Hawks M watched the chief observer close his notebook. “I think that does it, then,” he said to the man. Barker, who was sitting beside him at the steel table, nodded hesitantly.
“I didn’t see any lake of fire,” he said to Hawks.
Hawks shrugged. “I didn’t see any jagged green glass archway in its place.” He stood up and said to the observer team, “If you gentlemen would please refasten our faceplates for us, we’ll be on our way.”
The observers nodded and stepped forward. When they were done they turned and left the room through the airtight hatch to the bunker’s interior, so that Hawks and Barker were left alone to use the exterior airlock. Hawks motioned impatiently as the demand valve in his helmet began to draw air from his tanks again, its sigh filling his helmet. “Come along, Al,” he said. “We don’t have much time.”
Barker said bitterly as they cycled through the lock, “It sure is good to have people make a fuss over you and slap you on the back when you’ve done something.”
Hawks shook his head. “These people, here, have no concern with us as individuals. Perhaps they should have had, today, but the habit would have been a bad one to break. Don’t forget, Al — to them, you’ve never been anything but a shadow in the night. Only the latest of many shadows. And other men will come up here to die. There’ll be times when the technicians slip up. There may be some reason why even you or perhaps even I, will have to return here. These men in this bunker will watch, will record what they see, will do their best to help pry information out of this thing—” He gestured toward the obsidian hulk, toppling perpetually, perpetually re-erecting itself, shifting in place, looming over the bunker, now reflecting the light of the stars, now dead black and lusterless. “This enormous puzzle. But you and I, Al, are only a species of tool, to them. It has to be that way. They have to live here until one day when the last technician takes the last piece of this thing apart. And then, when that happens, these people in this bunker will have to face something they’ve been trying not to think about all this time.”
Hawks and Barker moved along the footpath.
“You know, Hawks,” Barker said uncomfortably, “I almost didn’t want to come out.”
Barker gestured indecisively. “It was the damnedest thing. I almost led us into the trap that caught me last time. And then I almost just stayed put and waited for it to get us. Hawks, I just — I don’t know. I didn’t want to come out. I had the feeling I was going to lose something. What, I don’t know. But I stood there, and suddenly I knew there was something precious that was going to be lost if I came back out onto the Moon.”
Hawks, walking steadily beside Barker, turned his head to look at him for the first time since they had left the bunker. “And did’ you lose it?”
“I — I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it for a long time, I think. I feel different. I can tell that much.” Barker’s voice grew animated. “I do.”
“Is this the first time you’ve ever done somettung no other man has done before? Done it successfully, I mean?”
“I — well, no, I’ve broken records of one kind or another, and—”
“Other men had broken records at the same things, Al.”
Barker stopped, and looked at Hawks. “I think that’s it,” he frowned. “I think you’re right. I’ve done something no other man has ever done before. And I didn’t get killed for it.”
“No precedent and no tradition, Al, but you did it anyway.” Hawks, too, had stopped. “Perhaps you’ve become a man in your own right?” His voice was quiet, and sad.
“I may have, Hawks!” Barker said excitedly. “Look — you can’t — That is, it’s not possible to take in something like this all at once — but—” He stopped again, his face looking out eagerly through his faceplate.
They had come almost to the point where the footpath from the bunker joined the system of paths that webbed the terrain between the formation, the receiver, the Navy installation, and the motor pool where the exploration halftracks stood. Hawks waited, motionless, patiently watching Barker, his helmet bowed as he peered.
“You were right, Hawks!” Barker said in a rush of words. “Passing initiations doesn’t mean a thing, if you, go right back to what you were doing before; if you don’t know you’ve changed! A man — a man makes himself. He — Oh, God damn it, Hawks, I tried to be what they wanted, and I tried to be what I thought I should be, but what am I? That’s what I’ve got to find out — that’s what I’ve got to make something of! I’ve got to go back to Earth and straighten out all those years! I — Hawks, I’m probably going to be damned grateful to you.”
“Will you?” Hawks began walking again. “Come with me, Al.”
Barker trotted after him. “Where are you going?”
Hawks continued to walk until he was on the track that led toward the motor pool, and that continued past it for a short distance before the camouflaging stopped and the naked terrain lay nearly impassable to an armored man on foot. He waved shortly with one arm. “Out that way.”
“Aren’t you taking a chance? How much air is there in these suits?”
“Not much. A few minutes’ more.”
“Well, let’s get back to the receiver, then.”
Hawks shook his head. “No. That’s not for us, Al.”
“What do you mean? The return transmitter’s working, isn’t it?”
“It’s working. But we can’t use it.”
“If you want to go to the transmitter and have the Navy crew go through the same procedure that sends samples and reports back to Earth, you can. But first I want you to understand what you’d be doing.”
Barker looked at him in bewilderment through the thick glass. Hawks reached out and awkwardly touched his right sleeve to the man’s armored shoJder. “Long ago, I told you I’d kill you in many ways, Al. When each Barker L came back to consciousness on Earth after each Barker M died, I was letting you trick yourself. You thought then you’d already felt the surest death of all. You hadn’t. I have to do it once more.
“There was always a continuity. Barker M and L seemed to be the same man, with the same mind. When M died, L simply went on. The thread was unbroken, and you could continue to believe that nothing, really, had happened. I could tell you, and you could believe, that in fact there was only a succession of Barkers whose memories dovetailed perfectly. But that’s too abstract a thing for a human being to really grasp. At this moment, I think of myself as the Hawks who was born, years ago, in the bedroom of a farm home. Even though I know there’s another Hawks, down in the laboratory on Earth, who’s been living his own life for some moments, now; even though I know I was born from the ashes of this world twenty minutes ago, in the receiver. All that means nothing to the me who has lived in my mind all these years. I can look back. I can remember.
“That’s the way it was with you, too. I told you. Long ago, I told you that the transmitter sends nothing but a signal. That it destroys the man it scans to derive that signal. But I knew as I told you that all the talk in the world wouldn’t make you feel it that way, as long as you could wake up each morning in your own skin. So I suppose I was wasting all that talk. I often feel that I do. But what could I say to myself, now, if I hadn’t tried to tell you?”
Barker said, “Get to the point!”
Hawks burst out in exasperation, “I’m trying to! I wish people would get it through their heads, once and for all, that the short answer is only good for familiar questions! What do you think we’re dealing with, here — something Leonardo da Vinci could have handled? If he could have, he would have, and we would have had the Twentieth Century in Fifteen Hundred! If you want the answer at all, then you’d better let me put it in context.”
“All right, Hawks.”
“I’m sorry,” Hawks said, the flare dying down. “I’m sorry. A man has things bottled up inside him, and they come out, in the end. Look, Barker — it’s simply that we don’t have the facilities here for accurately returning individuals to Earth. We don’t have the computing equipment, we don’t have the electronic hardware, we don’t have any of the elaborate safeguards. We will have. Soon we’ll have hollowed out a chamber large enough to hold them underground, where they’ll be safe from accidents’ as well as observation. Then we’ll either have to pressurize the entire chamber or learn to design electronic components that’ll work in a vacuum. And if you think that’s not a problem, you’re wrong. But we’ll solve it. When we have time.
“There’s been no time, Al. These people here-the Navy men, the observers — think of them. They’re the best people for their jobs. Competent people. Competent people have families, careers, interests, properties of one kind or another; it’s a fallacy to think that a man who makes a good astronomer, or a good cartographer, isn’t good at many other areas of life. Some of them aren’t. Most of them are. And all of them here know that when they came up here, counterparts of theirs stayed behind on Earth. They had to. We couldn’t drain men like those away from their jobs. We couldn’t risk having them die-no one knew what might happen up here. Terrible things still might. They all volunteered to come up here. They all understood. Back on Earth, their counterparts are going on as though nothing had happened. There was one afternoon in which they spent a few hours in the laboratory, of course, but that’s already a minor part of their past, for them.
“All of us up here are shadows, Al. But they’re a particular kind. Even if we had the equipment, they couldn’t go back. When we do get it, they still won’t be able to. We won’t stop them if they want to try, but think, Al, about that man who leads the observation team. Back on Earth, his counterpart is pursuing a complicated scientific career. He’s accomplished a lot since the day he was duplicated. He has a career, a reputation, a whole body of experience which this individual, up here, no longer shares. And the man here has changed, too — he knows things the other doesn’t. He has a whole body of divergent experience. If he goes back, which of them does what? Who gets the career, who gets the family, who gets the bank account? They can try to work it out, if they want to. But it’ll be years, up here, before this assignment is over. There’ll have been divorces, births, deaths, marriages, promotions, degrees, jail sentences, diseases — No, most of them won’t go back. But when this ends, where will they go? We’d better have something for them to do. Away from Earth — away from the world that has no room for them. We’ve created a whole corps of men with the strongest possible ties to Earth, and no future except in space. But where will they go? Mars? Venus? We don’t have rockets that will drop receivers for them there. We’d better have — but suppose some of them have become so valuable we don’t dare not duplicate them again? Then what?
“You called them zombies, once. You were right. They’re the living dead, and they know it. And they were made, by me, because there wasn’t time. No time to do this systematically, to think this out in all its aspects, to comb the world for men we could use without subjecting them to this disruption. And for you and me, now, Al, there’s the simple fact that we have a few minutes’ air left in our suits and we can’t go back, at all.”
“For Pete’s sake, Hawks, we can walk into any one of these bubbles, here, and get all the air we want!”
Hawks asked slowly, “And settle down and stay here, you mean, and go back in a year or two? You can if you want to, I suppose. What will you do, in that time? Learn to do something useful, here, wondering what you’ve been doing meanwhile, on Earth?”
Barker said nothing for a moment. Then he said, “You mean, I’m stuck here.” His voice was quiet. “I’m a zombie. Well, is that bad? Is that worse than dying?”
“I don’t know,” Hawks answered. “You could talk to these people up here about it. They don’t know, either. They’ve been thinking about it for some time. Why do you think they shunned you, Barker? Because there was nothing about you that frightened them more than they could safely bear? We had our wave of suicides after they first came up. The ones who’re left are comparatively stable on the subject. But they stay that way because they’ve learned to think about it only in certain ways. But go ahead. You’ll be able to work something out.”
“But, Hawks, I want to go back to Earth!”
“To the world in your memories, that you want to remake?”
“Why can’t I use the return transmitter?”
Hawks said, “I told you. We only have a transmitter up here. We don’t have a laboratory full of control equipment The transmitter here pulses signals describing the typewritten reports and rock samples the Navy crew put in the receiver. It isn’t used much for anything, but when it is, that’s what it carries. From here-without dead-accurate astronomical data, without our power supply — the signals spread, they miss our antenna down there, they turn to hash in the ionization layers — you just can’t do, from the surface of an uninhabited, unexplored, airless satellite, what we can do from there. You can’t just send up, from a world with Terrestrial gravity, with an atmosphere, with air pressure, with a different temperature range, equipment that will function here. It has to be designed for here and better yet, built here. Out of what? In what factory? It doesn’t matter, with marks on paper and lumps of rock, that we’ve got the bare minimum of equipment we had to have time to adapt. By trial and error, and constant repetition, we push the signals through, and decipher them on Earth. If they’re hashed up, we send a message to that effect, and a Navy yeoman types up a new report from his file carbon, and a geologist chips off another rock of the same kind. But a man, Barker — I told you. A man is a phoenix. We simply don’t have the facilities here to take scan readings on him, feed them through differential amplifiers, cross-check, and make a file tape to recheck against.
“You can try it, Al. You can get into the return transmitter, and the Navy men will pull the switches. They’ve done it before, for other men who had to try it. As always, the scanner will destroy you painlessly and instantaneously. But what arrives on Earth, Al — what arrives on Earth is also not the man you’ve become since you were last put in the laboratory transmitter. I guarantee you that, Al.”
Hawks raised his arms and dropped them. “Now do you see what I’ve done to you? Do you see what I’ve done to poor Sam Latourette, who’ll wake up one day in a world full of strangers, never knowing what I did to him after I put him into the amplifiers, only knowing that now he’ll be cured but his old, good friend, Ed Hawks, has died and gone to dust? I haven’t played fair with any of you. I’ve never once shown any of you mercy, except now and then by coincidence.”
He turned and began to walk away.
“Wait! Hawks — You don’t have to—”
Hawks said, without stopping or turning his head, walking steadily, “What don’t I have to? There’s an Ed Hawks in the universe who remembers all his life, even the time he spent in the Moon formation, up to this very moment as he stands down in the laboratory. What’s being lost? There’s no expenditure. I wish you well, Al — you’d better hurry and get to that airlock. Either the one at the return transmitter or the one at the naval station. It’s about the same distance, either way.”
“I have to get out of these people’s way,” Hawks said abstractedly. “It’s not part of their job to deal with corpses on their grounds. I want to get out there among the rocks.”
He walked to the end of the path, the camouflaging’s shadows mottling his armor, cutting up the outlines of his body until he seemed to become only another jagged, broken portion of the place through which he walked.
Then he emerged into the starlight, and his armor flashed with the clear, cold reflection.
“Hawks,” Barker said in a muffled voice, “I’m at the airlock.”
“Good luck, Barker.”
Hawks clambered over the rocks until he began to pant. Then he stood, wedged in place. He turned his face up, and stars glinted on the glass. He took one shallow breath after another, more and more quickly. His eyes watered. Then he blinked sharply, viciously, repeatedly. “No,” he said. “No, I’m not going to fall for that.” He blinked again and again. “I’m not afraid of you,” he said. “Someday I, or another man, will hold you in his hand.”