Docstoc

Sometime during the previous year_ a Senate Committee on Coburn

Document Sample
Sometime during the previous year_ a Senate Committee on Coburn Powered By Docstoc
					                                21
   ________________________________________________




     Sometime during the previous year, a Senate Committee on
Coburn was engaged in an investigation of a wide range of possible
subversive activities. At one of the hearings, Senator Abraham Lund
questioned Dr. Margarett Merryheart:

     Q. It is this Committee’s understanding, Dr. Merryheart, that
        you and certain other members of the Psychologists Guild
        are presently conducting experiments in subliminal mind
        alteration techniques. Is this true?
     A. On an elementary level, Mr. Senator. And only with labor-
        atory animals.
     Q. What specifically are you doing to these animals, Doctor?
     A. We try to alter their motivations and instinctual behavior,
        circumvent memory and habit patterns, things like that.
     Q. To what end? What purpose do such experiments serve?
     A. They are simply one aspect of the Guild’s study of the
        brain, Mr. Senator. Both animal and human. It helps us to
        understand the workings of the human mind.
     Q. I wonder if such techniques as you are developing could
        not be used to create a submissive individual? Or someone
        who might be programmed to act against his or her
        previous convictions? Does that seem plausible?
     A. Not as the Guild’s techniques stand now, Mr. Senator.
        They are not far enough refined to enable us to apply
        them to humans in the manner you suggest. Besides, such
        is not our intention, even for the future.
     Q. Can you assure the members of the Committee that no
        plot exists among the Federationists or the members of
        any Guild to use such alteration techniques to affect the
        outlook or actions of any ruler or official in any of the Con-
        course governments?
     A. Insofar as I can speak from my own knowledge, I can give
        you the utmost assurances, Mr. Senator.

                       *         *         *

                                225
      “In this laboratory,” the guide was saying, “we prepare soil
mixtures and fertilizers for use in the food processing chambers you
saw earlier...”
      Pallas and Glenn had been following the Service pod tour for
almost two hours. Like everyone else, their heads were turning this
way and that; like everyone else, they seemed intensely interested
in everything pointed out around them.
      But an unusual amount of interest, had anyone been closely
observing them, could be seen to be directed at the faces of the
Cosmopolis personnel: the shuttle bay mechanics, the laboratory
workers, the tenders of the gardens and water tanks, the medical
and security men, the cargo handlers. So far, however, no sign of
Garra.
      Now they stood in the soils laboratory, located on the inner
side of the outer circular corridor. Keeping to the rear of the group,
Pallas regularly glanced back into the passage to catch a glimpse of
passing personnel. At the same time, she noticed that across the
corridor through an archway on the other side was an additional
chamber apparently devoted to food processing—one they had not
visited. From her present position she could make out a sea of
greenish-orange foliage.
      Momentarily, a figure came into view, stepped off the slide-
way and entered the opposite opening. She seized Glenn’s arm.
“That was him—I think. Garra.”
      “You’re not sure?”
      “It looked like him. Although—I don’t know. Maybe this man
was a little shorter.”
      She looked back to the tour group. The guide was explaining
that here they also prepared soil overlays for the Beta Promenade,
with special nutrients to promote accelerated growth. “Come on, we
can take a quick peek. We’ll just act like curious tourists.”
      They crossed to the other side of the corridor. A quick glance
up and down the passage revealed a figure in the distance, but not
coming their way. They reached the archway, paused, and not too
surreptitiously peered inside.
      The chamber was bright and shallow, and it had a long gentle
curve as did most chambers to follow the arc of the corridor,
extending a good distance in both directions. At the moment it was
deserted: the man who had just entered was nowhere to be seen.
From the low ceiling beat a garish orange light. Pallas was caught
by the unusual nature of the growing system and she stepped
slowly through the archway, followed by Glenn.
      In a thick network of vines and leaves some form of cultiva-
tion spread itself horizontally across large blocks of mesh raised a
meter above the soil beds. Posts supported the mesh and stems


                                 226
extended from the plants into the earth. There was an unnatural
color to both plants and soil, seemingly due to the orange light from
above. Among the foliage, sprouts of a dull red color grew thickly,
and accustomed to her father’s fruit gardens with its hybrid forms
they struck Pallas as similar.
       “Look—maybe they do experiments here like my father does.”
She advanced to the closest mesh block, bent over and pulled at
one of the red sprouts. It came off easily. It had a round, lumpish
shape, with an odd fuzzy surface.
       “Pallas, let’s not get distracted by a bunch of plants.” Glenn’s
eyes roved the room. There were two doors in the far wall, one off
to their right, the other to their left. Both were closed. “Your man
must have passed through one of those doors.”
       “It has a very strange odor.” Pallas took an experimental bite
of the red sprout but grimaced and spit out the contents. “It tastes
awful! Who would want to eat this?”
       “Perhaps it’s not ripe yet. Look, I’m going to take a dash over
to that door and have a quick look inside. Make a sound if you spot
anyone.”
       “Glenn, maybe we shouldn’t—”
       But Glenn was already halfway across the room, and Pallas
followed hesitantly. Reaching the door, he put his hand on the slide
lever. Locked.
       “So much for that.” In a few moments they met in the middle.
“Let’s get back to the tour.”
       “Please stay where you are, the two of you!”
       Two men had entered from the other door and were moving
through the aisles between the blocks to intercept them. Their first
impulse was to flee, but already it was too late. Glenn touched
Pallas’ arm. “I’ll talk to them.”
       One of the men had moved toward the archway to cut off
escape, while the other approached. Pallas felt sure it was the man
she had seen entering the chamber—but it was not Garra.
       “What are you doing here?”
       “We’re part of the tour,” Glenn answered, gesturing to the
corridor. “We were hungry and spotted what we thought was some
fruit in here.” He grinned. “But it didn’t suit our palates.” The humor
seemed lost on the other man.
       He heard the door behind him as the man before them said, “I
think you’d better come with us.”
       Glenn’s mind raced. Should he raise an uproar? Too uncertain.
His instincts preferred to bluff their way out. And apparently they
were about to discover what lay beyond the chamber.
       Two others had come up behind. They helped lead Pallas and
Glenn over to the first door and into a narrow passageway that ran


                                 227
behind the food chamber parallel to the outer corridor. The walls
were bare; there were no slideways. “Look, we haven’t done any
harm,” said Glenn. “Where are you taking us?”
      “For a security check.”
      “Security? Over a bunch of plants?”
      “You tried to enter an unauthorized area.”
      “Oh, that. Well, there are times when my curiosity gets the
better of me, that’s all.” The chamber had been under surveillance.
      They were brought to a small plain room containing a desk
and three chairs where they were left in the company of the two
guards. The first man returned shortly with another, and there was
no mistaking that this was Garra. The guards exited, closed the
door. Seeing the two men together, Pallas thought: they seem to
resemble each other—are they brothers?
      The first man said, “Please sit.” He and Garra remained
standing.
      The latter spoke up. “So, woman of Umber, we seem to keep
encountering each other in unlikely places.”
      “We have done nothing. Let me speak to Captain Cardis.”
      “Not just yet. What are you looking for here?”
      “We’re on the Service pod tour. We wandered in, that’s all.”
      “Do you always go around tasting things indiscriminately?”
      Glenn spoke up. “Why is that so strange? Surely everything
you grow here is edible.”
      “Why did you try the door?”
      “I told your friend. Just curiosity.”
      “You know the rules of the ship. I wonder why mere curiosity
would induce you to contravene them.”
      Glenn remained silent. Garra turned back to Pallas. “Why are
you interested in Captain Cardis?”
      She was taken aback. “Well—is that so unusual? But he wasn’t
happy to see me. He wants me to go back on the next shuttle.”
      “Does he? And do you intend to?”
      “Yes.”
      “And this man with you?”
      “I cannot speak for him. I only met him yesterday.” Instantly
she regretted having said that. Would he find it consistent with their
behavior?
      “Wait here. Don’t try to leave. There are two men standing
outside.” He motioned to his companion and they passed into an
adjoining room, closing the door behind them.
      Pallas said: “What will they do, do you think? I don’t like the
look of them. I get the feeling they are not contacting the Captain
about us—”
      “Ssshh!” Glenn had spied a drinking glass on the desk. He


                                 228
went quickly over and picked it up, then placed it gently against the
door and pressed his ear upon it. He motioned to Pallas to stay
quiet.
      He could hear the faint voice of Garra. “...take no chances.
Put them through the programmer. A simple memory operation
should do. 60% dilution of short-term, perhaps the last 45 minutes.
Plus an anti-incentive factor: point 4. No, wait. Add something to
the female: a 50% sex reduction. For 72 hours. I don’t know if she
intends to see Cardis before she leaves or not.” A pause. “On the
other hand—make it permanent. Cardis might ask her to stay, after
all. He seems to be getting more unpredictable the closer we get...
Well, we have a final session with him tomorrow.”
      Glenn returned the glass to the desk, talking quickly. “We are
in great danger. Be ready to fight, but let me make the first move.”
Her face became alarmed. “They’re coming—I can’t explain.”
      The two men re-entered. “We have decided to release you,”
said Garra, “but we will not inform Captain Cardis, as I think he
would not appreciate hearing about your little venture. Go with this
man. You will be led by another route to an exit from the pod, but
you will stop on the way to be processed into security records. I
advise you to master your impulses of curiosity in the future.”
      They were led out, turning left down the hallway, while the
two guards fell in behind. None seemed to be armed, but could they
be sure? Glenn felt Pallas’ tension radiating beside him, and he
realized that his own body was coiled like a spring. Could they over-
power three? And what then?
      They turned down a corridor, going further out toward the rim
of the pod. Another turn. Glenn concentrated on maintaining his
sense of direction.
      They stopped at a door, which the leading man unlocked, and
entered a room that struck them as unusual, for in contrast to the
plain surroundings of the area so far, it was carpeted and furnished
like a lounge, with about a dozen plush chairs distributed through-
out the far half. Each one had a curved bulky headrest that looked
as though it would partially enclose the head of an occupant. The
near half of the room was occupied by a single chair of different
design facing the others, while some kind of movable console stood
nearby. Above the door facing the chairs was a viewscreen. The
only other door was at the far end of the room.
      The man gestured to the plush seats. “Please sit down. I will
enter your names and personal data into the security computer and
ask you to let me take a picture.” His manner was smooth now,
with a notable lack of menace.
      Glenn looked at the chairs with their bulky headrests. Garra’s
word “programmer” ran through his mind.


                                229
      But there were three men in the room. How could they handle
them all? Pallas was a strong woman, quick on her feet and used to
handling powerful animals, but what would she do in a situation like
this? It seemed best to lull them as long as possible.
      Pallas kept her eye on Glenn as they walked toward the
chairs. His back to the others, he made a gesture indicating that
they should sit, but carefully. When Glenn turned, he saw that
Garra’s henchman was just seating himself on the chair facing
them, about five meters away, and reaching to pull the light console
in front of him. One of the guards had followed them; the other
remained back at the door.
      Pallas sat, every muscle taut. Glenn made a sitting motion but
then straightened again. He said off-handedly as he reached into a
pocket, “You should look at this so you’ll know I’m telling the truth.”
He started to advance toward the seated man, but as he pulled out
his identity case, he changed direction to approach the near guard,
as if deciding to hand it to him instead. The guard reached out for
it. The man in the chair hesitated, his arm still extended over the
console.
      Glenn took another step forward and with all his strength
drove his fist into the guard’s face. He crumpled. In that same
instant, Pallas shot forward. She bent and seized the console in her
stride and still maintaining momentum, shoved it into the chest of
the man in the chair. With a look of intense pain he slumped under
its bulk.
      The other guard advanced toward them and then hesitated,
seeing that the two prisoners were free to deal with him. He turned
and lunged for the door. As he grabbed at the slide lever, Glenn
was upon him, delivering a vicious chop to the neck. He fell.
      The two guards lay unconscious. From the man in the chair
came a weird groaning sound. Glenn quickly oriented himself: when
entering the room, they had turned back in an inward direction. He
gestured to the far door. “This way. It should open on that first
passage.” Was the man in the chair capable of raising a cry, he
wondered. Should he render him unconscious?
      But Pallas was already making her way to the door. She
opened it carefully and peered out, and Glenn dashed to join her.
The long arc of corridor visible in both directions was empty. They
stepped out.
      Down the silent passage they ran, away from the room where
Garra had interrogated them. The food chamber had lain on the
other side of the wall to their right, and they watched for a door,
but though several to their left went past, the right wall extended
unbroken.
      A commotion arose ahead. Toward the crest of the long arc a


                                 230
door opened and a man backed out, pulling a piece of machinery.
At the moment he was facing away, but already he began to move
around the apparatus and within seconds would be facing their
direction. Reaching another door on their left, they tried it, found it
unlocked, and slipped hastily through.
       The room was small, hardly larger than a good-sized closet. It
had no light of its own, but it was filled with a faint glow, for on the
opposite side only two meters away, something resembling a broad-
cast console fronted a transparent wall extending from one end of
the little room to the other. Pallas and Glenn stared through the
glass into a huge chamber beyond, dimly bathed in pale overhead
lighting. From here the chamber looked deserted, but along the
walls they could make out catwalks, banks of equipment, much
technical apparatus.
       The room they stood in apparently served as a peripheral
booth of the central chamber, for a door at the right end led into it
and they could see more booths like this one perched in gloom
along the far wall.
       Pallas breathed, “We’ve really stumbled onto something this
time. What do you think it is?”
       “I don’t know, but you can bet your last token it’s not men-
tioned in the Cosmopolis guide book.” He moved toward the little
door. “Let’s take a look.”
       Before she could raise the possibility of an alarm, Glenn had
swung the door open. Silence emerged from the dim chamber. They
climbed down six steep steps to the wide floor.
       Pallas pointed along the curve ahead of them and whispered,
“You can’t see the end of this place.” To either side, each wall was
lined with an identical network of catwalks dividing the height of the
room into two levels. Alternating with the booths located at the
mid-point, equipment banks protruded on both levels, giving the
impression of a series of stations where operators might handle or
monitor whatever functions the equipment served. Almost at their
backs the room ended, but in the other direction it extended
through the repeating pattern until it dissolved in obscurity.
       From behind them came a clatter. The man pushing the
machinery was passing along the outside corridor. They waited,
ready to flee down the long chamber if he entered the booth, but
the sound gradually died away. They moved out toward the center
of the floor.
       “What do you think goes on here?” asked Pallas.
       “It looks like some kind of master control room. A lot of stuff
along there looks like monitoring equipment. See the screens?”
       “You know, it almost seems as though it hasn’t been used yet.
As though it’s waiting.”


                                  231
       At the halfway point across the floor they came upon two
closely-spaced rails running down the center of the chamber.
       “Something must travel along here.”
       Pallas proposed: “Why don’t we follow the track, examine
whatever it is, and then find a way out at the other end? We may
be able to leave through another booth like the one we came in.”
       “We don’t know that.”
       “But I think there’s a radial that way. If we can find an exit
into it, we won’t have to go back through those corridors.”
       Glenn shrugged. “Let’s give it a try.”
       “I’ve an idea. Count these stations along both walls. The num-
ber may indicate something to Miles.”
       “Pallas, I admire your confidence that we’re going to get out
of here to tell Miles anything. Let’s go. You count that side and I’ll
count this one.”
       They moved quickly down the chamber, following the gentle
curve of the center rails. Behind them the room receded into dark-
ness; ahead, more banks came into view.
       The vehicle that rode the rails stood near the far wall. When
they reached it, Pallas announced: “Fourteen, top and bottom: 28
all together.”
       “Same on this side: 56. Doesn’t suggest anything to me.”
       They looked over the vehicle. It had a wide base, extending
beyond the rails on either side. At one end were controls that
looked to be related to its propulsion, obviously the driver’s station.
From dead center of the base rose a huge boom with various hinge-
ing and swiveling capabilities that would allow it to reach any of the
upper and lower stations as the car moved along the length of the
chamber. At the top of the boom was an elaborate platform where a
person could stand.
       “We’ll describe this to Miles, too,” said Pallas.
       “I think we’d better concentrate on getting out of here.”
       Beside the spot where the rails met the end wall stood a door.
It opened into what was evidently a supplies room, for assorted
objects filled shelves along three of the walls. It too glowed under a
dim level of standby lighting.
       “I’ll bet the radial is right on the other side of that wall,” Pallas
said.
       “Fine. All we need is an exit.” He looked around. “I can’t see
another door at all.”
       “They must get this stuff in here some way without having to
go through the long room.”
       They peered about in the gloom. Suddenly Pallas pointed:
“There!” Along the floor, out of a dark square tunnel that extended
about a meter high, emerged a conveyor belt.


                                    232
      Glenn looked dubious. “We have no idea where it leads. I
think we should go back and try to get out one of the booths.”
      “They could be crawling with Garra’s men by now. Listen—
think a minute. The whole chamber follows a course parallel to the
outer circular corridor. The conveyor belt is aimed in that direction.
It can’t cross the corridor, so there must be an opening there to
funnel in these supplies. They’re probably brought from the cargo
bays along the corridors to that point, then shipped along the belt.”
      “Right. But can we open any door or hatch at the corridor
from inside?” He looked around the wall adjacent the opening. “I
don’t see any controls here. Everything must be done from the feed
end—”
      The door leading from the long chamber they had left slightly
ajar. Now through the gap stabbed a thin shaft of light.
      Pallas gasped. “They’ve raised the lights out there! They must
be searching it!”
      “We left the door from the booth open. It was a dead give-
away!”
      “Come on! It’s the belt or nothing.” Pallas moved to the tunnel
opening. Then she wheeled around again, grabbed Glenn about the
neck and squashed her mouth on his. In an instant he responded
and pulled her body against him. Their frenzied contact lasted a
brief moment, then she pulled away and getting down on hands and
knees, started into the tunnel. Glenn followed.
      The faint glimmer of light from the storeroom gave way to
total blackness as they moved forward, sliding a hand along one
edge of the conveyor. The belt buckled slightly under their weight.
After several minutes of crawling, Pallas spoke quietly. “This should
only be equal to the distance across the food chamber plus a little
bit—shouldn’t it?”
      Glenn had been thinking along similar lines, but he thought he
noticed an uncharacteristic tremor in Pallas’ voice. Could the woman
who had spent her life on Umber’s open plains have a fear of closed
spaces? He had to keep her from panicking.
      “I’m sure it is,” he said calmly. “It can’t be much further. In
fact, you’re liable to bang your head against the hatch any second
now.”
      Pallas giggled nervously. “I hope no one up ahead flicks a
switch and sends us tumbling back into Garra’s arms—oh!”
      “What is it?”
      Now there was a definite note of alarm. “The belt—it slants
downward.”
      Down?
      “Glenn, it must come up from a lower level!”
      He did his thinking aloud, to steady them both.


                                 233
       “Yes, remember what we saw at the docking bay. The supply
ship’s hold gets unloaded from underneath. Supplies would go into
some storage area below and then get funneled up to the main
deck.”
       “Shall we go on?”
       Glenn tried to sound jocular. “You’re leading this expedition,
Pallas. And I’m not about to back up. The ramp can’t be too steep if
it has to carry things.”
       She moved forward experimentally. “You’re right. I’m going to
turn over and slide down feet first.”
       Glenn followed her lead. As he started down he thought to
detect sounds coming from the supply room behind them. Then
there was only the noise of their scrambling echoing along the
narrow tunnel.
       Pallas called back: “I can see an opening ahead, and some
light!” Their progress increased with their downward momentum.
Soon Glenn could see the end of the tunnel looming nearer, the belt
sweeping out to extend horizontally into the space beyond.
       Pallas emerged into the light, scrambled off the conveyor and
onto the floor. Glenn had wanted to tell her to stop just inside the
tunnel so they could first scout the room they were entering, but he
realized that nothing would stop her. He slid through the opening
himself, coming to rest on the conveyor extension which here stood
half a meter off the floor.
       His eye glimpsed an endless storage chamber filled with rows
of shelving before something abruptly happened. The belt started
moving up the tunnel, carrying Glenn backward. Pallas gave a little
cry and grabbed for him as Glenn seized at the edges of the
opening. His legs were carried back beneath him. While he held on
to the outside wall, Pallas got her arms under his shoulders and
dragged him out bodily. Both ended in a heap on the floor.
       “Any damage?”
       “I don’t think so.” Her face was pale and strained.
       They looked around. Row upon row of shelves extended into
the distance, broken only by heavy regularly-spaced pillars rising to
the low ceiling. For all they could see, the room might have gone on
to the other side of the pod. At their backs the wall swept in a long
arc to either side, following the pod’s slow curvature. The area in
sight was deserted. The conveyor continued to chatter as the belt
flowed back up the way they had come.
       “That was close! There must have been a control back there
after all.”
       A wide, clear space ran parallel to the wall out to where the
storage facilities began and they started along it. Glenn looked
dubiously to the rows and aisles. “I’d prefer not to get into that


                                234
jungle, but I have a feeling any stairways or elevators are located in
the middle.”
      Pallas stopped. “I’m afraid we’ll lose our sense of direction
around this curve. Let’s think. We would have passed under the
corridor coming down. The radial should be right above us.” She
screwed up her face. “I think it’s one more to the Alpha shaft.”
      Behind them the conveyor belt stopped moving. Glenn said,
“Garra may send a man through the tunnel.” They started off at a
lope. Along the passing aisles they glimpsed occasional blue-coated
figures and powered vehicles. It could not be long before someone
noticed or ran into them.
      Glenn pointed ahead. “Look.” Another conveyor belt emerged
from a tunnel identical to the one they had traveled. “There must
be a whole series of them around the room—to carry supplies up to
various parts of the main deck.” He halted. “Wait a minute. That’s
how we can get out of here.”
      She stared at him. “You want to go back in there? We have no
idea where they lead.”
      “Maybe we can get an idea.” They stopped at the conveyor.
“How far have we come?”
      She considered. “Maybe halfway to the next radial.”
      Glenn scanned the shelves in the vicinity. “This doesn’t look
too promising. Lab equipment. There might be a dozen technicians
at the top of the ramp. Let’s try the next one.”
      When it came into sight they halted abruptly. The tunnel was
in the process of swallowing up cases on its moving belt as a worker
unloaded a dolly. They watched from the edge of the shelving, and
presently the worker disappeared, to return a minute later with
another load.
      Glenn said urgently, “Pallas, we’ve got to chance it. If the man
goes away again and leaves the belt running, we hop a ride.”
      She nodded grimly.
      The second load went the way of the first. The worker rode off
once more on the dolly as the belt continued to flow. Pallas and
Glenn moved quickly toward the opening. “Roll onto it and lie on
your back,” Glenn directed. He wanted her ahead of him.
      No one was in sight. Pallas rolled onto the belt, tucked her
arms at her side. Her body, head first, angled over the bend and
disappeared. With a last look around, Glenn followed, and as they
were carried up the murky shaft he pulled himself forward until he
could touch Pallas’ foot. “Turn onto your stomach before we get to
the top bend.” A moment later there was a slight bump as they
assumed the horizontal. Ahead, light. The opening swelled. There
were noises and voices.
      A pair of frock-coated figures wheeled around as two bodies


                                 235
were ejected at floor level from the conveyor tunnel. The belt’s
unorthodox passengers got unsteadily to their feet, took in the
storeroom and the two gaping mouths at a glance, then started
toward the door. Glenn said cheerily, “Just checking to see that the
shipment got through. We like to keep on top of things.” By the
time they passed out, the two figures had still not moved.
      Pallas and Glenn ran down a long narrow chamber lined with
refrigeration units, emerging into the outer circular corridor. Pallas
looked one way, then the other. “We’ve overshot it. This way.” They
mounted the slideway.
      A few personnel passed them traveling in the other direction,
but though they received curious looks, no one chose to challenge
them. For the moment there was no pursuit from the refrigeration
room.
      They reached the intersection. Down to the right about 200
meters: the shaft leading to the Alpha resort pod. They dashed to
the radial slideway.
      “There’s a security guard stationed there.”
      “He should be watching the other direction.”
      As they arrived at the broad junction, the guard turned and
spied their approach. “Where are you two coming from?”
      “Oh, we were on the tour and got bored. Talk about dull! Just
how many laboratories and gardens can you look at? What a waste
of an afternoon. We’re going back to Alpha.”
      “But—” The guard hesitated. “You’re not supposed to leave
the tour on your own. Those are unauthorized areas.”
      “Nobody seemed to object.” They were still moving, passing
the man, Glenn gesturing like a blustering tourist. He turned to
Pallas. “I told you the tour would be a waste of time, but you didn’t
believe me.”
      “The trouble with you, dear,” she retorted, “is you’ve got no
taste.”
      The guard was left behind. They boarded the waiting rail
coach and within a few moments were speeding along the shaft to
the Alpha pod.

                        *         *         *
      “Miles arrives the day after tomorrow,” Pallas said. “We must
not be captured. But where can we hide?”
      Glenn believed it better to keep on the move, that out in the
crowds they would be safer. “Garra’s men might not be expecting
that.” But if they were going to survive for two days they would
need money and so they decided to risk going to Glenn’s quarters
for his supply of tokens. “Immediately. Before they have a chance
to organize a search. I have the feeling that none of the regular


                                 236
Cosmopolis staff knows what goes on behind those food chambers,
so Garra might not raise a general alarm. They may look for us
surreptitiously—and there can’t be that many of them to do it.”
       On a quick visit to the cabin they met no interference. Ten
minutes later they were back on the main deck.
       Cosmopolis seemed more crowded than usual. The parks, the
cafés, the gaming rooms, the recreation areas thronged with people
from every world. Pallas and Glenn in the neutral attire they had
chosen for the tour were almost conspicuous among the flamboyant
costumery around them. At separate clothiers they purchased a
change of apparel. Glenn had his hair cut into a different style. At a
beautician’s pavilion, Pallas tinted hers a soft wine color, such as
the women of Menodie wore, while makeup gave a different empha-
sis to her features.
       As they wandered the Alpha pod, Glenn recounted what he
had overheard of Garra’s instructions. Pallas’ eyebrows rose at the
reference to her planned “sex reduction.”
       “What did he mean by that?”
       “I can only guess. But Garra must have realized you were a
potential secret weapon.” Grinning, he gave a quick squeeze of one
accessible breast.
       “Apparently Garra doesn’t realize how impervious the Captain
really is. There was no need to worry that he would spill any of their
plans to me. But what is this ‘programmer’?”
       “I don’t know. You sometimes hear rumors about machines to
control minds, but I always believed they were bogey-tales. Judging
by Garra’s instructions, these are pretty sophisticated. We might
have left that room with different heads.” He gestured around at
the ship. “I guess if Cardis can dream up all this, he can invent a
programmer as well.”
       “What I’m curious to know is: who do they usually use it on?
Every tourist who wanders into an unauthorized area?”
       “I’ve thought about that. I can’t even guess at the answer.”
       All evening they mingled with the Alpha deck revelers. They
visited a festive ball, joined the dancers, sat in quiet corners. They
wandered the outer concession area, encountering mystical and
spiritual centers, séance houses and a variety of mediums claiming
contact with the spirit worlds. Hawkers exclaimed to passersby that
within their premises were renowned teachers of mind expansion,
tele-techniques. All for a few tokens they could reshape their lives.
       Under the outward show of merrymaking they were ever alert,
casting eyes over their shoulders and through the crowds ahead. As
they entered each chamber, each lane, they paused and surveyed
the area.
       At one point Pallas asked, “Did you get the feeling that all


                                 237
those men seemed to resemble each other? Garra, his henchman,
the two guards. As though they were from the same world, with
one dominant physiognomy.”
      “Perhaps. I didn’t consider it at the time.”
      And at another she said: “I wonder if they’ve notified the
Captain by now.”
      “I’ve been keeping an eye on the Cosmopolis personnel, but
they don’t seem particularly alert. They don’t look as though they’re
watching for anyone.”
      “What bothers me in all this is that Captain Cardis must
sanction what they were going to do. Surely he knows everything
that goes on in his ship, so how could they dare take such a step
without his approval?” She reflected on the previous evening. “He
believed I was willing to leave. I’m sure that satisfied him.”
      “That was before we started poking around. And Garra may
have been operating under some standing procedure; although it
was clear too that part of it was because you were involved with the
Captain. He obviously didn’t approve and he may have decided to
take matters into his own hands.”
      Now fatigue was overtaking them; they had to sleep soon.
They decided on the House of Love, even though it meant a trip to
the Beta pod. Exhausted, they reached the Seven Worlds Pleasure
Dome and, oblivious to the indulgences of the patrons of the House,
paid in advance for a double period and went to their room, still
clothed. There, after stripping and washing away the day’s sweat
and tension, they fell into bed and slept instantly.

      By the afternoon of the second day there was still no sign of a
search. Pallas ventured, “I’m thinking that Garra did not tell Captain
Cardis about us at all.”
      “It’s possible. There would seem to be some friction between
them.”
      “I was to see the Captain this evening. When I don’t show up,
I’m sure the Cosmopolis security forces will start searching for me.”
      They decided to do nothing until Destan’s arrival the next
morning.
      Their feet ached. They came upon a complex of theaters and
after touring the central court entered one of the establishments.
But they had hardly taken their places on the moving platform
when Pallas experienced an overwhelming feeling of vulnerability.
Glenn trusted her instincts; they disengaged themselves and left
through a side exit. As they were about to re-enter the court, the
same caution prompted them to hang back in the lane. Glenn
peered around to the entrance of the theater they had just left.
      Garra’s henchman, accompanied by three others, was just
approaching the foyer.

                                 238
       Glenn grabbed Pallas’ hand. “That’s it! Garra’s boys have just
found us!”
       They ran back up the lane, found a route to an adjoining
chamber. Forcing themselves to move without conspicuous haste,
they made their way from place to place, not stopping until they
were halfway round the deck.
       “Now they know what we look like, what we’re wearing.”
       “We have to find somewhere to stay tonight.”
       Glenn deliberated. “There’s one place where we might be able
to lose ourselves, and they may not think of looking there: the Beta
Promenade. All I remember is they’re featuring a world with some
jungle areas.”
       “It doesn’t sound too inviting.”
       “Let’s hope they think so, too.”
       They were in a small park and Pallas sank to the grass. “I’m
tired, Glenn. We’re not equipped to take on Captain Cardis and all
the people he’s involved with. How did we let Miles Destan talk us
into all this?”
       “This part was our own idea, Pallas. We meddled in something
we shouldn’t have and got caught. Come on: Woman of Umber,
tamer of the Hrabas, conqueror of the plains! Make this one last
effort.” He grinned. “We’ll fight to the death in the jungles of the
Beta Promenade! We’ll take the whole crew down with us!”
       She grinned back and pulled him down to her. “You’re right.
We’re the greatest team in the Concourse.” She kissed him, then
started. “It will be real night in the Promenade, don’t you remem-
ber? Can we survive the night in a jungle? Umber has nothing like
that.”
       “I’m sure it’s not all jungle, and they certainly won’t have wild
animals roaming around. But we can’t wait. We’ll use the rest of the
money for some food and another change of clothes. We’ll need
something more suitable for the Promenade, and by now they may
be getting out a description of us in these outfits.”




                                  239
                                 22
   ________________________________________________




      In each antechamber of the Beta Promenade a chart bore the
following information:

                            GASCOYNE
                  Sole planet of Josephine’s Star
                  Year: .58 Standard Concourse
                  Day: .79 Standard Concourse
                 Gravity: .88 Standard Concourse
                  Atmospheric Efficiency: 110%
  Gascoyne possesses two large continents extending from pole
  to pole divided by shallow seas. The physiognomy of both
  continents is almost identical. Savannas in the temperate zones
  merge into jungle at the tropics. The polar regions are heavily
  crossed by glaciers and contain the planet’s only noteworthy
  mountain ranges. The latter area is not represented in the
  Promenade.
  While bird life is plentiful, animal life is relatively scant. The
  jungle is dominated by a large swamp creature of vegetarian
  preference. This “kshaka,” as it is called by the inhabitants of
  Gascoyne, can be seen in a fenced area within the jungle
  portion of the Promenade. Selected varieties of the larger
  animals of the savanna, such as the boar and shiba, will be
  found in cages located at the left and right 90° circumference
  positions. Frogs, skeelas, and a long but harmless form of
  watersnake will be encountered in the jungle area, and varie-
  ties of lizards on the savannas. Rain, abundant on Gascoyne,
  will not be experienced in the Promenade, as water is supplied
  underground.
  Gascoyne was settled only 200 years ago. Its population keeps
  to narrow strips along the fish-rich seas, leaving the hinterland
  as yet undeveloped.
  Gascoyne is not a terminus world in the Stellar Intersect game.

                        *         *         *

                                 240
       Entry to the Beta Promenade went without a hitch. Pallas
entered the antechamber first and received instructions and equip-
ment from the attendant: a pair of knee-high rubber boots, a staff,
and a small rucksack holding a kit of minor articles, including an
emergency signaler which when activated registered in the ante-
chamber and could be tracked by a rescue team.
       She passed through the lock and out onto the savanna, its
hazy air warmer by several degrees. Gravity was perceptibly lighter.
The sound of birds: Pallas looked up to see a flock wheeling over-
head. Islands of high trees, their flat-bladed branches dropping like
peeled fruitskins and surrounded by ramparts of scrub and brush
that grew in peculiar angular configurations, stretched along a hard
ground of coarse yellow grass to a rise about fifty meters away. The
artificial sky lay how far overhead? The effect was deceiving: it
could have been at stratospheric level. And halfway to the horizon,
glowing in the same reddish-yellow tones as Gascoyne’s sun, hung
a great dazzling ball.
       Pallas walked to the rise ahead and waited just beyond it. Ten
minutes later Glenn emerged and joined her. He looked around,
scanning earth and sky. “How big is this place? This is some feat of
environmental construction.”
       Pallas bent to the ground. “The grass and shrubbery are real,
though the trees must be transplanted from the real world.”
       Glenn was staring at the sun. “You know, I do believe that
thing is moving. Is it real, or a projection, do you think?”
       “I don’t know, but let’s find a place to settle down before they
switch it off.”
       Glenn pointed ahead some hundred meters. “See there: the
jungle. We can set ourselves up just outside it or just inside it,
depending on the condition of the ground. Preferably on a spot with
a good all-round view, where we can still see the entrance.”
       They started off, their step given a little extra spring by the
lighter gravity and richer atmosphere. About a half dozen other
people could be seen in this arc of the Promenade.
       An increased humidity was noticeable as they approached the
edge of the jungle. Enormous fern-trees with pale green fronds and
rubbery black trunks competed with high-reaching lepidodendrons,
both forming a luxuriant canopy over an undergrowth of thickets
and prickly barilla bush. Donning the boots, they reconnoitered a
little way in. The light became dimmer and the difficult undergrowth
gradually changed to more swampy vegetation as the ground
turned to marsh. They held their walking staffs at the ready,
remembering the reference to the watersnake. “I’ve seen enough,”
said Glenn. “I don’t especially want to meet those swamp creatures
either—even in cages.”


                                 241
       They returned to the savanna and at a high point about a
dozen meters out set themselves up on the heavy grass. As they
dipped into their provisions, Glenn observed: “The sun is lower and
I think it’s gotten darker since we arrived. Did you happen to notice
the length of the day?”
       “No. I wonder how long a period of darkness we can expect.”
       “Hopefully not too long. I didn’t bring my alarm clock.”
       At that moment a heavy-set man with a deep green skin tone,
his boots wet and with an oversized knapsack on his back, came out
of the jungle. He was swinging his staff. Glenn grabbed his own and
jumped to his feet; Pallas followed suit.
       “Hold on there, young fellows. I’m not one of the swamp crea-
tures. And there’s a bit too much of me to mistake for a snake.”
       They lowered their sticks. “Sorry. You took us by surprise.”
       “Tramping the Promenades is one of my favorite pastimes
when I visit Cosmopolis. I come from a world where the scenery is
rather dull: Inverness. My name’s Danker.”
       He extended a friendly hand. Glenn introduced himself as
Arthur Hatch, Pallas as Anna Menter.
       Danker sat beside them on the grass. They asked him about
the extent of the jungle area.
       “Takes about three-quarters of an hour to get through, ‘cause
the going is slow. Some parts are thicker and marshier than others.
They keep two swamp creatures in a large fenced area in the center
but they never rose up off their bellies while I was watching. The
snakes will run over your boots but they’re not dangerous; after a
while you stop worrying about them.”
       “Are they big?”
       “About a meter. Long and thin. Greenish with speckles of light
brown.”
       “Do they ever venture out onto the savanna?”
       Danker’s round eyes laughed. “Never saw one out here yet.
I’ve spent two days in the Promenade now and I’m just on my way
out. Gives me a feeling of roughing it.”
       “The sun is going down. How long does night last?”
       “About six hours. Are you planning on staying?”
       “We might. What’s it like? Does it get totally dark?”
       “Oh, no. There are two big moons in the sky—just like on
Gascoyne.”
       Glenn asked, “By the way, is the Promenade patrolled? Does
the staff ever come through to check on things?”
       “As far as I know, only to feed the caged animals. I only said
it feels like roughing it, Mr. Hatch. Everything’s pretty safe in here.”
And with that, Danker took his leave and tramped off toward the
exit.


                                  242
       The sun accorded them a pale, unspectacular sunset as it
dipped below the artificial horizon. Dusk, that elusive zone between
day and darkness, passed over the landscape. No other people were
visible. The jungle looming nearby slowly lost its definition and
became a murky presence that dominated their little encampment—
though without menace.
       Pallas reclined on her back. “Glenn, look!” Above them, Gas-
coyne’s night sky was taking shape, as a myriad glittering sparks
flicked into existence, a brilliant background to two pale moons, the
larger with its reddish volcanic hue coming up behind a smaller
blue-gray companion, like an aroused centaur pursuing the fleeter
maiden.
       Glenn stretched out beside her. “What a strange place this is.
Who could have thought twenty years ago that a creation like
Cosmopolis would ever exist?”
       “Who could have thought before Miles Destan came along that
there would be anything sinister about it? Everything is so beautiful.
So much has gone into it.”
       “In one way or another it has probably touched the lives of
almost everyone in the Concourse, even if only in their daydreams.”
       She stretched her arms toward the sky in an all-embracing
gesture, then rolled over to rest on Glenn’s chest, looking down at
him in a moonlit glow, her eyes sparkling. “Glenn, if we get out of
this, I’ll go with you—wherever you want to go. Umber is beautiful,
but twenty-four years is all I need. Cosmopolis has given me a taste
for other things; the things I saw the times I visited other worlds.
Only then I didn’t have someone to share them with—someone as
exciting as you. We know that we please each other. Do you think
you could ever find another woman like me?”
       The fullness of her breasts against him excited him almost as
much as those two nearby stars that gleamed above his face. How
long could he keep them so bright? What worlds, what sights and
experiences would be needed to satisfy this woman? He said: “I
might be able to believe you could leave Umber, but what about the
Hrabas? No more night rides on the plain, no more thrill of woman
and beast struggling for supremacy?”
       She began to bite him gently along the curve of his jaw. “You
can give me some of that.” Her hands, only partly in jest, moved to
pin his upper arms against the grass. “And the Concourse can give
me the rest. So many worlds, so many different kinds of people and
ideas. All striving and struggling for something.” She was fully on
top of him now, pressing the weight of her body against him, while
her mouth continued to nibble at the skin of his cheek. “I’m sure we
can find enough to occupy ourselves.”
       He ran his hands along her back, down to her hips. “Perhaps


                                 243
you think you’d like to join at the tables, do you? But not like Rima
and Tamas. You’d be on your own—you’d have to win against me,
too.” With a sudden lurch he tried to throw her over and reverse
their positions. But she was ready—and stronger than he expected.
He struggled for leverage but succeeded only in swinging them both
through a quarter turn until Pallas let go and, gasping and laughing,
they rolled once, twice, three times, down the gentle slope toward
the jungle’s edge.
      Glenn got to his knees and slowly swept the dim horizon. Not
a soul could be seen. “The night is warm. And humid.” He bent over
her as she lay relaxed on the long grass. “On the other hand, if we
get out of this, I may never feel like gambling again. No card game
around a table would ever be able to match it. So if that’s the
secret of my charm, you’d better tell me now.”
      “You’re right, Glenn. It is very warm and humid. I think I
would like you to undress me.”
      The smell of the grass and the dank odors from the jungle
mixed with the scent of their bodies as they made love. There was a
special intensity to it, for although neither voiced the thought, both
knew it could be for the last time. Now, certainly, Captain Cardis
would be searching for her. He had wanted her off Cosmopolis on
the next shuttle: less than twelve hours away. Garra was searching
as well. Tomorrow could only be ominous. But tonight, on an artifi-
cial world inside an artificial city, sailing the vast emptiness between
the stars, they drank of each other’s bodies and drew strength from
their companionship and commitment.
      With the first light of a fabricated dawn they awoke. Since
Pallas would likely be sought by all the Cosmopolis personnel, she
would remain in the Promenade while Glenn went to keep the ren-
dezvous with Destan. He would bring him back to the Promenade, if
he were willing. If neither of them returned by the following dusk,
Pallas would sleep the night there and then go to the corner table in
the casino. Beyond that, neither one was prepared to plan or
speculate.
      “What will you do if Miles does not come?”
      “I’ll wait until evening and then return here. But I think Miles
Destan will come.”

       At that moment, a security man entered the antechamber at
the other entrance to the Beta Promenade and spoke to the atten-
dant. He showed a picture of a couple, in profile against a theater
front. The attendant examined it and shook his head. “Not on my
shift.” He was advised to retain their images in his mind. “If you see
them, call this number.”
       The security man then made his way by the encircling corridor
to the opposite entrance. There he found the attendant occupied

                                  244
giving instructions to a group of six tourists. He waited, glancing out
the glass wall to the landscape beyond. He saw a man approaching
the lock and instantly recognized him. The area of his body where
he had received a vicious chop from those hands two days before
still throbbed.
        The security man moved to the other side of the knot of tour-
ists. Glenn entered the antechamber, deposited the kit, staff and
boots. Before departing, he took a look back into the Promenade,
and his stance subtly conveyed a reluctance to leave. Then he
exited into the corridor.
        The security man made two immediate decisions. One was to
enter the Promenade instead of following Glenn. The other was not
to try to use the communicator on the counter between the
expounding attendant and the six noisy tourists. It was the woman
Garra wanted most of all—if necessary, dead. The others would get
the man before long.
        Taking neither kit, staff, nor boots, the security man entered
the Promenade. But he did pat the bulge of a concealed object
under his tunic.




                                 245
                                23
   ________________________________________________




      The Cosmopolis shuttle boat carried the usual assortment of
tourists and people on business. As well, two richly-dressed figures
from different worlds who emanated authority, each with a small
entourage. Destan knew the look if not the faces. If something sub-
versive were imminent, at least two Hierarchs would be on board.
How many others might be on their way to Cosmopolis by their own
transport?
      Among the passengers were the two Intersect Finalists who
would play the next Stellar Intersect game. Their presence gave the
occasion a special festivity.
      But Destan kept himself solitary, deep in his own ruminations,
and when most of the other passengers crowded into the forward
chamber to watch the approach of the resort ship, he remained in
the lounge. Over and over, during the entire journey to the rendez-
vous world, through the two-hour hop on the shuttle, he had sifted
the masses of data, impressions, deductions and surmises collected
over the previous weeks. To his mind, there could be little doubt
that some form of conspiracy was under way. There could be little
more doubt that in some manner it involved the Stellar Intersect
game and the Umber terminus. But he faced a standoff in his
thinking: Why would Umber be needed if any satellite could—by
remote control, agency or otherwise—be pointed in any direction?
On the other hand, if the need for Umber to replace Basel indicated
that the satellites would be used in the normal fashion, none of the
intersects they could form were dangerous.
      He had just about laid to rest Faulk’s idea that the Hierarchs
were agents of Cardis, the theory that had seemed to please Jaynes
so much. How could Cardis have predicted conditions on any given
world, or the cooperation of any given Hierarch, over a period of
fourteen years—or even eight? And the argument fell down with
Umber. Cardis had visited the Matrin, to be sure, but Destan was
absolutely certain that the woman with whom he had spent the
night in the grove was no agent of the Captain, nor a participant in
any iniquitous conspiracy.

                                246
       So jettison the whole idea of remote control, he told himself.
Go back to the game itself.
       He picked on two essential points from his studies in the
apartment on Sigma. Basel was being replaced by Umber. And one
of the possible intersects using Umber coincided with the intersect
point near Sigma. The one that had been formed three times using
Basel.
       Three times.
       Destan frowned. Some unconscious memory circuit was firing
in protest.
       He reviewed his procedure. He had set out a chart for each
terminus world, then entered notations for any games in which it
had taken part in the winning play, with the Concourse coordinates
of each intersect. These notations he had made one at a time, going
through the game records in chronological order. On the Basel chart
he had made altogether five entries. But three of these intersects
had taken place in the identical location. This he only later realized
was the point near Sigma, since at no time during this particular
operation did he refer to the notations on his improvised map.
       Those had all been made the day before, when he first went
through the game records to get a picture of the distribution of
intersects across the Concourse. And now something about that
first day’s work intruded from his subconscious. When he had come
to a game whose intersect occurred in the same location as that of
a previous game, he had added another notation there on the map.
But he had not gone back to verify that precisely the same set of
terminus worlds had been used as before. That had seemed to be
an evident assumption.
       When had he last looked at that point on the map? When he
checked the computer list of probable intersects using Umber. One
had coincided with the Sigma point—as he now thought of it.
       He closed his eyes. He tried to bring that image back into his
mind.
       How many notations had he made on the map at the Sigma
point?
       Four.
       The Sigma point had been used four times.
       The next day, when he compared Basel with Umber, he had
recognized the coordinates and had not needed to refer to the map.
       Basel had figured in only three Sigma points. He had missed
the discrepancy.
       Destan felt the butterflies in his diaphragm take flight. This
meant that, besides the six participating worlds which included
Basel, there had to be at least one other pair of terminus satellites
that could produce a beam to cross at the Sigma point. Four beams.


                                 247
Even possibly five. Without checking that fourth game, the one not
involving Basel, he had no way of knowing how many terminus
pairs were common between the four games.
       Was such a thing credible? That more than three beams could
coincide at the same point?
       Yet, as Wessel had described it, each successive carrier beam
widened the combined diameter of the cones. The third beam found
it easier to make contact because of the combination of the first
two. Therefore, three beams might make it easier for a fourth to
contact. Then, in sequence, perhaps even a fifth. So even if any two
beams in the group did not necessarily cross, all together could
form a chain of contact if transmitted in the right order. The players
themselves might not have recognized this.
       Destan’s stomach roiled in acute tension. How wide an area
might such a combination of carriers cover? And the discharge: a
collision of four or five particle beams, with properties not even a
Physicist had been able to predict. The core of the reaction: how
broad would it be? How great the force and heat? A bombardment
of particles: over what distance and with what intensity?
       He recalled the recoil signals heard over the receiver in the
Gallery. The first, at the meeting of only two particle beams, had
been faint; he had almost missed it. The second signal, with the
addition of the third beam, had been much louder. What progres-
sion of intensity would be created by the addition of a fourth beam?
A fifth?
       What was the destructive potential of the total discharge?
Could the effects possibly reach Sigma itself?
       The passengers were returning to the lounge to take their
seats for the arrival....The destruction of the Council beacon might
now become feasible; perhaps even a devastating effect on the
near side of the planet itself.
       Attendants stood at their posts as the shuttle entered the top
of the receiving bay....Even though the precise nature of the plot
and its intentions might still elude him, these new implications were
too enormous. As soon as possible he would go to the Communi-
cations Center and send one of the predetermined coded messages.
It would inform Allen Jaynes that new factors had arisen making it
imperative that the Council fleets be dispatched at once to take
over Cosmopolis at the first opportunity. That would be the point at
which the ship reentered normal space before the playing of the
next Stellar Intersect game.
       The shuttle descended into the bay....Only one possible flaw
in his thinking occurred to Destan. How could the Captain get more
than three beams to transmit? What would the Concourse do if it
heard instructions to four or five pairs of terminus satellites?


                                 248
     Whatever the means, no doubt it had been the least of the
Captain’s challenges.

       Five hundred passengers filed down the airlock tube into the
debarkation lounge. On the shuttle Destan had been aware of an
increased number of security people. More than one had scanned
his face, though he told himself that Cardis would have had no
reason to think that Destan would undertake another trip to
Cosmopolis. Now he noted that among the group of receptionists
directing the arrivees across the chamber and into the auditorium
were several who seemed subtly alert, as though registering each
face and comparing it to a file of mental images. He began to
wonder if indeed one of those images fitted Miles Destan of Rhodes.
       But even a close friend, on such an examination, would have
had difficulty picking him out. That broad, somewhat sheepish nose
with its unmistakable bend, an accident of his youth, the feature
which more than one woman had called endearing, was no more. In
its place stood a more elegant profile, straight and true. A small
portion of each cheekbone had been removed, etching for the first
time in his life shadows under their crests. With hairline altered and
skin color deepened, Miles Destan was a new man, younger looking,
more neutrally handsome. It had cost him 24 hours, of which he
remembered nothing, most of it taken up with post-operative
measures to prevent trauma. To match the change of appearance, a
change of character was provided by the refined attire of an affluent
speculator in interworld bonds and securities.
       He passed into the auditorium without hindrance. There he
squirmed in frustration at the delay necessitated by the familiar
briefing from the familiar hostess. Then came the trek to the cabin
deck of the Alpha pod with his half of the group, finally to the quar-
ters of one Irwin Donitz. He almost considered avoiding his cabin
and going directly to the Communications Center, but he realized
that if they could intercept him at his cabin they could intercept him
anywhere they chose.
       Once in his quarters he had to make another decision. The
rendezvous with Pallas and Glenn was an hour away. Should he
wait for whatever they had to tell him before attempting the Com-
munications Center? After a brief debate with himself, he decided
that this was the wiser course.
       The rendezvous had been arranged for the Wandering Moon
café near the casino in the Beta pod. There Destan waited out the
balance of the hour, alert for any sign of surveillance. Most of the
other tables were filled, the waiters, as always, proved solicitous,
and carefree strollers passed along the sidewalk crossing his field of
vision. Could there be any other spot in the Concourse to compare
with Cosmopolis, their distant voices seemed to be saying. A leaf

                                 249
thrusting out from a nearby jinjilla plant brushed the edge of his
table and declared that even without sun and rain it was good to be
aboard. Destan sipped at his drink and thought darker thoughts
than anyone around him.
      At the appointed hour a familiar figure approached along the
avenue, entered the little court, looked nonchalantly around. Destan
waved his arm and called jovially, “Mr. Hatch! Nice to see you.”
      Glenn approached with some uncertainty. He took the other
chair and sat down. “I was expecting a friend of mine,” he said
casually.
      Without abandoning his smile Destan spoke quietly, “Look at
my eyes, Glenn.”
      Recognition. “Miles! What have you done to yourself?”
      “Chairman Jaynes assured me it was an improvement.”
      Glenn said wryly, “It may have been wise. Miles, there are
some strange things going on aboard this ship.” He gave Destan a
quick account of the situation: Garra, the programmers, the hidden
room, the pursuit.
      All this would mean that the ship was alerted, Destan realized.
The difficulty of sending his message might be tenfold now. “Take
me to Pallas. I need a full briefing before I can decide what to do.”
      The Promenade was not far, and they proceeded warily along
the corridors, Glenn adding details along the way. Destan found
himself very interested in the long monitoring room with its 56
banks of equipment. Aside from the obvious identification with the
hidden long room of Cleevis’ description, something about the
number rang a bell. In one of his discussions with Jaynes, the
Chairman had mentioned that the various Council patrols rotated
over a period of time through a series of points. These coincided
with positions in the Concourse reflecting power centers and trouble
spots—an arbitrary division of Marcus Sand’s own devising. That
number, he now remembered, was 56.
      What did Cosmopolis intend to monitor at each of those
Concourse positions?
      The other intriguing detail was Glenn’s account of the group
around Garra, the resemblance that all of them seemed to bear to
each other, an indication that all were from a world where racial
characteristics were narrowly defined. Or—the Anthropologist’s
words about an Earthman or a pirate, about prototypic foreheads,
ran through his mind. Who were they? Destan asked himself. If the
Ferasco security man, who undoubtedly belonged to the group, had
been at the shipbuilders for fourteen years, it was likely that all the
rest, including Garra, had been associated with Cosmopolis for the
same length of time. Had Cosmopolis been built as a pirate ship?
And what were they going to pirate?


                                 250
     The two men reached the Beta Promenade and entered the
antechamber. From the attendant they received staffs, kits and
boots. Passing through the lock, they stepped onto the simulated
landscape of Gascoyne.

                        *         *         *
        Once Glenn had left, Pallas had settled down for an indefinite
wait. Now that it was daylight, she moved her few things to a spot
at the edge of the jungle foliage. Then she lay down on the little
rise where they had spent the night, chin resting on her arms. Her
eyes swept the landscape, but there were no tourists to be seen.
She found her lids closing, heavy from too much tension and too
little sleep.
        They opened suddenly. Had she dozed? To one side, from the
direction in which Glenn had departed, she saw a figure moving
with a certain deliberation. For a moment she thought it must be
Glenn returning for some reason and involuntarily she raised her
head. It was enough. In the same instant that she realized it was
not Glenn, the approaching man spied her. He pulled something
from his tunic and advanced cautiously. Pallas stood up and darted
out of sight toward the jungle. He ran after her.
        Just inside the undergrowth she looked back. The man, she
was certain, had drawn some kind of weapon. He surely could not
be a Cosmopolis security man, under orders from Captain Cardis;
he surely would not order her killed. But Garra? That she could well
believe.
        She fought down a wave of panic and knew she would have to
defend herself. Nearby was her cache of things. Reaching it, she
seized the walking staff, but when she looked up she saw the man
advancing over the rise—in his hand, unmistakably, a firearm.
Against that, a stick was no defense. She turned and ran into the
jungle.
        She was not wearing the boots, only her flat walking shoes.
But neither was her pursuer. Would they both become mired in the
marsh as they went deeper into the jungle? She remembered the
tourist Danker and his wet boots.
        Behind her she could hear the man moving through the brush.
Surely she was stronger than he was, with more stamina. She could
outdistance him, or perhaps wait in ambush and fell him with the
staff.
        Her shoes were beginning to sink into the marshy ground.
More than once the fine thorns of the berilla bush caught on her
clothes, scraped the skin of her arms. The trees became thicker, the
light blocked by dense foliage. She stopped, taking deep breaths.
The sound of pursuit could be heard in the distance.


                                 251
      Something slithered over her ankle. She looked down. A long,
thin green snake was moving across her foot and with a cry she
kicked it away. Stupid—he would be alerted to her position. She
started running forward again, trying to keep a clear head, trying to
make as little noise as possible. Difficult, when every step splashed
against a thin layer of water that covered most patches of earth and
grass. How far to the other side? Danker had said three-quarters of
an hour, though at a reasonable pace. But this pace she could not
maintain for long. She was a fit woman, but these conditions were
impossible, and two days’ fatigue was making itself felt.
      She must hide or make a stand.
      Better the latter while some strength remained. She stopped
in a dense patch of trees and tried to bring her breathing under
control. Perhaps he would pass at a distance. But no, her pursuer
was approaching along the same path. She raised the staff above
her head. The sounds stopped, then resumed again. He was advan-
cing carefully, unable to hear any more noise ahead.
      A hand came into view, carrying a very ugly looking pistol. At
the sight of his nose Pallas stepped out and brought the staff down
with all her strength, but he reacted quickly and drew back, and the
staff struck the weapon, driving it ahead of them into the mud.
Seeing him momentarily stunned, she raised the staff again and
swung it sideways, aiming for his head. He ducked and it smashed
against the tree trunk, splintering. The two pieces went spinning
away.
      For the longest moment the two stared at one another, both
in a crouch. His indecision triggered her and Pallas lunged. But her
foot slid on the slippery jungle floor and she fell past the man’s
waist, splashing face down into the mire. She just managed to turn
onto her side as the man dropped on top of her. They struggled in
mud and water, Pallas grabbing for his clothes, his hair. He was
trying to get her turned down again, to force her face into the muck
and drown her. She was already too fatigued; she felt herself weak-
ening, gasping to draw more of the rich oxygen into her lungs. One
arm thrashed out, grasping at the swamp for a stick, a stone. But
hardly here.
      Her hand encountered something firm but flexible, warm and
pulsating under her skin, moving. It was one of the watersnakes
and she grasped it with a vengeance. Where? In the middle of its
long body? Near the head—the tail? No matter. She swung it toward
the assailant above her. It lashed around his neck and the snake’s
head whipped past her own face, brushing the skin. The man was
unnerved. His hands reached for it, freeing her. With a supreme
effort she threw him back and he toppled. Instantly she was upon
him. The snake’s length had made one loop about the man’s neck,


                                252
and his fright at the realization that it was a living creature gave her
an additional edge. She was straddling him now, but still she had
nothing but her hands.
        And the snake’s body.
        She seized it like a rope, one hand near the head, and pulled
in opposite directions. Would the skin hold, the cartilage, the blood
vessels? It was tough, and now the creature was fighting for its own
life. Its head twisted but could not turn. It made the only protective
reflex possible: it contracted around the thing it encircled. The face
distended, the eyes rolled, the breath stopped. Pallas ceased her
own pulling and fell back, scrambling to her feet. The snake slowly
relaxed, loosening its coil, and gradually the long form moved away
as the loop unwound from the strangled neck. Soon it disappeared
into the undergrowth.
        The man had to be dead. She stumbled over to a small patch
of ground sloping up to one of the trees, wet but out of the water.
She slumped to a sitting position and leaned her back against the
trunk. For a long, enervated hour she remained there, breathing
deeply, eyes resting on the body.

                         *         *         *
      Glenn led Destan to the little rise where he had left Pallas
almost two hours before. She was nowhere to be seen. Alarmed,
Glenn scanned the landscape and at the edge of the foliage spied
the rucksack, the bag of food—and the boots. He took a few steps
into the thicket, calling her name. “Why would she have gone into
the jungle? Especially without the boots?”
      “Perhaps if she were forced to hide. Or were being pursued.”
      “We’ve got to go in and look for her.” The two men donned
their own boots and plunged into the jungle. Every few seconds
Glenn stopped and called her name. Eventually they heard a faint
response and presently found Pallas still sitting against the tree.
The man in front of her was still a corpse. Pallas showed some
puzzlement at seeing Glenn with a stranger, but when Destan’s
alteration was made clear she managed a weak smile.
      While Glenn attended to her, Destan went over and looked
down at the dead man. The face was distorted, an unnatural orange
pallor to the skin. How closely he might have resembled Garra
Destan could not tell, but a riot of ideas was now running through
his head, some of them fantastic. He knelt beside the body.
      He touched the short, dripping hair, ran his fingers along the
skin of the cheek, pressed. Surely the texture was not quite right:
the flesh was unusually firm. Rigor mortis already? He pulled back
the lips. The teeth seemed natural—perfect, in fact. The staring
eyes: on what world did they have irises shaped quite like that? And


                                  253
the lashes. The skin at the base of the lashes was featureless and
clean, with an unusual lip at the lid margin where the lashes were
attached. Yes—attached. As though each perfectly shaped and
perfectly aligned hair had been imbedded.
       He unclasped the tunic, struggled to pull it off. Next the under
shirt. From his pocket he took a small collapsible knife and lifting
the front of the shirt, drew the blade from top to bottom, slicing the
fabric. The body was hairless, but the contours were wrong: the
muscles were not distributed like those of a normal man. In addi-
tion, there were two faint symmetrical scars running from the area
of the solar plexus out to each side in a gradual arc, each about ten
centimeters long.
       Destan’s hands trembled as he disengaged the belt of the
trousers. Glenn came up behind him. “What are you doing, Miles?”
       Pallas got shakily to her feet, her strength renewed. Destan
grasped trousers and underclothing and with one sharp tug pulled
them down the thighs.
       Whatever the organs positioned abnormally rearward between
the legs, they were not human genitals. Pallas gasped. Glenn let his
breath out in a long, slow whoosh.
       No Earthman this. Pirates? But no—the Council fleets at least
a few times in the early days had captured pirates, and there had
been no indication that they were anything other than human men
and women.
       “This man...this creature, is not of our species.”
       He made an incision into the flesh of the chest along one of
the scars. The color of the blood was unusual, closer to orange than
red. A few centimeters in he encountered a non-organic object. “He
has been doctored. Altered in various ways.” He glanced back to the
eyelids. “To look and function like a man.”
       The discovery was staggering. A group of alien beings working
on Cosmopolis—or in control of it. A pirate vessel under alien direc-
tion? Ready to strike...at what? Using the Stellar Game somehow,
the destructive potential of the beams. Had that been an alien
creation? But Captain Cardis—
       Destan rose and turned to Pallas. “Glenn said you spent an
evening with Captain Cardis. Did you accomplish your intention?
What did Captain Cardis look like?”
       She gazed down at the alien body. “Like a normal man. Like
you or Glenn.”
       Destan began to pace, his boots squishing on the wet jungle
floor. “He must know who they are—what they are. How could they
deceive him? They have been with him for fourteen years. One of
them has been working for that long at the Ferasco Shipbuilding
Company, merely to keep a watch over the secrets of Cosmopolis.”


                                 254
       Glenn said, “I always imagined aliens would be totally unlike
ourselves. But these seem to be close enough to get away with
superficial alteration.”
       “No doubt there are alien life forms somewhere which are
vastly different, but there must also be ones that are similar, given
the high incidence of planets similar to Earth. And we were more
likely to bump into them first.”
       “Or them into us.”
       Destan continued to pace. “But what are their designs? To
take over the Council? The whole Concourse? And with Cosmopolis?
They can’t use the Stellar Game—at least after the first time. Unless
they somehow control the satellites, after all.”
       He stopped and fixed Pallas with a pointed look. “Captain
Cardis came to Umber to see your mother about two months ago,
did you know?” She shook her head in surprise. “I want you to think
back to that time and tell me if you detected any change in your
mother: her behavior, the way she expressed herself, her opinions
on anything.”
       Pallas thought for a moment. “No, not at all. My mother is still
as she always was.”
       “Are you thinking of the programmer, Miles?”
       “Something like that. You say it was mounted in chairs, but
why couldn’t it be in a portable form as well?” That would explain a
lot of things, he thought to himself. “On the other hand, half the
terminus satellites belong to worlds which are not in the control of a
single individual. They can hardly alter the minds of whole govern-
ments.”
       “Miles, Pallas is drenched to the skin. Let’s get out of this
place.”
       The two men pulled the alien corpse to one side, concealing it
in the underbrush. “I wonder if they rot as fast...”
       As they started back to the savanna, Destan ruminated. “On
the shuttle I saw two Hierarchs, and there may well be others on
their way at this very moment. They’ll be here for the next game,
for whatever is going to happen at that time. He must want some-
thing from these rulers. If not control of their terminus satellites—”
He turned to look at Glenn and Pallas. “What’s the most obvious
answer?” Delegate Faulk had suggested it.
       Glenn said, “Use of their fleets?” Destan nodded. “And those
programmers: at least a dozen of them in that room, Miles. They
are using those to control their minds?”
       “Perhaps. But why so many of them, and all in one place? If
they are going to get several Hierarchs together, then the Hierarchs
must be aware that they are working together in some subversive
way. If so, why the necessity to program them?”


                                 255
       “They may not be aware of the full nature of the plan,” Pallas
suggested. “I’m sure they can’t know about the aliens.”
       They continued their outward tramp. Destan fell silent until
they reached the savanna.
       Mounting the rise, Glenn surveyed the landscape. All looked
normal, with only a couple of tourists off in the distance. At the
edge of the jungle Pallas stripped off her wet clothing, using the
towels from their kits to dry herself and wipe the mud from her face
and hair.
       “What about my clothes? I can’t go out of here like this.”
       “We’ll wait until they have dried sufficiently,” Destan said. “I
must decide on a course of action and I want to ask you a few more
questions.”
       Her clothing spread out on the rise, Pallas sat on one of the
towels near the edge of the jungle, Glenn’s tunic wrapped around
her. Destan sat beside her and asked about her evening with the
Captain.
       “I got no information from him. He brooded. He talked very
cryptically. He said he had discovered his soul and it was not going
to be shared until the right time. Certain people were not going to
enjoy seeing it.”
       Destan stared out over the savanna.
       “And he wanted me off the ship. Now it’s too late.”
       Would he still want her off the ship—knowing what she knows,
Destan wondered. The chances of getting off his message to the
Chairman seemed slimmer than ever. The Communications Center
would be one place they’d be watching diligently.
       “If Cardis wanted you off the ship, then it must be because he
didn’t want you here when it happens—whatever is going to happen
at the next game. He has a special feeling for you and did not want
to see you involved when the moment of their grand plan arrives.”
       Destan turned to look at her: sitting with legs drawn up,
elbows resting on her knees. The appealing flesh, the strong
character in the bright, open face, the resourceful mind: this Umber
woman was surely one of the most admirable realizations of the
human female. Destan’s heart and body stirred and went out to
her. How could Cardis have been willing to let her go? Could he not
have enjoyed Pallas even as a slave?
       He said slowly, “Well, perhaps we can oblige him. Perhaps you
can get off the ship—you and Glenn.” Jaynes might be warned after
all. And there was something else that could be done.
       “How?” Glenn came over beside them.
       “Do you remember the briefing in the auditorium? Part of the
ship’s safety measures includes emergency lifeboats which can be
launched if evacuation were necessary.”


                                 256
       “But how can we possibly use one? We don’t even know where
they’re located.”
       “No, but I know someone who does. The problem will be in
contacting her. After that, I’m sure she can be convinced.”
       After a quick meal of the remaining food, Pallas pulled on her
clothes. They were still damp, but Destan wanted no further delay.
The three left the Promenade at five-minute intervals, met at the
nearest intersection and started warily down the radial corridor,
keeping to the outer walkway. Destan passed up one entrance, then
another, until they came to an opening shaped fancifully like an
hourglass. They stepped through into a large bright room and found
themselves standing at the tail arm of a chain of 800 gleaming
pedestals that swept around in a great spiral toward the center.
Upon each of the waist-high columns, over a base calibrated in local
hours, stood a globe spinning slowly to its own celestial rhythm.
       “The Time Room,” said Glenn. “I’ve heard of it, but I never
dropped in.”
       Destan spied what he wanted, and while Pallas and Glenn
started along the spiral of Concourse worlds he went over to the
visicom in the corner. When they had parted last, Jan had given
him her personal call code. Now his memory did not fail him.
       If there is any force for good anywhere in this universe, he
said to himself as he punched the numbers, let her be in her
quarters now.
       The signal repeated. Then the screen lit up. Destan kept his
image sender off as Jan’s puzzled face appeared on the screen.
“Yes? Who is it?”
       “Jan—do you recognize my voice?”
       Her face brightened in surprise. “Miles! Don’t tell me you are
still on Cosmopolis? Why are you not sending the image?”
       “Because you would have been confused by my appearance.
It’s been changed.” He tripped the sender and her puzzlement
deepened.
       “Why have you changed your face like that, Miles? I would
hardly have recognized you. Is it permanent?”
       “I’ll explain later. Listen to me. I’ve just come back to Cosmo-
polis. Jan, if you ever trusted me in your life, if you ever believed I
was sensible and governed only by cold calculation and logic—as
much as you may have regretted it—then believe it of me now. I
must see you immediately. It’s urgent. It involves the whole of
Cosmopolis, and much more. You are the only one I can speak to.”
       Her face turned grave. She whispered, “Miles, I have never
heard you so intense. What do you want me to do?”
       “I dare not go far to meet you. In fact, can you come to the
Time Room in the Beta pod right away? Without telling anyone?”


                                 257
      She hesitated only a second. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
The screen blanked.
      Staying apart, Destan, Pallas and Glenn wandered the spiral
of worlds, averting their faces from the hourglass opening. Near the
inner end of the alphabetical spiral Pallas found Umber and saw that
the home which now felt so distant was just entering the magical
time of Umber twilight.
      Twenty minutes later someone entered the room. Destan
heard footsteps behind him and felt a hand on his shoulder. “Miles?”
      They stood quietly beside a slowly pirouetting orb, Jan still
perturbed by his change of features. There was no time for a full
explanation. In a few sentences he outlined their investigation, then
told her of the presence of alien beings aboard Cosmopolis. She
paled, and for a moment her eyes unfocused, clouded with the rush
of her own thoughts.
      “Will you help us, Jan?”
      She nodded slowly.
      “Can you get us to one of the lifeboats?” Destan was voicing
his last fear. “Can one of them be launched without calling on any
other personnel or authorization?”
      Her voice was dazed, quite dispirited. “Yes, Miles. They’re for
emergency use. All the higher personnel are trained for it.”
      “Where are they located? Can we get to one without being
intercepted?”
      She considered a moment. “Probably. They’re located below
at various points in the bottom of the pod. We could go down by
elevator. But there are also stairwells.”
      “I would prefer to avoid any elevators. How close are the
nearest stairs?”
      “Back at the intersection—though it means about 300 steps to
walk down.”
      Jan led Destan to the stairwell entrance, and Pallas and then
Glenn followed a minute apart. When all were gathered in the little
foyer, Jan unlocked the inner door. They started down the long,
crisscrossing flights of stairs, past several landings where doors and
transparent panels in the walls were located. Destan glimpsed
massive tanks and machinery, piping, ducts that must carry thou-
sands of kilometers of wiring.
      Glenn revealed that he possessed some experience at piloting
spacecraft and a rudimentary knowledge of stellar navigation. From
what Jan said of the lifeboat, he was sure he could direct it to an
inhabited world. At any rate, she told him, the craft had an automa-
tic device that could be engaged to home in on the closest planetary
beacon.
      As they descended, Destan gave them instructions. At the


                                 258
nearest world they must contact the agent on Byzant. There was no
need now for coded messages. “Tell the agent to send Allen Jaynes
two pieces of information. The first: If more than three beams are
used, the destructive potential may be vastly increased. The
second: Cosmopolis seems to be under the control of alien beings;
from where, I don’t know.” He knew that the Chairman would need
no further instructions.
      When they reached the bottom of the stairs Jan led them
through a door and along a short corridor, where a faint vibration
came from the walls, the floor. They had penetrated to the very gut
of the ship.
      A door at the end of the corridor led into a bay and Destan’s
heart jumped. In the center stood a small lifeboat. Jan told them,
“It holds only thirty persons. There are really not enough of them
on board to carry everyone—only twenty to each pod. But the pods
can separate, and these boats are mainly for use when a separated
pod has to be evacuated.”
      She opened the lock and they stepped inside. After pointing
out food packs and survival items in the locker, she gave Glenn
directions on how to pilot the boat, how to enter normal space for
orientation and subsequent travel. “The launch can be triggered
from here, but I will do it for you from a panel in the chamber.”
      Destan asked, “How long will it take to reach the nearest
world?”
      “Unfortunately, Miles, I don’t know, because I don’t happen to
know where Cosmopolis is at this moment. The boat’s drive crystal
is only a low power one. It might take a day—it might take a few
days. Or, if they’re lucky, they might find themselves only a few
hours away from a system.”
      Destan clenched his hands in frustration. “It’s only 48 hours to
the next game.”
      Now he turned to Pallas. “There is one more thing you must
do if you reach a world in time. This is very important, maybe more
important than anything else. Contact Umber immediately. You
must convince your mother not to allow the terminus to be used in
the next game. Any direction from Cosmopolis to transmit a beam
must be ignored. If necessary, they must kill the Cosmopolis techni-
cian to prevent it. Do you understand?”
      “Yes.” Then she took his arm. “Miles, come with us. What
more can you do here? Let your friend come with us, too. None of
us knows what is really going on, but it’s something awful. Despite
everything, I want to trust Captain Cardis. I’ve been closer to him
than any of you. But I’m still frightened of him. Come with us. We
have a better chance of accomplishing what you want if you come
too.”


                                 259
       “It may be your only chance, Miles,” Glenn added.
       Destan was moved. “No, I can’t go, if only because I must try
to get a message out through the Communications Center. Besides,
I’m too close. Do you think I would leave now when I’m about to
discover the secret of Cosmopolis? As for Captain Cardis, I have a
personal reason—call it an obsession—to get to the bottom of him. I
will not abandon him now.”
       He turned to Jan. “But you could go with them, Jan. Some-
thing is going to happen on this ship. Your life, and the lives of
everyone on board are going to be affected by it. There is no reason
for you to remain here. As Glenn said, this may be the last chance.”
       Jan’s eyes filled with tears. Such warm, sincere eyes, thought
Destan. I had so many chances to lose myself in them—or find my-
self, but they all lie in the past and there is no bringing them back
now. Not unless we win out over Cosmopolis in the end.
       “No, Miles,” she said. “I will stay. I’ve been a part of this ship
for over four years and I guess I can’t abandon it either. Besides,
you may still need more help from me.”
       “I can’t argue with you. Come, we have to hurry. Goodbye,
Pallas Dhin-Asper and Glenn Berenson. You have my thanks—and
my love—for what you have done. But so much may depend on
what you still have to do.”
       “We will try, Miles.” Pallas hugged him suddenly and fiercely.
Glenn took his hand, then hugged him as well. “I wish I had an Ace
to give you, to put up your sleeve.”
       “You may yet. But at this point Philip Cardis holds all the
cards. Now go.”
       Glenn and Pallas took their places. Jan and Destan withdrew,
closed the lock and moved to a panel at the bay wall. Jan threw
switches; relays joined. A circle of flooring below the lifeboat began
to sink, slowly dropping it out of sight. Another panel slid over the
gap.
       “It will lower another thirty meters, then an outer hatch opens
and the boat ejects.”
       “Then let’s return to the deck. But it will have to be by the
elevator. We can’t climb all those stairs.”
       She led him out by a different direction into a circular corridor
linking all twenty bays. Here the vibration was at its strongest, and
Destan put has hand on the inner wall. “What’s beyond here?”
       “The gravity generators. And the propulsion unit for this pod.”
       “You mean each pod has its own propulsion unit?”
       “The emergency one. It’s very low power, not hyper-speed.
It’s only for maneuvering in the event of separation.”
       Not for the first time, nor the last, did Destan marvel at the
thoroughness which had gone into the design of Cosmopolis.


                                  260
       They reached the elevator. As it carried them upward, Jan
said, “By now the boat will be picked up by the sensors, Miles. They
will certainly investigate.”
       “Can they stop it?”
       “Cosmopolis is not that easily maneuverable, so I don’t see
that there is anything they can do.”
       “When did the ship start moving? Perhaps we’re still close to
the rendezvous world.”
       “I doubt it, Miles. We usually start up about an hour after the
shuttle arrives. I no longer even notice the entry vibration.”
       “You said you didn’t know where the ship is. Can you find out?
Can you tell me in what direction it’s heading?”
       Jan pushed a button to stop the elevator in mid-lift, opened
the control panel and pressed her key plate to the computer output,
then consulted a pocket reference book. She punched a code and
momentarily the information screen lit up with a series of symbols
and numbers: the position coordinates, now rapidly changing, the
ship’s speed and the direction of travel. Destan made a mental note
of the figures.
       “I’m not an astronomer, though I’ve recently made a study of
Concourse coordinates. But I can’t take the time to figure it out
now.”
       “What are you going to do?” Her eyes had a forlorn look.
       Destan could feel his own tension, his own weariness. “There
is only one thing I can do, Jan: try to send Allen Jaynes a message
through the Communications Center. Though I have doubts that I’ll
succeed.”
       She spoke urgently. “Then don’t try. Not just yet. I need time
to think, but I don’t want to do it alone. If you gave yourself time to
think, too, maybe you could come up with something.”
       He hesitated. It was true that the thought of ignominious
failure at the Communications Center was far from appealing. He
checked his timepiece. “I don’t dare wait long.”
       “Then spend an hour with me.” He saw she was trembling.
“You have given me an awful shock, Miles. I’ve devoted my life over
these last four years to this ship, to Captain Cardis.” Her voice was
hollow with disillusion. “Now it turns out he has deceived me. He
has betrayed all of us.”
       She put her arms around his neck and looked into the still-
familiar eyes. “I don’t want to be alone, Miles. We can help each
other. After you’ve thought it out carefully, if you still want to try to
send your message, I won’t hold you back. But come with me now.”
       He was drawn into the warm currents of her eyes. Her slender
body against him felt like a delicate flower. He assented.



                                  261
                                24
    ________________________________________________




      The elevator resumed its lift. Jan and Destan emerged into
the corridor, sped along the slideway, through the shaft to the
Alpha pod. Was it his imagination, Destan wondered, or did all the
personnel seem particularly alert? But with Jan beside him in her
uniform, no one gave him a second glance.
      They ascended by elevator to the Alpha cabin deck, passed
into the staff quarter and on to Jan’s own suite.
      It was tastefully, modestly decorated. Personal touches, so
many of whose familiarity flooded back on him, could be seen with
every glance. Winsome colors and fabrics, clothwork and ornaments
of exquisite yet simple design, an atmosphere of quiet enjoyment.
Even the vulnerability came through, thought Destan: something in
the way the place exposed the personality and emotions of its occu-
pant, not vainly but artlessly, leaving no room for defenses.
      They sat together on a powder blue settee. “What do you
think is going to happen, Miles? You fear the worst, don’t you?”
      “Yes. The conspiracy Chairman Jaynes suspected all along
seems only too true. There is a room in the Service pod that Pallas
and Glenn stumbled on: some kind of coordinating facility for a
range of forces, no doubt the fleets of certain Hierarchs. But the
Hierarchs are being used, I’m sure of it. They can’t be aware that
members of the first alien race humanity has ever encountered are
behind the whole operation.”
      “But Captain Cardis is not an alien.” It was a question as
much as a statement.
      “No, he isn’t. And that’s the biggest mystery of all.”
      Jan’s eyes fell to her lap, to pale fingers that clasped and
unclasped fretfully. “You know that I’ve always liked having people
around me. When I was a teacher I had my students and friends.
Here I had my staff. People made me feel comfortable and secure.
They made me feel I belonged in the world—at least for a time. But
then it always seemed that something would happen, perhaps
something with my job, or where I was living—or someone I was
involved with—and I would become afraid that my world was too
big and demanding, and that I wasn’t up to coping with it after all.”

                                262
       She put an exploratory hand on his face. “You look so
different. And yet the same. Your eyes look the same. I used to see
a lot in them, Miles, when we knew each other. A goodness, a
dependability. And you had a lot of the same ideas that I had—and
the same fears. Only, you coped with them by withdrawing. It’s not
good to be alone, Miles. You can’t give yourself a second opinion.
There’s no one to argue you out of your misgivings. You can’t
please yourself the way another can. You can’t comfort yourself.”
       She stood up in front of him, the glow on her face colored by
a soft melancholy. One hand moved down the front of the blue
Cosmopolis jacket, releasing the four clasps. “This uniform no
longer comforts me.” The jacket slid down her arms to the floor. “I
no longer feel proud to wear it.” The fastening of the skirt, with its
finely-cut emblem representing the four pods, disengaged; the gar-
ment fell in a heap around her feet. He watched as she removed
her blouse and halter, exposing the gentle breasts which even now
gave evidence that they still held a wealth of sensitivity. And as the
last piece of fabric joined the others, his eyes were carried over the
familiar body, deceptively cool, bearing the mark of its forty-three
years in the mellow promise that time and experience could offer.
       Destan reached out for warmth and comfort.
       She helped him undress on the settee. “Neither one of us will
run away this time, Miles. We’re both here because we want to be. I
don’t even want to run to the bedroom.” With her soft smile she
kissed his new features, as if her mouth might recognize what her
eye found unfamiliar. “We may even find it exciting to face our new
world, with all its hidden passages and lurking monsters.”
       Destan stroked her body, recalling the special places she had
often guided him to. “I might even pursue Garra into the Float. I’ve
had experience in weightless places, you know.”
       “Yes, I remember.” Their touching was mutual now, comple-
mentary, exploring joint responses all but forgotten. She said, amid
ever more quickening breaths, “And if it turns out we can help
conquer this world...then we would be heroes...and receive all sorts
of honors.” She knelt across his lap as he sat against the soft uphol-
stery, waiting. Her mouth slid over his new cheek, breathed in the
old ear, “Wouldn’t you like us to be heroes, Miles?”
       In a single motion they came together, wet, silken, inflaming.
       With the flood of sensation came a merging of fears and
strengths. Destan recognized with absolute clarity his fear of acting,
for an act was a gamble that could lead to failure. To devastating
failure sufficient to blow up an asteroid. But he realized that this
was the very thing that set him apart from his father, from all the
great men and women who had ever lived, whose lives he studied
with such vicarious hunger. Even in failure, many had gained their


                                 263
immortality. But never in inactivity. It was not enough to be driven,
as he often felt himself to be. He had to be willing to make the
great attempt.
       Jan caressed him with her hands and her body, impelled by a
pressing need to give them both pleasure, to generate a fuel for the
strength they both wanted. Her sighs turned to urgent pleading.
“Miles, you have to let me help you. You have to let me be a part of
it. I don’t want to wait by myself while you go to meet everything
alone.” Her voice took on as much capriciousness as her actions
would allow. “You don’t want to grab all the accolades for yourself,
do you?”
       Destan laughed, filled suddenly with an acute exhilaration,
and he took her head in his hands and kissed her with a passion he
had not known for so long. When he finally released her he cried,
“Jan—think of it! There are two people loose aboard this ship who
know its secret—or at least part of it! Why should I walk like a
sheep into the Communications Center and be taken prisoner?
Relying on the Council, or on Pallas and Glenn, would just be sitting
back and letting others do the job. What a wasted opportunity if we
don’t take things into our own hands! We have two days. We can
act! We can do something to stop Cardis and his crew!”
       She looked at him, breathless. “What can we do, Miles?”
       “Well—” He paused, then seized her around the waist and
pulled her body back to him. “Great Addison, woman, do you expect
me to plot sabotage while you’re feeding such a delicious treat to a
starving old Historian?”
       The imps he had often seen inhabiting her eyes danced into
view. “Then we should let you have your fill. I’m sure you’ll think
much better on a full stomach.” They turned themselves to the
matter at hand.
       But Destan was wrong. As his body accelerated toward a
climax more powerful than anything he had experienced with the
Matrin, images of Cosmopolis whirled through his mind, and when
the last confines were burst and he felt himself released into a
myriad corporate beings, he knew he had the answer.

       In the end they reached the bedroom anyway. While they lay
in a luxurious torpor, he tried to explain his idea. It was too fantas-
tic, she said, and she had no idea how they could accomplish it. Her
knowledge of the ship did not extend so far. And access to such a
measure would be accorded only to a handful of people, perhaps
only to the Captain and the first officer.
       “A man driven by desperation can achieve results the cautious
one would never dream of. But first we have to know how to go
about it. Somewhere there must be plans, some instruction manual,
that would give us an idea of where the control is located. Have you

                                 264
ever come across anything like that in the course of your work?”
      She felt a trace of desperation herself, for she knew that she
had. “But Miles, that seems so extreme—so final!”
      “Jan, we can’t singlehandedly take over the ship or lock up
the whole crew. It has to be extreme. It has to be something that
two people, or even one, could accomplish. It has to foil the entire
operation of the ship and prevent Cosmopolis from functioning as
the conspirators have planned.”
      She began to cry softly. Her body seemed so delicate, Destan
thought, incapable of taking on any antagonistic act, anything that
would bring harm, even discomfort, to anyone. What he was pro-
posing would cause fear and panic among thousands, maybe worse.
He kissed the small quivering breasts, stroked her abdomen in
gentle sedating motions. Her eyes had always been the most
volatile of her features and now they stood open to the flow of her
emotions.
      “Oh, Miles, I’m not so brave. I’m really not. This ship and the
people in it have meant so much to me. How can I do this to them?
Why can’t we just warn everyone? Maybe we could start a mutiny.”
      Destan did not have to argue the infeasibility of such a propo-
sal. He could see that Jan knew it well enough herself.
      “What Captain Cardis is planning could be far worse, Jan.”
      She held her hands to her temples, mustered calm and said,
“There is a master manual in the general administrator’s office in
each pod. If it does not show what you want, I don’t know of any
other means of finding out. But the book is large and heavy. There’s
only one way I can think of to conceal it and get it up here. When I
go on my shift in a few hours I will have to make a purchase some-
where, then substitute the manual in the package. And there’s no
guarantee it won’t be missed.”
      “Jan, all we can do is try. But we have to try.”
      She wiped the streaks from her face. “I won’t let you down,
Miles. I’ll do whatever needs to be done.”
      She parted her legs, reached her arms about his neck and
drew him to her. “Come inside again. I don’t know what’s going to
happen to us, but I want as much as I can have of you in the time
that’s left.” She put on her bravest face. “After all, we can’t let that
handsome new nose go to waste.”

      Twelve hours later they began to pore over the manual. It
provided a thorough picture of the ship and its operations. Aside
from layouts and diagrams relating to all decks in all four pods—
Destan noticed the hidden control room was featureless and labeled
“Storage”—it contained separate sections on a variety of subjects,
including emergencies. The one Destan was looking for was headed
“Ultra Situation.”

                                  265
      Even Jan shared his fascination as he examined the directions
and diagrams. “There seem to be seven disconnection circuits. If
they’re all triggered at once, the ship separates into the four pods,
here and...” He indicated several positions. “That leaves each Float
attached to the nearest resort pod and the entire central axis with
the propulsion tube attached to the Captain’s pod. The consequent
mechanical reactions engage automatically: there’s an immediate
irised closure on both sides of each break, emergency air injection
to replace initial losses, and those propulsion units in the bottom of
each pod fire a burst to carry the pod up at an angle for complete
separation. Of course, just one pod can be detached using only
three circuits.”
      He scanned the lengthy list of procedures which were the
responsibility of the general administrator in the event of separa-
tion: coordination of personnel, passenger control, communication
with central emergency, individual pod guidance systems, medical
and survival measures, signaling, emergency maintenance, a dozen
others. “Have the administrators really been trained in all this?”
      “Oh, I should think so,” she answered. “At least in theory.
There’s never been a practice run to my knowledge.”
      Destan located the reference he wanted. “Now—it says here
that only three people have access to the master control: the
Captain and the first two officers, and at least one of the three is
always within reach of the master control and in available contact
with central emergency. But it doesn’t say here where this master
control is.”
      “It must be in the Captain’s pod.”
      “Yes, but where?”
      “Wouldn’t it make sense to be located on the bridge?”
      “Of course.” He leafed to the section on the Captain’s pod,
located the sixteen pages devoted to the bridge.
      The bridge sat like a thick coin on top of the pod, covering
perhaps a twelfth of its diameter. Mounted outside were various
sensors and communicators. Inside were the master stations for ten
crew members who controlled all functions relating to the drives,
direction and speed controls, course computation, long-range
sensors, protective shielding, the ship’s beacon. As well were sta-
tions for the Captain and first two officers. Near the second officer’s
position stood a bank of monitoring and control apparatus relating
to emergency functions. In its center the diagram showed a panel,
cover turned down, with a set of switches exposed. Destan peered
close. That part of the plans bore no individual markings, but he
thought he could make certain deductions by the indicated
placement of the switches. A number were grouped in overlapping
combinations: evidently for each possible situation requiring sepa-


                                 266
ration of one or more pods. To the right of these stood a solitary
switch. This one must operate all the circuits simultaneously, to
effect complete separation of all four pods.
       Destan and Jan went over their analysis of the panel and its
switches for several minutes. Finally, Jan stood up to stretch her
limbs. “Miles, this is all very interesting, but—”
       “Yes, I know what you’re thinking. It’s not going to be easy.”
       “Easy? It’s going to be impossible! Getting into the Captain’s
pod, reaching the bridge, passing through who knows how many
people, opening the panel cover—which is undoubtedly locked—and
locating the proper switch.” A gloom settled over her face. “I dare-
say it’s even too much for the two of us together.”
       “Be warned: futilitarians on this expedition will be shot.”
       She sat down again.
       “Now, I’ve already worked out a few details. You have to get
me a uniform. Can you do that?” She nodded. “And an identity
card?” She paused, then nodded again. “What about authorization
to get into the Captain’s pod—would we need it?” This time he was
not so happy when she nodded.
       Jan considered and rejected a number of possible grounds for
authorization. “Even if I could purloin it from one of my superiors,
it’s checked by pod security, and a false authorization just wouldn’t
stand up—at least not for long.” But then her face brightened.
“Wait! Of course! The simplest and most obvious way is to request
a pass for the game. Members of the staff sometimes attend. Then
we go in like the rest of the guests. We should be able to slip away
somehow.”
       Destan was not so elated. “The trouble with that is, we’d be
cutting it to the last minute.” Then he reconsidered. “On the other
hand, that would ensure they couldn’t recover and reassemble the
ship in time. And there would be a lot of distraction going on. The
Captain and Kyle will be in the Intersect Gallery...” His eagerness
mounted. “The ship will be stopped—so maybe all those ten crew
members of the bridge won’t be at their stations.”
       “There’s another advantage,” Jan pointed out cheerily. “If we
wait until then, Pallas and Glenn may have reached a planet, the
rescue fleet will arrive, and we won’t have to go through with it.”
       Destan gave her a squeeze, one thing led to another, and the
conspiracy was delayed during a short horizontal break.
       Later, they examined the access points to the bridge. Three
lift shafts, each with a capacity of three occupants, ascended from
below: one directly from the main deck, one from a point near the
Captain’s quarters on the upper deck, the third from one wing of
the Intersect Gallery. Destan examined the last one for a moment.
It was from this wing that the Captain and Kyle had emerged when


                                267
he first witnessed the Stellar Game. This meant there was a fast,
direct connection between the floor of the Gallery and the bridge.
       “What about the lifts? How do they operate?”
       She hesitated. “By key, I believe.”
       With a sinking feeling, Destan waited for the blow. “How do
we get one?”
       “I’m hoping mine will work.”
       “And if it doesn’t?”
       She said matter-of-factly, “I guess we waylay one of the
passing personnel. The staff of the Captain’s pod should have one.”
       He grimaced. “Then we’d better bring along a waylaying
instrument.”
       There was one final matter. It would necessitate a trip to his
own cabin, fortunately located on the same deck. “That panel cover
is almost certainly going to be locked. And your key won’t open it.
The second officer will have one—he’ll be on duty while the Captain
and Kyle are below—but we can’t count on being able to get it off
him. So like all good saboteurs, we’ll bring along a mini-range
explosive pellet. A couple, just to be safe.” Destan’s luggage con-
tained the same probe-proof case with the same items he had
brought on his first trip.
       Jan looked at him with red-rimmed eyes. “Miles, I’m dead
tired. It’s been over a day since I last slept.”
       Destan felt guilty. He had snatched a few hours sleep while
she had been away working a full shift. “I’ll keep you company.”
       For six hours they slept like the dead. When they woke, it was
24 hours to the playing of the next Stellar Game.

       Destan made his way cautiously to the cabin of Irwin Donitz.
There was no escaping the risk: he had to have those pellets. But
the cabin and its vicinity were deserted and nothing had been
disturbed. Within five minutes he was on his way back to the other
side of the deck. A half hour later Jan returned carrying a package
containing a man’s uniform; the fit proved close enough.
       Destan explained the use of the explosive pellets. Each one
consisted of a small putty-like ball no bigger than a thumbnail,
enclosed within a metal ring. By a specific application of pressure
the ring was disengaged. When the ball was pressed firmly against
any surface, or in any way squashed flat, it exploded after three
seconds, giving the operator time to withdraw beyond its one meter
range.
       “I’ll leave that to you, Miles. I always got poor marks in demo-
litions class.”
       “I brought all three. I want you to carry one, just in case.”
       Now the debate that had been going on in Destan’s mind since
his visit to the cabin was brought into the open. He broached it to

                                 268
her gradually. “Jan, I’ve been thinking. I had no difficulty getting on
the ship. I passed through obvious security checks. Just now when I
went to get the pellets there was no sign of any surveillance at my
cabin. By now, I’m beginning to think they can have no idea I’m
aboard. Even the lifeboat they’d have no reason to link me with.”
       “That’s good, isn’t it?”
       “Yes. That’s what I’m getting at. If I got word to Jaynes, there
would still be time to have the patrol tracking the ship move in.”
       Her face went pale as the old panic returned. “You mean you
want to try the Communications Center after all?”
       Destan nodded. “They won’t recognize me. There’s nothing
else that could give me away. The message is totally innocuous: it’s
a prearranged code.”
       She was ready to protest, until she saw his determination. He
said gently, “Then we might not have to invade the bridge.”
       Her tone was a mix of fatalism and resignation. “I promised I
wouldn’t hold you back.”
       He kissed her forehead. “I’ll be gone less than an hour. Then
we can relax the rest of the time before your shift.”
       She put on her best smile and encircled his neck. “Just to
show you how confident I am, I won’t ask you to make love until
you get back. But I will definitely give you something to make you
hurry.”
       If love, passion, the thirst for life and dignity created by the
meeting of two human individuals meant anything, Destan told him-
self, in the end he would surely triumph with this woman who now
enfolded him in lips, arms and courageous spirit. One way or
another, he vowed never to be alone again.

      The Communications Center appeared normal. No one loitered
in the outside corridor. Within the foyer he found no suspicious
faces. The clerks behind the long counter were attending to their
business, serving several tourists who were in the process of com-
posing messages to relatives and friends back home. Through an
archway behind the counter Destan could see a bank of
communicators and a dozen operators: outgoing messages being
beamed across space, incoming ones relayed to passenger quarters
and staff people, occasionally to the Captain himself.
      He assumed his best tourist expression and approached one
of the clerks. “I’d like to send a little greeting to Byzant. Can it go
out immediately?”
      The clerk reached for a form. “Certainly, sir. Addressee?”
      “Martha Keele, Hotel Rudolf, Propentei City, Byzant.” The clerk
did not seem to be according him any special interest. Within his
range of vision he could detect no sign of surveillance devices.
      “Text? There’s a charge of one token per four words.”

                                 269
       “Oh—yes. Well, I’ll keep it short. How about: ‘Cosmopolis is
even greater than I thought. Wish you were here.” He grinned
sheepishly. “I guess that’s not very original, is it? Well, no matter.
It’s the thought that counts.”
       “Certainly, sir.” As the clerk finished transferring the message
to the form, he looked up and glanced beyond Destan’s shoulder.
His expression altered. Without a word the clerk turned on his heel
and retreated through the archway.
       Destan’s heart jumped to his throat. He wheeled around.
Three Cosmopolis security men stood behind him.
       “Please come with us.”
       They led him out of the Center and toward the Service pod.

       They kept him in the small detention cell for two hours before
first officer Kyle appeared. The tall man with the boyish face said,
“The Captain would like to see you.” As Destan left the cell and took
up a position between two accompanying guards, the officer said
solemnly, “I hope you haven’t thrown a monkey wrench into the
works, Mr. Destan.”
       Captain Cardis waited in the office where Destan had begun
his foray into the secrets of Cosmopolis almost five weeks before.
The large screen covering one wall, blank when Destan had seen it
first, was lit up in a revolving map of hundreds of stars. Could he
have counted them, Destan felt sure they would number 500—or
maybe 501, if the Captain had not bothered to remove Basel. Cardis
was standing in front of the screen as Kyle led him into the room.
       “Miles Destan. Historian. Is your specialty still the great men
of history? Or have you become involved in more contemporary
concerns?”
       Cardis seemed neither friendly nor angry. He had taken up a
position which was outside any emotion. Stepping to the front of his
desk, he made a movement with one of the switches set in the
panel on top, as Kyle brought Destan to a point less than two
meters away.
       The Captain’s voice was now muffled. “I see that Allen Jaynes
has gone to great lengths to ensure your anonymity. No wonder
none of my security people recognized you.”
       Destan was aware only of a great weight sagging at his body.
Defiance, at this moment, lay beyond his capacity, but at least he
would try to maintain an outward equilibrium. “How did you identify
me, then?” he asked, in a voice as devoid of emotion as the
Captain’s.
       Cardis allowed himself the slightest of smiles. “When you
visited me in my lower office the day before you left Cosmopolis, I
obtained a voice print. We’ve been monitoring all visitors to the
Center for a month. Somehow I had a feeling you’d be back.”

                                 270
      The Captain took a step toward the prisoner. “Where is Pallas
Dhin-Asper and her friend?”
      “Where you cannot reach them.”
      “I assume it was they who left on the lifeboat. I would not
have thought you capable of that, Mr. Destan. Did you waylay one
of my personnel to commandeer keys? Did you kidnap someone?
How did you get to the lifeboat?”
      “You told me you believed mystery to be far more fascinating
than fact. I will not deprive you of the fascination.”
      “I am not completely in the dark as to what you and your
friends have been up to. I learned only this morning about certain
events that took place in the Service pod a few days ago. Had Garra
told me earlier, all of this might have been prevented.” He shook
his head. “A difficult man, Garra. He was never content with having
to assume a secondary role. We have not always seen eye to eye.”
      “Captain, Pallas Dhin-Asper and Glenn Berenson entered
hyper-space over 24 hours ago. They are bound to reach planetfall
soon and send a message to the Council. Whatever your plot is, it
will be foiled.”
      “Are you so sure?” He picked up a piece of paper from his
desk. “By my calculations, it would take that lifeboat almost two full
days to reach Ascension. I doubt that even Allen Jaynes could do
anything by then.”
      So it was to be that close. Two days to Ascension in a low-
power spaceboat. The Captain was probably right about Jaynes, but
Pallas might still be able to communicate with Umber in time.
      “I commend your efforts, Miles Destan. But it is too late. You
cannot prevent this thing. You have been searching for the meaning
behind Cosmopolis and myself, and in a little time you will learn it. I
regret that your satisfaction will be overshadowed by other conside-
rations. So it is when men find themselves at the center of momen-
tous events.”
      The man had a compulsion to be enigmatic, thought Destan.
He said, “By the way, your associates have an unusual anatomy. I
encountered one in the Promenade and took the occasion to
examine the specimen.”
      “I see.” He turned to Kyle. “That explains Garra’s missing
man.”
      “Pallas assured me, however, that you do not share their
anatomy.”
      “Gatrin Pallas is a resourceful woman. She wanted more from
me than just the satisfactions of a bed, which I suspect was at your
prompting. She gave me both pleasure and regret—much regret.
However, I am glad she has gone, since I would have done my best
to put her off the ship.”


                                 271
       If he could do nothing else, Destan would try to unsettle the
confident figure before him. “There is, of course, still much about
the present situation which mystifies me. That 56-station control
room, or whatever it is, in the Service pod, for instance.”
       For the first time Cardis registered genuine surprise. “It seems
that Garra’s efficiency leaves much to be desired. But then, I’ve
known that for some time. What your friends saw is not exactly a
control room, but certain coordinating facilities which have been
planned for future use. But everything will be made clear in due
course, Mr. Destan. You will naturally be invited to witness the next
game in the Intersect Gallery, and you will no doubt recognize some
of the other spectators as well. You may be happy to know that
General Salmi of Balkin has recovered from the unfortunate experi-
ence he suffered on his last visit. Others of the Concourse’s most
illustrious figures have also been invited for the occasion.”
       “After first visiting your programming room, no doubt.”
       Cardis and Kyle exchanged curious glances. “So it was there
they escaped from,” Cardis murmured. “Naturally, Garra would not
be entirely candid with us....Your friends may have been very lucky,
Mr. Destan.
       “But now I’m afraid we must incarcerate you until tomorrow.
Although you cannot send a message out, with your resourcefulness
we would never know if you were raising a mutiny or planning to
blow up the ship. So we cannot let you run loose. Please control
your curiosity for that long. I promise that you will learn everything
when the time comes.”
       Destan felt sodden with defeat. “Perhaps you will answer me
one question, Captain. It will reveal nothing of your plot—purely for
my own personal satisfaction. Do you believe in the historical theory
of the Great Man? Do you believe that a single individual, acting
entirely by their own free will, can change the direction of history?”
       “But of course, Mr. Destan. The ones who believe otherwise
are those who merely study it. The great men themselves always
know it is true.”

                        *         *         *
      When Destan did not return within the hour, Jan knew that
something had gone wrong. By the time three hours had elapsed
and it was almost time to report for her shift, she was certain he
had been taken.
      The realization was paralyzing. She sat on the settee, in the
very spot where they had rediscovered themselves only one short
day before. The room, the entire apartment, now felt wretchedly
empty. Miles would not be back. She would never see him again.
Whatever she and the whole ship were due to face tomorrow, she


                                 272
would have to face it alone. The nausea that swept her body placed
her beyond tears.
       When the worst of the numbness had passed, desperate ideas
and stratagems churned through her mind. She would go to Captain
Cardis, plead with him. She would hide a knife on her person and
stab him to death. She would run about the ship crying the truth,
assemble the passengers, storm the Captain’s pod.
       None of it was feasible, and she knew it.
       Was anything feasible?
       She paced the apartment. The bed was still tumbled where
they had lain asleep, their bodies together. Miles over the last day
had been like a man possessed, rejuvenated, but she had known
that he still feared that ultimate failure. And now it was true. He
had failed. They both had failed. Captain Cardis would triumph.
       She stopped before the table where the manual lay open at
the diagrams of the bridge, at the emergency monitor bank. It had
been a crazy idea. So far to go, so much to get past. A desperate,
frantic act that would likely have ended with their own deaths.
       But a glorious idea nonetheless. The challenge of it, the
absolute audacity would have worked in their favor. Who would
believe that anyone would attempt such a thing? No wonder Miles
had felt so exhilarated.
       But without him it was no good. She could not do it alone.
       Her eye fell on the three explosive pellets, sitting benignly on
her bureau. The potential power in such delicate little objects struck
her. Gingerly she picked one of them up, rotated it gently between
her fingers. With something like this one would not feel completely
defenseless. Could she do anything with them? Was there some-
where they could wreak some damage?
       Yes.
       The panel cover of the ultra emergency monitor bank on the
bridge.
       Jan felt a curious intoxication rise from the pit of her stomach
until it tingled the hair roots on her scalp. Why should Captain
Cardis have his way with the ship, with the whole Concourse? Why
should she sit miserable and alone waiting for others to disrupt her
life and the lives of countless others?
       No! There was still one person loose aboard this ship who
knew its secrets, who possessed advantages even Miles Destan did
not have, who had weapons—and a plan. The details of that plan
had already been worked out. They would have supported each
other, but essentially they were acting in unison. What two could
have done, one could do. Perhaps it would even be easier with one.
       The adrenalin surged. She would bring along all three pellets.
Two for use on the bridge, if needed. The third to blow open the


                                 273
door of Miles’ cell. She would capture a lifeboat and somehow get
into the Service pod, rescue him, they would reach the nearest
world, with the whole Concourse hailing their victory—
      “Get hold of yourself, Jan,” she said aloud. “First things first.”
      She had to report for her shift as usual, all must seem normal.
The manual had to be returned, the pass for the game obtained.
She would have to go over everything, every possible detail, with a
clear mind. And then she would have to sleep. In a bed that would
now seem terribly lonely.
      She began her preparations for the next 24 hours, knowing
that they were likely to constitute the most crucial day of her life.

                         *         *         *
      Time passed slowly in the small, simple cell. Destan had only
his thoughts to occupy him. Poor Jan. He dreaded to think what she
was feeling at this very moment. He tried to convince himself that
she would hold up, but if the numbing ache permeating his own
body had any parallel in hers, he could make no prediction.
      All their grand, careful plans foiled by his own short-sighted
confidence. Jan could do nothing by herself. The only straw he
allowed himself to grasp at now was the possibility that she would
try to raise an alarm. She would undoubtedly be arrested, but at
least they might find themselves in adjoining cells.
      With Jaynes he had been short-sighted as well. They should
have made a contingency arrangement: if Destan had not commu-
nicated by the evening of the day before the game, all Council fleets
would be immediately dispatched. But would the others have gone
along with it? Might they have feared there could be a legitimate
reason for any failure by him to send a message? Perhaps Jaynes
would act after all, although it would take a great determination to
override all the other delegates.
      As for the patrol tracking Cosmopolis, by the time it could
take action the damage would be done. And monitoring the ship’s
broadcast might tell them nothing. How inadequate the measures
they had taken seemed to him now! All of the delegates had been
afraid to take the gamble, to risk themselves and the reputation of
the Council. Only the Chairman had been willing. The image and
mystique of Cosmopolis and Philip Cardis had been too much for
everyone but him.
      Why had Cardis told him that General Salmi and the other
Hierarchs were on the ship? Was he gloating? Was it a need to show
the Historian how challenging had been his machinations—and how
great their success?
      And how did it all fit together? Cardis, who was obviously a
human—and aware of the nature of his cohorts. A group of aliens,


                                  274
around at least as long as Cosmopolis itself. Had they helped to
design the ship? A powerful weapon disguised as a cosmic game: to
be used against the only force for unity in the Concourse? And pro-
minent autocrats: had they been subjected to subliminal program-
ming to gain control of their fleets? Fleets that might even now be
preparing to coincide their actions with the next game. For a
takeover from within. And what would happen to those autocrats,
along with the rest of the human race, once the influx of aliens
followed that takeover—as it surely would?
       Now other elements of the ship fell into place. The Library, the
research activities, the exploration. A good commander discovers as
much about his enemy as possible before he makes his move. And
when the conquest finally takes place, administration of the con-
quered becomes that much easier and efficient. Yes, very thorough.
A fourteen year reconnaissance mission. A long-term infiltration.
Cosmopolis the vanguard.
       But where did Philip Cardis come from? And why was he
betraying his own race?
       The hours dragged by. What was the use of any further cogi-
tation, any further deduction?
       Yet still his mind kept working. The position coordinates Jan
had given him. Lying on the cot, he stared at the ceiling, the image
of the charts and maps before his eyes. Yes: Cosmopolis had been
in that location yesterday. And the direction of its travel, combined
with its speed? The circuits in his brain seemed to move as slow as
light. Long minutes passed. He rechecked his calculations: sixteen
hours from now the ship could be at Sigma. Or at least within that
inner twenty light-year sphere. If the game was to be used as a
weapon against the Council system, then Cosmopolis would keep a
safe distance away. But still it could be at that central position
within the Concourse.
       Was that significant? There were 56 stations in that hidden
control room. A central location might make the coordination of all
the fleets more efficient.
       Destan’s mind ached. He could do nothing now. As Cardis had
said, he would find out soon enough.

       The day passed slowly. He began to suspect that his food had
been drugged. Why did he feel so sluggish, his brain so clogged?
       Philip Cardis. Captain Philip Cardis of Cosmopolis, city of the
stars.
       You believe you are a great man, one of the great men of
history. Will the turning point you create be one for evil, then? If
you think of yourself as an Alexander, are we indeed the Persians?
Decadent and divided. Squabbling among ourselves. So that a con-
queror can knock us over like straws. But you did not come openly

                                 275
like Alexander. You put on a false face. You lulled us by feeding our
own appetites, our own fascinations; you humored our weaknesses.
But then, a conqueror always chooses the most effective route. It is
the conquest itself that is all important.
       Destan put his head in his hands.
       You have won, Philip Cardis. My failure is complete. Even
Pallas and Glenn will never reach Ascension in time, I know it. You
have planned too well, waited too long, for such puny resistance to
foil your designs. An aura of inevitability hangs over you. The Con-
course was overripe, waiting; if not you, then someone else. And
what of my Great Man, acting with his own free will? Perhaps I was
wrong. Perhaps something in the course of events, in the stream of
time and universal forces, always throws up the right man or
woman at the right time, to take charge in a carefully prepared
setting. They may strut on the stage free of strings, but the play
has been conceived and directed by a larger agency.
       For Miles Destan the time had not been right. Just as it had
not been right for my father. Had it been so, father, the Concourse
might have been saved by your invention. Pallas’ lifeboat could
have contained a small hyper-speed communicator, driven by your
new miniaturized power crystal. Would anyone have thought to
accord you the honor?
       Instead, your failure went for nothing. And your son has only
compounded it.
       Destan’s head began to reel. His eyes pierced the dimness of
the cell and the image of his father stood before him. Though he
knew it was an aberration of his distracted mind, he spoke to the
ghostly figure:
       “Far better had I been with you on the asteroid, father. Then
Allen Jaynes would have been forced to send someone else—some-
one who might have succeeded.”
       The image seemed to reply. “Until the moment of the test,
even though I felt a certain apprehension, I knew I had success
within my grasp. Your final test has not arrived yet, Miles. Despite
what I desired, I did not have you with me. You will be there for the
game. You have your wits and resources. Anything can happen.”
       Destan took comfort from the machinations of his mind. The
image receded.
       Thoughts of Jan filled the rest of his waking moments.




                                276
                                  25
    ________________________________________________




       Destan awoke after a few hours of fitful sleep: it was the
morning of the day of the game. A security guard brought him a
light breakfast, which he devoured with as much enthusiasm as he
could muster. Today he would need all of his strength.
       About an hour later, he felt it. Because he was undistracted,
immobile, he could sense that two-second vibration running through
the ship and through his own body. Cosmopolis had re-entered
normal space. The great vessel was stopping. The next Stellar
Intersect game was about to be played.
       Three officers arrived at the detention cell to escort Destan by
the long route of corridors, slideways and rail car. Past how many of
the ship’s seven thousand passengers, its eighteen hundred person-
nel? The tourists whose dream of Cosmopolis had finally been
realized. The staff people carefully selected: happy, as Jan had
been, for their good fortune and dedicated to the ship and its
famous Captain. The game players, the vacationers, those who
were rich and those who had scrimped, the men and women from
almost every planet of the Concourse. Destan felt for them all. And
for the 83 billion other inhabitants of the worlds of humanity, a fair
portion of whom had now turned their attentions on this floating
city, awaiting the next strategic contest between two minds.
       At the door of the Intersect Gallery the three escorts turned
him over to one of Kyle’s aides who led him to a seat a few rows
from the front. Other than the presence of the aide beside him,
Destan was not confined in any way. He looked about him. Every-
thing stood as he remembered it: the consoles, the broadcaster, the
great transparent Intersect cube in the center of the floor, with its
flickering terminus points and the blue film of the sextan divider.
       The tiers of seats rising on either side of the bowl were filling
up quickly, and he realized there would be a larger audience today
than on the previous occasion. Now he noticed General Salmi of
Balkin seated across the floor, evidently recovered from the attempt
on his life. And there: Silvestri of Cordella. Destan surveyed the
entire Gallery. He recognized the two Hierarchs who had traveled on

                                  277
the shuttle a few days earlier. Several other figures wore the
mantle of authority. It would be a star-studded audience: some of
the most notorious autocrats of the Concourse. Did they have any
knowledge of the true nature of the plot they were participating in?
Destan was sure they did not.
       It seemed there were more security people about this time,
distributed casually throughout the Gallery and around the central
floor. He thought to detect a note of alertness, a tension on many of
their faces as they scanned the tiers and periodically looked toward
the doorway where Captain Cardis would make his entrance. Just
beyond that entrance, Destan knew, stood one of the lift shafts
rising directly to the bridge two decks above. Half-heartedly, he
imagined himself lunging down the rows of seats, hurdling the low
partition ring, dashing across the floor and into the wing. Then—
what? He could not operate the lift without a key, and he had no
pellet to blow open the panel cover and reach the switch.
       He noticed again the large blank viewscreen suspended over
the opposite entrance, but he had no more idea of its purpose today
than he had the last time, when it had remained dark.
       Now came the expected stir at the doorway. Captain Cardis
entered the gallery accompanied once more by first officer Kyle.
Other crew members followed, then the assistants monitoring the
game who took up their regular positions at the consoles. Behind
came Garra, but this time he was in the company of three others
whom Destan, even from this distance, could identify as aliens like
the one in the Promenade. Aware of it now, he could see the so-
called prototypic forehead the Anthropologist had referred to. On
whom had they modeled themselves? Earthmen? Pirates? Perhaps
their initial reconnaissance, before the great scheme had been
devised, had involved the capture of some Concourse pirates. So
Marcus Sand, he thought wryly, couldn’t assume all the credit.
       This time Garra and his fellows took seats opposite the very
front of the Intersect cube. Garra exchanged glances with the Cap-
tain but, apart from a gesture of the head, no communication. His
position suggested he expected to take a part in the proceedings.
Looking over the group—Cardis, Kyle, the security people below,
Garra and the other aliens—Destan could sense a definite charge in
the air.
       Captain Cardis looked about and addressed the Gallery.
“Today we play Intersect. Please welcome two worthy opponents:
Adria Flack from Providence in the 9th Division, who will play red,
and Carl Sandor from Brechen in the 18th Division, who will play
green.” In ceremonial fashion the two players entered from either
side, passed under the emblems of their own worlds, and proceeded
to their respective tables on either side of the cube.


                                278
      All bands were opened on the broadcaster. At points across
the ship and on more than 700 worlds of the Concourse, listeners
heard the Captain’s voice: “This is Philip Cardis from Cosmopolis.
We are about to play the 99th Stellar Intersect game. Please ready
all satellites.” Again the players were introduced for the benefit of
the wider audience. Destan waited for the gallery lights to dim.
      Instead, the Captain shut off the microphone, set it aside,
turned and addressed gallery: “My friends, there will be a change in
the game on this occasion.”
      Some of the security people moved without haste to new
posts and the Gallery doors were secured. Captain Cardis turned to
the two players: “You must excuse me, but I am asking you to
leave the floor and take seats in the gallery. There are things which
must be attended to while the game is in progress.”
      In utter bewilderment the players did as requested, while a
nervous stir arose throughout the spectators. None of the assistants
seemed surprised. One of them consulted a gauge on her console
and announced to the Captain: “Beacon at maximum strength: 126
hours and 30 minutes into signal.” She made an adjustment and
the large viewscreen overhead which Destan had wondered about
was suddenly activated. The monitor was located on the top of the
pod and it slowly rotated to view all directions within the dome of
space above Cosmopolis. Destan watched as every ten seconds the
thrusting propulsion tube swung across the screen, topping the
crests of the other three pods.
      Destan’s mind raced. The monstrous plot was unfolding before
him. But he had overlooked this one element. Larv Cleevis had told
him—how could he have failed to take it into account? The unusual
strength of the Cosmopolis beacon: fifteen megarevs. Far greater
than was needed to cover the width of the Concourse! Now it was
on full strength. That could mean only one thing. Whatever was on
its way was making a very long jump! From beyond the Concourse:
unexplored, unknown regions.
      His heart sank. No returning research vessel this. No fleets
from traitorous Concourse worlds. This was an invasion force from
the distant reaches of the galaxy.
      And the game? The intersecting beams? He had no doubt now
that their purpose was to destroy the Council world and its beacon,
an alien weapon devised to hamper one of the major means of
defense that could be mounted.
      Destan stared up at the viewscreen with its revolving image of
deep space and felt little hope. The Council fleets had not come.
Jaynes had not chosen to act, or had been unable to. So it would be
a piecemeal operation. Coordinated from the long room in the
Service pod, the defenses of the Concourse would be dealt with one


                                279
by one. The alien force on its way must surely be massive. How fast
could they travel? Was their drive system more powerful than the
Addison crystal? He remembered the little patrol tracking the ship:
it would be the first to taste the aliens’ firepower.
      The Captain was speaking. “I will ask you all to keep still and
no harm will come to you from anyone in this room.” He took up
the microphone, opened it and referring to a list in his hand, broad-
cast the first move of the game to the Concourse. The first terminus
had been activated. Philip Cardis was playing his own Stellar Game
at last.

      Among the crowd of 400 who had passed the checkpoint on
their way to the Intersect Gallery was a slender grey-blonde woman
in a blue Cosmopolis uniform. Her badge identified her as a super-
visor of personnel in the Alpha pod. When she showed her pass to
one of the three security guards, she remarked cheerily, “Do you
know I’ve been on the ship for four years but I’ve never been to see
the Stellar Game played? Today I decided it was time.”
      The guard smiled and waved her through.
      The route to the Intersect Gallery lay along a single radial
corridor ending at the main entrance. In regular positions lining
both sides of the corridor stood security people overseeing the
stream of guests who passed by on the slideway. Jan moved with
the crowd, unable to see any means of detaching herself and
slipping down one of the circular corridors. Now she found herself
carried into the Gallery itself. Was she going to be trapped for the
duration of the game?
      But running behind the tiers, entirely around the rim, was a
rear aisle with additional sets of doors placed at five other positions,
and at the moment only three of these had security guards
patrolling in their vicinity. Some of the crowd entering the Gallery
were moving around this rear aisle and she moved among them
until she reached one of the unguarded doors. Standing with her
back against it, she hoped, in her uniform, to be mistaken for one
of the security people. When no eyes seemed to be upon her, she
moved back against the door and pushed. It did not give.
      Her hand trembled as her fingers explored the lock: it had a
standard face. Would it possibly be set to the same magnetic chan-
nels as her personnel key? She fished the key plate out of her
pocket, and almost dropped it. One of the strolling guards was
nearing her position, though his eyes were at the moment on the
floor below. She applied the plate and the door swung ajar at her
pressure. Holding her breath, she slipped out.
      Someone had just passed. Jan mounted the slideway in the
other direction, letting herself be carried a quarter way around the
pod, then entered a radial corridor going outward.

                                  280
      Two staff members slid by on the opposite belt. Jan’s outward
manner gave no indication that she did not belong on the premises;
within she was a mass of apprehensions. But the pair scarcely
glanced in her direction and once past, she scanned the corridor
ahead. According to the diagrams she had committed to memory,
one of the three lift shafts to the bridge lay just ahead. She stepped
off the slideway and saw that the compartment housing the lift was
recessed into an alcove. She entered, tried the door to the shaft: it
opened on the waiting lift.
      Inside, she drew a deep breath. Once more her hand shook as
it took out her key and applied the little square of metal to the
operator panel. The activating light remained dark. She pressed the
ascent button. Nothing happened.
      Jan collapsed against the wall as tears of frustration welled
up. She had dared to hope that her own personnel key would
operate the lift to the bridge, one of the most restricted areas of the
entire ship. It had been a foolhardy expectation.
      Was she beaten? Had she come this far only to be forced to
give up and return home? Then the irony in her choice of word
suddenly sickened her. She had always considered her own cabin,
indeed all of Cosmopolis, as home. Now her home had turned into a
madhouse.
      There was no home to return to.
      She had to find a way to obtain a lift key. It would have to be
from one of the pod personnel, although not all of them might carry
a key to such a restricted area.
      Above lay the quarters of the senior crew, which would surely
include the ones who worked on the bridge. There too lay the
second lift shaft. She could ascend to the upper level by one of the
regular elevator banks. Leaving the compartment she peered out
the alcove, and when those in view passed from sight she emerged
and mounted the slideway.

       As Captain Cardis broadcast his first move, the assistant at
the game console intensified the corresponding terminus point
within the cube, coloring it red. Almost immediately Cardis broad-
cast a green move and then, to allow a normal spacing between
plays, he shut off the microphone and began to talk to the taut
audience. Though his eyes took in the whole gallery, Destan after a
few moments sensed that Cardis was speaking directly to him.
       “The Stellar Intersect game was to be a distraction, a ploy, to
camouflage our plan.” He glanced at Garra seated in front of him.
“It was a later refinement by myself when I came to realize the full
significance which games enjoy in this civilization. Your games are
most fascinating, perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the
character of your race. In studying the Concourse, the fruits of

                                 281
which you see in my humble Library, I naturally gained a great
insight into the workings of your minds.”
       He broke off, activated the microphone for a moment and
broadcast his third move.
       “Despite your political stupidities, there are many mitigating
and worthy characteristics to your culture. And while my study was
originally designed to aid our plan of conquest, it soon became
personally captivating and quite obsessive.” There was an excite-
ment in Cardis’ voice, but Destan could not avoid the impression of
a genuine sympathy as well. Was he trying to redeem himself in
some little way?
       The Captain continued. He talked of various Concourse worlds,
their peoples, the fascinations that many had held for him. At
regular intervals he broke off to give further instructions to various
terminus worlds to activate or deactivate. To listeners on the ship,
to the satellite technicians, to the vast audiences who followed the
Stellar Game on almost every planet, this 99th game would seem to
be proceeding in a normal fashion.
       Destan watched the cube as the termini were lighted up. No
movement of the blue sextan sheet took place, though no doubt the
course of the Captain’s game took this into theoretical account. The
points of light within the cube meant nothing to him, but Destan
found he was able to identify several of the worlds by their terminus
numbers, especially the group around Basel over which he had
pored so much. On the assumption that Cardis intended to form an
intersect near Sigma, he visualized a pattern in his mind’s eye of
the six terminus locations producing that point, and he filled in each
gap as the terminus was named. So far, he had recognized three
worlds in that pattern. One of them was Balkin.
       But while one part of his brain was occupied with these mental
configurations, another part was registering confusion created by
certain of Cardis’ words. If the Stellar Intersect game was a “later
refinement,” then it was not part of the original plan. What had
been that plan? That the alien fleet would arrive near Sigma and
destroy the Council beacon as its first act? Did they later contrive
this fantastic game to do it instead? Yet Cardis had referred to it as
a ploy, a distraction—at least when first devised. What was its pur-
pose now? When had they realized the use they could make of the
destructive power of the intersecting particle beams?
       And there was something odd in the way Cardis was talking.
Destan thought: he speaks as though he is not one of us, after
all...Or thinks he isn’t. Is that possible? How sophisticated are those
programming machines Garra tried to use on Pallas and Glenn?
       Now Destan stared at the Captain. At Kyle standing by the
rail. At the assistants, the security people. A dozen chairs in the


                                 282
programming room, Glenn had told him. For Cosmopolis’ human
officers?
       Yet in Cardis’ office, only yesterday, when Destan had talked
of examining the alien’s body....
       The Captain’s voice, after the broadcast of another move,
pulled him back into the present moment. “You have an enormous
capacity—a very thirst—for diversion and entertainment. Hence
Cosmopolis: the greatest entertainment center ever seen in the
Concourse. Here I could work in the open and yet surrounded by
legitimate mystery. Our fleet would need a flagship once it arrived,
to coordinate its movements. And, of course, Cosmopolis would
provide an anchor for the beacon. That was a scientific achievement
of yours we gladly borrowed. Its pinpoint accuracy was in advance
of our own techniques of hyper-space travel. With it, our fleet could
arrive suddenly and fully organized, ready for conquest. Your own
jealous autonomies have only compounded our advantage.”
       Destan looked around the gallery: particularly at Nathan Salmi
whose face was as dumbfounded as the rest. There was anger in it
as well—the anger that came from the realization of betrayal. No,
neither the General nor any of the others could be involved in the
plot.
       Except by being here, of course, so that even the defense of
individual worlds would be hampered. They had indeed thought of
everything.
       Garra had been growing increasingly restless. Now he stood
up. “Enough of this,” he said curtly. “It is the dawning of a new
political era for this estimable race.” There was no mistaking the
friction between the two.
       Garra strode to the console and checked the beacon meter.
Captain Cardis, unperturbed, broadcast another move. “Red move—
activate terminus 501.” Destan started. 501—Umber. In the rush of
revelation he had all but forgotten. Would the Umber terminus
respond? Had Pallas reached Ascension and contacted the Matrin?
       Now he saw that Cardis was looking at him, and for the first
time Destan could detect the confidence giving way to an unmistak-
able expression of concern. Its significance flashed through his
mind: Cardis knows! He has realized that Pallas could communicate
with Umber and stop the transmission if she made planetfall soon
enough. Just when had it occurred to him? In time to have her
intercepted at Ascension? But if Cardis had been able to do that, he
would not be showing concern.
       The Captain was aware that he had an opponent in the game.
       Yet to Destan, the stakes now seemed relatively small. Even if
the Stellar Intersect game had been turned into something more
than a simple diversion, and so it would appear from the Captain’s


                                283
concern, how much difference could it really make? Or had the
destruction of the Council world and its beacon somehow become a
crucial factor in their invasion plans?
      Destan turned his attention back to the Intersect cube. The
pattern in his mind, the pattern that would produce an intersect at
the Sigma point, was almost complete. A single world remained. All
of the five so far had been red moves. Now he scanned both his
memory and the chamber for other red termini, for if the Captain
was intending to produce four or more beams, he would need to
activate whatever other pairs of satellites were in a position to focus
on the Sigma point. But Destan found it next to impossible. In the
cube, it was difficult to judge depth, and with no memory of that
fourth game he did not know the identity or the numbers of those
other terminus worlds.
      Again his eye was drawn up to the viewscreen still surveying
the empty reaches of space around the ship. Where was Cosmopolis
now, with its beacon summoning the invasion force? Within that
central area, for optimum dispersal? But if it were anywhere near
Sigma, surely Jaynes would have become suspicious of the ship’s
proximity. And some world, some patrol might even have picked up
the approach of the alien fleet.
      All too late.

        During the twenty meter ascent to the upper deck Jan realized
she had no idea how she would go about obtaining a key to the lift.
But each step upward carried her closer to her goal, and somehow
her last ounce of wit and ingenuity would be applied to get there.
And perhaps more than that. Under her jacket, inserted between
her breasts through an improvised sheath in the halter, was a small
letter opener. Before leaving her suite she had run it several times
through a utensil sharpener, making edges and point keen enough
to pierce flesh. She was resolved to use it if all else failed.
        The elevator stopped, opened. She had been on the upper
deck many times, but never unaccompanied and always along those
passages leading to the reception rooms. Beyond that, she had
never laid eyes on this inner sanctum. Here lay Captain Cardis’
personal quarters, those of the principal officers, the extensive
facilities that constituted the ship’s computers, as well as other
areas she knew nothing about. There were bound to be more secu-
rity people on duty here in addition to the deck below.
        Her memory of the diagrams confirmed the direction of the
upper deck lift to the bridge. She walked deliberately out into the
corridor.
        A woman wearing the blue lab coat of a computer technician
was coming in her direction, walking beside the slideway. When she
saw Jan she registered a look of mild curiosity.

                                 284
       Jan smiled. “Hello, I’m Jan Winston from Alpha.” The two
women stopped. Jan said the first words that came into her head. “I
suppose you’ll be at the reception following the game? It’s going to
be a special affair.”
       “I didn’t know there was one.” The woman made a peevish
face. “They always overlook the lab workers at any function around
here. But who keeps this ship running if we don’t?”
       Jan nodded her understanding. “I used to work the restaurant
kitchens on Alpha, so today they’ve asked me to fill in here.”
       The woman said, “Yes, there are a few new faces here today.
They’ve even drawn some extra security people from Service. They
needed more of our own than usual in the Gallery today: must be
all those important guests.”
       Jan started moving past her. “I must report to the kitchen,
I’m a little late.” She continued on by to mount the slideway, and
the woman turned and went her own way. Her mind half registered
the fact that the kitchens lay in the direction Jan was going, but it
failed to reflect that for an attendant arriving from Alpha this was a
strange direction from which to be approaching them.
       Jan knew the Captain’s quarters lay just ahead; and there,
just before them, stood the lift to the bridge. She hopped off onto
the median, dog-legged across the opposite belt and approached
the alcove. She came to a stop. Well, Jan, she asked herself, now
what?
       Around the long curve of the corridor a figure came into view,
and instinctively she bolted into the alcove. The man had been
wearing a security uniform—had he seen her? In a minute he would
pass by. There was nowhere else to hide, so she opened the door to
the lift, stepped inside, waited. It was a futile gesture, but she took
out her key and pressed it to the panel. As before the lift remained
immobile.
       She made a sudden resolve. To keep avoiding people, particu-
larly those who might be expected to have the proper key, would
never get her anywhere. She pushed open the door.
       The man in the security uniform stood before her. The look of
belligerence on his face changed instantly to one of amazement.
“Jan! What are you doing here?”
       Jan’s own expression changed to uncertain relief. “Geord!” Her
accelerated mental processes linked the lab woman’s comment with
the presence in the Captain’s pod of a Service security guard. They
also instantly conjured up memories of the insistent advances the
man had made at several recent recreational functions, advances to
which she had felt no desire to respond. She stalled for time. “I
might ask you the same thing.”
       She could see Geord’s own mental circuits working behind the


                                 285
dark brows: he had caught a woman obviously engaged in some
strange behavior in a restricted area. His duty required that she be
apprehended and reported immediately to central pod security. But
this was a woman he had long desired, and one he had always
looked upon as docile and innocuous.
       “Today I’m here on a special assignment, Jan. But you’re
going to have to explain your reason for being here, especially in a
lift shaft to the bridge.”
       “Oh, is that what this is? I just ducked in because I saw you
coming.”
       “And just why would you want to avoid anyone, Jan?” Then
Geord allowed himself a reassuring smile. “Listen—I’m sure you
have an explanation. Come around to the security room and you
can tell me.”
       Geord led her down the corridor and into a small office. He sat
at ease on the edge of the desk. “Now, what’s this all about?”
       She tried an angle Geord would understand. “I—I came to see
one of the officers. We were due to meet at the reception room in a
few minutes. He’ll be wondering where I am.”
       Geord stared, then raised his lip in a nasty sneer. “Why, you
little minx! And you wouldn’t have anything to do with me! Was I
not high enough rank for you?” He stood up and took two quick
strides to her, grabbing her at the shoulders. She kept herself from
flinching. “I could get you into a lot of trouble for this, Miss
Winston. Your officer can wait. I suggest that right now you show
me a little cooperation.” He pulled at the clasps on her jacket,
freeing them in a swift downward motion.
       She did not want to plead. “Geord, don’t do this. I have some-
thing more important that must be done.”
       “I’m quite sure your officer is more important.” His voice was
determined. “But you’re not going to deny me what I want any
longer.”
       The jacket fell open. Geord began to loosen the buttons of the
blouse until his hand encountered a hard object. “What’s this?”
Incredulously, he grasped the head of the letter opener and drew it
out, exposing the shiny, knife-edged blade. He let his breath out
slowly, looking at her in disbelief.
       “I don’t know what this is for, Jan, but I don’t think it’s part of
the standard Alpha uniform.” He backed up to the desk, tossed the
letter opener across to the chair and reached for the communicator.
Keeping his eyes on her, he said, “I think I’d better set aside other
considerations and call central security right away.”
       Jan’s blood churned. She could not allow this to happen. She
would not be foiled! At this very moment events were unfolding in
the Intersect Gallery. Already she had been delayed too long!


                                   286
       When Geord’s eyes went to the communicator buttons to
punch out the code, she reached into her pocket and her hand
found one of the explosive pellets that nestled there. Palming it, she
drew it out. Even at the same moment, she advanced toward Geord
and put her arms around his neck.
       “No, Geord, wait! You have to let me explain.” Her face was
very close, her warm breath, her subtle body odor, were provoking.
At the same moment that the earpiece he had been holding struck
the desk, the little metal ring surrounding the pellet fell as well. Its
tiny clatter went unnoticed.
       She ran her hands over his shoulders, touched her mouth to
his cheek. “Geord, you can help me. You have to help me get to the
bridge.”
       Desire conflicted with uncertain fear. “Jan, are you crazy? I
don’t know what you’re up to, but don’t count me in on it.”
       He would never cooperate. Between her two fingers, Jan
squeezed the pellet flat. Her hand moved down his jacket, stopped
at the breast pocket. The putty-like disc slid inside.
       With a wrench she pulled herself away, pushing Geord back
against the desk. His arms went out in an effort to regain balance.
By the time he straightened again, she had leapt backwards to the
wall.
       For one brief moment, Geord’s face registered total perplexity.
Then there was a sound like a violent clap.
       Geord’s eyes stared, instantly lifeless. Where his left jacket
pocket had been stood a large ragged role. The ragged hole exten-
ded in the other direction as well, into flesh, ribs and organs. The
first gush of blood struck the floor a moment before the body.
       Jan’s stomach heaved. She turned to the wall and vomited.
       Half a minute later she stood over the corpse, weeping hot
tears. “I’m sorry, Geord. You didn’t deserve this.” She knew his
body would have to be turned over. He must be carrying keys in his
uniform. Then she saw them: they were lying on the floor in a
bunch just beyond one outstretched hand. He had not been holding
them. They must have been in the pocket.
       Now Jan was seized with a frantic sense of urgency. She had
been in the pod for almost an hour. But she would spare one more
minute. Going around the desk she retrieved the letter opener, then
spied a partially opened drawer. From inside came a gleam of metal
and she drew out a small but deadly looking lasac, the first time in
her life she had ever held one. There was the firing button; and
there, just under the thumb position, lay the selector switch. One
position, she knew, was a stun setting, the other full power—and
fatal.
       But she didn’t know which was which.


                                  287
      Fate would decide. The switch remained in its present posi-
tion. But the lasac she would use on anyone who got between her
and the emergency monitor bank.
      Leaving the letter opener on the desk, she refastened her
blouse and jacket, went to the door. The corridor was empty and
she dashed back to the alcove and entered the lift. One of Geord’s
keys activated the operator panel. She pressed the sole ascent
button: only one possible destination. As she stood facing the lift
door, lasac hanging in a hand by her side, a pellet with the ring
disengaged held loosely in the other, the lift began to rise.

        Destan’s head swam with all the contradictory notions that
churned through his brain. Still the Captain stood before the broad-
caster, microphone and list of moves in hand, while Garra twitched
impatiently before the navigation console. The antagonism between
the two figures sparked across the gap like a threatening storm.
The tension throughout the entire Gallery had become palpable.
        Cardis’ voice re-entered Destan’s consciousness. “You, Garra,
never had a feeling for the game. I convinced you that it would be a
useful distraction, especially at the time of the fleet’s arrival, and in
another sense would also distract their aggressive impulses. You
agreed—anything to further the plan—but you never really under-
stood the psychology of the game. After all, we have nothing fitting
the concept of a game where we come from.”
        Destan was bewildered. Captain Cardis had said it again: that
the game was only a distraction. And Garra was evidently unaware
of the destructive power of the beams. Was there no significance to
the intersect point after all? No design upon the Council beacon?
        Garra reacted coldly. “Perhaps you will find that, like your
precious game, you have also become redundant.” His tone altered
to one of irritation. “What is the point in continuing this farce? We
have no need now for any further distraction.” He turned back to
the console. “It is time to link up with the coordinating center.”
        The Captain ignored Garra’s words. “You also underestimated
another psychology, and that was my own. You wanted me to
understand the mind of this inferior race, all the better to uncover
its weaknesses, to learn where its vulnerabilities lay. But I delved a
little too deeply. I began to perceive things, to trigger some buried
responses. Finally, I began to suspect an awful truth. Garra, there is
an establishment aboard this ship that you have probably never
heard of. It is called a Sensorium. One night it had a visitor whose
identity the stewards would have been very surprised to learn. I
came out of the vat a new man—or perhaps I should say, a former
one.”
        Impatience had given way to alarm, and Garra advanced
toward the Captain. “It is time I took over here.” But at a gesture

                                  288
from Cardis, first officer Kyle drew his lasac and intercepted the
alien. Garra halted, standing like a boar at bay, as several security
men moved swiftly to overpower the other aliens and herd them
together.
      Then the Captain said, and now he looked directly at Destan:
“I have known the truth about myself for ten years. I was born on
Olivar, a backwater world near the edge of the Concourse. Forty
years ago, the one inhabited area of this planet was attacked by a
reconnaissance expedition”—he gestured at a gaping Garra—“from
his empire. A pirate haven on the other side of the planet was also
overrun. They had made a few earlier forays into the Concourse—
overestimating your strength and unity, as it turned out. Then they
chose Olivar...”
      Momentarily, Cardis seemed to drift. What resurrected images
of a young boy were passing through his mind? Destan wondered.
      “Most of the population was killed; the rest they took prisoner.
I was five years old at the time.”
      He walked over to the navigation console and checked several
monitors, including a chronometer. Then he returned to the broad-
caster and announced another move. There it was, Destan realized:
the last remaining position in the Sigma intersect pattern. But what
purpose could it possibly be meant to serve now?
      “I am not really of either race. I am physically of yours”—his
gesture took in the tiers—“but my mind was made into one of them.
They are far ahead of you in this field. Their programming was
thorough. They shorted my behavior and reaction patterns, installed
blocks to perception and reflection; even to the awareness of my
essential difference from them. By the time they had worked out
their grand plan, they had left me with one dominant identity: I was
to be the one to lead a glorious invasion against a powerful enemy.
But they had not been quite thorough enough. The Sensorium
uncovered my true instinctual patterns, the buried layers of early
memory. I knew what I really was. Then I had to learn how to
circumvent the periodic reinforcement of their programming. And
quickly. I was not about to lose what I had just discovered...”
      Pallas, thought Destan, how could you have known what he
meant by the discovery of his soul?
      “I had to play a double game for many years. Ten long years.
Gradually I brought a few others in to share the loneliness with me,
others who had also been captured and programmed.” Destan could
see in Cardis’ face the intimate bond between himself and Kyle.
      “Naturally, they needed us: for that part of the plan which had
to be conducted in the open. To learn as much about you as
possible while building up their own forces, to explore for a number
of planets that could support them in their natural environment—


                                 289
they needed capitals for your new ruling order. They themselves
could only effect surface changes to appear human. One of them
has risked staying at the Ferasco shipbuilders, but he had the
advantage of a portable programmer and a means of employing it
on key people...”
      Destan realized that he had to give credit to the resilience of a
certain senior achitect’s mind. Larv Cleevis, he remembered, had
not been immune to prohibition circuits, but his Meranderan menta-
lity had left him open to the only thing that could override an alien
programmer: an appeal to a perceived higher authority.
      “...But they made a mistake with me. I had to be left with
enough of my own faculties to function; indeed, to believe that I
was an independent person, perfectly in control of myself. And their
equal. As I said, they made a mistake.”
      Through the course of the Captain’s monologue, Garra’s
expression had gone from dismay to doubt to puzzlement. “But—
you still went through with it!” he cried. “It is too late now! The
fleet is almost here! Even if you turn off the beacon now it will
arrive virtually on target. And they received my last hyper-beam
message only yesterday. They will expect a communication from
me immediately upon arrival.”
      Captain Cardis answered: “I have no intention of turning off
the beacon. They must come.”
      Garra stared at him as at a sphinx. Then as one, he and
Cardis looked up to the screen. The stars swung by, interrupted
only by the upper bulk of Cosmopolis, quietly waiting.

      The lift came to a stop and a moment later the door slid aside.
Jan looked out upon the bridge.
      Within her range of vision the outer wall of the bridge swept
away from her in a long arc and back again, covered with a dazzling
and confusing array of electronic equipment. Where the diagrams in
the manual had drawn bold outlines in squares and rectangles, with
simplified details to illustrate the functioning of the various stations,
the complexity of the actual site made her head reel. How could she
make the instant identification she had counted on of the emer-
gency monitor bank?
      Within that range of vision sat two crew members facing the
wall, attending to their individual duties. They watched monitor
screen, gauges, lights that blinked in patterns only they could com-
prehend. A low overcurrent of noise emanated from the room, faint
sounds fluctuating in pitch, periodic buzzing, a constant quiet
chittering. Part of her wondered if the human brain, like the brain of
Cosmopolis, generated such noises.
      At least two seats against the wall were currently empty. She
could not see the second officer, or his station, but he had to be

                                  290
present. Since the emergency monitor stood near his position, it
was not in view either. But here her memory failed, for she could
not orient herself to say whether her target lay to the left or to the
right.
       Jan stepped out of the lift. Behind her the door slid silently
closed. She turned. Now she remembered that this lift shaft exten-
ded up into the bridge not at a point near its circumference, but
within an open space about halfway across the radius of the huge
floor. The bulk of the bridge, in fact, had lain behind her. At a
corresponding position at the other radial mid-point, another lift
shaft protruded from below, while the third—the one from the main
deck which she had originally intended to take—emerged near the
wall to her right.
        Her eye swept the long circumference. Three more of the
crew sat at other stations, two of them conversing idly. With the
ship stopped, their duties were probably minimal. That made five
out of the ten bridge crew present.
       And the second officer. Before she saw him she heard his
voice, coming from a point behind her.
       “Stop there! Who are you?” The heads of the others turned.
       Jan whirled 180 degrees. The officer, whose face she found
familiar but whose name she had never known, was about thirty
meters away and moving toward her. The hand that held the lasac
remained at her side, the weapon inconspicuous. With the other
hand she gestured vaguely to the wall beyond the officer.
       “I’ve been sent to tell you that the emergency monitor is not
functioning,” she called with a faint tremble. The officer hesitated,
turned back in puzzlement, and now Jan saw the monitor bank with
its closed panel. She started in that direction.
       The officer turned back to her. “I don’t understand. Did
central emergency send you up? Why didn’t they call?” His eyes
narrowed. “Stop where you are, I said. How did you get up here?”
       She could not hope to confuse him much longer. “Please go
over and check the monitor.” But he started toward her again, and
she raised the lasac. “Please.”
       The second officer blinked. He glanced to his right. What were
the others around the wall doing? She could hear no footsteps.
       Jan waved the lasac menacingly, and the second officer began
to back up. “Please go faster. This is a very serious matter.”
       The second officer turned and strode to the wall. Jan followed
a few meters behind. She allowed herself a glance to either side
and saw that four of the crew had stood up, alarmed, from their
chairs. The fifth had started uncertainly across the floor. It was hard
to believe that they did not have a way to summon security forces.
Perhaps a signal had already been triggered.


                                 291
       She called out in a tremulous voice. “Don’t interfere, or your
officer will suffer for it. I am trying to save your lives, please believe
me.”
       The officer stood before the monitor bank. “I can see no
evidence of malfunction. What are you talking about?”
       “Open the center panel.”
       The officer slowly turned his head and stared at her. “Do you
know what is behind there?”
       “Yes. Open it.” The slender arm holding the lasac extended to
full length. The man turned to face her and crossed his arms, the
panel at his back.
       “I cannot do that.”
       She pressed the firing button. For the second time in twenty
minutes she watched a man’s body pitch forward and strike the
floor at her feet. The burn across his uniform told her that the lasac
setting had not been on stun. From behind rose anguished cries.
       She felt no emotion. She stepped across the body, reached
out her hand to the panel on the monitor bank, placed the pellet
over the lock and squashed it flat. She stepped quickly to the side.
       The noise from the tiny explosion reeled eerily around the
long circumference. She pointed the lasac at the man who had
advanced across the gleaming floor to a point not far away. “Please
step back.” He reversed his direction, slowly, deliberately.
       She turned. The cover was twisted but open. She reached out
her hand.
       All the blood drained from Jan’s face. They were not switches.
The diagrams had been misleading. These were insert locks,
requiring an insert key.
       She whirled around, fell back against the monitor bank, as the
bridge with its kaleidoscope of lights and screens rotated like a
carnival ride. There was a blur advancing toward her. She wrenched
her eyes into focus, yelled, “Stop!”
       The man halted just beyond the dead second officer, his face
contorted, his breathing heavy. With her last reserve of self-compo-
sure Jan said, “Pull your officer out onto the floor.” The man did so.
“Now turn him over.” The bulging eyes stared unseeing at the
ceiling.
       With a motion of her thumb she changed the lasac setting to
stun, then fired. The man before her crumpled. She bent over the
second officer’s corpse. How much time could she have left? Her
eyes swept the three lift openings, expecting to see security forces
pouring out, but they were dark and silent.
       The key for the panel controls had to be on the dead officer’s
person. She shoved her hand into the first pocket.



                                   292
      For the first time, something like anger registered on Captain
Cardis’ face. “I have been the victim of a monstrous deception. My
life has been a falsehood. And then to realize that I was meant to
take part in the enslavement of my own race—”
      The calm was restored. He broadcast another move.
      “The popular game of Intersect gave me the solution, as fan-
tastic as it seemed at first. It took me over two years to develop the
Stellar Game, to design the satellites, to fashion the properties of
the beams. They also made a mistake in teaching me too much of
their science. Then I had to induce a delay until other things were
ready, until other conditions were right. This scene was to have
taken place at least a year ago—originally three.”
      Cardis smiled at Destan. “You thought that the game was
directed at the Council system. And a clever ploy that might have
been,”—he turned to the uncomprehending Garra—“to introduce it
to you as a new part of the plan. But I could not risk your growing
resentment of me, and your vigilance. You might eventually have
suspected my real intentions, and so I could not let you in on the
true potential of the Intersect beams.”
      A new suspicion was beginning to dawn in Destan’s mind.
      The Captain turned back to the Historian. “Don’t worry. The
intersect point will be situated over a light-year away from your
precious Council. There is more than one way to thread a needle.
One can approach the problem from the opposite direction.”
      Destan stood up from his seat. He asked the question quietly,
but there was a tremor in his voice: “Captain Cardis, precisely
where is Cosmopolis at this moment?”
      The Captain invited him to come down and check the coordi-
nate meters on the navigation console himself. Destan felt his legs
unsteady as he descended the steps, passed through the ring and
walked out onto the Gallery floor.
      Cardis glanced at his list. He looked up at the Intersect cube
and announced: “All necessary moves have been made. I think I
can perceive that player red is in a potential winning position.”
      Suddenly, a faintly perceptible vibration ran through the ship:
a light barrier had been broken nearby. Garra let out an exclama-
tion and turned to the viewscreen. After a few seconds, something
came into view and the Captain locked the monitor. In a voice
registering both relief and uncertainty, Garra declared: “The fleet
has arrived!” All looked up.
      Beyond the propulsion tube at the edge of the screen, beyond
the Alpha Float and the horizon of the distant resort pod, several
hundred long spaceships were approaching Cosmopolis and deceler-
ating with amazing rapidity. Presently they came to a hover about
ten kilometers away.


                                 293
       Cardis said: “The fleet navigators are punctual and accurate.
And so is Cosmopolis. Now, my friends, we have very little time. I
want everyone in this gallery to understand that I have given orders
to my security forces to kill anyone who makes the slightest move
to disrupt the proceedings of the next few minutes.”
       He was interrupted by a crackling over the speaker. A voice
came through briefly in a strange tongue. Garra snarled, “The fleet
commander is announcing himself. He will be expecting a reply.”
       Cardis ignored him and took up the microphone. Opening all
bands, he declared: “Player red will attempt an intersect. Please
stand by.” Destan, having reached the navigation console, was
distracted momentarily. He watched closely as the Captain engaged
settings on the broadcaster, ones he had not used before. Destan
realized that the flaw in his thinking had been no flaw at all: it was
absurdly simple. The transmitter did indeed have more than open
broadcast facilities. Each pair of satellite monitor stations would
receive its own instructions by closed communication beam. The
rest of the Concourse, as well as all the other satellites, would still
be waiting in silence to hear the directions to transmit.
       The Captain referred to the list in his hand. “Terminus 26,
transmit to terminus 30; 26...transmit...30.”
       New settings on the broadcaster were selected; they must all
have been preset, Destan realized.
       “Terminus 82, transmit to terminus 215; 82...transmit...215.”
       Another change of settings. “Terminus 93, transmit to termi-
nus 501; 93...transmit...501.”
       The familiar set of numbers stood complete. Only Umber—501
—was new: substituted for Basel. Now, finally, Destan looked down
at the navigation console and stared at the three letters and
numbers that indicated the coordinates of the ship’s present loca-
tion. He did not have to review them a second time to know that
they too were very familiar.
       The summons came over the speaker again.
       Raising his head, Miles Destan spoke in a voice full of awe:
“Captain....Cosmopolis stands at the intersect.”
       The Captain looked back at him with an impassive face.
       Destan saw that he had been wrong about the stakes. Philip
Cardis was playing for the survival of the Concourse.
       And he had been wrong, too, about his Great Man, about the
disillusion he had felt in his cell. Cardis was indeed striving to
reverse the ineluctable flow of events, to introduce the factor of the
unique individual acting entirely of his own free will and personality.
Here was no agent of an inevitable historical process, no pawn of
some larger non-human force. Here stood the potential embodiment
of a lonely Historian’s long-cherished theory.


                                 294
      But had all Cardis’ careful plans been foiled—by Destan him-
self? Would the Umber satellite fail to transmit? Would there be no
third beam? Without it, additional beams might not be able to make
contact with the intersect point. The horrible irony of it all came as
a numbing shock to the Historian: if he had indeed succeeded in his
struggle against Cardis, he had effectively doomed the Concourse.
      Cardis resumed his transmission: “Terminus 207, transmit to
terminus 320; 207...transmit...320.” The fourth beam.
      Abrupt comprehension dawned on Garra. With a shout he
broke away from the knot of aliens and rushed toward the Captain,
but a bolt from Kyle’s lasac felled him to the floor, where he lay like
a dead man.
      Cardis reset the broadcaster one more time. “Terminus 164,
transmit to terminus 370; 164...transmit...370.” The fifth beam.
      He turned off the broadcaster, set down the microphone.
      There was a hush throughout the Gallery. Destan, still in a
daze, spoke quietly: “A fourth and a fifth beam. Difficult to coincide,
astronomically so. Yet the combined diameters of the carrier cones
extend the contact area over a vast distance, do they not?”
      Cardis nodded. “Over half a light-year.”
      “And the destructive force of five particle beams?”
      The Captain only shrugged. Then he said: “That is, assuming
we do have five beams, Mr. Destan. The significance of your move
came to me only an hour before the game. But then, one cannot
rely on one’s opponent giving away his strategy.”
      He looked at the chronometer. “We’ll know in about seven
minutes or so. About six to the first beams, perhaps another minute
to the last. Actually, four beams might have been enough, but I
wanted to be sure.”
      The alien voice, peremptory this time, came over the speaker.
“Now they are growing uneasy. They must be stalled for another
three or four minutes; then it will be too late for them to escape.”
He took up the microphone again, adjusted it to a new frequency.
      Destan shouted: “But Cosmopolis! Everyone aboard—all of
us!”
      “A sacrifice.” His eyes went to Kyle and the security people.
“Some here are making it willingly.” Then he surveyed the specta-
tors. “As for certain others present, without them the Concourse will
follow a better direction.”
      Mixed with Destan’s dread came a kind of admiration. Had
Jaynes only known Cardis’ true purpose behind all those contacts
with the Hierarchs: so many of them now present in this room!
      “There was no other way,” the Captain said. “The entire fleet
was marked to arrive at the ship’s beacon. And Cosmopolis cannot
move nearly as fast as they can.” He gestured up at the screen.


                                 295
“You see, they are ready for anything and could leave as quickly as
they arrived. I must respond.”
       He opened the microphone, spoke briefly in the alien tongue.
Then setting it aside he turned and declared in a loud voice: “I have
welcomed the conquerors from across the galaxy! They await the
voice of our glorious leader”—he looked over to the spot where
Garra lay—“who will give them instructions to begin dispersal and
conquest.”
       The breathless quiet of the audience, hypnotized in an effort
to catch words and import from what had transpired before them,
now gave way to a murmuring, a swelling into wails of fear, anger,
disbelief. Salmi and Silvestri were on their feet, gesticulating toward
the floor; others rose with them. The security people, lasacs drawn,
readied themselves for anything.
       But Captain Cardis placed his hands upon the broadcast con-
sole and let his head drop forward, as though overtaken by a great
weariness. Kyle left the group of security people surrounding the
aliens and approached the Captain.
       There was a sudden movement on the floor. The first officer
had just passed Garra’s body—but the alien leader was no corpse.
Whether the lasac had been set improperly, or had delivered only a
glancing blow, Garra now leapt up like one possessed, seized Kyle
from behind and dragged him down. There was a twist, a wrench,
and the lasac appeared in Garra’s hand. Cardis whirled around.
       Without a moment’s hesitation, the alien turned the weapon
on the first officer. A gush of fire leapt forth. The seared body of the
man who had accompanied the builder of Cosmopolis to Merander
sixteen years before sagged to the floor at the Captain’s feet.
Cardis knelt over the body of his friend. Though death for them
both was expected only minutes away, grief came, spontaneous and
keen.
       Now the entire Gallery was on its feet, a hair’s breadth from
spilling into total panic. But already more violence was erupting. A
moment after Garra’s sudden resurrection, the security men around
Kyle, distracted by the attack on their officer, were set upon by the
three remaining aliens. Bodies scuffled, tumbled to the floor, lasac
beams stabbed out indiscriminately. People in the Gallery began
screaming.
       Destan stood frozen near the navigation console and watched
the pandemonium build. A few meters away, Garra in a crouch held
the lasac, facing the still kneeling figure of Cardis, who surveyed
the scene around him in a seeming trance.
       Garra pointed the lasac at his head.
       Then the alien realized something of far greater importance.
He turned. He was two steps from the microphone which Cardis had


                                  296
used to communicate with the waiting fleet, two steps from warning
the commander of the imminent danger. There must still be time
for the pride of the empire’s forces to make their escape!
       Destan perceived all this in a single instant. No one in a posi-
tion to act stood closer to Garra than he. His muscles tightened for
the lunge—
       Garra took those two steps—
       There was a sickening, an unthinkable, jar. The room lurched
sideways. An utter silence crashed over the scene. Destan in his
crouch, Garra with hand outstretched, the struggling figures on the
floor, the tumultuous, gesticulating mob around them, all froze into
an eerie diorama. Only the Captain during those few brief seconds
seemed capable of movement as he rose slowly to a standing
position. When he looked up at the viewscreen, the other players in
the phantasmal spectacle turned their heads as one.
       In the far distance, the fleet remained at a hover. In the fore-
ground the propulsion tube of Cosmopolis still thrust its potent head
toward the stars at the top of the screen. Beyond its bulk, with
majestic deliberation, the Alpha resort pod, together with the shaft
holding the lucent-sphered Float, was slowly drifting outward, an
ever-expanding gap visible between itself and the Service pod,
between itself and the Beta resort pod. These too, like leaves
caught on a gentle breeze, were sailing in unperturbed ambulation
along an outward radial line from the central core. Within the Inter-
sect Gallery itself, a sense of steady movement following a near
right-angle to the normal axis of propulsion and gravitation became
unmistakable. For long, long moments the incredible process of the
breakup of Cosmopolis unfolded before several hundred pairs of
staring eyes.
       Across the length and breadth of the great ship, thousands of
others witnessed the unimaginable. Out within each Float, weight-
less frolickers were jolted to attention, aghast, as one end of the
supporting shaft separated from the wall of the neighboring pod.
Those traversing the junctions heard first a grinding, wrenching
noise, looked to see the stars shine through a widening gap
cleaving floor, walls and ceiling, felt the rush of air sweep past and
out into space, sucking several unfortunates with it, until the great
irised closures came crashing in. On the slideways, riders lost their
balance; cards and tokens slewed across the casino tables; in the
House of Love, patrons interrupted pleasurable indulgences; diners,
barmaids, carnival hawkers, beauticians, attendants, laboratory
workers, the cargo handlers in the holds, so too the team of aliens
waiting in the coordinating room for the commencement of military
operations, all stopped and looked about them in confusion and
fear.


                                 297
       Only the general administrators—although shocked like the
rest—reacted within moments and began to set in motion those
predetermined measures they never dreamed would need to be
invoked. In a few minutes, the outward drift of the pods, activated
by the initial burst of the emergency propulsors, was checked, and
teams of personnel were mobilizing themselves for duty. A stream
of calls over standby transmitters poured in to a bewildered central
emergency control—a bewilderment compounded by an inexplicable
inability to get through to the bridge.
       And at about the same time, one of the controllers received
an unusual call from an attendant at the Alpha Float egress plat-
form. She had just sighted a large fleet of strange ships hovering
some distance off to galactic east....

       Two figures awoke first from the mesmerized horror in the
Intersect Gallery. One was Miles Destan. Jan, he suddenly realized,
beautiful, timid, fragile Jan: somehow she had reached the bridge,
somehow she had turned the ultimate switch to break up Cosmo-
polis into its component parts. But what had she foiled? Rather, had
she given the alien fleet, already wary, the signal that would send it
thrusting away into hyper-space, narrowly avoiding the deadly
beams already on their way to Cosmopolis? Then he realized that, if
nothing else, she had halted Garra’s rush to the microphone—
       Garra—
       The second one to awake had been the alien. His hand was on
the microphone when Destan reached his back. All the frustrated
inactivity of half a lifetime, the vicariously absorbed exploits of all
the great people of history, the deficit vitality derived from books
instead of deeds, transformed the Historian as he encircled Garra’s
neck between clenched forearms and with every ounce of strength
applied pressure like a vise.
       His assault seemed to break the spell. Around him, the Gallery
erupted into total chaos. The spectators spilled over the ring and
onto the floor, swamping the security guards.
       But Destan’s awareness was solely on Garra. The alien
thrashed. Unable to turn the lasac, he tried to use it as a club
against the head of his unseen assailant, while refusing to abandon
the microphone in his other hand. With his own body Destan
slammed Garra against the console. It toppled. Still he applied an
unrelenting pressure and eventually the alien’s altered body sagged
and went limp. As lasac and microphone fell to the floor, Destan
released him.
       The fleet—had it been warned?
       Panting from the frenzy of his exertion, Destan looked up to
the screen. It was blank. Upsetting the console had in some way
broken a connection.

                                 298
      He turned to the pandemonium around him. The floor was
flooded with shrieking, bellowing spectators, with battling security
people. The remaining aliens were overrun. The crowd had gone
mad. Few of them understood how, but by the instinct of fear, they
knew death was upon them, that the agency was somehow Captain
Cardis’ Stellar Game. In a last berserk act they were wreaking
vengeance. Some seized chairs and began to smash at the huge
Intersect cube, others overturned consoles, attacked the assistants.
The flickering termini in the cube, red, green, white, were suddenly
extinguished. The serene blue sheet of the sextan light shimmered
and went out.
      There was a struggle going on in front of him. Nathan Salmi’s
heavy bulk had borne Captain Cardis to the floor, while two frantic
security guards were trying to pull the General away. Salmi’s
bawling voice rose over the din.
      Destan blanched. To die amid such insanity? How many more
minutes before the beams arrived? Two—at the most three?
      Somewhere above him was Jan. To be able to touch her just
once more—
      His mind accelerated to maximum agility as he stooped and
grabbed the lasac at his feet. The lift shaft to the bridge: it lay in
the wing beyond the far entrance. But he would need an operating
key. Where? At the edge of the tumbling knot of bodies around the
Captain lay the dead first officer. Destan plunged forward, his hands
ran frantically over the uniform pockets. There—a bulge. He drew
out a ring of several key plates and one insert key.
      Destan pushed his way across the Gallery floor. As he neared
the entrance he saw that one frightened security guard had
withdrawn under the overhang and was staring out into the room.
When he saw Destan coming, he raised his gun hesitantly. Destan
had no choice. He fired and the man sank to his knees. He rushed
past and into the curving wing.
      There before him was the lift. He tried the first key plate. The
second. The third one activated the operator panel and he pressed
the ascent button. The sounds of madness receded below him. Then
all was silent. Up and up he was carried.
      The lift stopped, opened. Destan stepped onto the bridge.
      On the near side of the circle ahead the equipment stations
were empty. Voices came from behind. He turned, stepped around
the cylinder housing the lift and swept the bulk of the bridge before
him. On the floor to his right, off by a familiar-looking monitor
bank, lay two bodies. Beyond the opposite cylindrical shaft, herded
around one of the stations on the far wall, stood four Cosmopolis
crew members. Facing them with a lasac in her hand was a slender
blonde woman.


                                 299
      Destan ran across the floor. The woman whirled, lasac out-
stretched.
      “Jan!”
      Her expression changed. In it, he knew the folly of those lost
four years.
      They met beside the cylindrical shaft. “Oh, Miles!” Her mouth
moved over his face. “I thought I would never see you again!”
      “Jan, we have only a minute or two. But there is something I
must try.” An idea, a desperate, futile idea had occurred to him
during the ascent in the lift. Perhaps the enemy fleet had been able
to get away in time, but some warning to the Concourse would be
better than no warning at all—
      He broke away from her, ran toward the crew members. “This
ship, the whole Concourse, is under attack! You must help! Do you
have a general band broadcaster up here?”
      The navigator stepped forward. “Over here.” He ran to a point
several stations away and Destan followed. They faced a console
similar to the one below. Grabbing the microphone, Destan ordered,
“Turn it on: all bands, open broadcast. Maximum power. Quickly!”
      The navigator moved his hand across the panel, pressed
buttons, twisted a large dial. “You’re on.”
      Destan spoke into the microphone. “This is Miles Destan from
Cosmopolis. An alien fleet of several hundred ships has arrived in
the vicinity of Sigma. Their intention is conquest. Mobilize all Con-
course defenses. I repeat—”
      Jan had come up beside him. She listened awe-struck as the
message went out again to every corner of the Concourse.
      Suddenly Destan looked up and saw that another viewscreen
stood high above the broadcast console. He asked the navigator, “Is
that connected to the monitor on top of the pod?”
      The navigator nodded. “I wanted to activate it to see what
was happening to the ship, but she wouldn’t let me move.” He
gestured at Jan.
      A voice came from the middle of the room. “I suggest that
you turn it in now, Moritz.”
      They turned to see Captain Cardis approaching from the
direction of the same lift that had carried Destan, his uniform torn,
streaks of blood coloring one temple where they matted his
disheveled hair. Behind came a haggard-looking security guard, a
lasac hanging at his side.
      With a cry Jan raised her own weapon toward Cardis. The
guard started to react, but Destan turned and knocked the gun
from her hand. “No, Jan! There are things you don’t understand.”
      The navigator activated the viewscreen. They all raised their
heads.


                                300
       There stood the propulsion tube at the axis, still attached to
the Captain’s pod. There in the distance drifted the Alpha pod and
its Float; the other pods had passed out of sight to either side.
       But what riveted their attention was the fleet of alien ships.
Destan gave an exultant shout. “They are still here! They haven’t
left yet!”
       There was a quiet note of triumph in Cardis’ voice. “Having
come all this way, their pride would not allow them to turn tail and
flee. They must feel perplexed at the breakup of the ship, but their
perplexity would have delayed them from taking action to disperse.”
Then he gave a little laugh. “They would have heard your broadcast
but they would not have been able to understand.”
       He looked at the console chronometer. “Moritz, turn on the
speaker....It is time.”
       The navigator did so, and a stream of alien words flooded out.
Cardis smiled. “They are demanding to know what is happening.
They have yet to receive a response from Garra. Well—we should
still be able to hear the first signal.” He made a gesture toward the
navigator and the other crew members who had come over to the
console. “Please be silent and prepare yourselves.”
       They did not know what he meant, but they followed orders.
       Destan realized that the broadcaster was still open. He set the
microphone down beside the speaker. Jan took his arm, pressed
herself close.
       There was a pause in the alien harangue. At that moment
came an audible crackle from the speaker, followed by a level of
static. It was more noticeable than on the last occasion and Destan
assumed it was because they were now in the immediate vicinity of
the intersect.
       “The first two beams,” said Cardis. Then, as Destan steeled
himself: “No, you won’t feel anything yet. We should feel something
after the third beam....But if there is no third beam, there won’t be
any others.”
       Again the specter of an ironic failure swept over Destan. Jan
asked in a disquieted voice, “Miles—what is going to happen?”
       He drew her closer and said, “Just wait.”
       Crack! They all flinched as the speaker delivered the second
signal, and the succeeding static was like the sound of flames. The
third beam. It produced in Destan a strange mixture of horror and
elation.
       Pallas had not reached Ascension in time.
       Cardis took a step forward and seized the microphone. “We
have an intersect!”
       Suddenly, they felt a buffeting of the ship, and a wave of heat
seemed to permeate the air of the bridge. At the same moment


                                 301
came a tiny dinning sound from the walls, as though a million
microscopic meteorites had struck the outer hull. Destan knew that
across the intervening spaces the same effects were being felt on
the other three pods.
       And the fleet? Cardis pointed to the screen. There was a dis-
torting shimmer to the whole image. “They are starting to move!
Now they flee!” He shouted into the microphone. “You are too late!”
He switched to the alien tongue, shouted again.
       Jan looked into Destan’s face. He saw the last tears that
would ever moisten those delightful, artless eyes. “Miles, are we
going to die?”
       He kissed the eyes, then the lips, while Cardis spoke for the
whole Concourse to hear: “Understand that you yourselves have
destroyed the invaders! I hope you have the sense to profit from
it.” He set the microphone down, turned to Jan and Destan. “And I
thank you both for your help. Without it, they might well be gone.”
       Cardis watched the pulsating signals on the console.
       “Any second,” he murmured. Then he looked up again at the
Historian, and during those last fleeting moments Destan saw
another, ghostly, figure merging with that of the Captain of Cosmo-
polis. In one final rush of self-revelation, he realized that at a
deeper level he too, like Pallas, had felt an instinct to trust Philip
Cardis, and he understood why this time he had refused to run
away. The redemption had been achieved, and the guilt purged at
last, for that desertion of so long ago, and he marveled at how
fitting was the fate he would share with the man before him.
       Cardis said, “Now I too am afraid. I am glad to have you here
with me, Mr. Destan....”

      When the fourth beam crossed the intersect point, the shock
and heat created by the reacting particle beams destroyed all life on
Cosmopolis and the alien warships, and their hulls were cracked by
the bombarding particles. With the arrival of the fifth beam a
quarter-minute later, pods and vessels were wholly rent, and their
pieces scattered toward all points of the Concourse. Many would be
encountered, by accident or by design, as much as five hundred
years later.




                                 302
                            Epilogue
   ________________________________________________




      Had Miles Destan read to the end of the entry on Alexander
the Great in the Cosmopolis Library, he would have come across the
following in the summation:

        Alexander’s failure lay in two directions. One was that he
     chose a time for his conquest of Persia when there was no
     potential for unity in Greece behind him. His own Macedonians
     had barely evolved out of their primitive mountain society and
     were lacking social and political sophistication. The Greek city
     states, decadent and divided, owed no loyalty to Macedon or
     its ambitions and acknowledged its hegemony only under
     duress. Such conditions were, of course, beyond Alexander’s
     responsibility, since he had inherited them from his father,
     Philip. But he might have delayed his Persian adventure until
     they had improved. Or he might have taken steps to create
     greater stability at home and a more dependable administra-
     tion to back up his designs of conquest.
        His second failure was not to plan for the eventuality of an
     early death. He groomed no successor and left his followers
     disorganized and factious. Earth’s history would have followed
     a different course had he taken such precautions, allowed for
     the rivalries within his new empire and seen to the elimination
     of undesirable elements within his following who were certain
     to cause anarchy. An enlightened leader, even a conqueror,
     always takes into account his own mortality....

                       *         *         *
      The great Council Assembly Hall was packed beyond capacity.
In addition to all 720 members of the Council, other representatives
of the major worlds, many of them heads of government, were
present. In the media annex, almost a thousand teleview commen-
tators, media reporters, analysts and Historians watched and
recorded the proceedings, and a live broadcast was sent out to the
entire Concourse over sixteen networks.


                                303
       Chairman Allen Jaynes was drawing to the end of a lengthy
address to the Assembly.
       “Such is the story as we have been able to piece it together:
built upon the investigations of Miles Destan, the report given us by
Pallas Dhin-Asper and Glenn Berenson, the course of the game and
the final broadcast from the bridge, as well as remnants of the alien
fleet. As you know, we were able to recover sections of individual
vessels still intact, although no life survived. Many of you have
already learned the details of our investigations, but I thought it
best to recount the entire story to the full Assembly and to the
citizens of the Concourse.
       “We have also consulted with many of you in the three
months since the destruction of Cosmopolis, and I would like now to
table the resolutions arrived at during that time for your collective
approval.”
       The first resolution the Chairman outlined was the formation
of a Concourse Federation which would encompass all the inhabited
worlds and entail a reorganized Council and an expanded fleet. A
proposed Constitution was presently being drawn up. After several
speakers expressed their views, all in zealously accordant terms,
agreement in principle was unanimous.
       The second resolution was the building of a replica of Cosmo-
polis, based on copies of the original plans in the possession of the
Ferasco Shipbuilding Company augmented by reports and features
that had been done on the great ship. To be financed by
contributions from all the worlds, the new Cosmopolis would be
placed under Council directorship and ply once more the paths of its
predecessor across the Concourse. Special care and expense would
be given to reconstruct Captain Cardis’ Library from the copies and
studies that had been made of the original material, as well as by
drawing on the services of original contributors.
       There would be no more Stellar Intersect game, and the
Gallery on board the new ship would contain a memorial to the
several thousands who had died for the rest of the Concourse. As
for the terminus satellites, scientists were now researching methods
for adapting them to a new and more efficient communications
network for the Federation.
       There was one incidental point relating to the new ship. It had
been decided that the Council directors would appoint a Captain for
Cosmopolis, to be replaced at five year intervals. Each one would
bear the honorary name of Captain Philip Cardis.
       There was unanimous agreement on all considerations relating
to the rebuilding of Cosmopolis.
       Allen Jaynes waited until silence had been restored and he
once more had the full attention of his audience.


                                 304
       “Finally,” he said, “We come to the most far-reaching of our
resolutions and I have sounded out only a handful of you on the
question. What we salvaged from the alien vessels has enabled us
to identify the location of their home systems. It is a great distance,
but not an impossible one, even without a beacon. And there is no
guarantee that another attempt will not be made upon us in the
future. We cannot fathom the motivations of that race.
       “This is what I ask you: Do we strike now with a collective
force—now, when they are undoubtedly stunned and weakened by
the destruction of their fleet? Do we carry the contest to their terri-
tory instead of waiting until it is once more brought to ours? And it
may be that such a show of force, the demonstration of our unity
and strength, will be sufficient to persuade them to an immediate
suit for peace.”
       For the space of a moment, not even the sound of breathing
could be heard from the Assembly.
       The Chairman made a gesture of conclusion. “I throw the
meeting open to debate on the question.”
       Allen Jaynes, feeling few of his seventy-five years, sat down
and winked at Seth, sitting in the deputy’s chair by the podium. As
he did so, a hubbub in the auditorium began and grew, as a
thousand voices tried simultaneously to express their reactions and
views. Perhaps only the Chairman at that point could see ahead to
the great marshalling of resources required, the planning, the initial
probes and forays, the immeasurably long journeys into unknown
regions of the galaxy.
       But he had no doubt about the outcome of the debate.




          Home Page – http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/home.htm




                                 305

				
DOCUMENT INFO