The interrogators had bled him pale for information but all he revealed consisted of the names and addresses of the heads of two Mafia families, one of which was now running the gambling in Atlantic City, and the names of four United States senators who were on Mafiosi payrolls and one judge of the Supreme Court they had blackmail on. So what's new?
The Chief Interrogator—an Apparatus officer named Drihl, a very thorough fellow—had added a note:
A rather useless and uninformed acquisition as he was only a hit man and not privy to upper-level politics and finance. Would suggest the order, if the data required is of operational importance, be reforwarded to Blito-P3 to kidnap someone of a more informed rank.
But that wasn't where Bawtch had made his mistake. It was in the orders endorsement section at the end, the place where I have to stamp.
It was an "unless otherwise directed" form. It said:
Unless otherwise directed, said Gunsalmo Silva shall be hypnoblocked as to his stay in Spiteos and shall then be forwarded to the Extra-Confederacy Apparatus Hypno-School of Espionage and Infiltration, trained and hypnoblocked concerning his kidnapping and returned in memory suspension for further disposition by the Base Commander on Blito-P3.
The form had a second line:
If said subject is to be discontinued—a clerical euphemism for being killed—the ordering officer is to stamp here:_________.
There was the place right there where it could be stamped!
And that careless Bawtch had not marked it urgent and had not presented it to me for stamping, even though he knew very well that if the form was not stamped in two days, the "unless otherwise directed" would go into effect. A criminal omission! Leaving a line that could be stamped unstamped was about the sloppiest bureaucracy anybody could imagine!
I hastily thumbed through the next half-dozen forms. Yes, indeed. Old Bawtch was really slipping. I knew that sour temper would do him in someday. There were seven forms here which—unless otherwise directed—ordered people to be hypnoblocked and sent elsewhere. Every one of them had a "discontinued" line which could be stamped! The old fool had missed every one of them. Him and his flapping side-blinders. Oh, it was a good thing for him I wasn't back on Voltar. I would throw them on his desk and say in a haughty voice, "I
knew you were slipping, Bawtch. Look at those unstamped, perfectly stampable lines!"
Well, maybe I wouldn't have said that. But the incident cheered me up quite a bit. Imagine old Bawtch forgetting to give me something to stamp! Incredible!
Then a sudden thought struck me. The Prahd package! The one that contained his overcoat and duplicate identoplate and the forged suicide note. I had been so hurried that night, I'd forgotten to give it to a courier to hold and mail a week after we left. That package was still sitting there on the floor beside my office desk.
Oh, well, we can't remember everything, can we? A mere detail. Unimportant.
I plowed on through the rest of the pile and finished them. I was disappointed that I had not consumed more time. I didn't want to go back to sleep. I couldn't, actually. And here I was careening through space, boxed in, in a little steel-alloy cubicle with nothing to do but think. And thinking was something I wanted to avoid just now.
I saw that the bulkhead clock had acquired a new circle. It said:
Blito-P3 Time, Istanbul, Turkey
I did a calculation. My Gods, I had more than twenty-two hours yet to go in this (bleeping) metal box. If this were a self-respecting warp-drive freighter, taking a proper six weeks, I would probably have gotten into some dice games by now or caught up on a backlog of hunting books or even reshows of Homeview plays I'd missed. Heller and his tug! No recreation! One got there so fast, one could only depart and arrive and no time to go.
Suddenly a blue screen in the wall turned on. A jingling bell attracted attention to it. It said:
Due to the possible orbital miscalculations of the Royal officer who plotted the travel course, arrival at the destination base would have been just before daylight local time.
Therefore, the actual commander of this vessel has been forced to apply prudence based on years of valuable experience which some Royal officers do not have and adjust the landing time to early evening at the destination base.
This means that we must dawdle in warp drive the last few million miles in order to arrive in early evening, after dark, instead.
This advances our arrival time 12.02 hours sidereal.
The Actual Captain
I blew up! (Bleep) Heller anyway. Making a silly mistake like that.
Keeping me not just twenty-two but another thirty-four hours in this (bleeped) box.
I was furious!
I was going back and give him a piece of my mind. The worst piece of it I could locate!
I got up. An electric arc from the table corner zapped my bare hand. I put my feet on the floor. An arc leaped off a studding and hit me in the toe. I grabbed for a steadying handrail and the blue snap of electricity
almost burned my fingers. This (bleeped) tug was alive with electricity!
Somebody had laid out some insulator gloves and boots. I got them on.
I jabbed at a communicator button to the aft area. "I'm coming back to see you!" I yelled.
Heller's voice answered, "Come ahead. The doors are not locked."
It was time I put him in his place!
Here we were, tearing through space like madmen, only to have to wait and only because he had made a stupid mistake. Forcing the ship to go this fast could blow it up. And all for nothing!Chapter 4
Maybe it was because I was still confused as part of the after effects of the speed or because all the wild sparks flying around got me rattled, but I had a bad time of it trying to find my way through the "circle of boxes." I got my hands zapped, even through the insulator gloves, on two different silver rails, and to add pain to injury, I got my face too close to a doorframe and my nose got zapped.
Heller was in the top lounge with all the huge black windows.
The moment I entered, I yelled at him, "You didn't have to go this fast!"
He didn't turn around. He was half-lying in an easy chair. He had on a blue insulator suit and hood and he was wearing blue gloves.
He was idly playing a game called "Battle." He had
it set up on an independent viewing screen and his opponent was a computer.
"Battle," in my opinion, is a silly game. The "board" is a three-dimensional screen; the positions are coordinates in space; each player has fourteen pieces, each one of which has special moves. It presupposes that two galaxies are at war and the object is to take the other player's galaxy. This itself is silly: technology is not up to two galaxies fighting.
Spacers play it against each other, by choice. When they play it against a computer, they almost always lose.
I looked at his back. He was a lot too calm. If he only knew what I had in store for him, he wouldn't be so relaxed! So far as games went now, they were all stacked against him. He would be a couple dozen light-years from his nearest friend. He was one and we were many. I had him bugged. And he even thought this was an honest, actual mission. The idiot.
Suddenly, with a flash, the image of the board blew out. It gave me a lot of satisfaction as he seemed to have been winning.
In a disgusted tone, he said, "That's the third time that board has wiped in the last hour." He shoved the button plate away from him. "Why bother to set it up again?"
He turned to me, "Your accusation about going too fast doesn't make sense, Soltan. Without a tow, this tug just goes faster and faster. It's what distance the voyage is, not what speed you set."
I sat down on a sofa so I could level a finger at him. "You know I don't know anything about these engines. You're taking advantage of me! It won't do!"
"Oh, I'm sorry," he said. "I guess they don't go into this very deeply at the Academy."
They did, but I had flunked.
"You have to understand time," he said. "Primitive cultures think energy movement determines time. Actually, it is the other way around. Time determines energy movement. You got that?"
I said I had but he must have seen I hadn't.
"Athletes and fighters are accustomed to controlling time," he said. "In some sports and in hand-to-hand combat, a real expert slows time down. Everything seems to go into slow motion. He can pick and choose every particle position and he is in no rush at all. There's nothing mystic about it. He is simply stretching time."
I wasn't following him, so he picked up his button plate and hit a few.
"First," he said, "there is LIFE." And that word appeared at the top of the screen. "Some primitive cultures think life is the product of the universe, which is silly. It's the other way around. The universe and things in it are the product of life. Some primitives develop a hatred for their fellows and put out that living beings are just the accidental product of matter, but neither do such cultures get very far."
He was flying into the teeth of my own heroes: psychiatrists and psychologists. They can tell you with great authority that men and living things are just rotten chunks of matter and ought to be killed off, which proves it! Just try and tell them there is such a thing as independent life and they'd order you executed as a heretic! Which shows they are right. But I let him go on. Not too long from now, he'd get what was coming to him.
"Next," said Heller, "there is TIME." And he put that on the screen. "And then there is SPACE." And he put that on the screen. "And then there is ENERGY. And then there is MATTER. And you now have the seniorities from top to bottom."
The board now said:
SPACE ENERGY MATTER
"As WE are life," he continued, "we can control this scale. Most living creatures are so much the effect of their environment that they think it controls them. But as long as you think this way, you won't get anyplace much.
"The reason we are an advanced technology is because we can control that scale there to some degree. A technology advances to the extent it can control force. That is the formula of technical success: the ability to control the factors you see there on that screen. If you get the idea they control you, you wind up a failure."
Oh, he was really into heresy now! Any psychologist can tell you that man is totally the effect of everything, that he can change nothing!
"So," said Heller, "we have to understand time a bit in order to at least try to control it. Actually, the idea of controlling time is inconceivable to savages. And in defense of them, it does seem the most immutable entity there is. Nothing seems to change it ever. It is the most adamant and powerful factor in the universe. It just inexorably crushes on and on.
"The Voltarian discoveries about time made them a space power.
"Time is the thing which molds the universe, unless interfered with by life.
"Time determines the orbits of the atom, the fall of the meteorite, the rotation of the planet and the behavior of a sun. Everything is caught up in an inexorable time cycle. In fact, nothing would exist were it not for time
which, below life, establishes the patterns of motion.
"It is time which says where something will be in the future.
"Fortunately, one can discover what this determination for the future is. Time has what you can call side bands—a sort of harmonic. We can read directly what time will cause to be formed, up to twenty-four hours in the future. Mathematicians have an inkling of this when they calculate object paths and positions. But it can be read directly."
He reached down and pulled a case out of a locker. It was one of the two time-sights which he had brought aboard. He showed me where the variable knob was and had me point it at the door.
I didn't know what I expected to see. The instrument was easy to hold, like a little camera. So I thought I would humor him and pretend to work it. The image was awful when seen through the eyepiece: it was green; it was more like a picture done on a printing machine with dots than a true picture of something. Still, I could make out the entrance to the room.
I twiddled the big knob on the side of it, not expecting more than additional dots. Then I seemed to see a shape. It seemed to be leaving the room. I looked at the door not through the machine. There was nobody there. I twiddled the knob again and got the shape back.
If you stretched your eyeballs and were good at reading dots, that image looked an awful lot like my back!
I twiddled the knob again. It made the image leave again. The image, now that I was more accustomed to it, looked defeated, all caved in! It made me angry. I wouldn't be leaving this room, all caved in! I thrust the time-sight back at him.
He read the dial: "Six minutes and twenty-four seconds. What did you see?"
I wasn't going to let him win anything. I shrugged. But I was cross.
"You have to have this to steer a ship running at high speeds," he said. "It tells you in advance whether you have run into anything and you can, in now, steer to avoid doing that. Life can alter things."
I determined right then to change leaving this room, caved in. "None of this excuses running these engines flat-out just to get there so we can wait!"
"Oh, yes," said Heller, recollecting what we were supposed to be talking about. "The Will-be Was engines.
"Now, in the center of a Will-be Was there is an ordinary warp-drive engine just to give power and influence space. There is a sensor, not unlike this time-sight, but very big. It reads where time predetermines a mass to be. Then the engine makes a synthetic mass that time incorrectly reads to be half as big as a planet. The ordinary power plant thrusts this apparent mass against time itself. According to the time pattern, that mass, apparently HUGE, should not be there. Time rejects it. You get a thrust from the rejection. But, of course, the thrust is far too great as the mass is only synthetic. This causes the engine base to be literally hurled through space.