At the time, he had been much too excited and flustered to answer anything. But, as the next twelve months went by, he learned that being a millionaire was quite pleasant indeed.
There were headaches, of course. There was the initial headache of signing his name several hundred times in the course of the transfer of Hawkes' wealth to him. There were also the frequent visits from the tax-collectors, and the payment to them of a sum that staggered Alan to think about, in the name of Rotation Tax.
But even after taxes, legal fees, and other expenses, Alan found he owned better than nine hundred thousand credits, and the estate grew by investment every day. The court appointed a legal guardian for him, the lawyer Jesperson, who was to administer Alan's money until Alan reached the biological age of twenty-one. The decision was an involved one, since Alan had undeniably been born three hundred years earlier, in 3576--but the robojudge that presided over that particular hearing cited a precedent seven hundred years old which stated that for legal purposes a starman's biological and not his chronological age was to be accepted.
The guardianship posed no problems for Alan, though. When he met with Jesperson to discuss future plans, the lawyer told him, "You can handle yourself, Alan. I'll give you free rein with the estate--with the proviso that I have veto power over any of your expenditures until your twenty-first birthday."
That sounded fair enough. Alan had reason to trust the lawyer; hadn't Hawkes recommended him? "I'll agree to that," Alan said. "Suppose we start right now. I'd like to take a year and travel around the world. As my legal guardian you'll be stuck with the job of managing my estate and handling investments for me."
Jesperson chuckled. "You'll be twice as wealthy when you get back! Nothing makes money so fast as money."
Alan left the first week in December, having spent three weeks doing virtually nothing but sketching out his itinerary. There were plenty of places he intended to visit.
There was London, where James Hudson Cavour had lived and where his hyperdrive research had been carried out. There was the Lexman Institute of Space Travel in Zurich, where an extensive library of space literature had been accumulated; it was possible that hidden away in their files was some stray notebook of Cavour's, some clue that would give Alan a lead. He wanted to visit the area in Siberia that Cavour had used as his testing-ground, and from which the last bulletin had come from the scientist before his unexplained disappearance.
But it was not only a business trip. Alan had lived nearly half a year in the squalor of Hasbrouck--and because of his Free Status he would never be able to move into a better district, despite his wealth. But he wanted to see the rest of Earth. He wanted to travel just for the sake of travel.
Before he left, he visited a rare book dealer in York City, and for an exorbitant fifty credits purchased a fifth-edition copy of An Investigation into the Possibility of Faster-than-Light Space Travel, by James H. Cavour. He had left his copy of the work aboard the Valhalla, along with the few personal possessions he had managed to accumulate during his life as a starman.
The book dealer had frowned when Alan asked for the volume under the title he knew. "The Cavour Theory? I don't think--ah, wait." He vanished for perhaps five minutes and returned with an old, fragile, almost impossibly delicate-looking book. Alan took it and scanned the opening page. There were the words he had read so many times: "The present system of interstellar travel is so grossly inefficient as to be virtually inoperable on an absolute level."
"Yes, that's the book. I'll take it."
His first stop on his round-the-globe jaunt was London, where Cavour had been born and educated more than thirteen centuries before. The stratoliner made the trip across the Atlantic in a little less than three hours; it took half an hour more by Overshoot from the airport to the heart of London.
Somehow, from Cavour's few autobiographical notes, Alan had pictured London as a musty old town, picturesque, reeking of medieval history. He couldn't have been more wrong. Sleek towers of plastic and concrete greeted him. Overshoots roared by the tops of the buildings. A busy network of bridges connected them.
He went in search of Cavour's old home in Bayswater, with the nebulous idea of finding some important document wedged in the woodwork. But a local security officer shook his head as Alan asked for directions.
"Sorry, lad. I've never heard of that street. Why don't you try the information robot up there?"
The information robot was a blocky green-skinned synthetic planted in a kiosk in the middle of a broad well-paved street. Alan approached and gave the robot Cavour's thirteen-century-old address.
"There is no record of any such address in the current files," the steely voice informed him.
"No. It's an old address. It dates back to at least 2570. A man named Cavour lived there."
The robot digested the new data; relays hummed softly within it as it scanned its memory banks. Finally it grunted, "Data on the address you seek has been reached."
"Fine! Where's the house?"
"The entire district was demolished during the general rebuilding of London in 2982-2997. Nothing remains."
"Oh," Alan said.
The London trail trickled out right then and there. He pursued it a little further, managed to find Cavour's name inscribed on the honor role of the impressive London Technological Institute for the year 2529, and discovered a copy of Cavour's book in the Institute Library. There was nothing else to be found. After a month in London, Alan moved on eastward across Europe.
Most of it was little like the descriptions he had read in the Valhalla's library. The trouble was that the starship's visits to Earth were always at least a decade behind, usually more. Most of the library books had come aboard when the ship had first been commissioned, far back in the year 2731. The face of Europe had almost totally altered since then.
Now, shiny new buildings replaced the ancient houses which had endured for as much as a thousand years. A gleaming bridge linked Dover and Calais; elsewhere, the rivers of Europe were bridged frequently, providing easy access between the many states of the Federation of Europe. Here, there, monuments of the past remained--the Eiffel Tower, absurdly dwarfed by the vast buildings around it, still reared its spidery self in Paris, and Notre Dame still remained as well. But the rest of Paris, the ancient city Alan had read so much of--that had long since been swept under by the advancing centuries. Buildings did not endure forever.
In Zurich he visited the Lexman Institute for Space Travel, a magnificent group of buildings erected on the royalties from the Lexman Spacedrive. A radiant statue sixty feet high was the monument to Alexander Lexman, who in 2337 had first put the stars within the reach of man.
Alan succeeded in getting an interview with the current head of the Institute, but it was anything but a satisfactory meeting. It was held in an office ringed with mementoes of the epoch-making test flight of 2338.
"I'm interested in the work of James H. Cavour," Alan said almost immediately--and from the bleak expression that appeared on the scientist's face, he knew he had made a grave mistake.
"Cavour is as far from Lexman as possible, my friend. Cavour was a dreamer; Lexman, a doer."
"Lexman succeeded--but how do you know Cavour didn't succeed as well?"
"Because, my young friend, faster-than-light travel is flatly impossible. A dream. A delusion."
"You mean that there's no faster-than-light research being carried on here?"
"The terms of our charter, set down by Alexander Lexman himself, specify that we are to work toward improvements in the technique of space travel. It said nothing about fantasies and daydreams. No--ah--hyperdrive research is taking place at this institute, and none will take place so long as we remain true to the spirit of Alexander Lexman."
Alan felt like crying out that Lexman was a bold and daring pioneer, never afraid to take a chance, never worried about expense or public reaction. It was obvious, though, that the people of the Institute had long since fossilized in their patterns. It was a waste of breath to argue with them.
Discouraged, he moved on, pausing in Vienna to hear the opera--Max had always intended to spend a vacation with him in Vienna, listening to Mozart, and Alan felt he owed it to Hawkes to pay his respects. The operas he saw were ancient, medieval in fact, better than two thousand years old; he enjoyed the tinkly melodies but found some of the plots hard to understand.
He saw a circus in Ankara, a football game in Budapest, a nullgrav wrestling match in Moscow. He journeyed to the far reaches of Siberia, where Cavour had spent his final years, and found that what had been a bleak wasteland suitable for spaceship experiments in 2570 was now a thriving modern city of five million people. The site of Cavour's camp had long since been swallowed up.
Alan's faith in the enduring nature of human endeavor was restored somewhat by his visit to Egypt--for there he saw the pyramids, nearly seven thousand years old; they looked as permanent as the stars.
The first anniversary of his leaving the Valhalla found him in South Africa; from there he travelled eastward through China and Japan, across the highly industrialized islands of the Far Pacific, and from the Philippines he returned to the American mainland by jet express.
He spent the next four months travelling widely through the United States, gaping at the Grand Canyon and the other scenic preserves of the west. East of the Mississippi, life was different; there was barely a stretch of open territory between York City and Chicago.
It was late in November when he returned to York City. Jesperson greeted him at the airfield, and they rode home together. Alan had been gone a year; he was past eighteen, now, a little heavier, a little stronger. Very little of the wide-eyed boy who had stepped off the Valhalla the year before remained intact. He had changed inwardly.
But one part of him had not changed, except in the direction of greater determination. That was the part that hoped to unlock the secret of faster-than-light travel.
He was discouraged. His journey had revealed the harsh fact that nowhere on Earth was research into hyperdrive travel being carried on; either they had tried and abandoned it as hopeless, or, like the Zurich people, they had condemned the concept from the start.
"Did you find what you were looking for?" Jesperson asked.
Alan slowly shook his head. "Not a hint. And I really covered ground." He stared at the lawyer a moment. "How much am I worth, now?"
"Well, offhand--" Jesperson thought for a moment. "Say, a million three hundred. I've made some good investments this past year."
Alan nodded. "Good. Keep the money piling up. I may decide to open a research lab of my own, and we'll need every credit we've got."
But the next day an item arrived in the morning mail which very much altered the character of Alan's plans for the future. It was a small but thick package, neatly wrapped, which bore as return address the name Dwight Bentley, with a London number.
Alan frowned for a moment, trying to place the name. Then it came back to him--Bentley was the vice-provost of the London Institute of Technology, Cavour's old school. Alan had had a long talk with Bentley one afternoon in January, about Cavour, about space travel, and about Alan's hopes for developing a hyperspace drive.
The parcel was the right size and thickness to contain a book. Alan slit the fastenings, and folded back the outer wrapper. A note from Bentley lay on top.
London 3rd November 3877 My dear Mr. Donnell: Perhaps you may remember the very enjoyable chat you and I had one day at this Institute last winter, on the occasion of your visit to London. You were, I recall, deeply interested in the life and work of James H. Cavour, and anxious to carry on the developments he had achieved in the field of space travel.
Several days ago, in the course of an extensive resurveying of the Institute's archives, the enclosed volume was discovered very thoroughly hidden in the dusty recesses of our library. Evidently Mr. Cavour had forwarded the book to us from his laboratory in Asia, and it had somehow become misfiled.
I am taking the liberty of forwarding the book on to you, in the hopes that it will aid you in your work and perhaps ultimately bring you success. Would you be kind enough to return the book to me c/o this Institute when you are finished with it?
Cordially, Dwight Bentley Alan let the note slip to the floor as he reached for the enclosed book. It was leather-bound and even more fragile than the copy of The Cavour Theory he had purchased; it looked ready to crumble at a hostile breath.
With mounting excitement he lifted the ancient cover and turned it over. The first page of the book was blank; so were the second and third. On the fourth page, Alan saw a few lines of writing, in an austere, rigid hand. He peered close, and with awe and astonishment read the words written there: The Journal of James Hudson Cavour. Volume 16--Jan. 8 to October 11, 2570.
The old man's diary was a curious and fascinating document. Alan never tired of poring over it, trying to conjure up a mental image of the queer, plucky fanatic who had labored so desperately to bring the stars close to Earth.
Like many embittered recluses, Cavour had been an enthusiastic diarist. Everything that took place in his daily life was carefully noted down--his digestion, the weather, any stray thoughts that came to him, tart observations on humanity in general. But Alan was chiefly interested in the notations that dealt with his researches on the problem of a faster-than-the-speed-of-light spacedrive.
Cavour had worked for years in London, harried by reporters and mocked by scientists. But late in 2569 he had sensed he was on the threshold of success. In his diary for January 8, 2570, he wrote: "The Siberian site is almost perfect. It has cost me nearly what remains of my savings to build it, but out here I will have the solitude I need so much. I estimate six months more will see completion of my pilot model. It is a source of deep bitterness in me that I am forced to work on my ship like a common laborer, when my part should have ceased three years ago with the development of my theory and the designing of my ship. But this is the way the world wants it, and so shall it be."
On May 8 of that year: "Today there was a visitor--a journalist, no doubt. I drove him away before he could disturb me, but I fear he and others will be back. Even in the bleak Siberian steppes I shall have no privacy. Work is moving along smoothly, though somewhat behind schedule; I shall be lucky to complete my ship before the end of the year."
On August 17: "Planes continue to circle my laboratory here. I suspect I am being spied on. The ship is nearing completion. It will be ready for standard Lexman-drive flights any day now, but installation of my spacewarp generator will take several more months."
On September 20: "Interference has become intolerable. For the fifth day an American journalist has attempted to interview me. My 'secret' Siberian laboratory has apparently become a world tourist attraction. The final circuitry on the spacewarp generator is giving me extreme difficulties; there are so many things to perfect. I cannot work under these circumstances. I have virtually ceased all machine-work this week."
And on October 11, 2570: "There is only one recourse for me. I will have to leave Earth to complete the installation of my generator. The prying fools and mockers will not leave me alone, and nowhere on Earth can I have the needed solitude. I shall go to Venus--uninhabited, uninhabitable. Perhaps they will leave me alone for the month or two more I need to make my vessel suitable for interstellar drive. Then I can return to Earth, show them what I have done, offer to make a demonstration flight--to Rigel and back in days, perhaps---- "Why is it that Earth so tortures its few of original mind? Why has my life been one unending persecution, ever since I declared there was a way to shortcut through space? There are no answers. The answers lie deep within the dark recesses of the human collective soul, and no man may understand what takes place there. I am content to know that I shall have succeeded despite it all. Some day a future age may remember me, like Copernicus, like Galileo, as one who fought upstream successfully."
The diary ended there. But in the final few pages were computations--a trial orbit to Venus, several columns of blastoff figures, statistics on geographical distribution of the Venusian landmasses.
Cavour had certainly been a peculiar bird, Alan thought. Probably half the "persecutions" he complained of had existed solely inside his own fevered brain. But that hardly mattered. He had gone to Venus; the diary that had found its way back to the London Institute of Technology testified to that. And there was only one logical next step for Alan.
Go to Venus. Follow the orbit Cavour had scribbled at the back of his diary.
Perhaps he might find the Cavour ship itself; perhaps, the site of his laboratory, some notes, anything at all. He could not allow the trail to trickle out here.
He told Jesperson, "I want to buy a small spaceship. I'm going to Venus."
He looked at the lawyer expectantly and got ready to put up a stiff argument when Jesperson started to raise objections. But the big man only smiled.
"Okay," he said. "When are you leaving?"
"You aren't going to complain? The kind of ship I have in mind costs at least two hundred thousand credits."
"I know that. But I've had a look at Cavour's diary, too. It was only a matter of time before you decided to follow the old duck to Venus, and I'm too smart to think that there's any point in putting up a battle. Let me know when you've got your ship picked out and I'll sit down and write the check."
But it was not as simple as all that. Alan shopped for a ship--he wanted a new one, as long as he could afford it--and after several months of comparative shopping and getting advice from spaceport men, he picked the one he wanted. It was a sleek glossy eighty-foot job, a Spacemaster 3878 model, equipped with Lexman converters and conventional ion-jets for atmosphere flying. Smooth, streamlined, it was a lovely sight as it stood at the spacefield in the shadow of the great starships.
Alan looked at it with pride--a slender dark-green needle yearning to pierce the void. He wandered around the spaceport and heard the fuelers and oilers discussing it in reverent tones.
"That's a mighty fine piece of ship, that green one out there. Some lucky fellow's got it."
Alan wanted to go over to them and tell them, "That's my ship. Me. Alan Donnell." But he knew they would only laugh. Tall boys not quite nineteen did not own late-model Spacemasters with price-tags of cr. 225,000.
He itched to get off-planet with it, but there were more delays. He needed a flight ticket, first, and even though he had had the necessary grounding in astrogation technique and spacepiloting as an automatic part of his education aboard the Valhalla, he was rusty, and needed a refresher course that took six weary months.
After that came the physical exams and the mental checkup and everything else. Alan fumed at the delay, but he knew it was necessary. A spaceship, even a small private one, was a dangerous weapon in unskilled hands. An out-of-control spaceship that came crashing to Earth at high velocity could kill millions; the shock wave might flatten fifty square miles. So no one was allowed up in a spaceship of any kind without a flight ticket--and you had to work to win your ticket.
It came through, finally, in June of 3879, a month after Alan's twentieth birthday. By that time he had computed and recomputed his orbit to Venus a hundred different times.
Three years had gone by since he last had been aboard a spaceship, and that had been the Valhalla. His childhood and adolescence now seemed like a hazy dream to him, far in the back of his mind. The Valhalla, with his father and Steve and all the friends of his youth aboard, was three years out from Earth--with seven years yet to go before it reached Procyon, its destination.
Of course, the Crew had experienced only about four weeks, thanks to the Fitzgerald Contraction. To the Valhalla people only a month had passed since Alan had left them, while he had gone through three years.
He had grown up, in those three years. He knew where he was heading, now, and nothing frightened him. He understood people. And he had one great goal which was coming closer and closer with each passing month.
Blastoff day was the fifth of September, 3879. The orbit Alan finally settled on was a six-day trip at low acceleration across the 40,000,000-odd miles that separated Earth from Venus.
At the spaceport he handed in his flight ticket for approval, placed a copy of his intended orbit on file with Central Routing Registration, and got his field clearance.
The ground crew had already been notified that Alan's ship was blasting off that day, and they were busy now putting her in final departure condition. There were some expressions of shock as Alan displayed his credentials to the ground chief and climbed upward into the control chamber of the ship he had named the James Hudson Cavour, but no one dared question him.
His eyes caressed the gleaming furnishings of the control panel. He checked with the central tower, was told how long till his blastoff clearance, and rapidly surveyed the fuel meters, the steering-jet response valves, the automatic pilot. He worked out a tape with his orbit on it. Now he inserted it into the receiving tray of the autopilot and tripped a lever. The tape slid into the computer, clicking softly and emitting a pleasant hum.
"Eight minutes to blastoff," came the warning.
Never had eight minutes passed so slowly. Alan snapped on his viewscreen and looked down at the field; the ground crew men were busily clearing the area as blastoff time approached.
"One minute to blastoff, Pilot Donnell." Then the count-down began, second by second.
At the ten-seconds-to-go announcement, Alan activated the autopilot and nudged the button that transformed his seat into a protective acceleration cradle. His seat dropped down, and Alan found himself stretched out, swinging gently back and forth in the protecting hammock. The voice from the control tower droned out the remaining seconds. Tensely Alan waited for the sharp blow of acceleration.
Then the roaring came, and the ship jolted from side to side, struggled with gravity for a moment, and then sprang up free from the Earth.
Some time later came the sudden thunderous silence as the jets cut out; there was the dizzying moment of free fall, followed by the sound of the lateral jets imparting longitudinal spin to the small ship. Artificial gravity took over. It had been a perfect takeoff. Now there was nothing to do but wait for Venus to draw near.
The days trickled past. Alan experienced alternating moods of gloom and exultation. In the gloomy moods he told himself that this trip to Venus was a fool's errand, that it would be just another dead end, that Cavour had been a paranoid madman and the hyperspace drive was an idiot's dream.
But in the moments of joy he pictured the finding of Cavour's ship, the building of a fleet of hyperdrive vessels. The distant stars within almost instantaneous reach! He would tour the galaxies as he had two years ago toured Earth. Canopus and Deneb, Rigel and Procyon, he would visit them all. From star to bright star, from one end of the universe to the other.
The shining oval of Venus grew brighter and brighter. The cloud layer that enveloped Earth's sister planet swirled and twisted.
Venus was virtually an unknown world. Earth colonies had been established on Mars and on Pluto, but Venus, with her harsh formaldehyde atmosphere, had been ignored. Uninhabited, uninhabitable, the planet was unsuitable for colonization.
The ship swung down into the cloud layer; floating wisps of gray vapor streamed past the orbiting Cavour. Finally Alan broke through, navigating now on manual, following as best he could Cavour's old computations. He guided the craft into a wide-ranging spiral orbit three thousand feet above the surface of Venus, and adjusted his viewscreens for fine pickup.