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Authors: Fred Hoyle

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Element 79 (6 page)

BOOK: Element 79
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Establishing contact with the wonderful thing in the sky came to have overriding importance. Then failure after failure led to a growing impatience. If only the thing would respond in some way, any way, even an answering ray of light would do, only so long as it didn’t go on ignoring them. All they wanted now was the slightest sign of recognition. Yet nothing they did made the smallest difference.
Someone had the idea that perhaps their signals weren’t getting through, perhaps it wasn’t possible for signals to propagate directly from the ground into the magnetosphere. It could be the waves were being reflected or refracted, back to the ground again. This suggested that signals be injected directly into the magnetosphere, from the ship in orbit around the planet. Unfortunately, it meant waiting until the beginning of the homeward flight, because the captain didn’t want to put the strain of a double landing on his rocket motors, not with gravity as strong as it was here. Partly because of this, and partly because of the sheer physical strain of putting up day after day with the excess weight occasioned by the gravity, the captain decided to cut short the length of the explorations on the ground.
One trouble was that nobody had any idea of the kind of response they should be looking for. Could this thing be aware of the spaceship flying right through it, any more than we ourselves are aware of some particular bacterium inside our own bodies? The electromagnetic signals they were now injecting into it should be producing some disturbance, but could the Thing be aware of the source of the disturbance? At all events, they got no more in the way of a response than before. Whatever it was, it ignored them completely.
A reaction set in. The electronic-brain fell out of favor. It began to look as though they were dealing only with some unusual natural phenomenon and not at all with an utterly new form of “life.” This made a big difference, a big difference in the tactics they should adopt. They’d better quit fooling with electromagnetic signals. They’d better do something really effective to stir up the situation. A nuclear bomb exploded in the works, after the manner of the old Starfish project, was more in line with the needs of the case. Back on Earth there had been objectors to Starfish. Here there would be no objectors, thought the captain, as he set about preparations for the experiment in hand. Actually he was wrong. Pev objected, although he didn’t say so. Pev didn’t understand the talk about electronics, or of the need for a bomb, or about flutings in the magnetic field. What he did know was that he liked this planet, with its gentle landscape and its magnificent skies. He couldn’t conceive of any reason for wanting to change it.
It was easy for Pev to make a blunder on purpose, to set the motors firing for a sweep-out from orbit. He had acquired a reputation for mistakes of all kinds. Nobody would suspect him of anything more than another stupidity. The others felt the growing acceleration. A glance at the controls made the situation clear to the captain, made it clear there would barely be enough time for them to strap themselves down before the big drive came on. The controls had gotten preset, there was no stopping it now.
Pev saw the rest of the crew safe before stowing himself away. The drive hit him harder than he ever remembered it. For the first time in his life he passed out completely. When it was all over they cursed him good and proper. He’d ruined their last chance of getting to grips with the Thing. They’d give him hell all the way home, they promised him that. Pev didn’t care. He felt curiously lightheaded, he’d felt that way from the moment he became conscious again after the blackout. He felt it didn’t matter, not one jot or tittle, what the other members of the crew thought about him.
Soon they got him to do a navigational fix. The mood lasted. He did it in a carefree fashion, taking the measurements quickly and stabbing down the numbers as he thought the numbers should go. Then he handed his data and his reduction sheets to the captain. Deliberately the captain ignored them—they wanted to keep him on the hook as long as possible. Somehow Pev didn’t care. He knew he wouldn’t care even if they laughed themselves sick about it. Sensing this, and seeing him pretty relaxed, the captain at last began to examine the papers. The others crowded around. To begin with, they all had silly grins on their faces. Then the grins were wiped clean away as they thumbed their way through Pev’s reductions. At last the captain looked up and said, “Hell, I never believed that old story about the monkey typing out Shakespeare. But it’s happened. It’s right, the whole bloody fix, it’s one hundred percent right.”
A Play’s the Thing
The dinner had been elegantly cooked. The three who had eaten it formed an elegant trio, a handsome man in his early forties, a perhaps still more handsome woman in her middle thirties, and a girl of twenty. The girl was fair with long hair the color of ripe corn. The woman was dark with a finely chiseled nose and large, arresting eyes.
“Coffee, I think,” murmured the woman.
“Excellent, my dear,” said the man, “coffee would be exactly right. I had no idea you were so splendid a cook.”
“I do most things well. When I have a mind to.”
The girl was on her feet. “I’ll fetch it.”
“Let me. It would be the least I could do,” offered the man.
“It would indeed be the least you could do. But let Cynthia go.”
The girl with hair the color of ripe corn left the man and woman together. Nothing was said while the girl was absent. The woman seated herself against one end of a long couch, placing her well-shaped legs along the length of the couch. She was still adjusting the cushions behind her back when Cynthia returned with the coffee. It was in a fashioned silver pot. The cups were of delicate china. The girl poured the coffee and served the man and woman. Then she seated herself comfortably, the three of them forming a triangle facing each other.
The woman tasted the coffee. “Mm, almost right, a touch of salt perhaps was needed.”
She sipped again reflectively, and then announced in a loud firm voice, “John, darling, you are a lousy sod.”
“Not literally, I can assure you.”
“Not literally, I would agree. Figuratively, shall we say?”
“You have every reason to be annoyed, I suppose.”
is scarcely the word for it.
Bloody furious
is much more the way I feel.”
“My dear, we can’t put the clock back. ‘The moving finger writes,’ and all that sort of thing.”
“If the moving finger had confined itself to writing, we’d hardly be in this very murky situation, would we?”
“I mean, we’ve got to face up to things, like rational human beings.”
“I fully intend to face up to things. Very rationally, my dear John, as you will presently discover. But facing up to things still doesn’t stop me from being bloody furious.”
“Helen,” said the girl, “I just don’t see how getting mad about it is going to help.”
going to help?” asked the woman.
“Nothing really, I suppose,” admitted the girl.
“Time, perhaps? Is that the view you would both like me to take?”
“Oh, come now, Helen. It’s not as bad as all that.”
“It’s happened before. It’s not the end of the world.”
The woman turned from the girl toward the man. She threw back her head and laughed, “Of course it’s not the end of the world. I never said it was. I’m complaining much more about the
it was done than about
was done.”
“You goaded me for long enough.”
“Goad or no goad, there is a certain well-defined moral level below which a man in your position is not expected to stoop.”
“A great deal depends on the direction from which you look at it.”
“No doubt.”
“I mean, you can’t possibly blame me for everything.”
“I blame the crucial moment on you. So I’m going to make you suffer for it, darling.”
The girl fidgeted and shook her head. “I can’t see any one of us being particularly to blame. We’re all to blame. I asked for it and I got it.”
The woman laughed again. “I didn’t ask for it, yet I’ve got it, too, my dear.”
There was a short silence. Then the woman shuffled along the couch to where she could stare directly into the man’s face.
“Well, are you satisfied with what you’ve done to both of us, you bloody great bull?”
“Very well satisfied.”
“I wonder what your academic colleagues are going to say when it all comes out? You’ll smirk on the other side of your face when they chuck you out.”
“Nonsense, these are private matters, outside the university’s competence. If everybody were thrown out for this sort of thing, every faculty in every university in the world would be decimated tomorrow.”
“There’s one thing you forget. Cynthia was your student. The university won’t take kindly to that, my dear John. It’s morally equivalent to incest, seducing a student. They’ll bounce you good and hard for it.”
“But I didn’t seduce Cynthia! Damn it all, there wasn’t the smallest question of seduction.”
The man lifted his hands toward the girl. “I said I’d look after things but you said you’d see to it.”
“I said I would but I never intended to.”
“In heaven’s name, why not?”
“Because I wanted it to happen. I wanted you to give me a child. So it would commit me. So it would commit both of us.”
“Marriage would commit both of us.”
“Marriage isn’t possible, not now.”
“Why not?”
“Because of Helen.”
“Look, Helen isn’t that sort, the marrying sort. She’s played the game her way. Well, she’s lost for once, that’s all.”
“Don’t be so sure,” interposed the woman calmly, “the game isn’t played out yet.”
“You’d wanted to make Helen for a long time, hadn’t you?” the girl asked the man.
“I suppose so,” he admitted.
“For how long, ten years?”
“Perhaps, a long time, certainly.”
“But she’s the other kind, so you didn’t get anywhere at all until I came along.”
The girl stopped and looked to the woman. “He still doesn’t understand the way it is.”
“He soon will,” smiled the woman. With evident pleasure, she leaned across to the man and put a hand on his knee. “Don’t you see? She’s the other kind, too, my kind. Cynthia is my kind. When she tricked you into making her pregnant she was trying to break it. She knew you’d have to marry her, being her teacher. She knew she’d got you in the sensitive places.”
The man sucked in his breath and scowled. The woman patted his knee. “That hits your self-esteem, doesn’t it? It wasn’t your sex power what did it, darling. It was Cynthia thinking she’d extend the range of her interests a bit.”
The girl was dreamy and reflective. “I would have tried, of course, but I don’t know whether it could ever have worked. I’d probably have regressed in the long run.”
“You didn’t know it was this way with Cynthia?” the man asked the woman.
For answer, she laughed deeply and quite genuinely. “Don’t be such an idiot. Do you think I’d have gone off to bed with you if I’d known. I could have cut you out with a snap of the fingers if only I’d known.”
“Exactly what happened between the two of you?” asked the girl.
“We’ve already been over it twenty times.”
“I’d like to hear the story his way though.”
“Oh, Helen was white-hot for you,” began the man. “That can’t be any news. But she thought you were hot for me.”
“So you made a trade. You’d give her a chance with me, put me in her path, as it were. In exchange, she allowed you to make her.”
“It was like that, more or less.”
“How do you mean, more or less?” thundered the woman. “There was plenty more to it. He said he would take care of things and by God he did. If he’d been aiming to make me pregnant he couldn’t have done it better.”
“Then here’s a surprise for you,” interjected the man. “That’s exactly what I was aiming to do. I’d waited long enough. You’d teased me long enough.”
The woman drew in a deep breath. “Then hang on to your hat, my dear. The wind is really going to blow now.”
The girl lost her dreamy look. She sat up alertly, her chin cupped in her hands. “Even so, I’d have thought it would have taken more than one weekend—unless he was
The woman looked gravely across at the girl. “He discovered the right time of the month. I’m sure of it. That’s the thing which makes me so mad about it all.”
The girl whistled between her teeth. “That
pretty ultimate. He must have felt an intense need to justify himself. Biologically, I mean. I bet it’s done him a world of good, getting himself rid of a bad infertility psychosis.”
“Cynthia, darling, will you please be a little less ready to see his point of view? Try to develop a sense of majestic rage.”
“It would go well with her coloring,” agreed the man.
“Stop smirking!” rapped the woman.
time is still six months away. But for you, my dear John, the sands have already run out.”
The girl continued her reverie. “We’re all pretty ultimate, aren’t we? I didn’t give him much of a chance, you know. It’s really pretty much like shooting a sitting bird. Seducing a man of his age. Just as I was beginning to develop an affection for him, he sells me to you. He trades my body, in order to gratify his own overwhelming lust.”
The woman was indignant. “I resent the suggestion that I have deceived anybody. I made a bargain and I kept faithfully to it.”
“A bargain to seduce an apparently innocent girl.”
“I am discussing the issue of
, not the morality of sex. In any case,
were a party to the seduction of this apparently innocent girl.”
“I didn’t suggest it.”
“No, but you jumped at the chance, didn’t you?”
BOOK: Element 79
9.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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