"Rogue Ship" (1950) by A. E. van Vogt

(actualisé le ) by A. E. van Vogt

This rousing space-opera extravaganza starts off with a bang when the very wealthy and scientifically-minded hero learns that the spaceship that he had built to ship a colony to the far-away Alpha Centauri star system six years ago – to escape a forthcoming nova-explosion of the sun which only he has been able to calculate - has just come back to Earth! But there is no signal of life from the ship, so he forces a way in to discover that strange things indeed happen to people and objects when their velocity approaches the speed of light; and that amazing physical phenomena that man hasn’t yet dreamed of are actually happening out there!

First published in the March 1950 issue of the very remarkable magazine Super Science Stories – this issue had major stories by Ray Bradbury, John D. Macdonald, Arthur C. Clarke and other worthies as well as this 16,000-word novelette by van Vogt, and a number of book reviews by Frederick Pohl – Rogue Ship was renamed The Twisted Men for the publication of an anthology of the same name in 1964. Parts of it were also incorporated by van Vogt into the (very different) “fix-up” novel also called Rogue Ship that he put together from various bits and pieces in 1965.

Here you have the original and rather excellent Super Science illustrations by Bok, and the quite spectacular Super S. magazine cover art by Saunders [1] - what youth of 1950, science-minded or otherwise, could have resisted handing over 25¢ for a magazine with such an eye-grabbing cover, one wonders!



e-book versions of this quintessential golden-age space opera are available for downloading below.


ROGUE SHIP



CHAPTER ONE

Strange Return

AVERILL HEWITT hung up the phone, and repeated aloud the message he had just been given: "Your spaceship, Hope of Man, is entering the atmosphere of Earth."
The words echoed and re-echoed in his mind, a discordant repetition. He staggered to a couch and lay down.
Other words began to join the whirl­pool of meaning and implication that was the original message: After six years . . . the Hope of Man . . . after six years, just about the time it should be approaching one of the Centauri sun . . . re-entering the atmosphere of Earth . . .
Lying there, Hewitt thought: And for ten years I’ve lived with the knowledge that our sun is due to show some of the characteristics of a Cepheid Variable—within months now!
Momentarily, the memory distracted him. His mind went back over the ridi­cule that had been heaped on him. Scien­tists had rejected his evidence without giving him a hearing. When he had sent his new instruments to an observatory in a sealed crate, they had been sent back with the seal unbroken. A famous astron­omer commented that the sun was not a Cepheid Variable; and with that icily withdrew from the controversy.
In reply, Hewitt had pointed out that he hadn’t said the sun was a Cepheid Variable. He had merely stated it would show some of its characteristics. Actually, the ultimate effect would be that of a baby nova.
The phrase captured the headlines, but only as a one-week wonder. Gradually, he’d realized that the human race could not imagine its own destruction. He de­cided to use his private fortune to send a ship with colonists to remote Alpha Centauri.
Thinking back to those days, Hewitt recalled his efforts to find people who would go.
The problem had been brand-new. The newly-invented atomic space drive, al­ready widely used for journeys among the planets, had yet to be tried on an interstellar trip.
Years ago, the Space Patrol had re­quested funds to make an exploratory journey, but the money had not even yet been appropriated.
Nobody actually put on much pressure. The prodigious task of exploiting the solar planets was barely begun.

THE first man who volunteered to go on the Hope of Man was Armand Tellier, a thin-faced young man with too-trans­parent skin and pale blue eyes.
He had majored in physics at the Sor­bonne. He had said, "My wife and I feel that if we give ten years to this trip, I’ll be an authority on Einsteinian physics when I get back."
He emphasized the "get back" ever so slightly.
Hewitt had pretended not to hear the qualification. It was enough for him if they were out of the solar system when the sun underwent the changes he had predicted.
Tellier was speaking again. "You un­derstand," he said, "I’m making this journey because you have had the finan­cial strength to install an atomic pile. That means acceleration can be continu­ous. But–" he paused to emphasize his point; his eyelids flickered— "I must have authority to maintain acceleration to the halfway point. I must have an opportunity to make a study of what happens when our ship approaches the speed of light."
Hewitt frowned at the floor of his study. He knew what he intended to say in substance. At thirty-eight he still wor­ried about just how he should word it. In the end he was blunt. "You can have the authority, on one condition."
The pale blue eyes grew intent. "What is that?"
"Your wife must be with child at the time of take-off."
There was a long pause; then: "I’m sure," said Tellier in a formal voice, "that we are prepared to make even that sacri­fice to further my career."
He departed. In describing him to his wife that night, Hewitt called him a cold fish.
"Like you are now, Averill?" she said.
She was a dark-haired beauty with eyes that had starry glints in them. The stars were hard and bright, as she looked at him across the dinner table.
Hewitt almost laughed. Then he stared at her more intently. Finally he sighed, and put down his knife and fork. "I’ve seen this coming," he said.
She said bitterly, "You’ve made a fool of all of us with this prediction of destruc­tion of the solar system. I can’t take it any longer."
Hewitt said wretchedly, "I’ll make a settlement, but I must have the children. I want to send them along."
She said in an uneven tone, "The chil­dren go with me. I’ll take a lower settle­ment."
"No!"
She was trembling. The stars in her eyes were dulled. "If you don’t let me have the children without a fight, I’ll take you to court. I’ll tie up your money by legal procedures. You won’t be able to finish building the ship."
Silence; then: "You win, Joan."
She started to cry. He saw that she hadn’t expected him to choose the ship instead of her.
One newspaper reported the next day:
"BABY NOVA" MAN TO BE DIVORCED. But —the papers also described Tellier’s reasons for wanting to go on the journey. As a result seven young scientists and their wives were stimulated to make the "sacrifice." And then in one week three visionaries came from different parts of the country. Each separately described how he had had a vision of Sol flaring up and engulfing Earth. That was not the way it would be, but Hewitt refrained from enlightening them. In his presence the wives separately expressed themselves as willing to carry out their share of the bargain.
A youthful soldier of fortune turned up with a young blonde who purported to be his wife. Hewitt did not require a wedding certificate. A doctor, a member of a narrow sect, said that he and his wife had decided that a medical man ought to go along. "The moment," he said, "that we realized the need, I knew it was my duty to go."
When no experienced space crewmen volunteered for the journey, Hewitt ran want ads offering fabulous wages. Five young couples responded. They didn’t seem to realize the money would have no value where they were going.
There was only one reply to Hewitt’s ad for a licensed spaceship commander. A grizzled fifty-year-old came, bringing a young girl with him. He introduced himself as Mark Grayson, and the girl as his ward, Juanita Lord. His enthusiasm was tremendous. "I’ve dreamed all my life of commanding the first ship to another star. If you accept me I plan to marry Juanita. She’s very anxious to go, and of course she loves me very much. Isn’t that right, dear?"
The girl nodded vigorously. Hewitt blinked at her, shocked in spite of himself. He started to protest, "But she’s only a—" He stopped, gulping. He said doubt­fully, "There’s the matter of legal age. I question whether any court would give you two permission under such circum­stances."
"I’m eighteen," said Juanita earnestly. She added plaintively, "I know I look young, but don’t think I’m not grown up."
She was a startlingly pretty girl. She looked twelve or fourteen, at most. Hewitt stiffened himself. He said slowly, "It would be inadvisable for publicity reasons, for—"
He stopped himself. He thought, What am I saying? The future of the race is at stake. Besides, I’m actually saving her life.
Aloud, he said, "You’re hired."
The spaceship, Hope of Man, bound for Alpha Centauri, had lifted up from the soil of Earth on April 30th, 2072 A.D., with thirty-eight people aboard.
Hewitt had stayed behind. He had con­sidered that his fight was just begin­ning . . .

HIS BITTER reverie ended as the phone began to ring again. He climbed off the couch; and as he went to answer, he thought, I’ll have to go aboard and try to persuade them. As soon as they land, I’ll—
This time his caller was an official of the Space Patrol. Hewitt listened shakily, trying to grasp the picture the other was presenting. It had proved impossible to communicate with those aboard, and the ship was now approaching the Earth ap­parently in a great descending spiral, be­cause of the Earth’s revolution, but actu­ally in a straight-line course.
"We’ve had men in spacesuits at both observation ports, Mr. Hewitt. Naturally, they couldn’t see in, since it’s one-way-vision material. But they pounded on the metal for well over an hour, and received no response."
Hewitt hesitated. He had no real com­ment to make.
He said finally, "How fast is the ship going?"
"About a thousand miles an hour."
Hewitt scarcely heard the reply. His mind was working faster now. He said, "I authorize all expense necessary to get inside. I’ll be there myself in an hour."
As he headed for his private ship, he was thinking, If I can get inside, I’ll talk to them. I’ll convince them. I’ll force them to go back.
He felt remorseless. It seemed to him that, for the first time in the history of the human race, any means of compulsion was justified.

TWO hours later, he said, "You mean, the airlock won’t open?"
He said it incredulously, while standing inside the rescue ship, Molly D., watching a huge magnet try to unscrew the outer hatch of the Hope of Man. Reluctantly, Hewitt drew his restless mind from his own private purpose. He thought, There must be something seriously wrong.
Instantly, he felt impatient, unwilling to accept the need to adjust to the possibility that there had been trouble aboard. He said urgently, "Keep trying! It’s obvious­ly stuck. That lock was built to open in less than two minutes."
He was scarcely aware of how com­pletely the others had let him take control of rescue operations. In a way, it was natural enough. The Molly D. was a com­mercial salvage vessel, which had been commandeered by the Space Patrol. Now that Hewitt was aboard, the representa­tive of the Patrol, Lieutenant Commander Mardonell, had assumed the role of ob­server. And the permanent captain of the vessel took instructions, as a matter of course, from the man paying the bills.
More than an hour later, the giant magnet had turned the round lock-door just a little over one foot. Pale, tense and astounded, Hewitt held counsel with the two officers.
The altimeter of the Molly D. showed ninety-one miles. Lieutenant Commander Mardonell made the decisive comment about that. "We’ve come down about nine miles in sixty-eight minutes. At that rate we’ll strike some high landmark in ten hours."
It was evident that it would take much longer than that to unscrew the thirty-five yards of thread on the lock-door at one foot per hour.
Hewitt considered the situation angrily. He still thought of this whole boarding problem as a minor affair, an irritation. "We’ll have to get a big drill," he said. "Cut through the wall."
He radioed for one to be sent ahead. But, even with the full authority of the Space Patrol behind him, two and a half hours went by before it was in position. Hewitt gave the order to start the power­ful drill motor. He left instructions: "Call me when we’re about to penetrate."
He had been progressively aware of exhaustion, as much mental as physical. He retreated to one of the ship’s bunks and lay down.
He slept tensely, expecting to be called any moment. He turned and twisted, and, during his wakeful periods, his mind was wholly on the problem of what he would do when he got inside the ship.
He awoke suddenly and saw by his watch that more than five hours had gone by. He dressed with a sense of disaster. He was met by Mardonell.
The Space Patrol officer said, "I didn’t call you, Mr. Hewitt. Because when it became apparent that we weren’t going to get in, I contacted my headquarters. As a result we’ve been getting advice from some of the world’s greatest scientists." The man was quite pale, as he finished, "I’m afraid it’s no use. All the advice in the world hasn’t helped that drill."
"What do you mean?"
"Better go take a look."
The drill was still turning as Hewitt approached. He ordered it shut off, and with his mind almost blank examined the metal wall of the Hope of Man. It was penetrated—he measured it—to a depth of three-quarters of a millimeter.
"But that’s ridiculous," Hewitt pro­tested. "This metal was cast right here on Earth eight years ago."
Mardonell said, "We’ve had two extra drills brought up. Diamonds don’t mean a thing to that metal."
He added, "It’s been calculated that she’ll crash somewhere in the higher foot­hills of the Rockies. We’ve been able to pin it down pretty accurately, and people have been warned."
Hewitt said, "What about those aboard? What about—" He stopped. He had been intending to ask, "What about the human race?" He didn’t say it. That was a spe­cial madness of his own, which would only irritate other people.
Trembling, he walked over to a port­hole of the rescue ship. He guessed they were about fifteen miles above the surface of the earth. Less than two hours before crashing.
When that time limit had dwindled to twenty minutes, Hewitt gave the order to cast off. The rescue ship withdrew slowly from the bigger host, climbing as she went. A little later, Hewitt stood watching with a sick look on his face, as the round ship made its first contact with the earth below, the side of a hill.
At just under a thousand miles an hour, horizontal velocity, it ploughed through the soil, creating a cloud of dust. From where Hewitt and his men watched, no sound was audible, but the impact must have been terrific.
"That did it," said Hewitt, swallowing. "If anybody was alive aboard, they died at that moment."
It needed no imagination to picture the colossal concussion. All human beings in­side would now be bloody splotches against a floor, ceiling or wall.
Somebody shouted, "She’s through the hill!"
Hewitt said, "My God!"
An improbable thing had happened. The hill, made of rock and packed soil, thicker than a hundred ships like the Hope of Man, was sheared in two. Through a cloud of dust, Hewitt made out the round ship skimming the high valley beyond. She struck the valley floor, and once again there was dust. The machine did not slow; showed no reaction to the im­pact.
It continued at undiminished speed on into the earth.

THE DUST cleared slowly. There was a hole three hundred feet in diameter, slanting into the far hillside. It began to collapse. Tons of rock crashed down from the upper lip of that cave.
The rescue ship had sunk to a point nearer the ground, and Hewitt heard plainly the thunder of the falling debris.
Gradually, the surface turmoil subsided. The Molly D. landed. Hewitt began numbly to issue orders that would begin the job of fencing in the danger areas. He thought of the problem as one that would be resolved by excavation. The Hope of Man had buried itself. It would have to be dug up.
He had the vague thought that the hard metal of the walls could have withstood the shock, and that the vessel might be reparable.
Rock and soil were still falling when a radio report arrived. A mountain had collapsed fifty miles away. There was a new valley, and somebody had been killed. Three small earthquakes had shaken the neighborhood.
For twenty minutes, the reports piled up. The land was uneasy. Fourteen more earthquakes were recorded. Two of them were the most violent ever known in the affected areas. Great fissures had ap­peared. The ground jumped and trembled. The last one had taken place four hundred miles from the first; and they all lined up with the course of the Hope of Man.
Abruptly, there came an electrifying message. The round ship had emerged in the desert, and was beginning to climb upward on a long, swift, shallow slant.
Less than three hours later, the salvage ship was again clinging to the side of the larger machine. Its huge magnets twisted stubbornly at the great lock-door. To the half-dozen government scientists who had come aboard, Hewitt said: "It took an hour to turn it one foot. It shouldn’t take more than a hundred and five hours to turn it thirty-five yards. Then, of course, we have the inner door, but that’s a dif­ferent problem." He broke off. "Gentle­men, shall we discuss the fantastic thing that has happened?"
The discussion that followed arrived at no conclusion.

HEWITT said, "That does it!"
Through the thick asbesglas, they watched the huge magnet make its final turn on the inner door. As they watched from behind the transparent barrier, a thick metal arm was poked into the air­lock, and shoved at the door. After strain­ing with it for several seconds, its opera­tor turned and glanced at Hewitt. The latter turned on his walkie-talkie.
"Come on back inside the ship. We’ll put some air pressure in there. That’ll open the door."
He had to fight to keep his irritation out of his voice. The outer door had opened without trouble, once all the turns had been made. There seemed no reason why the inner door should not respond in the same way. The Hope of Man was persisting in being recalcitrant.
The captain of the salvage vessel looked doubtful when Hewitt transmitted the order to him. "If she’s stuck," he ob­jected, "you never can tell just how much pressure it’ll take to open her. Don’t forget we’re holding the two ships to­gether with magnets. It wouldn’t take much to push them apart."
Hewitt frowned over that. He said finally, "Maybe it won’t take a great deal. And if we do get pushed apart, well, we’ll just have to add more magnets." He added swiftly, Or maybe we can build a bulkhead into the lock itself, join the two ships with a steel framework."
It was decided to try a gradual increase in air pressure. Presently Hewitt was watching the pressure gauge as it slowly crept up. It registered in pounds and atmospheres. At a fraction over ninety-one atmospheres, the pressure started rapidly down. It went down to eighty-six in a few seconds, then steadied, and began to creep up again. The captain barked an order to the engine room, and the gauge stopped rising. The man turned to Hewitt.
"Well, that’s it. At ninety-one atmos­pheres, the rubber lining began to lose air, and didn’t seal up again till the pres­sure went down."
Hewitt shook his head in bewilderment. "I don’t understand it," he said. "That’s over twelve hundred pounds to the square inch."
Reluctantly, he radioed for the equip­ment that would be needed to brace the two ships together. While they waited, they tried several methods of using ma­chinery to push open the door. None of the methods worked. Hewitt was startled, and for the first time let into his foreconsciousness an idea that had been at the back of his mind now for several days.
It had to do with Armand Tellier. Tel­lier had been intending to do some ex­perimenting, he recalled, uneasily. Care­fully, one by one, he enumerated the fan­tastic things that had happened. He felt himself turn pale with excitement. On the basis of that first glimmering picture, he estimated that it would take nine hun­dred atmospheres of pressure to force open the inner lock door of the Hope of Man.

IT REQUIRED just under nine hun­dred and seventy-eight.
The door swung open grudgingly. Hewitt watched the air gauge, and waited for the needle to race downward. The air should be rushing through the open door, on into the Centauri ship, dissipating its terrific pressure in the enormous cubic area of the bigger machine. It could sweep through like a tornado, destroying everything in its path.
The pressure went down to nine hun­dred and seventy-three. There it stopped. There it stayed. Beside Hewitt, a govern­ment scientist said in a strangled tone, "But what’s happened? It seems to be equalized at an impossible level. How can that be? Thai’s over thirteen thousand pounds to the square inch."
Hewitt drew away from the asbesglas barrier. "I’ll have to get a specially de­signed suit," he said. "Nothing we have would hold that pressure for an instant."
It meant going down to Earth. Not that it would take a great deal of time. There were firms capable of building such a suit in two days. But be would have to he present in person to supervise its construction.
As he headed for a landing craft, Hew­itt thought, All I’ve got to do is get aboard, and start the ship back toward Centaurus. probably have to go along. But that’s immaterial now. It was too late to build more colonizing ships.
He was suddenly confident that the en­tire unusual affair would be resolved swiftly. He had no premonition.
It was morning at the steel city when he landed. The news of his coming had preceded him; and when he emerged from the spacesuit factory shortly after noon, a group of reporters were waiting for him. Hewitt gave them some crumbs of information, but left them dissatisfied.
As he headed for his own craft, he noticed that several men in uniform were waiting for him. They wore the uniform of the federal police. As Hewitt ap­proached they sauntered casually toward him. Something in their attitude warned him. He turned, and started back toward the factory. A paralyzer beam flashed. He fell, twisting in anguish.
The papers reported that he had "re­sisted arrest."

CHAPTER TWO

The Twisted Men

FOR TWENTY-FOUR hours, Hewitt lay in a jail bunk, and thought about incredible things.
The confinement seemed to have released his imagination, for his thoughts were on the wild side and partly, at least, unten­able. But he calmed down, and presently he was able to write his ideas in logical sequence. He told himself that he did so to clarify his own thinking. He made the following points:
The Hope of Man was not affected by the gravitational forces of Earth. It was moving through the solar system as an independent body.
Coming in from outer space the ship had intersected the path of the earth around the sun. In pursuing its straight course, it had passed through the outer rim of Earth, but it was Earth that moved away from it, not it away from Earth.
The tremendous hardness of the metal and the fact that the solid earth offered no obstacle whatever to its movement, sug­gested that the round ship had enormous mass. Hewitt hesitated at that point. He was beginning to think he might give the account to the press after all. He added: "The density is clearly out of all propor­tion to any known substance." He gave the air pressure as evidence. He hinted at matter density almost, though not quite, comparable to that found in the in­teriors of certain stars. He meant white dwarfs, like Sirius B. He meant neu­tronium. But now that he was consciously writing for publication, he did not say so.
He had a purpose in mind. It seemed to him that if he made this explanation properly, he would he freed to help in boarding the Hope of Man.
But now he had an unpleasant point to make. For a man who had predicted that the sun would destroy Earth, his next statement was loaded with dynamite—for himself. Nevertheless, he finally wrote firmly:
"If the robot control is responsible for the ship’s return, then it will still be in operation. It will accordingly start edging the Hope of Man over, so that the two bodies will presently meet again. We cannot reasonably expect that its passage will once more be limited to a shadow sur­face penetration. The ship may go down to the magma. I need hardly point out that an irresistible hundred-yards-in-dia­meter body may cause major planetary convulsions."
On reading that over, he realized it would shock the world. Other people would not take his attitude that, since such a disaster would happen later than the greater catastrophe of the baby Nova, it was a matter for concern because the ship might be destroyed. To them, the danger from the ship, not to it, would be important. Mobs might well try to lynch the owner of the vessel.
Shuddering, Hewitt tore up his account and burned it. He was still shivering at what he considered his narrow escape when his lawyer came. It seemed there would be due process of law. Meanwhile, habeas corpus, bail, freedom. The govern­ment, it seemed, wasn’t even certain it had a case against him. Somebody had acted hastily.
Several civil suits had been filed. People were suing him for damage to their property. Somebody had owned the moun­tain that had become a valley. Nearly a dozen people claimed to have been hurt. Hewitt ordered that all claims should be fought by every device of the law. Then he collected the specially-built spacesuit, and headed once more for the Molly D.
More than an hour was spent in test­ing. Rut at last a magnet drew shut the inner door of the Hope of Man. Then the air pressure in the connecting bulkhead was reduced to one atmosphere. Hewitt, arrayed in his new, motor-driven space­suit, was then lifted out of the salvage ship into the bulkhead by a crane.
The door locked tight behind him. Air was again pumped into space. Hewitt watched the suit’s air-pressure gauges carefully as the outside pressure was grad­ually increased to nine hundred and seven­ty-three atmospheres. When, after many minutes, the suit showed no signs of buckling, he edged it forward in low gear and gently pushed open the door of the big ship.
A few seconds later he was inside the Hope of Man.
DARKNESS!
The change had come at the instant he rolled into the ship. The difference was startling. From outside, the corridor had looked bright and normal.
He was in a ghastly gray-dark world. Several seconds went by as he peered into the gloom. Slowly, his eyes became accustomed to the dim lighting effect.
Six years had gone by since be had last been aboard the ship. Even in that half-night, he was struck by a sense of small­ness
He was in a corridor which he knew pointed into the heart of the ship. It was narrower than he remembered it. Not just a little narrower: a lot. It had been a broad arterial channel, especially constructed for large equipment. It was not broad any more.
Just how long it was he couldn’t see. Originally, it had been just under three hundred feet in length. He couldn’t see that far. Ahead, the corridor faded into impenetrable shadow.
It seemed not to have shrunk at all in height. It had been twenty feet high, and it still looked twenty.
But it was five feet wide instead of fifteen. It didn’t look as if it had been torn down and rebuilt. It seemed solid, and, besides, rebuilding was out of the ques­tion. The steel framework behind the facade of the wall was an integral part of the skeleton of the ship.
He had to make up his mind, then, whether he would continue into the ship. And there was no doubt of that. With his purposes, he had to.
He paused to close the airlock door. And there he received his second shock.
The door distorted as it moved. That was something else that had not been visi­ble from outside. As he swung it shut, its normal width of twelve feet narrowed to four.
The change was so monstrous that perspiration broke out on his face.
And the first, sharp, tremendous realiz­ation was in his mind. But that’s the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction theory effect!
His mind leaped on to an even more staggering thought: Why, that would mean this ship is traveling at near the speed of light.
He rejected the notion utterly. It seemed a meaningless concept.
There must be some other explanation.

CAUTIOUSLY, he started his ma­chine forward on its rubber wheels. The captain’s cabin was on this floor, and that was his first destination.
As he moved ahead, the shadows opened up reluctantly before him. Presently he made out the door of the cabin. When he was ten feet from it, he was able to see the ramp in the distance beyond.
The reappearance of things he remem­bered relieved him. What was more im­portant, they seemed to be at just about the right distance. First the airlock, then the captain’s cabin, then the ramp.
The corridor opened out at the ramp, then narrowed again; and in the distance beyond was the second airlock.
Everything looked eerily cramped be­cause of the abnormal narrowing effect. But the length seemed to be right.
He expected the door of the captain’s cabin to be too narrow for his spacesuit to get into. However, as he came up to it, he saw that its width was as he re­membered it.
Hewitt nodded to himself. Of course, even by the Lorentz-Fitzgerald theory, that would be true. Contraction would be in the direction of flight.
Since the door was at right angles to the flight-line, the size of the doorway was not affected. The door jamb, how­ever, could probably be narrower.
The jamb was narrower. Hewitt had stopped his suit to start at it. Now, he felt himself pale with tension.
It doesn’t fit, he told himself. Like the Mall, it’s narrower only by a factor of three, whereas the air pressure varies nine hundred seventy-three to one.
Once more, he assured himself that the explanation could not possibly include the famous contraction theory. Speed was not a factor here. The Hope of Man was practically at rest, whatever its ve­locity might have been in the past.
He stopped that thought. I’m wasting time. I’ve got to get going.
Acutely conscious again that this was supposed to be a quick exploratory jour­ney, he shifted the softly spinning motor into gear, and moved forward through the doorway.
As he rolled all the way into it, he saw that Captain Mark Grayson sat at a long, extremely narrow desk. He seemed to be writing something.
The grizzled space veteran sat with un­natural steadiness. He did not look up as the machine rolled nearer, though he faced the door, and was in a position to catch the slightest movement from the tops of his eyes.
It was hard in that shadowy light to see what he was doing. His eyes seemed to be looking fixedly down at a sheet of paper. But his hand, holding the pen, did not move.
Slowly, watchfully, Hewitt rolled a­round the desk. He was shocked, but no longer so desperately surprised when he saw that the man was only a few inches thick. Seen in front view, he looked unchanged.
From the side, he was a tall man with a head and body that looked like a cari­cature of a human being, such as might be seen in a badly distorted circus mir­ror.
Right then and there, Hewitt suspended his judgment. Some of the phenomena suggested the Lorentz-Fitzgerald effect. Even the weird light could be the result of normally invisible radiation projected to visible frequency levels.
But that was as far as it went. Most of what he had seen could only be ex­plained if the ship were traveling simul­taneously at several different speeds.
He was beside, and slightly behind Grayson now. He had to strain his eyes to see what was on the paper. He read:

Tellier is exhilarated. He informed me that yesterday, according to the instruments, we had attained a velocity of 177,000 miles per second. Today, though the pile is even hotter, there has been no change in our registered speed. He admits he can only guess at what has happ

Whatever had happened at that moment must have struck like a secret knife. Gray­son had no advance warning; his writing had been cut off in mid-word. He sat here now, a mute witness to the reality that disaster could catch a man between heartbeats.
Hewitt began his retreat from the control room. His mind now was almost blank.
Nothing he could think of could compare with the fantastic reality.

AS HE raced his thick, tank-like suit along the corridor, Hewitt consciously braced himself, consciously accepted the abnormality of his environment. He grew more observant, more thoughtful —and more tense.
He came to the place where the corridor divided. He slowed. One side, he knew, curved up a spiral ramp to the living quarters of the crew. The other went down to the engine room, one of the storerooms and the apartments of the scientists.
There were no stairways or elevators in the Hope of Man. It had been intended that people should use their muscles for every necessary movement.
Hewitt headed down. As he reached the third floor down, and glanced along that corridor, he saw that a man was standing at one of the entrances in the lower store­room.
His posture was as unchanging as Cap­tain Grayson’s. Ills eyes were wide and staring: they seemed to glare straight at the motor-driven spacesuit. But neither the eyes nor the rest of the man’s body showed any reaction to Hewitt’s presence. His body, seen from the side, looked only inches in thickness. Because be was standing, he seemed even more inhuman than Grayson had been.
Hewitt recognized him as Draper, one of the scientists. Draper’s field was plant biology.
He found three more scientists standing in various postures at the entrance of the engine room. Since they did not all face in the direction of flight, they presented an amazing assortment.
One, seen from the front, was as thin as a post, a gaunt, incredible-looking crea­ture. Another was foreshortened from a side view. He simply seemed crippled. The third one resembled Captain Grayson and Draper; his narrowness was through the thickness of his body.
Inside the engine room, Armand Tel­lier—a mere sliver of a man as seen from the side—was bending over a section of the instrument board. He stared down at it with unwinking eyes, and neither turned nor moved while Hewitt watched.
Dissatisfied, feeling he was missing something in this silent drama, Hewitt gave his attention to the engines. His first glance at the line of meters shocked him.
The pile was as hot as a hundred hells. The transformer needle was abnormally steady, for the colossal load it was bearing. The drive was carrying an energy flow of ninety out of a possible hundred.
The resistance to acceleration must be tremendous, for the accelerometer needle registered zero. As he glanced at the speedometer, Hewitt’s mind flashed back to what Captain Grayson had been writing in his logbook: “ . . . 177,000 miles per second . . . "
That was what the speedometer showed.
For the second time, Hewitt thought, "But surely that doesn’t mean it still—"
His mind refused to hold the thought.
Nevertheless, by the time he retreated from the engine room, his brain was be­ginning to relax. And part of the greater picture was forming there.
It would have to be discussed, thought about, clarified. Tremendously stimulated by the possibilities, but depressed by the death that was all around him, he started on what he intended to be a swift and routine round of the rest of the ship.
Mrs. Tellier sat in a chair with a child on her knee, a fixed smile on her face. Two scientists’ wives had been caught by immobility as they were taking dishes from the automatic dishwashing machine. They made an oddly life-like domestic tableau. The other children were in a large playpen, with several women sit­ting in chairs nearby, apparently watching them. All were distorted.
Upstairs, in the crew’s quarters, Hew­itt found not only the crewmen and their wives, but Warwick, the soldier of for­tune, Marie, his blonde wife, and Juanita Lord, the child bride of Captain Grayson. The girl looked older, and she had a sullen expression on her immobile face. War­wick had a gun in his hand, which he had evidently been cleaning. The shells were spilled out on his lap.
Despite the hideous distorting effect from the light and the one-third contrac­tion, the postures of those present were conventional. That puzzled Hewitt anew.
He had been trying to hold away from his consciousness the extent of the disas­ter that was here. Just for a moment it penetrated, in spite of himself. Just for an instant it hurt like fury. He had a brief but unnerving sense of guilt. From the corner of one eye, he saw a group of children. All were sitting or standing in the various positions that must have been the results of their final movements.
Hastily, not looking directly at the youngsters, Hewitt guided his machine out into the corridor. He was heading along it when he thought, One of those babies was in an extremely odd position.
He slowed down, disturbed. He oughtn’t to have been so squeamish. He should have taken a good look at the scene.
The only thing is, he told himself, I’ve got to get out of here. I can’t stop for a second look.
At the head of the ramp, he hesitated. He couldn’t go back without checking. Very pointed questions might be asked him. He’d better have the answers.

CHAPTER THREE

Zone of Danger

BACK he went to the crew’s quar­ters. The scene was unchanged. There were six children in one corner. They were all between two and three years old, he judged.
That was important because it gave some idea of how much time had actually gone by aboard the ship. At most, three and a half years. And yet the Hope of Man had been gone for six!
Unquestionably this ship had undergone some of the contraction effects pre­dicted by the Lorentz-Fitzgerald theory. Even time had been telescoped.
It was a point Hewitt noted only in passing. Something else, something far more important—or so it seemed—ab­sorbed him. Four of the children were sitting on the floor amid a wilderness of toys. One child stood flat-footed, in an awkward position. The sixth had been caught in the act of getting to his feet.
Hewitt stared at the boy in utter fasci­nation. The sense of urgency in him was tremendous. It was time he was out of here.
But the youngster, in getting up, had got himself into an unusual position. He was balanced on the tip of one toe and the outspread fingers of one chubby hand. There he had frozen.
Almost blankly, Hewitt realized the truth. He had not, he saw, let his mind carry him far enough. The difference in air pressure, the immense tensile strength of the metal—these things had been but part of a greater whole.
There was a time difference also. These people lived one second while he lived nine hundred and seventy-three seconds. From their point of view, he was making his entire inspection of their ship in less than one second of their time.
He thought, They’re alive! But they’re living so slowly compared to me that, even if I had a chance to listen to their heartbeats, I wouldn’t hear anything.
The question was, how could contact be established? And, when it was, what good would it do?
The uncertainty was still in his mind as he raced back to the airlock, and the Molly D.

DURING Hewitt’s absence from the salvage vessel, a great man had come aboard. He listened with the others to Hewitt’s account, and then remained si­lent and thoughtful through most of the discussion that followed. His presence had a subduing effect on the younger government scientists aboard. No one had very much to say. The attitude seemed to be, "You stick your neck out first!"
As a result, the conversation remained "close to the ground." Phrases like "a natural explanation" abounded. When he had listened to all he could stand, Hewitt said impatiently, "After all, these things have happened. What do we mean by natural?"
He was about to say more, when the great man cleared his throat and spoke for the first time since he had been intro­duced. "Gentlemen, I should like to try to clear away the debris that has accumulated at the beginning of this obstacle course."
He turned to Hewitt. "I want to con­gratulate you, Mr. Hewitt. For the first time in history, the mythical observer—that mathematical oddity—has come to life. You have seen phenomena that, till now, have never been more than a set of equations."
Without any further preliminary, he launched into an explanation for what had happened that was similar to what Hewitt had written—and destroyed—in jail. It differed in that he also offered a theory to account for the fact that the drive of the Hope of Man was nearly full on, and that apparently the ship was traveling at very near the speed of light in its own zone of existence, as he put it, "in a sort of parallel time to now, this minute, this second!"
Further knowledge might, among other things, account for one fact. How had this zone succeeded in bringing the Hope of Man back to Earth when the ship had accelerated in the opposite direction?
He broke off. "However, the time has come for a practical solution. I offer the following."
Duplicates of a carefully-written letter must be placed in the hands of Armand Tellier and Captain Grayson. The cir­cumstances would be described, and the men would be urged to cut off both the drive and the robot pilot. If this were not done within a certain time—taking into account the difference in time rate—it would be assumed that the letter had been misunderstood. At that point Hewitt would go aboard, shut off the robot and reverse the drive.
As soon as the Hope of Man had slowed to a point below the critical speed, per­sonal contact could be established. Long before that, of course, the truth of the account in the letters would have been established to the satisfaction of everyone aboard.
Hewitt frowned over the suggestions. He could think of no reason why they shouldn’t work. And yet, having been aboard that foreshortened, eerie ship, with its pile operating to the very limit of safety, its lopsided passengers moveless as in death, he had a feeling that some factor was being neglected.
He said slowly, "I’ll have to take along food and water, if I have to do the shut­ting off. This time difference could be­come very involved."
It was also decided that the Molly D. would cast off as soon as the letters were delivered. If it was later necessary to put him aboard again, it would connect up just long enough to do so, then once more it would pull clear, and stand by.

HEWITT helped prepare the letter. Then once more he was put into the mobile spacesuit. And again he crossed the threshold of the Hope of Man. As he moved through the outer doorway, something caught at his heart. He swayed in momentary nausea.
The feeling passed as quickly as it had come. He noted the reactions, and then without further incident he delivered one copy of the letter to Grayson and another to Tellier. He was greatly stimulated to notice that Grayson had finished writing the word "happened" during his absence. He could see no change, however, in the position of Tellier.
He returned to the Molly D. but did not wait for them to cast off. He headed for Earth, and his doctor. After a com­plete examination, he was pronounced, as the doctor phrased it, "One hundred per cent physically fit."
Relieved that his brief nausea had had no pathological basis, Hewitt set about clearing up his affairs. It had been decided to give those aboard the Hope of Man fifteen minutes (their time) to react to the letters. That would be about ten days, normal time.
Among other things, Hewitt, after some hesitation, called up Joan, and asked her if he could call on her. She refused.
"It wouldn’t be fair to the children," she said. "They were just beginning to live down the first publicity, and now there it is again."
Hewitt knew what she meant. Other young people were cruel. They taunted. They asked such questions as, "When is your old man going to fall into the sun?"
It was all very silly, but it was devastating too.
Yet he stayed on the phone. There was a purpose on his mind. Life without her had been bitter and empty. It was a lone­ly world for a man with his obsession.
Hesitantly, dreading her reaction, he explained what was in his heart. He would have three more spacesuits constructed.
"We can all go aboard together," he said urgently. "The whole thing is really very simple. As soon as we’re on, I’ll reverse the engines. It won’t take long before we’re at a one-to-one relationship with those aboard. It’s a matter of reducing speed."
"Joan, you can’t just say no. You’ve got to give the children their chance to escape the holocaust. Beside that, a little ridicule is nothing. And, anyway, once we’re on the way to Centaurus, we don’t have to worry about what people think. Try to look on it as a colonizing ven­ture—"
There was a click in his ear.
" Joan!" He spoke sharply.
There was no answer. With trembling fingers, he dialed her number again. The phone at the other end rang and rang. Convinced, finally, that she wouldn’t even speak to him, he hung up. What hurt particularly was that she didn’t seem to have realized that this was their good-by. They would never see each other again.
He could have justified her action, but he made no attempt to do so.
He put his affairs in order, as a man might who expected to die. Promptly on the tenth day, he reported back to the Molly D., which was again attached to the larger vessel.
He had few doubts. With his armored suit, and his time-ratio advantage, he could dominate the situation aboard un­til he had reduced the ship’s speed to the point where he and it were at unity.
First of all, he would lock up the ship’s arsenal. He intended to search every per­son aboard. Individuals like Warwick, who played with weapons in their spare time, would receive special attention.
I’m not, Hewitt told himself, taking the slightest chance. These people are going to Centaurus whether they like it or not.
As he crossed into the airlock of the Hope of Man, a knife-like spasm of pain stabbed through his heart. It was so sharp, so agonizing, he almost fainted with nau­sea.
The shock staggered him, but—as it had the first time—the feeling passed.
Shaken, Hewitt crossed the inner threshold, and closed and locked the door that looked so normal from the outside, and so lopsided from the inside.
He found himself in the dim, gray-black world of the ship’s interior.
As he turned to head along that un­naturally narrow corridor, something grabbed his body from behind and squeezed it mercilessly. The sensation of being caught by a giant hand was so realistic that he tried to turn back toward the door.
The great hand began to slip. He had the feeling then of being squirted from a space that was too small for him into something—vast.
That was the last thing he remembered before blackness closed over him.

HE MUST have been unconscious only a few moments. When he opened his eyes, he saw that the suit was still in the process of turning toward the door.
In a moment it would smash against the hard metal of the lock.
He had an impression that something else was—different—but there was no time to notice what it was.
He grabbed hastily at the controls and applied the brakes. The suit stopped as if it had struck a brick wall. He reeled in his saddle, breathing hard, then re­covered his balance.
He thought tensely, It’s the effect of coming from normal space into the zone. The first time it didn’t bother me on the sense level. The second time I must still have been overbalanced from the first attempt, and so there was a moment of pain. This time—"
His mind poised. He felt his eyes grow large and round. With a kind of dreadful fascination, he stared at the closed airlock door.
It was no longer lopsided, but normal, just the way it would be if—
He whipped his machine around, and gazed wildly at the corridor. It was brightly lighted. The dim, eerie, shadowy effect was gone as if it had never been.
He noticed something else. The corridor was not narrow any more. He couldn’t tell exactly, but he guessed that it was fifteen feet wide, its original width.
The tremendous truth burst upon Hew­itt. He was no longer an observer of this scene.
He was part of it.
He also would now appear lopsided to another coming aboard for the first time. To himself, and to those caught as he was, he would be quite normal.
People affected by the Lorentz-Fitz­gerald phenomena were not aware of any difference in themselves. The contraction influenced their bodies and the light that came to their eyes—everything was equal­ly distorted.
Tensely, Hewitt remembered the sensation as of being squeezed. Readjustments within his body, unevenly distributed during the change. His front chang­ing faster than his back.
He shuddered with the memory of pain.
With an effort, Hewitt caught his scat­tered thoughts: I’ve got to get back on the Molly D. If I could get in here, I could also get out. I—
Out of the corner of one eye, he caught sight of the air-pressure gauges of his suit. The one that registered the inside pressure didn’t matter. It was at its norm of one atmosphere.
The gauge for outside pressure was also at one atmosphere.
The change was part and parcel of what had already happened. But actually see­ing it was a shock almost greater than anything that had yet occurred.
There was a sound farther along the corridor. Nine men debouched from the Captain’s cabin. Hewitt recognized War­wick among the group, and two members of the crew. He caught only a glimpse of their faces. They carried automatic pis­tols and paralyzers. They were intent on what they were doing, for none so much as glanced toward Hewitt.
They headed in a body towards the ramp. They were gone down it almost as they had come.
Behind them they left silence.
Hewitt was startled, and alarmed. So many weapons—for what?
He had to get back to the Molly D. This situation was out of hand.
He turned anxiously, unlocked the in­ner door, and, using the hand-arm at­tachments of his suit, tried to pull it open.
It wouldn’t move. He strained at it, and pulled and twisted. But it wouldn’t budge.
Abruptly, he realized the truth. The time factor! What had been a minute for him had been hours for the Molly D. Long ago, it had cast off. It would now be standing by, waiting to see what would happen.
He thought of launching himself in one of the lifeboats. He even turned to ma­nipulate the wall mechanism, started the ponderous outer door swinging and screwing shut. He was reaching with his mechanical hand for the valve that would let air into the airlock, and so equalize the pressure on the inner door. ’The moment the pressure was equal, the door would open.
At that point he stopped. He had a hideous thought: Now that I’m adjusted to this zone, I won’t necessarily go back to normal space. Where will I go?
He couldn’t decide.
And besides, he thought, it’ll take time. Five minutes to close the outer door, and eight minutes to reverse the process, and launch the lifeboat.
That would be nearly nine days out­side.
He began to stiffen. For there was no turning back. He was committed to the big ship’s unnatural matter and energy state, irrevocably.

CHAPTER FOUR

Revolt!

HEWITT grew calm and cool and grim. He was here to persuade a shipload of people to start again on the long journey to the Centauri suns. Or, if persuasion failed, to force them.
Or trick them.
The method was unimportant. Only the result counted.
I’ll have to hide, he told himself. I can’t reveal myself now, when I don’t know what’s going on. Besides, surprise might be an advantage in a crisis.
He knew just where to conceal himself. Having decided where he must go, he be­came conscious of the distance he had to cover. That made him anxious. Swiftly, he rolled along the corridor toward the ramp.
He was within a few yards of the captain’s cabin when it struck him that War­wick and the others must have been inside for a reason. They must have attacked Grayson before going down to the engine room.
There might be a guard inside, keep­ing an eye on the prisoner—and on the open doorway. He would have to run that gauntlet, or attack the guard.
Attack, he decided. He thought of it as an icy-cold logical decision. To be seen at this moment could be disastrous.
He manipulated the controls of one of the hand-arm attachments of the suit, raised it into striking position; and paused to fix in his mind the arrangement of the cabin.
The pause also gave him time to re­member that a paralyzer could be used effectively against him even though he was in the suit. He pictured what it might do to the muscles of his eyes, cringed in anticipation; and then put it out of his mind.
Attack, regardless.
Like a charging tank, the spacesuit raced forward. The tires squealed in pro­test, as he whipped it around and through the door. He was all the way inside be­fore he slowed. He was halfway across the room before he was able to stop.
He saw that Grayson was alone in the room. The captain lay on the floor, his hands and feet bound. His face was streaked with blood, and his clothes torn and twisted. His eyes were open. They stared at the spacesuit, widening.
Hastily, Hewitt backed out of the cabin and headed down the ramp. He reached the top balcony of the lower storeroom without incident. Quickly, he manipu­lated the release mechanism of the spacesuit.
The rubber separated with a wheezing sound. The two sections of the apparatus were driven apart to the limit of the bolts that connected them. Hewitt crawled out between two of the bolts, and a moment later stood on the floor on his own two feet.
He pushed the machine behind some packing cases, where it would not be vis­ible from the door. And then, without taking any other precautions, he swung out onto a section of the thick fence-type wire net that held different parts of the cargo in place.
The lower storeroom—like the upper one—was seven levels high. He had come in on the seventh balcony. Using the strong, woven fence, he climbed down to the floor ninety feet below.
Now what?
He couldn’t wait. He realized that. Al­ready at least fifteen minutes had gone by since the change. Outside, that would be ten days.
All too swiftly, it would be twenty days, thirty, forty—many months. The time ration of 973-1 was no longer in his favor; it was against him. The proportion was so monstrously great that even a few sec­onds might make the difference between success and catastrophe.
He lay near the door in the shelter of a big box. It was hot and stuffy. Very little air circulated among these piles of packing cases. Tense, anxious, bathed in perspiration, Hewitt examined his situ­ation.
It was not good. He had brought two paralyzers with him, but against a group of determined men, they wouldn’t be ef­fective. They couldn’t kill. They couldn’t even threaten death.
As his thought reached that point, a group of men walked noisily past the open doorway. Somebody was saying sav­agely, "Take these prisoners up to—" Hewitt wasn’t sure, but it sounded like Warwick’s voice. If that was so, then the prisoners were Tellier and the scien­tists who had remained loyal to him.
Hewitt came to his feet. He thought, I’ll give them half a minute to get started up the ramp. Then— He moved over to the door and peered out into the corri­dor.
A guard stood in front of the engine-room door.
Hewitt drew back hastily in dismay. The man’s head had been turned away, so he was still safe. But—a guard! How could he ever hope to get near the en­gine room?
Anger swelled inside him. What was the matter with Warwick? His side had won, hadn’t it? And as far as Warwick knew, the ship was light-years out in space. From whom did he expect trouble? The man must he insane . . .
His fury died as swiftly as it had come, as the guard shouted something. Hewitt caught only part of what he said; he was evidently speaking to someone inside the engine room: ". . . I don’t get it!"
Hewitt didn’t hear the answer. There was a pause; then the guard spoke again, belligerently: "But I thought we were going to shut off the drive—"
A pause, then: ". . . letter?"
Presently he added, "So we’re going to wait a few hours and see what’s going on—"
Silence, then grumpily, ". . . it doesn’t make sense to me!"
It made sense to Hewitt. Warwick had found the letter he had delivered to Tel­lier. The original purpose of the rebellion must have been to stop the ship and turn back to Earth; but he had instantly guessed the possibilities of a much swifter return to the solar system.
Hewitt groaned inwardly. So he’s going to wait a few hours!
He felt stunned—because that was out of the question. There wasn’t that much time to play around with. One hour, pos­sibly. But not a second longer.
I’ve got to capture somebody, if possible win him to my side, and use him as a decoy to get near that guard.
He had to get into the engine room, and shut off that drive.
Galvanized, he edged out over the box­es, and began to climb up to the seventh balcony. It was harder going up than it had been coming down.
He reached the seventh balcony, and peered quickly out into the corridor, first one way, then the other. He didn’t really expect to see a sentry. But as he turned his head, he did see—
And was seen.
The guard was Juanita Grayson.

HEWITT’s first and greatest ad­vantage was that he was tensed, ready for action. He had told himself that, if he were seen, he would have no alternative but to attack.
He darted instantly out of his shelter. With paralyzer ready, eyes narrowed, lips compressed, he raced towards the girl.
He realized then that he had still an­other advantage. She was scared, and she had no training. Her eyes grew large with fright. Her hand, with the gun in it, came up shakily.
Hewitt stopped a dozen feet from her, and covered her. "Drop it!" he said. His voice was low but savage.
Her gun clattered to the floor.
She stood staring at him, and there was the incredulous beginning of recognition in her eyes. The fear changed. Stark un­belief replaced it.
She started to turn, started to run up the ramp. She staggered after three steps, and stopped. She looked back at his weapon with an expression of utter misery on her face. Slowly, she held up her hands. Standing there, she began to sway. Hewitt leaped forward and caught her as she fainted.
She was a dead weight in his arms, as he carried her rapidly back into the store­room.
He lowered her to the floor, and blew on her eyes and into her nostrils. Hurry! he thought. His enormous anger was back. She would pass out on him at a time like this.
She stirred, and sighed like a tired child. For a few moments, then, she looked as she had when he had first seen her, not more than fourteen years old. She grew visibly older as she came awake. Her lips tightened; her face hardened; her expression grew sullen. She opened her eyes and stared up at him.
There was no fear in her now. She recognized him, and she didn’t expect to be hurt. She said, "That letter—it was true!"
What startled him was the fact that she had fainted. In spite of knowing about the letter, she had reacted to the sight of him as if his presence were a complete sur­prise.
He forgot that. He had his story ready, and that was all that mattered. Briefly, he described what had happened to the Hope of Man, how it had returned to Earth, and how in a few hours it would crash again into the planet, this time to be de­stroyed.
That last was true, but only in an oblique sense. Actually the sun was the danger. But she, like the others, didn’t believe in that. So she had to be frightened by something that she could believe in.
He saw that she was looking at him, her eyes ever so slightly narrowed. They were brown, he saw, and hostile. "You’re the person," she said in a low tone, "who made me marry an old man."
She flashed: "Don’t deny it. If it hadn’t been for you and your stupid ship, Mark would never have thought of marrying me."
There was some justice to her final accusation. But Hewitt had no time to discuss her problem. He cut her off. He said grimly, "Listen, the deadly thing about what I’ve told you is that we’ll only be able to rescue three people. You help me, and you’re one of them."
That caught her. Her eyes grew big. "What do you want me to do?"
"We’ve got to shut off the drive," said Hewitt. "That’s first. If we don’t, the ship will crash. You’ve got to help me capture the guard at the entrance to the engine room."
Her eyes flashed with scorn. "I know who that is. One of those crackpots, al­ways spouting morality at you. But I’ll decoy him. He joined us, didn’t he? That shows he’s no better than the rest of us."
It only showed that one of the religious visionaries had found the voyage drab. And so he had reinterpreted his dream about the sun destroying the earth, and fitted it in more closely with his current desires.
Hewitt helped the girl to her feet. "Let’s go!" he said. "You first."
As he followed her down the ramp, he wondered which of the three "crackpots" was on guard. For the life of him, he couldn’t recall what the sentry guarding the engine-room door had looked like. His one glance had been too quick for any identification. There had been a plump, genial individual named Mackarett, a younger, ascetic-looking man whose name was Rand, and a dark, intense person who called himself Andrew Sincere.
It turned out to be Mackarett, a little thinner, a little more sober-looking—and quite gullible. When Juanita shouted at him from the ramp, "Mr. Mackarett, quick—come!" he raced towards her.
When she turned and disappeared up the ramp, he followed her.
Hewitt was waiting around the first turn.

FOR a bare moment, the man acted as if he were going to fight, despite the gun that pointed straight at his face. His lips parted in a snarl. He start­ed to bring up his weapon.
Abruptly, his arm seemed to grow weak. His eyes glazed, and appeared to turn inward. He looked like a visionary seeing a very unpleasant vision. He mum­bled, "Mr. Hewitt, that letter—"
That was as far as he got. At that point, Hewitt stepped forward and deftly re­moved the automatic pistol from his nerve­less fingers. That seemed to shock Mack­arett even more. It was as if a momentary hallucination had come alive and touched him. The effect was out of all proportion to the reality. He collapsed to the floor, and lay there twisting and turning. Fi­nally, his mind must have started work­ing again. He looked up.
Before he could speak, Hewitt said, "Mackarett, there’s no time to waste. Listen!"
He told the same story he had told Juanita. Only three or four people could be taken off the ship immediately. The rest would have to stay aboard, wait for the ship to slow down, and then come back the long way.
He finished, "You’ve got to help me get into that engine room, and shut off the drive. Right away!"
Mackarett mumbled, "But Mr. Hewitt, Warwick is at one of the airlocks. He’s launching a lifeboat. He—"
"Now?" said Hewitt.
"Yes, sir."
The first shock passed. Hewitt stiffened to an examination of the possibilities. With Warwick out of the way, his main opposition would be gone.
One thing seemed certain. Warwick would not find himself in normal space, adjusted to Earth. That process appeared to depend on a series of unbalancing ef­fects within the electronic and atomic structures of the affected object. A series, not just one; it had taken three entrances to do the job for Hewitt.
He pictured Warwick forever caught into slow-time, and unaffected by the gravity of the Earth. He would have to use intricate machines to adjust his body to the complex velocity of Earth through space.
He couldn’t do it. He would die.
Hewitt was pale as he turned to Juanita. In a sense one man’s life didn’t matter. In a few months of outside time—hours here—the entire population of the planet of man’s origin would die in a holocaust of heat. Even the outer planets would be engulfed by waves of super-hot gases.
Believing that, he still hesitated. It was not easy to say, "This man must die, so that we can live!" Twice he parted his lips to say, "Damn Warwick!"
He didn’t say it. Instead, he asked, "Is anyone going with him?"
Mackarett said, "Oh, he’s not going himself. He’s sending Tellier and one of the other scientists."
Hewitt swore.
That settled it. If he had hesitated about his enemy, he could not possibly be responsible for ensuring the death of a man who would be his ally.
"Juanita!"
"Yes?"
"I want you to go upstairs, and see when they come back. Stay on the ramp, and just peek out, so you won’t be seen. The moment the lifeboat noses back into the airlock, rush down here and tell me!"
He added, "And if he isn’t back in fif­teen minutes after you get up there, come back and tell me anyway." At that time he would have to make up his mind. He ended, "Will you do that?"
"Yes." But she did not move. Her face was white.
"What’s the matter?"
"What are you going to do?" she de­manded.
"Mackarett and I are going to seize the engine room."
Still she hesitated. There was misery in her eyes. Hewitt said, "Honey, please hurry . . . What’s the matter?"
"Are you sure you’re going to take me? I’m going to be one of those who gets taken off with you?"
"You’re first," said Hewitt. "I swear it!"
Tears came to her eyes. "I’m ashamed!" she whispered. "I don’t want to be a de­serter. But I’ve got to get off this ship."
Hewitt said, "Hurry, please! If we don’t make speed, nobody will get away!"
Her shame did not prevent her from starting off at a run.
To Mackarett, Hewitt said, "How many men are there in the engine room?"
"Two."
Hewitt broke open one of the auto­matics and, while Mackarett watched, removed all but one shell from the maga­zine. Silently, he handed the weapon over.
Mackarett accepted the gun warily. "Am I also going to be rescued?" he asked.
Hewitt sighed. Ever since he had come aboard, he had felt as if he were moving in quicksand. It was the old story of human beings intent on themselves, resist­ing the larger purposes of others.
Men were hard indeed to save from disaster.
"Absolutely." He spoke the falsehood firmly.
"What about my wife and child? Can I take them along?"
Hewitt had been turning his mind away. The question caught him unprepared. Un­accustomed to lying, he was momentarily flustered. He had forgotten that a man would think of his family first.
For a fateful moment he hesitated, try­ing to think what this would do to his hastily fabricated story. He said at last, lamely, "Yes, they can come too."
Mackarett flashed, "You’re not sure. You didn’t answer fast enough."
Hewitt was beginning to recover. He said frankly, "You can see how I’ve been operating. I came aboard this ship, and found a revolution in full swing. I had to act fast, but I’m handicapped by the fact that I can offer rescue to three, possibly four people—I think four can be managed. I don’t really care who they are, but in each case it’s got to be someone who helps me. Now you come along and say, my wife and child, also. Let me be blunt. To me, only one thing matters. The drive has to be shut off."
He was feeling much more confident now. He went on, "Why not leave your wife and kid here? They’ll be all right. But I need those two vacancies to offer as bribes to the men in the engine room."
Mackarett said, "If we can capture those two men, so that no promises are necessary, then can I take my family?"
Under his breath, Hewitt cursed the man and his conditions. He had limited his lie as to how many could be rescued, because that was the only way he could put on the pressure. Now, he was being forced to use up his reserves faster than he had intended. But this was the critical moment.
He said, "Absolutely. I promise, on my word of honor."
He was sweating with anxiety. "For their sake, man! We’re wasting time. You don’t realize how many hours are going by outside. Hurry, for heaven’s sake!"
Mackarett said, "I’ll take your word."

CHAPTER FIVE

Centaurus or Death!

THE PLAN was for Mackarett to signal Hewitt when the crewmen were off guard. Before they could get over their surprise—or even be sure they were really threatened—Hewitt would rush in. Swiftly, the two men would be disarmed and tied up. And thus, in a few moments, the engine room would be conquered.
It was far indeed from being a perfect strategy. It involved risks—which he dis­missed even as he thought of them. Its great merit was surprise.
It’s got to work! he told himself.
It did.
When the two crewmen—Pratt and Leichter—had been tied up, Mackarett took up his position as guard outside the door, and Hewitt set up the device that would automatically shut off the pile.
Presently, uneasily, he went to the door where he could see Mackarett. "No sign of her?" he asked.
Mackarett shook his head.
Dissatisfied, Hewitt returned to his position at the pile. A dozen times, then, he fingered the lever that would begin to shut off the power. But each time he withdrew his hand.
He knew what it was. In spite of his conviction that all means were justified, actually he could not knowingly be re­sponsible for the death of another human being. The very extent of what he had done, and tried to do, during the past ten years, showed how strong was his motiva­tion in that direction.
He had an obsession to preserve life, not destroy it. He could lie, steal and cheat for that purpose, but he could not kill. The pressure of that was so powerful that even to think of fighting it was to realize how hopeless such a fight would be.
Restlessly, he went again to the door. Mackarett saw him and said, "What’s keeping that girl? She’s driving me crazy!"
But he did not suggest that the pile be shut down, anyway. It struck Hewitt that this odd individual, who had come on the voyage because of some kind of hallucina­tory experience—this man also did not think of dealing death to others to gain his own ends.
Even Juanita, embittered though she was, still little more than a teen-ager, had suffered a qualm of conscience.
Thought of the girl reminded him that she had left Grayson. He shook his head, uneasily. It was unfortunate. She would have to make a choice between two men—Grayson and himself. Every woman on this tremendous journey would have to bear children.
Mackarett said, "Here she comes!"
Hewitt jumped, and went back to the in­strument board. He stood, waiting.
In a moment he would have to make up his mind. Tensely, he hoped that her news would be that Tellier was back.
He heard Mackarett speak to the girl. Then there was silence. Juanita said something Hewitt didn’t catch, her tone was so low. Then more silence.
Hewitt was astounded at the delay. Didn’t these two realize? He turned toward the door, and shouted angrily, "Hurry up! For heaven’s sake!"
At that, she came through the door. Her face was the color of lead. Hewitt, on the verge of yelling at her again, swallowed his anger. "What’s the matter?" he asked.
There was a sound at the door. For a fateful moment, Hewitt glared over the girl’s shoulder at the men who were plung­ing into the room. Then, in a spasm of energy, he tried to do three things at once.
He started to turn back to the control board. He grabbed awkwardly with one hand for the lever that would shut off the drive. With the other hand, he clawed at his own weapon.
A paralyzer beam caught him in the shoulder, with all his actions still unfin­ished. He went down, cursing, his muscles twitching: He heard the clatter of his own paralyzer on the floor. Somebody kicked it out of his reach.
Through a blur, he saw Juanita Gray­son. "I’m so sorry!" she sobbed.
She was cut off by Warwick, harshly. "What are you sorry about? You didn’t do anything." He turned to Hewitt with a sneer. "I saw her peeking around the corner of the ramp, and there was some­thing about her that made me suspicious. I got it out of her, by heaven!"
Hewitt groaned inwardly. It was an old, old story. Too many people were not just weak or strong of character. They wa­vered between the two. And it always showed.
As a result, his cause was lost, unless—

A FEW minutes later, Warwick said violently, "What do you mean only four can be rescued? Do you take me for a simpleton? If four, why not forty? What are you trying to pull off?"
He was a blond young giant with sea-blue eyes. His face was twisted with sus­picion as he went on: "Listen, Hewitt, I don’t get what’s going on. Tellier was out just now in the lifeboat. He practically had to use a telescope to see our sun. We’re just about half a light-year from Proxima Centauri. This ship must be in both places at once for you to have got aboard. Is that the explanation?"
"It’s the zone—" Hewitt began. He broke off. "Proxima is that close?"
Not for the first time since the Hope of Man had come back to the Earth’s at­mosphere, he felt staggered. His picture of the "zone," never very clear, suffered another change. He had found it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a "zone" ac­tually traveling far in excess of the velocity of light. And yet, the indications were that the speed had been light-years in a day—which only made it more difficult to think of it as "speed" or "movement."
Most of the evidence seemed to be in now. According to Grayson’s logbook, the ship had ceased registering acceleration at 177,000 miles a second. That fitted with the one-to-three telescoping effect he had observed when he first came aboard.
It didn’t fit in with a 973-1 atmospheric pressure difference. It didn’t fit with the matter density that had enabled the ship to penetrate the Earth’s crust. Those more spectacular phenomena could only have occurred normally at a velocity so close to that of light-speed that the differ­ence would be hard to measure by any known methods.
Was it possible the Hope of Man had continued accelerating in the zone? That might account for the fact that it was act­ing as if it were traveling at two different speeds at the same time.
On that basis, assuming the existence of the "zone," it was possible to conceive of the Hope of Man "simultaneously" oc­cupying a position in normal space near the Centauri suns, and, four light years away, another position in the zone.
It would not, of course, be in two places at the same time with respect to the same observer. According to Einsteinian physics, there was no such thing as identical instant of time for more than one observer. To Hewitt, the ship was—or had been—in the solar system. To the people aboard, it was out in space.
Hewitt shook his head wonderingly.
"But if that’s how it is," he said aloud, half to himself, "it would mean—"
He caught himself, and pleaded, "War­wick, shut off the drive! Even as we talk here, hours are going by outside."
Warwick was cold. "You can’t fool me. It’ll be at least a year before the Earth’s orbit could again intersect the orbit of the ship. In the letter—which you swear to—you say the ship is only traveling at ten miles an hour. At that speed, it can’t catch up with the. Earth, which moves through space at around eighteen miles a second."
He ended angrily. "What have you got to say to that, Hewitt?"
Hewitt said, "While you were talking, fifteen hours went by. Man, man, use your head."

HE FELT hopeless. At this final hour, he was up against the wall of another man’s ignorance. Warwick’s training was so limited, it did not strike him that the ten-mile apparent speed was in addition to Earth’s orbital velocity. Explaining the details to War­wick could only lead to more questions. Nevertheless, Hewitt made the attempt.
When he had finished, Warwick said stubbornly, "I know what you’ve got on your mind. That stupid sun business, Well, don’t think we’re giving up our chance to get off this ship!"
It was the reaction Hewitt had ex­pected: unthinking, concerned only with the man’s own desires. Mentally, he gave Warwick up. No more scientific explana­tion. This fight was on a different level.
He said grimly, "Warwick, I’m the only man who knows how to get you off. I’ll do it when you cut off the drive, not a second before."
Warwick persisted, "But you admit there’s no immediate danger of plunging into the earth?"
It would happen in two hours, ship time. But long before that—in little more than an hour—the sun horror would take place.
The impact of that made him raise his voice. Loudly, he called out to the others —both men and women—gathered in the corridor: "Stop this madman! If you lis­ten to him, you’ll be dead in forty min­utes!"
That was a lie, but he had to have a few minutes leeway.
There was a stir. Several women looked uneasy, and tugged at the arms of their men. Hewitt saw Tellier under guard standing in the background. He called to the physicist in a piercing voice: "Tellier, when you were outside, you saw the Cen­tauri suns nearby. Is that right?"
"Yes." The physicist spoke in a low tone.
"In your estimate how long will it take us to get there?"
"It’ll take us about three months to slow down. Then a few weeks while we ma­neuver for a landing."
"That’s normal time. With the time-contraction effect, part of that slowing down will seem only a half or a third as long?" That was only a guess.
Tellier hesitated. "That’s about right."
Hewitt whirled on the group. "Think," he said, "you’re only about two months from your destination. Surely after all this time, you won’t give up when there’s so little more time to go."
He saw that Warwick was about to speak. He rushed on: "Don’t give up now! In less than eight weeks you’ll be landing on a planet that will belong to you. And all the stuff aboard this ship, millions of dollars worth of material—yours, if you land!"
Warwick yelled, "Folks, it’s the old sun-explosion nonsense that’s driving him! If we slow down now, it’ll take us four years to get back to Earth!"
Hewitt said earnestly. "It isn’t as if this were an ordinary old-style colonizing expedition. We have tools and equipment, advanced machinery. Most of you will live better than you ever did on Earth!"
He went on before Warwick could speak: "What you don’t seem to realize is that you rebelled in order to stop the drive. You risked your lives to do that. Now, one man among you has decided to prevent you. Are you going to let him? You have a right to make up your own minds. Don’t let one man dictate to you!"
He stopped. Warwick was drawing an automatic. The man had a twisted smile on his face. He faced the group squarely, a big, arrogant, determined man. He said flatly: "I tell you, the only danger that Hewitt has in mind is from the sun. He’s insane about that. You folks stick with me, and you’ll be on good old terra firma in less than a day."
He waved his gun menacingly. "And now, if anybody wants to make trouble just let him step forward—"
No one moved. Hewitt shouted, "Don’t let one man cow you. I tell you this is life and death—"’
A fist that seemed to be made of iron caught him in the mouth. He half fell, then recovered. Dizzily, he looked up into Warwick’s face. The big man spoke from between clenched teeth: "Any more troublemakers?"
There were none. The tight smile was back on Warwick’s face. He said in a silken tone, "You’ll be living up in the crew’s quarters from now on. If we have to go back the long way, believe me, you won’t enjoy the trip. If you’re so much as seen down at this level, you’ll get a bullet where it’ll do you the least good."
He turned to Mackarett. "You, too!" he said.
The plump man started to protest, but Warwick cut him off. "Get!" he said.

AS THEY headed for the ramp, Hewitt was already bracing himself. ’The choice, it seemed to him, was perfectly simple: Die now, or an hour from now!
He turned to Tellier, who was just be­hind him. He asked tensely, "When you were out in the lifeboat, did you have a hard time keeping up with the Hope of Man?"
The physicist shrugged. "It took all the power we had. Mr. Hewitt—" earnestly—"you cannot imagine against what resist­ance the Hope of Man is maintaining its velocity. And the lifeboat had to contend with the same resistance."
Hewitt, who had seen the relevant in­struments, could imagine only too well.
He saw that the ramp was only a score of feet away. He said hastily, "Which air­lock did you go out of? One or Two?"
"Two."
Less than a dozen feet to go. He had the information he needed. But there were more questions in his mind.
"Tellier, what in your opinion will hap­pen when the drive is shut off?"
The answer was prompt. "On the basis of what you said in the letter, and what I’ve heard you say, my opinion is that the ship will immediately revert to its posi­tion in normal space. That is, near Cen­taurus."
Hewitt drew a deep breath. "Tellier," he said, "why didn’t you shut off the drive, as we asked you to do in the letter?"
The scientist stared at him. "You didn’t give us time," he said. "Why, I’d barely finished reading it when—"
He stopped. He had lost his audience. They were at the ramp.
The guard who had been ahead of them, stepped aside and partly blocked the ramp that led down. He motioned with his automatic. "Up!" he said curtly.
Hewitt started forward obediently, then turned and kicked the man in the stomach. It was the cruelest blow he had struck in his life. The guard doubled up with a cry.
Hewitt plunged down the ramp. A bul­let screamed past his ear, struck the wall. Then he was around the curve of the spiral, temporarily safe. Behind him, he heard Warwick shout: "Phone the engine room! Shoot him in the legs!"
He wasn’t going to the engine room.
“ . . . damn you, Tellier! Get out of the way!"
That was the last he heard, but it gave him a picture of Tellier blocking pursuit for just those vital few seconds.

HE REACHED the corridor on which was the entrance to the seventh balcony of the lower storeroom. At a dead run, he headed for it. If I can make it, he was thinking, with­out their seeing me, they’ll keep on going down—
He made it. And still he forced himself to new exertions. With every ounce of strength left in his body he ran towards the spacesuit, where he had left it a seeming age before. Panting, he crawled between the up-ended bolts and scrambled onto the saddle. His fingers trembled as lie pressed the button that started the upper section of the suit sliding down to join the lower. The two rubber linings squeezed together, and became air-tight.
He had a monster in his control now. Out into the corridor he raced, and to­wards the ramp. A crewman on the way down stopped, teetered on one leg, and then raised his automatic.
He fired one bullet. It jangled against the armored suit. The next second, with a yell of alarm, the man was flattening him­self against a wall. Hewitt maneuvered past him, and raced on up the ramp to the airlock corridor.
Amazingly, it was deserted. Women and other noncombatants must have been rushed up the ramp when the shooting started. And Warwick and his men had followed him down. They’d be back—long before he could do all that he had to do.
But for perhaps two minutes there would be no interference.
At top speed, Hewitt raced towards air­lock number two, the one Tether had used. He paused for seconds only. He took time for one action. He pressed the button that started the great outer door unscrewing.
He didn’t wait for the door to open, but wheeled around, and headed for air­lock number one.
And now he was where he wanted to be.

FIRST, he opened the door of the life­boat. Then he activated the mechanism that started the inner airlock unscrewing. At that point, three men appeared at the head of the ramp. One of them was War­wick, who shouted: "Hewitt, you can’t get away. We’ll blast you with paralyzers."
But it was an automatic he held in his own hand. And it was an automatic that each of the other men carried. Seeing them. Hewitt felt an almost insane sar­donic glee.
He guessed that these men had deliberately armed themselves with guns, be­cause bullets could kill. Paralyzers could only incapacitate.
And now, for possibly another minute, they could do nothing against him.
The inner door was still unscrewing.
It swung ponderously as he watched. Hewitt swung his suit into the lifeboat, and set in motion the launching mecha­nism.
Automatically, the lifeboat rotated down on its launching arms, and rolled forward on a long line of rubber rollers that lifted up from the floor. It was propelled for­ward and into the lock.
When it was all the way inside, the inner door swung shut behind it.
Everything was automatic now. The process could no longer be stopped.
The air sighed as it was sucked out of the lock. Even before that noise faded, there was another sound. The great outer door—which had, by normal time, taken them more than four days to open—began to unscrew. Within minutes, as it had been built to do (it would still, of course, be hours, relative to Earth), it swung gut and to one side.
The lifeboat radio clattered into life. "Hewitt," roared Warwick’s voice, "you can’t escape that way—you’ll have to come back as Tellier did. If you leave the ship, we won’t let you back in. You’ll be stranded!"
Hewitt set the controls so that the outer door would remain open, if it was not interfered with. Then he launched the lifeboat.
And still he was only at the beginning of what he had to do.
And all he had was a theory.
As the lifeboat emerged from the lock, he turned its nose in the direction of flight, and adjusted the pile to nine-tenths of its potential. The small boat seemed to freeze in space; it held its position beside the yawning opening of the lock.
Carefully, he turned it around, and eased it back into the airlock.
Once!
For five seconds, by his watch, he let it rest there. Then he let the rollers launch it backwards.
That was easier. He could use the pow­erful backward thrust of the drive to edge it out. Almost the instant it was outside, he set the power.
Just in time. He felt a dizziness, an un­mistakable sensation. For a bare mo­ment he was not in control of the lifeboat. Then the feeling passed, and he pushed the boat’s nose back into the airlock.
"Twice!" He spoke the word aloud.
Again, he waited five seconds, and then once more launched the lifeboat. As it moved clear of the opening, the great outer door began to swing shut.
Involuntarily, Hewitt called out, "Warwick, don’t!"
There was a senseless series of sounds from the loudspeakers. With a sinking sen­sation, Hewitt realized the truth. Radio waves were already distorted. He had time to see that the door was too far shut for him to control, and then—
Two things happened at once. He applied power, so that the lifeboat would start to circle the big ship. As he was drawing clear of the controls, nausea struck him like a blow. The pain left him gasping, but it passed again almost as swiftly as it had come.
When he could see again, he thought, I’ve got about fifteen seconds before the second wave of pain. If I can get into air­lock number two before the final change takes place—
Through the forward porthole, he saw that he was high up above the Hope of Man. He saw something else. It distracted him—just for a moment it held him.
He saw three points of white light, and one red. Two of the points were like jewels held close to his eyes, pinpoints in size, but so bright they dazzled him.
He thought: The Centauri suns! No longer did they look like one bright spot as seen from the southern hemisphere of Earth. They were separated now into four distinct bodies: Alpha, Beta and Gamma, and red Proxima.
Here they were, his hope for the future of man, the famous, nearest star system, only four and one-third light years from Earth.
So close, so wonderfully close . . . And then he shook his head in astonishment. For in some kind of a negaspatial zone, this ship was visible at "this" moment only a few thousand miles above the surface of Earth.
He forgot that. For there ahead and to one side was the opening of airlock number two.
And it was open.

HIS FORESIGHT was justified. They had seen him only at airlock one. And so they hadn’t suspected that he had also set in motion the opening mechanism of airlock two.
He guessed that he had seconds left. With utter concentration, he nosed his lifeboat into the lock, jabbed hard at the keys that started the outer door closing, and set in motion the whole process of entering.
Whatever he did now would save him hours—when the change came.
His good fortune, then, was that the outer door was actually beginning to screw shut, the air beginning to come into the lock, the inner door beginning to un­screw—when the blackout of the change struck him with all its terrible impact.
As a result, he only had to sit there thirty hours, before, with his 973-1 time-ratio advantage, he took full control of the Hope of Man.

AVERILL HEWITT stepped gingerly down to the soil of Earth from the pa­trol boat that had ferried him down from the Hope of Man. He had come back alone. Nearly ten years had gone by on Earth.
He started to push through the crowd of reporters assembled at the landing field. Then he realized he was not going to be allowed to escape.
He stopped, and smiled. He said, "I had the patrol boat commander radio ahead for old newspapers that would describe what happened to the sun. Did anybody bring one?"
"Here! Here!"
Several papers were held up, and passed forward.
Hewitt accepted them, and sat down on one of the landing-field benches. He said, "I’ll answer no questions till I’ve read this."
More than nine years before, about one week before his predicted Nova, the sun had suddenly increased in size about twen­ty per cent. Simultaneously, its tempera­ture had gone down more than three thousand degrees.
For fifteen hours its paler light shone upon an Earth that was scarcely affected. It was as if a mist had come up in the atmosphere, blocking off the heat, or as if a partial night had fallen. The planet remained warm inside its envelope of air. The great waters and the thick crust re­tained their heat, and so absorbed the ti­tanic shock of the sudden reduction in the sun’s temperature.
In time, of course, all that accumulated warmth would have drained. The oceans would have frozen, the land chilled; and an ice-laden planet, virtually lifeless, would have resulted.
At the end of the fifteen hours, the sun began to shrink. The temperature went up. In six hours it was normal. There had been no change since.
Hewitt said, "It probably won’t happen again for millions of years."
He put the papers aside, stood up and went on, "I have learned a lot about the behavior of matter and energy. I think I can explain why the sun reacted otherwise than I predicted."
He paused, and took a deep breath. He had been intent on the newspapers. For the first time, he saw how vast was the crowd that had come out to meet him.
Radio microphones were closely grouped around him. Television cameras pointed at his face. It startled him a little to realize that he was famous now, not notorious. Something had happened to the sun—not what he had predicted—but something tremendous. It justified all that he had done, the expedition to Centaurus, the methods he had used aboard the ship—everything.
He might have saved the human race. Actually, the truth of what had happened was far more startling than they realized.
He began, "The universe is more complex than anything we previously dreamed. The solar system, in its movement through space, periodically enters spatial "zones" that differ one from the other. At the time I made my prediction, our system had apparently just entered such a zone. The imbalance that started then took years to reach a critical point. I predicted that point on the basis of mathematics that examined the functional behavior without being aware of the cause. I thought the changes applied only to the sun.
"They didn’t. The earth and all the other solar planets were affected also. And when the critical moment came, the earth —because it had entered the zone before the sun—was changed first.
"During that time, the sun did not cool.
"All the physical changes took place in your bodies and in the earth. And when the sun finally seemed to return to normal, it was actually flaring up as I origi­nally predicted it would.
"It was being affected by the zone, fifteen hours after the earth itself had entered the zone."
For a moment, when he had finished, he looked grimly around his audience. Then slowly, he began to relax.
He regretted nothing. No one was hap­pier than he over what had happened. During those years on Centaurus, he had struggled with the others to build the foundations of a great new civilization. He and Juanita, with their four children, had helped insure that man would survive any disaster that might now, or ever, strike the solar system.
Now that all was well, he was back for more colonists. Three planets, two passably hospitable, one a veritable paradise, waited for the pioneers.
Standing there, with the world listening, he launched into his sales talk.


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Footnotes

[1showing the hero battling to save the lovely Juanita, with whom he intends to start a family on the new world they are going to, from the clutches of the leader of the ship’s mutineers.