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´╗┐Title: Ambition
Author: Bade, William L.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Ambition" ***


                          By WILLIAM L. BADE

                       Illustrated by L. WOROMAY

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                 Galaxy Science Fiction October 1951.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

               To the men of the future, the scientific
                goals of today were as incomprehensible
               as the ancient quest for the Holy Grail!

There was a thump. Maitland stirred, came half awake, and opened his
eyes. The room was dark except where a broad shaft of moonlight from
the open window fell on the foot of his bed. Outside, the residential
section of the Reservation slept silently under the pale illumination
of the full Moon. He guessed sleepily that it was about three o'clock.

What had he heard? He had a definite impression that the sound had come
from within the room. It had sounded like someone stumbling into a
chair, or--

Something moved in the darkness on the other side of the room. Maitland
started to sit up and it was as though a thousand volts had shorted his

This time, he awoke more normally. He opened his eyes, looked through
the window at a section of azure sky, listened to the singing of birds
somewhere outside. A beautiful day. In the middle of the process of
stretching his rested muscles, arms extended back, legs tensed, he
froze, looking up--for the first time really seeing the ceiling. He
turned his head, then rolled off the bed, wide awake.

_This wasn't his room!_

The lawn outside wasn't part of the Reservation! Where the labs and
the shops should have been, there was deep prairie grass, then a green
ocean pushed into waves by the breeze stretching to the horizon. This
wasn't the California desert! Down the hill, where the liquid oxygen
plant ought to have been, a river wound across the scene, almost hidden
beneath its leafy roof of huge ancient trees.

Shock contracted Maitland's diaphragm and spread through his body.
His breathing quickened. _Now_ he remembered what had happened during
the night, the sound in the darkness, the dimly seen figure, and
then--what? Blackout....

Where was he? Who had brought him here? For what purpose?

He thought he knew the answer to the last of those questions. As
a member of the original atomic reaction-motor team, he possessed
information that other military powers would very much like to obtain.
It was absolutely incredible that anyone had managed to abduct him from
the heavily guarded confines of the Reservation, yet someone had done
it. How?

       *       *       *       *       *

He pivoted to inspect the room. Even before his eyes could take in
the details, he had the impression that there was something wrong
about it. To begin with, the style was unfamiliar. There were no
straight lines or sharp corners anywhere. The walls were paneled in
featureless blue plastic and the doors were smooth surfaces of metal,
half ellipses, without knobs. The flowing lines of the chair and table,
built apparently from an aluminum alloy, somehow gave the impression
of arrested motion. Even after allowances were made for the outlandish
design, something about the room still was not right.

His eyes returned to the doors, and he moved over to study the nearer
one. As he had noticed, there was no knob, but at the right of this
one, at about waist level, a push-button projected out of the wall. He
pressed it; the door slid aside and disappeared. Maitland glanced in at
the disclosed bathroom, then went over to look at the other door.

There was no button beside this one, nor any other visible means of
causing it to open.

Baffled, he turned again and looked at the large open window--and
realized what it was that had made the room seem so queer.

It did not look like a jail cell. There were no bars....

Striding across the room, he lunged forward to peer out and violently
banged his forehead. He staggered back, grimacing with pain, then
reached forward cautious fingers and discovered a hard sheet of stuff
so transparent that he had not even suspected its presence. Not glass!
Glass was never this clear or strong. A plastic, no doubt, but one he
hadn't heard of. Security sometimes had disadvantages.

He looked out at the peaceful vista of river and prairie. The character
of the sunlight seemed to indicate that it was afternoon. He became
aware that he was hungry.

Where the devil could this place be? And--muscles tightened about his
empty stomach--what was in store for him here?

He stood trembling, acutely conscious that he was afraid and helpless,
until a flicker of motion at the bottom of the hill near the river drew
his attention. Pressing his nose against the window, he strained his
eyes to see what it was.

A man and a woman were coming toward him up the hill. Evidently they
had been swimming, for each had a towel; the man's was hung around his
neck, and the woman was still drying her bobbed black hair.

Maitland speculated on the possibility that this might be Sweden; he
didn't know of any other country where public bathing at this time
of year was customary. However, that prairie certainly didn't look

As they came closer, he saw that both of them had dark uniform suntans
and showed striking muscular development, like persons who had trained
for years with weights. They vanished below his field of view,
presumably into the building.

He sat down on the edge of the cot and glared helplessly at the floor.

       *       *       *       *       *

About half an hour later, the door he couldn't open slid aside into the
wall. The man Maitland had seen outside, now clad in gray trunks and
sandals, stood across the threshold looking in at him. Maitland stood
up and stared back, conscious suddenly that in his rumpled pajamas he
made an unimpressive figure.

The fellow looked about forty-five. The first details Maitland noticed
were the forehead, which was quite broad, and the calm, clear eyes.
The dark hair, white at the temples, was combed back, still damp from
swimming. Below, there was a wide mouth and a firm, rounded chin.

This man was intelligent, Maitland decided, and extremely sure of

Somehow, the face didn't go with the rest of him. The man had the head
of a thinker, the body of a trained athlete--an unusual combination.

Impassively, the man said, "My name is Swarts. You want to know where
you are. I am not going to tell you." He had an accent, European, but
otherwise unidentifiable. Possibly German. Maitland opened his mouth
to protest, but Swarts went on, "However, you're free to do all the
guessing you want." Still there was no suggestion of a smile.

"Now, these are the rules. You'll be here for about a week. You'll have
three meals a day, served in this room. You will not be allowed to
leave it except when accompanied by myself. You will not be harmed in
any way, provided you cooperate. And you can forget the silly idea that
we want your childish secrets about rocket motors." Maitland's heart
jumped. "My reason for bringing you here is altogether different. I
want to give you some psychological tests...."

"Are you crazy?" Maitland asked quietly. "Do you realize that at this
moment one of the greatest hunts in history must be going on? I'll
admit I'm baffled as to where we are and how you got me here--but it
seems to me that you could have found someone less conspicuous to give
your tests to."

Briefly, then, Swarts did smile. "They won't find you," he said. "Now,
come with me."

       *       *       *       *       *

After that outlandish cell, Swarts' laboratory looked rather
commonplace. There was something like a surgical cot in the center, and
a bench along one wall supported several electronics cabinets. A couple
of them had cathode ray tube screens, and they all presented a normal
complement of meters, pilot lights, and switches. Cables from them ran
across the ceiling and came to a focus above the high flat cot in the
center of the room.

"Lie down," Swarts said. When Maitland hesitated, Swarts added,
"Understand one thing--the more you cooperate, the easier things will
be for you. If necessary, I will use coercion. I can get all my results
against your will, if I must. I would prefer not to. Please don't make

"What's the idea?" Maitland asked. "What is all this?"

Swarts hesitated, though not, Maitland astonishedly felt, to evade an
answer, but to find the proper words. "You can think of it as a lie
detector. These instruments will record your reactions to the tests I
give you. That is as much as you need to know. Now lie down."

Maitland stood there for a moment, deliberately relaxing his tensed
muscles. "Make me."

If Swarts was irritated, he didn't show it. "That was the first test,"
he said. "Let me put it another way. I would appreciate it a lot if
you'd lie down on this cot. I would like to test my apparatus."

Maitland shook his head stubbornly.

"I see," Swarts said. "You want to find out what you're up against."

He moved so fast that Maitland couldn't block the blow. It was to the
solar plexus, just hard enough to double him up, fighting for breath.
He felt an arm under his back, another behind his knees. Then he was on
the cot. When he was able to breathe again, there were straps across
his chest, hips, knees, ankles, and arms, and Swarts was tightening a
clamp that held his head immovable.

Presently, a number of tiny electrodes were adhering to his temples and
to other portions of his body, and a minute microphone was clinging to
the skin over his heart. These devices terminated in cables that hung
from the ceiling. A sphygmomanometer sleeve was wrapped tightly around
his left upper arm, its rubber tube trailing to a small black box
clamped to the frame of the cot. Another cable left the box and joined
the others.

So--Maitland thought--Swarts could record changes in his skin
potential, heartbeat, and blood pressure: the involuntary responses of
the body to stimuli.

The question was, what were the stimuli to be?

"Your name," said Swarts, "is Robert Lee Maitland. You are thirty-four
years old. You are an engineer, specialty heat transfer, particularly
as applied to rocket motors.... No, Mr. Maitland, I'm not going to
question you about your work; just forget about it. Your home town is
Madison, Wisconsin...."

"You seem to know everything about me," Maitland said defiantly,
looking up into the hanging forest of cabling. "Why this recital?"

"I do not know everything about you--yet. And I'm testing the
equipment, calibrating it to your reactions." He went on, "Your
favorite recreations are chess and reading what you term science
fiction. Maitland, _how would you like to go to the Moon_?"

Something eager leaped in Maitland's breast at the abrupt question, and
he tried to turn his head. Then he forced himself to relax. "What do
you mean?"

Swarts was chuckling. "I really hit a semantic push-button there,
didn't I? Maitland, I brought you here because you're a man who wants
to go to the Moon. I'm interested in finding out _why_."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the evening a girl brought Maitland his meal. As the door slid
aside, he automatically stood up, and they stared at each other for
several seconds.

She had the high cheekbones and almond eyes of an Oriental, skin that
glowed like gold in the evening light, yet thick coiled braids of
blonde hair that glittered like polished brass. Shorts and a sleeveless
blouse of some thick, reddish, metallic-looking fabric clung to her
body, and over that she was wearing a light, ankle-length cloak of what
seemed to be white wool.

She was looking at him with palpable curiosity and something like
expectancy. Maitland sighed and said, "Hello," then glanced down
self-consciously at his wrinkled green pajamas.

She smiled, put the tray of food on the table, and swept out, her cloak
billowing behind her. Maitland remained standing, staring at the closed
door for a minute after she was gone.

Later, when he had finished the steak and corn on the cob and shredded
carrots, and a feeling of warm well-being was diffusing from his
stomach to his extremities, he sat down on the bed to watch the sunset
and to think.

There were three questions for which he required answers before he
could formulate any plan or policy.

Where was he?

Who was Swarts?

What was the purpose of the "tests" he was being given?

It was possible, of course, that this was all an elaborate scheme
for getting military secrets, despite Swarts' protestations to the
contrary. Maitland frowned. This place certainly didn't have the
appearance of a military establishment, and so far there had been
nothing to suggest the kind of interrogation to be expected from
foreign intelligence officers.

It might be better to tackle the first question first. He looked at
the Sun, a red spheroid already half below the horizon, and tried to
think of a region that had this kind of terrain. That prairie out there
was unique. Almost anywhere in the world, land like that would be
cultivated, not allowed to go to grass.

This might be somewhere in Africa....

He shook his head, puzzled. The Sun disappeared and its blood-hued
glow began to fade from the sky. Maitland sat there, trying to get
hold of the problem from an angle where it wouldn't just slip away.
After a while the western sky became a screen of clear luminous blue,
a backdrop for a pure white brilliant star. As always at that sight,
Maitland felt his worry drain away, leaving an almost mystical sense of
peace and an undefinable longing.

Venus, the most beautiful of the planets.

Maitland kept track of them all in their majestic paths through the
constellations, but Venus was his favorite. Time and time again he
had watched its steady climb higher and higher in the western sky,
its transient rule there as evening star, its progression toward the
horizon, and loved it equally in its _alter ego_ of morning star. Venus
was an old friend. An old friend....

Something icy settled on the back of his neck, ran down his spine, and
diffused into his body. He stared at the planet unbelievingly, fists
clenched, forgetting to breathe.

Last night Venus hadn't been there.

Venus was a morning star just now....

_Just now!_

He realized the truth in that moment.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later, when that jewel of a planet had set and the stars were out,
he lay on the bed, still warm with excitement and relief. He didn't
have to worry any more about military secrets, or who Swarts was.
Those questions were irrelevant now. And now he could accept the
psychological tests at their face value; most likely, they were what
they purported to be.

Only one question of importance remained:

What year was this?

He grimaced in the darkness, an involuntary muscular expression of
jubilation and excitement. The _future_! Here was the opportunity for
the greatest adventure imaginable to 20th Century man.

Somewhere, out there under the stars, there must be grand glittering
cities and busy spaceports, roaring gateways to the planets.
Somewhere, out there in the night, there must be men who had walked
beside the Martian canals and pierced the shining cloud mantle of
Venus--somewhere, perhaps, men who had visited the distant luring stars
and returned. Surely, a civilization that had developed time travel
could reach the stars!

And _he_ had a chance to become a part of all that! He could spend
his life among the planets, a citizen of deep space, a voyager of the
challenging spaceways between the solar worlds.

"I'm adaptable," he told himself gleefully. "I can learn fast. There'll
be a job for me out there...."


Suddenly sobered, he rolled over and put his feet on the floor, sat
in the darkness thinking. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he would have to find a
way of breaking down Swarts' reticence. He would have to make the man
realize that secrecy wasn't necessary in this case. And if Swarts still
wouldn't talk, he would have to find a way of forcing the issue. The
fellow had said that he didn't need cooperation to get his results,

After a while Maitland smiled to himself and went back to bed.

       *       *       *       *       *

He woke in the morning with someone gently shaking his shoulder. He
rolled over and looked up at the girl who had brought him his meal the
evening before. There was a tray on the table and he sniffed the smell
of bacon. The girl smiled at him. She was dressed as before, except
that she had discarded the white cloak.

As he swung his legs to the floor, she started toward the door,
carrying the tray with the dirty dishes from yesterday. He stopped her
with the word, "Miss!"

She turned, and he thought there was something eager in her face.

"Miss, do you speak my language?"

"Yes," hesitantly. She lingered too long on the hiss of the last

"Miss," he asked, watching her face intently, "what year is this?"

Startlingly, she laughed, a mellow peal of mirth that had nothing
forced about it. She turned toward the door again and said over her
shoulder, "You will have to ask Swarts about that. I cannot tell you."

"Wait! You mean you don't know?"

She shook her head. "I cannot tell you."

"All right; we'll let it go at that."

She grinned at him again as the door slid shut.

       *       *       *       *       *

Swarts came half an hour later, and Maitland began his planned

"What year is this?"

Swarts' steely eyes locked with his. "You know what the date is," he

"No, I don't. Not since yesterday."

"Come on," Swarts said patiently, "let's get going. We have a lot to
get through this morning."

"I _know_ this isn't 1950. It's probably not even the 20th Century.
Venus was a morning star before you brought me here. Now it's an
evening star."

"Never mind that. Come."

Wordlessly, Maitland climbed to his feet, preceded Swarts to the
laboratory, lay down and allowed him to fasten the straps and attach
the instruments, making no resistance at all. When Swarts started
saying a list of words--doubtlessly some sort of semantic reaction
test--Maitland began the job of integrating "csc^3x dx" in his head.
It was a calculation which required great concentration and frequent
tracing back of steps. After several minutes, he noticed that Swarts
had stopped calling words. He opened his eyes to find the other man
standing over him, looking somewhat exasperated and a little baffled.

"What year is this?" Maitland asked in a conversational tone.

"We'll try another series of tests."

It took Swarts nearly twenty minutes to set up the new apparatus. He
lowered a bulky affair with two cylindrical tubes like the twin stacks
of a binocular microscope over Maitland's head, so that the lenses at
the ends of the tubes were about half an inch from the engineer's
eyes. He attached tiny clamps to Maitland's eyelashes.

"These will keep you from holding your eyes shut," he said. "You can
blink, but the springs are too strong for you to hold your eyelids down
against the tension."

He inserted button earphones into Maitland's ears--

And then the show began.

He was looking at a door in a partly darkened room, and there were
footsteps outside, a peremptory knocking. The door flew open,
and outlined against the light of the hall, he saw a man with a
twelve-gauge shotgun. The man shouted, "Now I've got you, you
wife-stealer!" He swung the shotgun around and pulled the trigger.
There was a terrible blast of sound and the flash of smokeless
powder--then blackness.

With a deliberate effort, Maitland unclenched his fists and tried to
slow his breathing. Some kind of emotional reaction test--what was the
countermove? He closed his eyes, but shortly the muscles around them
declared excruciatingly that they couldn't keep that up.

Now he was looking at a girl. She....

Maitland gritted his teeth and fought to use his brain; then he had it.

He thought of a fat slob of a bully who had beaten him up one day
after school. He remembered a talk he had heard by a politician who had
all the intelligent social responsibility of a rogue gorilla, but no
more. He brooded over the damnable stupidity and short-sightedness of
Swarts in standing by his silly rules and not telling him about this
new world.

Within a minute, he was in an ungovernable rage. His muscles tightened
against the restraining straps. He panted, sweat came out on his
forehead, and he began to curse. Swarts! How he hated....

The scene was suddenly a flock of sheep spread over a green hillside.
There was blood hammering in Maitland's temples. His face felt hot and
swollen and he writhed against the restraint of the straps.

The scene disappeared, the lenses of the projector retreated from his
eyes and Swarts was standing over him, white-lipped. Maitland swore at
him for a few seconds, then relaxed and smiled weakly. His head was
starting to ache from the effort of blinking.

"What year is this?" he asked.

"All right," Swarts said. "A.D. 2634."

Maitland's smile became a grin.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I really haven't the time to waste talking irrelevancies," Swarts said
a while later. "Honestly. Maitland, I'm working against a time limit.
If you'll cooperate, I'll tell Ching to answer your questions."'


"Ingrid Ching is the girl who has been bringing you your meals."

Maitland considered a moment, then nodded. Swarts lowered the projector
to his eyes again, and this time the engineer did not resist.

That evening, he could hardly wait for her to come. Too excited to sit
and watch the sunset, he paced interminably about the room, sometimes
whistling nervously, snapping his fingers, sitting down and jittering
one leg. After a while he noticed that he was whistling the same theme
over and over: a minute's thought identified it as that exuberant
mounting phrase which recurs in the finale of Beethoven's Ninth

He forgot about it and went on whistling. He was picturing himself
aboard a ship dropping in toward Mars, making planetfall at Syrtis
Major; he was seeing visions of Venus and the awesome beauty of Saturn.
In his mind, he circled the Moon, and viewed the Earth as a huge bright
globe against the constellations....

Finally the door slid aside and she appeared, carrying the usual tray
of food. She smiled at him, making dimples in her golden skin and
revealing a perfect set of teeth, and put the tray on the table.

"I think you are wonderful," she laughed. "You get everything you
want, even from Swarts, and I have not been able to get even a little
of what I want from him. I want to travel in time, go back to your 20th
Century. And I wanted to talk with you, and he would not let me." She
laughed again, hands on her rounded hips. "I have never seen him so
irritated as he was this noon."

Maitland urged her into the chair and sat down on the edge of the bed.
Eagerly he asked, "Why the devil do you want to go to the 20th Century?
Believe me, I've been there, and what I've seen of this world looks a
lot better."

She shrugged. "Swarts says that I want to go back to the Dark Age of
Technology because I have not adapted well to modern culture. Myself,
I think I have just a romantic nature. Far times and places look more

"How do you mean--" Maitland wrinkled his brow--"adapt to modern
culture? Don't tell me _you're_ from another time!"

"Oh, no! But my home is Aresund, a little fishing village at the head
of a fiord in what you would call Norway. So far north, we are much
behind the times. We live in the old way, from the sea, speak the old

       *       *       *       *       *

He looked at her golden features, such a felicitous blend of
Oriental and European characteristics, and hesitantly asked, "Maybe
I shouldn't.... This is a little personal, but ... you don't look
altogether like the Norwegians of my time."

His fear that she would be offended proved to be completely
unjustified. She merely laughed and said, "There has been much
history since 1950. Five hundred years ago, Europe was overrun by
Pan-Orientals. Today you could not find anywhere a 'pure' European
or Asiatic." She giggled. "Swarts' ancestors from your time must be
cursing in their graves. His family is Afrikander all the way back, but
one of his great-grandfathers was pure-blooded Bantu. His full name is
Lassisi Swarts."

Maitland wrinkled his brow. "Afrikander?"

"The South Africans." Something strange came into her eyes. It might
have been awe, or even hatred; he could not tell. "The Pan-Orientals
eventually conquered all the world, except for North America--the
last remnant of the American World Empire--and southern Africa. The
Afrikanders had been partly isolated for several centuries then, and
they had developed technology while the rest of the world lost it. They
had a tradition of white supremacy, and in addition they were terrified
of being encircled." She sighed. "They ruled the next world empire and
it was founded on the slaughter of one and a half billion human beings.
That went into the history books as the War of Annihilation."

"So many? How?"

"They were clever with machines, the Afrikanders. They made armies
of them. Armies of invincible killing-machines, produced in robot
factories from robot-mined ores.... Very clever." She gave a little

"And yet they founded modern civilization," she added. "The grandsons
of the technicians who built the Machine Army set up our robot
production system, and today no human being has to dirty his hands
raising food or manufacturing things. It could never have been done,
either, before the population was--reduced to three hundred million."

"Then the Afrikanders are still on top? Still the masters?"

       *       *       *       *       *

She shook her head. "There are no more Afrikanders."


"No. Intermarriage. Racial blending. There was a psychology of guilt
behind it. So huge a crime eventually required a proportionate
expiation. Afrikaans is still the world language, but there is only one
race now. No more masters or slaves."

They were both silent for a moment, and then she sighed. "Let us not
talk about them any more."

"Robot factories and farms," Maitland mused. "What else? What means of
transportation? Do you have interstellar flight yet?"


"Have men visited the stars?"

She shook her head, bewildered.

"I always thought that would be a tough problem to crack," he agreed.
"But tell me about what men are doing in the Solar System. How is life
on Mars and Venus, and how long does it take to get to those places?"

He waited, expectantly silent, but she only looked puzzled. "I don't
understand. Mars? What are Mars?"

After several seconds, Maitland swallowed. Something seemed to be the
matter with his throat, making it difficult for him to speak. "Surely
you have space travel?"

She frowned and shook her head. "What does that mean--space travel?"

He was gripping the edge of the bed now, glaring at her. "A
civilization that could discover time travel and build robot factories
wouldn't find it hard to send a ship to Mars!"

"A _ship_? Oh, you mean something like a _vliegvlotter_. Why, no, I
don't suppose it would be hard. But why would anyone want to do a
thing like that?"

He was on his feet towering over her, fists clenched. She raised her
arms as if to shield her face if he should hit her. "Let's get this
perfectly clear," he said, more harshly than he realized. "So far as
you know, no one has ever visited the planets, and no one wants to. Is
that right?"

She nodded apprehensively. "I have never heard of it being done."

He sank down on the bed and put his face in his hands. After a while he
looked up and said bitterly, "You're looking at a man who would give
his life to get to Mars. I thought I would in my time. I was positive I
would when I knew I was in your time. And now I know I never will."

       *       *       *       *       *

The cot creaked beside him and he felt a soft arm about his shoulders
and fingers delicately stroking his brow. Presently he opened his eyes
and looked at her. "I just don't understand," he said. "It seemed
obvious to me that whenever men were able to reach the planets, they'd
do it."

Her pitying eyes were on his face. He hitched himself around so that he
was facing her. "I've got to understand. I've got to know _why_. What
happened? Why don't men want the planets any more?"

"Honestly," she said, "I did not know they ever had." She hesitated.
"Maybe you are asking the wrong question."

He furrowed his brow, bewildered now by her.

"I mean," she explained, "maybe you should ask why people in the 20th
Century _did_ want to go to worlds men are not suited to inhabit."

Maitland felt his face become hot. "Men can go anywhere, if they want
to bad enough."

"But _why_?"

Despite his sudden irrational anger toward her, Maitland tried to stick
to logic. "Living space, for one thing. The only permanent solution to
the population problem...."

"We have no population problem. A hundred years ago, we realized that
the key to social stability is a limited population. Our economic
system was built to take care of three hundred million people, and we
have held the number at that."

"Birth control," Maitland scoffed. "How do you make it work--secret

"No. Education. Each of us has the right to two children, and we
cherish that right so much that we make every effort to see that those
two are the best children we could possibly produce...."

She broke off, looking a little self-conscious. "You understand, what
I have been saying applies to _most_ of the world. In some places like
Aresund, things are different. Backward. I still do not feel that I
belong here, although the people of the town have accepted me as one of

"Even," he said, "granting that you have solved the population problem,
there's still the adventure of the thing. Surely, somewhere, there must
be men who still feel that.... Ingrid, doesn't it fire something in
your blood, the idea of going to Mars--just to go there and see what's
there and walk under a new sky and a smaller Sun? Aren't you interested
in finding out what the canals are? Or what's under the clouds of
Venus? Wouldn't you like to see the rings of Saturn from, a distance
of only two hundred thousand miles?" His hands were trembling as he

She shrugged her shapely shoulders. "Go into the past--yes! But go out
there? I still cannot see why."

"Has the spirit of adventure _evaporated_ from the human race, or

She smiled. "In a room downstairs there is the head of a lion. Swarts
killed the beast when he was a young man. He used a spear. And time
traveling is the greatest adventure there is. At least, that is the
way I feel. Listen, Bob." She laid a hand on his arm. "You grew up in
the Age of Technology. Everybody was terribly excited about what could
be done with machines--machines to blow up a city all at once, or fly
around the world, or take a man to Mars. We have had our fill of--what
is the word?--gadgets. Our machines serve us, and so long as they
function right, we are satisfied to forget about them.

"Because this is the Age of _Man_. We are terribly interested in what
can be done with people. Our scientists, like Swarts, are studying
human rather than nuclear reactions. We are much more fascinated by the
life and death of cultures than by the expansion or contraction of the
Universe. With us, it is the people that are important, not gadgets."

Maitland stared at her, his face blank. His mind had just manufactured
a discouraging analogy. His present position was like that of an
earnest 12th Century crusader, deposited by some freak of nature into
the year 1950, trying to find a way of reanimating the anti-Mohammedan
movement. What chance would he have? The unfortunate knight would argue
in vain that the atomic bomb offered a means of finally destroying the

Maitland looked up at the girl, who was regarding him silently with
troubled eyes. "I think I'd like to be alone for a while," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the morning, Maitland was tired, though not particularly depressed.
He hadn't slept much, but he had come to a decision. When Ingrid woke
him, he gave her a cavalier smile and a cheery "Good morning" and
sat down to the eggs and ham she had brought. Then, before she could
leave, he asked, "Last night when we were talking about spaceships, you
mentioned some kind of vessel or vehicle. What was it?"

She thought. "_Vliegvlotter?_ Was that it?"

He nodded emphatically. "Tell me about them."

"Well, they are--cars, you might say, with wheels that go into the
body when you take off. They can do, oh, 5,000 miles an hour in the
ionosphere, 50 miles up."

"Fifty miles," Maitland mused. "Then they're sealed tight, so the air
doesn't leak out?" Ingrid nodded. "How do they work? Rocket drive?"

"No." She plucked at her lower lip. "I do not understand it very well.
You could picture something that hooks into a gravity field, and pulls.
A long way from the Earth if would not work very well, because the
field is so thin there.... I guess I just cannot explain it very well
to you."

"That's all I need." Maitland licked his lips and frowned. "On that
point, anyway. Another thing--Swarts told me I'd be here for about a
week. Is there any set procedure involved in that? Have other persons
been brought to this period from the past?"

She laughed. "Thousands. Swarts has published nearly a hundred case
studies himself, and spent time adding up to years in the 19th and 20th

Maitland interrupted incredulously. "How on Earth could he ever manage
to keep that many disappearances quiet? Some of those people would be
bound to talk."

She shook her head definitely. "The technique was designed to avoid
just that. There is a method of 'fading' the memories people have of
their stay here. The episode is always accepted as a period of amnesia,
in the absence of a better explanation."

"Still, in thousands of cases...."

"Spread out over centuries in a total population of billions."

He laughed. "You're right. But will that be done to me?"

"I suppose so. I can't imagine Swarts letting you take your memories
back with you."

Maitland looked out the window at the green horizon. "We'll see," he

       *       *       *       *       *

Maitland removed his three-day beard with an effective depilatory cream
he discovered in the bathroom, and settled down to wait. When Swarts
arrived, the engineer said quietly, "Sit down, please. I have to talk
with you."

Swarts gave him the look of a man with a piece of equipment that just
won't function right, and remained standing. "What is it now?"

"Look," Maitland said, "Ingrid has told me that men never reached the
planets. _You_ ought to know how I feel about space flight. It's my
whole life. Knowing that my work on rockets is going to pay off only in
the delivery of bombs, I don't want to go back to the 20th Century. I
want to stay here."

Swarts said slowly, "That's impossible."

"Now, look, if you want me to cooperate...."

The big man made an impatient gesture. "Not impossible because of me.
Physically impossible. Impossible because of the way time travel works."

Maitland stared at him suspiciously.

"To displace a mass from its proper time takes energy," Swarts
explained, "and it's one of the oldest general physical principles that
higher energy states are unstable with respect to lower ones. Are
you familiar with elementary quantum theory? As an analogy, you might
regard yourself, displaced from your proper time, as an atom in an
excited state. The system is bound to drop back to ground state. In the
atomic case, the time which elapses before that transition occurs is a
matter of probabilities. In the case of time travel, it just depends on
the amount of mass and the number of years the mass is displaced.

"In short, the laws of nature will insist on your returning to 1950 in
just a few days."

Maitland looked at the floor for a while, and his shoulders sagged.
"Your memories of this will be faded," Swarts said. "You'll forget
about what Ingrid has told you--forget you were ever here, and take
up your life where you left off. You were happy working on rockets,
weren't you?"

"But--" Maitland shook his head despairingly. Then he had an idea.
"Will you let me do one thing, before I go back? I realize now that
our time is limited, and you have a lot of tests to give me, but I'm
willing to help speed things up. I want to see the stars, just once,
from deep space. I know you'll make me forget it ever happened, but
once in my life.... You have vessels--_vliegvlotter_, Ingrid called
them--that can go into space. If you'd give me just a couple days to go
out there, maybe circle the Moon...?" There was a pleading note in his
voice, but he didn't care.

Swarts regarded him dispassionately for a moment, then nodded. "Sure,"
he said. "Now let's get to work."

       *       *       *       *       *

"The Earth doesn't change much," Maitland mused. Sitting on the cot,
his arm around Ingrid's yielding waist, he was wearing the new blue
trunks she had given him to replace his rumpled pajamas. The room
was full of evening sunlight, and in that illumination she was more
beautiful than any other woman he could remember. This had been the
last day of tests; tomorrow, Swarts had promised, he would begin his
heart-breakingly brief argosy to the Moon, with Ingrid as pilot.

Over the past four days, he had been with the girl a lot. In the
beginning, he realized, she had been drawn to him as a symbol of an era
she longed, but was unable, to visit. Now she understood him better,
knew more about him--and Maitland felt that now she liked him for

She had told him of her childhood in backward Aresund and of loneliness
here at the school in Nebraska. "Here," she had said, "parents spend
most of their time raising their children; at home, they just let us
grow. Every time one of these people looks at me I feel inferior."

She had confided her dream of visiting far times and places, then had
finished, "I doubt that Swarts will ever let me go back. He thinks
I am too irresponsible. Probably he is right. But it is terribly
discouraging. Sometimes I think the best thing for me would be to go
home to the fiord...."

Now, sitting in the sunset glow, Maitland was in a philosophic mood.
"The color of grass, the twilight, the seasons, the stars--those things
haven't changed." He gestured out the window at the slumbering evening
prairie. "That scene, save for unessentials, could just as well be
1950--or 950. It's only human institutions that change rapidly...."

"I'll be awfully sorry when you go back," she sighed. "You're the first
person I've met here that I can talk to."

"Talk to," he repeated, dissatisfied. "You're just about the finest
girl I've ever met."

He kissed her, playfully, but when they separated there was nothing
playful left about it. Her face was flushed and he was breathing faster
than he had been. Savagely, he bit the inside of his cheek. "Two days!
A lifetime here wouldn't be long enough!"

"Bob." She touched his arm and her lips were trembling. "Bob, do you
have to go--out there? We could get a couple of horses tomorrow, and
we would have two days."

He leaned back and shook his head. "Can't you see, Ingrid? This is my
only chance. If I don't go tomorrow, I'll never get to the Moon. And
then my whole life won't mean anything...."

       *       *       *       *       *

He woke with Ingrid shaking him. "Bob! Bob!" Her voice was an urgent
whisper. "You've got to wake up quick! Bob!"

He sat up and brushed the hair out of his eyes. "What's the matter?"

"I didn't really believe that Swarts would let you go into space. It
wasn't like him. Bob, he fooled you. _Today_ is when your time runs

Maitland swallowed hard, and his chest muscles tightened convulsively.
"You mean it was all a trick?"

She nodded. "He told me just now, while he was putting something in
your milk to make you sleep." Her face was bitter and resentful. "He
said, 'This is a lesson for you, Ching, if you ever do any work with
individuals like this. You have to humor them, tell them anything they
want to believe, in order to get your data.'"

Maitland put his feet on the floor, stood up. His face was white and he
was breathing fast.

She grasped his arm. "What are you going to do?"

He shook her hand off. "I may not get to the Moon, but I'm going to
teach one superman the advantage of honesty!"

"Wait! That won't get you anywhere."

"He may be bigger than I am," Maitland gritted, "but--"

She squeezed his arm violently. "You don't understand. He would not
fight you. He'd use a gun."

"If I could catch him by surprise...."

She took hold of his shoulders firmly. "Now, listen, Bob Maitland. I
love you. And I think it's the most important thing in the world that
you get to see the stars. Swarts will never let me time travel, anyway."

"What are you thinking?"

"I'll go down to the village and get a _vliegvlotter_. It won't take
twenty minutes. I'll come back, see that Swarts is out of the way,
let you out of here, and take you--" she hesitated, but her eyes were
steady--"wherever you want to go."

He was trembling. "Your career. I can't let you...."

She made as if to spit, then grinned. "My career! It's time I went home
to the fiord, anyway. Now you wait here!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The _vliegvlotter_ was about 50 feet long, an ellipsoid of revolution.
Maitland and Ingrid ran hand in hand across the lawn and she pushed
him up through the door, then slammed it shut and screwed the pressure
locks tight.

They were strapping themselves into the seats, bathed in sunlight that
flooded down through the thick plastic canopy, when she stopped, pale
with consternation.

"What's the matter?" he demanded.

"Oh, Bob, I forgot! We can't do this!"

"We're going to," he said grimly.

"Bob, _sometime this morning you're going to snap back to 1950_. If
that happens while we're up there...."

His jaw went slack as the implication soaked in. Then he reached over
and finished fastening the buckle on her wide seat belt.

"Bob, I can't. I would be killing you just as surely as...."

"Never mind that. You can tell me how to run this thing and then get
out, if you want to."

She reached slowly forward and threw a switch, took hold of the wheel.
Seconds later they were plummeting into the blue dome of the sky.

The blue became darker, purplish, and stars appeared in daylight.
Maitland gripped the edge of the seat; somewhere inside him it seemed
that a chorus of angels was singing the finale of Beethoven's Ninth.

There was a _ping_ and Ingrid automatically flicked a switch. A screen
lit up and the image of Swarts was looking at them. His eyes betrayed
some unfamiliar emotion, awe or fear. "Ching! Come back here at once.
Don't you realize that--"

"Sorry, Swarts." Maitland's voice resonated with triumph. "You'll just
have to humor me once more."

"Maitland! Don't you know that you're going to snap back to the 20th
Century in half an hour? You'll be in space with no protection. You'll

"I know," Maitland said. He looked up through the viewport. "Right now,
I'm seeing the stars as I've never seen them before. Sorry to make you
lose a case, Swarts, but this is better than dying of pneumonia or an
atomic bomb."

He reached forward and snapped the image off.

       *       *       *       *       *

Twenty minutes later, Maitland had Ingrid cut the drive and turn the
ship, so that he could see the Earth. It was there, a huge shining
globe against the constellations, 10,000 miles distant, 100 times the
size of familiar Luna. North America was directly below, part of Canada
covered with a dazzling area of clouds. The polar ice-cap was visible
in its entirety, along with the northern portions of the Eurasian land
mass. The line of darkness cut off part of Alaska and bisected the
Pacific Ocean, and the Sun's reflection in the Atlantic was blinding.

And there was Venus, a brilliant, white jewel against the starry
blackness of interstellar space, and now he could see the Sun's

The ship was rotating slowly, and presently the Moon, at first quarter,
came into view, not perceptibly larger than seen from Earth. Maitland
heaved a sigh of regret. If only this could have been but the beginning
of a voyage....

Ingrid touched his arm. "Bob."

He turned to look at her golden beauty.

"Bob, give me one more kiss."

He loosened his seat strap and put his arms around her. For a moment he
felt her soft lips on his....

Then she was gone, and the ship had vanished. For perhaps as long as
a second, alone in space, he was looking with naked, unprotected,
ambition-sated eyes at the distant stars.

The luring white blaze of Venus was the last image he took with him
into the night without stars.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Ambition" ***

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