The outside viewscreen, which had been vacantly gray for over three thousand hours, was now a vertiginous swirl of color, the indescribable color of a collapsing hyperspatial field. No two observers ever saw it alike, and no imagination could vision the actuality. Trask found that he was holding his breath. So, he noticed, was Otto Harkaman, beside him. It was something, evidently, that nobody got used to. Even Guatt Kirbey, the astrogator, was sitting with his pipe clenched in his mouth, staring at the screen.

Then, in an instant, the stars, which had literally not been there before, filled the screen with a blaze of splendor against the black velvet backdrop of normal space. Dead in the center, brighter than all the rest, Ertado’s Star, the sun of Tanith, burned yellowly. The light from it was ten hours old.

“Pretty good, Guatt,” Harkaman said, picking up his cup.

“Good, Gehenna; it was perfect,” somebody else said.

Kirbey was relighting his pipe. “Oh, I suppose it’ll have to do,” he grudged, around the stem. He had gray hair and an untidy mustache, and nothing was ever quite good enough to satisfy him. “I could have made it a little closer. Need three microjumps, now, and I’ll have to cut the last one pretty fine. Now don’t bother me.” He began punching buttons for data and fiddling with setscrews and verniers.

For a moment, in the screen, Trask could see the face of Andray Dunnan. He blinked it away and reached for his cigarettes, and put one in his mouth wrong-end-to. When he reversed it and snapped his lighter, he saw that his hand was trembling. Otto Harkaman must have seen that, too.

“Take it easy, Lucas,” he whispered. “Keep your optimism under control. We only think he might be here.”

“I’m sure he is. He has to be.”

No; that was the way Dunnan, himself, thought. Let’s be sane about this.

“We have to assume he is. If we do, and he isn’t it’s a disappointment. If we don’t, and he is, it’s a disaster.”

Others, it seemed, thought the same way. The battle-stations board was a solid blaze of red light for full combat readiness.

“All right,” Kirbey said. “Jumping.”

Then he twisted the red handle to the right and shoved it in viciously. Again the screen boiled with colored turbulence; again dark and mighty forces stalked through the ship like demons in a sorcerer’s tower. The screen turned featureless gray as the pickups stared blindly into some dimensionless noplace. Then it convulsed with color again, and this time Ertado’s Star, still in the center, was a coin-sized disk, with the little sparks of its seven planets scattered around it. Tanith was the third⁠—the inhabitable planet of a G-class system usually was. It had a single moon, barely visible in the telescopic screen, five hundred miles in diameter and fifty thousand off-planet.

“You know,” Kirbey said, as though he was afraid to admit it, “that wasn’t too bad. I think we can make it in one more microjump.”

Some time, Trask supposed, he’d be able to use the expression “micro-” about a distance of fifty-five million miles, too.

“What do you think about it?” Harkaman asked him, as deferentially as though seeking expert guidance instead of examining his apprentice. “Where should Guatt put us?”

“As close as possible, of course.” That would be a light-second at the least; if the Nemesis came out of hyperspace any closer to anything the size of Tanith, the collapsing field itself would kick her back. “We have to assume Dunnan’s been there at least nine hundred hours. By that time, he could have put in a detection-station, and maybe missile-launchers, on the moon. The Enterprise carries four pinnaces, the same as the Nemesis; in his place, I’d have at least two of them on off-planet patrol. So let’s accept it that we’ll be detected as soon as we come out of the last jump, and come out with the moon directly between us and the planet. If it’s occupied, we can knock it off on the way in.”

“A lot of captains would try to come out with the moon masked off by the planet,” Harkaman said.

“Would you?”

The big man shook his tousled head. “No. If they have launchers on the moon, they could launch at us in a curve around the planet, by data relayed from the other side, and we’d be at a disadvantage replying. Just go straight in. You hearing this, Guatt?”

“Yeah. It makes sense. Sort of. Now, stop pestering me. Sharll, look here a minute.”

The normal-space astrogator conferred with him; Alvyn Karffard, the executive officer, joined them. Finally Kirbey pulled out the big red handle, twisted it, and said, “All right, jumping.” He shoved it in. “I suppose I cut it too fine; now we’ll get kicked back half a million miles.”

The screen convulsed again; when it cleared the third planet was directly in the center; its small moon, looking almost as large, was a little above and to the right, sunlit on one side and planetlit on the other. Kirbey locked the red handle, gathered up his tobacco and lighter and things from the ledge, and pulled down the cover of the instrument-console, locking it.

“All yours, Sharll,” he told Renner.

“Eight hours to atmosphere,” Renner said. “That’s if we don’t have to waste a lot of time shooting up Junior, there.”

Vann Larch was looking at the moon in the six hundred power screen.

“I don’t see anything to shoot. Five hundred miles; one planetbuster, or four or five thermonuclears,” he said.

It wasn’t right, Trask thought indignantly. Minutes ago, Tanith had been six and a half billion miles away. Seconds ago, fifty-odd million. And now, a quarter of a million, and looking close enough to touch in the screen, it would take them eight hours to reach it. Why, on hyperdrive you could go forty-eight trillion miles in that time.

Well, it took a man just as long to walk across a room today as it had taken Pharaoh the First, or Homo Sap.

In the telescopic screen Tanith looked like any picture of any Terra-type planet from space, with cloud-blurred contours of seas and continents and a vague mottling of gray and brown and green, topped at the pole by an icecap. None of the surface features, not even the major mountain ranges or rivers, were yet distinguishable, but Harkaman and Sharll Renner and Alvyn Karffard and the other old hands seemed to recognize it. Karffard was talking by phone to Paul Koreff, the signals-and-detection officer, who could detect nothing from the moon and nothing that was getting through the Van Allen belt from the planet.

Maybe they’d guessed wrong, at that. Maybe Dunnan hadn’t gone to Tanith at all.

Harkaman, who had the knack of putting himself to sleep at will, with some sixth or nth sense posted as a sentry, leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Trask wished he could, too. It would be hours before anything happened, and until then he needed all the rest he could get. He drank more coffee, chain-smoked cigarettes; he rose and prowled about the command room, looking at screens. Signals-and-detection was getting a lot of routine stuff⁠—Van Allen count, micrometeor count, surface temperature, gravitation-field strength, radar and scanner echoes. He went back to his chair and sat down, staring at the screen-image. The planet didn’t seem to be getting any closer at all, and it ought to; they were approaching it at better than escape velocity. He sat and stared at it.

He woke with a start. The screen-image was much larger, now. River courses and the shadow lines of mountains were clearly visible. It must be early autumn in the northern hemisphere; there was snow down to the sixtieth parallel and a belt of brown was pushing south against the green. Harkaman was sitting up, eating lunch. By the clock, it was four hours later.

“Have a good nap?” he asked. “We’re picking up some stuff, now. Radio and screen signals. Not much, but some. The locals wouldn’t have learned enough for that in the five years since I was here. We didn’t stay long enough, for one thing.”

On decivilized planets that were visited by Space Vikings, the locals picked up bits and scraps of technology very quickly. In the four months of idleness and long conversations while they were in hyperspace he had heard many stories confirming that. But from the level to which Tanith had sunk, radio and screen communication in five years was a little too much of a jump.

“You didn’t lose any men, did you?”

That happened frequently⁠—men who took up with local women, men who had made themselves unpopular with their shipmates, men who just liked the planet and wanted to stay. They were always welcomed by the locals for what they could do and teach.

“No, we weren’t there long enough for that. Only three hundred and fifty hours. This we’re getting is outside stuff; somebody’s there beside the locals.”

Dunnan. He looked again at the battle-stations board; it was still uniformly red-lighted. Everything was on full combat ready. He summoned a mess-robot, selected a couple of dishes, and began to eat. After the first mouthful, he called to Alvyn Karffard:

“Is Paul getting anything new?” he asked.

Karffard checked. A little contragravity-field distortion effect. It was still too far to be sure. He went back to his lunch. He had finished it and was lighting a cigarette over his coffee when a red light flashed and a voice from one of the speakers shouted.

“Detection! Detection from planet! Radar, and microray!”

Karffard began talking rapidly into a hand-phone; Harkaman unhooked one beside him and listened.

“Coming from a definite point, about twenty-fifth north parallel,” he said, aside. “Could be from a ship hiding against the planet. There’s nothing at all on the moon.”

They seemed to be approaching the planet more and more rapidly. Actually, they weren’t, the ship was decelerating to get into an orbit, but the decreasing distance created the illusion of increasing speed. The red lights flashed once more.

Ship detected! Just outside atmosphere, coming around the planet from the west.”

“Is she the Enterprise?”

“Can’t tell, yet,” Karffard said, and then cried: “There she is, in the screen! That spark, about thirty degrees north, just off the west side.”

Aboard her, too, voices from speakers would be shouting, “Ship detected!” and the battle station board would be blazing red. And Andray Dunnan, at the command-desk⁠—

“She’s calling us.” That was Paul Koreff’s voice, out of the squawk-box on the desk. “Standard Sword-World impulse-code. Interrogative: What ship are you? Informative: her screen combination. Request: Please communicate.”

“All right,” Harkaman said. “Let’s be polite and communicate. What’s her screen combination?”

Koreff’s voice gave it, and Harkaman punched it out. The communication screen in front of them lit at once; Trask shoved over his chair beside Harkaman’s, his hands tightening on the arms. Would it be Dunnan himself, and what would his face show when he saw who confronted him out of his own screen?

It took him an instant to realize that the other ship was not the Enterprise at all. The Enterprise was the Nemesis’ twin; her command room was identical with his own. This one was different in arrangements and fittings. The Enterprise was a new ship; this one was old, and had suffered for years at the hands of a slack captain and a slovenly crew.

And the man who sat facing him in the screen was not Andray Dunnan, or any man he had ever seen before. A dark-faced man, with an old scar that ran down one cheek from a little below the eye; he had curly black hair, on his head and on a V of chest exposed by an open shirt. There was an ashtray in front of him, and a thin curl of smoke rose from a cigar in it, and coffee steamed in an ornate but battered silver cup beside it. He was grinning gleefully.

“Well! Captain Harkaman, of the Enterprise, I believe! Welcome to Tanith. Who’s the gentleman with you? He isn’t the Duke of Wardshaven, is he?”