Voyage to Eternity
Three-score men sit in the crowded, smoke-filled room. Some drink beer, some squat in moody silence, some talk in an animated fashion about nothing very urgent. At the one small door, two guards pace back and forth slowly, creating a gentle swaying of smoke-patterns in the hazy room. The guards, in simple military uniform, carry small, deadly looking weapons.
FIRST MAN: Fight City Hall? Are you kidding? They took you, bud. Don’t try to fight it. I know. I know.
SECOND MAN: I’m telling you, there was a mistake in the records. I’m over twenty-six. Two weeks and two days. Already I wrote to my Congressman. Hell, that’s why I voted for him, he better go to bat for me.
THIRD MAN: You think that’s something? I wouldn’t be here only those doctors are crazy. I mean, crazy. Me, with a cyst big as a golf ball on the base of my spine.
FIRST MAN: You too. Don’t try to fight it.
FOURTH MAN: (Newly named Alaric Arkalion III) I look forward to this as a stimulating adventure. Does the fact that they select men for the Nowhere Journey once every seven hundred and eighty days strike anyone as significant?
SECOND MAN: I got my own problems.
ALARIC ARKALION: This is not a thalamic problem, young man. Not thalamic at all.
THIRD MAN: Young man? Who are you kidding?
ALARIC ARKALION: (Who realizes, thanks to the plastic surgeon, he is the youngest looking of all, with red cheeks and peach-fuzz whiskers) It is a problem of the intellect. Why seven hundred and eighty days?
FIRST MAN: I read the magazines, too, chief. You think we’re all going to the planet Mars. How original.
ALARIC ARKALION: As a matter of fact, that is exactly what I think.
SECOND MAN: Mars?
FIRST MAN (Laughing) It’s a long way from Mars to City Hall, doc.
SECOND MAN: You mean, through space to Mars?
ALARIC ARKALION: Exactly, exactly. Quite a coincidence, otherwise.
FIRST MAN: You’re telling me.
ALARIC ARKALION: (Coldly) Would you care to explain it?
FIRST MAN: Why, sure. You see, Mars is--uh, I don’t want to steal your thunder, chief. Go ahead.
ALARIC ARKALION: Once every seven hundred and eighty days Mars and the Earth find themselves in the same orbital position with respect to the sun. In other words, Mars and Earth are closest then. Were there such a thing as space travel, new, costly, not thoroughly tested, they would want to make each journey as brief as possible. Hence the seven hundred and eighty days.
FIRST MAN: Not bad, chief. You got most of it.
THIRD MAN: No one ever said anything about space travel.
FIRST MAN: You think we’d broadcast it or something, stupid? It’s part of a big, important scientific experiment, only we’re the hamsters.
ALARIC ARKALION: Ridiculous. You’re forgetting all about the Cold War.
FIRST MAN: He thinks we’re fighting a war with the Martians. (Laughs) Orson Wells stuff, huh?
ALARIC ARKALION: With the Russians. The Russians. We developed A bombs. They developed A bombs. We came up with the H bomb. So did they. We placed a station up in space, a fifth of the way to the moon. So did they. Then--nothing more about scientific developments. For over twenty years. I ask you, doesn’t it seem peculiar?
FIRST MAN: Peculiar, he says.
ALARIC ARKALION: Peculiar.
SECOND MAN: I wish my Congressman...
FIRST MAN: You and your Congressman. The way you talk, it was your vote got him in office.
SECOND MAN: If only I could get out and talk to him.
ALARIC ARKALION: No one is permitted to leave.
FIRST MAN: Punishable by a prison term, the law says.
SECOND MAN. Oh yeah? Prison, shmision. Or else go on the Nowhere Journey. Well, I don’t see the difference.
FIRST MAN: So, go ahead. Try to escape.
SECOND MAN: (Looking at the guards) They got them all over. All over. I think our mail is censored.
ALARIC ARKALION: It is.
SECOND MAN: They better watch out. I’m losing my temper. I get violent when I lose my temper.
FIRST MAN: See? See how the guards are trembling.
SECOND MAN: Very funny. Maybe you didn’t have a good job or something? Maybe you don’t care. I care. I had a job with a future. Didn’t pay much, but a real blue chip future. So they send me to Nowhere.
FIRST MAN: You’re not there yet.
SECOND MAN: Yeah, but I’m going.
THIRD MAN: If only they let you know when. My back is killing me. I’m waiting to pull a sick act. Just waiting, that’s all.
FIRST MAN: Go ahead and wait, a lot of good it will do you.
THIRD MAN: You mind your own business.
FIRST MAN: I am, doc. You brought the whole thing up.
SECOND MAN: He’s looking for trouble.
THIRD MAN: He’ll get it.
ALARIC ARKALION: We’re going to be together a long time. A long time. Why don’t you all relax?
SECOND MAN: You mind your own business.
FIRST MAN: Nuts, aren’t they. They’re nuts. A sick act, yet.
SECOND MAN: Look how it doesn’t bother him. A failure, he was. I can just see it. What does he care if he goes away forever and doesn’t come back? One bread line is as good as another.
FIRST MAN: Ha-ha.
SECOND MAN: Yeah, well I mean it. Forever. We’re going away, someplace--forever. We’re not coming back, ever. No one comes back. It’s for good, for keeps.
FIRST MAN: Tell it to your Congressman. Or maybe you want to pull a sick act, too?
THIRD MAN: (Hits First Man, who, surprised, crashes back against a table and falls down) It isn’t an act, damn you!
GUARD: All right, break it up. Come on, break it up...
ALARIC ARKALION: (To himself) I wish I saw that ten million dollars already--if I ever get to see it.
They drove for hours through the fresh country air, feeling the wind against their faces, listening to the roar their ground-jet made, all alone on the rimrock highway.
“Where are we going, Kit?”
“Search me. Just driving.”
“I’m glad they let you come out this once. I don’t know what they would have done to me if they didn’t. I had to see you this once. I--”
Temple smiled. He had absented himself without leave. It had been difficult enough and he might yet be in a lot of hot water, but it would be senseless to worry Stephanie. “It’s just for a few hours,” he said.
“Hours. When we want a whole lifetime. Kit. Oh, Kit--why don’t we run away? Just the two of us, someplace where they’ll never find you. I could be packed and ready and--”
“Don’t talk like that. We can’t.”
“You want to go where they’re sending you. You want to go.”
“For God’s sake, how can you talk like that? I don’t want to go anyplace, except with you. But we can’t run away, Steffy. I’ve got to face it, whatever it is.”
“No you don’t. It’s noble to be patriotic, sure. It always was. But this is different, Kit. They don’t ask for part of your life. Not for two years, or three, or a gamble because maybe you won’t ever come back. They ask for all of you, for the rest of your life, forever, and they don’t even tell you why. Kit, don’t go! We’ll hide someplace and get married and--”
“And nothing.” Temple stopped the ground-jet, climbed out, opened the door for Stephanie. “Don’t you see? There’s no place to hide. Wherever you go, they’d look. You wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life running, Steffy. Not with me or anyone else.”
“I would. I would!”
“Know what would happen after a few years? We’d hate each other. You’d look at me and say ‘I wouldn’t be hiding like this, except for you. I’m young and--’”
“Kit, that’s cruel! I would not.”
“Yes, you would. Steffy, I--” A lump rose in his throat. He’d tell her goodbye, permanently. He had to do it that way, did not want her to wait endlessly and hopelessly for a return that would not materialize. “I didn’t get permission to leave, Steffy.” He hadn’t meant to tell her that, but suddenly it seemed an easy way to break into goodbye.
“What do you mean? No--you didn’t...”
“I had to see you. What can they do, send me for longer than forever?”
“Then you do want to run away with me!”
“Steffy, no. When I leave you tonight, Steffy, it’s for good. That’s it. The last of Kit Temple. Stop thinking about me. I don’t exist. I--never was.” It sounded ridiculous, even to him.
“Kit, I love you. I love you. How can I forget you?”
“It’s happened before. It will happen again.” That hurt, too. He was talking about a couple of statistics, not about himself and Stephanie.