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The Quantum Jump by Robert Wicks

THE QUANTUM JUMP

By ROBERT WICKS

Illustrator Llewellyn

_Captain Brandon was a pioneer. He explored the far reaches of space and reported back on how things were out there. So it was pretty disquieting to find out that the "far reaches of space" knew more about what went on at home than he did._

Brandon was looking at the Milky Way. Through his perma-glas canopy, he could see it trailing across the black velvet of space like a white bridal veil. Below his SC9B scout-ship stretched the red dust deserts of Sirius Three illuminated by the thin light of two ice moons. He looked at the Milky Way.

He looked at it as a man looks at a flickering fireplace and thinks of other things. He thought of the sun, 52 trillion miles away, a pinpoint of light lost in the dazzle of the Milky Way--the Earth a speck of dust in orbit just as this planet was to its master, Sirius.

Nine light years away. Of course, thirteen years had passed on Earth since they had left, because the trip took four years by RT--relative time. But even four years is a long time to be shut up in Astro One with five other men, especially when one of them was the imperious Colonel Towers.

"A quantum jump--that's the way to beat the Reds," the colonel had said a thousand times. His well-worn expression had nothing to do with quantum mechanics--the actual change in atomic configuration due to the application of sufficient energy. Rather, it was a slang expression referring to a major advance in inter-planetary travel due to a maximum scientific and technological effort.

"Let 'em have Mars and Venus," the colonel would say--"Let 'em have the whole damn Solar System! We'll make a quantum jump--leap-frog ahead of 'em. We'll be the first men to set foot on a planet of another solar system."

Four years had gone by in the ship; thirteen years on Earth. Four years of Colonel Towers. Military discipline grew more strict each day. Space does funny things to some men. The "we'll be the first men" had turned into, "_I'll_ be the first _man_."

But it was Captain Brandon who drew the assignment of scouting Sirius Three for a suitable landing place for Astro, of sampling its atmosphere and observing meteorological conditions. Even as Brandon climbed into the scout-ship, Towers had cautioned him.

"Remember, your assignment is to locate a firm landing site with ample protection from the elements. Under no circumstances are you to land yourself. Is that clearly understood?"

Brandon nodded, was launched and now was cruising one hundred thousand feet above the alien planet.

Brandon tilted the ship up on one wing and glanced down at the brick-red expanse of desert. Tiny red mists marked dust storms. Certainly this was no place to set down the full weight of Astro nor to protect the crew and equipment from abrasive dust.

He righted the ship. Far on the horizon was a bank of atmospheric clouds. Perhaps conditions were more promising there. He shoved the power setting to 90 per cent.


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