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´╗┐Title: Voyage To Eternity
Author: Marlowe, Stephen, 1928-2008
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Voyage To Eternity" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Imagination Stories of Science and
    Fantasy July 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence
    that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

                          VOYAGE TO ETERNITY


                            Milton Lesser

     Temple faced leaving Earth--and the girl he loved--if his
     country drafted him. But the hard part was in knowing he'd
     never return!...

       *       *       *       *       *

When the first strong sunlight of May covered the tree-arched avenues
of Center City with green, the riots started.


The people gathered in angry knots outside the city hall, met in the
park and littered its walks with newspapers and magazines as they
gobbled up editorial comment at a furious rate, slipped with dark of
night through back alleys and planned things with furious futility.
Center City's finest knew when to make themselves scarce: their
uniforms stood for everything objectionable at this time and they
might be subjected to clubs, stones, taunts, threats, leers--and

But Center City, like most communities in United North America, had
survived the Riots before and would survive them again. On past
performances, the damage could be estimated, too. Two-hundred
fifty-seven plate glass windows would be broken, three-hundred twelve
limbs fractured. Several thousand people would be treated for minor
bruises and abrasions, Center City would receive half that many damage
suits. The list had been drawn clearly and accurately; it hardly ever

And Center City would meet its quota. With a demonstration of
reluctance, of course. The healthy approved way to get over social
trauma once every seven-hundred eighty days.

"Shut it off, Kit. Kit, please."

The telio blared in a cheaply feminine voice, "Oh, it's a long way to
nowhere, forever. And your honey's not coming back, never, never,
never...." A wailing trumpet represented flight.

"They'll exploit anything, Kit."

"It's just a song."

"Turn it off, please."

Christopher Temple turned off the telio, smiling. "They'll announce
the names in ten minutes," he said, and felt the corners of his mouth
draw taut.

"Tell me again, Kit," Stephanie pleaded. "How old are you?"

"You know I'm twenty-six."

"Twenty-six. Yes, twenty-six, so if they don't call you this time,
you'll be safe. Safe, I can hardly believe it."

"Nine minutes," said Temple in the darkness. Stephanie had drawn the
blinds earlier, had dialed for sound-proofing. The screaming in the
streets came to them as not the faintest whisper. But the song which
became briefly, masochistically popular every two years and two months
had spoiled their feeling of seclusion.

"Tell me again, Kit."


"You know what."

He let her come to him, let her hug him fiercely and whimper against
his chest. He remained passive although it hurt, occasionally stroking
her hair. He could not assert himself for another--he looked at his
strap chrono--for another eight minutes. He might regret it, if he
did, for a lifetime.

"Tell me, Kit."

"I'll marry you, Steffy. In eight minutes, less than eight minutes,
I'll go down and get the license. We'll marry as soon as it's legal."

"This is the last time they have a chance for you. I mean, they won't
change the law?"

Temple shook his head. "They don't have to. They meet their quota this

"I'm scared."

"You and everyone else in North America, Steffy."

She was trembling against him. "It's cold for June."

"It's warm in here." He kissed her moist eyes, her nose, her lips.

"Oh God, Kit. Five minutes."

"Five minutes to freedom," he said jauntily. He did not feel that way
at all. Apprehension clutched at his chest with tight, painful
fingers, almost making it difficult for him to breathe.

"Turn it on, Kit."

       *       *       *       *       *

He dialed the telio in time to see the announcer's insincere smile.
Smile seventeen, Kit thought wryly. Patriotic sacrifice.

"Every seven-hundred eighty days," said the announcer, "two-hundred of
Center City's young men are selected to serve their country for an
indeterminate period regulated rigidly by a rotation system."

"Liar!" Stephanie cried. "No one ever comes back. It's been thirty
years since the first group and not one of them...."

"Shh," Temple raised a finger to his lips.

"This is the thirteenth call since the inception of what is popularly
referred to as the Nowhere Journey," said the announcer. "Obviously,
the two hundred young men from Center City and the thousands from all
over this hemisphere do not in reality embark on a Journey to Nowhere.
That is quite meaningless."

"Hooray for him," Temple laughed.

"I wish he'd get on with it."

"No, ladies and gentlemen, we use the word Nowhere merely because we
are not aware of the ultimate destination. Security reasons make it
impossible to...."

"Yes, yes," said Stephanie impatiently. "Go on."

"... therefore, the Nowhere Journey. With a maximum security lid on
the whole project, we don't even know why our men are sent, or by what
means. We know only that they go somewhere and not nowhere, bravely
and not fearfully, for a purpose vital to the security of this nation
and not to slake the thirst of a chessman of regiments and divisions.

"If Center City's contribution helps keep our country strong, Center
City is naturally obligated...."

"No one ever said it isn't our duty," Stephanie argued, as if the
announcer could indeed hear her. "We only wish we knew something about
it--and we wish it weren't forever."

"It isn't forever," Temple reminded her. "Not officially."

"Officially, my foot. If they never return, they never return. If
there's a rotation system on paper, but it's never used, that's not a
rotation system at all. Kit, it's forever."

"... to thank the following sponsors for relinquishing their time...."

"No one would want to sponsor _that_," Temple whispered cheerfully.

"Kit," said Stephanie, "I--I suddenly have a hunch we have nothing to
worry about. They missed you all along and they'll miss you this time,
too. The last time, and then you'll be too old. That's funny, too old
at twenty-six. But we'll be free, Kit. Free."

"He's starting," Temple told her.

A large drum filled the entire telio screen. It rotated slowly, from
bottom to top. In twenty seconds, the letter A appeared, followed by
about a dozen names. Abercrombie, Harold. Abner, Eugene. Adams,
Gerald. Sorrow in the Abercrombie household. Despair for the Abners.
Black horror for Adams.

The drum rotated.

"They're up to F, Kit."

Fabian, Gregory G....

Names circled the drum slowly, like viscous alphabet soup.
Meaningless, unless you happened to know them.

"Kit, I knew Thomas Mulvany."

N, O, P....

"It's hot in here."

"I thought you were cold."

"I'm suffocating now."

R, S....

"T!" Stephanie shrieked as the names began to float slowly up from the
bottom of the drum.

Tabor, Tebbets, Teddley....

Temple's mouth felt dry as a ball of cotton. Stephanie laughed
nervously. Now--or never. Never?


Stephanie whimpered despairingly.


       *       *       *       *       *

"Sorry I'm late, Mr. Jones."

"Hardly, Mr. Smith. Hardly. Three minutes late."

"I've come in response to your ad."

"I know. You look old."

"I am over twenty-six. Do you mind?"

"Not if you don't, Mr. Smith. Let me look at you. Umm, you seem the
right height, the right build."

"I meet the specifications exactly."

"Good, Mr. Smith. And your price."

"No haggling," said Smith. "I have a price which must be met."

"Your price, Mr. Smith?"

"Ten million dollars."

The man called Jones coughed nervously. "That's high."

"Very. Take it or leave it."

"In cash?"

"Definitely. Small unmarked bills."

"You'd need a moving van!"

"Then I'll get one."

"Ten million dollars," said Jones, "is quite a price. Admittedly, I
haven't dealt in this sort of traffic before, but--"

"But nothing. Were your name Jones, really and truly Jones, I might
ask less."


"You are Jones exactly as much as I am Smith."

"Sir?" Jones gasped again.

Smith coughed discreetly. "But I have one advantage. I know you. You
don't know me, Mr. Arkalion."

"Eh? Eh?"

"Arkalion. The North American Carpet King. Right?"

"How did you know?" the man whose name was not Jones but Arkalion
asked the man whose name was not Smith but might as well have been.

"When I saw your ad," said not-Smith, "I said to myself, 'now here
must be a very rich, influential man.' It only remained for me to
study a series of photographs readily obtainable--I have a fine memory
for that, Mr. Arkalion--and here you are; here is Arkalion the Carpet

"What will you do with the ten million dollars?" demanded Arkalion,
not minding the loss nearly so much as the ultimate disposition of his

"Why, what does anyone do with ten million dollars? Treasure it.
Invest it. Spend it."

"I mean, what will you do with it if you are going in place of my--"
Arkalion bit his tongue.

"Your son, were you saying, Mr. Arkalion? Alaric Arkalion the Third.
Did you know that I was able to boil my list of men down to thirty
when I studied their family ties?"

"Brilliant, Mr. Smith. Alaric is so young--"

"Aren't they all? Twenty-one to twenty-six. Who was it who once said
something about the flower of our young manhood?"

"Shakespeare?" said Mr. Arkalion realizing that most quotes of lasting
importance came from the bard.

"Sophocles," said Smith. "But, no matter. I will take young Alaric's
place for ten million dollars."

Motives always troubled Mr. Arkalion, and thus he pursued what might
have been a dangerous conversation. "You'll never get a chance to
spend it on the Nowhere Journey."

"Let me worry about that."

"No one ever returns."

"My worry, not yours."

"It is forever--as if you dropped out of existence. Alaric is so

"I have always gambled, Mr. Arkalion. If I do not return in five
years, you are to put the money in a trust fund for certain designated
individuals, said fund to be terminated the moment I return. If I come
back within the five years, you are merely to give the money over to
me. Is that clear?"


"I'll want it in writing, of course."

"Of course. A plastic surgeon is due here in about ten minutes, Mr.
Smith, and we can get on with.... But if I don't know your name, how
can I put it in writing?"

Smith smiled. "I changed my name to Smith for the occasion. Perfectly
legal. My name is John X. Smith--now."

"That's where you're wrong," said Mr. Arkalion as the plastic surgeon
entered. "Your name is Alaric Arkalion III--_now_."

The plastic surgeon skittered around Smith, examining him minutely
with the casual expertness that comes with experience.

"Have to shorten the cheek bones."

"For ten million dollars," said Smith, "you can take the damned things
out altogether and hang them on your wall."

       *       *       *       *       *

Sophia Androvna Petrovitch made her way downtown through the bustle of
tired workers and the occasional sprinkling of Comrades. She crushed
her _ersatz_ cigarette underfoot at number 616 Stalin Avenue, paused
for the space of five heartbeats at the door, went inside.

"What do you want?" The man at the desk was myopic but bull-necked.

Sophia showed her party card.

"Oh, Comrade. Still, you are a woman."

"You're terribly observant, Comrade," said Sophia coldly. "I am here
to volunteer."

"But a woman."

"There is nothing in the law which says a woman cannot volunteer."

"We don't make women volunteer."

"I mean really volunteer, of her own free will."

"Her--own--free will?" The bull-necked man removed his spectacles,
scratched his balding head with the ear-pieces. "You mean volunteer

"Without coercion. I want to volunteer. I am here to volunteer. I want
to sign on for the next Stalintrek."

"Stalintrek, a woman?"

"That is what I said."

"We don't force women to volunteer." The man scratched some more.

"Oh, really," said Sophia. "This is 1992, not mid-century, Comrade.
Did not Premier Stalin say, 'Woman was created to share the glorious
destiny of Mother Russia with her mate?'" Sophia created the quote

"Yes, if Stalin said--"

"He did."

"Still, I do not recall--"

"What?" Sophia cried. "Stalin dead these thirty-nine years and you
don't recall his speeches? What is your name, Comrade?"

"Please, Comrade. Now that you remind me, I remember."

"What is your name."

"Here, I will give you the volunteer papers to sign. If you pass the
exams, you will embark on the next Stalintrek, though why a beautiful
young woman like you--"

"Shut your mouth and hand me those papers."

There, sitting behind that desk, was precisely why. Why should she,
Sophia Androvna Petrovitch, wish to volunteer for the Stalintrek?
Better to ask why a bird flies south in the winter, one day ahead of
the first icy gale. Or why a lemming plunges recklessly into the sea
with his multitudes of fellows, if, indeed, the venture were to turn
out grimly.

But there, behind that desk, was part of the reason. The Comrade. The
bright sharp Comrade, with his depth of reasoning, his fountain of
gushing emotions, his worldliness. _Pfooey!_

It was as if she had been in a cocoon all her life, stifled, starved,
the cottony inner lining choking her whenever she opened her mouth,
the leathery outer covering restricting her when she tried to move. No
one had ever returned from the Stalintrek. She then had to assume no
one would. Including Sophia Androvna Petrovitch. But then, there was
nothing she would miss, nothing to which she particularly wanted to
return. Not the stark, foul streets of Stalingrad, not the workers
with their vapid faces or the Comrades with their cautious, sweating,
trembling, fearful non-decisions, not the higher echelon of Comrades,
more frightened but showing it less, who would love the beauty of her
breasts and loins but not herself for you never love anything but the
Stalinimage and Mother Russia herself, not those terrified
martinet-marionettes who would love the parts of her if she permitted
but not her or any other person for that matter.

Wrong with the Stalintrek was its name alone, a name one associated
with everything else in Russia for an obvious, post-Stalin reason. But
everything else about the Stalintrek shrieked mystery and adventure.
Where did you go? How did you get there? What did you do? Why?

A million questions which had kept her awake at night and, if she thought
about them hard enough, satisfied her deep longing for something
different. And then one day when stolid Mrs. Ivanovna-Rasnikov had said,
"It is a joke, a terrible, terrible joke they are taking my husband Fyodor
on the Stalintrek when he lacks sufficient imagination to go from here to
Leningrad or even Tula. Can you picture Fyodor on the Stalintrek? Better
they should have taken me. Better they should have taken his wife." That
day Sophia could hardly contain herself.

As a party member she had access to the law and she read it three
times from start to finish (in her dingy flat by the light of a
smoking, foul-smelling, soft-wax candle) but could find nothing
barring women from the Stalintrek.

Had Fyodor Rasnikov volunteered? Naturally. Everyone volunteered,
although when your name was called you had no choice. There had been
no draft in Russia since the days of the Second War of the People's
Liberation. Volunteer? What, precisely, did the word mean?

She, Sophia Androvna Petrovitch would volunteer, without being told.
Thus it was she found herself at 616 Stalin Avenue, and thus the
balding, myopic, bull-necked Comrade thrust the papers across his desk
at her.

She signed her name with such vehemence and ferocity that she almost
tore through the paper.


_Three-score men sit in the crowded, smoke-filled room. Some drink
beer, some squat in moody silence, some talk in an animated fashion
about nothing very urgent. At the one small door, two guards pace back
and forth slowly, creating a gentle swaying of smoke-patterns in the
hazy room. The guards, in simple military uniform, carry small, deadly
looking weapons._

FIRST MAN: Fight City Hall? Are you kidding? They took you, bud.
Don't try to fight it. I know. I _know_.

SECOND MAN: I'm telling you, there was a mistake in the records. I'm
over twenty-six. Two weeks and two days. Already I wrote to my
Congressman. Hell, that's why I voted for him, he better go to bat for

THIRD MAN: You think that's something? I wouldn't be here only those
doctors are crazy. I mean, crazy. Me, with a cyst big as a golf ball
on the base of my spine.

FIRST MAN: You too. Don't try to fight it.

FOURTH MAN: (Newly named Alaric Arkalion III) I look forward to this
as a stimulating adventure. Does the fact that they select men for the
Nowhere Journey once every seven hundred and eighty days strike anyone
as significant?

SECOND MAN: I got my own problems.

ALARIC ARKALION: This is not a thalamic problem, young man. Not
thalamic at all.

THIRD MAN: Young man? Who are you kidding?

ALARIC ARKALION: (Who realizes, thanks to the plastic surgeon, he is
the youngest looking of all, with red cheeks and peach-fuzz whiskers)
It is a problem of the intellect. Why seven hundred and eighty days?

FIRST MAN: I read the magazines, too, chief. You think we're all going
to the planet Mars. How original.

ALARIC ARKALION: As a matter of fact, that is exactly what I think.


FIRST MAN (Laughing) It's a long way from Mars to City Hall, doc.

SECOND MAN: You mean, through space to Mars?

ALARIC ARKALION: Exactly, exactly. Quite a coincidence, otherwise.

FIRST MAN: You're telling me.

ALARIC ARKALION: (Coldly) Would you care to explain it?

FIRST MAN: Why, sure. You see, Mars is--uh, I don't want to steal your
thunder, chief. Go ahead.

ALARIC ARKALION: Once every seven hundred and eighty days Mars and the
Earth find themselves in the same orbital position with respect to the
sun. In other words, Mars and Earth are closest then. Were there such
a thing as space travel, new, costly, not thoroughly tested, they
would want to make each journey as brief as possible. Hence the seven
hundred and eighty days.

FIRST MAN: Not bad, chief. You got most of it.

THIRD MAN: No one ever said anything about space travel.

FIRST MAN: You think we'd broadcast it or something, stupid? It's part
of a big, important scientific experiment, only we're the hamsters.

ALARIC ARKALION: Ridiculous. You're forgetting all about the Cold War.

FIRST MAN: He thinks we're fighting a war with the Martians. (Laughs)
Orson Wells stuff, huh?

ALARIC ARKALION: With the Russians. The Russians. We developed A
bombs. They developed A bombs. We came up with the H bomb. So did
they. We placed a station up in space, a fifth of the way to the moon.
So did they. Then--nothing more about scientific developments. For
over twenty years. I ask you, doesn't it seem peculiar?

FIRST MAN: Peculiar, he says.


SECOND MAN: I wish my Congressman....

FIRST MAN: You and your Congressman. The way you talk, it was your
vote got him in office.

SECOND MAN: If only I could get out and talk to him.

ALARIC ARKALION: No one is permitted to leave.

FIRST MAN: Punishable by a prison term, the law says.

SECOND MAN. Oh yeah? Prison, shmision. Or else go on the Nowhere
Journey. Well, I don't see the difference.

FIRST MAN: So, go ahead. Try to escape.

SECOND MAN: (Looking at the guards) They got them all over. All over.
I think our mail is censored.


SECOND MAN: They better watch out. I'm losing my temper. I get violent
when I lose my temper.

FIRST MAN: See? See how the guards are trembling.

SECOND MAN: Very funny. Maybe you didn't have a good job or something?
Maybe you don't care. I care. I had a job with a future. Didn't pay
much, but a real blue chip future. So they send me to Nowhere.

FIRST MAN: You're not there yet.

SECOND MAN: Yeah, but I'm going.

THIRD MAN: If only they let you know when. My back is killing me. I'm
waiting to pull a sick act. Just waiting, that's all.

FIRST MAN: Go ahead and wait, a lot of good it will do you.

THIRD MAN: You mind your own business.

FIRST MAN: I am, doc. You brought the whole thing up.

SECOND MAN: He's looking for trouble.

THIRD MAN: He'll get it.

ALARIC ARKALION: We're going to be together a long time. A long time.
Why don't you all relax?

SECOND MAN: You mind your own business.

FIRST MAN: Nuts, aren't they. They're nuts. A sick act, yet.

SECOND MAN: Look how it doesn't bother him. A failure, he was. I can
just see it. What does he care if he goes away forever and doesn't
come back? One bread line is as good as another.


SECOND MAN: Yeah, well I mean it. Forever. We're going away,
someplace--forever. We're not coming back, ever. No one comes back.
It's for good, for keeps.

FIRST MAN: Tell it to your Congressman. Or maybe you want to pull a
sick act, too?

THIRD MAN: (Hits First Man, who, surprised, crashes back against a
table and falls down) It isn't an act, damn you!

GUARD: All right, break it up. Come on, break it up....

ALARIC ARKALION: (To himself) I wish I saw that ten million dollars
already--_if_ I ever get to see it.

       *       *       *       *       *

They drove for hours through the fresh country air, feeling the wind
against their faces, listening to the roar their ground-jet made, all
alone on the rimrock highway.

"Where are we going, Kit?"

"Search me. Just driving."

"I'm glad they let you come out this once. I don't know what they
would have done to me if they didn't. I had to see you this once. I--"

Temple smiled. He had absented himself without leave. It had been
difficult enough and he might yet be in a lot of hot water, but it
would be senseless to worry Stephanie. "It's just for a few hours," he

"Hours. When we want a whole lifetime. Kit. Oh, Kit--why don't we run
away? Just the two of us, someplace where they'll never find you. I
could be packed and ready and--"

"Don't talk like that. We can't."

"You want to go where they're sending you. You want to go."

"For God's sake, how can you talk like that? I don't want to go
anyplace, except with you. But we can't run away, Steffy. I've got to
face it, whatever it is."

"No you don't. It's noble to be patriotic, sure. It always was. But
this is different, Kit. They don't ask for part of your life. Not for
two years, or three, or a gamble because maybe you won't ever come
back. They ask for all of you, for the rest of your life, forever, and
they don't even tell you why. Kit, don't go! We'll hide someplace and
get married and--"

"And nothing." Temple stopped the ground-jet, climbed out, opened the
door for Stephanie. "Don't you see? There's no place to hide. Wherever
you go, they'd look. You wouldn't want to spend the rest of your life
running, Steffy. Not with me or anyone else."

"I would. I would!"

"Know what would happen after a few years? We'd hate each other. You'd
look at me and say 'I wouldn't be hiding like this, except for you.
I'm young and--'"

"Kit, that's cruel! I would not."

"Yes, you would. Steffy, I--" A lump rose in his throat. He'd tell her
goodbye, permanently. He had to do it that way, did not want her to
wait endlessly and hopelessly for a return that would not materialize.
"I didn't get permission to leave, Steffy." He hadn't meant to tell
her that, but suddenly it seemed an easy way to break into goodbye.

"What do you mean? No--you didn't...."

"I had to see you. What can they do, send me for longer than forever?"

"Then you do want to run away with me!"

"Steffy, no. When I leave you tonight, Steffy, it's for good. That's
it. The last of Kit Temple. Stop thinking about me. I don't exist.
I--never was." It sounded ridiculous, even to him.

"Kit, I love you. I love you. How can I forget you?"

"It's happened before. It will happen again." That hurt, too. He was
talking about a couple of statistics, not about himself and Stephanie.

"We're different, Kit. I'll love you forever. And--Kit ... I know
you'll come back to me. I'll wait, Kit. We're different. You'll come

"How many people do you think said _that_ before?"

"You don't want to come back, even if you could. You're not thinking
of us at all. You're thinking of your brother."

"You know that isn't true. Sometimes I wonder about Jase, sure. But if
I thought there was a chance to return--I'm a selfish cuss, Steffy. If
I thought there was a chance, you know I'd want you all for myself.
I'd brand you, and that's the truth."

"You do love me!"

"I loved you, Steffy. Kit Temple loved you."


"Loved. Past tense. When I leave tonight, it's as if I don't exist
anymore. As if I never existed. It's got to be that way, Steffy. In
thirty years, no one ever returned."

"Including your brother, Jase. So now you want to find him. What do I
count for? What...."

"This going wasn't my idea. I wanted to stay with you. I wanted to
marry you. I can't now. None of it. Forget me, Steffy. Forget you ever
knew me. Jase said that to our folks before he was taken." Almost five
years before Jason Temple had been selected for the Nowhere Journey.
He'd been young, though older than his brother Kit. Young, unattached,
almost cheerful he was. Naturally, they never saw him again.

"Hold me, Kit. I'm sorry ... carrying on like this."

They had walked some distance from the ground-jet, through scrub oak
and bramble bushes. They found a clearing, fragrant-scented,
soft-floored still from last autumn, melodic with the chirping of
nameless birds. They sat, not talking. Stephanie wore a gay summer
dress, full-skirted, cut deep beneath the throat. She swayed toward
him from the waist, nestled her head on his shoulder. He could smell
the soft, sweet fragrance of her hair, of the skin at the nape of her
neck. "If you want to say goodbye...." she said.

"Stop it," he told her.

"If you want to say goodbye...."

Her head rolled against his chest. She turned, cradled herself in his
arms, smiled up at him, squirmed some more and had her head pillowed
on his lap. She smiled tremulously, misty-eyed. Her lips parted.

He bent and kissed her, knowing it was all wrong. This was not
goodbye, not the way he wanted it. Quickly, definitely, for once and
all. With a tear, perhaps, a lot of tears. But permanent goodbye. This
was all wrong. The whole idea was to be business-like, objective. It
had to be done that way, or no way at all. Briefly, he regretted
leaving the encampment.

This wasn't goodbye the way he wanted it. The way it had to be. This
was _auf weidersen_.

And then he forgot everything but Stephanie....

       *       *       *       *       *

"I am Alaric Arkalion III," said the extremely young-looking man with
the old, wise eyes.

How incongruous, Temple thought. The eyes look almost middle-aged. The
rest of him--a boy.

"Something tells me we'll be seeing a lot of each other," Arkalion
went on. The voice was that of an older man, too, belying the youthful
complexion, the almost childish features, the soft fuzz of a beard.

"I'm Kit Temple," said Temple, extending his hand. "Arkalion, a
strange name. I know it from somewhere.... Say! Aren't you--don't you
have something to do with carpets or something?"

"Here and now, no. I am a number. A-92-6417. But my father is--perhaps
I had better say was--my father is Alaric Arkalion II. Yes, that is
right, the carpet king."

"I'll be darned," said Temple.


"Well," Temple laughed. "I never met a billionaire before."

"Here I am not a billionaire, nor will I ever be one again. A-92-6417,
a number. On his way to Mars with a bunch of other numbers."

"Mars? You sound sure of yourself."

"Reasonably. Ah, it is a pleasure to talk with a gentleman. I am
reasonably certain it will be Mars."

Temple nodded in agreement. "That's what the Sunday supplements say,
all right."

"And doubtless you have observed no one denies it."

"But what on Earth do we want on Mars?"

"That in itself is a contradiction," laughed Arkalion. "We'll find
out, though, Temple."

They had reached the head of the line, found themselves entering a
huge, double-decker jet-transport. They found two seats together,
followed the instructions printed at the head of the aisle by
strapping themselves in and not smoking. Talking all around them was

"Contrariness has given way to fear," Arkalion observed. "You should
have seen them the last few days, waiting around the induction center,
a two-ton chip on each shoulder. Say, where _were_ you?"

"I--what do you mean?"

"I didn't see you until last evening. Suddenly, you were here."

"Did anyone else miss me?"

"But I remember you the first day."

"Did anyone else miss me? Any of the officials?"

"No. Not that I know of."

"Then I was here," Temple said, very seriously.

Arkalion smiled. "By George, of course. Then you were here. Temple,
we'll get along fine."

Temple said that was swell.

"Anyway, we'd better. Forever is a long time."

Three minutes later, the jet took off and soared on eager wings toward
the setting sun.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Men, since we are leaving here in a few hours and since there is no
way to get out of the encampment and no place to go over the desert
even if you could," the microphone in the great, empty hall boomed as
the two files of men marched in, "there is no harm in telling you
where you are. From this point, in a limited sense, you shall be kept
abreast of your progress.

"We are in White Sands, New Mexico."

"The Garden Spot of the Universe!" someone shouted derisively,
remembering the bleak hot desert and jagged mountain peaks as they
came down.

"White Sands," muttered Arkalion. "It looks like space travel now,
doesn't it, Kit."

Temple shrugged. "Why?"

"White sands was the center of experiments in rocketry decades ago,
when people still talked about those things. Then, for a long time, no
one heard anything about White Sands. The rockets grew here, Kit."

"I can readily see why. You could look all your life without finding a
barren spot like this."

"Precisely. Someone once called this place--or was it some other place
like it?--someone once called it a good place to throw old razor
blades. If people still used razor blades."

The microphone blared again, after the several hundred men had entered
the great hall and milled about among the echoes. Temple could picture
other halls like this, other briefings. "Men, whenever you are given
instructions, in here or elsewhere, obey them instantly. Our job is a
big one, complicated and exacting. Attention to detail will save us

Someone said, "My old man served a hitch in the army, back in the
sixties. That's what he always said, attention to details. The army is
crazy about things like that. Are we in the army or something?"

"This is not the army, but the function is similar," barked the
microphone. "Do as you are told and you will get along."

Stirrings in the crowd. Mutterings. Temple gaped. Microphone, yes--but
receivers also, placed strategically, all around the hall, to pick up
sound. Telio receivers too, perhaps? It made him feel something like a

Apparently someone liked the idea of the two-way microphones. "I got a
question. When are we coming back?"

Laughter. Hooting. Catcalls.

Blared the microphone: "There is a rotation system in operation, men.
When it is feasible, men will be rotated."

"Yeah, in thirty years it ain't been whatsiz--feasible--once!"

"That, unfortunately, is correct. When the situation permits, we will
rotate you home."

"From where? Where are we going?"

"At least tell us that."


"How about that?"

There was a pause, then the microphone barked: "I don't know the
answer to that question. You won't believe me, but it is the truth. No
one knows where you are going. No one. Except the people who are
already there."

More catcalls.

"That doesn't make sense," Arkalion whispered. "If it's space travel,
the pilots would know, wouldn't they?"

"Automatic?" Temple suggested.

"I doubt it. Space travel must still be new, even if it has thirty years
under its belt. If that man speaks the truth--if no one knows ... just
where in the universe _are_ we going?"


"Hey, looka me. I'm flying!"

"Will you get your big fat feet out of my face?"

"Sure. Show me how to swim away through air, I'll be glad to."

"Leggo that spoon!"

"I ain't got your spoon."

"Will you look at it float away. Hey spoon, hey!"

"Watch this, Charlie. This will get you. I mean, get you."

"What are you gonna do?"

"Relax, chum."

"Leggo my leg. Help! I'm up in the air. Stop that."

"I said relax. There. Ha-ha, lookit him spin, just like a top. All you
got to do is get him started and he spins like a top with arms and
legs. Top of the morning to you, Charlie. Ha-ha. I said, top of

"Someone stop me, I'm getting dizzy."

They floated, tumbled, spun around the spaceship's lounge room in
simple, childish glee. They cavorted in festive weightlessness.

"They're happy now," Arkalion observed. "The novelty of free fall, of
weighing exactly nothing, strikes them as amusing."

"I think I'm getting the hang of it," said Temple. Clumsily, he made a
few tentative swimming motions in the air, propelling himself forward
a few yards before he lost his balance and tumbled head over heels
against the wall.

Arkalion came to him quickly, in a combination of swimming and pushing
with hands and feet against the wall. Arkalion righted him expertly,
sat down gingerly beside him. "If you keep sudden motions to a
minimum, you'll get along fine. More than anything else, that's the
secret of it."

Temple nodded. "It's sort of like the first time you're on ice skates.
Say, how come you're so good at it?"


"I used to read the old, theoretical books on space-travel." The words
poured out effortlessly, smoothly. "I'm merely applying the theories
put forward as early as the 1950's."

"Oh." But it left Temple with some food for thought. Alaric Arkalion
was a queer duck, anyway, and of all the men gathered in the
spaceship's lounge, he alone had mastered weightlessness with hardly
any trouble.

"Take your ice skates," Arkalion went on. "Some people put them on and
use them like natural extensions of their feet the first time. Others
fall all over themselves. I suppose I am lucky."

"Sure," said Temple. Actually, the only thing odd about Arkalion was
his old-young face and--perhaps--his propensity for coming up with the
right answers at the right times. Arkalion had seemed so certain of
space-travel. He'd hardly batted an eyelash when they boarded a long,
tapering, bullet-shaped ship at White Sands and thundered off into the
sky. He took for granted the change-over to a huge round ship at the
wheel-shaped station in space. Moments after leaving the space
station--with a minimum of stress and strain, thanks to the almost-nil
gravity--it was Arkalion who first swam through air to the viewport
and pointed out the huge crescent earth, green and gray and brown,
sparkling with patches of dazzling silver-white. "You will observe it
is a crescent," Arkalion had said. "It is closer to the sun than we
are, and off at an angle. As I suspected, our destination is Mars."

       *       *       *       *       *

Then everyone was saying goodbye to earth. Fantastic, it seemed. There
were tears, there was laughter, cursing, promises of return, awkward
verbal comparisons with the crescent moon, vows of faithfulness to
lovers and sweethearts. And there was Arkalion, with an avid
expression in the old eyes, Arkalion with his boyish face, not saying
goodbye so much as he was calling hello to something Temple could not

Now, as he struggled awkwardly with weightlessness, Temple called it
his imagination. His thought-patterns shifted vaguely, without
motivation, from the gleaming, polished interior of the ship with its
smell of antiseptic and metal polish to the clear Spring air of Earth,
blue of sky and bright of sun. The unique blue sky of Earth which he
somehow knew could not be duplicated elsewhere. Elsewhere--the word
itself bordered on the meaningless.

And Stephanie. The brief warm ecstasy of her--once, forever. He
wondered with surprising objectivity if a hundred other names, a
hundred other women were not in a hundred other minds while everyone
stared at the crescent Earth hanging serenely in space--with each name
and each woman as dear as Stephanie, with the same combination of fire
and gentle femininity stirring the blood but saddening the heart.
Would Stephanie really forget him? Did he want her to? That part of
him burned by the fire of her said no--no, she must not forget him.
She was his, his alone, roped and branded though a universe separated
them. But someplace in his heart was the thought, the understanding,
the realization that although Stephanie might keep a small place for
him tucked someplace deep in her emotions, she must forget. He was
gone--permanently. For Stephanie, he was dead. It was as he had told
her that last stolen day. It was.... _Stephanie, Stephanie, how much I
love you...._

Struggling with weightlessness, he made his way back to the small room
he shared with Arkalion. Hardly more than a cubicle, it was, with
sufficient room for two beds, a sink, a small chest. He lay down and
slept, murmuring Stephanie's name in his sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

He awoke to the faint hum of the air-pumps, got up feeling rested,
forgot his weightlessness and floated to the ceiling where only an
outthrust arm prevented a nasty bump on his head. He used hand grips
on the wall to let himself down. He washed, aware of no way to prevent
the water he splashed on his face from forming fine droplets and
spraying the entire room. When he crossed back to the foot of his bed
to get his towel he thrust one foot out too rapidly, lost his balance,
half-rose, stumbled and fell against the other bed which, like all
other items of furniture, was fastened to the floor. But his elbow
struck sleeping Arkalion's jaw sharply, hard enough to jar the man's

"I'm sorry," said Temple. "Didn't mean to do that," he apologized
again, feeling embarrassed.

Arkalion merely lay there.

"I said I'm sorry."

Arkalion still slept. It seemed inconceivable, for Temple's elbow
pained him considerably. He bent down, examined his inert companion.

Arkalion stirred not a muscle.

Vaguely alarmed, Temple thrust a hand to Arkalion's chest, felt
nothing. He crouched, rested the side of his head over Arkalion's
heart. He listened, heard--nothing.

What was going on here?

"Hey, Arkalion!" Temple shook him, gently at first, then with savage
force. Weightless, Arkalion's body floated up off the bed, taking the
covers with it. His own heart pounding furiously, Temple got it down
again, fingered the left wrist and swallowed nervously.

Temple had never seen a dead man before. Arkalion's heart did not
beat. Arkalion had no pulse.

Arkalion was dead.

Yelling hoarsely, Temple plunged from the room, soaring off the floor
in his haste and striking his head against the ceiling hard enough to
make him see stars. "This guy is dead!" he cried. "Arkalion is dead."

Men stirred in the companionway. Someone called for one of the armed
guards who were constantly on patrol.

"If he's dead, you're yelling loud enough to get him out of his
grave." The voice was quiet, amused.


"What?" Temple blurted, whirling around and striking his head again. A
little wild-eyed, he reentered the room.

"Now, who is dead, Kit?" demanded Arkalion, sitting up and stretching

"Who--is dead? Who--?" Open-mouthed, Temple stared.

       *       *       *       *       *

A guard, completely at home with weightlessness, entered the cubicle
briskly. "What's the trouble in here? Something about a dead man, they

"A dead man?" demanded Arkalion. "Indeed."

"Dead?" muttered Temple, lamely and foolishly. "Dead...."

Arkalion smiled deprecatingly. "My friend must have been talking in
his sleep. The only thing dead in here is my appetite. Weightlessness
doesn't let you become very hungry."

"You'll grow used to it," the guard promised. He patted his paunch
happily. "I am. Well, don't raise the alarm unless there's some
trouble. Remember about the boy who cried wolf."

"Of course," said Temple. "Sure. Sorry."

He watched the guard depart.

"Bad dream?" Arkalion wanted to know.

"Bad dream, my foot. I accidentally hit you. Hard enough to hurt. You
didn't move."

"I'm a sound sleeper."

"I felt for your heart. It wasn't beating. It wasn't!"

"Oh, come, come."

"Your heart was not beating, I said."

"And I suppose I was cold as a slab of ice?"

"Umm, no. I don't remember. Maybe you were. You had no pulse, either."

Arkalion laughed easily. "And am I still dead?"


"Clearly a case of overwrought nerves and a highly keyed imagination.
What you need is some more sleep."

"I'm not sleepy, thanks."

"Well, I think I'll get up and go down for breakfast." Arkalion
climbed out of bed gingerly, made his way to the sink and was soon
gargling with a bottle of prepared mouthwash, occasionally spraying
weightless droplets of the pink liquid up at the ceiling.

Temple lit a cigarette with shaking fingers, made his way to
Arkalion's bed while the man hummed tunelessly at the sink. Temple let
his hands fall on the sheet. It was not cold, but comfortably cool.
Hardly as warm as it should have been, with a man sleeping on it all

Was he still imagining things?

"I'm glad you didn't call for a burial detail and have me expelled
into space with yesterday's garbage," Arkalion called over his
shoulder jauntily as he went outside for some breakfast.

Temple cursed softly and lit another cigarette, dropping the first one
into a disposal chute on the wall.

       *       *       *       *       *

Every night thereafter, Temple made it a point to remain awake after
Arkalion apparently had fallen asleep. But if he were seeking
repetition of the peculiar occurrence, he was disappointed. Not only
did Arkalion sleep soundly and through the night, but he snored.
Loudly and clearly, a wheezing snore.

Arkalion's strange feat--or his own overwrought imagination, Temple
thought wryly--was good for one thing: it took his mind off Stephanie.
The days wore on in endless, monotonous routine. He took some books
from the ship's library and browsed through them, even managing to
find one concerned with traumatic catalepsy, which stated that a
severe emotional shock might render one into a deep enough trance to
have a layman mistakenly pronounce him dead. But what had been the
severe emotional disturbance for Arkalion? Could the effects of
weightlessness manifest themselves in that way in rare instances?
Temple naturally did not know, but he resolved to find out if he could
after reaching their destination.

One day--it was three weeks after they left the space station, Temple
realized--they were all called to assembly in the ship's large main
lounge. As the men drifted in, Temple was amazed to see the progress
they had made with weightlessness. He himself had advanced to handy
facility in locomotion, but it struck him all the more pointedly when
he saw two hundred men swim and float through air, pushing themselves
along by means of the hand-holds strategically placed along the walls.

The ever-present microphone greeted them all. "Good afternoon, men."

"Good afternoon, mac!"

"Hey, is this the way to Ebbetts' Field?"

"Get on with it!"

"Sounds like the same man who addressed us in White Sands," Temple
told Arkalion. "He sure does get around."

"A recording, probably. Listen."

"Our destination, as you've probably read in newspapers and magazines,
is the planet Mars."

Mutterings in the assembly, not many of surprise.

"Their suppositions, based both on the seven hundred eighty day lapse
between Nowhere Journeys and the romantic position in which the planet
Mars has always been held, are correct. We are going to Mars.

"For most of you, Mars will be a permanent home for many years to

"Most of us?" Temple wondered out loud.

Arkalion raised a finger to his lips for silence.

"--until such time as you are rotated according to the policy of
rotation set up by the government."

Temple had grown accustomed to the familiar hoots and catcalls. He
almost had an urge to join in himself.

"Interesting," Arkalion pointed out. "Back at White Sands they claimed
not to know our destination. They knew it all right--up to a point.
The planet Mars. But now they say that all of us will not remain on
Mars. Most interesting."

"--further indoctrination in our mission soon after our arrival on the
red planet. Landing will be performed under somewhat less strain than
the initial takeoff in the Earth-to-station ferry, since Mars exerts
less of a gravity pull than Earth. On the other hand, you have been
weightless for three weeks and the change-over is liable to make some
of you sick. It will pass harmlessly enough.

"We realize it is difficult, being taken from your homes without
knowing the nature of your urgent mission. All I can tell you
now--and, as a matter of fact, all I know--"

"Here we go again," said Temple. "More riddles."

"--is that everything _is_ of the utmost urgency. Our entire way of
life is at stake. Our job will be to safeguard it. In the months which
follow, few of you will have any big, significant role to play, but
all of you, working together, will provide the strength we need. When
the _cadre_--"

"So they call their guards teachers," Arkalion commented dryly.

"--come around, they will see that each man is strapped properly into
his bunk for deceleration. Deceleration begins in twenty-seven

_Mars_, thought Temple, back in his room with Arkalion. _Mars._ He did
not think of Stephanie, except as a man who knows he must spend the
rest of his life in prison might think of a lush green field, or the
cool swish of skis over fresh, powdery snow, or the sound of yardarms
creaking against the wind on a small sailing schooner, or the tang of
wieners roasting over an open fire with the crisp air of fall against
your back, or the scent of good French brandy, or a woman.

Deceleration began promptly. Before his face was distorted and his
eyes forced shut by a pressure of four gravities, Temple had time to
see the look of complete unconcern on Arkalion's face. Arkalion, in
fact, was sleeping.

He seemed as completely relaxed as he did that morning Temple thought
he was dead.


"Petrovitch, S. A.!" called the Comrade standing abreast of the head
of the line, a thin, nervous man half a head shorter than the girl
herself. Sophia Androvna Petrovitch strode forward, took a pair of
trim white shorts from the neat stack at his left.

"Is that all?" she said, looking at him.

"Yes, Comrade. Well, a woman. Well."

Without embarrassment, Sophia had seen the men ahead of her in line
strip and climb into the white shorts before they disappeared through
a portal ahead of the line, depositing their clothing in a growing
pile on the floor. But now it was Sophia's turn, after almost a two
hour wait. Not that it was chilly, but....

"Is that all?" she repeated.

"Certainly. Strip and move along, Comrade." The nervous little man
appraised her lecherously, she thought.

"Then I must keep some of my own clothing," she told him.

"Impossible. I have my orders."

"I am a woman."

"You are a volunteer for the Stalintrek. You will take no personal
property--no clothing--with you. Strip and advance, please."

Sophia flushed slightly, while the men behind her began to call and

"I like this Stalintrek."

"Oh, yes."

"We are waiting, Comrade."

Quickly and with an objective detachment which surprised her, Sophia
unbuttoned her shirt, removed it. Her one wish--and an odd one, she
thought, smiling--was for wax for her ears. She loosened the three
snaps of her skirt, watched it fall to the floor. She stood there
briefly, lithe-limbed, a tall, slim girl, then had the white shorts
over her nakedness in one quick motion. She still wore a coarse

"All personal effects, Comrade," said the nervous little man.

"No," Sophia told him.

"But yes. Definitely, yes. You hold up the line, and we have a
schedule to maintain. The Stalintrek demands quick, prompt obedience."

"Then you will give me one additional item of clothing."

The man looked at Sophia's halter, at the fine way she filled it. He
shrugged. "We don't have it," he said, clearly enjoying himself.

In volunteering for the Stalintrek, Sophia had invaded man's domain.
She had watched not with embarrassment but with scorn while the men in
front of her got out of their clothing. She had invaded man's domain,
and as she watched them, the short, flabby ones, the bony ones with
protruding ribs and collar-bones, those of milky white skin and soft
hands, she knew most of them would bite off more than they could chew
if ever they tried what was the most natural thing for men to try with
a lone woman in an isolated environment. But she _was_ in a man's
world now, and if that was the way they wanted it, she would ask no

She reached up quickly with one hand and unfastened the halter,
catching it with her free hand and holding it in front of her breasts
while the nervous little man licked his lips and gaped. Sophia grabbed
another pair of the white shorts, tore it quickly with her strong
fingers, fashioning a crude covering for herself. This she pulled
around her, fastening it securely with a knot in back.

"You'll have to give that back to me," declared the nervous little

"I'll bet you a samovar on that," Sophia said quietly, so only the man
heard her.

He reached out, as if to rip the crude halter from her body, but
Sophia met him half-way with her strong, slim fingers, wrapping them
around his biceps and squeezing. The man's face turned quickly to
white as he tried unsuccessfully to free his arm.

"Please, that hurts."

"I keep what I am wearing." She tightened her grip, but gazed serenely
into space as the man stifled a whimper.

"Well--" the man whispered indecisively as he gritted his teeth.

"Fool!" said Sophia. "Your arm will be black and blue for a week.
While you men grow soft and lazy, many of the women take their
gymnastics seriously, especially if they want to keep their figures
with the work they must do and the food they must eat. I am stronger
than you and I will hurt you unless--" And her hand tightened around
his scrawny arm until her knuckles showed white.

"Wear what you have and go," the man pleaded, and moaned softly when
Sophia released his numb arm and strode through the portal, still
drawing whistles and leers from the other men, who missed the by-play

       *       *       *       *       *

"So we're on Mars!"

"It ain't Nowhere after all, it's Mars."

"Wait and see, buster. Wait and see."

"Kind of cold, isn't it? Well, if this was Venus and some of them
beautiful one-armed dames was waiting for us--"

"That's just a statue, stupid."

"Lookit all them people down there, will you?"

"You think they're Martians?"

"Stupid! We ain't the first ones went on the Nowhere Journey."

"What are we waiting for? It sure will feel good to stretch your

"Let's go!"

"Look out, Mars, here I come!"

It would have been just right for a Hollywood epic, Temple thought.
The rusty ochre emptiness spreading out toward the horizon in all
directions, spotted occasionally with pale green and frosty white, the
sky gray with but a shade of blue in it, distant gusts of Martian wind
swirling ochre clouds across the desert, the spaceship poised on its
ungainly bottom, a great silver bowling ball with rocket tubes for
finger holes, and the Martians from Earth who had been here on this
alien world for seven-hundred-eighty days or twice seven-eighty or
three times, and who fought in frenzied eagerness, like savages, to
reach the descending gangplank first.

Earth chorus: Hey, Martians, any of you guys speak English? Hah-ha, I
said, any of you guys....

Where are all them canals I heard so much about?

You think maybe they're dangerous? (Laughter)

No dames. Hey, no dames....

Who were you expecting, Donna Daunley?

What kind of place is Mars with no women?

What do they do here, anyway, just sit around and wait for the next

I'm cold.

Get used to it, brother, get used to it.

Look out, Mars, here I come!

Martian chorus: Who won the Series last year, Detroit?

Hey, bud, tell me, are dames still wearing those one piece things, all
colors, so you see their legs up to about here and their chests down
to about here? (Gestures lewdly)

Which one of you guys can tell me what it's like to take a bath? I
mean a real bath in a real bath tub.

Hey, we licked Russia yet?

We heard they were gonna send some dames!

Dames--ha-ha, you're breaking my heart.

Tell me what a steak tastes like. So thick.

Me? Gimme a bowl of steamed oysters. And a dame.

Dames. Girls. Women. Females. Chicks. Tomatoes. Frails. Dames. Dames.

They did not seem to mind the cold, these Earth-Martians. Temple
guessed they never spent much time out of doors (above ground, for
there were no buildings?) because all seemed pale and white. While the
sun was weaker, so was the protection offered by a thinner atmosphere.
The sun's actinic rays could burn, and so could the sand-driving wind.
But pale skins could not be the result of staying indoors, for Temple
noted the lack of man-made structures at once. Underground, then. The
Earth-Martians lived underground like moles. Doing what? And for what
reason? With what ultimate goal, if any? And where did those men who
did not remain on Mars go? Temple's head whirled with countless
questions--and no answers.

Shoulder to shoulder with Arkalion, he made his way down the
gangplank, turning up the collar of his jumper against the stinging

"You got any newspapers, pal?"


"Phonograph records?"



"Who's the heavyweight champ?"

"We lick those Commies in Burma yet?"

"Step back! Watch that man. Maybe he's your replacement."

"Replacement. Ha-ha. That's good."

All types of men. All ages. In torn, tattered clothing, mostly. In
rags. Even if a man seemed more well-groomed than the rest, on closer
examination Temple could see the careful stitching, the patches, the
fades and stains. No one seemed to mind.

"Hey, bud. What do you hear about rotation? They passed any laws yet?"

"I been here ten years. When do _I_ get rotated?"

"Ain't that something? Dad Jenks came here with the first ship. Don't
you talk about rotation. Ask Dad."

"Better not mention that word to Dad Jenks. He sees red."

"This whole damn planet is red."

"Want a guided tour of nowhere, men? Step right up."

Arkalion grinned. "They seem so well-adjusted," he said, then
shuddered against the cold and followed Temple, with the others,
through the crowd.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were inoculated against nameless diseases. (Watch for the needle
with the hook.)

They were told again they had arrived on the planet Mars. (No

Led to a drab underground city, dimly lit, dank, noisome with mold and
mildew. (Quick, the chlorophyll.)

Assigned bunks in a dormitory, with four men to a room. (Be it ever so

Told to keep things clean and assigned temporarily to a garbage pickup
detail. (For this I left Sheboygan?)

Read to from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and
Public Law 1182 (concerned with the Nowhere Journey, it told them
nothing they did not already know).

Given as complete a battery of tests, mental, emotional and physical,
as Temple ever knew existed. (Cripes, man! How the hell should I know
what the cube root of -5 is? I never finished high school!)

Subjected to an exhaustive, overlong, and at times meaningless
personal interview. (No, doc, honest. I never knew I had
a--uh--anxiety neurosis. Is it dangerous?)

"How do you do, Temple? Sit down."

"Thank you."

"Thought you'd like to know that while your overall test score is not
uncanny, it's decidedly high."

"So what?"

"So nothing--not necessarily. Except that with it you have a very well
balanced personality. We can use you, Temple."

"That's why I'm here."

"I mean--elsewhere. Mars is only a way station, a training center for
a select few. It takes an awful lot of administrative work to keep
this place going, which explains the need for all the station

"Listen. The last few weeks I had everything thrown at me.
Everything, the works. Mind answering one question?"


"What's this all about?"

"Temple, I don't know!"

"You what?"

"I know you find it hard to believe, but I don't. There isn't a man
here on Mars who knows the whole story, either--and certainly not on
Earth. We know enough to keep everything in operation. And we know
it's important, all of it, everything we do."

"You mentioned a need for some men elsewhere. Where?"

The psychiatrist shrugged. "I don't know. Somewhere. Anywhere." He
spread his hands out eloquently. "That's where the Nowhere Journey
comes in."

"Surely you can tell me something more than--"

"Absolutely not. It isn't that I don't want to. I can't. I don't

"Well, one more question I'd like you to answer."

The psychiatrist lit a cigarette, grinned. "Say, who is interviewing

"This one I think you can tackle. I have a brother, Jason Temple.
Embarked on the Nowhere Journey five years ago. I wonder--"

"So that's the one factor in your psychograph we couldn't figure
out--anxiety over your brother."

"I doubt it," shrugged Temple. "More likely my fiancee."

"Umm, common enough. You were to be married?"

"Yes." _Stephanie, what are you doing now? Right now?_

"That's what hurts the most.... Well, yes, I can find out about your
brother." The psychiatrist flicked a toggle on his desk. "Jamison,
find what you can on Temple, Jason, year of--"

"1987," Temple supplied.

"1987. We'll wait."

After a moment or two, the voice came through, faintly metallic:
"Temple, Jason. Arrival: 1987. Psychograph, 115b12. Mental aggregate,
98. Physcom, good to excellent. Training: two years, space perception
concentrate, others. Shipped out: 1989."

So Jase had shipped out for--Nowhere.

"Someday you'll follow in your brother's footsteps, Temple. Now,
though, I have a few hundred questions I'd like you to answer."

The psychiatrist hadn't exaggerated. Several hours of questioning
followed. Once reminded of her, Temple found it hard to keep his
thought off Stephanie.

He left the psychiatrist's office more confused than ever.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Good morning, child. You Stephanie Andrews?"

Stephanie hadn't felt up to working that first morning after Kit's
final goodbye. She answered the door in her bathrobe, saw a small,
middle-aged woman with graying hair and a kind face. "That's right.
Won't you come in?"

"Thank you. I represent the Complete Emancipation League, Miss

"Complete Emancipation League? Oh, something to do with politics.
Really, I'm not much interested in--"

"That's entirely the trouble," declared the older woman. "Too many of
us are not interested in politics. I'd like to discuss the C.E.L. with
you, my dear, if you will bear with me a few minutes."

"All right," said Stephanie. "Would you like a glass of sherry?"

"In the morning?" the older woman smiled.

"I'm sorry. Don't mind me. My fiance left yesterday, took his final
goodbye. He--he embarked on the Nowhere Journey."

"I realize that. It is precisely why I am here. My dear, the C.E.L.
does not want to fight the government. If the government decides that
the Nowhere Journey is vital for the welfare of the country--even if
the government won't or can't explain what the Nowhere Journey
is--that's all right with us. But if the government says there is a
rotation system but does absolutely nothing about it, we're interested
in that. Do you follow me?"

"Yes!" cried Stephanie. "Oh, yes. Go on."

"The C. E. L. has sixty-eight people in Congress for the current term.
We hope to raise that number to seventy-five for next election. It's a
long fight, a slow uphill fight, and frankly, my dear, we need all the
help we can get. People--young women like yourself, my dear--are
entirely too lethargic, if you'll forgive me."

"You ought to forgive _me_," said Stephanie, "if you will. You know,
it's funny. I had vague ideas about helping Kit, about finding some
way to get him back. Only to tackle something like that alone.... I'm
only twenty-one, just a girl, and I don't know anyone important. No
one ever comes back, that's what you hear. But there's a rotation
system, you also hear that. If I can be of any help...."

"You certainly can, my dear. We'd be delighted to have you."

"Then, eventually, maybe, just maybe, we'll start getting them rotated

"We can't promise a thing. We can only try. And I never did say we'd
try to get the boys rotated, my dear. There is a rotation system in
the law, right there in Public Law 1182. But if no men have ever been
rotated, there must be a reason for it."

"Yes, but--"

"But we'll see. If for some reason rotation simply is not practicable,
we'll find another way. Which is why we call ourselves the
C.E.L.--Complete Emancipation League--for women. If men must embark on
the Nowhere Journey--the least they can do is let their women
volunteer to go along with them if they want to--since it may be
forever. Let a bunch of women get to this Nowhere place and you'll
never know what might happen, that's what I say."

Something about the gray haired woman's earthy confidence imbued
Stephanie with an optimism she never expected. "Well," she said,
smiling, "if we can't bring ourselves to Mohammed.... No, that's all
wrong! ... to the mountain...?"

"Yes, there's an old saying. But it isn't important. You get the idea.
My dear, how would you like to go to Nowhere?"

"I--to Kit, anywhere, anywhere!" _I'll never forget yesterday, Kit
darling. Never!_

"I make no promises, Stephanie, but it may be sooner than you think.
Morning be hanged, perhaps I will have some sherry after all. Umm, you
wouldn't by any chance have some Canadian instead?"

Humming, Stephanie dashed into the kitchen for some glasses.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were times when the real Alaric Arkalion III wished his father
would mind his own business. Like that thing about the Nowhere
Journey, for instance. Maybe Alaric Sr. didn't realize it, but being
the spoiled son of a billionaire wasn't all fun. "I'm a dilettante,"
Alaric would tell himself often, gazing in the mirror, "a bored
dilettante at the age of twenty-one."

Which in itself, he had to admit, wasn't too bad. But having reneged
on the Nowhere Journey in favor of a stranger twice his age who now
carried his, Alaric's, face, had engendered some annoying
complications. "You'll either have to hide or change your own
appearance and identity, Alaric."

"Hide? For how long, father?"

"I can't be sure. Years, probably."

"That's crazy. I'm not going to hide for years."

"Then change your appearance. Your way of life. Your occupation."

"I have no occupation."

"Get one. Change your face, too. Your fingerprints. It can be done.
Become a new man, live a new life."

In hiding there was boredom, impossible boredom. In the other
alternative there was adventure, intrigue--but uncertainty. One part
of young Alaric craved that uncertainty, the rest of him shunned it.
In a way it was like the Nowhere Journey all over again.

"Maybe Nowhere wouldn't have been so bad," said Alaric to his father,
choosing as a temporary alternative and retreat what he knew couldn't
possibly happen.

Couldn't it?

"If I choose another identity, I'd be eligible again for the Nowhere

"By George, I hadn't considered that. No, wait. You could be older
than twenty-six."

"I like it the way I am," Alaric said, pouting.

"Then you'll have to hide. I spent ten million dollars to secure your
future, Alaric. I don't want you to throw it away."

Alaric pouted some more. "Let me think about it."

"Fair enough, but I'll want your answer tomorrow. Meanwhile, you are
not to leave the house."

Alaric agreed verbally, but took the first opportunity which presented
itself--that very night--to sneak out the servants' door, go downtown,
and get stewed to the gills.

At two in the morning he was picked up by the police for disorderly
conduct (it had happened before) after losing a fistfight to a much
poorer, much meaner drunk in a downtown bar. They questioned Alaric at
the police station, examined his belongings, went through his wallet,
notified his home.

Fuming, Alaric Sr. rushed to the police station to get his son. He was
met by the desk sergeant, a fat, balding man who wore his uniform in a
slovenly fashion.

"Mr. Arkalion?" demanded the sergeant, picking at his teeth with a

"Yes. I have come for Alaric, my son."

"Sure. Sure. But your son's in trouble, Mr. Arkalion. Serious

"What are you talking about? If there are any damages, I'll pay. He
didn't--hurt anyone, did he?"

The sergeant broke the toothpick between his teeth, laughed. "Him?
Naw. He got the hell beat out of him by a drunk half his size. It
ain't that kind of trouble, Mr. Arkalion. You know what an 1182 card
is, mister?"

Arkalion's face drained white. "Why--yes."

"Alaric's got one."


"According to the card, he should have shipped out on the Nowhere
Journey, mister. He didn't. He's in serious trouble."

"I'll see the district attorney."

"More'n likely, you'll see the attorney general. Serious trouble."


The trouble with the Stalintrek, Sophia thought, was that it took
months to get absolutely nowhere. There had been the painful pressure,
the loss of consciousness, the confinement in this tight little world
of dormitories and gleaming metal walls, the uncanny feeling of no
weight, the ability--boring after a while, but interesting at
first--to float about in air almost at will.

Then, how many months of sameness? Sophia had lost all track of time
through _ennui_. But for the first brief period of adjustment on the
part of her fellows to the fact that although she was a woman and
shared their man's life she was still to be inviolate, the routine had
been anything but exciting. The period of adjustment had had its
adventures, its uncertainties, its challenge, and to Sophia it had
been stimulating. Why was it, she wondered, that the men who carried
their sex with strength and dignity, the hard-muscled men who could
have their way with her if they resorted to force were the men who did
not violate her privacy, while the weaklings, the softer, smaller men,
or the average men whom Sophia considered her physical equals were the
ones who gave her trouble?

She had always accepted her beauty, the obvious attraction men found
in her, with an objective unconcern. She had been endowed with sex
appeal; there was not much room in her life to exploit it, even had
she wanted to. Now, now when she wanted anything but that, it gave her

Her room was shared, of necessity, with three men. Tall, gangling
Boris gave her no trouble, turned his back when she undressed for the
evening, even though she was careful to slip under the covers first.
Ivan, the second man, was short, thin, stooped. Often she found him
looking at her with what might have been more than a healthy interest,
but aside from that he kept his peace. Besides, Ivan had spent two
years in secondary school (as much as Sophia) and she enjoyed
conversing with him.

The third man, Georgi, was the troublemaker. Georgi was one of those
plump young men with red cheeks, big, eager eyes, a voice somewhat too
high. He was an avid talker, a boaster and a boor. In the beginning he
showered attentions on Sophia. He insisted on drawing her wash-basin
at night, escorted her to breakfast every morning, told her in
confidence of the conquests he had made over beautiful women (but not
as beautiful as you, Sophia). He soon began to take liberties. He
would sit--timorously at first, but with growing boldness--on the
corner of her bed, talking with her at night after the others had
retired, Ivan with his snores, Boris with his strong, deep breathing.
And night after night, plump Georgi grew bolder.

He would reach out and touch Sophia, he would insist on tucking her in
at night (let me be your big brother), he would awaken her in the
morning with his hand heavy on her shoulder. Finally, one night at
bedtime, she heard him conversing in low whispers with Ivan and Boris.
She could not hear the words, but Boris looked at her with what she
thought was surprise, Ivan nodded in an understanding way, and both of
them left the room.

Sophia frowned. "What did you tell them, Georgi?"

"That we wanted to be alone one evening, of course."

"I never gave you any indication--"

"I could see it in your eyes, in the way you looked at me."

"Well, you had better call them back inside and go to bed."

Georgi shook his head, approached her.

"Georgi! Call them back or I will."

"No, you won't." Georgi followed her as she retreated into a corner of
the room. When she reached the wall and could retreat no further, he
placed his thick hands on her shoulders, drew her to him slowly. "You
will call no one," he rasped.

       *       *       *       *       *

She ducked under his arms, eluded him, was on the point of running to
the door, throwing it open and shouting, when she reconsidered. If she
did, she would be asking for quarter, gaining a temporary reprieve,
inviting the same sort of thing all over again.

She crossed to the bed and sat down. "Come here, Georgi."

"Ah." He came to her.

She watched him warily, a soft flabby man not quite so tall as she
was, but who nevertheless out-weighed her by thirty or forty pounds.
In his eagerness, he walked too fast, lost his footing and floated
gently to the ceiling. Smiling as demurely as she could, Sophia
reached up, circled his ankle with her hand.

"I never could get used to this weightlessness," Georgi admitted. "Be
nice and pull me down."

"I will be nice. I will teach you a lesson."

He weighed exactly nothing. It was as simple as stretching. Sophia
merely extended her arm upwards and Georgi's head hit the ceiling
with a loud _thunk_. Georgi groaned. Sophia repeated the procedure,
lowering her arm a foot--and Georgi with it--then raising it and
bouncing his head off the ceiling.

"I don't understand," Georgi whined, trying to break free but only
succeeding in thrashing his chubby arms foolishly.

"You haven't mastered weightlessness," Sophia smiled up at him. "I
have. I said I would teach you a lesson. First make sure you have the
strength of a man if you would play a man's game."

Still smiling, Sophia commenced spinning the hand which held Georgi's
ankle. Arms and free leg flailing air helplessly, Georgi began to

"Put me down!" he whined, a boy now, not even pretending to be a man.
When Sophia shoved out gently and let his ankle go he did a neat flip
in air and hung suspended, upside down, his feet near the ceiling, his
head on a level with Sophia's shoulders. He cried.

She slapped his upside down face, carefully and without excitement,
reddening the cheeks. "I was--only joking," he slobbered. "Call back
our friends."

Sophia found one of the hard, air-tight metal flasks they used for
drinking in weightlessness. With one hand she opened the lid, with the
other she grasped Georgi's shoulder and spun him in air, still upside
down. She squirted the water in his face, and because he was upside
down and yelling it made him choke and cough. When the container was
empty she lowered Georgi gently to the floor.

Minutes later, she opened the door, summoned Boris and Ivan, who came
into the room self-consciously. What they found was a thoroughly
beaten Georgi sobbing on the floor. After that, Sophia had no trouble.
Week after week of boredom followed and she almost wished Georgi or
someone else would _look_ for trouble ... even if it were something
she could not handle, for although she was stronger than average and
more beautiful, she was still a woman first, and she knew if the right

       *       *       *       *       *

"Did you know that radio communication is maintained between Earth and
Mars?" the Alaric Arkalion on Mars asked Temple.

"Why, no. I never thought about it."

"It is, and I am in some difficulty."

"What's the matter?" Temple had grown to like Arkalion, despite the
man's peculiarities. He had given up trying to figure him out,
feeling that the only way he'd get anywhere was with Arkalion's

"It's a long story which I'm afraid you would not altogether
understand. The authorities on Earth don't think I belong here on the
Nowhere Journey."

"Is that so? A mistake, huh? I sure am glad for you, Alaric."

"That's not the difficulty. It seems that there is the matter of
impersonation, of violating some of the clauses in Public Law 1182.
You're glad for me. I'm likely to go to prison."

"If it's that serious, how come they told you?"

"They didn't. But I--managed to find out. I won't go into details,
Kit, but obviously, if I managed to embark for Nowhere when I didn't
have to, then I wanted to go. Right?"

"I--uh, guess so. But why--?"

"That isn't the point. I _still_ want to go. Not to Mars, but to
Nowhere. I still can, despite what has happened, but I need help."

Temple said, "Anything I can do, I'll be glad to," and meant it. For
one thing, he liked Arkalion. For another, Arkalion seemed to know
more, much more than he would ever say--unless Temple could win his
confidence. For a third, Temple was growing sick and tired of Mars
with its drab ochre sameness (when he got to the surface, which was
rarely), with its dank underground city, with its meaningless
attention to meaningless detail. Either way, he figured there was no
returning to Earth. If Nowhere meant adventure, as he suspected it
might, it would be preferable. Mars might have been the other end of
the galaxy for all its nearness to Earth, anyway.

"There is a great deal you can do. But you'll have to come with me."

"Where?" Temple demanded.

"Where you will go eventually. To Nowhere."

"Fine." And Temple smiled. "Why not now as well as later?"

"I'll be frank with you. If you go now, you go untrained. You may need
your training. Undoubtedly, you will."

"You know a lot more than you want to talk about, don't you?"

"Frankly, yes.... I am sorry, Kit."

"That's all right. You have your reasons. I guess if I go with you
I'll find out soon enough, anyway."

Arkalion grinned. "You have guessed correctly. I am going to Nowhere,
before they return me to Earth for prosecution under Public Law 1182.
I cannot go alone, for it takes at least two to operate ... well,
you'll see."

"Count me in," said Temple.

"Remember, you may one day wish you had remained on Mars for your

"I'll take my chances. Mars is driving me crazy. All I do is think of
Earth and Stephanie."

"Then come."

"Where are we going?"

"A long, long way off. It is unthinkably remote, this place called

Temple felt suddenly like a kid playing hookey from school. "Lead on,"
he said, almost jauntily. He knew he was leaving Stephanie still
further behind, but had he been in prison on the next street to hers,
he might as well have been a million miles away.

As for Arkalion--the thought suddenly struck Temple--Arkalion wasn't
necessarily leaving his world further behind. Perhaps Arkalion was
going home....

       *       *       *       *       *

Stephanie picked up the phone eagerly. In the weeks since her first
meeting with Mrs. Draper of the C.E.L., the older woman had been a
fountain of information and of hope for her. Stephanie for her part
had taken over Mrs. Draper's job in her own section of Center City:
she was busy contacting the two hundred mothers and fifty sweethearts
of the Nowhere Journey which had taken Kit from her. And now Mrs.
Draper had called with information.

"We've successfully combined forces with some of the less militant
elements in both houses of Congress," Mrs. Draper told her over the
phone. "Do you realize, my dear, this marks the first time the C.E.L.
has managed to put something constructive through Congress? Until now
we've been content merely to block legislation, such as an increase in
the Nowhere contingent from...."

"Yes, Mrs. Draper. I know all that. But what about this constructive
thing you've done."

"Well, my dear, don't count your chickens. But we _have_ passed the
bill, and we expect the President won't veto it. You see, the
President has two nephews who...."

"I know. I know. What bill did you pass?"

"Unfortunately, it's somewhat vague. Ultimately, the Nowhere
Commission must do the deciding, but it does pave the way."

"For what, Mrs. Draper?"

"Hold onto your hat, my dear. The bill authorizes the Nowhere Commission
to make as much of a study as it can of conditions--wherever our boys are

"Oh." Stephanie was disappointed. "That won't get them back to us."

"No. You're right, it won't get them back to us. That isn't the idea
at all, for there is more than one way to skin a cat, my dear. The
Nowhere Commission will be studying conditions--"


"How can they? I thought everything was so hush-hush, not even
Congress knew anything about it."

"That was the first big hurdle we have apparently overcome. Anyway,
they will be studying conditions with a view of determining if one
girl--just one, mind you--can embark on the Nowhere Journey as a pilot
study and--"

"But I thought they could make the journey only once every
seven-hundred-eighty days."

"Get Congress aroused and you can move mountains. It seems the expense
entailed in a trip at any but those times is generally prohibitive,
but when something special comes up--"

"It can be done! Mrs. Draper, how I love to talk with you!"

"See? There you go, my dear, counting your chickens. One girl will be
sent, if the study indicates she can take it. _One_ girl, Stephanie, and
only after a study. She'd merely be a pilot case. But afterwards.... Ah,
afterwards.... Perhaps someday soon qualified women will be able to join
their men in Nowhere."

"Mrs. Draper, I love you."

"Naturally, you will tell all this to prospective C.E.L. members. Now
we have something concrete to work with."

"I know. And I will, I will, Mrs. Draper. By the way, how are they
going to pick the girl, the one girl?"

"Don't count your chickens, for Heaven's sake! They haven't even
studied the situation yet. Well, I'll call you, my dear."

Stephanie hung up, dressed, went about her canvassing. She thought
happy thoughts all week.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Shh! Quiet," cautioned Arkalion, leading the way down a flight of
heavy-duty plastic stairs.

"How do you know your way around here so well?"

"I said quiet."

It was not so much, Temple realized, that Arkalion was really afraid
of making noise. Rather, he did not want to answer questions.

Temple smiled in the semi-darkness, heard the steady drip-drip-drip of
water off somewhere to his left. Eons before the coming of man on this
stopover point to Nowhere, the Martian waters had retreated from the
planet's ancient surface and seeped underground to carve, slow drop by
drop, the caverns which honey-combed the planet. "You know your way
around so well, I'd swear you were a Martian."

Arkalion's soft laugh carried far. "I said there was to be no noise.
Please! As for the Martians, the only Martians are here all around
you, the men of Earth. Ahh, here we are."

At the bottom of the flight of stairs Temple could see a door,
metallic, giving the impression of strength without great weight.
Arkalion paused a moment, did something with a series of levers, shook
his head impatiently, started all over again.

"What's that for?" Temple wanted to know.

"What do you think? It is a combination lock, with five million
possible combinations. Do you want to be here for all of eternity?"


"Then quiet."

Vaguely, Temple wondered why the door wasn't guarded.

"With a lock like this," Arkalion explained, as if he had read
Temple's thought, "they need no other precaution. It is assumed that
only authorized personnel know the combination."

Then had Arkalion come this way before? It seemed the only possible
assumption. But when? And how? "Here we are," said Arkalion.

The door swung in toward them.

Temple strode forward, found himself in a great bare hall,
surprisingly well-lighted. After the dimness of the caverns, he
hardly could see.

"Don't stand there scowling and fussing with your eyes. There is one
additional precaution--an alarm at Central Headquarters. We have about
five minutes, no more."

       *       *       *       *       *

At one end of the bare hall stood what to Temple looked for all the
world like an old-fashioned telephone booth, except that its walls
were completely opaque. On the wall adjacent to it was a single lever
with two positions marked "hold" and "transport". The lever stood
firmly in the "hold" position.

"You sure you want to come?" Arkalion demanded.

"Yes, I told you that."

"Good. I have no time to explain. I will enter the conveyor."


"This booth. You will wait until the door is shut, then pull the lever
down. That is all there is to it, but, as you can see, it is a two-man

"But how do I--"

"Haste, haste! There are similar controls at the other end. You pull
the lever, wait two minutes, enter the conveyor yourself. I will fetch
you--if you are sure."

"I'm sure, dammit!"

"Remember, you go without training, without the opportunity everyone
else has."

"You already told me that. Mars is half-way to eternity. Mars is
limbo. If I can't go back to Earth I want to go--well, to Nowhere.
There are too many ghosts here, too many memories with nothing to do."

Arkalion shrugged, entered the booth. "Pull the lever," he said, and
shut the door.

Temple reached up, grasped the lever firmly in his hand, yanked it. It
slid smoothly to the position marked "transport." Temple heard
nothing, saw nothing, began to think the device, whatever it was, did
not work. Did Arkalion somehow get _moved_ inside the booth?

Temple thought he heard footfalls on the stairs outside. Soon,
faintly, he could hear voices. Someone banged on the door to the hall.
Licking dry lips, Temple opened the booth, peered inside.


The voices clamored, fists pounded on the door. Something clicked.
Tumblers fell. The door to the great, bright hall sprung outward.
Someone rushed in at Temple, who met him savagely with a short,
chopping blow to his jaw. The man, temporarily blinded by the dazzling
light, stumbled back in the path of his fellows.

Temple darted into the booth, the conveyor, and slammed it shut.

Fingers clawed on the outside.

A sound almost too intense to be heard rang in Temple's ears. He lost
consciousness instantly.


"What a cockeyed world," said Alaric Arkalion Sr. to his son. "You
certainly can't plan on anything, even if you do have more money than
you'll ever possibly need in a lifetime."

"Don't feel like that," said young Alaric. "I'm not in prison any
longer, am I?"

"No. But you're not free of the Nowhere Journey, either. There is an
unheralded special trip to Nowhere, two weeks from today, I have been


"Yes, oh. I have also been informed that you will be on it. You didn't
escape after all, Alaric."

"Oh. Oh!"

"What bothers me most is that scoundrel Smith somehow managed to
escape. They haven't found him yet, I have also been informed. And
since my contract with him calls for ten million dollars 'for services
rendered,' I'll have to pay."

"But he didn't prevent me from--"

"I can't air this thing, Alaric! But listen, son: when you go where
you are going, you're liable to find another Alaric Arkalion, your
double. Of course, that would be Smith. If you can get him to cut his
price in half because of what has happened, I would be delighted. If
you could somehow manage to wring his neck, I would be even more
delighted. Ten million dollars--for nothing."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I'm so excited," murmured Mrs. Draper. Stephanie watched her on one
of the new televiewers, recently installed in place of the telephone.

"What is it?"

"Our bill has been passed by a landslide majority in both houses of

"Ooo!" cried Stephanie.

"Not very coherent, my dear, but those are my sentiments exactly. In
two weeks there will be a Journey to Nowhere, a special one which will
include, among its passengers, a woman."

"But the study which had to be made--?"

"It's already been made. From what I gather, they can't take it very
far. Most of their conclusions had to be based on supposition. The
important thing, though, is this: a woman _will_ be sent. The way the
C.E.L. figures it, my dear, is that a woman falling in the twenty-one
to twenty-six age group should be chosen, a woman who meets all the
requirements placed upon the young men."

"Yes," said Stephanie. "Of course. And I was just thinking that I
would be--"

"Remember those chickens!" cautioned Mrs. Draper. "We already have one
hundred seventy-seven volunteers who'd claw each other to pieces for a
chance to go."

"Wrong," Stephanie said, smiling. "You now have one hundred

"Room for only one, my dear. Only one, you know."

"Then cross the others off your list. I'm already packing my bag."

       *       *       *       *       *

When Temple regained consciousness, it was with the feeling that no
more than a split second of time had elapsed. So much had happened so
rapidly that, until now, he hadn't had time to consider it.

Arkalion had vanished.

Vanished--he could use no other word. He was there, standing in the
booth--and then he wasn't. Simple as that. Now you see it, now you
don't. And goodbye, Arkalion.

But goodbye Temple, too. For hadn't Temple entered the same booth,
waiting but a second until Arkalion activated the mechanism at the
other end? And certainly Temple wasn't in the booth now. He smiled at
the ridiculously simple logic of his thoughts. He stood in an open
field, the blades of grass rising to his knees, as much brilliant
purple as they were green. Waves of the grass, stirred like tide by
the gentle wind, and hills rolling off toward the horizon in whichever
direction he turned. Far away, the undulating hills lifted to a half
soft mauve sky. A somber red sun with twice Sol's apparent disc but
half its brightness hung midway between zenith and horizon completing
the picture of peaceful other-worldliness.

Wherever this was, it wasn't Earth--or Mars.


Temple shrugged, started walking. He chose his direction at random,
crushing an easily discernible path behind him in the surprisingly
brittle grass. The warm sun baked his back comfortably, the
soft-stirring wind caressed his cheeks. Of Arkalion he found not a

Two hours later Temple reached the hills and started climbing their
gentle slopes. It was then that he saw the figure approaching on the
run. It took him fully half a minute to realize that the runner was
not human.

       *       *       *       *       *

After months of weightless inactivity, things started to happen for
Sophia. The feeling of weight returned, but weight as she never had
felt it before. It was as if someone was sitting on every inch of her
body, crushing her down. It made her gasp, forced her eyes shut and,
although she could not see it, contorted her face horribly. She lost
consciousness, coming to some time later with a dreadful feeling of
loginess. Someone swam into her vision dimly, stung her arm briefly
with a needle. She slept.

She was on a table, stretched out, with lights glaring down at her.
She heard voices.

"The new system is far better than testing, comrade."

"Far more efficient, far more objective. Yes."

"The brain emits electromagnetic vibration. Strange, is it not, that
no one before ever imagined it could tell a story. A completely
accurate story two years of testing could not give us."

"In Russia we have gone far with the biological, psychological
sciences. The West flies high with physics. Give them Mars; bah, they
can have Mars."

"True, Comrade. The journey to Jupiter is greater, the time consumed
is longer, the cost, more expensive. But here on Jupiter we can do
something they cannot do on Mars."

"I know."

"We can make supermen. Supermen, comrade. A wedding of Nietzsche and

"Careful. Those are dangerous thoughts."

"Merely an allusion, comrade. Merely a harmless allusion. But you take
an ordinary human being and train him on Jupiter, speeding his
time-sense and metabolic rate tremendously with certain endocrine
secretions so that one day is as a month to him. You take him and
subject him to big Jupiter's pull of gravity, more than twice
Earth's--and in three weeks you have, yes--you have a superman."

"The woman wakes."

"Shh. Do not frighten her."

Sophia stretched, every muscle in her body aching. Slowly, as in a
dream, she sat up. It required strength, the mere act of pulling her
torso upright!

"What have you done to me?" she cried, focussing her still-dim vision
on the two men.

"Nothing, comrade. Relax."

Sophia turned slowly on the table, got one long shapely leg draped
over its edge.

"Careful, comrade."

What were they warning her about? She merely wanted to get up and
stretch; perhaps then she would feel better. Her toe touched the
floor, she swung her other leg over, aware of but ignoring her

"A good specimen."

"Oh, yes, comrade. So this time they send a woman among the others.
Well, we shall do our work. Look--see the way she is formed, so lithe,
loose-limbed, agile. See the toning of the muscles? Her beauty will
remain, comrade, but Jupiter shall make an amazon of her."

       *       *       *       *       *

Sophia had both feet on the floor now. She was breathing hard, felt
suddenly sick to her stomach. Placing both her hands on the table
edge, she pushed off and staggered for two or three paces. She
crumpled, buckling first at the knees then the waist, and fell in a
writhing heap.

"Pick her up."

Hands under her arms, tugging. She came off the floor easily, dimly
aware that someone carried her hundred and thirty pounds effortlessly.
"Put me down!" she cried. "I want to try again. I am crippled,
crippled! You have crippled me...."

"Nothing of the sort, comrade. You are tired, weak, and Jupiter's
gravity field is still too strong for you. Little by little, though,
your muscles will strengthen to Jupiter's demands. Gravity will keep
them from bulging, expanding; but every muscle fibre in you will have
twice, three times its original strength. Are you excited?"

"I am tired and sick. I want to sleep. What is Jupiter?"

"Jupiter is a planet circling the sun at--never mind, comrade. You
have much to learn, but you can assimilate it with much less trouble
in your sleep. Go ahead, sleep."

Sophia retched, was sick. It had been years since she cried. But
naked, afraid, bewildered, she cried herself to sleep.

Things happened while she slept, many things. Certain endocrine
extracts accelerated her metabolism astonishingly. Within half an hour
her heart was pumping blood through her body two hundred beats per
minute. An hour later it reached its full rate, almost one thousand
contractions every sixty seconds. All her other metabolic functions
increased accordingly, and Sophia slept deeply for a week of
subjective time--in hours. The same machine which had gleaned
everything from her mind far more accurately than a battery of tests,
a refinement of the electro-encephalogram, was now played in reverse,
giving back to Sophia everything it had taken plus electrospool after
electrospool of science, mathematics, logic, economics, history
(Marxian, these last two), languages (including English), semantics
and certain specialized knowledge she would need later on the

Still sleeping, Sophia was bathed in a warm whirlpool of soothing
liquid; rubbed, massaged, her muscle-toning begun while she rested and
regained her strength. Three hours later, objective time, she awoke
with a headache and with more thoughts spinning around madly inside
her brain than she ever knew existed. Gingerly, she tried standing
again, lifting herself nude and dripping wet from a tub of steaming
amber stuff. She stood, stretched, permitted her fright to vanish with
a quick wave of vertigo which engulfed her. She had been fed
intravenously, but a tremendous hunger possessed her. Before eating,
however, she was to find herself in a gymnasium, the air close and
stifling. She was massaged again, told to do certain exercises which
seemed simple but which she found extremely difficult, forced to run
until she thought she would collapse, with her legs, dragging like

She understood, now. Somehow she knew she was on Jupiter, the fifth
and largest planet, where the force of gravity is so much greater than
on Earth that it is an effort even to walk. She also knew that her
metabolic rate had been accelerated beyond all comprehension and that
in a comparatively short time--objective time--she would have thrice
her original strength. All this she knew without knowing how she knew,
and that was the most staggering fact of all. She did what her curt
instructors bid, then dragged her aching muscles and her headache into
a dining room where tired, forlorn-looking men sat around eating.
Well, the food at least was good. Sophia attacked it ravenously.

       *       *       *       *       *

It did not take Temple long to realize that the creature running
downhill at him, leaving a crushed and broken wake in the purple and
green grass, was not human. At first Temple toyed with the idea of a
man on horseback, for the creature ran on four limbs and had two left
over as arms. Temple gaped.

The whole thing was one piece!


Hardly. Too small, for one thing. No bigger than a man, despite the
three pairs of limbs. And then Temple had time to gape no longer, for
the creature, whatever it was, flashed past him at what he now had to
consider a gallop.

More followed. Different. Temple stared and stared. One could have
been a great, sentient hoop, rolling downhill and gathering momentum.
If he carried the wheel analogy further, a huge eye stared at him from
where the hub would have been. Something else followed with kangaroo
leaps. One thick-thewed leg propelled it in tremendous, fifteen-foot
hopping strides while its small, flapper-like arms beat the air

Legions of creatures. All fantastically different. _I'm going crazy_,
Temple thought, then said it aloud. "I'm going crazy."

Theorizing thus, he heard a whir overhead, whirled, looked up.
Something was poised a dozen feet off the ground, a large, box-like
object seven or eight feet across, rotors spinning above it. That, at
least, he could understand. A helicopter.

"I'm lowering a ladder, Kit. Swing aboard."

Arkalion's voice.

Stunned enough to accept anything he saw, Temple waited for the rope
ladder to drop, grasped its end, climbed. He swung his legs over a
sill, found himself in a neat little cabin with Arkalion, who hauled
the ladder in and did something to the controls. They sped away.
Temple had one quick moment of lucid thought before everything which
had happened in the last few moments shoved logic aside. What he had
observed looked for all the world like a foot-race.

"Where the hell _are_ we?" Temple demanded breathlessly.

Arkalion smiled. "Where do you think? Journey's end. Welcome to
Nowhere, Kit. Welcome to the place where all your questions can be
answered because there's no going back. Sorry I set you down in that
field by mistake, incidentally. Those things sometimes happen."

"Can I just throw the questions at you?"

"If you wish. It isn't really necessary, for you will be indoctrinated
when we get you over to Earth city where you belong."

"What do you mean, there's no going back? I thought they had a
rotation system which for one reason or another wasn't practical at
the moment. That doesn't sound like no going back, ever."

Arkalion grunted, shrugged. "Have it your way. I _know_."

"Sorry. Shoot."

"Just how far do you think you have come?"

"Search me. Some other star system, maybe?"

"Maybe. Clean across the galaxy, Kit."

Temple whistled softly. "It isn't something you can grasp just by
hearing it. Across the galaxy...."

"That isn't too important just now. How long did you think the journey

Temple nodded eagerly. "That's what gets me. It was amazing, Alaric.
Really amazing. The whole trip couldn't have taken more than a moment
or two. I don't get it. Did we slip out of normal space into some
other--uh, continuum, and speed across the length of the galaxy like

"The answer to your question is yes. But your statement is way off.
The journey did not take seconds, Kit."

"No? Instantaneous?"

"Far more than seconds. To reach here from Earth you travelled five
thousand years."


"More correctly, it was five thousand years ago that you left Mars.
You would need a time machine to return, and there is no such thing.
The Earth you know is the length of the galaxy and five thousand years
behind you."


It could have been a city in New England, or maybe Wisconsin. Main
Street stretched for half a mile from Town Hall to the small
department store. Neon tubing brightened every store front, busy
proprietors could be seen at work through the large plate glass
windows. There was the bustle you might expect on any Main Street in
New England or Wisconsin, but you could not draw the parallel

There were only men. No women.

The hills in which the town nestled were too purple--not purple with
distance but the natural color of the grass.

A somber red sun hung in the pale mauve sky.

This was Earth City, Nowhere.

Arkalion had deposited Temple in the nearby hills, promised they would
see one another again. "It may not be so soon," Arkalion had said,
"but what's the difference? You'll spend the rest of your life here.
You realize you are lucky, Kit. If, you hadn't come, you would have
been dead these five thousand years. Well, good luck."

Dead--five thousand years. The Earth as he knew it, dust. Stephanie, a
fifty generation corpse. Nowhere was right. End of the universe.

Temple shuffled his feet, trudged on into town. A man passed him on
the street, stooped, gray-haired. The man nodded, did a mild
double-take. _I'm an unfamiliar face_, Temple thought.

"Howdy," he said. "I'm new here."

"That's what I thought, stranger. Know just about everyone in these
here parts, I do, and I said to myself, now there's a newcomer. Funny
you didn't come in the regular way."

"I'm here," said Temple.

"Yeah. Funny thing, you get to know everyone. Eh, what you say your
name was?"

"Christopher Temple."

"Make it my business to know everyone. The neighborly way, I always
say. Temple, eh? We have one here."

"One what?"

"Another fellow name of Temple. Jase Temple, son."

"I'll be damned!" Temple cried, smiling suddenly. "I will be damned.
Tell me, old timer, where can I find him?"

"Might be anyplace. Town's bigger'n it looks. I tell you, though, Jase
Temple's our co-ordinator. You'll find him there, the co-ordinator's
office. Town Hall, down the end of the street."

"I already passed it," Temple told the old man. "And thanks."

Temple's legs carried him at a brisk pace, past the row of store
fronts and down to the Town Hall. He read a directory, climbed a
flight of stairs, found a door marked:

    Earth City Co-ordinator

Heart pounding, Temple knocked, heard someone call, "Come in."

He pushed the door in and stared at his brother, just rising to face

       *       *       *       *       *

"Kit! Kit! What are you doing ... so you took the journey too!"

Jason ran to him, clasped his shoulders, pounded them. "You sure are
looking fit. Kit, you could have knocked me over with half a feather,
coming in like that."

"You're looking great too, Jase," Temple lied. He hadn't seen his
brother in five years, had never expected to see him again. But he
remembered a full-faced, smiling man somewhat taller than himself,
somewhat broader across the shoulders. The Jason he saw looked
forty-five or fifty but was hardly out of his twenties. He had fierce,
smouldering eyes, gaunt cheeks, graying hair. He seemed a bundle of
restless, nervous energy.

"Sit down, Kit. Start talking, kid brother. Start talking and don't
stop till next week. Tell me everything. Everything! Tell me about the
blue sky and the moon at night and the way the ocean looks on a windy
day and...."

"Five years," said Temple. "Five years."

"Five thousand, you mean," Jason reminded him. "It hardly seems
possible. How are the folks, Kit?"

"Mom's fine. Pop too. He's sporting a new Chambers Converto. You
should see him, Jase. Sharp."

"And Ann?" Jason looked at him hopefully. Ann had been Jason's
Stephanie--but for the Nowhere Journey they would have married.

"Ann's married," Temple said.

"Oh. Oh. That's swell, Kit. Really swell. I mean, what the hell, a
girl shouldn't wait forever. I told her not to, anyway."

"She waited four years, then met a guy and--"

"A nice guy?"

"The best," said Temple. "You'd like him."

Temple saw the vague hurt come to Jason's smouldering eyes. Then it
was the same. One part of Jason wanted her to remain his over an
unthinkable gap, another part wanted her to live a good, full life.

"I'm glad," said Jason. "Can't expect a girl to wait without hope...."

"Then there's no hope we'll ever get back?"

Jason laughed harshly. "You tell me. Earth isn't merely sixty thousand
light years away. Kit, do you know what a light year is?"

Temple said he thought he did.

"Sixty thousand of them. A dozen eternities. But the Earth we know is
also dead. Dead five thousand years. The folks, Center City, Ann, her
husband--all dust. Five thousand years old.... Don't mind me, Kit."

"Sure. Sure, I understand." But Temple didn't, not really. You
couldn't take five thousand years and chuck them out the window in
what seemed the space of a heart beat and then realize they were gone
permanently, forever. Not a period of time as long as all of recorded
civilization--you couldn't take it, tack it on after 1992 and accept
it. Somehow, Temple realized, the five thousand years were harder to
swallow than the sixty thousand light years.

"Well," with a visible effort, Jason snapped out of his reverie.
Temple accepted a cigarette gratefully, his first in a long time. _In
fifty centuries_, he thought bitterly, burrowing deeper into a funk.

"Well," said Jason, "I'm acting like a prize boob. How selfish can I
get? There must be an awful lot you'd like to know, Kit."

"That's all right. I was told I'd be indoctrinated."

"Ordinarily, you would. But there's no shipment now, none for another
three months. Say, how the devil _did_ you get here?"

"That's a long story. Nowhere Journey, same as you, with a little
assist to speed things up on Mars. Jase, tell me this: what are we
doing here? What is everyone doing here? What's the Nowhere Journey
all about? What kind of a glorified foot-race did I see a while ago,
with a bunch of creatures out of the telio science-fiction shows?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Jason put his own cigarette out, changed his mind, lit another one.
"Sort of like the old joke, where does an alien go to register?"

"Sort of."

"It's a big universe," said Jason, evidently starting at the beginning
of something.

"I'm just beginning to learn _how_ big!"

"It would be pretty unimaginative of mankind to consider itself the
only sentient form of life, Earth the only home of intelligence, both
from a scientific and a religious point of view. We kind of expected
to find--neighbors out in space. Kit, the sky is full of stars, most
stars have planets. The universe crawls with life, all sorts of life,
all sorts of intelligent life. In short, we are not alone. It would be
sort of like taking the jet-shuttle from Washington to New York during
the evening rush and expecting to be the only one aboard. In reality,
you're lucky to get breathing space.

"There are biped intelligences, like humans. There are radial
intelligences, one-legged species, tall, gangling creatures, squat
ones, pancake ones, giants, dwarfs. There are green skins and pink
skins and coal black--and yes, no skins. There are ... but you get the


"Strangely enough, most of these intelligences are on about the same
developmental level. It's as if the Creator turned everything on at
once, like a race, and said 'okay, guys get started.' Maybe it's
because, as scientists figure, the whole universe got wound up and
started working as a unit. I don't know. Anyway, that's the way it is.
All the intelligences worth talking about are on about the same
cultural level. Atomics, crude spaceflight, wars they can't handle.

"And this is interesting, Kit. Most of 'em are bipedal. Not really
human, not fully human. You can see the difference. But seventy-five
percent of the races I've encountered have had basic similarities. A
case of the Creator trying to figure out the best of all possible
life-patterns and coming up with this one. Offers a wide range for
action, for adaptation, stuff like that. Anyway, I'm losing track of

"Take it easy. From what you tell me I have all the time in the

"Well, I said all the races are developmentally parallel. That's
almost true. One of them is not. One of them is so far ahead that the
rest of us have hardly reached the crawling stage by comparison. One
of them is the Super Race, Kit.

"Their culture is old, incredibly old. So old, in fact, that some of
us figure it's been hanging around since before the Universe took
shape. Maybe that's why all the others are on one level, a few
thousand million years behind the Super Race.

"So, take this Super Race. For some reason we can't understand, it
seems to be on the skids. That's just figurative. Maybe it's dying
out, maybe it wants to pack up and leave the galaxy altogether, maybe
it's got other undreamed of business other undreamed of places.
Anyway, it wants out. But it's got an eon-old storehouse of culture
and maybe it figures someone ought to have access to that and keep the
galaxy in running order. But who? That's the problem. Who gets all
this information, a million million generations of scientific
problems, all carefully worked out? Who, among all the parallel races
on all the worlds of the Universe? That's quite a problem, even for
our Super Race boys.

"You'd think they'd have ways to solve it, though. With calculating
machines or whatever will follow calculating machines after Earthmen
and all the others find the next faltering step after a few thousand
years. Or with plain horse sense and logic, developed to a
point--after millions of years at it--where it never fails. Or solve
the problem with something we've never heard of, but solve it anyway."

"What's all this got to do with--? I mean, it's an interesting story
and when I get a chance to digest it I'll probably start gasping, but
what about Nowhere and...."

"I'm coming to that. Kit, what would you say if I told you that the
most intelligent race the Universe has ever produced solves the
biggest problem ever handed anyone--by playing games?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"I'd say you better continue."

"That's the purpose of Nowhere, Kit. Every planet, every race has its
Nowhere. We all come here and we play games. Planet with the highest
score at the end of God knows how long wins the Universe, with all the
science and the wisdom needed to fashion that universe into a dozen
different kinds of heaven. And to decide all this, we play games.

"Don't get the wrong idea. I'm not complaining. If the Superboys say
we play, then we play. I'd take their word for it if they told me I
had fifteen heads. But it's the sort of thing which doesn't let you
get much sleep. Oh, Earth has a right to be proud of its record.
United North America is in second place on a competition that's as
wide as the Universe. But we're not first. Second. And I have a hunch
from what's been going on around here that the games are drawing to a

"Fantastic, isn't it? Out of thousands of entrants, we're good enough
to place second. But some planet out near the star Deneb has us
hopelessly outclassed. We might as well get the booby prize. They'll
win and own the Universe--us included."

Jason had leaned forward as he spoke, and was sitting on the edge of
his chair now. The room was comfortably cool, but sweat beaded his
forehead, dripped from his chin.

Temple lit another cigarette, inhaling deeply. "You said the United
States--North America--was second. I thought this was a planet-wide
competition, planet against planet."

"Earth is the one exception I've been able to find. The Deneb planet
heads the list, then comes North America. After that, the planet of a
star I never heard of. In fourth place is the Soviet Union."

"I'll be damned," said Temple. "Well, okay. Mind if I store that away
for future reference? I've got another question. What kind of--uh,
games do we play?"

"You name it. Mental contests. Scientific problems to be worked out
with laboratories built to our specifications. Emotional problems with
scores of men driven neurotic or worse every year. Problems of
adaptability. Responses to environmental challenge. Stamina contests.
Tests of strength, of endurance. Tests to determine depths of emotion.
Tests to determine objectivity in what should be an objective
situation. But the way everything is organized it's almost like a
giant-sized, never ending Olympic Games, complete with some cockeyed
sports events too, by the way."

"With all the pageantry, too?"

"No. But that's another story."

"Anyway, what I saw _was_ a foot-race! And sorry, Jase, but I have
another question."

Jason shrugged, spread his hands wide.

"How come all this talk about rotation? It isn't possible, not with a
fifty century gap."

"I know. They just let us in on that little deal a couple of years
ago. Till then, we didn't know. We thought it was distance only. In
time, after all this was over, we could go home. That's what we
thought," Jason said bitterly. "Actually, it's twice five thousand
years. Five to come here, five to return. Ten thousand years separate
us from the Earth we know, and even if we could go home, that wouldn't
be going home at all--to Earth ten thousand years in the future.

"Oh, they had us hoodwinked. Afraid we might say no or something. They
never mentioned the length or duration of the trip. I don't understand
it, none of us do and we have some top scientists here. Something to
do with suspended animation, with contra-terrene matter, with
teleportation, something about latent extra-sensory powers in
everyone, about the ability to break down an object--or a creature or
a man--to its component atoms, to reverse--that's the word,
reverse--those atoms and send them spinning off into space as
contra-terrene matter.

"It all boils down to putting a man in a machine on Mars, pulling a
lever, materializing him here five thousand years later." Jason smiled
with only a trace of humor, "Any questions?"

"About a thousand," said Temple. "I--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Something buzzed on Jason's desk and Temple watched him pick up a
microphone, say: "Co-ordinator speaking. What's up?"

The voice which answered, clear enough to be in the room with them and
without the faintest trace of mechanical or electrical transfer, spoke
in a strange, liquid-syllabled language Temple had never heard. Jason
responded in the same language, with an apparent ease which surprised
Temple--until he remembered that his brother had always had a knack of
picking up foreign languages. Maybe that was why he held the
Co-ordinator's job--whatever it was he co-ordinated.

There was fluency in the way Jason spoke, and alarm. The trouble-lines
etched deeply on his face stood out sharply, his eyes, if possible,
grew more intense. "Well," he said, putting the mike down and staring
at Temple without seeing him, "I'm afraid that does it."

"What's the trouble?"


"Anything I can do?"

"Item. The Superboys have discovered that Earth has two contingents
here--us and the Soviets. They're mad. Item. Something will be done
about it. Item. Soviet Russia has made a suggestion, or that is, its
people here. They will put forth a champion to match one of our own
choosing in the toughest grind of all, something to do with responding
to environmental challenge, which doesn't mean a hell of a lot unless
you happen to know something about it. Shall I go on?"

And, when Temple nodded avidly. "We automatically lose by default. One
of the rules of that particular game is that the contestant must be a
newcomer. It's the sort of game you have to know nothing about, and
incidentally, it's also the sort of game a man can get killed at.
Well, the Soviets have a whole contingent of newcomers to pick from.
We don't have any. As the Superboys see it, that's our own tough luck.
We lose by default."

"It seems to me--"

"How can anything 'seem to you?' You're new here.... I'm sorry Kit.
What were you saying?"

"No. Go ahead."

"That's only the half of it. Right after Russia takes our place and
we're scratched off the list, the games go into their final phase.
That was the rumor all along, and it's just been confirmed.
Interesting to see what they do with all the contestants _after_ the
games are over, after there's no more Nowhere Journey."

"We could go back where we came from."

"Ten thousand years in the future?"

"I'm not afraid."

"Well, anyway, the Soviets put up a man, we can't match him. So it
looks like the U. S. S. R. represents Earth officially. Not that it
matters. We hardly have the chance of a very slushy snowball in a very
hot hell. But still--"

"Our contestant, this guy who meets the Russian's challenge, has to be
a newcomer?"

"That's what I said. Well, we can close up shop, I guess."

"You made a mistake. You said no newcomers have arrived. I'm here,
Jase. I'm your man. Bring on your Russian Bear." Temple smiled grimly.


"You got to hand it to Temple's kid brother."

"Yeah. Cool as ice cubes."

"Are you guys kidding? He doesn't know what's in store for him, that's

"Do _you_?"

"Now that you mention it, no. Isn't a man here who can say for sure
what kind of environmental challenges he'll have to respond to.
Hypno-surgery sees to it the guys who went through the thing won't
talk about it. As if that isn't security enough, the subject's got to
be a brand new arrival!"

"Shh! Here he comes."

The brothers Temple entered Earth City's one tavern quietly, but on
their arrival all the speculative talk subsided. The long bar, built
to accommodate half a hundred pairs of elbows comfortably, gleamed
with a luster unfamiliar to Temple. It might have been marble, but
marble translucent rather than opaque, giving a beautiful
three-dimensional effect to the surface patterns.

"What will it be?" Jason demanded.

"Whatever you're drinking is fine."

Jason ordered two scotches, neat, and the brothers drank. When Jason
got a refill he started talking. "Does T.A.T. mean anything to you,

"Tat? Umm--no. Wait a minute! T.A.T. Isn't that some kind of
projective psychological test?"

"That's it. You're shown a couple of dozen pictures, more or less
ambiguous, never cut and dry. Each one comes from a different stratum
of the social environment, and you're told to create a dramatic
situation, a story, for each picture. From your stories, for which you
draw on your whole background as a human being, the psychometrician
should be able to build a picture of your personality and maybe find
out what, if anything, is bothering you."

"What's that to do with this response to environmental challenge

"Well," said Jason, drinking a third scotch, "the Super Boys have
evolved T.A.T. to its ultimate. T.A.T.--that stands for Thematic
Apperception Test. But in E.C.R.--environmental challenge and
response, you don't see a picture and create a dramatic story around
it. Instead, you get thrust into the picture, the situation, and you
have to work out the solution--or suffer whatever consequences the
particular environmental challenge has in store for you."

"I think I get you. But it's all make believe, huh?"

"That's the hell of it," Jason told him. "No, it's not. It is and it
isn't. I don't know."

"You make it perfectly clear," Temple smiled. "The red-headed boy
combed his brown hair, wishing it weren't blond."

Jason shrugged. "I'm sorry. For reasons you already know, the E.C.R.
isn't very clear to me--or to anyone. You're not actually in the
situation in a physical sense, but it can affect you physically. You
_feel_ you're there, you actually live everything that happens to you,
getting injured if an injury occurs ... and dying if you get killed.
It's permanent, although you might actually be sleeping at the time.
So, whether it's real or not is a question for philosophy. From your
point of view, from the point of view of someone going through it,
it's real."

"So I become part of this--uh, game in about an hour."

"Right. You and whoever the Russians offer as your competition. No one
will blame you if you want to back out, Kit; from what you tell me,
you haven't even been adequately trained on Mars."

"If you draw on the entire background of your life for this E.C.R.,
then you don't need training. Shut up and stop worrying. I'm not
backing out of anything."

"I didn't think you would, not if you're still as much like your old
man as you used to be. Kit ... good luck."

       *       *       *       *       *

The fact that the technicians working around him were Earthmen
permitted Temple to relax a little. Probably, it was planned that way,
for entering the huge white cube of a building and ascending to the
twelfth level on a moving ramp Temple had spotted many figures, not
all of them human. If he had been strapped to the table by unfamiliar
aliens, if the scent of alien flesh--or non-flesh--had been strong in
the room, if the fingers--or appendages--which greased his temples and
clamped an electrode to each one had not felt like human fingers, if
the men talking to him had spoken in voices too harsh or too sibilant
for human vocal chords--if all that had been the case whatever
composure still remained his would have vanished.

"I'm Dr. Olson," said one white-gowned figure. "If any injuries occur
while you lie here, I'm permitted to render first aid."

"The same for limited psychotherapy," said a shorter, heavier man.
"Though a fat lot of good it does when we never know what's bothering
you, and don't have the time to work on it even if we did know."

"In short," said a third man who failed to identify himself, "you may
consider yourself as the driver of one of those midget rocket racers.
Do they still have them on Earth? Good. You are the driver, and we
here in this room are the mechanics waiting in your pit. If anything
goes wrong, you can pull out of the race temporarily and have it
repaired. But in this particular race there is no pulling out: all
repairs are strictly of a first-aid nature and must be done while you
continue whatever you are doing. If you break your finger and find a
splint appearing on it miraculously, don't say you weren't warned."

"Best of luck to you, young man," said the psychotherapist.

"Here we go," said the doctor, finding the large vein on the inside of
Temple's forearm and plunging a needle into it.

Temple's senses whirled instantly, but as his vision clouded he
thought he saw a large, complex device swing down from the ceiling and
bathe his head in warming radiation. He blinked, squinted, could see
nothing but a swirling, cloudy opacity.

       *       *       *       *       *

Approximately two seconds later, Sophia Androvna Petrovitch watched as
the white-gowned comrade tied a rubber strap around her arm, waited
for the vein to swell with blood, then forced a needle in through its
thick outer layer. Was that a nozzle overhead? No, rather a lens, for
from it came amber warmth ... which soon faded, with everything else,
into thick, churning fog....

Temple was abruptly aware of running, plunging headlong and blindly
through the fiercest storm he had ever seen. Gusts of wind whipped at
him furiously. Rain cascaded down in drenching torrents. Foliage,
brambles, branches struck against his face; mud sucked at his feet.
Big animal shapes lumbered by in the green gloom, as frightened by the
storm as was Temple.

His head darted this way and that, his eyes could see the gnarled tree
trunks, the dense greenery, the lianas, creepers and vines of a
tropical rain forest--but dimly. Green murk swirled in like thick
smoke with every gust of wind, with the rain obscuring vision almost

Temple ran until his lungs burned and he thought he must exhale fire.
His leaden feet fought the mud with growing difficulty for every
stride he took. He ran wildly and in no set direction, convinced only
that he must find shelter or perish. Twice he crashed bodily into
trees, twice stumbled to his knees only to pull himself upright again,
sucking air painfully into his lungs and cutting out in a fresh

He ran until his legs balked. He fell, collapsing first at the knees,
then the waist, then flopping face down in the mud. Something prodded
his back as he fell and reaching behind him weakly Temple was aware
for the first time that a bow and a quiver of arrows hung suspended
from his shoulders by a strong leather thong. He wore nothing but a
loin cloth of some nameless animal skin and he wondered idly if he had
slain the animal with the weapon he carried. Yet when he tried to
recollect he found he could not. He remembered nothing but his frantic
flight through the rain forest, as if all his life he had run in a
futile attempt to leave the rain behind him.

Now as he lay there, the mud sucking at his legs, his chest, his
armpits, he could not even remember his name. Did he have one? Did he
have a life before the rain forest? Then why did he forget?

A sense not fully developed in man and called intuition by those who
fail to understand it made him prop his head up on his hands and
squint through the downpour. There was something off there in the
foliage ... someone....

A woman.

Temple's breath caught in his throat sharply. The woman stood half a
dozen paces off, observing him coolly with hands on flanks. She stood
tall and straight despite the storm and from trim ankles to long,
lithe legs to flaring loin-clothed hips, to supple waist and tawny
skin of fine bare breasts and shoulders, to proud, haughty face and
long dark hair loose in the storm and glistening with rain, she was
magnificent. Her long, bronzed body gleamed with wetness and Temple
realized she was tall as he, a wild beautiful goddess of the jungle.
She was part of the storm and he accepted her--but strangely, with the
same fear the storm evoked. She would make a lover the whole world
might relish (what world, Temple thought in confusion?) but she would
make a terrible foe.

And foe she was....

"I want your bow and arrows," she told him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Temple wanted to suggest they share the weapon, but somehow he knew in
this world which was like a dream and could tell him things the way a
dream would and yet was vividly real, that the woman would share
nothing with anybody.

"They are mine," Temple said, climbing to his knees. He remembered the
animal-shapes lumbering by in the storm and he knew that he and the
animals would both stalk prey when the storm subsided and he would
need the bow and arrows.

The woman moved toward him with a liquid motion beautiful to behold,
and for the space of a heartbeat Temple watched her come. "I will take
them," she said.

Temple wasn't sure if she could or not, and although she was a woman
he feared her strangely. Again, it was as if something in this
dream-world real-world could tell him more than he should know.

Making up his mind, Temple sprang to his feet, whirled about and ran.
He was plunging through the wild storm once more, blinded by the
occasional flashes of jagged green lightning, deafened by the peals of
thunder which followed. And he was being pursued.

Minutes, hours, more than hours--for an eternity Temple ran. A
reservoir of strength he never knew he possessed provided the energy
for each painful step and running through the storm seemed the most
natural thing in the world to him. But there came a time when his
strength failed, not slowly, but with shocking suddenness. Temple
fell, crawled a ways, was still.

It took him minutes to realize the storm no longer buffeted him, more
minutes to learn he had managed to crawl into a cave. He had no time
to congratulate himself on his good fortune, for something stirred

"I am coming in," the woman called to him from the green murk.

Temple strung an arrow to his bow, pulled the string back and faced
the cave's entrance squatting on his heels. "Then your first step
shall be your last. I'll shoot to kill." And he meant it.

Silence from outside. Deafening.

Temple felt sweat streaming under his armpits; his hands were clammy,
his hands trembled.

"You haven't seen the last of me," the woman promised. After that,
Temple knew she was gone. He slept as one dead.

When Temple awoke, bright sunlight filtered in through the foliage
outside his cave. Although the ground was a muddy ruin, the storm had
stopped. Edging to the mouth of the cave, Temple spread the foliage
with his hands, peered cautiously outside. Satisfied, he took his bow
and arrows and left the cave, pangs of hunger knotting his stomach

The cave had been weathered in the side of a short, steep abutment a
dozen paces from a gushing, swollen stream. Temple followed the course
of the stream as it twisted through the jungle, ranging half a mile
from his cave until the water course widened to form a water-hole. All
morning Temple waited there, crouching in the grass, until one by one,
the forest animals came to drink. He selected a small hare-like thing,
notched an arrow to his bow, let it fly.

The animal jumped, collapsed, began to slink away into the
undergrowth, dragging the arrow from its hindquarters. Temple darted
after it, caught it in his hands and bashed its life out against the
bole of a tree. Returning to his cave he found two flinty stones,
shredded a fallen branch and nursed the shards dry in the strong
sunlight. Soon he made a fire and ate.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the days which followed, Temple returned to the water-hole and
bagged a new catch every time he ventured forth. Things went so well
that he began to range further and further from his cave exploring.
Once however, he returned early to the water-hole and found footprints
in the soft mud of its banks.

The woman.

That she had been observing him while he had hunted had never occurred
to Temple, but now that the proof lay clearly before his eyes, the
old feeling of uncertainty came back. And the next day, when he crept
stealthily to the water-hole and saw the woman squatting there in the
brush, waiting for him, he fled back to his cave.

The thought hit him suddenly. If she were stalking him, why must he
flee as from his own shadow? There would be no security for either of
them until either one or the other were gone--and gone meant dead.
Then Temple would do his own stalking.

For several nights Temple hardly slept. He could have found the
water-hole blindfolded merely by following the stream. Each night he
would reach the hole and work, digging with a sharp stone, until he
had fashioned a pit fully ten feet deep and six feet across. This he
covered with branches, twigs, leaves and finally dirt.

When he returned in the morning he was satisfied with his work. Unless
the woman made a careful study of the area, she would never see the
pit. All that day Temple waited with his back to the water-hole,
facing the camouflaged pit, the trap he had set, but the woman failed
to appear. When she also did not come on the second day, he began to
think his plan would not work.

The third day, Temple arrived with the sun, sat as before in the tall
grass between the pit and the water-hole and waited. Several paces
beyond his hidden trap he could see the tall trees of the jungle with
vines and creepers hanging from their branches. At his back, a man's
length behind him was the water-hole, its deepest waters no more than

Temple waited until the sun stood high in the sky, then was fascinated
as a small antelope minced down to the water-hole for a drink. _You'll
make a fine breakfast tomorrow, he thought, smiling._

Something, that strange sixth sense again, made Temple turn around and
stand up. He had time for a brief look, a hoarse cry.

The woman had been the cleverer. She had set the final trap. She stood
high up on a branch of one of the trees beyond the hidden pit and for
an instant Temple saw her fine figure clearly, naked but for the
loincloth. Then the soft curves became spring-steel.

The woman arched her body there on the high branch, grasping a stout
vine and rocking back with it. Temple raised his bow, set an arrow to
let it fly. But by then, the woman was in motion.

Long and lithe and graceful, she swung down on her vine, gathering
momentum as she came. Her feet almost brushed the lip of Temple's pit
at the lowest arc of her flight, but she clung to the vine and it
began to swing up again like a pendulum--toward Temple.

At the last moment he hunched his shoulder and tried to raise his arms
for protection. The woman was quicker. She gathered her legs up under
her, still clutching the vine with her slim, strong hands. The vine's
arc carried her up at him; her knees were at a level with his head and
she brought them up savagely, close together striking Temple brutally
at the base of his jaw. Temple screamed as his head was jerked back
with terrible force.

The bow flew from his fingers and he fell into the water-hole, flat on
his back.

Sophia let the vine carry her out over the water, then dropped from
it. Waist deep, she waded to where the man lay, unconscious on his
back, half in, half out of the shallowest part of the water. She
reached him, prodded his chest with her foot. When he did not stir,
she rocked her weight down gracefully on her long leg, forcing his
head under water. With a haughty smile, she watched the bubbles

       *       *       *       *       *

In the small room where Temple's body lay in repose on a table the
white-smocked doctor looked at the psychotherapist questioningly.
"What's happening?"

"Can't tell, doctor. But--"

Suddenly Temple's still body rocked convulsively, his neck stretched,
his head shot up and back. Blood trickled from his mouth.

The doctor thrust out expert hands, examined Temple's jaw dexterously.

"Broken?" the psychotherapist demanded in a worried voice.

"No. Dislocated. He looks like he's been hit by a sledge hammer,
wherever he is now, whatever's happening. This E.C.R. is the damndest

Temple's still form shuddered convulsively. He began to gasp and
cough, obviously fighting for breath. An ugly blue swelling had by now
lumped the base of his jaw.

"What's happening?" demanded the psychotherapist.

"I can't be sure," said the doctor, shaking his head. "He seems to
have difficulty in breathing ... it's as if he were--drowning."

"Bad. Anything we can do?"

"No. We wait until this particular sequence ends." The doctor examined
Temple again. "If it doesn't end soon, this man will die of

"Call it off," the psychotherapist pleaded. "If he dies now Earth will
be represented by Russia. Call it off!"

Someone entered the room. "_I_ have the authority," he said,
selecting a hypodermic from the doctor's rack and piercing the skin
of Temple's forearm with it. "This first test has gone far enough. The
Russian entry is clearly the winner, but Temple must live if he is to
compete in another."

The wracking convulsions which shook Temple's body subsided. He ceased
his choking, began to breathe regularly. With grim swiftness, the
doctor went to work on Temple's dislocated jaw while the man who had
stopped the contest rendered artificial respiration.

The man was Alaric Arkalion.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Comrade Doctor was exultant. "Jupiter training, comrade, has given
us a victory."

"How can you be sure?"

"Our entrant is unharmed, the contest has been called. Wait ... she is
coming to."

Sophia stretched, rubbed her bruised knees, sat up.

"What happened, Comrade?" the doctor demanded.

"My knees ache," said Sophia, rubbing them some more. "I--I killed
him, I think. Strange, I never dreamed it would be that real."

"In a sense, it _was_ real. If you killed the American, he will stay

"Nothing mattered but that world we were in, a fantastic place. Now I
remember everything, all the things I couldn't remember then."

"But your--ah, dream--what happened?"

Sophia rubbed her bruised knees a third time, ruefully. "I knocked him
unconscious with these. I forced his head under water and drowned him.
But--before I could be sure I finished the job--I came back.... Funny
that I should want to kill him without compunction, without reason."
Sophia frowned, sat up. "I don't think I want anymore of this."

The doctor surveyed her coldly. "This is your task on the Stalintrek.
This you will do."

"I killed him without a thought."

"Enough. You will rest and get ready for the second contest."

"But if he's dead--"

"Apparently he's not, or we would have been informed, Comrade

"That is true," agreed the second man, who had remained silent until
now. "Prepare for another test, Comrade."

Sophia was on the point of arguing again. After all it wasn't fair. If
in the dream-worlds which were not dream worlds she was motivated by
but one factor and that to destroy the American and if she faced him
with the strength of her Jupiter training it would hardly be a
contest. And now that she could think of the American without the
all-consuming hatred the dream world had fostered in her, she realized
he had been a pleasant-looking young man, quite personable, in fact.
_I could like him_, Sophia thought and hoped fervently she had not
drowned him. Still, if she had volunteered for the Stalintrek and this
was the job they assigned her....

"I need no rest," she told the doctor, hardly trusting herself, for
she realized she might change her mind. "I am ready any time you are."


His name was Temple and it was the year 1960. Hectic end of a decade,
1960. Ancient Joe Stalin was still alive, drugged half senseless
against the tortures of an incurable stomach cancer, although the
world thought he died in 1953. He would hang on grimly another year
and a half, yielding the reins of empire to stout Malenkov who in the
space of a few years would lose them to a crafty schoolteacherish
whiplash called Beria. 1960--eleventh year of the fantastic Korean
situation, in which the Land of the Morning Sun had become, with no
pretentions to the contrary, a glorified training camp for the armies
of both sides.

The Cold War flared hot in Burma by mid-1960. Indo-China was a Red
Fortress and with Tibet hopelessly behind the Iron Curtain, India
awoke to the fact that neutrality was an impossibility in the era of
pushbuttonry, lending her chaotic bulk to the West. Mao Tse Tung fell
before an assassin's bullet in Peking, but a shining new political
sewage system cleared the streets of celebration before it fairly got
under way. Inside of forty-eight hours, China had a new Red
boss--imported from Moscow.

For some reason, it took until 1960 for the first batch of
Hiroshima-Nagasaki mutants not to miscarry, and Sunday Supplement
editors had a field day with the pathetic little creatures, one of
which was born with two heads and actually survived for ten years. In
1960 the first manned spaceship reached Luna, but the public knew
nothing of this for another fourteen months. In the United States the
increase in taxes and prices was matched everywhere except in the
pocketbook of the white collar worker by an increase in wages.
Shortages in all branches of engineering forced the government to
subsidize engineering students and exempt them permanently from the
draft and the soon-to-be-started Nowhere Journey, while engineers'
salaries rose to match those of top business executives. Big news in
the world of sports was the inclusion in the baseball Major Leagues of
eight teams from the Pacific Coast, replacing the World Series with
what was to become a mathematician's nightmare, the Triangle Game.

But Christopher Temple had his own problems. He had his own life, too,
which had nothing to do with the life of the real Christopher Temple,
departed thirty-odd years later on the Nowhere Journey. Or rather,
this _was_ Christopher Temple, living his second E.C.R.... Temple who
had lost once, and who, if he lost again, would take the dreams and
hopes of the Western world down into the dust of defeat with him. But
as the fictional (although in a certain sense, real) Christopher
Temple of 1960, he knew nothing of this.

The world could go to pot. The world was going to pot, anyway. Temple
shuddered as he poured a fourth Canadian, downing it in a tasteless,
burning gulp. Temple was a thermo-nuclear engineer with government
subsidized degrees from three universities including the fine new one
at Desert Rock. Temple was a thermo-nuclear engineer with top-secret
government clearance. Temple was a thermo-nuclear engineer with more
military secrets buzzing around inside his head than in a warehouse of
burned Pentagon files.

Temple was also a thermo-nuclear engineer whose wife spied for the

       *       *       *       *       *

He'd found out quite by accident, not meaning to eavesdrop at all.
Returning home early one afternoon because the production engineer
called a halt while further research was done on certain unstable
isotopes, Temple was surprised to find his wife had a gentleman
caller. He heard their voices clearly from where he stood out in the
sun-parlor, and for a ridiculous instant he was torn between slinking
upstairs and ignoring them altogether or barging into the living room
like a high school boy flushed with jealousy. The mature thing to do,
of course, was neither, and Temple was on the point of walking
politely into the living room, saying hello and waiting for an
introduction, when snatches of the conversation stopped him cold.

"Silly Charles! Kit doesn't suspect a thing. I would _know_."

"How can you be sure?"


"On a framework of intuition you would place the fate of Red Empire?"

"Empire, Charles?" Temple could picture Lucy's raised eyebrow. He
listened now, hardly breathing. For one wild moment he thought he
would retreat upstairs and forget the whole thing. Life would be much
simpler that way. A meaningless surrender to unreality, however, and
it couldn't be done.

"Yes, Empire. Oh, not the land-grabbing, slave-dominating sort of
things the Imperialists used to attempt, but a more subtle and hence
more enduring empire. Let the world call us Liberator, we shall have

Lucy laughed, a sound which Temple loved. "You may keep your ideology,
Charles. Play with it, bathe in it, get drunk on it or drown yourself
in it. I want my money."

"You are frank."

Temple could picture Lucy's shrug. "I am a paid, professional spy. By
now you have most of the information you need. I shall have the rest

"I'll see you in hell first!" Temple cried in rage, stalking into the
room and almost smiling in spite of the situation when he realized how
melodramatic his words must sound.

"Kit! Kit...." Lucy raised hand to mouth, then backed away flinching
as if she had been struck.

"Yeah, Kit. A political cuckold, or does Charles get other services
from you as well?"

"Kit, you don't...."

The man named Charles motioned for silence. Dapper, clean-cut,
good-looking except for a surly, pouting mouth, he was a head shorter
than either Temple or Lucy. "Don't waste your words, Sophia. Temple
overheard us."

_Sophia?_ thought Temple. "Sophia?" he said.

Charles nodded coolly. "The real Mrs. Temple was observed, studied,
her every habit and whim catalogued by experts. A plastic surgeon, a
psychologist, a sociologist, a linguist, a whole battery of experts
molded Sophia here into a new Mrs. Temple. I must congratulate them,
for you never suspected."

"Lucy?" Temple demanded dully. Reason stood suspended in a limbo of
objective acceptance and subjective disbelief.

"Mrs. Temple was eliminated. Regrettable because we don't deal in
senseless mayhem, but necessary."

Temple was not aware of leaving limbo until he felt the bruising
contact of his knuckles with Charles' jaw. The short man toppled, fell
at his feet. "Get up!" Temple cried, then changed his mind and tensed
himself to leap upon the prone figure.

"Hold it," Charles told him quietly, wiping blood from his lips with
one hand, drawing an automatic from his pocket with the other. "You'd
better freeze, Temple. You die if you don't."

       *       *       *       *       *

Temple froze, watched Charles slither away across the high-piled green
carpet until, safely away across the room, he came upright groggily.
He turned to the dead Lucy's double. "What do you think, Sophia?"

"I don't know. We could get out of here, probably get along without
the final information."

"That isn't what I mean. Naturally, we'll never receive the final
facts. I mean, what do you think about Temple?"

Sophia said she didn't know.

"Left alone, he would go to the police. Kidnapped, he would be worse
than useless. Harmful, actually, for the authorities would suspect
something. Even worse if we killed him. The point is, we don't want
the authorities to think Temple gave information to anybody."

"Gave is hardly the word," said Sophia. "I was a good wife, but also a
good gleaner. One hundred thousand dollars, Charles."

"You bitch," Temple said.

"Later," Charles told the woman. "The solution is this, Sophia: we
must kill Temple, but it must look like suicide."

Sophia frowned in pretty concern. "Do we have to ... kill him?"

"What's the matter, my dear? Have you been playing the wifely role too
long? If Temple stands in the way of Red Empire, Temple must die."

Temple edged forward.

"Uh-uh," said Charles, "mustn't." He waved the automatic and Temple

"Is that right?" Sophia demanded. "Well, you listen to me. I have
nothing to do with your Red Empire. I fled the Iron Curtain, came here
to live voluntarily--"

"Do you really think it was on a voluntary basis that you went? We
allowed you to go, Sophia. We encouraged it. That way, the job of our
technicians was all the simpler. Whether you like it or not, you have
been a cog in the machine of Red Empire."

"I still don't see why he has to die."

"Leave thinking to those who can. You have a smile, a body, a certain
way with men. I will think. I think that Temple should die."

"I don't," Sophia said.

"We're delaying needlessly. The man dies." And Charles raised his
automatic, sufficiently irked to forget his suicide plan.

A gap of eight or nine feet separated the two men. It might as well
have been infinity--and it would be soon, for Temple. He saw Charles'
small hand tighten about the automatic, saw the trigger finger grow
white. The weapon pointed at a spot just above his navel and briefly
he found himself wondering what it would feel like for a slug to rip
into his stomach, burning a path back to his spine. He decided to make
the gesture at least, if he could do no more. He would jump for

Sophia beat him to it--and because Lucy was dead and Sophia looked
exactly like her and Temple could not quite accept the fact, it seemed
the most natural thing in the world. Cat-quick, Sophia leaped upon
Charles' back and they went down together in a twisting, thrashing
tangle of arms and legs.

Temple did not wait for an invitation. He launched himself down after
them, and then things began to happen ... fast.

Sophia rolled clear, rose to her hands and knees, panting. Charles sat
up cursing, nursing a badly scratched face. Temple hurtled at him,
stretched him on his back again, began to pound hard fists into his

Charles did not have the automatic. Neither did Temple.

Something exploded against the back of Temple's head violently,
throwing him off Charles and tumbling him over. Dimly he saw Sophia
following through, the automatic in her hand, butt foremost. Temple's
senses reeled. He tried to rise, succeeded only in a kind of
shuddering slither before he subsided. He wavered between
consciousness and unconsciousness, heard as in a dream snatches of

"Shoot him ... shoot him!"

"Shut up ... I have ... gun ... go to hell."

"... kill ... only way."

"My way is different ... out of here ... discuss later."

"... feel...."

"I said ... out of here...."

The voices became a meaningless liquid torrent cascading into a black

       *       *       *       *       *

Now Temple sat with a water-glass a third full of Canadian in his
hand, every once in a while reaching up gingerly to explore the
bruised swelling on his head, the blood-matted hair which covered it.
To be a cuckold was one thing, but to be the naive, political pawn
sort of cuckold who is not a cuckold at all, he told himself, is far
worse. To live with his woman, eat the meals she cooked for him, talk
to her, think she understood him, sympathize with him, to make love to
her with passion while she responds with play-acting for a hundred
thousand dollar salary was suddenly the most emasculating thing in the
world for Temple. He had not thought to ask how long it had been going
on. Better, perhaps, if he never knew. And somewhere lost in the maze
of his thoughts was the grimmest, bleakest reality of them all: Lucy
was dead. Lucy--dead. But where did Lucy leave off, where did Sophia
begin? Was Lucy dead that night they returned more than a little drunk
from the Chamber's party, that night they danced in the living room
until dawn obscured the stars and he carried Lucy upstairs. Lucy or
Sophia? And the day they motored to the lake, their secret lake,
hardly more than a dammed, widened stream and dreamed of the things
they could do when the Cold War ended? Lucy--or Sophia? Had he ever
noticed a difference in the way Lucy-Sophia cooked, in the way she
spoke, the way she let him make love to her? He thought himself into a
man-sized headache and found no answers. This way at least the loss of
his wife was not as traumatic as it might have been. He knew not when
she died or how and, in fact, Lucy-Sophia seemed so much like the real
thing that he did not know where he could stop loving and start

And the girl, the Russian girl, had saved his life. Why? He couldn't
answer that one either, unless if it were as Charles suggested: Sophia
had studied Lucy so carefully, had learned her likes and dislikes, her
wants and desires, had memorized and practised every quirk of her
character to such an extent that Sophia was Lucy in essence.

Which, Temple thought, would make it all the harder to seek out Sophia
and kill her.

That was the answer, the only answer. Temple felt a dull ache where
his heart should have been, a pressure, a pounding, an unpleasant,
unfamiliar lack of feeling. If he took his story to the F.B.I. he had
no doubt that Charles, Sophia and whoever else worked this thing with
them would be caught, but he, Temple, would find himself with a
lifelong, unslakable emotional thirst. He had to quench it now and
then feel sorry so that he might heal. He had to quench it with
Sophia's blood ... alone.

       *       *       *       *       *

He found her a week later at their lake. He had looked everywhere and
had about given up, almost, in fact, ready to turn his story over to
the police. But he had to think and their lake was the place for that.

Apparently Sophia had the same idea. Temple parked on the highway half
a mile from their lake, made his way slowly through the woods, golden
dappled with sunlight. He heard the waters gushing merrily, heard the
sounds of some small animal rushing off through the woods. He saw

She lay on their sunning rock in shorts and halter, completely
relaxed, an opened magazine face down on the rock beside her, a pair
of sunglasses next to it. She had one knee up, one leg stretched out,
one forearm shielding her eyes from the sun, one arm down at her side.
Seeing her thus, Temple felt the pressure of his automatic in its
holster under his arm. He could draw it out, kill her before she was
aware of his presence. Would that make him feel better? Five minutes
ago, he would have said yes. Now he hesitated. Kill her, who seemed as
completely Lucy as he was Temple? Send a bullet ripping through the
body which he had known and loved, or the body that had seemed so much
like it he had failed to tell the difference?


"No," he said aloud. "Her name is Sophia."

The girl sat up, startled. "Kit," she said.


"You can't make up your mind, either." She smiled just like Lucy.

Dumbly, he sat down next to her on the rock. Strong sunlight had
brought a fine dew of perspiration to the bronzed skin of her face.
She got a pack of cigarettes out from under the magazine, lit one,
offered it to Temple, lit another and smoked it. "Where do we go from
here?" she wanted to know.


"You came to kill me, didn't you? Is that the only way you can ever
feel better, Kit?"

"I--" He was going to deny it, then think.

"Don't deny it. Please." She reached in under his jacket, withdrawing
her hand with the snub-nosed automatic in it. "Here," she said, giving
it to him.

He took the gun, hefted it, let it fall, clattering, on the rock.

"Listen," she said. "I could have told you I was Lucy. If I said now
that I am Lucy and if I kept on saying it, you'd believe me. You'd
believe me because you'd want to."

"Well," said Temple.

"I am not Lucy. Lucy is dead. But ... but I was Lucy in everything but
being Lucy. I thought her thoughts, dreamed her dreams, loved her

"You killed her."

"No. I had nothing to do with that. She was killed, yes. Not by me.
Kit, if I asked you when Lucy stopped, and ... when I began, could you
tell me?"

He had often thought about that. "No," he said truthfully. "You're as
much my wife as--she was."

       *       *       *       *       *

She clutched at his hand impulsively. Then, when he failed to
respond, she withdrew her own hand. "Then--then I _am_ Lucy. If I am
Lucy in every way, Lucy never died."

"You betrayed me. You stood by while murder was committed. You are
guilty of espionage."

"Lucy loved you. I am Lucy...."

"... Betrayed me...."

"For a hundred thousand dollars. For the chance to live a normal life,
for the chance to forget Leningrad in the wintertime, watery potato
soup, rags for clothing, swaggering commissars, poverty, disease. Do
you think I realized I could fall in love with you so completely? If I
did, don't you think that would have changed things? I am not Sophia,
Kit. I was, but I am not. They made me Lucy. Lucy can't be dead, not
if I am she in every way."

"What can we do?"

"I don't know. I only want to be your wife...."

"Well, then tell me," he said bitterly. "Shall I go back to the plant
and continue working, knowing all the time that our most closely
guarded secret is in Russian hands and that my wife is responsible?"
He laughed. "Shall I do that?"

"Your secrets never went anywhere."

"Shall I ... _what_?"

"Your secrets never went anywhere. Charles is dead. I have destroyed
all that we took. I am not Russian any longer. American. They made me
American. They made me Lucy. I want to go right on being Lucy, your

Temple said nothing for a long time. He realized now he could not kill
her. But everything else she suggested.... "Tell me," he said. "Tell
me, how long have you been Lucy? You've got to tell me that."

"How long have we been married?"

"You know how long. Three years."

Sophia crushed her cigarette out on the rock, wiped perspiration
(tears?) from her cheek with the back of her hand. "You have never
known anyone but me in your marriage bed, Kit."

"You--you're lying."

"No. They did what they did on the eve of your marriage. I have been
your wife for as long as you have had one."

Temple's head whirled. It had been a quick courtship. He had known
Lucy only two weeks in those hectic post-graduate days of 1957. But
for fourteen brief days, it was Sophia he had known all along.

"Sophia, I--"

"There is no Sophia, not any more."

He had hardly known Lucy, the real Lucy. This girl here was his wife,
always had been. Had the first fourteen days with Lucy been anything
but a dream? He was sorry Lucy had died--but the Lucy he had thought
dead was Sophia, very much alive.

He took her in his arms, almost crushing her. He held her that way,
kissed her savagely, letting passion of a different sort take the
place of murder.

_This is my woman_, he thought, and awoke on his white pallet in

       *       *       *       *       *

"I am awake," said Temple.

"We see that. You shouldn't be."


"No. There is one more dream."

Temple dozed restfully but was soon aware of a commotion. Strangely,
he did not care. He was too tired to open his eyes, anyway. Let
whatever was going to happen, happen. He wanted his sleep.

But the voice persisted.

"This is highly irregular. You came in here once and--"

"I did you a favor, didn't I?" (That voice is familiar, Temple

"Well, yes. But what now?"

"Temple's record is now one and one. In the second sequence he was the
victor. The Soviet entry had to extract certain information from him
and turn it over to her people. She extracted the information well
enough but somehow Temple made her change her mind. The information
never went anyplace. How Temple managed to play counterspy I don't
know, but he played it and won."

"That's fine. But what do you want?"

"The final E.C.R. is critical." (The voice was Arkalion's!) "How
critical, I can't tell you. Sufficient though, if you know that you
lose no matter how Temple fares. If the Russian woman defeats Temple,
you lose."


"Let me finish. If Temple defeats the Russian woman, you also lose.
Either way, Earth is the loser. I haven't time to explain what you
wouldn't understand anyway. Will you cooperate?"

"Umm-mm. You did save Temple's life. Umm-mm, yes. All right."

"The third dream sequence is the wrong dream, the wrong contest with
the wrong antagonist at the wrong time, when a far more important
contest is brewing ... with the fate of Earth as a reward for the

"What do you propose?"

"I will arrange Temple's final dream. But if he disappears from this
room, don't be alarmed. It's a dream of a different sort. Temple won't
know it until the dream progresses, you won't know it until
everything is concluded, but Temple will fight for a slave or a free

"Can't you tell us more?"

"There is no time, except to say that along with the rest of the
Galaxy, you've been duped. The Nowhere Journey is a grim, tragic

"Awaken, Kit!"

Temple awoke into what he thought was the third and final dream.
Strange, because this time he knew where he was and why, knew also
that he was dreaming, even remembered vividly the other two dreams.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Stealth," said Arkalion, and led Temple through long, white-walled
corridors. They finally came to a partially open door and paused
there. Peering within, Temple saw a room much like the one he had
left, with two white-gowned figures standing anxiously over a table.
And prone on the table was Sophia, whom Temple had loved short moments
before, in his second dream. Moments? Years. (Never, except in a

"She's lovely," Arkalion whispered.

"I know." Like himself, Sophia was garbed in a loose jumper and

"Stealth," said Arkalion again. "Haste." Arkalion disappeared.

"Well," Temple told himself. "What now? At least in the other dreams I
was thrust so completely into things, I knew what to do." He rubbed
his jaw grimly. "Not that it did much good the first time."

Temple poked the partially-ajar door with his foot, pushing it open.
The two white-smocked figures had their backs to him, leaned intently
over the table and Sophia. Without knowing what motivated him, Temple
leaped into the room, grasped the nearer figure's arm, whirled him
around. Startled confusion began to alter the man's coarse features,
but his face went slack when Temple's fist struck his jaw with
terrible strength. The man collapsed.

The second man turned, mouthing a stream of what must have been
Russian invective. He parried Temple's quick blow with his left hand,
crossing his own right fist to Temple's face and almost ending the
fight as quickly as it had started. Temple went down in a heap and was
vaguely aware of the Russian's booted foot hovering over his face. He
reached out, grabbed the boot with both hands, twisted. The man
screamed and fell and then they were rolling over and over, striking
each other with fists, knees, elbows, gouging, butting, cursing.
Temple found the Russian's throat, closed his hands around it,
applied pressure. Fists pounded his face, nails raked him, but slowly
he succeeded in throttling the Russian. When Temple got to his feet,
trembling, the Russian stared blankly at the ceiling. He would go on
staring that way until someone shut his eyes.

Not questioning the incomprehensible, Temple knew he had done what he
must. Hardly seeking for the motive he could not find he lifted the
unconscious Sophia off the table, slung her long form across his
shoulder, plodded with her from the room. Arkalion had said haste. He
would hurry.

He next was aware of a spaceship. Remembering no time lag, he simply
stood in the ship with Arkalion. And Sophia.

       *       *       *       *       *

He knew it was a spaceship because he had been in one before and
although the sensation of weightlessness was not present, they were in
deep space. Stars you never see through an obscuring atmosphere hung
suspended in the viewports. Cold-bright, not flickering against the
plush blackness of deep space, phalanxes and legions of stars without
numbers, in such wild profusion that space actually seemed three

"This is a different sort of dream," said Sophia in English. "I
remember. I remember everything. Kit--"

"Hello." He felt strangely shy, became mildly angry when Arkalion
hardly tried to suppress a slight snicker. "Well, that second dream
wasn't our idea," Temple protested. "Once there, we acted ... and--"

"And...." said Sophia.

"And nothing," Arkalion told them. "You haven't time. This is a
spaceship, not like the slow, blumbling craft your people use to reach
Mars or Jupiter."

"Our people?" Temple demanded. "Not yours?"

"Will you let me finish? Light is a laggard crawler by comparison with
the drive propelling this ship. Temple, Sophia, we are leaving your
Galaxy altogether."

"Is that a fact?" said Sophia, her Jupiter-found knowledge telling her
they were traveling an unthinkable distance. "For some final contest
between us, no doubt, to decide whether the U. S. S. R. or the U. S.
represents Earth? Kit, I l-love you, but...."

"But Russia is more important, huh?"

"No. I didn't say that. All my training has been along those lines,
though, and even if I'm aware it is indoctrination, the fact still
remains. If your country is truly better, but if I have seen your
country only through the eyes of Pravda, how can I ... I don't know,
Kit. Let me think."

"You needn't," said Arkalion, smiling. "If the two of you would let me
get on with it you'd see this particular train of thought is
meaningless, quite meaningless." Arkalion cleared his throat.

"Strange, but I have much the same problem as Sophia has. My
indoctrination was far more subtle though. Far more convincing, based
upon eons of propaganda methods. Temple, Sophia, those who initiated
the Nowhere Journey for hundreds of worlds of your galaxy did so with
a purpose."

"I know. To decide who gets their vast knowledge."

"Wrong. To find suitable hosts in a one-way relationship which is
hardly symbiosis, really out and out parasitism."


And Sophia: "What are you talking about?"

"The sick, decadent, tired old creatures you consider your superiors.
Parasites. They need hosts in order to survive. Their old hosts have
been milked dry, have become too highly specialized, are now incapable
physically or emotionally of meeting a wide variety of environmental
challenges. The Nowhere Journey is to find a suitable new host. They
have found one. You of Earth."

"I don't understand," Temple said, remembering the glowing accounts of
the 'superboys' he had been given by his brother Jason. "I just don't
get it. How can we be duped like that? Wouldn't someone have figured
it out? And if they have all the power everyone says, there isn't much
we can do about it, anyway."

Arkalion scowled darkly. "Then write Earth's obituary. You'll need

"Go ahead," Sophia told Arkalion. "There's more you want to say."

"All right. Temple's thought is correct. They have tremendous power.
That is why you could be duped so readily. But their power is not
concentrated here. These much-faster-than-light ships are an extreme
rarity, for the power-drive no longer exists. Five ships in all, I
believe. Hardly enough to invade a planet, even for them. It takes
them thousands of years to get here otherwise. Thousands. Just as it
took me, when I came to Mars and Earth in the first place."

"What?" cried Temple. "You...."

"I am one of them. Correct. I suppose you would call me a subversive,
but I have made up my mind. Parasitism is unsatisfactory, when the
Maker got us started on symbiosis. Somewhere along the line, evolution
took a wrong turn. We are--monsters."

"What do you look like?" Sophia demanded while Temple stood there
shaking his head and muttering to himself.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You couldn't see me, I am afraid. I was the representative here to
see how things were going, and when my people found you of the Earth
divided yourselves into two camps they realized they had been
considering your abilities in halves. Put together, you are probably
the top culture of your galaxy."

"So, we win," said Temple.

"Right and wrong. You lose. Earthmen will become hosts. Know what a
back-seat driver is, Temple? You would be a back seat driver in your
own body. Thinking, feeling, wanting to make decisions, but unable to.
Eating when the parasite wants to, sleeping at his command, fighting,
loving, living as he wills it. And perishing when he wants a new
garment. Oh, they offer something in return. Their culture, their way
of life, their scientific, economic, social system. It's good, too.
But not worth it. Did you know that their economic struggle between
democratic capitalism and totalitarian communism ended almost half a
million years ago? What they have now is a system you couldn't even

"Well," Temple mused, "even if everything you said were true--"

"Don't tell me you don't believe me?"

"If it were true and we wanted to do something about it, what could we

"Now, nothing. Nothing but delay things by striking swiftly and
letting fifty centuries of time perform your rearguard action. Destroy
the one means your enemy has of reaching Earth within foreseeable time
and you have destroyed his power to invade for a hundred centuries. He
can still reach Earth, but the same way you journeyed to Nowhere. Ten
thousand years of space travel in suspended animation. You saw me that
way once, Temple, and wondered. You thought I was dead, but that is
another story.

"Anyway, let my people invade your planet, ten thousand years hence.
If Earth takes the right direction, if democracy and free thought and
individual enterprise win over totalitarian standardization as I think
they will, your people will be more than a match for the decadent
parasites who may or may not have sufficient initiative to cross space
the slow way and attempt invasion in ten thousand years."

"Ten thousand?" said Temple.

"Five from Earth to Nowhere. The distance to my home is far greater,
but the rate of travel can be increased. Ten thousand years."

"Tell me," Temple demanded abruptly, "is this a dream?"

Arkalion smiled. "Yes and no. It is not a dream like the others
because I assure you your bodies are not now resting on a pair of
identical white tables. Still in the other dreams physical things
could happen to you, while now you'll find you can do things as in a
dream. For example, neither one of you knows the intricacies of a
spaceship, yet if you are to save your planet, you must know the
operation of the most intricate of all space ships, a giant space

"Then we're not dreaming?" asked Temple.

"I never said that. Consider this sequence of events about half way
between the dream stage you have already seen and reality itself.
Remember this: you'll have to work together; you'll have to function
like machines. You will be handling totally alien equipment with only
the sort of knowledge which can be played into your brains to guide

Sophia sighed. "Being an American, Kit is too much of an individual to
help in such a situation."

Temple snorted. "Being a cog in a simple, state-wide machine is one
thing--orienting yourself in a totally new situation is another."

"Yes, well--"

"See?" Arkalion cautioned. "See? Already you are arguing, but you must
work together completely, with not the slightest conflict between you.
As it is, you hardly have a chance."

"What about you?" said Sophia practically. "Can't you help?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Arkalion shook his head. "No. While I'd like to see you come out of
this thing on top, I would not like to sacrifice my life for it--which
is exactly what I'd do if I remained with you and you lost.

"So, let's get down to detail. Imagine space being folded, imagine
your time sense slowing, imagine a new dimension which negates the
need for extensive linear travel, imagine anything you want--but we
are in the process of moving nine hundred thousand light years through
deep space. There is a great galaxy at that distance, almost a twin of
your Milky Way: you call it the Andromeda Nebula. Closer to your own
system are the two Magellanic Clouds, so called, something else which
you table NGC 6822, and finally the Triangulum Galaxy. All have
billions of stars, but none of the stars have life. To find life
outside your galaxy you must seek it across almost a million light
years. My people live in Andromeda.

"Guarding the flank of their galaxy and speeding through
inter-galactic space at many light years per minute is what you might
call a space station--but on a scale you've never dreamed of. Five of
your miles in diameter, it is a fortress of terrible strength, a
storehouse of half a million years of weapon development. It has been
arranged that the one man running this station--"

"Just one?" Temple asked.

"Yes. You will see why when you get there. It has been arranged that
he will leave, ostensibly on a scouting expedition. You see, I am not
alone in this venture. At any rate, he will report that the space
station has been taken--as, indeed, it will be, by the two of you. The
only ships capable of overtaking your station in its flight will be
the only ships capable of reaching your galaxy before cultural
development gives you a chance to survive. They will attack you. You
will destroy them--or be destroyed yourselves. Any questions?"

The whole thing sounded fantastic to Temple. Could the fate of all
Earth rest on their shoulders in a totally alien environment? Could
they be expected to win? Temple had no reason to doubt the former, as
wild as it sounded. As for the latter, all he could do was hope. "Tell
me," he said, "how will we learn the use of all the weapons you claim
are at our disposal?"

"Can you answer that for him, Sophia?" Arkalion wanted to know.

"Umm, I think so. The same way I had all sorts of culture crammed into
me on Jupiter."

"Precisely. Only take it from me our refinement is far better, and the
amount you have to learn actually is less."

"What I'd like to know--" Sophia began.

"Forget it. I want some sleep and you'll learn everything that's
necessary at the space station."

And after that, ply Arkalion as they would with questions, he slumped
down in his chair and rested. Temple could suddenly understand and
appreciate. He felt like curling up into a tight little ball himself
and sleeping until everything was over, one way or the other.


"It's all so big! So incredible! We'll never understand it! Never...."

"Relax, Sophia. Arkalion said--"

"I know what Arkalion said, but we haven't learned anything yet."

Hours before, Arkalion had landed them on the space station, a
gleaming, five-mile in diameter globe, and had quickly departed. Soon
after that they had found themselves in a veritable labyrinth of
tunnels, passageways, vaults. Occasionally they passed a great glowing
screen, and always the view of space was the same. Like a magnificent,
elongated shield, sparkling with a million million points of light,
pale gold, burnished copper, blue of glacial ice and silver white, the
Andromeda Galaxy spanned space from upper right to lower left. Off at
the lower right hand corner they could see their space station;
apparently the viewer itself stood far removed in space, projecting
its images here at the globe.

Awed the first time they had seen one of the screens, Temple said,
"All the poets who ever wrote a line would have given half their lives
to see this as we see it now."

"And all the writers, musicians, artists...."

"Anyone, who ever thought creatively, Sophia. How can you say it's
breathtaking or anything like that when words weren't ever spoken
which can...."

"Let's not go poetic just yet," Sophia admonished him with a smile.
"We'd better get squared away here, as the expression goes, before
it's too late."

"Yes.... Hello, what's this?" A door irised open for them in a solid
wall of metal. Irised was the only word Temple could think of, for a
tiny round hole appeared in the wall spreading evenly in all
directions with a slow, uniform, almost liquid motion. When it was
large enough to walk through, they entered a completely bare room and
Temple whirled in time to see the entrance irising shut.

"Something smells," said Sophia, sniffing at the air.

Sweet and cloying, the odor grew stronger. Temple may have heard a
faint hissing sound. "I'm getting sleepy," he said.

Nodding, Sophia ran, banged on the wall where the door had opened so
suddenly, then closed. No response. "Is it a trap?"

"By whom? For what?" Temple found it difficult to keep his eyes from
closing. "Fight it if you want, Sophia. I'm going to sleep." And he
squatted in the center of the floor, staring vacantly at the bare

Just as Temple was drifting off into a dream about complex machinery
he did not yet understand but realized he soon would, Sophia joined
him the hard way, collapsing alongside of him, unconscious and
sprawling gracelessly on the floor.

Temple slept.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Sleepy-head, get up." Sophia stirred as he spoke and shook her. She
yawned, stretched, smiled up at him lazily. "How do you feel now?"

"Hungry, Kit."

"That's a point. It's all right now, though. I know exactly where the
food concentrates are kept. Three levels below us, second segment of
the wall. You can make those queer doors iris by pressing the wall
twice, with about a one second interval."

They found the food compartment, discovered row on row of cans, boxes,
jars. Temple opened one of the cans, gazed in disappointment on a
sorry looking thing the size of his thumb. Brown, shriveled, dry and
almost flaky, it might have been a bird.

Sophia turned up her nose. "If that's the best this place has to
offer, I'm not so hungry anymore."

Suddenly, she gaped. So did Temple. A savory odor attracted their
attention, steam rising from the small can added to their interest.
Amazing things happened to the withered scrap of food on exposure to
the air. Temple barely had time to extract it from the can, burning
his fingers in the process, when it became twice the can's size. It
grew and by the time it finished, it was as savory looking a five
pound fowl as Temple had ever seen. Roasted, steaming hot, ready to

They tore into it with savage gusto.

"Stephanie should see me now," Temple found himself saying and
regretted it.

"Stephanie? Who's that?"

"A girl."

"Your girl?"

"What's the difference? She's a million light years and fifty
centuries away."

"Answer me."

"Yes," said Temple, wishing he could change the subject. "My girl." He
hadn't thought of Stephanie in a long time, perhaps because it was
meaningless to think of someone dead fifty centuries. Now that the
thoughts had been stirred within him, though, he found them poignantly

"Your girl ... and you would marry her if you could?"

He had grown attached to Sophia, not in reality, but in the second of
their dream worlds. He wished the memory of the dream had not lingered
for it disturbed him. In it he had loved Sophia as much as he now
loved Stephanie although the one was obtainable and the other was a
five-thousand year pinch of dust. And how much of the dream lingered
with him, in his head and his heart?

"Let's forget about it," Temple suggested.

"No. If she were here today and if everything were normal, would you
marry her?"

"Why talk about what can't be?"

"I want to know, that's why."

"All right. Yes, I would. I would marry Stephanie."

"Oh," said Sophia. "Then what happened in the dream meant ...

"We were two different people," Temple said coolly, then wished he
hadn't for it was only half-true. He remembered everything about the
dream-which-was-more-than-a-dream vividly. He had been far more
intimate with Sophia, and over a longer period of time, than he had
ever been with Stephanie. And even if Stephanie appeared impossibly on
the spot and he spent the rest of his life as her husband, still he
would never forget his dream-life with Sophia. In time he could let
himself tell her that. But not now; now the best thing he could do
would be to change the subject.

"I see," Sophia answered him coldly.

"No, you don't. Maybe some day you will."

"There's nothing but what you told me. I see."

"No ... forget it," he told her wearily.

"Of course. It was only a dream anyway. The dream before that I almost
killed you out of hatred anyway. Love and hate, I guess they
neutralize. We're just a couple of people who have to do a job
together, that's all."

"For gosh sakes, Sophia! That isn't true. I loved Stephanie. I still
would, were Stephanie alive. But she's--she's about as accessible as
the Queen of Sheba."

"So? There's an American expression--you're carrying a torch."

Probably, Temple realized, it was true. But what did all of that have
to do with Sophia? If he and Sophia ... if they ... would it be fair
to Sophia? It would be exactly as if a widower remarried, with the
memory of his first wife set aside in his heart ... no, different, for
he had never wed Stephanie, and always in him would be the desire for
what had never been.

"Let's talk about it some other time," Temple almost pleaded, wanting
the respite for himself as much as for Sophia.

"No. We don't have to talk about it ever. I won't be second best, Kit.
Let's forget all about it and do our job. I--I'm sorry I brought the
whole thing up."

Temple felt like an unspeakable heel. And, anyway, the whole thing
wasn't resolved in his mind. But they couldn't just let it go at that,
not in case something happened when the ships came and one or both of
them perished. Awkwardly, for now he felt self-conscious about
everything, he got his arms about Sophia, drew her to him, placed his
lips to hers.

That was as far as he got. She wrenched free, shoved clear of him. "If
you try that again, you will have another dislocated jaw."

Temple shrugged wearily. If anything were to be resolved between them,
it would be later.

When the ships came moments afterwards--seven, not the five Arkalion
predicted--they were completely unprepared.

       *       *       *       *       *

Temple spotted them first on one of the viewing screens, half way
between the receiver and the space station itself, silhouetted against
the elongated shield of Andromeda. They soared out of the picture,
appeared again minutes later, zooming in from the other direction in
two flights of four ships and three.

"Come on!" Sophia cried over her shoulder, irising the door and
plunging from the room. Temple followed at her heels but her Jupiter
trained muscles pushed her lithe legs in long, powerful strides and
soon she outdistanced him. By the time he reached the armaments vault,
breathless, she was seated at the single gun-emplacement, her fingers
on the controls.

"Watch the viewing screen and tell me how we're doing," Sophia told
him, not taking her eyes from the dials and levers.

Temple watched, fascinated, saw a thin pencil of radiant energy leap
out into space, missing one of the ships by what looked like a scant
few miles. He called the corrective azimuth to her, hardly surprised
by the way his mind had absorbed and now could use its new-found

Temple understood and yet did not understand. For example, he knew the
station had but one gun and Sophia sat at it now, yet in certain ways
it didn't make sense. Could it cover all sectors of space? His mind
supplied the answer although he had not been aware of the knowledge an
instant before: yes. The space station did not merely rotate. Its
surface was a spherical projection of a moving Moebius strip and
although he tried to envision the concept, he failed. The weapon could
be fired at any given point in space at twenty second intervals,
covering every other conceivable point in the ensuing time.

Sophia was firing again and Temple watched the thin beam leap across
space. "Hit!" he roared. "Hit!"

Something flashed at the front end of the lead ship. The light blinded
him, but when he could see again only six ships remained in
space--casting perfect shadows on the Andromeda Galaxy! The source of
light, Temple realized triumphantly, was out of range, but he could
picture it--a glowing derelict of a ship, spewing heat, light and
radioactivity into the void.

"One down," Sophia called. "Six to go. I like your American
expressions. Like sitting ducks--"

She did not finish. Abruptly, light flared all around them. Something
shrieked in Temple's ears. The vault shuddered, shook. Girders
clattered to the floor, stove it in, revealing black rock. Sophia was
thrown back from the single gun, crashing against the wall, flipping
in air and landing on her stomach.

Temple ran to her, turned her over. Blood smeared her face, trickled
from her lips. Although she did not move, she wasn't dead. Temple half
dragged, half carried her from the vault into an adjoining room. He
stretched her out comfortably as he could on the floor, ran back into
the vault.

Molten metal had collected in one corner of the room, crept sluggishly
toward him across the floor, heating it white-hot. He skirted it,
climbed over a twisted girder, pushed his way past other debris, found
himself at the gun emplacement.

"How dumb can I get?" Temple said aloud. "Sophia ran to the gun, must
have assumed I set up the shields." Again, it was an item of
information stored in his mind by the wisdom of the space station.
Protective shields made it impossible for anything but a direct hit on
the emplacement to do them any harm, only Temple had never set the
shields in place. He did so now, merely by tripping a series of
levers, but glancing at a dial to his left he realized with alarm that
the damage possibly had already been done. The needle, which measured
lethal radiation, hovered half way between negative and the critical
area marked in red and, even as Temple watched it, crept closer to the

       *       *       *       *       *

How much time did he have? Temple could not be sure, bent grimly over
the weapon. It was completely unfamiliar to his mind, completely
unfamiliar to his fingers. He toyed with it, released a blast of
radiant energy, whirled to face the viewing screen. The beam streaked
out into the void, clearly hundreds of miles from its objective.

Cursing, Temple tried again, scoring a near miss. The ships were
trading a steady stream of fire with him now, but with the shielding
up it was harmless, striking and then bouncing back into space. Temple
scored his first hit five minutes after sitting down at the gun,
whooped triumphantly and fired again. Five ships left.

But the dial indicated an increase in radioactivity as newly created
neutrons spread their poison like a cancer. Behind Temple, the vault
was a shambles. The pool of molten metal had increased in size, almost
cutting off any possibility of escape. He could jump it now, Temple
realized, but it might grow larger. Consolidating its gains now, it
had sheared a pit in the floor, had commenced vaporizing the rock
below it, hissing and lapping with white-hot insistence.

Something boomed, grated, boomed again and Temple watched another
girder bounce off the floor, dip one end into the molten pool and
clatter out a stub. Apparently the damage was extensive; a structural
weakness threatened to make the entire ceiling go.

Temple fired again, got another ship. He could almost feel death
breathing on his shoulder, in no great hurry but sure of its prize. He
fired the weapon.

If one ship remained when they could no longer use the gun, they would
have failed. One ship might make the difference for Earth. One....

Three left. Two.

They raked the space station with blast after blast--futilely. They
spun and twisted and streaked by, offering poor targets. Temple waited
his chance ... and glanced at the dial which measured radioactivity.
He yelped, stood up. The needle had encroached upon the red area.
Death to remain where he was more than a moment or two. Not quick
death, but rather slow and lingering. He could do what he had to, then
perish hours later. His life--for Earth? If Arkalion had known all the
answers, and if he could get both ships and if there weren't another
alternative for the aliens, the parasites.... Temple stabbed out with
his pencil beam, caught the sixth ship, then saw the needle dip
completely into the red. He got up trembling, stepped back, half
tripped on the stump of a girder as his eyes strayed in fascination to
the viewing screen. The seventh ship was out of range, hovering off in
the void somewhere, awaiting its chance. If Temple left the gun the
ship would come in close enough to hit the emplacement despite its
protective shielding. Well, it was suicide to remain there--especially
when the ship wasn't even in view.

Temple leaped over the molten pool and left the vault.

       *       *       *       *       *

He found Sophia stirring, sitting up.

"What hit me?" she said, and laughed. "Something seems to have gone
wrong, Kit ... what...?"

"It's all right now," he told her, lying.

"You look pale."

"You got one. I got five. One ship to go."

"What are you waiting for?" And Sophia sprang to her feet, heading for
the vault.

"Hold it!" Temple snapped. "Don't go in there."

"Why not. I'll get the last ship and--"

"_Don't go in there!_" Temple tugged at her arm, pulled her away from
the vault and its broken door which would not iris closed any more.

"What's the matter, Kit?"

"I--I want to finish the last one myself, that's all."

Sophia got herself loose, reached the circular doorway, peered inside.
"Like Dante's Inferno," she said. "You told me nothing was the matter.
Well, we can get through to the emplacement, Kit."

"No." And again he stopped her. At least he had lived in freedom all
his life and although he was still young and did not want to die,
Sophia had never known freedom until now and it wouldn't be right if
she perished without savoring its fruits. He had a love, dust fifty
centuries, he had his past and his memories. Sophia had only the
future. Clearly, if someone had to yield life, Temple would do it.

"It's worse than it looks," he told her quietly, drawing her back from
the door again. He explained what had happened, told her the
radioactivity had not quite reached critical point--which was a lie.
"So," he concluded, "we're wasting time. If I rush in there, fire, and
rush right out everything will be fine."

"Then let me. I'm quicker than you."

"No. I--I'm more familiar with the gun." Dying would not be too bad,
if he went with reasonable certainty he had saved the Earth. No man
ever died so importantly, Temple thought briefly, then felt cold fear
when he realized it would be dying just the same. He fought it down,
said: "I'll be right back."

Sophia looked at him, smiling vaguely. "Then you insist on doing it?"

When he nodded she told him, "Then,--kiss me. Kiss me now, Kit--in
case something...."

Fiercely, he swept her to him, bruising her lips with his. "Sophia,

At last, she drew back. "Kit," she said, smiling demurely. She took
his right hand in her left, held it, squeezed it. Her own right hand
she suddenly brought up from her waist, fist clenched, driving it
against his jaw.

Temple fell, half stunned by the blow, at her feet. For the space of
a single heartbeat he watched her move slowly toward the round
doorway, then he had clambered to his feet, running after her. He got
his arms on her shoulders, yanked at her.

When she turned he saw she was crying. "I--I'm sorry, Kit. You
couldn't fool me about.... Stephanie. You can't fool me about this."
She had more leverage this time. She stepped back, bringing her small,
hard fist up from her knees. It struck Temple squarely at the point of
the jaw, with the strength of Jovian-trained muscle behind it.
Temple's feet left the floor and he landed with a thud on his back.
His last thought of Sophia--or of anything, for a while--made him
smile faintly as he lost consciousness. For a kiss she had promised
him another dislocated jaw, and she had kept her promise....

Later, how much later he did not know, something soft cushioned his
head. He opened his eyes, stared through swirling, spinning murk. He
focussed, saw Arkalion. No--_two_ Arkalions standing off at a
distance, watching him. He squirmed, knew his head was cushioned in a
woman's lap. He sighed, tried to sit up and failed. Soft hands
caressed his forehead, his cheeks. A face swam into vision, but
mistily. "Sophia," he murmured. His vision cleared.

It was Stephanie.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It's over," said Arkalion. "We're on our way back to Earth, Kit."

"But the ships--"

"All destroyed. If my people want to come here in ten thousand years,
let them try. I have a hunch you of Earth will be ready for them."

"It took us five thousand to reach Nowhere," Temple mused. "It will
take us five thousand to return. We'll come barely in time to warn

"Wrong," said Arkalion. "I still have my ship. We're in it now, so
you'll reach Earth with almost fifty centuries to spare. Why don't you
forget about it, though? If human progress for the next five thousand
years matches what has been happening for the last five, the parasites
won't stand a chance."

"Earth--five thousand years in the future," Stephanie said dreamily.
"I wonder what it will be like.... Don't be so startled, Kit. I was a
pilot study on the Nowhere Journey. If I made it successfully, other
women would have been sent. But now there won't be any need."

"I wouldn't be too sure of that," said the real Alaric Arkalion III.
"I suspect a lot of people are going to feel just like me. Why not go
out and colonize space. We can do it. Wonderful to have a frontier
again.... Why, a dozen billionaires will appear for every one like my
father. Good for the economy."

"So, if we don't like Earth," said Stephanie, "we can always go out."

"I have a strong suspicion you will like it," said Arkalion's double.

Alaric III grinned. "What about you, bud? I don't want a twin brother
hanging around all the time."

Arkalion grinned back at him. "What do you want me to do, young man?
I've forsaken my people. This is now my body. Tell you what, I promise
to be always on a different continent. Earth isn't so small that I'll
get in your hair."

Temple sat up, felt the bandages on his jaw. He smiled at Stephanie,
told her he loved her and meant it. It was exactly as if she had
returned from the grave and in his first exultation he hadn't even
thought of Sophia, who had perished all alone in the depths of space
that a world might live....

He turned to Arkalion. "Sophia?"

"We found her dead, Kit. But smiling, as if everything was worth it."

"It should have been me."

"Whoever Sophia was," said Stephanie, "she must have been a wonderful
woman, because when you got up, when you came to, her name was...."

"Forget it," said Temple. "Sophia and I have a very strange
relationship and...."

"All right, you said forget it. Forget it." Stephanie smiled down at him.
"I love you so much there isn't even room for jealousy.... Ummm....

"Break up that clinch," ordered Arkalion. "We're making one more stop
at Nowhere to pick up anyone who wants to return to Earth. Some of 'em
probably won't but those who do are welcome...."

"Jason will stay," Temple predicted. "He'll be a leader out among the

"Then he'll have to climb over my back," Alaric III predicted happily,
his eyes on the viewport hungrily.

Temple's jaw throbbed. He was tired and sleepy. But satisfied. Sophia
had died and for that he was sad, but there would always be a place
deep in his heart for the memory of her: delicious, somehow exotic,
not a love the way Stephanie was, not as tender, not as sure ... but a
feeling for Sophia that was completely unique. And whenever the
strangeness of the far-future Earth frightened Temple, whenever he
felt a situation might get the better of him, whenever doubt clouded
judgment, he would remember the tall lithe girl who had walked to her
death that a world might have the freedom she barely had tasted. And
together with Stephanie he would be able to do anything.

Unless, he thought dreamily as he drifted off to sleep, his head
pillowed again on Stephanie's lap, he'd wind up with a bum jaw the
rest of his life.


       *       *       *       *       *

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