"Oh, Quell," I whispered. "Leave your mind with me, so we may be friends to the end."
I felt his thoughts, his mind did linger in my ears and in my head.
"My mind is yours," said Quell as he left. "Yours."
A few moments later, the captain commanded, "Launch Life-craft Three!"
Redleigh's voice came over the intercom, "Life-craft Three launching!"
Concussion. Quell and Redleigh catapulted into the universe.
"Ishmael, stand close," said the captain.
"Sir!" I said.
"They fly," the captain said. "There, see the life-crafts as they go."
Watching the computer screen, we saw the craft, already far out beyond us, and heard their voices, mingled. And in those lonely craft, Quell, Redleigh, Small, and Downs. The voices said, "Craft One, full speed. Craft Two, full. Three, on target."
"Oh, Ishmael, look!" the captain said. "That is the whole Antarctic continent, all white, and somehow hurled upon the universal air to shake our sight! Leviathan!"
"It's too much!" I cried. "I cannot see!"
"Let it burn your eyes, as it burned mine," the captain said. "We'll still have hands to put it out!"
"Quell!" I shouted.
For I was hearing music: the music of Quell's ancestors, the funeral dirge of his grandfather. It was in Quell's mind, and somehow it came to me.
Quell's voice replied, long miles away: "I hear you, young friend."
"Oh, Quell, that music!"
"Yes," Quell said. "Leviathan has learned that tune...and plays it well."
And then the music was playing not only in my head, but coming over the ship's speakers-loud, crashing, melancholy waves.
Suddenly the captain said, "I'll stop that sound! I'll kill that thing! Crafts One and Two-destroy! Craft Three-destroy! Redleigh-destroy!"
And Redleigh's voice, in concert with the others, echoed back: "Destroy!"
The music crescendoed-immense sounds and vibrations. It swelled and rose and fell away.
"Destroy and be destroyed," I said to myself, remembering. To the captain, I said, "Oh, sir, our ships are too small. That comet destroys them! I see the men's bones, as if on an X-ray. The laser-beam weapons they aim are no more than matchstick torches against that great hand of fire that closes in on them like a fist."
I watched as Life-crafts One, Two, and Three disappeared.
"There," I whispered. "I faintly see. My vision fades. The ships, one by one, fall, plucked free of skins, their metal skeletons revealed, the men tossed out in millrace radiation. Flashing meteors...all swallowed...vanishing."
"No, good Ishmael," came Quell's faint whisper. "We are gone, but we have each been thrown to a different warp in Time."
"The men in Life-craft One," I asked, "their weapons stilled, where do they go?"
Quell's whisper said, "Our friend Downs is sent to death, perhaps, and burial with Richard, mad lost king, on his green plain, his crown and blood tossed at his feet."
"The men in Life-craft Two spin further on. They drop, despairing, where?"
"In Illinois. Oh strange," came Quell's mute words.
"In Illinois, near the tomb where Lincoln sleeps. And Redleigh? Quell, what of him?"
"Still here. We know not where we go. This comet steers us. Time is its weapon!"
I turned to the captain. "Time," I said. "The comet has flung them throughout Time. Quell says Time is its weapon."
"As Time is mine!" said the captain. "My crew dispersed, my weapons gone, yet I have one huge weapon left, aboard this ship. Time! Time is all! So I have made an engine that, like Leviathan, can twist all Time like a spinning top. Now, with my vast machine we'll use the comet's power against itself. As in the Orient, we fall and take our killer with us, using all his weight for his defeat. That mouth which would have swallowed us, we will cause to gape and turn about. What's larger than Leviathan? Eternity! The void! The dark abyss! The stuff between the stars! That is the mouth I use. My engine will open a seam in space and drop Leviathan in."
And in that instant, our captain played some keys of the main computer console and the engines of our rocket throbbed to hysteria.
"Leviathan," cried the captain, "meet Leviathan! Destruction, meet destruction! Comet, see thy mirror image! Annihilation, know annihilation!"
The entire universe around us shook. I heard Quell's voice as it faded among the stars.
The captain's voice was loud in that last great sound, and in that final moment he shouted, "What? My ship gone, too? Its flesh ripped free? Its bones strewn forth? Am I blind once more? Then blind, I seize on thee! Dead, I grapple with thee. Where is thy heart? Oh there, now there-I'll stifle it. Oh damned and dread Leviathan, it comes to this!"
There was a final explosion-a great outpouring of shrapneled ship, lost humans, and wild beams. And I, thrown upward, floated in my life-suit above the wreckage, surrounded by mirages, dreams, motes, shadows, stars.
Gone, yes, all gone, I thought. Down the long black mineshaft of the universe, its bridal veil trailing despairs and woes, celebrating itself, a mindless mystery forever in motion, but...wait...now truly gone? Gone all the ships, men, large, small, sane or mad, the captain with them, madness maddened. Did he open wide the seam, that strange vast hole in eternity he spoke of, and drop Leviathan in? And are they lost forever? Or will, I wonder, Leviathan return? Will he return in thirty years and bring with him all those who would have killed him?
Long years from now, will the monster and my mates slide down the length of the abyss, return as one at last...the hunter and the hunted, the feared and the fearer, the madness and the vaulting dream of madness, together fused forever through centuries yet unborn? Will it all be here, will it all pass by when Earth is old and looks up to behold Leviathan, our ships, our crew, our captain-an endless cortege to the specter ghost?
A dark shape floated nearby, turning slowly. I recognized it as Quell's funeral suit.
I reached out and seized the suit, and turning it, found it empty. I spoke to empty space. "No, just the chaff, the husk. My good friend gone. Oh, Quell."
I embraced the empty suit and the lost funeral music of Quell's ancestors sounded once again in my ears.
Alone, I floated with the memory of good Quell, who had gone to be with comets and their gods. I drifted so, aimlessly, holding on to the suit, a strange life-raft, knowing the air in my life-suit would soon be gone. How long? I wondered. A day, maybe two...until...?
Above, I see a light, and hear a voice through static.
"Starship Rachel, this is starship Rachel..."
A ship, passing, investigating the wreckage, comes to pick me up at last. The Rachel, who, in her long search for her missing children finds but another orphan. I let the coffin go. I let the memory of Quell go to his light-year burial ground.
The drama's done. Only one remains. I, Ishmael, alone, am here to tell you this.
"Starship Rachel standing by. We see you. Come aboard. Come aboard."
About the Author.
The author of more than thirty books, RAY BRADBURY is one of the most celebrated fiction writers of our time. Among his best-known works are Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He has written for the theater and the cinema, including the screenplay for John Huston's classic film adaptation of Moby Dick, and was nominated for an Academy Award. He adapted sixty-five of his stories for television's The Ray Bradbury Theater, and won an Emmy for his teleplay of The Halloween Tree. He has been honored with a National Book Foundation medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a National Medal of Arts, and a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation. Among his most recent books are the novels Farewell Summer and From the Dust Returned-selected as one of the Best Books of the Year by the Los Angeles Times-and The Cat's Pajamas, a new story collection. Mr. Bradbury lives in Los Angeles.
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