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Title: Operation Interstellar
Author: Smith, George O. (George Oliver)
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 "Operation Interstellar" ***

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



                        OPERATION INTERSTELLAR

                                 _By_
                            George O. Smith

                         CENTURY PUBLICATIONS
                                Chicago

                  Published by Century Publications,
                   139 N. Clark St., Chicago 2, Ill.
               _Printed in the United States of America_

     Characters and situations in this book are fictional and any
    similarity to actual persons or places is purely coincidental.

        Permission to use some of the refrains from the ballad:

                     THE CYCLOTRONIST'S NIGHTMARE

                           by Arthur Roberts
                                  of
                     The State University of Iowa
          was graciously granted, and is hereby acknowledged
                      with sincere appreciation.

                        Cover by Malcolm Smith

                _Copyright 1950, Century Publications_

      [Transcriber's Note: Extensive research did not uncover any
    evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



CHAPTER 1


Paul Grayson walked the city street slowly. He was sauntering towards
the spaceport, but he was in no hurry. He had allowed himself plenty of
time to breathe the fresh spring air, to listen to the myriad of sounds
made by his fellow men, and to revel in the grand freedom that being
out in the open gave him. Soon enough he would be breathing canned air,
pungent with the odor of compressor oil and the tang of the greenery
used to replenish the oxygen, unable to walk freely more than a few
dozen steps, and unable to see what lies beyond his viewports.

Occasionally his eyes looked along the low southern sky towards Alpha
Centauri. Proxima, of course, could not be resolved by the naked eye,
much less the stinking little overheated mote that rotated about
Proxima. Obviously unfit for human life and patently incapable of
spawning life of its own, it was Paul Grayson's destination, and would
be his home for a few days or a few weeks depending entirely upon
whether things went good or bad.

Only during the last four out of two thousand millions of years of its
life had this planet been useful. Man needed a place to stand; not
to move the earth with Archimedes's lever but to survey the galaxy.
Proxima Centauri I was the only planet in the trinary and as bad as it
was, it was useful for a space station.

In an hour, Paul Grayson would be locked in a capsule of metal hurling
himself through space towards Proxima I. He was looking forward to ten
days cooped up in a spacecraft of the type furnished by the Bureau of
Astrogation to its engineers which was a far cry from the sumptuous
craft run by the Big Brass. His confines would be lined with functional
scientific equipment; his air supply would be medically acceptable but
aesthetically horrible; and his vision limited to the cabin, for beyond
the viewports would be only the formless, endless, abysmal blackness of
absolutely nothing while the ship mounted into multiples of the speed
of light.

Then days in a building filled to the dome with power equipment and
radio gear; timing mechanism and recorders; and a refrigerator set-up
that struggled with the awesome heat poured into Proxima I by its
close-by luminary but which succeeded only in lowering the temperature
to the point where the potting compound in the transformers did not run
out, where the calibrating resistors would not change their values,
where the recording machines would still make a record.

And then again more days in the ship before it returned to earth. Call
it thirty days and understand why Paul Grayson sauntered along killing
time in the fresh air before taking off.

Paul grinned. Four years ago he had arrived a full hour early and
wasted the hour in the smelly ship instead of filling his lungs with
clean fresh air. Never again. He would arrive a full five minutes
before check-in time.

He heard some radio music, its tone stripped of high frequencies from
its passage through the slit of a partially-opened window. He sniffed
the air and laughed because someone was cooking corned beef and
cabbage. Then he was out of the range of the radio music. Paul liked
music. He hummed a tune as he walked, and then as the fancy struck him,
he started to sing. It was faint singing; it would not have carried
more than a few feet, but it sufficed for Paul. It was a refrain from
an early atomic-age ballad:

    "_Round and round and round go the deuterons
    Round and round the magnet swings them
    Round and round and round go the deuterons
    Smack! In the target goes the ion beam!_"

Paul stopped his song because the interesting click of high heels on
the sidewalk pointed to the approach of someone who might view _a
cappella_ singing as an indication of inebriation.

She was coming towards him, walking on the same side of the sidewalk.
Her step was quick and lithe, and the slight breeze outlined her frock
against her body, revealing and at the same time concealing just enough
to quicken the pulse and awaken the interest. Paul was thirty and
unmarried, and experienced enough to catalogue her shrewdly.

No crude attempt at pick-up would work on this woman. She was sure
of herself and obviously could not want for admirers. It would take
careful strategy over a period of time to get to first base with a
woman like her; an inept campaigner would be called out on strikes. And
Paul Grayson had to be on the way to Centauri within the hour, which
automatically eliminated the initial step in any plausible scheme to
wrangle an introduction.

Paul Grayson grinned ruefully. It seemed to him that when he had hours
to spend and nothing to do, the streets were barren of presentable
women while the most interesting specimens of womanhood smiled and
offered their charms when he was en route towards some schedule that
could not be delayed.

This was woman enough to make a man forget his timetables--almost.

She came forward, her face lighted by the street lamp that Paul had
just passed. Blue-eyed and fair-skinned, her hurried route was on
collision course with his and with a minute shake of his head because
he had neither the time nor the inclination to attempt anything as
crude as striking up an acquaintance by barring her path, Paul angled
his course aside.

She angled too.

"Hello," she said brightly. "I thought you'd be along sooner."

Paul Grayson gulped. Obviously she mistook him for someone else and
a faint feeling of jealousy ran through him for the lucky man who
owned her affections. The street lamp behind him must have cast heavy
shadows across his face making identification difficult. He opened his
mouth to explain away the mistake, but the girl came up to him, hardly
slackening her pace until the last possible moment. Then instead of
speaking, Paul found his parted mouth met by hers. Her lips were warm.
Her arms came around him in a quick embrace, and his arms instinctively
closed about her waist.

Paul kissed back, cheerfully accepting the pleasure of the error with a
sort of devilish glee.

Then he stepped back.

"I'm sorry," he said, "that I am not the guy you thought I was."

She looked up at him with a blink. Her expression changed to surprise,
and then her mouth opened in a scream as her eyes flicked away from him
and centered over his left shoulder.

Paul started to whirl, but someone dropped the north pole on the back
of his skull. It chilled him completely. Her scream rang in his ears
as he fell forward. Vaguely he felt the silk of her dress against his
outstretched hands, and then against his cheek just before the sidewalk
rose up to grind against his face. Something pulled at his coat.

Then he felt nothing more. Only the frightened scream of the woman that
rang in his ears, shrill, angry, fearful, and never ending----

----until Paul realized that the siren wail was not her scream but the
ringing of his own ears, and that the girl was sitting a-sprawl on the
sidewalk with his head between her thighs. She was rubbing the nape of
his neck with her fingertips, quietly erasing the pain bit by bit.

The threshold of ringing in his ears diminished and his field of vision
increased as the darting lights went away, and Paul Grayson then could
hear the sound of running feet and the babble of voices.

"What happened?"

"This man was clipped by a thug."

"You saw it?" came the voices in a mad garble of scrambled speeches.

"Right in front of my eyes."

The babble broke into many and varied subjects. Curiosity, both morbid
and Samaritan; anger both righteous and superficial, but both directed
at the things that make such happenings possible; suggestions both
sensible and absurd, and offers both welcome and ridiculous.

Paul groaned and tried to lift his hand to the raw spot on his chin
where the sidewalk had removed some hide.

The woman looked down at him and smiled in a wan, apprehensive manner.
"You're all right?"

Paul struggled to sit up and made it with her help. The wave of pain
rose and localized in his head at about forty degrees right latitude.
It made him want to carry his head at an angle with his neck ducked
down below the level of the knot of pain. Hands helped him to his feet,
led him across the sidewalk while he became stronger by the moment.

He shook his head to clear it and winced as the motion caused the knot
of pain to vibrate nastily. "What happened?" he asked in a quavering
voice. It sounded like someone else's voice to him, and surprised at
the sound of it he repeated the question. It still sounded like someone
else's voice and while he was wondering if his voice would sound like
that for the rest of his life, the girl explained what had happened.

Paul missed most of it, but then asked another question: "Did you see
him?"

"No," she said. Her voice was regretful, yet tinted with a dash of
amusement. "He sort of rose out of the shadow behind you--you're a
tall man, you know. All I saw was a ragged silhouette. He hit you. You
fell. I screamed. He grabbed at your wallet----" Her voice trailed away
unhappily.

Paul smiled. "Nothing in it but personal papers all replaceable. Not
more than a few dollars. I'd have handed it over rather than get this
clip on the skull. Too bad you couldn't see him."

The touch of amusement came again. "I had my eyes closed, sort of."

Paul smiled again. Inwardly he was welcoming the footpad to the
contents of his wallet and accepting the bop on the bean as the price
to pay for an introduction to the girl.

Someone in the crowd said: "You'd better come inside until you feel all
right."

Paul shook his head and was happy to find that the knot inside had
diminished to a faint pinpoint. His voice was sounding more like his
own, too. "I've got to go," he said.

"But----"

The wail of sirens came and a police car dashed to the curb. It spilled
policemen from all doors, who came warily. "What's going on here?"
demanded the sergeant.

Paul explained.

"You'd better come to the station and lodge a complaint."

Paul shook his head. "I'm Paul Grayson of the Bureau of Astrogation,"
he said. "I could prove it but the crook has my identification
papers. I'm due to take off for space within--" Paul looked at his
watch--"within forty minutes," he finished.

"We'll require a complaint."

"Can't you take it?" pleaded Paul. "Good Lord, man, I can't identify a
criminal that clipped me from behind. Hell, the only contact I had with
him was hitting the back of my head against his blackjack."

The sergeant looked at the woman. "You can't help?"

"Not much more. He was just a blurred shadow to me, he looked like any
other man wearing dark clothing--which can be changed all too easily."

The sergeant went to the police car and spoke to the main office over
the radio. He returned in a moment. "The lieutenant says we're to run
you over to the spaceport and take depositions en route. That'll save
time for you, and it will get the dope for our records that we must
have. You too, Miss--?"

"I'm Nora Phillips. I'll go along, of course. Will you have one of your
men keep an eye out for a tall man who should have been passing here
by now. He's overdue. He will be Tommy Morgan; we had a date but I
came out to meet him on his way to my home. Tell him what happened and
explain that I'll return home as soon as this matter is taken care of."

The sergeant smiled. "Toby, you take this stand and ask everybody that
comes along if he's Mr. Morgan. Then explain."

"Right."

The ride, so far as official information went, was strictly a waste of
time. Paul made a mental note of Nora Phillips' address and telephone
number and decided that the incident called for good reason to renew
the acquaintance. The sergeant made it easy by telling them: "When
you return from your trip, Mr. Grayson, I'll ask you to come in to
the station and make a formal complaint. You'll be there too, Miss
Phillips."

"I'll be glad to help," she told them. Then she turned to Paul. "You're
with Astrogation?"

He nodded.

"But why Proxima? I've heard it was a completely useless place."

Paul shook his head. "We want to measure the distance to better
accuracy than heliocentric parallax will permit us," he said. "We know
the speed of light to a fine decimal, and we can measure time to even
a finer degree. So we started a radio beam towards Centauri four years
ago, and it will be arriving in not-too-long a time. Then we'll have
the distance to a nice detail of perfection."

Nora thought for a moment. "I suppose you're ultimately aiming at
Neosol," she suggested.

"That's the idea."

"But Neosol is a hundred light years away--"

"One hundred and forty-three at the last count," Paul corrected.

"So it will take a hundred and forty--"

"No," he smiled. "Less than three years from now. You see, seven light
years is the greatest distance that separates the stars between here
and Neosol. We've got a nice network of radio beams criss-crossing the
pathway between here and Neosol. Oh," he admitted with a smile, "the
triangulation beams will be arriving from now until a hundred years
from now, but they're mostly check-beams, and the final beam from Earth
to Neoterra will take the full time. But in the meantime we can refine
our space charts using the network of beams once they start to arrive.
And each time one of the triangulation check-beams gets home, we'll be
able to refine the charts even more. But there's no sense in waiting
for a century and a half."

The sergeant looked at Paul. "You're certain you can fly with that bump
on the head?"

"Sure."

"Why not let someone else take it."

Paul shook his head. "It's my job," he said quickly.

"But there must be someone else that can do it. What if you died?"

"Oh, there are others trained in this sort of job in that case."

"Why not let one of them take it, then?"

Paul shook his head again. "I'm all right," he said. He realized that
his insistence was too vigorous and that his reasons were too lame.
But he could not let them know why it was so important that Paul
Grayson go in person. If Haedaecker got wind of what Paul carried in
his spacecraft, there would be hell to pay. He thought of a plausible
excuse. "Most of them aren't on earth right now."

"Couldn't you call one of them?"

Paul smiled ruefully. "They're outside of the solar system."

The sergeant nodded. "The Z-wave can't cross interstellar space," he
said. It was a statement thrown in to display his knowledge to the
technician from the Bureau of Astrogation, and also a leader for more
conversation.

Paul did not bite.

"That's Haedaecker's Theory," added the sergeant. "Isn't it?" he added
after another moment of silence.

"Haedaecker's Theory is that the Z-wave propagates only in a region
under the influence of solar activity," explained Paul. He looked out
of the police car and saw the spaceport only a few moments away. Then
he talked volubly to fill in the time so that he could be off without
further questioning. Haedaecker had plenty of evidence to support his
theory, but they all were missing one point that was as plain as the
nose on Haedaecker's face.

"We can talk with ease from the Zero Laboratory on Pluto to the Solar
Lab on Mercury, to the boys who are working in the poisonous atmosphere
of Jupiter, to the extra-terran paleontologists who are combing Venus,"
said Paul. "And the Radiation Laboratory sent a gang to try the five
planets of Sirius. Again they got the Z-wave working after a bit of
fiddling with the tuning. But we've not been able to get so much
as a whisper from Sol to Proxima Centauri via Z-wave. What started
Haedaecker thinking was the experiment they tried about ten years ago."
Paul went on before anybody could interrupt.

"No one can measure the velocity of the Z-wave, you know. So they
started a spacecraft running right away from Sol. So long as they
were within a fair radius, the Z-wave went both ways easily. But once
they went into superdrive and raced away from Sol and got out beyond
the orbit of Pluto by quite a bit, they lost contact completely. They
made some measurements but these were quite unsuccessful. All we know
is that we can use the Z-wave for speech for a long distance beyond
the orbit of Pluto, but beyond some distance that might lie between
ten times that orbit and--I think they tried it at a light month--the
Z-wave dies out abruptly. It falls off like a cliff, you know. There's
no apparent attenuation of the Z-wave so long as it is strong enough to
get there. Beyond that, there is not even the whisper of a signal. It's
a peculiar thing, but we know very little about the Z-wave, and--"

The driver brought the police car to a screeching halt. "Here you are,
folks," he chirped.

Paul got out of the car quickly. "I'll be back," he told the sergeant.
"I'll call you." And then to Nora Phillips he added, "I'll call you,
too."

"Do," she said pointedly. "I'd like to know more about the Z-wave."

Paul nodded amiably. He did not voice his inner thought: _So would I,
Baby!_



CHAPTER 2


The police car U-turned in the broad roadway and headed off to return
Nora Phillips to her home and to pick up the officer set to sentry
duty. Paul waved them off and then started to walk up the pavement
towards the administration building.

He was feeling better. Everything pleased him vastly. The knot inside
of his head was gone, he had made the acquaintance of a very delectable
armful of femininity, and now he had been chauffeured to the spaceport
by none other than the City Police Department, complete with siren.

On his way up the sidewalk, Paul planned the retort perfect.
Anticipating some humorous sarcasm on the mode of his arrival, Paul
hoped to crush any verbal volley with unanswerable repartee. Usually
Paul's fount of boundless wit ran just a trifle slow, following the
definition of a bon mot: something you think of on the way home. This
time he was going to be prepared.

He swung the door airily and strode in, his tongue poised over a few
words of terse wit.

The guard looked at him and swallowed a large lump. "How in hell did
you get out?" he gasped.

This was not according to plan; unfortunately, the guard had not read
Paul's script, and the prepared answer would not fit the question. "I
was never in," said Paul lamely, again wishing he had a tongue full of
ready wit instead of fumbling for a prepared speech.

"The hell you weren't."

Paul took it from there, ignoring the fact that the guard had not
followed Paul's mental conversation. "That was a car reserved for very
important personages," he said. "From now on you can call me Viper."

The guard by-passed this. "But how did you get out?" he asked. His
voice was almost a plea. "You didn't pass me."

"Were you guarding the jail too?" chuckled Paul. "Fast man, no?"

"You came in a taxicab the first time."

"Ah yes. But that was years ago before people knew of my brilliance,
importance, and high station. Now--"

"Years ago, my eye. Less than fifteen minutes ago--"

"I did not."

"You did."

"Not me." Paul's feeling of airy well-being came down a few thousand
feet and mired in a cumulus cloud.

"Look, Grayson, you came in a taxicab and breezed in here about fifteen
minutes ago as though you had only a minute to spare."

"You're thinking of someone else."

"Your picture said Paul Grayson, and so did your identification. How
else would I be knowing you?"

"You've seen me often enough."

"Maybe. But don't forget that I see a few thousand people every day.
And I know you only well enough to know that you do own bona fide
credentials. You've got 'em?"

"I--" Paul blinked. A great searing light was starting to cut through
the cobwebs of his brain. The airy feeling of well-being dropped below
the cumulus cloud and made a one-point landing on strictly solid
ground. "Look," he said soberly. "You claim a man came through here a
few minutes ago, resembling me?"

"Unless you ain't who you are, he was you."

"He wasn't me. My papers were stolen less than an hour ago. He must
have--"

The guard was no imbecile. He turned in a flash and hit a button on the
desk beside him. An alarm bell rang in some inner room and four more
guards came tumbling out of a doorway, alert and ready for trouble.

"Tommy," snapped the guard at the door, "Go check Paul Grayson's ship,
that's number--"

"BurAst 33-P.G.1."

The guard looked at Paul carefully. "You're a dead ringer for the other
guy that came through here," he said. "But you happen to know Paul
Grayson's BurAst number. Anybody could memorize it."

Paul watched the other guards tumble out of the building and head off
across the spaceport on a dead run, drawing pistols as they went. He
started to follow them.

The guard barred his way.

"No you don't!"

"But that guy is stealing--"

"Maybe your name is Grayson and maybe the other guy is Grayson. You
look alike and he had identification. I don't know Paul Grayson well
enough to accept or deny you--or him. But until you show me credentials
entitling you to roam this spaceport, you stay outside!"

"But--"

"The boys I sent out there are capable. Don't get in their way. They
might shoot the wrong Paul Grayson."

"But--"

"Get your credentials. Get some sort of identification."

Paul looked at the big standard clock on the wall. "But I've got less
than eight minutes until take-off time."

"There's always tomorrow. You'll get cleared first or no entry! And
that's final."

"Hell's Eternal Bells!" exploded Paul. "The cops that brought me here
did so because I was clipped on the bean and robbed."

"It's my job," explained the guard quietly. "I don't want to be any
more of a bastard than I have to be. If you're Paul Grayson and the
cops know you were robbed, there's the telephone."

Paul grabbed the phone and started to dial, fuming at the delay. First
there was a few seconds until the dial tone came, then Paul dialed
the outside line. Another few seconds of delay until he could dial the
number of the municipal police department. Then a bored voice asked:

"Police headquarters, who's calling please."

"This is Paul Grayson at the Municipal Spaceport."

"What's the trouble out there?"

"A crook stole my identification."

"We'll send a man out to investigate."

"No!" yelled Paul to prevent the telephone operator from cutting off
the line on the assumption that the call was closed. "You don't
understand. I'm supposed to take off in--ah--seven minutes."

"We can't get a man there that quickly. You'll have to wait."

"Look," said Paul hurriedly, "there's a squad car that just dropped
me here. I was clipped on Talman Avenue and they went there to
investigate, they brought me here. Why not call them and ask them to
come back and explain to the guards here what happened?"

"I'll check that and take action," promised the voice in a completely
bored tone.

Paul fumed.

There was the sound of a shot outside, followed instantly by the
shrill, whining song of a ricochet, probably a glance from the hard
metal flank of a parked spacecraft.

The telephone went dead and a second later came the dial tone again.
Paul hung it up reluctantly.

And that made it worse. Other hands were not as imbued with the
importance of the project. To other hands it was a routine bit of
trouble, not the matter of life and death that it was to Paul Grayson;
yet he to whom this thing was vastly important must sit with folded
hands while men handled the matter in ponderous routine.

The clock continued to turn inexorably. Paul's mathematically-inclined
mind went to work; it was less than two minutes since the police car
left. Give them a minute to check up, and a minute to make sure, then
a minute to call the car. That was three of the precious seven minutes
gone to hell. If it took them as long to return as it took them to get
where they now were, throw another two minutes down the drain and that
left two minutes in which to let the sergeant explain to the guard,
clear Paul Grayson on a pro tem basis, get him across the spaceport to
his ship, in, up, and away.

He groaned.

He wished frantically for some means of knowing what was going on; what
measures were being made in his behalf. He wanted desperately to listen
to the radio in the police car. He wanted to get on the radio himself
and roar out explanations, to exhort them to greater effort--

The siren wail of the police car cut into his thoughts and Paul raced
to the door to fling it open. The car slid to the curb and the siren
whined down the scale as the driver turned it off. They got out of the
car and came up the walk briskly.

"Hurry!" he called.

He cast a glance over his shoulder at the standard clock. He had three
minutes.

"Tell 'em who I am!" he exploded breathlessly.

The sergeant blinked. "But I don't know who you are."

"But I've told you."

"Hell," grunted the guard. "You've told me, too." To the sergeant, the
guard said: "Do you know anything about all this?"

"We got a call that this man had been clipped and robbed. He was." The
sergeant looked at Nora Phillips. "Can you identify this man?"

Nora bit her lip. "He's Paul Grayson."

The guard speared Nora with a cold look. "Do you know that or is it
just what he said?"

"Why I've--"

"She's never met him otherwise," put in the sergeant.

"That's true, but I think--"

"Thinking ain't good enough."

Nora looked at Paul. "Haven't you anything to show?"

Paul shook his head. "Nothing that would cut any ice. Belt buckle
with initial G. A few laundry marks and cleaners' marks. A checkbook
in my hip pocket but no name printed in it. I might check the balance
against the bank, but that would be tomorrow morning. We might call
Doctor Haedaecker, but by the time we arrived on some means of personal
identification, take-off time would be gone and past."

Paul paused, breathless, his whole body poised tense and his head bent
to listen. There came the patter of feet outside.

The standard clock was swinging towards the hour, two minutes remained,
enough if all went quick and well.

One of the guards burst in. He took a quick look around and spotted the
police sergeant. "Good," he said, breathing heavily. "We've just shot a
man out there. You're needed."

"Was it the man who passed himself off as me?" shouted Paul Grayson.

"As we came up to BurAst 33-P.G.1, this guy jumped from the airlock and
started to run. We gave chase and lost him in the dark beyond a group
of parked spacecraft. We called for him to halt. We found him again on
the far side of the ships and Joe fired a shot.

"It must of missed him because he kept running, and then we all started
shooting, losing him behind another ship parked by the fence. You know
old Mupol 3316? The way the guts are parked all over the spaceport and
left to rust? A derelict if I ever saw one, and after this I'd say it
was about time we cleaned up that old wreck--"

"--Please hurry," blurted Paul.

"--we got to the fence where he'd climbed out over some junk stacked
behind Mupol 3316. We went after him, and then guess what?"

"What?"

"We found this character flat on his face in the road, as dead a corpse
as ever died."

Paul exploded again. "That proves it," he said. "Now--"

The spaceport guard shook his head. This shake was echoed by the
sergeant of police.

"But I've work to do--"

The sergeant smiled unhappily. "We've work to do too, son. I'll call
you Grayson for the benefit of the doubt. There is not much doubt that
something is highly rotten here, but we've got to be certain. There's
been one slugging and robbery, the attempted theft of spacecraft, and
now a man killed by armed guards in performance of their duty. This is
going to require clearing up before we let you go."

"But you know where to find me. I'm due on Proxima Centauri I to check
the arrival of the Bureau of Astrogation survey beam. I'm to take off--"

"_IF_ you are Paul Grayson."

"If the other guy was Paul Grayson, would he have run from cops?"

The sergeant laughed bitterly. "This may come as a shock to you, son.
But you have no idea of how many of our Nicest People, Pillars of
Society, and Solid Citizens have secrets in their daily lives that make
them shun Law and Order when Law and Order comes toward them with a
drawn pistol, a subpoena, or a warrant for arrest."

The loudspeaker came to life at that moment. "BurAst 33-P.G.1 taking
off for Proxima Centauri I. Timing signal for synchronization first
check ..." the voice died to be replaced by a series of clicks, one
second apart.

"That's my notice--"

The guard snapped a switch. "Master Control," he said quietly. "This is
Edwards, guard at the main gate, hold the flight."

"Hold the flight?" answered the speaker.

"Hold the flight. We've had trouble here."

"Is that what the shooting was all about?" The timing clicks died in
the background. "What's the trouble?"

"We've got two Paul Graysons wanting to take off."

"Tell 'em to draw straws. This is costing money."

"One of them--"

"Goddammmit!" yelled Paul, "I'm Paul Grayson and I've--"

"That you'll have to prove, son," said the sergeant.

"--is dead," finished the guard.

"Dead?" gasped the speaker. "Which one?"

"It ain't funny," said the guard seriously. "Just hold the flight."

"Okay, sport. But--"

Paul spoke up, "Can you get the Elecalc free for a course for tomorrow
night?"

"Who's that speaking?"

"I'm Paul Grayson."

"The live one, huh?" chuckled the unimpressed voice from the speaker.
His bantering tone made Paul want to rip out his larynx with a crooked
thumb and shove it down his throat. "Okay. We'll have the electronic
calculator figure out a course for Proxima I for tomorrow night.
Doubtless _someone_ will take the flight."

"Oh damn!" groaned Paul. "Why does this have to happen to me?"

The sergeant smiled. "If this were the first attempt to steal a
spacecraft, I'd be surprised."

The guard shook his head. "It's more than that," he added sagely. "If
the other guy was a thief bent on swiping a BurAst ship, he could have
gone off in it ten minutes before the second Paul Grayson arrived. He
didn't. He was waiting for the take-off signal; and if he were a crook,
he hoped to fill in the real Paul Grayson's place. If he was the real
Grayson, we've killed a frightened Bureau man, and this bird here--"

Paul looked at the standard clock. It was now moving past the precise
second marked for take-off. He sighed resignedly and relaxed. "For
the moment we'll assume that I am Paul Grayson," he said quietly. "So
soon as we can find someone to corroborate me, the second part of your
supposition will have no grounds."

The sergeant shook his head. "I think we'd all best head for the
station and wait this thing out."

Paul gulped. "You're going to jug me?"

"Both of you."

"But you can't arrest me--"

"Five will get you eight," chuckled the sergeant.

Nora Phillips came forward until she stood between Paul and the
sergeant. "Why am I being arrested?" she demanded.

The sergeant smiled affably. "No one is being arrested."

"Why am I being detained, held, or otherwise prevented from enjoying my
rights of freedom?" she snapped.

Paul shrugged. "I've missed my take-off," he said. "I'll have to wait
until tomorrow anyway. And I can get identification in an hour or so
without any trouble. In fact, I'll gladly go along with you if you'll
permit me the telephone. They can bring my stuff down there and we can
settle this quickly. But there is no reason to hold Miss Phillips."

The sergeant turned to the woman and bowed deferentially. "Forgive a
harried policeman his habits," he said quietly. "As a shoe salesman
will mentally catalog the shoes of the people sitting opposite to him
on the street car, and a physician will mentally diagnose the ills of
his fellow-spectators at a baseball game, a policeman habitually views
the acts of his contemporaries with one eye toward their motives."

"Meaning what?" demanded Paul Grayson.

The policeman faced Paul and said with a level voice: "So far as
every bit of evidence goes, you are Paul Grayson. You behave as a man
might behave when placed in the position you appear to be in. On the
other hand, if you were a smart man, you would behave as you are now
behaving even though you had reasons most dire to execute as soon as
you leave the watchful eye of law and order. This is a bit too trite.
A stolen wallet containing only a few bucks and a whale of a lot of
identification, complete with a witness to the crime, makes fine story
material to use in establishing a false identity. Motive can come
later--if any. If you are Paul Grayson, I will make abject apology. If
your tale is not true, there will be some tall explaining to make."

"How about Miss Phillips' boy friend?"

"Now that's a nice thought, but not necessarily conclusive proof. He
might easily and sensibly be included to give any story an air of
veracity. However, we can check with Toby Reed as soon as we get back
to the patrol car."



CHAPTER 3


Paul Grayson awoke the following morning to the tune of the telephone
beside his bed. "This is Sergeant Hollowell," said the other man,
"I've just called to apologize once more and to tell you that
everything is OK. We'll even give you a guard if you want it."

Paul stretched and said, sleepily: "Thanks, Sergeant. I guess
everything will come out all right without a guard."

"Okay. I'm glad for all concerned. For your information and not to be
repeated, the character we got last night is--was--a petty crook with a
record as long as your arm. A plain case of theft. Interrupted luckily.
We call it closed."

"Thanks again. And the ship?"

"It's there as it was last night. So far as we and the BurAst guards
know, no one but the crook was near it, and no one will be permitted to
go near it until you come to take it up."

Paul breathed easier. "Okay, see you later."

"Your wallet, intact, will be delivered to your apartment within the
hour. That closes that case, too." The policeman's voice sounded well
pleased with himself and the night's work. Paul hung up and sprawled
back in bed, thinking.

There was no point in arousing the policeman's suspicions again. A howl
of 'Why?' might delay Paul Grayson; might cause another technician to
be sent to Proxima I to check the arrival of the radio beam. Paul had
all the reason in the galaxy for wanting to be there himself, and an
equally large quantity of reasons for not wanting someone else running
his ship.

But there _was_ more to this than met the eye.

Paul reached for a cigarette and laid back in bed blowing smoke at the
ceiling. A smile touched his lips. Aside from the annoyance at being
delayed for twenty four hours, it had been one large evening.

Then his grin died and he reached out one quick arm and picked up the
telephone again. He dialed a number and waited until the ringing was
answered.

"Stacey?"

"This is Stacey's office."

"Is he there?"

"Who's calling, please?"

"Tell him Paul Grayson--if he's up yet."

"He's up," came the cheerfully amused voice at the other end. "But he's
still grumpy."

"I'll cheer him up," promised Paul. There was the click of a connection
made and one quick burr from the ringing of the distant telephone.

"Stacey," came the reply.

"Paul Grayson."

"Hell's Eternal--I thought you were on your way to Proxima."

"Got delayed a day."

Stacey was silent for a moment; Paul imagined that he could hear
the clicking of the other man's mind as it started to analyze the
situation. Then Stacey said: "What's on the technical mind, Paul? You
didn't call me at this outrageous hour just to pass the time of day."

"John, how much will it cost me to have a matter looked into?"

"Normal charge is twenty-five a day and expenses. I think I owe you a
few favors. Make it expenses if it isn't too involved."

"It might be."

"Then we'll make some arrangement as soon as we know how involved it
is. But Migawd, Paul, what brings you to the employment of a detective?"

"Someone tried to steal my spacecraft last night."

"Nuts. Call the coppers."

"Nope. There's more to this than meets the eye."

"What, for instance?"

"I'll be over to tell you about it."

"Big?"

"I don't know. Bothersome, anyway."

"I'll wait. Make it quick."

Paul hung up, and then went into a whirlwind of action. He dressed
and shaved and gulped a glass of orange juice. He eschewed breakfast,
promising his stomach that food would come in due time. He took his car
from the garage where he had parked it for a month the evening before,
and within a few minutes after hanging up the telephone, Paul Grayson
was heading towards Stacey's office.

It was a small office. Stacey's secretary knew Paul by sight if not by
telephone voice, and she nodded him in to the inner office. Stacey's
inner office was as small as the outer office because file cabinets
lined the room. The detective sat with his chin in his hand, poring
over some pages of writing. He looked up at once and greeted Paul with
a smile.

"So someone tried to swipe your ship?" he blurted. "And why isn't that
a case for the cops?"

"John, how would you go about stealing a ship?"

"Get into the spaceport on some pretext, get into the ship by
some means, and then take off like I had to make Messier 31 by
mid-afternoon--or whatever place happened to be aligned at the time."

"That's what I've been thinking."

"So--?"

"You wouldn't worry about the dispersion factor. You wouldn't worry
about course. Your main interest would lie in getting the hell out of
there before someone came along and decided that you were intent upon
theft."

"Naturally."

Paul nodded. Then he explained as well as he knew, and as well as
he could remember, everything that had taken place on the previous
evening. He finished up with: "So I've met a gorgeous gal, kissed her
by accident and found it fun; was clipped by a footpad and sort of
nursed back to the conscious level by the same luscious dame; had two
rides in a police patrol car; one trip to the hoosegow; cleared of all
suspicion by an official courier arriving with officially sealed pouch
of identification; was escorted home in style."

"Go on. There's more to this than that."

"Remember what Sergeant Hollowell said: That a stolen wallet and a
witness were fine dovetails towards the establishment of a false
identity?"

"Yeah."

"What better way to louse Paul Grayson up than to decoy him with
a flagrantly beautiful woman; a dame possessed of self-assurance
and poise, yet incredibly feminine enough to betray a warm, human
passionate hunger for some one man. Natural male concupiscence would
draw any man into the game of trying to divert her affection towards
himself."

"Speak for yourself, wolf."

Paul grinned at Stacey. He stood up. "Maybe I'd better look into this
thing myself. Set Stacey on the trail of a glam-amorous female and--"

"Siddown. I'm a married man."

"I was thinking of your poor, deluded wife and daughter."

"Gloria knows all about your natural male concupiscence; and 'Ginny
will know you as a doddering old man by the time she discovers that you
can tell a man from a woman without looking at their clothing."

Paul sat down again. He had not intended to leave anyway. "So," he
said, "what better way to divert Paul Grayson than to bait him with a
gorgeous dame?"

Stacey grunted. "To divert you long enough to clip you, to steal your
papers, to enter your ship--for what purpose?"

"That's where the mystery comes in. The guy had plenty of time to fire
up the drivers and grab an armful of sky. The galaxy makes a fine
hiding place, John. They scoured the stellar systems of a hundred and
more suns before they found that Neosol had a planet that was capable
of harboring Terran life without difficulty. God knows, no man hunting
for a place to live would wait and head for Proxima I. Yet that seems
to be what the crook had tried to do."

Stacey shook his head. "You are supposing that Nora Phillips was
mingled in some sort of plot to steal a spacecraft. Granting that,
Paul, explain me one thing. Just why would a person intent upon
delaying you go so far towards helping you?"

"Huh?"

"She did sort of rub your skull, didn't she?"

"And a fine job she did of it, too."

"Professional?"

"Seemed as if. If not professional, at least experienced."

"So she brought you out of the unconscious, painful dark in time to
intercept the criminal at his business?"

"Uh--"

"And Nora Phillips strode up and kissed you with warm, mad passion
on the street, thus immobilizing your skull long enough for the
enterprising sharpshooter to take a stance and perfect his backswing."

"So you don't think so?"

Stacey thought for a moment. "This does not smack of simple theft," he
said at length.

"Hell," growled Grayson, "That's what I've been trying to tell you."

"Um. I see--"

"So someone looks like me. He tried to swipe my ship, it would appear.
But they didn't need a dame to distract me; I could have been pushed
off by a gunman. Frankly, I am of the type that will gladly hand over
my wallet, my shoes, and/or my worldly goods rather than to have a hole
drilled through my dinner. So, John, here is Nora Phillips' address.
You can get the name of the defunct crook from the police, I'm sure.
See what connection they might have had."

Stacey looked at Paul with a smile. "You're not making uranium out of
broken pop bottles are you?"

"Nope. I'm just a guy working for the Bureau of Astrogation."

"Uh-huh. But with a secret under his hat large enough to keep him from
yelping too loud."

"You know the reason for that."

"And how many others?"

"Damned few. Less than six, I'd guess."

Stacey shook his head again. "They don't clip screwballs for having a
half-baked idea crammed in their simple skulls. So far as I can see it,
you've got nothing to conceal, nothing to steal, and nothing much worth
hiding."

"If Haedaecker knew what I had--"

Stacey grunted. "If Haedaecker wanted to stop you he would not have to
hire a bunch of phony actors to do it," he said succinctly.

"But what else?"

"My life of crime," chuckled Stacey, "tells me that there are as
many motives for crime as there are men with ambition, avarice, and
ability. The trouble is that there are more motives for crime than
there are varieties of crime. If there is a motive for this cockeyed
affair--and I've yet to see a crime without a motive, however involved
or simple--you must know it."

"Aside from spacecraft stealing--"

"That's ruled out."

"Then I'll be eternally relegated to the nether regions if I know what
it is."

Stacey nodded. "Maybe you know it and don't recognize it."

"Maybe I should visit my family psychiatrist?"

"He might be able to ferret out the hidden secret. But I'd waste no
time on it. Just proceed and see what happens."

"Like another busted head?"

"As I recall, it's hard enough."

Paul laughed. One could hardly be sour in Stacey's presence. Nothing
appeared serious to the detective; he managed to make everything sound
quite cheerful and amusing, even the threat of further depredations. It
was a trait disliked by many people, which was probably the main reason
why Stacey was a small time operator instead of being the mainspring of
a world-wide agency.

It took a long acquaintanceship with Stacey before people realized
that the light banter was only a false front used to keep Stacey's own
spirits from bogging down in the world of trouble. A sympathetic sort
himself, Stacey forced himself to treat every case as impersonally
as he could because only a man uninvolved emotionally can make clear
decisions based on fact and not feelings. Newcomers meeting Stacey
resented the fact that the detective obviously treated their troubles
as less than the most important thing in the world.

But Paul Grayson knew Stacey well and he was willing to let the
detective handle the case completely from this point, knowing that
Stacey would do it honestly and quickly, friend or not. Paul waved
good-bye at the door and drove towards home. He went in and sat down,
ticking things off on the fingers of his hand.

One, identification cleared

Two, wallet returned

Three, puzzle-solution started

Four--

Grayson went to the telephone and called the spaceport, was connected
with the calculations department.

"Grayson," he said. "How's for my course this evening?"

"Sure you want to go?" came the dry retort.

"Absolutely."

"Want to bet?"

"Look," grunted Grayson, no longer angry at the voice, "you've got a
fine calculating gadget there. Why not have it figure out the betting
possibilities and make book on me?"

"We tried to make it pick horses for us once but the answer came back
as 'Data incomplete, factors uncertain.' The elecalc does not like
horses."

"But I'm not a horse."

"I hear there's a woman tied up in this thing. That's the predictably
unpredictable factor, that men, the imbeciles, will get involved with
women--even as you and I. Anyway, Grayson, we'll have you a course. It
won't be as cold turkey as last night's, but it will serve in a way."

"In what way?" asked Paul.

"We can't set the spotter ship. Not enough time. You'll have to aim the
ship visually. It'll make the dispersion-factor somewhat large."

"I don't mind."

"Good thing you don't," came the glum reply.

Both of them knew that the job of aiming a stellar ship was accepted by
the public as one of the things that had to be done; few of them knew
what went into the job. All stars are but pinpoints in the sky, there
is no quick way to tell a close-by star from a distant star by visual
inspection. To the untrained, even the solar planets blend with the
interstellar reaches. Only the trained eye can tell planets from the
stars by the lack of twinkle.

The true distances between the stars is too vast to be comprehended.
Men speak of light years. Yet even the learned must indulge in quite
a bit of cerebration to understand the length of a year, the velocity
of light presents figures too extreme for comprehension. Light travels
at 328 yards per millionth of a second, 328 yards can be grasped,
as a distance of three-football fields, but a millionth of a second
cannot be grasped readily; 186,000 miles per second offers only one
factor capable of being understood. One can count "Ten-Hundred-One" and
realize that a second has passed. But the mind is incapable of grasping
the fact that during that time of counting, a beam of light traverses
186,000 miles.

Proxima Centauri is four light years away. Using the longest base that
the solar system provided, the beginning and the end of the aimed
course was like trying to hit a match head at ten thousand yards with
a snub-barrelled pistol. A misalignment too minute for the eye to see
meant a probable target dispersion as broad as the outer orbits of the
solar system.

Aim a ship at a target four light years away across aiming points a
couple of light hours apart. At a velocity within a couple of percent
of precise, multiplied by a number of seconds mounting into five or six
figures, you can establish the volume which will contain the spacecraft
on its arrival. A volume of probabilities; far, far from the layman's
idea of a precise science.

Heading as he was for Proxima Centauri, that tiny star would be the
focus of his aim. But Proxima is a tiny star, one of a trinary, and the
other two magnificent stars overwhelmed the feeble light of Proxima.
So the system of Alpha Centauri would lie on the cross-hairs of Paul's
telescope.

And the cross-hairs of the telescope would be displaced from the axis
of drive by a small angle. It was this angle that required the use of
the electronic calculator.

Not only because Proxima lies a smidgin of space apart from the more
brilliant pair, but because Alpha Centauri drifts along in the galactic
swing, and Sol moves as well. The eye sees Alpha Centauri where it was
four years ago. Any trip across space, lasting ten days, must bring the
traveller down out of supervelocity and into the realm of visibility
at the position where Alpha will be ten days after take-off--not where
Alpha was four years ago.

This was a problem not yet licked. Like the 'sighting-in' of a brand
new pistol, each shot fired added to the knowledge of the correction
factor that must be applied.

For the same reasons of inward anxiety that makes a man who has missed
a train on Monday turn up two hours early on Tuesday, Paul turned up
at the spaceport early. The guard greeted him with a cynical smile but
checked the identification carefully before waving him through the gate.

Paul went to the Elecalc office to get his folder of course-data. The
usual procedure was to have the course calculated as early as possible
before the date of take-off, so that the busy department could sandwich
course-data in between the longer range jobs. This was different,
undoubtedly some long-range job had been stopped in mid-calc so that
Paul's course could be run off. He was not too surprised to have the
man at the desk smile and point a finger at the Superintendent's Office
and say:

"It's in there. Go on in, he's expecting you."

Paul went to the door, opened it, and then swallowed a lump as large as
his fist.

The man sitting quietly behind the desk, huge hands folded in his lap,
was Chadwick Haedaecker.



CHAPTER 4


Chadwick Haedaecker was the kind of man who collected college degrees,
both earned and honorary, and had them lettered on his office door like
a collection of trophies. He had enough ability and ambition to get to
the top of his particular heap, and once he got there he had garnered
enough additional power to stay there. He was a tall man with piercing
eyes and an indomitable nature and he used both to quell any objectors
to his plans, projects, ideas, and theories. Twenty years of authority
in a position where no man was permitted to doubt his word or argue
with his self-assured proclamations had completely erased any trace of
humility he ever had.

But whether Haedaecker was a prince among men or a jackal among jackals
depended entirely upon the beholder. When Haedaecker believed in your
idea, he was a staunch supporter, throwing all he had--and he had
plenty--behind your idea. His whip cracked just as hard in your behalf
as it lashed against your back when Haedaecker was not convinced of the
soundness of your idea.

Since Haedaecker was head of the Bureau, his presence here made Paul
blink.

While Paul tried to think of something clever to say, Haedaecker smiled
and nodded, finally speaking after he knew the state of discomfiture
of his employee.

"You've had quite a time, haven't you?" asked Haedaecker.

Paul nodded ruefully.

"Just what happened?"

Paul explained, carefully, completely. He would have preferred to
answer Haedaecker with nods or grunts or shakes of the head on the
theory that opening the mouth is the first step towards spilling
the whole tale, or at least enough of it to give a man as cagey as
Haedaecker to think that there was more equipment in the BurAst
spacecraft than radio beacon checking gear. Haedaecker was not the kind
of man to come forth to console a man; especially one that apparently
came out of the deal with nothing lost. Haedaecker's principle was to
get 'em off balance and keep 'em off balance, because when they're off
balance they cannot get set to swing. Paul knew that he would have to
play this interview with the same finesse that a mouse should use to
escape the cat's corner.

"Have any ideas about this?" asked Haedaecker.

Paul's ideas were all confused ones but he did not say so. "The police
accept it as a plain case of attempted theft," he said.

"And you?"

Paul spread his hands in a universal gesture. "I can't make more out of
it than the police," he said.

Haedaecker speared Paul Grayson with those piercing eyes. "You're not
mixed up in anything, are you?"

"Lord no!"

Haedaecker's glare lessened. "I don't mean anything lawless or
underhanded."

Paul looked at Haedaecker coldly. "Then what else?"

Haedaecker smiled blandly. "You are an ambitious young man. You
are idealistic. You are enthusiastic and energetic. You are also
determined."

"Are those unfavorable traits?" asked Paul with a slight edge to his
voice. He hated this baiting; knew that he should take the sting of
Haedaecker's acid tongue without flaring back. Haedaecker had Paul over
the proverbial barrel, from which position there is little chance for
counter-attack.

"Listen to me," snapped Haedaecker. "You were twenty four when you came
to this department. Two years later you came to me with an idea. You
hoped to link the stars by voice. An ideal. A magnificent hope and plan
for mankind on earth and upon Neosol. For years everybody who has had a
touch of space has been trying, testing, and experimenting towards that
end. Men of learning, both abstract and concrete; men who have spent
years studying that very idea."

"What has that idea got to do with my getting a lump on the head?"
queried Paul.

"Only this. As a member of this department, you were given a job
to do. You have proceeded well and executed this job proficiently.
Four years ago, Grayson, I told you that the experiments you
suggested had been tried. I was patient. I explained that there was
a certain appropriation set aside for communications research; that
the appropriation intended for this galactic survey was under no
circumstances to be used for communications."

"I remember that. I also claim that my experiments have never been
tried."

"Nonsense. I accepted your theory and have had other scientists check
your reasoning. They state that there is no relation such as you claim.
Now, to get back to the correlation between that crack you got on the
head and my presence here, it goes as follows:

"Until last evening I let you alone. I knew that you continued to hold
that mad theory despite arguments against it. But a man can have his
dreams, and so I permitted you to dream. I assumed you to be honest.
I believed that you would not defy orders and employ funds for Z-wave
research. But when a man who has no great wealth, no vengeful enemies,
no polygonal love affairs, and no power to dispute or usurp gets
involved in a tangle as well-contrived as this, there is but one thing
left: I am convinced that you are planning to test the Z-wave!"

Paul laughed, bitterly. "Just why do you assume that this is some sort
of plot? Why not accept it as attempted theft as the police do?"

"If I were a thief," said Haedaecker softly, "And managed to break
into the spaceport, I would not wait until the guards came after me,
then to drop from my stolen spacecraft and run! A thief does not need
the spotter craft to lay his course. He takes off for anywhere so long
as it is off and away. A man contrived to resemble you closely enough
to pass superficial inspection follows you before the take-off, clips
you on the skull, and steals your wallet. You are the traditional
technician, Grayson. You do not dress like Beau Brummel, nor do you
show evidence of affluence. Any footpad would look for a more wealthy
client. He knew you, Grayson. He clipped you for your credentials!"

"So?"

"Why?"

"I don't know."

"I can suggest a theory. Because he knew that you were going to try the
Z-wave."

"Nonsense!"

Haedaecker smiled with a wolfish serenity. "Can you think of any reason
why any man would want to put a monkey wrench into our plans to survey
the galaxy?"

"No--"

"Then it must be your wild schemes."

"But just the same question, Doctor Haedaecker; if I were going against
orders and attempting to test the Z-wave, why would a man attempt to
stop me?"

"You are an idealistic simpleton," snapped Haedaecker. "You have a
manner of convincing people of the worth of whatever idea you happen to
hold dear. Despite the reams of evidence to the contrary, you have the
enthusiasm necessary to convince people who have not the truth at their
fingertips of the validity of your ideas."

"Piling supposition upon supposition," smiled Paul, cynically, "if that
has been done, I fail to see any reason why any man would not want to
be linked to Neosol by voice."

"You have a lot to learn about human nature, Grayson. You'll find as
you grow older that whenever someone proposes a plan for the benefit of
mankind, there are violent factions that will work hard to circumvent
it. How many leagues of united nations have failed throughout history
because of jealousy, aggrandization, megalomania. Both personal and
national. In one instance after the Bomb convinced all men that uniting
as one was the smart, safe, sensible thing to do, people hailed with
joy the creation of a new sovereign state apart from its neighbors.
Another nation blocked amity because of an ideology. A third nation
presented a territorial possession with its freedom and at the same
time contemplated the addition of two new states to its union. Grayson,
once a man rises above his daily job and tries to set up something
beneficial to mankind, he will find other men who see that plan as a
threat to their own ambitions."

Paul leaned forward over the desk. "Why not let me try?" he asked
eagerly.

Haedaecker leaned back wearily. "We've been all through that."

"But why?"

"I will not have one of my own men involved in an experiment as
ridiculous as yours!"

Paul eyed Haedaecker quietly. "But--"

Haedaecker shook his head. "You are not to attempt this." He eyed Paul
angrily.

"Who says I am?" demanded Paul.

"Reason and logic. And," said Haedaecker coldly, "excepting for one
thing, I'd go out and inspect that ship of yours for Z-wave gear. But
Paul Grayson is smart enough to smuggle the Z-wave gear on earlier
trips, not leaving his evidence for the last attempt, so I would find
nothing at this time."

Paul felt his heart pound thrice and then settle down again. The one
thing that he was trying to avoid was not going to come off.

But Haedaecker glared at Paul once again. "I absolutely forbid you to
do this."

Paul glared back. "What have we to lose?"

"I'll not have the ridicule attendant to such an abortive experiment
pinned onto my department."

Paul laughed sarcastically. "It seems to me that a man in your position
might like to have the name of being willing to have himself proven
wrong."

"What do you mean?" demanded Haedaecker.

"Can your own personal ambition be great enough to block and forestall
the linking of Sol and Neosol by Z-wave?"

"You young puppy--"

"Your position is due to the proposal of Haedaecker's Theory," said
Paul. "I am not attempting to insult you, Doctor Haedaecker. I want
you to view this in another light. According to all of the evidence
at hand, Haedaecker's Theory is correct and we cannot communicate
with the Z-wave across interstellar space. The proposition of that
theory and its math have made you a famous man. Perhaps you fear that
if Haedaecker's Theory is shown to be incorrect, you will lose your
position. This is not so. Men have always been on the side of a great
man who was humble enough to doubt his own theories occasionally, who
was willing to see them attacked. It means a lot to mankind; show
mankind that your personal ambition is not so great as to prevent them
from having the benefits of--"

"You're talking as though you knew that your plan would be successful,"
sneered Haedaecker.

"I believe it will be if I am given the opportunity to try."

"I tell you that it will not, and I forbid you to try." Haedaecker
speared Paul with a glance from the icy eyes. "You understand, whether
or not the experiment might be successful, if I hear of your trying
it, you will be subjected to every bit of punitive action that the law
permits."

Paul leaned back easily. "Now," he said with cool candor, "you're
assuming that I have all intention of attempting it without official
permission."

"I would not put it past you. In fact I believe you are."

"All predicated upon the fact that a footpad belted me and swiped my
wallet?"

"Yes. For what other reason?"

"Theft is usually done for--"

Haedaecker stood up angrily. "I've heard enough," he snapped.

Haedaecker strode to the door and hurled it open with one swing of a
powerful arm.

What happened next was not too remote a coincidence. It has happened to
everybody, several times. Someone with the intention of entering a room
will brace themselves, turn the doorknob, and thrust, only to have the
door opened from the other side. The net result is that the muscular
effort, tensed to strive against the mass and inertia of the door, will
find its force expended against no resistance. Doors are pulled from
one side and pushed from the other. If the shover pushes first, the
would-be puller gets slapped in the hand with the doorknob, sometimes
resulting in a broken finger or thumb. But if the puller pulls first,
the shover finds himself catapulted forward by his own muscular effort.
The results of this latter can be both comic or tragic.

In this case the result was a flurry of splash-printed silk, a bare
white arm, a fine length of well-filled nylon, and the frightened cry
of a woman.

Paul gulped.

Haedaecker's reflexes worked fast. He caught Nora Phillips before the
girl went headlong to the floor and he stood her up, retaining a light
grip on her waist until she got her bearings and her breath.

"Young woman," stormed Haedaecker angrily, "Are you used to bustling
into closed conferences?"

Nora looked at Haedaecker with eyes large, luminous, and fetching.
"I didn't know it was a closed conference," she said in her cool
contralto. "I'm most sorry."

"Miss Phillips, Doctor Haedaecker. She is the woman I met last night,
Doctor Haedaecker."

"What are you doing here?" demanded Haedaecker.

"I did not know this was any kind of conference," she explained. "I
came to see Mister Grayson, and the guard said he was in this room,
talking."

"Why didn't you wait?" stormed Haedaecker.

Nora smiled, wanly. "I was excited," she said. "It may have occurred to
you, too, that the man who tried to steal Mister Grayson's spacecraft
last night was not playing a game. Everything seemed wrong. He was not
smart. I got to wondering why he just didn't get into the ship and take
off.

"Well, less than fifteen minutes ago a flash came over the air. Among
the news was the statement that the criminal killed last night in
attempted spacecraft theft was Joel Walsh. He was an escapee from
penitentiary in Antarctica. That explained it."

"How?" demanded Haedaecker, "does that explain anything?"

"Of course it does," said Nora. "He was in jail for ten years. He
must have been sent away when he was about twenty. How many men are
competent space pilots at that age?"

"Not many," agreed Paul.

"And being in jail for the last ten years, it's natural that he did not
know how to run the ship."

"Um," grumbled Haedaecker.

"He probably wanted to stow away," said Nora. "Once he did that, he
could hold a gun at the pilot's head and make the pilot do his bidding
until he learned how to run the ship."

There was one very fine flaw in Nora's reasoning, but Paul did not
want to belabor this point at this moment. He had not intended
to push Haedaecker to the point of firing him for impertinence,
insubordination, or rank carelessness. For on the "BurAst 33.P.G.1"
was the Z-wave gear that Haedaecker's vindictive nature accused him of
stowing away.

Paul laughed. "So much for your intrigue," he said.

Haedaecker glared at Paul angrily. "Your intrigue," he said with heavy
emphasis on the first word. "Just let me find you trying it!"

Paul smiled crookedly and looked Haedaecker in the eye coldly. "Doctor
Haedaecker," he said in a level, voice, "if I ever try it and fail, no
one will know of my failure. If I try and succeed, I assure you that
you will be able to do nothing to me."

Haedaecker nodded, his manner as cold as Paul's voice had been. The
gage had been hurled, the swords measured and weighed. So far it was
stalemate. But only until Paul Grayson really did something against the
rules, large enough to let Haedaecker really clip him deep, lasting,
and legally justifiable.

Haedaecker left and Paul turned to Nora Phillips. She smiled at him and
asked: "What is this intrigue business, or is it a top secret?"

Paul shook his head. "I'd prefer to tell you after I return."

"Do that," she said. "I'd like to hear about it."

Paul pondered briefly. The obvious thing was to offer her a chance
to look over his ship. He could do that, now that he had all of his
credentials and papers back. But the Z-wave gear was evidence against
him, and even though it was parked in a convenient locker, certain
hunks of cable-endings and associated bits of equipment were a dead
giveaway; the same sort of evidence in the shape of capped pipes will
tell the observer that plumbing once existed in a certain room. Paul
had no intention of trusting anybody at this moment.

Mayhap Nora's timely information about the deceased thief were true.
Still, there was a hole in her tale. If the thief wanted only to stow
away until take-off time, he would pick another spacecraft than the
BurAst P.G.33-1. The registry number glowed in luminescent paint a yard
high, and matched the numbers on his identification card. Certainly no
half-idiot would try to stow away in an official ship that was almost
certain to be investigated as soon as the hue-and-cry was heard.

He suspected Haedaecker's hand in this; anything to keep Haedaecker's
Theory in high gear, to keep Haedaecker top man in his field. He might
as well suspect Nora, too. At least until motive or innocence could be
shown.

He decided to lie glibly. "Normally I could take you aboard and show
you the crate," he said. "But this is an experimental run and subject
to security, though I'll not be able to explain why they think it so."

Nora laughed and shook her head. "Space ships are cold, powerful, and
dangerous things to me," she said. "I'd feel uncomfortable on one of
them."

"Then let me show you the elecalc."

"What?"

"Elecalc. Short word for electronic calculator. I'm here to get an
aiming point for my trip tonight."

"Now that I would like to see," said Nora, hooking an arm in Paul's.



CHAPTER 5


"I'm pointing for Alpha Centauri," said Paul. "And so that's what we
calculate for."

Nora looked at the bays of neat equipment and shook her head. "Why not
aim at it and run?" she asked. "Surely you do not need this billion
dollars' worth of stuff to point out your destination."

"We do," objected Paul. "You see, if I took off with my telescope
pointed along the axis of drive with the cross-hairs pointing at Alpha
Centauri, I'd be heading for the star where it was four years ago. I
intend to be on the way for nine days. So I'll want to point the nose
of the ship at the spot where Alpha will be nine days in the future
instead of four years in the past. Since Sol and Alpha drift in space,
the motion and velocities of both systems must be taken into account,
a correction-angle found, and then used to aim my ship. My telescope
will angle away from the ship's axis by that correction-angle. Add
to that the fact that I am taking off from earth, which will give me
some angular velocity and some rotational velocity differing from an
hypothetical take-off from Sol itself. Furthermore, I want Proxima
Centauri instead of Alpha, and that must be taken into consideration
too.

"Then there is the question of velocity and time. We cannot see
when we are exceeding the velocity of light. We must run at so many
light-velocities for so many seconds. A minor error in timing or
velocity will create a rather gross error in position at the end of the
run."

"Oh," said Nora, but her tone indicated a lack of comprehension.

Paul smiled. "One second of error at one light-velocity equals a
hundred and eighty-six thousand miles of error. One second of error at
a hundred times the velocity of light equals eighteen millions of miles
error. Not much as cosmic distance goes, but a long way to walk."

Nora understood that, and said so.

Grayson's data had been handed to him by Haedaecker. But apparently the
long-range calculations that had been temporarily halted were still
halted, for the operator was taking this opportunity of feeding some
future flight-constant information to the big machine.

It was not a complex calculation as some computations may go, but
there were a myriad of factors. Terran latitude and longitude, the
instant of take-off as applied to the day and the year, an averaging
of previous dispersion-factors noted from previous trips, velocities,
vector angles, momentum, and others, all obtained from tables and
entered in the machine before the start lever was pulled. The machine
mulled the information over, tossed electrons back and forth, chewed
and digested a ream of binary digits, and handed forth a strip of paper
printed with an entire set of coordinates in decimal angles.

Paul showed Nora his folder of data. "The rest," he said, "is up to me."

He led Nora from the computation room, intending to hit the dining room
for coffee. Half-way across the lobby of the administration building he
was hailed by the autocall. He went to the telephone.

It was Stacey.

"I've a couple of things to let you think over," said Stacey.

"So?"

"I've been on the job. I haven't much, but there are a few items you
might mull over."

"Shoot."

"One. Your deceased thief was an ex-convict, escaped from the penal
colony on Antarctica."

"This I've heard."

"Then I suppose you know that the guy was cashiered from the Neoterra
run for smuggling."

"Huh?" blurted Paul.

"An ex-pilot, tossed out on his right ear for conduct hardly becoming a
safecracker and a thief, let alone an officer and a gentleman."

"That I didn't know. How long ago?"

"Five years, almost."

It was not quite the ten that Nora had claimed.

"Well, that makes it--"

"That ain't all," came Stacey's voice. "The weapons carried by the
Spaceport guards are regulation Police Positives. Our erstwhile felon
was shot once, right between the eyes, with a forty-five, which
according to all of the expert opinion, came from an automatic at a
distance of three feet, plus or minus six inches. Know what that means?"

"I'm just digesting the information now. You tell me."

"It means that the ex-crook was killed by a party or parties unknown,
someone other than one of the guards. Furthermore, he was facing his
executioner, not taking it on the lam. How do you make that?"

"It doesn't make good sense."

"Sure it does. It keystones nicely. Men of that calibre are often
chilled because they fumble a job and the mainspring doesn't enjoy
the prospect of having a fumbler running around with information
that might lead to the capture, arrest, conviction, and/or demise of
aforementioned mainspring. They made one error. They should have used a
thirty-eight revolver instead of a forty-five automatic. The forty-five
is a gangster's weapon. And they should have drilled their ex-companion
from behind between the scapulae to make it look as though the guards
were better shots than they really are."

"That's food for thought," said Paul.

"That isn't all," said Stacey. "Here's one more bit of information that
may be either juicy or full of sawdust depending upon how you taste it.
Your girl friend, Nora Phillips was born and raised on Neoterra."

"You're certain of that?"

"So the Bureau of Vital Statistics claims."

"But how--?"

"Negative evidence, my fine scientist. Negative evidence. I offer you
two alternatives. Either she was born on Neoterra, or she is employing
an alias, pseudonym, or nom de jour." Stacey's French lacked a certain
vocabulary, but it was none the less to the point. "She is certainly
not born Nora Phillips of Terra. I'll let you pick your choice. But
enough of that. A couple of hours ago she received a telephone call.
Nice position she must have. She chinned for about three minutes and
then leaped to her feet and took off like jet propelled. Didn't bother
to say anything to the management of the joint at all. Then--"

"Where does she work?" asked Paul.

"Timothy, McBride, and Webster, Attorneys-at-Law. We couldn't tap their
telephone, but we had a lip-reader peering at her through a telescope
from a room in the building opposite hers."

"What did he catch?"

"Nothing, she just listened, and then took off. And can that dame
drive! If we didn't have an idea of where she was going after the first
few minutes, my man would have lost her for certain. She with you now?"

"Uh-huh."

Paul thought fast. Just what unearthly reason why people would try to
stop his plans for creating voice-fast communications with Neosol, Paul
could not fathom. Obviously there was one faction working against him.
But how had they--

Paul paled.

Had the criminal hoped to lay Paul low enough to keep him quiet until
the criminal could take off in Paul's place? True identification
would be impossible once the crook were in space. But what could he
accomplish? Certainly--

Suppose the thief that clipped him intended to place Paul in a position
where he could be captured easily. To take Paul's place to perform
certain acts in Paul's name, while Paul was held captive. Then, once
these acts were consummated Paul could be found in the wreck of a
spacecraft or the ruin of a radio beacon on Proxima Centauri I.

But why? Columbus had been kicked around for having screwy ideas, and
the Brothers Wright had been thoroughly laughed-at. But people did not
try to murder characters who had cockeyed ideas. Of course, there was
Galileo, but Galileo had publicized his screwy ideas, whereas Paul
Grayson's theories were known to very few.

But Nora Phillips could not be held as part of that particular mob. It
seemed to Paul that the woman had done a fine job towards keeping Paul
hale, hearty, healthy, and imbued with ideas available only to a man in
the finest of health of mind and body. If Nora belonged to some group
intent on stopping Paul Grayson, she was working against them, too. For
she had done a fine job of smoothing the headache out of his skull with
fingers that acted with experience and practise.

On the other hand, Nora Phillips had behaved as though she wanted Paul
to succeed, and she acted--if this were an act--as though she enjoyed
her work.

So what had really happened last night when Paul Grayson was clipped
unconscious?

Had Nora forestalled them--_them_?

Nora was quite a woman. Her loveliness was not of the untouchable,
fragile, bandbox variety; perfection that must not be marred by a
misplaced hair or a wrinkle in the frock--or a clue of rouge, printed
offset from her own ripe lips to her own smooth cheek by Paul. Nora
was all-desirable woman, and neither complete dishabille nor minor
imperfection would mar her appeal. Paul recalled the lithe slenderness
of her body. Her sculptured arms were molded with the smooth, well
balanced muscle of fine tonus. Her waist was slender but not too soft--

"Hey! Are you there?"

"Yeah, Stacey. I was thinking."

"Don't think so hard."

"Look, Stacey. Can you tell me whether the man who clipped me turned up
with scratches on his face?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"Just a loose end."

"I might be able to find out."

"Take a swing at it; but it's not too important."

"Okay, Paul. Have I given you something to think about?"

"More than," said Paul soberly. He hung up, turned, and saw the guard
of the previous evening standing near by, about to go on duty. Paul
went over and asked: "Hi!"

"Hello. Say, I'm sorry about last night--"

"Forget it, you were doing your duty. But can you tell me: Did the guy
who used my identification last night have any scratches on his face?"

The guard frowned in thought. "All he had was some well-applied
make-up, and a fine job it was, too. He looked me right in the eye."

"No marks?"

"Not a trace."

Paul smiled and went back to Nora, thinking furiously. Something must
have interfered with their little plan. He looked at Nora, lissome,
lovely, as lithe as a tiger. All desirable--

But maybe it might be a good idea for him to learn her desires, to
ascertain her limit before he took any liberties with her beautiful
white body. Intelligent women did not scream or faint these days, nor
did they rake their attacker with fingernails. They employed Judo.

Now, if Nora Phillips knew Judo, it was plausible that the erstwhile
footpad instead of finding an inert victim and an hysterical woman,
discovered that the woman was capable of defending her outraged
dignity, revenging their cowardly attack, and thwarting any further
plans the criminal held for them both. It would explain in part why the
criminal's little idea did not culminate as expected.

If Nora Phillips knew Judo.

Paul smiled faintly. He had not changed his mind about Nora Phillips;
she was still the type of woman that would react unfavorably to any
crude attempt at approach.

Regardless of whether her interest in him were an act, swift passion,
or the awakening of tender love, Paul knew that she would not employ
the punishing Judo holds upon him, if she knew Judo. On the other hand,
Paul believed that instinct might react faster than intellect, and that
her first instinctive move would give her away.

So Paul took her hand as he came close to her. He drew her forward, his
free arm gliding towards her waist and around it.

Nora's free hand moved forward, upward, touched his cheek, and then
went on around his neck. The hand that he held came free and joined the
other. She was warm and supple in his arms and her lips were soft and
clinging.

It was a satisfying emotional experience. Intellectually it proved
nothing that had not been empirical knowledge for a couple of millions
of years.

Paul would never learn whether Nora knew Judo by that method. He
abandoned his primary intrigue for the moment and indulged in one of
his favorite indoor sports.

Then she moved back a bit, and Paul's hands slipped to either side of
her waist. "I could learn to like this sort of thing," he said.

Nora looked up into his eyes. Her own eyes were a trifle dreamy, but a
trace of smile lurked in the deep corners of her mouth. "But how do I
know you'll be true to me?" she asked him in a voice that sounded like
pure soap opera. "In space--"

"I've a dame in every port," he told her. "I'm true to 'em all."

"But why so many?" chuckled Nora.

"Variety." Paul let go of Nora's waist and she stepped back a bit. He
turned around and started leading her the rest of the way towards the
coffee shop. "I've a couple of hours left," he said. "I'd prefer to
soak up some dinner in candlelight, with music, et al. But Ptomaine
Joe's is handy. I've hit so many snags so far that I'm inclined to find
me an advantage and then sit on it until I'm safe in space."

Nora shuddered a bit. "Safe in space," she said softly. "That's a
strange thing to say."

"Why?" he asked.

"So far out there, away from the friendly earth; nothing solid to stand
upon, nothing to--"

Paul laughed. "No footpads to raise lumps on the skull, no taxicabs to
dodge, no--"

"No women to kiss?"

"You've convinced me! But I'm baffled by you. What kind of job do you
hold?"

"Why?"

"It isn't everybody that can pick up and leave their work for an idle
afternoon."

"Oh," and her laugh was genuine. "I'm librarian for a large office of
lawyers. I can get away because of polite confusion. No matter who
misses me, he assumes that I am looking up a batch of stuff for one of
the others. There are so many of them that they couldn't possibly get
their heads together close enough to check up. Actually I'm doing just
that often enough so that I can play hookey once in a while and not get
caught."

Paul laughed with Nora. He felt at ease with her and her presence made
him forget all of the niggling little questions that bothered him. Time
passed swiftly enough to surprise them both when the announcer called
the time and number of Paul's spaceflight.

"This is it," he said ruefully.

"So it is," she agreed. "There's another day."

"I'll call for it when I get back."

"Do that," she said. It was not a tone of command. It was more a tone
of absolute agreement. It pleased him.

"Raging Vegan Gorgons couldn't stop me," he chuckled. He reached for
her and she went into his arms forward for a good-bye kiss. Paul made
the most of it; gave it all he knew how to give, and for his efforts he
received a pleasant promise for the future in return.

Nora leaned back in his arms, took his hands from around her waist, and
turned him to face the spaceport door.

"It's that way," she said in a throaty voice. She gave him a gentle
shove. He went through the door and out upon the spacefield, walking
across the sandy floor towards the spacecraft numbered BurAst P.G.1.

Actually, the spacecraft was quite close to the shape of a hen's egg.
It stood upon its smaller end, supported by four heavy vanes that held
the drivers. Above them, the bulge of the hull swelled out in the
gentle curve, and about the place where the soft-boiled-egg gourmet
cuts the top off of his breakfast food, the hard metal stopped and the
upper curving dome of the spacecraft was made of window. Not a clear
expanse of glass, but more like the greenhouse roof. Small facets set
between rigid girders in a neat and efficient pattern. The girders were
reasonably heavy, because each one held shutter flaps that would snap
closed if the pane of glass beside it became pierced because of contact
with cosmic detritus.

At the very top of this dome the glass was a smooth sheet, polished
and unbroken. This section, a full ten feet in diameter, was optically
perfect. For through this dome of glass the spacecraft was aimed.

If the stars actually were where they looked to be to the eye, there
would have been something less of a problem. A set of precision
cross-hairs set along the axis of ship's drive could be used as a
line-of-sight aiming point. Like a ship near the shore, the bow could
be aimed at the pier, the power set, and then the rest would take care
of itself.

But stars move in their heavenly way. A poor ten to fifty miles per
second can become a rather awesome gulf after four years. Alpha
Centauri is a little more than four light years away. That means that
the star as seen by the naked eye will be quite some distance from
where it really is. Students of trigonometry will understand; a second
of arc will subtend a cosmic sine at the end of four light years.

To help the pilot, the spotter was used. The spotter was a tender
spacecraft that roamed the solar system far out from Sol. Two light
hours away it was. When one of the star ships was scheduled to fly,
the elecalc would compute the course and the big telescopes would
direct the spotter spacecraft via the Z-wave until the distant ship was
directly in the line of aim between Terra and the calculated spot in
the heavens where the distant star would be at the end of the ship's
flying time. Once the spotter was properly located, two hours before
the take-off time the spotter would emit an atomic spotlight for a half
hour.

Two hours later the light from this immense searchlight would arrive at
Terra to provide an aiming point for the space pilot. The ship could
take off on this line of sight, aiming for it directly. Of course, by
the time the space travelling ship reached the spot, the spotter craft
would have moved aside; the light would have ceased, and the star ship
was heading for deep space with nothing to impede its course.

Paul was handicapped. The spotter was not available. Lacking the
spotter to use as a point of aim, Paul was forced to choose the aiming
telescope in the dome instead of the more precise cross-hairs on the
optical-glass. This added to the error, and to add once more to that
error was the fact that spacecraft in flight tend to revolve along
their driving axis so that the angle between the true line of flight
and the aiming point changed in angle. Paul would have to use Alpha
Centauri itself as a point-of-aim. The correction-angle was supplied by
the observatory, and applied to the aiming telescope in the dome.

A lot of minute errors that added up to a gross at the end of flight.
Basically, the job of the galactic survey would remove one of the
errors: That of the crude measurement of distance between the stars
themselves.

Paul was a good pilot. He cut the aiming-star close and watched it in
the 'scope until it disappeared. He was now in that blackness that
surrounded every ship during the faster-than-light speed. He was on
his way. Nothing to do for two weeks but wait for the course to end.
Nothing to do but to sit and think, and plan, and dream. To think of
Haedaecker and the Z-wave; to plan for the future when his discoveries
brought him fame and fortune; to dream of Nora Phillips.

Paul began to hum, and after a moment or two the humming broke out into
a full-throated, but dubious baritone:

    "_Round and round and round go the deuterons
    Round and round the magnet swings 'em
    Round and round and round go the deuterons
    SMACK! in the target go the microamps!_"



CHAPTER 6


Buried in the loose, powdery dust that covered Proxima Centauri I, a
spacecraft lay concealed. Ten miles across the blazing flatlands of
dust, Galactic Survey Station I was clearly visible. From the station
the spacecraft blended so well with the dust that it could not be seen.
Only a sharp observer who knew where to look and what to look for could
have seen the turret of the spacecraft lofting above the dusty plains.
The long-barrelled machine rifle would have been invisible to the
sharpest of eye.

Several miles to the other side of the Survey Station there were a
group of furrows kicked-up in the plain where test-bursts from the
machine rifle had landed.

A television detector was set upon the area between the concrete
landing deck and the main spacelock of the Survey Station so that any
erect, moving object that intersected the detector-line would cause the
machine rifle to fire so that its projectiles would pass through the
moving object.

The man in the hidden spacecraft had been playing solitaire for day
upon day; the record of his score on the wall of the ship was long--and
not too honest.

Eventually the detector-alarm rang and he dropped his cards. He ran to
shut off all of the detecting equipment because detecting equipment
itself could be in turn detected and he wanted no reprisals. He set his
eye to the telescope and watched the new arrival.

Paul Grayson landed his ship on the concrete apron and donned space
attire for his walk across the airless planet to the Station. He came
from his ship--and though he had seen it countless times before--Paul
paused to view the beauty of the airless midnight sky. He looked for
Sol, hidden in the starry curtain. He looked at Proxima, a tiny star
but utterly brilliant at this distance. It blinded him; luckily the
beautiful binary of Alpha Centauri was behind the little planet and he
was saved the hurt of looking at that brilliance.

With the same thrill of anticipation he had enjoyed for day upon day
now, Paul turned from his ship and started to walk toward the Station.
What he might learn there would change the thinking of the galaxy. It
was the culmination of years of thought and experimentation; it was the
crux of the matter, the final evidence that would give Paul the weight
and the conviction. From here he could go on and up; here, now, at any
rate soon, was the incontrovertible truth.

He checked his gear thoroughly, but it was force of habit caused by the
desire of his own safety. He had planned well. He had forgotten nothing.

He chuckled happily.

He had forgotten nothing. The lissome sweetness of Nora Phillips and
the promise of complete fulfillment was sweet recollection.

When Paul returned to Terra he would have the world on the palm of his
hand--to hold tightly and give to Nora.

His eye caught a bit of glitter in the dust of Proxima I and he stooped
to pick it up because Nora might like a crystal from a far planet.

He did not hear the passage of bullets over his bent back because
Proxima I possessed no air to carry their sound.

He could not hear the cursing of the man in the spacecraft hidden ten
miles across the dusty plain, nor could he see the frantic effort to
readjust the sighting mechanism of the machine rifle. Five thousand
feet per second was the muzzle velocity of the rifle in space and
because there was no impeding air, the bullets had taken two seconds
to travel from gun to target position. In those two seconds Paul bent
over, causing the burst of fire to miss.

There was no second fullisade. The enemy had had too little time to
readjust his sights. The enemy had also been overconfident, so had not
prepared for a miss.

       *       *       *       *       *

The radio was silent. Only the crackle of cosmic static came from the
speaker to show that it was alive. The Z-wave was even more silent for
there was no interfering cosmic energies to make Z-wave static.

Paul set up the test equipment and checked both. They were obviously
'hot' and awaiting the arrival of some signal in order to burst into
full-throated life.

Then he settled back to wait. How long, Paul could not tell. Actually,
the measurement of this matter was the basic reason for Paul's being
here. The books set Alpha Centauri at 4.3 light years from Sol. Ergo a
beam of light or a radio wave should take 4.3 years from transmission
to reception. Ten percent error would cause a variable of almost five
months; an error of one percent adds up to two weeks.

The observatories had admitted an error of one percent as a maximum and
considerable space travel between Proxima I and Terra had diminished
this error to an absolute of about three days plus or minus the
nominal. Paul had been gratified to discover that despite his delayed
take-off, he had arrived at Proxima before the radio signal arrived
from Terra.

Paul had been worried about his delay and he had driven his ship hard.
Not during the days of faster-than-light travel, of course, but after
Paul had come down out of the blackness and could set a course by
inspection. He had been either lucky or proficient. Even using a not
too precise method of aiming his ship, he had still emerged from the
blackness less than five million miles from Proxima, which was very
good aiming indeed.

Pilots always aimed for their target on the nose. For one thing, the
dispersion was huge because the slightest irregularity in any phase of
the maneuver would throw off the point of aim by millions of miles.
In years and years of spaceflight, the first direct hit upon target
had yet to be recorded. In fact, five million miles was considered
brilliant piloting--or as is more possible, it was brilliant luck!

Then as Paul found his landing-spot, he had pushed the BurAst P.G.1
hard enough to make her plates creak and Paul had descended at a full
four gravities all the way to the ground. He had arrived before the
radio signal had reached the planet and that was all he cared about.

So he settled back to wait. There was little to do but sit and think,
and to watch the occasional meteor shower land on the dusty ground.

There had been an extensive shower about ten miles from the station
shortly after his arrival. The impact was, of course, both invisible
and inaudible. But upon impact the dust spurted upwards, billowing
and flowing like the column in miniature that came from an atom bomb
explosion. Since there was no air on Proxima I, the billowing dust rose
and spread apart until the individual dust mote lost its energy and
fell back to Proxima I by gravitational attraction.

He would have liked to inspect that particular spot because the shower
had been spectacular. A number of meteors in a close-knit group had
landed, sending forth a series of dusty columns--some of the larger of
which were still visible when the radio chattered into life three days
after his arrival.

It came all at once and its sound dinned his ears and re-echoed from
the smooth walls of the Station. The sound snapped Paul from his
place by the window-dome. It grated on his ears until he could rush
downstairs to the radio room to turn the volume-gain control down so
that the audio signal fell below the overload point.

From a raucous, nerve-tingling screech, the volume fell until
distortion no longer fouled up the filtered purity of the signal-note
broadcast from far-off Terra four years ago. Paul measured the signal
strength and found it entirely satisfactory. He coupled the recorders
to the gear, and then settled back to await the arrival of the
modulated timing signals that were transmitted after an interval of
straight tone, the first period to be used for establishing contact
before the actual timing of the transmission-time began.

Once the radio signal was coming in perfectly, Paul turned his
attention to the Z-wave receiver.

He tuned it gingerly, cautiously.

And then it came to life!

Paul cried in exultation. His was success! True, it was a weakling
signal that faded and died at times, but it came in strong and clear
enough for recording in the periods of good reception. A bit of work
and research, and the construction of a real interstellar Z-wave
station would remove this fading.

Paul snapped the extra recorder on, and then began to dream his dream
again, this time more strong than ever before.

He had connected the Z-wave equipment at Terra's Z-wave central to the
big interstellar radio transmitter, lacking a Z-wave transmitter for
his own use. So that now he was hearing the Terran end of conversation.
It was a woman's voice that talked from Terra to someone currently on
one of the planetary outposts of Sol.

"... but it won't be long, my dear.... Of course, it seems so.... Do
that, by all means.... In a month, you say?... I'm very happy about
that...." here the signal faded for a full minute. It returned again,
"... Terry said so.... How do I know?... By all means, my dear...." and
here again the signal faded.

But it was enough.

Exultation filled Paul. This was proof. This was the door, opening for
life upon everything he ever hoped to gain, everything he hoped to be.
It gave him what he wanted to offer life, and by happy circumstance, he
had found the one he wanted to offer it to. He could go to Nora, not
as a technician in the Bureau of Astrogation but with a grand future
of success and opportunity to build ever upward and ever onward to
real fame and fortune. Not the real success in his hand, for when the
final success in life comes, ambition and desire begin to wane. But far
more exhilarating was the hope of success, the chance to work for a
magnificent future together.

He gloated for hours, measuring the radio signal as few radio
transmissions have ever been measured before.

Then with his work finished, Paul packed up to leave. The glittering
stone he held in his hand was nice, but tiny now, compared to his tale
of success. A bright rock from a far-off planet, not much more than a
seashell from a distant beach.

With a chuckle, he tossed the stone aside and broke out the sand-jeep.
Nora might like a meteorite from far Proxima I. At least, it was a
souvenir to be quite in evidence wherever it might end up.

He headed for the meteor shower of three days before, and found it
after an hour of running across the featureless sands.

The area was small, which in itself was strange, for meteor showers
cover miles of area, not square yards. The sands were pocked with small
craters, and Paul looked at them until he found a crater of medium size
where the rock was still showing. He hefted the stone from the sky and
carried it to the sand-jeep. On his way back to the little buggy, he
caught sight of a glitter less than fifty feet away.

He dropped the stone in the back of the jeep and strode over to see
what could be glittering this brightly in Proxima's veritable sea of
bland, yellow sand.

Then he stood dumbfounded, for the glitter came from the circular disc
of glass, the eyepiece of a space suit, which was buried in the sand. A
crater of irregular shape surrounded it, and the meteorite was lying in
half-exposed view. Paul dropped into the crater and lifted the stone,
to disclose a nauseous clot of brownish blood, the remnant of space
suit, and contained in it, the remains of a man. Mostly buried by the
impact, the man's body stood almost upright, the headpiece at ground
level while the rest of the body was curved brokenly backwards down in
the crater, driven into the sand instantly by the meteor.

Paul shrugged and removed the helmet.

The face was vaguely familiar. The man wore clothing under the suit
but there was no sign of identification in it. The face bothered Paul,
however. He believed he had seen it somewhere.

Not only that, but just exactly why any man possessed of sane mind
would be on Proxima I (save Paul, who had business there) was mystery
at its best.

Paul stood up and looked around the plain.

He caught another glitter, and got into his jeep to investigate. It was
the semi-submerged spacecraft, and Paul wondered at it. It was smashed
flat by a gigantic meteor, ruined beyond any hope of reconstruction.
Paul tried to enter to inspect it. It had been too badly wrecked by the
meteor.

Abandoning the spacecraft as a hopeless job for immediate
identification, Paul went back to the lone victim. There was still
something vaguely familiar about the man's face. The difference was not
because the vacuum of Proxima had distorted the face, for the suit had
been sealed at the break by the meteor and the sand and there was no
distortion.

Paul pondered. Identification might be possible by dental means, by
prints, by iris-matching, if the face distorted on his way back. There
was his refrigerating gear aboard the ship, Paul could stick the corpse
in there and hope that some light could be shed on this mystery.

Paul folded the lower, ruined portion of the space suit to preserve
whatever minute bit of air it contained, and packed it onto the jeep.
He shoved the body into the freezing cold of the storage bin with a
grimace of distaste and determined to dine on canned beans for the
duration. It annoyed him to hurl several pounds of fine, well-hung
tenderloin steak onto the bald sands of Proxima I to make room for an
un-hung corpse. But it had to be done.

Then, with the mystery still gnawing at his mind, Paul fixed the
drive-scope on Sol, made a few adjustments, and set his autodrive and
micro-timer according to the data supplied before his departure from
Terra. It was a corrected-for-duration course, the reverse of his
approaching orbit.

Paul clicked the drive and headed for Sol. When the ship dropped into
invisibility, he relaxed. Busy all the time of his stay on Proxima I,
he felt seedy. While still pondering the problem, Paul shucked his
clothing and showered. Water, both hot and then chilled, did not help
his memory any. Nor was it the memory of Nora Phillips that made him
lather his face and shave. Not entirely. For the three-day beard made
his face uncomfortable and it was personal comfort rather than White
Man's Burden that prompted Paul to reap his beard. Like most men,
shaving was not a pleasant occupation, and when no matter of personal
appearance insisted upon a smooth face, shaving was postponed and
indulged in only when the factors of discomfort balanced one another
equally and in diametrically opposite directions.

Paul grinned at his clean face in the mirror. "Y'know," he said to
himself in the glass, "You're vaguely familiar, too."

The idea hit him hard, then.

One of the reasons why a picture of one's self does not resemble one's
familiar appearance in a mirror is due to the lack of facial symmetry.
The left side of a mirror image is the right side of the face on a
photograph and the two seldom match.

Paul gulped and dressed quickly. Then he went to the freeze-locker and
hauled out the dead man.

It would take a third observer to tell. But so far as Paul Grayson
could tell, this man from Proxima I was his double!

"And that," he said in address to the corpse, "makes two of you!"



CHAPTER 7


Ten days later when Paul's ship dropped out of the realm of
invisibility, he was no nearer to the problem's solution. He did have a
course of action formulated, however. So his first telephone call was
not to Nora Phillips. It was to John Stacey, the detective.

"I'm back."

"Glad to hear it. Wha' hoppen?"

"I've got a corpse on my ship."

"Friend of yours?"

"Nope."

"Look," came the cheerful reply, "if you want to murder someone, go
ahead. But there's no sense in putting yourself in jeopardy by carrying
the mortal remains around with you. Why didn't you dump the thing out
in space?"

"I want it identified."

"Now, for the first time in years, you make sense."

"Thanks."

"But look," said Stacey suddenly, "just what kind of mess have you
gotten yourself into?"

"I don't know. I hope to find out."

"Well, it's thick."

Paul blinked. "I know it. But why?"

"You answer that one, it's your question."

"What's new?"

"Nora Phillips is missing."

"Missing?" exploded Paul. "Where did she go?"

"I haven't been able to find out yet."

"What do you know?" demanded Paul.

"Damned little. She left you on your departure day and started to drive
back to town. Instead of returning to her office or going home, she
turned off on Bridge Street and stopped at a mansion, Number 7111, to
be exact. Drove her car into the garage as though she were expected.
Hasn't come out since."

"You haven't kept a man watching the place for all this time?"

"No, but I've had a gent prowl the joint at least once a day for the
last two weeks, and the car is still in the garage. You can see it
through the windows of the door."

"Didn't she come out?"

"Garage is connected to the house. She could have gone into the house
without breathing fresh air."

"That's 7111 Bridge Street?"

"Check."

"How about her job?"

"By careful enquiry, we've learned that she resigned. By letter."

"How did you get that?"

"Well, law outfits seldom take kindly to characters asking leading
questions. But an advertisement appeared for a librarian and I had
Milly fill it. She pored through the personnel files and found a typed
letter of resignation. Terse; disappointingly uninformative."

"Her apartment?"

"She ran a three-room job alone. A man appeared, armed with a letter
from her. He packed up her stuff and it was removed from the premises
by the Howdaille Moving and Storage Company. It is currently there in
storage with the bill paid in advance for six months."

"Any more?"

"I had Morton enquire about a rental at that address and he was told
that Miss Phillips had to return home because of illness of her father.
That's all we could get. Morton got that information from the landlord
after expressing first a desire to live there and second asking why the
previous tenant moved out. Put it so that the landlord had to show him
her letter to prevent a possible tenant from thinking that there was
something odious about the premises."

"Then what?"

"That's all. Morton considered the place--apparently--for several days
after putting down a twenty-buck deposit. Gave it up and forfeited the
deposit on the grounds that his wife wanted a four room place."

"Um. Gone without a trace?"

"Seems so. Excepting that she went into 7111 Bridge, and we've not seen
her since."

"How long did you watch?"

"Constantly for ten days. Not a sign or a trace of her there."

"But--"

"Yeah," replied Stacey's unhappy voice, "we cased that joint too.
I've had at least seven operatives hit that front door, on every sort
of pretext from stolen nylon hosiery to roofing salesmen, and from
governmental surveys on this and that to gents who insist that they
look at the electric wiring, the plumbing, and the foundation. The
joint is owned and tenanted by an elderly gentleman who has retired.
His wife lives there too. One servant, a doddering old fogy who must
have been the owner's father's gentleman's gentleman."

"What's his name?"

"Hoagland."

"How about the car in the garage?"

Paul could almost hear Stacey shrug. "So far, there is nothing
suspicious about it from a legal standpoint," he said. "You'd have one
hell of a time proving anything. So a woman--none too well acquainted
with you--resigns from her position on a perfectly logical grounds,
moves from her apartment on similar grounds, and deposits her car in a
strange place and disappears."

"But that last is the important thing. She disappeared."

"Yeah? Where does her father live? Maybe she did go there?"

"You're the detective," said Paul. "Chase it down."

"This will cost like hell," warned Stacey.

Paul laughed. "What I've got will pay for plenty from now on," he said.

"I'll re-open the case, then."

"You shouldn't have closed it."

Stacey groaned. "How did I know you were that anxious?"

"I was."

"Okay. But I wanted your approval before I broke this thing wide open."

"Will it?"

"Sure. The first time I go to 7111 Bridge and ask about that automobile
in the garage, which is registered under the name of Nora Phillips,
someone is either going to get nasty, call the police, or start asking
me embarrassing questions that might lead to Paul Grayson."

"Stacey, the guy I found dead on Proxima I is another dead ringer for
myself. That makes two characters killed off that resemble me. It looks
like a plot, to me."

"How was the deceased rendered that way?"

"He was hit by a meteorite."

"Act of God, I calls that," muttered Stacey. "You wouldn't go so far as
to suggest that God is on your side?"

"When a meteorite hits a man and a spacecraft in the same shower,
both of which are prowling on a planet where they had no business and
shouldn't have had any curiosity, it begins to look as though celestial
mechanics, formerly run by the Act of God, might have been given a
little aid and aim by the machiavellian hand of man or men unknown."

"How could you aim a--"

"Haul it to the right spot and drop it from a good height from a
spacecraft. That's for the big one that wrecked the ship. Carry a
boatload of little ones and drop 'em on the head of the character you
desire to erase. Not one of them penetrated to the depths I'd have
expected, now that it comes to mind."

"Okay, Paul. I'm on the trail again. I'll send a man to collect your
corpse and we'll attempt to identify it. Maybe that will give us a
lead."

"Check," said Paul, and he turned away from the telephone with a heavy
heart.

He recalled the lissome warmth of her body pressed eagerly against
him; could a woman offer herself falsely with that much ardor?

Paul's clenched fist came down upon the palm of his other hand in a
loud, determined smack! By all that was holy, Paul intended to find
out. He answered his question honestly: Yes. There are women who
could play any act, do literally anything humanly possible to obtain
their wants. On the other hand, Nora might have run afoul of whatever
interest it was that apparently stood in his way towards linking Sol
and Neosol by Z-wave.

Had he been uninterested in her as a person, he could have shrugged it
off with but a minimum of hurt and wonder. But Paul made up his mind to
find out about her, to take either one of two courses as far as Nora
Phillips went. If Nora were in league with those who stood against him,
he wanted the dubious pleasure of showing her that she could have been
better off by following a more naturally honest plan.

And if Nora Phillips were in trouble because she was seen in Paul's
company, he wanted the extreme pleasure of belting the living hell out
of her abductors personally, while she watched wide-eyed, and then
escorting her gallantly to some place where pain and strife could be
relegated to the background.

To do either, Paul must not stop working towards his goal. With
determined step, Paul headed for the offices of the Terran Physical
Society with his personal recorder, upon which the semi-conversation
from the Z-wave was impressed.

This time it would be Grayson's Theory. And it would be presented to
the T.P.S. without the possibility of Haedaecker's interference or
scorn.

       *       *       *       *       *

Charles Thorndyke was a man well worthy of the scientific honors he
owned. Unlike Haedaecker, he did not flaunt them at every hand. He used
them only when it was necessary.

And unlike Chadwick Haedaecker, Thorndyke was the kind of man who would
have rejected his own pet theory instantly upon the first glimmer of
proof that he was in error.

He listened to Paul's tale with growing interest and then he listened
to the recording.

"This is a big thing," he told Paul after Grayson was finished.

"It is my greatest hope realized."

"We have a lengthy paper on extra-solar gravitational phenomena
to be presented next Tuesday. I am going to cancel that for your
presentation." Thorndyke looked at the ceiling. "The chance of voice
communication with Neosol is as great an advancement as the discovery
of the telegraph," he said. "It must not be delayed one moment!"

"I've always believed that," said Paul.

"Why didn't you speak up before?"

"Doctor Haedaecker has always vetoed any such suggestion."

"Why, for the Love of Heaven?"

"He said that everything had been tried."

"Balderdash!" exploded Thorndyke. "Negative evidence is never
conclusive!"

"I could not argue with him."

Thorndyke smiled. He nodded. Being armed with a hope and a firm belief
is poor weapon against a man as deeply entrenched as Haedaecker,
whose minor pronouncements made news and whose hand could write an
appropriation for a million dollars to pursue some experiment.

"Once this is presented, you will no longer be a small voice crying out
in a veritable wilderness. You will probably end up with a job to do as
big as Haedaecker's. I can't understand him."

"Nor can I."

"You're certain that you presented your idea correctly?"

"So far as I know. I've been talking about this thing for years, ever
since I got the idea."

Thorndyke laughed. "I know what happened," he said. "Your initial
idea was but half formed and therefore incorrect. But as you improved
upon it, your own arguments became trite to yourself and even less
convincing to Haedaecker, who was convinced against your idea. He'll
have to change his tune next Tuesday."

Paul left in a fine state of mind. He was ahead of the game for the
first time in his life and he enjoyed the feeling.

The question of who or what wanted to stop him was something that he
could never find out until the other side made another move. As for
Nora Phillips, following her trail was a job for an experienced man
like Stacey. The third item was Haedaecker.

Paul did not agree with Thorndyke. Haedaecker was not merely misled
in this thing. Haedaecker had good reasons why he wanted the Z-wave
experiment hushed up. Haedaecker's Theory had been the making of the
man himself. Once that theory was broken down and shown incorrect,
Haedaecker would no longer be the great mind that he had been.
Haedaecker liked power and adulation and naturally was disinclined to
let it go lightly.

Paul expected trouble with the physicist.

And Paul would have preferred to circumvent trouble, to go around it,
to avoid it. But Paul was experienced enough to know that the act of
avoiding trouble more often made the trouble pile up until it reached
terrifying proportions.

So instead of staying strictly away from Haedaecker's office, Paul
strode boldly in. Forewarning the enemy of your intentions is said
to be bad. But now and then, telling the enemy what you are going to
do--and then daring him to try and stop you--will make him back up,
because it tends to convince him that you are equipped to do as you
want to do, regardless of opposition.

Chadwick Haedaecker greeted Paul cordially. "Everything go all right?"
he asked.

Paul nodded. "The reports on the radio signal have been turned in,
complete with recordings and my own comments."

"Good." Haedaecker turned to a map on the wall. He consulted a list
beside the map. Then he turned with a smile. "That was the first," he
said. "The next signal doesn't come in for almost six months. Then, my
young friend, you will be the busiest man in space for the next two
years, hopping hither and thither to check in the network. I'm glad
that everything went as expected."

"Everything did."

"Good. This first one was the one that proves we're right. Now that
we've got one checked in, we can take the rest with less wonder and
concern." Haedaecker looked at Paul sharply. "But this isn't all you
came to tell me about."

"No," said Paul quietly. "It is not. Doctor Haedaecker, I am not one to
fly a false flag. I dislike the idea of thrusting a man's ideas back
down his throat abruptly and in public."

"Just what are you driving at?" demanded Haedaecker.

"Upon Proxima Centauri I, I definitely proved the error of Haedaecker's
Theory. I received a Z-wave--"

"Ridiculous!"

"I did," stated Paul flatly. "And so I am telling you because I feel
that you should have some opportunity to protect yourself."

"I need no protection."

"You have always defended your theory viciously. You have never
permitted the merest possibility that you could be wrong. I have proof,
now."

"Impossible."

"I have," said Paul. "And I intend to show it. So, if you care to make
any statements which will change your previous attitude, do so."

Haedaecker looked at Paul queerly. "Just what would you recommend?" he
asked.

Paul smiled. "If I were you," he said, "I would accept the defeat of
your theory graciously."

"Indeed."

Paul made an exasperated noise. "I'm only trying to save your
embarrassment--"

"You insolent young puppy! You--trying to help me!"

Paul took a deep breath. This was not going well at all. But on the
other hand, Paul knew that he was no longer a small voice, to be
throttled by the mere gesture from Haedaecker. Paul was in full control
of the situation whether Haedaecker realized it or not. Furthermore,
the years-long awe of Haedaecker and his iron-handed rule had not left
their ineradicable mark. Unlike the child, ruled by stern parents, who
defers to their orders long after maturity because of habit, Paul's
former deference was gone. Perhaps the only difference was that parents
seldom lose their command of respect because the maturing offspring
learns as the years go past that their seemingly arbitrary rules were
actually born of wisdom that the child could not understand. Whereas
Haedaecker was a god with feet of low-grade clay. When the mighty fall,
they fall far and hard.

"I was trying to save you embarrassment," snapped Paul. "Once the truth
is known, that you refused to permit any experiment because it might
shake the foundations of Haedaecker's Theory, your entire policy will
be destroyed."

"So what would you have me do?"

"Why not sponsor this idea?" suggested Paul. "Be the first to proclaim,
happily, that Haedaecker's Theory was in error and that you now join in
the hope of connecting Sol and Neosol by real communications."

Haedaecker shook his head coldly. "I'll sponsor no such ridiculous
thing," he said. "Because it can not be! You--"

"But I have proof!"

Haedaecker stood up. "You have not!"

"I have!" thundered Paul. "And I intend to show it!"

Haedaecker sat down again and placed the fingertips of each hand
against the other, making a sort of cage. "Now I'll warn you," he told
Paul. "Your proof is false, whatever it is. And if you should make the
mistake of making a public spectacle of your efforts to disparage a
well-founded law of physics, I shall take measures to ensure that you
never make such an idiotic error again."

"Why don't you fire me?" taunted Paul.

"As soon as you publicly violate my rules, I shall."

"Then come to the T.S.P. next Tuesday," snapped Paul, "and watch me
break both your rules and your theory with one fell swoop!"

Haedaecker shrugged. "I'll be there to watch you make a fool of
yourself," he said.

Paul turned on one heel and left.



CHAPTER 8


Stacey's voice was as dry as ever, "Busy, Paul?"

"Just polishing up my talk," he said. "I'm due to lecture in an hour."

"Well, don't be nervous."

"I'd be less nervous if I knew what was going on."

"This might help. First, your corpse was none other than a three-time
loser named Clarke and a pot full of aliases, none of which are worth
mentioning. As dead as a mackerel."

"What are we going to do about him?"

"It's been done."

"How?"

"Don't ask."

"But isn't this disposing evidence?"

"Sure. But if any crime has been committed, he did it, or attempted to.
He is no loss to the community."

"But that is against the law."

"So is kissing a woman who is of no relation to you, in public in this
state," chuckled Stacey. "You'll only get involved in a lot of official
curiosity if you disclose the death. That will get you a grilling and a
mess of suspicion to fight against, while the birds who set him on you
will be forewarned. They'll be free to plot further while you are busy
defending an innocent stand. Besides," he added with another chuckle,
"there is nothing like making them chew a fingernail, wondering just
where their plans went afoul. Let them scurry around instead of you. If
I guess right, they are not quite certain whether the man now talking
to me is Paul Grayson, bona fide, or their little masquerader."

"But why, for the Love of Heaven?"

"Look, mes infante innocente, this is twice that you've met a character
made up to resemble you. This means an intended masquerade. I don't
know why. But I'll bet a hat that there is a motive to it all."

The last was so obvious that Paul saw no reason to comment. Stacey
continued, "One more item before I go away and leave you to your test
tubes. Nora Phillips."

"Yes?" came Paul's eager reply.

"Posing as a man making a survey, I, me, myself twiggled on the
doorbell at 7111 Bridge Avenue this afternoon, after canvassing the
entire neighborhood up to that point to make it look good."

"Go on."

"Nora Phillips is their niece. The elderly gentleman said so. She
parked her car there for the time being since her pappy, brother to his
wife, is desperately ill on Neosol."

"So?"

"She'll be back, but they did not know when."

"Get her address?"

"Couldn't get too curious. No."

"Damn."

"Why?"

"Somehow, Nora is tied up in this. On my side."

"Okay, I'm going to follow one other lead. Take it easy, Paul, and give
the physicists hell."

"I'll try."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I will begin at the beginning," smiled Paul, wishing he had the air
of a professional lecturer and the literary ability of an author,
"space was first conquered by rocket propulsion. Eventually a base
was established on Luna and the space stations set up. Operating in
space, the physicists discovered the supervelocity drive, which like
electricity, was used long before people began to understand it.

"The rocket is a clumsy device and ill-adapted to anything but limited,
professional use. But the superdrive made space travel practical for
the ordinary man. Space was truly conquered then, and today men live
on Venus and on Mars. Precariously and uncomfortably, but they live
there. Men have spread throughout the solar system, working in mines
and medicinal farms and jungles. Their tenure of employment is dictated
by the rigors of life on these inimical planets of Sol.

"With the superdrive, explorers chased through the nearer galaxy,
seeking a planet suitable for colonization. While most stars have been
found to have planets, there was not one found that filled the bill
until they located Neosol and Neoterra, both of which resemble Sol and
the earth to a fine degree.

"Radio linked the colonies of Sol, and after Neosol was colonized,
radio linked its spread-out colonists.

"Forty years ago, Carrington discovered the Z-wave, an outgrowth of
the superdrive. Then the instantaneous Z-wave replaced the slow radio
transmissions that required teletype and code communications, and voice
to voice contacts prevailed throughout the solar system, and throughout
the system of Neosol.

"But the Z-wave did not cross the gulf of interstellar space, and years
of experimentation followed, all of which failed. Then, twenty years
ago, Chadwick Haedaecker suggested the theory now known as Haedaecker's
Theory, which tended to show that the Z-wave propagated because of the
fields of force generated in the central cores of stars. Since that
date, only desultory attempts have been made to test the Z-wave in deep
space. Experimentation had stopped, for all practical purposes. About
the only people who have given the matter much thought are students
of theory, and a couple of hardy souls like myself, who--I have been
accused and of which I must admit--hoped to become rich and famous by
making some extraordinary discovery.

"I will now advance the idea that I hope will be eventually known as
Grayson's Principle.

"The basis of Grayson's Principle is that the Z-wave will not propagate
between points that have not previously been linked by electromagnetic
waves!"

This caused a storm in the auditorium. A showing of frantic hands
flowered above the sea of faces and the hall broke into a growling
murmur of muttering voices, discussing pro and con.

The chairman came forward and spoke to Paul: "Shall I call order, or
would you prefer to have a mid-lecture discussion?"

Paul smiled nervously. "I was prepared for this," he said. "The rest
of this will run better if we get this one point settled. It will be
too long from now to the end of my lecture to make these men hold their
questions."

"Good!" smiled Thorndyke. He rapped for order. "Gentlemen," he said,
speaking over the incomplete attention, "Mister Grayson has just made
a rather shocking statement, which is cause for controversy. He has
suggested himself that a mid-lecture period of questions will hasten
our understanding of his theory."

There was a burst of applause and the flowering of hands went up again.

"Edwin Johnson," said the first man naming himself. "Granting that
it takes light one hundred and forty years to cross between here
and Neosol, I suggest that the entire galaxy has been coupled by
electromagnetic waves for two thousand million years."

"I said 'linked'," explained Paul easily. "This question is one
that stumped me for a long time and was possibly the one thing that
prevented the advancement of the principle long before. But the
detectors we employ to detect those frequencies we term 'light' are
not similar to those we use for the longer frequencies of radio,
even though both are electromagnetic waves. Light will not travel
along a conductor, although it is true that the longer waves will be
transmitted through a waveguide made of dielectric that is transparent
to them. Ergo, it is the means we use to handle these frequencies that
establish the 'linkage' rather than the medium or the wave itself."

"I am Fred Hughes," said the second. "Do you mean to state that the
Z-wave has never been known to operate between points not previously
linked by radio?"

"That is right."

"You've investigated everything?"

"Mine is negative evidence, I admit. This is why it is hard to
establish as truth. But remember, the solar system was linked by radio
long before the Z-wave was discovered."

"How about spacecraft?"

"Once the Z-wave linkage is established by its forerunner of radio, it
is complete and can not be broken."

"A spacecraft employs radio until it reaches the superdrive point.
Then--?"

"I have had no opportunity to check this point as yet. I believe it has
to do with the doppler effect. Remember that the selectivity of the
radio used in space is such that a doppler shift will not detune it
grossly. Obviously, superdrive will completely ruin such tuning."

"But this has been tried?"

"Yes. It was once hoped that we could link to Neosol that way. The
connection failed as soon as the ship entered superdrive."

"But interplanetary ships employ Z-wave."

"I have had no opportunity to check this on an interstellar scale.
I shall at the earliest opportunity. It is my belief that the radio
beacons between earth and Venus, for instance, are maintained at both
ends by receiver and transmitter, the receiver being used to control
the transmitter and keep the beam properly centered and to check its
presence. This contact made in both directions along the spacelanes,
maintains the operation of the Z-wave on the ship, running at higher
than the speed of light. The radio is, of course, useless. But the
Z-wave, propagating at some figure we cannot measure yet, suffers no
doppler effect."

"I am Grant Lewdan," said the third. "Has the Z-wave ever been tried in
the depths of interstellar space?"

"Yes."

"Did it work?"

"Up to a certain point."

"Then why didn't they pursue it?"

"This answer demands that we all understand the psychology of the human
being and the mechanics of the scientific method. I will answer this
first by analog:

"Presume for the moment that radio cannot propagate across a space that
communication has not crossed previously. Then consider Marconi on his
first attempt to send radio waves across a hundred feet of vacant lot.
What is the method used in testing an unknown method of communication?
The transmitter is started, and the operator either calls or signals
by waving his hands, that the transmitter is now working. As soon
as the hand signal is seen the receiver is checked, found to be
working. Remember, this radio works because of the previous linkage by
communication in accordance with our hypothesis. Success is noted.

"Then the distance is increased by many miles from mountain top to
mountain top and a blinker system is employed to carry the experimental
information back and forth. Again the transmitter is started and the
blinker used to inform the other party that he is to watch for the
radio's response. Again, it works, since communications have been
established. For the third time, the radio equipment is separated by
the antipodes of the earth and a telephone or telegraph connection is
established. Again the transmitter is started and the signal is sent;
again there is success. Now, gentlemen, the inference is that radio
will work to a distance encompassing the entire earth.

"Now postulate a spacecraft taking this same equipment to the Moon.
Lacking radio, no means of communication are practical. Let us say
Venus instead, gentlemen, since a magnesium flare might be used from
Luna. So, on Venus, there is no means of communication other than
radio, which depends first upon the establishment of other means of
communication ere it will work.

"A failure is noted.

"Now," smiled Paul, "this is what happened in deep space. I would like
to read an excerpt from the Communications Expedition Number Three:

"'... Two spacecraft were dispatched from Pluto and proceeded outward
for approximately one light hour as established by the timing wave from
Pluto. The Z-wave was tested and found available ...' here follows
a couple of columns of figures regarding signal strength and so on.
'... At one hundred light hours, the same test was made and found
successful....' At this point, gentlemen, remember that they used the
timing wave from Pluto to establish their distance, which established
radio communications.

"Now, remember the techniques employed in such tactics. It is not
necessary for the spacecraft to wait a hundred hours for the arrival
of the wave. The wave is sent forth a hundred hours before the ship
gets there so that no waiting time will be necessary. In fact, they
tried it at one thousand light hours, since that was the distance
previously established by the timing wave from Pluto. Again it worked
successfully. The timing wave had been started about twelve hundred
hours before, and as usual, it was so-coded that at any point along the
line, the ship could stop, listen in, and mark the time. It was, sort
of, like a rope with a series of knots in it.

"Having made this approximation, the ships went into deep space, about
three light years distant from Sol where they were not closer than
three light years from any star. At this distance, the radio signal
from Pluto had not arrived, and they had no idea of waiting for three
years for it since they did not conceive of Grayson's Principle. But
they communicated with one another.

"One light hour, waiting for the timing wave, and it was shown
successful. I read again:

"'At ten light hours, there was no success. Our technical officer then
spent many hours checking his equipment while the navigating officer
used the scooter to run back and forth with Spacecraft BurAst 7,331 to
ascertain whether the Z-wave gear was in operation. The arrival of
the timing wave distracted his attention for a period of about five
minutes during which he established the separation between the two
ships. Upon returning to the Z-wave equipment and completing his many
investigations as to sensitivity and function, he was satisfied that it
was in operating shape. At this point it was tried again, and twenty
minutes of two-way conversation ensued, proving that the Z-wave was
operative at a distance of at least one hundred and seven point three
eight light hours, as established by the timing wave. Second Technical
Sergeant Frankford Brown was reprimanded for removing the Z-wave gear
from the rack and panel and placing it on the test-bench and thus
wasting many hours.

"'The equipment was again tried at one thousand light hours, but no
success was found even though ten or twelve hours ensued during the
listening test. Because our supplies were now running low, the test was
abandoned at this distance and....' Here, gentlemen, follows an account
of at least a hundred hours of testing constantly with the two ships at
varying distances. Success came sometimes, complete failure at others.
There is a complete set of spacial maps, but these show no contours of
signal strength nor correlation.

"Only a man who believed that the Z-wave followed radio communications
would establish such a correlation."

"And how was this correlation located?" asked Lewdan.

"Because I noted that when failure came, it was noted at distances,
'Approximately ten light hours, ... fifteen light hours ... three light
hours.' But when success came, it came at, 'Seven, point nine-eight, or
fourteen, point four-two light hours.' In other words, gentlemen, they
knew their separation only when success came and they could measure the
distance accurately by the radio timing wave."

During this time, the hands were dropping as the answer to one question
answered the questions of others. At the end, there were no more hands
upraised. Thorndyke then said: "We are now ready to continue with this
lecture."

Paul took a gulp of water and started off again:

"I have one other item to bring forth. I have been working with the
galactic survey--" and Paul went on for many minutes, explaining in
detail what they had been doing and why. He finished up with his
determination to test the Z-wave in accordance with his own theory.
Then he said: "I have here a recording made over the Z-wave receiver
I took with me to Proxima Centauri I. As you know, the interstellar
beacon was erected on the top of the Z-wave Central Building. No
visual connection seems necessary, but we all know that dielectric or
permeabilic coupling serves in many places far better than a conducting
link; it is my idea that similar factors to permeability and capacity
will be found in the Z-wave. However Z-wave Central is _all_ supplied
from _one_ power line. Here is a physical connection.

"Upon my arrival at the Proxima Station, this Z-wave recorder was
started with the radio. You will hear, in the recording, which was
made through a microphone to pick up the room-sounds as well as the
Z-wave broadcast, the arrival of the radio signal from Terra, the
timing signals, a few of my own comments made, I must admit, in the
stress of enthusiasm, and finally, the terran side of an interplanetary
Z-wave conversation between a woman and her man. While I deplore any
public airing of the personal affairs of any man and woman, this is
of the utmost importance to Civilization, while the subject of her
conversation is such that she can have only pride in having it made
into history. For," he added softly, "hers is the voice of true, honest
affection, faith and trust in her mate, and such is well worthy of a
monument in the halls of history!"

There was a round of good-natured applause at this moment. And then the
recording rang out:

"... but it won't be long, my dear ... of course, it seems so.... Do
that, by all means.... In a month, you say?... I'm very happy about
that...." the signal faded and in the background the audience could
hear the measured cadence of the radio timing signals, with a few of
Paul's own personal comments of exultation. Then the Z-wave signal came
in again, "... Terry said so.... How do I know?... By all means, my
dear...."

Paul turned the recording off amid the thunderous roar of applause.



CHAPTER 9


With a smile of self-confidence, Paul faced the cheering auditorium and
gloried in the praise. It--this moment--was payment in plenty for years
of struggle and of being a third-rate voice crying against the stone
wall of authority.

He took their cries of praise with a deferent attitude, but remained on
the podium, which indicated that he had more to tell. They subsided
after minutes of wild applause, and Paul continued:

"Across the galaxy between here and Neosol," he said, waving a hand
which caused a wall curtain to rise, showing a planar map of the star
region between the two inhabited systems, criss-crossed with red and
blue lines, "the galactic survey has a veritable network of radio
beacon signals. From star to star they go, directly and in cross
triangulation, in collateral paths and in long sweeps. The red lines
show what distance these radio signals have progressed as of three days
ago; the length of the continuing blue lines show the distance between
the stars yet to travel ere contact is made. Such is the separation of
stars in our galaxy that the next three years will see greater numbers
of final contacts made. I shall be a busy man, for I will be making
these final, contacts one by one until the entire pathway--tortuous as
it will be at first--is open to Neosol.

"Gentlemen, they drove the Golden Spike in 1869, coupling America's
East and West by railroad. Three years, two hours, and forty-five
minutes from this very instant, we shall drive the Golden Key home in
the Z-wave link between Mother Earth and her distant daughter Neoterra!"

Again came the thunder of applause.

"Thank you," said Paul. "Are there any more questions?"

"One," called a voice from the rear.

"Yes?"

"This recording of the Z-wave was made from Z-wave Central?"

"Yes!"

"Just for the purpose of circumventing any such odium of doubt, is
there any method by which you can definitely determine the time of
origin of this recorded transmission?"

"Not at the present. It can be established by the radio beacon records
that I was on Proxima I at that time--what I hope to do is to have the
unknown woman come forward and identify herself and the time she used
the Z-wave."

"Then other than that there is no way of proving that this recording
might have been made on terra a month before you left?"

"I--"

But Thorndyke interrupted. "Gentlemen," he said, "no man in his right
mind would attempt a fraud upon this body. I have no doubt. I firmly
believe that Paul Grayson has presented evidence that he has collected
in true scientific honesty!"

This brought another round of cheering. And in the midst of it all, the
questioner came walking down the aisle toward the platform. Out of the
shadows he came, and Paul tensed for the imminent battle of wits, for
the questioner was none other than Chadwick Haedaecker.

"Where did you get that recording?" he shouted over the cheers of the
crowd.

"On Proxima."

"On the Z-wave?"

"Yes."

"Doctor Thorndyke, may I have the stage for a moment?"

Thorndyke nodded, wondering what this was all about.

Paul stepped aside as Haedaecker took the podium.

"Gentlemen," said Haedaecker, "for some number of months, my young
friend here has been avidly attempting to force me into trying
experiments made years before. He has a personal, ingrained belief that
Haedaecker's Theory is at fault. You have heard his alleged recording--"

"Alleged!" stormed Paul.

Haedaecker held up a hand. Then he pointed out to the audience. "Doctor
Haddon, could this message have passed through the Z-wave Central?"

A hush fell on the auditorium. Haddon rose and cleared his throat.

"According to my records, Z-wave Central was inoperative for a fourteen
day period immediately following Paul Grayson's departure for Proxima
Centauri I. Certain repairs were needed, and the Z-wave equipment was
shut down for that period. All Z-wave messages terminating on Terra
were shunted through the Auxiliary Tandem Z-wave Station at Oahu,
Hawaii. The Proxima Beam was shut down, too, since the radio signal
emanating from it would not reach Proxima for four years, and that
which Paul Grayson was to measure had been emitted four years ago. It
was not deemed reasonable to maintain the beam--"

Paul gulped. "This is preposterous," he roared.

Haedaecker merely smiled. "So is the truth," he said sourly.

Thorndyke said: "Then Doctor Haedaecker, it is patently impossible for
the energy relation to have caused the transmission of the Z-wave such
as Paul Grayson suggests?"

"Impossible."

Thorndyke faced Paul. "Then why was this farce perpetrated?"

"This was no farce," Paul almost shouted. "Haedaecker has always
discouraged anything at all that would cause him to retract his own
precious theory. He will lie, cheat, and steal--"

Thorndyke turned to Haedaecker. "Can this be true?"

Haedaecker smiled genially. "Grayson is young and dreamily hopeful,"
he said blandly. "Grayson has all of the hope and faith for mankind
that a Saviour, a Saint, or a complete idiot might have. He believes
firmly that if enough people want something to obtain, by sheer effort,
will-power, and determination, they can make it so."

"But why was this done?"

"Grayson hoped to stir up enough hope to have a research group,
assigned to crack this impossible problem."

"It is not impossible!" Now Paul was shouting.

Haedaecker shook his head. "You have no evidence whatever. You are
now where you have always been. You base your argument on a hope and
a prayer but have nothing concrete to show for it." Haedaecker faced
the auditorium with a raised hand. "I am a physicist," he thundered.
"And I have been reviled by my former employee, Grayson, for attempting
to suppress any ideas that would show Haedaecker's Theory might be
in error. This is a cruel attack. Unwarranted and unkind. Like my
fellows, I firmly believe that theory always must be bent to follow
fact; that when any theory is confronted by experimental evidence to
the contrary, it is the theory that must be changed, because the fact
remains indisputable! Let but one man show me the error in Haedaecker's
Theory, and it will be relegated to the discard by no one quicker than
Haedaecker, myself! God Knows, gentlemen, I despair of offering a
theory that stands against the innermost wishes of mankind!"

Thorndyke turned to Grayson. "Where did this recording come from?"

"I made it on Proxima!"

"Possibly," said Haedaecker scathingly, "but by what method?"

"It was made honestly!" shouted Paul.

"Honestly," sneered Haedaecker. "With both Z-wave Central off the air,
and the radio beacon inoperative; both important factors in your pet
idea were not running at the time you claim that this recording was
made!"

Paul shook his head angrily. "If the Z-wave Central and the beacon were
turned off," he stormed bitterly, "then how did I receive this on my
Z-wave Receiver?"

Haedaecker's voice was wholly scornful. "A well-planned script," he
said, "written and acted by an accomplished actress, recorded by
Grayson--doubtless, Mister Grayson your plea that this unknown woman
on your record come forward for honor and identification might be
accomplished. Which of your many girl friends did this?" snapped
Haedaecker with his sudden verbal attack.

"No one--" Paul stopped as the familiar voice on his recording went
through his brain as it had so often since he heard it on Proxima I:
'... but it won't be long, my dear.... Of course, it seems so....
Do that, by all means....' and as the well-remembered voice seemed
to speak aloud, Paul recalled another voice, the voice of a most
attractive woman, replying to his suggestion that he call her: '_Do
that, by all means_.'

Then Paul knew. Not only the voice, but the mannerism.

'_Do that...._'

Not truly a command, but far more than mere acquiescence. That was Nora
Phillips' way, her voice, her mannerism.

A cold sweat broke out on Paul Grayson's forehead. Two men had died
because of this. Why? True, both were criminals, but what possible
attraction could Paul's grand dream of interstellar communications have
for a thief, a felon, and a murderer?

Two men had died, and then as Haedaecker's technicians cut off the
hoped-for sources of signals from Z-wave Central, Nora Phillips had
come forward to supply Paul with the necessary evidence to success.

Why? Certainly she could not hope that his unsupported story would
stand up against the certain statement that Z-wave Central was down and
out. Besides, there was not time for a spacecraft to get to Proxima I
between the time that Z-wave Central went off the air and the time that
Paul recorded the signal. Had Nora Phillips been on Proxima?

Someone had!

Someone had been there, lying in wait for Paul Grayson--for what
inexplicable reason Paul could not begin to name. And someone else
had been there, too, lying in wait for the interference. Someone had
irrevocably removed the criminal lying in wait for Paul, and then had
blithely furnished Paul with the signal he had been waiting four long
years to hear.

The answer was hidden behind the heavy mahogany door at 7111 Bridge
Street, despite the placid appearance of a man retired from business,
his elderly wife, and doddering manservant. For Nora Phillips had
disappeared behind that door.

"What have you to say for yourself, young man?" demanded Thorndyke.

Paul blinked at the chairman. He was completely stunned, absolutely
beaten, shocked to the core. He shook his head. "I swear--" he began.

He was interrupted by the shout of "Fraud!" from the rear of the
auditorium. Instantly the place was in a violent uproar, those who had
applauded the loudest were now shouting for Paul's head.

"Fraud!"

"Throw him out!"

"Liar!"

The stairways at either end of the stage filled with hoarsely shouting
men who came up slowly but with determined step, gaining confidence as
they advanced.

"Throw him out!" screamed a voice.

"Out!"

"Away!"

Thorndyke hammered on the pulpit with his gavel. He might as well have
snapped his fingers at the hurricane. The rap of authority was lost in
the disorderly cry of an angry mob. Men of learning, wisdom, education,
their civilized veneer hurled away by disappointment, anger, and the
smell of fraud, came forward with animal hatred, intellectually naked.

Paul looked wildly around the stage as the foremost of the mob came
to the top of the steps. This was the time for escape, whether he was
right or wrong, honest or the fraud and liar they called him. No time
for argument, only flight.

He faded back against the curtain. They came forward at him, warily
awaiting some move of his. Had Paul moved fast, they would have leaped
like predators; so long as he oozed back with no overt move, they
prowled instead of jumping. Perhaps the only remaining vestige of their
lifetime of training was their desire to wait until he struck at them
first, that they wanted Paul to strike the blow that would invite them
to strike back. This was a mob, lynching mad.

Paul looked over their heads to the fire exit. It was the only avenue
of escape, but blocked by twenty madmen. He pressed back against the
curtain, wondering if he would get out of this alive.

Then the howling died like the turning off of an overloaded sound
amplifier.

For out between the curtains stepped a burly policeman. His nightstick
was firm in his right hand, the thong wrapped tight around his wrist.
The business end of the heavy stick rested in his left palm. His
revolver hung in the holster, its safety strap unsnapped.

He was the very essence of Authority, Big, Uniformed, Immobile.

The advance upon Paul stopped.

Paul breathed a prayer of thanks.

"You're Paul Grayson?" he asked.

"I am."

The policeman's voice was flat, hard, and dry. "Did you know there was
a dead man aboard your spacecraft?"

Paul blanched. Stacey had said--

"Uh-huh. Y'do. Paul Grayson, I arrest you for implications in the
murder of John Stacey. Better come quietly. And remember that anything
you say may be used as evidence against you!"

Stacey!

The world took a quick spin about Paul's head.

Stacey!

There was sudden motion and the quick, lashed Snap! of handcuffs while
Paul's tired mind was still racing in the dream-world of complete
disbelief. He went woodenly with the policeman.

Behind him, he heard Haedaecker say, "And now it is murder, to boot!"



CHAPTER 10


There is something about a pair of handcuffs far above and beyond the
mere chaining of wrist to wrist. Mobility is not decreased, and the
flailing of hands against an enemy is not greatly impaired. But the
idea of being manacled presents a condition in psychology of complete
defeat.

In completely bewildered defeat, Paul Grayson looked down at the
chromium handcuffs with an air of blankness. John Stacey--Z-wave--Nora
Phillips--

The policeman led Paul Grayson from the hall amid a complete quietness.
Only when they were beyond the curtain and heading towards the stage
door did the buzz of outraged conversation start, almost covering the
pounding of Thorndyke's gavel.

Then the outer door closed behind them and the noise was cut off.
Something in Paul's inner mind felt grateful that the car awaiting
was a standard model of police car instead of the traditional patrol
wagon. There is something even more damning in being carted away in the
paddy-wagon.

The completely stunning abruptness; the positive cliff of success
from which he had fallen into the chasm of absolute futility shocked
Paul into a feeling of unreality. He felt like an outsider, watching
a complete stranger being led in docility towards a police car by a
uniformed policeman, obviously the perpetrator of some outrageous,
illegal, immoral, unethical act. He could not identify this illicit
individual with himself. It was a horrible dream--

And in this dreamlike state, Paul took note of a series of completely
_non-sequitur details_ which his mind recorded in minute detail. He
noted a woman in an outlandish hat; a man in tuxedo with a wrinkle
across the facade of his boiled shirt. The sidewalk was rough under
his feet. The street was asphalt instead of concrete. Mars and Venus
were in quadrature--it must be quite early because Venus sets not too
many hours after Sol. There was a light blanked out in an electric
sign advertising some obscure brand of cigarettes--Merr cool--and Paul
wondered quickly whether the missing space represented 'y' 'i' or 'o'
because he did not smoke that brand. A convertible coupe roared past
with a redhead's hair blowing back, there was a dent in the left-front
hubcap. The police squad car was Number 17. A woman that Paul instantly
catalogued as the Boston-Type Dowager sniffed and turned away. A girl
giggled as her boy friend led her towards a cocktail lounge. The
handcuffs jangled and caused more attention than the presence of the
policeman. Down the street a theatre marquee flashed, advertising a
stage production called 'The Bright Young Man!' As it caught Paul's
eye, the box office closed and the theatre marquee went dark--

Then having noted more of his urban surroundings during thirteen
seconds spent in crossing a sidewalk than he had in several years of
living there, Paul found himself installed in the front seat of the
police car between two burly officers. Paul was not a small man but he
felt like a midget between them.

There was no noticeable grinding of gears nor jerkiness as the car
swooped away from the curb, and the siren wailed to clear the street
before them. Expertly the driver maneuvered through a red light and
turned against traffic, swerving in and among the hesitant cars like a
fencer.

Then they were beyond the busy thoroughfare and racing down a quiet
street, their own siren creating a shrill that could be heard for
blocks. Even inside of the car it was loud; outside it must have been
terrific.

The radio broke into life: "Attention! Attention! All cars--Attention!"

The driver and the other policeman stiffened slightly. The driver
turned another corner onto a traffic street. Three or four blocks
along, the bright blue lights of the police station called like a
lighthouse, marking the Journey's End.

"Attention! Attention!" said the radio. "All cars be on the lookout for
Police Squad Car Seventeen. Stolen--"

The policeman not driving was fumbling in a pocket; found a jangling
set of keys and fumbled with them uncertainly. Then Grayson's manacles
fell away as the squad car drove up in front of the police station.

"Lively, Grayson," snapped the driver as the car came to a quiet halt.

Still in a complete daze, Paul obeyed stiffly. He followed the driver
out of the squad car from the driver's side, squeezing under the
steering wheel and forced by the pressure of the other policeman behind
him. He was unceremoniously hauled into a waiting sedan, pushed again
from behind, and then before he could get his balance the car lurched
forward and away.

"That'll kill 'em," chuckled the policeman that had rescued him from
the stage.

"Dump their rig and the drunken cops right in front of the station,"
chuckled the driver of the police car. Both were shucking their blue
uniforms. And the driver of the large sedan was not driving like a
maniac. He kept to sane speeds, but used side streets.

"Stolen--?" murmured Grayson. Paul was still dazed. Something was
going on but he did not know what. He had been ridiculed, charged with
murder, arrested, and--but he had not really been arrested for these
were not officers of the law. "Wha--what--?" he blurted.

Both of the erstwhile officers laughed. One of them hauled a small
flask from his hip pocket and handed it to Paul. "You've had a rough
time," he said. "Take a bracer."

Paul took a big swallow; it was good whiskey that burned just right
on the way down. The glow in Paul's stomach took some of the troubled
puzzlement; some of the daze from him, but the dizziness and the
feeling of unreality remained.

"What's it all about?" asked Paul uncertainly.

"You'll find out later."

"Why not now?"

"And spill before the boss tells his tale?" laughed one of the men.
"Just pull yourself together, Grayson. Be happy that we got you out of
a bad spot."

"I am, but I don't understand."

"You will soon enough. Take it easy."

Paul relaxed. It was obvious that they would tell him nothing. Some
of the daze left, but it left Paul with mixed emotions. Convinced of
his own innocence of any crime; equally convinced of his correctness
regarding Haedaecker's Theory but completely bewildered as to the
latest mixup with Z-wave Central; angry about Stacey--Paul Grayson was
convinced that the right way to handle false charges was and is to face
them firmly and display the fact that you have nothing to fear. He
had always felt that the very display of self-confidence and obvious
indignation over the accusations would carry some weight in his favor.
He had read of cases in the newspapers where the murderer was found
with the smoking gun in his pocket and the blood on his hands but still
protested complete innocence in a baby-faced, wide-eyed manner, but
Paul felt that such protestation could carry no weight because the
lawbreaker could not be convincing with the truth in his mind working
against him. Like everybody, Paul felt that he was different; this was
a different case. They would believe him.

So Paul disliked the idea of running. Running away was itself an
indication of guilt. He had never been able to define the proper line
between the desire for privacy and the necessity of keeping something
under cover. Like many other idealists, Paul felt that any man whose
life was blameless should not object to scrutiny.

But in this particular case, even while Paul was objecting to the idea
of running; preferring to face the music with his convincing innocence,
Paul was also aware that one man facing the anger of a mob can do very
little to make them listen. He shrugged as a more pleasant thought came
to him. He could easily show proof that his escape was not the flight
caused by guilt but the honest fear of bodily harm from a mob incited
to lynch-heat by the machinations of a personal enemy.

Paul sat up a bit relieved. He looked out of the window and recognized
the street; they were about half way between the middle of the city and
the spaceport.

Maybe now he might be able to collect some more information. Still the
idealist, Paul could not understand why any man would work violently
against a common blessing that could cause no harm. Paul believed that
the possibility of opening communications with Neoterra was such a
blessing.

But merely starting with a hope and an idea to help Mankind--and
make himself famous--Paul had triggered off some inexplicable train
of events which included murder, theft, falsification of evidence,
impersonation--

Impersonation!

Not only once, but twice--_thrice_! Twice had Paul been impersonated
for some reason or another. Now there had been the impersonation of
policemen. Twice this impersonation could have been directed only at
Paul's discomfort. Now--

He looked at the two men that sat on either side of him. Friends--or
enemies? Had they helped him or had they captured him for themselves?
And in either case, what were they going to do with him, after they had
taken him--where?

The car turned a sharp corner, slowed in front of a large house, and
turned into the driveway.

The address was 7111 Bridge Street!

       *       *       *       *       *

The elderly gentleman eyed Paul quietly. Stacey had described the
man as a doddering old fogy, if this were really Hoagland, or really
the same man that Stacey met. But somewhere Stacey's unusually-sharp
evaluation of people must have fallen flat, for Hoagland was only
one-third of Stacey's description. He was neither doddering nor a fogy.
He was old in Grayson's eyes.

He looked sixty-odd. He might have been older, for his type of man
tends to retain the appearance of youth. There was a bit of spring to
his walk and a set to his jaw; a sharpness to his eyes and a complete
self-confidence about Hoagland. He was far from bald, but the hair was
white-silver. He wore it carelessly but not unkempt; it was a sort of
pride, Paul guessed, to half-mistreat a feature prized and lost to
other men.

"Please sit down and relax," he said. His voice was hard and
low-pitched and not a trace of cracking-with-age. Instead, it crackled
with virility. "You might as well take it easy and save your strength.
You're not going anywhere."

"What is this all about?"

"We'll get to that shortly. I have not had this privilege before; I am
Charles Hoagland, Mister Grayson. I gather that my boys were timely."

"It was--" Paul started, but stopped lamely. The puzzlement welled
up in him again and confusion filled him; confusion that contrasted
sharply with this man who seemed to know all of the answers.

"I am glad. A troublesome mob is a dangerous thing. You might have been
harmed."

Paul nodded his head quietly.

"Mister Grayson, you are a busy little man."

Grayson stiffened. He did not like the appellation even though he knew
that his size was sufficient to give him tolerance at being called
little; he did not have to prove otherwise.

"Just what do you want with me?" demanded Paul.

"Mister Grayson, either you are a genius or an idealistic fumbler. We
hope to find out which."

"When you find out, will you let me know?" snapped Paul sarcastically.

"Be only too happy to," smiled Hoagland. "So we'll start now. Just how
solid are your theories about the Z-wave?"

Paul shrugged. "How solid is any theory about anything?"

"Let's not argue."

"I am not arguing. I am stating a fact."

"You are stating an argument; you have just answered a direct question
with a hypothetical proposition."

Paul grunted. "May I ask you a direct question?"

"Ask. I may even answer, depending upon the nature of the question."

"Then, just how solid is your knowledge of science--any science?"

"Sketchy. Some men hire carpenters, some hire accountants, I hire
scientists."

"Then let me explain my first reply. Any scientific theory undergoes
several transformations before it is an accepted fact. For instance,
some phenomenon is caught or observed by some experimenter. To explain
the phenomenon, the scientist suggests an hypothesis. To further
the art, the hypothesis is expanded so that other experiments can
be performed. These have the dubious character of predictions; if
such-and-such is the explanation, then if we do this-and-so, then
something-that will take place. Physical laws and limitations are set
up, and while one group works according to these laws, another group
will try to ascertain whether or not the same effect can be produced
because of some other proposition. Frequently the original observation
produces erroneous evidence, and then the conditions are changed to
meet the experimental evidence as such progress is made. Eventually
the original hypothesis will become a theory.

"In shorter words," continued Paul thoughtfully, "An hypothesis is a
suggestion untested. A theory is an hypothesis which is undergoing test
and for which some basis of truth is evident. A fact is a theory for
which there is considerably more favorable evidence than unfavorable
evidence, and a law is a fact against which no one has ever come up
with any evidence to dispute it."

Hoagland smiled tolerantly. "And what is Grayson's Principle, and why
is this called a 'principle'?"

"Haedaecker's Theory is that the Z-wave will not cross interstellar
space because of the lack of solar activity. Grayson's Principle is
that the Z-wave can be made to cross interstellar space under one
certain condition, and that this condition is a prime limitation
even in intra-solar communications. The 'principle' terminology,"
smiled Paul, "is like so many other names. Pedantically it is a
principle because it is a prime factor. On the other hand, the name
has a sort of ring to it when spoken aloud. I have an idea that
'Lorenz' is put before the 'Fitzgerald' because of the auditory ring;
ending a name with a sibilant makes the possessive case difficult.
'Planck's Constant' rings better to the ear than 'Planck's Factor' and
'Avogadro's Law' is easier to manipulate than 'Avogadro's Principle.'
These are not selected deliberately, they are chosen inadvertently
by lecturers who tend to emphasize a phrase by its sound--even the
unskilled lecturer will do this; a pure scientist with no grandiose
ideas will automatically select a name that presents no lingual
tongue-tripping."

Hoagland smiled. "Ah, how we progress behind the scenes; from
'Fission-reaction' to 'A-Bomb' because of headline newsprint space.
Semantics was a fine, definitive term until Korzybski got the word
involved with dialectics. Possibly Korzybski decided that 'semantics'
rang better to the ear than 'Dialectics.' But let's get back to
Grayson's Principle. Take it from there, Mister Grayson."

"The main idea is--"

"I know the main idea. That was your hypothesis, unsupported by
evidence. What I am interested in is whether Grayson's Principle has
what it takes to become Grayson's Theory."

"I--You mean, was I successful?"

"At last you have arrived at the salient point I mean exactly that."

"I don't quite know."

"You received a Z-wave message on Proxima?"

"Yes."

"Then--?"

Paul grunted. "Everybody knows more about this than I do. I received
a message. I was then informed that it was impossible for me to have
received a message because Z-wave Central was not running."

"How do you account for this message?"

"I can't. Maybe," and here Paul looked Hoagland in the eye, "maybe Miss
Nora Phillips can explain."

"Who?"

"Nora Phillips," said Paul sharply. "Or have you never met her?"

"Should I have met her?"

"Look, Hoagland," said Paul evenly, "I don't know what this is
all about. You've got the chips and the cards and the dice. Your
playfellows accused me of complications in the murder of John Stacey,
ergo you must have heard of him. And Stacey's only connection with you
is because he was engaged by me to find out what kind of game Nora
Phillips was playing with me. Since you know the connection all along
the line, you are also aware of the fact that Nora Phillips entered
this house, and that Stacey came here seeking her, having informed me
of the first fact. So since we're all aware of some of the facts, let's
not play any more games than necessary to save face, huh?"

"You talk rather boldly for a man in your position."

"Hell's Eternal Bells, should I grovel in fear? You and whatever other
factions are shoving me around obviously want me alive for some obscure
reason, otherwise I'd have been eliminated instead of impersonated. So
long as I am alive I can continue to hope for the future."

"Oh, we have no intention of eliminating you."

"Then what's this mad game all about?"

"We have no intentions of forearming you, either."

Paul shrugged. "It will be useless for you to deny that all this mess
has nothing to do with the Z-wave and Neoterra."

Hoagland eyed Paul humorously. "My young friend, you have the makings
of wisdom. I am glad to hear you realize that your only cry to
importance is your firm belief in the error of Haedaecker's Theory."

"Maybe you won't mind explaining one small item."

"Maybe."

"If--for some reason--I am in your way because of the Z-wave, why was a
man impersonating me, who could only impersonate me for a limited time?"

"Occasionally," said Hoagland loftily, "some broad highway to somewhere
must be blocked for a limited time only."

"So I got a crack on the skull that wouldn't last. Eventually a man
impersonating me would head for Proxima I to do something there--God
knows what--while the real Paul Grayson was free to complain to
everybody that he was really not on Proxima I doing his job?"

"Someone slipped. Supposing," Hoagland suggested, "that you were held
incommunicado while your double went to Proxima I and performed your
job, complete with the automatic motion picture cameras you installed
for--ah--posterity and Haedaecker's greatness. Your double returns and
hands in his--your--report. Later the man leaves for parts unknown
and you are released, complete with the conviction that yelling to
the Authorities about your imprisonment would be at variance with
the report, the pictures, and the job's completion. Everything is
done as your ultimate superior wants it done, and then you go to him
complaining that you were held prisoner. Or--would you, Grayson?"

"Well, I--"

Hoagland laughed heartily. "You might if you were the simple, honest
soul. But Paul Grayson has been making plans to test the Z-wave on
Proxima I for a long time and couldn't afford to have someone asking
questions as to why Paul Grayson got himself into a cockeyed mess."

"But what would it accomplish?"

"Stall you for some time."

In the back of Paul's mind there was a picture of a very attractive
woman offering up eager lips and the warmth of a vibrant body beneath
sheer silk--setting up the clay target. He had to know, he did not want
to merely guess the answer, he--but Nora Phillips had turned up just as
Haedaecker was getting nasty. Had she turned up to stall Haedaecker?
Hoagland wanted the Z-wave business stalled for some reason. Nora's
actions appeared to be that of someone bent upon aiding Grayson.
Even--in the long run--her falsification of the Z-wave reception on
Proxima I was one step in getting mankind interested in the problem of
communicating with Neoterra.

"So you erased him? When he failed, I mean?"

Hoagland looked unhappy. "Unfortunate but necessary. However, Joel
Walsh was a type of character that Mankind can well do without."

Grayson grunted angrily. "Why not bump him first?"

"Until he proved completely useless, he had a place," said Hoagland
coldly. "There's just enough bad in the best of us, to quote an old
cliche."

"I suppose when a player has enough pawns he can afford to sacrifice."

"Only useless pawns."

Paul looked sourly cynical. "And I am the White Knight?"

Hoagland smiled affably. "And you balance very badly while sliding
down that poker. Again your humility signifies the beginning of great
wisdom. I'd hardly call you a Bishop."

Paul snorted through his nose. "If we want to make some more puns," he
said flatly, "I'll admit that I've been Rooked. But who is the Queen in
this mad game, Nora Phillips?"

"Hardly."

"You mean you'll not tell me the objective. Okay, Hoagland, we'll play
one more gambit. I suppose the capture of the White Knight is worth the
sacrifice of two pawns."

Hoagland smiled self-confidently. "I call it the capture of a Rook as
well as the White Knight for--did you say _two_ pawns?"

Grayson eyed Hoagland distastefully. "Who was the guy on Proxima?"

"Proxima?"

Paul sat back in his chair with the first feeling of returning
self-confidence that he had enjoyed since the moment of his downfall in
the lecture hall. "Hoagland," he said, "you've made me very happy."

"How?" snapped the other.

"I've always had the conviction that God was a swell Fellow, Who like
the rest of us, was still seeking the completely Holy Truth. But happy,
understand, in knowing that He did not really know everything because
when He did there was no more future, for Him, for us, for anybody.
Equally less-than-perfect is the Devil, who does not know everything
either. Hoagland, you're just a minor devil."

"What do you mean?"

"There was a guy on Proxima about to impersonate me--or maybe
impersonate the impersonation you provided. I can see one faction
bumping off parties of the second part. But Hoagland, old devil, if you
don't know about the mess on Proxima, you don't know that instead of
one conflicting faction against you, you've got two!

"Because the guy you did not know about was polished off by another
gang that you do not know about! How do you like them apples?"

Hoagland blew out a breath that sounded like the sigh of Autumn.



CHAPTER 11


Considering that the time elapsed between Paul's first contact with
Nora Phillips and his meeting with Hoagland was less than one month,
during which Paul lived in an incomprehensible maelstrom, the following
ten months were sheer boredom. For Paul was removed from 7111 Bridge
Street and taken aboard a spacecraft bound for Neoterra, one hundred
and forty light years by distance and three hundred and eighteen days
by the fastest spaceliner going. Ten months plus, spent in a shell of
metal, completely self-contained. There were no viewports for a ship
exceeding the speed of light was enclosed in its own warp of space and
one could not see out. There was a broad port-dome for the landing and
take-off pilot, but looking out through that dome of glass into the
awesome nothingness of supervelocity made men a little bit crazy. Some
went stark mad.

Time was measured by ship's clocks and ship's calendars, timed in
divide-down networks from the master micro-timer that measured the
flight-time in microseconds from the moment of superdrive until the end
of the flight.

Paul had a lot of time to think, but nothing to do. Eventually Paul
knew that thinking supplied nothing but additional complications
introduced by his own mind. By the time the trip was half over, the
network of fact and fiction revolving around Nora Phillips was so
involved that any single additional fact would have destroyed the whole
picture. Nora was either angel or she-devil.

It was the latter reasoning that stopped Paul from brooding over the
problem. Paul wanted neither saint nor she-devil. One was untouchable
and the other undesirable. Paul wanted an uninhibited loveliness,
with the indefinably correct admixture of bawdiness and propriety, of
Madonna and Magdalene, of soul and sex--_sana mens in sana corpore_, as
Julius Caesar would have put it.

The fact that the Galactic Network was progressing week by week only
gratified Paul, even though he knew that someone else was racing madly
back and forth across the star-trails checking the signals in one after
the other. All Grayson needed was the initial radio contact, the Z-wave
contact could progress from there.

To while away the time Paul called upon his memory to fill in the
spaces between the stellar radio stations between Sol and Neosol.
He did this with the aid of the pilot's star maps which were made
available to him. It was a flat map instead of the three-dimensional
space-model necessary for true distances, but it served as well as a
Mercator Projection of the earth, which is a spherical body and far
from flat.

In the space model, the first link was to Proxima, a sort of test link
started some time before the rest. There were four other links that led
from Sol to nearby stars, spread out in space-angles from one another.
From these, each had three or four lines out and still away from Sol,
some crossing the near gap and some crossing back between the other
first-step stations until a complete pyramidal cross-connection of
solid triangulation was obtained.

Then across the longer reaches of space, long-term links were
running between longer-distance stations. These would complete other
space-triangulations across the galaxy, year by year until the final
radio beam from Sol to Neosol landed, one hundred and forty years from
the start.

Each completed link between star and star would improve the surveying
of the galaxy and bring Neosol's dimensional error down and down
through the banks of figures best stated by exponents of ten.
Astronomers work in light years, man works in miles. An error of a
'light month' in one-forty light years is not much error, but an error
of 2,000 million miles is still a long way for man to correct-for.

So Paul made a planar chart of the galaxy between Sol and Neosol, and
from memory and calculations he filled in, week by week, the completed
links.

The first linkage had been computed and started so that a small group
of men (of which Paul was one) could race from star to star checking-in
the arrival of the radio beam. It took ten days to go from Sol to
Proxima, the rest of the network had been started so that--at the
best of astronomical calculations--the whole pattern would end up,
one after the other, spread apart long enough to enable the group of
beam-checkers to go from station to station.

The map would not be fixed. Stars move with respect to one another,
and this factor would be part of the measurements. On a star map or
planetarium, this motion was impossible to show from one year to the
next, these were 'fixed stars.' But for data fed into the Elecalc to
determine the time of drive, the angle, and the velocity, the finest
measurement of distance was none too good.

But even some grasp of the true immensity of space, with its tiny
pinpricks of solid matter scattered sparsely in a vastness of sheer,
black nothing, was lost on the travellers between Sol and Neosol. For
as far as they were concerned the journey was not much longer than the
famous voyage of Columbus. Miles meant nothing; there were too many of
them. Time was the essence, and ten long months passed between take-off
and the ultimate recovery of their own time and space, where the
cheerful stars winked out of a coal-black sky.

The dispersion was not too bad. Neosol was a light-week away, at
about a forty-five degree angle from their course and position. The
small-copy of the Elecalc went to work in the course computing room and
once more the ship took to the silent, black vastness of supervelocity
until the second drop into reality. They were a half-million miles from
Neoterra on the second hop, and there was no room to use supervelocity
now, so the next few hours were spent in matching the galactic drift
of Neosol, and finally Neoterra. But after ten months of living in
an electric-lighted capsule of metal, a half day of jockeying before
landing was pleasant.

But as the ship started to drop down toward the planet, Paul realized
with a shock that it was _not_ Neoterra. As space-trained as Paul was,
even he could not tell one star or one sun from another until something
more featureless is offered for comparison. The planet was definitely
not Neoterra, and this Paul knew only because it obviously bore no
atmosphere. All he could be sure of was that this star was close to
Neoterra as stellar distances went, but which star he had no way of
knowing. He knew that the star was not Neosol because none of the
planets of Neosol were without atmosphere.

Such an absolutely minimum of negative evidence could only tell Paul
where he was not; he was not on a planet of Sol nor Neosol.

As the ship came close to the surface of this planet, Paul noted the
radio-relay station below them, and here his recollection bore fruit.
This planet was of a star about five light years from Neosol.

He thought carefully. The star from Sol bore no more than a catalog
number, being of insufficient size to warrant notice by the
ancients who gave the stars their names. Someone had dubbed the
planet Harrigan's Horror in dubious honor of Lew Harrigan, who had
been the engineer who put up the relay station and had lived in
pressure-buildings for several months.

Harrigan himself would be coming to Harrigan's Horror in about two
months to check in the arrival of the beam from Neoterra, just as
Paul had gone to Proxima ten months before. Just what Hoagland's crew
of cutthroats intended to do on Harrigan's Horror, Paul could not
determine from the myriad of unpleasant possibilities he could conjure
up.

But he knew--and he was not wrong--that they would tell him very soon.

Below them, a half mile or so from the relay station, a small
spacecraft stood with its nose in the air. The big spacecraft landed
near the small one, and Paul was handed a space suit.

"Get in," said Evans. Evans had been one of the pseudo-policemen back
on Terra.

"What's next?" asked Paul.

"Get in--you'll find out."

"Why not let me in on it."

"You'll learn. Get in it or we'll be glad to take you out across this
airless planet without a suit."

"That wouldn't do you much good."

"No?"

The man's attitude convinced Paul that this was the termination of
any idea of keeping him alive. Up to now they had been saving him.
Obviously for this. Paul's faith in the idea that kidnapers do not kill
people after keeping them alive for almost a year began to wane. For
some reason it had been necessary to keep Paul alive this long, but
now--

But Paul had no intention of dying by going out across Harrigan's
Horror in his city clothing.

Paul looked across the face of Harrigan's Horror, and blinked. The huge
emblazoned registry number was half-hidden around the side of the space
ship, but Paul knew every rivet in her. That ship was Paul Grayson's
BurAst P.G.1.!

A glimmer of hope came. He got into the space suit and was led across
to the smaller ship by Evans. A pilot in the BurAst ship let them in
through the airlock and swung his helmet back over his head and greeted
Evans glumly.

"Thought you'd never get here," he said.

"When did you take off?"

"Hour after you did."

"Been here long?"

"Hundred and seven hours Sol."

Paul looked around. Everything was in place, everything in order. "What
goes on?" he asked.

Evans turned to him. "I don't mind telling you. Hoagland has no
intention of letting you or anybody else start this Z-wave business
between here and home."

"Then why this stuff? Why this set-up?"

"You've stirred up enough interest to make some men curious. Now you'll
stop it."

Paul scowled at Evans. "Look," he said testily, "this Z-wave
communications is not going to die with me. Killing one man isn't going
to stop curiosity one bit."

Evans laughed. "You've stolen a spacecraft belonging to the Bureau of
Astrogation, the one filled with Z-wave gear. A fugitive from justice,
you've come to this station, which will be the next radio beacon
checked in which is also close enough to Neoterra's Z-wave Central
for you to make connection and get whatever contact you need for your
Z-wave line across space.

"Now, Grayson, Item One: Your ship is a bit roughed-up because of a
hard landing, so you can't take off. You've been very busy laying
a line from the station to your ship so you can tap into the radio
beacon, and so you've used up quite a bit of your air. Since you have
not the keys to this station, you cannot get in there, and besides
you'll find that your space suit is inclined to be dangerously leaky.
In shorter words you're trapped on this ship for want of air, and
you'll find that whatever you think you can think of, several others
have thought of it first and done something about it.

"Item Two: Harrigan will not be checking this station upon
beam-arrival. Like the rest it is automatic, and it will register.
Harrigan is going to be very busy elsewhere. In other words, you'll
find that your one chance for salvation is to establish Z-wave
communications back to Neoterra so you can call for help.

"Item Three: regardless of what you do about it, you will be found
here about four months from now, the victim of asphyxiation, caused by
being trapped here. You will have done a major effort toward making
your Z-wave gadget work. Having failed in the moment of desperation,
the two worlds will hear about it, and men will then discount your wild
theories."

"And if I should succeed?"

"You won't. We're better chess-players than that."

"In other words, Harrigan is a friend of yours."

"That's part of it."

"And I suppose when I'm found there will be all sorts of records and
data and frantic experimentation to show that I tried and failed?"

"You get closer and closer all the time."

"But you can't stop progress."

"Maybe we don't want progress completely stopped. Only stalled for some
time."

"But what reason can you give--"

"We're not stating any reasons, Grayson. We have our reasons and to us
they're good ones."

"But--"

"Stow it, Grayson. And--have a good time!"

Paul got a good view of the picture after they left. His masquerader
might have returned from Proxima I with honest data about the beam,
but Paul Grayson might as well have been found in a wrecked landing
on Terra with evidence that indicated complete failure in the Z-wave.
There--or here--what difference?

So in the next few hours Paul ransacked his spacecraft in complete
futility. He was trapped on Harrigan's Horror. Had Paul been ten
times as proficient as he was with tools and calculations, the BurAst
P.G.1. still would have remained where it stood snuggled down in the
heat-eroded ground of Harrigan's Horror. His spacesuit--the one they
left him--was nothing to wear while wandering around on the sunside
of a close-in planet. He doubted whether he could cross the distance
between the BurAst P.G.1. and the relay station even had he the air to
spare.

Of course he had quite a bit of air, both bottled and revitalized from
the greenery in the hold. But the greenery was none too healthy and the
bottled goods was almost gone. His compressor could have been made to
work and Paul could have made it to the station, but for what? To stand
there and die? Or to die along the route in a leaky suit? Breaking into
a fort was no more problem than breaching a relay station from the
ground. They had been built to last for years against wind, erosion,
burglars, pirates, and/or the pressures of the inner air against
airless planets such as this.

But Paul's problem was not merely escape. He might have tried to make
the relay station if this place offered any hope. Even then, Paul
might have been able as a last-ditch measure, to break into the relay
station somehow.

Assuming that he could break into the station, that would let the air
out. The only way one could break into such a station without letting
the air out would be through the airlock, and breaking into that sort
of bank-vault construction was no easier than cracking the wall without
letting the air out.

The nearest radio receiving set was five light years away at Neosol,
and if he could beam the radio call, it would take five years--

He looked at the Z-wave equipment and thought. Could it--?

Whatever the rest of the universe thought about Paul Grayson and his
idea about the Z-wave, Paul still had faith. Furthermore he knew as
much about Z-wave gear as any other man alive, up to and including
Haedaecker himself. Evans said that the Z-wave wouldn't work; how bad
could they foul Z-wave equipment? Could they foul the junk so bad that
Paul wouldn't be able to make repair? Or would they--

Paul tried the radio. Naturally it was silent. But it was not dead. It
gave a rattle of cosmic static.

Four thundering blasts came in across the ultra-short wave band, four
of the beacon's outgoing transmitters unmodulated, directed at other
stations across space to the nearer stars. He tried listening along
the frequencies of the local oscillators of the receiving sets set to
collect any incoming beacons but he realized that they would not be
turned on yet; there was a point in keeping the transmitters on, but
there was no use in turning on a receiver four or five years before the
signal got there. He hit another transmitter and as he listened to the
unmodulated signal, it began to pip in a timing-signal sequence that
some technician would use five to fifteen--or more--years from now when
it arrived at some other star-station.

They had not fouled the radio. But that was like letting a prisoner
on Antarctica keep his hearing-aid. Not worth a damn for helping him
escape.

Paul then tried the Z-wave. It was not dead, so far as Paul could tell.
It did not crackle with cosmic static, but there was a faint hiss. Paul
wondered about the connection to the station across the plain. They
must have some sort of connection otherwise the flanged-up evidence
would not ring true.

Paul began to tune the Z-wave receiver, just partly in hope and partly
for lack of something to do.

"Damn!" he swore.

"Grayson! Grayson! That you?"

Paul blinked. Hearing things--?

"Grayson! Paul Grayson! Is that you?"

Paul grabbed the microphone like a drowning man clutching a straw.
"Hello! Hello Neoterra. This is Paul Grayson marooned on Harrigan's
Horror with a low air supply. I'm about two miles from the radio beac--"

"Grayson! Forget it. I know where you are. This isn't Neoterra. This
is your old friend Evans waiting around in space until you stop trying
things. For all we know, you might be able to figure a way out. Take
it easy, pal. Such energy takes a lot of air--and you haven't much
left...."



CHAPTER 12


Nine days had passed according to the Solar clock on Paul's instrument
panel. Nine days with the air slowly becoming stale. It was beginning
to smell a bit, now. Paul did not notice it particularly, but someone
just in from a planetary atmosphere would say that the air reeked to
high heaven. His senses were beginning to numb. This was not a fast
death, but slow and sordid. Paul yawned constantly, and took deep
heaving gulps of air only to try again.

Paul fought sleep. He fought it because he knew that he might drift
off to sleep never to awaken. But he had no recourse. Most of his time
he spent a-sprawl on the cot in the instrument room because he had too
little energy to be up and around and when he fought himself to get
erect, there was nothing to do but to curse at the inert machinery.
He had tried everything. He had considered everything, even up to and
including the start of a diary in the hope that someday someone might
find it.

But it was a fruitless task. Sort of like putting a daily account
on the bottom of a cave in the hope that someone, someday, might
investigate the cave and find out what happened.

He did not know the periodicity of Harrigan's Horror. But the
sun--still a catalog number--was running lower along the horizon. The
beacon had been placed near enough to the South Pole of rotation so
that it could always look at the distant stars to and from which the
radio beacons ran. This was a nice job of latitude selection regarding
the plane of the planet's ecliptic and rotation for the Galactic Survey
beams.

But Paul was dully uninterested in facts. He slept more than he knew,
and was awake much less than he believed. His dreams were vivid enough
to make him believe that he was awake, excepting those that dealt with
Nora Phillips and John Stacey, neither of whom could have been there.

He was asleep, dreaming fitfully, when the spacecraft dropped down in
a landing that would have made the air on any normal planet scream.
It came down at nearly five gravities, its deceleration calculated to
a fine degree of precision so that the zero-velocity moment of its
computation coincided with the instant of contact. The drivers ceased
and the ship settled into the gritty ground of Harrigan's Horror.

He did not hear the swift manipulation of the airlock from the outside
controls.

"Grayson" came the cry. "Paul Grayson!"

Paul looked up dazedly, sitting up. He was weak, and dizzy. But Paul
pulled himself erect with the determination that he would not let
them see how badly off he was. The very deliberate attempt showed
them--showed them a man whose cheeks were hollow, whose lips were a bit
blue, eyes glazed and whose mind was dull.

He believed that he greeted them blithely, but what came from his mouth
was a dry croak. Then he went to sleep again, sitting up on the cot,
complete with a five day beard, and a shot-to-hell nervous system.

But they wasted no time. Bundling him into a spacesuit, they let the
air out of the BurAst P.G.1. with a blast and hurried him to their own
ship. Then they took off at six gravities, a force that bent them all
into their cushions. It did not touch Paul. He was dead to the world
in the first pleasant, honest, comfortable sleep he had since the air
began to go foul.

And once again there were a couple of days of timelessness. It was very
pleasant to have someone massage your muscles, to be steamed to the
boiled-lobster point and then quick-frozen in a cold shower, followed
by the ministrations of three dozen professional wrestlers. Gallons of
cold water and miles of fresh air, a daily shave with a hot towel and a
facial massage, good food and boiling tea, a pipe of aromatic tobacco,
forty-eight hours of deep sleep....

And Paul, dressed in clean shirt and slacks and once more back to
normal, was facing an elderly gentleman that looked like Santa Claus.

"I'll come to the point," said the elderly gentleman. "I am Franklin
Huston. I am one of a group of men whose desire is completely
political. This time it is also a bit personal. Perhaps you are one of
the few men we can talk to who knows something about Nora Phillips."

"I have met Nora Phillips."

"We know."

"I'd like to meet Miss Phillips again."

"That all depends."

"On what?"

Huston spread his hands. "Possibly upon whether she is still alive."

"Alive!" roared Paul.

"Yes. Alive."

Paul shook his head. "If they killed Stacey, they would not stop at--"

There was a moment of silence. "Stacey was killed?"

Paul looked up. "Almost a year ago. Of course, it is barely possible
that the news would be here by now. We took off very shortly afterwards
in a fast ship, and the official news might be still on the way."

Huston hit his palm with his other fist. "We need something faster than
ten months communication-time!" he cried. "Hell! We're no better off
than the Pilgrims, hoping for some news from England. Grayson, what
happened?"

Grayson started to explain, but half way through he stopped
thoughtfully. "I've missed a point," he said. "I don't know that Stacey
_was_ killed. After all, the men that arrested me weren't officers.
Just henchmen of that guy Hoagland."

"Quite! Now, while there is a school that seems to apply logic to
human motives, or tries to, there is another school that claims that
the way people do things are entirely dependent upon their point
of view and no one can catalog human nature. Grayson, I've known
Hoagland a long time and spent most of that time fighting him one way
or another. He is as cold-blooded about murder as a snake. But he is
a sort of 'string-saver' as well. Anyone who has a bare chance of
chipping in something toward the furthering of Hoagland's plans he will
keep alive--and it is no great problem to keep them sequestered off
somewhere away from contact until he needs 'em.

"For instance, Hoagland would be disinclined to kill Nora Phillips
because in some way she might be useful to him--if only as a hostage.
John Stacey is another item; Stacey might be kept alive for some
reason. This is a big-time game, Grayson."

Paul grunted unhappily. "A year ago I was a man hopeful of trying
out an idea. I've spent the last year being harassed, threatened,
kidnaped, and shoved around. It looks like a big game to me but I don't
know what the rules are or what the prize is to the winning side."

"You don't?"

"It revolves around me. I can see any number of reasons why people
would go to bat for a system that will lead to communications across
the galaxy. But for the life of me I can't see why anybody would prefer
isolation."

"Paul, as a student, how did your history compare with your math?"

"None too well."

"Why did the Puritans leave England in the first place?"

"Something about their religion."

"The books call it religious freedom. The fact is more likely that they
did not like the way things were being run in England. Well, forget
that and tell me why the American Revolution was fought?"

"Because of taxation."

"Balderdash. That was just an excuse. I've heard that roar about
'Taxation without representation' every Fourth of July since I was a
kid. Sure it was that, but why? Why? Well, because it took months for
anything to cross the ocean, letter, information, data, anything. A
representative would always be some months behind the demands of his
job, and his people would be months behind him. The upshot was that
people were being ruled--note that I said _ruled_--from a distance in
time and space.

"Neoterra is being ruled by Terra, remote in time and space. At this
moment, Grayson, Neoterra can go in one of two ways. I should say
Neoterra and the whole galaxy. This is the crossroads, the fork, the
place where one single decision or act will dictate for the future the
entire history of mankind among the stars.

"One way is to have each stellar system set up its own autonomous
government, an entity in itself, until at long last we have a million
stars with its own set of rules and regulations and customs. Then
someday someone may discover some means of cutting down the flight-time
between the stars, and then we shall have a fine millenium of galactic
wars for this reason or that, until the galaxy is settled down to some
form of integrated government.

"The second course, Grayson, is to start this thing off with a
solidarity. Let mankind spread through the galaxy, but let each new
stellar system recognize that it must be a part of the whole, and not a
world in itself with no outside interference.

"Remember, strife between men ended with the community, strife between
communities ended with the state; while strife between states ended
with the country. Finally strife between countries ended with the
unification of Terra. But in this unification there is plenty of
self-government. Eventually strife between worlds must end with the
galactic government--unless we can bypass the colonization, growing
into autonomy, and then formenting strife--and this faction on Neoterra
hopes that this time mankind will get off on the right foot.

"And the way to do it is to let people know on Neoterra what happened
on Terra yesterday and not next year!"

"The Z-wave--"

Huston smiled. "Serene in your own little Terra, you do not even know
of the wrangle we are now going through. Of course it takes ten months
for a fast ship, and the news is so remote and far away. The President
of Neoterra will be elected in a year. We have already two vigorous
candidates, one of which is speaking vigorously for autonomy and
freedom from Terran intervention. The other is for continued harmony.
Promise the people something positive and they will vote for you. But
we have nothing to promise--save the interstellar link of the Z-wave. A
damned poor offering."

"I'd say it was damned good."

Huston eyed Paul sharply. "How do you know?"

Paul opened his mouth and then closed it again. "I don't know," he said
at last. "I think--"

"Not good enough. Not by far."

"But I've been circumvented and frustrated and I--"

Huston slammed a fist down on the desk. "Grayson, we found you and slid
you out from under Hoagland's watchful eye for one reason only. You
stand as a symbol to the people of Neoterra. You are a possible symbol
of communications. With Paul Grayson free to work on the interstellar
Z-wave, the political campaign will get a transfusion of new blood."

"When do I start?"

Huston nodded. "Now. But not here. We will have no damned nonsense. The
fate of this political campaign rests upon your work."

"I see that."

"Four months flight time from Neoterra there is an equilateral
trinary--"

"Latham's Triplets. One of the network beacons is on Latham Alpha IV."

"You will go to Latham Beta III where we have an extra-terran botanical
research outfit. You can set up a laboratory there and go to work."

"But why not go back to Harrigan's Horror and pick up the radio beacon
when it gets there? We can save a lot of time."

"Grayson, you are a symbol. You may be a tin God with feet of clay for
all we know. So far all you've done is to create a ruckus, hollering
against Haedaecker's Theory which you have not substantiated by any
shred of evidence. Faith is a wonderful thing--I wish I had more of
it than I have--but hardly a bulwark against the slings and arrows of
life. So we'll not dicker with a proposition that may go wrong."

"But if I am to work--"

Huston smiled serenely. "I've often wondered why they call it
'Political Science' when the main idea is to get your point across
whether it is true or not. We'll have no part of any experiments that
may deal in failure. You'll go and work on Latham Beta III where
reports of progress can be made without having a lot of curious people
around to watch the answers."

Paul scowled. "And it isn't going to take more than a week following
the initial announcement of success before someone is going to try it
from Harrigan's Horror to Neoterra, or from Proxima I to Terra itself.
Then what--?"

Huston put the forefingers of his hands tip to tip. "Well, you see, it
is not quite as easy as you first imagined. It takes quite a bit of
specialized equipment, and therefore the simple test will not work.
You'd be glad to make a demonstration, but you are far too busy making
a set-up that will ultimately bring a voice-to-ear communication
between Terra and Neoterra, which is of course, the final touch. Why
bother going through a lot of piddling little demonstrations to prove
what you already know?"

"And in the meantime?"

"In the meantime, Grayson, you're going to have to work like the very
devil to keep your research even with the reports we are making about
your progress."

Paul eyed Huston coldly. "I suppose that was the main idea behind that
flanged-up conversation I caught on Proxima I?"

"Yes."

"Nora Phillips has been very helpful, hasn't she?"

"You recognized her voice?"

"Yes."

Huston looked at Paul sympathetically. "I hope for your sake--as well
as hers--that she is alive."

Paul grunted. "I've been a sucker."

Huston laughed at him. "And you'll be a sucker again, Paul. Forget
it, for the moment. We're all suckers. It makes life interesting that
way. You get going and see what you can do. Remember, I'll not hamper
any progress. But we will most certainly see to it that any negative
reports are multiplied by Minus One before they are made public."

"So--"

"Get what you need for experimentation and see that you make an
ostentatious show of it. Drop a few hints about the Galactic Network
and make a long-range prediction that within a year or two people can
pick up a telephone and talk to friends on Terra."

Paul eyed Huston. "That won't be hard. I'm convinced--"

"Just be properly vague and un-specific. If you've got to talk at
length, take a verbal swing at Haedaecker. Leave the political angle
out of it; this is strictly science and you're a scientist and not a
politician. Besides you've spent so much time a-space that you've lost
voting residence anyway. This is at least a free chance for you to
work, Grayson."

"I'm not too pleased at the basic conditions," said Paul, "but I am
pleased at any chance to do something about the Z-wave."

"Then make the best of it."



CHAPTER 13


Latham's Triplets, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma, were at the corners of an
equilateral triangle about a quarter of a light year on a side. Beta
III was a small planet possessed of a somewhat odorous atmosphere
that was unpleasant but not deadly by any means. Beta III was not
capable of supporting human life--if by 'supporting' is meant that the
planet shall be called upon to accept, foster, and maintain in growing
population a colony from Terra without outside assistance. A dearth
of light metals on Beta III meant that man got insufficient salt to
maintain the chemical balance established over a few million of Terran
years. There was an abundance of heavy metals there which eventually
caused an upset of the digestive tract. There was also something--or
lack of something--in the make-up of the planet and its edible flora
and fauna that tended to lower the birth-expectancy rate among couples
who lived there. Paul did not care to ask which side of the fence
Huston was on; one cultural faction wanted this something--or lack
of something--isolated because knowing what it was would permit its
eradication and thus cause a rise in the birth rate. The other faction
wanted this something isolated for reasons best explained by Margaret
Sanger.

But for Paul's purpose, Latham's Triplets was an ideal laboratory and
proving ground.

Huston's offer was valid enough; he backed it with a half dozen young
technicians to do whatever Paul wanted, and included a group of three
small but very fast spacecraft for making tests in space itself.

While the galactic survey had picked Latham Alpha IV because of its
ecliptic tilt, and Latham Beta III was semipopulated by a few hundred
botanical researchers, none of the other planets of the system were
being used. Paul selected Gamma II as the third relay station and his
group set up both radio beacons and Z-wave equipment on each planet,
one of them being not far from the Survey Station on Alpha IV.

Setting both Z-wave gear and radio beacons in operation complete
with their timing gear, it was Paul's hope to show that the arrival
of the radio beacon wave was coincident with the establishment of
Z-wave contact. Then because this short distance did compare to true
interstellar separation, Paul would have a talking point to make the
big attempt across some real distance when one of the Beacon Stations
checked in.

He considered for some time the possibility of sneaking in to one of
the already-closed contacts, of which there were many, with many more
being completed every week. The thing that stopped him was that the
success at the Proxima I to Terra original contact had established
the fact that the Galactic Network was functional, and now every
station along the line that had contact already made was more than
likely to be visited regularly by various technicians for one checking
job or another. He would never know just how much time he would have
unmolested.

While he had few qualms about working on the stuff, Paul still felt
a vague fear at the idea of getting involved with the Bureau of
Astrogation, for he was undoubtedly a wanted man on Terra, even if
Neoterra did not seem to care. With his crew checking each of his own
stations, Paul took off in his spacecraft at a speed just below the
speed of light. A micro-wave beam went spearheading into space, and the
velocity of Paul's ship created a Doppler shift that permitted him to
receive the micro-wave frequency as one of the extremely long waves of
low-frequency radio. Hour after hour he raced into space, checking both
the radio and the Z-wave, raced ahead of the long finger of energy,
then slowed until it caught up with him.

Suddenly the idea struck Paul. If he could not safely remain in the
vicinity of a radio beacon station that had been checked-in, why
couldn't he tap one end of the radio beam while one of his men coupled
onto, not at, but near the other end?

Paul flopped ends with his ship and raced back to Beta III.

Twelve days later Paul was floating free a couple of million miles
above a planet known only as 'The Ninth Planet of General Star Catalog
Number 311' or in bureaucratic lingo: G.S.C. 311 was the star, and
the planet was IX. As nearly as he could recall the lineup of the
Galactic Survey network, G.S.C. 311 IX had checked-in some weeks ago
with another star with a catalog number some five and a fraction light
years distant.

The beacon signal from the planet below him roared in like thunder. It
overrode the 'zero' position of the volume control enough to drive the
loudspeaker into a blubber of noise.

Somewhere five light years distant, Toby Morrow, one of his men, should
be waiting. He might have a bit of trouble finding the beacon with
his spacecraft receiver at that distance. Noise was bothersome stuff,
and the nature of the signal after crossing light years of space was
not often high enough to come in strong and clear on anything but the
specialized Survey Stations, where the input coils were immersed in
liquid air to cut the random thermal agitation of the electrons in the
wire.

Paul watched the clock and promptly at 0600 hours he snapped on the
Z-wave transmitter and receiver, clutched the microphone and tried to
think of something heroic to say. He gave up trying to be heroic after
a few seconds, and merely said: "Toby! Toby Morrow! Can you hear me?"

The Z-wave receiver was silent.

Paul tried again and again, calling until his throat was dry, wishing
ruefully that he had made a record to play into the transmitter. He
pondered on the uncertainty angle; he could not be sure that Toby
was observing the same set of conditions as he was, since they were
separated in time and space; very well separated by five light years,
in a universe that would not permit gross matter to exceed the speed of
light, but forced such high-velocity matter into a completely-enclosed
bubble of its own type of space.

It had been demonstrated that matter increases in mass as its
velocity rises, and the formula claims that the mass becomes infinite
as the velocity of light is reached. But space itself is warped
by mass, and as the velocity rises toward the speed of light the
mass increases until space is warped completely around it, creating
a special transitory space of its own. Tests had been made with
timed supervelocity missiles running toward an uninhabited, useless
planet. The missile in its own warp of space had passed through the
planet without making any fuss or mark on either the planet or the
missile. Then men had tried it. Obviously matter occupies space, but
specially-warped space did no more exist for real space than otherwise.

Only the law of equal and opposite reaction brought the ship back to
real space once the drive was cut. The potential energy caused by the
warping of space released once the power was withdrawn, and like a
spring tightly wound and then released, the whole condition returned to
its original state of inert stability.

Paul had no way of knowing whether Toby had hit a snag somewhere along
the line. Again he thought of the short-term experiments that had been
made and smiled unhappily. He would have liked to check Toby, whether
his watch was properly set; if his receiver was turned on. But once
checked, what was to prevent Toby from falling ill, his watch from
running down, the blowup of some bit of vital equipment, the failure
of something basic like a power supply filter condenser, or even to
prevent Toby from turning off the Z-wave receiver just because the
slight speaker hiss annoyed the man, running continuously for better
than a week.

All Paul could do was to keep on calling. His first attempt had been
steady for a half hour. He waited for a half hour and then called again:

"Toby! Toby Morrow. Can you hear me?" Paul went into a ramble of talk,
just to keep the circuit alive. He recited poetry, discussed physics,
and finally he broke into song:

    "_Round and round and round go the deuterons,
    Round and round the magnet swings 'em
    Round and round and round go the deutrons.
    Look at those neutrons pouring out there!_"

Then the Z-wave chattered into life. Paul jumped with excitement and
reached for the volume control to bring the roar of voice down to a
recognizable level.

"That's a lousy program we've got."

"Well, turn it off."

"Better we should shut the station off!"

"Hey! This is Paul Grayson--"

"We know who it is," came the sharp reply. At the same instant a
powerful light flashed into the viewport, and Paul looked to see a
spacer bearing down on him. As he watched, there was a flash of orange
flame at the nose.

He did not see the shell. But whether it was one of the standard solid
rounds used to check whether a planet or meteor were contraterrene, or
whether it was loaded with high explosives, a four-inch projectile is
nothing to be hit with in space.

His hand reached for the high drive, Paul could outrun any projectile
that way, once his ship got started.

But another spacecraft passed at his side close enough to count the
rivets, and as it passed him it began strewing space with a myriad of
baseball sized chunks of solid matter. To start the high drive now
would be death in a matter of seconds. The first few would be pushed
aside, the next batch would ricochet from his hull. The batch he met
just before he reached the high-space velocity would come through like
a shotgun blast shattering a brick of cheese.

"Turn off the Z-wave!" came the command. "Turn it off or the next shot
will drill dead center."

Paul hesitated.

Another flare came from the oncoming ship and the shell drilled deep
into Paul's spacecraft, among the machinery and stores. Bulkhead doors
clanged shut, the whistle of air rose and then fell as some compartment
or other down in the bowels of the ship blasted its air out through a
jagged hole in the hull.

"Next one will be through your department!"

Paul shrugged unhappily and snapped the toggle switch on the Z-wave
transmitter. The other ship came alongside, threw out magnetic
grapples, and then they came aboard in space suits through the airlock.
They waved him aside and took over the controls of his ship.

Stolidly and silently they drove him toward G.S.C. 311; IX, landed him
on a crude spaceport and escorted him to a new building where he faced
a hard-looking man who chewed a cold cigar and eyed him with a great
amount of pleasure.

"Well look who's here!" he gibed.

"What of it," snapped Paul.

"Lucky us. To think that of all the stars in the galaxy Paul Grayson
would fasten his eye on us! My friend, you have no idea what a shock
that Z-wave gave us. We broke three necks getting out there before you
could do some harm."

"So you've caught me. But catching me isn't going to stop progress."

"How vitally correct you are."

"You--"

"Pardon me. I am called Westlake. I am what is known as a henchman,
hireling, or employee of people who prefer to see the Z-wave
communications stalled."

"How long can you prevent it?"

"Long enough," said Westlake. "After that it can start with a big bang.
It would be helpful."

"You aren't going to get away with this, you know."

"Who--me? I'll bet I do. Just wait and see. I do admit that Z-wave
communications would be helpful. For instance, if we had Z-wave
contact with Neoterra I could find out what happened between the last
information I got--which came from Terra--and your subsequent arrival
here. Last dope I had was your capture and transmittal to Neoterra
where some plan was being cooked up for you. Now, confound it, we've
got a few months to wait between my telling the folks back home that
I've collected you and what do they want me to do about it.

"Another angle, Grayson, is that if we had Z-wave networks, I could be
sure that our friends on the other end of the line were as quick as we
were. If we knew that--"

Westlake paused and then laughed. "Hell, if we had Z-wave networks
running, I wouldn't have been the happiest guy in the galaxy to catch
you."

"You're one of Hoagland's gang."

"That's as good a guess as any."

"Then suppose you tell me where Stacey and Nora Phillips are?"

"Oh, I don't mind. They came with the first line of information about
you. In fact, I'll have you meet them. They'll let you in on a lot of
things about this place--which will save me a lot of time. Burroughs!
Burroughs! Burroughs, see that Grayson gets to talk to John Stacey and
Nora Phillips in the closed conference room."

"Right!"

Stacey came first. He looked, nodded, and said: "I was wondering when
you'd show up."

"I'm here. But about you?"

"So very simple. The rooker rooked, the seeker sucked in. It's a long
time ago, Paul but do you remember when I called you just before you
went to lecture?"

"Yes. You'd been to the house on 7111 Bridge Street."

"I left the upright coffin labelled 'Telephone Booth' and walked right
between two large determined characters who insisted that I continue
walking in their direction. I gathered from their conversation that
someone responsible for their movements was irked at one Paul Grayson,
and anger at Grayson included anybody else who had been seen talking to
him for the past eight years. I was then bundled aboard a spacecraft
and brought here. When did you miss me?"

"That's all you know?"

"The Oberspinnenführer is not exactly loquacious. Nor am I an honored
guest to be greeted with shouts and glee. These spiders close their
trap doors when I am around."

"Oh, then you didn't know that a couple of burly policemen arrested me
for your murder."

"They did?" blinked Stacey. "What did they use for corpus delectable?"

"They didn't have to. They were probably the same pair of large
determined gents that corralled you. This time they were dressed in
clothing that belonged to a couple of real cops."

"And from there where?"

"I was hauled off to Harrigan's Horror."

"Where in the name of--?"

"Planet near to Neosol, next Survey link station from Neoterra. I was
to be used as a decoy or something." Paul went on to explain. "The one
thing that did occur to me along the trip to Neosol was that if these
guys would lie about their status, there was no reason to expect the
truth about you. Nora now--?"

"She was here when I arrived under lock and key. She is quite a dish of
tea, old man."

The door opened again to let Nora Phillips come in. Paul had been right
in his appraisal of the woman. Imperfections in her dress or make-up
did not lessen her appeal. She had been more than a year and a half
without a hairdresser, her clothing was rough-woven crude and cheap.
Not a trace of cosmetic was on her face. The light in her eye was
dulled, and her litheness had become apathetic. Month after month of
hopeless waiting had taken the ambition out of her.

But she was Nora Phillips nonetheless. Paul went to her and put his
arms around her. She looked up at him quietly and then put her head
down on his shoulder. She did not cry. She did not have to cry.

She relaxed against him and let him hold her; letting Paul give her
some of his strength. It was a futile thing, Paul felt that he had no
real comfort to offer. In fact he was in just as bad a position as she
was.

His hand stroked her head, and she moved slightly, wriggling close to
him.

Stacey coughed slightly. "I hate to bust this up," he said softly.
"And maybe I shouldn't, because you may not get another chance. But
now--after a year and a half--maybe we all could learn something about
what the hell is going on. At least tell me."

Paul tightened his grip on Nora for a moment, holding her close.
Raising her face, he kissed her gently before he moved to sit across
the conference table from John Stacey.

"Don't you know anything about it?"

"I did mention a slight reticence; a certain lack of volubility on the
part of mine host. This," said Stacey pointedly, "is the first time
I've seen Nora Phillips close enough to let someone else touch her."

"Careful," said Paul. "This place is wired for sound, no doubt."

"We're not telling anything that the Management does not know," said
Stacey. "And if we are, they'll not interrupt. Go on, Nora. Give.
Remember, I'm the detective. In the novels I'm the guy who knows all
the answers, forms the decisions, finds the clues, and solves the
case. Just furnish me with one answer, one clue, one decision, and one
solution and we'll have Professor Moriarity in gaol by morning."

Nora frowned at Stacey. "You take this lightly."

"I shall--as soon as I can get some--bedeck me out in sackcloth."

Paul, who knew Stacey's manner, shook his head at Nora. He pressed her
hand a moment and then said, "Nora, some people get mad at the milkman
and then take out their mad at everybody else they meet for a week. The
other extreme is Stacey, who has the viewpoint that he and we are still
alive."

"I'm that way," nodded Stacey. "No one ever got anywhere by yelling
about the bum deal they got. It's the guy who puts his head down
and shoves--and the bird that gets mad at the universe because some
bum stepped on his foot in the subway is the guy who loses a lot of
friends."

"I'm--"

"Forget it and tell us," suggested Stacey.

"This is a political battle," said Nora. Then she went on to explain,
as Huston had explained to Paul. When she finished, Paul smiled
knowingly.

"What?" she asked him.

"Hoagland's gang bumped off the guy that clipped me because he flopped.
But on Proxima there was another guy made up to resemble me--and he was
clipped by someone else."

Paul looked at Nora. "Probably the same guy that so conveniently
provided a recording of your voice to convince me that I'd solved the
problem of Z-wave transmission," he said sharply.

Nora shrugged. "That was Ed Link," she said simply. "What happened?"

"Someone dropped what looked like a meteor shower on the bird."

"That sounds like Link's idea of handling it," she said.

"But the deceased?" asked Stacey. "Upon whose side was he aligned?"

"Not on Hoagland's."

"Certainly not on Huston's."

"Nora--tell me--why did you make that false recording?"

Nora looked at Paul, and then pulled him to her and hugged his head
against her cheek for a moment. "Paul, as a scientist you couldn't
understand the man on the street. We wanted something to show Neoterra.
You don't understand this. But Paul, what would have happened if you
had gotten away with it?"

"But I did not."

"Just pretend. Set up a hypothesis for a minute. Suppose that you had
been able to convince the Terran Physical Society that you had received
Z-waves from Terra while you were on Proxima I."

"I'd have been the man of the hour. I'd have been handed a large
appropriation and a project of my own to pursue this--But Nora, it will
work. Why did you feel that you had to falsify?"

"Paul, you are the only man in the known universe that does not think
Haedaecker's Theory is valid. Please go on--please?"

"So I'd have been able to pursue my work unhampered. And--"

"Now suppose that you were unable to make the Z-wave contact again?"
suggested Nora. "Remember, the recording was the only contact but the
Z-wave--regardless of your belief--does not really work."

Paul shrugged: "Lacking a repeat, I'd have begun to study the
connection a bit more," he said.

"So the upshot would have been--_Hope_--for those who wanted
communications between Terra and Neoterra."

Stacey looked wistful. "Quoting some great poet that I don't remember
other than that it was not Edgar Guest or John Paul Jones:

    "_Of all sad words of tongue or pen
    The saddest are these: It might have been!_"

"So what do we do now?"

Paul looked at Stacey. "This is G.S.C. 113; IX. Hoagland's gang have
Z-wave equipment here, probably trying to see whether or not I am
right. So the thing to do is to get free long enough to use the Z-wave
equipment for a call for help."

Nora shook her head. Paul looked at Stacey. Stacey looked at Nora and
said, "I don't know anything about it." Paul looked at Nora.

"Don't you believe either?"

Nora clung to him, hugged him to her, cradled his head against her soft
breasts and caressed his cheek. "Paul--Paul--Paul; I do so desperately
_want_ to believe--I want you to be--everything--I want you--"

Paul relaxed in her arms for a moment then moved away from her; holding
her by the shoulders and looking her straight in the face, he said,
"But--?"

Nora buried her face in his shoulder. A sob wrenched her and she
clutched at him frantically.

Then she looked up with tears welling on the brim of her eyes, tried to
speak but choked and buried her head in his shoulder once more.

Paul put his hand under her chin, lifted it from his shoulder and with
his other hand dashed the tears from Nora's eyes.

"Tell me," he said gently.

"Paul--Paul--Oh Paul, I love you and this hurts--but for all of your
faith, you have not one shred of evidence."



CHAPTER 14


Like most human beings, Paul could comprehend the actions of someone
of his own type. But he could not understand the mental machinations
of people who had other motives and other interests in life. Nor could
he seem to make other people understand that his continued interest in
the Z-wave was only just and sensible. After all, he had never had an
opportunity to try it.

To Paul it was just that simple. Just let him try it. He had so much
faith in it that he could not foresee his next reaction if failure
came. Paul did not consider failure as a possibility, but if he did
fail, he would automatically begin insisting upon a chance to continue,
insisting that something had gone awry, or that there were factors that
must be studied.

This sort of attitude was acceptable to Paul, yet he could not
comprehend the contemplated action of the political factions he was
involved with.

For instance, one faction was going to falsify evidence in order to
swing an election. This seemed dishonest to Paul. He wondered just
how they could justify their act. The other faction was keeping him
prisoner so that he could not furnish any evidence at all.

But eventually one side or the other was going to find that its
evidence was in error. Then what? Supposing because he had been
kidnaped by this particular gang and thus gave some concrete evidence
of negative result, Hoagland and Westlake and the rest were
elected--after which the Z-wave contact proved good? Or, if Huston
and his crowd got elected on the strength of the Z-wave contact, and
then because Paul was captive and unable to make it work, there was no
Z-wave communication with Terra.

How could they justify their claims in the face of the emptiness of
their prophecies?

Paul could not understand the political mind and the thinking of the
man on the street. He could not even apply such thinking to his own
case. The fact that for eons, politicians have been making promises
that were unfulfilled after election did not register with Grayson.

The thing to do, of course, was to escape. Then he could work and
bring out the truth--which to Paul was single-valued and positive--and
thus do away with all of the half-truths, lies, and fingers-crossed
statements.

But how? He had to admit that he was not ill-treated. He believed
that both sides were willing to have Z-wave contact with Terra,
for commercial reasons, but he knew that only one side wanted
communications now. Ergo the opposing side which were his captors
would treat him well in the hope of having him work for them once the
election was over.

Paul shrugged. Whatever the cause, he would not cut off his nose to
spite his face. His was no interest in political fray. He wanted to
work with the Z-wave.

In fact Westlake and Hoagland had one facet that looked reasonably
good. Their party was for autonomy, and if Paul worked for them, he
would be forever free of any legal attachment to Terra. And doubtless
Haedaecker and the whole Bureau of Astrogation were out gunning for
Paul Grayson if for no other reason than the stolen BurAst P.G.1. Were
Huston and his coalition government to get in, Haedaecker could swing
a large club over the various integrated wings of government and make
Paul's life precarious.

So Paul was on the fence so far as his work was concerned. In fact,
at the present moment Paul did not think highly of either political
ambition, since their high ambition was tarred with a wide, full brush
of downright thuggery.

Escape, of course, was an easy word to say. It was true that Paul's
incarceration was nothing like being cooped up in a jail cell. His door
was closed but not locked; he had plenty of time and opportunity to see
and talk to both Nora and John Stacey, and to make friends with other
political prisoners. Across the broad plain was a spaceport and some
spacecraft that came and went, but going there and taking off presented
the problem of getting away with it. He was somewhat reminded of the
signs reputed to be placed around the penal grounds on Antarctica.
There were maps of the South Polar Region of Terra, with latitude,
longitude, and the distance in miles from the penitentiary to the
nearest shred of civilization carefully and accurately marked. Listed
below the maps was a roster of average temperatures for the district
at any time of the year, and the whole thing was a great deterrent to
walking out of the place and trying to cross a few thousand miles of
very cold nothing in order to get to one of Civilization's Southern
outposts--where the escapee's name would be posted long before he could
arrive.

The only way a man could escape was to have some means of communication
so that friends could come to his aid. Paul's only method of contact
was the Z-wave.

They did let Paul tinker, and they even let him work, but they would
not let him near Z-wave equipment that was connected with the radio
beacon. Toby Morrow helped Paul with calculations and theory, being the
only one among the prisoners who had done any work with Grayson.

Morrow, of course, had been picked up by Westlake's crew on the planet
at the other end of this leg of the Galactic Survey Link, along about
the same time that Paul had been grabbed near G.S.C. 311; IX. It was
apparent without saying anything about it that Westlake's gang had been
working with the Z-wave in the hope of establishing the validity of
Paul's statements.

But so far, they had not been able to make contact apparently, and Paul
had not been able to, either.

So as the days passed into weeks, Paul once more reconstructed his map
of the Galactic Survey and connected this star with that, and the other
with the fourth. It was beginning to fill in, now.

Paul viewed it with interest, occasionally wondering who was checking
the beacons in his place.

But it was filling in, and it reminded him somewhat of that game played
with dots, in which each player takes a turn connecting two dots with a
line, the idea being to complete squares yourself while preventing your
opponent from completing any. Usually the first several moves are drawn
here and there with no particular pattern. Then as the game progresses,
more and more lines connect more and more dots until it is impossible
to draw a line between two dots that does not also connect two other,
previously drawn lines.

The galactic map is far from a square, otherwise all of the lines would
have terminated at the same time.

Even so, there were whole lengths of solid line, zig-zag across space
between the nearer stars that would make a solid connection between
stations thirty to fifty light years apart. And every week saw another
connection made, and each connection completed the connection between
isolated groups. It took on a maze-like appearance; Paul thought that
if it were stretched out and the collateral paths were added, the thing
would have reached between Terra and Neoterra and half-way back.

So Paul added to his map as the weeks went on until there were only a
few open stretches between Sol and Neosol. He thought ruefully that it
was a damned shame that the whole Galactic Network would be completely
closed before he got a chance to try the Z-wave. Instead of starting
with one contact and working his way across, the first interstellar
contact via Z-wave might well be a complete attempt between the two
planets, one hundred and forty light years apart.

It was a curious proposition; Civilization had been geared to a
constantly accelerating life up to the time that Mother Earth and
her daughter colony obtained--and found that they were irrevocably
separated in time and space by about ten months and one hundred forty
light years. Fast, pre-guided spacecraft could hiss through the
distance as message couriers in about eight months, but the power
needed for such ships reduced the payload. But letters were the best
means of communication, for a business man would be out of touch for at
least twenty months if he went himself.

So Mankind struggled along as best it could, hoping that someday
someone would be able to lick the problem.

Even Paul's group was able to witness the regular arrival and departure
of couriers and men who came on official business. When one of the
faster ships brought Hoagland himself, none of the prisoners gave any
special attention to his arrival.

Hoagland told to Westlake, "That was a sharp job, Westlake."

"I thought so."

"But your report forgot to mention one item. You did state that Grayson
was trying to tap the radio beacon from a couple of million miles out,
and that you caught him and his partner on the other end of the beam.
But you forgot to mention whether your own experiments were successful."

Westlake laughed. "Only in catching Grayson and Morrow. That was
coincidence of the upper brackets."

Hoagland smiled. "That it was," he said. "But have you gotten any
evidence?"

"None. We'd been trying Grayson's idea for months without success. When
the Z-wave broke into life we thought it was working until we located
the source and went out to pick him up. The boys at the other end heard
the same thing, did likewise, and then came scurrying back home to
let me know about it. So we collected Grayson and Morrow in two fell
swoops."

Hoagland nodded again, and then said: "Westlake, how good a gambler are
you?"

"I like to play safe," said Westlake.

"How safe?"

"Plenty."

"Then you won't like this. But I'm going to make one gamble, and one
bet on a certain thing."

"Yes--and which is which?"

"Without a doubt Grayson got the equipment he was using from Huston
and Huston's crowd of coalitionists. They set him up on some planet
with a laboratory under their direction, and are probably running
the Neoterran Press ragged with glowing reports of Grayson's howling
success--carefully guarding their statements with cautious warnings
that The Public must not expect Z-wave communications with Terra
overnight, but someday--soon--et-cetera, and so forth."

Westlake laughed. "'The police anticipate an early apprehension of the
criminals,' sort of thing."

"Exactly."

"Furthermore I will be a bad prophet if I am incorrect in assuming that
when Huston started Grayson on his job, Huston gave orders that Grayson
was not to do anything that would gain him any notice whatsoever. On
the idea that the first mention of failure would puncture Huston's
political propaganda."

"All reasoning based upon the 'what would I do?' theory. Good and sound
I calls it."

"Right. Now, here is the certainty. If Grayson is the kind of idealist
that I think he is, Grayson will at the first opportunity make some
check of the Z-wave--in fact he has tried to set it up already. He will
try again if he is permitted."

"That's your certainty."

"Now for the gamble. I've read all of Haedaecker's Theory and find it
solid. I've read Grayson's line of reasoning and find it logical."

"Then which is right?"

"Haedaecker based his reasoning on fact. Grayson set out to poke holes
in it and--like so many idealists--he proceeded to leap upon any
facet that supported his theory against Haedaecker, while discounting
anything that mitigated against him.

"So," smiled Hoagland affably, "the thing to do is to permit Mister
Grayson's escape in a ship loaded with Z-wave gear. Let him take his
friends, Phillips, Stacey, and Morrow."

Westlake nodded slowly. "I get it. Grayson will not make his next
attempt in secret. He'll try it and we'll have observers to watch--and
report his failure."

"Right."

Not much later, Hoagland's ship took off for Neoterra. Another ship
took off for Terra with messages. Out across the broad plain, Paul
could see from his window that the only ship remaining on the rough
spaceport was his own spacecraft; the one furnished by Huston. Morrow's
little job had been taken off somewhere. Paul shook his head unhappily.
Someone was willing to pour a lot of money into this business.
Spacecraft were expensive, yet they were being bandied about and traded
like horses in a rustler's camp.

While all Paul needed was entry to that one spacecraft over there, plus
about ten minutes of free time....

Grayson paced his room until dark muttering and grunting unhappily.
Time and again he returned to the window to look longingly at his
spacecraft, and time and again he wondered whether it would be possible
to steal out across that mile or so of sheer flat plain and get into
the ship without being seen. In broad daylight it would be impossible.
But the encampment was somewhat south of the Polar region where the
big beacon station was situated, and the planet was progressing along
in its year so that very soon the beacon station would be entering the
half-year of night. The encampment had been in perpetual daylight, a
'Land of the Midnight Sun' latitude. But now there was a short night
beginning, which would lengthen as the year progressed.

It was dark ... dark....

Paul looked out of his room. The corridor was dark. Deliberately, Paul
stood there with the door open, waiting. He had gone out before, but
had not gone far before someone came sauntering by to engage him in
conversation. Pleasant conversation that carefully avoided mention of
the fact that this talk was between jailer and prisoner and that one
was keeping an eye on the other.

Paul sauntered down toward Toby Morrow's room. The door was open and
Toby was fiddling with something at the top inner corner of the jamb.

"What gives?" asked Grayson.

Toby jumped like a startled doe, settled down as he saw Paul, and then
took a deep breath. "Don't scare a man that way," he complained. He
took another deep breath. "I've just discovered the burglar alarm," he
chuckled. "And fixed it!"

"From here?"

Morrow waved at the open door. "Been open for an hour. Nobody came.
Thought you were it, Paul."

Grayson smiled. "I doubt that you did much, Toby. Something's blown out
somewhere. I got out without fixing my door and no one came for me,
either."

Morrow nodded thoughtfully. "Most alarms are designed so that any
tinkering with them will result in sending the alarm," he muttered.
"Closed-circuit propositions. I'd just located the contactor on my door
and was jamming it shut. That would take care of my door but not yours.
Now let's see what could be wrong--"

Paul grunted. "Let's not waste time in figuring out what's wrong with
the enemy's burglar alarm," he said. "This is no time to be overly
helpful. You go collect John Stacey and I'll find Nora Phillips and
we'll meet down in the front hallway."

"What gives?"

"Sitting here like a fool doesn't make me happy. I want action. Why
don't we try to get away, Toby. What can we lose?"

"Nothing but some breath. Okay, it's a deal."

Paul went down the stairs cautiously, along the corridor below until
he came to Nora's room, and then without rapping he opened the door and
stole in, closing the door behind him.

"Paul!" she cried. "What--?"

"Collect yourself," grinned Paul. "We're leaving." He did not think
until much later that he had not bothered to knock, nor had he
apologized for bursting in this way. It had come as a natural way,
a normal thing. Modesty, propriety, and convention were only words,
and totally useless commodities when escape from imprisonment looked
possible. And it was also much later before Paul realized that Nora
must have agreed with him, for she wasted no time. In the darkened
room there was a wild flurry of arms, legs, and clothing, a nightgown
dropped carelessly on the floor and trampled as Nora slid a dress over
her head and at the same time tried to fumble her feet into her shoes.

There was the whisk of a hand smoothing cloth over skin, and then a
quick step. Nora bumped into Paul, and clutched at him. He put his arms
around her and held her for a moment, enjoying the warm softness of her
against him.

Then he turned away and led her to the door.

They met Stacey and Morrow in the downstairs hall. "Okay?" he asked in
a hoarse whisper.

"Looks so," said Morrow.

"I don't like it," said Stacey.

"Why?"

"Looks too easy."

"Don't be so everlastingly suspicious," said Nora.

"Oh, I'm not the type to admire the denture of a gift horse," responded
Stacey. "Not until later. So let's get going."

Paul opened the door. "This is it!" he snapped. "Run for it!"

"Wait a minute," objected Stacey. "Not straight. Head left, you two.
We'll go right. Cut a large circle and don't run. Just walk as fast as
you can and be as quiet as you can. It's as dark as the Devil's hip
pocket out there, but sooner or later someone will realize that all is
not well with the Boys at Home. Now!"

"Now!"

They separated. Blind-black outside compared to the lights in the
hallways of the house, Paul and Nora picked their way carefully until
their eyes became adjusted to the dark. Then they could see the dim
lights of the buildings across the plain. They left their former home
and swung wide, angling away from the line between the house and the
ship. Paul paused once, listening, and heard a faint crackle from some
distance; either Morrow or Stacey had stumbled over something.

They were half-way there before any hue-and-cry was raised. Each pair
had gone out in a diamond-shaped course until house and spaceship were
almost a ninety-degree angle apart.

Paul wondered; they were far from the house it was true, but they were
almost as far from the spacecraft now as they had been when standing
on the front steps of the house. His mathematical mind made a quick
computation and he smiled, audibly chuckling.

"What?" said Nora in a low voice.

"I was just thinking that we are now point seven zero seven of the
original distance from the spaceship."

Nora laughed gently. "Some man," she said. "Has no time to kiss me in
my room, but has time to play trigonometry here."

Paul patted her gently. "Trig is something I can do without putting all
I've got into it. No--"

From a distance there came the faint ringing of a bell.

"Nice man," said Nora. "I forgive you--until later."

Lights went on across the plain, men stormed out of the big building
and leaped into a command-car parked on the road in front of it. The
command car roared into life and started across the plain toward the
dormitory.

"Now!" said Paul. "Down!"

They hit the dirt side by side as the headlights swung around. Then the
beams of light were gone and Nora and Paul were upright once more and
running.

Noise meant nothing in face of the roar from the jeep's engine; the car
was careening across the plain madly, and Paul knew that no one aboard
the car would be able to keep a sharp lookout for any running figures.
About all they could do was to hang onto the racketing jeep.

The spacecraft loomed larger before them. The roar of the jeep died as
the car reached the dormitory, and Paul looked back over his shoulder
to watch the men pile out of the car and head into the building on a
dead run.

"Faster!" he breathed.

The ship was a hundred yards away--and Paul could see Stacey and Morrow
running in from the other side--when there was the roar of the engine
again. The headlights swung around to catch them, but this time they
did not care. It was run for it; no time to play cat and mouse. The
engine whined high, Paul put on more speed, running away from Nora.

"Paul--"

"Come on," he snapped over his shoulder. "Don't talk--run!"

He raced away from her, outdistanced her; the jeep's roar coming louder
and louder.

Paul reached the spacelock and fumbled with the outside controls.
Ponderously the lock opened, swinging aside just as Stacey and Morrow
came panting up.

"In!" snapped Paul. Then he turned, caught Nora's hand, and hurled her
headlong through the opening. He leaped in after her, tripped over her
sprawling ankle, caught the flipper switch to the door as he fell, and
scrambled to his feet as the spacelock door started to close.

The roar of the engine still came through the closing slit, a shot
pinged against the steel hull. Paul forgot about the spacelock and
headed up the runway to the control room.

He hit the control panel with both hands; flipped the warm-up switch
and the low-drive at the same time. It would be a ragged take-off, with
the ship rising as the driving generators warmed up instead of taking
off with a hot drive. He waited with one hand on the high drive switch,
waited and waited and waited. Another shot pinged against the hull, one
glanced from the view-dome but it was at such an angle that it merely
nicked the ultra-hard glass but did not crack it. It sang off high into
the air.

Stacey and Morrow came into the control room, panting, and
half-carrying Nora between them.

"What are we waiting for?" snapped Stacey.

"Getting up steam."

"What is this, a Stanley Steamer?"

"Just takes as long," grunted Paul. Then the low drive took hold. The
ship lifted uncertainly, awkwardly, quaveringly, and slowly. Not the
quick rush-upwards of the well-prepared ship. But as the seconds passed
the ship steadied, the controls got less mushy, and the drive became
more certain. A light flashed in through the port, their erstwhile
jailers had aimed a spotlight on the ship, and with the light there
came the pattering of gunshot. A flat bark came from below and Paul
braced himself for the impact that did not come. A miss!

Then he snapped the high drive and the floor leaped upward under them.
Chair cushions flattened, and then filled out again as the hydraulic
compensators went to work. Behind them the planet diminished in
size visibly, and then, at once, the viewport just became black and
featureless outside.

Paul leaned back in the pilot's chair.

"Wow!" he yelped.

"Made it!" said Stacey.

Paul got up and went over to Nora. "I wasn't running away from you," he
said plaintively. "It takes time to get the door open--"

"I forgive you," said Nora with a smile.

       *       *       *       *       *

Back below them, Westlake said: "You're sure you missed?"

"I'm a master gunner," said the other. "It takes a good gunner to miss
a ship that big when it is that close. I missed all right."

Westlake smiled. "We sure made that look good. But God what a job of
timing! I thought we were going to have to blow out a tire to keep from
catching them!"



CHAPTER 15


Once in space and safely away--Paul gloated that the former captors
were without spacecraft now--he stopped the flight of the ship and
spent a couple of hours making some course-calculations. The return to
Latham's Triplets was jerky because he was uncertain of the distance
and so they made it in five approximations, ending up finally with only
a few hours to go for landing.

Paul's first interest was his laboratory set-up. There had been plenty
of time for the three-way hookup to be established, and for all he knew
the boys he had set to checking it might have completed the connection,
proved in the Z-wave, and gone home to Neoterra with the glad news in
their hands.

He entered the laboratory on Latham Beta III, and his face fell. Dust
covered the equipment, the pilot lamps were out, and obviously nothing
had been done for weeks, if not months. It was untenanted and untended.

Paul went to the supervisor of the botanical set up.

"I don't know," he said with a certain disinterest. "Your boys fooled
around for a couple of weeks after you left and then decided that you'd
gone for good. They might have sent word back to Neoterra, but it
seemed a better idea to pick up and go home. So they did."

Paul went back to the laboratory. Nora said, "Paul, let's go to
Neoterra."

"Why?"

"I want Huston to know I'm all right."

Paul looked at her blankly. "They might have left the radio beacons
on," he mumbled.

"What?"

He told her again.

"But we'd best get to Neoterra."

Paul shook his head. "Nora, Latham's Triplets is one of the best places
to test this Z-wave in the system. I've got to stay and check it."

Nora shook her head. "Paul--"

Paul looked at her. "Nora," he said soberly, "we're at cross-purposes
again. Two things are important in my life. One of them is Nora and one
of them is my work. My girl and my work do not agree--or let's say that
my girl does not agree with my work. Until I get a chance to prove my
work, there will always be this conflict. Since it takes such a short
time to prove my work, why not wait?"

Nora looked up at him. "I'll wait," she said simply.

"Will you marry me--now?"

Nora smiled. "Yes. If you don't mind a wife with literally nothing to
wear. Everything I own is on me right now. But won't we have to go to
Neoterra?"

"Here we go again," growled Paul.

Nora laughed and kissed him. "Do you want to wait three months for the
radio beams to cross Latham's Triplets?" she asked him.

"I--wait a minute!"

"What, Paul?"

"It is barely possible that--" his voice trailed away as he eyed a
dusty calendar on one of the desks. He went to it and began flipping
pages. "It's barely possible that my gang did not turn off the radio
beacons for a couple of weeks after I got caught by Westlake," muttered
Paul. "Just barely possible--"

He went to the beacon receiver and turned it on. Impatiently he waited
for it to warm up.

It came to life and Paul tuned carefully through the band where he
expected the beacons to come through. There was silence. He ran the
dial far to one side, and then to the other. At one point he picked up
some 'side splash' from the big interstellar beacon on Latham Alpha IV,
leakage from the tight beam.

He sat up stiffly.

"Nora, will you wait a week?"

"Week?"

"I've caught some of the radiation leakage from the big transmitter. We
can use that."

"And if you fail?"

"I won't fail."

"Then if you succeed?"

"Nora, if I succeed, I'll ask you to wait another three months. Because
if I succeed, I'll want to wait until the Galactic Survey link between
Latham Alpha IV and Old Baldy comes in. Then--"

"How are you going to check between here and Alpha IV?"

"Stacey and Morrow and you and I--" he said. His voice trailed away for
a moment, and then he forgot what he was going to say because he was
busy with the instrument panel.

       *       *       *       *       *

Albert Donatti had been editor of the Neoterra _News_ through three
changes of policy. The _News_, claiming to be politically neutral, was
definitely neutral on the coalition side, presenting the autonomy party
in less than favorable light, while tending to gloss over any missteps
taken by the coalitionists.

Like the other newspapers, the Neoterra _News_ subscribed to the Neosol
Wire Service, and so Al Donatti got the same news that the other
subscribers did.

Al had been sitting at his desk all morning trying to think up
something bright and brilliant to say about Huston and his plans, or
something bright and derogatory to say about Hoagland's gang. Even
Donatti had become tired of making the same veiled remarks regarding
the possibility of furnishing Terran and Solarian news before it was
ten months old, but he knew that the one way to hold the home tie was
to keep on offering hope.

The virtual disappearance (for Hoagland was not inclined to give out
his plans) of Paul Grayson had put a crimp in the schedule, for they
never knew when they said one thing whether the other side would be
able to come up with incontrovertible truth to the contrary. With a few
less facets to play upon, the editorializing of Huston and the Z-wave
was almost reduced to the constant harping on a single subject--which
is tiring even to the most ardent enthusiast. Even a faithful believer
wants some shred of proof.

So the coalition party was in the same state as a prize fighter who has
trained too fine; who has reached the pinnacle of physical perfection
some time before the fray. The additional newscopy that would have been
furnished by Paul Grayson's presence among the coalition group had been
diminished. That additional space would have kept the campaign rising
upward.

It had been a long dry stretch, even for an imaginative editor with a
bill of goods to sell. Manufacturing news is one of the hardest things
in the world after the process has gone on for month after month.
Donatti was reaching the end of the string, and there were still months
to go.

Donatti groaned, and then looked up to see a copy boy approaching,
waving a reel of recording tape in one hand.

"Yes--?"

"Z-wave! Z-wave!" said the copy boy breathlessly.

"So what--?" grunted Donatti, taking the reel and slipping it into his
playback.

It started: "Neosol Wire Service. Neovenus, Four August. Archeologists
today discovered the traces of a crude civilization dating at least
seven thous--"

Donatti groaned. That would make page eighteen, sandwiched between an
ad and the local theatre column.

"--and years old. No trace of this civilization remains today. Crude
pottery and some stone arrowheads--"

"Crude pottery and stone arrowheads," snapped Donatti. "So what? What's
this Z-wave business?"

"--were found among buried sub-humanoid bones. It has been an
elementary principle among archeologists that proper burial of the dead
is an indication of intell--

"Hell!" exploded Donatti. "Z-wave! So this thing came Z-wave from
Neovenus. They all do!"

"--igence. The arrowheads bear a remarkable resemblance to prehistoric
arrowheads found on Terra. However no connection between the stellar
planets can be assumed, since arrowheads are a natural bit of design
among primitive peoples and--"

Here there came another voice! Superimposed upon the dry voice of the
commentator for Neosol Wire, the whole was almost impossible to decode
and separate:

"--like the lever as the basic simple machine which would be

"_Stacey, Morrow! Can you hear me? I'm on the air._" "_Yes_, discovered
as soon as the first man discovered how to use a _by all that's holy,
we hear you! Or at least I do! Morrow?_ _This_ stick of wood as
a means of prying a large boulder aside from _is Stacey on Latham
Alpha IV, can you hear us on Latham_ the opening of a likely cave,
the similar use of a lever some _Gamma VI_?" "_This is Toby Morrow,
fellers. Both of your sta-_ where else in the galaxy would not mean
that some cultural _tions are coming in like a ton of bricks_." _Nora,
now will you_ connection had ever existed between the distant cultures.
How- _believe me_?" "_Paul, I do want to believe you, but isn't this
a_ ever it is of basic interest to know that there was a civilized
_rather short distance as interstellar distances go? Three light_
culture in the galaxy other than Solarium Humankind. Doubt- _months is
not anywhere near as far as several light years_." less as the galaxy
is explored, other cultures and civilizations "_But this is just the
beginning! Can I bring you the rest?_" will be discovered. It is more
than likely that other civiliza- "_Do that, my dear and you will have
forever proven your_ tions will be found which are still thriving. In
fact it is not _place_." "_With you?_" "_With me? No, Paul, I mean with
the_ unlikely that our technical perfection may be overshadowed _worlds
of science and men. You should know your place with_ by some greater
culture whose history of development may _me_." "_Should I?_" "_You
should, Paul._" "_Where?_" "_You wouldn't_ extend back earlier than the
history of Mankind. _want me to say this over the air?_" "_Not hardly._"

Donatti listened to the unmistakable sounds of ardent osculation with
a saccharine expression on his face. Then the fatuous look died to be
replaced by sudden excitement. With one hand he stopped the playback
and with the other he grabbed the telephone.

"Get me Huston!" he roared.

"What do you need a telephone for?" asked the operator.

The connection was made in a hurry.

"Huston! The Z-wave is in!"

"In?"

"It's in, goddammit and I've got proof!"

"Proof?"

"Don't stand there gabbing. Get over here!"

"You're sure?"

Donatti laughed. "I've just heard Nora kissing Grayson via Z-wave!"

"You've--what--?"

"You heard me--"

The phone clicked.

Donatti reached for the intercom. "Stop everything!" he roared. "Break
down the first page and set up for bright red ink! Seven-slug banner:
Z-WAVE! across the top in red. Get that started and we'll write the
story on the lino. Morgan! Get over here and do something about it! You
can run a lino; don't bother to script it first, go down and set it
up! Timmy! Bust out a picture of Grayson and Nora Phillips if you can.
Jones? Start a Page Three blast against Haedaecker and his goddammed
'Haedaecker's Theory.' Jason? Make a repro of this tape. Lewiston!
Bust into the soap opera just before the grand climax with a 'special
announcement.' Brief and not too informative, details later, you
know. Forhan, see if you can get a statement--as if we need one, but
it'll do no harm--from Senator Beaumont. Morganser, do the same with
Representative Horace. We'll print 'em side by side. Carol, go out to
Dirty Joe's and bring me back a gallon of black coffee."

The _News_ office was ticking like a time bomb about to go off when
Huston came in. His first words were: "Did anybody have the brains to
try calling 'em back?"

"Ah--I doubt it."

"Dammit, do it! You try calling 'em back!"

"And you?"

Huston scowled. "They're out there on Latham's Triplets, all alone and
unprotected. Y'know what happens next?"

"I can imagine."

"Well, this is what amounts to war. I'm collecting what I can to go out
there and see that they're protected!"

"Good luck," said Donatti. "Y'wanna hear the record before you take
off?"

"I can wait that long. Yes!"

The superimposed recording was just ending when one of the office boys
brought back two papers. One of them was Donatti's, with "Z-WAVE!" in a
bright red headline across the top.

The other was as red, as large, and as vigorous. It said, merely: "LIES"

"This is still a dirty fight," said Huston sourly. He scanned the
opposition paper with a sneer: "Prepared recording, false evidence,
untruth, political maneuvering, smear technique, untruth, false hope,
clever machine politics, O hell, Donatti. Y'know the only way to shut
these bastards up?"

"I can guess."

"Well, that's what I'm going to do!"

Huston left Donatti's office on the dead run.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hoagland faced his underlings across the desk, his eyes glittering. "So
I played a hunch and was wrong. It's not gone yet. All we have to do is
play it close."

"But what can we do?"

"Outguess 'em!"

"How?"

"You're not very bright, are you?" sneered Hoagland. "Good thing
Jeffers is running the paper. You know, don't you, Jeffers?"

"Sure. All I have to do is to reproduce a recording of Grayson's first
false attempt on Proxima I."

"Right. And then?"

"Then the only thing that will convince the great public is to have the
President of Terra himself make a talk over the Z-wave between Terra
and here. And don't think that Huston won't try."

"Of course he'll try. Even if he were far ahead, he'd try, because he
is no idiot. But if he doesn't?"

"Then the failure itself can be used."

"Correct," said Hoagland. "So you stay tight at your desk and get ready
to blast 'em out of their pants when President Bennington doesn't come
through." Hoagland turned to a tall, slender, elderly man with a bit of
a squint that came, extraordinarily, out of sharp eyes. "Astronomers!"
he snorted.

Doctor Hargreave shrugged. "That's why the Galactic Survey was
started," he said quietly. "Because we did not know the precisely
accurate distances between the stars. Don't blame me. Your election
date was set by law a long time ago. Don't blame me if the Galactic
Network is completed before Election Day. We had only physical
observation to go on. It's not my fault."

Hoagland nodded unhappily. "I know," he admitted unhappily. "But if
the Galactic Network is completed before Election Day it will be my
failure!"



CHAPTER 16


For four solid months, Al Donatti tried to reply by Z-wave and failed.
This was because Grayson was busy following the radio beacon between
Latham Alpha and the next Galactic Survey station along the network.
Because of daily contact and a certain amount of quavering faith, no
one dared to retune the Z-wave dials.

Paul and Nora followed the beacon in almost to the station. Then,
because Paul did not know that he had already established contact
across a myriad of relay connections all the way back to Neoterra, he
waited in space until he could pick up the beacon beyond the next link.

Two light weeks out beyond the radio link, Paul was still conversing
with Stacey and Morrow.

"Now?"

Nora nodded. "You've done it," she said.

"We're in."

Here was no grand celebration over a quick success. Here was the
culmination of gradual acceptance, a sort of growing-in of knowledge,
gradual and complete. It was hard to define the line between promise
and fulfillment. Only by personally setting a date and using it as the
time-mark could the time of proof be set. But this was it.

"Paul."

"Yes?"

"I'm glad--for you."

"And you?"

Nora nodded happily. "Pretty soon, Paul?"

"Any day in the week."

Nora pouted. "Paul, I want some clothing. I feel seedy."

"You look good to me."

Nora laughed. "I'll look better in some new clothes."

Paul eyed her carefully, boldly. There had been clothing on Latham Beta
III for Nora, lend-lease from a few of the botanical-worker's wives
that were reasonably similar in size. The dress that Nora had worn
during the escape from Westlake's little college had been the best
fitted among the clothing, and Nora wore it now. She knew that even
though it was a bit overworked, she looked better in it than in any of
the clothing she had borrowed.

Nora returned Paul's appraisal of her with a flaunt of her hip. "So?"

"So!" he said.

Paul turned toward the control panel and made some computations and
some settings on the dials.

Nora pouted.

"Why the cloud-up-and-rain?" he asked.

Nora chuckled. "Trigonometry," she said.

"First things first," Paul replied. The floor surged upward, causing
Nora to lose her balance. Paul caught her neatly.

"We're on our way," he said.

Nora looked up in his eyes. Silently. There was no point in saying
anything. The Z-wave, proved-in months ago on Neoterra, newly-proved to
Paul and Nora, was a sort of landmark that did not require any further
amplification. That was finished and done.

There had been restraint. Now it seemed childish like a youngster who
saves the fanciest chocolate for the last and best. This was the last
and best and both of them knew it.

Her lips were softer, warmer. More eager. In all of their previous
lovemaking there had been a strident vigor and an avid clutching for
one another, a sort of regret that fulfillment was yet to come, but not
yet here. Now this frantic reaching seemed gone. Paul knew the free
relaxation of Nora's softness against him, he felt the sweet lassitude
soften her. His hands caressed her and Nora moved to relish the caress.

"Paul--I love you."

"I know--you don't mind if I know?"

"I want you to know--"

Eleven days later they landed on Latham Alpha IV.

Stacey greeted them with, "So now what, children?"

"Neosol."

Stacey eyed them with envy. "Somewhere along in this mad pattern I
recall vaguely that I have a wife named Gloria and a daughter, both of
whom think I am deceased. Looking at you two makes me want to howl at
the moon--if I could find a moon to howl at on this misbegotten planet.
You can head for Neoterra, but does anybody mind if I head for home and
fireside? I want to walk in and be a great shock to my wife."

"You--"

"Shut up," snapped Stacey. "Or I'll tell Nora about you."

"Please do anyway."

"Stacey, you stay out of this."

"Bribe me, chum. I'm not incorruptible."

Nora smiled. "Maybe I can offer something--"

"Possibly."

"Like a sum of money or a--"

"Nah!"

"Personal gift--"

"What kind?"

"Such as a good book?"

"Nah."

"He's hard to please," complained Nora.

"I'm not hard to please. Just keep making offers. You'll hit on
something."

"I'll tell Gloria," suggested Paul.

Stacey cleared his throat. "Gloria is a very smart woman," he
said. "She would believe you only if she had seventeen confirming
witnesses--or the odd look on my face. So--Migawd! What was that?"

The ground trembled and the air racketed to the blast of explosion. A
flash of white flame filled the sky.

Had the blast been atomic the shock-wave would have flattened the
Latham Alpha IV station. It was that close. But it was just common high
explosive of the chemical type that shattered at them, and cracked a
couple of windows in the Relay Station not far away.

"Bombs!" shouted Stacey.

Paul raced to the control panel and set the drive; he wanted to get a
long way from there and he did not care which way. Just away....

       *       *       *       *       *

Hoagland's crew had gotten off first. This followed a certain kind
of reasoning that shows less troublesome planning to destroy than
to protect. His crews had driven their ships as fast and as hard as
ships and men could stand the gaff. The flight had dropped down out of
supervelocity one by one, a quarter of a light year from Latham Alpha,
coming into real space in a volume spherically as large as the outer
limits of the Solar System.

Here the earlier arrivals had waited for the followers, since no
two ships could drive at precisely the same speed across a galactic
distance. They had closed down into formation as they came out of
superspeed, each arrival taking its place in the space pattern.

Finally Hoagland counted noses and found them all in place. Then--

"Latham Alpha IV. The Galactic Relay Station!"

The ships went into superdrive briefly to return a few hundred thousand
miles above the ice cap where the relay station stood, waiting the last
few hours of its term of years for the arrival of the last link in the
Galactic Network. Hoagland's flight lined down on a long curve, one
ship after the other, each pilot aiming for the station.

It had been the first bomb, a clean miss, that had alerted Paul
Grayson's little group.

"Get that ship!" roared Hoagland.

The leading ship, having bombed and missed, curled upward after
its bombing dive, circled around and got on the tail of Grayson's
spacecraft. The second ship made a closer miss, circled the course and
laid its nose behind the first.

A burst of orange flame licked across the nose of Hoagland's Number One
craft and the shell glanced from Grayson's flank, sending a ringing
crash through Paul's ship. All three of them looked behind to see ship
after ship line up to race after them.

Paul reached for the high drive. It was almost warm enough to use--

       *       *       *       *       *

Huston's flight had taken off a few hours later. There had been a lot
of preparation: Data regarding dates, flight velocities, and some
calculations as to the completion of the Network. Then a courier ship
had been prepared--prepared like no ship had ever been prepared before.

Unmanned, but timed to perfection, courier ships crossed space between
Sol and Neosol in half the time of passenger flights. They carried tons
of official mail; ordinary commercial mail was not permitted here.

In Huston's special courier the tons of official mail had been whittled
down to one piece, four pages of micro-typewritten tissue paper and
the remaining load had been filled up with additional power-pack. The
timing had been calculated to perfection and the timing circuits had
been carefully checked by the Standards Technicians. Then the drive had
been set and the ship had taken off for Terra in a flight calculated to
make space-crossing history.

Only then did Huston's flight form and leap into space from Neoterra.
Driving as hard and as fast as men and machinery would permit, Huston's
crew came down out of supervelocity four months later, a couple of
light months South Galactic from Latham Beta. Like Hoagland, Huston
waited in space until the stragglers came through.

Unlike Hoagland, Huston had to wait because he was going to defend,
not make a destructive attack. Once the flight had formed, they circled
Latham Beta and headed for Alpha in superdrive. They came in to one
side of Alpha IV, and circled the planet less than a hundred miles up,
coming around the planet in time to watch the first line of Hoagland's
ship start the bombing run.

"You know the score!" snapped Huston. "That relay station _must_ remain
intact until the Network Beam gets here! Protect it!"

Huston's flight spread out a bit and streaked across the ice cap,
hitting Hoagland's bombing curve in the middle, ship after ship. Orange
flames licked the noses of Huston's craft and the shells screamed
across the ice cap to flash in and around Hoagland's flight. The
careening ships and the flight of screaming shells destroyed the flight
perfection of the bombing pilots.

The ice cap blazed with dots of flame and pillars of smoke as the bombs
landed in a shotgun pattern around, but never quite on, the relay
station. Huston's men spotted the hare-and-hounds game forming at the
upward swing of the bombing run and the ships roared for counter-attack.

Like twin corkscrews, both flights spiralled up after Grayson's fleeing
ship.

"Grayson!" roared Huston. "Grayson!"

"Yeah--?"

It was Z-wave now, because all of the ships were close-locked in
combat. Not the galactic separation that made original contact
necessary.

"Grayson, this is Huston. How long before the beacon beam arrives?"

"Hours."

Huston groaned. "We've got to defend that station for hours or defeat
Hoagland completely!"

Huston's flight split into two, one of them spiralled down to race in a
large circle high around the relay station, the rest of them remaining
in the locked spiral of the flight.

Grayson snapped the high drive and his ship flashed into superdrive and
away.

Hoagland's flight gave up the chase and looped up and over and down
towards the station again. Huston's half-flight cut the corner of the
curve and passed through Hoagland's ships, the space-rifles barking. It
was a maneuver similar to "Crossing the Tee" in naval warfare.

One shell drilled in through the fore port of Hoagland's ninth ship
and the velocity of the ship carried the racketing bit of metal back
through the guts of the ship where it glanced viciously from wall to
wall. Lights went dark and then the ship lost drive as the round hit
some of the vital wiring. Inert, the ship continued on its course
freely, curving down towards Alpha IV to land with a blossom of flame
as the driving-chambers blew their atomic load.

Space flashed bright as one of Huston's craft rammed its enemy. A flare
of molten metal splashed wide and bits of solid, jagged hull sprinkled
space with deadly missiles that caused the following ships to veer
wide. A third ship exploded violently as one of Huston's shells drilled
the drive chamber.

One of Huston's ships ran into one of the jags of hull and went inert.
The pilot fought it while the crew struggled with the ruined wiring.
Arcs and flares filled the ship as the air dropped in pressure within
the ship, then the electrical arcs went out as vacuum came.

Struggling against no-gravity, the crew floated in the ship, hurling
tools to direct themselves, tossing cables across the hull-spaces. A
dim light came on as the ship dropped toward the ice cap, then the
drive returned part way. The pilot fought the ship down to a racketing,
sliding crash that hurled up a fountain of chipped ice and strewed the
furrow with fragments of ship.

Those of the crew who survived the crash leaped from the ship through
jagged holes in the hull and raced for the relay station. All of
them remembered one main tenet of warfare: Eventually, no matter how
outrageous or how efficient grow the mechanized weapons of warfare, it
is the man with the bared knife that subdues his enemy on the contested
ground!

Revolvers shattered the locked door of the station and the men took
shelter inside. They might be sitting ducks for a bombing run. If
their pilots could stop Hoagland's bombing runs, Hoagland's men would
eventually have to land and make for the station on foot. Then they
would be ready!

The downward circle of Hoagland's flight circled the entire planet,
crossed below the antipodal ice-cap and came roaring across the planet
just above the stratosphere. Huston was waiting for them and the two
flights plowed into one another head on. Now both flights were facing
each other and the space-rifles vomited their rain of solid shells.

Had this been a battle between trained and well-armed space forces,
it would have been sheer carnage. But the space rifles were not
radar-trained nor electronically fired. These were ships of commerce
locked in combat as deadly as man against man, but lacking the finer
techniques of modern mass-killing. Ship after ship trained on one
another and raced towards one another on dead course.

The space rifle spitted as fast as the perspiring gun-layers could
serve the breech. It was Blam! Blam! Blam! with the pilot holding the
course dead true, nose toward nose across the ice cap, each pilot
trying to make the other pilot swing aside first, daring and trying
to keep his own nerves from screaming while he looked death right in
the eye and spat. Untrained by experience and lack of enemy-courtesy,
there was no commonly-accepted rule regarding the final tilt from the
collision course. Some went left, some went right, some went up. Some
dodged down and hit the planet with a racketing crash and a shower of
ice--amid the vomit of flame as the drive chamber let go. Some veered
into one another's course and the stratosphere flashed high and wide
with flame and terror.

Others missed cleanly, circling left and right; others coursed up
and over, with one pilot tightening the curve to the plate-buckling
strain-point to circle the course and end up with his nose and the
space rifle looking down the drive chamber of the enemy.

One of Hoagland's pilots circled up, loosing a bomb as it rose.
Huston's pilot ran into the bomb and the sky roared white and hot.

Then both flights were through one another and circling high above the
ice cap for another run. They met ten thousand miles in space, wide
spread and raced at one another in a mad dog-fight.

On the ground below, survivors leaped from cracked ships and raced
to safety. Pitifully few survived. Aligned man against man and group
against group--for they were spread out across a twenty-mile area--they
fought with revolvers and stalked one another across the hummocks of
ice and laid in wait in defiles and passes, converging on the station.

Holes poked in the ultra-hard glass dome near the edge of the station
wall sprouted revolver barrels. The relay station became a block house
protected by Huston's survivors. The first crash had been a blessing
instead of a defeat, for Huston's men defended the station against
Hoagland's surviving crews. Huston's survivors made their way to the
station, leaving their dead and the dead of their enemy on the ice
behind them, and bit by bit the numbers embattled in the relay station
grew.

For any one of Hoagland's men, once within the station, could stop
this battle merely by firing a single revolver shot through one of
the vitals of the radio beacon receiver. Or hitting it with any hard
instrument. Or just by flipping the "ON-OFF" toggle switch that
controlled the entire station.

Both flights, diminished now, hit one another in a mad pass high above
the planet. Space filled with bits of jagged metal and the silent
shells that would someday end up as satellites to some distant sun--to
possibly confuse some space miner that found a piece of nickel-steel
completely machined and fitted with copper expansion-bands in an orbit
around an unpopulated stellar system.

Numbers being equal, Huston's men had one small advantage. They wanted
to hit Hoagland's crew. Hoagland's gang had two objectives. They wanted
to destroy the station, and so part of their efforts was directed
towards the station itself while only the rest was directed at Huston's
flight.

The flights passed through one another leaving space strewn with ruin;
and circled down on opposite sides of a great circle to cross the ice
cap face to face again only a few miles above the relay station perched
precisely on the polar axis. The wind whistled and the odd-smelling
atmosphere took on another odor as the battle raged briefly above
the relay station. The ice was dotted again with divots of flaming
hell thrown high by missed bombs and water ran from the hot craters in
starred rivulets to freeze later in a curiously beautiful pattern.

Again diminished, the flights whirled, stalking and sparring like
swordsmen, cautious, angry, hating.

And while the embattled fleets of spacecraft circled one another, Paul
Grayson was far in space, coming out of superdrive, confident that he
had outrun or at least disappeared from instant contact with the enemy.
Alpha IV was far, far behind. Latham's Triplets were only stars in a
neat equilateral triangle below. Very bright stars, but none the less
true stars showing no disc to the naked eye.

"Now what?" asked Stacey. "That was damned close, Little Friend."

"Do we go back?" asked Nora.

"I'd rather not," said Stacey. "I prefer to die in bed at the age
of one hundred and seventeen after a long, pleasant, active, and
interesting life."

"Huston is down there, too, you know," said Paul thoughtfully.

"So what?"

"He apparently came with quite a gang."

Stacey grunted. "Let's wait until we're sure that the unpleasantness
has subsided. Someone will be yelling 'Veni Vidi Vici' and I want to be
sure that the guy yelling 'Vici' is on my side."

Grayson shook his head thoughtfully. "Huston got here," he said.

"So?"

"Hoagland and his gang must have--" Grayson's voice trailed away as
Paul went into another reverie of thought.

"Paul, this is what is commonly referred to as patently obvious."

Paul snapped out of it again.

"Y'know," he said slowly, "Neither Hoagland nor Huston would be
a-roaring down here with fire in their eyes if they did not know we'd
succeeded."

Nora blinked. "They must have overheard us," she said.

Paul spread his hands. "Why not? The link was solid between Latham's
Triplets and Neoterra. We might have interfered with their Z-wave."

"That's fine reasoning. But now take the next step and where are we?"

"Huston wanted to know how long before the beam came in," said Paul.
"Then he groaned and said that they'd have to defend the station for
hours."

"After which," said Stacey, "we left somewhat precipitously, if not
graciously. I don't blame us, but of course, we are sort of biased by
our own feelings."

"But why?" asked Nora.

"I've been away from the Galactic Survey for a long time," said Paul
thoughtfully. "It's more than possible that Latham's Triplets is the
station that completes the link. There is always some question as to
where the final beam would cross because we were not sure what the
precise stellar separation was. In fact," he said with a smile, "this
determination of stellar distances was the reason for originating
the Galactic Survey. Now, if Latham Alpha turned out to be the final
link, coming a bit early, _and_ Haedaecker's Theory was wrong, the
link between Sol and Neosol could be complete by Z-wave once the radio
contact checked in. Huston might have some plan--" again Paul trailed
off as he began to think about the subject deeply.

"And," prompted Nora.

"The final link should be heading towards Alpha IV quite close by now,"
said Paul. "We'll tap it before it lands."



CHAPTER 17


The courier spacecraft dropped down out of supervelocity and emitted
an overwhelming blast of radio signal. One half of the output tube
operating life went into Eternity in one half minute of intense power.

Minutes later space stations picked up the radio blast and had
radiogoniometers pointing the angle; which when correlated with other
space stations bracketed the courier spacecraft nicely. A telemeter
beam fingered out and caught the radio-controlled circuits of the
courier and the courier turned obediently and started to blast towards
Terra.

It landed in a screaming arc and came to rest, smoking both outside
and inside, for the driving circuits had been running at overload for
nearly four months. Technicians at Great Lakes Spaceport trundled the
courier along a runway and dunked the whole thing into Lake Michigan
where they watched the clouds of steam boil up and then subside as the
hull cooled. They waited, and then they breached the message hull,
which was a separable nose.

Accustomed to finding tons of mail, they were shocked to find only one
officially sealed envelope addressed to the President of Terra.

They put it on a mail speedster that arched high into the stratosphere
and into black space itself in a vast segment of ellipse to drop into
the hands of the Capitol's techs within a matter of minutes. Here the
official envelope by-passed any number of official channels....

President Bennington heard the diffident rap on his bedroom door and
grunted unhappily. Then he came awake and realized that nothing less
than an official Affair of State would cause his Aide to rap on his
door.

Bennington snapped the light on near his bed and went to the door in
his pajamas. "What's up, Phil?" he asked as he opened the door.

Phillip Vanderveer smiled apologetically. "I don't know," he said
honestly. "But when a courier spacecraft comes from Neoterra with only
one piece of mail labeled 'Private, Important,' and addressed to you,
it must be both private and important. So--"

Bennington smiled. "Cigarette?" he asked.

"Here, sir."

"Come in," said Bennington, accepting the smoke.

"But--er--"

"M'Lady is sawing wood. This may be important enough for fast action,
Phil. Come on in and for--"

Bennington opened the envelope with a thumb and spread out the pages.
He looked and then found a magnifying glass and went to work on the
micro-typewritten pages.

"Phil," he said slowly, "forget about this until three days from
now. Then see to it that Chadwick Haedaecker is summoned here for
a--" Bennington went on to peruse a calendar and then a clock, "--an
official session!"

The following day Phillip Vanderveer reported that Haedaecker was out
on some tour of the Galactic Network and was not expected back for
some time. That was too bad, but not a bar to the future actions of
President Bennington.

He spent the next two days closeted with his aides writing a flowery
speech of fancy phrases that would do the trick. He decided finally to
make his speech from America's White House, and went with the First
Lady to Terra to that shrine where Free Men were first welded into a
Strong State, because there in America the seeming incompatibility
between Freedom and Empire had been favorably resolved.

Bennington prowled the mansion, looked at the shrined artifacts, and
was he, himself, impressed once again. Somewhere in the middle of
the road there was the right path between the extremes of anarchy
and tyranny. To be really Free, every man must be released from any
governing, which would make him a unit weak enough to be assailed by
any grouped force. To _rule_ men meant they had too little to say about
their own lives.

Bennington slept in a bed once slept in by Andrew Jackson.

It was midnight of the third day. The shrined White House was a blaze
of lights. Newsmen and radio technicians trod the revered halls and
strung their wires.

The connection to Z-wave Central had been made, first. The other lines
to the rest of the world were ready. The lines to Z-wave Central were
ready to bring the message to the planets of Sol--and all that remained
was the final connection that would bring President Bennington's
address to the worlds of Neosol.

Bennington sat at his desk with a fountain pen altering the long
speech. He was not entirely satisfied with it. It contained flowing
passages calculated to jog the emotions, words carefully selected
because of their syllables to cause a ringing cadence which would
cause an emotional reaction. It was flowery and forceful. It was long;
starting on a slow measure and rising to a proper climax, completely a
mathematico-musico-psychologico compilation intended to sway emotions
and minds in the right direction. He stood up from time to time and
delivered portions of it. Playbacks returned both his voice and his
appearance to him, and Bennington worked on slight faults of either
until his delivery was perfect.

Outside of his room, bustling technicians checked their circuits and
Washington itself was alive with the tenseness of waiting.

Tired--and with hours to wait yet--Bennington laid down on a couch to
relax. His slumber was fitful, dozing interrupted by vivid dreams, by
slight noises, by quick flashes of intense thought by his mind, which
was not convinced of the necessity for relaxation. Finally he drifted
off deep, completely relaxed for the first time in three days.

They counted--afterwards--that President Bennington had only a total of
nine hours sleep in seventy-two.

Then a bell rang. A siren wailed. A blast of salute-cannon shook the
city, and the radio across Terra blasted into life. People across the
worlds of Sol awoke; they had been sleeping lightly, awaiting The
Moment and now it was here!

Radio sets left running burst into life, waking people everywhere among
the planets of Sol at the same instant.

The Galactic Z-wave had come to life!

Light years across the galaxy towards Neosol, Paul Grayson talked into
a microphone. And on the planets that were Sol's Children, a thousand
million loudspeakers thundered forth his voice!

"President Bennington! President Bennington!"

Bennington awoke from his fitful nap with a start. The door to his room
opened. Phillip Vanderveer stood there looking in, he approached.

Marian Bennington smiled quietly. "This is it!"

Bennington looked at her queerly. His wife. Somehow strangely
unimpressed by the solemnity of it all; peculiarly self-serene among
all of the importance of the moment. His wife, greeting him with a
slightly amused expression. Greatness, of moment or of person seemed a
bit remote. Bennington gulped at her and smiled.

"Take it easy Hal," she said. She kissed him gently as he leaned
towards the microphone.

"President Bennington speaking."

"This is Paul Grayson riding the Latham Alpha IV beam towards the
station. Thank God you're ready!"

"What--?"

"We're fifteen light minutes out from Contact. Huston is fighting to
keep the Station alive; Hoagland is trying to kill it!"

"Fighting?"

"Space battle!"

"Dammit man--Oh God, it's four or six months flight time there, isn't
it?"

"Yes," said Paul. "Just stick around. We'll win!"

"_Grayson, you've got to win!_"

The ice cap was dotted with craters. Tiny spots of black among the sea
of glittering white were men struggling in the icy cold to reach the
fight for the final link between Mother Earth and her distant Daughter.
In the sky above, Isolationist and Coalitionist fought with nerve and
iron to separate versus maintain the original solidarity of the galaxy.

Paul, riding the front of the incoming radio beacon beam, had no idea
of how the fight was going.

But of Huston's hundred ships and one hundred and seventeen of
Hoagland's only nine were left with Huston and seven left with
Hoagland. The collected survivors in the relay station numbered thirty
souls--determined souls of the same determination of the men who stood
at Concord Bridge.

The plain around the station was a mess of bomb craters; desperation
measures but all misses. The glass dome itself was holed with a
half-gross of shells fired into the station, and three of the big
parabolic antenna-reflectors were drilled with four-inch holes but
still electrically functional. Master fighters now because they were
survivors, Nine and Seven faced one another cautiously. They raced in,
faced one another harshly, like frigates sailing in to receive a heavy
broadside, clashed, and came on through as Five and Three.

Huston's crew circled in a mad melee, five of them in overwhelming
odds now. They herded the Three high, caught them in an englobement,
and made a flaming kill a hundred miles above the planet, then raced
forward as Hoagland started to flee for his life, his campaign defeated.

With the ice cap dotted with death and wreckage, Huston's command
ship left the other four to guard the Upper Sky while he scouted
the surface, using his power ruthlessly to cow Hoagland's separated
survivors into abject surrender.

Then, in complete victory, Huston raced his command ship in a vast
circle around the damaged but still running Relay Station. It would go
deadly-hard with anyone who tried to interfere at this instant.

Huston's engineer snapped in the Z-wave.

"Grayson! Grayson! Are you--are you?"

The Z-wave receiver in Paul's ship brought this call.

He snapped the toggle and said: "Huston? I'm riding the radio beam down
to Alpha IV."

"Bennington?"

"I've got him on the Z-wave!"

"Let me--connect me--"

Paul reached for a cable with a double-ended plug and shoved both ends
home in his patch-panel.

"Mister President, here is Mr. Huston!"

"Bennington! Bennington! You're ready?"

On Terra, President Bennington nodded and said: "Any time."

Huston said "Good. Thank God. Grayson, can we--?"

Paul considered. "Can you get in touch with the Latham Alpha IV Station
direct?"

"Take some doing, but--"

"President Bennington, the Galactic Link is almost complete. It's
Z-wave via radio contact from Terra to me. It's Z-wave from me to
Huston; and from Alpha IV to Neoterra it is again Z-wave via radio
contact. As soon as Huston taps the radio beam from Alpha IV, we can
get you through to--"

A flash of fire--white-hot and vicious--blinded Huston and his crew. It
killed all the men on Alpha IV friend and foe alike. The sound--

The sound was a flat and completely-gone silence. The contact had been
destroyed before the link could convey any sound.

Down from the black sky a single ship had driven at velocities too
high for the radar to catch. It had come at near-light velocity from
somewhere, had passed Alpha IV at a tangential altitude of a thousand
miles--and had loosened something.

The "Something" had been unbelievable tons of lithium hydride, neatly
tamped and packed around a fissionable detonator.

The super bomb drilled into the planetary crust a full quadrant
South--at the Equator of Alpha IV--and exploded. Slowly and
majestically, Alpha IV expanded. The crust separated along the
fault-lines to expose the planetary magma. Ice met molten lava in
a riot of exploding steam; mountain range fell into the sea, livid
streamers of tortured matter flared forth, and the surface heaved,
bubbled, and collapsed and the smoke and dust and soil of Alpha rose
into the atmosphere to mingle with the clouds of vaporized metal and
superheated steam that roiled and blasted away from the planet into
space.

Latham Alpha IV contracted into a boiling mass of energy, distributed
and re-distributed and re-re-distributed throughout the planetary mass.

Gone was the ice cap. Forever lost were the men who battled face to
face and gun to gun to keep the Relay Station running. Then Latham
Alpha began to expand. Slowly and majestically it grew, as the
volatile material became gaseous with the energy hurled into it. The
flaming-white glow died into a furious orange-red as the localized
areas of energy spread out and the whole of the planet began to
radiate dully.

Across space, heading into a boiling planetary surface that had no
receiver to collect it, came the Galactic Radio Beam. It entered the
roiling planet and died, and what missed the planet either splashed
aside from the space-stressed energy or went on and on and on through
space unchecked and unheeded.

Huston's spacecraft, hurled upwards by the force of flaming gases,
bounced around viciously until Huston's pilot snapped the high drive
briefly, first on and then off.

"Grayson?"

"Huston! What has happened?"

"Super-atomic."

"God!"

"But the Relay--The Network?"

Paul thought a moment.

"I've still got Bennington," he said. "And--" here Grayson's voice
paused for a moment.

Grayson's ship had been at One Light velocity, following the Beam
towards Alpha IV. Now as he sat at the console of his ship's drive, he
reached for a switch that swerved the ship aside in its course by just
a few milliseconds of arc.

Seconds later he passed the boiling ruin of Alpha IV by a half-million
miles, still following the head of the Galactic Survey Beam.

As Paul passed the planetary ruin, he snapped another switch, picked up
the microphone and cried:

"Al Donatti! Al Donatti!"

And down from Neoterra came the reply. "Grayson? You've got Bennington?"

"On the other end!"

Back in the White House, President Bennington sat before the broad
desk, looking at the microphone with an odd expression on his face.
Somehow flowery speeches and fancy, well-calculated words seemed a bit
pale and unconvincing in the face of men who lived and died for a Grand
Principle.

He looked up at the wall.

He saw a bronze plaque.

"President Bennington! Speak up!"

Bennington started. It was Madison--Was it Madison or Jackson?--who
said that an American could tell the President to Go To Hell, and all
the President could do was to argue with him--or go fishing?

Bennington tore his carefully prepared speech down the middle. He stood
up and looked at the bronze plaque, and began to read it:

"Fourscore and seven years ago--"

Across space to Latham's Triplets went the Z-wave, connected at long
last by the original Radio Linkage. Across from Grayson's spacecraft it
went to the completed Z-wave link to Neoterra, to come bursting forth
from a thousand million loudspeakers across the worlds of NeoSol:

NeoTerra heard it, and NeoVenus listened. The isolated colonists on
NeoGanymede cheered and the folks on far NeoPluto nodded their heads
knowingly.

"--engaged in a great civil war to determine whether That Nation or any
other nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure--"

"Grayson!" came the whispering of the radio--a mundane instrument of no
great interest to anyone--"Grayson--we've caught him."

"Who?"

"Your pal Haedaecker. He bombed Alpha IV!"

"But--?"

"We'll twist his arm, Grayson. Maybe he'll explain the guy who tried to
shoot you to bits on Proxima I. Maybe a lot of other things. Anyway,
he's the joker in this deck."

Stacey eyed Paul with a glitter, "D'ye mind if I start going home to my
wife?"

Paul snapped off the communications panel entirely. "They've made it,"
he said. "It'll be complete from now on. And we'll criss-cross this
galaxy with radio beacons from star to star and bit by bit until the
Z-wave contact is complete between Mother Sol and any of her Colonies."

"Let's take Stacey home," suggested Nora.

Paul turned to the panel and set some switches, adjusted some dials,
and threw in the main switch. The floor surged below them and Paul put
his eye to the spotting telescope as his ship began to move.

Paul yawned as the minutes passed and the ship gained speed towards
Sol, aimed by his watchful eye. Time passed, and Paul, finally released
from all of the trouble and worry, began to hum. Eventually he began to
sing, in that off-key voice:

    "_Round and round and round go the deuterons!
    Round and round and round the magnet swings 'em!
    Round and round and round go the deuterons_--"

Nora interrupted Paul with the final line of The Cyclotronist's
Nightmare:

"_Aw, let's turn the damned thing off and go to bed!_"


THE END





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