Back | Next


Venus Station.
Saturday 24th, 2:30 a.m.

Dear Professor Benson,

The draft of Gerald Mattin's biography for your volume 'The Lives of the Great Scientists' is finished. I am sending it to you under separate transmission. Sorry to run so close to your deadline, but it's hard to compress his twenty-five years into twenty pages.

Your other request for new 'personal incidents' and 'intimate touches' from my time working with Mattin is a tough one. As you say, no doubt I knew him as well as any man did. Everybody knows that he saved my life at the expense of his own, so that's not new. "How would you describe the real Gerald Mattin?," you ask. How would I describe the real Gerald Mattin? I'm not sure the words are in the language. And if they are, you would not want to offer that particular 'personal touch' to your young readers.

What can I say? I think the best thing is to tell you here—and for the first time—the full story of my association with Mattin; then you can use any of it as you think fit. Don't be surprised if it doesn't match the standard accounts too well. And don't get worried about the biography I'm sending for your book—I need the money, and what you will receive tells the well-known official version of Mattin the Great and Noble Scientist.

When it all began twenty-five years ago I still had my offices on K Street. My business partner had recently vacated his office as a result of an unsuccessful trading venture in pharmaceuticals. He was on the Venus terra-forming project, three years hard labor without the option, and I was trying to make sense of his business records and client lists when Mattin breezed in.

No appointment, of course. He would never have dreamed of calling in advance. He barged in without knocking, said "Henry Carver?," and helped himself to a chair when I nodded. I looked at him without much enthusiasm—as a potential client he was not promising material. About twenty-four years old, thin as a stick, with dry black hair and a face that was still fighting the last battles with acne. He was smoking a black cigar that looked as thin and wicked as he did.

"I'm Gerald Mattin. I'm here to give you a chance to make fifty million credits, Carver," he said.

Well, you can't always go by appearances, and politeness is free. "Mr. Mattin, you certainly know how to catch a man's attention," I began smoothly. "But you have the advantage of me. You know my profession and I don't know yours. What is your line of business?"

"I've got a system for instantaneous point-to-point transfer of objects. Energy-free, in the right circumstances. Distance not a factor."

If I'd known a bit more science that's when I'd have thrown him out of the office. I groped around in my memory for childhood reading.

"You mean—teleportation?"

"Naw. None of that 'think yourself some other place' rubbish. This is solid math, solid physics, and state-of-the-art engineering. Ever hear of Ernst Mach, or Minkowski, or Weyl or E.A. Milne?"

Milne rang another bell in my childhood memory bank. I thought of Eeyore and decided Mattin must be off his head. I shook mine and he seemed pleased.

"Good. I want a working partner who knows not too much science and no general relativity. If you'd given the wrong answer I'd have been out of that door. The people who gave me your name were sure you'd have a fifth grade education in physics." He grinned nastily. "You also have a reputation for being a tricky lawyer, a man with good contacts for investments and a strong taste for credits. Unless you want to deny that lot, let's talk business."

He was brash, arrogant and rude. But he had mentioned fifty million credits and that didn't happen every day. I suppressed my irritation.

"Mr. Mattin, I am sure that you did not come to see me merely to offer gratuitous insults. You have a method for moving objects—a matter-transmitter, you might say. Now, if you want me to act as your legal representative in pursuing patents and corporate financing from transportation groups there will be several formalities. First, my fee for such work is a ten percent carried interest, plus expenses for patent search, filing fees and travel."

"Carver, you're a raving madman." He stood up abruptly and walked over to stub his cigar in my window pot of prize fibrous-rooting begonias. I mentally added a percent to my fee. "In the first place, you'll get two percent and no expenses, take it or leave it. This thing will be worth two or three billion credits five years from now, conservatively. In the second place, do you think I'm crazy enough to patent this thing, or let some big transportation company get their hands on it? There'd be leaks, I'd be out in the cold before I could whistle and the big boys would be off and running."

Paranoid, he seemed to be. I dropped my first idea of selling him out to General Transportation, and he went on.

"What do you think I'm offering you your interest for? I can tell you now, it's not for your smile or your legal abilities. I want you to promote this, sell a forty percent interest to a group which isn't in transportation now, but which would like to be if it could get a big enough piece. That's your job—to raise the money. If you can't do it, tell me now and we'll stop wasting each other's time."

I thought for a while as Mattin sat and fidgeted. It might be possible. We'd need a working model—the group I had in mind would need pretty good proof that they were onto a good thing. And I'd need to know a lot more about it before I began. I had already seen enough of Mattin to agree that I would have to be the salesman. I nodded slowly.

"Maybe. How much money do you need to get things going?"

"A million credits—maybe a million five."

"That's to set up the whole transportation company?" I asked.

He laughed. "No way. That's to do the full-scale tests—after that we'll need big money."

He was insane, I decided. A million credits for a test. He saw my expression and backed off a little.

"Look, Carver, you have to know more about this thing. It's a completely new principle. It's only energy-free, exactly, for transfers in a strictly Lorentzian space-time. Where there's curvature—matter—you need some energy even if the Link transfer points are on timelike geodesies. You need a lot more energy if the transfer points are not on timelike geodesies but are on a Newtonian equipotential surface—and you need an impossible amount of energy unless the configuration is perfectly symmetrical with respect to all Link transfer points."

At the time, and for a long time afterwards, that speech was complete gibberish to me. I don't have total recall, but I do know Mattin's exact words—I learned long ago to record in full all conversations in my office. That has saved my skin more than once in the past. I shook my head at Mattin.

"I hear you, Mr. Mattin, but I can't make head or tail of what you are saying. Tell me in English, please."

He shouted back at me. "English, you dummy! I already put it in really simple-minded language for your benefit." He controlled himself and swallowed hard. "I'll put it even simpler for you. To set up the Mattin Link system on the surface of the Earth is the end objective, but it's going to take tremendous energy to establish and a lot of money. We just can't tackle that first. It's not possible to set up a practical system out in space, because the relative distances of the Link entry points keep changing.

"What we have to do is test it in space, for the simplest case—four entry points, in a regular tetrahedron. It will still be quite a trick to get the distances just right for long enough to do the transfer, but it can be done—I've calculated it. Then when we've demonstrated it in space we'll be able to get backing easily for the operational big system here on Earth."

I was getting the idea, vaguely, and I didn't like the sound of it. Mattin had no working model. So, no model to show the backers. A million credits before we could demonstrate anything. Space work—always a fine way to run up the costs. I wondered if I was the madman, listening to Mattin at all.

"Can't you make just a small working model, here on Earth?" I asked. "Just to show off the general idea?"

"Out of the question. The Earth-based system has to have all the entry points practically symmetrical with respect to the center of mass—I told you, they've got to be on an equipotential, and perfectly symmetrical with respect to each other." He shook his head firmly. "Even the simplest system with four Links will require a horrible amount of energy to initialize on Earth. That's basic physics—the system's not conceivable without it. It's space or nowhere for the test. Now, how long will it take you to get adequate backing?"

I looked at him sadly, and shook my head in turn. "It's quite impossible. With no patents, no working models—nothing, in fact, but an idea—we could never get the financing."

Mattin looked at me with a dead-fish expression on his face.

"Tough luck, Carver," he said. "I guess that's goodbye to your fifty million credits."

I won't tell you how I found the backing, Professor Benson. It makes me uncomfortable to think of it even now. Can you imagine trying to raise millions of credits, with nothing but a wild-sounding idea to peddle, with a main character who was so paranoid that he would tell the details of his system only to people that he judged could not understand them? With no working models, no mechanical drawings, no patents.

I did it. I don't think I could or would do it again, but I did it. I proved that there are people greedy and rich enough that a bet with a multi-billion credit monopoly payoff could be attractive, even with those odds. But then, my backers were no strangers to gambling.

They left me in no doubt of what my fate would be if the Mattin Link system was less than I promised, but in ten weeks I had the papers—such as they were. Our sponsors were not used to much in the way of written agreements. I called Mattin and he came to the office. Like the backers, he was suspicious of video-phone conversations.

He came in as sullen and jittery as ever, then went over the agreements with a total and cold concentration. Oh, I'd checked Mattin out, you can be sure of that, within a few hours of our first meeting. No one had denied that he was a genius—and a madman. I really saw the first evidence of it when I watched him swallow down all the intricate financial details of our arrangement cold, in one sitting in my office. Then he came right back at me with a set of complex questions for our sponsors. He digested the new information with equal speed, then silently handed me a document of his own.

"I know how much I'm worth to your friends once the system is working and the method known," he said. "I took out a little life insurance."

He had the right idea. Once the invention was proven, he'd be expendable and so would I. The paper he had given me was a copy of one he had filed at Central Bank. It was quite brief. If Gerald Mattin died in less than five years from the date of the first successful demonstration of the Mattin Link, all rights in the invention—mine, Mattin's and the backers'—went to the World Government, in toto and in perpetuity.

"What about my five percent?" I complained. "You know I'm reliable."

(I forgot to mention that I'd levered my interest up little by little as the game got harder—and I'd earned every fraction of a percent. Mattin was smart enough to know when he had to give a little to keep me going.)

Mattin looked at me curiously as though he had just turned over a stone and found me underneath it.

"Sure," he said. "You're reliable."

I didn't pursue the point—but I didn't mention the document to the backers either. They might kill Mattin after the successful demonstration; they would have killed me before the demonstration, without thinking twice about it, if they had found out I had worked them into a deal where Mattin's accidental death would mean their loss of ownership.

Those gentlemen did not seek temporary solutions. Besides, I was sure I could convince them that Mattin was worth more alive.

Anyway, we had the money for the tests. I handled all the purchasing—four old cargo hulls, already in earth orbit, four power plants and a minimum of supplies. Mattin hid himself away in total secrecy and built four Mattin Link generators, one for each cargo ship. He calculated exact orbits for each, and an exact time at which all four Links could be switched on, when the hulls were in free fall at the vertices of a regular tetrahedron. Finally, he made up a compact test package for the transfer itself, designed to measure the forces it experienced in transit. Theoretically they would be zero, he asserted—no question of inertia or of acceleration entered the Link transfer process.

All this took six long months, but it was all ready on time. I added weight and ulcers. Mattin became thinner than ever and bit his fingernails to shreds. We hired three operator crews for the hulls, with Mattin handling the fourth one himself—the one with the experiment package to be sent through the Link system. He gave the other crews just enough instructions to be useless—he was afraid they would learn too much. The Mattin Links were all activated automatically by radio from the computer on Mattin's ship at the correct microsecond.

Finally, the big moment arrived. I watched through a video link to my office on K Street. I don't like space, never have. I sat at my desk and watched a digital countdown to the time the transfer would take place.

The tension was unbearable. Finally, after a few seconds that lasted forever, zero hour came. And went. Nothing. The test package sat there in the Link transfer zone, unmoved. I sat and shredded paper towels as the minutes ticked by. Nothing. When I was ready to run screaming round the room, Mattin came on the screen.

"Something's wrong," he said. I could have told him that. He didn't seem as worried as I felt, not by a long shot. "It's almost certainly in the phase control. Tell the backers we'll have to come back to Earth so I can take a good look at it."

I may have been less smart than Mattin in some ways, but I was way ahead of him in others. One thing I had been careful not to do was tell our sponsors when the test would be made. I sat there and congratulated myself on my foresight.

"How long before you're ready to try again?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Month, maybe, two months—hard to say."

That was the beginning of the worst time of my life. Seven failures, Professor Benson. Seven! Every one of them a cliff-hanger. Each countdown in my office was like the moments before an execution. By the third test we were sending things through the Link—but the test equipment would arrive inside out, melted, reduced to powder (tests three, four and five respectively). On the sixth test, the equipment got through in one piece—a bit battered, but not bad. Unfortunately we had promised our backers that the Mattin Link could be used to transport people as well as objects, and that's what they were expecting to see.

On the seventh test, Mattin seemed very pleased with the results. This time he was on the cargo hull where the test equipment was arriving. He came on to the video link and gave me a thumbs-up sign.

"The equipment came through fine, meters all working properly. Still needs work, though."

"Why does it need work, if the Link did its stuff correctly?" I looked at the video and could see the test equipment, apparently in good shape. Then I looked more closely. Next to the equipment were a big grey pancake and what seemed to be a long hairy worm. "What are those things?"

"Well, I said it needs a bit more work," Mattin said defensively. "I think the phasing is still a touch off. See what it did to the rats we sent through this time."

I looked again at the hairy shapes, then had to run across my office to vomit into the only available container, which was unfortunately my long-suffering pot of prize begonias.

"No big problem," said Mattin cheerfully. "A week's work should fix it."

Before he could get his week, we had a new problem. We were running out of money, and our backers were running out of patience. I was summoned to a chilling meeting, behind the stage at the opera house in Mexico City. One of our backers was big on opera. The message I got was brief but precise. There was no more money in the pipeline, but there was big trouble in it unless we had instant success. I talked—for my life.

We were almost there, I swore, another few weeks would do it, one last test was all we needed.

I had to wait three hours in the cold, empty backstage. Finally the word came down. Two weeks to prove ourselves. No more money. We had to find our own. I knew what came next if we failed and took the gloomy news back to Mattin. We considered our limited options.

"Look what we need," he said. "First, we have to rent another cargo hull and power plant. One of the four we got has an expired lease and we can't renew it. So we need money for that. We have to have it. But we don't really need crews on all the hulls. They never do anything anyway, and it's all computer-controlled to switch on the Links at the right time. We could manage the whole thing."

My insides did a rapid cartwheel. "What do you mean, we? You're not trying to get me up into space, are you? You know I've got a weak stomach."

"Look here, Carver, are you absolutely convinced this test will work?" he replied. "I am, but are you?"

I thought about that, then shook my head. "It'll flop; ten-to-one odds."

"Then where would you rather be if it flops—here to face the backers, or up there with a decent chance to escape to the Lunar Base or the Venus terra-forming project?"

Mattin was odious, but supremely logical. I scraped up what was left of our meager finances and went off to bargain with the friendly discount spaceship company.

We managed to get a cargo hull and a power unit, but so cheaply that I knew there had to be something wrong with them. I just had no alternatives. I signed a short-term lease and called Mattin. He was ready. I had no excuses left. The next morning we were off to pick up the cargo hull from parking orbit and load the power unit on board it.

If you've never been in space, Professor Benson, take my advice and don't go. Free fall is constant nausea, a sort of static seasickness. After we were installed in the cargo hull with our equipment, I had nothing to do but think of my general misery and the unknown dangers of space travel. While I was doing that, Mattin was frowning over the rented power unit.

"How much did you pay for this thing?" he finally asked.

"All we had."

"Well, it's all set to blow, looking at these readings. As soon as we complete the Link transfer, it has to be shut down—it's not safe."

A power unit running amok was all I needed.

"What happens if it blows before we complete the Link?" I asked.

"We get into the shielded compartment," Mattin replied. "It's intended for use in bad solar flares, but it works just as well if a power unit goes wild."

I took a look at the shielded compartment. Ample room for one, but a tight squeeze for two.

At the other end of the ship the Mattin Link area was set up, with a blue line drawn by Mattin at the active area where the transfer took place. The test equipment was carefully placed there. Then Mattin fed in the programs for the final orbit adjusts of each cargo hull, ours and the three unmanned ones. While he was doing that, I had another secret worry. The Mattin Link drew a lot of power. It seemed to me that might be the thing that would push our power unit into a final blow-up. I was supposed to be watching the dials, but I didn't know what any of them meant. It did seem to me that a lot of them were way up in the red zone.

Mattin finished the set-up and came over to me again. "How's it holding up? We've less than a minute and a half to go to transfer," he said, then bent over the power unit dials. He turned to me immediately, his eyes bulging.

"I thought you were keeping an eye on this. It's way out of tolerance. I don't think it will even hold together until the Link activates—it could go up any second."

Mattin's evaluation was good enough for me. Without taking a second look at the power unit dials I turned and began my drive for the shielded compartment.

I'll never deny that Mattin always thought a lot faster than I did. By the time I began he was halfway there, and my lack of experience in free fall slowed me down. When I approached he had already crowded into the compartment, then turned with his back braced against its rear. As I floated nearer, instead of squeezing to the wall to let me in too he lifted his feet up and gave me a great kick in the chest. It reversed me and I started to spin back along the length of the hull, unable to make contact with anything solid.

One of the things they don't bother to tell you before you go into space is how slowly things can happen. I floated along the hull towards the Mattin Link transfer area, but I did it incredibly slowly. I was quite active, spinning end over end, shouting and screaming and waving my arms and legs, but none of that affected my forward motion at all. When my body had turned to face Mattin again, I saw that the door of the shielded compartment was firmly closed. I didn't imagine Mattin would open it voluntarily to see how I was doing until after the power unit had done its worst. I tried to get a look at the digital countdown display to see how long it would be before the Link transfer took place, but I couldn't see it from the angle I had.

When I finally collided with the bulkhead at the far end, I had no idea how much time I had left. Subjectively, I had spent the better part of my adult life drifting down that steel hull. Actually it was probably a minute at most. I held the bulkhead and did a quick review of my options. In a few seconds I would be a big pink pancake or a long pink sausage if I didn't get out of the Link transfer area. Or I could be fried purple when the power unit blew. Or—a long shot—I could get back to the shielded area in time, open the door somehow, and squeeze in with that swine Mattin.

I set my legs against the bulkhead and took off with a mighty spring for the other end of the hull. I had been on the way for a second or less when three things happened. First, everything flashed a mother-of-pearl pink. Then I received a tremendous bang on the head. Finally I was given an even bigger smash on my chest and ears. Then I passed out and had a little peace.

Things were not much better when I came to again. The pain in the head and chest were still there, and I had aching eyeballs—I didn't know that was possible. But at least I seemed to be in a bed and I didn't feel either pancake or sausage shaped. My ears didn't feel right but I could hear faint voices somewhere near me.

"I think he's recovering consciousness. Get one of the doctors in here."

I forced my sticky eyes open and tried to sit up.

"Don't try and move, Mr. Carver." I turned to face the speaker by my bedside, a man in the uniform of the Space Rescue Service. "You've had a very tough time and you're lucky to be alive. You somehow suffered explosive decompression from atmospheric pressure to three pounds per square inch, and you almost cracked your skull ramming it into a steel wall. It looked as though you'd jumped straight at it head first. You're lucky that the emergency life support signal tripped on and alerted us. Just lie there and rest."

I lay back and closed my eyes. Unbelievably, the Mattin Link had worked. I must have transferred with all the force of my jump from the bulkhead intact and run straight into another one on the ship I'd linked in to. Why hadn't that idiot Mattin thought to make sure that the two ships were at equal air pressure well in advance of the transfer?

My thoughts turned again to Mattin. That cowardly, cold-hearted monster! Leaving me outside while he sat safe and snug in the radiation-shielded compartment. My anger slowly grew and finally gave me the strength to sit up again and open my eyes.

"Where's Gerald Mattin?" I asked. My voice came out squeaky and hoarse. "He was on the other ship."

I looked around the room for Mattin. I badly wanted to give him a piece of my mind. The three men in the room with me exchanged glances and I could sense an awkwardness and reluctance to speak.

"His very first words," said one of them in a whisper. "They must have been very close."

Finally the Space Rescue man spoke. "We wish we had better news for you, Mr. Carver. The ship Mr. Mattin was on had a power unit failure and he went into the shielded compartment. For some reason we don't understand, the shielding material was completely missing. Your friend died when the power unit blew."

I sank back on the pillow and closed my eyes again. Serves the bastard right. At least I knew now why the price I got from my discount spaceship friends had been so low for the last cargo hull we bought. Radiation shielding was expensive stuff and somebody no doubt had got a good price for it. Mattin had fried and there was no doubt he had earned it.

Before there was any chance for my satisfaction to show on my face, I had another thought. Mattin was dead! The Link must have operated successfully before Mattin died, or I would have fried too when the power unit failed. That meant his document at Central Bank took over. The Government owned all rights to the Mattin Link and I—and our backers—were out in the cold. They couldn't take their revenge on Mattin, but I was still around without two credits to spend on self-protection—the last test had taken every asset I'd owned. Suddenly the aches and pains of the present were insignificant compared to the ones I could imagine in my future.

I wondered if there were any way I could get onto the Venus terra-forming project, without having to go back to Earth.

My anguish must have shown clearly on my face. When I opened my eyes again I found that the young nurse had tears on her cheeks. The doctor leaned over me and patted me consolingly.

"It's a very hard thing to lose a close friend and colleague, Mr. Carver," he said. "But you must try and be strong. Think about your own future."

I did. Everyone was conscious of my strong emotion. There was a hint of moisture in many eyes. But of all the people in the room, Professor Benson, you may be assured that there was not one who was anything like as sad as—

Yours truly,
Henry Carver.


If comedians long to play Hamlet, just as many science fiction writers would like to write humorous stories. It's a dangerous desire. Funny stories don't win Nebulas and Hugos, and no humor appeals to everyone. Besides which, writing humor is hard—there is less latitude than in the serious forms, and a miss tends to be a total miss.

I knew all that before I began this story. It was supposed to be a simple tale of a new transportation system, but somewhere in the middle it took an odd turn. I let it go where it wanted to, then went back and rewrote the beginning. You have just read the result.

Worse than that, I find that when my mind is idle other stories germinate about Henry Carver and his business partner (Waldo Burmeister—you'll meet him later). I now have seven stories in what I think of as my "sewage series." The only thing I can say in my defense is that my children like them.

This story has one other claim to fame. Jim Baen, when he was editor of Galaxy, only once encountered something in a story that he felt was too gross to offer his readers. It was a comment that my narrator made about the eponymous Mattin.

Now I'll bet you're eager to know what it was. It's a quote from Catullus, and it runs as follows:

"quem siqua attingit, non illam posse putemus aegroti culum lingere carnificis?"

No, of course I'm not going to translate it. If there is an increase in the sale of Latin dictionaries in the 1980's, I'll know part of the reason.

Back | Next