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High G

James M. Heyden, head of the Advanced Research Projects Division of the Continental Multitechnikon Corporation, blew his breath out exasperatedly, sat back in the expensive aggregation of pads and springs that served as his desk chair, and read the handwritten note again:


Pat tells me we are now so far ahead of the international competition, defensewise, that no large new government orders can be expected. Introduction of any new and revolutionary gimcrack at this time would, therefore, be most unwelcome and inexpedient. So put the new gimmicks on the back burner, and get going full blast on that Kiddie Kit Science Series. We'll expect rapid progress, as we want the first three Kits on the market at least ninety days before Christmas. Naturally the Moon Krawler should be one of these first Kits.

Any suggestions you may have for utilizing our now top-heavy staff of technicians and engineers would be appreciated. We assume you will cull the deadwood. Remember that in pruning, you want to cut pretty close into sound wood, as this actually promotes rapid healing and leaves no dead stump to fester.

Also, you will of course bear in mind that we have a little different approach, expensewise, on items for the general public, as opposed to rush government orders. The Krawler should retail at not over $13.95, according to market simulation on our big new MIMIC computer. The Krawler, remember, does not have to fit into a cramped space, or endure high acceleration, vacuum, or a lunar landing. It won't break our hearts if the thing fails to last long enough for our great-grandchildren to play with it on Mars; of course, it shouldn't fall apart before the holidays are over, either.

I know I don't have to spell this out for you, Jim. Ed and I are going to be out on the coast for a couple of weeks, enjoying the California smog, and trying out those twelve-lane, six-deck highways they brag about. If the merger goes through, we'll be gone another week, anyway, but that won't matter. We'll be so diversified then that nothing but another 1929 could really put us under.

So, bear down hard on the reconversion, streamlining, and rationalization of your operation. Incidentally, the MIMIC simulator indicates that the other two kits should sell, respectively, at $8.95 and $29.95. Obviously, you can shoot the works on the later model, though we'll expect a more generous profit, too.

Just what these other two kits should be, we don't know, as our programmer was evidently unable to figure out just how to put the question to the computer. The computer gave out nothing but gibberish on the subject. So we'll leave that up to you.
This is, of course, all your responsibility, Jim, but I hope you'll be generally guided by the spirit of these few suggestions.

We'll look forward to seeing things well along when we get back from Cal.



Heyden sat up straight, and swore. He hit the intercom button.


There was a startled feminine squeak, "Sir?"

"Dig up that note from Stu Grossrad—the one he sent about eighteen months ago—the one that said 'full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes,' and so on."

"That was longer ago than eighteen months. I think"

"Never mind that. Dig it up. And the one before that—that one about blasting out a foxhole and hiding in it. And the one before that, too—I think there was one before that."

Heyden sat back and looked over the note. A fresh burst of profanity escaped him just as his secretary came in with several sheets of paper, and then, blushing bright pink, turned to leave.

"Hold on," said Heyden. He looked over the previous notes, and glanced up at her. "Listen to this: '. . . the sky's no limit, boy. With this monster government program shaping up, we can carve off any size chunk we can eat. So beef up your technical staff, get that wild blue yonder stuff out of the deep freeze, shove this low-key junk we're working on onto a back burner, and set your sights on Arcturus . . .'"

Heyden looked up in angry indignation. "There's three pages like that."

"Yes, sir." His secretary looked baffled for a moment, then struggled to match his look of indignation.

"And," said Heyden, reaching for an earlier note, "before that, we had this business:

"'. . . too bad, but the bottom has gone out the way it can only go out when Uncle pulls the plug, and now instead of cruising along in ten fathoms of deep green sea, all of a sudden we're grinding on the rocks. We're going to have to shorten sail and throw the ballast overboard, or we're ended right here. We're top heavy with hypertechnical stuff that nobody wants but Uncle—when he wants it. And now he doesn't want it. So get rid of it. Junk the heavy projects. What we need is a money-maker, fast . . .'"

Heyden shoved that aside, glared up at his secretary, who swallowed nervously, and then he reached for the earliest sheet of paper, settled back, and read aloud:

"'. . . the opportunity of the century, boy. We can get in there on the ground floor. The public is screaming for action. Congress is boiling over with urgency. It's "Get results! Damn the expense!" I don't need to tell you that in an atmosphere like this, the streets are paved with golden opportunity. Now's the time to beef up your technical staff, build for the future, get in on the ground floor, and . . .'"

Heyden slapped the papers down. "And so on, for pages. Well, there we are. Just what do you think of that?"

His secretary scanned his face quickly and looked indignant again.

"You see," said Heyden angrily, "just what happens here. We're like a damn-fool rocket that wastes half its thrust decelerating. Now we're supposed to unload people we pirated away from other outfits six months ago. Twelve to eighteen months from now, we'll be scrambling to get these very same people back again. We set up a winning team, then when we get a few points ahead in the international game, we have to disband it. The other team, over across the ocean, keeps on playing, and all of a sudden there comes a howl from the fans. The opposition is wiping us all over the field. Then, quick, we've got to put together a winning team again. And then, again, when we get a few points ahead—" His face changed expression, and for a moment he looked boiling mad. Then he blew out his breath, and shrugged. "It's like a manic-depressive psychosis. The wasted energy is terrific. And when we're on the 'down' half of the cycle, if the other side should just get far enough ahead—"

"Yes, sir," said his secretary agreeably. "That's just what you said the last time, sir. Did you want to see Mr. Benning, or should I—"

Heyden scowled. "What does Benning want?"

"He says it's about that advanced 'High-G' project. I knew you'd be busy reading Mr. Grossrad's letter, so I had Mr. Benning wait."

Heyden shrugged. "It's all academic now. But send him in."

"Yes, sir." She went out. A moment later, a tall intense man with blue eyes that seemed to be lit from within walked through the doorway, carrying under one arm a bundle wrapped in dark green paper. He shut the door, walked directly to Heyden's desk and set the bundle down. There was a faint light crackle of paper, and then the bundle tipped lightly back and forth, resting on the desk with all the solidity of a piece of hollow balsa wood.

Having set the bundle down, Benning now glanced all around furtively, then nodded to Heyden. "Well," he said, in a low secretive voice, "we got it."

Heyden was glancing from the bundle to Benning. He'd never seen Benning like this before.

Benning, blue eyes glowing, repeated, "We got it." He turned, glanced around the room, put his finger to his lips, and reached across the stupefied Heyden's desk to pick up a scratch pad. He scribbled rapidly as Heyden, with fast-growing uneasiness, moved his chair back so he'd have freedom of action if it suddenly developed that Benning had gone off the deep end.

Benning sat down across the desk, and slid the pad to Heyden. Heyden read:

High-G total success. Working model right there across the desk from you. Don't talk about it out loud. Have reason to think your office here is bugged.



Heyden glanced rapidly from the pad to Benning to the green-wrapped package. For a moment he considered what it would mean if Benning was telling the truth. The package immediately looked like a huge bundle of big green banknotes. He came back to earth and reminded himself that Benning might be out of his head. He wrote rapidly on the pad: Bugged by who, the Russians? and said aloud. "When you come in here with that pretentious look, Ben, you better have something to back it up. You say you 'got it.' Don't just sit there looking happy. You got what?"

Benning could now do any of a number of things, and Heyden sat on the edge of his chair, watching intently to see what came next.

Benning looked at the pad, glanced at places where a "bug" might be hidden, and crossed his fingers to show he spoke for the benefit of uninvited listeners. "What we've got is a damn good gimmick to get us a government contract on this, boy. We've run into a little glimmer of pay dirt on this one. I can see just how to start the golden flood pouring in, and keep it flowing for years."

He wrote rapidly on the pad, and shoved it across the desk. Heyden read:

Not the Russians. I. I.

Heyden winced and glanced around. "M'm," he said aloud. "Well, I don't know. I got quite a note from Stu Grossrad."

Benning sat up. "No kidding."

"No kidding."

"What did Stu say?"

"What does he ever say. It's either 'Full speed ahead!' or 'Emergency reverse!' The last time we were supposed to go all out, shoot the works. Naturally, this time we're supposed to chop off all the deadwood, shove everything we're working on now onto the back burner, and pull that toy kit idea off the back burner and put it onto the front burner. Whenever we're eager to do something, we're supposed to let it congeal on the back burner. When we couldn't care less about the thing, then we're supposed to work on it. How does this fit in with your bright new idea?"

"Not so hot. What toy kit is that?"

Heyden wrote I. I. You mean Interdisciplinary Intellectronetics? Or Interspatial Ionics?

He shoved the pad across the desk, then handed over the note from Grossrad. "Read it. You'll remember."

Benning crackled the paper, glanced at the pad, wrote briefly, looked back at the note, wrote some more, glanced at the note and groaned.

"Ye gods. Hasn't somebody else got a Moon Krawler out by now? This thing was a bright idea when we thought of it. It's stale now." He slid the pad across, and Heyden read:

I mean Interdis-, etc.-Jawbreaker Electronics, Inc.

Heyden wrote, Where did you learn this? Aloud, he said, "Naturally, we'll be supposed to gimmick it up with flashing lights, clicking noises, and a recorded voice like a talking doll, only more mechanical. No doubt the thing should have claws that open and shut, a power scoop for, quote, taking samples of the lunar surface, end-quote, and maybe a guide-wire to control it with as it crawls across the living-room rug waving its claws."

"Boy," said Benning. "From the sublime to the ridiculous in one easy jump." He shoved the pad back. "What's this business about the $29.95 item? What toy could we make that anyone would be crazy enough to buy at that price?"

Heyden was reading: Right from the horse's mouth. Their Industrial Intelligence chief. They're in some kind of financial cramp, want to cut his salary and slash his staff, "temporarily."

Heyden said, "Take a look through some recent toy catalog. You'll get a shock." He wrote, Is he reliable?

Benning had been rapidly scanning Grossrad's note, but was now reading it more carefully. He glanced up in exasperation. "Listen to this: '. . . of course, it shouldn't fall apart before the holidays are over . . .' Isn't that nice?" He glanced at the pad, wrote rapidly, and said, "What kind of sleezy junk are we supposed to turn out, anyway?"

"Just so it sells," grunted Heyden. He took the pad, and read: That guy is as reliable as a rusted-out two-buck hair-trigger Spanish automatic. He just figures I. I. is double-crossing him, and he never lets anybody get ahead of him in that game.

"You realize," said Heyden, frowning, "we're going to have to let some people go and that we'll wish we'd kept them about eighteen months from now."

"Agh," growled Benning, still reading the note. "Listen to this: 'Introduction of any new and revolutionary gimcrack at this time would, therefore, be most unwelcome and inexpedient.' Just suppose we should hit on something new and revolutionary?" He tipped his head toward the green-wrapped bundle. "Then what? Are we supposed to think you can actually put it in cold storage, and keep it like frozen fish? Suppose somebody else gets it? What's the point of this whole thing, anyway?"

Heyden wrote: What's in that bundle? He slid the pad across the desk, and said, "Let's get back to the question of those people we're going to have to let go."

Benning wrote on the pad, then said aloud, "This is crazy."

"Do you think," said Heyden dryly, "that you're telling me something?" He glanced at the pad: Lift off the paper and see.

Heyden felt a tightness in his chest. He said, "Let's have that note from Grossrad. I've been reading some of his previous stuff here—" He stood up, gently pulled off the green paper—"and nobody can tell me anything new about how crazy—" He stared at the short length of board with square box attached, and slide-wire rheostat beside the box. Beneath the rheostat was a penciled arrow pointing to the right, and marked "Up".

Heyden felt a brief spasm of irritation. What was this supposed to be? Antigravity? He felt a brief wave of dizziness as he thought, Ye gods, what if it is?

Belatedly, he finished his sentence: "—how crazy a thing like this really is."

"But," said Benning sourly, "we're stuck with it? Is that what you mean?"

"Yeah." Heyden pulled the board toward him, noting its weird lightness, despite the fact that it felt solid enough to the fingers. "We're stuck with it, and we better figure out who to let go."

"I should think," said Benning, "that would be your job."

Heyden shoved the rheostat slider in the direction of the arrow. The board drifted up out of his hands, and started accelerating toward the ceiling. A hasty grab brought it down, but it continued to tug toward the sky.

"My responsibility," said Heyden, eyeing the board, "but I need your suggestions."

"As to who to fire?"

"Say, as to who to keep." He slid the rheostat slider in the opposite direction, and the board sagged so heavily that it seemed to Heyden that it must be made out of solid lead. Frowning, he said, "Take Magnusson, for instance. We could unload him to start with, I suppose."

"He's had a lot of expenses. His bank balance is pretty feeble."

Heyden was experimenting with the slider. He got the impression that as he approached either end, the weight or lift of the concealed device went off toward infinity. He paused to glance at the connections to the rheostat.

"Not our fault," he grunted.

"No, but—"

"The point is, that's his worry."

The board was headed for the ceiling again, and it felt as if it would tear Heyden's arm out by the roots. Scowling, he pulled the slider back toward the center.

Benning said, "I think we ought to be decent enough to give Magnusson enough time to get back on his feet."

"How about Simms?"

The board was so heavy Heyden had to rest it on the corner of his desk. As he pushed the slider further, the board settled immovably in place, as if spiked down.

"Well," said Benning evasively, "Simms has had a little streak of bad luck, too."

"What have we got," said Heyden, carefully pulling the slider back, "nothing but hard-luck cases?"

"Well, you know how it is"

"We've got to start somewhere."

"Sure, but poor Simms."

"We aren't going to get anywhere this way. Make out a list of the people you think are essential. I want them in groups, the most essential at the top of the list." He wrote on the pad: Did I. I.'s spy-chief say there was a visual pickup anywhere in here?

Benning glanced at the pad. "What the heck, Jim. I can't know which men are essential till I know what we'll have to do later."

"Just assume it's the usual thing, Ben. We've been through this before." He pulled the pad over, and read:

He didn't say. Personally, I doubt it.

Heyden wrote: We better explain this package, in case there's something outside.

Benning read it, and nodded.

Heyden said, "Well, forget that for now. What have you got over there in that paper?"

Benning shrugged. "A little promotion gizmo." He rattled the paper. "See, you look in these portholes, and you're inside the spaceship. Shows our control panel, amongst other things, for the Genie Project."

"Cute," conceded Heyden, smiling wryly. "Well that's down the drain now. Wrap it up and forget it."

"Based on the old-time stereoscope," said Benning, putting the actual board with its box and rheostat inside the paper wrapper. "Too bad. It seemed like a good—"

Heyden wrote on the pad, Let's go somewhere where we can talk. Aloud, he said sourly, "Put it on the back burner. Now, I've had enough of this for a while. Where are you headed?"

Benning glanced at the pad. "Back to my lab. You want to come along?"

Heyden put Grossrad's latest note in his pocket. "Sure."



They went out, walked down a lengthy corridor, went into a big airy structure built on the general lines of a hangar for dirigibles, walked along the wall to the right, and finally arrived at a door marked, "Private—Danger—Keep Out."

Heyden followed Benning inside, and down a short hall. Benning did something complicated at the door, then they stepped in. Benning snapped on the lights, then flipped another switch, and the room filled with sounds of laughing voices, the clink of glasses, cars starting up somewhere in the background, and a close-at-hand murmur and mumble that seemed to include every tone of voice conceivable.

"Okay," murmured Benning, "I think this room is safe enough, but if they have got anything in here, they're welcome to try and filter it out from this mess. You did see what we've got, plainly enough, back in your office?"

"I saw it. But did you see what we're going to run into when we try to convince Grossrad?"

"He couldn't be so stupid he wouldn't catch on to this."

"That's not the point. He says new gadgets aren't wanted. This means somebody higher up figures we've now settled down to a nice international stalemate, with us ahead of the opposition. This device, it strikes me, is going to make a lot of expensive equipment obsolete in a hurry."

"You're not just kidding. With this, we could put a man on the moon in a few weeks, not years from now. And that's just the start."

"What the Sam Hill is it, anyway?"

Benning frowned. "Did you ever hear the comparison of gravitational fields with the bending of frictionless surfaces?"

"I think I know what you mean. If you had a flat frictionless surface, flexible enough to bend when objects were placed on it, and if this whole frictionless surface were accelerating uniformly at right angles to the plane of the surface—"

Benning nodded. "That's it."

Heyden went on. "If you had such a frictionless surface, an object would slide across it in a straight line until it neared another object, when the dip in the surface caused by these objects would pull them toward each other. There would be, apparently, a 'gravitational field' around each object, the strength of the 'field' depending on the mass of the object."

"Exactly. This would cause the effect of attraction. Now, how would you create repulsion?"

"Well—" Heyden frowned. "There would have to be a hill—a ridge, or rise, in the frictionless surface. You could do it only if the surface had some other property—if it were made of the right metal, for instance, you could position magnets toward the stern of a properly shaped object resting on the surface, and this might create enough slope to cause the object to slide forward."

Benning was nodding and smiling broadly. "That's one idea. And how much power would it take?"

"It would depend on the properties of the surface."

"Yes. Well, we started this project without much hope that there was any physical counterpart to this comparison. But after tracking down some previously unexplained discrepancies, we found it. The effect can be made comparatively large, the power consumption is small, and by proper manipulation, we can create either a positive or negative deflection of the 'surface'. The result is, we've got a space drive."

Heyden sat back, and thought it over. "This just could be a nightmare. How complicated is it?"

"Mathematically, it's very complicated. Physically, it's not bad."

"This might make life very exasperating for everybody concerned with it."

Benning frowned. "Of course, it's bound to be highly classified. They'll doubtless bury it under a ton of regulations, but—Oh." Benning was silent. "Naturally, we discovered it. We shouldn't be running around at loose ends, ready to spill the works in the nearest bar."

"Naturally. That's one aspect. But there are others. Now, how much leverage do you get with this thing? How much advantage over a rocket, for instance?"

"Agh. Ye gods, a rocket."

"Could it beat a rocket for speed?"

"Easy. Weight for weight—I mean weight at rest with the device turned off—there's no comparison."

"How about for lifting a payload?"

"There's still no comparison. You don't have to lift a lot of cargo you're just going to fire out the tail end anyway."

"Could you put a warhead in one of these and hit within five miles a thousand miles away?"

Benning hesitated. "Not yet."

"But eventually?"

After a long silence, Benning said, "For accuracy, used as a missile power source, I fail to see any advantage in this. But you could knock one of your opponent's missiles off course with it. You might even smash it up in mid-air."

"How would you do that?"

"Make one big enough, with enough power back of it, make a strong enough mount and screw the thing down to a solid base—What do you think you've got? It's a tractor-repulsor unit. You can make a steep 'hill' in the 'frictionless surface' the missile is sliding along. What does that interpret as in physical reality? A violent repulsion. Then you can make a trough. Subject anything to sudden yanks and shoves, and what happens to it?"

Heyden nodded slowly.

Benning said, "Didn't I see you pick up Grossrad's note before we left?"

"Yes, you want it?"

"I'd like to look it over again."

Heyden felt through his pockets, and handed the note to Benning. Benning read the note amidst gales of hurrying girlish laughter that grew loud and faded, with male curses, mumbling, a variety of audible conversations, and a weird varying note in the background.

Benning grunted and looked up. "He sure doesn't leave any doubt about this 'no new advances wanted at this time'."

Heyden nodded. "That's what bothers me."

"But," said Benning, "Any good business man can see the potential in this."

"What potential? Where's the profit in something you can never put on the market because it's sure to be classified?"

"Well, the defense contracts, then."

Heyden shook his head gloomily. "Remember: 'we are now so far ahead of the international competition, defensewise, that no large new government orders can be expected.'"

Benning said angrily, "Can't you convince that guy—"

"Probably, but so what? Grossrad doesn't write contracts with himself. Suppose I convince him? Then he's got to convince somebody else. That guy has to convince the next one. At some point in there, someone conceivably may have to convince the defense secretary, and he may have to convince Congress. This is assuming it goes through all those offices and ever comes out again. Each of those guys is going to be hard to convince, precisely because he knows how hard it's going to be to convince the next man. Meanwhile, all we can do is chew our nails and wait for their decision."

Benning said, "While we're waiting, what if somebody else, say in some foreign laboratory, maybe even where they've got pictures of Big Brother hanging on the wall—What if they should come up with this?"

"Is that conceivable?"

"Sure, it's conceivable. I told you, physically, this thing is not too bad." He frowned. "Well, what then?"

Heyden frowned. "As soon as they make it public, count on us to get a contract so big we couldn't fill it if we were General Motors, U.S. Steel, and A.T. and T. combined. We'll have to kidnap every scientist and technician we can lay our hands on."

Benning said angrily, "We're missing something here. What if they don't make it public? What if they quietly build up a fleet of these things while we're sitting around waiting for the go-ahead? They could seal off outer space so tight we'd never get out there." An intense look appeared on Benning's face. "Think, Jim—what if they're building them right now?"

Heyden blinked, gave an irritated wave of his hand as if to dismiss the thought, then frowned. "How hard is it to make these things?"

"I've told you. The actual physical construction isn't too bad, once you know what to do."

There was a long period in which neither man said anything. Then Heyden said slowly, "You said, 'With this, we could put a man on the moon in a few weeks.' Did you mean that literally?"

Benning nodded. "Remember all the research that's already been done. Think of the problems we don't have, because the drive is no worry. Think how we're set up here. Sure, in three weeks, we could put a man on the moon."

"Could you mount the drive so it could also be used as a weapon?"

"Yes. And, for that matter, a smaller one could serve as an auxiliary weapon in flight, if you wanted. But it would take money."

Heyden thought it over, then grinned. "If Grossrad's going to have his Kiddie Kits ready in time, he's going to have to give us money."

"Are you serious?"

"Yes, I'm serious. This is the biggest technological advance in history."

Benning was wide eyed. "And what you're thinking of making is a full-size spaceship—good enough for an actual expedition?"

"That's exactly what I want—if we can make such a thing. No trim. No flimflam. Just let it work."

Benning seemed to lose some enthusiasm. "This is risky."

Heyden nodded. "You bet your life, it's risky. If Grossrad gets wind of it I'll be hung from the rafters. But never mind that. Are you sure you can do it?"

"Of course I'm sure." Benning frowned. "Right now we can do this better than Kiddie Kits. A month from now, if we follow Grossrad's letter, it'll be a different story. But—"

"Then this may be the only chance our side gets. We'd better take it."

Benning drew a deep shaky breath. "Okay."



The next two weeks passed in a blur of desperate activity that left Heyden no time to think of anything but the problem immediately in front of him. Benning's remark that a man could be put on the moon in a few weeks turned out to be a little optimistic.

Benning said exasperatedly, "I didn't figure in all that life-support stuff. So far as the drive is concerned, that's what I meant."

Heyden said angrily, "We could have put a corpse on the moon a long time ago."

"I'm sorry," said Benning. "We're coming fast, anyway. Thank heaven the thing is basically simple."

Before them loomed a big black shape like an overgrown boiler. It had all the sophistication of a sledge-hammer, but Benning insisted it could take off inside a week.

"You see," he said, "the only real problem with the drive is durability under stress. Theoretically, we could use that demonstration model I showed you. The trouble is that in practice if the drive-unit is too small, it will crush."

"That's nice. But we've got around that, have we?"


Heyden eyed the looming black boiler shape. "We don't want to get out there and get cooked."

"The other side shades from black into a pure reflective coating."

"How do we see out of it? In addition to the radar, which may fail on us?"

"There's a window in the end. Also, we're practicing with a light-weight kind of drive-unit. We figure we can use that as a sort of detector."

"How does it work?"

"To create a given negative bending or warping where there's a physical object present takes more power than where there isn't. Set things up right, and you can read the mass of the given object off a meter."

"How about the distance?"

"The reading drops in front and behind the object. There's no problem there."

Heyden stared at the looming shape and nodded slowly. He had no clear idea why there was no problem there; but there was nothing to do but take Benning's word for it, and hope things would turn out. He turned to make a final comment, then paused.

A bulky overalled form had just ducked out the door of the boiler-shape, and now, scowling deeply, pushed through a knot of people standing just outside. Carrying a flimsy sheet of yellow paper, he headed straight for Benning, and immediately got down to brass tacks.

"That inside-drive idea won't work. If we try that, we're going to swivel that drive around, stress the walls, and crack the window on the end. That leaves us with an air-leak. That drive has to go outside."

"That's insane," said Benning angrily. "With that size unit, the whole ship's inside the distortion."

"Maybe, but there's a fringe effect."

"We're inside it."

"We are? Look at this."

Benning took the paper. "Well . . . this is just a freakish—"

"Maybe it doesn't last long, but what's it going to do to that window?"

"Yes, but if we put it outside, it will still—"

"Not if we have it on a boom. That puts us outside that gradient."

Benning stared at him. "How long a boom?"

"About two hundred feet should do it."

"Two hundred—"

"Unless you can breathe vacuum, that's where it's got to go, if we make it that size."

Benning was staring at the flimsy sheet of paper as there came the sound of a feminine throat-clearing to Heyden's right. He glanced around to see his secretary holding out a special-delivery letter. Leaving Benning to deal with the technical problem, Heyden headed back to his office, and read the handwritten letter:


Well, boy, we've got the merger, but doing business with this outfit really puts your wallet through the wringer. I hope you're coming along fine with the Kiddie Kits. We'll need every cent we can scrape up, so pare expenses to the bone, and shave everything just as fine as you can. We're going to have to cut down more than I expected on the scientific talent, and I just hope we can pick them up again when we need them.

I know how this Kiddie Kit business must strike you after the stuff we've been working on, but when the oasis gets this dry, there's nothing to do but fold your tents and move on. Nothing we could produce, no matter how advanced, would get a really sympathetic hearing right now.

I don't mean to dwell on this, Jim. I know we can count on you all the way, even if it is a let-down. I keep harping on it because I think this toy business is going to make the difference, one way or the other. It's hard to believe, I know, but there it is.

Ed and I are both totally worn out. There are some things that you have to do in business that aren't very business-like, but there's no time to argue about that. You either do them or get kicked in the head, and somebody else walks off with the prize.

I must be more worn-out than I realized to go on like this. Well, here's to the merger, and stick to those Kiddie Kits. You don't know what it means to know we've got somebody back there we can count on.

We'll see you in a week, Jim.



Heyden swallowed and sat back dizzily.

When his vision cleared, there stood, across the desk, an apologetic individual from Purchasing. "Sorry, sir, but it seems we have to have your signature on this."

Heyden took it, and scowled at the figures. "Are you sure the addition is right?"

"Yes, sir. That special silver wire is expensive stuff."

Heyden sat still for a moment, then scratched out his name. The paper was briskly whisked away.

"Thank you, sir." The door shut, and the incident was gone beyond recall. Heyden picked up the note, read it through again, and shook his head. He started to get up, then changed his mind. He sat still a minute, then drew in a deep breath and let it out in a rough sigh. The realization went though him with inescapable finality that in seven days the ship would be ready or not ready.

And then something else, that he'd been vaguely aware of theoretically took on a sudden solidness and reality.

In seven days, he would be either a hero of broad vision, or a fool and a traitor.

And there was not a thing he could do about it.

He had made his move, and if it didn't work out, he could never, never explain it.

The first four or five days after that crawled past with Heyden almost in a daze. Time and again, between emergencies, he dredged up memories, trying to discover exactly how he had gotten into this. The astonishing thing was that, in retrospect the decision seemed to have been so easy. Blandly, calmly, he had given the decision that might wreck the corporation, and land him, personally, in the worst mess he'd ever been in.

His meditations were enlivened, toward the end of the week, by a telephone call from the comptroller.

"Hello, Jim?"

"Right here, Sam." Heyden tried without success to inject a little warmth into his voice. His voice retained a calm unconcerned coolness.

There was a hesitant cough over the phone. "Say, no offense, Jim, but what the devil is going on there?"

"Business as usual," came Heyden's voice, cool and totally assured. "Granted the changes that I'm sure Stu must have told you about."

"Well, Stu told me—" There was a brief pause. "Do you know something I don't know? Is that it?"

Heyden laughed. The sound was that of a man without a worry in the world. "Sam," his voice said cheerfully, "before I know if I know anything you don't know, I know you know I have to know what you know, otherwise I won't know, you know, if what I know is something you don't know."

"Ah, for—" Over the phone, the cautious voice sounded irritated but relieved. "Listen, we can kid all we want, but this is serious business."

"It is," said Heyden emphatically. After a moment, he added, "Thank heaven."

"What do you mean? Wait a minute, now, do you mean—" There was a long silence. "I know of course, that the merger went through, but I didn't realize—Do you mean that we're frying their fish?"

"All I can say is, this here is serious business. If Stu didn't tell you, I'm not going into it over the phone."

"What if I come down there?"

"Glad to see you anytime, Sam. But I can't mention it if Stu didn't."

"Did Stu say, specifically, not to tell me?"

"No. Of course not."

"Then why can't you—"

"Because he didn't tell me to mention it."

"Maybe I better call him up."

"No harm in it. Just don't give anything away over the phone."

"Then how the devil am I—"

Heyden said irritatedly, "Look, Sam, I'm sure it was an oversight on his part. Stu doesn't make a practice of leaving anyone in the dark. But he was worn out. I don't know what he had to do to put the merger across, but he seemed pretty thoroughly wrung out to me. Now, you can either try to locate him now, or you can wait a couple of days till he can tell you himself."

"All right. But meanwhile we're spending—"

Heyden exploded. "What do I have to do, spell it out? For Pete's sake, Sam! Look, do you think Stuart Grossrad is a commercial moron? With things the way they are now, would he deliberately stretch us out as thin as a rubber band? This merger wasn't a cheap proposition, you know."

"Well—the point of the merger was that, ultimately we'd reap the advantages of diversification."

"How would that get us through the next six months?"

There was a lengthy silence. Finally there was a long sigh over the telephone. "Did Stu tell you this beforehand?"

"Beforehand, all he told me was such a tale of misery I almost drowned in my own tears. No. He didn't tell me a thing, beforehand. What I couldn't figure out was why he was so eager for this merger, if there wasn't more in it than what he mentioned."

"He's smooth, all right. He wanted us psychologically set up to take full advantage of this. Or, if the merger fell through, he didn't want us moping around, thinking we'd lost our last chance. Either way it went, he was ready."

"I suppose that must have been it."

"Well—I just had to find out. No hard feelings, Jim?"

"Of course not, Sam. Any time."

"See you, boy."

"So long, Sam."

Heyden put the phone in its cradle, and mopped his forehead. He had, if Sam remained convinced, succeeded in hanging on to two more days. If, that is, Grossrad didn't decide to come back early. If there were no other catastrophes. Heyden glanced at his watch, and decided to go take a look and see how Benning was coming along.

It took Heyden some time to walk down the long corridor, but only a few moments more to find his answer. The big boiler shape stood in solitary glory in the hangar-like building, apparently forgotten. Everyone was fifty feet away, crowded around a smoldering mess about a foot-and-a-half long and eight inches in diameter, and that had, apparently, once been something useable. Benning had his hand at his chin, staring at this ruin. He, and the rest of the men, all looked so dazed and tired that Heyden didn't have the heart to ask what had happened. Wearily, he shut the door, went back to his office, and sat down.

"Well, Stu," he said mentally, "you see I thought we could make it to the moon . . . Yes, the moon . . . Yes, I know the thing doesn't work, Stu . . . That's where all the money went, Stu . . . That's right . . . Yes, Stu . . . Sorry . . . Yes . . . That's right, Stu—I mean Mr. Grossrad . . . Yes, Mr. Grossrad, I did it on my own responsibility . . . Yes, sir, I know, but—You see, sir, if somebody else had got it—And if it had worked, Mr. Grossrad, then . . . I know it didn't sir, but—"

Heyden abruptly sat up, and smashed his fist on the desk. "Damn it," he said savagely, "it's got to work!"

By the time he got to Benning again, Benning looked glassy-eyed with pure stupefaction, and the others had expressions that varied from ordinary gloom to total defeatist resignation.

Heyden told himself that he would have to keep himself under tight control.

"What's this?" he said abruptly, and a good deal louder than he'd intended.

Instantly, every eye in the room was focused on him. They watched him with the alert attention a man gets when he breaks the silence by cracking a bullwhip.

Benning turned around, his expression that of bafflement and disbelief. "This size builds up heat faster than we imagined. It's got to have a cooling system."

"Is that the drive-unit for the ship?"

"No, this is the forward unit. The ship drive-unit is bound to be worse yet."

"How long to rig up a cooling system?"

"Too long. We've not only got to cool the drive-unit itself, we've then got to unload all the heat from the cooling system. The stupefying thing is, we tested for this with smaller units, and the heat build-up was gradual and well within bounds. We've apparently run into some effect that increases exponentially with mass, while thrust—"

"Can you get the same thrust with a group of small units as with one large one?"

Benning blinked. "It wouldn't be as efficient, but yes, we could do that."

"Any drawbacks to having a bunch of them?"

"Yes. All the mounts have to be duplicated."

"Why not mount them together?"

"If they're too close, we've discovered they interact."

"Can you mount them far enough apart so they don't interact, but not so far apart as to make control impossible?"

"Yes, but the expense—"

"Damn the expense," said Heyden savagely. "How long will it take?"

Benning mopped his forehead. "If we work straight through without a break we can have it ready the day after tomorrow."

"All right. Starting now, everyone who volunteers to work straight through, and who sticks with it, gets quadruple pay, and a thousand-dollar bonus after taxes, if the job's done on time."

There was a brief sudden burst of excitement.

"My God!" blurted Benning.

"Look what's at stake!" said Heyden angrily. "Control of space! A drive that can reach the planets! All the high-grade ore in the asteroid belt! Are we going to fold up, or are we going to get it?" He paused just long enough to see the glint in their eyes, then turned to Benning. "What do you need?"

Benning said soberly, "A list as long as your arm."

"Let's have it."

Benning got him off away from the others. "Listen, do you know what's going to happen to you if—"

"It's too late for that."

"I wish I'd never brought that damned thing to your office."

"We've taken a flying jump, and we're now halfway out over the crevasse. There's no point wishing we'd never jumped. We've got to go the rest of the way and put our mind on grabbing any bush or clump of grass that will get us over the lip of that drop."

Benning swallowed. "Okay."

"Now listen," said Heyden. "You're going to need plenty of hot coffee in here, and I don't know if you can literally keep going without any break. We don't want a bunch of zombies staggering around in here holding the wrong end of the wrench."

"You're right. Could we have some rough army blankets and some narrow folding cots? That's heaven for an exhausted man, but he shouldn't be too reluctant to get up."

"Good idea. Now can you finish it by the day after tomorrow?"

Benning nodded. "If, God willing, nothing else goes wrong."



The next day was a nightmare. Suppliers were beginning to need reassurance about pay. A weird rumor was making the rounds, to the effect that Grossrad had stripped the corporation treasury and was now settled down in Brazil with a nicely tanned blonde mistress, the two of them living cozily in a mansion with an Olympic-sized swimming pool outdoors, and gold-plated faucets indoors.

Heyden put the rumor down temporarily by showing the two hand-addressed envelopes from Grossrad, with their recent postmarks, but the rumor failed to stay down. It popped up again with new refinements. Someone who looked just like Grossrad had been seen in Brazil by Milton Sharpbinder, vice-president of Interdisciplinary Intellectronetics, and Milton had immediately called back to sell his holdings in Continental Multitechnikon before the bottom fell out. Somebody else had actually been out near Grossrad's Brazilian mansion, and had seen him lolling with a bottle in a deck chair while the blonde did laps in the Olympic-sized pool.

The details mounted up fantastically. Grossrad had been seen wheeling around the streets of Rio driving a Mercedes-Benz roadster. Later information had it that it was a 1959 300SL Mercedes-Benz with removable hardtop, and Grossrad was gripping a long thin cigar between his teeth, and had one arm casually around the blonde. Somehow, the burgeoning details added further solidity to the rumor, which grew yet more solid as Grossrad moved on and was seen with the blonde at Copacabana.

That this was not just a local rumor developed as Continental Multitechnikon began to slide on the stock market while other space stocks were creeping upward. This, in turn, seemed to support the rumor. In the midst of this, with suppliers demanding payment, the phone rang, and a familiar voice jumped out:

"Say, Heyden, what the hell is going on out there? I just got a phone call from Sam, and he's—"

"Stu?" shouted Heyden, his voice filled with synthetic delight. "Hello? Is that you?"

"Is it me? Who the—"

"Hold on! Listen, we've got a bunch of guys here who think—wait a minute. Where are you calling from?"

"Where am I calling from? Santa Barbara. What about it? Listen, what—"

"Where have you been the last week?"

"I've been holed up, getting over what we had to go through to get that merger across, what do you think? Didn't you get my letter? Listen, what the—"

"We've got a bunch of guys here that claim they won't supply us, because you're down in Brazil with a blonde, rolling around in a Mercedes 300SL."

"I'm what?"

Before Heyden could say anything, one of the men in the room said nervously, "Is that him? How do we know—"

Heyden said, "I don't know if you heard that, Stu. They think maybe this isn't you. Could you talk to a few of these—"

"Wait a minute now. What is this? I don't get this."

"Brace yourself. There's a rumor afloat that you've disappeared, vanished completely, and someone like you has been seen in Rio by—get this, Stu—by Milton Sharpbinder, who immediately dumped all his holdings in Continental before the news of what had happened got out."

"Sharpbinder, eh?"

"Yes, and someone else definitely saw you living in a mansion down there with gold plumbing and a big swimming pool. It seems you were outside by the pool, taking the sun, watching this blonde plow back and forth."

Grossrad laughed.

Heyden said, "Before you laugh this off have you taken a look at the financial page lately?"

On the other end of the line, Grossrad was starting to have hysteria, but that brought him around.

"No," he said, "that's one thing I haven't been doing. I've been trying to get a rest. Is this stupid play by Sharpbinder actually—"

"We're going down. Everybody else is going up."

"That boob is just one week too late to hurt us. If this drop had come last week, without our having any idea what was wrong—"

"Just the same, I still don't think it would hurt if you showed yourself out there."

"I will. Now, let me speak to a few of these boys that think I'm in Brazil."

Heyden said, "Okay," and held out the phone.

A few minutes later, Grossrad was saying to Heyden, "I had no idea this was the trouble. Sam went through all kinds of verbal contortions trying to tell me something without giving away anything. The impression I got was that you were making off with the treasury, not me." He laughed. "I was relieved to even hear your voice."

Heyden laughed. "I was relieved to hear you. I was starting to believe this business about the blonde."

Grossrad laughed so hard Heyden had to hold the phone out away from his ear. Then Grossrad, half-choked, said, "Say, Jim, you won't skip out now? You will be there when I get back?"

"Either here, or halfway to the moon."

"I know what you mean." Grossrad burst out laughing again. "I was in orbit myself for a little bit there. Well, so long, Jim. I'm going out and make myself public."

Heyden felt like a hollow shell as he put the phone back in its cradle. But, with an effort of will, he looked deliberately around the room, and studied the shamefaced glances that looked back at him.

"Now," he said, with forced calm, "can we go back to doing business on a normal basis?"

No one offered any objection.

The needed supplies came in, but the tension failed to ease. The final day was the worst. The comptroller came to Heyden's office while Heyden was on pins and needles to go see Benning, and it was a precious half-hour before Heyden could get free. Then, just as he was leaving his office, a telegram arrived from Grossrad telling when he would be back. Heyden glanced at his watch and saw with a shock that he had only two hours and fifteen minutes left. If he wasn't at the airport, Grossrad would be puzzled, and then curious. If he was at the airport, Grossrad would be bound to question him about the Kiddie Kits, and the lack of work he had done on them would show up quickly. Either way, the lid would be off inside an hour more at the longest. That gave him three hours and fifteen minutes.

Heyden sucked in a deep breath, forced himself to look brisk and confident, and went to see Benning.

He found Benning slumped on a bench with his head in his hands.

Heyden stared around. A number of men were asleep on cots, or rolled up in a blanket on the floor. Several were at the big coffee boiler filling their cups.

Heyden looked at the spaceship. Despite what he'd said about forgetting appearance, the overgrown-boiler look had been softened, at least from this angle. There was a shining silvery surface, that shaded off to one side. Heyden blinked, and glanced at Benning.

"Say, you've moved this?"

Benning looked up drearily.

Heyden glanced uneasily back at the spaceship, with its radiating arms holding what must be the drive-units.

"Ben" he said. "It's all right, isn't it?"

Benning looked down at the ground. "It doesn't work."

Heyden shut his eyes.

Benning's voice reached him. "I'm so tired I can't think. It worked once. We rotated the ship on minimum power. It was smooth—perfect. And it apparently burned something out. We're all half-dead. We've checked and checked."

Heyden forced himself to be sympathetic. "You've been working overtime for three weeks." He sucked in a long breath. "Is everything on board that I had on that list?"

"Everything. But it doesn't work. There's no response at all."

"How long to fix it?"

"We'll have to tear it down completely."

"How long?"

"Another three weeks."

Heyden sank down onto the bench beside Benning.

"Oh, God," said Benning miserably. "Jim, I'm so sorry I got you into this."

"Yeah," said Heyden.

"It's a flop," said Benning. "We should have taken more time to test it. We ran off half-cocked."

Heyden didn't say anything.

Benning said, "All that money. I'm so sorry, Jim. What will Grossrad do?"

Heyden shut his eyes.

Benning's voice came through. "We must have been crazy. That's the only explanation. No one ever does anything like this. Well, now we pay the piper."

Heyden dizzily looked up to see the big shiny boiler through a haze. Someone was leaning out the door, and put his hands to his mouth like a megaphone.

"Hey, Chief. The trouble is, somebody left this master switch open, back of the control panel."

Benning sat paralyzed for an instant, then sprang from the bench. He was across the floor and inside the ship before Heyden realized what had happened.

Slowly, the meaning seeped through to Heyden. He watched.

The big silver form lifted, hovered, and then smoothly rotated, the radiating arms swinging around like the spokes of a giant wheel, the central hub shading from silver to gray to black, then back to silver again. Smoothly it settled down, with a faint grating crunch.

Heyden stood up. Across the room, the sound of that faint crunch turned men around at the coffee boiler. An instant later, they recognized the ship's changed position, set their cups down with a bang, let out a wild yell, and ran to wake up the men on the cots and stretched out on the floor.

Heyden was still fervently thanking God when the men burst into cheers. Then Benning was wringing him by the hand. All around the huge room, it seemed that people were banging each other on the back.

Heyden sucked in a deep breath. "Listen, when can we take off?"

"Take off?" Benning looked blank. "We're finished. The thing's ready. It's completed, and it works."

Heyden stared at him. "Do we talk different languages? What do you think we're going to do now?"

Benning stared at him. "Show it to Grossrad. It's finished. It works. He'll see"

Heyden opened his mouth and shut it with a click. "You remember what I said we wanted? A full-size actual spaceship, so far as we could make such a thing. Now that we've got it, you think we're going to just show it to Grossrad? What good would that do? Outer space is in our hands, now, if that ship will do what we think it will do. And yet, what can Grossrad do with it but use it as a working model? What good does that do?"

Benning swallowed. "You mean, we—"

"Who else? Have we gone through all this to quit now? We have to carry this through all the way to the finish."

Benning paled. "I though we were going to make a demonstration."

"We are. When can we take off?"

"I thought all that food and the cargo and that other gear was just to make it look good. More realistic. More—"

"The idea is to keep us from starving out there, and to fix it so we can get some use out of this. Will that radio work?"

"Everything should work."

"Then," said Heyden, "let's get a crew and get out of here before something else goes wrong. It shouldn't be hard to get volunteers, should it? Can you pick the men who'll be most help to us?"

Benning grinned suddenly. "We're going to try to do this like Lindbergh?"

"Why not?"

"What about germs on the moon? What about—"

Heyden said brutally, "If you don't want to go, say so now."

Benning paused. "I want to go."

"Then pick the crew while I write a note to Grossrad."

Benning nodded, and started over toward the coffee boiler. Heyden whirled, and went back to his office. He yanked out a sheet of paper, and wrote fast:

When you receive this, we should be, as I jokingly said earlier, on our way to the moon. Only, this is real.
Now, this is the first commercial venture into space, and no doubt the Government will blow all its fuses. Nevertheless, it is up to us to make it pay. First, I'm afraid that at the moment we're in something of a hole, financially; but we have powerful radios, along with enough lights and selected chemicals to make ourselves seen, and it seems to me there are a few commercial outfits around that ought to be happy to pay through the nose to have a commercial beamed toward earth from the moon.
Charge more for the visual stuff, Stu. When the Government screams, point out that they will get their cut of the profits in due time.
There is doubtless a whole lot of rock and dust on the moon that it wouldn't break our backs to load into the ship, and that would sell for a price per pound to rival solid platinum, but I'm sure there will be objections to that.
As the next best thing, I've gotten a large quantity of thin sheet metal and loaded it on board. While we're out there, we will orbit the moon. When we come back, we can stamp out millions of little flat space-ship models, which can be colored suitably and molded in plastic for souvenirs. Bear in mind, each one of these will have been around the moon and back.
Next, we have a large cargo of fabric, Stu, which will also go around the moon, and can be cut up into moon scarves and moon dresses when we get back.
Figure out what you can make on this, without having to charge anybody more than he will cheerfully pay for the vicarious pleasure of taking part in this trip. If this doesn't cover expenses, and leave enough over for handsome bonuses all around, I'll be surprised.
Incidentally, you might put some of this money into a special fund—I may need it for bail bond.



Heyden put the letter in an envelope, wrote Grossrad's name on the outside, and gave it to his secretary to deliver.

He went back down the corridor, found Benning waiting with his chosen crew, and climbed on board. The ship slid smoothly and easily out the big opened doors, paused momentarily, and the ground began to fall away.

Heyden was beginning to have doubts. He stepped back as Benning shut the door, and said, "How are the odds on our getting out there and having some little thing strand us a hundred thousand miles from home?"

"Surprisingly poor," said Benning, "assuming we can count on odds at all when we're dealing with something this new."

"Why? I mean, why are the odds against us poor?"

"The amount of weight we can lift with this drive. Suppose just half the weight that goes into the lower stages of a chemical rocket could be added to the payload. Think of the added space, stronger materials, spares, and general increased margin of safety. After you work on stuff to be lifted by rocket, this is a dream."

Heyden relaxed and glanced around. They were standing in a small chamber with a second door partly open behind them. He became conscious of a continued sensation like that of rising in a very fast elevator.

Benning said, "All the same, this is incredible, in a way."

"That—we hope—we're going to the moon?"

"No, we're used to that idea, fantastic as it would have seemed a few years ago." He frowned. "No, it's—it's—"

Heyden suddenly caught the thought. "That we're just doing it?"

Benning sighed. "Yes. Without filling out forms in quintuplicate. Without stewing over it. Without a hundred changes of direction and reevaluations."

Heyden nodded. "But that's supposed to be more 'scientific'."

"It's more bureaucratic, anyway. But even if a method is more scientific, that's beside the point. The point is to get the job done," said Benning.

He stood thinking back to that endless interval when the ship sat dead on the ground and Benning told him the whole thing was a failure, and when the weight of failure crushed him down. Then he'd learned in his bones the penalty of following one's own judgment against the shrewd decisions of superiors—when one's own judgment turns out to be wrong.

But now, beneath his feet he could feel the solid unvarying thrust, lifting them up at constant acceleration and steadily increasing speed.

Down far below now were the nations of the earth, run by monster bureaucracies made up of many people who hesitated—partly because they sensed the awful penalty for failure—to take the risk of questioning even the most self-defeating procedures.

And yet, here were Heyden and Benning and their men, high above the bureaucrats, and rising higher fast, because they had risked disgrace and disaster. They were only here by the skin of their teeth, and Heyden was beginning to realize from his reaction just how long he would think before taking a risk like that again.

But, all the same, they were here.

"Come on," said Heyden, walking a little heavily under the steadily maintained thrust. "Let's either get to a place where we can sit down, or get up front to that window. Maybe we could see the moon."


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