Read CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE of Empire , free online book, by Clifford Donald Simak, on ReadCentral.com.

Chambers lit his cigar and leaned back in his chair.

“I wish you could see it my way, Manning,” he said. “There’s no place for me on Earth, no place for me in the Solar System. You see, I tried and failed. I’m just a has-been back there.”

He laughed quietly. “Somehow, I can’t imagine myself coming back in the rôle of the defeated tribal leader, chained to your chariot, so to speak.”

“But it wouldn’t be that way,” protested Greg. “Your company is gone, true, and your stocks are worthless, but you haven’t lost everything. You still have a fleet of ships. With our new power, the Solar System will especially need ships. Lots of ships. For the spacelanes will be filled with commerce. You’d be coming back to a new deal, a new Solar System, a place that has been transformed almost overnight by power that’s practically free.”

“Yes, yes, I know all that,” said Chambers. “But I climbed too high. I got too big. I can’t come back now as something small, a failure.”

“You have things we need,” said Greg. “The screen that blankets out our television and tele-transport, for example. We need your screen as a safeguard against the very thing we have created. Think of what criminal uses could be made of the tele-transport. No vault, no net of charged wires, nothing, could stop a thief from taking anything he wanted. Prisons would cease to be prisons. Criminals could reach in and pick up their friends, no matter how many guards there were. Prisons and bank vaults and national treasuries could be cleaned out in a single day.”

“Then there’s the super-saturated space fields,” added Russ, ruefully. “Those almost got us. If I hadn’t thought of moving the televisor through time, we would have had to pull stakes and run for it.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” pointed out Craven. “You could have wiped us out in a moment. You can disintegrate matter. Send it up in a puff of smoke ... rip every electron apart and send it hurtling away.”

“Of course we could have, Craven,” said Greg, “but we wouldn’t.”

Chambers laughed softly. “Not quite mad enough at us to do that, eh?”

Greg looked at him. “I guess that must have been it.”

“But I’m curious about the green space fields,” persisted Russ.

“Simple,” said Craven. “They were just fields that had more energy packed into a certain portion of space than space could take. Space fields that had far more than their share of energy, more than they could hold. A super-saturated solution will crystalize almost immediately onto the tiniest crystal put into it. Those fields acted the same way. They crystalized instantly into hyper-space the moment they came into contact with other energy, whether as photons of radiation, matter or other space fields. Your anti-entropy didn’t stand a chance under those conditions. When they crystalized, they took a chunk of the field along with them, a small chunk, but one after another they ate a hole right through your screen.”

“Something like that would have a commercial value,” said Greg. “Useful in war, too, and now that mankind has taken to space, now that we’re spreading out, we must think of possible attack. There must be life on other planets throughout the Galaxy. Someday they’ll come. If they don’t, someday we’ll go to them. And we may need every type of armament we can get our hands on.”

Chambers knocked the ash off his cigar and was staring out the vision port. The ship had swung so that through the port could be seen the distant star toward which the Interplanetarian had been driving.

“For my part,” said Chambers, slowly, measuring each word, “you can have those findings of ours. We’ll give them to you, knowing you will use them as they should be used. Craven can tell you how they work. That is, if Craven wants to. He is the man who developed them.”

“Certainly,” said Craven. “They’ll be something to remember us by.”

“But you are coming back with us, aren’t you?” asked Greg.

Craven shook his head. “No, I’m going with Chambers. I don’t know what he’s thinking of, but whatever it is, it’s all right with me. We’ve been together too long. I’d miss someone to fight with.”

Chambers was still staring out the vision port. He was talking, but he did not seem to be talking to them.

“I had a dream, you see. I saw the people struggling against the inefficiency and stupidity of popular government. I saw the periodic rise of bad leaders. I saw them lead the people into blunders. I read history and I saw that since the time man had risen from the ape, this had been going on. So I proposed to give the people scientific government ... a business administration. An administration that would have run the government exactly as a successful businessman runs his business. The people would have resented it if I had told them they didn’t know how to run their affairs. There was only one way to do it ... gain control and force it down their throats.”

Chambers was no longer a beaten man, no longer a man with a white bandage around his head and his power stripped from him. Once again he was the fighting financier who had sat back at the desk in the Interplanetary building on Earth and issued orders ... orders that sped across millions of miles of space.

He shrugged his shoulders. “They didn’t want it. Man doesn’t want to live under scientific government. He doesn’t want to be protected against blunders. He wants what he calls freedom. The right to do the things he wants to do, even if it means making a damn fool of himself. The right to rise to great heights and tumble to equally low depths. That’s human nature and I ruled it out. But you can’t rule out human nature.”

They sat in silence, no one speaking. Russ cupped his pipe bowl in his hand and watched Chambers. Chambers leaned back and slowly puffed at the cigar. Greg just sat, his face unchanging.

Craven finally broke the silence. “Just what are you planning to do?”

Chambers flicked his hand toward the distant sun that gleamed through the vision port.

“There’s a new solar system out there,” he said. “New worlds, a new sun. A place to start over again. You and I discovered it. It’s ours by right of discovery. We’ll go there and stake out our claim.”

“But there may be nothing there,” protested Greg. “That sun is younger than our Sun. The planets may not have cooled as yet. Life may not have developed.”

“In such a case,” said Chambers, “we shall find another planetary system around another sun. A system that has cooled, where there is life.”

Russ gasped. Here was something important, something that should set a precedent. The first men to roam from star to star seeking new worlds. The first men to turn their backs on the old solar system and strike out in search of new worlds swinging in their paths around distant suns.

Greg was saying, “All right, if that’s the way you want it. I was hoping you’d come back with us. But we’ll help you repair your ship. We’ll give you all the supplies we can spare.”

Russ rose to his feet. “That,” he said, “calls for a little drink.”

He opened a cabinet and took out bottles and glasses.

“Only three,” said Chambers. “Craven doesn’t drink.”

Craven interrupted. “Pour one for me, too, Page.”

Chambers looked at the scientist, astounded. “I never knew you to take a drink in your life.”

Craven twisted his face into a grin. “This is a special occasion.”

The Invincible was nearing Mars, heading for Earth, which was still a greenish sphere far to one side of the flaming Sun.

Russ watched the little green globe, thinking.

Earth was home. To him it always would be home. But that would be changed soon. Just a few more generations, and, to millions upon millions of human beings, Earth no longer would be home.

With the new material energy engines, life on every planet would be possible now, even easy. The cost of manufacture, mining, shipping across the vast distances between the planets would be only a fraction of what it had been when man had been forced to rely upon the unwieldy, expensive accumulator system of supplying life-giving power.

Now Mars would have power of her own. Even Pluto could generate her own. And power was ... well, it was power. The power to live, the power to work, to establish and maintain commerce, to adjust gravity to Earth standard or to any standard. The power to remake and reshape and rebuild planetary conditions to suit man exactly.

Earthmen and Earthwomen would be moving out en masse now to the new and virgin fields of endeavor to the farms of Venus, to the manufacturing centers that were springing up on Mars, to the mines of the Jovian worlds, to the great laboratory plants that would spring up on Titan and on Pluto and on the other colder worlds.

The migration of races had started long ago. In the Old Stone Age, the Cro-Magnon had swept out of nowhere to oust the Neanderthal. Centuries later the barbarians of the north, in another of those restless migrations, had overwhelmed and swept away the Roman Empire. And many centuries later, migration had turned from Europe to a new world across the sea, and fighting Americans had battled their way from east to west, conquering a continent.

And now another great migration was on man was leaving the Earth, moving into space. He was leaving behind him the world that had reared and fostered him. He was striking out and out. First the planets would be overrun, and then man would leap from the planets to the stars!

For years after America had become a country, had built a tradition of her own, Europe was regarded by millions as the homeland. But as the years swept by, this had ceased to be and the Americas were a world unto themselves, owing nothing to Europe.

And that was the way it would be with Earth. For centuries, for thousands of years, Earth would be the Mother Planet, the homeland for all the millions of roaming men and women who dared the gulfs of space and the strangeness of new worlds. There would be trips back to the Earth for sentimental reasons ... to see the place where one’s ancestors were born and had lived, to goggle at the monument which marked the point from which the first spaceship had taken off for the Moon, to visit old museums and see old cities and breathe the air that men and women had breathed for thousands of years before they found the power to take them anywhere.

In the end, Earth would be just a worn-out planet. Even now her minerals were rapidly being exhausted; her oil wells were dry and all her coal was mined; her industry stabilized and filled; her businesses interlocking and highly competitive. A world that was too full, that had too many things, too many activities, too many people. A world that didn’t need men and women. A world where even genius was kept from rising to the top.

And this was what was driving mankind away from the Earth. The competition, the crowded conditions, in business and industrial fields, the lack of opportunity for new development, the everlasting struggle to get ahead, fighting for a place to live when millions of others were fighting for the same thing. But not entirely that, not that alone. There was something else that old adventuresome spirit, the driving urge to face new dangers, to step over old frontiers, to do and dare, to make a damn fool of one’s self, or to surpass the greatest accomplishments of history.

But Earth would never die, for there was a part of Earth in every man and woman who would go forth into space, part of Earth’s courage, part of Earth’s ideals, part of Earth’s dreams. The habits and the virtues and the faults that Earth had spawned and fostered ... these were things that would never die. Old Earth would live forever. Even when she was drifting dust and the Sun was a dead, cold star, Earth would live on in the courage and the dreams that by that time would be spreading to the far corners of the Galaxy.

Russ dug the pipe out of his pocket, searched for the pouch, found it on the desk behind him. It was empty.

“Hell,” he said, “my tobacco’s all gone.”

Greg grinned. “You won’t have to wait long. We’ll be back on Earth in a few more hours.”

Russ put the stem between his teeth, bit down on it savagely. “I guess that’s right. I can dry smoke her until we get there.”

Earth was larger now. Mars had swung astern.

Suddenly a winking light stabbed out into space from the night side of Earth. Signaling ... signaling ... clearing the spacelanes for a greater future than any human prophet had ever predicted.