Сборники Художественной, Технической, Справочной, Английской, Нормативной, Исторической, и др. литературы.

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                           This book is dedicated to Eva Whitley and Jack
                         Chalker, without whom this book would never have
                         been written.

                           Special thanks to my  wife Rhi, for putting up
                         with  me  while writing this, to Laura Gillespie
                         for  proofreading  the manuscript.   And also to
                         my father, who would have understood.


    A nondescript old  man,  dressed  in  tattered  dirty  rags  shuffled
aimlessly down the dim alley. In a city of millions hardly anyone  passing
him by gave him a second glance, instantly categorizing him as one of  the
city's thousands of unemployable homeless  men.  He  turned  down  a  wide
boulevard, seeking out a tall  gleaming  building  and  stationed  himself
against the wall, near to the main entrance and partially out of the  cold
wind. From deep within a pocket  of  his  ratty  overcoat  he  produced  a
battered tin cup, the age-old symbol of poverty and  settled  in  to  wait
patiently in front of the building.
    As he waited, A large black limo pulled up to the curb  in  front  of
the building. A uniformed man stepped out of the ornate  front  doors  and
into the cold mid-morning air to open the back door of the large vehicle.
    "Good Morning, sir," he announced crisply as Mr Kurschner climbed out
of the back. Neither man noticed the bright clear blue eyes of the  beggar
examining them carefully from his vantage point in front of the building.
    After about two hours the old beggar moved on after  collecting  more
than he had hoped to. A  rather  productive  morning,  all  in  all.  With
twenty-seven credits jingling in his pockets he found his way through back
alleys piled high with rotting garbage. The city  kept  the  main  streets
clean but sent none of its sanibots back here. If they managed to  survive
the rats, the human scavengers would get them.  There  was,  after  all  a
thriving market for cybernetic  components.  He  finally  arrived  at  his
destination, an old diner that was located on a once chic street, but both
the diner and the street had fallen onto hard times. Life and the city had
passed them both by and they were now home to only the poorest population.
    "Afternoon, Jake," said the owner, an older man in a pair of  filthy,
once white pants and shirt that may have been called a uniform a long time
ago. Potbellied, with thin greasy gray hair  and  a  scraggly  beard  that
completed the unsavory look. "Pickin's good today?," he asked  after  Jake
had entered and swung the door closed behind him.
    Jake nodded a yes and walked back to the back corner of the diner, to
the far end of a long counter top and out of direct contact with the  cold
wind whistling in under the door.  "Coffee  'n'  grits,  he  mumbled  over
toothless gums. "Cold," he added simply.
    "Money?," asked the proprietor who knew these men  far  too  well  to
serve them before seeing their money first.
    Jake reached deep into a pocket  and  produced  a  one  credit  coin,
placed it carefully on the counter and jingled the rest in his  pocket  to
assure the owner of more.
    The owner said nothing but turned to draw coffee and  hot  water  for
the grits. "Haven't seen you in a while," he said, sliding the coffee over
to Jake.
    "Nah," he mumbled. "Been away."
    The owner knew that away most likely meant  a  stay  in  one  of  the
city's public hospitals. The government could keep a man healthy but could
not keep him employed or properly fed. Often times the  only  thing  wrong
with the homeless was acute malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies.
    He shook his head sadly as he passed the grits over in front of Jake,
knowing that the problems were worsening and there seemed  to  be  nothing
anyone could or would do about them.
    Scarcities were showing up everywhere on things that had always  been
available. Yes, many of the  manufactured  high  tech  goods  were  nearly
impossible to find but that was expected. After all, it  had  always  been
like that. But necessities? He had had to go to four places before he  had
found tissue paper. And when he had  finally  found  a  shop  that  had  a
supply, they had allowed him to purchase  only  one  roll.  What  was  the
economy coming to?
    But at least business was good, if you didn't mind  catering  to  the
homeless. There were enough of them to assure a steady  stream  of  paying
customers. True they seldom spent much but the totals  quickly  added  up.
But what good was money if there was nothing left to spend it on? Or  that
what was available was junk? "What the hell do  I  know,"  he  thought  to
himself. "I'm just a dumb cook."
    The proprietor said nothing as Jake finished his coffee and grits. He
left no tip and he walked slowly toward the door and the outside cold.  He
mumbled a goodbye as he disappeared out the door and into the dim street.
    About two blocks away was an old hotel that had been converted into a
flop-house for those who had the price of a bed for the night.  Here,  the
man in the cage by the front door knew him as well.  "How  are  you  doing
today Jake?," he asked. "Are you Ok?"
    Jake nodded yes, but otherwise  said  nothing.  He  turned  toward  a
hallway, careful to keep from tangling his feet  in  the  tatters  on  the
floor that used to be a rug.
    The proprietor knew him simply as Jake. He had  come  into  his  life
nearly two years earlier when he had given the manager enough  credit  for
five years rent on the tiny room he called home. He had not explained  it,
but the proprietor imagined it was the last of his  savings  after  losing
his job and was insuring that he always had a place to sleep.
    Once inside the tiny room, Jake visibly shed ten years  as  he  stood
erect and shook the gray hair out of his eyes. He reached into  an  inside
pocket and removed a very well-made dental bridge and slipped it into  his
mouth. He then looked around his "room" checking  if  anyone  had  entered
while he had been gone. The room was actually the old  elevator  car  that
had stopped moving years before. On the side  of  the  wall  was  the  old
control panel. Jake stepped over to it and pressed the buttons marked  one
and seven together, simultaneously  saying  "Abe  Fortas"  into  a  small,
barely visible microphone set in the old panel. Under his feet he  felt  a
slight vibration as a large hydraulic cylinder lowered the old car down to
the old parking garage that was located under the building. When the outer
door opened he was confronted by two uniformed and armed guards. One  held
an instrument connected to a terminal  inset  in  the  wall  near  to  the
    "Please identify yourself, sir," one said.
    Speaking directly into the instrument, he repeated  his  name  and  a
green light flashed on the instrument.
    "Voice print Identity confirmed, sir," he said. "Sorry for the delay."
    Abe smiled to himself. Every agent who returned during a mission  had
to go through the same procedure but the guards were always polite.
    "The briefing meeting is not until 2:30,  sir,"  the  second  officer
said. "If you wish to clean up beforehand, you have time.
    "No, thank you," Abe said with a twinkle in his eye. "If  they  don't
like me like this then it's just too damned bad. Besides it would take too
long to get back into character when I leave." He quickly made his way  to
the cafeteria and ordered himself a decent hot meal.  He  often  regretted
the necessities of the job but knew that this was the only  way  that  the
job could be done and done properly. He quickly washed the taste of  cheap
grits out of his mouth and settled down to enjoy a good  meal  before  his
    The conference room held a large oval table  capable  of  seating  at
least thirty people, although Abe had never seen  it  used  by  more  than
three or four persons at once. He arrived a little late,  on  purpose,  to
give those waiting for him the feel that he, and not they  controlled  the
    Inside he found his briefing officer and the Director of this  branch
of the Agency. He sat in one of the comfortably ornate chairs, unconcerned
that the chair would probably have to be completely cleaned after he left.
    "What have you  discovered  so  far?,"  the  Director  asked,  coming
directly to the point.
    "I have visually identified him," answered Abe. "Are you sure that he
is the one we want?"
    "Positive. He came up high on our list of suspects and we assigned  a
satcam  to  watch  his  actions,"  he  assured  Abe.  "We  have   positive
photographic evidence of him committing three  murders  in  the  last  two
    "Damn," said Abe. "I was hoping that you were wrong. He seems  to  be
an exemplary citizen."
    "One would think so, wouldn't you?," agreed the briefing officer. "We
have however uncovered evidence of tampering by him on  the  gold  market,
causing  the  price  to  fluctuate.  He  then  takes  advantage   of   the
fluctuations to buy all of the available gold he can.  In  the  last  year
alone it is estimated that he made a billion credits."
    "He is, of course," continued the  Director,  "speculating  with  his
bank's money  but  he  has  managed  to  skim  off  an  impressive  amount
nonetheless.  And  this  is  but  one  sphere  of  influence.  There   are
indications of many other schemes in operation."
    "Do you want me to take him out permanently, or just ice him?"  asked
Abe in a subdued voice. This was the part of the job that he least liked.
    "Ice him," came the quick response from the Director. "The government
wants to make an example of him but they lack the hard evidence."
    "And a satcam is not admissible in court,"  chimed  in  the  briefing
officer. "Violation of privacy and all that," he said.
    "So what next?," Asked Abe.
    "It's up to you to manufacture the necessary evidence. We can deliver
an itinerary of places he goes to when he will have no  alibi,"  said  the
Director. "And the rest is up to you."
    "You will be contacted via your implant as to when the operation is a
go. Do not move until you here from us to insure he has no alibi."
    "I understand," said Abe. "Do you have a victim in mind yet?"
    "No," admitted the briefing officer sadly. "We thought that since you
know the homeless better than we do, you would be in a better position  to
pick one."
    "Damn," thought Abe. "They're going to pile all the shit on me,  this
    "Question," he said tersely.
    "Go ahead," said the Director.
    "Will the victim's family be able to collect from his  estate?,"  Abe
asked simply.
    "Once we have him in custody," said the briefing officer,  "and  have
direct evidence that will stand up in  court,  we  will  be  able  to  get
everything from him about the other crimes. The agency has already  agreed
to sue for full victim compensation, as the law allows."
    "You still haven't answered my question," said  Abe  bluntly.  "Yes,"
agreed the Director. "Once he is proven guilty of one crime, then  he  has
automatically forfeited his rights of privacy. We  can  use  any  and  all
means to remove whatever information we need from him."
    Abe knew that they primarily meant  the  various  forms  of  chemical
persuasion. It  had  been  proven  long  ago  that  physical  torture  was
meaningless and today they had many other techniques that worked including
hypnosis and drug treatments.
    "The man is a psychopath," blurted  the  briefing  officer.  "And  he
enjoys killing. We must use whatever means we have to to get  him  off  of
the streets."
    "No,"  disagreed  the  Director.  "He  is  far  too   smart   to   be
psychopathic.  He  is  driven  by  other  reasons.  And  it  is  his  very
intelligence that forces us to fabricate evidence to nail him." He stopped
to examine both Abe and the briefing officer before continuing. "We  would
have caught a psychopath by now!" he finally stated.
    "And that," thought Abe, "Is the crux of the  problem.  The  man  was
credited with thirty or forty murders so far, although  the  total  number
would not be known until he was in custody.  Most  of  the  homeless  that
turned up dead were simply cremated. It was not until a pattern started to
emerge that autopsies were performed on all  of  the  homeless  that  were
found dead."
    The authorities had been amazed at how many  had  died  of  unnatural
causes once they began looking into the deaths. At first they thought that
they were dealing with more than one killer but soon concluded  that  they
should be looking for one man.
    The one lone survivor to date had been nearly  no  help  at  all.  He
could remember only that the man was reasonably tall, had been dressed  in
black clothing, and that he  had  been  wearing  a  security  screen.  The
screen, formed by a powerful generator mounted in a skullcap  helmet  kept
the police from obtaining  a  positive  retina  print,  which  would  have
assured a positive identification that would have stood up in court.
    "You will drop the 'Jake' persona  for  now,"  cut  in  the  briefing
officer, "and then switch to Jonathan Burke. You  will  use  this  persona
during the nightstalking operation. When  you  get  cleaned  up  you  will
please report to the lab  where  you  will  receive  your  equipment,"  he
continued. "You will be issued a screen generator similar to the one  used
by Kurschner, contacts with his retina prints on them, a complete  set  of
black clothing and suitable ID cards, all in the  name  of  Kurschner.  As
usual, all of the ID's are good enough to stand a comp scan, even  to  the
point of accessing his funds. You will use the card after the onset of the
operation but no  more  than  thirty  minutes  later  or  more  than  five
kilometers away from the operative point.
    "All standard," thought Abe. "I could have predicted the  details  of
this operation as soon as I knew what they  had  in  mind."  He  heaved  a
mental sigh of relief. At least it will be fast and then done.  With  luck
it won't be too dirty, and I may not need a memory dump afterwards."
    He returned his attention to the briefing just as the  officer  asked
if he had any questions.
    "Just one," he announced, surprising both of them. He  had  earned  a
reputation over the years  of  never  asking  for  or  needing  additional
information. "When all of this shit  is  over,  I  am  putting  in  for  a
vacation. Any objections?" He didn't wait for either of them to object but
quickly continued. "Good, I thought not. Is that all there is  gentlemen?"
He did not wait for a dismissal but stood and left  the  large  conference
room. One more of his weapons in making them think he was in  control  and
not them. He had developed many psychological games he  played  with  them
over the years. It helped keep him sane, but he was not sure what they got
out of it. Probably nothing but aggravation.
    He had no trouble finding his way to the lab, having worked  here  so
long he probably knew the layout  better  than  the  people  who  actually
worked inside and not out on the streets like he did. Once there he picked
up his equipment, noticing a pair of perfectly balanced  throwing  knives.
"Shit," he thought. "It's gonna be dirtier than I thought."
    He reached for the pair,  Wishing  he  had  listened  better  at  the
briefing concerning the operations weapons  when  he  was  stopped  by  an
exclamation from one of the technicians.
    "Hold it," the voice ordered.
    Abe turned to face the man.  "Do  you  know  who  I  am?,"  he  asked
    "Sure," came the quick reply. "But I thought I should warn  you  that
there is a very quick-acting poison on the blades of those knives. If  you
touch them and then pass the poison to your mouth, you are a dead man. But
other than that, help yourself."
    Abe apologized to the young man  and  backed  away  from  the  table.
"Look," he said. "I am not usually this short with people. But today might
turn to be a bad day and I guess I am taking it out on the wrong person."
    "I understand," came the cheerful reply. "I have no idea what this is
all about and I do not want to know, but I do have to show you  everything
here," he explained. He reached over and picked  up  one  of  the  knives.
"These are not that hard to handle, I just wanted you to know so you would
take the proper precautions." He handed Abe the  knife,  allowing  him  to
examine it closer. He then looked over the assortment of equipment on  the
table and first picked up the security screen. "This is an exact  copy  of
the one that the suspect owns, with one main difference. If a  laser  hits
it, the screen will fail, allowing the camera to  photograph  your  retina
pattern." He handed the screen to Abe.
    One question. These things are supposed to  be  perfect.  Won't  it's
failure be suspect?," he asked.
    Suspect yes, but it is not an impossible failure. There have been two
cases of this particular model breaking down exactly  as  this  one  will.
Unusual but not unheard of." He turned back to the table and picked  up  a
small foam case. "Contacts with his retina prints embossed on them."  They
disappeared into a side pocket before the young man continued. Next came a
standard ID card.
    "This card will access his personal  accounts.  You  are  to  use  it
within five kilometers of the scene  and  within  thirty  minutes  of  the
successful completion of the operation. I recommend that  you  buy  a  new
security screen, since the one that you have is going to  fail."  He  then
passed Abe a set of black clothing. "The type that he always  wears  while
hunting," came the short explanation. "The last thing that I have to do is
test your com implant." He walked over to a comstation and entered a  code
on the keyboard. Abe heard  the  familiar  metallic  voice  in  his  head,
directly behind his left ear.
    "It's  working  ok,  "  he  announced  to  the  satisfaction  of  the
    "Then that is all that I have for you," he said. "Good Luck, sir," he
added sincerely."
    "Thanks, I'll probably need it," he said  to  the  young  man  before
stepping back out into the corridor.
    He turned towards his in-house quarters  and  the  fresher  that  was
there waiting for him, and he was looking forward to getting  cleaned  up,
since the Jake personna really bothered him. On his way  there  he  passed
the briefing officer.
    "Just so that you know sir," he said as he passed. "The real Jake has
been returned to his room," he reported.
    Abe said nothing as they passed but nodded in  reply.  That  was  one
thing less he had to worry about. Although he did not like the role he had
to admit that the old indigent was a very useful disguise.
    Once back at his quarters Abe stripped off the dirty rags and  placed
them in a plastic bag to be laundered, deloused and resoiled for the  next
time he needed them. He then stepped into the fresher for a long leisurely
hot shower. "The longer you go without bathing,"  he  thought,  "the  more
that you appreciate it when you finally get the chance."
    Later that evening, he returned to the cafeteria to eat  a  leisurely
meal, not knowing when he might get another  chance  to  do  so.  He  then
returned to his  rooms  where  he  dressed  himself  and  distributed  his
equipment about his person. The two knives attached under his left arm  in
a dual sheath that facilitated ease of draw.  The  half  helmet  that  the
security shield was built into went atop his  head.  "An  expensive  toy,"
thought Abe. Powerful fields acted to distort the laser light used by  the
high-intensity security cameras designed to photograph retina prints. They
were not very big but they really didn't need to be since  only  a  slight
distortion rendered the photographs useless. He popped his contacts in and
then slipped the ID's into his wallet after emptying it of all other ID.

    The night lay undisturbed beneath a darkening moon  as  dark  figures
slipped into position through the carefully landscaped estates surrounding
Dr. Quade's home. A limousine drifted silently to a stop at  the  foot  of
the long tree-lined driveway. The two officers sat in the  back  seat  and
watched the operation unfold with silent satisfaction.
    The junior of the two, Lieutenant Hadley briefly checked a  miniature
wrist video display before reporting. "Sir, all men have reported  in  and
are in position."
    The senior officer nodded a quick acknowledgement before entering his
access code on his own wrist terminal. "Major Caine here control," he said
    "Standing by, sir" came the quick answer.
    "We  are  now  ready  to  penetrate  the  house  defenses.  Have  you
reestablished contact with Dr. Quade's security comp?"
    "Yes sir. The comp will allow you access, though we may not  be  able
to maintain control. We recommend  comp  disconnection  at  your  earliest
    "Recommendations noted control. I  will  keep  you  informed  as  the
situation changes." Major Caine  terminated  the  comlink  and  turned  to
Lieutenant Hadley. "You may now send in the penetration  team.  Make  comp
disconnect your number one priority."
    The Lieutenant spoke briefly into his own  wrist  comp  and  outside,
barely visible from the foot of the driveway, three dark figures  detached
themselves from the shadows in front of the house.  They  quickly  crossed
the wide porch, slowed slightly at the front door and entered the house.
    Dark panelling set off the muted hues of  the  oriental  rug  on  the
floor of the foyer. Exquisite Japanese statuary, set into  niches  in  the
back wall disappeared upward in the curve of the stairwell. Two of the men
took up positions in the foyer while the third slipped  quietly  into  the
interior of the house. He headed unerringly for the main library  and  the
house comp, making good use of the hours of briefings  and  study  of  the
house plans.
    Expert fingers danced over the keyboard, shutting  the  sophisticated
machine down. Outside in the limo, Major Caine's wrist comp made  one  low
bleat before he acknowledged the call.
    "Go ahead control," he said.
    "Problem, sir," said the  unseen  voice.  "Dr.  Quade's  comp  had  a
disconnect alarm on it and a  call  has  gone  out  to  the  local  police
precinct station. A heavy cruiser has been diverted to your location."
    "Thank you, control. We will handle it here."
    "Yes sir. Control out.
    Major Caine shook his head sadly as he removed a thin sheaf of papers
from his briefcase. He stepped out of  the  limo  with  a  brief  word  to
Lieutenant Hadley. "Keep the team in the foyer, I will be back shortly."
    Lieutenant Hadley resisted the urge to scratch a nervous itch on  the
back of his neck as he peered out through  the  windshield  of  the  limo,
wishing for the return of Major Caine. He let his eyes dart  to  the  side
every now and then, checking on Dr. Quade's house,  but  always  returning
his attention back to the dark street. "Everything could still  go  wrong"
he thought. They had prepared for a hundred different scenarios  but  when
dealing with a man as brilliant as Dr. Quade, there  could  be  dozens  of
unforseen possibilities.
    And who would have thought  that  Dr.  Quade's  security  comp  could
resist Internal Security's comp for three days? Their machine, one of  the
most sophisticated systems in existence should have been able to  override
any home security system in a matter of microseconds.  Yet  they  had  not
been able to get an override signal in.
    They finally did get in but by a rather circuitous  route.  They  had
managed to get the comp to accept the three names  and  retina  prints  of
their men and then convinced it that they should be admitted it the  house
as staff members. It would be a pity if the main program had  been  erased
when the comp had been shut down. That small machine could do things  that
no home comp should be able to do.

    Armstrong station lay far behind the small orbital sled as it coasted
silently through the depths of space. A full moon could be seen traversing
behind the slowly spinning station, briefly silouetting  its  long  spokes
and wheels. The sled's pilot, Joe Francelli relaxed in  the  small  bubble
and allowed the onboard computer to control the flight. He always  enjoyed
the interstation runs because they allowed him time to  himself  and  away
from all of his co-workers. The computer had dropped the sled down into  a
lower and faster orbit in order to catch up to the Shepherd,  lying  ahead
of the Armstrong in the same orbit.
    The three big stations, the Shepherd, Gagarin and the Armstrong  were
equidistantly spaced around the big geosynch circle and Joe knew  that  he
was lucky to have gotten an assignment on the Armstrong, the  youngest  of
the three stations. All of the managerial responsibilities for the Martian
and Asteroid colonies were handled there and the Armstrong was the station
that received the three big cargo ships from Mars.  Every  fifteen  months
the ships arrived with thousands of tons of  metals  and  minerals  to  be
off-loaded and sent on to their final destinations. As  a  result  he  was
amassing an impressive number of hours in his pilot's log book.
    The other two smaller stations required far fewer pilots and  all  of
the new pilots were assigned to them, while the  Armstrong  drew  off  the
most experienced men to fill her own vacancies. The Shepherd was in charge
of administering the Lunar mines and lately the  newly  developed  Mercury
outposts. The Gagarin, the oldest of the three, was in charge of all other
Lunar operations and any new construction in geosynch orbit.
    The computer had shed about half  of  the  sled's  orbital  velocity,
dropping it down into a much lower and faster orbit. If Joe had  not  been
in such a hurry he would have chosen a higher orbit,  but  not  today.  In
about five hours a transport was leaving the Shepherd,  taking  passengers
down to Leo base. Once at Leo he would catch an atmospheric  shuttle  down
to the Australian shuttle base. This was to be the first vacation  he  had
been able to take in over two years and he planned on  enjoying  the  next
thirty days completely.
    Finally the sled's engine fired, waking Joe from his nap and  lifting
the sled back to match the geosynch position of the Shepherd. Joe saw  the
twin wheels first outlined by the  lights  showing  through  the  exterior
window ports and then, when closer by reflected light from Earth  and  the
    Joe took control of the sled as he came within range of the  station.
He, like most pilots did not trust the small computer's  ability  to  dock
with the landing deck of the station. The landing platform  itself  was  a
large circular deck painted with concentric circles so that it resembled a
bulls-eye on a target. Joe set the sled down as close  to  the  center  as
possible, after arming the strong electromagnets attached to  the  landing
skids. When  the  landing  skids  touched  the  deck,  the  electromagnets
automatically engaged, insuring that the sled stayed where it was supposed
    Four handlers then popped up through a nearby access hatch to  assist
in moving the sled. When they each had a firm grip on the sled  body,  Joe
released the magnets, allowing the four men to lift the sled and  move  it
outward toward the rim of the deck. There it was nested into  a  group  of
similar sleds and Joe reactivated the  electromagnets.  One  of  the  four
handlers assisted Joe out of the vehicle while the other three disappeared
back down into the station.
    The large landing decks, located at each end of the central hub, were
kept at zero-gee by large driving motors that counter-revolved  the  deck.
Standing at the edge of the platform, Joe could watch the two large wheels
slowly turn, making the center hub truly look like an  axle  around  which
the entire station revolved.
    Joe cleared the airlock and then removed his space-suit. He carefully
folded it and then packed  it  into  a  large  flight  bag.  Most  of  the
personnel who worked  in  hard  vacuum,  once  having  accumulated  enough
credit, had a personal suit tailored to their body.  A  lot  of  time  was
spent in the suit  and  most  accepted  the  high  cost  of  this  comfort
gratefully. He also knew that the mass of the suit would count against his
personal weight allowance if he carried it to Earth with him. He therefore
planned on renting a small storage locker at Leo base to store it in while
he was on vacation.
    The landing deck that he had set  down  on  was  set  aside  for  the
orbital sleds while the other deck, located at the far end of the hub  was
reserved  for  the  larger  passenger  transports.  Most  personnel   were
restricted to the passenger decks but a few, like Joe who held an  orbital
pilots license, had a little  more  freedom.  His  license  gave  him  the
ability to catch the transports from all stations instead of  waiting  the
few days for the next one out of Armstrong. Although  he  was  allowed  to
transfer among the three big geosynch stations, without a priority pass he
was not allowed to take a sled down to Leo base. And a priority  pass  for
personal use was nearly impossible to get. Leo base was far too small  and
had no room for extra sleds that it did not need.
    He waved briefly to the deck officer as he passed the  control  booth
heading for the center of the hub and the transfer tube. Since the  center
of the rotating station was in zero-gee the transfer  tube  was  used  for
access to and from the landing deck.
    To transfer, Joe simply entered the center of the  tube  and  grabbed
the handgrips on the inner rotating surface. Once he was turning with  the
rest of the station he deftly flipped through one of the hatches and  into
the station proper. This close to the center of the station,  gravity  was
still negligible but would rapidly increase as he moved farther away  from
the center of the station.  Here  were  located  the  elevators  that  ran
through the long spokes and out to the wheels. If he had  arrived  earlier
he could have caught a lift down a spoke to one of the wheels where  there
were a few good restaurants. However since the shuttle departure time  was
near he preferred to go directly to the waiting lounge at the far  end  of
the central hub.
    Although the shuttle departure was less than an hour away he was  one
of the first passengers to arrive. The boarding clerk assigned him one  of
the better seats which assured him of a good view when the transport left.
Joe had only a short wait before the passenger lounge began  to  fill  and
the boarding light came on. The clerk,  assisted  by  the  transport  crew
quickly and efficiently hustled all of  the  passengers  onboard,  seating
them all and the transport was soon ready for departure.
    This vehicle, although a close relative of the  orbital  sled  looked
quite different. The passenger compartment was a long tube with seats.  At
one end lay the pilot's compartment and two engines were  strapped  on  at
the back of the framework. Fuel bladders were attached on top so that they
would not interfere with the landing skids. Two small  impulse  jets  were
attached near the magnetic holddowns. These jets were  used  to  push  the
transport out and away from the station. A small sealed compartment lay in
the back for any and all personal gear.
    The  departure  from  the   station   was   uneventful   and   nearly
unnoticeable. The first time that Joe was sure it was  underway  was  when
the main engines fired. Joe relaxed in his seat, trying to  grab  a  short
nap while around him the other passengers began to make new  acquaintances
and the buzz of voices increased.
    The transport dropped rapidly and accurately down toward Leo base.  A
small station, it would be dwarfed by Gagarin, the smallest of  the  three
big geosynch stations. As the transport approached Leo, Joe began  to  see
the details of it. Leo was  backlit  and  first  showed  up  in  silouette
against the blue©green Earth. As the transport  got  closer  to  Leo,  she
suddenly broke out of shadow and crossed slowly into the direct sunlight.
    First a portion of the outer wheel lit brightly to  contrast  sharply
with the shaded spokes and hub. Joe watched as the shadows crawled quickly
away from the light, down the spokes to the central  hub  and  around  the
wheel. In less than a  minute  it  was  over,  the  station  wheeling  and
glinting in the bright sunlight. As the transport  maneuvered  around  the
station to match with a vacant shuttle lock Joe saw one of the big surface
shuttles. The deeply swept wings  and  big  jet  engine  nacelles  looking
strangely out of place here in space and out of the  atmosphere  where  it
was designed to operate. The  docking  procedure  went  smoothly  and  was
problem free. In almost no time at all Joe was out of the transport and on
his way, having stopped briefly to reclaim has space suit.
    There were lockers  available  here  for  the  long-term  storage  of
personal items. Most frequent visitors preferred to keep a  locker  rented
to keep clothing and personal items in. The cost of lifting luggage, pound
for pound was far more expensive than a passenger ticket. Joe,  who  lived
in space and rarely returned to Earth rented a short-term locker  for  the
duration of his trip away from Leo. In it he placed his bulky suit bag. It
was all he had brought with him because he  knew  that  it  would  be  far
cheaper to buy all that he needed once he arrived on Earth.
    But then he could easily afford anything that he wanted. It had  been
over two years since his last vacation. On Shepherd, room and  board  were
supplied free of charge as part of the job, and there was little else that
he really needed to spend his salary on. Most pilots found  that  if  they
were frugal, they could easily accumulate enough  credit  to  retire  very
comfortably in ten to fifteen years.
    After he had stored his suit he stopped briefly at a wall terminal to
check the shuttle status. He saw that he had  a  guaranteed  seat  in  the
first class section and that the shuttle was due to leave in just over two
hours. "Plenty of time," he thought.
    He had heard of a small restaurant near the  shuttle  port  that  had
come very highly recommended. The food was excellent, expensive,  and  all
of it was imported from Earth. None of the processed algae paste that  was
served by most of the cheaper restaurants. There were similar  restaurants
on the Armstrong but there the prices were even higher. He usually  stayed
away from them but today, on the first day of his vacation he  decided  to
    The restaurant was small, it's few tables were set up behind  screens
and plants to insure maximum privacy for its clientele. It  was  decorated
in soft greens and browns with lots of intricately carved wood.  Joe  knew
that none of it was real wood. But knowing that it was synthesized did not
detract from the illusion. It would take a detailed chemical  analysis  to
prove that it was not real. Dark red velvety upholstery and a  white  lace
tablecloth increased the feel of expensive opulence. Fine  china,  crystal
and real silver completed the setting with points of light reflecting from
a beautiful crystal chandelier hanging over his table.
    Dinner was pheasant ala  perigeux  counterpointed  by  a  fine  white
Arbois-vin-jaune followed by apricot genoise and chamboreau coffee. A fine
French gourmet meal, the finest since he had left his native Italy. "And,"
he thought with a smile, better than anything that he had expected to find
off of Earth.
    Joe finally arrived at the shuttle lock about thirty  minutes  before
it was due to leave. He quickly found his seat and had plenty of  time  to
settle in comfortably before small jets fired and the big shuttle  drifted
slowly away from the station. Her main retro's fired, slowing the  shuttle
down even more and starting her on the long drop toward the atmosphere and
Australia waiting below.
    Her speed was still quite high when Joe  heard  and  felt  the  first
whispers of air.
    The pilot skillfully kept the shuttle in a shallow glide  path  while
it lost speed, and the temperature of the outer skin dropped  to  a  level
that allowed the shuttle to descend to where it's jet engines would  work.
Finally, under power, the shuttle quickly winged down to the  big  shuttle
base in  northern  Australia.  From  there  atmospheric  fliers  would  be
available for travel to all the points of the Globe.

    Major Caine left the darkened  limousine  behind  him  as  he  walked
quickly down the street. He did not want the big  cruiser  disturbing  the
quiet by Dr. Quade's house or attract the attention of his  neighbors.  He
didn't have a long wait before he heard the whine of the turbines and  saw
the cluster lights of the  heavy  cruiser.  Caine  stepped  out  into  the
street, a streetlight throwing wnough light so that  he  would  be  easily
seen by the cruiser.
    As the massive machine slowed to a stop, he did not  fail  to  notice
that the forward weapons turret maintained  a  steady  aim  on  him.  From
experience he knew  that  the  turret  contained  not  only  sophisticated
weaponry but one of the cruisers audio and video packages as  well.  There
were no apparent windows but Major Caine knew that three officers normally
operated the machine, although in an emergency it could be fully  operated
by two. It sat solidly on six tires,  the  rear  four  were  independently
powered by gas-turbine engines. It was  also  capable  of  short  hops  on
surface effect by firing directable jump jets. All in all it  was  a  very
powerful machine.
    A speaker crackled to life on top of the cruiser. "Please state  your
business," a voice said curtly.
    "Officer, we initiated comp shutdown in  Dr.  Quade's  house,"  Major
Caine explained. "I believe that these papers  will  answer  all  of  your
questions." He reached into his jacket pocket and removed the small  sheaf
of papers and stepped closer to the machine. A  small  port  irised  open,
revealing a small box inset into the side of the machine.
    "Place the papers in the entry port and step back," the unseen  voice
continued. Major Caine complied with the request, watching silently as the
port irised shut.
    Inside the machine the officer removed the papers,  quickly  scanning
them. They were the arrest and search warrants for Dr. Quade. All  of  the
authenticating seals and signatures  were  in  order,  including  the  one
telling him that  it  was  an  Internal  Security  operation.  He  quickly
photocopied the papers and squirted  a  fax  to  his  headquarters  before
returning them to Major Caine.
    "All in order sir, sorry for the delay." There was a touch of respect
in the unseen voice now that the officer knew who he was dealing with.
    Major Caine retrieved the papers before retreating to the sidewalk as
the cruiser, turbines whining  softly,  accelerated  into  the  night.  He
smiled when he saw that the rear turret continued  to  track  him  as  the
cruiser left.
    Lieutenant Hadley's thoughts were interrupted by the reappearance  of
his superior. He mentally heaved a sigh of relief before stepping  out  of
the limo to meet him on the sidewalk. Together they  walked  up  the  long
driveway, crossed the wide porch and entered the house. Major  Caine  eyed
the artwork appreciably as they climbed the stairs to  the  second  floor,
followed closely by the penetration team.
    A cross corridor lay at the top of the stairs with rooms opening onto
it. Another set of stairs rose upward to the third  floor.  Richly  framed
paintings were hung in the hall, a few of which Major Caine recognized  as
expensive Old Masters.  They  left  the  second  floor  landing  and  went
directly to the room that Dr Quade used as his bedroom.
    Against one wall sat a large desk,  piled  high  with  papers  and  a
remote comp terminal. Another wall was  taken  up  by  a  large  bookshelf
filled with research and reference books along with  engineering,  physics
and chemistry texts. In the far corner stood a large  bed  containing  the
sleeping Dr. Quade.
    "Wake him," ordered the major.
    Dr. Quade was rudely shaken awake and allowed to briefly collect  his
wits before Major Caine spoke. "Dr. Quade, I am  with  Internal  Security.
You are under arrest for treason, sedition and sabotage."
    They watched him carefully as he dressed, one  of  the  team  checked
each article of clothing before he was allowed to put  it  on.  They  then
escorted him out of the  house,  reactivating  the  security  comp  before
securing the door.
    Dr. Quade was led to an unmarked van and placed in the back  for  the
short ride to the security offices. "Lieutenant,"  said  Major  Caine,  as
they watched the van pull away. "I want you to get the copies of the tapes
that the police made tonight. Have them on my desk as soon as  you  locate
them. You may now dismiss your men," he  continued.  "And  tell  them  all
'very good'."
    Lieutenant Hadley watched Major  Caine  return  to  his  limo  before
sending the dismissal signal.  "It  isn't  often  that  Major  Caine  gave
compliments," he thought, smiling to himself as the black  limo  sped  off
behind him into the darkness.


    The big shuttle soon landed on the Australian  runway,  the  aircraft
taking about two thirds of the miles long ribbon to  come  to  a  complete
stop. When at last the shuttle arrived at the terminal Joe had no  trouble
clearing security as his ID pack was in order, having all  of  the  proper
counterstamps affixed back at Armstrong station. After clearing Customs he
again found a wall comp and inserted his ID card, checking the rest of his
itinerary. A stratohop leaving tomorrow would take him into Singapore  for
the first leg of his vacation.
    Until the hop left the next day he was booked into the  old  Imperial
Hotel in Broome. One of the few structures predating the huge airbase,  it
could trace it's roots back over one hundred years. When the runways  were
built the old hotel had been renovated and  automated  up  to  the  modern
standards of a luxury hotel and only recently it had received  it's  fifth
star for both the restaurant and hotel.
    The front of the building was made of a red sandstone that was carved
into columns and bas-relief panels. Real stonework that lent itself to the
aged decadence of a bygone  era.  The  original  hotel  had  been  greatly
expanded during the renovation and the designers had skillfully melded the
old and new together until the old stone seemed to merge and subtly  blend
into the plascrete and steel of the newer structure.
    Inside the doors Joe walked across a lobby floor that was a  polished
marble mosaic, surrounded by walls of a dark, tightly  striated  paneling.
The ceiling rose twenty five feet above the floor  from  which  were  hung
huge chandeliers. The  registration  desk  was  a  single  huge  piece  of
beautifully carved marble set between two of the sixteen  massive  columns
that seemed large enough to support the weight of the entire structure.
    Joe had set this trip up months ago and had seen to it  that  he  had
one of the larger suites in the old structure. Although it  had  not  been
fully automated like the newer structure he preferred the charm of the old
rooms even though they lacked some of the more modern features.
    For one, he was limited to what room service could deliver instead of
the full services of the gourmet kitchen. Although all food came from  the
same kitchen, there were many fine creations that had to be eaten within a
few minutes to retain  the  subtle  flavor  distinctions  or  the  fragile
construction of the dish. As a result, more than  half  of  the  creations
that the restaurant was famed for could not be brought up by room  service
but had to be delivered by the fast delivery system  incorporated  in  the
newer part of the hotel.
    Joe however did  not  mind.  After  two  years  in  space  living  on
processed algae paste, anything real would taste good. And  he  had  never
been a true connoisseur of fine food. Besides, he would be leaving in  the
morning for Singapore where he planned on trying the best of the best.  He
could finally afford to do so and he was planning on taking full advantage
of the opportunity.
    After being escorted to his suite he called  up  the  hotel's  buying
service on the vid and soon  had  new  clothing,  luggage  and  the  other
necessary sundries to make the vacation more pleasant.
    The first thing that Joe noticed  was  that  styles  had  drastically
changed in the two years he had been gone. One of his new  formal  outfits
consisted of a pair of durable but stylish calf-length boots, a  mid-thigh
length skirt and a flowing cape that covered his shoulders and back. There
was no shirt but he did have a wide-brimmed hat that matched the boots.  A
light cotton undergarment under the skirt completed the set.
    Although he felt foolish, he had  to  admit  that  it  was  extremely
comfortable in the heat of northern Australian sun. He found his way  into
the plush bar noticing that the other guests of the hotel were dressed  in
similar outfits. The only real differences were color, cut and length. But
it did seem that this season skirts were in for both sexes. Casual  styles
however were borrowed from all cultures and were left up to the individual
for preferences.
    "May I sit down?" a voice asked. Joe had ordered a drink at  the  bar
and accessed a televisor built into the top of his table. He had tuned  it
into one of the international news stations  to  reacquaint  himself  with
local happenings while he had been gone. Armstrong boasted of  a  complete
up-to-date news service but Joe, like the other pilots  had  found  little
spare time to stay up with the happenings on Earth. He drew his  attention
away from the screen and looked up to see a stunning young woman  standing
next to his table. She was a small girl, black hair and  a  light,  almost
elfin facial structure  which  seemed  to  be  a  blend  of  European  and
Oriental. She spoke a clear, formal English with only a slight overture of
an accent.
    "I saw you register,"  she  said.  "You  were  wearing  an  Armstrong
coverall. Do you work up there?"
    "Yes," said Joe, jumping quickly to his feet to offer her a chair. "I
am an orbital pilot."
    "Have you been gone long?" she asked  with  a  coy  smile,  her  eyes
widening with respect.
    "Over two years," Joe said, unable to draw his eyes  away  from  her.
"Do you live here in Broome?" She had gotten the best of  Joe's  curiosity
and he almost expected her to turn out to be a play-for-pay girl after the
way that she had introduced herself.
    "Me?" She said  quickly,  her  cheeks  reddening  slightly  when  she
realized the meaning of Joe's question. "No, I flew in from  Singapore  to
pick up a delivery that came down on the shuttle. Pharmaceutical  products
from one of the orbital synthesis plants."
    "Then you are a doctor?"
    "No," she said. "But I am connected to one  of  the  larger  research
hospitals on the Malaysian peninsula"
    "That's where I am going in the morning. To Singapore that is. On the
first stratohop of the day."
    "That's the hop I am on," she said  excitedly.  "We  will  be  fellow
travelers, it seems!" She stopped speaking to order from the autobar.
    "If she has had a few of those," thought Joe, "she lost  all  of  her
inhibitions long ago." "Have you eaten yet?" he asked aloud.
    "No, not since lunch," she replied with a giggle. Buy a girl dinner?"
    "Sure, let's go, he said, rising to his feet  and  offering  her  his
arm. He wondered about the effects of the  alcohol  acting  on  her  empty
stomach and privately thought that this night might turn out  to  be  more
interesting than he had earlier hoped.
    A discordant alarm chimed for attention at a disgustingly early hour.
"God, what the hell is that?" asked Amiru groggily.
    "Alarm," answered Joe. "It's six A. M. and the hop  leaves  in  three
hours," Joe finished, his voice sounding stronger than he felt. "You  want
to shower first?"
    "Ok, maybe it will help my headache," she  said,  swinging  her  legs
over to sit on the edge of the bed. "God, that's not all that  hurts,  you
animal. Aren't there any women on the Armstrong?"
    "Yes," he said with a smile, "But none like you."
    She looked at him amusingly. "Flattery will get you nowhere. At least
not till I recover from last night," she said with a  smile.  Joe  watched
her walk sinuously across to the shower cubicle. He lay back down  on  the
big bed, trying to catch a few more minutes of rest.
    Before long  they  were  both  dressed  and  on  their  way  down  to
breakfast. They both opted for a  simple  but  satisfying  meal  and  then
caught a cab back to the big shuttleport. The port did double duty  as  an
airport and shuttle base, the  atmospheric  fliers  using  the  same  long
runways that the shuttles did.
    The stratojet dropped down  toward  the  Malaysian  island  that  was
covered by the city of Singapore. Joe and Amiru sat side by  side  in  the
first class section. The older gentleman that had originally occupied  the
seat next to Joe had not minded swapping seats with Amiru and she had kept
Joe talking about his experiences in space. As a result Joe had found  out
very little about her as she had skillfully kept him  talking  during  the
entire trip.
    "I'll be staying at the New Raffles," said  Joe,  once  the  jet  had
landed. Where can I find you?" He asked, allowing her a graceful  exit  if
she desired one.
    "I really don't have to be back for a few days yet. Would you like  a
little company?" She asked with a sexy pout, batting her eyelashes at him.
    "Recovered from last night?" asked Joe with a nod and a  grin.  "Yes,
I'd love for you to stay. You won't get into trouble, will you?"
    "Oh no. But I will have to make a call from the Raffles.  Besides,  I
can show you around our city if you like."
    "It's a deal then. But first let's get over to the New Raffles." They
found a row of taxis waiting just outside  the  large  set  of  glass  and
chrome steel doors. Their luggage was loaded into the first cab  and  they
were soon out of the stratoport's vehicle bay and  on  their  way  to  the
hotel. They passed through the city, down straight boulevards  flanked  by
tall, immaculately clean and gleaming buildings and over to the  far  side
of the island where the New Raffles lay.
    The  hotel  was  itself  not  an  imposing  structure  nor   was   it
particularly large. It was a wide three floor white stone building showing
a lot of glass. It's grounds were tastefully planted with large palm trees
and a myriad of other smaller colorful  tropical  plants.  Walkways  wound
through the gardens and benches were set back off the path in the shade of
the tall palms.
    The New Raffles could trace its  roots  back  to  the  beginnings  of
Singapore. Although the original hotel was  built  many  years  after  the
founding of the city it prided itself on its fine British traditions.  The
original Raffles had become 'THE' hotel to stay at while in Singapore.  In
2011 a tsunami, generated by an undersea volcanic explosion  swept  ashore
all along the Malaysian coastline causing billions of  credits  of  damage
and unnumbered thousands of lost lives. The city of Singapore had been all
but destroyed.
    The owners of the Raffles had elected to rebuild on the same site and
to recreate the old hotel as exactly as possible. They had  also  acquired
some of the surrounding real estate and they used it to create their famed
gardens. Today the shaded walkways and gardens were nearly  as  famous  as
the hotel.
    The old Apollo hotel had never been rebuilt but later a  much  larger
and more modern structure had finally been built on the  site.  The  famed
esplanade had been rebuilt but it too had been redesigned.  Singapore  had
always prided itself on being the cleanest  city  in  the  world  and  had
looked on the tsunami as instant urban renewal. The city that emerged from
the aftermath of the tsunami had become the sparkling jewel of the Orients
    Once at the New Raffles the  pair  were  met  by  uniformed  men  and
escorted into the hotel. The uniforms recalled a  bygone  day  of  British
imperial  splendor.  British  colonialism  had  all  but   died   in   the
mid-twentieth century but here the rich colonial traditions  were  carried
out as if Britain still ruled the island and the world. A bellboy, wearing
the livery of a footman of the house of Queen Victoria led them to one  of
the largest suites in the hotel. Out through their wide windows they had a
beautiful view of the carefully manicured lawns and gardens of the hotel.
    The room itself was stunning. The sitting  room  was  decorated  with
reproduction Victorian furniture. A small chandelier was set over a sunken
lounge in the center of the room. A well stocked bar lay against a wall. A
door set near the bar led  into  the  bedroom  where  the  decorators  had
continued the Victorian motif and included a huge four poster bed. Another
door opened into a large bathroom-dressing room  and  the  whirlpool  bath
they found there looked big  enough  for  any  six  adults.  Another  door
brought them full circle back into the main room.
    "What do you think?" asked Joe  finally,  once  the  grand  tour  was
    "It's nice, but I want to try out the bath." She didn't wait  for  an
answer but immediately began to remove her  clothing.  It  quickly  turned
into a sexy striptease that ended when the couple were neck  deep  in  hot
soapy water.
    About an hour later they ordered up dinner from room service and soon
were enjoying a quiet, intimate dinner. "Have you ever made love in a bath
tub before?" Amiru asked coyly between mouthfulls.
    "Uh, no," said Joe with a blush. "That was the first time."
    Amiru smiled demurely before continuing. "Looks like I have a lot  to
teach you then. Your technique is fine but you really  need  to  become  a
little more adventuresome."
    Joe's blush increased as he sputtered over his half-sipped  glass  of
champagne, nearly spraying her with the sweet liquor. "Are  all  women  as
forward as you are?" He asked  her  once  he  had  regained  some  of  his
    "No, not all. But it's getting to be more and more  commonplace.  And
just what's wrong with it anyway?" She said passionately. "Women enjoy sex
too you know. Why shouldn't a woman take the first steps if she wants to?"
    "Well, I guess it's okay. In fact it's nice, but I was  raised  in  a
strict religious household and it will take a little getting used to.  But
please don't stop," Joe said quickly. "Ill get used to it, I promise."
    "I'm sure that you will," she said in a low, husky voice.
    "You're going to be the death of me yet, woman. Get dressed please, I
would still like to see some of the sights of Singapore before it gets too
late, if you don't mind."
    "What did you have in mind?" she asked.
    "How about a dance club? Besides, if we stay here you are  likely  to
rape me again."
    "Rape?" Amiru said with a squeal. "Rape? HA! Rape implies  force  and
the last thing that I need to do  is  force  you.  She  stood,  sensuously
writhing as she did so, allowing the towel she was wearing to slip to  the
floor. "This is all the force I need," she said softly.
    Joe threw a celery stick at her and  chased  her  into  the  bedroom,
watching from the bed in appreciation as she dressed for the evening. Once
downstairs they found a taxi and soon were  on  their  way,  Amiru  giving
directions in what sounded like Chinese.
    Singapore boasts of a number of very fine nightclubs and dance clubs,
a few of which actually had live bands. The age of computerization had hit
the music industry harder than most. Today a single man with a  synthecomp
could sound as good, if not better than the great symphony  orchestras  of
the last century. True  afficionados  claimed  to  be  able  to  tell  the
difference and there were still a few large  groups  left  but  they  were
maintained mostly as cultural exhibits of an era long past.
    Joe directed Amiru to pick one with a synthecomp because he preferred
the full spectrum of music to the limited repertoire of a live  band.  The
club that Amiru chose was located in the top floors of the Zeus,  the  new
hotel that had been built on the old Apollo  site.  The  club  itself  was
perched on top of the hotel, a huge round structure that slowly  revolved,
allowing a full panoramic view of the beautiful city at night.
    The interior of the club was a dazzling array of stainless steel  and
transparent plas. The bottom  floor  of  the  club  was  solid,  with  the
synthecomp in the center, surrounded by the dance floor. Around that ran a
single row of booths backed up against the outer  plas  wall.  The  second
floor was actually a circular balcony with two rows of booths. The  inside
row overlooked the dance floor while the outer was, like the  lower  tier,
backed up against the outer wall. The roof was a  single  solid  sheet  of
plas that afforded a  breathtaking  view  of  the  night  sky.  They  were
escorted to an inner booth on the balcony, overlooking the dance floor.
    "Do you see that couple over there?" asked Amiru, indicating  a  well
dressed couple seated at a table fronting the dance floor. Joe  and  Amiru
were out on the dance floor enjoying a slow waltz that  had  brought  them
out toward the row of booths.
    "Yes," said Joe. "Do you know them?"
    "Well, sort of," she replied. "They are Merilka and Fredoro. He's the
finance minister of the city."
    "Is she his wife?" Joe asked.
    "No. He's  not  married  and  she  is  just  a  good  friend,"  Amiru
continued. "Although I am sure that she would just love to catch him  with
a ring. But then so would about two dozen other women that I know  of.  He
is considered the city's most eligible bachelor and has no immediate plans
to change that status," she said with a grin.
    "I see," said Joe in a low, conspiratorial voice. "Who  else  do  you
know here?" he continued.
    "Not many, personally. Oh, most of the regular crowd here I  know  by
sight or by reputation but I don't try  to  cultivate  many  friends  from
among these people."
    "Why?" asked Joe. "Do you feel that you don't fit in?"
    "Something like that," she  said.  "Here  in  Singapore  there  is  a
definite line drawn between the rich and the poor.  The  well-off  try  to
copy the life style of the truly rich but they are never  really  accepted
into the upper-class structure," she continued. "It soon becomes a lot  of
meaningless posturing, if you know what I mean."
    "I see," said Joe. "Then what you are saying is that you were born on
the wrong side of the line?"
    "Yes," she said in an enigmatic voice that Joe could not read.  "They
all know me and know exactly the differences between  us.  If  you  cannot
truly be one of the upper class it makes trying to do so seem so futile."
    Joe sensed he was close to forbidden territory but chose to  continue
anyway. "But it can't be a rigid structure, can it? Is there  no  way  for
someone to join the upper class?"
    "Oh yes," she answered quickly. "You could marry into wealth  or  you
can earn your own fortune. Most of  the  middle  class  are  not  accepted
simply because they cannot truly maintain the lifestyle of the rich.  They
put on a good show but it's only the facade, not the whole production."
    "All the glitter but none of the gold?" Joe asked.
    "Yes,  exactly,  she  answered  tersely,  putting  a  stop   to   the
conversation. Let's get out of here, this place is  beginning  to  depress
me. She stood, allowing Joe to escort her over to the exit.  "I'm  getting
hungry," she announced. "I know of a place that is cheap,  the  atmosphere
is great and the food is the best I've ever had. Interested?"
    "Sure," said Joe, interested more in getting her back into a  happier
frame of mind than eating. "Where?"
    "Trust me," she said with a smile. "You'll love it." She then rattled
off a string of sentences to the driver and the taxi  sped  off  into  the
    With a squeal of brakes the taxi pulled up to a stone quay  near  the
mouth of the river. Here in a bend lay a small fleet of junks and sampans.
Amiru approached a group of women and spoke briefly to them and  soon  she
and one of the women returned to where Joe was waiting.
    "Okay," she said, "It's all set. Let's go."
    "Go?" Joe asked, looking around in confusion. "Go where?"
    "Follow her to the sampan, that's where," she said with a smile and a
giggle. "Come on lover, be brave. I promise that you won't regret it."
    Together they followed the Malaysian  woman  to  a  moderately  sized
sampan, about twenty-five feet in length, and they all climbed in.  "Where
to now?" asked Joe. "I thought we were going to a restaurant."
    "No restaurant," she answered, "Unless you consider Typhoon Anchorage
a restaurant."
    Joe looked around the boat. The older woman was seated  in  the  back
where she was sculling with a single long oar. The sampan was heading  out
to sea and away from the mainland. In the front of the  sampan  he  was  a
small stove and a large bag of what seemed to be charcoal. A  few  baskets
were there also and they contained a mismatched set of  plates,  cups  and
silverware. Another basket contained an extensive  collection  of  spices,
herbs and vegetables.
    Amiru watched Joe as he examined the small boat.  When  she  saw  the
light of enlightenment in his eyes she explained. "She is taking us out to
meet the fishing fleet. There she will prepare whatever we select for us."
    Ahead Joe could see a collection of sampans and,  farther  away,  the
first of the returning fishing fleet. Big  Chinese  junks,  the  lines  of
which had not changed in thousands of years. Amiru and the woman exchanged
a few more comments before she turned back to Joe. "I told her to use  her
own judgement with the fishermen. She knows them far better than we do and
she's likely to get a better selection that way."
    Joe nodded in agreement then returned  his  attention  to  the  other
small boats. They also were preparing for the arrival of the  fleet.  Near
at hand he saw makeshift buoys in the water and noticed that  the  sampans
were using these as their mooring points. The woman raised  a  small  pole
with a red banner attached to it and slid it into a holder at the stern of
the sampan.
    "That tells the Captains that  we  are  ready  to  negotiate,"  Amiru
    The big junks paraded by the motley collection of  small  boats,  the
woman using her oar deftly  while  shouting  up  to  the  boats  captains.
Finally she came to an agreement with one and a crewman threw her a  line,
allowing the sampan to remain alongside without the  junk  stopping  while
the transaction took place.
    "What currency do you carry?" Amiru asked Joe finally.
    "Standard credits, Malaysian dollars and Italian lire, answered Joe.
    "Good, she answered. "Give me  five  standard  credits  please,"  she
said, holding out her hand.
    "Five?" Joe said in amazement. "That's all?"
    "Yes," Amiru said, smiling. "For now, anyway. Later we will  have  to
buy drinks too."
    Joe handed her five one credit coins. "But," he  objected.  "That  is
less than I tipped the taxi driver. Are you sure that will be enough?"
    "Yes. There are a number of things that you do not realize since  you
are not from Singapore, and currency is obviously one of  them.  You  gave
the taxi driver fifty Singapore dollars as a  tip.  That  comes  to  about
seven standard credits if  you  go  to  one  of  the  official  conversion
centers. However if you take  that  same  seven  credits  to  one  of  the
backstreet exchanges, instead of the official exchange rate  of  seven  to
one, you can get as high as twenty-five to one. So what you are looking at
here is one hundred and  twenty-five  Malaysian  dollars  instead  of  the
thirty five that you think your money is worth. She will use  two  credits
to pay for the fish and keep the other three for herself. And believe  me,
she will be happy.
    "I never realized that," said Joe. "Are there  really  two  different
exchange rates here?"
    "Three actually. If you deal in one thousand credit notes I could get
you as much as forty to one."
    "You could make a small fortune overnight by  going  back  and  forth
between the two, couldn't you?" asked Joe cautiously.
    "No," she answered quickly. "That can't be done. You  would  have  to
prove where you got the dollars from when you go to reconvert them back to
credits, since this is a local currency. The only place that you  can  get
them is in Malaysia. You need a receipt or a bank invoice stating you  had
officially converted that much from credits before they would allow you to
reconvert. If you tried, the banks would refuse the transaction."
    "There has to be a way around it though," insisted Joe.
    "Not really. But what you can do  is  convert  one  thousand  credits
officially to protect yourself, since  dealing  on  the  black  market  is
illegal," Amiru explained. "Then you convert whatever you need  over  that
amount on the black market for day-to-day expenses. When you get ready  to
leave you reconvert your thousand back into credits. It's a cheap  way  to
have a good vacation. The receipt is your protection if  the  police  stop
you and you have to prove where you converted your currency."
    "Damn," said Joe, respect showing in his eyes, "I'll have to remember
that." Their talk was interrupted by a basket being lowered from the Junk.
In it were three large red fish and about a half-dozen small octopus.  The
woman examined them carefully and then dropped two of  the  coins  in  the
basket. She then cast off the line and allowed the junk to proceed without
her. She sculled the sampan back  to  the  buoys  and  the  collection  of
sampans moored there. She expertly snagged one of the buoys and clipped it
to a line attached to the stern of her sampan, securing the boat in place.
She then removed the red banner and replaced it with a white one.
    "That's the flag to signal the drink boats," Amiru explained.  before
long a small motorized boat pulled  alongside  and  the  bargaining  began
anew. Soon they were in possession of two large bottles of a  dark  native
beer that Amiru claimed was excellent and two more credits changed  hands.
The Malaysian woman then deftly cleaned the fish and octopus, and expertly
prepared them into one of the best seafood dinners  that  Joe  could  ever
remember eating. The food and the ambient atmosphere of  the  quiet  ocean
created a soothing and satisfying mood  that  Joe  had  never  experienced
before. the hour was quite late before they were finally on their way back
to the quay where they found a waiting row of taxis.
    "This place is not exactly a secret," laughed Amiru, leading Joe to a
taxi. "Typhoon Anchorage is considered the finest  seafood  restaurant  in
the world," she continued once the taxi was  on  it's  way.  "There  is  a
second anchorage in Hong Kong that is virtually the same as this  one  and
there is a lot of argument over which one is better or, for  that  matter,
    "Singapore is an older city than Hong Kong but no one is really  sure
when the anchorage restaurants truly  started.  But  it  really  does  not
matter. All I know is that they are good. Very good."
    "I'll agree with that," Joe said as Amiru directed the  taxi  to  let
them off about two blocks from the Raffles, so that they could  walk  back
through the gardens. "Never have I eaten like that." Joe pulled her  close
as they walked through the darkened garden, following the footpaths by the
light of low, dim lamps set along the edges of the paths. Eventually  they
came back to the front of the New Raffles  and  into  the  lobby,  passing
quickly through on their way up to their rooms.
    Joe unlocked the door and reached in to snap on the lights. His wrist
was grabbed roughly from inside and he was yanked into the room. Surprised
and unable to stop, he stumbled across  the  room  and  collided  with  an
overstuffed chair that was in his way, crushing  it  as  he  fell  to  the
floor. Joe slowly rolled over onto his back to see a black  uniformed  man
pointing a small but deadly handgun at him.
    "Do not move" the man ordered tersely. "You are  under  arrest."  Joe
rolled his eyes over to look toward the door and  saw  another  man  in  a
similar uniform covering Amiru. "Leave her alone," he  said.  "she's  done
nothing." Sensing motion, he turned his attention to the other side of the
room. There he saw four more men file out  of  the  bedroom,  all  wearing
similar uniforms.
    Joe was  roughly  assisted  to  his  feet  and  then  was  thoroughly
searched. One man removed his wallet and examined it. "It's Francelli," he
said to the rest, examining the ID card. "Get him out of here."
    "Wait a minute," protested Joe. "What the hell is going on here? What
gives you the right to break in here like this and grab us?"
    The man who had spoken and who seemed to be in charge turned back  to
Joe. "We're from the Singapore police force, and you have no  rights  here
unless we choose to give them to you. Out,"  he  barked  at  the  two  men
holding him, gesturing toward the door.
    He was taken down through a strangely  empty  lobby  and  out  to  an
unmarked police transport where he was locked  into  one  of  the  holding
cells inside. A short ride through the streets brought him  to  the  local
police station where he was transferred into a larger but  equally  dismal


    Abe finally left his rooms and reported to the exit officer. The  man
checked the camera hidden in an outside hall and then  opened  the  hidden
door, allowing Abe to slip quickly  out  and  into  the  darkened  hallway
leading to the  agency's  parking  garage  where  Abe  kept  his  personal
    Although he could afford much better, he  chose  to  drive  a  modest
three-wheeled dark brown runabout. It would not  draw  notice  in  a  city
where over a million similar vehicles were registered. He stopped  briefly
by the auto before deciding to walk tonight. His destination was not  that
far and he didn't need to add any more miles than necessary, preferring to
keep his road-use taxes as low as possible.
    The streets tonight were dark and cold. Most of the street lamps were
turned off to conserve power. Only the busiest streets were lit,  and  the
occasional neighborhood where the residents were wealthy enough to pay for
the power needed to keep the lights lit and maintained.
    The sections of the city that Abe  was  heading  toward  was  in  the
poorest section of town, and the farthest he went, the fewer  lights  were
on until, near the abandoned sections where the homeless could  be  found,
not only had the lights been shut off, but the poles had been  removed  by
the city for use in other more prosperous locations.
    Abe's eyes had adjusted to the deepening gloom by  the  time  he  had
arrived near his final destination, taking up stations across  the  street
from an old, decaying brownstone building  that  was  actually  in  better
shape than most of it's neighbors.
    Abe had only a short wait before he saw a  figure  slip  out  of  the
shadows that hid the front door. The man was dressed in similar attire and
hugged the edges of the buildings as best he could. Abe had  met  the  man
occasionally when he had been 'Jake' and knew  that  he  supplemented  his
beggars income by brief nightly burglary raids on the  mostly  unprotected
homes of the marginally employed lower classes.
    Abe had expected the man to be working almost every night. He  was  a
young man, with the agility and  speed  of  the  young,  and  his  live-in
girlfriend had just delivered him with a new baby a few weeks earlier.
    Feeling the need for a steady source of reliable funds  the  man  had
been working very hard in the last few weeks to insure the health  of  his
new baby.
    Abe followed him quietly, keeping well back  but  maintaining  visual
contact as the man slipped through the dark, silent city.  The  young  man
expertly avoided the few street lights that were still functioning  as  he
returned to the more populated parts of the large city, finally  selecting
a darkened home. Abe could  see  nothing  special  about  this  house  but
realized that the man probably had his reasons for choosing his one.
    Abe took up stations across  the  street  and  settled  in  to  wait,
pulling the collar of his thin coat up over his exposed  neck  and  taking
cover from the cold wind. He expected to be spending a number  of  similar
nights until the opportunity that he was waiting for arrived.
    Seven long nights  passed  slowly,  while  Abe  watched  the  skilled
second-story man successfully ply his trade. He had received a  number  of
go-aheads from control but had not been in position to make use  of  them.
But he was, if nothing else, patient.  He  knew  that  all  factors  would
eventually work out and the job would finally end.
    At two am, the eighth night out, Abe was hiding behind the remains of
a large sofa and across the street from a large apartment building when he
saw the young man swiftly climb down the ornate facade of the building and
drop quietly to the pavement. As usual he carried little  in  the  way  of
bulky objects, apparently selecting small, more valuable items that  would
be much easier to carry.xxx
    "Control here," came the tinny voice in his left ear. "Ninety seconds
if you can finish it now." The voice broke off, leaving him alone with the
silence of the dark evening. He knew nearly instinctively that  the  times
given him by control had to be strictly adhered to to  insure  that  there
would be no alibi this evening. He also knew that he would have to play  a
difficult game of dodging the patrolling police cruisers afterwards.
    Abe stood silently from behind the ruins of an old sofa that  he  had
been using as cover as the young man slipped swiftly into an alleyway. Abe
followed him on silent feet, closing the  distance  between  the  two  men
rapidly. Just as the man was turning onto a wider but still quiet  street,
Abe released the first of the two knives, catching the  man  high  in  the
upper thigh. Abe knew that, since the blade was poisoned, the wound  would
prove fatal but not fast enough to insure instant death.
    The man let out a soft  gasp  and  dropped  to  the  dirty  pavement,
clawing for an inside pocket and his com unit. He  managed  to  press  the
emergency button before losing consciousness,  death  finally  taking  him
shortly after that.
    "Com link activated," reported the tinny voice. Light cruiser  is  on
it's way to your location. Satcam coverage locked in, and  has  you  under
surveillance," it added.
    Abe dropped the second knife in the alley and turned to  run  quickly
back the way he came, relying on the satcam to keep track of his movement.
He was two blocks away when the voice returned.
    "Light cruiser has reached the scene," it  reported.  "An  alert  has
gone out to all units and a grid has been laid out.  Satcam  coverage  has
you listed as the prime suspect," it added needlessly.  Two  cruisers  are
now maneuvering to intercept you."
    Abe knew exactly how the grids worked and felt reasonably  sure  that
he could keep ahead of the cruisers until the next stage of the  operation
was completed. Using a complicated scheme of  turns  and  switchbacks,  he
kept moving himself off of the grid map the police  were  laying  down  as
they hunted, forcing them to continually widen their patterns.
    Finally, Abe turned out onto a  wide  boulevard  and  ahead  of  him,
mounted on the side of the building he saw a  police  camera  and  shortly
after that, noticed the brief flash of laser light as the  unit  attempted
to take his retina print. The security screen he was  wearing  flared  and
died, the laser pulsing again and again as Abe attempted to cover his eyes
with his hands and stumble back around the corner, away from the camera.
    Smiling to himself, he darted into a  narrow  alleyway  and  found  a
rusting manhole cover. Ripping it up out of its mounting ring  he  dropped
into the city's sewer  system  and  fled  through  the  darkened  tunnels,
finally escaping the police patrols.
    As Abe ran, he congratulated himself on a  successful  operation,  as
the comlink once again called for his attention.
    "Lasercam  transmitted  three  complete  retina  prints   to   police
headquarters," it announced. "The game  is  nearly  complete.  All  police
cruisers have been recalled and in about ten minutes it will  be  safe  to
finish the job."
    Abe settled down to a leisurely walk, keeping his eyes  open  for  an
easy exit out into the streets above him. Ahead he saw a bright circle  of
light streaming in from a missing manhole. He  climbed  carefully  up  the
rusting ladder and peeked out of the hole. He was in another alleyway, but
this one was off one of the city's  main  arteries  and  lay  close  to  a
functioning street light.
    Abe levered himself out of the hole, attempting to stay as  clean  as
possible,  brushing  off  the  worst  of  the  dirt  before  setting   off
purposefully toward one of the automated shopping outlets  that  he  often
frequented between assignments. Once he arrived there, he used his  ID  to
open one of the private rooms, locking the door securely  behind  him  and
accessing the shopping lists.
    He scrolled through until he found security screens and  ordered  one
of the same models as the defective one that he now wore.  He  had  waited
about ten minutes when a thump announced the arrival of the package in the
delivery hopper. He opened the corrugated box and removed the  new  helmet
and placed it on the table in front of him. He then removed the  defective
one and put it in the box before dropping  it  down  the  disposal  chute,
sending it on its way to the salvage station. The last thing  he  did  was
remove the contacts and swallowed them, depending on his stomach's acid to
quickly break down the soft plastic lenses and remove the evidence.
    After completing this last  chore,  he  slowly  walked  back  to  the
parking garage. He completed the algorithym, using the days  date  as  the
variable and entered a six digit code into the keyboard of the inoperative
elevator on the first floor. He stepped out of the old car and waited  for
the control officer to identify him and open the hidden door, allowing him
access to the underground offices of the Agency.
    He nodded briefly to  the  access  officer  before  seeking  out  his
briefing officer where he turned in his fake ID.
    "Good job," the man said warmly. "The police have enough evidence  to
pick the man up and make all  charges  stick.  Soon  they  will  have  the
opportunity to extract any information needed to convict him of the  other
murders as well," the man said, smiling.
    Abe chose  not  to  answer  the  man  but  left  silently,  not  even
acknowledging  the  man's  words.  He  really  disliked  these  types   of
operations, but recognized their necessity. He had read  that  before  the
turn  of  the  century,  confessed  criminals  actually  got  off  due  to
technicalities in the law.
    Today however, the laws were much harder to beat. And  in  the  cases
that were nearly impossible to prove, Internal Security had the  means  to
manufacture any evidence  needed,  once  the  criminal's  guilt  had  been
assured. Today, like the  eighties  and  nineties,  a  person's  right  to
privacy was held to be inviolable. This  did  not  mean  that  the  police
wouldn't use whatever they had to to acquire evidence, it just meant  that
much of it was inadmissible  in  court.  Hence  the  need  for  operations
similar to those he had just completed. If  a  criminal  was  successfully
eluding the law,  The  agency  had  no  compulsions  toward  manufacturing
whatever was needed to prove guilt in a court of law once the police  were
assured of the man's guilt.
    "And," thought Abe, "to  date,  none  of  the  cases  that  they  had
assisted in had ever been acquitted in court,  but  all  had  led  to  the
conviction of the criminal in question."
    He passed quickly through the halls until  he  came  to  the  offices
occupied by his boss.
    "You cannot go in yet," protested the secretary, as Abe ignored  her,
stepping past and into the larger office.
    The man was alone, but was facing his vid and speaking to someone Abe
could not see. "Something's come up, Major. I'll get back to you," he said
as he hit the cancel button and turned to face Abe.
    Abe spoke first, not allowing the man any  time.  "You  know  I  hate
these kinds of assignments," he started, cutting off the older man with  a
sharp gesture  before  continuing.  "I  believe  that  I  am  overdue  for
vacation, and I am taking it!," he said, his tone of voice indicating that
he would not accept any answer other than "yes."
    The older man nodded briefly before entering a string of commands  in
his comp. He then looked  up  and  smiled.  "Sure,"  he  said,  giving  no
argument. "In fact, I see that you have enrolled in  our  university,"  he
    "The hell I have," growled Abe. "Vacation! Nothing  more!,"  he  said
    "But you will need it to take your cruise," he said, leaning back  in
his armchair and crossing his arms  behind  his  head.  "Just  think,"  he
continued. "Sixty days of nothing but  rest,  relaxation  and  seeing  the
    "There's a catch here, somewhere," said Abe suspiciously. "What am  I
supposed to be learning, anyway?"
    "Astronavigation," came the quick answer.
    "The hell you say," exploded  Abe.  "I  absolutely  will  not  accept
another assignment yet. Especially one into space. Do you understand?" The
last three words he punctuated by leaning over the large desk and  driving
his index finger into the older man's chest as he spoke.
    "Oh, come on, Abe, give me a break," he said disgustedly.
    "This assignment calls for a junior agent but since you need a break,
I am offering it to you. It's a cakewalk. Besides, you  are  long  overdue
for your next upgrade. I was thinking of reccomending you for a promotion.
You deserve one, judging by the way  you  handle  your  assignments.  That
would bring you up to Class Two."
    "Don't bullshit me. All class two's are general field operatives  and
are controlled by the area HQ. We both know that if you reccomend me,  you
will lose me. That is why I have been stuck here so long as a class three.
I am the best that you have and you do not want to give me up."
    "That's not true," the older man protested. "You may be good but  you
are not the best. And you have to be damned good to rate a Class two.  But
to show you that I am sincere, if you agree to read the file, I will  pass
your reccomendation along to the sector headquarters. You can check on  it
personally before you commit to anything."
    He entered a string of commands on his terminal and  turned  back  to
Abe. "At least take the time to read the  briefing  report.  It  has  been
turned over to your room comp, and then think it over for a while. If  you
still say no, then you can have your vacation. Ok? And I am serious  about
the Class two."
    "Ok," Abe agreed finally, letting out a sigh  of  frustration.  "I'll
read it, but no promises," turning toward the door to let himself out.  He
returned to his rooms to read the reports,  poring  over  the  information
there, losing track of time completely until his stomach growled  for  his
attention and Abe realized how long he had been enraptured in the reports.
    He understood now why the  Director  had  been  so  concerned.  There
seemed to be a back door into the computers that  had  yet  to  be  found.
Someone who was very good had entered quite a bit of information and bogus
files. What was not known yet was how much had been added and what was yet
to be uncovered. So far, all they seemed  to  have  was  a  name.  Charles
Joiner. He was at present a prisoner on his way to Mars but there  was  no
indication why the man was important to the underground.
    "He sure doesn't make it easy," thought Abe as he headed  toward  the
cafeteria. Once there he found an empty table and settled himself in.
    "May I join you?," a voice asked from over his right shoulder.
    Abe looked up to see the briefing officer holding a tray and  waiting
to be invited to sit. "Sure," he offered, nodding toward one of the  empty
    "Thanks," the young man  said.  "But  honestly,  I  am  not  here  by
accident. The Director asked me to look you up. He  said  that  you  might
have a few questions."
    Abe was not happy about being so manipulated but the man was correct.
He did have a few things on his mind. He said nothing for a  short  while,
but quickly finished his meal before speaking again.
    "How much do you know of this new mission?" Abe asked finally.
    "Probably more than you do, but not  that  much  more,"  he  admitted
    "That's a start," Abe said,  settling  back  into  his  chair  before
continuing. "The Director said that this would be an easy job, and that he
was originally going to assign a junior agent," Abe began. "But judging by
the  briefing  reports,  this  one  was   designed   around   my   special
qualifications. True?"
    "Yes," nodded the young man. "This will  be  an  easy  job  but  only
because you have the necessary position in the underground to  handle  it.
The underground is up to something and the Director wants to know what."
    "Do you know anything at all about who it is that I am to follow?"
    "I don't," said the young man. "But I do not  know  what  information
the Director has at his disposal that he hasn't shared yet."
    Abe nodded but said nothing, lost in thought for the moment.
    "Surely there must be some information on him  in  the  data  banks,"
said Abe after a short break.
    "Unfortunately, no," said the briefing officer, much to the  surprise
of Abe. We suspect that they have access to the comp records and that they
have changed his data files," continued the young man. "We  wish  to  find
out what they are doing, and one of the operations involves keeping  track
of the man and seeing what they are up to. Interested?"
    "Abe nodded reluctantly. "I hate to admit it, but yes, I am," he said
to the smiling man.
    "We thought so," he admitted. "We suspected that once you  fell  into
the information you would be intrigued enough to see it through." He stood
before continuing. "In that case the Director would like to see you  right
away in his office sir," he said before leaving Abe  alone  at  the  small
    The Director was seated in his office, exactly as Abe had left him  a
few hours earlier.
    "In a better mood?," he asked cheerfully.
    "Somewhat," admitted Abe, seating himself in one of  the  comfortable
chairs near the large desk. Abe let his eyes wander around the office, his
eyes lingering over the wall of antique books, scanning  rows  of  titles,
most of which Abe had read at one time or another, although  he  owned  no
actual volumes. The rest  of  the  office  was  decorated  in  comfortable
furniture and expensive art objects, collected  from  various  places  all
over the solar system, including a Martian abstract of red  sandstone.  If
it was authentic, it was probably the most valuable  piece  in  the  room.
Some people believed that the stones  were  of  natural  origin  but  most
thought that they were relics of a long-lost Martian civilization that had
disappeared millions of years ago, leaving nothing behind except piles  of
beautiful stone sculptures.
    Finally the Director spoke, drawing his attention away from the  art.
"So, have you made your decision yet?," he asked hopefully.
    Abe nodded, but said nothing at  first  but  examined  the  Director.
"Yes," he said finally.
    "Good," the Director said finally. "I thought  that  you  would  come
around." He entered another string of commands into his terminal and  slid
a flimsy to Abe. "This is a copy of the reccomendation I sent of  to  HQ."
He stopped speaking to spin the monitor around so that Abe could  see  the
screen as the information he called for appeared.
    "Here is all the additional data that you didn't get due to  security
reasons. This should answer all of the rest of your questions."
    Abe  nodded,  quickly  scanning  the   additional   information   and
committing it to memory. "Then the underground does  have  access  to  the
comp files?," he said finally, after reading the data.
    "Yes," agreed the Director. "They are getting  in  somewhere  but  we
have yet to determine where and close the door. Until then, they can  play
havoc with the comp."
    "I can see why you are interested in this case,  then.  If  we  don't
find the door, they can  do  literally  anything  and  get  away  with  it
completely, with no worry of getting caught!"
    "That," agreed the Director," is why  we  want  you  to  follow  this
Charles Joiner out into the colonies and find out who and what he and what
it is that they are up to!"
    "Ok, I'm your man then. This sounds like  an  easy  assignment  after
all. And I will have plenty of time to relax," he said with a  laugh.  "It
may actually turn out to be a vacation.
    "That is one way to look at it," laughed the  Director.  "A  vacation
that no ammount of money can buy!"
    Things moved quickly  after  that.  There  was  a  rush  to  get  him
processed and into the system soon enough to be on the Oppenheimer when it
left orbit for Mars. Once he had been down  to  the  Hypnocenter  and  was
crammed with a complete knowledge of Astronavigation, he  was  transferred
to the Internal Security offices in North Africa, to await the  launch  of
the last shuttle of prisoners.
    He was being escorted down into the prisoners section  when  his  two
guards stopped at an  office  and  passed  him  through  the  door  to  an
immaculately dressed lieutenant waiting inside.
    "Please sit, sir." The Lieutenant asked.
    Abe said nothing but sat as the lieutenant left  the  office  by  the
front door. After a short wait the inner office door opened and  Abe  came
face to face with Major Caine. Abe leaped to his feet as he  entered,  but
sat down again as the Major waved absently at his chair.
    "This will be your  last  briefing,"  said  Caine,  placing  a  large
briefcase on the desk. "And I brought along some  special  equipment  that
you will be needing on the mission."
    Abe said nothing but settled in to wait and listen to  what  the  man
had to say.

    Time. How do you measure time in a gray box with no windows? Two days
or ten days could have passed. Or two hours. Memory hazes after  a  period
of disorientation. But finally, after a small eternity  he  heard  a  door
open down the hall and soon after that a large guard appeared.
    "Come on," the guard ordered. "You're wanted up front." He  stood  as
the guard opened up the cell door and then was led to a  series  of  rooms
where he was slowly processed through the system. He was photographed, his
fingerprints and retina prints recorded, he  had  his  height  and  weight
measured, his blood type, tissue type and finally his brain wave  patterns
recorded. After they were satisfied that he really was who they thought he
was, they returned him to his cell. Through the entire grim ordeal no one,
except for a few terse commands, had spoken  to  him.  And  no  one  would
answer any of his questions.
    When he reentered his cell he found a plain but filling meal  waiting
for him. Algae paste proteins but then he had hardly  expected  more  than
that. And although he could find no indications of one,  there  must  have
been a camera monitoring his cell because, as soon as he had finished  his
meal, the guard reappeared to remove the empty tray. When  the  guard  had
disappeared another man, in a  dark  suit  that  almost  screamed  Lawyer,
appeared and let himself into the cell.
    "Hi, I'm Marc Williams," he said, announcing himself before he sat on
the bed next to Joe. "I have been assigned by the courts  as  your  public
    "It's about time," Joe said crossly. "I am getting sick and tired  of
all this runaround. But I can afford a real attorney,  I  don't  need  one
assigned to me."
    "I am a real attorney and it's no runaround," he  said.  "I'm  afraid
the arrest is legitimate."
    "Legitimate?,"  protested  Joe.  "Bull  shit.  I  just  arrived  from
Armstrong and I haven't been here long enough to break any laws."
    "Nonetheless you were  picked  up  with  a  known  courier  from  the
underground. It is suspected that you are also a courier here to  pick  up
something and return it to the Armstrong."
    "That's crazy," Joe shouted, leaping to his feet. The  cell  was  too
small to pace in but he remained standing.
    "No, it's not crazy," Marc continued. "Unfortunately the evidence  is
stacked against you and there will be  no  acquittal.  In  fact  you  have
already been found guilty! That is why  you  were  assigned  an  attorney.
Since you have already been judged guilty, you have no need to  hire  one.
The money would just be wasted."
    "Look," said Joe in desperation. "We both know that  the  underground
idea is nuts. The government..." He stopped to  wave  a  hand  toward  the
front of the building. "Everyone knows that Internal Security controls the
underground and now, you are trying to tell me that the police think I  am
a member? Internal Security knows who they all are, just check with them."
    Marc held up his hands in supplication. "Look," he said. "I know  you
are not a courier, but the charges will stand,  no  matter  what  you  do.
Besides, before you could appeal the charges, you will  be  long  gone.  I
don't like this any better than you do. This is one of my  least  favorite
jobs and I am probably going to get into trouble telling you this but what
the hell." He stopped and looked up toward the light fixture. "If they are
going to railroad you, at least you should know why. The police  want  you
out of the picture and this is the easiest way to do it."
    "But why?" Joe asked in a puzzled voice. "What the hell am I supposed
to have done?"
    "Nothing. Personally I think that you are in the right and she should
be the one punished."
    "She? Amiru?," said Joe incredulously. "What has she got to  do  with
    "Everything," continued Marc. "In fact she is the reason that you are
here. Look, you obviously don't know who she is. Her  husband  is  Senator
Polkova, one of the richest men in the world. And her own personal fortune
is not far below that. He is in his seventies, while she is in  her  early
twenties. Usually he just looks the other way when she has her affairs but
then, she's not supposed to be so blatant about them."  Marc  stopped  and
waved back to the bed. "Sit down," he said. I don't like the way  you  are
looming over me and my neck is beginning to ache. Please?"
    Joe sat, reluctantly. "Okay," he said. "But if what you are saying is
true, why did they ever get married in the first place?"
    "You obviously don't know much about politics  either.  In  Malaysia,
the law says that if he dies while in office, his  designated  replacement
inherits his seat. And she is who he designated. True, she will still have
to stand for reelection but believe me, as  an  incumbent,  it  is  almost
impossible to lose the seat! This is just about the only way she  stood  a
chance to get into the Senate. And as one of the youngest members  of  the
World Senate, she stands to inherit untold power and wield it for  a  very
long time. It was in her best interests to marry him. And  he  needed  her
family's power at the time to  get  a  special  project  of  his  through.
Otherwise it would have stood no chance at all. So believe me when  I  say
it was a marriage based only on political power, not love.
    "Unfortunately for you, at this moment there is a behind  the  scenes
power struggle going on in the Security Council.  Senator  Polkova  chairs
that council and he does not need an unfaithful wife's affairs  thrown  in
his face by his political rivals at this  time.  He  needed  to  show  his
opponents that he still can wield the power necessary to get his job done.
You just turned out to be the example he needed. It is strictly  politics,
backroom, knifepoint politics and there is nothing either  of  us  can  do
about it."
    "Ok. So if what you say is true, just what can I do?"
    "Nothing," admitted Marc sadly. "In a couple of days you will  go  on
trial. And then it will be officially over. Look, you are lucky. This is a
rush job. You will be tried, packaged, and sent off so fast  that  no  one
will see you go. You will be on the Oppenheimer when it leaves  next  week
for Mars."
    "Mars?" Joe asked. "Just what the hell is an orbital  pilot  supposed
to do on Mars?"
    "Not much. But there is a dire need for qualified ships pilots out in
the belt."
    "Well, that's something," Joe snarled in frustration. "But  once  out
there, I can't return. Ever! That is not fair! What about the rest  of  my
life? and the plans I have. Have you tried contacting  my  family  to  see
what they can do? My father is powerful in his own right"
    "So who ever said life was fair?," shot back Marc. "There is  nothing
they can do for you. Your father cannot buck  the  power  Senator  Polkova
wields. Especially on his own turf. Had you  gone  to  Italy  instead,  it
would be a different story. Besides, it's a  whole  new  life  out  there.
Internal Security does not have it's tentacles there yet and may never  do
    "So what's that supposed to mean?," asked Joe guardedly,  picking  up
on the tone of the statement.
    Marc said nothing, but  reached  into  his  inside  coat  pocket.  He
removed a small black box with a couple of switches on it. He turned it on
and set a dial. "I have to talk fast," he said. This  is  a  squealer.  It
puts out a high frequency signal that overloads the audio pickup and  they
cannot monitor our conversation. There are big things happening there  and
the belt is the place to be. If you are interested you will be in  on  the
action at one of the major turning points in history."
    "Like what?," asked Joe, beginning to get interested.
    "I can't tell you too much because I don't know much myself. But  you
are one of the types that I look for. You fit a specific job  profile.  In
fact the profile could have been written right from  your  records,  since
you are the closest match I have ever found. But believe  me  when  I  say
that this is not an end but a beginning. A new and  bright  beginning  for
Mars and the Asteroid Colonies. That is the place to be and you will learn
more once you are out there. If you are interested, that is. There will be
a ship on Deimos captained by Shaun O'Cassidy and the ship's name  is  the
Runner, be on it."
    "I'll think about it," Joe said. "Okay?"
    Marc smiled. "Sure. That's really all that I can ask.  There  is  one
more thing though," he said, turning off the box. He handed  Joe  a  short
stack of papers. "These are the bills from the New Raffles. If  you  would
look them over and approve them I can authorize their  payment  from  your
cash reserve. You do, by the way, have enough cash to cover it all."
    Joe smiled, taking the papers.  "Sure,"  he  said.  "It's  not  their
fault, what happened to me. It was a good hotel and they  deserve  to  get
paid." He read and then signed them for Marc. "How much will be left  over
after all of the bills are paid?"
    "Your personal accounts cannot be touched," said Mark
    "What happens to them?"
    "Once you are officially declared guilty it gets transferred to Mars.
The official rate of exchange is one standard credit per Mars dollar.  The
actual value is about ten Mars dollars to one credit,  so  the  government
stiff's you there too. But there is nothing that you can do about it. They
own the game and they make all of the rules. But you  still  will  have  a
very large total," Marc explained. "Much more  than  most  who  arrive  on
Mars. You won't be badly off at all. In fact, you will have enough  credit
to buy your own ship outright if you want one. Few captains  ever  get  to
own their own ships."
    "Why is that?," asked Joe. He had never expected to get sent  to  the
colonies so he, like  most  had  learned  very  little  about  the  actual
situation out there.
    "It's tied in with the economic situation," said Marc. "Remember what
I said the Mars dollar is actually worth? Well here's how it  works.  When
you buy a ship, the banks, which are Earth controlled  will  not  deal  in
Mars dollars because they consider it a local currency. You must  exchange
them for standard credits first. That is where they get  you  again.  They
exchange them back at the real value of ten to one.  Everything  that  you
buy, you pay actual value for but  everything  that  you  sell,  including
currency, you only get one tenth of its actual  value.  They  figure  it's
value in credits and then pay you in Mars Dollars. That  way  they  cannot
lose. It's a system that is very unfair and one that needs changing badly."
    "Is there any way around it?," asked Joe. "Could I buy a ship here on
    "No. The system was designed to gut the  colonies  of  everything  of
value to supply a  resource  starved  Earth.  As  a  result  nearly  every
colonist is not only broke but deeply in debt to the banks. They spend all
of their time working to supply the hunger of the industries both  on  and
off Earth. We now effectively have a class of serfs. An entire  population
economically tied to a piece of land with absolutely no way to  move  from
it. In this case the piece of land is the Asteroid belt but it is still  a
valid analogy. They toil unceasingly, never getting out of  debt  but  are
always trying, although they fall deeper and deeper into debt every day."
    "Why?," asked Joe in a puzzled voice. "What happens then?"
    "Nothing. A person who is in debt is a person that can be controlled,
a person who is owned. They  want  you  in  debt.  The  entire  system  is
designed to keep you there. Remember that it is only a paper debt. If  the
colonists were paid a proper wage most of them would not  be  in  debt  at
all. As of now the belt simply does not produce enough to cover  the  full
cost of the colonies. There is a huge deficit that Earth  feels  more  and
more as her own economy falters. It keeps the  colonists  locked  to  this
system to assure themselves that every last drop of blood is squeezed  out
of them."
    "I'm not sure that I understand," said Joe. "What kind of a  whip  do
they hold? If everyone is in debt then why bother to try to repay them?"
    "Everything is bought and sold through the banks.  If  you  don't  do
what they feel that you are capable of then they can reduce  your  rations
until you are on a starvation diet. But they rarely  do  that.  There  are
other ways of keeping people in line. Ship Captains, for instance face the
possibility of losing their ships. In fact that  is  where  they  get  the
crews for the Mars runs. Operating a big freighter is a  very  undesirable
job. The crews are on a very fixed income and have no chance of striking a
big mineral or ore deposit like the mining ships do. They get no frills or
luxuries, just the bare essentials. Most miners will do nearly anything to
avoid falling that far. And there are other equally undesirable jobs.  The
only way to fill them is from the debtors rolls."
    Marc saw the confusion in Joe's eyes and quickly continued. "The roll
is a complete list of the population of the colonies and how far  in  debt
everyone is. When a job opening occurs the man or woman on the  bottom  of
the list is assigned to  it.  Once  you  are  assigned  to  one  of  these
positions you serve for one year. At the end of that time your debt is cut
in half and that raises you up above the point where you won't get another
such assignment soon. There is a large enough turnover that at one time or
another nearly all of the population is close to the assignment point."
    "Damn," said Joe. "It sounds a lot like slavery to me, yet  you  said
that the belt is the place to be. Why?"
    "A repressive system such as that cannot last long. It will  have  to
be changed and believe me, it will. Go out there and wait and  see."  Marc
said no more but stood and let himself out of  the  cell.  He  disappeared
down the gray corridor and Joe heard the security door down the long  hall
open and then shut behind the departing man.

    Dr. Quade awoke to keys jangling in the lock of his cell. He  sat  up
on the side of the narrow cot, awaiting his captors. The cot was  a  small
comfort in a cell of harsh angles. A toilet was set in one corner next  to
a concrete sink. A single faucet gave what water he needed. Cold water. No
sense in making it any more comfortable than necessary.
    "Prisoner 13401, step out of the cell." Dr. Quade stood and  examined
his guard. Large, efficient looking. No apparent weapons, and probably had
little need for any. As Dr. Quade left  the  cell  the  guard  backed  up,
staying out of easy reach. In the narrow  gray  corridor  stood  a  second
guard, similar in appearance  to  the  first.  "Turn  and  walk  down  the
passage," the guard directed with a curt, gruff voice. As Dr. Quade slowly
made his way down the hall, the second guard stopped and relocked the cell
door. On his way down the hall Dr. Quade passed a number of  other  cells.
Most were empty but a few contained other prisoners. At the far end of the
hall a heavy steel door opened  out  onto  a  large  busy  hall  with  the
standard flavor of administration. The heavy steel door swung  closed  and
was locked behind him and he was escorted to a small office. Here  he  was
directed to sit in a chair next to a desk.
    "Prisoner 13401," a pretty young girl began, switching  on  her  desk
comp terminal. "We have finished entering your  trial  data  and  are  now
ready to transfer you out." She punched a few keys on the terminal  and  a
printer clattered into life before ejecting a small  plastic  card.  "Keep
this with you at all times," she directed. She reached into a  lower  desk
drawer and removed a long chain.
    "Wear it around your neck," she said,  attaching  the  chain  to  the
card. She then handed the card and chain to Dr. Quade. On one side of  the
card was his photo and on the other his pertinent biological  data  and  a
name. Charles Joiner. "The card will allow you to move  freely  about  the
holding areas of the ship," she said. She turned to the two  guards.  "I'm
through with him here," she instructed. "You can now take him to medical."
He stood, allowing the two guards to lead him out of the office, back into
the corridor and into another set of suites a short distance away. Here he
was confronted by a tall young man  who  handed  him  a  clipboard  and  a
    "Fill out all of the forms and  then  return  them  to  me,"  he  was
directed. Dr. Quade took  a  seat  at  a  nearby  booth  and  began.  They
contained all of the usual questions. List any and all allergies,  history
of broken bones, and so on and so on. After completing  the  paperwork  he
was next subjected to the most complete physical examination that  he  had
had the misfortune of experiencing. Feeling at least five  pounds  lighter
from the tissue and fluid samples they took, he was at  last  turned  back
over to his two guards.
    The last stop on the agenda was at the far end of the corridor.  Here
he was keyed through a security door into a small antechamber. Mounted  on
the wall at waist level, next to another security door was  a  small  card
reader. He inserted his card into  the  slot  and  the  door  cycled  open
revealing a comfortable waiting lounge where he was, for  the  first  time
since his arrest, in the company of other prisoners. Mounted high  on  one
wall was a vid terminal tuned to one of the local sports stations. A table
in the corner was being used by four men as a card table. Other  prisoners
made use of the large collection of books and magazines spread through the
    One of the card players stood and made his way over to him.  "Do  you
know how to play five-man murder?,"  he  asked.  The  man  was  short  and
swarthy with a definite Mediterranean look about him. His  long  face  was
accentuated by short black hair and cold blue eyes.
    "Yeah, but not since college," said Dr. Quade. "A long time ago."
    "College man, huh? Well professor, few of  us  here  have  much  book
learning but I think that you will find us a pretty sharp crew." He  stuck
out his hand. "I'm Joe" he said, introducing himself."
    "I'm, uh, just call me Charlie, Ok?," said Dr. Quade.
    "Sure thing. Come on over and meet the rest of the gang." He  led  Dr
Quade over to the table. "That's Pete," began Joe, moving around the table
toward a large man with a red beard and hair, with noticeably  green  eyes
set back into his head. Pete nodded his acknowledgment.
    "Next to him is Tom," continued Joe. "Not his real name though. Won't
tell us who he is so we all kinda settled on Tom." Tom examined Dr. Quade,
blinking once but otherwise not speaking at all.  "Last  is  Abdullah.  He
doesn't speak much English but he is a real sharp card  player."  Abdullah
also nodded.
    And I am Joe Franchelli. Ipso facto leader of this motley montage  of
assorted criminals and ragtag citizenry.
    "Call me Charlie," he announced to the  group.  "But  before  we  get
started do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"
    "Depends," said Joe. "What do you want to know?"
    "First," began Charlie, "Where are we?"
    "Here?," Asked Joe in surprise. "Internal Security HQ., North Africa.
The largest military base on the continent."
    "Their shuttle launch base, right?"
    "Correct," said Joe. "What else do you want to know?"
    "That's the main thing, but do you happen to know when we lift to the
Mars ship?"
    "Mars," said Pete wistfully. "Do you know that we are lucky? Today is
the last lift to the ship before she leaves  orbit.  After  today's  lift,
Mars will be too far out of position for another ship  launch.  Only  fast
ships using grav-whip  can  make  the  run.  Far  too  expensive  to  send
colonists that way. By next launch date, the Antarctic penal  colony  will
have lost twenty-five percent of their inmates. Did you know that?"
    Charlie shook his head. "No, I've never heard those figures before."
    "Yeah, well it's true," finished Joe.  "They  don't  usually  publish
those figures on the newsvid. Anyway, lift is in about  two  hours.  Let's
play murder."
    Abdullah dealt first and Charlie waited until all of  his  cards  had
been dealt him before picking up his hand.  "Damn,"  he  thought.  Only  a
small death. He might just fill it but the  odds  were  he  would  suicide
first. He examined the other players, seeking information in their  faces.
Joe looked worried, Tom and Pete were completely unreadable  and  Abdullah
looked pleased. "Well," he thought to himself, "I'll  concentrate  on  the
two I can read and try to get the feel  of  the  other  two  as  the  game
    "I'll take one," announced Tom, seated to Abdullah's  left.  Abdullah
dealt him one card. Tom picked it up and discarded a jack. And so the play
    As the end of the two hours approached Charlie felt that he had  done
rather well, managing to complete one full murder while  holding  his  own
fairly well on the hands that had fallen against him.
    Joe finally scooped up the cards and  returned  them  to  their  box,
which then disappeared into a pocket. "Reconvene aboard ship  gentlemen?,"
he asked with a shy grin.
    "Sure thing," said Charlie. "Look me up." The others  all  nodded  in
    "Attention" said a soft feminine voice a short time later. "You  will
all exit the lounge by the rear door,"  she  said,  indicating  the  heavy
steel door was set in the back wall of the lounge. "As you go through  the
door you all must run your card through  the  reader,"  the  hidden  voice
continued. "Once aboard the transport you may sit wherever  you  wish  but
you all must sit. When you are all aboard, the transport will run you  out
to the shuttle." The voice cut off abruptly as the steel door swung  open,
revealing a small room with another glass door at the far end.
    Dr. Quade joined the queue at the door, finding himself a seat at the
rear of the vehicle. After a short run out onto the shuttle parking  area,
the transport's rear doors mated with the boarding lock on the large craft
and both doors opened, allowing access to the interior of the ship.
    "All please exit the transport and seat yourselves  in  the  shuttle"
the feminine voice ordered.
    The interior of the shuttle was much like the commercial ships, which
Dr. Quade was very familiar, but there were a few minor changes. One,  the
seats were narrower, allowing more of them. In  this  version  there  were
three seats on each side of the narrow aisle instead of  the  normal  two.
And the compartments usually found up over the seats had been  removed  as
was the forward flight attendants station. Most notably, the  access  door
between the passenger and pilots compartments was missing. In  it's  place
was a blank aluminum bulkhead.
    "Please make sure that your safety harnesses are fastened  securely,"
a male voice announced, and Dr. Quade  assumed  that  the  pilot  was  now
speaking. "Lift-off will be in ten minutes."
    Dr. Quade had gotten on  board  the  shuttle  early  and  had  seated
himself in one of the better seats, in front of  the  deeply  swept  wings
where the vibration would be slightly less. He would have a good  view  of
the terraine through the side viewport as the shuttle lifted off from  the
large air base.
    In the center seat next to him sat Joe, and a young man, one  of  the
last to enter the shuttle occupied the aisle seat.  There  was  almost  no
conversation in the shuttle as  a  dark  feeling  of  anticipation  spread
through the vehicle. A slight vibration could be felt and, soon after  the
access hatch had been closed and sealed, the whine of the four  large  jet
engines could be heard. They were mounted close in  to  the  body  of  the
shuttle, the base of the wings widening around them to protect  them  from
reentry shock. Special panels mated with the wings could be closed off  to
protect them from reentry heat.
    Outside the viewscreen the scenery of the North African desert  swung
around as the shuttle rolled down the curving access lane, heading  toward
the main runways. The shuttle made one last tight turn to align  its  nose
wheel with the center stripe of the miles long runway and Dr. Quade  could
see the massive white concrete and tinted  plas  building  that  contained
Internal Security HQ. Suddenly the wing engines accelerated to a near  ear
piercing whine and the shuttle lurched into a smooth roll  down  the  long
runway. The passengers were pressed back into their meagerly padded  seats
and the gray white desert sand dropped away below them as the big  shuttle
clawed it's way upward, fighting for altitude. Up in the cockpit the pilot
decreased his throttle settings as his  flight  speed  increased  and  the
shuttle gained lift, bringing the engine noise in the passenger cabin down
to a much more tolerable level.
    The pilot thumbed the intercom switch as the  shuttle  passed  60,000
feet. "May I have your attention please," he  announced.  "At  this  time,
please do not remove your safety  harnesses.  Scramjet  ignition  will  be
taking place in about thirty seconds. We will be going balistic briefly as
I reconfigure airflow through the engines."
    Dr Quade could feel the rumblings of the powerful  scramjets  as  the
shuttle's speed came within ignition range. He pressed his head back  into
the padding in anticipation when, without warning, all aceleration  ceased
followed almost immediately by a surge in acceleration  as  the  four  big
engines fired, thrusting all passengers back deeply into their  seats  and
accelerating the shuttle far past the sound barrier.
    "Remarkable  piece  of  machinery,"  Dr  Quade  thought.  Powered  by
ram/scramjets in the lower reaches of the  atmosphere  and  liquid  fueled
rockets when out in space. They were launched from  huge  bases  near  the
equator to take advantage  of  the  Earth's  rotational  speed,  and  were
capable of short hops into low earth orbit to rendezvous with Leo base.
    At about 260,000 feet the scramjets began faltering and  three  small
rocket engines cut in, propelling the shuttle into a stable  Earth  orbit,
to match with Leo base.
    Out of the port side windows the prisoners could clearly see the  big
station. "Impressive, is it not?" commented Charlie.
    "You should see Shepherd if you think this one is big."
    "I've seen it Joe. I've seen them all. But they all are beautiful  in
their own way."
    "I know what you mean. I believe that is why I have  never  tired  of
space. No matter how often you see something, it can always  look  new  to
you. It is as if you forget just how beautiful it all can be. Space can be
quite spectacular." There was a touch  of  awe  and  wonder  coloring  his
    "I wonder what we are waiting for," said Charlie finally. "I  thought
that we were heading for Leo base."
    "That is what I had heard. But I have no idea what is happening now."
    After a short wait the cabis speaker crackled into life. "This is the
pilot speaking," he began. "It looks like the Mars ship is anxious to  get
you all on board. Leo is sending out a sled with an auxiliary fuel tank on
board. Once it is mated to the shuttle, we will boost directly out to  the
    In the cabin Charlie and Joe said little, letting the confused voices
of the other prisoners quiet down a bit.
    "I didn't know these shuttles could do that," Charlie said finally.
    "Neither did I. Apparently that is something that they  do  not  want
too many people to know about. Although I cannot understand why."
    "{erhaps it is merely a matter of economics. It  is  far  cheaper  to
load everyone into the small orbital busses instead of  boosting  his  big
thing all the way out to geosynch. it's a big ship to move tha far."
    "Yeah, I guess that you are right," conceded Joe.
    A slow moving light outise the port attracted their attention.
    Soon, they could see the outlines of a small sled with a  large  fuel
tank strapped underneath. the sled  disappeared  below  the  view  of  the
prisoners and before long they felt a small bump as the tank was mated  to
the belly of the bug shuttle.
    "May I have your attention again," said the unseen pilot. "If any  of
you have removed your seat belts or have left your seats, please return to
them. In ninety seconds I will be initiating a  burn  that  will  lift  us
below the orbit of the Oppenheimer. Once the burn is completed,  you  will
have the opportunity to stretch your legs a bit. If any of you need to use
the facilities, be sure that you read the instructions  completely  before
you make a mess. I will not be cleaning it up, you will."
    "Sounds like a nice guy," said Charlie with a grin.
    Joe chuckled quietly but said nothing.
    Suddenly, with no warning, the main engined fired atan and they could
see Leo base disappearing behind them as the Shuttle moved away.
    The pilot threw the ship into a tight eliptical orbit,  dipping  down
nearly into the atmosphere, using the Earth's gravity to add more speed to
the shuttle. The top of the ellipse would be near but below the  orbit  of
the Oppenheimer, awaiting them in geosynch.
    "Okay, that's it  folks,"  the  pilot  finally  announced  after  the
engines had shut down. "We will be in zero gee for some  time  now  and  I
will warn you all before we make our next  burn  to  rendezvoux  with  the
Oppenheimer. You can now remove your seat belts and move about  the  cabin
if you wish."
    In the cabin, Charlie was enjoying the view. He  could  see  a  large
portion of the Earth through his port. Beside him, Joe leaned over to  get
a last glimps of Earth.
    "I thought that you would have gotten used to  this  sight  by  now,"
commented Charlie.
    "Never. Every time you see it, it takes your  breath  away.  Besides,
this is the last time I am going to see Earth again. And  I  am  going  to
miss her."
    "Home sick?"
    "A little. But mostly mad. There is so much that I wanted to see. And
now it is all being taken away from me and there is nothing I can do about
it. My last meal was in Singapore, on a Junk."
    Charlie looked at him quizically. "You had to be there," said Joe.
    "There is much that I will miss also. My house for instance. I  lived
in a restored Victorian mansion. No,  not  a  reproduction,  nearly  sixty
percent of the house  was  verified  original.  It  was  on  the  national
historic register. True, I did not see much of the world but  what  I  did
see, I will also miss." The two men said nothing, both lost in  their  own
private reveries
    The time passed reasonably fast and Joe  noticed  that  none  of  the
other passengers left their seats during the trip, content to stay  seated
as the pilot had reccomended.
    "In five minutes," the  pilot  finally  announced,  I  will  initiate
another engine burn. This will stabilize our orbit to match the Mars ship.
If any of you have left your seats, please return to them  and  make  sure
that your harnesses are fastened." He  made  a  few  last-minute  computer
notations and then fired the main engines.
    The Mars ship lay behind them, about five kilometers  away.  Once  he
was sure that the orbit was stable he reignited the main engine raising it
into a higher, slower orbit. Outside the cabin windows the Mars ship could
be seen, slowly passing the shuttle in it's lower orbit.
    "Shuttle A3 to Oppenheimer," called the pilot, opening a  channel  of
    "This is the  Oppenheimer,"  came  a  confirming  voice.  "Go  ahead,
shuttle A3."
    "Will be arriving at your orbit soon," the pilot  answered.  "I  have
one last load of pilgrims for the wagon train."
    "Roger, shuttle A3," replied the controller with  a  grimace,  as  he
tried to remember all of the variations of that  tired  old  joke  he  had
heard through the years. "Shuttle A3, I have  docking  confirmation  now,"
the controller sent. "Bring your shuttle to access  port  B.  There  is  a
transfer tube set up and waiting for you," he said.
    "Roger, control," the pilot answered. He fired the directional  jets,
expertly bringing the shuttle in alongside the huge ship. Unlike the sleek
shuttle  this  ship  would  never  touch  atmosphere.  Similar  lines   of
engineering could be seen between the Oppenheimer and  the  orbital  sled.
Most of the bulk of the ship was open steel framework connecting the parts
of the ship that were enclosed. At the  front  the  navigation  and  crews
quarters. Farther back were the colonists quarters, linked by  a  pair  of
semi-flexible tunnels to the crews quarters.  Much  farther  behind  that,
near the stern of the big ship lay the engineering modules and finally the
huge nuclear engines. Attached throughout  the  framework  were  the  fuel
bladders, most of which were full. The rest of the  open  space  would  be
filled after the ship reached Mars by the tons of metals and minerals from
the Asteroid mines. On the way out she would be light and relatively fast,
but on the return voyage she would be solid and slow, every usable  square
inch of space filled.
    Somewhere ahead of her were her two sister ships,  the  Einstein  and
the Neils Bohr. The Bohr would  reach  Mars  in  about  thirty  days,  the
Einstein two weeks later and the Oppenheimer in about two months. Once  at
Mars they would put down on Deimos to be refitted by  the  shipyards  that
had built them.
    The access port swung into view, its docking tube reaching  out  from
the side of the ship like a huge gun barrel. Near the end of the tube were
four suited  figures.  The  pilot  stopped  all  motion  relative  to  the
Oppenheimer, his job over for the moment.
    The suited figures wrestled  with  the  tube,  extending  it  farther
outward to mate against the outer lock seal of the shuttle. After the tube
had been pressurized, a man  opened  the  shuttle  door  and  entered  the
    "Ok, this is the end of the line," he said. "Those of  you  who  have
zero-gee experience are requested to leave the  shuttle  now.  All  others
will remain seated. There will be crew members along shortly to  help  the
rest of you over to the Oppenheimer."
    A few of the passengers released their seat harnesses. "More  than  I
expected," thought Quade, surprised. He  himself,  having  been  in  space
often had no trouble  navigating  in  zero-gee,  quickly  making  his  way
through the long boarding tunnel and over to the huge ship. Once on  board
he found himself in a narrow corridor with an airtight  door  at  the  far
end. Set in the wall next to the door was a small card reader.  Dr.  Quade
inserted his ID and the door cycled open.
    Quade stepped in through the open door and was confronted by  a  desk
with a comp-terminal set into it. Seated at the desk was a large  man,  of
light complexion and brown hair,  with  the  look  of  middle  age  nearly
    "Charles Joiner?," he asked. "I am Alex Dunkes, Prisoner liaison. You
have been assigned to room L7. If you take  this  main  corridor  down  to
cross-corridor L and turn right, L7 will be near the end of the hall.  You
will find your sleeping quarters there. There will be  a  meeting  in  the
colonists mess in two hours. Be there."
    Quade took that as a dismissal and pushed off down  the  corridor  in
search of his room. It turned out to be quite easy to find and  inside  he
found a long narrow room with six zero-gee hammocks stretched  across  the
two closest walls. He was the first one assigned  here  so  he  chose  the
farthest hammock from the door and slipped in, sealing the edges to insure
that he stayed there. After a brief wait the  door  cycled  open  and  Joe
    "Charlie," Said Joe. "I hoped to get in with you. When I saw that you
had your space legs I followed you out." They were interrupted by the door
opening to admit Tom. "Seems like old home week," continued Joe. The  room
was soon filled, the last three arrivals  were  unknown  although  Charlie
thought that he remembered them from the Earthside lounge. Neither of  the
three had ever been in space before so  Charlie,  Joe  and  Tom  spent  an
amusing  hour  and  a  half  teaching  them  the  rudiments  of   zero-gee
    They finally had to call a halt to the impromptu aerobatics. "Meeting
in ten minutes," announced Charlie finally. "Does anyone know the  way  to
the mess?"
    "No," said Joe, "But I think that I can find out." He pushed off from
the wall, aiming for the communications panel set near the  door  and  the
hand-grip beside it. There he keyed the button marked 'information'.
    "May I help you," said the communicator, with the  definite  metallic
voice patterns of a comp.
    "Yes," said Joe. "How do I get to the colonists mess?"
    "Return to the main corridor and proceed aft. The corridor ends in an
airtight door. That is the colonists mess,"  the  computer  directed  with
it's synthetic voice.
    Together the six of them left the room to join the procession in  the
main corridor heading for the mess. Most of the new arrivals had  not  had
much practice in zero-gee which slowed traffic  considerably.  Experienced
space hands would not have any trouble traveling in this size of a  crowd,
but due to inexperience the speed had dropped to a literal crawl.  Charlie
was forced to move slowly,  one  handgrip  at  a  time  toward  the  mess.
Somewhere ahead of him was Joe, lost in the traffic jam. Tom  had  managed
to stay near him but the other three were  nowhere  to  be  seen.  Charlie
finally  arrived  at  the  mess  which  turned  out   to   look   like   a
restaurateurs's worst nightmare. Tables and benches were attached  to  the
floor, the ceiling and to two of the four walls. The back  wall,  opposite
the entry door was given over entirely to small lockers. The  access  door
opened on the forward wall which was the only bare surface in the room.  A
lot of the tables were already occupied but Charlie saw Joe  wave  to  him
while zealously guarding an empty  table.  As  Charlie  sailed  over,  Joe
extended an arm, assisting him into one of the empty  seats.  He  fastened
his lap harness to insure that he stayed there. Tom, and  then  the  other
three quickly arrived to fill the small table.
    Soon all of the seats seemed to be filled and Alex Dunkes entered the
room. All conversation stopped when he entered. Alex allowed his  momentum
to carry him across the room, grabbing a handgrip set between the lockers.
He flipped himself around to face the men, using  the  handgrips  to  keep
himself in place.
    "Ok, listen  carefully,"  he  said,  speaking  as  a  seasoned  drill
sergeant would to new recruits. "I am Alex Dunkes. And like all of you,  I
to am an immigrant, not one of the ship's crew. From now  on  you  are  no
longer prisoners. You are colonists. Remember that.
    I left Earth twelve years ago and  since  then  have  worked  my  way
upward in the hierarchy of the Mars Government. My job is  simply  to  run
the immigrants desk. I ride the ship to and from  Earth  solely  for  your
benefit. And yes, I do get well-paid for  it."  A  wave  of  laughter  ran
across the tightly-packed room.
    "The door by which you entered the ship, by the registration desk  is
the  farthest  forward  you  will  be  allowed  to  travel  under   normal
circumstances. This room is the aft limit. Your entire world for the  next
two months will fall between those two boundaries.
    "If any of you are thinking of escape,  think  again.  In  the  first
place there is no place to go. We are presently in orbit around Earth  and
will soon be boosting out of orbit on our way to Mars. There are no  space
suits here for you so you wouldn't get very far. Second, there is  no  one
among you qualified to operate this ship. We are completely at  the  mercy
of our captors.
    "Once we reach Mars, your past is gone," he continued.  "You  are  no
longer prisoners, as I said earlier, but Mars colonists and as  such,  all
forms of work are available to you. You will find that there are far  more
jobs than there are people to fill them. One thing  that  I  want  you  to
remember. No one ever returns to Earth.  Not  even  me.  I  am  completely
restricted to the ship while we are in Earth orbit. Even the stations  are
off limits to me.
    Also, as I said before all forms of employment are open to  you.  Our
highest official, the Governor of  Mars,  is  also,  like  yourselves,  an
    "You will find that in order  to  move  freely  about  the  colonists
section you will need your ID card. You will not be  allowed  in  berthing
quarters not assigned to you unless specifically invited in by one of  the
occupants and your cards will not open any door other than  your  own.  At
the end of each cross-corridor you will find a large community room. These
rooms are open to all.  There  you  will  find  a  dispenser  of  suitable
beverages, none of which, however are alcoholic." Another  small  wave  of
laughter crossed the room.
    "This room, the mess is where you will take all of your meals. We are
on a rotational schedule. In your room below the  communicator  panel  you
will see a row of colored lights. The  top  light,  the  red  one  is  the
emergency alarm. If this light is on, you will not  be  allowed  to  leave
your room. And if you are out  of  your  room  when  the  emergency  alarm
sounds, return immediately and seal yourselves into  your  hammocks.  Once
all of you are in the room the  door  will  seal,  insuring  a  completely
airtight seal in the event of a loss of atmosphere.
    "The other eight lights are the shift lights. When the blue light  is
on you will be able to enter the mess. Your card will not open the door at
other times. There will be three meals a day, each lasting one hour spaced
four hours apart during your 'day'. There will be no meals  served  during
your 'night'. These small lockers behind me are where you  will  get  your
meals. There is one locker for every man aboard. I suggest that  you  find
your locker after this meeting so that at your next  meal  there  will  be
less confusion.
    "In each  of  the  community  rooms  you  will  find  comp  terminals
connected to the ships library. Also in each of the berthing  rooms  is  a
vid, with an extensive library of contemporary programming. You  are  free
to make use of all of them. If you have any problems I  can  be  found  in
room A1. Are there any questions?"
    Throughout the room a number of hands were raised. Alex picked one at
    "When do we leave for Mars?," asked a young man on the other side  of
the room.
    "Loading of fuel will be completed in about  three  hours.  The  ship
boosts shortly after that." Alex scanned the room, looking for more hands.
All had been withdrawn.
    "Then that is all that I have. You are all free to go."


    Major Caine looked up from his desk, interrupted by a quick knock  on
his door. "Come in," he ordered. The door  opened  and  Lieutenant  Hadley
entered the large neat office.
    "May I have a word with you sir?," he asked.
    "Yes Lieutenant, come in and sit down," the major said, waving a hand
toward one of the plush chairs in his large office.
    The young Lieutenant settled himself in a  comfortable  chair  placed
near the large ornate desk. "Sir," he began. "As  you  know  I  have  been
attempting to track down the audio and video records made  by  the  police
the other night at Dr. Quade's house."
    "Yes Lieutenant. Continue."
    "At first, sir, I thought that I was getting  a  runaround.  I  could
find no one who remembered or acnowledged a call being answered by a heavy
cruiser that  night.  I  finally  took  matters  into  my  own  hands  and
personally checked the police records.
    "All of the heavy cruisers  assigned  to  that  precinct  house  were
accounted for and could easily be proven to be nowhere near the area  that
night. I then checked on the whereabouts of every heavy  cruiser  assigned
to the city. As there are only twenty-four of the machines here, it proved
to be an easy task. There is no way that any one of them could  have  been
there that evening. They are all accounted for.
    "Next, there is no record of a disconnect alarm on the house comp.  I
personally had the machine disconnected  while  waiting  at  the  precinct
house. No alarm was sounded. Sir, I am at a complete loss to  explain  any
of it."
    "Is that all, Lieutenant?"
    "No sir, there is  one  other  thing,"  he  said  nervously,  pausing
between sentence as if reluctant to continue. Finally he said, "Dr.  Quade
has disappeared."
    "Escaped?," asked Major Caine sharply, focussing his entire attention
on Lieutenant Hadley.
    "No sir, not exactly. Just gone." The young man  stopped  briefly  to
order his thoughts before continuing. "Sir, it's as if the man  was  never
here. There is no record of him arriving, no record of him in any  of  our
detention cells  and  no  record  of  him  leaving.  I  have  put  out  an
interdepartmental order to all of our active operatives in an  attempt  to
locate the man. But so far we have met with no success."
    "Who knew of his arrest, Lieutenant?"
    "Only those actively involved in the case here sir, but there  is  no
telling where those police records from the other night have gone, or  who
may have seen them," he continued. "Therefore I sent out the locate  order
as a priority A7 operation."
    "Good. But if  you  had  asked  I  would  have  authorized  a  higher
priority. But the A7 will insure full discretion of our operatives." Major
Caine turned to his personal comp, quickly entering his  instructions.  As
his aide had said, there seemed to be no record of him on file.  "Keep  me
informed of whatever you find."
    "Yes sir. I will report to you directly as events change."
    "Very good Lieutenant. I have much to do  here,  so  please  continue
with your efforts," Major Caine said, dismissing the man.

    Two days later Lieutenant Hadley returned to  Major  Caine's  office.
"Sir," he said after being admitted and seating himself. "We found him."
    "Good," said Major Caine. "Whoever found him,  see  that  he  gets  a
    "Actually, I found him, sir," he admitted, "by visually checking  all
of the records of the people who were brought into  custody  in  the  last
week. They managed to change his records but they had to leave his picture
unchanged, or his ID would have been useless."
    "Then I trust he is safely back into custody?"
    "No sir, not exactly," Lieutenant Hadley continued. "He is aboard the
    "The Oppenheimer!," exclaimed Major Caine. "How the hell did  he  get
    "I'm not exactly sure sir, but somehow a fictitious file was  entered
into our comp and Dr. Quade's file was  removed.  He  was  transferred  to
North Africa with the last of the Mars prisoners as a Charles Joiner,  and
was on the Oppenheimer when it left orbit seventy-two hours  ago.  I  have
technicians checking the programming in an attempt to discover how it  was
done. But whoever did it is good sir. Damned good."
    "Thank you, Lieutenant. I will look into it  from  here.  Stay  close
though, I will need you for something later."
    "Seventy-two hours," he thought after Lieutenant Hadley had left  his
office. "A long lead, but perhaps not long enough."
    Two floors down Major Caine found Dr. Vincent in his office. "Efram,"
said Dr Vincent. "What brings you down to the working sections?"
    "Business this time, Paul," Admitted Major Caine, pulling up a chair.
I need  some  information  concerning  the  Oppenheimer.  She  left  orbit
seventy-two hours ago."
    "Yes. I am aware of her schedule, probably better  than  most  here,"
said Dr. Vincent. "Exactly what do you need to know?"
    "Can she be returned to Earth and still make Mars rendezvous safely?"
    "No," he said quickly. "I don't even  have  to  look  that  one  up,"
continued Dr Vincent, surprised. "Since she is the  last  ship,  the  Mars
window has closed for her. If she is brought back now  we  would  have  to
wait till the next window opens. About eighteen months from now. Why?," he
asked curiously.
    "There is a man on board that Earth Government wants back very badly,"
Said Major Caine cautiously. "What can be done about it?"
    "He must be very important if you are actually thinking of  recalling
the Oppenheimer," Dr.  Vincent  said,  stopping  for  a  moment,  weighing
possibilities. Finally he asked. "Can I ask who this man is?"
    Major Caine eyed Dr. Vincent carefully. He had known the man  a  long
time and trusted him explicitly. "Dr. Charles Quade," he said finally."
    "Quade!," exclaimed Dr Vincent. "How in hell did he  get  aboard  the
    "It's a long story, Paul, and one that I better not  get  into  now,"
Major Caine said. "I have already told you more than you  really  need  to
know, but I know that you can be  trusted  to  keep  this  information  to
yourself. Now, what can we do about this problem?"
    "I don't know, but let's find out," Paul said,  turning  to  his  own
desk comp and calling up all pertinent data on the Oppenheimer, and a list
of all operational ships now in Earth orbit. "The Hermes  is  the  fastest
ship that  we  have  at  the  present  time,"  he  explained.  "She  could
rendezvous with the Oppenheimer with no trouble at all.  But  getting  her
back here would be another story. To  be  honest  with  you,  the  easiest
solution is probably the longest. Let him go to Mars and return him on the
first ship when it returns here in eighteen months."
    "I'm not sure that the Senate will accept that solution," said  Major
Caine. "Do we have any other options?"
    "Not many," admitted Dr Vincent reluctantly. "First you could  recall
the Oppenheimer. Not the solution I would recommend because Mars needs all
of the supplies and equipment the Oppenheimer is carrying.
    "Two, we could send the Hermes out  after  him.  She  would  have  no
problem catching the Oppenheimer but she has about a fifty-fifty chance of
getting home with the fuel she can carry. And I  don't  think  the  Senate
will risk Quade on those odds.
    Three, we can let him go on to Mars. If we dispatch the  Hermes  now,
she will be waiting there for him when he arrives. We can then  bring  the
Hermes back through a solar grav-whip and he can be here inside of a year."
Dr. Vincent stopped suddenly and turned to his  desk  comp,  entering  a
long string of commands.
    "Damn, Why didn't I think of this first?," he  exclaimed.  "The  best
solution however is to send him on out to the asteroid belt and  then  let
him ride home on the Rock! Since he designed the beanstalk,  why  not  let
him take command of the project early?" Dr Vincent sat back in  his  chair
and smiled. "In fact if you present it to the Senate properly you can make
them think that it was the original plan. Since he is going to end  up  on
the Rock anyway, I'm sure you can find a way of convincing them that  this
is to Earth's, and their best interests. Besides there are a lot of things
he can do there now, to get the project ahead of schedule. So  you  really
don't stand to lose very much at all. In fact we  can  expect  to  gain  a
great deal this way."
    "The Senate is not going to like the first three  options,"  admitted
Major Caine. "But I believe that the fourth suggestion will have to be the
answer." He stopped speaking to think things through for a  minute  before
continuing. "But before I speak to the Senate I have to find a senator who
will back me up and then I must compose a believable statement to convince
the rest of them that this was the original plan all along,"  he  said  to
Paul. "The Senate naturally wants to keep him under close surveillance. In
fact, he was in our custody four days ago  before  getting  on  board  the
Oppenheimer. He was to have gone to an area of maximum security where they
would have been assured of his safety," admitted Major Caine. "Well, thank
you," he said, standing and turning toward the  door.  "You've  definitely
given me something to think about."
    He stopped and turned back to face Dr Vincent from the doorway of his
    "Give me a call later, Paul," He said.  "We  must  get  together  for
dinner some night."
    "I'd like that Efram. But how about coming to my house instead? Janey
has been asking about you and  how  you  are  always  too  busy  to  visit
    "Sure, I'd like that. And  if  I  remember  correctly,  Janey  is  an
excellent cook. Just be sure to remind her not to invite any of her single
friends, okay?"
    "I believe that she is over that. She finally decided  that  you  are
capable of finding your own dates. Besides if she keeps throwing women  at
you she realizes that eventually you will stop coming over."
    "Ok then," Efram said with a wide grin. "Set a date and call my  aide
and have him put it on my calendar."
    "Sure thing Efram, I'll do it," Paul said smiling, as Major Caine let
himself out of the office.
    Caine made his way back upstairs to his own office. He removed a  few
pieces of blank paper and carefully composed a  message.  He  then  called
Lieutenant Hadley on wrist comp. When he arrived, the Major  beckoned  him
over to the desk and handed him the message.
    "Lieutenant, I want to send this message  to  the  commander  of  the
military garrison on Deimos. Encode it using keys Alpha  Alpha  Nine  Zero
and send it out from the Moon using the big comm laser."
    Lieutenant Hadley quckly scanned the message, paling as  he  did  so.
"Sir," he began, but was cut off before he finished.
    "No one but the two of us here on Earth must  know  the  contents  of
this message," he cautioned, not allowing Lieutenant Hadley to  interrupt.
"Deliver it in person to the commander of the  comm  laser  on  the  Moon.
Encode it here by hand and then destroy the original. Do not enter it into
the comp as its security is still in question."
    "Do you know what you are doing sir?," asked Lieutenant Hadley.
    "I hope so, Lieutenant, since there is more at stake than  you  think
there is. Much more. I don't have to tell you that  if  you  deliver  that
message, your head is also in the noose."
    "I can see that, sir," he said, confused and not sure exactly what to
do. One side of him told him to take it directly to the General Staff. But
his loyalty told him to trust Major Caine and do what he wanted. One thing
he quickly decided though, was that he needed more information  before  he
made any other decisions. He stepped over to a chair and  sat,  surprising
Caine by his boldness. "What is going on sir? I  think  that  I  have  the
right to know before I deliver this. If I deliver it that is."
    "The less you know right now the better. If  I  get  caught  all  you
really know now is that you're only a message carrier and not one  of  the
planners. But, I can tell you that the Asteroids  have  been  planning  to
break away from the Earth Government for quite some time now. And  I  plan
to see that we are on the winning side!"
    "How can they  be  anything  but  dependent  on  Earth  sir?,"  asked
Lieutenant Hadley. "They get so much from us. If they try to secede, Earth
can simply stop all shipments and in a year or less they will  be  begging
for terms."
    "Unfortunately, it isn't quite that simple, Lieutenant. Yes they lack
adequate sources of food and water. But at the present time nearly all  of
our transuranics and a large percentage of other raw materials  come  from
the belt while most of their food and manufactured  goods  come  from  us.
What they do not realize yet  is  that  the  stocks  of  transuranics  and
metallic ores discovered on Mercury are vastly superior to those found  in
the belt. And they are now much easier to extract, making them far cheaper
to acquire, using the new extraction techniques and refrigeration  systems
recently developed. In a few years we will be  completely  independent  of
the belt and all that  they  can  supply.  The  belt  colonies  will  soon
discover that Earth simply cannot afford to keep  them  on  as  non-paying
customers. And the Senate will have problems condemning that  many  people
to death, although they will find that they have no other solution!"
    "Will Mars back the  Earth,  or  the  Asteroids?,"  asked  Lieutenant
Hadley, slightly dazed. He had trouble believing  that  the  Senate  would
simply condemn that many people to a slow death that far from home.
    "A very good question, Lieutenant. Mars herself would of course  back
the Asteroids but Phobos and Deimos are  simply  too  strong  for  her  to
resist. Mars will be forced to side with Earth."
    "But that does not explain why you are trying to start a  war,"  said
Lieutenant Hadley.
    "Lieutenant, there are still a number  of  things  that  you  do  not
understand. The Asteroid colonies are too  much  of  a  drain  on  Earth's
resources and the Senate will soon decide that they must be cut  off  once
the Mercury mines are  producing.  Earth  simply  won't  need  them  after
that,"' said Major Caine.
    "But sir," objected Lieutenant Hadley. "What then will become of  the
colonists? Surely the Senate won't just leave them out there?"
    "That, Lieutenant is the rough part. By starting a  war,  the  Senate
will not hesitate to do what it has to do. Without  a  war  to  color  the
prejudices of the Senate, too many of the people in power  will  fight  to
help them. And that, Lieutenant, is what the Earth simply cannot afford."
    "Why?," asked Lieutenant Hadley  softly,  the  truth  of  the  matter
finally hitting him.
    "That is a bit harder to explain. It all revolves  around  the  money
supply. Not the lack of it but too much of it."
    "Too much sir?," he asked in amazement. "How is that possible?"
    "Well, basically, most working people today have enough money to  buy
everything that they need to live and still have a little  left  over  for
luxuries. What would happen if one hundred people have enough money for  a
new vid terminal but there are only ten available,  because  the  material
for other ninety went to the moon to open a  new  factory  or  perhaps  to
build a new space ship for Mars? The money is available but the goods  are
    "I think that  I  can  understand  that,  sir,"  admitted  Lieutenant
    "There's more though. What if the proprietor of  the  store  realizes
that there is a shortage. He knows that he can double  the  price  of  the
terminals and still be assured of selling them. He knows that  the  people
will pay for them because there is no guarantee that any more will arrive.
What we now have is the buying  power  of  the  money  dropping  by  fifty
    "This, Lieutenant is what is happening all over the globe.  The  Mars
and Asteroid colonies are draining off that much  material  and  manpower.
Both food and high©tech manufactured items that they as yet cannot produce
enough of. Add to that the dwindling resources here on Earth and the  fact
that we receive most of them from the asteroids now. Earth has a  problem.
And one that has no easy solution."
    "Surely it cannot be that bad, can it?," asked Lieutenant Hadley.
    "That," said Major Caine, "is a very simplified version  of  what  is
happening and there are a lot more factors involved. But tell me, what  is
your present annual salary?," asked Major Caine.
    "About one hundred thousand credits a  year,"  said  the  Lieutenant.
    "And what was a Lieutenant earning five years ago?," continued  Major
    "About twenty thousand credits," he admitted.
    "His money then was worth about the same amount as  yours  is  today,
and you say that it cannot be that bad? Just wait, it will get worse, much
worse. Earth will simply have to pull back and consolidate. True we  still
need the raw material from  the  belt  but  at  this  time  they  far  too
expensive. And added to that, if the Senate decides to bring  all  of  the
colonists home? Think of what that will do to the  unemployment  situation
since there are not enough jobs to go  around  now.  What  will  nearly  a
million new people  do  to  the  economy?  Therefore,  if  the  answer  is
abandoning the belt and its colonists, and then building up Mercury, which
is a much cheaper source of materials, then, believe me  Lieutenant,  that
is what will be done." He stopped and picked up  the  message  and  handed
back it to Lieutenant Hadley. "Enough of this though. Please  go  and  get
this message sent."
    "Yes sir," said Lieutenant Hadley as he  left  the  office,  deciding
then and there to continue to back Major Caine,  wherever  it  might  lead

    "It had all started a number of months ago," thought Major Caine once
Lieutenant Hadley had departed. He had received  an  invitation  from  his
uncle to attend a party in his mountain chalet.
    "Efram, I'm glad you could make it," his uncle had said, meeting  him
in front of the large estate house. His limo had been directed over  to  a
grassy lot filled with similar machines, and had he been able to  see  the
private airfield behind the house he would have noted the large number  of
private aircraft belonging to  the  distinguished  visitors  from  farther
    The party promised to be a who's who of  planetary  dignitaries,  and
Major Caine was at a loss to explain his presence.
    His uncle escorted him into the front room where they stopped briefly
at the top of a short flight of stairs to accept drinks  from  a  liveried
waiter stationed there. "Actually," his uncle  continued  when  they  were
well away from any possible ears. "You are here by invitation.  One  other
than mine, that is.БxxA ББ Р Р F  БMajor  Caine  masked  his  confusion
carefully. "By whom?," he asked simply.
    "Later," came the cryptic response. "Just be sure that you are in the
blue room at six o'clock tonight."  The  older  man  stopped  walking  and
turned to face his nephew. "Believe me, son,  this  is  important."  Major
Caine nodded but said nothing as his uncle left to rejoin his guests.
    He tried to enjoy the party but quickly realized that he  simply  did
not fit into the distinguished company and he  remained  near  an  outside
wall, attempting to stay inconspicuous.
    Finally six o'clock approached and he quietly made his exit, arriving
at the bedroom known as the blue room by a rather circuitous route. He was
familiar with the chalet and this room in particular because this was  the
room that he always stayed in when he visited here. At a few minutes after
six, the room's outer door opened and his uncle entered., "Sir," he began,
only to be silenced by a sharp gesture.
    A quick silent inspection insured that the room was  empty.  He  then
removed a small device from his pocket and made another slow inspection of
the room. Major  Caine  recognized  it  as  a  portable  listening  device
detector. Then, with a conspiratorial smile on his face, his uncle stepped
out the room.
    The interconnecting door from  the  adjoining  room  opened  and  the
Chairman of the World Senate stepped in. "Sir, I..."  Major  Caine  began,
jumping to his feet.
    "Sit, please," Mahjid Bey interrupted, sliding a  second  chair  over
close to the one Major Caine had selected. "Efram,"  he  continued,  after
sitting. "May I call you that?" He asked. Before Major Caine could  speak,
Mahjid Bey  quickly  continued.  "I  needed  to  talk  with  you  quietly,
unofficially and I don't wish  anyone  to  learn  of  this  meeting."  His
English was flawless, spoken with a British  accent  and  he  spoke  three
other languages fluently.
    He had been born into an upper class Indian family and  received  his
primary  and  secondary  schooling  in  Britain,  attending  Oxford  after
completing his secondary schooling at Eton. He had finished his studies at
the very exclusive and prestigious Switzerland Academy of Sciences.
    "I do not know how long I will be able to stay away  from  the  party
without being missed, so let  me  come  right  to  the  point,"  he  said,
immediately after sitting. "Are you familiar with the  economic  situation
of the Earth today?" Seeing the puzzled look  on  Major  Caine's  face  he
continued. "I thought not. When you get a chance look into it. But let  me
say this. The drain on the economy by the Mars  colony  and  the  Asteroid
belt is enormous. Unemployment is  rising,  and  the  value  of  money  is
dropping. Factories are closing due to lack of raw materials and more  and
more people are falling below the median poverty  level.  Financially  the
economy is a mess.
    "I do, however have a plan. One that nearly all of my fellow Senators
most assuredly would not agree with. And that is what I need  you  for.  I
have been aware of what you have been doing  with  Internal  Security  for
some time now."
    Mahjid Bey raised his hand, stifling Major Caine's  protests.  "If  I
had disagreed with your policies you would now be under arrest,  not  here
today meeting with me. There are times when a leader needs an organization
capable of operating outside of the government's stated  policies."  Major
Caine knew by that statement that if anything went wrong, he,  not  Mahjid
Bey would be thrown to the wolves.
    "Have you ever heard of a man named Dr. Charles Quade?" Again  Mahjid
Bey quickly continued, not waiting for Major Caine to speak.  "Theoretical
chemist specializing in synthetic polymer chains. His  researches  led  to
the recent breakthroughs in ultrastrong molecular filament synthesis."
    "The beanstalk," exclaimed Major Caine, beginning to catch on.
    "Exactly," answered Mahjid Bey. The beanstalk can be  the  answer  to
the entire crisis. At the moment I have the majority of the Senate  behind
me, but as the economy worsens I may loose that  support.  This  then,  is
what I want you to do."
    "The Beanstalk," thought Major Caine as he rode homeward in the  back
of his limo. Actually not much more than a superlong, 30,000  mile  cable.
It would start from an Asteroidal rock  in  geosynch  orbit,  extend  down
through the atmosphere and terminate  somewhere  on  the  surface  of  the
Earth. The new ultrastrong molecular  filaments  made  the  whole  project
possible. Economically it was the best way to lift materials  out  of  the
gravity well of Earth.  But  expensive.  Very  expensive.  It  would  make
obsolete the fleet of shuttles now serving Leo  base  and  eventually  Leo
base itself. But until it was operating it too would be another huge drain
on the Earth's already strained economy.
    "Yes," thought Major Caine. "We definitely need it, but  not  in  the
way most people think we do."


    "The belief that interstellar travel is romantic,"  thought  Charley,
"is wrong." He had fallen into the standard shipboard routine of the three
day week. Yesterday, today and tomorrow. The happenings of  two  days  ago
were long forgotten and hazed with all of the other  previous  gray  days.
The day after tomorrow was too far away  to  think  about  and  today  was
turning into another day just like yesterday, with tomorrow  promising  to
be the same.
    Randomly the red alert lights would flash  and  the  emergency  alarm
would sound. At first this was  a  very  interesting  time.  However,  the
builders had had the foresight to paint the floors and ceilings,  if  they
could be called that, different colors. The passengers soon agreed on  the
convention, movement aft and to the port side, blue and  movement  forward
and to the starboard side, yellow. This  effectively  split  the  passages
into two layers  of  opposing  traffic,  simplifying  movement  about  the
colonists sections. After a number of drills, they all got quite adept  at
moving to their respective berths.
    The only thing that really broke the monotony of  the  trip  was  the
nightly card games. By the time the ship reached Mars orbit,  Charlie  was
losing. In fact, he owed nearly the GNP of the entire solar system to  the
various members of the group. He was thankful that they  had  agreed  that
all debts were cancelled when they crossed Mars orbit.
    One afternoon, Charlie was seated in the community  room  closest  to
their compartment and he was at present the only person making use of  the
room. The end of the  trip  was  near  at  hand  and  most  of  the  other
passengers had stopped using the  lounge,  preferring  to  stay  in  their
compartments and watch the vid. He was engrossed in a text from the ship's
library when he was disturbed by the opening of the door.
    "Joe," he said, looking up from the terminal. "You're a bit early for
the game, aren't you? It's not for another hour or so yet."
    By tradition they did not play cards until well after the  last  meal
of the day. Joe slipped into one of the seats near the terminal and turned
to face Charlie. "Have you given any thought to what you will do  when  we
land on Mars?," he asked.
    "A little," replied Charlie.  "I  know  a  bit  about  chemistry  and
physics," he admitted. "I'll get by."
    "Know how to pilot a ship?" Joe asked, the bluntness of his  question
catching Charlie off guard. They both realized that  he  was  breaking  an
unspoken rule about asking about someone's past.
    Charlie was reluctant to answer at first but these  last  two  months
together had told him intuitively that Joe could be trusted.
    "No," he answered finally. "Why?"
    "I do," admitted Joe quietly. "Coffee?" He asked.
    "Uh, yeah, sure, said Charlie, mentally shifting gears  and  thankful
for the brief respite to gather his thoughts.
    Joe jumped over to the coffee dispenser, deftly catching  a  handgrip
and swinging himself to a stop. He removed  two  bulbs  from  the  storage
locker, one black with two sugars and one light, no sugar and placed  them
in the heating unit. When they were done and the annunciator had chimed he
tossed the black one to Charlie.
    "Where did you learn to pilot?," asked Charlie cautiously.
    "By accident, actually," said Joe, showing no reluctance to speak  of
his past. "First at Leo and then the Gagarin and finally at the Armstrong."
    "How did you get picked for  space?,"  asked  Charlie  curiously.  "I
understand that it is a very hard field to break into."
    It started in Rome. I was finishing up a degree in  physics  and  had
been accepted at Oxford to study math. I was  writing  my  disertation  on
zero©gee construction techniques. Although I admit I  used  my  family  to
pull a few strings and get me up to the Gagarin, I was on my  own  once  I
reached there. I met most of the construction crew and convinced them that
I could do a better job if I knew how the sleds worked. After that it  was
nothing but my own ability that  helped  me  master  them.  After  Oxford,
getting assigned back to the Gagarin  was  easy  with  my  experience  and
    "I can understand that,"  said  Charlie.,  "You  have  a  masters  in
physics and tried for a BS in math?"
    "Almost. Finished my masters in physics and was trying for another in
math," admitted Joe with a smile.
    "Not much book learning huh?" Charlie said with a laugh. "No wonder I
lost so much to you. You are a lot smarter than I am."
    "Bull shit," Joe shot back at Charlie. "I can remember cards and  you
had many hands where you threw away good cards to accept poorer ones. You,
Charlie, have something to hide."
    "Ok, maybe you do know a little  math  then,"  said  Charlie  with  a
    "Where did you go to school?," Joe asked.
    "Physics and Chemistry at the  University  of  California,  Berkeley.
Math at Princeton, more chemistry and physics at MIT. Then to  Oxford  for
more math and finally at the Switzerland  Academy  of  Sciences."  Charlie
stopped to sip his coffee, eyeing Joe carefully, trying to determine if he
had gone too far.
    "Jesus Christ," said Joe quietly. "Just what does that all add up to,
    "Doctorates in chemistry and physics," started Charlie,  deciding  to
trust Joe completely. "Masters in math and a BS in electrical  engineering
somewhere along the road just for fun," he finished.
    Joe said nothing. For the first time since they had known each other,
he was speechless.
    "The belt, that's where I want to go," said Joe finally, breaking the
silence. "Mars is still a prison. A large prison but nonetheless a prison.
The asteroid belt is the only place in  the  system  that  there  is  true
    "I agree with you, Joe," answered Charlie carefully. "I too  wish  to
get out to the belt," he admitted. "I may not have your qualifications but
I am sure that there will be a job out there for me to fill."
    "Personally, Charlie," Joe said with a smile, "I think you  will  get
out there before I do. I'll look you up when I get there, Ok?"
    "And I too will look for you," said Charlie warmly. "You have been  a
good friend these last two months  and  I  would  like  to  maintain  that
    "It's a deal, then," raising his coffee in a salute. "To good friends
meeting again," he said, taking a last sip of coffee.
    Charlie returned to his compartment  and  slipped  into  his  hammock
after setting the alarm on the comp panel. His mind drifted  back  to  the
beginning of the space age. He knew that a  lot  of  work  had  been  done
before the turn of the century but little of it had lasted. He had been to
the Challenger memorial in Houston  and  saw  the  original  orbiter,  the
Enterprise and the Atlantis on exhibit there, but the real space  age  had
started with the construction of Leo base. It's  original  name  had  been
Challenger station but that name had never really caught on  and  everyone
referred to it by the shorter name, Leo, for Low Earth Orbit base. It  had
finally opened up the lunar surface for mining  and  once  the  big  lunar
mass-drivers were operating a lunar orbital station had been constructed.
    From there the first of the three  big  geosynch  stations  had  been
built. The Shepherd being started after the lunar orbital station had been
completed. The lunar wheel had finally been moved out  into  Geosynch  and
named the Gagarin, for the first man in space, shortly after the  Shepherd
was started. It had been built on the plans of the Gagarin but with a  few
necessary changes.
    Last came the Armstrong, a much larger and more modern station. While
the Gagarin and the Shepherd were originally  single  wheel  stations  and
were later expanded to two, the Armstrong  was  designed  with  four  huge
wheels, all interconnected by a common axle and radial tunnels out on  the
rim of the wheels. Charlie had been to the  Armstrong  many  times,  never
failing to be awed by the sheer beauty of the station.
    As soon as the Shepherd was under construction, the Gagarin had  been
moved, then becoming the headquarters for the push out  to  Mars  and  the
Asteroid belt. Earth knew that it had to  have  the  unlimited  wealth  of
resources to be found out in the belt since the lunar mines were  severely
limited.  Bases  had  been  set  up  on  Phobos  and  Deimos,  from  which
expeditions had been launched to tap the Martian polar  ice  caps.  There,
domes had been built and, using water from the ice, Hydroponic  farms  had
been set up. With a better supply of food and water, the  two  moon  bases
could be enlarged. Today Phobos was being used as a scientific observatory
and a penal colony  observation  platform.  Her  high  orbital  speed  and
tidal-locked orbit made her ideal for this purpose.
    Deimos, on the other hand had been  much  more  built  up  until  the
entire surface of the moon was taken over by  ore  processing  plants  and
shipyards. The Deimos shipyards had built  the  Oppenheimer  and  her  two
sister ships.
    Slowly the domes on Mars had grown, increasing their  production  but
still they could not hope to supply nearly all  that  was  required  by  a
hungry belt. As the population off of  Earth  increased,  Earth  felt  the
drain more and more on her own meager resources.
    During this time the Asteroid belt was being built up. At first, most
of the materials they processed stayed in the belt  where  it  was  needed
most, but soon more and more found it's way back to Mars, to build up  the
capacity of the shipyards there. It was only in the last decade or so that
shipments were being made to Earth.
    Ceres, the largest asteroid was the seat of the Belt  government  but
spread through the belt, other large asteroids had been  colonized.  Today
Mars could count on receiving shipments from all quadrants  of  the  belt.
But Earth was hampered by the distance from the belt and the fact that for
most of the time Mars was  simply  out  of  reach.  So  Mars  acted  as  a
stockpile, receiving the metallic  ores  and  minerals  to  be  processed,
awaiting the arrival of the three big ships.
    And when they did come, they were loaded with as  much  as  could  be
strapped and bolted on to be sent back to Earth when again she was  within
    Finally the long two month journey ended and the Oppenheimer  entered
Mars orbit. She was greeted by a number of small tractor ships who altered
her orbit to match with Deimos.
    After achieving  the  proper  orbital  position,  large  cables  were
unrolled and lifted, to attach to the stress-points  of  the  large  ship.
Then, balanced by the slight Deimos gravity and the tractor engine  power,
she was slowly winched down to the surface  of  the  small  moon,  finally
arriving in her docking cradle. Close by lay the Einstein  and  the  Neils
Bohr. Beyond them could be seen the half completed framework of the fourth
and as yet unnamed ship. Telescopic tunnels were  then  extended  to  mate
with the outer lock seals of the ship. After  pressurization  the  hatches
were finally opened, allowing passengers and crew alike to leave  the  big
    As soon  as  the  hatches  had  been  opened,  two  men  wearing  the
distinctive uniform of Internal Security entered the  ship  to  talk  with
Alex Dunkes.
    They found him almost immediately at the registration desk surrounded
by colonists waiting to be allowed to leave the ship. Together  the  three
pushed their way through the crowd to room A1 where Alex  keyed  the  door
open for the two men.
    "You have a prisoner in board listed as Charles Joiner,"  stated  the
larger of the two men. They both carried themselves like the  professional
policeman that they were, giving the feeling of hard  competence  and  the
ability to take care of themselves.
    "No, said Alex quickly. I  have  a  colonist  named  Joiner,  but  no
prisoner. Why?"
    "A mistake has been made," the man continued. "He  is  to  be  turned
over to us immediately."
    "That may be difficult," Alex began. "There  is  no  way  of  knowing
exactly where he is now. And I am not permitted to leave the area  of  the
desk until all colonists have disembarked. However if I  may  suggest,  if
you wait here by the registration desk you can pick him up when he  passes
by. And since this is the only exit, he has to come this  way."  Alex  was
reluctant to cooperate with the two men but knew that the  last  thing  he
wanted to do was go against the wishes of Internal  Security.  If  he  had
been out at the belt though, it would have been another story.
    "That will have to do then," said the officer reluctantly.  They  all
left the room, to return to the registration desk, Alex resuming his  seat
and the two policemen taking up positions near the exit  door.  They  both
reached into an inside pocket and each removed  a  photograph  of  Joiner,
although they both knew that appearances could be changed in two months.
    Near the desk, Tom, who had stationed  himself  there  early  quietly
slipped away and headed back to  his  compartment.  There  he  found  both
Charlie and Joe, the other three men who  shared  the  compartment  having
already left to join the crowds in the corridors.
    "Charles," said Tom. "Portside lounge. I have to talk with  you.  Now
and alone."
    Charlie shot Joe a puzzled look before following  Tom  out  into  the
corridor and into the lounge. Tom switched on one of the terminals,  using
it to lock the lounge door. He then removed both of this shoes.
    Charlie said nothing, already astonished at the fact that  the  doors
could be locked but simply watched Tom in confusion.
    A quick twist of the heels of his  shoes  revealed  two  hollowed-out
compartments containing a number of small packets. "Welcoming committee at
the door," he said simply. "Internal Security."
    Charlie nodded, saying nothing, engrossed in what Tom was doing.  The
contents of two the packets turned out to be chemicals  for  changing  the
color of hair. Tom's hair was quickly colored to match the silvery-gray of
Charlie's while his own was darkened to match the deep brown of Tom's  own
hair. Two more of the packets  changed  skin  color.  Charlie's  skin  was
darkened while Tom's was lightened. Tom then reached into  his  mouth  and
removed two cheek inserts, handing them to  Charlie.  Removing  them  gave
Tom's round face a long lean look.
    "I hope that you enjoy them as much as I did these last two  months,"
Tom said with a grin. Be thankful that you only have to wear  them  a  few
days and not months like I did." Next came a small foam  case,  containing
contact lenses. "These will fool the retina-print cameras," he  explained.
"Again, only a few days until you are safely aboard ship to the asteroids."
    Lastly, the two men exchanged Id  cards.  "Good  luck,  doctor,"  Tom
said. "I seem to have a date with Internal Security."
    Charlie said nothing, thinking that it was Tom and not  himself  that
needed luck. Charlie watched as he unlocked the door and made his way over
to compartment L7. In an exact copy of Charlie's voice, he heard Tom  say,
"let's see what's out on Deimos, Joe. I've been on board too long now."
    Tom knew the risks of the operation but also knew  the  necessity  of
those risks. Charlie suspected the risks and followed the pair out  toward
the registration desk, keeping a distance between himself and Tom.
    "That's him, officers," called out Alex after Tom had  run  Charlie's
Id card through the reader. They stepped in quickly, separating  the  pair
and allowing Joe to continue on through the  corridor  in  confusion,  but
knowing that he could do nothing against Internal Security.
    "Charles Joiner," the larger officer announced. "You must  come  with
us, he stated, allowing no objections as he and  the  other  officer  each
grabbed an arm and hustled him off of the ship and into Deimos.
    Joe allowed the press of bodies to carry him along  the  access  tube
and down below the surface of the moon. All of the  living  quarters  were
below the surface to decrease the thermal losses of the colony. They  were
all led to nearby quarters to await  shuttles  down  to  the  red  Martian
surface. During this time  Charlie  carefully  avoided  Joe  in  order  to
maintain the masquerade.
    The  two  officers  took  their  charge  down  through  the  military
headquarters of Deimos. They stopped  at  an  empty  office,  Putting  Tom
inside while they remained outside.
    "So where the hell are they?," asked the smaller of the two.
    "Don't ask me, the larger said. "Call in and find out."
    "Ok, stay here, I'll be right back." He left  in  search  of  a  comm
terminal while the second officer stayed outside. Tom  took  advantage  of
the distraction, sitting so that  he  could  see  the  one  officer  still
outside. He snapped off the heels of his shoes,  removing  two  inches  of
height. He then palmed a small tube of chemicals in his hand  and  dropped
the two heels into the waste chute. He expected that the two men would not
notice the height difference, since they had already accepted him  as  Dr.
    He next popped  out  his  contacts  and  swallowed  them.  The  whole
operation took less than twenty seconds.
    Tom had only a short  wait  before  two  new  men  arrived,  followed
closely by the first guard.
    "Ok, we'll take him from here," one said to the security guards.
    "So where the hell did the two of you go?," asked a guard.
    "Coffee, and then we got hung up by the C.O.," he explained., And now
we are behind schedule and have to hurry. The C.O. delayed the  lift  just
for him."
    Tom stood and waited while the two ship's crewmen unlocked  the  door
and then ushered him outside. "The ship's at lock eleven," said one of the
crewmen. "Are you two coming along?"
    "Yeah, we have to make sure that he actually gets aboard and the ship
lifts with him." As expected neither man noticed that Tom was  two  inches
shorter. It was but a short walk to lock eleven and  once  there  the  two
security officers officially turned their charge over to the two  crewmen.
They watched as Tom entered the small ship, remaining at  the  lock  until
the ship had actually lifted from Deimos.
    "Passenger seating is in through that hatch and down the corridor  to
your left," one explained. "Fresher is to the right. Ship lifts  in  about
five minutes and we will go up at about a tenth of a gee so you don't have
to worry about strapping down," he explained. "You are on your own now, we
have to get aloft to our lift stations." Both crewmen then  swarmed  up  a
ladder, heading upward toward the bridge.
    Tom followed the directions, stopping first in the fresher.  Here  he
broke the small vial of  chemicals  and  spread  them  through  his  hair,
removing the silver-gray and returning it to it's own natural brown color.
Next he stripped off the mask of syntho-flesh covering his face.  He  then
rolled it into a small tight ball and held  it  under  the  hot-air  dryer
vent, heating it into a sticky texture. He then used  it  to  reshape  his
nose until he looked very little like the man who had entered  the  ship's
    Located outside the wall was a standard comm terminal. He opened  the
unit expertly and carefully removed a microchip. He then reached into  his
mouth and removed his false bridge. One of the teeth was then removed  and
he pulled off the cap. Inset into the bottom of the cap was a row of  pins
that exactly fitted the empty  socket.  He  entered  a  code  on  the  com
terminal keyboard and in less  than  five  seconds  the  memory  dump  was
completed. He removed the now empty data  chip  and  replaced  it  in  the
bridge before returning it to his mouth. He  then  replaced  the  original
chip and closed the comm terminal. He accessed the comp  and  requested  a
list of crew and passengers, then nodding and smiling before clearing  the
screen and entering the passenger compartment.
    Now, according to the comp, the special prisoner they had  picked  up
no longer existed. In his place was Abe Fortas, an astrogation  specialist
on his way out to the Rock to assist in bringing it back to Earth. The two
crewmen, the only two on board who had actually seen  him  had  been  very
well-paid for their efforts. Dr. Quade had finally disappeared.


    Slowly the colonists had been divided up  into  shuttle-sized  groups
and dropped down to Mars to be distributed among the domes. The trip  down
to the surface was a fast but otherwise  uneventful  drop.  Mars  had  two
large ship-ports, one by the northern icecap and one by the southern. What
little traffic took place between the hemispheres was  accomplished  using
the shuttles, the colonists finding  it  safer,  faster  and  easier  than
building long roads.
    Some roads however had been built. A long road  circumnavigated  each
icecap, linking all of the domes together. Inside each dome, most  of  the
available space was taken up by the large algae vats and  what  space  was
left over was divided between housing and farming, each dome raising fresh
vegetables and fruits of various kinds. Each dome had picked  a  specialty
and trading their surpluses from dome to dome along the belt roads.
    Each dome from the beginning had tried to supply all of it's own food
requirements  by  growing  and  trading  and  all  of  them  had  achieved
self-sufficiency long ago. But they all were burdened by the  requirements
of the asteroid belt, sending out all of their excess produce  to  try  to
feed the hungry miners.
    The dome housing the Martian  government  always  received  the  most
desirable of the new colonists. A list of  job  priorities  was  kept  and
continually updated and all of  the  new  colonist's  qualifications  were
matched and then each was assigned a priority number,  the  top  colonists
arriving on the first shuttles down to the surface. Charlie, hidden in his
new guise as Abe Fortas was on the first shuttle down to the surface.
    "Come in, come on in," said Lawrence Brady, the current  governor  of
Mars. He was seated at a large synthowood desk that took up  the  bulk  of
the room in the small office. The small room  was  paneled  in  strips  of
contrasting synthowood and behind  the  large  ornate  desk  was  a  large
picture built into the wall to look like a window. It currently  showed  a
view of an Earth beach  scene.  White  clouds  drifted  slowly  across  an
unusually blue sky. A few sea gulls could be seen winging swiftly over the
surface of the rolling surf. There were no  people  in  sight  but  tracks
could be seen on the pale sand. If Charlie sat there long enough he  would
probably see one or two wander through.
    The Governor saw him watching the  picture.  "That's  a  compix,"  he
explained "Very expensive but well worth it," he explained.  "Everyone  on
Mars wants one and there are a few small ones available occasionally,  but
this one is the largest."
    Charlie was familiar with them although he himself  had  never  owned
one. On Earth they were not really  expensive  and  owned  mostly  by  the
middle-class population. They  could  be  programmed  to  hold  dozens  of
different scenes and the owner could change from one  to  another  as  his
mood changed. "How did you get it?," he  asked  curiously,  wondering  why
that much money was allowed to be tied up in art.
    "That's the beautiful part," Governor Brady explained gleefully.  "It
was part of a scam dreamed up by the bank, and I, or actually the governor
before me, beat them at their own game."
    "What did you do?," continued Charlie.
    "The way the scam worked was, the bank would sell it  to  a  colonist
for a fair price. At least a fair price out here on Mars. Then later, when
their debt ratio rose too high, the bank would seize  it  and  resell  it,
applying the sale price against his debt. They in essence kept selling the
same picture to anyone who had the cash at the time to buy it. In the four
years they had it, they made a lot of money from it."
    "So how did you  beat  them?,"  pushed  Charlie,  interested  in  the
outcome of the story.
    "My predecessor bought it with his first years salary," the  governor
continued, enjoying any chance to show  off  to  the  newcomer.  "He  then
donated it to the Martian Government. It now  is  not  owned  by  any  one
individual and there is now no one to seize it from. The bank  was  rather
upset when it happened, and have since learned their lesson. So  far  they
have not imported any more of them to continue the scam.
    "Anyway, that scene is  one  of  my  favorites,"  he  continued.  "It
reminds me of the beach where I used to vacation as a small boy. Sometimes
I like to sit here, thinking that this is a beach cottage and I am back on
Earth again." He said nothing for a moment, lost  in  his  own  daydreams.
"But sit," he said at last, bringing himself out  of  his  reverie.  "Make
yourself comfortable." Charlie sat in one of the chairs while the governor
continued. "I shall miss it when I finally leave  office,"  he  explained.
"Although I have been unopposed in the last three elections."
    Charlie raised an eyebrow in  surprise.  "Unopposed?,"  he  asked  in
    "Here on Mars," explained the Governor, "the only  time  anyone  runs
against an elected official is if the population is dissatisfied with  the
way he is doing his job. We tend to leave the status quo if the system  is
    "But I thought that the system wasn't working," Charlie shot back.
    "No, actually it works rather well. And everyone realizes that  there
is little that can be done about the  financial  systems  set  up  against
them. Which means that very little is blamed on the governor's office."
    "So what you are saying is that it is difficult to do a bad job?"
    "Yes," said Governor Brady with a wide smile.  "My  predecessor  lost
his job by overindulging in what few luxuries we get from  Earth  and  got
reassigned to one of the Mars freighters. I inherited the  job  because  I
was the second in command. And here, the one person that has  to  run  for
office is the man that already holds that office. So far, no one wants  it
bad enough to try for it."
    "But it doesn't sound as if you are unhappy," said Charlie.
    "No, no I actually like being the Governor and the advantages of  the
office. But enough of that," he said finally. "Let me get  to  the  reason
you are here, Abe. I don't see too many people but I do like to  interview
the top colonists, the ones who we feel are qualified for any of  the  few
really important jobs. The cream of the crop, so to speak."
    "I'm not sure that I understand," Charlie  answered  with  a  puzzled
    "You see, we keep a list of jobs that are available and  balance  the
colonists qualifications against it. The  top  matches  are  brought  down
first. That is why you and the others were on the first shuttle.
    "So what you are doing then," said Charlie with a smile, "is offering
me a job?"
    "Yes, A job. That's exactly what I am  doing,"  Governor  Brady  said
excitedly. "Look, there is an ore processing lab on  Ceres  that  collects
crystalline formations. Locked up inside a lot of them  are  a  number  of
rare-earth elements. We are trying to develop methods of extracting  those
elements from the crystalline matrices. What we  need  is  an  easier  and
cheaper way to do the extracting. I believe that with your  background  it
is a job that you can handle.  As  a  mining  engineer  with  a  chemistry
background it seems to me that it is just what you were trained for."
    Charlie smiled to himself. Whoever had set up this personna had  done
their homework well. It was doubtful that the governor was a member of the
inner circle of conspirators. He probably knew nothing of what was  really
going on or who he really was.
    "So what do you  think?,"  asked  Governor  Brady,  taking  Charlie's
silence as a sign that he was thinking it over.
    "Yes, it sounds like something I would like to try. And you say it is
out on Ceres," he asked. "How would I get there?"
    "Yes, yes, Ceres. And as for transportation there is a  ship  in  now
from the asteroids and she goes by the name of the Runner. She dropped off
a load of platinum ores on Deimos and is being loaded now with supplies to
go back. She does have a limited amount of room  for  passengers  and  she
leaves tomorrow afternoon. Mars time," the Governor added.  "And,  if  you
want, you can be on her."
    "Ok," said Charlie laughing. "You got yourself a chemist."
    "Then it's settled," said the governor, keying his com panel. "Kati,"
he said, speaking into the unit, "would you come in here please?"
    A tall blonde woman entered the small office.  Pretty,  although  the
rigors of a hard life could be seen lined in her  face.  "We're  all  done
here," Governor Brady announced. "Would you be so kind as to show  him  to
his quarters?"
    Charlie stood and followed her out into the  small  antechamber  just
outside Governor Brady's office, where he was met by a young woman.  "Judy
here," said Kati, "has volunteered to show you around the dome. Unless you
object, that is," she added quickly.
    Judy stepped forward, sticking out a small hand. "Hi," she said in  a
soft pleasant voice as she shook Charlie's hand.
    "No," said Charlie with a smile. "I don't mind at all."  Judy  was  a
young woman, small, not far into her twenties and weighing  no  more  than
fifty kilo's, Charlie guessed. But she had a lot of curves packed into her
small frame.
    "Come on," she said impatiently. "How about a quick tour of the dome?"
    "Sure," said Charlie as he followed her out into the main corridor.
    "This hall," she explained, "runs all of the way around the dome. All
of the offices and living quarters back up against the  outer  wall  while
the center of the dome is taken up by our farm." As they walked along  the
hall, Judy pointed out various features of the dome. "This is  the  dining
facility," she explained, pointing out one of the larger rooms.  "And  the
living quarters are farther along the hall." She then opened a door on the
inner wall of the hall, opening out onto a huge open area.
    "This is the farm," she said, leading him into a small  orchard.  "We
have lights here to simulate the Earth's natural light to help  everything
grow. We raise peaches, carrots and spinach here."
    The trees were small but bore evidence of loving attention.  "We  are
now entering early spring so it  is  too  early  to  see  the  buds,"  she
continued. "But later when they flower we all will help pollinate them.
    "No bees?," asked Charlie.
    "No insects at all," she said. "At least not in this dome. We do have
some on order but we haven't gotten them yet. The carrots and spinach  are
easier to tend to," she finished.
    On the far side of the orchard were  arrays  of  tanks.  Hundreds  of
them, as far as Charlie could tell. "Those are the Algae tanks," she said.
"They take up most of the space in the  dome  and  yield  seventy-five  to
eighty percent of our crop."
    She led him past the tanks and out into a small  cultivated  area  of
recently turned earth. "This is where we grow our carrots and spinach."
    Beyond the small plot  Charlie  could  see  similar  small  plots  in
various stages of growth.
    "Since they are not a recurring plant, we can  grow  them  year-round
and be assured of having fresh vegetables all the time. The surplus,"  she
said. "We trade around the belt road to other domes for their surpluses."
    "What is your job here?," asked Charlie curiously.
    "I'm a hydroponics  technician,"  she  said.  "I'm  not  really  very
important yet but then, that's why  I  usually  get  assigned  to  showing
newcomers around."
    They stepped through another door and out  into  the  main  corridor.
"These are the living spaces," she explained, indicating the large  number
of doors set in niches in the outside wall. Charlie  followed  her  across
the hall and through one of the doors. It  led  into  a  small  room  that
Charlie assumed was hers, due to the feminine touches throughout the room.
    "You can use the 'fresher' in through that door," she said,  pointing
to a small enclosed cubicle. Once inside, Charlie found a real shower.  He
quickly stripped off his clothing and stepped into the stall, planning  on
enjoying the first real shower he had had since leaving Earth.
    The low gravity of Mars caused a lot more mist than he was accustomed
to but he quickly adjusted to it. The door of the 'fresher' cubicle opened
briefly and a small lithe form slipped into the shower with him.
    "Doctor Quade," Judy said. "I am your  contact  here,"  she  said  to
Charlie's surprise. "The shower assures privacy," she continued.  "I  have
never found any listening devices in my room yet, but why take unnecessary
    Charlie was having trouble keeping his attention focussed on what she
was saying but reluctantly tore his gaze from her young body. "You must be
aboard the cargo ship tomorrow and on your way safely to the  belt  before
the switch is discovered. Everyone aboard will be friends, and once aboard
you can relax your disguise."
    "One thing," asked Charlie. "Has anything happened to  the  real  Abe
    "I don't know," admitted Judy. "They only tell me what I need to know
and no more. But I hope someone is taking care of that  problem.  He  knew
the risks before accepting the assignment. In fact, we all know the risks.
The one thing that we are all in agreement on is that in this case the end
justifies the means. As a result we are all willing to face death  because
otherwise we are all dead anyway. This way at  least,  we  are  trying  to
protect ourselves."
    "True," admitted Charlie, admiring her patriotic  attitude.  "We  are
all here for the same thing. But you  don't  mind  risking  everything  on
trust alone?," he continued. "Not knowing what the overall plans are?"
    "We all know that the belt is on our side and that the  Earth  Senate
is not. We trust the belt when they say that  they  will  do  whatever  is
necessary to protect us. Earth has not given  us  any  real  assurance  of
protection. And as result of that we no longer feel obligated to Earth, at
least no more than they can force us to be," her voice raising in  passion
to compete with the noise that the shower was making.
    "Calm down," said Charlie soothingly, noticing with pleasure that her
nipples became as red as her cheeks did. "Will I  be  the  only  passenger
aboard the ship?"
    "That I do not know," Judy said, after her breathing had settled down
to normal. "Although I believe I am not the only operative here, I know of
no others. I get all my instructions from a trader when he comes  in  from
the belt," she said as she picked up a bar of soap. "While we are here  we
might as well take advantage of the situation,"  she  said,  lathering  up
Charlie's body."
    "One more thing that I am curious about,"  he  asked.  "How  can  you
afford the luxury of real showers if water is so precious here?"
    "Everything is recycled," she said. All of the water from the showers
go directly to the purifiers. "And the one thing that we have plenty of is
power. Every dome is supplied by sixteen square miles of photocells,  laid
out in the desert south of the dome.
    "Sixteen  miles?,"  asked  Charlie  surprised.  "Isn't  that  a   bit
    "No," she said. "Each dome must have enough capacity to supply all of
it's own power requirements plus that of both domes on each  side  of  it.
That way we are always assured of power, no matter  what  disaster  should
    "Smart," admitted Charlie, admiring the engineer that  laid  out  the
    "That is what is holding back the development  of  other  domes.  The
photocell farm must be completed  before  work  is  started  on  the  dome
    "I see," charlie said. "One more question if I may. How long would it
take to check someone out? A man I met on the trip out would probably be a
good asset."
    "Quite a while," answered Judy. "The only way I could do that  is  to
pass the message through my contact and then back to Earth. Since I  won't
see him for a while now, we are talking about two Earth  years  at  least,
and maybe more. Why?"
    "A friend," said Charlie. "I met him on the trip out and  I  got  the
feeling that he could be trusted."
    "If he isn't on our lists already, there is nothing that I  can  do,"
she said, scrubbing Charlie's back. When she  was  done,  she  turned  him
around to face her, her gaze wandering approvingly up and down  his  naked
body, and noticed that he was not having much success keeping his mind off
of her body. "We can talk later," she said, reaching up  and  kissing  him
    "I will take you down to the shuttle pad in the morning," she said as
they stood by the side of Judy's bed. "Tonight however you can sleep  here
with me, if you wish."
    Charlie's grin told her as much as his words did. "I'd like  that  if
you don't mind sharing your bed with an old man," he told her.
    "I think I could get to enjoy it," she  teased.  "If  you  think  you
could keep up with me, that is.
    Charlie showed her just how well he could keep up with her and  later
that evening the pair wandered down  to  the  cafeteria  to  eat,  finally
ending up back at her rooms for the night.
    The next morning Judy escorted him to the outer airlock  where  there
was a transport waiting. "This is the morning  bus,"  she  explained.  "It
travels between the two closest  domes  and  the  shuttleport  daily,  and
farther when needed." She gave him a quick kiss before  continuing.  "Just
tell the driver where you want to go and he will get you there."
    Nothing more was said between the two of them as Charlie entered  the
airlock. He cycled through to the access tunnel connecting the dome to the
bus and gave gave her a quick wave goodbye through the window.
    She waved back then turned and disappeared back along  the  corridor,
dissapearing from sight while Charlie made his way carefully over  to  the
bus and found himself a seat near the driver. He didn't look back  as  the
bus pulled away from the dome and out onto the north polar highway.
    This shuttle was completely different from the one  that  had  lifted
him from Earth. It was set in a shallow pit with the  engine  module  down
below sight. A platform had been extended across the open area of the  pit
to the body of the ship. Since Mars gravity was about one  fifth  that  of
Earth, Rocket shuttles could be used quite efficiently  and  this  shuttle
looked much more like a small space ship than an atmospheric shuttle.  The
Martian atmosphere was too thin to require much streamlining and  was  not
nearly thick enough for an efficient lifting wing.
    Charlie stepped through the large door and into the lower deck of the
boxy shuttle. Inside the door was a wide open space with tie  down  points
arranged across the floor, walls and ceiling. This large  compartment  was
used for the transporting of large cargoes to and from orbit. There were a
few large crates present, but Charlie assumed that the shuttle had  mostly
carried goods and equipment just brought in by the Oppenheimer.
    The second deck lay through another airlock and up a small ladder  in
the far wall of the big compartment. He quickly  climbed  the  ladder  and
once up on the next deck he found a series  of  compartments  and  lockers
where smaller items could be stored.
    Through another door was the small passenger's  compartment.  Charlie
entered and quickly found a seat. He was briefly interrupted by one of the
crew who poked his head briefly in for a look around.
    "Oh," the man said, somewhat surprised. "Sorry I'm late, but the  bus
arrived a bit early. I expected to find you down below in the cargo hold."
    "Sorry," said Charlie, not sure if he had broken some shipboard rule.
    "No problem," the man  continued.  "Just  saves  us  some  time.  All
strapped in?," he asked.
    "Yes," answered Charlie. "All set."
    "Good," he said as he left the room. "Stay in your seat,"  he  called
back. "We lift as soon as I get back topside," as his voice faded  in  the
    The boost was as easy as it was disorienting.  Since  there  were  no
outside windows Charlie could not see the desolate Martian landscape as it
dropped away below the rapidly accelerating ship. The pilot  soon  matched
orbit and then smoothly dropped down to the surface of Deimos to land with
scarcely a bump at the closest shuttle pad to the much  larger  belt  ship
that was waiting there.
    The crewman reappeared soon after landing and assisted  Charlie  into
one of the space suits near the passenger compartment.  "Ever  been  in  a
suit before?," came a voice over the suit radio?"
    "No, never," admitted Charlie.
    "Been in space before?," came another quick question.
    "Yes," Charlie answered. "And I've had zero gee experience but  never
in a suit."
    "Well, low gee is different than zero gee, but not much, and contrary
to what you might have heard, you really cannot jump off of Deimos.  Maybe
a couple of orbits at best but you will always come down, so if  you  lose
your grip, don't panic, just enjoy the view."
    Charlie nodded but said nothing, waiting for the crewman to continue.
    "Outside the shuttle," the man  said,  the  crew  of  the  orecarrier
Runner are setting up a hand line between the two ships. It will help  you
navigate over to her. And don't get any ideas of  being  an  acrobat,"  he
warned. "Like I said it isn't like zero gee and I don't want  to  have  to
chase you all over the landscape, ok?"
    "Ok," agreed Charlie. "I'll try and behave."
    He was led down to the main airlock  and  out  onto  the  surface  of
Deimos. Here, he saw the rope that had been attached to a handgrip on  the
shuttle and over to another handgrip on the runner.
    "That," thought Charlie, "Was what a ship should look like." Although
still boxy and never designed for operation in air, she was the first true
space ship Charlie had seen that had a complete outer skin. Since she  was
designed primarily for hauling ores, all of her cargo space  was  enclosed
for carrying large amounts of loose material. At this time her main  holds
lay partially empty, her off-loading being completed  before  Charlie  had
arrived. But she was being  reloaded  with  food  and  manufactured  items
destined for the belt colonies.
    Charlie found the trip across interesting  and  he  discovered  that,
instead of walking he traveled in a series of short hops,  with  the  rope
stopping his upward travel and quickly returning him to  the  surface.  He
also soon discovered that if he flexed his knees on landing he  stayed  on
the surface with little bounce-back. It took  him  about  ten  minutes  to
traverse the relatively short distance to the larger ship. Once across  he
located a handgrip and swung himself into the open airlock. He  turned  to
watch the crewman follow him, who was using a much different technique  to
cross. He simply jumped, aiming at an imaginary point  above  the  airlock
Charlie was in, relying on the weak Deimos gravity to deflect  his  course
enough to hit the airlock squarely. At the last moment  he  stretched  out
his arms and caught himself on the sides of the airlock, grabbing the  two
handgrips located there and flipped into the airlock alongside of Charlie,
still waiting there for him.
    After cycling  in  through  the  airlock,  Charlie  was  assisted  in
removing his suit by a second crewman waiting by the entry. Charlie handed
the suit back to the first man who then reentered the airlock and returned
to the shuttle.
    "Showoff," muttered the man as he led Charlie away from the airlock.
    "Excuse me?," asked Charlie, confused.
    "Him," said the crewman. "That's not the usual way we cross,  but  he
was trying to impress you," he said crossly.  "Good  way  to  get  himself
hurt. Or you hurt, for that matter." The man shook his head in disgust  as
he led  Charlie  along  a  short  passage  and  into  another  passenger's
    Charlie blinked in surprise, fighting to control his expressions  and
emotions. Seated in one of the  seats  was  Joe!  Charlie  finally  nodded
briefly to him and found a seat back near the entry hatch,  attempting  to
stay away from Joe. Charlie was the last of the scheduled  passengers  for
the Runner and settled into the silent personna that Abe had built  up  on
the trip out to Mars.
    Soon, another crew member entered the small compartment. "We will  be
lifting in about an hour or so," he announced. "There is  a  small  galley
across the passage that you can use if you wish." You have free run of the
place, just make sure that it is clean afterwards.
    "You all should be back in your seats for lift, and the captain  will
give you ample warning before blast off, although he will  use  so  little
acceleration that it really isn't necessary." He pointed to  a  com  panel
and continued. "You may use the view screen if you wish. Channel seven  is
tuned to an outside viewer and  should  give  an  interesting  picture  of
Deimos as we depart. I have to leave now, I am on engine duty, but  before
I go are there any questions?"
    He saw that there were none so he pushed off into the passageway  and
disappeared into the ship.


    The other three did little in the next hour, except getting  to  know
each other better. Charlie was especially grateful for  Abe's  stony-faced
silence, using it to draw away from Joe and the other two men.
    Finally they felt the rumblings of the powerful engines as  the  ship
lifted slowly from Deimos. And not long after  lift,  the  door  into  the
compartment opened and the ship's captain stepped into the small room.
    "Good day, gentlemen," he began. "I am Shaun O'Cassidy of the Runner.
Before we start, I think that introductions are in order." He sat down  in
one of the vacant seats, facing the four men before  continuing.  "We  are
all going to be here together for quite a few weeks and will  probably  be
working together for quite some time after that." He pointed to Joe.  "You
might as well start. Name and special qualifications that might be useful."
    "Joe Francelli,"  he  began.  "Mechanical  engineer  specializing  in
zero-gee construction techniques. I am also a qualified orbital pilot."
    Captain O'Cassidy raised an eyebrow. "Pilot you say? Come up  to  the
bridge later and we'll check you out on this old  tub.  I  won't  let  you
stand watch but I can list you as an emergency backup  pilot  if  you  are
qualified, as you claim to be.
    "Thank you," said Joe gratefully.  "I'd  like  that."  He  knew  what
Captain O'Cassidy's endorsement in his pilot's log would mean.
    "Ok, you're next," Captain O'Cassidy said, pointing to the next man.
    "Gorge Scapata," he said, speaking with a thick accent.
    Joe interrupted, speaking in a clear Castillian Spanish and  the  two
men exchanged a few sentences before Joe turned to the rest of the group.
    "He says that he  is  a  metallurgist  specializing  in  photovoltaic
materials. He speaks little English but  understands  much  more  than  he
    Captain O'Cassidy nodded his thanks to Joe before  pointing  out  the
third man.
    This man spoke in a pleasant Oxford  English  although  his  features
showed him to be of oriental descent. "Xaio  Xien,"  he  said.  "I  taught
celestial astrogation at the National University of  China  to  new  space
    "Thank you," said the Captain to the three of them.  "But  before  we
get to the last of our passengers I want to say that among us there are no
secrets. You all have been contacted by various members of the underground
and you have all agreed to lend your many talents to help  in  the  coming
fight." He nodded toward Charlie. "And with that,  Doctor,  the  floor  is
    Joe looked at Charlie with curiosity. "Finally," he thought, "We will
get to the bottom of the mystery."
    "Before I begin, there is one thing that I would like to do." Charlie
quickly  removed  the  two  cheek  inserts  which  greatly  relieved   the
discomfort on his upper gums. He then nodded briefly to Joe with a smile.
    "My name is not Tom," he began. "Nor is it Charlie Joiner." He tipped
an imaginary hat to Joe "My real name is Charles Quade!"
    "Quade," exclaimed Joe, beginning to understand. "Weren't you in  the
news a couple of years ago?"
    "Last year, actually when  I  completed  the  research  on  synthetic
polymer chains.
    "I remember you now," cut in Joe again. "You're the beanstalk  guy!,"
he exclaimed. "So what the hell are you doing here?"
    Charlie turned to Captain O'Cassidy. "How much of  the  plan  do  you
know and how much am I free to reveal here?," he asked. "I  need  to  know
how much might get out when we reach Ceres."
    "I don't know a lot about the plans or what is really going on but  I
do know that we are not going to Ceres,"  explained  Shaun.  "We  are  all
going directly to Alpha base. While we are on our  way  there  our  deaths
will be reported through official channels. Another ore carrier, identical
to this one was involved in a collision with an asteroid a number of years
ago," he continued. "And we have been saving it for an  occasion  such  as
this one. We have switched  places  and  it  will  be  towed  into  Ceres,
masquerading as the Runner. So, Doctor, whatever you say here  will  never
leave Alpha base.
    "Ok, that's what I need to know. The plan,  gentlemen,  although  far
from simple is this. We are going to steal the beanstalk!"
    "You're going to do WHAT?," exclaimed Joe with a look of disbelief on
his face.  "How  in  God's  name  are  you  going  to  steal  a  structure
thirty-thousand miles long?"
    "Actually, we are not going to steal  the  beanstalk,"  Charlie  said
with a smile,  enjoying  the  shocked  looks  on  the  faces  of  the  men
surrounding him. We are just going to steal the  fabricator."  He  paused,
letting the implications sink into the minds of the men before continuing.
    "You see gentlemen, the factory complex on the moon  is  now  in  the
process of building the fabricator and then will be  integrating  it  with
its computer. It will then be stored on the lunar surface, with  the  rest
of it's component parts until needed on the Rock.  The  synthesis  chamber
however is the key component. At this time the belt cannot produce one but
they do have the capacity to build the rest of the fabricator."
    "So what you are saying," interrupted Captain O'Cassidy," is that  if
we steal this fabricator  thing,  we  will  have  the  means  to  build  a
    "Yes, that's it in a nutshell," agreed Charlie.
    "Simple," commented Xaio. "No problem at all. So just how do you plan
on achieving this simple plan?"
    "At this time, work is being done on a large stony asteroid.  Workers
are attaching engines to it so that it can be dropped  down  into  Earth's
orbit. There it will be placed in a stable geo-synch orbit to be  used  as
an anchor for the Beanstalk. All of the fabricator parts will then be sent
up from the Moon by the big mass-drivers, and then assembled on the Rock."
    "So that's what the rock is," interjected Captain  O'Cassidy.  "We've
been hearing rumors about  it  but  no  one  has  been  able  to  get  any
information about it or where it was."
    "Where it is  is  not  that  important,  since  we  do  not  plan  on
interrupting their work there. I do however have all of the timetables for
the Rock's arrival in Earth orbit and also when  the  fabricator  will  be
delivered to it. All we have  to  do  is  be  there  and  pick  it  up  in
Earth-lunar orbit before it gets out to the Rock."
    "That's all?," said Joe incredulously. "I hope that the plan is a bit
more polished than that."
    "I really can't tell you about that," said Charlie. "All  I  know  is
the basics. I do know that I will have to assemble the fabricator once  we
get it and I am carrying all  of  the  timetables  with  me,  hypnotically
implanted of course. There are supposed to be people  out  at  Alpha  base
working on all the various aspects of the plan."
    "Great," commented Joe glumly, not sure whether he had thrown in with
certifiable loonies or not. "Just great."
    Captain O'cassidy cut the discussion short. "I'm afraid I have got to
get back up to the bridge," he said, flipping over  to  the  door  leading
into the passage. "Joe," he said. "When you get settled in,  come  up  and
see me on the bridge. We'll start getting you  qualified  to  fly  one  of
these things." He then pushed off toward the entrance to the  access  tube
leading to the bridge and, with a quick wave, disappeared upward,  heading
back to the bridge.

    Charlie and Joe moved into one of the small, vacant staterooms  while
the other two occupied a second. "What I don't understand," said Joe  once
they were alone, "Is why someone would want to steal the beanstalk in  the
first place.
    "Ah," said Charlie. "Now you have hit on the interesting  point."  He
strapped himself into one of the seats before continuing.  "You  see,  the
fortunes of the solar system are changing. The  Earth  is  in  a  downward
spiral into financial ruin and runaway inflation.  She  cannot  afford  to
build a second beanstalk and it's doubtful that she will even complete the
one being started now."
    "But why?," asked Joe. "Surely the Senate sees the advantages of  it?
After all, they aren't blind, or stupid for that matter, are they?"
    "You Joe, are an engineer, not a politician. You live in a completely
different world than they do. As the money becomes more and more worthless
all of the scientific and engineering projects that require large  amounts
of money will come to  a  stop.  And  one  of  the  largest  will  be  the
    "I guess I can see that," admitted Joe reluctantly.
    "Good," said Charlie. "Add to that the amount of money and  resources
that the belt drains off."
    "But they need the raw materials we  supply  them!,"  exclaimed  Joe.
"Without the belt they will never rebuild the economy."
    "It is true that they need a source of resources. But what  if  there
is a cheaper and easier source of materials?  What  then  happens  to  the
Asteroid colonies?"
    "Where?," asked Joe  quietly,  not  yet  understanding  what  Charlie
alluded to concerning the fate of the belt colonists.
    "Mercury," answered  Charlie.  "The  techniques  have  recently  been
developed perfecting robotic and remote controlled mining  techniques.  On
Mercury today, one man can run an entire mining section. At present  there
are about one hundred men on Mercury  and  they  have  the  capability  of
outproducing the million plus colonists on Mars and in  the  belt.  Within
five years all of Earth's requirements will be met by the Mercury mines."
    "So what you are saying is that Earth will no longer need  the  belt?
Is that it? That all of the colonists will  finally  get  to  go  back  to
Earth?" Wishing to believe but forcing Charlie to tell him the truth.
    "That is what Earth wishes to believe, that the belt is unnecessary,"
said Charlie. But in actuality, Earth will always need the belt.  And  the
colonists she is willing to abandon to die out here."
    Joe said nothing at first,  choking  his  emoptions  back.  All  that
betrayed his innermost feelings was a single small  tear  forming  at  the
corner of one eye. "So what are we going to do about it?," he said finally
in a subdued voice.
    "The first step is to make the belt completely self-sufficient.
    "That's a tall order, Charlie," said Joe. "So far, only Mars has been
able to do so, and there is no way at the moment that she  can  carry  the
belt alone. How do you expect it to be done?"
    "There are a number of different schemes underway now, but the  first
and foremost revolves around the beanstalk."
    "Just what are we going to do with it if we get it?," asked Joe.
    "That's the easy part. We put it up on Europa."
    "Why there?," asked Joe, confusion coloring his face.
    "Water," answered Charlie. "Water and ammonia. The colonies  on  Mars
have enough water to supply their needs but the belt still  gets  most  of
hers from Earth. Plus nitrogen for fertilizers. Europa can supply  all  of
the water for reaction mass, air, and hydroponics. With  luck  we  can  be
self-sufficient by the time Earth cuts us  off.  But  it  all  requires  a
working beanstalk."
    "That's a tall order," said Joe.  "There  are  well  over  a  million
people out here. Are you willing to gamble their lives on the heist of the
    "I agree that it is a long shot. But we have no  choice,  and  we  do
have an important edge. There are some very powerful people  on  our  side
back on Earth who are farsighted enough to see what a beanstalk on  Europa
would mean. And they are willing to jeopardize  their  careers  to  insure
that vision comes true."
    "Other than basic survival, what else are you trying to accomplish?"
    "First, with an adequate supply of water, food and air, we can  build
up the production capacity of the belt. Then," he continued, "drawing more
and more from Europa as a source of reaction mass for the atomic  engines,
we will finally have the capability of launching  the  first  interstellar
star ships," Charlie said quietly. "That, Joe is what we are gambling  our
lives for. Not survival, not revenge but for the first interstellar  ships
mankind builds. And they will be built. This is the last true frontier  of
the solar system and this is where mankind either pushes out to the galaxy
or crawls back to Earth for ever!"
    "Well, I'll be damned," said Joe admiringly.  "And  this  plan  comes
from Earth?"
    "The ability to pull it off is up to us,"  said  Charlie.  "They  are
simply giving us the opportunity. A lot  of  powerful  organizations  have
been penetrated. And those that have not been penetrated  have  had  their
computers turned against them. How do you think I got off Earth?"
    "I have no idea,"admitted Joe. "I would have assumed that the  Senate
would want you where they could keep their eye on you, and not  allow  you
to flit off into outer space whenever you wished."
    "You are right, and this is how it was accomplished. First, data  was
entered into Internal Security's computer system telling them that I was a
wanted man and to pick me up to stand trial. It was very  carefully  timed
so that I would be on the last colonist ship and  safely  out  of  Earth's
reach before the breach was discovered. The data was next changed to  give
me a new name and that I had already stood trial and been found guilty.  I
was then sent to Africa and up  to  the  Oppenheimer.  By  the  time  that
Internal Security discovered what had happened the Oppenheimer had already
left orbit."
    "But surely Internal security found out about the switch immediately,"
said Joe. "They aren't that easy to fool."
    "Under normal circumstances, you would be right," continued  Charlie.
"However, they were misdirected. They were given a mystery to work  on  to
deceive  them  long  enough  for  the  Oppenheimer  to  leave.  That  same
misdirection caused them to believe I was still on  Earth  instead  of  in
space. It gave us the time we needed  to  get  far  enough  away  to  make
retrieval difficult."
    "You must have powerful friends," said Joe. "But surely all  Internal
Security had to do was send a message to Mars and pick you up as  soon  as
the Oppenheimer arrived."
    "That part was taken care of by a man named Abe Fortas,  or  Tom,  as
you came to know him. He is a high-ranking member of the underground,  the
REAL underground, not the one everyone knows about, the one controlled  by
Internal Security. He switched places with me just before we left the ship
on Deimos and it was him that they picked up, not me."
    "What will happen to him when they find out about the switch?," asked
    "Hopefully, he has already disappeared.  Means  were  placed  at  his
disposal, and if he was able to take advantage  of  them,  he  is  already
beyond their reach. And he was one of the best agents the underground had,
so I must assume he is safe. As it is, I owe him a debt I can never repay."
    "Is that why we are supposed to be dead?," asked  Joe,  understanding
more and more.
    "Yes, exactly. Tom,  who  is  actually  Abe  Fortas  cannot  hope  to
maintain the masquerade long. But eventually he will have to disappear  as
Dr. Quade. And when they realize they have lost the trail again, they will
backtrack, and believe me, they are relentless, if nothing else.  However,
all of their investigations will stop with the wreck of the Runner and our
    "Bodies?," asked Joe sharply. "Surely they didn't kill anyone  simply
to provide covers for us, did they?"
    "No, of course not," said Charlie quickly. "But there are a number of
deaths, both accidental and natural every day. Bodies of  the  right  size
and shape have been saved for this purpose. In fact, Alpha  Base  keeps  a
sizeable morgue frozen, waiting for when a body should be needed. It is an
unfortunate thing that this type of cover is needed but everything must be
done to guarantee the proper outcome. And you don't have  to  worry  about
positive identification, either. If you have  ever  seen  a  victim  of  a
combination of explosive decompression and  a  heavy  meteor  strike,  you
would know that identification is impossible. Earth will  have  to  accept
the evidence that they are given."
    Joe, thinking of the few accidents he had witnessed while working  on
the big wheels said nothing but nodded his agreement.
    "What will happen to Tom? I mean Abe?," asked Joe finally."
    "Hopefully he is safe in his own identity and on his way to the Rock.
There he will assume a normal working position  and  ride  the  Rock  into
Earth orbit. If we can extract him from there we will do so. If  he  wants
to come back to the belt, that is. If not, he can take care  of  himself."
Charlie stopped briefly before continuing in a subdued  voice.  "He,  like
all of us know the risks and voluntarily accepted them. We all  understand
that the fortune of all colonists in the belt is riding of  the  shoulders
of a few. And we are ready to accept the risks as necessary. It  won't  be
long before you may be asked to take the same risks and you  will  not  be
thought badly of if you do decide to back out."
    "To be honest, I really can't say yet where my allegiances  lie.  You
certainly have given me a lot to think about though. I hope you don't mind
if I watch and learn more before I commit myself yet?"
    Charlie smiled and clasped Joe around the shoulders. "Not at all.  In
fact you would have been suspect if you jumped whole-heartedly  into  this
with no thought at all. Take all of the time that  you  need,  although  I
suspect the captain will not  allow  you  much  freedom  around  the  ship
without some sort of commitment."
    "I can accept that," said Joe. "At the  moment  however,  I  wish  to
concentrate on learning how to navigate this ship, but I will be  thinking
over what you have said," admitted Joe. Neither man said anything more  as
Joe left the stateroom and climbed upward toward the bridge.
    There he found Captain O'cassidy seated at the command console.
    "What's the matter, son?," Shaun asked. "You look as if something  is
eating at you."
    "I'm not sure," said Joe reluctantly. I was talking with Charlie just
now and he filled me in on a few of the details of this operation."
    "So what's wrong? Are you having second thoughts?"
    "Yes," admitted Joe. "And third and fourth also. It's just  that  all
of a sudden I am not sure of anything. If we are so  right  and  Earth  is
wrong, how can we order a man to kill himself? I believe that Earth  would
do that but not us. Doesn't that make us just as bad as them?," asked  Joe
    "Now wait a minute son," said Shaun. No one had been ordered to  kill
himself. Did Dr Quade tell you that?" Captain O'Cassidy asked sternly.
    "Not in so many words," admitted Joe. "But the man who traded  places
with Charlie was, in a way. Is he so important that  you  are  willing  to
sacrifice one man to get Dr Quade?"
    "No, you have it all wrong," said Shaun soothingly. "I know what  you
are going through, but believe me, im sure that the man who is  pretending
to be Dr  Quade  was  not  ordered  to  kill  himself.  He  took  the  job
voluntarily, knowing full well what he was risking and believing  that  he
was capable of extracting himself. But if it does come down to  dying,  he
is capable of doing so if he has to." Captain O'Cassidy's voice  had  been
steadily rising im volume un till he spoke  the  final  words  in  a  near
    "I'm sorry," he said, apologizing to Joe. "I shouldn't be shouting at
you, after all you haven't been in the belt long enough to form  your  own
opinions yet. But then, you were raised in an  affluent  family  and  were
handed everything you needed to succeed in your society back on Earth. But
you will find life is different out here.  Very  different.  Here  we  are
involved in a war. A war of survival, one that never stops for  a  moment.
And on top of that, add the conflict that is yet to come  with  Earth.  On
Earth you never had to fight for anything that you wanted, but you  better
learn fast. No one is going to hand you anything here." Captain  O'Cassidy
paused to catch his breath before continuing.
    "Look," he said at last. "People get killed in wars  and  it  usually
isn't a pleasant sight. But every one who fights out here on our side does
so voluntarily and by their own free will. Sacrifices must be made  or  we
will all die. There are those among us who feel that  our  own  lives  are
worth less than the possible future we are trying to attain for  ourselves
and for our children."
    Joe had said nothing up to now but finally cut in.  "If  I  tell  you
right now that I am not interested in the fight, what would happen to me?"
    "That is had to say," said Shaun. "You know too much to be allowed to
go your separate way, but we do not believe in coercion. Some way would be
found to return you to Ceres to continue your life  as  you  would  wish."
Captain O'Cassidy stopped and examined Joe. "Is that your wish?"
    "No, but I was curious. Right now I know too little about you all  to
truly commit myself one way or the other although I  am  strongly  leaning
toward your side right now. I just wish to examine  all  possibilities  to
insure that I am not making an emotional mistake."
    "Good," beamed Shaun. "Examine away. We all have nothing to hide  and
I am sure that you will find yourself believing more and more in  what  we
are trying to do."
    What happens next?," asked Joe.
    "From here we head directly to Alpha Base to deliver  Dr.  Quade.  He
is, after all why we are here. And then, I am not sure. But something will
be found for us to do. You can be sure of that."
    "What then happens to the Runner?," asked Joe.
    "She will be converted into something, but her ore carrying days  are
over," said Shaun.
    "Why?," asked Joe
    "Well, there were originally five of this class ship,  but  over  the
years all of the other four have been wrecked and salvaged. Or so say  the
records, anyway. In actuality, one was hidden and not broken up.  That  is
the ship that is on it's way to Ceres now. And that is why the Runner  was
used. It is the only ore carrier that we had a double for."
    "So you volunteered, knowing you couldn't go back to Ceres?"
    "Yes," admitted Captain O'Cassidy. "And that was  the  hard  part.  I
have a wife and family on Ceres. She doesn't know the ship  coming  in  is
not us."
    "What!," exclaimed Joe, shock showing in  his  voice.  "Why  did  you
agree to this, then?"
    "Because the Runner was the only  ship  that  could  carry  out  this
mission, that's why. And Dr. Quade IS that important. I knew  what  I  was
doing, and so did the rest of the crew."
    "Now it is my turn to apologize," said  Joe  contritely.  "What  will
become of your family?"
    "She might remarry, but I hope not, since she  doesn't  know  of  the
switch. We couldn't take the chance, because her show  of  grief  must  be
real to fool the authorities. Later, if we can she will be  told  and  she
might forgive me. I hope so but I will have to wait and see.  If  Internal
Security is watching her, we may never be able to tell her."
    "I came up here to learn a bit of piloting but I'm not sure I feel up
to it right now," said Joe. "Maybe later, Ok?"
    "Sure thing, Joe. Why don't you drop down and get  something  to  eat
and then look up the ship's doctor. Ask him to give  you  a  drop  of  the
captain's own stomach medicine before  you  sack  in  for  the  night.  It
usually helps me at times like these. Then come back in the morning  fresh
and ready for your first lesson," said Shaun. "Sound good?"
    "Yeah," agreed Joe. I think that's what I'll do,"  he  said,  turning
and making his way back down the access tube toward his small stateroom.
    The Captain's own stomach medicine turned out to be a very potent and
smooth scotch whiskey which, according to the label was a product  of  the
belt. "Well," thought Joe. "Maybe life in the belt won't be so  bad  after


    Joe spent the next couple of weeks immersed in belt  astrogation  and
piloting. Captain O'Cassidy turned out to be  a  very  good  teacher  and,
contrary to what he had said at the start of the voyage, Joe was  standing
bridge watches before they entered the belt.
    One afternoon when Joe was off-duty,  the  ship's  announcing  system
chimed for attention, calling for Joe  and  Charlie  to  come  up  to  the
bridge. Once there they found Captain O'Cassidy waiting for them.
    "We are about to enter the belt, gentlemen," he began.  "If  you  are
interested you can come down to the plotting room and watch the navigation
    This particular type of operation had led to much  speculation  among
the four men  and  Joe  and  Charlie  were  more  than  grateful  for  the
opportunity to watch and they  followed  Captain  O'Cassidy  down  to  the
plotting room.
    The deck immediately above the crews quarters contained the  plotting
tables, the navigation computer, communications equipment and  the  ship's
sick bay. The bustle of activity here was taking place around the two  lit
plotting tables and the navigation computer.
    "What we are doing here, gentlemen," explained Captain O'Cassidy, "is
plotting a safe course through the asteroids." He brought them over to one
of the lit tables. When Joe and Charlie looked into it they saw  a  number
of glowing lines. "This is how it works," continued Shaun.  "Whenever  the
navigation computer and the main ships radar detects a new  asteroid  that
will come reasonably close to our course, it plots it in  the  table.  The
green lines are where the rocks came from, the blue dot is the rock itself
and the yellow line is the projected path of the rock."
    "Then the red lines must be the ship's course?," asked Joe.
    "Yes," agreed Shaun. "The dark red is where  we  came  from  and  the
lighter red is our projected course."
    The table that the three of them were at was the  less  busy  of  the
two, and most of the activity was taking place at the other  table.  "This
table is the long-range plotter,"  continued  Shaun.  "All  of  the  known
asteroids are pre-plotted here. Our destination  is  also  entered."  They
both noticed that the red line terminated on one of the  large  asteroids.
They then realized how far from their final destination they still lay.
    Shaun then brought them over to the other table. This  also  had  the
single red line indicating the ship's course and  the  split  green/yellow
asteroid plots.
    "This is the short-range plotter," he said.  "As  you  can  see,  the
ship's course crosses the table completely. Our destination is  still  too
far away to be seen on this table. This is where we do most  of  our  work
and the computer will keep our course terminated on  Alpha  base.  So  any
time we make minor adjustments to the course, the overall destination will
change and the computer, when it deems it safe will  readjust  the  course
automatically to bring us safely to our destination."
    As Captain O'Cassidy spoke, a new line winked onto the table.
    The green portion to their left and the yellow on their right.  "That
one's going to be close," said one of the men at the table.
    "Whenever we get a new asteroid, especially a large one,  we  try  to
give it a wide berth, because it is usually accompanied  by  a  number  of
smaller rocks," explained Shaun. "At this distance the radar  has  a  hard
time  distinguishing  between  different  targets  that  are  very   close
together. As we get closer though, that should change."
    The men at the plotting table worked quickly, adjusting the  path  of
the Runner to swing wide around the rock. As the asteroid approached,  the
line broke up into more and more lines, indication the smaller rocks  that
were accompanying the larger one. At last the  lines  stopped  multiplying
and the men checked their last adjustments.
    "Is this how you usually pilot the ship?," asked Charlie.
    "No," said Shaun. "Only when we are in the belt. It  takes  too  much
effort to operate like this around the clock. In open space where there is
virtually no danger, we can turn off the plotting system."
    As the ship  neared  Alpha  base,  there  appeared  fewer  and  fewer
unrecorded asteroids and the tight watch on the tables was  relaxed  until
the watch was held by only two crewmen.  Joe  was  standing  watch  as  an
apprentice, still unsure of the system but more than willing to learn.
    Soon the day came when Alpha base appeared on the short range plotter
and the end of their long journey approached. Alpha base was  one  of  the
best-kept secrets of the belt and it had  originally  begun  as  a  small,
nearly solid iron asteroid. It had been extensively reworked until  it  no
longer even closely resembled it's original shape.
    First, a large hole had been bored through to the middle of it.  Next
a small chamber at the center was hollowed out and filled with  ice.  Then
came the long and laborious task of resealing the access shaft. Once  that
was completed large mirrors had been assembled  and  focused  on  it.  The
asteroid was then was spun on it's axis and the accumulated power  of  the
sun, focussed by the mirrors, poured millions of watts of  power  into  it
every minute.
    Slowly it began to  heat  up  and,  as  the  outer  shell  reached  a
near-molten state the trapped ice turned first to water and  then  flashed
into steam. Slowly the  pressure  built  up  until  finally  the  internal
pressure  exceeded  the  limits  of  the  molten  steel.  Soundlessly  but
spectacular none-the-less, the steam blew a huge steel bubble out  of  the
small asteroid, while the remnants of the steam escaped  into  open  space
through open vents in it's uneven surface.
    Finally, all of the holes were sealed and a large hole  was  cut  and
machined to create a huge door in the side of  the  bubble.  Inner  shells
were slowly built over the years  to  provide  living  quarters  and  then
pressurized until today the shell was, in most places, three levels thick.
    Engines were attached to it and disguised so that in an emergency  it
could be moved in case of discovery  by  the  authorities.  By  design  it
showed as little outward signs of occupancy as possible, relying  on  it's
appearance more than secrecy to keep it safe. To  assist  further  in  the
illusion, huge degaussing coils had been built on the  surface  to  reduce
it's magnetic signature so that it looked like a huge stony asteroid  both
visually and to ship's sensors. On rare occasions a mining ship would come
by but soon continued on it's way after a brief inspection.
    Inside the sphere  lay  the  small  fleet  of  ships  controlled  and
operated by Alpha base. Here  too  were  brought  the  damaged  ships  for
storage or salvage. The engines that  were  built  into  Alpha  base  came
originally from some of these ships. Here also were stored a large portion
of the fuel and food reserves that the base  had  managed  to  hoard.  The
arrival of the Runner would help because she carried  a  large  amount  of
food and water that had originally been destined for Ceres.
    The arrival of the Runner brought a  large  number  of  the  planning
council to the berth where she would be docking. The docking procedure was
accomplished rapidly and soon a flexible pressurized tube was attached  to
the main airlock of the ship.
    "Doctor Quade," spoke one of the men in the front ranks as soon as he
had cleared the tube. He pushed his way  through  the  ranks  and  grasped
Charlie's hand, shaking it vigorously. "We  have  been  anticipating  your
arrival for a long time now," he continued. "On behalf of  the  population
of Alpha base, welcome, welcome."
    "We are having  a  reception  tonight  in  your  honor,"  interrupted
another voice, raised to pierce the hubbub around the lock. A hand  snaked
through the small crowd around him and drew him  off  and  away  from  the
others. Charlie allowed himself to be led away from the bustle and into  a
quieter corridor leading away from the press of bodies.
    "Come with me," the man said. "I will show  you  where  you  will  be
staying. Charlie followed the  man  down  a  wide  hall  that  intersected
numerous cross-corridors.
    "I assume you maintain gravity by spinning  the  entire  structure?,"
asked Charlie curiously.
    "Yes," came the quick answer. "The axis of spin is  where  the  ships
enter. We do not pressurize the ships bay because there is too much volume
and an airlock would be impossible."
    "Then you live in a band around the middle of the base?"
    "Yes. We call this hall here the Equator, and it is at full  gravity.
There are two other corridors that parallel it. One above us and the other
below and are called appropriately,  Cancer  and  Capricorn.  All  of  the
corridors intersecting these three are called longitudinals."
    "How far do the longitudinals go?," continued Charlie.
    "Some go all of the way around the sphere to connect in at the  other
side. Each longtitudinal is numbered from one to three hundred and  sixty.
Some starting from this corridor and others starting form either Cancer or
Capricorn, depending on which level you are on."
    "How many levels are there?," asked Charlie again, beginning  to  get
    "Only three. Each one is serviced by one of the main halls. It really
is a simple system once you get used to it.  Every  longitudinal  that  is
divisible by five extends to the north or south pole The north being where
all of the zero-gee labs are and the  south  being  the  access  door  and
shipyards.  Your  corridor,  longitude  fifty  extends  from  your  living
quarters out to all of the labs assigned to you, including  some  zero-gee
ones if you need them." They turned down a  longitudinal  and  stopped  in
front of a wide door.
    "These are your rooms, through here," he explained. He keyed open the
door and stepped in. By the door stood the  familiar  console  of  a  comp
terminal. "When you get a chance, enter your fingerprints and then it will
let you set up a list of people who are authorized access and the passkeys
will no longer be usable." He handed Charlie the  key  before  continuing.
"We apologize for the lack of furniture but again we did not know what you
preferred so we waited till you arrived before furnishing the place."
    He opened a second  door.  "Through  here,"  he  explained,  "is  the
bedroom. "He stopped to point out another door in the corner  of  the  big
room. "And through there is the fresher."
    He escorted Charlie back into the main room. "This door leads to  the
library," he said, opening another door off of the main room. "And  this,"
he said," opening another door in the library, "is  your  personal  comp."
Inside Charlie saw a very large comp, one much larger than he had imagined
would be available for his personal use.
    "Ships comp," he explained, seeing  the  puzzled  look  on  Charlie's
face. "The one thing we have a lot of is  comps,  all  of  them  from  the
wrecked ships we salvage."
    Back in the main room, he was led through one last door into a  large
well equipped lab.
    "Your rooms open onto this lab and other similar  labs  are  at  your
disposal, further up the longitudinal and also across the hall from  here.
Farther down the hall and out of full g are a large number  of  storerooms
also set aside for your use. Whatever you need, just ask and  we  will  do
our best to provide it for you."
    "I... I don't know what to say," stammered Charlie,  at  a  loss  for
words. "I am honored by your confidence in me."
    "No, we are privileged  to  have  as  distinguished  a  man  such  as
yourself working with us. Whatever you  need,  we  will  provide  it.  Lab
assistants, equipment, anything. All here would consider it  an  honor  to
work with you directly. But come," he said, changing the subject. "We will
be late for the conference," he said, hustling Charlie back out  into  the
    The conference was being held  in  a  small  room  near  Dr.  Quade's
residence where holocams and mikes had been set up to transmit the meeting
to all people of Alpha base.
    As he was escorted into the small room, he noticed that four  of  the
six comfortable chairs set around the conference table were  occupied.  He
was led to one of the remaining chairs, while his escort stood in front of
the last empty chair.
    "The patriots of Alpha base," he began, "would  like  to  welcome  Dr
Charles Quade into our small community. But before  we  proceed  with  the
meeting, I would like  to  introduce  a  few  of  our  more  distinguished
    The host turned to the chair directly to his right. "First, is Yvonne
Perozie." She was an older woman with fair skin and graying hair. Short of
stature and lean, she was wearing one of the common coveralls  favored  by
most of the asteroid personnel. "She is our Assistant Director."
    He turned slightly to face the next  chair.  "Vittorio  Orthaus,  the
Sciences Director. He keeps all of the  departments  in  touch  with  each
other by publishing the ongoing research results. And whenever we can  get
it, anything that arrives from Earth." A  young  man,  with  the  look  of
boyhood still upon him, Orthaus was tall, with dark hair, freckles  and  a
friendly warm smile.
    "Third is Jodane Lisenring, He is  in  charge  of  the  dirty  tricks
department." Jodane was a small, nondescript man, with dirty  blond  hair,
the type that  would  blend  into  almost  any  crowd  and  be  completely
    "Fourth is Yoon Tae Yeo, the Director of Alpha  base."  He  was  also
small but with the hair and features of Northern China.
    "And I," he continued, turning and bowing slightly to Dr  Quade,  "am
Salvattoro Castagniera, Supreme Military Commander of the Army and Navy of
Alpha base, and the free asteroid belt." This comment must have been meant
rhetorically because it was met by hearty laughs from the  audience.  "You
will soon find out," explained Sal, "that the the total  armed  forces  of
the belt consist of one converted mining ship which is our  navy  and  ten
armed soldiers. Or, more  accurately,  the  security  team  and  I,  their
officer.  All  in  all,  a  definitely  superior  and  powerful   military
organization if I do say so myself."
    Dr Quade found himself chuckling along with the rest of them at  this
grand pronouncement and thought that he probably would find it hard not to
like this young man.
    Sal turned back to the holocams. "And now I have the  great  pleasure
of introducing Doctor Charles Quade, late of Earth  and  due  to  his  own
recent and unavoidable death, late of Mars. But,  following  a  miraculous
recovery, like the rest of us here, late for his own funeral."
    Dr Quade stood and waited for the laughter to cease before  speaking.
"Sorry I'm late," he began, drawing yet more chuckles from  the  assembled
crowd. "And, after an introduction like that, anything I say seems  almost
anticlimactic." He turned slightly and briefly nodded to Sal. "I will say,
however that with the awesome strength of the military forces of the  belt
in so obviously capable hands, how can  we  lose?  Besides  since  we  are
already dead, what more can they do to us?"
    He turned to Vittorio. "Is this being recorded?," he asked.
    "Yes sir," said Vittorio. "We don't want to let  anything  slip  into
the cracks, so to speak."
    "Good. There is a lot that I wish to discuss and it will be easier if
it is all printed out afterwards  to  be  distributed  to  the  interested
    "No problem sir," said Vittorio. "I will see to it."
    Dr. Quade nodded his approval before continuing. "There are a  number
of subjects that I wish to discuss tonight, and  all  of  them  relate  to
recent breakthroughs in the fields of chemistry and physics.  But  first,"
Charlie said, turning to Jodane. "What is a dirty tricks department?"
    Jodane smiled. "Most governments keep a dirty  tricks  department  of
some sort or another. They are supposed to keep their enemy's  troops  off
guard. We, however try to come up with ways of supplying food,  water  and
personnel. The Streaker/Runner switch is just one of the ploys we use."
    "Sounds like fun," said Charlie.
    "Yes, it can be. The thrill of the chase, you know. We do have a  lot
of friends scattered throughout the Belt. And  the  ones  who  are  highly
placed do as much for us as they possibly can."
    Dr. Quade first filled the group in on the events  of  the  last  few
months, finishing by stating once again his desire to steal the beanstalk.
    "You are sure that this is absolutely necessary?,"  asked  Yoon  once
Charlie had finished  speaking.  "True  we  are  all  dedicated  to  doing
whatever is necessary but it seems as if we are  deliberately  starting  a
war neither side can afford to wage let alone lose."
    "Unfortunately,  it  is  necessary.  Computers  on  Earth  ran  every
simulation we could come up with and this one is the only one that allowed
the highest survival rate of the belt population. And,  yes  Earth  cannot
afford a war at this time, especially one with supply  lines  as  long  as
these will be. The  Senate  understands  that  and  should  do  everything
possible to avoid a  direct  conflict,  relying  instead  on  an  economic
boycott to win the fight.
    "But just in case there are a few hotheads out here and back  in  the
Senate, we may have to give them something to think about.
    "Mr Castagniera," he said, only to be cut short.
    "My friends call me Sal," he said.
    "Good," he said to the assembled crowd. "And since  we  all  will  be
working together for some time, Dr. Quade is too formal, so please call me
Charlie." There was a  buzz  of  approvals  from  the  crowd  but  Charlie
continued quickly.
    "How is the ship coming along?," he asked.
    "The hull is  completed,"  said  Vittorio.  "We  are  installing  the
engines and will be starting on the interior soon."
    "Fine," said Charlie approvingly. "I have brought a few changes along
that you might find helpful, like the  newest  superconductor  alloys.  If
this whole arrangement actually works,  we  just  might  give  the  Senate
something to really think about." He turned to Vittorio. "How much do  the
people here actually know?"
    "Not much," admitted Vittorio. "We haven't been  publishing  anything
about the ship due to the fact that the alloys  we  have  really  are  not
adequate for the job."
    "Why don't you fill everyone in?," asked Charlie. "The new alloys are
far superior to the old ones and I think that  they  will  fill  the  bill
quite well."
    Vittorio faced the holocams. "Basically," he  began,  "We  have  been
investigating an interesting side effect of superconductivity.
    "First, you must understand exactly  what  superconductors  do.  They
allow the flow of electricity  through  a  conductor  with  absolutely  no
resistance to that flow. Resistance  causes  heat  and  heat  is  a  loss.
Superconductors allow current flow with no losses whatsoever.
    "Superconductors have been around for quite  a  while.  Back  in  the
early nineteen hundreds an experiment was set up  where  a  conductor  was
cooled  nearly  to  absolute  zero  where   the   wire   turned   into   a
superconductor. And since then the search  was  on  for  a  material  that
remained a superconductor at room temperatures. And although  we  are  not
there yet, we have been getting closer.
    "You may ask why we are interested in superconductivity? Actually the
answer is  quite  simple.  It  was  discovered  that  superconductors  and
magnetic fields repel one another. A common  parlor  trick  is  to  get  a
magnet to float above a superconductive plate, balanced by  the  repulsion
of the superconductor and the attraction of gravity.
    "Now, conjecture if you will," continued Vittorio. "If  the  magnetic
field is produced by a solar body such as the sun and  the  superconductor
is the hull of a space ship. The ship should get a sizeable kick from  the
magnetic field as they repel one another."
    This announcement was met with gasps from the assembly.  "Taking  the
engineering one step farther, wrap the hull of an  existing  ship  with  a
superconductor assembled around a hollow core. Out in deep space, a heated
fluid is circulated through the  tube,  keeping  the  temperature  of  the
conductor above it's  superconductivity  point.  When  close  to  the  sun
however, the sun itself will provide the necessary heat. When the drive is
required, a supercooled liquid is passed through the  tube,  dropping  the
conductor's temperature below it's superconductivity point and  the  drive
cuts in.
    "Unbelievable," said Yoon. "Is all this true?"
    "Yes," said Charlie. "And there is more. Do you know what is required
to produce electricity?"
    "Sure," said Yoon. A magnetic field, a conductor and motion."
    "Correct. The field is supplied by the sun, the conductor is  carried
by the ship itself and motion is supplied by the ship during grav-whip. In
essence, an electric generator. If we shunt  this  current  into  a  large
capacity accumulator, nearly  all  of  the  energy  to  supply  the  drive
machinery will be supplied free of charge. Once the ship is past  the  sun
and is on it's way back out, convert the conductor into  a  superconductor
and there isn't a ship in the system that can catch her."
    "My god," said Sal in appreciation. A drive that  supplies  it's  own
power. Isn't that perpetual motion?"
    "No, not exactly. It still requires a lot of energy  to  operate  the
superconductivity equipment. More than the accumulators will  be  able  to
supply. Hopefully though, it will catch Earth off guard and  we  will  get
away clean. It will take a lot of  experimentation  to  determine  how  to
operate a superconductor drive in a planetary field but that is one of the
things that we are fighting for. The chance to continue the  research  out
here in the belt. But later I can get with the proper department and  help
with the technical  details.  The  actual  formulas  for  the  alloys  are
hypnotically buried with a number of other items.
    "Is there anything else?," asked Sal, still in somewhat of a daze.
    "Yes, many things. One, for instance is a portable mass-driver. Using
the advanced alloys we can produce a much lighter and more powerful set of
    "Wait a minute," objected Sal. What about the recoil? In  space  that
must be a major consideration."
    "Yes, you are completely right. However,  if  you  have  two  drivers
instead of one, one firing a projectile out of the front end and the other
out of the back end, the resultant force vectors cancel each other out and
there will be no recoil."
    "How long would these things be?," asked Sal eagerly,  the  light  of
understanding in his eyes as his mind started working on the idea.
    "Twenty or thirty feet, depending on the amount of  acceleration  you
want. Couple it to a photocell array and a medium sized asteroid to anchor
the whole thing and to store ammunition and you have a cheap  weapon  that
could effectively take out a space ship with one good shot."
    "Shit," exclaimed Sal. "If we kill a few of their ships, that  should
discourage them from actively carrying the war to us and change it into  a
waiting game very quickly."
    "Then you expect active war?," asked Yvonne, finally touching on  the
one subject they all had been avoiding.
    "Unfortunately, yes," he assented. "The Generals on  Earth  still  do
not think in terms of space warfare and the sheer  distances  we  will  be
dealing with. However if we can  produce  a  resounding  defeat  to  their
forces, they will very quickly get the idea and pull back, allowing us the
freedom to continue with our other plans. After  all,  once  we  have  the
fabricator, I would not relish building a beanstalk while  being  actively
fired upon."
    "Anyway," interrupted Yoon. "We can go on like this all night. We all
can get together later and draw up plans for all of the  things  that  you
have brought us.
    "However, the original reason for this meeting was to get to know you
and you, us. I believe we have adequately met those goals  and  I  suggest
that we retire to the cafeteria where a buffet spread has  been  laid  out
and continue these discussions later?"
    "Yes, excellent  idea,"  said  Charlie.  "I  need  to  get  debriefed
hypnotically before we can really dig into the information I have brought.
So, if you would be so kind as to lead the way,"  Charlie  said  to  Yoon,
standing and allowing the older man to step off of  the  stage,  "I'll  be
right behind you."
    He was led a short distance to a large cafeteria, flanked on one side
by Yoon and Salvattoro on the other,  with  both  men  competing  for  his
    The rest of the crowd stayed a few  paces  behind  them,  allowing  a
semblance of privacy as they walked.
    "When will you be able to get me a  list  of  things  that  you  will
need?," asked Yoon.
    Charlie ignored Sal's incessant attempts for his attention, listening
instead to Yoon, defering to the man's senoir position. "That will be hard
to say," he began. "I really don't know  the  status  of  the  other  labs
already in operation on Alpha. And until I see those labs  and  what  they
are actually doing, I will not know what areas may need to be addressed. I
will be particularly interested in the ship though."
    "Ah, the ship," Sal said, finally succeeding in interrupting. "It  is
actually coming along very well and far ahead of schedule."
    "We recognize that the launching timetable is  unalterable  and  have
assigned all possible personnel on it."
    "Excellent," said Charlie. Later, if it can be arranged, I would like
to see it."
    "That can be arranged," said Sal. "Anytime you wish, just say  so  to
Vittorio. He will set it up for you."
    "I'll do that," said  Charlie.  He  stopped  and  looked  around  the
cafeteria,  noticing  that  it  was  starkly  decorated  and  it's  strict
utilitarian lines showed through. Frills were the one thing that there was
little of here. At the far end of the large room, tables had been  set  up
to hold the various trays and bowls of food. Prominently placed at one end
of the last table was a large bowl of fresh fruit. As Charlie  got  closer
to the bowl he saw a small hand-lettered sign that simply said "one  each"
placed beside the bowl.
    "They just came in on the Runner," explained Yoon. "We see so  little
real food, let alone fresh fruit that it is a real  treat.  As  you  might
expect, nearly all of our fare here is algae paste."
    "I expected no more," said Charlie in agreement.
    "We do," continued Yoon, "have a number of very good chefs here  that
can make a very passable meal out of the  paste.  Nearly  everything  here
tonight is algae, with a few exceptions other than the fruit." He  stopped
to examine the loaded tables. "In fact, I'll be willing to  bet  that  you
won't be able to tell which ones are real and which ones are not."
    "That's one bet I won't take," said Charlie with a smile. "But I will
try whatever looks good though and give you  my  overall  recommendations,
    "Agreed," said Yoon happily, reaching for a plate. "We can talk later
after you get settled. I'll have my secretary set up an appointment."
    "I'd like that," said Charlie, finding it easy to like the small man.
    He filled a plate with a number  of  interesting  looking  items.  He
turned and was beckoned  over  to  a  partially  filled  table  which  was
occupied by Sal, Vittorio and Joe!
    "I see you got a better reception than I did," said Joe with a grin.
    "Sorry," said Charlie with an  apologetic  shrug.  "So  how  are  you
getting along? I am sorry I havn't had much time for you as of  late.  But
perhaps that oversight can be remedied."
    "That's fine with me but I have a feeling that we both wil be  rather
busy in the near future. Tomorrow I have  an  appointment  with  the  port
master and he will assign me to an instructor to check me out  and  assess
my piloting skills. If I am lucky, I will be a fully qualified belt  pilot
by next week.
    "Excellent," said Charlie. "I am sure that they can always  use  more
pilots here. And I would like to see you in the running for  the  big  job
coming up later."
    "You mean on the Giant Killer?," asked Vittorio.
    "The WHAT?," asked both men unison.
    "That's what everyone has been calling the new ship," chimed in  Sal,
laughing at the reaction of the two men. The few of us who knew  her  true
mission have had a hard time keeping it secret with a name like that."
    "No one is sure who started it,"  added  Vittorio.  One  morning  the
first shift started work and found an engraved brass plate  on  her  nose,
with the name on it and it sort of stuck."
    "And since no one has been able to come up with  a  better  name,  we
really haven't been trying to change it."
    Joe and Charlie had found this whole conversation  rather  funny  and
were having trouble controlling themselves through it all. "It's fine with
me," said Charlie around his laughter. "A good omen, gentlemen. If you can
keep your sense of humor at a time like this the battle is halfway won."
    "Do you think I will be ready by launch?," asked Joe.
    "I have no idea," said Charlie. "I have no way of  knowing  how  good
you are and what your qualifications are. I will leave that up to the port
    "Sorry," said Joe, red-faced. "It's just that you seem to have all of
the answers."
    "No, actually I have very few. But I hope to be of some assistance in
streamlining those that already exist. Most of the planning and  work  has
been done. I just hope to be able to help complete them."
    "You mentioned earlier that war really was  not  a  factor  to  worry
about," said Sal. "Why?"
    "It's really simple. There are members of the Senate that  know  they
will still need the belt and it's resources. If we do succeed in  becoming
self-sufficient then not only us but the whole solar system wins.  No  one
would win a real war out here. The Earth simply cannot afford to supply  a
war this far from home. Hell, she can't afford to supply  peace  this  far
away. And war is much more expensive."
    "So what will they do?," asked Vittorio.
    "Now that a cheaper source of resources is available  to  the  Earth,
she will of course grab it. The Earth simply cannot afford  the  drain  we
place on her any longer and there are Senators who believe that they  will
never need us. Or at least, when that need reappears later, they can again
develop the belt."
    "Isn't that a bit shortsighted?," asked Joe.
    "Yes," agreed Charlie. "One, since we are now considered unnecessary,
we die. Very impractical from our point of view. And there is virtually no
chance of being returned to Earth. Unemployment in many  sections  of  the
globe runs as high as twenty-five to thirty percent.  There  is  no  place
there for us now and there never will be."
    "So what's next?," asked Vittorio.
    "Well, that's why we are here. Those of us on Alpha that is, fighting
for a different future. True, Mercury can supply everything that the Earth
needs and will greatly help her  unemployment  problem.  However,  as  the
resources  start  to  arrive  from  Mercury,  it  will  fill  all  of  her
manufacturing needs and there it will  stay.  As  the  Earth's  population
grows, more and more will be needed to  house  and  feed  the  population.
Everything Mercury supplies will go to  Earth  and  there  it  will  stay,
feeding her cities and industries.
    "If, however we do succeed in becoming self-sufficient,  all  of  the
burdens of supplying Earth will be off of us and we will be  able  to  use
the resources as we see fit. Our population is low, and will  stay  there,
never out-pacing our resource production. All of which will stay  here  to
be used to build our own worlds. Hopefully, nothing will  be  needed  from
Earth again. With that freedom to grow and learn, the belt will become the
leading edge of technology. We will have the  room  to  grow  and  expand.
Earth, once she has pulled back will not."
    "You paint a rosy picture," said Vittorio,  finding  it  easy  to  be
pulled into the spell of Charlie's words.
    "Rosy it can be but it will also be hard work. Work we will  have  to
do ourselves, but we do have friends. Powerful friends back on Earth  that
are farsighted enough to see the  true  future  of  mankind  and  will  do
everything in their power to stop any true attempt at carrying war to us."
    "And we know what we have to do to win that war," said Yoon, who  had
approached from behind Charlie's chair and had  been  listening  for  some
time. "I just received a message that came in with the Runner and has only
now been decoded." He saw that he  held  the  attention  of  every  person
within earshot and continued. "I realize that there have been a number  of
people that have been opposed to forcing our freedom but have been backing
the decision of the  majority.  The  message  was  sent  to  the  military
commander of the Deimos garrison. It details the decision  to  reduce  the
shipments of materials needed by the belt but at the same  time  requiring
an increase in daily quotas from every man and woman  out  here.  It  also
goes on to order the stop of all large construction projects with the  one
exception of the Rock and lists the timetable for  reducing  all  garrison
personnel, the last men to leave in no more than five years. By  then,  it
says, the Mercury mines will be up to full  production  and  the  garrison
will no longer be required."
    "Five years?," said Sal, "that's all?"
    "Yes, that's it.  Our  death  sentence  has  just  been  passed.  All
personnel that will be going back will be returned on  the  new  freighter
being completed on Deimos, the other three will be shifted to the  Mercury
run as their last voyages out to Mars have been completed."
    "Five years should be plenty of time," said Charlie.  "If  our  plans
come to fruition, that is."
    "And they  will,"  stated  Yoon.  "This  should  draw  all  of  Alpha
personnel solidly behind the efforts and serve to pull  the  rest  of  the
Belt into the fray. Carry on gentlemen," he said. "I have to get  back  to
my office, I wish to post copies of the letter and get them  sent  out  to
Ceres so they also can begin to act on it."
    Nothing was said at the table as they watched Yoon walk wearily  away
from them.
    "That sure puts a damper on the evening," commented  Joe  after  Yoon
had departed. I believe I will turn in, if you will excuse me. I've got an
early appointment with the port master."
    "Good idea," agreed Sal and Vittorio. Sal turned to Charlie. "If  you
wish, I'll show you back to your rooms."
    Charlie nodded a silent agreement and rose, following the younger man
out of the slowly emptying room.
    "You mentioned the first shift," said Charlie curiously, once the two
men had gotten out into the main corridor.
    "Yes," said Sal. "We work around the clock here. Three  shifts,  each
on their own timetable. A number of  projects  are  on  a  round-the-clock
schedule and other than that the different shifts was started  to  relieve
the pressure on our limited support staff"
    Charlie soon fell into the routine of Alpha base. He personally  kept
track of the installation of the SC drive. The superconductor alloy he had
brought out was a synthetic material that could be  sprayed  on  a  hollow
wire and then baked to produce a hard ceramic  material.  At  low  current
levels the wire would act as a normal current carrier. At higher levels it
became a heater, supplying heat to the ceramic and taking  it  above  it's
superconductivity point.
    A refrigerant could be pumped through the hollow wire  which  dropped
it's temperature down into the superconductivity  range.  The  heater  was
incorporated in the design to act as a rapid shut-off  in  case  something
went wrong because a full operational test would be impossible  until  the
ship entered the high magnetic field of the sun.
    One of the first things Charlie had  done  was  meet  with  the  port
master and inquire about  the  top  pilots  at  Alpha  base.  He  was  not
surprised when he saw Joe's name on the list, but marked  as  provisional,
depending of course on the outcome of his tests.
    Joe himself had not had quite the reception that Charlie had had.  He
had been assigned to quarters in a small  room  containing  a  combination
couch/bed set against one wall. A small table with two chairs  occupied  a
corner and a vid terminal  stood  alone  against  another  wall.  A  small
bathroom that was shared with the room next to his lay  through  the  only
other door in the room.
    "Not bad," Joe thought. "At least it's got  possibilities.  A  little
decorating might just liven the place up."
    Joe soon became accustomed to the scheduled routines  of  the  place.
The day after moving into his room he reported  to  the  port  master.  He
found him in a small office with one large window  looking  out  into  the
huge ship bay of Alpha base. He was ushered in after a quick  rap  on  the
outer door. "Joe Francelli," he said, introducing himself and offering his
    "John Henner," came the quick warm response, as he shook  Joe's  hand
with a strong, steady grip.
    He was a barrel of a man, comfortable with  the  mantle  of  command,
demanding and getting the respect of all of his pilots. Hard but fair,  he
was a near instant judge of character, knowing which men  would  give  him
everything they could and which men he would have  to  push  to  do  their
best. "Familiarize yourself with all of the various ships" he said, during
the first quick tour of the docks. "But keep away from THAT one."
    THAT one turned out to be the Giant Killer, the  ship  the  base  was
building specially for Charlie's expedition to Earth. It was a short, wide
cylinder that was open to space through a large hole in the center.  Crews
quarters and the operating spaces were placed around  the  central  cavity
with the engines and fuel tanks in the rear. As Joe watched, a scaffolding
was being assembled around the outer hull to begin  incorporating  the  SC
    It had been rigidly tethered to the  inside  wall,  secure  inside  a
pressurized plastic bubble. There were a number  of  similar  bubbles  and
quite a few unused circular collars waiting for when they might be needed.
    "Some day," thought Joe, "this place could turn  into  a  major  belt
    "One more thing," the port master said. "In a few days or so, when  I
can get one free, I am assigning you to one of our  instructor  pilots  to
assess what you do and do not know. Then, I can assign you to what classes
you will need and get you into a working position. But  until  then,  just
hang loose and look around."
    Joe thought that was an excellent  suggestion  and  planned  to  take
every advantage of the offer while he could. "Sure," he  agreed  at  once.
"Anything special I should work on?"
    "Belt navigation, but I don't expect you to tackle that alone. It can
be really confusing without an experienced man along side of you."
    "On the way out here," admitted Joe, "Captain O'Cassidy let me  stand
bridge watches and assist in navigating through the belt. "Will that help?"
    "Yeah," John said, surprised. "What did you do to the old battle-axe?
Blackmail him?"
    "No, it was his suggestion. Why?"
    "As far as I know he has never let anyone other than  crew  onto  his
bridge," said John. "He has a bad reputation  in  the  belt  for  being  a
recalcitrant and hardheaded. I have not been looking  forward  to  meeting
the man or having him work for me."
    "He seemed okay to me," said Joe, equally surprised. "Maybe he has  a
bad rep but doesn't deserve it?"
    "Possibly," agreed John. "But as a favor to you, I'll take it easy on
him first. If what you say is true, no sense in antagonizing  him  on  the
first day."
    "I would appreciate it. I know you owe me nothing but  I  believe  we
will be working together for quite some time. We might as  well  start  as
    "Friends it is," John agreed warmly. "Friendship has never  harmed  a
working relationship yet," he said slapping Joe on the back as he left the
office. "And I'll check out Captain O'Cassidy too. Thanks for that bit  of
    "Any time," said Joe. "Whatever I can do to help, just ask."
    "I will," said John with a wry smile. "Believe me, I will."
    Joe gave him a brief wave as he left the docks, heading  back  toward
the living quarters and a cafeteria near his rooms.

    Joe had been working a few days when he was called into  the  docking
foreman's office. It was decorated in the fashion of most working offices.
Piles of blueprints were stacked in one corner of the office. Pictures  of
various ships, from one of the big colonist ships  to  a  beautiful  three
masted sailing ship. A bookshelf spanning one whole wall was  filled  with
engineering texts and reference books.
    Inside the office he was met by one of the men he had met immediately
prior to the reception held for Charlie the  other  day.  Joe  momentarily
forgot the man's name but was quickly reminded.
    "Salvattoro Castagniera," he said, introducing  himself  once  again.
"Come on in, Joe, and have a seat."
    Joe was waved over to one of the hard chairs by the  small  desk  and
sat, saying nothing, but waiting for the other man to speak.
    "I predict a long and mutually advantageous friendship,"  Sal  began.
"I have had a look at your pilot's log and I must say, I'm impressed  with
what I saw." He stopped to call up a copy of the log on the vid.  "And  we
have been watching you closely since you arrived here and I  am  impressed
by your abilities to absorb new engineering systems quickly."
    "Lots of men have more logged hours than I do," protested Joe.
    "Yes, they do. But most of them are long  haulers,  not  orbital  tug
pilots. Most of your experience is under power; I  doubt  that  there  are
five men in the belt with as many hours as you do in tugs. Coupled to your
education, you could be a very useful man.  I  believe  we  will  have  no
trouble finding a permanent spot for you."
    "Like what?," asked Joe enthusiastically.
    "I'm not sure just yet. How are you getting along with the ships?"
    "At first I thought that they were all different but as I study  them
I find that they are all  very  similar,  just  set  up  differently.  The
control systems all work alike. It's just a matter of learning  where  the
different controls are on each type of ship."
    "Good," said Sal. "You come highly recommended too. Captain O'Cassidy
signed your log book that you are a very capable pilot."
    Joe reddened slightly. Although private comments could be entered  in
the log book, they seldom were.  Only  exceptional  pilots  ever  received
personal endorsements.
    "And I see that it is not the first time either," continued Sal. "The
Armstrong's flight officer made a few comments also. He cited your  strict
professionalism, a finely honed talent with tugs and a general willingness
to do almost any job and then perform it  flawlessly,"  Sal  said.  "Earth
used a rating system, didn't they?"
    "Yes," answered Joe. "All pilots were rated every six months and  the
standings were posted. A lot of benefits went with  the  position  of  Top
    "How many times were you posted as number one?"
    "Six. Once at Gagarin in five times at the Armstrong station."
    "Didn't the Gagarin rating get you the berth  at  Armstrong?,"  asked
    "Yes," answered Joe. "Once I arrived on the Armstrong it  took  me  a
while to regain the number one spot though.  There  were  a  lot  of  very
capable pilots there, much better than at the Gagarin."
    "But once back on top, you stayed there?"
    "Yes," agreed Joe, beginning to wonder where  this  conversation  was
    "Well, It seems that I do have a job for you after all. How would you
like to be posted as second pilot to  the  Giant  Killer?  Probational  of
    Joe sat, momentarily stunned. "Me?," he asked finally.  "But  I  have
been here only a few weeks. Surely there are other  pilots  who  know  her
better than I do?"
    "Frankly, no. The operating system will be completely  different  and
you impress me as a man fully capable of learning the new  system  quickly
and well. Interested?"
    "God yes," said Joe quickly. "But I do have a few questions though."
    "Ask away," said Sal "Anything you want to know, I am now  authorized
to tell you."
    "Will Dr. Quade be aboard?"
    "Yes," chuckled Sal. "I understand that you and he built up  quite  a
friendship on the way out, didn't you?"
    "We got along well, yes. He is a good card player. And I look forward
to playing him again now I know who he is."
    "Why would that make a difference?," asked Sal, puzzled.
    "On the trip out he was trying to  conceal  his  identity,  including
trying to convince everyone he wasn't as smart  as  he  really  is.  As  a
result he deliberately contrived to lose. Not often or  spectacularly  but
just enough to keep him from being noticed."
    "I see," said Sal. Now that he doesn't have to hide  who  he  is,  it
will be a much more even match?"
    "Exactly. Now we will find out which of us is better than the  other.
I will be looking forward to the rematches. But if he is so  important  to
everything, why are you risking him on the mission to Earth?"
    "We tried to dissuade him but he insisted in coming along," explained
Sal. "But then, since so much of  the  equipment  is  his  design  it  was
finally agreed that he should be on the  ship  to  assess  the  fabricator
after the theft. And if it should get damaged in the process, both he  and
you should be able to put it back into working order on the way back."
    Joe nodded, thinking things over "And who will the Captain  be?,"  he
asked finally.
    "Shaun O'Cassidy," Sal answered quickly.
    Joe stood, extending his hand. "Then yes, I shall be very pleased  to
accept the position."
    Sal grasped his hand and, shaking it with a smile. "Good, good.  Then
you are working for me now and welcome aboard! But remember.  We  will  be
pushing you t your limits in the next few months. If there  is  any  doubt
about you or your abilities, you are out! And there will be no  appeal  of
that decision."
    "I have never been afraid of  hard  work.  Nor  have  I  v\ever  been
accused of doing less than the best that I could. I think  you  will  have
little to complain about from me."


    The new modifications progressed rapidly on the Giant Killer  because
a lot of the work had been completed prior to Dr  Quade's  arrival.  Final
outfitting and the installation of the SC drive were all that was left  to
complete. Joe spent most of the time on board learning the new systems and
familiarizing  himself  with  the  engine  setup.  A  simulator  had  been
programmed to assist in ship handling but no one could predict how the  SC
drive would work or even if it would indeed work at all.
    Captain O'Cassidy, Joe and the third pilot, Michaela Riecce all  soon
became quite adept at performing all of the required maneuvers  when  they
would be in Earth orbit.
    One afternoon, Joe and Michaela were returning from the Giant  killer
when the emergency lights began flashing.
    "What the hell's going on?," asked Joe.
    "I'm not sure,"  answered  Michaela.  "Quick,  in  here,"  she  said,
pulling Joe into a small room off of the main corridor. She quickly sealed
the door and then turned on the vid terminal. "This is an emergency hole,"
explained Michaela. "We will be safe here if  we  lose  atmosphere.  Let's
find out what's going on, okay?"
    "Sure," agreed Joe, turning  to  the  vid,  where  an  announcer  was
speaking, preempting all programming channels.
    "An unidentified mining ship has just entered short-range  radar,  he
was saying. This is a class 'B' emergency. No transmitters of any type are
to be used until the all-clear is given. I repeat..."
    "Nothing to worry about," she said. "We  get  quite  a  few  of  them
actually. Let's see if I can get a better  picture  on  this  thing."  She
returned to the vid and entered a string  of  commands  on  the  keyboard.
"Good," she finally announced. I have  tied  in  to  the  exterior  camera
system monitoring the intruder. I can only get the one central control  is
watching on the main monitor but that should be fine."
    "Looks good to me," agreed Joe, pulling up a chair and settling in to
    Michaela entered another string and soon the  announcer's  voice  was
back on. "I crossed the audio channel over to the announcer so we can hear
anything he has to say without missing any of the action."
    "How did you learn those commands?," asked Joe curiously.
    "When I first arrived here, I was assigned to  security  central  and
had access to all of the codes and passwords. I still like to be  able  to
keep track of things," she admitted. "It's a bit like spying, but I cannot
access anyone's private vid without him or her knowing about it. The  only
thing I can monitor are the open security channels."
    On the vid they saw a small mining  ship,  slowly  closing  on  Alpha
base, making a standard pass, checking for any indication of  iron,  using
    "They usually make one pass and then go on. If there is no iron  then
they do not stop."
    "What's happening now?," asked Joe, still watching the vid. The  ship
had fired her retro's, bringing her to a  relative  stop  near  the  large
    "Damn," muttered Michaela. "It looks like they are going to come over
and do a visual."
    "What's that?," asked Joe.
    "They  are  looking  for  anything  that  would  not  show  up  on  a
magnetometer. Ice, non-ferrous metals,  minerals,  anything  at  all  that
might be useful."
    "What will security do now?"
    "That depends on what they find and what they do next. If they do not
find anything suspicious, like the degaussing coils or one of our  monitor
cameras, they may leave. Or they may sink a blast hole  and  check  what's
down under the surface."
    Two men detached themselves from  the  ship  and,  using  jet  packs,
dropped down to the asteroid's surface. They landed  on  the  north  pole,
that being the easiest place to set down due to the spin of the asteroid.
    "That's a lucky break," commented Michaela. There is much less to see
there than on the south pole. The ship access door is much harder to  hide
than the coils and the cameras."
    "What will happen if they do decide to blast?"
    "Depends on where they try it. If they are over one of the labs, they
will get one hell of a surprise when they vent it to space. But it  should
not go that far though."
    "Why not?," asked Joe, curoisity coloring his face.
    "Watch and see," came the enigmatic answer.
    Sure enough, the two men opened a case and withdrew  a  boring  laser
and began setting it up on the surface of the asteroid.  Suddenly,  behind
them, a much larger ship appeared on the monitor camera.  The  commentator
patched the communication channel into his broadcast and sent the dialogue
throughout the base. "Stop what you are doing," came an unseen voice  from
the new ship."
    "Who are you?," came another unidentified voice.
    "We have a prior claim on  this  rock,"  the  first  announced.  "All
signed and legal by Ceres. Want to see it?"
    Nothing more was said for a short time. "This is the dangerous  part.
If they decide to fight about it, things could get dirty. Let's  hope  the
intruder isn't too brave and quits."
    "So what are you hiding here?," the second finally  answered.  "Ain't
no iron. Must be something good."
    "It doesn't matter. Whatever's here is ours.  No  sense  in  fighting
about one rock when there are millions of others like  it  out  here.  Why
don't you just move along and check a different one out?"
    Again came a minute or two of  silence  from  the  intruder.  "Look,"
announced Michaela excitedly. "They are packing up." Sure enough, the  two
men on the surface were repacking the drill laser  and  getting  ready  to
return to their ship.
    "Don't know what you are hiding, stranger," called the intruder. "But
I'm sure it ain't worth a fight for. Keep it in good health and be damned,"
the voice said angrily.
    Joe and Michaela watched as the two men jetted back to the small ship
and disappeared inside. Soon, they saw the pale exhaust of steam  and  the
ship began moving away from Alpha, resuming it's hunt for usable ores."
    "That's the easy way," said Michaela.
    "I don't think I want to know what the hard way is.  But  what  would
happen if they decided to fight?"
    "They would lose. The second ship is not a mining ship  and  although
it looks like one, it belongs to Security. All of  it's  cargo  holds  are
carrying generators and accumulators. She  carries  one  hell  of  a  main
laser, not to mention flush missile racks carrying both  conventional  and
nuclear warheads."
    "Then I assume that's the hard way?"
    "Yes. Hard for them, easy for us. So far however, we haven't  had  to
use it against anyone yet. There was one incident where we  did  fire  the
main laser, but missed, by design. We came close enough  though  that  the
other ship realized they were outclassed and turned tail and  ran.  A  big
mega-laser is enough to scare anyone.
    "I'm sure it is," chuckled Joe, putting himself in the place of  that
other captain. "I'm sure that in similar circumstances, I would have  done
the same thing."
    "Condition green,"  said  the  announcer,  as  the  emergency  lights
stopped flashing. "The  emergency  is  over,  please  resume  your  normal
activities," he continued.
    Michaela returned the vid to it's normal mode of operation,  deleting
the instruction string and blanking the picture. "There," she  said  after
completing the task. Now it is just a vid terminal again."
    "You could be handy to have around," said Joe appreciably.
    "Yeah, there are a lot of things I can do," she  said  flirting  with
    Joe knew however that it was  all  in  fun.  She  was  involved  with
someone at the moment but still enjoyed the reactions she could  get  from
the men she worked with. It had taken Joe a few days and a reminder or two
to discover just how serious she actually was. Which was fine with Joe. He
really did not need any more distractions at this particular  time,  since
the Giant-killer took up most of his time.
    Finally the day came when the  ship  was  finished,  all  fuel  tanks
filled and the provision lockers  stocked.  The  four  crewmembers  looked
forward to the time they would be allowed to try her out for real  instead
of in the Simulator.

    Major Caine received the summons to appear  in  front  of  the  World
Senate subcommittee on planetary defense with mixed reactions. Yes, he had
expected the summons but none-the-less he was  still  mentally  unprepared
for them.
    "Lieutenant Hadley," he called into his intercom.  The  door  to  his
large office opened  to  admit  the  young  lieutenant.  "I  will  need  a
round-trip ticket on the next suborbital flight to Zurich Switzerland," he
    "Yes sir," the Lieutenant said. "How long will  you  be  staying  and
should I make reservations at one of their hotels?"
    "Yes, you better make them at the Hilton. I may  be  there  a  while.
And," he said as an afterthought, "you better leave the return open."
    "Right away sir," Lieutenant Hadley said, saluting as he  backed  out
of the office.
    The view of new Zurich was grand as the big aircraft  banked  in  and
overflew the city to land at the airport serving the World Senate. A small
city in it's own right, it had been built  away  from  old  Zurich  in  an
effort to preserve the historic city and it's distinctive architecture.
    A limo was waiting for him in front of the terminal building  and  he
watched the panorama of the Alps out the side windows on the  way  to  the
Hilton. The driver had cleared the normally opaque  windows  to  insure  a
good view on the long drive. Although Major Caine had not asked the driver
to do so, apparently enough people had done so in the past so that he  now
did it automatically.
    "Here we are sir," the man announced as he pulled up in front of  the
large modern hotel. "I have been assigned as your driver for  your  entire
stay here. If you need me, you can page me over your wrist comp."
    "Very good," said Major  Caine,  slipping  out  of  the  auto,  as  a
liveried bellboy removed his baggage from the trunk of the large vehicle.
    "Lieutenant Hadley had done well," he thought, inspecting  his  small
suite of rooms. Although not nearly the best the hotel had to offer,  well
within the normal budgetary requirements of his department.
    He was just getting ready for a quick shower when he heard a knock at
his door. Opening it, he was confronted by a Major wearing the insignia of
the Judge Advocate General's office.
    "Come in," he offered, stepping out of the way and allowing the large
man to enter. "What can I do for you?"
    "Good afternoon, Major," he said. "I am Jon Trevor,  JAG  Corps.  The
General thought you might like a  little  legal  representation  when  you
confront the Senate in the morning."
    "Why?," asked Major Caine, somewhat puzzled. "I haven't been  accused
of a crime have I?"
    "Not that I know of, but since this is the first time you  have  been
interviewed by the subcommittee I believe I should warn you that they  are
a group of crusty old  bastards  who  have  no  consideration  of  other's
rights. If you don't have someone on your side that is extremely  familiar
with the law, you might get railroaded into something you will regret!"
    "I don't really think I will need  anyone,"  explained  Major  Caine.
"But if you think it will help?"
    "You never know. These men like to get what they want and  it  is  my
job to see that they get it, but in a legal fashion. Understand?"
    "Almost," said Major Caine. "Who do you work for, me or them?"
    "You," came the quick answer. "Although you could say I  really  work
for them. Much the same way you work for them also."
    "I hope not," said Major Caine earnestly. "I would wish my job on  no
one," he said with a sly grin.
    Major Trevor smiled broadly. "I believe we will get along just fine,"
he laughed. "I often feel the same about my job!"
    At eight AM the following morning, Major Caine, dressed in his finest
uniform met Major Trevor in a small antechamber near the rooms  where  the
subcommittee for planetary defense met.  "Are  you  ready?,"  asked  Major
Trevor. "We have been given the first spot on the agenda.  It  seems  they
think your case is rather important."
    Major Caine extended his  hand  toward  the  doors  of  the  chamber,
allowing Major Trevor to lead the way through the unfamiliar  building.  A
short distance away they stopped in front of a set of bronze double doors.
"Here we are Major," he announced. He turned to  the  two  guards  at  the
door. Major Caine and Major Trevor," he said. "We have been called by  the
    "Yes sir," spoke one of the guards. "We were  told  to  expect  Major
Caine but were told nothing of you!"
    "You aren't going to try to keep me out are you?," he asked.
    "Oh no, sir. You are of course free to go on in."
    "Thank you Sergeant," Major Hadley said to  the  guard,  opening  the
right door."
    "See what I mean?," he said to Major Caine. "You would never  believe
that these hearings are open to the public, would you?" "They are?,"  said
Major Caine in astonishment. "Then why all of the security?"
    "Simple," Major Trevor explained. "If you don't know your rights then
you don't have them. Here, you must take them or you  don't  get  them  at
    "Damn,"  said  Major  Caine,  appreciating  Major  Trevor's  presence
already, even before they had gotten into the chambers.
    They walked through a small antechamber and entered the  larger  room
through an open archway in the back of the room. In front of  them  lay  a
large U shaped table, with twelve men seated around it. In  front  of  the
open section stood a podium.
    "Please approach the podium and state your name," one of the Senators
    "I don't believe," interrupted the only woman  on  the  subcommittee,
"that we invited you, Major Trevor!"
    "Just thought I'd wander in and see what you all were  doing  today,"
said Major trevor flippantly."
    "Nothing here has any concern of yours," said the first man.
    "Nothing?," asked Major Trevor. "Perhaps just the fact that  you  are
meeting at all today is of interest to me. And if you feel that way,  call
in one of your guards and have me removed!"
    "Now, now," soothed the woman. "We cannot dispute your  right  to  be
here. We only suggest that it isn't wise."
    "I have rarely been  accused  of  being  wise,"  Major  Trevor  said,
sinking into one of the empty chairs set at the table.  "Please  continue,
and pretend that I am not here."
    The man seated at the very end of the right U  arm  suddenly  checked
his wrist comp.
    "Sorry Senator," said Major Trevor. "But I do know the rules. My comp
is disabled at the moment. I would not be so stupid  to  try  to  illegaly
record these proceedings. You cannot get rid of me that easily."
    "As long as you realize that none of this may be recorded  by  anyone
other than us and the man being questioned himself," said the woman.
    "Of course," Major Trevor said sweetly. "When have I ever been one to
break the rules? Oh, by the way, Major. I would suggest that you do record
the proceedings. That way you can check the official record  against  your
own copy to insure everything is correct."
    "Are you accusing us of tampering with official records?,"  said  the
first man loudly.
    "Me?, no. I would never accuse you of that. But it is known  that  no
one is perfect, and mistakes have been known to happen."
    Major Caine set his own wrist comp  to  record  mode,  wondering  why
Major Trevor was antagonizing them.
    "Well, Major," said the woman. "I hope you are easier  to  get  along
with than Major Trevor here is."
    Major Caine then realized that  the  man  had  been  redirecting  any
animosity the group felt toward himself  and  away  from  himself.  "Much,
Senator. I am here simply to answer all of your questions as completely as
I can."
    "Good," she said, glaring at Major Trevor.
    "Can you explain your actions  concerning  the  disappearance  of  Dr
Quade?" she asked bluntly.
    Major Trevor gasped in  astonishment  but  Major  Caine  ignored  the
    "We traced an illegal  entry  to  an  unauthorized  terminal  coupled
directly to the main core of the Worldnet. From that terminal was  entered
an order to arrest and detain  Dr  Quade.  Unfortunately,  the  order  was
directed to my department specifically and I personally saw to the  arrest
and detainment of Dr. Quade."
    "We are aware of that fact, Major.  That  is  why  we  asked  you  to
testify. Do you have any idea who placed the tap?"
    "No, but it's location might interest you."
    "And where is that," asked an old man, speaking for the first time.
    "We found it in an unused office in this very  building!,"  announced
Major Caine to a stunned subcommittee.
    "Perhaps you people are not that good at security either," said Major
Trevor happily.
    "Who was the office assigned to?," asked the old man.
    "To a Senator Polkova," announced Major Caine.
    "The old man fell back into his  chair,  his  face  turning  red  and
gasping for breath."
    "Now Senator," spoke the woman. No one doubts your loyalty. It surely
was a blind setup!"
    "That's Senator Polkova," said Major Trevor. "Damn near  gave  him  a
heart attack that time. His pretty wife will be  disappointed,"  he  said,
irony twisting his words.
    "As of yet we cannot find out who actually occupied the office  last.
But yes, it does not seem to have  ever  been  actively  used  by  Senator
Polkova's staff."
    "Thank you, young man," said  the  Senator,  regaining  some  of  his
composure. "Go on," he ordered.
    "After taking him into custody and placing him in a holding  cell  in
the London branch of Internal Security,  near  his  home,  someone,  still
using the illegal tap changed his information and he  was  transferred  to
North Africa and sent up on the last shuttle to the Oppenheimer and on out
to Mars.
    "This gets more and more  interesting  every  minute,"  said  Senator
Polkova. "I hope you have a good explanation for everything?"
    "Actually, I do. I was acting on signed orders from the World Senate.
Specifically, the Subcommittee on Planetary Defense!"
    "And you expect us to believe that?," gasped Senator Polkova. "Do you
take us to be fools? We would never order something like that!"
    "And how was I supposed to know that? All counterseals were in  order
and  I  even  got  confirmation  from  your  office  when  I   asked   for
    "We are all obviously a victim of massive computer fraud,"  said  the
woman. "Until we discover who is actually  responsible,  we  must  not  be
quick to blame anyone." She turned to confront  Senator  Polkova.  "Agreed
    "Yes, damnit, I agree," Senator Polkova snarled. "But someone has  to
be held responsible!"
    "Good," she said. " As long as it is the guilty party and not one  of
the victims. Shall we continue?"
    "I take it then that you have since retrieved him?"
    "No sir, I have not. We were  second  guessed  at  Mars  and  he  was
whisked out from under our noses before we could catch him. We traced  him
finally to a ship called the Runner, which set out for Ceres shortly after
Dr Quade arrived on Mars."
    "And where is the Runner now?," asked Senator Polkova.
    "Ceres," answered Major Caine. "Probably being broken up right now as
we speak!"
    "Broken up?, asked the woman. "Why?"
    "She suffered a massive asteroid strike while on the way to Ceres and
was destroyed, with complete loss of crew and passengers!"
    "WHAT!? Shouted Senator Polkova. "Dead? Impossible!"
    "You really should learn to control yourself better,  Senator,"  said
the woman. "Or we might just be dealing with your replacement  soon!"  She
said to the still red-faced man.
    "That Bitch will never get MY seat!," he huffed,  still  panting  for
    "I beg to differ, Senator. If you foolishly choose to die before  the
elections, the seat is hers and you know it! Besides which, I  am  getting
tired of being the only woman on this subcommittee!"
    "Already plotting to get rid of me?," he asked no one in  particular.
"I am tougher that that," he sneered.
    Baiting Senator Polkova seemed to be a popular pastime here,  thought
Major Caine. He more and more appreciated Major Trevor's initial action to
redirect any animosity away from him.
    "So what are you going to do next?," asked Senator Polkova finally.
    "I don't know," admitted Major Caine. "We only have one man on  Alpha
but we are trying to introduce more."
    "Only one?," asked the woman,  puzzled.  "I  was  sure  you  reported
getting one more aboard successfully."
    "Yes, we managed to get one additional agent on the  Runner  with  Dr
Quade. Unfortunately, He died along with the rest. So we still  only  have
one man on board. And I refuse to jeopardize his position until I have  at
least two more men on Alpha."
    "A wise decision," said the woman. "Is there anyone else  capable  of
finishing the work on the Beanstalk?"
    "Fortunately, yes," said Major  Caine.  We  found  complete  sets  of
drawings and instructions for completing the beanstalk. I have  turned  it
over to two of the best men in the field and they  assure  me  that  there
will be no problem."
    "Good," said Senator Polkova. "Anything else?"
    "No, that sums it all up," he said finally.
    "Please stay in Zurich until we officially release you," said the man
at the end of the table. "We wish to correlate your data and facts. If  we
have more questions we will call for you again."
    Major Caine took that as his dismissal, turning to leave as  he  came
in. "And take that other person with you," said Senator Polkova  to  Major
Caine's back.
    "They really don't like you, do they,"  Major  Caine  said  to  Major
Trevor after they had left the chamber.
    "No, not at all. But they have learned to tolerate me and respect  me
somewhat.. I will say though that I haven't seen anything like that  since
I started here. Well worth the wait too."
    "What do you mean?," asked Major Caine.
    "The way you handled them," replied Major Trevor.  "You  played  them
like a master. You are wasted on Security, you should be in the JAG corps."
    "Me? A lawyer? No way. I'll stay just where I am, thank you! Tell me,"
Major Caine asked finally. "Are there any good restaurants around here?"
    "Sure, over in Old Zurich," replied Major Trevor with a grin. "If you
will allow me to catch a ride with you I'll show you one of my favorites."
    "You're on," said Major Caine, delighted. "Major Trevor," he  thought
"Just might turn out to be a useful friend and ally.

    "She  still  handles  like  a  pig,"  announced  Joe  to  no  one  in
particular. "There's got to be something we can do."
    "What did you say?," asked Charlie, looking up from his meal.
    The two of them, with Shaun and  Michaela  were  seated  in  a  small
cafeteria around the corner from Charlie's labs.
    "She's a pig," Joe said again.  She  doesn't  fly,  she  wallows.  We
couldn't outrun a garbage scow let alone the ships that will be waiting in
Earth orbit."
    Charlie  looked  at  Shaun  for  confirmation.  "He's  right,"  Shaun
admitted. "Something's wrong and  we  cannot  find  it.  Neither  can  the
maintenance crew."
    Do you want me to look into it?," asked Charlie.  "This  is  serious.
That ship should be fast. It should be one of the  fastest  ships  in  the
system. Are you sure you are getting max power out of the engines?"
    "All readouts indicate one hundred  percent,"  chipped  in  Michaela.
"That was one of the first things we checked. All engines are  working  as
they should."
    "Did you check the engines themselves  or  are  you  relying  on  the
    "Why, the computer," admitted Shaun. "But you wrote that program."
    "So? You all forget I can make mistakes too. Check it  out,  and  see
what you find. Then tell me and I'll try to rework the program for you."
    "And if that doesn't work?," asked Joe.
    "We'll worry about that when it arrives. Assuming  there  is  nothing
wrong with the engines, there  has  to  be  a  problem  with  the  control
systems. How does the simulator handle?"
    "Great. Better than we had hoped. But actual performance falls  short
of that."
    "The  same  program  was  used  in  both  the   simulator   and   the
Giant-killer. Then it must  be  an  incompatibility  in  the  programming.
Something that was added to get it to run on the simulator?"
    "Nothing that I know of,"  said  Shaun.  "But  it  gives  us  another
possibility to check.
    They were interrupted by the entrance of the  maintenance  chief.  He
walked up to Charlie and dropped a handful of chips on  the  table.  "Keep
those damn things out of my ship," he said.
    Charlie looked at him, puzzled. "What's wrong with them?"
    "Don't know," he said. "With these damn things in,  the  engines  are
running at forty percent but they report one  hundred  percent!"  He  said
nothing else but turned and stalked sulkingly out of the room.
    "Well, that answers that question," said Charlie with a  laugh.  Hard
man to work with huh?"
    "Hard?," asked Joe incredulously. "Nearly impossible is more like it.
But he does know his job though."
    "Well, leave him alone and let him do it then, is  my  advice,"  said
    "That's pretty much what everyone does around him,"  admitted  Shaun.
"He refuses to admit that a pilot might  just  know  something  about  his
    "Well," said Charlie, in a conciliatory tone. "Let me ask you three a
question. Do you know as much as he does?"
    "Of course not!," exclaimed Michaela, as the other  two  shook  their
heads in agreement.
    "I guess he may be  right  then,"  said  Charlie,  smiling  at  their
discomfort. "Leave him alone and just concentrate on what you are supposed
to learn and let him get the ship operational, okay?"
    "Yeah, sure," said Shaun grudgingly. "It just makes a man mad  to  be
treated like an idiot sometimes."
    "I understand," said Charlie. Now if you will excuse me,  I  want  to
find out why these chips don't work properly."
    Shaun, Michaela and Joe returned to the  remains  of  their  meal  as
Charlie scooped up the defective chips and headed back to his labs.

    There was a soft knock on Salvattoro's office  door.  "Come  in,"  he
called. The door opened and Dr Quade entered. "Sit,"  said  Sal,  standing
and indicating a single chair by his small desk. "I apologize for the size
of the place," Sal began.
    "No need to apologize," said  Charlie.  "To  each  according  to  his
needs, right?"
    "More like 'to each according to where they put him regardless of his
needs'" Sal said with a laugh. "But what can I do for you?"
    Charlie reached into an inside pocket and  removed  a  small  plastic
case and handed it over to Sal. Inside were the six micro-chips  that  the
Maintenance supervisor had removed from the Giant killer.
    "We seem to have a small problem," Charlie began.
    Sal removed one of the chips and examined it. "So what's wrong?"
    "These chips were removed from the engine control system of the Giant
Killer. The program  was  written  by  me  and  ran  successfully  in  the
simulator for months until the program was dumped into the  main  computer
and integrated into the engine system."
    "What happened?," asked Sal curiously.
    "There was a virus lodged in the main system aimed at this particular
program. It cut total engine power down to forty percent  while  reporting
that they were producing one hundred percent."
    "Where did the virus come from?," asked Sal.
    "More like a who," said Charlie to a surprised Sal. "That's why I  am
bringing it to you. That virus was far too sophisticated to  have  been  a
mistake. And it was far too hard to kill. We found copies  of  it  in  the
strangest places. Places that you would never normally  think  of  looking
for a control system virus."
    "Like where?," asked Sal, realizing that the more information he  had
the better the chance of finding the perpetrator.
    "Would you believe in the coffee pot?" Not the pot itself  of  course
but in the control circuitry. It IS connected to the main computer system.
After all that's where it derives all of it's automatic functions from."
    "Anywhere else?"
    "A few in the main core where you would expect it and on a few of the
poerating chips, and we are still looking. But so far that's the strangest
place we have found a copy.
    "So what happens if you miss one?"
    "Now, nothing. We have redesigned the control program, rendering this
particular virus ineffective. But we are looking at everything, trying  to
discover if any more have been planted."
    "So what do you want me  to  do?,"  asked  Sal,  jokingly.  "Security
doesn't usually cure viruses. Maybe you  should  be  talking  to  medical.
Perhaps they can come up with a vaccination?"
    "Actually," said Charlie with a grin. "You aren't that far  off.  One
of my bright young assistants is now trying to create a vaccine that  will
search out and kill this particular virus and any more that  are  similar.
"But he is having no end of troubles. Whoever created it made it virtually
impervious to the normal vaccines we use today. So it's been a  long  slow
process of examining every line of programming,  looking  for  any  small,
encapsulated program."
    "Have you found anything else yet?"
    "So far, just the one. But  what  bothers  us  is,  this  one  is  so
sophisticated that whoever wrote it, if he is on Alpha could probably hide
something in the system and we would miss it simply  because  it  isn't  a
virus as we are used to seeing them."
    "I begin to understand your problem," said  Sal  gravely.  "Could  it
have come in from another source by accident?"
    "That's a possibility we are looking into. But, it  looks  like  this
virus was written specifically for the control program.  It  is  different
from the normal programs in the  other  ships.  And  it  does  nothing  if
introduced to some other control system."
    "So now the hard  part  begins,"  admitted  Sal.  "Do  you  have  any
suspects?," he asked hopefully.
    "No, I don't," Charlie said, helplessly. "We  have  run  all  of  the
vaccine programs through the main system and turned  up  nothing.  Whoever
did this has to be stopped and fast.  Since  this  attempt  failed,  I  am
afraid to see what he tries next."
    "Any ideas?"
    "A few," he said. "One, we can change the operating system to  report
ALL changes and send them to a printer. Any time a program is  changed  or
entered, we can get a copy of it printed out and see  what  is  being  put
into the system.
    "EVERYTHING?," asked Sal incredulously. "Have you any idea  how  many
changes are made daily?"
    "No, but I have a feeling that I am going to find out.  We  also  can
divorce the ship from the main system and anything that goes into the ship
is brought in on discrete chips. That way we can examine each chip  before
it goes in and hopefully protect the ship that way."
    "That's a good idea," said  Sal.  "How  many  people  know  that  you
suspect sabotage?"
    "Most of my top people plus Shaun, Joe and Michaela. the  Maintenance
chief and probably at least his top people. Maybe a few more but not many."
    "Too many already," said Sal unhappily.  "I  was  hoping  to  keep  a
better lid on it but it's too late now. However, anything we  decide  now,
we MUST keep to ourselves if we hope to be effective. Can you  change  the
operating system to show any changes alone?"
    "Sure," said Charlie. "That's easy."
    "Good. "Do so and have the destination routed to my  office.  I  will
find a man to examine the results if you will show him what he is to  look
    "You realize he has to be a programmer, don't you? In fact he  should
be an expert. The better he is the easier the job will be."
    "Don't worry," said Sal. "I have just the man in mind. How  soon  can
you integrate the changes?"
    "Today if that's not too soon?"
    "Immediately, if not sooner. But do me a favor will you?"
    "Sure Sal, what?," asked Charlie.
    "Just tell him what he has to know and no more. I  want  to  keep  as
much of a lid on this as possible."
    "Okay," agreed Charlie. "But aren't you being a bit too suspicious?"
    "Hell no!," exclaimed Sal. "You can  never  be  too  suspicious."  He
stood and held the door open for Charlie. "And  welcome  to  the  paranoid
world of security and espionage," he said with a grin as Charlie left  the
small office.
    Later that afternoon, Charlie returned to Sal's office.  Once  there,
he was met by Sal and a young man.
    "This is Randy Applegate. He is the programmer who will be  examining
the programs you send him."
    Charlie looked the young man over. He was  of  average  height,  long
sandy brown hair and a light complexion. He  was  dressed  in  a  pair  of
bluish pants and a tee shirt with a picture of a Cray 3a computer  printed
on it. He and Charlie shook hands briefly "I am Dr Quade," he said.
    "Yes sir, I have heard of you and I saw you on the vid when you first
arrived," he said excitedly. "I am glad that I  have  the  opportunity  to
work with you."
    "I haven't seen you around before," said Charlie. "Who  do  you  work
    "Sanitation," Randy said hesitantly.
    Charlie raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
    "How about showing us how the system works?," said Sal.
    "Uh, sure," said Charlie. He stepped over to the vid, calling up  the
first batch of changes. "All of the system changes have been sent here  to
be looked at. Do you know why we are doing this?," he asked Randy.
    "Yes sir," came the quick answer. "You are looking for  anything  out
of the ordinary, especially viruses, right?"
    "Yes, exactly. If you do find something you think may be  wrong,  you
can send it directly to my terminal here for me to look over. Anything  at
all that you think is suspicious. Do you understand?"
    "Completely, sir," Randy said. Shouldn't be too hard. Do you want  me
to correct them too?"
    "No, just let me see them. This will also tell us where the  programs
were entered from and give us an idea who is entering them so be  sure  to
send the tag lines along also, okay?"
    "Sure, no problem. No problem at all."
    Charlie entered another  string  of  commands,  calling  up  a  small
program. "This is a copy of the virus that  we  have  already  found,"  he
explained. Whoever wrote this is very good. He will try  to  disguise  his
work though so you must be vigilant."
    Randy examined the small program. "This?," he asked. "This  has  been
around for years. It's a modification of a hookworm, created  at  Berkeley
in 2024 and introduced into the Cray  systems.  It  threw  the  California
state tax system into complete disarray before it was stopped."
    "Can you kill it?"
    "Sure, no problem at all. Simple little program  actually,  but  very
sophisticated. Most systems can  do  things  that  their  designers  never
thought of, but are there because of the complexity of the  design.  First
you have to figure out what all of the short-cuts  are.  Then,  using  the
principles that allow the short-cuts  you  write  a  program  specifically
using these principles. If done properly, it can spread through the system
without anyone knowing it's  there  or  interrupting  any  of  the  normal
    "So what can be done about it?"
    "You're going to love this," said Randy. "The  answer  is  a  vaccine
called a tiger. It hunts out any program that uses any  of  the  short-cut
steps and eradicated them from the core. It has a problem though  in  that
it removes ALL of the programs using these steps but that is a small price
to pay for the vaccine."
    Charlie turned to Sal with a smile. "Where did you find  this  guy?,"
he asked.
    "Sanitation," he said triumphantly. "Tell him  who  your  grandmother
    "Cecelia Cray," said Randy to an astonished Dr. Quade.
    "She wouldn't..."
    "Yeah, she would," said Randy with a big grin. My  great  grandfather
invented the Crays. Before I came out here I had a  Cray  3A  of  my  own.
Antique, but fun to play with."
    "If I may ask, how did you get sent out here?"
    "Doing something that I shouldn't have," said Randy crossly.
    "You better tell him the whole story," interjected Sal  or  he  won't
trust you at all."
    "Okay," he said softly. "I crashed the core of the World Senate comp.
    "WHAT?," asked Charlie incredulously. "Worldnet? How did you do that?"
    "Easy. I reprogrammed the automatic power  supplies  for  the  memory
drives and doubled all of the voltages. They burned out almost  instantly,
right down to the last one."
    "Why?," came the reply.
    "Why not?," Randy answered. "I was trying to get into the underground
and thought it would impress my contact. It  did.  He  was  a  plant  from
Internal Security and he turned me in."
    "I can see that," admitted Charlie. "But how did you get through  the
    I slipped in my own password and it allowed me complete access. Hell,
I wasn't even on the same continent. I was operating over my own satellite
    "Your own?," asked Charlie.
    "Yeah. I found a satellite with a damaged  transponder  and  rerouted
the auto-repair ship to fix it early. And then  had  complete  use  of  it
until it was officially reported repaired."
    "Then what?," asked Charlie, not sure whether to believe this or not.
"How did you get your password in?"
    "Cray Engineering won a contract to redo one of the filing  programs.
My father oversaw that project and I encapsulated a bug to place my  name,
retina prints and voice prints in the main core. Then it was simple to get
in and do anything I wanted. I thought that crashing the core would be the
most spectacular thing that I could do."
    "I bet it got the desired results," said Sal.
    "And then some," said Randy with a laugh. "Boy, they  were  scurrying
around like crazy trying to figure out what happened."
    "And then you told them?"
    "Yeah," Randy  said  unhappily.  "If  I  hadn't  said  anything  they
probably would never have found out. Just passed it off as a power  surge.
In fact that is what they told the press. I don't think  the  Senate  ever
told anyone what really happened."
    "Not that I  blame  them,"  said  Charlie.  "I  do  remember  hearing
something about that though. If it was when I think it was, it raised  one
hell of a stink all right. And you did it?"
    "I am afraid so," admitted Randy shyly.
    "Okay then, I will admit that I had reservations about you  at  first
but I believe that you  will  be  perfect  for  the  job,"  Charlie  said,
clapping the young man on the back. "The job's yours if you want it."
    "I do, I do," said Randy enthusiastically.
    "Good," said Charlie, stepping out of the room. He was  followed  out
by Sal and together the two of them walked back towards Charlie's labs.
    "Are you sure he isn't the one who planted the  virus  in  the  first
place?," asked Charlie when they had gotten a  small  way  away  from  the
    "No I am not," said Sal. To be honest with you, I would  like  it  if
you would set up another monitor program to see what he enters  from  that
terminal. He is in the unique position of sitting at the only vid that  is
un-monitored. Can you do it?"
    "Sure I can. But I will have to do it from that terminal. If I do  it
anywhere else he will know it."
    "Damn," said Sal. "I forgot about that. Okay, we will  just  have  to
wait until he breaks for dinner and do it then."
    Sal stopped in the corridor. "Let me know when you have  the  program
ready. I will enter it as soon as he leaves"
    "I will dump it onto a memory chip and get it to you  as  soon  as  I
can. What I will do is amend the send program so that  whenever  he  sends
anything along to me, it will also automatically send whatever was entered
at his terminal. Will that do?," asked Charlie.
    "That will do fine," said Sal,  pleased.  "You  can  find  me  in  my
quarters until then," he said, heading off down the  corridor,  away  from
    Later that day, Charlie, Joe and Sal  met  in  his  room,  after  the
modified program had been entered on Sal's office comp. "How sure are  you
that Randy is not the man we are looking for?," asked Charlie.
    "Not sure at all," answered Sal. "But I don't think so. First, he was
too open about where the program came from and, second, he showed  us  how
to kill it."
    "Yes, there is that," said Charlie. "I showed it to my assistant, the
one who was trying to develop his own vaccine and he admitted that it  was
far above anything he could have come up with. In fact  he  admitted  that
extra features in  the  system  had  never  occurred  to  him  and  he  is
fascinated with the idea. I expect a few interesting things out of the man
when he figures out what is really going on in the core.
    "So if it isn't Randy, then who?," asked Joe.
    "We will have to wait and see," admitted Sal. Since the program is an
old  one,  it  could  have  been  modified  by  almost  anyone   with   an
understanding of programming procedures. So now we are not really  looking
for a computer expert but anyone with computer experience."
    "That could be almost anyone," said  Charlie.  "Have  you  given  any
thought as to how he communicates with his people?"
    "I have been giving that some thought and have  a  few  ideas,"  said
Sal. "He could have a small signalling laser, or a small  radio,  although
that could be overheard too easily."
    "The laser isn't a very good prospect because he  would  need  to  be
outside to use it. He would also need some sort of directioning device  to
find whoever he wanted to talk to."
    "He could be a crew-member on one of our ships," added Joe.
    "That's true," admitted Sal. "I had thought of that also."
    "Is there any other way that you can come up with?," asked Charlie.
    "No, not really, other than by direct contact but  I  can't  see  how
that is possible. I refuse to believe there is more than one  saboteur  on
Alpha. How would he get into direct contact?"
    "How indeed," said Charlie.
    "How?," asked Joe. "Now wait  a  minute.  A  while  back,  didn't  an
unidentified mining ship land a couple of men on the North pole?"
    "Yes!," exclaimed Sal. "It's not that  uncommon,  really.  Usually  a
ship will pass by and look us over and then keep going."
    "But three or four times a year," continued Joe, "one comes  by  that
is more persistent and actually lands men for a  closer  look!,"  he  said
    "What if they were not really looking at the asteroid but picking  up
or dropping something off?," asked Charlie.
    "Possible," said Sal. "Very possible. But how do  we  check  it  out?
Whatever they left behind has been long since retrieved."
    "True," admitted Joe. "And going out there would probably tip whoever
he is off. No, there has to be another way."
    "How about if we set up a fake drop?," asked Sal.
    "You mean use one of our own ships as the courier?," Asked Joe.
    "Sure.  If  we  remove  the  transponder  that  the   security   ship
recognizes, then they will not know it is us. Then we sit back  and  watch
what happens. Hopefully our agent will think it is  an  emergency  message
drop and go out to see what is there."
    "Assuming of course that this is really how they communicate,"  added
    "Sure," said Sal. "But there is no harm in trying, is there?"


    "I think it is definitely worth a try," said  Charlie.  At  least  it
will eliminate one method of contact. And right about now we need to start
eliminating as much as we can. We also need to catch this guy  before  the
giant-killer leaves for Earth."
    "Yes, you have that right," agreed Sal. "Who do you think  we  should
get to fly the mission? I think we should keep as much of a  lid  on  this
thing as possible."
    "The three of us for sure," agreed Sal. I'll be happy if we can  keep
it among just the three of us."
    "That may be hard," interjected Charlie. I'm sure that Director  Yoon
will not let Joe and I just waltz off with one of his ships without a good
    "Yoon then," agreed Sal. "Anyone else?"
    "Shaun O'Cassidy," said Joe. "Charlie here isn't a pilot and  I  sure
would like a backup. Or be the backup for that matter."
    "Shaun or Michaela?," asked Sal. "Of the two, to be honest, Shaun  is
the  better  pilot.  And  Michaela's  boyfriend  might  wonder  about  any
unexplained absences. Shaun would be better."
    "Done then. "Anything else?"
    "The Maintenance Chief," said Charlie. "We will have to disguise  the
ship so it won't be recognized. Who better than him?"
    "Can't we do that ourselves once you are  away  from  Alpha?,"  asked
    "Have you ever tried to paint in a vacuum?," asked Joe.  All  of  the
liquid in the paint boils away, leaving  a  powder.  It  has  to  be  done
    "That's assuming we paint," said Charlie.  "How  about  big  metallic
decals?" We can place them  over  the  numbers,  and  we  can  make  other
magnetic pieces to attach here and there, breaking up her lines.'"
    "Excellent," said Sal. "We can occupy one of the big unused labs  out
near the north pole. There is one there that  we  can  open  to  space  to
remove everything we come up with. Then all we have to do is pick it up on
our way out."
    "I see we have our work cut out for us for a few  weeks,"  said  Joe.
"You all realize that  we  must  not  shirk  our  normal  jobs  to  remain
    "I see I am soon going to dislike espionage," complained Charlie.  At
least once I start to lose sleep, that is."
    "I," said Sal, "will talk to Director Yoon. Who wants to  fill  Shaun
in. Charlie?"
    "I'll do it," Charlie agreed. "I seem to get along  with  him  better
than Joe does."
    "You're just the only one he can beat at cards," said Joe. "Of course
he likes you."
    The three men left the room one at a  time,  Joe  leaving  first  and
heading back to his room, followed a short time later by Charlie,  heading
toward Shaun's room.
    Sal left last, waiting till both were out of sight before heading for
a meeting with Director Yoon."
    "I've got three more things," said Randy, over the  comlink  into  Dr
Quade's lab. "Two I don't understand and one that just looks suspicious to
    "Okay," said Charlie. "Send them over and I'll have a look  at  them.
The watching game had been going on for two weeks now and so far they  had
turned up nothing definite. Charlie turned to Joe, who was  visiting  him,
the Giant-killer undergoing a few last-minute changes.
    "Either he isn't our man or he's laying low," said Charlie. So far he
hasn't done anything to raise suspicion. One thing I want to know is, what
was he doing in sanitation?"
    "I asked about that," Joe admitted. "It seems that no one trusts  him
around the computers. After what he did to worldnet, no one wants to  take
the chance."
    "Except Sal."
    "I don't think anyone other than us know  he  is  doing  what  he  is
doing," said Joe. "I am positive that Director Yoon would have a fit if he
knew. He is the man who insisted on keeping him out of  the  compnet.  And
has single-handedly kept him away since he got here."
    "And how long is that?," asked Charlie."
    "Six years or so."
    "Six years?," asked Charlie. "He doesn't look that old."
    "He is the youngest deportee on record," agreed Joe. He was sent here
when he was eleven."
    "He crashed Worldnet at eleven?"
    "No, ten. It just took them a while to catch him!" Said Joe to a very
surprised Charlie.
    The next day, both Charlie and Joe received a summons to meet Sal  in
a small conference room close to Sal's office. Arriving there, they  found
Sal waiting with Shaun.
    "I have filled Shaun in on nearly everything that we have discussed,"
began Sal. We have also called up the comp records and checked all of  the
different ships that have landed here in the last two years. Would  either
of you care to guess at what I found?"
    "We were right?," asked Charlie hopefully.
    "Yes!," said Sal triumphantly. "We have  identified  three  different
ships that have made nearly ninety percent of the landings. And they  also
made a number of flyby's without landing. Clearly  someone  knows  we  are
here. And most likely it is someone we don't want to know!"
    "Then we are going ahead with the plan?," asked Joe.
    "Most definitely," agreed Sal. "But we now have to disguise our  ship
to look like one of the regulars. Or our spy might not take the bait."
    "Absolutely,"  agreed  Charlie.  "We  haven't  gotten  our   disguise
department into full production yet so it should be no problem to complete
the new disguise."
    "Very good," agreed Sal. "Captain O'Cassidy here  has  agreed  to  be
either chief pilot or backup, whichever you decide," finished Sal, leaving
the final choice up to Joe."
    "I am completely comfortable to act as backup,"  said  Shaun.  "After
all, this is your operation. I appreciate being let into  it  but  I  feel
that it is your show."
    "Thanks," said Joe, appreciating what the older man was  doing.  They
both knew that as a senior pilot he could demand mission commander  status
and get it if he wanted.
    "So what do we do now?," asked Shaun.
    "Finish work on the ship," said Sal. "Director Yoon has already  been
apprised of the new situation and he is planning on moving Alpha  as  soon
as we catch the spy."
    "How often do you move Alpha?," asked Charlie curiously.
    "Every couple of years or so," said Sal. "We have  been  here  nearly
three years now.
    "And how soon after arriving here did  the  ships  start  arriving?,"
continued Charlie.
    "Hold on a minute," said Sal, turning to his comp. He was silent  for
a few minutes as he compiled the data.
    "Almost exactly one month,"  he  reported  finally.  "I  missed  that
before because I only went back two years.  "Interesting  though.  Somehow
they know when we move and where we go almost immediately."
    "There are a number of answers to that," said Charlie.  "The  easiest
is to keep a telescope centered on us. Or  just  as  easily,  a  microwave
laser. That way the laser could keep track  of  us  automatically.  If  we
move, the laser simply tracks us. Simple, neat, and hard to break."
    "And easy to check," said Charlie.
    "I'll get on it immediately," said Sal. "I can order a  random  sweep
of all frequencies without telling the monitors what specifically  we  are
looking for."
    "But if we are being monitored, what can  we  do  about  it?,"  asked
    "We break the lock," said Charlie.  "One  thing  we  can  try  is  to
determine the frequency of the return signal and feed them a  signal  that
is amplified a couple of hundred percent  and  attempt  to  burn  out  the
    "That depends on how sophisticated the equipment is," said  Joe.  "If
it is a sampling type receiver, it will simply shut down when it begins to
detect an overload, and we cannot take the chance on that. We have to shut
it down the first time because we won't get to use the same trick twice."
    "I agree," said Sal.  "The  only  way  we  can  assure  ourselves  of
removing the trace is to remove the equipment ourselves, permanently."
    "Or at least long enough to find a new hiding place," said Charlie.
    "Director Yoon will not like this," predicted Sal. "He was mad enough
about moving in the first place."
    "But surely he understands  the  importance  of  remaining  hidden?,"
asked Joe.
    "He agreed to move," said Sal, in reply. "He just isn't  happy  about
it. It takes a lot of fuel to move this rock. And we don't have a  lot  of
that to spare."
    "Then  it's  time  to  bring  Vittorio  Lisenring  into  our   little
conspiracy," announced Charlie. "What we have been doing  this  last  week
has actually fallen under the guise of dirty tricks. And now I believe  we
need the experience of his organization."
    "I'll call him. If he's free, we can fill  him  in  now,"  said  Sal,
turning to the room comp.
    After a few minutes, the door annunciator chimed and Sal released the
comp lock, allowing Jodane to enter."
    "Good day gentlemen," he said, seating himself in one  of  the  empty
chairs. "A fine bunch of conspirators if I do say so myself."
    Sal looked surprised. "What  brings  you  to  that  conclusion?,"  he
    "You all have been acting strange for the last two weeks now.  A  lot
of us know that you are cooking something up but  no  one  seems  to  know
quite what!"
    "Are we really that transparent?," asked  Joe,  also  somewhat  taken
    "Transparent?, no. The secrecy of your group is  admirable.  Slightly
opaque is more like it. Something is going on and everyone who knows of it
is being very tight-lipped. I must congratulate you  on  your  ability  to
keep a secret."
    "Well, now you get to find out what is going on because  frankly,  we
need your help," said Sal.
    "I am flattered to be asked to join such a distinguished group and  I
am curious about what I could add."
    "Quite a bit  really,"  said  Charlie.  "Mostly  your  experience  in
running a dirty tricks department."
    The four of them spent most of the afternoon  filling  Jodane  in  on
what was happening and found they had picked  the  right  man.  He  had  a
number of good suggestions.
    "Laser?," said Jodane, to the surprise of the group. "We  found  that
long ago. There just has been no reason to do anything about it yet."
    "What?," stuttered Sal. "Why didn't you say anything?"
    "Say what? There was nothing anyone could do about it until  we  move
again. But when we do, watch out!"
    "What do you plan to do?," asked Charlie."
    "We have a mega-laser set up, primed and ready. When we get ready  to
move, we'll fire it back along the path of the infrared and fry it good!,"
he said, laughing. We'll teach them who to watch and who to leave alone!"
    "Not bad," said Joe, impressed. "But didn't you ever wonder  who  was
watching us?"
    "That was easy too. The laser is on a big  military  asteroid  twenty
degrees ahead of Ceres." He turned to  address  Charlie.  "I  believe  you
referred to it as the 'Rock' a while back!"
    "Damn," said Sal. "What else do you know? I thought that the location
of the Rock was a secret."
    "It's hard to be secret when they advertise it so well," said Jodane.
"Although to be truthful, we found them long before they found us."
    "But how did you find them?" asked a curious Joe.
    "Radiation," explained Jodane. "Ceres used to be  the  asteroid  body
with the highest amount of radiated signals. About  four  years  ago  they
were surpassed by the Rock. It's like putting a beacon up  for  those  who
can read it!"
    "And you can?," asked Joe.
    "Of course," replied Jodane. "Whatever we have to do  to  survive  is
worth the effort. And anything that will give us an early warning helps us
    "Agreed," said Sal. "I have no problem there. But how can we turn  it
to our own advantage?"
    "Frying the laser will help," said Jodane. "But it  will  just  spark
off a big hunt until they find us once again. We need  something  else  to
distract them. We also need a way to replace the fuel and reaction mass we
will use in moving this bus."
    "Got any ideas?," asked Shaun.
    "One," Jodane said. "Disguising a ship to match one of  the  watchers
is good but I suggest we take it one step further. If  we  set  up  a  big
telescope and watch Ceres, when one of the ships leaves, we  can  fake  an
accident, like say, an asteroid strike in the main fuel tank and return to
Ceres. We then allow them to repair the break  and  refuel  the  ship  for
    "Not bad," said Shaun admiringly. "Not bad at all."
    "But there is more to bringing off that kind of masquerade than  just
returning to Ceres with a damaged ship," objected Sal.
    "You are absolutely right," agreed Jodane. "That's where a good dirty
tricks department  comes  in  handy.  We  have  been  actively  collecting
information about all of the ships  in  this  quadrant  of  the  belt  and
keeping anything about any ship that happens to come our way. I have built
up a system of spies and watchers. Hardly anything happens on Ceres that I
don't know about."
    "So what do you think we should do?," asked Sal.
    "Finish disguising the ship, first," said Sal. "I can assemble a comp
package that can convince the security comp on Ceres we are anyone we want
to be. But I want my comp expert back first!"
    "Comp expert?," asked Sal.
    "Yes. Randy. I have been using him for quite a while now to  assemble
packages that I don't want any other department to find out about.  He  is
the best on Alpha, and probably the best in the belt."
    "Then would we be off-base in assuming he is our spy?"
    "Randy a spy?," laughed Jodane. "Hell no. But he  is  loyal.  He  has
been  reporting  to  me  regularly  but  will  not  tell  me  what  he  is
specifically doing, just that it is interesting work  and  that  I  should
find some way to get involved!"
    "That relieves my mind on a number of things," said Sal.  "He's  your
man then?"
    "Always has been," admitted Jodane. He was the first man I  recruited
into the department."
    "So we will have to look somewhere else for our spy?," asked Shaun.
    "It looks that way," agreed Sal sadly.
    "Anyway, we will find him later," said Charlie. First thing to do  is
modify the ship. Two of the courier ships are of a class we have a few of.
It shouldn't be hard to do a general disguise and then finish the  job  on
the way to Ceres once we find out which identity we will assume."
    "Yes, good," agreed Sal. "I will go talk to Director Yoon right  away
and tell him of the new developments. I am sure he will release a ship  to
us immediately and we can get to work on it tomorrow."
    The four men nodded in agreement as Sal left the  room,  looking  for
the Director.
    The next day the maintenance supervisor had a small ship  moved  into
one of the empty rings and erected a bubble around it, locking it onto the
collar before pressurizing it.
    Joe watched the entire operation seated in the  supervisor's  office.
He was impressed by the competence of  the  men  doing  the  transferring,
completing the task far earlier than he would have believed.
    Once completed, Joe entered the ship through the  lower  airlock  and
began inspecting the ship to see what kind of modifications it would need.
    The first thing that was done was assembling a  large  reaction  mass
tank inside the main hold. This would hold enough water to get them to and
from Ceres. They then punctured the main tank and placed  a  flimsy  patch
over the hole, then refilling the tank with a small amount of  water.  The
whole modification job taking three days to complete. The repainting  took
longer but by the end of the week all general modifications were done.
    By this time, the magnetic decals had been finished by  the  lab  and
soon loaded onto the ship in preparation of the launch, and the  day  soon
came when the ship was moved out from her bubble and moored with the  rest
of the fleet, awaiting her mission launch.
    Jodane, with the help of Randy had quickly completed the  programming
package and installing it in the ships comp core long before she was ready
for launch.
    Charlie had taken upon himself the task of setting up  the  watch  on
Ceres, finding three people from his department to do the actual  watching
without telling them why they were watching, only what to look for.
    One afternoon Jodane entered Charlie's main lab and found him in  his
small office examining a comp screen.
    "I just got word," Jodane said," that the Javelin, one of  the  ships
we are watching for, has just left Ceres. The operation  is  on  in  eight
    Charlie stood, blanking the screen first. "Finally," he  said.  Where
are Joe and Shaun?"
    "On board, getting ready to go," answered Jodane."
    "Fine, said Charlie, pleased. "I want to check out  the  programming.
Coming?," he asked Jodane."
    "Of course," he replied. "Randy is already there, doing just that but
I'm sure he will appreciate the help," he said as the two men left the lab
complex, heading toward the docks.
    There they met with Shaun and Joe, watching Randy with interest as he
ran a few complex vaccine programs. "Can't be too sure," Randy said as the
last program ran nul.
    "Nothing huh?," asked Jodane.
    "No," confirmed Randy. "Clean as a whistle. No  one's  been  in  here
since we installed the programming."
    "How about hidden viruses?," asked Joe. "After all, we found  one  in
the coffee pot of the Giant-Killer.
    "MY vaccine would have killed it," Randy  answered  indignantly.  "It
checks ALL microprocessor-based systems sharing time with  the  core.  And
with  my  updated  version,  any  new  systems  added  are   automatically
innoculated before allowing them access to the core.
    "Sorry," Joe apologized. "It's just that I am nervous as hell  and  I
am just trying to reassure myself."
    "It's okay," said Randy. "I know how it is. I am used  to  being  put
down because of my age. I must not know much because I'm not very old. You
might not have had it happen to you but I am sure you understand."
    "Everyone back to work," announced Shaun. "We can  all  get  together
and socialize after it's all over. I don't know about  you,"  he  said  to
Joe, "But I am going to take a nap and leave the rest of the  checkout  to
more capable hands," he said, nodding to Jodane and Charlie.
    "Yeah," agreed Joe walking toward the airlock with Shaun.
    "Sounds like a good idea to me."
    A little over eight hours later the pair met once again at the docks.
Sal and Jodane were waiting for them on the bridge of the small ship. "The
dock superintendent has supplied us with an engineer for the  trip,"  said
Sal. "He knows a little, but only what he needs to know  to  get  the  job
done. He is waiting on the bridge for you."
    Joe stepped forward and grasped Charlie's hand,  shaking  it  warmly.
"In case this doesn't work and I don't see you again," he began.
    "Charlie raised a single hand, interrupting Joe. "No," he  said.  "We
will all get together afterwards and have a little party, okay?"
    "Sure," agreed Joe. "That will  be  fine.  Sal  stepped  forward  and
handed Joe a small box. "This is something for the  trip  back,"  he  said
with a sly grin.
    "Good luck," Sal told both of them, stepping back out of the airlock.
Neither man said anything as Joe sealed the hatch with one final wave.
    Together they went back to Security's monitoring room  to  watch  the
departure. In silence they watched the ship detach itself from the mooring
mast and, using the least possible amount of power, carefully  turned  the
nose of the ship towards the big exit door and slowly slipped out and into
    "There they go," said Sal at last, as the hatch closed  behind  them.
Neither man said anything else, lost in their own private  thoughts  about
the mission.


    Joe sat silently in the copilot's chair,  watching  as  Shaun  slowly
maneuvered the small ship out of the spinning asteroid. Privately  he  was
glad that Shaun was piloting. Although he had  flown  this  maneuver  many
times in the simulator, it wasn't the same as real life. In the  simulator
if you made a mistake, you tried it again. Here there would be  no  second
    Finally the huge hatch slid out of view behind  them  and  they  were
confronted by the vista of open space. Joe let his eyes scan  all  of  his
instruments,  monitoring  their  progress  even  though  he  wasn't  doing
anything yet.
    Slowly Shaun applied power to the engines and the ship  began  moving
faster and faster. "Give  me  the  coordinates  for  Ceres,"  Shaun  asked
tersely, keeping his attention firmly on the tasks at hand.
    Joe fed him the data from  his  own  station  comp,  saying  nothing,
trying to keep from distracting Shaun while he worked.
    Shaun piloted the craft slowly, twisting his ship through  the  small
cluster of asteroids that were as much protection for Alpha as a  nuisance
to the ships flying there.
    Finally, the last of the rocks safely  behind  them,  Shaun  set  the
autopilot and released control of the ship.
    "We have only a few minutes before we have  to  be  in  the  plotting
room," he said. "Shall we go?"
    The two men released their safety harnesses and made their way out of
the bridge and into central plotting. "How long is the flight to  Ceres?,"
asked Joe.
    "About ten days total," said Shaun. "I want to get us up and  out  of
the plane of the ecliptic and away from the main rock areas.  Luckily  for
us, Alpha is situated right on the edge of the  plane  so  it  won't  take
long. Then the autopilot can take us in most of the way. A couple of hours
here and we will be all done."
    "Good," said Joe. "I don't want to think about flying all of the  way
there without an autopilot!"
    "Neither do I," laughed Shaun. "Had that been the plan, we would have
needed more people than the minimum possible."
    Together the two men maneuvered the small  ship  until  it  was  well
clear of the main body of asteroids and well  out  of  the  plane  of  the
ecliptic, finally turning over all control to the autopilot. "And  now  we
wait," said Shaun. "Chess?"
    Joe and Shaun spent the next eight days engaged in various  games  of
skill and chance until the comp chimed for attention and it  was  time  to
reenter the belt.
    "I hope you got enough sleep,"  said  Shaun.  "The  next  forty-eight
hours are going to be rough!"
    And rough they were. One of them had to be in plotting at all  times,
to insure they didn't really get hit by an asteroid. They  split  the  day
into eight hour watches, each sleeping six of their off-duty eight hours.
    Twelve hours out of Ceres they  were  met  by  another  mining  ship,
larger than they were and much newer.
    "Do you require assistance?," the new ship had asked after  both  had
identified themselves.
    "No, thank you, signaled Shaun. "But you could signal Ceres and  tell
them we are coming in damaged. We lost our antennas in the strike."
    "You are lucky that's all you lost,  except  fuel,"  came  the  quick
answer. "We will be glad to let them know you are coming in."
    Four hours out Ceres they were  met  by  a  tug  who  followed  close
alongside in case they needed assistance after  all.  Joe  met  the  chief
engineer  and  assisted  him  in  rigging  a  temporary  antenna,  finally
regaining communication with Ceres.
    "Ceres port to Ship Javelin," came the call shortly after  completing
the hookup."
    "Javelin here," called Joe.
    "Please feed us a damage report. You  are  vectored  in  to  pad  C7,
closest to the maintenance shed. Are there any injuries?"
    "Be advised, Ceres port, there are  no  injuries  to  personnel.  The
asteroid hit the main fuel tank after shearing off the main antenna array.
Stand by and I will link in our comp for a complete damage report."
    "Standing by, Ship Javelin. Our comp links are in."
    This was one of the important parts of the operation. Embedded in the
damage report was an insideous little virus that would  enter  both  Shaun
and Joe in the Main Ceres comp but under fictitious names.
    "Ship Javelin, we have your report. Maintenance will  be  ready  when
you arrive."
    "Ship  Javelin  out,"  reported  Shaun.  "We  will  be   landing   in
approximately two hours."
    "Ship Javelin, if you need to contact us, use  emergency  channel  D.
That has been set aside for your traffic only. Ceres  Base  out  and  good
    After about two hours, with Ceres looming ahead, Shaun called back to
Ceres Port Authority, requesting landing permission. With luck, the  virus
had done it's work and both he and Joe were now listed as crew-members. In
any case they would know soon enough."
    "Ship Javelin," replied Ceres. "You are vectored in as  an  emergency
landing, although we understand you are in no immediate  danger.  You  may
land at your convenience."
    "Ceres Port, Thank you from the Captain.  Crew-member  Michaels  will
meet your maintenance crew at the main airlock, to start repairs.  You  do
understand that we have to be away again as rapidly as possible?"
    "Affirmative, Ship Javelin. We have a priority in our comp concerning
you. We will get you repaired and on your way as soon as possible."
    "Thank you Ceres Port. Ship Javelin out until after  landing."  Shaun
cut the com channel and turned to Joe. Well, crewman  Michaels,  it  looks
like they bought it. Good luck to  you.  I  would  help  but  I  might  be
    "I understand completely," said Joe. I hope that  this  doesn't  take
long though."
    "Yes, me too," agreed Shaun. "The longer we wait the  more  might  go
    Shaun brought the Javelin in to a perfect landing on pad  C7,  nearly
exactly centered in the big landing ring. Joe was waiting at  the  airlock
in his pressure suit waiting for the all-clear before opening the door.
    Finally the signal came and Joe stepped through the opening door  and
jumped lightly down to the surface of Ceres. Close to the ship lay the big
maintenance shed, where most of the light work  was  done  on  the  fleet.
Anything heavier was done at  the  shipyards  on  the  back  side  of  the
asteroid. Alpha had carefully calculated what could and could not be  done
here and had tried to keep the job well within the capabilities  of  Ceres
    Waiting for him on the surface were two men wearing suits marked with
the distinctive colors of the Maintenance crew. "Crewman  Michaels  here,"
announced Joe over his suit-to-suit com channel."
    "Let's see what you did to her," came a gruff reply from one  of  the
suits. Joe assumed it came from the senior man but he  was  unable  to  be
    He led them around the ship until they were below  the  puncture  and
the temporary patch. He stood and watched as the two men jetted upward  to
inspect the damage.
    "How much reaction mass did you lose?," one asked.
    "Nearly all," Joe answered. "And what we saved we used  getting  back
here. We're lucky to have made it in one piece!"
    "You are lucky all right. We can slap a better patch on her.
    It won't be a pretty job like the yard could do. And  it  looks  like
the antenna array you have will be okay for now. But be sure to get it all
repaired when you next go in for refit, okay?"
    "No problem there," agreed Joe. "We are in a bit of a hurry right now
and we really don't have enough time to get a  permanent  job  done  right
    "We'll get you back into space safely," the man said. Give us  a  few
hours and you'll be done. If you wish, you can wait in the sheds."
    "Where are you headed?," asked the Maintenance chief  after  Joe  had
removed his helmet and accepted a cup of hot coffee.
    "Don't know," he said. "Never tell us anything."
    "Yeah, I know what you mean. All they told us was you were coming  in
holed and needed a rush job. We'll do it fast but  it'll  be  done  right.
You'll have no trouble with those patches when we are finished."
    "It looks to me like you all know what you are  doing,"  agreed  Joe.
"Mind if I use your comp?," he asked innocently.
    "Sure, go ahead," the man said.
    Joe shrugged his upper body out of the pressure suit and then  walked
over to the comp. He seated himself behind it, giving himself  a  complete
view of the room before entering a twelve digit number on the keyboard.
    He smiled to himself when he saw that  the  password  that  had  been
entered with the virus take effect and allow him complete  access  to  the
computer system. He entered Shaun O'Cassidy's name and checked the  status
of his family He then removed a small chip from his pocket and inserted it
in the reader, entering the data. He watched carefully as the  chip  built
up a fictitious account, which allowed them to  draw  liberally  from  the
stores of Ceres. He then entered a list of items needed by  Alpha  from  a
second chip, and then sent it over to stores to be filled while  the  ship
was refueled.
    He logged off and shut the machine down before putting  his  pressure
suit back on. He reclaimed his helmet and walked over to  the  main  door,
heading  back  toward  the  airlock.  "Thanks  Chief,"  he  said  to   the
Maintenance supervisor. "Good coffee."
    "Wife not at home?," he asked.
    "Uh.. No. I left a message though," he  said  quickly,  covering  his
initial confusion.
    Once back outside, he stayed away from  the  ship  and  observed  the
operation going on. He nodded briefly as one of the two men passed him  on
the way back to the shed. "You don't mind," he said to the man, "If I stay
out of your way and watch, do you?"
    "Don't mind at all," came the friendly reply. "Just be sure  you  ARE
out of the way. It can be a bit dangerous if you don't know what  you  are
    Joe smiled to himself. With his experiences on Leo and Armstrong,  he
probably knew as much about space construction as both of  these  men  did
but he knew enough not to let them know that. Instead he contented himself
to sit back and watch.
    Joe found himself a seat outside the Maintenance shed and plugged his
suit air into the shed's supply, refilling his tanks as he did so.
    The man soon reappearing with a portable  welding  laser  and  a  big
steel plate with a ring attached to it.
    He jetted back up the side of the ship and,  with  the  help  of  the
other man, soon had the ring welded to the  side  of  the  ship,  directly
above the temporary patch. They both then dropped down to the surface.
    Soon a tanker truck appeared and they, assisted by the  crew  of  the
truck soon had the main tank emptied into the truck.
    Next a steel cable was lifted and threaded through the  ring  Then  a
platform was hoisted up the side of the ship to serve  as  a  stable  work
    Finally, one of the men sprayed the polymer patch with  a  dissolving
agent and the whole mass of the temporary patch dissolved  into  a  liquid
that soon boiled away, leaving nothing but brown powder  where  the  patch
had been. They carefully  inspected  the  puncture,  then,  using  a  more
powerful laser powered by a cable stretching up from the maintenance shed,
cut a larger hole in the skin of the ship, baring the  hole  in  the  tank
    Large steel plates were carried out of the shed and then measured and
cut to fit over the holes, the two men  not  bothering  to  even  out  the
jagged edges of the inner hole.
    After working for about four hours, the first patch was finally ready
to be hoisted up and welded into place, soon followed by  the  second  and
much larger patch.
    Finally, six hours after the job was begun, the  crew  was  finished.
They dropped the platform down to the surface  and  then  pulled  out  the
cable, leaving the ring attached to the ship to be used by the yards later
when the permanent job would be done.
    "We will have you hooked  up  to  the  fueling  station  in  about  a
half-hour," he said. Then it will be about two hours more to top off  your
    "Well, I better be getting back inside," said  Joe  as  the  two  men
disappeared inside the shed.
    He walked slowly back to the ship, peering upward at the small dot in
the sky that was the sun. "So far away," he thought, momentarily  homesick
for the warm sunshine of Earth. He missed the wind and the sea, being able
to look down and see the Earth floating below him. Out of reach yet  close
at hand. Knowing he could go back at any time had kept  him  from  missing
Earth while in space. But now, he  didn't  have  that  assurance  and  the
distance he was from Earth finally hit home.
    He clambered up the ladder welded to the side of the ship  and  swung
into the airlock, cycling through before removing his suit  and  replacing
it in the locker near the entrance. He found Shaun in  the  control  room,
monitoring the communications channels.
    "No sign that we are suspect yet," he reported to Joe.
    "Good. I got our order in but I'm not sure that it will  be  here  in
time to catch us. If it makes it, it will be close. They are  about  ready
to start filling the tank up."
    "Good. We cannot afford to wait if the trucks  do  not  get  here  in
time. We will just have to wait and see."
    "The order that Joe had entered was a list  of  equipment  needed  by
Alpha. It was disguised as an order from the Rock and to be  sent  out  by
next available ship. Hopefully they will have it ready before the  Javelin
left, otherwise there would be some very puzzled clerks on the  Rock  when
the order arrives.
    "I also pulled this from the comp," he said, handing Shaun the chip.
    Shaun placed it in the reader and dumped it's memory into the  bridge
comp. Joe had asked for a complete history of  Shaun's  family  after  the
Runner accident.
    "Smart woman," he said finally, wiping a  tear  from  his  eye.  "She
entered a one year open-ended contract, renewable  by  agreement  of  both
parties. This way when I do come back, if she wishes, she  can  come  back
with me. Or not, if she so chooses."
    "And that," thought Joe, "is where the tear came from. Not knowing if
she will terminate the contract when Shaun reappears." At least he held no
animosity toward her. They both knew that a woman with kids  had  to  have
the security of a husband in order to survive. It was tough on any  single
person but doubly so on a single parent family.
    "It's for the best," Joe said,  trying  to  comfort  the  older  man.
"She'll be back. Don't worry."
    "Maybe, but then, maybe not. Who knows how long it will be before  we
return. And what then? What if she truly loves him?"
    "Neither of us can answer that." Neither  man  said  anything  for  a
while. "Well, we have a job to do. Let's not let our feelings get  in  the
way of what we have to do," said Joe at last.
    Shaun shrugged, throwing off his gloom. "You're right,"  he  said  at
last. "Let's see what they are doing to us."
    They switched the main monitor  on  to  watch  the  progress  of  the
refueling operation. They were just in time to see a big tractor  dragging
a large hose approach the ship and mate the end to the Javelin's  exterior
refueling station. Shaun switched on the flow meter to monitor the filling
process and it wasn't long before water started to flow into the big tank.
Up on the bridge they could feel the vibrations as the water splashed into
the tank.
    "Look," said  Joe,  pointing  out  a  pair  of  large  pallet  trucks
approaching from a distance. "They are better than I expected. Here  comes
our order!"
    "Damn, partner, we are going to get away with it after all,"  laughed
Shaun, all traces of despair long gone.
    "I'll go down to the lock and help in stowing the pallets," he  said,
leaving the bridge in the very capable hands of Shaun.
    Below, Joe got into his pressure suit and entered the auxiliary cargo
hold and then swung the large cargo hatch open. He watched the two  trucks
maneuver around the large hose and approach the  ship,  one  stopping  and
allowing the other to back into position. A  powerful  hydraulic  cylinder
then raised the bed of the truck up to match with the  lip  of  the  cargo
    Joe, assisted by a handler from the truck, quickly moved the  covered
palates into the ship. The second  truck  then  backed  in  and  soon  the
loading was completed, Joe waving good-bye as the  handlers  climbed  back
into the trucks. He then swung the hatch closed as the two  trucks  pulled
away from the ship and headed back to the cargo depot.
    Not  long  after  that  the  tank  showed  full  and  the  hose   was
disconnected and dragged away from the ship. "Ship Javelin," announced the
bridge comp, "this is Ceres Port."
    "This is Ship Javelin," answered Shaun. "Go ahead Ceres Port."
    "You are cleared  to  leave  when  ready,"  ship  Javelin.  Emergency
channel D is now cleared and any other instructions will be sent over  the
normal ship channels."
    "Understood, Ceres Port. We  wish  to  leave  as  soon  as  possible,
already being far behind schedule."
    "Ceres Port out, Ship Javelin. Have a safe trip."
    "That's that," said Shaun to Joe. "Call down to engineering  and  ask
for max power as soon as possible?"
    Joe turned to his communicator and called  the  engineer  below.  "He
reports that he kept the engines hot and ready to go. You have full  power
now if you want it."
    "No sense in making them mad," said Shaun.  Lets  make  a  nice,  low
power lift as if we belong here, okay?"
    "Fine by me, boss. Take her away."
    Below the two felt the rumblings of the powerful engines as the  ship
built up power and slowly lifted from the surface of Ceres. Once  she  was
well clear of the asteroid, Shaun applied more power and soon the  Javelin
was rapidly leaving Ceres behind.
    "We did it!," crowed Joe in triumph.
    "Actually it was like taking candy from a baby,"  said  Shaun.  "They
never had a chance."
    "True. But then, that trick will never work again."
    "No, but with our hook in their comp, I'm sure that Jodane  can  come
up with other schemes that will."
    They navigated the small ship up and out of the plane of the ecliptic
and applied power, accelerating the ship along it's economy curve,  saving
as much water as possible, knowing that every  drop  would  be  needed  by
    The days passed quickly once the ship was  on  autopilot.  Then,  one
evening Shaun entered the galley, carrying the small package that had been
given them before departure.
    "Shall we see what they sent us?," he asked.
    "Sure," agreed Joe. Inside was a small bottle of Cognac, real  cognac
from Earth. "Damn," said Joe. "I wonder where the hell they found that!"
    "I don't know," said  Shaun.  But  shall  we  try  it  out?  Toast  a
successful mission? It's been quite a while since I tasted Earth liquor."
    Shaun carefully opened it and, after a short  but  interesting  time,
managed to get the contents into two plastic  bulbs.  Bottles  were  never
invented for use in zero-gee.
    "Not bad," said Joe finally.
    "I agree. But perhaps I will stick with the booze the belt  produces.
Much cheaper and this is not that much better. But it is good to  taste  a
bit of our heritage now and then. To remind us of  what  we  are  fighting
    Joe said nothing but raised  his  own  bulb  in  a  silent  toast  to
memories past.
    Before long, The rocky area surrounding Alpha came into view  on  the
    "One last task," said Shaun. Are you ready?"
    "Always," answered Joe. Shaun piloted the ship carefully through  the
rock field and matched  orbits  with  the  large  asteroid  hiding  Alpha.
Together the two of them got into pressure suits and then jetted  down  to
the surface, spotting a large open flat spot to land on. The  spinning  of
the asteroid threw Joe off for  just  a  moment  but  he  had  no  trouble
    Joe pointed out footprints in the dust and they followed them  for  a
short distance, stopping in front of a medium  sized  rock.  Shaun  leaned
over and pressed his helmet against Joe's "I thought all loose  rocks  had
been removed long ago," he said, puzzled."
    Joe leaned over and lifted the  rock,  and  discovered  it  was  much
heavier than he had thought. Suddenly it came loose, revealing magnets set
in the bottom and a hollowed out chamber. "Here's the drop," said Joe to a
surprised Shaun. "Have we got anything to leave?"
    Shaun removed a sealed pouch from an outside cargo pocket and  handed
it to Joe, who slipped it into the opening and replaced the rock.  He  was
distracted by Shaun, pointing out a large ship maneuvering in toward them.
"Security," he said simply, Joe nodding in agreement.
    Let's take a hint and head back to the ship," said Joe  as  his  comm
chimed for attention. "Time to come back  aboard  gentlemen,"  called  the
engineer when Joe had acnowledged the call.
    Joe nodded briefly to Shaun and together  they  jetted  back  to  the
ship, confident that the bait had been properly placed.
    Finally, all their tasks done, they flew the ship away, out of  radar
range and then returned, rearming the  transponder  so  that  Alpha  would
recognize them. They all were relieved to see the  big  door  swing  open,
allowing them access to the interior of the big asteroid and home.
    They docked the ship and then turned her over to the maintenance crew
to repair the damage they had done earlier and the emergency repairs  done
by Ceres.
    Once off of the ship they headed directly to Salvatoro's office close
to the Security monitoring station. They were ushered  directly  into  the
room by a silent Salvatoro, who had set as many cameras in the area of the
north pole to watch.
    They had been there about thirty minutes when  the  door  opened  and
Charlie entered, selecting a seat and joining the watchers.  "You  realize
that whoever he is, he may not show  for  a  while  yet,"  said  Salvatoro
    "Yes," said Shaun. "We will probably have to set up a rotation if  he
doesn't show soon."
    Two hours passed slowly with no sign that their bait was going to  be
taken. "Okay, that's enough," Salvatoro announced. "I will finish off this
four hour period. Charlie, you are  pretty  well  rested.  How  about  you
taking the next four hours? Then either Joe or Shaun,  it's  up  to  them.
Then, we start all over again. Okay?"
    "Sounds good to me," agreed Joe as Shaun  and  Charlie  nodded.  "I'm
going to get some sleep. Give me a call in four hours so I can grab a bite
before I am due here, will you?," he asked Charlie.
    "No problem Joe," Charlie agreed.
    "And then I'll see you in nine hours Joe," said Shaun.  "Assuming  it
lasts that long."
    Last that long it did. They had been watching for  nearly  four  days
and still nothing had  happened.  Charlie  had  just  arrived  to  relieve
Salvatoro, preparing to watch for the next four hours. "There has  got  to
be someone aboard," said Charlie. "They found the rock. And judging by the
description, there is no way that could be natural. And I don't believe it
was left there by the crew that disguised Alpha."
    "I agree with you but what are we supposed to do?"
    Charlie  said  nothing,  his  eyes  drawn  to  the   video   screens.
"Salvatoro, look," he said.
    "At last!," exclaimed Salvatoro. He called Shaun and Joe and  telling
them to meet outside Charlie's labs. Salvatoro  then  entered  a  security
code and sealed all of the outside airlocks. "That should  hold  him,"  he
said. "The outer door will open, allowing him access, but the  inner  door
will not. And once he closes the outer door, it will not  reopen  until  I
release it."
    When they arrived they met Shaun and had  a  brief  wait  before  Joe
arrived, having been asleep when the call came in.
    Joe arrived to see Salvatoro seated at Charlie's comp with the  other
two men standing behind him. "There!," said Salvatoro. "We have him!  Lock
nineteen, North pole longitudinal ninety. Ready gentlemen?"
    "You bet," said Joe excitedly.
    "Damn right," growled Shaun. Lets finish this damned thing off."
    "Security team, report to airlock nineteen. Do nothing till I arrive,"
Salvatoro said into the comp terminal.
    Airlock nineteen was not far from  Charlie's  lab  and  they  arrived
before the security team, waiting until they arrived to release the man.
    Finally four men, three armed with  light  laser  pistols  while  the
fourth, dressed in body armor  was  carrying  a  single  heavy  projectile
weapon Joe recognized as a shotgun of an early Vintage.
    The four men took up positions around the airlock door and  Salvatoro
released the controls, allowing the  man  to  step  out  of  the  airlock.
Salvatoro signaled the man to take off his helmet.
    "Gorge!" Joe said, surprised.
    "You know this man?," asked Salvatoro.
    "A little," admitted Joe. "So does Charlie. We rode out on the Runner
    "I remember him too," admitted Shaun.
    "Take him away," Salvatoro ordered the security team.  "Lock  him  in
one of the holding cells. Strip him and put him in a  light  coverall  and
watch him constantly. We will be along shortly."
    Gorge Scapata spat once on the floor in  front  of  Salvatoro  before
being pushed off down the corridor toward the holding cells.
    "Dammit, I want a hook!," shouted Salvatoro. "Anything!"
    His two assistants stood  in  front  of  Salvatoro's  desk  and  said
nothing. "You two have had him for a week now. Surely you  know  something
about him."
    "Nothing sir. You said no chemicals. He won't talk. Not even to  give
his name, and we already know that."
    "Damn. He is giving  us  no  choice,"  said  Salvatoro.  "Well,  keep
trying. And find me that hook!"
    Salvatoro stalked out of his office and headed toward Dr Quade's  lab
complex. He found that  whenever  he  had  a  truly  complicated  problem,
Charlie usually could help him out.
    He found Charlie in the lab, working with one of his lab  aides  over
an experiment Salvatoro couldn't make anything of.  "Morning,  Salvatoro,"
said Charlie.
    "Can I talk to you?," he asked.
    "Sure. Come on into my office."
    Charlie led the way, stopping briefly to pick up two cups of  coffee,
handing one to Salvatoro. "Sit. What's on your mind?"
    "Gorge." Salvatoro said. "I have nothing on him and can't seem to get
    "What do you want?"
    "Something I can use. Anything. He is obviously an  intelligent  man,
and I would hate to waste him."
    "Do you have anything?"
    "No. There doesn't seem to be any information  anywhere  on  him.  We
suspect Gorge Scapata is an alias but we cannot even prove that."
    "Hm," thought Charlie out loud. "Then I guess we have no  choice,  do
    Later that afternoon, Salvatoro and the security squad took Gorge out
of his cell and marched him off down the equator.
    Gorge said nothing until they stopped in front of airlock number one.
"Inside," said Salvatoro.
    "Now wait a minute," said Gorge, speaking nearly perfect  english  to
the surprised group.
    "Toss him in," ordered Salvatoro.
    Two of the men pushed Gorge into the lock and  swung  the  door  shut
behind him, and sealed him in. Salvatoro stepped  over  to  the  controls,
watching Gorge through the window who was watching back.
    He thumbed the intercom. "Last chance," he said. "Live or die."
    Gorge said nothing for a minute. "You're bluffing."
    "No. I can't afford to have you free. I need you but only if I have a
hook. Give me a hook and you are free. Otherwise you are out."
    Salvatoro started to spin the hand-wheel, bleeding the air out of the
    "Wait, stop!," shouted Gorge. "What do you want to  know?"  Salvatoro
could see the sweat beading up on his brow.
    "Why did you agree to spy?"
    "Why not? I was unemployed on Earth. They promised to take care of my
family if I agreed. Look," he pleaded.  "You  don't  know  how  it  is  on
relief. No job. No chance of a job. A  wife,  two  kids,  her  mother,  my
folks, all crowded into a three room apartment. What the hell do you think
I should do?"
    Salvatoro stepped back from the controls.  "Is  there  another  agent
    "There was. I was supposed to meet him when I arrived  but  he  never
made contact. I finally tracked him down yesterday.  He  was  killed  last
year in a handling accident. So as far as I know I'm on my own."
    "Let him out," ordered Salvatoro,  relieved  that  he  had  not  been
forced to space the man. He really wasn't sure if he had been bluffing  or
if he really would have spaced the man. And he was greatly  relieved  that
he didn't have to find out.
    He stepped up to Gorge once he had been pulled out of the lock.  "You
work for me now!," he said. "Remember that. And think of what will  happen
to your family if you blow it. Or what I will do to you." Salvatoro  found
it easier to play the tough man now that he  was  face  to  face  and  not
threatening to space him.
    "Why do you want me?"
    "Simple. If I have you killed or keep you out  of  circulation,  they
will try to send in another agent. Controlled, I can feed them whatever  I
need to. And if they do try to send in  more  men,  you  are  the  logical
choice to send them to. You are far more valuable to me alive and  working
as a double agent than you are dead. Remember that though. As soon as  you
become a liability, you are gone. Do you understand?"
    "Yes sir," said Gorge shakily. "Would you really have spaced me?"
    "Damn right," he said, trying to maintain the tough guy role. "And  I
still might. But that's the main reason I did not allow  my  men  to  drug
you. I wanted your mind clear. A man will do strange things  when  he  has
been drugged that he would never dream of doing  normally.  I  wanted  you
sane. Or at least, as sane as you can be."
    Jodane stuck out a hand. "Welcome aboard, Gorge."
    Gorge took it cautiously and shook it, his grip weak and shaky.
    "My family," he said
    "As safe as I can make them. As long  as  you  perform  as  directed,
there is no reason for Earth or Internal Security for that matter to  know
of our little arrangement. Or is there?"
    "No sir, not at all," Gorge said quickly.
    "Good. Go back to work. Your absence has been explained  as  illness.
Your supervisor knows nothing of  what  just  happened.  In  fact  no  one
outside of about a dozen people on board know of your involvement. When  I
need you I will contact you.
    He turned to his men. "Give him his clothes and let him go."
    Sal walked quickly away from the small group,  trusting  his  men  to
finish the task properly.
    Later that evening, seated in his room with  a  half-full  bottle  of
bourbon in front of him,  his  door  announcer  chimed  and  then  opened,
admitting Joe.
    "Thought you could use a little company." he said, grabbing  a  glass
and pouring himself a drink.
    "I nearly killed a man today," said Sal.  "I  have  never  done  that
    "And you still haven't."
    "Yet. But what about next time?"
    "We are at war. People die in  a  war.  Usually  the  man  doing  the
killing doesn't see the face or the eyes of the man getting  killed.  Just
the results of the battle. And you never really know if  you  killed  this
one or someone else. That is how most soldiers stay sane. The day you  can
look at a man and say 'I killed him' and not feel bad is the day  you  are
in trouble." Joe took a pull from his glass. "You are a normal, sane human
being who is horrified about taking a life. I am glad to see  that.  Let's
finish the bottle and talk about it, okay?"
    Sal smiled and poured another drink. "Thanks," he said  at  last.  "I
guess I needed a friend now after all."
    "No, we always need friends. And drinking alone can kill you."
    They all spent the next two weeks  preparing  for  acceleration.  All
ships attached to the mooring piers had  to  be  removed,  the  only  ones
allowed to stay inside were  the  ones  firmly  attached  behind  pressure
bubbles. Everything had to be tied down or put into  something  that  was.
The designers had thought of just about everything  though.  Most  of  the
larger items had attachments for large powerful magnets to  keep  them  in
place while in free-fall.
    At last the day came when the base was  ready  and  the  command  was
given to remove spin. Director Yoon was in central control overseeing  the
whole operation when Jodane entered, looking for him.
    "Director," he said, catching the man's attention. "We are ready with
the big laser whenever you say go, sir," he reported.
    "Good," Yoon said. "Then you may fire when ready."
    Jodane entered a code into control's comp and transmitted  the  order
to the laser crew. "As the rotation brings us into the proper position, we
will fire. The trace should be terminated in about one minute or so."
    They waited in silence. Suddenly, briefly  the  lights  dimmed,  then
flaring back to their normal brightness. "That should do it sir," he said.
"If you will excuse me, I'll get back to my station to see how we did."
    "Keep me informed," said Yoon, directing his attention  back  to  the
main operation.

    Ten million miles away, the  surface  of  the  Rock  was  hit  by  an
intensely powerful laser. "What the hell  was  that?,"  shouted  the  base
commander to the control room.
    "Checking sir.  Laser,"  came  the  quick  reply.  "About  a  hundred
megawatts or so. High frequency pulses. The whole beam  lasted  about  two
    "I am on my way up there, Lieutenant. Where did it come from?"
    "Alpha, sir. They must have found our laser lock."
    "Have the sciences director report to  me  at  once  in  control"  he
    The base commander arrived to find the Lieutenant  and  the  Sciences
Director waiting for him in control. "I thought  you  told  me  that  they
would not be able to detect the trace, Captain?, can you explain this?"
    "No sir," he said nervously, sweat beading up  across  his  forehead.
"They are obviously better equipped than we thought they were."
    "You THOUGHT Captain? Not only did they  find  the  lock,  they  also
happened to have a laser capable of producing over one  hundred  megawatts
of power, sustained for over two seconds. This does not sound like  second
rate technology to me!"
    "The laser is nothing new sir," reported the Captain. We have one  at
least as powerful here. And I can have it operational in ten minutes."
    The commander looked at him in  amazement.  "No!,"  he  said  simply.
"What would  you  be  shooting  at?  Have  you  seen  pictures  of  Alpha?
Everything is inside that rock! And since a  laser  is  a  surface  effect
device, how much damage do you think one would do to Alpha?"
    "Then you do not want me to reestablish the lock?"
    "HELL No!," shouted the director. "Do you want them to do it again? I
don't. We are here to get the Rock back to Earth orbit and we leave in two
days. I do not want any delays to occur. And  someone  out  there  with  a
megalaser could do just that."
    He turned away and addressed one of the operators in control. "Do  we
have a damage report yet?"
    "Yes sir," the technician reported. "It is coming in now." He  turned
to read off of the screen in front of him. "Most large surface  structures
relatively undamaged. Some surface effect but nothing of consequence.  The
maintenance shed's windows were blown  out  and  lost  complete  pressure.
However the emergency doors sealed and contained the breach there. No word
on how many people were in there yet though. Twenty-seven bodies have been
found so far, caught out on the surface when the beam hit.
    "An unknown number of vehicles have been disabled  but  most  persons
inside have reported in. The rule requiring suits when  operating  outside
vehicles seems to have saved a lot of lives. Also, most of the remote work
site domes have not reported in yet and are assumed lost."
    "Would you care to step out onto the surface  and  personally  direct
the firing of our own laser, Captain?," offered the director.
    "No sir," stuttered the Captain.
    "I thought not. Besides, we are not worried about losing contact with
Alpha. We know exactly where they are, or have you forgotten that?"
    "No sir, but what if this attack was to destroy  our  lock  prior  to
    "What if it is Captain? We have other ways of keeping track of Alpha.
The laser in fact was set up as a decoy, so that they could  find  it  and
believe that was the only way we could keep track of  them.  No,  Captain.
Let them move. We will find them  wherever  they  go,"  he  said  tersely,
terminating the conversation. He turned back to the seated technician.  "I
will be in my office. Have a complete damage report sent there as soon  as
possible with a list of names of those who were lost."
    "Yes sir, right away," said the tech to the departing Director.

    Slowly, Alpha reduced her spin until the rock was unmoving in  space.
Then, four huge nacelles, spaced equally around the equator rose from  the
surface revealing banks of engines. As one they all flared into  life  and
slowly the big rock began to move away from her position in orbit,  flying
back, against the normal flow and away  from  the  Rock.  Joe,  seated  in
Security Monitoring, silently watched the spectacle.  "I'm  glad  I  don't
have to fly this thing," he said to Sal.
    "It does seem a little complex at first. But you must  remember  that
we are going very slowly and it is all controlled by computers."
    "Where are we going?"
    "I don't know" explained Sal. "First we will lift ourselves up out of
the plane to get away from the majority of the asteroids and then we  will
go looking for a good place to hide. What we will  be  looking  for  is  a
large cluster of rocks we can slip into and not be noticed.  Our  advanced
scouts are ahead of us now, searching for just that spot. Then, lastly, we
will be bringing some of the smaller rocks with us. A  few  of  them  have
armed outposts in them. One of the defensive systems we have."
    "What is their purpose?," asked Joe. This being the first time he had
heard of other manned asteroids near Alpha.
    "Two dozen of the smaller rocks have manned posts in them.  They  are
there to protect Alpha in case of an  attack.  The  idea  being  that  any
attacker will concentrate on Alpha and ignore the  smaller  rocks,  giving
them a clear field of fire."
    "Not bad," said Joe, admiringly.
    Suddenly, Joe felt a jolt, as if something had struck Alpha.
    "Asteroid strike," explained Sal. We fly with the north pole forward.
The skin there is the thickest and can sustain more damage that any  other
part of the base. Also, all of the safety doors  are  closed.  If  it  did
manage to hole us, there is still nothing to worry about.
    "Unless there were people there," said Joe.
    "No. No one is allowed to be there during flight. Everyone  who  does
not have a flight station is restricted to their quarters and we do not go
until everyone is accounted for."
    "Seems like you know what you are doing," said Joe.
    "It's from lessons learned the hard way," admitted Sal. "In the early
days we lost a number of people because of stupidity and shortsightedness.
We are always trying to correct our procedures. The loss of even one  life
is too much."
    Joe turned his attention back to the main viewing screen.  "Not  much
to see, is there."
    "No, not really. And once we are above the plane, there will be  even
less. And once we are there, limited access will be allowed, once  we  are
well-clear of the main body of rocks. A few hours at most."
    Slowly, over the next two days everything returned to a semblance  of
normality. Travel restrictions were eased, although no one was yet allowed
access to the north pole area. Joe, Shaun and Michaela spent the  bulk  of
their time in the simulators honing their ship-handling talents. By moving
the base, the timetable had to be changed and their departure date was now
much closer.
    At last the word was  passed  that  Alpha  was  approaching  her  new
resting place  and  all  personnel  were  again  restricted  to  quarters.
Slipping the big base into her new nest amidst the many smaller rocks took
much less time than removing her from the  last  spot.  But  given  a  few
months, the rocks would be spread out, making the approaches much  harder.
And compounding the problem would be the two-dozen outpost rocks following
behind them.
    Finally the Giant-killer was removed from her bubble and  Joe,  Shaun
and Michaela were again given control of her. Daily  they  took  her  out,
away from the base and ran her through every maneuver they could think of.
But the one thing that they could not test here was  the  SC  drive.  They
would have to wait until entering a magnetic field for that."
    Director Yoon faced the four people. "You all know what is riding  on
this mission," he said simply. "All of us here on Alpha wish  you  a  safe
journey and a successful completion." He briefly  shook  hands  with  Joe,
Charley and Shaun before giving Michaela a last good-bye hug.
    He walked silently to the docks with them, standing  quietly  with  a
tear in his eye as he watched them climb aboard and seal the lock for  the
last time. He remained there,  long  after  they  had  received  departure
clearance and the ship disappeared out of the main access door.


    Nearly all of Alpha tuned in to watch the departure. A pair of  small
ships, attached to the sides of the Giant killer, slowly  applied  thrust,
backing the ship out of her slip. They then expertly brought her to a stop
in the center of the big ship bay and spun her on her axis,  aligning  her
nose with the exit port. Thrust was then reapplied and she slid gracefully
out into deep space. Behind them,  the  big  door  swung  silently  closed
behind them.
    The two ships remained attached to the bigger ship and  continued  to
guide it outward toward it's rendezvous with another ship waiting  nearby.
The giant killer was brought to a near stop and slowly mated to  the  nose
of the waiting ship. She would give the initial boost to the giant killer,
allowing maximum speed without using any of her onboard fuel.
    Once the mating had been completed a faint blue laser line  flickered
between  the  Giant  Killer  and  Alpha  Base.  Since   all   open   radio
communication was now forbidden in the  vicinity  of  Alpha  Base  due  to
increased security requirements, all communication traffic was handled  by
undetectable lasers.
    "Alpha Base here, Giant Killer. Go ahead."
    "We are mated up and ready for the initial boost."
    "Go for it, Shaun," sent Director Yoon. "Good luck  from  all  of  us
here. We have already begun planning the return party."
    "Sounds like fun, Yoon," said Captain O'Cassidy.  "I  hope  we  don't
miss it. Just wait till we get back though before you start."
    "Sure thing Shaun, we'll be waiting. Alpha Base out."
    The laser winked out and the big ship's  engines  flared  into  life,
slowly pushing the two ships farther and farther away from Alpha Base. The
orbital path took them up and out of the  plane  where  they  could  begin
piling on the real gee's.
    Aboard the Giant Killer the four  crew  members  were  busy  as  they
checking and double checking  everything.  Joe  and  Dr.  Quade  carefully
checked  the  special  programming  while  Shaun  and  Michaela   occupied
themselves with the engineering systems. Finally Dr Quade declared that he
was satisfied with the operational software and together they went off  in
search of Shaun and Michaela. They found  them  elbow  deep  in  the  main
cooling system of the superconductor drive.
    "Something wrong Captain?" Asked Charlie.
    "No, not really. We are tracing the coolant lines in  an  attempt  to
teach Michaela here how the system was put together. But to  be  perfectly
honest, I know less than I thought I did. Everything was put  together  so
fast that I don't know what half of the piping does."
    "And I know next to nothing," chimed in Michaela. "Oh,  we  all  know
how the system works, or is supposed to work anyway. But how do all of the
interrelated systems tie together? And where  did  they  put  all  of  the
different components?"
    "Maybe we can be of assistance," offered Charlie. "Although I  helped
design the system, I don't know how it was put in either. Soon,  all  four
of them were crawling around, peering  under  deck  plates  and  generally
making a shambles of a once-immaculate auxiliary machinery space.
    "Well, that's the last pipe then," said Joe at last.
    "I hope  whoever  installed  this  system  didn't  also  install  the
plumbing," said Michaela. "If so, we are all in trouble."
    "Yes," said Shaun with a laugh. "But at least we now know both how it
works and how to fix it if it breaks down." They all  got  busy  replacing
all of the access covers and loose deck plates.
    "What say we all get cleaned up and meet in the galley  for  coffee?"
Suggested Charlie.
    Muttering and nodding in agreement, the four split up and made  their
way back to their quarters.
    Although the ship was small, it was  large  enough  to  contain  four
small cabins and two zero-gee fresher booths. It also boasted a small  but
serviceable galley where the  four  could  meet  for  meals  and  planning
    "Okay," said Shaun. "Here's the schedule," once everyone had  arrived
and settled down. "We stay on this trajectory until we are above the plane
of the ecliptic and into the region we refer to as 'ninety percent  city.'
This is the area where ninety percent of all material in the belt is below
us and safely out of our way. We will still have to watch for the last ten
percent but this band is much safer to travel in at high speed.
    "If we moved far enough away to reduce it to one  percent,  we  would
have  to  travel  millions  more  kilometers,  at  a  much  greater   fuel
expenditure. Besides, the rocks are spread out in this band and we  run  a
very low probability of hitting one."
    "I can accept that," said Joe. "How long before we get there?"
    "Not long," answered Shaun. "About ninety six hours from launch time,
which was approximately twelve hours ago. Once there the mother ship  will
give us an initial velocity of fifty thousand kph and we will then  detach
and take her up from there with our own engines.
    "We will cross Earth orbit in about ninety two  days.  We  will  then
expend additional reaction mass to slow down and make  the  grab,  leaving
right after that. Hopefully successfully. Any questions?"
    "Sure," said Joe with a grin. "But none that you can answer here.  So
let's take our best shot and see what happens?"
    "It seems to me," said Michaela, "that we are betting an awful lot on
the fact that it will be in orbit waiting for us. How can you be sure?"
    "Complex programs," explained Charlie, were written  to  control  the
mass accelerators. Buried in the programming are  instructions  to  launch
that particular package at a certain time. The computers will not  let  it
go before that. This whole procedure is extremely complex but, if all goes
well, it will be waiting for us when we  arrive.  But  we  must  be  there
exactly on schedule."
    "Well," said Shaun. "We have a long trip in front of us and I plan on
having everything on board checked out completely until every  one  of  us
knows each and every system backwards and forwards, understood?"
    They all nodded in agreement. "But," continued Shaun. "At the present
time, I am exhausted and I will see all of you in about ten hours.
    After fixing himself a quick snack, Joe  left  the  galley  and  also
turned in. He saw no lights on in Charlie's cubicle and assumed he too had
gone to bed.

    "Here it is," announced Joe, studying a  pc  module  through  a  high
power microscope. "A stress crack, just as I suspected."
    "Good," said Charlie. "May I see it?"
    "Sure. Take a peek." They were alone in the  workshop,  the  stripped
chassis of the high-resolution scanning camera  was  strapped  to  a  test
bench while all of it's associated parts lay in closed, transparent  bins.
Magnets on the bottom of the bins held them in place on the bench near the
    "It doesn't look too bad," said Charlie finally. "None  of  the  gold
filaments are damaged. If we bridge the circuitry and re-laminate, I think
this module will be fine."
    "Good," said Joe. "Shaun will be pleased.
    Once reassembled and installed, they ran the system through a  series
of tests and finally declared the camera fully operational and  turned  it
back over to the comp.
    They found Shaun in the galley and helped themselves to a coffee bulb
before reporting.
    "Good," said Shaun. I am glad it is on-line again."
    "Aren't we all?" Agreed Charlie. "The whole mission may ride  on  the
operation of that camera. I still cannot believe that we do not  have  any
spare parts for it somewhere."
    "Oh, yes," said Shaun. "I forgot to  tell  you.  Michaela  found  the
spare parts. They were with the fusion drive spare parts in a  box  marked
'indicator lights'"
    "Shit," said Joe. "How much more of this do we have to go through?"
    "It's not that bad," Said Shaun. "Now that the camera is repaired all
critical equipment is back on-line."

    It had all started when they had gotten out of the main body  of  the
asteroid belt and the pusher ship had applied thrust.  Smoothly  at  first
but, during the burn sequence, one of the computers had received an  error
code and attempted to  shut  down  the  engines.  The  remaining  two  had
rechecked the data, found the error incorrect and restarted the engines at
full thrust. The resulting three-gee bump shook both ships  to  the  core,
causing more malfunctions than could be quickly handled.
    The Major systems, power, lighting, engineering and life-support  had
enough redundancy built in that they were not badly affected but the  less
vital secondary systems had suffered aboard both ships.
    The break-free point had passed ten days ago and the pusher ship  was
now limping back to Alpha while the Giant Killer, her own engine  sequence
completed, streaked towards Earth rendezvous.
    One by one the damaged systems were stripped, diagnosed and  repaired
before the crew moved on to the next piece of faulty equipment.
    Shaun and Michaela were assigned mostly to support roles because they
simply did not have the expertise that Charlie or Joe did.  Michaela,  for
the last forty-eight hours had been opening and re-inventorying all of the
cases of spare parts stowed aboard the ship. She  had  found  that  almost
nothing had been put in their proper cases. Most notably,  she  had  found
twelve dozen coffee bulbs stowed in the case marked 'camera spares.'
    The hatch to the galley swung open an she entered, carrying a bowl of
oranges. "Well, well," said Shaun, pleased. "Where did those turn up?"
    "In the last place you would expect to  find  them,  considering  our
present problems. In the case marked 'entertainment tapes'."
    This brought a few chuckles and Joe asked.  What  made  you  look  in
    "I found the tapes in the box marked 'Feminine Hygiene'  and  decided
to look in the tapes case to see what was in there!"
    "Oh," said Joe, blushing. "Has everything been found then?"
    "No!" Said Michaela, in  frustration  and  anger,  her  face  turning
nearly as red as her long hair. "My hygiene case is still missing.  And  I
NEED that case! Now!"
    "Okay," said Shaun with a grin. "I get the  picture.  Everyone,  lets
get going again. It seems that whoever scrambled  everything  did  a  much
better job than we thought." He turned to  Michaela.  "Have  you  remarked
everything you have looked in?"
    "Yes," she said. "A new number has been inked on them in  red  and  a
new master list has been made. All you have  to  do  is  check  the  cases
without the red numbers and reassign a new one. Then  enter  it  into  the
computer along with it's location, understand?"
    "There can't be more than a couple of hundred cases left then,"  said
Shaun. Split up then and everyone take a different storeroom. Hopefully we
can avert the present catastrophe before dinner."
    It had taken far less  time  than  that  to  find  the  errant  case.
Michaela had done a superb job and there were far less  than  one  hundred
cases left to go through. And, surprisingly, a large number of  them  were
actually filled by what they were supposed to have. And Michaela's missing
case was found in the Galley storeroom in a case marked  'paper  products:
napkins'. All but Michaela found humor in the classification.
    "I'm glad that that's over," said Charlie. "Now maybe we can get back
to the business of repairing this broken-down workhorse. She still has one
hell of a job to do."
    Weeks later, her long range radar, one of  the  most  sensitive  ever
placed in a ship her  size  produced  the  first  clear  pictures  of  the
Earth-lunar system. The  big  permanent  structures  she  had  no  problem
identifying but the smaller objects took a while longer. The comp  however
quickly filled in the missing data as  the  different  ships  communicated
with each other and the Giant Killer tapped their messages.
    One of the first things they noticed once the chart was finished  was
that the Hermes was missing! She was, at present Earth's fastest ship  and
she should have been safely in orbit around Earth. Another thing they  saw
was the presence of the Rock. She had arrived  approximately  thirty  days
ago and a lot of work had progressed on her. They could pick out a lot  of
the smaller structures with the scanning camera, even this far out.
    All four of the crew were in the command module and securely strapped
in. "Okay, boys and girls, this is it!  Turnover  time."  the  large  ship
turned end for end gracefully and her big engines  flared  into  life  and
then building up to full power. The  resultant  six  gees,  although  very
uncomfortable, was endurable. The Giant Killer quickly shed velocity,  her
strong hull specifically designed for smooth hi-gee maneuvers.
    And so it went, She burned for ten minutes and then rested  for  ten,
then re-burned. Finally it was over. They  had  lost  enough  velocity  so
that, as fast as she was. She was slow enough to perform the operation  at
hand and Shaun flipped the ship to it's operational position.
    "No radar lock yet," reported Michaela.
    "Good," said Charlie. "The computers were programmed to shut down the
long-range radar two hours  before  package  launch.  It  looks  like  the
embedded programming has done it's job. They won't know we are here  until
we get within range of their short ranges."
    They were now entering the  Earth-lunar  system  proper.  The  radar,
coupled to the scanning camera and a holo tank enhanced  by  the  computer
system clearly showed all of the objects in Earth-lunar orbit. They  could
see all four stations slowly rotating, they saw a surface shuttle on close
approach to Leo base the Rock, and the dozens of  sleds  operating  around
the stations and the Rock.
    "Here she comes," said Joe, pointing to a small  object  rising  from
the lunar surface. "Right on schedule," chuckled Shaun. It had cleared the
surface and was well on it's way to rendezvous with a waiting sled far out
in space and near the Rock.
    "Spin?" Asked Shaun.
    "Twelve RPM," came the quick reply from Michaela.
    A Chuckle brought three pairs of eyes to Charlie. "No one ever  asked
me why a device that was to be mounted in a permanent structure  needed  a
gyro stabilizer. They all assumed I knew what I was doing!"
    Joe quickly got busy with the attitude controls. He  assumed  control
of the package and quickly stopped all of it's rotation  and  aligned  the
track of the Giant Killer to exactly match that of the package. She  moved
in quickly from behind  the  moon,  passing  within  a  kilometer  of  the
surface, following unerringly it's fleeting quarry.
    "Lunar  Control,  this  is  the  Radar  watch  officer.  I  have   an
unidentified ship on scan. She just popped up over the lunar horizon." The
junior Lieutenant sat glued to his repeater with a commlink in his hand.
    "Roger watch. We have him. Be advised that we are taking control."
    "Watch Officer out, Control." The Lieutenant watched his  console  as
the big comp from Lunar Control took over, cutting him out as an  operator
but it at least allowed him to watch. The duty crew, now rendered  useless
left their own consoles and crowded around the Lieutenant to watch. A  few
flicks of his controls threw the whole  spectacle  onto  one  of  the  big
screens in the room.
    "What is it?" Asked one of the technicians.
    "I don't  know,"  answered  the  Lieutenant.  "The  comp  reported  a
completely unknown design and no recognizable markings."
    "Shit, she's fast," another of the technicians commented.  "Where  is
she headed? The Rock?"
    "Sure looks like it," the Lieutenant answered.  "It's  hard  to  tell
without comp control But she's doing over sixty-thousand KPH though."
    Aboard ship they were preparing  for  target  acquisition.  A  strong
cushioning and antishock system had been built into the  central  chamber,
awaiting it's precious cargo.
    "Here we go," said Shaun. "It's gonna get real  fast  here.  Are  all
systems operating?"
    "Yes," reported Joe.
    "Percentage of differential?" Asked Shaun.
    "Fifty-three," replied Charlie quickly.
    "Engage computer control now," ordered Shaun.  Everyone  aboard  knew
that they needed at least a ninety percent course match at this  speed  to
insure a safe trap.
    Joe acted quickly,  engaging  the  computer  which  immediately  took
command of the engines and thrusters and they all felt the  jolts  as  the
computer tried to match the course of the  Giant-killer  to  that  of  the
speeding target.
    "Sixty-one percent," announced Charlie.
    No one else in the  cabin  spoke,  all  eyes  were  riveted  forward,
seeking the cylinder that they were relentlessly pursuing.
    "Sixty-eight," continued Charlie as the figures came in.  The  entire
ship now shook with the minute shocks as the computer continued  to  pulse
the engines and thrusters, bringing the two ships closer and  closer  into
    "Forty-five seconds to acquisition," Announced Joe.
    "Seventy-three percent," said Charlie.
    Now, ahead they could see the cylinder that they  had  chased  across
countless millions of kilometers to find.
    "Eighty two percent." Around them, the ship fell  suddenly  quiet  as
the thrusters ceased firing. No word was said among the four as they  sped
onward, toward their rendezvous with their fate.
    "Fifteen, Fourteen, Thirteen," counted Joe as the cylinder approached
nearer and nearer.
    Suddenly, catching the four off  guard  momentarily,  a  single  side
thruster fired briefly.
    "Ninety four percent," announced Charlie, satisfaction  coloring  his
    "Impact," said Joe quietly. Ahead, the  Cylinder  sped  toward  them,
passing below their field of view, as if they had flown over it.  "Bingo!"
Crowed Joe. "We have it!" All aboard could feel the jar as their  precious
cargo came to rest, safely wrapped in its cocoon  of  webbing  inside  the
central hold of the small ship.
    "Let's get the hell out of here," said Shaun. "I want engine  control
now. Disengage computer and brace for full engine sequence."
    Joe applied full thrust to the engines and angling the ship away from
her track toward the sled far ahead of them,  lying  in  earth  orbit  and
awaiting the arrival of the cylinder.
    Shaun quickly added delta vee in an attempt to get  as  far  away  as
possible before pursuit started.

    "She's turning," said one of the watching technicians. "Inward toward
the Sun. What did she want?"
    "The cargo pod," blurted the Lieutenant, suddenly realizing what  was
missing on his scan. "They stole the pod!" He could see some of the  ships
on his scan begin their own main engine sequence, taking up the chase.
    "The Eccet its moving," said one of the technicians,  indicating  the
French ship. "And there goes the Prinz Franz  and  the  Peking  Star,"  he
continued. "They will catch her," he said confidently."
    "I don't think so," said the Lieutenant. "The  intruder  has  a  huge
lead on them. And at the speed she is going the only  ship  that  has  any
chance at all to catch her is the Hermes.
    "Maybe so," said the technician dubiously. "But where is she?"
    "Mercury," came the quick  answer  from  the  Lieutenant.  She'll  be
waiting there for them. Boy, that's one fight I'd love to watch."

    "Ladies and Gentlemen of the World Senate. May I have your  attention
please?" Asked Mahjid Bey. One of the wonders of modern communication  was
the Holonet. Here he was, sitting in an empty room in blue pajamas and  at
the same time he was presiding over the  world  Senate  in  an  immaculate
pinstripe suit, added automatically to his signal by his comp. In front of
him sat the images of the collected Senators via the net.
    Finally the noise leveled off to  a  point  where  Mahjid  Bey  could
begin. "I apologize for this impromptu meeting but circumstances  demanded
it. Approximately three hours ago an unidentified ship entered Earth space
and forcefully stole the main synthesis chamber for the Beanstalk!"
    The noise level again increased to the point where no one  individual
voice could be understood  over  the  others.  Mahjid  Bey  increased  the
strength of his own signal and cut  the  others  down  before  continuing,
effectively drowning out all of the other Senators  with  sheer  amplified
    "Please," he  shouted.  "Order,  order!"  Even  with  the  additional
amplification he couldn't get their attention. Regretfully he cut  in  the
privacy circuit and all of the other voices dropped to silence even though
he could see them all trying to talk. The holonet was not allowing any  of
the voices of the assembled Senators, with the exception of the Chairman's
to be transmitted.
    One by one, they all ceased talking when they realized  the  futility
of it all. They were effectively locked out until Mahjid Bey released  the
    "Again I apologize, but I must have order. As  I  said  earlier,  the
synthesis chamber is gone. We have three ships in pursuit at this time but
they have virtually no chance of catching the intruder. However the Hermes
is in Mercury orbit and will be waiting there for the intruder.  She  will
then attempt a rendezvous and a  recovery  of  the  chamber."  Mahjid  Bey
removed the privacy lock from his comp,  allowing  the  Senators  to  once
again speak.
    "Who are they?," asked one of the closer Senators.
    "We are not sure yet,"  admitted  Mahjid  Bey.  The  ship  design  is
unfamiliar and looks like it was specially constructed for just  this  one
operation. But we suspect the Asteroid colonies to be behind it."  If  the
Hermes doesn't catch her, she has been directed to follow as best  as  she
can and find her base of operation. As you know, the Hermes is the fastest
ship we have at present and it is doubtful that if the  intruder  IS  from
the asteroids, she will get away from the Hermes.
    "And if it isn't from the Asteroids?," asked another. "Who else could
have sent it?"
    "That is one of the question we are not even speculating on. We  have
too tight a control on Mars for it to  have  originated  there.  The  best
guess at this moment is the rebel Alpha Base out in the belt."
    "Why would they want it?," came another voice from the crowd.
    "And how did they know which shipment was  the  synthesis  chamber?,"
asked another.
    "That is another thing we cannot figure out," admitted  Chairman  Bey
reluctantly. "We do not know how they launched the chamber.  I  have  been
extensively briefed by our computer people and they  assure  me  that  the
launch sequences are completely automatic and run by the big  lunar  comp.
Somehow, someone inserted a command that caused the  comp  to  encapsulate
the chamber and launch it twenty months earlier than originally scheduled.
That cargo pod was supposed to carry a shipment of drugs from one  of  the
lunar medical labs, destined for a research lab in central Europe. It took
us nearly two hours to finally discover what had actually been taken.
    "And as to why, our experts feel that it is probably going to be used
as a bargaining chip when the mines of Mercury  are  in  full  production.
They know we need it and lack the resources to build another quickly.  And
this may put the beanstalk timetable back as much as ten years."
    "Ten Years?," Shouted Senator Polkova. She  had  inherited  the  seat
recently and was rapidly regaining the respect that her late  husband  had
held. "We cannot afford the damn thing now! How in hell can you believe we
will be able to afford it then? And what is to be done against  the  rebel
base? Alpha I believe you called it?"
    "Nothing," said Mahjid Bey.
    "Nothing is not enough!," Sneered Amiru  Polkova.  They  need  to  be
destroyed. As long as they are there, they serve as a rallying  point  for
all of the hotheads in the belt. Gone and  they  will  all  be  easier  to
    "Yes!," Shouted another Senator. "We must regain control of the belt."
    "We haven't lost control," said Mahjid Bey. "If  we  try  to  destroy
Alpha then there is no telling what they will try next. Let them have  the
illusion of some control over their lives."
    "You now sound like a rebel yourself," shouted  Senator  Polkova.  "I
move that we declare open war on Alpha base. Wipe out that subversive nest
now while we can." She stood  silently,  waiting  to  hear  what  kind  of
support she had.
    "She's right, came an unidentifiable voice in the back. "I second!"
    "Wait," pleaded Mahjid Bey. "Let's  think  this  over  before  we  do
anything rash."
    "Us?," sneered Senator Polkova You forget, Mr  president,  that  they
are all criminals out there. They have no rights! They are the ones  doing
rash things, not us. "I call a vote. Show who you support.  Earth  or  the
rebels in the belt."
    Mahjid Bey refrained from the vote but turned to watch the tote-board
mounted over his head. He was dismayed to see that, with the exception  of
one vote, his own, the entire Senate had voted for war! He shook his  head
sadly and turned to face the assembly. "I hope you all know what  you  are
doing," he said.
    "You aren't going to do something stupid like  veto  it,  are  you?,"
asked Senator Polkova.
    "No, I am not. However I am going to sit on it for forty-eight  hours
and let you all think about it. If enough of you come to your  senses  and
contact me about changing your vote, I will then decide whether to veto or
not. But I will not go against the wishes of the majority."
    "This seems to  have  killed  your  precious  Beanstalk,"  sneered  a
Senator, one of Mahjid Bey's main opponents.
    "Maybe," agreed Mahjid Bey. But then, maybe not. We must  do  nothing
yet but wait and see! You all will be informed of new details as they come
in. Your offices have been given all current data and you may  use  it  as
you wish."
    Mahjid Bey cut the transmission, removing himself from  the  circuit.
It would be morning in about six hours and Allah knew he needed the sleep.

    "Scan shows three ships pursuing," reported Joe.
    "Do you have acceleration and speed curves yet?"
    "Yes," answered Michaela. "Nothing  unexpected.  Engine  flare  shows
they are underpowered as compared to the Hermes and ourselves. They  won't
catch us."
    "Damn," said Shaun. "Where the hell is the Hermes?," he sat still for
a moment, deep in thought. "Where could they have sent her?"
    "Mars maybe?," asked Michaela. "Is it possible they  sent  her  there
chasing Dr Quade and she just hasn't returned yet?"
    "Doubtful," said Charlie. "First it has been too long  ago  for  that
and I do know that the military likes to keep it's fastest ship  in  Earth
orbit where they can keep an eye on her. No, she is somewhere else."
    "Well," said Shaun. "We do know where she is not.  And  that's  where
she should be. Earth."
    "Exactly," said Joe. "So there is nothing to do but  play  the  cards
dealt. Besides if we reach the sun first, it won't  matter.  With  the  SC
drive, we can outrun everything!"
    "If it works, that is, Joe. If it works," said Charlie  gravely.  "We
must remember that it is as yet an untested system. We all agreed  at  the
start that we would engage it only if absolutely necessary. If it  is  not
needed then it is not to be used."
    "Free-fall in thirty seconds,"  announced  Shaun.  "The  ship  is  on
course and ahead of the pack."
    "The pursuit ships are throttling back also," reported Michaela. They
all knew what the ship's Captains were aware of. Exactly how much reaction
mass they would need at the  other  end  to  remain  inside  their  safety
    "Freefall," said Shaun as the engines cut off. "Pursuit  status  when
available please," he asked.
    Michaela said nothing, waiting for the  comp  to  run  it's  program.
"Okay," she finally reported. "They are  also  in  free-fall.  They  won't
catch us but we won't lose them either. They will be able  to  keep  their
scanners on us all the way to the sun!"
    "Shit," said Shaun. "They are faster than I thought  they  would  be.
When I saw that the Hermes was missing, I thought we might have  a  chance
at a clean getaway."
    "But we expected the Hermes too follow us down," objected Charlie. We
cannot hope to maintain complete anonymity very  long  and  didn't  really
expect to anyway."
    "Okay," said Shaun. "Stand down from acceleration  stations.  I  want
one person on the scanners at all times.  We  must  keep  on  top  of  all
changes in pursuit status."
    The other three nodded in agreement.
    "I'll take the first watch," volunteered Joe. "Everyone might as well
get as much rest as possible. It's a long fall down."

    The military contingent of  Internal  Security  base,  Lunar  farside
stood rigidly at attention as their commander,  Major  Efram  Caine  paced
slowly down the ranks of men. He was followed  by  Lieutenant  Hadley  and
Captain Rifman, the base commander. He turned to the Commander.  "You  may
dismiss your men, Captain. They all look very good. You run a  tight  base
    "Thank you sir," Captain Rifman said in appreciation. He  had  gotten
only one hour's notice that there would be a surprise  inspection  of  his
troops by Major Caine and he thought the men had done an admirable job  in
getting ready on such short notice.
    "You office," Major Caine said bruskly, allowing the tall man to lead
them out of the open bay and into a narrow corridor.
    They soon reached the large office, and  Captain  Rifman  opened  the
door and allowed the two men to enter  before  him,  stopping  briefly  to
close and seal the door, assuring complete privacy. "I understand that you
keep a number of ships fueled and ready to go at all  times,  Captain.  Is
that true?"
    "Yes sir," Captain Rifman acnowledged.
    "I will be needing one. I need to go to the Rock and, possibly one or
more of the geosynch's. I will of course need a pilot. He turned to  wpeak
to his aide. "Lieutenant, the authorizations."
    Lieutenant Hadley opened a hand grip that he was carrying and removed
a thin sheaf of papers, and handed them to Captain Rifman.
    "This will give your pilot priority status in the Earth-lunar  system
allowing him to go wherever I need to go. How soon will you have the  ship
    "That depends on which one you want," said Captain Rifman. I have two
small ships fueled and ready to go. But they are of limited range. However
I can have one of our long-range ships ready in about two hours."
    "I believe that will do just fine," said Major Caine  smiling.  "Have
the Rock programmed in for the  first  destination.  Until  then  Captain,
Lieutenant Hadley and I will be in the officers mess."
    "Yes sir," said Captain Rifman. "I will see to it at once. And if you
wish to meet the pilot first should I send him to the mess?"
    "That will not be necessary," Captain. "We will meet aboard  ship  in
two hours."
    Major Caine allowed Lieutenant Hadley to unseal the door and lead the
way out, closing the door behind them, leaving Captain Rifman alone in his
    After they were gone, Captain Rifman quickly ordered the ship  to  be
fueled and prepared for space and then  selected  a  pilot.  He  gave  the
choices a long thought before finally settling on one man.  Something  was
going on and he wanted to know what. And the pilot,  completely  loyal  to
him, should be able to supply some of those answers.
    Two hours later, Both Major Caine and Lieutenant Hadley  were  seated
in two of the bridge chairs flanking the pilot selected by Captain Rifman.
"Any time you are ready," said Major Caine.
    "Fine sir. Lift-off in thirty  seconds."  The  ship  that  they  were
seated in, although small, suited Major Caine perfectly. It was more  than
adequate to get him around in Earth-lunar space quite adequately  and,  it
could even take him as far as the asteroid belt and back.
    Lift-off was a smooth, gentle push. None of the heavy gee's  required
to pull free of Earth's heavy  gravity  well.  They  were  vectored  on  a
minimum fuel transfer orbit to the geosynch position held by the rock. The
priorities that Major Caine carried did wonders for clearing traffic ahead
of them.
    At last they were on final approach to one of the long docking  booms
extending out from the Rock. Slowly the ship  drifted  inward  until  they
made contact and a flexible tube was finally connected to their outer lock
seal. The two officers then quickly left the ship and  the  pilot  behind,
disappearing into the office complex on the Rock.
    "Major Caine," said the Commanding Officer. "This is unexpected."
    "Surprise visit. Just came up to look around a little."
    "Just look around?,"  asked  the  Commander.  A  long  trip  just  to
    "To be perfectly honest, the Senate did ask me to eyeball  the  place
and make my recommendations."
    "Recommendations? About what?"
    "Surely you realize that now that the synthesis chamber is  gone,  we
are reassessing this whole project."
    "But we must build another one!," blurted the Commander. "Surely  the
Senate realizes the importance of this  project.  We  have  far  too  much
invested to shut it down."
    "Not according to  the  Senate.  The  hardliners  are  demanding  the
project be shut down permanently. Too expensive, they say."
    "But, they can't do that, can they?"
    "Of course they can. They pay the bills, after all. Remember, only  a
fraction of the cost of the total beanstalk has been  spent.  We  will  be
paying for this thing for years to  come.  Billions  of  credits  are  yet
needed to finish the job."
    "So what are we going to do here?"
    "That's what I am here to find out. I will just nose around and get a
feel for the place. I am sure that there is something we can use it for."
    The Commander wrung his hands in anguish. "Is there anything I can do
to help?"
    "Just stay out of my way," ordered Major Caine. "I  will  be  staying
for a while and I will need quarters for myself and my aide.  We  will  be
doing some traveling between the stations so I want the ship ready at  all
times. The pilot will  need  quarters  also.  Preferably  near  the  ship.
    "Completely, sir," came the quick answer. I can put you  in  the  VIP
quarters if you wish. Follow me and I will show you where they are."
    Major Caine and Lieutenant  Hadley  followed  the  nervous  commander
along the corridor until they came to a wide door. "Through here sir,"  he
said, opening the door and allowing the two men to enter the rooms.
    Major Caine  took  a  quick  look  around  and  turned  back  to  the
Commander. "This will do fine," he said at last, allowing the commander to
flee the room.
    "There goes a man who's whole world just fell apart," said Lieutenant
Hadley, indicating the now closing door."
    Later, there came a soft knock on the door.
    "Enter," called Major Caine. The door opened and Abe  Fortas  stepped
quickly in and closed the door behind him.
    "Abe," exclaimed Major Caine. I am glad to see you made it all right.
Sit, sit," he said, indicating a chair."
    "I wanted to report to you as soon as possible," he  said,  strapping
himself into the chair. Everything you set me to do is done and  the  plan
is moving along according to schedule.
    "You heard the news then?, that  an  unidentified  ship  grabbed  the
synthesis chamber and is on its way?"
    "Yes sir. They could not contain the news, although they  tried.  The
sled operator had a birds-eye view of the whole thing. He  got  back  here
about twelve hours ago."
    "The only thing," admitted Major Caine," I could not control was  the
location of the Hermes. She's at Mercury."
    "Mercury? What is she doing there?"
    "They had an accident that took out most of their life  support.  The
Hermes rushed needed spares to them, since she  is  the  fastest  ship  we
    "What does this mean to the operation?"
    "I'm not sure. It depends on how much reaction mass they  have  left.
There is always the possibility that they will catch the intruder."
    "So what do we do now?," asked Abe.
    "Nothing except continue with the plan. The rebels have a good chance
of escaping since she carries nearly full reaction mass tanks."
    "Well, I'm ready to go whenever you are," said Abe.
    "Good. Lieutenant Hadley is waiting at the ship-lock for us. We  will
boost directly out to the belt and Alpha base. I believe  it  is  time  to
abandon this sinking ship once and for all."
    They carefully made their way to the ship  via  the  surface  of  the
Rock. They exited by a seldom-used lock where Abe had earlier disconnected
the alarm to central control. They wanted to be sure that no one knew they
were leaving, especially the pilot they had picked up on  the  Moon.  They
were unobserved as they clambered up the  boarding  ladder  and  into  the
small ship.
    "We are ready back here," Major Caine  called  to  Lieutenant  Hadley
once they were strapped in and ready for the boost.

    Nothing changed as the hours flew by. The Giant killer  continued  to
pull ahead of the three ships. With Venus well behind them, she had  built
up a sizeable lead but still remained well within scan range.
    "Shaun to the bridge please," Charlie called over the intercom.
    A few minutes later the door on  the  bridge  swung  open  and  Shaun
popped in. "What's up?," he asked.
    "Would you like to know where the Hermes is?," asked Charlie.  "She's
in orbit around Mercury," he continued before Shaun  could  say  anything.
Charlie flipped out of the seat in front of the scanner and allowed  Shaun
to sit. In it he could clearly see the three pursuit ships  out  near  the
edge of the scan, and Mercury, with the Hermes in a fast orbit around her.
    Shaun  keyed  the  intercom.  "Crew  to  the   bridge   please.   Man
acceleration stations." Before long all  four  were  strapped  into  their
seats and apprised of the situation.
    "We have a long way to go yet, and now I'm not sure we will make  it.
It's a whole new ball-game now."
    Mercury orbit lay an hour away and the distance to  the  solar  orbit
needed for the grav-whip lay farther yet.
    "She's moving," reported Michaela from  the  scanner  station.  Shaun
glanced over to Charlie. "Looks like you will get a chance  to  test  your
new toy after all, Doc."
    Charlie nodded grimly but said nothing. Joe, in the auxiliary  pilots
seat was operating the navigation equipment and running  acceleration  and
speed estimates as the Hermes moved.
    "FIrst estimate coming in," he said finally. "Engine plume  is  short
so she is not at full power yet. She's at three point five gee-s,  steady.
assuming that her tanks are full she can catch us before we hit grav-whip.
But not at three point five. We will clear the sun ahead  of  her  if  she
does not accelerate!"
    "By how much?," asked Shaun.
    "Uh, lets see. Shit. Twenty-thousand kilometers or so."
    "Doc, I sure hope that machine of yours works because we can't escape
her with our engines," stated Joe finally."
    Inward they fell, the quarry and its faster pursuer. The  hours  fled
faster than the kilometers as the Hermes closed in on it's prey.
    At last the orbits were warped by the sun. First  the  Giant  Killer,
followed closely by the Hermes and then, far to the rear  the  Eccet,  the
Peking Star and finally the Prinz Franz. Around  the  sun  they  streaked,
allowing the sun's gravity to boost their speed.
    "Approaching breakout point," reported Joe.
    "Good," said Shaun. Ready Charlie?"
    "Yes," he reported. "But something is wrong"
    "What?," asked Shaun nervously.
    "The equipment is fine," Charlie said to calm Shaun's nerves. "But  I
have a much higher gauss reading than expected. We  somehow  miscalculated
the strength of the sun's magnetic field by more than a factor of two."
    "What does that mean?," asked Shaun.
    "Higher acceleration than we expected," said Charlie.
    "That's good," said Shaun "How much higher?"
    "Best guess?, eight to twelve gee's."
    "No," corrected Shaun. "That's bad." No one else said  anything.  All
were experienced enough to know what that meant to them all.
    "There is nothing to do but go for it," said Shaun.  Without  it,  we
are caught for sure."
    "Yes," said Charlie simply.

    "Navigation, position," ordered the Captain  on  the  bridge  of  the
    "Nineteen thousand kilometers and closing, sir,"
    "Weaponry control, load a dummy missile into #1 launcher."
    "Yes sir," answered the weaponry officer.  "But  I  don't  understand
    "We want them to stop, not destroy them. They  won't  know  it  is  a
dummy missile. They will assume it is live. I am trying to scare them into
talking to us."
    "I see sir. Missile loaded and locked onto target."
    "Fire on my command Lieutenant," ordered the Captain.

    "What could cause a higher gauss reading?," asked Michaela.
    "Sunspots," answered Joe. "During periods of increased solar activity
the sun's magnetic field increases in strength.
    "That's not all that happens!," shouted  Michaela.  I  have  a  solar
flare on scan!"
    "Damn," said Shaun "Let's get the hell out of here. "Charlie,  you're
    Charlie threw the switches, engaging the supercooling system  to  the
SC drive and the temperature started to drop toward the critical point.
    "You're not going to believe  this,"  shouted  Joe.  "But  I  have  a
missile on scan! It's from the Hermes!"
    "So what else is going to happen?,"  asked  Shaun  loudly.  "Everyone
brace, we're gonna go, one way or the other!"
    Shaun had almost finished speaking when the SC drive cut in, catching
them all off-guard with the surge of raw power. Joe's right  arm,  fingers
poised on the main engine firing button slammed  back  into  his  armrest,
sending a blinding wave of pain into his already acceleration-numb  brain.
Mercifully, black overtook him and he slipped into unconsciousness.
    Shaun was not so lucky. The surge didn't  catch  him  physically  off
guard but surprised him none-the-less. "Damn thing works he  croaked,  his
eyes focussing on the acceleration meter. "Eleven  and  a  half  gees  and
steady," he reported.
    Michaela also managed to hold onto consciousness, but  not  by  much.
She could see the edges of black trying to push inward and fought it  off,
her eyes glued to the  scan  as  the  missile  crept  closer  and  closer.
Finally, at less than a half a kilometer, the  distance  between  the  two
started to widen as the Giant killer pulled away.
    "Outran it, Captain," she said to Shaun, her voice lowered to a husky
growl. She did not know if  Shaun  heard  her  or  not.  Finally  she  too
surrendered to the black and allowed unconsciousness to whisk her away.
    Charlie went out with the first wave of acceleration.  Older  and  in
poorer shape, he did not have the stamina of the other three to fall  back
    Finally, assured the ship was safe, Shaun also let the darkness crawl
forward over his eyes and he too escaped the terrible pressure.

    "I don't believe it, sir," reported the Navigation officer  on  board
the Hermes.
    "What is it Lieutenant?," asked the Captain.
    "The intruder sir. She's accelerating at eleven point five six  three
gees and just outran our missile!"
    "Impossible!," he said in disbelief. He pushed out of  his  own  seat
and joined the lieutenant at the scanner. He then accessed  the  comp  and
called up an outside camera view of the fleeing ship.
    "No engine flare, Lieutenant. She is not under power."
    "Not  according  to  the  scan  sir,"  the  young  Lieutenant   said.
"According to the comp, the missile approached within a kilometer  of  the
ship and is now over ten kilometers away and falling behind!"
    The captain bent over  the  scan,  checking  the  data  for  himself,
finally accepting the evidence stacked against everything  his  experience
told him.


    "Send a message to Earth," ordered the Captain of the  Hermes.  "Give
them all of the data we possess. Emphasize that the unknown ship, using  a
new type of drive system, escaped us in grav-whip.
    "Sir!," shouted the Navigation Officer.  "I  have  indications  of  a
solar flare!"
    "Oh shit. Where is it going?"
    "Computing." Everyone on the bridge knew  of  the  dangers  of  solar
flares while in grav-whip. Silence gripped the crew as they waited for the
    "It will miss sir, but not by much."
    "Good," he said, relieved. "How about the other three ships?"
    "They are still in grav-whip, sir," announced the officer.  "I  don't
know. Let me check."
    He swung the main camera array around and increased the filtration to
max. "The Eccet is visible sir, but not  the  Peking  Star  or  the  Prinz
    "Contact the Eccet. Find out their status. And keep trying to contact
the other two."
    "Yes sir," he said although they both knew there was little hope  for
them.  He  tried  one  frequency  after  another  in  a  forlorn  hope  of
establishing contact with the three ships. "Nothing sir. All channels  are
    "Navigation, what are our chances of catching the intruder?"
    "Zero, sir."
    "Then decelerate and match with the Eccet. And  continue  to  try  to
find the others."
    A number of Yes sir's followed the command as the bridge crew  turned
to it's tasks.
    "Sir," reported the communications officer some time later.  "Message
received from Lunar Command. They request that you recheck your  data  and
discard all erroneous readings."
    The captain shot him a grim smile. "That's a  polite  way  of  saying
'your nuts'"

    Mahjid Bey faced a strangely quiet Senate. It was ironic that it took
an event of this magnitude to assemble every delegate. This,  he  believed
was the  first  face  to  face  session  to  report  one  hundred  percent
participation in the forty-plus years of the World Senate's existence.
    "The Hermes reports that the intruder used  completely  new  type  of
drive that appears to be a form of antigravity. It went from Mercury orbit
to Venus orbit in nine hours, which indicates a speed in  excess  of  four
million kilometers an hour. This is far above anything we are capable  of.
This data has been verified by lunar command. She will be  crossing  Earth
orbit in about eight hours."
    "Do we have anything capable of meeting it and stopping it?," came an
unidentified voice from the crowd.
    "No. It is crossing too far ahead of our position.  The  Hermes,  our
fastest is still down in the vicinity  of  Mercury  and  cannot  get  here
inside of twenty days. And we have nothing else available."
    "How about at Mars?"
    "Again no. Mars is at present behind us and  therefore  even  farther
out of position. Also, according to the last reports from  Lunar  Command,
the ship has changed  course  to  lift  itself  above  the  plane  of  the
ecliptic. However, Lunar Command reports she did so  with  a  conventional
drive, not the antigravity drive."
    "Is there an explanation for that?," asked another voice.
    "The scientists believe it is some sort of gravitic repulsion  drive.
It works well going away from the Sun but the ship must be  close  to  the
Sun for it to work. They don't seem to be able to change course with it."
    "Who do you think they are?"
    "Not human," answered Mahjid Bey. "A man could survive eleven  and  a
half gees but he would not be happy about it. Any pilot I  know  of  would
cut the drive as soon as they realized they had gotten away.  But  whoever
is in that ship let the drive operate for almost fourteen  hours!  Barring
something simple like a drive malfunction, they are aliens."
    "What about the survivors from the Eccet?," asked the French Senator,
changing the subject.
    "The five men are on board the Hermes and are being brought  here  as
fast as possible. The Eccet itself is a wreck. Drive systems totally  gone
and it's life support and emergency power systems barely  operational.  It
is repairable but not in space.
    "The Hermes is not rigged  for  towing  but  a  heavy  tug  has  been
dispatched to salvage it. However the Prinz Franz and the Peking Star  are
gone. No trace of either ship or their twelve man crews."
    Mahjid Bey stopped talking, his thoughts on  those  thirty-six  brave
men who set off in pursuit less than a  month  ago.  Now  only  five  were
returning. And their survival was still in question!"

    Joe opened his eyes to see the familiar ceiling of  his  cabin  above
his head. He was strapped into his hammock, with Michaela close by.  "What
happened?," he asked, amazed at how tired he was.
    "Quiet down and lie still," she answered. "You will be fine  and  you
are still feeling the effects of the sedation. Your  right  arm  is  badly
broken but I have set and cast it. You are lucky. The break  was  in  your
upper arm and the high-gees acted as a tourniquet to stop the blood  flow.
it's possible you might still lose a finger or two but probably not."
    Joe closed his eyes and  tried  to  rest.  "The  others?,"  he  asked
    "I am okay. Tired, shook up but physically sound. Shaun is awake  and
on the bridge. He looks ten years older but claims he feels fine. I'm  not
so sure, though.
    "Dr. Quade however is still unconscious. I  think  he  suffered  some
internal injuries but again I cannot  tell.  He  is  resting  lightly  and
doesn't seem to be laboring. He has a good strong pulse and respiration so
again I'll just have to wait and see."
    Joe could do little more than nod as he slipped back into sleep.
    The next time he awoke, Michaela was gone.  He  carefully  unstrapped
himself and slowly made his way to the bridge. There he  found  Shaun  but
again Michaela was nowhere to be seen.
    "Feeling okay Joe?," Shaun asked.
    "No, I feel like I got spit out an exhaust port. You?"
    "Bruised, battered and I think  I  cracked  a  rib.  But  don't  tell
Michaela. She'll have me taped up in a heartbeat."
    "You're sure you will be okay?," asked Joe.
    "My injuries will not kill me, if that's what you mean.  However  our
other problems just might."
    "Problems?, like what?" Joe asked Cautiously. Shaun wore too  serious
an expression for Joe's liking.
    "We were under power for nearly fourteen hours at eleven plus gees at
the start, tapering down to near zero before the  power  ran  out,"  Shaun
said bluntly.
    Joe did a bit of quick mental math and came up with a figure far  too
high to believe. He turned to the comp and entered the figures. The answer
he received made him wish he had believed his first rough calculation.  "I
calculate we are traveling at just over four million kilometers per  hour,
    "Close enough. We left  Grav  whip  twenty-two  hours  ago  and  have
already crossed Venus orbit. It will take us twelve hours  more  to  cross
Earth orbit!"
    Joe slid into the navigation station and strapped himself  in.  "Then
the next question is, how the hell do we stop?"
    "That's the problem I have no idea how to solve. I can knock about  a
half-mil off by expending our reaction mass, but then what?  Damned  if  I
    "Is Charlie awake yet?," asked Joe hopefully.
    "No, not yet. Michaela is tending him but there is no change yet."
    "It's up to us, Joe. We can't  expect  Charlie  to  pull  us  out  of
    "Okay, then let's do something. First, I don't like hitting the  belt
at four mil plus. Can we get above the plane?"
    "Yes. I already ran that one. It's easy enough from here. We can  use
a minimum amount of reaction mass. The closer we get though the more  fuel
we will have to expend."
    "Then let's do it." Joe called Michaela, back in Charlie's cabin  and
informed her of the coming operation. She securely fastened  Charlie  into
his hammock before reporting to the bridge.
    "How much does she know?," asked Joe before Michaela arrived.
    "Nothing yet. You are the first person I told. No sense  in  worrying
her more than necessary. She  has  enough  on  her  mind  taking  care  of
    "She has to know," said Joe softly.
    "I know, but not now."
    "No!," stated Joe. If we don't tell her now, we will have  to  later.
And later won't change anything. She is a part of the crew and  should  be
in on everything. Also, if she takes one look at the Њscan, she will  know
something is wrong. Mercury should be on it, not Venus.
    "You're right," sighed Shaun. "We tell her now, when she arrives."
    They sat in silence until the door opened and Michaela  joined  them.
"How's Charlie?," asked Joe.
    "Better," she answered. "He seems to  be  almost  conscious.  He  has
begun mumbling things that almost make sense. I have  hope  that  he  will
awaken in a few more hours."
    "Good," said Shaun. "We need him. Badly."
    "I knew something was wrong. We were under power too long. The  first
thing that I noticed was that the accumulators were dead. Which means  the
SC drive was on until the power died. How fast are we going?"
    Joe shot a smile to Shaun. Just over four million KPH,"  he  said  to
    "Do you remember the comment you made  just  before  picking  up  the
chamber?," she said with a sly grin. "The one  about  maybe  breaking  the
record for top speed?"
    "I sure do," said Joe with a smile of his own.  We  sure  broke  that
one, gang."
    "If we can get home to brag about it, that is," pitched in Shaun.
    "What are we going to do?," asked Michaela.
    "First," said Shaun, "is get out of the junk  zone.  Once  above  the
ecliptic we have time to plan and then we will see."
    "It seems to me," said Joe, "that the  SC  drive  works  on  magnetic
fields. Could we do any fly-by's and drop any speed that way?"
    "Maybe," said Shaun quickly. He called up the solar system on the big
plotting table and put the current course in. "Earth, Mars and Jupiter are
out," he said at once. But Saturn, Uranus and either Neptune or Pluto  are
well within our parameters. Nice thinking Joe!"
    The course correction took nearly no time at  all  and  Michaela  was
soon on her way back to Charlie's cabin, leaving the two men to plan alone
on the bridge. Unfortunately there was  no  information  on  the  magnetic
fields of any of the planets in the limited memory of the ship's comp.  At
last though,they had the course laid out and then went down  to  check  on
Dr. Quade.
    "Shh," said Michaela when they tried  to  push  their  way  into  his
cabin. He's sleeping now but he did wake up. He is  complaining  of  chest
pains and his legs feel like they are asleep. I am afraid the  strain  put
too heavy a load on his heart. He will have to take it easy for a while. I
taped his ribs though, just in case."
    Joe and Shaun traded knowing grins but neither man said anything. Joe
took Michaela by the arm and pulled her away from Dr. Quade. "Let us  know
what is happening with him. We have a few more maneuvers to  make  in  the
next few days and we  don't  want  to  injure  him  any  more.  But  these
maneuvers must be done if we have any chance of getting home."
    "I understand and I will do my best. She caught Joe  by  surprise  by
giving him a quick kiss before sending him out the door with Shaun.
    Joe spent the next week checking  and  repairing  systems  that  were
damaged by the SC drive. Due to  the  earlier  work  they  had  done,  few
systems needed very much work and soon he had all shipboard systems up  to
one hundred percent capacity.
    And over the next twelve days Dr Quade improved  greatly.  The  chest
pains were gone after the second day  and  the  circulation  problems  had
nearly cleared up.
    Joe and Shaun had flipped the ship a few days  earlier  so  that  any
gees applied would be in the proper direction, along the axis of the ship.
Charlie had diverted as  much  power  as  possible  to  the  accumulators.
Although they were not fully charged, they did carry enough power for  the
coming operation.
    Finally, all four were assembled on the bridge and were strapped into
their seats. As the gauss meter began to show a slight magnetic field, Joe
engaged the SC drive. At first the gee force was negligible but it  slowly
built up until it stood at one and a half gees. In an hour it was all over
and the Giant Killer, pursuing it's long  course  outward,  headed  toward
it's next appointed rendezvous with Uranus.
    Joe had connected the accumulator to the field coils as soon  as  the
SC drive had been cut off "Might as well take every advantage we have," he
    "How much did we lose?,"  asked  Shaun  once  Joe  had  finished  his
    "Not enough," Joe replied. "About one hundred thousand  KPH.  We  are
still way up over three mil."
    "Next stop, Uranus," announced Shaun. We will give it another try  in
about ten days or so."
    Joe noticed that Michaela seemed to seek out  his  company  more  and
more over the next few days and the time passed quickly for them until the
day came when they all found themselves back on the bridge with Uranus  on
the screen.
    "Field is stronger, Captain," reported Joe. Charlie quickly energized
the SC drive and again the gee's built up. This time, deceleration  topped
two and a half gees and the deceleration period was much longer also.
    "Dropped almost a mil," called Joe when the figures came in.
    Nothing was said on the bridge as the ship bent  it's  course  toward
the last meeting in the solar system.
    "Which one?," asked Joe. The four had gathered  in  the  galley  over
coffee. "If we pick the wrong one, that's it. Last chance!"
    "Does it really matter?," asked Charlie. "There is no way we can drop
two million kilometers per hour, no matter how strong the field is."
    "So what the hell should we do?," asked Shaun. "Quit?"
    "No, we have to keep trying," Charlie said. "At  least  it  keeps  us
    "So what do we do next?"
    "I don't know," admitted Shaun. "I'm all out of answers."
    "We all are," agreed Michaela with a sad sigh.
    Joe left the galley to escape the oppressive atmosphere and  Michaela
hurried after him, catching up to  him  in  the  passage  leading  to  his
    "Are we going to die?," she blurted, before Joe knew she was there.
    "Probably," admitted Joe. And as he turned to face her,  she  slipped
into his arms.
    "Make love to me? Please?," and together they slipped  silently  into
his cabin.
    The following day the four met back in the galley. "Which of the  two
would take less fuel to reach?," asked Charlie.
    "Neptune," said Shaun quickly.
    "Then I think that is where we should go."
    "Why?," asked Joe.
    "We started this whole trip to deliver the synthesis chamber  to  the
belt. Our first priority is  to  the  belt.  The  first  thing  we  do  is
decelerate as much as possible by passing  Neptune.  Then  we  unship  one
engine and the fuel tank with all of our remaining  reaction  mass.  Since
most of the mass will be gone,  the  engine  will  have  enough  power  to
deliver the synthesis chamber to the belt."
    "Then that's it?," asked Michaela.
    "Yes, that's it," agreed Charlie. But there will be plenty to keep us
busy. Joe and I have to build a guidance module and then we have  to  bolt
the whole thing together. And nothing heavy can be done  until  after  the
Neptune pass because we cannot afford to have loose equipment  during  the
gee maneuvers."
    Joe and Michaela spent as much time together as possible. In the next
few weeks most of Joe's time was spent with Charlie on the guidance module
but he found time to be with Michaela. At last  they  were  both  relieved
when the module was completed and it had passed it's's final tests.
    "Acceleration stations folks,"  announced  Shaun  "We  have  Magnetic
field indication." Two hours later  it  was  all  over.  Less  than  three
hundred thousand KPH had been lost and they were still up over two mil. No
words were said among the four. No words were needed.
    "I suggest a good long sleep," said Shaun. We will need  all  of  our
energy for the next few months." The last thing Charlie did was switch  on
the charging system before leaving the bridge.
    There was a lot of preparation to be done before the heavy work could
be started. Detailed plans were made and parts were laboriously fabricated
to connect the engine to the synthesis module. During this time,  Michaela
decided that Joe's arm had finally healed and removed  his  cast,  finally
allowing Joe to do much more of the heavy work than before.
    Once the connectors had been completed,  the  synthesis  chamber  was
unshipped and moved alongside the ship. The removal  of  the  engine  went
relatively quickly and was soon mated to the module.
    "Michaela," called Joe. "We need the guidance package.  It's  on  the
bridge, connected to the navigation computer. Will you get it for us?"
    She had no trouble locating the module. The ship's comp had  finished
the final programming run and it was  ready  to  be  installed.  Her  path
brought her near the SC drive console and her gaze came  to  rest  on  the
charging meter.
    "Strange," she thought. "Why is the console showing we  are  charging
the accumulators?"
    She keyed the intercom quickly. "Dr Quade,  could  you  come  to  the
bridge please?," she asked.
    "Is there something wrong with the module?," he asked, concerned.
    "No, something else. But I'm not sure what it is."
    Charlie wasted no time at all  getting  up  to  the  bridge.  He  was
followed closely by Shaun and Joe, who had been delayed because  of  their
pressure suits.
    "I'm not sure what it means," she said once he had arrived.  "But  we
seem to be charging the accumulators!"
    A surprised look crossed the face of Charlie and he took a quick look
at the charging display. "She's right," he said. "We  are  in  a  magnetic
field, it seems."
    "We must get the chamber back aboard now!," ordered Shaun.
    "What about the engine?," asked Joe.
    "Leave it on. The whole  package  should  fit  inside.  Just  get  it
secured. Joe, you come with me. Michaela, you  man  the  pilot's  console.
Charlie, secure everything loose around the ship that you  can  find.  And
Michaela?, please run a scan forward and try  to  find  out  what  we  are
running into, okay?"
    The four split up. Shaun and Joe retrieving their pressure suits  and
met at the main airlock. They each carried a  portable  thruster  to  help
move the chamber. It turned out to be a long and laborious job but at last
they got the chamber, engine and all back into  the  central  cavity.  The
module itself, being relatively small, fit with no  problem.  However  the
engine, being quite a bit larger was much harder to fit. It took them much
longer than expected to finally get it secured for the high-gee  maneuvers
to come.
    At last they were finished and cycled back  through  the  main  lock.
Once out of their suits they joined Charlie and Michaela on the bridge.
    "What have we got?," asked Shaun.
    "Charon!," announced Michaela to a surprised  Shaun.  At  least  what
people would have called Charon until Pluto's  moon  was  discovered.  The
tenth planet at any rate!"
    "The tenth planet?," asked Joe.  "Are  you  sure?  People  have  been
looking for it for a hundred years!"
    "They weren't looking for it in  the  right  place!,"  said  Michaela
    "How so?," asked Shaun.
    "It's simple, really,"  said  Michaela.  "The  solar  system  follows
strict laws concerning the placement of the  planets.  Modern  astronomers
were able to predict the orbits of the  outer  planets  before  they  were
actually spotted. With the exception of Pluto, and now this new planet. We
are calling it Dys, another of the aspects of hell. All  the  others  fall
within this rigid set of rules."
    "So why are Pluto and Dys different?," asked Joe.
    "Pluto's orbit is deformed. There are times when  Pluto  is  not  the
outermost planet. Neptune is. The standard explanation is that Pluto is  a
captured planet. Also, due to the wobble of Pluto, a tenth planet has been
speculated for years but no one had been able to find it.  The  answer  is
simple. It's not where it is supposed to be!"
    Charlie sat in the Navigation console, letting Michaela  talk.  After
all, she had found it, let her have her fun.
    "It's out of position by a few billion  kilometers.  And  that's  not
all. Pluto's orbital deformation is not due to  the  fact  that  it  is  a
captured planet at all. It was formed right here where all  of  the  other
planets were.
    "Then what is causing it's deformation?," asked Joe.
    Michaela wore a smug smile, savoring the puzzled  looks  on  Joe  and
Shaun's faces. "Dys is. It's gravity is what is causing the deformation!,"
announced Michaela.
    "It's gravity?," asked Shaun. "How big is Dys anyway?, it would  have
to be huge," he said finally.
    "Actually, it's tiny. The pictures we have  received  show  that  the
physical size of Dys Beta is smaller than our moon."
    "Back up," said Joe. You said Dys Beta"
    "Correct. We have pictures of Dys Beta. We haven't actually seen  Dys
Alpha yet but it seems to be a small rotating black hole, with Dys Beta in
orbit around it."
    "A black hole?," said Joe, finding it hard to believe. "Are you sure?"
    "No, we aren't. Beta is orbiting what seems to be an empty  point  in
space. There is a tremendous magnetic field  surrounding  it  and  we  can
measure it's gravitational field due to the effects it has on Beta and  on
distant Pluto. Although we haven't seen it yet we  do  know  it's  there,"
said Charlie finally.
    "How big is it?," asked Shaun.
    "Small. Very small. About one one hundredth  the  size  of  our  sun.
Probably the remnant of a long-dead supernova, said Charlie.
    "Have you officially named  it  yet?,"  Shaun  asked  Michaela.  "The
discoverer of a new planet is entitled to name it, you know."
    "Yes, she did," said Charlie. The planetoid will retain the name  Dys
but I have entered the name of the black hole as the Riecce Singularity!"
    "You did what!," screeched Michaela. "You never told  me  that!,  how
could you do that?"
    "It was simple. A few buttons on the keyboard and it's done. Besides,
you did discover it."
    "That's not what I meant and you know it!"
    "Sure. But you would have never have agreed  to  it  if  I  told  you
before I did it!"
    "Damn right I wouldn't have. What makes you think I wanted  a  planet
named after me?"
    "Well do you?," Charlie asked bluntly.
    She softened slightly. "Well, now that it's done, it is nice. And how
many people have a planet named after themselves?"
    "A lot of Gods, that's who," said Shaun,  enjoying  her  predicament.
"You are in good company. If I do say so. But anyway. We have a job to do.
Acceleration stations everyone.
    "How strong is the field," Shaun asked  Charlie,  once  everyone  had
taken their seats.
    "Strong, strong enough," said Charlie at last.
    "Gauss reading?," asked Shaun.
    "It will stop us," said Charlie
    "But how fast?," asked Shaun. "Is it too strong?"
    Charlie knew without checking that the field was  stronger  than  the
solar field but also knew he couldn't tell  Shaun.  This  was  their  last
chance and he wouldn't allow anyone to pass it by.
    "Not bad, Shaun. We'll all make it," he lied. "Ready when you are."
    "Joe," ordered Shaun. "Set the comp to cut off the SC drive when  our
speed is low enough to put us in orbit around Dys."
    "Done," said Joe,  entering  a  sequence  of  commands  on  his  comp
    "Then this is it, folks," said Shaun. "See you on the other side!"
    The four of them braced for the shock. Charlie flipped the switch and
the big ship shook and bucked against the enormous acceleration forces.

    A distinguished man stood facing a gleaming statue set in front of an
elegant building. The sparkle  of  the  transparent  dome  could  be  seen
overhead, slightly dimming the brilliant stars. Beside him  stood  a  boy,
just entering manhood. On the base of the statue was a brass plaque.

    Dr. Charles Quade
    Erected by the grateful people of the federation of
    free asteroids as a memorial to his sacrifice.
    Born: Chicago: 2021
    Died: Dys B: 2079

    "You knew him, didn't you, dad?"
    "Yes son. I counted him as one of my best friends."
    "Do you know how he died?"
    "We studied the revolution in history but so much was left out.  Like
how he died and who the crew was. It was glossed over in school and no one
seems to know any more that what is in the official texts."
    "At first it was to protect the crew  from  the  retaliation  of  the
Earth Government once they found out the truth. Later, when it was obvious
that Earth could not  mount  a  retaliatory  expedition,  to  protect  the
privacy of the crew."
    "Then you know who the crew members were?" The boy asked eagerly.
    "Do you remember meeting Shaun O'Cassidy?"
    "The old man in the Hospital? Sure I do."
    "He was the Captain of the Giant Killer."
    "Is that where he got his injuries?"
    "Yes. It was a miracle that he survived." Joe turned to face his son.
"Tonight is our last night here and I believe you deserve the whole  tale.
The truth." He led his son to a low bench beneath a tree, growing close to
the side of the magroad.
    "You learned the important things in history. Why  the  Giant  Killer
was sent, the solar flare that killed thirty-five men and three ships  and
you learned of the discovery of Dys A and B.
    "Yes, I know that all the history books say is that the crew  brought
the ship back to the belt and that Dr. Quade was dead. It goes into  great
detail about setting up the beanstalk and  how  it  revitalized  the  belt
    "And then there was the whole section on the Earth's belief that  the
Synthesis chamber was stolen by an alien culture, the subsequent  collapse
of Earth's economy and the break-up of the World Senate.  And  of  how  we
took over  the  Mercury  outpost  and  are  now  engaged  in  the  massive
rebuilding of Earth. It's ironic. The Earth Senate decided that  the  Belt
population was surplus and  condemned  them  to  die,  and  nearly  killed
themselves in the process.
    "I remember all of that dad," the boy interrupted.
    "Well, when Charlie engaged the SC drive.."
    "You mean the Quade drive, right?"
    "Okay, the Quade drive. He knew that he could not take the high  gees
to come. So he reported a much lower flux density.  The  deceleration  was
immediate and crushing. Peak deceleration hit fifteen plus  gees.  By  the
time we realized what was happening it was too late to stop. Charlie  died
almost immediately."
    "Michaela, your mother came through better than the  rest  of  us.  I
re-broke my arm, cracked three ribs, my lower  leg  was  broken  in  three
places and my right ankle was also broken.
    "Michaela cracked a couple of ribs, broke three fingers and two toes.
    "Captain O'Cassidy's spine was  broken,  his  pelvis  and  right  leg
fractured and he suffered a serious concussion.  If  it  hadn't  been  for
Michaela, none of us would have made it back. She nursed us back to health
and returned the ship to the belt. I'll never know how she managed it, but
she did. Considering the fact that we were missing a main engine,  it's  a
miracle that any of us are alive today."
    "Both you AND mom?," the boy asked in awe.
    "That's where we met. And we've been together ever since. Joe  stood.
"It's time we got back. We'll be late if we don't hurry.
    A shuttle was waiting for the two of them at the small port. Overhead
they could see the huge ship waiting for them. A  very  short  flight  put
them at the shuttle access lock, the large  doors  sliding  open  as  they
approached, allowing the shuttle to slip into the big bay.
    "Welcome aboard, sir," said a junior Officer, saluting smartly.  "The
Captain is waiting for you on the bridge"
    Joe returned the salute. "Thank you, ensign. Carry on." He turned  to
his son. "Let's go see what he wants, okay?"
    They took the tubelift up to the bridge level where they were met  by
the Captain. "Admiral," said Abe Fortas, once Joe had stepped out  of  the
lift. We were waiting for your return before removing  spin.  All  systems
are go and your wife left you a message. She said that she would  see  you
later after her duties in Navigation are over."
    "Then let's take her out," said Joe to the waiting bridge crew.
    "Aye aye, sir." Abe keyed a switch on his console. "May I  have  your
attention please," he announced through the big ship. "Free fall  in  five
minutes. Crew to  acceleration  stations  please.  Initial  boost  in  ten
minutes and High-gee acceleration in one hour." Control jets fired on  the
hull of the huge ship. Slowing it's rotation  to  a  stop.  Large  engines
flamed into life, moving the huge  ship  slowly  away  from  it's  orbital
position, moving closer and closer to the invisible singularity.  Finally,
in position, the engines were cut off and the Quade drive was engaged.  At
six gees, the huge ship, unrecognizable  as  the  once  rebel  Alpha  base
headed outward into the interstellar void on a straight  line  course  for
Alpha Centauri.
    "Admiral," an ensign interrupted. "A message has been  received  from
President Efram Caine."
    "Please read it," ordered Joe.
    "To interstellar ship Explorer. Good luck. Our hearts and good wishes
go with all of you."

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