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´╗┐Title: Perfect Control
Author: Stockham, Richard
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 "Perfect Control" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction January 1955.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed.


                           PERFECT CONTROL


                         By RICHARD STOCKHAM


                      Illustrated by MEL HUNTER


     Why can't you go home again after years in space? There had
     to be an answer ... could he find it in time, though?

       *       *       *       *       *



Sitting at his desk, Colonel Halter brought the images on the
telescreen into focus. Four booster tugs were fastening, like
sky-barnacles, onto the hull of the ancient derelict, _Alpha_.

He watched as they swung her around, stern down, and sank with her
through the blackness, toward the bluish-white, moon-lighted arc of
Earth a thousand miles below.

He pressed a button. The image of tugs and hull faded and the control
room of the old ship swam onto the screen.

Colonel Halter saw the crew, sitting in a half circle, before the
control panel.

The telescreen in the control room of old _Alpha_ was yet dark. The
faces watching it held no care lines or laugh lines, only a vague
expression of kindness. They could be faces of wax or those of people
dying pleasantly.

Colonel Halter shook his head. Brilliant--the finest space people in
the field seventy-five years back--and now he was to get them to come
out of that old hull. God almighty, how could you pull people out of
an environment they were perfectly adjusted to? Logic? Force? Reason?
Humoring? How could you know?

Talk to them, he told himself. He dreaded it, but the problem had to
be faced.

He flipped a switch on his desk; saw light jump into their screen and
his own face take shape there; saw their faces on his own screen, set
now, like the faces of stone idols.

He turned another dial. The picture swung around so that he was
looking into their eyes and they into his.

Halter said, "Captain McClelland?"

One of the old men nodded. "Yes."

McClelland was clean-shaven. His uniform, treated against
deterioration, was immaculate, but his body showed frail and bony
through it. His face was long and hollow-cheeked, the eyes deep-set
and bright. The head was like a skull, the nose an eagle's beak.

"I'm Colonel Halter. I'm a psychotherapist."

       *       *       *       *       *

None of them answered. There was only the faint thrumming of the
rockets lowering the old ship to Earth.

"Let me be sure I have your identities right," went on Colonel Halter.

He then looked at the man on the captain's right. "You, I believe, are
Lieutenant James Brady."

Brady nodded, his pale, eroded face expressionless.

Colonel Halter saw the neat black uniform, identical with the
captain's; saw the cropped gray hair and meticulously trimmed goatee.

"And you," he said to the woman sitting beside the lieutenant, "are
Dr. Anna Mueller."

The same nod and thin, expressionless face. The same paleness. Faded
hazel eyes; hair white and trimmed close to her head; body emaciated.

"Daniel Carlyle, astrogator."

The nod.

Like the doctor's brother, thought Colonel Halter, and yet like the
lieutenant with his cropped hair and with an identical goatee.

"Caroline Gordon, dietician and televisor. John Crowley, rocketman."

Each nodded, expressionless, their faces like white, weathered statues
in a desert.

Colonel Halter turned to the captain. The rocket thrum of the tugs had
become a roar as the gravity pulled against the antique hull.

"We understand," said Colonel Halter, "that you demand repairs for
your ship and fuel enough to take you back into deep space."

"That is right." The voice was low, slightly harsh.

"You're all close to a hundred years old. You'd die out there. Here,
with medical aid, you'd easily live to a hundred and twenty-five."

Dr. Anna Mueller's head moved slightly. "We're aware of that,
Colonel."

"It'd be pointless," said the colonel, "and a shameful waste. You're
still the only crew that ever made it out beyond the Solar System.
You've kept records of your personal experience, how you survived.
They're valuable."

Dr. Mueller caught her breath. "Our adjustment to space is our private
concern. I don't think you could understand."

"Maybe not, but we could try. To _us_, of course, complete adjustment
is a living death."

"To us, it was a matter of staying alive."

Halter turned aside from disagreement, searching for common ground.
"You'd be protected here, you know. You deserve that."

"Who'd protect us from you?" asked the captain. "Life in the Solar
System is destructive."

       *       *       *       *       *

Brady, the lieutenant, leaned forward. "You've failed--all through the
whole System."

"We haven't finished living in it," said Halter. "Who can pin a label
on us of success or failure?"

Miss Gordon, dietician and televisor, said quietly, "There are some
records I'd like to show you. We compiled them while the _Alpha_ was
drifting back into the System."

Halter watched the frail arm reach out and turn a dial.

A point of light grew on the screen in Colonel Halter's office.

"Pluto," said her quiet voice.

Halter watched the lightspot focus on a mountain of ice. Men in suits
of steel were crawling up its frozen side. Other men on the mountain's
top were sighting guns. The men below were sighting guns. Yellow fire
spurted from the top and the sides of the mountain, blending into a
lake of fire. There was a great hissing and a rushing torrent of
boiling water and rolling, twisting steel-clad bodies. The mountain of
ice melted like a lump of lard in a hot frying pan. Only the steel
bodies glinted, motionless, in the pale wash of sunlight.

Halter watched the brightness die and another lightspot grow one moon.
The focus shifted in close to a fleet of shining silver ships.

Then another fleet dropped from close above, hanging still, and there
were blinding flashes engulfing each ship below, one after the other,
until there were only the shining ships above, climbing into the dusk
glow of the Sun.

The glowing circle of bright-ringed Saturn was already rushing toward
Colonel Halter from far back in the depth of screen. The focus shifted
onto the planet's glaring surface. Men in the uniform of Earth
soldiers were rushing out of transparent shell houses and staring in
panic as the missiles plummeted through the shells and erupted clouds
of steam which spouted up from mile-deep craters and there was nothing
but the steam and the holes and the white cold.

Jupiter made a hole in the blackness, with eleven tiny holes scattered
all around her, like droplets of fire. Ships streaked up, one for each
droplet, circling each, spraying fire, until each droplet flared like
a tiny sun.

Yellow Mars, holding closely its two speedy rocks of moons, spun into
the screen.

A straggling line of men moved across a desert that whipped them with
sheets of yellow dust. A single ship dived from out of the Sun,
swooped along the line, licking it with the tongue of flame that
streaked behind. As the ship flashed beyond the horizon, a line of
smoking rag bundles lay still upon the yellow sand.

       *       *       *       *       *

Darkness closed in upon the television screen in Colonel Halter's
office. In the long moment of silence that followed, he thought, _Oh,
God, after this awful picture, how can I convince them to come out of
the womb of that ship and live again? What reason can I give?_

Immobilizing his face, he saw the half circle of the six old people
again in the control room of the old, old ship.

He said, "You'll set down in approximately twenty minutes."

"Yes," agreed the captain, "from where we jumped into space
seventy-five years ago. The people of Earth were talking about their
problems, not killing each other about them. There was hope. We felt
that by the time we'd finished our mission and come back from that
other solar system, where a healthy colony could be born, most of
those problems would be solved." A pause. "But now there's this
terrible killing all through the System. We won't face it."

The roaring of the rockets now as they plunged flame against the
concrete slab of the landing field. The bug bodies of the tugs gently
easing old _Alpha_ to Earth.

Colonel Halter was saying, "How about this other solar system? You
haven't let us know whether or not you reached it."

"We saw it." There was a hollowness in the captain's voice. "We didn't
reach it. But we will. You'll repair the _Alpha_ and refuel it."

"As you were saying," prompted Colonel Halter, "you didn't reach it."

"A meteor," said the captain. "Straight into our rockets. Our ship
began to drift. The cameras, of course, set in the bulkheads, were
watching us."

"May I see? Anything you have to show or say will be strictly between
us. I've given orders for our communication to be unrecorded and
private. You have my word."

"You'll be allowed to see. I've given my permission."

Colonel Halter thought, _You have given permission?_

Then he saw in his telescreen the little old lady who was Caroline
Gordon, dietician and televisor, press a button on the side of her
chair. Instantly the picture changed. He heard her voice. "You see the
rocket room of the _Alpha_ back almost seventy-five years, a few
minutes before the accident."

       *       *       *       *       *

There were the four torpedo-like tubes projecting into the cylindrical
room; the mass of levers, buttons, wheels and flashing lightspots.

Halter watched John Crowley, the rocketman, broad-shouldered and
lithe, turning a wheel at the point of one of the giant tubes.

The next moment, he was flung to the floor. He struggled to his feet,
jerked an oxygen mask from the bag at his chest, clamped it to his
face and rushed to the tubes. He twirled wheels, pulled levers,
pressed buttons. He glanced at the board on which the lightspots had
been flashing. Darkness. He pressed a button. A foot-thick metal door
swung open. He stepped through it. The door shut and locked.

Leaning against the steel wall at the end of a long companionway, he
pulled off his oxygen mask and ran along the companionway toward the
control room.

The others met him in the center of the ship.

Crowley saluted the young Captain McClelland.

"The rockets are gone, sir. A meteor."

McClelland did not smile or frown, show sadness or fear or any other
emotion. He was tall and slim then, with cropped black hair, its line
high on his head. His face was lean and strong-featured. There was a
sense of command about the captain.

Quietly, he said, "We'll all go to the control room."

They followed him as he strode along the companionway.

The telescreen in Colonel Halter's office darkened and there was only
the old voice of the captain, saying, "We were drifting in space. You
know what that means. But no one broke down. We were too well trained,
too well conditioned. We gathered in the control room."

Light opened up again on Colonel Halter's telescreen. He saw the
polished metal walls, the pilot chairs and takeoff hammocks, the
levers, buttons and switches of the young ship back those many years,
and the six young people standing before a young Captain McClelland,
who was speaking to them of food, water and oxygen.

It was decided that their metabolisms must be lowered and that they
must live for the most part in their bunks. All activity must be cut
to minimum. All weapons must be jettisoned, except one, the captain's
shock gun, that could not kill but only cause unconsciousness for
twenty-four hours.

       *       *       *       *       *

Captain McClelland gave an order. The weapons were gathered up and
placed in an airlock which thrust them out into space. Five of the
crew lay down in their bunks. Dr. Anna Mueller, tall and slim,
full-bosomed, tawny-skinned and tawny-haired, remained standing. She
pressed the thought recorders over the heads of the other five people
who lay there motionless, clamped the tiny electrodes onto her own
temples and placed a small, black box, covered with many tiny dials,
beside the bunk of Miss Gordon, the televisor.

A moment later, a jumble of thoughts: _Now I am dead. An end. For
what, now that it's here? Love. The warm press of a body. Trees and
grass. Sunrise. To take poison. Clean air after a rain. City, people,
lights. Sunset--_

The thought words jumbled like a voice from a recorder when the speed
is turned up.

Then they faded and one thought stream came through clean and clear:
_I am Dr. Anna Mueller. Good none of the others can hear what I'm
thinking. Was afraid I'd die this way someday. But to prolong it.
Painless death in an instant. Could give it to us all. But orders.
Captain McClelland. No feeling? Can't he see what I feel for him? Why
am I thinking like this? Now. But this is what is happening to me.
He'd rather make love to this ship. Kiss Crowley before I give him the
metabolism sedation shot. Captain'll see I'm a woman._

[Illustration]

She stepped to the bulkhead and pressed a button. A medicine cabinet
opened. After filling a hypodermic syringe, she went to Crowley, bent
down and gave him a long kiss on the lips.

Instantly Colonel Halter heard thoughts.

Captain McClelland: _She must be weak. Why's she doing that? Thought
she was stronger. But the ship's the thing. The ship and I._

Crowley: _What the hell? Didn't know she went for me. Just a half hour
with her before the needle. What's to lose?_ He pulled her down to
him.

Lieutenant Brady: _He'd do that, the damned animal. But I'm not enough
of an animal. I'm a good spaceman. All spontaneity's been trained out
of me. Feel like killing him. And taking her. Anyplace. But I'm so
controlled. Got to do something. This last time...._ He sat up in his
bunk.

Caroline Gordon: _I knew he was like that. Married when we got back.
Mrs. Crowley. And if we'd gotten back. Out every other night with
another woman. I could kill him._ She turned her face away.

Daniel Carlyle: _Look at them. And I can't live. Only one person needs
me, back on Earth, and she's the only. And that's enough. But maybe I
can kill myself...._ He did not move.

       *       *       *       *       *

The thoughts stopped and Colonel Halter leaned forward in his chair as
he saw Captain McClelland standing beside his bunk, the gun in his
hand. Dr. Mueller saw, too--the young Dr. Mueller, back those
seventy-five years. She struggled to pull away from Crowley.

Lieutenant Brady stood, started toward the captain, stopped. Crowley
pushed Dr. Mueller away from him, leaped to his feet and lunged toward
the captain. A stream of light appeared between the gun muzzle and
Crowley. He stumbled, caught himself, stood up very straight, then
sank down, as though he had been deflated.

The captain motioned Dr. Mueller to her bunk. She hesitated, pain in
her face, turned, went to her bunk and lay down. Another stream of
light appeared between her and the gun. She lay very still. The needle
slipped from her fingers.

The captain turned the gun on Lieutenant Brady, who was coming at him,
arms raised. The light beam again. The lieutenant sank back. Caroline
Gordon was watching the captain as the light stream appeared. She
relaxed, her eyes closed. Daniel Carlyle did not move as the light
touched him.

Captain McClelland holstered the gun. He picked up the hypodermic
needle and sterilized it at the medicine cabinet. Then he injected
Crowley's arm, filled the hypo four more times, injected the others.

He finally thrust the needle into his own arm and lay down. His
breathing began to slow. There was only the control room of the ship
now, like some ancient mausoleum, with the six still figures and the
control board dark and the eternal ocean of night pressing against the
ports.

The picture of the ship's control room began to fade on the screen.
After a moment of darkness, the live picture of the six old figures,
sitting in their half circle, spread again over the lighted square.

Colonel Halter saw his own image, looking into the old masks.

He said, "And where was _your_ weakness, Captain McClelland?"

"I was concerned," said the old voice, "with keeping us alive."

"You weren't aware that some of your crew were emotionally involved
with each other?"

"No."

"Are there any more records you could show me?"

"Many more, Colonel, but I don't think it's necessary for you to see
them. It would take too long. And we want to get back out into space."
He paused. "We can brief you."

"About your going back into space.... I'm not sure we can allow it."

"Our answer's very simple. There's a button, under my thumb, on the
arm of this chair. A little pressure. Carbon monoxide. It would be
quick."

"Your idea?"

"Yes. A matter of preserving our integrity. We'd rather die than face
the horrors of life on Earth."

       *       *       *       *       *

Halter turned to the semi-circle of faces. "And you've all agreed to
this--this suicide?"

The captain cut in. "Of course. I realized years ago that the only
place we could live was in space, in this ship."

"When did your crew realize this?"

"After a couple of years. I told them over and over again, day after
day. After all, I am captain. I dictate the policy."

"You've come back. You're in port. You're not in complete command."

"I'll always be in command."

"Perhaps," said Halter quietly. "However, we can come back to that.
Please brief me on the records."

Captain McClelland's face hardened as he turned to Dr. Anna Mueller.

She explained, "We regained consciousness twenty-four hours after
Captain McClelland used the shock gun on us. By then, our metabolisms
were high enough to keep us conscious and alive. We could lift
nutrition and water capsules to our mouths. We could press the button
to activate the exercise mechanisms in our bunks. The output of the
air machines was cut down until there was just enough to keep us alive
and thinking clearly.

"At intervals of several days, during our exercise and study periods,
Captain McClelland turned up the air. We slept. And we dreamed. The
dreams are recorded in full. When we could face them, they were played
back to us. Our thoughts were played back, too. I conducted group
therapy among us. We all grew to understand each other and ourselves,
intimately, and now, in relation to our environment, we're perfectly
adjusted."

"Did Captain McClelland join you in group therapy?"

"No."

"Why?"

"He was already perfectly adjusted."

       *       *       *       *       *

She frowned faintly, glanced at the captain. "When we were conscious,
we studied from the library of microfilm. We read all the great
literature of Earth. We watched the great plays and pictures and the
paintings and listened to the music. Sometimes our thoughts were
hateful. There was self-pity and hysteria. There were times when one
or two of us would withdraw almost to the point of death. Then Captain
McClelland would knock us out with the shock gun.

"Slowly, over the years, our minds gradually merged into one mind. We
thought and created and lived as if we were one person. There grew to
be complete and perfect cooperation. And from this cooperation came
some great works. Each one of us will tell you. I'll speak first."

She paused. "Psychology has always been my prime interest. My rating
at school was genius. My aptitudes were precisely in line with the
field of work I chose. Through the years, I've developed a theory,
discovered a way to bring about cooperation between all men. This is
possible in spite of your wars and hatreds and destruction." Frown
creases wrinkled her parchment forehead. "I'd like to know if it would
work."

Daniel Carlyle's voice was slightly above a whisper. "All my life, I'd
wanted to write poetry. The meteor struck. I realized I wouldn't be
allowed to die quickly. I began to do what I'd always wanted to do.
The words poured into the thought recorder. Everything I felt and
thought is there and all I've been able to know and be from this one
mind of ours that's in us all. And it's some of the finest poetry
that's ever been written." He closed his eyes and sighed heavily.
"It'd be good to know if anyone found them inspiring."

"I've always lived for adventure," said Crowley, the rocketman, his
old voice steady and quiet. "I've been the one to quiet down last into
the life it was necessary for us to live out there. But my thoughts
ran on into distant universes and across endless stretches of space.
And so at last, to keep my sanity, I wrote stories of all the
adventures I should have had, and more. And in them is all the native
power of me, of all adventurers, and the eternal sweep of the Universe
where Man will always thrust out to new places." There was a faint
trembling in his body and a pained light in his eyes. "Seems I ought
to know if they'll ever be read."

       *       *       *       *       *

In spite of Brady's frailness, the lieutenant was like a grizzled old
animal growling with his last breath. "I was the most capable pilot
that ever blasted off from Earth. But I was also an inventor and
designer. A lot of the ships Earth pilots are flying today are
basically my ideas. After the accident, I wanted to get drunk and make
love and then let myself out into space, with a suit, and be there
forever. But Captain McClelland's shock gun and the understanding
seeping into me from the thought recorders calmed me down eventually.

"So I turned to creation as I lay there in my bunk. I designed many
spaceships. And from those, I designed fewer and fewer, incorporating
the best from each. And now I have on microfilm a ship that can thrust
out to the ends of our galaxy. There aren't any flaws.... Oh, I tell
you, by God, I'd like to see her come to life!"

He leaned back, sweat rolling down his bony cheeks.

Miss Gordon, dietician and televisor, the motionless old lady with
cropped, white hair, and face bones across which the paper skin was
stretched, said, "There was only one thing I wanted when I knew I
couldn't have marriage and a family. There was a perfect food for the
human animal. I could find it. I began working on formulas. Over and
over again, I put the food elements together and took them apart and
put them together again. I threw away the work of years and started
over again until at last I had my perfect formula."

She clasped her hands. "Man's nutrition problem is solved. From the
oceans and the air and the Earth, from the cosmic rays and the lights
of the suns and from the particles of the microcosm, Man can take into
his body all the nutrition that can enable him to live forever." She
sat very still, smiling. "And it's got to be given a try."

Silence.

Colonel Halter watched the old figures sitting like figures in a wax
museum, waiting, waiting. He turned a dial. The picture that flashed
onto the screen in his office showed the pocked ship standing upright
now, like some tree that had grown in the middle of a desert where it
was never meant to grow.

The space tugs had streaked out beyond the atmosphere to finish other
assignments. There were no crowds, no official cars, no platforms, no
bands. Only darkness and silence.

Halter turned a dial. The control room of the old ship flashed back
onto the screen. The ancient crew sat as before. Halter saw his own
face on their television screen.

Something was missing, he thought. What? What hadn't been said?

And then suddenly it came to him.

The captain. He hadn't spoken of any contribution he had made during
those interminable years.

       *       *       *       *       *

Halter thought back over Captain McClelland's record. No family. Wiped
out when he was a baby in the last war. Educated and raised by the
government. Never married. No entanglements with women. No close
friends. Ship's captain at twenty-one. No failures. No vacations. No
record of breakdown. Perfect physical condition. Strict
disciplinarian. More time in space than on Earth by seventy-five per
cent. No hobbies. No interest in the arts.... Apparently no flaw as a
spaceman.... The end product of the stiffest training regimen yet
devised by Man.

The ideal captain.

The records of the other five? All showing slight emotional
instabilities when checked against the optimum score of a spaceman.

Dr. Mueller--a divorcee. A woman men had sought after. Dedicated in
spare time to social psychology. Conflict in her decision as to
whether she should go into the private practice of psychotherapy or
specialize in space psychology. Interested in the study of neurosis
caused by culture.

Lieutenant Brady--family man. Forced himself into mold of good husband
and father. Brilliant designer. Ambition also to be space captain.
Conflict between these three. Several years of psychotherapy which
released his drive for adventure in space. _Alpha_ mission to be his
last. Lack of full leadership qualities prevented him from reaching
captaincy.

Rocketman Crowley--typical man of action. Superb physique. Decathlon
champion. Continual entanglements with women. Quick temper. Tendency
to fight if pushed or crossed. Proud. However, if under good command,
best rocketman in the service.

Astrogator Daniel Carlyle--highly sensitive. Psychosomatic symptoms
unless out in space. Then in perfect health. Fine mathematician.
Highly intuitive, yet logical. Saved four missions from disaster.
Holder of Congressional Medal of Honor. Hobby, poetry. Fiancee was
boyhood sweetheart.

Dietician and televisor Caroline Gordon--youngest of crew. Twenty
years. Too many aptitudes. Tendency toward immaturity. Many hobbies.
Idealistic. Emotions unfocused. IQ 165. Success in any field of
endeavor concentrated upon. At eighteen, specialized in dietetics and
electronics. Highest ratings in field. Stable when under strict
external discipline.

       *       *       *       *       *

No, thought Halter. None of them fitted space like the completely
self-sufficient McClelland, the man who could stand alone against that
black, teeming, swirling endlessness of space.

He turned to the captain. The old face was placid, the eyes slightly
out of focus.

"Captain McClelland," Halter said sharply.

The pale eyes blinked and looked keenly on Halter's face.

"You want fuel to take you back out into space."

"That's right."

"And if you don't get it, you'll press a button on the arm of your
chair and you'll all die of carbon monoxide poisoning."

"Exactly."

"I'm curious about one point." Halter paused. "What did _you_ do,
Captain, while the others were working on their various projects?"

Captain McClelland scowled at Halter for a long moment. "Why do you
want to know that?"

"Your crew members became lost in some work they loved. They told me
about it with a certain amount of enthusiasm. You haven't told me what
you did. I'd like to know--for the records."

"I watched them, Colonel. I watched them and dreamed of the time when
I could take them and the ship back out into space under her own
power. I love space and I love this ship. I love knowing she's under
power and shooting out to the stars. There's nothing more for me."

"What else did you do besides watch them?"

"I activated the machinery that moved my bunk close to the controls. I
practiced taking the ship through maneuvers. I kept the controls in
perfect working order so I'd be ready to take off again someday."

"If we repaired the ship so you could take off, the first shock of
rocket thrust would kill you all."

"We're willing to take that chance."

Colonel Halter looked around the half circle of old faces. "And all
your long years of work would be for nothing. Each of you, except
Captain McClelland, has made a contribution to Earth and Man. You're
needed here, not in the emptiness of space."

He saw the eyes of the five watching him intently; saw a tiny flicker
of surprise and interest on their faces.

"You're destroying Earth," said the captain, his voice rising, "with
your wars and your quarrels. We've all of us found peace. We're going
to keep it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Halter ignored the captain and looked at the five.

"There are many of _us_ on Earth, who are fighting a war without
blood, to save mankind. We've made progress. We've worked out
agreements among the warring nations to do their fighting on the
barren planets where there aren't any native inhabitants, so
noncombatants on Earth won't be killed and so the Earth won't be laid
waste. That was the fighting you saw while you were coming in.

"This is just _one_ example. And there're a lot of us contributing
ideas and effort. If all of us who're working for Earth were to leave
it and go out into space, the ones who have to fight wars would make
the Earth as barren as the Moon. This is our place in the Universe and
it's got to be saved."

"We've adjusted to the control room of this ship and to each other,"
said McClelland flatly. "Our work's done."

"Let's put it like this, Captain. Maybe _your_ work's done. Maybe
_you're_ not interested in what happens to Earth." Halter turned to
the others. "But what _you've_ done adds up to a search for answers
here on Earth. Poetry. Design of a flawless spaceship. A psychological
theory. A perfect diet. Novels about Man pushing out and out into
space. All this indicates a deep concern for the health of humanity
and its success."

"We're not concerned," retorted the captain, "with the health or
success of humanity."

Halter sharply examined the other faces. He saw a flicker of sadness
in one, anger in another, uncertainty, fear, joy.

He said, "For seventy-five years, you obey your captain. You listen to
what he says. And everything is a command. Yet in yourselves you feel
a drive to carry out your ideas, your creations, to their logical
ends. Which means, will they work when they're applied to Man? Will
people read the novels? Will they catch the meaning of the poetry?
Will the spaceships really work as they're supposed to? Will the
psychological theory really promote cooperation? Is there supreme
health in this marvelous diet?"

He gave them a moment to think and then continued. "But if you
continue to follow the commands of the captain, you'll be dead before
you're out of the Earth's atmosphere. You'll never know. Maybe Man
will prove that your great works are only dreams.... But I think
there's a great need in you to know, one way or the other."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a faint stirring among them, like that of ancient machines
being activated after years of lying dormant. They glanced at each
other. They fidgeted. Trouble twisted their faces.

"Colonel Halter," said the captain, "I'm warning you. My thumb is on
the button. I'll release the gas. Do we get the repairs and the fuel
to take off from Earth, or don't we?"

Colonel Halter leaned grimly toward the captain. "You've spent fifty
years with one idea--to stay out in space forever. You've made no
effort to create or do one single constructive act. I'll tell you
whether or not you get the fuel and the repairs--_after_ I hear what
someone in your crew has to say."

Silence hung tensely between the control room of the ship and Colonel
Halter's office on Earth. The captain was glaring now at Halter. A
tear showed in the corner of each of Dr. Anna Mueller's old eyes.
Lieutenant Brady was gripping the arms of his chair. Daniel Carlyle's
eyes were closed and his head shook slightly, as though from palsy.
There was a faint, enigmatic smile on Caroline Gordon's face. The
cords on Crowley's neck stood out through the tan and wrinkled
wrapping-paper skin.

_By God,_ thought Halter, _they're all sane except the captain. And
they've got to do it. They've got to come out on their own steam or
die in that control room._

"I'm waiting," he said. "Is your work going to die and you with it?"

"We'll leave all the records," said the captain, his thumb poised over
the button on the arm of his chair. "That's enough."

Halter ignored him. "Each of you can help. You've only done part of
the work." He stood and struck the desk with the flat of his hand.
"Damn it, say something, one of you!"

Still the silence and the flickering looks all around.

Halter heard a sob. He saw Dr. Anna Mueller's head drop forward and
her shoulders tremble. The others were staring at her, as if she had
suddenly materialized among them, like a ghost.

[Illustration]

Then her voice, through the trembling and the faint crying:
"I've--I've got to know."

The captain got creakily to his feet. "Dr. Mueller! Do you want me to
use the gun again?"

She raised her face to his. There was pain in it. "I've--got work to
do. There's so--little time."

"That's right. On this ship. You're part of the crew. There'll be
plenty of work once we get out in space again."

[Illustration]

"I've got to see if my theory's right."

"Colonel Halter," said the captain, "this is insubordination. Mutiny."

       *       *       *       *       *

He raised the gun tremblingly, pointed the black muzzle at Dr.
Mueller, sighted along the barrel.

"Wait," said Halter. "You're right."

Captain McClelland hesitated.

"It's quite plain," went on Halter, "that Dr. Mueller is alone among
you. She wants to come out and go on with her work. The rest of you
want the closed-in uterine warmth and peace of this room you're
existing in. You can't face the possibility of failure. So I'm afraid
she'll have to be sacrificed. After all, you do need a full crew to
move the ship--even if you are all dead a few seconds after blastoff."
He paused, looking intently at Brady, Crowley, Carlyle, Gordon, where
they sat in the half circle, staring back at him. "So--"

Lieutenant Brady struggled up from his chair.

"I've got twenty-five years of life. I've some ships to design."

"That goes for me, too," said Crowley, the rocketman. "Will anybody
want to read my novels?"

Astrogator Carlyle leaned forward. "There are many more poems to be
written."

"Give me a soundproof laboratory," said Caroline Gordon. "I'll add
another fifty years to all your lives."

"I'm afraid it is mutiny, Captain," said Halter.

The captain started toward his chair, his hand reaching for the button
on its arm.

Lieutenant Brady stumbled forward, blocking his way.

Halter could only watch, thinking, _It's up to them. They've got to do
it now!_

He saw the captain draw his shock gun; saw light flare at its muzzle;
saw Lieutenant Brady crumple like a collapsing skeleton.

Crowley reached forward, grasping McClelland's shoulder. The gun swung
toward him. A stream of light squirted into his middle. Crowley fell
forward, pulling the captain down with him. The three other oldsters
were above the three black figures sprawled on the floor, like tangled
puppets. They hesitated a moment, then fell upon the ones below them,
black arms and legs twitching about now like the legs of dying
spiders, struggling weakly.

A flash of light exploded beneath these twisting black reeds and
streaks of it shot out all through the waving black cluster.

The next moment, they settled and were quiet.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a stillness in the ancient control room, like the stillness
in a sunken ship at the bottom of the sea. It lingered for a long
time, while Colonel Halter watched and waited.

Dr. Mueller's voice, seventy-five years tired, said, "He's--quiet now.
Please come and take us out."

Colonel Halter switched on his desk visiophone.

"They're coming out," he said quietly. "I'll be there to supervise."

On the visiophone, the general's image nodded. "Congratulations,
Colonel. How are they?"

"There'll be one case for psycho. Captain McClelland."

"I'll be damned!" exclaimed the general. "From his record, I thought
he'd never break!"

"Let's say he couldn't bend, sir." A pause. "And yet he did keep them
from destroying themselves."

"He'll be made well again.... What about the others?"

"I think they, too, are very great and human people."

"Well," said the general, "they're _your_ patients. I'll see you at
the ship in five minutes."

"I'll be there, sir." Colonel Halter flipped the switch. The
visiophone blanked out. He looked at the television screen.

The six black-clothed figures were quiet on the floor of their ship's
control room. They reminded him of sleeping children curled together
for warmth.

As he left his office and walked out into the humming city, he felt
drained, still shaking with tension, realizing even now how close he
had come to failure.

But there was the scarred and pitted needle-nosed old hull, bright
with moonlight, standing like a monument against the night sky.

Not a monument to the past, though.

It marked the birthplace of the future ... and he had been midwife. He
felt his shoulders straighten at the knowledge as he walked toward the
ancient ship.

                                                     --RICHARD STOCKHAM

       *       *       *       *       *





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