The weary little Fleet started off again, making a long leap to avoid
unpromising systems, then traveling on again. Three months passed and
nothing seemed to go well for them. Again and again aged equipment on
one ship or another broke down, forcing them to spend many days in
barren systems until repairs were made and they could head off again.
They entered a system made up of three gaseous giants.
2 "Unusual," remarked North, "for there to be no inner planets. You'd
think there would be some, at least, planetoids! Again another system
that seems to have been swept of all loose matter, like the old inner
systems of The Empire. Yet even in those there were planetoids. All
these empty systems ....it gives me the creeps! We're wandering further
and further out into this spiral arm."
3 "Well, if the system was swept," snapped Firing Control, "they missed
something. There's millions of pure metal chunks orbiting the planetoid
circling the gaseous giant nearest the sun."
4 "Pure metal?" North asked.
5 "Yes," the Officer continued, "if my readings are correct pure
copper, zinc, nickel and steel."
6 The Voice walked over to the firing control panel. "Steel," he
remarked, "is not a natural substance. It is produced from iron, but
he's right! Floating about that planet are massive quantities of pure
7 "I think we'd better go in and have a look!" North announced. "Firing
Control, see if you can determine how much steel is present."
8 A few hours later Firing Control announced, "There's enough steel
orbiting to build an object three times our size. There is enough zinc,
nickel, and copper to build an entire ship of our class. I have also
now detected large amounts of organic compounds and silicon."
9 There was little doubt to those on the command