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Leonora Christine was in the tenth year of her journey when grief came upon her.

An outside watcher, quiescent with respect to the stars, might have seen the thing before she did; for at her speed she must need to run half blind. Even without better instrumental capabilities, he would have known of the disaster a few weeks ahead. But he would have had no way to cry his warning, and it could not have helped her.

And there was no watcher anyhow: only night, bestrewn with multitudinous cold points that were suns, the frosty cataract of the Milky Way and the rare phantom glimmer of a nebula or a sister galaxy. Nine light-years from Sol, the ship was inimitably alone.

An automatic alarm roused Captain Telander. As he struggled upward from sleep, First Mate Lindgren's voice followed: "Kors i Herrens namn!" The horror in it jerked him fully awake. He didn't stop to use the intercom; he left his cabin and ran toward the command bridge. Nor would he have stopped to dress. They didn't trouble much with uniforms, and some of the people aboard were ceasing to trouble with clothes.

But as it happened, he was clad. Lulled by the sameness of nine and a half years—even in ship's time, more than one year—he had been reading a microtaped novel and had dozed off in his chair. And then jaws of the universe snapped shut.

The corridor throbbed faintly around him, an endless pulse of driving energies. Ventilators gusted fresh air in his face, and it was subtly scented with clover. Murals hid metal and plastic with scenes of forest around a sunlit lake. The deck covering was green and springy as grass. But always the ship whispered and shivered, always one remembered the deeps outside.

Lars Telander flung himself up the companionway and into the bridge compartment. Ingrid Lindgren stood near the viewscope. It was not what counted; however massive and sophisticated, it was almost a toy. What truth could tell was in the instruments which glittered across the entire forward bulkhead. But her eyes would not leave it.

The captain brushed past her. The warning which had caused him to be summoned was still blazoned on a screen linked to the primary computer. He read. The breath sucked in between his teeth. As he stood, a slot opened with a click and extruded a printout. He snatched it. His gaze whipped across letters and figures. Quantification—decimal-point detail, after more data had come in and more calculation had been done—the basic Mene, Mene stood unchanged on the screen.

He stabbed the general alarm button. Sirens wailed; echoes went ringing down the corridors. On the intercom he ordered all hands not on duty to report to commons with the passengers. After a moment, harshly, he added that channels would be open so that those people standing watch could also get the news.

"But what are we going to do?" Lindgren cried.

"Very little, I fear." The captain went to the viewscope. "Is anything visible in this?"

"Barely. I think. Fourth quadrant." She clenched her fists and turned from him.

He took for granted that she meant the eyepiece for dead ahead and peered into that. At high magnification, space leaped at him. The scene was somewhat blurred and distorted. Optical circuits did not compensate perfectly for the aberration and Doppler effect experienced when one crowded the speed of light. But he saw starpoints, diamond, amethyst, ruby, topaz, emerald, a Fafnir's hoard. Near the center burned the one called Beta Virginis, whither they were bound, thirty-three years after they said farewell to Earth. It should have looked very like the sun of home, but something of spectral shift remained to tinge it ice blue. And, yes, on the verge of human vision . . . that wisp? That smoky cloudlet, perhaps to wipe out this ship and these fifty human lives?

Noise broke in on his concentration, shouts, footfalls, the sounds of fear. He straightened. "I had better go aft," he said without tone. Lindgren moved to join him. "No, keep the bridge."

"Why?" Her temper stretched thin and broke. "Regulations?"

"Yes," he nodded. "You have not yet been relieved." A smile of sorts touched his lean face. "Unless you believe in God, regulations are now the only comfort we have."



There was no space to spare in space. Every cubic centimeter inside the hull must work. But human beings intelligent and sensitive enough to adventure out here would have gone crazy without some room and privacy. Thus each of the twenty-five cabins could be divided into two cubicles if the pair who occupied it chose. And commons was more than a place for meals and meetings. The largest section was ball court and gymnasium. Offside rooms held tiny bowers, gardens, hobby shops, a swimming pool. Along one bulkhead stood three dream booths.

In this moment, however, none of these things had any more meaning than did drapes or murals or the bright casual clothes of the gathered people. They had not taken time to set out chairs. Everyone stood. Every eye locked onto Telander as he mounted the dais. Nobody stirred save to breathe, but sweat glistened on faces and could be smelled. The murmur of the ship seemed somehow to have grown louder.

The captain hesitated for a moment. They were from so many nations, those men and women—Europe, Asia, America, Africa, Luna. Of course they all knew Swedish; like every other extrasolar expedition, this one went in a Control Authority ship. But some did not know it well. For scientists, particularly, English and Russian remained the chief international tongues. Since Telander happened to be more at ease in the former, he sighed and fell back on it.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have just gotten grave news. Let me say immediately that our prospects of survival are not in the least hopeless, as far as can be judged from present data and computations. But we are in trouble. The risk was not unforeseen, but by its nature is one that cannot be provided against, at any rate in the present rather early stage of Bussard drive technology—"

"Get to the point, God damn it!" Telander couldn't see who shouted out of the pack, but knew that voice: Williams, the short, cocky North American chemist.

"Quiet, you," said Constable Reymont. Unlike most of them, who stood with male and female hands clutched together, he was alone, a little apart from the rest: a stocky, dark, hard-featured man with a scar seaming his brow. He wore a drab gray coverall and had pinned on his badge of authority.

"You can't—" Someone must have nudged Williams, for he spluttered into silence.

Telander's gaunt body shifted nervously from foot to foot. "Instruments have . . . have detected an obstacle. A small nebula. Extremely small, a mere clot of dust and gas, probably less than a thousand million kilometers across. It is traveling at an abnormal velocity. Perhaps it is the remnant of a larger thing cast out by a supernova, a remnant still held together by hydromagnetic forces. Or perhaps it is a proto-star. I do not know. The fact is, we are going to strike it. In about twenty-four hours, ship's time. What will happen then, I do not know either. With luck, we can ride out the impact and not suffer serious damage. Otherwise . . . well, we knew this journey would have its hazards."

He heard indrawn breaths, like his own on the bridge, and saw eyes go white-rimmed, mouths mutter, fingers trace signs in the air. Quickly, he went on: "We cannot do much to prepare. A little, ah, battening down, yes; but in general, the ship is as taut as possible already. When the moment approaches, most of you will be ordered into shock harness, and everyone will wear space armor. But—the meeting is now open for discussion." Williams's hand rocketed past the shoulder of tall M'Botu.


One could imagine the red-faced indignation. "Sir! An unmanned probe did make the trip to Beta Virginis first, did it not? It did radio back an assurance that this route was free of danger. Did it not? Well, then, who is responsible for our blundering into this muck?"

Voices lifted toward a babble. "Quiet!" Charles Reymont called. He didn't speak loud, but he pushed the sound from his lungs in such a way that it struck home. Several resentful glances were cast at him, but the talkers came to order.

"I thought I had explained," Telander said. "The cloud is small, nonluminous, undetectable at any great distance. It has a high velocity. Thus, even if the robot carrier had taken our identical path, the nebulina would have been well offside at the time—more than fifty years ago, remember. Furthermore, we can be quite certain the robot did not go exactly as we are going. Quite apart from the relative motions of the stars, the distance between Sol and Beta Virginis is thirty-two light-years. That is greater than our poor minds can picture. The slightest variation in the curves taken from star to star means a difference of many astronomical units in the middle."

"This thing couldn't have been foreseen," Reymont added. "The odds were against our running into it. But somebody has to draw the long odds now and then."

Telander stiffened. "I did not recognize you, Constable," he said.

Reymont flushed. "Captain, I was trying to expedite matters, so some clotbrains won't keep you there explaining the obvious till we smash."

"No insults to shipmates, Constable. And kindly wait to be recognized before you speak."

"I beg the captain's pardon." Reymont folded his arms and blanked his features.

Telander said with care: "Please do not be afraid to ask questions, however elementary they may seem. You are all supposed to be educated in the theory, at least, of interstellar cosmonautics. But I, whose profession this is, know how strange the paradoxes are, how hard to keep straight in one's mind. Best if everyone understands, as well as may be, exactly what we face . . . Professor Glassgold?"

The molecular biologist lowered her hand and said timidly, almost too low to hear: "Can't we—I mean—nebular objects like that, they are hard vacuums by ordinary standards. Aren't they? And we, we are not only traveling just under the speed of light . . . we are gaining more speed every second. And so more mass. Our mass right now, as far as the rest of the universe is concerned, must be, well, several hundred thousand tons. Which is enormous for a spaceship, even this big a spaceship, isn't it? So why can we not smash right on through? Why should we notice a bit of dust and gas?"

"A good point," Telander said, "and if we are lucky, that is more or less what will happen. Not entirely, though. Remember, we are going unbelievably fast, so fast that we can actually use the hydrogen of space for fuel and exhaust. So if we run into a concentration of matter perhaps a hundred times as dense, at this speed, ja, we must hope that our forcefields can handle it, and the material components endure the stresses. Engineering extrapolations suggest we will not suffer grave damage. But those are mere extrapolations. There has been no chance as yet to test them. We are, after all, in a pioneering era . . . Dr. Iwamoto?"

"S-s-sst! I presume we have no possibility of avoidances? One day ship's time is maybe one month cosmic time, so? We have not time to go around this nebu—nebulina?"

"No, I fear not. We perceive ourselves as accelerating at a steady five gravities. At least, our instruments do, if not our bodies." Telander paused. His mouth twisted. "Excuse me. I maunder. But I want to make certain that everyone is quite clear about the facts. In terms of the outside universe, our acceleration is not constant, but steadily decreasing. Therefore we cannot change course fast. Even a full vector normal to our velocity would not get us far enough aside before the encounter. Ah, Engineer Fedoroff?"

"Might it help if we decelerated? We must keep one or another mode operative at all times, to be sure, but I should think that deceleration now would soften the collision."

"The computer has not made any recommendations yet. Probably the information is insufficient. In any event, the difference would be slight, a few hundred kilometers per second, out of almost three hundred thousand. No, regardless of what we do, we have no choice except to—ah—"

"Bull through," Reymont murmured. Telander heard and cast him a look of annoyance. Reymont didn't seem to mind.


As discussion progressed, though he grew increasingly tense, his eyes flickered from one speaker to the next and the lines between lips and nostrils deepened in his face. When at last Telander said, "Dismissed," the constable pushed almost brutally through the uncertain milling of the rest and plucked the captain's sleeve.

"I think we had better hold a private talk, sir." His Swedish, like his English, was fluent, but marred by a choppy accent. He had been born and raised in the turbulent sublevels of Polyugorsk and somehow made his way to Mars (Telander was sure the means had been devious), where he fought with the Zebras during the troubles. Later he went homeward as far as Luna, joined the Rescue Corps and soon rose to colonel's rank. Telander knew Reymont had done much to organize the police branch of his service along more efficient lines than before, but nonetheless doubted the Authority's wisdom in offering him a berth on this expedition.

The captain said with a chill, "Now is hardly the time to deny anyone access to information, Constable."

"Oh, call our working by ourselves politeness, not to antagonize people," Reymont answered impatiently.

Telander shrugged. "Come with me to the bridge, then. I have no time for special conferences."

Williams and a couple of others seemed to feel differently, but Reymont drove them off with a glare and a bark. Telander must perforce smile a bit as he left the commons. "You do have your uses," he confessed.

"As a parliamentary hatchet man? I think . . . I am afraid . . . there will be more call on me than that," Reymont said.

"Well, conceivably at Beta Virginis. Dubious, though. The robot sent back no indication of intelligent life on the one seemingly Earthlike planet. At most, we might encounter a few savages armed with spears—who would probably not be hostile to us. The dangers are subtler."

Reymont flushed as before. "I'm sorry," Telander added in haste. "I was thinking aloud. No intention of talking to you like a three-year-old. Of course you know all this. I am not entirely convinced by your claim that a degree of military-type discipline may be essential to surviving hazards like possible diseases. But we shall see. Certainly a specialist in rescue and disaster control is going to be welcome."

"You maunder again, Captain," Reymont said. "You're pretty badly shaken by what we're driving into. I believe our chances are not quite as good as you pretended. Right?"

Telander looked around. The corridor was empty, but still he lowered his voice. "I simply don't know. No Bussard ship has been tested under conditions like those ahead of us. Obviously! We will either get through in reasonable shape or we will die, a quick clean death. I saw no reason to make worse what hours remain for our people, by dwelling on that last."

Reymont scowled. "You overlook a third possibility. We may survive, but in bad shape."

"How the devil could we?"

"Hard to say. Perhaps we'll take such a buffeting that people are killed. Key personnel, whom we can ill afford to lose—not that fifty is any great number against a world. In such case, however . . ." Reymont brooded a while. Footsteps thudded beneath the mumble of energies. "They reacted well, on the whole," he said. "They were picked for courage and coolness. In a few instances, though, the picking was not very successful. Suppose we do find ourselves, let's say, disabled. What then? How long will morale last, or sanity itself? I want to be prepared to maintain discipline."

"In that connection," Telander said, cold once more, "please remember that you act under my orders and subject to the articles of the expedition."

"Damnation!" Reymont exploded. "What do you take me for? Some would-be Mao? I'm requesting your authority to deputize a few trustworthy men and make them quietly ready for emergencies. I'll issue them weapons, but stunner type. If nothing goes wrong—or if something does but everybody behaves himself—what have we lost?"

"Trust in each other," Telander said.

They had come to the bridge. Reymont entered with his companion, arguing further. Telander made a chopping gesture to shut him up and strode toward the computer. "Anything new?" he asked.

"Yes. The instruments have begun to draw a density map," Lindgren said. She had started on seeing Reymont and now spoke mechanically, not looking at him. Under the short fair hair her face went red and then white. "It is recommended—" She pointed to the screen and the latest printout.

Telander studied them. "Hm. To pass through a less dense region, we should generate a lateral vector by using the Number Three and Four decelerators in conjunction with the entire accelerator system . . . A procedure with dangers of its own. This calls for discussion." He flipped the intercom controls and spoke briefly to the chief engineer and the navigation officer. "In the plotting room. On the double!"

He turned to go. "Captain—" Reymont attempted.

"Not now," Telander said, already on his way.


"The answer is no." Telander vanished out the door.


Reymont stood a moment, head lowered and shoulders hunched as if to charge. But he had nowhere to go. Ingrid Lindgren regarded him for a time that shivered—a minute or more, ship's chronology, which was half an hour in the lives of the stars and planets—before she said, quite softly: "What did you want of him?"

"Oh." Reymont turned about. "His order to recruit a small police reserve. He gave me something stupid about my not trusting my fellows."

Their eyes locked. "And not letting them alone in what may be their final hours," she said.

"I know. There's little for them to do, they think, except wait. So they'll spend the time . . . talking; reading favorite poems; eating favorite foods, with maybe a wine ration for this occasion; playing music, opera and ballet and theater tapes, or in some cases, something livelier, maybe bawdier; making love. Especially making love." Reymont spat out his words.

"Is that so bad?" she asked. "If we must go out, shouldn't we do so in a civilized, decent, life-loving way?"

"By being a trifle less civilized, et cetera, we might increase our chance of not going out," Reymont snapped.

She bridled. "Are you that afraid to die?"

Reymont shrugged. "No. But I like to live."

"I wonder. You know why I left you. Not your crudeness by itself. You can't help your background. But your unwillingness to do anything about overcoming it. Your caveman jealousy, for instance."

"I do have a poor man's primitive morality," he said. "Frankly, having seen what education and culture make people into, I'm less and less interested in acquiring them."

The spirit gave way in her. Her eyes blurred, she reached out to touch him and said, "Oh, Carl, are we going to fight the same old fight over again, now on perhaps our last day alive?" He stood rigid. She went on, fast: "I admired you. I wanted you to be my life's partner, the father of my children—on Beta Three if we find we really can settle there; on Earth if we have to return. But we're so alone, here between the stars! We have to take what comfort we can, and give it, or we may not survive."

"Unless we can control our own emotions," he said.

"Do you think there was any emotion . . . anything but friendship, and pity, and—and a wish to make sure he did not fall seriously in love with me—with Harry? Why, he's hardly more than a boy! And the articles say, in so many words, we can't have formal marriages en route, because we're already too constricted and deprived in every other way—"

"So you and I terminated a relationship which had become unsatisfactory," Reymont said.

"You've found plenty of others since!" she flared.

"For a week or two. So have you. No matter. As you have said, we're both free individuals. Why should I carry a grudge, just because it turned out to be impossible to keep a social relationship with you? I certainly don't want to spoil your fun after you go off watch."

Knuckles stood white on her fists. "What will you be doing?"

"Since I wasn't given authority to deputize," Reymont said, "I'll have to ask for volunteers."

"You can't!"

"I wasn't actually forbidden. I'll only ask a few men, in private, who are likely to agree. Are you going to tell the captain?"

She turned from him. "No," she said. "Please go away."

His boots clacked off down the companion.



The ship drove on.

She was not small. This hull must house fifty human beings, with every life-support apparatus required in the ultimate hostility which is outer space. It must carry closed-ecology food, air, and waste-disposal systems, tools, machinery, supplies, spare parts, instruments, references, a pair of auxiliary craft capable of ferrying to and from a planetary surface. For the expedition was not merely going for a look: not at such cost in resources, labor, skill, dreams and years.

At a minimum, these people would spend half a decade in the Beta Virginis System, learning what little they could. But if the third planet which the robot probe was now in orbit, from which it beamed its signals to an Earth that received them a generation later . . . if that planet really was habitable, the expedition never would come home, not even the professional spacemen. They would live out their lives, and belike their children and grandchildren would too, exploring its manifold mysteries and flashing their discoveries to the hungry minds on Earth. For any planet is a world infinitely complex, infinitely varied. And this world seemed to be so homelike that the strangenesses it must hold would be yet the more vivid.

The folk of Leonora Christine were quite frank in their hope that they could indeed establish a true scientific base. They often speculated that their descendants might have no desire whatsoever to go back: that Beta Three might evolve from base to colony to New Earth to jumping-off place for the next starward leap. For there was no other way by which man could travel far in the galaxy.

Consider: A single light-year is an inconceivable abyss. Denumerable, but inconceivable. At an ordinary speed—say, a good pace for a car in megalopolitan traffic, two kilometers per minute—one would need almost nine million years to cross it. And in Sol's neighborhood, the stars averaged some nine light-years apart. Beta Virginis was thirty-two distant.

Nevertheless, such spaces could be conquered. A ship accelerating continuously at one gravity would have traveled half a light-year in less than one year of time. And she would be moving very near the ultimate velocity, 300,000 kilometers per second. Thereafter she could, so to speak, coast along at one light-year per year: until, within half a light-year of journey's end, she began her deceleration.

But that is an incomplete picture. It takes no account of relativity. Precisely because there is an absolute limiting speed (at which light travels in vacuo; likewise neutrinos) there is an interdependence of space, time, mass, and energy. The tau factor enters the equations.

An outside observer, "at rest," measures the mass of the spaceship. The result he gets is the mass that the ship would have, measured when she was not moving with respect to him, divided by tau. Thus, the faster the ship moves, the more massive she is, as regards the universe at large. She gets this extra mass from the sheer kinetic energy of motion; e = mc2.

Furthermore, if the "stationary" observer could compare the ship's clocks with his own, he would notice a difference. The interlude between two events (such as the birth and the death of man) measured aboard the ship where they take place, is equal to the interlude which the outsider measures—also divided by tau. One might say that time moves proportionately slower on a starship.

Lengths, however, shrink; the outsider sees the ship shortened in the direction of motion by the factor tau.

But measurements made on shipboard are every bit as valid as those made outside. To a crewman, looking forth at the universe, the stars are compressed and have gained in mass; the distances between them have shriveled; they shine, they evolve at a strangely reduced rate. He has not changed, not with respect to himself. How could he?

Yet the picture is more complicated even than this. One must bear in mind that the ship has, in fact, been accelerated and will be decelerated in relation to the general background of the cosmos. This takes the whole problem out of special and into general relativity. The ship-star situation is not really symmetrical. When velocities match once again and reunion takes place, the star will have passed through a longer time than the ship did.

So to reach other suns in a reasonable portion of your life expectancy—Accelerate continuously, right up to the interstellar midpoint, when you make turnover and start slowing down again. You are limited by the speed of light, which you can never quite reach. But you are not limited in how close you can approach that speed. And thus you have no limit on your tau factor.

Practical problems arise. Where is the mass-energy to do this coming from? It would be useful to run tau up to 100. You could cross a light-century in a single year of your own experience. (Though of course you could never regain the century which had passed in the outside universe, during which your friends grew old and died.) But this would also, inevitably, involve a hundredfold increase of mass. Each ton of ship that left the Solar System must become a hundred tons. The thought of carrying enough fuel along from the start is ludicrous.

But who says we must do so? Fuel and reaction mass are there in space! It is pervaded with hydrogen. True, the concentration is not great by ordinary standards—about one atom per cubic centimeter in the galactic vicinity of Sol. But this makes thirty billion atoms per second, striking every square centimeter of the ship's cross-section, when she approaches light speed. The energies are unthinkable. Megaroentgens per hour of hard radiation would be released by impact; and more than a thousand r within an hour are fatal. No material shielding would help. Even supposing it impossibly thick to start with, it would soon be eroded away.

However, in the days of Leonora Christine non-material means were available: magnetohydrodynamic fields, whose pulses reached forth across millions of kilometers to seize atoms by their dipoles and control their streaming. These fields did not serve passively, as mere armor. They fed the gas into a ramjet system—if that phrase may be used for the starlike violence of an ongoing thermonuclear reaction, and for the hurricane of plasma cast aft to push the ship nearer and nearer ultimate c.

The forces involved were not just enormous; of necessity, they were precise. They were, indeed, so precise that they could be used within the hull as well as outside. They could operate on the asymmetries of atoms and molecules to produce an acceleration uniform with that of the basic field-generator complex itself. Rather, that uniformity was minus one terrestrial gravity. In effect, weight remained constant aboard, no matter how high the rate at which the ship gained speed.

This cushioning was only possible at relativistic velocities. While tau was small, atoms were insufficiently massive, skittish. But as they approached c, they grew heavier—not to themselves, of course, but to everything else—and so the interplay of fields between ship and universe could establish a stable configuration.

Thus the flight pattern was: A year at one gee, to get near light speed. Switchover to cushioned, high-acceleration mode. The bulk of the journey would be covered in a few months of crew time. At the end, another year must pass while the ship braked to interplanetary velocities and closed in on her goal.

And so, because velocity was never constant, the "twin paradox" did not arise. Tau was no static multiplying factor; it was dynamic; its work on mass, space and time could be observed as a fundamental thing, creating a forever different relationship between men and the universe through which they traveled.

The ship was not small. Yet she was the barest glint of metal, in that vast immaterial web of forces which surrounded and permeated her. She herself no longer generated them. She had initiated the process, when she reached minimum ram-jet speed; but now it was too huge, too swift, it could only be created and sustained by itself. The primary reactor, the venturi tubes, the entire system which thrust her, was not contained in the hull. Most of it was not material at all, but a resultant of cosmic-scale forces. The ship's control devices, under computer direction, were not remotely analogous to autopilots. They were more like catalysts, which judiciously used could affect the course of those appalling reactions, could build them up, in time slow them down and snuff them out—but not fast.

A month of cosmic time, a day of interior time, was too little to swerve around the suddenly perceived nebular pit. Only a few things could be done. Then nothing remained except to wait and see if she survived.


She struck.

It was too swiftly changing a pattern of assault too great. The delicate dance of energies which balanced out acceleration pressures could not be continued. The computer directed a circuit to break, shutting off that particular system, before positive feedback wrecked it.

Spacesuited, strapped into safety cocoons, alone with whatever memory could be kept of a farewell handclasp or kiss, the folk of Leonora Christine felt weight shift and change. A troll sat on each chest and choked each throat, darkness went raggedly before eyes. Sweat started forth, hearts slugged, pulses brawled. That noise was answered by the ship, a metal groan, a rip and a crash. She was not meant to endure stresses like these. Her safety factors were small; mass was too precious for anything else. And she rammed hydrogen atoms swollen to the heaviness of silicon or phosphorous, dust particles bloated into meteoroids. Velocity had flattened the cloud longitudinally; it was thin—she tore through in seconds. But by that same token, the nebulina was no longer a cloud to her. It was a well-nigh solid wall.

Her outside force-screens absorbed the battering, flung matter aside in turbulent streams, protected the hull from everything except slowdown drag. But reaction was inevitable, on the fields themselves and thus on the devices which, borne outside, produced and controlled them. Frameworks crumpled. Electronic elements fused. Cryogenic liquids boiled from shattered containers.

So one of the thermonuclear fires went out.

The stars saw the event differently. They saw a tenuous murky mist struck by an object incredibly swift and dense. Hydromagnetic forces snatched at atoms, whirled them about, ionized them, battered them together. The object was encompassed in a meteor blaze. During the hour or so of its passage, it drilled a tunnel through the nebulina. That tunnel was wider than the drill, because a shock wave spread outward—and outward and outward and outward, destroying what stability there had been, casting substance forth in gouts and tatters.

A sun and planets had been in embryo here. Now they would never form.

The invader passed. It had not lost much speed. Accelerating once more, it dwindled away toward remoter stars.



Reymont struggled back to consciousness. He could not have been darkened long. Could he? Noise had ceased. Was he deafened? Had the air puffed through some hole into space? Were the screens down, had gamma-colored death already sleeted through him?

No. When he listened, he made out the familiar low beat of energies. Perhaps it even penetrated him a bit louder than formerly. Perhaps the deck's subliminal shiver had quickened a trifle. The hull structure must be loosened by what it had undergone. Yet a fluoropanel shone steadily in his vision. The shadow of his cocoon frame was cast on a bulkhead and had the soft edges which betokened ample air. Weight had returned to a single gee. "To hell with melodrama," he heard himself say. His voice sounded far-off, a stranger's. "We got work."

He fumbled with his harness. Muscles throbbed and ached. A trickle of blood ran over his mouth, tasting salty. Or was it sweat? Nichevo. He was functional. He crawled free, opened his helmet, sniffed—slight smell of scorch and ozone, nothing serious—and gusted one deep sigh before shedding his spacesuit.

His cabin half was a mess. The brackets holding his meager personal belongings on their shelves had given way and let everything smash across the deck. He found his stunner beneath his regular bunk and strapped it on before sliding aside the panel which cut off the other section.

Chi-yuen Ai-ling's slight form lay inert. Reymont unlatched her faceplate and listened carefully. Her breathing was normal, no wheeze or gurgle to suggest injured lungs. Probably she had just fainted. He left her. Others might need help worse. No strong sentiment was between him and her anyway. After breaking up with Ingrid Lindgren and playing the field a bit, he'd moved in with Chi-yuen on a basis of mutual convenience. She didn't want to appear standoffish, but her consuming interest was in developing some ideas about planetology which the probe data from their goal had suggested to her. A steady relationship with one man kept the rest from making well-intentioned advances. Similarly, he wanted to retire from close human contacts without being obvious about it. Nobody had to know that the panel across this cabin was usually drawn shut.

Ivan Fedoroff was already out in the corridor. "How goes it?" Reymont hailed.

"I am on my way to see," the engineer flung back and ran.

"But—" Reymont cut off his words and pushed into Johann Freiwald's section. The machinist sat slumped on his bunk. "Raus mit dir," Reymont said. "And don't forget your gun."

"I have a headache like carpenters in my skull," Freiwald protested.

"You offered to help me. I thought you were a man."

* * *


Freiwald cast Reymont a resentful glance, but got into motion. They were busy for the next hour. Leonora Christine's crew was busier yet, inspecting, measuring, conferring low-voiced and apart. But that, at least, gave them little time to feel pain or let terror grow. The scientist majority had no such anodyne. From the fact that they were alive and the ship apparently working as before, they might have drawn cheer . . . only why didn't Captain Telander announce anything? Reymont bullied them into commons, started some making coffee and others attending to the most badly bruised. At last he went alone to the command bridge.

The door was closed. He knocked. Fedoroff's voice boomed, "No admittance. Please wait for the captain to address you."

"This is the constable," Reymont said.

"Well? Haven't you anything better to do than meddle?" Lindgren called.

"I've assembled your passengers," Reymont said. "They're getting over being stunned. They're beginning to realize something isn't quite right. Not knowing what, in their present condition, will crack them open. Maybe we won't be able to glue the pieces back together."

"Go tell them an announcement will be made very soon," Telander said without steadiness.

"You tell them. The intercom's working, isn't it? Tell them you're making exact evaluations of damage, so you can lay out a program for repair as soon as possible. But first let me in to help find words for announcing the disaster."

The door flew wide. Fedoroff grabbed Reymont's arm and tried to pull him through. Reymont yanked free, an expert movement. His other hand smacked stingingly edge-on across the engineer's wrist. "Don't do that," he said. "Not ever." He stepped into the bridge and closed the door himself.

Fedoroff growled and doubled his fists. Lindgren hurried to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. "No, Ivan," she begged. "Please." The Russian subsided, stiffly. They glowered at him in the thrumming stillness: captain, mate, engineer, second engineer, navigation officer, biosystems chief. He looked past them. The console had suffered, some panels twisted, some meters torn loose. "Is that the trouble?" he asked, pointing.

"No," said Boudreau, the navigator. "Instruments can be replaced."

Reymont sought the viewscope. The compensator circuits were also dead. He put his head into the hood of the electronic periscope.

A hemispheric simulacrum sprang from the darkness at him: uncompensated, the view he would actually have seen from outside on the hull. At light speed, aberration distorted the sky. The stars were crowded forward, streaming thinly amidships; and because of Doppler effect they shone steel blue, violet, X-ray. Aft the patterns approached what had once been familiar—but not very closely, and those stars were reddened, like dying embers, as if time were snuffing them out. Reymont shuddered a little and drew his head back into the comforting smallness of the bridge.

"Well?" he said.

"The decelerator system—" Telander swallowed. "We cannot stop."

Reymont's face went altogether expressionless. "Go on," he said.

Fedoroff spoke. His words came flat with fury. "You will recall, I hope, we had activated the decelerators, two of them anyhow, but they belong to an integrated system. Which has to be a separate system from the accelerators, since to slow down we do not push gas through a ram jet but reverse its vector."

Reymont did not stir at the insult. Lindgren caught her breath. After a moment Fedoroff sagged.

"Well," he said tiredly, "the accelerators were operating too. I imagine, on that account, their field strength protected them. But the decelerators—out. Wrecked."


"We can only determine that the thermonuclear core is extinguished. In the nature of the case, the decelerators must have been subject to greater stress than the accelerators. I suppose that those forces, reacting through the hydromagnetic fields, broke apart the material assembly which they contain. That assembly, you know, generates and maintains the magnetic bottle which itself contains the ongoing atomic reactions." Fedoroff looked at the deck. "No doubt we could repair the system if we could get at it," he muttered. "But no one can go near the reaction which powers the accelerator and live long enough to do any work. Nor could any remote-control robot we might build. Too much radiation for its circuits. And, of course, we cannot shut off the accelerator. That would mean shutting off the whole set of forcefields which it maintains. Hydrogen bombardment would kill everyone aboard within a minute."

"We have no directional control whatsoever?" Reymont asked, still without tone.

"Yes, yes, we do that. The accelerator pattern can be varied," Boudreau said. "It has four Venturis, and we can damp down some—get a sidewise as well as forward vector—but don't you see, on any path we take, we must continue accelerating or we die."

"Accelerating forever," Telander said.

"At least, though," Lindgren whispered, "we can stay in the galaxy. Swing around and around its heart." Her gaze went to the viewscope, and they knew what she thought of: behind that curtain of blue stars, blackness, intergalactic void, an ultimate aloneness. "At least . . . we can grow old . . . with suns around us. Even if we can't ever touch a planet again."

Telander's features writhed. He cried, "How do I tell our people?"

"We have no hope," Reymont said. It was hardly a question.

"None," Fedoroff said.

"Oh, we can live out our lives," said Pereira. "The biosystems have triple protection. They are intact. We could actually increase their productivity. Do not fear hunger or thirst or suffocation. But I would not advise that we have children."

Lindgren said out of nightmare, staring at a bulkhead as if she could see through: "When the last of us dies—We must put in an automatic cutoff. The ship must not keep on running after our deaths. Let the radiation do what it will, let cosmic friction break her to bits and let the bits drift off into those millions of light-years . . . yonder."

"Why?" asked Reymont like a machine.

"Isn't it obvious? If we throw ourselves into a circular path . . . consuming hydrogen in our accelerator, always traveling faster, running tau up and up as the thousands of years pass . . . we get more massive. We could end by consuming the galaxy."

Telander laughed, a harsh little noise in his throat. "No. Not that," he said. "I have seen calculations. They were made in the early stages of discussing Bussard ships. Someone worried about getting out of control. But it isn't serious. A spacecraft, any human work, is too insignificant. Tau would have to become something like, well, shall we say ten to the twentieth power, before the ship's mass was equal to that of a very small star. And the odds are always astronomical against her colliding with anything more important than a nebula. Besides, the universe won't last so long. No, we are going to die. But the cosmos is safe from us."

"How long can we live?" Lindgren breathed. She cut Pereira off. "I don't mean in ship's time. If you say we can manage to die of old age, I believe you. But I think a year or two we will stop eating, or cut our throats, or agree to turn the accelerator off, or something."

"Not if I can help it," Reymont snapped.

She gave him a dreary look. "Do you mean you would continue—not just cut off from man, from living Earth, but from the whole universe?"

He regarded her steadily in return. One hand rested on his gun butt. "Don't you have that much guts?" he asked.

"But fifty years inside this flying hell!" she nearly screamed. "How many will that be outside?"

"Easy," Fedoroff said and took her by the shoulders. She clung to him and snatched after air.

Boudreau said, carefully dry: "The time relationship appears to be somewhat academic to us, n'est-ce pas? And it depends in any case on what course we take. If we let ourselves continue straight out into space, naturally we will enter a much thinner interstellar medium. The rate of increase of tau will be proportionately smaller than here, and get smaller as we move beyond this entire group of galaxies. On the other hand, if we stay within our own galaxy, if we try for a cyclical path taking us through the denser hydrogen concentrations, we could soon get a very large tau. We might see billions of years go by. That could be quite fascinating." His smile was forced. "And we have each other. A goodly company. I am with the constable. There are better ways to live, but also worse."

Lindgren hid her face against Fedoroff's breast. He held her with one arm, patted her awkwardly with the other hand. After a while (an hour or so in the history of the stars) she looked up again.

"I'm sorry," she gulped. "You're right. We do have each other." Her glance went from one to the next, ending at Reymont.

"But, but how shall I tell them?" Telander groaned.

"I suggest you do not," Reymont said. "Let the mate break the news."

"What?" Lindgren asked.

"You are a simpatico person," he said. "I remember."

She moved from Fedoroff's loosened grasp, a step toward Reymont. Abruptly the constable tautened. He stood for a second as if blind, before he whirled from her and confronted the navigator.

"Quick!" he exclaimed. "Do you know—"

"If you think I should—" Lindgren had begun to say.

"Not now," he interrupted, "Boudreau, come here! We have some figuring to do."



The silence went on and on.

Ingrid Lindgren stared from the dais where she stood with Lars Telander, down at her people. They looked back at her. And not a one in that chamber could find words.

Hers had been well chosen. The truth was less savage in her voice than in any man's. But when she came to her planned midpoint—"We have lost Earth, lost Beta Three, lost the mankind we belonged to. We have left to us courage, love and, yes, hope"—she could not continue. She stood with lip caught between teeth, fingers twisted together, and the slow tears ran from her eyes.

Telander bestirred himself. "Ah . . . if you will be so good," he tried, "Kindly listen. A means does not exist . . ." The ship jeered at him in her tone of distant lightnings.

Glassgold broke. She did not weep loudly, but her very struggle to stop made the sound more dreadful. M'Botu, beside her, attempted consolation. He, though, had clamped such stoicism on himself that he might as well have been a robot. Iwamoto withdrew a little from them both, from them all, one could see how he pulled his soul into some nirvana with a lock on its door. Williams shook his fists at the overhead and raved. Another voice, female, started to keen. A woman considered the man with whom she had been keeping company, said, "You, for my whole life?" and stalked from him. He tried to follow her and bumped into a crewman who snarled and offered to fight if he didn't apologize. A seething went through the entire human mass.

"Listen to me," Telander called. "Please listen."

Reymont shook loose the arm which Chi-yuen Ai-ling clutched, in the first row, and jumped onto the dais. "You'll never bring them around that way," he warned sotto voce. "You've always worked with disciplined professionals. Let me handle these civilians." He turned on them. "Quiet, there!" Echoes bounced around his roar. "Shut your hatches. Act like adults for once. We haven't the personnel to change your diapers for you."

Williams yelped with resentment. M'Botu growled, rather more meaningfully. Reymont drew his stunner. "Hold your places!" He dropped his vocal volume, but everyone heard him as if he stood beside. "The first one to move gets knocked out. Afterward we'll court-martial him. I'm the constable of this expedition, and I intend to maintain order and effective cooperation." He grinned into their faces. "If you feel I exceed my authority, you're welcome to file a complaint with the appropriate bureau in Stockholm. But for now, you'll listen!"


He tongue-lashed them until their adrenals seemed to be active again. It didn't take long.

"Very well," he finished and turned mild. "We'll say no more about this. I realize you've had a shock which none of you were prepared psychologically to meet. But we've nevertheless got a problem. And it has a solution, too, of sorts, if we can work together. I repeat: if."

Lindgren had swallowed her weeping. "I think I was supposed to—" she said. He shook his head at her and went on:

"We can't repair the decelerators because we can't turn off the accelerators. The reason is, as the mate has explained, we must keep its forcefields for shielding against interstellar gas. So it looks as if we're bottled in this hull. Which was never intended to house us for more than a few years, ship's time. Well, I don't like the prospect either. But I did get an idea. A possibility of escape, if we have the nerve and determination. Navigator Boudreau checked the figures for me. We have a chance of success."

"Get to the point, will you?" yelled Williams.

"I'm glad to see some spirit," Reymont said. "It'll have to be kept under control, though or we are finished. But, to make this as short as possible—afterward Captain Telander and the specialist officers can explain details—the idea is this."

His flat delivery might have been used to describe a new method of bookkeeping. "If we can leave the galaxy, get out where gas is virtually nonexistent in space, we can safely turn off the fields. Then we can go outside of the hull and repair the decelerators. Now astronomical data are not as precise as one might like, but we do know that even in nearby intergalactic space, the medium is too dense. Much thinner than here, of course, but still so thick, in terms of atoms struck per second, as to kill us without protection.

"However, galaxies generally occur in clusters. Our galaxy, the Magellanic Clouds, M31 in Andromeda, and thirteen others, large and small, make one such group. The space it occupies is about six million light-years across. Beyond them is an enormously greater distance to the next galactic family. And in that stretch, we hope, the gas is thin enough for us not to need shielding."


Reymont lifted both hands. He had holstered his gun. "Wait, wait!" he managed to laugh. "Don't bother. I already know what you're trying to say. Ten or twenty million light-years, however far we must go, is impossible. We haven't the tau for it. A ratio of fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand, does us no good whatsoever. Agreed. But remember, we have no limit on our tau. Especially if we widen our scoop fields and, also, pass through parts of this galaxy where gas is denser than here. Both of these we can do. The exact parameters we've been using were determined by our course to Beta Virginis; but the ship is not restricted to them. We could go as high as ten gee, maybe higher.

"So. A rough estimate indicates that if we swing partway around this galaxy and then plunge straight inward through its middle and out the other side—we'd have to make that partial circuit anyway; we can't turn on ore at our speed!—we can pick up the necessary tau. Remember, it'll increase constantly. Our transmit time to Beta would have been much less than we figured on if we hadn't meant to stop there: if, instead of making turnover at midpassage, we had simply kept cramming on the speed. Navigator Boudreau estimates—estimates, mind you; we'll have to gather data as we go; but a good, informed guess—he thinks we can finish with this galaxy and head out beyond it in a little over one year."

"How long cosmic time?" challenged from the gathering.

"Does that matter?" Reymont retorted. "You know the dimensions. The galactic disk is about 100,000 light-years in diameter. At present we're some 30,000 light-years from the center. A quarter million years altogether? Who can tell? It'll depend on what course we take, which in turn will depend on what long-range observation can show us." He stabbed a finger at them. "I know. You wonder, what if we hit a cloud such as got us into this miserable situation. Well, I have two answers for that. First, we have to take some chances. But second, as our tau gets greater and greater, we'll be able to use regions which are denser and denser. We'll have too much mass to be affected as we were this time. Do you see? The more we have, the more we can get. We may well leave the galaxy with a tau on the order of a hundred million. If so, by ship's time we'll be outside of this entire galactic cluster in days!"

"And how do we get back?" Glassgold called—but alert and interested.

"We don't," Reymont admitted. "We keep on till we find another galactic cluster. There we reverse process, decelerate. We'll be helped somewhat by the fact of recession. The other groups are already moving away from ours, you know. We won't have quite so much relative velocity to kill. But eventually we'll be inside a single galaxy. Our tau will be down to something reasonable. We can start looking for a planet where we can live.

"Yes, yes, yes!" he barked into their babble, impatient again. "Millions of years in the future. Millions of light-years from here. The human race most likely extinct . . . in this part of the universe. But can't we start over, in another space and time? Or would you rather sit in this metal shell, feeling sorry for yourselves, till you grow senile and die childless? Unless you can't stand the gaff, and blow out the brains you flatter yourselves you have. I'm for going on, as long as strength lasts. Will anyone who feels differently be so good as to get out of the way?"

He stalked from the dais. "Ah . . . Navigation Officer Boudreau," Telander said into the rising noise. "Will you come here? Ladies and gentlemen, this meeting is now open for questions—"

Chi-yuen Ai-ling caught Reymont's hand. He glanced down at her. "You were marvelous," she exclaimed.

His mouth tightened. He looked from her, from Lindgren, across the group, to the enclosing bulkheads. "Thanks," he replied curtly. "Wasn't anything."

"Oh, but it was. You gave us back hope." She lowered her gaze and colored. "I am honored to share a cabin with you."

He didn't seem to hear. "Anybody could have presented a shiny new idea," he said. "They'll grasp at anything, right now. I only expedited matters. When they accept the program, that's when the real trouble begins."



Forcefields shifted about. They were not mere static tubes and screens. What formed them was the incessant interplay of electromagnetic pulses, whose generation, propagation and heterodyning must be under control at every nanosecond, from the quantum level to the cosmic. As exterior conditions—matter density, radiation, impinging field strengths, gravitational space-curvature—changed, instant by instant, their reaction on the ship's immaterial web was registered; data were fed into the computers; handling a thousand simultaneous Fourier series as the smallest of their tasks, these machines sent back their answers; the generating and controlling devices, swimming aft of the hull in a vortex of their own output, made their supple adjustments. Into this homeostasis, this tightrope walk across the chance of improper response—which would mean distortion and collapse of the fields, nova-like destruction of the ship—entered a human command. It became part of the data. A starboard intake was widened, a port intake throttled back; but carefully, carefully. Leonora Christine swung around onto her new course.

The stars saw the ponderous movement of a steadily larger mass, taking months and years before the deviation from its original track was significant. Not that the object they saw was slow. It was a planet-sized shell of incandescence, where atoms were seized by its outermost force-fringes and excited into thermal, fluorescent, synchrotron radiation. And it came barely behind the wave front which announced its march. But the galaxy was vast. The ship's luminosity was soon lost across light-years.

The ship's passage crawled through abysses which seemingly had no end.

In her own time, though, the story was another. She moved through a universe ever more strange—more rapidly aging, more massive, more compressed. Thus the rate at which she could gulp down hydrogen, burn some of it to energy and hurl the rest off in a billion-kilometer jetflame . . . that rate kept increasing for her. Each minute, as counted by her clocks, added more to her tau than the last minute had added to it.

Inboard, nothing changed. Air and metal still carried the deep beat of acceleration, whose net internal thrust still stood at an even one gravity. The interior powerplant continued to give light, electricity, thermostatic control.

And the biosystems reclaimed oxygen and water, processed waste, produced food, maintained human life. Entropy increased. People grew older at the ancient rate of sixty seconds per minute, sixty minutes per hour.

But those hours were always less related to the hours and years which passed outside. Loneliness closed on the ship like fingers.



Reymont paused for a moment at the entrance to commons. The main room lay big and quiet. At first it had been in constant use, an almost hysterical crowding together. But lately, aside from meals, the tendency was for scientists and crewfolk to form little cliques, or retreat into solitariness. Not many ball games went on in the gym any more; the hobby shops were often deserted. No serious quarrels had developed. It was just a matter of confessing by one's actions that one was weary to death of the same faces and the same conversations, and therefore meant to spend most of the time apart—reading, watching taped shows, writing, thinking, sleeping as much as possible. Offsetting this tendency in some was a change in the sexual habits of others. Reymont wasn't sure whether that betokened a breakdown or a groping toward a new pattern better suited to present conditions. Maybe both. At any rate, most relationships had become transient, though some groups stayed more or less together as wholes and went in for a good deal of experimentation.

He didn't care one way or another about that. He wished they'd all pull themselves together, get more exercise and do less brooding. But he couldn't persuade many. His inflexible enforcement of certain basic rules had pretty well isolated him socially.

Apropos which—yes. He strode across the deck. A light above each of the three dream booths said it was occupied. He fished a master key from his pocket and opened the lids, one by one. Two he closed again. But at the third he swore. The stretched-out body, the face under the somnohelmet, belonged to Emma Glassgold.

For a moment he stood looking down at the little woman. Peace dwelt in her smile. But skin was loose and unhealthily colored. The EEG screens behind the helmet said she was in a soothed condition. So she could be roused fast without danger. Reymont snapped down the override switch on the timer. The oscilloscopic trace of the hypnotic pulses that had been fed into her brain flattened and darkened.

She stirred. "Shalom, Moshe," he heard her whisper. There was nobody aboard named Moshe.

He slid the helmet off, uncovering her eyes. She squeezed them tighter shut, knuckled them, and tried to turn around in the box.

"Come on," Reymont said. "Wake up." He gave her a shake.

She blinked at him. The breath snapped into her. She sat straight. He could almost see the dream fade away behind those eyes. "Come on," he repeated, offering his hand to assist. "Climb out of that damned coffin."

"Ach, no, no," she slurred. "You . . . I was with my Moshe."

"I'm sorry, but—"

She crumpled into sobbing. Reymont slapped the booth, a cracking across every other noise. "All right," he said, "I'll make that a direct order. Out! And report to Dr. Winblaa."

"What the devil's going on here?"

Reymont turned. Norbert Williams must have heard him and come in from the pool, because the chemist was nude and wet. He was also furious. "So now you're bullying women," he said in a thickened tone. "Not even big women. Get away from here."

Reymont stood where he was. "We have regulations about the use of dream booths," he said. "If someone hasn't the self-discipline to observe them, I have to compel."

"Yah! Snooping around, watching us, shoving your nose up everybody's privacy—God, I'm not going to put up with it any longer!"

"Don't," Glassgold pleaded. "Don't fight." She seemed to shrink into herself. "I will go."

"Like hell you will," the North American answered. "Stay. Insist on your rights." His features burned crimson. "I've had a bellyful of this little tin Jesus, and now's the time to do something about him."

Reymont said, spacing his words: "The regulations limiting use of the booths weren't written for fun, Williams. Too much sleep, too much artificial stimulation of dreams, is bad. It becomes addictive. The end result can be insanity."

"Listen." The chemist made an obvious effort to curb his own wrath. "People aren't identical. You may think we can be chopped and trimmed to fit your pattern—you and your dragooning us into calisthenics, your arranging work details that any child could see aren't for anything except to keep us busy a few hours per day, your smashing the still that Pedro Rodrigues built—your whole petty dictatorship, ever since the voyage began, worse and worse since we veered off on this Flying Dutchman chase—" He swallowed. "Listen," he said. "Those regulations. Like here. They're written to make sure nobody gets too much dream time. Of course. But how do you know that some of us are getting enough? We've all got to spend some time in the booths. You also, Constable Iron Man. You also. The ship's too sterile an environment. It's a sensory-deprivation place. We've got to have substitutes."

"Certainly—" Reymont interrupted.

"Now how can you tell how much substitute anyone else may need? You don't have the sensitivity God gave a cockroach. Do you know one mucking thing about Emma's background? I do. I know she's a fine, courageous woman . . . perfectly well able to judge her own necessities, and guide herself . . . she doesn't need you to run her life for her." Williams pointed. "There's the door. Use it."

"Norbert, don't," Glassgold shivered. She climbed from the box and tried to come between the men. Reymont eased her to one side and answered Williams:

"If exceptions are to be made, the ship's doctor is the one to determine them. Not you. She has to see Dr. Winblaa anyway, after this. She can ask him for a medical authorization."

"I know how far she'll get with him. That bastard won't even issue tranquilizers."

"We've a long trip ahead of us. Unforeseeable stresses to undergo. If we start getting dependent on pacifiers—"

"Did you ever think, without some such help, we'll go crazy and die? We'll decide for ourselves, thank you. Now go away, I said!"

Glassgold sought once more to intervene. Reymont had to seize her by the arms to move her.

"Get your hands off her, you swine!" Williams charged in with both fists flailing.

Reymont released Glassgold and drifted back, to where more room for maneuvering was available. Williams yelped and followed. Reymont guarded himself against the inexpert blows until, after a minute, he sprang close. A karate flurry, two chops, a gush from emptied lungs, and Williams went to the deck. He huddled retching. Blood dripped from his nose.

Glassgold shrieked and ran to him. She knelt, pulled him close, glared up at Reymont. "Aren't you brave?" she spat.

The constable spread his palms. "Was I supposed to let him hit me?"

"You c-c-could have left."

"No. My duty is to maintain order on board. Until Captain Telander relieves me from that, I'll continue to do so."

"Very well," Glassgold said between her teeth. "We are going to the captain at once. I am lodging a formal complaint against you."

Reymont shook his head. "It was explained and agreed on," he answered, "that the skipper mustn't be bothered with our ordinary troubles and bickerings. Not under these new circumstances, when we're bound into the absolute unknown. He has to think of the ship."

Williams groaned his way back toward full consciousness.

"But we will go to First Mate Lindgren," Reymont said. "I have to file charges against both of you."

Glassgold compressed her lips. "As you wish," she said.

"Not Lin'gren," Williams mouthed. "Lin'gren an' him, they was—"

"No longer," Glassgold said. "She couldn't stand any more of him, even before the disaster. She will be fair." She rose, helped Williams up, supported him the whole way to officer country.


Several people saw them pass and started to ask what had happened. Reymont glowered them into silence. The looks they returned him were sullen. At the first intercom callbox, he dialed Lindgren's cabin and requested her to come to the interview room.

It was minuscule but soundproof, a place for confidential hearings and necessary humiliations. Lindgren seated herself behind the desk. She had donned a uniform for the occasion. The fluoropanels spilled light onto her frost-blonde hair; the voice in which she asked Reymont to commence was equally cold.

He gave a short, flat account of what had happened. "I charge Professor Glassgold with violation of a rule on personal hygiene," he finished, "and Mr. Williams with assault."

"Mutiny?" Lindgren inquired. Williams looked dismayed.

"No, madam. Assault will suffice," Reymont said. To the chemist: "Consider yourself lucky. We can't psychologically afford a full-dress trial, which a charge of mutiny would bring. Not unless you keep on with this kind of behavior."

"That will do, Constable," Lindgren snapped. "Professor Glassgold, please give me your version of what happened."

Anger still upbore the biologist. "I plead guilty to the violation as alleged," she said without a waver, "but I am also pleading guilty and asking for a full review of my case—of everybody's case—as provided by the articles. Not Dr. Winblad's judgment alone; a board of ship's officers and my colleagues. As for the fight, Norbert was intolerably provoked, and he was made the victim of sheer viciousness."

"Your statement, Mr. Williams?"

"I don't know how I stand under your damn reg—" The North American checked himself. "Pardon, ma'am," he said, a little thickly still through his puffed lips. "I never did memorize space law. I thought common sense and good will would see us through. Reymont may be technically in the right, but I've had about as much of his brazen-headed interference as I can tolerate."

"Then, Professor Glassgold, Mr. Williams, are you willing to abide by my judgment? You are entitled to a regular trial if you so desire."

Williams managed a lopsided grin. "Matters are bad enough already, ma'am. I suppose this has to go in the log, but maybe it doesn't have to go in everyone's ears."

"Oh, yes," Glassgold whispered. She caught Williams' hand.

Reymont opened his mouth. "You are under my authority, Constable," Lindgren intercepted him. "You may, of course, appeal to Captain Telander."

"No, madam," Reymont clipped.

"Very well." Lindgren leaned back. A smile thawed her features. "I suggest that accusations on every side of the case be dropped . . . or, more accurately, never be filed. Let's sit down—go ahead, use that bench—let's talk this problem out as among human beings who are all in, shall I say, the same boat."

"Him too?" Williams jerked a thumb toward Reymont.

"We must have law and discipline, you know," Lindgren said mildly. "Without them, we die. Perhaps Constable Reymont gets over-zealous. Or perhaps not. He is, though, the only police and military specialist we have. If you dissent from him—well, that's what I am here for. Do sit down. I'll ring for coffee. We might make a raid on our cigarette ration, too."

"If the mate pleases," Reymont said, "I'll excuse myself."

"No, we have things to say to you also," Glassgold declared.

Reymont kept his eyes on Lindgren's. It was as if sparks flew between. "As you explained, madam," he said, "my business is to uphold the rules of the ship. No more, no less. This has become something else: a personal counselling session. I suggest the lady and gentleman will talk more freely without me."

"I believe you are right, Constable," the mate nodded. "Dismissed."

He sketched a salute and left. On his way down the corridor, Freiwald greeted him with an approximation of cordiality. But then, Freiwald was one of his half-dozen deputies.

He entered his cabin. The partition was drawn aside. Chi-yuen Ai-ling sat on his bunk rather than her own. She wore something light and frilly, which made her look like a little girl, a sad one. "Hello," she said tonelessly. "You have thunder in your face. What happened?"

Reymont joined her and related it.

"Well," she sighed, "can you blame them so much?"

"No. I suppose not. Though—I don't know. They're supposed to be the best Earth could offer. Intelligence, education, stable personality, good health, dedication. And they know they'd likely never come home again. At a minimum, they'd come back to an Earth older than the one they left by the better part of a century." Reymont ran a hand through his wirebrush hair. "So things have changed," he said. "We're off to an unknown destiny, maybe to death, certainly to complete isolation. But is this so different from what we were planning on from the start? Should it make people go to pieces?"

"Yes," Chi-yuen said. "It does."

"You too. I've noticed." He gave her a ferocious look. "You were busy at first, your theoretical work, your programming the studies you meant to carry out in the Beta Virginia System. And when the trouble hit us, you rallied as well as anyone."

A ghostly smile crossed her lips. "You inspired me," she said.

"Since then, however . . . more and more, you sit doing nothing. I think you and I had the beginnings of, uh, real friendship; but you don't often make any meaningful contact with me of late, nor with anyone else. No more work. No more big daydreams. Not even much crying into your pillow after lights out . . . oh, yes, I'd lie awake and hear you. Why, Ai-ling? What's happening to you? To most of our people?"

"I suppose we have not quite your raw will to survive at any cost," she said, almost under her breath.

"I'd consider some prices for life too high myself. But here—We have what we need to exist. A certain amount of comfort as well. An adventure like nothing we'd dreamed of. What's wrong?"

"Do you know what the year is on Earth?" she countered.

"No. I was the one who suggested to Captain Telander he order that particular clock removed. You may as well know that now. Too morbid an attitude was developing around it."

"Most of us can make our own estimates anyway. At present, I believe it is about 10,000 Anno Domini at home. Give or take some centuries. And, oh, yes, I recognize that for a nonsense statement. I understand about the concept of simultaneity breaking down under relativistic conditions. But still that date does have a meaning. We are absolute exiles. Already. Irrevocably. What has happened on Earth? What is happening throughout the galaxy? What have men done? What are they becoming? We will never share in it. We cannot."

She had spoken in a level, almost indifferent voice. He tried to break her apathy with sharpness: "What of that? If we'd gone to Beta Three and stayed, we'd have had a thread of radio contact, words a generation old before we heard them. Nothing else. And our own deaths would have closed us off from the universe. The common fate of man. Why should we whine because ours takes an unexpected shape?"

She regarded him for a space before she said, "You don't really want an answer for yourself. You want to provoke one from me."

Startled, he said, "Well . . . yes."

"You understand people a great deal better than you let on. Your business, I suppose. You tell me what our trouble is."

"Loss of purpose," he said at once. "The crewfolk aren't in such bad condition yet. They have their jobs to keep them occupied. But most of those aboard are scientists. They'd signed their lives over to the Beta Virginis expedition. You, for example, intended to study planetology there. So you had that to look forward to; and meanwhile you had your preparations to play with. Now you have no idea what will happen. You know just that it'll be something altogether different from what you expected. That it may be death—because we are taking some frightful risks—and you can do nothing to help, only sit passive and be carried. Naturally your morale cracks."

"What do you suggest I do, Charles?"

"Well, why not continue your theoretical work? Try to generalize it. Eventually we'll be looking for a planet to settle on. Your specialty will be very much needed."

"You know what the odds are against our ever finding a home. We are going to keep on this devil's chase until we die."

"Damnation, we can improve the odds!"


"That's one of the things you ought to be working on."

She smiled again, a little more alive. "Do you know, Charles," she said, "you make me want to. If for no other reason than to make you stop flogging at me. Is that why you are so hard on people?"

He considered her. She had borne up thus far better than most. Maybe she would gain fresh courage from, well, sharing with him. And every glint of will and hope was to be nurtured. "Can you keep a trade secret?" he asked.

Her glance actually sparkled. "You should know me that well by now." One bare foot rubbed across his thigh.

He patted it and grinned. "An old principle," he said. "Works in military and para-military organizations. I've been applying it here. The human animal wants a father-mother image but, at the same time, resents being disciplined. You can get stability like this: The ultimate authority-source is kept remote, godlike, practically unapproachable. Your immediate superior is a mean son of a bitch who makes you toe the mark and whom you therefore hate. But his superior is as kind and sympathetic as rank allows. Do you follow me?"

She laid a finger to her chin. "No, not really."

"Well, in the present case—oh, you'll never know how carefully I maneuvered, those first few months after we hit the nebulina, to help things work out this way—Captain Telander has been isolated, along with those officers most concerned with the actual operation of the ship. He doesn't realize that. He agreed to my argument that he shouldn't be distracted by ordinary business, because his whole attention must go to getting us safely through the galaxy's clouds and clusters. But this has removed him from the informal, intimate basis on which we operated before. He dines separately, with Boudreau and Fedoroff. He takes his recreation and exercise alone in the cabin we've enlarged for him. When he needs a woman, he requests her most politely to visit him, and never asks the same one twice. And so on and so on.

"I can't claim credit for the whole development. Much of it is natural, almost inevitable evolution. The logic of our problem brought it about, given some nursing by me. The end result, however, is that our good gray friend Lars Telander has been transformed into the Old Man."

Chi-yuen half smiled, half sighed. "Poor Old Man! Why?"

"I told you," Reymont said. "Psychological necessity. The average person aboard has to feel that his life is in competent hands. Of course, no one believes consciously that the captain is infallible. But there's an unconscious need for such an aura. Therefore, we have now established things so that the captain's human-level judgment never is put to the test."

"Lindgren is the surrogate there?" Chi-yuen looked closely at Reymont.

He nodded. "I'm the traditional top sergeant. Hard, harsh, demanding, overbearing, inconsiderate, brutal. Not so bad as to provoke a petition for my removal. But enough to irritate, to be unpopular. That's good for the others, you know. It's healthier to be mad at me than to brood on personal woes . . . as you, my dear, have been doing.

"Now Lindgren smooths things out. As first mate, she sustains my power. But she also overrides it from time to time. She exercises her rank to bend regulations in favor of need. As a result, she adds benignity to the attributes of Ultimate Authority."

Reymont shrugged. "Thus far, the system's worked," he finished. "It's beginning to break down. We'll have to add a new factor."

Chi-yuen gazed at him so long that he shifted uncomfortably on the bunk. At last she asked, "Did you plan this with Ingrid?"

"Eh?" he said, surprised. "Oh, no. Certainly not. Her role demands that she not be a Machiavelli type who plays the part deliberately."

"You know her so well . . . from old acquaintance?"

"Yes." He reddened. "What of that? These days we have to keep aloof from each other. For obvious reasons."

"I think you find ways to continue rebuffing her, Charles."

"M-m-m . . . damnation, leave me alone. What I want to do is help you get back some real will to live."

"So that I, in turn, can help you keep going?"

"Well, uh, yes. I'm no superman. It's been too long since anyone held my hand."

"Are you saying that because you mean it, or because it serves your purpose?" Chi-yuen tossed back her dark locks. "Never mind. Don't answer. We will help each other, what little we can. Afterward, if we survive—we will settle that when we have survived."

His dark, scarred features softened. "You have for a fact begun to think in survival terms again," he said. "Good. Thanks."

She chuckled. Her arms went about his neck. "Come here, you."



The speed of light can be approached, but no body possessing rest mass can quite attain it. Smaller and smaller grew the increments of velocity by which Leonora Christine neared that impossible ultimate. Thus it might have seemed that the universe which her crew observed could not be distorted further. Aberration could, at most, displace a star 45"; Doppler effect might infinitely redden the light from astern, but could only double the frequency of light ahead.

But there was no limit on tau, and that was the measure of change in perceived space and experienced time. Accordingly, there was no limit to the violet shift either; and the cosmos fore and aft could shrink toward a zero thickness wherein all the galaxies were crowded.

Thus, as she made her great swing partly around the Milky Way and turned for a plunge straight through its heart, Leonora Christine's periscope revealed a weird demesne. The nearer stars streamed past, faster and faster, until at last the human eye could see them marching across the field of view; because by that time, many years passed outside while a minute or two ticked away inside the ship. That field was no longer black. It was a shimmering purple, which deepened and brightened as the months went by; because the interaction of forcefields and interstellar medium—eventually, interstellar magnetism—was releasing quanta. The farther stars were coalescing into two globes, fiery blue ahead, ember crimson aft. But gradually those globes shrank toward points, and dimmed; because well-nigh the whole of their radiation had been shifted out of the visible spectrum, toward gamma rays and long radio waves.

The viewscope had been repaired, but was increasingly less able to compensate, to show the sky as a stationary observer would have seen it. The circuits simply could not distinguish individual stars any longer, at more than a few parsecs' remove. The electronicians took the instrument apart and rebuilt it to step up lowered and step down heightened frequencies, lest men fly altogether sightless.

That project, and certain other remodelings, provided a useful outlet for those able to help. Such people began to emerge from their shells. Nonetheless, Reymont found a need to hail the astronomer Elof Nilsson to the interview room.


Ingrid Lindgren sat behind her desk, once more uniformed. She had lost weight, and dark circles lay beneath her eyes. The cabin thrummed louder than normal, and occasionally a shiver went through ribs and deck. Here, in the immense clouds which surrounded the clear space at the galaxy's core, Leonora Christine moved according to an eerie sort of aerodynamics. Her tau was now so enormous that density did not trouble her, rather she swallowed matter still more greedily than before. But she flew as if through a wind blowing between the sun clusters.

"Bo you accuse Dr. Nilsson of spreading disaffection, Constable?" Lindgren's tone was weary. "The articles provide for free speech."

"We are scientists," the astronomer said waspishly. "We have not only the right but the obligation to state what is true." He was a short, rather ugly man who had not gotten along ideally with his fellows even before the crisis came. Since then he had let a scraggly beard grow and seldom bathed. His clothes were begrimed.

Reymont shifted on the bench. Both men were seated at Lindgren's urging. "You don't have the right to spread horror stories," he said. "Didn't you notice what you were doing to Jane Sadler, for instance, when you talked the way you did at mess?"

"I merely brought out into the open what everybody has known from the start," Nilsson rasped. "They hadn't the courage to discuss it in detail. I do."

"They hadn't the meanness to discuss it," Reymont answered. "You do."

"No personalities," Lindgren said. "Tell me what the matter was." She had lately been taking her meals alone in the cabin she shared with the naturalist Olga Sobieski. In fact, she was not seen much off duty.

"You know," Nilsson said. "We've raised the subject before."

She couldn't quite suppress dislike in the look she gave him. "What subject? We've talked about many."

"Talked, yes, like reasonable people," Reymont said. "Not lectured a tableful of shipmates, most of them feeling low already."

"Please, Constable. Proceed, Dr. Nilsson."

The astronomer puffed himself up. "An elementary thing," he said. "I cannot understand why the rest of you have been such idiots as not to give it serious consideration before. You blandly assume we will come to rest in some other galaxy and find a habitable planet. But will you tell me how? Think of the requirements. Mass, temperature, irradiation, atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere . . . the best estimate is that one per cent of the stars have planets which are any approximation to Earth."

"Oh," Lindgren said. "Yes, everybody knows—"

Nilsson was not to be deprived of his platform. Perhaps he didn't bother to hear her. He ticked points off on his fingers. "If one per cent of the stars are suitable, do you realize how many we will have to examine in order to have an even chance of finding what we need? It is conceivable that we will be lucky and come upon our New Earth at the very first star we try. But the odds against this are a hundred to one. Thus we will have to try many. Now the examination of each involves almost a year of deceleration. To depart from it and search elsewhere requires another year of acceleration. Those are years of ship's time, remember, because nearly the whole period is spent at velocities which are small compared to light's and which, thus involve a negligible tau factor. Hence we must allow two of our years per star, as a minimum. The fifty-fifty chance of Which I spoke—and mind you, that is only a fifty-fifty chance—the odds are as good that we will not find New Earth in the first seventy-five stars as they are that we will—this chance requires a hundred or a hundred and fifty years of search. We will not live so long. Therefore our whole endeavor, the risks we take in this fantastic dive straight through the galaxy and out into intergalactic space, it is all futile. Quod erat demonstrandum."

"Among your many detestable characteristics, Nilsson," Reymont drawled, "is your habit of droning the obvious through your nose."

"Madam!" the astronomer gasped. "I protest! I shall file charges of personal abuse!"

"Cut back," Lindgren said. "Both of you. I must admit your conduct offers provocation, Dr. Nilsson. On the other hand, Constable, you should remember that Dr. Nilsson is one of the most distinguished men in his profession that Earth has . . . Earth had. He deserves respect."

"Not the way he behaves," Reymont said. "Or smells."

"Be polite, Constable, or I'll charge you myself," Lindgren said. She drew breath. "You don't seem to make allowance for humanness. We are adrift in space and time; the Earth we knew is a hundred thousand years in its grave; we are rushing nearly blind through a crowded part of space; we may at any minute strike something that will destroy us; at best, we must look forward to months, probably years in a cramped and barren environment. Don't you expect people to react to that?"

"Yes, madam, I do," Reymont said. "I don't, however, expect them to behave so as to make matters worse."

"There is some truth in that," Lindgren admitted.

Nilsson squirmed and looked sulky. "I was just trying to spare them disappointment at the end of this flight," he muttered.

"Are you quite certain you weren't indulging your ego—? Never mind. Your standpoint is legitimate." Lindgren signed.

"No, it isn't," Reymont said. "He gets his one per cent by counting every star. Obviously we aren't going to bother with red dwarfs—the vast majority—or blue giants or anything outside a fairly narrow spectral range. Which reduces the field of search by a whopping factor."

"Make the factor ten," Nilsson said. "I don't really believe that, but let's grant we have a ten per cent probability of finding New Earth at any one of the Sol-type stars we try. That nevertheless requires us to hunt among five or more to get our even chance. A dozen years? The youngest among us will be past his youth. Some will be getting old. The loss of so many reproductive years means a corresponding loss of heredity; and our gene pool is small, indeed minimal, to start with. You must agree on the impossibility of having children while we are in space. If nothing else, we are too crowded. Yet if we wait one or two decades to start having them, we can't beget enough. Few will be grown to self-sufficiency by the time their parents start getting helpless with advancing years. And in any case, the human stock will certainly die out in a few generations. I know something about genetic drift, you see."

He looked smug. "I didn't wish to hurt your feelings," he said. "My desire was to be of service, by showing your concept of a bold pioneer community, planting humankind afresh in a new galaxy . . . showing that chatter for the romantic fantasy which it is."

"Have you an alternative?" Lindgren asked.

Nilsson's mouth twisted, an uncontrollable tic. "Nothing but realism," he said. "Acceptance of the fact that we will never leave this ship. Adjustment of our behavior to that fact."

"You understand, I suppose," Reymont said, "that for half the people aboard, the logical thing to do once they've decided you're right is to commit suicide."

"That may well be," Nilsson said.

"Do you hate life so much yourself?" Lindgren asked.

Nilsson jerked on the bench. He gobbled. Reymont made haste to say:

"I didn't haul you in here only to scold you. I want to know why you haven't any ideas for improving our chances."

"What ideas?"

"That's what I'm asking you. You're the observational astronomer. As I recall, you were in charge of programs back home which located something like fifty other planetary systems. You actually identified individual planets across all those light-years. Why can't you do the same for this ship?"

"Ridiculous!" Nilsson pounced. "I see that I must explain the matter in kindergarten terms. Will you bear with me, Mate Lindgren? Listen carefully, Constable. True, a very large spaceborne instrument can pick out an object the size of Jupiter at a distance of several parsecs. This is provided the object gets sufficient illumination, but not so much that it is lost in the glare of its sun. Also true, by mathematical analysis of perturbation data gathered over a period of years, some idea can be obtained about companion planets which are too small to photograph directly. Ambiguities in the equations can, to a degree, be resolved by close interferometric study of flare-type phenomena on the star; planets do exercise a certain small influence upon such cycles.

"But." His finger prodded Reymont's chest. "But you do not realize how uncertain those results are. Journalists were fond of trumpeting that yet another Earthlike world had been discovered. The fact always was, however, that this was one possible interpretation of our data. Only one among several possible size and orbit distributions. And subject to a gross probable error. All this, mind you, with the largest, finest instruments which could be orbited. Instruments such as we certainly do not have with us here.

"No, even at home, the sole way to get detailed information about extrasolar planets was to send a probe or a manned expedition there. In our case, the sole way is to decelerate for a close look. And thereafter, I am certain, to go on. Because you must be aware that a planet which otherwise seems ideal could be lifeless, or could have a native biochemistry useless or deadly to us.

"I implore you, Constable, to learn a little science, a little logic, perhaps just a touch of realism. Eh?" Nilsson ended with a crow of triumph.

"Doctor—" Lindgren began.

Reymont smiled crookedly. "Don't worry, madam," he said. "No fight will start. His words don't diminish me." He regarded the other man with care. "Believe it or not, I knew very well what you've told us. I also know you are, or were, an able fellow. That you made some innovations, some new gadgets and systems of your own, which were responsible for a lot of discoveries. Well, why not put your brain to work on the problem we have here?"

"Will you be so good as to condescend to suggest a procedure?" Nilsson fleered.

"I'm no scientist, nor much of a technician," Reymont said. "But a few things look obvious to me. Let's suppose we have entered our target galaxy. We've shed the ultra-high tau we needed to get there, but we still have one of . . . oh, whatever is convenient. A thousand, perhaps? Well, that gives you a mighty long baseline and cosmic-time period to make your observations. In the course of some weeks or months, ship's time, you can collect more data on a given star than you had on any of Sol's neighbors. I should think you could find ways to use relativity effects to give you information that wasn't available at home. And, naturally, you'll be observing a large number of Sol-type stars simultaneously. So you're bound to find some which you can prove—prove with such exact figures that there's no reasonable doubt—have planets with masses and orbits about like Earth's."

"But even then," Lindgren said hesitantly, "the question of atmosphere, biosphere, that remains. We still need to take a close-range look."

"Yes, yes," Reymont agreed. "But must we stop to take it? Suppose, instead, we lay out a course which brings us hard by the most promising suns, one after the next—while we continue to travel near light-speed. In cosmic time, we'll have hours or days to make studies of any planet that interests us. Spectroscopic, thermoscopic, photographic, magnetic, write your own list of clues. We can get a good idea of conditions on the surface. Biological conditions, too. We could look for things like thermodynamic disequilibrium, chlorophyl reflection spectra, polarization by microbe populations based on 1-amino acids . . . yes, I think we can get an excellent idea of whether that planet is suitable. At high tau, we can examine any number in a short stretch of our own time. Our instruments will have to be automated, in fact; we ourselves couldn't work fast enough. Then, when we do find the right world, we can brake, make turnaround and come back. That will take a couple of years, I admit. But they'll be endurable years. Because we'll know, with very high certainty, that we have a home waiting for us!"

Color mounted in Lindgren's cheeks. Her eyes looked less dull. He had not seen so much life in her for months. "By God," she breathed, "why didn't you speak of this before?"

"I was too busy to think beyond the next day," Reymont said. "Why didn't you, though, Dr. Nilsson?"

"Because the whole thing is absurd," the astronomer said. "You presuppose instrumentation we do not have—"

"Well, can't we build it? We do have tools, precision equipment, construction supplies. Maybe we can't put together an enormous telescope, a mirror a few molecules thick, around the hull, once we're safe in intergalactic space. I'm not sure we can't, but let's assume so. Is that the only way? How about electronic amplification, for instance?"

"You talk of instruments which don't exist. Especially those with which you want to analyze a planet's biochemistry as you zip past at light speed. No such thing—such sensitivity and range—no such thing has ever been constructed."

"Well?" Reymont said.

Nilsson and Lindgren stared at him. Silence thrummed.

"Well, why can't we develop what we need?" Reymont asked in a puzzled voice. "Here's a whole shipful of some of the most talented, highly trained, imaginative people our civilization produced. They include almost any scientific specialty you care to name; but they're used to interdisciplinary work as well. Suppose, for instance, Emma Glassgold and Norbert Williams got together to work out the specifications for a life-analyzing instrument. They'd consult others as needed. Eventually they'd employ physicists, electronicians and such for the actual building and debugging. Meanwhile, you, Dr. Nilsson, have been in charge of a team making gadgets for long-range planetography. In fact, you're the logical man to head up the instrumentation program."

His enthusiasm waxed. The hardness fell from him. He said, eager as a boy: "Why, this is precisely what we've needed! A fascinating, vital sort of job that demands everything everybody can give. And those whose specialties aren't called for, they'll be necessary too. They'll be assistants, manual workers—I suppose we'll have to remodel a lot of the ship's interior to accommodate the bigger instruments—Ingrid, it's a way not just to save our lives but our minds! Our souls!"

He sprang to his feet. She did too. Their hands reached out and clasped.

Suddenly they grew aware of Nilsson.

He sat less than dwarfish, hunched, shivering, altogether collapsed.

Lindgren went to him in alarm. "What's the matter?" she exclaimed.

He stared at the deck. "Impossible," he mumbled. "Impossible."

"No. Surely not," she said urgently. "I mean, you wouldn't have to discover any new laws of nature or anything like that, would you? It seems to be only a question of applying known principles."

"In unheard-of ways." Nilsson hid his face. "God better me, I haven't the brains any more."

Lindgren and Reymont exchanged a look above his bent back. She shaped words, unspoken. Once he had taught her the Rescue Corps emergency trick of lip-reading, and they had practiced it as a game they shared, a thing that made them more private and more one. Can we succeed without him?

I doubt it. He is in fact the best man to organize that kind of project. At least, lacking him, we have a much poorer chance.

Lindgren sat down beside Nilsson. She laid an arm across his shoulders. "What's the matter?" she asked most softly.

"I have no hope," he snuffled. "Nothing to live for."

"Oh, but you do."

"What? You know Rosana . . . deserted me . . . months ago. No other woman—Why should I care? What's left for me?"

Reymont's lips formed, Now he's begun pitying himself. Lindgren frowned and shook her head.

"No, you're wrong, Elof," she murmured. "We do care for you. Would we ask for your help now if we didn't honor you?"

"My mind." He sat straight and glared at her out of swimming eyes. "You want my mind, yes. My advice. My knowledge and skill. To save yourselves. But do you want me? Do you think of me as, as, as a human being? No! Dirty old Nilsson. One is barely polite to him. But when he starts to talk, one finds the earliest possible excuse to leave. One does not invite him to one's parties. Most certainly never to one's cabin. At most, if desperate, one asks him to be a fourth for bridge or to lead an instrument development effort. Well, what do you expect him to do? Thank you?"

"But that isn't true!"

"Oh, I'm not as childish as some," he said. "I'd help you if I could. But my mind is blank, I tell you. I haven't had an original thought since the disaster. Call it fear of death paralyzing me. Call it a sort of impotence. I don't care what you call it. Because you don't care either. No one has offered me friendship, comfort, anything. I have been left alone in the dark and the cold. Do you wonder that my mind has frozen?"

Lindgren looked away, so that none but Reymont could see what expressions chased across her features. When she faced Nilsson again, she was calm.

"I can't say how sorry I am," she told him. "You are a little to blame yourself, Elof. You acted so . . . so self-sufficient . . . we assumed you didn't want to be bothered. The way Olga Sobieski, for instance, doesn't want to. That's why she moved in with me. When you moved in with Hussein Sadek—"

"He keeps the panel closed between our halves," Nilsson shrilled. "He never opens it. But I often hear, off-watch, first one girl in there, then another."

"Well, but now we understand," Lindgren said. She smiled. "And to be quite honest, Elof, I've grown a little tired of my own current existence."

Nilsson made a strangled noise.

"I believe we have some personal business to discuss," Lindgren said. She was pale again, but continued to smile. "Do you mind, Constable?"

"No," said Reymont. "Of course not." He left the cabin.



Leonora Christine stormed through the galactic nucleus in 20,000 years. To those aboard, the time was measured in hours. They were hours of tension, while the hull shook and groaned from stress, and the outside view was of little more than a blinding blazing fog: because here the concentration of interstellar matter was great indeed. The chance of striking a sun was not negligible; lurking in a dust cloud, it could be upon the ship before any course alteration was possible. (No one knew what would happen to the star. It might go nova. But certainly the vessel herself would be destroyed, too swiftly for her crew to realize they were dead.) On the other hand, this was the region where tau mounted to values that could merely be estimated, not measured with precision, most surely not comprehended.

There was a respite while she crossed the region of clear space at the very center, like passing through the eye of a hurricane. Foxe-Jameson, the astrophysicist, came near weeping. "Too bloody awful! The answers to a million questions, right here, and I've not a single instrument adapted for the conditions!"

His shipmates grinned. "And where would you publish?" someone asked. Renascent hope was often expressing itself in a kind of gallows humor.

But there was no joking when Boudreau called a conference with Telander and Reymont. That was soon after the ship had emerged from the dust clouds on the far side of the nucleus—by then, her jets used dust as readily as gas—and headed out through a spiral arm. The viewscope showed a red fireball dwindling behind, a gathering darkness ahead. People off duty celebrated in commons with music, dance, a liquor ration. They had run the cosmic shoals and not been wrecked. Laughter, stamping, lilt of an accordion drifted faintly to the bridge.

"It's like this," the navigator said. "Nilsson's project is showing results already, you know; and we also have my standard observational gear, together with some stuff intended for research from a Beta Virginis base. I prepared to take my readings before we entered the galactic core. Now that we're out, I have taken them."

Captain Telander's gaunted visage grew tight, as if readying for a new blow. "What result?" he asked.

"What readings?" Reymont added. "I mean, what specifically were you studying?"

"Matter density in space ahead of us," Boudreau said. "Within this galaxy, between galaxies, between galactic clusters. Given our present tau, the frequency shift of the neutral-hydrogen radio spectrum, I can get results of unprecedented accuracy."

"Oh, yes. That. What have you found out?"

Boudreau braced himself. "The gas concentration drops off more slowly than we thought," he said. "With the tau we will probably have by the time we leave this galaxy . . . thirty million light-years out, as nearly as I can determine, we still will not dare turn off the forcefields."


Telander closed his eyes. Reymont nodded, jerkily. "We've discussed the possibility of that being the case," he said, word by word. The scar stood livid on his brow. "That even halfway between two clusters, we won't be able to make our repair. But you act as if you had some proposal."

"The one we talked about, you and I," Boudreau said to the captain.

Reymont waited.

Boudreau told him in a dispassionate voice: "The astronomers had learned before we left home, a cluster or family of galaxies like our local group is not the highest form in which matter is organized. Such groups of one or two dozen galaxies do, in turn, tend to occur in larger associations. Superfamilies, so to speak—"

Reymont made a rusty chuckle. "Call them clans," he suggested.

"Eh? Why . . . well. All right. A clan is composed of several families. Now the average distance between members of a family is, oh, perhaps a million light-years. The average distance between one family and the next is greater, as one would expect: on the order of fifty million light-years. Our plan was to leave this family and go to the nearest attainable one beyond. Both would have belonged to the same clan."

"Instead, we'll have to leave the entire clan," Reymont said.

"Yes, I am afraid so."

"How far is it to the next one?"

"I don't know. I didn't take journals along. They would be a little obsolete by now, eh?"

"Be careful," Telander warned.

Boudreau gulped. "I beg the captain's pardon. That was a rather dangerous joke." He went back to lecturing tone: "I don't believe anyone was sure. Probably less than five hundred million light-years, though. Otherwise the hierarchical structure of the galaxies would have been easier for astronomers to identify than it was. Surely, between such clans, space is so close to an absolute vacuum that we won't need protection."

"Can we navigate there?" Reymont demanded.

Sweat glistened on Boudreau's cheeks. "You see the risk," he said. "We will be bound into the totally unknown. Accurate sightings and placements will be unobtainable. We shall need such a tau—"

"A minute," Reymont said. "Let me outline the situation in my layman's language, to make sure I understand you." He paused, rubbing his chin with a sandpapery sound (under the distant music), frowning, until his thoughts were collected.

"We must get—not only into interfamily but interclan space," he said. "We must do this in a reasonable shipboard time. Therefore we must run tau up to a value of a billion or more. Can we do this at all? Evidently so, or you wouldn't talk as you've done. I imagine the method is to set ourselves a course within this family such that we will pass through the nuclei of at least one other galaxy. And then go likewise through the next family—through as many individual galaxies as possible, always accelerating.

"Once the entire clan is behind us, we should be able to make our repair. But then we'll need a similar period of deceleration. And because our tau will be so great and space so utterly empty, we'll be unable to steer. Not enough material will be there for the jets to work on, nor enough navigational data to guide us. We'll just have to hope that we'll pass through another clan.

"We should do that. Eventually. By sheer statistics. But we may go so far first that the expansion of the universe will be working against us. We may be out yonder a long while indeed."

"Correct," Telander said. "You do understand."


"—But me and my true love will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond."


"Well," Reymont said, "there doesn't appear to be any virtue in caution. In fact, for us it's become a vice."

"What do you mean?" Boudreau asked.

Reymont shrugged. "We need more than the tau for crossing space to the next clan. We need the tau for a hunt which may take us past any number of clans, through billions of light-years, until we find one we can enter. I trust you can plot us a course within this first clan that will give us that kind of tau. Don't worry about collisions with anything. We can't afford such worries. Just steer us through the densest dust and gas you can find."

"You . . . are taking this . . . rather coolly," Telander said.

"What am I supposed to do? Burst into tears?"

"That's why I thought you should also hear the news first," Boudreau said. "You may know how to break it to the others."

Reymont considered both men for a moment that stretched. "I'm not the captain, you know," he said softly.

Telander's smile was a spasm. "In certain respects, Constable, you are—"

Reymont turned, went to the instrument console, stood before those goblin eyes with head bent and thumbs hooked in belt. "Well," he said. "If you really want me to take charge."

"I think you had better."

"Well, in that case. They're good people. Morale is bound upward again, now that they see some genuine accomplishment of their own. I think they'll be able to realize, not just intellectually but emotionally, that there is no human difference between a million and a billion, or ten billion, light-years. The exile is still the same."

"But the time involved—" Telander said.

"Yes. That." Reymont looked at them again. "I don't know how much more of our own lifespans we can devote to this voyage. Not very much. The conditions are too unnatural. So we absolutely have to raise tau as high as may be, no matter what the hazard. Not simply to make the trip itself short enough for us to endure. But for the psychological need to do our utmost, at all times."

"How is that?"

"Don't you see? It's our way of fighting back at the universe. Vogue la galere. Go for broke. Full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes. I think, if I can put the matter to our people in such terms, they'll rally. For a while, anyhow."


"The wee birdies sing and the flowers of spring,

And in sunshine the waters are sleeping—"




The absolute night.

Instruments, straining magnification, reconverting wavelengths, identified some glimmer in that pit. Human senses found nothing, nothing.

"We're dead." Fedoroff's voice echoed in helmets and earplugs.

"I feel alive," Reymont said.

"What else is death but the final cutting off? No sun, no stars, no sound, no weight, no shadow—" Fedoroff's breath was ragged, to clear over a radio which no longer carried the surf noise of cosmic interference. His head was invisible against empty space. The lamp at his waist threw a dull puddle of light onto the hull, that was reflected and lost in horrible distances.

"Keep moving," Reymont ordered.

"Why are you out with this work party, Constable?" said another man's voice. "What do you know about it?"

"I know we'd better get the job done. Which seems to be more than you knotheads do."

"What's the hurry?" Fedoroff gibed. "We have eternity. We're dead, remember."

"We will indeed be dead if we're caught, force-shields down, in anything like a real concentration of matter," Reymont answered. "One atom per cubic meter—or less—could kill us. And with our tau, the nearest galactic clan is only days away."


"So are you absolutely certain, Engineer Fedoroff, that we won't strike an embryo galaxy, family, clan . . . some enormous hydrogen cloud, still dark, still falling in on itself . . . at any instant?"

"At any megayear, you mean," Fedoroff said. But he started aft from the main personnel lock. His gang followed.


It was, in truth, a flitting of ghosts. One had thought of space as black. But now one remembered that it had been full of stars. Any shape was silhouetted against suns, clusters, constellations, nebulae, sister galaxies; oh, the universe was pervaded with light! The inner universe. Here was worse than a dark background. Here was no background. None whatsoever. The squat, unhuman forms of men in space armor, the long curve of the hull, were seen as gleams, disconnected and fugitive, With acceleration ended, weight was ended also. Not even the slight differential-gravity of being in orbit existed. A man moved as if in an infinite dream of swimming, flying, falling. And yet . . . he remembered that this weightless body of his bore the mass of a mountain. Was there a real heaviness in his floating; or had the constants of inertia subtly changed, out here where the metric of space-time was flattened to nearly a straight line; or was it an illusion, spawned in the tomb of stillness which engulfed him? What was illusion? What was reality? Was reality?

Roped together, clinging with frantic magnetism to the ship's iron (curious, the horror one felt of getting somehow pitched loose—extinction would be the same as if that had happened in the lost little spaceways of the Solar System—but the thought of blazing across megayears as a stellar-scale meteorite was peculiarly lonely), the engineer detail made their way along the hull and the spidery framework which trailed it. Now that the accelerator system had been shut down, those ribs were all which held the generators together. They seemed terribly frail.

"Suppose we can't fix the decelerators," came a voice. "Do we go on? What happens to us? I mean, won't the laws be different, out on the edge of the universe? Won't we turn into something not human?"

"Space is finite," Reymont barked into the blackness. "'The edge of the universe' is a meaningless noise. And let's start by supposing that we can fix this stupid machine."

He heard a few oaths and grinned the faintest bit. When they halted and began to secure themselves individually to the framework that surrounded their task site, Fedoroff took the chance to lay his helmet against Reymont's and talk in private by conduction.

"Thanks, Constable," he said.

"What for?"

"Being such a prosaic bastard."

"Well, we have a prosaic job of repair to do. We may have come a long way, we may by now have outlived the race that produced us, but we haven't changed from being a variety of proboscis monkey. Why take ourselves so mucking seriously?"

"Hm. I see why the Old Man said you should come along. All right, let's have a look at the problem here."



Reymont opened the door to his cabin. Weariness made him careless. Bracing himself a trifle too hard against the bulkhead, he let go the handle and drifted free.

For a moment he cartwheeled in midair. Then he bumped into the opposite side of the corridor, pushed and darted back across. Once inside the cabin, he grasped a stanchion before shutting the door behind him.

At this hour, he had expected Chi-yuen to be asleep. But she floated a few centimeters off her bunk, a single line anchoring her amidst currents. As he entered, she returned her book to a drawer with a quickness that showed she hadn't really been paying attention to it.

"Not you, too?" Reymont asked. His question seemed loud. They had been so long accustomed to the engine pulse as well as the gravity of acceleration that free fall brimmed the ship with silence.

"What?" Her smile was tentative and troubled. She had had scant contact with him lately. There was too much for him to do under these changed conditions, organizing, ordering, cajoling, arranging, planning. He would come here to snatch what sleep he might.

"Have you also become unable to rest in zero gee?" he said.

"No. That is, I can. A strange, light sort of sleep, filled with dreams, but I seem fairly refreshed afterward."

"Good," he sighed. "Two more cases have developed."

"Insomniac, do you mean?"

"Yes. Verging on nervous collapse. Every time they do drift off, you know, they wake again screaming. Nightmares. I'm not sure whether weightlessness alone does it to them, or if that's only the last bit of breaking stress. Neither is Dr. Winblad. I was just conferring with him. He wanted my opinion on what to do, now that he's running short of psycho-drugs."

"What did you suggest?"

Reymont grimaced. "I told him who I thought unconditionally had to have them, and who might survive a while without."

"The trouble isn't simply the psychological effect, you realize," Chi-yuen said. "It is the exhaustion. Pure physical exhaustion, from trying to do things in a gravityless environment."

"Of course." Reymont began unfastening his coverall, one leg hooked around a stanchion to hold him in place. "Quite unnecessary. The regular spacemen know how to handle themselves. I do. A few others. We don't get worn out, trying to coordinate our muscles. It's those groundlubber scientists who do."

"How much longer, Charles?"

"In free fall? I don't know. We appear to be bearing down on a galactic clan. Our forcefields have already been reactivated, as a precaution. Because we might enter a sufficient gas density at any moment for the jets to work. But we can't be sure. Detailed observation is plain impossible, with the tau we now have."

"But what is the maximum time before we enter that clan and start to have weight again?"

"Less than a week, ship's clocks. Can't estimate closer."

She sighed relief. "We can stand that. And then . . . then we will be making for our new home."

"Hope so," Reymont grunted. He stored his clothes, shivered a little and took out a pair of pajamas.

Chi-yuen started. "What do you mean by that? Don't you know?"

"Look, Ai-ling," he said in an exhausted tone, "we've come two or three billion light-years from Earth. As far in time. We have no charts. No standard of measurement. Our tau is a number to guess at. We take spectrograms of entire galactic families, and assuming they are 'normal'—whatever that is!—we calculate tau from the frequency shift. But the probable error is huge. There are factors like absorption which simply aren't in our handbooks. Quite possibly some of the constants of physics are different enough out here to affect our results. How in hell's flaming name do you expect anyone to bring in an exact answer?"

"I'm sorry—"

"This has been explained to everyone," Reymont said. "Repeatedly. Are the officers to blame if passengers won't listen to their reports? Some of you are going to pieces. Some of you have barricaded yourselves with apathy, or religion, or sex, or whatever comes to hand, till nothing registers on your memories. Most of you—well, it was healthy to work on Nilsson's R & D, but that's become a defense reaction in its own right. Another way of focusing your attention so as to exclude the big bad universe. And now, when free fall prevents you carrying on, you too crawl into your nice hidey-holes." His voice lifted in anger. "Go ahead. Do what you want. The whole wretched lot of you. Only don't come and peck at me any longer. D' you hear?"

He yanked on the pajamas and started to climb into his bunk. Chi-yuen unbuckled her lifeline, pushed across to him, embraced him.

"Oh, darling," she whispered. "I'm sorry. You are so tired, are you not?"

"Been hard on us all," he said lethargically.

"Most on you." Her fingers traced the cheekbones standing out under taut skin, the deep lines, the sunken and bloodshot eyes. "Why don't you rest?"

"I'd like to."

She maneuvered his mass into a stretched-out position, clipped on his leash, and drew herself close. Her hair floated across his face, smelling of summers on Earth. "Do," she said. "You can." For you, isn't it good not to have weight?"

"M-m-m, yes. Ai-ling, you know Tetsuo Iwasaki pretty well. Do you think he can manage without tranquilizers? Sven Winblad and I weren't sure—"

"Hush." Her palm covered his mouth. "None of that."


"No. I won't have it. The ship isn't going to fall apart if you get one decent night's sleep."

"Well . . . well . . . maybe not."

"Close your eyes. Let me stroke your face—so. Isn't that better already? Now think of nice things."

"Like what?"

"Have you forgotten? Think of home. No. Best not that, I suppose. Think of the home we are going to find. Blue sky. Warm bright sun, light falling through leaves, dappling the shade, blinking on a river; and the river flows, flows, flows, singing you to sleep—"


She kissed him very lightly. "Our own house. A garden. Strange colorful flowers. Oh, but we will plant seeds from Earth too, roses, honeysuckle, rosemary for remembrance. Our children."

He stirred. The fret returned to him. "Wait a minute, we can't make personal commitments. Not yet. You might not want, uh, any given man. I'm fond of you, of course, but—"

She brushed his eyes shut again before he saw the pain on her. "We are daydreaming, Charles," she laughed low. "Do stop being so solemn and literal-minded. Just think about children, everyone's children, playing in a garden. Think about the river. Forests. Mountains. Birdsong. Peace."

He tightened an arm around her waist. "You're a good person," he murmured.

"So are you. A good person who needs to be cuddled. Would you like me to sing you to sleep?"

"Yes." His words were already becoming indistinct. "Please. I like Chinese cradle songs."

She continued smoothing his forehead while she drew breath.

The intercom circuit clicked shut. "Constable," said Telander's voice, "are you there?"

Reymont jerked awake. "Don't," Chi-yuen begged. "Yes," Reymont said, "here I am."

"Would you come to the bridge? And don't alert anyone."

"Aye, aye. Right away." Reymont unbuckled his lifeline and pulled the pajama top over his head.

"They could not give you five minutes, could they?" she said bitterly.

"Must be serious," he rapped. "You'll keep this confidential till you hear from me." In a few motions he had donned coverall and shoes again and was on his way.


Telander and, surprisingly, Nilsson awaited him. The captain looked as if he had been struck in the belly. The astronomer was excited but had not lost his recent air of confidence and self-control He clutched a bescribbled sheet of paper. "Navigation difficulty, eh?" Reymont deduced. "Where's Boudreau?"

"This doesn't concern him immediately," Nilsson said. "I have been making my own observations with some of the new instruments. I have reached a, ah, disappointing conclusion."

Reymont wrapped fingers around a grip and hung in the stillness, regarding them. The fluorolight cast the hollows of his face into shadow. The gray streaks which had lately appeared in his hair seemed vivid by contrast. "We can't make that galactic clan ahead of us after all," he said.

"That's right." Telander drooped.

"No, not strictly right," Nilsson declared fussily. "We will pass through. In fact, we will pass through not just the general region, but a fair number of galaxies within the families that comprise the clan."

"You can distinguish so much detail already?" Reymont wondered. "Boudreau can't."

"I told you I have some of the equipment working," Nilsson said. "The precision seems even greater than hoped for when, ah, we instigated the project. Yes, I have a reasonably good map of the part of the clan which we might traverse. I have now finished making certain computations on that basis."

"Go on," Reymont said. "Once we get in where the jets have some matter to work on, why can't we brake?"

"We can. Of course we can. But our tau is too enormous. Remember, we acquired it by passing through the densest attainable portions of several galaxies, en route to interclan space. It was necessary. I do not dispute the wisdom of the decision. But the result is that this particular clan, at least, does not have enough material in it—not enough, I mean, within that conoidal volume which includes all our possible paths intersecting that clan, from this point we are now at—not enough for us to lose our entire velocity. We will emerge on the other side of the clan—after an estimated six months of ship's time under deceleration, mind you—with a tau that is still on the order of several thousand. This, you can see, will make it quite impossible to reach another clan before we die of old age. Especially in view of the fact which we are currently experiencing, that no significant acceleration is possible between clans."

The pompous voice cut off, the beady eyes looked expectant. Reymont met that gaze rather than Telander's sick, gutted stare. "Why am I being told this, and not Lindgren?" he asked.

A tenderness made Nilsson, briefly, another man. "She works so very hard. What can she do here? I thought I had best let her sleep."

"Well, what can I do?"

"Give me . . . us . . . your advice," Telander said.

"But sir, you're the captain!"

"We've been over this ground before, Carl. I can, well, yes, I suppose I can make the decisions, issue the commands, order the routines, which will take us crashing on through space, more or less safely." Telander extended his hands. They trembled like autumn leaves. "More than that I can no longer do, Carl. I have not the strength left. You must tell our shipmates."

"Tell them we've failed?" Reymont grated. "Tell them, in spite of everything, we're damned to fly on till we go crazy and die? You don't want much of me, do you, Captain?"

"The news may not be that bad," Nilsson said.

Reymont snatched at him, missed and hung with the breath raw in his throat. "We have some hope?"

The little man spoke with a briskness that turned his pedantry into a sort of bugle call:

"Perhaps. I have no data yet. The distances are too vast. We cannot choose another galactic clan as being accessible to us, and aim for it. We would see it with too great an inaccuracy, and across too many millions of years of time. But I do believe we can base a hope on sheer statistics. Someplace, eventually, we could meet the right configuration. Either a large clan through whose galaxy-densest portions we can lay a course; or else two or three clans, rather close to each other, more or less in a straight line, so that we can pass through them in succession. Do you see? If we could come upon something like that, we would be in good snap. We would be able to brake ourselves in a mere few years of ship's time."

"What are the odds?" Reymont's words rattled.

Nilsson shook his head. "I cannot say. But perhaps not too bad. This is a big and varied cosmos. If we continue sufficiently long, I should imagine we have a fair probability of encountering what we need."

"How long is sufficiently long?" Reymont lifted a hand. "Stop. Don't bother answering. It's on the order of billions of years. Tens of billions, maybe. That means we need a higher tau yet. A tau so high that we can actually circumnavigate the universe . . . in months, maybe in weeks. And that, in turn, means we can't start braking as we enter this clan up ahead. No. We accelerate again. After we've passed through—well, no doubt we'll have a shorter period of ship's time in free fall than this one was, until we strike another clan. Probably there, too, we'll find it advisable to accelerate, running tau still higher. We'll do so at every chance we get, from now till we see a journey's end we can make use of. Right?"

Telander shuddered. "Right," he said. "Can any of us endure it?"

"We'll have to," Reymont said. Now, once more, he spoke in the voice of command. "I'll figure out a tactful way to announce your news. I'll have the few men I can trust ready . . . no, not for violence. Ready with leadership, steadiness, encouragement. And we'll embark on a training program for free fall. No reason why it has to cause this much trouble. We'll teach every one of those groundlubbers how to handle himself in zero gee. How to sleep. By God, how to hope!" He smote his palms together with a pistol noise.

"Don't forget, we can depend on some of the women too," Nilsson said.

"Yes. Of course. Like Ingrid Lindgren."

"Like her indeed," Nilsson said gravely. "You know what she has done for me."

"M-hm. She is quite a girl, isn't she? I'm afraid you will have to go rouse her, Elof. We've got to get our cadre together—the unbreakables; the people who understand people—we must plan this thing. Start suggesting some names."



"Oh, please," Jane Sadler had begged. "Come help him."

"You can't?" Reymont asked.

She shook her head. "I've tried. But I think I make matters worse. In his present condition. I being a woman." She flushed. "Know what I mean?"

"Well, I'm no psychologist," Reymont said. "But I'll see what I can do."

He left the bower where she had caught him in a private moment. The dwarfed trees, tumbling vines, grass and flowers made a place of healing for him. But he had noticed that comparatively few others went into that room any longer. Did it remind them of too much?

A zero-gee handball game bounced from corner to corner of the gymnasium. They were spacemen who played, though, and grimly rather than gleefully. Most of the civilians came here for little except their compulsory exercises and—in a sporadic, uninterested fashion—their meals. No one hailed Reymont as he went by.

Further down the main corridor, a door stood open on a workshop. A lathe hummed within, a cutting torch glowed blue, several men were gathered around a bench discussing something. That was good. The instrument project continued. But it did so terminally, as mere refinement. Most of the labor was finished; cargo had been shifted. Number Two hold converted to an observatory, its haywire tangle neatened. There wasn't any work left for the bulk of Nilsson's team. There wasn't anything left except to abide.

Abruptly the ship quivered.

Weight grabbed at Reymont. He barely avoided falling to the deck. A metal noise toned through the hull, like a basso profundo gong. It was soon over. Free flight resumed. Leonora Christine had gone through another galaxy.

Such passages were becoming more frequent by the day. Would they never meet the right configuration to stop?

Well, of course you had to employ your force screens, either accelerating or decelerating. And you dared not decelerate till you were quite sure. But each spate of acceleration made the required conditions for coming to a halt that much more tight. So you went on. And tau grew.


Reymont knocked on the cabin door he wanted. Hearing no reply, he tried it. Locked. But Sadler's adjoining door wasn't. He entered her cabin half and slid back the panel.

Johann Freiwald floated against his bunk. The husky shape was curled into an imitation of a fetus. But the eyes held awareness.

Reymont grasped a stanchion, encountered that stare, and said noncommittally, "I wondered why you weren't around, Hansi. Now I hear you aren't feeling well. Anything I can do for you?"

Freiwald grunted.

"Well, you can do a lot for me," Reymont said. "I need you pretty badly. You're a deputy. One of the half dozen who's stood by me—policeman, counselor, work-party boss, idea man—through this whole thing. You can't be spared yet."

Freiwald spoke as if with difficulty. "I shall have to be spared."

"Why? What's the matter?"

"I can't go on any more. That's all. I can't."

"Why not?" Reymont asked. "What jobs we have left to do aren't hard, physically. Anyhow, you're tough. Weightlessness never bothered you. You're a trained engineer, a pragmatist, a cheerful earthy soul. Not one of those self-appointed delicates who have to be coddled because their tender souls can't bear a long voyage." He sneered. "Or are you one?"

Freiwald stirred. His cheeks reddened a little. "I am a man," he said. "Not a robot. Eventually I start thinking."

"My friend, do you imagine we would have survived this far if the officers, at least, did not spend every waking hour thinking?"

"I don't mean your damned measurements, computations, course adjustments, equipment modifications. That's nothing but the instinct to stay alive. A lobster trying to climb out of a kettle has as much dignity. I ask myself, though, why? What are we doing? What does it mean?"

"Et tu, Brute." Reymont sighed.

Freiwald twisted about so that his gaze was straight into the constable's. "Because you are so insensitive . . . Do you know what year this is?"

"No. Neither do you. We have no way of determining it. And if you wonder what the year is on Earth, that's meaningless. Under these conditions, we have no simultaneity with—"

"Be quiet! I know that whole quacking. We have come many billion light-years. We are rounding the curve of space. If we came back, this instant, to the Solar System, we would not find anything. The sun died long ago. It swelled and brightened till Earth was devoured; it became a variable, guttering like a candle in the wind; it sank away to a white dwarf, an ember, an ash. The human race is dead!"

"Not necessarily," Reymont said.

"Then it's become something we could not comprehend. We are ghosts." Freiwald's lips trembled. He bit them till blood ran. "We hunt on and on, senselessly, meaninglessly—" Again acceleration thundered through the ship. "There," he whispered. His eyes were wide, white-rimmed, as if with fear. "We passed through yet another galaxy. Another good part of a million years. To us, seconds."

"Oh, not quite that," Reymont said. "Our tau can't be that great. We probably quartered a spiral arm."

"Destroying how many worlds? Don't tell me. I know the figures. We are not as massive as a star. But our energy—I think we could pass through the very heart of a sun and not notice."


"That's part of our hell. That we've become a menace to—to—"

"Don't say it. Don't think it. Because it isn't true. We're interacting with dust and gas, nothing else. We do transit many galaxies, because galaxies lie comparatively close to each other in terms of their own size. Within a family, the members are about ten diameters apart, or even less. Individual stars within any single galaxy, though, that's another situation entirely. Their diameters are such tiny fractions of a light-year. In a nucleus, the most crowded part . . . well, the separation of two stars is still like the separation of two men, one at either end of a continent. A big continent. Asia, say."

Freiwald looked away. "There is no more Asia," he said. "No more anything."

"There's us," Reymont said. "We're alive, we're real, we have hope. What more do you want? Some grandiose philosophical significance? Forget it. That's a luxury. Our descendants will invent it, along with tedious epics about our heroism. We just have the sweat, tears, blood—" his grin flashed—"in short, the unglamorous bodily secretions. And what's so bad about that? Your trouble is, you think a combination of acrophobia, sensory deprivation and nervous strain is a metaphysical crisis. Myself, I don't look down on our lobster-like instinct to survive. I'm glad we have one."

Freiwald floated motionless.

Reymont clapped his shoulder. "I'm not belittling your difficulties," he said. "It is hard to keep going. Our worst enemy is despair; and it wrestles every one of us to the deck, every now and then."

"Not you," Freiwald said.

"Oh, yes," Reymont said. "Me too. I get my feet back, though. So will you."

"Well—" Freiwald scowled. "Maybe."

Reymont reached under his tunic and extracted a small flat flask. "Rank has its privileges," he smiled. "Here."


"Scotch. The genuine article, not that witch's brew the Scandinavians think is an imitation. I prescribe a hearty dose for you, and for myself, as far as that goes. I'd enjoy a relaxed talk. Haven't had any such for longer than I can remember."


They had been at it for some while, and life was coming back in Freiwald's manner, when the intercom said with Ingrid Lindgren's voice: "Is Constable Reymont there?"

"Uh, yes," Freiwald said.

"Sadler told me so," the mate said. "Could you come to the bridge?"

"Urgent?" Reymont asked.

"Not really, I guess. The latest navigational sights seem to indicate a—a changing region of space. We may have to modify our cruising plan. I thought you might like to discuss it."

"All right," Reymont said.

"Me too," the other man said. He looked at the flask, shook his head sadly and offered it back.

"No, you may as well finish it, "Reymont said. "Not alone, however. That's bad, drinking alone. I'll tell Sadler."

"Well, now." Freiwald genuinely laughed. "That's kind of you."

Emerging, closing the door behind him, Reymont glanced up and down the corridor. No one else was in sight. Then he sagged, eyes covered, body shaking. After a minute he drew a breath and started for the bridge.

Norbert Williams happened to come the other way. "Hello," the chemist said.

"You're looking cheerier than most," Reymont remarked.

"Well, yes, I guess I am. Emma and I, we got talking, and we may have hit on yet another way to tell at a distance whether a planet has our type of life. A plankton-type population, you see, ought to impart certain thermal radiation characteristics to ocean surfaces; and given Doppler effect, making those frequencies something we can properly analyze—"

"Good. Do go ahead and work on it. And if you should co-opt a few others, that'd be a help."

"Sure, we've already thought of that."

"And would you pass the word, wherever she is, Sadler ought to go to her cabin? Her boy friend's waiting with a surprise."

Williams's guffaw followed Reymont on down the corridor.


But the companionway to the bridge was empty and still; and Lindgren stood watch alone. Her hands strained around the grips at the base of the viewscope. When she turned about at his entry, he saw that her face was quite without color.

He closed the door. "What's wrong?" he asked hushedly.

"You didn't let on to anyone?"

"No, of course not, when the business had to be grim. What is it?"

She tried to speak and could not.

"Is anyone else due at this meeting?" Reymont asked.

She shook her head. He went to her, anchored himself with a leg wrapped around a rail, and received her in his arms. "No," she said against his breast. "Elof and . . . Auguste Boudreau . . . they told me. They asked me to tell . . . the Old Man. They don't dare. Don't know how. I don't either." Her fingers clutched at him until the nails bit through his tunic. "Carl, what shall we do?"

He ruffled her hair, staring across her head, feeling her tension. Again the ship boomed and leaped; and soon again. The notes that rang through her were noticeably higher pitched than before. The draft from a ventilator felt cold. The metal around seemed to shrink inward.

"Go on," he said at last. "Tell me, alskling."

"The universe—the whole universe—it's dying."

He made a noise in his gullet. Otherwise he waited.

At length she was able to pull far enough back from him that they could look into each other's eyes. She said in a slurred, hurried voice:

"Maybe the universe has a shorter lifespan than was thought. Or maybe we have traveled longer, in cosmic time, than we knew. Fifty, a hundred billion years. I don't know. I just know what the others told me. What they have been observing. The galaxies we see are growing dimmer. As if, one by one, the stars are going out. And no new stars being formed. No new galaxies. The men weren't sure. The observations are so hard to make. But they began to wonder. And then they started checking Doppler shifts more carefully. Especially of late, when we seem to pass through so many galaxies. They found that what they observed could not be explained by any tau that we can possibly have. Another factor had to be involved. The galaxies are getting more crowded. Space isn't expanding any longer. Its reached its limit and is collapsing inward again. Elof says the collapse will go on. And on. To the end."

"We?" he asked.

"Who knows? Except that we can't stop. We could, I mean. But by the time we did, nothing would be left . . . except blackness, burned-out suns, absolute zero, death, death. Nothing."

"We don't want that," he said stupidly.

"No. What do we want? I think—Carl, shouldn't we say good-by? All of us, to each other? A last party, with wine and candle-light. And afterward go to our cabins. You and I to ours. And say good night. We have morphine for everyone. And oh, Carl, we're all so tired. It will be so good to sleep."

Reymont drew her close to him again.

"Did you ever read Moby Dick?" she whispered. "That's us. We've pursued the White Whale to the end of time. And now . . . that question. What is man, that he should outlive his God?"

Reymont put her from him, gently and went to the viewscope. Looking forth, he saw, for a moment, a galaxy pass. It must be only some ten-thousands of parsecs distant, for he saw it across the dark very large and clear. The form was chaotic. Whatever structure it had once had was disintegrated. No individual suns could be seen; those would have had to be giants, therefore young, and no young stars existed any more. The galaxy was a dull vague red, deepening at the fringes to the hue of clotted blood.

It drifted away from his sight. The ship went through another, storm-shaken by it, but of that one nothing was visible—nothing at all.

Reymont returned himself to the command bridge. Teeth gleamed in his visage. "No!" he said.



From the dais of commons, he and she looked upon their assembled shipmates.

The gathering was seated, safety-harnessed into chairs whose legbolts had been secured at the proper places to the gym deck. Anything else would have been dangerous. Not that weightlessness prevailed yet. Between the tau which atoms now had with respect to Leonora Christine, and the compression of lengths in her own measurement because of that tau, and the dwindling radius of the cosmos itself, her ram jets drove her at a goodly fraction of one gee across the outermost deeps of interclan space. But oftener and oftener came spurts of higher acceleration as she passed through galaxies. They were too fast for the interior fields to compensate. They felt like the buffeting of waves; and each time the noise that sang in the hull was more shrill and windy.

Four dozen bodies hurled against each other could have meant broken bones or worse. But two people, trained and alert, could keep their feet with the help of a handrail. And it was needful that they do so. In this hour, folk must have before their gaze a man and a woman who stood together unbowed.

Ingrid Lindgren completed her relation. "—that is what is happening. We will not be able to stop before the death of the universe."


The muteness into which she had spoken seemed to deepen. A few women wept, a few men shaped oaths or prayers, but none was above a whisper. In the front row, Captain Telander bent his head and closed his eyes. The ship lurched in another squall. Sound passed by, throbbing, groaning, whistling.

Lindgren's hand briefly clasped Reymont's. "Now the constable has something to tell you," she said.

He trod a little forward. Sunken and bloodshot, his eyes appeared to regard them in ferocity. His tunic was wolf-gray, and besides his badge he wore his gun, the ultimate emblem. He said, quietly but with none of the mate's compassion:

"I know you think this is the end. We've tried and failed, and you think you should be left alone to make your peace with yourselves or your God. Well, I don't say you shouldn't do that. I have no idea what is going to happen to us. I don't believe anyone can predict any more. Nature is becoming too alien to our whole past experience of it. In honesty, I agree that our chances do look extremely poor.

"But I don't think they are zero, either. I think we have a duty—to the race that begot us, to the children we might yet bring forth ourselves—a duty to keep trying, right to the finish. For most of you, that won't involve more than continuing to live, continuing to stay sane. I'm well aware that that could be as hard a task as human beings ever undertook. The crew and the scientists who have relevant specialties will, in addition, have to carry on the work of the ship. Which may turn out to be pretty difficult.

"So make your peace. Interior peace. That's the only kind which ever existed anyway. The exterior fight goes on. I propose we wage it with no thought of surrender."

His words rang aloud: "I propose we go on to the next cycle of the cosmos."

That snatched them to alertness. Above a collective gasp and inarticulate cries, a few stridencies could be made out: "No! Lunacy!"—"Good man!"—"Impossible!"—"Blasphemy!"

Reymont drew his gun and fired. The shot shocked them into abrupt quiet.

He grinned into their faces. "Blank cartridge," he said. "Better than a gavel. We'll discuss this in orderly fashion. Captain Telander, will you preside?"

"No," said the Old Man faintly. "You. Please."

"Very well. Comments . . . ah, probably Navigator Boudreau should speak first."

The officer said, in an almost indignant voice: "The universe took somewhere between fifty and a hundred billion years to complete its expansion. It won't collapse in less time. Do you seriously believe we can acquire such a tau that we will outlive the cycle?"

"We can try," Reymont said. The ship trembled and bellied. "We gained a few more per cent right there. As matter gets denser, we naturally accelerate faster. Space itself is being pulled into a tighter and tighter curve. We couldn't circumnavigate the universe before, because it didn't last that long, in the form we knew it. But we should be able to circle the shrinking universe again and again. I'm no expert on theoretical cosmology, but I did check with Professor Chidambaran who knows more about the subject than anyone else aboard, and he agrees. Would you like to explain, sir?"

"Yes," the Indian said, rising. "Time as well as space must be taken into account. The characteristics of the whole continuum will change quite radically. In effect, our present exponential increase of the tau factor in ship's time should itself increase to a much higher order." He paused. "At a rough estimate, I would say that the time we experience, from now to the ultimate collapse, will be less than three months."

Into the hush that followed, he added, "However, as I told Constable Reymont when he requested me to make this calculation, I do not see how we can survive. Apparently the theory of an oscillating universe is correct. It will be reborn. But first all matter and energy will be collected in a monobloc of ultimate density and temperature. We might pass through a star, at our present velocity, and be unharmed. But we can scarcely pass through the primordial nucleon. My personal suggestion is that we cultivate serenity." He sat down.

"Not a bad idea," Reymont said. "But I don't think that's the sole thing we should do. We should keep flying also. Bear in mind, nobody knows for sure what's going to happen. My guess is that everything will not get squeezed into a single zero-point Something. That's the kind of oversimplification which helps our math along but never does tell a whole story. I think the central core of mass is bound to have an enormous hydrogen envelope, even before the explosion. The outer parts of that envelope may not be too hot, or radiant, or dense for us. Space will be so small, though, that we can circle around and around the monobloc as a kind of satellite. When it blows up and space starts to expand again, we'll naturally spiral out ourselves. I know this is a very sloppy way of phrasing, but it hints at what we can perhaps do . . . Mr. Williams?"

"I never thought of myself as a religious man," the chemist said. It was odd and disturbing to see him so humbled. "But this is too much. We're—well, what are we? Animals. My God—very literally, my God—we can't go on . . . having regular bowel movements . . . while creation happens!"

Beside him, Emma Glassgold looked startled, then angry. Her hand shot aloft.

"Speaking as a believer myself," she said, "I must say that that is sheer nonsense. I'm sorry, Norbert, dear, but it is. God made us the way He wanted us to be. There's nothing shameful about any part of His handiwork. I would like to watch Him fashion new stars and praise Him, as long as He sees fit that I should."

"Good for you!" Ingrid Lindgren called.

"I might add," Reymont said, "I being a man with no poetry in his soul, and I suspect no soul to keep poetry in . . . I might suggest you people look into yourselves and ask what psychological twists make you so unwilling to live through the moment where time begins again. Isn't there, down inside, some identification with—your parents, maybe? You shouldn't see your parents in bed, therefore you shouldn't see a new cosmos begotten. Now that doesn't make sense." He paused. "Of course, what's about to happen is awesome. But so was everything. Always. I never thought stars were more mysterious, or had more magic, than flowers."


Others wanted to talk. Eventually, everyone did. But their sentences threshed wearily around and around the point. It was not to no purpose. They had to unburden themselves. But by the time they could finally adjourn the meeting, Reymont and Lindgren were near a collapse of their own.

They did seize a moment's low-speaking privacy, as the people broke into small groups and the ship roared with the hollow noise of her passage. "I can't move in with you tonight after all," Reymont said. "We'd have to help move personal gear, not to mention explaining to our cabin partners, and I'm so tired I can't. Tomorrow."

"No, not then, either," Ingrid Lindgren answered. "I'm sorry, but I've changed my mind."

Stricken, he exclaimed: "You don't want to?"

"You'll never know how much I want to, darling. But can we risk it? The emotional balance is so fragile. Anything might let chaos loose in anyone of us. Suppose Elof or Ai-ling took it hard that we left . . . left now, when death is so near. The despair, maybe the suicide of a single person could bring the whole ship down in hysteria." She gripped both his hands. "Afterward, of course. When we're safe. I'll never let you go then."

"We may never be safe," he said. "Chances are we won't. I want you back before we die."

"And I want you. But we can't. We mustn't. They depend on you. Absolutely. You're the only man who can lead us through what lies ahead. You've given me enough strength that I can help you a little. But even so . . . Carl, it was never easy to be a king."

She wheeled and walked quickly from him.



Leonora Christine shouted, shuddered, and leaped.

Space flamed around her, a firestorm, hydrogen kindled to fluorescence by that supernal sun which was forming at the heart of existence, which burned brighter and brighter as the galaxies rained down into it. The gas hid the central travail behind sheets, banners and spears of radiance, aurora, flame, lightning. Forces, unmeasurably vast, tore through and through the atmosphere: electric, magnetic, gravitational, nuclear fields; shock waves bursting across megaparsecs; tides and currents and cataracts. On the fringes of creation, through billion-year cycles which passed as moments, the ship of man flew.


There was no other word. As far as humanity was concerned, or the most swiftly computing and reacting of machines, she fought a hurricane—but such a hurricane as had not been known since last the stars were melted together and hammered afresh.

"Yah-h-h!" screamed Aeropilot Lenkei, and rode the ship down the trough of a wave whose crest shook loose a foam of supernovae. The haggard men on the steering bridge with him stared into the screen that had been built. What raged in it was not reality—present reality transcended any picturing or understanding—but a representation of exterior forcefields. It burned and roiled and spewed great sparks and globes. It bellowed in the metal of the ship, in flesh and skulls.

"Can't you stand any more?" Reymont shouted from his own seat. "Barrios, relieve him."

The other flyboat man shook his head. He was too stunned, too beaten by the hour of his own previous watch.

"Okay." Reymont unharnessed himself. "I'll try. I've handled a lot of different types of craft." No one heard him through the fury around, but all saw him fight across the pitching, whirling deck, against two full gravities. He took the auxiliary control chair, on the opposite side of Lenkei from Barrios, and laid his mouth close to the pilot's ear. "Phase me in."

Barrios nodded. Together their hands moved across the control board.

They must hold Leonora Christine well away from the growing monobloc, whose radiation would surely kill them; at the same time, they must stay where the gas was so dense that tau could continue to increase for them, turning these final phoenix begayears into hours; and they must keep the ship riding safely through a chaos that, did it ever strike her full on, would rip her into nuclear particles. No computers, no instruments, no precedents might guide them. It must be done on instinct and trained reflex.

Slowly, Reymont entered the pattern, until he could steer alone. The rhythms of rebirth were wild, but they were there. Ease on starboard . . . vector at nine o'clock low . . . now push that thrust! . . . brake a little here . . . don't let her broach . . . swing wide of the flame if you can . . . Thunder brawled. The air was sharp with ozone, and cold.

The screen blanked. An instant later, every flouropanel in the ship turned simultaneously ultraviolet and infrared, and darkness plunged down. Those who lay harnessed in aloneness, throughout the hull, heard invisible lightnings walk down the corridors. Those on command bridge, pilot bridge, engine room, who manned the ship, felt a heaviness greater than planets—they could not move, nor stop a movement once begun—and then felt a lightness such that their bodies began to break asunder—and this was a change in inertia itself, in every constant of nature as space-time-matter-energy underwent its ultimate convulsion—for a moment infinitesimal and infinite, men, women, ship and death were one.

It passed, so swiftly that they were not certain it had ever been. Light came back and outside vision. The storm grew fiercer. But now through it, seen distorted so that they appeared to be blue-white firedrops that broke into sparks as they flew, now came nascent galaxies.

The monobloc had exploded. Creation had begun.

Reymont went over to deceleration. Leonora Christine started slowly to slow; and she flew out into a reborn light.



Boudreau and Nilsson nodded at each other. They chuckled. "Yes, indeed," the astronomer said.

Reymont looked restlessly around the clutter of meters and apparatus which was the observatory. "Yes, what?" he demanded. He jerked one thumb at a screen which offered a visual display. Space swarmed with little dancing incandescences. "I can see for myself. The galaxies are still close together. Most of them are still nothing but clouds of hydrogen. And hydrogen is still quite thick between them. But what of it?"

"Computation on the basis of data," Nilsson said mysteriously. "We felt you deserved, as well as needed, to hear in confidence, so that you might be the one who makes the announcement."


"Never mind details," Boudreau said. "This result came out of the problem you set us, to find which directions the matter was headed in, and which directions the antimatter. You recall, we were able to do this by tracing the paths of plasma masses through the magnetic fields of the universe as a whole. And so this vessel is safely into the matter half of the plenum.

"Now in the course of making those studies, we collected and processed an astonishing amount of data. And here is what else we have learned. The cosmos is new, in some respects disordered. Things have not yet sorted themselves out. Within a short range of us, as such distances go, are material complexes—galaxies and proto-galaxies—with every possible velocity.

"We can use that fact to our advantage. That is, we can pick whatever clan, family, individual galaxy we want to make our goal—pick in such a way that we can arrive with zero relative speed at any point of its development that we choose. Within fairly wide limits, anyhow. We couldn't get to a galaxy which is more than about ten billion years old by the time we arrived; not unless we wanted to approach it circuitously. Nor can we overhaul any before it is about one billion years old. But otherwise, we can choose what we like.

"And . . . whatever we elect, the maximum shipboard time required to arrive, braked, will be no longer than a few weeks!"

Reymont said an amazed obscenity.

"You see," Nilsson added, "we can select a galaxy whose velocity is almost identical with ours."

"Oh, yes," Reymont muttered. "I can see that much. But I'm not used to having luck in our favor."

"Not luck," Nilsson said. "Given an oscillating universe, this development was inevitable. Or so we perceive by hindsight. We need merely use the fact.

"Best you decide on our goal," he urged. "Now. Those other idiots, they would wrangle for hours, if you put it to a vote. And every hour means untold cosmic time lost, which narrows our choices. If you will tell us what you want, we'll plot an appropriate course, and the ship can start off very shortly with that vector. The expedition will accept any fait accompli you hand them, and thank you for it. You know that."

Reymont ran a hand through his hair. It was quite gray, and his tone was always flat with weariness. "What we want is a suitable planet," he said.

"Yes," Nilsson agreed. "May I suggest a planet—a system—of the same approximate age as Earth had? Say, four or five billion years? It seems to take about so long for a fair probability of the kind of biosphere we like having evolved. That is, we could live in a Mesozoic type of environment, I suppose, but we would rather not."

"Seems reasonable," Reymont nodded. "How about metals, though?"

"Ah, yes. We want a planet as rich in heavy elements as Earth was. Not too much less, or an industrialized civilization will be hard to establish. Not too much more, or we could find numerous areas where the soil is metal-poisoned. Since higher elements are formed in the earlier generations of stars, we should look for a galaxy that will be as old, at rendezvous, as ours was."

"No," Reymont said. "Younger."

"Eh?" Boudreau blinked.

"We can probably find a planet like Earth, also with respect to metals, in a young galaxy," Reymont said. "A globular cluster ought to have had plenty of supernovae in its early stages, which ought to have enriched the interstellar medium, so that G-type suns forming later would have about the same composition as Sol. As we enter our target galaxy, let's scout for such a cluster.

"But supposing we end up on a planet less well endowed with iron and uranium than Earth was . . . that won't matter. We have the technology to make do with light alloys and organics. We have hydrogen fusion for power.

"The important thing is that we be just about the first intelligent race alive."

They stared at him.

He smiled one-sidedly. "I'd like us to have our pick of planets, when we get around to interstellar colonization," he said. "And I'd like us to become the—oh, the elders. Not imperialists; that idea's ridiculous; but the people who were there first, and know their way around, and are worth learning from. Never mind what shape the younger races have. Who cares? But let's make this, as early as possible, a human galaxy, in the deepest sense of the word 'human.' Maybe even a human universe.

"I think we've earned that right."



That Leonora Christine took less than a month to find her new home was partly good fortune, but also due forethought.

The new-born atoms had burst outward with a random distribution of velocities. Thus, in the course of mega- and begayears, they formed hydrogen clouds which attained distinct individualities. While they drifted apart, these clouds condensed into sub-clouds—which, under the eons-long action of manifold forces, differentiated themselves into separate families, then separate galaxies, then individual suns.

But inevitably, in the early stages, exceptional situations occurred. Galaxies were as yet near to each other. They still contained anomalous groups. And so they exchanged matter. A large star cluster, for example, might form within one galaxy, but having more than escape velocity, might cross to another (with suns forming in it meanwhile) that could capture it.

Zeroing in on her destination, Leonora Christine kept watch for such a cluster: one whose speed she could easily match. And, as she entered its domain, she looked for a star of the right characteristics, spectral and velocital. To nobody's surprise, the nearest one had planets.

She might then, as originally planned, have gone by at high speed, making observations while she passed through the system. But Reymont said otherwise. For this once, let a chance be taken. The odds weren't so bad. Measurements made across light-years with the newest instruments and techniques developed aboard ship gave some reason to believe that a certain child of that yellow sun might offer a good home for men.

If not—a year would have been lost, the year needed to approach light-speed again with respect to the entire galaxy. But if there actually was a planet such as lived in memory, two years would have been gained.

The gamble seemed worthwhile. Given twenty-five fertile couples, an extra two years meant an extra half hundred ancestors for the future race.

Leonora Christine found her world, that very first time.



On a hill that viewed wide across a beautiful valley, a man stood with his woman.

Here was not New Earth. That would have been too much to expect. The river far below them was tinted gold with tiny life and ran through meadows whose many-fronded growth was blue. Trees looked as if they were feathered, in shades of the same color, and the wind set certain blossoms in them to chiming. It bore scents which were like cinnamon, and iodine, and horses, and nothing for which men had a name. On the opposite side lifted stark palisades, black and red, fanged with crags, where flashed the horns of a glacier.

Yet the air was warm; and humankind could thrive here. Enormous above river and ridges, towered clouds which shone silver in the sun.

Ingrid Lindgren said, "You mustn't leave her, Carl. Not in so final a way."

"What are you talking about?" Reymont retorted. "We can't leave each other. None of us can. Ai-ling understands you're something unique to me. But so is she, in her own way. So are we all, everyone to everyone else. Aren't we? After what we've been through together?"

"Yes. It's only—I never thought to hear such words from you, Carl, darling."

He laughed. "What did you expect?"

"Oh, I don't know. Something harsh and unyielding. Even cruel."

"The time for that is over," he said. "We've got where we were going. Now we have to start fresh."

"Also with each other?" she asked, a little teasingly.

"Yes. Of course. We'll need to take from the past what's good, and forget what was bad. Like . . . well, the whole question of jealously simply isn't relevant. We need to share our genes around as much as possible. Judas! Fifty of us to start a whole intelligent species again! So your worry about someone being hurt, or left out, or any such thing—it doesn't arise. With all the work ahead of us, personalities have no importance whatsoever."

He pulled her to him and chuckled down at her. "Not that we can't tell the universe that Ingrid Lindgren is the loveliest object in it," he said, threw himself down under a tall old tree, and tugged her hand. "Come here. I told you we were going to take a holiday."

Steely scaled, with a skirling along its wings, passed overhead one of those creatures called dragons.

Lindgren joined Reymont, but hesitantly. "I don't know if we should, Carl," she said.

"Why not?" he asked, surprised.

"So much to do."

"Construction, planting, everything's coming along fine. We can well afford to loaf a bit."

"But . . . all right," she said, the words hard and unwillingly brought forth. "Let's face the fact. Kings get no holidays."

"What are you babbling about?" Reymont lounged back against the rough, sweet-scented bole and rumpled her hair, which was bright beneath the young sun. After dark, there would be three moons to shine upon her, and more stars in the sky than men had known before.

"You," she said. "They look to you, the man who saved them, the man who dared survive, they look to you for—"

He interrupted her in the most enjoyable way.

"Carl!" she protested.

"Do you mind?"

"No. Certainly not. On the contrary. But—I mean, your work—"

"My work," he said, "is my share of the community's job. No more and no less. As for any other position: if nominated I will not run; if elected I will not serve,"

She looked at him with a kind of horror. "You can't mean that!"

"I sure as hell can." he answered. For a moment he turned serious again. "Once a crisis is past, once people manage for themselves . . . what better can a king do than lay down his crown?"

Then he laughed and made her laugh with him, and they were merely human. Which was enough.


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