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There is only one inhabited island on the planet Tupelo. It occupies the center position in a thousand-kilometer-long island arc, like Maui in Earth's Hawaiian chain. Like the Hawaiis, the chain on Tupelo was formed as a chunk of ocean crust dragged itself over a deep hot spot, producing volcanoes that ultimately produced islands; like the Hawaiian chain, too, this one is situated close to the planet's equator in the middle of an enormous seaTupelo's even vaster than Earth's Pacific Ocean. The island's soil is fertile. There is plentiful water arising from springs and streams on the central mountainous massif. However, as all the islands are of volcanic origin, they are singularly poor in exploitable mineral ores and completely lacking in fossil fuels. There are three other similar island chains elsewhere in the ocean; they also are mineral-poor. The only rich ore finds are on the planet's one Australia-sized continent, which lies near the planet's north pole.

Extraction of useful ores from the continental deposits, including petroleum, was begun by the nonhuman races before Earth was admitted to the planet. Most of the ores are worked and refined on site. Then the raw materials are fabricated into goods of all kinds by largely automatic factories.



While Evesham Giyt was dressing after his post-siesta shower he turned on Silva Cristl's early-afternoon news broadcast. There wasn't much news that day, only a couple of announcements. The polar rocket was due in at 1950 hours; one family had given up on Tupelo and was heading back to Earth; the Bassingwells had had another baby, their fifth. Giyt listened with a feeling of comfortable lassitude. He and Rina had fallen into the pleasant custom of making love twice a day—at least twice a day; once at bedtime, but also once at the time of the midday siesta, because, as Rina said, "What else is a siesta for?" It certainly made the afternoons nicer. When Rina looked in to announce that she was taking the younger de Mir children to the beach, because Lupe had to go in for a checkup, Giyt surprised himself by volunteering to walk along.

The day was warm and the beach was crowded, not only by Earth humans. A pack of Kalkaboos, as near naked as made no difference, lay soaking up as much sunlight as they could extract from Tupelo's inadequate star. Even the Responsible One of the Petty-Primes was there. He wasn't alone, either. Rina was greeting two of his mates, and at least half a dozen of their little kits were running energetically around and kicking sand in one another's faces. When Rina greeted the little creature, he responded at once, the translator phone in Giyt's ear doing its job as well, and as poorly, as ever. "A misfortune that cannot remain," the Responsible One apologized, throwing his head back to face the giant Earth human. "Second eldest daughter just presently returning from first-ever duty tour at polar complex, must go meet rocket to greet." He waved one tiny arm in the general direction of the landing strip across the lake, and Giyt nodded.

"Yes," he said, awkward with the problem of talking to someone who only came up to his thighs. Giyt wondered if he should kneel, but the Petty-Prime didn't seem to mind. "I'd like to see that myself."

"Can be nothing more simple, you come with ourselves," the Petty-Prime declared hospitably. "Plenty of room on skimmer for even large person,"

And Rina looked up from trying to rub sunscreen on the back of one of the squirming de Mir toddlers. "Yes, Shammy, why don't you do it? You've been stuck in the house too much. Get out and blow some of the stink off."


Giyt had never been in a skimmer before. Even on Earth he had rarely trusted himself in any kind of waterborne craft, and he wondered if he would get seasick in the fast drive across the lake. But the water was calm, the spray cast up by the skimmer's racing progress was pleasing enough on a warm day, and it was a nice change from sitting before his screen. The Responsible One chattered away, pointing out the things of interest along the far lakefront: the crude road that led through the jungle down to the cargo-submarine port; the ancient dam, originally built by the Slugs for hydroelectric power back in the days when only the first two races had come to live on Tupelo. "Entire lake," he piped up, "is due to existence of dam Slugs built, was not here before."

Then they were approaching the rocket's landing pad. There were three or four other skimmers moored to its floating dock, a variety of races sitting in the craft and talking idly among themselves. He was surprised to see that Hoak Hagbarth was among them, which triggered a reminder in his brain: where was the energy-conservation plan Hagbarth had promised to give him for the Kalkaboos?

It was a good chance to remind him, but apparently the chance for that was not going to happen right away. "Must not debark out of skimmer craft yet," the Responsible One cautioned as his children scurried about, tying the skimmer to the dock with cords the thickness of packing twine. "Not given permission. Requirement to wait for rocket to land, thus minimizing risk."

In fact, Giyt could see the suborbiter coming at them, high up to the north. It was no more than a glint of metal and a flickering flare of red flame and white as its thermal shield ablated. They had left their arrival to the last minute; as Giyt watched the craft was visibly settling lower and growing larger. It passed directly over the island, no more than a couple of thousand meters up. Then it reversed course and, dropping rapidly now, touched ground, the flames from its main rockets almost blinding Giyt. When it stopped, it was directly in front of the waiting group at the dock.

Chittering wildly, the Petty-Prime kits started to romp toward the rocket, with only their parents reining them in. A low-slung vehicle Giyt hadn't noticed before began to roll in the same direction, one end of it tilting upward as it moved to form a flight of steps. Almost at once the rocket's doors began to open—first the heat shield, far too hot to be touched; then the inner door. The passengers began to disembark, stepping carefully over the hot metal of the exterior shield.

Then the Petty-Prime kits broke loose. First off the polar rocket was a pair of Petty-Prime females, one of whom hopped agilely down the steps to throw herself into the arms of the Responsible One. Cheeping and squealing, the kits were doing their best to swarm over them both, and not cautiously. A Delt was coming down the steps in a hurry. He tried to dodge around the Petty-Prime family and didn't quite miss them all. One of the kits wound up under the Delt's foot; it squealed shrilly and began to whimper.

The situation quickly developed the makings of a nice little squabble, the Responsible One chirping belligerently up at the unrepentant Delt, others gathering around to take sides. Giyt observed that the infant wasn't really hurt; in fact, it and all its siblings had already taken themselves away from this argument of the grown-ups.

But Hoak Hagbarth wasn't in the group.

It took Giyt a moment to find the man, off under the lee of the rocket, taking something in a woven-fabric satchel from a man who had just disembarked. They didn't linger over it. Hagbarth said a few words; the man nodded and turned away to head toward another skimmer, drawn up on the beach, while Hagbarth returned to his own.

Giyt caught up to Hagbarth just as he was putting the satchel into the skimmer's locket and taking a beer out. He looked up as Giyt approached along the dock. "Evesham," he sighed. "How're you today? Care for a beer?"

Giyt took it for the sake of avoiding a discussion. "How're we coming with that energy-conservation thing for the Kalkaboos?"

Hagbarth showed no sign of remembering what he was talking about, so Giyt patiently went through the whole thing again. Hagbarth listened with only minimal attention, which was annoying. But then the man was always annoying. Giyt controlled his temper. Hagbarth wasn't the first person in authority Giyt had had to get along with—briefly, at least—in his infrequent spells as an employee of some large concern. Experience had taught him patience, even when you knew that to almost any question there would be only two probable responses: either "Don't worry about it" or "Forget it."

This time Hagbarth expanded slightly on the stock reply. "Don't worry about it," he said. "I'll flange something up. Anyway, when you get to the next commission meeting you can tell the Kalks there's a high-powered expert coming from Earth to look into the problem."

"Really? What's he going to do?"

"He's a she, and what she's going to do is study the problem, what did you think? Listen, Evesham, you worry too much. Just take it easy. Have another beer."

Giyt, who hadn't touched the first one, repressed a sigh. "Thanks, no." He looked around at the Petty-Prime Responsible One, still engaged in unfriendly conversation with the Delt who had stepped on his child; evidently he would have to wait for his ride back. To make conversation, he offered: "This is the first time I've been here. Do you always come down to meet the rocket?"

Hagbarth looked at him with a cautious expression. "Not always."

"Just to pick up that package this time, I guess?" He meant nothing by it, but Hagbarth seemed to consider it a significant question. "Oh, that. Well, sure. Sometimes there's a shipment corning down from the Pole that has to be met, that's all. You know how it is. Most of the stuff comes by cargo sub, but there are some goods people are more in a hurry for than others." He sighed and stretched, then looked over Giyt's shoulder. "I promised to give .the damn Delt a ride, but I didn't say I'd wait all day," he complained, then began to grin. "Look at those silly little Petty-Prime buggers; they're nuts, you know that?"

Giyt turned around to look. The Responsible One was still arguing with the Delt, but his kits were playing their childhood games. One' pair had turned itself into an animated wheel—each kit holding the ankles of the other and rolling across the mossy ground. Another pair was standing back to back, trying to flail their arms around to strike each other. "I've seen grown-up Petty-Primes doing that one," Giyt announced. "It seems to be a big sport on the home planet."

Hagbarth gave him a questioning frown. "How do you know what they do on the home planet?" So, of course, Giyt had to tell him how, just for the fun of it, he'd gone to the trouble of figuring out the Petty-Prime protocols so he could listen in on their transmissions.

That seemed to impress Hagbarth. He said, "Huh." Then he reached into the cooler and pulled out two more beers. He popped them both open and handed one to Giyt, without asking whether he wanted it or not.

"You know," he said, "I forgot how good you were at that stuff." Giyt shrugged modestly, but Hagbarth persisted. "I wonder if you could do something important for me."

Giyt got cautious. "What's that?"

"Well, you know how we handle transmissions at the portal? There's six of us, and each one has a switch; if we turn it off, the transmission fails. Only that's a pretty dangerous situation, you know? What I'd like, if you could do it, is to figure out how I can cut the other guys out of the circuit."

Startled: "What the hell for?"

"So as to prevent accidents," Hagbarth explained. "This whole six-switch business doesn't make any sense. They just have it because they're scared, but what could happen? Who would try to sneak anything really bad through the terminal, for God's sake?"

Giyt said cautiously, "Well, you can't blame them for not taking any chances—"

"Sure, but, the way it works out, this 'safety' thing might actually cause an accident, don't you see? Something could go wrong. Hell, something did, once."

He stopped there, but Giyt's curiosity was piqued. He persisted. "What did?"

"It was a while ago," Hagbarth said moodily. "One of the keyholders turned off his key in the middle of a transmission. A bunch of Slugs were coming in and—well, they got lost. You know what happens to somebody like that? They were transmitted. They weren't received. So they're gone forever."

"You mean they're dead?"

"I mean they're at least dead. Maybe something a lot worse. like something I don't even want to think about. Now, we don't want that happening to the energy lady from Earth, do we? Not to mention there's a six-planet meeting coming along,"

"Six-planet meeting?"

"Oh, didn't you know? Twice a year all six of the races get together here on Tupelo to talk things over—it's like your commission, you know? Only these people represent their whole home planet. Now, we wouldn't want anything going wrong with them, would we? We're talking about some of the most important people there are. So if you could manage to dig out those codes for me—"

Giyt thought it over for a moment, then temporized. "I thought you'd have all that stuff. I mean, you must have access to the portal design."

"Must we? We don't," Hagbarth said bitterly. "The goddamn eeties won't tell us how the portal works, and if we try to take it apart to find out for ourselves it'll blow up. I mean, a big blowup. They've probably got the thing booby-trapped with nukes or something."

"I don't understand," Giyt said plaintively. "Wasn't it this man Sommermen who invented the portal, based on what they call this Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen thing? Aren't all those guys human beings?"

Hagbarth shrugged. "I'm just telling you the way it is. So what do you say? Can you figure out those codes for me?"

"Maybe, but you've got me confused. I don't understand what you're telling me about the portal."

"Oh, hell," Hagbarth snarled, losing patience, "what're you asking me about all this stuff for? Maybe I misunderstood—and look, those Petty-Primes look like they're getting ready to go. Don't miss your ride."


Giyt got away without promising anything, but he didn't stop thinking about the portal codes—and most of all, about the portal itself. After dinner he sat down to stare at his terminal.

For starters, he was pretty sure he wasn't going to work out a system for bypassing the other controls for Hoak Hagbarth—not, anyway, until he convinced himself that Hagbarth was smart enough and responsible enough to be trusted with that kind of power. But what about the bigger question Hagbarth had planted in his mind? Was there something that no one was being told about the portal's provenance?

It occurred to him that a good place to look might be in some of the other species' data stores. Anyway, it might be worth a little time spent at the terminal to see if he could find them.

He started with the Petty-Primes, and an hour's hard work later he had to admit he had drawn a blank. However unreliable the damn translation programs were, Giyt was pretty sure he'd converted every possible name for the terminals into the dots and strokes of the Petty-Prime script and all he'd had for his pains was a lot of garbage about the numbers of immigrants and the volume of goods shipped back and forth.

It had seemed like a possible shortcut, but it wasn't working. Giyt sighed and went back to the human data files.

But even the Library of Congress store was less than illuminating. Yes, somehow or other, long ago, Huntsville Inc. had pried a grant from some foundation or other to finance the airy-fairy project of interstellar exploration. Yes, they'd launched a dozen or so miniature ion rockets, one to each of the most promising nearby stars. . . .

But then what? How did they get from the tiny, slow, unmanned probes to the instant transportation of the Sommermen portal?

That was where the story clouded over. Dr. Fitzhugh Sommermen worked for Huntsville, that was definite. He had been conducting researches on the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen simultaneity effect—and doing it very expensively, in low Earth Orbit, paid for by another of Huntsville's free-flowing grants. The reason for his being in orbit the report said, was that it was necessary to avoid interference from Earth's surface gravity. Then somehow—this was when it all got misty and uncertain—he had come back from one session in orbit with the prototype of his portal device in his lander.

The rest of the story, for security reasons, was classified secret. But what "security reasons"? Military? But military security implied an enemy, and what enemy was involved here?

The questions were not getting answered, they were proliferating.

The obvious next place to look was in the Tupelo files of the Extended Earth Society, but when Giyt accessed them he was no farther along. Maybe there was something there, but every interesting file turned out to be secured. A password was needed.

That was neither a surprise nor a problem; not for Evesham Giyt, who had a hundred ways of getting past such obstacles. The first was to check every terminal on the island that might have access to the protected system to see if someone might have been stupid enough to leave his password in its default setting—its extension number, his name, something like that. He wasn't surprised when that didn't work; even Wili Tschopp wasn't quite that dumb. Another way of gaining entry was to select a terminal that was privy to the closed file and flood it with extraneous messages. That was how Giyt had financed his college education, going through the university president's terminal to enter the financial files; they would normally have questioned his status, but with the president's terminal bogged down it could not give the reply that would have denied Giyt access.

On Earth that no longer worked; net users had become a good deal more sophisticated since Giyt's college days. But here on Tupelo—

It took less than five minutes for Giyt to get into the closed files. But when he was there he was still nowhere.

The trouble was that even the secured files were still unreadable for him. He found plenty of entries that concerned the portal or the Sommermen terminal or any of the other variations he could think of on the term, but, just as with the Petty-Primes, they dealt only with what particular shipments had arrived or departed on particular days. And even those were enciphered.

What did it mean, for instance, when an entry read: "President TARBABY stocks: 1533 JUNIORS, 114 GRABBAGS,. 11 SUPERS"? Or "Need 16 gross additional HAIRNETS"? Not to mention the wholly incomprehensible transmissions like "GREEKS 53 FLYSWATTERS, COPTS 2600-plus RUTABAGAS all sizes, others not identified."

Giyt blanked the screen and sat back. He could, of course, ask Hagbarth what all this stuff meant, but that would mean telling Hagbarth he'd snooped into the files . . . and, anyway, the mere fact that it was all encoded meant that it probably was something Hagbarth wouldn't want to talk about.

Giyt hated to admit defeat, even when only curiosity was involved. He knew that if he were on Earth he could probably get into the master system there. But he wasn't. Here on Tupelo there was no continuous contact with Earth, only the burst transmissions that went to and from Earth when the EPR portal was open. He had no firsthand knowledge of that stuff, since neither he nor Rina, of course, had any reason to communicate with anyone back on Earth.

But as it turned out, about that he was wrong.



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