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"The slack's gone already. You're thinking of the speed of Phobos, at Phobos. At this end of the cable, we're like the head of a man in the control section of a space station, which is traveling slower than his feet because its orbit is smaller--but it revolves around the center in the same time.

"Look," Jonner added, "I'll put it in round numbers. Figure your cable as part of a radius of Phobos' orbit. Phobos travels at 1.32, but the other end of the radius travels at zero because it's at the center. The cable end, at the Martian surface, travels at a speed in between--roughly 1,200 miles an hour--but it keeps up with Phobos' revolution. Since the surface of Mars itself rotates at 500 miles an hour, all I had to do was boost the plane up to 700 to match the speed of the cable end.

"That cable will haul a hell of a lot more than twenty tons, and that's all that's on it right now. By winching us up slowly, there'll never be too great a strain on it."

Deveet looked apprehensively out of the port. The plane was hanging sidewise now, and the distant Martian surface was straight out the left-hand ports. The cable was holding.

"We can make the trip to Earth 83 days faster than the Marsward," said Jonner, "and they have only about 20 days' start. It won't take us but a few days to make Phobos and get this cable and the rest of the cargo shot back to Mars. Atom-Star will get its franchise, and you'll see all spaceships switching to the atomic drive within the next decade."

"How about this plane?" asked Deveet. "We stole it, you know."

"You can hire a G-boat to take it back to Marsport," said Jonner with a chuckle. "Pay Mars-Air for the time and the broken ports, and settle out of court with that pilot we dropped. I don't think they'll send you to jail, Deveet."

He was silent for a few minutes.

"By the way, Deveet," said Jonner then, "radio Atom-Star to buy some flonite cable of their own and ship it to Phobos. Damned if I don't think this is cheaper than G-boats!"


By Mark Ganes

The orphan system of Onzar was fuming under its leader's driving, paranoid megalomania. For there was a prize. A vast, grand prize within a parsec of this ambitious domain--the major warp-lines of space crossing the Galaxy between the Allied Worlds and the Darzent Empire. Skyward, hungry legions!

Roger Thane had, of course, heard of these meetings. The stories of his acquaintances in Liaison had been graphic enough but they didn't begin to do the scene justice. It was, well, jarring.

Through the one-way glass panel built into one side of the vast meeting hall of the space station, Thane looked directly across at the delegation from Onzar, though "delegation" was hardly the word. All top gold from the Onzar group was there, and it was easy to tell their rank--fleet marshals, the technical advisors, the interpreters--by the amount of gold that encrusted their helmets, coruscated from their shoulder boards, and crept and crawled in heavy filigree around their uniforms. In that assembly it was easy to pick out Candar. Shorter than the average Onzarian, with shaven head, his uniform was quite plain except for small, double-headed platinum shagells on the collar.

And Candar was doing all the talking. When he had started one hour and fifteen minutes ago his voice had been harsh and low. Now it had increased in pitch and volume and he was striding back and forth, showing his scorn for the Allied Systems in every gesture. Thane glanced at the "absolute" dial of his watch and wondered how long it would keep up.

"... we have come to deal with you in good faith and again you seek to exploit us. You would, if you could, take all we produce and give nothing in return. This you shall not do. Onzar is young, but already its power encompasses five suns. Each day we grow stronger. We do not need your shoddy goods in exchange for our treasure."

As Candar's voice became louder and more shrill Thane noticed that a technician to his left kept adjusting the recorder dials. In an hour or so the speech would be broadcast through Onzar, three and a half light years from this meeting place in space. Candar was choosing words to inflame the already fanatical nationalism of his expanding system. "You would take our discoveries, the fruits of our genius and industry. You would even take our young men into slavery. But this Candar will prevent. We are a warrior race, and what we need, we take. Our day approaches."

The last three words were his trademark, his invariable sign-off. So that was that. Candar strode from the room followed by the marshals, the advisors, the interpreters. Thane looked over to Garth who had slumped a bit in his conference chair on the Allied Systems side of the room, and was lighting a cigar. Thane had never particularly liked Garth, but, now, he felt a touch of sympathy with him. Garth took two long puffs on his cigar and then slowly shrugged his shoulders as if to put a final period to the scene.

Back in the Allied Systems naval cruiser, Garth was getting out of his reserve marshal's uniform. He glanced across at Thane, strapping his couch belts at the other side of the compartment. "I wanted you to see Candar in operation. Figured you might as well as long as this show was scheduled anyway. Could be that it will be of use to you in your new assignment."

The navigator's voice came over the intercom, "Prepare for finite acceleration, twenty seconds absolute."

Garth zipped up his civilian coveralls and dropped to the couch, slipping the stub of his cigar into the converter tube. "This conference was about like the rest. It makes the sixth, now, that I've sat through with Candar. You remember he was full of cooperation right at the start while we were renewing the gold-trade agreement. After that was settled there was nothing more in it for him except the chance to make another speech."

Thane looked over at Garth. "I noticed that. But why? There was certainly plenty of gold splashed over everyone in the Onzar delegation, but what is it that makes the stuff so important to them?"

Garth looked over in surprise. "You don't know? Well, of course you wouldn't. You've been working on specialized stuff on the other side of the Galaxy. I'll give you some of the background on the way back to Liaison. The sleep-trainer will fill in there."

Garth stopped. Everything stopped as the acceleration began. Both of them were over-braced for the acceleration was light and even. It was only 5000 KM to the nearest warp-line.

As acceleration slacked off for the five-minute coast into the warp, Garth lit another cigar and began. "Onzar was one of those relatively distant systems which were colonized back in the days when all they had was the finite drive. Of course, it took them a generation or so to get out there, at just under the speed of light. And when they got there, the best guess is that their ship was too damaged for further flight. Otherwise, considering the planet, they wouldn't have stayed."

Thane flipped through a systems manual to the geographical data for Onzar IV. He readily agreed that they wouldn't have stayed if it had been possible for them to get away. Onzar IV was cold, bitterly cold. Hurricane winds were common. The mountains went up to forty and fifty kilometers, and the land between them was largely barren desert.

"They couldn't get back into space," Garth continued, "so they stayed in splendid isolation for about 1500 years. Not another ship touched the system till the warp-lines were discovered."

Thane looked up. "I suppose they went through the usual reversion of the orphan systems?"

Garth grunted. "A lot worse than usual. Of course, our version of their history is largely guesswork because the Onzarians have never allowed any research. But it's clear that the immigration crew, or their first-generation descendants, put on a very effective little war between themselves. By the time they were finished Onzar IV was back in the age of ox-carts, without the ox."

The intercom sounded again. "Five seconds to warp-line." There was a pause, then the familiar shummer and they were on the warp-line drive. As usual, the shummer had put out Garth's cigar. He re-lit it and went on. "When we began using warp-line travel we hit Onzar in the first fifty years of exploration. Practically had to. It's only a parsec from the confluence of nine lines running between our part of the Galaxy and the Darzent Empire. Right on the main road, right in the middle of the next war." He stared in silence at Thane for a moment. "That's one reason I've called you in on this."

For most of the rest of the trip to Liaison, Garth continued to explain the strange orphan system of Onzar. In the religion, as Garth described it, the whole priesthood was female, and gold had magical value. All the men wore gold, the amount strictly in line with their rank. They despised the women but were in superstitious dread of them because only the church could sanctify and give power to their gold symbols of rank. At first, the men had lived in warring tribes, the women in religious groups. They came together each spring and fall for the ceremonies of gold consecration.

Still, they did make considerable technical progress, partially because of their interest in mining. By the time the first warp-line ship reached them, the Onzarians had the internal combustion engine, nation-states, mass production, planet-wide wars.

"Of course," Garth went on, "in the early days of warp-line exploration we weren't as careful as we are now. The Onzarians picked up enough to put on a real atomic war within fifty years. After that they expanded through their own system, and even took over nearby suns. They certainly had the motive for conquest, too. Gold was running out on their own planet, and they'd go to any lengths to get it."

Thane glanced at his watch and got back onto his couch. "About time for deceleration," he said. Garth also began fastening his straps. Thane glanced over, with curiosity. "Sounds like the usual story, with some interesting variations. Where do I come in?"

"The thing that makes Onzar uniquely important," Garth said, "is its position. Space fleets from Darzent or from the A.S. will have to pass within a parsec of Onzar, because of the confluence of warp-lines in that part of the system. Whoever controls Onzar can win the war for the Galaxy when it comes."

Garth paused as they went through the shummer and the beginnings of deceleration, and then went on. "We were doing fairly well till Candar's revolt and seizure of power. He is leaning toward Darzent. Apparently he thinks he can keep his own independence even if Darzent wins the decision. He's going along with us just enough to assure his supply of gold. But you noticed his own lack of gold ornamentation. His eventual aim is undoubtedly to dominate and destroy the religion because it's about the only independent force left on Onzar, and Candar is not going to tolerate any independent forces."

Garth looked steadily at Thane. "The rest of the details, the language, and your own mission will be made clear to you in the sleep trainer. And it is no exaggeration to say that you will be responsible for the future of the Galaxy."

Liaison Headquarters had started out several centuries before as a small organization within the Department of the Outside, directly under the control of the newly-formed Allied Systems Council. It had begun in a room, and had later moved to its own building. Now it occupied a planet.

The four planets in the system all appeared to be barren, lifeless rocks. Appearances were correct for I, III, and IV. II, however, was not what it seemed. Like the others, the surface was rocky, barren, utterly lifeless, without atmosphere. But a few kilometers down, a red-haired boy had just won a game of bok at school recess. A research worker had just finished a report on an improved interrogatory drug. An administrative assistant had just planned a palace revolution on a system 200 light years away. And Roger Thane, Liaison Agent, was just entering Medico-Synthesis, some eighteen kilometers under the surface.

The young medic looked up as Thane stepped off the mobiltrack and entered the room. "You're Thane," he said, with curiosity in his voice. "The instructions and the sleep-record just came through the Pneum. I've heard about you people from Proxima. Just how does it work, anyway?"

Thane walked over to the sleep-table and grinned a little wearily. "How are you able to see?" he asked. "I don't know that I could tell a blind man satisfactorily. How do the people of the Noxus system telepath? I don't know, and they've tried to tell me. All I know is that mutations occurred sometime while Proxima Centauri was an orphan system, which enable many of us to make small changes in our appearance. Hair color, skin pigmentation, fingerprints. Usually takes about two days. Liaison Research learned how to speed it up with equipment but they never have learned just what they're working with." He smiled apologetically. "I'm afraid that doesn't help you a bit but there's nothing much more I can say that will give you a clearer picture. I've tried before."

Thane was then in his own normal: black hair and eyes, somewhat over two meters in height, with the heavily tanned Proxima skin. Before sliding on the table he took a sheet from the medic and glanced over his new specifications: yellow eyes, golden hair, golden skin. Slight slant to eyes. Three centimeters height reduction. All routine changes, and a matter of a few minutes, with the aid of the Liaison equipment.

The medic was busy making connections, giving injections and setting dials. Thane looked up at the brightly lighted ceiling. With no perceptible lapse he was still staring at it when the medic began taking off the connections. But in the zero subjective time, the twelve minutes of elapsed time, Thane had changed his appearance completely. And what he had learned puzzled him at first and then angered him.

"Roger Thane," the sleep-record began, "your assignment is the protection of Dr. Manning Reine...."

Reine, he learned, was one of the scientists who had been working in obscure laboratories on the Forsberg Project. Forsberg's mathematics had shown the theoretical possibility of a discreet jump, with no time lapse, from one of the curving lines of warp to the next, instead of the present method of travel at "friction speed" along the erratically curving lines.

Garth's voice cut in on the speech record. "Now that we have the drive, what are we going to do with it? Politically, the Allied Systems cannot initiate the attack. Yet if we merely wait, Darzent will eventually learn the details of the drive. As it is, they outnumber us, two to one. They have the advantage in almost every respect. Their only deterrent has been the fear that we do have the second-stage drive.

"There have already been leaks--enough so that if Manning Reine falls into Darzent hands, they would have the drive in operation within a few days. Then immediate attack, and defeat. Your job is to protect Reine, or to kill him if there is danger of his loss to Darzent."

Manning Reine, a native of Onzar, had been educated at the Systems University at Beirut, Earth. He'd returned to Onzar but had fled at the time of the Candar revolution. On Earth, he'd married and gone on with his research work. Now, after twenty-five years, he was the key figure in the development of the drive. Undoubtedly his knowledge was enough to allow Darzent to develop the drive if he should fall into their hands. And he was not susceptible to the protective, anti-interrogatory drugs. Reine himself had developed the vitally important gold catalyst principle.

Reine's address was just a pair of top-secret geographical coordinates, a thousand kilometers from the nearest feeder jet-line. Thane looked down at the endless Norwegian forest, a thousand meters below his rented anti-grav scout. He felt depressed. That was always a reaction to be expected, of course, after an accelerated identity change. But then too, there'd been the scene with Garth after he'd left Medico-Synthesis.

Thane had strode past Garth's secretary and into the inner office without a word. Garth was behind his desk, his back to the door, studying a galactic wall map. He turned slowly.

"A bodyguard!" Thane exclaimed. "Is that your idea of the most responsible job in the Galaxy? You pulled me off the Elron business just when I was set to engineer the beginnings of a representative government there. The whole project will be set back by years. And it was touch-and-go as it was. And for what?"

Garth looked at him calmly for a moment, as he bit off the end of a fresh cigar. "Thane," he finally said, with deliberation, "the executive council of the Department of the Outside just doesn't like your methods. You've put through some really brilliant maneuvers but you've done it alone, taking chances. I've tried to go along with you but the last report from Elron caused a real blow-up at the council. One of the council members suggested your assignment to this bodyguard job, as you call it, and they all agreed. I had to go along."

"Just why, then, is all this Onzar background necessary? Did you think it would fool me?"

"I said I had to go along," Garth answered impatiently, "but that's not all. I also wanted to go along with the idea. This is much more important than it appears on the surface. We have reason to believe that Reine is still connected with Onzar. We don't have much to go on, but one of your jobs will be to get the details."

The coordinates on the lat-don dial had almost lined up, though the forest was still completely unbroken below. A few hundred meters to the right and he had it. Thane let the anti-grav hover for a moment, and then dropped silently downward. Branches of spruce brushed against the plastic cabin as the anti-grav settled into the forest. It gently settled on a thin layer of powder snow. There was nothing but the silence of the forest, broken only by the thin sound of the wind in the branches above.

He stepped out, breathing in the cold, crisp air. He started off through the forest using the unfamiliar Terran compass. One hundred twenty meters, azimuth 273 (difficult to maintain through the trees) and he would come, according to his directions, to a tree a little different from the rest. He continued, with the brittle snow tinkling faintly under his feet.

Then a new sound. Once ... again ... then a repeated volley. Stoltz guns. From the tone, hand size, tuned down below lethal potential, but enough to stun and mutilate.

He was absolutely still for a moment. Then he began running towards the sound, trying to minimize the noise of crunching snow under his feet.

He swerved to pass a clump of trees and brush. As he did three things happened. A small thrush started into the air off a branch, fluttered a moment, then fell to the snow. A white-clad figure appeared ahead, just at the next bend. And.... Thane wondered just what he was doing here ... why wasn't he on Proxima? He remembered school there at fun in elementary atomics....

Then his training took over, forcing his temporarily twisted brain to perform rationally. As he dropped to the brittle snow and aimed his own Stoltz, he automatically catalogued his confusion as the result of an off-shot, a near miss. He hit the snow. The white figure was just off his sights, but close enough. He pressed the impeller. That one didn't miss, and it had been set on "lethal." He crept forward across the ground. He was sure that his immediate opponent was through, but there were others. The slithering Stoltz noises ahead increased in volume.

He reached the white-cloaked figure. Onzarian. The eyes and mouth had the idiot expression peculiar to a Stoltz corpse. Thane considered. He was at a disadvantage against the snow in his blue civilian coveralls. He quickly stripped the white cloak off the corpse and put it on as he continued at a run.

He slowed as he approached a clearing. Not much of a clearing, not large enough to be spotted from the air. Two figures in the Patrol uniform were stretched out, motionless, a few meters from the tree at the center. Two men in white cloaks were carrying a third figure between them, just entering the pine forest at the further edge. Thane instantly recognized the unconscious figure as Reine. At once he started towards them, shifting the Stoltz to the lightest stun position. That cut the range way down, even for this close-in weapon, but it would be dangerous for Reine if he used more. Reine apparently had had one dose already. On the run, Thane aimed at one figure he had not seen before. Apparently it was good, for Thane was able to keep going. Fifteen meters distant from the three figures, Thane stopped. They were just visible through the trees. He raised his Stoltz and ... thought of Proxima....

... he was fifteen and the dance was wonderful. She was dressed in the new shell-white toga that was fashionable just then. It certainly set off her jet-black hair, shining on the terrace, in the light of Proxima's two moons....

But it wasn't black, it was blonde. And she wasn't leaning against his arm on the terrace, she was standing in front of him, and he was lying on the brittle snow. There was a Stoltz in her bare right hand.

She stated at him, steadily and coldly. "It is turned all the way up now. I hope you are ready to die, Onzarian!"

Thane, as he recovered fully from the Stoltz shock, recognized the tall blonde girl standing before him. Astrid Reine, Manning's daughter and assistant. He raised himself painfully to his elbows. As he did, he saw Astrid's knuckles tighten around the impeller.

"No, Astrid," he said. "I'm here to help you. We may still be able to save your father."

Her hand didn't waver. The expression on her golden face was scornful. "Do not lie so childishly! You came with the Onzarians, the agents of Candar. You are one of them. You came to take my father."

Thane desperately gestured back the way he had come. "My footprints are in the snow. There's an Onzarian I killed. And my anti-grav. I was sent to protect your father."

"Who are you?"

A roaring noise came from the east and a moment later a jet cleared the tree tops, headed south. Thane saw the ship at the edge of his vision, but kept his eyes on Astrid. She turned her head slightly at the sound. Slightly, but enough. Thane's tensed muscles contracted as he sprang to his feet. She pressed the impeller--just as his left foot kicked in a high arc and caught the side of the barrel.

The gun spun off to the edge of the clearing. "Now," he said angrily, "don't you think we've wasted enough time? They have him now, and with that jet they'll have enough start on us to leave the system before we can catch them." As he spoke, the jet reappeared and slipped down low over the trees to the west. "Hurry," he said, "they'll be on us in seconds."

She looked at him, hesitated. Then, "All right. Inside."

She stepped over to the trunk of the tree and spoke softly. A panel opened in the ground at the foot of the tree, over a grav-well. They dropped gently, and the panel closed behind them. As they floated slowly downward they heard a sharp explosion overhead. He smiled wryly at Astrid, dropping beside him.

"Your change of heart," he said, "didn't come any too soon."

Reine's laboratory, like a great deal else in the Allied Systems, had gone underground as galactic war approached. Far beneath the surface, the grav-well ended in a corridor, stretching out a hundred meters. Rooms filled with equipment opened out at either side. As they walked down the corridor, Thane explained his mission and his Onzarian appearance. "Now," he went on, "there's a lot for me to catch up on."

"It's been terrible," Astrid said. "First, there was the attack yesterday. We fought them off, then. Liaison radioed that they were sending more protection. But the jet that landed today flashed the Liaison code to our auto-interrogator. We lowered the screen and they began to attack. We didn't stand a chance, once they were inside."

It was all clear enough, and it was certainly also clear that he was late. There was the faint possibility that Reine could still be rescued before the Onzarians could leave the system.

He turned to Astrid. "If they plan to leave by the regular Onzarian transport, we should be able to catch them at the Aberdeen spaceport. Where's the radio?"

They had reached an open door. Astrid's gesture was hopeless. Thane looked inside. The Onzarians had been there before they left. Twisted, melted circuits were all they had left.

The anti-grav scout got them to the Aberdeen spaceport an hour late. The Onzarian gold transport had left for Kadell IV. A few questions were enough to justify Thane's growing pessimism. Several Onzarians had taken passage. One was heavily drugged, under the care of a physician.

The hours dragged till they were able to get passage on the next Kadell-bound transport the following day. Once spaceborne, Thane felt a lot of his depression lift. There was a good chance they would reach the Kadenar spaceport on Kadell IV before the other ship had left. In the meantime there was Astrid....

By the time they had reached the second warp-line intersection Thane had learned that Astrid had also attended the Systems University at Beirut, three classes behind him. They'd had some of the same professors and a couple of mutual friends. Thane told her of life on Proxima, and she told him how she had lived and worked with her father. Her talk was in the off-hand sort of vocal shorthand that their generation shared. But through the facade, Thane could see that she was immensely brilliant in research, fascinated with her work, and at the same time, immensely lonely. She was animated when she spoke of the work that she and her father had done but there was a different sparkle in her yellow eyes when she talked of the university. Talks with fellow students, a brief love affair, weekend trips to Tel Aviv or New Rome--it was plain that she had badly missed it all in her years in Norway, in the glittering, isolated laboratory far under the snow.

And always there was recurrent alarm for her father. She broke off her talk of the University and gripped his arm. "Roger, we must stop them. If they take my father to Onzar, he'll be killed. And the movement. What will happen to that?"

"The movement?" Roger Thane asked, puzzled.

"Why of course," she said, surprised. "Don't you know about it?"

Thane was about to answer, but just then there was the shummer as they re-entered space at the second warp-line intersection. At the same moment the red warning light in their compartment blinked. The navigator's voice, with an undercurrent of alarm, came over the intercom. "Emergency. Emergency! Crew to battle stations. Passengers to lifeboats."

Roger and Astrid dashed out into the port corridor. The corridor widened as they ran forward, and they were suddenly in the port fire control center. An Onzarian officer, the Third from his insignia, was at the fire control panel. Thane looked at the screen over the Third's head. The ship was black and unmarked but if it was a pirate it was by far the biggest Thane had ever seen. The whole black hulk was turning in space, a hundred KM away, lining up its armament. It would only be seconds. Thane looked at the Third. He seemed to be confused, and was fumbling almost blindly with the instruments. He twisted dials almost at random, on the edge of panic. Thane hesitated--then realized what it must be--Stoltz artillery. The unmarked ship had managed to get through with it, during the microseconds of the shummer when the screens were down.

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