Back | Next

Outward Bound

Norman Spinrad


Captain Peter Reed floated closer to the big central viewport of the conning globe.

Before him, filling half his field of vision, was the planet Maxwell, green continents and blue seas reminding him of Earth.

He shook his white-haired head. Earth was fifty light-years off, or to put it another way, seventy years ago, or in another way, only four months.

Reed shrugged, not an easy task for a seventy-year-old man in free fall. Or to put it another way, an eight-hundred-year-old man.

Reed could not help laughing aloud. Fifty subjective years in space, he thought, eight hundred years in objective time, and still it has its wonder for me.

As he watched, a mote of light detached itself from the disk of Maxwell, and arced upward.

That would be Director Horvath's ship, thought Reed. Last time the Outward Bound was at Maxwell, it had been ruled by a hereditary king. But that was three hundred years ago. King La Farge, thought Reed sadly, dead and gone three hundred years.

This Lazlo Horvath, now. He seems to be a different proposition. Ambitious, dangerous.

Reed smiled wryly. If he keeps up this way, he may soon be honored by a visit from Jacob ben Ezra.

The captain spoke into the communicator. "Rog, get the reception room ready. Our customer's on the way."

He paddled awkwardly to the rear of the conning globe, grabbed a guard rail, and pulled himself through the rotating doorway, into the main cylinder of the Outward Bound.

Immediately, he felt the tug of gravity. The Outward Bound was an untidy collection of cylinders and globes, held together by spars. While in orbit, the whole conglomeration spun about a central axis, creating an artificial gravity. But, of course, it was necessary that the conning globe be stationary, so it hung in front of the main cylinder, mounted on frictionless bearings, so that it alone did not share the ship's rotation.

Captain Reed made his way to the reception room. Lazlo Horvath should be an eager customer. The last tradeship to hit Maxwell had been the Stargod, one hundred years ago, and that was still in the days of the Kingdom.

Director Horvath was new and ambitious, and like all planetary leaders, he chafed under the yoke of Earth. An ideal customer.

Roger Reed was already in the reception room when his father arrived. There was some family resemblance. He had his father's large frame, but on him it was well-muscled, not hung with loose flesh. His hair was a flamboyant red, and he was going through one of his periods of experimentation with mustaches. This one was only a week old, and its ultimate nature could not yet be discerned.

"Horvath's on board, Dad," he said.

"Please, Roger," said the old man, with a weariness born of endless repetition, "at least when there is a customer aboard, don't call me 'Dad'."

"Sorry, sir."

Captain Reed looked about the reception room. It was the one area of calculated ostentation on the ship. It was paneled in real knotty pine. A genuine wool carpet lined it from wall to wall. The captain sat behind a huge mahogany desk, on a genuine red leather covered chair. Three other such chairs were scattered about the room. A viewer was built into one wall.

The room always made Peter Reed feel uncomfortable.

"Well, Roger," said the captain, "do you think this'll be a good haul?"

"Don't see why not, da . . . sir. The Directory of Maxwell seems to be at that stage when they think that with a little help, they can break the Terran hegemony. They ought to go quite high for the force field, for instance."

The old man sighed. "They never learn, do they?" he said. "No doubt Horvath will think that the force field is an ultimate weapon. He'll never stop to realize that on Earth, it's already seventy years old."

"Why so glum, captain?" said the younger Reed. "After all, it's our stock in trade."

"So it is, so it is."


An orderly appeared at the door. "Captain Peter Reed," he said formally, "it is my honor to present Lazlo Horvath, Director of Maxwell."

A short, squat man, of about fifty, stalked into the room. He was dressed in a black uniform, with gold trim, encircled by a wide Sam Browne belt. He wore heavy black boots.

Oh, no, thought Peter Reed, not one of them!

Nevertheless, he rose politely, wryly aware of the plainness of his simple light-green coveralls. "Director Horvath."

"Captain Reed."

"My second, Roger Reed."

"Mr. Reed."

"Sit down, Director," said the captain. Horvath perched himself on the edge of one of the chairs.

"It has been a while since a star ship visited Maxwell," he said. His voice was deep and crisp.

"Yes, I know. The trader Stargod, one hundred years ago."

For a moment, there was a flicker of puzzlement on Horvath's tough face. "Ah, yes, the Stargod," he said smoothly. "Well, Captain Reed, what have you to offer?"

"Several new concepts," said Peter Reed, studying the Director. It was obvious that the man had let something slip. But what?

"Such as?"

"For one thing, an amusing new concept in drinks. Roger, the refreshments."

Roger Reed waved his hand, and a panel slid aside, revealing a pitcher of red liquid, and three glasses on a tray. He poured the drinks.

Captain Reed smiled as he saw the perplexed look on Horvath's face. The drink was made up of two different wines, one hot, one cold, kept separate by a new chemical technique so that one tasted alternately hot and cold liquid. It was a strange feeling.

"Very amusing, Captain Reed," said Norvath. "But surely you don't expect Maxwell to pay good radioactives for such a parlor trick."

Reed grinned. The hot-and-cold liquid technique was just a come-on, of course. The really big commodity he had to sell was the force field.

"Director," he said, "as you know, traders don't sell products, except radioactives, at times. What we sell is science, knowledge, techniques. Now the drink may be a parlor trick, but there can be practical applications for the technique."

"Perhaps, perhaps," said Horvath shortly, "but what else do you have? Perhaps . . . perhaps you at last have the secret of Overdrive?"

Peter Reed laughed. "Maybe I have the Philosopher's Stone, as well?" He saw that Horvath was not amused. "I'm sorry, Director," he said. "It's just that we've never made port on any planet, in the eight hundred years that the Outward Bound has been in space, where they didn't ask that question. No, we don't have the secret of Overdrive. It is my opinion that there never will be an Overdrive. Man will never travel faster than light. It's a chimera, a schizophrenic compulsion to leave the limiting realm of the real universe, to find a never-never land called Hyperspace, or what have you, where reality is suspended, and the Galaxy belongs to Man."

Horvath frowned. "A very pretty little speech," he said. "So easy for you to say. But then, you are not under the heel of Earth. You starmen are by nature free agents. But we, we colonials, we know what it is to suffer the tyranny of time. Maxwell is fifty light-years from Earth. Therefore, since we were settled from Earth, from an Earth that was already sixty years ahead of us when we emerged from Deep Sleep, we will always be sixty years behind Earth, just as the outer ring will always be two hundred years behind. To you, an Overdrive would be just one more thing to peddle, although it would bring the best price in history. To us, an Overdrive would mean freedom."

"Of course, you are right, Director," said Captain Reed. "Nevertheless, that doesn't make Overdrive any more possible. However"—he noticed Horvath's anticipation with satisfaction—"we do have something new, something big. I suppose they've been looking for this as long as they've been looking for an Overdrive—a force field."

Horvath's eyes widened. "A force field?"

"Ah, you are interested."

"Of course. It would be idiotic to try and hide it. This, Maxwell wants."

"And what have you to offer?" asked Peter Reed softly.

"One ton of thorium."

"Oh really, Director!" said Reed. "That's all right for the hot-cold technique, but—"

"Two tons!"

"Come, come, Mr. Horvath. A force field is the ultimate defensive weapon, after all. Two measly tons—"

"Ten tons!"

"Now, what are we going to do with all that thorium? Can't you do better? We deal in knowledge, you know. Perhaps you have something in that area—"

"Well," said Horvath, his hard eyes narrowing, "there was another ship here, only three years ago."


"Colonizer, heading for the outer ring. Direct from Earth."

"So what?"

"Well, captain, there was a passenger aboard."

"A passenger?"

"Yes, a Dr. Ching pen Yee. Had to leave Earth quickly, so it seems, some kind of mathematical physicist. We're holding him."

"I don't see what this has to do with us," said Peter Reed.

Horvath smiled crookedly. "Grand Admiral Jacob ben Ezra is on his way to Maxwell. In fact, he's decelerating already. Should be here in about a month."

Captain Reed stroked his nose. If Earth was sending ben Ezra himself after Dr. Ching, the man must be someone really important. Earth virtually never pursued a fugitive beyond the twenty-five light-year radius of the Integral Control Zone. And Horvath knew it.

"So what are you offering?" he said slowly.

"Ben Ezra can't know that he was put off here," said Horvath. "He'll be eager to get away. I propose that I trade you Ching for the force-field theory."

"But neither of us knows whether Ching has anything of value," said Reed, knowing that anyone who was being pursued by Jacob ben Ezra over fifty light-years must know something very valuable indeed.

But Horvath knew it too. "Come, captain. We both know that Earth would not send ben Ezra, unless Ching was very important indeed. Ching and one ton of thorium for the force field."

"Ching and three tons," said Reed, with a little smile.

"Ching and two tons."

Peter Reed laughed. "Ching and three tons for the force field and the hot-cold technique."

"Very well, captain," said Horvath, rising and sticking out his hand, "you've got a deal."

The two men shook hands.

"Have your men begin bringing up the thorium immediately," said Reed, "and get your scientists up here quick, to learn the techniques. I certainly don't want to be in this system when ben Ezra gets here."

"Of course not," said Horvath, with a grin. "Rest assured, captain, I'm a very good liar. And believe me when I say it has been a pleasure doing business with you."

"The same, Director. Mr. Reed will show you to the air lock."

As Roger Reed opened the door, Horvath stopped and turned.

"Captain," he said, "one thing. If you ever do get hold of an Overdrive, Maxwell will match anyone's price for it. You can write your own bill of sale."

Captain Reed frowned. "You know as well as I do, that we traders sell the same knowledge to every planet we touch."

Horvath eyed him thinly. "I am aware of the practice," he said. "However, in the case of an Overdrive, Maxwell would make it well worth your while to make it an exclusive sale."

Reed shook his head, and grinned. "I'll keep it in mind, Director," he said.


Grand Admiral Jacob ben Ezra finished his fourth cigarette of the morning. On a starship, with its own self-contained atmosphere to maintain, smoking was a hideous luxury. But Admiral ben Ezra was a man with privileges. A small, frail old man of eighty subjective years, he had been in space for over seven hundred objective years, and was something of a living legend.

Right now, he was nervous. He turned to his aide. "David," he said, "can't we cut a week or two off the time?"

"No, sir," replied the younger commander. "We're using maximum deceleration as it is. Photon sails, plus ion drive."

"What about using the atomic reaction rockets as well?" asked the admiral, knowing full well what the answer would be.

"We just don't have the reaction mass to spare," said the commander. "Photon sails, of course, cost no fuel, and the ion rockets use very little, but with the ion drive going, and three weeks left till planetfall, we can't use the rockets for even an hour. Besides—"

"Besides, our course is already plotted, and we'd undershoot," said ben Ezra. "David, David, don't you know when an old man is talking just to let off steam?"

The young commander fidgeted with embarrassment.

"Nevertheless," said the Grand Admiral, rubbing the end of his long nose, "I wish we could. It's going to be a close thing."

"Why, sir?"

Jacob ben Ezra lit a fifth cigarette. "The Outward Bound left Earth just about when we did. They're scheduled to stop at Maxwell. No doubt, the SS-185 will put Ching off somewhere before they get to Toehold. My guess is that it'll be Maxwell."

"So, sir?"

Ben Ezra exhaled a great cloud of smoke.

"Sorry, David," he said. "Somehow, I'm beginning to find it difficult to remember that not everyone is as old as I am. The Outward Bound is one of the oldest tradeships around; in fact, if my memory serves me correctly, it was the first one built specifically for the purpose. Her captain is Peter Reed. He's been in space longer than I have."

"Longer than you, sir?"

Ben Ezra laughed. It was not the laugh of an old man. It felt good to laugh, especially under the circumstances.

"Yes, my incredulous young friend," he said, "longer than I have. Reed is one of the cleverest captains in space. Also, don't forget, he has the force field to sell, this trip."

"You mean you think Maxwell will trade Ching for the force field? But, sir, once they find out why Ching's out here, no one would trade him for anything."

Jacob ben Ezra puckered his leathery lips. "You are assuming that Dr. Ching will talk. I doubt that very much. He knows that we'd follow him to Andromeda, if we had to. My guess is that he'll figure his only hope is to change ships as often as possible, and not tell anyone why he's on the run."

"Then why would Captain Reed accept him in trade?"

"Because," said the Grand Admiral, raising his bushy white eyebrows, "Reed is clever and experienced. He will know that anyone who is being pursued by us, all the way from Earth, is someone who has something of vital importance."

Jacob ben Ezra crushed his cigarette against the bulkhead. He shook his head violently.

"If only he knew," he said, "if only he knew."


The Outward Bound orbited low over Maxwell. She was an untidy spectacle—one great central cylinder, around whose girth the space gigs were clustered; three lesser cylinders, connected to the main body only by spars; the conning globe; and, far astern, the propulsion reactor, a dull black globe, behind which sprouted two set of rockets—the small, almost inconspicuous ion drive, and the great reaction rockets, which fed off whatever reaction mass happened to be in the huge fuel tanks, located just forward of the reactor.

To make the whole thing even more messy looking, the main cylinder and its auxiliaries were pocked with globes, tubes and blisters, looking for all the world like budding yeast under a microscope. Like Topsy, the successful tradeship just grew, adding a cylinder here, a globe there, a blister in another place, as the ship's fortune waxed. In deep space, where friction was no factor, this wild messiness was a status symbol, a sign of prosperity.

Now, Maxwellian ships were coming and going constantly, bringing thorium, food, water, scientists. They had one great navigational hazard to overcome. Four mile-long spars sprouted from amidships on the main cylinder. During acceleration away from a sun, or deceleration towards a sun, four immense triangles of ten-molecule-thick plastic would stretch from the spars, catching the energy of photon packets outward bound from light sources. By grams per-square-yard, the solar sails provided negligible thrust, but cumulatively, over two square miles of surface area, they were good for a steady, if mild acceleration. Besides, the energy they provided was free.

But now, since the spars were empty, and the ship was spinning about its central axis, the spars were the arms of a monstrous windmill, which the Maxwellian ships had to avoid.

Captain Reed smiled as he watched the ships thread their way gingerly toward the Outward Bound. No doubt, there were simple ways of making the spars stationary while the ship spun, perhaps using the same circle-in-circle bearings that served to immobilize the conning globe. But no starship he had ever heard of had bothered to try. It was just too amusing watching the planethogs dodge the whirling spars.

Well, this would be the last day they'd have to brave the whirlwind. The last of the thorium was aboard, the Maxwellians had their force field and hot-cold technique, and Ching would be coming aboard on the last ship.

None too soon, either, thought Peter Reed. Ben Ezra will be here in another ten days. Ten days to get here, perhaps a week or two to break Horvath. Captain Reed had few illusions about that individual. Within three weeks, at the outside, Jacob ben Ezra would know that Ching pen Yee was aboard the Outward Bound.

Ben Ezra would be able to close the gap to a week or less, at the next planetfall, Nuova Italia, only ten light-years away.

But by that time, thought Reed, I'll know whether Ching's worth keeping. If he isn't, ben Ezra can have him at Nuova Italia. But if he is . . . well, ben Ezra will probably have to take on supplies at Nuova Italia. We can get away from him once more, if we have to. But . . . he can catch us easily, and wherever we head, he can be there before us, with us only having a couple of days lead.

We'll jump off that bridge when we come to it, thought Captain Reed.

"Dr. Ching is aboard," came a voice from the communicator.

"Good," said Reed. "How soon can we break orbit?"

"Everything'll be secured in another three hours, Dad."


"Sorry, sir."

"All right, Roger," said the old man. "Make ready to break orbit as soon as possible. And send Ching to the reception room. Have Olivera there, too. In fact, stall Ching a bit, and have Manny get there a few minutes earlier. Tell him I'll be right down."

"Yes, sir."


"But, Peter," said Manuel Olivera, his dark eyes raised to the ceiling in supplication, "I am not a theoretical physicist. I am not a mathematician. I am a tinkerer, a librarian, a maker of stinks, a—"

"Manny! Manny! Please!" said the captain. "I know the whole song and dance by now. Nevertheless, you are the Outward Bound's chief scientist."

"Yes, yes," said the small dark-skinned man excitedly, "but you know as well as I do that all that means is that I'm a glorified librarian. We—"

"All right, all right. All I want you to do is be here, and pay attention. This Dr. Ching has something of value, I'm sure of it. And we may not have him very long. We've got to be quick, and—" "Dr. Ching pen Yee to see you, captain," said an orderly.

"Send him in."

Dr. Ching was a small, though well-built man of about sixty. His straight black hair was parted neatly in the middle. Only his shifting eyes betrayed his nervousness.

"Thank you for accepting my passage, Captain Reed," he said.

"Not at all, Dr. Ching. Frankly, we hope you may be of value to us. As you know, the lifeblood of a tradeship is knowledge. We sell it, and we buy it. To be blunt, we have bought you from Maxwell. You get passage with us, for as long as you want, and in return, we expect you to share your knowledge."

"But, captain," said Ching nervously, "I am a mathematical physicist. You are engaged in the business of selling practical technological knowledge. We mathematical physicists are not noted for producing marketable knowledge."

Reed frowned. This Ching was cool, and he was scared. A tough combination to crack.

"Please let Mr. Olivera and myself be the judge of that. By the way, I believe I've forgotten to introduce you. This is Manuel Olivera, our chief scientist."

"How do you do, Mr. Olivera," said Ching smoothly. "Captain Reed, really you are wasting your time. I am purely a theorist."

Reed wondered if he should spring his knowledge of Admiral ben Ezra's pursuit. He decided it could wait. "Suppose you just tell us what you're working on?" he said.

Ching fidgeted. "Mathematical theory," he said.

"Come now, Dr. Ching," snapped Olivera, "we are not complete scientific ignoramuses, you know. What sort of theory?"

"A development of a small corollary to the Special Theory of Relativity."

"Oh?" said Olivera. "Involving what?"

Ching's eyes flickered from focus to focus like a bird's. "Involving . . . some work with transfinite substitutions," he said vaguely.

Olivera continued his pursuit. "Transfinite substitutions? Where? For what?"

Ching laughed falsely. "Really, Mr. Olivera," he said. "It's all a complicated mathematical exercise. It amuses me to substitute infinite and transfinite numbers for some of the variables. As I said, nothing practical."

"Just why are you doing this?" snapped Olivera.

"Really," said Ching blandly, "that's an unanswerable question. Indeed. Why do men climb mountains? Because they are there. Really, gentlemen, I'm quite tired. May I be excused?"

Olivera was about to continue his sortie, but the captain waved him off.

"Of course," he said. "We will soon be leaving for Nuova Italia. In about two hours. We will have time to talk again, before we all go into Deep Sleep. By all means, rest up."

"Thank you, captain," said Ching. An orderly was called, and he led Ching off.

"Well, Manny?" asked the captain.

"Well, what? Am I a mind reader? Gibberish. Vagueness. Perhaps outright lies. I ask you, Peter, would Jacob ben Ezra travel fifty light-years after someone engaged in 'a complicated mathematical exercise?' Would Earth give a damn?"

"Of course not," said the captain.

"Then why in space didn't you tell him that you knew ben Ezra was after him?" snapped Olivera.

Peter Reed smiled thinly. "Time enough for that between now and Deep Sleep. That's a whole week. I think the strategic time to spring it is just before he goes into Deep Sleep. Impending Deep Sleep makes a man realize just how dependent he can be."

"You'd better loosen him up by then," said Olivera, "because it's just possible that when we wake up, we'll find ben Ezra right on our tails."


A three minute burst on the huge reaction rockets kicked the Outward Bound out of orbit.

As she drifted slowly outward, the huge triangular photon sails were reeled out onto the mile-long spars, blotting out whole sectors of stars.

The pale, almost invisible, blue stream of the ion drive shot noiselessly, vibrationlessly out of the nozzles.

The Outward Bound was on her way to Nuova Italia.

During the next week, the ship would be secured, the automatic systems checked, re-checked, and finally given command of the ship. There would be a final course correction, and then the thousand men, women and children who made up the crew of the Outward Bound would go into Deep Sleep.

Deep Sleep was the technique that had given Man that insignificant portion of the Galaxy which he possessed. A starship could accelerate to nearly three-quarters the speed of light, but this took over a year, and, although it had been proven true that subjective time on a fast-moving starship did contract, as Einstein had predicted, the factor was still far too short. The spaces between the suns would still eat up lifespans.

Deep Sleep had been developed to deal with this dilemma. Partly it was a technique developed from yoga, partly it was simply a careful, controlled lowering of the body temperature, till life slowed down to the barest crawl. The elements of the technique had been known even before rudimentary spaceflight. But it took the technical integration of all the factors to make Deep Sleep an effective and relatively safe form of suspended animation, and to give Man the stars.


Peter Reed was getting disgusted. It was now time to go into Deep Sleep, and still no one had been able to get anything out of Ching. Clearly, the man was scared silly.

Well, thought Reed, maybe I can shock him out of it now.

He was standing in one of the Deep Sleep chambers.

The walls were lined with transparent plastic cubicles, coffin-sized, honey-combed with passages, through which liquid oxygen was passed.

Another of the ship's economies, thought the captain. The same oxygen that served as the ship's air supply was cooled by the cold of space, and used to freeze the Deep Sleep chambers. It took a lot of liquid oxygen, in fact, the entire ship's supply, but since no one would be needing it while the crew was in Deep Sleep, and since it was re-usable, it made a neat saving.

Most of the crew were already in Deep Sleep. The cubicles were filled with frozen crewmembers, the Environment Masks snugly fitted over their faces. Only the skeleton Deep Sleep detail, the captain and Dr. Ching remained unfrozen. Now, the captain and the passenger would take their places, and then the automatics would handle the Deep Sleep detail.

A crewman was escorting Ching to his cubicle. The mathematician's face was pasty and pale. His eyes flickered furiously over the frozen figures in the plastic coffins.

Reed smiled, half in sympathy, half in satisfaction. He had spent a total time of nearly seven hundred years in those cubicles. Still, it always made him shudder a bit. But Ching had only experienced Deep Sleep once, and somehow, the second time was always the hardest.

"Well, Dr. Ching," he called out, "how do you feel?"

"A bit foolish, captain. I must admit that I am afraid, and yet there is really nothing to be afraid of."

For a moment, Reed's distaste for Ching was washed away. The Grand Admiral of Earth's fleet had hounded him across fifty light-years, and now he was facing what must to him be a great irrational fear. And yet, he's so calm.

"I don't see why a man like you should be afraid," said the captain deliberately, hating what he was doing.


"Well, it seems to me that a man who's being chased across the Galaxy by Jacob ben Ezra, and still refuses to tell me why, must have a surplus of guts."

For a moment, Ching trembled. Then he smiled slowly. "I thought you knew," he said. "Why else would you be so interested in me?"

"Why don't you tell me what this is all about, Ching? What are you on to? Why is Earth so concerned? I don't expect you to believe that we're your friends, but surely you must realize that it's in our interest as traders to protect you if you're working on something important."

Ching sighed heavily. "Captain Reed," he said, "Earth is not after me because they want what I'm working on. I'm really not working on anything practical at all. Just a mathematical and physical concept."

"And yet, they're chasing farther than they've ever chased a fugitive before."

"Yes," said Ching. "Captain, some day you may know why I must keep my secret. If Jacob ben Ezra catches up to us, you will be glad that I've remained silent."

"Why, man, why?"

"Because," said Ching, "I'm fairly certain that ben Ezra has orders to kill anyone who knows what I know."

The captain frowned. "Perhaps you will change your mind when we come out of Deep Sleep at Nuova Italia."

"Perhaps, captain, you will change yours."

Peter Reed shrugged irritably. "Let's get on with it," he said to the attendant.

He climbed into his cubicle, and settled himself on the foam-rubber mattress. The attendant secured him with clamps. The ship's spin would stop when the crew was in Deep Sleep. There would be no gravity.

The soft, lined mask was fitted over his face. He inhaled the soothing tranquilizer vapor. He was comfortable, content. He vaguely felt the prick of a needle, then his senses began to dull, first sight, then sound, then feel, then smell. The last sensation was a dry taste in his mouth, and then that was gone, and he was an entity within himself, in his own private universe . . . a mote swimming in the sea of himself . . . and then, even the sense of mind began to dull . . . to fade . . . to softly melt away, like a mouthful of cotton candy.


A blinding redness which pervaded the universe . . . a pins-and-needles feeling . . . then warmth, overwhelming, welcome warmth, motion, smell, sound.

Jacob ben Ezra sat up in his Deep Sleep cubicle, slowly, patiently teaching his old eyes to focus.

You never get really used to it, he thought. What year is this? Let's see . . . Maxwell to Nuova Italia means fourteen years in Deep Sleep, and when we left Maxwell, it was 3297 A.D., or '98? On Earth . . .

Ben Ezra gave a dry little laugh. Time! What is time? Does it matter? I am eighty years old, I am eight hundred years old, or maybe a thousand.

This life means giving up many things. A firm sense of time is one of them. The people who've sent me after Ching, back on Earth, are all dead. I'm a ghost, a shade, the expression of the will of a group of men, all of whom are dead—in a sense.

Man was not meant for this kind of life, thought Jacob ben Ezra sourly. This is a poor way to command the stars, a poor and pitiful way.

He laughed bitterly. This is a life fit only for Gypsies and Jews. Come to think of it, Gypsies don't have a sufficient sense of history, in the long run.

Maybe that's why so many in the Fleet are Jews. To a Jew, a thousand years is supposed to be a reasonable length of time. Or so the legends say. So they say.

But what is a Jew? There is no such thing as Judaism, anymore. There is hardly such a thing as race.

A Jew, thought Jacob ben Erza, nowadays is anyone who thinks of himself as one. Homo interstellarus.

Ben Ezra leaned on the shoulders of a waiting attendant, and climbed down from the cubicle. His legs were a bit rubbery, but he was used to it.

Homo interstellarus, he thought, as he made his way slowly to the conning globe, lousy Latin, but very good sense.

It was as if Jews had been training to man the Great Fleet for five thousand years. How long had they been a self-contained culture, independent of geography, living, even, in their own time stream? In the pre-stellar past, they had been feared for it, damned for it, but now, it had a purpose. Who else could isolate themselves on the twenty ships of the Great Fleet, but Jews? Knowing no planet, no time to call home?

"They, they," mumbled the admiral. Why not we, he thought. Heh! Peter Reed is as much a Jew as I am. What does it mean now? It means the exiles, the planetless ones, the timeless ones, defying the Universe, spitting in the face of Einstein himself.

The steps of Jacob ben Ezra became firm and sprightly.

He lit a cigarette.

"Feels good!" he said to no one in particular.


Several men were already in the conning globe—Chief Navigator Richard Jacoby, several minor crewmen, and his aide, David Steen.

"They're there, sir," said Steen. "We've got a fix on 'em."

The admiral frowned. This job was getting more odious to him every minute.

"How far behind are we?" he asked.

"About six days."

"Then they haven't made orbit yet?"

"No, sir."

"Good. That means we can keep an eye on them. Jacoby, is it possible for them to get away?"

The tall, thin navigator frowned. "Depends on what you mean, admiral. Wherever they go, of course, we can track them. Do you mean will we catch up to them before they leave orbit? Then, I'd have to say no, not if they're trying to get away."

"Can we stop them?" said the admiral.

"You mean destroy them, sir?"

"I don't mean make love to 'em, Jacoby! I know we can destroy them, but can we get close enough to disable 'em, carefully, without killing?"

"Hard to say, at six days' distance."

"That's what I was afraid of. Well, tomorrow, we'll radio 'em to heave-to and wait for us."

"Do you think they will, sir?" asked Steen.

"That depends, David, that depends. If they know why we're after Ching, they'll do anything to keep him. But, then, they may not know. In which case, they won't take any silly chances."

"And if they try to get away?"

Grand Admiral ben Ezra frowned. "If they try to get away, we have two choices. We can blast 'em, or we can plot their next course, and be waiting for 'em. Six days, we can easily make up on the next hop. The thing is, if we do blast 'em, and can't confirm that Ching was aboard, then we'll have to backtrack to Maxwell, maybe even back to Earth, and we'll never really know."

"But, sir," said Steen, "do you really think Reed would risk his ship for Ching, even if he found out?"

Jacob ben Ezra laughed, and shook his head. "I'm not sure," he said, "but I am sure that Captain Reed is as clever as I am. Which means, if he does find out, he'll know that we can't blast him without knowing that Ching is aboard. If he finds out, he'll run all right. And you know something, David?"

"What, sir?"

The admiral lit another cigarette. "I'd do the same thing myself," he said.


Captain Peter Reed cursed loudly. "Just great, just wonderful! Six days away! Six days away, and that bloody sphinx of a Ching hasn't—I've a good mind to call it a business loss and turn him over to ben Ezra."

"Sir," said the radioman fearfully, "Admiral ben Ezra is still calling—"

"Put it through to this Visor, but don't answer. And stop all communications with Nuova Italia. I want it to look like our radio's dead."

"Yes, sir."

"Roger!" said Reed into the communicator. "Prepare to break orbit immediately, and stand by. And get Ching up to the conning globe on the double!"

"But, sir, Ching has never been in zero gravity before, he—"

"Drag him up here by the hair, if you have to!"

It was only three minutes later when Roger Reed hauled a green-looking Ching into the conning globe.

"Captain," said Ching, "is this really necessary? I—"

"I want you to hear something, my tight-lipped friend," said the scowling Peter Reed. "I want you to hear it directly."

He turned on the televisor. The tired, wizened face of Jacob ben Ezra filled the screen. Ching paled, even through his nausea.

". . . Calling the Outward Bound . . . Calling the Outward Bound. Calling Captain Peter Reed . . ."\

The pale visage on the televisor paused to light a cigarette.

"Really, Peter," said Jacob ben Ezra, "this is ridiculous. I know you're reading me."

Peter Reed could not help smiling.

"Very well, Peter," said the voice of ben Ezra, "we'll play it your way. So don't answer me. I'll do the talking. You probably have a Dr. Ching pen Yee aboard. I want him. I've come all the way from Earth for him, and, by space, I'll have him, or I'll blow you to bits. You have five minutes, plus the time lag, to answer. If you don't answer then, I will take appropriate action."

Captain Reed turned the televisor off.

"Well, Dr. Ching," he said, "do I turn you over to ben Ezra, or do you talk?"

A new emotion crossed Ching's face. It did not seem to be fear; it was more of a manic defiance.

"You don't understand. I do not care about death, captain," he said. "I have not fled to save my life. Had I remained on Earth, my life would not have been endangered. But—"

"But what? You heard the admiral. You have five minutes to make up your mind."

Ching sighed. "It is my work that must go on. That's what they want to stop. Very well, captain, I must take the chance."


"There is no simple way of explaining it. I have told you that I am working on a corollary to the Special Theory of Relativity. It is the Special Theory of Relativity, as you must know, which limits all speed to the speed of light. Essentially, it means that at the speed of light, mass is infinite, therefore it would take an infinite thrust to accelerate to that limit, and exceeding it would be impossible. But, as I have said, I am working on transfinite substitutions. I hope to evolve an equation—"

"Come to the point, man, come to the point!"

"There is no simple point, captain. I am engaged in the preliminaries of a work that some day may lead to a theoretical means of exceeding the speed of light within the Einsteinian Universe—"

"An Overdrive!" shouted Captain Reed.

"Not for a long time," said Ching pedantically. "It—"

But the captain was no longer listening. An Overdrive! Countless others had tried before, but Earth thought this man was close enough to send ben Ezra sixty light-years to . . .

Reed's trader's brain analyzed the situation with the speed born of commercial instinct. An Overdrive would be the most valuable commodity any trader ever had to sell. The Outward Bound could sell it again and again, on each of the sixty-seven planets inhabited by Man, each time commanding a price undreamed of in all history!

And ben Ezra would not take the chance that Ching wasn't on the Outward Bound. He would have to know. He couldn't . . .

"Hang on to something," shouted Peter Reed.

He yelled into the communicator: "Break orbit! Do it now!"

"What course, sir?" came the tinny voice. "Who cares?" roared Reed. "Just get us away from here. Raise the sails, activate the ion drive. Maximum thrust on the reaction rockets! Do it now! Now! Now! NOW!"


Jacob ben Ezra shook his head, with a Gallic shrug. Reed was running. What else could he do? But that means he knows. It must!

Ben Ezra lit a cigarette. "Change course," he said to his navigator. "Accelerate. Follow them."

"Are we going to attack?" asked Commander Dayan, floating alongside the admiral in the conning globe. His dark, mustachioed face was alight with an eagerness that ben Ezra found distasteful. But then, one could not really blame Dayan. Gunnery officers usually have nothing to do but sit around.

"Not now, at any rate," said the admiral. "Better strap in. Acceleration coming up."

Ben Ezra stared out the viewpoint at the stars.

My stars, he thought. Our stars. Mine and Peter Reed's. No wonder my stomach isn't in this. Reed and I have been in space longer than anyone else. In eight hundred years, we've met just five times, and yet . . .

And yet, I feel closer to him than to all the politicians on Earth. What do they know about the stars? All they're interested in is preserving their petty little planet's rule over Man. They wouldn't know what an Overdrive would mean. It would mean that Man would have the Galaxy, it would mean that one wouldn't have to be a pariah, a man without a planet or a time, to be a starman.

But is that what they think of? Huh! All they see is the end of Earth's control. Of course, they're right. The only thing that makes Earth undisputed master is time. Earth is always generations ahead of the planets. Its head start in technology will hold up forever—

But not if there should be an Overdrive—not if Man could go from Earth to the outer ring in months, not centuries.

He glanced at David Steen, strapped in beside him. Young but intelligent. Some day—

"It's a dirty business, David," he said, almost involuntarily.


"I said it's a dirty business. I never thought I'd be a hired murderer."

"But, sir, we have orders. It's a military mission. You have no reason to blame—"

"Orders! The orders of men who are all dead by now. The orders of an Earth that doesn't even give a damn about the possibility of Man really having the stars. Orders to destroy, orders of a willful, selfish . . . ah!"

"Admiral ben Ezra, our orders are simply to make sure Dr. Ching doesn't escape. Not necessarily to kill anyone. Besides, we're—"

"Yes," said ben Ezra bitterly, "yes, I know. We're soldiers." A new and narrow look came into his large gray eyes.

"But you have a point, David," he said. "Our orders are simply to bring back Ching, and eliminate all knowledge of his work. They don't say anything about blowing up traders, do they? I've not been ordered to kill Peter Reed."

"No, sir."

"No, indeed," said the admiral slowly.

"By all space," he roared, "we're going to carry out our orders! But we're going to do it without killing Captain Reed!"


"Well," said Manuel Olivera, "where do we go from here?"

"Out to the outer ring, I suppose," said Peter Reed. "We are in a very peculiar position. I'm sure that ben Ezra won't blast us without boarding. He's got to make sure he gets Ching. But wherever we go, he can plot our course, and be there first. Whatever we do, we've got to do it between now and the next planetfall."

He leaned his face in both hands, propped upon his elbows on the mahogany desk top.

Ching sat nervously in front of him, and Olivera paced the room.

"I still don't see why Earth wants to stop you, Dr. Ching," said Olivera.

"In a way, I do," replied Ching. "Positively speaking, the Overdrive would mean the inevitable end of Earth's domination. Without the time differential, Earth would be just another planet."

He managed a small grin. "But on the other hand," he said, "scientifically speaking, they're being most foolish. I am perhaps twenty years from an equation from which an Overdrive could be developed. All I have, right now, is a new point of view. For a thousand years, men have been searching for an Overdrive, always trying to escape from the Einsteinian Universe. Sometimes they look for a mythical thing called hyperspace, or subspace, or the fourth dimension. What I have done, is simply to begin an inquiry, within Relativity Theory, modifying not the question, but the substitutions."

"What is all that about?" snapped Olivera.

"I'm not sure yet," said Ching abstractedly. "But basically, if you accept the Special Theory of Relativity, the reason that the speed of light cannot be exceeded is that mass is infinite at the speed of light, hence it would take an infinite force to accelerate it to that speed.

"But, if there were a drive whose thrust was a function of the mass it was accelerating, then, as mass increased, thrust would increase, and at the speed of light, theoretically, where mass was infinite, thrust would also be infinite. And if the thrust-mass equation involved a suitable exponential function—in theory, anyway—thrust could become transfinite."

"Making it possible to go faster than light!" said Olivera excitedly. "Yes, yes, Dr. Ching. If there ever is an Overdrive, it will have to be developed along those lines! Tell me, how close are you?"

Ching laughed bitterly. "As I said, perhaps as much as twenty years away. Who can tell? Right now, all I have is a point of view, a direction in which to proceed. I must experiment with substitutions, then I must develop the proper thrust-mass equation. And at that point, the real work only begins. I must then develop a theoretical basis for a drive that can utilize the thrust-mass equation, a drive, where, not only does thrust depend on mass, but in the precise proper function as well. It's a very long way off."

"But man, it would be an Overdrive!"

"Not even then," said Ching. "That would be the end of my work, and the beginning of someone else's. I am not a practical scientist. Someone else would have to take my equations and develop the actual Overdrive."

He sighed and shrugged. "That's why I can't understand why Earth won't let me be. All I want is to be free to develop my equations. It's my whole life! I could build no drive, I—"

"When you rule an empire of more than sixty planets, over a time differential of over two hundred years," said Captain Peter Reed, "you must plan and plot far ahead. You must take a very long view."

"Well, now that we know what we've got," said Olivera, "what are we going to do about it?"

Captain Reed drummed his fingers nervously on the desk top. "I'll be damned if I know," he said. "Fact: an Overdrive would be the greatest commercial coup in history. Fact: it would take about twenty years to develop one, from the start we have. And finally, fact: we will have to let ben Ezra aboard on our next planetfall. He'll be waiting for us, and there'll be no escaping. That's why he's let us get this far. This, gentlemen, is what is known as a bind."

"Time," said Ching absently, "why does it always come down to time? The Overdrive wouldn't even be necessary, if it weren't for the time factor. Then Earth would've let me continue my work unmolested. And now, it's a matter of time before ben Ezra gets me, too little time—"

"You're a mathematician," said Peter Reed. "You should know that time underlies the Universe, space . . . history—"

"Time," said Olivera. "Peter, we've just got to save the Overdrive! It's bigger than us; it's bigger even than the Outward Bound. It's bigger than Earth! We've just got to buy the time, somehow."

"Twenty years," said Peter Reed. "In twenty days, we'll have to go into Deep Sleep, or we'll run the risk of depleting our oxygen, our food, our water. And when we come out, Jacob ben Ezra will be waiting for us."


A slow, grim smile parted Ching's tight lips. "Twenty years—" he said slowly. "Captain, where are we heading?"

"Out to the outer ring, maybe to Toehold."

"And how long will such a trip take?"

"About a hundred and twenty years."

"Captain," said Ching, "we don't all have to go into Deep Sleep, do we? There would be enough food and air for, say, one man to stay awake, for say, twenty years?"

Peter Reed suddenly became aware of the feverish glow of the abstract fanatic in Ching's eyes.

"You mean you would stay out of Deep Sleep? You would die in space, in the nothing between the stars? You would be alone, utterly alone, for twenty years."

"I am well aware of the consequences, captain. Nevertheless, it would enable me to complete my work. That is all that matters. Could it be done?"

Reed stared wonderingly at the small man. "Sure. There'd be plenty of food and air for one man to do it. By a factor of ten, at least."

"Well then, captain?"

"Are you sure, Dr. Ching? It's one thing to talk about it now, but when you've been alone for one, five, ten years—"

"I am willing to take that chance."

"Well . . . we could rig up a cubicle so that you could go into Deep Sleep any time it got to be too much for you—"

"Why, he might complete his work, and still make it to Toehold!" cried Olivera.

"He might," said Reed. "Of course, even then, we would still have the problem of dealing with ben Ezra—"

"Oh, space, Peter!" yelled Olivera. "One thing at a time. This is it! This is the only way!"

"I suppose you're right, Manny. Have your boys set up the necessary automatics. Let Dr. Ching get acquainted with our computer."

"Thank you, captain," said Ching. "We will beat them, after all."

"Perhaps," said Reed. Is your we the same as my we, he thought; is your them the same as my them?

Olivera had ceased his pacing. He appeared lost in thought.

"Manny," said the captain, reading his old friend's mood. "Manny, what is it?"

"Dr. Ching," said Olivera, "what will we have when your work is finished, I mean, what end result?"

"Why, I hope, an equation giving a principle upon which an Overdrive could be built," said Ching gravely.

"A principle," said Olivera slowly. "An equation. But not plans, not blueprints, not even a schematic diagram."

"What do you expect of me?" said Ching plaintively. "I'm a mathematician, not an engineer. Such a thing would take a pragmatic scientist, working hand in hand with—"

"Yes," said Manuel Olivera, "so it would."

"Manny!" shouted the captain. "You wouldn't—"

"I must, Peter, I must! Someone must. We've got to have more than an equation, when we run into ben Ezra. If we've got pragmatic plans, we can send out all six of our gigs to Toehold. It's an undeveloped planet, they'd never be able to do anything with an equation. But plans— And ben Ezra would have to destroy seven targets, instead of one. Someone would get through."

"It would not be as bad for him, captain, as it will be for me," said Ching. "He could stay in Deep Sleep until I was ready for him. It would only be a few years for him."

"All right, Manny," said Reed, "you win."

But even as he gave the orders for setting up the automatics, something was nagging at the back of his mind.

Disperse the plans indeed! Sacrifice the Outward Bound! There must be a better way. Perhaps, ben Ezra could be fooled—just this once. What if he got Ching? Might it not be possible to convince him that Ching had never talked? Perhaps, perhaps—

Even as the nothingness of Deep Sleep overtook him, Peter Reed was still dreaming of the greatest commercial coup in history.


Jacob ben Ezra was dissatisfied, and he didn't know why. His ship was already orbiting Toehold, the Outward Bound had been spotted, a week away, all was set, and within eight days, he would have Ching.

But somehow, he felt dissatisfied.

"David," he said. "I feel dirty."

"But, sir, why?"

Ben Ezra lit a cigarette, the thirtieth of the twenty-four hour period. As far as he could remember, it was a record for him.

"We're men of space, David," he said. "We're no more emotionally bound to Earth than Reed is. Homo Interstellarus, I think of us as. An Overdrive is something we should welcome, not suppress."

The young commander was silent. To him, ben Ezra knew, orders were orders. He had been born aboard ship, the Fleet was all he knew or cared about. And the Fleet was an agent of Earth.

"Don't you see, David? Of course you don't! Our duty as officers is clear—to obey orders. But we have a duty as men, as well. And, by space, that duty is to preserve the Overdrive!"

"You would disobey direct orders, sir?"

"No, dammit! I've been in this service all my adult life. Orders must be obeyed. If the Fleet decided to take the law into its own hands, we'd be no better than pirates. No, David, orders must be obeyed. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. It won't help me sleep any better, or enable me to smoke fewer of these infernal cigarettes."

"No, sir."

"I almost hope . . . I almost hope—"

"What, sir?"

Ben Ezra grinned humorlessly. "I almost hope Peter Reed can figure out a good way to trick me. I'd almost like to see him get out of it."


Manuel Olivera held the sheaf of papers in front of him. "Seven years!" he said. "Seven awful, lonely years, the two of us working together. But here it is, here it is!"

Peter Reed looked in wonderment at Olivera. His hair was now flecked with gray. He had lost fifteen pounds. But the greatest change was in his eyes. There was a haunted fire, an emptiness. What those seven years must've been like, thought Reed.

"And now he's dead," said Olivera. "Dead of old age."

"But did he get into the cubicle?" asked Reed. It was essential to have Ching's body.

"Yes, he got in. But he was a broken old man. Even as I watched him go under, I knew he would never survive the thaw." Olivera sighed heavily. "It was hard for me, but what was it for him! Twelve years! Twelve years alone! It was a full twelve years before he thawed me out."

"But he did it," said Reed.

"Yes, he did it."

"And now we have ben Ezra to deal with. He's already orbiting Toehold. Six days—Manny?"

"What, Peter?"

"I don't suppose we could rig up an Overdrive? We have plans, blueprints—"

"Not a chance. There's a good three or four years' work, technical experimentation needed, and even if we had the time, we need things we couldn't possibly make ourselves."

Reed shrugged. "Just thought I'd ask. We're sitting on top of a mint—"

"A mint!" roared Olivera. "A mint! Is that all it means to you, a commodity to sell? Peter, I didn't think you were such a fool. Is that what Ching died for? To line our pockets?"

"Ching died for that mysterious thing called abstract knowledge, and you know it, Manny," said the captain. "He didn't care any more about giving the Overdrive to Man than he did about the profit!"

"Profit! You think you can make a profit out of this? Think, Peter, think. What will happen to the Outward Bound when Man has the Overdrive? We'll be finished.

"All tradeships will be finished. We owe our existence to the time lag, as much as Earth's rule does. I thought you realized that from the beginning. I thought you were willing to sacrifice it for Man. I . . . I was a bigger fool than you are!"

It hit Reed like a piledriver. Manny was right. The Overdrive meant the end of the tradeships. Selling the Overdrive would ultimately be the end of the Outward Bound, of the way of life he had followed for close to a thousand objective years.

Peter Reed knew that if the Overdrive became known, he would be the last captain of the Outward Bound.

"You're right, Manny," he said. "I suppose that solves our problem. We'll just give it all to ben Ezra."

"Will we now, captain?" sneered Olivera. "Even if you don't care what this means to Man, think of your own hide. What do you think ben Ezra will do if he knows we know?"

"Why, hell—"

"Exactly. He'll kill every one of us. Or at least haul us back to Earth, where the best we can expect is to be imprisoned for the rest of our lives. Without trial."

Reed cursed. It was true. The only thing to do, is to play it through. At least, if we can fool ben Ezra, I can make my own decision.

"Well, captain?"

"Destroy those plans. But first, microengrave them on some part of the ship, a wall, a toilet, anywhere. Don't even tell me where. I don't want anyone but you to know, till this is over. Then destroy our transmitters. Make it look like they've been out ever since Maxwell, but make it look like an accident."

"What about Ching? Should we destroy the body? Maybe we can convince ben Ezra that he was never aboard."

"Not a chance. I've got it! Rig his cubicle so that it looks like the machinery failed, and he died of old age, inside the cubicle. Can you do it?"

Olivera puckered his brows. "Won't be easy," he said, "but I think so."

"Well, that's all we can do until ben Ezra boards."

"You're going to try and convince ben Ezra that Ching never talked? You expect him to be so stupid as to swallow that?"

Peter Reed licked his lips.

"No," he said, "but I know Jacob ben Ezra. What I'm banking on, is that he'll try and convince himself."


"To what do I owe this pleasure, Jacob?" said Peter Reed, sitting behind the big mahogany desk.

"To what—Peter, you know I've followed you all the way from Maxwell," said Admiral Jacob ben Ezra.

"All the way from Maxwell!" exclaimed Peter Reed. "Why in blazes didn't you give me a call on the . . . oh, oh! I keep forgetting that the radio's out of commission. Then you did call me?"

Ben Ezra looked at his side, and then at the ceiling. "Yes, I did call you. Is your radio really out of order?"

"Freak accident," said Reed. "Meteor hit the radio shack. Small one, but enough to smash things up. Say, you wouldn't have a spare F-46E transmitter housing?"

"I'll see what I can do," said ben Ezra coolly.

"Roger, get us some drinks, will you?"

Roger Reed produced four of the hot-cold cocktails.

"These are most amusing, Jacob," said Captain Reed.

"I left Earth about the same time you did, this time, Peter," said ben Ezra. He lit a cigarette.

"Still smoking those filthy things, eh?" said Peter Reed conversationally.

"Captain Reed," said ben Ezra, "aren't you even interested in why I've followed you for a hundred light-years?"

Reed laughed. "Something sinister, Jacob? I assumed that when you hailed us at Maxwell, and we didn't answer, you thought we were in trouble, and—"

"Really, Peter!" said ben Ezra. "I'll come to the point, even if you won't. Do you have a passenger?"

Peter Reed frowned. "So that's it," he said. "Look, Jacob, we're fully insured for this kind of thing. Million credit liability policy. It's a hefty premium, and the chances of it ever happening are so slight, but—"

"What in blazes are you talking about?"

"Why our passenger, of course," said Reed blandly. "Isn't that what you're talking about? I sure as hell don't know how you found out, but I assure you it was a legitimate accident, and we're fully covered."

"Covered? Accident?"

"Oh, come on, Jacob, stop playing cat and mouse with me!" snapped Reed. "All right, all right, if that's the way you want it, I'll tell you the whole thing as if you didn't know what happened."

"I certainly wish you would," said ben Ezra.

"Well, we did have a passenger. Picked him up on Maxwell. Strange little fellow called Ching pen Yee. That Director, what was his name?"

"Lazlo Horvath," said David Steen.

"Yes, yes, Horvath. The dirty crook. Told me some kind of fish story about how this Ching was some kind of important scientist. Well, ordinarily, you couldn't fool me with a thing like that, but as you know, we have the force field to sell this trip, and Horvath simply didn't have anything better to pay for it, so I took a chance on this Ching. What a joke!"


"Yes," said Reed. "Scientist? Why, the man was a raving lunatic! Classic case. Paranoid delusions. Thought the entire Terran hegemony was out to get him. Literally. Not only that, but delusions of grandeur as well. Why, he thought he was the greatest thing since Einstein! Secret of immortality, conversion bomb, all the usual mythical nonsense."

"A madman?" said ben Ezra, his eyes narrowing to slits.

"What a madman!" exclaimed the captain. "To top it all off . . . why, do you know what, Jacob? He thought he had the secret of Overdrive as well!"

"Really," said ben Ezra, perhaps a shade too dryly.

"I swear, I expected him to pull the Philosopher's Stone itself out of his pocket!" laughed Peter Reed.


"Where is this Dr. Ching?" said David Steen.

Ben Ezra flashed him a dirty look.

"Ah, you know as well as I do, Jacob, don't you? A one in a million accident, but it did happen. The automatics in his Deep Sleep cubicle malfunctioned. He died of old age on the last hop."

"Died?" said ben Ezra slowly.

"I assure you, Jacob, there was no lapse in safety procedures, and we are fully covered."

"To be sure," said ben Ezra. "To be sure." His eyes were even more unreadable than usual.

"Do you by any chance have the body?" he said.

"Yes," replied Reed. "It's still in the cubicle."

"Good. Mr. Ching had relations on Galdwin, which . . . er . . . is our next stop. We will take the body to them. David, get a detail."

"But, sir—"


"Yes, sir."

"A most unfortunate accident, Peter," said ben Ezra.


"But you say the man was mad anyway," said ben Ezra, bringing his face close to Reed's.

Reed stared back. "Very mad," he said evenly.

"You are quite sure?" said ben Ezra.

Reed drummed his fingers nervously on the desk. Ben Ezra's glance fell to Reed's hand, for a short moment. Reed's gaze followed. Then they were staring in each other's eyes again.

"Quite sure," said Peter Reed.

"I see," said Jacob ben Ezra. The corners of his mouth curled upward in the slightest suggestion of a grin.

Reed's mouth went dry.

"Well, Peter," said ben Ezra, suddenly and unexpectedly convivial, "it's been nice meeting you again. Very nice. But I really must be going."

"Sorry to see you leave so soon," said Reed.

"I'll bet you are!" said ben Ezra with a little laugh.

He walked to the door and opened it.

"Good-by, Peter," he said.

"Good-by, Jacob."

As he stepped through the doorway, the admiral swiveled his neck to face Reed.

"Perhaps," he said dryly, "I'll be seeing you a lot sooner than you think I think." Then he was gone.

"What in space did he mean by that, Dad . . . sir?" asked Roger Reed.

The captain stared at the empty doorway.

"I think I know," he said, "but I'm not sure I want to know."


Peter Reed floated by the viewport, watching ben Ezra's ship break orbit.

He's really going, Reed thought. But he did not feel like congratulating himself.

He knew. He had to know. Jacob would never have swallowed a cock-and-bull story like that unless he wanted to. Well, he's got Ching's body, and he'll take it back to Earth, and that'll be the end of it. The Overdrive is mine.

But what, he thought, am I going to do with it? The safe thing would be to destroy the plans . . . or—

It'd take time and money to build it. The Outward Bound could never do it alone, but there are planets out here on the outer ring who'd do the work, and not ask too many questions.

Or there's Maxwell. Horvath is dead, but there's never a dearth of his kind. The Overdrive would bring a fantastic price from someone like that. But what would he do with it? Rule the Galaxy?

The Galaxy . . . who can say anything about the Galaxy? Man has seen such a small piece of it. Naturally, the chance of running into another intelligent race has been nil, as long as we were confined to such a small volume of space. But now— What exists in the center?

Without realizing it, Peter Reed had made his decision.

Ching had died for the Overdrive, thought Reed. Manny's given seven years of his life for it, seven lonely years.

And Jacob—Jacob took the biggest chance of his career to give Man the Galaxy.

Captain Reed sighed resignedly. One doesn't go in for this kind of life unless one is something of a romantic, he thought, no matter what I may say about profits.

What have all the profits been for? Just to keep the Outward Bound in space. Why stay in space? What logical answer is there?

Reed remembered a quotation from a man thousands of years dead, so long his name had been forgotten.

"Why climb mountains?" they had asked the mountaineer.

"Because they are there," he had said.

Why go to the stars? Because they are there. It was enough.

Manny understood that. In a way, perhaps Ching understood it, too.

And Jacob had risked a thousand-year career so that Man could have the Galaxy. Because it was there.

And can I do less, thought Peter Reed. A few hundred light years of space is no substitute for the Universe.

Roger may never be captain of the Outward Bound. The twilight of the tradeships has already begun—

Reed looked sadly out the 'port at ben Ezra's receding ship. Good-by, Jacob, he thought, good-by to a way of life a thousand years old.

But Man must have the Overdrive.


Jacob ben Ezra watched the green disk of Toehold slowly recede. Hidden on the outer side of the planet now, was the Outward Bound.

By now, he thought, Peter will have decided to build an Overdrive.

He laughed softly to himself. We old foxes understand each other. We both have our excuses—Peter his profits, me my duty.

But when it comes down to it, we're both in space for the same reason, and neither of us can put it into words.

So Earth will be satisfied. They'll have the body of poor Ching. Little will they know, little will they know, until it's too late.

There are planets out here that will ask few questions. Peter has the force field to sell, and for that, he can get his Overdrive built. And after that—

After that, in the short run, who knows? Ben Ezra shifted his gaze to the vast, multi-colored cloud of stars that is the center of the Galaxy.

In the short run, who knows, he thought. Who cares? But in the long run—

In the long run, Man will have the Galaxy, perhaps not to himself, certainly not to himself, but have it he will.

The admiral put out his half-finished cigarette. I've been in this business so long that I'm a legend, he thought. How ironic that the thing I can be most proud of is something that, once the Overdrive is a reality, will be called a failure.

He looked at the cloud of stars. They seemed to be looking right back. Come on, they seemed to say, we've been waiting.

A failure— Maybe you could call it that—

He grinned at the far glow of the Center.

"Coming!" he said.

Back | Next