BY GEORGE O. SMITH
You can keep a good man down, if
you've got enough headstart, are alert
and persistent ... so long as he limits
himself to acting like a good man....
Illustrated by Martinez
t was 047-63-10 when
he opened the door.
Before his superior
could chew him for
said as the chief looked up and
opened his mouth to start:
"Sorry, but you should know.
Terra is at it again."
Chelan's jaw snapped shut. He
passed a hand over his face and
asked in a tone of pure exasperation.
"The same?" and as Huvane
nodded, Chelan went on, "Why
can't they make a mistake and blow
themselves out of our hair? How
far did they get this time?"
"All the way."
Huvane sat down shaking his
head slowly. "Not yet, but they're
over the hump, you know." Huvane's
face brightened ever so slightly. "I
can't be criticized for not counting
them, chief. But I'll estimate that
there must be at least a couple of
hundred atoms of 109 already. And
you know that nobody could make
109 if they hadn't already evolved
methods of measuring the properties
of individual atoms. So as soon as
they find that their boom-sample
doesn't behave like the standard mess
out of a bombardment chamber, they
won't rest until they find out why.
They'll find out. Then it'll be 109,
109, 109 until we're forced to clobber
Bitterly Chelan looked up. "I don't
think I need the lecture. I admire
their tenacity. I admire their ambition.
I admire their blasphemous,
consignatory, obscenity attitude of
acting as if the Great Creator had
concocted the whole glorious Universe
for their own playground.
Yes," said the chief wearily, "singly
they aren't bad traits. Boiled down
into the self-esteem of a single race,
I don't admire them any more. I'm
"Yeah. Well, we've got time."
"Not much. What's their space
potential this time?"
"Still scragged on the mass-inertia-relativity
barrier. Tailburners ... er,
chemical reaction engines. Manned
and unmanned orbital flights. Half a
dozen landings on their sister planet.
No," said Huvane as he saw the
chief's puzzlement, "I don't mean
Number Two ... the one they call
Venus this time. I mean their co-orbital
companion. The Moon. They
still call it that."
The chief looked up wonderingly.
"Do you suppose," he asked solemnly,
"that there is really something
called a 'racial memory'?"
"It's against all the theory," objected
Huvane. "But there seems to
be—" his voice trailed off absently.
It returned after some thought: "I've
tried to sort it out, just as if I were
one of them. The recurrence of their
... er ... 'names of antiquity' as
they call them, seem to recur and
recur. Their Planet Two, now called
Venus, was called Astarte last time,
and before that it was Ishtar."
"Other way around."
"No matter. The names are still
being used and, according to their
belief, merely parallel names culled
out of local pagan religious beliefs."
The chief nodded. "That's only
part of the parallelism. The big
thing is the way they follow the same
pattern. Savage, agrarian, urban,
right on up the ladder according to
the rules of civic science but squabbling
and battling all the way right
on up and out into space. Hell,
Huvane, warfare and conflict I can
both understand and cope with, but
not the Terran flavor. They don't
come out bent on conquest or stellar
colonialism. They come out with
their little private fight still going
on and each side lines up its volume
of influence and pits one against the
other until the whole section of that
spiral arm is glittering like a sputtering
spark along a train of black
powder. I wish," he said savagely,
"that we could cut off that arm and
fling it deep into extragalactic
Huvane shook his head. "And
leave the problem for our children
"They'll have one to solve, I
think," said Chelan. "In another
twenty thousand years the Terrans
will be right back doing business at
the same old stand. Unless we can
solve it for once and for all right
Huvane looked around as if he
were seeking another door to the
chief's office. "How?" he asked sarcastically.
"The first time we greeted
them and they took both our welcome
and us for everything they
could before we pulled the rug out
from under them. The second time
we boxed them off and they broke
out after converting the isolation
screen into an offensive weapon. The
third time we tried to avoid them
and they ran wild exploiting less ambitious
races. The fourth time we
missed the boat and they were chewing
at our back door before we knew
about them; containing them was almost
a nova job. The fifth time we
went in and tried to understand
them, they traded us two for one.
Two things they didn't want for one
they did," Huvane's lips curled,
"and I'm not sure that they didn't
trade us the other way around; two
they needed for one they declared
useless. Sixth? that was the last time
and they just came out shooting as
if the whole galaxy automatically
objected. This time? Who knows?"
Huvane sat down again and put his
hands between his knees.
"They don't operate like people.
Sensible folk settle their own problems,
then look for more. Terra?
One half of the globe is against the
other half of the globe. Fighting one
another tooth and nail, they still find
time to invent and cross space to
other planets and continue their fight
on unknown territory."
"Maybe we'd better just admit that
we don't know the solution. Then
we can clobber Terra back to the
swamp, juggle the place into another
ice age, put the details down in History,
and hope that our remote
progeny will be smarter than we."
"Like maybe we're smarter than
our remote ancestors?" jeered Huvane.
"Got a better idea?"
"Maybe. Has anybody really taken
a couple of them and analyzed
"I agree, but—?"
"Get me a healthy, well-balanced
specimen of somewhat better-than-average
education and training. Can
"Can do. But how are you going
to keep him?"
"I don't intend to study him like
I'd study a bug under a microscope.
This one won't get away. Make it in
fourteen versaids, Huvane."
"Make it in ten plus or minus a
radite or two. So long!"
The beast at Cape Canaveral stood
three hundred and fifteen feet tall
dwarfing her creators into microscopic
proportions. Swarming up and
down the gantry, bug-sized humans
crawled in and out of check ports
with instrument checks, hauling
hoses, cables, lines. Some thousand
feet away, a puff-bomb of red smoke
billowed out and a habit-flattened
voice announced: "At the mark, X
Minus Fifteen Minutes ... ... ...
Mark! X Minus Fifteen Minutes!"
Jerry Markham said, "That's me!"
He looked up at the lofty porthole
and almost lost his balance over
backwards sighting it. He was a
healthy specimen, about twenty-four
and full of life. He had spent the
day going through two routines that
were sometimes simultaneous and at
other times serially; one re-stating
his instructions letter by letter including
the various alternatives and
contingencies that involved his making
decisions if the conditions on
Venus were according to this theory
or that. The other was a rigorous
medical checkup. Neither of them
showed that Jerry Markham had
spent the previous night in activities
not recommended by his superiors
but nothing that would bounce him
if they knew. He could hardly be
broken for living it up at a party.
He shook hands with the boss and
stepped into the elevator. It was
not his idea of a proper send-off.
There should be bands playing and
girls throwing paper tape, flowers
and a few drinks. Sally should send
him off with a proud smooch of lipstick
and a tearful promise to wait.
Instead it was all very military and
strict and serious—which is why
he'd whooped it up the night before.
He'd had his good night and good
by with Sally Forman, but now eighteen
hours later he was fit and raring
for a return match.
Jerry's mind was by no means concerned
with this next half hour,
which would be the most perilous
part of his flight. Tomorrow would
take care of itself. The possibility
that thirty minutes from now he
might be dead in a flaming pyre did
not cross his mind, the chance that
an hour from now he could be told
that his bird was off-course and his
fate starvation if it obtained an untrue
orbit or abrupt destruction if it
didn't orbit at all—nothing bothered
He sat there chanting the count
down with the official timer and
braced himself when the call came:
Inwardly, Jerry Markham's mind
said, "We're off!" and he began to
look forward to his landing on Venus.
Not the problems of landing,
but what he would find there when
he soared down through the clouds.
Determined to hold up through
the high-G even though nobody
watched, he went on and on and up
and up, his radio voiced the progress
tinnily. Shock followed roaring
pressure, release followed shock.
Orientation was lost; only logic and
intellect told him where he was and
which way he was going.
Then he was free. Free to eat and
drink and read and smoke one cigarette
every three hours and, in essence,
behave in about the same way
as a prisoner confined in solitary.
The similarity did not bother Jerry
Markham, for this was honor, not
Huvane collected him with the
ease of a fisherman landing a netted
crab. Easily, painlessly. Shockingly,
for the crab doesn't exactly take to
the net with docility.
Huvane collected the whole shebang,
man and machinery; then
opened the spacecraft with the same
attitude as a man peeling the lid
from a can of sardines. He could
have breached the air lock, but he
wanted the Terran to understand the
power behind the act.
Jerry Markham came out blinking;
very mildly wondering about the air.
It was good. Without considering the
rather high probability that nobody
spoke the language, he blurted:
He was not very much surprised
when one of them in uniform said
curtly, "This way and make it snappy,
No, he was not surprised. He was
too stunned to permit anything as
simple as surprise. And through the
shock and the stun, his months of
training came through. Jerry Markham
worried his first worry: How
was he going to get the word back
Confinement in the metal cell of
his top-stage hadn't bothered him.
The concept of landing on a planet
that couldn't come closer to home
than some twenty-seven million miles
was mere peanuts. Isolation for a
year was no more than a hiatus, a
period of adventure that would be
rewarded many-fold. Sally? So she
might not wait but there were others;
he'd envisioned himself fighting
them off with a club after his successful
return. Hell, they'd swarmed
him before his take-off, starting with
the moment his number had come up
as possible candidate.
No, the meeting with competence
in space did not shock him greatly.
What bothered him was his lack of
control over the situation. Had he
seen them and passed on about his
business, he recounted the incident.
As it was, his desire to tell somebody
about it was cut off. As he sat,
alone and helpless, it occurred to him
that he did not mind so much the
dying, if that was to be his lot.
What mattered was the unmarked
grave. The mourning did not move
him; the physical concept of "grave"
and its fill of moldering organic substances
was nothing. It was mere
symbol. So long as people knew how
and where, it made little difference
to Jerry Markham whether he was
planted in a duridium casket guaranteed
to preserve the dead flesh for a
thousand years or whether he went
out in a bright swift flame that glinted
in its tongues of the color-traces
of incandescent elements of human
So long as people knew. Where
and how. Vague, vague, mass-volumized
concept. Granite tomb was one
idea, here was a place. Point a
spread-fingered hand in a waving
sweep across the sky that encompasses
the Plane of The Ecliptic and
say, "It is there," and another place
is identified. Lost on Venus is no
more than a phrase; from Terra
Haute or Times Square, Venus is a
tiny point in the sky smaller to the
vision than the granite of Grant's
Imagination breeds irritation.
Would they call it pilot error or
equipment unreliability? Dying he
could face. Goofing would be a disgrace
that he would have to meet in
fact or in symbol. Hardware crackup
was a matter of the laws of probability.
Not only his duty demanded
that he report, his essence cried out
for a voice to let them know.
Just the chance to tell one other
Chelan asked, "Who are you?
Your name and rank?"
He said sullenly, "Go to hell."
"We have ways and means."
He said, "Use 'em."
"If we said that we mean no
harm; if we asked what we could
do to prove it, what would be your
"Take me back and let me go."
"Who are you? Will you identify
"I know my rights. We are not at
war. I'll tell you nothing. Why did
you capture me?"
"We'll ask the questions, Terran."
"You'll get no answers." He
sneered at them angrily. "Torture
me—and then wonder whether my
screamings tell the truth. Dope me
and wonder whether what I truly believe
is fact or fantasy."
"Please," said Chelan, "we only
want to understand your kind. To
know what makes you tick."
"Then why didn't you ask?"
"We've tried and we get no answers.
Terran, the Universe is a vastness
beyond comprehension. Co-operate
and give us what we want to know
and a piece of it is yours."
"Terran, you have friends."
"Why can't we be your friends?"
Angrily, resentfully, "Your way
isn't friendly enough to convince
Chelan shook his head. "Take him
away," he directed in his own tongue.
"Where? And how shall we keep
"To the place we've prepared. And
keep him safe."
Huvane asked, "Safe? Who knows
what is safe? One bribed his guards.
One seduced her guards. One dug his
way out scratch by scratch. Disappeared,
died, dead, gone, mingled off
with the myriad of worlds—did one
get home, perhaps, to start their legend
of the gods in the sky; the legend
that never dies through the rise and
fall of culture from savagery to ...
to ... to Element 109?"
Chelan looked at Jerry Markham,
the Terran looked back defiantly as if
he were guest instead of captive. "Co-operate,"
"I'll tell you nothing. Force me. I
can't stop that."
Chelan shook his head sorrowfully.
"Extracting what you know would be
less than the play of a child," he said.
"No, Terran. We can know what you
know in the turn of a dial. What we
need is that which you do not know.
Laugh? Or is that a sneer? No matter.
What you know is worthless.
Your problems and your ambitions,
both racial and personal, are minor.
We know them already. The pattern
is repetitive, only some of the names
"But why? Ah, that we must
know. Why are you what you are?
Seven times in History Terra has
come up from the mud, seven times
along the same route. Seven times a
history of ten thousand years from
savage to savant, from beast to brilliance
and always with the same will
to do—to do what? To die for
what? To fight for what?"
Chelan waved Huvane to take the
Huvane said, "He's locked in air-tight
with guards who can be trusted.
Now what do we do with him?"
"He will co-operate."
"No, Huvane. By depriving him
of the one thing that Life cannot
Chelan shook his head. "More
primitive than these." He lowered
his voice. "He suffers now from being
cut off from his kind. Life starts,
complaining about the treatment it
receives during the miracle of birth
and crying for its first breath of air.
Life departs gasping for air, with
someone listening for the last words,
the last message from the dying.
Communication, Huvane, is the primary
drive of all Life, from plant
to animal to man—and if such exists,
"Through communication Life
goes on. Communication is the
prime requisite to procreation. The
firefly signals his mate by night, the
human male entices his woman with
honeyed words and is not the gift of
a jewel a crystalline, enduring statement
of his undying affection?"
Chelan dropped his flowery manner
and went on in a more casual vein:
"Huvane, boil it down to the least
attractive form of simplification, no
life stands alone. And no viable life
goes on without communication, I
shall shut off the Terran's communication."
"Then he will go rank staring,
"No, for I shall offer him the
alternative. Co-operate, or molder in
Huvane shrugged. "Seems to me
that any Terran locked in a duralim
cell so far from home the distance
means nothing is already cut from
"Deeper, deeper, Huvane. The
brain lies prisoner within a cell of
bone. Its contact with the Outside
world lies along five channels of
sensory communication. Everything
that the brain believes about the
Universe is the product of sensory
information carried inward by sight,
touch, sound, taste and smell. From
five basic bits of information, knowledge
of the Great Truth is formed
through logic and self-argument.
"Oh, now stop. I am not expressing
my own singular opinion. I believe
a rather great proportion of the
things that I was taught, and I was
taught through the self-same five
"Good. Just plain 'Um-m-m.'
Now we shall shut off the Terran's
channels of communication until he
consents as an alternative. This, Huvane,
hasn't been tried before. It may
bring us the final important bit of
Slowly the lights went out. Jerry
Markham was prepared for dark
isolation, he could do nothing about
it so he accepted it by the simple
process of assuring himself that
things were going to get worse before
they got better.
The darkness became—absolute.
Utter. Complete. Not even the dots
and whorls and specks that are technically
called "Visual noise" occurred.
A level of mental alertness niggled
at him; for nearly twenty-four
years it had been a busy little chunk
of his mind. It was that section that
inspected the data for important program
material and decided which
was trivial and which was worthy
of the Big Boy's attention. Now it
was out of a job because there wasn't
even a faint background count of
plateau-noise to occupy its attention.
The silence grew—vast. Brain
said that the solid walls were no
more than ten feet from him; ears
said that he was in the precise middle
of absolutely nowhere. Feeling
said that the floor was under his feet,
ears said that upward pressure touched
his soles. Deeper grew the deadening
of his ears, and orientation
was lost. Feeling remained and he
felt his heart beating in a hunting
rhythm because the sound-feedback
through the ear was gone, and the
hortator had lost his audible beat.
Feeling died and he knew not
whether he stood or sat or floated
askew. Feeling died and with it went
that delicate motor control that directs
the position of muscle and limb
and enables a man to place his little
finger on the tip of his nose with his
Aside from the presence of foreign
matter, the taste of a clean
mouth is—tasteless. The term is relative.
Jerry Markham learned what
real tastelessness was. It was flat and
Chemists tell us that air is tasteless,
colorless, and odorless, but
when sense is gone abruptly one realizes
that the air does indeed have
In an unemployed body the primitive
sensors of the mind had nothing
to do, and like a man trained to
busy-ness, loafing was their hardest
task. Gone was every sensory stimulus.
His heart pumped from habit,
not controlled by the feedback of
sound or feeling. He breathed, but
he did not hear the inrush of air.
Brain told him to be careful of his
mouth, the sharp teeth could bite the
dead tongue and he could bleed to
death never feeling pain nor even
the swift flow of salty warmth.
Habit-trained nerves caused a false
tickle in his throat; he never knew
whether he coughed or whether he
thought that he coughed.
The sense of time deserted him
when the metronome of heartbeat
died. Determined Brain compromised
by assuming that crude time
could be kept by the function of
hunger, elimination, weariness. Logical
Brain pointed out that he could
starve to death and feel nothing;
elimination was a sensory thing no
more; weariness was of the body
that brought no information anyway—and
what, indeed was sleep?
Brain considered this question.
Brain said, I am Jerry Markham. But
is it true that no brain can think of
nothing? Is it possible that "Sleep"
is the condition that obtains when
the body stops conveying reliable
information to the brain, and then
says to Hell with Everything and
decides to stop thinking?
The Brain called Jerry Markham
did not stop thinking. It lost its time
sense, but not completely. A period
of time passed, a whirlwind of
thoughts and dreamlike actions went
on, and then calmness came for a
Dreams? Now ponder the big
question. Does the brain dream the
dream as a sensory experience—or is
a dream no more than a sequence of
assorted memories? Would a dying
brain expire in pleasure during a
pleasant dream—or is the enjoyment
of a pleasant dream only available
to the after-awakened brain?
What is Man but his Memories?
In one very odd manner, the
brain of Jerry Markham retained its
intellectual orientation, and realized
that its physical orientation was uncontrollable
and undetectable and
therefore of no importance. Like the
lighthouse keeper who could not
sleep when the diaphone did not
wrneeee-hrnawwww for five seconds
of each and every minute, Jerry
Markham's brain was filled with a
mild concern about the total lack of
unimportant but habitual data. There
was no speckle of light to classify
and ignore, no susurrus of air molecules
raining against the eardrum.
Blankness replaced the smell and
taste and their absence was as disturbing
as a pungence or a poison.
And, of course, one should feel
something if it is no more than the
tonus of muscle against the mobile
Communication is the prime drive
of life. Cut off from external communication
entirely, section A, bay
6, tier 9, row 13 hollered over to
box Q, line 23, aisle F and wanted
to know what was going on. The
gang on the upper deck hailed the
boiler room, and the crew in the
bleacher seats reported that the folks
in charge of C.I.C.—Communication
Information Center—were sitting on
their hands because they didn't have
anything to do. One collection of
bored brain cells stirred. They hadn't
been called upon since Jerry Markham
sang "Adeste Fidelis" in memorized
Latin some fifteen years earlier
and so they started the claque. Like
an auditorium full of people impatient
because the curtain had not
gone up on time, bedlam broke
Bedlam is subject to the laws of
periodicity, stochastic analysis, and
with some rather brilliant manipulation
it can be reduced to a Fourier
Series. Fourier says that Maxwell is
right and goes on to define exactly
when, in a series of combined periodicities
of apparently random motion,
all the little particles will be
moving in the same direction. Stochastic
analysis says that if the letter
"U" follows the letter "Q" in most
cases, words beginning with "Q"
will have "U" for a second letter.
Jerry Markham began to think.
Isolated and alone, prisoner in the
cell of bone, with absolutely nothing
to distract him, the Brain by
common consent pounded a gavel,
held a conference, appointed a chairman
and settled down to do the one
job that the Brain was assembled to
do. In unison, ten to the sixteenth
storage cells turned butter side up at
the single wave of a mental flag.
He thought of his father and his
mother; of his Sally. He thought of
his commanding officer and of the
fellows he liked and disliked. The
primitive urge to communicate was
upon him, because he must first establish
communication before he
could rise from the stony mineral
stage to the exalted level of a vegetable.
Bereft of his normal senses,
undistracted by trivia such as noise
and pain and the inestimable vastness
of information bits that must be
considered and evaluated, his brain
called upon his memory and provided
the background details.
The measured tread of a company
of marching soldiers can wreck a
The cadence of ten to the sixteenth
brain cells, undivided by the distraction
of incoming information, broke
down a mental barrier.
As vividly as the living truth,
Jerry Markham envisioned himself
sauntering down the sidewalk. The
breeze was on his face and the pavement
was beneath his feet, the air
was laden with its myriad of smells
and the flavor of a cigarette was on
his tongue. His eyes saw Sally running
toward him, her cry of greeting
was a welcome sound and the pressure
of her hug was strong and
physical as the taste of her lips.
She hugged his arm and said,
"Your folks are waiting."
Jerry laughed. "Let the general
wait a bit longer," he said. "I've got
a lot to tell him."
Huvane said, "Gone!" and the
sound of his voice re-echoed back
and forth across the empty cell.
"Gone," repeated Chelan. "Utterly
incomprehensible, but none the
less a fact. But how—? Isolated,
alone, imprisoned—cut off from all
communication. All communication—?"
"I'll get another specimen, chief."
Chelan shook his head. "Seven
times we've slapped them down.
Seven times we've watched their rise—and
wondered how they did it.
Seven times they would have surpassed
us if we hadn't blocked them. Let
them rise, let them run the Universe.
They're determined to do that anyway.
And now I think it's time for
us to stop annoying our betters. I'd
hate to face them if they were angry."
"But chief, he was cut off from all
"Obviously," said Chelan, "not!"
This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction March 1959.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.