Dick, Philip K. Rautavaara’s Case
The three technicians of the floating globe monitored fluctuations in interstellar magnetic fields, and they did a good job until the moment they died.
Basalt fragments, traveling at enormous velocity in relation to their globe, ruptured their barrier and abolished their air supply. The two males were slow to react and did nothing. The young female technician from Finland, Agneta Rautavaara, managed to get her emergency helmet on but the hoses tangled; she aspirated and died: a melancholy death, strangling on her own vomit. Herewith ended the survey task of EX208, their floating globe. In another month the technicians would have been relieved and returned to Earth.
We could not get there in time to save the three Earthpersons, but we did dispatch a robot to see whether any of them could be regenerated. Earthpersons do not like us, but in this case their survey globe was operating in our vicinity. There are rules governing such emergencies that are
binding on all races in the galaxy. We had no desire to help Earthpersons, but we obey the rules.
The rules called for an attempt on our part to restore life to the three dead technicians, but we allowed a robot to take on the responsibility, and perhaps there we erred. Also, the rules required us to notify the closest Earth ship of the calamity, and we chose not to. I will not defend this omission or analyze our reasoning at the time.
The robot signaled that it had found no brain function in the two males and that their neural tissue had degenerated. Regarding Agneta Rautavaara, a slight brain wave could be detected. So in Rautavaara’s case the robot would begin a restoration attempt. Since it could not make a judgment decision on its own, however, it contacted us. We told it to make the attempt. The fault-the guilt, so to speak-therefore lies with us. Had we been on the scene, we would have known better. We accept the blame.
An hour later the robot signaled that it had restored significant brain function in Rautavaara by supplying her brain with oxygen-rich blood from her dead body. The oxygen, but not the nutriments, came from the robot. We instructed it to begin synthesis of nutriments by processing Rautavaara’s body, using it as raw material. This is the point at which the Earth authorities later made their most profound objection. But we did not have any other source of nutriments. Since we ourselves are a plasma, we could not offer our own bodies.
They objected that we could have used the bodies of Rautavaara’s dead companions. But we felt that, based on the robot’s reports, the other bodies were too contaminated by radioactivity and hence were toxic to Rautavaara; nutriments derived from those sources would soon poison her brain. If you do not accept our logic, it does
not matter to us; this was the situation as we construed it from our remote point. This is why I say our real error lay in sending a robot rather than going ourselves. If you wish to indict us, indict us for that.
We asked the robot to patch into Rautavaara’s brain and transmit her thoughts to us so that we could assess the physical condition of her neural cells.
The impression that we received was sanguine. It was at this point that we notified the Earth authorities. We informed them of the accident that had destroyed EX208; we informed them that two of the technicians, the males, were irretrievably dead; we informed them that through swift efforts on our part we had the one female showing stable cephalic activity-which is to say, we had her brain alive.
“Her what?” the Earthperson radio operator said, in response to our call.
“We are supplying her nutriments derived from her body-”
“Oh, Christ,” the Earthperson radio operator said. “You can’t feed her brain that way. What good is just a brain?”
“It can think,” we said.
“All right. We’ll take over now,” the Earthperson radio operator said. “But there will be an inquiry.”
“Was it not right to save her brain?” we asked. “After all, the psyche is located in the brain. The physical body is a device by which the brain relates to-”
“Give me the location of EX208,” the Earthperson radio operator said. “We’ll send a ship there at once. You should have notified us at once before trying your own rescue efforts. You Approximations simply do not understand somatic life forms.”
It is offensive to us to hear the term Approximations. It is an Earth slur regarding our origin in the Proxima Centauri system. What it implies is that we are not authentic, that we merely simulate life.
This was our reward in the Rautavaara case. To be derided. And indeed there was an inquiry.
Within the depths of her damaged brain Agneta Rautavaara tasted acid vomit and recoiled in fear and aversion. All around her EX208 lay in splinters. She could see Travis and Elms; they had been torn to bloody bits, and the blood had frozen. Ice covered the interior of the globe. Air gone, temperature gone… What’s keeping me alive? she wondered. She put her hands up and touched her face-or rather tried to touch her face. My helmet, she thought. I got it on in time.
The ice, which covered everything, began to melt. The severed arms and legs of her two companions rejoined their bodies. Basalt fragments embedded in the hull of the globe, withdrew and flew away.
Time, Agneta realized, is running backward. How strange!
Air returned; she heard the dull tone of the indicator horn. Travis and Elms, groggily, got to their feet. They stared around them, bewildered. She felt like laughing, but it was too grim for that. Apparently the force of the impact had caused a local time perturbation.
“Both of you sit down,” she said.
Travis said thickly. “I-okay; you’re right.” He seated himself at his console and pressed the button that strapped him securely in place. Elms, however, just stood.
“We were hit by rather large particles,” Agneta said.
“Yes,” Elms said.
“Large enough and with enough impact to perturb time,” Agneta said. “So we’ve gone back to before the event.”
“Well, the magnetic fields are partly responsible,” Travis said. He rubbed his eyes; his hands shook. “Get your helmet off, Agneta. You don’t really need it.”
“But the impact is coming,” she said.
Both men glanced at her.
“We’ll repeat the accident,” she said.
“Shit,” ‘Ilravis said, “I’ll take the EX out of here.” He pushed many keys on his console. “It’ll miss us.”
Agneta removed her helmet. She stepped out of her boots, picked them up … and then saw the figure.
The figure stood behind the three of them. It was Christ.
“Look,” she said to Travis and Elms.
The figure wore a traditional white robe and sandals; his hair was long and pale with what looked like moonlight. Bearded, his face was gentle and wise. Just like in the holoads the churches back home put out. Agneta thought. Robed, bearded, wise and gentle, and his arms slightly raised. Even the nimbus is there. How odd that our preconceptions were so accurate!
“Oh, my God,” Travis said. Both men stared, and she stared, too. “He’s come for us.”
“Well, it’s fine with me,” Elms said.
“Sure, it would be fine with you,” Travis said bitterly. “You have no wife and children. And what about Agneta? She’s only three hundred years old; she’s a baby.”
Christ said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me, you can do nothing.”
“I’m getting the EX out of this vector,” Travis said.
“My little children,” Christ said, “I shall not be with you much longer.”
“Good,” Travis said. The EX was now moving at peak velocity in the direction of the Sirius axis; their star chart
showed massive flux.
“Damn you, Travis,” Elms said savagely. “This is a great opportunity. I mean, how many people have seen Christ? I mean, it is Christ. You are Christ, aren’t you?” he asked the figure.
Christ said, “I am the Way, the ‘Ruth, and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you know me, you know my Father, too. From this moment you know him and have seen him.”
“There,” Elms said, his face showing happiness. “See? I want it known that I am very glad of this occasion, Mr. -” He broke off. “I was going to say, ‘Mr. Christ.’ That’s stupid; that is really stupid. Christ, Mr. Christ, will you sit down? You can sit at my console or at Ms. Rautavaara’s. Isn’t that right, Agneta? This here is Walter Travis; he’s not a Christian, but I am; I’ve been a Christian all my life. Well, most of my life. I’m not sure about Ms. Rautavaara. What do you say, Agneta?”