Blish,James – Nor Iron Bars

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

to him.

“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

was peeking.

“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.

“Yes, Captain!”

“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.”

“Yes, sir.”

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

for me.”

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,

gargantuan nibble.

“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

good time.”

“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

a thing.”

“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

ship quieted.

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

the wind

two point



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

totally telepathic.

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.

Any clues?”

“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

these circumstances.

“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

for it.”

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?”

Stauffer asked.

“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

better try.”

“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-

body else’s.”

“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.”

“II’ll try.”

“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

nine thousand.”

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

confusing message.

“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,

on double.”

“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

our atom?”

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

came up?”

“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

broken out.”


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

were unchanged.

“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

still hot.

“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?”

“No, but”

“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?”

“Ithink so.”

“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,

one, cut.”

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-

tion. Let’s”

“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,

many years.”

“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

asked gloomily.

“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

to you.”

“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

damn stubbornness?”

“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

light-years away”

“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-

shot eyes.

“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

to destination?”

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

we’ll go.”

“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

a chance?”

“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 . . .”

He stopped.

“Go on,” Arpe said. “Give it to me straight. I know I

was wrong.”

“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.’ “

Categories: Blish, James