That morning, as he carefully shaved his head until it glistened, Aaron Tozzo pondered a vision too unfortunate to be endured. He saw in his mind fifteen convicts from Nachbaren Slager, each man only one inch high, in a ship the size of a child’s balloon. The ship, traveling at almost the speed of light, continued on forever, with the men aboard neither knowing nor caring what became of them.
The worst part of the vision was just that in all probability it was true.
He dried his head, rubbed oil into his skin, then touched the button within his throat. When contact with the Bureau switchboard had been established, Tozzo said, “I admit we can do nothing to get those fifteen men back, but at least we can refuse to send any more.”
His comment, recorded by the switchboard, was passed on to his co-workers. They all agreed; he listened to their voices chiming in as he put on his smock, slippers and overcoat. Obviously, the flight had been an error; even the public knew that now. But –
“But we’re going on,” Edwin Fermeti, Tozzo’s superior, said above the clamor. “We’ve already got the volunteers.”
“Also from Nachbaren Slager?” Tozzo asked. Naturally the prisoners there would volunteer; their lifespan at the camp was no more than five or six years. And if this flight to Proxima were successful, the men aboard would obtain their freedom. They would not have to return to any of the five inhabited planets within the Sol System.
“Why does it matter where they originate?” Fermeti said smoothly.
Tozzo said, “Our effort should be directed toward improving the U. S. Department of Penology, instead of trying to reach other stars.” He had a sudden urge to resign his position with the Emigration Bureau and go into politics as a reform candidate.
Later, as he sat at the breakfast table, his wife patted him sympathetically
on the arm. “Aaron, you haven’t been able to solve it yet, have you?”
“No,” he admitted shortly. “And now I don’t even care.” He did not tell her about the other ship loads of convicts which had fruitlessly been expended; it was forbidden to discuss that with anyone not employed by a department of the Government.
“Could they be re-entering on their own?”
“No. Because mass was lost here, in the Sol System. To re-enter they have to obtain equal mass back, to replace it. That’s the whole point.” Exasperated, he sipped his tea and ignored her. Women, he thought. Attractive but not bright. “They need mass back,” he repeated. “Which would be fine if they were making a round trip, I suppose. But this is an attempt to colonize; it’s not a guided tour that returns to its point of origin.”
“How long does it take them to reach Proxima?” Leonore asked. “All reduced like that, to an inch high.”
“About four years.”
Her eyes grew large. “That’s marvelous.”
Grumbling at her, Tozzo pushed his chair back from the table and rose. I wish they’d take her, he said to himself, since she imagines it’s so marvelous. But Leonore would be too smart to volunteer.
Leonore said softly, “Then I was right. The Bureau has sent people. You as much as admitted it just now.”
Flushing, Tozzo said, “Don’t tell anybody; none of your female friends especially. Or it’s my job.” He glared at her.
On that hostile note, he set off for the Bureau.
As Tozzo unlocked his office door, Edwin Fermeti hailed him. “You think Donald Nils is somewhere on a planet circling Proxima at this very moment?