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5

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. Barkers 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 dont think therell be any trouble with claustrophobia. Of course, we wont know until weve closed his faceplate and had him breathing tanked air for a while.

Son, Barker said, Ive dived more feet in my life than youve walked.

This is hardly scuba gear, sir.

Hawks moved into the line of vision between Barkers face and the ensigns. 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.

Theres always a variation between the file tape and the signal, of course. We make a new file tape with every transmission, but theres stili a time lag between the making of the latest tape and the next transmission of the same object. But thats 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 Im following this, Hawks.

I hope you try. Now. When weve 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 were 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, youre trusting entirely to our ability as electronic engineers, and my skill as a designer. I cant 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 youre 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 dont yet know why. You have to realize once the scan is in progress, we cant correct any errors the hardware may be making. Were blind. We dont 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 didnt 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 cant discriminate. Its only a machine. A phonograph doesnt know what its playing. A camera photo graphs everything it can see in front of it. It wont put in what isnt there, and it wont 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 doesnt look like lipstick at all it might not look like anything. Do you understand what Im trying to say? The equipments set up as well as it can be. Once we have our negative, we get perfect prints every time. But its the negative were going after now.

Barker said lightly, Ever had any trouble, Doctor?

If we have, we dont know it. As far as we could tell, our preliminary scans have all been perfect. At least, the objects and living organisms weve 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 were 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 youd 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. Id rather worry about the duplicate being so screwed up that its dead, or turned into a monster that needs to die.

Well, Hawks said, wiping his hand over his face, thats 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. Im in this thing now, Doctor. You know damned well I wont chicken out. I never would have. But you know you didnt do anything to help me.

Thats 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 whats going to be done to him later.

Lots of luck, Doctor, Barker said.

The dressers had closed Barkers faceplate, and looped the air hoses back into connection with the tanks embedded in the armors dorsal plate. A technician ran a radio check, and switched his receiver into the P.A. speaker mounted over the transmitters portal. The sound of Barkers breath over the low-powered suit telephone began to hiss out regularly into the laboratory.

Were going to wheel you in now, Barker, Hawks said into his microphone.

Roger, Doctor.

When youre in, well switch on the chamber electromagnets. Youll be held in mid-air, and well pull the table out. You wont be able to move, and dont try youll burn out the suit motors. Youll feel yourself jump a few inches into the air, and your suit will spread-eagle rigidly. Thats the lateral magnetic field. Youll feel another jolt when we close the chamber door and the fore-and-aft magnets take hold.

I read you loud and clear.

Were simulating conditions for a Moon shot. I want you to be familiar with them. So well turn out the chamber lights. And there will be a trace component of formalin in your air to deaden your olfactory receptors.

Uh-huh.

Next, well 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. Were doing our best to eliminate human error, as you can see.

I dig.

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.

Got you.

All right. Finally, Im going to switch off my microphone. Unless theres an emergency, I wont switch it on again. And from this point on, my microphone switch controls the two servoactivated ear plugs. in your helmet. Youll feel the plugs nudging your ears; I want you to move your head as much as necessary to allow them to seat firmly. They wont injure you, and theyll retract the instant I have emergency instructions to give you, if any. Your microphone will remain on, and well be able to hear you if you need any help, but you wont be able to hear yourself. All this is necessary on the Moon shots.

Youll find that with your senses deadened or shut off, youll soon begin to doubt youre alive. Youll have no way of proving to yourself that youre exposed to any external stimuli. Youll 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 youll be in the suit today, thatll be long enough. If it proves to be less than that, well hear you shouting, and Ill begin talking to you.

Thatll be a great comfort.

It will.

Anything else, Doctor?

No. He motioned to the Navy crew, and they began to roll the table into the chamber.

Ive got a word for the ensign, Barker said.

All right.

The officer moved up into Barkers line of vision through the faceplate. He pantomimed What? with his mouth.

The name is Barker, son. Al Barker. Im 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 Barkers 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. Barkers breath sighed into near silence.

Hawks watched the clock mounted in the transmitters 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. Barkers 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 youre 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 Barkers armor.

Barkers 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. Hes doing pretty well. And it sounds like panic breathing: no pain.

Hawks shifted his glance. What about that, Doctor Holiday?

The little man nodded. Lets 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.

Barker.

Yes, Doctor, Barkers irritated voice said. Whats your trouble?

Doctor Hawks, Holiday said from the console, hes down to zero anesthesia now.

Hawks nodded. Barker, youre in the receiver. Youll be fully conscious almost immediately. Do you feel any pain?

No! Barker snapped. Are you all through playing games?

Im turning the receiver chamber lights on now. Can you see them?

Yes!

Can you feel all of your body?

Fine, Doctor. Can you feel all of yours?

All right, Barker. Were 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 Barkers annor, rising on its hydraulic legs to make contact with it. You can slack down the primary magnets.

You figure hes all right? Latourette asked.

Ill let Weston and Holiday tell me about it. He certainly sounded as if hes as functional as ever.

Thats not much, Latourette growled.

Its Hawks took a deep breath and began again, gently. Its what I need to do the job. He put his arm around Latourettes shoulders. Come on, Sam, lets go for a walk, he said. Well have Westons and Holidays preliminary reports in a minute. Ted can start setting up for tomorrows shot.

I want to do it.

No No, you let him take care of it. Its all right. And and you and Ill be able to go up and get out in the sunshine. Theres something I have to tell you.


| Rogue Moon | CHAPTER FOUR