When Hais and I asked Martin, “Who could tell us about the history of the Federation?” he said, “Victor.”

I said, “Victor makes things complicated and boring. Isn’t there any person we could ask?”

“You might ask Snale,” he said. “He was headquarters commander here before Obsidian. Do you know how long he did the job?”


“Thirty thousand Federation days.”

“Thirty thousand!”

“Yes. Everyone wanted him to continue. His sight was failing, but he was as sharp as ever. His rank was still well over 900. But he insisted on retiring after thirty thousand days.”

“That’s a long time. Would you mind repeating it after I’ve adjusted my wrist unit?”

We were using wrist units for translation. Martin and I are native English speakers, but Hais is from Dancer 61. I adjusted my wrist unit display to show the time at home. It was 4.13 in the morning. Now, when Martin repeated the thirty thousand days, my wrist unit gave it as an Earth time – 84.59 years.

Hais commented, “That’s longer than most people live on Dancer 61.”

“How old is he now?” I asked.

“The last I heard, he was over 240 years old.”

“That’s old,” I said.

“Yes,” said Martin. “Snale comes from Vaya 7. Its people are among the longest-lived in the Galaxy. And the most intelligent. No doubt that’s why Snale was made commander here. And no doubt it’s why…. No. I’ll let him tell you himself.”

“Does that mean you think we should see him?”

“Yes. I’ve never met him, but I believe he’s a kind old man. His mind is still clear, but he’s completely lost his sight now. He lives on Yband 3. You should ask him to meet you.”

I ordered, “Victor, would you ask Snale if he would be kind enough to meet Hais and Bea.”

We soon had the reply, “Snale never leaves his own residence on Yband 3, but he would be pleased to welcome Hais and Bea there at 30%, Federation time, tomorrow. Tractor 646 will bring you. The drive takes about 4.7%.”

I said, “Victor, give our thanks to Snale, and say we look forward to meeting him at the time he suggests.”



As we left Martin’s office, Hais said, “Er… Bea, do you think Snale will mention the Galaxy?”

“Yes,” I said. “He’s sure to. Why?”

“Would you mind telling me about it? We didn’t know about galaxies on Dancer 61, and I was ill on the day that Blackett explained it during my training.”

“There’s not much to explain,” I said. “What do you know about it?”

“I know that a galaxy is a group of suns. They’re very far apart, although they look close together when we see them as stars in the sky at night.”

“How many stars in our Galaxy?”

“I don’t know. It’s a large number.”

“Come into my cabin, and we’ll find out.” In the cabin, I asked, “Victor, how many stars are in this Galaxy?”

“The number is not known exactly. It is estimated to be about one hundred and ninety-one thousand million.”

“You were right, Hais. It is a large number,” I said. “Do you know the shape of our Galaxy? It’s like a flat disc, with a bulge in the middle. Victor, show us a picture of our Galaxy, taken from the side.”

It came up on the screen.


I said, “I don’t remember the size. Victor, give the diameter and thickness of this Galaxy.”

“The diameter is approximately 950 exametres, and….”

“Whattametres?” I interrupted.


“What’s an exametre?”

“An exametre is one million million million metres.”

“And the diameter is 950 of them,” I said. “Hais, did you understand your translation?”

“Yes, but I can’t really understand the number. It’s too big.”

“Go on, Victor,” I said. “Tell us the thickness of the bulge in the Galaxy.”

“The depth of the Galaxy, at its deepest part, is approximately 140 exametres.”

“Thank you,” I said. “OK, Hais?”

“Yes. I believe him.”

“The stars in the rim are not evenly spread,” I said. “They spiral out from the centre. Victor, let’s see a picture of our Galaxy from above.”

It came up on the screen.

Hais said, “I’ve seen that picture. Our Galaxy has two spiral arms.”

“Dancer 61 and Earth are in one of those spiral arms, about two-thirds of the way to the edge. I think Blackett said the Federation started near the side of the central bulge, but Snale will probably tell us tomorrow.”

Hais asked, “Does our Galaxy have a name?”

“On Earth, it’s sometimes called the Milky Way. Does that make sense through your wrist unit?”

“My wrist unit said, ‘Milky Way.’ Does that mean milk?”

“I think so. If you stand outside on a clear night on Earth, it looks like a bright band across the sky. I wonder if the ancient people imagined it was like milk sprayed across the night sky. Do you know why the Milky Way appears as a bright band of stars, and the rest of the sky is darker, with fewer stars?”

“Did you say that Sol 3 is among the stars in the rim of the Galaxy?”


“Then, in one direction, you’ll be looking across the Galaxy, so you’ll see all the stars, looking as if they’re packed together. That’s the bright band. In the other direction, you’ll be looking up and down. Do you know what I mean by up and down? In that direction, there are only a few stars, then empty space.”

“Well done, Hais. That shows you understand it. And that’s all I remember about our Galaxy. As I said, it’s not much.”

“It’s all I needed. Thanks for telling me. I wouldn’t like to seem a fool in front of Snale.”



Hais said, “We’d better make sure our uniforms are tidy for tomorrow’s visit. I know he won’t see them, but I want to look smart to visit such an important person.”

“I know what you mean. Perhaps we should take him a gift. That would be a nice way of thanking him for seeing us.”

“Yes. Maybe we could take something from our own planets.”

That was a good idea, but it meant we had to hurry home to collect it. Granny suggested a bunch of flowers. I wasn’t sure about that, since Snale wouldn’t see them, but she persuaded me to get scented ones. I got a nice bunch of pink carnations. As I walked home from the shop, I thought – those flowers are going to travel a long way. They did have a lovely smell, but I still wasn’t sure if they were a suitable gift for Snale.

I still had my doubts when I met Hais the next morning for our trip to Yband 3. I was freshly showered, wearing a clean uniform, and carrying my bunch of carnations. She was freshly showered, wearing a clean uniform, and carrying a basket containing things like yellow plums. “Barbas,” she said. “My favourite fruit. What are yours?”

“Carnations,” I said, even more doubtful. “They’re scented.”

“They’re lovely,” she said. “I’m sure he’ll like them.”

We took the transporter to Yband 3. It has a warm climate, so rich people have posh houses there. They leave their tractors in a big car park beside the transporter. We found the one with 646 on the ends. It was robot-controlled, and expecting us, so we were soon rumbling along the tree-bordered road of bare earth.

After 4.7%, the tractor turned off, onto a narrower road that went through trees for a short distance before crossing a lawn in a small garden that was bright with flowers. That made me happier.

Beyond the garden was a one-storey white plastic house. I’ve seen some huge houses on Yband 3, but this one only had three windows on each side of the front door.

As soon as the tractor stopped, Snale’s servant opened the door. I hope I didn’t show my surprise; he looked like an Earth monkey. He was short, no taller than my waist, with a monkey-like face, and he leaned forward as he walked, with his long arms dangling. But he wore a spotless white tracksuit, and I needed only a glimpse of his mind to know he was intelligent – and pleased to see us.

He waved us to follow him – into the house, and along a short passage that was bright because the roof was clear plastic. He opened a door, and went in.





A creaky old man’s voice came from the room, and the servant waved us in.

The room was bright, with open French windows giving fresh air, and a view of the bright garden. An armchair had been facing them, but swung round when we went in, letting us see Snale. He might have been an aged elf, if there are such things. He was small, with a leathery yellow face which was beaming. He was almost bald, and wearing a maroon tracksuit with curly white patterns down the outsides of the arms and legs.

When we went forward to stand in front of him, he brought a wrist unit to his face. “I hope you will excuse an old man from standing to greet you. I am not as steady as I was.”

I said, “It’s kind of you to meet us. I… I brought these for you. I hope you like them.” I let the bottom of the bunch of flowers touch his wrinkled yellow hand.

“Thank you, my dear.” He took the bunch immediately, and felt over them with light fingers. “They are lovely. I smelled them as soon as you entered the room. Should they go in water?”

“Yes. If you want to keep them fresh.”

“Bobo, would you put these in water?” When the servant had taken them, he said, “You must be Bea.”

“Yes. I… I’m sorry. I should have said.”

“Do you mind leaning forward so that I may touch your face? I can no longer see, but my fingers will give me a picture of you.”

“Of course.” I crouched beside the chair, and he ran his fingers over my face. Perhaps it sounds horrible, but it wasn’t. His fingers were light and dry, and, being so near him, I sensed he was friendly, and pleased we’d come to see him.

“Thank you, Bea,” he said. He turned to face Hais. “You are Hais.” She gave him the barbas, and let him touch her face.

He said, “Thank you. Please take a seat.” I sat in a small armchair at his front left, and Hais took one at his front right.

I began, “It’s very kind of you to meet us.”

“The pleasure is mine,” he said. “I don’t have many visitors. I don’t complain about that, but I do enjoy talking to someone from time to time, especially to those as charming and talented as yourselves. Ah, Bobo, please put it on the chest.”

Bobo came in, carrying my flowers in a plain vase, like a big jam jar. He put it on a low chest beside the door, then stood beside it.

“Now girls,” said Snale. “May I offer you something to drink? Would you care for a glass of java juice?”

I said, “That’s very kind of you.” I know three things about java juice: it comes from a planet called Java 19, it’s expensive, and I like it.

Hais said, “That would be lovely, thank you.”

Snale called, “Bobo, four java juices.” As Bobo left, he asked, “While Bobo is fetching the drinks, Bea, would you tell me – can you read my mind?”

I felt myself going red – silly, because he couldn’t see me. I tried to answer honestly. “In a way. I can’t tell your thoughts, but I can sense your feelings. I know that you’re a sweet, kind person, and you’re pleased to see us.” I went redder, and could have bitten my tongue off; I’d warned myself about saying, “… to see us.”

I didn’t notice any annoyance in his mind. He said, “That is fascinating. How do you do it?”

“I don’t know. It’s like hearing. It’s just something I can do. During our training, we practised and improved it.”

“I believe that Tony, your cousin and fellow Troubleshooter, is even more gifted than you are in that respect.”

“Er… so we’re told.” With everything he said, he surprised me more. Knowing we were coming to see him, he must have asked Victor about us.

He said, “I wonder if you would ask him if he would be kind enough to pay me a visit when he can spare the time? I would like to meet him.”

“I’m sure he’d be proud to meet you.”

He cackled. “You flatter me. But I would like to meet him, and ask for his assistance in one or two matters. Ah, Bobo. Please give the girls their drinks.” I hadn’t heard Bobo come back, but he had a tray with four tall glasses of chilled java juice, dark green. As Bobo handed them round,

Snale asked, “Girls, may I make a request?”

We chorused, “Yes.”

“Would you mind if Bobo listens to our talk? It is a treat for him, as for me, to have visitors.”

“We’d be glad if he stays,” I said, and Hais agreed.

Bobo bowed and smiled to us, then sat on the floor, leaning against the side of Snale’s chair.



When Bobo was settled, Snale asked, “Now, ladies, how may I help you?”

I said, “We’re finding out about the Federation. We were told that you’re the best person to tell us about its history.”

He cackled. “Because I have lived through more of it. Why don’t you ask Victor?”

“We’re interested in stories that Victor might not know. It’s much more interesting, hearing it from a real person. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all. I know what you mean. Victor is very factual.” He leaned forward. “Tell me, girls, what invention enabled the Federation to be formed?”

I was taken by surprise, but Hais answered, “Was it… was it the fourth dimension drive?”

“Excellent, Hais. That is correct. The 4D drive was invented on Vaya 7.” I didn’t think we reacted, but he must have heard something, because he said, “Yes. That is my native planet, although I left it many days ago. My people have a reputation for intelligence. I would not say it is true for all, but it was true for a lady called Gaze, who devised the 4D drive.” He cackled again. “You didn’t know it was a lady, did you?”

“No,” I said. If Blackett told us during training, I’d forgotten it.

“Without the 4D drive, it takes thousands of days to travel between one solar system and another. With the 4D drive, it can be done in a few days.”

I took a sip of the java juice.

He asked, “Do you like the java juice, Bea?”

“Yes. It’s very refreshing.”

“You have been a guest of Moderato. He also gives his visitors java juice.”

He must have asked Victor for reports of some of our missions – and remembered we’d worked with Moderato. I sensed the amazement in Hais’s mind, and a little smugness in Snale’s.

He went on, “But I was telling you about Gaze’s 4D drive. Using it in their ships, the people of Vaya 7 explored their neighbouring solar systems, and found three planets with intelligent life. Fortunately, all four planets were peaceful. They quickly agreed to work together. So they formed the Federation. Do you know how long ago that was?”

I said, “The last five numbers are 11 526, because that’s the date. They started counting on the day the Federation agreement was signed.”

“Excellent, Bea,” he said. “Many people have trouble remembering the 5, not to mention the 1s.” I was pleased at his praise, but it wasn’t a big deal, remembering the date. He went on, “This is Day 13 711 526. That’s the number of days since the Federation was formed.”

(Addition from Bea: That’s about 38 663 Earth years.)




Snale asked, “Now tell me, Bea – what invention speeded the spread of the Federation?”

“Eh?” My mind raced, and I was lucky enough to think of a sensible answer. “Travel through the fifth dimension?”

“Correct. You two are as bright as your records suggest. 5D travel. It was devised by a man, Zeth, but he was a native of Vaya 7. No doubt you know transporters and shuttles use the fifth dimension. A transporter turns a fifty-day ship’s voyage into a brief jump.”

He stopped, for a drink of his java juice, before going on, “You do a fifty-day trip in a ship, find a suitable planet, and install a transporter on it. Then you needn’t do that fifty-day trip again, because you can bring everything you need, instantly, by the transporter. Have you any questions, girls?”

I asked, “Where in the Galaxy is Vaya 7?”

“It is just outside the central bulge of the Galaxy, at this side.”

“How far has the Federation spread?”

“It makes a big patch in the spiral arms of the Galaxy, on this side of the central bulge – the same side as Vaya 7, needless to say.”

“Does it fill the central bulge?” I asked.

“No. Most of the expansion has been in the arms. Few of the suns in the core have planets with suitable conditions for life. Knowing that, the explorers don’t go in that direction.”




Snale asked, “Is there anything else you want to know?”

Hais asked, “When did the Federation start having agents?”

“From Day 1,” answered Snale. “The leaders of the four planets wanted someone who would help them to work together, so they appointed the first agent. He wasn’t called an agent at that time, but he was the first Administrator. His name was Paepa, and you may guess which was his native planet.”

“Vaya 7?” I asked.

“Correct. I suppose it was natural that the other planets should look to Vaya 7 for guidance, but all planets were regarded as equal members, as they are today. Paepa may have been a Vayan, but he helped all the planets equally. He made his base on one of the planets. Would you care to guess which one it was?”

I didn’t answer, because I sensed mischief in his mind, but Hais said, “Vaya 7.”

That made him cackle louder. “No! Vaya 7 had no suitable land, so Paepa’s base was in the desert on another of the planets – Bolanjou 7. The main Federation headquarters is at the same place today, but Paepa wouldn’t recognise it now. It is a huge place, much bigger than our local headquarters, across on Yband 4.”

I asked, “Have you seen it?”

“Once,” said Snale. “A problem arose in the Federation. I’m sorry; I can’t tell you about it. I swore to keep it secret. But the Federation commander on Bolanjou 7 called all the sector commanders to discuss it. That reminds me. The Federation began with four planets. Can you tell me how many members it has now?”

I answered, “Blackett told us during our training. It was 123 762 at that time.”

Hais smiled. “123 766 when I did my training.”

“No doubt it is even higher now,” said Snale. “Victor will tell you. As the Federation expanded, it became too big to be run from one place. It was divided into sectors. Five at first, but do you know how many it has now?”

We chorused, “Twenty-seven.”

“Correct. And we are in Sector …?”


“Correct. Do you know how many planets are in Sector 17?”

Hais let me answer. “8544. We spoke to Cabac, the membership officer’s assistant, a few days ago.”

“Then you are more up-to-date than I am. He took another drink of java juice, before going on, “As the number of planets in the Federation increased, they needed more agents. Administrators. Negotiators. Investigators.”

“Pilots,” I said.

“Scientists,” said Hais.

I couldn’t resist adding, “Troubleshooters.”

That made him cackle again. “Yes, indeed. Our newest team. I have followed your work with interest.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Can you tell me? I’ve always wondered. Earth is not a member of the Federation. Why does the Federation have a base on it?”

Snale smiled. “Sol 3 is the only non-Federation planet that has a base. I helped to set it up. Would you like to hear how it happened?”

“Yes. If you could spare the time to tell us.”

“I would be glad to tell two such charming young ladies. I made a report at the time, of course, but it omitted some details which might interest you. It will take some time. Would you care to stay for tea? Bobo will be delighted to prepare it. In the evening, we can relax over my story.”


That’s what we did, but it’s such an interesting story that I’ve given it separately. See Story 40.