Barker was leaning against a cabinet when Hawks came into the laboratory in the morning and walked up to him.
“How do you feel?” Hawks asked, looking sharply at him. “All right?”
Barker smiled faintly. “What do you want to do? Touch gloves before we start the last round?”
“I asked you a question.”
“I’m fine. Full of piss and vinegar. O.K., Hawks? What do you want me to tell you? That I’m all choked up with pride? That I know this is an enormous step forward in science, in which I am honored to find myself participating on this auspicious day? I already got the Purple Heart, Doc — just gimme a coupla aspirin.”
Hawks said earnestly, “Barker, are you quite sure you’ll be able to come out through the other side of the formation?”
“How can I be sure? Maybe part of its logic is that you can’t win. Maybe it’ll kill me out of simple spite. I can’t tell about that. All I can promise you is that I’m a move away from the end of the only safe pathway. If my next move doesn’t get me outside, then there isn’t any way out. It is a tomato can, and I’ve hit bottom. But if it’s something else, then, yes, today is the day; the time is now.”
Hawks nodded. “That’s all I can ask of you. Thank you.” He looked around. “Is Gersten at the transmitter?”
Barker nodded. “He told me we’d be ready to shoot in about half an hour.”
Hawks nodded. “All right. Fine. You might as well get into your undersuits. But there’ll be some delay. We’re going to have to take a preliminary scan on myself, first. I’m going along with you.”
Barker ground out his cigarette under his heel. He looked up. “I suppose I should say something about it. Some kind of sarcastic remark about wading intrepidly into the hostile shore after the troops have already taken the island. But I’ll be damned if I thought you’d do it at all.”
Hawks said nothing, and walked away across the laboratory floor toward the transmitter.
“You knew we had extra suits,” he said to Gersten, as he lay down in the opened armor. The Navy men worked around him, adjusting the set-screws on the pressure plates. The ensign stood watching closely, an uncertain frown on his face.
“Yes, but that was only in case we lost one in a bad scan,” Gersten argued, his eyes stubborn.
“We’ve always had a stock of equipment, in all sizes.”
“Hawks, being able to do something, and doing it, are two different things. I—”
“Look, you know the situation. You know what we’re doing here as well as I do. Once we have a safe pathway, the probing and the study really begin. We’re going to have to disassemble that thing like a bomb; I’m in charge of the project. Up to now, if I were lost to the project, it would have been too much of an expenditure. But now the risk is acceptable. I want to see what that thing’s like. I want to be able to give intelligent directions. Is that so hard to undersand?”
“Hawks, any number of things could still go wrong up there today.”
“Suppose they don’t. Suppose Barker makes it. Then what? Then he stands there, and I’m down here. Do you think I wasn’t planning to do this, from the very beginning?”
“Even before you knew Barker?”
“I wish I’d never known Barker. Stand aside and let them close the armor.” He fitted his left hand carefully into its gauntlet inside its tool cluster.
He was wheeled into the chamber. The magnets took hold, and the table was pulled out. The door closed and was dogged shut. He floated in mid-air, his legs and arms outspread, surrounded by the hundred thousand glittering eyes of the scanner faces. He lay looking up through the circle of glass in his helmet, his face expressionless. “Any time, Ted,” he said sleepily into his microphone, and the chamber lights winked out.
The lights came on in the receiver. He opened his eyes, blinking gently. The receiver door was opened, and the table was slipped under him. The lateral magnets slacked off as their rheostats were turned down, and he drifted into contact with the plastic surface. “I feel normal,” he said. “Did you get a good file tape?”
“As far as we know,” Gersten said into his microphone. “The computers didn’t spot any breaks in the transmission.”
“Well, that’s as well as we can do,” Hawks said. “All right — put me back in the transmitter, and hold me there. Get Barker into his suit, jack down the legs on the table, and slide him in under me. Today,” he said, “marks another precedent in the annals of exploration. Today, we’re going to send a sandwich to the Moon.”
Fidanzato, wheeling the table across the laboratory floor, laughed nervously. Gersten jerked his head to the side and looked at him.