Voyage to Eternity
“What a cockeyed world,” said Alaric Arkalion Sr. to his son. “You certainly can’t plan on anything, even if you do have more money than you’ll ever possibly need in a lifetime.”
“Don’t feel like that,” said young Alaric. “I’m not in prison any longer, am I?”
“No. But you’re not free of the Nowhere Journey, either. There is an unheralded special trip to Nowhere, two weeks from today, I have been informed.”
“Yes, oh. I have also been informed that you will be on it. You didn’t escape after all, Alaric.”
“What bothers me most is that scoundrel Smith somehow managed to escape. They haven’t found him yet, I have also been informed. And since my contract with him calls for ten million dollars ‘for services rendered,’ I’ll have to pay.”
“But he didn’t prevent me from--”
“I can’t air this thing, Alaric! But listen, son: when you go where you are going, you’re liable to find another Alaric Arkalion, your double. Of course, that would be Smith. If you can get him to cut his price in half because of what has happened, I would be delighted. If you could somehow manage to wring his neck, I would be even more delighted. Ten million dollars--for nothing.”
“I’m so excited,” murmured Mrs. Draper. Stephanie watched her on one of the new televiewers, recently installed in place of the telephone.
“What is it?”
“Our bill has been passed by a landslide majority in both houses of Congress!”
“Ooo!” cried Stephanie.
“Not very coherent, my dear, but those are my sentiments exactly. In two weeks there will be a Journey to Nowhere, a special one which will include, among its passengers, a woman.”
“But the study which had to be made--?”
“It’s already been made. From what I gather, they can’t take it very far. Most of their conclusions had to be based on supposition. The important thing, though, is this: a woman will be sent. The way the C.E.L. figures it, my dear, is that a woman falling in the twenty-one to twenty-six age group should be chosen, a woman who meets all the requirements placed upon the young men.”
“Yes,” said Stephanie. “Of course. And I was just thinking that I would be--”
“Remember those chickens!” cautioned Mrs. Draper. “We already have one hundred seventy-seven volunteers who’d claw each other to pieces for a chance to go.”
“Wrong,” Stephanie said, smiling. “You now have one hundred seventy-eight.”
“Room for only one, my dear. Only one, you know.”
“Then cross the others off your list. I’m already packing my bag.”
When Temple regained consciousness, it was with the feeling that no more than a split second of time had elapsed. So much had happened so rapidly that, until now, he hadn’t had time to consider it.
Arkalion had vanished.
Vanished--he could use no other word. He was there, standing in the booth--and then he wasn’t. Simple as that. Now you see it, now you don’t. And goodbye, Arkalion.
But goodbye Temple, too. For hadn’t Temple entered the same booth, waiting but a second until Arkalion activated the mechanism at the other end? And certainly Temple wasn’t in the booth now. He smiled at the ridiculously simple logic of his thoughts. He stood in an open field, the blades of grass rising to his knees, as much brilliant purple as they were green. Waves of the grass, stirred like tide by the gentle wind, and hills rolling off toward the horizon in whichever direction he turned. Far away, the undulating hills lifted to a half soft mauve sky. A somber red sun with twice Sol’s apparent disc but half its brightness hung midway between zenith and horizon completing the picture of peaceful other-worldliness.
Wherever this was, it wasn’t Earth--or Mars.
Temple shrugged, started walking. He chose his direction at random, crushing an easily discernible path behind him in the surprisingly brittle grass. The warm sun baked his back comfortably, the soft-stirring wind caressed his cheeks. Of Arkalion he found not a trace.
Two hours later Temple reached the hills and started climbing their gentle slopes. It was then that he saw the figure approaching on the run. It took him fully half a minute to realize that the runner was not human.
After months of weightless inactivity, things started to happen for Sophia. The feeling of weight returned, but weight as she never had felt it before. It was as if someone was sitting on every inch of her body, crushing her down. It made her gasp, forced her eyes shut and, although she could not see it, contorted her face horribly. She lost consciousness, coming to some time later with a dreadful feeling of loginess. Someone swam into her vision dimly, stung her arm briefly with a needle. She slept.
She was on a table, stretched out, with lights glaring down at her. She heard voices.
“The new system is far better than testing, comrade.”
“Far more efficient, far more objective. Yes.”
“The brain emits electromagnetic vibration. Strange, is it not, that no one before ever imagined it could tell a story. A completely accurate story two years of testing could not give us.”
“In Russia we have gone far with the biological, psychological sciences. The West flies high with physics. Give them Mars; bah, they can have Mars.”
“True, Comrade. The journey to Jupiter is greater, the time consumed is longer, the cost, more expensive. But here on Jupiter we can do something they cannot do on Mars.”
“We can make supermen. Supermen, comrade. A wedding of Nietzsche and Marx.”
“Careful. Those are dangerous thoughts.”
“Merely an allusion, comrade. Merely a harmless allusion. But you take an ordinary human being and train him on Jupiter, speeding his time-sense and metabolic rate tremendously with certain endocrine secretions so that one day is as a month to him. You take him and subject him to big Jupiter’s pull of gravity, more than twice Earth’s--and in three weeks you have, yes--you have a superman.”
“The woman wakes.”
“Shh. Do not frighten her.”
Sophia stretched, every muscle in her body aching. Slowly, as in a dream, she sat up. It required strength, the mere act of pulling her torso upright!
“What have you done to me?” she cried, focussing her still-dim vision on the two men.
“Nothing, comrade. Relax.”
Sophia turned slowly on the table, got one long shapely leg draped over its edge.
What were they warning her about? She merely wanted to get up and stretch; perhaps then she would feel better. Her toe touched the floor, she swung her other leg over, aware of but ignoring her nakedness.
“A good specimen.”
“Oh, yes, comrade. So this time they send a woman among the others. Well, we shall do our work. Look--see the way she is formed, so lithe, loose-limbed, agile. See the toning of the muscles? Her beauty will remain, comrade, but Jupiter shall make an amazon of her.”
Sophia had both feet on the floor now. She was breathing hard, felt suddenly sick to her stomach. Placing both her hands on the table edge, she pushed off and staggered for two or three paces. She crumpled, buckling first at the knees then the waist, and fell in a writhing heap.