Originally published under the title year 2018!

Originally published under the title year 2018!
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planet is conducting into so densely populated an area as the Greater Magellanic Cloud with a general identification signal, which you could hardly do with a Dirac signal in any event; a signal which is received uniformly everywhere simultaneously with its being sent is not a proper beacon signal. It doesn't matter whether this is He or a visitor coming to us from the entirely unknown; they will be sending some sort of pip in advance, which they would absolutely have to do by ultraphone, there being no other way to do it, and if this requires them to work out a way to punch an ultraphone signal through a spindizzy screen, then they will have done so and you should be listening for it; and you can put a return signal through the same hole." He took a deep toreath. "At the very least, Mark, stop wasting my time telling me it's impossible before you've even tried it."

"I tell you," Webster Hazleton said under his breath and turned a bright scarlet. Behind him, Estelle's father chortled alarmingly on the edge of his metaphorical crack-erbarrel. ^

The riot act, however, had been becoming less and less effective with Hazleton in. the past few decades, as Amalfi knew well; perhaps it dated from Hazleton's new preoccupation with the Stochastics, about which Amalfi had not known until Dee had brought it up; or perhaps-though this was a much less attractive possibility-from an awareness in Hazleton, paralleling Amalfi's own, of Amalfi's growing impotence on New Earth. "Nevertheless," Hazleton said gravely, "I will raise one further objection, boss, if I may. Even supposing that they are putting out an ultraphone beam we can tie to, they're still roughly fifty light-years away; by the time they hear anything we say to them by ultraphone and get a message back to us the same way, we'll be seventy-five years into the next millennium."

"True," Amalfi admitted. "Which means we'll have to send a ship. I'm all for taking ten years or so to make full contact, anyhow, since we really have no idea what it is we're confronted with, and we may need to lay in some armaments. But you'd better tell Carrel to stand ready to fly me out there no later than the beginning of next week, and in the meantime, try to eavesdrop on whatever transmission our visitor is broadcasting. I'll attend to the answering part later from shipboard."

"Right," Hazleton said, and switched out.

"Can we go too?" Web demanded immediately.

"What do you say to that, Jake? These kids were all for going with me on board the city, too."

The astronomer $mjled and shrugged. "Wherever she gets the taste for spaceflight from, it can't be from me," he said. "But I knew she was going to ask sooner or later. It's an experience she'll have to have behind her before she's very much older, and I don't know of any commander in two galaxies that she'd be safer with. I think my wife will concur-though she's as uneasy about it as I am."

Web cheered; but Estelle only said, in a tone of utmost practicality:

"I'll go home and get my svengali."

CHAPTER THREE: The Nursery of Time

Even from half a million miles out, it was already plain to Amalfi that the planet of He had undergone a vast transformation since he had last seen it, back in 3850. The Okies had first encountered that planet six years earlier, the only fertile offspring of a wild star then swimming alone in a vast starless desert, not one of the normal starfree areas between spiral arms of the galaxy, but a temporary valley called the Rift, the mechanics of whose origin lay shrouded impenetrably in the origins of the universe itself.

Even at first sight, it had been apparent that the history of He had been more than ordinarily complicated. It had then been an emerald-green world, covered with rank jungle from pole to pole, a jungle which had almost completely swamped out what had obviously been a high civilization not many years before. The facts as they emerged after landing turned out to be complex in the extreme; it was highly probably that there was not another planet in the galaxy which had undergone so many fatal and unlikely accidents. The Hevians had fought them all doggedly, but by the time the Okies had arrived they had realized that nothing less than a miracle could help them now.

For Hevian civilization, the Okies had been that miracle, giving the Hevians mastery over their own local and considerable banditry, and killing off the planet-wide jungle, in the only way possible: by abruptly and permanently changing the climate of He. That this geological revolution had had to be accomplished by putting the whole planet into uncontrolled flight out of the galaxy was perhaps unfortunate, but Amalfi did not think so at the time. He had formed a high opinion of the shrewdness and latent technological ability underlying the Hevian ceremonial paint and feathers, and did not doubt that the Hevians would learn the necessary techniques for preserving their planet as an abode of life well before the danger point would be reached. After all, the Hevians had been great once, and even after the long battle with the jungle and each other they had still had such sophistications as radio, rockets, missile weapons and supersonics when the Okies had first encountered them; and during the brief period that the Okies had been in contact with them, they had snapped up such Middle Ages and Early Modern techniques as nuclear fission and chemotherapy. Besides, there had been the spindizzies, some from the city, some new-built, but all necessarily left behind and in full operation; studied with the eye of intelligence, they could not but provide the Hevians with clues to many potent disciplines which they would have little difficulty putting to work once the jungle was gone; in the meantime, the machines would maintain the atmosphere of the planet and its internal heat even in the most frigid depths of intergalac-tic space; it would be the darkness* of those gulfs, which the Hevians could mitigate but could hardly abolish, which would kill off the jungle.

Nevertheless, Amalfi had hardly expected to see the return of He, under wholly controlled spindizzy drive, in barely a century and a half, still faintly, patchily blue-green with cultivation under cloud-banks which glared a brilliant white in the light of a nearby Cepheid variable star. That the wandering body was He had been settled back home on New Earth as soon as Hazleton had been able to identify the wanderer's advance ultraphone beacon, as Amalfi had predicted; and hardly five minutes after Carrel had brought his ship out of spindizzy drive within hailing distance of the new planet, Amalfi had himself spoken to Miramon, the very same Hevian leader with whom the Okies had dealt one hundred and fifty

years ago-to the mutual astonishment of each that the other was still alive?.

"Not that I myself should have been surprised," Miramon said, from the head of his great council table of black, polished, oify.'Wood. "After all, I myself am still alive, to an age beyond the age of all the patriarchs in our recorded history; which in turn is only a small fraction of the age you gave us to understand you had attained when first we met you. But old habits of thought die hard. We were able to isolate and purify only a few of the anti-agathics produced by our jungle, acting on the hints you had given us, before the jungle died off and the plants which produced those drugs did not prove cultivatable under the new conditions, so we had no choice but to search for ways to synthesize these compounds. We were forced to work very fast, and happily the search was successful by the third generation, but in the meantime the existing supply had sufficed to keep only a few of us alive beyond what we still think of as our normal lifespans. Hence to most of our population, Mayor Amalfi, you are now only a legend, and immortal man of infinite wisdom from beyond the stars, and I have been unable to prevent myself from coming to think of you in much the same

way."

Though he still wore in his topknot the great black barbaric saw-toothed feather of his authority, the Miramon before Amalfi today bore little resemblance to the lithe, supple, hard-headedly practical semi-savage who had once squatted on the floor in Amalfi's presence, because chairs were the uncomfortable prerogatives of the gods. His skin was still firm and tanned, his eyes bright and darting, but, though his abundant hair was now quite white, he had settled into that period of life, neither youth nor age, characteristic of the man who goes on anti-agathics only when somewhat past "natural" middle age. His councillors-including Retma, of Fabr-Suithe, which in Amalfi's time had been a bandit town which had been utterly destroyed during the last struggle before He took flight, but which now, rebuilt in ceremonial pink marble, was the second city of all He-mostly wore this same look. There were one or two who obviously had not been allowed access to the death-curing drugs until they had been in their "natural" seventies, bringing to the council table the probably spurious appearance of sagacity conferred by many wrinkles, an obvious physical fragility, and

a sexual neutrality -which was both slightly repellent and covertly enviable at the same time-a somatatype which for mankind as a whole had long ago lost its patent as the physiological stamp of hard-won wisdom, but which here among these recent immortals still exerted a queer authority, even upon Amalfi.

"If you managed to synthesize even one of the anti-agathics, you've proven yourselves better chemists than anyone else in human history," Amalfi said. "They're far and away the most complicated molecules ever found in nature; certainly we've never heard of anyone who was able to synthesize even one."

"One is all we managed to synthesize," Miramon admitted. "And the synthetic form has certain small but undesirable side-effects we've never been able to eliminate. Several others turned out to be natural sapogenins which we could raise in our artificial climate, and modify into anti-agathics by two or three subsequent fermentation steps. Finally there are four others^ of very broad usefulness, which we produce by fermentation alone, using micro-organisms grown in nutrient solutions in deep tanks, into which we feed comparatively simple and cheap precursors."

"We have one like that, the first, in fact, that was ever discovered: ascomycin," Amalfi said. "I think I will stick to my original judgment. As chemists you people could obviously give all the rest of us cards and spades."

"Then it is fortunate for us, and perhaps for every sentient being everywhere, that it is not as chemists that we come seeking you," Retma said, a trifle grimly.

"Which brings me to my main question," Amalfi said. "Just why did you turn back? I can't imagine that you would have been seeking me personally, you had no reason to believe that I was anywhere within thousands of parsecs of this area; we last parted company on the other side of the home galaxy. Obviously you must have looped back toward home as soon as you were sure you had centralized control over your spindizzy installation, long before you were much past half-way to the Andromeda galaxy. What I want to know is, what turned you back?"

"There you are both right and wrong," Miramon said, with a trace of what could have been pride; it was hard to tell, for his face was extremely solemn. "We obtained reasonably close control of the anti-gravity machines only about thirty years after you and I parted company, Mayor

Amalfl. When the full implications of what we had found were borne in upon Us, we were highly elated. Now we had a real planet, in the radical meaning of the word, a real wanderer which could ^o where it chose, settling in one solar system or another and leaving it again when we so decided. By that time we were almost self-sufficient, there was obviously no need for us to become migrant workers, as your city and its enemies had been. And since we were well on the way to the second galaxy in any event, and since there seemed to be absolutely no limit to the velocities we could mount with the huge mass of our planet on which to operate, we chose to go on and explore."

"To the Andromeda galaxy?"

"Yes, and beyond. Of course we saw very little of that galaxy, which is as vast as our home; we think that it is not inhabited by any widespread, space-cruising race such as yours and mine, but in the brief sampling of its stars that we were able to take we might well simply have missed hitting upon an inhabited or colonized system. By that time, in any event, we had made the discovery which was to become the basis of our lives and purposes from then onward, and knew that we should have to return home very shortly. We left the Andromeda nebula for its satellite, the one that you identified for us as M-33 on our old star-tapestries from the Great Age, and thence took the million and a half light year leap to the Lesser Magel-lanic Cloud. It was during our transition from the Lesser to the Greater Cloud that you detected us. That was, to be sure, an accident; we had intended to go directly through into the home galaxy and onward to Earth, where, our experience with you had given us good reason to believe, we might find a reservoir of knowledge great enough to cope with what we had discovered. That our own knowledge was insufficient was never for a moment in doubt.

"But it is an accident of the greatest good omen that we should have been found again by you as we were returning home, Mayor Amalfi. Surely the gods must have arranged such an accident, which otherwise is impossibly unlikely; for if there is any man not on Earth itself who can help us, you are that man."

"You were not once such a believer in the gods, as I recall," Amalfi said, smiling tightly.

"Opinions change with age; otherwise what is age for?"

"So does history," Amalfi said. "And, whether I can

help you or not, it Is a lucky accident that you stopped here before carrying on into the home lens. Earth is no longer dominant there. We've had oonsiderable difficulty in understanding what actually is going on, the messages that we get from there came pouring in to us in such an enormous garble; but of one thing I'm sure: there's a huge new imperialism on the rise there, on its way to becoming as powerful as Earth once was, and as Vegas was before Earth. It calls itself the Web of Hercules, and what remains of Earth-'s interstellar empire doesn't appear to be putting up much of a resistance against it. If you want my advice, I would suggest that you stay out of the home galaxy entirely, or you may, well be gobbled down whole."

There was a long silence around the Hevian council table. At last, Miramon said:

"This leaves us with little recourse indeed. It may well be that there is no answer, as we have often suspected. Or it may be that the gods have indeed brought us back to the one source of wisdom that we need."

"We will know soon enough," Retma said quietly. "If in that instant there will be time enough to know anything. Or enough of time left thereafter to remember it."

'1 shall probably be unable to advise you so long as I don't know what you're talking about," Amalfi said, impressed in spite of himself by the tone of high seriousness with which the Hevians spoke. "Just what was the discovery that turned you back? What is the forthcoming event that you seem to dread?"

"Nothing less," Retma said evenly, "than the imminent coming to an end of time itself."

For a while, even after they had explained it to him, Amalfi was so unable to believe that the Hevians had meant what they said that he was prepared to dismiss it as one of those superstitions with which He had been riddled, like many another provincial planet, when the Okies had first made contact with it. That time must have a stop was a proposition that nothing in all his long life had prepared him to accept even for an instant. Even after it became reluctantly clear to him that what Miramon and the Hevians had found in the intergalactic deeps had been a real event with real implications, and one which Amalfi's own people-particularly Schloss' group-were prepared to document, event and implication alike, he continued to be unable to do more with it than dismiss it out of hand.
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