Barker lay on the table, enclosed in the armor suit, with his faceplate open. He looked calmly up as Hawks bent over him.
“All right?” Hawks asked.
“Fine.” Barker’s voice echoed in the helmet and came distorted through the narrow opening. His air hoses lay coiled on his stomach.
The ensign, standing beside Hawks, said, “He seems to be quite comfortable. I don’t think there’ll be any trouble with claustrophobia. Of course, we won’t know until we’ve closed his faceplate and had him breathing tanked air for a while.”
“Son,” Barker said, “I’ve dived more feet in my life than you’ve walked.”
“This is hardly scuba gear, sir.”
Hawks moved into the line of vision between Barker’s face and the ensign’s. He said, “Barker, I told you I was going to give you a chance to back out now, if you wanted to.”
“I like the way you put that, Doctor.”
“The reason we have all this elaborate control gear should be obvious,” Hawks persisted. “The fidelity of the resolving process depends on the clarity of the signal that arrives at the receiver. And even the tightest beam we can drive up to the Moon is going to pick up a certain amount of noise. So we feed from the transmitter here to the amplifier banks, checking the signal against the readings we take on the first scan.
“There’s always a variation between the file tape and the signal, of course. We make a new file tape with every transmission, but there’s stili a time lag between the making of the latest tape and the next transmission of the same object. But that’s why we have a standard man, and a statistical table of the probable degree of variation over given periods of time. By setting up crude analogies in the amplifiers, and introducing the proper statistical factor, we can introduce a certain measure of control.”
“I hope you think I’m following this, Hawks.”
“I hope you try. Now. When we’ve done all this, we have as much accuracy as we can. At that point, the signal is pulsed up to the Moon, not once but repeatedly. Another differential amplifier bank in the receiver there compares each bit of information in each signal pulse to each bit of all the signals it has received. It rejects any bit which differs from a majority of its counterparts. Any error created by transmission noise is almost certain to be discarded in the process.
“What we’re going to do today is scan you for the first time. Nine tenths of our control equipment is useless until it has scan readings to work from. So, the first time, you’re trusting entirely to our ability as electronic engineers, and my skill as a designer. I can’t guarantee that the Al Barker who is resolved in the laboratory receiver will be the same man you are now. You can test an electronic component until you’re blue in the face, and have it fail at the most critical moment. The very process of testing it may have weakened it just enough. And the scanner itself represents a broad departure from the usual electronic techniques for which a broad base of familiar theory is available. I know how it works. But there are places where I don’t yet know why. You have to realize — once the scan is in progress, we can’t correct any errors the hardware may be making. We’re blind. We don’t know which bit of the signal describes which bit of the man. We may never know.
“When Thomas Edison spoke into the horn of his sound reproducer, the vibration of his voice against a diaphragm moved a needle linked to that diaphragm, and scratched a variable line on the rotating wax cylinder. When he played it back, out came ‘Mary had a little lamb.’ But there Edison was stopped. If the needle came loose, or the wax had a flaw, or the drive to the cylinder varied, out came something else — an unintelligible hash of noise.
“There was nothing Edison could do about it. He had no way of knowing what part of a scratch was song, and what was noise. He had no technique for taking a stylus in his hand and simply scratching a cylinder so that it could be played as ‘Mary had a little lamb.’ He could only check his reproducer for mechanical failure and begin, again, with his voice, and the horn, and the diaphragm. There was simply no other way for him to do it. And, of course, he needed none. There is no particularly great expenditure in saying ‘Mary had a little lamb’ over and over again as many times as it may take to get a perfect playback.
“And if Daguerre, experimenting with the beginnings of photography, found a plate overexposed or underexposed, or blotched by faulty chemicals or an imperfect lens, he could usually just try again. It didn’t matter very much if, now and then, a picture was lost because the only way to save it would have been to know something that photography experts are only learning today.
“But we cannot do it, Barker. You are not ‘Mary had a little lamb.’ Nor are you a thing of light and shadow, to be preserved or lost at no critical expense to its source.” Hawks smiled with wan self-consciousness. “A man is a phoenix, who must be reborn from his own ashes, for there is no other like him in the universe. If the wind stirs the ashes into a clumsy parody, then the phoenix is dead f orever. Nothing we know of can bring you back.
“Understand me: the Al Barker we resolve will almost certainly be you. The statistical chances are all on your side. But the scanner can’t discriminate. It’s only a machine. A phonograph doesn’t know what it’s playing. A camera photo… graphs everything it can see in front of it. It won’t put in what isn’t there, and it won’t omit the lipstick smudge on your collar. But if, for some reason, the film has lost its red sensitivity, what comes up on the film doesn’t look like lipstick at all — it might not look like anything. Do you understand what I’m trying to say? The equipment’s set up as well as it can be. Once we have our negative, we get perfect prints every time. But it’s the negative we’re going after now.”
Barker said lightly, “Ever had any trouble, Doctor?”
“If we have, we don’t know it. As far as we could tell, our preliminary scans have all been perfect. At least, the objects and living organisms we’ve dealt with were able to go on functioning exactly as they always had. But a man is such a complex thing, Barker. A man is so much more than his gross physical structure. He has spent his life in thought — in filling his brain with the stored minutiae he remembers and reconnects when he thinks. His body is only a shell in which he lives. His brain is only a complex of stored memories. His mind — his mind is what he does with his memories. There is no other mind like it. In a sense, a man is his own creation.
“If we happen to change him on some gross level that can be checked against whatever is recorded of his life, we can detect that change. But we’re not likely to be that far off. Far more serious is the possibility of there being enough errOr to cause subtle changes which no one could find — least of all you, because you’d have no data to check against. Was your first schoolbook covered in blue or red? If you remember it as red, who could find it now to see what color it was?”
“Does it matter?” Barker shrugged, and the suit groaned on the table. “I’d rather worry about the duplicate being so screwed up that it’s dead, or turned into a monster that needs to die.”
“Well,” Hawks said, wiping his hand over his face, “that’s not at all likely to happen. But you can worry about that if you want to. What you worry about depends entirely on where you draw the line on what parts of you are important to you. You have to decide how much of yourself can be changed before you consider yourself dead.”
Barker smiled coldly up at him. He looked around at the encircling rim of the faceplate opening. “I’m in this thing now, Doctor. You know damned well I won’t chicken out. I never would have. But you know you didn’t do anything to help me.”
“That’s right, Barker,” Hawks said. “And this is only a way in which I might kill you. There are other ways that are sure. I have to do this to you now because I need a man like you for what’s going to be done to him later.”
“Lots of luck, Doctor,” Barker said.
The dressers had closed Barker’s faceplate, and looped the air hoses back into connection with the tanks embedded in the armor’s dorsal plate. A technician ran a radio check, and switched his receiver into the P.A. speaker mounted over the transmitter’s portal. The sound of Barker’s breath over the low-powered suit telephone began to hiss out regularly into the laboratory.
“We’re going to wheel you in now, Barker,” Hawks said into his microphone.
“When you’re in, we’ll switch on the chamber electromagnets. You’ll be held in mid-air, and we’ll pull the table out. You won’t be able to move, and don’t try — you’ll burn out the suit motors. You’ll feel yourself jump a few inches into the air, and your suit will spread-eagle rigidly. That’s the lateral magnetic field. You’ll feel another jolt when we close the chamber door and the fore-and-aft magnets take hold.”
“I read you loud and clear.”
“We’re simulating conditions for a Moon shot. I want you to be familiar with them. So we’ll turn out the chamber lights. And there will be a trace component of formalin in your air to deaden your olfactory receptors.”
“Next, we’ll throw the scanning process into operation. There is a thirty-second delay on that switch; the same impulse will first activate certain automatic functions of the suit. We’re doing our best to eliminate human error, as you can see.”
“A general anesthetic will be introduced into your air circulation. It will dull your nervous system without quite making you lose consciousness. It will numb your skin temperature-and-pressure receptors entirely. It will cycle out after you resolve in the receiver. All traces of anesthesia will be gone five minutes after you resolve.”
“All right. Finally, I’m going to switch off my microphone. Unless there’s an emergency, I won’t switch it on again. And from this point on, my microphone switch controls the two servoactivated ear plugs. in your helmet. You’ll feel the plugs nudging your ears; I want you to move your head as much as necessary to allow them to seat firmly. They won’t injure you, and they’ll retract the instant I have emergency instructions to give you, if any. Your microphone will remain on, and we’ll be able to hear you if you need any help, but you won’t be able to hear yourself. All this is necessary on the Moon shots.
“You’ll find that with your senses deadened or shut off, you’ll soon begin to doubt you’re alive. You’ll have no way of proving to yourself that you’re exposed to any external stimuli. You’ll begin to wonder if you have a mind at all, any more. If this condition were to persist long enough, you would go into an uncontrollable panic. The required length of time varies from person to person. If yours exceeds the few minutes you’ll be in the suit today, that’ll be long enough. If it proves to be less than that, we’ll hear you shouting, and I’ll begin talking to you.”
“That’ll be a great comfort.”
“Anything else, Doctor?”
“No.” He motioned to the Navy crew, and they began to roll the table into the chamber.
“I’ve got a word for the ensign,” Barker said.
The officer moved up into Barker’s line of vision through the faceplate. He pantomimed “What?” with his mouth.
“The name is Barker, son. Al Barker. I’m not just another guinea pig for you to stuff into a tin can. You got a name, son?”
The ensign, his cheeks flushed, nodded.
“Be sure and tell me what it is when I come out of this, huh?”
Fidanzato, pushing at the foot of the table, chuckled very softly.
Hawks looked around. Latourette was at the transmitter control console. “Watch Sam,” Hawks said to Gersten standing beside him, “and remember everything he does. Try not to miss anything.” Hawks’ eyes had not turned toward Gersten; his glance had swept undeviatingly over Weston, who was leaning back against an amplifier cabinet, his arms and ankles crossed, and over Holiday, the physician, standing tensely potbellied at the medical remote console.
Gersten grunted, “All right,” and Hawks’ eyes flickered with frustration.
The green bulb was still lighted over the transmitter portal, but the chamber door was dogged shut, trailing the cable that fed power to its share of the scanner components. The receiver chamber was sealed. The hiss of Barker’s breath, calm but picking up speed, came from the speaker.
“Sam, give me test power,” Hawks said. Latourette punched a console button, and Hawks glanced at the technicians clustered around the input of the amplifier bank. A fresh spool of tape lay in the output deck, its end threaded through the brake rollers and recording head to the empty takeup reel. Petwill, the engineer borrowed from Electronic Associates, nodded to Hawks.
“Sam, give me operating power,” Hawks said. “Switch on.” The lights over the transmitter and receiver portals leaped from the green bulbs into the red. Barker’s breath sighed into near silence.
Hawks watched the clock mounted in the transmitter’s face. Thirty seconds after he had called for power, the multichannel tape began to whine through the recording head, its reels blurred and roaring. A brown disk began to grow around the takeup spindle with fascinating speed. The green bulb over the receiver portal burst into life. The green bulb came back on over the transmitter.
The brakes locked on the tape deck. The takeup reel was three-quarters filled. Barker’s shallow breath came panting through the speaker.
Hawks pressed his hand against the back of his bent neck and pulled it around across the taut muscle that corded down to his shoulder. “Doctor Holiday, any time you’re ready to ease up on the anesthesia…”
Holiday nodded. He cranked the reduction-geared control wheel remote-linked to the tank of anesthetic gas in Barker’s armor.
Barker’s breathing grew stronger. It was still edging up toward panic, but he had not yet begun to mumble into his microphone.
“How does it sound to you, Weston?” Hawks asked.
The psychologist listened reflectively. “He’s doing pretty well. And it sounds like panic breathing: no pain.”
Hawks shifted his glance. “What about that, Doctor Holiday?”
The little man nodded. “Let’s hear how he does with a little less gas.” He put his hands back on the controls.
Hawks thumbed his microphone switch. “Barker,” he said gently.
The breathing in the speaker became stronger and calmer.
“Yes, Doctor,” Barker’s irritated voice said. “What’s your trouble?”
“Doctor Hawks,” Holiday said from the console, “he’s down to zero anesthesia now.”
Hawks nodded. “Barker, you’re in the receiver. You’ll be fully conscious almost immediately. Do you feel any pain?”
“No!” Barker snapped. “Are you all through playing games?”
“I’m turning the receiver chamber lights on now. Can you see them?”
“Can you feel all of your body?”
“Fine, Doctor. Can you feel all of yours?”
“All right, Barker. We’re going to take you out now.”
The Navy crew began to push the table toward the receiver as Latourette cut the fore-and-aft magnets and technicians began undogging the chamber door. Weston and Holiday moved forward to begin examining Barker as soon as he was free of the suit.
Hawks said quietly to the ensign, “Be sure to tell him your name,” as he walked to the control console. “All right, Sam,” he said as he saw the table slip under Barker’s annor, rising on its hydraulic legs to make contact with it. “You can slack down the primary magnets.”
“You figure he’s all right?” Latourette asked.
“I’ll let Weston and Holiday tell me about it. He certainly sounded as if he’s as functional as ever.”
“That’s not much,” Latourette growled.
“It’s—” Hawks took a deep breath and began again, gently. “It’s what I need to do the job.” He put his arm around Latourette’s shoulders. “Come on, Sam, let’s go for a walk,” he said. “We’ll have Weston’s and Holiday’s preliminary reports in a minute. Ted can start setting up for tomorrow’s shot.”
“I want to do it.”
“No — No, you let him take care of it. It’s all right. And — and you and I’ll be able to go up and get out in the sunshine. There’s something I have to tell you.”