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"I? I am nothing. I am the end-product of an equation our ancestors found a million years ago. An equation to give them god-like power. Instead it made them savages and I have had to watch their slow climb back to the stars. An equation, Ramsey. Almost an equation of doom. Now go."

Vardin flickered, became insubstantial. Her body seemed to melt into the gray mists.

The gleaming walls were gone. The black box was gone. Vardin was gone.

Ramsey led Margot back to the Enterprise.

Moments later--although the elapsed time was subjective--they blasted off.

Margot opened her eyes. She had been sleeping. She smiled at Ramsey tremulously. "I love you," she said. Her words seemed to surprise her.

"I can't go back to Earth," Ramsey said.

"Who wants to go back to Earth--if you can't?"

They had, Ramsey knew, all of space and the life-span of mortal man to enjoy together.




You can't be too suspicious when security is at stake. When everybody who is after a key military job wears a toupee, it is obviously a bald case of espionage.

A job as laboratory technician with the Army Weapons Development Center carried about as much prestige as a bat boy in a World Series.

George Fisher was a laboratory technician.

He was a shy but likeable fellow, a diligent worker and trustworthy. He didn't talk. He was rarely talked to. He had no burning ambition to push himself ahead in the world. Being an assistant to the brains was good enough for him. He had a commendable talent for minding his own business.

In a security job these qualities counted ahead of scientific knowledge.

One day George Fisher turned up dead. The initial shock and concern experienced by his superiors was soon overcome by the coroner's finding. Suicide.

Harry Payne was the Civilian Personnel Director of Fort Dickson. It was his job to find a replacement for George Fisher.

"Miss Conway!" Harry's voice lashed into the intercom.

There was an interminable pause. He cursed under his breath.

Then, "Yes, Mr. Payne?"

"Where the hell were you? Never mind. Bring me the file on George Fisher."

"George Fisher?" Miss Conway was in her favorite state of mind ... confusion. "But he's dead, isn't he?"

Harry let out a deep anguished groan. "Yes, Miss Conway, he's dead. That's why I want his file. That answer your question?"

"Yes, sir. Be there in a jiffy!"

Harry could tell she was bubbling over with smiles as she spoke. A few more centuries would pass, he thought, before they manufactured another broad as dumb as Miss Conway.

He stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked out the window. Across the parade ground he could see the Army Weapons Development Center. He had no idea what new bomb they might be working on behind those heavily guarded fences. He didn't care.

He was only concerned with the people who worked there. The rest of Fort Dickson used mostly Civil Service Personnel. But the barricaded security jungle across the parade grounds was more particular about its hired help. A person's record had to be spotless almost from the day of his conception ... or a person could not even gain entrance.

Harry had never been inside Weapons Development. He had once been to traffic court as a roaring juvenile eighteen years before. That was enough to bar him from even visiting. He realized, though, that the army couldn't afford to take chances.

Hiring new technicians required an arduous screening process. Harry loathed it. He was thankful that the personnel at Weapons Development were highly paid and usually permanent. He never had to hire more than one person a year.

Miss Conway swept into the office and handed Harry the folder.

"Thanks," he muttered.

"Don't mention it, boss."

Harry called after her as she went back toward the reception room.

"Stay by your desk, will you? The government may need you."

A muffled giggle was her only response.

Miss Conway was a civil service employee. She had been Harry's secretary for six months. Like most other civil service personnel, according to Harry's way of thinking she was a tower of inefficiency. His chief annoyance stemmed from the fact that the army had arbitrarily placed her in his office. He had been given no choice in the matter. It was one hell of a way to treat a personnel director, he thought.

He sat at his desk gloomily aware of the headaches he'd have to face in his quest for George Fisher's replacement. He opened the folder and glanced at the vital statistics.

Fisher, George--Age: 40--Weight: 160--Height: 5'9"--Eyes: Green--Hair: None--Complexion: Light--Date of Employment: 10/7/58--Date of Departure: 4/12/59--Reason: Suicide--etc., etc. Harry yawned. Statistics bored him.

He turned to a page marked "Qualifications" and started reading. The phrase "Education and experience in nuclear physics required," caught his eye. The requirement was no surprise to him. But whenever he saw it he took a few minutes off to indulge his curiosity. What was the big project at Weapons Development? He'd love to know. He wouldn't find out, of course. And the inability to find out naturally gave his imagination the widest latitude. His most persistent theory involved an atomic powered rocket capable of knocking the Russians' manned satellites out of space. The Russians were still ahead of everyone and their latest satellites were heavily armed. As usual they were lording it over the rest of the world. And the rest of the world had not come up with an effective answer to this challenge.

Harry closed the folder. He glanced at a list of technical schools. He would call each of them and ask them to submit a list of lab technicians. He would also look over the field of technicians still left in private enterprise.

The intercom buzzed.

"What is it, Miss Conway?"

"Miss Ralston is here."

"Who is Miss Ralston?"

"She has an appointment with you."

"An appointment!" Harry was baffled. "Who made it?"

"I did. I guess I forgot to tell you."

Harry closed his eyes and counted to ten. "Thank you, Miss Conway. Will you step into my office for a moment?" He tried to control his mounting anger.

She breezed into the office.

"Now, Miss Conway, will you please tell me who is this Miss Ralston?"

"She operates 'Ralston Personnel Consultants'. I think she wants to talk to you about the replacement for George Fisher. You know, the one who died."

"Yes, yes, I know. And you know, Miss Conway, we don't do business through agencies."

"Oh, Miss Ralston doesn't run an agency. She told me. Her business is much more exclusive than that. She handles very highly specialized people. That's the reason why ..."

"I know. That's why you gave her an appointment with me," said the exasperated personnel director. "Well, you can go right back out and tell her I've canceled the appointment. This is a security job we're filling and ..."

Before Harry could utter another syllable his attention was drawn to the doorway. The view to the outer office was blocked by a bundle of curves. The most alluring female bombshell his eyes had ever beheld put everything important out of his mind.

"I didn't realize you were being so inconvenienced, Mr. Payne. I'm terribly sorry." Her eyes drooped. "I can take my business elsewhere." Miss Ralston's voice was just above a half whisper. The words came out warm and intoxicating.

"No, wait! Wait a minute, Miss Ralston." Harry was out of his chair and at the door. He took her arm. "Who said anything about inconvenience? Come in. Come in. That'll be all, Miss Conway. Thanks."

The secretary giggled and left. Miss Ralston sat down and lit a cigarette. Harry noticed she was wearing a beige knit suit with a neckline that spoke volumes. Every curve was in the right place. Every movement had another movement all its own.

Harry knew she was bound to talk business and he knew there wasn't much he could do for her in that direction. But at thirty-five, and eligible, he just couldn't let this woman leave his office. Harry Payne was a sucker for a gorgeous face. He knew it and he knew the gorgeous face knew it.

"Tell me, Miss Ralston, when did my secretary arrange this appointment for you?"

"I called yesterday."

Harry arched his eyebrows and smiled. "Yesterday? What prompted you to call me?"

"You're looking for a laboratory technician, aren't you?"

"What gave you that idea?" he asked, not caring in the slightest what gave it to her.

"I make it my business to comb the papers every day, Mr. Payne. I came across the news of George Fisher's suicide and called you. Simple as that."

"You don't waste any time."

She smiled and pursed her lips. "Do you?"

"I try not to."

"I have seven clients who would qualify for the job. I'd appreciate it if you'd see them."

"Well, as a matter of fact, Miss Ralston ..."

She leaned forward with an inquisitive "Yes?"

Harry cleared his throat. "As a matter of fact I'm not supposed to do business with civilian agencies."

"Mr. Payne," she smiled demurely, "do I look like an agency? Or do I look like a Personnel Consultant?"

Now there was an opening, Harry thought, but it might be best to avoid it. "You're working to get someone a job. It amounts to the same thing."

"I see. Then how do you go about hiring your new personnel?"

"I do the soliciting myself. Sorry, Miss Ralston, but I don't make the rules and regulations."

But the lady was undeterred. She crossed her legs and sank further into the easy chair. Her eyes sparkled at Harry.

"These clients of mine are all top men, Mr. Payne. Why couldn't I just leave you their names? You can still do the soliciting. I'd be happy to forego my regular commission on this job. Call it the value of prestige."

Harry recognized another opening and this time plunged in. "Suppose we talk it over later. There's a place at Fourth Avenue and Woodward called 'Maria's.' Best Italian food in captivity. I'm through at five. What about you?"

She didn't have to say anything. Her eyes told him he would be having an Italian dinner that night. And not alone. She rose and walked in front of his desk.

"I'm so glad we have something in common, Mr. Payne. I can't think well on an empty stomach either."

After walking her to the outer office he came back to his desk. He took a deep breath and loosened his tie. Dreams like Miss Ralston didn't materialize every day. For a first meeting he figured he hadn't fared too badly at all. And if this first date went well he was sure he'd be seeing a lot of this girl.

It did not escape Harry's mind that here was a girl who was in the habit of getting what she wanted. But why not? Her powers of persuasion were Grade-A. They were so good they presented him with one big problem. He had regulations. Army regulations. He couldn't violate them. Miss Ralston, it was obvious, was going to meet him solely for the purpose of getting a client a job. Would he be able to see her again after she knew he had no intention of hiring that client?

The following morning Harry entered the office to find his secretary unusually busy. She was pecking away furiously at the typewriter.

He handed her a sheet of paper and said, "Miss Conway, copy these names and addresses and when they ..."

"When they come in you'll see them at half-hour intervals." She smiled benignly. "Miss Ralston just called and told me. Pretty smart chick, huh, boss?"

Harry did a slow burn and ambled into his office. Miss Conway was right, of course, and that's what annoyed him. It had been quite a night. He wined and dined her. They did all the bright spots. And, wonder of wonders, on the first date they wound up at Paula Ralston's apartment. She was a captivating hostess, an exquisite dancer and something of a sorceress. After one kiss, an unforgettable one, Harry had agreed to interview her seven clients.

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