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Pinpoint In Space







From: Gold In The Sky

Tom knew now that it was the right thing to do. There was no question,
after the Major's story, of what Dad had been doing out in the Belt at
the time he had been killed. He had been doing a job that was more
important to him than asteroid mining ... but he had found something
more important than his own life, and had no chance to send word of what
he had found back to Major Briarton on Mars. That had been the
unforeseeable part of the trap.

But now, of course, the Major had to know.

The Mars Coordinator looked at the thing on the desk for a long moment
before he reached out to touch it. The bright metal gleamed in the
light, pale gray, lustrous. The Major picked it up, balanced it expertly
in his hand, and a puzzled frown clouded his face. He examined it
minutely.

"What is this thing?" he said.

"Suppose you tell us," Johnny Coombs said from across the room.

"It looks like a gun."

"That's what it is, all right."

"You've fired it?"

"Yes ... but I wouldn't fire it in here, if I were you," Johnny said.
"You were wondering how we wrecked Tawney's orbit-ship so thoroughly.
That's your answer right there." He told about the hole in the bulkhead,
the way the ship's generators had melted like clay under the powerful
blast of the weapon.

The Major could hardly control his excitement. "Where did you get it?"
he asked, turning to Tom.

"From the space pack that you turned over to us. I didn't even look at
it, until we needed a gun in a hurry. I just assumed it was Dad's
revolver."

"And your father found it somewhere in the Belt," the Major said softly.
He looked at the weapon again, shaking his head. "There isn't any such
gun," he said finally. "These things you say it could do ... they would
require energy enough to break down the cohesive forces of molecules.
There isn't any way we know of to harness that kind of energy and
channel it in a hand weapon. Nobody on Earth...."

He broke off and stared at them.

"That's right," Johnny said. "Nobody on Earth."

"You mean ... extraterrestrial?"

"There isn't any other answer," Johnny said. "Look at the thing,
Major. Feel it. Does it feel like it was made for a human hand? It
doesn't fit, it doesn't balance, you have to hold it with both hands to
aim it...."

"But where did it come from?" the Major said. "We've never had
visitors from another star system ... not in the course of recorded
history. And we know that Earthmen are the only intelligent creatures in
our Solar System."

"You mean that they're the only ones now," Tom said.

"Or any other time."

"We don't know that, for sure," Tom said.

"Look, we've explored Venus, Mars, all the major satellites. If there
had ever been intelligence on any of them, we'd have known it."

"Maybe there was a planet that Earthmen haven't explored," Tom said.
"Even Dad tried to tell us that. The quotation from Kepler that he
scribbled down in his log ... 'Between Jupiter and Mars I will put a
planet.' Why would Dad have written that? Unless he had suddenly
discovered proof that there had been a planet there?"

"You mean this ... this gun," the Major said.

"And whatever else he found."

"But there's never been any proof of that theory ... not even a hint of
proof."

"Maybe Dad found proof. There are hundreds of thousands of asteroid
fragments out there in the Belt, and only a few hundred of them have
ever been examined by men."

On the desk the strange weapon stared up at them. Evidence, mute
evidence, and yet its very existence said more than a thousand words. It
was there. It could not be denied.

And someone ... or something ... had made it.

Slowly the Major pulled himself to his feet. "It must have happened
after his last message to me," he said. "It wasn't part of the scheme we
had set up, but he made a strike just the same ... an archeological
strike ... and this gun was part of it." He picked up the weapon, turned
it over in his hand. "But it was days after that last message before his
signal went off, and the Patrol ship moved in."

"It makes sense," Johnny Coombs said. "He found the gun, and something
more."

"Like what?"

"I wouldn't even guess," Johnny said. "A planet with a race of creatures
intelligent enough and advanced enough to make a weapon like that ... it
could have been anything. But whatever it was, it must have scared him.
He must have known that a company ship might turn up any minute ... so
he hid whatever he had found, and all he dared to leave was a hint."

"And now it's vanished," the Major said. "The big flaw in the whole
idea. My Patrol ship found nothing when it searched the region. You
looked, and drew a blank. The company men scoured the area." He spread
his hands helplessly. "You see, it just won't hold up, not a bit of it.
Even with this gun, it won't hold up. We've got to find the answer."

"It's out there somewhere," Tom said doggedly. "It's got to be."

"But where? Don't you see that everything hangs on that one thing? If
we could prove that your father found something just before he was
killed, we could tear Jupiter Equilateral's case against you into
shreds. We could charge them with piracy and murder, and make it stick.
We could break their power once and for all ... but until we know what
Roger Hunter found, we're helpless. They'll take you three to court, and
I won't be able to stop them. And if you lose that case, it may mean the
end of U.N. authority on Mars."

"Then there's just one thing to do," Johnny Coombs said. "We've got to
find Roger Hunter's bonanza."

* * * * *

It was almost midnight when they left the Major's office, a gloomy trio,
walking silently up the ramp to the Main Concourse, heading toward the
living quarters.

They had been talking with the Major for hours, going over every facet
of the story, wracking their brains for the answer ... but the answer
had not come.

Roger Hunter had found something, and hidden it so well that three
groups of searchers had failed to discover it. After seeing the gun, the
Major was convinced that there had indeed been a discovery made. But
whatever that discovery had been, it was gone as if it had never
existed ... as if by some sort of magic it had been turned invisible,
or conjured away to another part of the Solar System.

Finally, they had given up, at least for the moment. "It has to be
there," the Major had said wearily. "It hasn't vanished, or miraculously
ceased to exist. We know he was working on one claim, one asteroid.
There were no other asteroids in the region ... and even the ones within
suicide radius have been searched."

"It's there, all right," Tom said. "We're missing something, that's
all."

"But what? Asteroids have stable orbits. Nobody can just make one
disappear...."

They had called it a night, finally.

Once home they found more bad news waiting. There were two messages on
the recordomat. The first was an official summons to appear before the
United Nations Board of Investigations at 9:00 the following morning to
answer "certain charges placed against the above named persons by the
Governing Board of Jupiter Equilateral Mining Industries, and by one
Merrill Tawney, plaintiff, representing said Governing Board." They
listened to the plastic record twice. Then Greg tossed it down the waste
chute.

The other message was addressed to Greg, from the Commanding Officer of
Project Star-Jump. The message was very polite and regretful; it was
also very firm. The pressure of the work there, in his absence, made it
necessary for the Project to suspend Greg on an indefinite leave of
absence. Application for reinstatement could be made at a later date,
but acceptance could not be guaranteed....

"Well, I might have expected it," Greg said, "after what the Major told
us. The money for Star-Jump must have been coming from somewhere, and
now we know where. The company probably figures to lay claim on any
star-drive that's ever developed." He dropped the notice down the chute,
and laughed. "I guess I really asked for it."

"You mean I pushed you into it," Tom said bitterly. "If I'd kept my big
mouth shut at the very start of this thing, you'd have gone back to the
Project and that would have been the end of it...."

* * * * *

Greg looked at him. "You big bum, do you think I really care?" He
grinned. "Don't feel too guilty, Twin. We've been back to back on this
one."

He pulled off his shirt and walked into the shower room. Johnny Coombs
was already stretched out on the sofa, snoring softly.

Quite suddenly the room seemed hot and stuffy, oppressive. He couldn't
make his thoughts come straight. There had been too much thinking, too
much speculation. Tom stood up and slipped on his jacket.

He had to walk, to move about, to try to think. He slipped open the
door, and started for the ramp leading to the Main Concourse.

There was an answer, somewhere.

He walked on along the steel walkways, trying to clear his mind of the
doubts and questions that were plaguing him. At first he just wandered,
but presently he realized that he had a destination in mind.

He went up a ramp and across the lobby of the United Nations
Administration Building. He took a spur off the main corridor, and came
to a doorway with a small circular staircase beyond it. At the bottom of
the stairs he opened a steel door and stepped into the Map Room.

It was a small darkened amphitheater, with a curving row of seats along
one wall. On either side were film viewers and micro-readers. And
curving around on the far wall, like a huge parabolic mirror, was the
Map.

Tom had been here many times before, and always he gasped in wonder when
he saw the awesome beauty of the thing. Stepping into the Map Room was
like stepping into the center of a huge cathedral. Here was the glowing,
moving panorama of the Solar System spread out before him in a
breath-taking three-dimensional image. Standing here before the Map it
seemed as if he had suddenly become enormous and omnipotent, hanging
suspended in the blackness of space and staring down at the Solar System
from a vantage point a million miles away.

Once, Dad had told him, there had been a great statue in the harbor of
Old New York which had been a symbol of freedom for strangers coming to
that city from across the sea, and a welcome for countrymen returning
home. And someday, he knew, this view of the Solar System would be
waiting to greet Earthmen making their way home from distant stars. The
Map was only an image, a gift from the United Nations to the colonists
on Mars, but it reproduced the Solar System in the minutest detail that
astronomers could make possible.

In the center, glowing like a thing alive, was the Sun, the hub of the
magnificent wheel. Around it, moving constantly in their orbits, were
the planets, bright points of light on the velvet blackness of the
screen. Each orbit was computed and held on the screen by the great
computer in the vault below.

But there was more on the Map than the Sun and the planets, with their
satellites. Tiny green lights marked the Earth-Mars and the Earth-Venus
orbit-ships, moving slowly across the screen. Beyond Mars, a myriad of
tiny lights projected on the screen, the asteroids. Without the
magnifier Tom could identify the larger ones ... Ceres, on the opposite
side of the Sun from Mars now as it moved in its orbit; smaller Juno,
and Pallas, and Vesta....

For each asteroid which had been identified, and its orbit plotted,
there was a pinpoint of light on the screen. For all its beauty, the Map
had a very useful purpose ... the registry and identification of
asteroid claims among the miners of Mars. Each asteroid registered as a
claim showed up as a red pinpoint; unclaimed asteroids were white. But
even with the advances of modern astronomy only a small percentage of
the existing asteroids were on the map, for the vast majority had never
been plotted.

Tom moved up to the Map and activated the magnifier. Carefully he
focussed down on the section of the Asteroid Belt they had visited so
recently. Dozens of pinpoints sprang to view, both red and white, and
beneath each red light the claim-number neatly registered. Tom peered at
the section, searching until he found the number of Roger Hunter's last
claim.

It was quite by itself, not a part of an asteroid cluster. He stepped up
the magnification, peered at it closely. There were a dozen other
pinpoints, all unclaimed, within a ten-thousand-mile radius....

But near it, nothing....

No hiding place.

And then, suddenly, he knew the answer. He stared at the Map, his heart
pounding in his throat. He cut the magnification, scanning a wide area.
Then he widened the lens still further, and checked the coordinates at
the bottom of the viewer.

He knew that he was right. He had to be right. But this was no wild
dream, this was something that could be proved beyond any question of
error.

Across the room he picked up the phone to Map Control. It buzzed
interminably; then a sleepy voice answered.

"The Map," Tom managed to say. "It's recorded on time-lapse film, isn't
it?"

"'Course it is," the sleepy voice said. "Observatory has to have the
record. One frame every hour...."

"I've got to see some of the old film," Tom said.

"Now? It's three in the morning."

"I don't need the film itself, just project it for me. There's a reader
here."

He gave the man the dates he wanted, Mars time. The man broke the
contact, grumbling, but moments later one of the film-viewers sprang to
life. The Map coordinates showed at the bottom of the screen.

Tom stared at the filmed image ... the image of a segment of the
Asteroid Belt the day before Roger Hunter had died.

It was there. When he had looked at the Map, he had seen a single red
pinpoint of light, Roger Hunter's asteroid, with nothing in the heavens
anywhere near it.

But on the film image taken weeks before there were two points of light.
One was red, with Roger Hunter's claim number beneath it. The other was
white, so close to the first that even at full magnification it was
barely distinguishable.

But it was there.

Tom's hands were trembling with excitement; he nearly dropped the phone
receiver as he punched the buttons to ring the apartment. Greg's face
appeared on the screen, puffy with sleep. "What's that? Thought you were
in bed...."

"You've got to get down here," Tom said.

Greg blinked, waking up. "What's the matter? Where are you?"

"In the Map Room. Wake Johnny up and get down here. And try to get hold
of the Major."

"You've found something," Greg said, excited now.

"I've found something," Tom said. "I've found where Dad hid his
strike ... and I know how we can find it! We've got the answer, Greg."





Next: The Missing Asteroid

Previous: The Sinister Bonanza



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