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By Algis Budrys
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1960 Algis Budrys
All rights reserved.
Late on a day in 1959, three men sat in a room.
Edward Hawks, Doctor of Science, cradled his long jaw in his outsize hands and hunched forward with his sharp elbows on the desk. He was a black-haired, pale-skinned, gangling man who rarely got out in the sun. Compared to his staff of tanned young assistants, he always reminded strangers of a scarecrow. Now he was watching a young man who sat in the straight chair facing him.
The young man stared unblinkingly. His trim crew-cut was wet with perspiration and plastered by it to his scalp. His features were clean, clear- skinned and healthy, but his chin was wet. 'An dark ...' he said querulously, 'an dark and nowhere starlights ...' His voice trailed away suddenly into a mumble, but he still complained.
Hawks looked to his right.
Weston, the recently hired psychologist, was sitting there in an armchair he'd had brought down to Hawks' office. Weston, like Hawks, was in his early forties. But he was chunky where Hawks was gaunt; he was self-possessed, urbane behind his black-rimmed glasses and, now, a little impatient. He frowned slightly back towards Hawks and arched one eyebrow.
'He's insane,' Hawks said to him like a wondering child.
Weston crossed his legs. 'I told you that, Dr Hawks; I told you the moment we pulled him out of that apparatus of yours. What had happened to him was too much for him to stand.'
'I know you told me,' Hawks said mildly. 'But I'm responsible for him. I have to make sure.' He began to turn back to the young man, then looked again at Weston. 'He was young. Healthy. Exceptionally stable and resilient, you told me. He looked it.' Hawks added slowly, 'He was brilliant.'
'I said he was stable,' Weston explained earnestly. 'I didn't say he was inhumanly stable. I told you he was an exceptional specimen of a human being. You're the one who sent him to a place no human being should go.'
Hawks nodded. 'You're right, of course. It's my fault.'
'Well, now,' Weston said quickly, 'he was a volunteer. He knew it was dangerous. He knew he could expect to die.'
But Hawks was ignoring Weston. He was looking straight out over his desk again.
'Rogan?' he said softly. 'Rogan?'
He waited, watching Rogan's lips move almost soundlessly. He sighed at last and asked Weston, 'Can you do anything for him?'
'Cure him,' Weston said confidently. 'Electroshock treatments. They'll make him forget what happened to him in that place. He'll be all right.'
'I didn't know electroshock amnesia was permanent.'
Weston blinked at Hawks. 'He may need repetitive treatment now and then, of course.'
'At intervals for the remainder of his life.'
'That's not always true.'
'Well, yes ...'
'Rogan,' Hawks was whispering. 'Rogan, I'm sorry.'
'An dark ... an dark ... It hurt me and it was so cold ... so quiet I could hear myself ...' Edward Hawks, D.Sc., walked alone across the main laboratory's concrete floor, his hands at his side. He chose a path among the generators and consoles without looking up, and came to a halt at the foot of the matter transmitter's receiving stage.
The main laboratory occupied tens of thousands of square feet in the basement of Continental Electronics' Research Division building. A year ago, when Hawks had designed the transmitter, part of the first and second floors above it had been ripped out, and the transmitter now towered up nearly to the ceiling along the far wall. Catwalks interlaced the adjoining airspace, and galleries had been built for access to the instruments lining the walls. Dozens of men on Hawks' staff were still moving about, taking final checks before closing them down for the day. Their shadows on the catwalks, now and then occluding some overhead light, mottled the floor in shifting patterns of darkness.
Hawks stood looking up at the transmitter, his eyes puzzled. Someone abruptly said, 'Ed!' and he turned his head in response.
'Hello, Sam.' Sam Latourette, his chief assistant, had walked up quietly. He was a heavy-boned man with loose, papery flesh and dark-circled, sunken eyes. Hawks smiled at him wanly. 'The transmitter crew just about finished with their postmortem, are they?'
'You'll find the reports on your desk in the morning. There was nothing wrong with the machinery. Nothing anywhere.' Latourette waited for Hawks to show interest. But Hawks only nodded his head. He was leaning one hand against a vertical brace and peering into the receiving stage. Latourette growled, 'Ed!'
'Stop it. You're doing too much to yourself.' He again waited for some reaction, but Hawks only smiled into the machine, and Latourette burst out, 'Who do you think you're 3 kidding? How long have I been working with you now? Ten years? Who gave me my first job? Who trained me? You can keep up a front with anybody else, but not with me!' Latourette clenched his fist and squeezed his fingers together emptily. 'I know you! But – damn it, Ed, it's not your fault that thing's out there! What do you expect – that nobody'll ever get hurt? What do you want – a perfect world?'
Hawks smiled again in the same way. 'We tear a gateway where no gate has ever been,' he said, nodding at the mechanisms, 'in a wall we didn't build. That's called scientific investigation. Then we send men through the gate. That's the human adventure. And something on the other side – something that never bothered mankind; something that's never done us any harm before or troubled us with the knowledge that it was there – kills them. In terrible ways we can't understand, it kills them. So I keep sending in more men. What's that called, Sam?'
'Ed, we are making progress. This new approach is going to be the answer.'
Hawks looked curiously at Latourette.
Latourette said uncomfortably, 'Once we get the bugs out of it. That's all it needs. It's the thing that'll do the trick, Ed – I know it.'
Hawks did not change his expression or turn his face away. He stood with his fingertips forced against the machine's grey crackle finish. 'You mean – we're no longer killing them? We're only driving them insane with it?'
'All we have to do, Ed,' Latourette pressed him, 'all we have to do is find a better way of cushioning the shock when the man feels his death. More sedatives. Something like that.'
Hawks said, 'They still have to go into that place. How they do it makes no difference; it won't tolerate them. It was never made for human beings to have anything to do with. It was never made for the human mind to measure in human terms. We have to make a new language for describing it, and a new way of thinking in order to be able to understand it. Only when we've finally got it apart, whatever it is, and seen, and felt, and touched and tasted all its pieces, will we ever be able to say what it might be. And that will only be after we've been through it, so what good will our new knowledge do these men who have to die, now? Whatever put it there, no matter why, no human being will ever be able to live in it until after human beings have lived through it. How are you going to describe that in plain English so a sane man can understand it? It's a monstrous thing we're dealing with. In a sense, we have to think like monsters, or stop dealing with it, and let it just sit there on the Moon, no one knows why.'
Latourette reached out sharply and touched the sleeve of his smock. 'Are you going to shut the programme down?'
Hawks looked at him.
Latourette was clutching his arm. 'Cobey. Isn't he ordering you to cancel it?'
'Cobey can only make requests,' Hawks said gently. 'He can't order me.'
'He's company president, Ed! He can make your life miserable. He's dying to get Continental Electronics off this hook.'
Hawks took Latourette's hand away from his arm and moved it to the transmitter's casing. He put the flats of his own palms into his back pockets, rucking up his white laboratory smock. 'The Navy originally financed the transmitter's development only because it was my idea. They wouldn't have vouchered that kind of money for anyone else in the world. Not for a crazy idea like this.' He stared into the machine. 'Even now, even though that place we found is the way it is, they still won't let Cobey back out on his own initiative. Not as long as they think I can keep going. I don't have to worry about Cobey.' He smiled softly and a little incredulously. 'Cobey has to worry about me.'
'Well, how about you? How much longer can you keep this up?'
Hawks stepped back. He looked at Latourette thoughtfully. 'Are we worrying about the project now, or are we worrying about me?'
Latourette sighed. 'All right, Ed, I'm sorry,' he said. 'But what're you going to do?'
Hawks looked up and down at the matter transmitter's towering height. In the laboratory space behind them, the technicians were now shutting off the lights in the various subsections of the control array. Darkness fell in horizontal chunks along the galleries of instruments and formed black diagonals like jackstraws being laid upon the catwalks overhead. It advanced in a proliferating body towards the solitary green bulb shining over the 'not Powered' half of the 'Powered/ not Powered' red-and-green legend painted on the transmitter's lintel.
'We can't do anything about the nature of the place to which they go,' Hawks said. 'And we've reached the limit of what we can do to improve the way we send them there. It seems to me there's only one thing left to do. We must find a different kind of man to send. A man who won't go insane when he feels himself die.' He looked quizzically into the machine's interior.
'There are all sorts of people in the world,' he said. 'Perhaps we can find a man who doesn't fear Death, but loves her.'
Latourette said bitterly, 'Some kind of psycho.'
'Maybe that's what he is. But I think we need him, nevertheless.' All the other laboratory lights were out, now. 'What it comes down to is that we need a man who's attracted by what drives other men to madness. And the more so, the better. A man who's impassioned by Death.' His eyes lost focus, and his gaze extended itself to infinity.
Continental Electronics' Director of Personnel was a broad-faced man named Vincent Connington. He came briskly into Hawks' office and pumped his hand enthusiastically. He was wearing a light blue shantung suit and russet cowboy boots, and as he sat down in the visitors' chair, puckering the corners of his eyes in the mid-afternoon sunshine streaming through the venetian blinds, he looked around and remarked, 'Got the same office layout myself, upstairs. But it sure looks a lot different with some carpeting on the floor and some good paintin's on the walls.' He turned back to Hawks, smiling. 'I'm glad to get down here and talk to you, Doctor. I've always had a lot of admiration for you. Here you are, running a department and still getting in there and working right with your crew. All I do all day is sit behind a desk and make sure my clerks handle the routine without foulin' up.'
'They seem to do rather well,' Hawks said in a neutral voice. He was beginning to draw himself up unconsciously in his chair and to slip a mask of expressionlessness over his face. His glance touched Connington's boots once and then stayed away. 'At least, your department's been sending me some excellent technicians.'
Connington grinned. 'Nobody's got any better.' He leaned forward. 'But that's routine stuff.' He took Hawks' interoffice memo out of his breast pocket. 'This, now – This request, I'm going to fill personally.'
Hawks said carefully, 'I certainly hope you can. I expect it may take some time to find a man fitting the outlined specifications. I hope you understand that, unfortunately, we don't have much time. I —'
Connington waved a hand. 'Oh, I've got him already. Had him in mind for a long time.'
Hawks' eyebrows rose. 'Really?'
Connington grinned shrewdly across the plain steel desk. 'Hard to believe?' He lounged back in his chair. 'Doctor, suppose somebody came to you and asked you to do a particular job for him – design a circuit to do a particular job. Now, suppose you reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a piece of paper and said, "Here it is." What about that? And then when he was all through shaking his head and saying how it was hard to believe you'd have it right there, you could explain to him about how electronics was what you did all the time. About how when you're not thinking about some specific project, you're still thinking about electronics in general. And how, being interested in electronics, you kept up on it, and you knew pretty much where the whole field was going. And how you thought about some of the problems they were likely to run into, and sometimes answers would just come into your head so easily it couldn't even be called work. And how you filed these things away until it was time for them to be brought out. See? That way, there's no magic. Just a man with a talent, doing his work.'
Connington grinned again. 'Now I've got a man who was made to work on this machine project of yours. I know him inside out. And I know a little bit about you. I've got a lot to learn about you, yet, but I don't think any of it's goin' to surprise me. And I've got your man. He's healthy, he's available, and I've had security clearances run on him every six months for the last two years. He's all yours, Doctor. No foolin'.
'You see, Doctor —' Connington folded his hands in his lap and bent them backward, cracking his knuckles, 'you're not the only mover in the world.'
Hawks frowned slightly. 'Mover?' Now his face betrayed nothing.
Connington chuckled softly to himself over some private joke that was burgeoning within him. 'There're all kinds of people in this world. But they break down into two main groups, one big and one smaller. There's the people who get moved out of the way or into line, and then there's the people who do the moving. It's safer and a lot more comfortable to go where you're pushed. You don't take any of the responsibility, and if you do what you're told, every once in a while you get thrown a fish.
'Being a mover isn't safe, because you may be heading for a hole, and it isn't comfortable because you do a lot of jostling back and forth, and what's more, it's up to you to get your own fish. But it's a hell of a lot of fun.' He looked into Hawks' eyes. 'Isn't it?'
Hawks said, 'Mr Connington —' He looked directly back at the man. 'I'm not convinced. This individual I requested would have to be a very rare type. Are you sure you can instantly give him to me? Do you mean to say your having him ready, as you say, isn't a piece of conspicuous forethought? I think perhaps you may have had some other motive, and that you're seizing on a lucky coincidence.'
Connington lolled back, chuckled, and unwrapped a green-leaved cigar from the tooled leather case in his breast pocket. He snipped open the end with a pair of gold nippers attached to the case by a golden chain, and used a gold-cased lighter set with a ruby. He puffed, and let the smoke writhe out between his large, well-spaced teeth. His eyes glinted behind the drift of smoke that hung in the air in front of his face.
'Let's keep polite, Dr Hawks,' he said. 'Let's look at it in the light of reason. Continental Electronics pays you to head up Research, and you're the best there is.' Connington leaned forward just a little, shifted the cigar just a little in his fingers, and changed the curve of his smile. 'Continental Electronics pays me to run Personnel.'
Hawks thought for a minute and then said, 'Very well. How soon can I see this man?'
Connington lolled back and took a satisfied puff on the cigar. 'Right now. He lives right nearby, on the coast – up on the cliffs there?'
'I know the general location.'
'Good enough. If you've got an hour or so, what say we run on down there now?'
'I have nothing else to do if he turns out not to be the right man.'
Connington stretched and stood up. His belt slipped below the bulge of his stomach, and he stopped to hitch up his trousers. 'Use your phone,' he muttered perfunctorily around the cigar, reaching across Hawks' desk. He called an outside number and spoke to someone briefly – and, for a moment, sourly – saying they were coming out. Then he called the company garage and ordered his car brought around to the building's main entrance. When he hung up the phone, he was chuckling again. 'Well, time we get downstairs, the car'll be there.'
Excerpted from Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys. Copyright © 1960 Algis Budrys. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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