DEATH OF WILLY LEY
Might he but watch the skies of their equator,
Our lungfish in the sea Tranquillity
Might a heaven be! Just for a month. For him.
Karen and Foul Anderson (with Tim Courtney)
This is a lie, but I wish so much it were not.
Pain struck through like lightning. For an instant that went on and on, there was nothing but the fire which hollowed out his breast and the body’s animal terror. Then as he whirled downward he knew:
Oh, no! Must I leave them already?
Only a month, a month.
Weltall, verweile dock, du hist so schon.
The monstrous thunders and whistles became a tone, like a bell struck once which would not stop singing. It filled the jagged darkness, it drowned all else, until it began to die out, or to vanish into the endless, century after century,
and meanwhile the night deepened and softened, until he had peace.
But he opened himself again and was in a place long and high. With his not-eyes he saw that five hundred and forty doors gave onto black immensities wherein dwelt clouds of light. Some of the clouds were bringing suns to birth. Others, greater and more distant, were made of suns already created, and turned in majestic Catherine’s wheels. The nearest stars cast out streamers of flame, lances of radiance; and they were diamond, amethyst, emerald, topaz, ruby; and around them swung glints which he knew with his not-brain were planets. His not-ears heard the thin violence of cosmic-ray sleet, the rumble of solar storms, the slow patient multiplex pulses of gravitational tides. His not-flesh shared the warmth, the blood-beat, the mega-years of marvelous life on uncountable worlds.
Six stood waiting. He rose. “But you” he stammered without a voice.
“Welcome,” Ed greeted him. “Don’t be surprised. You were always one of us.”
They talked quietly, until at last Gus reminded them that even here they were not masters of time. Eternity, yes, but not time. “Best we move on,” he suggested.
“Uh-huh,” Roger said. “Especially after Murphy took this much trouble on our account.”
“He does not appear to be a bad fellow,” Yuri said.
“I am not certain,” Vladimir answered. “Nor am I certain that we ever will find out. But come, friends. The hour is near.”
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Seven, they departed the hall and hastened down the star paths. Often the newcomer was tempted to look more closely at something he had glimpsed. But he recalled that, while the universe was inexhaustible of wonders, it would have only the single moment to which he was being guided.
They stood after a while on a great ashen plain. The outlook was as eerily beautiful as he had hopedno, more, when Earth, a blue serenity swirled white with weather, shone overhead: Earth, whence had come the shape that now climbed down a ladder of fire.
Yuri took Konstantin’s hand in the Russian way. “Thank you,” he said through tears.
But Konstantin bowed in turn, very deeply, to Willy.
And they stood in the long Lunar shadows, under the high Lunar heaven, and saw the awkward thing come to rest and heard: “Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Stars are small and dim on Earth. Oh, I guess they’re pretty bright still on a winter mountain-top. I remember when I was little, we’d saved till we had the admission fees and went to Grand Canyon Reserve and camped out. Never saw that many stars. And it was like you could see up and up between themlike, you know, you could feet how they weren’t the same distance off, and the spaces between were more huge than you could imagine. Earth and its people were just lost, just a speck of nothing among those cold sharp stars. Dad said they weren’t
too different from what you saw in space, except for being a lot fewer. The air was chilly too, and had a kind of pureness, and a sweet smell from the pines around. Way off I heard a coyote yip. The sound had plenty of room to travel in.
But I’m back where people live. The smog’s not bad on this rooftop lookout, though I wish I didn’t have to breathe what’s gone through a couple million pairs of lungs before it reaches me. Thick and greasy. The city noise isn’t too bad either, the usual growling and screeching, a jet-blast or a burst of gunfire. And since the power shortage brought on the brownout, you can generally see stars after dark, sort of.
My main wish is that we lived in the southern hemisphere, where you can see Alpha Centauri.
Dad, what are you doing tonight in Murphy’s Hall?
A joke, I know. Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will.” Only I think it’s a true joke. I mean, I’ve read every book and watched every tape I could lay hands on, the history, how the discoverers went out, further and further, lifetime after lifetime. I used to tell myself stories about the parts that nobody lived to put into a book.
The crater wall had fangs. They stood sharp and grayish white in the cruel sunlight, against the shadow which brimmed the bowl. And they grew and grew. Tumbling while it fell, the spacecraft had none of the restfulness of zero weight. Forces caught nauseatingly at gullet and gut. An unidentified loose object clattered behind
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the pilot chairs. The ventilators had stopped their whickering and the two men breathed stench. No matter. This wasn’t an Apollo 13 mishap. They wouldn’t have time to smother in their own exhalations.
Jack Bredon croaked into the transmitter: “Hello, Mission Control … Lunar Relay Satellite . .. anybody. Do you read us? Is the radio out too? Or just our receiver? God damn it, can’t we even say goodbye to our wives?”
“Tell ‘em quick,” Sam Washburn ordered. “Maybe they’ll hear.”
Jack dabbed futilely at the sweat that broke from his face and danced in glittering droplets before him. “Listen,” he said. “This is Moseley Expedition One. Our motors stopped functioning simultaneously, about two minutes after we commenced deceleration. The trouble must be in the fuel integrator. I suspect a magnetic surge, possibly due a short circuit in the power supply. The meters registered a surge before we lost thrust. Get that system redesigned! Tell our wives and kids we love them.”
He stopped. The teeth of the crater filled the entire forward window. Sam’s teeth filled his countenance, a stretched-out grin. “How do you like that?” he said. “And me the first black astronaut.”
When they opened themselves again, in the hall, and knew where they were, he said, “Wonder if he’ll let us go out exploring.”
Murphy’s Halt? Is that the real name?
Dad used to shout, “Murphy take it!” when he blew his temper. The rest is in a few of the old tapes, fiction plays about spacemen, back when people liked to watch that kind of story. They’d say when a man had died, “He’s drinking in Murphy’s Hall.” Or he’s dancing or sleeping or frying or freezing or whatever it was. But did they really say “Hall”? The tapes are old. Nobody’s been interested to copy them off on fresh plastic, not for a hundred years. I guess, maybe two hundred. The holographs are blurred and streaky, the sounds are mushed and full of random buzzes. Murphy’s Law has sure been working on those tapes.
I wish I’d asked Dad what the astronauts said and believed, way back when they were conquering the planets. Or pretended to believe, I should say. Of course they never thought there was a Murphy who kept a place where the spacefolk went that he’d called to him. But they might have kidded around about it. Only was the idea, for sure, about a hall? Or was that only the way I heard? I wish I’d asked Dad. But he wasn’t home often, these last years, what with helping build and test his ship. And when he did come, I could see how he mainly wanted to be with Mother. And when he and I were together, well, that was always too exciting for me to remember those yarns I’d tell myself before I slept, after he was gone again.
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By the time Moshe Silverman had finished writing his report, the temperature in the dome was about seventy, and rising fast enough that it should reach a hundred inside another Earth day. Of course, water wouldn’t then boil at once; extra energy is needed for vaporization. But the staff would no longer be able to cool some down to drinking temperature by the crude evaporation apparatus they had rigged. They’d dehydrate fast. Moshe sat naked in a running river of sweat.
At least he had electric light. The fuel cells, insufficient to operate the air conditioning system, would at least keep Sofia from dying in the dark.
His head ached and his ears buzzed. Occasional dizziness seized him. He gagged on the warm fluid he must continually drink. And no more salt, he thought. Maybe that will kill us before the heat does, the simmering, stilt, stifling heat. His bones felt heavy, though Venus has in fact a somewhat lesser pull than Earth; his muscles sagged and he smelled the reek of his own disintegration.
Forcing himself to concentrate, he checked what he had written, a, dry factual account of the breakdown of the reactor. The next expedition would read what this thick, poisonous inferno of an atmosphere did to graphite in combination with free neutrons; and the engineers could work out proper precautions.
In sudden fury, Moshe seized his brush and scrawled at the bottom of the metal sheet: “Don’t
give up! Don’t let this hellhole whip you! We have too much to learn here.”
A touch on his shoulder brought him jerkily around and onto his feet. Sofia Chiappellone had entered the office. Even now, with physical desire roasted out of him and she wetly agleam, puffy-faced, sunken-eyed, hair plastered lank to drooping head, he found her lovely.
“Aren’t you through, darling?” Her tone was dull but her hand sought his. “We’re better off in the main room. Mohandas’ punkah arrangement does help.”
“Yes, I’m coming.”
“Kiss me first. Share the salt on me.”
Afterward she looked over his report. “Do you believe they will try any further?” she asked. “Materials so scarce and expensive since the war”
“If they don’t,” he answered, “I have a feeling oh, crazy, I know, but why should we not be crazy?I think if they don’t, more than our bones will stay here. Our souls will, waiting for the ships that never come.”
She actually shivered, and urged him toward their comrades.
Maybe I should go back inside. Mother might need me. She cries a lot, still. Crying, all alone in our little apartment. But maybe she’d rather not have me around. What can a gawky, pimply-faced fourteen-year-old boy do?
What can he do when he grows up?
O Dad, big brave Dad, I want to follow you. Even to Murphy’s .. . Hold?
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Director Saburo Murakami had stood behind the table in the commons and met their eyes, pair by pair. For a while silence had pressed inward. The bright colors and amateurish figures in the mural that Georgios Efthimakis had painted for pleasure beings that never were, nymphs and fauns and centaurs frolicking beneath an unsmoky sky, beside a bright river, among grasses and laurel trees and daisies of an Earth that no longer wasbecame suddenly grotesque, infinitely alien. He heard his heart knocking. Twice he must swallow before he had enough moisture in his mouth to move his wooden tongue.
But when he began his speech, the words came forth steadily, if a trifle flat and cold. That was no surprise. He had lain awake the whole night rehearsing them.
“Yousouf Yacoub reports that he has definitely succeeded in checking the pseudovirus. This is not a cure; such must await laboratory research. Our algae will remain scant and sickly until the next supply ship brings us a new stock. I will radio Cosmocontrol, explaining the need. They will have ample time on Earth to prepare. You remember the ship is scheduled to leave at … at a date to bring it here in about nine months. Meanwhile we are guaranteed a rate of oxygen renewal sufficient to keep us alive, though weak, if we do not exert ourselves. Have I stated the matter correctly, Yousouf?”
The Arab nodded. His own Spanish had taken
on a denser accent, and a tic played puppet-master with his right eye. “Will you not request a special ship?” he demanded.
“No,” Saburo told them. “You are aware how expensive anything but an optimum Hohmann orbit is. That alone would wipe out the profit from this stationpermanently, I fear, because of financing costs. Likewise would our idleness for nine months.”
He leaned forward, supporting his weight easily on fingertips in the low Martian gravity. “That is what I wish to discuss today,” he said. “Interest rates represent competition for money. Money represents human labor and natural resources. This is true regardless of socioeco-nomic arrangements. You know how desperately short they are of both labor and resources on Earth. Yes, many billions of handsbut because of massive poverty, too few educated brains. Think back to what a political struggle the Foundation had before this base could be established.
“We know what we are here for. To explore. To learn. To make man’s first permanent home outside Earth and Luna. In the end, in the persons of our great-grandchildren, to give Mars air men can breathe, water they can drink, green fields and forests where their souls will have room to grow.” He gestured at the mural, though it seemed more than ever jeering. “We cannot expect starvelings on Earth, or those who speak for them, to believe this is good. Not when each ship bears away metal and fuel and engineering skill that might have gone to keep their children
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alive a while longer. We justify our continued presence here solely by mining the fissionables. The energy this gives back to the tottering economy, over and above what we take out, is the profit.”
He drew a breath of stale, metallic-smelling air. Anoxia made his head whirl. Somehow he stayed erect and continued:
“I believe we, in this tiny solitary settlement, are the last hope for man remaining in space. If we are maintained until we have become fully self-supporting, Syrtis Harbor will be the seedbed of the future. If not”
He had planned more of an exhortation before reaching the climax, but his lungs were too starved, his pulse too fluttery. He gripped the table edge and said through flying rags of darkness: “There will be oxygen for half of us to keep on after a fashion. By suspending their other projects and working exclusively in the mines, they can produce enough uranium and thorium so that the books at least show no net economic loss. The sacrifice will . .. will be … of propaganda value. I call for male volunteers, or we can cast lots, or Naturally, I myself am the first.”
That had been yesterday.
Saburo was among those who elected to go alone, rather than in a group. He didn’t care for hymns about human solidarity; his dream was that someday those who bore some of his and Alice’s chromosomes would not need solidarity. It was perhaps well she had already died in a
cinderslip. The scene with their children had been as much as he could endure.
He crossed Weinbaum Ridge but stopped when the dome-cluster was out of sight. He must not make the searchers come too far. If nothing else, a quick duststorm might cover his tracks, and he might never be found. Someone could make good use of his airsuit. Almost as good use as the alga tanks could of his body.
For a time, then, he stood looking. The mountainside ran in dark scaurs and fantastically carved pinnacles, down to the softly red-gold-ocher-black-dappled plain. A crater on the near horizon rose out of its own blue shadow like a challenge to the deep purple sky. In this thin airhe could just hear the wind’s ghostly whistle Mars gave to his gaze every aspect of itself, diamond sharp, a beauty strong, subtle, and abstract as a torii gate before a rock garden. When he glanced away from the shrunken but dazzling-bright sun, he could see stars.
He felt at peace, almost happy. Perhaps the cause was simply that now, after weeks, he had a full ration of oxygen.
/ oughtn’t to waste it, though, he thought. He was pleased by the steadiness of his fingers when he closed the valve.
Then he was surprised that his unbelieving self bowed over both hands to the Lodestar and said, “Namu Amida Butsu.”
He opened his faceplate.
That is a gentle death. You are unconscious within thirty seconds.
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He opened himself and did not know where he was. An enormous room whose doorways framed a night heaven riotous with suns, galaxies, the green mysterious shimmer of nebulae? Or a still more huge ship, outward bound so fast that it was as if the Milky Way foamed along the bow and swirled aft in a wake of silver and planets?
Others were here, gathered about a high seat at the far end of where-he-was, vague in the twilight cast by sheer distance. Saburo rose and moved in their direction. Maybe, maybe Alice was among them.
But was he right to leave Mother that much alone?
I remember her when we got the news. On a Wednesday, when I was free, and I’d been out by the dump playing ball. I may as well admit to myself, I don’t like some of the guys. But you have to take whoever the school staggering throws up for you. Or do you want to run around by yourself (remember, no, don’t remember what the Hurricane Gang did to Danny) or stay always by yourself in the patrolled areas? So Jake-Jake does throw his weight around, so he does set the dues too high, his drill and leadership sure paid off when the Weasels jumped us last year. They won’t try that againwe killed three, count ‘em, three! and I sort of think no other bunch will either.
She used to be real pretty. Mother did. I’ve seen pictures. She’s gotten kind of scrawny, wor—
rying about Dad, I guess, and about how to get along after the last pay cut they screwed the spacefolk with. But when I came in and saw her sitting, not on the sofa but on the carpet, the dingy gray carpet, crying She hung onto that sofa the way she’d hung on Dad.
But why did she have to be so angry at him too? I mean, what happened wasn’t his fault.
“Fifty billion munits!” she screamed when we’d started trying to talk about the thing. “That’s a hundred, two hundred billion meals for hungry children! But what did they spend it on? Killing twelve men!”
“Aw, now, wait,” I was saying, “Dad explained that. The resources involved, uh, aren’t identical,” when she slapped me and yelled:
“You’d like to go the same way, wouldn’t you? Thank God, it almost makes his death worthwhile that you won’t!”
I shouldn’t have got mad. I shouldn’t have said, “Y-y-you want me to become … a desk pilot, a food engineer, a doctor . .. something nice and safe and in demand … and keep you the way you wanted he should keep you?”
I better stop beating this rail. My fist’ll be no good if I don’t. Oh, someday I’ll find how to make up those words to her.
I’d better not go in just yet. .
But the trouble wasn’t Dad’s fault. If things had worked out right, why, we’d be headed for Alpha Centauri in a couple of years. Her and him and me The planets yonderward, sure, they’re the real treasure. But the ship itself! I remember Jake-Jake telling me I’d be dead of
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boredom inside six months. “Bored aboard, ha\y, haw, haw!” He really is a lardbrain. A good leader, I guess, but a lardbrain at hearthey, once Mother would have laughed to hear me say that How could you get tired of Dad’s ship? A million books and tapes, a hundred of the brightest and most alive people who ever walked a deck
Why, the trip would be like the revels in Elf Hill that Mother used to read me about when I was small, those old, old stories, the flutes and fiddles, bright clothes, food, drink, dancing, girls sweet in the moonlight….
From Ganymede, Jupiter shows fifteen times as broad as Luna seen from Earth; and however far away the sun, the king planet reflects so brilliantly that it casts more than fifty times the radiance that the brightest night of man’s home will ever know.
“Here is man’s home,” Catalina Sanchez murmured.
Arne Jensen cast her a look which lingered. She was fair to see in the goldenness streaming through the conservatory’s clear walls. He ventured to put an arm about her waist. She sighed and leaned against him. They were scantily cladthe colony favored brief though colorful indoor garmentsand he felt the warmth and silkiness of her. Among the manifold perfumes of blossoms (on planets everywhere to right and left and behind, extravagantly tall stalks and big
flowers of every possible hue and some you would swear were impossible, dreamlike catenaries of vines and labyrinths of creepers) he caught her summary odor.
The sun was down and Jupiter c!6se to the full. While the terraforming project was going rapidly ahead, as yet the satellite had too little air to blur vision. Tawny shone that shield, emblazoned with slowly moving cloud-bands that were green, blue, orange, umber, and with the jewel-like Red Spot. To know that a single one of the storms raging there could swallow Earth whole added majesty to beauty and serenity. A few stars had the brilliance to pierce that luminousness, down by the rugged horizon. The gold poured soft across crags, cliffs, craters, glaciers, and the machines that would claim this world for man.
Outside lay a great quietness, but here music lilted from the ballroom. Folk had reason to celebrate. The newest electrolysis plant had gone into operation and was releasing oxygen at a rate fifteen percent above estimate. However, low-weight or no, you got tired dancingsince Ganymedean steps took advantage, soaring and bounding aloftmirth bubbled like champagne and the girl you admired said yes, she was in a mood for Jupiter watching
“I hope you’re right,” Arne said. “Less on our accountwe have a good, happy life, fascinating work, the best of companythan on our children’s.” He squeezed a bit harder.
She didn’t object. “How can we fail?” she
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answered. “We’ve become better than self-sufficient. We produce a surplus, to trade to Earth, Luna, Mars, or plow directly back into development. The growth is exponential.” She smiled. “You must think I’m awfully professorish. Still, really, what can go wrong?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “War, overpopulation, environmental degradation”
“Don’t be a gloomy,” Catalina chided him. The lambent light struck rainbows from the tiara of native crystal that she wore in her hair. “People can learn. They needn’t make the same mistakes forever. We’ll build paradise here. A strange sort of paradise, yes, where trees soar into a sky full of Jupiter, and waterfalls tumble slowly, slowly down into deep-blue lakes, and birds fly like tiny bright-colored bullets, and deer cross the meadows in ten-meter leaps … but paradise.”
“Not perfect,” he said. “Nothing is.”
“No, and we wouldn’t wish that,” she agreed. “We want some discontent left to keep minds active, keep them hankering for the stars.” She chuckled. “I’m sure history will find ways to make them believe things could be better elsewhere. Or nature willOh!”
Her eyes widened. A hand went to her mouth. And then, frantically, she was kissing him, and he her, and they were clasping and feeling each other while the waltz melody sparkled and the flowers breathed and Jupiter’s glory cataracted over them uncaring whether they existed.
He tasted tears on her mouth. “Let’s go dancing,” she begged. “Let’s dance till we drop.”
“Surely,” he promised, and led her back to the ballroom,
It would help them once more forget the giant meteoroid, among the many which the planet sucked in from the Belt, that had plowed into grim and marginal Outpost Ganymede precisely half a decade before the Martian colony was discontinued.
Well, I guess people don’t learn. They breed, and fight, and devour, and pollute, till:
Mother: “We can’t afford it.”
Dad: “We can’t not afford it.”
Mother: “Those childrenlike goblins, like ghosts, from starvation. If Tad were one of them, and somebody said never mind him, we have to build an interstellar ship … I wonder how you would react.”
Dad: “I don’t know. But I do know this is our last chance. We’ll be operating on a broken shoestring as is, compared to what we need to do the thing right. If they hadn’t made that breakthrough at Lunar Hydromagnetics Lab, when the government was on the point of closing it down Anyway, darling, that’s why I’ll have to put in plenty of time aboard myself, while the ship is built and tested. My entire gang will be on triple duty.”
Mother: “Suppose you succeed. Suppose you do get your precious spacecraft that can travel almost as fast as light. Do you imagine for an instant it canan armada can ease life an atom’s worth for mankind?”
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Dad: “Well, several score atoms’ worth. Starting with you and Tad and me.”
Mother: “I’d feel a monster, safe and comfortable en route to a new world while behind me they huddled in poverty by the billions.”
Dad: “My first duty is to you two. However, let’s leave that aside. Let’s think about man as a whole. What is he? A beast that is born, grubs around, copulates, quarrels, and dies. Uh-huh. But sometimes something more in addition. He does breed his occasional Jesus, Leonardo, Bach, Jefferson, Einstein, Armstrong, Olveidawhoever you think best justifies our being heredoesn’t he? Well, when you huddle people together like rats, they soon behave like rats. What then of the spirit? I tell you, if we don’t make a fresh start, a bare handful of us free folk whose descendants may in the end come back and teach if we don’t, why, who cares whether the two-legged animal goes on for another million years or becomes extinct in a Hundred? Humanness will be dead.”
Me: “And gosh, Mother, the fun!”
Mother: “You don’t understand, dear.”
Dad: “Quiet. The man-child speaks. He understands better than you.”
Quarrel: till I run from them crying. Well, eight or nine years old. That night, was that the first night I started telling myself stories about Murphy’s Hall?
It is Murphy’s Hall. I say that’s the right place for Dad to be.
When Hoo Fong, chief engineer, brought the news to the captain’s cabin, the captain sat still for minutes. The ship thrummed around them; they felt it faintly, a song in their bones. And the light fell from the overhead, into a spacious and gracious room, furnishings, books, a stunning photograph of the Andromeda galaxy, an animation of Mary and Tad; and weight was steady underfoot, a full gee of acceleration, one light-year per year per year, though this would become more in shipboard time as you started to harvest the rewards of relativity … a mere two decades to the center of this galaxy, three to the neighbor whose portrait you adored.. .. How hard to grasp that you were dead!
“But the ramscoop is obviously functional,” said the captain, hearing his pedantic phrasing.
Hoo Fong shrugged. “It will not be, after the radiation has affected electronic parts. We have no prospect of decelerating and returning home at low velocity before both we and the ship have taken a destructive dose.”
Interstellar hydrogen, an atom or so in a cubic centimeter, raw vacuum to Earthdwetlers at the bottom of their ocean of gas and smoke and stench and carcinogens. To spacefolk, fuel, reaction mass, a way to the stars, once you’re up to the modest pace at which you meet enough of those atoms per second. However, your force screens must protect you from them, else they strike the hull and spit gamma rays like a witch’s
“We’ve hardly reached one-fourth c,” the cap—
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tain protested. “Unmanned probes had no trouble at better than ninety-nine percent.”
“Evidently the system is inadequate for the larger mass of this ship,” the engineer answered. “We should have made its first complete test flight unmanned too.”
“You know we didn’t have funds to develop the robots for that.”
“We can send our data back. The next expedition”
“I doubt there’ll be any. Yes, yes, we’ll beam the word home. And then, I suppose, keep going. Four weeks, did you say, till the radiation sickness gets bad? The problem is not how to tell Earth, but how to tell the rest of the men.”
Afterward, alone with the pictures of Andromeda, Mary, and Tad, the captain thought: I’ve lost more than the years ahead.” I’ve tost the years behind, that we might have had together,
What shall I say to you? That I tried and failed and am sorry? But am I? At this hour I don’t want to lie, most especially not to you three.
Did I do right?
O God, oh, shit, how can I tell? The moon is rising above the soot^clouds. I might make it that far. Commissioner Wenig was talking about how we should maintain the last Lunar base another few years, till industry can find a substitute for those giant molecules they make there.
But wasn’t the Premier of United Africa saying those industries ought to be forbidden, they’re too wasteful, and any country that keeps them going is an enemy of the human race?
Gunfire rattles in the streets. Some female voice somewhere is screaming.
I’ve got to get Mother out of here. That’s the last thing I can do for Dad.
After ten years of studying to be a food engineer or a doctor, I’ll probably feel too tired to care about the moon. After another ten years of being a desk pilot and getting fat, I’ll probably be outraged at any proposal to spend my tax money
except maybe for defense. In Siberia they’re preaching that strange new missionary religion. And the President of Europe has said that if necessary, his government will denounce the ban on nuclear weapons.
The ship passed among the stars bearing a crew of dead bones. After a hundred billion years it crossed the Edgenot the edge of space or time, which does not exist, but the Edgeand came to harbor at Murphy’s Hall.
And the dust which the cosmic rays had made began to stir, and gathered itself back into bones; and from the radiation-corroded skeleton of the ship crept atoms which formed into flesh; and the captain and his men awoke. They opened themselves and looked upon the suns that went blazing and streaming overhead.
“We’re home,” said the captain.
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Proud at the head of his men, he strode uphill from the dock, toward the hall of the five hundred and forty doors. Comets flitted past him, novae exploded in dreadful glory, planets turned and querned, the clinker of a once living world drifted by, new life screamed its outrage at being born.
The roofs of the house lifted like mountains against night and the light-clouds. The ends of rafters jutted beyond the eaves, carved into dragon heads. Through the doorway toward which the captain led his crew, eight hundred men could have marched abreast. But a single form waited to greet them; and beyond him was darkness.
When the captain saw who that was, he bowed very deeply.
The other took his hand. “We have been waiting,” he said.
The captain’s heart sprang. “Mary too?”
“Yes, of course. Everyone.”
Me. And you. And you. And you in the future, if you exist. In the end, Murphy’s Law gets us all. But we, my friends, must go to him the hard way. Our luck didn’t run out. Instead, the decision that could be made was made. It was decided for us that our raceamong the trillions which must be out there wondering what lies beyond their skiesis not supposed to have either discipline or dreams. No, our job is to make everybody nice and safe and equal, and if this happens to be impossible, then nothing else matters.
If I went to that placeand I’m glad that this is a lieI’d keep remembering what we might have done and seen and known and been and loved.
Poul and Karen Anderson
Benrud contented himself with phoning Horner and inviting him to drop in, have a drink, and discuss a little business.
He stood for a minute with his hand still on the phone, a short man who had never been heavy and was now being hollowed out by approaching death. The breath toiled in his throat. But for some reason, possibly a small excitement which stimulated the glands, pain had left him. He felt pain only in the pause after talking, and so he remained silent as much as possible.
Now if he could just sleep nights. The sheer work of operating his lungs kept him awake as much as the cough, and he could scarcely remember a day when weariness had not filled his skull with sand. The condition hadn’t been very long in him, a matter of months, but the
memory of the years before, years of health, had already grown blurred.
The house was very silent. Moira had taken the kids to visit her mother, a hundred miles away. That was at Benrud’s instigation: he had explained there was a lot to do and he would be poor company till it was finished.
“You shouldn’t saddle yourself like that,” Moira had said. Lamplight touched the small lines around her eyes, almost the only signal that she was forty. “You aren’t well.”
“I told you and I told you,” Benrud answered, “it’s some damn allergy, and until they find out what it is I’ll have to make the best of things. Did you know I’ve been practicing coughing in different keys? I’m best in A sharp, but I sound so well on all notes that I think I’ll arrange a concert tour.”
She smiled, still worried, but comforted by him and by her own negligible knowledge of medicine. “Well, do find out quick,” she said, “because it’s getting awful boring alone at night.”
“For me too,” he said. He had moved into the spare bedroom since he got the diagnosis. Partly, as he told her, so his noise would not keep her awake, and partly, as he did not tell her, so she wouldn’t see the blood he had begun to spit up.
“I still think it must be something in the lab,” she said. “All that stuff you handle.”
He shrugged, having already claimed negative results in allergy tests for the organic compounds he used daily. Which was true enough, or would have been if those tests had actually been made. In reality, he hadn’t bothered with
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tests, for by the time he was to have taken them he knew what the trouble was.
She leaned forward in her chair and touched his hand. The light glowed off mahogany hair as she moved, and this evening her eyes were almost green. “Can’t you at least take a vacation?” she asked. “Jim will understand. He can handle everything while you’re away, and if you get well then it proves” She sensed his invisible frown and stopped. “Anyhow, a rest would help you. Jim urged me himself to make you take off, the last time I saw him.”
“Good old Jim Homer,” muttered Benrud.
“Look, why don’t we leave the kids at my mother’s and take off? She’ll understand. Just us. Maybe down to that little place in Mexico again. It can’t have changed much, sweetheart, even in, how long, eighteen years, and”
“Good idea.” He wished he had the strength to sound enthusiastic. “Yes, I want a vacation. Sure. But I’ve got to clear away this business first, or I’ll have it on my mind all the while.” She nodded acceptingly, having come to know him in their time together. “That’s why I want you to go off now, let me clear the decks. As soon as that’s taken care of, sure, I’ll have a long rest.”
“You’ll call me the minute you’re through, promise?”
So she left.
Benrud hesitated by the phone a bit longer. That was one pledge he wanted to keep. It was a small self-indulgence, to call and say I love you
and hang up again. But no, it wouldn’t be in his character to do that.
Horner’s knife lay by the phone. Benrud touched the broad keen blade with a fingernail. Good workmanship there, Swedish of a generation ago. Knives like that were hard to find nowadays.
Jim Horner had always done himself well.
Benrud realized that he had attempted a sigh, but it was lost in the noise of his disintegrating lungs. He left the table by the couch and moved slowly across the living room, past the bookshelves to the liquor cabinet. He and Jim had installed a small modern refrigerator within the Victorian oak, five years ago, so that there was no need to go to the kitchen for ice cubes or cold soda. Benrud remembered Horner’s large hands, holding a drink, and the quick pleasantry flung at Moira as she went by. When had the man changed? Or had he ever, really? Remembering impulses of violence within himself, from time to time, as they occur in all men, Benrud wondered. And he had been a quiet, bookish sort. So perhaps Horner, who pursued mountain goats, had always had his calculating side.
Benrud filled two glasses with ice, splashed in whisky, and set one on an occasional table by the Morris chair for Horner. The other one, he held. We two have the same tastes in liquor, at least, he thought. And then: But there’s no “at least” about it. We have also worked with the same metal, and laughed at the same jokes, and sailed the same boat, and, I rather suspect, continued to love the same woman.
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His books reminded him that he had wanted to re-read a few favorite passages, and for a moment the wish was so great (he could put the B Minor Mass on at the same time) that he almost cancelled his project. But no, he thought, I’m too tired to get the best out of anything.
A small jag of pain went through his chest.
The doorbell buzzed. Only a short walk separated this house from Homer’s flat. Benrud opened. His partner stood framed in a warm night, a few cars passing in the street behind, other houses and then a downward swoop to the glittering cities below, to the Bay and the bridges to San Francisco.
“Hi,” said Horner. He came in and closed the door behind him. I wonder if he already thinks of this house as his? thought Benrud. “Did you say something about a drink?”
“Over there.” Benrud nodded toward the table.
The big man crossed the room with the muscular gait that identified him two blocks away. Benrud worried that he might see the knife by the couch, but he didn’t. I worry too much, Benrud told himself, that was always my weakness; I have done more planning than doing. Though my plans have therefore come to grief less often than Jim’s. But then, he would say he got more fun out of life, even out of the collapses.
Horner sat down, the chair creaked comfortably under him, and lifted his glass. “Cheers,” he said. One-handed, he got out a cigarette and flipped a paper match into flame.
Benrud took the couch. He drank his own whisky fast, no longer needing courage, but wish-
ing for consolation. Horner rested eyes upon him with the steadiness of a big game hunter.
“What’d you call me over for?” he asked.
“Oh .. . miscellaneous.” Benrud pointed to the knife on the phone table. “I borrowed this when I was over at your place the other day.”
“Well . .. Horner was startled. “Why, that’s my pet. You didn’t ask me?”
“Sorry. I haven’t been feeling well. It slipped my mind.”
“You’re not a well man, Harry,” said Horner. He paused, then, slowly: “Why don’t you tell me what the doctor told you?”
“Guff. It’s okay to keep Moira from worrying, but I’m your partner. Remember? We founded the Metallurgical Research Laboratory together. I’ve got a vested interest in your health, Harry.”
Benrud thought back across two decades of acquaintanceship. They had been good years, his and Jim’s; Moira’s never-quite-explainable choice of him had not come between them; the lab, started right after the war, had prospered; and more important, the work had been one long happy hunting trip through Crystal Land, the comradeship of steaks fried over a Bunsen burner at three in the morning when a hoped-for reaction had just completed itself . .. Whatever came afterward, he had had that much.
“You could get along without me,” he said.
“Oh, sure, by now, with things running smoothly and a bright young staff. Go ahead and take that vacation, as long a one as you need.” Horner tapped the ash from his cigarette and gazed out
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of narrowed eyes. “But I still wish you’d tell me what’s really the matter with you.”
“To be perfectly honest,” said Benrud, “that’s what I called you over for tonight.”
“Beryllium poisoning,” said Benrud.
“What?” Homer barked it out, straightening with a jerk that almost upset the ash tray.
“Lethal dose,” said Benrud. “Lungs shot full of granulomata, and the ulceration spreading, faster than any previous case on record, I’m told.”
“Oh, no/’ whispered Horner.
“Evidently I breathed one hell of a lot of beryllium dust, several months back,” said Benrud.
He finished his drink, got up and went to the liquor cabinet and made himself another. For a few seconds the only sound in the room was the clink, splash, and gurgle; and from outside, where the Bay gleamed, the somehow lonesome noise of passing automobiles.
“Butfor God’s sake, man!”
“Naturally, the doctor wants me to go to the hospital,” said Benrud. “I can’t see that. Can you, Jim? There isn’t any cure. It’ll just be to lie there, coughing, and spending thousands of dollars.”
“Judas priest, Harry!” Horner surged to his feet and stood spraddled-legged, as if to fight. “If that’s what’s worrying you, Judas priest, I’ve got money!”
“So have I,” admitted Benrud in a careful voice. “And the lab itself is such a good business, it can afford to pay for me. But can my family
emotionally afford the months, maybe the year or two, it will take me to die? Can I?”
“Harry,” mumbled Horner, “are you sure? Doctors do make mistakes. I can’t see how”
“I analyzed some of my own sputum, too,” said Benrud.
He went back to his seat. Sleeplessness was now only a taste in his mouth; his mind was a high awareness. He had never before noticed the variations of hue on his own hand, or the feel of his shoes along the carpet. But his back ached and was grateful for the couch.
“Sit down, Jim,” he said.
The big man lowered himself. They were quiet. Horner seemed to grow aware of the cigarette smoldering between his fingers; he swore under his breath and took a hard puff. His free hand raised the whisky glass for a swallow. Benrud heard the gulp across the room.
He smiled. “I’ve never been a sentimentalist, or religious,” he said. “Our life is a result of some chemical accidents a billion years ago, and it’s all we’ve got, and we’re not obliged to keep it if another accident has made it useless.”
Horner wet his lips. “The Golden Gate Bridge?” he asked harshly.
Benrud shrugged. “I’ll find a suitable method.”
“Let’s talk business now,” said Benrud. “We can blubber later. Moira inherits my share, of course, but she has no scientific sense whatsoever. You’ll look after her interests, and the children’s, won’t you?”
“Yes,” whispered Horner. “God, yes, I will.”
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“You know,” said Benrud, “I’m actually inclined to believe that. And you’re still in love with her. Why else haven’t you married, all these years? You might make the kids a reasonably good stepfather.”
“Now, wait” began Homer. “Wait, this is no time for” He sat back. “Okay,” he sighed. “Talk as you like, Harry.”
Benrud scowled at his glass. “The trouble is,” he continued, “I’ve misjudged character before. I could so easily misjudge it again. You might make a great husband and a fiend of a stepfather. I’ve never liked to take chances.”
He glanced quickly up at Horner. The heavy face had reddened, and one fist had closed tight. But the man held back speech.
“As you say,” Benrud reminded him, “our very capable staff could maintain the lab without either of us.”
Horner sat up straight again. His tone was cracked in the middle. “What are you getting at?”
Benrud rolled a sip of whiskey on his tongue. Noble stuff, he thought. If the Celts had done nothing else, they had contributed whisky, James Stephens, and Hamilton’s canonical equations. That was enough beauty for any race to give the world.
“When I realized what my trouble was,” he said, “my first act was to make a thorough search for the cause. You remember that, don’t you? I didn’t admit that I was looking for beryllium dust exactly, but I did have every bin and respirator and everything else I could think of checked.
A good idea in any event. We do keep some deadly things on hand.” He paused. “I didn’t find anything wrong.”
“Well, it must have been some freak accident,” said Horner. He had recovered coolnessif, indeed, he had ever really lost it.
“Methodical people like me seldom have freak accidents,” declared Benrud, “though to be sure the police would have to accept such an explanation, after all this time.”
“But what elseHarry, you know how sorry I am about this, but if you insist on talking about the cause, then what else might have done it?”
“I wondered,” said Benrud. “Then I remembered the time several months ago when I had one of my periodic sore throats, and you urged me to try a spray some Los Angeles chemist was experimenting with, and gave me anatomizer full of it. Cloudy stuff. I wouldn’t have seen colloidal particles.”
Horner had already leaped back to his feet, the glass falling and ice cubes bouncing across the rug. “What the hell did you say!” he shouted.
“I remembered your insistence that I keep with it till the atomizer was exhausted, even though my throat cleared up well before,” said Benrud. “And afterward you asked for the atomizer back. Now what’s a two-bit gadget like that to you?”
“For God’s sake,” whispered Horner. “You’re out of your head.”
“Perhaps.” Benrud took another long swallow. He was careful not to move. The big man could tie him in knots, if need be. “Why did you want
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that atomizer back?” he asked. “Where is it now? Who is this chemist friend of yours and what’s his address?”
“I Look here, Harry, you’re sick. Let me help you to bed.”
“Give me the guy’s name and address,” said Benrud, smiling a little. “I’ll write, and if he answers I’ll beg your humble pardon.”
“He died,” said Horner. He stood with fists hanging at his sides, looking straight at the other man without blinking much. His voice fell flatly.
“Well, tell me his name and address anyway. Alive or dead, this thing can be checked up on, you know. After all, Jim, I want to be sure about my family’s future protector.”
Horner smacked one fist into an open palm. His mouth stretched to show the large well-cared-for teeth. Horner had always been uncommon fond of his own excellent body. “I tell you, you’re delirious,” he said. He stood for a moment, thinking. Then, abruptly: “What is it you want?”
“Proof about that chemist.”
“What chemist? Nobody mentioned any chemist. You’re sick and imagining things.”
Benrud sighed. He was suddenly very tired again.
“Let’s not go through that rigmarole,” he said. “I know what a fever feels like. I haven’t got one.”
Horner stood motionless, the loose sports shirt wrinkling as he breathed in and out, effortlessly in his health. He said at last, looking away: “You might as well forget it, Harry. It couldn’t be proven, you know.”
“I know,” said Benrud. “If I spoke, you could convince Moira that my brain had gone as rotten as my lungs. I don’t want her to remember me like that.”
Horner sat down once again. Benrud would have found it easier to go on had the man shown a flicker of dark enjoyment, but his face might have looked across any midnight poker table, in any of the games they had had. Benrud coughed, it ripped within him, and he hoped he could get this over with soon.
“I’m sorry,” said Horner in a dull tone. Perhaps he even meant it.
“So am I,” wheezed Benrud. Presently: “But I’m human enough to want some revenge. It would be nice to convict you. California uses the gas chamber for premeditating murderers exquisitely sadistic. Not to mention all the prior annoyances. You would never plead guilty, no matter how bad it looked; you’d suffer all the procedure.”
“Because I’m not guilty,” said Horner.
“If you’re not, then answer my questions.”
“Oh, forget it! I’m going home.”
“One minute,” said Benrud. “How do you know I haven’t poisoned your whisky?”
Horner sat altogether still. The color drained from him.
“As I was saying, Jim,” said Benrud, “you’re a fighter. And, I now believe, an ultimate sort of egotist, pleasant enough, companionable enough, but when all the cards are down you are a man who doesn’t believe that anything but himself really exists. So you’ll put up a fight, if charged
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with murder. No guilty plea, nothing so helpful, to earn a lesser sentence. And you’ll sit in the chair holding your breath till your lungs can’t stand it any longer.”
“Did you poison it?” mumbled Horner.
“Motives can be found easily enough, of course,” said Benrud.
Sweat glistened like oil on Horner’s face.
“Money, jealousy. You could have”
“Did you poison that drink?” Horner asked like an old man.
“No,” said Benrud. “I don’t want Moira to remember me that way, either. Or even as a suicide.”
He stood up. Horner rose too, shivering a little, though the night was summery. Benrud picked up the knife with some care. His own fingerprints on it wouldn’t matter, for Horner’s were certainly there in abundance.
The big man achieved a grin. “You dying shrimp,” he said, “do you seriously expect you can hurt me?”
“Not that way,” said Benrud.
He had looked up the right place to cut, and the knife entered and slashed the abdominal aorta with much less pain than he expected. Horner yelled and plunged across the room. Blood smeared across his hands. Benrud fended him off with a kick. He lurched backward. The dropped glass crunched under his shoe and he knocked over the occasional table.
Benrud dialed O. “Operator!” he gasped. “Police. I’m being attacked, Jim Horner is at-
tacking me, Jim Horner, this is Harry Benrud and I’m”
Horner caromed into him again. The phone toppled to the floor. It would take awhile to trace the call and for the police to arrive. Long enough for a weakened man to die. Benrud lay back and let the darkness have him.
Poul and Karen Anderson
In Memoriom: Henry Kuttner
(Los Angeles, 1914Santa Monica, February 4, 1958)
Tomorrow and tomorrow bring no more Beggars in velvet, blind mice, pipers’ sons; The fairy chessmen will take wing no more In shock and clash by night where fury runs. A gnome there was, whose paper ghost must
That home there’s no returningthat the line To his tomorrow went with last year’s snow. Gallegher Plus no longer will design Robots who have no tails; the private eye That stirred two-handed engines, no more sees. No vintage seasons more, or rich or wry, That tantalize us even to the lees; Their mutant branch now the dark angel shakes And happy endings end when the bough breaks.