HotFreeBooks.com
Starman's Quest
by Robert Silverberg
Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse

There was no sense brooding over it, he decided finally. When it was all over he would have enough money to begin aiming for his real goal, development of a workable hyperspace drive. He would break completely with Hawkes, move to some other city perhaps. If his quest were successful, it would in some measure be an atonement for the crime he was going to commit. Only in some measure, though.

The week passed slowly, and Alan did poorly at his nightly work. His mind was anywhere but on the flashing games board, and the permutations and combinations eluded him. He lost, though not heavily.

Each night the ten members of the Syndicate met at Hawkes' apartment and planned each step of the crime in great detail, drilling and re-drilling until it was second nature for each man to recite his particular part in the robbery. Alan's was at once the simplest and most difficult; he would have nothing to do until the others had finished their parts, but then he would have to board the armored car and outrace any pursuers. He was to drive the car far outside city limits, where he would be met and relieved of the cash by Byng and Hollis; then he was to lose the truck somewhere and return to the city by public transit.

The day of the robbery dawned cold and clear; an autumn chill was in the air. Alan felt some anticipatory nervousness, but he was calmer than he expected to be—almost fatalistically calm. By nightfall, he would be a wanted criminal. He wondered whether it would be worth it, even for the million credits. Perhaps it would be best to defy Hawkes and make some sort of escape try.

But Hawkes, as always a shrewd judge of human character, seemed obviously aware that Alan was wavering. He kept a close watch over him, never allowing him to stray. Hawkes was taking no chances. He was compelling Alan to take part in the robbery.

The currency transfer was scheduled to take place at 1240, according to the inside information that Hollis had somehow obtained. Shortly after noon, Hawkes and Alan left the apartment and boarded the Undertube, their destination the downtown section of York City where the World Reserve Bank was located.

They reached the bank about 1230. The armored truck was parked outside, looking sleek and impregnable, and four massive roboguards stood watch, one by each wheel. There were three human policemen too, but they were strictly for effect; in case of any trouble, the roboguards were expected to handle the rough work.

The bank was a mighty edifice indeed—over a hundred stories high, rising in sweeping setbacks to a point where its tapering top was lost in the shimmering noonday sky. It was, Alan knew, the center of global commerce.

Armed guards were bringing packages of currency from within the bank and were placing them on the truck. Alan's heart raced. The streets were crowded with office workers out for lunch; could he get away with it?

It was all precisely synchronized. As Hawkes and Alan strolled toward the bank, Alan caught sight of Kovak lounging across the street, reading a telefax sheet. None of the others were visible.

Webber, Alan knew, was at this moment sitting in an office overlooking the bank entrance, staring out the window at the scene below. At precisely 1240, Webber was to throw the switch on the wave-damper that would paralyze the four roboguards.

The instant the roboguards froze, the other conspirators would go into action. Jensen, McGuire, Freeman, and Smith, donning masks, would leap for the three human guards of the truck and pin them to the ground. Byng and Hawkes, who would enter the bank a moment before, would stage an impromptu fist-fight with each other just inside the main entrance, thereby creating confusion and making it difficult for reinforcement guards to get past them and into the street.

Just outside the door, Hollis and Kovak would lurk. As the quartet pounced on the truck's guards, they would sprint across and yank the driver out of the cab. Then Alan would enter quickly from the other side and drive off, while the remaining nine would vanish into the crowd in as many different directions as possible. Byng and Hollis, if they got away, would head for the rendezvous to meet Alan and take the cash from him.

If it went off properly the whole thing should take less than fifteen seconds, from the time Webber threw the switch to the time Alan drove away with the truck. If it went off properly.

The seconds crawled by. The time was 1235, now. At 1237 Hawkes and Byng sauntered into the bank from opposite directions. Three minutes to go. Alan's false calm deserted him; he pictured all sorts of possible calamities.

1238. Everyone's watch was synchronized to the second.

1239. 1239:30.

Thirty seconds to go. Alan took his position in a crowd of bystanders, as prearranged. Fifteen seconds to go. Ten. Five.

1240. The roboguards were in the act of directing the locking of the truck; the loading had been carried out precisely on schedule. The truck was shut and sealed.

The roboguards froze.

Webber had been right on time. Alan tensed, caught up in the excitement of the moment and thinking now only of the part he was to play.

The three policemen glanced at each other in some confusion. Jensen and McGuire came leaping out at them——

And the roboguards returned to life.

The sound of blaster shots was heard within the bank; Alan whirled, startled. Four guards came racing out of the building, blasters drawn. What had happened to Hawkes and Byng—why weren't they obstructing the entrance, as it had been arranged?

The street was a scene of wild confusion now; people milled everywhere. Alan saw Jensen writhing in the steel grip of a roboguard. Had Webber's device failed? Evidently so.

Alan was unable to move. He saw Freeman and McGuire streaking wildly down the street with police in keen pursuit. Hollis stood staring dumbly inside the bank door. Alan saw Kovak come running toward him.

"Everything's gone wrong!" Kovak whispered harshly. "The cops were waiting for us! Byng and Hawkes are dead. Come on—run, if you want to save yourself!"



Chapter Fifteen

Alan sat very quietly in the empty apartment that had once belonged to Max Hawkes, and stared at nothing in particular. It was five hours since the abortive robbery. He was alone.

The news had been blared out over every form of communication there was; he knew the story by heart. A daring robbery had been attempted, but police detection methods had yielded advance warning, and the robbers had been frustrated. The roboguards had been specially equipped ones which could shift to an alternate wavelength in case of emergency; they had blanked out only momentarily. And special guards had been posted within the bank, ready to charge out. Byng and Hawkes had tried to block the doorway and they had been shot down. Hawkes was killed instantly; Byng died an hour later in the hospital.

At least two other members of the gang had been apprehended—Jensen and Smith, both trapped by the roboguards. It was known that at least two other men and possibly more had participated in the attempt, and these were being traced now.

Alan was not worried. He had not been within a hundred feet of the crime, and it had been easy for him to slip away unnoticed. The others had had little difficulty either—Webber, Hollis, Kovak, McGuire, and Freeman. There was a chance that Hollis or Kovak had been recognized; in that case, they could be tracked down by televector. But Alan was not registered on the televector screens—and there was no other way of linking him with the crime.

He glanced around the apartment at Hawkes' bar and his audio system and all the dead man's other things. Yesterday, Alan thought, Hawkes had been here, alive, eyes sparkling as he outlined the plans for the robbery a final time. Now he was dead. It was hard to believe that such a many-sided person could have been snuffed out so soon, so quickly.

A thought occurred. The police would be investigating the disposition of Hawkes' property; they would want to know the relationship between Hawkes and Alan, and perhaps there would be questions asked about the robbery. Alan decided to forestall that.

He reached for the phone. He would call Security, tell them he had been living with Hawkes and had heard of the gambler's sudden violent death, and in all innocence ask for details. He would——

The door-announcer chimed.

Alan whirled and put down the receiver. Reaching out, he flicked on the doorscreen and was shown a view of a distinguished-looking middle-aged man in the silver-gray uniform of the police. So soon? Alan thought. I didn't even get a chance to call——

"Who is it?" he asked, in a surprisingly even voice.

"Inspector Gainer of Global Security."

Alan opened the door. Inspector Gainer smiled warmly, walked in, took the seat Alan offered him. Alan felt tense and jumpy, and hoped not too much of it showed.

The Security man said, "Your name is Alan Donnell, isn't it? And you're a Free Status man, unregistered, employed as a professional gamesman Class B?"

Alan nodded. "That's right, sir."

Gainer checked a notation on a pad he carried. "I suppose you've heard that the man who lived here—Max Hawkes—was killed in an attempted robbery this morning."

"Y-yes, sir. I heard it a little while ago, on the newscasts. I'm still a little shaken up. W-would you care for a drink, Inspector?"

"Not on duty, thanks," Gainer said cheerfully. "Tell me, Alan—how long did you know Max Hawkes?"

"Since last May. I'm an ex-starman. I—jumped ship. Max found me wandering around the city and took me in. But I never knew anything about any robberies, Inspector. Max kept his mouth pretty well sealed most of the time. When he left here this morning, he said he was going to the bank to make a deposit. I never thought——"

He stopped, wondering whether he sounded convincing. At that moment a long jail sentence or worse seemed inevitable. And the worst part of it was that he had not wanted to take part in the robbery, indeed had not taken part—but in the eyes of the law he was undoubtedly as guilty as any of the others.

Gainer raised one hand. "Don't misunderstand, son. I'm not here as a criminal investigator. We don't suspect you had any part in the attempt."

"Then why——"

He drew an envelope from his breast pocket and unfolded the papers it contained. "I knew Max pretty well," he said. "About a week ago he came to see me and gave me a sealed envelope which was to be opened only in the event of his death on this particular day, and to be destroyed unopened otherwise. I opened it a few hours ago. I think you ought to read it."

With trembling fingers Alan took the sheaf of papers and scanned them. They were neatly typed; Alan recognized the blocky purple characters of the voicewrite Hawkes kept in his room.

He started to read.

The document explained that Hawkes was planning a bank robbery to take place on Friday, October 3, 3876. He named none of his accomplices. He went on to state that one Alan Donnell, an unregistered ex-starman, was living with him, and that this Alan Donnell had no knowledge whatsoever of the intended bank robbery.

Furthermore, Hawkes added, in the event of my death in the intended robbery, Alan Donnell is to be sole heir and assign of my worldly goods. This supersedes and replaces any and all wills and testaments I may have made at any past time.

Appended was a schedule of the properties Hawkes was leaving behind. Accounts in various savings banks totalled some three quarters of a million credits; besides that, there were scattered investments, real estate holdings, bonds. The total estate, Hawkes estimated, was worth slightly over one million credits.

When Alan finished, he looked up startled and white-faced at the older man. "All of this is mine?"

"You're a pretty rich young man," Gainer agreed. "Of course, there are formalities—the will has to be probated and contested, and you can expect it to be contested by somebody. If you still have the full estate when the courts get through with you, you'll be all right."

Alan shook his head uncomprehendingly. "The way he wrote this—it's as if he knew."

"Max Hawkes always knew," Gainer said gently. "He was the best hunch-man I've ever seen. It was almost as if he could look a couple of days into the future all the time. Sure, he knew. And he also knew it was safe to leave this document with me—that he could trust me not to open it. Imagine, announcing a week ahead of time that you're going to rob a bank and then turning the announcement over sealed to a police officer!"

Alan started. The police had known about the robbery in advance—that was how Max and the dreamduster Byng had been killed. Had Gainer been the one who had betrayed them? Had he opened the sealed envelope ahead of time, and sent Max to his death?

No. It was inconceivable that this soft-spoken man would have done such a thing. Alan banished the thought.

"Max knew he was going to be killed," he said. "And yet he went ahead with it. Why?"

"Maybe he wanted to die," Gainer suggested. "Maybe he was bored with life, bored with always winning, bored with things as they were. The man was never born who could figure out Max Hawkes, anyway. You must have found that out yourself."

Gainer rose. "I'll have to be moving along, now. But let me give you some suggestions, first."

"Sir?"

"Go downtown and get yourself registered in Free Status. Have them give you a televector number. You're going to be an important person when you get all that money. And be very careful about who your friends are. Max could take care of himself; you may not be so lucky, son."

"Is there going to be an investigation of the robbery?" Alan asked.

"It's under way already. You may be called down for questioning, but don't let it worry you. I turned a copy of Max's will over to them today, and that exonerates you completely."

It was strangely empty in the apartment that night; Alan wished Gainer had stayed longer. He walked through the dark rooms, half expecting Max to come home. But Max wasn't coming home.

Alan realized he had been tremendously fond of Hawkes. He had never really shown it; he had never demonstrated much warmth toward the gambler, especially in the final days when they both lived under the pressure of the planned robbery. But Alan knew he owed much to Hawkes, rogue and rascal though he was. Hawkes had been basically a good man, gifted—too gifted, perhaps—whose drives and passions led him beyond the bounds of society. And at thirty-five he was dead, having known in advance that his last day was at hand.

The next few days were busy ones. Alan was called to Security headquarters for questioning, but he insisted he knew nothing about the robbery or Hawkes' friends, and the document Hawkes had left seemed to bear him out. He was cleared of all complicity in the robbery.

He next went to the Central Directory Matrix and registered in Free Status. He was given a televector transmitter—it was surgically embedded in the fleshy part of his thigh—and he accepted a drink from fat old Hines MacIntosh in remembrance of Hawkes.

He spoke briefly with MacIntosh about the process of collecting on Hawkes' estate, and learned it was a complex process, but nothing to be frightened of. The will was being sent through channels now.

He met Hollis in the street several days later. The bloated loansman looked pale and harried; he had lost weight, and his skin hung flabbily over his bones now. Little as Alan liked the loansman, he insisted on taking him to a local restaurant for lunch.

"How come you're still hanging around York City?" Alan asked. "I thought the heat was on for any of Max's old buddies."

"It is," Hollis said, wiping sweat from his white shiny forehead. "But so far I'm in the clear. There won't be much of an investigation; they killed two and caught two, and that'll keep them happy. After all, the robbery was a failure."

"Any notion why it failed?"

Hollis nodded. "Sure I have a notion! It was Kovak who tipped them off."

"Mike?—but he looked okay to me."

"And to everybody. But he owed Bryson a lot, and Bryson was anxious to dispose of Max. So Kovak turned the plans of the robbery over to Bryson's boys in exchange for a quitclaim on the money he owed, and Bryson just forwarded it all on to the police. They were waiting for us when we showed up."

That cleared Gainer, Alan thought in some relief. "How did you find all this out?"

"Bryson himself told me."

"What!"

"I guess he didn't know exactly who besides Max was in on the deal. Anyway, he certainly didn't know I was part of the group," Hollis said. "Old man Bryson was laying off some bets with me and he let something slip about how he tipped the police to Max. Then he told me the whole thing."

"And Kovak?"

"Dead," Hollis said bluntly. "Bryson must have figured that if he'd sell Max out he'd sell anybody out, so Kovak got taken care of. He was found yesterday. Heart failure, the report said. Bryson has some good drugs. Say, kid—any word yet on what's going to happen to all Max's dough?"

Alan thought a moment before replying. "I haven't heard a thing. I guess the government inherits it."

"That would be too bad," Hollis said speculatively. "Max was well loaded. I'd like to get my hands into some of that dough myself. So would Bryson and his bunch, I'll bet."

Alan said nothing. When he was through eating, he paid the check and they left, Hollis heading north, Alan south. In three days, Hawkes' will would go through the courts. Alan wondered if Bryson, who seemed to be York City's major criminal syndic man, would try to angle some share of Max's money.

A Bryson man did show up at the hearing—a slick-looking operator named Berwin. His claim was that Hawkes had been affiliated with Bryson a number of years ago, and that Hawkes' money should revert to Bryson by virtue of an obscure law of the last century involving the estates of professional gamblers killed in criminal actions.

The robocomputer who was in charge of the hearing pondered the request a few moments; then relays clicked and the left-hand panel on the computer face lit up with a bright red APPLICATION DENIED signal.

Berwin spoke for three minutes, ending up with a request that the robocomputer disqualify itself from the hearing and allow itself to be replaced by a human judge.

The computer's decision was even quicker this time. APPLICATION DENIED.

Berwin tossed Alan's side of the courtroom a black look and yielded ground. Alan had engaged a lawyer recommended once by Hawkes, a man named Jesperson. Briefly and concisely Jesperson cited Alan's claim to the money, read the terms of the will, and stepped back.

The computer considered Jesperson's plea a few moments, reviewing the brief which the lawyer had taped and fed to the computer earlier. Time passed. Then the green panel lit, and the words, APPLICATION GRANTED.

Alan smiled. Bryson had been defeated; Max's money was his. Money that could be turned toward intensified research on the hyperdrive.

"Well, son?" Jesperson asked. "How does it feel to be a millionaire?"



Chapter Sixteen

At the time, he had been much too excited and flustered to answer anything. But, as the next twelve months went by, he learned that being a millionaire was quite pleasant indeed.

There were headaches, of course. There was the initial headache of signing his name several hundred times in the course of the transfer of Hawkes' wealth to him. There were also the frequent visits from the tax-collectors, and the payment to them of a sum that staggered Alan to think about, in the name of Rotation Tax.

But even after taxes, legal fees, and other expenses, Alan found he owned better than nine hundred thousand credits, and the estate grew by investment every day. The court appointed a legal guardian for him, the lawyer Jesperson, who was to administer Alan's money until Alan reached the biological age of twenty-one. The decision was an involved one, since Alan had undeniably been born three hundred years earlier, in 3576—but the robojudge that presided over that particular hearing cited a precedent seven hundred years old which stated that for legal purposes a starman's biological and not his chronological age was to be accepted.

The guardianship posed no problems for Alan, though. When he met with Jesperson to discuss future plans, the lawyer told him, "You can handle yourself, Alan. I'll give you free rein with the estate—with the proviso that I have veto power over any of your expenditures until your twenty-first birthday."

That sounded fair enough. Alan had reason to trust the lawyer; hadn't Hawkes recommended him? "I'll agree to that," Alan said. "Suppose we start right now. I'd like to take a year and travel around the world. As my legal guardian you'll be stuck with the job of managing my estate and handling investments for me."

Jesperson chuckled. "You'll be twice as wealthy when you get back! Nothing makes money so fast as money."

Alan left the first week in December, having spent three weeks doing virtually nothing but sketching out his itinerary. There were plenty of places he intended to visit.

There was London, where James Hudson Cavour had lived and where his hyperdrive research had been carried out. There was the Lexman Institute of Space Travel in Zurich, where an extensive library of space literature had been accumulated; it was possible that hidden away in their files was some stray notebook of Cavour's, some clue that would give Alan a lead. He wanted to visit the area in Siberia that Cavour had used as his testing-ground, and from which the last bulletin had come from the scientist before his unexplained disappearance.

But it was not only a business trip. Alan had lived nearly half a year in the squalor of Hasbrouck—and because of his Free Status he would never be able to move into a better district, despite his wealth. But he wanted to see the rest of Earth. He wanted to travel just for the sake of travel.

Before he left, he visited a rare book dealer in York City, and for an exorbitant fifty credits purchased a fifth-edition copy of An Investigation into the Possibility of Faster-than-Light Space Travel, by James H. Cavour. He had left his copy of the work aboard the Valhalla, along with the few personal possessions he had managed to accumulate during his life as a starman.

The book dealer had frowned when Alan asked for the volume under the title he knew. "The Cavour Theory? I don't think—ah, wait." He vanished for perhaps five minutes and returned with an old, fragile, almost impossibly delicate-looking book. Alan took it and scanned the opening page. There were the words he had read so many times: "The present system of interstellar travel is so grossly inefficient as to be virtually inoperable on an absolute level."

"Yes, that's the book. I'll take it."

His first stop on his round-the-globe jaunt was London, where Cavour had been born and educated more than thirteen centuries before. The stratoliner made the trip across the Atlantic in a little less than three hours; it took half an hour more by Overshoot from the airport to the heart of London.

Somehow, from Cavour's few autobiographical notes, Alan had pictured London as a musty old town, picturesque, reeking of medieval history. He couldn't have been more wrong. Sleek towers of plastic and concrete greeted him. Overshoots roared by the tops of the buildings. A busy network of bridges connected them.

He went in search of Cavour's old home in Bayswater, with the nebulous idea of finding some important document wedged in the woodwork. But a local security officer shook his head as Alan asked for directions.

"Sorry, lad. I've never heard of that street. Why don't you try the information robot up there?"

The information robot was a blocky green-skinned synthetic planted in a kiosk in the middle of a broad well-paved street. Alan approached and gave the robot Cavour's thirteen-century-old address.

"There is no record of any such address in the current files," the steely voice informed him.

"No. It's an old address. It dates back to at least 2570. A man named Cavour lived there."

The robot digested the new data; relays hummed softly within it as it scanned its memory banks. Finally it grunted, "Data on the address you seek has been reached."

"Fine! Where's the house?"

"The entire district was demolished during the general rebuilding of London in 2982-2997. Nothing remains."

"Oh," Alan said.

The London trail trickled out right then and there. He pursued it a little further, managed to find Cavour's name inscribed on the honor role of the impressive London Technological Institute for the year 2529, and discovered a copy of Cavour's book in the Institute Library. There was nothing else to be found. After a month in London, Alan moved on eastward across Europe.

Most of it was little like the descriptions he had read in the Valhalla's library. The trouble was that the starship's visits to Earth were always at least a decade behind, usually more. Most of the library books had come aboard when the ship had first been commissioned, far back in the year 2731. The face of Europe had almost totally altered since then.

Now, shiny new buildings replaced the ancient houses which had endured for as much as a thousand years. A gleaming bridge linked Dover and Calais; elsewhere, the rivers of Europe were bridged frequently, providing easy access between the many states of the Federation of Europe. Here, there, monuments of the past remained—the Eiffel Tower, absurdly dwarfed by the vast buildings around it, still reared its spidery self in Paris, and Notre Dame still remained as well. But the rest of Paris, the ancient city Alan had read so much of—that had long since been swept under by the advancing centuries. Buildings did not endure forever.

In Zurich he visited the Lexman Institute for Space Travel, a magnificent group of buildings erected on the royalties from the Lexman Spacedrive. A radiant statue sixty feet high was the monument to Alexander Lexman, who in 2337 had first put the stars within the reach of man.

Alan succeeded in getting an interview with the current head of the Institute, but it was anything but a satisfactory meeting. It was held in an office ringed with mementoes of the epoch-making test flight of 2338.

"I'm interested in the work of James H. Cavour," Alan said almost immediately—and from the bleak expression that appeared on the scientist's face, he knew he had made a grave mistake.

"Cavour is as far from Lexman as possible, my friend. Cavour was a dreamer; Lexman, a doer."

"Lexman succeeded—but how do you know Cavour didn't succeed as well?"

"Because, my young friend, faster-than-light travel is flatly impossible. A dream. A delusion."

"You mean that there's no faster-than-light research being carried on here?"

"The terms of our charter, set down by Alexander Lexman himself, specify that we are to work toward improvements in the technique of space travel. It said nothing about fantasies and daydreams. No—ah—hyperdrive research is taking place at this institute, and none will take place so long as we remain true to the spirit of Alexander Lexman."

Alan felt like crying out that Lexman was a bold and daring pioneer, never afraid to take a chance, never worried about expense or public reaction. It was obvious, though, that the people of the Institute had long since fossilized in their patterns. It was a waste of breath to argue with them.

Discouraged, he moved on, pausing in Vienna to hear the opera—Max had always intended to spend a vacation with him in Vienna, listening to Mozart, and Alan felt he owed it to Hawkes to pay his respects. The operas he saw were ancient, medieval in fact, better than two thousand years old; he enjoyed the tinkly melodies but found some of the plots hard to understand.

He saw a circus in Ankara, a football game in Budapest, a nullgrav wrestling match in Moscow. He journeyed to the far reaches of Siberia, where Cavour had spent his final years, and found that what had been a bleak wasteland suitable for spaceship experiments in 2570 was now a thriving modern city of five million people. The site of Cavour's camp had long since been swallowed up.

Alan's faith in the enduring nature of human endeavor was restored somewhat by his visit to Egypt—for there he saw the pyramids, nearly seven thousand years old; they looked as permanent as the stars.

The first anniversary of his leaving the Valhalla found him in South Africa; from there he travelled eastward through China and Japan, across the highly industrialized islands of the Far Pacific, and from the Philippines he returned to the American mainland by jet express.

He spent the next four months travelling widely through the United States, gaping at the Grand Canyon and the other scenic preserves of the west. East of the Mississippi, life was different; there was barely a stretch of open territory between York City and Chicago.

It was late in November when he returned to York City. Jesperson greeted him at the airfield, and they rode home together. Alan had been gone a year; he was past eighteen, now, a little heavier, a little stronger. Very little of the wide-eyed boy who had stepped off the Valhalla the year before remained intact. He had changed inwardly.

But one part of him had not changed, except in the direction of greater determination. That was the part that hoped to unlock the secret of faster-than-light travel.

He was discouraged. His journey had revealed the harsh fact that nowhere on Earth was research into hyperdrive travel being carried on; either they had tried and abandoned it as hopeless, or, like the Zurich people, they had condemned the concept from the start.

"Did you find what you were looking for?" Jesperson asked.

Alan slowly shook his head. "Not a hint. And I really covered ground." He stared at the lawyer a moment. "How much am I worth, now?"

"Well, offhand—" Jesperson thought for a moment. "Say, a million three hundred. I've made some good investments this past year."

Alan nodded. "Good. Keep the money piling up. I may decide to open a research lab of my own, and we'll need every credit we've got."

But the next day an item arrived in the morning mail which very much altered the character of Alan's plans for the future. It was a small but thick package, neatly wrapped, which bore as return address the name Dwight Bentley, with a London number.

Alan frowned for a moment, trying to place the name. Then it came back to him—Bentley was the vice-provost of the London Institute of Technology, Cavour's old school. Alan had had a long talk with Bentley one afternoon in January, about Cavour, about space travel, and about Alan's hopes for developing a hyperspace drive.

The parcel was the right size and thickness to contain a book. Alan slit the fastenings, and folded back the outer wrapper. A note from Bentley lay on top.

London 3rd November 3877

My dear Mr. Donnell:

Perhaps you may remember the very enjoyable chat you and I had one day at this Institute last winter, on the occasion of your visit to London. You were, I recall, deeply interested in the life and work of James H. Cavour, and anxious to carry on the developments he had achieved in the field of space travel.

Several days ago, in the course of an extensive resurveying of the Institute's archives, the enclosed volume was discovered very thoroughly hidden in the dusty recesses of our library. Evidently Mr. Cavour had forwarded the book to us from his laboratory in Asia, and it had somehow become misfiled.

I am taking the liberty of forwarding the book on to you, in the hopes that it will aid you in your work and perhaps ultimately bring you success. Would you be kind enough to return the book to me c/o this Institute when you are finished with it?

Cordially, Dwight Bentley

Alan let the note slip to the floor as he reached for the enclosed book. It was leather-bound and even more fragile than the copy of The Cavour Theory he had purchased; it looked ready to crumble at a hostile breath.

With mounting excitement he lifted the ancient cover and turned it over. The first page of the book was blank; so were the second and third. On the fourth page, Alan saw a few lines of writing, in an austere, rigid hand. He peered close, and with awe and astonishment read the words written there:

The Journal of James Hudson Cavour. Volume 16—Jan. 8 to October 11, 2570.



Chapter Seventeen

The old man's diary was a curious and fascinating document. Alan never tired of poring over it, trying to conjure up a mental image of the queer, plucky fanatic who had labored so desperately to bring the stars close to Earth.

Like many embittered recluses, Cavour had been an enthusiastic diarist. Everything that took place in his daily life was carefully noted down—his digestion, the weather, any stray thoughts that came to him, tart observations on humanity in general. But Alan was chiefly interested in the notations that dealt with his researches on the problem of a faster-than-the-speed-of-light spacedrive.

Cavour had worked for years in London, harried by reporters and mocked by scientists. But late in 2569 he had sensed he was on the threshold of success. In his diary for January 8, 2570, he wrote:

"The Siberian site is almost perfect. It has cost me nearly what remains of my savings to build it, but out here I will have the solitude I need so much. I estimate six months more will see completion of my pilot model. It is a source of deep bitterness in me that I am forced to work on my ship like a common laborer, when my part should have ceased three years ago with the development of my theory and the designing of my ship. But this is the way the world wants it, and so shall it be."

On May 8 of that year:

"Today there was a visitor—a journalist, no doubt. I drove him away before he could disturb me, but I fear he and others will be back. Even in the bleak Siberian steppes I shall have no privacy. Work is moving along smoothly, though somewhat behind schedule; I shall be lucky to complete my ship before the end of the year."

On August 17:

"Planes continue to circle my laboratory here. I suspect I am being spied on. The ship is nearing completion. It will be ready for standard Lexman-drive flights any day now, but installation of my spacewarp generator will take several more months."

On September 20:

"Interference has become intolerable. For the fifth day an American journalist has attempted to interview me. My 'secret' Siberian laboratory has apparently become a world tourist attraction. The final circuitry on the spacewarp generator is giving me extreme difficulties; there are so many things to perfect. I cannot work under these circumstances. I have virtually ceased all machine-work this week."

And on October 11, 2570:

"There is only one recourse for me. I will have to leave Earth to complete the installation of my generator. The prying fools and mockers will not leave me alone, and nowhere on Earth can I have the needed solitude. I shall go to Venus—uninhabited, uninhabitable. Perhaps they will leave me alone for the month or two more I need to make my vessel suitable for interstellar drive. Then I can return to Earth, show them what I have done, offer to make a demonstration flight—to Rigel and back in days, perhaps——

"Why is it that Earth so tortures its few of original mind? Why has my life been one unending persecution, ever since I declared there was a way to shortcut through space? There are no answers. The answers lie deep within the dark recesses of the human collective soul, and no man may understand what takes place there. I am content to know that I shall have succeeded despite it all. Some day a future age may remember me, like Copernicus, like Galileo, as one who fought upstream successfully."

The diary ended there. But in the final few pages were computations—a trial orbit to Venus, several columns of blastoff figures, statistics on geographical distribution of the Venusian landmasses.

Cavour had certainly been a peculiar bird, Alan thought. Probably half the "persecutions" he complained of had existed solely inside his own fevered brain. But that hardly mattered. He had gone to Venus; the diary that had found its way back to the London Institute of Technology testified to that. And there was only one logical next step for Alan.

Go to Venus. Follow the orbit Cavour had scribbled at the back of his diary.

Perhaps he might find the Cavour ship itself; perhaps, the site of his laboratory, some notes, anything at all. He could not allow the trail to trickle out here.

He told Jesperson, "I want to buy a small spaceship. I'm going to Venus."

He looked at the lawyer expectantly and got ready to put up a stiff argument when Jesperson started to raise objections. But the big man only smiled.

"Okay," he said. "When are you leaving?"

"You aren't going to complain? The kind of ship I have in mind costs at least two hundred thousand credits."

"I know that. But I've had a look at Cavour's diary, too. It was only a matter of time before you decided to follow the old duck to Venus, and I'm too smart to think that there's any point in putting up a battle. Let me know when you've got your ship picked out and I'll sit down and write the check."

But it was not as simple as all that. Alan shopped for a ship—he wanted a new one, as long as he could afford it—and after several months of comparative shopping and getting advice from spaceport men, he picked the one he wanted. It was a sleek glossy eighty-foot job, a Spacemaster 3878 model, equipped with Lexman converters and conventional ion-jets for atmosphere flying. Smooth, streamlined, it was a lovely sight as it stood at the spacefield in the shadow of the great starships.

Alan looked at it with pride—a slender dark-green needle yearning to pierce the void. He wandered around the spaceport and heard the fuelers and oilers discussing it in reverent tones.

"That's a mighty fine piece of ship, that green one out there. Some lucky fellow's got it."

Alan wanted to go over to them and tell them, "That's my ship. Me. Alan Donnell." But he knew they would only laugh. Tall boys not quite nineteen did not own late-model Spacemasters with price-tags of cr. 225,000.

He itched to get off-planet with it, but there were more delays. He needed a flight ticket, first, and even though he had had the necessary grounding in astrogation technique and spacepiloting as an automatic part of his education aboard the Valhalla, he was rusty, and needed a refresher course that took six weary months.

After that came the physical exams and the mental checkup and everything else. Alan fumed at the delay, but he knew it was necessary. A spaceship, even a small private one, was a dangerous weapon in unskilled hands. An out-of-control spaceship that came crashing to Earth at high velocity could kill millions; the shock wave might flatten fifty square miles. So no one was allowed up in a spaceship of any kind without a flight ticket—and you had to work to win your ticket.

It came through, finally, in June of 3879, a month after Alan's twentieth birthday. By that time he had computed and recomputed his orbit to Venus a hundred different times.

Three years had gone by since he last had been aboard a spaceship, and that had been the Valhalla. His childhood and adolescence now seemed like a hazy dream to him, far in the back of his mind. The Valhalla, with his father and Steve and all the friends of his youth aboard, was three years out from Earth—with seven years yet to go before it reached Procyon, its destination.

Of course, the Crew had experienced only about four weeks, thanks to the Fitzgerald Contraction. To the Valhalla people only a month had passed since Alan had left them, while he had gone through three years.

He had grown up, in those three years. He knew where he was heading, now, and nothing frightened him. He understood people. And he had one great goal which was coming closer and closer with each passing month.

Blastoff day was the fifth of September, 3879. The orbit Alan finally settled on was a six-day trip at low acceleration across the 40,000,000-odd miles that separated Earth from Venus.

At the spaceport he handed in his flight ticket for approval, placed a copy of his intended orbit on file with Central Routing Registration, and got his field clearance.

The ground crew had already been notified that Alan's ship was blasting off that day, and they were busy now putting her in final departure condition. There were some expressions of shock as Alan displayed his credentials to the ground chief and climbed upward into the control chamber of the ship he had named the James Hudson Cavour, but no one dared question him.

His eyes caressed the gleaming furnishings of the control panel. He checked with the central tower, was told how long till his blastoff clearance, and rapidly surveyed the fuel meters, the steering-jet response valves, the automatic pilot. He worked out a tape with his orbit on it. Now he inserted it into the receiving tray of the autopilot and tripped a lever. The tape slid into the computer, clicking softly and emitting a pleasant hum.

"Eight minutes to blastoff," came the warning.

Never had eight minutes passed so slowly. Alan snapped on his viewscreen and looked down at the field; the ground crew men were busily clearing the area as blastoff time approached.

"One minute to blastoff, Pilot Donnell." Then the count-down began, second by second.

At the ten-seconds-to-go announcement, Alan activated the autopilot and nudged the button that transformed his seat into a protective acceleration cradle. His seat dropped down, and Alan found himself stretched out, swinging gently back and forth in the protecting hammock. The voice from the control tower droned out the remaining seconds. Tensely Alan waited for the sharp blow of acceleration.

Then the roaring came, and the ship jolted from side to side, struggled with gravity for a moment, and then sprang up free from the Earth.

Some time later came the sudden thunderous silence as the jets cut out; there was the dizzying moment of free fall, followed by the sound of the lateral jets imparting longitudinal spin to the small ship. Artificial gravity took over. It had been a perfect takeoff. Now there was nothing to do but wait for Venus to draw near.

The days trickled past. Alan experienced alternating moods of gloom and exultation. In the gloomy moods he told himself that this trip to Venus was a fool's errand, that it would be just another dead end, that Cavour had been a paranoid madman and the hyperspace drive was an idiot's dream.

But in the moments of joy he pictured the finding of Cavour's ship, the building of a fleet of hyperdrive vessels. The distant stars within almost instantaneous reach! He would tour the galaxies as he had two years ago toured Earth. Canopus and Deneb, Rigel and Procyon, he would visit them all. From star to bright star, from one end of the universe to the other.

The shining oval of Venus grew brighter and brighter. The cloud layer that enveloped Earth's sister planet swirled and twisted.

Venus was virtually an unknown world. Earth colonies had been established on Mars and on Pluto, but Venus, with her harsh formaldehyde atmosphere, had been ignored. Uninhabited, uninhabitable, the planet was unsuitable for colonization.

The ship swung down into the cloud layer; floating wisps of gray vapor streamed past the orbiting Cavour. Finally Alan broke through, navigating now on manual, following as best he could Cavour's old computations. He guided the craft into a wide-ranging spiral orbit three thousand feet above the surface of Venus, and adjusted his viewscreens for fine pickup.

He was orbiting over a vast dust-blown plain. The sky was a fantastic color, mottled blues and greens and an all-pervading pink, and the air was dull gray. No sun at all penetrated the heavy shroud of vapor that hung round the planet.

For five hours he scouted the plain, hoping to find some sign of Cavour's habitation. It was hopeless, he told himself; in thirteen hundred years the bitter winds of Venus would have destroyed any hint of Cavour's site, assuming the old man had reached Venus successfully.

But grimly Alan continued to circle the area. Maybe Cavour had been forced to land elsewhere, he thought. Maybe he never got here. There were a million maybes.

He computed his orbit and locked the ship in. Eyes pressed to the viewscreen, he peered downward, hoping against hope.

This trip to Venus had been a wild gamble from the start. He wondered if Max Hawkes would have covered a bet on the success of his trip. Max had been infallible when it came to hunches.

Well, Alan thought, now I've got a hunch. Help me one more time, Max, wherever you are! Lend me some of your luck. I need it, Max.

He circled once more. The Venusian day would last for three weeks more; there was no fear of darkness. But would he find anything?

What's that?

He leaped to the controls, switched off the autopilot, and broke out of orbit, going back for a return look. Had there been just the faintest metallic glint below, as of a spaceship jutting up from the sand?

Yes.

There was a ship down there, and a cave of some sort. Alan felt strangely calm. With confident fingers he punched out a landing orbit, and brought his ship down in the middle of the barren Venusian desert.



Chapter Eighteen

Alan brought the Cavour down less than a mile away from the scene of the wreckage—it was the best he could do, computing the landing by guesswork—and climbed into his spacesuit. He passed through the airlock and out into the windswept desert.

He felt just a little lightheaded; the gravity was only 0.8 of Earth-norm, and besides that the air in his spacesuit, being perpetually renewed by the Bennerman re-breathing generator strapped to his back, was just a shade too rich in oxygen.

In the back of his mind he realized he ought to adjust his oxygen flow, but before he brought himself to make the adjustment the surplus took its effect. He began to hum, then to dance awkwardly over the sand. A moment later he was singing a wild space ballad that he thought he had forgotten years before. After ten feet he tripped and went sprawling down in the sand. He lay there, trickling the violet sands through the gloves of his spacesuit, feeling very lightheaded and very foolish all at the same time.

But he was still sober enough to realize he was in danger. It was an effort to reach over his shoulder and move the oxygen gauge back a notch. After a moment the flow levelled out and he felt his head beginning to clear.

He was marching through a fantastic baroque desert. Venus was a riot of colors, all in a minor key: muted greens and reds, an overbearing gray, a strange, ghostly blue. The sky, or rather the cloud layer, dominated the atmosphere with its weird pinkness. It was a silent world—a dead world.

In the distance he saw the wreckage of the ship; beyond it the land began to rise, sloping imperceptibly up into a gentle hill with bizarre sculptured rock outcroppings here and there. He walked quickly.

Fifteen minutes later he reached the ship. It stood upright—or rather, its skeleton did. The ship had not crashed. It had simply rotted away, the metal of its hide eaten by the sand-laden winds over the course of centuries. Nothing remained but a bare framework.

He circled the ship, then entered the cave a hundred feet away. He snapped on his lightbeam. In the darkness, he saw——

A huddled skeleton, far to the rear of the cave. A pile of corroded equipment; atmosphere generators, other tools now shapeless.

Cavour had reached Venus safely. But he had never departed.

To his astonishment Alan found a sturdy volume lying under the pile of bones—a book, wrapped in metal plates. Somehow it had withstood the passage of centuries, here in this quiet cave.

Gently he unwrapped the book. The cover dropped off at his touch; he turned back the first three pages, which were blank. On the fourth, written in the now-familiar crabbed hand, were the words: The Journal of James Hudson Cavour. Volume 17—October 20, 2570——

* * * * *

He had plenty of time, during the six-day return journey, to read and re-read Cavour's final words and to make photographic copies of the withered old pages.

The trip to Venus had been easy for old Cavour; he had landed precisely on schedule, and established housekeeping for himself in the cave. But, as his diary detailed it, he felt strength ebbing away with each passing day.

He was past eighty, no age for a man to come alone to a strange planet. There remained just minor finishing to be done on his pioneering ship—but he did not have the strength to do the work. Climbing the catwalk of the ship, soldering, testing—now, with his opportunity before him, he could not attain his goal.

He made several feeble attempts to finish the job, and on the last of them fell from his crude rigging and fractured his hip. He had managed to crawl back inside the cave, but, alone, with no one to tend him, he knew he had nothing to hope for.

It was impossible for him to complete his ship. All his dreams were ended. His equations and his blueprints would die with him.

In his last day he came to a new realization: nowhere had he left a complete record of the mechanics of his spacewarp generator, the key mechanism without which hyperspace drive was unattainable. So, racing against encroaching death, James Hudson Cavour turned to a new page in his diary, headed it, in firm, forceful letters, For Those Who Follow After, and inked in a clear and concise explanation of his work.

It was all there, Alan thought exultantly: the diagrams, the specifications, the equations. It would be possible to build the ship from Cavour's notes.

The final page of the diary had evidently been Cavour's dying thoughts. In a handwriting increasingly ragged and untidy, Cavour had indited a paragraph forgiving the world for its scorn, hoping that some day mankind would indeed have easy access to the stars. The paragraph ended in midsentence. It was, thought Alan, a moving testament from a great human being.

The days went by, and the green disk of Earth appeared in the viewscreen. Late on the sixth day the Cavour sliced into Earth's atmosphere, and Alan threw it into the landing orbit he had computed that afternoon. The ship swung in great spirals around Earth, drawing ever closer, and finally began to home in on the spaceport.

Alan busied himself over the radio transmitter, getting landing clearance. He brought the ship down easily, checked out, and hurried to the nearest phone.

He dialed Jesperson's number. The lawyer answered.

"When did you get back?"

"Just now," Alan said. "Just this minute."

"Well? Did you——"

"Yes! I found it! I found it!"

* * * * *

Oddly enough, he was in no hurry to leave Earth now. He was in possession of Cavour's notes, but he wanted to do a perfect job of reproducing them, of converting the scribbled notations into a ship.

To his great despair he discovered, when he first examined the Cavour notebook in detail, that much of the math was beyond his depth. That was only a temporary obstacle, though. He hired mathematicians. He hired physicists. He hired engineers.

Through it all, he remained calm; impatient, perhaps, but not overly so. The time had not yet come for him to leave Earth. All his striving would be dashed if he left too soon.

The proud building rose a hundred miles from York City: The Hawkes Memorial Laboratory. There, the team of scientists Alan had gathered worked long and painstakingly, trying to reconstruct what old Cavour had written, experimenting, testing.

Early in 3881 the first experimental Cavour Generator was completed in the lab. Alan had been vacationing in Africa, but he was called back hurriedly by his lab director to supervise the testing.

The generator was housed in a sturdy windowless building far from the main labs; the forces being channelled were potent ones, and no chances were being taken. Alan himself threw the switch that first turned the spacewarp generator on, and the entire research team gathered by the closed-circuit video pickup to watch.

The generator seemed to blur, to waver, to lose substance and become unreal. It vanished.

It remained gone fifteen seconds, while a hundred researchers held their breaths. Then it returned. It shorted half the power lines in the county.

But Alan was grinning as the auxiliary feeders turned the lights in the lab on again. "Okay," he yelled. "It's a start, isn't it? We got the generator to vanish, and that's the toughest part of the battle. Let's get going on Model Number Two."

By the end of the year, Model Number Two was complete, and the tests this time were held under more carefully controlled circumstances. Again success was only partial, but again Alan was not disappointed. He had worked out his time-table well. Premature success might only make matters more difficult for him.

3882 went by, and 3883. He was in his early twenties, now, a tall, powerful figure, widely known all over Earth. With Jesperson's shrewd aid he had pyramided Max's original million credits into an imposing fortune—and much of it was being diverted to hyperspace research. But Alan Donnell was not the figure of scorn James Hudson Cavour had been; no one laughed at him when he said that by 3885 hyperspace travel would be reality.

3884 slipped past. Now the time was drawing near. Alan spent virtually all his hours at the research center, aiding in the successive tests.

On March 11, 3885, the final test was accomplished satisfactorily. Alan's ship, the Cavour, had been completely remodeled to accommodate the new drive; every test but one had been completed.

The final test was that of actual performance. And here, despite the advice of his friends, Alan insisted that he would have to be the man who took the Cavour on her first journey to the stars.

Nine years had passed, almost to the week, since a brash youngster named Alan Donnell had crossed the bridge from the Spacer's Enclave and hesitantly entered the bewildering complexity of York City. Nine years.

He was twenty-six now, no boy any more. He was the same age Steve had been, when he had been dragged unconscious to the Valhalla and taken aboard.

And the Valhalla was still bound on its long journey to Procyon. Nine years had passed, but yet another remained before the giant starship would touch down on a planet of Procyon's. But the Fitzgerald Contraction had telescoped those nine years into just a few months, for the people of the Valhalla.

Steve Donnell was still twenty-six.

And now Alan had caught him. The Contraction had evened out. They were twins again.

And the Cavour was ready to make its leap into hyperspace.



Chapter Nineteen

It was not difficult for Alan to get the route of the Valhalla, which had been recorded at Central Routing Registration. Every starship was required by law to register a detailed route-chart before leaving, and these charts were filed at the central bureau. The reason was simple: a starship with a crippled drive was a deadly object. In case a starship's drive conked out, it would keep drifting along toward its destination, utterly helpless to turn, maneuver, or control its motion. And if any planets or suns happened to lie in its direct path——

The only way a ship could alter its trajectory was to cut speed completely, and with the drive dead there would be no way of picking it up again. The ship would continue to drift slowly out to the stars, while its crew died of old age.

So the routes were registered, and in the event of drive trouble it was thus possible for a rescue ship to locate the imperilled starship. Space is immense, and only with a carefully registered route could a ship be found.

Starship routes were restricted information. But Alan had influence; he was easily able to persuade the Routing Registration people that his intentions were honorable, that he planned to overtake the Valhalla if they would only let him have the coordinates. A bit of minor legal jugglery was all that was needed to give him access to the data.

It seemed there was an ancient regulation that said any member of a starship's crew was entitled by law to examine his ship's registered route, if he wanted to. The rule was intended to apply to starmen who distrusted their captains and were fearful of being shipped off to some impossibly distant point; it said nothing at all about starmen who had been left behind and were planning to overtake their ships. But nothing prohibited Alan from getting the coordinates, and so they gave them to him.

The Cavour was ready for the departure. Alan elbowed his way through the crowd of curious onlookers and clambered into the redesigned control chamber.

He paused a moment, running his fingers over the shiny instrument panel with its new dials, strange levers, unfamiliar instruments. Overdrive Compensator. Fuel Transmuter. Distortion Guide. Bender Index. Strange new names, but Alan realized they would be part of the vocabulary of all future spacemen.

He began to work with the new controls, plotting his coordinates with extreme care and checking them through six or seven times. At last he was satisfied; he had computed a hyperdrive course that would loop him through space and bring him out in only a few days' time in the general vicinity of the Valhalla, which was buzzing serenely along at near the speed of light.

That was practically a snail's pace, compared with hyperdrive.

The time for the test had come. He spoke briefly with his friends and assistants in the control tower; then he checked his figures through one last time and requested blastoff clearance.

A moment later the count-down began, and he began setting up for departure.

A tremor of anticipation shot through him as he prepared to blast off on the first hyperdrive voyage ever made. He was stepping out into the unknown, making the first use ever of a strange, perhaps dangerous means of travel. The drive would loop him out of the space-time continuum, into—where?—and back again.

He hoped.

He punched down the keys, and sat back to wait for the automatic pilot to carry him out from Earth.

Somewhere past the orbit of the moon, a gong told him that the Cavour drive was about to come into play. He held his breath. He felt a twisting sensation. He stared at the viewscreen.

The stars had vanished. Earth, with all its memories of the last nine years, was gone, taking with it Hawkes, Jesperson, York City, the Enclaves—everything.

He floated in a featureless dull gray void, without stars, without worlds. So this is hyperspace, he thought. He felt tired, and he felt tense. He had reached hyperspace; that was half the struggle. It remained to see whether he would come out where he expected to come out, or whether he would come out at all.

* * * * *

Four days of boredom. Four days of wishing that the time would come to leave hyperspace. And then the automatic pilot came to life; the Cavour generator thrummed and signalled that it had done its work and was shutting down. Alan held his breath.

He felt the twisting sensation. The Cavour was leaving hyperdrive.

Stars burst suddenly against the blackness of space; the viewscreen brightened. Alan shut his eyes a moment as he readjusted from the sight of the gray void to that of the starry reaches of normal space. He had returned.

And, below him, making its leisurely journey to Procyon, was the great golden-hulled bulk of the Valhalla, gleaming faintly in the black night of space.

He reached for the controls of his ship radio. Minutes later, he heard a familiar voice—that of Chip Collier, the Valhalla's Chief Signal Officer.

"Starship Valhalla picking up. We read you. Who is calling, please?"

Alan smiled. "This is Alan Donnell, Chip. How goes everything?"

For a moment nothing came through the phones but astonished sputtering. Finally Collier said thickly, "Alan? What sort of gag is this? Where are you?"

"Believe it or not, I'm hovering right above you in a small ship. Suppose you get my father on the wire, and we can discuss how I'll go about boarding you."

Fifteen minutes later the Cavour was grappled securely to the skin of the Valhalla like a flea riding an elephant, and Alan was climbing in through the main airlock. It felt good to be aboard the big ship once again, after all these years.

He shucked his spacesuit and stepped into the corridor. His father was standing there waiting for him.

"Hello, Dad."

Captain Donnell shook his head uncomprehendingly. "Alan—how did you—I mean—and you're so much older, too! I——"

"The Cavour Drive, Dad. I've had plenty of time to develop it. Nine good long years, back on Earth. And for you it's only a couple of months since you blasted off!"

Another figure appeared in the corridor. Steve. He looked good; the last few months aboard the Valhalla had done their work. The unhealthy fat he had been carrying was gone; his eyes were bright and clear, his shoulders square. It was like looking into a mirror to see him, Alan thought. It hadn't been this way for a long time.

"Alan? How did you——"

Quickly Alan explained. "So I couldn't reverse time," he finished. "I couldn't make you as young as I was—so I took the opposite tack and made myself as old as you were." He looked at his father. "The universe is going to change, now. Earth won't be so overcrowded. And it means the end of the Enclave system, and the Fitzgerald Contraction."

"We'll have to convert the Valhalla to the new drive," Captain Donnell said. He looked still stunned by Alan's sudden appearance. "Otherwise we'll never be able to meet the competition of the new ships. There will be new ships, won't there?"

"As soon as I return to Earth and tell them I've been successful. My men are ready to go into immediate production of hyperspace vessels. The universe is going to be full of them even before your ship reaches Procyon!" He sensed now the full importance of what he had done. "Now that there's practical transportation between stars, the Galaxy will grow close together—as close as the Solar System is now!"

Captain Donnell nodded. "And what are you planning to do, now that you've dug up the Cavour drive?"

"Me?" Alan took a deep breath. "I've got my own ship, Dad. And out there are Rigel and Deneb and Fomalhaut and a lot of other places I want to see." He was speaking quietly, calmly, but with an undercurrent of inner excitement. He had dreamed of this day for nine years.

"I'm going to take a grand tour of the universe, Dad. Everywhere. The hyperdrive can take me. But there's just one thing——"

"What's that?" Steve and the Captain said virtually in the same moment.

"I've been practically alone for the last nine years. I don't want to make this trip by myself. I'm looking for a companion. A fellow explorer."

He stared squarely at Steve.

A slow grin spread over his brother's face. "You devil," Steve said. "You've planned this too well. How could I possibly turn you down?"

"Do you want to?" Alan asked.

Steve chuckled. "Do you think I do?"

Alan felt something twitching at his cuff. He looked down and saw a bluish-purple ball of fur sitting next to his shoe, studying him with a wry expression.

"Rat!"

"Of course. Is there room for a third passenger on this jaunt of yours?"

"Application accepted," Alan said. Warmth spread over him. The long quest was over. He was back among the people he loved, and the galaxy was opening wide before him. A sky full of bright stars, growing brighter and closer by the moment, was beckoning to him.

He saw the Crewmen coming from their posts now; the rumor had flitted rapidly around the ship, it seemed. They were all there, Art Kandin and Dan Kelleher and a gaping Judy Collier and Roger Bond and all the rest of them.

"You won't be leaving right away, will you?" the Captain asked. "You can stay with us a while, just to see if you remember the place?"

"Of course I will, Dad. There's no hurry now. But I'll have to go back to Earth first and let them know I've succeeded, so they can start production. And then——"

"Deneb first," Steve said. "From there out to Spica, and Altair——"

Grinning, Alan said, "More worlds are waiting than we can see in ten lifetimes, Steve. But we'll give it a good try. We'll get out there."

A multitude of stars thronged the sky. He and Steve and Rat, together at last—plunging from star to star, going everywhere, seeing everything. The little craft grappled to the Valhalla would be the magic wand that put the universe in their hands.

In this moment of happiness he frowned an instant, thinking of a lean, pleasantly ugly man who had befriended him and who had died nine years ago. This had been Max Hawkes' ambition, to see the stars. But Max had never had the chance.

We'll do it for you, Max. Steve and I.

He looked at Steve. He and his brother had so much to talk about. They would have to get to know each other all over again, after the years that had gone by.

"You know," Steve said, "When I woke up aboard the Valhalla and found out you'd shanghaied me, I was madder than a hornet. I wanted to break you apart. But you were too far away."

"You've got your chance now," Alan said.

"Yeah. But now I don't want to," Steve laughed.

Alan punched him goodnaturedly. He felt good about life. He had found Steve again, and he had given the universe the faster-than-light drive. It didn't take much more than that to make a man happy.

And now a new and longer quest was beginning for Alan and his brother. A quest that could have no end, a quest that would send them searching from world to world, out among the bright infinity of suns that lay waiting for them.



STARMAN'S QUEST

By Robert Silverberg

The Lexman Spacedrive gave man the stars—but at a fantastic price.

Interstellar exploration, colonization, and trade became things of reality. The benefits to Earth were enormous. But because of the Fitzgerald Contraction, a man who shipped out to space could never live a normal life on Earth again.

Travelling at speeds close to that of light, spacemen lived at an accelerated pace. A nine-year trip to Alpha Centauri and back seemed to take only six weeks to men on a spaceship. When they returned, their friends and relatives had aged enormously in comparison, old customs had changed, even the language was different.

So they did the only thing they could do. They formed a guild of Spacers, and lived their entire lives on the starships, raised their families there, and never set foot outside their own Enclave during their landings on Earth. They grew to despise Earthers, and the Earthers grew to despise them in turn. There was no logical reason for it, except that they were—different. That was enough.

But not all Starmen liked being different. Alan Donnell loved space, and the ship, and life aboard it. His father, Captain of the VALHALLA, lived for nothing but the traditions of the Spacers. But his twin brother, Steve, couldn't stand it, and so he jumped ship.

It had happened only a few weeks before, as Alan experienced it. For Steve, though, he knew it would have been nine years in the past. Now, while Alan was still only 17 years old, Steve would be 26!

Thinking about it got under Alan's skin, finally. The bond between twins is a strong one, and Alan couldn't stand to see it broken so abruptly and permanently. There were other things, too. If Alan remained on the VALHALLA, he'd have to marry one of the girls of the ship, and the choice of those his own age was pitifully small. And above all else, he was convinced that the secret of the Cavour Hyperdrive was hidden somewhere on Earth—the Cavour Hyperdrive, that would enable man to leap interstellar distances almost instantaneously, and bring an end to the sharp differences between Earthers and Spacers.

These forces worked quietly within him—and suddenly, without really meaning to, Alan in turn jumped ship and remained on Earth!

There were many times when he regretted it. He found Earth a bewildering and utterly hostile place. To stay alive, he had to play a ruthless game—and he couldn't even find anyone to tell him the rules. Within the first few hours, he came dangerously close to being murdered and then to being thrown in jail. He had no clues to the whereabouts of Steve, and couldn't even be sure his nine-years-older twin brother was still alive. And the Cavour Hyperdrive was the merest will-o'-the-wisp, dancing wildly before him in his dreams.

Somehow, he survived. It wasn't easy, and he didn't do it without serious sacrifices. He became a professional gambler, and almost became a drug addict. He became involved in a monstrous criminal syndicate, knowing that no criminal could possibly escape punishment. He betrayed the few friends he had, and fought furiously against everyone and everything he encountered.

He thought longingly, often, of the VALHALLA, and his lost life aboard her. But he never completely lost hope.

STARMAN'S QUEST is Alan Donnell's story—a story that will keep you on the edge of your chair until the very last page. It's the most exciting book yet from one of the most exciting new writers ever to hit the science-fiction field.

GNOME PRESS, INC. P.O. Box 161, Hicksville, N. Y.

Cover by Stan Mack



GNOME PRESS

OUTSTANDING SCIENCE FICTION BOOKS

Anderson, P. & Dickson, G. Earthman's Burden $3.00 Asimov, Isaac Foundation $2.75 Asimov, Isaac Foundation & Empire $2.75 Asimov, Isaac Second Foundation $2.75 Barnes, Arthur K. Interplanetary Hunter $3.00 Blish, James The Seedling Stars $3.00 Clarke, Arthur C. Against the Fall of Night $2.75 de Camp, L. Sprague Lost Continents $5.00 Elliott, H. Chandler Reprieve from Paradise $3.00 Greenberg, Martin, Editor Men Against the Stars $2.95 Greenberg, Martin, Editor Journey to Infinity $3.50 Greenberg, Martin, Editor Travelers of Space $3.95 Greenberg, Martin, Editor The Robot & The Man $2.95 Greenberg, Martin, Editor All About the Future $3.50 Greenberg, Martin, Editor Coming Attractions $3.50 Gunn, James E. This Fortress World $3.00 Gunn, J. & Williamson, J. Star Bridge $3.00 Howard, Robert E. The Coming of Conan $3.00 Howard, Robert E. Conan the Barbarian $3.00 Howard, Robert E. The Sword of Conan $2.75 Howard, Robert E. King Conan $3.00 Howard, Robert E. Conan the Conqueror $2.75 Howard, R. E. & de Camp, L. S. Tales of Conan $3.00 de Camp, L. S. & Nyberg, B. The Return of Conan $3.00 Leiber, Fritz Two Sought Adventure $3.00 Leinster, Murray The Forgotten Planet $2.50 Leinster, Murray Colonial Survey $3.00 Merril, Judith, Editor SF: The Years Greatest $3.95 Merril, Judith, Editor SF: '57 The Years Greatest $3.95 North, Andrew Sargasso of Space $2.50 North, Andrew Plague Ship $2.75 Pohl, F. & Williamson, J. Undersea Fleet $2.75 Shiras, Wilmar H. Children of the Atom $2.75 Smith, George O. Highways in Hiding $3.00 Wallace, F. L. Address: Centauri $3.00

AT YOUR FAVORITE BOOK STORE

Free Illustrated Catalog on Request

The Gnome Press Inc., P. O. Box 161, Hicksville, N. Y.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse