The recorded voice ceased; for a moment the record player hummed voicelessly. Loud in
the silence, a photocell acted with a double click, opening one segment of the sun
shielding and closing another at the opposite side of the dome. Space Commodore Alex
Napier glanced up from his desk and out at the harshly angular landscape of Xerxes and
the blackness of airless space beyond the disquietingly close horizon. Then he picked up
his pipe and knocked the heel out into the ashtray. Nobody said anything. He began
packing tobacco into the bowl.
“Well, gentlemen?” He invited comment.
“Pancho?” Captain Conrad Greibenfeld, the Exec., turned to Lieutenant Ybarra, the chief
“How reliable is this stuff?” Ybarra asked.
“Well, I knew Jack Holloway thirty years ago, on Fenris, when I was just an ensign. He
must be past seventy now,” he parenthesized. “If he says he saw anything, I’ll believe it.
And Bennett Rainsford’s absolutely reliable, of course.”
“How about the agent?” Ybarra insisted.
He and Stephen Aelborg, the Intelligence officer, exchanged glances. He nodded, and
“One of the best. One of our own, lieutenant j.g., Naval Reserve. You don’t need to
worry about credibility, Pancho.”
“They sound sapient to me,” Ybarra said. “You know, this is something I’ve always been
half hoping and half afraid would happen.”
“You mean an excuse to intervene in that mess down there?” Greibenfeld asked.
Ybarra looked blankly at him for a moment. “No. No, I meant a case of borderline
sapience; something our sacred talk-and-build-a-fire rule won’t cover. Just how did this
come to our attention, Stephen?”
“Well, it was transmitted to us from Contact Center in Mallorysport late Friday night.
There seem to be a number of copies of this tape around; our agent got hold of one of
them and transmitted it to Contact Center, and it was relayed on to us, with the agent’s
comments,” Aelborg said. “Contact Center ordered a routine surveillance inside
Company House and, to play safe, at the Residency. At the time, there seemed no reason
to give the thing any beat-to-quarters-and-man-guns treatment, but we got a report on
Saturday afternoon—Mallorysport time, that is—that Leonard Kellogg had played off the