"You've come back. You're in port. You're not in complete command."
"I'll always be in command."
"Perhaps," said Halter quietly. "However, we can come back to that. Please brief me on the records."
Captain McClelland's face hardened as he turned to Dr. Anna Mueller.
She explained, "We regained consciousness twenty-four hours after Captain McClelland used the shock gun on us. By then, our metabolisms were high enough to keep us conscious and alive. We could lift nutrition and water capsules to our mouths. We could press the button to activate the exercise mechanisms in our bunks. The output of the air machines was cut down until there was just enough to keep us alive and thinking clearly.
"At intervals of several days, during our exercise and study periods, Captain McClelland turned up the air. We slept. And we dreamed. The dreams are recorded in full. When we could face them, they were played back to us. Our thoughts were played back, too. I conducted group therapy among us. We all grew to understand each other and ourselves, intimately, and now, in relation to our environment, we're perfectly adjusted."
"Did Captain McClelland join you in group therapy?"
"He was already perfectly adjusted."
She frowned faintly, glanced at the captain. "When we were conscious, we studied from the library of microfilm. We read all the great literature of Earth. We watched the great plays and pictures and the paintings and listened to the music. Sometimes our thoughts were hateful. There was self-pity and hysteria. There were times when one or two of us would withdraw almost to the point of death. Then Captain McClelland would knock us out with the shock gun.
"Slowly, over the years, our minds gradually merged into one mind. We thought and created and lived as if we were one person. There grew to be complete and perfect cooperation. And from this cooperation came some great works. Each one of us will tell you. I'll speak first."
She paused. "Psychology has always been my prime interest. My rating at school was genius. My aptitudes were precisely in line with the field of work I chose. Through the years, I've developed a theory, discovered a way to bring about cooperation between all men. This is possible in spite of your wars and hatreds and destruction." Frown creases wrinkled her parchment forehead. "I'd like to know if it would work."
Daniel Carlyle's voice was slightly above a whisper. "All my life, I'd wanted to write poetry. The meteor struck. I realized I wouldn't be allowed to die quickly. I began to do what I'd always wanted to do. The words poured into the thought recorder. Everything I felt and thought is there and all I've been able to know and be from this one mind of ours that's in us all. And it's some of the finest poetry that's ever been written." He closed his eyes and sighed heavily. "It'd be good to know if anyone found them inspiring."
"I've always lived for adventure," said Crowley, the rocketman, his old voice steady and quiet. "I've been the one to quiet down last into the life it was necessary for us to live out there. But my thoughts ran on into distant universes and across endless stretches of space. And so at last, to keep my sanity, I wrote stories of all the adventures I should have had, and more. And in them is all the native power of me, of all adventurers, and the eternal sweep of the Universe where Man will always thrust out to new places." There was a faint trembling in his body and a pained light in his eyes. "Seems I ought to know if they'll ever be read."
In spite of Brady's frailness, the lieutenant was like a grizzled old animal growling with his last breath. "I was the most capable pilot that ever blasted off from Earth. But I was also an inventor and designer. A lot of the ships Earth pilots are flying today are basically my ideas. After the accident, I wanted to get drunk and make love and then let myself out into space, with a suit, and be there forever. But Captain McClelland's shock gun and the understanding seeping into me from the thought recorders calmed me down eventually.
"So I turned to creation as I lay there in my bunk. I designed many spaceships. And from those, I designed fewer and fewer, incorporating the best from each. And now I have on microfilm a ship that can thrust out to the ends of our galaxy. There aren't any flaws.... Oh, I tell you, by God, I'd like to see her come to life!"
He leaned back, sweat rolling down his bony cheeks.
Miss Gordon, dietician and televisor, the motionless old lady with cropped, white hair, and face bones across which the paper skin was stretched, said, "There was only one thing I wanted when I knew I couldn't have marriage and a family. There was a perfect food for the human animal. I could find it. I began working on formulas. Over and over again, I put the food elements together and took them apart and put them together again. I threw away the work of years and started over again until at last I had my perfect formula."
She clasped her hands. "Man's nutrition problem is solved. From the oceans and the air and the Earth, from the cosmic rays and the lights of the suns and from the particles of the microcosm, Man can take into his body all the nutrition that can enable him to live forever." She sat very still, smiling. "And it's got to be given a try."
Colonel Halter watched the old figures sitting like figures in a wax museum, waiting, waiting. He turned a dial. The picture that flashed onto the screen in his office showed the pocked ship standing upright now, like some tree that had grown in the middle of a desert where it was never meant to grow.
The space tugs had streaked out beyond the atmosphere to finish other assignments. There were no crowds, no official cars, no platforms, no bands. Only darkness and silence.
Halter turned a dial. The control room of the old ship flashed back onto the screen. The ancient crew sat as before. Halter saw his own face on their television screen.
Something was missing, he thought. What? What hadn't been said?
And then suddenly it came to him.
The captain. He hadn't spoken of any contribution he had made during those interminable years.
Halter thought back over Captain McClelland's record. No family. Wiped out when he was a baby in the last war. Educated and raised by the government. Never married. No entanglements with women. No close friends. Ship's captain at twenty-one. No failures. No vacations. No record of breakdown. Perfect physical condition. Strict disciplinarian. More time in space than on Earth by seventy-five per cent. No hobbies. No interest in the arts.... Apparently no flaw as a spaceman.... The end product of the stiffest training regimen yet devised by Man.
The ideal captain.
The records of the other five? All showing slight emotional instabilities when checked against the optimum score of a spaceman.
Dr. Mueller--a divorcee. A woman men had sought after. Dedicated in spare time to social psychology. Conflict in her decision as to whether she should go into the private practice of psychotherapy or specialize in space psychology. Interested in the study of neurosis caused by culture.
Lieutenant Brady--family man. Forced himself into mold of good husband and father. Brilliant designer. Ambition also to be space captain. Conflict between these three. Several years of psychotherapy which released his drive for adventure in space. Alpha mission to be his last. Lack of full leadership qualities prevented him from reaching captaincy.
Rocketman Crowley--typical man of action. Superb physique. Decathlon champion. Continual entanglements with women. Quick temper. Tendency to fight if pushed or crossed. Proud. However, if under good command, best rocketman in the service.
Astrogator Daniel Carlyle--highly sensitive. Psychosomatic symptoms unless out in space. Then in perfect health. Fine mathematician. Highly intuitive, yet logical. Saved four missions from disaster. Holder of Congressional Medal of Honor. Hobby, poetry. Fiancee was boyhood sweetheart.
Dietician and televisor Caroline Gordon--youngest of crew. Twenty years. Too many aptitudes. Tendency toward immaturity. Many hobbies. Idealistic. Emotions unfocused. IQ 165. Success in any field of endeavor concentrated upon. At eighteen, specialized in dietetics and electronics. Highest ratings in field. Stable when under strict external discipline.
No, thought Halter. None of them fitted space like the completely self-sufficient McClelland, the man who could stand alone against that black, teeming, swirling endlessness of space.
He turned to the captain. The old face was placid, the eyes slightly out of focus.
"Captain McClelland," Halter said sharply.
The pale eyes blinked and looked keenly on Halter's face.
"You want fuel to take you back out into space."
"And if you don't get it, you'll press a button on the arm of your chair and you'll all die of carbon monoxide poisoning."
"I'm curious about one point." Halter paused. "What did you do, Captain, while the others were working on their various projects?"
Captain McClelland scowled at Halter for a long moment. "Why do you want to know that?"
"Your crew members became lost in some work they loved. They told me about it with a certain amount of enthusiasm. You haven't told me what you did. I'd like to know--for the records."
"I watched them, Colonel. I watched them and dreamed of the time when I could take them and the ship back out into space under her own power. I love space and I love this ship. I love knowing she's under power and shooting out to the stars. There's nothing more for me."
"What else did you do besides watch them?"
"I activated the machinery that moved my bunk close to the controls. I practiced taking the ship through maneuvers. I kept the controls in perfect working order so I'd be ready to take off again someday."
"If we repaired the ship so you could take off, the first shock of rocket thrust would kill you all."
"We're willing to take that chance."
Colonel Halter looked around the half circle of old faces. "And all your long years of work would be for nothing. Each of you, except Captain McClelland, has made a contribution to Earth and Man. You're needed here, not in the emptiness of space."
He saw the eyes of the five watching him intently; saw a tiny flicker of surprise and interest on their faces.
"You're destroying Earth," said the captain, his voice rising, "with your wars and your quarrels. We've all of us found peace. We're going to keep it."
Halter ignored the captain and looked at the five.
"There are many of us on Earth, who are fighting a war without blood, to save mankind. We've made progress. We've worked out agreements among the warring nations to do their fighting on the barren planets where there aren't any native inhabitants, so noncombatants on Earth won't be killed and so the Earth won't be laid waste. That was the fighting you saw while you were coming in.
"This is just one example. And there're a lot of us contributing ideas and effort. If all of us who're working for Earth were to leave it and go out into space, the ones who have to fight wars would make the Earth as barren as the Moon. This is our place in the Universe and it's got to be saved."
"We've adjusted to the control room of this ship and to each other," said McClelland flatly. "Our work's done."
"Let's put it like this, Captain. Maybe your work's done. Maybe you're not interested in what happens to Earth." Halter turned to the others. "But what you've done adds up to a search for answers here on Earth. Poetry. Design of a flawless spaceship. A psychological theory. A perfect diet. Novels about Man pushing out and out into space. All this indicates a deep concern for the health of humanity and its success."
"We're not concerned," retorted the captain, "with the health or success of humanity."
Halter sharply examined the other faces. He saw a flicker of sadness in one, anger in another, uncertainty, fear, joy.
He said, "For seventy-five years, you obey your captain. You listen to what he says. And everything is a command. Yet in yourselves you feel a drive to carry out your ideas, your creations, to their logical ends. Which means, will they work when they're applied to Man? Will people read the novels? Will they catch the meaning of the poetry? Will the spaceships really work as they're supposed to? Will the psychological theory really promote cooperation? Is there supreme health in this marvelous diet?"
He gave them a moment to think and then continued. "But if you continue to follow the commands of the captain, you'll be dead before you're out of the Earth's atmosphere. You'll never know. Maybe Man will prove that your great works are only dreams.... But I think there's a great need in you to know, one way or the other."
There was a faint stirring among them, like that of ancient machines being activated after years of lying dormant. They glanced at each other. They fidgeted. Trouble twisted their faces.
"Colonel Halter," said the captain, "I'm warning you. My thumb is on the button. I'll release the gas. Do we get the repairs and the fuel to take off from Earth, or don't we?"
Colonel Halter leaned grimly toward the captain. "You've spent fifty years with one idea--to stay out in space forever. You've made no effort to create or do one single constructive act. I'll tell you whether or not you get the fuel and the repairs--after I hear what someone in your crew has to say."
Silence hung tensely between the control room of the ship and Colonel Halter's office on Earth. The captain was glaring now at Halter. A tear showed in the corner of each of Dr. Anna Mueller's old eyes. Lieutenant Brady was gripping the arms of his chair. Daniel Carlyle's eyes were closed and his head shook slightly, as though from palsy. There was a faint, enigmatic smile on Caroline Gordon's face. The cords on Crowley's neck stood out through the tan and wrinkled wrapping-paper skin.
By God, thought Halter, they're all sane except the captain. And they've got to do it. They've got to come out on their own steam or die in that control room.
"I'm waiting," he said. "Is your work going to die and you with it?"
"We'll leave all the records," said the captain, his thumb poised over the button on the arm of his chair. "That's enough."
Halter ignored him. "Each of you can help. You've only done part of the work." He stood and struck the desk with the flat of his hand. "Damn it, say something, one of you!"
Still the silence and the flickering looks all around.
Halter heard a sob. He saw Dr. Anna Mueller's head drop forward and her shoulders tremble. The others were staring at her, as if she had suddenly materialized among them, like a ghost.
Then her voice, through the trembling and the faint crying: "I've--I've got to know."
The captain got creakily to his feet. "Dr. Mueller! Do you want me to use the gun again?"
She raised her face to his. There was pain in it. "I've--got work to do. There's so--little time."
"That's right. On this ship. You're part of the crew. There'll be plenty of work once we get out in space again."
"I've got to see if my theory's right."
"Colonel Halter," said the captain, "this is insubordination. Mutiny."
He raised the gun tremblingly, pointed the black muzzle at Dr. Mueller, sighted along the barrel.
"Wait," said Halter. "You're right."
Captain McClelland hesitated.
"It's quite plain," went on Halter, "that Dr. Mueller is alone among you. She wants to come out and go on with her work. The rest of you want the closed-in uterine warmth and peace of this room you're existing in. You can't face the possibility of failure. So I'm afraid she'll have to be sacrificed. After all, you do need a full crew to move the ship--even if you are all dead a few seconds after blastoff." He paused, looking intently at Brady, Crowley, Carlyle, Gordon, where they sat in the half circle, staring back at him. "So--"
Lieutenant Brady struggled up from his chair.
"I've got twenty-five years of life. I've some ships to design."
"That goes for me, too," said Crowley, the rocketman. "Will anybody want to read my novels?"
Astrogator Carlyle leaned forward. "There are many more poems to be written."
"Give me a soundproof laboratory," said Caroline Gordon. "I'll add another fifty years to all your lives."
"I'm afraid it is mutiny, Captain," said Halter.
The captain started toward his chair, his hand reaching for the button on its arm.
Lieutenant Brady stumbled forward, blocking his way.
Halter could only watch, thinking, It's up to them. They've got to do it now!
He saw the captain draw his shock gun; saw light flare at its muzzle; saw Lieutenant Brady crumple like a collapsing skeleton.