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Chapter 3

  • "Hey, looka me. I'm flying!"
  • "Will you get your big fat feet out of my face?"
  • "Sure. Show me how to swim away through air, I'll be glad to."
  • "Leggo that spoon!"
  • "I ain't got your spoon."
  • "Will you look at it float away. Hey spoon, hey!"
  • "Watch this, Charlie. This will get you. I mean, get you."
  • "What are you gonna do?"
  • "Relax, chum."
  • "Leggo my leg. Help! I'm up in the air. Stop that."
  • "I said relax. There. Ha-ha, lookit him spin, just like a top. All you got t_o is get him started and he spins like a top with arms and legs. Top of th_orning to you, Charlie. Ha-ha. I said, top of the… ."
  • "Someone stop me, I'm getting dizzy."
  • They floated, tumbled, spun around the spaceship's lounge room in simple, childish glee. They cavorted in festive weightlessness.
  • "They're happy now," Arkalion observed. "The novelty of free fall, of weighin_xactly nothing, strikes them as amusing."
  • "I think I'm getting the hang of it," said Temple. Clumsily, he made a fe_entative swimming motions in the air, propelling himself forward a few yard_efore he lost his balance and tumbled head over heels against the wall.
  • Arkalion came to him quickly, in a combination of swimming and pushing wit_ands and feet against the wall. Arkalion righted him expertly, sat dow_ingerly beside him. "If you keep sudden motions to a minimum, you'll ge_long fine. More than anything else, that's the secret of it."
  • Temple nodded. "It's sort of like the first time you're on ice skates. Say, how come you're so good at it?"
  • "I used to read the old, theoretical books on space-travel." The words poure_ut effortlessly, smoothly. "I'm merely applying the theories put forward a_arly as the 1950's."
  • "Oh." But it left Temple with some food for thought. Alaric Arkalion was _ueer duck, anyway, and of all the men gathered in the spaceship's lounge, h_lone had mastered weightlessness with hardly any trouble.
  • "Take your ice skates," Arkalion went on. "Some people put them on and us_hem like natural extensions of their feet the first time. Others fall al_ver themselves. I suppose I am lucky."
  • "Sure," said Temple. Actually, the only thing odd about Arkalion was his old- young face and—perhaps—his propensity for coming up with the right answers a_he right times. Arkalion had seemed so certain of space-travel. He'd hardl_atted an eyelash when they boarded a long, tapering, bullet-shaped ship a_hite Sands and thundered off into the sky. He took for granted the change- over to a huge round ship at the wheel-shaped station in space. Moments afte_eaving the space station—with a minimum of stress and strain, thanks to th_lmost-nil gravity—it was Arkalion who first swam through air to the viewpor_nd pointed out the huge crescent earth, green and gray and brown, sparklin_ith patches of dazzling silver-white. "You will observe it is a crescent,"
  • Arkalion had said. "It is closer to the sun than we are, and off at an angle.
  • As I suspected, our destination is Mars."
  • Then everyone was saying goodbye to earth. Fantastic, it seemed. There wer_ears, there was laughter, cursing, promises of return, awkward verba_omparisons with the crescent moon, vows of faithfulness to lovers an_weethearts. And there was Arkalion, with an avid expression in the old eyes, Arkalion with his boyish face, not saying goodbye so much as he was callin_ello to something Temple could not fathom.
  • Now, as he struggled awkwardly with weightlessness, Temple called it hi_magination. His thought-patterns shifted vaguely, without motivation, fro_he gleaming, polished interior of the ship with its smell of antiseptic an_etal polish to the clear Spring air of Earth, blue of sky and bright of sun.
  • The unique blue sky of Earth which he somehow knew could not be duplicate_lsewhere. Elsewhere—the word itself bordered on the meaningless.
  • And Stephanie. The brief warm ecstasy of her—once, forever. He wondered wit_urprising objectivity if a hundred other names, a hundred other women wer_ot in a hundred other minds while everyone stared at the crescent Eart_anging serenely in space—with each name and each woman as dear as Stephanie, with the same combination of fire and gentle femininity stirring the blood bu_addening the heart. Would Stephanie really forget him? Did he want her to?
  • That part of him burned by the fire of her said no—no, she must not forge_im. She was his, his alone, roped and branded though a universe separate_hem. But someplace in his heart was the thought, the understanding, th_ealization that although Stephanie might keep a small place for him tucke_omeplace deep in her emotions, she must forget. He was gone—permanently. Fo_tephanie, he was dead. It was as he had told her that last stolen day. I_as… .  _Stephanie, Stephanie, how much I love you… ._
  • Struggling with weightlessness, he made his way back to the small room h_hared with Arkalion. Hardly more than a cubicle, it was, with sufficient roo_or two beds, a sink, a small chest. He lay down and slept, murmurin_tephanie's name in his sleep.
  • He awoke to the faint hum of the air-pumps, got up feeling rested, forgot hi_eightlessness and floated to the ceiling where only an outthrust ar_revented a nasty bump on his head. He used hand grips on the wall to le_imself down. He washed, aware of no way to prevent the water he splashed o_is face from forming fine droplets and spraying the entire room. When h_rossed back to the foot of his bed to get his towel he thrust one foot ou_oo rapidly, lost his balance, half-rose, stumbled and fell against the othe_ed which, like all other items of furniture, was fastened to the floor. Bu_is elbow struck sleeping Arkalion's jaw sharply, hard enough to jar the man'_eeth.
  • "I'm sorry," said Temple. "Didn't mean to do that," he apologized again, feeling embarrassed.
  • Arkalion merely lay there.
  • "I said I'm sorry."
  • Arkalion still slept. It seemed inconceivable, for Temple's elbow pained hi_onsiderably. He bent down, examined his inert companion.
  • Arkalion stirred not a muscle.
  • Vaguely alarmed, Temple thrust a hand to Arkalion's chest, felt nothing. H_rouched, rested the side of his head over Arkalion's heart. He listened, heard—nothing.
  • What was going on here?
  • "Hey, Arkalion!" Temple shook him, gently at first, then with savage force.
  • Weightless, Arkalion's body floated up off the bed, taking the covers with it.
  • His own heart pounding furiously, Temple got it down again, fingered the lef_rist and swallowed nervously.
  • Temple had never seen a dead man before. Arkalion's heart did not beat.
  • Arkalion had no pulse.
  • Arkalion was dead.
  • Yelling hoarsely, Temple plunged from the room, soaring off the floor in hi_aste and striking his head against the ceiling hard enough to make him se_tars. "This guy is dead!" he cried. "Arkalion is dead."
  • Men stirred in the companionway. Someone called for one of the armed guard_ho were constantly on patrol.
  • "If he's dead, you're yelling loud enough to get him out of his grave." Th_oice was quiet, amused.
  • Arkalion.
  • "What?" Temple blurted, whirling around and striking his head again. A littl_ild-eyed, he reentered the room.
  • "Now, who is dead, Kit?" demanded Arkalion, sitting up and stretchin_omfortably.
  • "Who—is dead? Who—?" Open-mouthed, Temple stared.
  • A guard, completely at home with weightlessness, entered the cubicle briskly.
  • "What's the trouble in here? Something about a dead man, they said."
  • "A dead man?" demanded Arkalion. "Indeed."
  • "Dead?" muttered Temple, lamely and foolishly. "Dead… ."
  • Arkalion smiled deprecatingly. "My friend must have been talking in his sleep.
  • The only thing dead in here is my appetite. Weightlessness doesn't let yo_ecome very hungry."
  • "You'll grow used to it," the guard promised. He patted his paunch happily. "_m. Well, don't raise the alarm unless there's some trouble. Remember abou_he boy who cried wolf."
  • "Of course," said Temple. "Sure. Sorry."
  • He watched the guard depart.
  • "Bad dream?" Arkalion wanted to know.
  • "Bad dream, my foot. I accidentally hit you. Hard enough to hurt. You didn'_ove."
  • "I'm a sound sleeper."
  • "I felt for your heart. It wasn't beating. It wasn't!"
  • "Oh, come, come."
  • "Your heart was not beating, I said."
  • "And I suppose I was cold as a slab of ice?"
  • "Umm, no. I don't remember. Maybe you were. You had no pulse, either."
  • Arkalion laughed easily. "And am I still dead?"
  • "Well—"
  • "Clearly a case of overwrought nerves and a highly keyed imagination. What yo_eed is some more sleep."
  • "I'm not sleepy, thanks."
  • "Well, I think I'll get up and go down for breakfast." Arkalion climbed out o_ed gingerly, made his way to the sink and was soon gargling with a bottle o_repared mouthwash, occasionally spraying weightless droplets of the pin_iquid up at the ceiling.
  • Temple lit a cigarette with shaking fingers, made his way to Arkalion's be_hile the man hummed tunelessly at the sink. Temple let his hands fall on th_heet. It was not cold, but comfortably cool. Hardly as warm as it should hav_een, with a man sleeping on it all night.
  • Was he still imagining things?
  • "I'm glad you didn't call for a burial detail and have me expelled into spac_ith yesterday's garbage," Arkalion called over his shoulder jauntily as h_ent outside for some breakfast.
  • Temple cursed softly and lit another cigarette, dropping the first one into _isposal chute on the wall.
  • Every night thereafter, Temple made it a point to remain awake after Arkalio_pparently had fallen asleep. But if he were seeking repetition of th_eculiar occurrence, he was disappointed. Not only did Arkalion sleep soundl_nd through the night, but he snored. Loudly and clearly, a wheezing snore.
  • Arkalion's strange feat—or his own overwrought imagination, Temple though_ryly—was good for one thing: it took his mind off Stephanie. The days wore o_n endless, monotonous routine. He took some books from the ship's library an_rowsed through them, even managing to find one concerned with traumati_atalepsy, which stated that a severe emotional shock might render one into _eep enough trance to have a layman mistakenly pronounce him dead. But wha_ad been the severe emotional disturbance for Arkalion? Could the effects o_eightlessness manifest themselves in that way in rare instances? Templ_aturally did not know, but he resolved to find out if he could after reachin_heir destination.
  • One day—it was three weeks after they left the space station, Templ_ealized—they were all called to assembly in the ship's large main lounge. A_he men drifted in, Temple was amazed to see the progress they had made wit_eightlessness. He himself had advanced to handy facility in locomotion, bu_t struck him all the more pointedly when he saw two hundred men swim an_loat through air, pushing themselves along by means of the hand-hold_trategically placed along the walls.
  • The ever-present microphone greeted them all. "Good afternoon, men."
  • "Good afternoon, mac!"
  • "Hey, is this the way to Ebbetts' Field?"
  • "Get on with it!"
  • "Sounds like the same man who addressed us in White Sands," Temple tol_rkalion. "He sure does get around."
  • "A recording, probably. Listen."
  • "Our destination, as you've probably read in newspapers and magazines, is th_lanet Mars."
  • Mutterings in the assembly, not many of surprise.
  • "Their suppositions, based both on the seven hundred eighty day lapse betwee_owhere Journeys and the romantic position in which the planet Mars has alway_een held, are correct. We are going to Mars.
  • "For most of you, Mars will be a permanent home for many years to come—"
  • "Most of us?" Temple wondered out loud.
  • Arkalion raised a finger to his lips for silence.
  • "—until such time as you are rotated according to the policy of rotation se_p by the government."
  • Temple had grown accustomed to the familiar hoots and catcalls. He almost ha_n urge to join in himself.
  • "Interesting," Arkalion pointed out. "Back at White Sands they claimed not t_now our destination. They knew it all right—up to a point. The planet Mars.
  • But now they say that all of us will not remain on Mars. Most interesting."
  • "—further indoctrination in our mission soon after our arrival on the re_lanet. Landing will be performed under somewhat less strain than the initia_akeoff in the Earth-to-station ferry, since Mars exerts less of a gravit_ull than Earth. On the other hand, you have been weightless for three week_nd the change-over is liable to make some of you sick. It will pas_armlessly enough.
  • "We realize it is difficult, being taken from your homes without knowing th_ature of your urgent mission. All I can tell you now—and, as a matter o_act, all I know—"
  • "Here we go again," said Temple. "More riddles."
  • "—is that everything  _is_  of the utmost urgency. Our entire way of life i_t stake. Our job will be to safeguard it. In the months which follow, few o_ou will have any big, significant role to play, but all of you, workin_ogether, will provide the strength we need. When the  _cadre_ —"
  • "So they call their guards teachers," Arkalion commented dryly.
  • "—come around, they will see that each man is strapped properly into his bun_or deceleration. Deceleration begins in twenty-seven minutes."
  • _Mars_ , thought Temple, back in his room with Arkalion.  _Mars._  He did no_hink of Stephanie, except as a man who knows he must spend the rest of hi_ife in prison might think of a lush green field, or the cool swish of ski_ver fresh, powdery snow, or the sound of yardarms creaking against the win_n a small sailing schooner, or the tang of wieners roasting over an open fir_ith the crisp air of fall against your back, or the scent of good Frenc_randy, or a woman.
  • Deceleration began promptly. Before his face was distorted and his eyes force_hut by a pressure of four gravities, Temple had time to see the look o_omplete unconcern on Arkalion's face. Arkalion, in fact, was sleeping.
  • He seemed as completely relaxed as he did that morning Temple thought he wa_ead.