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Having climbed high enough up the complex and changeable Alpha Centaurian gravity well, the lancer Samurai slipped into hyperspace. Freuchen followed seventy-two hours later. The naval ship was to reach destination first and make sure of security before the civilians appeared.

Although no passenger liner, Freuchen often made long voyages, and long stays at the far ends of them, which might well involve hardship and danger. Facilities for privacy, recreation, and exercise were not a luxury but a necessity. A couple of watchcycles after leaving 3-space, Tyra Nordbo and Craig Raden were in the gymnasium playing recoil ball.

That game takes strength and wind as well as speed and agility. This being a Wunderland vessel crewed mostly by Wunderlanders, her gravity polarizers maintained the interior weight to which they were accustomed. Nevertheless the Earthman found himself hard challenged. The match ended with score tied and both breathing from the bottoms of their lungs, sweat agleam and animal-odorous on their skins.

"Whoof!" Raden laughed. "Congratulations and thanks. You gave me a good one."

"The same to you," Tyra answered. Her tone was warmer toward him than hitherto. It had been fun. And, she must admit to herself, the sight of him was fun too—medium-tall, slim and supple but well-muscled, features Roman-nosed and regular, with bright hazel eyes, beneath wavy brown hair. That doesn't mean I have to fall over you—or under you, said defensiveness.

"Frankly, I didn't expect it from a person of your origins."

Then why did you invite me to play? she flared inwardly. An approach? Likely. They say you're quite a tomcat. "We're healthy," she snapped.

"Oh, absolutely. Normal adaptation to a lower gravity. No offense intended, please believe." Raden shook his head and clicked his tongue. "Foolish of me. I should have given more thought to what I saw, besides enjoying the view."

He made no pretense of doing otherwise. Tyra's height equaled his, which was not surprising in a Wunderlander woman, but damp T-shirt and shorts clung to a figure as full and robust as that of any Earthling female in good condition. Flaxen hair in a pageboy cut framed a face strong-boned and blunt, where little save a few fine lines at the blue eyes hinted at an age of about forty terrestrial years, perhaps three more than his. "You'd be unusually athletic on any planet," he added.

She shrugged. "I'm not obsessed with aerobics. I just enjoy some activities."

"Which especially, if I may ask?"

"Swimming, wingsailing, hiking, mountaineering, that sort of thing."

"Tastes we share, then. The results do come in useful occasionally, don't you agree? I understand you too have spent a fair amount of time on different worlds, and not merely in their tourist resorts."

"My work. Gathering material, getting ideas." He's pushing familiarity pretty fast, isn't he? "You're an astrophysicist." Put him in his place. Imply that his travels were a gadding about.

Raden's smile faded, his voice went amicably earnest. "Look here, Fräulein Nordbo, may I suggest we become better acquainted? We've a rather long haul before us, and then a time about which we can predict nothing other than that it will be busy, till we've done whatever we can. Let's go as friends."

"Have I seemed unfriendly?" she asked with caution.

"No, no. A bit aloof, perhaps."

"We're barely into the voyage."

"Why not start it on the right foot? Suppose after we've washed and changed clothes, we meet in the wardroom. I'd be honored to stand you a drink or two before dinner."

"Honored? You?" She spoke coldly, to make clear that she didn't like being patronized.

He caught on at once. "I'm sorry. I truly am. What I wanted to say was `delighted,' but I was afraid of seeming too forward. You're known as a formidable sort."

That's hard to resist, Tyra confessed. Damn him, he can turn on the charm like a light. Anyhow, it's true, we need to become comrades, all of us on board. There's unknownness waiting yonder, and kzinti.

"Not intentionally." She didn't have to force her smile. "Thank you, I'd be delighted myself. In half an hour?"

Command and competence were as vital as in any spacecraft, but an explorer did best without social distinctions between ranks off duty. The wardroom was open to anyone who wanted sociability. Nobody chanced to be present but steward Marcus Hauptmann and planetologist Kees Verwoort, pushing chessmen. Already at ease with Tyra, they nodded as she came in. Nattily attired, Raden jumped from a chair and strode to meet her. "Ah, jolly good," he said. "What would you like?"

"Draft Solborg." She sat down at the little table where he had been. Several more were spaced around the room with their chairs, plus a few loungers. Underneath each was the magnetic inductor that would secure it to the deck in case of untoward acceleration or free fall.

"Forthcoming. Hm, not too early in the daywatch for a glass of wine. They've shipped a reasonably decent dry Riesling." Raden got them from the dispenser, which debited his personal ration, and brought them over. He took his place opposite her and lifted his goblet. "Skaal."

So he's remembered, Tyra thought, or he's taken the trouble to find out, things about me like my hailing from Skogarna, and that this is our toast there instead of "Prosit."

She didn't know how to feel about that. Well, pay him in kind. "Here's how," she responded.

Glasyl clinked against stein. The beer was a welcome tartness in mouth and throat.

"Ah-ha. Then you know I'm American, Fräulein Nordbo?" Raden said genially. "Most people off Earth seem under the impression I'm a Brit."

"Next time I'll say `Cheers' if you prefer." Was she parrying something?

He laughed. "Touché! Yes, I admit to certain affectations. And I did study for a while at Cambridge." He sipped and went on in a philosophical tone. "Such details are apt to look vanishingly small across a few light-years, aren't they? Consider how societies diverged when only subluminal transit was available. They've not had much time or opportunity thus far to catch up, have they? Rather amazing, how knowledgeable you are."

Is he showing off his serious, intellectual side? wondered Tyra. Or do quantum jumps come naturally to him? "No surprise, Dr. Raden. Writers collect oddments like glitterfowl. You know that."

"Well, yes, I am a writer too, of sorts. But secondarily. Not a rival of yours on this mission or, I hope, ever."

"I've seen your popular science works, those of them that have reached us, and your `Multiverse' show." Be honest, she told herself. "I've enjoyed them, in fact admired them."

"Thank you. I look forward to seeing what you've done."

"Nothing like yours. Mainly travel pieces, some assorted journalism, some fiction, a couple of things for children."

"I'll doubtless write up this expedition and its findings myself, elsewhere than in the scientific databases. But I don't imagine I'll overlap what you do in the least."

And my audience won't be ten percent of yours, even if my accounts get distribution on Earth, Tyra realized. The famous young scientist, popularizer, lecturer, sportsman, yes, licensed spaceboat pilot and bronze medalist in the Saturnian Ring Run—all very well publicized—showman— Unfair? Am I being nasty and jealous? Or just shy? I'm not sure. I'm not used to either of those feelings.

"I have in mind telling about the people with us and what happens to them personally," she said. "But you will do that too, along with explaining the discoveries, same as always, won't you?"

"Mostly incidentally, trying to get across that science isn't a revelation handed down from on high, it's something that intelligent creatures do. You'll concentrate on the human story. We are not in competition. We may well prove to be in cooperation."

"M-m, maybe. You're kind to say so, Dr. Raden."

"Please," he replied gently, "must we continue formal? I'm Craig to my friends."

Impulse grabbed Tyra. "And I'm not properly `Fräulein.' I've resumed my family name, but I was married twice."

His gaze searched her. "To what kind of man, that they'd give up one like you?"

She flushed, but stiffened less than she probably should have. "Things simply didn't work out. If I'm not mistaken, you've had similar experiences."

"True. And I'm not self-righteous about them, either . . . Tyra." Quickly: "Yes, I'm trying to cultivate your acquaintance, not entirely for its own sake. I hope we can talk about your adventures at the black hole."

"That was Captain Saxtorph's department," she demurred. "I was hardly more than a passenger."

"Forgive me, but according to what I've gathered, you're overly modest. You had a great deal to do with what went on." Again quickly: "Although you've wanted your part in it de-emphasized as much as possible. Aristocratic reserve?"

As little as possible about Ib— She put down the pain. "Wunderland doesn't have aristocrats any longer."

"Still, the heritage, the pride . . . This very ship bears the name of your clan. . . . Well, I certainly don't mean to intrude. If ever I ask anything, or say anything, you don't like, please let me know. I swear to respect your privacy."

Disarmed, she blurted, "What'll be left to talk about, then, that you can't have retrieved from public databases?"

"Endlessly much. You and your companions met something unique in our knowledge—a mini black hole, and the artifact the tnuctipun built around it, billions of years ago. . . . Gone, now, gone. Surely you see what this means to me and every astrophysicist, cosmologist, archeologist, anybody who's ever looked at the stars and wondered."

"I only had glimpses and heard others rattle off numbers they'd taken from their instruments."

"I think you observed more, perhaps more than you know. At any rate, I'll wager your story of it is vivid."

Tyra could not but smile. It was as if his enthusiasm smoothed away every lingering hurt and reopened her eyes to wonder. "You flatter me."

He turned playful. "I'm good at that. Especially when it's sincere."

She laughed. "We'll have time enough under way."

"Yes, indeed. I won't be champing at the bit as impatiently as I expected. Thank you, Tyra."

He led the conversation on to undisturbing reminiscences, anecdotes, jokes, a cheerful hour.


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