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Chapter 1

"Set trajectory, sir?" asked Carnaby briskly.

Commodore Grimes regarded his Navigating Officer with something less than enthusiasm. The young man, thin features alert under the sleek, almost white head of blond hair, long fingers poised over the keyboard of the control room computer, was wearing what Grimes always thought of as his eager-and-willing expression. The Commodore turned slowly away, staring out through the viewports at the opalescent sphere that was, that had to be, Kinsolving's Planet, and beyond that world to the far distant ellipsoid of luminosity, pallidly agleam against the blackness, that was the Galactic Lens. There was no hurry, he thought, no need for an immediate decision. He had his ship again and his own people around him, and little else mattered.

"We have to go somewhere," said Sonya sharply.

"Or somewhen," Grimes murmured, more to himself than to her, although he faced her as he spoke. He sighed inwardly as he saw the impatience all too evident in her expression, her wide, full mouth already set in sulky lines. Sonya, he knew all too well, did not like ships, her rank as Commander in the Federation's Survey Service notwithstanding. She regarded them merely as an unfortunately necessary means of transportation from Point A to Point B. There was something of the claustrophobe in her make-up, even though it was well concealed (from everyone but her husband), well controlled. To her the little, artificial planetoids were prisons, to be escaped from as soon as possible . . .

"Mphm," grunted Grimes. Slowly, carefully, he filled and lit his pipe. He realized, as he went through the familiar, soothing motions, that he would have to remind the Catering Officer to make a thorough check of the consumable stores remaining. Faraway Quest, with her hydroponic tanks, her yeast, tissue culture and algae vats, was a closed ecological system, capable of sustaining the lives of her crew almost indefinitely—but luxuries could well be very soon in short supply. For example, there were not any tobacco plants among the assorted flora in her "farm." And was there tobacco growing anywhere in this Universe? And would anybody recognize it if it were found in its natural state? There was no Botanist carried on the Quest's Articles.

"Sir?" It was Carnaby again.

Persistent young bastard! thought Grimes, but without malice. He said slowly, "I suppose we could head back to where The Outsider is, or was, or will be." He chuckled mirthlessly. "After all, we have unfinished business . . ."


The Commodore looked severely at the young officer. Why was he dithering so? He was the navigator, wasn't he? Up to now he had been an exceptionally good one.

"Where is The Outsider, sir?"

Put the Macbeth and Kinsolving suns in line astern, thought Grimes, and keep them so. Run out fifty light years on the leads . . . He thought the words but refrained from saying them aloud. Those steering directions had been valid when Faraway Quest had lifted from Port Forlorn only a few weeks ago—as Time had been measured by her chronometers, experienced by her people. But the Clock had been put back—not by minutes, hours, days or even centuries, but by millennia. Faraway Quest was lost—in Time and Space. Grimes could envisage dimly the sluggish writhings of the matter-and-energy entity that was the Galaxy, the crawling extension of the spiral arms, the births and the deaths of suns and planets. Was there yet Earth, the womb and the cradle of Humanity? Did Man—in this Now—already walk upon the surface of the home world, or were the first mammals still scurrying in terror under the great, taloned feet of the dinosaurs?

"I have the Kinsolving Sun, sir," announced Carnaby.

"If we're correct in the assumption that the world we've just left is Kinsolving," Grimes remarked.

"But I can't identify Macbeth," concluded the navigator.

"We have to go somewhere," insisted Sonya.

Major Dalzell, commanding the Quest's Marines, made his contribution to the discussion. He was a smallish man, with something of the terrier dog in his appearance and manner. Somehow he had found time to change into an immaculate, sharply creased khaki uniform. He said, "We know, sir, that Kinsolving is habitable . . ."

"It's just that we're rather fussy about whom we share it with," drawled Williams. The big Commander, like Grimes and most of the others, was still in his grimy long-Johns, the standard garment for wear under a space-suit. Even so, in the slightly ludicrous attire, with no badges of rank or service, he looked as much a spaceman as the smartly dressed Major looked a soldier.

"There's no need to share, Commander Williams," said Dalzell. "My men are trained land fighters. Too, we have the ship's artillery."

"We have," agreed Hendriks. The burly, bearded, yellow-haired Gunnery Officer was a little too fond of his toys, thought Grimes.

"A world is a world is a world . . ." whispered Sonya thoughtfully.

Grimes said tiredly, but with authority, "Let Druthen and von Donderberg keep their bloody planet. They're welcome to it. After all—we have a ship, and they haven't."

"And a ship," Sonya told him, "is built to go places. Or had you forgotten?"

"But where, Mrs. Grimes?" demanded Carnaby. "But where"

"Mphm." Grimes relit his pipe. He turned to Mayhew, the Psionic Communications Officer. "Can you . . . hear anything. Ken? Anybody?"

The tall, gangling telepath grinned, his knobby features suddenly attractive. "I can pick up the people we left on Kinsolving, even though there's only a handful of 'em. If thoughts could kill, we'd all be dead!"

"And . . . The Outsider?"

"I'm . . . I'm trying, Commodore. But the range, if the thing is still where we last saw it, is extreme. From outside—not a whisper."

"And from inside?" Grimes waved towards the viewport through which the distant, glimmering Lens could be seen.

"A . . . A murmuration . . . There's life there, sir. Intelligent life . . ."

"Our kind of life?"

"I . . . I cannot tell. The . . . emanations are from too far away. They are indistinct."

"But there's something there," stated rather than asked Grimes. "Something or somebody capable of coherent thought. Mphm. Mr. Daniels?"

"Sir?" The Electronic Communications Officer looked up from his transceiver. His dark, slightly pudgy face carried a frustrated expression. "Sir?"

"Any joy, Sparks?"

"Not a squeak, sir. I've tried the N.S.T. set and the Carlotti. Perhaps if I went down and tried again with the main, long range equipment . . ."

"Do that, and let me know if you have any luck."

Meanwhile, the Quest was falling out and away from Kinsolving's Planet. She was going nowhere in particular—but on this trajectory she would come to no harm (Grimes hoped). She was consuming power, however, even though only her inertial drive was operating, and to no purpose.

The Commodore came to a decision. "Mr. Carnaby," he ordered, "set trajectory for Earth. Once there we shall have determined where we are, and we should be able to make at least an intelligent guess as to when. Bring her round now."

"But, sir . . . Earth . . . How shall we find it? We don't have the charts, the tables, and the ship's data banks weren't stocked with such a voyage in mind.

"Even if we hit the right spiral arm we could spend several lifetimes hunting along it . . ."

"We'll find a way," said Grimes, with a confidence that, oddly enough, he was beginning to feel. "We'll find a way. Meanwhile, just line her up roughly for the middle of the Lens!"

He sat back in his acceleration chair, enjoying the sound of the big directional gyroscopes as they were started up—the almost inaudible vibration, the hum, the eventual whine—the pressure that drove his body into the deep padding as centrifugal force became an off-center substitute for gravity. Then, with the Galactic Lens wanly gleaming in the center of the circular viewport overhead that was set in the stem of the ship, the gyroscopes, their work done, fell silent—and instead of their whine there was the thin, high keening of the Mannschenn Drive, whose own rotors were now spinning, precessing, ever tumbling down the dark dimensions, dragging the ship and all aboard her through the warped Continuum. As the temporal precession field built up there was the queasiness of disorientation in Time and in Space and, felt by all the Quest's people, the uncanniness of déjà vu. But, as far as Grimes was concerned, there was neither revelation nor precognition, only a sudden loneliness. Later he was to work out to his own satisfaction the reasons for this, for the almost unbearable intensity of the sensation. He was alone, as he never had been before. In his own proper Time there was the infinitude of Alternate Universes—and, out on the Rim of the expanding Galaxy, the barriers between these Universes were flimsy, insubstantial. In this strange Now into which he, his ship and his people had been thrown by The Outsider there were no Alternate Universes—or, if there were, in none of them was there another Faraway Quest, another Grimes. He was alone, and his ship was alone.

Suddenly sound and color and perspective snapped back to normal. Ahead shimmered the Galactic Lens, iridescent and fantastically convoluted. It was the start of the voyage.

Grimes said cheerfully, "It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive."

"That's what you think," grumbled Sonya.

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