Space rays were the huge alien beings that had mysteriously glided past them on their way to Alphs Centauri.
"What's this 'Click-Click' stuff?" Jammie snapped angrily. "I ain't no cricket!"
"Click-Click. It's the noise you make talking to the li'I bits, y'know." His broad mouth was curled in a grin. Somehow, Jammie found the grin insolent.
They were in the control room of Clyde Akins gravship, orbiting Alpha Centauri. Jammie was nearing thirteen and Spike was nudging seventeen. They were preparing a detailed report of their approach to the system and the different forms of dark-matter life they had encountered.
"My name is Jammie," she shot back.
"Oh, I know that," he said. "Doesn't everybody? You found them little critters and heard a faint clicking from them, then used that to develop a way to communicate. So, to me, you're Click-Click."
Jammie sniffed. "I know what's up, kid -- and it won't work!"
"Name's Spike Hanson, son of Cap," he replied. "And what won't work?"
"Bonnie -- Gale Bonners -- hired you, didn't she?" Back on the solar asteroid belt, Clyde Akins and Gale Bonners had been nicknamed Bonnie and Clyde because of their domination of the oppressive Empire Police.
"I'm here helping her, and you too, for that matter, if that's what you mean."
"She's jealous!" Jammie said. "She knows I'll take Clyde away from her, and she got you over here to distract me."
Spike grinned. "Sorry to bust your bubble, Click-Click, but Mr Clyde hired me. Said you and Miss Gale needed help getting together the story of our trip, put all the clips together with voice overlay, so's he could take it with 'im when he went back to Earth."
"Huh? Why in the world would he go back to Earth?"
Spike smiled to himself when he noticed she hadn't objected to his nickname this time. "He ain't told you? He's taking that Empire cop, Slage back to the Empire, then he's gonna give the Martian colonists the details of the gravdrive, so they can get away."
"Martian colonists?" Jammie asked blankly.
Spike nodded. "Just found out about 'em recently. One of the ex-Empire cops mentioned it. Said they were planning on building a rocket to get away. Mr Clyde thought he could kill two birds with one trip, get rid of Slage and help the colonists." Then Spike shook his head. "Getting rid of Slage is a good idea, but he also intends to leave the gravdrive stuff for the Empire, too! He'll use the gravbomb so's they won't get it until three days after he leaves, but I still think that ain't too smart."
Jammie, in a defensive mood, thought a moment and then said, "Might not be too bad a thing to do. Clyde probably figgers the report we're putting together will slow 'em down and keep 'em away from where we are. Besides," she added, "when the Empire gets into space, it'll thin 'em out. Might even end up breaking 'em up."
Considering that, Spike slowly nodded. "Yeah, hadn't thought of it that way. Might work."
Jammie cocked her head. "What's your genius rating, Spike?"
"Haven't you ever tested your IQ?"
"Well, yeah, but what -- Well, anyway, I scored about 130. I ain't no genius. Whatever gave you that idea?"
"Well, you figgered out the space rays and everything were dark matter. I guessed you must be pretty smart."
Spike shrugged. "I'm no dummy," he told her, "but that wasn't genius: They were dark, and not like anything we'd ever seen. Just seemed to fit." He grinned. "I think kinda funny sometimes."
Jammie was proud of her own intellect; her mother and father had both been geniuses and had manipulated her DNA while she was a fetus. Clyde's father was a genius, and so was Clyde. She was accustomed to being around others with great minds. It had become an obsession with her. She expected brainy people, wanted all her associates to be extra smart and so, if she was going to be around Spike, she wanted him to be in the same category.
"I guess your brain works like that of a genius," she determined. "Not a lot of knowledge, but a great way of using it."
Spike shrugged. "If you say so, Click-Click. But now, we've got lots of work to do before we go ride the rays."
+ + +
Clyde Akins was on his way to Ezekiel, the wheel ship that carried most of the ex-Belt inhabitants. Using his bodysuit's palm rockets, he aimed for the center hole, where the main entrance was.
The bodysuits had been essential in the Belt; they protected the wearer against radiation, contained an exoskeleton that added to strength and endurance, and contained enough oxygen for at least half an hour in space. Plus the palm rockets, that allowed travel.
Was he doing the right thing? It felt right, and that was what motivated him. Two birds with one stone -- getting rid of the rebellious Slage, who was the only ex-cop that still felt allegiance to the Empire, as well as getting the gravdrive to the newly-discovered Martian colonists. If he had known about them when they originally debarked, he would have included them in their trip to Alpha Centauri. Now that they were revealed, Clyde felt obligated to help them escape.
Sure, it had been over seven years ago in real time, but he doubted they would yet have been able to leave. Since the Empire knew of their existence, it would have done all it could to delay them.
Including the Empire in his gravdrive giveaway was a calculated risk, but Clyde knew there were still millions who objected to the Empire. With the Empire going into space, it would give those remaining a better chance to rebel against the remainder -- and they, too, would have the gravdrive secret.
Eventually, he hoped, he would open the stars for all of mankind.
Reaching the Hole -- which was one hundred feet across -- Clyde slipped into the airlock and, as air rushed in, flipped his faceplate open to greet Cap Hanson, who was waiting on the other side of the door.
"Slage is ready," Cap said. "Wrists and ankles tied. Since he can't use his palm rockets, and you can't pull him behind you because your own rockets will burn him --" Cap interrupted himself with a grin "--not, mind you, that that's a bad idea! --How are you gonna take him?" "Strap him to me, Cap," Clyde answered, with a grin in response.
Cap brought Slage out and strapped him to Clyde. "There you are," he said, proudly. "He's all yours -- and welcome to him!"
Slage started cursing and Clyde said, "Cut it off, Slage -- or I'll cut you off!"
Slage shut up.
Back at his own gravship, Clyde pushed Slage into a remade storage room. As Clyde started to close the door, Slage objected: "Aren't you gonna release me? How can I do anything all tied up like this?"
"You'll find a way," Clyde said. He said it with authority, as he had left a small set of snippers on a shelf for just that use. He closed the door and walked away after flipping a switch that turned on a gravbomb designed to affect only the room. It was on a seven-to-one ratio. It took about seven days to reach the solar system, but the gravbomb field would change it to only one day for Slage. Clyde and Jammie had checked out that a 'timebomb' would work within another field. It developed that the smallness of Slage's field would allow it to work. There was even food and water in the room, so he wouldn't waste away on the trip.
"Well, might as well get started," Clyde said to himself. He sat in the command chair and set everything to start the trip.
When the gravship came back to normal time, Neptune was near. Clyde started for the inner system and then went to Slage's cell. He opened the door, floated in front of it blaster in hand --
And saw an empty room.
Immediately Clyde knew what was going on. Slage was trying the same trick Clyde and Gale had pulled on him a few weeks ago. Clyde rocketed across the room, flipping in midair, then slapped his magnet soles on the wall and aimed his blaster over the door. Slage was over the door, the top of his bodysuit removed, and holding a sleeve in both hands, having intended to garrote Clyde as he entered.
"Hold it, Slage!" Clyde demanded. "Slip the top back on before radiation does what I probably should have done to start with."
hen they neared Earth's moon, Clyde strapped a cursing Slage to a rocket sled. "It'll take about two hours," Clyde said, "so I'm giving you an air bottle to last you."
"What d'ya mean, two hours?" Slage protested. "I can shoot down to the moon in minutes!" "Well," Clyde told him, "I'm adjusting your time."
"One of them damn time bombs, huh? Why not just send me down normal-like?"
"I have my reasons," Clyde said. "Also, I'm putting a memory cube in your suit pocket. It has all the gravdrive secrets, and tells about what going to Alpha Centauri was like."
"You're giving us the gravdrive secret?" Slage said, astonished.
"Might as well," Clyde said. "Someone is bound to figure it out sooner or later."
Faceplate closed, Clyde opened the airlock and pushed Slage's rocket sled into space, then flipped the switch.
To Slage, it was a little less than two hours when the sled landed on the moon. A signal beacon went on immediately and, in only a few minutes, the Empire Police, having been notified by Clyde, showed up.
"What took you so long?" Slage asked impatiently. "We need to get after that Clyde guy; he's gonna help the Martians!"
"You're a bit behind, Slage," an Empire officer sneered. "He's already been to Mars, given them the gravdrive, helped them get started, and is on his way back by now."
"What?" Then Slage sighed. "Them damn timebombs of his. Okay, okay; I've got it all on this memory cube. We can have gravdrive real quick ourselves. But," he added, "ya don't wanna go after him! There's all kindsa dark matter monsters around Alpha Centauri!"
The officer took the memory cube from Slage. "We'll see," he said. Then he shook his head. "Clyde will be well on his way back, now. Hope he's happy with himself!"
+ + +
Clyde did feel it was a job well done. Also, he was glad he had prepared so many gravbombs in advance -- he had to use a lot of them on the Empire ships barricading Mars. But, since the gravdrive was so simple, he had no trouble helping the Martian colonists attach it to their ship and was glad to see them under way before he left. Now, to home.
--And a great surprise.
+ + +
"Thought you were gonna take me to the rays?" Jammie asked, irritated.
Spike smiled. "In about an hour," he said. "Dad's got the ship on the 300 time bomb, which is the speed the rays use -- but they travel in cycles. In an hour, another cycle will start."
"We'll see," Jammie replied, still doubtful -- but hoping.
When the time came, Jammie and Spike mounted separate rocket sleds and took off. Soon, Spike said, "There they are!"
Six rays were gliding ahead of them, puffy black squares that rippled as they moved. Spike slowed his sled and landed on one. Jammie followed. . .and was swallowed! Surrounded by impenetrable darkness, she said, "I sunk in! Spike, what did I do wrong?"
"Sorry, Click-Click; I forgot to tell you to think 'landing' when you came down." Jammie thought she detected a bit of humor in his voice. "Think 'Out' and you'll be ejected. But don't do it scared! You'll shoot out if you do."
"Out!" Jammie said -- and come out like a rocket.
"I told you not to be scared!" Spike scolded her.
Settling her rocket sled beside him, Jammie grinned and told him, "I wasn't scared! I wanted to really squirt out, so I said it loudly. We can communicate with 'em, Spike!"
"Well, they get our emotions, anyway."
"More than that! You said you just thought 'landing', and I just said 'Out!', looking forward to it. If we work on it, we can do more."
Then Jammie said, "Hold your breath and open your faceplate."
"Just do it." Spike got the idea. Both holding their breaths, Jammie and Spike lifted their faceplates. Spike kissed her.
+ + +
lyde showed up at Ezekial only three days after the wheel ship slowed to normal time. In only a few minutes, Gale showed up at the airlock. "Got trouble, Clyde," she told him as she exited the airlock.
Clyde sighed. "Isn't that the way of it?" he asked. "Troubles and problems, that is."
"This is a bit different," Gale said. "There's a preacher stirring up lotsa folks, saying you are the anti-Christ, and you sinned in bringing us here."
Clyde sunk into a chair. "Just what I need," he said. "I've dealt with the Empire Police, gotten the Martian colonists moving out, really felt satisfied." He shook his head. "Another example of 'you can't win for losing'! Tell me about it."
This, of course, led to a confrontation. Clyde and Gale and Jammie and Spike went to the next 'revelation' meeting. Clyde noticed, with relief, that Jammie was holding hands with Spike. One worry taken care of, anyway.
There were several hundred people in the improvised auditorium. They stood until the ranting preacher paused for breath, when Clyde held up his hand and said, "May I speak?"
The preacher, standing at an improvised podium, cast an angry glare in Clyde's direction -- and then recognized him. Pointing at Clyde, he announced, "There he is! There is the anti-Christ who brought us here!"
The crowd roared angrily. "A moment!" Clyde shouted. "Let me defend myself!"
"Can anything you say change the fact that we are here?" sneered the preacher.
"No!" Clyde shot back. Gale had told him the preacher's attacks on him had been climaxed by heaping donation plates. "Do you believe in God?" he asked.
"I've heard that some preachers are more interested in gaining monetary results rather than saving souls," Clyde responded.
"But let me ask you -- didn't God create the universe?"
"Of course! But --"
Clyde interrupted, "Didn't God create mankind?"
"Naturally! But --" Clyde knew where he was going, now. "God made us curious, made us explorers! Do you think that God didn't make the universe for us? Do you think God really intended for mankind to always be stuck on one little planet? Why did he make the universe so big, if he didn't intend us to explore it? Didn't God say 'Go forth and multiply'? Well, we're just going forth, as God himself commanded!"
"Amen!" shouted one of the congragation.
Another declared, "Hallelujah!"
"Then we need to get back to work, and decide if we're staying here, or looking further."
Clyde's statement had the audience getting to their feet, satisfied. The preacher opened his mouth to object, saw the expressions on the faces of his audience, then rubbed his palm across his face, shook his head sadly, and sat down.
As Gale and Clyde were leaving, Jammie and Spike a hand-in-hand couple behind them, Gale looked up at Clyde. "I didn't know you felt so strongly about that."
A mischievous twinkle in his eyes, Clyde said, "My emotions tend to rise to the occasion." Taking Gale's hand in his, he added, "But I meant it -- we need to decide if we're staying here or," and he swung his other arm in an all-encomposing arc, "move on out there."