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Charles Sheffield

Scientist and dreamer Arthur Morton McAndrew was one of my favorite science fiction characters. He was one of Charles Sheffield's, too. In his introduction to The Compleat McAndrew (made incomplete by this story, by the way), Charles referred to him as an alter ego. Charles loved speculating about how far science would go, and his nonfiction volume Borderlands of Science is invaluable for any science fiction reader. For the McAndrew series he always included an afterword telling the reader just where the known science in each story stopped and the speculation began. Charles Sheffield died last year, soon after completing this story and before such an afterword could be written. Science fiction will be the less for his passing.  


It's widely accepted that there's no such thing as a free lunch. I suppose anyone with a brain in her head would realize this applies equally well to dinner, but some people never learn; so there I was, sitting across the table from Professor Limperis and fully expecting him to pick up the tab.

He's a wily old bird who puts a high value on his time, a fact which I've known for as many years as I've been visiting the Penrose Institute. And today we were far from there. I was on vacation, ready to follow the progress of the Grand Solo Solar Contest out in the Belt. What were the chances that Limperis had traveled several hundred million kilometers for the doubtful privilege of taking me to dinner?

At the moment he was busy telling me that it was hard times for the Institute, with research budgets squeezed tighter and tighter. I nodded sympathetically, but to be honest my mind was otherwise engaged. I like to gamble on the outcome of the Grand Solo Solar Contest, and a prime entry for the GSSC had just entered the dining room. I guessed that he massed between five and six hundred kilos.

In the GSSC, fat is good because the contest is just what the name suggests. You do the Belt-Jupiter-Mars run alone, with no assistance. "No assistance" means no fuel, no food, no water. Also, no ship. You are provided a suit with an oxygen supply and built-in fusion and chemical drives. Solo means solo. The materials to power the drives have to come from the competitor's own body.

That's where judgment enters the picture. The chemical and fusion drives are lipid based, and a competitor draws reaction mass only from his or her own body fat. That's why the hard-to-say "Grand Solo Solar Contest" is better known as Fat Man's Run.

With some people, the will to win inevitably takes over. In a pinch, the drives run at reduced power on muscle and sinew. I have seen a competitor, what was left of him, dragged out of the race by the marshals when his total body mass was down to sixty pounds. He might recover, after a fashion, but he would never race again. He would also never walk, run, or have sex, even in low-gee. When I saw him, skin hung off his spongy skeleton like rags on a frame of twigs. And still he was complaining about being removed from the race.

I became aware that Professor Limperis's eye was on me. He knew I had been distracted by my potential dark horse, and he was quietly waiting.

"I mentioned that finances were tight, Jeanie," he said at last, "but I didn't tell you the worst of it. Mac has another pet project stuck in his head, and there's no way the Institute can afford to do it. I told him that. So he took it on himself to try his hand at fund-raising. He went to Fazool el-Fazool to see if the man could help out."

That was a real shock. McAndrew fund-raising? Money means less to him than it does to a groundhog.

Limperis saw my look of astonishment and misinterpreted it. "You know Fazool?"

"I've never met him. But he's McAndrew's -mother's . . . friend."

"Ah!" Limperis's chubby face lit up. "That explains a lot. I only know Fazool as one of the System's richest people. But if he's McAndrew's mother's—er . . ."


"Right. Her friend. Then it makes sense that Mac would get a hearing. More than that, he received a promise of the money he needs for his new project. But there's a condition."

"That doesn't surprise me. Rich people like to stay rich. Fazool will want a return on his investment."

"It's not that kind of condition. Fazool wants his son, Abdi el-Fazool, along on the expedition. He says it will be a—er—a broadening experience for the lad."

I could agree with that. I've had near-death experiences with McAndrew all too often.

Limperis was watching my face. "You don't like the idea?"

"I don't. How old is Abdi el-Fazool?"


"Then I certainly don't. But if you think that Mac will take any notice of what I—or you—think, you should know better. The man's a human mule. Particularly when one of his pet ideas is at stake."

"Jeanie, he listens to you more than anyone."

This, while true, was hardly relevant. But something else was going on here.

"Professor, I understand that money is tight at the Institute—it's tight everywhere with today's economic conditions. Fazool's money must be a great temptation. But money or no money, won't Mac need the use of Institute equipment to perform his project?"

"Assuredly. What he has in mind would be impossible without it."

"Then if you're so worried about this, why not just say no? Fazool's a powerful man, and I'm sure he has lots of influence. But he can't force the Institute to do whatever he fancies, even with Mac's blessing."

Limperis eyed me thoughtfully. He's as sharp as they come, and normally he's inscrutable. This time, though, I could read what was in his mind. It was, How much can I afford to tell her? 

"It's not quite that simple, Jeanie," he said at last. "McAndrew views his expedition as a research activity, but not everyone sees it that way. Others at the Institute believe that we may be in sight of a new and inexhaustible source of free energy."

"There can't be any such thing," I began, then paused. Others at the Institute. I suspected that I was talking to one of them. "Can there?"

He coughed. "Well, there might be. There just might. And as you can imagine, it's very difficult for the Institute to say no to a project that won't need a penny of our funds and holds out even the remotest chance of unlimited free energy. I'm in a spot, Jeanie."

It was dawning on me. Limperis didn't want me to talk to Mac. We both knew that was a waste of breath. He wanted me directly involved, because he was worried about McAndrew's judgment and possible fate. And, of course, if Limperis was worried he thought I should be doubly so.

As I was. He had me, and he knew it. I was about to be sucked in. Forget my holiday and Fat Man's Run, I must fly out and talk to McAndrew. As I said, some people never learn.


Limperis didn't tell me what McAndrew's infinite energy scheme was all about. Better, he said, that it should come from McAndrew himself. That was his way of ensuring that I would head out to the Penrose Institute as soon as possible to clear up the mystery.

The Institute had settled into one of its rarer research locations, down near the Vulcan Nexus. Although an excellent site for solar observation, it is one of the places in the solar system that I least like to visit. It is perfectly safe—they tell you—but the Sun is only two million kilometers away and occupies half the sky. An unprotected human exposed to the intense flux of radiation will fry and die in ten seconds.

That sort of risk means nothing to a man who has spent a large fraction of his life thirty meters from a kernel, a shielded Kerr-Newman black hole. I found McAndrew staring through a set of specially designed optical filters at the naked solar surface. Prominences a million kilometers long sprang out at him—at least, they sprang out at me.

The greatest theorist since Einstein and the greatest combination of experimenter and theorist since Newton was dressed in dirty long johns. His thinning hair straggled down over his face. He was in his bare feet, and he was sitting cracking his toe joints in a way that I found both infuriating and disgusting.

Was this scraggy unwashed specimen of humanity also my longtime companion and the father of my child, the man to whom I had been faithful (mostly) for over twenty years? Apparently it was. McAndrew is not the only one who needs to have his head examined.

"Jeanie." He greeted me with the vague pleasure of a man reacting to an Institute minion who has brought him an unexpected cup of tea.

"All right, that's enough." I have my limits. "Arthur Morton McAndrew, I traveled four hundred and eighty million kilometers to see you. Either you give me a proper hello, or you're a dead man."

That got through. Mac stood up and enfolded me in an awkward embrace. Twenty years of hard work was paying off. With luck, in twenty more he might start acting close to human.

I plunged right in, because on my trip to the Institute it had occurred to me that young Fazool, rather than McAndrew, might well be Limperis's biggest source of worry. An unsuccessful expedition was one thing. An unsuccessful expedition that killed off a child of the super-rich was quite another. Rich men tend to have powerful friends, and that could hurt the Institute—Limperis's baby.

"Where's the boy?" I asked.

McAndrew frowned at me. "Who?"

I said slowly, "Mac, I am not here to play games. I am referring to Abdi el-Fazool, the son of Fazool el-Fazool. Where is he?"

"Ah. He's not here yet. He's flying in on a private vessel, right behind yours. Be here within the hour."

"And you agreed with his father that you would take him with you?"

"Well, yes. I did do that."

"I assume he doesn't have two seconds of space experience?"

"Actually, you're right. He doesn't."

Mac was being a clam. I might have to wait until we were heading out, when with a more intimate environment I could wheedle anything out of the man. I changed tack.

"This expedition of yours. How many people will be going on it, and what roles will they play?"

"Ah. That's a very good question. There's me and you, of course."

"Me?" I should have known what was coming from the minute that Limperis sat down with me at the dinner table, but now I had absolute proof.

"Sure. I don't know why, but approval for the use of the ship—it's going to be the Hoatzin, because we'll need something with the balanced drive—was conditional upon you coming as well. Didn't Limperis tell you that?"

"He did not."

"I guess he overlooked it."

"I guess he must have." Trying to explain certain aspects of reality to McAndrew is a waste of time. "Who else is going?"

"Well, we don't have much extra capacity, because the Hoatzin has to take along a lot of special equipment including a space pinnace designed to withstand high accelerations. The only other person will be young Abdi."

"That's it? Me, you, and Abdi el-Fazool?"

"That's it."

I felt the worry-knot in my stomach loosen. In many ways McAndrew is like an eleven-year-old himself, and I've dealt with him for long enough. If I couldn't handle two of them, I deserved whatever was coming.

"Can we go along and meet Abdi's ship when it docks? I'd like you to introduce me."

"We can go to where he'll be docking. But I can't introduce you."

"Why not?"

"Because I never met him."

"Mac, he's the son of your mother's friend."

"He is that. The son by another woman, and he lives with her. But we'll go meet him."

"Might you consider dressing first?"

He glanced down at himself, and seemed surprised by what he saw. "Oh, aye. I suppose I could use a bit of a wash and brush up."

"And a shirt, and a pair of trousers. Maybe shoes."

"Right. Give me a couple of minutes."

As he washed and dressed I learned what Mac knew about Abdi. It was not encouraging. The information came from Mac's mother, whose information came from Fazool el-Fazool, who apparently spent almost no time with his son. Chain those together, add distortion or misinterpretation at each link, and our knowledge of Abdi el-Fazool consisted of three items: he was male; he was eleven; and he had recently been expelled, for reasons unknown, from the most expensive school on Earth.


Given McAndrew's reference to a private vessel, I expected that Abdi el-Fazool would arrive aboard some expensive space yacht. However, the ship that floated in to dock at the Institute was a tired-looking charter vessel. The umbilical between the ship and the Institute's airlock established itself, it seemed to me, unusually quickly.

The lock began to open. As it did so a brown-skinned boy, small for eleven years and with short hair and dark-brown eyes, popped through the half-open hatch. He wore a red shirt and short tan pants, and carried a knapsack on his back. Almost before he was inside he was glancing about him, as though taking in everything with one rapid sweep. A crewman followed, more slowly, and fixed a dull eye on McAndrew.

"Arthur Morton McAndrew?"

"That's me."

The crewman nodded and sighed heavily. "Abdi el-Fazool, delivered according to contract. All yours, and welcome to him."

He thrust a yellow sheet into McAndrew's hand, backed away into the umbilical, and had the hatch closing before McAndrew and I had time to speak.

Abdi looked up at Mac. "I could have flown that ship, you know, but he wouldn't let me try. He kept throwing me out of the control room." Then, without a pause, "My father says that you are the greatest scientist in the solar system but he's wrong about a lot of things. And you"—those alert brown eyes turned to me—"you must be Captain Jeanie Roker. You don't look like a spaceship captain. My father says that you're McAndrew's keeper. Is that true?"


"Did you once take a circus troupe out to the prison colony on Titan, and the prisoners and circus performers got all mixed up with each other, and it was a horrible mess? It must have been really neat."

"That's one word for it." I glanced at McAndrew. He had the dropped-jaw half-wit expression that often said he was deep in thought. This time, I didn't think so.

"Abdi," I said, "if you like we can give you a tour of the Institute. We'll show you where you'll be staying until the expedition is ready to leave."

"No need for that. On the way here, I downloaded complete plans of the Institute. To get to my room you go that way." He pointed up and to the left. "Before I go there, though, I want to have a good look round this place."

"If you would like someone to come with you—"

"No. More fun if I find things out for myself. Maybe I'll see you at dinner."

And he was gone.

I glared at McAndrew. No one would call him a man sensitive to nuances, but apparently he read something in my look.

"Jeanie," he said anxiously, "this expedition is going to cost an awful lot of money, and Abdi is the key to getting it. If we don't take him along, his father won't come up with two cents. Fazool isn't much interested in science."

"If you want my opinion, Fazool is much interested in having his son out of the way while they try to find another school that's fool enough to take him."

I was wasting my breath. McAndrew went right on, "But with Fazool's support we can fly the Hoatzin out beyond the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt and the Kernel Ring. Without that support—and that means taking Abdi along—I don't have a prayer."

"I suppose you have a good reason to want to be out beyond the Kernel Ring? It's not a place I'd choose for a vacation."

He stared at me. Finally he decided that I was joking about the vacation part, and said, "Don't you want to know what's out there, Jeanie?"

"Mostly nothing, I thought."

"Aye, mostly nothing. But something strange, too. We seem to have discovered a region that's locally negentropic—a place with negative entropy. That's why we have to go out there, to make sure it's what it seems to be."

I didn't scream, though I rather felt like it. If you want to pick one word in science that makes me uncomfortable, "entropy" will do fine. I have degrees in gravitational engineering and electrical engineering, and I know all the thermodynamic and information theory formulas. But still I don't have a satisfying feel for what entropy means.

The glare that I gave McAndrew would have melted lead. "Correct me if I'm wrong," I said, "but haven't you often told me that the whole of life is negentropic? It builds up from a state of disorder, to one with a high degree of organization and order."

"Quite right."

"So aren't you, and I, and everyone at the Institute, and every living thing, negentropic by definition? We decrease entropy, because we turn disorder into order."

"Aye. We are. But surely you understand how that's possible?" And, at my shake of the head, "Och!"—the strongest trace I could find in him of his Scots ancestry, other than an unyielding obstinacy. "Jeanie, entropy can decrease locally, of course it can. Don't you remember the laws of thermodynamics?"

"I thought I did. Law Number One: energy is conserved. Law Number Two: in any closed system, energy always must proceed from an organized to a less organized form. In other words, entropy, which is a measure of the degree of disorganization of energy, must always increase."

"There! You said it yourself. Just what I was -saying."

"I did? It seems to me I said the exact opposite." As usual in a technical conversation with McAndrew, my head was beginning to spin and I was convinced that I would come out knowing less than when I went in. "Mac, I said that entropy must always increase."

"In a closed system, Jeanie. You said that. In a closed system. You and me, we don't live in a closed system. We get energy from outside—from the Sun, from power kernels, from radioactivity."

"So the Second Law of Thermodynamics is wrong?"

"No!" McAndrew sounded horrified. "The Second Law of Thermodynamics, wrong? Never. It's the most important and best-established law we know. In physics, it's THE LAW. Do you know what Eddington said?"

"No." I had the feeling I was about to find out.

"He said." McAndrew paused, and his eyes went vacant. It's one of life's mysteries that a man who has trouble remembering what he ate for lunch can recall, verbatim, whole pages of text and thousands of formulae that he has not seen for thirty years. "Eddington said: 'The law that entropy always increases—the second law of thermodynamics—holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations—then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation—well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.' " McAndrew came back to life. "Jeanie, the second law of thermodynamics isn't just a law of physics. It's the law."

"So it can't be violated. This place you want to go, out beyond the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt; is it receiving a flux of energy from somewhere outside, the way the rest of the solar system does from the Sun?"


"Is there a power kernel nearby, or radioactive materials?"

"Not a sign of either."

"Then, according to what you yourself just said, it can't be a region of negative entropy. Otherwise the second law of thermodynamics would be violated."

"You might think so."

"But you have some other explanation?"

"Aye. I think I do." His face took on a furtive and secretive expression. I'd seen it many times before, and I wasn't sure how much more I would get out of him today. He didn't like to talk about his ideas when they were "half-cooked," as he put it.

I took the initiative. "This place you want to go. How far away is it?"

"It's local, well within the Sun's gravitational sphere of influence. About a twentieth of a light-year—the Hoatzin will take us there comfortably in sixteen days of shipboard time."

"And there's a source of energy there, right? Energy coming in from nowhere?" I took a jump in the dark based on what Limperis and McAndrew had told me. "It's as though there's a hole in the universe."

"More matter than energy, though of course the two are exactly equivalent. But then, you'd expect—" He stopped and stared at me. "A hole. How did you know that?"

"From Limperis. He's as excited about this as you are." I wasn't making the last part up. You couldn't read Limperis from his facial expressions, but it was a safe bet that he—along with all the Institute -scientists—couldn't wait to send an expedition to learn what was going on.

To guarantee funding for a trip to a hole in the universe, they would agree for Abdi el-Fazool to be taken anywhere, at any time. In fact, if Fazool el-Fazool had made it a funding condition that his son had to be chopped up on arrival and baked in a pie, I would not take bets on the Institute's dinner menu.


During the next few days I concluded that my worries had been excessive. We saw Abdi only at mealtimes, and then it was for the few minutes that it took him to wolf down his food and run.

Also, the preparations for our outward flight proceeded at magical speed. Instruments that we needed were produced within an hour of my request. Equipment tests were done in record time, and ship's supplies seemed to appear almost before we asked for them. In my innocence, I patted myself on the back for my clearly defined and timely requests.

I learned the truth on the day before our scheduled departure. Early that morning, Ulf Wenig and Emma Gowers paid me a visit. Wenig is the master of compressed matter stability, while Emma Gowers is the system's top expert on multiple kernel arrays. More relevant today than their impressive talents was their appearance. Wenig is small and slight, with a luxuriant and well-groomed black mustache. He is rather vain about his looks, and always well turned out. Emma Gowers dresses like a whore, but a high-class whore, with never a hair or a stocking seam out of place.

This morning a rat had apparently been chewing on Wenig's moustache. His face was pale. His eyes, like Emma Gowers's, were bloodshot. She wore thick and patchy makeup, which, together with an ill-matched pink blouse and dark-green striped skirt, was enough to turn her into a clown. I considered, and rejected, the notion that the two had spent the night engaged in some novel and physically demanding form of vice.

"Captain Roker," Wenig said. "We understand that the Hoatzin will depart tomorrow. However, we have heard that the ship is already fully equipped and tested. We are here to make a formal request. We would like you to advance your time of departure, and leave today."

"Dr. Wenig, you know I can't do that. There have to be final inspections."

"We know. The parties responsible for those inspections have all agreed to perform them today."

"But why? What's the rush?"

"Abdi el-Fazool, that's what the rush is."

"Why? What has he done?"

"What has he done?" Wenig's voice rose about two octaves. "You're asking me, what has he done?"

"Steady, Ulf." Emma Gowers took over. "You ought to ask, what hasn't he done. My latest experiment, in which I use a linear array of kernels to reproduce results of classical diffraction: it's ruined, because that little bugger left a dead frog in the middle of the optical bench and nobody knew it was there until too late. It's not just the two of us, Captain Roker. Everybody at the Institute wants him gone. He's been into everything. It's not that we don't like kids—though right now, I'll admit that I hate the guts of anyone who's eleven years old."

"That boy is a Child of Satan!" Seeming to realize that this statement called for justification, Wenig rushed on, "Two years of work, wasted! Because Abdi el-Fazool wondered what would happen if you turned off a compressed-matter field. He's lucky he wasn't killed."

"We are unlucky that he wasn't killed." Emma Gowers ran her hands through her blond curls, adding to her raddled look. "Please, Jeanie, in the name of sanity and for everyone's sake, get that boy out of here."

"I'll see what I can do."

And I would; though it did occur to me that removing Abdi el-Fazool from the Institute would do -nothing for me or McAndrew. We were going to be stuck with him in the confined quarters of the Hoatzin for a sixteen-day outward trip; and, unless we were driven to execute him and dispose of the body, Abdi would also be with us during the sixteen-day return.


I've flown the Hoatzin and the sister ships that use the McAndrew balanced drive so often that they no longer appear strange to me. Others, seeing one of the vessels for the first time, usually do a double-take. Abdi was no exception.

"That thing?" he said. "We're supposed to fly in that? Where are the crew's quarters?"

I could see his point. The object we were drifting toward was nothing like a conventional passenger or cargo ship. From a distance, all you could see was a flat plate like a big solid wheel, with a long axle protruding up from its center.

"Look closely," I said. "See that thing like a little round bubble out near the far end of the axle shaft? That's the living quarters—all the living quarters,"

From the blank look on Abdi's face I realized that I would have to go through the explanation of the way the ship worked. The disk was a hundred meters across, made of compressed matter and stabilized electromagnetically. It was not much more than a meter thick, but with a density of fifteen hundred tons per cubic centimeter the gravitational pull on nearby objects was formidable. A person sitting at the middle of the disk when the ship was at rest would feel a force of more than a hundred gees, enough to flatten any human. However, gravity as a force falls off rapidly with distance. A few hundred meters away, along the axis of the disk, the pull of the disk would be only one gee—a comfortable environment for the crew, sitting in the cramped sphere that constitutes the living quarters.

Now start the drives. The drive units are all situated around the perimeter of the disk, and they accelerate everything in the direction away from the central column. Provided that you slide the sphere of the living quarters along the shaft toward the disk at the appropriate rate as the drive acceleration increases, the total force for anyone sitting within that capsule will remain at one gee. That's true whether the ship is accelerating at two gees, ten gees, or one hundred gees.

The only physics involved is the equivalence principle, which states that a gravitational force cannot be locally distinguished from an acceleration. The idea is simple and even self-evident—provided that you happen to be McAndrew, who designed it. I understood it myself after the second explanation.

I'll say this for Abdi: he was smart beyond his years. He understood the concept the first time around. And he asked a couple of good questions.

"What would happen if the sphere with the living quarters got stuck and you couldn't slide back along the shaft?"

"Been there, done that. You'd have to keep the drive turned on."

"And accelerate forever?"

"Unless you found a way to free the sphere. This isn't just theory, Abdi. It happened on one of the first tests."

"Neat! Wish I'd been there. Hey! What happens if you leave the sphere when the ship's accelerating at a hundred gees?"

"Nothing you would enjoy. If you leave on the side closer to the mass plate, gravity pulls you into it and squeezes you flat. Leave on the side away from the mass plate, and before you know what happened the ship's out of sight and you're alone in empty space. Don't even think of it, Abdi."

"I won't. But then what's that for?"

He was pointing to the little space pinnace, seated at the very end of the long central shaft.

"That's only for use when the drive is off. The pinnace is at a fixed position on the end of the axle. When the drive is at maximum, it feels an acceleration of a hundred gees. Everything in the pinnace is designed to stand that, but you aren't. If you stayed inside it, you'd be killed. Squashed like a bug."

"Squashed like a bug." Abdi repeated the words with relish. "Neat. But can I take a look at it now, while the drive is off?"

I hesitated. I wanted a private chat with McAndrew, but I also didn't care for the idea of Abdi poking around inside the pinnace.

While I was still dithering, McAndrew said gruffly, "All right, then. But I want you back here in half an hour, or I'll be there after you. You look, but you don't touch. Understand?"

"I understand."

That should have been enough, but I remembered what Ulf Wenig and Emma Gowers had told me. I added, "Don't touch the controls or anything else on your visit to the pinnace. Do you hear me? For the time being, it's strictly hands off."

"I hear you. And I heard McAndrew."

"So do what you are told."

"I always do what I'm told." Abdi sounded aggrieved at the very idea he might consider any other course of action. "And I don't do what I'm told not to do."

It wasn't until much later that I realized the full significance of Abdi's reply. But I was still not totally convinced, so as Abdi headed off to the pinnace I turned to McAndrew.

"Are you sure we can trust him?"

"From everything I've heard, we can. The lad likes to be into everything, but if he's told something specific, the way we just did, then he'll follow instructions."

It did cross my mind to wonder why Abdi had been kicked out of his school if he obeyed the rules so well, but a different question was on my mind.

"Mac, you know how small the living quarters are here in the Hoatzin. I don't know much about Abdi, but I can already tell you one thing. He's a hyperactive child if ever there was one. He'll buzz around the living space like a wasp in a bottle. The trip out will take sixteen days. What are you planning to do with him while we're on the way?"

The expression on McAndrew's face told me that he had never given it a moment's thought. To him, a sixteen-day trip was an opportunity to sit, stare at the cabin wall, and indulge in prolonged mental gymnastics. Finally he shrugged and looked at me hopelessly. "Do you think he might be interested in a course in statistical mechanics?"

"Mac, he's eleven, for God's sake. Would you have been interested in a course in statistical mechanics when you were eleven? Oh, never mind, don't bother to answer that. I'll find a way to keep Abdi occupied. But when the time comes, I'll want my reward."

"What reward?"

"Mac, stop being literal-minded." No chance of that. "For starters, you can tell me what secret you've been sitting on since I arrived."

"Secret?" He was all bland innocence. "I don't have a secret."

* * *

But I was sure he did. And once we were heading out he retreated into his private mental world. I might have been at a loss, but something that Abdi had said at our first meeting gave me an idea. It was his ambition—at least until he changed his mind—to be a spaceship captain. He was fifteen years and a lot of hard work away from that, but if he was willing I could give him a running start.

It turned out he was a good student, given that he was so fidgety he had to be hopping about and doing something different every twenty minutes. He was enormously inquisitive, and wanted to know how everything worked. One of the communications units had not been performing up to par when we left the Penrose Institute. With Abdi's assistance, I stripped the unit down to discover the problem. Then there was the job of putting it back together from the thousand bits and pieces scattered around the living quarters.

That was enjoyable, and in a perverse way I welcomed Abdi's company. Of course, given the tight space in the Hoatzin, Mac and I didn't get any chance for personal interaction. That would have been tolerable, too, except that near the end of the outward run Mac had the gall to say to me, "You and your worrying. Hasn't this been the smoothest trip you could ask for?" He rubbed his hands together. "In a couple of hours the drive goes off. And then the fun starts."

At the halfway point the ship had turned and begun the deceleration phase. From the living capsule I had a clear view out along the central shaft to open space beyond. I had looked that way occasionally for the past eight days, and seen nothing. More to the point, I saw nothing now and we were almost there.

"What were you expecting, Jeanie?" McAndrew said, and Abdi, who had also been staring out, turned to watch the two of us.

"Well . . ." A hole in the universe? That was something neither I nor anyone else had ever seen. I vaguely imagined streams of light and particles, jetting out like a great fountain into space. "You said that matter was appearing from nowhere. I thought we would see it."

"It depends what you mean by see it. A hundred million tons appear every hour, but the caesura—the hole in space—is three hundred kilometers across, and naturally it's three-dimensional. Spectroscopic analysis suggests that almost everything coming through is neutral hydrogen, and it disperses rapidly. When you do the arithmetic you find that the region ahead is much less dense than the air we're breathing. I doubt anyone would have picked this up if there hadn't been a refractive effect around the whole region. The images of distant stars change from points to little rings of light." He smiled. "There's something interesting going on, no doubt about it."

"You're not thinking of taking the Hoatzin any closer, are you?" I knew that McAndrew's sense of danger was about as well developed as his dress sense.

"No, no. I expect that the region is safe enough, but we'll park at a distance with the drive off. There's a whole slew of observations that I'm keen to make."

Reassuring? It might have been, except that the space pinnace was hanging out at the end of the central axle.

I persisted. "You brought a pinnace all this way, and you don't plan to go near the region at all?"

"Well, I wouldn't go quite that far. It would be fascinating to see what it's like close up. But I would never do that until I was sure we were safe. It's observations first, today and tomorrow. Then we'll see. Would you like to help set up the instruments?"

He addressed that question to Abdi, who -nodded eagerly. So once the drive went off and we hung motionless in space—I could still see nothing ahead—the two of them headed out to the very end of the axle. A cluster of special instruments had been set in place there before we left the Institute.

For the next peaceful half day I was alone with my thoughts. One result was that by the time they rolled back into the living capsule, tired and hungry, I had decided that McAndrew's explanations to date provided more confusion than clarity.

"I know there's matter coming out from nowhere." I had already eaten, and I watched the other two as they gobbled down everything in sight. "But Mac, that doesn't make any sense to me. Matter must come from somewhere."

He wiped his mouth on his shirt sleeve. "Oh, it does. It's a standard prediction of brane theory."

"Brain theory—the way we think?"

"No, no. B-R-A-N-E. The word's short for membrane, and the result follows from an old extension of superstring theory. Things that lie close together on a multidimensional membrane—separate universes, if you want to think of them that way—can touch. One theory suggests that our whole universe began when two neighboring brane elements collided. We're looking at something much smaller here, just one little region of contact between us and a neighboring universe. Of course, there may be billions or trillions of others like it, scattered around in places too far off for us to see them."

He had finished eating, and now he yawned. "I'll go into detail tomorrow if you like. But it's been a long day, and I want an early start."

"That's all right." I suspected he had gone as far as he could without becoming unintelligible to me. "Get some sleep. You too, Abdi, so we'll all be up bright and early in the morning."

I expected resistance—Abdi hated to go to bed—but for a change he didn't argue. He stood up without a word, and was gone.


He was also gone the next morning, though McAndrew and I didn't realize it at first. I was saying, "If he doesn't get his sleepy head out of his bunk in the next few minutes, he'll miss breakfast," when McAndrew interrupted.

"The pinnace!" He was staring out of the cabin's top window.

"What about the pinnace?"

"It's not there."

"You think it came loose and drifted away?"

"I don't see how it could." He was already struggling into a suit. Before he was half done with that I was over at Abdi's bunk, pulling back the curtain.

"Mac, Abdi's not here! He must have taken the pinnace."

"I don't think so. We told him not to, and he agreed."

I was thinking back. "That's not quite true. We told him that he wasn't to do anything with the pinnace before we left the Institute. We didn't say a word about after we arrived. I think Abdi interprets things in his own way. If you tell him not to do something, he won't. But anything that's not explicitly forbidden, he treats as permitted."

As I spoke I was using the external sensors to scan space in all directions. "Where could he have gone? I see no sign, and the pinnace has a low-thrust drive. It's not designed to take you far away."

"Oh Lord." McAndrew paused with one arm in his suit and leaned his head back against the living capsule wall. "All those questions he asked yesterday. I assumed the little bugger had just a casual interest."

"Mac, stop speaking in riddles and tell me what's going on. Where is Abdi? And what's—"

He held up his hand. "I know where he is. I have to go after him. Before that, you need to understand what we're getting into. It could be dangerous."

"If Abdi is in danger, we can't sit around for explanations."

"The full story can wait, but there are things you absolutely have to know. You see, Jeanie, it's a two-way street. It has to be. If matter can emerge from a neighboring universe into ours, matter from here must be able to go there. I was hoping that the transfer might work for something a lot bigger than individual atoms. That's why I brought the pinnace, in case we had a chance to go next door and learn what it's like."

"And you told all that to Abdi?!"

"I might have. I suppose I did. But I would never have dreamed of trying the transfer until we'd made hundreds of measurements using small probes, and we knew it was safe."

"Were you thinking you might come out somewhere dangerous—near a star, maybe, or a planet?"

"Worse than that, Jeanie. We're seeing what looks like hydrogen atoms coming through, and you might say that's a good sign because it suggests physics there isn't much different from what it is here. But tiny changes in the weak force or the strong force would make any atom quite different in its properties. I'm not sure that life as we know it can exist on the other side."

"You mean Abdi could already be dead?"

"That's what I'm afraid of. Either way, this is my fault. I have to go and find him. We don't have another pinnace, but I doubt that he has gone far. The drive on a suit should be enough."

He was starting forward when I grabbed his arm. "The pinnace has a communications unit. You said that radiation goes between the universes. We can call Abdi, and ask where he is."

"We can. But take a look." He nodded toward the console. "No carrier signal. Either the unit on the pinnace was never turned on, or Abdi switched it off."

I was still gripping his arm. "Mac, why do you imagine Professor Limperis and the others at the Institute wanted me to travel with you?" That earned a blank stare, and I went on, "They trust that I'm cautious, and they know for sure that when you get an idea in your head, caution is the last word anyone would apply to you."

"You said we don't have time for philosophical discussions. Now you're trying to start one."

"Not philosophical. Practical. Mac, you mustn't try universe-hopping alone. Either we both go, or nobody does."

"That's a terrible idea. Abdi and I need a backup. Suppose we both get in trouble?"

"Suppose you do. What am I supposed to do? Sit here at the edge of creation until supplies run out, then turn and head for home? I would have no idea how to act if you disappeared."

He pursed his lips and said nothing.

I continued, "On the other hand, if I went looking for Abdi and you stayed here, you could take action if I was in trouble. You know a thousand times as much as I do about where we are, and what's going on."

"If it were a million times as much it might not be enough. Jeanie, you can't travel alone through the caesura and into the other universe."

"Nor can you. And I'd be no help back here."

And that, after a lot more argument, kind of settled the matter. We would both be going—but not before McAndrew insisted on telling me more than I wished to know about the overall situation.


"It's natural to think about the material that enters our universe, because that's what we see. But the second law of thermodynamics is more complex than that. Let me give you an example, Jeanie."

We were makings preparations to leave the Hoatzin in our suits alone. We could stay away from the ship for up to thirty hours, then it was return or die.

He went on, "Suppose you have a box divided into halves by a solid partition. Nothing can pass through, not even heat. Call the boxes A and B, and imagine that they represent separate universes. On each side of the partition you have matter. Let's say it's a gas. The temperatures are the same in A and B, and so are the pressures. If the gas on each side of the partition is perfectly mixed, that's as disordered as you can get. Entropy is at a maximum on each sides. Now you make a hole in the partition. Is there any observable effect from making that hole?"

I was dying to leave, but if he said I needed to know, I was forced to accept his rambling. I said impatiently, "The gases from both sides mix, but they were at the same temperature and pressure to start with. Things were as random as you could get. You shouldn't notice any difference at all."

"Shouldn't, and wouldn't. But suppose I give you another piece of information. Suppose the gas in box A is different from the gas in box B. Maybe, it's oxygen in A and hydrogen in B. Before the hole was made, the gas on each side had maximum entropy and maximum disorder. I couldn't produce energy from the gas inside either box. But once I make the hole we have a combined system. Hydrogen molecules from B start going into A. If I'm sitting in A, I will notice the change and I can measure it. I will say to myself, 'Aha! Entropy is going down around that hole.' I know, because if I strike a spark the new hydrogen molecules will combine with some of the oxygen molecules, and produce energy.

"But now suppose I'm sitting in B. Oxygen molecules are arriving, so near the hole I can strike a spark and combine them with some of the hydrogen to generate energy. I will reach the same conclusion as I did in A. Entropy in B is decreasing, too."

"Mac, entropy always increases. Isn't that the second law of thermodynamics?" As usual when I talked with McAndrew, I was more confused instead of less. "You have it decreasing in both boxes."

"That's right. It must, since the situation is perfectly symmetrical. But because of the hole connecting them, neither A nor B is now a closed system. The complete system is (A + B), and it's the entropy of that which has to increase. It may not look like it to someone in either box, but the total degree of randomness is going up. Eventually, all the gas will be perfectly mixed."

"We see things from only one box. Is that your point?"

"Part of it. But I want to emphasize the symmetry. We have matter coming in from outside—from another box or another universe. And things can run both ways. If matter comes from there to here, it can just as likely go from here to there."

"Separate atoms and molecules."

"Sure. But maybe more. What we lose must be different from what we gain, or we'd see no entropy change. Maybe bigger things can go the other way. Like the pinnace."

"And Abdi."

"Right. And the problem is, we have no idea how much energy his arrival might trigger in the other universe."

"But we're going to find out."

"I suppose we are. Unless you will let me go alone—"

As I said, when he gets an idea in his head he never gives up. Of course, that doesn't mean you have to let him act on it.


The hole in the universe was invisible, but McAndrew had plotted its boundary and knew exactly where it was. A hundred meters from the edge he halted and said over his suit radio, "Can you hear me?"

"As clear as if you were sitting next to me on board the Hoatzin." Which I wished was the case. I looked back at the ship, less than ten kilometers away. The central shaft and living-quarters were invisible, but the mass plate hung like a silver coin in space.

"We stay close, Jeanie. We move forward together, and make sure we can still see and talk to each other."

We gripped gloved hands. Side by side we drifted toward the caesura, the nothing, the three-dimensional hole in the wall of the universe. I felt nothing, but without warning the darkness around me disappeared. I moved through a shimmer of light, multicolored and constantly changing. No longer in any place that I could recognize, I suspected I was between universes.

The display of my inertial guidance system, designed to track position in three-dimensional space, suddenly went blank. It lit again after a few seconds, but its spatial coordinates had reset to zero values. At the same time, everything around me went dark. My suit radio filled with a roar of static.

"Mac, where are we?" I hoped my voice was calmer than I was.

"We made it through in one piece." His voice was a near-unintelligible thread of sound, but I could hear the satisfaction. "So chances are that Abdi is all right. Hold on, and set your suit to roam. I'm going to try different frequencies."

Nothing happened for about thirty seconds. While I waited I realized that the space surrounding us was not completely dark. A faint, pearly radiance glimmered in from all directions. It was just enough to show the outline of my arm.

"How about that? Better?" McAndrew's voice was much clearer.

"Lots better. I can hear you now. Do you know what's going on?"

"Sure. We've arrived in a universe where the dominant radiation is at radio frequencies, probably generated by discrete sources. I picked the quietest region I could find and tuned us to it. Visible wavelengths seem to come from a general background. If there are stars, they are radio stars."

His words were distinct enough, but there was a curious background echo to them, as though everything was being repeated a fraction of a second later. I turned on my helmet light and directed its beam at McAndrew.

There he was, clear and unmistakable, but faint shadow images of his suit marched away to left and right, above and below, diminishing ghostly arrays that shrank in size until they merged into the pearly background.

"Mac, turn on your helmet light and point it at me."

Not one light appeared, but a whole constellation of them. They blinded me to anything beyond.

I said, "What do you see?"

"Same as you do, I imagine. I'm only guessing, mind, but I'd say this is a spacetime with a totally different structure. It's built of discrete units on a macro scale, at least so far as optical properties are concerned. I want to try an experiment." His hand released its hold on mine. "Stay right where you are, Jeanie."

I certainly wasn't going anywhere. I kept my light focused on McAndrew's suit, and watched uneasily as it receded from me. It was no more than fifty meters away when the structured array of images turned into a bland glow, little brighter than the background.

"Mac, I've lost you. You've disappeared."

Not a word of reply, only the steady hiss of static. The urge to drive my suit toward the direction where I had last seen him was very strong. I fought it, hovering frozen in space. I could hear my pulse, loud in my ears. I counted the beats. Sixty—eighty—a hundred. On the hundred and twelfth beat, a suited figure popped back in sight, accompanied by its retinue of ghostly images.

"I'm seeing you again, Jeanie," Mac said. "And hearing you. Is it two-way?"


"That's reassuring. I was afraid for a minute we might be in a spacetime with asymmetric affine connections, and no metric."

He reassured a lot easier than I did. But perhaps not, because his next words came in a voice more serious than I had ever heard before.

"Here's the problem, Jeanie, and I must admit it's not one I'd ever anticipated. We need to find Abdi and the pinnace, but we seem to be stuck with a distance limit of fifty meters for any form of electromagnetic propagation. If the common region is the same size in the two universes, then we're dealing with a space about three hundred kilometers across. That gives us a finite volume to search, which is good news. The bad news is the length of time it will take us if we're stuck with traverses that are only a hundred meters wide. We'll run out of air and fuel for our suit drives, long before we're done."

"That would only be in the worst case, Mac. Don't we expect Abdi to stay close to the place he came in?" Something had gone dreadfully awry, when I was the optimist and McAndrew the pessimist. "We have to look for him. What else can we do?"

"I don't know. Let me think for a minute."

I didn't like the sound of that. McAndrew's "minute" for thinking could sometimes last for days. But after only a few moments he said, "You've spent more time with Abdi than I have. How smart is he?"

"Very. But Mac, he's just a kid."

"Aye. But children often think clearer than older people. They have fewer falsehoods cluttering up their brains. He's sure to have looked outside the pinnace, and he'll have made no more sense of that than we have. Less, because he doesn't have the physics to let him interpret what he sees. So what does he do, Jeanie, assuming he's bright and he's logical?"

I said slowly, "He knows he can't rely on anything he sees outside the pinnace. So all he can rely on is—"

"—what's inside. He won't learn anything from sensors that record external conditions. But the readouts that tell him his absolute position in inertial space should be working, because they're working in our own suits. And mine reset to count from zero when we transferred here."

"So did mine. I saw it happen. But we've been drifting ever since."

"We have indeed. But we can reverse course and take ourselves back to zero position coordinates. That will place us on the edge of the region. Abdi insisted that he could fly the pinnace. Assume that he's right, and that he's smart. Then he can take himself back to zero coordinates, too. That will be where he entered this region."

"But Mac, we have no idea whereabouts he was on the edge when he did that. It could be a long way from where we came in."

"True enough. But it has to be on the boundary of the three-dimensional space. That changes the problem, replacing a three-dimensional search by a two-dimensional one. All we have to do is set up a systematic procedure to cover the boundary."

I knew he would already be working out a plan to search a spherical shell rather than the whole interior. In fact he apparently had one already, because he was zooming off in what seemed to me like an arbitrary direction. Without arguing, I followed McAndrew and his attendant arrays of ghost images. Every wasted breath decreased Abdi's chances.

"Of course," he said as we flew along through nothing, "our strategy for finding Abdi relies on there being a peak probability with respect to his intelligence."

He would philosophize at the gates of Hell, and I knew from experience that there was no point in trying to stop him.

"If Abdi's not smart enough," he went on, "he'll never think to go back to the origin of his inertial coordinates. On the other hand, if he is super-smart he will head back to and through that origin of coordinates, to take himself right through the transition zone and into the universe from which he came. For all we know, Abdi could be safely back on board the Hoatzin, wondering where we are. Maybe we should have taken a quick look there ourselves, before trying this search. Or maybe we had it right the first time, and only one of us should have come here while the other stayed behind in case Abdi returned."

Or maybe we should never have agreed to take a hyperactive eleven-year-old with us into the unknown.  

Before I could do more than frame that thought, all discussion of alternatives became academic. If time is Nature's way of stopping everything from happening at once, it failed to fulfill its function. The digits on my suit's inertial coordinate readout, which had been ticking steadily toward zero, became an unreadable blur. I felt an acceleration stronger than the suit was designed to provide. McAndrew said, "What the devil," in a tone somewhere between excitement and astonishment; and in that same single moment, the pinnace sprang into view straight ahead. The hatch was open. Before I had time to think of aiming for it, I was through. McAndrew followed, to sprawl beside me on the deck. A split-second later the pinnace itself was darting off at high acceleration in a new direction. Everything around me became a dazzling whirl of rainbow hues.

The colors faded and vanished at the same moment as the acceleration ceased. I was given no time to catch my breath. McAndrew grabbed hold of my arm. I saw Abdi on his other side, also being towed toward the still-open hatch.

Toward, and through.

We were outside the pinnace again. I recognized familiar star patterns, but had no chance to savor them. The Hoatzin was a few hundred meters away, and McAndrew was dragging all three of us single-mindedly toward it.

"Mac!" It was both a question and a protest.

He said one word: "Inside." Then he was pushing us through the Hoatzin's lock, cycling it at maximum speed before we had cleared the opening.

As the lock filled with air I said, "What's the hurry? We're back in our own space, in our own ship. We're safe."

"Aye. Now we are. But look." He reached a gloved hand down to the waist of his suit, grabbed a handful of material, and pulled. The suit—made to withstand a pressure of up to fifty atmospheres, impervious to radiation, and tougher than the most hardened -composites—ripped away to show McAndrew's unzipped tunic and bare belly.

I gripped the left arm of my own suit in my right hand and tugged. Half the sleeve ripped away like wet paper. If that had happened a few minutes earlier, while we floated in vacuum . . .

"Abdi?" I said.

"I'm—I'm—" His teeth were chattering. "I'm . . ."

Either he was trying to tell me that he was alive, which I already knew; or that he was all right, which he certainly wasn't. I stripped off my useless suit and helped him out of his. He was close to catatonic, nothing like the inquisitive and self-confident lad of yesterday.

"When did you realize, Mac?" I gestured at the remnants of my suit, which had disintegrated as I removed it.

"That they would soon be good for nothing?" His own tattered and discarded suit was on the floor and he was at the Hoatzin's control panel. "Soon after we made the transition. My suit's condition monitors suggested it was protecting me, but destroying itself in order to do it. The physical parameters of the neighboring universe may be close to our own, but they're not close enough for long-term survival."

"And you didn't mention that to me?"

"What good would that do? Anyway, who was to say that the readings meant anything over there. I knew that the only way to make a test could be fatal. The only thought in my head was to find Abdi as fast as we could, and then get back here."

"And you did it. Mac, no one should ever suggest again that I'm needed on your expeditions to get you out of trouble. This proves it. I couldn't have saved us. And I still don't understand how you did it."

He had finished work at the controls and the Hoatzin was turning in space, aligning us so that we were set to accelerate back toward Sol. With the rotation completed but the drive still turned off, he swiveled his chair to face me.

"If I thought for a minute I could get away with that line back at the Institute, Jeanie, I might give it a try. But you know me. I'm the System's most incompetent liar. I didn't find Abdi and the pinnace. I didn't bring us out through the transition zone to our own universe. I didn't save us. You saw the way that your own suit accelerated. How did you imagine I could make that happen, when I wasn't even touching you?"

If McAndrew was the System's worst liar, sometimes I think I'm the slowest person in the System to catch on. "If you didn't," I said. "And I certainly didn't. . . ."

I turned to stare at Abdi, who had not moved a millimeter.

McAndrew said, "No. Of course not."

"Then . . ."

"Not me, you, or Abdi. We didn't save ourselves. Somebody knew we were in trouble, and they gave us a hand."

"Then there's life in the other universe? More than life. Intelligence."

"It looks that way." McAndrew initiated the drive. There was no feeling of acceleration, but the living capsule began edging along the axle toward the mass plate. We were on the way home. "I'm wondering if they will believe that there's intelligence in our universe, given the way we blundered in. We have to return there."

He wasn't looking at me, but he must have sensed my instinctive shake of the head. He went on, "We have to, Jeanie. First contact, and already we owe them. We have to go there again—if only to seek a chance to pay them back."


There's something about youth. I don't know quite what it is. I only know I don't have it any more.

On the fifth day of our return journey to Sol, I was watching Abdi dissect a fragment of the helmet of his ruined suit. He had said not a word regarding his experiences in the neighboring universe, and when I asked him about it he told me he didn't remember anything that had happened. He didn't feel that he had nearly been killed, because at eleven the whole concept of mortality is alien. He seemed his old self again.

Or maybe not quite his old self. I saw a caution that had not been there before, a new look-before-you-leap deliberateness in Abdi's actions. And he was making notes, something he had never done. Fazool el-Fazool had said he hoped that a trip with McAndrew would be a broadening experience for his son. Against all the odds, it seemed to have worked out that way.

And McAndrew himself? Well, Abdi may have learned, but Mac certainly hadn't. He couldn't wait to get back to the Institute, where he planned to organize and outfit a new expedition better prepared for the unknowns of the other side.

He didn't want to hear me play the role of Cassandra, telling him how close he had come to being killed, warning him how next time he might not be so lucky. He wanted to talk to Limperis about his ideas, and he spent most of the return trip sitting impatiently at the communications console.

Of course, the general cussedness of Nature guaranteed that when the first faint carrier signal reached us from the Institute, McAndrew would be taking a food break and I would be at the communications console.

"Can you hear me?" I said. "This is the Hoatzin. We are on our way home, and heading straight to the Institute." At our range it was audio only, and I waited patiently through the round-trip signal delay.

"We are receiving you." The operator's voice was weakened and distorted by extreme distance. "Do you need help?"

"No. We've had difficulties, but we're safe now." Then my brain caught up with my mouth. We had not been in touch with the Institute since we left. The communications equipment was in perfect working condition. How did they know we had been in trouble? "What makes you think we might have problems?"

"Well, the flight plan that you filed shows an outward travel time of sixteen days, and a return travel time almost exactly the same. But you've only been gone for twelve days."

McAndrew had come back to stand behind me after the first exchange. He was holding a huge sandwich and his mouth was crammed too full to speak, but while I sat and gawped at the console, he slapped his knee. As soon as could swallow, he spluttered, "I knew it! Or I would have known it when I sat down to make drive settings, if only I'd had the sense to believe the evidence of my own eyes!"

"Mac, in normal speech, please. Not just your idea of normal speech, either—use the sort of language that I can understand."

"In a minute, Jeanie." He leaned over me and said into the console microphone, "Everything here is just fine, and we have results more exciting than you can ever imagine. Contact Professor Limperis. Ask him to organize a conference for senior Institute staff the minute that the Hoatzin docks. And tell everybody that they'll want to be there."

He turned to me, beaming.

"Mac, I thought we didn't have anything—unless you count nearly getting killed."

"Och, that was nothing." He dismissed the near miss with death with a wave of his hand. "We found a new universe, with intelligence in it—friendly intelligence, by the look of it, because they saved us. What more could you ask? But there's more, a whole lot more. Look at that control panel, and tell me what you see."

Since there were about four hundred separate readouts and dials, I saw far more than I could take in. I said, "How about a hint?"

"Start with the chronometer. You can end there, too."

I stared at the instrument. "It's wrong! Days wrong."

"It is. How many days?"

"A bunch. Twenty-one, or twenty-two. Mac, it's reading earlier now than when we arrived at the caesura. I know, because I recorded the time when we turned off the drive. That instrument is supposed to be foolproof. I can't imagine what could make it malfunction the way it has."

"Nor can I. And I think it didn't. When we passed through the caesura, we entered a universe where time runs in the opposite direction from here. At a different rate, too—we felt we were only there for a short while, but we traveled back more than three weeks. The Hoatzin was close the caesura. We know matter passes through . . ."

I turned to look around me. Over at the other side of the living capsule, Abdi was quietly at work on his suit helmet. McAndrew's words disturbed him not at all. And McAndrew was smiling at me, not at all like a madman. Was I the one who was losing it?

"Mac, do you realize what you're suggesting? If you're right, anyone could travel out, just the way we did, and they would have a way to move backward in time."


"But that's impossible. Time travel is impossible. The whole idea leads straight into loads of paradoxes."

"It does seem to." He sat down next to me, and suddenly seemed to notice what he was holding. He lifted the sandwich to his nose and sniffed, as though he had never seen it before. He nodded. "Salami. And paradoxes. Right enough. We'll have to work through those, but that will be part of the fun."

"And causality, Mac? What about causality? It's a law of nature."

"It is. It is indeed."

He nodded thoughtfully, and took a bite. His next words were distorted and barely intelligible.

"Causality is a law of nature, true enough. But Jeanie, that's all it is. A law of nature. It's not like the second law of thermodynamics. It's not The Law."

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