The smile suddenly froze on her face.
The Enterprise lurched as if an unseen giant hand had slapped it.
At that moment Ramsey leaned forward over the controls, battling to bring the Enterprise back on course.
And let down his mental guard.
... precise place in hyper-space her father must have meant ... home of proto-man ... thinks I'm going to stop there, she's crazy ... heck, I'm no mystic, but there are things not meant to be meddled with ...
The ship swooped again. Ramsey went forward against the control panel head-first and fell dazed from the pilot chair. His head whirled, his arms and legs were suddenly weak and rubbery. He tried to stand up and make his way back to the controls again, but collapsed and went down to his knees. He crouched there, trying to shake the fog from his brain.
With a cry of triumph, Margot Dennison leaped at him and bore him down to the floor with her weight. He was still too dazed from the blow on his head to offer any resistance when her strong hands tugged at his belt and withdrew the m.g. gun. She got up with it, backing away from him quickly toward the rear bulkhead as the ship seemed to go into a smooth glide which could be felt within it. Vardin stood alongside Ramsey, a hand to her mouth in horror. Ramsey got up slowly.
"Stay where you are!" Margot cried, pointing the m.g. gun at him. "I'll kill you if I have to. I'll kill you, Ramsey, I mean it."
Ramsey did not move.
"So you knew about my father," Margot challenged him.
"Yeah. So what?"
"And this shoal in hyper-space is a world, isn't it?"
Ramsey nodded. "I think so."
"O.K. Sit down at the controls, Ramsey. That's right. Don't try anything."
Ramsey was seated in the pilot chair again. His head was still whirling but his strength had returned. He wondered if he could chance rushing her but told himself she meant what she said. She would kill him in cold blood if she had to.
"Bring the Enterprise down on that world, Ramsey."
He sat there and stubbornly shook his head. "Margot, you'll be meddling with a power beyond human understanding."
"Rubbish! You read my father's letter, didn't you? That fear's been implanted in your genes. It's part of the heredity of our people. It's rubbish. Bring the ship down."
Still Ramsey did not move. Vardin looked from him to Margot Dennison and back again with horror in her eyes.
"I'll count three," Margot said. "Then I'll shoot the Vegan girl. Do you understand?"
Ramsey's face went white.
"One," Margot said.
Vardin stared at him beseechingly.
Ramsey said: "All right, Margot. All right."
Five minutes later, subjective time, the Enterprise landed with a lurch.
That they had reached a world in hyper-space there could be no doubt. But outside the portholes of the little freighter was only the murky grayness of the timeless hyper-space continuum.
"They've gone down, sir!" Ramar Chind cried.
Garr Symm nodded. For the first time he was really nervous. He wondered about the Dennison letter. Could his fear be attributed to ancestral memory, as Dennison had indicated? Was it really baseless--this crawling, cold-fingered hand of fear on his spine?
There was no physical barrier. The Enterprise had established that fact. Then was there a barrier which Garr Symm, along with all humanoids, had somehow inherited?
A barrier of stark terror, subjective and unfounded on fact?
And beyond it--what?
Power to chain the universe....
Think, Garr Symm told himself. You've got to be rational. You're a scientist. You've been trained as a scientist. This is their barrier, erected against you, against all humanoids, a million years ago. It isn't real. It's all in your mind.
"Do you want me to follow them down?" Ramar Chind asked.
Garr Symm envied the policeman. Naturally, Ramar Chind did not share his terror. You didn't know the terror until you learned about proto-man; then the response seemed to be triggered in your brain, as if it had been passed to you through the genes of your ancestors, waiting a million years for release....
Fear, a guardian.
Of what? Garr Symm asked himself. Think of that, fool. Think of what it guards.
Power-- Teleportation or its equivalent.
Gone the subjective passage of hours in hyper-space.
Earned--if you were strong enough or brave enough to earn it--the ability to travel instantly from one humanoid world to another. Instantly. Perhaps from any one point on any humanoid world to any one point, precise, specific, exact, on another world.
Or control the lives of men, everywhere.
Sans the possibility of being caught or stopped.
Sweating, Garr Symm said: "Bring the Dog Star down after them, Ramar Chind."
Ramsey smiled without humor. "What now, little lady?" he said mockingly.
"Shut up. Oh, shut up!"
"What are you going to do now?"
"I told you to shut up. I have to think."
"I didn't know a gorgeous tri-di actress ever had to think."
"Let me see those figures again," Margot said.
Ramsey handed her the tapes from the Enterprise's environment-checker.
Temperature: minus two hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit.
Gravity: eight-tenths Earth-norm.
"And we don't have a spacesuit aboard," Ramsey said.
"But it can't be. It can't. This is the home of proto-man. I know it is. But if I went out there I'd perish from cold in seconds and lack of air in minutes."
"That's right," Ramsey said almost cheerfully. "So do I take the ship back up?"
"I hate you, Jason Ramsey. Oh, I hate you!" Margot cried. Then suddenly: "Wait! Wait a minute! What was that you were thinking? Tell me! You must tell me--"
Ramsey shook his head and tried to force the thoughts from his mind with doggerel. Ben Adam, he thought. Abou Ben Adam, Humpty Dumpty, hurry, hurry, hurry, the only two headed get yours here the sum of the square of the sides is equal to the square of the hyper-space, no, mustn't think that mimsy were the borogroves and the momraths now what the heck did the momraths do anyhow absolute zero is the temperature at which all molecular activity....
"What were you thinking, Ramsey?"
His mind was a labyrinth. There were thousands of discrete thoughts, of course. Millions of them, collected over a lifetime. But all at once he did not know his way through that labyrinth and his thoughts kept whirling back to the one Margot Dennison wanted as if, somehow, she could pluck it from his mind.
She stood before him, her brow furrowed, sweat beading her pretty face.
And she was winning, forcing the thought to take shape in Ramsey's mind-- But if I went out there I'd perish from cold in seconds and lack of air in minutes.
Cold, came the known and unbidden thoughts to Ramsey's struggling mind. And lack of air. Attributes of extension, of space, but measured by duration, by time. And since time does not exist in hyper-space, the vacuum out there and the terrible, killing cold, could have no effect on you. You could go out there perfectly protected from the lethal environment by the absence of the time dimension.
Margot smiled at him. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you, Ramsey."
He was about to speak, but she added: "And don't give me that stuff about a power we shouldn't tamper with. I'm going out there. Now."
Ramsey nodded slowly. "I won't stop you."
"But just so you don't get any ideas of stranding me here--Vardin. Vardin's going with me."
The Vegan girl looked at Ramsey mutely.
Ramsey said: "What makes you think I'll let you take her?"
Margot smiled again. "The m.g. gun makes me think so."
"The heck of it is, you're not really bad, Margot. This thing's got you, is all. You're not essentially evil."
"Thank you for the thrilling compliment. I'm delighted," Margot said sarcastically.
"Vardin stays with me."
Margot reminded him of the lethal m.g. gun by showing it to him, muzzle-first.
He laughed in her face. "Go ahead and shoot."
She stared at him.
"There isn't a lethal weapon'd do you any good here in a timeless continuum. Take an m.g. gun. It induces an artificial breakdown of radioactive fuel in its chamber, firing an instantly lethal dose of radiation. But in order for radioactive breakdown to occur, time must pass. Even if it's only milliseconds, as in the case of an m.g. gun. There aren't any milliseconds on this world, Margot. There isn't any time. So go ahead and pull the trigger."
Margot frowned and pointed the gun to one side and fired.
Nothing happened. Margot almost looked as if her hard shell had been sundered by the impotence of the m.g. gun. She pouted. Her eyes gleamed moistly.
Then Ramsey said: "O.K. Let's go."
"What--what do you mean?"
"Out there. All of us."
"But I thought you said--"
"Sure, I'm scared stiff. A normal man would be. It's in our genes, according to your father. But I'm also a man. What the devil d'you think it was first got man out of his cave and started along the road to civilization and the stars? It was curiosity. Fear restraining him, and curiosity egging him on. Which do you think won in the end?"
"Oh, Ramsey, I could kiss you!"
"Go right ahead," Ramsey said, and she did.
They opened the airlock. They went outside smiling.
But Vardin, who went with them, wasn't smiling. There was sadness instead.
In cumbersome spacesuits, the five Irwadians made their way from the Dog Star to the Enterprise. Ramar Chind and his three policemen carried m.g. guns; Garr Symm was unarmed. Chind used a whorl-neutralizer to force the pattern of the lock on the outer door of the Enterprise's airlock. Then the five of them plunged inside the ship.
The inner door was not closed.