Hawks was looking at the astronomical data from Mount Wilson, talking it over with the antenna crew, when Barker finally came through the double doors from the stairwell, holding the formation-chart folder. He was walking quickly and precisely, his face tight.
“All right, Will,” Hawks said, turning away from the engineer in charge of the antenna. “You’d better start tracking the relay tower in twenty minutes. As soon as we’ve got him suited up, we’ll shoot.”
Will Martin nodded and took off his reading glasses to point casually toward Barker. “Think he’ll chicken out?”
Hawks shook his head. “Especially not if it’s put that way. And I’ve done that.”
Martin grinned softly. “Hell of a way for him to make a buck.”
“He can buy and sell the two of us a hundred times over, Will, and never miss an extra piece of pie out of his lunch money.”
Martin looked at Barker again. “Why’s he in this?”
“Because of the way he is.” He began to walk toward Barker. “And, I suppose, because of the way I am. And because of the way that woman is,” he murmured to himself. “I imagine we can mix Connington in, too. All of us are looking for something we must have if we’re to be happy. I wonder what we’ll get?”
“Now, look,” Barker said, slapping the folder. “According to this, if I make a wrong move, they’ll find me with all my blood in a puddle outside my armor, and not a mark on me. If I make another move, I’ll be paralyzed from the waist down, which means I have to crawl on my belly. But crawling on your belly somehow makes things happen so you get squashed up into your helmet. And it goes on in that cheerful vein all the way. If I don’t watch my step as carefully as a tightrope walker, and if I don’t move on time and in position, like a ballet dancer, I’ll never even get as far as this chart reads. I’d say I had no chance whatsoever of-‘ getting out alive.”
“Even if you stood and did nothing,” Hawks agreed, “the formation would kill you at the end of two hundred thirty-two seconds. It will permit no man to live in it longer than some man has forced it to. The limit will go up as you progress. Why its nature is such that it yields to human endeavor, we don’t know. It’s entirely likely that this is only a coincidental side-effect of its true purpose — if it has one.
“Perhaps it’s the alien equivalent of a discarded tomato can. Does a beetle know why it can enter the can only from one end as it lies across the trail to the beetle’s burrow? Does the beetle understand why it is harder to climb to the left or right, inside the can, than it is to follow a straight line? Would the beetle be a fool to assume the human race put the can there to torment it — or an egomaniac to believe the can was manufactured only to mystify it? It would be best for the beetle to study the can in terms of the can’s logic, to the limit of the beetle’s ability. In that way, at least, the beetle can proceed intelligently. It may even grasp some hint of the can’s maker. Any other approach is either folly or madness.”
Barker looked up at Hawks impatiently. “Horse manure. Is the beetle happier? Does it get anything? Does it escape anything? Do other beetles understand what it’s doing, and take up a collection to support it while it wastes time? A smart beetle walks around your tomato can, Doctor, and lives its life contented.”
“Certainly,” Hawks said. “Go ahead. Leave now.”
“I wasn’t talking about me! I was talking about you.” Barker looked around the laboratory. He stared up at the instrument galleries. “Lot of people here. All because of you. I guess that feels pretty satisfying.” He put the folder under one arm and stood with his hands’ in his pockets, his head to one side as he spoke flatly up into Hawks’ face. “Men, money, energy — all devoted to the eminent Dr. Hawks and his preoccupations. Sounds to me like other beetles have taken up a collection.”
“Looking at it that way,” Hawks said dispassionately, “does keep it simple. And it explains why I continue to send men into the formation. It satisfies my ego to see men die at my command. Now it’s your turn. Come on, Lancelot — your armor’s waiting for you. Can’t you hear the trumpet blowing? What’s this—” He touched a lipstick smudge around a purple bruise on the side of Barker’s neck. “A lady’s favor? Whose heart will break if you should be unhorsed today?”
Barker knocked his hand away. “A beetle’s heart, Doctor.” His strained face fell into a ghastly, reminiscent smile. “A beetle’s cold, cold heart.”
Barker lay in his suit, his arms sprawled at his sides. Hawks had asked the Navy crew to step away from the table. Now he said softly, “you’ll die, Barker. I want you to give up all hope. There isn’t any.”
“I know that, Doctor,” Barker said.
“I’ve said you’d die again and again. You will. Today is only the first time. If you retain your sanity, you’ll be all right — except you’ll have the memory of dying, and the knowledge that you must die again tomorrow.”
“In some other unbelievable way. You’ve told me this before.” Barker sighed. “All right, Doctor — how are you going to do it? What little piece of magic are you going to work?” He was noticeably calm; in the same way he had faced Sam Latourette. His expression was almost apathetic. Only the black eyes, their pupils dilated broadly, lived in his face.
“There are going to be two of you,” Hawks said. “When you’re scanned, the signal describing you will be sent not only to the receiver on the Moon but to the one in the laboratory here. The signal to the laboratory receiver will be held in a tape delay deck until the duplicate signal has reached the Moon. Then both receivers’ will simultaneously resolve a Barker. We put this system into operation as soon as we understood there was no hope for the volunteer on the Moon. It means that, so far as Earth is concerned, the volunteer has not died. It has worked perfectly each time.”
Barker looked patiently up at him.
Hawks went on laboriously. “It was conceived of as a lifesaving thing,” he said, his upper lip twitching. “And it will save your life. Barker M, on the Moon, will die. But Barker L, here, will be taken out of his suit, and will be you, and will, if he retains his ability to remember coherently, and to reason, go home tonight as though this had been just another day in his life. And only you,” he said, his stare focusing behind the surface of Barker’s skull, “who stand on the Moon and remember me speaking to you now, will know that you are the luckless one, Barker M, and that a stranger has taken your place in the world.”
His eyes returned to the Barker lying in the suit. “Someone else will hold Claire in his arms tonight. Someone else will drive-your car and drink your whisky. You are not the Barker I met in your house. That man is gone. But no Barker has known death yet — no Barker has had to go into a place from which there is no return. You can get out of that suit at this moment, Barker, and leave here. I would.” He watched the man intently.
After a moment, Barker’s mouth opened into a deadly, silent laugh. “Come on, Doctor,” he said. “Not when I can already hear the music.”
Hawks pulled his hands out of sight behind his back. “All right. Then there is one last thing. When we began using this technique, we discovered that the L volunteer showed signs of momentary confusion. He behaved, even though safe in the laboratory, as if he were the M volunteer on the Moon. This confused period lasted only a moment or two, and swiftly waned into awareness. We put the phenomenon aside as one of the many things we must neglect now and reserve for study when the urgent problems have been solved. Many things have been put aside in that manner. But we received reports from the Navy crew Moonside that the M volunteer was unaccountably losing time — that he was disoriented for several seconds after he resolved in the receiver. Perhaps from brain damage, perhaps from something else — we did not know, at the time, but it was something new, and it was losing effective time for the volunteer.
“That was an urgent problem. We solved it when we considered the fact that for the first time in the universe as we know it, two identical brains existed in it, and at the sante moment of time. It became apparent to us — unwilling though some of us were to accept the conclusion — that the quarter-million-mile distance separating them was no more important an impedance to their thoughts than a line scratched across his path is to a journeying man. You can call it anything you like. Telepathy if you want to, however you may feel about what is to be included in scientific nomenclature, and what is not.” There was a momentary look of faint distaste on his face.
“It had no chance to be true communication, of course. Almost instantly, the two brains ceased being identical. The two volunteers were receiving vastly different sensory impressions and recording them in their individual brain cells. In seconds, the two minds were far apart, and the thread, frayed, came unraveled and broke. M and L were no longer the same man. And never, even at the first instant, could they simply ‘speak’ to each other in the sense of passing messages back and forth like telegrams. Nor, it seems to me, will that sort of objective, uninvolved communication ever be possible. To be able to read a man’s mind is to be able to be that man — to be where he is, to live whatever he is living. Even in this special case of ours, the two men could only, for one decaying moment, seem to be of one mind.”
Hawks looked around the laboratory. Gersten was watching him patiently, but standing idle, his preparations done. Hawks nodded absently, and looked back at Barker.
“We saw,” he finished, “that we had here a potential means of accurately observing a man inside the lunar f ormation. So that is why we set up the physical circumstances of the Moon shots as we do. Barker M will resolve on the Moon, where the sensory-blocking devices in his armor will stop operating because they are out of range of our lowpower controls here. He will come out of anesthesia and be able to move and observe normally. But Barker L, here, will still be under our control. He will be receiving no outside stimuli as he lies cut off inside his armor. His mind will be free of the environment of this laboratory, accepting whatever comes to it. And only what is in Barker M’s mind can come to it.
“Barker L, too, will seem to himself to be on the Moon, inside the formation. He won’t know he is Barker L. He will live as though in the M brain, and his organic structure will record whatever sensory perceptions the M body conveys to its brain. And though, of course, no method could prevent an eventual increep of divergent stimuli — the metabolic conditions of the two bodies gradually become less and less similar, for example-still the contact might last for as long as ten or fifteen minutes. But, of course, it never has.
“You’ll know you’ve reached the limit of our previous probes when you reach Rogan’s body. We don’t know what killed him. It hardly matters what it was, except that you’ll have to evade it, whatever it was. Maybe the condition of the body will be a useful clue. If it is, it’ll be the only useful thing we’ve been able to learn from Rogan. Because when Rogan L, down here, felt Rogan M die, up there, Rogan L could not feel anything except Rogan M’s death. The same thing will happen to you.
“Barker M’s mind will die with his body, in whatever particular way the body is destroyed. Let’s hope this happens at the end of a little more than two hundred and thirty-two seconds elapsed time, rather than less. It’s bound to happen sooner or later. And Barker L’s mind, same down here in the L brain, will nevertheless feel itself die, because it isn’t free to feel anything of what is happening to its own body. All its life, all its memories, will suddenly culminate. It will feel the pain, the shock, the as yet totally indescribable anguish of the end of its world. No man has been able to endure it. We found the finest, most stable minds we could among physically suitable volunteers, and without exception, all the L volunteers were taken out of their suits insane. Whatever information they had to give us was lost beyond all hope, and we gained nothing for our expenditure.”
Barker stared flatly up at him. “That’s too bad.”
“How do you want me to talk about it?” Hawks answered rapidly. A vein bulged down the center of his forehead. “Do you want me to talk about what we’re here to do, or do you want me to say something else? Are you going to argue morality with me? Are you going to say that, duplicate man or no duplicate man, a man dies on the Moon and makes me no less a murderer? Do you want to take me to court and from there to a gas chamber? Do you want to look in the law books and see what penalties apply to the repeated crime of systematically driving men insane? Will that help us here? Will it smooth the way?
“Go to the Moon, Barker. Die. And if you do, in fact, find that you love Death as feverishly as you’ve courted her, then, just perhaps, you’ll be the first man to come back in condition to claim revenge on me!” He clutched the edge of the opened chest plate and slammed it shut. He held himself up with the flats of his palms on it and leaned down until his face was directly over Barker’s faceplate opening. “But before you do, you’ll tell me how I can usefully do it to you again.”