Voyage to Eternity
The trouble with the Stalintrek, Sophia thought, was that it took months to get absolutely nowhere. There had been the painful pressure, the loss of consciousness, the confinement in this tight little world of dormitories and gleaming metal walls, the uncanny feeling of no weight, the ability--boring after a while, but interesting at first--to float about in air almost at will.
Then, how many months of sameness? Sophia had lost all track of time through ennui. But for the first brief period of adjustment on the part of her fellows to the fact that although she was a woman and shared their man’s life she was still to be inviolate, the routine had been anything but exciting. The period of adjustment had had its adventures, its uncertainties, its challenge, and to Sophia it had been stimulating. Why was it, she wondered, that the men who carried their sex with strength and dignity, the hard-muscled men who could have their way with her if they resorted to force were the men who did not violate her privacy, while the weaklings, the softer, smaller men, or the average men whom Sophia considered her physical equals were the ones who gave her trouble?
She had always accepted her beauty, the obvious attraction men found in her, with an objective unconcern. She had been endowed with sex appeal; there was not much room in her life to exploit it, even had she wanted to. Now, now when she wanted anything but that, it gave her trouble.
Her room was shared, of necessity, with three men. Tall, gangling Boris gave her no trouble, turned his back when she undressed for the evening, even though she was careful to slip under the covers first. Ivan, the second man, was short, thin, stooped. Often she found him looking at her with what might have been more than a healthy interest, but aside from that he kept his peace. Besides, Ivan had spent two years in secondary school (as much as Sophia) and she enjoyed conversing with him.
The third man, Georgi, was the troublemaker. Georgi was one of those plump young men with red cheeks, big, eager eyes, a voice somewhat too high. He was an avid talker, a boaster and a boor. In the beginning he showered attentions on Sophia. He insisted on drawing her wash-basin at night, escorted her to breakfast every morning, told her in confidence of the conquests he had made over beautiful women (but not as beautiful as you, Sophia). He soon began to take liberties. He would sit--timorously at first, but with growing boldness--on the corner of her bed, talking with her at night after the others had retired, Ivan with his snores, Boris with his strong, deep breathing. And night after night, plump Georgi grew bolder.
He would reach out and touch Sophia, he would insist on tucking her in at night (let me be your big brother), he would awaken her in the morning with his hand heavy on her shoulder. Finally, one night at bedtime, she heard him conversing in low whispers with Ivan and Boris. She could not hear the words, but Boris looked at her with what she thought was surprise, Ivan nodded in an understanding way, and both of them left the room.
Sophia frowned. “What did you tell them, Georgi?”
“That we wanted to be alone one evening, of course.”
“I never gave you any indication--”
“I could see it in your eyes, in the way you looked at me.”
“Well, you had better call them back inside and go to bed.”
Georgi shook his head, approached her.
“Georgi! Call them back or I will.”
“No, you won’t.” Georgi followed her as she retreated into a corner of the room. When she reached the wall and could retreat no further, he placed his thick hands on her shoulders, drew her to him slowly. “You will call no one,” he rasped.
She ducked under his arms, eluded him, was on the point of running to the door, throwing it open and shouting, when she reconsidered. If she did, she would be asking for quarter, gaining a temporary reprieve, inviting the same sort of thing all over again.
She crossed to the bed and sat down. “Come here, Georgi.”
“Ah.” He came to her.
She watched him warily, a soft flabby man not quite so tall as she was, but who nevertheless out-weighed her by thirty or forty pounds. In his eagerness, he walked too fast, lost his footing and floated gently to the ceiling. Smiling as demurely as she could, Sophia reached up, circled his ankle with her hand.
“I never could get used to this weightlessness,” Georgi admitted. “Be nice and pull me down.”
“I will be nice. I will teach you a lesson.”
He weighed exactly nothing. It was as simple as stretching. Sophia merely extended her arm upwards and Georgi’s head hit the ceiling with a loud thunk. Georgi groaned. Sophia repeated the procedure, lowering her arm a foot--and Georgi with it--then raising it and bouncing his head off the ceiling.
“I don’t understand,” Georgi whined, trying to break free but only succeeding in thrashing his chubby arms foolishly.
“You haven’t mastered weightlessness,” Sophia smiled up at him. “I have. I said I would teach you a lesson. First make sure you have the strength of a man if you would play a man’s game.”
Still smiling, Sophia commenced spinning the hand which held Georgi’s ankle. Arms and free leg flailing air helplessly, Georgi began to spin.
“Put me down!” he whined, a boy now, not even pretending to be a man. When Sophia shoved out gently and let his ankle go he did a neat flip in air and hung suspended, upside down, his feet near the ceiling, his head on a level with Sophia’s shoulders. He cried.
She slapped his upside down face, carefully and without excitement, reddening the cheeks. “I was--only joking,” he slobbered. “Call back our friends.”
Sophia found one of the hard, air-tight metal flasks they used for drinking in weightlessness. With one hand she opened the lid, with the other she grasped Georgi’s shoulder and spun him in air, still upside down. She squirted the water in his face, and because he was upside down and yelling it made him choke and cough. When the container was empty she lowered Georgi gently to the floor.
Minutes later, she opened the door, summoned Boris and Ivan, who came into the room self-consciously. What they found was a thoroughly beaten Georgi sobbing on the floor. After that, Sophia had no trouble. Week after week of boredom followed and she almost wished Georgi or someone else would look for trouble ... even if it were something she could not handle, for although she was stronger than average and more beautiful, she was still a woman first, and she knew if the right man...
“Did you know that radio communication is maintained between Earth and Mars?” the Alaric Arkalion on Mars asked Temple.
“Why, no. I never thought about it.”
“It is, and I am in some difficulty.”
“What’s the matter?” Temple had grown to like Arkalion, despite the man’s peculiarities. He had given up trying to figure him out, feeling that the only way he’d get anywhere was with Arkalion’s co-operation.
“It’s a long story which I’m afraid you would not altogether understand. The authorities on Earth don’t think I belong here on the Nowhere Journey.”
“Is that so? A mistake, huh? I sure am glad for you, Alaric.”
“That’s not the difficulty. It seems that there is the matter of impersonation, of violating some of the clauses in Public Law 1182. You’re glad for me. I’m likely to go to prison.”
“If it’s that serious, how come they told you?”
“They didn’t. But I--managed to find out. I won’t go into details, Kit, but obviously, if I managed to embark for Nowhere when I didn’t have to, then I wanted to go. Right?”
“I--uh, guess so. But why--?”
“That isn’t the point. I still want to go. Not to Mars, but to Nowhere. I still can, despite what has happened, but I need help.”
Temple said, “Anything I can do, I’ll be glad to,” and meant it. For one thing, he liked Arkalion. For another, Arkalion seemed to know more, much more than he would ever say--unless Temple could win his confidence. For a third, Temple was growing sick and tired of Mars with its drab ochre sameness (when he got to the surface, which was rarely), with its dank underground city, with its meaningless attention to meaningless detail. Either way, he figured there was no returning to Earth. If Nowhere meant adventure, as he suspected it might, it would be preferable. Mars might have been the other end of the galaxy for all its nearness to Earth, anyway.
“There is a great deal you can do. But you’ll have to come with me.”
“Where?” Temple demanded.
“Where you will go eventually. To Nowhere.”
“Fine.” And Temple smiled. “Why not now as well as later?”
“I’ll be frank with you. If you go now, you go untrained. You may need your training. Undoubtedly, you will.”