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Title: World in a Bottle
Author: Lang, Allen Kim
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 "World in a Bottle" ***

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               Star-crossed? Worse than that! Even Earth
             itself was hopelessly out of reach for these
              landlocked space-travelers who lived in a--

                           World in a Bottle

                           By ALLEN KIM LANG

                      Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                     Galaxy Magazine October 1960.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



Pouring sweat and breathing shallow, I burned east on U.S. Twenty at
ninety miles an hour, wishing I could suck into my lungs some of the
wind that howled across the windshield.

I heard the siren in my phones. I glanced out the left side of my
helmet to find a blue-clad figure on a motorcycle looming up beside
me, waving me toward the shoulder. A law-abider to the last gasp of
asphyxia, I braked my little green beast over to the berm. The state
cop angled his bike across my left headlamp and stalked back to where I
sat, tugging a fat book of traffic-tickets out of his hip pocket.

"Unscrew that space-helmet, Sonny," he said. "You've just been
grounded."

"Grounded, I'll grant," I said, my voice wheezing from the speaker on
the chest of my suit; "but I can't take off the fishbowl, officer."

"Then maybe you'd better climb out of your flying saucer," the
policeman suggested. "And if you're toting pearl-handled ray-guns, just
leave 'em hang."

I got out of the car, keeping my hands in view, feeling like the
fugitive from a space-opera this cop evidently took me for. He examined
me the way a zoologist might examine the first live specimen of a new
species of carnivore; very interested, very cautious. After observing
the cut of my wash-and-wear plastic sterility-suit--known to us who
wear them as a chastity-suit--the policeman walked around me to examine
my reserve-air tank, which is cunningly curved and cushioned against my
spine so that I can lean back without courting lordosis. He inspected
the bubble of plastic that fit over my head like the belljar over a
museum specimen, and stared at the little valve on the left shoulder
of my suit, where used air was wheezing out asthmatically. "I guess
fallout has got you bugged," he said.

"Not fallout, bacteria," I explained. "I'm one of the Lapins from
Central University."

"That's nice," the policeman said. "And I'm one of the Bjornsons,
from Indiana State Police Post 1-A. What were you trying to do just
now, break Mach One on wheels? Or do you maybe come from one of these
foreign planets that don't know the American rules of the road?"

I breathed deep, trying to find myself some oxygen. "I was born right
here in Indiana," I said. "The reason I'm wearing this suit and helmet
is that I'm bacteriologically sterile."

"So maybe you could adopt a kid," Officer Bjornson suggested.

"Sterile like germ-free," I said. "Gnotobiotic. I grew up in the Big
Tank at Central University."

       *       *       *       *       *

"You'll spend the night in the big tank at South Bend if you're snowing
me, Sonny," he said. "Let's see your driver's license." I got my
billfold out of the glove-compartment--a chastity-suit doesn't have
any pockets--and handed my license to Bjornson. "John Bogardus, M.D.,"
he read. "You're a doctor, eh? This says you live at BICUSPID, Central
University, South Bend. What's that BICUSPID, Doc? Means your practice
is limited to certain teeth?"

"I'm a resident in pathology, and I'm damned near out of air," I said,
annoyed at the prospect of suffocating while acting straight-man to
a state cop. "BICUSPID is the acronym for Bacteriological Institute,
Central University Special Projects in Infectious Disease. I'm a Lapin,
which is a human guinea-pig. I'm sorry, officer, that I broke the
Indiana speed-limit but my air-filter is clogged with condensation. If
I don't get back to the Big Tank at the University within the next few
minutes, I'll run out of air. And you'll have to spend the rest of the
evening testifying before St. Joseph's County Coroner."

"So what happens if you crack open your space-helmet and breathe the
air us peons use?" he asked.

"Pretty quick, I'd die," I said. "I've got no antibodies, no
physiological mechanism to combat inspired or ingested bacteria."

"That's the sort of answer that makes my job the joy it is," Bjornson
said. "Next thing you know, I'll be chasing drunken drivers from Mars."

"There's no intelligent native life on Mars," I said.

"You think maybe there are intelligent natives on U.S. Twenty?" he
asked, returning my license. "Okay, Doctor Bogardus, I've bought your
story. You leadfoot your bomb along after me, and we'll hit the Central
campus like we're crossing the payoff line at the Mille Miglia."
Bjornson cowboyed into the saddle of his bike, spurred it off and cut
siren-screaming down the concrete toward South Bend and Central U. I
jumped back into my sports-car and tailed him, the wind soaring past my
'phones like rocket exhaust. We cut through the field of Sunday drivers
in a horizontal power-dive. I was half-blinded by the sweat condensed
on my air-cooled face-plate. Formaldehyde bath or no, I'd have to cut
in my reserve-air pretty soon.

       *       *       *       *       *

We made it while I was still breathing. I braked in front of the
BICUSPID entrance and walked as fast as I dared, dizzy and panting with
the concentration of CO_{2} bottled up with me in my chastity-suit.
Outside the door to the contaminated labs, I shook Bjornson's hand and
told him that I considered the expense of my Gross Income Tax justified
by his employment. I went inside then, climbed the steel steps to the
glass-walled shower. I cut in my suit-radio and announced my arrival.
"Bogardus here. I'm nearly out of wind; my filter's soaked. I'm cutting
in reserve-air. Anybody around to see that I scrub behind my ears?"

Dr. Roy McQueen, Director of BICUSPID, came out of his office, where
he'd monitored my announcement from the loudspeaker set above his desk,
and faced the glass door of the shower room. He waved to me and cut on
his microphone. "Okay, Johnny," he said.

I sealed off my air-filter and cut in the reserve-air. That canned wind
felt to my lungs like cold beer to the throat on a July day. I felt the
oxygen percolating through me to my toes and finger-tips, tingling them
back to life. Turning on the detergent shower, I sloshed around beneath
it, washing the outside dust off my chastity-suit.

"You're dry by the tank," Dr. McQueen said into his hand microphone.

I picked up the long-handled shower brush and scrubbed back there. I
showered the suit's armpits, the folds behind the knees, the soles
of the suit's boots, scrubbing hard with the brush. "You're all wet,
Johnny," the Chief said. "Got enough air for half an hour in the
bathtub?"

"Yes, sir," I said, checking the gage of my reserve-air tank. Having
scrubbed off most of the flora I'd picked up in the great wild world of
Indiana, I climbed down through the manhole into the bathtub, a sump
of formaldehyde solution eight feet deep. I sat on the iron bench at
the bottom to soak. "How about switching on some music, Chief? I didn't
think to bring anything waterproof to read."

"You'll hear music from me," Dr. McQueen said. "This is a big day for
BICUSPID, Johnny. It's the first time one of you kids ever came home
from a date with a police escort. What happened? Anne's old man decide
he didn't want a plastic-wrapped son-in-law? He call the law to throw
you off his front porch?"

"My air-filter got bolixed," I explained into the microphone, "so
I leaned on the gas pedal pretty heavy on the way home. A friendly
gendarme named Bjornson turned up."

"You should be more careful, Johnny. I'd hate to have to post you."
Like the rest of us, Dr. McQueen did post-mortems on the germ-free
animals who died of old age or stir-fever in the Big Tank, or had to be
sacrificed as routine sterility controls. Last winter, for the first
time, the Chief had had to autopsy one of us Lapins.

Poor Mike Bohrman had gone off his rocker and stripped off his
sterility-suit in the snow. All we wear underneath is a pair of shorts.
That's the way Mike had run around, almost naked in a northern Indiana
February. It was hours before he'd been missed.

He went to the hospital with severe frostbite, but he died two days
later of pneumonia complicated by streptococcal septicemia. "Stick
around down there, Johnny," the Chief said. "I'm coming down to join
you."

       *       *       *       *       *

I heard him turning the monitor microphone over to one of the
technicians out in the contaminated labs. Oh hell, I thought. Here
comes a chewing-out that would leave me raw up to the duodenum.

The worst thing about being told off when you've done something dumb
is the futility of being told about it. Nobody knew better than I that
it was stupid to stay outside the Big Tank for eight solid hours.
Hydraulic pressure aside, a chastity-suit isn't designed to hold a man
more than about four.

It took Dr. McQueen a quarter hour to get suited up and scrubbed. Then
he came down the ladder to join me in the pale green soup, his air-hose
snaking along behind him like strayed umbilical cord. He sat on the
bench beside me. Before he cut in his suit radio, he leaned close
and touched his helmet to mine. "Damn it, Johnny! If you don't stop
chasing after that dame in Valpo, I'll toss mothballs in the gas-tank
of your silly little car." Then he toggled his radio. "Testing," he
said, for the benefit of the monitoring technician listening out in the
contaminated labs. "This is McQueen. Someone suited up?"

"Safety man is suited and scrubbing, Chief," the monitor said. "I read
you loud and clear. Now, let's hear from you, Brother Bogardus."

"This is John Bogardus, the Voice of Purity," I said, "broadcasting
from the bottom of Central University's lovely BICUSPID pool. You want
I should dedicate my next record to the gang at the brewery?"

"Happy to hear you testify, canned-goods," the technician said. "The
I.U. game is on the radio now. You want me to pipe it to the phones so
you can hear our team smear 'em?"

"I'll take your word for it that they'll do that," I said. "My sport
is balk-line billiards." Eighty years ago, Central University's gate
receipts from football had made possible the first BICUSPID program
in gnotobiotics, using mice and roaches and hamsters. Despite this
historical tie between me and football, I felt no special affinity for
the game.

"Trouble with you, canned-goods, is you've got no school spirit," the
monitor complained. "If you or the Chief feel your feet getting wet,
just whistle. I'll be here."

"Will do." For all the thousands of times I'd been through this
antiseptic drill, I was happy to know that a lifeguard was suited up
above our poisonous bathtub, ready to fish either of us out should our
suits spring a leak. If formaldehyde-methanol started seeping into my
chastity-suit, I knew I'd have an overwhelming desire to undress.

Dr. McQueen cleared his throat, a sound which broadcast very like a
growl. "Okay, Johnny. Let's have a synopsis of your Sunday outing."

       *       *       *       *       *

"It's springtime, Chief," I said. "You know what the month of May does
to a young man's fancy, and reticuloendothelial system, and all."

"I wish you'd stop seeing her," the Chief said. "You've got fifteen of
the most nubile girls in the Midwest living in the Big Tank with you.
Sweet, intelligent--available. So why did you have to get the hots for
an outsider?"

"It's that ol' debbil incest-taboo, Chief," I said. "I've slept amongst
those fifteen canned peaches for the last twenty-three years. The
result is that my warmest feeling toward any of them is brotherly love.
Who itches to shack with a sibling?"

"Your only alternative seems to be a lifetime of cold showers," McQueen
said. "Speaking of canned peaches, have you seen Mary deWitte today?"

"No."

"Mary has extramural interests, too," he said. "Her intended is a
basketball player in pre-Law. A fellow roughly fifteen feet tall. Mary
has been gone all day. I presume that she's been visiting this legal
obelisk; and I'm beginning to feel the twinges of fatherly anxiety. But
tell me about Anne, Johnny."

"I met her at a concert last fall," I said, not giving a damn about
the safety man and the monitor kibitzing. "Anne didn't bug at my
chastity-suit the way most of the hens on campus do. This impressed
me. She liked the way I talked, even though she could hear my voice
only from the speaker on the chest of my suit. I liked fine the way she
listened. So we had a date. Lots of dates. Said goodnight by shaking
hands--Please Excuse My Glove.

"One evening we drove down to the beach at Hudson Lake. As we lay there
on the sand, I pointed out for Anne the red disk of Mars. I told her
about the men up there, at New Caanan and Bing City and Bitterwater,
working to uncover one world while they built a new one. I told her
about the mystery of the Immermann skull, and what it might mean. I
pointed to the stars and named them for her. All the time, Chief, I
knew that I could touch Betelgeuse or Phobos as easily as I could touch
Anne.

"Anyway, we went swimming together, just like we were in Technicolor
and Vista Vision. I screwed the cap on my air-filter and breathed from
the reserve tank. Anne wore a bikini. I might as well have been aboard
a midget submarine. After that evening, we decided not to go swimming
any more; and Anne started wearing strict and conservative clothes."

"What happened today, Johnny?" McQueen asked me.

"What could happen?" I demanded. "We broke up. She's contaminated,
poor girl. She's been aswarm with bacteria and yeasts and molds and
miscellaneous protista ever since the obstetrician slapped her on the
rump, while I'm Boy Galahad, fifty-six one-hundredths percent purer
than Ivory Soap. My strength is as the strength of ten, so I told Anne
at noon today that she'll have to find herself a new boy friend. She
needs a guy who can eat the other half of the pizza with her, someone
who can lend her his comb and breathe the air she breathes. It took me
weeks to steel my soul to the prospect of kissing Anne off--there's an
ironic metaphor for you, Chief--but I did it."

"I'm sorry, Johnny," McQueen said.

"I'm afraid I've diluted the antiseptic with my tears," I said. "Just
singing those old formaldehyde blues."

I'd soaked for the regulation half-hour now, and the gage of my reserve
tank was on red, so I got up to go. "I can see myself at ninety-five,"
I said. "I'll be patriarch of the Big Tank. The oldest male virgin on
campus. See you inside, Chief."

I climbed up the ladder through the second manhole over the
formaldehyde sump and stepped out into the sterile precincts of the Big
Tank. Home.

       *       *       *       *       *

I stepped into a shower-booth, let the water blast the formaldehyde
off my chastity-suit, popped off my helmet and stripped. Air against
sweat-steamed skin felt good. I showered again, naked. I blotted
myself dry and dressed in fresh shorts, all the clothing a man needed
in the air-conditioned Elysium of the Big Tank. I carried my suit
into the locker room to refit it for my next trip outside. Snapping
its collar to the bushing of the compressed-air supply and turning
on the pressure, I inflated my suit so that it stood on its headless
shoulders, ready for inspection.

The wet air-filter that had almost asphyxiated me had been caused,
I discovered, by a break in the moisture-trap of the unit. Careful
checking assured me that the filter had failed-safe bacteriologically.
No outside bugs were in my suit. I might have suffocated, but my corpse
would have remained uncorrupted. Such a comfort.

I replaced the trap and filter with a fresh unit and fit a charged
bottle of air onto the back of the suit. Then I gave every inch of
my chastity-suit an inspection for worn spots, for bubbles forming
on its moist surface--an inspection as painstaking and as sure as a
window washer's check of his working harness, or an exhibition jumper's
folding of his parachute. Satisfied that the suit was all set for my
next adventure into the world of normal, septic human beings, I racked
it and the helmet in my locker and walked out into the garden.

There I stretched out on the grass under the ultra-violets, refreshing
my tan while I waited for Dr. McQueen to come up from the sump.

The garden was my favorite room in the Big Tank. It was in establishing
the garden that I'd discovered that my Machiavellian mind is
articulated to a pair of green thumbs. The crafty bit came over coffee
in the cafeteria. I, of course, just sat there to listen and talk; not
even C.U. Cafeteria coffee is aseptic enough for a Lapin to drink, even
if there were some way to get a cup of the stuff inside the helmet of a
sterility-suit. Anyway, I chided these two graduate students from the
botany department about the research possibilities they were missing
by not growing any gnotobiotic green stuff. I gave them the Boom-Food
pitch. Would cabbages, grown in an environment free of bacteria, grow
large as king farouks? I hit them with the Advance the Frontiers of the
Biological Science line: could soil-nitrates be utilized by legumes in
the absolute absence of _Nitrobacteriaceae_?

       *       *       *       *       *

The two botanists leaped to my vegetable bait like a brace of starving
aphids. A couple days after I'd commenced my con, three tons of quartz
sand were shipped through the Big Tank's main autoclave. The lifeless
stuff was poured over a grill of perforated pipes. The pipes were
connected to a brew-tank of hydroponic juices, and the wet sand was
planted with germ-free seeds of grass, tomatoes, carrots, and other
useful herbs. We Lapins had a ball, planting the aseptic seeds in the
dirtless dirt eagerly as a band of ribbon-hungry 4-H'ers. What had been
our sun-room blossomed, after a decent period of germination, into our
lawn and garden.

For some reason, the garden of our Eden never got an apple-tree. But
we did have lettuce on our sterile sandwiches now, and fresh tomatoes,
infinitely superior in texture and taste to the "radared" fruit--almost
pureed by the high-energy beams that made it germ-free--that we'd grown
up on.

The lesser mammals with whom we twenty-nine Lapins shared the Big
Tank, the rabbits and guinea-pigs and hamsters and like small fowl,
didn't go much for fresh vegetables, having developed a palate for an
autoclaved diet. The monkeys, though, proved to be real competitors for
carrots and raw sweet corn. They had to be locked out of the garden,
rather as certain of their disobedient relatives had been.

I reached out from my supine, sun-drenched position to pull a turnip.
I shook off the moist sand and wiped the hydroponic wetness off my
shorts, to munch grittily while I waited for the Chief to join me.

As soon as he'd soaked in the formaldehyde mixture for half an hour,
Dr. McQueen came up through the manhole. Under the shower he squirted
the chemical B.O. off his modified sterility-unit, then came out into
the garden to join me, dragging his air-hose. We sat side by side on
the park bench I'd built beside the onion-patch. (I was fond of my
onions. They were the only living things in the Big Tank with the
honest stink of life to them). "Where did you plant the marijuana,
Johnny?" the Chief asked me. His voice was muffled by the wetness of
his suit-speaker.

"Now, there's a pregnant idea," I said. "We won't plant muggles, Chief.
We'll plant tobacco. All we Lapins need to keep us happy is a good
solid vice like smoking." I looked at the Chief. "Why'd you follow me
here, Dr. McQueen? I know I've been naughty."

"Self-pity doesn't become a man, Johnny," he said.

"And why the hell not?" I demanded, my blood-pressure ready to
challenge any manometer in sight. "If I can feel compassion for some
poor joker on TV, why can't I hurt a little for myself--for John
Bogardus, swaddled from his darling by a damned plastic diving-suit? I
was--I am--in love with Anne, Doctor."

"Your marriage-night would kill you, John," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

I jumped up with ready-made fists, then flopped down onto the grass,
laughing at the picture I saw. Battle of the Century. In this corner,
wearing helmet, chastity-suit, and thirty-five feet of air-hose
Roy McQueen, Ph. D. In the far corner, clad only in brown trunks
(grass-stained on the seat, folks), John Bogardus, M.D. "It makes a
grand old dirty joke, doesn't it?"

"It makes a painful reality," Dr. McQueen said. "I know how you must
lie awake nights, thinking about gradually acclimatizing yourself to
the contaminated world in which Anne lives. You know, though, that the
death-rate with the lower animals who've tried this acclimatization is
steep. Even the survivors don't survive very long, because of their low
gut-tone and their tardy antibody response. I suppose, though, that
the imminence of death is as helpless before love as the locksmith."
Dr. McQueen sighed. "If it's what you want, Johnny, I'll ignore
everything we both know about the probable consequences and help you
break out of here.... Think how embarrassed you'd feel, though, if you
died of a _B. subtilis_ septicemia or a fulminant chicken-pox the day
before the wedding."

"I could have married Anne, and made her either an unkissed bride or an
early widow," I said. "Neither of these alternatives struck me as an
attractive career for the woman I love, so I left her. It's so logical
it's practically simple arithmetic. Anne put up a fight to keep me,
Chief; it was most warming to my amour-propre. Women aren't logical
like us men of science. What a stinking situation!"

"It is," Dr. McQueen said. "But remember, John, lovers outside the Big
Tank often get just as star-crossed as you and Anne."

"And they have dental caries to contend with, which we don't," I said.
"Somehow, Chief, we'll get this experiment into its second generation,
past the miseries of the gnotobiotic first-born, we Adams and Eves who
were delivered into purity by aseptic Caesarian section. Maybe we'll
have to toss coins or draw cards to pair up for parent-hood. But any
kids we raise will be spared that indignity. Know how I've got it
figured, Chief? We've got to make provision for exogamous matings,
right? Novelty, in other words, is essential to romance. Here's the way
we'll work it. We'll set half the babies, boys and girls together, on
one side of a wall, half on the other side. We'll have established two
tribes of kids, each growing up in ignorance of the other; and we'll
keep them strictly apart till they're in their middle teens. Then,
maybe the night of the Junior Prom, we'll cut a door-way in that wall
and introduce them to each other."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. McQueen smiled. "That will be a splendid evening, John. And a
situation to make an anthropologist's mouth water. You may have found
the answer to one of your children's major problems. I only wish we had
as simple a solution to the current troubles of John Bogardus."

"Don't blame yourself for what's happened to me," I said. "I've carried
on pretty bad today, but that doesn't mean that I or any of the other
Lapins blame you for causing us to be birthed into the Big Tank. It had
to be done. Once Dr. Reyniers had made gnotobiotics possible, a colony
of germ-free humans became available. You did a good and honest job of
bringing us colonists up, Chief. As good a job as anyone could do."

"Thank you, John," he said. "I often wonder, though, whether the
Nuremberg Principles really gave us the right to build and populate
this germless microcosm. We told your mothers when they volunteered
that the results of raising humans gnotobiotically would be important.
They have indeed. Thousands of lives have been saved by what we've
learned here. We saw to it, as we'd also promised your mothers, that
your health hasn't suffered by reason of experiments, that you've been
given the education you need to earn a good living, and especially
that your dignity as human beings has always been respected. The core
question is, did we have the right to involve fellow humans, not yet
born, in a process the end of which we couldn't entirely predict?
Enough of this, though. My conscience is my own problem. For your
immediate relief I can offer only: keep busy."

"Work is dandy, but liquor's quicker," I said. "A wound of the heart
calls for a therapeutic drunk."

"I'll honor your prescription, Doctor," the Chief said. "The moment
I get outside, I'll Seitz you some of my own Scotch." He stood up
and caught hold of his air-hose. "Forgive me for behaving so like
Pollyanna, John," he said. "I wish I could offer you relief more potent
than Scotch and sympathy."

"Such spiritual Band-aids are all the help there is, Chief. Thank you
for them."

He slapped me on the shoulder with his gloved right hand, then walked
through the shower-room, trailing his black air-hose, and dropped down
the manhole into the formaldehyde sump on his way back out into the
world.

I sat on my bench in my artificial garden in the middle of the great
steel womb I'd been delivered into, and I thought about my Anne.

       *       *       *       *       *

"If I had a chisel and about four tons of Carrara marble," the girl
standing behind me said, "I'd hack me out a statue on your model, and
call it _The Thinker_." Dorothy--the Firebird--Damien plumped her
little backside onto the bench beside me and scintillated eagerness to
converse.

I didn't want to talk to anyone at the moment, certainly not to the
Firebird. To employ a metaphor from an appetite less exalted than love,
seeing the Firebird after losing Anne was too much like being offered
hamburger after having had a filet mignon snatched from under nose.

Still, as my peripheral vision took in the Firebird's brilliantly
distributed five-foot-three, I realized that my metaphor was false.
That flame-colored hair and impish, freckled face; that halter taut
as a double-barreled ballista cocked to fire twin rounds; I turned my
attention to the girlscape beside me, quite innocent of covetousness,
my interest purely aesthetic. No hamburger, this. Firebird Damien was
filet mignon.

But she wasn't Anne.

Suddenly I was contrite toward my fellow captive. "You're looking
splendid, Miss Damien," I said.

"And you got a face peeled off the iodine bottle. Tell mamma where it
hurts."

"Don't delve, doll."

"Woman-trouble?" she asked.

"The term is tautological," I said. "_Woman_ and _trouble_ are
synonyms. If the language had any logic the words would rhyme."

The Firebird put a freckled arm across my shoulder and squeezed my
deltoid with her resting hand. I shrugged. "Don't try to shake me
loose, Johnny," she said. "I'm trying to find out what sort of people
you are. Whether you're a Shrinker or a Flesh-Presser."

"Obviously, you're of the Shrinker persuasion," I said.

"Hoo-hah! Shrinkers are the other race from me," the Firebird said.
"They're the people who quail at shaking hands, who never slap a back
nor playfully pinch. They hate to be crowded, don't like to be touched.
My sort of people, though, tend to cuddle like puppies, or like cattle
in a thunderstorm; we take comfort in the closeness of other humans.
We're not erotic about this, Johnny. Not necessarily erotic, I mean.
We have our moments, too, or the Shrinkers would long since have
taken over the world in spite of their dreadful handicap. We're the
people who make brilliant barbers. The kind who say hello to you with
a Roman handshake and a clasp on the shoulder. We're the doctors with
the healing touch, the most tender nurses. We're the Flesh-Pressers."
She gently squeezed my shoulder-muscle again to demonstrate. "Tell me
what's the matter, Johnny. Maybe I can help."

       *       *       *       *       *

"No magic touch will cure my trouble," I said. "Anne and I are through.
It was hopeless. I was like the goldfish in love with the cat. So I
called our romance to a halt today and drove home in my little green
sports-car, feeling a little green and hardly sporty at all. Please
don't mention this again, Firebird; not till I'm old and bald and my
wound has healed to a thin white scar."

"Can I say one thing?"

"You will, so do."

"I'm really sorry, Johnny."

"Thank you, Firebird," I said. "The Chief promised to send some
therapeutic juices through the Seitz filter. If you've a mind to sample
a little sterile White Horse, perhaps tie one on with me this evening,
you'd be most welcome."

"I'll be proud and happy," the Firebird said. She scooted even closer.

I found her propinquity not at all unpleasant. Was I perhaps of the
Flesh-Presser clan myself? The girl smelled good, the faint wholesome
feminine odor of my Lapin foster-sisters--a perfume an outside wench,
host to a universe of bacteria, could approximate only with Pepsodent
and the most meticulous attention to her underarms, I gather from TV.

"How am I to entertain you, sir?" the Firebird asked me. "I have
current gossip, vintage scandal, clever anecdotes lifted from the
steaming pages of my autoclaved _Reader's Digest_, imitations of
bird-songs--heavy on the mating-calls, these--and sheer adoration."
She paused. "Scratch that last offering, Johnny," she said. "It's
un-hygienic for a girl to wear her heart on her sleeve, even here."

"I've lost touch with the Big Tank social whirl these last few weeks,"
I said. "I've been spending all my alive-time in the greater world of
Valparaiso, Indiana. Bring me abreast of the local gossip, Firebird, if
you please."

"Gladly. First there's the case of Mary deWitte. She's still on the
trail of her basketball star--a fellow named Lofting--confident that
somehow they'll manage to compromise her hateful purity.... Maybe I
shouldn't have mentioned Mary," she said, seeing that I was frowning.

"I was just thinking," I said. "Miss deWitte and I might get together
to establish an Amour Anonymous group in the Big Tank."

"If you do, Johnny," the Firebird said softly, "write me up a card as a
charter member."

"The Chief was talking about Mary deWitte only a few minutes ago," I
said. "Hasn't she accepted the fact that we Lapins can't hope to breed
with those jungle weeds outdoors?"

"Have you accepted that fact, Johnny?" the Firebird asked.

"Apt question," I admitted. "Sure. I've decided that Anne is as
unavailable to me as Mars is. I don't know which makes me more bitter,
Firebird; losing Anne or being denied the chance at the stars. Now that
the solar system is getting man's footprints all over it, now that the
Orion ships are slamming out to Mars and back on a busline's schedule,
and the biggest ship of all is being fitted for deep space at the
back of the moon, the constellations don't seem much further off than
Chicago. But not for me."

"You think you're bitter, bud, you should hear me with my hair down,"
the Firebird said. "But we've had dirges enough for one evening. Your
whiskey should be filtered through by now. Let's go wet our Scotch
apéritif, and have dinner."

"I'm not hungry," I said. "I just ate a turnip."

"Will turnips make you big and strong? You need solider food, like
Scotch. That's my professional opinion, Doctor." She got up and tugged
at my hand. "Come on, Johnny. I'm not about to let you sit here all
evening and brood."

"Is this your prescription, sweet Firebird?" I asked. "That I'm to
go back to the madding crowd, mingle with my twenty-eight fellows in
aseptic togetherness? Well, you're probably right." I got up from my
park-bench to walk with her, hand-in-hand, to the dining room, stopping
en route at my room for a shirt. Dinner was a formal affair in the Big
Tank, shirts for the gentlemen and shoes for all.

       *       *       *       *       *

The other Lapins were already eating. They greeted me and especially
the Firebird with jokes and fellowshippy sounds.

I felt very much at home with them. There was Bud Dorsey, our
weight-lifting astrophysicist, his magnificent u.v.-blackened body a
study in the surface musculature of the human male. At his table was
Karl Fyrmeister, who has a practically complete collection of the
airmail stamps of the world to console him on long winter evenings.
All the stamps are quite sterile. Karl was talking with Gloria Moss,
whose academic specialty was group dynamics. She demonstrated muscular
dynamics so attractively that when she walked about the campus in her
chastity-suit she drew whistles, a truly remarkable accolade when you
consider that the c-suit is somewhat less faithful to the wearer's
form than a poncho. Keto Hannamuri sat the four-place table with Bud
and Karl and Gloria. He was my fellow-medic among McQueen's Beasts, a
pediatrician. Kids loved him. Wearing his sterility-suit as he made his
Ped Ward rounds, that Oriental smile showing through the face-plate of
his mask, Keto seemed to the television-nurtured youngsters the very
model of the friendly extra-solar alien, complete with space-suit.
Besides his flair for showmanship, Keto was a remarkably fine doctor.
As we passed his table, he slapped the Firebird's short-shorted
callipygia in a kin-ship-gesture of the Flesh-Presser clan.

I felt a sudden overwhelming love for all these people, my
brothers-and-sister-in-exile. I took my tray to sit down quick with the
Firebird before my reserve, depleted by the emotional beating I'd taken
at noon, gave way.

The menu featured radared steak. The meat was germ-free and somewhat
tenderized by the high-energy beams. (A purist in culinary proteins
might go so far as to say denatured.) The nearest any Lapin came to
ingesting a bacterium was here at the table, where we ate billions
of bacterial corpses. The bugs achieved a post-mortem revenge by
triggering the production of faint bacterial antibodies in our blood.

Besides the steaks and the myriads of murdered microbes, we had an
aseptic salad prepared from Tank-grown hydroponic vegetation, dressed
with Roquefort, the cheese that vies with penicillin in my private hall
of fame as the noblest product ever a mold gave man. The Scotch that
Dr. McQueen had promised to send was on hand, Seitz-filtered into a
sterile White Horse bottle. Not really caring to dilute my poignancies
with alcohol, I passed the whiskey among the tables nearby.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Firebird was managing to stay quite close to me, though technically
remaining on her own side of the table, eating and talking and now
and then flashing me such a glance of yearning that I was pierced by
the sight of her and by a remembered line of e. e. cummings's: "...
your slightest look easily will unclose me though I have closed myself
as fingers...." Just as suddenly, I realized that mine was a highly
pathological state of mind, the rinse-phase of the brain-wash. Autism
can be produced as surely by loneliness or unrequitable love as by
injections of LSD-25.

So I turned my attention to my environment, consciously flexing my
muscles of mental health. I answered the Firebird's sallies with
automatic flippancy. I ate my steak, savoring its flavor. And I looked
about the dining-room, examining it as though I'd never eaten there
before.

The Lapins' dining-room in the Big Tank is about the size of a railroad
restaurant car. (Not that I've ever been aboard a train to make the
comparison. The stringencies of the sterility-suit tie such of us to
the Big Tank on a short leash: the most sanitary of outside washrooms
would prove a pesthole to a Lapin.) The kitchen, which was under the
supervision of the Firebird, our dietitian, could have been squeezed
into a telephone booth. It served chiefly as receiving-station for
the autoclave and the radar-room, through which all our food came.
With its ten little four-place tables, each covered with a gypsy
red-checkerboard cloth, set with a green glass vase of Tank-grown
daisies, our dining-room was friendly enough. The Tank-ness of it,
though, was emphasized by a mural along one wall, a fantasy of stars
and men and microbes that half a dozen of us had planned and painted
one week. Where the mural was now had once been a picture window,
overlooking a green stretch of Central campus, a source of comfort
to us all. An Air Force jet, though, pulling out of a dive invisibly
above us, had sonic-boomed a crack in both panes of the double glass of
the window, causing a general alert as we realized that some airborne
_Proteus_ or fortunate _Staphylococcus_ or lonely _Aspergillis_ might
have invaded our fortress through this almost microscopic breach in our
walls.

Careful decontamination had saved our sterility, but now the Big Tank
had no window.

"I was saying...." the Firebird said, in a firm voice.

"Sorry, doll. You were saying?"

"That Mary deWitte isn't here. Do you suppose she's still outside? She
checked out her sterility-suit about the same time you did."

"That's a good nine hours ago," I said, glancing at the clock set over
Saturn on our mural. "Either Mary has been on a restricted-fluids diet,
or True Love has made her careless of visceral discomfort."

"Don't be coarse, Johnny."

"The demands of the kidney are as exigent as those of the heart,
Firebird," I said. "I think I'd better call Dr. McQueen."

"You'll only cause trouble for her and Lofting," Firebird said.

"I've decided that it's better to be lovesick than dead," I explained,
getting up from the table.

       *       *       *       *       *

I went to the phone in the corner of the dining-room and dialed Dr.
McQueen's home. "Chief? John Bogardus. Mary deWitte still hasn't come
home to roost. I think we'd better find her before she does something
splendid and foolish."

"Like perhaps marrying her contaminated basketball-player and setting
out on a suicidal honeymoon?" Dr. McQueen suggested. "You're right,
John; we should prevent that sort of thing. The rub is, we're too
late. I got a phone-call from Mary a few minutes after I got home
this evening. She abandoned her sterility-suit in a downtown Chicago
hotel room at noon today, and married her fledgling lawyer in a civil
ceremony at one o'clock. I tried to find out from her where she was,
but she just said she was very happy and hung up."

"Hell! What are we going to do?"

"I'm flying to Chicago, where I'll ask the help of the police in
finding Mary," the Chief said. "Once I've run down the happy couple,
though, damned if I know what I'll do next. Shall I stand outside the
bridal chamber with a syringeful of broad-spectrum antibiotics, waiting
for Mary to sneeze?"

"They'll have a short marriage," I said.

"Mary knows how likely it is that she'll never grow old," Dr. McQueen
said. "But I suspect that she hasn't said a word to her husband. I'd
better go now, John. My plane leaves in twenty minutes."

"Don't let this prey on you too much, Chief," I said. "We Lapins have
free will, too. We're old enough to bear the responsibilities for our
own actions."

"Thank you, Johnny." Dr. McQueen hung up.

I returned to the table with no enthusiasm for the remaining half of my
steak. "What's up, Johnny?" the Firebird asked me.

"Now we are twenty-eight," I said. "They were married in Chicago at one
o'clock."

"How wonderful!" the Firebird exulted.

She stood and pounded our table-top with the vase, scattering damp
daisies on the cloth. "Quiet, everybody! I've got an announcement."
The chatter over dessert simmered down. "Mary deWitte got married
today--here's to the bride!" Firebird slopped two ounces of White Horse
into her glass and downed them at a heroic gulp. She sat, sputtering.
The chatter at the other tables crescendoed as our colleagues reminded
one another of the significance of the Firebird's news.

"Will you also propose the toast at Mary's wake?" I asked.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What a hideous thing to say!"

"It was, Firebird," I said. "Forgive me, please. This thing has left me
in a wounding mood."

"Is Mary really in such danger?" Firebird asked.

"She may last a week, not much more. Today she'll meet _Klebsiella_,
probably; perhaps _E. coli_ and _Shigella_. Pretty soon she'll
start to sniffle with the first common cold she's ever experienced.
Polio virus and the ECHO group may get to her first, and establish
themselves before there is sufficient growth of bacterial flora to
give them competition. Her intestinal walls are thin and weak, so she
may suffer megacolon as a result of gas-producing fermentation. From
a pathologist's point of view, I'll find it most instructive to learn
the manner of Mary Lofting's death. From the standpoint of a friend and
fellow Lapin, though, I'll think her death a damned shame."

"I'm getting a little drunk, Johnny," the Firebird said, "and a little
maudlin. So, say you're right. After all, you're the doctor and I'm
just a dumb dietitian. But don't you think maybe it's worth while, what
Mary's done? Condemning herself to die, I mean, because she's really in
love, and death is what she's got to pay for a few days' happiness.
Don't you think the price is fair, Johnny?"

"If I did, I'd be paying it," I said.... "No, Firebird. Seizing a
little love and poetry before the sacrifice is great stuff for epics,
but it doesn't make much sense to me. When I'm married I'll want to see
my children all the way through Spock and Gesell. I'll want to grow old
with my wife, if you'll excuse the corn."

"We Flesh-Pressers have a natural reverence for corn," the Firebird
said. "It's part of the syndrome. Johnny, if you really want what you
just said, want those things badly enough to set up a marriage on half
a love, give me a call. Anytime. Even though I don't set your blood
aflame." She stood up, a little unsteady, and rubbed her hand across
her eyes in a tardy effort to hide tears. "Save the brushoff till
tomorrow, Johnny," she said. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight, sweet Firebird," I said. She turned and walked quickly from
the dining-room.

Bud Dorsey, our weight-lifting astronomer, left his three companions
to bring his coffee over and sit with me. Bud was the Lapin who'd have
been a Central U. fullback as an undergraduate, if only Dr. McQueen had
let him play the game in a chastity-suit. "What will happen to Mary
deWitte, John?" he asked.

"She'll die," I said.

"One flight in the sunlight, then her wings fall off. We Lapins are a
fragile race. May I?" I nodded. Dorsey poured some of the Scotch into
Firebird's empty water-glass and sipped it.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The men who devised the Nuremberg Principles failed us when they
forgot to underwrite the romantic aspirations of human guinea-pigs," I
said. "As a result of their oversight, it seems that McQueen's Beasts
have made a bigger contribution to sociology than to bacteriology.
We've demonstrated that familiarity doesn't breed. Here we are, now,
fourteen pairs of healthy Americans in their middle twenties, and
neither a marriage nor a pregnancy amongst us. Why?"

"Tell me, John," Dorsey said.

"I'll tell you why," I said. "It's because we're fond of our
foster-sisters, but we're also a little bored with them. And they with
us. We men know every canned peach's flirtations and frailties and
conversational gambits so thoroughly that one of us could no more marry
one of them than the average outsider could marry his kid sister."

"Even that's been done, John, just for principle's sake," Dorsey said.
"The Pharaohs wed their sisters because no one else was exalted enough
for the honor. Our predicament is not dissimilar. The primal urge,
John, will in time overwhelm the curse of contiguity."

"Could be," I said. "But it's not just sex that's agonizing me, Bud.
Prison has whole constellations of frustration. However warm and
understanding our guards may be, this is still a prison, and half of us
are stir-crazy. Why did Mike Bohrman take off his chastity-suit last
winter, to walk barefoot through the snow with only his suit-shorts on,
till he collapsed from the cold? It was a prison-break, Bud. So was
Mary deWitte's witless marriage. They were both suicide, the lifer's
one way over the wall."

"Stir-crazy?" Dorsey asked. "You're exaggerating, John."

"Open your eyes, Bud," I said. "Look at Karl Fyrmeister's hands, for
example. I'm violating no medical confidence to tell you that Karl got
his dermatitis as the result of compulsive hand-washing. There's a
fine neurotic symptom for a germ-free Lapin! If I'm exaggerating our
collective un-sanity, Bud, tell me why Lucy Cashdollar has become an
apprentice alcoholic. Why does Fizz Ewell, with an I.Q. that must range
in the 150's and the most brilliant record the Nuclear Engineering
Department has ever seen, spend six hours a day working crossword
puzzles? Why do you have that tic of your left orbicularis oculi?
Why am I an insomniac, with a nasty barbiturate habit? Look around,
Bud. You'll see that our little home has turned into something of a
snakepit. Our neuroses are only garter snakes so far; but they'll grow
into cobras, given time and further frustration to feed on."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dorsey's left eye twitched as though my mentioning his tic had
triggered it. He self-consciously raised his fingers to the vellicating
muscle, more to hide than to soothe it.

"While our keepers were sending Lapins through every major discipline
offered on the campus," he said, "it seems they'd have done well to
have trained one of us in psychiatry."

"For what?" I demanded. "So we could have someone right here in the
Tank to spoon out our soothing-syrups? Man, we've got a right to be
stir-crazy. We're life prisoners and we've committed no crime." I
stopped to get my calm back. "Bud," I asked, "do you know what I want
more than anything else, next to Anne?"

"Of course I do," Dorsey said. "Like you've pointed out, John, we've
got no secrets from each other. Your big itch is to step aboard
one of the Orion ships. You want to join up for the chase after
interplanetary white whales."

"It's only natural," I said. "When we were kids, Bud, we saw the same
TV programs, the same space-adventure movies, as the kids who are
now the men in space. Every boy in America was conditioned to long
for a space-suit. I'm one of the ones who could have made it, Bud. I
love medicine, and I think I'm going to be a damned fine pathologist;
but I'd turn in my M.D. for an Ordinary Spaceman's ticket without a
second's hesitation. When I read, two years ago, that Immermann had
discovered that human skull in the oxide rubble below Roosevelt Ridge
in Syrtis Major, I cried for the first time since I was six years old.
Twenty thousand years ago there was man on Mars. And I'm confined to
Earth for life."

"How much do you know about the Immermann skull, John?" Dorsey asked me.

"What I've said. Is there more?"

"One point," Dorsey said. "My field, radio astronomy, is a deep-space
sort of specialty; but I do from time to time condescend to read
the _Journal of Aerology_ and the other parochial, solar-system
publications. Somewhere I read that there's something odd about that
skull Colonel Immermann dug up."

"If you're suggesting that it was a second Piltdown hoax, planted
in that Martian talus to jar larger Air Force appropriations from
Congress, keep it from me," I said. "I cherish the illusion that the
Immermann is genuine, and a mystery."

       *       *       *       *       *

"It isn't phony, and it's sure as hell a mystery," Dorsey said.
"Colonel Immermann's initial report of the skull's discovery was
verified by every member of the _Orion Gamma's_ crew, a gang recruited
mostly from Service-Academy grads and other high moral types. The
peculiarity I'm talking about isn't forensic. It's functional. If you
were to mix in the Immermann skull with an assortment of skulls of
modern western men, age forty or thereabouts, only one characteristic
would allow you to pick it out from the mixture again. 'Look, Mom--No
Cavities!' Like us Lapins, Immermann Man had acarious teeth."

"Because he was germ-free?" I suggested.

"It's possible. Or his medical science may have gotten oral bacteria
under control with drugs. Maybe he preserved his teeth by diet, or
with fluorides in his drinking-water. Perhaps his mother never let him
eat candy when he was a kid," Dorsey said. "Who knows? Good teeth and
all, though, our Immermann Man died twenty thousand years ago. Why?
Was he germ-free, as you suggest; and was he killed by some species
of Martian micro-organism that's since gone extinct from drought and
a shortage of hosts? The big question, to my mind, is why none of our
explorers has yet found any sign of the rest of the expedition."

"Expedition?" I asked.

"A man could hardly have been alone on Mars," Dorsey said.

"From where?"

"Pick any 'F'- or 'G'-type star with planets," Dorsey said. "After all,
it's easier to posit extra-solar man than to suppose a flint-drive
spaceship was devised by some early neolithic von Brauns."

"I'd never expected to see an astrophysicist take off on such a flight
of improbabilia," I said.

"John, would you like to hear a thread-recording I just got from the
radio observatory at Adelaide?" Dorsey asked.

"Hi-fi?"

"The radio sky is strictly spark-gap quality, no fi at all," Dorsey
said, getting up to lead the way from the dining-room. "This
transmission you're going to hear doesn't have anything to do with the
ordinary 21.12-centimeter neutral-hydrogen radiation; but of course you
realize that our big paraboloid bowls can catch anything from hydrogen
hiss to low-flying bats. Remember the Christmas celebration at New
Caanan that was telecast to earth a couple years back? That show was
caught by the six-hundred-foot receiver at Green Bank, West Virginia,
and rebroadcast by C.B.S."

       *       *       *       *       *

We entered the Big Tank's common room, where a few of our colleagues
sat reading or writing notes for tomorrow's classes--talking; playing
chess or bridge; or sitting behind the closed glass doors of the TV
alcove watching the picture through stereo spectacles. We entered the
alcove at the other end of the room, where the record-player and music
library were, and closed the door.

Dorsey took a three-inch spool of magnetic thread from his shirt
pocket and fit it to the playback head of the machine.

"I'm interested in your uninstructed reaction, John," he said. "So
don't ask me any questions till you've heard the whole sequence."

"Spin it, professor," I said.

The Australian thread had a noisy background, sounding like
a dozen rashers of bacon tossed into a too-hot skillet.
Over this hissing, the code began to sound. "DIT ... DIT ...
DIT-DIT ... DIT-DIT-DIT-DIT ... DIT-DIT-DIT ...
DIT-DIT-DIT-DIT-DIT-DIT-DIT-DIT-DIT ... DIT-DIT-DIT-DIT...."
I dutifully entered my count of each burst of DIT's in my pocket
notebook. The sequence went: 1, 1; 2, 4; 3, 9; 4, 16; 5, 25; 6, 36;
then 5, 2, 49; 8, 64. There the count stopped climbing and commenced
again with the pair of ones, to repeat the whole set again.

Dorsey cut off the machine. "I've got four hours of the same thing
on this thread," he said. "Want to hear it all, or have you got it
already?"

"It's obvious, up to a point," I asked. "It's a table of the first
eight natural integers and their squares, except for the number seven,
which for some reason is split in two."

"It took me quite a while to recognize what happened to that seven,"
Dorsey said. "Listen to it again." He spooled the thread back and
I listened again to the fractured seven: "DIT-DIT-DIT-DIT-DIT ...
DIT-DIT." Then again the forty-nine clicks, seven-squared. Dorsey
switched off the player.

"Let's have the distillate of your cerebrations now, Brother Bogardus,"
he said, dropping into the deep, red-leather easy chair beside the
thread-player.

"It's syncopation, Brother Dorsey," I said.

"I'd never have given my own modest observations so high-flown a
title," Dorsey said. "I'd simply have called it, country boy at heart
that I am, 'Shave-and-a-Haircut, two-bits!'"

"So it is," I said. "Now we've deciphered that broadcast, and listened
to the singing commercial. But I'm still puzzled, Bud. We don't have
the sponsor's name and address; and I'm not at all sure I caught the
name of his product. What's he advertising?"

"His presence," Dorsey said. "I interpret the message as a simple CQ."

"Seek you?" I asked.

"Yes. Radio-ham code for, I'm lonely--will somebody please talk to me?'"

       *       *       *       *       *

"I'll accept that interpretation only till I can think of one even more
fantastic," I said.

"O.K., John," Dorsey said. "Getting the address of the station was a
simple exercise, thanks to my Digger confreres in Adelaide and the
men at Harvard's South African radio observatory. We first heard the
message two years ago. It's still being broadcast, unchanged. The fist
on the key that sent out our arithmetic message belongs to someone in
the neighbourhood of Alpha Centauri."

"Hot damn!" I said. "But why didn't I know about this? I read _Time_,
and all. Why wasn't this headlined?"

"Because it's guesswork," Dorsey explained. "This may be the result of
some cosmic coincidence as unrelated to intelligent planning as Bode's
Law."

"You'll have to explain that to this groundsman," I said.

"Bode's law, too, looks like an intelligently devised code of some
sort," Dorsey said. "Take the series: 0, 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96, 192. Add
4 to each number, and divide by ten. The result will be, when you take
the asteroid belt into consideration and fudge a little, very nearly
the proportional distance from the sun of the first seven planets.
Accident, or evidence of intelligent planning? Turned out there are
excellent physical reasons for this relationship, reasons old Johann
Elert Bode couldn't possibly have guessed. Things like this make
astronomers leary of teleology. Make them avoid the splendid guess."

"Go ahead, make a splendid guess," I said. "I won't report you to the
Astronomers Union."

"Sure," Dorsey said. "Alpha Centauri, as the U. Cal's five-meter Luna
'scope demonstrated several years ago, has a system of at least three
planets. We don't know much about those planets except their time of
revolution."

"And that one of them has a citizen clever enough to calculate natural
squares and build a radio transmitter...."

"... one hell of a transmitter!" Dorsey said.

"... and whistle, 'Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits,'" I went on; "which
musical interlude argues for a certain degree of conviviality on the
part of our Centaurian. This thing of his message, though. Do you think
he was just looking for other hams to talk with?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Then he's awfully patient, sending out the same 'CQ' for two solid
years," Dorsey said. "It's hardly practical to communicate between
stars, John. Broadcasting from here to Alpha C. and back, it would take
more than nine years just to ask how's the wife and kids.

"The way it looks to me, our friend out there got the duty of cutting
an educational recording to be broadcast automatically to the rest of
the galaxy. Kind of a lighthouse, to help his race get in touch with
any relatives it might have. That same recording has been played over
and over again ever since, sending To Whom It Might Concern its dual
message. Simple math--and the most persistent rhythmical cliche known
to man."

"What's being done about it?" I asked.

"We've answered," Dorsey said. "A big radio noise on the moon is
broadcasting the same message, minus the syncopation, and adding the
next two terms; all this beamed toward Alpha Centauri. And two years
ago, the Defense Department cut other programs to the bone to start
construction of _Orion Zeta_, the sixth of the big nuclear-pulse ships.
She's up in von Weizsäcker Crater on the back of the moon now, John,
nearly finished. She's not meant to call at solar-system ports."

"The government thinks, and you think, that our operator four and a
half light-years from here was human," I said.

"I can't speak for the government. But that's what I think. Isn't it
human to toss notes out to sea in bottles? What's more human than
dropping a joke into an arithmetical table?"

"All we've got to do to prove your splendid guess is to highjack a
germ-free spaceship," I said. "You and me and any of the other Lapins
who feel as we do. We'll go shake the hand--or other prehensile member,
if he's not human after all--of our Centaurian thread-jockey. What's
to keep our feet in the mud, when our heads are 'way the hell out in a
southern constellation?"

"I gather, Herr Doktor, that you jest," Dorsey said. "If you were
serious, I'd point out one minor flaw in your blueprint for adventure.
It would take our little band of pirates one hundred twenty-five years
to get to Alpha Centauri, after we'd stolen the ship. That's with the
gas-pedal to the floor."

"I was joking," I said. "I was pretending to be the hero of one of
those TV space-operas we used to watch.... But if I were serious, I
don't think a mere century and a quarter would faze me. We couldn't
reach our goal in person, Bud; but we could send our children's
children. All we'd need to make the trip, if I were serious about my
suggestion, would be a few more volunteers. A proper proportion of
those volunteers had best be philoprogenitive females."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Do you think the BICUSPID brass will be happy to see its expensive
guinea-pigs taking off into space?" Dorsey asked. "Since '29, John,
there's been eighty million bucks poured into gnotobiotics here at
Central University. We're the payoff. We can hardly expect Dr. McQueen
to stand on the launching-pad, tossing roses and shouting Bon Voyage as
we blast off forever."

"I think they could be persuaded to be, if not enthusiastic, at least
resigned to our departure," I said.

"It does prisoners good to plot escape-plans, even when they're as
obviously fantastic as this one," Dorsey said. "Go on, John."

"As you say, our purpose in this adventure would be to escape," I said.
"There's no place on earth that can take us, so we're forced to escape
into space. We'll have to talk this up around the Big Tank to see
how many want to break out with us. What the sex-distribution of the
volunteers is, whether we've got the right range of specialists to man
a spaceship. Right, Bud?"

"It's your dream," Dorsey said.

"O.K. Immermann Man appears to have been germ-free," I said. "Perhaps
his culture had been gnotobiotic for so long that they'd forgotten
the existence of micro-organisms. Landing on other planets, they'd
not rediscover the danger of infectious disease till it was too late.
Suddenly they'd start falling, dying of illnesses as mysterious to
them as the plague was to men of the Renaissance. This may have been
the manner in which the original owner of the Immermann skull died, on
Mars. We have a reasonable suspicion that there was germ-free human
life in our corner of the galaxy twenty thousand years ago. Perhaps,
as you suggested, these visitors were members of an exploration party.
From Alpha Centauri? Is our ham who hammered out the table-of-squares a
member of that gnotobiotic race? Is he our brother in purity?"

"Go on, Johnny," Dorsey said. "You ain't even winded, yet."

"The _Orion Zeta_ is being built for deep space," I went on. "Some
group from earth is certain to set out in her on the four-generation
hop to Alpha Centauri. Would it be morally right to allow this group
of ambassadors to be made up of 'normal,' contaminated humans? To
carry to a possibly defenceless population a mixed bag of goodies like
_Micrococcus ureae_, _Bacillus vulgaris_, _Staphylococcus aureus_,
_Mycobacterium tuberculosis_--a whole spectrum of benign and malignant
bacteria? Remember, Bud, bugs that are benign or only mildly pernicious
on earth might prove to be killers away from home."

"Lots of maybes," Dorsey said. "Lots of perhapses."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I've got one more shaft in the quiver," I said. "This one's got a
poisoned point, and it carries the names of our keepers. It's dirty,
Bud. It's hardly fair to Dr. McQueen to use such blackmail."

"Blackmail sounds like just what we need," Dorsey said.

"O.K. Thirty of us were born into the Big Tank," I said. "One has
already died as a result of his mental state, caused by imprisonment.
Another is certain to die within the next few days. Had they been
entirely sane, Mike Bohrman and Mary deWitte wouldn't have shed their
sterility-suits outside the Tank. Without purpose to their lives, they
cracked up.

"Two of us dead in the first twenty-six years of the human studies
at BICUSPID," I went on. "Two, out of an original thirty. An
attrition-rate of six and seven-tenths percent. How many more Lapins
will wander out to commit innocent suicide in the snow, their minds
messed up by the frustration and hopelessness of the guinea-pig way
of life? How many more of us will escape from the Big Tank into the
morgue? The _Orion Zeta_ could be our salvation, Bud. It could give us
the sort of purpose human beings must have in order to live."

Dorsey shook his head. "The Defense Department set up its young
Clydeside in von Weizsäcker Crater just to build, test, and launch one
ship: the _Zeta_. Two years of round-the-chronometer work have been
poured into her," he said. "She's cost four billion dollars so far,
Johnny; and they haven't bought the living-room furniture yet. I hardly
think the generals will volunteer the result of all this effort to
serve as psychotherapy for twenty-eight neurotic Hoosiers."

"You miss the point, Bud," I said. "We Lapins were born to crew
the _Zeta_. Where else could you find a crew that's already spent
twenty-odd years or so inside a box, living together in close quarters,
being conditioned against claustrophobia? This Big Tank of ours could
be a grounded spaceship, Bud! It's airtight, armored against outside
dangers, even has the formaldehyde sump to serve us for airlock.
What's a sterility-suit, anyway, but a special breed of space suit?
Could you find a better crew than us twenty-eight, skilled in two dozen
professions, young, sound of wind and limb, and willing as hell to
take on the job? None of whom will ever have appendicitis, halitosis,
toothache, barber's itch, or athlete's foot? Any one of whom can, in
case of accident, first-aid his wounds with a spit-damp handkerchief,
and heal wholesome? Man, we're what those generals have been dreaming
of! Once we've been trained to aim that big ship and kick her off
the back of the moon, we'll be the finest extra-solar crew that ever
blasted free of the system!"

"One question," Dorsey said. "Where do I sign Ship's Articles?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. McQueen was in Chicago for three days before he found Mary Lofting,
née deWitte. She had wakened that morning suffering from a headache,
a stiff neck, and four degrees of fever. Her husband had called an
ambulance to take her to Michael Reese Hospital. There, just before
she'd lost consciousness, Mary had asked a nurse to call BICUSPID. The
C.U. authorities had in turn called Dr. McQueen in Chicago.

She came home on a stretcher, a bottle of fructose solution dripping
into her veins. Mary had already been loaded with a double-barreled
shotgun-blast of every antibiotic she could safely take. Dr. McQueen
rode back to the University in the ambulance with her, and with her
husband. Lofting, holding the girl's hand, explained time after time
that she'd never told him about the likely consequence of her removing
her chastity-suit in an un-chaste world. The basketball player said
he'd never forgive himself if she didn't recover.

Mary was taken to the C.U. hospital. Wearing a sterility-suit, I
attended her examination, which was conducted by my chief-of-service,
the staff pathologist, as well as the hospital's internist and
neurologist. I took a few cc's of Mary's cerebrospinal fluid back
with me to the BICUSPID contaminated labs. There, to anticipate a few
days' deliberate bacterial growth in media, her meningoencephalitis
was discovered to have been caused by _Erysipelothrix monocytogenes_,
an organism whose more usual victims are rabbits. Mary's husband could
explain her coming in contact with so exotic a pathogen only by the
fact that they'd visited the Brookfield Zoo on the second, and last,
day of their honeymoon.

By the time these technical details were known they were academic. The
epidemiological problem had become secondary to the pathological. Mary
Lofting had died.

I was asked to assist Dr. McQueen and the senior pathologist at
autopsy--I was, after all, a resident in pathology, and had besides a
special interest in this case--but I found the job more than I could
take. Mary had been a sister to me for twenty-three years. In tears, I
left the morgue during the classic cruciform incision.

       *       *       *       *       *

I found the Firebird in the library. I recognized her through the
anonymity of her chastity-suit by the characteristic pose of her head
and arms as she sat reading: elbow braced on the table-top, her right
fist blocked stubbornly against the plastic cheek of her helmet, her
left arm curved around the book as though to be a break-water against
distraction. I sat beside her, and said, "Dorothy."

Without a word she closed her book, stood, and replaced it on the
shelf. We walked hand in hand out into the autumn campus.

"Last year," I said, "it was Mike Bohrman, walking through snow-drifts
in his suit-shorts, wanting for once in his life to feel the real world
against his skin. So _he_ died. Five days ago, Mary deWitte married the
man she loved. So she died," I said.

"Our life isn't generally as hopeless as that," the Firebird said.

"No," I said. "We're fed and entertained. We're being educated at
one of the finest universities in the world--for us, she's been a
genuine, homogenized-milk Alma Momma. She even gives us an allowance
to buy airmail stamps for our collection, or bar-bells, or gas for
our sports-car. She's given us everything we need for happiness.
Everything, Firebird, but purpose. That's why we're all going nuts--why
Mike went barefoot in the snow and Mary used love for a suicide-weapon.
That's why we've got to break free."

"Free?" she asked. "You mean, free to step outside the Big Tank, shed
our sterility-suits, turn septic--and die?"

"I mean free to step off earth."

We sat by mutual consent on a bench beneath a sugar maple, brushing
aside half an inch of multicolored leaves. I told the Firebird of the
broadcast from a southern star, and about the Immermann skull. I told
her all I knew about the Orion rockets, the nuclear-pulse ships that
had gone through five prototypes to reach the _Zeta_. "She's built to
travel light-years," I said. "I'm going with her when she leaves."

"Of course, I'm going with you," she said. "Your spacemen will need a
dietitian to make metabolic sense out of algal soups and hydroponic
salads for the first couple of generations, and to teach the youngsters
to take over the kitchen once they're on their own."

"Firebird," I said, "I'm happy to welcome you aboard. Now we've got to
get that ship."

"We'll get it," she said. "Understand, Johnny, it's not the
professional challenge that makes me want to blast off for Alpha
Centauri with four generations to feed. I've got no special urge to
tame frontiers. The reason I'm going--forgive me for mentioning it
again, and cold sober--is to stay near you."

I stood up, drawing her up after me, and was struck again by the
aptness of the nickname, "chastity-suit."

"Perhaps I've overestimated the effectiveness of a certain taboo," I
said. "Come on, sweet Firebird. Let's get back to the Tank to help Bud
recruit the rest of our crew."

       *       *       *       *       *

Colonel Barrett was young for eagles. My fellow volunteers-designate
and I, all twenty-eight of us, were gathered in the lounge of English
Hall, creaking and wheezing in our sterility-suits, looking very ready
for hard space.

The colonel wore crisp blues. His tunic was decorated by a triple row
of medals-for-merit. It was not his fault that he wore no battle-stars.
Barrett had graduated from the Air Academy into our seemingly endless
_Pax Desperandum_. He'd never had a chance to see a roentgen radiated
in anger. The Marsman Badge at the center of his left breast pocket
was one rarely seen: the circle-with-arrow symbol of Mars had within
it a "III," signifying that its wearer had been a member of the Third
Mars Expedition, back in the days when a flight to Mars had been
something more than a teamster's run. The Marsman Badge was balanced by
the star-topped, laurel-wreathed--and anachronistic--silver wings of a
Command Pilot.

As I shook hands with Colonel Barrett I found it difficult to
conceal the envy that writhed in me. He'd seen the continents spread
cloud-flecked on the receding, curving earth, the stars shining beside
the sun against the black sky. He'd splashed across the dust-carpet of
the moon, tasted water melted from the polar cap of Mars. As a member
of Expedition Three, he'd been with the crew of the _Orion Gamma_ when
Immermann discovered the twenty-thousand-year-old skull at the base of
Roosevelt Ridge.

Colonel Barrett addressed his remarks to me. "Central University," he
said, "will lose the results of an eighty-million-dollar investment if
you people leave. They'll be getting off cheap, compared to us. The
Defense Department has been requested to turn over to you twenty-eight
untrained grounds-men the greatest spaceship yet built, the first of
the interstellar ships. The _Zeta_ cost the taxpayers four dollars a
pound to build. She weighs five hundred thousand tons, Dr. Bogardus."

"You're mistaken, Colonel, when you say that the University's
investments in gnotobiotic research over the past eighty years will be
lost if we Lapins end our part of the experiment. That's not true. That
investment has been repaid many times over. More has been learned of
human physiology, nutrition, and disease processes in the twenty-six
years' study of germ-free humans than was learned concerning these
subjects during any similar period in medical history.

"And, Colonel," I went on, "we're not untrained. Bud Dorsey, to your
right, is an astrophysicist who worked with the Agassiz Observatory
team in mapping the interstellar anti-matter dust clouds. Dr. Keto
Hannamuri is a pediatrician. Dorothy Damien, our Firebird, is a
dietitian. Fizz Ewell is a nuclear engineer. Karl Fyrmeister's degree
is in chem engineering, as is Janie Bohrman's. Gloria Moss is working
on her doctorate in sociology. Her thesis, Colonel, deals with the
social dynamics of small human groups such as ours. Alfred MacCoy,
standing behind you, has written three symphonies and an oratorio
so far; and R.C.A. Victor has threaded them all with the New York
Philharmonic. Lucy Cashdollar has had her works of sculpture displayed
in the National Gallery and at London's Tate. There are some few
resources here, Colonel."

"I didn't intend to belittle your intellectual accomplishments,
Dr. Bogardus," the Colonel said. "I've read your dossiers. They're
impressive. When I called you untrained, what I really meant was that
you're totally unskilled in terms of my own specialty. I meant that
none of you knows anything of the skills of simple chemical rocketry,
much less the techniques required to lift half a million tons on a
nuclear-pulse thrust."

"We can learn," I said.

"I hope so," Colonel Barrett said, "because I've been ordered to teach
you."

       *       *       *       *       *

"We're in?" Bud Dorsey demanded.

"You're in," Colonel Barrett said. "The decision in the Pentagon went
against my recommendation that professionals in rocketry be recruited
for the Alpha Centauri flight. The generals liked your argument, Dr.
Bogardus, that we should send a germ-free ship and a germ-free crew to
a possibly germ-free planet. In a sense, this is tradition. Back in
the '50s, moon-missiles were sponged down with Lysol before launching,
just in case they got where they were aimed at. Our people didn't
want to contaminate the moon's surface with earthly micro-organisms,
cluttering up the picture for the bacteriologists who were scheduled
to arrive later. The Chief of Staff said that if there is a germ-free
population on one of the Centaurus planets, we must not initiate our
contact with them by handing out the sort of prizes Cook's crew brought
to the South Seas--measles, tuberculosis, smallpox. We can't know that
even innocuous bacteria might not be fatal to a gnotobiotic, alien
population. So you go."

"Colonel," I said, "I'm sure that Washington didn't give up the _Zeta_
to us out of sheer altruism. What's their real reason?"

"Where else could we get a crew of twenty-eight men and women who've
given proof they can live together for a long period of time,
peaceably, retaining a fair degree of sanity? Miss Moss's studies in
group dynamics were most interesting to the Chief of Staff. Doubtless
they did much to influence his decision in your favor."

"There's one thing I don't understand, Colonel Barrett."

"What's that, Miss Damien?" he asked.

"Why is it that you seem so unhappy about our being accepted as the
_Zeta's_ crew?" she asked. "After all, you've been given the duty
of training us to take her between stars. That's a pretty important
assignment, isn't it, even for a bird colonel?"

"You're right, Miss Damien," Colonel Barrett said. "My new assignment
is a vital one. You must forgive me if I seemed curt and unfriendly."
He paused. "I've been trying to hide my feelings, but evidently I
failed. You see, Miss Damien, my wife and I had headed the previous
list of volunteers--the contaminated crew."

       *       *       *       *       *

Looking from the ports of the rocket that had brought us from Memorial
Orbital Station, I'd thought von Weizsäcker Crater the most impressive
sight I'd ever seen. The _Orion Zeta_ looked from our height like
nothing so much as a miniature silver cocktail-shaker, glinting at the
center of the vast circle of von Weizsäcker.

Later, standing a few hundred feet from _Zeta's_ base, I'd found
the order of impressiveness reversed. The great ship was a tower of
fifteen hundred feet, blacking out the stars like a geometric mountain;
while the crater's twenty-thousand-foot ringwall, so far away in all
directions, was no more obtrusive than a decorative hedge. This ship,
I thought, is the intelligent comet on which we'd be passengers until
the day we died, some two and a fraction light-years away from home. We
were guaranteed immortality, though, in our offspring. Our descendants
would very literally become flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, as
our bodies were resurrected to vegetable life in the hydroponic tanks
of the ship.

We Lapins clustered close together on the moon-dust, staring up the
sides of our ship. Her upper reaches were hidden by the globular bulge
of the enormous thrust-chamber, where kiloton capsules of nuclear fuel
would be fired, three a second, to blast us into space. In this great
ship our children would be born and would die, and our grandchildren
as well. From the _Zeta_, our aged great-grandchildren, limping down
long ladderways to the exit-hatches on the arms of their teen-aged
grandsons, would step onto the soil of a planet that circled Alpha
Centauri.

One hundred and twenty-five years from now, I thought, clasping the
Firebird's hand in mine. So little in history, so big in human lives!

One hundred and twenty-five years ago, the Brooklyn Bridge had been
brand-new. U.S. Grant, defrauded and cancer-ridden, was gritting his
teeth against the pain to write his memoirs. President Chester A.
Arthur had just signed into law a bill prohibiting polygamy in the
territories.

As far away as those things lay our goal.

We entered the sublunarian chambers beneath the ship. Dr. McQueen
had preceded us here; and under his direction the _Orion Zeta_ had
been made as aseptic as the Big Tank itself. Colonel Barrett and his
subordinates who'd train us to operate the _Zeta_ would have to wear
sterility-suits aboard her, and would enter through the formaldehyde
sump that was now her only entrance. Even the dust of the moon was not
entirely sterile.

The Firebird took my arm to urge me toward the liquid gateway to the
ship, eager to see our new home. "Wait," I said, holding her back till
all the others had gone through the antiseptic pool.

"Cold feet, Johnny?" she teased me.

"Gloria Moss once told me, Firebird, that a healthy respect for
tradition is essential to the organic strength of a group such as
ours," I said. "So...." I bent and picked the Firebird up, her
weight moon-trimmed to that of a three-year-old. She put her arms
around my neck as I carried her down the ladder into the poisonous
decontamination tank that was our front door to Alpha Centauri.





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