Breaking Point
Chapter VII

Public Domain

_ ... We are about to land. The planet is green and blue below
us, and the long trip is over ... It looks as if it might be a
pleasant place to live... _

_A fragment of Old Testament verse has been running through my
mind--from Ecclesiastes, I think. I don’t remember it verbatim,
but it’s something like this:_

_To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose
under heaven: A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to
mourn, and a time to dance; A time to get, and a time to lose; a
time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to be born, and a
time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which
is planted._

_For me, anyway, I feel that the time has come. Perhaps it is
not to die but something else, less final or more terrible._

_In any case, you will remember, I know, what we decided long
ago--that a man owes one of two things to his planet, to his
race: posterity, or himself. I could not contribute the
first--it is only proper that I should offer the second and not
shrink if it is accepted... _
--From a letter by Peter Hoskins to his wife.

In the quiet and the dark, Hoskins moved.

“Checkmate,” he said.

He rose from his chair and crossed the cabin. Ignoring what was on the table, he opened a drawer under the parts cabinet and took out a steel rule. From a book rack he lifted down a heavy manual. He sat on the end of the couch with the manual on his knees and leafed through it, smoothing it open at a page of physical measurements. He glanced at the floor, across it to the black curtain, back to the one exposed bulkhead. He grunted, put the book down, and carried his tape to the steel wall. He anchored one end of it there by flipping the paramagnetic control on the tape case, and pulled the tape across the room. At the blackness he took a reading, made a mark.

Then he took a fore-and-aft measurement from a point opposite the forward end of the table to one opposite the after end of the bunk. Working carefully, he knelt and constructed a perpendicular to this line. He put the tape down for the third time, arriving again at the outboard wall of darkness. He stood regarding it thoughtfully, and then unhesitatingly plunged his arm into it. He fumbled for a moment, moving his hand around in a circle, pressing forward, trying again. Suddenly there was a click, a faint hum. He stepped back.

Something huge shouldered out of the dark. It pressed forward toward him, passed him, stopped moving.

It was the port.

Hoskins wiped sweat away from his upper lip and stood blinking into the airlock until the outer port opened as well. Warm afternoon sunlight and a soft, fresh breeze poured in. In the wind was birdsong and the smell of growing things. Hoskins gazed into it, his mild eyes misty. Then he turned back to the cabin.

The darkness was gone. Ives was sprawled on the after couch, apparently unconscious. Johnny was smiling in his sleep. The Captain was snoring stertorously, and Paresi was curled up like a cat on the floor. The sunlight streamed in through the forward viewports. The manual wheel gleamed on the bulkhead, unbroken.

Hoskins looked at the sleeping crew and shook his head, half-smiling. Then he stepped to the control console and lifted a microphone from its hook. He began to speak softly into it in his gentle, unimpressive voice. He said:

“Reality is what it is, and not what it seems to be. What it seems to be is an individual matter, and even in the individual it varies constantly. If that’s a truism, it’s still the truth, as true as the fact that this ship cannot fail. The course of events after our landing would have been profoundly different if we had unanimously accepted the thing we knew to be true. But none of us need feel guilty on that score. We are not conditioned to deny the evidence of our senses.

“What the natives of this planet have done is, at base, simple and straightforward. They had to know if the race who built this ship could do so because they were psychologically sound (and therefore capable of reasoning out the building process, among many, many other things) or whether we were merely mechanically apt. To find this out, they tested us. They tested us the way we test steel--to find out its breaking point. And while they were playing a game for our sanity, I played a game for our lives. I could not share it with any of you because it was a game only I, of us all, have experience in. Paresi was right to a certain degree when he said I had retreated into abstraction--the abstraction of chess. He was wrong, though, when he concluded I had been driven to it. You can be quite sure that I did it by choice. It was simply a matter of translating the contactual evidence into an equivalent idea-system.

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