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´╗┐Title: Progress Report
Author: Apostolides, Alex, Clifton, Mark, 1906-1963
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 "Progress Report" ***

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



_Progress is relative; Senator O'Noonan's idea of it was not
particularly scientific. Which would be too bad, if he had the last
word!_



  Progress Report

  By Mark Clifton and Alex Apostolides

  Illustrated by PAUL ORBAN


It seemed to Colonel Jennings that the air conditioning unit merely
washed the hot air around him without lowering the temperature from that
outside. He knew it was partly psychosomatic, compounded of the view of
the silvery spire of the test ship through the heatwaves of the Nevada
landscape and the knowledge that this was the day, the hour, and the
minutes.

The final test was at hand. The instrument ship was to be sent out into
space, controlled from this sunken concrete bunker, to find out if the
flimsy bodies of men could endure there.

Jennings visualized other bunkers scattered through the area,
observation posts, and farther away the field headquarters with open
telephone lines to the Pentagon, and beyond that a world waiting for
news of the test--and not everyone wishing it well.

The monotonous buzz of the field phone pulled him away from his
fascinated gaze at the periscope slit. He glanced at his two assistants,
Professor Stein and Major Eddy. They were seated in front of their
control boards, staring at the blank eyes of their radar screens,
patiently enduring the beads of sweat on their faces and necks and
hands, the odor of it arising from their bodies. They too were feeling
the moment. He picked up the phone.

"Jennings," he said crisply.

"Zero minus one half hour, Colonel. We start alert count in fifteen
minutes."

"Right," Colonel Jennings spoke softly, showing none of the excitement
he felt. He replaced the field phone on its hook and spoke to the two
men in front of him.

"This is it. Apparently this time we'll go through with it."

Major Eddy's shoulders hunched a trifle, as if he were getting set to
have a load placed upon them.

[Illustration]

Professor Stein gave no indication that he had heard. His thin body was
stooped over his instrument bank, intense, alert, as if he were a runner
crouched at the starting mark, as if he were young again.

Colonel Jennings walked over to the periscope slit again and peered
through the shimmer of heat to where the silvery ship lay arrowed in her
cradle. The last few moments of waiting, with a brassy taste in his
mouth, with the vision of the test ship before him; these were the
worst.

Everything had been done, checked and rechecked hours and days ago. He
found himself wishing there were some little thing, some desperate
little error which must be corrected hurriedly, just something to break
the tension of waiting.

"You're all right, Sam, Prof?" he asked the major and professor
unnecessarily.

"A little nervous," Major Eddy answered without moving.

"Of course," Professor Stein said. There was a too heavy stress on the
sibilant sound, as if the last traces of accent had not yet been
removed.

"I expect everyone is nervous, not just the hundreds involved in this,
but everywhere," Jennings commented. And then ruefully, "Except
Professor Stein there. I thought surely I'd see some nerves at this
point, Prof." He was attempting to make light conversation, something to
break the strain of mounting buck fever.

"If I let even one nerve tendril slack, Colonel, I would go to pieces
entirely," Stein said precisely, in the way a man speaks who has learned
the language from text books. "So I do not think of our ship at all. I
think of mankind. I wonder if mankind is as ready as our ship. I wonder
if man will do any better on the planets than he has done here."

"Well, of course," Colonel Jennings answered with sympathy in his voice,
"under Hitler and all the things you went through, I don't blame you for
being a little bitter. But not all mankind is like that, you know. As
long as you've been in our country, Professor, you've never looked
around you. You've been working on this, never lifting your head...."

       *       *       *       *       *

He jerked in annoyance as a red light blinked over the emergency
circuit, and a buzzing, sharp and repeated, broke into this moment when
he felt he was actually reaching, touching Stein, as no one had before.

He dragged the phone toward him and began speaking angrily into its
mouthpiece before he had brought it to his lips.

"What the hell's the matter now? They're not going to call it off again!
Three times now, and...."

He broke off and frowned as the crackling voice came through the
receiver, the vein on his temple pulsing in his stress.

"I beg your pardon, General," he said, much more quietly.

The two men turned from their radar scopes and watched him
questioningly. He shrugged his shoulders, an indication to them of his
helplessness.

"You're not going to like this, Jim," the general was saying. "But it's
orders from Pentagon. Are you familiar with Senator O'Noonan?"

"Vaguely," Jennings answered.

"You'll be more familiar with him, Jim. He's been newly appointed
chairman of the appropriations committee covering our work. And he's
fought it bitterly from the beginning. He's tried every way he could to
scrap the entire project. When we've finished this test, Jim, we'll have
used up our appropriations to date. Whether we get any more depends on
him."

"Yes, sir?" Jennings spoke questioningly. Political maneuvering was not
his problem, that was between Pentagon and Congress.

"We must have his support, Jim," the general explained. "Pentagon hasn't
been able to win him over. He's stubborn and violent in his reactions.
The fact it keeps him in the headlines--well, of course that wouldn't
have any bearing. So Pentagon invited him to come to the field here to
watch the test, hoping that would win him over." The general hesitated,
then continued.

"I've gone a step farther. I felt if he was actually at the center of
control, your operation, he might be won over. If he could actually
participate, press the activating key or something, if the headlines
could show he was working with us, actually sent the test ship on its
flight...."

"General, you can't," Jennings moaned. He forgot rank, everything.

"I've already done it, Jim," the general chose to ignore the outburst.
"He's due there now. I'll look to you to handle it. He's got to be won
over, Colonel. It's your project." Considering the years that he and the
general had worked together, the warm accord and informality between
them, the use of Jennings' title made it an order.

"Yes, sir," he said.

"Over," said the general formally.

"Out," whispered Jennings.

The two men looked at him questioningly.

"It seems," he answered their look, "we are to have an observer. Senator
O'Noonan."

"Even in Germany," Professor Stein said quietly, "they knew enough to
leave us alone at a critical moment."

"He can't do it, Jim," Major Eddy looked at Jennings with pleading eyes.

"Oh, but he can," Jennings answered bitterly. "Orders. And you know what
orders are, don't you, Major?"

"Yes, sir," Major Eddy said stiffly.

Professor Stein smiled ruefully.

Both of them turned back to their instrument boards, their radar
screens, to the protective obscurity of subordinates carrying out an
assignment. They were no longer three men coming close together, almost
understanding one another in this moment of waiting, when the world and
all in it had been shut away, and nothing real existed except the
silvery spire out there on the desert and the life of it in the controls
at their fingertips.

"Beep, minus fifteen minutes!" the first time signal sounded.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Colonel Jennings, sir!"

The senator appeared in the low doorway and extended a fleshy hand. His
voice was hearty, but there was no warmth behind his tones. He paused on
the threshold, bulky, impressive, as if he were about to deliver an
address. But Jennings, while shaking hands, drew him into the bunker,
pointedly, causing the senator to raise bushy eyebrows and stare at him
speculatively.

"At this point everything runs on a split second basis, Senator," he
said crisply. "Ceremony comes after the test." His implication was that
when the work was done, the senator could have his turn in the
limelight, take all the credit, turn it into political fodder to be
thrown to the people. But because the man was chairman of the
appropriations committee, he softened his abruptness. "If the timing is
off even a small fraction, Senator, we would have to scrap the flight
and start all over."

"At additional expense, no doubt." The senator could also be crisp.
"Surprises me that the military should think of that, however."

The closing of the heavy doors behind him punctuated his remark and
caused him to step to the center of the bunker. Where there had seemed
adequate room before, now the feeling was one of oppressive
overcrowding.

Unconsciously, Major Eddy squared his elbows as if to clear the space
around him for the manipulation of his controls. Professor Stein sat at
his radar screen, quiet, immobile, a part of the mechanisms. He was
accustomed to overbearing authority whatever political tag it might wear
at the moment.

"Beep. Eleven minutes," the signal sounded.

"Perhaps you'll be good enough to brief me on just what you're doing
here?" the senator asked, and implied by the tone of his voice that it
couldn't be very much. "In layman's language, Colonel. Don't try to make
it impressive with technical obscurities. I want my progress report on
this project to be understandable to everyone."

Jennings looked at him in dismay. Was the man kidding him? Explain the
zenith of science, the culmination of the dreams of man in twenty simple
words or less! And about ten minutes to win over a man which the
Pentagon had failed to win.

"Perhaps you'd like to sit here, Senator," he said courteously. "When we
learned you were coming, we felt yours should be the honor. At zero
time, you press this key--here. It will be your hand which sends the
test ship out into space."

Apparently they were safe. The senator knew so little, he did not
realize the automatic switch would close with the zero time signal, that
no hand could be trusted to press the key at precisely the right time,
that the senator's key was a dummy.

"Beep, ten," the signal came through.

Jennings went back over to the periscope and peered through the slit. He
felt strangely surprised to see the silver column of the ship still
there. The calm, the scientific detachment, the warm thrill of
co-ordinated effort, all were gone. He felt as if the test flight
itself was secondary to what the senator thought about it, what he would
say in his progress report.

He wondered if the senator's progress report would compare in any
particular with the one on the ship. That was a chart, representing as
far as they could tell, the minimum and maximum tolerances of human
life. If the multiple needles, tracing their continuous lines, went over
the black boundaries of tolerances, human beings would die at that
point. Such a progress report, showing the life-sustaining conditions at
each point throughout the ship's flight, would have some meaning. He
wondered what meaning the senator's progress report would have.

He felt himself being pushed aside from the periscope. There was no
ungentleness in the push, simply the determined pressure of an arrogant
man who was accustomed to being in the center of things, and thinking
nothing of shoving to get there. The senator gave him the briefest of
explanatory looks, and placed his own eye at the periscope slit.

"Beep, nine," the signal sounded.

"So that's what represents two billion dollars," the senator said
contemptuously. "That little sliver of metal."

"The two billion dollar atomic bomb was even smaller," Jennings said
quietly.

       *       *       *       *       *

The senator took his eye away from the periscope briefly and looked at
Jennings speculatively.

"The story of where all that money went still hasn't been told," he said
pointedly. "But the story of who got away with this two billion will be
different."

Colonel Jennings said nothing. The white hot rage mounting within him
made it impossible for him to speak.

The senator straightened up and walked back over to his chair. He waved
a hand in the direction of Major Eddy.

"What does that man do?" he asked, as if the major were not present, or
was unable to comprehend.

"Major Eddy," Jennings found control of his voice, "operates remote
control." He was trying to reduce the vast complexity of the operation
to the simplest possible language.

"Beep, eight," the signal interrupted him.

"He will guide the ship throughout its entire flight, just as if he were
sitting in it."

"Why isn't he sitting in it?" the senator asked.

"That's what the test is for, Senator." Jennings felt his voice becoming
icy. "We don't know if space will permit human life. We don't know
what's out there."

"Best way to find out is for a man to go out there and see," the senator
commented shortly. "I want to find out something, I go look at it
myself. I don't depend on charts and graphs, and folderol."

The major did not even hunch his broad shoulders, a characteristic
gesture, to show that he had heard, to show that he wished the senator
was out there in untested space.

"What about him? He's not even in uniform!"

"Professor Stein maintains sight contact on the scope and transmits the
IFF pulse."

The senator's eyes flashed again beneath heavy brows. His lips indicated
what he thought of professors and projects who used them.

"What's IFF?" he asked.

The colonel looked at him incredulously. It was on the tip of his tongue
to ask where the man had been during the war. He decided he'd better not
ask it. He might learn.

"It stands for Identification--Friend or Foe, Senator. It's army
jargon."

"Beep, seven."

_Seven minutes_, Jennings thought, _and here I am trying to explain the
culmination of the entire science of all mankind to a lardbrain in
simple kindergarten words_. Well, he'd wished there was something to
break the tension of the last half hour, keep him occupied. He had it.

"You mean the army wouldn't know, after the ship got up, whether it was
ours or the enemy's?" the senator asked incredulously.

"There are meteors in space, Senator," Jennings said carefully. "Radar
contact is all we'll have out there. The IFF mechanism reconverts our
beam to a predetermined pulse, and it bounces back to us in a different
pattern. That's the only way we'd know if we were still on the ship, or
have by chance fastened on to a meteor."

"What has that got to do with the enemy?" O'Noonan asked
uncomprehendingly.

Jennings sighed, almost audibly.

"The mechanism was developed during the war, when we didn't know which
planes were ours and which the enemy's. We've simply adapted it to this
use--to save money, Senator."

"Humph!" the senator expressed his disbelief. "Too complicated. The
world has grown too complicated."

"Beep, six."

The senator glanced irritably at the time speaker. It had interrupted
his speech. But he chose to ignore the interruption, that was the way to
handle heckling.

"I am a simple man. I come from simple parentage. I represent the simple
people, the common people, the people with their feet on the ground. And
the whole world needs to get back to the simple truths and
honesties...."

Jennings headed off the campaign speech which might appeal to the
mountaineers of the senator's home state, where a man's accomplishments
were judged by how far he could spit tobacco juice; it had little
application in this bunker where the final test before the flight of man
to the stars was being tried.

"To us, Senator," he said gently, "this ship represents simple truths
and honesties. We are, at this moment, testing the truths of all that
mankind has ever thought of, theorized about, believed of the space
which surrounds the Earth. A farmer may hear about new methods of
growing crops, but the only way he knows whether they're practical or
not is to try them on his own land."

The senator looked at him impassively. Jennings didn't know whether he
was going over or not. But he was trying.

"All that ship, and all the instruments it contains; those represent the
utmost honesties of the men who worked on them. Nobody tried to bluff,
to get by with shoddy workmanship, cover up ignorance. A farmer does not
try to bluff his land, for the crops he gets tells the final story.
Scientists, too, have simple honesty. They have to have, Senator, for
the results will show them up if they don't."

       *       *       *       *       *

The senator looked at him speculatively, and with a growing respect. Not
a bad speech, that. Not a bad speech at all. If this tomfoolery actually
worked, and it might, that could be the approach in selling it to his
constituents. By implication, he could take full credit, put over the
impression that it was he who had stood over the scientists making sure
they were as honest and simple as the mountain farmers. Many a man has
gone into the White House with less.

"Beep, five."

Five more minutes. The sudden thought occurred to O'Noonan: what if he
refused to press the dummy key? Refused to take part in this project he
called tomfoolery? Perhaps they thought they were being clever in having
him take part in the ship's launching, and were by that act committing
him to something....

"This is the final test, Senator. After this one, if it is right, man
leaps to the stars!" It was Jennings' plea, his final attempt to catch
the senator up in the fire and the dream.

"And then more yapping colonists wanting statehood," the senator said
dryly. "Upsetting the balance of power. Changing things."

Jennings was silent.

"Beep, four."

"More imports trying to get into our country duty-free," O'Noonan went
on. "Upsetting our economy."

His vision was of lobbyists threatening to cut off contributions if
their own industries were not kept in a favorable position. Of
grim-jawed industrialists who could easily put a more tractable
candidate up in his place to be elected by the free and thinking people
of his state. All the best catch phrases, the semantically-loaded
promises, the advertising appropriations being used by his opponent.

It was a dilemma. Should he jump on the bandwagon of advancement to the
stars, hoping to catch the imagination of the voters by it? Were the
voters really in favor of progress? What could this space flight put in
the dinner pails of the Smiths, the Browns, the Johnsons? It was all
very well to talk about the progress of mankind, but that was the only
measure to be considered. Any politician knew that. And apparently no
scientist knew it. Man advances only when he sees how it will help him
stuff his gut.

"Beep, three." For a full minute, the senator had sat lost in
speculation.

And what could he personally gain? A plan, full-formed, sprang into his
mind. This whole deal could be taken out of the hands of the military
on charges of waste and corruption. It could be brought back into the
control of private industry, where it belonged. He thought of vast
tracts of land in his own state, tracts he could buy cheap, through
dummy companies, places which could be made very suitable for the giant
factories necessary to manufacture spaceships.

As chairman of the appropriations committee, it wouldn't be difficult to
sway the choice of site. And all that extra employment for the people of
his own state. The voters couldn't forget plain, simple, honest O'Noonan
after that!

"Beep, two."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jennings felt the sweat beads increase on his forehead. His collar was
already soaking wet. He had been watching the senator through two long
minutes, terrible eon-consuming minutes, the impassive face showing only
what the senator wanted it to show. He saw the face now soften into
something approaching benignity, nobility. The head came up, the silvery
hair tossed back.

"Son," he said with a ringing thrill in his voice. "Mankind must reach
the stars! We must allow nothing to stop that! No personal
consideration, no personal belief, nothing must stand in the way of
mankind's greatest dream!"

His eyes were shrewdly watching the effect upon Jennings' face,
measuring through him the effect such a speech would have upon the
voters. He saw the relief spread over Jennings' face, the glow. Yes, it
might work.

"Now, son," he said with kindly tolerance, "tell me what you want me to
do about pressing this key when the time comes."

"Beep, one."

And then the continuous drone while the seconds were being counted off
aloud.

"Fifty-nine, fifty-eight, fifty-seven--"

The droning went on while Jennings showed the senator just how to press
the dummy key down, explaining it in careful detail, and just when.

"Thirty-seven, thirty-six, thirty-five--"

"Major!" Jennings called questioningly.

"Ready, sir."

"Professor!"

"Ready, sir."

"Three, two, one, ZERO!"

"Press it, Senator!" Jennings called frantically.

Already the automatic firing stud had taken over. The bellowing, roaring
flames reached down with giant strength, nudging the ship upward,
seeming to hang suspended, waiting.

"_Press it!_"

The senator's hand pressed the dummy key. He was committed.

As if the ship had really been waiting, it lifted, faster and faster.

"Major?"

"I have it, sir." The major's hands were flying over his bank of
controls, correcting the slight unbalance of thrusts, holding the ship
as steady as if he were in it.

Already the ship was beyond visual sight, picking up speed. But the pip
on the radar screens was strong and clear. The drone of the IFF
returning signal was equally strong.

The senator sat and waited. He had done his job. He felt it perhaps
would have been better to have had the photographers on the spot, but
realized the carefully directed and rehearsed pictures to be taken later
would make better vote fodder.

"It's already out in space now, Senator," Jennings found a second of
time to call it to the senator.

The pips and the signals were bright and clear, coming through the
ionosphere, the Heaviside layer as they had been designed to do.
Jennings wondered if the senator could ever be made to understand the
simple honesty of scientists who had worked that out so well and true.
Bright and strong and clear.

And then there was nothing! The screens were blank. The sounds were
gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jennings stood in stupefied silence.

"It shut! It shut off!" Major Eddy's voice was shrill in amazement.

"It cut right out, Colonel. No fade, no dying signal, just out!" It was
the first time Jennings had ever heard a note of excitement in Professor
Stein's voice.

The phone began to ring, loud and shrill. That would be from the
General's observation post, where he, too, must have lost the signal.

The excitement penetrated the senator's rosy dream of vast acreages
being sold at a huge profit, giant walls of factories going up under his
remote-control ownership. "What's wrong?" he asked.

Jennings did not answer him. "What was the altitude?" he asked. The
phone continued to ring, but he was not yet ready to answer it.

"Hundred fifty miles, maybe a little more," Major Eddy answered in a
dull voice. "And then, nothing," he repeated incredulously. "Nothing."

The phone was one long ring now, taken off of automatic signal and rung
with a hand key pressed down and held there. In a daze, Jennings picked
up the phone.

"Yes, General," he answered as though he were no more than a robot. He
hardly listened to the general's questions, did not need the report that
every radarscope throughout the area had lost contact at the same
instant. Somehow he had known that would be true, that it wasn't just
his own mechanisms failing. One question did penetrate his stunned mind.

"How is the senator taking it?" the general asked finally.

"Uncomprehending, as yet," Jennings answered cryptically. "But even
there it will penetrate sooner or later. We'll have to face it then."

"Yes," the general sighed. "What about safety? What if it fell on a big
city, for example?"

"It had escape velocity," Jennings answered. "It would simply follow its
trajectory indefinitely--which was away from Earth."

"What's happening now?" the senator asked arrogantly. He had been out of
the limelight long enough, longer than was usual or necessary. He didn't
like it when people went about their business as if he were not
present.

"Quiet during the test, Senator," Jennings took his mouth from the phone
long enough to reprove the man gently. Apparently he got away with it,
for the senator put his finger to his lips knowingly and sat back again.

"The senator's starting to ask questions?" the general asked into the
phone.

"Yes, sir. It won't be long now."

"I hate to contemplate it, Jim," the general said in apprehension.
"There's only one way he'll translate it. Two billion dollars shot up
into the air and lost." Then sharply. "There must be something you've
done, Colonel. Some mistake you've made."

       *       *       *       *       *

The implied accusation struck at Jennings' stomach, a heavy blow.

"That's the way it's going to be?" he stated the question, knowing its
answer.

"For the good of the service," the general answered with a stock phrase.
"If it is the fault of one officer and his men, we may be given another
chance. If it is the failure of science itself, we won't."

"I see," the colonel answered.

"You won't be the first soldier, Colonel, to be unjustly punished to
maintain public faith in the service."

"Yes, sir," Jennings answered as formally as if he were already facing
court martial.

"It's back!" Major Eddy shouted in his excitement. "It's back, Colonel!"

The pip, truly, showed startlingly clear and sharp on the radarscope,
the correct signals were coming in sure and strong. As suddenly as the
ship had cut out, it was back.

"It's back, General," Colonel Jennings shouted into the phone, his eyes
fixed upon his own radarscope. He dropped the phone without waiting for
the general's answer.

"Good," exclaimed the senator. "I was getting a little bored with
nothing happening."

"Have you got control?" Jennings called to the major.

"Can't tell yet. It's coming in too fast. I'm trying to slow it. We'll
know in a minute."

"You have it now," Professor Stein spoke up quietly. "It's slowing. It
will be in the atmosphere soon. Slow it as much as you can."

As surely as if he were sitting in its control room, Eddy slowed the
ship, easing it down into the atmosphere. The instruments recorded the
results of his playing upon the bank of controls, as sound pouring from
a musical instrument.

"At the take-off point?" Jennings asked. "Can you land it there?"

"Close to it," Major Eddy answered. "As close as I can."

Now the ship was in visual sight again, and they watched its nose turn
in the air, turn from a bullet hurtling earthward to a ship settling to
the ground on its belly. Major Eddy was playing his instrument bank as
if he were the soloist in a vast orchestra at the height of a crescendo
forte.

Jennings grabbed up the phone again.

"Transportation!" he shouted.

"Already dispatched, sir," the operator at the other end responded.

Through the periscope slit, Jennings watched the ship settle lightly
downward to the ground, as though it were a breezeborne feather instead
of its tons of metal. It seemed to settle itself, still, and become
inanimate again. Major Eddy dropped his hands away from his instrument
bank, an exhausted virtuoso.

"My congratulations!" the senator included all three men in his sweeping
glance. "It was remarkable how you all had control at every instance. My
progress report will certainly bear that notation."

The three men looked at him, and realized there was no irony in his
words, no sarcasm, no realization at all of what had truly happened.

"I can see a va-a-ast fleet of no-o-ble ships...." the senator began to
orate.

But the roar of the arriving jeep outside took his audience away from
him. They made a dash for the bunker door, no longer interested in the
senator and his progress report. It was the progress report as revealed
by the instruments on the ship which interested them more.

The senator was close behind them as they piled out of the bunker door,
and into the jeep, with Jennings unceremoniously pulling the driver from
the wheel and taking his place.

Over the rough dirt road toward the launching site where the ship had
come to rest, their minds were bemused and feverish, as they projected
ahead, trying to read in advance what the instruments would reveal of
that blank period.

The senator's mind projected even farther ahead to the fleet of space
ships he would own and control. And he had been worried about some
ignorant stupid voters! Stupid animals! How he despised them! What would
he care about voters when he could be master of the spaceways to the
stars?

Jennings swerved the jeep off the dirt road and took out across the
hummocks of sagebrush to the ship a few rods away. He hardly slacked
speed, and in a swirl of dust pulled up to the side of the ship. Before
it had even stopped, the men were piling out of the jeep, running toward
the side of the ship.

And stopped short.

       *       *       *       *       *

Unable to believe their eyes, to absorb the incredible, they stared at
the swinging open door in the side of the ship. Slowly they realized the
iridescent purple glow around the doorframe, the rotted metal,
disintegrating and falling to the dirt below. The implications of the
tampering with the door held them unmoving. Only the senator had not
caught it yet. Slower than they, now he was chugging up to where they
had stopped, an elephantine amble.

"Well, well, what's holding us up?" he panted irritably.

Cautiously then, Jennings moved toward the open door. And as cautiously,
Major Eddy and Professor Stein followed him. O'Noonan hung behind,
sensing the caution, but not knowing the reason behind it.

They entered the ship, wary of what might be lurking inside, what had
burned open the door out there in space, what had been able to capture
the ship, cut it off from its contact with controls, stop it in its
headlong flight out into space, turn it, return it to their controls at
precisely the same point and altitude. Wary, but they entered.

At first glance, nothing seemed disturbed. The bulkhead leading to the
power plant was still whole. But farther down the passage, the door
leading to the control room where the instruments were housed also swung
open. It, too, showed the iridescent purple disintegration of its metal
frame.

They hardly recognized the control room. They had known it intimately,
had helped to build and fit it. They knew each weld, each nut and bolt.

"The instruments are gone," the professor gasped in awe.

It was true. As they crowded there in the doorway, they saw the gaping
holes along the walls where the instruments had been inserted, one by
one, each to tell its own story of conditions in space.

The senator pushed himself into the room and looked about him. Even he
could tell the room had been dismantled.

"What kind of sabotage is this?" he exclaimed, and turned in anger
toward Jennings. No one answered him. Jennings did not even bother to
meet the accusing eyes.

They walked down the narrow passage between the twisted frames where the
instruments should have been. They came to the spot where the master
integrator should have stood, the one which should have co-ordinated all
the results of life-sustenance measurements, the one which was to give
them their progress report.

There, too, was a gaping hole--but not without its message. Etched in
the metal frame, in the same iridescent purple glow, were two words. Two
enigmatic words to reverberate throughout the world, burned in by some
watcher--some keeper--some warden.

"_Not yet._"


THE END


       *       *       *       *       *


          Transcriber Notes

  This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science Fiction July 1953.
  Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright
  on this publication was renewed.

  Typo was corrected on page 110:

  Original text: "Son," he said with a ringing thrill in his voice.
  "Mankind much reach the stars! We must allow ...

  Changed text: "Son," he said with a ringing thrill in his voice.
  "Mankind must reach the stars! We must allow ...





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