He was orbiting over a vast dust-blown plain. The sky was a fantastic color, mottled blues and greens and an all-pervading pink, and the air was dull gray. No sun at all penetrated the heavy shroud of vapor that hung round the planet.
For five hours he scouted the plain, hoping to find some sign of Cavour's habitation. It was hopeless, he told himself; in thirteen hundred years the bitter winds of Venus would have destroyed any hint of Cavour's site, assuming the old man had reached Venus successfully.
But grimly Alan continued to circle the area. Maybe Cavour had been forced to land elsewhere, he thought. Maybe he never got here. There were a million maybes.
He computed his orbit and locked the ship in. Eyes pressed to the viewscreen, he peered downward, hoping against hope.
This trip to Venus had been a wild gamble from the start. He wondered if Max Hawkes would have covered a bet on the success of his trip. Max had been infallible when it came to hunches.
Well, Alan thought, now I've got a hunch. Help me one more time, Max, wherever you are! Lend me some of your luck. I need it, Max.
He circled once more. The Venusian day would last for three weeks more; there was no fear of darkness. But would he find anything?
He leaped to the controls, switched off the autopilot, and broke out of orbit, going back for a return look. Had there been just the faintest metallic glint below, as of a spaceship jutting up from the sand?
There was a ship down there, and a cave of some sort. Alan felt strangely calm. With confident fingers he punched out a landing orbit, and brought his ship down in the middle of the barren Venusian desert.
Alan brought the Cavour down less than a mile away from the scene of the wreckage--it was the best he could do, computing the landing by guesswork--and climbed into his spacesuit. He passed through the airlock and out into the windswept desert.
He felt just a little lightheaded; the gravity was only 0.8 of Earth-norm, and besides that the air in his spacesuit, being perpetually renewed by the Bennerman re-breathing generator strapped to his back, was just a shade too rich in oxygen.
In the back of his mind he realized he ought to adjust his oxygen flow, but before he brought himself to make the adjustment the surplus took its effect. He began to hum, then to dance awkwardly over the sand. A moment later he was singing a wild space ballad that he thought he had forgotten years before. After ten feet he tripped and went sprawling down in the sand. He lay there, trickling the violet sands through the gloves of his spacesuit, feeling very lightheaded and very foolish all at the same time.
But he was still sober enough to realize he was in danger. It was an effort to reach over his shoulder and move the oxygen gauge back a notch. After a moment the flow levelled out and he felt his head beginning to clear.
He was marching through a fantastic baroque desert. Venus was a riot of colors, all in a minor key: muted greens and reds, an overbearing gray, a strange, ghostly blue. The sky, or rather the cloud layer, dominated the atmosphere with its weird pinkness. It was a silent world--a dead world.
In the distance he saw the wreckage of the ship; beyond it the land began to rise, sloping imperceptibly up into a gentle hill with bizarre sculptured rock outcroppings here and there. He walked quickly.
Fifteen minutes later he reached the ship. It stood upright--or rather, its skeleton did. The ship had not crashed. It had simply rotted away, the metal of its hide eaten by the sand-laden winds over the course of centuries. Nothing remained but a bare framework.
He circled the ship, then entered the cave a hundred feet away. He snapped on his lightbeam. In the darkness, he saw---- A huddled skeleton, far to the rear of the cave. A pile of corroded equipment; atmosphere generators, other tools now shapeless.
Cavour had reached Venus safely. But he had never departed.
To his astonishment Alan found a sturdy volume lying under the pile of bones--a book, wrapped in metal plates. Somehow it had withstood the passage of centuries, here in this quiet cave.
Gently he unwrapped the book. The cover dropped off at his touch; he turned back the first three pages, which were blank. On the fourth, written in the now-familiar crabbed hand, were the words: The Journal of James Hudson Cavour. Volume 17--October 20, 2570---- * * * * *
He had plenty of time, during the six-day return journey, to read and re-read Cavour's final words and to make photographic copies of the withered old pages.
The trip to Venus had been easy for old Cavour; he had landed precisely on schedule, and established housekeeping for himself in the cave. But, as his diary detailed it, he felt strength ebbing away with each passing day.
He was past eighty, no age for a man to come alone to a strange planet. There remained just minor finishing to be done on his pioneering ship--but he did not have the strength to do the work. Climbing the catwalk of the ship, soldering, testing--now, with his opportunity before him, he could not attain his goal.
He made several feeble attempts to finish the job, and on the last of them fell from his crude rigging and fractured his hip. He had managed to crawl back inside the cave, but, alone, with no one to tend him, he knew he had nothing to hope for.
It was impossible for him to complete his ship. All his dreams were ended. His equations and his blueprints would die with him.
In his last day he came to a new realization: nowhere had he left a complete record of the mechanics of his spacewarp generator, the key mechanism without which hyperspace drive was unattainable. So, racing against encroaching death, James Hudson Cavour turned to a new page in his diary, headed it, in firm, forceful letters, For Those Who Follow After, and inked in a clear and concise explanation of his work.
It was all there, Alan thought exultantly: the diagrams, the specifications, the equations. It would be possible to build the ship from Cavour's notes.
The final page of the diary had evidently been Cavour's dying thoughts. In a handwriting increasingly ragged and untidy, Cavour had indited a paragraph forgiving the world for its scorn, hoping that some day mankind would indeed have easy access to the stars. The paragraph ended in midsentence. It was, thought Alan, a moving testament from a great human being.
The days went by, and the green disk of Earth appeared in the viewscreen. Late on the sixth day the Cavour sliced into Earth's atmosphere, and Alan threw it into the landing orbit he had computed that afternoon. The ship swung in great spirals around Earth, drawing ever closer, and finally began to home in on the spaceport.
Alan busied himself over the radio transmitter, getting landing clearance. He brought the ship down easily, checked out, and hurried to the nearest phone.
He dialed Jesperson's number. The lawyer answered.
"When did you get back?"
"Just now," Alan said. "Just this minute."
"Well? Did you----"
"Yes! I found it! I found it!"
Oddly enough, he was in no hurry to leave Earth now. He was in possession of Cavour's notes, but he wanted to do a perfect job of reproducing them, of converting the scribbled notations into a ship.
To his great despair he discovered, when he first examined the Cavour notebook in detail, that much of the math was beyond his depth. That was only a temporary obstacle, though. He hired mathematicians. He hired physicists. He hired engineers.
Through it all, he remained calm; impatient, perhaps, but not overly so. The time had not yet come for him to leave Earth. All his striving would be dashed if he left too soon.
The proud building rose a hundred miles from York City: The Hawkes Memorial Laboratory. There, the team of scientists Alan had gathered worked long and painstakingly, trying to reconstruct what old Cavour had written, experimenting, testing.
Early in 3881 the first experimental Cavour Generator was completed in the lab. Alan had been vacationing in Africa, but he was called back hurriedly by his lab director to supervise the testing.
The generator was housed in a sturdy windowless building far from the main labs; the forces being channelled were potent ones, and no chances were being taken. Alan himself threw the switch that first turned the spacewarp generator on, and the entire research team gathered by the closed-circuit video pickup to watch.
The generator seemed to blur, to waver, to lose substance and become unreal. It vanished.
It remained gone fifteen seconds, while a hundred researchers held their breaths. Then it returned. It shorted half the power lines in the county.
But Alan was grinning as the auxiliary feeders turned the lights in the lab on again. "Okay," he yelled. "It's a start, isn't it? We got the generator to vanish, and that's the toughest part of the battle. Let's get going on Model Number Two."
By the end of the year, Model Number Two was complete, and the tests this time were held under more carefully controlled circumstances. Again success was only partial, but again Alan was not disappointed. He had worked out his time-table well. Premature success might only make matters more difficult for him.
3882 went by, and 3883. He was in his early twenties, now, a tall, powerful figure, widely known all over Earth. With Jesperson's shrewd aid he had pyramided Max's original million credits into an imposing fortune--and much of it was being diverted to hyperspace research. But Alan Donnell was not the figure of scorn James Hudson Cavour had been; no one laughed at him when he said that by 3885 hyperspace travel would be reality.
3884 slipped past. Now the time was drawing near. Alan spent virtually all his hours at the research center, aiding in the successive tests.
On March 11, 3885, the final test was accomplished satisfactorily. Alan's ship, the Cavour, had been completely remodeled to accommodate the new drive; every test but one had been completed.
The final test was that of actual performance. And here, despite the advice of his friends, Alan insisted that he would have to be the man who took the Cavour on her first journey to the stars.
Nine years had passed, almost to the week, since a brash youngster named Alan Donnell had crossed the bridge from the Spacer's Enclave and hesitantly entered the bewildering complexity of York City. Nine years.
He was twenty-six now, no boy any more. He was the same age Steve had been, when he had been dragged unconscious to the Valhalla and taken aboard.
And the Valhalla was still bound on its long journey to Procyon. Nine years had passed, but yet another remained before the giant starship would touch down on a planet of Procyon's. But the Fitzgerald Contraction had telescoped those nine years into just a few months, for the people of the Valhalla.
Steve Donnell was still twenty-six.
And now Alan had caught him. The Contraction had evened out. They were twins again.
And the Cavour was ready to make its leap into hyperspace.
It was not difficult for Alan to get the route of the Valhalla, which had been recorded at Central Routing Registration. Every starship was required by law to register a detailed route-chart before leaving, and these charts were filed at the central bureau. The reason was simple: a starship with a crippled drive was a deadly object. In case a starship's drive conked out, it would keep drifting along toward its destination, utterly helpless to turn, maneuver, or control its motion. And if any planets or suns happened to lie in its direct path---- The only way a ship could alter its trajectory was to cut speed completely, and with the drive dead there would be no way of picking it up again. The ship would continue to drift slowly out to the stars, while its crew died of old age.
So the routes were registered, and in the event of drive trouble it was thus possible for a rescue ship to locate the imperilled starship. Space is immense, and only with a carefully registered route could a ship be found.
Starship routes were restricted information. But Alan had influence; he was easily able to persuade the Routing Registration people that his intentions were honorable, that he planned to overtake the Valhalla if they would only let him have the coordinates. A bit of minor legal jugglery was all that was needed to give him access to the data.
It seemed there was an ancient regulation that said any member of a starship's crew was entitled by law to examine his ship's registered route, if he wanted to. The rule was intended to apply to starmen who distrusted their captains and were fearful of being shipped off to some impossibly distant point; it said nothing at all about starmen who had been left behind and were planning to overtake their ships. But nothing prohibited Alan from getting the coordinates, and so they gave them to him.
The Cavour was ready for the departure. Alan elbowed his way through the crowd of curious onlookers and clambered into the redesigned control chamber.
He paused a moment, running his fingers over the shiny instrument panel with its new dials, strange levers, unfamiliar instruments. Overdrive Compensator. Fuel Transmuter. Distortion Guide. Bender Index. Strange new names, but Alan realized they would be part of the vocabulary of all future spacemen.
He began to work with the new controls, plotting his coordinates with extreme care and checking them through six or seven times. At last he was satisfied; he had computed a hyperdrive course that would loop him through space and bring him out in only a few days' time in the general vicinity of the Valhalla, which was buzzing serenely along at near the speed of light.
That was practically a snail's pace, compared with hyperdrive.
The time for the test had come. He spoke briefly with his friends and assistants in the control tower; then he checked his figures through one last time and requested blastoff clearance.
A moment later the count-down began, and he began setting up for departure.
A tremor of anticipation shot through him as he prepared to blast off on the first hyperdrive voyage ever made. He was stepping out into the unknown, making the first use ever of a strange, perhaps dangerous means of travel. The drive would loop him out of the space-time continuum, into--where?--and back again.
He punched down the keys, and sat back to wait for the automatic pilot to carry him out from Earth.
Somewhere past the orbit of the moon, a gong told him that the Cavour drive was about to come into play. He held his breath. He felt a twisting sensation. He stared at the viewscreen.
The stars had vanished. Earth, with all its memories of the last nine years, was gone, taking with it Hawkes, Jesperson, York City, the Enclaves--everything.
He floated in a featureless dull gray void, without stars, without worlds. So this is hyperspace, he thought. He felt tired, and he felt tense. He had reached hyperspace; that was half the struggle. It remained to see whether he would come out where he expected to come out, or whether he would come out at all.
Four days of boredom. Four days of wishing that the time would come to leave hyperspace. And then the automatic pilot came to life; the Cavour generator thrummed and signalled that it had done its work and was shutting down. Alan held his breath.
He felt the twisting sensation. The Cavour was leaving hyperdrive.
Stars burst suddenly against the blackness of space; the viewscreen brightened. Alan shut his eyes a moment as he readjusted from the sight of the gray void to that of the starry reaches of normal space. He had returned.
And, below him, making its leisurely journey to Procyon, was the great golden-hulled bulk of the Valhalla, gleaming faintly in the black night of space.
He reached for the controls of his ship radio. Minutes later, he heard a familiar voice--that of Chip Collier, the Valhalla's Chief Signal Officer.
"Starship Valhalla picking up. We read you. Who is calling, please?"
Alan smiled. "This is Alan Donnell, Chip. How goes everything?"
For a moment nothing came through the phones but astonished sputtering. Finally Collier said thickly, "Alan? What sort of gag is this? Where are you?"
"Believe it or not, I'm hovering right above you in a small ship. Suppose you get my father on the wire, and we can discuss how I'll go about boarding you."
Fifteen minutes later the Cavour was grappled securely to the skin of the Valhalla like a flea riding an elephant, and Alan was climbing in through the main airlock. It felt good to be aboard the big ship once again, after all these years.
He shucked his spacesuit and stepped into the corridor. His father was standing there waiting for him.
Captain Donnell shook his head uncomprehendingly. "Alan--how did you--I mean--and you're so much older, too! I----"
"The Cavour Drive, Dad. I've had plenty of time to develop it. Nine good long years, back on Earth. And for you it's only a couple of months since you blasted off!"
Another figure appeared in the corridor. Steve. He looked good; the last few months aboard the Valhalla had done their work. The unhealthy fat he had been carrying was gone; his eyes were bright and clear, his shoulders square. It was like looking into a mirror to see him, Alan thought. It hadn't been this way for a long time.
"Alan? How did you----"
Quickly Alan explained. "So I couldn't reverse time," he finished. "I couldn't make you as young as I was--so I took the opposite tack and made myself as old as you were." He looked at his father. "The universe is going to change, now. Earth won't be so overcrowded. And it means the end of the Enclave system, and the Fitzgerald Contraction."