Voyage to Eternity
Chapter IV

Public Domain

“Petrovitch, S. A.!” called the Comrade standing abreast of the head of the line, a thin, nervous man half a head shorter than the girl herself. Sophia Androvna Petrovitch strode forward, took a pair of trim white shorts from the neat stack at his left.

“Is that all?” she said, looking at him.

“Yes, Comrade. Well, a woman. Well.”

Without embarrassment, Sophia had seen the men ahead of her in line strip and climb into the white shorts before they disappeared through a portal ahead of the line, depositing their clothing in a growing pile on the floor. But now it was Sophia’s turn, after almost a two hour wait. Not that it was chilly, but...

“Is that all?” she repeated.

“Certainly. Strip and move along, Comrade.” The nervous little man appraised her lecherously, she thought.

“Then I must keep some of my own clothing,” she told him.

“Impossible. I have my orders.”

“I am a woman.”

“You are a volunteer for the Stalintrek. You will take no personal property--no clothing--with you. Strip and advance, please.”

Sophia flushed slightly, while the men behind her began to call and taunt.

“I like this Stalintrek.”

“Oh, yes.”

“We are waiting, Comrade.”

Quickly and with an objective detachment which surprised her, Sophia unbuttoned her shirt, removed it. Her one wish--and an odd one, she thought, smiling--was for wax for her ears. She loosened the three snaps of her skirt, watched it fall to the floor. She stood there briefly, lithe-limbed, a tall, slim girl, then had the white shorts over her nakedness in one quick motion. She still wore a coarse halter.

“All personal effects, Comrade,” said the nervous little man.

“No,” Sophia told him.

“But yes. Definitely, yes. You hold up the line, and we have a schedule to maintain. The Stalintrek demands quick, prompt obedience.”

“Then you will give me one additional item of clothing.”

The man looked at Sophia’s halter, at the fine way she filled it. He shrugged. “We don’t have it,” he said, clearly enjoying himself.

In volunteering for the Stalintrek, Sophia had invaded man’s domain. She had watched not with embarrassment but with scorn while the men in front of her got out of their clothing. She had invaded man’s domain, and as she watched them, the short, flabby ones, the bony ones with protruding ribs and collar-bones, those of milky white skin and soft hands, she knew most of them would bite off more than they could chew if ever they tried what was the most natural thing for men to try with a lone woman in an isolated environment. But she was in a man’s world now, and if that was the way they wanted it, she would ask no quarter.

She reached up quickly with one hand and unfastened the halter, catching it with her free hand and holding it in front of her breasts while the nervous little man licked his lips and gaped. Sophia grabbed another pair of the white shorts, tore it quickly with her strong fingers, fashioning a crude covering for herself. This she pulled around her, fastening it securely with a knot in back.

“You’ll have to give that back to me,” declared the nervous little Comrade.

“I’ll bet you a samovar on that,” Sophia said quietly, so only the man heard her.

He reached out, as if to rip the crude halter from her body, but Sophia met him half-way with her strong, slim fingers, wrapping them around his biceps and squeezing. The man’s face turned quickly to white as he tried unsuccessfully to free his arm.

“Please, that hurts.”

“I keep what I am wearing.” She tightened her grip, but gazed serenely into space as the man stifled a whimper.

“Well--” the man whispered indecisively as he gritted his teeth.

“Fool!” said Sophia. “Your arm will be black and blue for a week. While you men grow soft and lazy, many of the women take their gymnastics seriously, especially if they want to keep their figures with the work they must do and the food they must eat. I am stronger than you and I will hurt you unless--” And her hand tightened around his scrawny arm until her knuckles showed white.

“Wear what you have and go,” the man pleaded, and moaned softly when Sophia released his numb arm and strode through the portal, still drawing whistles and leers from the other men, who missed the by-play completely.

“So we’re on Mars!”

“It ain’t Nowhere after all, it’s Mars.”

“Wait and see, buster. Wait and see.”

“Kind of cold, isn’t it? Well, if this was Venus and some of them beautiful one-armed dames was waiting for us--”

“That’s just a statue, stupid.”

“Lookit all them people down there, will you?”

“You think they’re Martians?”

“Stupid! We ain’t the first ones went on the Nowhere Journey.”

“What are we waiting for? It sure will feel good to stretch your legs.”

“Let’s go!”

“Look out, Mars, here I come!”

It would have been just right for a Hollywood epic, Temple thought. The rusty ochre emptiness spreading out toward the horizon in all directions, spotted occasionally with pale green and frosty white, the sky gray with but a shade of blue in it, distant gusts of Martian wind swirling ochre clouds across the desert, the spaceship poised on its ungainly bottom, a great silver bowling ball with rocket tubes for finger holes, and the Martians from Earth who had been here on this alien world for seven-hundred-eighty days or twice seven-eighty or three times, and who fought in frenzied eagerness, like savages, to reach the descending gangplank first.

Earth chorus: Hey, Martians, any of you guys speak English? Hah-ha, I said, any of you guys...

Where are all them canals I heard so much about?

You think maybe they’re dangerous? (Laughter)

No dames. Hey, no dames...

Who were you expecting, Donna Daunley?

What kind of place is Mars with no women?

What do they do here, anyway, just sit around and wait for the next rocket?

I’m cold.

Get used to it, brother, get used to it.

Look out, Mars, here I come!

Martian chorus: Who won the Series last year, Detroit?

Hey, bud, tell me, are dames still wearing those one piece things, all colors, so you see their legs up to about here and their chests down to about here? (Gestures lewdly)

Which one of you guys can tell me what it’s like to take a bath? I mean a real bath in a real bath tub.

Hey, we licked Russia yet?

We heard they were gonna send some dames!

Dames--ha-ha, you’re breaking my heart.

Tell me what a steak tastes like. So thick.

Me? Gimme a bowl of steamed oysters. And a dame.

Dames. Girls. Women. Females. Chicks. Tomatoes. Frails. Dames. Dames. Dames...

They did not seem to mind the cold, these Earth-Martians. Temple guessed they never spent much time out of doors (above ground, for there were no buildings?) because all seemed pale and white. While the sun was weaker, so was the protection offered by a thinner atmosphere. The sun’s actinic rays could burn, and so could the sand-driving wind. But pale skins could not be the result of staying indoors, for Temple noted the lack of man-made structures at once. Underground, then. The Earth-Martians lived underground like moles. Doing what? And for what reason? With what ultimate goal, if any? And where did those men who did not remain on Mars go? Temple’s head whirled with countless questions--and no answers.

Shoulder to shoulder with Arkalion, he made his way down the gangplank, turning up the collar of his jumper against the stinging wind.

“You got any newspapers, pal?”


“Phonograph records?”



“Who’s the heavyweight champ?”

“We lick those Commies in Burma yet?”

“Step back! Watch that man. Maybe he’s your replacement.”

“Replacement. Ha-ha. That’s good.”

All types of men. All ages. In torn, tattered clothing, mostly. In rags. Even if a man seemed more well-groomed than the rest, on closer examination Temple could see the careful stitching, the patches, the fades and stains. No one seemed to mind.

“Hey, bud. What do you hear about rotation? They passed any laws yet?”

“I been here ten years. When do I get rotated?”

“Ain’t that something? Dad Jenks came here with the first ship. Don’t you talk about rotation. Ask Dad.”

“Better not mention that word to Dad Jenks. He sees red.”

“This whole damn planet is red.”

“Want a guided tour of nowhere, men? Step right up.”

Arkalion grinned. “They seem so well-adjusted,” he said, then shuddered against the cold and followed Temple, with the others, through the crowd.

They were inoculated against nameless diseases. (Watch for the needle with the hook.)

They were told again they had arrived on the planet Mars. (No kidding?)

Led to a drab underground city, dimly lit, dank, noisome with mold and mildew. (Quick, the chlorophyll.)

Assigned bunks in a dormitory, with four men to a room. (Be it ever so humble--bah!)

Told to keep things clean and assigned temporarily to a garbage pickup detail. (For this I left Sheboygan?)

Read to from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Public Law 1182 (concerned with the Nowhere Journey, it told them nothing they did not already know).

Given as complete a battery of tests, mental, emotional and physical, as Temple ever knew existed. (Cripes, man! How the hell should I know what the cube root of -5 is? I never finished high school!)

Subjected to an exhaustive, overlong, and at times meaningless personal interview. (No, doc, honest. I never knew I had a--uh--anxiety neurosis. Is it dangerous?)

“How do you do, Temple? Sit down.”

“Thank you.”

“Thought you’d like to know that while your overall test score is not uncanny, it’s decidedly high.”

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