Robinson, F.M. (April, 1954) The Oceans are Wide. Science Stories. Issue No. 4, April 1954. Pages 6-70. Retrieved 15 November 2016 from https://archive.org/details/Science_Stories_04_1954-04_cape1736
THE OCEANS ARE WIDE
When we talk of voyages and the planting of colonies, Junius, what interests me is not the ones that fail, for after all the oceans are wide and the Fates can frown upon you with a thousand faces. But, ah, the ones that succeed – what manner of men must lead them!
Dialogues of Lykos
They found Matty late that living period, a scant half hour before the Director died. They had searched the regions of weightlessness and inspected the empty holds on the twenty-fifth level before they finally found him in one of the abandoned gun blisters that projected out beyond the hull.
They should have looked there first. Of all the holds and compartments in the Astra, Matty liked the plastic blisters the best. The guns had long since gone to Metals Reduction so the blisters were empty and he could lie alone in the darkness and make noises with the stringed sound that Nurse Margaret had given him.
He floated through the blister, strumming the sound box in the darkness and drifting among the millions of stars that flared and burned seemingly mere inches away from him, just beyond the plastic. He liked to sneak up to the blisters and play the sound box; in the darkened, star-lit hemispheres there were none of the other children of Executives around to tease him.
He bumped into the other side of the blister, twisted so the universe whirled about him in a giddy circle, then pushed off with frail legs and drifted slowly back. Halfway across, the blister suddenly exploded with blinding light and the plastic faded to an opaque gray.
“What the blazes are you doing up here, Kendrick? Your father’s dying!”
A softer voice. “Don’t be harsh with him, Seth! He’s frail and …”
The question was harsh and threatening. One of the Executives of the Astra, his uncle Seth, a Manager in Air Control, was framed in the open air-lock between blister and hull. He was a thin – lipped, hawk -nosed man with a cruel streak that showed (Robinson, 1954, p. 7) in the set of his lips and the coldness of his eyes. With him was Matty’s nurse, a fat, fluttery looking woman.
“Come here, Kendrick,” his uncle repeated, a little softer but with the threat of punishment running just beneath the surface.
Matty spread eagled himself against the plastic, frightened and trembling, unable to move. The sound box floated a few feet away.
“He’s a coward!” a shrill voice suddenly interrupted. coward!” The leering face of Matty’s cousin, Jeremiah Paulson, peered around his uncle’s legs. Matty felt his fear almost vanish in face of hatred for his cousin – a cousin who was bigger and stronger and far more favored among his relatives.
“I know,” Seth sneered, the words cutting like a lash. “An effeminate one at that.” He launched himself into the blister, the purple loin cloth of Management flapping about his spare frame. He braked just before he reached the plastic, then clutched Matty’s arm in a bone-wrenching grip.
“l said your father was dying, boy. You, of all people, should be there. Or have you forgotten that you’re of Kendrick blood?”
I didn’t know he was dying,” Matty mumbled tearfully. “Nobody told me!”
His nurse, looking heavy and awkward in her flowing robes, floated up and grasped the sound box. “We kept it from him. He’s so young and …”
“You’re the one we have to thank for what he is!” Seth snarled. He glared at her contemptuously. “You didn’t do him any favor by shielding him from death. Now, maybe it will come all too soon for him—and perhaps for you, as well.”
Jeremiah, half hidden behind the lock, made a face. Matty started to tremble uncontrollably and his uncle pushed him harshly towards the lock.
“It will be worth your life if you start crying, Kendrick. When you go below, remember one thing: you’re the Director’s son. And if you don’t act like it, nothing in the Astra or outside will be able to help you!”
The small infirmary was crowded with Executives and their children, clustered about the cushioned dais on which the Director lay. They had been talking in low whispers. When Matty and his uncle came in, the conversations died and the Executives reluctantly made a narrow opening for them.
Matty stayed close to Seth, feeling the hostility of the crowd, and followed him silently up to the dais. The man who lay on the cushions was yellowed and shrunken, a thin froth on his lips and his weak chest pumping slowly in and out and sounding like a leak in an air tube. Matty felt no emotion for the man who lay there; his father was a stranger to him. The first he had known his father was dying was when Seth had told him in the gun blister. And all the way down from the upper levels he had thought about it and wondered what it was like to die …
The yellowed lids suddenly flickered open and a gasp, half of awe and half of consternation, swept the compartment. The sunken eyes fixed on Matty and a withered hand pointed feebly at him.
“The Directorship goes to a weakling,” his father whispered bitterly. “You’re your mother’s son—too good, too weak.” He paused and his breath rattled in his throat. “You won’t last long, Matty …” The hand relaxed, the eyes closed, and the thin chest went back to pumping the last few gasps of life.
Matty flushed with shame at his father’s words and he knelt woodenly in front of the dais. He could feel the impatience in the crowd and guessed correctly that if he hadn’t been there, somebody would have strangled the dying man to save the waiting.
He looked at those in the compartment from under lowered lids. There was an aunt, Reba Saylor of Hydroponics, a thin, hungry-looking woman dressed in the flowing woman’s smock that hid the sharp angles of her body but couldn’t hide the sharpness in her face. She was staring at him with a peculiar look. And there was Junius Shroeder, a Department Head in Engineers, A fat, guileless man with a thoughtful expression. Between them stood Jeremiah, his cousin and their favorite. He was heavier, thicker in the shoulders, and far more self-assured. Matty hated him and knew that Jeremiah returned it. And Jeremiah, being bigger and stronger, did more about it.
And there were Others in the room – Alvah Hendron of Security—a plump, haughty man. And there was Nahum Kessler, Asaph Whitney, and all the Kendricks. All of them wore looks that were almost evenly split between hate and pity.
There was a sudden moan and convulsive shudder from the body that lay on the cushions and then it was still, the chest no longer heaving. A priest came forward from the rear of the compartment and started chanting in Latin. When he was through, other attendants cloaked the body with a sheet and carried it quickly away.
“The Director is dead,” Reba Saylor said in a flat voice She bowed mockingly to Matty. “Hail the Director-to-be!”
The Others grudgingly bowed low and then Reba pointed a gaunt arm at Seth. “The boy, Seth! Remember?”
Seth took Matty by the shoulder. “Come with me, Kendrick. We have to discuss something private here.” Matty felt puzzled by the change in tone of his uncle’s voice but willingly followed him into a small anteroom filled with medical equipment. “You’ll wait here, boy, until we call for you.”
Matty roamed idly about inspecting the glassed-in racks of gleaming surgical tools that walled the room, reading the labels on the vials of medicine in the closed cabinets. The minutes lengthened and Seth did not return. Matty tried the hatch to the infirmary. It was tightly secured, as was the one that led to the passageway. He began to feel the first prickle of fear.
What did they have to discuss in the infirmary that was so important he could not remain to listen, although his cousin Jere Paulson could? Unless it was that they were discussing him?
He pressed his ear to the infirmary hatch. He could make out the sounds of argument and over all, Reba’s strident voice.
“Do you want a ten-year-old milk-sop as Director? If we’re going to prevent that then we’ll have to do something about it now!”
There was a silken voice that he couldn’t place.
“If the brat should die or come to grief in other ways, then a new would to be selected from among our number, wouldn’t he?”
“You’re a pack of fools! Do you think nobody would guess?”
For a moment Matty thought his uncle was trying to shield him. The next sentence quickly dashed his hopes.
“We’ll have to think of something more subtle than that.”
Reba’s demanding voice suddenly cut in.
“How many, besides those of us in this compartment, know the boy on sight?”
There was a low murmur, then Nahum’s husky tones.
“With the exception of his nurse, possibly no one. What’s your plan?”
“If the nurse were removed, then there would be no one who knew the boy. And it doesn’t have to be Mathew Kendrick who is presented to the colonists as the Director’s son!”
Matty could feel fear clutch at his heart and the sound of its pounding filled his ears. That was why his cousin Jeremiah had stayed behind; to take his place after he had been – murdered.
“What about the Predict?”
The voices from the infirmary were suddenly silent.
“The Predict doesn’t interfere with the internal affairs of the ship. And who’s seen him in the last generation?”
The mumble of conversation started up again.
“What do we do with Kendrik?”
Reba was indifferent.
“Poison or strangling. It doesn’t matter which.”
Seth’s smooth voice.
“Who’s going to strangle the boy, Reba? You?”
“Squeamish, aren’t you, Seth? But it shouldn’t be difficult and there’s no reason to procrastinate. Get the boy!”
Matty crouched by the hatch, half paralyzed with fear. There was no place to hide, no one who could help him. And he could hear footsteps approaching the hatch from the other side.
He glanced frantically about the compartment, then ran over to one of the cabinets that lined the bulkheads and tore down a heavy surgery mallet. Back to the hatch, where he quickly smashed the glass eye that opened it when the locks were removed. He had a few minutes now; even with the locks off, the hatch was jammed shut.
The hatch that opened out into the passageway took longer. He placed his palms against it and tried to push it back without success. There were no projections to get a grip on and even if there had been, he was small and too weak to work it. There were angry noises inside the infirmary now – it wouldn’t be more than a few moments more before the Executives thought of entry from the passageway.
He tried the hatch again, then seized a heavy bone chisel, shoved it in the small crack between bulkhead and hatch and leaned his weight against it. The locks suddenly snapped and he was racing down the corridor.
There were no sounds of pursuit. He breathed a little easier, rounded a corner, and was suddenly snatched up by a thick, heavy arm that drew him quickly into a small compartment. He shivered and closed his eyes, waiting for the fingers to fasten tightly around his throat.
“Matty, look at me.”
His nurse was standing there, holding a small bundle of freshly washed waist cloths and his sound box. Her face was tense and troubled.
“There is no one who will turn a hand to help you, Matty. They are all against you. And you cannot hide from them forever.”
He suddenly burst into tears, partly from relief that it was Nurse Margaret who had snatched him from the corridor and partly from the realization that he had only postponed the inevitable.
The nurse wiped his face and lifted his chin. “You are neither a coward nor a weakling, Matty. But be thankful they misjudged you on that score.” Her manner became brisk. “And it isn’t hopeless. You’ll have to take refuge with the Predict, that’s all.”
He shivered again. The Predict, (p. 12) the Stranger who lived up in the forward part of the Astra. The immortal man whom nobody had seen—the stories went—for the last twenty-five years. And there were some who said that he didn’t exist at all, that he was only a legend.
“Would he give me refuge, Margaret?”
She quickly masked the doubt in her eyes. “Of course he would, Matty.”
“He doesn’t know me,” Matty went on. “He doesn’t know what happened.” He was dangerously close to crying again.
“The Predict knows all about you,” Margaret said with firm conviction. “The Predict knows everything!”
Matty didn’t argue but accepted it as true because she said so. “How will I go there? My uncle and the others will kill me on sight!”
“They won’t recognize you, child.” She stripped off his cloth of purple and knotted one of common white about his waist. Then she took a kit from under her voluminous robes and quickly changed his blonde hair to black and subtly broadened the shape of his naturally narrow face. Last, she moulded loose coils of soft, flesh-colored plastic to his chest and arms, adding pounds in appearance to his slight build.
When she was finished, she opened the hatch and peered cautiously out. There was no one in sight. She turned back to the boy.
He wanted to cry and bury his face in her skirts but he knew the last time he would ever do that had passed a few moments before. He pressed his fingers lightly to her lips, then took the bundle of clothes and his sound box and started down the passageway.
The passageway fed into another which led down to the huge central cavern that ran the full length of the Astra. He stepped on the slow-moving walk and hunkered down on its soft surface. It took him through the Shops area where red-faced workmen labored at forges and lathes to turn out parts for machines that had broken down and to manufacture the farming tools that had recently been decreed necessary. The commercial district was next with the stores fronting right on the Walk and the phosphorescent adsigns staring down from every bulkhead. Then the commercial district gave way to the Engineering compartments, expansive living quarters where there were only two families to a cabin.
He stopped for lunch at one of the Walkway Restaurants in the huge Hydroponics section. The menu was standard – Yeasty-meat and tomatoes, with flavored water as a beverage. A bronzed worker in the green colored waist-cloth of Hydroponics watched (p.13) him curiously.
“It’s too bad you’re not skinnier, half-grown.”
Matty managed to control his face so no flicker of fear showed.
“There’s a big reward in Cash offered for a half-grown your age. Security just passed the description over the speakers a little while ago. Supposed to be an illegitimate.”
Matty caught his breath. The Astra had been designed to support a static number of colonists. Birth slips were handed out to couples when somebody died or reached the official euthanasia age of sixty. But the discovery of an illegitimate meant that some family wouldn’t get a birth slip – if the person were allowed to live. So conviction as an unaccepted illegitimate automatically meant the public strangler.
“I have parents,” Matty said, desperately trying to hide the tremble in his voice. He held up the ident chain that Margaret had slipped around his neck. “See?”
“Sure—but you don’t have to act so scared about it.”
The eyes that had been only curious before were suspicious now. Matty hurried with his meal, then slid off the stool and took the Walk again.
The hydroponics tubs stretched through compartment after compartment and by the time he had ridden through the last of them, he felt tired and a little sweaty from the ultraviolet lamps set high in the overhead. He worried that his sweating might have loosened the plastic moulded to him.
Several times he passed Executives on the return Walk who had been present when his father died. None of them recognized him though some glanced sharply at the sound box. He thought for a moment of discarding it, then decided against it. Outside of his nurse, it had been the only friend he had ever had; he was willing to take some risk for it.
Toward the forward part of the Astra, the number of people on the Walk decreased sharply and then the Walk itself ended. Matty felt nervous. This part of the ship was almost deserted except for the wandering Security patrols. If anybody should stop him, he knew he’d have a difficult time explaining why he was there.
The compartments and passageways had disappeared entirely now and he was in a world of catwalks suspended over the Engineering chasms that fell off hundreds of feet below. He crept along one of the walks, then suddenly stopped and hid behind a large metal warning plate. Up ahead, patrolling the catwalk that bridged the chasms to the Predict’s compartment, were two of the younger members of Management.
Reba and the others had guessed where he would go, Matty (p. 14) thought sickly. His journey and disguise had been in vain; they had sent representatives there ahead of him. His courage started to ebb and then he recalled Reba’s threatening face and strong, powerful hands. He felt along the oil-slicked catwalk, then ran his hands over the warning plate. A bolt was loose in it, a bolt he could easily turn with his fingers. He worked it loose, then threw it in the chasm below.
The noise of the falling bolt drew the two men over to the rail.
“You hear something?”
“Sure—same thing you did. Somebody’s down there.”
The chasm was poorly lit and the shadows were deceptive.
“I thought I saw something move – next level down!”
“Well, let’s go! You know the Cash they’re offering!”
They climbed down a metal ladder to the next lower level and Matty dashed silently across the catwalk. A moment later he was standing outside the section of the Astra that was carefully sealed off from the colonist’s quarters. The single hatch bore the brass nameplate: “Joseph Smith, Predict.”
Matty hesitated, his heart thumping painfully in his chest. It might not open. Despite what Margaret had said, there was a chance that he wouldn’t be granted refuge. Then he took his courage in his hands and quickly covered the cell with his palm. The hatch slid back and he suddenly felt dizzy with relief.
He was safe.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodnes and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
The 23rd Psalm. Revised Standard Version
There was nobody beyond the hatch. Matty started to enter, then hesitated when his feet touched something warm and soft instead of the usual cold hardness of metal. He went on in.
The Predict, he soon realized, didn’t live as did others on board the Astra. All the decks were covered with this soft, warm material and instead of a single cabin, be had several of them—all to himself.
Matty glanced through the living compartments, then inside one that he took to be an office. It was luxury beyond anything he had ever dreamed of. The soft material covered the deck from bulkhead to bulkhead and the desk and chairs were of practically legendary wood. A calendar hung on one of the bulk- heads and he stared at it for a moment. The curling cardboard was five hundred years out of date.
In the bulkhead just behind the desk there was a large, square porthole and … He gasped. The porthole was open and he was looking down a wide street flanked with what he knew were houses and trees and green lawns. Bright blue sky and an occasional wisp of cloud peeped through the gaps in the trees. There were two strips of white cloth were hanging in front of the porthole and these moved slowly in a warm wind that rustled the leaves and brushed across the grass. A few people walked slowly down the street; some of them looked up and waved politely at the port. Matty stared, fascinated. It took him a minute to notice that it was the same people who kept walking down the street and the identical few who each time waved to him.
The port suddenly faded to blankness.
“That’s a moving solidograph, Matty,” a voice behind him said. “It was taken back on Earth.”
Matty whirled. The man who stood behind him was tall, as tall as Seth, dressed in the type of rough, brown garment called a suit that Matty had seen pictured in history books. He was, perhaps, thirty. His face was smooth and unwrinkled with high cheekbones and thin, colorless lips. Black hair was combed neatly back and shone with an oily luster. He was smiling – smiling with everything but his cold gray eyes. To Matty, the eyes looked impossibly old.
“I’ve been expecting you, Matty. Sit down.” He had been smoking a pipe – something prohibited to everybody on board the Astra, even the Management – and gestured with the Stem towards a chair.
Matty sat down – gingerly – on the very edge.
“Earth is our birth planet,” the tall man continued. “The planet we left five hundred years ago.” He passed a hand over a row of lights on the desk and a large plastic cube on a stand in the corner glowed and darkened and finally showed a small, green planet, obscured with trailing layers of cloud, against a starry background.
Matty finally found his voice. “I’ve heard songs about Earth,” he said timidly.
“Do you know why we left it?”
The boy slowly shook his head, almost hypnotized by his surroundings and the quiet man behind the desk. (Page 16)
“We couldn’t stay, Matty – our race was dying. We had fought wars and poisoned the atmosphere; those of us who were chosen had to leave.”
The picture in the cube changed to the velvet blackness of space, with a handful of small, red streaks showing among the stars. Of all the streaks, only one still glowed with a pulsing, red light; the others looked dead and dull.
“Fourteen ships left Earth,” the tall man mused. “The Astra is the only one left. The Star-Rover, Man’s Hope, the Aldebaran – all gone now. Tube trouble or pile blow-ups or else hulled by meteors. Any number of reasons.” His voice lowered and Matty caught a tinge of sadness to it. “Kenworthy, Tucker, Reynolds – they’re all gone, too.”
He was silent for a moment, staring at the cube, then looked up at Matty. “Out of four billion human beings five centuries ago, there’s only the few thousand of us on board who remain. And all our lives depend on the man at the top – the Director. He has to be a strong man, Matty.”
“That’s why they wanted to kill me, isn’t it?” Matty asked. “I wouldn’t have made a strong Director. And Jere Paulson would.”
The Predict shook his head. “You’re wrong. You see, power is a funny thing. Those who have it usually want more of it. Seth and Reba and the Others for example. They wanted to kill you and make Jeremiah the Director-to-be, not because he would be a strong man but because he would be a weak one. He would owe his Directorship to those who had helped him get it, and a man who owes his position to others is both a weak man and a fool. That’s why the Directorship was designed to be hereditary; so that the person who held it would owe nothing to his friends but hold it solely by virtue of his birth.”
He noticed Matty’s sound box, seemingly for the first time, and suddenly changed the subject. “Do you play music?”
Joseph Smith relaxed in his chair.
“Play me something.”
Matty strummed the wires of the box in an embarrassed fashion. Finally he decided on a tune and commenced singing in a soft, boyish voice.
Among the years of night black sky
That fill the Universe,
Among the miles of velvet dusk
That hopes and ships traverse,
There spins a world forever lost,
The world that saw Man’s birth,
A world no man shall see again –
The small green globe of Earth.
The music died and Matty’s voice drifted off to silence. The Predict applauded admiringly, bringing a faint flush of pleasure to the boy’s cheeks.
“That was very nice playing, Matty. A little unusual – we had a different tonal system back on Earth; one where the interval was longer.”
“I made this one up,” Matty said shyly.
“Do you know anything else? Something not so sad?”
Matty nodded and let his fingers dance across the wires.
Listen to the throbbing of the Ship!
Harken to the meaning of the Trip!
Drink in all the wonders of the Stars,
Listen to the legends of Old Mars,
Dream of Earth and sky we called our Home,
But learn to live in worlds of steel and chrome!
Joseph Smith leaned back in his chair and looked at the boy for a long moment, actually seeing him for the first time. He was a slightly built lad—the size of his wrist and ankles had given away the plastic at first glance – with a thin face graced with a strong chin and Roman nose. His eye brows were blonde, almost white, his hair – under the black dye – probably only slightly darker. It was a face that would not find it easy to be deceitful or cruel. It was more the face of an honest poet than a politician.
“Wouldn’t you like to be a minstrel, Matty – a singer of songs and poems? They’re quite important in our world, you know. They’ll be even more important when we land. And you can do a lot of things for people. You can make them happy or you can make them cry, if you wish.”
Matty considered it for a moment, then thought of what his father had said just before he died, the Executives who had tried to kill him, and Jeremiah Paulson leering at him in contempt and derision.
“l want to be Director,” he said steadily.
The predict frowned. “Are you sure you’ve thought it over? Remember that everything you do will have to be done with an eye to the good of the ship. And you’ll have problems. We’ll be landing in less than twenty years. You’ll have the problems of colonization to deal with. And you’ll find out that the privileges and honors of being a Director are pretty hollow; the worries and troubles are almost infinitely great.”
“I wouldn’t change my mind,” Matty said firmly. “Ever.”
Joseph Smith looked at him thoughtfully. “You might make a good one at that, Matty. You’re quick-witted – you survived long enough to make it up here, which is proof enough of that. You’ll owe your position to no-one and you’re young enough to be taught.” He paused. “I’ve been around a long time, over five hundred years. I know people rather well. I advise them and make predictions as to the results of their actions. I’ll advise you – and everything (p. 18) I’ll tell you will be true but you may have to take it on faith to begin with. Think you could?”
Matty nodded. The thoughtful look on Joseph Smith’s face faded and it chilled into an expression that looked like it had cast in steel.
“To begin with, there are a few things you must learn. The first is that the ship and the colonists on it have one purpose and one purpose only. We are to colonize a planet and establish a civilization there. Everything we do must be directed towards one end. Do you understand that?”
The intensity in his voice made Matty nervous. “Yes sir, I understand.”
The Predict’s voice softened slightly and he reached for his pipe. “Even though you’re missing, as long as your body isn’t found as proof of death, the Directorship will be held open to your eighteenth birthday. But in the meantime we can’t allow the Astra to go without an Acting Director. I’ll have to appoint one now.” He leaned back in his chair and puffed contentedly. “Any suggestions?”
Matty understood that the selection of an Acting Director would be limited to the Executives. But there were none that he could think of who hadn’t been in on the attempts to kill him, none whom he felt he could trust.
“You don’t limit your decisions to those you personally like,” the Predict said slowly, guessing his thoughts. “If you want to be a good Director , Matty, you appoint people solely on the basis of ability and loyalty to you. Now who do you think who would be a capable man for Acting Director, everything else aside?”
Matty found it difficult to say but at last he forced the name out. “Seth,” he said reluctantly. “The Manager of Air Control.”
“A very good choice. One that I had thought of myself.”
“But he wouldn’t be loyal,” Matty objected strenuously. He had sudden visions of Seth in a position of importance, a position where Seth might yet succeed in killing him.
The Predict looked amused.
“For one thing, he won’t even know who you are. So until you’re eighteen, his loyalty actualIy doesn’t matter. But there is another consideration. The next few years will be very difficult ones for a Director. We have to set up organization lines for when we land. Once landed, the living situation Will be entirely different than it is now. There will be no more Air Control, obviously, and the importance of Engineers and the sanitary corps will decrease sharply. We have to prepare people for that now, or else we would have an impossible task when we land.
“There will, of course, be resentment at the changes.” He smiled slightly. “The resentment will be directed towards Seth, as Acting Director, not against you. Once you assume offce, if you want to you could send Seth to the public strangler and there wouldn’t be a single dissenting voice. And that’s a point you must never forget, Matty. If there are unpleasant duties to perform, never do them yourself. Assign them to subordinates – preferably those who are already disliked.”
He rifled through some cards on his desk.
“We’ll have a doctor up here to alter your eye-prints and features in a moment. For the next few years you’ll have to keep out of the way of Management. Once they locate you, your life will be worth nothing.” He found the card he wanted and jerked it out of the box.
“You’ll be registered as an acceptable illegitimate.” They were the ones who were spared because of exceptional traits and abilities. “You’ll live with the Reynolds Family – Hydroponics. They’re a good family, they can give you a lot.”
He paused and picked up Matty’s sound box and ran a thumb harshly across the Wires. “As a Director-to-be, Matty, you can do nothing that appears frivolous or effeminate. You have to appear, let us say, as a man among men.”
He held up the sound box.
“A sound box is fine for a minstrel. It is fine for a talented young man who is known for his prowess in other fields. But what do people think of you playing the sound box, Matty?”
Matty licked dry lips. He knew what was coming.
“They think it’s kind of …kind of childish.”
“Then it has to go, doesn’t it?”
Matty nodded miserably and the Predict brought the sound box sharply against the side of the desk. The wires twanged and the plastic box itself shattered into a thousand pieces.
“And youth is cruel, and has no remorse
and smiles at situations which it cannot see.”
Portrait of a Lady, T. S. Eliot
It was a warm, Spring day. The woods were alive with the rustle of trees and the quiet noises of small living things. A caterpillar inched slowly down the tree behind which Mathew Reynolds was hiding while high up in the branches a small, red squirrel scampered eagerly about the business of collecting nuts and scraps of bark.
Matty pressed himself into the shadows and took only shallow breaths, doing his best to become a part of the landscape. His eyes were riveted on the small valley that spread out just beyond the trees. There were clumps of weeds and small hillocks throughout the valley and it was these that he watched in particular. There was life there; life which in a minute would show itself.
He could feel the sweat gather on his shoulders and underneath his arms but he didn’t move. If he did, he knew he would lose the game and it would probably go to Sylvanus by default. His eyes moved slightly in his head and he caught a glimpse of his foster-brother out of the corner of them. Sylvanus was hiding in another section of the L shaped forest, in the leg that stretched away to his left. Silly was as quiet and unmoving as he himself was, Matty thought, but it would take more than a forest to hide his flame-red hair.
His eyes swiveled back to the valley. There had been a slight movement there. He silently fitted an arrow to his bow and drew back on the thin length of synthetic gut. There was another whisper of motion and he let the shaft fly . Two other arrows thudded into the far clump of weeds and a small, gray shape leaped high in the air, a trickle of red showing where a feathered shaft had buried itself near the hind-quarters.
Matty dashed out of the woods. “It’s mine, I saw it hit!”
Sylvanus, thin and gawky-awkward, joined him. He was unhappy. “It has to be yours, Matt – mine didn’t even come close.”
Matty picked up the small animal and started to tug on the arrow.
“It isn’t yours at all,” a small, cool voice said, “It’s mine.”
Matty turned in indignation, ready to reply with hot words of possession, then stopped short. She was no older than his own fifteen years, thin with just the faint swellings of maturity to come. But the features of her face were finely chiseled and there was something about her that made him suddenly aware of his own sixty-four muscular kilos and taller than average height. He inflated his chest slightly without even knowing that he was doing it.
“l watch my arrows carefully,” he said, with just a trace of haughtiness. “I don’t claim animals that I’m not certain I’ve hit.”
“I never miss,” she said, equalIy as proud. “l never have before and I haven’t now.”
That such a small girl should have such a large conceit was just too much. Matty disdainfully held out the animal. “So I’m wrong,” he said, making his voice as condescending as possible. “Here, take it.”
“You don’t need to be nice to me,” she said, reddening. “I hit it and can prove it!” She turned towards the forest behind them.
The sun faded to just an average fluorescent glow, the breeze died down, the small living things in the woods suddenly became silent, and the electronic caterpillar and squirrel stopped in mid-movement. Further off, the backdrops of the end of the valley and the depths of the forest faded and were replaced by the squarish outlines of a large hold.
An old man in the red waistcloth of a huntsman stepped out of the control booth and hobbled over. “What’s the matter?”
The girl handed him the mechanical rabbit with the punctured dye-sac. “Who killed it, Peter?”
The huntsman laughed, a high-pitched old man’s cackle. “Can’t rightly say anybody killed it since it was never alive. But just a minute and I’ll tell you who hit it.” He twisted the arrow expertly, pulled it out, and read the number on the metal tip. “Number three. Lemme see, can’t remember …” He took some custody tags out of a pocket pouch. “That must be yours, Karen – see the writing …”
She turned to Matty triumphantly. “You see! It was mine after all!”
He flushed and stared at the ground, digging his toes in the artificial turf. “I must have been off. Anybody coulda hit it. ”
Her hand touched his and he looked up at her. She was smiling. “I was just lucky this time—I’m really not that good.”
After she had gone, the old huntsman puttered about the compartment, hiding another mechanical rabbit behind one of the hillocks and resetting the solidograph projectors for the benefit of the next class. Matty and Sylvanus started for the hatch.
“All three of you did right well,” the huntsman called after them. “You’ll make good colonists, mark my words!”
Matty didn’t even hear him.
He toyed with his food that night, not feeling especially hungry.
“That’s good protein, Matty,” Alice Reynolds said, frowning. “If you don’t eat it tonight, you won’t be able to make it up tomorrow you know.”
“I’m not hungry,” Matty mumbled.
His foster-mother looked over at her husband. “What ails the boy, Jeff?”
Jefferey Reynolds, a big, bluff man increasingly worried by the fear that they wouldn’t make planet landing before his sixtieth—and legally last—birthday, looked up from his wax-slate newspaper, annoyed. “How the blazes should I know?” Why women could be so worried over trifles when there were far more important things to worry about was something he could never understand.
“He’s in love,” Sylvanus said callously.
Matty glared at him. His parents looked interested. “What’s her name?”
“None of anybody’s business!” Matty said, angered.
Sylvanus maliciously furnished the information. “Karen West.”
“I never heard of her,” Alice Reynolds mused, slightly disappointed. She had had fond hopes of her two boys marrying into Management, though Matty being an illegitimate—even an accepted one—made that almost impossible.
Matty felt a trust betrayed. “You better watch out, Silly, or you’ll end up even uglier than you already are!”
His foster-parents gave each other a raised eyebrow look and dropped the subject.
Matty went to bed early that night period—night and day, of course, had no meaning on the Astra except in a psychological sense—curling up on his flat pad of sponge rubber in a corner of the small compartment and falling asleep almost instantly.
He jerked awake. Sylvanus was bending over him in the darkness, motioning to the passageway. Matty glanced around. The Reynolds were snoring quietly behind their curtained off section of the compartment. He followed Sylvanus out to the corridor. The attendant from the local gymnasium—a small, gnarled man with a face that had always been too professionalIy poker-faced for Matty’s taste – was waiting for them.
Low, confiding voice: “There’s a tournament of slit up at no-weight, Matt. Good players from all over the ship.”
Sylvanus dug him in the ribs, eagerly. “We could go and watch if nothing else, Matt.”
He hesitated. He had never played opposite strangers from other parts of the ship and he had no idea if methods of play differed from his own region.
“You’re favored from this section, Matt,” the attendant urged. “Hydroponics has a thousand Cash bet on you.”
The Cash wasn’t an unusually large sum – Hydro had undoubtedly hedged their bets – but the local bet swelled his pride and he felt that he would be doing his section a disservice if he didn’t play.
He ducked back into the compartment and came out with the green cloth of Hydroponics tied around his waist. “Let’s go.”
Sylvanus slapped him on the back and the attendant grinned.
“I’ve got five of my own bet on you, Matt. Good-luck!”
Matty and Sylvanus drifted through the upper levels along with the other figures floating in the shadowy gloom. On the twenty-fifth, a gang of toughs quickly searched them down — a ridiculously short task—and asked for the password. Matty gave it, realizing the precautions were necessary since slit games were banned by Security and there was always the danger of official spies.
They finally came out in a large, brilliantly lit hold aft of the gun blisters and towards the tube section of the Astra. Both sides of the long hold were crowded with spectators while the stretch in the middle was left open for the contestants.
Sylvanus looked around uneasily. “There’s a lot of people here, Matt. Too many. This looks like a sponsored event.”
“What do you mean?”
“Somebody’s been advertising it. There’s a lot of people here who never came to slit games before.”
Matty shugged it off and they drifted towards one end of the compartment where the contestants were waiting for their match to come up. He paid for a handle from the Keeper—a young Shops man with a withered arm—and inspected it carefully. It was short, made out of plastic, in one end of which was inserted a piece of razor blade half a centimeter long.
He stripped off his waist cloth and Sylvanus started rubbing him down with the thick, antiseptic grease.
“The players look pretty good, Matt.”
He grunted and turned his attention to the present battle. The two contestants were about his own age and evenly matched as to skill. Each bore two long, red gashes on their bodies that dripped red, the drops slowly floating to the deck He felt mildly interested. The match was close, one more slash would determine the winner.
The contestants backed up to the opposite bulkheads, then lunged and floated swiftly towards each other. They met in the middle, grappled briefly for a moment, their hands slipping on the grease that covered their bodies, then their initial momentum tore them apart. There was a sigh of disappointment from the closely packed spectators. No Score. They crouched at the opposing bulkheads again, faces shining with grease and sweat, and dove towards each other once more. They met in the middle with a quick, convulsive movement and when they separated one of them bore the bloody slash across chest and arm that marked him as the loser.
There was a “Hah!” of appreciation from the crowd.
Both winner and loser were immediately swabbed with collodion and quick-heal ointments by infirmary assistants who hired out for a moderate fee to the slit players. Then the lights dimmed while enterprising hucksters with hand-projectors flashed colorful adsigns on the overhead. The crowd laughed and gossiped good-naturedly while waiting for the next match, exchanging the small, aluminum Cash disks to settle their debts.
“… that short one, the one from Shops, ten Cash he gets in three straight …”
“… and I’m fifty seven now and you know as well as I we won’t make planet-landing before I’m sixty …”
“… got to leave you know there’s none this far up and even if there was it wouldn’t do any good …”
“… that half-grown there, Reba, the one who came in wearing the Hydroponic green …”
“… if Security ever raids this hold they’ll get some mighty big fish believe …”
“… don’t think so, he’s too heavy for Kendrick, but Jere knows what to do …”
“… wonder if they know what fools they really are but when I was their age …”
Matty was perspiring when it came his turn. There was little ventilation and the sweating of the crowd and participants had fouled the air. He got the nod from the games master and buckled on the plastic shields that protected his loins and face.
Sylvanus squeezed his arm, “Good luck, Matt.”
His first opponent was a swarthy youngster from Engineers; a husky half-grown knotted with muscles and marked with slit scars that stamped him as a veteran of the game. Matty clutched his knife in one hand, gathered his legs under him, and pushed off on signal. They met in the middle, Matty twisted and whirled in the bright light, then felt the sharp sting of the razor and drifted away with a streak of red on his thigh.
The next time his opponent clumsily left an opening and Matty inflicted a slashing wound of his own. Then it was even up and Matty surprisingly won the match with a light arm wound.
The games wore on, the losers retired to the spectator side, and the odds juggled back and forth as the compartment filled with the clink of passing coin. Much to Matty’s surprise, he went as far as the finals and ended up matched against a husky youth wearing a tight black mask. Masks were not unusual – slit games were prohibited by Security and some contestants from well known families didn’t want to be recogninized—but there was something about the youth that struck Matty as being familiar.
“He’s dangerous,” Sylvanus warned. “I’ve seen him play before — but you can take him, Matt!” Matty looked at him affectionately. Sylvanus, thin and somewhat undersized, had a bad case of hero-worship – or maybe it was just that he saw himself in there during the bouts.
The signal was given and the bout was on. Matty lunged out into the light, grappled briefly, and then hesitated with shock as his opponent said distinctly in a voice he would have known anywhere: “Coward!” The hesitation cost him the point and he drifted away with a thin slash on his wrist.
He wheeled at the bulkhead and came in again, trembling with a sudden weakness that he was ashamed of. He knew his opponent was Jeremiah and it was hard to shake off the feeling of inferiority that he had carried with him for so long. He lost the second point as well. The spectators from Hydroponics set up a low wail.
“Hah! Matty! Matty!”
Jeremiah left himself open and Matty took the next point, fighting in determined silence. On the following lunge, Jeremiah slipped and that point went to Matty, too. The match was even up. On his third try, Matty caught a glimpse of a familiar face in the crowd and once again almost lost the match. Reba Saylor, her bony figure cloaked in a disguise of common white! There was a howl from the crowd and his mind slipped back to the fight. He grabbed for Jeremiah, missed, and then the compartment was plunged into darkness.
“Scatter! Security! Security!”
The darkened compartment was suddenly jammed with scurrying figures. Somebody grabbed Matty’s wrist and Sylvanus’ voice yelled “This way” in his ear. They squeezed through the after hatch and then Matty was diving down the long passageways, silentIy dodging Security’s light beams. Then he felt the short hairs rise on the back of his neck. It wasn’t Security who was after him. The lights were sticking with him too long, they were too persistent. Usually, Security’s aim was to break up the game, not to capture and hold for trial all those who had attended.
He banked at the next bulkhead, gathered his legs under him, and dove down a Vertical through shaft, starting the long fall towards the center of the ship. He caught at the hand-holds of a ledge a dozen decks down and swung himself onto another level, quietly avoiding making noise. Nobody was following him.
It was then that he became aware Sylvanus wasn’t with him. The idea that something must have happened to Silly didn’t occur to him; he concluded that Sylvanus had taken another through shaft and had probably beat him to the home compartment. He started walking down the passageway.
The red light was winking on the speak-box just above his sponge rubber pallet. Matty noticed with a slight stirring of fear that Sylvanus wasn’t back yet, then turned the box on low so it wouldn’t waken the Reynolds.
The speaker rasped with the voice of the Predict. “Come into the office, Matty. I want to talk to you.”
He hesitated, then let his face slip into a defiant expression and took the Walk down to the Predict’s compartment.
The Predict stood behind the desk, dressed in his odd lounging robe and what he called pajamas, tapping the tobacco in his pipe. Matty expected a minor dressing-down, then praise for his prowess in the slit games, as was customary for other contestants to receive when their parents apprehended them.
Joseph Smith’s face was grim and distant. He looked at Matty with disgust, then reached behind the desk and threw him a rag. “Wipe the grease off.” He followed it up with a small plastic bottle of alcohol. “That’s the last time you’ll be wearing grease for a slit game so do a good job.” Matty rubbed in the alcohol with a growing feeling of anxiety; he winced when it burned in his cuts.
“How old are slit players?” the Predict suddenly asked.
“My own age,” Matty mumbled, not caring to meet the tall man’s cold eyes.
“Do you know why they’re your own age and no older?”
“Because only the very young and very foolish play slit. It draws spectators because it’s a good betting game, and people have always liked to gamble. And it amuses people to watch others slice themselves to ribbons. But perhaps you’re too young to know the difference between entertainment and amusement.”
Matty flushed. The biting sarcasm was worse than any punishment that could have been levied.
Joseph Smith fell silent for a moment, watching Matty work with the rag and the alcohol. Some of the cuts had started to bleed again but beyond a slight wince, (p. 28) the boy gave no sign that he felt them.
“I’ve tried to stamp the game out, Matty. Regardless of the actions of the infirmary assistants, it’s still a dangerous pastime.” He paused. “I don’t suppose I’ll ever succeed. Children” – Matty reddened at the word – ” your age have always done foolish and dangerous things for as long as I can remember. But it isn’t going to help when you become Director and the younger colonists recall you as a famous slit player.”
He abruptly changed the subject.
“How are your studies coming?”
“Not very good,” Matty answered sullenly.
Joseph Smith’s voice grew harder. “I know. You’re poor in math, you’re poor in science, you’re poor in danger drills. You’re good in sports, good in hunting. Maybe it’s my fault because I’ve emphasized the physical too much —but you had such a long way to go to catch up.”
Matty stared at the deck and said nothing.
“Perhaps you think that all that’s necessary to be Director is to know to play slit and glove-ball?”
“No sir, I don’t think that.”
“Then starting the next living period you’re going to devote more of your time to books. And you’ll do your best to become familiar with the administration of the Astra; you’ll attend Judgings, you’ll find out how Security works.”
“I’ll do anything you say, sir,” Matty said, chastened.
Some of the hardness went out of the Predict’s voice. Did you recognize anybody at the slit game?”
“Reba Saylor,” Matty said with a sudden rush of memory.
“Reba wasn’t the only one,” Joseph Smith said quietly. “There was Junius Shroeder and Nahum Kessler and quite a number of others. Do you know why they were there?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Watch this.” He toyed with a plastic and bone handle such as Matty had used in the slit game. Suddenly the half centimeter of razor imbedded in the end sprouted to a full twelve of shining steel. “Jeremiah Paulson could have killed you at any time – probably would have killed you – if Security hadn’t broken the game up. And it was sheer luck that you managed to get away afterwards.”
“Your friends in Management haven’t given up,” the Predict continued in a deadly serious tone of voice. “With you out of the way it would be a simple matter for your cousin Jeremiah to be elected to the Directorship when your eighteenth birthday comes up. And if you were more observant than you are, you know it wouldn’t be an unpopular choice. Jeremiah has many friends, among the colonists as well as the Executives.”
Matty digested it for a moment. It was true. He had been busy— playing. And Jeremiah had been busy acquiring a reputation. He had sponsored games, he had put in time entertaining the pile workers who were down with radiation sickness in the infirmaries, he had been a heavy favorite in the more legitimate games.
Then, suddenly, the full meaning of events broke on him.
“Then I’m through,” he said dully. They know who I am.”
“No – they don’t. They’re suspicious but they’re not positive. And I’ve arranged for a decoy. A young illegitimate your age that Security turned in the other period. When we’re done he’ll look like Mathew Kendrick would have looked at fifteen. And then we’ll stake him out for the wolves.” Matty shivered. The Predict said it, knowing he was condemning the youth to death, with all the casualness of a man ordering breakfast at a Walkway Restaurant.
“I’m not worth bothering about,” Matty said, feeling sorry for himself.
“I bother with you for a very simple reason,” the Predict said bluntly. “Because I can trust you. Because you’ll do what I say.” He paused. “You might be interested to know that the slit game was all arranged beforehand. The attendant from the room was the steerer. The youngster from Engineers and your other opponents were paid to lose so you would be matched against Jeremiah. And Jeremiah—who is still your superior in strength and agility—would have slit your throat for the third point and escaped with the others in the confusion.”
Matty felt both furious and curiously hollow, all at the same time. He clenched his fists and tried to blink back the sudden tears in his eyes.
Joseph Smith looked at him with an expression of pity.
“This isn’t a game we’re playing. This is for keeps. If you lose, it won’t be my neck that will stretched, it’ll be yours. And your worst enemy will be your own conceit. It’s nice to excel in things but to be conceited is bad, for conceit can cheat a man and make him do foolish and dangerous things.”
Matty was only half listening. He wanted desperately to leave the cabin, to hide his tears of rage and shame.
“One more thing,” the Predict continued, almost as an afterthought. “You pay for every stupid thing you do. If not directly, then through somebody else. In this case, your foster-brother Sylvanus. He didn’t get away. Security found his body up in no-weight a few minutes ago.” (Page 30)
The hungry judges soon the sentence sign,
And Wretches hang that jurymen may dine.
The Rape Of the Lock, Alexander Pope
The Judging compartment was slowly filling up with spectators. Matty found himself a seat and waited for the proceedings to begin.
A few minutes after he was seated, there was a commotion down the row and a thin red-faced worker wearing the gaudy red-and-yellow waist cloth of Shops worked his way up and sat next to him. The man glanced curiously around, then thrust a plastic sack under Matty’s nose.
“Wanna sandwich? Better than the stuff the hawkers sell; wife made them up special.”
Matty hesitated, then shook his head. “No thanks.” He paused. “You watch these things very often on your lunch period?”
The man nodded between mouthfuls of bread and yeasty- meat. “Sure, all the time. Lots of us do. It’s a lotta fun.” He looked at Matty curiously. “This the first time you ever been to a Judging?”
Matty said yes and the man from Shops leaned closer, anxious to be helpful and explain the operations of the court to a novice.
“Not much to it, actually. The Accusing Attorney Comes in and states the case, then the witnesses. Then the Defense Attorney comes in and states his side, then his witnesses. The panel “—he pointed to ten colonists laughing and joking at the front of the compartment—” sets the punishment. Had the same panel for the last week now—most popular panel they ever had. Death sentence every time.”
“Who presides over the court?” Matty asked curiously.
His companion found another sandwich and let the greasy crust fall to the deck. “An Executive. Junius Shroeder this time. Good man, never overruled a panel yet.”
The compartment was filled now, the trial was ready to begin. Shroeder, white-haired and grossly fat, waddled in and took his place behind the Judging bench.
“There’s three things you can get death for,” the man from Shops whispered to Matty. “Thefts, murders, and Negligence of Duty. That’s the worst of the lot and what we got now.” He nudged Matty in the ribs. “You can always tell by the size of the crowds.”
There was a “Shhh!” from hind them and the worker shut up, edging forward in his chair so he would be sure not to miss anything.
Matty listened intently. The case was simple. A middle-aged woman assigned to Diet had been negligent and unsanitary in her duties at a Walkway restaurant with the result that thirteen workers from Shops had become seriously ill. During the length of time elapsed between their sickness and the start of the Judging, all thirteen had recovered. They filed to the witness stand one by one and described with flying gestures and much emotion the pain they had experienced and the ensuing sickness.
Their stories drew much sympathetic response from the packed compartment but Matty withheld judgment. None of the witnesses had struck him as being of good character and he waited impatiently for the defendant to take the chair. When she did, Matty felt his heart suddenly sink. The woman on the stand, slightly older than when she had given him his sound box and waist cloths and sent him to See the Predict five years before, was his old nurse, Margaret.
“She’s guilty!” the Shops man said in a low voice. “You can see it in her face from here!”
Matty watched the remainder of the trial sick at heart. The Judging went as the Shops man had unintentionally predicted right at the very beginning. The thirteen workers refused to change their testimony and most produced medical certificates to verify that they had — as testified — suffered food poisoning. The efforts of the Defense to introduce proof that they had actually been working on the days they claimed they were sick, was openly sneered at by Junius Shroeder. He likewise refused to admit—and instructed the panel to ignore—evidence that there was a legitimate doubt as to the validity of the medical records introduced.
Matty’s head was aching. It would do no good for him to challenge the Court; he had no authority and it was far too late to get the Predict to intercede in her behalf, even if he would. There was nothing he could do but sit there and watch.
There was a short intermission, during which hawkers roamed the aisles selling sandwiches and colored drinks. A few minutes later, the panel rendered the expected verdict of guilty.
The Shops man, along with most of the others in the compartment, jumped on the chair to watch. “Can’t miss this …”
Matty shuddered and averted his face while the public strangler did his duty. When it was over, the audience filed out, joking and finishing off the last of their lunch.
Matty’s friend enthusiastically started comparing the trial and its results with the others he had seen, then caught the look on Matty’s face. He looked contemptuous. “Maybe a half-grown like you shouldn’t come to these, especially if you got a weak gut.”
“That’s right,” Matty said bitterly. “It made me sick.”
He drifted around the ship the remainder of that living period, desultorily going through an emergency hulling drill, then finally went to the Predict’s compartment. He told the tall man all about it, including how he had felt and what he had wanted to do about it.
“Do you believe the witnesses?”
“They were lying. Anybody could have seen that.”
“You’ve got opinions on it, Matty. Let’s hear them.”
“She helped me a long time ago,” Matty said slowly. “I think that was part of it. And I think that by killing her they were trying to get to me.”
“The noose is drawing tighter,” Joseph Smith agreed. “They’re reasonably sure that you’re alive, if they don’t know who you are. They’re trying to isolate you. One, you’ll be harder to identify when you try to claim the Directorship. And two, you’ll be easier to handle if and when you do become Director.”
“And there’s nothing we can do about it, is there?”
“They’re too smart, Matty. They’re experts at covering their tracks. Even when you become Director, you’re going to have a difficult time pinning anything on them.”
Matty idly ran his knuckles across the backs of the books in the wall cabinet. “It didn’t mean anything to the people who were watching,” he said in a dull voice.
“It was just more entertainment. Something to do during their lunch period, something to watch between sandwiches.”
“If you’re going to be Director,” Joseph Smith said curtly, “you’ve got to get used to things like that.”
“I don’t think I ever will,” Matty said stubbornly.
“Then maybe you better start trying. ”
For the first time it occured to Matty that the Predict didn’t feel concerned, that he didn’t care, that the murders of Sylvanus and Margaret had insignificant incidents in the ephemeral life of the colonists. The man had no feelings, no emotion. Maybe five hundred years had made him contemptuous of life, had filled his veins with ice.
He gave the predict a long, cold look and felt a sudden hatred towards the man to whom Death meant so little.
“All right. I’ll try.”
When he was sixteen, Matty became an apprentice. Though almost every duty on board the Astra was a father-son arrangement, there were always youths whose family jobs had been eliminated who were apprenticed out to other sections on their sixteenth birthday. As an accepted illegitimate,
Matty went along.
The fat, stocky, assignment man read off the list and as each name was called out, foremen from the group at the far end of the compartment and came forward to get their men.
“Avery, Hydroponics. Banks, Engineers. Dowd, Medical.” The line dwindled. “Reynolds.”
Matty stepped forward.
One of the foremen came over to Matty. He held out his hand in the familiar greeting gesture.
“Name’s Olson – guess I’m your boss now.”
Matty took the hand and gave it a single, solemn shake. The man was big and solid looking, with thick wrists and a bull neck and a blunt, honest-looking face.
“Isn’t much to tell you, Reynolds. We got a good group and everybody gets along. We’ll expect an honest period’s work out of you.” He said it as if he expected an argument.
“I expect to work,” Matty said simply.
Olson’s big, homely face split into a smile. “Then you and me will get along just fine.”
Matty followed the big man back to his department in Shops.
“Meet Matt Reynolds, gang!” Matty went down the line. Askelund, the old man with stooped shoulders who ran a lathe. Martin, Wagner—too many to remember. And finally the man with whom he’d work.
“This is Dion West, Matt. You’ll work with him at the start.”
Matty froze. Dion West was young, his age, With a familiar looking face. A wide, not too handsome face, with an almost abnormal expanse of forehead and ice-blue eyes set on either side of a thin, narrow nose. A sour-looking face, an unfriendly face, but one that he had seen before. Then Matty saw the withered arm and into his mind flashed the picture of the young Shops man who had issued the razor-handles at the slit game the year before. After Olson had left, Matty said quietIy: “You were at the slit game when Security raided it, weren’t you?”
Dion West’s pale face was a perfect blank.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Reynolds.”
Matty gave him a searching look, wondering why he should deny it, then shrugged his shoulders. “Have it your way, West.”
That living period he was promptly indoctrinated into the back-breaking Iabor of foundry work and the forging and machining of metal parts. In the weeks that followed he came to like the feel of sweat rolling down his back and the pleasure of creation as tools and parts took shape under his hands.
He got along with everybody but Dion West. And Dion West was liked by no one. He was a cold, quiet youth whose crippled arm had turned him into a social misfit. It was almost two years before Matty discovered the human being that lay beneath the silent exterior.
He was coming home from a slit game—as a spectator— and was riding the Walk through the darkened Shops area. He was almost through it and could make out the dark greenness of Hydroponics far ahead when a sudden small noise him turn and glance back. There was a brief burst of light from one of the machine shops and then darkness again. Matty felt for the long knife hidden in the folds of his waist cloth, then crept silently back. He quietIy tried the locks of the hatch, then suddenly threw it open. West had his back toward the hatch, bent over a work bench. He twisted around awkwardly as the hatch anged open.
“You’re working late, aren’t you, West?”
“It’s not your business, is it?”
“There’s laws against it.”
“There’s laws against everything, Reynolds.”
Matty felt irritated, then let curiosity get the better of him.
“What were you doing?”
West shrugged. “You wouldn’t be interested.”
The cripple stared at him for a minute, then stepped aside. “Take a look if you want.”
There was nothing on the bench but a thin wire, held in the opposing jaws of a strength-test Machine. A rather simple arrangement, too simple. Then Matty looked at the kilo-pull registered
on the machine. It was at its maximum, an impossible pull for the wire to have withstood.
“Where did you get this?”
“I made it—a special alloy.” There was a note of pride in West’s voice.
Matty was suddenly intensely interested. “You do know a lot about science, don’t you? You’ve done a lot of inventing, haven’t you?”
West flushed. “A little. I guess I’ve got a knack for it.”
“I’d like to see more of it,” Matty said sincerely.
West hesitated, half refusing to believe that somebody was honestly interested in his work.
“I’ve got more—at home.”
Matty followed him of the Shops area to the residential compartments. West had somehow managed to bribe the housing authority to let him have a compartment all to himself; a compartment that, Matty discovered later, he shared with his sister.
Working models of inventions almost filled one end of the compartment. There were two that interested Matty the most. One was a heat-gun, looking more like a flash-light, that quickly turned a circle of the compartment bulkhead a cherry red when Matty pointed the gun and pressed the button. It was effective, but the workmanship was crude and it looked like it had been laid aside with little attempt to improve on it.
The other invention looked like an old-fashioned cross-bow that Matty had seen pictures of. It was ingeniously machined out of West’s alloy with springs and wires of the same material that could be tightened to an impossible degree of tension. Unlike the heat-gun, it showed that an immense amount of time and work had been spent on it.
“It can hurtle a metal shaft clean through the bulkhead of this compartment,” West said quietly.
“I don’t understand,” Matty said, puzzled. “Why all the time spent on something so primitive and practically none on the heat-gun?”
Dion West shook his head. “We won’t be able to support the technology we have on board once we land, Reynolds. We’ll be an expanding society, for one thing, and we probably couldn’t find the necessary raw materials for another. And within a few generations the knowledge of how to make a complicated heat-gun would probably be lost. But it’ll be hard to forget something simple, like a cross-bow.”
Matty thought about it and silently agreed. It was for the same reason that so many of their techniques in working metal and machining in the Shops were primitive. What they did and what they worked with was purposely kept a primitive level. Once they landed and the long slide towards barbarism started, perhaps they wouldn’t slide so far …
“I wish I had your ability in science, Dion,” Matty said enviously.
West relaxed on the sponge rubber mat in the corner. “I’m not actually interested in science,” he said calmly. “I play around with it for lack of anything else to do— and because I’m good at it. But it isn’t what I actually want.”
Matty looked at him curiously. “Just what is it you want?”
West’s face glistened in the soft light from the overhead glow lamp. “I want what everybody else has, Reynolds. I’d like to play games, I’d like to be a good slit player, I’d like to be admired, I’d like to be accepted by people, I’d like to know that girls want to sleep with me.” The sweat was dripping off his forehead, his face was tense. “I’d like to be so big, so powerful, that people would forget that I’m a damned cripple!”
Matty felt embarrassed.
“You’ll never get what you want by feeling sorry for yourself,” a voice said.
Matty whirled, his hand flashing towards his long knife.
“It’s only my sister, Reynolds,” West said dryly.
Karen West, Matty thought, his mind racing. He should have known. She walked in with a sound box under her arm and Matty reflected that any resemblance between the thin, rather plain looking girl of a few years before was purely accidental. She had filled out, the finely chiseled, somewhat jutting cheekbones had receded so her face was simpler in line and more pensive, and the stringy black hair had thickened and waved until it fell in loose rolls over her shoulders.
She stared at Matty in frank curiosity, then smiled. “I remember you. You’re the boy who never claims animals that he’s not certain he’s hit.”
“He’s our guest,” Dion West explained curtly. “Prepare something to eat.”
She looked at Matty and gave the faintest shrug to her shoulders, then moved over to the electric plate and began preparations for a late evening meal. Matty watched her in silence, fascinated by the grace of her movements. When the meal was over, she moved to the far corner of the compartment and softly ran her fingers across the sound box. The wires whispered and a moment Iater her clear voice was singing the familiar sad song of the Astra’s voyage through space.
When she had finished, Matty applauded warmly. Her eyes sparkled their thanks and she handed the sound box to him. “You play, don’t you?”
He fondled the instrument reluctantly. “How could you tell?”
“I could tell by the look in your eyes when I was playing,” she said softly.
Dion West snorted. Matty ignored him and let his fingers stray across the wire strands. Then he suddenly gave the instrument back to her. “Sound boxes are for minstrels and women,” he said sharply. “I have no use for them.”
He started for the hatch, then suddenly look back at Dion West. He was still reclining on the mat, expressionless eyes looking out of an almost inhumanly intelligent face.
“You gave Jeremiah Paulson the trick razor handle, didn’t you?”
The ice—blue eyes didn’t even blink. “Yes.”
The stooped shoulders shrugged casually. “They never told me what it was for. And they offered Cash for it—a lot of Cash.”
“Would you testify to that at a Judging?”
Thin lips curled sarcastically. “You don’t honestly think I would live long enough to testify, do you, Reynolds?”
I certainly think it is better to be impetuous than cautious, for fortune is a woman and it is necessary …to conquer her by force.
The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli
The stars never changed, Matty thought. They blazed and burned beyond the plastic just as harshly as they had eight years before; small pin points of blinding light that to the average eye never moved, never varied. He floated quietly in the darkness, then gradually became aware that he was not alone. There was another shadow inside the blister, obscuring the stars a few yards away.
“The observatory is further aft,” Matty said. “It’s better for star-gazing than the gun-blisters.”
Joseph Smith’s voice was easy and quiet in the dark. “I like to watch the stars from here. I have more of a detached viewpoint.” He paused. “That small yellow one out there—that’s where we’re going. We’ll be there in a few years.”
Matty only half listened, then his mind raced back to the words. Only a few years.
“How many know this besides you?”
“A few. The Planning Board, for one.”
The Planning Board. Reba Saylor and Asaph Whitney and Junius Shroeder. And that was all. He filed the information for future reference and turned his attention back to the stars.
“How many planets does it have?”
“An even dozen. Spectroscopic evidence indicates that three will be habitable—if we’re lucky.”
If we’re lucky, Matty thought. But only part of it was luck. When they landed, the rest would lie with the Director.
“You’ll be Director in a few hours,” the Predict mused. “Management is holding a meeting to nominate Jeremiah for it—in expectation of your failure to show up to claim it.”
“You know what to do?”
Matty hesitated. “l think so.”
The Predict’s voice turned business-like. “Have you made any plans for your own protection, Matty? Once you’re out in the open, it will be open season on asassination.”
“I’m not worried.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way. I was hoping that you would have made plans to protect yourself.”
“I can always have bodyguards.”
Joseph Smith laughed curtly. “They’re just more people whose loyalty you’ll have to worry about. The only way you’ll save yourself is to get at the root of the trouble.”
Hesitation. “I could tell you but I’d rather you thought of it yourself.”
They floated in silence for a moment watching the motionless stars outside. “There’s a Dion West on board,” Matty said suddenly. “He’s a scientific—genius.”
“I know. I have his record.”
“He’s also a misfit. A social outcast. Somebody ought to help him.”
Joseph Smith sighed. “Your intentions are good—but don’t do it.”
“Because he’s more valuable to the ship the way he is. You see, if you relieve West of his social frustrations, you also relieve the compulsion that makes him try to excel in things scientific. That isn’t always the case, of course, but in this instance you’d gain—if you succeeded—one normal, happy individual. And lose a most talented scientist of the type that we desperately need right now.”
“Doesn’t West, as an individual, mean anything?”
“The individual never means anything.”
Matty digested that in silence.
“How well do you like Karen West?”
Matty stiffened. “That’s my personal life.”
“As the Director-to-be, you have no personal life.”
Reluctantly. “I like her very much.”
“l wouldn’t advise marrying her.”
“That’s my business.”
“No—it isn’t. Marriage is nothing to be entered into lightly. In your case, doubly so. Marriage is too valuable, politically. If you marry now you throw away what could be of great advantage to you in the future.”
Matty realized with sudden insight that he hated the Predict. He hated the remorseless logic, the constant denial of sell for ship.
“When I’m Director, I’ll do as I damn well please.”
Coldly. “No, you won’t. You’re my creation, Matty, just as surely as if I were a sculptor and had carved you out of marble. You owe me life, you’ll owe me your Directorship. You’ll do exactly as I say and nothing else. I made you and if necessary, I wouldn’t hesitate to break you.”
It wasn’t primarily a threat; it was a cold recital of fact.
“You’re saving me for something. What?”
And then, for the first time, he heard uncertainty. “I’m not sure.”
Matty watched the proceedings over a view screen in the Shops compartment. The screen showed the huge banquet hall crowded with the purple waist-cloths and smocks of Management; Managers and Department Heads and Foremen eating and drinking and waiting for Jeremiah Paulson to be proclaimed Director so they could all pledge faith and fealty to him.
It was pretty much as Matty expected. A pageant that began with solidographs of the death of the old Director and comments about his only son who had disappeared the same period as the death of his father. There was even—as Matty knew there would be—a solidograph of himself at the age of ten. A blond, rather thin, wide-eyed youngster with a sound box tucked under his arm.
The announcer’s voice was unctuous” … all bereaved with the disappearance of young Mathew Kendrick at the age of ten. It is thought that the boy was murdered by persons still unknown or was the victim of amnesia, though to this period it has been hoped among official circles that he would turn up …”
There was a stir in the crowd in Shops as people edged closer to get a better view of the youngster on the screen.
In the slight stir nobody saw Matty slip away. They had done it perfectly, he thought. Just enough hypocrisy with which to hang themselves …
He found an empty washroom near the banquet compartment and quickly slipped out of his waist cloth of Shops red and yellow and tied one of purple looseIy about his waist. To dye his hair back to its original yellow took but a moment. His eye-prints had already been altered back by the Predict’s doctor and enforced diet had thinned him down to what an eighteen year old Mathew Kendrick could be expected to look like. He surveyed himself in the three-D reflecting mirror and was satisfied with the results. He looked the part, now he had only to act it.
He eased himself into the rear of the banquet compartment and waited. Reba and Junius shared the head table with Jeremiah and his sister. Matty watched them closely. Reba, thin faced and shrewd-eyed, almost glowing with the knowledge that eight years of plotting were about to pay off. Junius, fat and wattle-faced, almost dozing under the steady barrage of speeches and comments. Julia Paulson, a little too fleshy, a little uncomfortable, shy and somewhat frightened. There had been, Matty reflected honestly, nothing but good to be said about Jeremiah’s younger sister. A shy, retiring personality, quiet and unassuming – and dull.
His attention switched to his cousin. Jeremiah, handsome, athletic, professionally friendly – with just a trace of weakness showing in a somewhat too-small chin and watery brown eyes. Not intelligent—probably with Reba around, he didn’t need to be.
Jeremiah was, Matty decided coldly and without prejudice to himself, not fit to be Director.
The speeches wore on and then the climactic moment came. Reba got to her feet and motioned for absolute silence. This was the dramatic moment, the moment that had colonists all over the Astra holding their breath while they drank in the pageantry.
“To all the Astra – I give you your new Director, Jeremiah Paulson!”
Between the end of any dramatic statement and the thunder of applause that follows, there is the briefest, tiniest moment of absolute (page 40) silence. Matty took advantage of it, using a low pitched voice but one with enough volume to fill the entire compartment.
“Since when can you give away a hereditary Directorship, Reba, when the inheritor is still alive?”
Reba didn’t hear and the thunder of applause started at the far ends of the compartment. But those around Matty stared at him and suddenly grew silent. The silence slowly spread throughout the compartment and the applause slackened. Matty could sense the colonists in the corridors outside and throughout the Astra frown and look questioningly at each other. It was what he wanted, what he needed—an audience of colonists that would watching every move that was made.
Reba seemed puzzled by the deepening, embarrassing silence, then her sharp eyes picked out Matty solemnly approaching down one of the aisles. Her face mirrored a moment of shocked surprise, then her agile mind quickly sized up the situation.
“Security—seize that imposter!”
The Security men stationed around the bulkheads hesitated. The man was a dead ringer for what Kendrick would look like at this age and what was far more important, he acted like he was Kendrick. And if they laid hands on him …
Matty walked up the stairs to the platform and casually took the cushioned chair that Jeremiah had been about to sit in, as part of the pageantry. Jeremiah reddened, Reba grew pale.
“Nobody would be fool enough to act as an imposter,” Matty said evenly. “Everybody knows it would mean the public strangler.”
Reba’s eyes were narrow slits. “Why should we believe you?”
“My eye-prints match, so do the skeletal x-rays.”
“They can be forged.”
Matty helped himself to a small bunch of grapes from the banquet table and leaned back in the chair.
“Memories can’t. Reba—do you want to try me?”
The question hung there. Matty pushed his luck and stared at her critically, “You were younger the last time I saw you, Reba. Somewhat prettier and a good deal more respectful. I remember at the time you said ‘Hail the Director-to-be!’ Or have you forgotten?”
“If you really are Kendrick” Reba asked in a silken voice, “what happened to you, why did you disappear?”
It was one of the questions that Matty hoped she would ask. He turned slightly so he was facing the view-screen operator; his words, he knew, would reach the entire ship.
“l wanted to get to know the colonists,” he said slowly and distinctly. “l wanted to live among them because I knew, when I became Director, that I would be their Director as well as Director of the Executives. I’ve lived with the Reynolds family in Hydroponics” — he had a sudden vision of Alice Reynolds’ awestruck face – “and I’ve worked with the men in Shops. I know them—far better than I would have if I had been raised in the Management.”
It was a propaganda statement —he knew it and knew that Reba was aware of it, but that would in no way diminish its effectiveness.
Reba was almost strangling on her suddenly fading hopes, realizing her error in allowing the Statement to be broadcast. She recovered her poise and gave an abrupt signal to the view-screen operator to cut the broadcast. The cut broadcast could be laid to “technical difficulties” later on.
When she was certain she was off the screens, she gave an imperceptible nod to Jeremiah. Two Executives jerked Matty suddenIy to his feet while Jeremiah hastily pulled his arms behind him and tied them with a napkin. Matty offered no resistance.
The men who lined the bulkheads were up on the stage now, their initial hesitation forgotten.
“How old are you, Reba?”
It was a loud question so all those in the compartment could hear. Fear suddenly showed on Reba’s face. Out of the corner of his eye Matty could see the view screen operator, sensing what was coming, silently flick the machine back on.”
“Why don’t you tell them, Reba?”
There were cries from the audience now, purple-clothed old men and women were staring at Reba in sudden suspicion.
“You carry your age well,” Matty continued. “But the records show that you’re sixty-one!”
There was pandemonium in the audience now. Old men and women who had drawn close to their sixtieth birthday and automatic euthanasia were screaming curses and fighting with the Security guards, furiously trying to reach the platform and the woman who had defied the age edicts.
“It’s a lie!” Reba screamed.
Matty smiled. She was right. It was an outright lie. But it was a lie that would be easily believed and almost impossible to deny, particularly now.
“It doesn’t matter,” Matty said loudly and distinctly. “I think it’s time to tell them now.”
The uproar below him suddenIy quieted. There were cries of “Tell what?” Somebody slashed the cloth that bound his arms and Matty raised them overhead in a sign of triumph.
“The Planning Board hasn’t seen fit to tell you,” he said, “but we make planet-fall in two years!”
A dead silence. The minds of the younger Executives were filled with nothing but thoughts of the adventure to come. But older people counted on their fingers and then (page 42) groaned inwardly. Two years more would cheat them of ten or twenty. They would be sixty before then but once landed there would be no need to limit the population …
“I think,” Matty continued quietly, “that there is no further reason to keep the euthanasia laws. We will need every colonist we can muster, and we will have desperate need for those among us who are older and more experienced …”
The older Executives suddenly shouted and cried with laughter, the older colonists rioted in the corridors.
It gradually quieted down. Matty looked around, then found the one face he wanted to see.
“I have still to be confirmed as your Director,” he said slowly.
A man stood up in the crowd and Matty knew that he had won.
“As Acting Director,” Seth said loudly, “l acknowledge you as the Director of the Astra!”
There nothing hypocritical about it, Matty thought. Of the words he had ever heard spoken, these were by far the most sincere. And they stemmed from the one fact that he had been sure of when he had slipped into the banquet compartment an hour before.
Seth was fifty-nine years old.
The actions of a successful ruler are of three types, Junius. There are the things he can do, which are few. There are the things he cannot do, which are many. And then there are the things he must do, and they are legion.
Dialogues of Lykos
There was one prime charactistic of being Director, Matty discovered. And that was the fact that he was busy. There were appointments to be made, official functions to attend, and most important of all—there was the re-education program that the colonists were currently going through preparatory to planet landing. There were regular classes to be scheduled and the showing of solidograph films …
His second in command, a young Executive named Uriah, brought him the list of solidographs to be shown. Matty ran his eye down the sheet, then picked out three for the first program. Farming in Solids, Hunting and Fishing, and First Aid.
Uriah frowned. “Why the last?”
“Because they’ll need to know it,” Matty said bluntly. “On board the Astra, wherever you are, you’re only a short distance from an aid station. Once landed, a colonist may be miles away from professional help.” He scooted the list back across the desk. “Anything else?”
Uriah bit his lip. “I probably shouldn’t say this …”
“If you shouldn’t, then don’t. If you should, then it must be important and I ought to know it. What is it?”
“There’s been some talk . ..” Uriah started, having difficulty finding the words.
Hastily. “Nothing more than rumors. That your health isn’t too good and it might be better if the Directorship were in other hands.”
Matty Started to laugh, and then abruptly fell silent. He was in excellent health but how many people actually saw him each day and could verify it? A few Executives and that was all. And he could almost guess the lines the rumors would take. Frail to begin with as a child, and now the strain and overwork of Director …
Uriah looked uncomfortable.
“Thanks for telling me. On your way out, tell Alvah Hendron to come in.” He stopped the young Executive at the hatch. “One thing more, Uriah. Don’t hesitate to tell me things of that nature that you think are important. Don’t forget that if I go down, you’ll be right there with me. You’ve been far too closely associated with me to escape.”
Uriah paled, nodded, and disappeared.
It was an hour before Alvah Hendron came in. Matty let him stand for a few minutes while he studied him. Hendron was in his forties, well fed, just a trifle plump, and with a somewhat superior air about him. Finally, Matty told him the essence of what he had just heard, neglecting to mention the name of his informant.
Hendron laughed. “Nothing to it, nothing at alt. If there was anything to back it up, Security would have discovered it.”
Matty wasn’t quite so sure.
“You have any suggestions on how to quiet the rumors?”
Hendron looked nettled. “Certainly. What about an inspection tour of the ship? You’re due to make one in the near future anyway; a lot of colonists could see you and make up their own minds.”
“What time do you recommend?”
“The next living period would be as good as any.”
Matty mentally rearranged his schedule and agreed.
The small compartments back near the after tubes were dark and practically deserted.
“This is a long way back, Hendron.”
Hendron smiled, somewhat uneasily. “Nobody’s been back here for a long time; that’s why I thought it would be a good place to begin.”
There was a turn in the passageway and Matty stopped short.
A small group of Executives blocked the corridor a few short yards ahead. Reba Saylor, hawk-faced and imperious as always, Junius Shroeder, looking fat and somewhat unhappy, and, as usual, among a backdrop of more minor figures, Jeremiah Paulson, fierce and determined looking – the handsome figurehead of the revolutionary movement.
Reba bowed slightly. “Hail the new Director!”
Matty grasped the situation in an instant. Alvah Hendron, naturally, had been in on it. And he, fool that he was, had fallen for it. And he had gone off with Hendron alone, disregarding the Predict’s warning of some time ago that once he became Director, it would be open season on assassinations. Once the colonists became used to his Directorship, it would be increasingly dfficult to remove him. But now, while his administration and its policies were still in a state of flux …
He started to back down the passageway …
Jeremiah rasped: “I wouldn’t, Kendrick.”
One of the young Executives made a movement and Matty found himself staring at something he had seen once before; a glistening cross-bow machined from shiny metal. Dion West’s invention had been stolen from him or, more likely, West himself had sold it. He was unstable, neurotic, frustrated—it had probably taken very little to buy his brains and soul.
“What do you want?”
“My Directorship,” Jeremiah said slowly. “The one I was raised for.”
“You should have done better for foster-parents than Reba and Junius. Anybody else would have told you it is hereditary.”
“You deserted it!”
Matty grinned. “I had to. It was getting to be unhealthy.” He paused. “What do you intend to do?”
Reba smiled. “Surely you can guess, Kendrick. And remember that we’re the only witnesses.”
Matty kept looking at his cousin. “You know the penalties for murder, Jeremiah. It’s not too late to change your mind. You’re well-liked, you’re a valuable man, we’ll need you when we land. And once landed, there will be important positions open.”
He threw out the bait and waited for Jeremiah to take it. The handsome, rugged face with the weak chin wavered a moment.
“He doesn’t mean it!” Reba snarled. “He’s trying to fool you!”
It was no use, Matty thought quickly. Reba’s will was Jereiah’s backbone. He suddenly whirled, pinioned Hendron’s arms behind him, and thrust the man in front as a shield. Then he backed down the corridor, still keeping his unwilling victim in front of him.
Reba gave a signal and the young Executive with the crossbow pulled back on the wire gut.
Hendron squirmed. “Don’t …”
“You’ve been a fool, Alvah,” Reba said quietly.
There was the musical twang of the wire and Hendron quietly sagged in Matty’s arms, a bloody froth at his chest. Matty dropped the body and leaped around the corner. There was a whirr behind him and a metal shaft buried itself in the opposing bulkhead.
He dove for a through shaft, then violently twisted to one side at a sudden breath of air that marked the near-miss of a metal arrow. There was no escape down below so he would have to go up. He wadded up his purple waistcloth and threw it into the shaft; in the dark shaft it would be difficult to tell the difference between it and a person. An arrow sped up the shaft, tearing through the loose cloth, then the cloth was below the next level and the missiles were aimed downward.
Matty leaped diagonally across the open shaft, upwards, towards the next level. His sweaty hands touched the grips, held, and then he was pulling himself up. Over the edge – and a thin metal shaft sheared through the fleshy part of his thigh.
He winced with pain and the sudden gout of blood, then hobbled swiftly down the level, doing his best to favor the one leg. He could hear pursuit on the level below; it wouldn’t be a moment before they searched the next level up.
The passageway narrowed and then came to a dead end except for a hatch that gave to the tubes – a hatch that now would open on the cold and vacuum of space. There was an air vent a few feet overhead. The screen that covered it was not bolted in place but pushed upward in a frame. He leaped for it and pushed upward with the palms of his hands. It buckled and moved an inch. He pushed it a few more inches. On the third leap he managed to hang on with one hand in the opening and work on the screen with the other.
Far down the corridor there was the muffed sound of bare feet slapping on metal. He worked frantically at the screen. He got it all the way up, worked his legs in the opening, then hung for a brief instant on the black inside of the chute. The screen slid down on the outside and banged on his knuckles. He hung there and tried to feel for a ledge or deck beneath him. There was nothing but empty space. Then a sudden cry from the passageway made him jerk his fingers loose.
It was like falling in a through shaft, only a through shaft that was pitch black and thick with dust. There were no hand holds along the sides and no way to brake himself on the smooth, metal surface. It would end at the Center of the Astra, he thought.
Straight down, with the knife edges of fan blades or a thick mesh screen at the bottom.
There was a sudden pressure of metal against his left side and he knew with a sudden hope that the air vent was curving out towards another outlet. He spread his legs and arms and tried to grip the sides of the shaft. Then his sweating, bloody body hit a vent screen, tore it from its frame, and he was catapulted into a Shops storeroom.
He lay there for a moment, feeling sick and dizzy, the warm blood from his torn thigh muscles trickling down his leg. He’d have to get to an aid station, he thought thickly.
And then he’d have to do something about Reba.
Seth showed his age, even more than he had at the Management banquet. The man was still spare, still tall, but shrunken and a little waxy. His hair was white and the thin, aquiline nose seemed thinner and more prominent than ever. The life in Seth’s spare frame, Matty thought, had receded like a tide, leaving two small pools behind in the man’s sharp eyes.
“With Alvah Hendron’s murder, it becomes necessary to appoint a new Security head. You’re it, Seth.”
His uncle looked at him shrewdly. “Why choose me? How can you be so sure that I’ll remain loyal?”
“I haven’t the faintest doubt as to your loyalty,” Matty said calmly. “Now, or at any time in the future. You see, your life rests quite securely in the palm of my hand. Ever since the Reorganization you’re hardly what I would call the most popular man on board. I’m quite sure that there are several hundred colonists who would volunteer for the duties of public strangler—as long as you stood accused. And any panel would only be too happy to condemn you. You follow me?”
Seth managed the slight bow of acknowledgement without his eyes betraying any feelings whatsoever.
“I have something in mind,” Matty continued, “that I want acted on right away.”
Seth kept his mask of impassivity. “Yes?”
“I don’t think it’s any secret,” Matty said slowly, “that some of the Executives on board would be happier if I were eliminated from the scheme of things. They’ve had their chance and failed. Now I think it’s my turn. I want Security to find evidence—evidence that I can use at a Judging.”
“You can testify yourself – that’s all that’s necessary.”
Matty shook his head. “I don’t want to seem like a dictator. I want evidence in writing, something you can point to as exhibits A and B.”
Seth digested this in silence, then: “Who did you have in mind?”
Matty handed him a list. “You know the names. Reba Saylor, Junius Shroeder, Nahum Kessler, Jeremiah Paulson . . . they’re all down there.”
Seth fingered the list hesitantly, then looked at Matty somewhat critically. “I don’t like to give advice but these people are hardly stupid enough to leave evidence behind.” His tone of voice belied his words and indicated that he wasn’t at all adverse to giving advice, particularly to his nephew.
Matty leaned back in his chair and casually studied his uncle. Like so many old men, Seth was unwilling to admit that time had passed, that the ten year old milk-sop he had once planned to kill so long ago was neither ten years old nor a milk-sop now.
“I didn’t ask for your advice, Seth.”
“Jeremiah is too popular among the colonists; it will make you enemies.”
“I’m not concerned.”
Hesitation, then growing stubbornness. “Evidence will hard to find.”
“Finding evidence is your problem, Seth. I don’t care whether it actually exists or whether you have to buy it, Whether you find it or whether you plant it. Such minor difficulties shouldn’t bother a man with your background and abilities. Just so long as the evidence you present holds up at a Judging, that’s all that matters.”
Seth bowed much lower this time and when he straightened up his face looked even older than when he had come in.
“You’ve changed, Kendrick.”
“If I have,” Matty said slowly, “it’s because I had to.”
After Seth had left, Matty took a crumpled piece of paper from his desk and spread it out and reread the note he had received at the start of that living period.
To Mathew Kendrick:
Niccolo Machiavelli said that a man who wished to make a profession of goodness in everything would come to grief among many who were not good. That it was necessary for a prince who wished to maintain himself to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge when necessary. It’s necessary. There is no doubt in my mind if you do not eliminate Reba, she will eliminate you.
The Judgings were a popular success. Seth had done a good job. He had planted evidence, he had bought witnesses, he had done a thorough job of packing the panel with colonists who had been hurt by the defendants in the past. Crowds of colonists came to watch, bringing their lunches and dragging their children. It was covered on the ship’s view screens and regular reports of the proceedings were posted on all bulletin boards.
Matty attended one of the Judgings, sitting far back in the compartment. It sickened him. The seemingly endless parade of bought and paid for witnesses, the trumped up stories of perjury, the avid lust of the audience waiting for the penalty they knew would be extracted.
And the defendants themselves. Reba Saylor, an old and cringing woman, afraid of the Panel, afraid of the court, afraid for her life. Junius Shroeder, fat and trembling, sweating in the docks …
One by one they went to the public strangler, with the exception of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was too popular, too handsome, to be killed. He was acquitted and Matty reflected that it would have been better to pardon him and to have made an attempt to win him over. As it was, he would always be a focal point of opposition.
And then it was Dion West’s turn. He calmly told the panel his own part in the actual plot. Yes, he had sold cross-bows to an agent of Reba Saylor’s. Didn’t he know that weapons were prohibited on board? Yes, he had known it. Then why had he done it? For so many of the aluminum money disks.
And for the self-importance it would bring him, Matty thought grimly. For the knowledge that he had at least tried to revolt against a society that had refused to accept him.
The panel suspended judgment for one period and in the interim, Matty received a visitor in the Director’s quarters, the spacious compartment with the view screens of the stars set in the bulkheads.
She seemed frail and thin, he could remember, and the cheek bones in her face jutted out as they had when she had been a child. But her face was still the face he dreamed about.
“I came to see about Dion.”
“It’s out of my hands.”
“You’re the Director. You can do anything you want.”
That’s what he had told the Predict once, he thought. When he became Director he would do as he damned well pleased.
“Don’t you think it would be rather foolish if I did, Karen? He’s amoral, he’s not a stable personality. His mind is for sale to the highest bidder. Admitted he’s a genius but I’m not so sure we can afford his type of genius.”
“I would make him promise. I would watch him.”
Faintly amused. “For the rest of his life?”
She stood up and walked over to the view screen, staring out at the blazing stars.
“I’ve always wondered what people would be like if they had power. All the power they wanted – the power of life and death. Now I know. And I wish I didn’t.”
He spun her around so she was facing him.
“Do you think I like being Director?”
“No – I don’t. I’m free game for anybody on board – like your brother – who doesn’t happen to like the color of my waist cloth. I have all of the worries and none of the benefits of life. I can’t do what I want – I never have – because I have to do what I think is best for the ship. Like power? I only wish that somebody else had it, that somebody else had to do the job!”
His fingers dug into her arms for a moment more, then he let her go and turned away.
She touched him on the shoulder for a moment, the soft coolness of her hands making his flesh ache.
“I’m sorry.” She started for the hatch.
“I can give him a Director’s pardon,” Matty said suddenly. “He didn’t know what he was doing.”
She turned. “You don’t need to. And I couldn’t—guarantee him.”
“That’s all right. We need him and a pardon will make the Director look magnanimous.” He smiled crookedly. “And it’s for the good of the ship.”
Not what he would, but what he must.
The Country Life, Richard Henry Stoddard
Matty lay on his foam rubber mat, still half asleep. Something was wrong, something … He snapped wide awake. The clangor of the emergency alarm filled the compartment. A drill he thought – but there were no drills scheduled. He counted the peals of the bell, then raced through the adjoining compartment and up the ladder to the huge control cabin. Hulled, the Astra had been hulled!
Sleepy-eyed technicians were already manning their posts, barking out orders to the repair parties in different sections of the ship. Matty took his place at the central control board and quickly plugged in the circuits that connected him with the different nerve centers of the vessel. The light from Engineers was flashing impatiently, and he flicked the switch sharply up.
“Meteor hulling on the twenty-fifth level. Level evacuated, hatches automatically secured in hold fourteen. Air pressure zero. Spare plates being brought up from the central storeroom.”
The voice at the other end was noncommital. “Can’t tell extent of physical damage. There’s been rumors that a slit game was going on in the hold. Don’t know how many were there.”
Somebody in the compartment said: “My God, my son might have been there!”
Matty swore quietly over the circuit. “I’ll check.”
He plugged into Personnel.
“Hulling on the twenty-fifth level. Possibility of slit game players and spectators being sealed off. Want a personnel report within an hour.”
Uriah, his second in command, was now manning the other half of the board. Matty turned to him. “Take over. I’m going up.”
He caught an up through shaft and a moment later clutched the hand rails at the twenty-fifth level and swung out of the shaft. The level was confusion. Rescue workers and technicians fought with the mob of colonists who filled the passageway.
Matty struggled viciously to get through, then collared an almost helpless man in the blue waist cloth of Security.
“Who are these people and why aren’t they at their drill posts?”
The man wiped a sweating brow, the drops flying off and floating through the gravity-less level. “They think their kids were up here for the slit game; probably couldn’t locate them right away and came up.”
All the colonists on board the Astra would end up jammed in the one small passageway, Matty thought, if something wasn’t done.
“Get your reserves!” Matty bawled over the noise in the corridor. “Clear these people out of here and post a cordon at the shaft! All colonists who desert their emergency posts will draw a mandatory death penalty – see that it’s publicized!”
It was moments before Security reserves swarmed into the passageway, ousted the distraught colonists, and blocked off the corridor. Down at the other end of the passageway, a group of men were clustered about the hatch. It had already been cut into and a temporary air-lock installed. The Boss in charge was Olson, Matty’s Old foreman in the Shops.
“How’s it look?”
“How the hell do you think?” Olson snarled, then recognized Matty and brought up his arm in sharp salute. “We’re doing the best we can, sir. As soon as the lock is in position, we’ll send a man in with plates and a welding torch.”
“Who’s going in?”
“Warren—one of the Engineers. He’s handled this in drills.”
The men finished welding in the air-lock and a moment later a man in a bulky suit came through the cordon at the end of the passageway. His kit of tools was buckled to his side; the helmet he wore was a space-welding helmet, opaque except for the small colored strip through which he looked.
His voice was muffled. “What’s the pressure?”
Olson his head. “There ain’t none. If your suit gives, that’ll be it.”
The bulky figure nodded. Matty couldn’t see the face but he imagined the lines of strain that were written on it. There hadn’t been a hulling since the Trip began and the suits had never been used. They had been frequently tested but there was always the chance that the testers, assuming that they hadn’t been used chances were they never would be, had been careless. And if they had, then Warren would face the chance of a blow-up in the after Compartment.
The figure huddled in the air- lock and the hatch was slammed shut. There was silence while the air-pressure gage fell to zero, then the lights glimmered in the signal that meant Warren was through the other half of the lock and in the compartment.
The built in radio pick-up and (Page 52) amplifier on the bulkhead broadcast Warren’s comments while he was on the inside.
“Bad. Bigger than I thought – and the plates around it are buckled. Send in the welding outfit and the largest of the plates.”
They were fed in through the air lock and then there was silence as Warren went to work. The minutes passed and no word from inside. The men in the repair crew began to look at each other with worried expressions on their faces. If something had happened to Warren …
Olson ordered another suit brought up. “If Warren doesn’t come out within twenty minutes, I’ll go in after him.”
The bulkhead amplifier suddenIy hummed.
“It’s patched—air tight as far as I can make it. I’m inspecting for further leaks.” There was a long silence and suddenly the amplifier broke in again. Even with the muffled tones, Matty could sense the horror that lay underneath. “I’m in hold fourteen. People here – dead – must be close to a hundred. I’ll get the names before you open the hatch. Pretty much of a mess but heat and air would make it worse.” He hesitated a moment and Matty could imagine he was searching the bodies for their ident chains. “Arnold Sampson, Marcia Dawdet, Caleb Olson …”
The shops foreman suddenly groaned and held his head in his hands. Matty remembered his son – a half-grown a little too smart and a little too wild for his own good. Rumor had it that he had been a champion in the sub-rosa slit tournaments held on the upper levels.
The list of dead droned on and a man from Personnel started taking down the names. There was utter silence in the passageway as the repair crew tried to catch the names as they were read. Occasionally one of them would groan.
The voice finally ceased and a glance at the pressure gauge told Matty that Warren was coming out. The outer air-lock hatch clanged open and then the figure of Warren was in the passageway and anxious hands were helping him off with his suit. When the helmet was off the repair crew and the cordon of Security into cheers.
“Jere! Jere Paulson!”
Jeremiah stood there for a moment, the sweat rolling down his hard-hewn face, then turned to Matty. “Warren was sick; he couldn’t make it up.”
There were a hundred other men who could have taken Warren’s place, Matty thought. A hundred others who would have volunteered. But Jeremiah had to show up. From honest motives or because it was a ready-made opportunity to be a hero? Matty didn’t know and it didn’t matter. Jeremiah was beyond all laws, beyond all authority now. He had become a public hero.
“Congratulations,” Matty said dryly.
The moon hung low over the hill and the wind from the west was soft and warm. It was early evening, the stars just beginning to brighten in the sky. Matty was lying on the grass in a low meadow, grass that was sweet and smelled heavy with clover. Behind him the woods stretched away into shadows that were black and almost threatening. The only sound was that of the crickets and the quiet noises of small animals moving about in the brush. And of Karen playing the sound box …
She was seated against the tree a few yards away, on the top of a slight rise. Matty could see her outline against the darkening sky, an outline that showed the tilt of her head and the mass of curls at her neck and the thrust of her firm breasts against the stars.
She finished the tune and laid the sound box aside.
“I wish the moon were higher,” she said.
Matty felt around in the grass by his side and located the dial. He gave it a twist. The night perceptibly darkened, the stars blazed, and the moon obligingly leaped higher in the night sky.
“How’s that ?
They sat in silence for a while, listening to the sounds around them. Finally Karen said: “Do you think the world we land on will be anything like this one?”
“I don’t know. It might be.” He laughed in the darkness. “I don’t think the moon will be quite obliging—if there is one.”
“There might be more than one. There might be two or three – a whole dozen of them. Think how confusing the world would be for lovers then!”
“You mean like saying ‘I’ll meet you when the moon is ‘full’ and they pick different moons?”
“Something like that.”
The conversation died. Matty searched in his mind for the means of telling her what he had to, but could find no way of doing it. And – very slowly – the fact that they were alone and would not be disturbed was driving the importance of it from his mind.
“What will be the first things we’ll have to do when we land, Matty?”
He stirred. “Set up a stockade of some kind against whatever life there may be on this planet. Start farming immediately. Build shelters against the weather. That sort of thing.”
“Can’t we live in the ship?”
“We could,” he admitted. “But I don’t think you’d want to. We’ve been cooped up, as a race, for too long. It’d be too wonderful to live under the open sky and stars once more. I suppose it would be a lot like this compartment here – but the grass would be real, the animals (Page 55) wouldn’t be robots, and there wouldn’t be bulkheads just behind the forest or over the hill.”
“I don’t know if I’d like it or not,” she said “And I think a lot of people have gotten used to living on board. I think you might find it hard to get them to change.”
She was standing against the tree, leaning back against it – a mere shadow in the night.
He walked over to where she stood. He suddenly wanted her in a way that made his very bones ache. He put his hands on her thin waist.
“Why did you ask me to come here, Matty?”
His hands fell away. “Can’t you guess?”
“You wanted to tell me something, didn’t you? Something unpleasant.”
He sat on a boulder on the hill’s crest. “All right,” he said harshly. “You’ve got a right to know. I’m in a struggle to hold the Directorship, Karen. I may not succeed.”
He nodded. “Jeremiah. He’s well-liked – he’s worked hard enough at it. And he’s more capable than I thought. And there’s still the opinion that Jeremiah was somehow cheated out of the Directorship; that by disappearing when I was young, I automatically relinquished all claim to it.” He paused. “And there’s some talk of making the Directorship an elected office.”
“Would that be bad?”
“Some years from now, after we’ve landed and settled down, it might not. It would now.”
“Because,” he said simply, “I know the reason for the ship, the purpose for the Trip. I’ll see that it’s carried out – I couldn’t do anything else. But I’m not at all sure that somebody else would do the same. Reba would have thought only of herself. So would Jeremiah, I’m afraid. He’s a brave man, a capable man – but what has that to do with it. I know what I will do; I’m not at all sure what he would do.”
“The indispensable man, Matty?”
It was getting colder in the compartment; the small animal noises quieted.
“You’ve changed,” Karen mused. “I remember when I first met you in this compartment. You were a young boy and so different then. I think – at least a part of you – is the same person. But it’s in the bottom of a big pit where the bulkheads are duty and purpose and Joseph Smith.” She paused. “What did you want to tell me?”
Matty took a breath. “I can’t kill Jeremiah, I can’t fight him. In a way, I’ll have to join him.” He felt like he was tearing himself to small shreds. “He has a sister named Julia. I’m going to marry her.”
“Well, aren’t you going to say something? You’ve got a right to. Go ahead, say what you’re thinking!”
“I can’t say anything, Matty. I feel too sorry for you.”
Then he was alone on the artificial hill, with only the synthetic moon and stars for company.
And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
W here blossomed many an incense-bearin” tree,
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery
Kubla Khan, E. T. Coleridge
The green, white flecked globe swung slowly beneath them – a thousand miles below. Matty watched it in the view screen, searching for the speck that was the research rocket. There was a tiny flare of light on the screen and he bent closer to watch it. He couldn’t be mistaken—there was a tiny light moving from the globe below to the Astra high up in the stratosphere.
A few moments later there was a clang against the metal deck in the vast hold. Matty watched over the view screen in the control cabin. The deck split down the middle and silently folded downward. The small research rocket rose slowly into view balancing delicately on its bottom jets, then the deck folded back into place, the jets splashed red against the metal for an instant, and the rocket was safely housed.
Olson and Murphy, a young and promising colonist Matty had seen fit to elevate to the Management, came directly to the cabin.
“It’s perfect!” Olson said, his eyes sparkling with excitement. “If Earth was anything like this, it must have been paradise. Warm – a little over eighty Fahrenheit at the landing site – composition of air almost the same as what we’ve been used to, a little high on the oxygen.”
“Let’s see the report sheet.”
Olson handed it over and Matty scanned it quickly. The biologists had okayed the world – with reservations. “It’s about right,” he said slowly. “Everything that should be there is.” He looked over at Murphy. “Any life?”
The thin, bespectacled Executive, was as enthusiastic as Olson. “All kinds of vegetation. Animal life – the planet is teeming – but no signs of intelligent life that we could see, and we circled the globe an even dozen times. No cities, no villages, no signs of industrial activity.”
“That doesn’t mean there isn’t any,” Matty said thoughtfully. “There could be cities beneath the seas for all we know.”
He took another look at the (Page 56) report sheet, then turned to his second in command. “What do you think, Uriah?”
Uriah shrugged, trying to mask his eagerness. “There’s no sense in waiting; we might as well send down the landing parties now as ever.”
Matty punched the button that connected him to Diet. “Send up ten gallons of coffee and sandwiches to Central Control.” Then he flipped the switch that put him out over all the Astra’s speakers.
“All hands – Landing Stations!”
It was going to be a long grind, be thought. The five thousand colonists would have to be ferried down by the research rocket and the lifeboats, and then the equipment and supplies. The Astra itself could never take a planet landing; its own vast bulk would crush it.
They were to go down in the lifeboats, leaving only a skeleton crew behind. Matty nervously watched through the plastic port. Far below, he caught glimpses of the rushing planet as the clouds moved slowly across it, hiding it for a moment and then revealing a glimpse of blue and green that might have been sea and land but for which they were still too high up to tell.
The clouds came steadily closer and then they were sinking down through billows of white. The white clouds seemed almost blinding as they drifted past the port. They gave Matty a peculiar feeling—he had been used to the quiet blackness of space, broken only by the blazing stars. The drifting shreds of white cleared away and they were over what seemed to be a rolling, blue sea; from their height the waves looked like small ripples.
The moved over the sea and approached a large land mass in the distance. The land came closer— they were flying over a smooth, broad beach against which the waves of the blue sea washed. They moved inland, settling closer to the land. There was vegetation now – stately forests and green meadows and valleys carpeted with purple flowers.
The lifeboat dipped, dropped closer to the Astra’s temporary camp, and settled slowly towards the edge of the clearing. The throbbing sounds of the rockets died.
The Trip was over.
The following day, Matty and Olson took the small life-boat for a planetary survey. Uriah was left in charge, along with Murphy, to start the building of a more permanent small village.
The pilot – a young Engineer named Silas Pollard – guided the rocket over a small grove of trees, then steadily gained altitude. OIson sat close to the ports, enthusiastically watching the scenery they passed over.
“We couldn’t have picked a better planet, Matt. It’s perfect!”
“It looks pretty good,” Matty mused, reserving most of his opinion. “We probably won’t be able to appreciate it for a year or so, though. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ll have to start farming, locate metals, things like that.”
Olson only half heard him. “Sure, it’ll be a lot of work. But my God, Matt, What a world!”
It was a paradise, Matty silently agreed. It was far more than they had any right to expect. He moved closer to the port and looked out.
The small valley near which they had originally landed was a fair sample of the entire planet. Lush, almost semi-tropical vegetation that would signify a young planet—but the mountains were dulled and blunted and the valleys were filled which would mean an old one. But that was a problem for the geologists.
They passed over rivers and low mountains and across continents and oceans. They passed through showers but no storms, through gentle drifts of snow in the northern reaches of the land but through no blizzards. Even slight variations in climate would seem drastic to the colonists, used to the static atmosphere control on board the Astra, Matty thought, but they had seen nothing to match the solidographs showing the changes of weather back on Earth.
They spent the first night sleeping in the open on the grass in the lee of the lifeboat. The night was warm and mild and the turf was soft and spongy; Matty fell asleep almost at once.
He jerked awake. Olson was shaking him by the shoulder.
He Strained his ears. There was a small, crunching sound not more than a dozen yards away, to his left.
“It’s probably nothing,” he whispered uneasily. “Night noises, like the kind they used to have in the Training Room.”
“I’ll bet it isn’t,” Olson said slowly. His big face was damp with sweat. “Probably some … carnivore.”
Pollard was awake now. “Just a minute.”
Matty hear the pilot feeling around in the dark, then there was a brilliant flare of light as the young Engineer found the portable sudden-flash. Their carnivore squatted near a small bush. He was a small, gray animal, not more than two feet high with saucer-like nocturnal eyes that blinked, frightened, in the glare of the light. Little bits of turf and bush shoots hung from a small, bow-like mouth.
Matty laughed. “There’s your man-eater, Olson!”
“Well – it coulda been,” the foreman mumbled, red-faced.
Matty lay back on the turf. “No,” he said sleepily, “it’s not that kind if a world. It’s a friendly world.”
And then, for no reason at all, he wondered if it was too friendly.
They stayed out a week completing a rough survey of the world and getting the feel of the geography, then flew back to the colonist camp. It had moved nearer to the ocean’s edge, a collection of nondescript tents and plastic sided housing cubes.
The lifeboat grounded and Matty got out. Uriah wasn’t there to meet him. Neither was anybody else. He walked down to the camp and looked around. There were plastic enclosed working rooms set up for Shop machinery—but nobody was running the machines. There was no power, there were no stockades. People were working at small household tasks but there was a certain lassitude in their actions.
A few of the passing colonists nodded respectfully and Matty stopped one of them. “Where’s the Executive Uriah?”
The man shrugged. “Don’t know, sir. Maybe down at the beach.”
He walked down to the strip of white sand and watched the bathers. He located Uriah and his family splashing in the surf and caught the young man’s eye. Uriah hastened over.
“There isn’t much being done, is there?” Matty commented mildly.
Uriah shrugged. “People have been cooped up a long time, Matt. You can’t blame them if they want to relax for a few days.”
“There’s no farming,” Matty said, more concerned. “With an expanding population we can’t expect the hydroponics tubs to supply us forever.”
Uriah grinned. “That’s the beauty of it. We won’t have to plant much. It grows wild around here – the trees are loaded, even the grass is edible. We ran tests on some of the wild vegetables in this area and it’s just as nourishing as what we grow in Hydroponics, some of it even more so.”
Matty relaxed. That had been his biggest worry.
“We should stick to our schedule,” he said, only slightly worried. “We’ll fall behind.”
“We’re a little late on it,” Uriah admitted. His voice grew more confident. “We’ll get back to it in about a week.”
But they didn’t get back to the schedule that week. Nor that month. In six weeks, the schedule was forgotten.
It was early morning, the sun had just risen and the colonists were still asleep. Matty walked aimlessly down the beach, kicking at small pebbles with his toes. He rounded a small hill of sedge that grew down almost to the water’s edge, then stopped.
A man in a brown suit was idly picking flat stones off the sand and skipping them across the low waves.
“Good morning, Matt. Care for a walk?” Matty nodded and they walked in silence along the beach until they were out of ear-shot of the camp. Joseph Smith asked quietly: “How many men could you count on – I really mean count on if it were a matter of life and death? Men who would follow you into hell itself.”
Matty thought for a moment. “Maybe fifty. Why?”
“Because we’re not staying here. And those fifty are going to have to help us leave.”
Matty stared at him blankly.
“Where are we going to go”
“Next planet out.”
Matty stopped, the incoming tide wetting his feet and ankles. “Why?”
“How long have we been here?”
“Any progress being made? Any work being done?”
Joseph Smith laughed curtly. “Not while we remain here. People do things because they have to, not always because they want to.” He paused. “What’s the purpose of the Trip?”
“To establish a civilization.”
The Predict looked moodily out at the ocean.
“That’s right — to establish a civilization. But it isn’t going to happen here. Civilizations usually arise in response to a challenge, either from nature or from marauding tribes. And people huddle in towns and villages for mutual protection—that’s another incentive for civilization. But here there isn’t any threat from nature, or from other forms of life. And people aren’t huddling—they’re leaving. Do you know how many have slipped away to the brush already?”
“Close to three hundred — almost a tenth of the ship. If we stay here, within a generation we’ll have degenerated to little scattered groups of savages. Within three have forgotten our science, we’ll probably even have forgotten even where we came from. And why.”
Matty sat down on a clump of sedge.
“You mentioned the next planet out. What do you know about it?”
“It’s liveable – but not like this. The average temperature is lower, food is plentiful but we’ll have to work for it. And there’s intelligent life. A low form but it will probably give us trouble. They won’t like it if we drop in.” He seemed oddly satisfied at the somewhat foreboding picture he had drawn.
“How do we sell everybody on leaving here?” Matty asked slowIy. “They won’t want to exchange this for what you’ve just described. They’re not going to pack up and live in hell just because we want them to.”
Joseph Smith juggled a few pebbles aimlessly in his hand.
“That’s more your trouble than mine. That’s why I asked you how many men you could count on to help. You couldn’t convince the colonists to leave voluntarily.” He paused. “Maybe you’ll have to get them to leave involuntarily.” (Page 60)
“Hah! Matty! Matty!”
He lifted a glass and got to his feet. It wag dusk but the rigged lights from the lifeboats glittered over hundreds of tables loaded with meat and vegetables and bowls of fermented roots and berries. The colonists sprawled on benches and on the white sand.
“Are you happy?”
The crowd roared back in a half drunken voice. Matty felt cold sober.
“Do you like it here?”
They did. Matty felt sick.
“Then I give you – the new Earth!”
They toasted him and laughed, some started to sing, others danced on the sands. The party was a success, Matty thought. Everybody was there, even most of the stragglers who had built houses in the brush country had come back for it. There was food and drink, most of it native, a lot of it from the raided tubs on the Astra.
The party roared on and Matty leaned back in his crude chair and waited. There weren’t so many celebrating now; quite a few were sprawled silently on the ground, asleep. It wouldn’t be too long before the drugged food and drink hit the others.
An hour later there was only silence on the beaches, except for the quiet work of fifty men clearing away the tables and transferring the colonists to the lifeboats. Olson watched the first one take off, then walked back to Matty.
“I don’t like this. It’ll take us a while to get them all in the Astra – think they’ll be out that long?”
“They’ll be out forty-eight hours,” Matty said in a tired voice. “That’ll be time enough.”
He left on the last boat just as dawn was breaking on the littered beach. Olson and the personnel checker were waiting for him at the Astra’s air-lock.
The checker touched a hand to his forehead. “We’re three short, sir. Raymond Jeffries, Alice Scott, and Herbert Shippen.”
Matty rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Jeffries is a good Engineer and Shippen is the best tub man in Hydroponics—but we can’t stay and look for them. We can’t waste the time.” He started for the main control cabin. “Where did you put the colonists?”
“Most of them are in the main solon and the compartments. None of them showed signs of coming out of it.”
“What do you think the colonists’ reaction will be when they wake up?”
“They aren’t going to like it.”
Grimly. “That’s my opinion. Take a detachment of men and collect all the knives in Diet and anything in Shops that might be used as weapons. Then bring our families in to central control and see that there’s food and water enough to last. We’ll barricade the hatches from the inside. It’ll take us six periods to reach the next planet out. For the last four we’re going to be in trouble.”
A few minutes later, the families filed in. The last one to enter was Joseph Smith. He didn’t look at Matty but sat at one of the ports in the rear of the cabin, an inconspicuous figure in brown.
Matty turned to a white-faced Uriah. “Go ahead and lift.”
He walked to the port and looked out. There was the familiar throbbing feel of the rear tubes beginning to fire, then the floating globe below them started to dwindle.
It was a farewell to paradise, Matty thought. A good-bye to Eden.
The mob howled outside the hatch, venting their fury on the inert steel and trying to force their way in. They had tried to storm the pile room and disable the pile machinery until some of the cooler heads reminded the others that then they’d be stranded forever – in space.
It was quiet on the inside. Matty watched the others in the compartment. Nobody had gotten panicky, nobody had had hysterics. And one of the calmest of all was Julia. Julia …
He went into a brown study. She was generous, kind-hearted, and she loved him. Whether or not he loved her, he hadn’t yet decided. But he no longer saw Karen’s face when he looked at her …
“They’ll get us when we land,” Olson said gloomily. “The public strangler or the hangman.”
Matty grunted. “You afraid of dying?”
“I’m not afraid of death,” Olson said curtly. “Just the method by which it’s achieved.”
There was silence for the next few hours and Matty morosely watched the planet swim closer in the plate. He had seen the report that the Predict had compiled on it and had a rough picture of what it would be like. It would be livable – there might even be a few times when it would be pleasant. But compared to the world they had just left, it would be living hell.
The hours dragged slowly by but the clamor outside the hatch didn’t die. One thousand miles up, the Astra went into an orbit.
“What do we do now?” Olson asked sarcastically. “Who’s going to volunteer to go out and load them in the lifeboats?”
There was a hesitant silence and then a voice said: “We don’t load them in the lifeboats. We’re going down in the Astra.”
Joseph Smith stepped forward, a tall, thin figure in outlandish (Page 62) clothes, and took the pilot’s seat at the control board.
There was dead silence while fear battled superstitious awe in the minds of the others in the compartment. The silence was broken by shouted protests. Olson was livid, his eyes thin slits in his beefy face.
“We’ll never make it! The Astra was built and assembled in space – it can’t take a planet landing! We’d wreck it, we’d never be able to leave!”
“That’s right,” Joseph Smith said calmly. “We wouldn’t able to leave. Ever.”
Olson started for him. “I say we’re not going down!”
The Predict turned, something small and blue shining in his fist. “Don’t come any nearer, Olson.”
There was no mistaking the intent in his voice.
Uneasy silence. Anxious eyes looked at the Predict, then turned to Matty.
“Well, Matt,” Joseph Smith said softly. “Are we going down?”
Matty looked at him, his eyes dueling with the cold gray eyes of the man who had saved his life at ten and whose word had been law ever since. There was no pity, there was no sympathy in those eyes – there was only the calm determination to do what was necessary. Matty’s own eyes fell.
“We’re going down,” he said huskily.
Olson went white. “We’ll never reach the surface alive!”
Matty ignored him and flipped the switch to the ship’s speaker. “All hands man emergency landing stations twelfth level and above! Evacuate all other levels!”
The clamor in the passageway outside the control cabin suddenIy died and a low moan of terror swept the colonists. Then there was the sound of Uriah calling out orders to the pile crew.
Julia came over and stood close by Matty at one of the ports. The world below started to swell up. They were dropping steadily, the mottled continents and seas rushing rapidly at them. Then thin air of the atmosphere screamed past them and they were at storm level. Shrieking winds tore and buffeted the huge vessel and it pitched sharply, throwing those in the compartment towards the after bulkhead. Matty grabbed Julia with one arm and clung to the port railing with the other.
The whipping rains cleared for a moment and the Astra settled towards a wooded ridge. The ship touched the top, smashing the timber growth, grazed the ground and kept right on going. The sides of the ridge exploded outward in a burst of shattered granite and flying dirt. At the same time, the bottom plates Of the Astra buckled and crumpled in a dozen spots, spewing out stores and equipment and colonists who were unlucky enough to be trapped in the bottom sections.
The crumpling motion stopped.
Matty staggered to the hatch, threw it open, and stumbled down the passageway. He found an open access lock near ground level and dropped the few feet to the ground. The others who had been in the control cabin followed him.
It was cold, the sky dull and clouded. A drizzle of rain coated the ship and ran down the sides
to collect in the thick red mud at the base. Further back from the sides of the ship, at the end of the space of smashed timber, was the start of black, unfriendly forest.
Joseph Smith limped over. There were bruises on his face and blood was running down a cheek.
The expression on his face was one of accomplishment.
“The colonists will never leave the ship for something like this!” Matty cried above the roar of the wind. (Page 64)
“They already are!”
Matty turned. Flames were spouting from the cracked and broken sides of the Astra far down near the tube section. Tiny figures dropped from the ports and hatches or crawled through the torn hull.
“It won’t be a total loss,” Joseph Smith mused. “We can salvage a lot later on.”
Matty didn’t reply but stared in horror at the scene. There must have been tens killed in the landing alone. Tens more would perish in the shooting flames.
How much would people take? he thought. And what penalties would they exact from the ones they held responsible?
A day will come when beings …shall stand upon this earth as one stands upon a footstool, and shall laugh and reach out their hands amid the stars.
The Discovery of the Future, HG Wells
It has been thirty days since the vessel Astra crash-landed on this world. Ninety-eight souls were killed in the landing and one hundred six perished in the flames that consumed the ship afterwards. We have labored hard and Iong with primitive tools and have erected a stockade and log houses for the survivors. Hunting has proved excellent, though dangerous, and farming appears possible though not as easy as we hoped. There have been no defections from the group and hard work and danger has only improved the morale of the colonists. There is every prospect for a permanent civilisation here, although the world and the small primitive humanoids that inhabit it are hostile.
As expected, the colonists have rightly held their leadership responsible for the situation they are now in. The larger picture is one that only their historians will appreciate. At present, they consider that we have stolen their paradise and substituted hell …
There were footsteps outside. Matty put down his pen and hastily secreted the few scraps of paper in a crack in the rough-hewn floor. The board door suddenly flew open and the small cabin was filled with bearded colonists dressed in stiff and foul smelling skins.
He the other prisoners were jerked roughly to their feet and hustled outside. It was still cool in the early morning but the sun had split the overhanging clouds and shone fitfully on the cleared assembly area in the center of the stockade. Most of the colonists had gathered there, crowded about a wooden platform on which Jeremiah Paulson and his aides sat.
Matty blinked in the bright sunlight, then stole a glance down the line of other accused. Olson, big and threatening, his alert eyes watching for a break – any break – on the part of the guards. Uriah, white faced but firm in the knees. Murphy, trembling… A dozen others.
He was pushed out in front of the platform, his hands trussed behind his back, the thongs cutting deep into his flesh. He stretched and felt the warm sunlight on his back and neck, the neck that would so soon feel the tightening of fingers that he had escaped from fifteen years before …
Jeremiah started reading the charge.
“That inasmuch as Mathew Kendrick be accused of illegally and in a premeditated fashion crashing and stranding the starship Astra on a cruel and inhospitable world and … eh?”
One of his advisors had nudged him in the ribs and Jeremiah bent down to listen. Matty watched in disgust. The advisors who had sprung up to guide Jeremiah had almost uniformly been a shifty and lazy lot. And Jeremiah listened …
…yes … and stand accused of setting the fires after landing …”
There was more but Matty wasn’t listening. He was thinking of the Astra, half buried in the valley a mile away. It was rusting now, birds nesting in the shattered ports. A few more generations and the ship would have crumbled and there would be left only stories and myth …
“How do you plead to the charge, Mathew Kendrick?”
The cold voice cut into his and he jerked awake. Jeremiah was going through the Judging process automatically, even though it was a foregone conclusion what the result would be.
It was the moment he had waited for, the moment when his greatest decision would have to be made. He was not afraid of death for himself but it was obvious that it wouldn’t stop with him. It would go on. Olson, Uriah, Murphy, Silas Pollard – and their families. The terror would consume them and then strike among the other colonists, searching out those who had helped any of the accused in the past or who had been so lacking in foresight that they had been friends of the accused. It would sow hate and fear and eventually crush the colony, if Jeremiah didn’t crush it first through his own stupidity …
“I plead innocent,” he said slowly. “And so are these others.”
There was a burst of angry cries from the crowded colonists. Matty suddenly whirled, facing Joseph Smith, a tall, thin figure in brown standing at the edge of the crowd. The Predict had been convicted with the others as an accomplice, and then immediately absolved by (Page 66) the court. And Matty had originally refused to testify against him.
“The guilty man is Joseph Smith, your Predict.”
There was dead silence and Matty talked on. He could feel the shock in the colonists’ faces, sense the contemptuous look on Olson’s. His testimony lasted an hour. Some of it was true, some of it was false, and all of it was damning. Towards the end, Matty could feel the mood of the crowd change. Joseph Smith had become the God that had failed, the idol with the feet of clay …
And Joseph Smith did not deny it.
Matty opened the door and entered. It was dark and foul smelling on the inside and there was the scamper of little things across the floor. He felt for the table, set down the lamp, and lit it. It flickered, then grew to a steady glow that cast a yellow light throughout the room.
The man in the corner was dirty, with matted beard and a brown suit that was rumpled and covered with filth. Matty studied him for a moment. The face was haggard and gaunt but, everything considered, it looked much the same as when he had first seen it. The gray eyes were still alert and unsmiling – and cold.
“How are you?”
“All right.” Pause. “I understand that you’re Director again.”
Matty felt uncomfortable.
“That’s right. It wasn’t difficult to get it back. The responsibility was …too much for Jeremiah.”
The Predict nodded. “When’s my time up?”
“It isn’t. The public strangler has been abolished. In your case, you’ll get exile – that was the best I could do. I’ve had your trunk brought up; you’ll leave tomorrow.”
Silence. The man in brown picked a small moving thing off his wrist and crushed it between his fingers.
“You hate me a great deal, don’t you, Matty?”
Slowly. “I don’t think I hate anybody. Let’s say I don’t understand you, understand the reasons for some of the things you’ve done.” He paused. “The Director is a manufactured personality, isn’t he? You pull the environmental strings, so to speak, so the Director ends up as a willing pawn.”
“You wanted the Directorship.”
“Does a ten year old boy know what he wants? But that isn’t answering my question.”
The Predict leaned back in the corner, watching Matty curiously. “All right, you’re correct. The Director is manufactured – as much as anything can be manufactured.”
Matty suddenly wondered how much of his life had been left to chance, and how much had been planned by the Predict. Whether, for example, the Executives had been entirely responsible for the persecution that had driven him to the arms of Joseph Smith …
“The Predict is a man apart, Matty. He lives longer than the colonists, his own roots are in a culture that the colonists know nothing about, for the most part haven’t even heard of. The Predict acts through the Director.” He paused. “You won’t understand the allusion, Matty, but the Directors play Trilby to my Svengali. I’m not always successful, of course. Your father was an ignorant stupid man over whom I had little control. You … were much better.”
“Why is there a Predict in the first place?”
“Predict isn’t exactly the right word. Psychologist would be more exact – it’s the title I started out with, anyways.” Musing. “Five hundred years, twenty generations, is a long time. People forget things. They forget where they’re going, they forget why. And they forget the necessity. Somebody had to go along to see that the purpose of the Trip was carried out.”
Matty thought about it for a moment.
“It was an insane culture on board ship. I’ve never realized it until the last thirty days when it’s been – different.”
“It was a Machiavellian culture on board,” Joseph Smith said slowly. “It didn’t start out that way, though, it just grew. We didn’t organize the ship on military lines; we were afraid of what might happen after a few hundred years had passed. So we ran it like a business, trying to preserve as much of our culture as we could. The Executives of each department made up Management, and at the head of that was the Director. It didn’t turn out like we hoped. You take a race that’s used to a whole planet to live on and coop them up in a steel cell a few miles long and a thousand yards wide and you might be surprised at the result. The individuals stay sane, but the culture itself goes mad.”
“You could have made it different.”
The Predict looked up, surprised.
The Predict shook his head. “The Astra couldn’t have been a democracy under any conditions. Democracies are run by men who agree among themselves as to their course of collective action. The colonists weren’t free agents. A civilization that had died a long time ago had already decided what they were going to do. If the Astra was a democracy they would have voted to stay behind on the first planet we landed on. And that would have been the end of the Trip and the end of the hopes of … the people I knew.”
It was cold in the cabin and the man in the corner shivered slightly. He looked tired. (Page 68)
“We were to establish a civilization, Matty, not run loose like a lot of savages and start the long climb from the very bottom. Everything I did was done with that in mind. I’ve acted under the orders of four billion people who died five centuries ago—and I’ve been a blackguard, a murderer, and a dictator to carry them out. I’ve twisted peoples’ lives, I’ve seen them unhappy, I’ve seen them die, and I haven’t given it a second thought. I’ve played God – or the Devil, if you want to look at it that way. And if I had it to do all again, I would do it the same way!”
He suddenly twisted and faced the wall, holding his head in his hands. Matty stood there for a moment more, then quietly left.
It was morning of a bright, warm day. The colonists were already up and about the village, drawing water, airing linen, making up hunting parties, and the farm workers were getting ready to go out for the day. All of them were equipped with the cross-bows that Dion West had invented and Matty congratulated himself for the hundredth time on having spared his life the years before.
He stopped at the cabin, knocked, then pushed the door open and walked in.
Joseph Smith – washed and shaved and looking considerably better than he had the night before – was busy, arms deep in the trunk that Matty had had delivered earlier. He was sorting out items and slowly piling them up on the table. Matty looked at them curiously, held several up to the light streaming through the doorway, then paused – puzzled – over a long slender rod of metal.
That was what you call a raincoat and hip boots you had there, Matty. These are blankets and wool socks and a canvas pack. The rod you have in your hand is what we used to call a fly-rod. Good for fishing.” He took some more clothing out of the box and methodically packed it away in the canvas sack. “Fishing should be good here, nobody’s ever tried it. I’ve got a shotgun down there, too. Works on a chemical explosive basis – you wouldn’t know the theory.”
“You don’t need to go too far away,” Matty said suddenly. “If you hid out in the woods, Julia and I could bring you food. See that you weren’t – lonely.”
Joseph Smith laughed — a hollow, bitter laugh. “For five hundred years I’ve lived with the human race. I know everything there is to know about people, I’ve enjoyed all the pleasures that can possibly be extracted from their companionship. I’ve lived with them for five centuries and the only thing that’s changed have been the faces. I’m tired of it – Lord, I’m tired of it!”
He rolled up a few more woolen shirts and stuffed them in the almost full pack.
“Matty, exile isn’t a punishment for me – it’s something I’ve looked forward to for a long time.”
He tightened the buckles and adjusted the pack to his back. He wore boots and a leather jacket and a red hat; the “shotgun” was tied in with the pack. He took a last look in the bottom of his trunk, then took out a small box.
“Why did you denounce me at the trial, Matty? To save your own life?”
Matty looked him in the eyes. “I’ve never regarded my own life so highly that I would be willing to sacrifice somebody else’s to save it. I had my choice of two alternatives. I think I made the right decision. To a large extent, your purpose had been accomplished. You were expendable.”
“Cold, aren’t you?”
Matty Shrugged. “Maybe.”
Joseph Smith nodded slowly. “l meant you to be. Ever since you were ten, I’ve tried to teach you one thing. The hardest thing there is to do is to make decisions for something as abstract as an ideal and do it on an impersonal basis. Whether those decisions hurt you personally, or those you know, can’t enter in. I thought of the same solution you did – but I couldn’t offer myself to the mob, it have been unconvincing. But it had to be done. I would satisfy them, I was an important enough figure. I was hoping you would do what you did, Matt. When you did – I realized you were Predict material.”
He gave the box to Matty.
“They need another Predict here more than they need a Director. We’re not in the ship any more and we’ll have to have a different type of culture. A culture that, perhaps, should be fashioned by a poet and a sound box player. And there has to be somebody around with the long view – somebody to see that the colonists don’t forget why they left Earth in the first place, that this time it has to be played differently.”
He paused briefly at the door. “Good luck, Matty.”
He turned and strode through the clearing and out the open gate of the stockade, disappearing for a moment in the slope of the valley, then coming into view as he climbed the ridges towards the hills beyond. He grew’ smaller, dwindled, and then was gone.
Nobody would ever see him again, Matty thought. Perhaps someday somebody in the far future would find a pile of bleached bones on some mountain ledge or by some fish stream. And then, nearby, there would be a rotting canvas bag and a rusting shotgun …
He turned back to the table and opened the small box. There was a small plastic bottle of clear, colorless liquid and a hypodermic needle whose bluish contents sparkled in the sunlight. The contents of the hypodermic, he realized, was all the difference there was between a Predict and a colonist. (Page 70)
He swabbed his arm with alcohol, then took the needle and slowly pushed the plunger home.
Robinson, F.M. (April, 1954) The Oceans are Wide. Science Stories. Issue No. 4, April 1954. Pages 6-70. Retrieved 15 November 2016 from https://archive.org/details/Science_Stories_04_1954-04_cape1736