By H. B. Fyfe
Illustrated by ED EMSH
In the special observation dome of the colossal command ship just beyond Pluto, every nervous clearing of a throat rasped through the silence. Telescopes were available but most of the scientists and high officials preferred the view on the huge telescreen.
This showed, from a distance of several million miles, one of the small moons of the frigid planet, so insignificant that it had not been discovered until man had pushed the boundaries of space exploration past the asteroids. The satellite was about to become spectacularly significant, however, as the first target of man's newest, most destructive weapon.
"I need not remind you, gentlemen," white-haired Co-ordinator Evora of Mars had said, "that if we have actually succeeded in this race against our former Centaurian colonies, it may well prevent the imminent conflict entirely. In a few moments we shall know whether our scientists have developed a truly irresistible weapon."
Of all the officials, soldiers, and scientists present, Arnold Gibson was perhaps the least excited. For one thing, he had labored hard to make the new horror succeed and felt reasonably confident that it would. The project had been given the attention of every first-class scientific mind in the Solar System; for the great fear was that the new states on the Centaurian planets might win the race of discovery and ...
And bring a little order into this old-fashioned, inefficient fumbling toward progress, Gibson thought contemptuously. Look at them—fools for all their degrees and titles! They've stumbled on something with possibilities beyond their confused powers of application.
A gasp rustled through the chamber, followed by an even more awed silence than had preceded the unbelievable, ultra-rapid action on the telescreen. Gibson permitted himself a tight smile of satisfaction.
Now my work really begins, he reflected.
A few quick steps brought him to Dr. Haas, director of the project, just before the less stunned observers surrounded that gentleman, babbling questions.
"I'll start collecting the Number Three string of recorders," he reported.
"All right, Arnold," agreed Haas. "Tell the others to get their ships out too. I'll be busy here."
Not half as busy as you will be in about a day, thought Gibson, heading for the spaceship berths.
He had arranged to be assigned the recording machines drifting in space at the greatest distance from the command ship. The others would assume that he needed more time to locate and retrieve the apparatus—which would give him a head start toward Alpha Centauri.
His ship was not large, but it was powerful and versatile to cope with any emergency that may have been encountered during the dangerous tests. Gibson watched his instruments carefully for signs of pursuit until he had put a few million miles between himself and the command ship. Then he eased his craft into subspace drive and relaxed his vigilance.
He returned to normal space many "days" later in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri. They may have attempted to follow him for all he knew, but it hardly mattered by then. He broadcast the recognition signal he had been given to memorize long ago, when he had volunteered his services to the new states. Then he headed for the capital planet, Nessus. Long before reaching it, he acquired a lowering escort of warcraft, but he was permitted to land.
"Well, well, it's young Gibson!" the Chairman of Nessus greeted him, after the newcomer had passed through the exhaustive screening designed to protect the elaborate underground headquarters. "I trust you have news for us, my boy. Watch outside the door, Colonel!"
One of the ostentatiously armed guards stepped outside and closed the door as Gibson greeted the obese man sitting across the