The ground bus took them over the majestic arch of the bridge, rapidly through the sleepy Enclave--Alan saw nobody he recognized in the streets--and through the restricted area that led to the spacefield.
The spaceport was a jungle of ships, each standing on its tail waiting to blast off. Most of them were small two-man cargo vessels, used in travel between Earth and the colonies on the Moon, Mars, and Pluto, but here and there a giant starship loomed high above the others. Alan stood on tiptoes to search for the golden hull of the Valhalla, but he was unable to see it. Since the starship would be blasting off at the end of the week, he knew the crew was probably already at work on it, shaping it up for the trip. He belonged on it too.
He saw a dark green starship standing nearby; the Encounter, Kevin Quantrell's ship. Men were moving about busily near the big ship, and Alan remembered that it had become obsolete during its last long voyage, and was being rebuilt.
A robot came sliding up to the three of them as they stood there at the edge of the landing field.
"Can I help you, please?"
"I'm from the starship Valhalla," Alan said. "I'm returning to the ship. Would you take me to the ship, please?"
Alan turned to Hawkes. The moment had come, much too suddenly. Alan felt Rat twitching at his cuff, as if reminding him of something.
Grinning awkwardly, Alan said, "I guess this is the end of the line, Max. You'd better not go out on the spacefield with us. I--I sort of want to thank you for all the help you've given me. I never would have found Steve without you. And about the bet we made--well, it looks like I'm going back on my ship after all, so I've won a thousand credits from you. But I can't ask for it, of course. Not after what you did for Steve."
He extended his hand. Hawkes took it, but he was smiling strangely.
"If I owed you the money, I'd pay it to you," the gambler said. "That's the way I work. The seven thousand I paid for Steve is extra and above everything else. But you haven't won that bet yet. You haven't won it until the Valhalla's in space with you aboard it."
The robot made signs of impatience. Hawkes said, "You'd better convoy your brother across the field and dump him on his ship. Save the goodbyes for later. I'll wait right here for you. Right here."
Alan shook his head. "Sorry, Max, but you're wasting your time by waiting. The Valhalla has to be readied for blastoff, and once I check in aboard ship I can't come back to visit. So this is goodbye, right here."
"We'll see about that," Hawkes said. "Ten to one odds."
"Ten to one," Alan said. "And you've lost your bet." But his voice did not sound very convincing, and as he started off across the field with Steve dragging along beside him he frowned, and did some very intense thinking indeed in the few minutes' time it took him to arrive at the shining Valhalla. He was beginning to suspect that Hawkes might be going to win the bet after all.
He felt a little emotional pang, something like nostalgia, as the Valhalla came into sight, standing by itself tall and proud at the far end of the field. A cluster of trucks buzzed around it, transferring fuel, bringing cargo. He spotted the wiry figure of Dan Kelleher, the cargo chief, supervising and shouting salty instructions to the perspiring men.
Alan tightened his grip on Steve's arm and moved forward. Kelleher shouted, "You men back there, tighten up on that winch and give 'er a hoist! Tighten up, I say! Put some muscle into----" He broke off. "Alan," he said, in a quiet voice.
"Hello, Dan. Is my father around?"
Kelleher was staring with frank curiosity at the slumped figure of Steve Donnell. "The Captain's off watch now. Art Kandin's in charge."
"Thanks," Alan said. "I'd better go see him."
Alan nodded. "Yes. That's Steve."
He passed between the cargo hoists and clambered onto the escalator rampway that led to the main body of the ship. It rose, conveying him seventy feet upward and through the open passenger hatch to the inner section of the towering starship.
He was weary from having carried Steve so long. He put the sleeping form down against a window-seat facing one of the viewscreens, and said to Rat, "You stay here and keep watch. If anyone wants to know who he is, tell them the truth."
Alan found Art Kandin where he expected to find him--in the Central Control Room, posting work assignments for the blastoff tomorrow. The lanky, pudgy-faced First Officer hardly noticed as Alan stepped up beside him.
Kandin turned--and went pale. "Oh--Alan. Where in blazes have you been the last two days?"
"Out in the Earther city. Did my father make much of a fuss?"
The First Officer shook his head. "He kept saying you just went out to see the sights, that you hadn't really jumped ship. But he kept saying it over and over again, as if he didn't really believe it, as if he wanted to convince himself you were coming back."
"Where is he now?"
"In his cabin. He's off-watch for the next hour or two. I'll ring him up and have him come down here, I guess."
Alan shook his head. "No--don't do that. Tell him to meet me on B Deck." He gave the location of the picture-viewscreen where he had parked Steve, and Kandin shrugged and agreed.
Alan made his way back to the viewscreen. Rat looked up at him; he was sitting perched on Steve's shoulder.
"Anyone bother you?" Alan asked.
"No one's come by this way since you left," Rat said.
"Alan?" a quiet voice said.
Alan turned. "Hello, Dad."
The Captain's lean, tough face had some new lines on it; his eyes were darkly shadowed, and he looked as if he hadn't slept much the night before. But he took Alan's hand and squeezed it warmly--in a fatherly way, not a Captainly one. Then he glanced at the sleeping form behind Alan.
"I--went into the city, Dad. And found Steve."
Something that looked like pain came into Captain Donnell's eyes, but only for an instant. He smiled. "It's strange, seeing the two of you like this. So you brought back Steve, eh? We'll have to put him back on the roster. Why is he asleep? He looks like he's out cold."
"He is. It's a long story, Dad."
"You'll have to explain it to me later, then--after blastoff."
Alan shook his head. "No, Dad. Steve can explain it when he wakes up, tonight. Steve can tell you lots of things. I'm going back to the city."
It was easy to say, now--the decision that had been taking vague form for several hours, and which had crystallized as he trudged across the spacefield toward the Valhalla. "I brought you back Steve, Dad. You still have one son aboard ship. I want off. I'm resigning. I want to stay behind on Earth. By our charter you can't deny such a request."
Captain Donnell moistened his lips slowly. "Agreed, I can't deny. But why, Alan?"
"I think I can do more good Earthside. I want to look for Cavour's old notebooks; I think he developed the hyperdrive, and if I stay behind on Earth maybe I can find it. Or else I can build my own. So long, Dad. And tell Steve that I wish him luck--and that he'd better do the same for me." He glanced at Rat. "Rat, I'm deeding you to Steve. Maybe if he had had you instead of me, he never would have jumped ship in the first place."
He looked around, at his father, at Steve, at Rat. There was not much else he could say. And he knew that if he prolonged the farewell scene too long, he'd only be burdening his father and himself with the weight of sentimental memory.
"We won't be back from Procyon for almost twenty years, Alan. You'll be thirty-seven before we return to Earth again."
Alan grinned. "I have a hunch I'll be seeing you all before then, Dad. I hope. Give everyone my best. So long, Dad."
"So long, Alan."
He turned away and rapidly descended the ramp. Avoiding Kelleher and the cargo crew, for goodbyes would take too long, he trotted smoothly over the spacefield, feeling curiously lighthearted now. Part of the quest was over; Steve was back on board the Valhalla. But Alan knew the real work was just beginning. He would search for the hyperdrive; perhaps Hawkes would help him. Maybe he would succeed in his quest this time, too. He had some further plans, in that event, but it was not time to think of them now.
Hawkes was still standing at the edge of the field, and there was a thoughtful smile on his face as Alan came running up to him.
"I guess you won your bet," Alan said, when he had his breath back.
"I almost always do. You owe me a hundred credits--but I'll defer collection."
They made the trip back to York City in virtual silence. Either Hawkes was being too tactful to ask the reasons for Alan's decision or else--this seemed more likely, Alan decided--the gambler had already made some shrewd surmises, and was waiting for time to bear him out. Hawkes had known long before Alan himself realized it that he would not leave with the Valhalla.
The Cavour Hyperdrive, that was the rainbow's end Alan would chase now. He would accept Hawkes' offer, become the gambler's protege, learn a few thing about life. The experience would not hurt him. And always in the front of his mind he would keep the ultimate goal, of finding a spacedrive that would propel a ship faster than the speed of light.
At the apartment in Hasbrouck, Hawkes offered him a drink. "To celebrate our partnership," he explained.
Alan accepted the drink and tossed it down. It stung, momentarily; he saw sadly he was never going to make much of a drinking man. He drew something from his pocket, and Hawkes frowned.
"My Tally. Every spaceman has one. It's the only way we can keep track of our chronological ages when we're on board ship." He showed it to Hawkes; it read Year 17 Day 3. "Every twenty-four hours of subjective time that goes by, we click off another day. Every three hundred sixty-five days another year is ticked off. But I guess I won't be needing this any more."
He tossed it in the disposal unit. "I'm an Earther now. Every day that goes by is just one day; objective time and subjective time are equal."
Hawkes grinned cheerfully. "A little plastic doodad to tell you how old you are, eh? Well, that's all behind you now." He pointed to a button in the wall. "There's the operating control for your bed; I'll sleep in back, where I did last night. First thing tomorrow we'll get you a decent set of clothes, so you can walk down the street without having people yell 'Spacer!' at you. Then I want you to meet a few people--friends of mine. And then we start breaking you in at the Class C tables."
The first few days of life with Hawkes were exciting ones. The gambler bought Alan new clothing, modern stuff with self-sealing zippers and pressure buttons, made of filmy clinging materials that were incredibly more comfortable than the rough cloth of his Valhalla uniform. York City seemed less strange to him with each passing hour; he studied Undertube routes and Overshoot maps until he knew his way around the city fairly well.
Each night about 1800 they would eat, and then it was time to go to work. Hawkes' routine brought him to three different Class A gambling parlors, twice each week; on the seventh day he always rested. For the first week Alan followed Hawkes around, standing behind him and observing his technique. When the second week began, Alan was on his own, and he began to frequent Class C places near the A parlors Hawkes used.
But when he asked Hawkes whether he should take out a Free Status registration, the gambler replied with a quick, snappish, "Not yet."
"But why? I'm a professional gambler, since last week. Why shouldn't I register?"
"Because you don't need to. It's not required."
"But I want to. Gosh, Max, I--well, I sort of want to put my name down on something. Just to show I belong here on Earth. I want to register."
Hawkes looked at him strangely, and it seemed to Alan there was menace in the calm blue eyes. In suddenly ominous tones he said, "I don't want you signing your name to anything, Alan. Or registering for Free Status. Got that?"
"No buts! Got it?"
Repressing his anger, Alan nodded. He was used to taking orders from his shipboard superiors and obeying them. Hawkes probably knew best. In any case, he was dependent on the older man right now, and did not want to anger him unnecessarily. Hawkes was wealthy; it might take money to build a hyperdrive ship, when the time came. Alan was flatly cold-blooded about it, and the concept surprised and amused him when he realized just how single-minded he had become since resigning from the Valhalla.
He turned the single-mindedness to good use at the gaming tables first. During his initial ten days as a professional, he succeeded in losing seven hundred credits of Hawkes' money, even though he did manage to win a three-hundred-credit stake one evening.
But Hawkes was not worried. "You'll make the grade, Alan. A few more weeks, days maybe, while you learn the combinations, limber up your fingers, pick up the knack of thinking fast--you'll get there."
"I'm glad you're so optimistic." Alan felt downcast. He had dropped three hundred credits that evening, and it seemed to him that his fumbling fingers would never learn to set up the combinations fast enough. He was just like Steve, a born loser, without the knack the game required. "Oh, well, it's your money."
"And I expect you to double it for me some day. I've got a five-to-one bet out now that you'll make Class B before fall."
Alan snorted doubtfully. In order to make Class B, he would have to make average winnings of two hundred credits a night for ten days running, or else win three thousand credits within a month. It seemed a hopeless task.
But, as usual, Hawkes won the bet. Alan's luck improved as May passed and June dwindled; at the beginning of July he hit a hot streak when he seemed to be marching up to the winner's rostrum every other round, and the other Class C patrons began to grumble. The night he came home with six hundred newly-won credits, Hawkes opened a drawer and took out a slim, sleek neutrino gun.
"You'd better carry this with you from now on," the gambler said.
"They're starting to notice you now. I hear people talking. They know you're carrying cash out of the game parlors every night."
Alan held the cool gray weapon, whose muzzle could spit a deadly stream of energized neutrinos, undetectable, massless, and fatal. "If I'm held up I'm supposed to use this?"
"Just the first time," Hawkes said. "If you do the job right, you won't need to use it any more. There won't be any second time."
As it turned out, Alan had no need for the gun, but he carried it within easy reach whenever he left the apartment. His skill at the game continued to increase; it was, he saw, just like astrogation, and with growing confidence he learned to project his moves three and sometimes four numbers ahead.
On a warm night in mid-July the proprietor of the games hall Alan frequented most regularly stopped him as he entered.
"You're Donnell, aren't you?"
"That's right. Anything wrong?"
"Nothing much, except that I've been tallying up your take the past two weeks. Comes to close to three thousand credits, altogether. Which means you're not welcome around this parlor any more. Nothing personal, son. You'd better carry this with you next time out."
Alan took the little card the proprietor offered him. It was made of gray plastic, and imprinted on it in yellow were the letters, CLASS B. He had been promoted.