Gefty hesitated, said, "I thought at first he was furious because we'd upset his plans. But they weren't his plans ... they were the janandra's. He wasn't exactly its servant. I suppose you'd have to say he was something like a pet animal."
Kerim said incredulously, "But that isn't possible! Think of how intelligently Mr. Maulbow ..."
"He was following instructions," Gefty said. "The janandra let him know whatever it wanted done. He was following instructions again when he tried to kill me after I'd got away from the thing in the vault. The real brain around here was the janandra ... and it was a real brain. With a little luck it would have had the ship."
Kerim smiled briefly. "You handled that big brain rather well, I think."
"I was the one who got lucky," Gefty said. "Anyway, where Maulbow came from, it's the janandra's kind that gives the orders. And the thing is, Maulbow liked it that way. He didn't want it to be different. When the light hit us, it killed the janandra on the outside of the ship. Maulbow felt it happen and it cracked him up. He wanted to kill us for it. But since he was helpless, he killed himself. He didn't want to be healed--not by us. At least, that's what it looks like."
He shrugged, checked his watch, climbed out of the chair. "Well," he said, "the ten minutes I gave the Queen to turn the power back on are up. Looks like the old girl couldn't do it. So I'll--"
The indirect lighting system in the instrument room went on silently. The emergency light flickered and went out. Gefty's head came around.
Kerim was staring past him at the screens, her face radiant.
"Oh, Gefty!" she cried softly. "Oh, Gefty! Our stars!"
"Green dot here is us," Gefty explained, somewhat hoarsely. He cleared his throat, went on, "Our true ship position, that is--" He stopped, realizing he was talking too much, almost babbling, in an attempt to take some of the tension out of the moment. The next few seconds might not tell them where they were, but it would show whether they had been carried beyond the regions of space charted by Federation instruments. Which would mean the difference between having a chance--whether a good chance or a bad one--of getting home eventually, and the alternative of being hopelessly lost.
There had been nothing recognizably familiar about the brilliantly dense star patterns in the viewscreens, but he gave no further thought to that. Unless the ship's exact position was known or one was on an established route, it was a waste of time looking for landmarks in a sizable cluster.
He turned on the basic star chart. Within the locator plate the green pinpoint of light reappeared, red-ringed and suspended now against the three-dimensional immensities of the Milky Way. It stayed still a moment, began a smooth drift towards Galactic East. Gefty let his breath out carefully. He sensed Kerim's eyes on him but kept his gaze fixed on the locator plate.
The green dot slowed, came to a stop. Gefty's finger tapped the same button four times. The big chart flicked out of existence, and in the plate three regional star maps appeared and vanished in quick succession behind it. The fourth map stayed. For a few seconds, the red-circled green spark was not visible here. Then it showed at the eastern margin of the map, came gliding forwards and to the left, slowed again and held steady. Now the star map began to glide through the locator plate, carrying the fixed green dot with it. It brought the dot up to dead center point in the locator plate and stopped.
Gefty slumped a little. He rubbed his hands slowly down his face and muttered a few words. Then he shook his head.
"Gefty," Kerim whispered, "what is it? Where are we?"
Gefty looked at her.
"After we got hauled into that time current," he said hoarsely, "I tried to find out which way in space we were headed. The direction indicators over there seemed to show we were trying to go everywhere at once. You remember Maulbow's control unit wasn't working right, needed adjustments. Well, all those little impulses must have pretty well canceled out because we weren't taken really far. In the last hour and a half we've covered roughly the distance the Queen could have gone on her own in, say, thirty days."
"Then where ..."
"Home," Gefty said simply. "It's ridiculous! Other side of the Hub from where we started." He nodded at the plate. "Eastern Hub Quadrant. Section Six Eight. The G2 behind the green dot--that's the Evalee system. We could be putting down at Evalee Interstellar three hours from now if we wanted to."
Kerim was laughing and crying together. "Oh, Gefty! I knew you would ..."
"A fat lot I had to do with it!" Gefty leaned forward suddenly, switched on the transmitter. "And now let's pick up a live newscast. There's something else I ..."
His voice trailed off. The transmitter screen lit up with a blurred jumble of print, colors, a muttering of voices, music and noises. Gefty twisted a dial. The screen cleared, showed a newscast headline sheet. Gefty blinked at it, glanced sideways at Kerim, grimaced.
"The something else," he said, his voice a little strained, "was something I was also worried about. Looks like I was more or less right."
"Why, what's wrong?"
"Nothing really bad," Gefty assured her. He added, "I think. But take a look at the Federation dateline."
Kerim peered at the screen, frowned. "But ..."
"Why, that ... that's almost ..."
"That," Gefty said, "or rather this is the day after we started out from the Hub, headed roughly Galactic west. Three weeks ago. We'd be just past Miam." He knuckled his chin. "Interesting thought, isn't it?"
Kerim was silent for long seconds. "Then they ... or we ..."
"Oh, they're us, all right," Gefty said. "They'd have to be, wouldn't they?"
"I suppose so. It seems a little confusing. But I was thinking. If you send them a transmitter call ..."
Gefty shook his head. "The Queen's transmitter isn't too hot, but it might push a call as far as Evalee. Then we could arrange for a Com-Web link-up there, and in another ten minutes or so ... but I don't think we'd better."
"Why not?" Kerim demanded.
"Because we got through it all safely, so we're going to get through it safely. But if we receive that message now and never go on to Maulbow's moon ... you see? There's no way of knowing just what would happen."
Kerim looked hesitant, frowned. "I suppose you're right," she agreed reluctantly at last. "So Mr. Maulbow will have to stay dead now. And that janandra." After a moment she added pensively, "Of course, they weren't really very nice--"
Gefty shivered. One of the things he'd learned from Maulbow's ravings was the real reason he and Kerim had been taken along on the trip. He didn't feel like telling Kerim about it just yet, but it had been solely because of Maulbow's concern for his master's creature comforts. The janandra could go for a long time without food, but after fasting for several years on the moon, a couple of snacks on the homeward run would have been highly welcome.
And the janandra was a gourmet. It much preferred, as Maulbow well knew, to have its snacks still wriggling-fresh as it started them down its gullet.
"No," Gefty said, "I couldn't call either of them really nice."
A MATTER OF MAGNITUDE.
By AL SEVCIK
When you're commanding a spaceship over a mile long, and armed to the teeth, you don't exactly expect to be told to get the hell out ...
The ship, for reasons that had to do with the politics of appropriations, was named Senator Joseph L. Holloway, but the press and the public called her Big Joe. Her captain, six-star Admiral Heselton, thought of her as Great Big Joe, and never fully got over being awestruck at the size of his command.
"She's a mighty big ship, Rogers," he said proudly to the navigator, ignoring the latter's rather vacant stare and fixed smile. "More than a mile long, and wider than hell." He waved his hands expansively. "She's never touched down on Earth, you know. Never will. Too big for that. They built her on the moon. The cost? Well ..."
Swiveling his chair around, Heselton slowly surveyed the ship's control room with a small, satisfied smile. The two pilots sitting far forward, almost hidden by their banks of instruments, the radar operators idly watching their scopes, the three flight engineers sitting intently at their enormous control consoles, and, just behind, the radio shack--its closed door undoubtedly hiding a game of cards. For weeks now, as Big Joe moved across the galaxy's uncharted fringe, the radio bands had been completely dead, except, of course, for the usual star static hissing and burbling in the background.
Turning back again to his navigator, Heselton smiled modestly and noted that Big Joe was undisputedly the largest, most powerful, most feared, and most effective spaceship in the known universe.
As always, Rogers nodded agreement. The fact that he'd heard it a hundred times didn't make it any less true. Big Joe, armed with every weapon known to Terran technology, was literally the battleship to end all battleships. Ending battleships--and battles--was, in fact, her job. And she did it well. For the first time, the galaxy was at peace.
With a relaxed sigh, Heselton leaned back to gaze at the stars and contemplate the vastness of the universe, compared to which even Big Joe was an insignificant dot.
"Well," said Rogers, "time for another course check. I'll ..." He jumped back, barely avoiding the worried lieutenant who exploded upon them from the radio shack.
"A signal, sir! Damn close, on the VHF band, their transmission is completely overriding the background noise." He waved excitedly to someone in the radio shack and an overhead speaker came to life emitting a distinct clacking-grunting sound. "It's audio of some sort, sir, but there's lots more to the signal than that."
In one motion Heselton's chair snapped forward, his right fist hit the red emergency alert button on his desk, and his left snapped on the ship's intercom. Lights dimmed momentarily as powerful emergency drive units snapped into action, and the ship echoed with the sound of two thousand men running to battle stations.
"Bridge to radar! Report."
"Radar to bridge. All clear."
Heselton stared incredulously at the intercom. "What?"
"Radar to bridge, repeating. All clear. Admiral, we've got two men on every scope, there's nothing anywhere."
A new voice cut in on the speaker. "Radio track to bridge."
Frowning, Heselton answered. "Bridge. Come in radio track. We're listening."
"Sir," the crisp voice of the radio track section's commander had an excited tinge. "Sir, Doppler calculations show that the source of those signals is slowing down somewhere to our right. It's acting like a spaceship, sir, that's coming to a halt."
The admiral locked eyes with Rogers for a second, then shrugged. "Slow the ship, and circle right. Radio track, can you keep me posted on the object's position?"
"No can do, sir. Doppler effect can't be used on a slow moving source. It's still off to our right, but that's the best I can say."
"Sir," another voice chimed in, "this is fire control. We've got our directional antennas on the thing. It's either directly right or directly left of the ship, matching speed with us exactly."
"Either to our right or left?"
"That's the best we can do, sir, without radar help."
"Admiral, sir," the lieutenant who had first reported the signal came running back. "Judging from the frequency and strength, we think it's probably less than a hundred miles away."
"Less than a hundr ..."
"Of course, we can't be positive, sir."
Heselton whirled back to the intercom. "Radar! That thing is practically on our necks. What the hell's the matter with that equipment...?"
The radar commander's voice showed distinct signs of strain. "Can't help it, Admiral. The equipment is working perfectly. We've tried the complete range of frequencies, twenty-five different sets are in operation, we're going blind looking. There is absolutely nothing, nothing at all."
For a moment the bridge was silent, except for the clacking-grunting from the overhead speaker which, if anything, sounded louder than before.
"It's tv, sir!" The radio lieutenant came running in again. "We've unscrambled the image. Here!" The communications screen on Heselton's desk glowed for a moment, then flashed into life.
The figure was clearly alien, though startlingly humanoid--at least from the waist up, which was all that showed in the screen. A large mouth and slightly bulging eyes gave it a somewhat jovial, frog-like demeanor. Seated at a desk similar to Heselton's, wearing a gaudy uniform profusely strewn with a variety of insignia, it was obviously Heselton's counterpart, the commander of an alien vessel.
"Hmmm, looks like we've contacted a new race. Let's return the call, Lieutenant." A tiny red light glowed beneath a miniature camera on Heselton's desk and almost at once the alien's face registered obvious satisfaction. It waved a six-fingered hand in an unorthodox, but friendly, greeting.
Heselton waved back.
The alien then pointed to his mouth, made several clacking-grunting sounds, and moved a hand on his desk. The scene switched to another alien standing in front of what looked like a blackboard, with a piece of chalk in his hand. The meaning was clear.
"Lieutenant, have this transmission switched to the linguistics section. Maybe those guys can work some sort of language." The screen blanked out. Heselton leaned back, tense, obviously worried. Hesitantly, he reached out and touched a button on the intercom.
"Professor, there's a ship right next door somewhere that should stand out like King Kong in a kindergarten."
"I know, Admiral. I've been listening to the intercom. Our optical equipment isn't designed for close range work, but we've been doing the best we can, tried everything from infra-red through ultra-violet. If there is a ship out there I'm afraid it's invisible."
Beads of sweat sprinkled Heselton's forehead. "This is bad, Rogers. Mighty bad." Nervously, he walked across to the right of the bridge and stood, hands clasped behind his back, staring blankly out at blackness and the scattered stars. "I know there is a ship out there, and I know that a ship simply can't be invisible, not to radar and optics."
"What makes you sure there is only one, sir?"
Heselton cracked his fists together. "My God, Rogers, you're right! There might be ..."
The intercom clacked. "This is fire control again, sir. I think we've got something on the radiation detectors."
"Good work, what did you find?"
"Slight radioactivity, typical of interstellar drive mechanisms, somewhere off to our right. Can't tell exactly where, though."
"How far away is it?"
"I don't know, sir."
Heselton's hands dropped to his sides. "Thanks," he said, "for the help."
His desk tv flashed into life with a picture of the smiling alien commander. "This is the linguistics section, Admiral. The aliens understand a fairly common galactic symbology, I believe we can translate simple messages for you now."
"Ask him where the hell he is," Heselton snapped without thinking, then instantly regretted it as the alien's face showed unmistakable surprise.
The alien's smile grew into an almost unbelievable grin. He turned sideways to speak to someone out of sight of the camera and suddenly burst into a series of roaring cackles. "He's laughing, sir." The translator commented unnecessarily.
The joke was strictly with the aliens. Heselton's face whitened in quick realization. "Rogers! They didn't know that we can't see them!"