The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol X Part 140

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My mind was now in turmoil. "What," I demanded, "what did they decide?"

Erics frowned. "Nothing. They could not answer the question. Every available answer was equally right and proved every other right answer wrong. As you know, philosophy does not progress in its essentials. It merely continues to clarify what the problems are."

"I prefer to die next time!" I shouted. "I want to be a live human being or a dead one, not a machine."

"Maybe you won't be a machine. Nothing exactly like this has happened before to a living organic being."

I knew I had to be on my guard. What peculiar scheme was afoot? "You're trying to say something's still wrong with me. It isn't true. I feel as well as I ever have."



"Your 'feeling' is a dangerous illusion." His face was s.p.a.ce-dust grey and I realized with horror that he meant all of it. "I had to tell you the parable and show the possible alternatives clearly. Treb, you're riddled with Centaurian Zed virus. Unless we remove almost all the remaining first growth organisms you will be dead within six months."

I didn't care any more whether he meant it or not; the idea was too ridiculous. Death is too rare and anachronistic a phenomenon today. "You're the one who needs treatment, Doctor. Overwork, too much study, one idea on the brain too much."

Resigned, he shrugged his shoulders. "All the first matter should be removed except for the spinal chord and the vertebrae. You'd still have that."

"Very kind of you," I said, and walked away, determined to have no more of his lectures now or in the future.

Marla wanted to know why I seemed so jumpy. "Seems is just the word," I snapped. "Never felt better in my life."

"That's just what I mean," she said. "Jumpy."

I let her have the last word but determined to be calmer from then on.

I was. And, as the weeks pa.s.sed, the mask I put on sank deeper and deeper until that was the way I really felt. 'When you can face death serenely you will not have to face it.' That is what Sophilus, one of our leading philosophers, has said. I was living this truth. My work on infinite series went more smoothly and swiftly than any mathematical research I had engaged in before and my senses responded to living with greater zest than ever.

Five months later, while walking through Hydroponic Park, I felt the first awful tremor through my body. It was as if the earth beneath my feet were shaking, like that awful afternoon on Nirva's moon. But no rocks fell from this sky and other strollers moved across my vision as if the world of five minutes ago had not collapsed. The horror was only inside me.

I went to another doctor and asked for Stabilizine. "Perhaps you need a checkup," he suggested.

That was the last thing I wanted and I said so. He, too, shrugged resignedly and made out my prescription for the harmless drug. After that the hammer of pain did not strike again but often I could feel it brush by me. Each time my self-administered dosage had to be increased.

Eventually my equations stopped tying together in my mind. I would stare at the calculation sheets for hours at a time, asking myself why x should be here or integral operation there. The truth could not be avoided: my mind could no longer grasp truth.

I went, in grudging defeat, to Erics. "You have to win," I said and described my experiences.

"Some things are inevitable," he nodded solemnly, "and some are not. This may solve all your problems."

"Not all," I hoped aloud.

Marla went with me to hospital. She realized the danger I was in but put the best possible face on it. Her courage and support made all the difference and I went into the second matter chamber, ready for whatever fate awaited me.

Nothing happened. I came out of the chamber all protoplast except for the spinal zone. Yet I was still Treb Hawley. As the coma faded away, the last equation faded in, completely meaningful and soon followed by all the leads I could handle for the next few years.

Psychophysiology was in an uproar over my success. "Man can now be all protoplast," some said. Others as vehemently insisted some tiny but tangible chromosome-organ link to the past must remain. For my part it all sounded very academic; I was well again.

There was one unhappy moment when I applied for the new Centauri Expedition. "Too much of a risk," the Consulting Board told me. "Not that you aren't in perfect condition but there are unknown, untested factors and out in s.p.a.ce they might--mind you, we just say might--prove disadvantageous." They all looked embarra.s.sed and kept their eyes off me, preferring to concentrate on the medals lined up across the table that were to be my consolation prize.

I was disconsolate at first and would look longingly up at the stars which were now, perhaps forever, beyond my reach. But my sons were going out there and, for some inexplicable reason, that gave me great solace. Then, too, Earth was still young and beautiful and so was Marla. I still had the full capacity to enjoy these blessings.

Not for long. When we saw the boys off to Centauri I had a dizzy spell and only with the greatest effort hid my distress until the long train of s.h.i.+ps had risen out of sight. Then I lay down in the Visitors Lounge from where I could not be moved for several hours. Great waves of pain flashed up and down my spine as if ma.s.sive voltages were being released within me. The rest of my body stood up well to this a.s.sault but every few seconds I had the eerie sensation that I was back in my old body, a ghostly superimposition on the living protoplast, as the spinal chord projected its agony outward. Finally the pain subsided, succeeded by a blank numbness.

I was carried on gravito-cus.h.i.+ons to Erics' office. "It had to be," he sighed. "I didn't have the heart to tell you after the last operation. The subvirus is attacking the internuncial neurones."

I knew what that meant but was past caring. "We're not immortal--not yet," I said. "I'm ready for the end."

"We can still try," he said.

I struggled to laugh but even gave up that little gesture. "Another operation? No, it can't make any difference."

"It might. We don't know."

"How could it?"

"Suppose, Treb, just suppose you do come out of it all right. You'd be the first man to be completely of second matter!"

"Erics, it can't work. Forget it."

"I won't forget it. You said we're not immortal but, Treb, your survival would be another step in that direction. The soul's immortality has to be taken on faith now--if it's taken at all. You could be the first scientific proof that the developing soul has the momentum to carry past the body in which it grows. At the least you would represent a step in the direction of soul freed from matter."

I could take no more of such talk. "Go ahead," I said, "do what you want. I give my consent."

The last few days have been the most hectic of my life. Dozens of great physicians, flown in from every sector of the Solar System, have examined me. "I'm leaving my body to science," I told one particularly prodding group, "but you're not giving it a chance to die!" It is easy for me to die now; when you have truly resigned yourself to death nothing in life can disturb you. I have at long last reached that completely stoical moment. That is why I have recorded this history with as much objectivity as continuing vitality can permit.

The operating theatre was crowded for my final performance and several Tri-D video cameras stared down at me. Pupils, lights and lenses, all came to a glittering focus on me. I slowly closed my eyes to blot the hypnotic horror out.

But when I opened them everything was still there as before. Then Erics' head, growing as he inspected my face more closely, covered everything else up.

"When are you going to begin?" I demanded.

"We have finished," he answered in awe that verged upon reverence. "You are the new Adam!"

There was a mounting burst of applause as the viewers learned what I had said. My mind was working more clearly than it had in a long time and, with all the wisdom of hindsight, I wondered how anyone could have ever doubted the outcome. We had known all along that every bit of atomic matter in each cell is replaced many times in one lifetime, electron by electron, without the cell's overall form disappearing. Now, by equally gradual steps, it had happened in the vaster arena of Newtonian living matter.

I sat up slowly, looking with renewed wonder on everything from the magnetic screw in the light above my head to the nail on the wriggling toe of my left foot. I was more than Achilles' s.h.i.+p. I was a living being at whose center lay a still yet turning point that could neither be new nor old but only immortal.

THE END.

PLEASANT JOURNEY.

By Richard F. Thieme

It's nice to go on a pleasant journey. There is, however, a very difficult question concerning the other half of the ticket ...

"What do you call it?" the buyer asked Jenkins.

"I named it 'Journey Home' but you can think up a better name for it if you want. I'll guarantee that it sells, though. There's nothing like it on any midway."

"I'd like to try it out first, of course," Allenby said. "Star-Time uses only the very best, you know."

"Yes, I know," Jenkins said. He had heard the line before, from almost every carnival buyer to whom he had sold. He did not do much business with the carnivals; there weren't enough to keep him busy with large or worthwhile rides and features. The amus.e.m.e.nt parks of the big cities were usually the best markets.

Allenby warily eyed the entrance, a room fas.h.i.+oned from a side-show booth. A rough red curtain concealed the inside. Over the doorway, in crude dark blue paint, was lettered, "Journey Home." Behind the doorway was a large barnlike structure, newly painted white, where Jenkins did his planning, his building, and his finis.h.i.+ng. When he sold a new ride it was either transported from inside the building through the large, pull-away doors in back or taken apart piece by piece and s.h.i.+pped to the park or carny that bought it.

"Six thousand's a lot of money," the buyer said.

"Just try it," Jenkins told him.

The buyer shrugged. "O.K.," he said. "Let's go in." They walked through the red curtain. Inside the booth-entrance was a soft-cus.h.i.+oned easy-chair, also red, secured firmly in place. It was a piece of salvage from a two-engine commercial airplane. A helmet looking like a Flash Gordon accessory-hair drier combination was set over it. Jenkins flipped a switch and the room became bright with light. "I thought you said this wasn't a thrill ride," Allenby said, looking at the helmetlike structure ominously hanging over the chair.

"It isn't," Jenkins said, smiling. "Sit down." He strapped the buyer into place in the chair.

"Hey, wait a minute," Allenby protested. "Why the straps?"

"Leave everything to me and don't worry," Jenkins said, fitting the headgear into place over the buyer's head. The back of it fitted easily over the entire rear of the skull, down to his neck. The front came just below the eyes. After turning the light off, Jenkins pulled the curtain closed. It was completely black inside.

"Have a nice trip," Jenkins said, pulling a switch on the wall and pus.h.i.+ng a b.u.t.ton on the back of the chair at the same time.

Currents s.h.i.+fted and repatterned themselves inside the helmet and were fed into Allenby at the base of his skull, at the medulla. The currents of alternating ions mixed with the currents of his varied and random brain waves, and the impulses of one became the impulses of the other. Allenby jerked once with the initial shock and was then still, his mind and body fused with the pulsating currents of the chair.

Suddenly, Roger Allenby was almost blinded by bright, naked light. Allenby's first impression was one of disappointment at the failure of the device. Jenkins was reliable, usually, and hadn't come up with a fluke yet.

Allenby got out of the chair and called for Jenkins, holding on to the arm of the chair to keep his bearings. "Hey! Where are you? Jenkins!" He tried to look around him but the bright, intense light revealed nothing. He swore to himself, extending his arms in front of him for something to grasp. As he groped for a solid, the light became more subdued and s.h.i.+fted from white into a light, pleasant blue.

Shapes and forms rearranged themselves in front of him and gradually became distinguishable. He was in a city, or on top of a city. A panoramic view was before him and he saw the creations of human beings, obviously, but a culture far removed from his. A slight path of white began at his feet and expanded as it fell slightly, ramplike, over and into the city. The buildings were whiter than the gate of false dreams that Penelope sung of and the streets and avenues were blue, not gray. The people wore white and milled about in the streets below him. They shouted as one; their voices were not cries but songs and they sang his name.

He started walking on the white strip. It was flexible and supported his weight easily. Then he was running, finding his breath coming in sharp gasps and he was among the crowds. They smiled at him as he pa.s.sed by and held out their hands to him. Their faces shone with a brilliance of awareness and he knew that they loved him. Troubled, frightened, he kept running, blindly, and, abruptly, there were no people, no buildings.

He was walking now, at the left side of a modern super-highway, against the traffic. Autos sped by him, too quickly for him to determine the year of model. Across the divider the traffic was heavier, autos speeding crazily ahead in the direction he was walking; none stopped. He halted for a moment and looked around him. There was nothing on the sides of the road: no people, no fields, no farms, no cities, no blackness. There was nothing. But far ahead there was green etched around the horizon as the road dipped and the cars sped over it. He walked more quickly, catching his breath, and came closer and closer to the green.

Allenby stopped momentarily and turned around, looking at the highway that was behind him. It was gone. Only bleak, black and gray hills of rock and rubble were there, no cars, no life. He shuddered and continued on toward the end of the highway. The green blended in with the blue of the sky now. Closer he came, until just over the next rise in the road the green was bright. Not knowing or caring why, he was filled with expectation and he ran again and was in the meadow.

All around him were the greens of the gra.s.ses and leaves and the yellows and blues of the field flowers. It was warm, a spring day, with none of the discomfort of summer heat. Jubilant, Roger spun around in circles, inhaling the fragrance of the field, listening to the hum of insect life stirring back to awareness after a season of inactivity. Then he was running and tumbling, barefoot, his s.h.i.+rt open, feeling the soft gra.s.s give way underfoot and the soil was good and rich beneath him.

He saw a stream ahead, with clear water melodiously flowing by him. He went to it and drank, the cold, good water quenching all his thirst, clearing all the stickiness of his throat and mind. He dashed the water on his face and was happy and felt the coolness of it as the breeze picked up and swept his hair over his forehead. With a shake of his head he tossed it back in place and ran again, feeling the air rush into his lungs with coolness and vibrance unknown since adolescence. No nicotine spasms choked him and the air was refres.h.i.+ng.

Then up the hill he sped, pus.h.i.+ng hard, as the marigolds and dandelions parted before him. At the top he stopped and looked and smiled ecstatically as he saw the green rolling land and the stream, curving around from behind the house, his house, the oaks forming a secret lair behind it, and he felt the youth of the world in his lungs and under his feet. He heard the voice calling from that house, his house, calling him to Sat.u.r.day lunch.

"I'm coming!" he cried happily and was tumbling down the hill, rolling over and over, the hill and ground and sky blending blues and greens and nothing had perspective. The world was spinning and everything was black again. He shook his head to clear the dizziness.

"Well?" Jenkins said. "How was it?"

Allenby looked up at him as Jenkins swung the helmet back and unhooked the seatbelt. He squinted as Jenkins flipped the light switch and the brightness. .h.i.t him.

His surroundings became distinguishable again very slowly and he knew he was back in the room. "Where was I?" he asked.

Jenkins shrugged. "I don't know. It was all yours. You went wherever you wanted to go, wherever home is." Jenkins smiled down at him. "Did you visit more than one place?" he asked. The buyer nodded. "I thought so. It seems that a person tries a few before finally deciding where to go."

The buyer stood up and stretched. "Could I please see the barn?" he asked, meaning the huge workshop where Jenkins did the construction work.

"Sure," Jenkins said and opened the door opposite the red curtain into the workshop. It was empty.

"You mean it was all up here? I didn't move at all?" He tapped his cranium with his index finger.

"That's right," Jenkins said anxiously. "Do you want it or not?"

Allenby stood looking into the empty room. "Yes ... yes, of course," he said. "How long did the whole thing last?"

"About ten seconds," Jenkins said, looking at his watch. "It seems much longer to the traveler. I'm not sure, but I think the imagined time varies with each person. It's always around ten seconds of actual time, though, so you can make a lot of money on it, even if you only have one machine."

"Money?" Allenby said. "Money, yes, of course." He took a checkbook from his inside pocket and hurriedly wrote a check for six thousand dollars. "When can we have it delivered?" he asked.

"You want it s.h.i.+pped the usual way?"

"No," Allenby said, staring at the red-cus.h.i.+oned chair. "Send it air freight. Then bill us for the expense."

"Whatever you say," Jenkins said, smiling, taking the check. "You'll have it by the first of the week, probably. I'll put a complete parts and a.s.sembly manual inside the crate."

"Good, good. But maybe I should test it again, you know. Star-Time can't really afford to make a mistake as expensive as this."

"No," Jenkins said quickly. Then, "I'll guarantee it, of course. If it doesn't work out, I'll give you a full refund. But don't try it again, today. Don't let anyone have it more than once in one day. Stamp them on the hand or something when they take the trip."

"Why?"

Jenkins looked troubled. "I'm not sure, but people might not want to come back. Too many times in a row and they might be able to stay there ... in their minds of course."

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol X Part 140

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