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Chapter Two

Ginny, Hunt's slightly plump, middle-aged, meticulous secretary, was already busy when he sauntered into the reception area of his office, high in the skyscraper of Navcomms Headquarters in the center of Houston. She had three sons, all in their late teens, and she hurled herself into her work with a dedication that Hunt sometimes thought might represent a gesture of atonement for having inflicted them on society. Women like Ginny always did a good job, he had found. Long-legged blondes were all very nice, but when it came to getting things done properly and on time, he'd settle for the older mommas any day.

"Good morning, Dr. Hunt," she greeted him. One thing he had never been able to persuade her to accept fully was that Englishmen didn't expect, or really want, to be addressed formally all the time.

"Hi, Ginny. How are you today?"

"Oh, just fine, I guess."

"Any news about the dog?"

"Good news. The vet called last night and said its pelvis isn't fractured after all. A few weeks of rest and it should be fine."

"That's good. So what's new this morning? Anything panicky?"

"Not really. Professor Speechan from MIT called a few minutes ago and would like you to call back before lunch. I'm just finishing going through the mail now. There are a couple of things I think you'll be interested in. The draft paper from Livermore, I guess you've already seen."

They spent the next half-hour checking the mail and organizing the day's schedule. By that time the offices that formed Hunt's section of Navcomms were filling up, and he left to update himself on a couple of the projects in progress.

Duncan Watt, Hunt's deputy, a theoretical physicist who had transferred from UNSA's Materials and Structures Division a year and a half earlier, was collecting results on the Pluto problem from a number of research groups around the country. Comparisons of the current Solar System with records from the Shapieron of how it had looked twenty-five million years before established beyond doubt that most of what had been Minerva had ended up as Pluto. Earth had been formed originally without a satellite, and Luna had orbited as the single moon of Minerva. When Minerva broke up, its moon fell inward, toward the Sun, and by a freak chance was captured by Earth, about which it had orbited stably ever since. The problem was that so far no mathematical model of the dynamics involved had been able to explain how Pluto could have acquired enough energy to be lifted against solar gravitation to the position it now occupied. Astronomers and specialists in celestial mechanics from all over the world had tried all manner of approaches to the problem but without success, which was not all that surprising since the Ganymeans themselves had been unable to produce a satisfactory solution.

"The only way you can get it to work is by postulating a three-body reaction," Duncan said, tossing up his hands in exasperation. "Maybe the war had nothing to do with it. Maybe what broke Minerva up was something else passing through the Solar System."

Thirty minutes later and a few doors farther along the corridor, Hunt found Marie, Jeff, and two of the students on loan from Princeton, excitedly discussing the set of partial-differential tensor functions being displayed on a large mural graphics screen.

"It's the latest from Mike Barrow's team at Livermore," Marie told him.

"I've already seen it," Hunt said. "Haven't had a chance to go through it yet, though. Something about cold fusion, isn't it?"

"What it seems to be saying is that the Ganymeans didn't have to generate high thermal energies to overcome proton-proton repulsion," Jeff chipped in.

"How'd they do it then?" Hunt asked.

"Sneakily. They started off with the particles being neutrons so there wasn't any repulsion. Then, when the particles were inside the range of the strong force, they increased the energy gradient at the particle surfaces sufficiently to initiate pair production. The neutrons absorbed the positrons to become protons, and the electrons were drawn off. So there you've got it—two protons strongly coupled. Pow! Fusion."

Hunt was impressed, although he had seen too much of Ganymean physics by that time to be astounded. "And they could control events like that down at that level?" he asked.

"That's what Mike's people reckon."

Shortly afterward, an argument developed over one of the details, and Hunt left the group as they were in the process of placing a call to Livermore for clarification.

It seemed as if the information left by the Ganymeans was all starting to bear fruit at once, causing something new to break out every day. Caldwell's idea of using Hunt's section as an international clearinghouse for the research into Ganymean sciences was starting to produce results. When the first clues concerning Minerva and the Ganymeans were coming to light, Caldwell had set up Hunt's original pilot group to do exactly this kind of thing. The organization had proved well suited to the task, and now it formed a ready-made group for tackling the latest studies.

Hunt's last call was on Paul Shelling, whose people occupied a group of offices and a computer room on the floor below. One of the most challenging aspects of Ganymean technology was their "gravitics," which enabled them to deform space-time artificially without requiring large concentrations of mass. The Shapieron's drive system had utilized this capability by creating a "hole" ahead of the ship into which it "fell" continuously to propel itself through space; the "gravity" inside the vessel was also manufactured, not simulated. Shelling, a gravitational physicist on a sabbatical from Rockwell International, headed up a mathematical group which had been delving into Ganymean field equations and energy-metric transforms for six months. Hunt found him staring at a display of isochrons and distorted space-time geodesies, and looking very thoughtful.

"It's all there," Shelling said, keeping his eyes fixed on the softly glowing colored curves and speaking in a faraway voice. "Artificial black holes . . . just switch 'em on and off to order."

The information did not come as a big surprise to Hunt. The Ganymeans had confirmed that the Shapieron's drive had in fact achieved this, and Hunt and Shelling had talked about its theoretical basis on many occasions. "You've figured it out?" Hunt asked, slipping into a vacant chair and studying the display.

"We're on our way, anyhow."

"Does it get us any nearer instant point-to-point transfers?" That was something the Ganymeans had not achieved, although the possibility was implicit in their theoretical constructs. Black holes distantly separated in normal space seemed to link up via a hyperrealm within which unfamiliar physical principles operated, and the ordinary concepts and restrictions of the relativistic universe simply didn't apply. As the Ganymeans had agreed, the promises implied by this were staggering, but nobody knew how to turn them into realities yet.

"It's in there," Shelling answered. "The possibility is in there, but there's another side to it that bothers me, and it's impossible to separate out."

"What's that?" Hunt asked.

"Time transfers," Shelling told him. Hunt frowned. Had he been talking to anybody else, he would have allowed his skepticism to show openly. Shelling spread his hands and gestured toward the screen. "You can't get away from it. If the solutions admit point-to-point transfers through normal space, they admit transfers through time too. If you could find a way of exploiting one, you'd automatically have a way of exploiting the other as well. Those matrix integrals are symmetric."

Hunt waited for a moment to avoid appearing derisive. "That's too much, Paul," he said. "What happens to causality? You'd never be able to unscramble the mess."

"I know . . . I know the theory sounds screwy, but there it is. Either we're up a dead end and none of it works, or we're stuck with both solutions."

They spent the next hour working through Shelling's equations again but ended up none the wiser. Groups at Cal Tech, Cambridge, the Ministry of Space Sciences in Moscow, and the University of Sydney, Australia, had found the same thing. Obviously Hunt and Shelling were not about to crack the problem there and then, and Hunt eventually left in a very curious and thoughtful mood.

Back in his own office, he called Speehan at MIT, who turned out to have some interesting results from a simulation model of the climatic upheavals caused fifty thousand years earlier by the process of lunar capture. Hunt then took care of a couple of other urgent items that had come in that morning, and was just settling down to study the Livermore paper when Lyn called from Caldwell's suite at the top of the building. Her face was unusually serious.

"Gregg wants you in on the meeting up here," she told him without preamble. "Can you get up right away?"

Hunt sensed that she was pushed for time. "Give me two minutes." He cut the connection without further ado, consigned Livermore to the uncharted depths of the Navcomms data bank, told Ginny to consult Duncan if anything desperate developed during the rest of the day, and left the office at a brisk pace.


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