How far is too far? What price do we pay for expanding our knowledge to the limit, for exploring the farthest reaches of the universe, for extending our reach To the Stars?
Alan Corday, a smart yet desperate young man, is about to find out. His family fortune squandered and the woman he loves unattainable, Corday will go to almost any length to change his luck. But his desperation leads him into harm’s way—and into the hands of one Captain Jocelyn and his crew.
Shanghaied from the spaceport at New Chicago, Corday is taken aboard the Hound of Heaven, a craft bound for the stars … on a journey through hell.
186,000 miles per second. The speed of light. It’s the only way for the Hound of Heaven to reach its distant destinations. But three months traveling at the speed of light is equal to half a century on earth—and the world they left behind is fast vanishing into the past.
Everything Corday loves, everything he believes in—is history. He is a wanderer in eternity, and nothing in the cold, dark forbidding reaches of space can prepare him for the astounding discovery he will make upon his long-awaited return from the stars.
“One of the greatest science fiction novels that has ever been written” —Jerry Pournelle, author of Lucifer’s Hammer
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The novel, To the Stars, is built with masterly skills from hard, scientific theory—in this case, the Einstein-Lorentz-Fitzgerald “time-dilation” equation: “As mass approaches the speed of light, time approaches zero.”
L. Ron Hubbard initially encountered the theory as an engineering student at George Washington University and first broached the equation as a theme in his story “Beyond All Weapons.” In To the Stars, the motif took on groundbreaking proportions—a story seminal in scope, technical detail and influence and, by reader and critical consensus, the classic science-fiction treatment of the time-dilation effect.
The novel starts off with one of the most celebrated opening lines in the history of the genre:
“Space is deep, Man is small and Time is his relentless enemy.”
Alan Corday stopped, momentarily blinded by the flash of a Mars-bound liner getting free from Earth. For an instant the skeletal racks had flashed red against the ink of sky and the one used now pulsated as it cooled. Corday did not like to be blinded here in this place, even for a moment. He wiped a tired hand against his blouse, carefully reassuring himself that his papers and wallet were still in place.
To the north glowed New Chicago, a broad humming city hiding beneath its five stages its hungry, its sick and its uncared-for lame. Civilization was mushroomed up from a mire; the columns were pretty, the fountains in the rich gardens played in many hues, cafes winked their invitations to the rich and under it all was the beggar’s whine, a shrill, lost note, but steady enough to someday bring these towers down in wreck.
To an engineer-surveyor of the tenth class, New Chicago was a grave in which he could bury all his years of school and field work for a pittance and eventually wander out of this life as poor as he had entered it. To an engineer tenth, people were polite because of his education and breeding, and distant because a man in need of a job must be poor.
He had heard vaguely that the new duke of Mars was employing men in public works and he knew certainly that an engineer tenth would be a rarity in that newness. But it took money to get to Mars unless one could work his way and Alan Corday had need to save his money.
In five years, her father had said, she could marry him, providing he had enough to start his own offices. Chica had wept a bit and he had tried to cheer her.
“They say there’s work on Mars and that the new duke has an open hand. Don’t cry, it won’t be very long. I’ll go for two years and two years will soon pass. Don’t cry, honey. Please don’t.”
But two years would be long enough and five years were unthinkable. If his father had not seen fit to die a bankrupt— But it wasn’t his father’s fault. It was his own for dawdling his time away on special courses.
“Two years and I’ll be home again, I swear it. Here, look at me. Have I ever broken my word to you now? Have I? There. That’s better. We’ll make it yet—”
And he had painted a fine word picture for her of the house they’d have when he came back and how his purchased business would hum, and he had left her cheered. But he was not so sure himself. Mars was an uncertain place to go at best, even if the pay was high. And his going was even more uncertain now, for he had asked four ships so far this night and not one of them would haul without cash.
“You’re a queer bird,” the last captain had said. “What’s a swell doing with a passage-beg? Thought you engineers was rolling in it.”
What use to explain bankruptcy to this gnarled spaceman? Even the tenth class could go broke—and could retain its class standing providing it did not beg.
“Sell a couple of polo ponies and go cabin,” the old skipper had said. “What’s the world comin’ to with a tenth class askin’ to swab decks? Adventure ain’t all it’s cracked, sonny. You come for a lark. Go home and read a book.”
Alan Corday felt the depth of the shadows now that the rocket afterglow was gone. It wasn’t healthy here on the flats. He rubbed his knuckles nervously. He did not mind fighting but he had a job to do.
All the rebuffs he had received made him feel like a fool. A tenth class without two thousand for a passage was conspicuous. He wished he had worn dungarees and that he had sometime learned to lie. But a gentleman didn’t lie and, broke or not, he was still a gentleman.
Lights flickered unevenly through the filter of a garbage-strewn alley. He was getting down near the stews now, out of the officers’ neighborhood. He didn’t have a gun and he was a fine target for a footpad in this white silk jacket. But he picked his way toward the lights.
A black cat leaped with a startled squall from his path, crossed it and vanished; Alan laughed nervously at the way the sudden noise had made his hand shake. Jumping from a cat!
Then he heard the first notes of the melody. Strange, eerie notes, haunting and terrible, were being plucked from an ancient piano—slow music, simple and yet complex. One could expect many things on the flats, he had been led to believe by a lurid press, but not a melody like that. Alan knew something of music but he had never heard such a thing before. The floating notes were like a magnet and without knowing that he had moved he found himself standing outside a cheap glass building looking intently at the door.
It was just a common stew. A drunk lay sprawled on the walk, the side of his head covered with blood, a series of snores wheezing between his teeth. And over him floated the eerie song.
Alan stepped into the yellow light and thrust back the door. Because of its stillness he had expected to find the place empty of all but the player. But below a bluish haze which crawled twixt ceiling and floor, a jammed mass of men sat hushed, their drinks arrested in their hands.
It was tribute, Alan thought, and certainly the music was of a quality to do this even amongst such a crew as this. But then he saw they were not listening. They were waiting and they were afraid.
Far across the reeking place sat the player, engrossed in his moving hands, oblivious of any audience. The piano was battered and chipped with blasts; three members of a string orchestra, almost equally misused, crouched with the rest of the room, waiting and afraid. And the young man played.
He was a strange young man. In this bluish light his face looked too sharp, too white, too handsome. There were strange qualities mingled in that face, raptness uppermost now. A helmet and spaceman’s gloves lay to hand on the piano top. A shirt and trousers, startlingly white, gave no clue to any age but certainly not to this. And about the young man’s waist was a wide belt of gold metal from which hung a weapon Alan had never seen before. And the room waited, hushed.
The hands strayed for the final notes and then hung in memory of the melody dying away now in the strings. Then the young man stood and Alan saw that he was not young. Gradually the reverie left his face, gradually other expressions began to combine in it. The man was nearing fifty and his eyes were hard. His mouth was cynical and his whole thin face was cruel. But he was handsome to the point of beauty, handsome and diamond hard.
The proprietor cringed up to him. “Your worship . . . may we serve again . . . the men—”
The man swept down a languid, cynical eye and then stepped from the musicians’ platform. He knew what he had done to them. And he knew he had done it with music. His smile told that, if a smile it was.
“Bucko!” he said. And a burly, gray-haired man jumped eagerly up. “Have their cups full. Yes, and let them drink to the Hound of Heaven.”
The gray-haired one spoke and the place shook and yet one could tell that he thought he spoke softly. “Fill up! Fill up and drink to Captain Jocelyn! Jocelyn and theHound of Heaven. Ah, no you won’t!” he hastily added, grabbing a spaceman who had sought to dive for the door. The spaceman turned, caught a blow on the mouth and crumpled into a chair. The burly one beamed at him.
“Fill up and drink!” shouted a blowsy girl.
“And who’s this?” said the man who had played, looking with something like interest at Alan.
“Two more rounds!” said the burly one with an amiable roar. “And then we’ll open the books for your names. Right ones or wrong ones, but by Jupe you better sign!”
Another spaceman tried to get away and a slip of a girl in a queen’s finery tripped him before he could make it.
“Sit down,” said the man who had played, seating himself carelessly near the entrance. “I’m Jocelyn.”
“Alan Corday,” said Alan, guardedly extending a hand. But if Jocelyn saw it he ignored it.
“A tenth class by your jacket,” said Jocelyn. “Drink?”
“Ah . . . no, thank you. I—” He steadied himself with an inward rage. A space captain refusing the hand of a tenth class. And making the tenth class feel self-conscious and confused in the bargain.
“Are you going to Mars?” said Alan.
Jocelyn filled a two-ounce jigger and shoved it across the table. “Drink up.”
Alan was on the verge of refusal. But there was something in Jocelyn’s being which reached out and entangled Alan’s will. Confused, he drank.
“Educated as what?” said Jocelyn.
“Engineer-surveyor,” said Alan, reaching for his papers.
Jocelyn waved the offered sheaf aside. “Ever been in space?”
“Why, no, but I feel I might—”
“How old are you?”
“You’re a child,” said Jocelyn. “And you are also a fool. What are you doing here on the flats at this hour? Kill somebody?”
“Sit down!” said Jocelyn. “Answer me!”
“It’s a private matter.”
“Ah, a girl. You were indiscreet—”
“Confound your tongue!” said Alan hotly. “My father was bankrupted and I am going to Mars to serve the duke if I can. This is honorable enough, isn’t it?”
“And when you’ve served two years?” said Jocelyn.
“I’ll come back and reestablish my firm and marry—” He stopped. He had not meant to bring her into this. And then, out of his own embarrassment, he saw that Jocelyn had death in his eyes.
Struck without warning, Alan went down into the sawdust. He came up from the overturned chair, both hands snatching for Jocelyn’s throat. And then two men had him from behind and there was a knife a quarter of an inch already into his ribs.
“Put him back,” said Jocelyn. “You young fool. Drink this up and go home.” And his hand shook as he poured the liquor and it spilled over to become a black pool on the ringed table.
But Alan would not be set free so easily and the men held fast. In a moment he felt the indignity of further struggle and stood straight. The burly one was at hand now beside Jocelyn.
“Hello!” he roared. “A tenth class! Or so I been told your collar tabs so mean. Well, you’ll make a fine addition! A fine addition! Educated too, huh? What’s he educated in, Skipper?”
“Engineer-surveyor,” said Jocelyn coldly. “But he’s not going.”
“Well, I’m blessed if I know what that is,” said the burly one, “but it do sound like he might be taught one end of a celestolabe from t’other. Built nice, too. You’ll like theFlea Circus, young-un.”
“I said he wasn’t going!” snapped Jocelyn.
“Shucks, Skipper. You’n me, watch on watch while these logheads ride in comfort and security, and here’s a fine second mate—”
“I’ll sign if you’re going to Mars,” said Alan.
Jocelyn looked at him in deep contempt.
“Mars, why sure. Sign to Mars. Gow-eater, take your slimy paws off that young-un and get the articles.”
Jocelyn got up, swept the filled glass into his hand and drained it. He reached back of him as though he had eyes there and seized the unresisting girl who had earlier tripped the spaceman. He brought her close to him, deliberately forgetting Alan. But the girl was looking and her eyes were dreamy and veiled.
“Sign fifteen,” said Jocelyn. “And hold the rest. We clear at midnight. Understood?”
“You bet your life,” said the burly one.
Jocelyn pulled the girl out through the door and called at a cruising hack. “Some place they sell fancy clothes,” Alan heard him say.
And he looked down and saw his name on the articles. “The Hound of Heaven. Outward Bound for Alpha Centauri, Betelgeuse and Other Ports of Call.” He went white and lunged back. But Gow-eater and his friend still had him.
“Now, now,” said the burly one, “you’ll get to Mars someday.”
“You can’t hold me!” shouted Alan. “You can’t do it!You’re on the long passage!”
The burly one grinned. “I’m Bucko Hale, sonny. You wouldn’t be here if you wasn’t desperate. So why get desperate about the long passage? Who knows, ten or fifteen years we might even come back. That’s Earth time. But you won’t be much older. Now calm—”
“Let me go!” screamed Alan, half an inch of knife already trying to pin him to the wall. “Let me go!” And there was real frenzy in him now, knife or no knife. He knew all about the Lorentz-Einstein Relativity Equations. He knew what happened when a ship got to ninety-nine percent of the speed of light. And his girl—
Bucko Hale reached out and struck him, struck him expertly and well, and the Gow-eater put a belt around his arms and body.
“No need to attrac’ a patrol,” said Bucko. “Now the rest of you boys step up and sign and we’ll have a merry time. Wine, women and billions, me boys, and a nice, long look at history . . .”
To the Stars Glossary
Alpha or Alpha Centauri: the brightest star in the southern constellation of Centaurus and triple-star system located 4.2 to 4.34 light-years away. It is the closest star system to the Sun. To the unaided eye, however, it appears as a single star, whose total visual magnitude would identify it as the third brightest in the night sky.
appetite over tin cup: a pioneer Western United States term used by riverboat men on the Missouri, meaning head over heels or bowled over.
blouse: the service coat or tunic worn by the members of some branches of the US armed forces.
blowsy: said of a woman, untidy, slovenly in appearance; sluttish.
bone up: to study intensively; cram.
brimstone: sulfur; a mineral substance, which emits a peculiar suffocating odor when burning which is often associated with hell. Used figuratively to denote destruction or punishment and “hell and damnation.”
cabin: from cabin class; the class of accommodations on a passenger ship less costly and less luxurious than first class, but more so than tourist class.
captain’s runner: the captain’s messenger.
cheroot: an inexpensive cigar with square-cut ends.
con: 1. to conduct or superintend the steering of a vessel; to watch the course of a vessel and direct the helmsman how to steer. 2. the position of responsibility and authority for the operation and steering of a ship.
cud: a portion of tobacco held in the mouth and chewed.
descriptive geometry: a branch of geometry concerned with the two-dimensional representation of three-dimensional objects.
driveman: one who assists in the running of the drives (the mechanism by which force or power is transmitted in the engine) aboard a ship.
dyne: a unit of force that, acting on a mass of one gram, increases its velocity by one centimeter per second every second along the direction in which it acts.
enfilade: gunfire directed along the length of a target, such as a column of troops.
extra-atmosphere travel: travel in outer space, beyond the atmosphere of the planet.
fatigue cap: working uniform cap.
fission: a nuclear reaction in which a nucleus splits into smaller nuclei with the simultaneous release of energy.
footpad: a thief on foot who robs travelers on the road.
G: short for grand; one thousand dollars.
gamma or gamma rays: streams of high-energy electromagnetic radiation given off by an atomic nucleus undergoing radioactive decay.
gow-eater: an opium addict. Gow is from the Cantonese word yao-kao which means opium.
HCL: hydrochloric acid; a strong acid made by dissolving hydrogen chloride gas in water; a colorless, corrosive gas of pungent, suffocating odor. It is found naturally in gastric acid.
hooker: a worn-out or clumsy ship.
instanter: immediately; at once; instantly.
jigger: a small measure for liquor, usually holding one and a half ounces.
lardulous: characterized by lard or fat.
limned: outlined in clear detail; delineated.
lingua: any hybrid language used for communication between different peoples.
man-o’-war: a warship; combat ship.
mort: a great number or quantity.
narcohypnosis: hypnotic suggestions made while a patient is drugged, used in psychotherapy.
patois: a regional form of a language differing from the standard literary form.
pidgin: a mixed language, or jargon, incorporating the vocabulary of one or more languages with a very simplified form of the grammatical system of one of these and not used as the main language or any of its speakers.
“piped the belly”: nautical tradition of using a pipe (whistlelike device) to communicate orders via different arrangements of notes. Belly is a term for stomach or appetite for food. “Piped the belly” was the signal used to announce meals.
plate fleet: Spanish fleet of the eighteenth century; the ships in the fleet were loaded with gold, silver, gems and other trade goods as well as rare Chinese porcelain tableware, hence the name “plate fleet.” Due to bad weather and other misfortunes, a number of the ships, along with all their treasures, were lost at sea.
plug: a rectangular bar of chewing tobacco.
proof: give a resistant quality to; to treat for the purpose of rendering resistant to deterioration, damage, etc.
quixotic: caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; idealistic without regard to practicality. From Don Quixote, romantic, impractical hero of Miguel de Cervantes’ (1547–1616) satirical novel Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605).
RG: regurgitant gas; gas that induces uncontrolled retching and vomiting.
Rigel Kentaurus: another name for Alpha Centauri, the brightest celestial object in the southern constellation of Centaurus.
ritocrat: short for aristocrat; a member of the ruling class or nobility.
salaam: a gesture of greeting or respect consisting of a low bow of the head and body with the hand or fingers touching the forehead. Salaam is from the Arabic word meaning peace.
sawbones: a doctor; especially a surgeon.
space artist: a ship’s navigator; coined from the nautical term sea artist, a nickname for someone skilled in navigation.
stews: a neighborhood occupied chiefly by brothels.
swell: a socially prominent person.
trick: a period or turn of duty, as at the helm of a ship.
wardroom: the living quarters and mess for officers on a warship.
watch: watch officer; the senior deck officer responsible for navigating and conducting the business of a ship during a specific duty period. Also, the time each watch has duty.