Was this ill-fated expedition the end of a proud, old race—or the beginning of a new one?
There are strange gaps in our records of the past. We find traces of man-like things—but,
suddenly, man appears, far too much developed to be the "next step" in a well-linked
chain of evolutionary evidence. Perhaps something like the events of this story furnishes
the answer to the riddle.
Aboard the ship, there was neither day nor night; the hours slipped gently by, as vistas of
star-gemmed blackness slid across the visiscreens. For the crew, time had some
meaning—one watch on duty and two off. But for the thousand-odd colonists, the men
and women who were to be the spearhead of migration to a new and friendlier planet, it
had none. They slept, and played, worked at such tasks as they could invent, and slept
again, while the huge ship followed her plotted trajectory.
Kalvar Dard, the army officer who would lead them in their new home, had as little to do
as any of his followers. The ship's officers had all the responsibility for the voyage, and,
for the first time in over five years, he had none at all. He was finding the unaccustomed
idleness more wearying than the hectic work of loading the ship before the blastoff from
Doorsha. He went over his landing and security plans again, and found no probable
emergency unprepared for. Dard wandered about the ship, talking to groups of his
colonists, and found morale even better than he had hoped. He spent hours staring into
the forward visiscreens, watching the disc of Tareesh, the planet of his destination, grow
larger and plainer ahead.
Now, with the voyage almost over, he was in the cargo-hold just aft of the Number Seven
bulkhead, with six girls to help him, checking construction material which would be
needed immediately after landing. The stuff had all been checked two or three times
before, but there was no harm in going over it again. It furnished an occupation to fill in
the time; it gave Kalvar Dard an excuse for surrounding himself with half a dozen
charming girls, and the girls seemed to enjoy being with him. There was tall blonde Olva,
the electromagnetician; pert little Varnis, the machinist's helper; Kyna, the surgeon's-
aide; dark-haired Analea; Dorita, the accountant; plump little Eldra, the armament
technician. At the moment, they were all sitting on or around the desk in the corner of the
store-room, going over the inventory when they were not just gabbling.
"Well, how about the rock-drill bitts?" Dorita was asking earnestly, trying to stick to
business. "Won't we need them almost as soon as we're off?"
"Yes, we'll have to dig temporary magazines for our explosives, small-arms and artillery
ammunition, and storage-pits for our fissionables and radioactives," Kalvar Dard replied.