It turned out there were two things wrong with Pertin’s calculations. First, the odds weren’t quite as favourable as he had guessed; he had not remembered that the bombers might have allies who were as gravity-bound as himself, and so hadn’t put in an appearance. Second, he had not realized that a large proportion of the beings aboard the Aurora simply didn’t want to be bothered. They were apathetic, hopeless, detached, or in some exotic mood with no human analogue; or perhaps, here and there, they just weren’t about to take orders from an up-start biped jackanapes from - what was the name of it? -Earth.
The other problem was that the work of the Aurora was in observing Object Lambda, not in tracking down aberrant entities. Not even the fact that beings of one or two races had killed beings of another race could change their minds. The Scorpian robot, when it returned from patching together what it could of the damaged optical equipment, would not even take time to talk to Pertin; it went at once to its assigned place in the instrument chamber and began to oversee the series of observations which was what the thrust stoppage was for.
Pertin could not even get the free-fall period extended to permit a full-scale search of the ship. The T’Worlies pointed out to him, reasonably enough, that as they were all going to die anyhow the first priority was the errand for which they had all undertaken to give their lives: to complete the observation of Object Lambda. And the laws of celestial dynamics were remorseless. A certain quantum of delta-V had to be applied to Aurora’s course. There was only finite time in which to do it. If they failed to put in the necessary velocity change the probe would fly by Object Lambda too fast to accomplish the mission to which it was assigned. So the T’Worlies were going to work on their instrument observations and nothing else, although they certainly wished him well, they indicated, in his search for the guilty ones.
The search team turned out to be a party of five: Pertin, Doc Chimp, the pseudogirl, the purchased-people woman and the little kittenish object who had joined the party to greet them on arrival. They couldn’t even recruit the Boaty-Bits to their cause.
As soon as the collective creatures had learned of the bombing attempt they had departed en masse to swarm in some obscure corner of the vessel and unite all of their intelligence in the problem of deciding what to do about it.
Pertin saw a great deal of the ship, but found no criminals. The one being they had certainly identified, the Sirian, eluded their search. If a being the size of a horse, emitting an electrostatic crackle every time it moved, could avoid the searchers, what chance had they for locating a party of unidentified marauders? No chance, answered Echo; and they found nothing.
About all they really accomplished was to move the acceleration cocoons for the low-G beings they had come to think of as friends close enough together so that they could watch out for each other when the delta-V thrust immobilized them. There were many such periods. By the nature of things, there had to be. It was thuuud-screech! at least eighty percent of the time, cut up the individual portions as they would. The Aurora had thousands of kps of velocity to shed as it overtook Lambda, if they were to avoid over-running it too fast to orbit their package. It made little difference how it felt to the members of the crew.
To Pertin it felt like being kicked in the kidneys four or five times a minute, for hours on end. With allowances for variations in anatomy, it felt very much like that to most of the beings. Frail little creatures like the T’Worlies were particularly hard hit, or would have been if it hadn’t been for the fact that the Aurora was their own design, cocoons and all, and many thousands of years of thought had gone into reducing the damage to a T’Worlie frame in a cocoon. It was an advantage of a sort, but against it was the overpowering debit that on their native planet the surface gravity was less than a quarter-G. They were not creatures designed for strain.
It was the unfelt pain that was the worst. Every explosion produced noise and thrust, but it also sleeted a few more curies of radiation through their bodies and brought them a few hours nearer to death. As it was not felt, and as there was nothing that could be done about it, they seldom spoke of it to each other.
For half a dozen periods there was no further violence from anyone on board, and the Aurora went on about its business. Pertin reserved the time in the cocoon for taping his endless reports to Sun One, and for inspecting and studying the observation results on Object Lambda. When there was the blissful floating surcease, for half an hour or so at a time, he used it to roam around the ship. His announced purpose was to watch out for trouble. As time passed and trouble did not come, he stopped talking about it, but continued to roam. He was interested in the ship on its own merits. Simply by its novelty it helped take his mind off the growing number of things he didn’t want to think about. This was the first real spaceship he had ever seen. That seemed strange to him, when he considered how many tens of thousands of light-years he had travelled since he volunteered for tachyon transmission from Earth. It was normal enough, though. Sun One was thick with beings who had crossed and re-crossed the Galaxy a dozen times, and never seen a spaceship at all.
Object Lambda was getting perceptibly closer - not to the eye, to be sure. No eye on the ship was in a position to see it anyway. But the cameras were able to make out more and more detail - not easily or well because its intrinsic luminosity was so very low, and in the low-energy long-wave part of the spectrum at that. They had even discovered that Lambda was not alone in space. Huge as it was, nearly two AU in diameter, it carried with it little orbiting fleas. The biggest of them was not much more than a mile through and the distance was still enormous; but the T’Worlie instruments managed to detect them, even identify them. The longest periods of free-fall were when the T’Worlies deployed their photon mirrors at the end of a tether, far from even the vibration of a footstep or shifting weight of robot mass in the ship; then their optical emulsions greedily drank up the scant flow of photons from Lambda and converted them into images.
If they had had a great deal of time, they could have answered all questions from there, or nearly all. They were in intergalactic space, and there was no such thing as haze, beyond the advance scattering of their own rocket ejecta. But they had no time: the delta-V equation still ruled them, and one of its tricky parentheses said that deceleration early was worth twice much deceleration late, since it gave them more time for deceleration before they reached the neighbourhood of Lambda. And then there was the mere fact of their rapid approach. The image did not remain still in the T’Worlie mirrors. It grew, minutely, to be sure, but enough that an exposure for more than an hour or so began to fuzz.
Even so, they learned. The nearest thing to pleasure Pertin ever found in a T’Worlie was when a particularly fine series of photographs had been taken, and it was discovered that they showed a hint, a shadow, finally an orbital line for the biggest of the objects that circled Lambda. The pleasure was spoiled for
Pertin when the calculations of orbit and time turned out to be impossible; Lambda would have had to have the density of the solar wind to have so slow a satellite. But the T’Worlies didn’t mind. Explanations would come. If not then, later. If not to the present generation, to the next. Meanwhile they were accruing information.
Between the hours of thudding acceleration and the briefer periods of frenzied activity, darting about the ship, Pertin was nearly always bone-weary and aching. Sleep did not rest him.
Communication with Sun One was more and more an effort.
The twelve-hour wait between transmission and reply - often it was more, when the other beings on the ship had queued up for their own transmissions - destroyed the rhythm of the communication; by the time he had a response to his report of the attack on the instrument chamber, he was already relaxing in the continued comfort of the experience that the attack had not been repeated. Once it was himself, or anyway that other self named Ben Charles Pertin, who reported to him. That put him in a tailspin that only a carefully metered dose of tranquillizers from the cocoon’s store could deal with. From the expression on the other Ben Pertin’s face, it was some strain for him too. But the worst from Sun One was not from his other self, it was from Gerald York Bielowitz, who acknowledged a report, suggested some additional instrument readings that would be desirable, started to sign off, hesitated, and then added: “Oh, you’ll be interested, I think. Zara Doy and Ben Charles were married three hours ago.”
Pertin did not remember cutting the stereo stage or seeing the little figure collapse. He lay there for a long time while the cocoon stroked and soothed him, lifted him, lowered him, gently massaged what pains it could from his limbs. At some point he fell asleep. In his dream Ben Charles Pertin married Zara Doy, but he was Ben Charles, and the two of them, intoxicated with the wine they drank and with each other, spoke sadly and wistfully about the other Ben Pertin who was busy about the task of dying on an alien spaceship a Galaxy away. When he woke up and discovered he was the other Ben Pertin he was in an instant unfocused rage.
It was Doc Chimp who woke him. “Boss,” he whined. “Listen, wake up. I’ve been limping around this hellhole of a ship looking for the Scorpian robot, and—”
“Shut up,” snarled Pertin through the outside communicator of his cocoon. His tone took the chimp aback. He slumped on his haunches, staring at Pertin’s cocoon. He was in bad shape, Pertin saw, unwilling to care about what he saw: the bright green plume was sagging under the thrust of the rockets, the paws and knuckles were scarred and stained. That was why he was there, of course: feet and paws, he could withstand the constantly varying G-force of the thrusters with only a good deal of pain, so it was his job to do what Pertin could not when he was bound to the cocoon. A part of Pertin’s brain told him that if he tried he probably could find ways of making the job easier.
The chimp’s expression was no longer woebegone, it was angry.
“Sure,” he said thickly, “I’ll shut up. Why not? We’ll all shut up before long. Dead beings are all pretty quiet.”
Pertin fought to control his own anger. “We’ll be dead all right. What difference does it make? Do you think this is a real life, what we’re doing here? Back on Sun One we’re alive and well; this is only a dream!”
The chimp wailed, “Ben James, I’m tired and I hurt. I’m sorry if I said something wrong. Look, I’ll go away and come back, only—”
“Do that,” snapped Pertin, turning off the outside communicator.
His agitated hairy face stared dolefully in at him. Doc Chimp was by no means a jungle primate. The shape of his skull was different, the structure of his respiratory system was different, the very chemicals that flowed in his blood were different. But he was not human, either. Doc Chimp – his formal name was not that, but it was all Pertin had ever called him - was one of the mutated animals who had been constructed for special purposes in the molecular biology plants on Earth.
His quadridexterous hands and feet made him particularly useful even in free fall, where he could fling himself about with perfect ease from toe-rest to hand-hold, while humans like Pertin clumsily sprawled and spun. But he had his drawbacks.
A chimpanzee is simply not a human. His physiology is one count against him. He cannot develop the brain of a human because his skull is the wrong shape, and because the chemistry of his blood does not carry enough nourishment to meet the demands of abstract thought. He cannot speak because he lacks the physical equipment to form the wide variety of phonemes in human language. The molecular-biology people knew how to deal with that: things like widening the angle of the cranium called the “kyphosis”, thus allowing the brain to round out full frontal lobes, restructuring tongue and palate, even adding new serum components to the blood like the alphas-globulins that bind human haemoglobin.
In practical terms what had been done to Doc Chimp and his siblings was to speed up evolution. But that was not quite enough. Two generations back Doc Chimp’s ancestors could form only one or two of the simplest words and learn rote tricks; they lacked conceptual thought entirely. Doc Chimp had capacity. He did not have background or tradition. His sixty-degree kyphosis was close to the human average, so that his skull was domed; he possessed a forehead; he could remember complicated instructions and perform difficult tasks; he was capable of assimilating the equivalent of a trade-school education in skill and of conducting the equivalent of cocktail-party conversation in performance. What he lacked was ego. His psychological profile was high in cyclothymia but also in ergic tension; his moods shifted drastically, and he was always adventurous, always afraid. His emotional index was about equal to that of a human five-year-old. Frightened, he ran. Angered, he struck out. Baffled, he wept.
Staring back through the cover of the cocoon, Pertin relented. “Sorry,” he said, snapping the communicator back on. “What were you trying to tell me?”
“I’ve lost the Scorpian,” wailed the chimp.
“Well? Are you supposed to be his keeper?”
“Be easy on me, Ben James,” begged the chimpanzee. “I hurt all over. The robot was supposed to be getting ready for some new instruments that were coming in. He isn’t there. The stuff’s piling up in the transmission chamber and nobody to do anything about it. I’m afraid it’ll get damaged.”
“What about what’s-her-name, Aphrodite? Can’t she store it?”
“She is trying to, but the Scorpian is a specialist in this stuff and she isn’t. None of the other high-G creatures is, as far as I can tell, and, oh, Ben James, I’ve travelled so far trying to find someone who can help!”
He was a pitiable sight, his fur unpreened, his gay clothes smudged and wrinkled. Pertin said, “You’ve done your best, Doc. There’s nothing I can do until the thrust stops - half an hour or so. Why don’t you rest up for a while?”
“Thanks, Ben James!” cried the chimp gratefully. “I’ll just take a few minutes. Wake me, will you? I – I —”
But he was already clambering into the cocoon, his spiderlike arms shaking with strain. Pertin lay back and closed his own eyes, allowing the cocoon to do its best, which amounted to increasing its rate of stroking his back muscles, trying mindlessly to calm him down.
It had seemed very easy, back on Sun One, to volunteer for a task even though the end of it was his certain death. He had not counted on the fact that death did not come like the turning of a switch but slowly and with increasing pain, or that he would be watching friends die before him.
Pertin didn’t wake the chimp when he could finally move; he thrust his own way to the tachyon transmission chamber, hurling himself down the corridors carelessly and almost diving into what turned out to be the silver pseudogirl. He didn’t recognize the creature at first, for she had unfurled enormous silver-film wings and looked like a tinsel Christmas-tree angel as she drove past him.
In the tachyon chamber he found Nummie supervising an octopoidal creature from one of the Core stars in transporting crated equipment to an empty chamber. “What’s happened? Where did Aphrodite go? What’s this stuff?” he demanded, all at once.
Nummie paused and hung in the air before him, balancing himself against stray currents of air with casual movements of his wings. He whistled a methodical answer, and the Pmal translator converted it to this stately and precise form of speech in English: “Of those events which have occurred, that which appears most significant is the arrival of eight hundred mass units of observing equipment. A currently occurring event is that this equipment is in process of being installed. A complicating event is that the Scorpian artificial intelligence being has elected to engage his attention in other areas. There are other events but of lesser significance. The being you name Aphrodite has gone to bring the Beta Bo"otis collective beings to assist in the aforesaid installation. The reason for this is that they are catalogued as possessing qualification on this instrumentation similar to that of the artificial intelligence Scorpian.
The precise nature of the stuff is tachyar-observing equipment. I offer an additional observation: the purpose of it is to map and survey Object Lambda. I offer another additional observation: it will add to the radiation load by a factor of not less than three nor more than eight.”
The T’Worlie hung silently in front of him, waiting for him to respond.
It had a long wait. Pertin was trying to assimilate the information he had just received. A factor of not less than three.
But that meant that his life expectancy was not a matter of months or weeks. It might only be days!
Tachyar was simple enough in concept. It was like the ancient electromagnetic radar sets of Earth; the difference was that it used the faster-than-light tachyons to scan a distant object and return an echo of its shape and size. It was expensive – all tachyon transmission was expensive. Its only justification was that it was indispensable.
If you wanted to get a man, or an instrument, from one point in the universe to some other point across interstellar distances, you had only two choices. One was to build a rocket - preferably fusion-powered, like the Aurora. You then had to launch it, set it on its way and wait anywhere from a decade to a geologic era for it to reach a nearby star. If you wanted to go farther than that, you would wait forever. A voyage from a spiral arm to the core, or from any point in the Galaxy to the deeps of intergalactic space where they now were, was simply out of the time consciousness of any race but the T’Worlies.
The other method was faster. It dispensed with attempting to transport matter at all. Instead of sending an object, you sent a blueprint of the object, and had it built from plan at the destination.
It was not a simple procedure. It required enormous expenditures of energy to generate the tachyon stream that carried the blueprint. It required complex scanning devices to measure every atom and molecule in the object to be transmitted, and to encode positions and relationships for transmission. Above all, it required a tachyon receiver at the point to which you wanted to go.
But granted all those things, you could “travel” at the speed of the tachyons, those particles whose lower speed limit was the velocity of light, and whose upper limit had never been measured.
Of course, the original object remained behind. It was scanned and its blueprints were encoded, and then it was returned unharmed. The man who volunteered for a tachyon trip also stayed at home. What flashed across space was a description of himself, and what emerged from the receiving chamber at destination was a new-built identical copy. There was no detectable difference between original and copy. It would have been a foolproof method of counterfeiting or of duplicating rare art objects - if it had not been so expensive in terms of power consumption that there was little worth the cost of duplicating.
Tachyar was only one use of tachyons. Like ancient radar and sonar, it generated a beam and measured reflections. The problem in using tachyar was the magnitude of the beam. Vast energies were used, and the fraction which was wasted because of the natural inefficiency of the process produced ionizing radiation in large amplitudes.
Sun One must be taking the question of Object Lambda’s satellites seriously if it was sending tachyar equipment to study them. The cost was high. It would be paid in the lives of those aboard.
The single planet of the golden-yellow star Beta Bo"otis was like a cooler, older Venus. Because it was farther from its sun, it was spared the huge flow of heat that cooked Venus sterile; but it possessed the same enormously deep, enormously dense atmosphere. It was spared the loss of its liquid water, and so its surface was covered an average of thirty miles deep in an
Oceanic soup. That was where the Boaty-Bits had evolved.
Aquatic in origin, they could survive on Sun One or the probe ship only in edited forms adapted for air-breathing; they could not live on high-gravity planets at all, since they had only the feeblest mechanisms for propelling themselves about their native seas. An individual Boaty-Bit was about as useful as an infant jellyfish, and not much more intelligent. That didn’t matter; the Boaty-Bits never operated as individuals. Their swarming instinct was overpowering, and once linked together they had a collective intelligence that was a direct function of their number. A quarter of a million Boaty-Bits equalled a man. On their home planet they sometimes linked up in collectives of four or five million or more, but those groupings could be maintained only briefly even in their oceans and were never attained in their air-breathing edited forms.
When they arrived in the tachyon receiver chamber, they immediately took command. They were not specialists in tachyar gear. They were generalists. The skills required to assemble and install the crated instruments were built into their collective intelligence. What they lacked was operating organs, but the T’Worlie, his octopoidal assistant, Ben James Pertin and every other being who came nearby were conscripted to be their hands and legs. It was slow work that would have been impossible in a gravity field for the T’Worlie, or even for Pertin himself; but in free fall they were able to tug and guide the components into place, and the T’Worlie had mass enough to make the connections and calibrate the equipment. When they were nearly done Doc Chimp turned up, angry because he had been left behind, and his muscle finished the job quickly.
As they were finishing up, there was a blast of white sound from the tachyon receiving chamber and warning lights flashed.
Doc Chimp spun around, his wide jaw gaping. “Something important coming in?” he guessed.
“I don’t know, but Let’s go look.” They thrust themselves towards the chamber, got there just as the portal opened.
Three Sheliaks emerged.
They flashed out of the lock with a hollow hooting, long black shapes that rocketed towards the watching Terrestrials and bounced down on the green metal surface of the chamber. They clung in spite of the lack of gravity, and flowed abruptly into a new shape, black velvet globes, thigh high, three more emerged, and three more. When fifteen had come to rest on the floor of the chamber the transmission stopped. Without a detectable sign, all of them moved in synchronization. From flattened spheres, like baker’s buns set in a tray, they suddenly turned luminous, flowing with patterns of soft colour, then elongated themselves and stretched up tapered necks that rose as tall as a man.
The tallest of them, the first through the chamber and the nearest to Ben James Pertin, made a noise like escaping gas from a compressed-air cylinder. In Pertin’s ear his Pmal unit translated for him: Take notice! We are under the direction of the collective council of Sun One. We are to take command of this vessel, and all other beings aboard are to follow our orders!”
Pertin’s curiosity was suddenly transmuted into anger, a radiant rage that flooded his mind and over-ruled his inhibitions. “The hell you say!” he shouted. “I’ve had no such instructions from the Earth representatives, and I deny your authority!”
The Sheliak paused, the long neck swaying back and forth, “Your wishes are immaterial,” it stated at last. “We can destroy you.”
Doc Chimp chattered nervously. “Don’t make him mad, Ben James. You know how Sheliaks are.” Pertin did; they were among the few races which had built-in weaponry. On the infrequent occasions when the Galaxy found itself troubled by unruly barbarians, it was usually Sheliaks who were employed to quiet the opposition; they were the Foreign Legion of the Galaxy.
The long neck swayed towards the mutated chimpanzee. From the narrow orifice at its tip the sound exploded again, and the translators shouted at the chimp: “Your name! Your function! Reply at once!”
“I am Napier Chimski, technician,” the chimp replied bravely.
The vase shape swung towards Pertin. “Your name and function!”
“Oh, Ben James Pertin,” he said, distracted by hearing Doc Chimp’s real name for the first time. “I’m an engineer. But don’t go so fast! I’ve just come from Sun One myself, and I know There’s no authority for one race to impose its will on another. I will certainly report this at once!”
The Sheliak swayed silently for a moment, towards him then away. At last it said, “No orders for you at present. Go about your business.”
Pertin drew himself up, holding to a wall brace. “You’re my business!” he shouted. “There are murdering beings aboard this
If you’re here by order of Sun One, as you say, why don’t you go find them and leave us alone?”
The Sheliak did not reply. All fifteen of them were swaying silently now. Perhaps they were conferring with each other, Pertin thought; Sheliaks had learned vocal sound only to talk to other races of the Galaxy, and the riddle of how they communicated among themselves was still unsolved,
“I certainly will report this,” Pertin added.
There was still no response. The pointless confrontation might have gone on, but it was interrupted by the bright thrice-repeated flash of white light that meant the thrusters were about to go into operation again.
“Oh, hell,” groaned Pertin. “Doc, we’d better get back to our cocoons.”
“Never too soon for me, Ben James,” agreed the chimp fervently, staring at the Sheliaks. “Let’s go!”
They raced for the cocoons. The warning had caught others short; the corridors were full of low-G beings hurrying back to safety before the fusion rockets began again. The Boaty-Bits arrowed past them at top velocity, like a cartoon drawing of a swarm of wasps. The octopoidal creature launched itself from a wall at the end of the corridor with a multiple thrust of its legs and spun, tentacles waving crazily, past them. There was a thundering roar, and three Sheliaks raced past them, then another three and another, in Vees. A being like a six-legged spider monkey bounced back and forth, scratching and clawing for footholds, whining irritably to itself in a high-pitched tone.
And abruptly: “Ben James! Look!”
Doc Chimp was staring down a broad transverse corridor as they soared by it. Pertin looked, saw a creature like an enormous blue eye, at least a foot across. It swerved as he looked, revealing the body behind it, a tapered torpedo shape, glittering with patterned scales like blue glass. A stubby wing spread on each side, the leading edge thick and scaled, flowing smoothly into the body, the thin trailing edge a flutter of blue. And beyond it was something bright, metallic and angular.
“It’s the Sirian, Ben James! The one that tried to kill us all. And wasn’t that the Scorpian robot with him?”
Pertin reached out, grabbed a handhold and checked himself.
The chimpanzee reacted a moment later and also stopped himself, a yard or two farther down. “What are you doing, Ben James?” he chattered.
“I’m going after them!” Pertin snapped. “The Sirian’s one of the murderers. And the robot’s up to something, too.”
“No, Ben James! You can’t take the G-force. Let’s let the Sheliaks take care of them, that’s what they’re here for.”
The featureless green light of the corridor faded and changed to a dull crimson glow. That was the short-term warning; they had less than thirty seconds now before the rockets began.
Pertin cursed. The chimp was right, of course, and he knew it; it didn’t make it any more enjoyable, though. “Oh, hell,” he groaned. “All right, Let’s go!”
They made it - not with any time to spare. They rolled into their cocoons just as the first giant thrust struck, and a moment later the regular repeated sound of the rockets reached them. The webbing spread itself over Pertin; he fell into the warm, receiving shape of the cocoon, but he resisted its comfort. While it was still adjusting to his shape, he was already stabbing at the controls of the stereo stage, trying to summon all the cocoon-bound beings on the ship into a conference call. The automatic dialling circuits were equal to the job; it was not something that was often done, but the physical capacity for it existed.
But not this time. All lines were busy. Every being on the ship, it appeared, was already using his stereo stage for purposes of his own - most likely for trying to transmit a tachyon message to his own people at Sun One, Pertin knew.
He fell back and let the cocoon massage him as soothingly as it could.
Thuuud-screech, Thuuud-screech. The thrust felt more powerful than before, the tempo a bit faster. The thunder and groan of the drive made it nearly impossible for Pertin to think, but he had to think.
The problem on his mind was not any of the obvious ones: what to do about the Sheliaks, how to deal with the murderers, the completion of the mission. His mind worried at those a moment at a time and then let them go; they required action, not thought, and action was not available to him while the fusion rockets roared.
Instead, he thought about an unpleasant discovery. The discovery was that there wasn’t much in being a hero. His heroism had been entered into lightly enough, but he supposed that was not in itself rare; how many soon-to-be Medal of Honour winners had volunteered for combat patrols simply because they were bored with sitting in foxholes, and found themselves caught up in events which made them immortal reputations?
But his heroism was not even going to get him a medal. No one would ever really know what was happening on this ship, because it was absolutely certain there would be no survivors. Either Aurora’s mission would succeed, in which event the Galaxy at large would accept their sacrifice complacently, or it would fail. Then they would all be thought of, when they were thought of at all, as that sorry bunch that wasted themselves for nothing.
With the thud and rasp of metal roaring at him, his cocoon seesawing to the violent deceleration of the rockets, tired, half-sick, angry and hopeless, Ben James Pertin faced the fact that there was nothing left in his life anywhere that would give him one moment’s joy.
Another Ben Pertin tens of thousands of light-years away was trying to soothe his bride. He said, “Honey, I knew what I was getting into when I volunteered. I was willing to go through with it. That other me on the ship doesn’t feel any different about it.”
Zara Pertin said harshly, “That other you is going to die, Ben Charles.”
“But I’ll still be alive!”
“And he’ll be dead. Don’t you understand me? I love you! And he is you, and I don’t like to think about what is happening to him.” She turned over, giving her back a chance to collect some of the UV tan from the lamps overhead and took off her goggles. She said, “What’s it like there now, Ben?”
“Well—” he said.
“No, I want to know. Tell me.”
Ben Charles looked around the little simulated beach beside the great water tank that was their “ocean”. There was no one around but themselves. They’d come here for that reason, but Ben Charles found himself wishing for an interruption. She turned her head and looked at him, and he shrugged.
“All right. It’s bad,” he said. “The sensors in his acceleration cocoon report some destruction of the white corpuscles already.
Pretty soon he’ll start having nosebleeds, then he’ll bleed internally. He’ll be getting weaker, running a temperature, and before long he’ll die.” He paused, then answered the unspoken question. “Probably within a week.”
He propped himself up on one arm - easily enough; even here the effective gravity was only a fraction of Earth-normal. He looked out at the thousand-foot cusp of water, curving upward to meet the bulkhead at its far end and added: “That’s if he dies as a result of radiation, but he might not last that long. Some of the beings are getting violent. The electronic ones are malfunctioning, because the radiation affects their synapses. Insane, really. A lot of the organic ones are sick. All of them are scared. There - there have been deaths.”
“I should have gone with you,” Zara said thoughtfully.
“Oh, now, really! That’s stupid! What would be the point?”
“I would have felt better about it, and so would you. He.” She stood up, smiling, her mind made up. “If you have to go again, dear,” she said, “I’m going too. Now I’m hungry. Race you back to the apartment.”