“A new world. With a gesture, we burn the last of the old.” The captain ripped pages from the books. Leaf by seared leaf, he fed them into the fire.
Leaping back, the men stared beyond the firelight at the edges of the encroaching and uninhabited sea.
Another scream! A high and wailing thing, like the death of a dragon and the thrashing of a bronzed whale left gasping when the waters of a leviathan’s sea drain down the shingles and evaporate.
It was the sound of air rushing in to fill a vacuum, where, a moment before, there had beensomething!
The captain neatly disposed of the last book by putting it into the fire.
The air stopped quivering. Silence!
The rocket men leaned and listened. “Captain, did you hear it?”
“Like a wave, sir. On the sea bottom! I thought I saw something. Over there. A black wave. Big. Running at us.”
“You were mistaken.”
“See it? There! The city! Way over! That green city near the lake! It’s splitting in half. It’s falling!”
The men squinted and shuffled forward.
Smith stood trembling among them. He put his hand to his head as if to find a thought there. “I remember. Yes, now I do. A long time back. When I was a child. A book I read. A story. Oz, I think it was. Yes, Oz.The Emerald City of Oz . . .”
“Oz? Never heard of it.”
“Yes, Oz, that’s what it was. I saw it just now, like in the story. I saw it fall.”
“Report for psychoanalysis tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir!” A brisk salute.
The men tiptoed, guns alert, beyond the ship’s aseptic light to gaze at the long sea and the low hills.
“Why,” whispered Smith, disappointed, “there’s no one here at all, is there? No one here at all.”
The wind blew sand over his shoes, whining.
* * *
No Particular Night or Morning
HE HAD smoked a packet of cigarettes in two hours.
“How far out in space are we?”
“A billion miles.”
“A billion miles from where?” said Hitchcock
“It all depends,” said Clemens, not smoking at all. “A billion miles from home, you might say.”
“Then say it.”
“Home. Earth. New York. Chicago. Wherever you were from.”
“I don’t even remember,” said Hitchcock. “I don’t even believe there is an Earth now, do you?”
“Yes,” said Clemens. “I dreamt about it this morning.”
“There is no morning in space.”
“During the night then.”
“It’s always night,” said Hitchcock quietly. “Which night do you mean?”
“Shut up,” said Clemens irritably. “Let me finish.” Hitchcock lit another cigarette. His hand did not shake, but it looked as if, inside the sunburned flesh, it might be tremoring all to itself, a small tremor in each hand and a large invisible tremor in his body. The two men sat on the observation corridor floor, looking out at the stars. Clemens’s eyes flashed, but Hitchcock’s eyes focused on nothing; they were blank and puzzled.
“I woke up at 0500 hours myself,” said Hitchcock, as if he were talking to his right hand. “And I heard myself screaming, ‘Where am I? where am I?’ And the answer was ‘Nowhere!’ And I said, ‘Where’ve I been?’ And I said, ‘Earth!’ ‘What’s Earth?’ I wondered. ‘Where I was born,’ I said. But it was nothing and worse than nothing. I don’t believe in anything I can’t see or hear or touch. I can’t see Earth, so why should I believe in it? It’s safer this way, not to believe.”
“There’s Earth.” Clemens pointed, smiling. “That point of light there.”
“That’s not Earth; that’s our sun. You can’t see Earth from here.”
“I can see it. I have a good memory.
“It’s not thesame, you fool,” said Hitchcock suddenly. There was a touch of anger in his voice. “I mean see it. I’ve always been that way. When I’m in Boston, New York is dead. When I’m in New York, Boston is dead. When I don’t see a man for a day, he’s dead. When he comes walking down the street, my God, it’s a resurrection. I do a dance, almost, I’m so glad to see him. I used to, anyway. I don’t dance any more. I just look. And when the man walks off, he’s dead again.”