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´╗┐Title: Sea Legs
Author: Quattrocchi, Frank
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 "Sea Legs" ***

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



                               SEA LEGS

                         By FRANK QUATTROCCHI

                          Illustrated by EMSH

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                 Galaxy Science Fiction November 1951.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



           Rootless and footloose, a man in space can't help
         but dream of coming home. But something nobody should
            do is bet on the validity of a homesick dream!


Flight Officer Robert Craig surrendered the tube containing his service
record tapes and stood waiting while the bored process clerk examined
the seal.

"Your clearance," said the clerk.

Craig handed him a battered punch card and watched the man insert it in
the reproducer. He felt anxiety as the much-handled card refused for a
time to match the instrument's metal contact points. The line of men
behind Craig fidgeted.

"You got to get this punched by Territorial," said the clerk. "Take it
back to your unit's clearance office."

"Look again, Sergeant," Craig said, repressing his irritation.

"It ain't notched."

"The hell it isn't."

The man examined the card with squinting care and nodded finally. "It's
so damn notched," he complained. "You ought to take care of that card;
can't get on without one."

Craig hesitated before moving.

"Next," said the clerk, "What you waiting for?"

"Don't I take my 201 file?"

"We send it on ahead. Go to Grav 1 desk."

A murmur greeted the order. Craig experienced the thrill of knowing
the envy of the others. Grav 1--that meant Terra. He crossed the long,
dreary room, knowing the eyes of the other men were upon him.

"Your service tapes," the next noncom said. "Where you going?"

"Grav 1--Terra," fumbled Craig. "Los Angeles."

"Los Angeles, eh? Where in Los Angeles?"

"I--I--" Craig muttered, fumbling in his pockets.

"No specific destination," supplied the man as he punched a key on a
small instrument, "Air-lock ahead and to your right. Strip and follow
the robot's orders. Any metal?"

"Metal?" asked Craig.

"You know, _metal_."

"Well, my identification key."

"Here," commanded the clerk, extending a plastic envelope.

Craig moved in the direction indicated. He fought the irrational fear
that he had missed an important step in the complicated clerical
process. He cursed the grudging attitude of the headquarters satellite
personnel and felt the impotence of a spaceman who had long forgotten
the bureaucracy of a rear area base. The knowledge that much of it was
motivated by envy soothed him as he clumsily let himself into the lock.

"Place your clothing in the receptacle provided and assume a stationary
position on the raised podium in the center of the lock."

Craig obeyed the robot voice and began reluctantly to remove his flight
jacket. Its incredibly fine-grained leather would carry none of the
strange, foreign associations for the base station clerk who would
appropriate it. He would never know the beautiful, gentle beast that
supplied this skin.

"You are retarding the progress of others. Please respond more quickly
to your orders."

Craig quickly removed the last of his clothing. It was impossible
to hate a robot, but one could certainly hate those who set it into
operation.

"You will find a red button at your feet. Lower your head and depress
that button."

Stepping on the button with his bare foot produced an instant of
brilliant blue illumination. A small scratch on his arm stung briefly
and he was somewhat blinded by the flash even through his eyelids, but
that was all there was to the sterilizing process.

"Your clothing and effects will be in the dressing room immediately
beyond the locked door."

He found his clothing cleanly and neatly hung on plastic hangers just
inside the door to the dressing room. The few personal items he carried
in his pockets were still there. The Schtann flight jacket was actually
there, looking like new, its space-blue unfaded and as wonderfully
pliant as before.

"Insert your right arm into the instrument on the central table,"
commanded the same voice he had heard before. "Turn your arm until the
scratch is in contact with the metal plate. There will be a slight
pain, but it is necessary to treat the small injury you have been
disregarding."

Craig obeyed and clenched his teeth against a sharp stinging. His
respect for the robot-controlled equipment of bases had risen. When
he withdrew his arm, the scratch was neatly coated with a layer of
flesh-colored plastic material.

He dressed quickly and was on the verge of asking the robot for
instructions, when a man appeared in the open doorway.

"I am Captain Wyandotte," said the man in a pleasant voice.

"Well, what's next?" asked Craig somewhat more belligerently than he
had intended.

The man smiled. "Your reaction is quite natural. You are somewhat
aggressive after Clerical, eh?"

"I'm a little anxious to get home, I suppose," said Craig defensively.

"By 'home' you mean Terra. But you've never been there, have you?"

"No, but my father--"

"Your parents left Terra during the Second Colonization of Cassiopeia
II, didn't they?"

"Yes," Craig said. He was uncomfortable; Wyandotte seemed to know all
about him.

"We might say you've been away quite a while, eh?"

"I was entered as a spaceman when I was 16," Craig said. "I've never
been down for any period as yet."

"You mean you haven't been in a gravity system?"

"Oh, I've landed a few times, even walked around for a while...."

"With the help of paraoxylnebutal," supplied the captain.

"Well, sure."

"Mr. Craig, I suppose you've guessed that the next step in our little
torture system here is psych."

"So I gathered."

The captain laughed reassuringly. "No, don't put up your guard again.
The worst is over. Short of Gravitational conditioning, there is
nothing to stop you from going to Terra."

"Sorry, I guess I'm a little touchy. This is my first time...."

"Quite natural. But it being your first time--in quite a number of
ways, I might add--it will be necessary for you to undergo some
conditioning."

"Conditioning?" asked Craig.

"Yes. You have spent eleven years in space. Your body is conditioned to
a normal state of free fall, or at best to a state of acceleration."

"Yeah, I know. Once on Gerymeade...."

"You were ill, couldn't keep your balance, felt dizzy. That is why
all spacemen carry PON, paraoxylnebutal, with them. It helps
suppress certain physiological reactions to an entirely new set of
conditions. Channels of the ear, for example. They play an important
part in our awareness of balance. They operate on a simple gravity
principle. Without gravity they act up for a time, then gradually lose
function. Returning to gravity is rather frightening at first."

"I know all about this, Captain."

"You've undoubtedly read popularizations in tapezines. But you have
experienced it briefly."

"I expect to have some trouble at first." Craig was disturbed by the
wordy psychologist. What was the man actually saying?

"Do you know what sailors of ancient times meant by 'sea legs?'" asked
Wyandotte. "Men on a rolling ocean acclimated themselves to a rolling
horizontal. They had trouble when they went ashore and the horizontal
didn't roll any more.

"It meant more than that. There were excellent psychological reasons
for the old stereotype, the 'drunken sailor.' A port city was a
frightening thing to an old sailor--but let's begin our little job at
the beginning. I'll turn you over to psychometry for the usual tests
and pick you up tomorrow morning at, say, 0900."

       *       *       *       *       *

During the days that followed, the psychologist seemed to Craig to
become progressively more didactic. He would deliver long speeches
about the "freedom of open space." He spoke repetitiously of the
"growing complexity of Terran society." And yet the man could not
be pinned down to any specific condition the spaceman would find
intolerable.

Craig began to hate the delay that kept him from Terra. Through the
ports of the headquarters base satellite, he scanned the constellations
for the scores of worlds he had visited during his eleven years in
space. They were incredibly varied, even those that supported life. He
had weathered difficult landings on worlds with rip-tide gravities, had
felt the pull of the incredible star-tides imparted by twin and even
triple star systems. He had been on Einstein IV, the planet of eight
moons, and had felt the pulse of all eight of the satellites at once
that no PON could completely nullify.

But even if he could accept the psychologist's authority for the
cumulative effect of a gravity system, he could not understand the
unspoken warning he felt underlying all that the man said.

"Of course it has changed," Craig was protesting. "Anyway, I never
really knew very much about Terra. So what? I know it won't be as it
was in tapezines either."

"Yet you are so completely sure you will want to live out your life
there, that you are willing to give up space service for it."

"We've gone through this time and time again," Craig said wearily. "I
gave you my reasons for quitting space. We analyzed them. You agreed
that you could not decide that for me and that my decision is logical.
You tell me spacemen don't settle down on Terra. Yet you won't--or
can't--tell me why. I've got a damned good job there--"

"You may find that 'damned good jobs' become boring."

"So I'll transfer. I don't know what you're trying to get at, Captain,
but you're not talking me out of going back. If the service needs men
so badly, let them get somebody else. I've put in _my_ time."

"Do you really think that's my reason?"

"Sure. What else can it be?"

"Mr. Craig," the psychologist said slowly, "you have my authorization
for you to return to Terra as a private citizen of that planet. You
will be given a very liberal supply of PON--which you will
definitely need. Good luck. You'll need that too."

       *       *       *       *       *

On the eighth day, two attendants, who showed the effects of massive
doses of PON to protect themselves from the centrifugal force,
had to carry a man out of the tank. Many others asked to be removed,
begged to be allowed to withdraw their resignations.

"The twelfth day is the worst," a grizzled spaceman told Craig. "That's
when the best of 'em want out."

Craig clenched the iron rung of his bed and struggled to bring the old
man's face into focus.

"How ... how do they know when you ought ... to come out?" he asked
between waves of nausea.

"Blood pressure. They get you just before you go into shock."

"How can they tell?" Craig fought down his growing panic. "I can't."

"That strap around your belly. You mean you ain't noticed it?"

"Haven't noticed much of anything."

"Well, it's keyed to give them some kind of signal."

The old man lapsed into silence. Craig wished him to continue. He
desperately wanted something to distract his mind from the ghastly
conditioning process.

Slowly at first, the lines formed by seams in the metal ceiling began
to bend. Here it came again!

"Old man!" shouted Craig.

"Yeah, son. They've dropped it down a notch."

"Dropped ... it ... down?"

"Maybe that ain't scientific, but it's the way I always think of it."

"Can't they ... drop it down continuously?"

"They tried that a few times--once when I was aboard. You wouldn't like
it, kid. You wouldn't like it at all."

"How ... many times ... do they drop it?"

"Four times during the day, three at night. Twenty days."

A nightmare of visual sensations ebbed into Craig's mind. He was
vaguely aware of the moans of other men in the vaultlike room. Wave
upon wave of nausea swept him as he watched the seam lines bend and
warp fantastically. He snapped his eyelids shut, only to begin feeling
the nightmarish bodily sensations once more. He felt the cot slowly
rise longitudinally, felt himself upside down, then the snap of turning
right side up once more--and he knew that neither he nor the cot had
moved so much as an inch.

Craig heard the voices around him, muffled, as though talking through
wadding.

"... got it bad."

"We better take him out."

"... pretty bad."

"He'll go into shock."

"... never make it the twelfth."

"We better yank him."

"I'm ... all right," Craig mumbled at the voices. He struggled with the
bonds of his cot. With terrible effort he forced his eyes open. Two
white-clad figures, ridiculously out of proportion, hovered wraithlike
over him. Four elongated eyes peered at him.

_Attendants coming for to take me home...._

"Touch me and I'll kick your teeth in!" he yelled. "I'm going to Terra.
Wish you were going to Terra?"

Then it was better. Oddly, he passed the twelfth day easily. By the
fourteenth day, Craig knew he could stand Grav 1. The whine of the
centrifuge's motors had diminished to a low hum. Either that or they
had begun to produce ultra-sonic waves. Craig was not sure.

Most of the men had passed through the torments of gravitational
conditioning. The huge headquarters base centrifuge aboard the man-made
satellite had gradually caused their bodies to respond once more to a
single source of pull. They were now ready to become inhabitants of
planets again, instead of free-falling ships.

On the eighteenth day, automatic machinery freed them from their
imprisoning cots. Clumsily and awkwardly at first, the men began to
walk, to hold their heads and arms in proper attitudes. They laughed
and joked about it and kidded those who were slow at adjusting.
Then they again began taking paraoxylnebutal in preparation for the
free-fall flight to Terra.

Only one of the score of men in the centrifuge tank remained
voluntarily in his cot.

"Space article violator," the old man informed Craig. "Psycho, I think.
Went amuck with some extraterritorials. Killed a dozen."

"What will they do, exile him?"

"Not to Chociante, if that's what you mean. They just jerked his space
card and gave him a one-way ticket to Terra."

"For twelve murders?" asked Craig incredulously.

"That's enough, son." The old man eyed Craig for an instant before
looking away. "Pick something to talk about. What do you figure on
doing when you get to Terra, for instance?"

"I'm going into Import. My father was in it for twenty years."

"Sure," said the old spaceman, watching a group of young crewmen
engaged in an animated conversation.

"It's a good job. There's a future to it."

"Yeah."

Why did he have to explain anything at all to the old space tramp?

"Once I get set up, I'll probably try to open my own business."

"And spend your weekends on Luna."

Craig half rose from his cot, jarred into anger.

But the old spaceman turned, smiling wryly. "Don't get hot, kid. I
guess I spent too long in Zone V." He paused to examine his wrinkled
hands. They were indelibly marked with lever callouses. "You get to
thinking anyone who stays closer'n eighty light years from Terra is a
land-lubber."

Craig relaxed, realizing he had acted childishly. "Used to think the
same. Then I took the exam and got this job."

"Whereabouts?"

"Los Angeles."

The old man looked up at Craig. "You don't know much about Terra, do
you, son?"

"Not much."

"Yeah. Well, I hope you ain't disappointed."

"My father was born there, but I never saw it. Never hit the Solar
System, matter of fact. Never saw much of anything close up. I stood it
a long time, old man, this hitting atmospheres all over the Universe."

But the spaceman seemed to have lost interest. He was unpacking some
personal belongings from a kit.

"What are you doing in Grav 1?" Craig asked.

The old man's face clouded for an instant. "In the old days, they used
to say us old-timers acted like clocks. They used to say we just ran
down. Now they got some fancy psychology name for it."

Craig regretted his question. He would have muttered some word of
apology, but the old man continued.

"Maybe you've read some of the old sea stories, or more'n likely had
'em read to you. Sailors could go to sea until they just sort of dried
up. The sea tanned their skins and stiffened their bones, but it never
stiffened their hearts. When they got old, it just pulled them in.

"But space is different. Space is raw and new. It tugs at your guts. It
sends the blood rushing through your veins. It's like loving. You don't
become a part of space the way you do the old sea, though. It leaves
you strictly alone. Except that it sucks you dry, takes all the soup
out of you, leaves you brittle and old--old as a dehydrated piece of
split leather.

"Then one day it shoots a spurt of blood around in one of your old
veins. Something gives. Space is through with you then. And if you can
stand this whirligig conditioning, you're through with space."

       *       *       *       *       *

"_You can't figure it. Some of 'em urp all over and turn six shades of
green._"

"_You got to watch the ones that don't._"

"_Yeah, you got to watch the ones that don't. Especially the old ones._"

"_He's old. You think it was his heart?_"

"_Who knows?_"

"_They'll dump him, won't they?_"

"_After a tracer is sent through. But it won't do any good._"

"_He probably outlived everybody that ever knew him._"

"_Wouldn't be surprised. Here, grab his leg._"

       *       *       *       *       *

Robert Craig folded the flight jacket tightly and stuffed it into the
cylindrical carton. A sleeve unwound just as he did so, making it
difficult to fit into the place he had made for it. Exasperated, he
refolded it and jammed it in place. Smaller rolls of underclothing were
then fitted in. When he was satisfied with the layer, he tossed in a
small handful of crystals and began to fill the next layer. After the
carton was completely filled, he ignited the sealing strip and watched
as the plastic melted into a single, seamless whole. It was ready for
irradiation. Probably in another ten years his son-to-be would put it
on and play spaceman. But Craig swore he'd make sure that the kid knew
what a stinking life it was.

At 1300 hours, the ferry bumped heavily alongside the starboard lock.
It was the signal for relief in the passengers' quarters; many were
beginning to feel a reaction to the short free-fall flight from the
headquarters satellite.

The audio called out: "Flight Officer Robert Craig. Flight Officer
Robert Craig. Report to Orderly 12. Report to Orderly 12 through the
aft door."

With pangs of anxiety he could not completely suppress, Craig obeyed.

Orderly 12 handed him a message container.

"Who's it from? Somebody on Terra?"

"From a private spaceman named Morgan Brockman."

"_Brockman?_"

"He was with you in the grav tank."

"The old man!"

The message container produced a battered punch card. Craig
straightened it and was about to reach into his pocket for a hand
transcriber. But then he noticed the card bore only a few irregular
punches and was covered with rough hand printing.

    Son, when the flunkies get around to giving you this, they'll have
    shot me out the tube. How do I know? Same way you know when your
    turbos are going to throw a blade. It's good this way.

    There's something you can do for me if you want to. Way back, some
    fifty years ago, there was a woman. She was my wife. It's a long
    story I won't bother you with. Anyway, I left her. Wanted to take
    her along with me, but she wouldn't go.

    Earth was a lot different then than it is now. They don't have to
    tell me; I know. I saw it coming and so did Ethel. We talked about
    it and I knew I had to go. She wouldn't or couldn't go. Wanted me
    to stay, but I couldn't.

    I tried to send her some units once in a while. Don't know if she
    ever got them. Sometimes I forgot to send them at all. You know,
    you're way out across the Galaxy, while she's home.

    Go see her if you can, son. Will you? Make sure she gets the unit
    transfer I made out. It isn't much out of seventy years of living,
    but she may need it. And maybe you can tell her a little bit about
    what it means to be out there. Tell her it's open and free and when
    you got hold of those levers and you're trying for an orbit on
    something big and new and green.... Hell, you remember. You know
    how to tell her.

    Her name is Ethel Brockman. I know she'll still use my name. Her
    address is or was East 71, North 101, Number 4. You can trace her
    easy if she moved. Women don't generally shove off and not leave a
    forwarding address. Not Ethel, at least.

Craig put the battered card in his pocket and walked back through the
door to the passenger room. How did you explain to an old woman why her
husband deserted her fifty years before? Some kind of story about one's
duty to the Universe? No, the old man had not been in Intergalactic. He
had been a tramp spaceman. Well, why _had_ he left?

Fifty years in space. _Fifty_ years! Zone V had been beyond anybody's
imagination that long ago. He must have been in on the first Cetusian
flights and shot the early landings in Cetus II. God only knew how many
times he had battled Zone 111b pirates....

Damn the old man! How did one explain?

       *       *       *       *       *

Craig descended the ramp from the huge jet and concentrated on his
impressions. One day he would recall this moment, his first on the
planet Terra. He tried to recall his first thrill at seeing Los
Angeles, 1500 square miles of it, from the ship as it entered the
atmosphere.

He was about to step off the last step when a man appeared hurriedly. A
rather plump man, he displayed a toothy smile on his puffy red face.

"A moment, sir. Just a little greeting from the Terra. You understand,
of course. Purely routine."

Craig remained on the final step of the ramp, puzzled. The man turned
to a companion at his right.

"We can see that this gentleman has come from a long, long way off,
can't we?"

The other man did not look up. He was peering into what seemed to Craig
to be a kind of camera.

"We can allow the gentlemen to continue now, can't we? It wasn't that
we believed for a minute, you understand ... purely routine."

Both men were gone in an instant, leaving Craig completely bewildered.

"You goin' to move on, buddy, or you want to go back?"

Craig turned to face a line of his fellow passengers up the ramp behind
him.

"Who was that?" Craig asked.

"Customs. Bet you never got such a smooth screening before, eh?"

"You mean he _screened_ me? What for?"

"Hard to say," the other passenger said. "You'll get used to this. They
get it over with quick."

Craig made his way toward the spaceport administration building. His
first physical contact with Terra had passed unnoticed.

"Sir! Sir!" cried a voice behind him.

He wheeled to see a man walking briskly toward him.

"You dropped this, sir. Quite by accident, of course."

Craig examined the small object the man had given him before rushing
off toward an exit.

It was an empty PON tube he had just discarded. He couldn't
understand why the man had bothered until he realized that the
plastaloid floor of the lobby displayed not the faintest scrap of paper
nor trace of dirt.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Import personnel man was toying with a small chip of gleaming
metal. He did not look directly at Craig for more than an instant at a
time, and commented on Craig's description of his trip through the city
only very briefly between questions.

"It's a good deal bigger than I imagined," Craig was saying. "Haven't
seen much of it, of course. Thought I'd check in here with you first."

"Yes, naturally."

"Thought you could give me some idea of conditions...."

"Conditions?"

"For instance, what part of the city I should live in. That is, what
part is closest to where I'll work."

"I see," said the man noncommittally. It seemed to Craig that he was
about to add something. He did not, however, but instead rose from his
chair and walked to the large window overlooking an enormous section of
the city far below. He stared out the window for a time, leaving Craig
seated uncomfortably in the silent room. There was a distracted quality
about him, Craig thought.

"You are the first man we have had from the Intergalactic Service," the
personnel man said finally.

"That so?"

"Yes." He turned to face Craig briefly before continuing. "You must
find it very strange here."

"Well, I've never seen a city so big."

"Yes, so big. And also...." He seemed to consider many words before
completing the sentence. "And also different."

"I haven't been here very long," said Craig. "Matter of fact, I haven't
been anywhere very long. This is my first real experience with life on
a planet. As an adult, anyway."

The personnel man seated himself once more and pressed a button on a
small instrument. A secretary entered the office from a door to Craig's
left.

"Miss Wendel, this is Mr. Craig. Mr. Craig, my secretary. Mr. Craig
will enter Minerals and Metals, Zone V."

They exchanged formal greetings. She was a moderately pretty girl of
medium height and, to Craig, a pleasantly rounded figure. He would have
attempted to catch her eye had she not immediately occupied herself
with unfolding the legs of a small instrument she was carrying.

"This is Mr. Craig's first landing on Terra, Miss Wendel," the
personnel man continued. "Actually, we shall have to consider him in
much the same way we would an extraterrestrial."

The girl glanced at Craig, casting him a cool, impersonal smile.

"He was formerly a flight officer in the Intergalactic Space Service."
The statement was delivered in an almost exaggeratedly casual tone.

The girl glanced at him once more, this time with a definite quizzical
look in her brown eyes.

"Three complete tours of duty, I believe."

"Four," corrected Craig. "Four tours of three years each, minus a
year's terminal leave."

"I take it you have no identification card?" the man asked.

"The one I held in the service. It's pretty comprehensive."

The other turned to the secretary. "You'll see that he is assisted in
filing his application, won't you? A provisional Code II. That will
enable you to enter all Import offices freely, Mr. Craig."

"Will he need a food and--clothing ration also?" asked the girl,
without looking at Craig.

"Yes." The man laughed. "You'll excuse us, Mr. Craig. We realize that
you couldn't be expected to be familiar with Terra's fashions. In your
present outfit you would certainly be typed as a ... well, you'd be
made uncomfortable."

Craig reddened in spite of himself. He had bought the suit on Ghandii.

"A hick," he supplied.

"I wouldn't go that far, but some people might."

       *       *       *       *       *

Craig noted the pleasant way the girl filled her trim, rather severe
business suit. He amused himself by calculating stress patterns in its
plain woven material as she assembled the forms for him.

"Here, Mr. Craig. I believe these are complete."

"They look pretty complicated."

"Not at all. The questions are quite explicit."

Craig looked them over quickly.

"I guess so. Say, Miss Wendel, I was wondering--I don't know the city
at all. Maybe you could go with me to have dinner. It must be almost
dinnertime now. You could sort of check me out on some...."

"I'm afraid that would be quite impossible. You couldn't gain
admittance to any office you need to visit tonight. Therefore, it is
impossible for me to be of any assistance to you."

"Oh, come now, Miss Wendel. There are women aboard spaceships. I'm not
a starved wolf."

"Certainly you are not, Mr. Craig. But it is not possible for me...."

"You said that already, but you can have dinner with me. Just company."

"I'm afraid I don't understand."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Galactic hotel strove to preserve an archaic tone of hospitality.
It advertised "a night's lodgings" and it possessed a bellboy. The
bellboy actually carried Craig's plasticarton and large file of punch
cards and forms to his room. Tired from the long, confusing day, Craig
was not impressed. He vaguely wondered if the little drama of the
hotel carried so far as a small fee to be paid the bellboy, and he
hoped he would have the right size of Terran units in his wallet.

Outside the door to the room, the bellboy stopped and turned to Craig.

"For five I'll tell you where it is," he said in a subdued tone.

"Tell me where what is?"

"You know, the mike."

"Mike?"

"All right, mister, three units, then. I wasn't trying to hold you up."

"You mean a microphone?" asked Craig, mechanically fishing for his
wallet.

"Sure, they don't put in screens here. Wanted to, but the boss
convinced 'em there aren't any Freedomites ever stay here."

"Where is the microphone?" Craig asked as he found a ten unit note.
He was too puzzled to wonder what he was expected to do with the
information.

"It's in the bed illuminator. You can short it out with a razor blade.
Or I'll do it for another two."

"Never mind," Craig said wearily. He waited while the bellboy inserted
a key into the door and opened it for him.

"I can get you a sensatia-tape," whispered the boy when they had
entered. He nudged Craig wickedly. "You know what they're like?"

"Yeah," Craig said disgustedly. Traffic in the illicit mental-image
tapes was known as far into space as lonely men had penetrated.
Intergalactic considered them as great a menace to mental and moral
stability as the hectopiates. Craig wearily got the man out of the
room, took a PON pill, and eased himself into the bed.

It had been a weird day and he had not liked it. There was no telling
how long it would take him to shake his--sea legs, the psychologist
had called it. One thing was sure: Terra aggressively went after its
strangers.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ushered into the room by a sullen and silent secretary, Craig found
himself facing a semi-circular table at which were seated five
uniformed men. The center man, obviously their superior, rose to greet
him. He wore the familiar smile Craig had come to know so well and
hate so much. The man was somewhat over forty years old, short, stout,
entirely unpleasant and puffy.

"Mr. Craig, I believe," he greeted Craig. Since it seemed to be more
of a statement than a question, Craig did not answer. He took up a
position of more or less military attention at the center of the curved
table.

"You _are_ Robert Craig," insisted the man.

"Yes, I'm Robert Craig," he answered, somewhat surprised.

The stout man seated himself with a sigh and began to sort through some
papers on the table before him. The other four men continued to stare
at Craig silently, until he began to feel uncomfortable and hostile. He
stiffened his position of attention defiantly.

"You may relax, Mr. Craig," said the first man without looking up. "You
aren't nervous, are you?"

"No," Craig said, trying to smile. "This is the first time I've been
here and...." He let the sentence trail off, hoping for a sympathetic
response. But he did not get it.

"Flight Officer, eh?" said the man. Then, looking up, he added,
"Somewhat unusual to find a vigorous young man like yourself abandoning
the space service for a Terran job, isn't it?"

"I don't know. Is it?"

"Leaving something behind out there, Mr. Craig?"

"No, nothing," Craig snapped.

The other man glared at him a full minute. Craig met the stare and
realized the considerable power behind the weak face.

"You don't like this sort of affair, do you, Mr. Craig?"

Craig was forced to look away. "I'm afraid I don't see the necessity,"
he answered in a controlled voice. "I served the Intergalactic Service
well. My records prove that."

"Granted," said his questioner bluntly. "You are a Terran, are you not,
Mr. Craig?"

"I should think that would be obvious," Craig said, matching the blunt
tone.

The man rapped the table. "That's enough of your impertinence! You may
very well have served the Intergalactic Service, but you are on Terra
now. Terra, greatest, first of all civilized systems. Intergalactic may
very well have to piddle with incompetent savages and wild colonists,
but we of Terra assert our supremacy. Remember those words. You may not
always find Terra so submissive to Intergalactic as Intergalactic would
desire."

"Where are your loyalties, Mr. Craig?" demanded one of the other men
suddenly.

"I am a Terran...."

"But your first loyalty is to Intergalactic. Is that right?"

"Is there a distinction?" Craig shot back, thoroughly angry.

"Do you wish to be held in contempt of this committee?" asked the first
man, leaning forward half out of his chair.

"Of course not."

"Then you will confine your responses to simple yes and no answers, if
you please, _Mr._ Craig."

Craig glared at the men in impotent rage. His head was beginning to
ache. He had been many hours without paraoxylnebutal.

"Now, Mr. Craig," the first man began in an overly mild tone, "we shall
begin again. Please try to restrain your show of emotion. You are
here in petition of an identity card of provisional Code II type. You
maintain that you have never been on Terra before. Indeed, you state
that you have never had a political affiliation."

"Yes."

"What are your reactions to the latest acts of the Liberty party?" a
third man abruptly asked.

"I have none," Craig answered, after an instant of confusion.

"You do not condemn the Liberty party?"

"I ... I...."

"Then you must favor it."

"I don't know anything about any...."

"Now, then, Mr. Craig," interrupted the head of the group. "The Import
service report shows that you passed your tests aboard your ship. You
were enabled to accomplish this through night study."

"Yes."

"Yet you maintain in your application that you had considered the space
service a career."

"I changed my mind."

"Oh. You changed your mind. I see...."

       *       *       *       *       *

"What do you do if they turn you down on your food ration?" Craig asked
the man by his side on the bench. He had intended it as a vaguely
humorous question.

"You don't eat."

"You mean they would actually let you starve?"

"If you could not eat, you would starve," the man said matter-of-factly.

"What's all this for, anyway? I mean the medical part."

"You are rationed fairly in accordance with your particular metabolism."

"You're kidding."

"One does not jest of such matters," said the man, getting up to take a
seat on another bench.

       *       *       *       *       *

"_But I'd like to keep it as a souvenir._"

"_It is not permitted._"

"_Look, it isn't issue. I bought the hide, had it made. I can pull off
the marks of insignia and it's just another jacket...._"

"_That is not the point, Mr. Craig. Your clothing ration is defined by
law. There are no exceptions._"

       *       *       *       *       *

"_These are your permanent quarters. You will occupy them immediately.
Then, if you believe the location is wasteful of your time, you must
petition the appropriate committee. This department cannot accept such
a petition._"

       *       *       *       *       *

"_Your petition to be permitted to purchase a private means of
conveyance is hereby denied._"

       *       *       *       *       *

The big man leaned far back in the battered desk chair. It creaked
at worn joints, but touched the wall without sliding from under its
enormous load. The man was silent through Craig's long, confused
speech. By turns he examined his fingernails, picked at yellowed teeth,
and stared above his head at the discolored ceiling.

"... but you can get all this from ISS, maybe even from Import, if
they'll release my file," Craig argued.

"Uh-huh," the big man said between closed lips.

"I just made a mistake, that's all. You don't hear much about Terra
out there. It was different in my father's day. It must have been
different."

"Yeah."

"I haven't any character references on Terra, but I can post a
good-sized bond if they'll release my ISS units."

The space-freight agent glanced up at Craig at the remark.

"Anyway, I can get my units anywhere ISS has a base," Craig
continued. "I can handle anything up to 15 Gs acceleration without a
new license. I can go heavier if I get a check ride."

The fat man leaned forward in the protesting chair. "You got
everything, but you can't go. I can't hire you."

"Why not?"

"Look, kid--Craig, is it?--how long you been in?"

"Four days. I'm still working on my work clearances."

"Four days. You tried Intergalactic to see if they'd take you back?"

"Yes. Their hands are tied by my Terran contract."

"And ours aren't, eh?" The man rose from the desk and walked to a water
tap. He popped a pill into his gaping mouth and drank from a tin cup.
Then he returned to the inadequate chair. "So you're a spaceman. Flight
officer--_ex_-flight officer. You know how to navigate through four
star zones and the asteroid belt thrown in. You got a license for 15
Gs, could get five more. You got enough brains to pass Import's senior
router's exam.

"Still, you ain't got enough sense to come in out of the rain!"

Craig sat upright in his chair.

"We get guys like you two, three a day. You're hot. You're big. You're
rarin' to go. But you ain't goin' nowhere!"

Craig glared at the big man.

"I don't know how you got here, Craig. It ain't none of my business.
Maybe you did quit honorable. Quit to follow your daddy's footsteps. Or
maybe you went and burned up a colony somewhere!"

"That would be in my records, wouldn't it?" Craig challenged.

"It still don't make any difference. You're stuck here. Nobody leaves
Terra without a permit. Nobody. You couldn't get a permit with a
crowbar and a blaster. You got a problem, son. You asked for it. Maybe
they told you beforehand, maybe they didn't. You got a problem of
adjustment. Terra's moved a long, long way since your daddy left it.
We're doing things here. We're going places. Big things and big places.

"You got to fit into that, kid. Fit in quick. Move with it. You don't
like the red tape, the committees? I don't like 'em either. But I been
here a while. I can cut red tape. Red tape is for guys like you, guys
that don't know Terra, don't know where we're going.

"Stick around, kid. You still got sea legs. You're still hopped up on
PON. You're going to like it here on Terra. You're going to like it
great. You can make a quick dollar on Terra. You can spend a quick
dollar here too. Smarten up or you'll finish scrubbing radioactive dust
off girders!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The girl approached his table, her hard eyes scanning him. Wordlessly
she slid into the booth opposite him and made a sign for the bartender.

"Have a drink?" Craig suggested, smiling.

"Yeah."

"Work here?"

"What you mean by that?"

"I mean if you get a percentage on the drinks, I can...."

"I don't get no percentage."

The bartender brought them a version of N'cadian taz. The girl slouched
in the booth and sullenly tapped the glass. The lights in the bar had
dimmed to simulate some kind of planetary night. The walls came alive
with projected images of Terran constellations. On their table, a globe
lamp began to glow. Tiny bright lights swung orbits around a miniature
sun inside the lamp.

As a miniature Pluto swung on its slow arc, an image of it was
projected on the girl's dusky face. She seemed to be staring at
nothing.

"Why d'you call me over here? You a purist, or don't you like the brand
of sensatia-tapes they're peddlin' these days?"

"I don't understand," Craig said.

She smiled crookedly at him. Not a bad face, Craig decided, but hard,
hard as the ceramiplate of a ship. She could not be very old. It was
the kind of wild look in her eyes that gave her a false appearance of
age.

"Maybe you're writing a book--you got me over here for something."

"I just got in," Craig answered.

"What am I supposed to do for this drink?"

"Nothing. Nothing at all. I suppose. I thought ... just skip it. I'm
lonesome, that's all."

"Lonely, huh?" said the girl. "Lonely and just in, huh? Just in from
space." She turned away from him to signal the bartender. "What you
need is drinks."

There were more drinks. Many more drinks. The girl kept them coming,
kept talking to him about--what was it? Craig looked at the girl and
then at the globe lamp. He watched as the tiny bright orbs of light
projected their images on the girl opposite him. He was aware of the
gradual dimming of the lights, the suppression of sound in the bar. He
watched the tiny lights of other globes appear around shadows, watched
as the lights traced fiery trails across the dusky skin of the girl
opposite him, watched as they crossed the warm, rounded flesh....

       *       *       *       *       *

"_I tell ya we didn't give him nothing but a coupla tazes._"

"_The pump will determine that. You might as well tell the truth._"

"_I am tellin' the truth. He drank, let's see ... two, three._"

"_Four, five, six. You let her pump him full._"

"_Hey, look, this guy's a spaceman, or was._"

"_I didn't know that. Honest I didn't. He never told us._"

"_All right, you didn't know. What you put in those tazes--ether?_"

"_We denature the polyester just like the law says._"

"_And you get it straight from M'cadii, eh?_"

"_We put in some syn. So what? That ain't against the law._"

"_He's probably got grav trouble, Chief._"

"_Who was the girl?_"

"_Girl? What girl?_"

"_You know what girl!_"

"_Just a girl, like a million of 'em these days._"

"_Professional?_"

"_There ain't any any more. You know, sensatia-tapes._"

"_Know her name?_"

"_I don't ask no names. How you going to know names? She's a girl. Just
like ten million of 'em these days._"

"_What you think a guy like this is doing here, Chief?_"

"_Why not?_"

"_Well, look at his clothes. He's got units, too. Can't figure that
out. She must've been after something else._"

"_How about his clothing and food tickets?_"

"_Uh ... that's it. She got his tickets._"

"_Come on, give me a hand. Lug him into the hold._"

       *       *       *       *       *

The hard face of the Civil Control chief peered down at him. It was
a thick, red face that displayed no trace of feeling except perhaps
toughness. It was long yet full, and it contained the proper features;
but it added nothing of expression to the harsh, rasping voice.

"First time in, eh? Or else Central's too damned lazy to check the
file. Okay, I ain't going to cite you. Waste of time. But listen to me.
You got problems, we got problems. You solve yours and don't come back
here."

Craig was aware of officers glowering at his back as he fumbled with
the door button. The door opened onto a city street. It was entirely
foreign to Craig. It was not a clean, straight thoroughfare at the
bottom of a canyon of towering white buildings and contrived but bright
parks. It was an old street, a dirty street; an incredible welter of
color and line, of big and little shops, of dirty human shapes in
drab gray. A flood of tone and noise hit Craig as he emerged from the
station and descended the long, broad steps.

Craig's head was in a whirl despite the strong dose of paraoxylnebutal
he had taken in the station clinic. He felt closed in and befogged. He
could remember almost nothing of the night in Civil Control. Even the
clinic was fading from his memory. He was aware that he stank, that he
was dirty, that his clothing clung to his body. He was miserable.

He must call Import. He was due to begin work this morning, his period
of personal adjustment complete. Instead, Craig turned and began to
walk. He could not carry on a coherent conversation in his present
state. He could never find his way unassisted back to his apartment;
he was not even sure he remembered the address. But the thought of
returning to his quarters, to Import sickened him.

What _was_ his address? East 71, North.... No, that would be old lady
Brockman. The association irritated him. He had completely forgotten
the unwanted assignment, had forgotten to inquire where the address
could be found.

Craig became aware of the heavy flow of vehicular traffic that roared a
scant eight feet away. Large surface carriers whistled in the nearest
lane of the complex four-lane pattern. Then there were the private
surface craft; they were of many sizes and shapes. He guessed that
they were turbine-powered, but he could not identify the odor of their
exhausts.

There was an odd, unreal quality about the busy thoroughfare. Even
myriad sounds from it were sounds he had never heard before and could
not break down into their component parts.

Craig became aware of other humans, many of them, on the sidewalk.
Again they were of a class that he could not identify. They had none
of the brisk, purposeful stride of those he had seen near Import.
They lacked also the graceful, colorful dress. Their faces, so far
as he could separate them from the blurring film over his eyes, were
different.

They seemed somehow _looser_ faces, though Craig did not know exactly
what he meant by the term. They were not tight, pinched, set, as were
the faces he had seen before on Terra. There were bulbous noses, large
ears, squint eyes, disheveled hair, the men's and women's faces
strangely similar. Some were young, some old, but few were hard or
fixed. They seemed more plastic, more full of expression than those he
had come to know elsewhere in the city. He felt an inexplicable craving
to know someone of this strange street.

"You looking for something, mister?" asked a voice near him.

Craig turned to find a middle-aged man eying him from the doorway of an
empty building.

"I got it," the man added.

"Got what?" Craig asked.

"Anything a guy just outa the can would want."

"What would a 'guy just outa the can' want that you have?" Craig
examined the weathered, sharp face. It was an unpleasant one, but it
belonged to this street; it would do to tell him what he wanted to know
of the place.

"Follow me." The man quickly inserted a magnikey into the door of the
vacant store building.

"There's a station just up the street," Craig warned.

"Sure. So what?"

The empty room was dusty and dark and received little light through
the grimy display windows that faced on the street. What kind of store
it had been, Craig could not guess. The man led him through a kind of
storage room which was piled high with moldy paper cartons and back to
a rear door. With quick, dextrous movements, the man swung an ancient
bar assembly and pushed open the rear door. It led to a litter-strewn
yard enclosed by rough, eroded shacks and a wooden garage.

They entered the garage through a creaking hinged door. It was a dank,
almost completely dark room. Craig stumbled over something on the floor
and fell against a packing box of some kind.

"Just stand still," said the man. He was shuffling invisibly about in
the darkness. Craig could hear him opening a kind of cabinet or drawer
while saying in a steady monotone, "You got the right man, mister. My
stuff is pure. You can test it. But you'd rather _drink_ it, right?"

For the tenth time, Craig asked himself why he had accepted the furtive
invitation. The thought of this man's kind of intoxicant--however
'pure'--nauseated him. Nevertheless, he felt himself compelled by a
kind of insatiable curiosity to follow out the part he had accepted.
Perhaps through this man, through this somehow fascinating street, he
could....

"You got ten; I know that. Maybe you got more, huh?" the man
interrupted his confused train of thought.

"What makes you think I got ten?" Craig asked. He did not know himself
how many units his wallet contained--certainly not after the previous
night.

"Don't get sore. I'm honest. But I know you got ten. Otherwise you
wouldn't have got out of the station."

The lack of clearly defined objects by which to orient himself in the
darkness of the garage made his head begin to swim once more. He wanted
to leave.

"Don't get scared, buddy. They don't ever come in here."

Craig fumbled for support in the darkness. He was afraid he would be
sick. Fulfillment for the half-formed plan that was beginning to take
shape in his mind would not come with the bootlegger. It would come
into being somehow in the tawdry street he had just left, only he did
not know how.

"They don't really go after polyester. They don't want to stop the
stuff. It makes their job easier. You don't have to worry, buddy. Come
on, how much you want? You might have trouble finding more for a while."

Craig said nothing. He fumbled for a grip on a packing box.

"You're from Out, aren't you, buddy? You ain't used to us here yet.
Most of my customers are from Out. What jam'd you get into?"

"I got ten units, I think," Craig evaded.

"It ain't none of my business what you done. Nobody around here is
going to ask you any questions. Long as you got units, you get poly
like the big shots that come over here all the way from Uptown."

"Yeah," said Craig. "Gimme what I get for ten units and let's beat it
out of here."

"Myself, I never been Out. Not even Luna. Never wanted to. I stay here
and have my little business--you can call it a business. You'll see,
buddy, there are millions of guys like me. The controllers don't stop
us. We're respectable. A damned sight more respectable than those...."

"All right," snapped Craig. "Let's get out of here."

"You got it bad, huh? This poly will fix that up. It's pure. You just
come back to old Nave and get poly."

"How ... how you get out of here?" asked Craig, nauseated.

"Get lost pretty easy in the dark, huh?" The man was beginning to mock
him.

Craig lashed out suddenly at the unseen face in the darkness. He caught
the thin throat in his left hand. His right left the packing box and
cocked to deliver a blow. But he began to fall and had to let go.

"Okay, buddy, okay," the other man said soothingly as Craig was forced
to catch himself. "I _like_ ex-spacemen. I know lots of you. I sell
you poly. You don't want to get tough with me."

He shoved a block of ten small cubes into Craig's hand and, while Craig
fished for his wallet, he produced a tiny, narrow-beamed flash. The
transaction was quickly over. The cube was small enough to be forced
without much difficulty into Craig's jacket pocket.

The man led him back across the littered yard, through the empty store
building, and out the front door. When Craig emerged onto the street
once more, a uniformed figure was standing nearby.

"He'll need two," whispered the man from behind him.

Craig reached into his pocket and mechanically fumbled two of the small
cubes of waxlike substance from the loose package. He placed them on
the outstretched hand of the Civil Control officer. The officer did not
look in his direction at any time, but accepted the offer and walked
slowly on toward the station.

Craig continued aimlessly down the long street. His head cleared as
he walked and once more began to form a kind of vague plan. There was
anonymity to a street such as this. There was also a kind of freedom.
Everywhere in the universe, there were such streets. Neutralized
streets, where a kind of compromise was reached between law and
lawlessness. They were permitted because it was always necessary to
provide such a place for those who were not permitted elsewhere. Those
who would not fit, could not be "rehabilitated," could neither be
jailed nor permitted complete freedom.

Controllers of one kind or another patrolled such streets, keeping them
in a kind of check--or, more accurately, in a kind of containment. But
no amount of control would ever completely stamp out the likes of Nave,
the bootlegger.

Perhaps here, on this street, Craig could be "lost." Here he might find
security for a time in anonymity, security and time to find a way ...
to what? He did not know.

"Mister! Mister!" cried a thin, high voice from somewhere to his left.
"Here, quick!"

It was a young boy of perhaps nine or ten. Craig caught sight of him as
he motioned urgently. He wore a shabby, torn version of what appeared
to be a space service uniform.

"I'm not buying anything, son," Craig said, pausing briefly.

"Come here, quick!" insisted the boy, his eyes large in a dirty face.
"You already bought too much."

The boy was motioning him to follow. He had stepped between two
buildings. Craig approached him with suspicion.

"What did you say?"

"Slip in here quick! You bought from Nave the peddler. You bought poly,
didn't ya?"

"How did you...." Craig began.

"Tell you later. Slip through here quick or they'll send you to
_Hardy_!"

The genuine fear of the youngster conveyed itself to Craig. With effort
he forced his body through the space between the old buildings. At
first he did not intend to follow the boy, but only to stop him for an
explanation. The boy, however, continued down the tight corridor formed
by the buildings.

"There's a window soon," he said from ahead of Craig. "Hurry. You lost
time with that peddler."

Lost time? Cursing himself for becoming involved again in something he
did not understand, Craig nevertheless followed as best he could. It
was a tight squeeze and he found himself becoming breathless.

"Dive down!" shouted the boy, looking back with terror in his eyes.

Instinctively Craig did so. The rough walls tore at his suit.

"Stop!" shouted a voice from behind Craig. "Stop or we fire!"

Craig suddenly felt the sill of a window which opened into the
building to his left. He quickly pulled himself into it. There was a
sickening whine and a part of the window disintegrated in a cloud of
splinters and plaster.

"Through here," said the boy from the semi-darkness. "They'll blast
their way inside in a minute!"

Craig found himself in another empty building. He followed the boy
through a doorway and felt his way as he half ran along the dark hall.

"Who are _they_?" he panted.

"Controllers."

"Civil Control?"

"Sure. You must be pretty important. I didn't get it all. But they say
the controllers checked up on you after.... I'll explain later."

The hall ended in a dim room piled high with plasmolite packing boxes
in great disarray. The boy chose a box and lifted a lid.

"Follow me. It's a passage."

"Where to?"

"No time now. Down here."

The passage, which seemed to be constructed of plasmolite boxes, seemed
somehow lit by daylight, although Craig could not actually see the
source of the light.

The tunnel ended in broad afternoon daylight. As he climbed out he saw
a large clearing surrounded by ruins.

"We're just inside the old city," the boy said. "We're safe now--unless
those controllers are willing to take more chances than I think."

"Wait a minute, son. You said 'old city.' You mean that this is a part
of pre-war Los Angeles?"

"Well, sure."

"But that's supposed to be...."

"Radioactive? Most of it, anyway. Good thing, too. Otherwise we'd have
no place to go."

"Look, kid, you better explain," said Craig. "You were right about
somebody being after me, but I don't get the 'we' business. Or how you
knew all about this."

"All right, mister, but let's get away from here. Those guys won't come
through to here, even if they find a way--I don't think. But they're
gettin' smarter and you're pretty hot right now."

The boy led the way to what appeared to be a completely demolished
building.

"Used to be the old library," he said.

They circled the heap of plaster, brick, and twisted steel. On the
other side Craig saw what appeared to be a window. The boy let himself
down through it.

Craig was amazed to find a large, relatively clear area inside,
probably part of an old room that had been spared by some freak of the
blast.

"You _live_ here?" Craig asked the youngster incredulously.

"Part of the time." The boy brought up an old crate and offered it to
Craig as a chair. "Listen, mister, I don't know who you are. You're an
ex-spaceman and that's enough for me." There was a slightly amusing
attempt at adult hardness about him. "You shouldn't have wasted time
with Nave. You should have got out of there."

"Why?"

"I don't know. What you done, anyway?"

"I don't remember. Passed out at a bar...."

The boy showed disgust. He glanced at the pocket which contained the
polyester.

Craig smiled. "I don't use this stuff. At least not enough to deserve
what you're thinking." He tossed the remaining cubes on the littered
floor of the room.

The boy maintained his look of scorn for a time, but then softened. "I
was afraid you got kicked out of the service for that."

"How did you know I was ever in it?"

"Easy. You don't know how to walk on a planet yet. Anybody can tell."

"I didn't get kicked out," Craig said. "I came here to take a civil
service job."

"It'd almost be better if you had been."

"I didn't know about Terra. None of us had any idea."

"I know," said the boy sadly. "My father quit, too. _He_ quit to marry
my mother. That was before it was ... so bad."

"Where--" Craig began, then bit off the question.

"Oh, gee, mister, Terra's in an _awful_ bad shape! They took ... my
parents. They hunt us down. They...."

Craig approached the boy and put a hand on his shoulder. "What's your
name, son?"

"Phil."

"Phil what?"

"I don't know exactly. My father had to use so many names toward
the ... end. He once had only one name, but I guess even he forgot what
it was."

       *       *       *       *       *

They prepared to spend the night in the old library room, but first
Phil left it and made his way into the wilderness of rubble. He
returned dragging a packing box of plastic insulating material, out of
which they fashioned a crude bed. Despite the thousands of questions
that paraded across Craig's mind, he waited each time for the boy to
speak.

"I can't take you any further until...."

"Until you know more about me?"

"In a way. _They'll_ let me know."

Craig would have risked much to identify the "they" Phil referred to,
but he did not ask the question. As he watched the boy preparing the
dimly lit room for the night, he felt sure Phil could be trusted. He
was almost frighteningly mature for his age.

The room was well hidden, for the once great library lay in a powdered
ruin about it on all sides but a part of one. Only by accident or
knowledge would a stranger recognize it in what was literally a world
of rubble. During the moments of silence between the boy's volunteered
statements, Craig tried to visualize the awful catastrophe that had
befallen the old city. Piles of powdered masonry restricted his view
greatly under the gathering night. He could see a scant city block
through the window, but he knew the wreckage around them must extend
for miles.

"You don't have to worry, mister...."

"Craig."

"Mr. Craig. They don't come in here at night."

"Radioactivity?"

"Yes. Not right here, but all around, everywhere."

"What?"

"It's all around us. You go through it to get here, but you can't
_stay_ anywhere but a few places like this."

"How do you know all of these things, Phil?"

"Oh, we know, all right. We had to find out."

"You must have ion counters," he said in what he hoped was a casual
tone.

"We have lots of things."

Craig was thoughtful for a minute. The boy was obviously on his guard
now.

"Those empty buildings?" Craig asked tentatively.

"They built them too close," said the boy. It seemed to be a safe
subject. "They built them up as close as they thought was safe. Space
is very valuable here. But they built them too close."

"Yet the 'we' you speak of live even closer?"

The boy bit his lip and eyed him suspiciously in silence.

"Look, kid," Craig said very deliberately, "I'm not a controller and
I'm not interested in a bunch of petty thieves."

The effect was just what he had intended. "We're _not_ thieves! And
we're not traitors, either! We're...."

The boy was almost in tears. Craig waited a moment, then continued in
a soft voice. "Phil, I'm just beginning to realize what a rotten place
Terra is. From just what I've seen--it isn't very much--I can imagine
such a system producing a great many 'we' groups like yours. I don't
know who you are or what you are, but you can't be any worse than what
I've already seen of Terran officials. Tell me, kid, what's it all
about? And is there any way out of here? I mean--_way_ out!"

"You may tell him, Philip," said a quiet voice from the window
entrance. "Like us, Philip, Mr. Craig is an enemy of tyranny, though he
doesn't realize it yet."

Craig instinctively jumped back to get out of range of the window,
meanwhile feeling around for something that could be used as a weapon.
But the boy ran to the silhouetted figure in the window.

"Mr. Sam!" he cried eagerly.

Craig relaxed his hold on a strip of heavy metal. When the man had
entered, the boy pulled a ragged black cloth across the window once
more. He then ignited a small oil burning lamp in a carved-out nook in
the wall.

"It's all right, Philip, nobody is following me," the newcomer said.

Craig studied his face. It was an old face covered by a stained gray
beard. With a shock Craig recognized the man as a tramp he had seen
earlier on the street, napping, sprawled in a doorway. Now for the
first time he saw the eyes. Sharp and clear, they caught up the yellow
light of the oil lamp and glowed warmly as they turned to Craig.

"I am 'Mr. Sam,' Mr. Craig. You might know me by the full name,
Samuel Cocteau, but I doubt it. Even the names of the infamous do not
penetrate space."

"I guess not," Craig agreed. "But you said something about my being an
enemy of tyranny."

"Whether you like it at once or not, you are temporarily one of us--one
of the 'we' Philip has been speaking of. But all of that in due time.
Right now it is necessary for us to leave here."

"They're going to try to find us _tonight_?" asked Phil, startled.

"Yes, a tribute to Mr. Craig," said the old man. "A Geiger team is
being readied at the station."

Craig started to protest as the boy began hurriedly to pick up his few
possessions in the room.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Craig," the man said. "I must ask you to decide now
whether to trust us and our judgment. There is grave danger for you
if you are caught by the Civil Control. The report I have received is
that you are largely unaware of the 'crimes against the state' you have
committed. The Civil Control hoped to capture you before you find them
out. But that, of course, is my word only. There is no time to give you
proof, even if I had it."

Craig's mind whirled under the sudden onslaught of new facts. He
had followed a peddler without knowing why he did it. He had bought
polyester he had no use for. He had followed a boy who beckoned to
him. Now--how much longer was he to move haphazardly through Terra like
a cork on a wind-blown sea? Who were these strange fugitives who said
he was one of them and who lived in the heart of a radioactive city?

"Well, Mr. Craig?" asked Cocteau quietly.

Craig glanced at the boy. The child's eyes were wide and pleading in
the dim light of the oil lamp.

"Let's go," Craig said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Darkness was swiftly falling on the wilderness of heaping ruin. The
three made their way toward what Craig at first thought was an unbroken
wall of rubble. The near-horizontal rays of the sun tipped the white
mass of broken stone with brilliance, and gave the entire scene an
unearthly quality. Below the towering rubble mountains, long black
shadows were reaching toward what Craig knew to be the living city.

Cocteau took the lead and set a fast pace for a man of his age. He took
a highly devious path through the "mountain," or what began to seem to
Craig needlessly difficult and that outlined them against the bright
western sky. At one point Craig left the invisible path of the older
man to avoid an exhaustingly steep rise.

"Follow me exactly," warned Cocteau in a sharp voice. "There is only
one relatively safe path through here."

"They'll see us against the sky!"

"It cannot be helped."

But there was no indication that they were followed. They pushed
onward, scurrying over heaps of weathered plaster and brick. The old
man seemed to avoid with great care places where metal girders were
visible.

The exertion together with walking directly into the setting sun made
Craig begin to feel the old nausea return. He resisted it for a time,
but it would not be repressed, particularly as he strove to maintain
his balance on difficult climbs. Once he stumbled on a splintered
building stone and fell. It was a long minute before he could regain
his feet and mutter a feeble, "Sorry."

"We must push on, Mr. Craig," was Cocteau's only comment.

"It's safe here for a _minute_, isn't it?" Craig panted, dizzy and
breathless.

"There is no safe place here, Mr. Craig."

They continued their winding way through the growing darkness. For
Craig it became a nightmare of stumbling over the endless piles of
sharp stones. His mind spun sickeningly and he retched as he half ran
along the path Cocteau set for them.

"Please, mister," breathed the voice of Phil behind him. "It isn't so
far now."

Doggedness carried Craig onward long after awareness left him.

       *       *       *       *       *

He became conscious suddenly, as though by an injection of stimulant.
He found himself surrounded by a number of figures, including Cocteau
and a white garbed man, evidently a doctor.

"You are quite safe now, Mr. Craig," said Cocteau warmly. "Welcome to
the _City of We_."

"Where are we?"

"Deep in the old city, in a place where the radioactivity is
negligible," the man answered as the doctor took his pulse. "This is
Dr. Grant and these others are members of the _Liberty party_."

"Liberty!"

"You've heard of it?"

"Yeah, you're pretty unpopular, aren't you?"

"Unpopular? Let us say that all of Terran _officialdom_ is dedicated to
exterminating us."

"The committee on something-or-other asked me about my attitudes toward
the Liberty party," said Craig, rising to a sitting position on the cot.

"And at the time you had a lack of attitude, which most likely was
unacceptable to them," supplied Cocteau, smiling. "Well, you may be
interested to know that you are considered one of us by most of Terra
just now."

"_What?_"

"That is correct," said another of the group. "It seems you were in a
bar in--ah--in a somewhat less than fully conscious state...."

"But I didn't know anything about the Liberty party."

"No, nor is it alleged that you actually mentioned the party in so many
words," continued the white-haired man, smiling. "But it seems that you
did make certain statements in the presence of certain persons that did
indicate a definite predilection...."

"That's crazy," said Craig angrily.

"Of course," Cocteau agreed.

"Furthermore," the other man said, "you are charged with wilful
abandonment of duty and 'acts indicative of your desire to shun the
best utilization of your talents in behalf of the state of Terra.'"

"In other words," explained Cocteau, "you applied for a job on a
private space freighter. Without permission to do so."

Craig was silent. He lay back down on the cot and tried to absorb the
data he had just received.

"So I'm accused of belonging to something I don't know anything about?"

"Then I'll tell you briefly about us. You have a right to know the
magnitude of the crime with which you are charged." Cocteau took a seat
by Craig's cot. The others also found chairs.

"But first a brief bit of history--a history that you have never
heard before. Not your fault. It is not allowed to penetrate Terra's
atmosphere."

"I don't know much about Terra," Craig interjected. "I'm just finding
out how much I don't know."

"God, I wish the rest of the Universe could find out with you!" said
one of the group.

"Yes, the history of Terra is almost lost now. That is, the part of it
that followed the Great Wars of seventy-five years ago. You know of
those wars; you have just walked through one of the physical results of
them. No nation or alliance of nations can be said to have won them,
but the wars had a most profound effect upon Terra. More than anything
else, they made men reach to the stars, if only to escape the deadly
conflicts of Terra.

"Ideological issues were involved, naturally, but the underlying cause
of the Great Wars was the struggle for power. The world was disunited.
Peoples were divided from peoples by an almost inconceivable number
of unimportant distinctions. These were ethnical, national, racial,
cultural--name any brand of prejudice and you'll find it existed then.

"Incredibly enough, the destructiveness of the Great Wars accomplished
a kind of unity. Gone were the once proud aggressive nations.
Gone into oblivion. Gone, too, were the systems of economics and
sociology of which men were once so sure. There was a kind of
'plague-on-both-your-houses' attitude among the peoples of the world.
There was a large measure of anarchy following the Great Wars. Not
a violent, active anarchy of hate and terror, but of apathy and
weariness. Apathy at the outcome of false conflicts, and weariness of
the self-defeating strife of man against man.

"At first men produced by the full extent of their labors barely
enough on which to survive. Only gradually did they regain their
ability to produce surpluses once more. Of course, surpluses mean
exchanges--trade. And trade requires order and system.

"The first ten years following the Great Wars was a period of
gradualism in all things. Peoples united in small groups. There were
no political or racial divisions. The units were built upon functional
lines. They were natural and free. Above all, they were cooperative.

"It was not communism. Men knew all too well the mental and physical
slavery of that brutally rigid system. It was not rugged individualism
either. Rugged individuals during this period either starved or were
driven out by the starving.

"This natural, cooperative unity spread and became more complex. There
came into being natural associations of units. Not exclusive but
inclusive associations that linked all who would join and could produce
surpluses. Productivity increased thereby. Men were intelligent enough
to avoid many of the old abuses.

"Ways were found to harness the productivity of each man and woman.
Genuine efforts were made to avoid misfits, to make those who produced
fit. It was realized, Mr. Craig, that the unhappy man will infect
others with his misery, and the trouble he will cause is much more
difficult to undo than to prevent in the first place.

"There were, of course, mistakes, false starts. But the new-found
system of world-wide unity proved flexible. It was multiple-based. To
a very large degree, all men fitted into it logically and naturally.
It was the first truly 'grass-roots' economic and social system in the
history of man. And it was a great tribute to his ability to work out
his destiny, particularly since it came after a tragedy that was so
enormous and devastating.

"The list of its successes is incredible. For in a decade the
age-old problem of poverty seemed to have disappeared. There were no
significant outbreaks of disorder and lawlessness--indeed, there was
comparatively little need for a written law. The principle of mutuality
and cooperation was too strongly conditioned into the people.

"Scientifically, the first half of the new century, a scant twenty-five
years after the last bomb was dropped, was the greatest in man's
history. Man reached the stars. He began to know the molecule, the
atom, the electron. He pushed the frontier of his knowledge deep into
both microcosm and macrocosm.

"But a fatal flaw had long before developed in the structure, wonderful
as it was. It was an age-old flaw. It was one that was disguised by the
very nature of the new system. When it was recognized, that flaw had
so weakened the system that its spread was all but inevitable. It is a
flaw that will always plague man to a certain extent, but one that must
keep us eternally vigilant.

"It is this: the greatest human good comes not in how well you learn to
control man and keep him from harming himself. What determines it is
how completely you learn to free him.

"Conversely, the law provides that no control system, however devised,
will succeed in bringing happiness and security to man to any greater
extent than it permits the fullest expression of his nature.

"Man is _inherently_ good. He will _always_ choose a moral path when
free to do so. He strives for justice and truth both as an individual
and in mass.

"Mr. Craig, democracy is man's greatest _a priori_. Yet based upon a
law of restraint, it cannot escape the hopeless contradiction that
leads to its own destruction. Man can democratically do the irrational
and the insane. He can democratically limit and coerce the absolute
highest nature of himself. Bad laws are forever passed to achieve good
ends. But each new law produces new criminals while the cause of the
new crime remains unsolved.

"Ergo, the world you have just seen. Ergo, the Liberty party. Mr.
Craig, our world is ruled by a vast and horrible bureaucracy whose
terrible weapon is conformity. You would find few laws even today
written in books. Our assemblies pass few statutes. They determine
dogma instead. They 'resolve' and 'move.' They fix a new 'position,'
define a 'stand.' Our equivalent of judge and attorney is no student
of law. He is a kind of moralist. He is sensitive to the 'trend' and
appreciative of the 'proper.'

"Terra fits uncomfortably in the Intergalactic System. Like many of the
undemocratic systems of the dark past, the Terran state must expand.
It is based upon a self-limiting philosophy unless it can spread fast
enough. You are charged with being 'unTerran,' Mr. Craig. A system that
forever seeks 'unTerrans' must inevitably exile or kill itself!"

It had been a long speech. Craig had listened in awe, for it was a
completely new story to him.

"And you propose to destroy this bureaucracy?" he said.

"In so far as it is a philosophical entity, yes."

"And you say I am one of you now?"

"You are considered one of us. Your employer and his secretary are also
suspected."

"But I'm entitled to a trial, or at least a hearing."

"Not now, Mr. Craig. It would do you little good, anyway. The
'position' of the Assembly on subversion is that it 'rightly behooves
every loyal Terran so to conduct his behavior that a suspicion of
membership in the Liberty party is unthinkable.'"

Craig found himself regretting every minute of his stay on Terra.
Old Brockman had been right--it was no place for a spaceman. Now it
was probably too late. No Terran space freighter would accept him and
Intergalactic could not. There was not even a way for him to recover
his service records.

"Will you join us, Mr. Craig?" asked one of the men. "We can use your
skills, particularly your knowledge of space."

"Look, how do I know you aren't a bunch of traitors? Maybe all this
you've told me is true. I've seen plenty of that bureaucracy and there
seems to be damned little freedom of action left on Terra. But how do I
know you can do any better when you get in power?"

"Liberty will never be 'in power,' Mr. Craig," Cocteau said quietly.
"Liberty will attempt to reach the minds of the people with our message
of hope, of freedom in true democracy."

Another of the group joined Cocteau. "We are now hunted as criminals.
We have only this small stronghold in the old city."

"We shall attempt only to gain entry to the minds of the people," said
Cocteau. "Gain entry to tell them how they live, for most of them have
had no contact with any other kind of life."

"It would mean killing a few people," Craig pointed out.

"One of the basic principles of Liberty is the inherent goodness of
every man," Cocteau repeated. "We have never taken a life, even in
self-defense. We shall never take one. Nor will it ever be necessary
for a member of the Liberty party to hold public office, to own a
weapon, to coerce a man in any physical way."

"But you will coerce them with ideas. Is that what you have in mind?"
Craig protested.

"If a point of view, a promise, a goal is coercion, then the answer to
your question is yes. But ideas are not dangerous when a man is free to
argue and act against them."

"Look here, Cocteau," Craig said earnestly, "all you say may be true.
I believe it is. But what can I do? I'm a spaceman, or at best an
apprentice import clerk. I don't know anything about this sort of work."

"Come here a moment," invited a member of the group.

Through the window indicated by the man, Craig saw an incredible sight.
The entire scene seemed to be on the inside of a vast underground
cavern. There were other buildings and some kind of systematic work
being done by many men and women. But the thing that caught Craig's eye
seemed to be cradled in a kind of hangar.

"A spaceship!" exclaimed Craig.

"A very modest one, yet not so modest when you consider that it was
necessary to carry in every single piece and part by hand."

"Good Lord!"

"_You_, Mr. Craig, might captain that ship. Very few Terrans have
ever even flown in one. It will be necessary to establish contact with
possible assistance outside of Terra. You can make that possible."

Craig was thoughtful. "I suppose, now that I've seen all this, you
can't let me leave here unless I join you."

"No," denied Cocteau. "You may leave here any time you like."

"I'd be sure to get caught, of course...."

"Within limits, it might be possible to help you avoid capture."
Cocteau reached into his beggar's coat and withdrew a wallet. "Identity
card, food ration, clothing, work card, even a Government party card.
It's all here, Mr. Craig. You could have a slightly altered physical
appearance. Liberty accepts no unwilling members. You are given as
nearly a free choice in this matter as is possible to give you."

"Suppose I talked?" asked Craig, nodding bluntly toward the port.

Cocteau smiled. "It was necessary to prepare for that. You were given a
drug. It has not affected your thinking capacity in any way. But once
it wears off, you will be unable to remember what took place while
under its influence.

"When agents of the Liberty party are sent out of here, they go having
had all experience with Liberty take place while under the drug. None
of us could remember for more than a few hours the exact location of
this headquarters. When it is necessary to leave for very long, we
carry a small amount of the drug with us. Many of our agents have
been caught and a few have resigned. But none has divulged enough
information to harm us seriously."

Craig was postponing his decision to the last. "They must know you're
somewhere in here. If the radioactivity keeps them out, why shouldn't
they put a cordon around the entire old city?"

"Periodically, they try. But there are many, many other ways of leaving
here than by the surface. Underground water conduits, ancient power and
sewer lines, a number of tunnels we have dug...."

Craig was solemnly handed the wallet.

"If you will submit to sufficient plastic surgery to make you resemble
this man, you may safely leave here no later than tomorrow night."

A long silence ensued. It was interrupted by a noise from outside the
door of the room. It was the voice of Phil.

"Has he decided to stay? Did you see him? He looks like my daddy
did.... Will he stay?"

"You mustn't interrupt, son. They're in conference now. We'll let you
know."

"Tell him yes!" said Craig in a loud voice. "Tell him hell, yes, I'm
staying!"

The men gathered around him to congratulate him on the decision.

Phil was allowed in the clinic to join them.

"Oh, Cocteau, one more thing," Craig said.

"Yes?"

Craig was fumbling for his own wallet. He extracted a folded card.

"Where would East 71, North 101, Number 4 be?"

"It _would_ have been somewhere here in Old City."

"God! How did the old guy expect me to deliver this message? Old
man named Brockman. He sent me a message just before he died in
Gravitation. I was to visit his wife."

"Brockman?" asked Cocteau. "You mean Ethel Brockman?"

"Yeah. How'd you know?"

"Ethel Brockman was one of the organizers of the Liberty party. She
served as its chairman until her death only a few years ago. Her
husband must have felt your 'sea legs' would lead you to us eventually.
And, of course, they did."





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