He strode down the aisle of the ship, leaving Dan staring bleakly at an empty seat.
Paul, Paul-- * * * * *
He met Terry Fisher at the landing field in Las Vegas. A firm handshake, clear brown eyes looking at him the way a four-year-old looks at Santa Claus. "Glad you could come tonight, Senator. I've had a busy couple of days. I think you'll be interested." Remarkable restraint in the man's voice. His face was full of things unsaid. Dan caught it; he knew faces, read them like typescript. "What is it, son?"
"Wait until you see." Fisher laughed nervously. "I thought for a while that I was back on Mars."
"No thanks. I never use them."
The car broke through darkness across bumpy pavement. The men sat silently. Then a barbed-wire enclosure loomed up, and a guard walked over, peered at their credentials, and waved them through. Ahead lay a long, low row of buildings, and a tall something spearing up into the clear desert night. They stopped at the first building, and hurried up the steps.
Small, red-faced Lijinsky greeted them, all warm handshake and enthusiasm and unmistakable happiness and surprise. "A real pleasure, Senator! We haven't had a direct governmental look-see in quite a while. I'm glad I'm here to show you around."
"Everything is going right along, eh?"
"Oh, yes! She'll be a ship to be proud of. Now, I think we can arrange some quarters for you for the night, and in the morning we can sit down and have a nice, long talk."
Terry Fisher was shaking his head. "I think the Senator would like to see the ship now--isn't that right, Senator?"
Lijinsky's eyes opened wide, his head bobbed in surprise. Young-old creases on his face flickered. "Tonight? Oh, you can't really be serious. Why, it's almost two in the morning! We only have a skeleton crew working at night. Tomorrow you can see--"
"Tonight, if you don't mind." Dan tried to keep the sharp edge out of his voice. "Unless you have some specific objection, of course."
"Objection? None whatsoever." Lijinsky seemed puzzled, and a little hurt. But he bounced back: "Tonight it is, then. Let's go." There was no doubting the little man's honesty. He wasn't hiding anything, just surprised. But a moment later there was concern on his face as he led them out toward the factory compounds. "There's no question of appropriations, I hope, Senator?"
"No, no. Nothing of the sort."
"Well, I'm certainly glad to hear that. Sometimes our contacts from Washington are a little disappointed in the Ship, of course."
Dan's throat tightened. "Why?"
"No reason, really. We're making fine progress, it isn't that. Yes, things really buzz around here; just ask Mr. Fisher about that--he was here all day watching the workers. But there are always minor changes in plans, of course, as we recognize more of the problems."
Terry Fisher grimaced silently, and followed them into a small Whirlwind groundcar. The little gyro-car bumped down the road on its single wheel, down into a gorge, then out onto the flats. Dan strained his eyes, peering ahead at the spear of Starship gleaming in the distant night-lights. Pictures from the last Starship Progress Report flickered through his mind, and a frown gathered as they came closer to the ship. Then the car halted on the edge of the building-pit and they blinked down and up at the scaffolded monster.
Dan didn't even move from the car. He just stared. The report had featured photos, projected testing dates--even ventured a possible date for launching, with the building of the Starship so near to completion. That had been a month ago. Now Dan stared at the ship and shook his head, uncomprehending.
The hull-plates were off again, lying in heaps on the ground in a mammoth circle. The ship was a skeleton, a long, gawky structure of naked metal beams. Even now a dozen men were scampering around the scaffolding, before Dan's incredulous eyes, and he saw some of the beaming coming off the body of the ship, being dropped onto the crane, moving slowly to the ground.
Ten years ago the ship had looked the same. As he watched, he felt a wave of hopelessness sweep through him, a sense of desolate, empty bitterness. Ten years-- His eyes met Terry Fisher's in the gloom of the car, begging to be told it wasn't so. Fisher shook his head.
Then Dan said: "I think I've seen enough. Take me back to the air field."
"It was the same thing on Mars," Fisher was telling him as the return jet speared East into the dawn. "The refining and super-refining, the slowing down, the changes in viewpoint and planning. I went up there ready to beat the world barehanded, to work on the frontier, to build that colony, and maybe lead another one. I even worked out the plans for a break-away colony--we would need colony-builders when we went to the stars, I thought." He shrugged sadly. "Carl told you, I guess. They considered the break-away colony, carefully, and then Barness decided it was really too early. Too much work already, with just one colony. And there was, in a sense: frantic activity, noise, hubbub, hard work, fancy plans--all going nowhere. No drive, no real direction." He shrugged again. "I did a lot of drinking before they threw me off Mars."
"Nobody saw it happening?"
"It wasn't the sort of thing you see. You could only feel it. It started when Armstrong came to the colony, rejuvenated, to take over its development. And eventually, I think Armstrong did see it. That's why he suicided."
"But the Starship," Dan cried. "It was almost built, and they were tearing it down. I saw it with my own eyes."
"Ah, yes. For the twenty-seventh time, I think. A change in the engineering thinking, that's all. Keller and Lijinsky suddenly came to the conclusion that the whole thing might fall apart in midair at the launching. Can you imagine it? When rockets have been built for years, running to Mars every two months? But they could prove it on paper, and by the time they got through explaining it every damned soul on the project was saying yes, it might fall apart at the launching. Why, it's a standing joke with the workers. They call Keller "Old Jet Propulsion" and always have a good laugh. But then, Keller and Stark and Lijinsky should know what's what. They've all been rejuvenated, and working on the ship for years." Fisher's voice was heavy with anger.
Dan didn't answer. There didn't seem to be much to answer, and he just couldn't tell Fisher how it felt to have a cold blanket of fear wrapping around his heart, so dreadful and cold that he hardly dared look five minutes ahead right now. We have a Monster on our hands-- VII.
He was sick when they reached Washington. The pain in his chest became acute as he walked down the gangway, and by the time he found a seat in the terminal and popped a nitro-tablet under his tongue he was breathing in deep, ragged gasps. He sat very still, trying to lean back against the seat, and quite suddenly he realized that he was very, very ill. The good red-headed Dr. Moss would smile in satisfaction, he thought bitterly. There was sweat on his forehead; it had never seemed very probable to him that he might one day die--he didn't have to die in this great, wonderful world of new bodies for old, he could live on, and on, and on. He could live to see the Golden Centuries of Man. A solar system teeming with life. Ships to challenge the stars, the barriers breaking, crumbling before their very eyes. Other changes, as short-lived Man became long-lived Man. Changes in teaching, in thinking, in feeling. Disease, the Enemy, was crushed. Famine, the Enemy, slinking back into the dim memory of history. War, the Enemy, pointless to extinction.
All based on one principle: Man must live. He need not die. If a man could live forty years instead of twenty, had it been wrong to fight the plagues that struck him down in his youth? If he could live sixty years instead of forty, had the great researchers of the 1940's and '50's and '60's been wrong? Was it any more wrong to want to live a thousand years? Who could say that it was?
He took a shuddering breath, and then nodded to Terry Fisher, and walked unsteadily to the cab stand. He would not believe what he had seen at Starship Project. It was not enough. Collect the evidence, then conclude. He gave Fisher an ashen smile. "It's nothing. The ticker kicks up once in a while, that's all. Let's go see what Carl and Jean and the boys have dug up." Fisher smiled grimly, an eager gleam in his eye.
Carl and Jean and the boys had dug up plenty. The floor of offices Dan rented for the work of his organization was going like Washington Terminal at rush hour. A dozen people were here and there, working with tapes, papers, program cards. Jean met them at the door, hustled them into the private offices in the back. "Carl just got here, too. He's down eating. The boys outside are trying to make sense out of his insurance and advertising figures."
"He got next to them okay?"
"Sure--but you were right, they didn't like it."
"What sort of reports?"
The girl sighed. "Only prelims. Almost all of the stuff is up in the air, which makes it hard to evaluate. The ad-men have to be figuring what they're going to do next half-century, so that they'll be there with the right thing when the time comes. But it seems they don't like what they see. People have to buy what the ad-men are selling, or the ad-men shrivel up, and already the trend seems to be showing up. People aren't in such a rush to buy. Don't have the same sense of urgency that they used to--" Her hands fluttered. "Well, as I say, it's all up in the air. Let the boys analyze for a while. The suicide business is a little more tangible. The rates are up, all over. But break it into first-generation and Repeaters, and it's pretty clear who's pushing it up."
"Like Armstrong," said Dan slowly.
Jean nodded. "Oh, here's Carl now."
He came in, rubbing his hands, and gave Dan a queer look. "Everything under control, Dan?"
Dan nodded. He told Carl about Tyndall's proposition. Carl gave a wry grin. "He hasn't changed a bit, has he?"
"Yes, he has. He's gotten lots stronger."
Carl scowled, and slapped the desk with his palm. "You should have stopped him, Dan. I told you that a long time ago--back when I first came in with you. He was aiming for your throat even then, trying to use me and what I knew about Dad to sell the country a pack of lies about you. He almost did, too. I hated your guts back then. I thought you were the rottenest man that ever came up in politics, until you got hold of me and pounded sense into my head. And Tyndall's never forgiven you that, either."
"All right--we're still ahead of him. Have you just finished with the ad-men?"
"Oh, no. I just got back from a trip south. My nose is still cold."
Dan's eyebrows went up. "And how was Dr. Aviado? I haven't seen a report from Antarctica Project for five years."
"Yes you have. You just couldn't read them. Aviado is quite a theoretician. That's how he got his money and his Project, down there, with plenty of room to build his reflectors and nobody around to get hurt if something goes wrong. Except a few penguins. And he's done a real job of development down there since his rejuvenation."
"Ah." Dan glanced up hopefully.
"Now there," said Carl, "is a real lively project. Solar energy into power on a utilitarian level. The man is fanatic, of course, but with his plans he could actually be producing in another five years." He lit a cigarette, drew on it as though it were bitter.
"Seems he's gotten sidetracked a bit," said Carl.
Dan glanced at Terry Fisher. "How?"
"Well, his equipment is working fine, and he can concentrate solar heat from ten square miles onto a spot the size of a manhole cover. But he hasn't gone too far converting it to useful power yet." Carl suddenly burst out laughing. "Dan, this'll kill you. Billions and billions of calories of solar heat concentrated down there, and what do you think he's doing with it? He's digging a hole in the ice two thousand feet deep and a mile wide. That's what."
"A hole in the ice!"
"Exactly. Conversion? Certainly--but first we want to be sure we're right. So right now his whole crew is very busy trying to melt down Antarctica. And if you give him another ten years, he'll have it done, by god."
This was the last, most painful trip of all.
Dan didn't even know why he was going, except that Paul had told him he should go, and no stone could be left unturned.
The landing in New York Crater had been rough, and Dan had cracked his elbow on the bulkhead; he nursed it now as he left the Volta on the deserted street of the crater city, and entered the low one-story lobby of the groundscraper. The clerk took his name impassively, and he sat down to wait.
An hour passed, then another.
Then: "Mr. Devlin will see you now, Senator."
Down in the elevator, four--five--six stories. Above him was the world; here, deep below, with subtly efficient ventilators and shafts and exotic cubby-holes for retreat, a man could forget that a world above existed.
Soft lighting in the corridor, a golden plastic door. The door swung open, and a tiny old man blinked out.
"Mr. Chauncey Devlin?"
"Senator Fowler!" The little old man beamed. "Come in, come in--my dear fellow, if I'd realized it was you, I'd never have dreamed of keeping you so long--" He smiled, obviously distressed. "Retreat has its disadvantages, too, you see. Nothing is perfect but life, as they say. When you've lived for a hundred and ninety years, you'll be glad to get away from people, and to be able to keep them out, from time to time."
In better light Dan stared openly at the man. A hundred and ninety years. It was incredible. He told the man so.
"Isn't it, though?" Chauncey Devlin chirped. "Well, I was a was-baby! Can you imagine? Born in London in 1945. But I don't even think about those horrid years any more. Imagine--people dropping bombs on each other!"
A tiny bird of a man--three times rejuvenated, and still the mind was sharp, the eyes were sharp. The face was a strange mixture of recent youth and very great age. It stirred something deep inside Dan--almost a feeling of loathing. An uncanny feeling.
"We've always known your music," he said. "We've always loved it. Just a week ago we heard the Washington Philharmonic doing--"
"The eighth." Chauncey Devlin cut him off disdainfully. "They always do the eighth."
"It's a great symphony," Dan protested.
Devlin chuckled, and bounced about the room like a little boy. "It was only half finished when they chose me for the big plunge," he said. "Of course I was doing a lot of conducting then, too. Now I'd much rather just write." He hurried across the long, softly-lit room to the piano, came back with a sheaf of papers. "Do you read music? This is just what I've been doing recently. Can't get it quite right, but it'll come, it'll come."
"Which will this be?" asked Dan.
"The tenth. The ninth was under contract, of course--strictly a pot-boiler, I'm afraid. Thought it was pretty good at the time, but this one--ah!" He fondled the smooth sheets of paper. "In this one I could say something. Always before it was hit and run, make a stab at it, then rush on to stab at something else. Not this one." He patted the manuscript happily. "With this one there will be nothing wrong."
"It's almost finished?"
"Oh, no. Oh, my goodness no! A fairly acceptable first movement, but not what I will do on it--as I go along."
"I see. I--understand. How long have you worked on it now?"
"Oh, I don't know--I must have it down here somewhere. Oh, yes. Started it in April of 2057. Seventy-seven years."
They talked on, until it became too painful. Then Dan rose, and thanked his host, and started back for the corridor and life again. He had never even mentioned his excuse for coming, and nobody had missed it.
Chauncey Devlin, a tiny, perfect wax-image of a man, so old, so wise, so excited and full of enthusiasm and energy and carefulness, working eagerly, happily-- Accomplishing nothing. Seventy-seven years. The picture of a man who had been great, and who had slowly ground to a standstill.
And now Dan knew that he hadn't really been looking at Chauncey Devlin at all. He had been looking at the whole human race.
February 15th, 2135.
The day of the Hearings, to consider the charges and petition formally placed by The Honorable Daniel Fowler, Independent Senator from the Great State of Illinois. The long oval hearing-room was filling early; the gallery above was packed by 9:05 in the morning. Teevie-boys all over the place. The Criterion Committee members, taking their places in twos and threes--some old, some young, some rejuvenated, some not, taking their places in the oval. Then the other Senators--not the President, of course, but he'll be well represented by Senator Rinehart himself, ah yes. Don't worry about the President.
Bad news in the papers. Trouble in New Chicago, where so much trouble seems to start these days. Bomb thrown in the Medical Center out there, a bomb of all things! Shades of Lenin. Couple of people killed, and one of the doctors nearly beaten to death on the street before the police arrived to clear the mob away. Dan Fowler's name popping up here and there, not pleasantly. Whispers and accusations, sotto voce. And 'Moses' Tyndall's network hookup last night--of course nobody with any sense listens to him, but did you hear that hall go wild?
Rinehart--yes, that's him. Well, he's got a right to look worried. If Dan can unseat him here and now, he's washed up. According to the rules of the Government, you know, Fowler can legally petition for Rinehart's chairmanship without risking it as a platform plank in the next election, and get a hearing here, and then if the Senate votes him in, he's got the election made. Dan's smart. They're scared to throw old Rinehart out, of course--after all, he's let them keep their thumbs on rejuvination all these years with his Criteria, and if they supported him they got named, and if they didn't, they didn't get named. Not quite as crude as that, of course, but that's what it boiled down to, let me tell you! But now, if they reject Dan's petition and the people give him the election over their heads, they're really in a spot. Out on the ice on their rosy red-- How's that? Can't be too long now. I see Tyndall has just come in, Bible and all. See if he's got any tomatoes in his pockets. Ol' Moses really gets you going--ever listen to him talk? Well, it's just as well. Damn, but it's hot in here-- In the rear chamber, Dan mopped his brow, popped a pill under his tongue, dragged savagely on the long black cigar. "You with me, son?"
"You know what it means."
"Of course. There's your buzzer. Better get in there." Carl went back to Jean and the others around the 80-inch screen, set deep in the wall. Dan put his cigar down, gently, as though he planned to be back to smoke it again before it went out, and walked through the tall oak doors.
The hubbub caught, rose up for a few moments, then dropped away. Dan took his seat, grinned across at Libby, leaned his head over to drop an aside into Parker's ear. Rinehart staring at the ceiling as the charges are read off in a droning voice-- --Whereas the criteria for selection of candidates for sub-total prosthesis, first written by the Honorable Walter Rinehart of the Great State of Alaska, have been found to be inadequate, outdated, and utterly inappropriate to the use of sub-total prosthesis that is now possible-- --And whereas that same Honorable Walter Rinehart has repeatedly used the criteria, not in the just, honorable, and humble way in which such criteria must be regarded, but rather as a tool and weapon for his own furtherance and for that of his friends and associates-- Dan waited, patiently. Was Rinehart's face whiter than it had been? Was the Hall quieter now? Maybe not--but wait for the petition-- --The Senate of the United States of North America is formally petitioned that the Honorable Walter Rinehart should be displaced from his seat as Chairman in the Criterion Committee, and that his seat as Chairman of that committee should be resumed by the Honorable Daniel Fowler, author of this petition, who has hereby pledged himself before God to seek through this Committee in any and every way possible, the extention of the benefits of sub-total prosthesis techniques to all the people of this land and not to a chosen few-- Screams, hoots, cat-calls, applause, all from the gallery. None below--Senatorial dignity forbade, and the anti-sound glass kept the noise out of the chamber below. Then Dan Fowler stood up, an older Dan Fowler than most of them seemed to remember. "You have heard the charges which have been read. I stand before you now, formally, to withdraw them--"
What, what? Jaws sagging, eyes wide; teevie camera frozen on the Senator's face, then jerking wildly around the room to catch the reaction-- "You have also heard the petition which has been read. I stand before you now, formally, to withdraw it--"
Slowly, measuring each word, he told them. He knew that words were not enough, but he told them. "Only 75,000 men and women have undergone the process, at this date, out of almost two hundred million people on this continent, yet it has already begun to sap our strength. We were told that no change was involved, and indeed we saw no change, but it was there, my friends. The suicides of men like Kenneth Armstrong did not just occur. There are many reasons that might lead a man to take his life in this world of ours--selfishness, self-pity, hatred of the world or of himself, bitterness, resentment--but it was none of these that motivated Kenneth Armstrong. His death was the act of a bewildered, defeated mind--for he saw what I am telling you now and knew that it was true. He saw Starships built and rebuilt, and never launched--colonies dying of lethargy, because there was no longer any drive behind them--brilliant minds losing sight of goals, and drifting into endless inconsequential digressions--lifetimes wasted in repetition, in re-doing and re-writing and re-living. He saw it: the downward spiral which could only lead to death for all of us in the last days.
"This is why I withdraw the charges and petition of this Hearing. This is why I reject rejuvenation, and declare that it is a monstrous thing which we must not allow to continue. This is why I now announce that I personally will nominate the Honorable John Tyndall for President in the elections next spring, and will promise him my pledged support, my political organization and experience, and my every personal effort to see that he is elected."
It seemed that there would be no end to it, when Dan Fowler had finished. 'Moses' Tyndall had sat staring as the blood drained out of his sallow face; his jaw gaped, and he half-rose from his chair, then sank back with a ragged cough, staring at the Senator as if he had been transformed into a snake. Carl and Terry were beside Dan in a moment, clearing a way back to the rear chambers, then down the steps of the building to a cab. Senator Libby intercepted them there, his face purple with rage, and McKenzie, bristling and indignant. "You've lost your mind, Dan."
"I have not. I am perfectly sane."