He was afraid—not of the present or the future, but of the past. He was afraid of the thing tagged Reed Kieran, that stiff blind voiceless thing wheeling its slow orbit around the Moon, companion to dead worlds and silent space.
Something tiny went wrong, but no one ever knew whether it was in an electric relay or in the brain of the pilot.
The pilot was Lieutenant Charles Wandek, UNRC, home address: 1677 Anstey Avenue, Detroit. He did not survive the crash of his ferry into Wheel Five. Neither did his three passengers, a young French astrophysicist, an East Indian expert on magnetic fields, and a forty-year-old man from Philadelphia who was coming out to replace a pump technician.
Someone else who did not survive was Reed Kieran, the only man in Wheel Five itself to lose his life. Kieran, who was thirty-six years old, was an accredited scientist-employee of UNRC. Home address: 815 Elm Street, Midland Springs, Ohio.
Kieran, despite the fact that he was a confirmed bachelor, was in Wheel Five because of a woman. But the woman who had sent him there was no beautiful lost love. Her name was Gertrude Lemmiken; she was nineteen years old and overweight, with a fat, stupid face. She suffered from head-colds, and sniffed constantly in the Ohio college classroom where Kieran taught Physics Two.
One March morning, Kieran could bear it no longer. He told himself, "If she sniffs this morning, I'm through. I'll resign and join the UNRC."
Gertrude sniffed. Six months later, having finished his training for the United Nations Reconnaissance Corps, Kieran shipped out for a term of duty in UNRC Space Laboratory Number 5, known more familiarly as Wheel Five.
Wheel Five circled the Moon. There was an elaborate base on the surface of the Moon in this year 1981. There were laboratories and observatories there, too. But it had been found that the alternating fortnights of boiling heat and near-absolute-zero cold on the lunar surface could play havoc with the delicate instruments used in certain researches. Hence Wheel Five had been built and was staffed by research men who were rotated at regular eight-month intervals.
Kieran loved it, from the first. He thought that that was because of the sheer beauty of it, the gaunt, silver deaths-head of the Moon forever turning beneath, the still and solemn glory of the undimmed stars, the filamentaries stretched across the distant star-clusters like shining veils, the quietness, the peace.
But Kieran had a certain intellectual honesty, and after a while he admitted to himself that neither the beauty nor the romance of it was what made this life so attractive to him. It was the fact that he was far away from Earth. He did not even have to look at Earth, for nearly all geophysical research was taken care of by Wheels Two and Three that circled the mother planet. He was almost completely divorced from all Earth's problems and people.
Kieran liked people, but had never felt that he understood them. What seemed important to them, all the drives of ordinary day-to-day existence, had never seemed very important to him. He had felt that there must be something wrong with him, something lacking, for it seemed to him that people everywhere committed the most outlandish follies, believed in the most incredible things, were swayed by pure herd-instinct into the most harmful courses of behavior. They could not all be wrong, he thought, so he must be wrong—and it had worried him. He had taken partial refuge in pure science, but the study and then the teaching of astrophysics had not been the refuge that Wheel Five was. He would be sorry to leave the Wheel when his time was up.
And he was sorry, when the day came. The others of the staff were already out in the docking lock in the rim, waiting to greet the replacements from the ferry. Kieran, hating to leave, lagged behind. Then, realizing it would be churlish not to meet this young Frenchman who was replacing him, he hurried along the corridor in the big spoke when he saw the ferry coming in.
He was two-thirds of the way along the spoke to the rim when it happened. There was a tremendous crash that flung him violently from his feet. He felt a coldness, instant and terrible.
He was dying.
He was dead.
The ferry had been coming in on a perfectly normal approach when the tiny something went wrong, in the ship or in the judgment of the pilot. Its drive-rockets suddenly blasted on full, it heeled over sharply, it smashed through the big starboard spoke like a knife through butter.
Wheel Five staggered, rocked, and floundered. The automatic safety bulkheads had all closed, and the big spoke—Section T2—was the only section to blow its air, and Kieran was the only man caught in it. The alarms went off, and while the wreckage of the ferry, with three dead men in it, was still drifting close by, everyone in the Wheel was in his pressure-suit and emergency measures were in full force.
Within thirty minutes it became evident that the Wheel was going to survive this accident. It was edging slowly out of orbit from the impetus of the blow, and in the present weakened state of the construction its small corrective rockets could not be used to stop the drift. But Meloni, the UNRC captain commanding, had got first reports from his damage-control teams, and it did not look too bad. He fired off peremptory demands for the repair materials he would need, and was assured by UNRC headquarters at Mexico City that the ferries would be loaded and on their way as soon as possible.
Meloni was just beginning to relax a little when a young officer brought up a minor but vexing problem. Lieutenant Vinson had headed the small party sent out to recover the bodies of the four dead men. In their pressure-suits they had been pawing through the tangled wreckage for some time, and young Vinson was tired when he made his report.
"We have all four alongside, sir. The three men in the ferry were pretty badly mangled in the crash. Kieran wasn't physically wounded, but died from space-asphyxiation."
The captain stared at him. "Alongside? Why didn't you bring them in? They'll go back in one of the ferries to Earth for burial."
"But—" Vinson started to protest.
Meloni interrupted sharply. "You need to learn a few things about morale, Lieutenant. You think it's going to do morale here any good to have four dead men floating alongside where everyone can see them? Fetch them in and store them in one of the holds."
Vinson, sweating and unhappy now, had visions of a black mark on his record, and determined to make his point.
"But about Kieran, sir—he was only frozen. Suppose there was a chance to bring him back?"
"Bring him back? What the devil are you talking about?"
Vinson said, "I read they're trying to find some way of restoring a man that gets space-frozen. Some scientists down at Delhi University. If they succeeded, and if we had Kieran still intact in space—"
"Oh, hell, that's just a scientific pipe-dream, they'll never find a way to do that," Meloni said. "It's all just theory."
"Yes, sir," said Vinson, hanging his head.
"We've got trouble enough here without you bringing up ideas like this," the captain continued angrily. "Get out of here."
Vinson was now completely crushed. "Yes, sir. I'll bring the bodies in."
He went out. Meloni stared at the door, and began to think. A commanding officer had to be careful, or he could get skinned alive. If, by some remote chance, this Delhi idea ever succeeded, he, Meloni, would be in for it for having Kieran buried. He strode to the door and flung it open, mentally cursing the young snotty who had had to bring this up.
"Vinson!" he shouted.
The lieutenant turned back, startled. "Yes, sir?"
"Hold Kieran's body outside. I'll check on this with Mexico City."
Still angry, Meloni shot a message to Personnel at Mexico City. That done, he forgot about it. The buck had been passed, let the boys sitting on their backsides down on Earth handle it.
Colonel Hausman, second in command of Personnel Division of UNRC, was the man to whom Meloni's message went. He snorted loudly when he read it. And later, when he went in to report to Garces, the brigadier commanding the Division, he took the message with him.
"Meloni must be pretty badly rattled by the crash," he said. "Look at this."
Garces read the message, then looked up. "Anything to this? The Delhi experiments, I mean?"
Hausman had taken care to brief himself on that point and was able to answer emphatically.
"Damned little. Those chaps in Delhi have been playing around freezing insects and thawing them out, and they think the process might be developed someday to where it could revive frozen spacemen. It's an iffy idea. I'll burn Meloni's backside off for bringing it up at a time like this."
Garces, after a moment, shook his head. "No, wait. Let me think about this."
He looked speculatively out of the window for a few moments. Then he said,
"Message Meloni that this one chap's body—what's his name, Kieran?—is to be preserved in space against a chance of future revival."
Hausman nearly blotted his copybook by exclaiming, "For God's sake—" He choked that down in time and said, "But it could be centuries before a revival process is perfected, if it ever is."
Garces nodded. "I know. But you're missing a psychological point that could be valuable to UNRC. This Kieran has relatives, doesn't he?"
Hausman nodded. "A widowed mother and a sister. His father's been dead a long time. No wife or children."
Garces said, "If we tell them he's dead, frozen in space and then buried, it's all over with. Won't those people feel a lot better if we tell them that he's apparently dead, but might be brought back when a revival-technique is perfected in the future?"
"I suppose they'd feel better about it," Hausman conceded. "But I don't see—"
Garces shrugged. "Simple. We're only really beginning in space, you know. As we go on, UNRC is going to lose a number of men, space-struck just like Kieran. A howl will go up about our casualty lists, it always does. But if we can say that they're only frozen until such time as revival technique is achieved, everyone will feel better about it."
"I suppose public relations are important—" Hausman began to say, and Garces nodded quickly.
"They are. See that this is done, when you go up to confer with Meloni. Make sure that it gets onto the video networks, I want everyone to see it."
Later, with many cameras and millions of people watching, Kieran's body, in a pressure-suit, was ceremoniously taken to a selected position where it would orbit the Moon. All suggestions of the funerary were carefully avoided. The space-struck man—nobody at all referred to him as "dead"—would remain in this position until a revival process was perfected.
"Until forever," thought Hausman, watching sourly. "I suppose Garces is right. But they'll have a whole graveyard here, as time goes on."
As time went on, they did.
In his dreams, a soft voice whispered.
He did not know what it was telling him, except that it was important. He was hardly aware of its coming, the times it came. There would be the quiet murmuring, and something in him seemed to hear and understand, and then the murmur faded away and there was nothing but the dreams again.
But were they dreams? Nothing had form or meaning. Light, darkness, sound, pain and not-pain, flowed over him. Flowed over—who? Who was he? He did not even know that. He did not care.
But he came to care, the question vaguely nagged him. He should try to remember. There was more than dreams and the whispering voice. There was—what? If he had one real thing to cling to, to put his feet on and climb back from— One thing like his name.
He had no name. He was no one. Sleep and forget it. Sleep and dream and listen—
It went across his brain like a shattering bolt of lightning, that word. He did not know what the word was or what it meant but it found an echo somewhere and his brain screamed it.
Not his brain alone, his voice was gasping it, harshly and croakingly, his lungs seeming on fire as they expelled the word.
He was shaking. He had a body that could shake, that could feel pain, that was feeling pain now. He tried to move, to break the nightmare, to get back again to the vague dreams, and the soothing whisper.
He moved. His limbs thrashed leadenly, his chest heaved and panted, his eyes opened.
He lay in a narrow bunk in a very small metal room.
He looked slowly around. He did not know this place. The gleaming white metal of walls and ceiling was unfamiliar. There was a slight, persistent tingling vibration in everything that was unfamiliar, too.
He was not in Wheel Five. He had seen every cell in it and none of them were like this. Also, there lacked the persistent susurrant sound of the ventilation pumps. Where—
You're in a ship, Kieran. A starship.
Something back in his mind told him that. But of course it was ridiculous, a quirk of the imagination. There weren't any starships.
You're all right, Kieran. You're in a starship, and you're all right.
The emphatic assurance came from somewhere back in his brain and it was comforting. He didn't feel very good, he felt dopey and sore, but there was no use worrying about it when he knew for sure he was all right—
The hell he was all right! He was in someplace new, someplace strange, and he felt half sick and he was not all right at all. Instead of lying here on his back listening to comforting lies from his imagination, he should get up, find out what was going on, what had happened.
Of a sudden, memory began to clear. What had happened? Something, a crash, a terrible coldness—
Kieran began to shiver. He had been in Section T2, on his way to the lock, and suddenly the floor had risen under him and Wheel Five had seemed to crash into pieces around him. The cold, the pain—
You're in a starship. You're all right.
For God's sake why did his mind keep telling him things like that, things he believed? For if he did not believe them he would be in a panic, not knowing where he was, how he had come here. There was panic in his mind but there was a barrier against it, the barrier of the soothing reassurances that came from he knew not where.
He tried to sit up. It was useless, he was too weak. He lay, breathing heavily. He felt that he should be hysterical with fear but somehow he was not, that barrier in his mind prevented it.
He had decided to try shouting when a door in the side of the little room slid open and a man came in.
He came over and looked down at Kieran. He was a young man, sandy-haired, with a compact, chunky figure and a flat, hard face. His eyes were blue and intense, and they gave Kieran the feeling that this man was a wound-up spring. He looked down and said,
"How do you feel, Kieran?"
Kieran looked up at him. He asked, "Am I in a starship?"
"But there aren't any starships."
"There are. You're in one." The sandy-haired man added, "My name is Vaillant."
It's true, what he says, murmured the something in Kieran's mind.
"Where—how—" Kieran began.
Vaillant interrupted his stammering question. "As to where, we're quite a way from Earth, heading right now in the general direction of Altair. As to how—" He paused, looking keenly down at Kieran. "Don't you know how?"
Of course I know. I was frozen, and now I have been awakened and time has gone by—
Vaillant, looking searchingly down at his face, showed a trace of relief. "You do know, don't you? For a moment I was afraid it hadn't worked."
He sat down on the edge of the bunk.
"How long?" asked Kieran.
Vaillant answered as casually as though it was the most ordinary question in the world. "A bit over a century."
It was wonderful, thought Kieran, how he could take a statement like that without getting excited. It was almost as though he'd known it all the time.
"How—" he began, when there was an interruption.
Something buzzed thinly in the pocket of Vaillant's shirt. He took out a thin three-inch disk of metal and said sharply into it,
A tiny voice squawked from the disk. It was too far from Kieran for him to understand what it was saying but it had a note of excitement, almost of panic, in it.
Something changed, hardened, in Vaillant's flat face. He said, "I expected it. I'll be right there. You know what to do."
He did something to the disk and spoke into it again. "Paula, take over here."
He stood up. Kieran looked up at him, feeling numb and stupid. "I'd like to know some things."
"Later," said Vaillant. "We've got troubles. Stay where you are."
He went rapidly out of the room. Kieran looked after him, wondering. Troubles—troubles in a starship? And a century had passed—
He suddenly felt an emotion that shook his nerves and tightened his guts. It was beginning to hit him now. He sat up in the bunk and swung his legs out of it and tried to stand but could not, he was too weak. All he could do was to sit there, shaking.
His mind could not take it in. It seemed only minutes ago that he had been walking along the corridor in Wheel Five. It seemed that Wheel Five must exist, that the Earth, the people, the time he knew, must still be somewhere out there. This could be some kind of a joke, or some kind of psychological experiment. That was it—the space-medicine boys were always making way-out experiments to find out how men would bear up in unusual conditions, and this must be one of them—
A woman came into the room. She was a dark woman who might have been thirty years old, and who wore a white shirt and slacks. She would, he thought, have been good-looking if she had not looked so tired and so edgy.
She came over and looked down at him and said to him,
"Don't try to get up yet. You'll feel better very soon."
Her voice was a slightly husky one. It was utterly familiar to Kieran, and yet he had never seen this woman before. Then it came to him.
"You were the one who talked to me," he said, looking up at her. "In the dreams, I mean."
She nodded. "I'm Paula Ray and I'm a psychologist. You had to be psychologically prepared for your awakening."
The woman explained patiently. "Hypnopedic technique—establishing facts in the subconscious of a sleeping patient. Otherwise, it would be too terrific a shock for you when you awakened. That was proved when they first tried reviving space-struck men, forty or fifty years ago."
The comfortable conviction that this was all a fake, an experiment of some kind, began to drain out of Kieran. But if it was true—
He asked, with some difficulty, "You say that they found out how to revive space-frozen men, that long ago?"
"Yet it took forty or fifty years to get around to reviving me?"
The woman sighed. "You have a misconception. The process of revival was perfected that long ago. But it has been used only immediately after a wreck or disaster. Men or women in the old space-cemeteries have not been revived."
"Why not?" he asked carefully.
"Unsatisfactory results," she said. "They could not adjust psychologically to changed conditions. They usually became unbalanced. Some suicides and a number of cases of extreme schizophrenia resulted. It was decided that it was no kindness to the older space-struck cases to bring them back."
"But you brought me back?"
"There were good reasons." She was, clearly, evading that question. She went on quickly. "The psychological shock of awakening would have been devastating, if you were not prepared. So, while you were still under sedation, I used the hypnopedic method on you. Your unconscious was aware of the main facts of the situation before you awoke, and that cushioned the shock."
Kieran thought of himself, lying frozen and dead in a graveyard that was space, bodies drifting in orbit, circling slowly around each other as the years passed, in a macabre sarabande— A deep shiver shook him.
"Because all space-struck victims were in pressure-suits, dehydration was not the problem it could have been," Paula was saying. "But it's still a highly delicate process—"
He looked at her and interrupted roughly. "What reasons?" And when she stared blankly, he added, "You said there were good reasons why you picked me for revival. What reasons?"
Her face became tight and alert. "You were the oldest victim, in point of date. That was one of the determining factors—"
"Look," said Kieran. "I'm not a child, nor yet a savage. You can drop the patronizing professional jargon and answer my question."
Her voice became hard and brittle. "You're new to this environment. You wouldn't understand if I told you."
"All right," she answered. "We need you, as a symbol, in a political struggle we're waging against the Sakae."
"I told you that you couldn't understand yet," she answered impatiently, turning away. "You can't expect me to fill you in on a whole world that's new to you, in five minutes."
She started toward the door. "Oh, no," said Kieran. "You're not going yet."
He slid out of the bunk. He felt weak and shaky but resentment energized his flaccid muscles. He took a step toward her.
The lights suddenly went dim, and a bull-throated roar sounded from somewhere, an appalling sound of raw power. The slight tingling that Kieran had felt in the metal fabric around him abruptly became a vibration so deep and powerful that it dizzied him and he had to grab the stanchion of the bunk to keep from falling.
Alarm had flashed into the woman's face. Next moment, from some hidden speaker in the wall, a male voice yelled sharply,
"Overtaken—prepare for extreme evasion—"
"Get back into the bunk," she told Kieran.
"What is it?"
"It may be," she said with a certain faint viciousness, "that you're about to die a second time."
The lights dimmed to semi-darkness, and the deep vibration grew worse. Kieran clutched the woman's arm.
"Damn it, let me go!" she said.
The exclamation was so wholly familiar in its human angriness that Kieran almost liked her, for the first time. But he continued to hold onto her, although he did not feel that with his present weakness he could hold her long.
"I've a right to know," he said.
"All right, perhaps you have," said Paula. "We—our group—are operating against authority. We've broken laws, in going to Earth and reviving you. And now authority is catching up to us."
"Another ship? Is there going to be a fight?"
"A fight?" She stared at him, and shock and then faint repulsion showed in her face. "But of course, you come from the old time of wars, you would think that—"
Kieran got the impression that what he had said had made her look at him with the same feelings he would have had when he looked at a decent, worthy savage who happened to be a cannibal.
"I always felt that bringing you back was a mistake," she said, with a sharpness in her voice. "Let me go."
She wrenched away from him and before he could stop her she had got to the door and slid it open. He woke up in time to lurch after her and he got his shoulder into the door-opening before she could slide it shut.
"Oh, very well, since you insist I'm not going to worry about you," she said rapidly, and turned and hurried away.
Kieran wanted to follow her but his knees were buckling under him. He hung to the side of the door-opening. He felt angry, and anger was all that kept him from falling over. He would not faint, he told himself. He was not a child, and would not be treated like one—
He got his head outside the door. There was a long and very narrow corridor out there, blank metal with a few closed doors along it. One door, away down toward the end of the corridor, was just sliding shut.
He started down the corridor, steadying himself with his hand against the smooth wall. Before he had gone more than a few steps, the anger that pushed him began to ebb away. Of a sudden, the mountainous and incredible fact of his being here, in this place, this time, this ship, came down on him like an avalanche from which the hypnopedic pre-conditioning would no longer protect him.
I am touching a starship, I am in a starship, I, Reed Kieran of Midland Springs, Ohio. I ought to be back there, teaching my classes, stopping at Hartnett's Drug Store for a soft drink on the way home, but I am here in a ship fleeing through the stars ...
His head was spinning and he was afraid that he was going to go out again. He found himself at the door and slid it open and fell rather than walked inside. He heard a startled voice.
This was a bigger room. There was a table whose top was translucent and which showed a bewildering mass of fleeting symbols in bright light, ever changing. There was a screen on one wall of the room and that showed nothing, a blank, dark surface.
Vaillant and Paula Ray and a tall, tough-looking man of middle age were around the table and had looked up, surprised.
Vaillant's face flashed irritation. "Paula, you were supposed to keep him in his cabin!"
"I didn't think he was strong enough to follow," she said.
"I'm not," said Kieran, and pitched over.
The tall middle-aged man reached and caught him before he hit the floor, and eased him into a chair.
He heard, as though from a great distance, Vaillant's voice saying irritatedly, "Let Paula take care of him, Webber. Look at this—we're going to cross another rift—"
There were a few minutes then when everything was very jumbled up in Kieran's mind. The woman was talking to him. She was telling him that they had prepared him physically, as well as psychologically, for the shock of revival, and that he would be quite all right but had to take things more slowly.
He heard her voice but paid little attention. He sat in the chair and blankly watched the two men who hung over the table and its flow of brilliant symbols. Vaillant seemed to tighten up more and more as the moments passed, and there was still about him the look of a coiled spring but now the spring seemed to be wound to the breaking-point. Webber, the tall man with the tough face, watched the fleeting symbols and his face was stony.
"Here we go," he muttered, and both he and Vaillant looked up at the blank black screen on the wall.
Kieran looked too. There was nothing. Then, in an instant, the blackness vanished from the screen and it framed a vista of such cosmic, stunning splendor that Kieran could not grasp it.
Stars blazed like high fires across the screen, loops and chains and shining clots of them. This was not too different from the way they had looked from Wheel Five. But what was different was that the starry firmament was partly blotted out by vast rifted ramparts of blackness, ebon cliffs that went up to infinity. Kieran had seen astronomical photographs like this and knew what the blackness was.
Dust. A dust so fine that its percentage of particles in space would be a vacuum, on Earth. But, here where it extended over parsecs of space, it formed a barrier to light. There was a narrow rift here between the titan cliffs of darkness and he—the ship he was in—was fleeing across that rift.
The screen abruptly went black again. Kieran remained sitting and staring at it. That incredible fleeting vision had finally impressed the utter reality of all this upon his mind. They, this ship, were far from Earth—very far, in one of the dust-clouds in which they were trying to lose pursuers. This was real.
"—will have got another fix on us as we crossed, for sure," Vaillant was saying, in a bitter voice. "They'll have the net out for us—the pattern will be shaping now and we can't slip through it."
"We can't," said Webber. "The ship can't. But the flitter can, with luck."
They both looked at Kieran. "He's the important one," Webber said. "If a couple of us could get him through—"
"No," said Paula. "We couldn't. As soon as they caught the ship and found the flitter gone, they'd be after him."
"Not to Sako," said Webber. "They'd never figure that we'd take him to Sako."
"Do I have a word in this?" asked Kieran, between his teeth.
"What?" asked Vaillant.
"This. The hell with you all. I'll go no place with you or for you."
He got a savage satisfaction from saying it, he was tired of sitting there like a booby while they discussed him, but he did not get the reaction from them he had expected. The two men merely continued to look thoughtfully at him. The woman sighed,
"You see? There wasn't time enough to explain it to him. It's natural for him to react with hostility."
"Put him out, and take him along," said Webber.
"No," said Paula sharply. "If he goes out right now he's liable to stay out. I won't answer for it."
"Meanwhile," said Vaillant with an edge to his voice, "the pattern is forming up. Have you any suggestions, Paula?"
She nodded. "This."
She suddenly squeezed something under Kieran's nose, a small thing that she had produced from her pocket without his noticing it, in his angry preoccupation with the two men. He smelled a sweet, refreshing odor and he struck her arm away.
"Oh, no, you're not giving me any more dopes—" Then he stopped, for suddenly it all seemed wryly humorous to him. "A bunch of bloody incompetents," he said, and laughed. "This is the one thing I would never have dreamed—that a man could sleep, and wake up in a starship, and find the starship manned by blunderers."
"Euphoric," said Paula, to the two men.
"At that," said Webber sourly, "there may be something in what he says about us."
Vaillant turned on him and said fiercely, "If that's what you think—" Then he controlled himself and said tightly, "Quarrelling's no good. We're in a box but we can maybe still put it over if we get this man to Sako. Webber, you and Paula take him in the flitter."
Kieran rose to his feet. "Fine," he said gaily. "Let us go in the flitter, whatever that is. I am already bored with starships."
He felt good, very good. He felt a little drunk, not enough to impede his mental processes but enough to give him a fine devil-may-care indifference to what happened next. So it was only the spray Paula had given him—it still made his body feel better and removed his shock and worry and made everything seem suddenly rather amusing.
"Let us to Sako in the flitter," he said. "After all, I'm living on velvet, I might as well see the whole show. I'm sure that Sako, wherever it is, will be just as full of human folly as Earth was."
"He's euphoric," Paula said again, but her face was stricken.
"Of all the people in that space-cemetery, we had to pick one who thinks like that," said Vaillant, with a sort of restrained fury.
"You said yourself that the oldest one would be the best," said Webber. "Sako will change him."
Kieran walked down the corridor with Webber and Paula and he laughed as he walked. They had brought him back from nothingness without his consent, violating the privacy of death or near-death, and now something that he had just said had bitterly disappointed them.
"Come along," he said buoyantly to the two. "Let us not lag. Once aboard the flitter and the girl is mine."
"Oh for God's sake shut up," said Webber.
It was ridiculous to be flying the stars with a bad hangover, but Kieran had one. His head ached dully, he had an unpleasant metallic taste in his mouth, and his former ebullience had given way to a dull depression. He looked sourly around.
He sat in a confined little metal coop of a cabin, hardly enough in which to stand erect. Paula Ray, in a chair a few feet away was sleeping, her head on her breast. Webber sat forward, in what appeared to be a pilot-chair with a number of crowded control banks in front of it. He was not doing anything to the controls. He looked as though he might be sleeping, too.
That was all—a tiny metal room, blank metal walls, silence. They were, presumably, flying between the stars at incredible speeds but there was nothing to show it. There were no screens such as the one he had seen in the ship, to show by artful scanning devices what vista of suns and darknesses lay outside.
"A flitter," Webber had informed him, "just doesn't have room for the complicated apparatus that such scanners require. Seeing is a luxury you dispense with in a flitter. We'll see when we get to Sako."
After a moment he had added, "If we get to Sako."
Kieran had merely laughed then, and had promptly gone to sleep. When he had awakened, it had been with the euphoria all gone and with his present hangover.
"At least," he told himself, "I can truthfully say that this one wasn't my fault. That blasted spray—"
He looked resentfully at the sleeping woman in the chair. Then he reached and roughly shook her shoulder.
She opened her eyes and looked at him, first sleepily and then with resentment.
"You had no right to wake me up," she said.
Then, before Kieran could retort, she seemed to realize the monumental irony of what she had just said, and she burst into laughter.
"I'm sorry," she said. "Go ahead and say it. I had no right to wake you up."
"Let's come back to that," said Kieran after a moment. "Why did you?"
Paula looked at him ruefully. "What I need now is a ten-volume history of the last century, and time enough for you to read it. But since we don't have either—" She broke off, then after a pause asked, "Your date was 1981, wasn't it? It and your name were on the tag of your pressure-suit."
"Well, then. Back in 1981, it was expected that men would spread out to the stars, wasn't it?"
Kieran nodded. "As soon as they had a workable high-speed drive. Several drives were being experimented with even then."
"One of them—the Flournoy principle—was finally made workable," she said. She frowned. "I'm trying to give you this briefly and I keep straying into details."
"Just tell me why you woke me up."
"I'm trying to tell you." She asked candidly, "Were you always so damned hateful or did the revivification process do this to you?"
Kieran grinned. "All right. Go ahead."
"Things happened pretty much as people foresaw back in 1981," she said. "The drive was perfected. The ships went out to the nearer stars. They found worlds. They established colonies from the overflowing population of Earth. They found human indigenous races on a few worlds, all of them at a rather low technical level, and they taught them.
"There was a determination from the beginning to make it one universe. No separate nationalistic groups, no chance of wars. The governing council was set up at Altair Two. Every world was represented. There are twenty-nine of them, now. It's expected to go on like that, till there are twenty-nine hundred starworlds represented there, twenty-nine thousand—any number. But—"
Kieran had been listening closely. "But what? What upset this particular utopia?"
"This world we're going to?"
"Yes," she said soberly. "Men found something different about this world when they reached it. It had people—human people—on it, very low in the scale of civilization."
"Well, what was the problem? Couldn't you start teaching them as you had others?"
She shook her head. "It would take a long while. But that wasn't the real problem. It was— You see, there's another race on Sako beside the human ones, and it's a fairly civilized race. The Sakae. The trouble is—the Sakae aren't human."
Kieran stared at her. "So what? If they're intelligent—"
"You talk as though it was the simplest thing in the world," she flashed.
"Isn't it? If your Sakae are intelligent and the humans of Sako aren't, then the Sakae have the rights on that world, don't they?"
She looked at him, not saying anything, and again she had that stricken look of one who has tried and failed. Then from up forward, without turning, Webber spoke.
"What do you think now of Vaillant's fine idea, Paula?"
"It can still work," she said, but there was no conviction in her voice.
"If you don't mind," said Kieran, with an edge to his voice, "I'd still like to know what this Sako business has to do with reviving me."
"The Sakae rule the humans on that world," Paula answered. "There are some of us who don't believe they should. In the Council, we're known as the Humanity Party, because we believe that humans should not be ruled by non-humans."
Again, Kieran was distracted from his immediate question—this time by the phrase "Non-human".
"These Sakae—what are they like?"
"They're not monsters, if that's what you're thinking of," Paula said. "They're bipeds—lizardoid rather than humanoid—and are a fairly intelligent and law-abiding lot."
"If they're all that, and higher in development than the humans, why shouldn't they rule their own world?" demanded Kieran.
Webber uttered a sardonic laugh. Without turning he asked, "Shall I change course and go to Altair?"
"No!" she said. Her eyes flashed at Kieran and she spoke almost breathlessly. "You're very sure about things you just heard about, aren't you? You know what's right and you know what's wrong, even though you've only been in this time, this universe, for a few hours!"
Kieran looked at her closely. He thought he was beginning to get a glimmer of the shape of things now.
"You—all you who woke me up illegally—you belong to this Humanity Party, don't you? You did it for some reason connected with that?"
"Yes," she answered defiantly. "We need a symbol in this political struggle. We thought that one of the oldtime space pioneers, one of the humans who began the conquest of the stars, would be it. We—"
Kieran interrupted. "I think I get it. It was really considerate of you. You drag a man back from what amounts to death, for a party rally. 'Oldtime space hero condemns non-humans'—it would go something like that, wouldn't it?"
"Listen—," she began.
"Listen, hell," he said. He was hot with rage, shaking with it. "I am glad to say that you could not possibly have picked a worse symbol than me. I have no more use for the idea of the innate sacred superiority of one species over another than I had for that of one kind of man over another."
Her face changed. From an angry woman, she suddenly became a professional psychologist, coolly observing reactions.
"It's not the political question you really resent," she said. "You've wakened to a strange world and you're afraid of it, in spite of all the pre-awakening preparation we gave your subconscious. You're afraid, and so you're angry."
Kieran got a grip on himself. He shrugged. "What you say may be true. But it doesn't change the way I feel. I will not help you one damned bit."
Webber got up from his seat and came back toward them, his tall form stooping. He looked at Kieran and then at the woman.
"We have to settle this right now," he said. "We're getting near enough to Sako to go out of drive. Are we going to land or aren't we?"
"Yes," said Paula steadily. "We're landing."
Webber glanced again at Kieran's face. "But if that's the way he feels—"
"Go ahead and land," she said.