Nor Iron Bars
THE Flyaway II, which was large enough to carry a hundred
passengers, seemed twice as large to Gordon Arpe with only
the crew on boardlarge and silent, with the silence of its
orbit a thousand miles above the Earth.
“When are they due?” Dr. (now Captain) Arpe said, for
at least the fourth time. His second officer, Friedrich Oestrei-
cher, looked at the chronometer and away again with boredom.
“The first batch will be on board in five minutes,” he said
harshly. “Presumably they’ve all reached SV-One by now. It
only remains to ferry them over.”
Arpe nibbled at a fingernail. Although he had always been
the tall, thin, and jumpy type, nail-biting was a new vice
“I still think it’s insane to be carrying passengers on a
flight like this,” he said.
Oestreicher said nothing. Carrying passengers was no
novelty to him. He had been captain of a passenger vessel on
the Mars run for ten years, and looked it: a stocky hard-
muscled youngster of thirty, whose crew cut was going gray
despite the fact that he was five years younger than Arpe. He
was second in command of the Flyaway II only because he
had no knowledge of the new drive. Or, to put it another
way, Arpe was captain only because he was the only man
who did understand it, having invented it. Either way you
put it didn’t sweeten it for Oestreicher, that much was
Well, the first officer would be the acting captain most of
the time, anyhow. Arpe admitted that he himself had no
knowledge of how to run a space ship. The thought of
passengers, furthermore, came close to terrifying him. He
hoped to have as little contact with them as possible.
But dammitall, it was crazy to be carrying a hundred lay-
menhalf of them women and children, furthermoreon
the maiden flight of an untried interstellar drive, solely on
the belief of one Dr. Gordon Arpe that his brain child would
work. Well, that wasn’t the sole reason, of course. The whole
Flyaway project, of which Arpe had been head, believed it
would work, and so did the government.
And then there was the First Expedition to Centaurus,
presumably still in flight after twelve years; they had
elected to do it the hard way, on ion drive, despite Garrard’s
spectacular solo round trip, the Haertel overdrive which, had
made that possible being adjudged likely to be damaging to
the sanity of a large crew. Arpe’s discovery had been a
totally unexpected breakthrough, offering the opportunity to
rush a new batch of trained specialists to help the First
Expedition colonize, arriving only a month or so after the
First had landed. And if you are sending help, why not send
families, toothe families the First Expedition had left
Which also explained the two crews. One of them consisted
of men from the Flyaway project, men who had built various
parts of the drive, or designed them, or otherwise knew’ them
intimately. The other was made up of men who had served
some timein some cases, as long as two full hitchesin the
Space Service under Oestreicher. There was some overlapping,
of course. The energy that powered the drive field came from
a Nernst-effect generator: a compact ball of fusing hydrogen,
held together in mid-combustion chamber by a hard magnetic
field, which transformed the heat into electricity to be bled
off perpendicular to the magnetic lines of force. The same
generator powered the ion rockets of ordinary interplanetary
flight, and so could be serviced by ordinary crews. On the
other hand, Arpe’s new attempt to beat the Lorenz-Fitzgerald
equation involved giving the whole ship negative mass,
a concept utterly foreign to even., the most experienced
spaceman. Only a physicist who knew Dirac holes well
enough to call them “Pam” would have thought of the
notion at all.
But it would work. Arpe was sure of that. A body with
negative mass could come very close to the speed of light be-
fore the Fitzgerald contraction caught up with it, and without
the wild sine-curve variation in subjective time which the
non-Fitzgeraldian Haertel overdrive enforced on the passenger.
If the field could be maintained successfully in spite of the
contraction, there was no good reason why the velocity of
light could not be passed; under such conditions, the ship
would not be a material object at all.
And polarity in mass does not behave like polarity in
electromagnetic fields. As gravity shows, where mass is con-
cerned like attracts like, and unlikes repel. The very charging
of the field should fiing the charged object away from the
Earth at a considerable speed.
The unmanned models had not been disappointing. They
had vanished instantly, with a noise like a thunderclap. And
since every atom in the ship was affected evenly, there ought
to be no sensible acceleration, eitherwhich is a primary
requirement for an ideal drive. It looked good . . .
But not for a first test with a hundred passengers!
“Here they come,” said Harold Stauffer, the second officer.
Sandy-haired and wiry, he was even younger than Oestreicher,
and had the small chin combined with handsome features
which is usually called “a weak face.” He was, Arpe already
knew, about as weak as a Diesel locomotive; so much for
physiognomy. He was pointing out the viewpiate.
Arpe started and followed the pointing finger. At first he
saw nothing but the doughnut with the peg in the middle
which was Satellite Vehicle I, as small as a fifty-cent piece at
this distance. Then a tiny sliver of flame near it disclosed the
first of the ferries, coming toward them.
“We had better get down to the air lock,” Oestreicher said.
“All right,” Arpe responded abstractedly. “Go ahead. I still
have some checking to do.”
“Better delegate it,” Oestreicher said. “It’s traditional for
the captain to meet passengers coming on board. They expect
it. And this batch is probably pretty scared, considering what
they’ve undertaken. I wouldn’t depart from routine with them
if I were you, sir.”
“I can run the check,” Stauffer said helpfully. “If I get into
any trouble on the drive, sir, I can always call your gang
chief. He can be the judge of whether or not to call you.”
Outgeneraled, Arpe followed Oestreicher down to the air
The first ferry stuck its snub nose into the receiving area;
the nose promptly unscrewed and tipped upward. The first
passenger out was a staggering two-year-old, as bundled up
as though it had been dressed for “the cold of space,” so
that nobody could have told whether it was a boy or a girl.
It fell down promptly, got up again without noticing, and
went charging straight ahead, shouting “Bye-bye-see-you, bye-
bye-see-you, bye-bye” Then it stopped, transfixed, look-
ing about the huge metal cave with round eyes.
“Judy?” a voice cried from inside the ferry. “Judy! Judy,
wait for Mommyl”
After a moment, the voice’s owner emerged: a short, fair
girl, perhaps eighteen. The baby by this time had spotted the
crew member who had the broadest grin, and charged him
shouting “Daddy Daddy Daddy Daddy Daddy Daddy” like a
machine gun. The woman followed, blushing.
The crewman was not embarrassed. It was obvious that
he had been called Daddy before by infants on three planets
and five satellites, with what accuracy he might not have been
able to guarantee. He picked up the little girl and poked her
“Hi-hi, Judy,” he said. “I see you. Where’s Judy? / see her.”
Judy crowed and covered her face with her hands; but she
“Something’s wrong here,” Arpe murmured to Oestreicher.
“How can a man who’s been traveling toward Centaurus for
twelve years have a two-year-old daughter?”
“Wouldn’t raise the question if I were you, sir,” Oestreicher
said through motionless lips. “Passengers are never a uniform
lot. Best to get used to it.”
The aphorism was being amply illustrated. Next to leave
the ferry was an o}d woman who might possibly have been
the mother of one of the crewmen of the First Centaunis
expedition; by ordinary standards she was in no shape to
stand a trip through space, and surely she would be no help
to anybody when she arrived. She was followed by a striking
brunette girl in close-fitting, close-cut leotards, with a figure
like a dancer. She might have been anywhere between 21 and
41 years old; she wore no ring, and the hard set of her other-
wise lovely face did not suggest that she was anybody’s wife.
Oddly, she also looked familiar. Arpe nudged Oestreicher
and nodded toward her.
“Celia Gospardi,” Oestreicher said out of the corner of his
mouth. “Three-V comedienne. You’ve seen her, sir, I’m sure.”
And so he had; but he would never have recognized her,
for she was not smiling. Her presence here defied any ex-
planation he could imagine.
“Screened, or not, there’s something irregular about this,”
Arpe said in a low voice. “Obviously there’s been a slip in
the interviewing. Maybe we can turn some of this lot back.”
Oestreicher shrugged. “It’s your ship, sir,” he said. “I
advise against it, however.”
Arpe scarcely heard him. If some of these passengers were
really as unqualified as they looked . . . and there would be
no time to send up replacements . . . At random, he started
with the little girl’s mother.
“Excuse me, ma’am . . .”
The girl turned with surprise, and then with pleasure.
“Uh, it occurs to me that there may have been, uh, an
error. The Flyaway 11’s passengers are strictly restricted to
technical colonists and to, uh, legal relatives of the First
Centaurus Expedition. Since your Judy looks to be no more
than two, and since it’s been twelve years since . . .”
The girl’s eyes had already turned ice-blue; she rescued
him, after a fashion, from a speech he had suddenly realized
he could never have finished. “Judy,” she said levelly, “is the
granddaughter of Captain Willoughby of the First Expedition.
I am his daughter. I am sorry my husband isn’t alive to pin
your ears back. Captain. Any further questions?”
Arpe left the field without stopping to collect his wounded.
He was stopped in mid-retreat by a thirteen-year-old boy
wearing astonishingly thick glasses and a thatch of hair that
went in all directions in dirty blond cirri.
“Sir,” the boy said, “I understood that this was to be a
new kind of ship. It looks like an SC-Forty-seven freighter to
me. Isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Arpe said. “Yes, that’s what it is. That is, it’s the
same hull. I mean, the engines and fittings are new.”
“[7/i-huh,” the boy said. He turned his back and resumed
The noise was growing louder as the reception area filled.
Arpe was uncomfortably aware that Oestreicher was watching
him with something virtually indistinguishable from contempt,
but still he could not get away; a small, compact man in a
gray suit had hold of his elbow.
“Captain Arpe, I’m Forrest of the President’s Commission,
to disembark before departure,” he said in a low murmur, so
rapidly that one syllable could hardly be told from another.
“We’ve checked you out and you seem to be in good shape.
Just want to remind you that your drive is more important
than anything else on board. Get the passengers where they
want to go by all means if it’s feasible, but if it isn’t, the
government wants that drive back. That means jettisoning the
passengers without compunction if necessary. Dig?”
“All right.” That had been pounded into him almost from
the beginning of his commission, but suddenly it didn’t seem
to be as clear-cut a proposition, not now, not after the
passengers were actually arriving in the flesh. Filled with a
sudden, unticketable emotion, almost like horror, Arpe shook
the government man off. Bidding tradition be damned, he got
back to the bridge as fast as he could go, leaving Oestreicher
to cope with the remaining newcomers. After all, Oestreicher
was supposed to know how.
But the rest of the ordeal still loomed ahead of him. .The
ship could not actually take off until “tomorrow,” after a
twelve-hour period during which the passengers would get
used to their quarters, and got enough questions answered
to prevent their wandering into restricted areas of the ship.
And there was still the traditional Captain’s Dinner to be
faced up to: a necessary ceremony during which the pas-
sengers got used to eating in free fall, got rid of their first
awkwardness with the tools of space, and got to know each
other, with the officers to help them. It was an initial step
rather than a final one, as was the Captain’s Dinner on the
“Stauffer, how did the check-out go?”
“Mr. Stauffer, please, sir,” the second officer said politely.
“All tight, sir. I asked your gang chief to sign the log with
me, which he did.”
“Very good. Thank youuh, Mr. Stauffer. Carry on.”
It looked like a long evening. Maybe Oestreicher would
be willing to forgo the Captain’s Dinner. Somehow, Arpe
doubted that he would.
He wasn’t willing, of course. He had already arranged for
it long ago. Since there was no salon on the converted
freighter, the dinner was held in one of the smaller holds,
whose cargo had been strapped temporarily in the corridors.
The whole inner surface of the hold was taken up by the
saddle-shaped tables, to which the guests hitched themselves
by belt hooks; service arrived from way up in the middle
of the air.
Arpe’s table was populated by the thirteen-year-old boy he
had met earlier, a ship’s nurse, two technicians from the
specialists among the colonist-passengers, a Nemst-generator
officer, and Celia Gospardi, who sat next to him. Since she
had no children of her own with her, she had not been placed
at one of the tables allocated to children and parents; besides,
she was a celebrity.
Arpe was appalled to discover that she was not the only
celebrity on board. At the very next table down was Daryon
Hammersmith, the man the newscasts called “The Conqueror
of Titan.” There was no mistaking the huge-shouldered,
flamboyant explorer and his heavy voice; he was a natural
center of attention, especially among the women. He was
bald, but this simply made him look even more like a
Prussian officer of the old school, and as overpoweringly,
cruelly masculine as a hunting panther.
For several courses Arpe could think of nothing at all
to say. He rather hoped that this blankness of mind would
last; maybe the passengers would gather that he was aloof by
nature, and . . . But the silence at the captain’s table was
becoming noticeable, especially against the noise the children
were making elsewhere. Next door, Hammersmith appeared
to be telling stories.
And what stories! Arpe knew very little about the satellites,
but he was somehow quite sure that there were no snow
tigers on Titan who gnawed away the foundations of build-
ings, nor any three-eyed natives who relished frozen man-
meat warmed just until its fluids changed from Ice IV to Ice
III. If there were, it was odd that Hammersmith’s own book
about the Titan expedition had mentioned neither. But the
explorer was making Arpe’s silence even more conspicuous;
he had to say something.
“Miss Gospardiwe’re honored to have you with us. You
have a husband among the First Expedition, I suppose?”
“Yes, worse luck,” she said, gnawing with even white teeth
at a drumstick. “My fifth.”
“Oh. Well, if at first you don’t succeedisn’t that how it
goes? You’re undertaking quite a journey to be with him again.
I’m glad you feel so certain now.”
“I’m certain,” she said calmly. “It’s a long trip, all right.
But he made a big mistake when he thought ifd be too long
The thirteen-year-old was watching her like an owl. It
looked like a humid night for him.
“Of course, Titan’s been tamed down considerably since
my time,” Hammersmith was booming jovially. “I’m told the
new dome there is almost cozy, except for the wind. That
wind1 still dream about it now and then.”
“I admire your courage,” Arpe said to the 3-V star, begin-
ning to feel faintly courtly. Maybe he had talents he had
neglected; he seemed to be doing rather well so far.
“It isn’t courage,” the woman said, freeing a piece of
bread from the clutches of the Lazy Spider. “It’s desperation.
I hate space flight. I should know, I’ve had to make that
Moon circuit for show dates often enough. But I’m going to
get that lousy coward back if it’s the last thing I do.”
She took a full third out of the bread slice in one precise,
“I wouldn’t have thought of it if I hadn’t lost my sixth
husband to Peggy Walton. That skirt-chaser; I must have been
out of my mind. But Johnny didn’t bother to divorce me
before he ran off on this Centaurus safari. That was a mis-
take. I’m going to haul him back by his scruff.”
She folded the rest of the bread and snapped it delicately in
two. The thirteen-year-old winced and looked away.
“No, I can’t say that I miss Titan much,” Hammersmith
said, in a meditative tone which nevertheless carried the entire
length of the hold. “I like planets where the sky is clear most
of the time. My hobby is microastronomyas a matter of
fact I have some small reputation in the field, strictly as an
amateur. I understand the stars should be unusually clear and
brilliant in the Centaurus area, but of course there’s nothing
like open space for really serious work.”
“To tell the truth,” Celia went on, although for Arpe’s
money she had told more than enough truth already, “I’m
scared to death of this bloated coffin of yours. But what the
hell. I’m dead anyhow. On Earth, everybody knows I can’t
stay married two years, no matter how many fan letters I
get. Or how many proposals, honorable or natural. It’s no
good to me any more that three million men say they love
me. I know what they mean. Every time I take one of them
up on it, he vanishes.”
The folded snippet of bread vanished without a sound.
“Are you really going to be a colonist?” someone asked
“Not for a while, anyhow,” the explorer said. “I’m taking
my fianc6e there” at least two score feminine faces fell with
an almost audible thud”to establish our home, but I hope
I’ll be pushing on ahead with a calibration cruiser. I have a
theory that our Captain’s drive may involve some navigational
difficulties. And I’ll be riding my hobby the while; the
arrangement suits me nicely.”
Arpe was sure his ears could be seen to be flapping. He
was virtually certain that there was no such discipline as
microastronomy, and he was perfectly certain that any
collimation-cniising (Hammersmith even had the wrong
word) the Arpe drive required was going to be done by one
Gordon Arpe, except over his dead body.
“This man,” Celia Gospardi went on implacably, “I’m
going to hold, if I have to chase him all over the galaxy. I’ll
teach him to run away from me without making it legal
Her fork stabbed a heart of lettuce out of the Lazy Spider
and turned it in the gout of Russian dressing the Spider had
shot into the air after it. “What does he think he got himself
into, anyhowthe Foreign Legion?” she asked nobody in
particular. “Him? He couldn’t find his way out of a super
market without a map.”
Arpe was gasping like a fish. The girl was smiling warmly
at him, from the midst of a cloud of musky perfume against
which the ship’s ventilators labored in vain. He had never felt
less like the captain of a great ship. In another second he
would be squirming. He was already blushing.
It was Oestreicher, bending at his ear. Arpe almost broke
his tether with gratitude. “Yes, Mr. Oestreicher?”
“We’re ready to start dogging down; SV-One has asked us
to clear the area a little early, in view of the heavy traffic
involved. If you could excuse yourself, we’re needed on the
“Very good. Ladies and gentlemen, please excuse me; I
have duties. I hope you’ll see the dinner through, and have a
“Is something wrong?” Celia Gospardi said, looking directly
into his eyes. His heart went boompl like a form-stamper.
“Nothing wrong,” Oestreicher said smoothly from behind
him. “There’s always work to do in officer’s country. Ready,
Arpe kicked himself away from the table into the air,
avoiding a floating steward only by a few inches. Oestreicher
caught up with him in time to prevent his running head-on
into the side of a bulkhead.
“We’ve allowed two hours for the passengers to finish eat-
ing and bed down,” Oestreicher reported in the control room.
“Then we’ll start building the field. You’re sure we don’t
need any preparations against acceleration?”
Arpe was recovering; now that the questions were technical,
he knew where he was. “No, none at all. The field doesn’t
mean a thing while it’s building. It has to reach a threshold
before it takes effect. Once it crosses that point on the
curve, it takes effect totally, all at once. Nobody should feel
“Good. Then we can hit the hammocks for a few hours. I
suggest, sir, that Mr. Stauffer take the first watch; I’ll take the
second; that will leave you on deck when the drive actually
fires, if it can be delayed that long. I already have us on a
slight retrocurve from SV-One.”
“It can be delayed as long as we like. It won’t cross the
threshold till we close that key.”
“That was my understanding,” Oestreicher said. “Very
good, sir. Then let’s stand the usual watches and get under
way at the fixed time. By then we’ll be at apogee so far as
the satellite station is concerned. It would be best to observe
normal routine, right up to the moment when the voyage
itself becomes unavoidably abnormal.”
This was wisdom, of course. Arpe could do nothing but
nod, though he doubted very much that he would manage to
get to sleep before his trick came up. The bridge emptied,
except for Stauffer and a j.g. from the Nernst gang, and the
In the morning, while the passengers were still asleep, Arpe
closed the key.
The Flyaway 11 vanished without a sound.
Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy
I dream I see him Johnny I love you he’s going down
the ladder into the pit and I can’t follow and he’s gone al-
ready and it’s time for the next act
Spaceship I’m flying it and Bobby can see me and all the
Some kind of emergency but then why not the alarms
Got to ring Stauffer
Daddy? Daddy? Bye-bye-see you? Daddy
Where’s the bottle I knew I shouldn’t of gotten sucked
into that game
The wind always the wind
Falling falling why can’t I stop falling will I die if I
Two point eight three four Two point eight three four I
keep thinking two point eight three four that’s what the
meter says two point eight three four
Somebody stop that wind I tell you it talks I tell you I
hear it words in the wind
Johnny don’t go. I’m riding an elephant and he’s trying
to go down the ladder after you and it’s going to break
No alarms. All well. But can’t think. Can’t Mommy ladder
spaceship think for bye-bye-see-you two windy Daddy bottle
seconds straight. What’s the bottle trouble game matter any-
how? Where’s that two point eight three four physicist, what’s-
his-bye-bye-name, Daddy, Johnny, Arpel
will I die if I stop
I love you
STOP. STOP. Arpe. Arpe. Where are you? Everyone else,
stop thinking. STOP. We’re reading one another’s minds.
Everyone try to stop before we go nuts. Captain Arpe, do
you hear me? Come to the bridge. Arpe, do you hear me?
I hear you. I’m on my way. My God.
You there at the field tension meter
two point eight three four
Yes, you. Concentrate, try not to pay attention to anything
Yes, sir. 2.834. 2.834. 2.834.
You people with children, try to soothe them, bed them
down again. Mr. Hammersmith]
The wind . . . Yes?
Wake up. We need your help. Oestreicher here. Star deck
on the double please. A hey-rube.
But . . . Right, Mr. Oestreicher. On the way.
As the first officer’s powerful personality took hold, the
raging storm of emotion and dream subsided gradually to a
sort of sullen background sea of fear, marked with fleeting
whitecaps of hysteria, and Arpe found himself able to think
his own thoughts again. There was no doubt about it: every-
one on board the Flyaway II had become suddenly and
But what could be the cause? It couldn’t be the field. Not
only was there nothing in the theory to account for it, but the
field had already been effective for nearly an hour, at this
same intensity, without producing any such pandemonium.
“My conclusion also,” Oestreicher said as Arpe came onto
the bridge. “Also you’ll notice that we can now see out of the
ship, and that the outside sensing instruments are registering
again. Neither of those things was true up to a few minutes
ago; we went blind as soon as the threshold was crossed.”
“Then what’s the alternative?” Arpe said. He found that it
helped to speak aloud; it diverted him from the undercurrent
of the intimate thoughts of everyone else. “It must be
characteristic of the space we’re in, then, wherever that is.
“There’s a sun outside,” Stauffer said, “and it has planets.
I’ll have the figures for you in a minute. This I can say
right away, though: It isn’t Alpha Centauri. Too dim.”
Somehow, Arpe hadn’t expected it to be. Alpha Centauri
was in normal space, and this was obviously anything but
normal. He caught the figures as they surfaced in Stauffer’s
mind: Diameter of primaryabout a thousand miles (could
that possibly be right? Yes, it was correct. But incredible).
Number of planetssix. Diameter of outermost planetabout
a thousand miles; distance from primaryabout 50 million
“What kind of a screwy system is this?” Stauffer protested.
“Six planets inside six astronomical units, and the outermost
‘ one as big as its sun? It’s dynamically impossible.”
It certainly was, and yet it was naggingly familiar. Grad-
ually the truth began to dawn on him; there was only one
kind of system in which both primary and planet were
consistently 1/50,000 of the distance of the outermost orbit.
He suppressed it temporarily, partly to see whether or not it
was possible to conceal a thought from the others under
“Check the orbital distances, Mr. Stauffer. There should be
only two figures involved.”
“Two, sir? For six planets?”
“Yes. You’ll find two of the bodies occupying the same
distance, and the other four at the fifty-million-mile distance.”
“Great Scott,” Oestreicher said. “Don’t tell me we’ve gotten
ourselves inside an atom, sir!”
“Looks like it. Tell me, Mr. Oestreicher, did you get that
from my mind, or derive it from what I said?”
“I doped it out,” Oestreicher said, puzzled.
“Good; now we know something else: It is possible to
suppress a thought in this medium. I’ve been holding the
thought ‘carbon atom’ just below the level of my active
consciousness for several minutes.”
Oestreicher frowned, and thought: That’s good to know, it
increases the possibility of controlling panic and . . . Slowly,
like a sinking ship, the rest of the thought went under. The
first officer was practicing.
“You’re right about the planets, sir,” Stauffer reported. “I
suppose this means that they’ll all turn out to be the same
size, and that there’ll be no ecliptic, either.”
“Necessarily. They’re electrons. That ‘sun’ is the nucleus.”
“But how did it happen?” Oestreicher demanded.
“I can only guess. The field gives us negative mass. We’ve
never encountered negative mass in nature anywhere but in
Qle microcosm. Evidently that’s the only realm where it can
existergo, as soon as we attained negative mass, we were
collapsed into the microcosm.”
“Great,” Oestreicher grunted. “Can we get out, sir?”
“I don’t know. Positive mass is allowable in the microcosm,
so if we turned off the field, we might just keep right on
staying here. We’ll have to study it out. What interests me
more right now is this telepathy; there must be some rationale
He thought about it. Until now, he had never believed in
telepathy at all; its reported behavior in the macrocosm had
been so contrary to all known physical laws that it had been
easier to assume that it didn’t exist. But the laws of the
macrocosm didn’t apply down here; this was the domain of
quantum mechanicsthough telepathy didn’t obey that schol-
ium either. Was it possible that the “parapsychological” fields
were a part of the fine structure of this universe, as the
electromagnetic fields of this universe itself were the fine
structure of the macrocosm? If so, any telepathic effects that
turned up in the macrocosm would be traces only, a leakage
or residuum, fleeting and wayward, beyond all hope of
control. .. .
Oestreicher, he noticed, was following his reasoning with
considerable interest. “I’m not used to thinking of electrons
as having any fine structure,” he said.
“Well, all the atomic particles have spin, and to measure
that, you have to have some kind of point on the particle
being translated from one position in space to anotherat
least by analogy. I would say that the analogy’s established
now; all we have to do is look out the port.”
“You mean we might land on one of those things, sir?”
“I should think so,” Arpe said, “if we think there’s some-
thing to be gained by it. I’ll leave that up to Mr. Oestreicher.”
“Why not?” Oestreicher said, adding, to Arpe’s surprise,
“The research chance alone oughtn’t to be passed up.”
Suddenly, the background of fear, which Arpe had more
and more become able to ignore, began to swell ominously;
huge combers of pure panic were beginning to race over it.
“Oof,” Oestreicher said. “We weren’t covering enoughwe
forgot that they could pick up every unguarded word we
said. And they don’t like the idea.”
They didn’t. Individual thoughts were hard to catch, but
the main tenor was plain. These people had signed up to go
to Centaunis, and that was where they wanted to go. The
good possibility that they were trapped on the atomic-
size level was terrifying enough, but talong the further risk
of landing on an electron . . .
Abruptly Arpe felt, almost without any words to go with
it, the raw strength of Hammersmith throwing itself Canute-
like against the tide. The explorer’s mind had not been in
evidence at all since the first shock; evidently he had quickly
discovered for himself the trick of masking. For a moment
the sheer militancy of Hammersmith’s counterstroke seemed
to have a calming effect. . . .
One thread of pure terror lifted above the mass. It was
Celia Gospardi; she had just awakened, and her shell of
bravado had been stripped completely. Following that sound-
less scream, the combers of panic became higher, more
“We’ll have to do something about that woman,” Oest-
reicher said tensely. Arpe noted with interest that he was
masking the thought he was speaking, quite a difficult tech-
nical trick; he tried to mask it also in the reception. “She’s
going to throw the whole ship into an uproar. You were
talking to her at some length last night, sir; maybe you’d
“All right,” Arpe said reluctantly, taking a step toward
the door. “I gather she’s still in her”
Celia Gospardi was in her stateroom.
So was Captain Arpe.
She stifled a small vocal scream as she recognized him.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said quickly, though he was almost
as alarmed as she was. “Listen, Mr. Oestreicher and every-
body else: be careful about making any sudden movements
with some definite destination in mind. You’re likely to arrive
there without having crossed the intervening distance. It’s a
characteristic of the space we’re in.”
/ read you, sir. So teleportation is an energy-level jump?
That could be nasty, all right.
“It’snice of youto try toquiet me,” the girl said
timidly. Arpe noticed covertly that she could not mask worth
a damn. He would have to be careful in what he said, for
she would effectively make every word known throughout the
ship. It was too bad, in a way. Attractive as she was in her
public role, she was downright beautiful when frightened.
“Please do try to keep a hold on yourself, Miss Gospardi,”
he said. “There really doesn’t seem to be any immediate
danger. The ship is sound and her mechanisms are all operat-
ing as they should. We have supplies for a full year, and un-
limited power; we ought to be able to get away. There’s
nothing to be frightened about.”
“I can’t help it,” she said desperately. “I can’t even think
straight. My thoughts keep getting all mixed up with every-
“We’re all having that trouble to some extent,” Arpe said.
“If you concentrate, you’ll find that you can filter the other
thoughts out about ninety per cent. And you’ll have to try,
because if you remain frightened you’ll panic other people
especially the children. They’re defenseless against adult emo-
tions even without telepathy.”
“Good for you.” With a slight smile, he added, “After all,
if you think as little of your fifth husband as you say, you
should welcome a little delay en route.”
It was entirely the wrong thing to say. At once, way down
at the bottom of her mind, a voice cried out in soundless
anguish: But I love him!
Tears were running down her cheeks. Helplessly, Arpe left.
He walked carefully, in no hurry to repeat the unnerving
teleportation jump. In the main companionway he was way-
laid by a junior officer almost at once.
“Excuse me, sir. I have a report here from the ship’s
surgeon. Dr. Hoyle said it might be urgent and that I’d better
bring it to you personally.”
“Oh. All right, what is it?”
“Dr. Hoyle’s compliments, sir, and he suggests that oxygen
tension be checked. He has an acute surgical emergencya
passengerwhich suggests that we may be running close to
Arpe tried to think about this, but it did not convey very
much to him, and what it did convey was confusing. He
knew that space ships, following a tradition laid down long
ago in atmospheric flight, customarily expressed oxygen ten-
sion in terms of feet of altitude on Earth; but 9000 feet
though it would doubtless cause some discomfort-did not
seem to represent a dangerously low concentration. And he
could, see no connection at all between a slightly depleted
oxygen level and an acute surgical emergency. Besides, he was
too flustered over Celia Gospardi.
The interview had not ended at all the way he had hoped.
But perhaps it was better to have left her grief-stricken than
panic-stricken. Of course, if she broadcast her grief all over
the ship, there were plenty of other people to receive it,
people who had causes for grief as real as hers.
“Grief inactivates,” Oestreicher said as Arpe re-entered the
bridge. “Even at its worst, it doesn’t create riots. Cheer up,
sir. I couldn’t have done any better, I’m sure of that.”
“Thank you, Mr. Oestreicher,” Arpe said, flushing. Evi-
dently he had forgotten to mask; “thinking out loud” was
more than a clich6 down here. To cover, he proffered Hoyle’s
“Oh?” Oestreicher strode to the mixing board and scanned
the big Bourdon gages with a single sweeping glance. “He’s
right. We’re pushing eight-seven hundred right now. Once we
cross ten thousand we’ll have to order everybody into masks.
I thought I was feeling a little light-headed. Mr. Stauffer,
order an increase in pressure, and get the bubble crew going,
“Right.” Stauffer shot out.
“Mr. Oestreicher, what’s this all about?”
“We’ve sprung a major leak, siror, more likely, quite a
few major leaks. We’ve got to find out where all this air is
going. We may have killed Hoyle’s patient already.”
Arpe groaned. Surprisingly, Oestreicher grinned.
“Everything leaks,” he said in a conversational tone. “That’s
the first law of space. On the Mars run, when we disliked a
captain, we used to wish him an interesting trip. This one is
“You’re a psychologist, Mr. Oestreicher,” Arpe said, but
he managed to grin back. “Very well; what’s the program
now? I feel some weight.”
“We were making a rocket approach to the nearest elec-
tron, sir, and we seem to be moving. I see no reason why we
should suspend that. Evidently the Third Law of Motion isn’t
invalid down here.”
“Which is a break,” Stauffer said gloomily from the door.
“I’ve got the bubble crew moving, Mr. Oestreicher, but it’ll
take a while. Captain, what are we seeing by? Gamma waves?
Space itself doesn’t seem to be dark here.”
“Gamma waves are too long,” Arpe said. “Probably de
Broglie waves. The illuminated sky is probably a demonstra-
‘ tion of Obler’s Paradox: it’s how our space would look if the
stars were evenly scattered throughout. That makes me think
we must be inside a fairly large body of matter. And the
nearest one was SV-One.”
“Oh-ho,” Stauffer said. “And what happens to us when a
cosmic ray primary comes charging through here and disrupts
Arpe smiled. “You’ve got the answer to that already. Have
you detected any motion in this electron we’re approaching?”
“Not muchjust normal planetary motion. About fourteen
miles a secondexpectable for the orbit.”
“Which wouldn’t be expectable at all unless we were living
on an enormously accelerated time scale. By our home time
scale we haven’t been here a billionth of a second yet. We
could spend the rest of our lives here without seeing a free
neutron or a cosmic primary.”
“That’s a relief,” Stauffer said; but he sounded a little
They fell silent as the little world grew gradually in the
ports. There was no visible surface detail on it, and the
albedo was high. As they came closer, the reasons for both
effects became evident, for with each passing moment the out-
lines of the body grew fuzzier. It seemed to be imbedded in
a sort of thick haze.
“Close enough,” Oestreicher ruled. “We can’t land the
Flyaway anyhow; we’ll have to put a couple of people off in
a tender. Any suggestions, sir?”
“I’m going,” Arpe said immediately. “I wouldn’t miss an
opportunity like this for anything.”
“Can’t blame you, sir,” Oestreicher said. “But that body
doesn’t look like it has any solid core. What if you just
sank right through to the center?”
“That’s not likely,” Arpe said. “I’ve got a small increment
of negative mass, and I’ll retain it by picking up the ship’s
field with an antenna. The electron’s light, but what mass it
has is positive; in other words, it will repel me slightly. I
won’t sink far.”
“Well then, who’s to go with you?” Oestreicher said, mask-
ing every word with great care. “One trained observer should
be enough, but you’ll need an anchor man. I’m astonished
that we haven’t heard from Hammersmith alreadyhave you
noticed how tightly he shut down as soon as this subject
“So he did,” Arpe said, baffled. “I haven’t heard a peep
out of him for the last hour. Well, that’s his problem; maybe
he had enough after Titan.”
“How about Miss Gospardi?” Stauffer suggested. “It seems
to reassure her to be with you. Captain, and it’ll give her
something new to think about. And it’ll take an incipient
panic center out of the ship long enough to let the other
people calm down.”
“Good enough,” Arpe said. “Mr. Stauffer, order the gig
The little world had a solid surface, after all, though it
blended so gradually into the glittering haze of its atmosphere
that it was very hard to see. Arpe and the girl seemed to be
walking waist-deep in some swirling, opalescent substance that
was bearing a colloidal metallic dust, like minute sequins.
The faint repulsions against their space suits could not be felt
as such; it seemed instead that they were walking in a
gravitational field about a tenth that of the Earth.
“It’s terribly quiet,” Celia said.
The suit radios, Arpe noted, were not working. Luckily,
the thought-carrying properties of the medium around them
“I’m not at all sure that this stuff would carry sound,” he
answered. “It isn’t a gas as we know it, anyhow. It’s simply
a manifestation of indefiniteness. The electron never knows
exactly where it is; it just trails off at its boundaries into
not being anywhere in particular.”
“Well, it’s eerie. How long do we have to stay here?”
“Not long. I just want to get some idea of what it’s like.”
He bent over. The surface, he saw, was covered with fine
detail, though again he was unable to make much sense of it.
Here and there he saw tiny, crooked rills of some brilliantly
shiny substance, rather like mercury, andyes, there was an
irregular puddle of it, and it showed a definite meniscus. When
he pushed his finger into it, the puddle dented deeply, but it
did not break and wet his glove. Its surface tension must be
enormous; he wondered if it were made entirely of identical
subfundamental particles. The whole globe seemed to be
covered by a network of these shiny threads.
Now that his eyes were becoming acclimated, he saw that
the “air,” too, was full of these shining veins, making it look
distinctly marbled. The veins offered no impediment to their
walking; somehow, there never seemed to be any in their
immediate vicinity, though there were always many of them
just ahead. As the two moved, their progress seemed to be
accompanied by vagrant, small emotional currents, without
visible cause or source, too fugitive to identify.
“What is that silvery stuff?” Celia demanded fearfully.
“Celia, I haven’t the faintest idea. What kind of particle
could possibly be submicroscopic to an electron? It’d take a
century of research right here on the spot to work up even
an educated guess. This is all strange and new, utterly outside
any experience man has ever had. I doubt that any words
exist to describe it accurately.”
The ground, too, seemed to vary in color. In the weak
light it was hard to tell what the colors were. The variations
appeared as shades of gray, with a bluish or greenish tinge
here and there.
The emotional waves became a little stronger, and suddenly
Arpe recognized the dominant one.
It was pain.
On a hunch, he turned suddenly and looked behind him. A
twin set of broad black bootprints, as solid and sharply defined
as if they had been painted, were marked out on the colored
“I don’t like the look of that,” he said. “Our ship itself is
almost of planetary mass in this system, and we’re far too
big for this planet. How do we know what all this fine detail
means? But we’re destroying it wherever we step, all the
same. Forests, cities, the cells of some organism, something
unguessablewe’ve got to go back right now.”
“Believe me, I’m willing,” the girl said.
The oldest footprints, those that they had made getting out
of the tender, were beginning to grow silvery at the edges,
as though with hoarfrost, or with whatever fungus might
attack a shadow. Or was it seepage of the same substance
that made up the rills? Conjecture multiplied endlessly with-
out answer here. Arpe hated to think of the long oval blot
the tender itself would leave behind on the landscape. He
could only hope that the damage would be self-repairing;
there was something about this place that was peculiarly . . .
He lifted the tender quickly and took it out of the opales-
cent atmosphere with a minimum of ceremony, casting ahead
for guidance to pick up the multifarious murmur of the
minds on board the Flyaway II.
Only when he noticed that he was searching the sky visually
for the ship did he realize that he was not getting any-
“Celia? You can hear me all right telepathically, can’t
“Clear as a bell. It makes me feel much better, Captain.”
‘Then what’s wrong with the ship? I don’t pick up a soul.”
She frowned. “Why, neither do 1. Where . . .”
Arpe pointed ahead. “There she is, right where we left
her. We could hear them all well enough at this distance when
we were on the way down. Why can’t we now?”
He gunned the tender, all caution forgotten. His arrival in
the Flyaway 11’s air lock was noisy, and he lost several
minutes jockeying the little boat into proper seal. They both
fell out of it in an inelegant scramble.
There was nobody on board the Flyaway II. Nobody but
The telepathic silence left no doubt in Arpe’s or Celia’s
mind, but they searched the huge vessel thoroughly to make
sure. It was deserted.
“Captain!” Celia cried. Her panic was coming back full
force. “What happened? Where could they have gone? There
isn’t any place”
“I know there isn’t. I don’t know. Calm down a minute,
Celia, and let me think.” He sat down on a stanchion and
stared blindly at the hull for a moment. Breathing the thin-
ning air was a labor in itself; he found himself wishing they
had not shucked their suits. Finally he got up and went back
to the bridge, with the girl clinging desperately to his elbow.
Everything was in order. It was as if the whole ship had
been deserted simultaneously in an instant. Oestreicher’s pipe
sat snugly in its clip by the chart board; though it was
empty of any trace of the self-oxygenating mixture Oest-
reicher’s juniors had dubbed “Old Gunpowder,” the bowl was
“It can’t have happened more than half an hour ago,” he
whispered. “As if they all did a jump at oncelike the one
that put me into your stateroom. But where to?”
Suddenly it dawned on him. There was only one answer. Of
course they had gone nowhere.
“What is it?” Celia cried. “I can see what you’re thinking,
but it doesn’t make sense!”
“It makes perfect sensein this universe,” he said grimly.
“Celia, we’re going to have to work fast, before Oestreicher
makes some stab in the dark that might be irrevocable.
Luckily everything’s running as though the crew were still
here to tend itwhich in fact happens to be trueso maybe
two of us will be enough to do what we have to do. But
you’re going to have to follow instructions fast, accurately,
and without stopping for an instant to ask questions.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Shut down the field. No, don’t protest, you haven’t the
faintest idea what that means, so you’ve no grounds for
protest. Sit down at that board over there and watch my
mind every instant. The moment I think of what you’re to do
next, do it. Understand?”
“You understand well enough. All right, let’s go.”
Rapidly he began to step down the Nernst current going
into the field generators, mentally directing Celia in the deli-
cate job of holding the fusion sphere steady against the
diminished drain. Within a minute he had the field down to
just above the threshold level; the servos functioned without
a hitch, and so, not very much to his surprise, did those
aspects of the task which were supposed to be manned at all
“All right, now I’m going to cut it entirely. There’11 be a
big backlash on your board. See that master meter right in
front of you at the head of the board? The black knob marked
‘Back BMP’ is cued to it. When I pull this switch, the meter
will kick over to some reading above the red line. At the
same instant, you roll the knob down to exactly the same
calibration. If you back it down too far, the Nernst will die
and we’ll have no power at all. If you don’t go down far
enough, the Nernst will detonate. You’ve got to catch it on
the nose. Understand?”
“Good,” he said. He hoped it would be good. Normally the
rolloff was handled wholly automatically, but by expending
the energy evenly into the dying field; they did not dare to
chance that here. He could only pray that Celia’s first try
would be fast. “Here we go. Five seconds, four, three, two,
Celia twisted the dial.
For an instant, nothing happened. Then
“Nernst crew chief, report! What are you doing? No orders
“Captain! Miss Gospardil Where did you spring from?”
This was Oestreicher. He was standing right at Arpe’s elbow.
“Stars! Stars!” Stauffer was shouting simultaneously. “Hey,
look! Stars! We’re back!”
There was a confused noise of many people shouting in the
belly of the Flyaway II. But in Arpe’s brain there was blessed
silence; the red foaming of raw thoughts by the hundreds was
no more. His mind was his own again.
“Good for you, Celia,” he said. It was a sort of prayer.
“We were in time.”
“How did you do it, sir?” Oestreicher was saying. “We
couldn’t figure it out. We were following your exploration of
the electron from here, and suddenly the whole planet just
vanished. So did the whole system. We were floating in an-
other atom entirely. We thought we’d lost you for good.”
Arpe grinned weakly. “Did you know that you’d left the
ship behind when you jumped?”
“Butimpossible, sir. It was right here all the time.”
“Yes, that too. It was exercising its privilege to be in two
places at the same time. As a body with negative mass, it
had some of the properties of a Dirac hole; as such, it had to
be echoed somewhere else in the universe by an electron, like
a sink and a source in calculus. Did you wind up in one of
the shells of the second atom?”
“We did,” Stauffer said. “We couldn’t move out of it,
“That’s why I killed the field,” Arpe explained. “I couldn’t
know what you would do under the circumstances, but I was
pretty sure that the ship would resume its normal mass when
the field went down. A mass that size, of course, can’t exist
in the microcosm, so the ship had to snap back. And in the
macrocosm it isn’t possible for a body to be in two places at
the same time. So here we are, gentlemenreunited.”
“Very good, sir,” Stauffer said; but the second officer’s
voice seemed to be a little deficient in hero worship. “But
where is here?”
“Eh? Excuse me, Mr. Stauffer, but don’t you know?”
“No, sir,” Stauffer said. “All I can tell you is that we’re
nowhere near home, and nowhere near the Centauri stars,
either. We appear to be lost, sir.”
His glance flicked over to the Bourdon gages.
“Also,” he added quietly, “we’re still losing air.”
The general alarm had alarmed nobody but the crew, who
alone knew how rarely it was sounded. As for the bubble
gang, the passengers who knew what that meant mercifully
kept their mouths shutperhaps Hammersmith had blustered
them into silenceand the rest, reassured at seeing the stars
again, were only amused to watch full-grown, grim-looking
men stalking the corridors blowing soap bubbles into the air.
After a while, the bubble gang vanished; they were working
between the hulls.
Arpe was baffled and restive. “Look here,” he said sud-
denly. “This surgical emergency of Hoyle’sI’d forgotten
about it, but it seems to have some bearing on this air situa-
“He’s on his way, sir,” Oestreicher said. “I put a call on
the bells for him as soon asah, here he is now.”
Hoyle was a plump, smooth-faced man with a pursed mouth
and an expression of perpetual reproof. He looked absurd in
his naval whites. He was also four times a Haber medal
winner for advances in space medicine.
“It was a ruptured spleen,” he said primly. “A dead give-
away that we were losing oxygen. I was operating when I
had the captain called, or I’d have been more explicit.”
“Aha,” Oestreicher said. “Your patient’s a Negro, then.”
“A female Negroan eighteen-year-old girl, and incident-
ally one of the most beautiful women I’ve seen in many,
“What has her color got to do with it?” Arpe demanded,
feeling somewhat petulant at Oestreicher’s obvious instant
comprehension of the situation.
“Everything,” Hoyle said. “Like many people of African
extraction, she has sicklemiaa hereditary condition in which
some of the red blood cells take on a characteristic sicklelike
shape. In Africa it was pro-survival, because sicklemic people
are nf so susceptible to malaria as are people with normal
erythroyytes. But it makes them less able to take air that’s
poor in oxygenthat was discovered back in the 1940s, dur-
ing the era of unpressurized high altitude airplane flight. It’s
nothing that can’t be dealt with by keeping sufficient oxygen
in the ambient air, but . . .”
“How is she?” Arpe said.
“Dying,” Hoyle said bluntly. “What else? I’ve got her in
a tent but we can’t keep that up forever. I need normal
pressure in my recovery roomor if we can’t do that, get
her back to Earth fast.”
He saluted sloppily and left. Arpe looked helplessly at
Stauffer, who was taking spectra as fast as he could get them
onto film, which was far from fast enough for Arpe, let
alone the computer. The first attempt at orientationSchmidt
spherical films of the apparent sky, in the hope of identifying
at least one constellation, however distortedhad come to
nothing. Neither the computer nor any of the officers had
been able to find a single meaningful relationship.
“Is it going to do us any good if we do find the Sun?”
Oestreicher said. “If we make another jump, aren’t we going
to face the same situation?”
“Here’s S Doradus,” Stauffer announced. “That’s a begin-
ning, anyhow. But it sure as hell isn’t in any position I can
“We’re hoping to find the source of the leak,” Arpe re-
minded the first officer. “But if we don’t, I think I can calcu-
late a fast jumpin-again-out-again. I hope we won’t have to
do it, though. It would involve shooting for a very heavy
atomheavy enough to be unstable”
“Looking for the Sun?” a booming, unpleasantly familiar
voice broke in from the bulkhead. It was Hammersmith, of
course. Dogging his footsteps was Dr. Hoyle, looking even
more disapproving than ever.
“See here, Mr. Hammersmith,” Arpe said. “This is an
emergency. You’ve got no business being on the bridge at all.”
“You don’t seem to be getting very far with the job,”
Hammersmith observed, with a disparaging glance at Stauffer.
“And it’s my life as much as it’s anybody else’s. It’s high
time I gave you a hand.”
“We’ll get along,” Oestreicher said, his face red. “Your
stake in the matter is no greater than any other pas-
“Ah, that’s not quite true,” Dr. Hoyle said, almost regret-
fully. “The emergency is medically about half Mr. Hammer-
“Nonsense,” Arpe said sharply. “If there’s any urgency
beyond what affects us all, it affects your patient primarily.”
“Yes, quite so,” Dr. Hoyle said, spreading his hands. “She
is Mr. Hammersmith’s fiancee.”
After a moment, Arpe discovered that he was angrynot
with Hammersmith, but with himself, for being stunned by
the announcement. There was nothing in the least unlikely
about such an engagement, and yet it had never entered his
head even as a possibility. Evidently his unconscious still had
prejudices he had extirpated from his conscious mind thirty-
five years ago.
“Why have you been keeping it a secret?” he asked slowly.
“For Helen’s protection,” Hammersmith said, with con-
siderable bitterness. “On Centaurus we may get a chance at a
reasonable degree of privacy and acceptance. But if I’d kept
her with me on the ship, she’d have been stared at and
whispered over for the entire trip. She preferred to stay
An ensign came in, wearing a space suit minus the helmet,
and saluted clumsily. After he got the space suit arm up, he
just left it there, resting his arm inside it. He looked like a
small doll some child had managed to stuff inside a larger
“Bubble team reporting, sir,” he said. “We were unable
to find any leaks, sir.”
“You’re out of your mind,” Oestreicher said sharply. “The
pressure is still dropping. There’s a hole somewhere you could
put your head through.”
“No, sir,” the ensign said wearily. “There are no such
holes. The entire ship is leaking. The air is going right out
through the metal. The rate of loss is perfectly even, no
matter where you test it.”
“Osmosis!” Arpe exclaimed.
“What do you mean, sir?” Oestreicher said.
“I’m not sure, Mr. Oestreicher. But I’ve been wondering
all along1 guess we all havejust how this whole business
would affect the ship structurally. Evidently it weakened the
molecular bonds of everything on boardand now we have
good structural titanium behaving like a semipermeable mem-
brane! I’ll bet it’s specific for oxygen, furthermore; a 20 per
cent drop in pressure is just about what we’re getting here.”
“What aboutljhe effect on people?” Oestreicher said.
“That’s DIRoyle’s department,” Arpe said. “But I rather
doubt that it affects living matter. That’s in an opposite state
of entropy. But when we get back, I want to have the ship
measured. I’ll bet it’s several meters bigger in both length
and girth than it was when it was built.”
“// we get back,” Oestreicher said, his brow dark.
“Is this going to put the kibosh on your drive?” Stauffer
“It’s going to make interstellar flight pretty expensive,”
Arpe admitted. “It looks like we’ll have to junk a ship after
one round trip.”
“Well, we effectively junked the Flyaway I after one one-
way trip,” Oestreicher said reflectively. “That’s progress, of a
“Look here, all this jabber isn’t getting us anywhere,” Ham-
mersmith said. “Do you want me to bail you out, or not? If
not, I’d rather be with Helen than standing around listening
“What do you propose to do,” Arpe said, finding it impos-
sible not to be frosty, “that we aren’t doing already?”
“Teach you your business,” Hammersmith said. “I presume
you’ve established our distance from S Doradus for a starter.
Once I have that, I can use the star as a beacon, to collimate
my next measurements. Then I want the use of an image
amplifier, with a direct-reading microvoltmeter tied into the
circuit; you ought to have such a thing, as a routine instru-
Stauffer pointed it out silently.
“Good.” Hammersmith sat down and began to scan the
stars with the amplifier. The meter silently reported the light
output of each, as minute pulses of electricity. Hammersmith
watched it with a furious intensity. At last he took off his
wrist chronometer and begun to time the movements of the
needle with the stop watch.
“Bull’s-eye,” he said suddenly.
“The Sun?” Arpe asked, unable to keep his tone from
dripping with disbelief.
“No. That one is DQ Herculisan old nova. It’s a micro-
variable. It varies by four hundredths of a magnitude every
sixty-four seconds. Now we have two stars to fill our para-
meters; maybe the computer could give us the Sun from
those? Let’s try it, anyhow.”
Stauffer tried it. The computer had decided to be obtuse
today. It did, however, narrow the region of search to a small
sector of sky, containing approximately sixty stars.
“Does the Sun do something like that?” Oestreicher said.
“I knew it was a variable star in the radio frequencies, but
what about visible light?”
“If we could mount an RF antenna big enough, we’d have
the Sun in a moment,” Hammersmith said in a preoccupied
voice. “But with light it’s more complicated. . . . Um. If thafs
the Sun, we must be even farther away from it than I thought.
Dr. Hoyle, will you take my watch, please, and take my
“Your pulse?” Hoyle said, startled. “Are you feeling ill?
The air is”
“I feel fine, I’ve breathed thinner air than this and lived,”
Hammersmfth said irritably. “Just take my pulse for a starter,
then take everyone else’s here and give me the average. I’d
use the whole shipload if I had the time, but I don’t. If none
of you experts knows what I’m doing I’m not going to waste
what time I’ve got explaining it to you now. Goddam it,
there are lives involved, remember?”
His lips thinned, Arpe nodded silently to Hoyle; he did not
trust himself to speak. The physician shrugged his shoulders
and began collecting pulse rates, starting with the big explorer.
After a while he had an average and passed it to Hammer-
smith on a slip of paper torn from his report book.
“Good,” Hammersmith said. “Mr. Stauffer, please feed this
into Bessie there. Allow for a permitted range of variation of
two per cent, and bleed the figure out into a hundred and six
increments and decrements each; then tell me what the per-
centage is now. Can do?”
“Simple enough.” Stauffer programmed the tape. The
computer jammered out the answer almost before the second
officer had stopped typing; Stauffer handed the strip of paper
over to Hammersmith.
Arpe watched with reluctant fascination. He had no idea
what Hammersmith was doing, but he was beginning to
believe that there was such a science as microastronomy after
Thereafter, there was a long silence while Hammersmith
scanned one star after another. At last he sighed and said:
“There you are. This ninth magnitude job I’m lined up
on now. That’s the Sun. Incidentally we are a little closer
to Alpha Centauri than we are from homethough God
knows we’re a long way from either.”
“How can you be sure?” Arpe said.
“I’m not sure. But I’m as sure as I can be at this distance.
Pick the one you want to go to, make the jump, and I’ll
explain afterwards. We can’t afford to kill any more time with
“No,” Arpe said. “I will do no such thing. I’m not going
to throw away what will probably be our only chancethe
ship isn’t likely to stand more than one more jumpon a
calculation that I don’t even know the rationale of.”
“And what’s the alternative?” Hammersmith demanded,
sneering slightly. “Sit here and die of anoxiaand just sheer
“I am the captain of this vessel,” Arpe said, flushing. “We
do not move until I get a satisfactory explanation of your
pretensions. Do you understand me? That’s my order; it’s
For a few moments the two men glared at each other, stiff-
necked as idols, each the god of his own pillbox-universe.
Hammersmith’s eyelids drooped. All at once, he seemed
too tired to care.
“You’re wasting time,” he said. “Surely it would be faster
to check the spectrum.”
“Excuse me, Captain,” Stauffer said excitedly. “I just did
that. And I think that star is the Sun. It’s about eight hundred
“Eight hundred light-years!”
“Yes, sir, at least that. The spectral lines are about half
missing, but all the ones that are definite enough to measure
match nicely with the Sun’s. I’m not so sure about the star
Mr. Hammersmith identifies as A Centaurus, but at the very
least it’s a spectroscopic double, and it is about fifty light-~earss
“My God,” Arpe muttered. “Eight hundred.”
Hammersmith looked up again, his expression curiously
like that of a St. Bernard whose cask of brandy has been
spurned. “Isn’t that sufficient?” he said hoarsely. “In God’s
name, let’s get going. She’s dying while we stand around
here nit-picking I”
“No rationale, no jump,” Arpe said stonily. Oestreicher
shot him a peculiar glance out of the corners of his eyes.
In that moment, Arpe felt his painfully accumulated status
with the first officer shatter like a Prince Rupert’s drop; but
he would not yield.
“Very well,” Hammersmith said gently. “It goes like this.
The Sun is a variable star. With a few exceptions, the pulses
don’t exceed the total average emissionthe solar constant
by more than two per cent. The over-all period is 273
months. Inside that, there are at least sixty-three subordinate
cycles. There’s one of 212 days. Another one .lasts only a
fraction over six and a half days1 forget the exact period,
but it’s 1/1250 of the main cycle, if you want to work it
out on Bessie there.”
“I guessed something like that,” Arpe said. “But what
good does it do us? We have no tables for it”
“These cycles have effects,” Hammersmith said. “The six-
and-a-half-day cycle strongly influences the weather on Earth,
for instance. And the 212-day cycle is reflected one-f or-one
in the human pulse rate.”
“Oho,” Oestreicher said. “Now I see. It’sCaptain, this
means that we can never be lost! Not so long as the Sun is
detectable at all, whether we can identify it or not! We’re
carrying the only beacon we need right in our blood!”
“Yes,” Hammersmith said. “That’s how it goes. It’s better
to take an average of all the pulses available, since one man
might be too excited to give you an accurate figure. I’m that
overwrought myself. I wonder if it’s patentable? No, a law
of nature, I suppose; besides, too easily infringed, almost
like a patent on shaving. . . . But it’s true, Mr. Oestreicher.
You may go as far afield as you please, but your Sun stays
in your blood. You never really leave home.”
He lifted his head and looked at Arpe with hooded, blood-
“Now can we go, please?” he said, almost in a whisper.
“And, Captainif this delay has killed Helen, you will
answer to me for it, if I have to chase you to the smallest,
most remote star that God ever made.”
Arpe swallowed. “Mr. Stauffer,” he said, “prepare for
“Where to, sir?” the second officer said. “Back home-“-or
And there was the crux. After the next jump the Fly-
away II would not be spaceworthy any more. If they used
it up making Centaurus, they would be marooned; they would
have made their one round trip one-way. Besides . . . your
drive is more important than anything else on board. Get the
passengers where they want to go by all means if it’s feasible,
but if it isn’t, the government wants that drive back. . . .
“We contracted with the passengers to go to Centaurus,”
Arpe said, sitting down before the computer. “That’s where
“Very good, sir,” Oestreicher said. They were the finest
three words Arpe had ever heard in his life.
The Negro girl, exquisite even in her still and terrible
coma, was first off the ship into the big ship-to-shore ferry.
Hammersmith went with her, his big face contorted with
Then the massive job of evacuating everybody else began.
Everyonepassengers and ship’s complement alikewas
wearing a mask now. After the jump through the heavy
cosmic-ray primary that Arpe had picked, a stripped nucleus
which happened to be going toward Centaurus anyhow, the
Flyaway II was leaking air as though she were made of some-
thing not much better than surgical gauze. She was through.
Oestreicher turned to Arpe and held out his hand. “A
great achievement, sir,” the first officer said. “It’ll be cut
and dried into a routine after it’s collimatedbut they won’t
even know that back home until the radio word comes
through, better than four years from now. I’m glad I was
along while it was still new.”
“Thank you, Mr. Oestreicher. You won’t miss the Mars
“They’ll need interplanetary captains here too, sir.” He
paused. “I’d better go help Mr. Stauffer with the exodus.”
“Right. Thank you, Mr. Oestreicher.”
Then he was alone. He meant to be last off the ship;
after living with Oestreicher and his staff for so long, he had
come to see that traditions do not grow from nothing. After
a while, however, the bulkhead lock swung heavily open,
and Dr. Hoyle came in.
“Skipper, you’re hushed. Better knock it off.”
“No,” Arpe said in a husky voice, not turning away from
watching through the viewpiate the flaming departure of the
ferry for the green and brown planet, so wholly Earthlike
except for the strange shapes of its continents, a thousand
miles below. “Hoyle, what do you think? Has she still got
“I don’t know. It will be nip and tuck. Maybe. Wilson
he was ship’s surgeon on the Flyaway Iwill pick her up
as she lands. He’s not young any more, but he was as good
as they came; and with a surgeon it isn’t age that matters,
it’s how frequently you operate. But . . . she was on the
way out for a long time. She may be a little . . .”
“Go on,” Arpe said. “Give it to me straight. I know I
“She was low on oxygen for a long time,” Hoyle said,
without looking at Arpe. “It may be that she’ll be a little
simple-minded when she recovers. Or it may not; there’s no
predicting these things. But one thing’s for sure; she’ll never
dare go into space again. Not even back to Earth. The next
slight drop in oxygen tension will kill her. I even advised
against airplanes for her, and Wilson concurs.”
Arpe swallowed. “Does Hammersmith know that?”
“Yes,” Hoyle said, “he knows it. But he’ll stick with her.
He loves her.”
– The ferry carrying the explorer and his fiancee, and
Captain Willoughby’s daughter and her Judy, and many
others, was no longer visible. Sick at heart, Arpe watched
Centaurus III turn below him.
That planet was the gateway to the starsfor everyone
on it but Daryon and Helen Hammersmith. The door that
had closed behind them when they had boarded the ferry
was for them no gateway to any place. It was only the door
to a prison.
But it was also, Arpe realized suddenly, a prison which
would hold a great teachernot of the humanities, but of
Humanity. Arpe, not so imprisoned, had no such thing to
It was true that he knew how to do a great thinghow
to travel to the stars. It was true that he had taken Celia
Gospardi and the others where they had wanted to go. It was
true that he was now a small sort of hero to his crew; and
it was true that heDr. Gordon Arpe, sometime laboratory
recluse, sometime ersatz space-ship captain, sometime petty
hero, had been kissed good-bye by a 3-V star.
But it was also over. From now on he could do no more
than sit back and watch others refine the Arpe drive; the
four-year communication gap between Centaurus and home
would shut him out of those experiments as though he were
a Cro-Magnon Manor Daryon Hammersmith. When next
Arpe saw an Earth physicist, he wouldn’t have the smallest
chance of understanding a word the man said.
That was a prison, too; a prison Capt. Gordon Arpe had
fashioned himself, and then had thrown away the key.
“Beg pardon. Captain?”
“Oh. Sorry, Dr. Hoyle. Didn’t realize you were still here.”
Arpe looked down for the last time on the green-and-brown
planet, and drew a long breath. “I said, ‘So be it.’ “