Voyage to Eternity
Chapter III

Public Domain

“Hey, looka me. I’m flying!”

“Will you get your big fat feet out of my face?”

“Sure. Show me how to swim away through air, I’ll be glad to.”

“Leggo that spoon!”

“I ain’t got your spoon.”

“Will you look at it float away. Hey spoon, hey!”

“Watch this, Charlie. This will get you. I mean, get you.”

“What are you gonna do?”

“Relax, chum.”

“Leggo my leg. Help! I’m up in the air. Stop that.”

“I said relax. There. Ha-ha, lookit him spin, just like a top. All you got to do is get him started and he spins like a top with arms and legs. Top of the morning to you, Charlie. Ha-ha. I said, top of the...”

“Someone stop me, I’m getting dizzy.”

They floated, tumbled, spun around the spaceship’s lounge room in simple, childish glee. They cavorted in festive weightlessness.

“They’re happy now,” Arkalion observed. “The novelty of free fall, of weighing exactly nothing, strikes them as amusing.”

“I think I’m getting the hang of it,” said Temple. Clumsily, he made a few tentative swimming motions in the air, propelling himself forward a few yards before he lost his balance and tumbled head over heels against the wall.

Arkalion came to him quickly, in a combination of swimming and pushing with hands and feet against the wall. Arkalion righted him expertly, sat down gingerly beside him. “If you keep sudden motions to a minimum, you’ll get along fine. More than anything else, that’s the secret of it.”

Temple nodded. “It’s sort of like the first time you’re on ice skates. Say, how come you’re so good at it?”


“I used to read the old, theoretical books on space-travel.” The words poured out effortlessly, smoothly. “I’m merely applying the theories put forward as early as the 1950’s.”

“Oh.” But it left Temple with some food for thought. Alaric Arkalion was a queer duck, anyway, and of all the men gathered in the spaceship’s lounge, he alone had mastered weightlessness with hardly any trouble.

“Take your ice skates,” Arkalion went on. “Some people put them on and use them like natural extensions of their feet the first time. Others fall all over themselves. I suppose I am lucky.”

“Sure,” said Temple. Actually, the only thing odd about Arkalion was his old-young face and--perhaps--his propensity for coming up with the right answers at the right times. Arkalion had seemed so certain of space-travel. He’d hardly batted an eyelash when they boarded a long, tapering, bullet-shaped ship at White Sands and thundered off into the sky. He took for granted the change-over to a huge round ship at the wheel-shaped station in space. Moments after leaving the space station--with a minimum of stress and strain, thanks to the almost-nil gravity--it was Arkalion who first swam through air to the viewport and pointed out the huge crescent earth, green and gray and brown, sparkling with patches of dazzling silver-white. “You will observe it is a crescent,” Arkalion had said. “It is closer to the sun than we are, and off at an angle. As I suspected, our destination is Mars.”


Then everyone was saying goodbye to earth. Fantastic, it seemed. There were tears, there was laughter, cursing, promises of return, awkward verbal comparisons with the crescent moon, vows of faithfulness to lovers and sweethearts. And there was Arkalion, with an avid expression in the old eyes, Arkalion with his boyish face, not saying goodbye so much as he was calling hello to something Temple could not fathom.

Now, as he struggled awkwardly with weightlessness, Temple called it his imagination. His thought-patterns shifted vaguely, without motivation, from the gleaming, polished interior of the ship with its smell of antiseptic and metal polish to the clear Spring air of Earth, blue of sky and bright of sun. The unique blue sky of Earth which he somehow knew could not be duplicated elsewhere. Elsewhere--the word itself bordered on the meaningless.

And Stephanie. The brief warm ecstasy of her--once, forever. He wondered with surprising objectivity if a hundred other names, a hundred other women were not in a hundred other minds while everyone stared at the crescent Earth hanging serenely in space--with each name and each woman as dear as Stephanie, with the same combination of fire and gentle femininity stirring the blood but saddening the heart. Would Stephanie really forget him? Did he want her to? That part of him burned by the fire of her said no--no, she must not forget him. She was his, his alone, roped and branded though a universe separated them. But someplace in his heart was the thought, the understanding, the realization that although Stephanie might keep a small place for him tucked someplace deep in her emotions, she must forget. He was gone--permanently. For Stephanie, he was dead. It was as he had told her that last stolen day. It was... Stephanie, Stephanie, how much I love you...

Struggling with weightlessness, he made his way back to the small room he shared with Arkalion. Hardly more than a cubicle, it was, with sufficient room for two beds, a sink, a small chest. He lay down and slept, murmuring Stephanie’s name in his sleep.


He awoke to the faint hum of the air-pumps, got up feeling rested, forgot his weightlessness and floated to the ceiling where only an outthrust arm prevented a nasty bump on his head. He used hand grips on the wall to let himself down. He washed, aware of no way to prevent the water he splashed on his face from forming fine droplets and spraying the entire room. When he crossed back to the foot of his bed to get his towel he thrust one foot out too rapidly, lost his balance, half-rose, stumbled and fell against the other bed which, like all other items of furniture, was fastened to the floor. But his elbow struck sleeping Arkalion’s jaw sharply, hard enough to jar the man’s teeth.

“I’m sorry,” said Temple. “Didn’t mean to do that,” he apologized again, feeling embarrassed.

Arkalion merely lay there.

“I said I’m sorry.”

Arkalion still slept. It seemed inconceivable, for Temple’s elbow pained him considerably. He bent down, examined his inert companion.

Arkalion stirred not a muscle.

Vaguely alarmed, Temple thrust a hand to Arkalion’s chest, felt nothing. He crouched, rested the side of his head over Arkalion’s heart. He listened, heard--nothing.

What was going on here?

“Hey, Arkalion!” Temple shook him, gently at first, then with savage force. Weightless, Arkalion’s body floated up off the bed, taking the covers with it. His own heart pounding furiously, Temple got it down again, fingered the left wrist and swallowed nervously.

Temple had never seen a dead man before. Arkalion’s heart did not beat. Arkalion had no pulse.

Arkalion was dead.

Yelling hoarsely, Temple plunged from the room, soaring off the floor in his haste and striking his head against the ceiling hard enough to make him see stars. “This guy is dead!” he cried. “Arkalion is dead.”

Men stirred in the companionway. Someone called for one of the armed guards who were constantly on patrol.

“If he’s dead, you’re yelling loud enough to get him out of his grave.” The voice was quiet, amused.

Arkalion.

“What?” Temple blurted, whirling around and striking his head again. A little wild-eyed, he reentered the room.

 
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