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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK STARMAN'S QUEST *** Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
STARMAN'S QUEST By Robert Silverberg

The Lexman Spacedrive gave man the stars—but at a fantastic price.

Interstellar exploration, colonization, and trade became things of reality. The benefits to Earth were enormous. But because of the Fitzgerald Contraction, a man who shipped out to space could never live a normal life on Earth again.

Travelling at speeds close to that of light, spacemen lived at an accelerated pace. A nine-year trip to Alpha Centauri and back seemed to take only six weeks to men on a spaceship. When they returned, their friends and relatives had aged enormously in comparison, old customs had changed, even the language was different.

So they did the only thing they could do. They formed a guild of Spacers, and lived their entire lives on the starships, raised their families there, and never set foot outside their own Enclave during their landings on Earth. They grew to despise Earthers, and the Earthers grew to despise them in turn. There was no logical reason for it, except that they were—different. That was enough.

But not all Starmen liked being different. Alan Donnell loved space, and the ship, and life aboard it. His father, Captain of the Valhalla, lived for nothing but the traditions of the Spacers. But his twin brother, Steve, couldn't stand it, and so he jumped ship.

It had happened only a few weeks before, as Alan experienced it. For Steve, though, he knew it would have been nine years in the past. Now, while Alan was still only 17 years old, Steve would be 26!

Thinking about it got under Alan's skin, finally. The bond between twins is a strong one, and Alan couldn't stand to see it broken so abruptly and permanently. There were other things, too. If Alan remained on the Valhalla, he'd have to marry one of the girls of the ship, and the choice of those his own age was pitifully small. And above all else, he was convinced that the secret of the Cavour Hyperdrive was hidden somewhere on Earth—the Cavour Hyperdrive, that would enable man to leap interstellar distances almost instantaneously, and bring an end to the sharp differences between Earthers and Spacers.

These forces worked quietly within him—and suddenly, without really meaning to, Alan in turn jumped ship and remained on Earth!

There were many times when he regretted it. He found Earth a bewildering and utterly hostile place. To stay alive, he had to play a ruthless game—and he couldn't even find anyone to tell him the rules. Within the first few hours, he came dangerously close to being murdered and then to being thrown in jail. He had no clues to the whereabouts of Steve, and couldn't even be sure his nine-years-older twin brother was still alive. And the Cavour Hyperdrive was the merest will-o'-the-wisp, dancing wildly before him in his dreams.

Somehow, he survived. It wasn't easy, and he didn't do it without serious sacrifices. He became a professional gambler, and almost became a drug addict. He became involved in a monstrous criminal syndicate, knowing that no criminal could possibly escape punishment. He betrayed the few friends he had, and fought furiously against everyone and everything he encountered.

He thought longingly, often, of the Valhalla, and his lost life aboard her. But he never completely lost hope.

Starman's Quest is Alan Donnell's story—a story that will keep you on the edge of your chair until the very last page. It's the most exciting book yet from one of the most exciting new writers ever to hit the science-fiction field.

GNOME PRESS, INC.
P.O. Box 161, Hicksville, N. Y.

Cover by Stan Mack

BOOKS BY ROBERT SILVERBERG

Starman's Quest

Revolt on Alpha C

The Thirteenth Immortal

Master of Life and Death

The Shrouded Planet
(with Randall Garrett)

Invaders from Earth

Starman's
Quest

by

ROBERT
SILVERBERG

GNOME PRESS

HICKSVILLE, N. Y.

Copyright 1958 by Robert Silverberg

First Edition. All Rights Reserved

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission, except for brief quotations in critical articles and reviews.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 58-8767

MANUFACTURED IN THE U.S.A.

Transcriber's Note: Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note. Variant spellings have been retained. Author's
Preface

This was my second novel, which I wrote when I was 19, in my junior year at Columbia. I've written better ones since. But readers interested in the archaeology of a writing career will probably find much to explore here.

Robert Silverberg
17 May 2008

FOR BILL EDGERTON

1933-1956

[7]

Prologue

The Lexman Spacedrive was only the second most important theoretical accomplishment of the exciting years at the dawn of the Space Age, yet it changed all human history and forever altered the pattern of sociocultural development on Earth.

Yet it was only the second most important discovery.

The Cavour Hyperdrive unquestionably would have held first rank in any historical assessment, had the Cavour Hyperdrive ever reached practical use. The Lexman Spacedrive allows mankind to reach Alpha Centauri, the closest star with habitable planets, in approximately four and a half years. The Cavour Hyperdrive—if it ever really existed—would have brought Alpha C within virtual instantaneous access.

But James Hudson Cavour had been one of those tragic men whose personalities negate the value of their work. A solitary, cantankerous, opinionated individual—a crank, in short—he withdrew from humanity to develop the hyperspace drive, announcing at periodic intervals that he was approaching success.

A final enigmatic bulletin in the year 2570 indicated to some that Cavour had achieved his goal or was on the verge of achieving it; others, less sympathetic, interpreted[8] his last message as a madman's wild boast. It made little difference which interpretation was accepted. James Hudson Cavour was never heard from again.

A hard core of passionate believers insisted that he had developed a faster-than-light drive, that he had succeeded in giving mankind an instantaneous approach to the stars. But they, like Cavour himself, were laughed down, and the stars remained distant.

Distant—but not unreachable. The Lexman Spacedrive saw to that.

Lexman and his associates had developed their ionic drive in 2337, after decades of research. It permitted man to approach, but not to exceed, the theoretical limiting velocity of the universe: the speed of light.

Ships powered by the Lexman Spacedrive could travel at speeds just slightly less than the top velocity of 186,000 miles per second. For the first time, the stars were within man's grasp.

The trip was slow. Even at such fantastic velocities as the Lexman Spacedrive allowed, it took nine years for a ship to reach even the nearest of stars, stop, and return; a distant star such as Bellatrix required a journey lasting two hundred fifteen years each way. But even this was an improvement over the relatively crude spacedrives then in use, which made a journey from Earth to Pluto last for many months and one to the stars almost unthinkable.

The Lexman Spacedrive worked many changes. It gave man the stars. It brought strange creatures to Earth, strange products, strange languages.

But one necessary factor was involved in slower-than-light interstellar travel, one which the Cavour drive would have averted: the Fitzgerald Contraction. Time aboard the great starships that lanced through the void was contracted;[9] the nine-year trip to Alpha Centauri and back seemed to last only six weeks to the men on the ship, thanks to the strange mathematical effects of interstellar travel at high—but not infinite—speeds.

The results were curious, and in some cases tragic. A crew that had aged only six weeks would return to find that Earth had grown nine years older. Customs had changed; new slang words made language unintelligible.

The inevitable development was the rise of a guild of Spacers, men who spent their lives flashing between the suns of the universe and who had little or nothing to do with the planet-bound Earthers left behind. Spacer and Earther, held apart forever by the inexorable mathematics of the Fitzgerald Contraction, came to regard each other with a bitter sort of distaste.

The centuries passed—and the changes worked by the coming of the Lexman Spacedrive became more pronounced. Only a faster-than-light spacedrive could break down the ever-widening gulf between Earther and Spacer—and the faster-than-light drive remained as unattainable a dream as it had been in the days of James Hudson Cavour.

Sociocultural Dynamics
Leonid Hallman
London, 3876

[11]

Chapter
One

The sound of the morning alarm rang out, four loud hard clear gong-clangs, and all over the great starship Valhalla the men of the Crew rolled out of their bunks to begin another day. The great ship had travelled silently through the endless night of space while they slept, bringing them closer and closer to the mother world, Earth. The Valhalla was on the return leg of a journey to Alpha Centauri.

But one man aboard the starship had not waited for the morning alarm. For Alan Donnell the day had begun several hours before. Restless, unable to sleep, he had quietly slipped from his cabin in the fore section, where the unmarried Crewmen lived, and had headed forward to the main viewscreen, in order to stare at the green planet growing steadily larger just ahead.

He stood with his arms folded, a tall red-headed figure, long-legged, a little on the thin side. Today was his seventeenth birthday.

Alan adjusted the fine controls on the viewscreen and[12] brought Earth into sharper focus. He tried to pick out the continents on the planet below, struggling to remember his old history lessons. Tutor Henrich would not be proud of him, he thought.

That's South America down there, he decided, after rejecting the notion that it might be Africa. They had pretty much the same shape, and it was so hard to remember what Earth's continents looked like when there were so many other worlds. But that's South America. And so that's North America just above it. The place where I was born.

Then the 0800 alarm went off, the four commanding gongs that Alan always heard as It's! Time! Wake! Up! The starship began to stir into life. As Alan drew out his Tally and prepared to click off the start of a new day, he felt a strong hand firmly grasp his shoulder.

"Morning, son."

Alan turned from the viewscreen. He saw the tall, gaunt figure of his father standing behind him. His father—and the Valhalla's captain.

"Good rising, Captain."

Captain Donnell eyed him curiously. "You've been up a while, Alan. I can tell. Is there something wrong?"

"Just not sleepy, that's all," Alan said.

"You look troubled about something."

"No, Dad—I'm not," he lied. To cover his confusion he turned his attention to the little plastic gadget he held in his hand—the Tally. He punched the stud; the register whirred and came to life.

He watched as the reading changed. The black-on-yellow dials slid forward from Year 16 Day 365 to Year 17 Day 1.[13]

As the numbers dropped into place his father said, "It's your birthday, is it? Let it be a happy one!"

"Thanks, Dad. You know, it'll feel fine to have a birthday on Earth!"

The Captain nodded. "It's always good to come home, even if we'll have to leave again soon. And this will be the first time you've celebrated your birthday on your native world in—three hundred years, Alan."

Grinning, Alan thought, Three hundred? No, not really. Out loud he said, "You know that's not right, Dad. Not three hundred years. Just seventeen." He looked out at the slowly-spinning green globe of Earth.

"When on Earth, do as the Earthers do," the Captain said. "That's an old proverb of that planet out there. The main vault of the computer files says you were born in 3576, unless I forget. And if you ask any Earther what year this is he'll tell you it's 3876. 3576-3876—that's three hundred years, no?" His eyes twinkled.

"Stop playing games with me, Dad." Alan held forth his Tally. "It doesn't matter what the computer files say. Right here it says Year 17 Day 1, and that's what I'm going by. Who cares what year it is on Earth? This is my world!"

"I know, Alan."

Together they moved away from the viewscreen; it was time for breakfast, and the second gongs were sounding. "I'm just teasing, son. But that's the sort of thing you'll be up against if you leave the Starmen's Enclave—the way your brother did."

Alan frowned and his stomach went cold. He wished the unpleasant topic of his brother had not come up. "You think there's any chance Steve will come back,[14] this time down? Will we be in port long enough for him to find us?"

Captain Donnell's face clouded. "We're going to be on Earth for almost a week," he said in a suddenly harsh voice. "That's ample time for Steve to rejoin us, if he cares to. But I don't imagine he'll care to. And I don't know if I want very much to have him back."

He paused outside the handsomely-panelled door of his private cabin, one hand on the thumb-plate that controlled entrance. His lips were set in a tight thin line. "And remember this, Alan," he

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