“We’ll keep on looking,” he said and tried to sound confident. “The two of them must be somewhere and it would be ridiculous if we couldn’t trace them. We’ll ignore stars that aren’t in a direct course to the Centre. I do believe that the home base of the Metalix is at the exact centre of the galaxy.”
“Is there any evidence for that?”
“A lot. All previous sightings have been around the Centre. When these sightings are drawn on an astronomy map and connected by lines, all the lines cross at the Centre.”
“The Centre, well…” Iltu stared at the screens on which only silent stars were to be seen. While they had been talking, one of the stars had grown larger. It was the next objective of the EX-238. “At the Centre! What will we find there?” She looked at Koster questioningly. “I mean with respect to physical difficulties.”
“I don’t quite understand…”
“We’ve already seen phenomena that are totally strange to us. What will it be like there, where the concentration of stars is heaviest?”
“But it isn’t heaviest, Iltu. Several expeditions have reported that the exact centre of the galaxy is entirely without stars. These are very old reports of the Arkonides and other races. Earth ships have never come this far.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I wouldn’t know what natural phenomena we might expect there.”
“I talked about it once with Pucky,” Iltu said. “He thought it was even possible that gravitational conditions might be the reverse of what we know.”
“That’s nonsense, of course,” Koster instructed her and smiled a little. “Why should it be the reverse, of all things?”
“The centre of the galaxy is like the hub of a wheel, see? The entire centre of the Milky Way with its billions of suns is rotating around this hub. With its gravity, these suns are held in place; otherwise, because of the force of their centrifugal flight the suns would simply take off into intergalactic space. Pucky thought that all these suns were attracted to the Centre the way planets are to their suns.”
“Yes, but why should there be unusual conditions just because they revolve around the Centre rather than around a sun?”
“Well, of course not, but there’s a difference when the centrifugal force of 5 or 10 planets pulls at a sun or if billions of suns pull at a particular point. Pucky thought that because of these billions of suns there would be absolutely no gravity on the worlds in the Centre. It would be nullified by the centrifugal forces, maybe even exceeded.”
“A bold opinion, to be sure,” countered Koster and smiled indulgently once more. “But then, I could also theorize that the light pressure of the closely set stars would be so strong that its effects would be felt equally from all directions and a pressure-gravity would be created. There would then still be gravity.”
Iltu looked past Koster at the screen.
“It’s all theory—it doesn’t matter whose. We don’t know anything. We only know that Pucky has fallen into the hands of sinister living beings—if they’re living beings! With that, our knowledge ends.”
Koster did not stir as he said: “What about Harno? Pucky talked about asking him for help. I don’t know who this Harno is, I’ve only heard about him. Do you want to tell me, Iltu? Who is Harno?”
“An energy being, ancient and immortal. A mysterious being that feeds on starlight and has conquered time. It takes on the shape of a black sphere whose smooth surface can mirror events that are happening at the same time far away in space. But Harno’s size can change from that of a chicken egg—or assume gigantic proportions. He is energy—and time.”
“I’ve never seen Harno—but I’d like to very much sometime. Do you think you can get him to appear?”
“Pucky asked Harno for help once. Harno sent a projection and said he couldn’t come himself. I think it’s useless.”
“Nothing’s useless!” Koster seemed to be filled with a new fever for activity. The thought of a meeting with Harno excited him; Iltu could feel it. “Try to call him forth. I can’t see any other possibility of finding Pucky.”
“For that we need a strong telepathic block. Besides me, only Ooch is a telepath. It won’t be enough to penetrate to the end of the universe. And to the end of time.”
“The end of time…!” Koster looked at Iltu. “What could be the end of time? What does it look like beyond the end of time?”
Iltu did not reply. She stood up. “I’ll speak to Ooch. Perhaps we’ll try it.”
Koster nodded after her. “And I’m flying towards the 41st planet, Iltu.”
* * * *
“What was possible for the mutants must also be possible for us.” Iltu looked at the mousebeavers one by one. Silent, full of expectation, they squatted in the common room. They had listened to Iltu’s explanation and had expressed their doubts. A discussion arose but Iltu and Ooch had managed to counter all the arguments that were brought up. “You don’t necessarily have to be a telepath to serve as an amplifier. You are all good telekinetics and have properly activated brains. If we all hold hands, Ooch’s and my telepathic impulses will be amplified ninefold. They will reach Harno, wherever he might be.”
“Only four-and-a-half times,” Wullewull corrected.
“The ninefold effect has to be divided by you two—a quite simple mathematical step. I can do arithmetic. The teacher at school always said…”
“We know the story,” Iltu interrupted him. “Shall we try it or not? It’s for Pucky, don’t forget!”
The mousebeavers nodded in unison. The question had been unnecessary. They might be playful by nature and mostly had only nonsense in their heads but when it came tight down to it they could be relied upon. Besides which, it concerned Pucky, their acknowledged leader. Pucky was their ideal. It was he who had saved their race from final destruction because he had made friends with human beings. He was the most capable of them all.
Iltu took Ooch by the hand. To her left, little Biggy. Soon the circle was complete. The touching each other physically also established the contact of flowing thought streams which served to amplify the thought impulses set up by Iltu and Ooch. No word was spoken.
Iltu and Ooch concentrated only on their nearly unimaginable task, sending an SOS into eternity—and they didn’t even know in which direction this eternity was. Logically in the direction of the retreating universe, this much even Iltu knew, for towards the centre there was only the past. Harno, on the contrary, was in the future.
Absolute silence reigned in the room. Whatever was happening in the hallways or in central control might just as well have been in another world that had nothing to do with the concentration of the mousebeavers. Koster was flying toward a new sun system that made no difference—he might just as well have been a thousand light-years away.
Iltu constantly sent out the thought that would count most with Harno.
Ooch, too, was thinking it.
“Harno! You must help! Harno… Harno…”
Ten minutes went by. Half an hour.
After an hour they gave it up.
“We’ll try again after a break,” Iltu said calmly. “We have to have patience and never lose faith in our success. Without this faith the thought-impulses would be too weak. Doubts are like resistors in an electrical circuit. Maybe Ooch and I should emit more precisely beamed thought streams and also should change the direction frequently. I’m convinced that Harno will receive our call. And when he does, he’ll come. He’s sure to come.”
If Koster could have seen the mousebeavers now, he would have been astonished. He knew them only as a gay and frolicking band, without worries or cares. But now Ooch and Wullewull were sitting next to each other peacefully, their features reflective. Fippi was talking quietly to her friend Biggy and this time neither Ooch nor Wullewull was their main topic of conversation. The others had lain down to gather new strength.
But Koster could not see them; besides, he had other worries. The sun they were approaching had no planets and he steered toward the next one. Right and left were plenty of stars but he ignored them all. His direction was directly ahead where the Silver Arrow had disappeared.
Thus the EX-238 raced straight towards the centre of the galaxy.
Before they had reached the next star, however, Iltu suddenly appeared in central control. Koster had just let one of his officers relieve him and was about to go to his cabin. He almost stumbled over Iltu who materialized directly under his feet.
“We’ve done it!” Iltu was breathless with excitement. “Harno’s come—he’s come himself! In our cabin. Come on, Major…”
Koster took hold of Iltu’s hand and in no time he could see again. He was standing in the mousebeaver quarters. The absolute silence of the clan would have been strange and disturbing under other circumstances but in this case it was natural enough.