Voyage to Eternity
Chapter IX

Public Domain

His name was Temple and it was the year 1960. Hectic end of a decade, 1960. Ancient Joe Stalin was still alive, drugged half senseless against the tortures of an incurable stomach cancer, although the world thought he died in 1953. He would hang on grimly another year and a half, yielding the reins of empire to stout Malenkov who in the space of a few years would lose them to a crafty schoolteacherish whiplash called Beria. 1960--eleventh year of the fantastic Korean situation, in which the Land of the Morning Sun had become, with no pretentions to the contrary, a glorified training camp for the armies of both sides.

The Cold War flared hot in Burma by mid-1960. Indo-China was a Red Fortress and with Tibet hopelessly behind the Iron Curtain, India awoke to the fact that neutrality was an impossibility in the era of pushbuttonry, lending her chaotic bulk to the West. Mao Tse Tung fell before an assassin’s bullet in Peking, but a shining new political sewage system cleared the streets of celebration before it fairly got under way. Inside of forty-eight hours, China had a new Red boss--imported from Moscow.

For some reason, it took until 1960 for the first batch of Hiroshima-Nagasaki mutants not to miscarry, and Sunday Supplement editors had a field day with the pathetic little creatures, one of which was born with two heads and actually survived for ten years. In 1960 the first manned spaceship reached Luna, but the public knew nothing of this for another fourteen months. In the United States the increase in taxes and prices was matched everywhere except in the pocketbook of the white collar worker by an increase in wages. Shortages in all branches of engineering forced the government to subsidize engineering students and exempt them permanently from the draft and the soon-to-be-started Nowhere Journey, while engineers’ salaries rose to match those of top business executives. Big news in the world of sports was the inclusion in the baseball Major Leagues of eight teams from the Pacific Coast, replacing the World Series with what was to become a mathematician’s nightmare, the Triangle Game.

But Christopher Temple had his own problems. He had his own life, too, which had nothing to do with the life of the real Christopher Temple, departed thirty-odd years later on the Nowhere Journey. Or rather, this was Christopher Temple, living his second E.C.R ... Temple who had lost once, and who, if he lost again, would take the dreams and hopes of the Western world down into the dust of defeat with him. But as the fictional (although in a certain sense, real) Christopher Temple of 1960, he knew nothing of this.

The world could go to pot. The world was going to pot, anyway. Temple shuddered as he poured a fourth Canadian, downing it in a tasteless, burning gulp. Temple was a thermo-nuclear engineer with government subsidized degrees from three universities including the fine new one at Desert Rock. Temple was a thermo-nuclear engineer with top-secret government clearance. Temple was a thermo-nuclear engineer with more military secrets buzzing around inside his head than in a warehouse of burned Pentagon files.

Temple was also a thermo-nuclear engineer whose wife spied for the Russians.


He’d found out quite by accident, not meaning to eavesdrop at all. Returning home early one afternoon because the production engineer called a halt while further research was done on certain unstable isotopes, Temple was surprised to find his wife had a gentleman caller. He heard their voices clearly from where he stood out in the sun-parlor, and for a ridiculous instant he was torn between slinking upstairs and ignoring them altogether or barging into the living room like a high school boy flushed with jealousy. The mature thing to do, of course, was neither, and Temple was on the point of walking politely into the living room, saying hello and waiting for an introduction, when snatches of the conversation stopped him cold.

“Silly Charles! Kit doesn’t suspect a thing. I would know.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Intuition.”

“On a framework of intuition you would place the fate of Red Empire?”

“Empire, Charles?” Temple could picture Lucy’s raised eyebrow. He listened now, hardly breathing. For one wild moment he thought he would retreat upstairs and forget the whole thing. Life would be much simpler that way. A meaningless surrender to unreality, however, and it couldn’t be done.

“Yes, Empire. Oh, not the land-grabbing, slave-dominating sort of things the Imperialists used to attempt, but a more subtle and hence more enduring empire. Let the world call us Liberator, we shall have Empire.”

Lucy laughed, a sound which Temple loved. “You may keep your ideology, Charles. Play with it, bathe in it, get drunk on it or drown yourself in it. I want my money.”

“You are frank.”

Temple could picture Lucy’s shrug. “I am a paid, professional spy. By now you have most of the information you need. I shall have the rest tonight.”

“I’ll see you in hell first!” Temple cried in rage, stalking into the room and almost smiling in spite of the situation when he realized how melodramatic his words must sound.

“Kit! Kit...” Lucy raised hand to mouth, then backed away flinching as if she had been struck.

“Yeah, Kit. A political cuckold, or does Charles get other services from you as well?”

“Kit, you don’t...”

The man named Charles motioned for silence. Dapper, clean-cut, good-looking except for a surly, pouting mouth, he was a head shorter than either Temple or Lucy. “Don’t waste your words, Sophia. Temple overheard us.”

Sophia? thought Temple. “Sophia?” he said.

Charles nodded coolly. “The real Mrs. Temple was observed, studied, her every habit and whim catalogued by experts. A plastic surgeon, a psychologist, a sociologist, a linguist, a whole battery of experts molded Sophia here into a new Mrs. Temple. I must congratulate them, for you never suspected.”

“Lucy?” Temple demanded dully. Reason stood suspended in a limbo of objective acceptance and subjective disbelief.

“Mrs. Temple was eliminated. Regrettable because we don’t deal in senseless mayhem, but necessary.”

Temple was not aware of leaving limbo until he felt the bruising contact of his knuckles with Charles’ jaw. The short man toppled, fell at his feet. “Get up!” Temple cried, then changed his mind and tensed himself to leap upon the prone figure.

“Hold it,” Charles told him quietly, wiping blood from his lips with one hand, drawing an automatic from his pocket with the other. “You’d better freeze, Temple. You die if you don’t.”


Temple froze, watched Charles slither away across the high-piled green carpet until, safely away across the room, he came upright groggily. He turned to the dead Lucy’s double. “What do you think, Sophia?”

“I don’t know. We could get out of here, probably get along without the final information.”

“That isn’t what I mean. Naturally, we’ll never receive the final facts. I mean, what do you think about Temple?”

Sophia said she didn’t know.

“Left alone, he would go to the police. Kidnapped, he would be worse than useless. Harmful, actually, for the authorities would suspect something. Even worse if we killed him. The point is, we don’t want the authorities to think Temple gave information to anybody.”

“Gave is hardly the word,” said Sophia. “I was a good wife, but also a good gleaner. One hundred thousand dollars, Charles.”

“You bitch,” Temple said.

“Later,” Charles told the woman. “The solution is this, Sophia: we must kill Temple, but it must look like suicide.”

Sophia frowned in pretty concern. “Do we have to ... kill him?”

“What’s the matter, my dear? Have you been playing the wifely role too long? If Temple stands in the way of Red Empire, Temple must die.”

Temple edged forward.

“Uh-uh,” said Charles, “mustn’t.” He waved the automatic and Temple subsided.

“Is that right?” Sophia demanded. “Well, you listen to me. I have nothing to do with your Red Empire. I fled the Iron Curtain, came here to live voluntarily--”

“Do you really think it was on a voluntary basis that you went? We allowed you to go, Sophia. We encouraged it. That way, the job of our technicians was all the simpler. Whether you like it or not, you have been a cog in the machine of Red Empire.”

“I still don’t see why he has to die.”

“Leave thinking to those who can. You have a smile, a body, a certain way with men. I will think. I think that Temple should die.”

“I don’t,” Sophia said.

“We’re delaying needlessly. The man dies.” And Charles raised his automatic, sufficiently irked to forget his suicide plan.

A gap of eight or nine feet separated the two men. It might as well have been infinity--and it would be soon, for Temple. He saw Charles’ small hand tighten about the automatic, saw the trigger finger grow white. The weapon pointed at a spot just above his navel and briefly he found himself wondering what it would feel like for a slug to rip into his stomach, burning a path back to his spine. He decided to make the gesture at least, if he could do no more. He would jump for Charles.

Sophia beat him to it--and because Lucy was dead and Sophia looked exactly like her and Temple could not quite accept the fact, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. Cat-quick, Sophia leaped upon Charles’ back and they went down together in a twisting, thrashing tangle of arms and legs.

Temple did not wait for an invitation. He launched himself down after them, and then things began to happen ... fast.

Sophia rolled clear, rose to her hands and knees, panting. Charles sat up cursing, nursing a badly scratched face. Temple hurtled at him, stretched him on his back again, began to pound hard fists into his face.

Charles did not have the automatic. Neither did Temple.

Something exploded against the back of Temple’s head violently, throwing him off Charles and tumbling him over. Dimly he saw Sophia following through, the automatic in her hand, butt foremost. Temple’s senses reeled. He tried to rise, succeeded only in a kind of shuddering slither before he subsided. He wavered between consciousness and unconsciousness, heard as in a dream snatches of conversation.

“Shoot him ... shoot him!”

“Shut up ... I have ... gun ... go to hell.”

“ ... kill ... only way.”

“My way is different ... out of here ... discuss later.”

“ ... feel...”

“I said ... out of here...”

The voices became a meaningless liquid torrent cascading into a black pit.


Now Temple sat with a water-glass a third full of Canadian in his hand, every once in a while reaching up gingerly to explore the bruised swelling on his head, the blood-matted hair which covered it. To be a cuckold was one thing, but to be the naive, political pawn sort of cuckold who is not a cuckold at all, he told himself, is far worse. To live with his woman, eat the meals she cooked for him, talk to her, think she understood him, sympathize with him, to make love to her with passion while she responds with play-acting for a hundred thousand dollar salary was suddenly the most emasculating thing in the world for Temple. He had not thought to ask how long it had been going on. Better, perhaps, if he never knew. And somewhere lost in the maze of his thoughts was the grimmest, bleakest reality of them all: Lucy was dead. Lucy--dead. But where did Lucy leave off, where did Sophia begin? Was Lucy dead that night they returned more than a little drunk from the Chamber’s party, that night they danced in the living room until dawn obscured the stars and he carried Lucy upstairs. Lucy or Sophia? And the day they motored to the lake, their secret lake, hardly more than a dammed, widened stream and dreamed of the things they could do when the Cold War ended? Lucy--or Sophia? Had he ever noticed a difference in the way Lucy-Sophia cooked, in the way she spoke, the way she let him make love to her? He thought himself into a man-sized headache and found no answers. This way at least the loss of his wife was not as traumatic as it might have been. He knew not when she died or how and, in fact, Lucy-Sophia seemed so much like the real thing that he did not know where he could stop loving and start hating.

And the girl, the Russian girl, had saved his life. Why? He couldn’t answer that one either, unless if it were as Charles suggested: Sophia had studied Lucy so carefully, had learned her likes and dislikes, her wants and desires, had memorized and practised every quirk of her character to such an extent that Sophia was Lucy in essence.

Which, Temple thought, would make it all the harder to seek out Sophia and kill her.

That was the answer, the only answer. Temple felt a dull ache where his heart should have been, a pressure, a pounding, an unpleasant, unfamiliar lack of feeling. If he took his story to the F.B.I. he had no doubt that Charles, Sophia and whoever else worked this thing with them would be caught, but he, Temple, would find himself with a lifelong, unslakable emotional thirst. He had to quench it now and then feel sorry so that he might heal. He had to quench it with Sophia’s blood ... alone.


He found her a week later at their lake. He had looked everywhere and had about given up, almost, in fact, ready to turn his story over to the police. But he had to think and their lake was the place for that.

Apparently Sophia had the same idea. Temple parked on the highway half a mile from their lake, made his way slowly through the woods, golden dappled with sunlight. He heard the waters gushing merrily, heard the sounds of some small animal rushing off through the woods. He saw Sophia.

She lay on their sunning rock in shorts and halter, completely relaxed, an opened magazine face down on the rock beside her, a pair of sunglasses next to it. She had one knee up, one leg stretched out, one forearm shielding her eyes from the sun, one arm down at her side. Seeing her thus, Temple felt the pressure of his automatic in its holster under his arm. He could draw it out, kill her before she was aware of his presence. Would that make him feel better? Five minutes ago, he would have said yes. Now he hesitated. Kill her, who seemed as completely Lucy as he was Temple? Send a bullet ripping through the body which he had known and loved, or the body that had seemed so much like it he had failed to tell the difference?

Murder--Lucy?

“No,” he said aloud. “Her name is Sophia.”

The girl sat up, startled. “Kit,” she said.

“Lucy.”

“You can’t make up your mind, either.” She smiled just like Lucy.

Dumbly, he sat down next to her on the rock. Strong sunlight had brought a fine dew of perspiration to the bronzed skin of her face. She got a pack of cigarettes out from under the magazine, lit one, offered it to Temple, lit another and smoked it. “Where do we go from here?” she wanted to know.

“I--”

“You came to kill me, didn’t you? Is that the only way you can ever feel better, Kit?”

“I--” He was going to deny it, then think.

“Don’t deny it. Please.” She reached in under his jacket, withdrawing her hand with the snub-nosed automatic in it. “Here,” she said, giving it to him.

He took the gun, hefted it, let it fall, clattering, on the rock.

“Listen,” she said. “I could have told you I was Lucy. If I said now that I am Lucy and if I kept on saying it, you’d believe me. You’d believe me because you’d want to.”

“Well,” said Temple.

“I am not Lucy. Lucy is dead. But ... but I was Lucy in everything but being Lucy. I thought her thoughts, dreamed her dreams, loved her loves.”

“You killed her.”

“No. I had nothing to do with that. She was killed, yes. Not by me. Kit, if I asked you when Lucy stopped, and ... when I began, could you tell me?”

He had often thought about that. “No,” he said truthfully. “You’re as much my wife as--she was.”


She clutched at his hand impulsively. Then, when he failed to respond, she withdrew her own hand. “Then--then I am Lucy. If I am Lucy in every way, Lucy never died.”

“You betrayed me. You stood by while murder was committed. You are guilty of espionage.”

“Lucy loved you. I am Lucy...”

“ ... Betrayed me...”

“For a hundred thousand dollars. For the chance to live a normal life, for the chance to forget Leningrad in the wintertime, watery potato soup, rags for clothing, swaggering commissars, poverty, disease. Do you think I realized I could fall in love with you so completely? If I did, don’t you think that would have changed things? I am not Sophia, Kit. I was, but I am not. They made me Lucy. Lucy can’t be dead, not if I am she in every way.”

“What can we do?”

“I don’t know. I only want to be your wife...”

“Well, then tell me,” he said bitterly. “Shall I go back to the plant and continue working, knowing all the time that our most closely guarded secret is in Russian hands and that my wife is responsible?” He laughed. “Shall I do that?”

“Your secrets never went anywhere.”

“Shall I... what?”

“Your secrets never went anywhere. Charles is dead. I have destroyed all that we took. I am not Russian any longer. American. They made me American. They made me Lucy. I want to go right on being Lucy, your wife.”

 
There is more of this chapter...
The source of this story is SciFi-Stories

To read the complete story you need to be logged in:
Log In or
Register for a Free account (Why register?)

Get No-Registration Temporary Access*

* Allows you 3 stories to read in 24 hours.

Close