Chapter 8.

12 Feb

A vacancy was found for Quio at a nearby hotel by the amanuensis of Sagaza. The aviator transmitted a psychogram to Oba and Shan, telling them he would not be returning to the capital until he had concrete results to report. A short trip to a local emporium provided him extra clothes and personal necessities for an indefinite period ahead in Lix.

A surprise awaited Quio when he returned to his room after shopping. The Chief of Research was waiting for him in the lobby of the hotel.

“I brought you some recent studies and reports on aerial fuels,” she told him. “You can look them over later. First, I am taking you to dinner at my favorite eatery. Do you like algoid cuisine?”

“I love it,” he declared. “With kelp and seaweed, it is delicious.”

“You shall be my special guest tonight, then,” she said with a shining smile. “Tomorrow we begin working on the fuel you are after.”

Oba felt some apprehension, but was unable to give it any specific identity. Quio would be engaged in Lix for an indefinite length of time. She would not see him and he would not see her. There were to be no psychic communications until the fuel question had a satisfactory answer or he returned in failure.

The realization dawned on her that Quio had become the axis about which her life and emotions rotated. He had become her everything, the center of her life.

She was surprised when Shan Dene dispatched her a psychogram.

“Can I meet you tonight to talk about the situation we face with Quio temporarily away?” he asked her. His tone was soft and sympathetic.

Oba invited him to come to her flat for supper, which she herself would prepare.

This gave both of them the opportunity to open up to each other as never before.

A psychic shamus has to be attentive to all communications coming and going forth from a person under scrutiny. That meant that a team of telepaths maintained constant watch, night and day, over Oba Kmoun. Even when the pair knew that she was asleep, the mental surveillance had to continue in case of sudden awakening or some stray messaging. Endless vigilance was required by a telepathic detective.

The knowledge that Quio was in the suburb of Lix in order to explore possible voidal fuels was placed in a written report and delivered to the one who was paying for the surveillance. Damo Absum now had something to raise his level of worry. What if his relative found some new propellant there? That would have disturbing consequences.

He decided to take precautionary action, just in case.

“Send a two-man team to Lix and keep them glued to the engineer,” he commanded the head of his hired watchers. “I have to know what all his transmissions from there contain and what he might be engaged in.”

The eavesdroppers left for the suburb at once.

Sagaza was full of ideas about where to carry out the search for alternatives. She outlined her plan to Quio in her office early each morning.

“We are hunting for a substance that is condensed and concentrated, with the maximum amount of fuel energy per unit. I was considering something similar to the explosive tetryl, which is in crystal form. But it is volatile and the danger will be too great.

“Then I thought of carbinol, but the same objection arose in that instance as well. There is no easy answer to the requirement for both safety and economy. But I continue to hunt for the right choice. It may end up being something unexpected today.”

“A surprise, then?” said Quio. “Something unforeseen?”

“Exactly. An unknown factor that we may stumble upon almost by chance.”

“I came across several ammonium compounds in my reading,” noted Quio. “There is a lot of reference to ammonium nitrate and the explosive called ammonite.”

“They are too hazardous to be used in any engine. But this interest of yours in explosives made me consider a new angle on the problem. Perhaps the best solution is a hypergolic one.”

“A what?” said the aerial engineer, not sure what she meant.

“That is a term that refers to a situation of two substances that only ignite when brought together. If kept separate in isolation, they are not capable of doing anything. Only if mixed together is there combustion that might fuel an engine.”

“That is interesting and deserves looking into,” he responded. “Let me study what the literature says about it.”

“The solution may be a hypergol of two different materials,” concluded Sagaza, her voice firm and convincing.

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