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´╗┐Title: Subspace Survivors
Author: Smith, E. E. (Edward Elmer), 1890-1965
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Subspace Survivors" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



      +--------------------------------------------------------------+
      | Transcriber's Notes and Errata                               |
      |                                                              |
      | This e-text was produced from Astounding Science Fact and    |
      | Fiction, July 1960. Extensive research did not uncover any   |
      | evidence that the U. S. copyright on this publication was    |
      | renewed.                                                     |
      |                                                              |
      | A few typographical errors have been marked in the text with |
      | a nearby footnote.                                           |
      |                                                              |
      | There was one instance each of 'hyperspace' and              |
      | 'hyper-space'. There was one instance of 'hook-up' and one   |
      | of 'hookups'. These hyphenations were not changed.           |
      +--------------------------------------------------------------+



SUBSPACE SURVIVORS

by

EDWARD E. SMITH, Ph. D.

Illustrated by van Dongen



  +--------------------------------------------------------------+
  | _There has always been, and will always be, the problem of   |
  | surviving the experience that any trained expert can handle  |
  | ... when there hasn't been any first survivor to be an       |
  | expert! When no one has ever gotten back to explain what     |
  | happened...._                                                |
  +--------------------------------------------------------------+


I.

"All passengers, will you[1] pay attention, please?" All the
high-fidelity speakers of the starship _Procyon_ spoke as one, in the
skillfully-modulated voice of the trained announcer. "This is the fourth
and last cautionary announcement. Any who are not seated will seat
themselves at once. Prepare for take-off acceleration of one and
one-half gravities; that is, everyone will weigh one-half again as much
as his normal Earth weight for about fifteen minutes. We lift in twenty
seconds; I will count down the final five seconds.... Five ... Four ...
Three ... Two ... One ... Lift!"

    [1] Transcriber's Note: The original read "will pay attention,
    please?"

[Illustration]

The immense vessel rose from her berth; slowly at first, but with
ever-increasing velocity; and in the main lounge, where many of the
passengers had gathered to watch the dwindling Earth, no one moved for
the first five minutes. Then a girl stood up.

She was not a startlingly beautiful girl; no more so than can be seen
fairly often, of a summer afternoon, on Seaside Beach. Her hair was an
artificial yellow. Her eyes were a deep, cool blue. Her skin, what could
be seen of it--she was wearing breeches and a long-sleeved shirt--was
lightly tanned. She was only about five-feet-three, and her build was
not spectacular. However, every ounce of her one hundred fifteen pounds
was exactly where it should have been.

First she stood tentatively, flexing her knees and testing her weight.
Then, stepping boldly out into a clear space, she began to do a
high-kicking acrobatic dance; and went on doing it as effortlessly and
as rhythmically as though she were on an Earthly stage.

"You mustn't _do_ that, Miss!" A stewardess came bustling up. Or,
rather, not exactly bustling. Very few people, and almost no
stewardesses, either actually bustle in or really enjoy one point five
gees. "You really _must_ resume your seat, Miss. I must insist.... Oh,
you're Miss Warner...."

She paused.

"That's right, Barbara Warner. Cabin two eight one."

"But really, Miss Warner, it's regulations, and if you should fall...."

"Foosh to regulations, and _pfui_ on 'em. I won't fall. I've been
wondering, every time out, if I could do a thing, and now I'm going to
find out."

Jackknifing double, she put both forearms flat on the carpet and lifted
both legs into the vertical. Then, silver slippers pointing motionlessly
ceilingward, she got up onto her hands and walked twice around a vacant
chair. She then performed a series of flips that would have done credit
to a professional acrobat; the finale of which left her sitting calmly
in the previously empty seat.

"See?" she informed the flabbergasted stewardess. "I _could_ do it, and
I didn't...."

Her voice was drowned out in a yell of approval as everybody who could
clap their hands did so with enthusiasm. "More!" "Keep it up, gal!" "Do
it again!"

"Oh, I didn't do that to show off!" Barbara Warner flushed hotly as she
met the eyes of the nearby spectators. "Honestly I didn't--I just _had_
to know if I could." Then, as the applause did not die down, she fairly
scampered out of the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

For one hour before the _Procyon's_ departure from Earth and for three
hours afterward, First Officer Carlyle Deston, Chief Electronicist, sat
attentively at his board. He was five feet eight inches tall and weighed
one hundred sixty-two pounds net. Just a little guy, as spacemen go.
Although narrow-waisted and, for his heft, broad-shouldered, he was
built for speed and maneuverability, not to haul freight.

Watching a hundred lights and half that many instruments, listening to
two phone circuits, one with each ear, and hands moving from switches to
rheostats to buttons and levers, he was completely informed as to the
instant-by-instant status of everything in his department.

Although attentive, he was not tense, even during the countdown. The
only change was that at the word "Two" his right forefinger came to rest
upon a red button and his eyes doubled their rate of scan. If anything
in his department had gone wrong, the _Procyon_'s departure would have
been delayed.

And again, well out beyond the orbit of the moon, just before the
starship's mighty Chaytor engines hurled her out of space as we know it
into that unknowable something that is hyperspace, he poised a finger.
But Immergence, too, was normal; all the green lights except one went
out, needles dropped to zero, both phones went dead, all signals
stopped. He plugged a jack into a socket below the one remaining green
light and spoke:

"Procyon One to Control Six. Flight Eight Four Nine. Subspace Radio Test
One. How do you read me, Control Six?"

"Control Six to Procyon One. I read you ten and zero. How do you read
me, Procyon One?"

"Ten and zero. Out." Deston flipped a toggle and the solitary green
light went out.

Perfect signal and zero noise. That was that. From now until
Emergence--unless something happened--he might as well be a passenger.
Everything was automatic, unless and until some robot or computer yelled
for help. Deston leaned back in his bucket seat and lighted a cigarette.
He didn't need to scan the board constantly now; any trouble signal
would jump right out at him.

Promptly at Dee plus Three Zero Zero--three hours, no minutes, no
seconds after departure--his relief appeared.

"All black, Babe?" the newcomer asked.

"As the pit, Eddie. Take over." Eddie did so. "You've picked out your
girl friend for the trip, I suppose?"

"Not yet. I got sidetracked watching Bobby Warner. She was doing
handstands and handwalks and forward and back flips in the lounge--under
one point five gees yet. _Wow!_ And after that all the other women
looked like a dime's worth of catmeat. She doesn't stand out too much
until she starts to move, but then--Oh, _brother_!" Eddie rolled his
eyes, made motions with his hands, and whistled expressively. "Talk
about poetry in motion! Just walking across a stage, she'd bring down
the house and stop the show cold in its tracks."

"O. K., O. K., don't blow a fuse," Deston said, resignedly. "I know.
You'll love her undyingly; all this trip, maybe. So bring her up, next
watch, and I'll give her a gold badge. As usual."

"You ... how _dumb_ can you get?" Eddie demanded. "D'you think I'd even
_try_ to play footsie with _Barbara Warner_?"

"You'd play footsie with the Archangel Michael's sister if she'd let
you; and she probably would. So who's Barbara Warner?"

Eddie Thompson gazed at his superior pityingly. "I know you're ten nines
per cent monk, Babe, but I _did_ think you pulled your nose out of the
megacycles often enough to learn a _few_ of the facts of life. Did you
ever hear of Warner Oil?"

"I think so." Deston thought for a moment. "Found a big new field,
didn't they? In South America somewhere?"

"Just the biggest on Earth, is all. And not only on Earth. He operates
in all the systems for a hundred parsecs around, and he never sinks a
dry hole. Every well he drills is a gusher that blows the rig clear up
into the stratosphere. Everybody wonders how he does it. My guess is
that his wife's an oil-witch, which is why he lugs his whole family
along wherever he goes. Why else would he?"

"Maybe he loves her. It happens, you know."

"Huh?" Eddie snorted. "After twenty years of her? Comet-gas! Anyway,
would _you_ have the sublime gall to make passes at Warner Oil's
heiress, with more millions in her own sock than you've got dimes?"

"I don't make passes."

"That's right, you don't. Only at books and tapes, even on ground
leaves; more fool you. Well, then, would you _marry_ anybody like that?"

"Certainly, if I loved...." Deston paused, thought a moment, then went
on: "Maybe I wouldn't, either. She'd make me dress for dinner. She'd
probably have a live waiter; maybe even a butler. So I guess I wouldn't,
at that."

"You nor me neither, brother. But _what_ a dish! What a lovely,
luscious, toothsome _dish_!" Eddie mourned.

"You'll be raving about another one tomorrow," Deston said, unfeelingly,
as he turned away.

"I don't know; but even if I do, _she_ won't be anything like _her_,"
Eddie said, to the closing door.

And Deston, outside the door, grinned sardonically to himself. Before
his next watch, Eddie would bring up one of the prettiest girls aboard
for a gold badge; the token that would let her--under approved escort,
of course--go through the Top.

He himself never went down to the Middle, which was passenger territory.
There was nothing there he wanted. He was too busy, had too many
worthwhile things to do, to waste time that way ... but the hunch was
getting stronger and stronger all the time. For the first time in all
his three years of deep-space service he felt an overpowering urge to go
down into the very middle of the Middle; to the starship's main lounge.

He knew that his hunches were infallible. At cards, dice, or wheels he
had always had hunches and he had always won. That was why he had
stopped gambling, years before, before anybody found out. He was that
kind of a man.

Apart from the matter of unearned increment, however, he always followed
his hunches; but this one he did not like at all. He had been resisting
it for hours, because he had never visited the lounge and did not want
to visit it now. But _something_ down there was pulling like a tractor,
so he went. He didn't go to his cabin; didn't even take off his
side-arm. He didn't even think of it; the .41 automatic at his hip was
as much a part of his uniform as his pants.

Entering the lounge, he did not have to look around. She was playing
bridge, and as eyes met eyes and she rose to her feet a shock-wave swept
through him that made him feel as though his every hair was standing
straight on end.

"Excuse me, please," she said to the other three at her table. "I must
go now." She tossed her cards down onto the table and walked straight
toward him; eyes still holding eyes.

He backed hastily out into the corridor, and as the door closed behind
her they went naturally and wordlessly into each other's arms. Lips met
lips in a kiss that lasted for a long, long time. It was not a
passionate embrace--passion would come later--it was as though each of
them, after endless years of bootless, fruitless longing, had come
finally home.

"Come with me, dear, where we can talk," she said, finally; eying with
disfavor the half-dozen highly interested spectators.

And a couple of minutes later, in cabin two hundred eighty-one, Deston
said: "So _this_ is why I had to come down into passenger territory. You
came aboard at exactly zero seven forty-three."

"Uh-uh." She shook her yellow head. "A few minutes before that. That was
when I read your name in the list of officers on the board. First
Officer, Carlyle Deston. I got a tingle that went from the tips of my
toes up and out through the very ends of my hair. Nothing like when we
actually saw each other, of course. We both knew the truth, then. It's
wonderful that you're so strongly psychic, too."

"I don't know about that," he said, thoughtfully. "All my training has
been based on the axiomatic fact that the map is _not_ the territory.
Psionics, as I understand it, holds that the map is--practically--the
territory, but can't prove it. So I simply don't know _what_ to believe.
On one hand, I have had real hunches all my life. On the other, the
signal doesn't carry much information. More like hearing a siren when
you're driving along a street. You know you have to pull over and stop,
but that's all you know. It could be police, fire ambulance--_anything_.
Anybody with any psionic ability at all ought to do a lot better than
that, I should think."

"Not necessarily. You've been fighting it. Ninety-nine per cent of your
mind doesn't _want_ to believe it; is dead set against it. So it has to
force its way through whillions and skillions of ohms of resistance, so
only the most powerful stimuli--'maximum signal' in your jargon,
perhaps?--can get through to you at all." Suddenly she giggled like a
schoolgirl. "You're either psychic or the biggest wolf in the known
universe, and I know you aren't a wolf. If you hadn't been as psychic as
I am, you'd've jumped clear out into subspace when a perfectly strange
girl attacked you."

"How do you know so much about me?"

"I made it a point to. One of the juniors told me you're the only virgin
officer in all space."

"That was Eddie Thompson."

"Uh-huh." She nodded brightly.

"Well, is that bad?"

"Anything else but. That is, he thought it was terrible--outrageous--a
betrayal of the whole officer caste--but to me it makes everything just
absolutely perfect."

"Me, too. How soon can we get married?"

"I'd say right now, except...." She caught her lower lip between her
teeth and thought. "No, no 'except'. Right now, or as soon as you can.
You can't, without resigning, can you? They'd fire you?"

"Don't worry about that," he grinned. "My record is good enough, I
think, to get a good ground job. Even if they fire me for not waiting
until we ground, there's lots of jobs. I can support you, sweetheart."

"Oh, I know you can. I wasn't thinking of _that_. You wouldn't _like_ a
ground job."

"What difference does that make?" he asked, in honest surprise. "A man
grows up. I couldn't have you with me in space, and I'd like that a lot
less. No, I'm done with space, as of now. But what was that 'except'
business?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"I thought at first I'd tell my parents first--they're both aboard--but
I decided not to. She'd scream bloody murder and he'd roar like a lion
and none of it would make me change my mind, so we'll get married
first."

He looked at her questioningly; she shrugged and went on: "We aren't
what you'd call a happy family. She's been trying to make me marry an
old goat of a prince and I finally told her to go roll her hoop--to get
a divorce and marry the foul old beast herself. And to consolidate two
empires, he's been wanting me to marry a multi-billionaire--who is also
a louse and a crumb and a heel. Last week he _insisted_ on it and I blew
up like an atomic bomb. I told him if I got married a thousand times I'd
pick every one of my husbands myself, without the least bit of help from
either him or her. I'd keep on finding oil and stuff for him, I said,
but that was all...."

"_Oil_!" Deston exclaimed, involuntarily, as everything fell into place
in his mind. The way she walked; poetry in motion ... the oil-witch ...
two empires ... more millions than he had dimes.... "Oh, you're Barbara
Warner, then."

"Why, of course; but my friends call me 'Bobby'. Didn't you--but of
course you didn't--you never read passenger lists. If you did, you'd've
got a tingle, too."

"I got plenty of tingle without reading, believe me. However, I never
expected to----"

"Don't say it, dear!" She got up and took both his hands in hers. "I
know how you feel. I don't like to let you ruin your career, either, but
_nothing_ can separate us, now that we've found each other. So I'll tell
you this." Her eyes looked steadily into his. "If it bothers you the
least bit, later on, I'll give every dollar I own to some foundation or
other, I swear it."

He laughed shamefacedly as he took her in his arms. "Since that's the
way _you_ look at it, it won't bother me a bit."

"Uh-huh, you _do_ mean it." She snuggled her head down into the curve of
his neck. "I can tell."

"I know you can, sweetheart." Then he had another thought, and with
strong, deft fingers he explored the muscles of her arms and back. "But
those acrobatics in plus gee--and you're trained down as hard and fine
as I am, and it's my business to be--how come?"

"I majored in Physical Education and I love it. And I'm a Newmartian,
you know, so I teach a few courses----"

"Newmartian? I've heard--but you aren't a colonial; you're as Terran as
I am."

"By blood, yes; but I was born on Newmars. Our actual and legal
residence has always been there. The tax situation, you know."

"I don't know, no. Taxes don't bother me much. But go ahead. You teach a
few courses. In?"

"Oh, bars, trapeze, ground-and-lofty tumbling, acrobatics, aerialistics,
high-wire, muscle-control, judo--all that kind of thing."

"Ouch! So if you ever happen to accidentally get mad at me you'll tie me
right up into a pretzel?"

"I doubt it; very seriously. I've tossed lots of two-hundred-pounders
around, of course, but they were _not_ space officers." She laughed
unaffectedly as she tested his musculature much more professionally and
much more thoroughly than he had tested hers. "Definitely I couldn't. A
good big man can always take a good little one, you know."

"But I'm not big; I'm just a little squirt. You've probably heard what
they call me?"

"Yes, and I'm going to call you 'Babe', too, and mean it the same way
they do. Besides, who wants a man a foot taller than she is and twice as
big? You're just _exactly_ the right size!"

"That's spreading the good old oil, Bobby, but I'll never tangle with
you if I can help it. Buzz-saws are small, too, and sticks of dynamite.
Shall we go hunt up the parson--or should it be a priest? Or a rabbi?"

"Even _that_ doesn't make a particle of difference to you."

"Of course not. How could it?"

"A parson, please." Then, with a bright, quick grin: "We _have_ got a
lot to learn about each other, haven't we?"

"Some details, of course, but nothing of any importance and we'll have
plenty of time to learn them."

"And we'll love every second of it. You'll live down here in the Middle
with me, won't you, all the time you aren't actually on duty?"

"I can't imagine doing anything else," and the two set out, arms around
each other, to find a minister. And as they strolled along:

"Of course you won't actually _need_ a job, ever, or my money, either.
You never even thought of dowsing, did you?"

"Dowsing? Oh, that witch stuff. Of course not."

"Listen, darling. All the time I've been touching you I've been learning
about you. And you've been learning about me."

"Yes, but----"

"No buts, buster. You have really tremendous powers, and they _aren't_
latent, either. All you have to do is quit fighting them and _use_ them.
You're ever so much stronger and fuller than I am. All I can do at
dowsing is find water, oil, coal, and gas. I'm no good at all on
metals--I couldn't feel gold if I were perched right on the roof of Fort
Knox; I couldn't feel radium if it were frying me to a crisp. But I'm
_positive_ that you can tune yourself to anything you want to find."

He didn't believe it, and the argument went on until they reached the
"Reverend's" quarters. Then, of course, it was dropped automatically;
and the next five days were deliciously, deliriously, ecstatically happy
days for them both.


II.

At the time of this chronicle the status of interstellar flight was very
similar to that of intercontinental jet-plane flight in the
nineteen-sixties. Starships were designed by humanity's best brains;
carried every safety device those brains could devise. They were
maintained and serviced by ultra-skilled, ultra-trained, ultra-able
crews; they were operated by the _creme-de-la-creme_ of manhood. Only a
man with an extremely capable mind in an extremely capable body could
become an officer of a subspacer.

Statistically, starships were the safest means of transportation ever
used by man; so safe that Very Important Persons used them regularly,
unthinkingly, and as a matter of course. Statistically, the starships'
fatality rate per million passenger-light-years was a small fraction of
that of the automobiles' per million passenger-miles. Insurance
companies offered odds of tens of thousands to one that any given
star-traveler would return unharmed from any given star-trip he cared to
make.

Nevertheless, accidents happened. A chillingly large number of lives
had, as a total, been lost; and no catastrophe had ever been even
partially explained. No message of distress or call for help had ever
been received. No single survivor had ever been found; nor any piece of
wreckage.

And on the Great Wheel of Fate the _Procyon_'s number came up.

In the middle of the night Carlyle Deston came instantaneously
awake--feeling with his every muscle and with his every square inch of
skin; listening with all the force he could put into his auditory
nerves; while deep down in his mind a huge, terribly silent voice
continued to yell: "DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!"

In a very small fraction of a second Carlyle Deston moved--and fast.
Seizing Barbara by an arm, he leaped out of bed with her.

"We're abandoning ship--get into this suit--quick!"

"But what ... but I've _got_ to dress!"

"No time! Snap it up!" He practically hurled her into her suit; clamped
her helmet tight. Then he leaped into his own. "Skipper!" he snapped
into the suit's microphone. "Deston. Emergency! Abandon ship!"

The alarm bells clanged once; the big red lights flashed once; the
sirens barely started to growl, then quit. The whole vast fabric of the
ship trembled and shuddered and shook as though it were being mauled by
a thousand impossibly gigantic hammers. Deston did not know and never
did find out whether it was his captain or an automatic that touched off
the alarm. Whichever it was, the disaster happened so fast that
practically no warning at all was given. And out in the corridor:

"Come on, girl--sprint!" He put his arm under hers and urged her along.

She did her best, but in comparison with his trained performance her
best wasn't good. "I've never been checked out on sprinting in
spacesuits!" she gasped. "Let go of me and go on ahead. I'll follow----"

Everything went out. Lights, gravity, air-circulation--everything.

"You haven't been checked out on free fall, either. Hang onto this
tool-hanger here on my belt and we'll travel."

[Illustration]

"Where to?" she asked, hurtling through the air much faster than she had
ever gone on foot.

"Baby Two--that is, Lifecraft Number Two--my crash assignment. Good
thing I was down here in the Middle; I'd never have made it from up Top.
Next corridor left, I think." Then, as the light of his headlamp showed
numbers on the wall: "Yes. Square left. I'll swing you."

He swung her and they shot to the end of the passage. He kicked a lever
and the lifecraft's port swung open--to reveal a blaze of light and a
startled, gray-haired man.

"What happened.... What hap ...?" the man began.

"Wrecked. We've had it. We're abandoning ship. Get into that cubby over
there, shut the door tight behind you, and _stay there_!"

"But can't I do something to help?"

"Without a suit and not knowing how to use one? You'd get burned to a
cinder. Get in there--and _jump_!"

The oldster jumped and Deston turned to his wife. "Stay here at the
port, Bobby. Wrap one leg around that lever, to anchor you. What does
your telltale read? That gauge there--your radiation meter. It reads
twenty, same as mine. Just pink, so we've got a minute or so. I'll roust
out some passengers and toss 'em to you--you toss 'em along in there.
Can do?"

She was white and trembling; she was very evidently on the verge of
being violently sick; but she was far from being out of control. "Can
do, sir."

"Good girl, sweetheart. Hang on one minute more and we'll have gravity
and you'll be O. K."

The first five doors he tried were locked; and, since they were made of
armor plate, there was nothing he could do about them except give each
one a resounding kick with a heavy steel boot. The sixth was unlocked,
but the passengers--a man and a woman--were very evidently and very
gruesomely dead.

So was everyone else he could find until he came to a room in which a
man in a spacesuit was floundering helplessly in the air. He glanced at
his telltale. Thirty-two. High in the red, almost against the pin.

"Bobby! What do you read?"

"Twenty-six."

"Good. I've found only one, but we're running out of time. I'm coming
in."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the lifecraft he closed the port and slammed on full drive away from
the ship. Then, wheeling, he shucked Barbara out of her suit like an ear
of corn and shed his own. He picked up a fire-extinguisher-like affair
and jerked open the door of a room a little larger than a clothes
closet. "Jump in here!" He slammed the door shut. "Now strip, quick!" He
picked the canister up and twisted four valves.

Before he could get the gun into working position she was out of her
pajamas--the fact that she had been wondering visibly what it was all
about had done nothing whatever to cut down her speed. A flood of thick,
creamy foam almost hid her from sight and Deston began to talk--quietly.

"Thanks, sweetheart, for not slowing us down by arguing and wanting
explanations. This stuff is DEKON--short for Decontaminant, Complete;
Compound, Adsorbent, and Chelating, Type DCQ-429.' Used soon enough, it
takes care of radiation. Rub it in good, all over you--like this." He
set the foam-gun down on the floor and went vigorously to work. "Yes,
hair, too. Every square millimeter of skin and mucous membrane. Yes,
into your eyes. It stings 'em a little, but that's a lot better than
going blind. And your mouth. Swallow six good big mouthfuls--it's
tasteless and goes down easy.

"Now the soles of your feet--O. K. The last will hurt plenty, but we've
_got_ to get some of it into your lungs and we can't do it the hospital
way. So when I slap a gob of it over your mouth and nose inhale hard and
deep. Just once is all anybody can do, but that's enough. And don't
fight. Any ordinary woman I could handle, but I can't handle you fast
enough. So if you don't inhale deep I'll have to knock you cold.
Otherwise you die of lung cancer. Will do?"

"Will do, sweetheart. Good and deep. No fight," and she emptied her
lungs.

He slapped it on. She inhaled, good and deep; and went into convulsive
paroxysms of coughing. He held her in his arms until the worst of it was
over; but she was still coughing hard when she pulled herself away from
him.

"But ... how ... about ... you?" She could just barely talk; her voice
was distorted, almost inaudible. "Let ... me ... help ... you ...
quick!"

"No need, darling. Two other men out there. The old man probably won't
need it--I think I got him into the safe quick enough--the other guy and
I will help each other. So lie down there on the bunk and take it easy
until I come back here and help you get the gunkum off. So-long for half
an hour, pet."

Forty-five minutes later, while all four were still cleaning up the
messes of foam, something began to buzz sharply. Deston stepped over to
the board and flipped a switch. The communicator came on. Since
everything aboard a starship is designed to fail safe, they were, of
course, in normal space. On the visiplates hundreds of stars blazed in
vari-colored points of hard, bright light.

"Baby Two acknowledging," Deston said. "First Officer Deston and three
passengers. Deconned to zero. Report, please."

"Baby Three. Second Officer Jones and four passengers. Deconned to----"

"Thank God, Herc!" Formality vanished. "With _you_ to astrogate us, we
may have a chance. But how'd you make it? I'd've sworn a flying saucer
couldn't've got down from the Top in the time we had."

"Same thing right back at you, Babe. I didn't have to come down. We were
in Baby Three when it happened." Full vision was on; a big,
square-jawed, lean, tanned face looked out at them from the screen.

"Huh? How come? And who's 'we'?"

"My wife and I." Second Officer Theodore "Hercules" Jones was somewhat
embarrassed. "I got married, too, day before yesterday. After the way
the old man chewed you out, though, I knew he'd slap irons on me
without saying a word, so we kept it dark and hid out in Baby Three.
These three are all we could find before our meters went high red. I
deconned Bun, then----"

"Bun?" Barbara broke in. "Bernice Burns? How _wonderful_!"

"Formerly Bernice Burns." The face of a platinum-blonde beauty appeared
on the screen beside Jones'. "And _am_ I glad to see _you_, Barbara,
even if I did just meet you yesterday! I didn't know whether I'd ever
see another girl's face or not!"

"Let's cut the chat," Deston said then. "Herc, give me course, blast,
and time for rendezvous ... hey! My watch stopped!"

"So did mine," Jones said. "So just hold one gravity on eighteen dash
forty-seven dash two seventy-one and I'll correct you as necessary."

After setting course, and still thinking of his watch, Deston said; "But
it's nonmagnetic. It never stopped before."

The gray-haired man spoke. "It was never in such a field before. You
see, those two observations of fact invalidate twenty-four of the
thirty-eight best theories of hyper-space. But tell me--am I correct in
saying that none of you were in direct contact with the metal of the
ship when it happened?"

"We avoid it in case of trouble. You? Name and job?" Deston jerked his
head at the younger stranger.

"I know _that_ much. Henry Newman. Crew-chief, normal space jobs,
unlimited."

"Your passengers, Herc?"

"Vincent Lopresto, financier, and his two bodyguards. They were sleeping
in their suits, on air-mattresses. Grounders. Don't like subspace--or
space, either."

"Just so." The gray-haired man nodded, almost happily. "We survivors,
then, absorbed the charge gradually----"

"But what the----" Deston began.

"One moment, please, young man. You perhaps saw some of the bodies. What
were they like?"

"They looked ... well, not exactly as though they had exploded, but----"
he paused.

"Precisely." Gray-Hair beamed. "That eliminates all the others except
three--Morton's, Sebring's, and Rothstein's."

"You're a specialist in subspace, then?"

"Oh, no, I'm not a specialist at all. I'm a dabbler, really. A
specialist, you know, is one who learns more and more about less and
less until he knows everything about nothing at all. I'm just the
opposite. I'm learning less and less about more and more; hoping in time
to know nothing at all about everything."

"In other words, a Fellow of the College. I'm glad you're aboard, sir."

"Oh, a Theoretician?" Barbara's face lit up and she held out her hand.
"With dozens of doctorates in everything from Astronomy to Zoology?
I've never met ... I'm _ever_ so glad to meet you, Doctor----?"

"Adams. Andrew Adams. But I have only eight at the moment. Earned
degrees, that is."

"But what were you doing in this lifecraft? No, let me guess. You were
X-ray-eying it and fine-toothing it for improvements made since your
last trip, and storing the details away in your eidetic memory."

"Not eidetic, by any means. Merely very good."

"And how many metric tons of apparatus have you got in the hold?" Deston
asked.

"Less than six. Just what I _must_ have in order to----"

"Babe!" Jones' voice cut in. "Course change. Stay on alpha eighteen.
Shift beta to forty-four and gamma to two sixty-five."

       *       *       *       *       *

Rendezvous was made. Both lifecraft hung motionless relative to the
_Procyon_'s hulk. No other lifecraft had escaped. A conference was held.

Weeks of work would be necessary before Deston and Jones could learn
even approximately what the damage to the _Procyon_ had been.
Decontamination was automatic, of course, but there would be literally
hundreds of hot spots, each of which would have to be sought out and
neutralized by hand. The passengers' effects would have to be listed and
stored in the proper cabins. Each body would have to be given velocity
away from the ship. And so on. Every survivor would have to work, and
work hard.

The two girls wanted to be together. The two officers almost _had_ to be
together, to discuss matters at unhampered length and to make decisions.
Each was, of course, almost as well versed in engineering as he was in
his own specialty. All ships' officers from First to Fifth had to be.
And, as long as they lived or until the _Procyon_ made port, all
responsibility rested: First, upon First Officer Deston; and second,
upon Second Officer Jones. Therefore Theodore and Bernice Jones came
aboard Lifecraft Two, and Deston asked Newman to flit across to
Lifecraft Three.

"Not me; I like the scenery here better." Newman's eyes raked Bernice's
five-feet-eight of scantily-clad sheer beauty from ankles to coiffure.
"If you're too crowded--I know a lifecraft carries only fifty people--go
yourself."

"As a crew-chief, you know the law." Deston spoke quietly--too quietly,
as the other man should have known. "I am in command."

"You ain't in command of _me_, pretty boy!" Newman sneered. "You can
play God when you're on sked, with a ship-full of trained dogs to bite
for you, but out here where nobody has ever come back from I make my own
law--with _this_!" He patted his side pocket.

"Draw it, then!" Deston's voice now had all the top-deck rasp of his
rank. "Or crawl!"

The First Officer had not moved; his right hand still hung quietly at
his side. Newman glanced at the girls, both of whom were frozen; at
Jones, who smiled at him pityingly; at Adams, who was merely interested.
"I ... my ... yours is right where you can get at it," he faltered.

"You should have thought of that sooner. But, this once, I won't move a
finger until your hand is in your pocket."

"Just wing him, Babe," Jones said then. "He looks strong enough, except
for his head. We can use him to shovel out the gunkum and clean up."

"Uh-uh. I'll have to kill him sometime, and the sooner the better.
Square between the eyes. Do you want a hundred limit at ten bucks a
millimeter on how far the hole is off dead center?"

The two girls gasped; stared at each other and at the two officers in
horror; but Jones said calmly, without losing any part of his smile: "I
don't want a dime's worth of that. I've lost too much money that way
already." At which outrageous statement both girls knew what was going
on and smiled in relief.

And Newman misinterpreted those smiles completely; especially Bernice's.
The words came hard, but he managed to say then. "I crawl."

"Crawl, what?"

"I crawl, sir. You'll want my gun----"

"Keep it. There's a lot more difference than _that_ between us. How
close can you count seconds?"

"Plus or minus five per cent, sir."

"Close enough. Your first job will be to build some kind of a
brute-force, belt-or-gear thing to act as a clock. You will really work.
Any more insubordination or any malingering at all and I'll put you into
a lifecraft and launch you into space, where you can make your own laws
and be monarch of all you survey. Dismissed! Now--flit!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Newman flitted--fast--and Barbara, turning to her husband, opened her
mouth to speak and shut it. No, he would have killed the man; he would
have _had_ to. He still might have to. Wherefore she said instead:
"Why'd you let him keep his pistol? The ... the _slime_! And after you
actually saved his life, too!"

"With some people what's past doesn't count. The other was just a
gesture. Psychology. It'll slow him down, I think. Besides, he'd have
another one as soon as we get back into the _Procyon_."

"But you can lock up _all_ their guns, can't you?" Bernice asked.

"I'm afraid not. How about the other three, Herc?"

"With thanks to you, Barbara, for the word; slime. If Lopresto is a
financier, I'm an angel, with wings and halo complete. Gangsters;
hoodlums; racketeers; you'd have to open every can of concentrate aboard
to find all their spare artillery."

"Check. The first thing to do is----"

"One word first," Bernice put in. "I want to thank you, First Off--no,
not First Officer, but I could hardly----"

"Sure you can. I'm 'Babe' to us all, and you're 'Bun'. As to the other,
forget it. You and I, Herc, will go over and----"

"And I," Adams put in, definitely. "I must photograph everything, before
it is touched; therefore I must be the first on board. I must do some
autopsies and also----"

"Of course. You're right," Deston said. "And if I haven't said it
before, I'm tremendously glad to have a Big Brain along ... oh, excuse
that crack, please, Dr. Adams. It slipped out on me."

Adams laughed. "In context, I regard that as the highest compliment I
have ever received. To you youngsters my advanced age of fifty-two
represents senility. Nevertheless, you men need not 'Doctor' me. Either
'Adams' or 'Andy' will do very nicely. As for you two young women----"

"I'm going to call you 'Uncle Andy'," Barbara said, with a grin. "Now,
Uncle Andy, you being a Big Brain--the term being used in its most
complimentary sense--and the way you talked, one of your eight
doctorates is in medicine."

"Of course."

"Are you any good at obstetrics?"

"In the present instance I am perfectly safe in saying----"

"Wait a minute!" Deston snapped. "Bobby, you are _not_----"

"I am too! That is, I don't suppose I _am_ yet, since we were married
only last Tuesday, but if he's competent--and I'm _sure_ he is--I'm
certainly _going_ to! If we get back to Earth I _want_ to, and if we
don't, both Bun and I have _got_ to. Castaways' Code, you know. So how
about it, Uncle Andy?"

"I know what you two girls are," Adams said, quietly. "I know what you
two men must of necessity be. Therefore I can say without reservation
that none of you need feel any apprehension whatever."

Deston was about to say something, but Barbara forestalled him. "Well,
we can _think_ about it, anyway, and talk it over. But for right now, I
think it's high time we all got some sleep. Don't you?"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was; and they did; and after they had slept and had eaten "breakfast"
the three men wafted themselves across a couple of hundred yards of
space to the crippled starship. Powerful floodlights were rigged.

"What ... a ... mess." Deston's voice was low and wondering. "The whole
Top looks as though she'd crash-landed and spun out for eight miles. But
the Middle and Tail look untouched."

Inside, however, devastation had gone deep into the Middle. Bulkheads,
walls, floors, structural members; were torn, sheared, twisted into
weirdly-distorted shapes impossible to understand or explain. And, much
worse, were the _absences_; for in dozens of volumes, of as many sizes
and of shapes incompatible with any three-dimensional geometry, every
solid thing had vanished--without leaving any clue whatever as to where
or how it had gone.

[Illustration]

After three long days of hard work, Adams was satisfied. He had taken
pictures as fast as both officers could process the film; he had covered
many miles of tape with words only half of which either spaceman could
understand. Then, finally, he said:

"Well, that covers the preliminary observations as well as I know how to
do it. Thank you, boys, for your forbearance and your help. Now, if
you'll help me find my stuff and bring some of it--a computer and so
on--up to the lounge?" They did so; the "and so on" proving to be a
bewildering miscellany indeed. "Thank you immensely, gentlemen; now I
won't bother you any more."

"You've learned a lot, Doc, and we haven't learned much of anything."
Deston grinned ruefully. "That makes you the director. You'll have to
tell us, in general terms, what to do."

"Oh? I can offer a few suggestions. It is virtually certain: One, that
no subspace equipment will function. Two, that all normal-space
equipment, except for some items you know about, will function normally.
Three, that we can't do anything about subspace without landing on a
planet. Four, that such landing will require extreme--I might almost say
fantastic--precautions."

Although both officers thought that they understood Item Four, neither
of them had any inkling as to what Adams really meant. They did
understand thoroughly, however, Items One, Two, and Three.

"Hell's jets!" Deston exclaimed. "Do you mean we'll have to blast
_normal_ to a system?"

"It isn't as bad as you think, Babe," Jones said. "Stars are much
thicker here--we're in the center somewhere--than around Sol. The
probability is point nine plus that any emergence would put us less than
point four light-years away from a star. A couple of them show disks. I
haven't measured any yet; have you, Doc?"

"Yes. Point two two, approximately, to the closest."

"So what?" Deston demanded. "What's the chance of it having an
Earth-type planet?"

"Any solid planet will do," Adams said. "Just so it has plenty of mass."

"That's still quite a trip." Deston was coming around. "Especially since
we can't use more than one point----"

"One point _zero_ gravities," Jones put in.

"Over the long pull--and the women--you're right," Deston agreed, and
took out his slide rule. "Let's see ... one gravity, plus and minus ...
velocity ... time ... it'll take about eleven months?"

"Just about," Jones agreed, and Adams nodded.

"Well, if that's what the cards say, there's no use yowling about it,"
and all nine survivors went to work.

Deston, besides working, directed the activities of all the others
except Adams; who worked harder and longer than did anyone else. He
barely took time out to eat and to sleep. Nor did either Deston or Jones
ask him what he was doing. Both knew that it would take five years of
advanced study before either of them could understand the simplest
material on the doctor's tapes.


III.

The tremendous engines of the _Procyon_ were again putting out their
wonted torrents of power. The starship, now a mere spaceship, was on
course at one gravity. The lifecraft were in their slots, but the five
and the four still lived in them rather than in the vast and oppressive
emptiness that the ship itself now was. And socially, outside of working
hours, the two groups did not mix.

Clean-up was going nicely, at the union rate of six hours on and
eighteen hours off. Deston could have set any hours he pleased, but he
didn't. There was plenty of time. Eleven months in deep space is a
fearfully, a tremendously long time.

"Morning," "afternoon," "evening," and "night" were, of course, purely
conventional terms. The twenty-four-hour "day" measured off by the
brute-force machine that was their masterclock carried no guarantee,
expressed or implied, as to either accuracy or uniformity.

One evening, then, four hard-faced men sat at two small tables in the
main room of Lifecraft Three. Two of them, Ferdy Blaine and Moose
Mordan, were playing cards for small stakes. Ferdy was of medium size;
compact rather than slender; built of rawhide and spring steel. Lithe
and poised, he was the epitome of leashed and controlled action. Moose
was six-feet-four and weighed a good two-forty--stolid, massive, solid.
Ferdy and Moose; a tiger and an elephant; both owned _in fee simple_ by
Vincent Lopresto.

The two at the other table had been planning for days. They had had many
vitriolic arguments, but neither had made any motion toward his weapon.

"Play it my way and we've got it made, I tell you!" Newman pounded the
table with his fist. "Seventy _million_ if it's a cent! Heavier grease
than your lousy spig Syndicate ever even _heard_ of! I'm as good an
astrogator as Jones is, and a damn sight better engineer. In electronics
I maybe ain't got the theory Pretty Boy has, but at building and
repairing the stuff I've forgot more than he ever will know. At
_practical_ stuff, and that's all we give a whoop about, I lay over
both them sissies like a Lunar dome."

"Oh, yeah?" Lopresto sneered. "How come you aren't ticketed for
subspace, then?"

"For hell's sake, act your age!" Newman snorted in disgust. Eyes locked
and held, but nothing happened. "D'ya think I'm dumb? Or that them
subspace Boy Scouts can be fixed? Or I don't know where the heavy grease
is at? Or I can't make the approach? Why ain't _you_ in subspace?"

"I see." Lopresto forced his anger down. "But I've got to be _sure_ we
can get back without 'em."

"You can be _damn_ sure. I got to get back myself, don't I? But get one
thing down solid. _I_ get the big peroxide blonde."

"You can have her. Too big. I like the little yellowhead a lot better."

Newman sneered into the hard-held face so close to his and said: "And
don't think for a second _you_ can make me crawl, you small-time,
chiseling punk. Rub _me_ out after we kill them off and you get nowhere.
You're dead. Chew on that a while, and you'll know who's boss."

After just the right amount of holding back and objecting, Lopresto
agreed. "You win, Newman, the way the cards lay. Have you ever planned
this kind of an operation or do you want me to?"

"You do it, Vince," Newman said, grandly. He had at least one of the
qualities of a leader. "Besides, you already have, ain't you?"

"Of course. Ferdy will take Deston----"

"No he won't! He's _mine_, the louse!"

"If you're _that_ dumb, all bets are off. What are you using for a
brain? Can't you see the guy's chain lightning on ball bearings?"

"But we're going to surprise 'em, ain't we?"

"Sure, but even Ferdy would just as soon not give _him_ an even break.
_You_ wouldn't stand the chance of a snowflake in hell, and if you've
got the brains of a louse you know it."

"O. K., we'll let Ferdy have him. Me and you will match draws to see
who----"

"I can draw twice to your once, but I suppose I'll have to prove it to
you. I'll take Jones; you will gun the professor; Moose will grab the
dames, one under each arm, and keep 'em out of the way until the
shooting's over. The only thing is, when? The sooner the better.
Tomorrow?"

"Not quite, Vince. Let 'em finish figuring course, time, distance, all
that stuff. They can do it a lot faster and some better than I can. I'll
tell you when."

"O. K., and I'll give the signal. When I yell 'NOW' we give 'em the
business."

Newman went to his cabin and the muscle called Moose spoke thoughtfully.
That is, as nearly thoughtfully as his mental equipment would allow.

"I don't like that ape, boss. Before you gun him, let me work him over
just a little bit, huh?"

"It'll be quite a while yet, but that's a promise, Moose. As soon as his
job's done he'll wish he'd never been born. Until then, we'll let him
think he's Top Dog. Let him rave. But Ferdy, any time he's behind me or
out of sight, watch him like a hawk. Shoot him through the right elbow
if he makes one sour move."

"I get you, boss."

       *       *       *       *       *

A couple of evenings later, in Lifecraft Two, Barbara said: "You're
worried, Babe, and everything's going so smoothly. Why?"

"Too smoothly altogether. That's why. Newman ought to be doing a slow
burn and goldbricking all he dares; instead of which he's happy as a
clam and working like a nailer ... and I wouldn't trust Vincent Lopresto
or Ferdinand Blaine as far as I can throw a brick chimney by its smoke.
This whole situation stinks. There's going to be shooting for sure."

"But they couldn't do _anything_ without you two!" Bernice exclaimed.
"It'd be suicide ... and with no motive ... _could_ they, Ted,
possibly?"

Jones' dark face did not lighten. "They could, and I'm very much afraid
they intend to. As a crew-chief, Newman is a jack-leg engineer and a
very good practical 'troncist; and if he's what I _think_ he is----" He
paused.

"Could be," Deston said, doubtfully. "In with a mob of normal-space
pirate-smugglers. I'll buy that, but there wouldn't be enough plunder
to----"

"Just a sec. So he's a pretty good rule-of-thumb astrogator, too, and
we're computing every element of the flight. As for motive--salvage.
With either of us alive, none. With both of us dead, can you guess
within ten million bucks of how much they'll collect?"

"_Blockhead_!" Deston slapped himself on the forehead. "I never even
_thought_ of that angle. That nails it down solid."

"With the added attraction," Jones went on, coldly and steadily, "of
having two extremely desirable female women for eleven months before
killing them, too."

Both girls shrank visibly, and Deston said: "Check. I thought that was
the main feature, but it didn't add up. This does. Now, how will they
figure the battle? Both of us at once, of----"

"Why?" Barbara asked. "I'd think they'd waylay you, one at a time."

"Uh-uh. The survivor would lock the ship in null-G and it'd be like
shooting fish in a barrel. Since we're almost never together on duty ...
and it won't come until after we've finished the computations ...
they'll think up a good reason for _everybody_ to be together, and that
itself will be the tip-off. Ferdy will probably draw on me----"

"And he'll kill you," Jones said, flatly. "So I think I'll blow his
brains out tomorrow morning on sight."

"And get killed yourself? No ... much better to use their own trap----"

"We _can't_! Fast as you are, you aren't in _his_ class. He's a
professional--probably one of the fastest guns in space."

"Yes, but ... I've got a ... I mean I think I can----"

Bernice, grinning openly now, stopped Deston's floundering. "It's high
time you fellows told each other the truth. Bobby and I let our back
hair down long ago--we were both tremendously surprised to know that
both you boys are just as strongly psychic as we are. Perhaps even more
so."

"Oh ... so _you_ get hunches, too?" Jones demanded. "So you'll have
plenty of warning?"

"All my life. The old alarm clock has never failed me yet. But the girls
can't start packing pistols now."

"I wouldn't know how to shoot one if I did," Bernice laughed. "I'll
throw things I'm very good at that."

"Huh?" Jones asked. He didn't know his new wife very well, either. "What
can _you_ throw straight enough to do any good?"

"Anything I can reach," she replied, confidently. "Baseballs, medicine
balls, cannon balls, rocks, bricks, darts, discus, hammer,
javelin--what-have-you. In a for-real battle I'd prefer ... chairs, I
think. Flying chairs are really hard to cope with. Knives are too ...
uh-uh, I'd much rather have you fellows do the actual executing. I'll
start wearing a couple of knives in leg-sheaths, but I won't throw 'em
or use 'em unless I absolutely have to. So who will I knock out with the
first chair?"

"I'll answer that," Barbara said, quietly. "If it's Blaine against Babe,
it'll be Lopresto against Herc. So you'll throw your chairs or whatever
at that unspeakable oaf Newman."

"I'd rather brain him than anyone else I know, but that would leave that
gigantic gorilla to ... why, he'd ... listen, you'll simply _have_ to go
armed."

"I always do." Barbara held out her hands. "Since they don't want to
shoot us two--yet--these are all the weapons I'll need."

"Against a man-mountain like that? You're _that_ good? Really?"

"Especially against a man-mountain like that. I'm that good. Really,"
and both Joneses began to realize what Deston already knew--just how
deadly those harmless-seeming weapons could be.

Barbara went on: "We should have a signal, in case one of us gets
warning first. Something that wouldn't mean anything to them ...
musical, say ... Brahms. That's it. The very instant any one of us feels
their intent to signal their attack he yells 'BRAHMS!' and we _all_ beat
them to the punch. O. K.?"

It was O. K., and the four--Adams was still hard at work in the
lounge--went to bed.

       *       *       *       *       *

And three days later, within an hour after the last flight-datum had
been "put in the tank," the four intended victims allowed themselves to
be inveigled into the lounge. Everything was peaceful; everyone was full
of friendship and brotherly love. But suddenly "BRAHMS!" rang out, with
four voices in absolute unison; followed a moment later by Lopresto's
stentorian "NOW!"

It was a very good thing that Deston had had ample warning, for he was
indeed competing out of his class. As it was, his bullet crashed through
Blaine's head, while the gunman's went harmlessly into the carpet. The
other pistol duel wasn't even close! Lopresto's hand barely touched his
gun.

Bernice, even while shrieking the battle-cry, leaped to her feet, hurled
her chair, and reached for another; but one chair was enough. That
fiercely but accurately-sped missile knocked the half-drawn pistol from
Newman's hand and sent his body crashing to the floor, where Deston's
second bullet made it certain that he would not recover consciousness.

Barbara's hand-to-hand engagement took about one second longer. Moose
Mordan was big and strong; and, for such a big man, was fairly fast
physically. If he had had time to get his muscles ready, he might have
had a chance. His thought processes, however, were lamentably slow; and
Barbara Warner Deston was almost as fast physically as she was mentally.
Thus she reached him before he even began to realize that this
pint-sized girl actually intended to hit him; and thus it was that his
belly-muscles were still completely relaxed when her small but extremely
hard left fist sank half-forearm-deep into his solar plexus.

With an agonized "_WHOOSH_!" he began to double up, but she scarcely
allowed him to bend. Her right hand, fingers tightly bunched, was
already boring savagely into a selected spot at the base of his neck.
Then, left hand at his throat and right hand pulling hard at his belt,
she put the totalized and concentrated power of her whole body behind
the knee she drove into his groin.

That ended it. The big man could very well have been dying on his feet.
To make sure, however--or to keep the girl from knowing that she had
killed a man?--Deston and Jones each put a bullet through the falling
head before it struck the rug.

Both girls flung themselves, sobbing, into their husband's arms.

The whole battle had lasted only a few seconds. Adams, although he had
seen almost everything, had been concentrating so deeply that it took
those few seconds for him actually to realize what was going on. He got
up, felt[2] of Newman's head, then looked casually at the three other
bodies.

    [2] Transcriber's note: As in original.

"Oh, I _killed_ him, Carl!" Barbara sobbed, convulsively. "And the worst
of it is, I really _meant_ to! I _never_ did anything like that before
in my whole life!"

"You didn't kill him, Barbara," Adams said.

"Huh?" She raised her head from Deston's shoulder; the contrast between
her streaming eyes and the relief dawning over her whole face was almost
funny. "Why, I did the foulest things possible, and as hard as I
possibly could. I'm _sure_ I killed him."

"By no means, my dear. Judo techniques, however skillfully and
powerfully applied, do not and can not kill instantly. Bullets through
the brain do. I will photograph the cadavers, of course, and perform the
customary post-mortem examinations for the record; but I know already
what the findings will be. These four men died instantly of gunshot
wounds."

       *       *       *       *       *

With the four gangsters gone, life aboardship settled down quickly into
a routine. That routine, however, was in no sense dull. The officers had
plenty to do; operating the whole ship and rebuilding the mechanisms
that were operating on jury rigging or on straight "bread-board"
hookups. And in their "spare" time they enjoyed themselves tremendously
in becoming better and better acquainted with their wives. For Bernice
and Jones, like Barbara and Deston, had for each other an infinite
number of endless vistas of personality; the exploration of which was
sheerest delight.

The girls--each of whom became joyously pregnant as soon as she
could--kept house and helped their husbands whenever need or opportunity
arose. Their biggest chore, however, was to see to it that Adams got
sleep, food, and exercise. For, if left to his own devices, he would
never have exercised at all, would have grabbed a bite now and then, and
would have slept only when he could no longer stay awake.

"Uncle Andy, why don't you _use_ that Big Brain of yours?" Barbara
snapped at him one day. "For a man that's actually as smart as you are,
I swear you've got the least sense of anybody I know!"

"But it's necessary, my dear child," Adams explained, unmoved. "This
material is new. There are many extremely difficult problems involved,
and I have less than a year to work on them. Less than _one year_; and
it is a task for a team of specialists and all the resources of a
research center."

To the officers, however, Adams went into more detail. "Considering the
enormous amounts of supplies carried; the scope, quantity, and quality
of the safety devices employed; it is improbable that we are the first
survivors of a subspace catastrophe to set course for a planet."

After some argument, the officers agreed.

[Illustration]

"While I cannot as yet detect it, classify it, or evaluate it, we are
carrying an extremely heavy charge of an unknown nature; the residuum of
a field of force which is possibly more or less analogous to the
electromagnetic field. This residuum either is or is not dischargeable
to an object of planetary mass; and I'm virtually certain that it is.
The discharge may be anything from an imperceptible flow up to one of
such violence as to volatilize the craft carrying it. From the facts:
One, that in the absence of that field the subspace radio will function
normally; and Two, that no subspace-radio messages have ever been
received from survivors; the conclusion seems inescapable that the
discharge of this unknown field is in fact of extreme violence."

"Good God!" Deston exclaimed. "Oh ... _that_ was what you meant by
'fantastic precautions,' back there?"

"Precisely."

"But what can we _do_ about it?"

"I don't know. I ... simply ... do ... not ... know." Adams lost himself
in thought for over a minute. "This is all _so_ new ... I know _so_
little ... and am working with such _pitifully_ inadequate
instrumentation--However, we have months of time yet, and if I am unable
to arrive at a conclusion before arrival--I don't mean a rigorous
analysis, of course, but merely a stop-gap, empirical, pragmatic
solution--we will simply remain in orbit around that sun until I do."


IV.

The _Procyon_ bored on through space, at one unchanging gravity of
acceleration. It may not seem, at first glance, that one gravity would
result in any very high velocity; but when it is maintained steadily for
days and weeks and months, it builds up to a very respectable speed. Nor
was there any question of power, for the _Procyon_'s atomics did not
drive the ship, but merely energized the "Chaytors"--the Chaytor Effect
engines that tapped the energy of the expanding universe itself.

Thus, in less than six months, the _Procyon_ had attained a velocity
almost half that of light. At the estimated mid-point of the flight the
spaceship, still at one gravity of drive, was turned end-for-end; so
that for the ensuing five-and-a-fraction months she would be slowing
down.

A few weeks after the turnover, Adams seemed to have more time. At
least, he devoted more time to the expectant mothers, even to the point
of supervising Deston and Jones in the construction of a weirdly-wired
device by means of which he studied and photographed the unborn child
each woman bore. He said nothing, however, until Barbara made him talk.

"Listen, you egregious clam," she said, firmly, "I know darn well I've
been pregnant for at _least_ seven months, and I ought to be twice this
big. Our clock isn't _that_ far off; Carl said that by wave lengths or
something it's only about three per cent fast. And you've been
pussyfooting and hem-hawing around all this time. Now, Uncle Andy, I
want the _truth_. _Are_ we in for a lot of trouble?"

"Trouble? Of course not. _Certainly_ not. No trouble at all, my dear.
Why, you've seen the pictures--here, look at them again ... see?
Absolutely normal fetus--yours, too, Bernice. _Perfect_! No
malformations of any kind."

"Yes, but for what _age_?" Bernice asked, pointedly. "Four months, say?
I see, I was exposed to a course in embryology myself, once."

"But _that's_ the interesting part of it!" Adams enthused. "Fascinating!
And, indubitably, supremely important. In fact, it may point out the key
datum underlying the solution of our entire problem. If this zeta field
is causing this seemingly peculiar biological effect, that gives us a
tremendously powerful new tool, for certain time vectors in the
generalized matrix become parameters. Thus, certain determinants,
notably the all-important delta-prime-sub-mu, become manipulable by ...
but you aren't _listening_!"

"I'm listening, pops, but nothing is coming through. But thanks much,
anyway. I feel a lot better, knowing I'm not going to give birth to a
monster. Or _are_ you sure, really?"

"Of _course_ I'm sure!" Adams snapped, testily, and Barbara led Deston
aside.

"Have you got the _slightest_ idea of what he was talking about?" she
asked.

"Just the slightest, if any. Either that time is relative--no, that's so
elementary he wouldn't mention it. Maybe he's figured out a _variable_
time of some kind or other. Anyway, you girls' slowness in producing has
given the old boy a big lift, and I'm mighty glad of it."

"But aren't you _worried_, sweetheart? Not even the least little bit?"

"Of course not," and Deston very evidently meant just that.

"I am. I can't help but be. Why aren't you?"

"Because Doc isn't, and he knows his stuff, believe me. He can't lie any
better than a three-year-old, and he's _sure_ that all four of you are
just as safe as though you were in God's lefthand hip pocket."

"Oh--that's right. I never thought of it that way. So I _don't_ have
anything to worry about, do I?" She lifted her lips to be kissed; and
the kiss was long and sweet.

       *       *       *       *       *

Time flew past until, one day a couple of weeks short of arrival, Adams
rushed up to Deston and Jones. "I have it!" he shouted, and began to
spout a torrent of higher--very _much_ higher--mathematics.

"Hold it, Doc!" Deston held up an expostulatory hand. "I read you zero
and ten. Can't you delouse your signal? Whittle the stuff down to our
size?"

"W-e-l-l-," the scientist looked hurt, but did consent to forego the
high math. "The discharge _is_ catastrophic; in energy equivalent
something of the order of magnitude of ten thousand discharges of
lightning. And, unfortunately, I do _not_ know what it is. It is
virtually certain, however, that we will be able to dissipate it in
successive decrements by the use of long, thin leads extending downward
toward a high point of the planet."

"Wire, you mean? What kind?"

"The material is not important except in that it should have sufficient
tensile strength to support as many miles as possible of its own
length."

"We've got dozens of coils of hook-up wire," Deston said, "but not too
many _miles_ and it's soft stuff."

"_Graham_ wire!" Jones snapped his finger.

"Of course," Deston agreed. "Hundreds of miles of it. Float the senser
down on a Hotchkiss----"

"Tear-out." Jones objected.

"Bailey it--spidered out to twenty or so big, flat feet. That'll take
metal, but we can cannibal the whole Middle without weakening the
structure."

"Sure ... surges--backlash. Remote it."

"Check. Remote everything to Baby Two, and----"

"Would you mind delousing _your_ signal?" Adams asked, caustically.

"'Scuse, please, Doc. A guy does talk better in his own lingo, doesn't
he? Well, Graham wire is one-point-three-millimeter-diameter,
ultra-high-tensile steel wire. Used for re-wrapping the Grahams, you
know."

"No, I don't know. What are Grahams?"

"Why, they're the intermediates between the Chaytors ... O. K., O. K.,
they're something like bottles, that have to stand terrifically high
pressures."

"That's what I want to know. Such wire will do very nicely. Note now
that our bodies must be grounded very thoroughly to the metal of the
ship."

"You're so right. We'll wrap the girls in silver-mesh underwear up to
the eyeballs, and run leads as big as my wrist to the frame."

       *       *       *       *       *

The approach was made, and the fourth planet out from that strange sun
was selected as a ground. That planet was not at all like Earth. It had
very little water, very little atmosphere, and very little vegetation.
It was twice as massive as Earth; its surface was rugged and jagged; one
of its stupendous mountain ranges had sharp peaks more than forty
thousand feet high.

"There's one thing more we must do," Adams said. "I have barely
begun to study this zeta field, and this one may very well be
unique--irreplaceable. We must, therefore, launch all the
lifecraft--except Number Two, of course--into separate orbits around
this sun, so that a properly-staffed and properly-equipped expedition
can study it."

"Your proper expedition might get its pants burned off, too."

"There is always that possibility; but I will insist on being assigned
to the project. This information, young man, is _necessary_."

"O. K., Doc," and it was done; and in a few days the _Procyon_ hung
motionless, a good five hundred miles high, directly above the highest,
sharpest mountain peak they had been able to find.

The Bailey boom, with its spider-web-like network of grounding cables
and with a large pulley at its end, extended two hundred feet straight
out from the side of the ship. A twenty-five-mile coil of Graham wire
was mounted on the remote-controlled Hotchkiss reel. The end of the wire
was run out over the pulley; a fifteen-pound weight, to act both as a
"senser" and to keep the wire from fouling, was attached; and a few
hundred feet of wire were run out.

Then, in Lifecraft Two--as far away from the "business district" as they
could get--the human bodies were grounded and Deston started the reel.
The wire ran out--and ran--and ran--and ran. The full twenty-five miles
were paid out, and still nothing happened. Then, very slowly, Deston let
the big ship move straight downward. Until, finally, it happened.

There was a blast beside which the most terrific flash of lightning ever
seen on Earth would have seemed like a firecracker. In what was almost a
vacuum though she was, the whole immense mass of the _Procyon_ was
hurled upward like the cork out of a champagne bottle. And as for what
it _felt_ like--since the five who experienced it could never describe
it, even to each other, it is obviously indescribable by or to anyone
else. As Bernice said long afterward, when she was being pressed by a
newsman: "Just tell 'em it was the living end," and that is as good a
description as any.

The girls were unwrapped from their silver-mesh cocoons and, after a
minute or so of semihysterics, were as good as new. Then Deston stared
into the 'scope and gulped. Without saying a word he waved a hand and
the others looked. It seemed as though the entire tip of the mountain
was gone; had become a seething, flaming volcano on a world that had
known no volcanism[3] for hundreds of thousands of years.

    [3] Transcriber's note: The original read 'vulcanism'.

"And what," said Deston finally, "do you suppose happened to the other
side of the ship?"

The boom, of course, was gone. So were all twenty of the grounding
cables which, each the size of a man's arm, had fanned out in all
directions to anchorages welded solidly to the vessel's skin and frame.
The anchorages, too, were gone; and tons upon tons of high-alloy steel
plating and structural members for many feet around where each anchorage
had been. Steel had run like water; had been blown away in gusts of
vapor.

"Shall I try the radio now, Doc?" Deston asked.

"By no means. This first blast would, of course, be the worst, but there
will be several more, of decreasing violence."

       *       *       *       *       *

There were. The second, while it volatilized the boom and its grounding
network, merely fused portions of the anchorages. The third took only
the boom itself; the fourth took only the dangling miles of wire. At the
sixth trial nothing--apparently--happened; whereupon the wire was drawn
in and a two-hundred-pound mass of steel was lowered until it was in
firm and quiescent contact with the solid rock of the planet.

"Now you may try your radio," Adams said.

Deston flipped a switch and spoke, quietly but clearly, into a
microphone. "_Procyon One_ to Control Six. Flight Eight Four Nine.
Subspace Radio Test Ninety-Five--I think. How do you read me, Control
Six?"

The reply was highly unorthodox. It was a wild yell, followed by words
not directed at Deston at all. "Captain Reamer! Captain French! Captain
Holloway! ANYBODY! It's the _Procyon_! The _PROCYON_, that was lost a
year ago! Unless some fool is playing a dumb joke."

"It's no joke--I hope." Another voice, crisp and authoritative, came in;
growing louder as its source approached the distant pickup. "Or somebody
will rot in jail for a hundred years."

"_Procyon One_ to Control Six," Deston said again. His voice was not
quite steady this time; both girls were crying openly and joyfully. "How
do you read me, Frenchy old horse?"

"It _is Procyon One_--the Runt himself--Hi, Babe!" the new voice roared,
then quieted to normal volume. "I read you eight and one. Survivors?"

"Five. Second Officer Jones, our wives, and Dr. Andrew Adams, a Fellow
of the College of Advanced Study. He's solely responsible for our being
here, so----"

"Skip that for now. In a lifecraft? No, after this long, it must be the
ship. Not navigable, of course?"

"Not in subspace, and only so-so in normal. The Chaytors are O. K., but
the whole Top is spun out and the rest of her won't hold air--air, hell!
She won't hold shipping crates! All the Wesleys are shot, and all the
Q-converters. Half the Grahams are leaking like sieves, and----"

"Skip that, too. Just a sec--I'll cut in the downstairs recorder. Now
start in at your last check and tell us what's happened since."

"It's a long story."

"Unwind it, Runt, I don't give a damn how long it is. Not a
full-detailed report, just hit the high spots--but don't leave out
anything really important."

"Wow!" Jones remarked, audibly. "Wottaman Frenchy! Like the ex-urbanite
said to the gardener: 'I don't want you to work hard--just take big
shovelfulls and lots of 'em per minute'."

"That's enough out of you, Herc my boy. You'll be next. Go ahead, Babe."

Deston went ahead, and spoke almost steadily for thirty minutes. He did
not mention the gangsters; nor any personal matters. Otherwise, his
report was accurate and complete. He had no idea that everything he
said was going out on an Earth-wide hookup; or that many other planets,
monitoring constantly all subspace channels, were hooking on. When he
was finally released Captain French said, with a chuckle:

"Off the air for a minute. You've no idea what an uproar this has
stirred up already. They let them have all your stuff, but we aren't
putting out a thing until some Brass gets out there and gets the real
story----"

"That _is_ the real story, damn it!"

"Oh, sure, and a very nice job, too, for an extemporaneous effort--if it
was. Semantics says, though, that in a couple of spots it smells like
slightly rancid cheese, and ... no-no, keep still! Too many planets
listening in--_verbum sap_. Anyway, THE PRESS smells something, too, and
they're screaming their lungs out, especially the sob-sisters. Now,
Herc, on the air, you're orbiting the fourth planet of a sun. What sun?
Where?"

"I don't know. Unlisted. We're in completely unexplored territory.
Standard reference angles are as follows"--and Jones read off a long
list of observations, not only of the brightest stars of the galaxy, but
also of the standard reference points, such as S-Doradus, lying outside
it. "When you get that stuff all plotted, you'll find a hell of a big
confusion; but I _hope_ there aren't enough stars in it but what you can
find us sometime."

"Off the air--for good, I hope. Don't make me laugh, Buster, Your
probable center will spear it. If there's ever more than one star in any
confusion _you_ set up, I'll eat all the extras. But there's a dozen Big
Brains here, gnawing their nails off up to the wrist to talk to Adams
all the rest of the night, so put him on and let's get back to sleep,
huh? They're cutting this mike now."

"Just a minute!" Deston snapped. "What's your time?"

"Three, fourteen, thirty-seven. So go back to bed, you night-prowling
owl."

"Of what day, month, and year?" Deston insisted.

"Friday, Sep----" French's voice was replaced by a much older one; very
evidently that of a Fellow of the College.

After listening for a moment to the newcomer and Adams, Barbara took
Deston by the arm and led him away. "Just a little bit of _that_
gibberish is a bountiful sufficiency, husband mine. So I think we'd
better take Captain French's advice, don't you?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Since there was only one star in Jones' "Confusion" (by the book,
"Volume of Uncertainty") finding the _Procyon_ was no problem at all.
High Brass came in quantity and the entire story--except for one bit of
biology--was told. Two huge subspace-going machine shops also came, and
a thousand mechanics, who worked on the crippled liner for almost three
weeks.

Then the _Procyon_ started back for Earth under her own subspace drive,
under the command of Captain Theodore Jones. His first, last, and only
subspace command, of course, since he was now a married man. Deston had
wanted to resign while still a First Officer, but his superiors would
not accept his resignation until his promotion "for outstanding
services" came through. Thus, Ex-Captain Carlyle Deston and his wife
were dead-heading, not quite back to Earth, but to the transfer-point
for the planet Newmars.

"Theodore Warner Deston is going to be born on Newmars, where he should
be," Barbara had said, and Deston had agreed.

"But suppose she's Theodora?" Bernice had twitted her.

"Uh-uh," Barbara had said, calmly. "I just _know_ he's Theodore."

"Uh-huh, I know." Bernice had nodded her spectacular head. "And we
wanted a girl, so she is. Barbara Bernice Jones, her name is. A living
doll."

Although both pregnancies were well advanced, neither was very near full
term. Thus it was clear that both periods of gestation were going to be
well over a year in length; but none of the five persons who knew it so
much as mentioned the fact. To Adams it was only one tiny datum in an
incredibly huge and complex mathematical structure. The parents did not
want to be pilloried as crackpots, as publicity-seeking liars, or as
being unable to count; and they knew that nobody would believe them if
they told the truth; even--or especially?--no medical doctor. The more
any doctor knew about gynecology and obstetrics, in fact, the less he
would believe any such story as theirs.

Of what use is it to pit such puny and trivial things as _facts_ against
rock-ribbed, iron-bound, entrenched AUTHORITY?

The five, however, _knew_; and Deston and Jones had several long and
highly unsatisfactory discussions; at first with Adams, and later
between themselves. At the end of the last such discussion, a couple of
hours out from the transfer point, Jones lit a cigarette savagely and
rasped:

"Wherever you start or whatever your angle of approach, he _always_
boils it down to this: 'Subjective time is measured by the number of
learning events experienced.' I ask you, Babe, what does that mean? If
anything?"

"It sounds like it ought to mean _something_, but I'll be damned if I
know what." Deston gazed thoughtfully at the incandescent tip of his
friend's cigarette. "However, if it makes the old boy happy and gives
the College a toehold on subspace, what do _we_ care?"





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