"Well, there could be. If they were lucky enough to find such a fuel supply in one of the wrecks in the Graveyard, they wouldn't be suspicious. Naturally, we won't put one there."
"But you're wrong, my dear Ramar Chind. You'll load the hopper of one of those wrecks with enough U-235 for their purposes, and you'll do it today."
"We're going to follow them, Chind. You and I. We want them to escape. If they don't escape, how can we follow them?"
Ramar Chind shrugged resignedly and lisped: "How much fuel will they need for their purposes, sir, whatever their purposes are?" Naturally, his lisping sounded perfectly normal to Garr Symm, who also spoke in the sibilantless Irwadi manner.
"You'd really like to know, wouldn't you?" Garr Symm said.
"Yes, sir. To put me in a position in which I could better do my--"
"To satisfy your curiosity, you mean!"
"I am a scientist, Chind."
"Didn't it strike you as odd that a scientist should be elevated to the top post in your department?"
"Of course, sir. I didn't question it, though."
"As you know, Chind, when it was decided to planetarize Irwadi as a first step toward driving away the outworlders, the quarters of every outworlder on Irwadi were thoroughly searched."
"I participated in the--uh, program, sir."
"Good. Then I needn't tell you. Something was found in Margot Dennison's apartment. Something of immense importance. Something so important that, if used properly, it can assure Irwadi the dominant place in the galaxy for all time to come."
"But I thought Irwadi craved isolation--"
"Isolation, Chind? To be sure, if intercourse with the other galactic powers saw us at the bottom of the heap. But at the top--who would crave isolation at the top?"
"I see, sir. And the something that was found needed a scientist?"
"Very perceptive of you, Chind. Precisely. It was a letter. We copied it. Of course, Margot Dennison knows more than what is in the letter; the letter alludes to previous information. We need Dennison and Ramsey. We have to let them go ahead with their plans. Then we follow them, Chind. You understand?"
"You're a good policeman, Chind. The best we have, I understand. You'll be going with me--on the most important assignment you or any Irwadian ever had."
"I am grateful, sir, that you consider me--"
"Now, see about that U-235 slow-implosion capsule."
"At once, sir."
Saluting smartly, Ramar Chind left Garr Symm's office. Symm smiled and sat perfectly still for some minutes. For Irwadi, yes, he was thinking. Certainly for Irwadi. For Irwadi absolutely. To make Irwadi the most important planet in the galaxy. But important planets--in the way that Irwadi would be important--couldn't maintain the status quo. For example, Irwadi's form of government might have to be changed. At present, an autocratic bureaucracy with no one man at the top. Ultimately, after the rediscovery of proto-man's secret--rule by one man.
Garr Symm, absolute dictator of the galaxy, if he played his hand right.
Garr Symm sat there for a long time, dreaming of power as no man before him on any world had ever dreamed of power....
Vardin rushed into the airlock of the Canopusian freighter in a state of excitement. At last they had given her something to do, and she had been successful at the outset. Specifically, Ramsey and the beautiful woman had given her a scintillation-counter and told her to prowl among the wrecks with it while they worked on the control board of the freighter, which the beautiful woman had named Enterprise.
"I found it!" Vardin cried. "I found it!"
She led a sceptical Margot Dennison outside while Ramsey continued working on the Enterprise. The two girls walked swiftly through the darkness between the wrecks. By this time they knew every foot of the Graveyard.
"There," Vardin said. "You see?"
The scintillation counter was clicking and blinking. Margot smiled and went to work with a portable mechanical arm and a leaded bottle. In ten minutes, she had the slow-implosion capsule out of the hopper of a battered old Aldebaranese cargo ship.
"I never saw one of those mechanical arms working before," Vardin said.
Margot smiled. She was delighted with the timid Vegan girl, with the cold night, with the way the wind blew across the Graveyard, with everything. They had their fuel. Tomorrow night the Enterprise would be ready for its dash into hyper-space. In thirty-six hours she might have her hands on the most valuable find in the history of mankind....
When they returned to the Enterprise, she let Ramsey kiss her and tried to slip the telepathic tentacles of her mind behind his guard-- Lewd libidinous fantasies, X stands for nothing for nothing for nothing, XXX--she got nowhere.
What was X? What was Ramsey's secret? Margot did not know, and wondered if she would ever find out.
She smiled, reading Vardin's mind. For Vardin was thinking: it must be so wonderful to have beauty such as she has, to melt the wills of strong handsome men such as Ramsey. It must be truly wonderful.
For the first twenty-eight years of her life, Margot Dennison would have agreed, would have delighted in her own beauty. She still did, to a point. But beyond that point, she could dream only of proto-man and his secret.
Beauty or power?
She had beauty.
She wanted power.
In the early hours of the following morning, behind the cover of what appeared to be a dense early morning fog but what actually was an artificially produced fog, a team of Irwadi technicians swarmed all over a battered Procyonian cruiser of three thousand tons. By mid-morning, working swiftly and with all the tools and spare parts they would need, they made the ship, called Dog Star, space-worthy.
Later that day, but still two hours before nightfall, Ramar Chind arrived with a small crew of three Security Police. He had selected his men carefully: they knew how to handle a spaceship, they knew how to fight, they were quite ruthless. He thought Garr Symm would be pleased.
Symm did not arrive until just before nightfall. He was very agitated when he came. Ramar Chind, too, was eager. What would happen within the next several hours, he realized, might be beyond his ken, but he still recognized its importance. And, being an opportunist, he would pounce on whatever he found of value to himself....
Several hours after the setting of the Irwadi primary had ushered in the cold night, Margot Dennison, Ramsey and Vardin arrived at the Graveyard and made their way at once to the Enterprise. They went inside swiftly and in a very few minutes prepared the thousand-tonner for blastoff. Ramsey's mouth was dry. He could barely keep the thoughts of proto-man from his mind. If Margot read them....
"Centauri here we come," he said, just to talk.
"Centauri," said Margot.
But of course, she had another destination in mind.
Several hundred yards across the Graveyard, watching, waiting, the occupants of Dog Star were armed to the teeth.
Ramsey sat at the controls. Vardin stood behind him nervously. The space trip from Vega to Irwadi was probably the only one she had ever taken. Margot sat, quite relaxed, in the co-pilot's chair.
"I still can't believe we're not going to feel anything," Vardin said in her soft, shy voice.
"Haven't you ever been through hyper-space before?" Margot asked the Vegan girl.
"In normal space," Ramsey explained, "we feel acceleration and deceleration because the increase or decrease in velocity is experienced at different micro-instants by all the cells of our body. In hyper-space the velocity is felt simultaneously in all parts of the ship, including all parts of us. We become weightless, of course, but the change is instant and we feel no pressure, no pain."
Ramsey was waiting until 0134:57 on the ship chronometer. At that precise instant in time, and at that instant only, blastoff would place them on the proper hyper-space orbit. And, before they could feel the mounting pressure of blastoff, the timelessness of hyper-space would intervene.
"0130:15," Margot read the chronometer for Ramsey. "It won't be long now. 30:20--"
"All right," Ramsey said suddenly. "All right. I can read the chronometer."
"Why, Ramsey! I do believe you're nervous."
"Anxious, Margot. A hyper-pilot is always anxious just before crossover. You've got to be, because the slightest miscalculation can send you fifty thousand light years off course."
"So? All you'd have to do is re-enter hyper-space and go back."
Ramsey shook his head. "Hyper-space can only be entered from certain points in space. We've never been able to figure out why."
"What certain points?"
Ramsey looked at her steadily. "Points which vary with the orbits of the three thousand humanoid worlds, Margot," he said slowly. He watched her for a reaction, knowing that strange fact about hyper-space--perfectly true and never understood--dovetailed with her father's letter about proto-man, an unknown pre-human ancestor of all the humanoid races in the galaxy, who had discovered hyper-space, bred variations to colonize all the inhabitable worlds, found or created the three thousand crossover points in space, and used them.
Margot showed no response, but then, Ramsey told himself, she was a tri-di actress. She could feign an emotion--or hide one. She merely asked: "Is it true that there's no such thing as time in hyper-space?"
"That's right. That's why you can travel scores or hundreds or thousands of light years through hyper-space in hours. Hyper-space is a continuum of only three dimensions. There is no fourth dimension, no dimension of duration."
"Then why aren't trips through hyper-space instantaneous? They take several hours, don't they?"
"Sure, but the way scientists have it figured, that's subjective time. No objective time passes at all. It can't. There isn't any--in hyper-space."
"Then you mean--"
Ramsey shook his head. "0134:02," he said. "It's almost time."
The seconds ticked away. Even Margot did not seem relaxed now. She stared nervously at the chronometer, or watched Ramsey's lips as he silently read away the seconds. A place where time did not exist, an under-stratum of extension sans duration. An idea suddenly entered her mind, and she was afraid.
If proto-man had colonized the galactic worlds between one and four or five million years ago, but if time did not exist for proto-man, then wasn't the super-race which had engendered all mankind still waiting in its timeless home, waiting perhaps grimly amused to see which of their progeny first discovered their secret? Or must proto-man, like humans everywhere, fall victim to subjective time if objective time did not matter for him?
Ramsey was saying softly: "Fifty-three, fifty-four, fifty-five, fifty-six ... blastoff!"
His hand slammed down on the activating key.
An instant later, having felt no sensation of acceleration, they were floating weightlessly in the cabin of the little Enterprise.
"The qualities of radar," Garr Symm said, "exist in their totality in a universe of extension. Time, actually is a drawback to radar, necessitating a duration-lag between sending and receiving. Therefore, Ramar Chind, radar behaves perfectly in hyper-space, as you see."
"Yes," Ramar Chind said, floating near the radar screen aboard the Dog Star. At its precise center was a bright little pip of light.
"But don't we do anything except follow them?" Ramar Chind said after a long silence.
Garr Symm smiled. "Does it really matter? You see, Chind, time actually stands still for us here. Duration is purely subjective, so what's your hurry?"
Ramar Chind licked his lips nervously and stared fascinated at the little pip of bright light.
Which suddenly dipped and swung erratically.
"What is it?" Margot asked. "What's the matter?"
"Take it easy," Ramsey told her.
"But the ship's swooping. I can feel it. I thought you weren't supposed to feel movement in hyper-space!"
"Relax, will you? There are eddies in hyper-space, that's all. If you want an analogy in terms of our own universe, think of shoals in an ocean--unmarked by buoys or lights."
"You mean they have to be avoided?"
"But this particular shoal--it's midway between Irwadi and Earth?"
"There isn't any 'midway,' Margot. That's the paradox of hyper-space."
"I--I don't understand."
"Look. In the normal universe, extension is measured by time. That is, it takes a certain amount of time to get from point A to point B. Conversely, time is measured by extension in space. On Earth, a day of time passes when Earth moves through space on an arc one three-hundred-sixty-fifth of its orbit around the sun in length. Since there isn't any time to measure extension with in hyper-space, since time doesn't exist here, you can't speak of mid-points."
"But this--shoal. It's always encountered in hyper-space between Earth and Irwadi?"
Ramsey nodded. "Yes, that is right."