This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

НазваниеThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely
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Chapter Seven

It was two hours later, and Foster and I stood silent before a ten-foot screen that had glowed into life when I touched a silver button beside it. It showed us a vast emptiness of bottomless black, set thick with coruscating points of polychrome brilliance that hurt to look at. And against that backdrop: a ship, vast beyond imagining, blotting out half the titanic vista with its bulk—

But dead.

Even from the distance of miles, I could sense it. The great black torpedo shape, dull moonlight glinting along the unbelievable length of its sleek flank, drifted: a derelict. I wondered for how many centuries it had waited here—and for what?

"I feel," said Foster, "somehow—I'm coming home." I tried to say something, croaked, cleared my throat.

"If this is your jitney," I said, "I hope they didn't leave the meter ticking on you. We're broke."

"We're closing rapidly," said Foster. "Another ten minutes, I'd guess . . ."

"How do we go about heaving to, alongside? You didn't come across a book of instructions, did you?"

"I think I can predict that the approach will be automatic."

"This is your big moment, isn't it?" I said. "I've got to hand it to you, pal; you've won out by pluck, just like the Rover Boys."

The ship appeared to move smoothly closer, looming over us, fine golden lines of decorative filigree work visible now against the black. A tiny square of pale light appeared, grew into a huge bay door that swallowed us.

The screen went dark, there was a gentle jar, then motionlessness. The port opened, silently.

"We've arrived," Foster said. "Shall we step out and have a look?"

"I wouldn't think of going back without one," I said. I followed him out and stopped dead, gaping. I had expected an empty hold, bare metal walls. Instead, I found a vaulted cavern, shadowed, mysterious, rich with a thousand colors. There was a hint of strange perfume in the air, and I heard low music that muttered among stalagmite-like buttresses. There were pools, playing fountains, waterfalls, dim vistas stretching away, lit by slanting rays of muted sunlight.

"What kind of place is it?" I asked. "It's like a fairyland, or a dream."

"It's not an earthly scheme of decoration," Foster said, "but I find it strangely pleasing."

"Hey, look over there," I yelped suddenly, pointing. An empty-eyed skull stared past me from the shadows at the base of a column.

Foster went over to the skull, stood looking down at it. "There was a disaster here," he said. "That much is plain."

"It's creepy," I said. "Let's go back; I forgot to get film for my Brownie."

"The long-dead pose no threat," said Foster. He was kneeling, looking at the white bones. He picked up something, stared at it. "Look, Legion."

I went over. Foster held up a ring.

"We're onto something hot, pal," I said. "It's the twin to yours."

"I wonder . . . who he was."

I shook my head. "If we knew that—and who killed him—or what—"

"Let's go on. The answers must be here somewhere." Foster moved off toward a corridor that reminded me of a sunny avenue lined with chestnut trees—though there were no trees, and no sun. I followed, gaping.

For hours we wandered, looking, touching, not saying much but saturated in wonder, like kids in a toy factory. We came across another skeleton, lying among towering engines. Finally we paused in a giant storeroom stacked high with supplies.

"Have you stopped to think, Foster," I said, fingering a length of rose-violet cloth as thin as woven spider webs. "This boat's a treasure-house of salable items. Talk about the wealth of the Indies—"

"I seek only one thing here, my friend," Foster said; "my past."

"Sure," I said. "But just in case you don't find it, you might consider the business angle. We can set up a regular shuttle run, hauling stuff down—"

"You earthmen," sighed Foster. "For you every new experience is immediately assessed in terms of its merchandising possibilities. Well, I leave that to you."

"Okay, okay," I said. "You go on ahead and scout around down that way, if you want—where the technical-looking stuff is. I want to browse around here for a while."

"As you wish."

"We'll meet at this end of the big hall we passed back there. Okay?"

Foster nodded and went on. I turned to a bin filled with what looked like unset emeralds the size of walnuts. I picked up a handful, juggled them lovingly.

"Anyone for marbles?" I murmured to myself.

Hours later, I came along a corridor that was like a path through a garden that was a forest, crossed a ballroom like a meadow floored in fine-grained rust-red wood and shaded by giant ferns, and went under an arch into the hall where Foster sat at a long table cut from yellow marble. A light the color of sunrise gleamed through tall pseudo-windows.

I dumped an armful of books on the table. "Look at these," I said. "All made from the same stuff as the journal. And the pictures . . ."

I flipped open one of the books, a heavy folio-sized volume, to a double-page spread in color showing a group of bearded Arabs in dingy white djellabas staring toward the camera, a flock of thin goats in the background. It looked like the kind of picture the National Geographic runs, except that the quality of the color and detail was equal to the best color transparencies.

"I can't read the print," I said, "but I'm a whiz at looking at pictures. Most of the books showed scenes like I hope I never see in the flesh, but I found a few that were made on earth—God knows how long ago."

"Travel books, perhaps," Foster said.

"Travel books that you could sell to any university on earth for their next year's budget," I said, shuffling pages. "Take a look at this one."

Foster looked across at the panoramic shot of a procession of shaven-headed men in white sarongs, carrying a miniature golden boat on their shoulders, descending a long flight of white stone steps leading from a colonnade of heroic human figures with folded arms and painted faces. In the background, brick-red cliffs loomed up, baked in desert heat.

"That's the temple of Hat-Shepsut in its prime," I said. "Which makes this print close to four thousand years old. Here's another I recognize." I turned to a smaller, aerial view, showing a gigantic pyramid, its polished stone facing chipped in places and with a few panels missing from the lower levels, revealing the cruder structure of massive blocks beneath.

"That's one of the major pyramids, maybe Khufu's," I said. "It was already a couple thousand years old, and falling into disrepair. And look at this—" I opened another volume, showed Foster a vivid photograph of a great shaggy elephant with a pinkish trunk upraised between wide-curving yellow tusks.

"A mastodon," I said. "And there's a woolly rhino, and an ugly-looking critter that must be a saber-tooth. This book is old . . ."

"A lifetime of rummaging wouldn't exhaust the treasures aboard this ship," said Foster.

"How about bones? Did you find any more?"

Foster nodded. "There was a disaster of some sort. Perhaps disease. None of the bones was broken."

"I can't figure the one in the lifeboat," I said. "Why was he wearing a necklace of bear's teeth?" I sat down across from Foster. "We've got plenty of mysteries to solve, all right, but there are some other items we'd better talk about. For instance: where's the kitchen? I'm getting hungry."

Foster handed me a black rod from among several that lay on the table. "I think this may be important," he said.

"What is it, a chop stick?"

"Touch it to your head, above the ear."

"What does it do—give you a massage?"

I pressed it to my temple . . . 

I was in a grey-walled room, facing a towering surface of ribbed metal. I reached out, placed my hands over the proper perforations. The housings opened. For apparent malfunction in the quaternary field amplifiers, I knew, auto-inspection circuit override was necessary before activation—

I blinked, looked around at the yellow table, and piled books, the rod in my hand.

"I was in some kind of powerhouse," I said. "There was something wrong with—with . . ."

"The quaternary field amplifiers," Foster said.

"I seemed to be right there," I said. "I understood exactly what it was all about."

"These are technical manuals," Foster said. "They'll tell us everything we need to know about the ship."

"I was thinking about what I was getting ready to do," I said, "the way you do when you're starting into a job; I was trouble-shooting the quaternary whatzits—and I knew how . . . !"

Foster got to his feet and moved toward the doorway. "We'll have to start at one end of the library and work our way through," he said. "It will take us a while, but we'll get the facts we need. Then we can plan."

* * *

Foster picked a handful of briefing rods from the racks in the comfortably furnished library and started in. The first thing we needed was a clue as to where to look for food and beds, or for operating instructions for the ship itself. I hoped we might find the equivalent of a library card-catalog; then we could put our hands on what we wanted in a hurry.

I went to the far end of the first rack and spotted a short row of red rods that stood out vividly among the black ones. I took one out, thought it over, decided it was unlikely that it was any more dangerous than the others, and put it against my temple . . . 

As the bells rang, I applied neuro-vascular tension, suppressed cortical areas upsilon-zeta and iota, and stood by for—

I jerked the rod from my head, my ears still ringing with the shrill alarm. The effect of the rods was like reality itself, but intensified, all attention focused single-mindedly on the experience at hand. I thought of the entertainment potentialities of the idea. You could kill a tiger, ride an airplane down in flames, face the heavyweight champion—I wondered about the stronger sensations, like pain and fear. Would they seem as real as the impulse to check the whatchamacallits or tighten up your cortical thingamajigs?

I tried another rod.

At the sound of the apex-tone, I racked instruments, walked, not ran, to the nearest transfer-channel—


Having assumed duty as Alert Officer, I reported first to coordination Control via short-line, and confirmed rapport—

These were routine SOP's covering simple situations aboard ship. I skipped a few, tried again:

Needing a xivometer, I keyed instruction-complex One, followed with the code—

Three rods further along, I got this:

The situation falling outside my area of primary conditioning, I reported in corpo to Technical Briefing, Level Nine, Section Four, Sub-section Twelve, Preliminary. I recalled that it was now necessary to supply my activity code . . . my activity code . . . my activity code . . . (A sensation of disorientation grew; confused images flickered like vague background-noise; then a clear voice cut across the confusion:) 


I was moving along the stacks, to pause in front of a niche where a U-shaped plastic strip was clamped to the wall. I removed it, fitted it to my head—(Then:) I was moving along the stacks, to pause in front of a niche—

I was leaning against the wall, my head humming. The red stick lay on the floor at my feet. That last bit had been potent: something about a general background briefing—

"Hey, Foster!" I called. "I think I've got something . . ." He appeared from the stacks.

* * *

"As I see it," I said, "this background briefing should tell us all we need to know about the ship; then we can plan our next move more intelligently. We'll know what we're doing." I took the thing from the wall, just as I had seemed to do in the phantom scene the red rod had projected for me.

"These things make me dizzy," I said, handing it to Foster. "Anyway, you're the logical one to try it."

He took the plastic shape, went to the reclining seat at the near end of the library hall, and settled himself. "I have an idea this one will hit harder than the others," he said.

He fitted the clamp to his head and . . . instantly his eyes glazed; he slumped back, limp.

"Foster!" I yelled. I jumped forward, started to pull the plastic piece from his head, then hesitated. Maybe Foster's abrupt reaction was standard procedure—but I didn't like it much.

I went on reasoning with myself. After all, this was what the red rod had indicated as normal procedure in a given emergency. Foster was merely having his faded personality touched up. And his full-blown, three-dimensional personality was what we needed to give us the answers to a lot of the questions we'd been asking. Though the ship and everything in it had lain unused and silent for forgotten millennia, still the library should be good. The librarian was gone from his post for forgotten centuries, and Foster was lying unconscious, and I was thirty thousand miles from home—but I shouldn't let trifles like that worry me . . . 

I got up and prowled the room. There wasn't much to look at except stacks and more stacks. The knowledge stored here was fantastic, both in magnitude and character. If I ever get home with a load of these rods . . . 

I strolled through a door leading to another room. It was small, functional, dimly lit. The middle of the room was occupied by a large and elaborate divan with a cap-shaped fitting at one end. Other curious accoutrements were ranked along the walls. There wasn't much in them to thrill me. But bone-wise I had hit the jackpot.

Two skeletons lay near the door, in the final slump of death. Another lay beside the fancy couch. There was a long-bladed dagger beside it.

I squatted beside the two near the door and examined them closely. As far as I could tell, they were as human as I was. I wondered what kind of men they had been, what kind of world they had come from, that could build a ship like this and stock it as it was stocked.

The dagger that lay near the other bones was interesting: it seemed to be made of a transparent orange metal, and its hilt was stamped in a repeated pattern of the Two Worlds motif. It was the first clue as to what had taken place among these men when they last lived: not a complete clue, but a start.

I took a closer look at an apparatus like a dentist's chair parked against the wall. There were spidery-looking metal arms mounted above it, and a series of colored glass lenses. A row of dull silver cylinders was racked against the wall. Another projected from a socket at the side of the machine. I took it out and looked at it. It was a plain pewter-colored plastic, heavy and smooth. I felt pretty sure it was a close cousin to the chop-sticks stored in the library. I wondered what brand of information was recorded in it as I dropped it in my pocket.

I lit a cigarette and went out to where Foster lay. He was still in the same position as when I had left him. I sat down on the floor beside the couch to wait.

* * *

It was an hour before he stirred, heaved a sigh, and opened his eyes. He reached up, pulled off the plastic headpiece, dropped it on the floor.

"Are you okay?" I said. "Brother, I've been sweating . . ."

Foster looked at me, his eyes traveling up to my uncombed hair and down to my scuffed shoes. His eyes narrowed in a faint frown. Then he said something—in a language that seemed to be all Z's and Q's.

"Don't spring any surprises on me, Foster," I said hoarsely. "Talk American."

A look of surprise crossed his face. He stared into my eyes again, then glanced around the room.

"This is a ship's library," he said.

I heaved a sigh of relief. "You gave me a scare, Foster. I thought for a second your memory was wandering again."

Foster was watching my face as I spoke. "What was it all about?" I said. "What have you found out?"

"I know you," said Foster slowly. "Your name is Legion."

I nodded. I could feel myself getting tense again. "Sure, you know me. Just take it easy, pal. This is no time to lose your marbles." I put a hand on his shoulder. "You remember, we were—"

He shook my hand off. "That is not the custom in Vallon," he said coldly.

"Vallon?" I echoed. "What kind of routine is this, Foster? We were friends when we walked into this room an hour ago. We were hot on the trail of something, and I'm human enough to want to know how it turned out."

"Where are the others?"

"There's a couple of 'others' in the next room," I snapped. "But they've lost a lot of weight. I can find you several more, in the same condition. Outside of them there's only me—"

Foster looked at me as if I wasn't there. "I remember Vallon," he said. He put a hand to his head. "But I remember, too, a barbaric world, brutal and primitive. You were there. We traveled in a crude rail-car, and then in a barge that wallowed in the sea. There were narrow, ugly rooms, evil odors, harsh noises."

"That's not a very flattering portrait of God's country," I said; "but I'm afraid I recognize it."

"The people were the worst," Foster said. "Misshapen, diseased, with swollen abdomens and wasted skin and withered limbs."

"Some of the boys don't get out enough," I said.

"The Hunters! We fled from them, Legion, you and I. And I remember a landing-ring . . ." He paused. "Strange, it had lost its cap-stones and fallen into ruin."

"Us natives call it Stonehenge."

"The Hunters burst out of the earth. We fought them. But why should the Hunters seek me?"

"I was hoping you'd tell me," I said. "Do you know where this ship came from? And why?"

"This is a ship of the Two Worlds," he replied. "But I know nothing of how it came to be here."

"How about all that stuff in the journal? Maybe now you—"

"The journal!" Foster broke in. "Where is it!"

"In your coat pocket, I guess."

Foster felt through his jacket awkwardly, brought out the journal. He opened it.

I moved around to look over his shoulder. He had the book open to the first section, the part written in the curious alien characters that nobody had been able to decipher.

And he was reading it.

* * *

We sat at the library table of deep green, heavy, polished wood, the journal open at its center. For hours I had waited while Foster read. Now at last he leaned back in his chair, ran a hand through the youthful black hair, and sighed.

"My name," he said, "was Qulqlan. And this," he laid his hand upon the book, "is my story. This is one part of the past I was seeking. And I remember none of it . . ."

"Tell me what the journal says," I asked. "Read it to me."

Foster picked it up, riffled the pages. "It seems that I awoke once before, in a small room aboard this vessel. I was lying on a memo-couch, by which circumstance I knew that I had suffered a Change—"

"You mean you'd lost your memory?"

"And regained it—on the couch. My memory-trace had been re-impressed on my mind. I awoke knowing my identity, but not how I came to be aboard this vessel. The journal says that my last memory was of a building beside the Shallow Sea."

"Where's that?"

"On a far world—called Vallon."

"Yeah? And what next?"

"I looked around me and saw four men lying on the floor, slashed and bloody. One was alive. I gave him what emergency treatment I could, then searched the ship. I found three more men, dead; none living. Then the Hunters attacked, swarming to me—"

"Our friends the fire-balls?"

"Yes; they would have sucked the life from me—and I had no shield of light. I fled to the lifeboat, carrying the wounded man. I descended to the planet below; your earth. The man died there. I buried him in a shallow depression in the earth and marked the place with a stone."

"The ancient sinner," I said.

"Yes . . . I suppose it was his bones the lay brother found."

"And we found out last night that the depression was the result of dirt sifting into the ventilator shaft. But I guess you didn't know anything about the underground installation, way back then. Doesn't the journal say anything . . . ?"

"No, there is no mention made of it here." Foster shook his head. "How curious to read of the affairs of this stranger—and know he is myself."

"How about the Hunters? How did they get to earth?"

"They are insubstantial creatures," said Foster, "yet they can endure the vacuum of space. I can only surmise that they followed the lifeboat down."

"They were tailing you?"

"Yes; but I have no idea why they pursued me. They're harmless creatures in the natural state, used to seek out the rare fugitive from justice on Vallon. They can be attuned to the individual; thereafter, they follow him and mark him out for capture."

"Kind of like bloodhounds," I said. "Say, what were you: a big-time racketeer on Vallon?"

"The journal is frustratingly silent as to my Vallonian career," said Foster. "But this whole matter of the unexplained inter-galactic voyage and the evidences of violence aboard the ship make me wonder whether I, and perhaps my companions, were being exiled for crimes done in the Two Worlds."

"Wow! So they sicced the Hunters on you!" I said. "But why did they hang around at Stonehenge all this time?"

"There was a trickle of power feeding the screens," said Foster. "They need a source of electrical energy to live; until a hundred years ago it was the only one on the planet."

"How did they get down into the shaft without opening it up?"

"Given time, they pass easily through porous substances. But, of course, last night, when I came on them after their long fast, they simply burst through in their haste."

"Okay. What happened next—after you buried the man?"

"The journal tells that I was set upon by natives, men who wore the hides of animals. One of their number entered the ship. He must have moved the drive lever. It lifted, leaving me marooned."

"So those were his bones we found in the boat," I mused, "the ones with the bear's-tooth necklace. I wonder why he didn't come into the ship."

"Undoubtedly he did. But remember the skeleton we found just inside the landing port? That must have been a fairly fresh and rather gory corpse at the time the savage stepped aboard. It probably seemed to him all too clear an indication of what lay in store for himself if he ventured further. In his terror he must have retreated to the boat to wait, and there starved to death.

"He was stranded in your world, and you were stranded in his."

"Yes," said Foster. "And then, it seems, I lived among the brute-men and came to be their king. I waited there by the landing ring through many years in the hope of rescue. Because I did not age as the natives did, I was worshipped as a god. I would have built a signaling device, but there were no pure metals, nothing I could use. I tried to teach them, but it was a work of centuries."

"I should think you could have set up a school, trained the smartest ones," I said.

"There was no lack of intelligent minds," Foster said. "It is plain that the savages were of the blood of the Two Worlds. This earth must have been seeded long ago by some ancient castaways."

"But how could you go on living—for hundreds of years? Are your people supermen that live forever?"

"The natural span of a human life is very great. Among your people, there is a wasting disease from which you all die young."

"That's no disease," I said. "You just naturally get old and die."

"The human mind is a magnificent instrument," Foster said, "not meant to wither quickly."

"I'll have to chew that one over," I said. "Why didn't you catch this disease?"

"All Vallonians are inoculated against it."

"I'd like a shot of that," I said. "But let's get back to you."

Foster turned the pages of the journal. "I ruled many peoples, under many names," he said. "I traveled in many lands, seeking for skilled metal-workers, glass-blowers, wise men. But always I returned to the landing-ring."

"It must have been tough," I said, "exiled on a strange world, living out your life in a wilderness, century after century . . ."

"My life was not without interest," Foster said. "I watched my savage people put aside their animal hides and learn the ways of civilization. I taught them how to build, and keep herds, and till the land. I built a great city, and I tried—foolishly—to teach their noble caste the code of chivalry of the Two Worlds. But although they sat at a round table like the great Ring-board at Okk-Hamiloth, they never really understood. And then they grew too wise, and wondered at their king, who never aged. I left them, and tried again to build a long-signaler. The Hunters sensed it, and swarmed to me. I drove them off with fires, and then I grew curious, and followed them back to their nest—"

"I know," I said. " '—and it was a place you knew of old: no hive but a Pit built by men.' "

"They overwhelmed me; I barely escaped with my life. Starvation had made the Hunters vicious. They would have drained my body of its life-energy."

"And if you'd known the transmitter was there—but you didn't. So you put an ocean between you and them."

"They found me even there. Each time I destroyed many of them, and fled. But always a few lived to breed and seek me out again."

"But your signaler—didn't it work?"

"No. It was a hopeless attempt. Only a highly developed technology could supply the raw materials. I could only teach what I knew, encourage the development of the sciences, and wait. And then I began to forget."


"A mind grows weary," Foster said. "It is the price of longevity. It must renew itself. Shock and privation hasten the Change. I had held it off for many centuries. Now I felt it coming on me.

"At home, on Vallon, a man would record his memory at such a time, store it electronically in a recording device, and, after the Change, use the memory-trace to restore, in his renewed body, his old recollections in toto. But, marooned as I was, my memories, once lost, were gone forever.

"I did what I could; I prepared a safe place, and wrote messages that I would find when I awoke—"

"When you woke up in the hotel, you were young again, overnight. How could it happen?"

"When the mind renews itself, erasing the scars of the years, the body, too, regenerates. The skin forgets its wrinkles, and the muscles their fatigue. They become again as they once were."

"When I first met you," I said, "you told me about waking up back in 1918, with no memory."

"Yours is a harsh world, Legion. I must have forgotten many times. Somewhere, some time, I lost the vital link, forgot my quest. When the Hunters came again, I fled, not understanding."

"You had a machine gun set up in the house at Mayport. What good was that against the Hunters?"

"None, I suppose," Foster replied. "But I didn't know. I only knew that I was—pursued."

"And by then you could have made a signaler," I said. "But you'd forgotten how—or even that you needed one."

"But in the end I found it—with your help, Legion. But still there is a mystery: What came to pass aboard this ship all those centuries ago? Why was I here? And what killed the others?"

"Look," I said. "Here's a theory: there was a mutiny, while you were in the machine having your memory fixed. You woke up and it was all over—and the crew was dead."

"That hypothesis will serve," said Foster. "But one day I must learn the truth of this matter."

"What I can't figure out is why somebody from Vallon didn't come after this ship. It was right here in orbit."

"Consider the immensity of space, Legion. This is one tiny world, among the stars."

"But there was a station here, fitted out for handling your ships. That sounds like it was a regular port of call. And the books with the pictures: they prove your people have been here off and one for thousands of years. Why would they stop coming?"

"There are such beacons on a thousand worlds," said Foster. "Think of it as a buoy marking a reef, a trailblaze in the wilderness. Ages could pass before a wanderer chanced this way again. The fact that the ventilator shaft at Stonehenge was choked with the debris of centuries when I first landed there shows how seldom this world was visited."

I thought about it. Bit by bit Foster was putting together the jig-saw pieces of his past. But he still had a long way to go before he had the big picture, frame and all. I had an idea:

"Say, you said you were in the memory machine. You woke up there—and you'd just had your memory restored. Why not do the same thing again, now? That is, if your brain can take another pounding this soon."

"Yes," he said. He stood up abruptly. "There's just a chance. Come!"

I followed him out of the library into the room with the bones. He moved over to look down at them curiously.

"Quite a fracas," I said. "Three of 'em."

"This would be the room where I awakened," said Foster. "These are the men I saw dead."

"They're still dead," I said. "But what about the machine?"

Foster walked across to the fancy couch, leaned down beside it, then shook his head. "No," he said. "Of course it wouldn't be here . . ."


"My memory-trace: the one that was used to restore my memory—that other time."

Suddenly I recalled the cylinder I had pocketed hours before. With a surprising flutter at my heart I held it up, like a kid in a classroom who knows he's got the right answer. "This it?"

Foster glanced at it briefly. "No, that's an empty—like those you see filed over there." He pointed to the rack of pewter-colored cylinders on the opposite wall. "They would be used for emergency recordings. Regular multi-life memory-traces would be key-coded with a pattern of colored lines."

"It figures," I said. "That would have been too easy. We have to do everything the hard way." I looked around. "It's a big bureau to look for a collar button under, but I guess we can try."

"It doesn't matter, really. When I return to Vallon, I'll recover my past. There are vaults where every citizen's trace is stored."

"But you had yours here with you."

"It could only have been a copy. The master trace is never removed from Okk-Hamiloth."

"I guess you'll be eager to get back there," I said. "That'll be quite a moment for you, getting back home after all these years. Speaking of years: were you able to figure out how long you were marooned down on earth?"

"I lost all record of dates long ago," said Foster. "I can only estimate the time."

"About how long?" I persisted.

"Since I descended from this ship, Legion," he said, "three thousand years have passed."

* * *

"I hate to see the team split up," I said. "You know, I was kind of getting used to being an apprentice nut. I'm going to miss you, Foster."

"Come with me to Vallon, Legion," he said.

We were standing in the observation lounge, looking out at the bright-lit surface of the earth thirty thousand miles away. Beyond it, the dead-white disk of the moon hung like a cardboard cut-out.

"Thanks anyway, buddy," I said. "I'd like to see those other worlds of yours but in the end I might regret it. It's no good giving an Eskimo a television set. I'd just sit around on Vallon pining for home: beat-up people, stinks, and all."

"You could return here some day."

"From what I understand about traveling in a ship like this," I said, "a couple of hundred years would pass before I got back, even if it only seemed like a few weeks en route. I want to live out my life here—with the kind of people I know, in the world I grew up in. It has its faults, but it's home."

"Then there is nothing I can do, Legion," Foster said, "to reward your loyalty and express my gratitude."

"Well, ah," I said. "There is a little something. Let me take the lifeboat, and stock it with a few goodies from the library, and some of those marbles from the storeroom, and a couple of the smaller mechanical gadgets. I think I know how to merchandise them in a way that'll leave the economy on an even keel—and incidentally set me up for life. As you said, I'm a materialist."

"As you wish," Foster said. "Take whatever you desire."

"One thing I'll have to do when I get back," I said, "is open the tunnel at Stonehenge enough to sneak a thermite bomb down it—if they haven't already found the beacon station."

"As I judge the temper of the local people," Foster said, "the secret is safe for at least three generations."

"I'll bring the boat down in a blind spot where radar won't pick it up," I said. "Our timing was good: in another few years, it wouldn't have been possible."

"And this ship would soon have been discovered," Foster said. "In spite of radar-negative screens."

I looked at the great smooth sphere hanging, haloed, against utter black. The Pacific Ocean threw back a brilliant image of the sun.

"I think I see an island down there that will fill the bill perfectly," I said. "And if it doesn't, there are a million more to choose from."

"You've changed, Legion," Foster said. "You sound like a man with a fair share of joie de vivre."

"I used to think I was a guy who never got the breaks," I said. "There's something about standing here looking at the world that makes that kind of thinking sound pretty dumb. There's everything down there a man needs to make his own breaks—even without a stock of trade goods."

"Every world has its rules of life," Foster said. "Some more complex than others. To face your own reality—that's the challenge."

"Me against the universe," I said. "With those odds, even a loser can look good." I turned to Foster. "We're in a ten-hour orbit," I said. "We'd better get moving. I want to put the boat down in southern South America. I know a place there where I can off-load without answering too many questions."

"You have several hours before the most favorable launch time," Foster said. "There's no hurry."

"Maybe not," I said. "But I've got a lot to do—" I took a last look toward the majestic planet beyond the viewscreen, "—and I'm eager to get started."

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This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

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