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Title: Equation of Doom
Author: Vance, Gerald
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 "Equation of Doom" ***

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  +--------------------------------------------------------------+
  |                                                              |
  | Transcriber's note:                                          |
  |                                                              |
  | This story was published in _Amazing Stories_, February      |
  | 1957. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that   |
  | the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.          |
  |                                                              |
  +--------------------------------------------------------------+



[Illustration: equation of doom

  His agony of soul at being unable to save Margot was
  far greater than physical torture.]



    _They grounded Ramsey's ship on a hostile planet hoping he would
    starve to death, so the first thing he did was give most of his
    money away and lose the rest gambling. Then he picked a fight
    with the Chief of Police and joined forces with a half-naked
    dream-chick who was seemingly bent on self-destruction. The
    stakes were big--a planet or two--but it all added up to an----_



EQUATION OF DOOM

by

GERALD VANCE



"Your name ith Jathon Ramthey?" the Port Security Officer lisped
politely.

Jason Ramsey, who wore the uniform of Interstellar Transfer Service and
was the only Earthman in the Service here on Irwadi, smiled and said:
"Take three guesses. You know darn well I'm Ramsey." He was a big man
even by Earth standards, which meant he towered over the Irwadian's
green, scaly head. He was fair of skin and had hair the color of copper.
It was rumored on Irwadi and elsewhere that he couldn't return to Earth
because of some crime he had committed.

"Alwayth the chip on the shoulder," the Port Security Officer said.
"Won't you Earthmen ever learn?" The splay-tongued reptile-humanoids of
Irwadi always spoke Interstellar _Coine_ with a pronounced lisp which
Ramsey found annoying, especially since it went so well with the
officious and underhanded behavior for which the Irwadians were famous
the galaxy over.

"Get to the point," Ramsey said harshly. "I have a ship to take through
hyper-space."

"No. You have no ship."

"No? Then what's this?" His irritation mounting, Ramsey pulled out the
Interstellar Transfer Service authorization form and showed it to the
Security Officer. "A tip-sheet for the weightless races at Fomalhaut
VI?"

The Security Officer said: "Ha, ha, ha." He could not laugh; he merely
uttered the phonetic equivalent of laughter. On harsh Irwadi, laughter
would have been a cultural anomaly. "You make joketh. Well,
nevertheleth, you have no ship." He expanded his scaly green barrel
chest and declaimed: "At 0400 hours thith morning, the government of
Irwadi hath planetarithed the Irwadi Tranthfer Thervith."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Planetarized the Transfer Service!" gasped Ramsey in surprise. He knew
the Irwadians had been contemplating the move in theory for many years,
but he also knew that transferring a starship from normal space through
hyper-space back to normal space again was a tremendously difficult and
technical task. He doubted if half a dozen Irwadians had mastered it,
yet the Irwadi branch of Interstellar Transfer Service was made up of
seventy-five hyper-space pilots of divers planetalities.

"Ecthactly," said the Security Officer, as amused as an Irwadian could
be by the amazement in Ramsey's frank green eyes. "Tho if you will
kindly thurrender your permit?"

"Let's see it in writing, huh?"

The Security Officer complied. Ramsey read the official document,
scowled, and handed over his Irwadi pilot license. "What about the
_Polaris_?" he wanted to know. The _Polaris_ was a Centaurian ship he'd
been scheduled to take through hyper-space on the run from Irwadi to
Centauri III.

"Temporarily grounded, captain. Or should I thay, ecth-captain?"

"Temporarily my foot," said Ramsey. "It'll be months before you
Irwadians can get even a fraction of the ships into hyper. You must be
out of your minds."

"Our problem, captain. Not yourth."

That was true enough. Ramsey shrugged.

"Your problem," the Security Officer went on blandly, "will be to find a
meanth of thelf-thupport until you and all other ecthra-planetarieth can
be removed from Irwadi. We owe you ecthra-planetarieth nothing. Ethpect
no charity from uth."

Ramsey shrugged. Like all extra-planetaries on a bleak, friendless world
like Irwadi, he'd regularly gambled away and drank away his monthly
paycheck in the interstellar settlement which the Irwadians had
established in the Old Quarter of Irwadi City. But last month he'd
managed to come out even at the gaming tables, so he had a few hundred
credits to his name. That would be enough, he told himself, to tide him
over until Interstellar Transfer Service came to the rescue of its
stranded pilots.

Ramsey went up the gangway and got his gear from the _Polaris_. When he
returned down the gangway, the late afternoon wind was blowing across
the spacefield tarmac, a wet, bone-chilling wind which only the
reptile-humanoid Irwadians didn't seem to mind.

Ramsey fastened the toggles of his cold-weather cape, put his head down
and hunched his shoulders, and walked into the teeth of the wind. He did
not look back at the _Polaris_, marooned indefinitely on Irwadi despite
anything the Centaurian owners or anyone else for that matter could do
about it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Irwadi Security Officer, whose name was Chind Ramar, walked up the
gangway and ordered the ship's Centaurian first officer to assemble his
crew and passengers. Chind Ramar allowed himself the rare luxury of a
fleeting smile. He could imagine this scene being duplicated on fifty
ships here on his native planet today, fifty outworld ships which had no
business at all on Irwadi. Of course, Irwadi was an important
planet-of-call in the Galactic Federation because the vital metal
titanium was found as abundantly in Irwadian soil as aluminum is found
in the soil of an Earth-style planet. Titanium, in alloy with steel and
manganese, was the only element which could withstand the tremendous
heat generated in the drive-chambers of interstellar ships during
transfer. In the future, Chind Ramar told himself with a kind of cold
pride, only Irwadian pilots, piloting Irwadian ships through
hyper-space, would bring titanium to the waiting galaxy. At Irwadi
prices.

With great relish, Chind Ramar announced the facts of planetarization
and told the Centaurians and their passengers that they would be
stranded for an indefinite period on Irwadi. Amazement, anger, bluster,
debate, and finally resignation--the reactions were the expected ones,
in the expected order. It was easy, Chind Ramar thought, with all but
the interstellar soldiers of fortune like Jason Ramsey. Ramsey, of
course, would need watching. As for these others....

One of the others, an Earthgirl whose beauty was entirely missed by
Chind Ramar, left the _Polaris_ in a hurry. She either had no luggage or
left her luggage aboard. Jason Ramsey, she thought. She had read Chind
Ramar's mind; a feat growing less rare although by no means common yet
among the offspring of those who had spent a great deal of time
bombarded by cosmic radiation between the stars. She hurried through the
chilling wind toward the Old Quarter of Irwadi City. Panic, she thought.
You've got to avoid panic. If you panic, you're finished....

       *       *       *       *       *

"So that's about the size of it," Ramsey finished.

Stu Englander nodded. Like Ramsey he was a hyper-space pilot, but
although he had an Earth-style name and had been born of Earth parents,
he was not an Earthman. He had been born on Capella VII, and had spent
most of his life on that tropical planet. The result was not an uncommon
one for outworlders who spent any amount of time on Irwadi: Stu
Englander had a nagging bronchial condition which had kept him off the
pilot-bridge for some months now.

Englander nodded again, dourly. He was a short, very slender man a few
years older than Ramsey, who was thirty-one. He said: "That ties it. And
I mean ties it, brother. You're looking at the brokest Capellan-earthman
who ever got himself stuck on an outworld."

"You mean it?"

"Dead broke, Jase."

"What about Sally and the kids?"

Englander had an Arcturan-earthian wife and twin boys four years old. "I
don't know what about Sally and the kids," he told Ramsey glumly. "I
guess I'll go over to the New Quarter and try to get some kind of a
job."

"They wouldn't hire an outworlder to shine their shoes with his own
spit, Stu. They have got the planetarization bug, and they've got it
bad."

Sally Englander called from the kitchen of the small flat: "Will Jase be
staying for supper?"

Englander stared at Ramsey, who shook his head. "Not today, Sally,"
Englander said, looking at Ramsey gratefully.

"Listen," Ramsey lied, "I've been lucky as all get out the last couple
of months."

"You old pro!" grinned Englander.

"So I've got a few hundred credits just burning a hole in my pocket,"
Ramsey went on. "How's about taking them?"

"But I haven't the slightest idea when I could pay back."

"I didn't say anything about paying me back."

"I couldn't accept charity, Jase."

"O.K. Pay me back when you get a chance. There are plenty of hyper-space
jobs waiting for us all over the galaxy, you know that."

"Yeah, all we have to do is get off Irwadi and go after them. But the
Irwadians are keeping us right here."

"Sure, but it won't last. Not when the folks back in Capella and Deneb
and Sol System hear about it."

"Six months," said Englander bleakly. "It'll take at least that long."

"Six months I can wait. What d'you say?"

Englander coughed wrackingly, his eyes watering. He got off the bed and
shook Ramsey's hand solemnly. Ramsey gave him three hundred and
seventy-five credits and said: "Just see you make that go a long way
supporting Sally and the kids. I don't want to see you dropping any of
it at the gaming tables. I'll knock your block off if I see you there."

"I'll knock my own block off if I see me there. Jase, I don't know how
to thank--"

"Don't is right. Forget it."

"Do you have enough--"

"Me? Plenty. Don't worry about old Jase." Ramsey went to the door.
"Well, see you."

Englander walked quickly to him and shook his hand again. On the way
out, Ramsey played for a moment or two with the twins, who were rolling
a couple of toy spaceships marked hyper-one and hyper-two across the
floor and making anachronistic machine-gun noises with their lips. Sally
Englander, a plump, young-home-maker type, beamed at Ramsey from the
kitchen. Then he went out into the gathering dusk.

       *       *       *       *       *

As usual on Irwadi, and particularly with the coming of night, it was
bitterly cold. Sucker, Ramsey told himself. But he grinned. He felt good
about what he'd done. With Stu sick, and with Sally and the kids, he'd
done the only thing he could do. He still had almost twenty-five credits
left. Maybe he really would have a lucky night at the tables. Maybe ...
heck, he'd been down-and-out before. A fugitive from Earth didn't have
much choice sometimes....

"Red sixteen," the croupier said indifferently. He was a short,
heavy-set Sirian with a shock of scarlet hair, albino skin, and red
eyes.

Ramsey watched his money being raked across the table. It wasn't his
night, he told himself with a grim smile. He had only three credits
left. If he risked them now, there wouldn't even be the temporary
physical relief and release of a bottle of Irwadian brandy before
hitting the sack.

Which was another thing, Ramsey thought. Hitting the sack. Ah yes, you
filthy outworlder capitalist, hitting the sack. You owe that fish-eyed,
scale-skinned Irwadian landlady the rent money, so you'd better wait
until later, until much later, before sneaking back to your room.

       *       *       *       *       *

He watched the gambling for another hour or so without risking his few
remaining credits. After a while a well-dressed Irwadian, drunk and
obviously slumming here in the Old Quarter, made his way over to the
table. His body scales were a glossy dark green and he wore glittering,
be-jeweled straps across his chest and an equally glittering, be-jeweled
weapons belt. Aside from these, in the approved Irwadian fashion, he was
quite naked. An anthropologist friend had once told Ramsey that once the
Irwadians had worn clothing, but since the coming in great number of the
outworlders they had stripped down, as though to prove how tough they
were in being able to withstand the freezing climate of their native
world. Actually, the Irwadian body-scales were superb insulation,
whether from heat or from cold.

"... Earthman watching me," the Irwadian in the be-jeweled straps said
arrogantly, placing a fat roll of credits on the table.

"I'm sorry," Ramsey said. "Were you talking to me?"

"I thertainly wath," lisped the Irwadian, his eyes blazing with drunken
hatred. "I thaid I won't have any Earthman thnooping over my thoulder
while I gamble, not unleth he'th gambling too."

"Better tell that to your Security Police," Ramsey said coldly but not
angrily. "I'm out of a job, so I don't have money to throw around. Go
ahead and tell me--" with a little smile--"you think it was my idea."

The Irwadian looked up haughtily. Evidently he was looking for trouble,
or could not hold his liquor, or both. The frenzy of planetarization,
Ramsey knew from bitter experience on other worlds, made irrational
behavior like this typical. He studied the drunken Irwadian carefully.
In all the time he'd spent on Irwadi, he'd never been able to tell a
native's age by his green, scale-skinned, fish-eyed poker-face. But the
glossy green scales covering face and body told Ramsey, along with the
sturdy muscles revealed by the lack of clothing, that the Irwadian was
in his prime, shorter than Ramsey by far, but wider across the shoulders
and thicker through the barrel chest.

"You outworlderth have been deprething the thandard of living on Irwadi
ever thince you came here," the Irwadian said. "All you ever brought
wath poverty and your ditheath germth and more trouble than you could
handle. I don't want your thtink near me. I'm trying to enjoy mythelf.
Get out of here."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was abruptly silent in the little gambling hall. Since the
establishment catered to outworlders and was full of them, the silence,
Ramsey thought, should have been both ominous and in his favor. He
looked around. Outworlders, yes. But not another Earthman present. He
wondered if he was in for a fight. He shrugged, hardly caring. Maybe a
fight was just what he needed, the way he felt.

"Get out of here," the Irwadian repeated. "You thtink."

Just then a Vegan girl, blue-skinned and fantastically wasp-waisted like
all her kind, drifted over to Ramsey. He'd seen her around. He thought
he recognized her. Maybe he'd even danced with her in the unit-a-dance
halls reserved for humanoid outworlders.

"Are you nuts?" she said, hissing the words through her teeth and
grabbing Ramsey's elbow. "Don't you know who that guy is?"

"No. Who?"

"He's Garr Symm, that's who."

Ramsey smiled at her without mirth. "Do I bow down in awe or run from
here screaming? I never heard of Garr Symm."

"Oh you fool!" she whispered furiously. "Garr Symm is the brand new
number one man of the Irwadi Security Police. Don't you read the
'casts?"

Before Ramsey could answer or adjust to his surprise, the Irwadian
repeated:

"I'm telling you for the third time. Get out."

Ostentatiously, Ramsey reached into his cloak-pocket for a single credit
bill and tossed it on the table.

"The denomination is not sufficient, sir," the albino Sirian croupier
said indifferently. Ramsey had known it was not.

Garr Symm's face turned a darker green. The Vegan girl retreated from
Ramsey's side in fright. Symm raised his hand and an Irwadian waiter
brought over a drink in a purple stem glass with a filigree pattern of
titanium, bowing obsequiously. Symm lurched with the glass toward
Ramsey. "I'm telling you to go," he said in a loud voice.

Ramsey picked up his credit note but stood there. With a little sigh of
drunken contentment, Garr Symm sloshed the contents of his stem glass in
Ramsey's face.

The liquor stung Ramsey's eyes. Many of the other outworlders, neither
Irwadian nor Earthmen, laughed nervously.

Ramsey wiped his eyes but otherwise did not move. He was in a rough spot
and he knew it. The fact that their new Security Chief went out drunk at
night with a chip on his shoulder was the Irwadian government's affair,
not Ramsey's. He'd been insulted before. An Earthman in the outworlds,
particularly an Earthman fugitive who knew he dared not get into the
kind of trouble that could bring the Earth consul to investigate, was
used to insults. For Earth was the leading economic and military power
of the galaxy, and the fact that Earth really tried to deal fairly with
its galactic neighbors meant nothing. Earth, being top dog, was
resented.

The thing which got Ramsey, though, was this Garr Symm. He had never
heard of Garr Symm, and he thought he knew most of the big shots in the
Irwadian Security Police by name. But there must have been a reason for
his appointment. A government throwing off outworld influence had a
reason for everything. So, why Garr Symm?

       *       *       *       *       *

"You, Mith Vegan!" Garr Symm called suddenly. "You whithpered to the
Earthman. What did you tell him?"

"Not to look for trouble," the Vegan girl said in a frightened voice.

"But what elth?"

"Honest, that's all."

"Come here, pleath."

Her blue skin all at once very pale, the Vegan girl walked back toward
Garr Symm. He leered at her quite drunkenly and took hold of her slender
arm. "What did you tell him? For the latht time."

The girl whimpered: "You are hurting my arm."

Thoughts raced through Ramsey's mind. As an administrator, as an
Irwadian public servant in a touchy job, Garr Symm, a drunkard, was
obviously grossly incompetent. What other qualifications did he have
which gave him the top Irwadian Security job? Ramsey didn't know. He
sighed. The Vegan girl's mouth formed a rictus of pain. Ramsey had a
hunch he was going to find out.

He said curtly: "Let go of her, Symm. She told me nothing that would
interest you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Garr Symm ignored him. The blue-skinned girl cried.

Ramsey grimaced and hit Garr Symm in the belly as hard as he could.

Symm thudded back against the table. It overturned with a crash and the
Security Chief crashed down on top of it. There wasn't a sound in the
gambling hall except Ramsey's sudden hard breathing, the Vegan girl's
sniffling, and Garr Symm's noisy attempts to get air into his lungs.
Then Garr Symm gagged and was sick. He writhed in pain, still unable to
breathe. His hands fluttered near his weapons belt.

"Come on," Ramsey told the Vegan girl. "We'd better get out of here." He
took her arm. Dumbly she went with him. None of the outworlders there
tried to stop them. Ramsey looked back at Garr Symm. The Irwadian was
shaking his fist. He had finally managed to draw his m.g. gun, but the
crowd of outworlders closed between them and there was no chance he
could hit Ramsey or the girl. Retching, he had dirtied the glossy green
scales of his chest.

"I'll get you," he vowed. "I'll get you."

Ramsey took the girl outside. It was very cold. "I'm so afraid," she
said. "What will I do? What can I do?" She shook with fear.

"You got a place to sleep?"

"Y-yes, but I'm the only Vegan girl in Irwadi City. He'll find me. He'll
find me when he's ready."

"O.K. Then come home with me."

"I--"

"For crying out loud, I don't look that lecherous, do I? We can't just
stand here."

"I--I'm sorry. I'll go with you of course."

Ramsey took her hand again and they ran. The cold black Irwadian night
swallowed them.

"So you live in the Old Quarter too," the Vegan girl said.

"Heck yeah. Did you expect a palace?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ramsey had a room, rent one Irwadi month in arrears, in a cold-water
tenement near the river which demarked the Old and the New Quarters. The
façade of the old building was dark now. His landlady was probably
asleep, although you never could tell with that old witch. Ramsey knew
it wouldn't be the first time she stayed up through half the night to
await a delinquent tenant.

"I--I never went to a man's room before," the blue-skinned Vegan girl
said. She was rather pretty in a slender, muscleless, big-eyed,
female-helpless mode.

"You're a dance-hall girl, aren't you?"

"Still, I never spent the night in a man's--"

"What's the matter with you? You think we're going to spend the night
here? Somebody over at those gaming tables will be able to identify me.
Garr Symm'll be on his way before long."

"Then what are we going to do?" The girl was shivering with cold.

"Hide," Jason Ramsey said. "Somewhere. I just came back to get my
things. There isn't much, but there's an old m.g. gun which we might
need."

"But they'll find us, and--"

"You coming upstairs or will you wait out here and freeze to death in
the cold?"

"I'm coming."

They went upstairs together, on tip-toe. Ramsey's room was on the third
floor, with a besooted view of the industrial complex on the river by
day. The narrow hall was dark and silent. Behind one of the closed doors
an outworlder cried out in his sleep. Ramsey had to cup a hand over the
Vegan girl's mouth so she wouldn't scream in empathic fear. He opened
the door of his room, surprised that it was not locked. He thought he
had left it locked.

At once he was wary. It was dark in the hall, just as dark in the room.
He could see nothing. The door hinges squeaked.

"Come in, Captain Ramsey," a voice said. "I thought you would never get
here."

He stood on the threshold, uncertain. The voice had spoken not
Interstellar _Coine_, but English. It had spoken English, without a
foreign accent.

And it was a girl's voice.

       *       *       *       *       *

Still, it could have been an elaborate trick. It was unlikely, but not
impossible, that Garr Symm had learned Ramsey's identity already and had
sent an operative here to await him. Ramsey and the Vegan girl had come
on foot. It was a long walk.

"I'm armed," Ramsey lied. "Come over here. Slowly. Don't put any lights
on." He could feel the Vegan girl trembling next to him. Not able to
understand English, she didn't know what was going on.

"You're armed," the unseen girl's voice said in crisp, amused English,
"like I'm a six-legged Antarean spider-man. You have an m.g. gun,
Ramsey. It's in this room. I have it. That's all you have. No, don't try
to lie to me. I'm a telepath. I can read you. Come in and put the light
on and shut the door. You may bring the girl with you if you want.
Brother, is she ever radiating fear! It's practically drowning your own
mind out."

The unseen girl wasn't kidding, Ramsey knew. She could read minds. She
had proved it to him. Which left him this choice: he could grab the
Vegan girl's arm again and get the heck out of there, or do what the
unseen Earth girl told him to do. He wanted that m.g. gun. He took the
Vegan girl's hand and advanced over the threshold and closed the door
and switched on the light.

The girl was sitting on the bed. She was an Earthgirl, all right. She
had come in a toggle-cloak of green Irwadian fur, which was folded
neatly at her side on the bed. Under it she wore a daring net halter of
the type then fashionable on Earth but which had not yet taken over the
outworlds. It left her shoulders bare and exposed a great deal of
smooth, tawny skin through the net. Her firm breasts were cupped in two
solid cones of black growing out of the net. Her midriff was bare to an
inch or two below the navel. Her loins were covered by an abrevitog
which formed a triangle in front and, Ramsey knew, would form one in
back. Her long, well-formed legs were bare down to the mid-calf boots
she wore. She had a beautiful body and had dressed so Ramsey couldn't
miss it. Her face was so provocatively beautiful that Ramsey just stood
there staring at it--after he had taken in the rest of her. She wore her
hair quite long. She seemed perfectly composed. In her right hand she
held Ramsey's m.g. gun, but she wasn't pointing it at them.

She looked at the timid Vegan girl and smiled. "Oh, I am sorry, Captain
Ramsey," she said. "I couldn't know, of course, you'd be coming home
with--company."

"It isn't what you think it is," Ramsey said, surprised to find himself
on the defensive. "The girl's in trouble. So'm I."

The Earthgirl laughed. "Already? You looked the type, but I thought it
would take a little time."

"What do you want?" Ramsey said. They were speaking in English. The
Vegan girl tugged at Ramsey's arm. She wanted to get out of there and
hoped Ramsey would go with her. Abruptly the Earthgirl burst out
laughing.

"What's so funny?" Ramsey demanded.

"Your little Vegan friend. I read her mind, Ramsey. She thinks I'm your
wife. She thinks I'm mad at you for bringing her home."

"Then why don't you talk in _Coine_," Ramsey said in the interstellar
language, "and make her feel better? She might as well know I never saw
you before in my life." He was annoyed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Vegan girl smiled timidly, taking hope.

"But you did," the beautiful Earthgirl said. "I was on the _Polaris_
today, Captain. You were to be the pilot, until Interstellar Transfer
here on Irwadi was planetarized."

"I didn't see you. Dressed like that I wouldn't have forgotten you."

"I wasn't dressed like this." The girl smiled, very sure of herself. "I
read your mind when you came in. The costume's had the desired effect, I
see. But you needn't broadcast your animal desires so blatantly."

"Nobody asked you to read my mind. Besides, you needn't broadcast your
physical assets so blatantly."

"Touché," said the Earthgirl.

"Listen," Ramsey began. "We're in a jam. We're in a hurry."

"So you told me. I couldn't have wished for more. It looks like I didn't
need this costume and its obvious inducements at all, if you're really
in a jam."

"What the devil is that supposed to mean?"

"My name is Margot Dennison, Captain Ramsey. I have managed to buy an
old starship, small and held together by spit and string and whatever
the Irwadians use for prayer--"

"They're atheists," Ramsey said a little pointlessly. It was the girl.
Darn her hide, she was beautiful! What did she expect? Looking at her,
how could a man concentrate.... "Hey!" Ramsey blurted suddenly. "Did you
say Margot Dennison? The tri-di star?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Margot Dennison smiled. "That's right," she said. "Stranded five hundred
light years from nowhere, Captain Ramsey. With a ship. With money. In
need of a hyper-space pilot. That's why I'm here, or didn't you guess?"

"I'm listening."

"Isn't it clear? I'll pay you to take me away from here."

"Where to?"

"Through hyper-space to Earth. Well?"

"I've been grounded. If I take you through hyper-space, I lose my
license."

"You really don't believe that, do you? After the Irwadians grounded all
of you without warning, and grounded all ships until they can train a
few more pilots. You don't really think I.T.S. would take your license
away if you took a ship up and through hyper, do you? Under the
circumstances? Especially since you're in a jam with a totalitarian
government gone wild? Do you?"

Ramsey said abruptly: "I'm sorry. I can't take you to Sol System."

Margot Dennison smiled. It wasn't the kind of smile designed to make a
man roll over on his back and wave all fours in the breeze. Margot
Dennison didn't need that kind of smile.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "I read your mind, you see. Very well,
Captain. If you're a fugitive from Earth--I assume Ramsey isn't your
real name, by the way--you may take me through hyper to Centauri. That
will be quite satisfactory. I will make my way from Centauri. Well?"

"Give me the gun," Ramsey said.

"My goodness, of course. I'm not trying to hold you up. Here." She got
up from the bed for the first time and walked toward them. She had firm,
long legs, and used them well. She was utterly lovely and although part
of it was probably her professional know-how, she made you forget that.
She was the most attractive girl, Earth or outworld, Ramsey had seen in
years.

Ramsey took the gun. Their hands met. Ramsey leaned forward quickly and
kissed her on the lips. He was still holding the Vegan girl's slender
arm, though. She tried to run away but couldn't. Margot Dennison
returned the kiss for an instant, to show Ramsey that when she really
wanted to return it, if she ever really would, she would pack the same
kind of libidinal vitality in her responses as she did in her
appearance; then she stood coldly, no longer responsive, until Ramsey
stepped back.

"Maybe I was asking for it," she said. "I was prepared for that--and
more. But it isn't necessary now, is it? My gosh, Ramsey! Will you
please close that mind of yours? You make a girl blush."

"Then put on your cloak," Ramsey said, and, really blushing this time,
she did so.

She said: "I'm prepared to pay you one thousand credits; what do you
say?"

"I say it must be a pretty important appointment you have on Centauri."

"Earth, Captain Ramsey. I'm settling for Centauri. Well?"

"I'll take you," Ramsey said, "if this girl comes too."

Margot Dennison looked at the frightened Vegan girl and smiled. "So it's
like that," she said.

"It isn't like anything."

Ramsey packed a few things in an expanduffle and the three of them
hurried through the doorway and down stairs. The cold dark night
awaiting them with a fierce howling wind and the first flurries of snow
from the north.

"Where to?" Ramsey hollered above the wind.

"My place," Margot Dennison told him, and they ran.

       *       *       *       *       *

Margot Dennison had a large apartment in Irwadi City's New Quarter. This
surprised Ramsey, for not many outworlders lived there. That night,
though, he was too tired to think about it. He vaguely remembered a
couch for himself, a separate room for the Vegan girl, another for
Margot Dennison. He slept like a log without dreaming.

He awoke with anxious hands fluttering at his shoulder. Opening one
sleepy eye, he saw the Vegan girl. He saw daylight through a window but
said, "Gmph! Middle of the night."

The Vegan girl said: "She's gone."

Ramsey came awake all at once, springing to his feet fully dressed and
flinging aside his cloak, which he'd used as a blanket. "Margot!" he
called.

"She's gone," the Vegan girl repeated. "When I awoke she wasn't here.
The door--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ramsey ran to the door. It was a heavy plastic irising door. It was
locked and naturally would not respond to the whorl patterns of Ramsey's
thumb.

"So now we're prisoners," Ramsey said. "I don't get it."

"At least there's food in the kitchen."

"All right. Let's eat."

There were two windows in the room, but when Ramsey looked out he saw
they were at least four stories up. They'd just have to wait for Margot
Dennison.

It took the Vegan girl some time to prepare the unfamiliar Earth-style
food with which Margot Dennison's kitchen was stocked. Ramsey used the
time to prowl around the apartment. It was furnished in Sirian-archaic,
a mode of furniture too feminine to suit Ramsey's tastes. But then, the
uni-sexual Sirians, of course, often catered to their own feminine
taste.

Ramsey found nothing in Margot Dennison's apartment which indicated she
had done any acting on Irwadi, and that surprised him, for he'd assumed
she had plied her trade here as elsewhere. He felt a little guilty about
his snooping, then changed his mind when he remembered that Margot had
locked them in.

In one of the slide compartments of what passed for a bureau in
Sirian-archaic, he found a letter. Since it was the only piece of
correspondence in the apartment, it might be important to Margot
Dennison, thought Ramsey. And if it were important to her....

Ramsey opened the letter and read it. Dated five Earth months before, it
ran:

    _My darling Margot: By the time you read this I shall be dead.
    Ironical, isn't it? Coming so close--with death in the form of
    an incurable cancer intervening._

    _As you know, Margot, I always wished for a son but never had
    one. You'll have to play that role, I'm afraid, as you always
    have. Here is the information I told you I would write down.
    Naturally, if you intend to do anything about it, you'll guard
    it with your life._

           *       *       *       *       *

    _Apparently the hyper-space pattern from Irwadi to Earth is the
    one I was looking for. The proto-men, if I may be bold enough to
    call them that, first left hyper-space at that point, perhaps a
    million, perhaps five million, Earth years ago. I don't have to
    tell you what this means, my child. I've already indicated it to
    you previously. It suffices to remind you that, in what science
    has regarded as the most amazing coincidence in the history of
    the galaxy, humanoid types sprang up on some three thousand
    stellar worlds simultaneously between one and five million years
    ago. I say simultaneously although there is the possibility of a
    four million year lag: indications are, however, that one date
    would do quite well for all the worlds._

    _Proto-man was tremendously ahead of us in certain sciences,
    naturally. For example, each humanoid type admirably fits the
    evolutionary pattern on its particular planet. The important
    point, Margot, is the simultaneity of the events: it means that
    proto-man left hyper-space, his birth-place, and peopled the
    man-habitable worlds of the galaxy at a single absolute instance
    in time. This would clearly be impossible if the thousands of
    journeys involved any duration. Therefore, it can only be
    concluded that they were journeys which somehow negated the
    temporal dimension. In other words, instant travel across the
    length and breadth of the galaxy!_

    _Whoever re-discovers proto-man's secret, needless to say, will
    be the most influential, the most powerful, man in the galaxy.
    Margot, I thought that man would be me. It won't be now._

    _But it can be you, Margot. It is my dying wish that you
    continue my work. Let nothing stop you. Nothing. Remember this,
    though: I cannot tell you what to expect when you reach the
    original home of proto-man. In all probability the whole race
    has perished, or we'd have heard of them since. But I can't be
    sure of that. I can't be sure of anything. Perhaps proto-man,
    like some deistic god, became disinterested in the Milky Way
    Galaxy for reasons we'll never understand. Perhaps he still
    exists, in hyper-space._

           *       *       *       *       *

    _Finally, Margot, remember this. If you presented this letter to
    the evolutionary scientists on any of the worlds, they'd laugh
    at you. It is as if unbelief of the proto-man legend were
    ingrained in all the planetary people, perhaps somehow
    fantastically carried from generation to generation in their
    genes because proto-man a million years ago decided that each
    stellar world must work out its own destiny independently of the
    others and independent of their common heritage. But in my own
    case, there are apparently two unique factors at work. In the
    first place, as you know, I deciphered--after discovering it
    quite by accident--what was probably a proto-man's dying message
    to his children, left a million years ago in the ruins on
    Arcturus II. In the second place, isn't it quite possible that
    my genes have changed, that I have mutated and therefore do not
    have as an essential part of my make-up the unbelief of the
    proto-man legend?_

    _Good luck to you, Margot. I hope you're willing to give up your
    career to carry out your dying father's wish. If you do, and if
    you succeed, more power will be yours than a human being has
    ever before had in the galaxy. I won't presume to tell you how
    to use it._

    _Oh, yes. One more thing. Since Earth and Alpha Centauri are on
    a direct line from Irwadi, Centauri will do quite well as your
    outbound destination if for some reason you can't make Earth.
    Again, good luck, my child. With all my love, Dad._

Ramsey frowned at the letter. He did not know what to make of it. As far
as he knew, there was no such thing as a proto-man myth in wide currency
around the galaxy. He had never heard of proto-man. Unless, he thought
suddenly, the dying man could have simply meant all the myths of human
creation, hypothecating a first man who, somehow, had developed
independently of the beasts of the field although he seemed to fit their
evolutionary pattern....

But what the devil would hyper-space have to do with such a myth?
Proto-man, whatever proto-man was, couldn't have lived in hyper-space.
Not in that bleak, ugly, faceless infinity....

Unless, Ramsey thought, more perplexed than ever, it was the very bleak,
ugly, faceless infinity which made proto-man leave.

"Breakfast!" the Vegan girl called. Ramsey joined her in the kitchen,
and they ate without talking. When they were drinking their coffee, an
Earth-style beverage which the Vegan girl admitted liking, the apartment
door irised and Margot Dennison came in.

Ramsey, who had replaced the letter where he'd found it, said: "Just
what the devil did you think you were doing, locking us in?"

"For your own protection, silly," Margot told him smoothly. "I always
lock my door when I go out, so I locked it today. Naturally, we won't
have a chance to apply for a new lock. Besides, why arouse suspicion?"

"Where'd you go?"

"I don't see where that's any of your business."

"Believe it or not," Ramsey said caustically, "I've seen a thousand
credits before. I've turned down a thousand credits before, in jobs I
didn't like. As for being stranded here on Irwadi, it's all the same to
me whether I'm on Irwadi or elsewhere."

"What does all that mean, Captain Ramsey?"

"It means keep us informed. It means don't get uppity."

Margot laughed and dropped a vidcast tape on the table in front of
Ramsey. He read it and did not look up. There was a description of
himself, a description of the Vegan girl, and a wanted bulletin issued
on them. For assaulting the Chief of Irwadi Security, the bulletin said.
For assaulting a drunken fool, Ramsey thought.

"Well?" Margot asked. This morning she wore a man-tailored jumper which,
Ramsey observed, clashed with the Sirian-archaic furniture. She looked
cool and completely poised and no less beautiful, if less provocatively
dressed, than last night.

Ramsey returned question for question. "What about the ship?"

"In a Spacer Graveyard, of course. There isn't a landing field on the
planet we could go to."

"You mean we'll take off from a Graveyard? From a junk-heap of battered
old derelict ships?"

"Of course. It has some advantages, believe it or not. We'll work on the
ship nights. It needs plenty of work, let me tell you. But then the
Graveyard is a kind of parts department, isn't it?"

Ramsey couldn't argue with that.

They spent the next three days sleeping and slowly going stir-crazy.
They slipped out each night, though, and walked the two miles to the
Spacer Graveyard down near the river. It was on the other side of the
river, which meant they had to boat across. Risky, but there was no help
for it. Each night they worked on the ship, which Ramsey found to be a
fifty-year old Canopusian freighter in even worse condition than Margot
had indicated. The night was usually divided into three sections. First,
reviewing the work which had been done and planning the evening's
activities. Then, looking for the parts they would need in the jungle of
interstellar wrecks all about them. Finally, going to work with the
parts they had found and with the tools which Ramsey had discovered on
the old Canopusian freighter the first night.

       *       *       *       *       *

As they made their way back across the river the first night, Ramsey
paddling slowly, quietly, Margot said:

"Ramsey, I--I think we're being watched."

"I haven't seen or heard a thing. You, Vardin?" Vardin was the Vegan
girl's name.

Vardin shook her head.

Ramsey was anxious all at once, though. Things had gone too smoothly.
They had not been interfered with at all. Personally, things hadn't gone
smoothly with Ramsey, but that was another story. He found himself
liking Margot Dennison too much. He found himself trying to hide it
because he knew she could read minds. Just how do you hide your thoughts
from a mind reader? Ramsey didn't know, but whenever his thoughts
drifted in that direction he tried thinking of something else--anything
else, except the proto-man letter.

"Yes, that's just what I was thinking," Margot said in the boat. "I can
read minds, so I'd know best if we were being watched. To get a clear
reading I have to aim my thoughts specifically, but I can pick up
free-floating thoughts as a kind of emotional tone rather than words.
Does that make sense?"

"If you say so. What else did you read in my mind?"

Margot smiled at him mysteriously and said nothing.

Ramsey felt thoughts of proto-man nibbling at his consciousness. He
tried to fight them down purely rationally, and knew he wouldn't
succeed. He grabbed Margot and pulled her close to him, seeking her
lips with his, letting his thoughts wander into a fantasy of desire.

Margot slapped his face and sat stiffly in her cloak while he paddled to
the other side of the river. Vardin sat like a statue. Ramsey had come
to a conclusion: he did not like letting Margot know how he felt about
her, but it was mostly on a straight physical level and he preferred her
discovering it to her learning that he'd read the proto-man letter from
her father. In his thoughts, though, he never designated it as the
proto-man letter from her father. He designated it as X.

When they reached the bank, Margot said: "I'm sorry for slapping you."

"I'm sorry for making a pass."

"Ramsey, tell me, what is X?"

Ramsey laughed harshly and said nothing. That gave Margot something to
think about. Maybe it would keep her thoughts out of his mind, keep her
from reading....

X marks the spot, thought Ramsey. XXX marks the spot-spot-spot. X is a
spot in a pot or a lot of rot....

"Oh, stop it!" Margot cried irritably. "You're thinking nonsense."

"Then get the heck out of my mind," Ramsey told her.

Vardin walked on without speaking. If she had any inkling of what they
were talking about, she never mentioned it.

Margot said: "I still get the impression."

"What impression?"

"That we're being followed. That we're being watched. Every step of the
way."

Wind and cold and darkness. The hairs on the back of Ramsey's neck
prickled. They walked on, bent against the wind.

       *       *       *       *       *

Security Officer Second Class Ramar Chind reported to his Chief in the
Hall of Retribution the following morning. Chind, a career man with the
Irwadi Security Forces, did not like his new boss. Garr Symm was no
career man. He knew nothing of police procedure. It was even
rumored--probably based upon solid fact--that Garr Symm liked his brandy
excessively and often found himself under its influence. Worst of
all--after all, a man could understand a desire for drink, even if,
sometimes, it interfered with work--worst of all, Garr Symm was a
scientist, a dome-top in the Irwadi vernacular. And hard-headed Ramar
Chind lost no love on dome-tops.

He saluted crisply and said: "You wanted to see me, sir?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Garr Symm leaned forward over his desk, making a tent of his scaly green
fingers and peering over it. He said three words. He said: "The
Earthgirl Dennison."

"The Spacer Graveyard," Ramar Chind said promptly. That was an easy one.
His agents had been following the Dennison girl, at Garr Symm's orders.
Ramar Chind did not know why.

"And?" Garr Symm asked.

"The Earthman Ramsey, the Vegan Vardin, both are with her. We can close
in and arrest the lot, sir, any time you wish."

"Fool," Garr Symm said softly, without malice. "That is the last thing I
want. Don't you understand that? No, I guess you don't."

"Yes, sir."

"Their ship?"

"Every morning after they leave we go over it. Still two or three nights
away from completion, sir. Also--" Ramar Chind smiled.

"Yes, what is it?"

"Two or three nights away from completion, except for one thing. They'll
need a fuel supply. Two U-235 capsules rigged for slow implosion, sir.
The hopper of their ship is empty."

"Is there such a fuel supply in the Graveyard?"

"No, sir."

"But could there be?"

"Usually, no. Naturally, the junkers drain out spaceship hoppers before
scrapping them. U-235 in any form brings--"

"I know the value of U-235. Proceed."

"Well, there could be. If they were lucky enough to find such a fuel
supply in one of the wrecks in the Graveyard, they wouldn't be
suspicious. Naturally, we won't put one there."

"But you're wrong, my dear Ramar Chind. You'll load the hopper of one of
those wrecks with enough U-235 for their purposes, and you'll do it
today."

"But sir--"

"We're going to follow them, Chind. You and I. We want them to escape.
If they don't escape, how can we follow them?"

Ramar Chind shrugged resignedly and lisped: "How much fuel will they
need for their purposes, sir, whatever their purposes are?" Naturally,
his lisping sounded perfectly normal to Garr Symm, who also spoke in
the sibilantless Irwadi manner.

"You'd really like to know, wouldn't you?" Garr Symm said.

"Yes, sir. To put me in a position in which I could better do my--"

"To satisfy your curiosity, you mean!"

"But sir--"

"I am a scientist, Chind."

"Yes, sir."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Didn't it strike you as odd that a scientist should be elevated to the
top post in your department?"

"Of course, sir. I didn't question it, though."

"As you know, Chind, when it was decided to planetarize Irwadi as a
first step toward driving away the outworlders, the quarters of every
outworlder on Irwadi were thoroughly searched."

"I participated in the--uh, program, sir."

"Good. Then I needn't tell you. Something was found in Margot Dennison's
apartment. Something of immense importance. Something so important that,
if used properly, it can assure Irwadi the dominant place in the galaxy
for all time to come."

"But I thought Irwadi craved isolation--"

"Isolation, Chind? To be sure, if intercourse with the other galactic
powers saw us at the bottom of the heap. But at the top--who would crave
isolation at the top?"

"I see, sir. And the something that was found needed a scientist?"

"Very perceptive of you, Chind. Precisely. It was a letter. We copied
it. Of course, Margot Dennison knows more than what is in the letter;
the letter alludes to previous information. We need Dennison and Ramsey.
We have to let them go ahead with their plans. Then we follow them,
Chind. You understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"You're a good policeman, Chind. The best we have, I understand. You'll
be going with me--on the most important assignment you or any Irwadian
ever had."

"I am grateful, sir, that you consider me--"

"Now, see about that U-235 slow-implosion capsule."

"At once, sir."

Saluting smartly, Ramar Chind left Garr Symm's office. Symm smiled and
sat perfectly still for some minutes. For Irwadi, yes, he was thinking.
Certainly for Irwadi. For Irwadi absolutely. To make Irwadi the most
important planet in the galaxy. But important planets--in the way that
Irwadi would be important--couldn't maintain the status quo. For
example, Irwadi's form of government might have to be changed. At
present, an autocratic bureaucracy with no one man at the top.
Ultimately, after the rediscovery of proto-man's secret--rule by one
man.

Garr Symm, absolute dictator of the galaxy, if he played his hand right.

Garr Symm sat there for a long time, dreaming of power as no man before
him on any world had ever dreamed of power....

       *       *       *       *       *

Vardin rushed into the airlock of the Canopusian freighter in a state of
excitement. At last they had given her something to do, and she had been
successful at the outset. Specifically, Ramsey and the beautiful woman
had given her a scintillation-counter and told her to prowl among the
wrecks with it while they worked on the control board of the freighter,
which the beautiful woman had named _Enterprise_.

"I found it!" Vardin cried. "I found it!"

She led a sceptical Margot Dennison outside while Ramsey continued
working on the _Enterprise_. The two girls walked swiftly through the
darkness between the wrecks. By this time they knew every foot of the
Graveyard.

"There," Vardin said. "You see?"

The scintillation counter was clicking and blinking. Margot smiled and
went to work with a portable mechanical arm and a leaded bottle. In ten
minutes, she had the slow-implosion capsule out of the hopper of a
battered old Aldebaranese cargo ship.

"I never saw one of those mechanical arms working before," Vardin said.

Margot smiled. She was delighted with the timid Vegan girl, with the
cold night, with the way the wind blew across the Graveyard, with
everything. They had their fuel. Tomorrow night the _Enterprise_ would
be ready for its dash into hyper-space. In thirty-six hours she might
have her hands on the most valuable find in the history of mankind....

When they returned to the _Enterprise_, she let Ramsey kiss her and
tried to slip the telepathic tentacles of her mind behind his guard--

Lewd libidinous fantasies, X stands for nothing for nothing for nothing,
XXX--she got nowhere.

What was X? What was Ramsey's secret? Margot did not know, and wondered
if she would ever find out.

She smiled, reading Vardin's mind. For Vardin was thinking: it must be
so wonderful to have beauty such as she has, to melt the wills of strong
handsome men such as Ramsey. It must be truly wonderful.

For the first twenty-eight years of her life, Margot Dennison would have
agreed, would have delighted in her own beauty. She still did, to a
point. But beyond that point, she could dream only of proto-man and his
secret.

Beauty or power?

She had beauty.

She wanted power.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the early hours of the following morning, behind the cover of what
appeared to be a dense early morning fog but what actually was an
artificially produced fog, a team of Irwadi technicians swarmed all over
a battered Procyonian cruiser of three thousand tons. By mid-morning,
working swiftly and with all the tools and spare parts they would need,
they made the ship, called _Dog Star_, space-worthy.

Later that day, but still two hours before nightfall, Ramar Chind
arrived with a small crew of three Security Police. He had selected his
men carefully: they knew how to handle a spaceship, they knew how to
fight, they were quite ruthless. He thought Garr Symm would be pleased.

Symm did not arrive until just before nightfall. He was very agitated
when he came. Ramar Chind, too, was eager. What would happen within the
next several hours, he realized, might be beyond his ken, but he still
recognized its importance. And, being an opportunist, he would pounce on
whatever he found of value to himself....

Several hours after the setting of the Irwadi primary had ushered in the
cold night, Margot Dennison, Ramsey and Vardin arrived at the Graveyard
and made their way at once to the _Enterprise_. They went inside swiftly
and in a very few minutes prepared the thousand-tonner for blastoff.
Ramsey's mouth was dry. He could barely keep the thoughts of proto-man
from his mind. If Margot read them....

"Centauri here we come," he said, just to talk.

"Centauri," said Margot.

But of course, she had another destination in mind.

Several hundred yards across the Graveyard, watching, waiting, the
occupants of _Dog Star_ were armed to the teeth.

Ramsey sat at the controls. Vardin stood behind him nervously. The space
trip from Vega to Irwadi was probably the only one she had ever taken.
Margot sat, quite relaxed, in the co-pilot's chair.

"I still can't believe we're not going to feel anything," Vardin said in
her soft, shy voice.

"Haven't you ever been through hyper-space before?" Margot asked the
Vegan girl.

"Just once."

"In normal space," Ramsey explained, "we feel acceleration and
deceleration because the increase or decrease in velocity is experienced
at different micro-instants by all the cells of our body. In hyper-space
the velocity is felt simultaneously in all parts of the ship, including
all parts of us. We become weightless, of course, but the change is
instant and we feel no pressure, no pain."

Ramsey was waiting until 0134:57 on the ship chronometer. At that
precise instant in time, and at that instant only, blastoff would place
them on the proper hyper-space orbit. And, before they could feel the
mounting pressure of blastoff, the timelessness of hyper-space would
intervene.

"0130:15," Margot read the chronometer for Ramsey. "It won't be long
now. 30:20--"

"All right," Ramsey said suddenly. "All right. I can read the
chronometer."

"Why, Ramsey! I do believe you're nervous."

"Anxious, Margot. A hyper-pilot is always anxious just before crossover.
You've got to be, because the slightest miscalculation can send you
fifty thousand light years off course."

"So? All you'd have to do is re-enter hyper-space and go back."

Ramsey shook his head. "Hyper-space can only be entered from certain
points in space. We've never been able to figure out why."

"What certain points?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ramsey looked at her steadily. "Points which vary with the orbits of the
three thousand humanoid worlds, Margot," he said slowly. He watched her
for a reaction, knowing that strange fact about hyper-space--perfectly
true and never understood--dovetailed with her father's letter about
proto-man, an unknown pre-human ancestor of all the humanoid races in
the galaxy, who had discovered hyper-space, bred variations to colonize
all the inhabitable worlds, found or created the three thousand
crossover points in space, and used them.

Margot showed no response, but then, Ramsey told himself, she was a
tri-di actress. She could feign an emotion--or hide one. She merely
asked: "Is it true that there's no such thing as time in hyper-space?"

"That's right. That's why you can travel scores or hundreds or thousands
of light years through hyper-space in hours. Hyper-space is a continuum
of only three dimensions. There is no fourth dimension, no dimension of
duration."

"Then why aren't trips through hyper-space instantaneous? They take
several hours, don't they?"

"Sure, but the way scientists have it figured, that's subjective time.
No objective time passes at all. It can't. There isn't any--in
hyper-space."

"Then you mean--"

Ramsey shook his head. "0134:02," he said. "It's almost time."

The seconds ticked away. Even Margot did not seem relaxed now. She
stared nervously at the chronometer, or watched Ramsey's lips as he
silently read away the seconds. A place where time did not exist, an
under-stratum of extension sans duration. An idea suddenly entered her
mind, and she was afraid.

If proto-man had colonized the galactic worlds between one and four or
five million years ago, but if time did not exist for proto-man, then
wasn't the super-race which had engendered all mankind still waiting in
its timeless home, waiting perhaps grimly amused to see which of their
progeny first discovered their secret? Or must proto-man, like humans
everywhere, fall victim to subjective time if objective time did not
matter for him?

Ramsey was saying softly: "Fifty-three, fifty-four, fifty-five,
fifty-six ... blastoff!"

His hand slammed down on the activating key.

An instant later, having felt no sensation of acceleration, they were
floating weightlessly in the cabin of the little _Enterprise_.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The qualities of radar," Garr Symm said, "exist in their totality in a
universe of extension. Time, actually is a drawback to radar,
necessitating a duration-lag between sending and receiving. Therefore,
Ramar Chind, radar behaves perfectly in hyper-space, as you see."

"Yes," Ramar Chind said, floating near the radar screen aboard the _Dog
Star_. At its precise center was a bright little pip of light.

_The Enterprise_....

"But don't we do anything except follow them?" Ramar Chind said after a
long silence.

Garr Symm smiled. "Does it really matter? You see, Chind, time actually
stands still for us here. Duration is purely subjective, so what's your
hurry?"

Ramar Chind licked his lips nervously and stared fascinated at the
little pip of bright light.

Which suddenly dipped and swung erratically.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What is it?" Margot asked. "What's the matter?"

"Take it easy," Ramsey told her.

"But the ship's swooping. I can feel it. I thought you weren't supposed
to feel movement in hyper-space!"

"Relax, will you? There are eddies in hyper-space, that's all. If you
want an analogy in terms of our own universe, think of shoals in an
ocean--unmarked by buoys or lights."

"You mean they have to be avoided?"

"Yes."

"But this particular shoal--it's midway between Irwadi and Earth?"

"There isn't any 'midway,' Margot. That's the paradox of hyper-space."

"I--I don't understand."

"Look. In the normal universe, extension is measured by time. That is,
it takes a certain amount of time to get from point A to point B.
Conversely, time is measured by extension in space. On Earth, a day of
time passes when Earth moves through space on an arc one
three-hundred-sixty-fifth of its orbit around the sun in length. Since
there isn't any time to measure extension with in hyper-space, since
time doesn't exist here, you can't speak of mid-points."

"But this--shoal. It's always encountered in hyper-space between Earth
and Irwadi?"

Ramsey nodded. "Yes, that is right."

Margot smiled.

The smile suddenly froze on her face.

The _Enterprise_ lurched as if an unseen giant hand had slapped it.

At that moment Ramsey leaned forward over the controls, battling to
bring the _Enterprise_ back on course.

And let down his mental guard.

_... precise place in hyper-space her father must have meant ... home of
proto-man ... thinks I'm going to stop there, she's crazy ... heck, I'm
no mystic, but there are things not meant to be meddled with ..._

The ship swooped again. Ramsey went forward against the control panel
head-first and fell dazed from the pilot chair. His head whirled, his
arms and legs were suddenly weak and rubbery. He tried to stand up and
make his way back to the controls again, but collapsed and went down to
his knees. He crouched there, trying to shake the fog from his brain.

With a cry of triumph, Margot Dennison leaped at him and bore him down
to the floor with her weight. He was still too dazed from the blow on
his head to offer any resistance when her strong hands tugged at his
belt and withdrew the m.g. gun. She got up with it, backing away from
him quickly toward the rear bulkhead as the ship seemed to go into a
smooth glide which could be felt within it. Vardin stood alongside
Ramsey, a hand to her mouth in horror. Ramsey got up slowly.

"Stay where you are!" Margot cried, pointing the m.g. gun at him. "I'll
kill you if I have to. I'll kill you, Ramsey, I mean it."

Ramsey did not move.

       *       *       *       *       *

"So you knew about my father," Margot challenged him.

"Yeah. So what?"

"And this shoal in hyper-space is a world, isn't it?"

Ramsey nodded. "I think so."

"O.K. Sit down at the controls, Ramsey. That's right. Don't try
anything."

Ramsey was seated in the pilot chair again. His head was still whirling
but his strength had returned. He wondered if he could chance rushing
her but told himself she meant what she said. She would kill him in cold
blood if she had to.

"Bring the _Enterprise_ down on that world, Ramsey."

He sat there and stubbornly shook his head. "Margot, you'll be meddling
with a power beyond human understanding."

"Rubbish! You read my father's letter, didn't you? That fear's been
implanted in your genes. It's part of the heredity of our people. It's
rubbish. Bring the ship down."

Still Ramsey did not move. Vardin looked from him to Margot Dennison and
back again with horror in her eyes.

"I'll count three," Margot said. "Then I'll shoot the Vegan girl. Do you
understand?"

Ramsey's face went white.

"One," Margot said.

Vardin stared at him beseechingly.

Ramsey said: "All right, Margot. All right."

Five minutes later, subjective time, the _Enterprise_ landed with a
lurch.

That they had reached a world in hyper-space there could be no doubt.
But outside the portholes of the little freighter was only the murky
grayness of the timeless hyper-space continuum.

       *       *       *       *       *

"They've gone down, sir!" Ramar Chind cried.

Garr Symm nodded. For the first time he was really nervous. He wondered
about the Dennison letter. Could his fear be attributed to ancestral
memory, as Dennison had indicated? Was it really baseless--this
crawling, cold-fingered hand of fear on his spine?

There was no physical barrier. The _Enterprise_ had established that
fact. Then was there a barrier which Garr Symm, along with all
humanoids, had somehow inherited?

A barrier of stark terror, subjective and unfounded on fact?

And beyond it--what?

Power to chain the universe....

Think, Garr Symm told himself. You've got to be rational. You're a
scientist. You've been trained as a scientist. This is their barrier,
erected against you, against all humanoids, a million years ago. It
isn't real. It's all in your mind.

"Do you want me to follow them down?" Ramar Chind asked.

Garr Symm envied the policeman. Naturally, Ramar Chind did not share his
terror. You didn't know the terror until you learned about proto-man;
then the response seemed to be triggered in your brain, as if it had
been passed to you through the genes of your ancestors, waiting a
million years for release....

Fear, a guardian.

Of what? Garr Symm asked himself. Think of that, fool. Think of what it
guards.

Power--

Teleportation or its equivalent.

Gone the subjective passage of hours in hyper-space.

Earned--if you were strong enough or brave enough to earn it--the
ability to travel instantly from one humanoid world to another.
Instantly. Perhaps from any one point on any humanoid world to any one
point, precise, specific, exact, on another world.

To plunder.

Or assassinate.

Or control the lives of men, everywhere.

_Sans_ ship.

_Sans_ fear.

_Sans_ the possibility of being caught or stopped.

Sweating, Garr Symm said: "Bring the _Dog Star_ down after them, Ramar
Chind."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ramsey smiled without humor. "What now, little lady?" he said mockingly.

"Shut up. Oh, shut up!"

"What are you going to do now?"

"I told you to shut up. I have to think."

"I didn't know a gorgeous tri-di actress ever had to think."

"Let me see those figures again," Margot said.

Ramsey handed her the tapes from the _Enterprise's_ environment-checker.

Temperature: minus two hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit.

Atmosphere: none.

Gravity: eight-tenths Earth-norm.

"And we don't have a spacesuit aboard," Ramsey said.

"But it can't be. It can't. This is the home of proto-man. I know it is.
But if I went out there I'd perish from cold in seconds and lack of air
in minutes."

"That's right," Ramsey said almost cheerfully. "So do I take the ship
back up?"

"I hate you, Jason Ramsey. Oh, I hate you!" Margot cried. Then suddenly:
"Wait! Wait a minute! What was that you were thinking? Tell me! You must
tell me--"

Ramsey shook his head and tried to force the thoughts from his mind with
doggerel. Ben Adam, he thought. Abou Ben Adam, Humpty Dumpty, hurry,
hurry, hurry, the only two headed get yours here the sum of the square
of the sides is equal to the square of the hyper-space, no, mustn't
think that mimsy were the borogroves and the momraths now what the heck
did the momraths do anyhow absolute zero is the temperature at which
all molecular activity....

"What were you thinking, Ramsey?"

His mind was a labyrinth. There were thousands of discrete thoughts, of
course. Millions of them, collected over a lifetime. But all at once he
did not know his way through that labyrinth and his thoughts kept
whirling back to the one Margot Dennison wanted as if, somehow, she
could pluck it from his mind.

She stood before him, her brow furrowed, sweat beading her pretty face.

And she was winning, forcing the thought to take shape in Ramsey's
mind--

_But if I went out there I'd perish from cold in seconds and lack of air
in minutes._

_Cold_, came the known and unbidden thoughts to Ramsey's struggling
mind. _And lack of air. Attributes of extension, of space_, but measured
by duration, by time. _And since time does not exist in hyper-space, the
vacuum out there and the terrible, killing cold, could have no effect on
you. You could go out there perfectly protected from the lethal
environment by the absence of the time dimension._

Margot smiled at him. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you, Ramsey."

He was about to speak, but she added: "And don't give me that stuff
about a power we shouldn't tamper with. I'm going out there. Now."

Ramsey nodded slowly. "I won't stop you."

"But just so you don't get any ideas of stranding me here--Vardin.
Vardin's going with me."

The Vegan girl looked at Ramsey mutely.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ramsey said: "What makes you think I'll let you take her?"

Margot smiled again. "The m.g. gun makes me think so."

"The heck of it is, you're not really bad, Margot. This thing's got you,
is all. You're not essentially evil."

"Thank you for the thrilling compliment. I'm delighted," Margot said
sarcastically.

"Vardin stays with me."

Margot reminded him of the lethal m.g. gun by showing it to him,
muzzle-first.

He laughed in her face. "Go ahead and shoot."

She stared at him.

"There isn't a lethal weapon'd do you any good here in a timeless
continuum. Take an m.g. gun. It induces an artificial breakdown of
radioactive fuel in its chamber, firing an instantly lethal dose of
radiation. But in order for radioactive breakdown to occur, time must
pass. Even if it's only milliseconds, as in the case of an m.g. gun.
There aren't any milliseconds on this world, Margot. There isn't any
time. So go ahead and pull the trigger."

Margot frowned and pointed the gun to one side and fired.

Nothing happened. Margot almost looked as if her hard shell had been
sundered by the impotence of the m.g. gun. She pouted. Her eyes gleamed
moistly.

Then Ramsey said: "O.K. Let's go."

"What--what do you mean?"

"Out there. All of us."

"But I thought you said--"

"Sure, I'm scared stiff. A normal man would be. It's in our genes,
according to your father. But I'm also a man. What the devil d'you think
it was first got man out of his cave and started along the road to
civilization and the stars? It was curiosity. Fear restraining him, and
curiosity egging him on. Which do you think won in the end?"

"Oh, Ramsey, I could kiss you!"

"Go right ahead," Ramsey said, and she did.

They opened the airlock. They went outside smiling.

But Vardin, who went with them, wasn't smiling. There was sadness
instead.

       *       *       *       *       *

In cumbersome spacesuits, the five Irwadians made their way from the
_Dog Star_ to the _Enterprise_. Ramar Chind and his three policemen
carried m.g. guns; Garr Symm was unarmed. Chind used a whorl-neutralizer
to force the pattern of the lock on the outer door of the _Enterprise's_
airlock. Then the five of them plunged inside the ship.

The inner door was not closed.

The _Enterprise_ was empty.

Garr Symm looked doubtfully at the gray murkiness behind them. Although
the _Dog Star_ stood out there less than a quarter of a mile away, they
couldn't see it through the murk.

"Where did they go?" Ramar Chind asked.

Symm waved vaguely behind them.

Chind and his men turned around.

Gritting his teeth against the fear which welled up like nausea from the
pit of his stomach, Garr Symm went with them.

At that moment they all heard the music.

"You hear it?" Ramsey asked softly. His voice did not carry on the
airless world, of course. But he spoke, and the words were understood,
not merely by Margot, who could read his mind, but by Vardin as well.

"Music," said Margot. "Isn't it--beautiful?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ramsey nodded slowly. He could barely see Margot, although he held her
hand. He could barely see Vardin although they stood hand in hand too.
The music was un-Earthly, incapable of repetition, indescribably the
loveliest sound he had ever heard. He wanted to sink down into the
obscuring gray murk and weep and listen to the haunting, sad, lovely
strains of sound forever.

"What can it possibly be?" Margot asked.

Surprisingly, it was Vardin who answered. "Music of the Spheres," she
said. "It's a legend on Vega III, my world."

"And on Earth," Ramsey said.

Vardin told them: "On all worlds. And, like all such legends, it has a
basis in reality. This is the basis."

That didn't sound like timid little Vardin at all. Ramsey listened in
amazement. He thought he heard Vardin laugh.

Music. But didn't the notes need the medium of time in which to be
heard? How could they hear music here at all? Or were they hearing it?
Perhaps it merely impinged on their minds, their souls, just as they
were able to hear one another's thoughts as words....

They'd never understand fully, Ramsey knew suddenly. Perhaps they could
grasp a little of the nature of this place, a shadow here, the
half-suggestion of the substance of reality there, a stillborn thought
here, a note of celestial music there, the timeless legacy of proto-man,
whatever proto-man was....

"The fog is lifting!" Vardin cried.

The fog was not lifting.

Then it was.

Ramsey would never forget that. Vardin had spoken while the dense gray
murk enveloped them completely.

Then it began to grow tenuous.

As if Vardin's words had made it so. Little Vardin, shy, frightened
Vardin, suddenly, inexplicably, the strongest, surest one among them....

The sky, white and dazzling, glistened. The gray murk glistened too, a
hundred yards off in all directions, like a wall of polished glass
surrounding them.

In the very middle of the bell-jar of visibility granted them all at
once, stood a black rectangular object.

"The teleporter!" Margot cried. "The matter-transmitter! I know it is. I
_know_ it is!"

Ramsey stood waiting breathlessly.

No, he realized abruptly, not breathlessly. You couldn't say
breathlessly.

For Ramsey had not breathed, not once, since they left the _Enterprise_.

You didn't breathe on a timeless world. You merely--somehow--existed.

"It's opening!" Margot cried.

The black rectangle, ominously coffin-shaped, was indeed opening.

"The matter transmitter," Margot said a second time. "The secret of
proto-man, of our ancestors who colonized all the worlds of space with
it, instantly, at the same cosmic moment. Think of what it means,
Ramsey, can you? Instantaneous travel, anywhere, without the need for
energy since energy cannot be used here, without the passage of time
since time does not exist here." She stood transfixed, looking at the
black box. The lid had lifted at right angles to the rest of the box.

       *       *       *       *       *

Margot said, in the whisper of an awed thought: "Who controls it
controls the galaxy...."

And she walked toward the box.

At that moment Ramsey had a vision. He saw--or thought he saw--Margot
Dennison in the costume she had worn when they first met. She stood,
eyes wide, fearful, expectant, before a chess-board. The pieces seemed
to be spaceships. It was a perfectly clear vision, but it was the only
such vision Ramsey had ever been vouchsafed in his life. He was no
mystic. He did not know what to make of it.

Playing chess with Margot was--proto-man.

Ramsey only saw his hand.

A hand perhaps five million years old.

He blinked. The vision persisted, superimposed over Margot's figure as
she walked toward the box.

A game, he thought. Because we don't understand it. Not that kind of
power. Not the power a matter-transmitter would give. A cosmic game on
a chess-board which wasn't quite a chess-board, with a creature who had
never lived as we know life and so could never die....

With the future of the galaxy hanging in the balance. Life or death for
man hanging on a slim thread, because man wasn't ready for
matter-transmission, couldn't hope to use it wisely, would use it
perhaps for war, transmitting lethal weapons, thermonuclear,
world-destroying weapons, instantly through space, for delivery
anywhere, negating time....

Death hovered.

"Wait!" Ramsey called, and ran forward.

Just then five new figures, space-suited, appeared under the gleaming
dome.

"Stop that woman!" a voice which Ramsey should not have been able to
hear but which he somehow heard perfectly cried. "Stop her!"

M.g. guns were raised, fired.

Without effect.

Three of the spacesuited figures ran after Margot as the voice repeated:
"Stop her! The box is mine, mine!"

It was Garr Symm's voice.

Ramsey did not know if he should stop Margot himself, or fight Symm's
men. Although they couldn't use their weapons on this world, they could
still hurt--possibly even kill--Margot. Ramsey turned and waited for
them.

The strange, mystic vision was gone. He saw only three space-suited
figures, saw Margot walking steadily toward the box. Either she was
moving very slowly or the box retreated or it was further away than it
had looked at first. For she hadn't reached it yet.

Ramsey met the space-suited figures head-on.

There were three of them, but they were awkward in their suits,
cumbersome, incapable of quick responses.

Ramsey hit the first one in the belly and darted back. His fist felt
contact with the soft bulk of the insulined suit, then with the harder
bulk of the man. He struck again, harder this time.

       *       *       *       *       *

The scaly green face of the Irwadi within the space-suit grimaced with
pain. He doubled over and fell, his helmet shattering against the ground
at Ramsey's feet.

Then an incredible thing happened. The Irwadi opened his mouth to
scream. His face froze. He lost his air. His face bloated.

And he died.

Ramsey couldn't believe his eyes.

It was not possible to die from lack of air or from cold on a world
without the time continuum. Ramsey, Vardin and Margot had proved that by
venturing out without protection.

But the Irwadi had died.

Mental suggestion?

Because he thought he would die?

Because that was the only way you could perish on a world lacking in the
time dimension--by your own thoughts?

The second space-suited figure closed with Ramsey awkwardly. Ramsey hit
him. The man of Irwadi fell, his helmet cracked, he tried to scream--and
died.

The third man fled.

Ramsey ran after Margot. "Wait!" he cried. He couldn't talk to her about
his fantastic vision. It was personal. She wouldn't understand. Mystic
experience always is like that. And yet, with the conviction that only a
mystic can have--although he certainly was no mystic--Ramsey knew the
galaxy would be in grave trouble if mankind were given the secret of
matter-transmission.

A voice said: "You are right."

It was Vardin's voice, and Vardin went on:

"Ramsey, stop her. I can't stop her. It is only granted that I
observe--and convince, if I can. I am not a Vegan girl. I am--"

Ramsey said it. "Proto-man!"

"There aren't many of us left. We discovered matter-transmission. We
used it once, to people the worlds of the galaxy. It was our final
creative effort. We merely observe now, unable to destroy our creation,
trying to keep it out of mankind's hands. You see--"

"Then back on Irwadi you knew all along we would come here!"

"I was vouchsafed the vision, yes. Even as you--stop her, Ramsey. You
must stop her!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ramsey sprinted forward. Margot was nearing the black coffin now.

Ramsey ran at her, and tackled her.

They went down together, the girl fighting like a tigress, tooth and
nail, wildly, sobbing, striking out at Ramsey with small impotent fists,
until he subdued her. Panting, they glared at each other.

And could not stop Garr Symm from running past them, eyes rapt behind
the plastiglass of his helmet, and jumping into the black box.

"To the end of the universe and back!" he cried. "Take me there and
back. Instantly. Prove to me that you work! Now...." His voice trailed
off. He had addressed the black rectangle almost as if it were something
alive.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ramsey thought he heard a growl from the box. He stood before it,
looking in. The hackles rose on his neck.

"You see," Vardin said. "My ancestors and yours discovered the power of
a god--and did not understand it. We were incorporeal. We created
life--your ancestors. We patterned it to fit the evolution of the three
thousand worlds. Human life. Millions of them, colonists for the worlds
of normal space. We were tampering in our tragic pride, Ramsey, with
forces we would never comprehend.

"We colonized the worlds, deciding that physical existence, along with
the mental prowess we had, was the ideal state. A few of us, like
myself, or my ancestors if you wish, although the purely mental lives
continuously--a few of us stayed behind and saw--the loss of a million
years!"

Ramsey's eyes still could not pierce the darkness inside the box.

"What do you mean?" he asked in an awed voice.

"We sent out god-like men. We did not understand our discovery. The
god-like men--but look at Garr Symm."

The spacesuited figure got up slowly. It blinked at Ramsey. It growled.
It had a recognizably green, scale-skinned face. But it was not the face
of Garr Symm. It was the face of Garr Symm's caveman ancestors, a
million years ago....

"This is what happened to my people," Vardin said.

She looked at Ramar Chind and Chind, responding, went to Garr Symm and
led him quietly back toward the _Dog Star_. Chind never said a word.
Garr Symm growled.

"Take the Earthgirl and go," Vardin told Ramsey.

"But I--you--aren't you coming?"

"My work is finished," Vardin told him. "For now."

"For now?"

"I am a guardian. When I am needed again--" She shrugged her slim blue
shoulders.

"But Margot will never be content now," Ramsey protested. "Not when
she's come so close."

"She'll understand. Just as you understand. You'll be good for each
other, Ramsey, you and the girl. She's had only her fierce pride and her
dreams of power. She has room for love. She needs love."

"But you--"

"I? I am nothing. I am the end-product of an equation our ancestors
found a million years ago. An equation to give them god-like power.
Instead it made them savages and I have had to watch their slow climb
back to the stars. An equation, Ramsey. Almost an equation of doom. Now
go."

Vardin flickered, became insubstantial. Her body seemed to melt into the
gray mists.

The gleaming walls were gone. The black box was gone. Vardin was gone.

Ramsey led Margot back to the _Enterprise_.

Moments later--although the elapsed time was subjective--they blasted
off.

Margot opened her eyes. She had been sleeping. She smiled at Ramsey
tremulously. "I love you," she said. Her words seemed to surprise her.

"I can't go back to Earth," Ramsey said.

"Who wants to go back to Earth--if you can't?"

They had, Ramsey knew, all of space and the life-span of mortal man to
enjoy together.


THE END



  +--------------------------------------------------------------+
  |                                                              |
  | Transcriber's note:                                          |
  |                                                              |
  | Inconsistent hyphenation (matter-transmitter/matter          |
  | transmitter, scintillation-counter/scintillation counter,    |
  | space-suit/spacesuit) has been retained.                     |
  |                                                              |
  | Deliberate mis-spellings (borogroves, momraths; plus all the |
  | lithping) have been retained. Minor changes to punctuation   |
  | were made without comment.                                   |
  |                                                              |
  +--------------------------------------------------------------+





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