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This way, any ship in need of assistance can have it within from a day to an hour, depending on what the situation is. But as the machine slid swiftly along gleaming passages, Benton saw that the private suite of the grand admiral was no small place. Through door after door he glimpsed tremendous activities. Occasionally they whizzed through open bays of desks where scraps of conversation could be overheard, while all about were annunciators flashing weird symbols incessantly. Pegasus hit Pegasus blows up Cruiser Flotilla 36 moving in from lower port quarter Altair hit —". As that faded, the orderly cut across the back of a balcony overlooking a great hail.

Far down in the pit Benton could see a huge swirling ball of vapor, glittering with pinpoints of varicolored lights cast upon it by unseen projectors. That would be the ultra-secret Battle Integrator — the marvelous moving solidograph that resolved six dimensions into four. Stern-faced officers watched it intently, snapping orders into phones, and uniformed girl messengers dashed everywhere. Benton and Torrington were crouched over a curious device in the turret booth.

It was a miniature version of the Battle Integrator, a series of transparent concentric spheres cunningly illuminated by fingers of light from a projector in its nucleus. Benton indicated a crawling pink dot. By the time we get to B you should have recovered from the acceleration shock and manned the thermoscope.

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The target will be somewhere in the zone COTV. This curve shows its heat characteristics. The minute you pick it up, cut in the tracker and put on your alert light. Get it? They were looking at the big Battle Integrator whirling and sparkling in Action Hall, not a hundred yards from Bullard's quiet office. Six Vixens , and along come four maulers.

All right. The Scouts disintegrated two, but now there are two left and no Vixens.

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  • What's to stop 'em from coming right on in? There's nothing heavy enough this side of Mars, and that's five days off using everything. They stared silently at the telltale ball of mist. High up toward its pole eight dull red marks were dying out. The ships were gone, but the after-radiation lingered.

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    Inside them and several degrees down two silvery blobs were crawling slowly. A pale thread of violet light throbbed in the fog, and on it the two blobs lay like pearls on a silken thread.

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    The violet line was their computed trajectory. A pinkish streak of light appeared like a short-tailed comet out of the nowhere, slowed, brightened, and then condensed to a definite point of glittering light. Instantly the computers in distant rooms noted it, and with flying fingers punched its observed co-ordinates into their machines.

    A second later another violet thread appeared — the mysterious pink body's course. It lacked little of intersecting that of the two maulers. He was the Operational Director of the cruiser force and knew. A loud-speaker began to blare. She was propelled there as the result of a mysterious accident. Believed to be damaged and only partly manned. When last seen katatrons were still in working condition, but there are no experienced officers on board, her captain and others have abandoned her — ".

    But you're going in the wrong direction. It's a Beltish system of direction. We use Earth's orbital velocity as the standard of distance for an asteroid—the way you use a clock face as the standard of position for an airplane; or a globe of Earth for the standard of reference in a spaceship. If somebody comes up on it at a ninety-degree on the right, say, above it, that would be three o'clock high.

    Tells a guy where to look. Which way's up? The way you're facing or the way you're going? And are you in an acceleration couch lying down, or a couch-chair like ours? But— well, you've got the 3-D Plan Position Indicator. It's f a globe. You use it like a globe of Earth for your reference. Paulsen pointed to the global PPI.

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    The faint glow of orange grid reference lines made it look very much like a skeletonized globe of Earth. In the center of the globe was one green spark that represented their own ship. Any outside object, Stan knew, would be represented by a red spot within the globe; or if it were a planet or other sizable object, it would intrude as a large red ball. The north-south axis of the globe was in line with the ship's axis; north the direction in which they were going, south the direction from which they were pushed.

    You use latitude—not many of them; about twenty, forty and sixty degrees of latitude. Then north and south is like in the scope here; north is the way you're going. East and west is a reference from where you're sitting—east is the right side of the scope from here.

    Then farside and nearside, meaning farside of the scope or near. So if the ship you're after is—well, I don't know how to describe it except to say 'north forty farside east. So they're five months apart. Wouldn't take more than two weeks to reach it in this crate. But now, if you want to say where an asteroid is in the Belt, not relative to you in distance, but just where it is, you use the zodiac sign.

    For instance, Belt City's just entered Taurus; and A. Distance is in months; position is in zodiacal sign. It's easy once you think about it. Makes sense. They're named like a deck of cards—ace, king, queen, jack, ten. The Belt's not evenly spaced around its orbit, you know. It sort of divides up into five sectors, with a fair amount of fairly empty space between.

    So you've got the sectors to contend with too. Think you can manage? She had been designed and built specifically to be Grand Fleet Headquarters, and nothing else. She bore no offensive armament, but since she had to protect the presiding geniuses of combat she had every possible defense. Port Admiral Haynes had learned a bitter lesson during the expedition to Helmuth's base. Long before that relatively small fleet got there he was sick to the core, realizing that fifty thousand vessels simply could not be controlled or maneuvered as a group. If that base had been capable of an offensive or even of a real defense, or if Boskone could have put their fleets into that star-cluster in time, the Patrol would have been defeated ignominiously; and Haynes, wise old tactician that he was, knew it.

    Therefore, immediately after the return from that "triumphant" venture, he gave orders to design and to build, at whatever cost, a flagship capable of directing efficiently a million combat units.

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    The "tank" the minutely cubed model of the galaxy which is a necessary part of every pilot room had grown and grown as it became evident that it must be the prime agency in Grand Fleet Operations. Finally, in this last rebuilding, the tank was seven hundred feet in diameter and eighty feet thick in the middle"over seventeen million cubic feet of space in which more than two million tiny lights crawled hither and thither in helpless confusion. For, after the technicians and designers had put that tank into actual service, they had discovered that it was useless.

    No available mind had been able either to perceive the situation as a whole or to identify with certainty any light or group of lights needing correction; and as for linking up any particular light with its individual, blanket-proof communicator in time to issue orders in space-combat!

    Kinnison looked at the tank, then around the full circle of the million-plug board encircling it. He observed the horde of operators, each one trying frantically to do something. Next he shut his eyes, the better to perceive everything at once, and studied the problem for an hour. Helmuth had a nice set-up on multiplex controls, and Jalte had some ideas, too. If we add them to this we may have something. Ambers are the planets the reds took off from—connected, you see, by Ryerson string-lights.

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    The white star is us, the Directrix. That violet cross 'way over there is Jalte's planet, our first objective. The pink comets are our free planets, their tails showing their intrinsic velocities. Being so slow, they had to start long ago. The purple circle is the negasphere. It's on its way, too.

    You take that side, I'll take this. They were supposed to start from the edge of the twelfth sector. The idea was to make it a smooth, bowl-shaped sweep across the galaxy, converging upon the objective, but each of the system marshals apparently wants to run this war to suit himself. Look at that guy there, he's beating the gun by nine thousand parsecs. Watch me pin his ears back! He pointed his Simplex at the red light which had so offendingly sprung into being.