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Starman's Quest
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Starman's Quest



BOOKS BY ROBERT SILVERBERG

Starman's Quest Revolt on Alpha C The Thirteenth Immortal Master of Life and Death The Shrouded Planet (with Randall Garrett) Invaders from Earth



Starman's Quest

by

ROBERT SILVERBERG

GNOME PRESS [Device]

HICKSVILLE, N. Y.



Copyright 1958 by Robert Silverberg

First Edition. All Rights Reserved

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission, except for brief quotations in critical articles and reviews.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 58-8767

MANUFACTURED IN THE U.S.A.

Transcriber's Note:

Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note. Variant spellings have been retained.



Author's Preface

This was my second novel, which I wrote when I was 19, in my junior year at Columbia. I've written better ones since. But readers interested in the archaeology of a writing career will probably find much to explore here.

Robert Silverberg 17 May 2008



FOR BILL EDGERTON

1933-1956



Prologue

The Lexman Spacedrive was only the second most important theoretical accomplishment of the exciting years at the dawn of the Space Age, yet it changed all human history and forever altered the pattern of sociocultural development on Earth.

Yet it was only the second most important discovery.

The Cavour Hyperdrive unquestionably would have held first rank in any historical assessment, had the Cavour Hyperdrive ever reached practical use. The Lexman Spacedrive allows mankind to reach Alpha Centauri, the closest star with habitable planets, in approximately four and a half years. The Cavour Hyperdrive—if it ever really existed—would have brought Alpha C within virtual instantaneous access.

But James Hudson Cavour had been one of those tragic men whose personalities negate the value of their work. A solitary, cantankerous, opinionated individual—a crank, in short—he withdrew from humanity to develop the hyperspace drive, announcing at periodic intervals that he was approaching success.

A final enigmatic bulletin in the year 2570 indicated to some that Cavour had achieved his goal or was on the verge of achieving it; others, less sympathetic, interpreted his last message as a madman's wild boast. It made little difference which interpretation was accepted. James Hudson Cavour was never heard from again.

A hard core of passionate believers insisted that he had developed a faster-than-light drive, that he had succeeded in giving mankind an instantaneous approach to the stars. But they, like Cavour himself, were laughed down, and the stars remained distant.

Distant—but not unreachable. The Lexman Spacedrive saw to that.

Lexman and his associates had developed their ionic drive in 2337, after decades of research. It permitted man to approach, but not to exceed, the theoretical limiting velocity of the universe: the speed of light.

Ships powered by the Lexman Spacedrive could travel at speeds just slightly less than the top velocity of 186,000 miles per second. For the first time, the stars were within man's grasp.

The trip was slow. Even at such fantastic velocities as the Lexman Spacedrive allowed, it took nine years for a ship to reach even the nearest of stars, stop, and return; a distant star such as Bellatrix required a journey lasting two hundred fifteen years each way. But even this was an improvement over the relatively crude spacedrives then in use, which made a journey from Earth to Pluto last for many months and one to the stars almost unthinkable.

The Lexman Spacedrive worked many changes. It gave man the stars. It brought strange creatures to Earth, strange products, strange languages.

But one necessary factor was involved in slower-than-light interstellar travel, one which the Cavour drive would have averted: the Fitzgerald Contraction. Time aboard the great starships that lanced through the void was contracted; the nine-year trip to Alpha Centauri and back seemed to last only six weeks to the men on the ship, thanks to the strange mathematical effects of interstellar travel at high—but not infinite—speeds.

The results were curious, and in some cases tragic. A crew that had aged only six weeks would return to find that Earth had grown nine years older. Customs had changed; new slang words made language unintelligible.

The inevitable development was the rise of a guild of Spacers, men who spent their lives flashing between the suns of the universe and who had little or nothing to do with the planet-bound Earthers left behind. Spacer and Earther, held apart forever by the inexorable mathematics of the Fitzgerald Contraction, came to regard each other with a bitter sort of distaste.

The centuries passed—and the changes worked by the coming of the Lexman Spacedrive became more pronounced. Only a faster-than-light spacedrive could break down the ever-widening gulf between Earther and Spacer—and the faster-than-light drive remained as unattainable a dream as it had been in the days of James Hudson Cavour.

Sociocultural Dynamics Leonid Hallman London, 3876



Chapter One

The sound of the morning alarm rang out, four loud hard clear gong-clangs, and all over the great starship Valhalla the men of the Crew rolled out of their bunks to begin another day. The great ship had travelled silently through the endless night of space while they slept, bringing them closer and closer to the mother world, Earth. The Valhalla was on the return leg of a journey to Alpha Centauri.

But one man aboard the starship had not waited for the morning alarm. For Alan Donnell the day had begun several hours before. Restless, unable to sleep, he had quietly slipped from his cabin in the fore section, where the unmarried Crewmen lived, and had headed forward to the main viewscreen, in order to stare at the green planet growing steadily larger just ahead.

He stood with his arms folded, a tall red-headed figure, long-legged, a little on the thin side. Today was his seventeenth birthday.

Alan adjusted the fine controls on the viewscreen and brought Earth into sharper focus. He tried to pick out the continents on the planet below, struggling to remember his old history lessons. Tutor Henrich would not be proud of him, he thought.

That's South America down there, he decided, after rejecting the notion that it might be Africa. They had pretty much the same shape, and it was so hard to remember what Earth's continents looked like when there were so many other worlds. But that's South America. And so that's North America just above it. The place where I was born.

Then the 0800 alarm went off, the four commanding gongs that Alan always heard as It's! Time! Wake! Up! The starship began to stir into life. As Alan drew out his Tally and prepared to click off the start of a new day, he felt a strong hand firmly grasp his shoulder.

"Morning, son."

Alan turned from the viewscreen. He saw the tall, gaunt figure of his father standing behind him. His father—and the Valhalla's captain.

"Good rising, Captain."

Captain Donnell eyed him curiously. "You've been up a while, Alan. I can tell. Is there something wrong?"

"Just not sleepy, that's all," Alan said.

"You look troubled about something."

"No, Dad—I'm not," he lied. To cover his confusion he turned his attention to the little plastic gadget he held in his hand—the Tally. He punched the stud; the register whirred and came to life.

He watched as the reading changed. The black-on-yellow dials slid forward from Year 16 Day 365 to Year 17 Day 1.

As the numbers dropped into place his father said, "It's your birthday, is it? Let it be a happy one!"

"Thanks, Dad. You know, it'll feel fine to have a birthday on Earth!"

The Captain nodded. "It's always good to come home, even if we'll have to leave again soon. And this will be the first time you've celebrated your birthday on your native world in—three hundred years, Alan."

Grinning, Alan thought, Three hundred? No, not really. Out loud he said, "You know that's not right, Dad. Not three hundred years. Just seventeen." He looked out at the slowly-spinning green globe of Earth.

"When on Earth, do as the Earthers do," the Captain said. "That's an old proverb of that planet out there. The main vault of the computer files says you were born in 3576, unless I forget. And if you ask any Earther what year this is he'll tell you it's 3876. 3576-3876—that's three hundred years, no?" His eyes twinkled.

"Stop playing games with me, Dad." Alan held forth his Tally. "It doesn't matter what the computer files say. Right here it says Year 17 Day 1, and that's what I'm going by. Who cares what year it is on Earth? This is my world!"

"I know, Alan."

Together they moved away from the viewscreen; it was time for breakfast, and the second gongs were sounding. "I'm just teasing, son. But that's the sort of thing you'll be up against if you leave the Starmen's Enclave—the way your brother did."

Alan frowned and his stomach went cold. He wished the unpleasant topic of his brother had not come up. "You think there's any chance Steve will come back, this time down? Will we be in port long enough for him to find us?"

Captain Donnell's face clouded. "We're going to be on Earth for almost a week," he said in a suddenly harsh voice. "That's ample time for Steve to rejoin us, if he cares to. But I don't imagine he'll care to. And I don't know if I want very much to have him back."

He paused outside the handsomely-panelled door of his private cabin, one hand on the thumb-plate that controlled entrance. His lips were set in a tight thin line. "And remember this, Alan," he said. "Steve's not your twin brother any more. You're only seventeen, and he's almost twenty-six. He'll never be your twin again."

With sudden warmth the captain squeezed his son's arm. "Well, better get up there to eat, Alan. This is going to be a busy day for all of us."

He turned and went into the cabin.

Alan moved along the wide corridor of the great ship toward the mess hall in Section C, thinking about his brother. It had been only about six weeks before, when the Valhalla had made its last previous stop on Earth, that Steve had decided to jump ship.

The Valhalla's schedule had called for them to spend two days on Earth and then leave for Alpha Centauri with a load of colonists for Alpha C IV. A starship's time is always scheduled far in advance, with bookings planned sometimes for decades Earthtime by the Galactic Trade Commission.

When blastoff time came for the Valhalla, Steve had not reported back from the Starmen's Enclave where all Spacers lived during in-port stays.

Alan's memories of the scene were still sharp. Captain Donnell had been conducting check-off, making sure all members of the Crew had reported back and were aboard. This was a vital procedure; in case anyone were accidentally left behind, it would mean permanent separation from his friends and family.

He had reached the name Donnell, Steve. No answer came. Captain Donnell called his name a second time, then a third. A tense silence prevailed in the Common Room of the starship, where the Crew was assembled.

Finally Alan made himself break the angry silence. "He's not here, Dad. And he's not coming back," he said in a hesitant voice. And then he had had to explain to his father the whole story of his unruly, aggressive twin brother's plan to jump ship—and how Steve had tried to persuade him to leave the Valhalla too.

Steve had been weary of the endless shuttling from star to star, of forever ferrying colonists from one place to another without ever standing on the solid ground of a planet yourself for more than a few days here, a week there.

Alan had felt tired of it too—they all did, at some time or another—but he did not share his twin's rebellious nature, and he had not gone over the hill with Steve.

Alan remembered his father's hard, grim expression as he had been told the story. Captain Donnell's reaction had been curt, immediate, and thoroughly typical: he had nodded, closed the roll book, and turned to Art Kandin, the Valhalla's First Officer and the Captain's second-in-command.

"Remove Crewman Donnell from the roster," he had snapped. "All other hands are on board. Prepare for blastoff."

Within the hour the flaming jets of the Valhalla's planetary drive had lifted the great ship from Earth. They had left immediately for Alpha Centauri, four and a half light-years away. The round trip had taken the Valhalla just six weeks.

During those six weeks, better than nine years had passed on Earth.

Alan Donnell was seventeen years old.

His twin brother Steve was now twenty-six.

* * * * *

"Happy rising, Alan," called a high, sharp voice as he headed past the blue-painted handholds of Gravity Deck 12 on his way toward the mess hall.

Startled, he glanced up, and then snorted in disgust as he saw who had hailed him. It was Judy Collier, a thin, stringy-haired girl of about fourteen whose family had joined the Crew some five ship-years back. The Colliers were still virtual newcomers to the tight group on the ship—the family units tended to remain solid and self-contained—but they had managed to fit in pretty well by now.

"Going to eat?" she asked.

"Right enough," said Alan, continuing to walk down the plastifoam-lined corridor. She tagged along a step or two behind him.

"Today's your birthday, isn't it?"

"Right enough," Alan said again, more abruptly. He felt a sudden twinge of annoyance; Judy had somehow developed a silly crush on him during the last voyage to Alpha C, and since then she had contrived to follow him around wherever he went, bombarding him with questions. She was a silly adolescent girl, Alan thought scornfully.

"Happy birthday," she said, giggling. "Can I kiss you?"

"No," returned Alan flatly. "You better watch out or I'm going to get Rat after you."

"Oh, I'm not afraid of that little beast," she retorted. "One of these days I'll chuck him down the disposal hatch like the little vermin he—ouch!"

"You watch out who you're calling vermin," said a thin, dry, barely-audible voice from the floor.

Alan glanced down and saw Rat, his pet and companion, squatting near Judy and flicking his beady little red eyes mischievously in the direction of the girl's bare skinny ankle.

"He bit me," Judy complained, gesturing as if she were going to step on the little creature. But Rat nimbly skittered to one side, leaped to the trousers of Alan's uniform, and from there clambered to his usual perch aboard his master's shoulder.

Judy gestured at him in frustration, stamped her foot, and dashed away into the mess hall. Chuckling, Alan followed and found his seat at the bench assigned to Crewmen of his status quotient.

"Thanks, fellow," he said softly to the little being on his shoulder. "That's kid's getting to be pretty annoying."

"I figured as much," Rat said in his chittering birdlike voice. "And I don't like the way she's been looking at me. She's just the kind of individual who would dump me in a disposal hatch."

"Don't worry about it," Alan said. "If she pulls anything of the sort I'll personally see to it that she goes out right after you."

"That does me a lot of good," Rat said glumly as Alan's breakfast came rolling toward him on the plastic conveyor belt from the kitchen.

Alan laughed and reached avidly for the steaming tray of food. He poured a little of his synthorange juice into a tiny pan for Rat, and fell to.

Rat was a native of Bellatrix VII, an Earth-size windswept world that orbited the bright star in the Orion constellation. He was a member of one of the three intelligent races that shared the planet with a small colony of Earthmen.

The Valhalla had made the long trip to Bellatrix, 215 light-years from Earth, shortly before Alan's birth. Captain Donnell had won the friendship of the little creature and had brought him back to the ship when time came for the Valhalla to return to Earth for its next assignment.

Rat had been the Captain's pet, and he had given Alan the small animal on his tenth birthday. Rat had never gotten along well with Steve, and more than once he had been the cause of jealous conflicts between Alan and his twin.

Rat was well named; he looked like nothing so much as a small bluish-purple rodent, with wise, beady little eyes and a scaly curling tail. But he spoke Terran clearly and well, and in every respect he was an intelligent, loyal, and likable creature.

They ate in silence. Alan was halfway through his bowl of protein mix when Art Kandin dropped down onto his bench facing him. The Valhalla's First Officer was a big pudgy-faced man who had the difficult job of translating the concise, sometimes almost cryptic commands of Alan's father into the actions that kept the great starship going.

"Good rising, Alan. And happy birthday."

"Thanks, Art. But how come you're loafing now? Seems to me you'd be busy as a Martian dustdigger today, of all days. Who's setting up the landing orbit, if you're here?"

"Oh, that's all been done," Kandin said lightly. "Your Dad and I were up all last night working out the whole landing procedure." He reached out and took Rat from Alan's shoulder, and began to tickle him with his forefinger. Rat responded with a playful nip of his sharp little teeth. "I'm taking the morning off," Kandin continued. "You can't imagine how nice it's going to be to sit around doing nothing while everyone else is working, for a change."

"What's the landing hour?"

"Precisely 1753 tonight. It's all been worked out. We actually are in the landing orbit now, though the ship's gimbals keep you from feeling it. We'll touch down tonight and move into the Enclave tomorrow." Kandin eyed Alan with sudden suspicion. "You're planning to stay in the Enclave, aren't you?"

Alan put down his fork with a sharp tinny clang and stared levelly at the First Officer. "That's a direct crack. You're referring to my brother, aren't you?"

"Who wouldn't be?" Kandin asked quietly. "The captain's son jumping ship? You don't know how your father suffered when Steve went over the hill. He kept it all hidden and just didn't say a thing, but I know it hit him hard. The whole affair was a direct reflection on his authority as a parent, of course, and that's why he was so upset. He's a man who isn't used to being crossed."

"I know. He's been on top here so long, with everyone following his orders, that he can't understand how someone could disobey and jump ship—especially his own son."

"I hope you don't have any ideas of——"

Alan clipped off Kandin's sentence before it had gotten fully started. "I don't need advice, Art. I know what's right and wrong. Tell me the truth—did Dad send you to sound me out?"

Kandin flushed and looked down. "I'm sorry, Alan. I didn't mean—well——"

They fell silent. Alan returned his attention to his breakfast, while Kandin stared moodily off into the distance.

"You know," the First Officer said finally, "I've been thinking about Steve. It just struck me that you can't call him your twin any more. That's one of the strangest quirks of star travel that's been recorded yet."

"I thought of that. He's twenty-six, I'm seventeen, and yet we used to be twins. But the Fitzgerald Contraction does funny things."

"That's for sure," Kandin said. "Well, time for me to start relaxing." He clapped Alan on the back, disentangled his long legs from the bench, and was gone.

The Fitzgerald Contraction does funny things, Alan repeated to himself, as he methodically chewed his way through the rest of his meal and got on line to bring the dishes to the yawning hopper that would carry them down to the molecular cleansers. Real funny things.

He tried to picture what Steve looked like now, nine years older. He couldn't.

As velocity approaches that of light, time approaches zero.

That was the key to the universe. Time approaches zero. The crew of a spaceship travelling from Earth to Alpha Centauri at a speed close to that of light would hardly notice the passage of time on the journey.

It was, of course, impossible ever actually to reach the speed of light. But the great starships could come close. And the closer they came, the greater the contraction of time aboard ship.

It was all a matter of relativity. Time is relative to the observer.

Thus travel between the stars was possible. Without the Fitzgerald Contraction, the crew of a spaceship would age five years en route to Alpha C, eight to Sirius, ten to Procyon. More than two centuries would elapse in passage to a far-off star like Bellatrix.

Thanks to the contraction effect, Alpha C was three weeks away, Sirius a month and a half. Even Bellatrix was just a few years' journey distant. Of course, when the crew returned to Earth they found things completely changed; years had passed on Earth, and life had moved on.

Now the Valhalla was back on Earth again for a short stay. On Earth, starmen congregated at the Enclaves, the cities-within-cities that grew up at each spaceport. There, starmen mingled in a society of their own, without attempting to enter the confusing world outside.

Sometimes a Spacer broke away. His ship left him behind, and he became an Earther. Steve Donnell had done that.

The Fitzgerald Contraction does funny things. Alan thought of the brother he had last seen just a few weeks ago, young, smiling, his own identical twin—and wondered what the nine extra years had done to him.



Chapter Two

Alan dumped his breakfast dishes into the hopper and walked briskly out of the mess hall. His destination was the Central Control Room, that long and broad chamber that was the nerve-center of the ship's activities just as the Common Recreation Room was the center of off-duty socializing for the Crew.

He found the big board where the assignments for the day were chalked, and searched down the long lists for his own name.

"You're working with me today, Alan," a quiet voice said.

He turned at the sound of the voice and saw the short, wiry figure of Dan Kelleher, the cargo chief. He frowned. "I guess we'll be crating from now till tonight without a stop," he said unhappily.

Kelleher shook his head. "Wrong. There's really not very much work. But it's going to be cold going. All those chunks of dinosaur meat in the preserving hold are going to get packed up. It won't be fun."

Alan agreed.

He scanned the board, looking down the rows for the list of cargo crew. Sure enough, there was his name: Donnell, Alan, chalked in under the big double C. As an Unspecialized Crewman he was shifted from post to post, filling in wherever he was needed.

"I figure it'll take four hours to get the whole batch crated," Kelleher said. "You can take some time off now, if you want to. You'll be working to make up for it soon enough."

"I won't debate the point. Suppose I report to you at 0900?"

"Suits me."

"In case you need me before then, I'll be in my cabin. Just ring me."

Once back in his cabin, a square cubicle in the beehive of single men's rooms in the big ship's fore section, Alan unslung his pack and took out the dog-eared book he knew so well. He riffled through its pages. The Cavour Theory, it said in worn gold letters on the spine. He had read the volume end-to-end at least a hundred times.

"I still can't see why you're so wild on Cavour," Rat grumbled, looking up from his doll-sized sleeping-cradle in the corner of Alan's cabin. "If you ever do manage to solve Cavour's equations you're just going to put yourself and your family right out of business. Hand me my nibbling-stick, like a good fellow."

Alan gave Rat the much-gnawed stick of Jovian oak which the Bellatrician used to keep his tiny teeth sharp.

"You don't understand," Alan said. "If we can solve Cavour's work and develop the hyperdrive, we won't be handicapped by the Fitzgerald Contraction. What difference does it make in the long run if the Valhalla becomes obsolete? We can always convert it to the new drive. The way I see it, if we could only work out the secret of Cavour's hyperspace drive, we'd——"

"I've heard it all before," Rat said, with a note of boredom in his reedy voice. "Why, with hyperspace drive you'd be able to flit all over the galaxy without suffering the time-lag you experience with regular drive. And then you'd accomplish your pet dream of going everywhere and seeing everything. Ah! Look at the eyes light up! Look at the radiant expression! You get starry-eyed every time you start talking about the hyperdrive!"

Alan opened the book to a dog-eared page. "I know it can be done eventually. I'm sure of it. I'm even sure Cavour himself actually succeeded in building a hyperspace vessel."

"Sure," Rat said drily, switching his long tail from side to side. "Sure he built one. That explains his strange disappearance. Went out like a snuffed candle, soon as he turned on his drive. Okay, go ahead and build one—if you can. But don't bother booking passage for me."

"You mean you'd stay behind if I built a hyperspace ship?"

"Sure I would." There was no hesitation in Rat's voice. "I like this particular space-time continuum very much. I don't care at all to wind up seventeen dimensions north of here with no way back."

"You're just an old stick-in-the mud." Alan glanced at his wristchron. It read 0852. "Time for me to get to work. Kelleher and I are packing frozen dinosaur today. Want to come along?"

Rat wiggled the tip of his nose in a negative gesture. "Thanks all the same, but the idea doesn't appeal. It's nice and warm here. Run along, boy; I'm sleepy." He curled up in his cradle, wrapped his tail firmly around his body, and closed his eyes.

* * * * *

There was a line waiting at the entrance to the freezer section, and Alan took his place on it. One by one they climbed into the spacesuits which the boy in charge provided, and entered the airlock.

For transporting perishable goods—such as the dinosaur meat brought back from the colony on Alpha C IV to satisfy the heavy demand for that odd-tasting delicacy on Earth—the Valhalla used the most efficient freezing system of all: a compartment which opened out into the vacuum of space. The meat was packed in huge open receptacles which were flooded just before blastoff; before the meat had any chance to spoil, the lock was opened, the air fled into space and the compartment's heat radiated outward. The water froze solid, preserving the meat. It was just as efficient as building elaborate refrigeration coils, and a good deal simpler.

The job now was to hew the frozen meat out of the receptacles and get it packed in manageable crates for shipping. The job was a difficult one. It called for more muscle than brain.

As soon as all members of the cargo crew were in the airlock, Kelleher swung the hatch closed and threw the lever that opened the other door into the freezer section. Photonic relays clicked; the metal door swung lightly out and they headed through it after Kelleher gave the go-ahead.

Alan and the others set grimly about their work, chopping away at the ice. They fell to vigorously. After a while, they started to get somewhere. Alan grappled with a huge leg of meat while two fellow starmen helped him ease it into a crate. Their hammers pounded down as they nailed the crate together, but not a sound could be heard in the airless vault.

After what seemed to be three or four centuries to Alan, but which was actually only two hours, the job was done. Somehow Alan got himself to the recreation room; he sank down gratefully on a webfoam pneumochair.

He snapped on a spool of light music and stretched back, completely exhausted. I don't ever want to see or taste a dinosaur steak again, he thought. Not ever.

He watched the figures of his crewmates dashing through the ship, each going about some last-minute job that had to be handled before the ship touched down. In a way he was glad he had drawn the assignment he had: it was difficult, gruelingly heavy labor, carried out under nasty circumstances—it was never fun to spend any length of time doing manual labor inside a spacesuit, because the sweat-swabbers and the air-conditioners in the suit were generally always one step behind on the job—but at least the work came to a definite end. Once all the meat was packed, the job was done.

The same couldn't be said for the unfortunates who swabbed the floors, scraped out the jets, realigned the drive mechanism, or did any other tidying work. Their jobs were never done; they always suffered from the nagging thought that just a little more work might bring the inspection rating up a decimal or two.

Every starship had to undergo a rigorous inspection whenever it touched down on Earth. The Valhalla probably wouldn't have any difficulties, since it had been gone only nine years Earthtime. But ships making longer voyages often had troubles with the inspectors. Procedure which passed inspection on a ship bound out for Rigel or one of the other far stars might have become a violation in the hundreds of years that would have passed before its return.

Alan wondered if the Valhalla would run into any inspection problems. The schedule called for departure for Procyon in six days, and the ship would as usual be carrying a party of colonists.

The schedule was pretty much of a sacred thing. But Alan had not forgotten his brother Steve. If he only had a few days to get out there and maybe find him——

Well, I'll see, he thought. He relaxed.

But relaxation was brief. A familiar high-pitched voice cut suddenly into his consciousness. Oh, oh, he thought. Here comes trouble.

"How come you've cut jets, spaceman?"

Alan opened one eye and stared balefully at the skinny figure of Judy Collier. "I've finished my job, that's how come. And I've been trying to get a little rest. Any objections?"

She held up her hands and looked around the big recreation room nervously. "Okay, don't shoot. Where's that animal of yours?"

"Rat? Don't worry about him. He's in my cabin, chewing his nibbling-stick. I can assure you it tastes a lot better to him than your bony ankles." Alan yawned deliberately. "Now how about letting me rest?"

She looked wounded. "If you want it that way. I just thought I'd tell you about the doings in the Enclave when we land. There's been a change in the regulations since the last time we were here. But you wouldn't be interested, of course." She started to mince away.

"Hey, wait a minute!" Judy's father was the Valhalla's Chief Signal Officer, and she generally had news from a planet they were landing on a lot quicker than anyone else. "What's this all about?"

"A new quarantine regulation. They passed it two years ago when a ship back from Altair landed and the crew turned out to be loaded with some sort of weird disease. We have to stay isolated even from the other starmen in the Enclave until we've all had medical checkups."

"Do they require every ship landing to go through this?"

"Yep. Nuisance, isn't it? So the word has come from your father that since we can't go round visiting until we've been checked, the Crew's going to have a dance tonight when we touch down."

"A dance?"

"You heard me. He thought it might be a nice idea—just to keep our spirits up until the quarantine's lifted. That nasty Roger Bond has invited me," she added, with a raised eyebrow that was supposed to be sophisticated-looking.

"What's wrong with Roger? I just spent a whole afternoon crating dinosaur meat with him."

"Oh, he's—well—he just doesn't do anything to me."

I'd like to do something to you, Alan thought. Something lingering, with boiling oil in it.

"Did you accept?" he asked, just to be polite.

"Of course not! Not yet, that is. I just thought I might get some more interesting offers, that's all," she said archly.

Oh, I see the game, Alan thought. She's looking for an invitation. He stretched way back and slowly let his eyes droop closed. "I wish you luck," he said.

She gaped at him. "Oh—you're horrible!"

"I know," he admitted coolly. "I'm actually a Neptunian mudworm, completely devoid of emotions. I'm here in disguise to destroy the Earth, and if you reveal my secret I'll eat you alive."

She ignored his sally and shook her head. "But why do I always have to go to dances with Roger Bond?" she asked plaintively. "Oh, well. Never mind," she said, and turned away.

He watched her as she crossed the recreation room floor and stepped through the exit sphincter. She was just a silly girl, of course, but she had pointed up a very real problem of starship life when she asked, "Why do I always have to go to dances with Roger Bond?"

The Valhalla was practically a self-contained universe. The Crew was permanent; no one ever left, unless it was to jump ship the way Steve had—and Steve was the only Crewman in the Valhalla's history to do that. And no one new ever came aboard, except in the case of the infrequent changes of personnel. Judy Collier herself was one of the newest members of the Crew, and her family had come aboard five ship years ago, because a replacement signal officer had been needed.

Otherwise, things remained the same. Two or three dozen families, a few hundred people, living together year in and year out. No wonder Judy Collier always had to go to dances with Roger Bond. The actual range of eligibles was terribly limited.

That was why Steve had gone over the hill. What was it he had said? I feel the walls of the ship holding me in like the bars of a cell. Out there was Earth, population approximately eight billion or so. And up here is the Valhalla, current population precisely 176.

He knew all 176 of them like members of his own family—which they were, in a sense. There was nothing mysterious about anyone, nothing new.

And that was what Steve had wanted: something new. So he had jumped ship. Well, Alan thought, development of a hyperdrive would change the whole setup, if—if——

He hardly found the quarantine to his liking either. The starmen had only a brief stay on Earth, with just the shortest opportunity to go down to the Enclave, mingle with starmen from other ships, see a new face, trade news of the starways. It was almost criminal to deprive them of even a few hours of it.

Well, a dance was the second best thing. But it was a pretty distant second, he thought, as he pushed himself up out of the pneumochair.

He looked across the recreation room. Speak of the devil, he thought. There was Roger Bond now, stretched out and resting too under a radiotherm lamp. Alan walked over to him.

"Heard the sad news, Rog?"

"About the quarantine? Yeah." Roger glanced at his wristchron. "Guess I'd better start getting spruced up for the dance," he said, getting to his feet. He was a short, good-looking, dark-haired boy a year younger than Alan.

"Going with anyone special?"

Roger shook his head. "Who, special? Who, I ask you? I'm going to take skinny Judy Collier, I guess. There's not much choice, is there?"

"No," Alan agreed sadly, "Not much choice at all."

Together they left the recreation room. Alan felt a strange sort of hopeless boredom spreading over him, as if he had entered a gray fog. It worried him.

"See you tonight," Roger said.

"I suppose so," Alan returned dully. He was frowning.



Chapter Three

The Valhalla touched down on Earth at 1753 on the nose, to nobody's very great surprise. Captain Mark Donnell had not missed schedule once in his forty ship years in space, which covered a span of over a thousand years of Earth's history.

Landing procedure was rigidly set. The Crew debarked by family, in order of signing-on; the only exception to the order was Alan. As a member of the Captain's family—the only other member, now—he had to wait till the rest of the ship was cleared. But his turn came eventually.

"Solid ground again, Rat!" They stood on the jet-fused dirt field where the Valhalla had landed. The great golden-hulled starship was reared up on its tail, with its huge landing buttresses flaring out at each side to keep it propped up.

"Solid for you, maybe," Rat said. "But the trip's just as wobbly as ever for me, riding up here on your shoulder."

Captain Donnell's shrill whistle sounded, and he cupped his hands to call out, "The copters are here!"

Alan watched the little squadron of gray jetcopters settle to the ground, rotors slowing, and headed forward along with the rest of the Crew. The copters would take them from the bare landing field of the spaceport to the Enclave, where they would spend the next six days.

The Captain was supervising the loading of the copters. Alan sauntered over to him.

"Where to, son?"

"I'm scheduled to go over in Copter One."

"Uh-uh. I've changed the schedule." Captain Donnell turned away and signalled to the waiting crew members. "Okay, go ahead and fill up Copter One!"

They filed aboard. "Everyone get back," the Captain yelled. A tentative chugg-chuff came from the copter; its rotors went round and it lifted, stood poised for a moment on its jetwash, and shot off northward toward the Starmen's Enclave.

"What's this about a change in schedule, Dad?"

"I want you to ride over with me in the two-man copter. Kandin took your place aboard Copter One. Let's go now," he shouted to the next group. "Start loading up Number Two."

The Crewmen began taking their places aboard the second copter, and soon its pilot signalled through the fore window that he was loaded up. The copter departed. Seeing that he would be leaving the field last, Alan made himself useful by keeping the younger Crew children from wandering.

At last the field was cleared. Only Alan and his father remained, with the little two-man copter and the tall gleaming Valhalla behind them.

"Let's go," the Captain said. They climbed in, Alan strapping himself down in the co-pilot's chair and his father back of the controls.

"I never see much of you these days," the Captain said after they were aloft. "Running the Valhalla seems to take twenty-four hours a day."

"I know how it is," Alan said.

After a while Captain Donnell said, "I see you're still reading that Cavour book." He chuckled. "Still haven't given up the idea of finding the hyperdrive, have you?"

"You know I haven't, Dad. I'm sure Cavour really did work it out, before he disappeared. If we could only discover his notebook, or even a letter or something that could get us back on the trail——"

"It's been thirteen hundred years since Cavour disappeared, Alan. If nothing of his has turned up in all that time, it's not likely ever to show. But I hope you keep at it, anyway." He banked the copter and cut the jets; the rotors took over and gently lowered the craft to the distant landing field.

Alan looked down and out at the heap of buildings becoming visible below. The crazy quilt of outdated, clumsy old buildings that was the local Starmen's Enclave.

He felt a twinge of surprise at his father's words. The Captain had never shown any serious interest in the possibility of faster-than-light travel before. He had always regarded the whole idea as sheer fantasy.

"I don't get it, Dad. Why do you hope I keep at it? If I ever find what I'm looking for, it's going to mean the end of Starman life as you know it. Travel between planets will be instantaneous. There—there won't be this business of making jumps and getting separated from everyone you used to know."

"You're right. I've just begun thinking seriously about this business of hyperdrive. There wouldn't be any Contraction effect. Think of the changes it would mean in Starman society! No more—no more permanent separations if someone decides to leave his ship for a while."

Alan understood what his father meant. Suddenly he saw the reason for Captain Donnell's abrupt growth of interest in the development of a hyperdrive.

It's Steve that's on his mind, Alan thought. If we had had a hyperspace drive and Steve had done what he did, it wouldn't have mattered. He'd still be my age.

Now the Valhalla was about to journey to Procyon. Another twenty years would pass before it got back, and Steve would be almost fifty by then.

That's what's on his mind, Alan thought. He lost Steve forever—but he doesn't want any more Steves to happen. The Contraction took one of his sons away. And now he wants the hyperdrive as much as I do.

Alan glanced at the stiff, erect figure of his father as they clambered out of the copter and headed at a fast clip toward the Administration Building of the Enclave. He wondered just how much pain and anguish his father was keeping hidden back of that brisk, efficient exterior.

I'll get the Cavour drive someday, Alan thought suddenly. And I'll be getting it for him as well as me.

The bizarre buildings of the Enclave loomed up before him. Behind them, just visible in the purplish twilight haze, were the tips of the shining towers of the Earther city outside. Somewhere out there, probably, was Steve.

I'll find him too, Alan thought firmly.

* * * * *

Most of the Valhalla's people had already been assigned rooms in the quarantine section of one of the Enclave buildings when Alan and his father arrived.

The bored-looking desk clerk—a withered-looking oldster who was probably a retired Starman—gave Alan his room number. It turned out to be a small, squarish room furnished with an immense old pneumochair long since deflated, a cot, and a washstand. The wall was a dull green, with gaping cracks in the faded paint, and cut heavily with a penknife into one wall was the inscription, BILL DANSERT SLEPT HERE, June 28 2683 in sturdy block letters.

Alan wondered how many other starmen had occupied the room before and after Bill Dansert. He wondered whether perhaps Bill Dansert himself were still alive somewhere between the stars, twelve centuries after he had left his name in the wall.

He dropped himself into the pneumochair, feeling the soggy squish of the deflated cushion, and loosened the jacket of his uniform.

"It's not luxurious," he told Rat. "But at least it's a room. It's a place to stay."

The medics started coming around that evening, checking to see that none of the newly-arrived starmen had happened to bring back any strange disease that might cause trouble. It was slow work—and the Valhalla people were told that it would take at least until the following morning before the quarantine could be lifted.

"Just a precautionary measure," said the medic apologetically as he entered Alan's room clad in a space helmet. "We really learned our lesson when that shipload from Altair came in bearing a plague."

The medic produced a small camera and focused it on Alan. He pressed a button; a droning sort of hum came from the machine. Alan felt a curious glow of warmth.

"Just a routine check," the medic apologized again. He flipped a lever in the back of the camera. Abruptly the droning stopped and a tape unravelled out of the side of the machine. The medic studied it.

"Any trouble?" Alan asked anxiously.

"Looks okay to me. But you might get that cavity in your upper right wisdom tooth taken care of. Otherwise you seem in good shape."

He rolled up the tape. "Don't you starmen ever get time for a fluorine treatment? Some of you have the worst teeth I've ever seen."

"We haven't had a chance for fluorination yet. Our ship was built before they started fluorinating the water supplies, and somehow we never find time to take the treatment while we're on Earth. But is that all that's wrong with me?"

"All that I can spot just by examining the diagnostic tape. We'll have to wait for the full lab report to come through before I can pass you out of quarantine, of course." Then he noticed Rat perched in the corner. "How about that? I'll have to examine it, too."

"I'm not an it," Rat remarked with icy dignity. "I'm an intelligent extra-terrestrial entity, native of Bellatrix VII. And I'm not carrying any particular diseases that would interest you."

"A talking rat!" The medic was amazed. "Next thing we'll have sentient amebas!" He aimed the camera at Rat. "I suppose I'll have to record you as a member of the crew," he said, as the camera began to hum.

After the medic had gone, Alan tried to freshen up at the washstand, having suddenly recalled that a dance was on tap for this evening.

As he wearily went through the motions of scrubbing his face clean, it occurred to him that he had not even bothered to speak to one of the seven or eight Crew girls he had considered inviting.

He sensed a curious disturbed feeling growing inside him. He felt depressed. Was this, he wondered, what Steve had gone through? The wish to get out of this tin can of a ship and really see the universe?

"Tell me, Rat. If you were me——"

"If I were you I'd get dressed for that dance," Rat said sharply. "If you've got a date, that is."

"That's just the point. I don't have a date. I mean, I didn't bother to make one. I know all those girls so well. Why bother?"

"So you're not going to the dance?"

"Nope."

Rat clambered up the arm of the pneumochair and swivelled his head upward till his glittering little eyes met Alan's. "You're not planning to go over the hill the way Steve did, are you? I can spot the symptoms. You look restless and fidgety the way your brother did."

After a moment of silence Alan shook his head. "No. I couldn't do that, Rat. Steve was the wild kind. I'd never be able just to get up and go, the way he did. But I've got to do something. I know what he meant. He said the walls of the ship were pressing in on him. Holding him back."

With a sudden impatient motion he ripped open the magnesnaps of his regulation shirt and took it off. He felt himself changing, inside. Something was happening to him. Maybe, he thought, he was catching whatever it was Steve had been inflamed by. Maybe he had been lying to himself all along, about being different in makeup from Steve.

"Go tell the Captain I'm not going to the dance," he ordered Rat. "Otherwise he'll wonder where I am. Tell him—tell him I'm too tired, or something. Tell him anything. But don't let him find out how I feel."



Chapter Four

The next morning, Roger Bond told him all about the dance.

"It was the dullest thing you could imagine. Same old people, same dusty old dances. Couple of people asked me where you were, but I didn't tell them anything."

"Good."

They wandered on through the heap of old, ugly buildings that composed the Starmen's Enclave. "It's just as well they think I was sick," Alan said. "I was, anyway. Sick from boredom."

He and Roger sat down carefully on the edge of a crumbling stone bench. They said nothing, just looking around. After a long while Alan broke the uncomfortable silence.

"You know what this place is? It's a ghetto. A self-imposed ghetto. Starmen are scared silly of going out into the Earther cities, so they keep themselves penned up in this filthy place instead."

"This place is really old. I wonder how far back those run-down buildings date."

"Thousand years, maybe more. No one ever bothers to build new ones. What for? The starmen don't mind living in the old ones."

"I almost wish the medical clearance hadn't come through after all," said Roger moodily.

"How so?"

"Then we'd be still quarantined up there. We wouldn't be able to come down and get another look at the kind of place this really is."

"I don't know which is worse—to be cooped up in quarantine or to go wandering around a dismal hole like the Enclave." Alan stood up, stretched, and took a deep breath. "Phew! Get a lungful of that sweet, fresh, allegedly pure Terran air! I'll take ship atmosphere, stale as it is, any time over this smoggy soup."

"I'll go along with that. Say, look—a strange face!"

Alan turned and saw a young starman of about his own age coming toward them. He wore a red uniform with gray trim instead of the orange-and-blue of the Valhalla.

"Welcome, newcomers. I suppose you're from that ship that just put down? The Valhalla?"

"Right. Name's Alan Donnell, and this is Roger Bond. Yours?"

"I'm Kevin Quantrell." He was short and stocky, heavily tanned, with a square jaw and a confident look about him. "I'm out of the starship Encounter, just back from the Aldebaran system. Been in the Enclave two weeks now—with a lot more ahead of me."

Alan whistled. "Aldebaran! That's—let's see, 109 years round trip. You must be a real old-timer, Quantrell!"

"I was born in 3403. Makes me 473 years old, Earthtime. But I'm actually only seventeen and a half. Right before Aldebaran we made a hop to Capella, and that used up 85 years more in a hurry."

"You've got me by 170 years," Alan said. "But I'm only seventeen myself."

Quantrell grinned cockily. "It's a good thing some guy thought up this Tally system of chalking up every real day you live through. Otherwise we'd be up to here in confusion all the time."

He leaned boredly against the wall of a rickety building which once had proudly borne the chrome-steel casing characteristic of early 27th Century architecture, but whose outer surface was now brown and scaly from rust. "What do you think of our little paradise?" Quantrell asked sarcastically. "Certainly puts the Earther cities to shame."

He pointed out across the river, where the tall, glistening buildings of the adjoining Earther city shone in the morning sunlight.

"Have you ever been out there?" Alan asked.

"No," Quantrell said in a tight voice. "But if this keeps up much longer——" He clenched and unclenched his fists impatiently.

"What's the trouble?"

"It's my ship—the Encounter. We were outspace over a century, you know, and when we got back the inspection teams found so many things wrong with the ship that she needs just about a complete overhauling. They've been working her over for the last two weeks, and the way it looks it'll be another couple of weeks before she's ready to go. And I don't know how much longer I can stand being penned up in this Enclave."

"That's exactly how your brother——" Roger started to say, and stopped. "Sorry."

"That's okay," Alan said.

Quantrell cocked an eye. "What's that?"

"My brother. I had a twin, but he got restless and jumped ship last time we were down. He got left behind at blastoff time."

Quantrell nodded understandingly. "Too bad. But I know what he was up against—and I envy the lucky so-and-so. I wish I had the guts to just walk out like that. Every day that goes by in this place, I say I'm going over the hill next day. But I never do, somehow. I just sit here and wait."

Alan glanced down the quiet sun-warmed street. Here and there a couple of venerable-looking starmen were sitting, swapping stories of their youth—a youth that had been a thousand years before. The Enclave, Alan thought, is a place for old men.

They walked on for a while until the buzzing neon signs of a feelie theater were visible. "I'm going in," Roger said. "This place is starting to depress me. You?"

Alan shot a glance at Quantrell, who made a face and shook his head. "I guess I'll skip it," Alan said. "Not just now."

"Count me out too," Quantrell said.

Roger looked sourly from one to the other, and shrugged. "I think I'll go all the same. I'm in the mood for a good show. See you around, Alan."

After Roger left them, Alan and Quantrell walked on through the Enclave together. Alan wondered whether it wasn't a good idea to have gone to the feelie with Roger after all; the Enclave was starting to depress him, too, and those three-dimensional shows had a way of taking your mind off things.

But he was curious about Quantrell. It wasn't often he had a chance to talk with someone his own age from another ship. "You know," he said, "we starmen lead an empty life. You don't get to realize it until you come to the Enclave."

"I decided that a long time ago," Quantrell said.

Alan spread his hands. "What do we do? We dash back and forth through space, and we huddle here in the Enclave. And we don't like either one or the other, but we fool ourselves into liking them. When we're in space we can't wait to get to the Enclave, and once we're down here we can't wait to get back. Some life."

"Got any suggestions? Some way of fixing things up for us without queering interstellar commerce?"

"Yes," Alan snapped. "I do have a suggestion. Hyperspace drive!"

Quantrell laughed harshly. "Of all the cockeyed——"

"There you are," Alan said angrily. "First thing you do is laugh. A spacewarp drive is just some hairbrained scheme to you. But haven't you ever considered that Earth's scientists won't bother developing such a drive for us if we don't care ourselves? They're just as happy the way things are. They don't have to worry about the Fitzgerald Contraction."

"But there's been steady research on a hyperdrive, hasn't there? Ever since Cavour, I thought."

"On and off. But they don't take it very seriously and they don't get anywhere with it. If they'd really put some men to work they'd find it—and then there wouldn't be any more Enclaves or any Fitzgerald Contraction, and we starmen could live normal lives."

"And your brother—he wouldn't be cut off from his people the way he is——"

"Sure. But you laughed instead of thinking."

Quantrell looked contrite. "Sorry. Guess I didn't put much jet behind my think-machine that time. But a hyperdrive would wipe out the Enclave system, wouldn't it?"

"Of course! We'd be able to come home from space and take a normal part in Earth's life, instead of pulling away and segregating ourselves here."

Alan looked up at the seemingly unreachable towers of the Earther city just across the river from the Enclave. Somewhere out there was Steve. And perhaps somewhere out there was someone he could talk to about the hyperdrive, someone influential who might spur the needed research.

The Earther city seemed to be calling to him. It was a voice that was hard to resist. He savagely jammed down deep inside him the tiny inner voice that was trying to object. He turned, looking backward at the dingy dreary buildings of the Enclave.

He looked then at Quantrell. "You said you've been wanting to break loose. You want to get out of the Enclave, eh, Kevin?"

"Yes," Quantrell said slowly.

Alan felt excitement beginning to pound hard in the pit of his stomach. "How'd you like to go outside there with me? See the Earther city?"

"You mean jump ship?"

The naked words, put just that bluntly, stung. "No," Alan said, thinking of how his father's face had gone stony the time Alan had told him Steve wasn't coming back. "I mean just going out for a day or so—a sort of change of air. It's five days till the Valhalla's due to blast off, and you say the Encounter is stuck here indefinitely. We could just go for a day or so—just to see what it's like out there."

Quantrell was silent a long time.

"Just for a day or so?" he asked, at last. "We'll just go out, and have a look around, just to see what it's like out there." He fell silent again. Alan saw a little trickle of sweat burst out on Quantrell's cheek. He felt strangely calm himself, a little to his own surprise.

Then Quantrell smiled and the confidence returned to his tanned face. "I'm game. Let's go!"

But Rat was quizzical about the whole enterprise when Alan returned to his room to get him.

"You aren't serious, Alan. You really are going over to the Earther city?"

Alan nodded and gestured for the little extra-terrestrial to take his usual perch. "Are you daring to take my word in vain, Rat?" he asked in mock histrionics. "When I say I'm going to do something, I do it." He snapped closed his jacket and flipped the switch controlling the archaic fluorescent panels. "Besides, you can always stay here if you want to, you know."

"Never mind," Rat said. "I'm coming." He leaped up and anchored himself securely on Alan's shoulder.

Kevin Quantrell was waiting for them in front of the building. As Alan emerged Rat said, "One question, Alan."

"Shoot."

"Level, now: are you coming back—or are you going over the way Steve did?"

"You ought to know me better than that. I've got reasons for going out, but they're not Steve's reasons."

"I hope so."

Quantrell came up to them, and it seemed to Alan that there was something unconvincing about his broad grin. He looked nervous. Alan wondered whether he looked the same way.

"All set?" Quantrell asked.

"Set as I'll ever be. Let's go."

Alan looked around to see if anybody he knew might be watching. There was no one around. Quantrell started walking, and Alan fell in behind him.

"I hope you know where you're going," Alan said. "Because I don't."

Kevin pointed down the long winding street. "We go down to the foot of this street, turn right into Carhill Boulevard, head down the main drive toward the bridge. The Earther city is on the other side of the river."

"You better be right."

They made it at a fairly good clip through the sleepy Enclave, passing rapidly through the old, dry, dusty streets. Finally they came to the end of the street and rounded the corner onto Carhill Boulevard.

The first thing Alan saw was the majestic floating curve of the bridge. Then he saw the Earther city, a towering pile of metal and masonry that seemed to be leaping up into the sky ahead of them, completely filling the view.

Alan pointed to the bridge-mouth. "That's where we go across, isn't it?"

But Quantrell hung back. He stopped in his tracks, staring dangle-jawed at the immense city facing them.

"There it is," he said quietly.

"Sure. Let's go, eh?" Alan felt a sudden burst of impatience and started heading toward the approach to the bridge.

But after three or four paces he realized Quantrell was not with him. He turned and saw the other spaceman still rooted to the ground, gazing up at the vast Earther city as if in narcoshock.

"It's big," Quantrell murmured. "Too big."

"Kevin! What's wrong?"

"Leave him alone," Rat whispered. "I have a hunch he won't be going with you."

Alan watched in astonishment as Quantrell took two steps hesitantly backward away from the bridge, then a third. There was a strange, almost thunderstruck expression on Kevin's face.

Then he broke out of it. He shook his head.

"We aren't really going across—huh, Donnell?" He gave a brittle little laugh.

"Of course we are!" Alan looked around nervously, hoping no one from the Valhalla had spotted him in all this time. Puzzled at Quantrell's sudden hesitation after his earlier cockiness, Alan took a couple of shuffling steps toward the bridge, slowly, keeping his eyes on the other starman.

"I can't go with you," Kevin finally managed to say. His face was flushed and strained-looking. He was staring upward at the seemingly topless towers of the city. "It's too big for me." He choked back a half-whimper. "The trouble with me is—the—trouble—with—me—is——" Quantrell lowered his head and met Alan's stare. "I'm afraid, Donnell. Stinking sweaty afraid. The city's too big."

Red-faced, he turned and walked away, back up the street.

Alan silently watched him go.

"Imagine that. Afraid!"

"It's a big place," Rat warned. "Don't you feel the same way? Just a little?"

"I feel perfectly calm," Alan said in utter sincerity. "I know why I'm going over there, and I'm anxious to get moving. I'm not running away, the way Steve was. I'm going to the Earther city to find my brother and to find Cavour's drive, and to bring them both back here!"

"That's a tall order, Alan."

"I'll do it."

Alan reached the approach to the bridge in a few more brisk steps and paused there. The noonday sun turned the long arch of the bridge into a golden ribbon in the sky. A glowing sign indicated the pedestrian walkway. Above that, shining teardrop autos whirred by, leaving faint trails of exhaust. Alan followed the arrows and soon found himself on the bridge, heading for the city.

He glanced back a last time. There was no sign of Kevin. The Starmen's Enclave seemed utterly quiet, almost dead.

Then he turned and kept his gaze forward. The Earther city was waiting for him.



Chapter Five

He reached the end of the walkway and paused, a little stunned, staring at the incredible immensity of the city spread out before him.

"It's a big place," he said. "I've never been in a city this big."

"You were born here," Rat reminded him.

Alan laughed. "But I only stayed here a week or two at most. And that was three hundred years ago. The city's probably twice as big now as it was then. It——"

"Hey, you! Move on!" a harsh voice from behind snapped suddenly.

"What's that?"

Alan whirled and saw a tall, bored-looking man in a silver-gray uniform with gleaming luminescent bands across the sleeves, standing on a raised platform above the road.

"You can't just stand here and block the walkway," the tall man said. His words were heavily accented, thickly guttural; Alan had a little trouble understanding them. The ship's language never changed; that of Earth kept constantly evolving. "Get back in the Enclave where you belong, or get moving, but don't stand here or I'll punch your ticket for you."

Alan took a couple of steps forward. "Just hold on a minute. Who——"

"He's a policeman, Alan," Rat said softly. "Don't make trouble. Do as he says."

Throttling his sudden anger, Alan nodded curtly at the officer and stepped off the walkway. He was an outsider here, and knew he couldn't expect the sort of warm fellowship that existed aboard the ship.

This was a city. A crowded, uncomfortable Earther city. These were the people who were left behind, who never saw the stars in naked glory. They weren't going to be particularly polite.

Alan found himself at an intersection, and wondered where he was to begin. He had some vague idea of finding Steve in this city as easily as he might aboard ship—just check the A Deck roster, then the B Deck, and so on until he found him. But cities weren't quite that neatly organized, Alan realized.

A long broad street ran parallel to the river. It didn't seem very promising: lined with office buildings and warehouses. At right angles to it, though, stretching out in front of him, was a colorful, crowded avenue that appeared to be a major artery of the city. He glanced tentatively in both directions, waited till a lull came in the steady procession of tiny bullet-shaped automobiles flashing by, and hastily jogged across the waterfront street and started down the avenue.

Maybe there was some kind of register of population at the City Hall. If Steve still lived in this city, he could look him up that way. If not——

Facing him were two rows of immense buildings, one on each side of the street. Above every three blocks there was a lacy aerial passageway connecting a building on one side of the street with one on the other, high above the ground. Alan looked up and saw black dots—they looked like ants, but they were people—making their way across the flexi-bridges at dizzying altitudes.

The streets were crowded. Busy stern-faced people raced madly from one place to the next; Alan was accustomed to the more orderly and peaceful life of a starship, and found himself getting jostled by passersby from both directions.

He was surprised to find the streets full of peddlers, weary-looking little men trundling along behind small slow-moving self-powered monocars full of vegetables and other produce. Every few moments one would stop and hawk his wares. As Alan started hesitantly up the endless-seeming street, one of the venders stopped virtually in front of him and looked at him imploringly. He was a small untidy-looking man with a dirty face and a red scar streaking his left cheek.

"Hey, boy." He spoke in a soft slurred voice. "Hey, boy. Got something nice for you here."

Alan looked at him, puzzled. The vender reached into his cart and pulled out a long yellow fruit with a small, thick green stem at one end. "Go on, boy. Treat yourself to some of these. Guild-grown, fresh-ripened, best there are. Half a credit for this one." He held it almost under Alan's nose. "Go on," he said insistently.

Alan fished in his pocket and produced one of the half-credit pieces he had been given in the Enclave commissary. For all he knew it was the custom of this city for a new arrival to buy the first thing offered to him by a vender; in any event, he was hungry, and it seemed that this was the easiest way to get rid of the little man. He held out the coin.

"Here. I'll take it."

The vender handed the piece of fruit over and Alan accepted it. He studied it, wondering what he was supposed to do now. It had a thick, tough rind that didn't seem at all appetizing.

The vender chuckled. "What's the matter, boy? Never seen a banana before? Or ain't you hungry?" The little man's derisive face was thrust up almost against Alan's chin.

He backed away a step or two. "Banana? Oh, sure."

He put the end of the banana in his mouth and was just about to take a bite when a savage burst of laughter cut him off.

"Looka him!" the vender cried. "Stupid spacer don't even know how to eat a banana! Looka! Looka!"

Alan took the fruit out of his mouth unbitten and stared uncomprehendingly at it. He felt uneasy; nothing in his past experience had prepared him for deliberate hostility on the part of other people. Aboard ship, you did your job and went your way; you didn't force your presence on other people or poke fun at them maliciously. It was the only way to live when you had to spend your whole lifetime with the same shipload of men and women.

But the little vender wasn't going away. He seemed very amused by everything. "You—you a spacer, no?" he demanded. By now a small crowd had paused and was watching the scene.

Alan nodded.

"Lemme show you how, spacer," the vender said, mockery topmost in his tone. He snatched the banana back from Alan and ripped back the rind with three rough snaps of his wrist. "Go on. Eat it this way. She tastes better without the peel." He laughed raucously. "Looka the spacer!"

Someone else in the crowd said, "What's he doing in the city anyway? He jump ship?"

"Yeah? Why ain't he in the Enclave like all the rest of them?"

Alan looked from one to the other with a troubled expression on his face. He didn't want to touch off any serious incident, but he was determined not to let these Earthers push him around, either. He ignored the ring of hostile faces about him and calmly bit into the banana. The unfamiliar taste pleased him. Despite hoots and catcalls from the crowd he finished it.

"Now the spacer knows how to eat a banana," the vender commented acidly. "Here, spacer. Have another."

"I don't want another."

"Huh? No good? Earth fruits are too good for you, starman. You better learn that fast."

"Let's get out of here," Rat said quietly.

It was sensible advice. These people were just baiting him like a bunch of hounds ringing a hare. He flexed his shoulder in a signal that meant he agreed with Rat's suggestion.

"Have another banana," the vender repeated obstinately.

Alan looked around at the crowd. "I said I didn't want another banana, and I don't want one. Now get out of my way!"

No one moved. The vender and his monocar blocked the path.

"Get out of my way, I said." Alan balled the slimy banana peel up in his hand and rammed it suddenly into the vender's face. "There. Chew on that a while."

He shouldered his way past the spluttering fruit vender, and before anyone in the crowd could say or do anything he was halfway down the street, walking briskly. He lost himself in the passing stream of pedestrians. It was easy to do, despite the conspicuous orange-and-blue of his Valhalla uniform. There were so many people.

He went on for two unmolested blocks, walking quickly without looking back. Finally he decided he was safe. He glanced up at Rat. The little extra-terrestrial was sitting patiently astride his shoulder, deep, as usual, in some mysterious thoughts of his own.

"Rat?"

"What, Alan?"

"Why'd they do that? Why did those people act that way? I was a perfect stranger. They had no business making trouble for me."

"That's precisely it—you were a complete stranger. They don't love you for it. You're 300 years old and still 17 at the same time. They can't understand that. These people don't like starmen very much. The people in this city aren't ever going to see the stars, Alan. Stars are just faint specks of light that peek through the city haze at night. They're terribly, terribly jealous of you—and this is the way they show it."

"Jealous? But why? If they only knew what a starman's life is like, with the Contraction and all! If they could only see what it is to leave your home and never be able to go back——"

"They can't see it, Alan. All they can see is that you have the stars and they don't. They resent it."

Alan shrugged. "Let them go to space, then, if they don't like it here. No one's stopping them."

They walked on silently for a while. Alan continued to revolve the incident in his mind. He realized he had a lot to learn about people, particularly Earther people. He could handle himself pretty well aboard ship, but down on Earth he was a rank greenhorn and he'd have to step carefully.

He looked gloomily at the maze of streets before him and half-wished he had stayed in the Enclave, where starmen belonged. But somewhere out ahead of him was Steve. And somewhere, too, he might find the answer to the big problem, that of finding the hyperspace drive.

But it was a tall order. And he had no idea where to begin. First thing to do, he thought, is find someone halfway friendly-looking and ask if there's a central directory of citizens. Track down Steve, if possible. Time's running out. The Valhalla pulls out in a couple of days.

There were plenty of passersby—but they all looked like the kind that would keep on moving without answering his question. He stopped.

"Come right in here!" a cold metallic voice rasped, almost back of his ear. Startled, Alan looked leftward and saw a gleaming multiform robot standing in front of what looked like a shop of some sort.

"Come right in here!" the robot repeated, a little less forcefully now that it had caught Alan's attention. "One credit can win you ten; five can get you a hundred. Right in here, friend."

Alan stepped closer and peered inside. Through the dim dark blue window he could vaguely make out long rows of tables, with men seated before each one. From inside came the hard sound of another robot voice, calling off an endless string of numbers.

"Don't just stand there staring, friend," the robot urged. "Go right on through the door."

Alan nudged Rat quizzically. "What is it?"

"I'm a stranger here too. But I'd guess it was some sort of gambling place."

Alan jingled the few coins he had in his pocket. "If we had time I'd like to stop off. But——"

"Go ahead, friend, go ahead," the robot crooned, his metallic tones somehow managing to sound almost human in their urgent pleading. "Go on in. One credit can win you ten. Five can get you a hundred."

"Some other time," Alan said.

"But, friend—one credit can win you——"

"I know."

"—ten," the robot continued, undismayed. "Five can get you a hundred." By this time the robot had edged out into the street, blocking Alan's path.

"Are we going to have trouble with you too? It looks like everybody in this city is trying to sell something."

The robot pointed invitingly toward the door. "Why not try it?" it cooed. "Simplest game ever devised. Everybody wins! Go on in, friend."

Alan frowned impatiently. He was getting angrier and angrier at the robot's unceasing sales pitch. Aboard ship, no one coaxed you to do anything; if it was an assigned job, you did it without arguing, and if you were on free time you were your own master.

"I don't want to play your stupid game!"

The robot's blank stainless vanadium face showed no display of feeling whatsoever. "That's not the right attitude, friend. Everyone plays the game."

Ignoring him, Alan started to walk ahead, but the robot skipped lithely around to block him. "Won't you go in just once?"

"Look," Alan said. "I'm a free citizen and I don't want to be subjected to this sort of stuff. Now get out of my way and leave me alone before I take a can opener to you."

"That's not the right attitude. I'm just asking you as a friend——"

"And I'm answering you as one. Let me go!"

"Calm down," Rat whispered.

"They've got no business putting a machine out here to bother people like this," Alan said hotly. He took a few more steps and the robot plucked at his sleeve.

"Is that a final refusal?" A trace of incredulity crept into the robot's voice. "Everyone plays the game, you know. It's unconsumerlike to refuse. It's uncitylike. It's bad business. It's unrotational. It's——"

Exasperated, Alan pushed the robot out of the way—hard. The metal creature went over surprisingly easily, and thudded to the pavement with a dull clanking sound.

"Are you sure——" the robot began, and then the voice was replaced by the humming sound of an internal clashing of unaligned gears.

"I guess I broke it." Alan looked down at the supine robot. "But it wasn't my fault. It wouldn't let me pass."

"We'd better move on," Rat said. But it was too late. A burly man in a black cloak threw open the door of the gambling parlor and confronted Alan.

"What sort of stuff is this, fellow? What have you done to our servo?"

"That thing wouldn't let me pass. It caught hold of me and tried to drag me inside your place."

"So what? That's what he's for. Robohucksters are perfectly legal." Disbelief stood out on the man's face. "You mean you don't want to go in?"

"That has nothing to do with it. Even if I did want to go in, I wouldn't—not after the way your robot tried to push me."

"Watch out, kid. Don't make trouble. That's unrotational talk. You can get in trouble. Come on inside and have a game or two, and I'll forget the whole thing. I won't even bill you for repairs on my servo."

"Bill me? I ought to sue you for obstructing the streets! And I just got through telling your robot that I didn't plan to waste any time gambling at your place."

The other's lips curled into a half-sneer, half-grin. "Why not?"

"My business," Alan said stubbornly. "Leave me alone." He stalked angrily away, inwardly raging at this Earther city where things like this could happen.

"Don't ever let me catch you around here again!" the parlor man shouted after him. Alan lost himself once again in the crowd, but not before he caught the final words: "You filthy spacer!"

Filthy spacer. Alan winced. Again the blind, unreasoning hatred of the unhappy starmen. The Earthers were jealous of something they certainly wouldn't want if they could experience the suffering involved.

Suddenly, he realized he was very tired.

He had been walking over an hour, and he was not used to it. The Valhalla was a big ship, but you could go from end to end in less than an hour, and very rarely did you stay on your feet under full grav for long as an hour. Working grav was .93 Earth-normal, and that odd .07% made quite a difference. Alan glanced down at his boots, mentally picturing his sagging arches.

He had to find someone who could give him a clue toward Steve. For all he knew, one of the men he had brushed against that day was Steve—a Steve grown older and unrecognizable in what had been, to Alan, a few short weeks.

Around the corner he saw a park—just a tiny patch of greenery, two or three stunted trees and a bench, but it was a genuine park. It looked almost forlorn surrounded by the giant skyscrapers.

There was a man on the bench—the first relaxed-looking man Alan had seen in the city so far. He was about thirty or thirty-five, dressed in a baggy green business suit with tarnished brass studs. His face was pleasantly ugly—nose a little too long, cheeks hollow, chin a bit too apparent. And he was smiling. He looked friendly.

"Excuse me, sir," Alan said, sitting down next to him. "I'm a stranger here. I wonder if you——"

Suddenly a familiar voice shouted, "There he is!"

Alan turned and saw the little fruit vender pointing accusingly at him. Behind him were three men in the silver-gray police uniforms. "That's the man who wouldn't buy from me. He's an unrotationist! Damn Spacer!"

One of the policemen stepped forward—a broad man with a wide slab of a face, red, like raw meat. "This man has placed some serious charges against you. Let's see your work card."

"I'm a starman. I don't have a work card."

"Even worse. We'd better take you down for questioning. You starmen come in here and try to——"

"Just a minute, officer." The warm mellow voice belonged to the smiling man on the bench. "This boy doesn't mean any trouble. I can vouch for him myself."

"And who are you? Let's see your card!"

Still smiling, the man reached into a pocket and drew forth his wallet. He handed a card over to the policeman—and Alan noticed that a blue five-credit note went along with the card.

The policeman made a great show of studying the card and succeeded in pocketing the bill with the same effortless sleight-of-hand that the other had used in handing it over.

"Max Hawkes, eh? That you? Free status?"

The man named Hawkes nodded.

"And this Spacer's a pal of yours?"

"We're very good friends."

"Umm. Okay. I'll leave him in your custody. But see to it that he doesn't get into any more jams."

The policeman turned away, signalling to his companions. The fruit vender stared vindictively at Alan for a moment, but saw he would have no revenge. He, too, left.

Alan was alone with his unknown benefactor.



Chapter Six

"I guess I owe you thanks," Alan said. "If they had hauled me off I'd be in real trouble."

Hawkes nodded. "They're very quick to lock people up when they don't have work cards. But police salaries are notoriously low. A five-credit bill slipped to the right man at the right time can work wonders."

"Five credits, was it? Here——"

Alan started to fumble in his pocket, but Hawkes checked him with a wave of his hand. "Never mind. I'll write it off to profit and loss. What's your name, spacer, and what brings you to York City?"

"I'm Alan Donnell, of the starship Valhalla. I'm an Unspecialized Crewman. I came over from the Enclave to look for my brother."

Hawkes' lean face assumed an expression of deep interest. "He's a starman too?"

"He—was."

"Was?"

"He jumped ship last time we were here. That was nine years ago Earthtime. I'd like to find him, though. Even though he's so much older now."

"How old is he now?"

"Twenty-six. I'm seventeen. We used to be twins, you see. But the Contraction—you understand about the Contraction, don't you?"

Hawkes nodded thoughtfully, eyes half-closed. "Mmm—yes, I follow you. While you made your last space jump he grew old on Earth. And you want to find him and put him back on your ship, is that it?"

"That's right. Or at least talk to him and find out if he's all right where he is. But I don't know where to start looking. This city is so big—and there are so many other cities all over Earth——"

Hawkes shook his head. "You've come to the right one. The Central Directory Matrix is here. You'll be able to find out where he's registered by the code number on his work card. Unless," Hawkes said speculatively, "he doesn't have a work card. Then you're in trouble."

"Isn't everyone supposed to have a work card?"

"I don't," Hawkes said.

"But——"

"You need a work card to hold a job. But to get a job, you have to pass guild exams. And in order to take the exams you have to find a sponsor who's already in the guild. But you have to post bond for your sponsor, too—five thousand credits. And unless you have the work card and have been working, you don't have the five thousand, so you can't post bond and get a work card. See? Round and round."

Alan's head swam. "Is that what they meant when they said I was unrotational?"

"No, that's something else. I'll get to that in a second. But you see the work setup? The guilds are virtually hereditary, even the fruit venders' guild. It's next to impossible for a newcomer to crack into a guild—and it's pretty tough for a man in one guild to move up a notch. You see, Earth's a terribly overcrowded planet—and the only way to avoid cutthroat job competition is to make sure it's tough to get a job. It's rough on a starman trying to bull his way into the system."

"You mean Steve may not have gotten a work card? In that case how will I be able to find him?"

"It's harder," Hawkes said. "But there's also a registry of Free Status men—men without cards. He isn't required to register there, but if he did you'd be able to track him down eventually. If he didn't, I'm afraid you're out of luck. You just can't find a man on Earth if he doesn't want to be found."

"Free Status? Isn't that what the policeman said——"

"I was in?" Hawkes nodded. "Sure, I'm Free Status. Out of choice, though, not necessity. But that doesn't matter much right now. Let's go over to the Central Directory Matrix Building and see if we can find any trail for your brother."

They rose. Alan saw that Hawkes was tall, like himself; he walked with easygoing grace. Questioningly Alan twitched his shoulder-blade in a signal that meant, What do you think of this guy, Rat?

Stick with him, Rat signalled back. He sounds okay.

The streets seemed a great deal less terrifying now that Alan had a companion, someone who knew his way around. He didn't have the feeling that all eyes were on him, any more; he was just one of the crowd. It was good to have Hawkes at his side, even if he didn't fully trust the older man.

"The Directory Building's way across town," Hawkes said. "We can't walk it. Undertube or Overshoot?"

"What?"

"I said, do you want to take the Undertube or the Overshoot? Or doesn't it matter to you what kind of transportation we take?"

Alan shrugged. "One's as good as any other."

Hawkes fished a coin out of his pocket and tossed it up. "Heads for Overshoot," he said, and caught the coin on the back of his left hand. He peered at it. "Heads it is. We take the Overshoot. This way."

They ducked into the lobby of the nearest building and took the elevator to the top floor. Hawkes stopped a man in a blue uniform and said, "Where's the nearest Shoot pickup?"

"Take the North Corridor bridge across to the next building. The pickup's there."

"Right."

Hawkes led the way down the corridor, up a staircase, and through a door. With sudden alarm Alan found himself on one of the bridges linking the skyscrapers. The bridge was no more than a ribbon of plastic with handholds at each side; it swayed gently in the breeze.

"You better not look down," Hawkes said. "It's fifty stories to the bottom."

Alan kept his eyes stiffly forward. There was a good-sized crowd gathered on the top of the adjoining building, and he saw a metal platform of some kind.

A vender came up to them. Alan thought he might be selling tickets, but instead he held forth a tray of soft drinks. Hawkes bought one; Alan started to say he didn't want one when he felt a sharp kick in his ankle, and he hurriedly changed his mind and produced a coin.

When the vender was gone, Hawkes said, "Remind me to explain rotation to you when we get aboard the Shoot. And here it comes now."

Alan turned and saw a silvery torpedo come whistling through the air and settle in the landing-rack of the platform; it looked like a jet-powered vessel of some kind. A line formed, and Hawkes stuffed a ticket into Alan's hand.

"I have a month's supply of them," he explained. "It's cheaper that way."

They found a pair of seats together and strapped themselves in. With a roar and a hiss the Overshoot blasted away from the landing platform, and almost immediately came to rest on another building some distance away.

"We've just travelled about half a mile," Hawkes said. "This ship really moves."

A jet-propelled omnibus that travelled over the roofs of the buildings, Alan thought. Clever. He said, "Isn't there any public surface transportation in the city?"

"Nope. It was all banned about fifty years ago, on account of the congestion. Taxis and everything. You can still use a private car in some parts of the city, of course, but the only people who own them are those who like to impress their neighbors. Most of us take the Undertube or the Overshoot to get around."

The Shoot blasted off from its third stop and picked up passengers at its fourth. Alan glanced up front and saw the pilot peering over an elaborate radar setup.

"Westbound Shoots travel a hundred feet over the roof-tops, eastbound ones two hundred. There hasn't been a major accident in years. But about this rotation—that's part of our new economic plan."

"Which is?"

"Keep the money moving! Saving's discouraged. Spending's the thing now. The guilds are really pushing it. Instead of buying one piece of fruit from a vender, buy two. Spend, spend, spend! It's a little tough on the people in Free Status—we don't offer anything for sale, so we don't benefit much—but we don't amount to one per cent of the population, so who cares about us?"

"You mean it's sort of subversive not to spend money, is that it?" Alan asked.

Hawkes nodded. "You get in trouble if you're too openly penny-pinching. Keep the credits flowing; that's the way to be popular around here."

That had been his original mistake, Alan thought. He saw he had a lot to learn about this strange, unfriendly world if he were going to stay here long. He wondered if anyone had missed him back at the Enclave, yet. Maybe it won't take too long to find Steve, he thought. I should have left a note for Dad explaining I'd be back. But——

"Here we are," Hawkes said, nudging him. The door in the Overshoot's side opened and they got out quickly. They were on another rooftop.

Ten minutes later they stood outside an immense building whose walls were sleek slabs of green pellucite, shining with a radiant inner warmth of their own. The building must have been a hundred stories high, or more. It terminated in a burnished spire.

"This is it," Hawkes said. "The Central Directory Building. We'll try the Standard Matrix first."

A little dizzy, Alan followed without discussing the matter. Hawkes led him through a vast lobby big enough to hide the Valhalla in, past throngs of Earthers, into a huge hall lined on all sides by computer banks.

"Let's take this booth here," Hawkes suggested. They stepped into it; the door clicked shut automatically behind them. There was a row of blank forms in a metal rack against the inside of the door.

Hawkes pulled one out. Alan looked at it. It said, CENTRAL DIRECTORY MATRIX INFORMATION REQUISITION 1067432. STANDARD SERIES.

Hawkes took a pen from the rack. "We have to fill this out. What's your brother's full name?"

"Steve Donnell." He spelled it.

"Year of birth?"

Alan paused. "3576," he said finally.

Hawkes frowned, but wrote it down that way.

"Work card number—well, we don't know that. And they want five or six other numbers too. We'll just have to skip them. Better give me a full physical description as of the last time you saw him."

Alan thought a moment. "He looked pretty much like me. Height 73 inches, weight 172 or so, reddish-blonde hair, and so on."

"Don't you have a gene-record?"

Blankly, Alan said, "A what?"

Hawkes scowled. "I forgot—I keep forgetting you're a spacer. Well, if he's not using his own name any more it may make things really tough. Gene-records make absolute identification possible. But if you don't have one——"

Whistling tunelessly, Hawkes filled out the rest of the form. When it came to REASON FOR APPLICATION, he wrote in, Tracing of missing relative.

"That just about covers it," he said finally. "It's a pretty lame application, but if we're lucky we may find him." He rolled the form up, shoved it into a gray metal tube, and dropped it in a slot in the wall.

"What happens now?" Alan asked.

"Now we wait. The application goes downstairs and the big computer goes to work on it. First thing they'll do is kick aside all the cards of men named Steve Donnell. Then they'll check them all against the physical description I supplied. Soon as they find a man who fits the bill, they'll 'stat his card and send it up here to us. We copy down the televector number and have them trace him down."

"The what number?"

"You'll see," Hawkes said, grinning. "It's a good system. Just wait."

They waited. One minute, two, three.

"I hope I'm not keeping you from something important," Alan said, breaking a long uncomfortable silence. "It's really good of you to take all this time, but I wouldn't want to inconvenience you if——"

"If I didn't want to help you," Hawkes said sharply, "I wouldn't be doing it. I'm Free Status, you know. That means I don't have any boss except me. Max Hawkes, Esquire. It's one of the few compensations I have for the otherwise lousy deal life handed me. So if I choose to waste an hour or two helping you find your brother, don't worry yourself about it."

A bell rang, once, and a gentle red light glowed over the slot. Hawkes reached in and scooped out the container that sat there.

Inside he found a rolled-up slip of paper. He pulled it out and read the message typed on it several times, pursing his lips.

"Well? Did they find him?"

"Read it for yourself," Hawkes said. He pushed the sheet over to Alan.

It said, in crisp capital letters, A SEARCH OF THE FILES REVEALS THAT NO WORK CARD HAS BEEN ISSUED ON EARTH IN THE PAST TEN YEARS TO STEVE DONNELL, MALE, WITH THE REQUIRED PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS.

Alan's face fell. He tossed the slip to the table and said, "Well? What do we do now?"

"Now," Hawkes said, "we go upstairs to the cubbyhole where they keep the Free Status people registered. We go through the same business there. I didn't really expect to find your brother here, but it was worth a look. It's next to impossible for a ship-jumping starman to buy his way into a guild and get a work card."

"Suppose he's not registered with the Free Status people?"

Hawkes smiled patiently. "Then, my dear friend, you go back to your ship with your mission incomplete. If he's not listed upstairs, there's no way on Earth you could possibly find him."



Chapter Seven

The sign over the office door said REGISTRY OF FREE-STATUS LABOR FORCE, and under that ROOM 1104. Hawkes nudged the door open and they went in.

It was not an imposing room. A fat pasty-faced man sat behind a scarred neoplast desk, scribbling his signature on forms that he was taking from an immense stack. The room was lined with records of one sort or another, untidy, poorly assembled. There was dust everywhere.

The man at the desk looked up as they entered and nodded to Hawkes. "Hello, Max. Making an honest man of yourself at last?"

"Not on your life," Hawkes said. "I came up here to do some checking. Alan, this is Hines MacIntosh, Keeper of the Records. Hines, want you to meet a starman friend of mine. Alan Donnell."

"Starman, eh?" MacIntosh's pudgy face went suddenly grave. "Well, boy, I hope you know how to get along on an empty stomach. Free Status life isn't easy."

"No," Alan said. "You don't under——"

Hawkes cut him off. "He's just in the city on leave, Hines. His ship blasts off in a couple of days and he figures to be on it. But he's trying to track down his brother, who jumped ship nine years back."

MacIntosh nodded. "I suppose you drew a blank in the big room downstairs?"

"Yes."

"Not surprising. We get these ship-jumping starmen all the time up here; they never do get work cards, it seems. What's that thing on your shoulder, boy?"

"He's from Bellatrix VII."

"Intelligent?"

"I should say so!" Rat burst in indignantly. "Just because I have a certain superficial physiological resemblance to a particular species of unpleasant Terran rodent——"

MacIntosh chuckled and said, "Ease up! I didn't mean to insult you, friend! But you'll have to apply for a visa if you're going to stay here more than three days."

Alan frowned. "Visa?"

Hawkes cut in: "The boy's going back on his ship, I told you. He won't need a visa, or the alien either."

"Be that as it may," MacIntosh said. "So you're looking for your brother, boy? Give me the specifications, now. Name, date of birth, and all the rest."

"His name is Steve Donnell, sir. Born 3576. He jumped ship in——"

"Born when, did you say?"

"They're spacers," Hawkes pointed out quietly.

MacIntosh shrugged. "Go ahead."

"Jumped ship in 3867—I think. It's so hard to tell what year it is on Earth."

"And physical description?"

"He was my twin," Alan said. "Identical twin."

MacIntosh jotted down the data Alan gave him and transferred it to a punched card. "I don't remember any spacers of that name," he said, "but nine years is a long time. And we get so many starmen coming up here to take out Free Status."

"You do?"

"Oh, fifteen or twenty a year, at least—and that's in this office alone. They're forever getting stranded on leave and losing their ships. Why, there was one boy who was robbed and beaten in the Frisco Enclave and didn't wake up for a week. Naturally he missed his ship, and no other starship would sign him on. He's on Free Status now, of course. Well, let's see about Donnell Steve Male, shall we? You realize the law doesn't require Free Status people to register with us, and so we may not necessarily have any data on him in our computer files?"

"I realize that," Alan said tightly. He wished the chubby records-keeper would stop talking and start looking for Steve's records. It was getting along toward late afternoon now; he had come across from the Enclave around noontime, and certainly it was at least 1600 by now. He was getting hungry—and he knew he would have to start making plans for spending the night somewhere, if he didn't go back to the Enclave.

MacIntosh pulled himself laboriously out of his big webwork cradle and wheezed his way across the room to a computer shoot. He dropped the card in.

"It'll take a few minutes for them to make the search," he said, turning. He looked in both directions and went on, "Care for a drink? Just to pass the time?"

Hawkes grinned. "Good old Hinesy! What's in the inkwell today?"

"Scotch! Bottled in bond, best syntho stuff to come out of Caledonia in the last century!" MacIntosh shuffled back behind his desk and found three dingy glasses in one of the drawers; he set them out and uncorked a dark blue bottle plainly labelled INK.

He poured a shot for Hawkes and then a second shot; as he started to push it toward Alan, the starman shook his head. "Sorry, but I don't drink. Crewmen aren't allowed to have liquor aboard starships. Regulation."

"Oh, but you're off-duty now!"

Alan shook his head a second time; shrugging, MacIntosh took the drink himself and put the unused third glass back in the drawer.

"Here's to Steve Donnell!" he said, lifting his glass high. "May he have had the good sense to register his name up here!"

They drank. Alan watched. Suddenly, the bell clanged and a tube rolled out of the computer shoot.

Alan waited tensely while MacIntosh crossed the room again, drew out the contents of the tube, and scanned them. The fat man's face was broken by a smile.

"You're in luck, starman. Your brother did register with us. Here's the 'stat of his papers."

Alan looked at them. The photostat was titled, APPLICATION FOR ADMISSION TO FREE-STATUS LABOR FORCE, and the form had been filled out in a handwriting Alan recognized immediately as Steve's: bold, untidy, the letters slanting slightly backward.

He had given his name as Steve Donnell, his date of birth as 3576, his chronological age as seventeen. He had listed his former occupation as Starman. The application was dated 4 June 3867, and a stamped notation on the margin declared that Free Status had been granted on 11 June 3867.

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