Crowley reached forward, grasping McClelland's shoulder. The gun swung toward him. A stream of light squirted into his middle. Crowley fell forward, pulling the captain down with him. The three other oldsters were above the three black figures sprawled on the floor, like tangled puppets. They hesitated a moment, then fell upon the ones below them, black arms and legs twitching about now like the legs of dying spiders, struggling weakly.
A flash of light exploded beneath these twisting black reeds and streaks of it shot out all through the waving black cluster.
The next moment, they settled and were quiet.
There was a stillness in the ancient control room, like the stillness in a sunken ship at the bottom of the sea. It lingered for a long time, while Colonel Halter watched and waited.
Dr. Mueller's voice, seventy-five years tired, said, "He's--quiet now. Please come and take us out."
Colonel Halter switched on his desk visiophone.
"They're coming out," he said quietly. "I'll be there to supervise."
On the visiophone, the general's image nodded. "Congratulations, Colonel. How are they?"
"There'll be one case for psycho. Captain McClelland."
"I'll be damned!" exclaimed the general. "From his record, I thought he'd never break!"
"Let's say he couldn't bend, sir." A pause. "And yet he did keep them from destroying themselves."
"He'll be made well again.... What about the others?"
"I think they, too, are very great and human people."
"Well," said the general, "they're your patients. I'll see you at the ship in five minutes."
"I'll be there, sir." Colonel Halter flipped the switch. The visiophone blanked out. He looked at the television screen.
The six black-clothed figures were quiet on the floor of their ship's control room. They reminded him of sleeping children curled together for warmth.
As he left his office and walked out into the humming city, he felt drained, still shaking with tension, realizing even now how close he had come to failure.
But there was the scarred and pitted needle-nosed old hull, bright with moonlight, standing like a monument against the night sky.
Not a monument to the past, though.
It marked the birthplace of the future ... and he had been midwife. He felt his shoulders straighten at the knowledge as he walked toward the ancient ship.
By Chas. A. Stopher
Totem poles are a dime a dozen north of 63 ... but only Ketch, the lying Eskimo, vowed they dropped out of frigid northern skies.
Probos Five gazed at the white expanse ahead, trying to determine where his ship would crash. Something was haywire in the fuel system of his Interstar Runabout. He was losing altitude fast, so fast that all five pairs of his eyes couldn't focus on a place to land.
Five pairs of arms, each pair about three feet apart on the loglike body, pushed buttons and rotated controls frantically, but to no avail. In a few short minutes it would all be over for Probos Five. Even if by some miracle he remained unhurt after crashing, he would die shortly thereafter. The frigid climatic conditions of the third planet were deadly to a Mercurian. He thought once of donning his space suit but decided against it. That would merely prolong the agony. From Planet Three, when one has a smashed space cruiser, there is no return. Probos Five knew that death was riding with him in the helpless ship. The situation did not unnecessarily dismay him; Mercurians are philosophers.
Probos Five ceased to manipulate the unresponding controls. Stretching his trunklike torso to its full twenty feet, four heads gazed through observation ports at the four points of the compass while the remaining head desultorily watched the instrument panel.
Since die he must, Probos Five would meet his end stoically, and five pairs of stumpy arms folded over five chests in a coordinated gesture of resignation.
Probos Five thought fleetingly of his wife Lingua Four and remembered with some annoyance that she was the author of his present predicament. A social climber, Probos Five thought to himself, but aside from that a good wife and mother in addition to being a reigning beauty. Lingua Four was tall even for a Mercurian. Already she scaled seven dergs, or in Earth terms, fourteen feet and was beginning to show evidences of a fifth head. Five heads were rarely found on females and Probos Five was justly proud of his good fortune. In all Mercury at the present time, he knew of but two females possessing five heads and soon Lingua Four would be the third of her sex to be thus endowed.
Yes, thought Probos Five, a woman to be proud of; for today after three vargs of marriage the memory of her trim trunk with four pairs of eyes laughing mischievously, filled his five brains with flame. Slim as a birch she stood in his memory, and eight eyes whispered lovers' thoughts across space and time.
Probos Five recalled his five minds from their nostalgic reverie and gazed at the contour of the Earth that was rushing up to meet him. White, blazing white reflecting the rays of the midnight sun covered the region as far as the eye could reach.
"Good," thought Probos Five, "the Polar regions. That means the end will come quickly. One or two seconds at the most of that bitter cold would be enough."
Turning away from the windows Probos Five let his thoughts return to Lingua Four, to Probos Two, his son, and his home on the first planet from the sun. Ah, that is the place to live, thought Probos, the temperature an unchanging 327; just comfortably warm, where one could enjoy a life of warmth and ease. Too bad that he would not live to see it again. Thirty vargs, he reflected, is such a short time. With luck, perhaps he may have lived to see a hundred vargs slip by. And perhaps in time he may have added three more heads and five dergs in length to his towering trunk.
He thought of Probos Two and wondered idly if his son would also visit the barbarian worlds to collect data for Lingua Four.
He wished that he could have seen more of Probos Two. There's an up-and-coming lad, he thought, not quite two vargs old and two heads already. Yes, indeed, he's quite a boy, Probos Five remembered proudly; maybe his mother will keep him at home instead of running him all over the universe to get material for her committees.
He wished that Lingua Four would settle down and be content as a housewife, but he doubted that she would. Social ambition was boring like a termite under her bark.
Lingua Four was determined to be the first lady of Arbor, the capital city of Mercury. To this end Lingua Four had labored unceasingly. She was president of half the women's clubs of Arbor. She could always be depended upon to furnish the best in new and diverting subjects.
She headed almost all committees for aid or research on any type of problem. It was owing to Lingua Four being president of the Committee for Undernourished Arborians that Probos Five was making this ill-starred trip. His purpose was to capture a few of the upright, divided trunk animals that inhabited the third planet.
They were to be transported to Mercury and given over to scientific study as to their edible qualities. If it were found that the divided trunk creatures were fit for Mercurian consumption, the problem of undernourishment would no longer exist since the supply of divided trunks was seemingly inexhaustible. Mercurians had made expeditions to the third planet before and every report concluded with--"Divided trunk creatures increasing in number."
Privately Probos Five doubted the possibility of using the divided trunks for food, since the last expedition once again reported a complete lack of captives due to the frail and tenuous bodies of the divided trunks. Then, too, transportation and preservation posed a tremendous problem, not to mention the difficulty of trying to eat something that might vaporize on your fork. But then these questions may never arise, he decided, for of all the reports perused by Probos Five not one expedition had succeeded in bringing a divided trunk to Mercury.
All reports were read to the last letter by Probos Five before assembling equipment for his own trip. In the reports he had noted many of the difficulties of the earlier missions. Planet Three was impossible for a Mercurian without a heated space suit. The temperature of Planet Three was so low that it would literally freeze a Mercurian stiff in a matter of seconds.
The casualties of the early expeditions had been numerous. Many Mercurians had succumbed to the bitter cold due to flaws in space suits and other accidents. A break in the suit meant instant death. The victims of such mishaps were invariably buried in the isolated, sparsely inhabited Polar regions to avoid alarming the divided trunk creatures.
It was strange, mused Probos Five, that the divided trunks were seemingly unable to bear the slightest increase in temperature. Their bodies disintegrated upon contact with a Mercurian. Some were roped and dragged from a distance up to the doors of the space ships, but no inhabitant of Planet Three had been closer to Mercury than the air lock of the space cruisers. As the divided trunk people were dragged into the air lock, warm air from the ship would be pumped into the lock to dispel the frigid air of Planet Three. As the warmth of Mercury enveloped the divided trunks they became quite red, began to melt and finally dissolved into a gaseous state, leaving a small pile of ashes and a disagreeable odor in the air lock that sometimes lingered for days.
Probos Five believed he had the solution for these obstacles in the path of scientific study of the divided trunks. He had decided to use guile in place of strength. For this reason he had come alone and in a small space runabout to put his solution to the test. But his solution now could never be tried, he remembered morosely.
In the aft compartment Probos Five had constructed a refrigeration plant. By maintaining a constant degree of frigidity he hoped to deliver a pair of each species of divided trunks to Mercury. He hoped especially to capture a complete set and perhaps a few over to make up for breakage and losses. As to what form of sustenance the divided trunks were accustomed to, he had no idea whatsoever. He had intended to bring samples of earth, vegetation and anything else that may have suggested a source of food for the divided trunks.
The thought too had occurred to him that possibly the divided trunk creatures ate one another. On the possibility of this Probos Five had determined to capture three black ones, three white ones, three yellows, three browns and three reds, and three of any other color that he might find. He rather doubted that more colors or combination of colors existed. All previous expedition reports had mentioned only the five colors. However, Probos Five had determined to keep several eyes open on the off chance that he might find a new and different species.
His refrigerator was modeled along the architectural lines of the dens of the divided trunks. The main room of the refrigerator opened to the outside of the ship by means of a small air lock. A Mercurian size air lock was not needed for the divided trunks, as few had been found to be much over three dergs in height.
Winches and cables to pull the divided trunks into the refrigerator were installed in the refrigerator room itself to avoid burning the divided trunks with hot cables from other parts of the ship.
In addition, Probos Five had cunningly devised a refrigerated trap. This too was designed to simulate the caves of the divided trunk creatures but was smaller. It was constructed with entrances readily seen and exits well hidden. Probos Five had expected great things of his trap. He had conceived the idea after reading the report of a Mercurian expedition that explored the dens of the divided trunks at some place marked "Coney Island." According to the reports the divided trunks showed no hesitancy in entering these types of dens. In fact, the writer of the report gave it as his opinion that the divided ones perhaps played games in these types of caves. It also mentioned that some of the dens were equipped with flat shiny surfaces that cast reflections or images. Probos Five had incorporated the image-making surfaces into his trap design. A pity that all this effort must be wasted, thought Probos as he once more turned to the observation ports to check his remaining distance from the planet's surface. Seeing that his time was short, Probos Five turned all five faces forward in the Mercurian gesture of disdain for death. A moment later came the shock.
A week later the proprietor of a novelty shop in Fairbanks watched two natives with their dog team pulling something loglike through the snow toward the trading post. Turning to a customer he remarked, "Here comes Ketch and Ah Koo dragging in another Totem Pole. Guess that Ketch must be the biggest liar ever produced by the Eskimos. He tried to tell me that Totem Poles fall from the sky. Says he can always find one if he sees it fall because it's so hot it melts the snow around it. Personally I think he should be elected president of the Liars' Club, but I'll buy the Totem Pole anyway. Those pesky tourists always whittle a chunk out of my Totem Pole for a souvenir.
"I'm glad he's bringing me another one," the storekeeper concluded, "the one he sold me last year is about whittled away."
By Albert R. Teichner
A story that comes to grips with an age-old question--what is soul? and where?--and postulates an age-new answer.
If I listed every trouble I've accumulated in a mere two hundred odd years you might be inclined to laugh. When a tale of woe piles up too many details it looks ridiculous, unreal. So here, at the outset, I want to say my life has not been a tragic one--whose life is in this day of advanced techniques and universal good will?--but that, on the contrary, I have enjoyed this Earth and Solar System and all the abundant interests that it has offered me. If, lying here beneath these great lights, I could only be as sure of joy in the future....
My name is Treb Hawley. As far back as I can remember in my childhood, I was always interested in astronautics. From the age of ten I specialized in that subject, never for a moment regretting the choice. When I was still a child of twenty-four I took part in the Ninth Jupiter Expedition and after that there were many more. I had a precocious marriage at thirty and my boys, Robert and Neil, were born within a few years after Marla and I wed. It was fortunate that I fought for government permission that early; after the accident, despite my high rating, I would have been denied the rare privilege of parenthood.
That accident, the first one, took place when I was fifty. On Planet 12 of the Centauri System I was attacked by a six-limbed primate and was badly mangled on the left side before breaking loose to destroy it. Surgical Corps operated within an hour. Although they did an excellent prosthetic job after removing my left leg and arm, the substituted limbs had their limitations. While they permitted me to do all my jobs, phantom pain was a constant problem. There were new methods of prosthesis to eliminate this weird effect but these were only available back on the home planets.
I had to wait one year for this release. Meanwhile I had plenty of time to contemplate my mysterious affliction; the mystery of it was so great that I had little chance to notice how painful it actually was. There is enough strangeness in feeling with absolute certainty that a limb exists where actually there is nothing, but the strangeness is compounded when you look down and discover that not only is the leg gone but that another, mechanical one has taken its place. Dr. Erics, who had performed the operation, said this difficulty would ultimately prove a blessing but I often had my doubts.
He was right. Upon my return to Earth, the serious operations took place, those giving me plastic limbs that would become living parts of my organic structure. The same outward push of the brain and nervous system that had created phantom pain now made what was artificial seem real. Not only did my own blood course through the protoplastic but I could feel it doing so. The adjustment took less than a week and it was a complete one.
Fortunately the time was already past when protoplast patients were looked upon as something mildly freakish and to be pitied. Artificial noses, ears and limbs were becoming quite common. Whether there was some justification for the earlier reaction of pity, however, still remains to be seen.
My career resumed and I was accepted for the next Centauri Expedition without any questions being asked. As a matter of fact, Planning Center preferred people in my condition; protoplast limbs were more durable than the real--no, let us say the original--thing.
At home and at the beach no one bothered to notice my reconstructed arm and leg. They looked too natural for the idea to occur to people who did not know me. And Marla treated the whole thing like a big joke. "You're better than new," she used to tell me and the kids wanted to know when they could have second matter limbs of their own.
Life was good to me. The one-year periods away from home passed quickly and the five-year layoffs on Earth permitted me to devote myself to my hobbies, music and mathematics, without taking any time away from my family. Eventually, of course, my condition became an extremely common one. Who is there today among my readers who has all the parts with which he was born? If any such person past the childhood sixty years did, he would be the freak.
Then at ninety new difficulties arose. A new Centaurian subvirus attacked my chest marrow. As is still true in this infection, the virus proved to be ineradicable. My ribs weren't, though, and a protoplastic casing, exactly like the thoracic cavity, was substituted. It was discovered that the infection had spread to my right radius and ulna so here too a simple substitution was made. Of course, such a radical infection meant my circulatory system was contaminated and synthetically created living hemoplast was pumped in as soon as all the blood was removed.
This did attract attention. At the time the procedure was still new and some medical people warned it would not take. They were right only to this extent: the old cardioarterial organs occasionally hunted into defective feedback that required systole-diastole adjustments. Protoplastic circulatory substitutes corrected the deficiency and, just to avoid the slight possibility of further complications, the venous system was also replaced. Since the changeover there hasn't been the least trouble in that sector.
By then Marla had a perfect artificial ear and both of my sons had lost their congenitally diseased livers. There was nothing extraordinary about our family; only in my case were replacements somewhat above the world average.
I am proud to say that I was among the first thousand who made the pioneer voyage on hyperdrive to the star group beyond Centaurus. We returned in triumph with our fantastic but true tales of the organic planet Vita and the contemplative humanoids of Nirva who will consciousness into subjectively grasping the life and beauty of subatomic space. The knowledge we brought back assured that the fatal disease of ennui could never again attack man though they lived to Aleph Null.
On the second voyage Marla, Robert and Neil went with me. This took a little political wrangling but it was worth throwing my merit around to see them benefit from Nirvan discoveries even before the rest of humanity. Planetary Council agreed my services entitled me to this special consideration. Truly I could feel among the blessed.
Then I volunteered for the small expeditionary force to the 38th moon that the Nirvans themselves refused to visit. They tried to dissuade us but, being of a much younger species, we were less plagued by caution and went anyway. The mountains of this little moon are up to fifteen miles high, causing a state of instability that is chronic. Walking down those alabaster valleys was a more awesome experience than any galactic vista I have ever encountered. Our aesthetic sense proved stronger than common sense alertness and seven of us were buried in a rock slide.
Fortunately the great rocks formed a cavern above us. After two days we were rescued. The others had suffered such minor injuries that they were repaired before our craft landed on Nirva. I, though, unconscious and feverish, was in serious condition from skin abrasions and a comminuted cranium. Dr. Erics made the only possible prognosis. My skull had to be removed and a completely new protoskin had to be supplied also.
When I came out of coma Marla was standing at my bedside, smiling down at me. "Do you feel," she stumbled, "darling, I mean, do you feel the way you did?"
I was puzzled. "Sure, I'm Treb Hawley, I'm your husband, and I remember an awful fall of rocks but now I feel exactly the way I always have." I did not even realize that further substitutions had been made and did not believe them when they told me about it.
Now I was an object of curiosity. Upon our return to Earth the newsplastics hailed me as one of the most highly reintegrated individuals anywhere. In all the teeming domain of man there were only seven hundred who had gone through as many substitutions as I had. Where, they philosophised in passing, would a man cease to be a man in the sequence of substitutions?
Philosophy had never been an important preoccupation of mine. It was the only discipline no further ahead in its really essential questions than the Greeks of four thousand years ago. Oh certainly, there had been lots of technical improvements that were fascinating but these were peripheral points; the basic issues could not be experimentally tested so they had to remain on the level of accepted or rejected axioms. I wasn't about to devote much time to them when the whole fascinating field of subatomic mirror numbers was just opening up; certainly not because a few sensational journalists were toying with dead-end notions. For that matter the newsplastics weren't either and quickly went back to the regular mathematical reportage they do so well.
A few decades later, however, I wasn't so cocksure. The old Centaurian virus had reappeared in my brain of all places and I started to have a peculiar feeling about where the end point in all this reintegrating routine would lie. Not that the brain operation was a risk; thousands of people had already gone through it and the substitute organisms had made no fundamental change in them. It didn't in my case either. But now I was more second matter than any man in history.
"It's the old question of Achilles' Ship," Dr. Erics told me.
"Never heard of it," I said.
"It's a parable, Treb, about concretised forms of a continuum in its discrete aspects."
"I see the theoretical question but what has Achilles' Ship to do with it?"
He furrowed his protoplast brow that looked as youthful as it had a century ago. "This ship consisted of several hundred planks, most of them forming the hull, some in the form of benches and oars and a mainmast. It served its primitive purpose well but eventually sprang a leak. Some of the hull planks had to be replaced after which it was as good as new. Another year of hard use brought further hull troubles and some more planks were removed for new ones. Then the mast collapsed and a new one was put in. After that the ship was in such good shape that it could outrace most of those just off the ways."
I had an uneasy feeling about where this parable was leading us but my mind shied away from the essential point and Erics went relentlessly on. "As the years passed more repairs were made--first a new set of oars, then some more planks, still newer oars, still more planks. Eventually Achilles, an unthinking man of action who still tried to be aware of what happened to the instruments of action he needed most, realized that not one splinter of the original ship remained. Was this, then, a new ship? At first he was inclined to say yes. But this only evoked the further question: when had it become the new ship? Was it when the last plank was replaced or when half had been? His confidently stated answer collapsed. Yet how could he say it was the old ship when everything about it was a substitution? The question was too much for him. When he came to Athens he turned the problem over to the wise men of that city, refusing ever to think about it again."