The Navy crew pushed Barker into the transmitter. The lateral magnets lifted him off the table, and it was pulled out from beneath him. The door was dogged shut, and the fore-and-aft magnets came on to hold him locked immobile for the scanner. Hawks nodded to Gersten, and Gersten punched the Standby button on his console.
Up on the roof, there was a radar dish focused in parallel with the transmitter antenna. Down in the laboratory, Will Martin pointed a finger at the Signal Corps technician. A radar beep travelled to the Moon and returned. The elapsed time and doppler progression were fed as data into a computer which set the precise holding time in the delay deck. The matter transmitter antenna fired a UHF pulse through the Moon relay tower into the receiver there, tripping its safety lock so that it would accept the M signal.
Gersten looked at his console, turned to Hawks and said, “Green board.”
Hawks said, “Shoot.”
The red light went on over the transmitter portal, and the new file tape began roaring into the takeup pulleys of the delay deck. One and a quarter seconds later, the leader of the tape began to pass through the playback head feeding the L signal to the laboratory receiver. The first hard beat of the M signal simultaneously reached the Moon.
The end of the tape clattered into the takeup reel. The green light lit over the laboratory receiver’s portal. Barker L’s excited breathing came through the P.A. speaker, and he said, “I’m here, Doctor.”
Hawks stood in the middle of the floor with his hands in his pockets, his head cocked to one side, his eyes vacant.
After a time, Barker L said peevishly in a voice distorted by his numb lips, “All right, all right, you Navy bastards, I’m goin’ in!” He muttered, “Won’t even talk to me, but they’re sure great at moving a man along.”
“Shut up, Barker,” Hawks said urgently under his breath.
“Going in now, Doctor,” Barker said clearly. His breathing cycle changed. Once or twice after that, he grunted, and once he made an unconscious, high, keening noise of strain in his throat.
Gersten touched Hawks’ arm and nodded toward the stopwatch in his hand. It showed two hundred forty seconds’ of elapsed time since Barker had gone into the formation. Hawks nodded a nearly imperceptible reply. Gersten saw he was not moving his eyes away, and continued to hold the watch up.
Barker screamed. Hawks’ body jumped in reflex, and his flailing arm sent the watch cartwheeling out of Gersten’s hand.
Holiday, at the medical console, brought his palm down flat against a switch stud. Adrenalin fired into Barker L’s heart as the anesthesia cut off.
“Get him out!” Weston was shouting. “Get him out!”
“There’s no hurry any longer,” Hawks said softly, as if the psychologist were standing where he could hear him. “Whatever was going to happen to him has happened.”
Gersten looked toward the shattered watch and back M Hawks. “That’s what I was thinking,” he said.
Hawks frowned and began to walk toward the receiver chamber as the dressing crew pushed the armor table through the portal.
Barker sat hunched on the edge of the table, the opened armor lying dismembered beside him, and wiped his gray face. Holiday was listening to his heartbeat with a stethoscope, looking aside periodically to take a new blood-pressure reading as he squeezed the manometer bulb he kept in his hand. Barker sighed. “If there’s any doubt,, just ask me if I’m alive. If you hear an answer, you’ll know.” He looked wearily over Holiday’s shoulder as the physician ignored him, and he said to Hawks, “Well?”
Hawks glanced at Weston, who nodded imperturbably. “He’s made it, Dr. Hawks,” Weston said. “After all, many neurotic personality constellations have often proved useful on a functional level.”
“Barker,” Hawks said, “I’m—”
“Yes, I know. You’re happy everything worked out all right.” He looked around. His eyes were darting in jerks from side to side. “So am I. Has somebody here got a cigarette?”
“Not yet,” Holiday said sharply. “If you don’t mind, chUm, we’ll leave your capillaries at normal dilation for a while, yet.”
“Everyone’s so tough,” Barker mused. “Everyone knows what’s best.” He looked around again at the laboratory people crowding around the table. “Could some of you stare at me a little later, please?” They retreated indecisively, then moved back to work.
“Barker,” Hawks said gently, “do you feel all right?”
Barker looked at him expressionlessly. “I got up there, and out of the receiver, and started looking around the outpost. A bunch of zombies in light Navy suits handled me like you’d handle an ugly ghost. They wouldn’t say two words to me without sounding as if they were paying for them. They showed me that camouflaged walkway they’ve built from the outpost bubble, and half-pushed me onto it. One of them walked along with me until I got to the formation, and never looked me in the face.”
“They have problems of their own,” Hawks said.
“I’m sure they do. Anyway, I got into the thing all right, and I moved along O.K It’s—” His face forgot its annoyance, and his expression now was one of closely remembered bafflement. “It’s — a little like a dream, you know? Not a nightmare, now — it’s not all full of screams and faces, or anything like that — but it’s… well, rules, and the crazy logic: Alice in Wonderland with teeth.” He gestured as though quickly wiping his clumsy words from a blackboard. “I’ll have to find ways of getting it into English, I guess. Shouldn’t be too much trouble. Just give me time to settle down.”
Hawks nodded. “Don’t worry. We have a good deal of time, now.”
Barker grinned up at him with a sudden flash of boyishness. “I got quite a distance beyond Rogan M’s body, you know. What finally got me was— was— was the— was—”
Barker’s face began to flush crimson, and his eyes bulged whitely. His lips fluttered. “The— the—” He stared at Hawks. “I can’t!” he cried out. “I can’t— Hawks—” He struggled against Holiday and Weston, who were trying to hold his shoulders, and curled his hands rigidly on the edge of the table, his arms locked taut, quivering in spasms. “Hawks!” he shouted as though from behind a thick glass wall. “Hawks, it didn’t care! I was nothing to it! I was— I was—” His mouth locked partly open and the tip of his tongue fluttered against the backs of his upper teeth. “N-n-n No — N-nothing!” He searched Hawk’s face, desperate. He breathed as though there could never be enough air for him.
Weston was grunting with the effort to force Barker over backward and make him lie down. Holiday was swearing as he precisely and steadily pushed the needle of a hypedermic through the diaphragm of an ampule he had plucked out of his bag.
Hawks clenched his fists at his sides. “Barker! What color was your first schoolbook?”
Barker’s arms loosened slightly. His head lost its rigid forward thrust. He shook his head and scowled down at the floor, concentrating fiercely.
“I — I don’t remember, Hawks,” he stammered. “Green — no, no, it was orange, with blue printing, and it had a story in it about three goldfish who climbed out of their bowl onto a bookcase and then dived back into it. I — I can see the page with the illustration: three fish in the air, falling in a slanted tier, with the bowl waiting for them. The text was set with three one-word paragraphs: ‘Splash!’, and then a paragraph indentation, and then ‘Splash!’ and then once more. Three Splashes in a tier, just like the fish.”
“Well, now, you see, Barker,” Hawks said softly. “You have been alive for as long as you can remember. You are something. You’ve seen, and remembered.”
Weston looked over his shoulder. “For Heaven’s sake, Hawks! Stay out of this!” Holiday studied Barker with a slight blinking of his eyes, the hypodermic withheld.
Hawks let out his breath slowly and said to Weston, “At least he knows he’s alive.”
Barker was slumped, now. Nearly doubled over, he swayed on the edge of the table, the color of his face gradually returning to normal. He whispered intently, “Thanks. Thanks, Hawks.” Bitterly, he whispered, “Thanks for everything.” He mumbled suddenly, his torso rigid, “Somebody get me a wastebasket, or something.” Gersten and Hawks stood beside the transmitter, watching Barker come unsteadily back from the washroom, dressed in his slacks and shirt.
“What do you think, Ed?” Gersten asked. “What’s he going to do now? Is he going to pull out on us?”
“I don’t know,” Hawks answered absently, watching Barker. “I thought he’d work out,” he said under his breath. “But has he?” He said to Gersten, “We’ll simply have to wait and see. We’ll have to think of a way to handle it.”
“Get another man?”
Hawks shook his head. “We can’t. We don’t even know enough about this one.” He said as though attacked by flies, “I have to have time to think. Why does time run on while a man thinks?”
Barker came up to them.
Barker’s eyes were sunken in their sockets. He looked piercingly at Hawks. His voice was jagged and nasal.
“Holiday says I’m generally all right, now, everything considered. But someone must drive me home.” His mouth curled. “D’you want the job, Hawks?”
“Yes, I do.” Hawks took off his smock and laid it folded atop the cabinet. “You might as well set up for another shot tomorrow, Ted,” he said to Gersten.
“Don’t count on me for it!” Barker sawed.
“We can always cancel, you ,know.” He said to Gersten, “I’ll call early tomorrow and let you know.”
Barker stumbled forward as Hawks fell into step beside him. They slowly crossed the laboratory floor and went out though the stairwell doors, side by side.
Connington was waiting for them in the upstairs hail, lounging in one of the bright orange plastic-upholstered armchairs that lined the foyer wall. His legs were stretched out in front of him, and one hand held a cigar in front of his face as he lit it and blew smoke out of his pursed lips in a translucent cone. His eyes flicked once over Barker, and once over Hawks. “Have some trouble?” he asked as they came abreast of him. “I hear you had some trouble down in the lab,” he repeated, his eyes glinting. “Rough time, Al?”
Hawks said, “If I find the man who’s piping you information from the laboratory, I’ll fire him.”
Connington reached toward the standing ash tray beside him. A ring on one finger clinked softly against the metal of the carrying handle. “You’re losing your edge, Hawks,” he said. “A couple of days ago, you wouldn’t have bothered threatening.” He pushed himself up to his feet, grunting softly as he said, “My doings would’ve been beneath you.” He rocked up on his toes and back down on his heels, his hands in his pockets. “What’s it matter, how many details I learn or don’t? You think I need to? I know you two. That’s enough.”
“God damn you, Connington—” Barker began with the high, tearing note in his voice.
Connington’s glance uppercut him lightly. “So I was right.” He grinned consciously. “Goin’ back to Claire, now?” He blew out smoke. “The two of you?”
“Something like that,” Hawks said.
Connington scratched the lapel of his jacket. “Think I’ll come along and watch.” He smiled fondly at Barker, his head to one side. “Why not, Al? You might as well have the company of all the people who’re trying to kill you.”
Hawks looked at Barker. The man’s hands fumbled as though dealing with something invisible in the air just in front of his stomach. He was staring right through Connington, and the personnel man squinted momentarily.
Then Barker said lamely, “There isn’t room in the car.”
Connington chuckled warmly and mellifluously. “I’ll drive, and you can sit on Hawks’ lap. Just like Charlie McCarthy.”
Hawks pulled his glance away from Barker’s face and said sharply, “I’ll drive.”
Connington chuckled again. “Sam Latourette didn’t get the job with Hughes Aircraft. Waxted’s wanting him didn’t thake any difference. He showed up helpless drunk for his hiring interview this morning. I’ll drive.” He turned toward the double plate-glass doors and began walking out. He looked back over his shoulder. “Come along, friends,” he said.