“I was never young. Whoever I was then is dead. That’s more of your quills. I don’t want a hide full, thanks. I’ve always figured it that you die each day and each day is a box, you see, all numbered and neat; but never go back and lift the lids, because you’ve died a couple of thousand times in your life, and that’s a lot of corpses, each dead a different way, each with a worse expression. Each of those days is a different you, somebody you don’t know or understand or want to understand.”
“You’re cutting yourself off, that way.”
“Why should I have anything to do with that younger Hitchcock? He was a fool, and he was yanked around and taken advantage of and used. His father was no good, and he was glad when his mother died, because she was the same. Should I go back and see his face on that day and gloat over it? He was a fool.”
“We’re all fools,” said Clemens, “all the time. It’s just we’re a different kind each day. We think, I’m not a fool today. I’ve learned my lesson. I was a fool yesterday but not this morning. Then tomorrow we find out that, yes, we were a fool today too. I think the only way we can grow and get on in this world is to accept the fact we’re not perfect and live accordingly.”
“I don’t want to remember imperfect things,” said Hitchcock. “I can’t shake hands with that younger Hitchcock, can I? Where he? Can you find him for me? He’s dead, so to hell with him! I won’t shape what I do tomorrow by some lousy thing I did yesterday.”
“You’ve got it wrong.”
“Let me have it then.” Hitchcock sat, finished with his meal, looking out the port. The other men glanced at him.
“Do meteors exist?” asked Hitchcock.
“You know damn well they do.”
“In our radar machines—yes, as streaks of light in space. No, I don’t believe in anything that doesn’t exist and act in my presence. Sometimes”—he nodded at the men finishing their food—”sometimes I don’t believe in anyone or anything but me.” He sat up. “Is there an upstairs to this ship?”
“I’ve got to see it immediately.”
“Don’t get excited.”
“You wait here; I’ll be right back.” Hitchcock walked out swiftly. The other men sat nibbling their food slowly. A moment passed. One of the men raised his head. “How long’s this been going on? I mean Hitchcock.”
“He acted funny the other day too.”
“Yes, but it’s worse today.”
“Has anyone told the psychiatrist?”
“We thought he’d come out of it. Everyone has a little touch of space the first time out. I’ve had it. You get wildly philosophical, then frightened. You break into a sweat, then you doubt your parentage, you don’t believe in Earth, you get drunk, wake up with a hang-over, and that’s it.”
“But Hitchcock don’t get drunk,” said someone. “I wish he would.”
“How’d he ever get past the examining board?”
“How’d we all get past? They need men. Space scares the hell out of most people. So the board lets a lot of borderlines through.”
“That man isn’t a borderline,” said someone. “He’s a fall-off-a-cliff-and-no-bottom-to-hit.”
They waited for five minutes. Hitchcock didn’t come back. Clemens finally got up and went out and climbed the circular stair to the flight deck above. Hitchcock was there, touching the wall tenderly.
“It’s here,” he said.
“Of course it is.”
“I was afraid it might not be.” Hitchcock peered at Clemens. “And you’re alive.”
“I have been for a long time.”
“No,” said Hitchcock. “Now, justnow, thisinstant, while you’re here with me, you’re alive. A moment ago you weren’t anything.”
“I was to me,” said the other.
“That’s not important. You weren’t here with me,” said Hitchcock. “Only that’s important. Is the crew down below?”
“Can you prove it?”
“Look, Hitchcock, you’d better see Dr. Edwards. I think you need a little servicing.”
“No, I’m all right. Who’s the doctor, anyway? Can you prove he’s on this ship?”
“I can. All I have to do is call him.”
“No. I mean, standing here, in this instant, you can’t prove he’s here, can you?”