OPERATION: OUTER SPACE
Jed Cochrane tried to be cynical as the helicab hummed softly through the night over the city. The cab flew at two thousand feet, where lighted buildings seemed to soar toward it from the canyons which were streets. There were lights and people everywhere, and Cochrane sardonically reminded himself that he was no better than anybody else, only he'd been trying to keep from realizing it. He looked down at the trees and shrubbery on the roof-tops, and at a dance that was going on atop one of the tallest buildings. All roofs were recreation-spaces nowadays. They were the only spaces available. When you looked down at a city like this, you had cynical thoughts. Fourteen million people in this city. Ten million in that. Eight in another and ten in another still, and twelve million in yet another ... Big cities. Swarming millions of people, all desperately anxious—so Cochrane realized bitterly—all desperately anxious about their jobs and keeping them.
"Even as me and I," said Cochrane harshly to himself. "Sure! I'm shaking in my shoes right along with the rest of them!"
But it hurt to realize that he'd been kidding himself. He'd thought he was important. Important, at least, to the advertising firm of Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe. But right now he was on the way—like a common legman—to take the moon-rocket to Lunar City, and he'd been informed of it just thirty minutes ago. Then he'd been told casually to get to the rocket-port right away. His secretary and two technical men and a writer were taking the same rocket. He'd get his instructions from Dr. William Holden on the way.
A part of his mind said indignantly, "Wait till I get Hopkins on the phone! It was a mixup! He wouldn't send me off anywhere with the Dikkipatti Hour depending on me! He's not that crazy!" But he was on his way to the space-port, regardless. He'd raged when the message reached him. He'd insisted that he had to talk to Hopkins in person before he obeyed any such instructions. But he was on his way to the space-port. He was riding in a helicab, and he was making adjustments in his own mind to the humiliation he unconsciously foresaw. There were really three levels of thought in his mind. One had adopted a defensive cynicism, and one desperately insisted that he couldn't be as unimportant as his instructions implied, and the third watched the other two as the helicab flew with cushioned booming noises over the dark canyons of the city and the innumerable lonely lights of the rooftops.
There was a thin roaring sound, high aloft. Cochrane jerked his head back. The stars filled all the firmament, but he knew what to look for. He stared upward.
One of the stars grew brighter. He didn't know when he first picked it out, but he knew when he'd found it. He fixed his eyes on it. It was a very white star, and for a space of minutes it seemed in no wise different from its fellows. But it grew brighter. Presently it was very bright. It was brighter than Sirius. In seconds more it was brighter than Venus. It increased more and more rapidly in its brilliance. It became the brightest object in all the heavens except the crescent moon, and the cold intensity of its light was greater than any part of that. Then Cochrane could see that this star was not quite round. He could detect the quarter-mile-long flame of the rocket-blast.
It came down with a rush. He saw the vertical, stabbing pencil of light plunge earthward. It slowed remarkably as it plunged, with all the flying aircraft above the city harshly lighted by its glare. The space-port itself showed clearly. Cochrane saw the buildings, and the other moon-rockets waiting to take off in half an hour or less.
The white flame hit the ground and splashed. It spread out in a wide flat disk of intolerable brightness. The sleek hull of the ship which still rode the flame down glinted vividly as it settled into the inferno of its own making.
Then the light went out. The glare cut off abruptly. There was only a dim redness where the space-port tarmac had been made incandescent for a little while. That glow faded—and Cochrane became aware of the enormous stillness. He had not really noticed the rocket's deafening roar until it ended.
The helicab flew onward almost silently, with only the throbbing pulses of its overhead vanes making any sound at all.
"I kidded myself about those rockets, too," said Cochrane bitterly to himself. "I thought getting to the moon meant starting to the stars. New worlds to live on. I had a lot more fun before I found out the facts of life!"
But he knew that this cynicism and this bitterness came out of the hurt to the vanity that still insisted everything was a mistake. He'd received orders which disillusioned him about his importance to the firm and to the business to which he'd given years of his life. It hurt to find out that he was just another man, just another expendable. Most people fought against making the discovery, and some succeeded in avoiding it. But Cochrane saw his own self-deceptions with a savage clarity even as he tried to keep them. He did not admire himself at all.
The helicab began to slant down toward the space-port buildings. The sky was full of stars. The earth—of course—was covered with buildings. Except for the space-port there was no unoccupied ground for thirty miles in any direction. The cab was down to a thousand feet. To five hundred. Cochrane saw the just-arrived rocket with tender-vehicles running busily to and fro and hovering around it. He saw the rocket he should take, standing upright on the faintly lighted field.
The cab touched ground. Cochrane stood up and paid the fare. He got out and the cab rose four or five feet and flitted over to the waiting-line.
He went into the space-port building. He felt himself growing more bitter still. Then he found Bill Holden—Doctor William Holden—standing dejectedly against a wall.
"I believe you've got some orders for me, Bill," said Cochrane sardonically. "And just what psychiatric help can I give you?"
Holden said tiredly:
"I don't like this any better than you do, Jed. I'm scared to death of space-travel. But go get your ticket and I'll tell you about it on the way up. It's a special production job. I'm roped in on it too."
"Happy holiday!" said Cochrane, because Holden looked about as miserable as a man could look.
He went to the ticket desk. He gave his name. On request, he produced identification. Then he said sourly:
"While you're working on this I'll make a phone-call."
He went to a pay visiphone. And again there were different levels of awareness in his mind—one consciously and defensively cynical, and one frightened at the revelation of his unimportance, and the third finding the others an unedifying spectacle.
He put the call through with an over-elaborate confidence which he angrily recognized as an attempt to deceive himself. He got the office. He said calmly:
"This is Jed Cochrane. I asked for a visiphone contact with Mr. Hopkins."
He had a secretary on the phone-screen. She looked at memos and said pleasantly:
"Oh, yes. Mr. Hopkins is at dinner. He said he couldn't be disturbed, but for you to go on to the moon according to your instructions, Mr. Cochrane."
Cochrane hung up and raged, with one part of his mind. Another part—and he despised it—began to argue that after all, he had better wait before thinking there was any intent to humiliate him. After all, his orders must have been issued with due consideration. The third part disliked the other two parts intensely—one for raging without daring to speak, and one for trying to find alibis for not even raging. He went back to the ticket-desk. The clerk said heartily:
"Here you are! The rest of your party's already on board, Mr. Cochrane. You'd better hurry! Take-off's in five minutes."
Holden joined him. They went through the gate and got into the tender-vehicle that would rush them out to the rocket. Holden said heavily:
"I was waiting for you and hoping you wouldn't come. I'm not a good traveller, Jed."
The small vehicle rushed. To a city man, the dark expanse of the space-port was astounding. Then a spidery metal framework swallowed the tender-truck, and them. The vehicle stopped. An elevator accepted them and lifted an indefinite distance through the night, toward the stars. A sort of gangplank with a canvas siderail reached out across emptiness. Cochrane crossed it, and found himself at the bottom of a spiral ramp inside the rocket's passenger-compartment. A stewardess looked at the tickets. She led the way up, and stopped.
"This is your seat, Mr. Cochrane," she said professionally. "I'll strap you in this first time. You'll do it later."
Cochrane lay down in a contour-chair with an eight-inch mattress of foam rubber. The stewardess adjusted straps. He thought bitter, ironic thoughts. A voice said:
He turned his head. There was Babs Deane, his secretary, with her eyes very bright. She regarded him from a contour-chair exactly opposite his. She said happily:
"Mr. West and Mr. Jamison are the science men, Mr. Cochrane. I got Mr. Bell as the writer."
"A great triumph!" Cochrane told her. "Did you get any idea what all this is about? Why we're going up?"
"No," admitted Babs cheerfully. "I haven't the least idea. But I'm going to the moon! It's the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me!"
Cochrane shrugged his shoulders. Shrugging was not comfortable in the straps that held him. Babs was a good secretary. She was the only one Cochrane had ever had who did not try to make use of her position as secretary to the producer of the Dikkipatti Hour on television. Other secretaries had used their nearness to him to wangle acting or dancing or singing assignments on other and lesser shows. As a rule they lasted just four public appearances before they were back at desks, spoiled for further secretarial use by their taste of fame. But Babs hadn't tried that. Yet she'd jumped at a chance for a trip to the moon.
A panel up toward the nose of the rocket—the upper end of this passenger compartment—glowed suddenly. Flaming red letters said, "Take-off, ninety seconds."
Cochrane found an ironic flavor in the thought that splendid daring and incredible technology had made his coming journey possible. Heroes had ventured magnificently into the emptiness beyond Earth's atmosphere. Uncountable millions of dollars had been spent. Enormous intelligence and infinite pains had been devoted to making possible a journey of two hundred thirty-six thousand miles through sheer nothingness. This was the most splendid achievement of human science—the reaching of a satellite of Earth and the building of a human city there.
And for what? Undoubtedly so that one Jed Cochrane could be ordered by telephone, by somebody's secretary, to go and get on a passenger-rocket and get to the moon. Go—having failed to make a protest because his boss wouldn't interrupt dinner to listen—so he could keep his job by obeying. For this splendid purpose, scientists had labored and dedicated men had risked their lives.
Of course, Cochrane reminded himself with conscious justice, of course there was the very great value of moon-mail cachets to devotees of philately. There was the value of the tourist facilities to anybody who could spend that much money for something to brag about afterward. There were the solar-heat mines—running at a slight loss—and various other fine achievements. There was even a nightclub in Lunar City where one highball cost the equivalent of—say—a week's pay for a secretary like Babs. And—
The panel changed its red glowing sign. It said: "Take-off forty-five seconds."
Somewhere down below a door closed with a cushioned soft definiteness. The inside of the rocket suddenly seemed extraordinarily still. The silence was oppressive. It was dead. Then there came the whirring of very many electric fans, stirring up the air.
The stewardess' voice came matter-of-factly from below him in the upended cylinder which was the passenger-space.
"We take off in forty-five seconds. You will find yourself feeling very heavy. There is no cause to be alarmed. If you observe that breathing is oppressive, the oxygen content of the air in this ship is well above earth-level, and you will not need to breathe so deeply. Simply relax in your chair. Everything has been thought of. Everything has been tested repeatedly. You need not disturb yourself at all. Simply relax."
Silence. Two heart-beats. Three.
There was a roar. It was a deep, booming, numbing roar that came from somewhere outside the rocket's hull. Simultaneously, something thrust Cochrane deep into the foam-cushions of his contour-chair. He felt the cushion piling up on all sides of his body so that it literally surrounded him. It resisted the tendency of his arms and legs and abdomen to flatten out and flow sidewise, to spread him in a thin layer over the chair in which he rested.
He felt his cheeks dragged back. He was unduly conscious of the weight of objects in his pockets. His stomach pressed hard against his backbone. His sensations were those of someone being struck a hard, prolonged blow all over his body.
It was so startling a sensation, though he'd read about it, that he simply stayed still and blankly submitted to it. Presently he felt himself gasp. Presently, again, he noticed that one of his feet was going to sleep. He tried to move it and succeeded only in stirring it feebly. The roaring went on and on and on....
The red letters in the panel said: "First stage ends in five seconds."
By the time he'd read it, the rocket hiccoughed and stopped. Then he felt a surge of panic. He was falling! He had no weight! It was the sensation of a suddenly dropping elevator a hundred times multiplied. He bounced out of the depression in the foam-cushion. He was prevented from floating away only by the straps that held him.
There was a sputter and a series of jerks. Then he had weight again as roarings began once more. This was not the ghastly continued impact of the take-off, but still it was weight—considerably greater weight than the normal weight of Earth. Cochrane wiggled the foot that had gone to sleep. Pins and needles lessened their annoyance as sensation returned to it. He was able to move his arms and hands. They felt abnormally heavy, and he experienced an extreme and intolerable weariness. He wanted to go to sleep.
This was the second-stage rocket-phase. The moon-rocket had blasted off at six gravities acceleration until clear of atmosphere and a little more. Acceleration-chairs of remarkably effective design, plus the pre-saturation of one's blood with oxygen, made so high an acceleration safe and not unendurable for the necessary length of time it lasted. Now, at three gravities, one did not feel on the receiving end of a violent thrust, but one did feel utterly worn out and spent. Most people stayed awake through the six-gravity stage and went heavily to sleep under three gravities.
Cochrane fought the sensation of fatigue. He had not liked himself for accepting the orders that had brought him here. They had been issued in bland confidence that he had no personal affairs which could not be abandoned to obey cryptic orders from the secretary of a boss he had actually never seen. He felt a sort of self-contempt which it would have been restful to forget in three-gravity sleep. But he grimaced and held himself awake to contemplate the unpretty spectacle of himself and his actions.
The red light said: "Second stage ends ten seconds."
And in ten seconds the rockets hiccoughed once more and were silent, and there was that sickening feeling of free fall, but he grimly made himself think of it as soaring upward instead of dropping—which was the fact, too—and waited until the third-stage rockets boomed suddenly and went on and on and on.
This was nearly normal acceleration; the effect of this acceleration was the feel of nearly normal weight. He felt about as one would feel in Earth in a contour-chair tilted back so that one faced the ceiling. He knew approximately where the ship would be by this time, and it ought to have been a thrill. Cochrane was hundreds of miles above Earth and headed eastward out and up. If a port were open at this height, his glance should span continents.
No.... The ship had taken off at night. It would still be in Earth's shadow. There would be nothing at all to be seen below, unless one or two small patches of misty light which would be Earth's too-many great cities. But overhead there would be stars by myriads and myriads, of every possible color and degree of brightness. They would crowd each other for room in which to shine. The rocket-ship was spiralling out and out and up and up, to keep its rendezvous with the space platform.
The platform, of course, was that artificial satellite of Earth which was four thousand miles out and went around the planet in a little over four hours, traveling from west to east. It had been made because to break the bonds of Earth's gravity was terribly costly in fuel—when a ship had to accelerate slowly to avoid harm to human cargo. The space platform was a filling station in emptiness, at which the moon-rocket would refuel for its next and longer and much less difficult journey of two hundred thirty-odd thousand miles.
The stewardess came up the ramp, moving briskly. She stopped and glanced at each passenger in each chair in turn. When Cochrane turned his open eyes upon her, she said soothingly:
"There's no need to be disturbed. Everything is going perfectly."
"I'm not disturbed," said Cochrane. "I'm not even nervous. I'm perfectly all right."
"But you should be drowsy!" she observed, concerned. "Most people are. If you nap you'll feel better for it."
She felt his pulse in a businesslike manner. It was normal.
"Take my nap for me," said Cochrane, "or put it back in stock. I don't want it. I'm perfectly all right."
She considered him carefully. She was remarkably pretty. But her manner was strictly detached. She said:
"There's a button. You can reach it if you need anything. You may call me by pushing it."
He shrugged. He lay still as she went on to inspect the other passengers. There was nothing to do and nothing to see. Travellers were treated pretty much like parcels, these days. Travel, like television entertainment and most of the other facilities of human life, was designed for the seventy-to-ninety-per-cent of the human race whose likes and dislikes and predilections could be learned exactly by surveys. Anybody who didn't like what everybody liked, or didn't react like everybody reacted, was subject to annoyances. Cochrane resigned himself to them.
The red light-letters changed again, considerably later. This time they said: "Free flight, thirty seconds."
They did not say "free fall," which was the technical term for a rocket coasting upward or downward in space. But Cochrane braced himself, and his stomach-muscles were tense when the rockets stopped again and stayed off. The sensation of continuous fall began. An electronic speaker beside his chair began to speak. There were other such mechanisms beside each other passenger-chair, and the interior of the rocket filled with a soft murmur which was sardonically like choral recitation.
"The sensation of weightlessness you now experience," said the voice soothingly, "is natural at this stage of your flight. The ship has attained its maximum intended speed and is still rising to meet the space platform. You may consider that we have left atmosphere and its limitations behind. Now we have spread sails of inertia and glide on a wind of pure momentum toward our destination. The feeling of weightlessness is perfectly normal. You will be greatly interested in the space platform. We will reach it in something over two hours of free flight. It is an artificial satellite, with an air-lock our ship will enter for refueling. You will be able to leave the ship and move about inside the Platform, to lunch if you choose, to buy souvenirs and mail them back and to view Earth from a height of four thousand miles through quartz-glass windows. Then, as now, you will feel no sensation of weight. You will be taken on a tour of the space platform if you wish. There are rest-rooms—."
Cochrane grimly endured the rest of the taped lecture. He thought sourly to himself: "I'm a captive audience without even an interest in the production tricks."
Presently he saw Bill Holden's head. The psychiatrist had squirmed inside the straps that held him, and now was staring about within the rocket. His complexion was greenish.
"I understand you're to brief me," Cochrane told him, "on the way up. Do you want to tell me now what all this is about? I'd like a nice dramatic narrative, with gestures."
Holden said sickly:
"Go to hell, won't you?"
His head disappeared. Space-nausea was, of course, as definite an ailment as seasickness. It came from no weight. But Cochrane seemed to be immune. He turned his mind to the possible purposes of his journey. He knew nothing at all. His own personal share in the activities of Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe—the biggest advertising agency in the world—was the production of the Dikkipatti Hour, top-talent television show, regularly every Wednesday night between eight-thirty and nine-thirty o'clock central U. S. time. It was a good show. It was among the ten most popular shows on three continents. It was not reasonable that he be ordered to drop it and take orders from a psychiatrist, even one he'd known unprofessionally for years. But there was not much, these days, that really made sense.
In a world where cities with populations of less than five millions were considered small towns, values were peculiar. One of the deplorable results of living in a world over-supplied with inhabitants was that there were too many people and not enough jobs. When one had a good job, and somebody higher up than oneself gave an order, it was obeyed. There was always somebody else or several somebodies waiting for every job there was—hoping for it, maybe praying for it. And if a good job was lost, one had to start all over.
This task might be anything. It was not, however, connected in any way with the weekly production of the Dikkipatti Hour. And if that production were scamped this week because Cochrane was away, he would be the one to take the loss in reputation. The fact that he was on the moon wouldn't count. It would be assumed that he was slipping. And a slip was not good. It was definitely not good!
"I could do a documentary right now," Cochrane told himself angrily, "titled 'Man-afraid-of-his-job.' I could make a very authentic production. I've got the material!"
He felt weight for a moment. It was accompanied by booming noises. The sounds were not in the air outside, because there was no air. They were reverberations of the rocket-motors themselves, transmitted to the fabric of the ship. The ship's steering-rockets were correcting the course of the vessel and—yes, there was another surge of power—nudging it to a more correct line of flight to meet the space platform coming up from behind. The platform went around the world six times a day, four thousand miles out. During three of its revolutions anybody on the ground, anywhere, could spot it in daylight as an infinitesimal star, bright enough to be seen against the sky's blueness, rising in the west and floating eastward to set at the place of sunrise.
There was again weightlessness. A rocket-ship doesn't burn its rocket-engines all the time. It runs them to get started, and it runs them to stop, but it does not run them to travel. This ship was floating above the Earth, which might be a vast sunlit ball filling half the universe below the rocket, or might be a blackness as of the Pit. Cochrane had lost track of time, but not of the shattering effect of being snatched from the job he knew and thought important, to travel incredibly to do something he had no idea of. He felt, in his mind, like somebody who climbs stairs in the dark and tries to take a step that isn't there. It was a shock to find that his work wasn't important even in the eyes of Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe. That he didn't count. That nothing counted ...
There was another dull booming outside and another touch of weight. Then the rocket floated on endlessly.
A long time later, something touched the ship's outer hull. It was a definite, positive clanking sound. And then there was the gentlest and vaguest of tuggings, and Cochrane could feel the ship being maneuvered. He knew it had made contact with the space platform and was being drawn inside its lock.
There was still no weight. The stewardess began to unstrap the passengers one by one, supplying each with magnetic-soled slippers. Cochrane heard her giving instructions in their use. He knew the air-lock was being filled with air from the huge, globular platform. In time the door at the back—bottom—base of the passenger-compartment opened. Somebody said flatly:
"Space platform! The ship will be in this air-lock for some three hours plus for refueling. Warning will be given before departure. Passengers have the freedom of the platform and will be given every possible privilege."
The magnetic-soled slippers did hold one's feet to the spiral ramp, but one had to hold on to a hand-rail to make progress. On the way down to the exit door, Cochrane encountered Babs. She said breathlessly:
"I can't believe I'm really here!"
"I can believe it," said Cochrane, "without even liking it particularly. Babs, who told you to come on this trip? Where'd all the orders come from?"
"Mr. Hopkins' secretary," said Babs happily. "She didn't tell me to come. I managed that! She said for me to name two science men and two writers who could work with you. I told her one writer was more than enough for any production job, but you'd need me. I assumed it was a production job. So she changed the orders and here I am!"
"Fine!" said Cochrane. His sense of the ironic deepened. He'd thought he was an executive and reasonably important. But somebody higher up than he was had disposed of him with absent-minded finality, and that man's secretary and his own had determined all the details, and he didn't count at all. He was a pawn in the hands of firm-partners and assorted secretaries. "Let me know what my job's to be and how to do it, Babs."
Babs nodded. She didn't catch the sarcasm. But she couldn't think very straight, just now. She was on the space platform, which was the second most glamorous spot in the universe. The most glamorous spot, of course, was the moon.
Cochrane hobbled ashore into the platform, having no weight whatever. He was able to move only by the curious sticky adhesion of his magnetic-soled slippers to the steel floor-plates beneath him. Or—were they beneath? There was a crew member walking upside down on a floor which ought to be a ceiling directly over Cochrane's head. He opened a door in a side-wall and went in, still upside down. Cochrane felt a sudden dizziness, at that.
But he went on, using hand-grips. Then he saw Dr. William Holden looking greenish and ill and trying sickishly to answer questions from West and Jamison and Bell, who had been plucked from their private lives just as Cochrane had and were now clamorously demanding of Bill Holden that he explain what had happened to them.
Cochrane snapped angrily:
"Leave the man alone! He's space-sick! If you get him too much upset this place will be a mess!"
Holden closed his eyes and said gratefully:
"Shoo them away, Jed, and then come back."
Cochrane waved his hands at them. They went away, stumbling and holding on to each other in the eerie dream-likeness and nightmarish situation of no-weight-whatever. There were other passengers from the moon-rocket in this great central space of the platform. There was a fat woman looking indignantly at the picture of a weighing-scale painted on the wall. Somebody had painted it, with a dial-hand pointing to zero pounds. A sign said, "Honest weight, no gravity." There was the stewardess from the rocket, off duty here. She smoked a cigarette in the blast of an electric fan. There was a party of moon-tourists giggling foolishly and clutching at everything and buying souvenirs to mail back to Earth.
"All right, Bill," said Cochrane. "They're gone. Now tell me why all the not inconsiderable genius in the employ of Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe, in my person, has been mobilized and sent up to the moon?"
Bill Holden swallowed. He stood up with his eyes closed, holding onto a side-rail in the great central room of the platform.
"I have to keep my eyes shut," he explained, queasily. "It makes me ill to see people walking on side-walls and across ceilings."
A stout tourist was doing exactly that at the moment. If one could walk anywhere at all with magnetic-soled shoes, one could walk everywhere. The stout man did walk up the side-wall. He adventured onto the ceiling, where he was head-down to the balance of his party. He stood there looking up—down—at them, and he wore a peculiarly astonished and half-frightened and wholly foolish grin. His wife squealed for him to come down: that she couldn't bear looking at him so.
"All right," said Cochrane. "You're keeping your eyes closed. But I'm supposed to take orders from you. What sort of orders are you going to give?"
"I'm not sure yet," said Holden thinly. "We are sent up here on a private job for Hopkins—one of your bosses. Hopkins has a daughter. She's married to a man named Dabney. He's neurotic. He's made a great scientific discovery and it isn't properly appreciated. So you and I and your team of tame scientists—we're on our way to the Moon to save his reason."
"Why save his reason?" asked Cochrane cynically. "If it makes him happy to be a crackpot—"
"It doesn't," said Holden, with his eyes still closed. He gulped. "Your job and a large part of my practice depends on keeping him out of a looney-bin. It amounts to a public-relations job, a production, with me merely censoring aspects that might be bad for Dabney's psyche. Otherwise he'll be frustrated."
"Aren't we all?" demanded Cochrane. "Who in hades does he think he is? Most of us want appreciation, but we have to be glad when we do our work and get paid for it! We—"
Then he swore bitterly. He had been taken off the job he'd spent years learning to do acceptably, to phoney a personal satisfaction for the son-in-law of one of the partners of the firm he worked for. It was humiliation to be considered merely a lackey who could be ordered to perform personal services for his boss, without regard to the damage to the work he was really responsible for. It was even more humiliating to know he had to do it because he couldn't afford not to.
Babs appeared, obviously gloating over the mere fact that she was walking in magnetic-soled slippers on the steel decks of the space platform. Her eyes were very bright. She said:
"Mr. Cochrane, hadn't you better come look at Earth out of the quartz Earthside windows?"
"Why?" demanded Cochrane bitterly. "If it wasn't that I'd have to hold onto something with both hands, in order to do it, I'd be kicking myself. Why should I want to do tourist stuff?"
"So," said Babs, "so later on you can tell when a writer or a scenic designer tries to put something over on you in a space platform show."
"In theory, I should. But do you realize what all this is about? I just learned!" When Babs shook her head he said sardonically, "We are on the way to the Moon to stage a private production out of sheer cruelty. We're hired to rob a happy man of the luxury of feeling sorry for himself. We're under Holden's orders to cure a man of being a crackpot!"
Babs hardly listened. She was too much filled with the zest of being where she'd never dared hope to be able to go.
"I wouldn't want to be cured of being a crackpot," protested Cochrane, "if only I could afford such a luxury! I'd—"
Babs said urgently:
"You'll have to hurry, really! They told me it starts in ten minutes, so I came to find you right away."
"We're in eclipse now," explained Babs, starry-eyed. "We're in the Earth's shadow. In about five minutes we'll be coming out into sunlight again, and we'll see the new Earth!"
"Guarantee that it will be a new Earth," Cochrane said morosely, "and I'll come. I didn't do too well on the old one."
But he followed her in all the embarrassment of walking on magnetic-soled shoes in a total absence of effective gravity. It was quite a job simply to start off. Without precaution, if he merely tried to march away from where he was, his feet would walk out from under him and he'd be left lying on his back in mid-air. Again, to stop without putting one foot out ahead for a prop would mean that after his feet paused, his body would continue onward and he would achieve a full-length face-down flop. And besides, one could not walk with a regular up-and-down motion, or in seconds he would find his feet churning emptiness in complete futility.
Cochrane tried to walk, and then irritably took a hand-rail and hauled himself along it, with his legs trailing behind him like the tail of a swimming mermaid. He thought of the simile and was not impressed by his own dignity.
Presently Babs halted herself in what was plainly a metal blister in the outer skin of the platform. There was a round quartz window, showing the inside of steel-plate windows beyond it. Babs pushed a button marked "Shutter," and the valves of steel drew back.
Cochrane blinked, lifted even out of his irritableness by the sight before him.
He saw the immensity of the heavens, studded with innumerable stars. Some were brighter than others, and they were of every imaginable color. Tiny glintings of lurid tint—through the Earth's atmosphere they would blend into an indefinite faint luminosity—appeared so close together that there seemed no possible interval. However tiny the appearance of a gap, one had but to look at it for an instant to perceive infinitesimal flecks of colored fire there, also.
Each tiniest glimmering was a sun. But that was not what made Cochrane catch his breath.
There was a monstrous space of nothingness immediately before his eyes. It was round and vast and near. It was black with the utter blackness of the Pit. It was Earth, seen from its eight-thousand-mile-wide shadow, unlighted even by the Moon. There was no faintest relief from its absolute darkness. It was as if, in the midst of the splendor of the heavens, there was a chasm through which one glimpsed the unthinkable nothing from which creation was called in the beginning. Until one realized that this was simply the dark side of Earth, the spectacle was one of hair-raising horror.
After a moment Cochrane said with a carefully steadied voice:
"My most disparaging opinions of Earth were never as black as this!"
"Wait," said Babs confidently.
Cochrane waited. He had to hold carefully in his mind that this visible abyss, this enormity of purest dark, was not an opening into nothingness but was simply Earth at night as seen from space.
Then he saw a faint, faint arch of color forming at its edge. It spread swiftly. Immediately, it seemed, there was a pinkish glowing line among the multitudinous stars. It was red. It was very, very bright. It became a complete half-circle. It was the light of the sun refracted around the edge of the world.
Within minutes—it seemed in seconds—the line of light was a glory among the stars. And then, very swiftly, the blazing orb which was the sun appeared from behind Earth. It was intolerably bright, but it did not brighten the firmament. It swam among all the myriads of myriads of suns, burning luridly and in a terrible silence, with visibly writhing prominences rising from the edge of its disk. Cochrane squinted at it with light-dazzled eyes.
Then Babs cried softly:
"Beautiful! Oh, beautiful!"
And Cochrane shielded his eyes and saw the world new-born before him. The arc of light became an arch and then a crescent, and swelled even as he looked. Dawn flowed below the space platform, and it seemed that seas and continents and clouds and beauty poured over the disk of darkness before him.
He stood here, staring, until the steel shutters slowly closed. Babs said in regret:
"You have to keep your hand on the button to keep the shutters open. Else the window might get pitted with dust."
Cochrane said cynically:
"And how much good will it have done me to see that, Babs? How can that be faked in a studio—and how much would a television screen show of it?"
He turned away. Then he added sourly:
"You stay and look if you like, Babs. I've already had my vanity smashed to little bits. If I look at that again I'll want to weep in pure frustration because I can't do anything even faintly as well worth watching. I prefer to cut down my notions of the cosmos to a tolerable size. But you go ahead and look!"
He went back to Holden. Holden was painfully dragging himself back into the rocket-ship. Cochrane went with him. They returned, weightless, to the admirably designed contour-chairs in which they had traveled to this place, and in which they would travel farther. Cochrane settled down to stare numbly at the wall above him. He had been humiliated enough by the actions of one of the heads of an advertising agency. He found himself resenting, even as he experienced, the humbling which had been imposed upon him by the cosmos itself.
Presently the other passengers returned, and the moonship was maneuvered out of the lock and to emptiness again, and again presently rockets roared and there was further feeling of intolerable weight. But it was not as bad as the take-off from Earth.
There followed some ninety-six hours of pure tedium. After the first accelerating blasts, the rockets were silent. There was no weight. There was nothing to hear except the droning murmur of unresting electric fans, stirring the air ceaselessly so that excess moisture from breathing could be extracted by the dehumidifiers. But for them—if the air had been left stagnant—the journey would have been insupportable.
There was nothing to see, because ports opening on outer space were not safe for passengers to look through. Mere humans, untrained to keep their minds on technical matters, could break down at the spectacle of the universe. There could be no activity.
Some of the passengers took dozy-pills. Cochrane did not. It was against the law for dozy-pills to produce a sensation of euphoria, of well-being. The law considered that pleasure might lead to addiction. But if a pill merely made a person drowsy, so that he dozed for hours halfway between sleeping and awake, no harm appeared to be done. Yet there were plenty of dozy-pill addicts. Many people were not especially anxious to feel good. They were quite satisfied not to feel anything at all.
Cochrane couldn't take that way of escape. He lay strapped in his chair and thought unhappily of many things. He came to feel unclean, as people used to feel when they traveled for days on end on railroad trains. There was no possibility of a bath. One could not even change clothes, because baggage went separately to the moon in a robot freight-rocket, which was faster and cheaper than a passenger transport, but would kill anybody who tried to ride it. Fifteen-and twenty-gravity acceleration is economical of fuel, and six-gravity is not, but nobody can live through a twenty-gravity lift-off from Earth. So passengers stayed in the clothes in which they entered the ship, and the only possible concession to fastidiousness was the disposable underwear one could get and change to in the rest-rooms.
Babs Deane did not take dozy-pills either, but Cochrane knew better than to be more than remotely friendly with her outside of office hours. He did not want to give her any excuse to tell him anything for his own good. So he spoke pleasantly and kept company only with his own thoughts. But he did notice that she looked rapt and starry-eyed even through the long and dreary hours of free flight. She was mentally tracking the moonship through the void. She'd know when the continents of Earth were plain to see, and the tints of vegetation on the two hemispheres—northern and southern—and she'd know when Earth's ice-caps could be seen, and why.
The stewardess was not too much of a diversion. She was brisk and calm and soothing, but she became a trifle reluctant to draw too near the chairs in which her passengers rode. Presently Cochrane made deductions and maliciously devised a television commercial. In it, a moon-rocket stewardess, in uniform and looking fresh and charming, would say sweetly that she went without bathing for days at a time on moon-trips, and did not offend because she used whoosit's antistinkum. And then he thought pleasurably of the heads that would roll did such a commercial actually get on the air.
But he didn't make plans for the production-job he'd been sent to the moon to do. Psychiatry was specialized, these days, as physical medicine had been before it. An extremely expensive diagnostician had been sent to the moon to tap Dabney's reflexes, and he'd gravely diagnosed frustration and suggested young Dr. Holden for the curative treatment. Frustration was the typical neurosis of the rich, anyhow, and Bill Holden had specialized in its cure. His main reliance was on the making of a dramatic production centering about his patient, which was expensive enough and effective enough to have made him a quick reputation. But he couldn't tell Cochrane what was required of him. Not yet. He knew the disease but not the case. He'd have to see and know Dabney before he could make use of the extra-special production-crew his patient's father-in-law had provided from the staff of Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe.
Ninety-some hours after blast-off from the space platform, the rocket-ship turned end for end and began to blast to kill its velocity toward the moon. It began at half-gravity—the red glowing sign gave warning of it—and rose to one gravity and then to two. After days of no-weight, two gravities was punishing.
Cochrane thought to look at Babs. She was rapt, lost in picturings of what must be outside the ship, which she could not see. She'd be imagining what the television screens had shown often enough, from film-tapes. The great pock marked face of Luna, with its ring-mountains in incredible numbers and complexity, and the vast open "seas" which were solidified oceans of lava, would be clear to her mind's eye. She would be imagining the gradual changes of the moon's face with nearness, when the colorings appear. From a distance all the moon seems tan or sandy in tint. When one comes closer, there are tawny reds and slate-colors in the mountain-cliffs, and even blues and yellows, and everywhere there is the ashy, whitish-tan color of the moondust.
Glancing at her, absorbed in her satisfaction, Cochrane suspected that with only half an excuse she would explain to him how the several hundreds of degrees difference in the surface-temperature of the moon between midnight and noon made rocks split and re-split and fracture so that stuff as fine as talcum powder covered every space not too sharply tilted for it to rest on.
The feeling of deceleration increased. For part of a second they had the sensation of three gravities.
Then there was a curious, yielding jar—really very slight—and then the feeling of excess weight ended altogether. But not the feeling of weight. They still had weight. It was constant. It was steady. But it was very slight.
They were on the moon, but Cochrane felt no elation. In the tedious hours from the space platform he'd thought too much. He was actually aware of the humiliations and frustrations most men had to conceal from themselves because they couldn't afford expensive psychiatric treatments. Frustration was the disease of all humanity, these days. And there was nothing that could be done about it. Nothing! It simply wasn't possible to rebel, and rebellion is the process by which humiliation and frustration is cured. But one could not rebel against the plain fact that Earth had more people on it than one planet could support.
Merely arriving at the moon did not seem an especially useful achievement, either to Cochrane or to humanity at large.
Things looked bad.
Cochrane stood when the stewardess' voice authorized the action. With sardonic docility he unfastened his safety-belt and stepped out into the spiral, descending aisle. It seemed strange to have weight again, even as little as this. Cochrane weighed, on the moon, just one-sixth of what he would weigh on Earth. Here he would tip a spring-scale at just about twenty-seven pounds. By flexing his toes, he could jump. Absurdly, he did. And he rose very slowly, and hovered—feeling singularly foolish—and descended with a vast deliberation. He landed on the ramp again feeling absurd indeed. He saw Babs grinning at him.
"I think," said Cochrane, "I'll have to take up toe-dancing."
She laughed. Then there were clankings, and something fastened itself outside, and after a moment the entrance-door of the moonship opened.
They went down the ramp to board the moon-jeep, holding onto the hand-rail and helping each other. The tourist giggled foolishly. They went out the thick doorway and found themselves in an enclosure very much like the interior of a rather small submarine. But it did have shielded windows—ports—and Babs instantly pulled herself into a seat beside one and feasted her eyes. She saw the jagged peaks nearby and the crenelated ring-mountain wall, miles off to one side, and the smooth frozen lava of the "sea." Across that dusty surface the horizon was remarkably near, and Cochrane remembered vaguely that the moon was only one-fourth the size of Earth, so its horizon would naturally be nearer. He glanced at the stars that shone even through the glass that denatured the sunshine. And then he looked for Holden.
The psychiatrist looked puffy and sleepy and haggard and disheveled. When a person does have space-sickness, even a little weight relieves the symptoms, but the consequences last for days.
"Don't worry!" he said sourly when he saw Cochrane's eyes upon him. "I won't waste any time! I'll find my man and get to work at once. Just let me get back to Earth...."
There were more clankings—the jeep-bus sealing off from the rocket. Then the vehicle stirred. The landscape outside began to move.
They saw Lunar City as they approached it. It was five giant dust-heaps, from five hundred-odd feet in height down to three. There were airlocks at their bases and dust-covered tunnels connecting them, and radar-bowls about their sides. But they were dust-heaps. Which was completely reasonable. There is no air on the moon. By day the sun shines down with absolute ferocity. It heats everything as with a furnace-flame. At night all heat radiates away to empty space, and the ground-temperature drops well below that of liquid air. So Lunar City was a group of domes which were essentially half-balloons—hemispheres of plastic brought from Earth and inflated and covered with dust. With airlocks to permit entrance and exit, they were inhabitable. They needed no framework to support them because there were no stormwinds or earthquakes to put stresses on them. They needed neither heating nor cooling equipment. They were buried under forty feet of moon-dust, with vacuum between the dust-grains. Lunar City was not beautiful, but human beings could live in it.
The jeep-bus carried them a bare half mile, and they alighted inside a lock, and another door and another opened and closed, and they emerged into a scene which no amount of television film-tape could really portray.
The main dome was a thousand feet across and half as high. There were green plants growing in tubs and pots. And the air was fresh! It smelled strange. There could be no vegetation on the rocket and it seemed new and blissful to breathe really freshened air after days of the canned variety. But this freshness made Cochrane realize that he'd feel better for a bath.
He took a shower in his hotel room. The room was very much like one on Earth, except that it had no windows. But the shower was strange. The sprays were tiny. Cochrane felt as if he were being sprayed by atomizers rather than shower-nozzles until he noticed that water ran off him very slowly and realized that a normal shower would have been overwhelming. He scooped up a handful of water and let it drop. It took a full second to fall two and a half feet.
It was unsettling, but fresh clothing from his waiting baggage made him feel better. He went to the lounge of the hotel, and it was not a lounge, and the hotel was not a hotel. Everything in the dome was indoors in the sense that it was under a globular ceiling fifty stories high. But everything was also out-doors in the sense of bright light and growing trees and bushes and shrubs.
He found Babs freshly garmented and waiting for him. She said in businesslike tones:
"Mr. Cochrane, I asked at the desk. Doctor Holden has gone to consult Mr. Dabney. He asked that we stay within call. I've sent word to Mr. West and Mr. Jamison and Mr. Bell."
Cochrane approved of her secretarial efficiency.
"Then we'll sit somewhere and wait. Since this isn't an office, we'll find some refreshment."
They asked for a table and got one near the swimming pool. And Babs wore her office manner, all crispness and business, until they were seated. But this swimming pool was not like a pool on Earth. The water was deeply sunk beneath the pool's rim, and great waves surged back and forth. The swimmers—.
Babs gasped. A man stood on a board quite thirty feet above the water. He prepared to dive.
"That's Johnny Simms!" she said, awed.
"The playboy," said Babs, staring. "He's a psychopathic personality and his family has millions. They keep him up here out of trouble. He's married."
"Too bad—if he has millions," said Cochrane.
"I wouldn't marry a man with a psychopathic personality!" protested Babs.
"Keep away from people in the advertising business, then," Cochrane told her.
Johnny Simms did not jounce up and down on the diving board to start. He simply leaped upward, and went ceilingward for easily fifteen feet, and hung stationary for a full breath, and then began to descend in literal slow motion. He fell only two and a half feet the first second, and five feet more the one after, and twelve and a half after that.... It took him over four seconds to drop forty-five feet into the water, and the splash that arose when he struck the surface rose four yards and subsided with a lunatic deliberation.
Watching, Babs could not keep her businesslike demeanor. She was bursting with the joyous knowledge that she was on the moon, seeing the impossible and looking at fame.
They sipped at drinks—but the liquid rose much too swiftly in the straws—and Cochrane reflected that the drink in Babs' glass would cost Dabney's father-in-law as much as Babs earned in a week back home, and his own was costing no less.
Presently a written note came from Holden:
"Jed: send West and Jamison right away to Dabney's lunar laboratory to get details of discovery from man named Jones. Get moon-jeep and driver from hotel. I will want you in an hour.—Bill."
"I'll be back," said Cochrane. "Wait."
He left the table and found West and Jamison in Bell's room, all three in conference over a bottle. West and Jamison were Cochrane's scientific team for the yet unformulated task he was to perform. West was the popularizing specialist. He could make a television audience believe that it understood all the seven dimensions required for some branches of wave-mechanics theory. His explanation did not stick, of course. One didn't remember them. But they were singularly convincing in cultural episodes on television productions. Jamison was the prophecy expert. He could extrapolate anything into anything else, and make you believe that a one-week drop in the birthdate on Kamchatka was the beginning of a trend that would leave the Earth depopulated in exactly four hundred and seventy-three years. They were good men for a television producer to have on call. Now, instructed, they went out to be briefed by somebody who undoubtedly knew more than both of them put together, but whom they would regard with tolerant suspicion.
Bell, left behind, said cagily:
"This script I've got to do, now—Will that laboratory be the set? Where is it? In the dome?"
"It's not in the dome," Cochrane told him. "West and Jamison took a moon-jeep to get to it. I don't know what the set will be. I don't know anything, yet. I'm waiting to be told about the job, myself."
"If I've got to cook up a story-line," observed Bell, "I have to know the set. Who'll act? You know how amateurs can ham up any script! How about a part for Babs? Nice kid!"
Cochrane found himself annoyed, without knowing why.
"We just have to wait until we know what our job is," he said curtly, and turned to go.
"One more thing. If you're planning to use a news cameraman up here—don't! I used to be a cameraman before I got crazy and started to write. Let me do the camera-work. I've got a better idea of using a camera to tell a story now, than—"
"Hold it," said Cochrane. "We're not up here to film-tape a show. Our job is psychiatry—craziness."
To a self-respecting producer, a psychiatric production would seem craziness. A script-writer might have trouble writing out a psychiatrist's prescription, or he might not. But producing it would be out of all rationality! No camera, the patient would be the star, and most lines would be ad libbed. Cochrane viewed such a production with extreme distaste. But of course, if a man wanted only to be famous, it might be handled as a straight public-relations job. In any case, though, it would amount to flattery in three dimensions and Cochrane would rather have no part in it. But he had to arrange the whole thing.
He went back to the table and rejoined Babs. She confided that she'd been talking to Johnny Simms' wife. She was nice! But homesick. Cochrane sat down and thought morbid thoughts. Then he realized that he was irritated because Babs didn't notice. He finished his drink and ordered another.
Half an hour later, Holden found them. He had in tow a sad-looking youngish man with a remarkably narrow forehead and an expression of deep anxiety. Cochrane winced. A neurotic type if there ever was one!
"Jed," said Holden heartily, "here's Mr. Dabney. Mr. Dabney, Jed Cochrane is here as a specialist in public-relations set-ups. He'll take charge of this affair. Your father-in-law sent him up here to see that you are done justice to!"
Dabney seemed to think earnestly before he spoke.
"It is not for myself," he explained in an anxious tone. "It is my work! That is important! After all, this is a fundamental scientific discovery! But nobody pays any attention! It is extremely important! Extremely! Science itself is held back by the lack of attention paid to my discovery!"
"Which," Holden assured him, "is about to be changed. It's a matter of public relations. Jed's a specialist. He'll take over."
The sad-faced young man held up his hand for attention. He thought. Visibly. Then he said worriedly:
"I would take you over to my laboratory, but I promised my wife I would call her in half an hour from now. Johnny Simms' wife just reminded me. My wife is back on Earth. So you will have to go to the laboratory without me and have Mr. Jones show you the proof of my work. A very intelligent man, Jones—in a subordinate way, of course. Yes. I will get you a jeep and you can go there at once, and when you come back you can tell me what you plan. But you understand that it is not for myself that I want credit! It is my discovery! It is terribly important! It is vital! It must not be overlooked!"
Holden escorted him away, while Cochrane carefully controlled his features. After a few moments Holden came back, his face sagging.
"This your drink, Jed?" he asked dispiritedly. "I need it!" He picked up the glass and emptied it. "The history of that case would be interesting, if one could really get to the bottom of it! Come along!" His tone was dreariness itself. "I've got a jeep waiting for us."
Babs stood up, her eyes shining.
"May I come, Mr. Cochrane?"
Cochrane waved her along. Holden tried to stalk gloomily, but nobody can stalk in one-sixth gravity. He reeled, and then depressedly accommodated himself to conditions on the moon.
There was an airlock with a smaller edition of the moon-jeep that had brought them from the ship to the city. It was a brightly-polished metal body, raised some ten feet off the ground on outrageously large wheels. It was very similar to the straddle-trucks used in lumberyards on Earth. It would straddle boulders in its path. It could go anywhere in spite of dust and detritus, and its metal body was air-tight and held air for breathing, even out on the moon's surface.
They climbed in. There was the sound of pumping, which grew fainter. The outer lock-door opened. The moon-jeep rolled outside.
Babs stared with passionate rapture out of a shielded port. There were impossibly jagged stones, preposterously steep cliffs. There had been no weather to remove the sharp edge of anything in a hundred million years. The awkward-seeming vehicle trundled over the lava sea toward the rampart of mighty mountains towering over Lunar City. It reached a steep ascent. It climbed. And the way was remarkably rough and the vehicle springless, but it was nevertheless a cushioned ride. A bump cannot be harsh in light gravity. The vehicle rode as if on wings.
"All right," said Cochrane. "Tell me the worst. What's the trouble with him? Is he the result of six generations of keeping the money in the family? Or is he a freak?"
Holden groaned a little.
"He's practically a stock model of a rich young man without brains enough for a job in the family firm, and too much money for anything else. Fortunately for his family, he didn't react like Johnny Simms—though they're good friends. A hundred years ago, Dabney'd have gone in for the arts. But it's hard to fool yourself that way now. Fifty years ago he'd have gone in for left-wing sociology. But we really are doing the best that can be done with too many people and not enough world. So he went in for science. It's non-competitive. Incapacity doesn't show up. But he has stumbled on something. It sounds really important. It must have been an accident! The only trouble is that it doesn't mean a thing! Yet because he's accomplished more than he ever expected to, he's frustrated because it's not appreciated! What a joke!"
Cochrane said cynically:
"You paint a dark picture, Bill. Are you trying to make this thing into a challenge?"
"You can't make a man famous for discovering something that doesn't matter," said Holden hopelessly. "And this is that!"
"Nothing's impossible to public relations if you spend enough money," Cochrane assured him. "What's this useless triumph of his?"
The jeep bounced over a small cliff and fell gently for half a second and rolled on. Babs beamed.
"He's found," said Holden discouragedly, "a way to send messages faster than light. It's a detour around Einstein's stuff—not denying it, but evading it. Right now it takes not quite two seconds for a message to go from the moon to Earth. That's at the speed of light. Dabney has proof—we'll see it—that he can cut that down some ninety-five per cent. Only it can't be used for Earth-moon communication, because both ends have to be in a vacuum. It could be used to the space platform, but—what's the difference? It's a real discovery for which there's no possible use. There's no place to send messages to!"
Cochrane's eyes grew bright and hard. There were some three thousand million suns in the immediate locality of Earth—and more only a relatively short distance way—and it had not mattered to anybody. The situation did not seem likely to change. But—The moon-jeep climbed and climbed. It was a mile above the bay of the lava sea and the dust-heaps that were a city. It looked like ten miles, because of the curve of the horizon. The mountains all about looked like a madman's dream.
"But he wants appreciation!" said Holden angrily. "People on Earth almost trampling on each other for lack of room, and people like me trying to keep them sane when they've every reason for despair—and he wants appreciation!"
Cochrane grinned. He whistled softly.
"Never underestimate a genius, Bill," he said kindly. "I refer modestly to myself. In two weeks your patient—I'll guarantee it—will be acclaimed the hope, the blessing, the greatest man in all the history of humanity! It'll be phoney, of course, but we'll have Marilyn Winters—Little Aphrodite herself—making passes at him in hopes of a publicity break! It's a natural!"
"How'll you do it?" demanded Holden.
The moon-jeep turned in its crazy, bumping progress. A flat area had been blasted in rock which had been unchanged since the beginning of time. Here there was a human structure. Typically, it was a dust-heap leaning against a cliff. There was an airlock and another jeep waited outside, and there were eccentric metal devices on the flat space, shielded from direct sunshine and with cables running to them from the airlock door.
"How?" repeated Cochrane. "I'll get the details here. Let's go! How do we manage?"
It was a matter, he discovered, of vacuum-suits, and they were tricky to get into and felt horrible when one was in. Struggling, Cochrane thought to say:
"You can wait here in the jeep, Babs—"
But she was already climbing into a suit very much oversized for her, with the look of high excitement that Cochrane had forgotten anybody could wear.
They got out of a tiny airlock that held just one person at a time. They started for the laboratory. And suddenly Cochrane saw Babs staring upward through the dark, almost-opaque glass that a space-suit-helmet needs in the moon's daytime if its occupant isn't to be fried by sunlight. Cochrane automatically glanced up too.
He saw Earth. It hung almost in mid-sky. It was huge. It was gigantic. It was colossal. It was four times the diameter of the moon as seen from Earth, and it covered sixteen times as much of the sky. Its continents were plain to see, and its seas, and the ice-caps at its poles gleamed whitely, and over all of it there was a faintly bluish haze which was like a glamour; a fey and eerie veiling which made Earth a sight to draw at one's heart-strings.
Behind it and all about it there was the background of space, so thickly jeweled with stars that there seemed no room for another tiny gem.
Cochrane looked. He said nothing. Holden stumbled on to the airlock. He remembered to hold the door open for Babs.
And then there was the interior of the laboratory. It was not wholly familiar even to Cochrane, who had used sets on the Dikkipatti Hour of most of the locations in which human dramas can unfold. This was a physics laboratory, pure and simple. The air smelled of ozone and spilled acid and oil and food and tobacco-smoke and other items. West and Jamison were already here, their space-suits removed. They sat before beer at a table with innumerable diagrams scattered about. There was a deep-browed man rather impatiently turning to face his new visitors.
Holden clumsily unfastened the face-plate of his helmet and gloomily explained his mission. He introduced Cochrane and Babs, verifying in the process that the dark man was the Jones he had come to see. A physics laboratory high in the fastnesses of the Lunar Apennines is an odd place for a psychiatrist to introduce himself on professional business. But Holden only explained unhappily that Dabney had sent them to learn about his discovery and arrange for a public-relations job to make it known.
Cochrane saw Jones' expression flicker sarcastically just once during Holden's explanation. Otherwise he was poker-faced.
"I was explaining the discovery to these two," he observed.
"Shoot it," said Cochrane to West. It was reasonable to ask West for an explanation, because he would translate everything into televisable terms.
West said briskly—exactly as if before a television camera—that Mr. Dabney had started from the well-known fact that the properties of space are modified by energy fields. Magnetic and gravitational and electrostatic fields rotate polarized light or bend light or do this or that as the case may be. But all previous modifications of the constants of space had been in essentially spherical fields. All previous fields had extended in all directions, increasing in intensity as the square of the distance ...
"Cut," said Cochrane.
West automatically abandoned his professional delivery. He placidly re-addressed himself to his beer.
"How about it, Jones?" asked Cochrane. "Dabney's got a variation? What is it?"
"It's a field of force that doesn't spread out. You set up two plates and establish this field between them," said Jones curtly. "It's circularly polarized and it doesn't expand. It's like a searchlight beam or a microwave beam, and it stays the same size like a pipe. In that field—or pipe—radiation travels faster than it does outside. The properties of space are changed between the plates. Therefore the speed of all radiation. That's all."
Cochrane meditatively seated himself. He approved of this Jones, whose eyebrows practically met in the middle of his forehead. He was not more polite than politeness required. He did not express employer-like rapture at the mention of his employer's name.
"But what can be done with it?" asked Cochrane practically.
"Nothing," said Jones succinctly. "It changes the properties of space, but that's all. Can you think of any use for a faster-than-light radiation-pipe? I can't."
Cochrane cocked an eye at Jamison, who could extrapolate at the drop of an equation. But Jamison shook his head.
"Communication between planets," he said morosely, "when we get to them. Chats between sweethearts on Earth and Pluto. Broadcasts to the stars when we find that another one's set up a similar plate and is ready to chat with us. There's nothing else."
Cochrane waved his hand. It is good policy to put a specialist in his place, occasionally.
"Demonstration?" he asked Jones.
"There are plates across the crater out yonder," said Jones without emotion. "Twenty miles clear reach. I can send a message across and get it relayed twice and back through two angles in about five per cent of the time radiation ought to take."
Cochrane said with benign cynicism:
"Jamison, you work by guessing where you can go. Jones works by guessing where he is. But this is a public relations job. I don't know where we are or where we can go, but I know where we want to take this thing."
Jones looked at him. Not hostilely, but with the detached interest of a man accustomed to nearly exact science, when he watches somebody work in one of the least precise of them all.
"You mean you've worked out some sort of production."
"No production," said Cochrane blandly. "It isn't necessary. A straight public-relations set-up. We concoct a story and then let it leak out. We make it so good that even the people who don't believe it can't help spreading it." He nodded at Jamison. "Right now, Jamison, we want a theory that the sending of radiation at twenty times the speed of light means that there is a way to send matter faster than light—as soon as we work it out. It means that the inertia-mass which increases with speed—Einstein's stuff—is not a property of matter, but of space, just as the air-resistance that increases when an airplane goes faster is a property of air and not of the plane. Maybe we need to work out a theory that all inertia is a property of space. We'll see if we need that. But anyhow, just as a plane can go faster in thin air, so matter—any matter—will move faster in this field as soon as we get the trick of it. You see?"
Holden shook his head.
"What's that got in it to make Dabney famous?" he asked.
"Jamison will extrapolate from there," Cochrane assured him. "Go ahead, Jamison. You're on."
Jamison said promptly, with the hypnotic smoothness of the practiced professional:
"When this development has been completed, not only will messages be sent at multiples of the speed of light, but matter! Ships! The barrier to the high destiny of mankind; the limitation of our race to a single planet of a minor sun—these handicaps crash and will shatter as the great minds of humanity bend their efforts to make the Dabney faster-than-light principle the operative principle of our ships. There are thousands of millions of suns in our galaxy, and not less than one in three has planets, and among these myriads of unknown worlds there will be thousands with seas and land and clouds and continents, fit for men to enter upon, there to rear their cities. There will be starships roaming distant sun-clusters, and landing on planets in the Milky Way. We ourselves will see freight-lines to Rigel and Arcturus, and journey on passenger-liners singing through the void to Andromeda and Aldebaran! Dabney has made the first breach in the barrier to the illimitable greatness of humanity!"
Then he stopped and said professionally:
"I can polish that up a bit, of course. All right?"
"Fair," conceded Cochrane. He turned to Holden. "How about a public-relations job on that order? Won't that sort of publicity meet the requirements? Will your patient be satisfied with that grade of appreciation?"
Holden drew a deep breath. He said unsteadily:
"As a neurotic personality, he won't require that it be true. All he'll want is the seeming. But—Jed, could it be really true? Could it?"
Cochrane laughed unpleasantly. He did not admire himself. His laughter showed it.
"What do you want?" he demanded. "You got me a job I didn't want. You shoved it down my throat! Now there's the way to get it done! What more can you ask?"
Holden winced. Then he said heavily:
"I'd like for it to be true."
Jones moved suddenly. He said in an oddly surprised voice:
"D'you know, it can be! I didn't realize! It can be true! I can make a ship go faster than light!"
Cochrane said with exquisite irony:
"Thanks, but we don't need it. We aren't getting paid for that! All we need is a modicum of appreciation for a neurotic son-in-law of a partner of Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe! A public-relations job is all that's required. You give West the theory, and Jamison will do the prophecy, and Bell will write it out."
Jones said calmly:
"I will like hell! Look! I discovered this faster-than-light field in the first place! I sold it to Dabney because he wanted to be famous! I got my pay and he can keep it! But if he can't understand it himself, even to lecture about it ... Do you think I'm going to throw in some extra stuff I noticed, that I can fit into that theory but nobody else can—Do you think I'm going to give him starships as a bonus?"
Holden said, nodding, with his lips twisted:
"I should have figured that! He bought his great discovery from you, eh? And that's what he gets frustrated about!"
"I thought you psychiatrists knew the facts of life, Bill! Dabney's not unusual in my business! He's almost a typical sponsor!"
"When you ask me to throw away starships," said Jones coldly, "for a publicity feature, I don't play. I won't take the credit for the field away from Dabney. I sold him that with my eyes open. But starships are more important than a fool's hankering to be famous! He'd never try it! He'd be afraid it wouldn't work! I don't play!"
Holden said stridently:
"I don't give a damn about any deal you made with Dabney! But if you can get us to the stars—all us humans who need it—you've got to!"
Jones said, again calmly:
"I'm willing. Make me an offer—not cash, but a chance to do something real—not just a trick for a neurotic's ego!"
Cochrane grinned at him very peculiarly.
"I like your approach. You've got illusions. They're nice things to have. I wouldn't mind having some myself. Bill," he said to Dr. William Holden, "how much nerve has Dabney?"
"Speaking unprofessionally," said Holden, "he's a worm with wants. He hasn't anything but cravings. Why?"
Cochrane grinned again, his head cocked on one side.
"He wouldn't take part in an enterprise to reach the stars, would he?" When Holden shook his head, Cochrane said zestfully, "I'd guess that the peak of his ambition would be to have the credit for it if it worked, but he wouldn't risk being associated with it until it had worked! Right?"
"Right," said Holden. "I said he was a worm. What're you driving at?"
"I'm outlining what you're twisting my arm to make me do," said Cochrane, "in case you haven't noticed. Bill, if Jones can really make a ship go faster than light—"
"I can," repeated Jones. "I simply didn't think of the thing in connection with travel. I only thought of it for signalling."
"Then," said Cochrane, "I'm literally forced, for Dabney's sake, to do something that he'd scream shrilly at if he heard about it. We're going to have a party, Bill! A party after your and my and Jones' hearts!"
"What do you mean?" demanded Holden.
"We make a production after all," said Cochrane, grinning. "We are going to take Dabney's discovery—the one he bought publicity rights to—very seriously indeed. I'm going to get him acclaim. First we break a story of what Dabney's field means for the future of mankind—and then we prove it! We take a journey to the stars! Want to make your reservations now?"
"You mean," said West incredulously, "a genuine trip? Why?"
Cochrane snapped at him suddenly.
"Because I can't kid myself any more," he rasped. "I've found out how little I count in the world and the estimation of Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe! I've found out I'm only a little man when I thought I was a big one, and I won't take it! Now I've got an excuse to try to be a big man! That's reason enough, isn't it?"
Then he glared around the small laboratory under the dust-heap. He was irritated because he did not feel splendid emotions after making a resolution and a plan which ought to go down in history—if it worked. He wasn't uplifted. He wasn't aware of any particular feeling of being the instrument of destiny or anything else. He simply felt peevish and annoyed and obstinate about trying the impossible trick.
It annoyed him additionally, perhaps, to see the expression of starry-eyed admiration on Babs' face as she looked at him across the untidy laboratory table, cluttered up with beer-cans.
It is a matter of record that the American continents were discovered because ice-boxes were unknown in the fifteenth century. There being no refrigeration, meat did not keep. But meat was not too easy to come by, so it had to be eaten, even when it stank. Therefore it was a noble enterprise, and to the glory of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, to put up the financial backing for even a crackpot who might get spices cheaper and thereby make the consumption of slightly spoiled meat less unpleasant. Which was why Columbus got three ships and crews of jailbirds for them from a government still busy trying to drive the Moors out of the last corner of Spain.
This was a precedent for the matter on hand now. Cochrane happened to know the details about Columbus because he'd checked over the research when he did a show on the Dikkipatti Hour dealing with him. There were more precedents. The elaborate bargain by which Columbus was to be made hereditary High Admiral of the Western Oceans, with a bite of all revenue obtained by the passage he was to discover—he had to hold out for such terms to make the package he was selling look attractive. Nobody buys anything that is underpriced too much. It looks phoney. So Cochrane made his preliminaries rather more impressive than they need have been from a strictly practical point of view, in order to make the enterprise practical from a financial aspect.
There was another precedent he did not intend to follow. Columbus did not know where he was going when he set sail, he did not know where he was when he arrived at the end of his voyage, and he didn't know where he'd been when he got back. Cochrane expected to improve on the achievement of the earlier explorer's doings in these respects.
He commandeered the legal department of Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins, and Fallowe to set up the enterprise with strict legality and discretion. There came into being a corporation called "Spaceways, Inc." which could not possibly be considered phoney from any inspection of its charter. Expert legal advice arranged that its actual stock-holders should appear to be untraceable. Deft manipulation contrived that though its stock was legally vested in Cochrane and Holden and Jones—Cochrane negligently threw in Jones as a convenient name to use—and they were officially the owners of nearly all the stock, nobody who checked up would believe they were anything but dummies. Stockholdings in West's, and Jamison's and Bell's names would look like smaller holdings held for other than the main entrepreneurs. But these stock-holders were not only the legal owners of record—they were the true owners. Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe wanted no actual part of Spaceways. They considered the enterprise merely a psychiatric treatment for a neurotic son-in-law. Which, of course, it was. So Spaceways, Inc., quite honestly and validly belonged to the people who would cure Dabney of his frustration—and nobody at all believed that it would ever do anything else. Not anybody but those six owners, anyhow. And as it turned out, not all of them.
The psychiatric treatment began with an innocent-seeming news-item from Lunar City saying that Dabney, the so-and-so scientist, had consented to act as consulting physicist to Spaceways, Inc., for the practical application of his recent discovery of a way to send messages faster than light.
This was news simply because it came from the moon. It got fairly wide distribution, but no emphasis.
Then the publicity campaign broke. On orders from Cochrane, Jamison the extrapolating genius got slightly plastered, in company with the two news-association reporters in Lunar City. He confided that Spaceways, Inc., had been organized and was backed to develop the Dabney faster-than-light-signalling field into a faster-than-light-travel field. The news men pumped him of all his extrapolations. Cynically, they checked to see who might be preparing to unload stock. They found no preparations for stock-sales. No registration of the company for raising funds. It wasn't going to the public for money. It wasn't selling anybody anything. Then Cochrane refused to see any reporters at all, everybody connected with the enterprise shut up tighter than a clam, and Jamison vanished into a hotel room where he was kept occupied with beverages and food at Dabney's father-in-law's expense. None of this was standard for a phoney promotion deal.
The news story exploded. Let loose on an overcrowded planet which had lost all hope of relief after fifty years in which only the moon had been colonized—and its colony had a population in the hundreds, only—the idea of faster-than-light travel was the one impossible dream that everybody wanted to believe in. The story spread in a manner that could only be described as chain-reaction in character. And of course Dabney—as the scientist responsible for the new hope—became known to all peoples.
The experts of Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe checked on the publicity given to Dabney. Strict advertising agency accounting figured that to date the cost-per-customer-mention of Dabney and his discovery were the lowest in the history of advertising. Surveys disclosed that within three Earth-days less than 3.5 of every hundred interviews questioned were completely ignorant of Dabney and the prospect of travel to the stars through his discovery. More people knew Dabney's name than knew the name of the President of the United States!
That was only the beginning. The leading popular-science show jumped eight points in audience-rating. It actually reached top-twenty rating when it assigned a regular five-minute period to the Dabney Field and its possibilities in human terms. On the sixth day after Jamison's calculated indiscretion, the public consciousness was literally saturated with the idea of faster-than-light transportation. Dabney was mentioned in every interview of every stuffed shirt, he was referred to on every comedy show (three separate jokes had been invented, which were developed into one thousand eight hundred switcheroos, most of them only imperceptibly different from the original trio) and even Marilyn Winters—Little Aphrodite Herself—was demanding a faster-than-light-travel sequence in her next television show.
On the seventh day Bill Holden came into the office where Cochrane worked feverishly.
"Doctor Cochrane," said Holden, "a word with you!"
"Doctor?" asked Cochrane.
"Doctor!" repeated Holden. "I've just been interviewing my patient. You're good. My patient is adjusted."
Cochrane raised his eyebrows.
"He's famous," said Holden grimly. "He now considers that everybody in the world knows that he is a great scientist. He is appreciated. He is happily making plans to go back to Earth and address a few learned societies and let people admire him. He can now spend the rest of his life being the man who discovered the principle by which faster-than-light-travel will some day be achieved. Even when the furor dies down, he will have been a great man—and he will stay a great man in his own estimation. In short, he's cured."
"Then I'm fired?"
"We are," said Holden. "There are professional ethics even among psychiatrists, Jed. I have to admit that the guy now has a permanent adjustment to reality. He has been recognized as a great scientist. He is no longer frustrated."
Cochrane leaned back in his chair.
"That may be good medical ethics," he observed, "but it's lousy business practice, Bill. You say he's adjusted to reality. That means that he will now have a socially acceptable reaction to anything that's likely to happen to him."
"A well-adjusted person does. Dabney's the same person. He's the same fool. But he'll get along all right. A psychiatrist can't change a personality! All he can do is make it adjust to the world about so the guy doesn't have to be tucked away in a straight-jacket. In that sense, Dabney is adjusted."
"You've played a dirty trick on him," said Cochrane. "You've stabilized him, and that's the rottenest trick anybody can play on anybody! You've put him into a sort of moral deep-freeze. It's a dirty trick, Bill!"
"Look who's talking!" said Holden wearily. "I suppose the advertising business is altruistic and unmercenary?"
"The devil, no!" said Cochrane indignantly. "We serve a useful purpose! We tell people that they smell bad, and so give them an alibi for the unpopularity their stupidity has produced. But then we tell them to use so-and-so's breath sweetener or whosit's non-immunizing deodorant they'll immediately become the life of every party they attend! It's a lie, of course, but it's a dynamic lie! It gives the frustrated individual something to do! It sells him hope and therefore activity—and inactivity is a sort of death!"
Holden looked at Cochrane with a dreary disinterest.
"You're adjusted, Jed! But do you really believe that stuff?"
Cochrane grinned again.
"Only on Tuesdays and Fridays. It's about two-sevenths true. But it does have that much truth in it! Nobody ever gets anything done while they merely make socially acceptable responses to the things that happen to them! Take Dabney himself! We've got a hell of a thing coming along now just because he wouldn't make the socially acceptable response to having a rich wife and no brains. He rebelled. So mankind will start moving to the stars!"
"You still believe it?"
"Yesterday morning I sweated blood in a space-suit out in the crater beyond Jones' laboratory. He tried his trick. He had a small signal-rocket mounted on the far side of that crater,—twenty-some miles. It was in front of the field-plate that established the Dabney field across the crater to another plate near us. Jones turned on the field. He ignited the rocket by remote control. I was watching with a telescope. I gave him the word to fire.... How long do you think it took that rocket to cross the crater in that field that works like a pipe? It smashed into the plate at the lab!"
Holden shook his head.
"It took slightly," said Cochrane, "slightly under three-fifths of a second."
Holden blinked. Cochrane said:
"A signal-rocket has an acceleration of about six hundred feet per second, level flight, no gravity component, mass acceleration only. It should have taken a hundred seconds plus to cross that crater—over twenty miles. It shouldn't have stayed on course. It did stay on course, inside the field. It did take under three-fifths of a second. The gadget works!"
Holden drew a deep breath.
"So now you need more money and you want me not to discharge my patient as cured."
"Not a bit of it!" snapped Cochrane. "I don't want him as a patient! I'm only willing to accept him as a customer! But if he wants fame, I'll sell it to him. Not as something to lean his fragile psyche on, but something to wallow in! Do you think he could ever get too famous for his own satisfaction?"
"Of course not," said Holden. "He's the same fool."
"Then we're in business," Cochrane told him. "Not that I couldn't peddle my fish elsewhere. I'm going to! But I'll give him old-customer preference. I'll want him out at the distress-torp tests this afternoon. They'll be public."
"This afternoon?" asked Holden. "Distress-torp?"
A lunar day is two Earth-weeks-long. A lunar night is equally long-drawn-out. Cochrane said impatiently:
"I got out of bed four hours ago. To me that's morning. I'll eat lunch in an hour. That's noon. Say, three hours from now, whatever o'clock it is lunar time."
Holden glanced at his watch and made computations. He said:
"That'll be half-past two hundred and three o'clock, if you're curious. But what's a distress-torp?"
"Shoo!" said Cochrane. "I'll send Babs to find you and load you on the jeep. You'll see then. Now I'm busy!"
Holden shrugged and went away, and Cochrane stared at his own watch. Since a lunar day and night together fill twenty-eight Earth days of time, a strictly lunar "day" contains nearly three hundred forty Earth-hours. To call one-twelfth of that period an hour would be an affectation. To call each twenty-four Earth hours a day would have been absurd. So the actual period of the moon's rotation was divided into familiar time-intervals, and a bulletin-board in the hotel lobby in Lunar City notified those interested that: "Sunday will be from 143 o'clock to 167 o'clock A.M." There would be another Sunday some time during the lunar afternoon.
Cochrane debated momentarily whether this information could be used in the publicity campaign of Spaceways, Inc. Strictly speaking, there was some slight obligation to throw extra fame Dabney's way regardless, because the corporation had been formed as a public-relations device. Any other features, such as changing the history of the human race, were technically incidental. But Cochrane put his watch away. To talk about horology on the moon wouldn't add to Dabney's stature as a phoney scientist. It didn't matter.
He went back to the business at hand. Some two years before there had been a fake corporation organized strictly for the benefit of its promoters. It had built a rocket-ship ostensibly for the establishment of a colony on Mars. The ship had managed to stagger up to Luna, but no farther. Its promoters had sold stock on the promise that a ship that could barely reach Luna could take off from that small globe with six times as much fuel as it could lift off of Earth. Which was true. Investors put in their money on that verifiable fact. But the truth happened to be, of course, that it would still take an impossible amount of fuel to accelerate the ship—so heavily loaded—to a speed where it would reach Mars in one human lifetime. Taking off from Luna would solve only the problem of gravity. It wouldn't do a thing about inertia. So the ship never rose from its landing near Lunar City. The corporation that had built it went profitably bankrupt.
Cochrane had been working feverishly to find out who owned that ship now. Just before the torp-test he'd mentioned, he found that the ship belonged to the hotel desk-clerk, who had bought it in hope of renting it sooner or later for television background-shots in case anybody was crazy enough to make a television film-tape on the moon. He was now discouraged. Cochrane chartered it, putting up a bond to return it undamaged. If the ship was lost, the hotel-clerk would get back his investment—about a week's pay.
So Cochrane had a space-ship practically in his pocket when the public demonstration of the Dabney field came off at half-past 203 o'clock.
The site of the demonstration was the shadowed, pitch-dark part of the floor of a crater twenty miles across, with walls some ten thousand jagged feet high. The furnace-like sunshine made the plain beyond the shadow into a sea of blinding brightness. The sunlit parts of the crater's walls were no less terribly glaring. But above the edge of the cliffs the stars began; infinitely small and many-colored, with innumerable degrees of brightness. The Earth hung in mid-sky like a swollen green apple, monstrous in size. And the figures which moved about the scene of the test could be seen only faintly by reflected light from the lava plain, because one's eyes had to be adjusted to the white-hot moon-dust on the plain and mountains.
There were not many persons present. Three jeeps waited in the semi-darkness, out of the burning sunshine. There were no more than a dozen moon-suited individuals to watch and to perform the test of the Dabney field. Cochrane had scrupulously edited all fore-news of the experiment to give Dabney the credit he had paid for. There were present, then, the party from Earth—Cochrane and Babs and Holden, with the two tame scientists and Bell the writer—and the only two reporters on the moon. Only news syndicates could stand the expense-account of a field man in Lunar City. And then there were Jones and Dabney and two other figures apparently brought by Dabney.