Voyage to Eternity
Chapter VII

Public Domain

It could have been a city in New England, or maybe Wisconsin. Main Street stretched for half a mile from Town Hall to the small department store. Neon tubing brightened every store front, busy proprietors could be seen at work through the large plate glass windows. There was the bustle you might expect on any Main Street in New England or Wisconsin, but you could not draw the parallel indefinitely.

There were only men. No women.

The hills in which the town nestled were too purple--not purple with distance but the natural color of the grass.

A somber red sun hung in the pale mauve sky.

This was Earth City, Nowhere.

Arkalion had deposited Temple in the nearby hills, promised they would see one another again. “It may not be so soon,” Arkalion had said, “but what’s the difference? You’ll spend the rest of your life here. You realize you are lucky, Kit. If, you hadn’t come, you would have been dead these five thousand years. Well, good luck.”

Dead--five thousand years. The Earth as he knew it, dust. Stephanie, a fifty generation corpse. Nowhere was right. End of the universe.

Temple shuffled his feet, trudged on into town. A man passed him on the street, stooped, gray-haired. The man nodded, did a mild double-take. I’m an unfamiliar face, Temple thought.

“Howdy,” he said. “I’m new here.”

“That’s what I thought, stranger. Know just about everyone in these here parts, I do, and I said to myself, now there’s a newcomer. Funny you didn’t come in the regular way.”

“I’m here,” said Temple.

“Yeah. Funny thing, you get to know everyone. Eh, what you say your name was?”

“Christopher Temple.”

“Make it my business to know everyone. The neighborly way, I always say. Temple, eh? We have one here.”

“One what?”

“Another fellow name of Temple. Jase Temple, son.”

“I’ll be damned!” Temple cried, smiling suddenly. “I will be damned. Tell me, old timer, where can I find him?”

“Might be anyplace. Town’s bigger’n it looks. I tell you, though, Jase Temple’s our co-ordinator. You’ll find him there, the co-ordinator’s office. Town Hall, down the end of the street.”

“I already passed it,” Temple told the old man. “And thanks.”

Temple’s legs carried him at a brisk pace, past the row of store fronts and down to the Town Hall. He read a directory, climbed a flight of stairs, found a door marked:

JASON TEMPLE

Earth City Co-ordinator

Heart pounding, Temple knocked, heard someone call, “Come in.”

He pushed the door in and stared at his brother, just rising to face him.


“Kit! Kit! What are you doing ... so you took the journey too!”

Jason ran to him, clasped his shoulders, pounded them. “You sure are looking fit. Kit, you could have knocked me over with half a feather, coming in like that.”

“You’re looking great too, Jase,” Temple lied. He hadn’t seen his brother in five years, had never expected to see him again. But he remembered a full-faced, smiling man somewhat taller than himself, somewhat broader across the shoulders. The Jason he saw looked forty-five or fifty but was hardly out of his twenties. He had fierce, smouldering eyes, gaunt cheeks, graying hair. He seemed a bundle of restless, nervous energy.

“Sit down, Kit. Start talking, kid brother. Start talking and don’t stop till next week. Tell me everything. Everything! Tell me about the blue sky and the moon at night and the way the ocean looks on a windy day and...”

“Five years,” said Temple. “Five years.”

“Five thousand, you mean,” Jason reminded him. “It hardly seems possible. How are the folks, Kit?”

“Mom’s fine. Pop too. He’s sporting a new Chambers Converto. You should see him, Jase. Sharp.”

“And Ann?” Jason looked at him hopefully. Ann had been Jason’s Stephanie--but for the Nowhere Journey they would have married.

“Ann’s married,” Temple said.

“Oh. Oh. That’s swell, Kit. Really swell. I mean, what the hell, a girl shouldn’t wait forever. I told her not to, anyway.”

“She waited four years, then met a guy and--”

“A nice guy?”

“The best,” said Temple. “You’d like him.”

Temple saw the vague hurt come to Jason’s smouldering eyes. Then it was the same. One part of Jason wanted her to remain his over an unthinkable gap, another part wanted her to live a good, full life.

“I’m glad,” said Jason. “Can’t expect a girl to wait without hope...”

“Then there’s no hope we’ll ever get back?”

Jason laughed harshly. “You tell me. Earth isn’t merely sixty thousand light years away. Kit, do you know what a light year is?”

Temple said he thought he did.

“Sixty thousand of them. A dozen eternities. But the Earth we know is also dead. Dead five thousand years. The folks, Center City, Ann, her husband--all dust. Five thousand years old ... Don’t mind me, Kit.”

“Sure. Sure, I understand.” But Temple didn’t, not really. You couldn’t take five thousand years and chuck them out the window in what seemed the space of a heart beat and then realize they were gone permanently, forever. Not a period of time as long as all of recorded civilization--you couldn’t take it, tack it on after 1992 and accept it. Somehow, Temple realized, the five thousand years were harder to swallow than the sixty thousand light years.

“Well,” with a visible effort, Jason snapped out of his reverie. Temple accepted a cigarette gratefully, his first in a long time. In fifty centuries, he thought bitterly, burrowing deeper into a funk.

“Well,” said Jason, “I’m acting like a prize boob. How selfish can I get? There must be an awful lot you’d like to know, Kit.”

“That’s all right. I was told I’d be indoctrinated.”

“Ordinarily, you would. But there’s no shipment now, none for another three months. Say, how the devil did you get here?”

“That’s a long story. Nowhere Journey, same as you, with a little assist to speed things up on Mars. Jase, tell me this: what are we doing here? What is everyone doing here? What’s the Nowhere Journey all about? What kind of a glorified foot-race did I see a while ago, with a bunch of creatures out of the telio science-fiction shows?”


Jason put his own cigarette out, changed his mind, lit another one. “Sort of like the old joke, where does an alien go to register?”

“Sort of.”

“It’s a big universe,” said Jason, evidently starting at the beginning of something.

“I’m just beginning to learn how big!”

“It would be pretty unimaginative of mankind to consider itself the only sentient form of life, Earth the only home of intelligence, both from a scientific and a religious point of view. We kind of expected to find--neighbors out in space. Kit, the sky is full of stars, most stars have planets. The universe crawls with life, all sorts of life, all sorts of intelligent life. In short, we are not alone. It would be sort of like taking the jet-shuttle from Washington to New York during the evening rush and expecting to be the only one aboard. In reality, you’re lucky to get breathing space.

“There are biped intelligences, like humans. There are radial intelligences, one-legged species, tall, gangling creatures, squat ones, pancake ones, giants, dwarfs. There are green skins and pink skins and coal black--and yes, no skins. There are ... but you get the idea.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Strangely enough, most of these intelligences are on about the same developmental level. It’s as if the Creator turned everything on at once, like a race, and said ‘okay, guys get started.’ Maybe it’s because, as scientists figure, the whole universe got wound up and started working as a unit. I don’t know. Anyway, that’s the way it is. All the intelligences worth talking about are on about the same cultural level. Atomics, crude spaceflight, wars they can’t handle.

“And this is interesting, Kit. Most of ‘em are bipedal. Not really human, not fully human. You can see the difference. But seventy-five percent of the races I’ve encountered have had basic similarities. A case of the Creator trying to figure out the best of all possible life-patterns and coming up with this one. Offers a wide range for action, for adaptation, stuff like that. Anyway, I’m losing track of things.”

“Take it easy. From what you tell me I have all the time in the world.”

“Well, I said all the races are developmentally parallel. That’s almost true. One of them is not. One of them is so far ahead that the rest of us have hardly reached the crawling stage by comparison. One of them is the Super Race, Kit.

 
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