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"I've another job for you, Grimes," said Admiral Kravitz.

"Mphm," grunted Commodore Grimes, Rim Worlds Naval Reserve, "sir." He regarded the portly flag officer with something less than enthusiasm. There had been a time, not so very long ago, when he had welcomed being dragged away from his rather boring civilian duties as Rim Runners' astronautical superintendent, but increasingly of late he had come to appreciate a relatively quiet, uneventful life. Younger men than he could fare the starways, he was happy to remain a desk-sitting space commodore.

"Rim Runners are granting you indefinite leave of absence," went on Kravitz.

"They would," grumbled Grimes.

"On full pay."

Grimes' manner brightened slightly. "And I'll be drawing my commodore's pay and allowances from the Admiralty, of course?"

"Of course. You are back on the active list as and from 0000 hours this very day."

"We can always use the extra money . . ." murmured Grimes.

Kravitz looked shocked. "I never knew that you were so mercenary, Grimes."

"You do now, sir." The Commodore grinned briefly, then once again looked rather apprehensive. "But it's not Kinsolving's Planet again, is it?"

The Admiral laughed. "I can understand your being more than somewhat allergic to that peculiar world."

Grimes chuckled grimly. "I think it's allergic to me, sir. Three times I've landed there, and each time was unlucky; the third time unluckiest of all."

"I've read your reports. But set your mind at rest. It's not Kinsolving."

"Then where?"

"The Outsider."

"The Outsider . . ." repeated Grimes slowly. How many times since the discovery of that alien construction out beyond the Galactic Rim had he urged that he be allowed to take Faraway Quest to make his own investigation? He had lost count. Always his proposals had been turned down. Always he could not be spared or was required more urgently elsewhere. Too, it was obvious that the Confederacy was scared of the thing, even though it swam in space that came under Rim Worlds' jurisdiction. The Federation was scared of it, too. "Let well enough alone," was the attitude of both governments.

"The Outsider . . ." said Grimes again. "I was beginning to think that it occupied top place on the list of untouchables. Why the sudden revival of interest?"

"We have learned," Kravitz told him, "from reliable sources, that the Waldegren destroyer Adler is on her way out to the . . . thing. I needn't tell you that the Duchy of Waldegren is making a comeback, or that Federation policy is that Waldegren will never be allowed to build its fleet up to the old level. But sophisticated weaponry can give a small navy superiority over a large one."

"The Outsiders' Ship, as we all know, is a storehouse of science and technology thousands—millions, perhaps—of years in advance of our own. Your Captain Calver got his paws on to some of it, but passed nothing of interest on to us before he flew the coop. Since then we, and the Federation, and the Shaara Empire, and probably quite a few more, have sent expeditions. Everyone has ended disastrously. It is possible, probable even, that this Waldegren effort will end disastrously. But we can't be sure."

"It should not take long to recommission your Faraway Quest. She's only just back from the Fleet Maneuvers, at which she was present as an auxiliary cruiser. . . ."

"I know," said Grimes. "I should have been in command of her."

"But you weren't. For all your early life in the Federation's Survey Service, for all your rank in our Naval Reserve, you don't make a good naval officer. You're too damned independent. You like to be left alone to play in your own little corner. But—I grant you this—whatever sort of mess you fall into you always come up smelling of roses."

"Thank you, sir," said Grimes stiffly.

Kravitz chuckled. "It's true, isn't it? Anyhow, you should be on the spot, showing the flag, before Adler blows in. You'll be minding the shop. Play it by ear, as you always do. And while you're about it, you might try to find out something useful about The Outsider."

"Is that all?" asked Grimes.

"For the time being, yes. Oh, personnel for Faraway Quest. . . . You've a free hand. Make up the crew you think you'll need from whatever officers are available, Regulars or Reservists. The Federation has intimated that it'd like an observer along, I think I'm right in saying that Commodore Verrill still holds a reserve commission in the Intelligence Branch of their Survey Service. . . ."

"She does, sir. And she'd be very annoyed if she wasn't allowed to come along for the ride."

"I can well imagine. And now we'll browse through The Outsider files and try to put you in the picture."

He pressed a button under his desk, and a smartly uniformed W.R.W.N. officer came in, carrying a half-dozen bulky folders that she put on the Admiral's desk. She was followed by two male petty officers who set up screen, projector and tape recorders.

Kravitz opened the first folder. "It all started," he said, "with Commander Maudsley of the Federation Survey Service's Intelligence Branch. . . ."

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