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.In this domain, in which nothing travels slower than the speed of light, a reasonable inverse of known physical laws held true.Providing no alteration in speed was made during the duration of the jump, the effects of relativity upon entering and leaving tachyon space canceled out precisely, and no dilation of time occurred.The present jump sequence which racked their bodies was an effect of quite a different kind.Wildheit’s silent speculation was that the sensations their bodies were experiencing was an indication of how their senses were trying to adapt to increments of altered time.In some obscure way, the ship was not circumventing the light barrier, but had become enmeshed in it and was dancing through random voids and interstices in the great luxon wall in much the same manner as water seeps through a bed of stones.Nor were the effects constant, but rather continuously varied as waves of heightened intensity began to beat upon an already anguished background.As he lay there, Wildheit contrived to look at Roamer.Since the emotional turmoil was threatening his own consciousness, he was doubly concerned lest the trial should already have taken the girl past the point of endurance.What he found in her face both reassured and disturbed him.She wore the same look of calm she had shown when he had found her in the cabin of the Rhaqui ship with two dead gypsies at her feet.It was an expression of some dreadful internal strength which far transcended his own and fleetingly reminded him of a phrase from Pilon’s farewell on Mayo: “… treat the stars gently, little one.Perhaps a few of them will survive.”Reckoning the probable number of lives which had been lost since that phrase was spoken, the marshal began to believe Pilon’s warning that the rest of the universe was not yet ready for contact with the seers.Then the full impact of a new phase in the jump hit them, and even Roamer cried out with the shock of it.A smashing wave of blackness caught at them as if trying to draw life away and leave only empty husks of what had once been people.Wildheit fought the sensation, then succumbed, feeling his life-force being forcibly stripped from his body and being unable to resist the painful evacuation.Time soon lost all meaning for him.He became conscious some unknown period later to find that all the jump sensations had ended.Roamer seemed to be appraising nothing in particular with a great air of puzzlement.Wildheit pulled himself up, feeling his head to reassure himself that it was still intact.A greatly-subdued Coul hung low over his shoulder.“Eeesh!” said Wildheit.“When those boys say they’re going to take the hard route out, they surely can’t be accused of understatement.”“Those boys, as you call them, have patterns reading back to about the start of Terra’s recorded history.” Something was worrying Roamer.“Where are we?”“After a jump like that we could be almost anywhere in the galaxy.”“I wasn’t thinking of star locations.I meant which universe?”“Hmm! We seem to be having problems with definitions.To me the term universe summarizes the totality of everything.All the stars, all the galaxies, all space—the lot.There’s only one universe, because by definition it encompasses everything.”“That isn’t right!” She made a movement of objection.“Before the Big Bang there was another universe.That’s two, just for a start.”“I’ll take your words for it.But don’t tell me we’ve jumped through to the universe before the Big Bang.”“Not that one, but to another similar.”“What gives you that crazy notion?”“Marshal Jym, I can read the patterns.In the region we’ve entered now, entropy is decreasing with time.”“That’s impossible!”“Why is it? The direction of entropy is only a symptom of an expanding universe.This one’s contracting.Ours began with the Big Bang.This one’s going to finish with it.”“You have me at a disadvantage.I don’t have the information to know whether what you are saying is true.”“Then let’s go to the flight-bridge.Perhaps the stars will tell their own story.”Frowning with faint doubts about Roamer’s ability to contain any more of the recent stresses, Wildheit followed.As they reached the flight-bridge, however, the speculation was replaced by doubts about his own ability to adjust to what he saw.Spanning the flight-bridge, a flattened, transparent dome gave an unimpeded view of a whole hemisphere of space.What he had casually mistaken for a high level of artificial illumination on the bridge proved to be nothing but starlight—but such starlight as he had never before imagined.His mind swam, and he was seized with an instant of vertigo as he began to comprehend the realities of the great stellar host arrayed so magnificently in space.Within the range of his unaided eye, thousands of millions of stars were packed so inconceivably close that they formed a wall of illumination through which it was difficult to see the dark recesses of space beyond.Although he knew with reasonable certainty that many light-years separated each star from its neighbors, it was hard to believe that many were not in imminent danger of catastrophic collision.This was obviously part of a great galactic system, but it was a galaxy so drawn in upon itself that the density of its starry population must have been many millions of times greater than that of any comparable array which Wildheit had ever known in his own universe.Not so visibly impressive but more staggering in its implication was the probability that many thousands of millions of similar galaxies, each with a like complement of stars, would be pressing in from a contracting universe, all headed for the same ultimate and finite death.Here all the matter from an entire universe was returning to the one great and final singularity which was the progenitor of what? The Big Bang—or complete annihilation?He started as Kasdeya moved behind them unheard and adjusted the polarizing fields in the dome to dim the starlight to a more tolerable but still impressive level.“Marshal Wildheit—I promised you a proposal.My colleagues are unanimously behind me in what I have to say.”Kasdeya crossed to a control console, heaved himself up to sit on it, then turned to face them.The oblique incidence of the reduced starlight threw a thousand lines in his face into minute relief, and for a moment Wildheit could have believed the man was fully as old as Roamer claimed him to be.Standing in this faintly alien ship under impossible starlight, in the company of two such unlikely people as Kasdeya and Roamer, Wildheit was suddenly struck both by the drama and the unreality of the situation.It was an instant out of time, in which anything was possible.Kasdeya’s following words were fully in keeping with the mood.“I scarcely know where to start, because there’s so many things you’ve not been in a position to know.I think Roamer, with her unique perceptions, has already guessed at half the truth.You, Marshal, will find this the most fantastic story ever told.Suffice it to say that were it not true, we should none of us be at this place at this time, exchanging these words.”“Does your story have some bearing on the Chaos Weapon?” asked Wildheit.“It does indeed, as you will see.But let us start at a point with which you’re already familiar.As the chicken said, somebody is exploring back down a set of coincident axes from some future effect to its past cause.The two of you are standing at the other end of that same causal chain.”“I understand the words, Kasdeya.But not the reason why [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]