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Late on a day in 1959, three men sat in a room.

Edward Hawks, Doctor of Science, cradled his long jaw in his outsize hands and hunched forward with his sharp elbows on the desk. He was a black-haired, pale-skinned, gangling man who rarely got out in the sun. Compared to his staff of tanned young assistants, he always reminded strangers of a scarecrow. Now he was watching a young man who sat in the straight chair facing him.

The young man stared unblinkingly. His trim crewcut was wet with perspiration and plastered by it to his scalp. His features were clean, clear-skinned and healthy, but his chin was wet. An dark he said querulously, an dark and nowhere starlights His voice trailed away suddenly into a mumble, but he still complained.

Hawks looked to his right.

Weston, the recently hired psychologist, was sitting there in an armchair hed had brought down to Hawks office. Weston, like Hawks, was in his early forties. But he was chunky where Hawks was gaunt; he was self-possessed, urbane behind his black-rimmed glasses and, now, a little impatient. He frowned slightly back toward Hawks and arched one eyebrow.

Hes insane, Hawks said to him like a wondering child.

Weston crossed his legs. I told you that, Dr. Hawks; I told you the moment we pulled him out of that apparatus of yours. What had happened to him was too much for him to stand.

I know you told me, Hawks said mildly. But Im responsible for him. I have to make sure. He began to turn back to the young man, then looked again at Weston. He was young. Healthy. Exceptionally stable and resilient, you told me. He looked it. Hawks added slowly, He was brilliant.

I said he was stable, Weston explained earnestly. I didnt say he was inhumanly stable. I told you he was an exceptional specimen of a human being. Youre the one who sent him to a place no human being should go.

Hawks nodded. Youre right, of course. Its my fault.

Well, now, Weston said quickly, he was a volunteer. He knew it was dangerous. He knew he could expect to die.

But Hawks was ignoring Weston. He was looking straight out over his desk again.

Rogan? he said softly. Rogan?

He waited, watching Rogans lips move almost soundlessly. He sighed at last and asked Weston, Can you do anything for him?

Cure him, Weston said confidently. Electroshock treatments. Theyll make him forget what happened to him in that place. Hell be all right.

I didnt know electroshock amnesia was permanent.

Weston blinked at Hawks. He may need repetitive treatment now and then, of course.

At intervals for the remainder of his life.

Thats not always true.

But often.

Well, yes

Rogan, Hawks was whispering. Rogan, Im sorry.

An dark an dark It hurt me and it was so cold so quiet I could hear myself.

Edward Hawks, D.Sc., walked alone across the main laboratorys concrete floor, his hands at his sides. He chose a path among the generators and consoles without looking up, and came to a halt at the foot of the matter transmitters receiving stage.

The main laboratory occupied tens of thousands of square feet in the basement of Continental Electronics Research Division building. A year ago, when Hawks had designed the transmitter, part of the first and second floors above it had been ripped out, and the transmitter now towered up nearly to the ceiling along the far wall. Catwalks interlaced the adjoining airspace, and galleries had been built for access to the instruments lining the walls. Dozens of men on Hawks staff were still moving about, taking final checks before closing them down for the day. Their shadows on the catwalks, now and then occluding some overhead light, mottled the floor in shifting patterns of darkness.

Hawks stood looking up at the transmitter, his eyes puzzled. Someone abruptly said, Ed! and he turned his head in response.

Hello, Sam. Sam Latourette, his chief assistant, had walked up quietly. He was a heavy-boned man with loose, papery flesh and dark-circled, sunken eyes. Hawks smiled at him wanly. The transmitter crew just about finished with their post-mortem, are they?

Youll find the reports on your desk in the morning. There was nothing wrong with the machinery. Nothing anywhere. Latourette waited for Hawks to show interest. But Hawks only nodded his head. He was leaning one hand against a vertical brace and peering into the receiving stage. Latourette growled, Ed!

Yes, Sam?

Stop it. Youre doing too much to yourself. He again waited for some reaction, but Hawks only smiled into the machine, and Latourette burst out, Who do you think youre kidding? How long have I been working with you now? Ten years? Who gave me my first job? Who trained me? You can keep up a front with anybody else, but not with me! Latourette clenched his fist and squeezed his fingers together emptily. I know you! But damn it, Ed, its not your fault that things out there! What do you expect that nobodyll ever get hurt? What do you want a perfect world?

Hawks smiled again in the same way. We tear a gateway where no gate has ever been, he said, nodding at the mechanisms, in a wall we didnt build. Thats called scientific investigation. Then we send men through the gate. Thats the human adventure. And something on the other side something that never bothered mankind; something thats never done us any harm before or troubled us with the knowledge that it was there kills them. In terrible ways we cant understand, it kills them. So I keep sending in more men. Whats that called, Sam?

Ed, we are making progress. This new approach is going to be the answer.

Hawks looked curiously at Latourette.

Latourette said uncomfortably, Once we get the bugs out of it. Thats all it needs. Its the thing thatll do the trick, Ed I know it.

Hawks did not change his expression or turn his face away. He stood with his fingertips forced against the machines gray crackle finish. You mean were no longer killing them? Were only driving them insane with it?

All we have to do, Ed, Latourette pressed him, all we have to do is find a better way of cushioning the shock when the man feels his death. More sedatives. Something like that.

Hawks said, They still have to go into that place. How they do it makes no difference; it wont tolerate them. It was never made for human beings to have anything to do with. It was never made for the human mind to measure in human terms. We have to make a new language for describing it, and a new way of thinking in order to be able to understand it. Only when weve finally got it apart, whatever it is, and seen, and felt, and touched and tasted all its pieces, will we ever be able to say what it might be. And that will only be after weve been through it, so what good will our new knowledge do these men who have to die, now? Whatever put it there, no matter why, no human being will ever be able to live in it until after human beings have lived through it. How are you going to describe that in plain English so a sane man can understand it? Its a monstrous thing were dealing with. In a sense, we have to think like monsters, or stop dealing with it, and let it just sit there on the Moon, no one knows why.

Latourette reached out sharply and touched the sleeve of his smock. Are you going to shut the program down?

Hawks looked at him.

Latourette was clutching his arm. Cobey. Isnt he ordering you to cancel it?

Cobey can only make requests, Hawks said gently. He cant order me.

Hes company president, Ed! He can make your life miserable. Hes dying to get Continental Electronics off this hook.

Hawks took Latourettes hand away from his arm and moved it to the transmitters casing. He put the flats of his own palms into his back pockets, nicking up his white laboratory smock. The Navy originally financed the transmitters development only because it was my idea. They wouldnt have vouchered that kind of money for anyone else in the world. Not for a crazy idea like this. He stared into the machine. Even now, even though that place we found is the way it is, they still wont let Cobey back out on his own initiative. Not as long as they think I can keep going. I dont have to worry about Cobey. He smiled softly and a little incredulously. Cobey has to worry about me.

Well, how about you? How much longer can you keep this up?

Hawks stepped back. He looked at Latourette thoughtfully. Are we worrying about the project now, or are we worrying about me?

Latourette sighed. All right, Ed, Im sorry, he said. But whatre you going to do?

Hawks looked up and down at the matter transmitters towering height. In the laboratory space behind them, the technicians were now shutting off the lights in the various subsections of the control array. Darkness fell in horizontal chunks along the galleries of instruments and formed black diagonals like jackstraws being laid upon the catwalks overhead. It advanced in a proliferating body toward the solitary green bulb shining over the NOT Powered half of the Powered/NOT Powered red-and-green legend painted on the transmitters lintel.

We cant do anything about the nature of the place to which they go, Hawks said. And weve reached the limit of what we can do to improve the way we send them there. It seems to me theres only one thing left to do. We must find a different kind of man to send. A man who wont go insane when he feels himself die. He looked quizzically into the machines interior.

There are all sorts of people in the world, he said. Perhaps we can find a man who doesnt fear Death, but loves her.

Latourette said bitterly, Some kind of psycho.

Maybe thats what he is. But I think we need him, nevertheless. All the other laboratory lights were out, now. What it comes down to is that we need a man whos attracted by what drives other men to madness. And the more so, the better. A man whos impassioned by Death. His eyes lost focus, and his gaze extended itself to infinity. So now we know what I am. Im a pimp.

Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys | Rogue Moon | c