AS HAD become their habit before an evening shift
package, the Voice-of-Decision for River-’Tween-Worlds and the Operations Director for Transtellar United’s
Wormgate Complex dined together. The menu consumed
consisted of a raw and slightly rank slab of gristly deep
ranger flesh liberally dusted with Kessta
pollen, iced tea,
and a Cobb salad.
The fact that the two aspects of the meal were consumed
two point forty-eight parsecs (8 light-years) apart did nothing to distract
from the worn-comfortable camaraderie of the meal.
“Voice-of-the-Dance Tleelot found the selections of
Artist-called-Miller most impressive. Believes we can apply
to varianting of Flame-River and Joyous-Bay dance cycles.
We shall experiment next amusements gathering.”
The fluid chirps and puns of Tarrischall’s actual words in
the tongue of the People flowed behind the stark computer
English. Marta Lane had long ago developed the knack of
laying the alien’s vocal emotion tones over the bland and
choppy diction of the translator block to deduce the true
meaning behind her friend’s speech.
“I’ve found that Glenn Miller
works better then Cab Calloway for free-fall dance,” she replied. “The flow of the Big
Bands draws a more rhythmic line than Bebop. I’d love to
see what you are doing with it.”
“Shall record and send, Marta-Friend. Appreciate your
introduction to musics of your Pre-Space-Times. Would like
more, especially Artist-Called-Miller.”
“My pleasure, Tarrischall. After shift tonight I’ll bang
’ and ‘The Jumpin Jive’ across the link. We
might try a little Charley Parker
while we’re at it."
Seated in her quarters aboard the Stellar Transfer Command Station, Lane took up her personal data pad, and
clipped the transparent rectangle of crystal state circuitry
and liquid surface display onto the forearm sleeve of her
black vacuum suit liner.
The figure within the snug liner was still firm and svelte,
and Lane’s angular features were still unlined for all of her
fifty plus years. An athletic mother of two and grandmother
of four, she well-carried the biological rewards bestowed
upon a human female who had lived the majority of her life
in a low-to-zero gravity environment.
A simple gene booster treatment could have erased the
silver hazing her blond spacer’s ponytail as well, but
she elected to keep her hair natural. It served to remind the
youngsters on her watch that the Boss had indeed been
around since the legendary days when the old fire-belching
shuttle rockets had been the only available stair step into
Lane tapped the time hack recall on the pad’s surface
with a fingernail. “Speaking of banging things across, we’d
better get to work if we’re going to make that transfer at
twenty-two hundred, Voice-of-Decision. I make it T minus
two hours eighteen minutes to shift initiation.”
“Wrong, O Operations Director, it is two hours, seventeen minutes and twenty-three seconds, human time, precise, to channel open. Any load configuration changes in
batch of cheap beads and trinkets you send to us?”
“Nothing appreciable. The outbound will be a couple of
tons light. Quan Intertrade had a transshipment delay on a
load of entertainment cards they wanted to squeeze aboard
today’s load. They requested a hold, but I chilled it. I
daresay the People can survive without The Classics of
Twentieth Century Video Comedy, volume eight
, for another
“Volume numbered eight?” Tarrischall chirped.
“Uh-huh,” Lane called up a data line. “Leave it to Beaver
through Monty Python’s Flying Circus
“My species thanks you for reprieve.”
“You’re most welcome. You never know, though. You
might like the one about the beavers.”
Humor-purring to himself Tairischall-of-the-Crystal Springs
twisted his sphere-of-communications closed, stowing it into a
pouch in his possessions harness. He had eaten in the lower
observation bubble of the River-’Tween Worlds Nest-of-Guidance, simultaneously enjoying his meal, his conversation with Friend-Marta-of-the-Place-called-New-England,
and the awe-inspiring view.
River-’Tween Worlds held in geosynchronous orbit
above the North Pole of Life-Waters, the home world of
the People. The huge northern polar continent with its
central ice cap rotated slowly beneath them, half in
shadow, half blazing in the golden light from Life-Fire-of-All-Things.
On the nightside of Life-Waters, the lights of the linear
river cities of the People trickled along the numerous
broad watercourses that connected the ice pack with the
equatorial lake/seas. On dayside, in a half loop along the
equatorial orbits, the sunward collector arrays of the light-power-gatherers glittered like a string of pleasure-time
River-’Tween-Worlds itself was not visible from this end
of the great cylindrical skynest. The channel entry assembly
held in a slightly higher orbit above the support facility.
However, the running lights and glowing propulsor vents of
the orbital traffic servicing River-’Tween-Worlds spiraled
up past the skynest, the trade of the People flowing out to
buy the wonders and amusements of the distant Upright culture (Human)
With a final quick cleansing lick of his forepaws, Tarrischall fluidly reversed himself in midair, launching down
the core passage with a thump of his muscular tail against
the dome surface.
Approaching the central interchange, he exchanged whistled salutations with a pair of coworkers. Spiraling past
them, he snared the padded surface of the maneuvering ball
that hung suspended at the corridor nexus. His six sets of
claws caught a purchase in the webbed fabric and he re-launched himself into the guidance chamber access, his
day’s duties due to commence in a sixteenth portion.
None of the People’s space facilities utilized artificial
gravity unless it was necessary for some industrial application. A semi-aquatic species, the People had come to relish
free fall as much as they loved the floating freedom of their
world’s vast network of lakes, rivers and shallow seas.
A product of his planet’s water-dominated evolutionary
processes, Tarrischall was asexipedal, carnivorous semi-mammal, bearing closest resemblance to a terrestrial river
otter blown up to the scale of a Bengal tiger. Covered from
whisker pads to tail with a glossy blood-red fur that trended
toward a yellowish cream tone along his belly, his species
found clothing irrelevant.
Friend-Marta had often mentioned that her kind found the
People to be most attractive. Honestly flattered, Tarrischall
had always replied with a verity of polite sophistries.
Marta’s folk were certainly nice enough to know and do
trade with, but it had to be admitted that the Uprights were
an odd-looking crew.
Tarrischall shot into the Guidance Chamber, a spherical
structure with far-viewer panels sheathing its upper and
lower surfaces and a row of task pallets spaced around it in
a central belt.
The other Voices were already present and at station with
shift preparations already underway under the guidance of
Narisara-of-the-Ice-Crystal-River. The sleek, black-furred
Voice-of-Physics would no doubt have an arch comment or
two about the Voice-of-Decision being the last to arrive for
Bouncing off the maneuvering ball in the center of the
chamber, Tarrischall dove across to his task pallet. En route
he aimed a teasing nip at one of Narisara’s rear legs. Without looking up from the glowing half-bubble of her instrument display she replied with a tail swat that could have
broken a jaw if it had been aimed to connect.
Still purring contentedly to himself, Tarrischall belly
flopped onto his pallet, his rear- and mid-claw sets hooking
into the webbing while the stubby digits of his forepaws
played across the touch bar arrays surrounding his display
bubble, summoning it to life.
“Fair night, pups,” he called cheerfully. “Let’s send the
Uprights some presents.”
The security hatch into the gate operations center recognized Marta’s bio-pattem, sliding open at her approach.
The compartment that contained the center was a large
one for a space station. Three tiers of ranked workstations
descended from Director’s row, facing the ten-by-five-meter
main viewer tank inset in the far bulkhead. Her section
chiefs were already hard at it, working the shift countdown.
“Evening, Marta,” Assistant Operations Director Estiban
Rocardo called up from the central station of the upper tier.
“T minus two and ten to dilation and we are showing all
Behind him, the primary display held focus on the Worm
Gate itself. Considerable familiarity was required before the
view ceased to inspire awe.
The gate complex hovered in fixed orbit at the L-2 Lagrange point beyond Earth’s moon. Several kilometers beyond the rotating rim of the command station, the gate itself
lay silhouetted against the mottled gray expanse of Luna’s
The gate structure itself could only be called titanic. Taking advantage of free-fall engineering, its individual components were unconnected, station-keeping on each other via
cybemetically precise thruster control. The twin semi-cylinders of the field generator/accumulator arrays dwarfed
the girder structure tube of the perimeter grid, the so-called
"worm cage” at their center focus, and the cage itself was
one half a kilometer across by one and a half in length.
The toylike myriad of support facilities clustering in free
space around the gate, the barge docks, the maintenance and
warehousing platforms and the habitat wheels, gave the facility scale. Smaller yet, tug and barge combos and orbital
shuttles flitted between the stations like gleaming fish
within the structure of a coral reef.
In absolute contrast was the Wormhole itself. It was there.
It was always there, trapped at the central nexus of the worm
cage. Marta knew she was looking right at it, but there was
nothing to be seen save for the hole’s imprint on her instrumentation.
In its power-conserving nontransit mode, the Wormhole
was almost microscopic, held open just enough to insure
continued existence and to permit the coherent light flow of
the communications laser.
The Worm Gate was beyond being the single greatest
creation of humanity. Its building had required the concentrated efforts of two civilizations. The only like to it was its
identical twin parked above the second planet of the Wolf
359 system (which is two point forty-eight parsecs from Sol. The People's home star)
Marta chuckled softly, deliberately pausing for a moment
to make herself be impressed.
“What’s the joke, Marta?” Rocardo inquired, lifting a
“Oh, nothing, Estiban. It’s all so workaday anymore that
sometimes I forget that we’re busy doing the impossible out
“What do you mean by impossible?”
“Back in my first year at MIT I can remember attending
a lecture by one of the world’s foremost physicists who
loudly and firmly proclaimed that the worm search was a
waste of funding and that interstellar travel was and would
always be beyond the reach of mankind.”
Her Assistant Director smiled indulgently. “No insult
tended. But that was a long time ago.
“I suspect, young man, that had we not made contact with
the Furrys that world view would still be in effect. Science
is instinctively conservative. We don’t like to shuffle the
laws of the universe around unless we have a very good reason for it. But once we knew that somebody was indeed in
the neighborhood, we simply had to figure out a way to borrow each other’s lawn mowers.”
Marta had been a little girl when first contact had been
established between Humanity and the People. The two
species had found each other intriguingly different and yet
much alike, both had a broad streak of curiosity in their
racial psyche. Both also soon found the years’ long cycle of
conversation via radio telescope infinitely unsatisfying. A
human scholar asking a question of his counterpart among
The People had to wait years for the reply and vice versa.
Within the scientific communities of both worlds the quest
for an improved form of communication became a fixation
that bordered on a mania.
Each culture had possessed its own Einstein and Stephen
Hawking. Each had an approximately equal understanding
of the structure of the universe and each focused its search
in the same rarified area of theoretical physics, seeking for a
mathematically irrational chimera called a wormhole.
A decade was spent proving that, yes, such things did in
fact exist, but as an ephemeral transitory at the outermost
edge of quantum reality. Dimensional “holes” did indeed
open intermittently between far distant points in space, but
so submicroscopically small and for such a brief period that
even a single photon of light could not hope to transit
A second decade was spent proving that such a wormhole
could be “caught” and “held open” via a negative energy
field. With the proper application of power, vast oceans of
power, it could be “stretched “ to a “size” that would permit
the passage of physical matter. However, a living being could
not survive the transit. Systems created within the three-dimensional universe, be they mechanical, electronic, or bio-logical, could not function within the dimensionless realm
that existed within the wonnhole, but ideas and goods could
theoretically be passed across from one world to the other.
A third decade went into the construction of the hardware
to make it happen.
“River-'Tween-Worlds, this is Worm Gate. We are coming up on shift initiation. We show good systems and we are
ready to set transfer sequencing.”
Marta gave her command headset a final settling tug, her
eyes flicking to the multiple countdown display bars glowing across the bottom of the imaging tank.
“Understood, Worm Gate. We also prepared.” Over the
translator link Tarn'schall’s voice held none of its usual humorous shading. Her Furry compatriot was the consummate
professional when it came to Operations. “We have good
systems. We stand by sequencing.”
“Very well, River-’Tween-Worlds. Coming up on sequencing initiator. Mark zero three … two … one … Set.”
The twin timing bar displays crawled across the main
screen. T minus ten minutes to power up. T minus twenty-five to barge entry. Instantly the bars began their slow shrink
back down toward the zero point.
The clocks had started.
One could not dally around with a barge shift. Not while
one was expending enough electricity to power an entire
continent. The gate crews at both ends of the hole lived by
the fact they could build up enough juice in their accumulator arrays to execute a single two-way barge transfer every
twenty-four hours plus a small emergency reserve.
“We have systems verification from ‘Tween-Worlds,” the
Grid Systems Manager called up from his station. “Auto sequencing set and verified.”
“Very good, grid. River-’Tween-Worlds, we show auto
sequencing set and counting. Do you concur?”
“We concur sequencing, Worm Gate. We are go for
Lane abstractly noted that the archaic space age technoslang sounded odd coming from one of the People. Tarrischall had become immensely proud of his linguistic
expertise in the area, however.
“Acknowledged, River-’Tween-Worlds. Transfer is go.
Securing communications and data links and withdrawing
lasercom platform at this time. Talk with you afterward.”
“A-Okay, Worm Gate. Later. Want to hear more about
this Jumping Jive
. River-’Tween-Worlds, over and out.”
“Jumping Jive?” Rocardo queried off circuit.
“Um-hum, Marta replied absently. “It’s a long story.
Let’s just say I’m running a personal cultural exchange program with our Furry friends.”
Her mouth tugged down momentarily as the command
link indicator with River-’Tween-Worlds control blinked off
her communications display. When they dilated the gate to
move a cargo barge through to the Wolf system, they temporarily lost their ability to push a modulated data stream
through the Wormhole to the opposite gate. Thus, each transfer had to be accomplished as a pretimed sequence of
That loss had always made Marta Lane just a little bit uncomfortable.
“Raft positioning?” Tarrischall tossed the question over
his shoulder, not shifting his keen jet-eyed gaze from the
“Raft anchored at channel approach,” Marrun-of-Gray-Lake growled back from the Voice-of-Raft-Guidance position. “Drift canceled on all vectors and holding stable.”
On the overhead displays the panning vision of the seer
units verified the burly Gray-Laker’s words. The cargo raft,
a huge round-ended cylinder with its sides marked with the
odd angular writing and insignia of the Uprights, hovered
beyond the gaping mouth of the perimeter grid, poised for
the opening of the channel. Remotely guided Pusher units
clung to its flanks like leech shrimp, their propulsor vents
“Internal functions verified to the sixteenth level,” Varess-of-Storms-Bay replied crisply. The slight, golden-furred
Voice-of-Raft-Guidance was the newest member of the
watch and still somewhat self-conscious among Tarrischall’s veteran crew. “Ready to assume entry guidance.”
“Very good. We will be ready for you in a moment.” Tarrischall’s eyes flicked to the disappearing time dots on the
sequencing display. “Voice-of-Physics, channel status.”
“Plus on all channel systems,” Naiisara replied crisply.
"Nominal to the sixteenth level. Primary and crisis reservoirs at fifteen point six. Prepared for route sequencing on
posted marks. Prepared for last phase safety block clearance.”
“You have it, O elegant black-furred one. Let’s crack her
open.” Once more Tarrischall grinned at Narisara’s fastidious snort.
“All voices prepare for channel opening.” she called.
"Safety blocks are clear. Flow increase on my notice. Portion one … portion two … portion three …
“Four… three …two …one …,” The Gate Systems
Manager droned from his workstation, calling off the last
disappearing millimeters of the bar display. No matter how
many times she sat through it, Marta still felt her throat
tighten as the countdown reached its conclusion.
“Zero … we have power up.”
There was no overt physical change within or without the
control center beyond a shifting of light patterns on the control displays. But within the gate accumulator arrays huge
supercooled fluid state switches closed, bringing the largest
single power system the human race had ever created on-line. Focused negative energy fields of mind-boggling intensity converged and intermeshing within the worm cage.
For a brief moment mankind warred with the very physical
structure of the Universe … and won.
A blackness came to be in the heart of the perimeter grid.
A blackness deeper than that of the surrounding space itself. A slowly growing sphere of absolute nothing, a nothing
with a density, a dimension, a nothing that the stars couldn’t
be seen through, a nothing that twisted the stomach when
looked at. A midnight void darker than the human comprehension of dark.
As he always did at the opening of the gate, Rocardo
murmured, “One of these days I’m not going to want to look
at that damn thing anymore.”
Marta nodded in understanding. She was in love with the
possibilities of the Wormhole and of interstellar communications, but there was always a discomfort in looking at
something human eyes had never been designed to see.
As it was, they were only seeing the wormhole’s event
horizon, that portion of its structure that extruded into the
human-experienced three dimensions. There was much,
much more to it than what was visible and likely just as
Bad as it was looking at the hole through a live video
pickup, it was worse via a viewport or a space suit faceplate.
Lane found it rather like standing on the edge of a high cliff
or atop a tall building. A … pulling.
Others felt it as well. There had been a number of suicide
attempts over the years involving the wormhole. One or two
had even made it in. Marta had often mused that it probably
was a rather interesting way to go
. The sphere of ultimate emptiness expanded until it just
filled the center of the girderwork cylinder.
“We have full dilation and stability,” Rocardo reported
from below, “All boards read green. Reception tugs are positioning. T minus thirteen and counting to projected barge
entry and acquisition.”
“Very good. Maintain monitoring. Stand by for reception.”
For the moment all of the action was taking place out at
Wolf 359. Tarrischall and his gang would be busy popping
the sixty-thousand-metric-ton transfer barge into their end
of the hole.
“End” was a purely subjective reference, of course.
While the actual state of existence within the Wormhole
could be described mathematically, it could not be visualized by a mind designed to operate in three dimensions. On
one level, the concept of “distance” had become irrelevant
within the perimeter grid of the gate, all points within its
contained “universe” being equidistant. On another, it was
time that was irrelevant and all of the space between Wolf
359 and Sol still existed, the materials in transit being dispersed across those quadrillions of kilometers.
However, even locked within this trans-state, individual
atoms still maintained inertia. The barge’s entry momentum
would be enough to carry it through the region of irrelevancy from one “end” of the hole to the other.
Emerging Earthside, the barge’s systems would reintegrate and it would be recovered for unloading.
Simple and foolproof.
“All pushers unbound and clear,” Marrun reported. On
the far viewers, the pusher units could be seen scurrying
away from the massive cargo raft, propulsor vents glowing
brightly. The raft was on its own now.
“The channel is smooth,” Narisara replied, using the formalism. “The river flows between the stars.”
“The raft obeys on all standards. Ready to voyage.”
“Very well. All Voices, stand by for transit-of-channel.
Varess, send her through.”
On the far viewers, a double belt of dazzling sparks
flared into existence at the bow and stem of the cargo raft as
its own vents lit. Ever so slowly it began to gain way, the
propulsors struggling to inch its bulk forward into the mouth
of the perimeter grid.
“Raft entry velocity to first level … second level … third
level…” Varess chanted. “Drift remains null on all vectors … fourth level … fifth …”
Tarrischall tried to keep his attention focused on the raft.
It wasn’t easy with the black sphere of the channel mouth
tugging seductively at the edge of his vision. The Ecstasy-of-the-Great-Dark-Current they called it. That near overwhelming urge felt by some of the People to take that
longest dive down the channel. Tarrischall often felt the tug
The dream of doing so and surviving, of reaching the exotic and mysterious world of the Uprights and beyond was a
favorite theme of the spinners of projection fictions. Tarrischall enjoyed such yarns and in spite of what Narisara and
the other joy-smashing Voices-of-Physics might say, he was
certain that someday a technology would be found to permit
a living being to ride the currents to another star.
Varess’ sudden sharp warning cry shattered his musing.
“This-Voice-speaks-warning! I have a massive flow net
fluctuation aboard the raft! Performance variance across all
“Define!” Tarrischall barked, his head snapping down to
his display bubble and to the suddenly racing data lines.
“No definition isolated! Generalized flow failure in
onboard energy matrix! Shifting to crisis alternative flow!”
Tarrischall gave himself the briefest of instants for consideration. The cargo raft was still stable and gaining velocity as per the set transfer pattern and all functions aboard it
had safety duplicates and automatic switch overs. Yet there
was a major function collapse going on within the massive
vehicle, something beyond anything he had ever seen before.
He could not risk the River-’Tween-Worlds! He slapped
the alarm pad at his side triggering the rising tri-toned wail
of the Danger-And-Rally call within all the chambers of the
“All Voices! Abort the shift! Abort! Raft Guidance, decelerate! Pusher Guidance, position for recapture! Mender
and Mooring Gangs prepare! I speak with Voice-of-Crisis!
“Decelerating!” Varess cried back. “Alternative functions
engaged! Braking vents engaged! Drift vectors holding stable. Entry velocity reducing to sixth level … fifth …
On the far viewer display the vector of the raft’s propulsor vents altered, thrusting forward. The huge freight hauler
was losing velocity, but slowly, so slowly. There was so
much mass out there to stop.
The blunt curved nose of the raft was approaching the
mouth of the perimeter grid.
Maybe it would have been better to trust the duplicate
functions and run her through, Tarrischall thought feverishly, but it was too late to bother about it now. They were
“Velocity now third level … second …"
On the main display the double ring of scintillating
propulsor vents flickered and went dark.
Varess’ voice rose into a strangled scream. “Alternative
energy flow failure! Total failure! Crisis alternative functions do not reply! I have lost raft guidance! She floats free!”
“Mairun, get your pushers in there now!”
The Voice-of-Pusher-Guidance could only look slowly
away in the refusal posture. “No good, Tarrischall. No good.
She’s entering the grid and I don’t have the clearance. If one
of my units bumps her in a crisis bonding, I could knock her
off vector and into the grid structure. She’s going in and I
can’t stop her.”
He was right. May the Life-Fire-of-All-Things burn all!
He was right! Even as Tarrischall looked on in growing horror, the bow of the cargo raft was ghosting into the grid
Tarrischall twisted to look at Narisara, his last hope of regaining control of the disintegrating situation. “Flow down,
Voice-of-Physics! Close the channel!
The black-furred one could only look away as well. “No
time,” she replied quietly. “We can’t fade the flow fast
enough. The closing channel mouth would catch the raft.
She’s going through wild, Tarrischall, and we can’t stop
Tarrischall could only stare up at the far viewer display.
“Beware Marta-My-Friend,” he whispered. “Beware.”
The silver-gray curve of the raft’s bow touched the infinite spherical blackness of the channel event horizon.
The tension inside the control center had grown into
something physically perceptible. Tight-lipped, Marta Lane
stared as the acquisition time bar crept deeper into the red
“We are now at T plus two minutes and thirty-nine seconds post projected acquisition, Director,” the gate systems
manager said almost apologetically.
“I can see it, Mr. Desvergers,” she snapped “Quantum
monitoring. Status on the hole?”
“No entry registering yet, ma’am.”
Lane glanced down at her assistant director. “Something’s wrong Wolf side, Estiban. Tarrischall wouldn’t waste
our energy this way with a sloppy transfer. He’s got problems. Take us to Flash Yellow. Set alert protocols until we
get this thing sorted out.”
“Doing it, Marta.”
“Contact,” The quantum monitor leaned in over his
workstation display. “Director, we have mass in the
hole …but we have a slow entry … way slow! Less than
one-fifth standard transit velocity registering.”
“What the hell?” Lane’s brows knit together. “How’s the
“Dimensional structure is stable in all aspects. No variants! We have a good dilation here. This has got to be a
barge problem. I confirm we have mass in trans-state and
transit. Gravitational displacement is correct for projected
payload, but it’s just crawling through.”
“Power boards, reserve status!”
“Down to sixty-five of standard. Load draw steady…
Recomputing power consumption rates… We’ll make it,
but it’ll be close. Forget today’s outbound shift, though. This
is going to drain us dry.”
“Forget the outbound! Stand by your reserve accumulators and alert Ces-Lunar for an emergency power draw! Tug
“I want your reception tugs holding right outside of the
worm cage. The second you can get a good approach, move
in and get a latch on her. I think we might have a rogue barge
coming through. Barge Control!”
“You heard what I just said to Tugs. The instant that brute
is out of trans-state, get me a full diagnostic. If she seems to
be clearing the perimeter grid on her own, let her drift out.
Do not attempt active control until she’s in open space.”
“Director! There she is. She’s coming through!”
On the main display, the ultradark of the wormhole event
horizon bulged. Cherenkov radiation played in spectral
lavender waves around the extrusion, hydrogen atoms and
solar wind particles from another star system reintegrating
into conventional space. Rippling shadow slowly peeled
back from the blunt bow of the cargo carrier revealing steel
that shimmered with residual inconsistency.
“Come on, old girl,” Marta found herself murmuring.
“Not far now, just a little more.”
“Barge exit velocity one point five meters per second … No! One point four … point three! She’s decelerating!”
Marta’s world was turning on edge. “That’s impossible!
Barge control, could we have a retro burn or an out-gassing
“Negative! Negative! Her systems haven’t reintegrated
from trans-state and I’m not detecting anything venting!
This has to be an outside influence!”
“It’s the magnetic field of the perimeter grid!” Rocardo
yelled from his station. “It’s reacting with the ferrous metals
in the cargo and hull structure. She’s coming through so far
below velocity she may not have the momentum to carry her
“Damnit, Estiban don’t give me ‘may’! Yes or no!”
The answer came from another source. “Velocity point
five meters per second … point three … Relative velocity
zero! I say again, we have zero velocity… Velocity now
negative point one!”
Half the length of the cargo barge protruded from the unstable, quivering sphere of the gate mouth but only half.
Then, slowly the expanse of metal hull began to shorten.
“My God,” someone spoke in an appalled whisper, “she’s
falling back into the hole.”
“Tugs!” Marta called desperately. “Can you get a lock on
The Tug Controller was already shaking his head. “No
room. No time! She’s going! She’s going! She’s gone!”
Lane’s thumb flipped aside the guard on her console and
smashed down on the alarm key. Throughout the Worm Gate
complex the Flash Red disaster klaxons began their harsh
“She’s still in there!” Narisara cried. “The raft is still inside the channel! She did not exit!”
“That’s impossible,” Tarrischall snapped back. “She had
“She hasn’t,” the Voice-of-Physics replied impatiently. “I
am still registering mass inside the channel. Movement rate
null. The raft must be caught between the magnetic lobes of
the channel mouths.”
On the far viewer, the black sphere of the channel event
horizon continued to hover blandly at the center of the web-work tube of the perimeter grid. Invisible within that sphere,
however, the cargo raft was still present, coexistent dimensionally not only within River-’Tween-Worlds but at the
Earth Worm Gate as well.
“Voice-of-Physics, what happens if we can’t clear the
channel? What happens when we have to reduce the power
“I don’t know,” Narisara replied. “We have never attempted such a simulation.”
“Tarrischall, I can’t! The matter inside the channel is dimensionally unstable. I cannot project how it will react to a
channel contraction. Possibly as a quantum material. Possibly as tridimensional. I can’t tell!”
“As quantum material it may disperse out along the residual thread of the channel, leaking back into tri-space as a
few extra ultimotes
of interstellar gas.”
“You will be compressing a hundred and eighty thousand
of mass down to a point you could balance on a pup’s
Tarrischall felt his whiskers bristle. “To say more simply,
Narisara gave an affirmative toss of her shapely head. “A
mass explosion such as no one has ever imagined. We would
bum brighter than the Life-Fire-of-All-Things.”
“Where’s my power!” Marta called in a half-scream to
her Energy Boss.
“They’re trying to get authorization from the Ces-Lunar
Grid Authority now, ma’am,” the thoroughly unhappy
techno yelled back over his shoulder.
“Damn it, I’m the authority! Tell those idiots to check
their disaster protocols. A Worm Gate emergency has absolute priority over everything except basic life support, and
we are declaring a gate emergency! Tell them we could lose
the wormhole and the whole bloody L-2 complex if we
don’t get that power shift immediately!”
“Doing it, ma’am!”
“L-2 traffic control on red command channel, ma’ am,”
Communications cut in. “They acknowledge your crisis
declaration and are standing by for instructions.”
“Tell them to initiate immediate dispersal of the complex
by Plan Red Roger. Clear all nonessential manned vessels
and platforms out of this traffic block with all speed and
keep them out until we can get a handle on this thing.”
On the big display, the city in the sky was already disintegrating, its component stations leaving their formation
within the Lagrange point. With attitude control thrusters
and dockedtug engines blazing to haul them clear, the awkward voyagers were drifting outward in a slow motion bomb
burst that left the Worm Gate and gate control wheel alone
in a growing volume of empty space.
“We’re starting to get some power supplementation from
Ces-Lunar already, Marta,” Rocardo reported, “but we are
still trending negative on our accumulator reserves. Can we
fade back a little? Let the hole contract a bit to conserve
Lane shook her head, eyeing the sphere of blackness hovering within the perimeter grid. “We have sixty thousand
metric tons of mass out there locked in trans-state, Estiban.
If we try altering the variables on that much malleable matter, I don’t know what will happen. Nobody else does either.”
“Headquarters has triggered a net crisis conference,” the
Assistant Director replied, sounding hopeful. “They’re
bringing in every physicist in the field to work the problem.”
“And maybe they’ll come up with some answers in six
months or so. We don’t have that much time. Power levels?”
“Down to twelve per on all reserves.”
“Dr. Lane, I have an idea,” the tug controller spoke up.
“Why don’t we try and shove the barge out of there? I
could send one of our big Miki T-5s into the hole. I know all
of its systems would go down as it crossed the event horizon, but we could back it off and run it in at full thrust with
a load of momentum built up. It’d wreck the tug, but it might
be enough to knock the barge out the other side.”
Marta turned the suggestion over in her mind examining
it from all angles, then shook her head. “No, that might work
under simple Newtonian physics but we’re operating quantum here. While we know individual atoms can maintain
momentum in trans-state, nobody can say if momentum can
be kinetically transmitted.
“If we ram a tug into the hole, it might just pass right
through the barge’s dimensionally irrational form and go
right out the other side. On the other hand, there might be
enough nuclear forces interaction for the barge’s mass to not
only absorb the tug’s momentum but its physical structure as
well. The two vehicles could merge with an overlap on the
subatomic levels. Two objects can’t occupy the same space,
in the nonquantum universe at any rate. When they came out
of trans-state at Life-Waters, there could be a mass explosion that could vaporize the whole gate.”
“Lord and Lady!” The tug controller murmured. He liked
the People, too.
“We’ve got no choice, Estiban,” Lane stated to her Assistant Director, making her final decision in the matter. “If
we get down to four percent reserve without stabilization,
we’re going to cut the negative energy fields and dump the
For a Gate Controller, those words were blasphemy.
“You can’t be serious!” Rocardo exclaimed, “It took ten
years to isolate and fix a properly oriented wormhole for the
359 system. If we dump the hole …”
“I know. If we dump the hole, it’s gone. We’ll never get
it back. We may never acquire another one for Wolf system
either. But if we can keep the physical gate structure intact,
we’ll at least have chance to try again. If we destroy the
gates, that chance will be gone, too. Power?”
Rocardo replied by looking down at his station displays.
“Now down to nine per on the reserves.”
The string-of-gem city lights on the night side of Life-Waters were blinking out, fading as the orbital light-power-gatherers that fed the People’s civilization shifted their flow
rays on River-’Tween-Worlds, a half cone of raw energy
flooding across space and through the overloading absorption structures.
Tarrischall rode the power tasking pallet himself, nursing
the straining systems like a caregiver with a sick pup, rolling
each control rod with an extended claw tip. “Smoothly,
smoothly,” he murmured to himself, staring into the data
bubble, “I-lick-your-fur, sweet one. Steady down and quit
twitching on me.”
All others in the Gathering-of-Voices were silent save for
Narisara. Bouncing back and forth between her display and
that of the Voice-of-Decision, she maintained Tar'rischall’s
“Evacuation of orbit zone continuing … Voices-of-Central-Energy acknowledge the Word-of—Crisis. We have
priority flow in all channels.”
“Praise to a sane bureaucrat. Thermal grade on receptor
“Nothing is melting yet and that’s all that can be said.”
“And how are the Uprights doing?”
“As well as we are, I must presume. I detect a slight
structural flux from their end, but so far the channel holds
open.” She looked across at Tarrischall. “I speak as Voice-of-Physics. The wisdom is to cast loose and abandon the
channel. There is great danger here and I can see no resolution.”
“No! This fish hasn’t escaped yet!”
“Tarrischall-of-the-Crystal-Springs,” Narisara’s voice
softened, speaking as herself and not the Voice-of-Physics;
“What avails catching the fish if one drowns doing it?”
He looked up from the display for a moment meeting her
polished jet gaze. “I know, Black Fur, but I will not cast
loose while there is a chance. I will not let the People go
back to being alone in this Universe.”
“Yes, she’s stable and holding!” Rocardo yelled in triumph. “We have ambience on the power flow!”
“Reserve levels remaining?”
“Power receptors and cooling systems are operating at
about three hundred percent overload, but they are holding!"
Marta covered her face with her hands and exhaled,
pushing aside the shutdown command that had been about
to cross her lips.
They were holding. The system wasn’t supposed to operate this way, but it was. Almost the full load of the great ces-Lunar power grid had been diverted into the Worm Gate
receptors, the massed output of the mighty hydrogen III fusion reactors poring up through the microwave beams from
the Moon’s surface.
Deprived of their power, the low-gee manufacturing
complexes and mass driver catapults that propelled the
Moon’s industrial economy had been forced into a crash
shutdown and even the urban habitation centers were reduced to operating on solar backup for basic life support.
The screams of protest would already be starting.
But they had time now. At least a little bit to find some
kind of solution.
Marta Lane allowed herself another deep breath before
“Get the backup team in here to cover the stations. All
primary team members stand down for a ten-minute break,
then report to the conference room for a crisis assessment
group. I’ll be wanting ideas, people, any flavor you can
come up with.”
Tanischall looked on as his watchmates drifted aimlessly
or hung anchored to the soft, padded walls of the rest and
discussion chamber. Beyond the hiss of the passage-of-air
grilles the chamber was ominously quiet.
“Very well, he said, “we have agreement that Marrun’s
plan to bump the raft out of the channel with a pusher unit
will not work. What will? What can affect an object in trans-state that we can manipulate?”
“Very little,” Narisara swayed limberly in free fall, holding herself moored to the chamber wall with the extended
claws of a single rear paw. “It is hard for us to even visualize what we are dealing with within the channel. We can describe trans-state in mathematical terms, but our minds are
not made to ever understand it.”
“Slime and stinking water, Narisara, I don’t want to understand it! I just want to fiddle with it! The raft is transstate.
Situation acknowledged. What effects transstate matter? I
She muttered something about simple minds and flipped
inverted, reseating her grip on the wall padding. “The various field effects are valid to a degree within the channel. The
ultimotular forces, gravity, magnetism, all of these things
can affect transstate matter.”
“That’s the birth of our problem,” Varess added shyly.
“The perimeter grids at either end of the channel generate
very strong magnetoelectric fields. The magnetically valid
metals in the raft’s structure are caught between them.”
“Even with all the light-seasons of distance between
Life-Waters and Terra? We are being affected by their gate
fields?” Marrun questioned.
“Indeed,” Narisara replied to the Voice-of-Pusher-Guidance. “The area within our perimeter grid coexists with the
area within that of the Upright’s when the channel is open.
The two are as one with the distance between rendered invalid within the Universe structure.”
She waved a deprecatory mid-paw. “As I said, one can
describe it and understand it mathematically, but our three-dimensional minds can’t create a true visualization.”
“No, but then that really isn’t important … is it?”
Tarrischall shoved off from the chamber wall, an odd
glint in his eyes. “As I said, Black Fur, simplification. Reject quantum physics for now.”
His forepaws gestured out the problem. “Imagine the
channel as a simple, three-dimensional structure. We would
have a perimeter grid producing a magnetic field here
another one here
with a tunnel in between and the raft held
stuck in the tunnel by the two balanced field effects. Correct?”
The Voice-of-Physics negated with a glance away.
"That’s a pup’s model.”
“I speak applied simplicity, Voice-of-Physics. Is this not
a valid model?”
She tossed her head, “It is valid … vaguely.”
“Very well. And cannot the magnetoelectric field levels
be modulated to a degree within the perimeter grids without
losing the channel?”
“Very well again. So if magnetic fields indeed can affect
the raft in the tunnel, theoretically, by varying those field effects, we should be able to shift the position of the raft inside, drawing it toward or pushing it away from the grids.
The Voice-of-Physics eyes narrowed. “That’s not truly
what would be happening.”
“Simplicity, Black Fur, simplicity!”
“Yes, very well, agreed,” Narisara yielded. “At least
that’s what might seem to occur. But to what end? We could
not push or pull the raft completely to either channel mouth
against the resistance of the other grid field and that other
grid field can’t be shut down or have its polarity inverted
without cutting loose the channel.”
“True, but this humble Voice-of-Decision recalls that ultimotes maintain
momentum in trans-state. The raft could
not clear the channel this time because it lacked enough momentum to pierce the grid fields. What if we could rebuild
the raft’s momentum inside the channel by shoving it to-and-fro between the grid fields until it has regained enough
energy to break out?”
“Like rocking a mired land carrier out of a mud hole,”
“Precisely, Gray-laker. If we can manage the shifts properly, I’ll challenge we can pop her out of there like a robug
out of a hollow reed. Speak, Voice-of-Physics. Valid or no?”
Narisara thought long, her eyes almost closed. All of the
watch held their breaths as if on a deep dive. “Yes,” she said
She cut off Tarrischall’s bark of triumph with a lifted
forepaw. “But such an action would have to be perfectly
timed and coordinated with the Uprights at their end of
things. I say once more, perfectly timed and coordinated in
both interval and sequence. Otherwise we could unbalance
and lose the channel. And we have no way of telling the Uprights what they must do.”
Assistant Director Rocardo tossed his work pad stylus
down onto the tabletop. “That’s it, the simulator team says it
could work, but we’d have to do it in absolute lockstep with
the Furrys, and we haven’t any way to tell them what to do.”
“Damn the damn budgetary committee to hell,” Marta
paced angrily beside the conference room. “I told them we
needed to put more funding into communications R&D, but
it’s always ‘next year, next year, we have to watch the profit
Rocardo shrugged pragmatically. “The laser link’s always
been adequate. No one ever visualized having to shove a
photon beam past a mass of trans-state stuck in the hole before.”
“It’s not adequate now. And we certainly can’t wait
around for seven and a half years for a radio message to
Rocardo glanced at his data pad. “We can’t even wait another seven and a half hours. Ces-Lunar is screaming for
their power back, Company Headquarters is demanding we
come up with a solution and, most critically, our receptor and
transformer systems are starting to degrade from the over-load. We have to do something, Marta!”
“I know it, Estiban. I even know what we need to do. But
we have to establish three factors with River-‘Tween-Worlds
to pull it off; an execution time, a duration for the field cycles and which gate initiates the cycling sequence.”
She paused in her pacing. “Tarrischall and his crew are
sharp, as good or better than we are. I’m willing to bet he
must have come to the same conclusions we have and that he
must be hunting for a way to establish a mutual operational
baseline with us to make it work.”
“How are we supposed to manage that without a communications link? By mind reading?”
Tarrischall had returned to the observation dome at the
planetside end of the skynest. With the Word-of-Crisis still in
effect, the half bubble of Glass-like-Steel was empty save
for himself. Floating limply, he juggled his inert sphere-of-communications between his fore and mid-paws in an unthinking pattern, his tiring mind focused on the looming
How do you match thought processes with a semi-hairless,
bipedal land dweller with a penchant for munching on vegetation? How could minds reach across the gap between stars? Talk with me, Marta-From-the-Place-Called-New-England. You must know the solution as well as I. How are
we to do this thing?
If only they could have their last conversation back again.
Just thirty or so heartbeats of the time they had spent casually
discussing music and dance.
Idly, Tairischall twisted the two halves of the sphere-of-communications, triggering the replay of the musical selections Marta had sent him. As the lissome alien tone patterns
flowed around him, he wondered sadly if they were the last
present he would ever receive from his distant friend of
Tairischall’s grip on the sphere tightened abruptly and he
stared at the silver orb as if he had never seen it before.
“T minus ninety! All stations, stand by! We’re doing this
thing now! Gate Control?”
“Systems are in overload but holding nominal.”
“L-2 Block is clear except for authorized emergency
It had been a long, long night shift and now the eyes of all
humanity were peering over Marta Lane’s shoulder. The Ces-Lunar media nets were accessing Gate Control’s video feeds,
streaming a second-by-second narration of the crisis around
the worlds. No doubt the media newsies would have loved to
be underfoot aboard the command station as well, but
Marta’s emergency prerogatives were still worth something.
Likewise she’d also cut off all communication with
Transstellar’s board of directors and semihysterical CEO. If
this didn’t work, there would be plenty of time to be fired
She glanced at the primary screen time hack. Oh-seven
hours, oh-four minutes, and forty seconds.
“Stand by to initiate magnetic field modulation program
on my mark…three…two…one…mark!”
“Program engaged,” Gate Control reported. “Perimeter
grid field intensity dropping to eighty-percent load. Two
minutes and fifty-five seconds and counting to power up.”
Somewhere within the control center a whisper of long-ago music played.
Uncountable trillions of miles away the first bar of the same
tune issued from Tarrischall’s sphere-of-communications.
“Flow increase!” he snarled with eyes narrowed and ears
“Flow increasing to perimeter grid. Magnetoelectric field
intensity growing to plus one fifth of standard.” Narisara’s
voice rose excitedly. “Magnetodynamic flux noted in the
channel, but the quantum structures appear stable. They are
doing it, Tarrischall! They understand! The Upright gate is
reducing flow! They are cycling with us!”
“Yes! Yessss! Marta-of-the-Place-Called-New-England
thinks as one of the People! Four limbs or not, I’d put a pup
in her come the next season!”
The otherworldly music ran on, trickling from the sphere.
“Director Lane, the switching arrays don’t like this. We’re
throwing thermal spikes at each power shift and the cyclic
rate we’ve set isn’t giving us the time we need to cool them
“Blame Glenn Miller, not me, Mr. Desvergers. Stay on the
cycle and do the best you can.”
“Marta, check your quantum structure readouts!”
“What is it, Estiban?”
“We are registering a shift! We have mass movement!
She’s starting to rock!”
A rising chorus of warning tones from the tasking displays
sang a song of incipient disaster that threatened to drive out
the twelfth replay of the Terran melody.
“Tarrischall, the raft was displaying a slow but definite
lateral drift on that last emergence. If she angles off enough
to collide with the grid …”
“Don’t encourage the curse with your words, Black Fur, I
saw it. Claws out, pups! This strike ends the chase. Marrun,
maneuvering room be damned! This time grab her by the
throat and hang on till your jaws crack!”
The Voice-of-Pusher-Guidance grunted an acknowledgment. He had his six most powerful units hovering around
the mouth of the perimeter grid, ready to pounce like a
hunter’s pack on a surfacing deep rover. It wasn’t a bad analogy for the situation.
The shadow sphere within the grid began to shimmer.
“The time is on us! Narisara. Full flow on the gate fields!
Full flow! Haul her in!”
The stern of the cargo raft burst out of the event horizon,
no longer tracking true but drifting off side and angling
across the channel, its dead gyros and propulsor vents incapable of stabilization. Even if the straining function nets of
River-’Tween-Worlds could withstand another modulation
cycle, a few more fractions of drift would bring about a catastrophic collision between the raft and the grid structure. It
had to be now!
Tarrischall held a diving breath as the curve of the raft’s
stem protruded a few lengths from the lip of the grid, hovering on the cusp of the cycle.
“Take her! Take her now!”
Marrun socked his Pushers in. Not even attempting a run
at the bonding points, he rammed the robotic propulsor units
into the raft, spearing it with expanding crash harpoons. Vents
flared and raged as Marrun countered the drift and applied extraction power in a wild paw dance across his tasking board.
Like two pups with a scrap, the Pusher units and the magnetic pull warred … then, ponderously, the raft was floating
back and out of the grid it had entered far too long before.
Joyous pandemonium raged in the two control rooms
There was, of course, an aftermath. Communications between the gate control centers had to be reestablished, the
wormhole had to be closed, and the emergency power diversions rerouted. A protracted series of systems tests and repairs were initiated and a start had to be made on establishing
a new set of operational protocols that would ensure a like
event could never happen again.
And finally there was the press conference.
At Marta’s insistence it would be an audio interview only,
conducted over the communications link from her quarters.
She was not about to present herself to the video scrutiny of
two entire civilizations after an all-nighter at crisis stations.
At least not until she had enjoyed a three water-credit
gluttonous Earth import meal, and at least ten hours of sleep.
Over the laser-link channel from Life-Waters, good old
Furry Tarrischall, as ebullient as ever, was more than willing
to carry the show for her. She had only to add the occasional
word at the interviewer’s prompt.
“We have solution,” he proclaimed dramatically. “I know
wise Friend-Marta must have same solution as well. But we
must coordinate or all is lost. We must begin the cycling of
magnetic fields at the same instant! Same instant! We must
cycle at same interval and one or other must start cycle. But
how is to do this when we cannot speak? Tchah! It must be
done through things already said, from commonalities already available and recognized.
“My mind chases itself. Then I recall last words spoken
with Friend-Marta and the music of the Artist-Called-Miller
given to me. Here is our commonality!”
“Er, Artist-called-Miller, Director Lane?” The interviewer
“As in Glenn,” Lane replied into her interphone deck.
“Tarrischall and I share a mutual appreciation of Terrestrial
pre-atomic age swing music.”
Marta sat back in her chair and started to unseal her suit
liner, thinking fondly of the gloriously wasteful bath to
come. Maybe she would even let Estiban cover the gate survey while she ran over to L-5 for a few days to spoil her
grandchildren. “The previous evening I’d beamed Director
Tarrischall some new musical selections and we’d been talking about them over the director’s channel just before we’d
gone on duty. One of the songs was Glenn Miller’s classic
‘Seven O Five
“This gave time of cycle initiation,” Tarrischall added
smugly. “Standard Human Earth song, standard Human Earth
time, five minutes after seventh hour, Greenwich Meridian.”
“Also the version of ‘Seven O Five’ I’d sent Tarrischall
was exactly two minutes and fifty five seconds long. That
gave us our cycling time.”
“I see.” The interviewer said slowly. “Ingenious. But that
still leaves one question, Director Tarrischall. I understand
that it was critical that one gate or the other had to start this
magnetic cycling to clear the wormhole. Your team was the
one that led off. How was that decided? Did you risk the
communications between our words on a hunch, a guess?”
Tarrischall snort growled a non-translatable profanity
“—guess! We knew! Easiest part of all. Friend-Marta
and I have nice music, I am male, she female. We dance!”
“Dance?” The interviewer was totally bewildered now.
“Of course,” Marta Lane smiled a tired smile no one
would see. “Back in the good old days the gentleman always