"Yes." He was certain.
"That's half the reason. The other half is Hoskins."
"What are you talking about?"
"Johnny broke. Ives broke. Your question was, 'who's next?' You doubt that it will be me, because I'm de facto the boy with all the answers. You doubt it will be Hoskins, because you can't extrapolate how he might break--or even if he would. So that leaves you."
"I hadn't exactly reasoned it out like that--"
"Oh yes you had," said Paresi, and thumped the Captain's shoulder. "Now forget it. Confucius say he who turn gaze inward wind up crosseyed. Can't afford to have a crosseyed Captain. Our friends out there are due to make another move."
"No they're not."
The doctor and the Captain whirled at the quiet voice. "What does that mean, Hoskins?"
The engineer came into the cabin, crossed over to his station, and began opening and closing drawers. "They've moved." From the bottom drawer he pulled out a folded chessboard and a rectangular box. Only then did he look directly at them. "The food's gone."
"Food?... gone where?"
Hoskins smiled tiredly. "Where's the port? Where's the outboard bulkhead? That black stuff has covered it up--heating units, foodlockers, disposal unit, everything." He pulled a couple of chairs from their clips on the bulkhead and carried them across the cabin to the sheet of blackness. "There's water," he said as he unfolded the chairs. On the seat of one he placed the chessboard. He sat on the other and pushed the board close to the darkness. "The scuttlebutt's inboard, and still available." His voice seemed to get fainter and fainter as he talked, as if he were going slowly away from them. "But there's no food. No food."
He began to set up the pieces, his face to the black wall.
The primary function of personality is self-preservation, but personality itself is not a static but a dynamic thing. The basic factor in its development, is integration: each new situation calls forth a new adjustment which modifies or alters the personality in the process. The proper aim of personality, therefore, is not permanence and stability, but unification. The inability of a personality to adjust to or integrate a new situation, the resistance of the personality to unification, and its efforts to preserve its integrity are known popularly as insanity. --Morgan Littlefield, Notes on Psychology.
Paresi grabbed the Captain's arm and spun him around roughly. "Captain Anderson! Cut it!" Very softly, he said, "Leave him alone. He's doing what he has to do."
Anderson stared over his shoulder at the little engineer. "Is he, now? Damn it, he's still under orders!"
"Got something for him to do?" asked the doctor cooly.
Anderson looked around, at the controls, out at the sleeping mountains. "I guess not. But I'd like to know he'd take an order when I have one."
"Leave him alone until you have an order. Hoskins is a very steady head, skipper. But just now he's on the outside edge. Don't push."
The Captain put his hand over his eyes and fumbled his way to the controls. He turned his back to the pilot's chair and leaned heavily against it. "Okay," he said. "This thing is developing into a duel between you and those ... those colleagues of yours out there. I guess the least we ... I ... can do is not to fight you while you're fighting them."
Paresi said, "You're choosing up sides the wrong way. They're fighting us, all right. We're only fighting ourselves. I don't mean each other; I mean each of us is fighting himself. We've got to stop doing that, skipper."
The Captain gave him a wan smile. "Who has, at the best of times?"
Paresi returned the smile. "Drug addicts ... Catatonics ... illusionaries ... and saints. I guess it's up to us to add to the category."
"How about dead people?"
"Ives! How long have you been awake?"
The big man shoved himself up and leaned on one arm. He shook his head and grunted as if he had been punched in the solar plexus. "Who hit me with what?" he said painfully, from between clenched teeth.
"You apparently decided the bulkhead was a paper hoop and tried to dive through it," said Paresi. He spoke lightly but his face was watchful.
"Oooh...." Ives held his head for a moment and then peered between his fingers at the darkness. "I remember," he said in a strained whisper. He looked around him, saw the engineer huddled against his chessboard. "What's he doing?"
They all looked at the engineer as he moved a piece and then sat quietly.
Hoskins ignored Ives' bull voice. Paresi said, "He's not talking just now. He's ... all right, Ives. Leave him alone. At the moment, I'm more interested in you. How do you feel?"
"Me, I feel great. Hungry, though. What's for chow?"
Anderson said quickly, "Nick doesn't want us to eat just now."
"Thanks," muttered Paresi in vicious irony.
"He's the doctor," said Ives good-naturedly. "But don't put it off too long, huh? This furnace needs stoking." He fisted his huge chest.
"Well, this is encouraging," said Paresi.
"It certainly is," said the Captain. "Maybe the breaking point is just the point of impact. After that the rebound, hm?"
Paresi shook his head. "Breaking means breaking. Sometimes things just don't break."
"Got to pass," said a voice. Johnny, the pilot, was stirring.
"Ha!" Anderson's voice was exultant. "Here comes another one!"
"How sure are you of that?" asked the doctor. To Johnny, he called, "Hiya, John?"
"I got to pass," said Johnny worriedly. He swung his feet to the deck. "You see," he said earnestly, "being the head of your class doesn't make it any easier. You've got to keep that and pass the examinations too. You've got two jobs. Now, the guy who stands fourth, say--he has only one job to do."
Anderson turned a blank face to Paresi, who made a silencing gesture. Johnny put his head in his hands and said, "When one variable varies directly as another, two pairs of their corresponding values are in proportion." He looked up. "That's supposed to be the keystone of all vector analysis, the man says, and you don't get to be a pilot without vector analysis. And it makes no sense to me. What am I going to do?"
"Get some shuteye," said Paresi immediately. "You've been studying too hard. It'll make more sense to you in the morning."
Johnny grinned and yawned at the same time, the worried wrinkles smoothing out. "Now that was a real educational remark, Martin, old chap," he said. He lay down and stretched luxuriously. "That I can understand. You may wear my famous maroon zipsuit." He turned his face away and was instantly asleep.
"Who the hell is Martin?" Ives demanded. "Martin who?"
"Shh. Probably his roommate in pre-pilot school."
Anderson gaped. "You mean he's back in school?"
"Doesn't it figure?" said Paresi sadly. "I told you that this situation is intolerable to him. If he can't escape in space, he'll escape in time. He hasn't the imagination to go forward, so he goes backward."
Something scuttled across the floor. Ives whipped his feet off the floor and sat like some cartoon of a Buddha, clutching his ankles. "What in God's name was that?"
"I didn't see anything," said Paresi.
The Captain demanded, "What was it?"
From the shadows, Hoskins said, "A mouse."
"I can't stand things that scuttle and slither and crawl," said Ives. His voice was suddenly womanish. "Don't let anything like that in here!"
From the quarters aft came a faint scratching, a squeak. Ives turned pale. His wattles quivered.
"Snap out of it, Ives," said Paresi coldly. "There isn't so much as a microbe on this ship that I haven't inventoried. Don't sit there like little Miss Muffet."
"I know what I saw," said Ives. He rose suddenly, turned to the black wall, and bellowed, "Damn you, send something I can fight!"
Two mice emerged from under the couch. One of them ran over Ives' foot. They disappeared aft, squeaking. Ives leapt straight up and came down standing on the couch. Anderson stepped back against the inboard bulkhead and stood rigid. Paresi walked with great purpose to the medical chest, took out a small black case and opened it.
Ives cowered down to his knees and began to blubber openly, without attempting to hide it, without any articulate speech. Paresi approached him, half-concealing a small metal tube in his hand.
A slight movement on the deck caught Anderson's eye. He was unable to control a shrill intake of breath as an enormous spider, hairy and swift, darted across to the couch and sprang. It landed next to Ives' knee, sprang again. Paresi swung at it and missed, his hand catching Ives heavily just under the armpit. The spider hit the deck, skidded, righted itself and, abruptly, was gone. Ives caved in around the impact point of Paresi's hand and curled up silently on the couch. Anderson ran to him.
"He'll be all right now," said Paresi. "Forget it."
"Don't tell me he fainted! Not Ives!"
"Of course not." Paresi held up the little cylinder.
"Anesthox! Why did you use that on him?"
Paresi said irritably, "For the reason one usually uses anesthox. To knock a patient out for a couple of hours without hurting him."
"Suppose you hadn't?"
"How much more of that scuttle-and-slither treatment do you think he could have taken?"
Anderson looked at the unconscious communications man. "Surely more than that." He looked up suddenly. "Where the hell did that vermin come from?"
"Ah. Now you have it. He dislikes mice and spiders. But there was something special about these. They couldn't be here, and they were. He felt that it was a deliberate and personal attack. He couldn't have handled much more of it."
"Where did they come from?" demanded the Captain again.
"I don't know!" snapped Paresi. "Sorry, skipper ... I'm a little unnerved. I'm not used to seeing a patient's hallucinations. Not that clearly, at any rate."
"They were Ives' hallucinations?"
"Can you recall what was said just before they appeared?"
"Uh ... something scuttled. A mouse."
"It wasn't a mouse until someone said it was." The doctor turned and looked searchingly at Hoskins, who still sat quietly over his chess.
"By God, it was Hoskins. Hoskins--what made you say that?"
The engineer did not move nor answer. Paresi shook his head hopelessly. "Another retreat. It's no use, Captain."
Anderson took a single step toward Hoskins, then obviously changed his mind. He shrugged and said, "All right. Something scuttled and Hoskins defined it. Let's accept that without reasoning it out. So who called up the spider?"
In a startling imitation of the Captain's voice, Paresi quoted, "Don't sit there like Miss Muffet!"
"I'll be damned," said Anderson. "Maybe we'd all be better off saying nothing."
Paresi said bitterly, "You think it makes any difference if we say what we think?"
"Nup," said Paresi positively. "Look at the way this thing works. First it traps us, and then it shows us a growing darkness. Very basic. Then it starts picking on us, one by one. Johnny gets machines that don't work, when with his whole soul he worships machines that do. Ives gets a large charge of claustrophobia from the black stuff over there and goes into a flat spin."
"He came out of it."
"Johnny woke up too. In another subjective time-track. Quite harmless to--to Them. So they left him alone. But they lowered the boom on Ives when he showed any resilience. It's breaking point they're after, Captain. Nothing less."
"I guess so," said Paresi tiredly. "Like Johnny he escaped from a problem he couldn't handle to one he could. Only instead of regressing he's turned to chess. I hope Johnny doesn't bounce back for awhile, yet. He's too--Captain! He's gone!"
They turned and stared at Johnny's bunk. Or--where the bunk had been before the black wall had swelled inwards and covered it.
"... and there I was, Doctor, in the lobby of the hotel at noon, stark naked!"
"Do you have these dreams often?"
"I'm afraid so, Doctor. Am I--all right? I mean ..."
"Let me ask you this question: Do you believe that these experiences are real?"
"Of course not!"
"Then, Madam, you are, by definition, sane; for insanity, in the final analysis, is the inability to distinguish the real from the unreal."
Paresi and the Captain ran aft together, and together they stopped four paces away from the bulging blackness.