"That's it. Well, he told Brophy about it, bragged that it would make the Saturn the fastest ship in the ether. And now," Hanson groaned, "just because he shot off his big face, we've to push this leaky old tin-can to Uranus!"
I said consolingly, "Well, maybe everything will be all right, Skipper. I admit Mr. Biggs is a bit of a whacky-pot, but he's pulled us out of plenty of tough spots before. Like the time he thwarted Red Hake and his pirate crew. And the time he beat the Slipstream—"
Hanson stared at me somberly.
"Nope, I guess you ain't. You couldn't have."
I said, "Which? Couldn't have what, sir?"
"You mustn't have seen Mr. Biggs on this shuttle."
It was the first time I had realized it, but he was right! And that was funny, because Mr. Biggs and I were old buddies. We were bunkmates once, even. I said, "Well, lift my gravs! Come to think of it, I haven't? Why, Skipper? I guess maybe it's on account of he's busy planning to get married so soon?"
Hanson made sounds like a man being garotted.
"Marriage! Don't talk to me about marriage! Bert, what does marriage do to a man?"
"Marriage," I replied promptly, "makes the mare go. Or, no—that's money, isn't it? I give up, sir. What?"
"It's supposed," boiled Hanson, "to