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General Max Shorter   By: (1925-1980)

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Illustrated by GIUNTA

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy December 1962. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

To spread Mankind to the stars carries a high cost in lives and not all of them are human!


Miracastle: The initial landing had been made on a flat plateau among steep, foreboding mountains which seemed to float through briefly cleared air. In the distance a sharp rock formation stood revealed like an etching: a castle of iron gray stone whose form had been carved by alien winds and eroded by acid tears from acid clouds.

Far above was a halo where the sun should be. The sun was an orange star only slightly larger than Sol and as near to Miracastle as Sol to Earth. The orange rays splintered against the fog and gloom was perpetually upon the dark face of existence.

This was the first two stage planet man had ever attempted to colonize. Miracastle was so far from Earth that the long ships were destroyed twice to reach it.

The technicians came, commanded by General Max Shorter, sixty three years old. Men wearing the circle whose diameter was etched in ruby steel enclosing a background of gleaming ebon the emblem was a silver D over a sunburst of hammered gold.

The surface of Miracastle roiled with unfamiliar storms and tornados and hurricanes. Before these, the films of lichen evaporated into dust, and the sparse and stunted vegetation with ochre foliage turned sear and was powdered by the fury in the air.

Earth equipment, alien to the orange sun, hammered into the heart of Miracastle. Night and day it converted the pulverized substance of the planet in the white hot core of its atomic furnaces.

Acid rivers snapped at the wind and changed to salt deposits and super heated steam. In the gaseous atmosphere, neutral crystals formed and fell like powdered rain. Miracastle heated and cooled and shivered with the virus of man made chemical reactions, and the storms screamed and tore at the age old mountains.

Inside the eternal, self renewing Richardson domes, the technicians worked and waited and superintended the computers which controlled the processes raging beyond them.

The long ship lifted steadily and majestically through the battering storm and the driving rain of dust and crystals. Out beyond the dense space that surrounds all stars, the long ship probed the ever shifting currents in the four dimensional universe. The long ship found a low density flaw, where space could hardly be said to exist at all. The long ship, described mathematically, was half as long as the continuum the length being inversely proportional and related only to mass. Time was but a moth's wing between twin cliffs of eternity.

Inside Miracastle's orange sun, at its very core, an atom of hydrogen was destroyed completely; and in the inconceivable distance, an atom of hydrogen appeared. The pulsing, steady state equation of the universe maintained its knife edge and inevitable thermo dynamic balance.

Inside the long ship, a pilot machine ordered the destruction of a vastly greater collection of matter. The atoms of the ship and the sailors fixed in relationship, each to each imploded into nothingness.

And the long ship and the men aboard it were born again at a low density area a million light years away halfway to Earth. Born and were destroyed again, in the blink of an eye.

Beyond the ship now lay Sol, pulsing in its own warmth and warming its children embedded in the cold and distant texture of the universe. The sailors were ghosts come home.

Miracastle was alone with her conquerors.

General Max Shorter, a few weeks later, began writing a diary.

"I have been Destroyed thirty seven times during forty years' service with the long ships," he wrote... Continue reading book >>

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