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All Around the Universe

As soon as I left Gildalyn and returned to my own ship, I checked my financial status. Uneasily. I knew that fun and games with a choice morsel like Gildalyn was costly—it always was for me—but the question of the nanosecond was precisely how costly.

I admit it: I'm not the Sandman's gift to women. Not mutated or dismal or anything, but nothing special. I'm just average. The big trouble with that is that I'm not interested in dawdling with just-average girls. I'm always getting out of my class, going for the Gildalyn types.

A weakness like that can make life in this cold, cruel universe pretty frantic.

"Tell me the damage, ship," I groaned.

"I beg pardon, Mr. Rylsten?"

"My financial balance!" I snapped.

"Yes, sir. Your balance is 217 Admiration Units, sir, indicating an expenditure of 1,644 Admiration Units during the past 36 standard hours, sir."

Over sixteen hundred Admires! My mouth hung open. Why, a cost like that meant (my soul squirmed) that Gildalyn couldn't have returned as much as 10 Units! Amused contempt! That was all she could have felt!

"Somebody ought to kick me," I muttered.

"Shall I mock up your father, sir?" the ship suggested.


"Then perhaps your mother, sir. A comforting word may prove more useful than a kick in amending your present mood, Mr. Rylsten."

"No! None of your damned mock-ups, ship! Look. Could the sensors in that twirl's boat be rigged to overcharge?"

"Absolutely not, sir," replied the ship, almost sounding offended. "The Admiration Accounting System cannot be compromised. And any exchange of more than 500 Admiration Units is automatically depth-probed and verified."

"Okay, okay," I grumbled. "Vanish."

My surroundings flickered, the way they do sometimes in an older ship—and my crate was a secondhand job—then went transparent for a dozen seconds before achieving total invisibility. I gazed about dully.

I was moseying off, arbitrary west from Abercrombie Galactic Cluster, where I'd been with Gildalyn. I tried to relax and feel at one with the beauties of nature. That's thickly clustered space west of Abercrombie, and I don't know anywhere in the universe where the spirals are more gracefully formed. Nothing to knock your eyes out, but just attractively restful countryside.

It put me at ease, after an hour or so, and I went to sleep. When I woke ten hours later, Johncrust Cluster lay dead ahead. I felt sleep-groggy, which was an improvement.

I told the ship, "Veer south twenty degrees, and give me some breakfast. Standard menu." I had no Admiration to waste on food. And actually I was hungry enough to enjoy subsistence fare—orange pulp, ham and eggs, jelly toast and coffee—which being standard would cost me nothing.

When I finished, and had been evacuated and sanitized by the ship, I got a determined grip on myself. I had to do something about my finances.

"Tread control, ship."

"Yes, Mr. Rylsten."

I stood up and began walking. The invisible surface beneath my feet felt smooth and grassy. "One-point-five gravitation," I said.

I felt my body compress downward under the weight, and squared my shoulders against it. I hiked ahead vigorously, the ship responding to my changes of speed and direction as I strolled among the clusters, picking my path subconsciously as my mind worked on the problem at hand.

But it was no good.

The trouble was, my old sources of income were shot. I'd gotten too damned old to go running home for a handout. My old man had made that clear. As for the kids I used to planetcrawl with, back in my old home system . . . well, that had gone sour on me, too.

Time was I could breeze in to visit with the old gang, regale them with tales of the famous twirls I'd made the big scene with, and soon have them gaping (with Admiration, of course) at me. Why, once, after I met Jallie Klevillia whom everybody's heard about, I got two thousand Units out of the home system kids . . . and all Jallie got out of me was nine hundred. She wasn't as hot as her reputation.

But the last time I went home to hit my old chums, it didn't work. Maybe they're getting old and hard to impress. I recall Marge Grossit gave me a cold stare and then said, "Boje Rylsten, isn't it time you settled down?"

And Harmo Jones said, "I guess anybody can mingle with the big beauties, if he's willing to drop a thousand Units doing it."

Would you believe I came away from that bunch of low-lifers with fewer Units than I had to start?

So, where the sand was my Admiration going to come from?

I was at a dead end. I might have no choice but what Marge Grossit suggested—settle down with some average twirl; and spend my life eating standard nine days out of ten, raising kids who might Admire their old man; and building interest Units with their mother.

I cringed at the thought. I'd had a taste of something better.

But my thinking was getting me no place.

"Tread control off. Gravity down," I commanded tiredly, flopping in the direction of my chair.

"Very well, Mr. Rylsten."

"Standard beer."

"Yes, sir."

I sat there, sipping the beer like a nobody. That was what I was, a nobody from a long line of nobodies. But unlike all the other Rylstens, I couldn't help knowing I was a nobody.

Old Uncle Buxton, for instance. All pose that guy was. I chuckled at the memory of old Uncle Buxton. When he talked, his tongue wagged his brain! By which I think I mean his brain was foolish enough to believe what his tongue said.

But in his way, he wasn't a bad old joker.

"Ship," I said, "my Uncle Buxton gave me his mock-up three years ago. I don't know if I threw it away. Check and see if you have it."

"Yes, sir, a Buxton Rylsten tape is on file."

"Okay, mock him up. And brief him. I don't want to spend an hour explaining my troubles to him."

"Yes, sir."

I had time to finish my beer before the mock-up came into the living cabin. "Hi, Uncle Buck," I greeted him.

"Hello, Boje," he responded with extended hand. "So it's been three years since you saw me, has it?"

"Sorry about that, Uncle. I've just been busy."

"I understand, Boje," he smiled. "The thing is that you called for me now, when you have a problem that requires mature wisdom and experience. I didn't give you that tape expecting to be your constant companion—you naturally prefer friends your own age."

I accepted that with a straight face. "Mature wisdom"—hah! If self-admiration was spelled with a capital A, old Uncle Buxton would be the richest man in the universe! The truth was that I just wanted somebody to talk to me, without getting mushy like mom's mock-up would, or hitting me with an angry sermon like dad.

"I'll give it to you straight, pal," he said in his solemn, querulous way. "We have to face reality, and reality is harsh." He settled himself comfortably on a lounge. "Who a man is, or what a man is, don't amount to a circumcised Unit! I learned that long ago, Boje. What I'm saying, Boje, is don't expect respect. You understand?"

"I sure do," I replied. "Won't you have a beer, Uncle?"

"I'd be delighted. Now, Boje, your problem is financial. That puts you in the same boat with every honest man who ever lived. No monetary system in history has been fair to the honest man. That's what's held me back all my life. Tell me, Boje. Why do you think our system of exchange uses Admiration for currency?"

"Well," I said, "that's because Admiration is the basic desired quality. Everybody tries to get it, and that's good. It keeps the society moving. So, when science found a way to quantitize and measure Admiration, it was adopted."

Uncle Buxton was grinning knowingly. "That's what they taught you in school, isn't it, Boje?"


"The trouble is, pal, there are lessons the schools don't teach," he said. "They don't breathe a hint of the real truth, which is that our system debases Admiration by making it the object of crass materialism. In the same way the ancients debased the beauty of their handsomest metal, gold, by making it the medium of exchange.

"But the abuse goes deeper than that, Boje," he went on ponderously. "Whether money is based on gold, on labor, or on Admiration, it always requires a man to do things he wouldn't otherwise do. It forces him to act against his higher instinct.

"It makes him chop up the ornaments the ancients loved and make coin out of the pieces. It makes him work when he would prefer to rest. It makes him force his personality into an Admirable mold. Isn't that true?"

"Yeah, and I can't find the right mold for myself," I said glumly.

"Right!" he said emphatically. "And I'll tell you why, Boje. It's because you're too much like me!" I started slightly. If that was true, it was the worst bad news I'd ever heard.

"There's too much honesty in you," he explained. "You want to be what you honestly are, without abusing your better nature by acting the way the monetary system tries to force you to act. You see?"

I didn't quite see, but I nodded anyway. "Then it's what a man does that counts," I hazarded.

"On the button!" he applauded. "Not what he is, but what he does!" He chugged his beer and added sadly, "It wasn't always this bad. Back in the Dollar Era, there was a saying that went, 'It's not what you do, but who you are.' And another they had was, 'It's not what you know, but who you know.' That must have been a golden age, indeed. Society has degenerated."

"I guess so," I agreed moodily. "But our system wouldn't be so bad if they would just change it a little. You take me. I like to Admire. Particularly I like to Admire certain twirls. Things ought to work so that I can concentrate on Admiring them, since that's what I do best, without having to try to be Admired myself. There ought to be an allowance for a guy like me . . . say one or two hundred Units per day . . ."

"Right, but the powers-that-be wouldn't listen to that for a nanosecond," he snorted. "It would compromise the Admirable Society. The aim of our whole system is to force everybody to be as Admirable as possible. It's slavery of the most blatant type! That's the harsh reality, Boje."

We chatted on and had some standard lunch. Then I saw that I had an embarrassing chore on my hands. How was I going to turn Uncle Buxton's mock-up off?

That had never been a problem with mom or dad . . . They were always glad enough to go back on the tape after a short visit. But Uncle Buxton had the look of a man settling in for a two-week visit. If I had the ship unmock him against his will, he wouldn't come off the tape next time in a friendly mood at all.

At last a solution occurred to me.

"Uncle Buck," I said, "I want you to enjoy the hospitality of my ship. The previous owner equipped it with twirl tapes. I guess they were best sellers in their day. Sorry I can't offer you anything current."

There was a lustful glitter in Uncle Buxton's eyes. "Well, now, Boje, that's nice of you, but your aunt, may the Sandman bless her, has old-fashioned ideas. She would have my hide if I fooled around with a twirlmock."

"I don't see how she could, Uncle. You're separate from your original self that's married to Aunt Bauvila. How will she know what you do?"

Uncle Buxton snorted. "I keep forgetting I'm a mock-up. Um, well, I just might take you up, Boje. Who do you have?"

"There's Sondri Cavalo," I began, "and Dince Har—"

"Hey! I've heard of Sondri Cavalo all my life!" He broke in eagerly. "She'll do fine!"

"All right. Ship. Mock up the Cavalo twirl."

"Yes, sir," the ship responded. When Sondri came into the cabin, I introduced her and Uncle Buxton. They hit it off right away, the way mock-ups usually do. Sometimes I think our society was made for mock-ups, instead of the other way around. They don't have to worry about Admiration since they don't participate . . . except as pieces of property . . . in the monetary system. So they can take life as they find it. Sondri wasn't hungry, and it wasn't long before she and Uncle Buxton went off, in a cuddly embrace, to the back cabin.


"Yes, sir."

"Unmock Uncle Buxton after he's had his fling and five hours of sleep."

"Very well, sir."

* * *

It's what you do that counts. That's what I had decided during my talk with Uncle Buxton. It was something I'd known all along, in the back of my mind. After all, a lot of guys do do things.

And I know my way around; so I knew where to go to find something to do.

"Head for Greenstable, ship," I ordered. "That's in Milky Way Galaxy, over in the old sector." A funny name for a galaxy, I'd always thought. Probably after the type of candy that originated there.

"On our way, sir."

I deep-napped most of the way, and didn't come back to full alert until we hit the Greenstable atmosphere.

That planet is somebody's good idea gone sour. Time and progress have passed it by. Its only attraction is the Greenstable Racetrack, which was quite a scene several centuries ago. It was called the "horse-racing hub of the universe" . . . and it is still called that, but only a handful of nuts waste Admiration on a horse nowadays.

The racetrack is still in operation, though, and is energized for mock horses and riders. Other than the track complex, the planet is just a lot of marlboro, with herds of wild horses wandering around, I guess to give an appropriate setting.

I put down on the nearly empty parking area and shuttled to the Jockey Club building. With mock jocks, the club doesn't serve its original purpose (whatever that was) any more. It's a place where guys looking for something to do contact other guys who need something done. All informal, but legal enough to stay out of trouble with Admiration Accounting.

But to look at the guys lounging inside, you'd think doing something, or wanting something done, was the most distant subject from their minds. There was always a bunch hanging around, though.

I got a beer and took a lounge near five guys talking about new-model ships. I put in a remark now and then, and finally asked, "Anything doing today?"

"Not much," one of them yawned. "It's a dull day. Jonmak's got a research thing. That's him over there. Watch out for him, though."

I knew what the warning meant, but I walked over to Jonmak anyway. I wasn't worried. He looked like somebody's idea of the ultimate twirlrave—tall, clean-cut, hawknosed, with a haughty expression—but I don't waste Admiration on such guys. I guess I'm not the jealous type.

"Jonmak? I'm Rylsten. Boje Rylsten," I said.

He gave me an old-pal grin. "Good to meet you, Rylsten."

"Same here," I replied, shaking his firm hand. "The guys tell me you're pushing a chore."

He saw that I wasn't impressed by what a great guy he was, and looked a bit sour. "Yeah. It's a bit out of the average doer's line. Ever hear of Profanis?"

"No," I replied. "If that's a galaxy, it must be a small one. I know all the spirals."

"It's not a galaxy. It's a system."

I shrugged, as much as to say what the sand did he expect. "Where is this Profanis system?" I asked.

He grinned. "That's the chore, Rylsten. Find Profanis."

I stared at him. "That's all?"

"That's all."

"Okay," I said, "I get aboard my ship, and tell it to take me to Profanis. I let it search the tapes for the right sector and galaxy and so on. Then it takes me there. What's the chore about that?"

"The chore is that Profanis isn't on the tapes of your ship, or any other ship," said Jonmak. "Even Admiration Accounting has nothing on it."

"Then there ain't no such place."

He smirked, and peeled a sheet of plaper out of his tunic pocket. "The government doesn't agree," he said, handing me the plaper.

It was a fax of an official U.G. document, issued by the Standing Consolidation Commission of the Department of Justice:

For use of DJ agents, here is a description of the Profanis system, unlocated and unconsolidated.

The system takes its name from its principal planet, rather than from its sun, for a reason the diagram below makes plain. Note the system is abnormal and in high probability is artificial.

I looked at the diagram, which showed the craziest looking system I ever saw.

There was the planet labeled "Profanis" in the center, with about half a dozen satellites orbiting around it. One of the satellites was rayed, and was labeled "sun." The others were just ordinary moons, and their labels were meaningless symbols instead of words.

And that was all. No real sun, no other planets. I thought for a moment that the diagram was not supposed to show the whole system. Then I noticed that stars were marked in a circle around the edge of the drawing, to indicate that beyond the outermost satellite was nothing but interstellar sky.

Of course a "sun" the size and mass of a moon just doesn't exist in nature. But a moon can be fired up to burn like a sun for a few thousand years if someone wants to go to the expense. It involves setting up an anti-matter con-recon field around the object, and I don't know of anybody with enough Admires to pay for that kind of job.

Still, that was what the drawing showed: a moon fired up to serve as a sun, and in an orbit low enough, presumably, to keep the planet Profanis comfortably warm.

Below the drawing, and looking like part of the drawing instead of the text of the document, was a line that read: "The world Profane, least blest of God's creation."

As most everybody knows, "God" is what the Sandman used to be called, back before the universe was explored out to the edge and the sand was discovered. Which meant that the drawing was pretty old . . . at least three thousand years. And now I noticed that the reproduced drawing showed smudges and crinkle marks. So it was old.

I read the rest of the document, mostly about the urgency of Profanis being found and brought into the Admirable Society. Presumably the inhabitants lacked space travel, which meant that when their goofy little "sun" burned out they would all die.

I never heard of anything so fantastic! A planet without space travel!

The document concluded:

Agents discovering any information concerning the Profanis system are instructed to report their findings at once. The accompanying drawing, which was found in the Astrographic Archives of Homeworld Earth, is the only source of information concerning Profanis now known. Additional data is urgently needed to expedite the early location of the system.

I exploded, "This is crazy, man! All they have is that drawing! It doesn't have to mean anything. It could be out of a piece of fiction!"

Jonmak gave a hard grin. "Then what was it doing in the Astrographic Archives?" he asked.

I grimaced. He had me there.

"The government doesn't make many mistakes, pal," he added. "If they say that drawing is of a real system, you better believe it is real. Now, are you going to give it a try?"

I thought it over, and can't say I liked it. If the DJ agents had tried and couldn't find Profanis (and it stood to reason that they had; otherwise the government wouldn't be dealing amateur-doers in) my chances of success had to be extremely slim. Also, the guy who first said "It's a small universe" probably never had the job of locating a particular uncharted star system in it. Certainly not a system with a tiny fake "star" that would be out of detection at a quarter of a light-year!

I told Jonmak, "It doesn't sound promising, but if it's the only thing going and has a big payoff . . ."

"It does," he put into my pause. "Eight Big Ones."

Eight thousand Admires seemed like a fortune right then. "Okay, I'll try it."

He smiled like a guy who has found a doting sucker. "Great! And good luck in the hunt."

* * *

Feeling foolish, I returned to my ship. "Lift off," I said.

"Yes, sir. Where to?"

"Just off. I'll decide where later." The ship rose through the atmosphere, picked up speed as it wiggled between the stars and out into intergalactic space.

"What's my balance now, ship?" I asked.

"Still 217 Admiration Units, sir."

I nodded, pleased. I didn't think that Jonmak had taken me for anything, but I always like to make sure. Sometimes Admiration can slip out of your subconscious without you being aware of it.

"Ship, see what you make of this," I ordered, feeding the plaper about Profanis into its information bank.

After a moment the ship replied, "It is a facsimile of a document of the Universal Government's Department of Justice, specifically the Standing Consolidation Commission, concerning the unlocated and unconsolidated system of Profanis—"

"Never mind quoting it to me! I can read!" I snorted. "The point is, I've taken on the chore of locating Profanis. How do I go about it?"

"Inasmuch as such a search has doubtless been conducted by Department of Justice agents—"

"Right," I inserted.

"And inasmuch as these agents doubtless made full use of such computerized reasoning as I can offer, any avenues of procedure I might propose can be presumed to have been fully explored."

"A great help you are!" I sneered.

"On the contrary, sir," said the ship, "I fear I can be of no help at all."

"That's what I meant."

"Very well, sir."

I thought, and ate, and thought some more.

"How much would it cost," I asked at last, "to put together a system like that?"

"Depending on how many of its constituent objects were found in location, sir, the cost would run from a minimum of 16.4 billion Units. That covers essentially the expense of energizing the fourth satellite as a source of light and heat. If none of the satellites were in place—"

"Never mind. The minimum's high enough. Now tell me this: who has Admires to spend on that scale?"

"Nobody, sir. The highest personal fortune currently on record is 56 million Units. The highest corporate expendable balance is 1.3 billion Units. The highest government unaccountable expense is limited to 100 million Units by law."

"Okay," I said. "When in the past did someone have that kind of Admires?"

"Never, sir."

"Then nobody could have ever done it; so Profanis can't exist," I growled angrily. "I thought this was nonsense to begin with!"

"I did not say that, sir. You spoke of Admiration Units only. Before the Admirable Society was founded, and other mediums of exchange were in use, there was a period of some forty years when numerous fortunes of sufficient scope existed."

"Oh, yeah," I said. "You mean the Worldking Generation."

"Yes, sir."

Which was an awful long time ago. The universe wasn't fully explored then.

"Okay," I said, "how about this approach? Find out where the frontier was back then, take account of every factor we can think of, and figure out where a Worldking would be most likely to set up a secret planet where he could indulge his favorite sins. Does that narrow down a search area for us?"

"Perhaps, sir. It will take several minutes to correlate the data."

"Sure," I said, opening a beer. Before the drink was gone, the ship flashed a 3D map of the Home Cluster. As usual, it showed our own position with a blue dot. And there were about a dozen markings in green, scattered through seven galaxies.

"The green indicates areas of search such as you described, sir," explained the ship.

"Good. This one looks closest," I said, reaching an arm into the map to put my finger on a green patch. "We'll start with it."

"Yes, sir: Changing course for Stebbins Galaxy."

* * *

The next three days I spent filtering around as dusty a patch of backlight as I ever hope to encounter, the ship's receptors full on for any radiator that approached being right for that homemade "sun" of Profanis. It was slow, boring work, but I kept at it. And when I was sure there was no such radiator around there, I told the ship to move on to the next area.

It was bigger, and took over a week to search. My morale was beginning to slip, but I consoled myself that we were looking in the right kind of places. I never realized before just how much of the galactic areas are uninhabited by man, even in the Home Cluster where you assume people are everywhere.

But I could see that this search might take months. Naturally, I didn't want to fritter away my time to that extent.

"Look, ship," I demanded, "how do we know that the DJ agents haven't already searched these same areas, after figuring the problem the same way I did?"

"We don't know that they did not, sir," the ship replied. "In fact, the probability that we are duplicating their effort is .993, sir."

"What?" I roared. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"You did not ask, sir."

"Oh, sand," I moaned. Nearly two weeks shot! And I couldn't blame the ship. Ships have to be inhibited on information feed-out; otherwise they would talk you deaf on the slightest provocation.

"Well, I've had it with this chore," I said in disgust. "I'm going somewhere and have some fun."

"Very well, sir, but you have instructed me to advise you when your financial status is insufficient to cover an intended activity. Such is now the case, sir."

I groaned. Trapped! Me and my expensive tastes! "Damn it, I need companionship!" I complained.

"Yes, sir. May I suggest one of the mock-ups—"

"No! Who wants to fool with those things!" I wandered restlessly about the cabin. There was no getting away from it: I needed Admires, and this silly chore of finding Profanis was the only way I had to get them. Of course, I could go back to Greenstable and see if anything else was doing by now, but that would put me in a bad light there, quitting one chore that wasn't done to ask for an easier one.

So, I had to find Profanis.


"Ship, what does 'profane' mean?"

"It is essentially a negative word, sir, meaning 'not concerned with religion, not sacred.' "

"That's what I thought it meant," I said. "Okay, let's approach it from that angle, then. Check for a colonized planet that doesn't have a church."

"Very well, sir."

"Hold on! What's the probability that the DJ agents have tried that?"

"Quite high, sir—.997."

"Forget it, then!" I was in a foul frame of mind—depressed, angry, and frustrated—and I wanted a Hallypuff very badly. But smokes are nonstandard fare, and wanting a Hallypuff as urgently as I did would make me Admire it just that much more.

"Oh, sand! Gimme a beer!"

For a long time I sat sipping and brooding. I still had the notion that the answer was locked up in that word "profane." The trouble was that, while I'm as religious as the next guy, I don't make a big thing out of it. I'm no expert on what is and isn't sacred.

"Ship, what's the probability on the DJ agents consulting church fathers?"

"It is approximately .992, sir."

I grunted. Evidently I didn't have an original idea in my head.

"Of course they would talk to the Pipe, then," I said glumly.

"Yes, sir."

"And the hermit sandpipers?"

The ship hesitated. "The probability there is lower, sir, approximately .26. The hermit pipers are not highly regarded as authorities on questions of religion, sir."

"Well, they handle sand more than the Pipe himself. He's too busy being an organization." I hesitated over the decision, but finally got it out timidly: "Head out to the sand, and we'll hunt a hermit."

"Very well, sir."

The ship didn't change course—after all, the sand is in every direction—but speeded up. I was so scared by what I was about to do that I had the ship untape a mocktwirl.

I didn't tell her what I was doing, but when we zipped past the last of the galactic clusters, she began to get shakier than I was; so I kissed her and put her back on tape.

"How much longer?" I asked. "Perhaps an hour, sir," said the ship. "We are entering the area of edge phenomena now, sir."

"Okay, just don't show it to me."

"Certainly not, sir."

But even if I couldn't see what was happening to space outside the ship, I could feel it. All I could do was lie limply, but not feeling limp. My eyes were squeezing out of my head, and my throat was coming up and out of my mouth.

Through my terror, I wondered how the first man had made it through to discover the sand. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that this would be over in less than an hour. The first explorer wouldn't have known that.

I thought about that for a while, and was still thinking about it when the phenomena started to let go.

"Approaching the sand, sir," announced the ship.

I sat up slowly. "Okay, I'll look at it," I managed to mumble.

The ship revealed the Sandwall stretching completely across the sky. It had a dim creamy glow (or anyway that is the way ships always show it . . . maybe it is really dark) and was featureless. I stared.

It's a strange sight to look at, and even stranger to think about. The sheer size stuns the imagination. A solid surface of stuff that englobes the whole universe like a bubble.

But it's not just a bubble, or even a wall, even if it is called the Sandwall. Maybe it goes on forever, and has other universe bubbles in it by the billions. The Pipe's pipers have probed it to a depth of five light-minutes, and the sand is still there. Just where it is in it that souls go to . . .

I shrugged. I was wasting time mooning over religious riddles. "Are we close enough to detect hermitages yet, ship?"

"Just coming into range now, sir."

"Good. Let's start searching."

The ship went into a search spiral along the surface of the Sandwall.

"A hermitage is just a ship, isn't it, pushing against the Sandwall?"

"Yes, sir."

"If I stayed in the same place all the time, I'd want something more elaborate than a ship," I mused.

"That would be difficult for a hermit sandpiper, sir. If the hermit traveled away from his stationary residence on the Sandwall, he would be unable to return to it."

"Oh? Why not?"

"He would be unable to find it, sir."

"But of course he could find . . ." I started to object, and then stopped. That surface was big, and featureless, and the area of edge phenomena did strange things to navigation. If a hermit took a jaunt into the inhabited part of the universe, he might come back to a point on the wall a trillion lights from where he started. He'd never find his residence.

That thought led to another, and the pit fell out of my stomach. "How many hermit sandpipers are there, ship?"

"Slightly more than six million, sir."

Six million little ships, scattered over a surface that ran all around the universe!

"This," I said with apathetic calm, "is about as hopeless a search as trying to find Profanis by visiting every body in the universe."

"The difficulties are of similar orders of magnitude, sir," the ship agreed.

"Discontinue the search and give me a Hallypuff," I said.

After a pause, the ship replied, "Very well, sir," and lifted me the reefer.

I sat smoking it, not giving a damn how many Units it might cost me. I was beaten. Sunk without a trace. The End. The last of the red-hot twirl-chasers.

I giggled and threw away the butt of my Hallypuff.

"Just two choices left, ship. Suicide or become a hermit, and I'm not high enough for suicide. Push down to the surface."

"Yes, sir."

The Sandwall moved closer. There was a slight bump as contact was made.

"We're there, sir."

"Well, open me a compartment against the wall. I can't pipe sand through your damned hull."

The ship constricted a bulkhead on the wall side, and I climbed over the lip to squat in actual contact with the Sandwall. It was so slick it felt wet, but it wasn't. I could see the sand grains just beneath the slickness, but couldn't touch them.

Nothing but thought, such as a soul or a piper's probe, could penetrate that slickness. I sat still, glared very hard at a sand grain, and concentrated.

Five minutes or an hour later I giggled and gave it up. I couldn't make a mental probe, evidently; so I couldn't pipe sand.

I climbed back over the bulkhead lip and flopped in my lounger to laugh about it.

"I can't do a thing, ship!" I roared merrily. "Not one universal thing! Isn't that remarkable?"

"Yes, sir."

"How much did that Hallypuff cost me'?"

"Six Admiration Units, sir."

This startled me out of my hysterics. Just six?

But then I realized I hadn't Admired the reefer. I'd been too far overboard for that. I'd just taken it like medicine.

"I can't even go bankrupt," I said, but the hilarity was gone. "Oh, sand, sand, sand. Make a suggestion, ship."

"Your proposal to consult a hermit sandpiper had promise, sir."

"Have you gone back to counting by twos?" I yelped in disdain. "We just tried . . ." I shut up when it dawned on me that I had let something slip by. I nagged myself into remembering what it was. "Okay, so the hermits take trips into the inhabited universe now and then. Where should I look?"

"You might try one of the planets on which they sell their sand, sir. These are in the edge clusters, and specialize in religious tourism. The sand is purchased by novelty dealers for inclusion in sacred mementos."

"Oh, yeah," I remembered. "My great-aunt Jodylyn had one. What planet?"

"Hussbar is perhaps the most famous of the commercialized meccas, sir."

"Well, head for it."

* * *

I found me a hermit on Hussbar, all right. He was a big guy with a noncompetitive face and a full dirty beard. I snagged him coming out of a wholesale sand dealer's offices.

"Your pardon, holiness," I said politely, "but I'm told you're a sandpiper. Could I have a word with you?"

He looked me over and said, "Sure, boy. What's on your mind?"

"This," I said, bringing out the Profanis plaper. "I'm trying to find this system. If you can provide information that will lead me to it, I will find your knowledge Admirable, sir."

He took the plaper and glanced through it.

"Sad," he mumbled. "Pitiably sad. The plight of these poor people, living in sinful ignorance."

"What poor people, holiness?"

"The inhabitants of this system, Profanis," he said.


"May the Sandman bless your search with success, young man, that this world may be brought to redemption," he said piously. "I regret that my meager information of the worlds of the universe can be of no help to you."

"Oh, well, that's not exactly what I expected. I want to know what is and isn't profane. In this drawing, for instance. Is there something in it that makes Profanis profane? That burning satellite, maybe?"

He stared at me. "You mean, boy, that you cannot feel the profane feature in this drawing?"

"No, holiness," I admitted meekly.

"Humpf. There isn't much sensitivity in the universe any more. Get out your pen and pad, boy."

I did so.

"Now copy the stars the way they are shown in this ring around the Profanis system."

I did that.

"What did it feel like you were drawing?" he asked.

"Just . . . just stars, with five points," I answered.

"Let's see your pad." He took it and frowned annoyedly. "You didn't get the feel of the original," he criticized. "Look at it again, and try to draw it exactly like it was originally drawn."

I shrugged and tried again with the hermit watching over my shoulder.

"That's better," he approved. "What did it feel like that time?"

I thought about it and said, "Like I was drawing a . . . a solid . . . a wall of stars."

"Ahah! And since human nature is, in essence, unchanging, the man who drew that sketch of the Profanis system was also drawing a wall of stars!"

"But it looks almost the same as galactic stars are always indicated around a system map," I objected.

"Almost," he agreed, "except for the feeling."

"You mean the guy who drew that Profanis sketch really thought there was a wall just beyond that smudgy seventh satellite?" I asked in disbelief.

"Obviously, and the implication is plain. The drawing represents the cosmogony of an isolated, ignorant society."

I nodded doubtfully. "But if they're so ignorant, how do they know their world's profane?"

"Because, being central, it is the object most distant from the starwall, which the people probably erroneously regard as the dwelling of the Sandman . . . of God, they would say."

We talked on for a while, about such things as how the people could have gotten so ignorant so soon after the planet was given its "sun" and was colonized. The hermit couldn't help with that kind of question. And the questions he did answer offered me no hint of where the system might be found.

Still, that plaper said the government wanted any additional data on Profanis, and what the hermit had told me about the starwall struck me as being worth something.

"What you've told me might prove helpful," I said, "and if it is, I'll Admire your wisdom to an extent commensurate with what I receive."

The hermit shrugged. "Forget it, boy. Admiration is of little concern to me. Go with my blessing, young man."

"M-many thanks then, holiness," I stammered, caught a bit off balance by the hermit's indifference to Admires. What a self-sufficient old jack he was!

I returned to my ship. "Where does the Standing Consolidation Commission of the Department of Justice have its office?" I asked.

"On Homeworld Earth," replied the ship.

"That's where we're going, so back to the Milky Way Galaxy," I announced gaily. "I haven't found Profanis, but I have information the Commission will probably Admire to the extent of a thousand or two Units. My 211 Units will soon have plenty of company, ship!"

"Beg pardon, sir, but your balance is now 32 Units," the ship corrected me.

"Huh? What happened?"

"You experienced a burst of Admiration for the hermit, sir, at the conclusion of your interview with him."

That sly old fraud! He had slicked me!

* * *

Even if the Earth system is the universe's biggest tourist hangout, I like to go there now and then.

This time I came in past Saturn, the gas giant with the rings, and slowed the ship long enough to look at it. Saturn's good for that if for nothing else.

Saturn was sticking in my mind as I dropped on toward Homeworld. Frowning, I picked up the Profanis plaper to refresh my thoughts on what I was going to tell those Consolidation guys.

And there was Saturn again!

No . . . It was just the smudged seventh satellite in the drawing of the Profanis system. The smudge did look somewhat like a ring, badly drawn in an ink of lighter density than that used in the original.

Could it mean anything?

I shook my head. Saturn was a planet, not a satellite. And it wasn't the outermost in the system. Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and a couple of unnamed others lay farther out.

But still . . .

I said, "Ship, don't land. Go into orbit around Earth and let me see the sky."

"Yes, sir. What amplification?"

"No amp. Let me see it like it looks."

The ship flickered and went invisible, and I stared about. A crescent Earth was below. Above were the stars, arranged in the familiar nursery constellations.

I picked out the plane of the ecliptic and had no trouble spotting the Moon, Mars, and Saturn.

"Where's Jupiter, ship?"

"Obscured by Earth at the moment, sir."

"Well, what about Uranus?"

"Here, sir." A pointer flashed on, pointing at a blank.

"I don't see it there, ship. Check yourself."

"I'm correct, sir. Uranus is too dim to be visible without magnification, sir."

"Oh. Neptune, too?"

"Yes, sir.

I grimaced. Well, here I go down another false trail, I told myself.

But the point remained that Saturn was the outermost visible object in the Earth system without using light-amp.

"Ship, let's put this in the simplest form," I said. "How many heavenly bodies could a man on Earth see, just with his eyes, that moved against the background stars?"

"Seven, sir. That includes the sun, Earth's satellite Luna, and the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn."

"Okay, did you notice the ring-like smudge on the seventh satellite?"

"Yes, sir."

"All right. Let's say Profanis is Earth and this drawing was made way, way back, before spaceflight or light-amp was discovered. Then light-amp comes along. Some guy sees Saturn has rings, so he tries to add them to the drawing, making a messy job of it. What do you think?"

"Homeplanet Earth is not the center of the system, sir," the ship responded.

"Well, no, but would an ignorant guy eyeballing from Earth have to see that?" I argued. "He might notice that Mercury and Venus stuck close to the sun, but other than that, the sun's only difference from the other objects would be its brightness. And all the complicated planetary motions would probably snow him, anyway; and he would give up and put them all on neat, circular orbits."

"That is possible, sir. There remains the problem of the name, Profanis."

I paused in thought. What the hermit had said about the world's distance from the starwall came to mind. But maybe there was more to it than that.

"Ship," I said fervently, "if I was stuck on just one planet, Profanis would be about the least impolite name I would call it!"

There was a silence of several seconds. Then the ship said, "The probability is .992 that you have found Profanis, sir."

I just sat there for a while. My feeling of calm and confidence was new to me, and I wanted to savor it, because I didn't figure it would last.

But it did.

* * *

I'd promised myself that I'd go to Bwymeall if I ever got a real bundle; so after collecting my 8,000 Units, that's where I went. And who did I run into right away but that twirliest of all twirls, Lumise Nalence.

I grinned at her. "You're Lumise, and I'm Boje Rylsten," I said. "I've been hoping for a chance to get acquainted with you."

"How sweet of you, Boje," she replied, sticking to the formula. "I do so wish I could take the time right now, but . . . Would you wait a moment while I check with my ship and see if my schedule's open?"


She hurried away to check on me. That's part of the ritual, too, as you may not know if you've never done much twirl-chasing. She wanted to see if I could afford her, and if I am the Admiring type. I didn't have a thing to worry about on either score. And, sure enough, Lumise was back immediately, exuding eagerness and come-hither charm. "This is wonderful, Boje! It happens that I'm free for a couple of days!"

"Great!" I said.

"My ship or yours?" she asked.

"Yours. Mine's an uncomfortable old tub that I ought to trade in. Maybe I'm keeping it out of sentimentality."

We walked arm in arm toward her ship, and she gave my hand a squeeze. "I like sentimentality in a man very much, Boje."

It was a terrific two days with Lumise . . . although different from my earlier visits on twirls' ships in some respects. For one thing, I got the impression that Lumise was enjoying it all, not just earning my Admiration.

When I got back aboard my own bucket I said, "Let's go to Greenstable, ship. I want to find out what kind of jobs are available. The old roll must be thin."

"Very well, sir."

"How thin is the roll?"

"Your financial balance is 8,351 Units, sir."

"But . . . Do you mean I came out 300 Units ahead on Lumise Nalence?" I asked in astonishment.

"Yes, sir."

I thought it over. "Maybe self-confidence accounts for it?"

"That may be, sir."

Lumise had asked me to come back soon . . . had practically begged me, in fact. Well . . . I would come back, but I didn't want her to think I was just after her Units. Maybe it was time, after all, for me to think about settling down. But first I wanted to line up some interesting work to do.

* * *

Office of Ninth Secretary
Standing Consolidation Commission
Department of Justice
Noram Park, Earth

Mr. and Mrs. Wardin Rylsten
Halebas West 5040-K Sector
Talleysmat, Bark., K.V.

Dear Ward and Gilta,

Your request that I take a hand with young Boje came at an opportune moment. A friend of mine in Historical Philosophy had just produced a drawing, his own brainchild, that seemed an ideal challenge to present your son. Through one of the Department's stringers on Greenstable, I was able to toss it in his lap. The problem was for him to identify Earth from a drawing of the universe as a prehistoric Earthman might have seen it.
Boje will certainly tell you about it the first time he's home; so I won't go into details. Suffice to say he solved the problem, gaining some needed mental maturity in the process. He will, I'm sure, be able to support himself amply hereafter, and make the universe his oyster.

Expenses involved, of slightly more than 8,000 Units, are covered by Admiration Development grants from the Treasury, made available through interdepartmental exchange. So you need not concern yourself about that.

And please don't bother to thank me, because I'm always glad to help old friends. If I have won your Admiration to some small extent, that will be thanks enough.

Best regards always,
Raffor Wisosborg.


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