"Johnny!" The Captain's voice cracked with the agonized effort of his cry. He stepped to the black wall, pounded it with the heel of his hand.
"He won't hear you," said Paresi bleakly. "Come back, Captain. Come back."
"Why him? Why Johnny? They've done everything they could to Johnny; you said so yourself!"
"Come back," Paresi said again, soothing. Then he spoke briskly: "Can't you see they're not doing anything to him? They're doing it to us!"
The Captain stood rigidly, staring at the featureless intrusion. He turned presently. "To us," he parroted. Then he stumbled blindly to the doctor, who put a firm hand on his biceps and walked with him to the forward acceleration couch.
The Captain sat down heavily with his back to this new invasion. Paresi stood by him reflectively, then walked silently to Hoskins.
The engineer sat over his chessboard in deep concentration. The far edge of the board seemed to be indefinite, lost partially in the mysterious sable curtain which covered the bulkhead.
Paresi put his hand on Hoskins' shoulder. Hoskins' head came up slowly. He did not turn it. His gaze was straight ahead into the darkness. But at least it was off the board.
"Hoskins," said Paresi, "why are you playing chess?"
"Chess is chess," said Hoskins quietly. "Chess may symbolize any conflict, but it is chess and it will remain chess."
"Who are you playing with?"
"Hoskins--we need you. Help us."
Hoskins let his gaze travel slowly downward again until it was on the board. "The word is not the thing," he said. "The number is not the thing. The picture, the ideograph, the symbol--these are not the thing. Conversely ..."
Paresi waited. Hoskins did not move or speak. Paresi put his hand on the man's shoulder again, but now there was no response. He cursed suddenly, bent and brought up his hand with a violent smash and sent board and pieces flying.
When the clatter had died down Hoskins said pleasantly, "The pieces are not the game. The symbols are not the thing." He sat still, his eyes fixed on the empty chair where the board had been. He put out a hand and moved a piece where there was no piece to a square which was no longer there. Then he sat and waited.
Paresi, breathing heavily, backed off, whirled, and went back to the Captain.
Anderson looked up at him, and there was the glimmer of humor in his eyes. "Better sit down and talk about something different, Doctor."
Paresi made an animal sound, soft and deep, far back in his throat, plumped down next to the Captain, and kneaded his hands together for a moment. Then he smiled. "Quite right, skipper. I'd better."
They sat quietly for a moment. Then the Captain prompted, "About the different breaking point...."
"Perhaps you can put your finger on the thing that makes different men break in different ways, for different reasons. I mean, Johnny's case seemed pretty clear cut, and what you haven't explained about Hoskins, Hoskins has demonstrated pretty clearly. About Ives, now--we can skip that for the time he'll be unconscious. But if you can figure out where you and I might break, why--we'd know what to look for."
"You think that would help?"
"We'd be prepared."
Paresi looked at him sharply. "Let's hypothesize a child who is afraid of the dark. Ask him and he might say that there's a something in dark places that will jump out at him. Then assure him, with great authority, that not only is he right but that it's about to jump any minute, and what have you done?"
"Damage," nodded the Captain. "But you wouldn't say that to the child. You'd tell him there was nothing there. You'd prove there wasn't."
"So I would," agreed the doctor. "But in our case I couldn't do anything of the kind. Johnny broke over machines that really didn't work. Hoskins broke over phenomena that couldn't be measured nor understood. Ives broke over things that scuttled and crawled. Subjectively real phenomena, all of them. Whatever basic terrors hide in you and in me will come to face us, no matter how improbable they might be. And you want me to tell you what they are. No, skipper. Better leave them in your subconscious, where you've buried them."
"I'm not afraid," said the Captain. "Tell me, Paresi! At least I'll know. I'd rather know. I'd so damn much rather know!"
"You're sure I can tell you?"
"I haven't psychoanalyzed you, you know. Some of these things are very hard to--"
"You do know, don't you?"
"Damn you, yes!" Paresi wet his lips. "All right, then. I may be doing a wrong thing here.... You've cuddled up to the idea that I'm a very astute character who automatically knows about things like this, and it's been a comfort to you. Well, I've got news for you. I didn't figure all these things out. I was told."
"Yes, told," said Paresi angrily. "Look, this is supposed to be restricted information, but the Exploration Service doesn't rely on individual aptitude tests alone to make up a crew. There's another factor--call it an inaptitude factor. In its simplest terms, it comes to this: that a crew can't work together only if each member is the most efficient at his job. He has to need the others, each one of the others. And the word need predicates lack. In other words, none of us is a balanced individual. And the imbalances are chosen to match and blend, so that we will react as a balanced unit. Sure I know Johnny's bugaboos, and Hoskins', and yours. They were all in my indoctrination treatments. I know all your case histories, all your psychic push-buttons."
"And yours?" demanded the Captain.
"Hoskins, for example," said Paresi. "Happily married, no children. Physically inferior all his life. Repressed desire for pure science which produced more than a smattering of a great many sciences and made him a hell of an engineer. High idealistic quotient; self sacrifice. Look at him playing chess, making of this very real situation a theoretical abstraction ... like leaving a marriage for deep space.
"Johnny we know about. Brought up with never failing machines. Still plays with them as if they were toys, and like any imaginative child, turns to his toys for reassurance. He needs to be a hero, hence the stars....
"Ives ... always fat. Learned to be easy-going, learned to laugh with when others were laughing at, and bottling up pressures every time it happened. A large appetite. He's here to satisfy it; he's with us so he can eat up the galaxies...."
There was a long pause. "Go on," said the Captain. "Who's next? You?"
"You," said the doctor shortly. "You grew up with a burning curiosity about the nature of things. But it wasn't a scientist's curiosity; it was an aesthete's. You're one of the few people alive who refused a subsidized education and worked your way through advanced studies as a crewman on commercial space-liners. You became one of the youngest professors of philosophy in recent history. You made a romantic marriage and your wife died in childbirth. Since then--almost a hundred missions with E.A.S., refusing numerous offers of advancement. Do I have to tell you what your bugaboo is now?"
"No," said Anderson hoarsely. "But I'm ... not afraid of it. I had no idea your ..." He swallowed. "... information was that complete."
"I wish it wasn't. I wish I had some things to--wonder about," said Paresi with surprising bitterness.
The Captain looked at him shrewdly. "Go on with your case histories."
"No you haven't." When Paresi did not answer, the Captain nudged him. "Johnny, Ives, Hoskins, me. Haven't you forgotten someone?"
"No I haven't," snarled Paresi, "and if you expect me to tell you why a psychologist buries himself in the stars, I'm not going to do it."
"I don't want to be told anything so general," said the Captain. "I just want to know why you came out here."
Paresi scowled. The Captain looked away from him and hazarded, "Big frog in a small pond, Nick?"
Anderson asked, "Women don't like you, do they, Nick?"
Almost inaudibly, Paresi said, "Better cut it out, skipper."
Anderson said, "Closest thing to being a mother--is that it?"
Paresi went white.
The Captain closed his eyes, frowned, and at last said, "Or maybe you just want to play God."
"I'm going to make it tough for you," said Paresi between his teeth. "There are several ways you can break, just as there are several ways to break a log--explode it, crush it, saw it, burn it.... One of the ways is to fight me until you win. Me, because there's no one else left to fight you. So--I won't fight with you. And you're too rational to attack me unless I do. That is the thing that will make it tough. If you must break, it'll have to be some other way."
"Is that what I'm doing?" the Captain asked with sudden mildness. "I didn't know that. I thought I was trying to get your own case history out of you, that's all. What are you staring at?"
There was nothing. Where there had been forward viewports, there was nothing. Where there had been controls, the communication station, the forward acceleration panels and storage lockers; the charts and computers and radar gear--there was nothing. Blackness; featureless, silent, impenetrable. They sat on one couch by one wall, to which was fixed one table. Around them was empty floor and a blackness. The chess-player faced into it, and perhaps he was partly within it; it was difficult to see.
The Captain and the medical officer stared at one another. There seemed to be nothing to say.
For man's sense is falsely asserted to be the standard of things: on the contrary, all the perceptions, both of the senses and the mind, bear reference to man and not to the universe; and the human mind resembles those uneven mirrors which impart their own properties to different objects ... and distorts and disfigures them ... For every one ... has a cave or den of his own which refracts and discolors the light of nature. --Sir Francis Bacon (1561--1626) It was the Captain who moved first. He went to the remaining bulkhead, spun a dog, and opened a cabinet. From it he took a rack of spare radar parts and three thick coils of wire. Paresi, startled, turned and saw Hoskins peering owlishly at the Captain.
Anderson withdrew some tools, reached far back in the cabinet, and took out a large bottle.
"Oh," said Paresi. "That.... I thought you were doing something constructive."
In the far shadows, Hoskins turned silently back to his game. The Captain gazed down at the bottle, tossed it, caught it. "I am," he said. "I am."
He came and sat beside the doctor. He thumbed off the stopper and drank ferociously. Paresi watched, his eyes as featureless as the imprisoning dark.
"Well?" said the Captain pugnaciously.
Paresi's hands rose and fell, once. "Just wondering why."
"Why I'm going to get loopin', stoopin' drunk? I'll tell you why, head-shrinker. Because I want to, that's why. Because I like it. I'm doing something I like because I like it. I'm not doing it because of the inversion of this concealed repression as expressed in the involuted feelings my childhood developed in my attitude toward the sex-life of beavers, see, couch-catechizer old boy? I like it and that's why."
"I knew a man who went to bed with old shoes because he liked it," said Paresi coldly.
The Captain drank again and laughed harshly. "Nothing can change you, can it, Nick?"
Paresi looked around him almost fearfully. "I can change," he whispered. "Ives is gone. Give me the bottle."
Something clattered to the deck at the hem of the black curtain.
"'S another hallucination," said the Captain. "Go pick up the hallucination, Nicky-boy."
"Not my hallucination," said Paresi. "Pick it up yourself."
"Sure," said the Captain good-naturedly. He waited while Paresi drank, took back the bottle, tilted it sharply over his mouth. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand, exhaled heavily, and went to the blackness across the cabin.
"Well, what do you know," he breathed.
"What is it this time?"
Anderson held the thing up. "A trophy, that's what." He peered at it. "All-American, 2675. Little statue of a guy holding up a victory wreath. Nice going, little guy." He strode to Paresi and snatched away the bottle. He poured liquor on the head of the figurine. "Have a drink, little guy."
"Let me see that."
Paresi took it, held it, turned it over. Suddenly he dropped it as if it were a red-hot coal. "Oh, dear God...."
"'Smatter, Nick?" The Captain picked up the statuette and peered at it.
"Put it down, put it down," said the doctor in a choked voice. "It's--Johnny...."
"Oh it is, it is," breathed the Captain. He put down the statuette gingerly on the table, hesitated, then turned its face away from them. With abrupt animation he swung to Paresi. "Hey! You didn't say it looked like Johnny. You said it was Johnny!"
"Yup." He grinned wolfishly. "Not bad for a psychologist. What a peephole you opened up! Graven images, huh?"
"Shut up, Anderson," said Paresi tiredly. "I told you I'm not going to let you needle me."
"Aw now, it's all in fun," said the Captain. He plumped down and threw a heavy arm across Anderson's shoulders. "Le's be friends. Le's sing a song."
Paresi shoved him away. "Leave me alone. Leave me alone."
Anderson turned away from him and regarded the statuette gravely. He extended the bottle toward it, muttered a greeting, and drank. "I wonder...."
The words hung there until Paresi twisted up out of his forlorn reverie to bat them down. "Damn it--what do you wonder?"
"Oh," said the Captain jovially, "I was just wondering what you'll be."
"What are you talking about?"
Anderson waved the bottle at the figurine, which called it to his attention again, and so again he drank. "Johnny turned into what he thinks he is. A little guy with a big victory. Hoskins, there, he's going to be a slide-rule, jus' you wait and see. Ol' Ives, that's easy. He's goin' to be a beer barrel, with beer in it. Always did have a head on him, Ives did." He stopped to laugh immoderately at Paresi's darkening face. "Me, I have no secrets no more. I'm going to be a coat of arms--a useless philosophy rampant on a field of stars." He put the open mouth of the bottle against his forehead and pressed it violently, lowered it and touched the angry red ring it left between his eyes. "Mark of the beast," he confided. "Caste mark. Zero, that's me and my whole damn family. The die is cast, the caste has died." He grunted appreciatively and turned again to Paresi. "But what's old Nicky going to be?"
"Don't call me Nicky," said the doctor testily.
"I know," said the Captain, narrowing his eyes and laying one finger alongside his nose. "A reference book, tha's what you'll be. A treatise on the ... the post-nasal hysterectomy, or how to unbutton a man's prejudices and take down his pride.... I swiped all that from somewhere....
"No!" he shouted suddenly; then, with conspiratorial quiet, he said, "You won't be no book, Nicky boy. Covers aren't hard enough. Not the right type face. Get it?" he roared, and dug Paresi viciously in the ribs. "Type face, it's a witticism."