"We'll have to convert the Valhalla to the new drive," Captain Donnell said. He looked still stunned by Alan's sudden appearance. "Otherwise we'll never be able to meet the competition of the new ships. There will be new ships, won't there?"
"As soon as I return to Earth and tell them I've been successful. My men are ready to go into immediate production of hyperspace vessels. The universe is going to be full of them even before your ship reaches Procyon!" He sensed now the full importance of what he had done. "Now that there's practical transportation between stars, the Galaxy will grow close together--as close as the Solar System is now!"
Captain Donnell nodded. "And what are you planning to do, now that you've dug up the Cavour drive?"
"Me?" Alan took a deep breath. "I've got my own ship, Dad. And out there are Rigel and Deneb and Fomalhaut and a lot of other places I want to see." He was speaking quietly, calmly, but with an undercurrent of inner excitement. He had dreamed of this day for nine years.
"I'm going to take a grand tour of the universe, Dad. Everywhere. The hyperdrive can take me. But there's just one thing----"
"What's that?" Steve and the Captain said virtually in the same moment.
"I've been practically alone for the last nine years. I don't want to make this trip by myself. I'm looking for a companion. A fellow explorer."
He stared squarely at Steve.
A slow grin spread over his brother's face. "You devil," Steve said. "You've planned this too well. How could I possibly turn you down?"
"Do you want to?" Alan asked.
Steve chuckled. "Do you think I do?"
Alan felt something twitching at his cuff. He looked down and saw a bluish-purple ball of fur sitting next to his shoe, studying him with a wry expression.
"Of course. Is there room for a third passenger on this jaunt of yours?"
"Application accepted," Alan said. Warmth spread over him. The long quest was over. He was back among the people he loved, and the galaxy was opening wide before him. A sky full of bright stars, growing brighter and closer by the moment, was beckoning to him.
He saw the Crewmen coming from their posts now; the rumor had flitted rapidly around the ship, it seemed. They were all there, Art Kandin and Dan Kelleher and a gaping Judy Collier and Roger Bond and all the rest of them.
"You won't be leaving right away, will you?" the Captain asked. "You can stay with us a while, just to see if you remember the place?"
"Of course I will, Dad. There's no hurry now. But I'll have to go back to Earth first and let them know I've succeeded, so they can start production. And then----"
"Deneb first," Steve said. "From there out to Spica, and Altair----"
Grinning, Alan said, "More worlds are waiting than we can see in ten lifetimes, Steve. But we'll give it a good try. We'll get out there."
A multitude of stars thronged the sky. He and Steve and Rat, together at last--plunging from star to star, going everywhere, seeing everything. The little craft grappled to the Valhalla would be the magic wand that put the universe in their hands.
In this moment of happiness he frowned an instant, thinking of a lean, pleasantly ugly man who had befriended him and who had died nine years ago. This had been Max Hawkes' ambition, to see the stars. But Max had never had the chance.
We'll do it for you, Max. Steve and I.
He looked at Steve. He and his brother had so much to talk about. They would have to get to know each other all over again, after the years that had gone by.
"You know," Steve said, "When I woke up aboard the Valhalla and found out you'd shanghaied me, I was madder than a hornet. I wanted to break you apart. But you were too far away."
"You've got your chance now," Alan said.
"Yeah. But now I don't want to," Steve laughed.
Alan punched him goodnaturedly. He felt good about life. He had found Steve again, and he had given the universe the faster-than-light drive. It didn't take much more than that to make a man happy.
And now a new and longer quest was beginning for Alan and his brother. A quest that could have no end, a quest that would send them searching from world to world, out among the bright infinity of suns that lay waiting for them.
MASTERS OF SPACE.
By Edward E. Smith & E. Everett Evans
The Masters had ruled all space with an unconquerable iron fist. But the Masters were gone. And this new, young race who came now to take their place--could they hope to defeat the ancient Enemy of All?
"But didn't you feel anything, Javo?" Strain was apparent in every line of Tula's taut, bare body. "Nothing at all?"
"Nothing whatever." The one called Javo relaxed from his rigid concentration. "Nothing has changed. Nor will it."
"That conclusion is indefensible!" Tula snapped. "With the promised return of the Masters there must and will be changes. Didn't any of you feel anything?"
Her hot, demanding eyes swept the group; a group whose like, except for physical perfection, could be found in any nudist colony.
No one except Tula had felt a thing.
"That fact is not too surprising," Javo said finally. "You have the most sensitive receptors of us all. But are you sure?"
"I am sure. It was the thought-form of a living Master."
"Do you think that the Master perceived your web?"
"It is certain. Those who built us are stronger than we."
"That is true. As they promised, then, so long and long ago, our Masters are returning home to us."
Jarvis Hilton of Terra, the youngest man yet to be assigned to direct any such tremendous deep-space undertaking as Project Theta Orionis, sat in conference with his two seconds-in-command. Assistant Director Sandra Cummings, analyst-synthesist and semantician, was tall, blonde and svelte. Planetographer William Karns--a black-haired, black-browed, black-eyed man of thirty--was third in rank of the scientific group.
"I'm telling you, Jarve, you can't have it both ways," Karns declared. "Captain Sawtelle is old-school Navy brass. He goes strictly by the book. So you've got to draw a razor-sharp line; exactly where the Advisory Board's directive puts it. And next time he sticks his ugly puss across that line, kick his face in. You've been Caspar Milquetoast Two ever since we left Base."
"That's the way it looks to you?" Hilton's right hand became a fist. "The man has age, experience and ability. I've been trying to meet him on a ground of courtesy and decency."
"Exactly. And he doesn't recognize the existence of either. And, since the Board rammed you down his throat instead of giving him old Jeffers, you needn't expect him to."
"You may be right, Bill. What do you think, Dr. Cummings?"
The girl said: "Bill's right. Also, your constant appeasement isn't doing the morale of the whole scientific group a bit of good."
"Well, I haven't enjoyed it, either. So next time I'll pin his ears back. Anything else?"
"Yes, Dr. Hilton, I have a squawk of my own. I know I was rammed down your throat, but just when are you going to let me do some work?"
"None of us has much of anything to do yet, and won't have until we light somewhere. You're off base a country mile."
"I'm not off base. You did want Eggleston, not me."
"Sure I did. I've worked with him and know what he can do. But I'm not holding a grudge about it."
"No? Why, then, are you on first-name terms with everyone in the scientific group except me? Supposedly your first assistant?"
"That's easy!" Hilton snapped. "Because you've been carrying chips on both shoulders ever since you came aboard ... or at least I thought you were." Hilton grinned suddenly and held out his hand. "Sorry, Sandy--I'll start all over again."
"I'm sorry too, Chief." They shook hands warmly. "I was pretty stiff, I guess, but I'll be good."
"You'll go to work right now, too. As semantician. Dig out that directive and tear it down. Draw that line Bill talked about."
"Can do, boss." She swung to her feet and walked out of the room, her every movement one of lithe and easy grace.
Karns followed her with his eyes. "Funny. A trained-dancer Ph.D. And a Miss America type, like all the other women aboard this spacer. I wonder if she'll make out."
"So do I. I still wish they'd given me Eggy. I've never seen an executive-type female Ph.D. yet that was worth the cyanide it would take to poison her."
"That's what Sawtelle thinks of you, too, you know."
"I know; and the Board does know its stuff. So I'm really hoping, Bill, that she surprises me as much as I intend to surprise the Navy."
Alarm bells clanged as the mighty Perseus blinked out of overdrive. Every crewman sprang to his post.
"Mister Snowden, why did we emerge without orders from me?" Captain Sawtelle bellowed, storming into the control room three jumps behind Hilton.
"The automatics took control, sir," he said, quietly.
"Automatics! I give the orders!"
"In this case, Captain Sawtelle, you don't," Hilton said. Eyes locked and held. To Sawtelle, this was a new and strange co-commander. "I would suggest that we discuss this matter in private."
"Very well, sir," Sawtelle said; and in the captain's cabin Hilton opened up.
"For your information, Captain Sawtelle, I set my inter-space coupling detectors for any objective I choose. When any one of them reacts, it trips the kickers and we emerge. During any emergency outside the Solar System I am in command--with the provision that I must relinquish command to you in case of armed attack on us."
"Where do you think you found any such stuff as that in the directive? It isn't there and I know my rights."
"It is, and you don't. Here is a semantic chart of the whole directive. As you will note, it overrides many Navy regulations. Disobedience of my orders constitutes mutiny and I can--and will--have you put in irons and sent back to Terra for court-martial. Now let's go back."
In the control room, Hilton said, "The target has a mass of approximately five hundred metric tons. There is also a significant amount of radiation characteristic of uranexite. You will please execute search, Captain Sawtelle."
And Captain Sawtelle ordered the search.
"What did you do to the big jerk, boss?" Sandra whispered.
"What you and Bill suggested," Hilton whispered back. "Thanks to your analysis of the directive--pure gobbledygook if there ever was any--I could. Mighty good job, Sandy."
Ten or fifteen more minutes passed. Then: "Here's the source of radiation, sir," a searchman reported. "It's a point source, though, not an object at this range."
"And here's the artifact, sir," Pilot Snowden said. "We're coming up on it fast. But ... but what's a skyscraper skeleton doing out here in interstellar space?"
As they closed up, everyone could see that the thing did indeed look like the metallic skeleton of a great building. It was a huge cube, measuring well over a hundred yards along each edge. And it was empty.
"That's one for the book," Sawtelle said.
"And how!" Hilton agreed. "I'll take a boat ... no, suits would be better. Karns, Yarborough, get Techs Leeds and Miller and suit up."
"You'll need a boat escort," Sawtelle said. "Mr. Ashley, execute escort Landing Craft One, Two, and Three."
The three landing craft approached that enigmatic lattice-work of structural steel and stopped. Five grotesquely armored figures wafted themselves forward on pencils of force. Their leader, whose suit bore the number "14", reached a mammoth girder and worked his way along it up to a peculiar-looking bulge. The whole immense structure vanished, leaving men and boats in empty space.
Sawtelle gasped. "Snowden! Are you holding 'em?"
"No, sir. Faster than light; hyperspace, sir."
"Mr. Ashby, did you have your interspace rigs set?"
"No, sir. I didn't think of it, sir."
"Doctor Cummings, why weren't yours out?"
"I didn't think of such a thing, either--any more than you did," Sandra said.
Ashby, the Communications Officer, had been working the radio. "No reply from anyone, sir," he reported.
"Oh, no!" Sandra exclaimed. Then, "But look! They're firing pistols--especially the one wearing number fourteen--but pistols?"
"Recoil pistols--sixty-threes--for emergency use in case of power failure," Ashby explained. "That's it ... but I can't see why all their power went out at once. But Fourteen--that's Hilton--is really doing a job with that sixty-three. He'll be here in a couple of minutes."