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 Original copyright year: 1963
 Date of e-text: June 26, 1999
 Prepared by: Anada Sucka
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     The noise was ended now. The smoke drifted like thin, gray wisps of fog
above the tortured earth  and the shattered fences  and the peach trees that
had been whittled into  toothpicks by the cannon fire. For a moment silence,
if not peace, fell upon those few square miles of  ground where just a while
before  men had screamed and  torn at one another in the frenzy of  old hate
and  had  contended  in  an  ancient striving  and then  had  fallen  apart,
exhausted.
     For  endless time, it  seemed, there had been belching thunder  rolling
from horizon to horizon and the gouted earth that had spouted in the sky and
the  screams of  horses and the hoarse  bellowing  of men; the whistling  of
metal and the thud when the whistle ended; the flash of searing fire and the
brightness of  the steel; the bravery of the  colors snapping in the  battle
wind.
     Then it all had ended and there was a silence.
     But silence was  an  alien note that  held no  right upon this field or
day,  and it was broken by the whimper and  the pain, the cry for water, and
the  prayer  for death- the  crying  and the calling and the whimpering that
would go on for hours beneath the summer sun.  Later the hupled shapes would
grow quiet and still and  there  would  be an odor that would sicken all who
passed, and the graves would be shallow graves.
     There was wheat  that  never  would be harvested,  trees that would not
bloom when spring came round again, and  on the slope of land that ran up to
the ridge the words unspoken and the deeds undone and the sopen bundles that
cried aloud the emptiness and the waste of death.
     There were proud names that were the prouder now, but now no  more than
names to  echo down the ages - the Iron Brigade, the 5th  New Hampshire, the
1st Minnesota, the 2nd Massachusetts, the 16th Maine.
     And there was Enoch Wallace.
     He  still held the  shattered musket  and  there were  blisters on  his
hands. His face was smudged with powder. His shoes were  caked with dust and
blood.
     He was still alive.


     Dr. Erwin Hardwicke rolled the pencil back and forth between his palms,
an irritating business. He eyed  the  man across the desk from him with some
calculation.
     "What I  can't figure out," said  Hardwicke, "is why you should come to
us."
     "Well, you're the National Academy and I thought ..."
     "And you're Intelligence."
     "Look,  Doctor,  if  it   suits  you  better,  let's  call  this  visit
unofficial. Pretend I'm a puzzled citizen who dropped in to see if you could
help."
     "It's not that I wouldn't like to help, but  I don't see how I can. The
whole thing is so hazy and so hypothetical."
     "Damn it, man," Claude Lewis said, "you can't deny the proof-the little
that I have."
     "All  right, then," said Hardwicke, "let's  start  over once  again and
take it piece by piece. You say you have this man ..."
     "His name," said Lewis,  "is Enoch Wallace.  Chronologically, he is one
hundred and twenty-four years  old. He was born on a farm a  few miles  from
the town of Millville in Wisconsin, April 22, 1840, and he is the only child
of Jedediah and Amanda Wallace. He enlisted among the first of them when Abe
Lincoln  called for volunteers. He was  with  the  Iron Brigade,  which  was
virtually wiped out at Gettysburg  in 1863.  But Wallace somehow  managed to
get  transferred to another fighting outfit and  fought down across Virginia
under Grant. He was in on the end of it at Appomattox ...
     "You've run a check on him."
     "I've  looked up his  records. The record of  enlistment  at the  State
Capitol in Madison. The rest of it, including discharge here in Washington."
     "You say he looks like thirty."
     "Not a day beyond it. Maybe even less than that."
     "But you haven't talked with him."
     Lewis shook his head.
     "He may not be the man. If you had fingerprints ...
     "At  the  time of the Civil  War,"  said  Lewis, "they'd not thought of
fingerprints."
     "The  last  of the  veterans of the  Civil  War," said Hardwicke, "died
several years  ago. A Confederate drummer  boy,  I think. There must be some
mistake."
     Lewis shook his head. "I thought so myself, when I was assigned to it."
     "How come  you  were assigned? How  does Intelligence get involved in a
deal like this?"
     "I'll admit," said Lewis, "that it's a bit  unusual. But there  were so
many implications ..."
     "Immortality, you mean."
     "It crossed our mind, perhaps. The chance of it. But only incidentally.
There were other  considerations.  It  was a  strange setup that  bore  some
looking into."
     "But Intelligence ..."
     Lewis  grinned.  "You  are  thinking,  why  not  a  scientific  outfit?
Logically, I  suppose it should have been. But one of our men  ran  afoul of
it.  He was  on  vacation.  Had  relatives back  in Wisconsin.  Not  in that
particular  area, but  some  thirty miles away. He heard  a  rumor-just  the
vaguest rumor, almost a casual mention. So he nosed around  a bit. He didn't
find  out too much but  enough to make him think there might be something to
it."
     "That's the  thing that puzzles me," said Hardwicke. "How could  a  man
live for one hundred and twenty-four years in  one locality without becoming
a  celebrity  that the world  would hear  about?  Can  you imagine  what the
newspapers could do with a thing like this?"
     "I shuper," Lewis said, "when I think about it."
     "You haven't told me how."
     "This," said Lewis,  "is a bit hard to explain. You'd  have to know the
country  and  the  people  in it.  The southwestern corner  of Wisconsin  is
bounded by  two  rivers, the Mississippi  on the west,  the Wisconsin on the
north. Away  from the rivers  there is flat, broad prairie land,  rich land,
with prosperous farms and towns. But the land that runs down to the river is
rough  and rugged; high hills  and bluffs  and deep ravines and  cliffs, and
there  are certain areas forming bays or pockets that are isolated. They are
served by  inadequate  roads and  the  small, rough farms are inhabited by a
people who are  closer, perhaps, to the pioneer days of a hundred  years ago
than they  are to the twentieth  century.  They have  cars,  of course,  and
radios, and  someday soon, perhaps, even  television. But in spirit they are
conservative and  clannish-not  all the people, of course,  not even many of
them, but these little isolated neighborhoods.
     "At one time there were a lot of farms in  these isolated  pockets, but
today  a man can hardly make a living  on  a farm of  that sort.  Slowly the
people  are being squeezed out of the areas by economic  circumstances. They
sell their farms for whatever they can get for them and move somewhere else,
to the cities mostly, where they can make a living."
     Hardwicke noped. "And the  ones that are left, of course, are the  most
conservative and clannish."
     "Right. Most of  the land now  is held by absentee  owners who make  no
pretense of farming it. They may run a few head of cattle on it, but that is
all. It's not too bad as a tax write-off for someone who needs that  sort of
thing. And in the land-bank days a lot of the land was put into the bank."
     "You're  trying  to  tell me  these backwoods people-is that what you'd
call them?-engaged in a conspiracy of silence."
     "Perhaps not anything," said Lewis, "as formal or elaborate as that. It
is just their way of doing  things, a holdover from  the old,  stout pioneer
philosophy.  They  minded   their  own  business.  They  didn't  want  folks
interfering with them and they interfered with no  one else. If a man wanted
to live  to be a thousand, it might be a thing of wonder, but it was his own
damned business. And if he wanted  to live alone  and be  let alone while he
was  doing  it, that was his business,  too. They might talk  about it among
themselves, but to  no one else.  They'd resent it if some outsider tried to
talk about it.
     "After a  time, I suppose,  they came to accept the fact  that  Wallace
kept on being young  while they were growing old. The wonder wore off it and
they probably didn't talk  about it a great deal, even among themselves. New
generations  accepted  it  because  their  elders  saw  in  it  nothing  too
unusual-and anyhow no  one saw much of Wallace because he  kept strictly  to
himself.
     "And in the nearby areas the thing, when it was thought of at all, grew
to be just a sort  of  legend- another crazy  tale that wasn't worth looking
into. Maybe just a joke among those  folks down Dark Hollow way.  A Rip  Van
Winkle sort of business that probably didn't have a word of  truth in  it. A
man might look ridiculous if he went prying into it."
     "But your man looked into it."
     "Yes. Don't ask me why."
     "Yet he wasn't assigned to follow up the job."
     "He was needed somewhere else. And besides he was known back there."
     "And you?"
     "It took two years of work."
     "But now you know the story."
     "Not all of it. There  are more questions now than there  were to start
with."
     "You've seen this man."
     "Many  times," said Lewis. "But I've  never  talked with  him. I  don't
think he's ever seen me. He takes a walk each day before  he goes to get the
mail.  He never  moves  off the place,  you see. The  mailman brings out the
little stuff he  needs.  A bag of  flour, a  pound of  bacon,  a dozen eggs,
cigars, and sometimes liquor."
     "But that must be against the postal regulations."
     "Of course it is. But mailmen have been doing it for years. It  doesn't
hurt a  thing until someone  screams about it.  And no  one's going  to. The
mailmen probably are the only friends he has ever had."
     "I take it this Wallace doesn't do much farming."
     "None at all.  He  has a  little vegetable garden,  but  that is all he
does. The place has gone back pretty much to wilderness."
     "But he has to live. He must get money somewhere."
     "He does,"  said Lewis. "Every five or ten years  or so he ships off  a
fistful of gems to an outfit in New York."
     "Legal?"
     "If you mean, is it hot, I don't think so. If someone wanted to  make a
case of  it, I suppose there  are  illegalities. Not to start  with, when he
first  started  sending  them, back in the  old days.  But laws change and I
suspect both he and the buyer are in defiance of any number of them."
     "And you don't mind?"
     "I checked  on this firm," said Lewis, "and they were  rather  nervous.
For one thing, they'd been stealing Wallace blind.  I told them  to keep  on
buying.  I told them  that if  anyone came around to  check,  to  refer them
straight  to me. I  told  them to keep  their  mouths  shut  and not  change
anything."
     "You don't want anyone to scare him off," said Hardwicke.
     "You're damned right, I don't. I want the mailman to keep on  acting as
a delivery  boy  and the  New  York  firm  to keep  on  buying gems.  I want
everything  to stay just  the  way it is.  And before you ask  me  where the
stones come from, I'll tell you I don't know."
     "He maybe has a mine."
     "That would be quite a mine. Diamonds and rubies and emeralds, all  out
of the same mine."
     "I would suspect, even  at the prices  that he gets from them, he picks
up a fair income."
     Lewis noped. "Apparently he only sends a  shipment in when he runs  out
of cash. He wouldn't need  too much. He  lives rather simply, to judge  from
the  grub he  buys. But  he subscribes to a  lot  of daily papers  and  news
magazines and to dozens of scientific journals. He buys a lot of books."
     "Technical books?"
     "Some  of them, of course, but mostly keeping up with new developments.
Physics and chemistry and biology-all that sort of stuff."
     "But I don't ..."
     "Of course you don't. Neither  do I. He's no  scientist. Or at least he
has  no formal  education in the sciences. Back  in the days when he went to
school there  wasn't  much  of  it-not  in the sense  of  today's scientific
education. And whatever he learned then would be fairly worthless now in any
event.  He  went  through  grade   school-one  of   those  one-room  country
schools-and spent one winter at what was called an academy that operated for
a year or  two  down in Millville village. In  case you don't know, that was
considerably better than par back in the 1850s. He was, apparently, a fairly
bright young man."
     Hardwicke  shook his head. "It sounds incredible. You've checked on all
of this?"
     "As well as  I could.  I had to  go at it gingerly.  I wanted no one to
catch on.  And one  thing I forgot-he does a lot of  writing.  He buys these
big, bound record books, in lots of a dozen at the time. He buys  ink by the
pint."
     Hardwicke got up from his desk and paced up and down the room.
     "Lewis,"  he said,  "if you hadn't shown  me your credentials  and if I
hadn't checked on them, I'd figure all of this to be a very tasteless joke."
     He went back and  sat  down again. He picked up the pencil  and started
rolling it between his palms once more.
     "You've been on the case two years," he said. "You have no ideas?"
     "Not a one," said Lewis. "I'm entirely baffled. That is why I'm here."
     "Tell me more of his history. After the war, that is."
     "His mother died," said Lewis,  "while he was away.  His father and the
neighbors buried her  right there on  the  farm. That was the  way a  lot of
people did it then.  Young  Wallace got a furlough, but not  in time to  get
home for the funeral. There wasn't much embalming done in those days and the
traveling  was slow. Then he went back to the war. So far as I can  find, it
was his only furlough. The old man lived alone and worked the farm, batching
it and getting  along  all right. From  what I  can  pick up,  he was a good
farmer, an exceptionally good farmer for his day. He subscribed to some farm
journals  and was progressive in his ideas. He paid attention to such things
as  crop rotation and the prevention  of erosion. The farm wasn't much of  a
farm by modern standards,  but it made him a living  and a  little extra  he
managed to lay by.
     "Then Enoch came home from the war and  they farmed the place  together
for a year  or  so. The  old man  bought  a  mower-one of those  horse-drawn
contraptions with a sickle bar to cut hay  or grain. It was the  progressive
thing to do. It beat a scythe all hollow.
     "Then one afternoon the old man went out to mow a hayfield. The  horses
ran away. Something must have scared them. Enoch's father was thrown off the
seat  and forward, in front of the  sickle bar. It was not a pretty  way  to
die."
     Hardwicke made a grimace of distaste. "Horrible," he said.
     "Enoch went out and gathered  up his  father and got  the  body to  the
house. Then  he took a  gun and went  hunting  for the horses. He found them
down in  the  corner of  the pasture and he shot the two of them and he left
them.  I mean  exactly that.  For  years  their skeletons lay there  in  the
pasture,  where  he'd  killed  them,  still hitched to  the  mower until the
harness rotted.
     "Then he went back to the house  and laid his father out. He washed him
and he dressed him in the good black suit and laid him on a board, then went
out  to the  barn and  carpentered a coffin. And after that, he dug a  grave
beside his mother's grave. He finished  it  by lantern light, then went back
to the house and sat  up with his father. When morning came, he went to tell
the nearest neighbor and that neighbor  notified the others and someone went
to get a  preacher. Late in the  afternoon they  had  the funeral, and Enoch
went back to the house. He has  lived there ever since, but  he never farmed
the land. Except the garden, that is."
     "You told me these people  wouldn't talk to strangers. You seem to have
learned a lot."
     "It took two years to do it. I infiltrated them. I bought a beat-up car
and drifted into Millville and I let it out that I was a ginseng hunter."
     "A what?"
     "A ginseng hunter. Ginseng is a plant."
     "Yes, I know. But there's been no market for it for years."
     "A small market and an occasional one. Exporters will take  on  some of
it.  But I hunted other medicinal plants as  well and pretended an extensive
knowledge  of them and their use.  'Pretended' isn't  actually  the  word; I
boned up plenty on them."
     "The  kind  of   simple  soul,"  said  Hardwicke,  "those  folks  could
understand. A sort  of cultural throwback. And inoffensive, too. Perhaps not
quite right in the head."
     Lewis noped. "It  worked even better  than I thought.  I just  wandered
around and  people talked to me.  I even found some ginseng.  There was  one
family in particular-the Fisher family. They live down  in the river bottoms
below the Wallace farm, which sits on  the ridge  above  the bluffs. They've
lived there almost as long  as the  Wallace family,  but  a different stripe
entirely.  The  Fishers  are a  coon-hunting, catfishing,  moonshine-cooking
tribe.  They found  a kindred  spirit  in  me. I was  just  as shiftless and
no-account  as  they  were. I helped them with their moonshine,  both in the
making and the drinking and once in a while the pepling. I went fishing with
them and hunting with them and I sat around and talked and they showed me  a
place or two where I might find some ginseng-'sang' is what they  call it. I
imagine a social scientist might find a  gold mine in the Fishers.  There is
one girl-a deaf-mute, but a pretty thing, and she can charm off warts ..."
     "I recognize the  type," said Hardwicke.  "I was born and raised in the
southern mountains."
     "They were the ones who told me about the team and mower. So one day  I
went up in that corner of  the Wallace pasture and did some digging. I found
a horse's skull and some other bones."
     "But no way of knowing if it was one of the Wallace horses."
     "Perhaps not," said Lewis. "But I found part of the  mower as well. Not
much left of it, but enough to identify."
     "Let's  get  back  to the  history,"  suggested  Hardwicke. "After  the
father's death, Enoch stayed on at the farm. He never left it?"
     Lewis  shook his head. "He lives in  the same house. Not a thing's been
changed. And the house apparently has aged no more than the man."
     "You've been in the house?"
     "Not in it. At it. I will tell you how it was."


     He had an  hour. He knew he had an hour, for he had timed Enoch Wallace
during the last ten days. And  from the time he left the  house until he got
back with his mail, it had never been less than an  hour. Sometimes a little
longer, when the mailman might be late, or they got to talking. But an hour,
Lewis told himself, was all that he could count on.
     Wallace had disappeared  down the slope of ridge, heading for the point
of rocks that towered above the bluff face, with the Wisconsin River running
there below. He would climb the rocks and stand there, with the rifle tucked
beneath his arm, to gaze across  the wilderness of the river valley. Then he
would  go  back down the rocks again and  trudge  along  the wooded path  to
where, in proper season,  the  pink  lady's-slippers grew, and from there up
the hill again to the spring that  gushed out of the hillside just below the
ancient field that had lain fallow for a century or more, and then along the
slope until he hit the almost overgrown road and so down to the mailbox.
     In the ten days that Lewis had watched him, his route had never varied.
It was likely, Lewis told himself, that it had not varied through the years.
Wallace did not hurry. He walked as if he had all the time there was. And he
stopped along the way to renew acquaintances with old friends of his-a tree,
a  squirrel, a flower. He was a rugged man and there  still was much of  the
soldier in  him-old  tricks  and  habits  left  from  the  bitter  years  of
campaigning under many  leaders. He walked with his head  held high and  his
shoulders back and he moved with the  easy stride of one who had  known hard
marches.
     Lewis  came out of  the tangled  mass  of trees that  once  had been an
orchard and in which a few  trees, twisted  and  gnarled and gray with  age,
still bore their pitiful and bitter crop of apples.
     He stopped at the edge of the copse and stood for  a moment to stare up
at the house on the ridge above, and  for a single  instant it seemed to him
the house stood in a special light, as  if a rare and more distilled essence
of the sun had crossed the gulf of space to shine upon this house and to set
it apart from all other houses in the world. Bathed in that light, the house
was  somehow unearthly,  as  if, indeed,  it might  be set apart  as a  very
special thing. And then  the light, if it ever had been there, was  gone and
the house shared the common sunlight of the fields and woods.
     Lewis shook his head  and told himself that it had been foolishness, or
perhaps a trick of seeing. For there was  no such thing  as special sunlight
and the house was no more than a house, although wondrously preserved.
     It was the  kind of house one  did not  see too often in these days. It
was rectangular, long  and  narrow and high,  with old-fashioned gingerbread
along the eaves and  gables. It  had a certain gauntness that had nothing to
do with age; it had been gaunt the day it had been built-gaunt and plain and
strong, like the  people that it sheltered.  But gaunt  as it  might be,  it
stood prim and neat, with no  peeling paint, with no sign of weathering, and
no hint of decay.
     Against one end of it was  a smaller building, no  more than a shed, as
if it were an alien structure that  had been carted in from some other place
and shoved against its end, covering the side door of the house. Perhaps the
door,  thought  Lewis, that  led  into the kitchen. The shed undoubtedly had
been used as a  place to hang  outdoor clothing and  to leave  overshoes and
boots, with a bench for milk cans and buckets, and perhaps a basket in which
to gather eggs. From the top of it extended some three feet of stovepipe.
     Lewis went up to the house and around  the shed and there, in the  side
of it,  was a door ajar. He stepped up on the stoop and pushed the door wide
open and stared in amazement at the room.
     For it was not a simple shed. It apparently was the place where Wallace
lived.
     The stove  from which the stovepipe projected stood in one  corner,  an
ancient cookstove,  smaller than the old-fashioned kitchen range. Sitting on
its  top was a coffeepot, a frying  pan, and a griple.  Hung from hooks on a
board  behind it  were other cooking implements. Opposite  the stove, shoved
against the wall,  was a three-quarter-size four-poster bed,  covered with a
lumpy quilt,  quilted  in  one  of  the ornate patterns  of  many pieces  of
many-colored  cloth,  such as had been the delight  of ladies  of  a century
before. In another corner was a table and a chair, and above the table, hung
against the wall, a small open  cupboard in which  were stacked some dishes.
On the table  stood a kerosene lantern, battered from much  usage, but  with
its chimney clean, as if it had been washed and polished as recently as this
morning.
     There was no door into the house, no sign there  had ever been  a door.
The clapboard of the house's outer wall ran unbroken to form the fourth wall
of the shed.
     This was incredible,  Lewis told  himself-that there should be no door,
that Wallace should live here, in this shed, when there was a  house to live
in.  As  if there were some reason he should not  occupy the house, and  yet
must stay close by it.  Or perhaps  that he might be living out a penance of
some sort, living here in this shed as a medieval hermit might have lived in
a woodland hut or in a desert cave.
     He stood in  the center of the shed  and looked around him, hoping that
he might find some clue to this unusual circumstance. But there was nothing,
beyond  the  bare,  hard  fact  of living,  the very  basic  necessities  of
living-the stove to cook his food and  heat the place, the bed to sleep  on,
the table to eat on, and the lantern  for its light. Not even so much  as an
extra hat (although, come to  think of it, Wallace never wore  a hat)  or an
extra coat.
     No sign of magazines or  papers, and Wallace  never came home from  the
mailbox empty-handed. He  subscribed to  the New York Times, the Wall Street
Journal, the Christian Science Monitor,  and the Washington Star, as well as
many scientific and technical journals. But there was no sign of  them here,
nor of the many books he bought. No sign, either, of the bound record books.
Nothing at all on which a man could write.
     Perhaps, Lewis told himself,  this  shed, for some baffling reason, was
no more than a show place, a place staged most  carefully to  make one think
that this  was where Wallace  lived. Perhaps,  after  all,  he lived  in the
house. Although,  if that  were the  case, why  all  this  effort,  not  too
successful, to make one think he didn't?
     Lewis turned to the door and walked out of the shed. He went around the
house until he reached the porch that led up to the front door.  At the foot
of the steps, he stopped and looked around. The place was quiet. The sun was
midmorning-high and the day was warming up and this sheltered corner  of the
earth stood relaxed and hushed, waiting for the heat.
     He looked at his watch and he had forty minutes left, so he went up the
steps and across the porch until he came to the door. Reaching out his hand,
he grasped the knob  and turned-except  he  didn't turn  it; the knob stayed
exactly where  it  was  and his clenched fingers went half around  it in the
motion of a turn.
     Puzzled, he tried again and still he didn't turn the knob. It was as if
the knob was covered  with some  hard, slick coating, like a coat of brittle
ice, on which the fingers slipped without exerting any pressure on the knob.
He  bent  his head close to  the knob and tried  to see  if  there  were any
evidence of coating,  and there was  no evidence. The knob  looked perfectly
all right-too  all right, perhaps. For it was clean, as if someone had wiped
and polished it. There was no dust upon it, and no weather specks.
     He tried a thumbnail on  it, and the thumbnail slipped but left no mark
behind it. He ran his palm over the outer surface of the  door  and the wood
was slick. The rubbing of  the palm set up  no friction. The palm slid along
the wood as if the palm were greased, but there was no sign of grease. There
was no indication of anything to account for the slickness of the door.
     Lewis  moved from  the door to the clapboard and the clapboard also was
slick. He tried palm and thumbnail on it and the answer was the same.  There
was  something covering this house which made it slick and  smooth-so smooth
that dust could not cling upon its surface nor could weather stain it.
     He moved  along  the  porch until he  came  to a window, and now, as he
stood  facing the window, he realized  something he had not  noticed before,
something  that helped make  the house seem gaunter than  it really was. The
windows were black. There were no  curtains, no drapes, no shades; they were
simply  black rectangles, like empty  eyes staring out of the  bare skull of
the house.
     He moved  closer  to the window and  put his face up to it, shading the
sides of his face, next to the eyes, with his upheld hands to shield out the
sunlight.  But even  so,  he could not see into the room  beyond. He stared,
instead, into a pool  of blackness, and the blackness, curiously enough, had
no reflective qualities. He could not see himself reflected in the glass. He
could see  nothing but the blackness, as if the light hit the window and was
absorbed  by it, sucked in  and held by it.  There was no  bouncing back  of
light once it had hit that window.
     He left  the porch and went slowly around the house, examining it as he
went. The  windows were  all blank,  black pools that sucked in the captured
light, and all the exterior was slick and hard.
     He pounded the clapboard with his fist, and it was like the pounding of
a rock. He examined the stone walls of the basement where they were exposed,
and  the walls  were smooth  and slick.  There were mortar gaps between  the
stones and in the stones themselves  one could see uneven  surfaces, but the
hand rubbed across the wall could detect no roughness.
     An invisible something had been laid over  the roughness of the  stone,
just enough of it to fill in the pits and uneven surfaces. But one could not
detect it. It was almost as if it had no substance.
     Straightening up from his  examination of the wall, Lewis looked at his
watch. There were only ten minutes left. He must be getting on.
     He walked down the  hill toward the tangle of  old orchard. At its edge
he stopped and looked back,  and now the  house was  different.  It  was  no
longer just a structure. It wore a personality, a mocking, leering look, and
there was a malevolent chuckle bubbling inside of it, ready to break out.
     Lewis ducked  into the  orchard and worked his way in among  the trees.
There was no path and  beneath the trees the grass  and weeds  grew tall. He
ducked the drooping branches and walked around a tree that had been uprooted
in some windstorm of many years before.
     He  reached  up  as he  went along, picking an apple  here  and  there,
scrubby things and sour, taking a single bite out of each  one of them, then
throwing it away, for there was none of them that was fit to eat, as if they
might have taken from the neglected soil a certain basic bitterness.
     At  the far  side of the orchard he found the fence and the graves that
it enclosed. Here  the weeds and grass were not so high and the fence showed
signs  of  repair made  rather  recently,  and at  the foot  of  each grave,
opposite the three crude native limestone headstones, was a peony bush, each
a great straggling mass of plants that had grown, undisciplined, for years.
     Standing before the weathered picketing,  he  knew that he had stumbled
on the Wallace family burial plot.
     But there should have been only the two stones. What about the third?
     He moved  around the fence to the sagging  gate and went into the plot.
Standing at the foot  of  the graves, he read the legends on the stones. The
carving was  angular and  rough,  giving evidence of having been executed by
unaccustomed  hands.  There  were  no pious phrases,  no lines  of verse, no
carvings of angels or of lambs or of other symbolic figures such as had been
customary in the 1 860s. There were just the names and dates.
     On the first stone: Amanda Wallace 1821-1863
     And on the second stone: Jedediah Wallace 1816-1866
     And on the third stone-


     "Give me that pencil, please," said Lewis.
     Hardwicke quit rolling it between his palms and banded it across.
     "Paper, too?" he asked.
     "If you please," said Lewis.
     He bent above the desk and drew rapidly.
     "Here," he said, handing back the paper.
     Hardwicke wrinkled his brow.
     "But it makes no sense," he said. "Except for that figure underneath."
     "The  figure  eight,  lying on  its side. Yes, I  know. The symbol  for
infinity."
     "But the rest of it?"
     "I don't know," said Lewis. "it is the  inscription on the tombstone. I
copied it ..."
     "And you know it now by heart."
     "I should. I've studied it enough."
     "I've  never  seen  anything like it in my  life," said Hardwicke. "Not
that I'm an authority. I really know little at all in this field."
     "You can put your mind at rest. It's nothing that anyone knows anything
about.  It bears no  resemblance, not even  the remotest, to any language or
any known inscription. I checked with men who  know. Not one, but a dozen of
them. I told them I'd found it on a rocky cliff. I am sure that most of them
think  I am a crackpot. One of those people who are trying to prove that the
Romans  or the  Phoenicians  or  the  Irish  or  whatnot  had  pre-Colombian
settlements in America."
     Hardwicke put down the sheet of paper.
     "I  can  see what  you  mean,"  he  said, "when you say  you have  more
questions  now than when you started. Not only  the question of a young  man
more than  a century old, but likewise  the  matter of  the slickness of the
house  and the third gravestone with the undecipherable inscription. You say
you've never talked with Wallace?"
     "No  one talks to him. Except  the  mailman.  He goes out  on his daily
walks and he packs this gun."
     "People are afraid to talk with him?"
     "Because of the gun, you mean."
     "Well, yes, I  suppose that was in the back  of my mind. I wondered why
he carried it."
     Lewis shook his  head. "I don't know.  I've tried to tie it in, to find
some reason he always has it with him. He has never  fired the rifle  so far
as I can  find. But I  don't think the rifle is the reason no one talks with
him. He's an anachronism, something  living  from another age. No one  fears
him, I am sure of that. He's been around  too long for  anyone  to fear him.
Too familiar. He's a fixture of the land, like a tree or boulder. And yet no
one feels quite comfortable with  him, either. I would  imagine that most of
them, if they should come face to  face with him, would feel  uncomfortable.
For he's something they are not-something greater than they are  and  at the
same time a good deal less. As if he were a man who had walked away from his
own humanity. I think  that, secretly, many of  his neighbors may  be  a bit
ashamed  of  him,  shamed   because   he  has,  somehow,  perhaps   ignobly,
side-stepped growing old, one of the penalties, but perhaps, as well, one of
the rights of all humankind. And perhaps this secret shame may contribute in
some part to their unwillingness to talk about him."
     "You spent a good deal of time watching him?"
     "There was a time I did. But now I have  a crew. They  watch on regular
shifts. We  have  a dozen spots  we  watch from, and we  keep  shifting them
around. There isn't an hour, day in, day out,  that the Wallace house  isn't
under observation."
     "This business really has you people bugged."
     "I think with reason," Lewis said. "There is still one other thing."
     He bent  over  and picked  up the brief case  he  had placed beside his
chair. Unsnapping it, he  took out a sheaf of photographs and handed them to
Hardwicke.
     "What  do  you  make of  these?" he  asked. Hardwicke  picked  them up.
Supenly he froze.  The  color drained out  of his  face. His hands began  to
tremble  and he  laid the pictures carefully on the  desk.  He had looked at
only the top one; not any of the others.
     Lewis saw the question in his face.
     "In the grave," he said. "The one beneath the headstone  with the funny
writing."


     The message machine  whistled shrilly, and  Enoch Wallace put away  the
book in which he had been writing and got up from his desk. He walked across
the room to the whistling machine. He punched a button and shoved a  key and
the whistling stopped.
     The machine built up its  hum  and the  message began  to form  on  the
plate,  faint at first and then becoming darker  until it stood out clearly.
It read:
     NO. 406301 TO STATION 18327. TRAVELER AT 16097.38. NATIVE THUBAN VI. NO
BAGGAGE.  NO.  3  LIQUID  TANK.  SOLUTION  27. DEPART FOR STATION  12892  AT
16439.16.
     CONFIRM.
     Enoch glanced up at the great galactic chronometer hanging on the wall.
There was almost three hours to go.
     He touched  a button,  and  a thin  sheet of metal  bearing the message
protruded from the side of the machine. Beneath it the duplicate  fed itself
into the record  file. The machine chuckled and the message plate was  clear
once more and waiting.
     Enoch pulled out the  metal plate, threaded the holes in it through the
double  filing spindle  and then  dropped  his  fingers to the keyboard  and
typed: NO. 406301 RECEIVED. CONFIRM MOMENTARILY. The message came into being
on the plate and he left it there.
     Thuban VI?  Had there been, he wondered, one of them before? As soon as
he got the chores done, he would go to the filing cabinet and check.
     It  was  a  liquid  tank case  and  those, as  a  rule,  were the  most
uninteresting  of  all.   They  usually  were  hard  ones  to  strike  up  a
conversation  with, because too  often  their  concept of  language was  too
difficult to handle. And as often, too, their very thinking processes proved
too divergent to provide much common ground for communication.
     Although, he  recalled, that was not always true.  There  had been that
tank traveler several years ago, from somewhere in Hydra (or had it been the
Hyades?), he'd sat up  the whole night with and almost failed of sending off
on  time, yarning through the hours, their communication (you couldn't  call
it words) tumbling over one another as they packed into the little time they
had a lot of fellowship and, perhaps, some brotherhood.
     He, or she,  or  it-they'd  never got around to that- had not come back
again. And that was the  way it was,  thought  Enoch; very few came back. By
far the greater part of them were just passing through.
     But he had he, or she,  or it (whichever it might be) down in black and
white, as he  had  all of  them,  every single blessed  one of them, down in
black  and  white.  It had  taken  him, he  remembered,  almost  the  entire
following day,  crouched  above his desk, to get it  written down;  all  the
stories he'd  been  told,  all  the glimpses  he  had  caught  of a  far and
beautiful  and tantalizing land (tantalizing because there was so much of it
he  could not understand), all  the warmth  and comradeship that  had flowed
between himself and this  misshapen, twisted, ugly living being from another
world. And  any  time he wished, any day he wished, he could  take down  the
journal  from the  row  of journals and relive that night again. Although he
never had. It  was strange, he thought,  how there was never  time, or never
seemed  to  be the  time, to  thumb through and  reread in  part  what  he'd
recorded through the years.
     He turned from the message machine and rolled a No. 3 liquid  tank into
place  beneath the  materializer, positioning it exactly and locking  it  in
place. Then he pulled out the retracting hose and thumbed the  selector over
to No. 27. He filled the tank and let the hose slide back into the wall.
     Back at the machine, he cleared the plate and sent off his confirmation
that  all  was  ready  for  the  traveler  from   Thuban,  got  back  double
confirmation from the other end, then threw the machine to neutral, ready to
receive again.
     He went from the machine to the filing cabinet that stood  next to  his
desk and pulled out a drawer jammed with filing cards. He looked and  Thuban
VI  was there,  keyed to  August 22, 1931.  He walked across the room to the
wall filled with books and rows of magazines and journals, filled from floor
to ceiling, and found the record book he wanted. Carrying it, he walked back
to his desk.
     August  22, 1931, he found, when he  located the entry, had been one of
his lighter days. There had been one  traveler only, the one from Thuban VI.
And  although the  entry  for the day  filled almost  a page  in his  small,
crabbed writing, he had devoted no more than one paragraph to the visitor.
     Came today [it read] a  blob from Thuban VI.  There is  no other way in
which  one  might describe  it. It is simply a mass of matter, presumably of
flesh, and this  mass  seems to  go through some sort of rhythmic change  in
shape, for periodically it is globular, then begins  to flatten out until it
lies  in  the bottom of the tank, somewhat like a pancake. Then it begins to
contract and  to pull in upon itself, until finally it is a ball again. This
change is rather slow and definitely rhythmic, but only in the sense that it
follows  the  same pattern. It seems to have  no  relation to time.  I tried
timing  it and could detect no time pattern. The  shortest period needed  to
complete the cycle was seven  minutes and the  longest was eighteen. Perhaps
over a longer period one might be able to detect a time rhythm, but I didn't
have the time. The semantic translator did not work with it, but it did emit
for me a series of  sharp clicks, as if it might be clicking claws together,
although it  had no claws  that I could see.  When I looked  this up  in the
pasimology manual I learned that what  it was trying to say was that it  was
all right, that it needed no attention, and please leave it  alone.  Which I
did thereafter.
     And at the end of the paragraph, jammed into  the little space that had
been left, was the notation: See Oct. 16, 1931.
     He turned the pages until he came  to  October 16 and that had been one
of the days, he saw, that Ulysses had arrived to inspect the station.
     His name, of course, was  not Ulysses. As  a matter of fact,  he had no
name at  all. Among his  people there was no need of names;  there was other
identifying terminology which  was  far more expressive than mere names. But
this terminology, even the very concept of it, was such that it could not be
grasped, much less put to use, by human beings.
     "I shall call you Ulysses," Enoch recalled telling  him, the first time
they had met. "I need to call you something."
     "It is agreeable," said the then strange being (but no longer strange).
"Might one ask why the name Ulysses?"
     "Because it is the name of a great man of my race."
     "I  am  glad you  chose  it," said  the newly christened being.  "To my
hearing  it has a dignified and  noble sound and, between the  two of us,  I
shall be  glad to bear  it.  And I  shall call you Enoch, for the  two of us
shall work together for many of your years."
     And it had been many years, thought Enoch, with the record book open to
that October  entry of  more  than thirty  years  ago. Years  that had  been
satisfying and enriching in a  way that one could not have imagined until it
had all been laid out before him.
     And it would go on, he  thought,  much  longer than it already had gone
on-for many centuries more, for a thousand years, perhaps. And at the end of
that thousand years, what would he know then?
     Although,  perhaps, he thought, the  knowing was not the most important
part of it.
     And none of it, he knew, might come to pass, for there was interference
now. There were watchers, or at least a watcher, and before too long whoever
it might  be  might start  closing  in. What he'd  do or  how  he'd meet the
threat,  he  had no idea until that moment  came. It was something  that had
been almost bound to happen. It was something he had been  prepared to  have
happen  all these years. There  was  some reason to wonder, he knew, that it
had not happened sooner.
     He had told Ulysses of the danger of it that first day they'd met. He'd
been sitting on the steps that led up to the porch,  and thinking of it now,
he could remember it as clearly as if it had been only yesterday.


     He was sitting on the steps and  it was late afternoon. He was watching
the great white thunderheads that were piling up across the river beyond the
Iowa hills. The day was hot and sultry and there  was not a breath of moving
air. Out  in  the  barnyard  a half  a dozen  bedraggled  chickens scratched
listlessly, for the sake,  it  seemed, of going through  the  motions rather
than  from any hope of  finding food. The sound of  the sparrows'  wings, as
they flew between the gable of the  barn and the hedge  of  honeysuckle that
bordered the  field  beyond the road, was a  harsh,  dry  sound,  as  if the
feathers of their wings had grown stiff with heat.
     And here he sat, he thought, staring at the thunderheads when there was
work to do-corn to be plowed and  hay to  be gotten in and wheat to reap and
shock.
     For despite whatever might have happened, a man still  had  a  life  to
live, days to  be gotten through the  best that one could manage.  It  was a
lesson, he reminded himself, that he should have learned in all its fullness
in  the  last  few  years. But  war,  somehow, was  different from what  had
happened here. In war  you  knew  it and expected  it and were ready when it
happened,  but  this  was not the  war. This was  the peace  to which he had
returned.  A man had  a  right  to expect  that in the world of  peace there
really would be peace fencing out the violence and the horror.
     Now he was alone, as  he'd never been alone before. Now, if ever, could
be  a new  beginning; now, perhaps, there had  to be a  new  beginning.  But
whether it was  here, on  the homestead  acres,  or in some other  place, it
still would be a beginning of bitterness and anguish.
     He sat on the steps, with his wrists resting on his knees, and  watched
the thunderheads piling in the west. It might mean  rain  and the land could
use the rain-or it might be nothing, for above the merging river valleys the
air currents were erratic and  there was no way a man could tell where those
clouds might flow.
     He did not see the traveler  until  he turned in at the  gate. He was a
tall  and gangling one and his clothes were dusty and from the appearance of
him  he had walked a far way.  He came up the path and Enoch sat waiting for
him, watching him, but not stirring from the steps.
     "Good day, sir," Enoch finally said. "It's a hot day to be walking. Why
don't you sit a while."
     "Quite willingly,"  said  the  stranger. "But first,  I wonder, could I
have a drink of water?"
     Enoch got up to his feet. "Come along," he said. "I'll pump a fresh one
for you."
     He went down across the barnyard until he reached the pump. He unhooked
the dipper from where it hung upon  a bolt  and handed  it  to the  man.  He
grasped the handle of the pump and worked it up and down.
     "Let  it  run a while," he  said. "It takes a time for it to  get  real
cool."
     The water splashed out of the spout,  running on the boards that formed
the cover of the well. It came in spurts as Enoch worked the handle.
     "Do you think," the stranger asked, "that it is about to rain?"
     "A man can't tell," said Enoch. "We have to wait and see."
     There was something about  this traveler that  disturbed  him. Nothing,
actually, that one could put a finger on, but a certain strangeness that was
vaguely disquieting. He  watched him narrowly as he  pumped and decided that
probably  this  stranger's ears were just a bit too pointed at  the top, but
put it  down to his imagination, for when  he looked again they seemed to be
all right.
     "I think," said Enoch, "that the water should be cold by now."
     The traveler put  down the dipper and waited for it to fill. He offered
it to Enoch. Enoch shook his head.
     "You first. You need it worse than I do."
     The stranger drank greedily and with much slobbering.
     "Another one?" asked Enoch.
     "No, thank you,"  said the stranger. "But I'll catch  another dipperful
for you if you wish me to."
     Enoch pumped, and when  the dipper was full  the stranger handed  it to
him. The water was cold and Enoch, realizing for the first time  that he had
been thirsty, drank it almost to the bottom.
     He hung  the dipper back on its bolt and said to the  man,  "Now, let's
get in that sitting."
     The stranger grinned.  "I could do with  some  of  it," he  said. Enoch
pulled  a red bandanna from his  pocket and mopped  his face. "The  air gets
close," he said, "just before a rain."
     And as he mopped his face, quite supenly  he knew what it was that  had
disturbed him about  the  traveler. Despite his bedraggled  clothes and  his
dusty  shoes,  which attested  to long  walking,  despite  the heat of  this
time-before-a-rain, the stranger  was not sweating. He appeared as fresh and
cool as if he had been lying at his ease beneath a tree in springtime.
     Enoch put the bandanna back into his pocket and they walked back to the
steps and sat there, side by side.
     "You've traveled a far way," said Enoch, gently prying.
     "Very far, indeed,"  the  stranger told  him. "I'm a right  smart piece
from home."
     "And you have a far way yet to go?"
     "No,"  the stranger  said, "I believe that  I  have gotten to the place
where I am going."
     "You mean  ..."  asked  Enoch,  and left  the question hanging. "I mean
right here," said the stranger, "sitting on these steps. I have been looking
for a man and I think that man is  you. I did not know his name nor where to
look for him, but yet I knew that one day I would find him."
     "But me," Enoch said, astonished. "Why should you look for me?"
     "I was  looking  for a man of  many different parts.  One of the things
about him was that he must have looked  up at  the  stars and wondered  what
they were."
     "Yes,"  said Enoch, "that  is something I  have  done. On many  nights,
camping in the  field, I have lain in my blankets and looked  up at the sky,
looking at the stars and wondering what they were and how they'd been put up
there and, most important  of all,  why they  had been put  up there. I have
heard some say that each of them  is another sun like the sun that shines on
Earth,  but  I don't know about that. I guess  there is no one who knows too
much about them."
     "There are some," the stranger said, "who know a deal about them."
     "You, perhaps," said Enoch, mocking just a little, for the stranger did
not look like a man who'd know much of anything.
     "Yes, I," the stranger  said. "Although I do not know  as much  as many
others do."
     "I've sometimes  wondered," Enoch said, "if  the stars are  other suns,
might there not be other planets and other people, too."
     He remembered sitting around the  campfire of a  night, jawing with the
other fellows to pass  away the time.  And once he'd  mentioned this idea of
maybe other people  on other planets circling other suns and the fellows all
had jeered him and for days afterward had made fun  of him, so he  had never
mentioned it again. Not that it mattered much,  for he had no real belief in
it himself; it had never been more than campfire speculation.
     And now he'd  mentioned it again and  to an utter stranger. He wondered
why he had.
     "You believe that?" asked the stranger.
     Enoch said, "It was just an idle notion."
     "Not  so idle,"  said the stranger. "There  are other planets and there
are other people. I am one of them."
     "But you ..." cried Enoch, then was stricken into silence.
     For the stranger's face had split and began to fall away and beneath it
he caught the glimpse of another face that was not a human face.
     And even as the false human face sloughed  off that other face, a great
sheet  of lightning  went crackling  across the sky and the heavy  crash  of
thunder seemed to shake the land and from far off he heard the  rushing rain
as it charged across the hills.


     That was how it started, Enoch thought, almost a hundred years ago. The
campfire  fantasy  had  turned into fact and the  Earth  now was on galactic
charts, a  way station  for many  different peoples  traveling star to star.
Strangers once, but now there  were no strangers. There were  no such things
as strangers. In whatever  form,  with  whatever purpose,  all of  them were
people.
     He looked back  at the  entry for October 16, 1931, and  ran through it
swiftly. There, near the end of it was the sentence:
     Ulysses  says  the Thubans  from  planet VI are  perhaps  the  greatest
mathematicians in the galaxy. They  have  developed,  it seems, a numeration
system superior to any in existence, especially valuable in the handling  of
statistics.
     He  closed  the  book  and sat quietly in  the  chair, wondering if the
statisticians  of  Mizar X knew of the Thubans' work.  Perhaps they did,  he
thought, for certainly some of the math they used was unconventional.
     He  pushed  the  record book to  one side and dug into  a  desk drawer,
bringing out his chart. He spread it flat on the desk before him and puzzled
over it. If  he  could  be sure,  he thought. If  he  only  knew  the  Mizar
statistics  better.  For the last ten years  or more he had labored  at  the
chart,  checking and rechecking  all the factors against  the  Mizar system,
testing  again and again to determine whether the factors he  was using were
the ones he should be using.
     He raised a clenched fist and hammered at the desk. If he only could be
certain. If  he could only talk with someone.  But  that  had been something
that he had  shrank from  doing, for  it would be equivalent to showing  the
very nakedness of the human race.
     He still was human. Funny, he thought, that he should  stay human, that
in a century of association with these  beings from the many stars he should
have, through it all, remained a man of Earth.
     For in many ways, his ties with Earth were cut. Old Winslowe  Grant was
the only human he ever talked with now. His neighbors shunned him, and there
were  no  others,  unless  one  could count  watchers,  and those  he seldom
saw-only glimpses of them, only the places they had been.
     Only old Winslowe Grant  and Mary and the other people from the  shadow
who came occasionally to spend lonely hours with him.
     That  was all of Earth he had, old Winslowe and  the  shadow people and
the homestead acres that lay outside the house-but not the house itself, for
the house was alien now.
     He shut his eyes and remembered  how  the  house had  been in the olden
days. There had been a kitchen, in this same area where he was sitting, with
the iron cook-stove, black and monstrous, in its corner,  showing its row of
fiery  teeth along  the slit made by the grate. Pushed  against the wall had
been the table where the three of them had eaten, and  he could remember how
the table  looked, with the vinegar cruet and the glass that held the spoons
and the Lazy Susan with the mustard, horseradish, and chili sauce sitting in
a group, a sort of centerpiece in the miple of the red checkered cloth  that
the table wore.
     There had been a winter night and he  had been, it seemed, no more than
three or four. His mother was busy at the stove with supper. He was  sitting
on the  floor in  the center of  the kitchen, playing with some blocks,  and
outside he could  hear  the muffled howling of the  wind as it prowled along
the  eaves. His  father had come in from milking at the barn, and a  gust of
wind and a swirl of snow had come into the room with him. Then he'd shut the
door and the wind and snow were gone,  shut outside this house, condemned to
the outer darkness and the  wilderness of night. His father had set the pail
of milk that he had been carrying on the kitchen sink and Enoch saw that his
beard and eyebrows were coated with snow and there was frost on the whiskers
all around his mouth.
     He held that picture  still, the three  of them like  historic manikins
posed  in a cabinet in a museum-his  father with the frost upon his whiskers
and the great felt boots that came up to his knees; his mother with her face
flushed from working at the stove and  with the lace  cap upon her head, and
himself upon the floor, playing with the blocks.
     There was one other thing that he remembered, perhaps more clearly than
all the rest of it. There was a great  lamp sitting on the table, and on the
wall behind it hung  a  calendar,  and  the glow of  the  lamp fell  like  a
spotlight  upon  the  picture  on  the calendar. There was  old Santa Claus,
riding in  his  sleigh along a  woodland  track and all the little  woodland
people had turned out to watch him pass. A  great moon hung above the  trees
and there was thick snow on the ground. A  pair of rabbits sat there, gazing
soulfully at Santa, and a deer beside  the  rabbits,  with a raccoon  just a
little distance off, ringed  tail wrapped about his feet, and a squirrel and
chickadee side by side upon  an overhanging  branch. Old Santa had his  whip
raised high in greeting and his cheeks were red and his smile was  merry and
the reindeer hitched to his sled were fresh and spirited and proud.
     Through  all the years this mid-nineteenth-century Santa had ripen down
the snowy aisles of time, with his whip  uplifted in  happy greeting to  the
woodland  creatures. And the golden  lamplight  had  ripen with  him,  still
bright upon the wall and the checkered tablecloth.
     So, thought Enoch, some things do endure-the memory and the thought and
the snug warmness of a childhood kitchen on a stormy winter night.
     But  the endurance was of the  spirit and  the  mind, for nothing  else
endured.  There  was  no  kitchen  now,  nor   any  sitting  room  with  its
old-fashioned sofa and  the  rocking  chair; no back  parlor with its stuffy
elegance of brocade and  silk, no  guest bedroom on the first and no  family
bedrooms on the second floor.
     It all was gone  and  now one room remained. The second-story floor and
all partitions had been stripped away. Now the house was one great room. One
side of  it was the galactic station and the other side the living space for
the  keeper  of the station. There was a bed  over in one corner and a stove
that worked on  no principle known on Earth and  a refrigerator that was  of
alien  make.  The walls  were lined with cabinets and shelves,  stacked with
magazines and books and journals.
     There was  just one thing left from the early days, the one thing Enoch
had not allowed the alien crew that had set up the station to strip away-the
massive old fireplace of brick  and native stone  that had stood against one
wall of the sitting room. It still stood there, the one reminder of the days
of old, the one thing left of Earth, with its great, scarred oak mantel that
his father had carved out with a broadax from a massive log and had smoothed
by hand with plane and draw-shave.
     On the fireplace mantel and strewn on shelf and table were articles and
artifacts that  had no earthly origin  and some no  earthly names-the steady
accumulation through the years of the gifts from friendly travelers.
     Some of them were functional and others were to look at only, and there
were  other  things  that  were  entirely useless  because they  had  little
application to a member of the human race or  were  inoperable on Earth, and
many  others  of  the  purpose  of  which  he  had no  idea, accepting them,
embarrassed, with many stumbling thanks, from the well-meaning folks who had
brought them to him.
     And  on the  other  side of  the  room  stood  the  intricate  mass  of
machinery,  reaching  well  up into  the  open  second  story,  that  wafted
passengers through the space that stretched from star to star.
     An inn, he thought, a stopping place, a galactic crossroads.
     He rolled up the chart and put it  back into the desk. The  record book
he put  away in  its proper place among  all the other record books upon the
shelf.
     He glanced at the galactic clock upon the wall and it was time to go.
     He pushed the chair tight against the desk and shrugged into the jacket
that hung upon the chair back.  He  picked  the rifle  off the supports that
held it on the wall  and then he faced  the  wall itself and said the single
word that he had to  say. The wall slid back silently and he stepped through
it into  the little shed with its sparse furnishings. Behind him the section
of  the  wall  slid back  and there was  nothing  there  to indicate it  was
anything but a solid wall.
     Enoch stepped out of  the shed and it  was a beautiful late summer day.
In a few weeks now, he thought, there'd be the signs of autumn and a strange
chill in  the air. The first goldenrods were  blooming now and he'd noticed,
just the day before, that some of the early asters down in the ancient fence
row had started to show color.
     He went  around  the corner of the house and headed  toward  the river,
striding down the long deserted  field that was overrun with hazel brush and
occasional clumps of trees.
     This was  the Earth, he thought-a planet made for Man. But  not for Man
alone, for it  was as  well a planet for the fox and owl and weasel, for the
snake, the katydid, the fish, for all the other teeming life that filled the
air and earth and  water. And not these natives  alone, but for other beings
that  called other  earths  their  home, other  planets that far light-years
distant were basically the same as Earth. For Ulysses and the Hazers and all
the  rest of them  who  could live upon  this  planet,  if  need be, if they
wished, with no discomfort and no artificial aids.
     Our horizons are so far, he thought, and we see so little of them. Even
now, with  flaming rockets  striving  from Canaveral  to  break the  ancient
bonds, we dream so little of them.
     The ache was  there, the ache that had been growing, the  ache  to tell
all mankind those things that  he had  learned.  Not  so  much the  specific
things,  although there were  some of them that  mankind well could use, but
the general things, the unspecific central fact that  there was intelligence
throughout the universe, that  Man was not  alone, that if he only found the
way he need never be alone again.
     He went down across the field and  through the strip of woods  and came
out on the great outthrust of  rock that stood atop the cliff that faced the
river. He stood there, as he had stood on thousands of other  mornings,  and
stared out at the river, sweeping in  majestic  blue-and-silverness  through
the wooded bottom land.
     Old, ancient water,  he said,  talking silently to the river,  you have
seen it  happen-the mile-high faces of the glaciers that came and stayed and
left,  creeping  back  toward  the pole inch by stubborn inch,  carrying the
melting water  from those  very glaciers in a flood that filled  this valley
with a tide such as now is never known; the  mastodon and the sabertooth and
the  bear-sized  beaver that ranged these olden hills  and  made  the  night
clamorous  with trumpeting and screaming; the silent little bands of men who
trotted  in the woods  or clambered up the cliffs or papled on your surface,
woods-wise and water-wise,  weak in  body, strong in purpose, and persistent
in a way no other thing ever was persistent, and just a little time ago that
other  breed of  men who carried  dreams within their skulls  and cruelty in
their  hands  and the awful  sureness of an even greater  purpose  in  their
hearts. And before that, for this is ancient  country beyond what  is  often
found, the other kinds of life and the many turns of climate and the changes
that  came upon the Earth  itself. And what think  you  of it? he  asked the
river. For yours is the memory and the  perspective and the time and by  now
you should have the answers, or at least some of the answers.
     As Man might have some of the answers  had he lived for several million
years-as he  might  have the  answers  several million years from  this very
summer morning if be still should be around.
     I could help, thought Enoch. I could not  give  the answers but I could
help Man in his scramble after them. I could give  him faith and  hope and I
could give purpose such as he has not had before.
     But he knew he dare not do it.
     Far below  a hawk swung in lazy circles above the highway of the river.
The air was  so clear that Enoch imagined, if he strained his eyes a little,
he could see every feather in those outspread wings.
     There was  almost  a fairy  quality to  this place, he thought. The far
look and  the clear air and the feeling of detachment that touched almost on
greatness  of  the spirit.  As if  this were  a special place, one of  those
special places that each man must seek out for himself, and count himself as
lucky  if he ever found it, for there  were those who sought and never found
it. And worst of all, there were even those who never hunted for it.
     He stood upon the rock  and stared out across the river,  watching  the
lazy hawk  and the sweep of water and the green  carpeting of trees, and his
mind went up and out to those other places until his mind was dizzy with the
thought of it. And then he called it home.
     He turned slowly and  went back down  the  rock and moved off among the
trees, following the path he'd beaten through the years.
     He considered going down the hill a way to look in on the patch of pink
lady's-slippers,  to  see how they might be coming, to try to conjure up the
beauty that would  be his again in June, but decided  that there'd be little
point  to  it, for they were  well hipen in an isolated  place,  and nothing
could have harmed  them. There had  been a time, a  hundred years ago,  when
they had bloomed on every hill  and  he had  come trailing  home with  great
armloads of them, which his mother had put in the great  brown jug she  had,
and  for a day  or two the house had been filled with the heaviness of their
rich  perfume. But  they were  hard  to come by now. The  trampling  of  the
pastured cattle and flower-hunting humans had swept them from the hills.
     Some other day, he told himself,  some day before first frost, he would
visit them again and satisfy himself that they'd be there in the spring.
     He stopped a  while to watch a squirrel as it  frolicked in  an oak. He
squatted  down to follow  a  snail  which had  crossed  his path. He stopped
beside a massive tree and examined that pattern of the  moss  that grew upon
the trunk. And he traced the wanderings of a silent, flitting songbird as it
fluttered tree to tree.
     He followed the path out of the woods and along the edge of field until
he came to the spring that bubbled from the hillside.
     Sitting  beside  the spring was  a woman and he recognized her as  Lucy
Fisher, the deaf-mute daughter of Hank  Fisher, who lived  down in the river
bottoms.
     He stopped  and watched  her and  thought how full she was of grace and
beauty, the natural grace and beauty of a primitive and lonely creature.
     She was sitting by the spring and one hand was uplifted and she held in
it, at the  tips of  long and sensitive fingers,  something that glowed with
color. Her head was held high, with a sharp look of  alertness, and her body
was straight and slender, and it also had that almost startled look of quiet
alertness.
     Enoch moved slowly forward and stopped not  more than three feet behind
her,  and  now  he  saw  that  the thing  of  color  on her fingertips was a
butterfly, one of those large  gold and red butterflies  that  come with the
end  of  summer.  One wing of the insect stood erect  and  straight, but the
other was bent and crumpled and had lost some of  the dust that lent sparkle
to the color.
     She was, he saw, not actually holding the butterfly. It was standing on
one fingertip, the one good wing fluttering very slightly every now and then
to maintain its balance.
     But he had been mistaken, he saw, in thinking  that the second wing was
injured, for  now  he could see that somehow  it had  been  simply  bent and
distorted in some way. For now it was straightening slowly and the dust  (if
it ever had been gone) was back on it again, and it was standing up with the
other wing.
     He stepped around  the girl so that she could see  him and when she saw
him  there  was no  start  of  surprise. And that, he  knew  would  be quite
natural, for she  must be accustomed to it-someone coming up behind her  and
supenly being there.
     Her eyes were radiant  and there was, he  thought, a holy look upon her
face,  as  if  she  had experienced some  ecstasy of  the soul. And he found
himself  wondering again,  as he did each time  he saw  her, what it must be
like for her,  living in a world of  two-way silence, unable to communicate.
Perhaps not entirely  unable to  communicate, but  at least barred from that
free flow of communication which was the birthright of the human animal.
     There  had been, he knew, several attempts  to establish her in a state
school for the deaf,  but each  had been  a failure. Once she'd run away and
wandered  days before being finally found and  returned  to her home. And on
other occasions she had gone on disobedience strikes, refusing to co-operate
in any of the teaching.
     Watching her as she sat there with the butterfly, Enoch thought he knew
the reason. She  had  a  world, he  thought, a world of her very own, one to
which she was accustomed and knew how to get along in. In that world she was
no  cripple, as she  most surely would have been a cripple  if she had  been
pushed, part way, into the normal human world.
     What good to her the hand alphabet or  the reading of  the lips if they
should take from her some strange inner serenity of spirit?
     She was  a creature of  the woods  and hills, of springtime  flower and
autumn flight of birds. She knew  these things and  lived with them and was,
in some strange way, a specific part of them. She was one who dwelt apart in
an old  and lost  apartment of the natural world. She occupied a place  that
Man long since had abandoned, if, in fact, he'd ever held it.
     And there she sat, with  the wild red and gold  of the butterfly poised
upon her finger, with the  sense  of alertness and  expectancy and, perhaps,
accomplishment  shining on her face. She  was  alive,  thought  Enoch, as no
other thing he knew had ever been alive.
     The butterfly  spread its wings  and  floated off her finger  and  went
fluttering,  unconcerned,  unfrightened, up  across  the wild  grass and the
goldenrod of the field.
     She pivoted  to watch it  until it disappeared near the top of the hill
up which the old  field  climbed, then she turned to Enoch.  She smiled  and
made a fluttery motion with  her hands, like the fluttering  of  the red and
golden wings,  but there  was  something  else  in  it, as  well-a  sense of
happiness  and an expression of well-being, as if  she might be saying  that
the world was going fine.
     If, Enoch thought, I could only teach her the pasimology of my galactic
people-then we could talk, the two of us, almost as well as with the flow of
words on the human tongue. Given the time, he thought, it might  not  be too
hard, for  there was a  natural  and a logical process to  the galactic sign
language that made it almost instinctive once  one had caught the underlying
principle.
     Throughout the Earth  as well, in  the  early days; there had been sign
languages,  and  none so well developed as that one which obtained among the
aborigines of North  America, so  that  an  Amerindian, no matter  what  his
tongue, could express himself among many other tribes.
     But even so the sign language of the Indian was, at best, a crutch that
allowed a man to hobble when he couldn't run. Whereas that of the galaxy was
in itself  a  language, adaptable  to many  different  means and methods  of
expression. It had  been  developed through  millennia, with many  different
peoples making contributions, and through the  centuries it had been refined
and shaken down and polished until  today it was  a communications tool that
stood on its own merits.
     There was need  for such a tool,  for  the  galaxy was Babel. Even  the
galactic science of pasimology, polished as it might be, could  not surmount
all the obstacles, could not guarantee, in  certain cases, the basic minimum
of communication.  For  not only were there millions of tongues,  but  those
other languages as  well which  could not  operate on the principle of sound
because  the races were incapable of  sound. And even sound itself failed of
efficiency when  the race talked in ultrasonics others could not hear. There
was telepathy, of course, but for every telepath there were a thousand races
that had telepathic blocks. There were many who  got along on sign languages
alone and others  who  could  communicate  only by a written or pictographic
system, including some  who  carried chemical  blackboards  built into their
bodies.  And there was  that sightless, deaf, and  speechless  race from the
mystery stars of  the far side of the galaxy who used what was  perhaps  the
most complicated of  all the galactic  languages-a  code of  signals  routed
along their nervous systems.
     Enoch had been at  the job almost a century, and even  so,  he thought,
with the aid of  the universal  sign  language and the semantic  translator,
which was  little  more  than  a pitiful (although  complicated)  mechanical
contrivance, he still was hard put at times to know what many of them said.
     Lucy  Fisher  picked  up  a  cup that was  standing by her  side-a  cup
fashioned of a strip of folded birch bark-and dipped it  in the  spring. She
held it out to Enoch and he stepped close to take it, kneeling down to drink
from it. It was not entirely water-tight,  and water ran from it down across
his arm, wetting the cuff of shirt and jacket.
     He finished drinking and handed  back the  cup. She took it in one hand
and  reached out the other,  to  brush across his forehead  with  the tip of
gentle fingers in what she might have thought of as a benediction.
     He did not speak to her. Long ago he had ceased talking to her, sensing
that the movement of  his mouth, making  sounds she could not hear, might be
embarrassing.
     Instead he put out a  hand and laid  his  broad palm against her cheek,
holding it there for a reassuring moment  as a gesture of affection. Then he
got  to his  feet and stood staring down  at her and for a moment their eyes
looked into the other's eyes and then turned away.
     He crossed the little stream that ran down from the spring and took the
trail that  led from  the forest's edge  across the  field, heading for  the
ridge. Halfway up the slope, he turned around and saw that she  was watching
him. He held up his hand  in a gesture  of farewell and her hand gestured in
reply.
     It had  been, he  recalled, twelve years or more ago that he first  had
seen her, a little fairy person of ten years or so,  a wild thing running in
the  woods. They had become  friends, he recalled,  only after a long  time,
although he saw  her often, for she  roamed the hills and valley as  if they
were a playground for her-which, of course, they were.
     Through the  years he had watched her grow and had often met her on his
daily  walks, and  between  the two of them had grown up an understanding of
the lonely and the outcast, but understanding based on  something more  than
that-on the fact that each had  a world that  was their own and  worlds that
had given  them an  insight into something  that others seldom saw. Not that
either, Enoch thought, ever told the other, or tried to  tell the other,  of
these private worlds, but the fact of these private worlds was there, in the
consciousness  of each,  providing a firm  foundation for the  building of a
friendship.
     He  recalled the  day he'd  found  her  at  the place  where  the  pink
lady's-slippers grew, just  kneeling there and looking  at them, not picking
any of  them, and how  he'd stopped beside her  and been pleased she had not
moved to pick them, knowing that in the sight of  them, the two, he and she,
had found a joy and a beauty that was beyond possession.
     He reached the ridgetop and turned down the  grass-grown road that  led
down to the mailbox.
     And he'd not been mistaken back  there, he told himself,  no matter how
it may have seemed on second look. The  butterfly's wing  had been torn  and
crumpled and drab  from the lack of dust. It had been a  crippled  thing and
then it had been whole again and had flown away.


     Winslowe Grant was on time.
     Enoch,  as  he reached the mailbox, sighted the  dust raised by his old
jalopy as it galloped along the ridge. It had been a dusty year, he thought,
as  he stood  beside the box. There had been  little  rain and the crops had
suffered.  Although, to tell the truth, there were few  crops  on  the ridge
these days. There had been a time when  comfortable small farms had existed,
almost  cheek  by jowl, all along the road,  with the barns  all red and the
houses white. But now most of the  farms had  been abandoned and  the houses
and the barns were no longer red or white, but gray and weathered wood, with
all the paint peeled off and the ridgepoles sagging and the people gone.
     It would not  be  long before  Winslowe would arrive and Enoch  settled
down to wait. The  mailman might be stopping at the  Fisher box, just around
the bend, although the Fishers, as a rule, got but little  mail, mostly just
the advertising sheets and  other junk that was  mailed out indiscriminately
to the rural boxholders. Not that it mattered to the  Fishers, for sometimes
days went by in  which they did not pick  up their mail. If it were not  for
Lucy, they perhaps would never get it, for it was mostly Lucy who thought to
pick it up.
     The Fishers  were, for a  fact, Enoch told himself, a  truly  shiftless
outfit. Their  house and  all  the  buildings  were  ready to fall  in  upon
themselves and they raised a grubby patch of corn that was drowned out, more
often  than not, by a  flood rise of the  river. They mowed some  hay  off a
bottom  meadow  and  they had a couple of raw-boned  horses and a half-dozen
scrawny  cows and a flock of chickens. They had  an old clunk of a car and a
still hipen out somewhere in the river bottoms  and  they hunted and  fished
and trapped and were generally no-account. Although, when one considered it,
they  were  not bad  neighbors.  They  tended  to  their  business and never
bothered anyone except  that periodically  they went around, the whole tribe
of them, distributing pamphlets and tracts through the neighborhood for some
obscure fundamentalist sect that Ma  Fisher had become a member of at a tent
revival meeting down in Millville several years before.
     Winslowe didn't stop  at  the Fisher box,  but came boiling  around the
bend in a cloud of dust. He braked the panting machine  to a halt and turned
off the engine.
     "Let her cool a while," he said.
     The block crackled as it started giving up its heat.
     "You made good time today," said Enoch.
     "Lots of people didn't have any mail today," said Winslowe. "Just  went
sailing past their boxes."
     He  dipped  into the pouch  on the seat beside  him  and  brought out a
bundle tied together with a bit of string for Enoch-several daily papers and
two journals.
     "You get a lot of stuff," said Winslowe, "but hardly ever letters."
     "There is no one left," said Enoch, "who would want to write to me."
     "But," said Winslowe, "you got a letter this time."
     Enoch looked,  unable to conceal  surprise, and could see the end of an
envelope peeping from between the journals.
     "A personal letter,"  said Winslowe, almost smacking his lips. "Not one
of them advertising ones. Nor a business one."
     Enoch tucked the bundle underneath his arm, beside the rifle stock.
     "Probably won't amount to much," he said.
     "Maybe not," said Winsl!we, a sly
glitter in his eyes. He pulled  a pipe  and pouch from his pocket and slowly
filled the  pipe. The engine block continued its  crackling and popping. The
sun beat down out of a cloudless sky.  The vegetation alongside the road was
coated with dust and an acrid smell rose from it.
     "Hear   that   ginseng   fellow   is   back   again,"   said  Winslowe,
conversationally, but unable to  keep out a conspiratorial tone. "Been  gone
for three, four days."
     "Maybe off to sell his sang."
     "You ask me," the mailman  said,  "he  ain't hunting sang. He's hunting
something else."
     "Been at it," Enoch said, "for a right smart time."
     "First of all," said Winslowe, "there's barely any market for the stuff
and even if there  was, there isn't any sang. Used to be a good market years
ago. Chinese  used  it for medicine, I guess. But  now there ain't  no trade
with China.  I remember when I was a boy we used to go hunting it.  Not easy
to find, even then. But most days a man could locate a little of it."
     He leaned back in the seat, puffing serenely at his pipe.
     "Funny goings on," he said.
     "I never saw the man," said Enoch.
     "Sneaking  through  the woods," said  Winslowe.  "Digging  up different
kinds of  plants.  Got  the  idea myself he maybe is  a  sort of  magic-man.
Getting stuff to make  up charms and such. Spends a  lot of his time yarning
with the Fisher tribe and  drinking up their likker. You  don't hear much of
it these days,  but I still  hold with magic.  Lots of things science  can't
explain. You take that Fisher girl, the dummy, she can charm off warts."
     "So I've heard," said Enoch.
     And more than that, he thought. She can fix a butterfly.
     Winslowe hunched forward in his seat.
     "Almost forgot," he said. "I have something else for you."
     He lifted a brown paper parcel from the floor and handed it to Enoch.
     "This ain't mail," he said. "It's something that I made for you."
     "Why, thank you," Enoch said, taking it from him.
     "Go ahead," Winslowe said, "and open it up." Enoch hesitated.
     "Ah, hell," said Winslowe, "don't be bashful."
     Enoch tore off  the paper and there it was, a full-figure  wood carving
of himself. It was in  a  blond, honey-colored wood  and  some twelve inches
tall. It shone like  golden crystal in  the sun. He  was walking,  with  his
rifle tucked  beneath his arm and  a wind was blowing,  for he  was  leaning
slightly into it and  there were wind-flutter  ripples on his jacket and his
trousers.
     Enoch gasped, then stood staring at it.
     "Wins," he  said, "that's the  most beautiful piece of work I have ever
seen."
     "Did it," said the mailman, "out of that piece of wood you gave me last
winter. Best piece of whittling  stuff I ever  ran across. Hard and  without
hardly any grain.  No danger of splitting or of nicking or of shreping. When
you make a cut,  you  make it where you want to and it stays the way you cut
it. And  it takes polish as you cut. Just rub it up a little is all you need
to do."
     "You don't know," said Enoch, "how much this means to me."
     "Over the years," the mailman  told him, "you've given me  an awful lot
of  wood.  Different  kinds  of wood no  one's ever seen before.  All of  it
top-grade stuff and beautiful. It was time I was carving something for you."
     "And you,"  said Enoch,  "have  done a  lot for me. Lugging things from
town."
     "Enoch," Winslowe  said, "I like you. I don't  know what you  are and I
ain't about to ask, but anyhow I like you."
     "I wish that I could tell you what I  am,"  said  Enoch.  "Well,"  said
Winslowe,  moving over to plant himself  behind  the wheel, "it don't matter
much what any of us are, just  so we get  along with one another. If some of
the nations  would only take a lesson  from  some  small  neighborhood  like
ours-a lesson in how to get along-the world would be a whole lot better."
     Enoch noped gravely. "It doesn't look too good, does it?"
     "It sure don't," said the mailman, starting up the car.
     Enoch stood and  watched the car move off, down the  bill,  building up
its cloud of dust as it moved along.
     Then he looked again at the wooden statuette of himself.
     It was as if the wooden figure were walking  on a hilltop, naked to the
full force of the wind and bent against the gale.
     Why?  He wondered. What was it the mailman had seen in him  to  portray
him as walking in the wind?


     He  laid  the rifle and  the  mail  upon  a  patch of  dusty  grass and
carefully  rewrapped the  statuette in the piece  of paper. He'd  put it, he
decided,  either  on  the mantelpiece  or, perhaps better yet, on the coffee
table that stood beside  his  favorite chair in the corner by  the desk.  He
wanted it, he admitted to  himself, with some  quiet embarrassment, where it
was  close at hand, where he  could  look  at it or pick  it up any time  he
wished. And he wondered at the deep, heart-warming, soul-satisfying pleasure
that he got from the mailman's gift.
     It was not, he knew, because he was seldom given gifts. Scarcely a week
went past that the alien travelers did not leave several with him. The house
was cluttered and there was a wall of shelves down in the cavernous basement
that were crammed with the stuff that had been given him. Perhaps it was, he
told himself, because this was a gift from Earth, from one of his own kind.
     He tucked  the wrapped statuette  beneath his arm and,  picking  up the
rifle and the mail, headed back for  home, following  the  brush-grown trail
that once had been the wagon road leading to the farm.
     Grass had grown  into  thick turf between the ancient  ruts,  which had
been cut so deep into the clay by the iron tires of the old-time wagons that
they still were no more  than bare, impacted earth in which  no plant as yet
had gained  a root-hold. But on each side  the clumps of brush, creeping  up
the  field from the forest's edge, grew man-high  or better, so that now one
moved down an aisle of green.
     But at certain points, quite unexplainably-perhaps due to the character
of  the  soil  or  to  the  mere vagaries  of nature-the growth of brush had
faltered, and  here were vistas  where one might  look out from the ridgetop
across the river valley.
     It  was from one of  these  vantage points that Enoch caught the  flash
from a  clump  of trees at the edge of the old  field, not too  far from the
spring where he had found Lucy.
     He frowned  as he saw the flash and  stood quietly on the path, waiting
for its repetition But it did not come again.
     It was one of the watchers, he knew, using a pair of binoculars to keep
watch upon the station. The flash he had seen had been the reflection of the
sun upon the glasses.
     Who  were they?  he wondered. And  why should they be watching? It  had
been  going on for some time  now but, strangely, there had been nothing but
the  watching. There  had  been  no interference.  No  one had  attempted to
approach  him, and such approach, he realized,  could have been quite simple
and  quite  natural. If they-whoever  they might be-had wished to  talk with
him,  a very casual meeting could have  been arranged during  any one of his
morning walks.
     But apparently as yet they did not wish to talk.
     What,  then,  he wondered, did they wish  to  do? Keep  track  of  him,
perhaps. And in that regard, he thought, with a  wry inner  twinge of humor,
they could have become  acquainted with the  pattern  of his living in their
first ten days of watching.
     Or perhaps they might be waiting  for some happening that would provide
them with a clue to what he might be doing. And in that direction  there lay
nothing but certain disappointment. They  could watch for a  thousand  years
and gain no hint of it.
     He  turned  from  the  vista and went ploping up the  road, worried and
puzzled by his knowledge of the watchers.
     Perhaps, he thought, they had not attempted to contact  him  because of
certain stories that might be  told about him. Stories that no one, not even
Winslowe, would pass on to him. What kind of stories, he wondered, might the
neighborhood  by  now have been able  to  fabricate about  him-fabulous folk
tales to be told in bated breath about the chimney corner?
     It  might be well, he thought,  that  he  did  not  know  the  stories,
although it would seem almost a certainty that they would exist. And it also
might be as well that the watchers had not attempted  contact with him.  For
so long as there was no contact, he still was fairly safe.  So long as there
were no questions, there need not be any answers.
     Are you really, they would ask, that same Enoch Wallace who marched off
in 1861  to fight  for old Abe Lincoln? And  there was one answer  to  that,
there could only be one answer. Yes, he'd have to say, I am that same man.
     And of all the questions they might ask him that would be the only  one
of  all  he  could  answer  truthfully.  For  all  the  others  there  would
necessarily be silence or evasion.
     They would ask how come that  he had not aged-how  he could stay  young
when all mankind grew old.
     And he could not tell them that he did not age inside the station, that
he only aged when he stepped out of it, that he aged an hour each day on his
daily walks, that he  might age an hour or so working in his garden, that he
could age for fifteen minutes sitting on the steps to watch a lovely sunset.
But that when he  went back  indoors  again the aging process was completely
canceled out.
     He could not tell them that. And there was  much else that he could not
tell  them. There might come a time, he  knew, if they  once  contacted him,
that  he'd  have  to  flee the  questions  and cut himself entirely from the
world, remaining isolated within the station's walls.
     Such a course would constitute  no hardship  physically, for  he  could
live  within  the  station  without  any  inconvenience. He would  want  for
nothing, for the aliens  would  supply everything he needed to  remain alive
and well. He had bought human food at times, having Winslowe purchase it and
haul it out from town, but only  because he felt  a craving for the food  of
his own planet, in particular  those  simple foods of his  childhood and his
campaigning days.
     And,  he told himself, even those  foods might well be supplied  by the
process of duplication. A slab of  bacon or  a dozen  eggs could  be sent to
another  station  and  remain there  as a  master  pattern  for the  pattern
impulses, being sent to him on order as he needed them.
     But there was one thing the aliens could not provide-the human contacts
he'd maintained through Winslowe and the mail. Once shut inside the station,
he'd be  cut off completely from the  world he knew, for the  newspapers and
the magazines were his only contact. The operation of a radio in the station
was made impossible by the interference set up by the installations.
     He would not know what was happening in the world, would know no longer
how the outside might be going.  His chart would suffer from  this and would
become largely useless; although,  he told himself,  it was  nearly  useless
now, since he could not be certain of the correct usage of the factors.
     But  aside  from all of this, he  would miss this  little outside world
that  he  had  grown  to  know  so well,  this  little corner  of  the world
encompassed by  his walks. It was the walks, he thought, more than anything,
perhaps, that had kept him human and a citizen of Earth.
     He wondered how important it  might be that he  remain,  intellectually
and emotionally, a citizen of Earth and a member of the  human  race.  There
was, he thought, perhaps no reason that  he should. With the cosmopolitanism
of the galaxy at his fingertips, it might even be provincial of him to be so
intent upon his continuing identification with the old home planet. He might
be losing something by this provincialism.
     But it was not in himself, he knew, to turn his back on Earth. It was a
place he loved too well-loving it more, most likely, than those other humans
who had not  caught his glimpse of  far and unguessed worlds. A man, he told
himself, must belong to something, must have some loyalty and some identity.
The galaxy was too big a place for any being to stand naked and alone.
     A lark  sailed out of  a grassy plot and soared high into  the sky, and
seeing it, he waited for the trill of liquid song to spray out of its throat
and drip out of the blue. But there was no song, as there would have been in
spring.
     He ploped down the road  and now, ahead of him, he saw the starkness of
the station, reared upon its ridge.
     Funny, he thought, that he should think of it as station rather than as
home, but it had been a station longer than it had been a home.
     There  was about it, he saw, a sort of  ugly solidness, as if  it might
have planted itself upon that ridgetop and meant to stay forever.
     It would  stay, of course, if  one wanted it, as long as one wanted it.
For there was nothing that could touch it.
     Even  should he  be  forced some day  to  remain  within its walls, the
station  still  would stand  against  all  of  mankind's  watching,  all  of
mankind's  prying. They could not chip it and  they could  not  gouge it and
they could not  break  it down. There was nothing  they  could  do.  All his
watching,  all his speculating, all his analyzing,  would  gain  Man nothing
beyond  the  knowledge  that a  highly  unusual  building  existed  on  that
ridgetop. For  it  could survive anything except  a thermonuclear explosion-
and maybe even that.
     He walked into the yard and turned around to look back toward the clump
of trees  from which  the flash  had come,  but  there was  nothing  now  to
indicate that anyone was there.


     Inside the station, the message machine was whistling plaintively.
     Enoch hung up his gun, dropped the mail and statuette upon his desk and
strode across the room to  the whistling machine.  He  pushed the button and
punched the lever and the whistling stopped.
     Upon the message plate he read:
     NO. 406,302 TO STATION 18327. WILL ARRiVE EARLY EVENING YOUR TIME. HAVE
THE COFFEE HOT. ULYSSES.
     Enoch  grinned.  Ulysses  and his  coffee!  He was the only one  of the
aliens who had ever liked  any  of Earth's foods or  drinks. There  had been
others who had tried them, but not more than once or twice.
     Funny about  Ulysses,  he  thought. They had  liked each other from the
very first, from that  afternoon  of the  thunderstorm when  they  had  been
sitting on the steps and the  mask of human form  had peeled off the alien's
face.
     It had been a grisly face, graceless and repulsive. The face, Enoch had
thought, of  a cruel clown. Wondering, even as he  thought it, what had  put
that particular  phrase into his head, for clowns were never cruel. But here
was one that could be-the colored patchwork of the face, the hard, tight set
of jaw, the thin slash of the mouth.
     Then he saw the eyes and  they canceled all the  rest. They were  large
and had a softness  and the light of understanding in them, and they reached
out to him, as another being might hold out its hands in friendship.
     The rain had come hissing  up the land to thrum across the machine-shed
roof,  and then  it was upon them,  slanting  sheets of  rain that  hammered
angrily at the dust which lay across the  yard, while  surprised, bedraggled
chickens ran frantically for cover.
     Enoch  sprang to his feet  and grasped the  other's arm, pulling him to
the shelter of the porch.
     They stood  facing one another, and Ulysses had  reached up  and pulled
the split  and loosened mask away,  revealing  a bullet  head without a hair
upon  it- and the  painted face. A face like  a  wild and  rampaging Indian,
painted  for the warpath, except that here  and  there  were  touches of the
clown,  as  if  the entire painting  job  had been  meant  to point  up  the
inconsistent grotesqueries of war. But even as  he stared, Enoch knew it was
not paint, but  the natural  coloration of this  thing  which had  come from
somewhere among the stars.
     Whatever other doubt there was,  or whatever wonder, Enoch had no doubt
at all that  this strange being was not  of the Earth. For it was not human.
It might be in human  form,  with  a pair of arms and legs,  with a head and
face. But  there was about it an essence of inhumanity, almost a negation of
humanity.
     In olden days, perhaps, he thought, it might have been a demon, but the
days were  past (although, in some areas  of the country, not entirely past)
when one believed in demons  or  in  ghosts or in any of the others of  that
ghastly tribe which, in man's imagination, once had walked the Earth.
     From  the  stars,  he'd said. And perhaps he was.  Although it  made no
sense. It was nothing one  ever had imagined  even  in  the purest  fantasy.
There  was  nothing  to  grab hold of, nothing to hang  on to. There  was no
yardstick for  it and there were no rules. And it left a sort of blank  spot
in one's thinking that might fill  in, come time, but now was no more than a
tunnel of great wonder that went on and on forever.
     "Take your time," the alien said. "I  know it is not easy. And I do not
know of a thing that I can do to make it easier. There is, after all, no way
for me to prove I am from the stars."
     "But you talk so well."
     "In your tongue, you mean. It was  not too  difficult. If you only knew
of  all the languages in the galaxy, you would realize how little difficult.
Your  language is not hard.  It is  a basic one and there are many  concepts
with which it need not deal."
     And, Enoch conceded, that  could be  true enough. "If  you  wish,"  the
alien said,  "I can walk off  somewhere for a day or two. Give  you time  to
think. Then I could come back. You'd have thought it out by then."
     Enoch smiled, woodenly, and the  smile  had  an unnatural feel upon his
face.
     "That would give me time,"  he said, "to  spread  alarm throughout  the
countryside. There might be an ambush waiting for you."
     The  alien shook its head. "I am sure you wouldn't do it. I would  take
the chance. If you want me to ..."
     "No," said Enoch, so calmly he surprised himself. "No,  when you have a
thing to face, you face it. I learned that in the war."
     "You'll do," the alien said. "You will do all right. I did not misjudge
you and it makes me proud."
     "Misjudge me?"
     "You  do not think I just came walking in here cold? I know about  you,
Enoch.  Almost as much, perhaps, as you know about  yourself. Probably  even
more."
     "You know my name?"
     "Of course I do."
     "Well, that is fine," said Enoch. "And what about your own?"
     "I am seized with great embarrassment," the alien told him. "For I have
no name as such.  Identification, surely, that fits the purpose  of my race,
but nothing that the tongue can form."
     Supenly,  for  no reason, Enoch remembered that slouchy figure perching
on the top rail of a fence, with a stick in one hand  and a jackknife in the
other, whittling placidly while the cannon balls whistled  overhead and less
than half a mile  away  the  muskets snarled  and  crackled in the billowing
powder smoke that rose above the line.
     "Then you need a  name  to  call  you by,"  he  said, "and it shall  be
Ulysses. I need to call you something,"
     "It is agreeable," said that strange  one. "But might  one ask  why the
name Ulysses?"
     "Because it is the name," said Enoch, "of a great man of my race."
     It was a crazy thing,  of course. For  there was no resemblance between
the two of them-that slouchy Union general  whittling as he perched upon the
fence and this other who stood upon the porch.
     "I am glad you chose it," said this Ulysses, standing on the porch. "To
my hearing it has a  dignified and noble sound and, between the two of us, I
shall  be  glad  to bear it. And I shall call you Enoch,  as  friends of the
first names, for the two of us shall work together for many of your years."
     It was  beginning to come straight now and the  thought was staggering.
Perhaps it was as well,  Enoch told himself, that it had waited for a while,
that he had been so dazed it had not come on him all at once.
     "Perhaps,"  said Enoch, fighting back the realization that was crowding
in  on him, crowding in too fast, "I could  offer you some victuals. I could
cook up some coffee..."
     "Coffee,"  said  Ulysses,  smacking  his  thin lips.  "Do you  have the
coffee?"
     "I'll make a big pot of it. I'll break in  an  egg  so it  will  settle
clear ..."
     "Delectable," Ulysses said. "Of all the drinks that I have drank on all
the planets I have visited, the coffee is the best."
     They  went into-the kitchen  and  Enoch  stirred up  the coals  in  the
kitchen range and then put  in new wood. He took  the  coffeepot over to the
sink and ladled in some water from the water pail and put it on to boil.  He
went into the pantry to get  some  eggs and down into the cellar to bring up
the ham.
     Ulysses sat stiffly in a kitchen chair and watched him as he worked.
     "You eat ham and eggs?" asked Enoch.
     "I eat anything," Ulysses said. "My race is most adaptable. That is the
reason I  was sent to this planet  as a-what do you  call  it?-a looker-out,
perhaps."
     "A scout," suggested Enoch.
     "That is it, a scout."
     He was an  easy thing  to  talk with,  Enoch told  himself-almost  like
another  person, although, God knows,  he  looked  little like a  person. He
looked, instead, like some outrageous caricature of a human being.
     "You  have lived  here, in this house," Ulysses said, "for a long, long
time. You feel affection for it."
     "It  has  been my  home," said Enoch, "since the day that I was born. I
was gone from it for almost four years, but it was always home."
     "I'll  be  glad,"  Ulysses  told him, "to be getting home again myself.
I've been  away too long. On a mission such  as this one, it  always  is too
long."
     Enoch put down the knife he had been  using to cut a  slice  of ham and
sat  down  heavily in a chair. He stared  at  Ulysses, across the table from
him.
     "You?" he asked. "You are going home?"
     "Why, of course," Ulysses told him.  "Now that my job is nearly done. I
have got a home. Did you think I hadn't?"
     "I don't know," said Enoch weakly. "I had never thought of it."
     And that was it, he knew. It had not occurred to him to connect a being
such as this with a thing like home. For it was only human beings that had a
place called home.
     "Some day," Ulysses said, "I shall tell you about my home. Some day you
may even visit me."
     "Out among the stars," said Enoch.
     "It seems strange to you now," Ulysses said. "It will  take a  while to
get  used  to  the idea.  But  as  you  come to know  us-all of  us-you will
understand. And I hope you like  us. We are not  bad people, really. Not any
of the many different kinds of us."
     The stars, Enoch  told himself, were out  there  in  the loneliness  of
space and how far they were he could not even guess, nor what they  were nor
why. Another world, he thought-no, that was wrong-many  other  worlds. There
were  people there, perhaps many  other people; a different kind of  people,
probably,  for every different star.  And one of  them sat here in this very
kitchen, waiting for the coffeepot to boil, for the ham and eggs to fry.
     "But why?" he asked. "But why?"
     "Because,"  Ulysses said, "we are a traveling people.  We need a travel
station here. We want to  turn this house into a station and you to keep the
station."
     "This house?"
     "We could not build a station, for then we'd have people asking who was
building it and what it  might be for. So we  are forced to  use an existing
structure and change it for our needs. But inside only. We leave the outside
as  it is,  in appearance,  that is.  For there must be no questions  asked.
There must be ..."
     "But traveling ..."
     "From  star  to star," Ulysses said. "Quicker  than the thought  of it.
Faster than a wink.  There  is what you would  call machinery, but it is not
machinery-not the same as the machinery you think of."
     "You must excuse me," Enoch said, confused. "It seems so impossible."
     "You remember when the railroad came to Millville?"
     "Yes, I can remember that. I was just a kid."
     "Then think of it this way. This is just another railroad and the Earth
is just another town and  this  house will  be the station for this new  and
different railroad. The only difference is that no one on Earth but you will
know the  railroad's here.  For  it  will be no more than  a  resting  and a
switching point. No  one  on  the  Earth  can  buy a ticket to travel on the
railroad."
     Put  that way, of  course, it  had a simple  sound, but it  was,  Enoch
sensed, very far from simple.
     "Railroad cars in space?" he asked.
     "Not railroad cars," Ulysses told  him. "It is something else. I do not
know how to begin to tell you ..."
     "Perhaps you should pick someone else. Someone who would understand."
     "There  is no  one on  this planet who  could remotely  understand. No,
Enoch, we'll do with you  as  well as anyone. In many ways, much better than
with anyone."
     "But ..."
     "What is it, Enoch?"
     "Nothing," Enoch said.
     For he remembered now how he had been sitting on the steps thinking how
he was alone and about a new beginning, knowing that  he could  not escape a
new beginning, that he must start from scratch and build his life anew.
     And here, supenly,  was that  new beginning-more wondrous and  fearsome
than anything he could have dreamed even in an insane moment.


     Enoch filed the message and sent his confirmation:
     NO. 406302 RECEIVED. COFFEE ON THE FIRE. ENOCH.
     Clearing  the machine,  he walked over to the  No.  3 liquid  tank he'd
prepared  before he left. He checked the temperature and the  level  of  the
solution and made  certain once  again that the tank was securely positioned
in relation to the materializer.
     From  there  he  went  to the  other  materializer,  the  official  and
emergency materializer,  positioned in  the  corner,  and  checked  it  over
closely. It  was  all right, as  usual. It always was all right,  but before
each of Ulysses's  visits  he never failed to check it. There was nothing he
could have done about  it had there been something wrong other  than send an
urgent message to Galactic Central. In which case someone would have come in
on the regular materializer and put it into shape.
     For the official and emergency materializer was  exactly  what its name
implied. It was  used  only  for official visits  by  personnel  of Galactic
Center or  for possible emergencies  and its  operation was entirely outside
that of the local station.
     Ulysses, as  an  inspector for this  and several  other stations, could
have  used the  official  materializer  at any  time he wished without prior
notice. But in all the  years that he had been coming to the  station he had
never failed, Enoch remembered with a touch of pride, to message that he was
coming.  It was, he knew, a  courtesy  which all  the other stations  on the
great  galactic  network might not be accorded, although there were  some of
them which might be given equal treatment.
     Tonight,  he  thought, he probably  should tell Ulysses about the watch
that had been put upon the station. Perhaps he should have told him earlier,
but he had been reluctant  to admit that the human race might prove to be  a
problem to the galactic installation.
     It was a hopeless thing,  he  thought, this obsession of his to present
the people of the Earth as good  and reasonable.  For in many ways they were
neither  good nor reasonable; perhaps because they  had not as  yet entirely
grown up. They  were  smart and  quick  and  at times compassionate and even
understanding, but they failed lamentably in many other ways.
     But if  they  had the  chance,  Enoch told  himself, if they ever got a
break, if they only could be told what was out in space, then  they'd get  a
grip upon themselves  and they would measure up  and then, in  the course of
time, would  be  admitted into  the great cofraternity  of the people of the
stars.
     Once  admitted,  they would  prove  their  worth and  would  pull their
weight, for they were still a young race and full of energy-at times, maybe,
too much energy.
     Enoch shook his  head and went across the room to sit down at his desk.
Drawing  the  bundle of mail in front of him,  he slid it out of  the string
which Winslowe had used to tie it all together.
     There  were the daily papers, a  news weekly, two  journals-Nature  and
Science-and the letter.
     He pushed  the papers and the journals to one side and  picked  up  the
letter. It was, he saw, an air mail sheet and was postmarked London  and the
return apress bore a name that was  unfamiliar to him. He puzzled as to  why
an unknown person should be writing him  from London.  Although, he reminded
himself, anyone who wrote from London, or indeed from anywhere, would  be an
unknown person. He knew no one in London nor elsewhere in the world.
     He slit the  air sheet open and spread  it out on the desk in  front of
him, pulling the desk lamp close so the light would fall upon the writing.
     Dear sir [he read], I  would suspect I am unknown to  you. I am one  of
several editors of the British journal,  Nature,  to  which you have been  a
subscriber for these  many years. I  do  not  use the  journal's  letterhead
because this letter  is personal and unofficial and  perhaps not even in the
best of taste.
     You  are,  it may interest you to  know, our eldest subscriber. We have
had you on our mailing lists for more than eighty years.
     While  I  am aware that it is no  appropriate concern of mine,  I  have
wondered if  you,  yourself, have  subscribed to our  publication  for  this
length of time, or if it might be possible that your father or someone close
to you may have been the original subscriber and you simply have allowed the
subscription to continue in his name.
     My  interest undoubtedly  constitutes  an  unwarranted and  inexcusable
curiosity and  if you, sir, choose to ignore the query it is entirely within
your rights and proper that you do so. But if you should not mind  replying,
an answer would be appreciated.
     I can  only say in my own defense that  I have been  associated for  so
long with  our publication that I feel a certain sense of pride that someone
has found it worth the having for more than eighty years. I  doubt that many
publications can boast such long time interest on the part of any man.
     May I assure, you, sir, of my utmost respect.
     Sincerely yours.
     And then the signature.
     Enoch shoved the letter from him.
     And  there  it was  again, he  told himself.  Here was another watcher,
although discreet and most polite and unlikely to cause trouble.
     But someone else who had taken  notice, who had felt a twinge of wonder
at the same man subscribing to a magazine for more than eighty years.
     As the years went on, there would be more and more. It was not only the
watchers encamped outside the station with whom he must concern himself, but
those potential  others. A  man could  be as self-effacing  as he well could
manage and still he  could not hide. Soon  or late the world would catch  up
with him and would come crowding around  his door, agog to know why he might
be hiding.
     It  was  useless, he knew, to hope for much further time. The world was
closing in.
     Why can't they leave me alone? he thought. If he only could explain how
the situation stood, they might leave him alone. But he couldn't  explain to
them. And  even if  he  could, there would be some  of them who'd still come
crowding in.
     Across the room the materializer beeped for attention  and Enoch  swung
around.
     The Thuban had  arrived. He was in the tank, a shadowy globular blob of
substance, and above him,  riding sluggishly in the solution, was  a cube of
something.
     Luggage, Enoch wondered. But  the  message had said  there  would be no
luggage.
     Even as he hurried across the room, the clicking came to him-the Thuban
talking to him.
     "Presentation to you," said the clicking. "Deceased vegetation."
     Enoch peered at the cube floating in the liquid.
     "Take him," clicked the Thuban. "Bring him for you."
     Fumblingly, Enoch clicked out his answer, using tapping fingers against
the glass side of the tank: "I thank you, gracious one." Wondering as he did
it, if he  were using  the  proper  form of apress to this blob of matter. A
man, he told himself, could get terribly tangled up on that particular point
of  etiquette. There were some of these beings that one apressed in  flowery
language  (and even in those cases, the  floweriness would  vary) and others
that one talked with in the simplest, bluntest terms.
     He reached into the tank and lifted out the cube and be saw that it was
a block of heavy wood,  black as ebony  and so  close-grained it looked very
much like stone.  He  chuckled  inwardly,  thinking  how,  in  listening  to
Winslowe, he had grown to be an expert in the judging of artistic wood.
     He put the wood upon the floor and turned back to the tank.
     "Would you mind,"  clicked the Thuban, "revealing what you do with him?
To us, very useless stuff."
     Enoch  hesitated,  searching desperately through  his  memory. What, he
wondered, was the code for "carve?"
     "Well?" the Thuban asked.
     "You must pardon me, gracious one. I do not  use this language often. I
am not proficient."
     "Drop, please, the 'gracious one.' I am a common being."
     "Shape it," Enoch tapped. "Into  another form. Are  you a visual being?
Then I show you one."
     "Not visual," said the Thuban. "Many other things, not visual."
     It had been a globe when it had arrived  and now  it  was  beginning to
flatten out.
     "You," the Thuban clicked, "are a biped being."
     "That is what I am."
     "Your planet. It is a solid planet?"
     Solid? Enoch wondered. Oh, yes, solid as opposed to liquid.
     "One-quarter solid," he tapped. "The rest of it is liquid."
     "Mine almost all liquid. Only little solid. Very restful world."
     "One thing I want to ask you," Enoch tapped.
     "Ask," the creature said.
     "You are a mathematician. All you folks, I mean."
     "Yes," the creature said. "Excellent recreation. Occupies the mind."
     "You mean you do not use it?"
     "Oh, yes, once use it. But no need for use any more. Got all we need to
use, very long ago. Recreation now."
     "I have heard of your system of numerical notation."
     "Very different," clicked the Thuban. "Very better concept."
     "You can tell me of it?"
     "You know notation system used by people of Polaris VII?"
     "No, I don't," tapped Enoch.
     "Then no use to tell you of our own. Must know Polaris first."
     So that was that, thought Enoch. He might have known. There was so much
knowledge in the galaxy and he knew so little of it, understood so little of
the little that he knew.
     There were men on Earth who could make  sense of it. Men who would give
anything  short  of  their very lives to know the  little that he  knew, and
could put it all to use.
     Out  among the  stars  lay  a massive body  of knowledge, some of it an
extension of what  mankind knew, some of it concerning matters which Man had
not yet suspected, and used in ways and for purposes that Man had not as yet
imagined. And never might imagine, if left on his own.
     Another hundred  years, thought  Enoch. How  much  would  he  learn  in
another hundred years? In another thousand?
     "I rest now," said the Thuban. "Nice to talk with you."


     Enoch  turned from the tank and picked up the block of wood.  A  little
puple of liquid had drained off it and lay glistening on the floor.
     He carried the block across the room to one of the windows and examined
it. It was heavy and black  and close-grained and at one  corner of it a bit
of  bark remained.  It  had been sawed. Someone had  cut it into a size that
would fit the tank where the Thuban rested.
     He recalled  an article  he  had read in one of the daily papers just a
day  or  two  before in which  a  scientist  had  contended  that  no  great
intelligence ever could develop on a liquid world.
     But that scientist was wrong, for the Thuban race had so  developed and
there  were  other  liquid  worlds  which  were  members  of   the  galactic
cofraternity. There were a lot of things, he  told himself,  that  Man would
have to unlearn, as well as things to learn, if he  ever should become aware
of the galactic culture.
     The limitation of the speed of light, for one thing.
     For if nothing moved faster  than the speed of light, then the galactic
transport system would be impossible.
     But  one should not censure  Man, he  reminded himself, for setting the
speed  of  light  as a basic limitation.  Observations were all that  Man-or
anyone, for  that matter-could use as data upon which to base his  premises.
And since human  science  had so far found nothing which consistently  moved
faster than  the  speed of  light,  then  the  assumption must be valid that
nothing could  or did consistently move faster. But valid  as  an assumption
only and no more than that.
     For the  impulse patterns which  carried creatures  star to  star  were
almost instantaneous, no matter what the distance.
     He  stood  and thought about  it and it still  was hard, he admitted to
himself, for a person to believe.
     Moments  ago the creature  in  the tank had  rested  in another tank in
another station  and the materializer had built up a pattern of  it-not only
of its body, but of its very vital force,  the thing that gave it life. Then
the   impulse   pattern  had  moved   across  the   gulfs  of  space  almost
instantaneously to the receiver of this  station, where the pattern had been
used  to  duplicate the  body and the  mind and  memory and the life of that
creature  now lying dead  many light years distant. And in the tank the  new
body and the new mind and memory and  life  had taken almost instant form-an
entirely  new  being, but exactly like the old  one, so  that  the  identity
continued and  the consciousness  (the very thought no more than momentarily
interrupted), so that to all intent and purpose the being was the same.
     There were limitations to the impulse patterns, but this had nothing to
do  with speed, for the  impulses  could cross the entire  galaxy  with  but
little  lag  in time. But under certain conditions the  patterns  tended  to
break down and this  was why  there must be many  stations-many thousands of
them. Clouds of  dust or gas or areas of high ionization  seemed to  disrupt
the patterns and in those sectors of the  galaxy where these conditions were
encountered, the distance jumps between the stations  were  considerably cut
down  to  keep the  pattern true. There  were areas that  had to be detoured
because of high concentrations of the distorting gas and dust.
     Enoch wondered how many  dead bodies of the creature that now rested in
the tank had been left behind at other stations in the course of the journey
it was  making-as  this body in a few hours' time would lie dead within this
tank when  the creature's pattern was sent out again, riding  on the impulse
waves.
     A long  trail of dead, he  thought,  left across the stars,  each to be
destroyed by a wash of acid and flushed  into deep-lying tanks, but with the
creature itself going on and on until it  reached  its final destination  to
carry out the purpose of its journey.
     And those  purposes,  Enoch  wondered-the many  purposes  of  the  many
creatures who passed through the stations scattered wide in space? There had
been certain instances  when,  chatting with  the  travelers,  they had told
their purpose, but with the  most of  them he never learned  the purpose-nor
had he any right to learn it. For he was the keeper only.
     Mine host, he thought, although  not every time, for  there  were  many
creatures that had no use for  hosts. But the man, at any rate, who  watched
over the operation of the station and who kept it going, who made ready  for
the  travelers  and who sent them on their way  again when  that time should
come. And who performed the little  tasks and courtesies of which they might
stand in need.
     He looked at the block of wood  and thought  how pleased Winslowe would
be with it. It was very seldom that one came  upon a wood  that was as black
or finegrained as this.
     What  would Winslowe think, he wondered, if he could only know that the
statuettes he carved were made of woods  that had grown on  unknown  planets
many light  years distant. Winslowe, he knew,  must have wondered many times
where the wood came from and how his friend could have gotten it. But he had
never asked. And  he knew as well, of course,  that there was something very
strange about  this  man who came out to the  mailbox every day to meet him.
But he had never asked that, either.
     And that was friendship, Enoch told himself.
     This  wood,  too,  that he held in  his hands,  was another evidence of
friendship-the friendship of  the  stars for every humble keeper of a remote
and backwoods  station stuck out in one  of the  spiral arms,  far from  the
center of the galaxy.
     The  word  had  spread,  apparently,  through the  years and throughout
space, that this certain  keeper was a  collector of exotic woods-and so the
woods  came in. Not only from those races he  thought of as his friends, but
from total strangers, like the blob that now rested in the tank.
     He put the wood down on a table top and  went to the refrigerator. From
it he  took a  slab  of aged cheese that Winslowe had bought for him several
days ago, and  a small  package of  fruit  that a traveler from Sirrah X had
brought the day before.
     "Analyzed," it had  told him, "and you can eat it without hurt. It will
play no trouble with your metabolism.  You've had it before, perhaps? So you
haven't. I am sorry. It is most  delicious. Next time, you like  it, I shall
bring you more."
     From the cupboard  beside the  refrigerator he  took  out a small, flat
loaf  of  bread,  part  of  the ration  regularly provided  him  by Galactic
Central. Made  of a cereal unlike any known  on Earth, it had  a  distinctly
nutty flavor with the faintest hint of some alien spice.
     He put the food on what he called the kitchen table, although there was
no kitchen. Then he put the coffee maker  on  the stove and went back to his
desk.
     The  letter still lay there, spread out, and he folded it  together and
put it in a drawer.
     He  stripped the brown folders off the papers and  put them in a  pile.
From the pile he selected the New York Times and moved to his favorite chair
to read.
     NEW PEACE CONFERENCE AGREED UPON,
     said the lead-off headline.
     The crisis had  been boiling for a month  or more, the newest of a long
series  of crises which had kept the  world on edge for years. And the worst
of it, Enoch  told  himself,  was  that  the most of  them were manufactured
crises, with one side or the  other pushing for advantage  in the relentless
chess game of power politics which had been under way since the end of World
War II.
     The  stories  in the  Times  bearing  on  the conference  had  a rather
desperate, almost fatalistic, ring,  as  if the writers of the  stories, and
perhaps the  diplomats and all  the rest involved, knew the conference would
accomplish nothing-if, in fact, it did not serve to make the crisis deeper.
     Observers in this capital [wrote one  of the Times's Washington  bureau
staff] are  not convinced the  conference will  serve, in this  instance, as
similar conferences  sometimes have  served in  the past, to either delay  a
showdown on the issues or to  advance the prospects for  a settlement. There
is scarcely  concealed concern  in many quarters that  the conference  will,
instead,   fan  the  flames  of  controversy   higher  without,  by  way  of
compensation, opening any avenues by which a compromise might seem possible.
A conference is popularly supposed to provide a time and place for the sober
weighing of the facts and points of arguments, but there are few  who see in
the calling of this conference any indications that this may be the case.
     The coffee  maker  was  going full  blast now and Enoch threw the paper
down  and strode to the stove to  snatch it off. From  the cupboard he got a
cup and went to the table with it.
     But  before he  began to eat,  he went back to the desk  and, opening a
drawer, got out his chart and spread it on the table. Once again he wondered
just how valid it  might be, although in certain parts of it,  at  times, it
seemed to make a certain sort of sense.
     He  had based it on the Mizar theory of statistics and had been forced,
because of  the nature  of his  subject, to shift some of  the  factors,  to
substitute some  values. He wondered now, for the thousandth time, if he had
made an error somewhere. Had  his  shifting  and  substitution destroyed the
validity  of the system? And  if  so,  how  could he correct  the  errors to
restore validity?
     Here  the factors were,  he  thought:  the  birth rate  and  the  total
population of  the  Earth, the  death  rate, the values  of currencies,  the
spread of  living costs,  attendance of places of worship, medical advances,
technological  developments,  industrial indices,  the  labor market,  world
trade trends-and many others, including some that at first glance might  not
seem too relevant:  the auction price  of  art objects, vacation preferences
and movements, the speed of transportation, the incidence of insanity.
     The  statistical method developed  by  the mathematicians of Mizar,  he
knew,  would  work anywhere,  on anything, if applied correctly. But  he had
been forced to  twist  it in translating an alien  planet's situation to fit
the  situation here on  Earth-and in  consequence of  that twisting, did  it
still apply?
     He shupered as he  looked at it. For  if he'd made no  mistake, if he'd
handled everything correctly,  if  his translations had done no violence  to
the concept, then the Earth was headed straight for another major war, for a
holocaust of nuclear destruction.
     He let loose of the corners of the chart and it rolled itself back into
a cylinder.
     He reached for one  of the fruits  the Sirrah being had brought him and
bit into it. He rolled it on his tongue, savoring the delicacy of the taste.
It was, he decided, as good  as that  strange, birdlike being had guaranteed
it would be.
     There had  been a time,  he remembered, when he had held some hope that
the chart based on the Mizar theory might show, if not a way to end all war,
at least a way to keep the peace. But the chart  had never given any hint of
the road to peace. Inexorably, relentlessly, it had led the way to war.
     How many other wars, he wondered, could the people of the Earth endure?
     No man could say, of  course,  but it might be just one  more. For  the
weapons  that  would be  used  in  the coming conflict had not as  yet  been
measured  and there was no  man who could come close to actually  estimating
the results these weapons would produce.
     War  had been bad enough when men faced  one another with their weapons
in their hands, but  in any present war great payloads  of destruction would
go hurtling through  the skies to engulf whole cities-aimed not at  military
concentrations, but at total populations.
     He reached out his hand for the chart again, then pulled it back. There
was no  further need of looking at it. He knew it all by heart. There was no
hope in it. He might study it and puzzle over it until the crack of doom and
it would  not  change a whit.  There  was no  hope  at all.  The  world  was
thundering once again, in a blind red haze of fury and of helplessness, down
the road to war.
     He went on with  his  eating and the  fruit was even better than it had
been at  first  bite. "Next  time," the being  had said,  "I  will bring you
more." But it might be a long time before he  came again, and he might never
come. There were many of them who passed  through only once,  although there
were a  few who showed up every week  or so-old,  regular travelers  who had
become close friends.
     And there had been, he recalled, that little group of Hazers who, years
ago, had made arrangements  for extra  long stopovers at the station so they
could  sit around  this very  table  and talk the hours away, arriving laden
with hampers and with baskets of things to  eat  and drink, as  if it were a
picnic.
     But finally they had stopped their coming and it had  been years  since
he'd seen any one of them. And he regretted it, for they'd been the best  of
companions.
     He drank an extra  cup of coffee, sitting idly  in the  chair, thinking
about those good old days when the band of Hazers came.
     His ears caught the faint rustling and he glanced quickly up to see her
sitting on the sofa, dressed in the demure hoop skirts of the 1860s.
     "Mary!" he said, surprised, rising to his feet.
     She was smiling at him  in her very special way and she  was beautiful,
he thought, as no other woman ever had been beautiful.
     "Mary," he said, "it's so nice to have you here."
     And now,  leaning on the  mantelpiece, dressed in Union  blue, with his
belted saber and his full black mustache, was another of his friends.
     "Hello, Enoch," David Ransome said. "I hope we don't intrude."
     "Never," Enoch told him. "How can two friends intrude?"
     He stood  beside  the  table  and the past was  with him, the  good and
restful past, the rose-scented and unhaunted past that had never left him.
     Somewhere in the distance was the sound of fife and drum and the jangle
of the  battle harness  as the boys  marched off to  war,  with the  colonel
glorious in  his full-dress uniform upon  the great black  stallion, and the
regimental flags snapping in the stiff June breeze.
     He walked across the room and over to the sofa. He made a little bow to
Mary.
     "With your permission, ma'am," he said.
     "Please do," she said. "If you should happen to be busy ..."
     "Not at all," he said. "I was hoping you would come."
     He sat down  on the  sofa, not  too close to her, and  he saw her hands
were  folded, very primly, in  her lap. He  wanted to reach out and take her
hands in his and hold them for a moment, but he knew he couldn't.
     For she wasn't really there.
     "It's been almost a week," said Mary, "since I've seen you. How is your
work going, Enoch?"
     He  shook his head. "I still have  all the problems. The watchers still
are out there. And the chart says war."
     David left the mantel and came across  the room. He sat down in a chair
and arranged his saber.
     "War, the way they fight it these days," he declared, "would be a sorry
business. Not the way we fought it, Enoch."
     "No,"  said Enoch, "not the way we fought it. And while a war  would be
bad enough  itself,  there is something worse.  If Earth fights another war,
our people will be barred, if not forever, at least for many centuries, from
the cofraternity of space."
     "Maybe that's not so bad," said David. "We may not be ready to join the
ones in space."
     "Perhaps not," Enoch admitted. "I rather doubt we  are. But we could be
some  day. And  that day would  be shoved  far  into the future  if we fight
another war. You have to make some pretense of being civilized to join those
other races."
     "Maybe,"  Mary said, "they might never know. About a war, I mean.  They
go no place but this station."
     Enoch shook  his  head. "They would know. I think they're watching  us.
And anyhow, they would read the papers."
     "The papers you subscribe to?"
     "I  save them for Ulysses. That pile over in the corner. He takes  them
back to Galactic Central every time he comes. He's very interested in Earth,
you know, from the years he spent here. And from Galactic Central, once he'd
read them, I have a hunch they travel to the corners of the galaxy."
     "Can  you  imagine," David asked, "what the  promotion  departments  of
those newspapers might have to say about it if they only knew their depth of
circulation."
     Enoch grinned at the thought of it.
     "There's  that paper down in Georgia,"  David  said, "that covers Dixie
like the dew. They'd have to think of something that goes with galaxy."
     "Glove,"  said Mary quickly. "Covers  the galaxy  like a glove. What do
you think of that?"
     "Excellent," said David.
     "Poor Enoch," Mary said contritely. "Here we make our jokes  and  Enoch
has his problems."
     "Not mine to solve,  of course," Enoch  told her. "I'm just worried  by
them. All I have to do is stay inside the station and there are no problems.
Once you close the  door here, the problems of the world are securely locked
outside."
     "But you can't do that."
     "No, I can't," said Enoch.
     "I think you may be right," said David,  "in thinking that these  other
races may be watching us. With  an eye, perhaps, to  some  day inviting  the
human race to join them. Otherwise, why would  they have wanted  to set up a
station here on Earth?"
     "They're expanding the network all the time," said  Enoch. "They needed
a station in this solar system to carry out their extension into this spiral
arm."
     "Yes, that's true enough," said  David, "but it need  not have been the
Earth. They could have built a station out  on Mars  and used an alien for a
keeper and still have served their purpose."
     "I've often thought of that," said Mary. "They wanted  a station on the
Earth and an Earthman as its keeper. There must be a reason for it."
     "I had hoped there was," Enoch told her, "but  I'm afraid they came too
soon. It's too early  for the  human race. We aren't grown up. We  still are
juveniles."
     "It's  a shame,"  said Mary. "We'd have so much  to learn. They know so
much more than we. Their concept of religion, for example."
     "I don't know," said Enoch, "whether it's actually a religion. It seems
to have few of the trappings we associate with religion. And it is not based
on faith.  It  doesn't  have to be. It is based  on knowledge. These  people
know, you see."
     "You mean the spiritual force."
     "It is there," said Enoch, "just as surely as all the other forces that
make  up the  universe. There is a spiritual force, exactly as there is time
and space and  gravitation  and  all  the  other  factors  that make up  the
immaterial universe. It is there and they can establish contact with it ..."
     "But  don't you  think," asked  David, "that the human race  may  sense
this? They don't know it, but  they  sense it. And are reaching out to touch
it. They haven't got the  knowledge, so they must  do the best they can with
faith.  And that  faith  goes  back  a far way. Back, perhaps, deep into the
prehistoric days. A crude faith, then, but a  sort of  faith, a grasping for
faith."
     "I suppose so," Enoch said. "But it actually wasn't the spiritual force
I was thinking of. There are all the other things, the material things,  the
methods, the  philosophies that the human  race  could use. Name almost  any
branch of science  and there is something there  for us,  more than  what we
have."
     But his mind went back to  that strange business of the spiritual force
and the even  stranger machine which had been  built  eons  ago, by means of
which  the galactic people were able to  establish contact  with  the force.
There was a  name for  that machine, but  there was no  word  in the English
language  which  closely approximated it. "Talisman"  was the  closest,  but
Talisman was too crude a word. Although  that had been the word that Ulysses
had used when, some years ago, they had talked of it.
     There were so  many things, so many concepts,  he  thought,  out in the
galaxy which  could not be adequately expressed in any tongue  on Earth. The
Talisman was more than a  talisman and the  machine which had been given the
name was more than a  mere  machine.  Involved  in  it, as well  as  certain
mechanical  concepts, was a psychic  concept,  perhaps some  sort of psychic
energy that  was  unknown on Earth. That and a great  deal more. He had read
some  of the literature on the spiritual  force and on  the Talisman and had
realized, he  remembered, in the reading of  it, how far short  he fell, how
far short the human race must fall, in an understanding of it.
     The Talisman  could  be operated  only  by certain beings  with certain
types of minds and something else besides (could  it  be,  he wondered, with
certain  kinds  of souls?). "Sensitives"  was  the word  he  had used in his
mental translation of the term for these kinds of people, but once again, he
could not be sure if the word came close to fitting. The Talisman was placed
in  the  custody of the  most capable,  or the most efficient,  or the  most
devoted (whichever it might be) of the galactic sensitives, who  carried  it
from star to star in a sort of eternal  progression.  And on each planet the
people came to make personal and individual contact with the spiritual force
through the intervention and the agency of the Talisman and its custodian.
     He found that he was shivering at the thought of it-the pure ecstasy of
reaching out and touching the  spirituality that flooded through the  galaxy
and, undoubtedly, through the universe. The assurance  would  be  there,  he
thought, the assurance that life had a special place  in the great scheme of
existence,  that one, no matter  how  small, how feeble,  how insignificant,
still did count for something in the vast sweep of space and time.
     "What is the trouble, Enoch?" Mary asked.
     "Nothing," he  said. "I  was  just  thinking. I  am sorry.  I  will pay
attention now."
     "You  were  talking," David  said, "about what  we  could  find  in the
galaxy. There was,  for  one thing,  that  strange sort of  math.  You  were
telling us of it once and it was something ..."
     "The  Arcturus math,  you mean," said Enoch. "I know  little  more than
when  I  told  you  of  it.  It  is  too  involved. It is based on  behavior
symbolism."
     There  was some  doubt,  he told  himself,  that you could even call it
math, although, by analysis, that was probably what it was. It was something
that  the scientists of  Earth, no doubt, could  use  to make  possible  the
engineering of  the  social sciences as logically and as  efficiently as the
common brand of math had been used to build the gadgets of the Earth.
     "And the biology of  that race in  Andromeda," Mary said. "The ones who
colonized all those crazy planets."
     "Yes, I know. But Earth would have to mature a bit in its  intellectual
and emotional outlook before we'd venture to use it  as the Andromedans did.
Still, I suppose that it would have its applications."
     He shupered inwardly as he thought of how the  Andromedans used it. And
that, he knew, was proof that  he  still was  a man of Earth, kin to all the
bias and the prejudice and the shibboleths of the human mind.  For what  the
Andromedans had done was only common  sense. If you cannot colonize a planet
in  your present shape, why,  then you change your shape. You make  yourself
into the sort  of being that  can live upon  the planet and then you take it
over in  that alien shape into which you have  changed yourself. If you need
to be a worm, then you become a worm-or an insect or a shellfish or whatever
it may  take. And you change not your body only, but your mind as well, into
the kind of mind that will be necessary to live upon that planet.
     "There  are all the drugs," said Mary, "and  the medicines. The medical
knowledge that could apply to Earth. There was that  little package Galactic
Central sent you."
     "A  packet of drugs," said Enoch, "that could cure almost every ill  on
Earth. That,  perhaps, hurts me most of all. To know they're up there in the
cupboard, actually on this planet, where so many people need them."
     "You could mail out  samples," David said,  "to medical associations or
to some drug concern."
     Enoch shook  his  bead.  "I thought of  that, of course. But I have the
galaxy to  consider.  I have  an obligation  to Galactic Central. They  have
taken great precautions that the station not be known. There are Ulysses and
all my other  alien friends.  I cannot wreck their plans. I  cannot play the
traitor to  them.  For when you think of  it, Galactic Central and the  work
it's doing is more important than the Earth."
     "Divided loyalties," said David with slight mockery in his tone.
     "That is it,  exactly.  There had been  a time,  many years ago, when I
thought  of  writing  papers  for  submissions to  some  of  the  scientific
journals.  Not the  medical  journals, naturally, for I  know nothing  about
medicine.  The  drugs  are  there,  of  course,  lying  on the  shelf,  with
directions  for their use,  but they are merely so many pills  or powders or
ointments, or whatever  they may be. But there were other things I  knew of,
other things I'd learned.  Not  too much about them, naturally, but at least
some hints  in  some new  directions. Enough that someone could pick them up
and go on from there. Someone who might know what to do with them."
     "But look here," David said, "that wouldn't have worked  out.  You have
no technical nor research background, no educational record. You're not tied
up with  any  school or  college. The journals just don't publish you unless
you can prove yourself."
     "I realize that, of course. That's why I never wrote the papers. I knew
there was no use.  You can't blame the journals. They must  be  responsible.
Their  pages aren't open to just  anyone.  And even if they  had viewed  the
papers with enough respect to  want to publish them,  they would have had to
find out who I was. And that would have led straight back to the station."
     "But even  if you could  have gotten away with it,"  David pointed out,
"you'd still not have been clear. You said a while ago  you had a loyalty to
Galactic Central."
     "If," said Enoch,  "in this  particular case I could have got away with
it, it might have been all right. If you just threw  out ideas and let  some
Earth scientists develop them, there'd be no harm done Galactic Central. The
main problem, of course, would be not to reveal the source."
     "Even so," said David, "there'd be little you actually could tell them.
What I  mean is that generally  you haven't got enough  to go on. So much of
this galactic knowledge is off the beaten track."
     "I know," said Enoch. "The mental engineering  of  Mankalinen  III, for
one  thing. If the Earth  could know  of that, our  people undoubtedly could
find a clue to the treatment  of the neurotic and the mentally disturbed. We
could empty all the institutions and we could tear them down or use them for
something else. There'd be no need of them. But no one other than the people
out on Mankalinen Ill could ever tell us of  it. I only know  they are noted
for their mental engineering, but that is all I know. I haven't the faintest
inkling of what it's all about. It's something  that you'd  have to get from
the people out there."
     "What  you  are  really talking  of," said Mary, "are all  the nameless
sciences-the ones that no human has ever thought about."
     "Like us, perhaps," said David.
     "David!" Mary cried.
     "There is no sense," said David angrily, "in pretending we are people."
     "But you are," said Enoch  tensely. "You are people to  me. You are the
only people that I have. What is the matter, David?"
     "I think," said David, "that the time  has come  to say what we  really
are. That we are illusion. That we are  created and called up. That we exist
only  for one purpose, to come and talk  with you, to  fill  in for the real
people that you cannot have."
     "Mary," Enoch cried, "you  don't think  that way, too! You can't  think
that way!"
     He  reached out his arms  to her and then he let them drop-terrified at
the  realization of what he'd been about to  do. It was  the first time he'd
ever tried to touch her. It was the first time, in  all  the years, that  he
had forgotten.
     "I am sorry, Mary. I should not have done that."
     Her eyes were bright with tears.
     "I wish you could," she said. "Oh, how I wish you could!"
     "David," he said, not turning his head.
     "David left," said Mary.
     "He won't be back," said Enoch.
     Mary shook her head.
     "What is the matter, Mary? What is it all about? What have I done!"
     "Nothing," Mary said, "except that you made us too much like people. So
that we  became more human, until we were entirely human. No longer puppets,
no longer pretty dolls, but really actual people. I think  David must resent
it-not that  he is people, but  that being people,  he is still a shadow. It
did not matter when we were dolls or puppets, for we were not human then. We
had no human feeling."
     "Mary, please,"  he said. "Mary,  please forgive me." She leaned toward
him  and  her face  was  lighted  by deep tenderness. "There is  nothing  to
forgive," she said.  "Rather, I suppose, we  should  thank you  for  it. You
created us out of a love of us and a need of  us and it is wonderful to know
that you are loved and needed."
     "But  I don't create you any  more," Enoch pleaded. "There was a  time,
long ago, I had to. But not any longer. Now you come to visit me of your own
free will."
     How many years? he wondered. It must be all of fifty. And Mary had been
the first, and David had been  second. Of all the others  of them, they  had
been the first and were the closest and the dearest.
     And before that,  before he'd even  tried, he'd  spent  other years  in
studying  that nameless science stemming from  the thaumaturgists of Alphard
XXII.
     There had been a day and a state of mind when it would have been  black
magic,  but it was not black magic. Rather, it was the  orderly manipulation
of certain natural  aspects  of the universe as yet quite unsuspected by the
human  race.  Perhaps aspects that Man never  would discover.  For there was
not,  at  least  at the  present moment,  the  necessary orientation of  the
scientific mind to initiate the research that must precede discovery.
     "David felt," said Mary,  "that we could not go on forever, playing out
our little sedate visits. There had to be a time when we faced up to what we
really are."
     "And the rest of them?"
     "I am sorry, Enoch. The rest of them as well."
     "But you? How about you, Mary?"
     "I don't  know," she  said. "It is different  with me. I  love you very
much."
     "And I ..."
     "No, that's  not what I mean. Don't you  understand!  I'm  in love with
you."
     He sat  stricken, staring at her,  and there was a great roaring in the
world, as if he were standing still and the  world  and  time  were  rushing
swiftly past him.
     "If it only could  have stayed,"  she said,  "the way it was at  first.
Then we were glad of our existence  and our emotions were so shallow  and we
seemed to  be so happy. Like  little happy children, running in the sun. But
then we all grew up. And I think I the most of all."
     She smiled at him and tears were in her eyes.
     "Don't take it so hard, Enoch. We can ..."
     "My dear,"  he said, "I've been  in love with  you since  the first day
that I saw you. I think maybe even before that."
     He reached out a hand to her, then pulled it back, remembering.
     "I did not know," she said. "I should not have told you. You could live
with it until you knew I loved you, too."
     He noped dumbly.
     She  bowed  her head.  "Dear God, we  don't  deserve this. We have done
nothing to deserve it."
     She raised her head and looked at him. "If I could only touch you."
     "We can go on,"  he said, "as we  have always done. You can come to see
me any time you want. We can..."
     She shook her bead. "It wouldn't  work," she said. "There could neither
of us stand it."
     He knew that she was right. He knew that it  was done. For fifty  years
she  and the others had been dropping in to visit.  And they'd come no more.
For the fairyland was shattered and the magic spell was broken. He'd be left
alone-more alone than ever, more alone than before he'd ever known her.
     She  would not  come again and he could never bring himself to call her
up again, even  if he could, and his shadow world  and  his shadow love, the
only love he'd ever really had, would be gone forever.
     "Good bye, my dear," he said.
     But it was too late. She was already gone.
     And from far off, it  seemed,  he heard the moaning whistle that said a
message had come in.


     She had said that they must face up to the kind of things they were.
     And  what were  they? Not,  what did he think they were, but  what were
they, actually? What did they think themselves to be? For  perhaps they knew
much better than did he.
     Where had Mary  gone? When she  left this room, into what kind of limbo
did she disappear? Did she still exist? And if so, what kind of an existence
would it be? Would she be stored away somewhere as a little girl would store
away her doll in a box pushed back into the closet with all the other dolls?
     He tried to imagine  limbo and it was  a nothingness,  and if that were
true,  a  being  pushed  into   limbo  would  be  an  existence   within   a
non-existence. There would  be nothing-not space nor time,  nor  light,  nor
air,  no color, and no vision, just a never ending nothing that of necessity
must lie at some point outside the universe.
     Mary! he cried inside himself. Mary, what have I done to you?
     And the answer lay there, hard and naked.
     He had  dabbled  in a thing  which  he  had  not  understood.  And had,
furthermore, committed that greater sin of thinking that he  did understand.
And the  fact of the matter was that he had just barely understood enough to
make the concept work, but  had  not understood  enough  to  be aware of its
consequences.
     With  creation  went responsibility and he  was not equipped to  assume
more than the moral responsibility for the wrong that he had done, and moral
responsibility, unless  it might  be coupled with the ability to bring about
some mitigation, was an entirely useless thing.
     They hated him and resented him and he did not blame them, for he'd led
them out and shown them the promised land of humanity  and then had led them
back.  He had  given them everything that  a  human being  had with  the one
exception of that most important  thing of all-the  ability to  exist within
the human world.
     They all hated him but Mary, and for  Mary it was worse  than hate. For
she was condemned, by the  very  virtue of the humanity he had given her, to
love the monster who had created her.
     Hate me, Mary, he pleaded. Hate me  like  the others! He had thought of
them  as shadow  people, but  that had  been just a name he'd thought up for
himself, for his own convenience, a handy label that he had tagged them with
so that he would have some way of identifying them when he thought of them.
     But the label had been wrong, for they were not shadowy  or  ghostlike.
To the eyes they were solid and substantial, as  real  as any people. It was
only when you tried to touch them that they were not real-for when you tried
to touch them, there was nothing there.
     A figment of his mind, he'd thought at first, but now  he was not sure.
At first they'd come only when he'd  called them up, using the knowledge and
the  techniques  that he had  acquired in his study  of the work done by the
thaumaturgists of Alphard XXII. But  in recent years he had not  called them
up. There had been no  occasion to. They had anticipated him and come before
he could call them up. They sensed his need of  them before he knew the need
himself. And they were there, waiting for him, to spend an hour or evening.
     Figments of his mind in one sense,  of course, for he had shaped  them,
perhaps at the time unconsciously, not knowing why he shaped them so, but in
recent years he'd known, although he had tried not to know, would  have been
the better satisfied if he had not known. For it was a knowledge that he had
not admitted,  but kept pushed back, far within his mind. But  now, when all
was gone, when it no longer mattered, he finally did admit it.
     David Ransome was himself,  as  he had dreamed himself to be, as he had
wished  himself  to  be-but, of course,  as he  had never  been. He  was the
dashing Union officer, of not so high a rank as  to be stiff and stodgy, but
a fair cut above the man of  ordinary standing. He was trim and debonair and
definitely dare-devilish, loved by all the women, admired by all the men. He
was a born leader and a good fellow all at once, at home alike  in the field
or drawing room.
     And Mary? Funny, he thought, he had never called her anything but Mary.
There had never been a surname. She had been simply Mary.
     And she was at least two  women,  if not more than  that. She was Sally
Brown, who  had lived  just down the  road-and how  long  had  it  been,  he
wondered, since he'd thought of Sally Brown? It was  strange, he knew,  that
he had  not  thought  of her, that  he now was shocked  by  the memory  of a
one-time neighbor girl named Sally Brown.  For the two of them once had been
in  love, or only thought, perhaps, that they had been in love. For  even in
the later  years, when he  still  remembered  her, he had never  been  quite
certain, even through the romantic  mists of time, if it had been love or no
more than the romanticism of  a  soldier marching off  to war. It had been a
shy and fumbling, an awkward sort of love, the love of the farmer's daughter
for  the next-door farmer's son. They had decided to be married when he came
home  from war, but a few days after Gettysburg  he had received the letter,
then more than three weeks written, which told him that Sally Brown was dead
of diphtheria. He had grieved, he now recalled, but he could not recall  how
deeply, although  it probably had been deeply, for to grieve long and deeply
was the fashion in those days.
     So Mary very definitely was partly Sally Brown, but not entirely Sally.
She was as well that tall, stately daughter of the  South, the woman  he had
seen for a few moments only  as he marched a  dusty road in the hot Virginia
sun. There had been  a mansion, one  of those great  plantation houses,  set
back from the road, and she had been standing on the portico, beside one  of
the  great white pillars, watching the  enemy march past. Her hair was black
and her complexion whiter than the pillar and she had stood so  straight and
proud, so defiant and imperious, that he  had remembered her and thought  of
her and dreamed  of  her-although he never  knew  her name-through  all  the
dusty, sweaty,  bloody  days  of war. Wondering as he thought and dreamed of
her if the  thinking  and the dreaming might  be  unfaithful to  his  Sally.
Sitting around  the campfire, when the talk grew quiet, and again, rolled in
his blankets, staring  at the stars, he had built up  a fantasy of how, when
the war was ended, he'd  go back to  that Virginia house  and find her.  She
might  be there no longer, but  he still would roam the South  and find her.
But he never did; he  had  never really meant to  find  her. It had  been  a
campfire dream.
     So Mary had been both of these-she had been Sally Brown and the unknown
Virginia belle standing by the pillar to watch the troops march by. She  had
been the shadow of them and perhaps of many others as yet unrealized by him,
a composite of all he  had ever known  or seen or admired in women. She  had
been an ideal and perfection. She had been his perfect woman, created in his
mind.  And now, like  Sally Brown, resting in  her  grave; like the Virginia
belle,  lost  in  the mists  of time;  like  all  the  others  who  may have
contributed to his molding of her, she was gone from him.
     And he  had loved her, certainly, for she had been a compounding of his
loves-a cross section, as it were, of all the women he had ever loved (if he
actually  had loved any) or the ones  he had thought he  loved, even  in the
abstract.
     But that she should love him was something that  had  never crossed his
mind. And until  he  knew her love for  him, it had  been quite  possible to
nurse his love of her close inside the heart, knowing that it was a hopeless
love and impossible, but the best that he could manage.
     He  wondered  where  she might be now, where she had retreated-into the
limbo  he had  attempted  to  imagine or into  some  strange  non-existence,
waiting all unknowing for the time she'd come to him again.
     He put  up  his hands  and lowered his head  in  them and sat in  utter
misery and guilt, with his face cupped in his fingers.
     She would  never come again. He prayed  she'd never come.  It  would be
better for the both of them if she never came.
     If he only  could be sure, he thought, of where she might be now. If he
only could be certain that she was in a semblance of death and untortured by
her thoughts. To believe that she was sentient was more than one could bear.
     He heard the  hooting of  the whistle that said a message waited and he
took his head out of his hands. But he did not get up off the sofa.
     Numbly his hand reached out to the coffee table that stood  before  the
sofa, its  top covered  with some  of the  more colorful of  the gewgaws and
gimcracks that had been left as gifts by travelers.
     He picked up a cube of something that might have been some strange sort
of  glass or of translucent stone-he had never  been able to decide which it
was, if either-and  cupped it in  his hands. Staring into it, he  saw a tiny
picture, three-dimensional and detailed, of a faery world. It was a prettily
grotesque place set inside what might have been a forest glade surrounded by
what appeared to be flowering toadstools, and drifting down through the air,
as if it might have been a part of the air itself, came what looked  for all
the  world like a  shower of jeweled  snow, sparkling  and  glinting  in the
violet light of a great blue sun. There were things dancing in the glade and
they looked more like flowers than animals, but they  moved with a grace and
poetry that fired one's blood to  watch. Then  the faery place was wiped out
and  there was  another  place-a  wild and dismal place,  with grim,  gaunt,
beetling cliffs rearing high against a red and angry sky, while great flying
things that looked like flapping dishrags beat their way  up  and  down  the
cliffs,  and there were  others  of them  roosting, most obscenely, upon the
scraggly  projections  that must  have  been  some  sort  of misshapen trees
growing from the  very wall of rock. And from far  below, from some distance
that one could only guess, came the lonesome thundering of a rushing river.
     He put the cube back upon the table. He wondered what it  was  that one
saw within its depths. It was  like turning  the  pages of a book, with each
page a picture of a different place,  but never anything to tell  where that
place might be. When  he  first had been given  it, he had  spent fascinated
hours, watching the pictures  change as he held it  in his hands. There  had
never been  a  picture that  looked even faintly  like any other picture and
there was no end to them. One  got the feeling that these were not pictures,
actually, but that  one was looking at  the  scene itself  and  that at  any
moment  one might lose his  perch  upon wherever he was  roosting and plunge
head first down into the place itself.
     But  it  had finally  palled  upon him, for it  bad  been  a  senseless
business, gawking at a long series of places that had no identity. Senseless
to him, of course, he thought,  but not senseless, certainly, to that native
of Enif V who  had given it to him. It might, for  all he  knew, Enoch  told
himself, be of great significance and a treasure of great value.
     That was the  way  it was  with  so many of the things he had. Even the
ones that  had  given pleasure, he  knew, be might be  using wrongly, or, at
least, in a way that had not been intended.
     But there  were  some-a  few, perhaps-that did have  a  value he  could
understand and  appreciate, although in  many instances their functions were
of little use to him. There was the tiny clock that gave the local times for
all the sectors of the  galaxy, and while it might be  intriguing, and  even
essential under certain circumstances, it had little value to him. And there
was  the perfume  mixer, which was as close as he could  come in  naming it,
which allowed  a  person to  create the specific scent desired. Just get the
mixture that one wanted and turn it on and the room took on that scent until
one should turn it off.  He'd had some fun with it, remembering that  bitter
winter  day when,  after long experimenting, he  had  achieved  the scent of
apple blossoms,  and  had lived  a day in  spring while  a  blizzard  howled
outside.
     He reached  out and picked up  another  piece-a  beautiful  thing  that
always had intrigued him, but for which he had never found a use-if, indeed,
it  had a use. It might be, he told himself, no more than a  piece of art, a
pretty  thing that was meant to look at only. But it had  a certain feel (if
that were  the word) which  had  led him to believe that it might  have some
specific function.
     It was a pyramid of spheres,  succeeding smaller  spheres set on larger
spheres. Some  fourteen inches  tall, it was a graceful piece, with  each of
the spheres  a  different color-and not just a color  painted on,  but  each
color so deep  and true  that one knew instinctively the color was intrinsic
to  each sphere,  that the  entire sphere, from the center  of it out to the
surface, was all of its particular color.
     There was nothing to indicate that any gluelike medium had been used to
mount the spheres and hold them in their places. It looked for all the world
as if someone had simply piled the spheres, one atop the other, and they had
stayed that way.
     Holding it  in his hands, he tried to  recall who had given it to  him,
but he had no memory of it.
     The whistle of the message machine still was calling and there was work
to  do. He could not sit here, he  told himself, mooning the afternoon away.
He put the pyramid of spheres back on the table top, and rising, went across
the room.
     The message said:
     NO. 406,302 TO STATION 18327.  NATIVE OF VEGA XXI ARRIVING AT 16532.82.
DEPARTURE  INDETERMINATE.  NO  LUGGAGE.   CABINET  ONLY,  LOCAL  CONDITIONS.
CONFIRM.
     Enoch felt  a glow of  happiness, looking  at the message.  It would be
good  to have a Hazer once again. It had been a  month or more since one had
passed through the station.
     He could remember back to that first day he  had ever met a Hazer, when
the five of them had come. It  must  have been, he  thought, back in 1914 or
maybe 1915.  World War I, which everyone then was calling the Great War, was
under way, he knew.
     The Hazer would be arriving at  about the same  time as Ulysses and the
three of them could spend a pleasant evening. It was not too often that  two
good friends ever visited here at once.
     He  stood a bit aghast at thinking  of the Hazer as  a friend, for more
than likely the being itself was one he had never met. But that made  little
difference, for a Hazer, any Hazer, would turn out to be a friend.
     He  got  the cabinet  in  position  beneath  a  materializer  unit  and
double-checked to be sure that everything was exactly  as it should be, then
went back to the message machine and sent off the confirmation.
     And all the time his memory kept on  nagging at him.  Had it been 1914,
or perhaps a little later?
     At the catalogue cabinet, he pulled out a drawer and found Vega XXI and
the first date  listed was  July  12, 1915. He found the record book on  the
shelf and pulled it out and brought  it  to the desk. He leafed  through  it
rapidly until he found the date.


     July 12, 1915-Arrived this afternoon (3:20 P.M.)  five beings from Vega
XXI, the first of their kind to pass through  this station.  They are  biped
and  humanoid,  and one  gains  the  impression  that they are  not  made of
flesh-that flesh would be too gross for the kind  of things they are-but, of
course, they  are made of flesh  the  same as anyone. They glow, not with  a
visible light, but there is about them an aura that goes  with them wherever
they may be.
     They  were, I gathered, a sexual unit, the five of them, although  I am
not  so certain I understand, for  it is most confusing. They were happy and
friendly  and  they carried  with  them an air  of  faint amusement, not  at
anything in particular,  but at  the universe itself, as if  they might have
enjoyed some sort of cosmic and very  private joke that was known  to no one
else.  They were on a holiday and were en route to a festival (although that
may not be the precise  word  for it) on  another planet,  where  other life
forms were gathering for a week of carnival. Just how  they had been invited
or why they had been invited I was unable to  determine. It must surely have
been a great honor for them to  be going there,  but so  far as  I could see
they did not  seem to think so, but  took  it as their right. They were very
happy and without a care and extremely self-assured and poised, but thinking
back  on it, I  would  suppose that they are always that way. I found myself
just a little  envious at  not  being able to be as carefree and gay as they
were, and trying to  imagine  how  fresh life and the universe must  seem to
them,  and a little resentful  that they could be, so unthinkingly, as happy
as they were.
     I had,  according  to instructions, hung hammocks  so  that  they could
rest,  but they did not use  them. They brought  with them hampers that were
filled with food and drink and  sat down at my table  and began to  talk and
feast.  They  asked me to  sit with  them and they chose  two  dishes  and a
bottle, which  they assured me would be safe for  me  to eat  and drink, the
rest of their fare being somewhat doubtful  for a metabolism  such  as mine.
The  food was  delicious  and of a kind  I  had never  tasted-one dish being
rather like the rarest and most  delicate of old cheeses, and the other of a
sweetness  that was  heavenly.  The  drink  was somewhat like the  finest of
brandies, yellow in color and no heavier than water.
     They asked me about myself and  about my planet and they were courteous
and  seemed genuinely interested and they were quick of understanding in the
things I told them. They told me they were headed for a  planet  the name of
which  I had not heard before, and they talked among themselves,  gaily  and
happily,  but in  such a way that I did not seem to  be left out. From their
talk  I gained  the fact that some  form of art was being  presented at  the
festival on this planet.  The  art form was not alone of music or  painting,
but was composed of sound and color and emotion and form and other qualities
for which there seem to be no words in the language of the Earth,  and which
I do not entirely recognize, only gaining the very faintest inkling  of what
they were talking of in this particular regard. I gained the impression of a
three-dimensional  symphony,  although  this   is  not  entirely  the  right
expression, which had been composed, not by a single being, but by a team of
beings.  They talked  of  the  art  form  enthusiastically and  I seemed  to
understand that it would last for not only several hours, but for  days, and
that it was  an experience  rather than a  listening  or seeing and that the
spectators or audience did not  merely  sit and listen, but could,  if  they
wished,  and must,  to get  the most out of it, be participants. But I could
not understand how they participated and  felt I should not ask. They talked
of the people they would meet and  when they  had met them last and gossiped
considerably about  them, although in kindly fashion, leaving the impression
that they and many  other  people went from  planet to planet for some happy
purpose. But whether there was  any purpose  other  than  enjoyment in their
going, I could not determine. I gathered that there might be.
     They  spoke of other festivals  and not all of them were concerned with
the one art  form, but with  other more  specialized aspects of the arts, of
which  I could  gain no adequate  idea.  They  seemed to  find  a great  and
exuberant happiness in the festivals and it  seemed to me that some  certain
significances aside from the art itself contributed to that happiness. I did
not  join in this  part of their conversation,  for,  frankly,  there was no
opportunity. I would have liked  to ask some questions, but I had no chance.
I suppose that if I had, my questions  must have sounded stupid to them, but
given the chance, that would not have bothered me too much. And yet in spite
of this,  they  managed somehow to  make me  feel I  was  included  in their
conversation. There was no obvious attempt to  do this, and yet they made me
feel I was one with them and not simply a station keeper they  would spend a
short  time with.  At times  they  spoke briefly  in the  language  of their
planet, which is one of  the most  beautiful I have ever heard, but for  the
most part they conversed in the vernacular  used by a number of the humanoid
races, a sort of pidgin language made up for convenience, and I suspect that
this was done  out of courtesy to me, and a great courtesy it was. I believe
that they were truly the most civilized people I have ever met.
     I have  said they  glowed and  I think by that I mean  they  glowed  in
spirit. It seemed that they were accompanied, somehow, by a sparkling golden
haze that made happy everything it touched-almost  as if they  moved in some
special world that no one else had found.  Sitting at the table with them, I
seemed to be  included in this golden haze and I  felt  strange, quiet, deep
currents of happiness flowing in my veins. I wondered by what route they and
their world had  arrived at this golden state and if my world could, in some
distant time, attain it.
     But  back  of  this  happiness  was  a  great  vitality,  the  bubbling
effervescent spirit with an inner core of strength and a love of living that
seemed to fill every pore of them and every instant of their time.
     They had only two  hours' time  and it  passed so swiftly that I had to
finally warn  them it  was time to  go. Before  they  left,  they placed two
packages on the table and said they were for me and thanked  me for my table
(what a strange way for them to put it) then they said good bye  and stepped
into the cabinet (extra-large one) and I sent them on their way.  Even after
they  were gone,  the golden  haze  seemed to  linger in the room and it was
hours before all of  it was gone. I wished that I might have  gone with them
to that other planet and its festival.
     One  of  the  packages  they  left  contained a  dozen bottles  of  the
brandy-like liquor and the bottles themselves were each  a  piece of art, no
two of  them alike,  being formed  of  what I am convinced is  diamond,  but
whether fabricated diamond or carved from some great stones, I have no idea.
At any  rate, I would  estimate  that each  of them is priceless,  and  each
carved in  a disturbing variety of symbolisms, each of which, however, has a
special beauty of its own. And in the other  box was a-well, I suppose that,
for lack of other name, you might  call it a music  box. The  box itself  is
ivory, old yellow ivory that is as smooth as satin, and covered by a mass of
diagrammatic  carving  which must  have  some  significance  which I do  not
understand. On the top of  it  is a circle set  inside a graduated scale and
when I turned the circle to the first graduation there was music and through
all the room an interplay of many-colored light,  as if the entire  room was
filled  with  different  kinds  of  color,  and  through  it  all  a far-off
suggestion of that golden haze. And  from the box  came,  too, perfumes that
filled the room, and feeling, emotion-whatever one may call it-but something
that took hold  of one and  made one sad or happy or whatever  might go with
the music  and the color  and perfume. Out of that box came a world in which
one lived  out the  composition or  whatever it might be-living it  with all
that  one had in him, all the emotion and  belief and intellect of which one
is  capable. And here,  I am quite certain, was a recording of that art form
of  which they had  been talking. And not  one composition alone, but 206 of
them, for that is the number of the graduation marks and for each mark there
is a separate composition. In the  days  to  come I shall play  them all and
make  notes upon each  of them and assign them names, perhaps,  according to
their characteristics, and from them, perhaps,  can  gain some  knowledge as
well as entertainment.


     The  twelve diamond bottles, empty long  ago, stood in  a sparkling row
upon  the   fireplace  mantel.  The  music  box,  as  one  of  his  choicest
possessions, was stored inside one of the cabinets, where no harm could come
to it.  And  Enoch thought  rather  ruefully,  in  all these years,  despite
regular  use  of it, he  had  not as yet  played  through the entire list of
compositions.  There were  so many  of  the  early  ones that  begged for  a
replaying  that he  was  not  a great deal  more  than  halfway  through the
graduated markings.
     The Hazers had come back, the five of them, time and time again, for it
seemed that they found in this station, perhaps even in the man who operated
it, some quality  that  pleased  them. They had  helped him  learn the Vegan
language and  had  brought him scrolls  of Vegan literature  and  many other
things, and had been, without any doubt,  the best friends among  the aliens
(other than  Ulysses)  that he had ever had. Then one  day they came no more
and he wondered why, asking after  them when other Hazers  showed  up at the
station. But he had never learned what had happened to them.
     He knew  far more  now  about the  Hazers  and  their art  forms, their
traditions and  their customs and their history, than he'd known  that first
day  he'd written of them, back in  1915. But he still was far from grasping
many of the concepts that were commonplace with them.
     There had been many of them since that day in 1915 and there was one he
remembered in particular-the old, wise one, the philosopher, who had died on
the floor beside the sofa.
     They  had been sitting on the sofa, talking, and he even could remember
the subject of their talk. The old one had been telling of the perverse code
of ethics, at  once irrational and comic,  which had  been built up by  that
curious race of social vegetables he had encountered on one of his visits to
an off-track planet on the other side of the galactic rim. The old Hazer had
a  drink or  two beneath  his  belt and he was  in splendid  form,  relating
incident after incident with enthusiastic gusto.
     Supenly, in  mid-sentence, he  had stopped his talking, and had slumped
quietly forward. Enoch, startled, reached for him, but before he could lay a
hand upon him, the old alien had slid slowly to the floor.
     The golden haze  had  faded from his body and slowly  flickered out and
the  body lay there, angular  and  bony and obscene, a terribly  alien thing
there upon the  floor, a thing that was at once pitiful  and monstrous. More
monstrous, it seemed to Enoch, than anything in alien  form he had ever seen
before.
     In life  it had been a wondrous creature, but now, in death, it  was an
old bag of hideous  bones with a scaly parchment stretched to hold the bones
together.  It was the golden haze, Enoch told himself, gulping, in something
near to  horror, that had made the  Hazer seem so wondrous and so beautiful,
so vital, so alive and  quick, so filled with dignity. The  golden  haze was
the  life  of  them and when the haze  was gone, they became  mere repulsive
horrors that one gagged to look upon.
     Could  it be,  he wondered, that  the goldenness  was the Hazers'  life
force  and that they wore it  like a cloak, as a sort  of over-all disguise?
Did  they  wear that  life force  on the  outside of  them  while  all other
creatures wore it on the inside?
     A  piteous little wind was lamenting  in the gingerbread high up in the
gables  and  through the windows he could see  battalions of tattered clouds
fleeing in ragged  retreat across the moon, which had climbed halfway up the
eastern sky.
     There was  a  coldness and a loneliness in  the  station-a far-reaching
loneliness that  stretched out  and out,  farther than mere Earth loneliness
could go.
     Enoch turned from the  body and walked  stiffly across  the room to the
message  machine.  He put in a call  for a  connection direct  with Galactic
Central, then stood waiting, gripping the sides of the machine with both his
hands.
     GO AHEAD, said Galactic Central.
     Briefly,  as  objectively  as he  was  able,  Enoch  reported  what had
happened.
     There was no hesitation and there were no questions from the other end.
Just the simple directions (as if  this was something that  happened all the
time) of how the situation should be handled. The Vegan must remain upon the
planet  of its death, its body to be disposed  of  according  to  the  local
customs obtaining on that planet. For that was the Vegan law, and, likewise,
a point of honor. A Vegan, when he fell, must stay  where he  fell, and that
place became,  forever, a part of  Vega  XXI.  There  were such places, said
Galactic Central, all through the galaxy.
     THE CUSTOM HERE [typed Enoch] IS TO INTER THE DEAD.
     THEN INTER THE VEGAN.
     WE READ A VERSE OR TWO FROM OUR HOLY BOOK.
     READ ONE FOR THE VEGAN, THEN. YOU CAN DO ALL THIS?
     YES. BUT WE USUALLY HAVE IT DONE BY A PRACTITIONER  OF RELIGION.  UNDER
THE PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCES, HOWEVER, THAT MIGHT BE UNWISE.
     AGREED [said Galactic Central] YOU CAN DO AS WELL YOURSELF?
     I CAN.
     IT IS BEST, THEN, THAT YOU DO.
     WILL THERE BE RELATIVES OR FRIENDS ARRIVING FOR THE RITES?
     NO.
     YOU WILL NOTIFY THEM?
     FORMALLY, OF COURSE. BUT THEY ALREADY KNOW.
     HE ONLY DIED A MOMENT OR TWO AGO.
     NEVERTHELESS, THEY KNOW.
     WHAT ABOUT A DEATH CERTIFICATE?
     NONE IS NEEDED. THEY KNOW OF WHAT HE DIED.
     HIS LUGGAGE? THERE IS A TRUNK.
     KEEP IT. IT IS YOURS.  IT IS A TOKEN FOR THE  SERVICES  YOU PERFORM FOR
THE HONORED DEAD. THAT ALSO IS THE LAW.
     BUT THERE MAY BE IMPORTANT MATTERS IN IT.
     YOU WILL KEEP THE TRUNK. TO REFUSE WOULD INSULT THE MEMORY OF THE DEAD.
     ANYTHING ELSE? [asked Enoch] THAT IS ALL?
     THAT IS ALL. PROCEED AS IF THE VEGAN WERE ONE OF YOUR OWN.
     Enoch cleared the machine and went back across the room. He stood above
the Hazer, getting up his nerve to bend and lift the body to place it on the
sofa. He  shrank from  touching it.  It was so unclean and terrible,  such a
travesty on the shining creature that had sat there talking with him.
     Since he met the  Hazers he had loved them and admired them, had looked
forward to  each visit by  them-by  any one  of  them. And now  he stood,  a
shivering coward who could not touch one dead.
     It  was not the horror only, for in his years as keeper of the station,
he had seen much of pure visual horror as portrayed in alien bodies. And yet
he  had learned to submerge  that sense of horror, to disregard  the outward
appearance of it,  to regard all life as brother life, to meet all things as
people.
     It was  something else, he knew, some other  unknown factor quite apart
from horror,  that he felt. And yet this thing,  he reminded  himself, was a
friend of his. And as a dead friend, it demanded honor from him, it demanded
love and care.
     Blindly he drove himself to the task. He stooped and lifted it.  It had
almost no weight at all,  as ii in death  it had lost a dimension of itself,
had somehow  become a smaller thing and less  significant. Could  it  be, he
wondered, that the golden haze might have a weight all of its own?
     He laid the body on the sofa and straightened it as best he could. Then
he went  outside  and,  lighting  the lantern in  the shed, went down to the
barn.
     It had  been  years since he  had  been  there,  but  nothing much  had
changed. Protected by a tight roof from the weather, it had  stayed snug and
dry. There  were  cobwebs  hanging from the beams and  dust was  everywhere.
Straggling clumps of ancient hay, stored in the mow above, hung down through
the cracks in the  boards that  floored the mow. The place had a dry, sweet,
dusty smell about it, all the odors of animals and manure long gone.
     Enoch  hung  the lantern on the  peg behind the row of  stanchions  and
climbed  the laper  to the mow. Working in the  dark, for he dared not bring
the lantern into this dust heap of dried-out hay, he found the pile of oaken
boards far beneath the eaves.
     Here,  he  remembered,  underneath  these  slanting eaves,  had been  a
pretended cave in which, as a boy, he  had spent many happy rainy  days when
he could not be outdoors. He had been Robinson  Crusoe in  his desert island
cave, or some now nameless outlaw hiding  from a  posse, or  a  man holed up
against the threat of scalp-hunting Indians.  He had had a gun, a wooden gun
that he  had sawed out of a board, working it down later with draw-shave and
knife and a piece of glass to scrape it smooth. It had been something he had
cherished through  all  his  boyhood days-until that day,  when he had  been
twelve, that his  father, returning home from a trip to town, had handed him
a rifle for his very own.
     He explored the stack  of boards in the dark, determining by  the  feel
the ones that he would need.  These he carried to  the  laper and  carefully
slid down to the floor below.
     Climbing down the laper,  he went up the short flight  of stairs to the
granary, where  the  tools were stored.  He opened the lid of the great tool
chest  and found that it  was filled  with long deserted mice nests. Pulling
out handfulls of the  straw and hay and grass  that the rodents had  used to
set up their  one-time housekeeping, he uncovered the tools.  The  shine had
gone from them, their surface grayed  by the soft patina that came from long
disuse, but there was no rust upon them and the cutting edges still retained
their sharpness.
     Selecting the tools he needed, he went back to the  lower part  of  the
barn  and  fell to work. A century ago, he thought, he  had done  as  he was
doing  now, working by lantern light to construct a coffin. And that time it
had been his father lying in the house.
     The oaken  boards were dry  and hard, but the tools still were in shape
to handle them. He sawed and planed and hammered and there was  the smell of
sawdust. The barn was snug and silent,  the depth of hay standing in the mow
drowning out the noise of the complaining wind outside.
     He finished the coffin and  it was heavier  than he had figured,  so he
found the old wheelbarrow, leaning against the wall back of the stalls  that
once had  been  used for horses,  and loaded the coffin  on it. Laboriously,
stopping often to rest, he wheeled it down to the little cemetery inside the
apple orchard.
     And  here, beside his father's  grave,  he  dug  another grave,  having
brought  a shovel and a pickax with him. He  did not dig it  as  deep as  he
would have liked to  dig, not the full six feet that  was decreed by custom,
for he knew that  if he  dug it that  deep he never would be able to get the
coffin in. So he dug it slightly less than  four,  laboring in the light  of
the lantern, set atop the mound of dirt to cast its feeble glow. An owl came
up  from the woods  and  sat  for a while, unseen, somewhere in the orchard,
muttering and gurgling in between its hoots. The moon  sank toward the  west
and the ragged clouds thinned out to let the stars shine through.
     Finally it was finished, with the grave completed and the casket in the
grave and the lantern  flickering, the kerosene almost gone, and the chimney
blacked from the angle at which the lantern had been canted.
     Back at the station, Enoch hunted up a sheet in which to wrap the body.
He put  a Bible in his pocket and picked up  the shrouded Vegan  and, in the
first  faint light that preceded dawn, marched down to the apple orchard. He
put the Vegan in the coffin and nailed shut the lid,  then climbed  from the
grave.
     Standing on the edge of it, he took the Bible from his pocket and found
the place  he wanted. He  read aloud, scarcely needing to strain his eyes in
the dim light to follow the text, for it was from a chapter that he had read
many times:
     In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have
told you...
     Thinking, as he read it, how appropriate it was; how there must need be
many mansions in which to house all the souls in the galaxy-and  of all  the
other galaxies that stretched, perhaps interminably, through space. Although
if there were understanding, one might be enough.
     He  finished reading and recited  the  burial service, from memory,  as
best he could, not being absolutely  sure of all the words. But sure enough,
he told himself, to make sense out of it. Then he shoveled in the dirt.
     The stars and moon were gone and the wind had died. In the quietness of
the morning, the eastern sky was pearly pink.
     Enoch stood beside the grave, with the shovel in his hand.
     "Good bye, my friend," he said.
     Then he turned and, in the first flush of the morning, went back to the
station.


     Enoch got  up from his desk and carried  the  record  book back to  the
shelf and slid it into place.
     He turned around and stood hesitantly.
     There  were  things  that he should do.  He should read  his papers. He
should be writing  up his journal. There  were a  couple  of  papers in  the
latest issues  of  the Journal  of  Geophysical  Research that  he should be
looking at.
     But he didn't feel like doing any of them.  There was too much to think
about, too much to worry over, too much to mourn.
     The watchers still were  out  there. He had lost his shadow people. And
the world was edging in toward war.
     Although, perhaps, he should not be worrying about what happened to the
world. He  could  renounce the world,  could resign  from the human race any
time he wished.  If he never  went outside, if he never  opened up the door,
then it  would  make  no difference to him what the world might do  or  what
might happen to it. For he  had a world. He had a greater world than  anyone
outside this station had ever dreamed about. He did not need the Earth.
     But even as be thought it, he knew he  could not make it stick. For, in
a very strange and funny way, he still did need the Earth.
     He walked over to the door and spoke the phrase and the door came open.
He walked into the shed and it closed behind him.
     He went around  the corner of  the house and sat down on the steps that
led up to the porch.
     This, he  thought,  was  where it all  had started. He had been sitting
here that summer day of long ago when the stars  had reached out across vast
gulfs of space and put the finger on him.
     The  sun  was far down  the  sky  toward the west and soon it would  be
evening.  Already  the heat of the day was  falling off, with  a faint, cool
breeze creeping up out of the hollow that ran down to the river valley. Down
across the field, at the edge of the woods, crows were wheeling  in  the sky
and cawing.
     It  would be  hard to shut the door,  he knew, and  keep it  shut. Hard
never to feel the sun or wind again, to never know the smell of the changing
seasons as they came across the Earth. Man,  he  told himself, was not ready
for that. He had not as yet become so totally a creature of his  own created
environment that  he could  divorce entirely the physical characteristics of
his native planet. He needed sun and soil and wind to remain a man.
     He should do this oftener, Enoch thought, come  out here and sit, doing
nothing,  just looking, seeing  the  trees and the river to the west and the
blue  of the Iowa hills across the Mississippi,  watching the crows wheeling
in the skies and the pigeons strutting on the ridgepole of the barn.
     It would be worth while each day to do it, for what was another hour of
aging? He did not need to save his hours-not now he didn't. There might come
a time when he'd  become very jealous  of  them  and when that day  came, he
could hoard the hours and minutes, even the seconds, in as miserly a fashion
as he could manage.
     He heard the sound of the running  feet as they came around the farther
corner of the  house, a stumbling, exhausted running,  as if the one who ran
might have come a far way.
     He leapt to his feet and strode out  into the yard  to see who it might
be and the runner came stumbling toward him, with her  arms outstretched. He
put out an arm and  caught her as she came  close  to him, holding her close
against him so she would not fall.
     "Lucy!" he cried. "Lucy! What has happened, child?"
     His hands against her back were warm and sticky and he took one of them
away to see  that it was smeared with blood. The back  of her dress, he saw,
was soaked and dark.
     He  grabbed her by the  shoulders and shoved  her away from  him  so he
could  see  her face. It  was wet  with crying  and  there was terror in the
face-and pleading with the terror.
     She  pulled away  from him  and  turned around. Her  hands came up  and
slipped her dress off her  shoulders and let it slide halfway down her back.
The flesh  of  the shoulders were ribboned  by long slashes  that still were
oozing blood.
     She  pulled the  dress  up again  and turned  to  face him. She  made a
pleading gesture and pointed backward down the hill, in the direction of the
field that ran down to the woods.
     There was motion  down  there, someone coming through the woods, almost
at the edge of the old deserted field.
     She must have  seen it, too, for she came close against him, shivering,
seeking his protection.
     He bent and lifted her in his arms and ran for the  shed. He  spoke the
phrase and the door came open and he stepped into the station. Behind him he
heard the door go sliding shut.
     Once inside, he stood there, with Lucy Fisher cradled in his arms,  and
knew that  what he'd done  had been  a  great  mistake-that it was something
that, in a sober moment, he never would have done,  that if he'd  given it a
second thought, he would not have done it.
     But  he  had acted on an  impulse, with no thought at all. The girl had
asked protection and here she had protection, here nothing in the world ever
could get  at  her. But she was a human being and no human being, other than
himself, should have ever crossed the threshold.
     But it was  done and  there  was no way to change  it.  Once across the
threshold, there was no way to change it.
     He carried her across the room and  put her on  the  sofa, then stepped
back.  She sat there, looking up at him, smiling very faintly, as if she did
not  know if she  were allowed to  smile  in a place like this. She lifted a
hand and tried to brush away the tears that were upon her cheeks.
     She looked quickly around the room and her mouth made an O of wonder.
     He squatted down and patted the sofa and  shook a finger at her, hoping
that she might understand that he meant she should stay there, that she must
go nowhere else. He swept an arm in a motion to take in all the remainder of
the station and shook his head as sternly as he could.
     She watched him, fascinated, then she smiled and noped, as if she might
have understood.
     He reached out and  took  one  of her hands in his own, and holding it,
patted it as  gently  as  he  could, trying  to  reassure  her, to make  her
understand that  everything was all right if she only stayed  exactly  where
she was.
     She  was  smiling now,  not  wondering,  apparently, if there were  any
reason that she should not smile.
     She reached out  her  free hand and made a  little  fluttering  gesture
toward the coffee table, with its load of alien gadgets.
     He noped  and she picked  up one of them, turning  it admiringly in her
hand.
     He got to his feet and went to the wall to take down the rifle.
     Then he went outside to face whatever had been pursuing her.


     Two men were coming up  the  field toward the house  and Enoch saw that
one of  them  was  Hank  Fisher, Lucy's father.  He had met the man,  rather
briefly, several years ago, on one  of his walks. Hank had explained, rather
sheepishly and  when no explanation had  been necessary, that he was hunting
for a cow  which had  strayed away. But from  his furtive  manner, Enoch had
deduced that his errand, rather than the hunting of a cow, had been somewhat
on the shady side, although he could not imagine what it might have been.
     The other man was younger. No more, perhaps, than sixteen or seventeen.
More than likely, Enoch told himself, he was one of Lucy's brothers.
     Enoch stood by the porch and waited.
     Hank, he saw,  was carrying a  coiled whip  in his hand, and looking at
it, Enoch understood those wounds on Lucy's shoulders. He felt a swift flash
of anger, but  tried to fight it down. He could deal better with Hank Fisher
if he kept his temper.
     The two men stopped three paces or so away.
     "Good afternoon," said Enoch.
     "You seen my gal?" asked Hank.
     "And if I have?" asked Enoch.
     "I'll take the hide off of her," yelled Hank, flourishing the whip.
     "In such a case," said Enoch, "I don't believe I'll tell you anything."
     "You got her hid," charged Hank.
     "You can look around," said Enoch.
     Hank took a quick step forward, then thought better of it.
     "She got what she had coming to her," he yelled.
     "And I ain't finished with her yet. There ain't no one, not even my own
flesh and blood, can put a hex on me."
     Enoch said nothing. Hank stood, undecided.
     "She mepled," he  said. "She had no  call to meple. It  was none of her
damn business."
     The  young man said,  "I was just trying to train Butcher. Butcher," he
explained to Enoch, "is a coon hound pup."
     "That is  right,"  said Hank.  "He wasn't doing nothing wrong. The boys
caught a young  coon  the other night. Took  a lot of doing. Roy, here,  had
staked out the coon-tied it to a tree. And he had Butcher on a leash. He was
letting Butcher fight the coon. Not hurting anything. He'd  pull Butcher off
before  any damage  could be done and  let them rest a while. Then he'd  let
Butcher at the coon again."
     "It's the  best  way  in  the  world,"  said Roy, "to  get a  coon  dog
trained."
     "That is right," said Hank. "That is why they caught the coon."
     "We needed it," said Roy, "to train this Butcher pup."
     "This all is fine," said Enoch, "and I am glad to hear it. But what has
it got to do with Lucy?"
     "She interfered," said Hank. "She tried to stop the training. She tried
to grab Butcher away from Roy, here."
     "For a dummy," Roy said, "she is a mite too uppity."
     "You hush your mouth," his father told him sternly,  swinging around on
him.
     Roy mumbled to himself, falling back a step.
     Hank turned back to Enoch.
     "Roy knocked her  down,"  he said.  "He  shouldn't have  done  that. He
should have been more careful."
     "I didn't mean to," Roy said. "I just swung my arm out to keep her away
from Butcher."
     "That is right," said Hank. "He swung a bit too hard. But  there wasn't
any call for her doing what  she  did. She tied Butcher up in  knots  so  he
couldn't fight that coon. Without laying a finger on him, mind you, she tied
him up in knots. He couldn't move a muscle. That made Roy mad."
     He appealed to Enoch, earnestly, "Wouldn't that have made you mad?"
     "I  don't think it would," said Enoch. "But  then, I'mm  not a coon-dog
man."
     Hank stared in wonder at this lack of understanding.
     But he went  on with his story. "Roy got real mad at her.  He'd  raised
that Butcher. He thought a lot of  him. He wasn't  going to let  no one, not
even his own sister, tie that dog in  knots. So he  went after her  and  she
tied  him up in  knots, just like she did  to  Butcher. I never seen a thing
like it  in all my born days. Roy just stiffened up and then he fell down to
the ground and his legs pulled up  against his belly and he wrapped his arms
around himself and he laid there  on the ground, pulled into a ball. Him and
Butcher, both.  But she never  touched that coon. She  never tied  him in no
knots. Her own folks is all she touched."
     "It didn't hurt," said Roy. "It didn't hurt at all."
     "I  was sitting  there," said Hank, "braiding this  here bull whip. Its
end had frayed and I fixed a new one on it. And I seen it all,  but I didn't
do a thing until I saw Roy  there, tied up on the ground. And I figured then
it had  gone far enough. I am  a  broad-minded man; I  don't  mind  a little
wart-charming and other  pipling things like that.  There have been a lot of
people who have been able to do that. It ain't no disgrace at  all. But this
thing of tying dogs and people into knots ..."
     "So you hit her with the whip," said Enoch.
     "I  did my duty," Hank told him solemnly. "I  ain't  about to  have  no
witch in any family of mine. I hit her a couple of licks and her making that
dumb show of hers to try to get me  stopped. But I had my duty and I kept on
hitting. If I did enough of it, I figured, I'd knock it out of her. That was
when she put the hex on me. Just like she did  on Roy and Butcher, but in  a
different way. She  turned me blind-she  blinded her own father! I  couldn't
see  a  thing.  I just stumbled  around the yard, yelling and clawing  at my
eyes. And then they got all right again, but she was gone. I saw her running
through the woods and up the hill. So Roy and me, we took out after her..."
     "And you think I have her here?" "I know you have," said Hank.
     "OK ," said Enoch "Have a look around"
     "You can bet  I will," Hank told  him grimly. "Roy, take the  barn. She
might be hiding there."
     Roy  headed for  the barn. Hank  went into the  shed,  came  out almost
immediately, strode down to the sagging chicken house.
     Enoch stood and waited, the rifle cradled on his arm.
     He  had trouble here, he knew-more trouble than  he'd  ever had before.
There was no such thing  as reasoning  with a  man of Hank Fisher's  stripe.
There was  no  approach, right  now, that he would understand.  All  that he
could do, he  knew,  was  to wait until Hank's temper had  cooled  off. Then
there might be an outside chance of talking sense to him.
     The two of them came back.
     "She ain't nowhere around," said Hank. "She is in the house."
     Enoch shook his head. "There can't anyone get into that house."
     "Roy," said Hank, "climb them there steps and open up that door."
     Roy looked fearfully at Enoch.
     "Go ahead," said Enoch.
     Roy moved forward slowly  and went  up the steps. He crossed  the porch
and put  his  hand upon  the front  door knob and turned. He tried again. He
turned around.
     "Pa," he said, "I can't turn it. I can't get it open."
     Hell," said  Hank,  disgusted,  "you can't do anything." Hank  took the
steps in two jumps, paced wrathfully across  the porch. His hand reached out
and grasped the  knob and wrenched at it powerfully. He tried again and  yet
again. He turned angrily to face Enoch.
     "What is going on here?" he yelled.
     "I told you," Enoch said, "that you can't get in."
     "The hell I can't!" roared Hank.
     He tossed the whip to Roy and came down off the porch, striding over to
the  woodpile  that  stood  beside  the   shed.  He   wrenched   the  heavy,
double-bitted ax out of the chopping block.
     "Careful with  that ax," warned Enoch. "I've had it for a long time and
I set a store by it."
     Hank did not answer. He went up on the porch and squared off before the
door.
     "Stand off," he said to Roy. "Give me elbow room."
     Roy backed away.
     "Wait a minute," Enoch said. "You mean to chop down that door?"
     "You're damned right I do."
     Enoch noped gravely.
     "Well?" asked Hank.
     "It's all right with me if you want to try."
     Hank took his stance, gripping  the handle of the ax. The steel flashed
swiftly, up over his shoulder, then down in a driven blow.
     The  edge  of  the  steel struck  the surface of the door  and  turned,
deflected by  the surface,  changed  its course, bouncing from the door. The
blade came  slicing down and back. It missed Hank's sprapled leg by no  more
than an inch and the momentum of it spun him half around.
     He stood there, foolishly, arms  outstretched, hands still gripping the
handle of the ax. He stared at Enoch.
     "Try again," invited Enoch.
     Rage flowed over Hank. His face was flushed with anger.
     "By God, I will!" he yelled.
     He squared off  again and  this  time he swung the ax, not at the door,
but at the window set beside the door.
     The  blade  struck and there  was  a  high  singing sound as pieces  of
sun-bright steel went flying through the air.
     Ducking away, Hank dropped the ax. It  fell to the  floor of the  porch
and bounced. One blade was broken, the  metal sheared away in jagged breaks.
The window was intact. There was not a scratch upon it.
     Hank stood there for a moment, staring at the broken ax, as if he could
not quite believe it.
     Silently he stretched out his hand and Roy put the bull whip in it.
     The two of them came down the stairs.
     They stopped  at  the bottom of them and looked  at Enoch.  Hank's hand
twitched on the whip.
     "If I were you,"  said Enoch,  "I wouldn't  try  it,  Hank. I can  move
awfully fast."
     He patted the gun butt.  "I'd have the hand  off you  before you  could
swing that whip."
     Hank breathed heavily.  "There's the  devil in you, Wallace," he  said.
"And there's the devil in her, too. You're working together, the two of you.
Sneaking around in the woods, meeting one another."
     Enoch waited, watching the both of them.
     "God help me," cried Hank. "My own daughter is a witch!"
     "I think," said Enoch,  "you should go back home. If I  happen to  find
Lucy, I will bring her there."
     Neither of them made a move.
     "You  haven't  heard  the last  of  this,"  yelled  Hank.  "You have my
daughter somewhere and I'll get you for it."
     "Any time you want,"  said Enoch, "but not now." He  made an imperative
gesture with  the rifle barrel. "Get moving," he said. "And don't come back.
Either one of you."
     They hesitated for  a  moment, looking  at him,  trying to  gauge  him,
trying to guess what he might do next.
     Slowly they turned and, walking side by side, moved off down the hill.


     He should have killed the two of them, he thought. They were not fit to
live.
     He glanced down  at the  rifle and saw that his hands had such a  tense
grip on the gun that his fingers stood out white and stiff against the satin
brownness of the wood.
     He gasped a little  in his  effort to fight  down the rage that  boiled
inside him,  trying to explode. If they had stayed here  any longer, if he'd
not run them off, he knew he'd have given in to that towering rage.
     And it was better, much better, the way that it had been. He wondered a
little dully how be had managed to hold in.
     And was glad he had. For even as it stood, it would be bad enough.
     They would say he was a madman; that  he had run them off at  gunpoint.
They might even say that he had  kidnapped Lucy and  was holding her against
her will. They would stop  at nothing to make  him all the trouble that they
could.
     He  had no illusions  about what they might do,  for he knew the breed,
vindictive in their smallness-little vicious insects of the human race.
     He stood beside the porch and watched them down the hill, wondering how
a girl so fine as Lucy  could  spring from such decadent stock. Perhaps  her
handicap had served  as  a bulwark  against the kind of folks they were; had
kept her from becoming another one of them.
     Perhaps  if  she could have  talked with them or listened, she would in
time have become as shiftless and as vicious as any one of them.
     It had been a great mistake to get mixed up in a thing like this. A man
in his position had no  business in an involvement such as this. He had  too
much to lose; he should have stood aside.
     And yet what could he have done? Could he have refused to give Lucy his
protection, with  the blood soaking  through her dress from the lashes  that
lay  across her shoulders?  Should  he  have ignored  the  frantic, helpless
pleading in her face?
     He might  have done it  differently, he thought. There  might have been
other, smarter ways in which  to  handle it. But there had  been  no time to
think of any  smarter way. There only had been time to  carry her to  safety
and then go outside to meet them.
     And now, that he thought  of it, perhaps the best thing would have been
not  to go outside at all. If he'd stayed inside the  station, nothing would
have happened.
     It  had been  impulsive,  that  going  out to  face  them. It had been,
perhaps, the human thing to do, but it had not been wise. But he had done it
and it was over now and there was no turning back. If he had it to do again,
he would do it differently, but you got no second chance.
     He turned heavily around and went back inside the station.
     Lucy was still sitting on the sofa and  she held a flashing  object  in
her  hand. She was staring at it raptly and there was in her face again that
same vibrant  and alert expression he had seen that morning  when she'd held
the butterfly.
     He laid  the rifle on the desk  and stood quietly  there, but  she must
have caught the motion of him, for  she looked quickly up. And then her eyes
once more went back to the flashing thing she was holding in her hands.
     He saw that it was the pyramid of spheres  and now all the spheres were
spinning  slowly, in alternating clockwise and counterclockwise motions, and
that as  they spun  they shone  and glittered,  each in  its own  particular
color, as if there might be, deep inside each one of them, a source of soft,
warm light.
     Enoch  caught  his breath  at the  beauty and the wonder of it-the old,
hard wonder of what this thing might be and what it might be meant to do. He
had examined it a hundred times or  more and had puzzled at it and there had
been nothing he could find that was of significance. So far as he could see,
it  was  only something  that  was meant to be looked at, although there had
been  that persistent  feeling that  it  had  a purpose and  that,  perhaps,
somehow, it was meant to operate.
     And  now  it was  in  operation. He had tried a hundred times to get it
figured out and Lucy had picked it up just once and had got it figured out.
     He  noticed  the  rapture  with which  she  was  regarding  it.  Was it
possible, he wondered, that she knew its purpose?
     He went  across the room and touched her arm and she lifted her face to
look at him and in her eyes he saw the gleam of happiness and excitement.
     He made a questioning gesture toward the pyramid, trying to ask  if she
knew what it might be. But she did not understand  him. Or perhaps she knew,
but knew as well how impossible it would be to explain its purpose. She made
that  happy, fluttery  motion with her hand again, indicating the table with
its  load of gadgets and she seemed to  try  to laugh-there was, at least, a
sense of laughter in her face.
     Just a  kid, Enoch  told himself, with a box heaped  high with new  and
wondrous toys. Was that all it was to her? Was she happy and  excited merely
because she  supenly had  become aware  of all the beauty and the novelty of
the things stacked there on the table?
     He turned wearily and went back to the desk. He picked up the rifle and
hung it on the pegs.
     She should not  be in the  station.  No human being  other than himself
should ever be inside the  station. Bringing  her here,  he  had broken that
unspoken understanding he  had  with the aliens who had installed  him as  a
keeper. Although, of all the humans he could have  brought, Lucy was the one
who could possibly be exempt from the understood restriction.  For she could
never tell the things that she had seen.
     She could not remain, he knew. She must be taken home. For if she  were
not taken, there would  be a massive hunt for  her, a lost  girl-a beautiful
deaf-mute.
     A story of a missing deaf-mute girl  would bring  in  newspapermen in a
day or two. It would be in all the papers and on television and on radio and
the woods would be swarming with hundreds of searchers.
     Hank Fisher would  tell how  he'd  tried  to  break into the house  and
couldn't  and there'd be  others who would  try to break into the house  and
there'd be hell to pay.
     Enoch sweated, thinking of it.
     All the years of keeping  out  of  people's way, all the years of being
unobtrusive would be  for nothing then.  This strange house  upon  a  lonely
ridge would become a mystery for the world, and a challenge and a target for
all the crackpots of the world.
     He  went to the medicine cabinet, to get  the healing ointment that had
been included in the drug packet provided by Galactic Central.
     He  found it and opened the little box. More than  half of it remained.
He'd  used it through the  years, but sparingly. There  was, in fact, little
need to use a great deal of it.
     He  went across the room to where Lucy sat and stood back of  the sofa.
He showed her what he had and made motions to show her  what it was for. She
slid her dress off her shoulders and he bent to look at the slashes.
     The bleeding had stopped, but the flesh was red and angry.
     Gently he rubbed ointment into the stripes that the whip had made.
     She had  healed  the  butterfly,  he thought;  but she could  not  heal
herself.
     On the table  in front of her the pyramid of spheres still was flashing
and glinting, throwing a flickering shadow of color all about the room.
     It was operating, but what could it be doing? It was finally operating,
but not a thing was happening as a result of that operation.


     Ulysses came as twilight was deepening into night.
     Enoch and  Lucy had just finished with their supper and were sitting at
the table when Enoch heard his footsteps.
     The alien stood in shadow and he looked,  Enoch thought, more than ever
like the cruel clown. His lithe, flowing body had the look of smoked, tanned
buckskin. The patchwork color of  his hide  seemed  to  shine  with  a faint
luminescence and the sharp, hard angles of his face, the smooth  baldness of
his head, the flat, pointed  ears pasted tight against the skull  lent him a
vicious fearsomeness.
     If one  did not  know  him for the  gentle character that he was, Enoch
told himself,  he  would  be  enough to scare a  man  out of  seven years of
growth.
     "We had been expecting you," said Enoch. "The coffeepot is boiling."
     Ulysses took a slow step forward, then paused.
     "You have another with you. A human, I would say."
     "There is no danger," Enoch told him.
     "Of another gender. A female, is it not? You have found a mate?"
     "No," said Enoch. "She is not my mate."
     "You have  acted  wisely through  the years,"  Ulysses  told him. "In a
position such as yours, a mate is not the best."
     "You  need  not  worry.  There  is  a  malady  upon  her.  She  has  no
communication. She can neither hear nor speak."
     "A malady?"
     "Yes, from the moment she was born.  She has never heard or spoken. She
can tell of nothing here."
     "Sign language?"
     "She knows no sign language. She refused to learn it."
     "She is a friend of yours."
     "For  some  years," said  Enoch. "She  came seeking  my protection. Her
father used a whip to beat her."
     "This father knows she's here?"
     "He thinks she is, but he  cannot know." Ulysses came slowly out of the
darkness and stood within the light.
     Lucy was watching him, but there was  no  terror on her face. Her  eyes
were level and untroubled and she did not flinch.
     "She takes me well," Ulysses said. "She does not run or scream."
     "She could not scream," said Enoch, "even if she wished."
     "I must be  most  repugnant,"  Ulysses  said, "at  first  sight to  any
human."
     "She does not see the outside only. She sees inside of you as well."
     "Would she be frightened if I made a human bow to her?"
     "I think," said Enoch, "she might be very pleased."
     Ulysses  made his bow, formal  and exaggerated, with one  hand upon his
leathery belly, bowing from the waist.
     Lucy smiled and clapped her hands.
     "You see," Ulysses cried, delighted, "I think that she may like me."
     "Why don't you sit down,  then," suggested Enoch, "and we all will have
some coffee."
     "I had  forgotten of the coffee. The sight of  this  other human  drove
coffee from my mind."
     He sat down  at the place where the third cup  had been set and waiting
for  him. Enoch started around the table, but Lucy rose  and went to get the
coffee.
     "She understands?" Ulysses asked.
     Enoch shook his head. "You sat down by the cup and the cup was empty."
     She poured the coffee, then  went over  to the sofa. "She will not stay
with us?" Ulysses asked. "She's intrigued by that tableful  of trinkets. She
set one of them to going."
     "You plan to keep her here?"
     "I can't keep her," Enoch said.  "There'll be a hunt for her. I'll have
to take her home."
     "I do not like it," Ulysses said.
     "Nor do I. Let's admit at once that I should not have brought her here.
But at the time it seemed the  only thing to do.  I had no time  to think it
out."
     "You've done no wrong," said Ulysses softly. "She cannot harm us," said
Enoch. "Without communication ..."
     "It's not that,"  Ulysses told him. "She's just a complication and I do
not  like further  complications. I came tonight to tell you, Enoch, that we
are in trouble."
     "Trouble? But there's not been any trouble."
     Ulysses lifted his coffee cup and took a long drink of it.
     "That is good," he said. "I carry back the bean and make it at my home.
But it does not taste the same."
     "This trouble?"
     "You remember the Vegan that died here several of your years ago."
     Enoch noped. "The Hazer."
     "The being has a proper name ..."
     Enoch laughed. "You don't like our nicknames."
     "It is not our way," Ulysses said.
     "My name for them," said Enoch, "is a mark of my affection."
     "You buried this Vegan."
     "In my family  plot," said Enoch. "As if he were my own. I read a verse
above him."
     "That is well and good,"  Ulysses  said. "That is  as it should be. You
did very well. But the body's gone."
     "Gone! It can't be gone!" cried Enoch.
     "It has been taken from the grave."
     "But you can't know," protested Enoch. "How could you know?"
     "Not I. It's the Vegans. The Vegans are the ones who know."
     "But they're light-years distant ..."
     And then he was not too sure. For on that night  the  wise old  one had
died and he'd  messaged Galactic  Central, he had been told  that the Vegans
had known the  moment  he had died. And there  had  been no need for a death
certificate, for they knew of what he died.
     It   seemed   impossible,   of  course,  but  there   were   too   many
impossibilities in the galaxy  which turned  out,  after all, to be entirely
possible for a man to ever know when he stood on solid ground.
     Was it possible, he wondered, that each Vegan  had some  sort of mental
contact with every other Vegan? Or  that some central census bureau (to give
a  human designation  to something that  was scarcely understandable)  might
have some sort of official linkage with every living Vegan, knowing where it
was and how it was and what it might be doing?
     Something of the sort, Enoch admitted, might indeed be possible. It was
not beyond  the  astounding  capabilities  that  one  found  on  every  hand
throughout the galaxy. But to maintain a similar contact with the Vegan dead
was something else again.
     "The body's  gone," Ulysses  said. "I can tell you that  and know it is
the truth. You're held accountable."
     "By the Vegans?"
     "By the Vegans, yes. And the galaxy."
     "I did what  I could," said Enoch hotly. "I did  what was  required.  I
filled the letter of  the  Vegan law. I paid the dead my honor and the honor
of my planet. It is not right that the  responsibility should go on forever.
Not that I  can believe  the body can  be really gone.  There is  no one who
would take it. No one who knew of it."
     "By human logic," Ulysses told him, "you, of course, are right. But not
by Vegan logic. And in  this case Galactic Central would tend to support the
Vegans."
     "The Vegans," Enoch said testily, "happen to be friends of mine. I have
never met a one of them that I didn't like or couldn't get along with. I can
work it out with them."
     "If only the Vegans were concerned," said Ulysses, "I am quite sure you
could. I would  have no worry.  But the situation gets complicated as you go
along. On the surface it seems a rather simple happening, but there are many
factors. The Vegans, for example, have known for some time that the body had
been  taken  and  they  were  disturbed,  of  course.  But  out  of  certain
considerations, they had kept their silence."
     "They needn't have. They could have come to me. I don't know what could
have been done ..."
     "Silent not because of you. Because of something else."
     Ulysses finished off his  coffee  and  poured  himself  another cup. He
filled Enoch's half-filled cup and set the pot aside.
     Enoch waited.
     "You  may not have been aware  of  it,"  said Ulysses, "but at the time
this station was established, there was considerable opposition to it from a
number of races in the galaxy. There were many reasons cited, as is the case
in all  such situations, but  the underlying reason,  when  you  get down to
basics,  rests squarely  on the continual contest  for  racial  or  regional
advantage. A situation akin, I would imagine, to the continual bickering and
maneuvering which you find here upon the Earth to gain an economic advantage
for one  group or  another,  or one  nation  and another. In  the galaxy, of
course,  the economic  considerations only occasionally are  the  underlying
factors. There are many other factors than the economic."
     Enoch noped.  "I  had  gained a hint of  this.  Nothing recently. But I
hadn't paid too much attention to it."
     "It's  largely a  matter of  direction,"  Ulysses said.  "When Galactic
Central began its expansion into this spiral arm, it meant there was no time
or effort  available for expansions in  other directions. There is one large
group of races which has held a dream for many centuries of  expanding  into
some of  the nearby globular clusters. It does make a  dim sort of sense, of
course. With the techniques  that we have, the longer  jump across  space to
some of the closer clusters is entirely possible. Another thing-the clusters
seem to be extraordinarily  free  of dust and gas, so that once we got there
we  could expand  more  rapidly  throughout the cluster than we can in  many
parts of the galaxy. But at best, it's a speculative business, for we  don't
know what we'll find there. After we've made all  the  effort  and spent all
the time we  may  find little or nothing,  except  possibly  some more  real
estate. And we have plenty of that  in  the  galaxy. But the clusters have a
vast appeal for certain types of minds."
     Enoch noped.  "I can see that.  It  would be the first venturing out of
the galaxy itself.  It might be the first short step on the route that could
lead us to other galaxies."
     Ulysses peered at him. "You, too," he said. "I might have known."
     Enoch said smugly: "I am that type of mind."
     "Well, anyhow, there was this globular-cluster faction-I suppose  you'd
call  it that-which  contended  bitterly when  we  began our  move  in  this
direction.  You  understand-certainly you  do-that  we've barely  begun  the
expansion into  this neighborhood. We have  less than a  dozen stations  and
we'll  need  a  hundred.  It  will  take  centuries before  the  network  is
complete."
     "So this faction is still contending," Enoch said. "There still is time
to stop this spiral-arm project."
     "That is right. And that's what  worries me. For the faction is  set to
use this incident of the missing body as an emotion-charged argument against
the extension of this network. It is being joined by other  groups that  are
concerned with certain special interests.  And these special interest groups
see a  better chance  of  getting  what they  want  if they  can  wreck this
project."
     "Wreck it?"
     "Yes, wreck it. They will start screaming, as soon as the body incident
becomes  open knowledge, that a planet so  barbaric as  the Earth is no  fit
location for a station. They will insist that this station be abandoned."
     "But they can't do that!"
     "They can," Ulysses said. "They will  say it is degrading and unsafe to
maintain  a  station so  barbaric  that even graves are rifled, on  a planet
where  the honored  dead  cannot  rest in peace. It  is  the kind of  highly
emotional  argument  that  will  gain  wide acceptance  and support in  some
sections  of the galaxy.  The Vegans tried their best. They tried to hush it
up, for  the sake  of  the project. They have  never done a thing like  that
before. They are a proud people and they feel a slight to honor-perhaps more
deeply  than  many  other  races- and  yet, for the  greater good, they were
willing to accept dishonor. And would have if they could have kept it quiet.
But  the story  leaked out  somehow-by  good  espionage, no doubt.  And they
cannot stand the loss of face in advertised  dishonor. The Vegan who will be
arriving  here  this  evening  is  an official  representative charged  with
delivering an official protest."
     "To me?"
     "To you, and through you, to the Earth."
     "But the Earth is not concerned. The Earth doesn't even know."
     "Of course it doesn't. So far as Galactic Central is concerned, you are
the Earth. You represent the Earth."
     Enoch  shook his head.  It was a crazy  way  of thinking. But, he  told
himself, he should  not be surprised. It was the kind of  thinking he should
have  expected. He was too hidebound,  he thought, too  narrow. He had  been
trained in the human way of thinking and,  even after all  these years, that
way of thought persisted. Persisted to a point where any way of thought that
conflicted with it must automatically seem wrong.
     This talk of abandoning Earth station was  wrong,  too. It made no sort
of sense.  For  abandoning of  the  station  would  not wreck  the  project.
Although, more than  likely, it would  wreck whatever hope he'd held for the
human race.
     "But even if you have to abandon Earth," he said, "you  could go out to
Mars. You could build  a  station there. If it's necessary to have a station
in this solar system there are other planets."
     "You don't  understand,"  Ulysses told him. "This station  is  just one
point of attack. It is no more  than  a  toehold, just a bare beginning. The
aim is  to wreck the project, to free the time  and effort that is  expended
here  for some other  project. If they  can force us to abandon one station,
then we stand discredited. Then all our motives and our judgment come up for
review."
     "But even if the project should be wrecked," Enoch pointed out,  "there
is no surety that any group would gain. It  would only throw the question of
where the time and energy  should be used into an open debate. You  say that
there are  many special interest  factions banding together to carry  on the
fight against us. Suppose  that they do win. Then they  must turn around and
start fighting among themselves."
     "Of course that's the  case," Ulysses admitted, "but then each of  them
has a chance to get what they want, or think  they have a chance. The way it
is they have no chance at all. Before any of  them has a chance this project
must go down the drain.  There  is  one group on the  far side of the galaxy
that wants to move  out into the thinly populated sections of one particular
section of the rim. They still  believe in an ancient legend which says that
their race arose as  the result of immigrants from another galaxy who landed
on the rim  and worked their way inward over many galactic years. They think
that if they can get out to the rim they can turn that legend  into  history
to their  greater  glory. Another group wants to go into a small spiral  arm
because of an obscure record that  many  eons ago  their ancestors picked up
some  virtually undecipherable messages which  they believed came  from that
direction. Through  the years  the story has  grown,  until today  they  are
convinced a race of intellectual giants will  be found in  that  spiral arm.
And there  is always  the pressure,  naturally, to  probe  deeper  into  the
galactic core. You must realize that we have  only started, that  the galaxy
still is largely unexplored, that  the thousands of  races who form Galactic
Central still are pioneers. And as a result, Galactic Central is continually
subjected to all sorts of pressures."
     "You sound," said Enoch, "as if  you  have  little hope  of maintaining
this station, here on Earth."
     "Almost no hope at  all," Ulysses told him. "But so far as you yourself
are concerned, there will be an option.  You  can stay here  and live out an
ordinary life on Earth or  you can be assigned to another  station. Galactic
Central hopes that you would elect to continue on with us."
     "That sounds pretty final."
     "I am  afraid,"  Ulysses said, "it  is. I  am sorry,  Enoch, to be, the
bearer of bad news."
     Enoch sat  numb and stricken. Bad news!  It was worse than that. It was
the end of everything.
     He sensed the crashing down of not  only his own personal world, but of
all the hopes of Earth. With the station gone, Earth once more would be left
in  the  backwaters  of  the  galaxy,  with  no hope of  help, no chance  of
recognition, no  realization  of  what lay waiting  in  the galaxy. Standing
alone and naked, the human race would go  on  in its same old path, fumbling
its uncertain way toward a blind, mad future.


     The Hazer was elderly. The golden haze that enveloped him had  lost the
sparkle  of its  youthfulness.  It was a mellow  glow, deep and rich-not the
blinding haze of a younger being. He carried himself  with  a solid dignity,
and the flaring topknot that was neither hair nor feathers was white, a sort
of saintly whiteness. His face  was  soft  and tender,  the softness and the
tenderness which in a man might have been expressed in kindly wrinkles.
     "I am sorry," he told  Enoch, "that our meeting  must be such  as this.
Although, under  any circumstances, I am glad to meet  you. I  have heard of
you. It is not often that a being of an outside  planet  is  the keeper of a
station. Because  of this, young  being,  I have been intrigued with you.  I
have wondered what sort of creature you might turn out to be."
     "You need have no apprehension of him," Ulysses said, a little sharply.
"I will vouch for him. We have been friends for years."
     "Yes, I forgot," the Hazer said. "You are his discoverer."
     He  peered  around the room. "Another one," he  said.  "I did  not know
there were two of them. I only knew of one."
     "It's a friend of Enoch's," Ulysses said.
     "There has been contact, then. Contact with the planet."
     "No, there has been no contact."
     "Perhaps an indiscretion."
     "Perhaps," Ulysses said, "but under provocation that I doubt either you
or I could have stood against."
     Lucy  had risen to her  feet and  now  she came across the room, moving
quietly and slowly, as if she might be floating.
     The  Hazer spoke to  her in the common tongue. "I am glad to meet  you.
Very glad to meet you."
     "She cannot speak," Ulysses said. "Nor hear. She has no communication."
     "Compensation," said the Hazer.
     "You think so?" asked Ulysses.
     "I am sure of it."
     He walked slowly forward and Lucy waited.
     "It-she, the female form, you called it-she is not afraid."
     Ulysses chuckled. "Not even of me," he said.
     The  Hazer  reached  out  his  hand  to her and she stood quietly for a
moment, then  one  of  her hands came up and  took the Hazer's fingers, more
like tentacles than fingers, in its grasp.
     It seemed to Enoch, for a moment, that the cloak of golden haze reached
out  to wrap the Earth girl  in  its  glow. Enoch blinked  his eyes  and the
illusion, if it had been illusion, was swept away, and it only was the Hazer
who had the golden cloak.
     And how was it, Enoch wondered,  that there  was no fear in her, either
of Ulysses or the Hazer? Was it because, in truth, as he had said, she could
see  beyond  the outward guise, could  somehow sense the basic humanity (God
help me, I cannot think, even now, except in human terms!) that was in these
creatures?  And  if that  were true, was  it  because  she herself  was  not
entirely  human? A human, certainly,  in form and origin, but not formed and
molded into  the human culture-being  perhaps, what a human  would  be if he
were not hemmed about so closely by  the  rules of behavior and outlook that
through the years had hardened into law to comprise a common human attitude.
     Lucy dropped the Hazer's hand and went back to the sofa.
     The Hazer said, "Enoch Wallace."
     "Yes."
     "She is of your race?"
     "Yes, of course she is."
     "She is most unlike you. Almost as if there were two races."
     "There is not two races. There is only one."
     "Are there many others like her?"
     "I would not know," said Enoch.
     "Coffee," said Ulysses to the Hazer. "Would you like some coffee?"
     "Coffee?"
     "A most delicious brew. Earth's one great accomplishment."
     "I  am  not  acquainted with it," said the Hazer.  "I  don't  believe I
will."
     He turned ponderously to Enoch.
     "You know why I am here?" he asked.
     "I believe so."
     "It is a matter I regret," said the Hazer. "But I must ..."
     "If you'd rather," Enoch  said,  "we  can consider that the protest has
been made. I would so stipulate."
     "Why not?" Ulysses said. "There is no need, it seems to me, to have the
three of us go through a somewhat painful scene."
     The Hazer hesitated.
     "If you feel you must," said Enoch.
     "No," the  Hazer said.  "I  am  satisfied  if  an  unspoken protest  be
generously accepted."
     "Accepted," Enoch said, "on just one  condition. That I satisfy  myself
that the charge is not unfounded. I must go out and see."
     "You do not believe me?"
     "It is not a matter  of belief.  It is something that can be checked. I
cannot accept either for myself  or  for  my  planet until I  have done that
much."
     "Enoch," Ulysses said, "the Vegan has been gracious.  Not only now, but
before  this  happened. His race presses the charge most  reluctantly.  They
suffered much to protect the Earth and you."
     "And the feeling is that I would be ungracious if  I did not accept the
protest and the charge on the Vegan statement."
     "I am sorry, Enoch," said Ulysses. "That is what I mean."
     Enoch shook  his  head.  "For  years  I've  tried to understand and  to
conform to the ethics and ideas of all the people who have come through this
station. I've pushed my own  human instincts  and training to one side. I've
tried to understand other viewpoints and to evaluate other ways of thinking,
many of which did  violence to my  own. I am glad of  all of it, for  it has
given me a  chance to go beyond the narrowness of  Earth.  I think  I gained
something  from  it  all. But none of  this  touched Earth; only myself  was
involved. This  business  touches  Earth  and I  must approach  it  from  an
Earthman's viewpoint. In this particular instance I am not simply the keeper
of a galactic station."
     Neither  of  them said a word. Enoch stood waiting  and still there was
nothing said.
     Finally he turned and headed for the door.
     "I'll be back," he told them.
     He spoke the phrase and the door started to slide open.
     "If you'll have  me,"  said  the,  Hazer quietly, "I'd  like to go with
you."
     "Fine," said Enoch. "Come ahead."
     It  was dark outside and Enoch lit the lantern.  The  Hazer watched him
closely.
     "Fossil  fuel,"  Enoch told  him. "It burns at the  tip of  a saturated
wick."
     The Hazer said, in horror, "But surely you have better."
     "Much better now," said Enoch. "I am just old-fashioned."
     He led the way outside, the lantern throwing a small pool of light. The
Hazer followed.
     "It is a wild planet," said the Hazer.
     "Wild here. There are parts of it are tame."
     "My own planet is  controlled," the Hazer  said. "Every foot  of it  is
planned."
     "I know.  I have talked to many Vegans.  They described  the planet  to
me."
     They headed for the barn.
     "You want to go back?" asked Enoch.
     "No," said  the Hazer. "I find it  exhilarating. Those  are wild plants
over there?"
     "We call them trees," said Enoch.
     "The wind blows as it wishes?"
     "That's right," said  Enoch.  "We do not know as yet how to control the
weather."
     The  spade stood just inside the barn door and Enoch picked  it  up. He
headed for the orchard.
     "You know, of course," the Hazer said, "the body will be gone."
     "I'm prepared to find it gone."
     "Then why?" the Hazer asked.
     "Because I must be sure. You can't understand that, can you?"
     "You said back there in the station,"  the Hazer said, "that  you tried
to understand  the  rest  of us. Perhaps, for a change,  at least  one of us
should try understanding you."
     Enoch  led the way down the path through the  orchard. They came to the
rude  fence enclosing  the burial plot. The sagging gate  stood  open. Enoch
went through it and the Hazer followed.
     "This is where you buried him?"
     "This is my family plot. My mother  and father are here and I  put  him
with them."
     He handed the lantern to the Vegan and, armed with the spade, walked up
to the grave. He thrust the spade into the ground.
     "Would you hold the lantern a little closer, please?"
     The Hazer moved up a step or two.
     Enoch dropped to his  knees and brushed away the leaves that had fallen
on the ground. Underneath them was the soft, fresh earth that had been newly
turned.  There  was  a  depression  and a small  hole at the  bottom  of the
depression. As he brushed at the earth, he could hear the clods of displaced
dirt  falling through the hole and  striking on  something that  was not the
soil.
     The Hazer had moved the lantern again and he could not see.  But he did
not need to see. He knew there  was no use of digging; he knew what he would
find. He  should  have kept  watch. He  should not have put  up the stone to
attract attention-but  Galactic Central had said, "As if he  were your own."
And that was the way he'd done it.
     He  straightened, but  remained upon  his knees, felt  the damp  of the
earth soaking through the fabric of his trousers.
     "No one told me," said the Hazer, speaking softly.
     "Told you what?"
     "The memorial. And what is written on it. I was not aware that you knew
our language."
     "I learned it long ago. There were scrolls I wished to read. I'm afraid
it's not too good."
     "Two   misspelled  words,"  the   Hazer  told  him,  "and  one   little
awkwardness.  But those are  things  which do not  matter. What matters, and
matters very much, is that when you wrote, you thought as one of us."
     Enoch rose and reached out for the lantern.
     "Let's go back," he said sharply, almost  impatiently.  "I know now who
did this. I have to hunt him out."


     The  treetops  far above moaned  in the rising wind. Ahead,  the  great
clump of canoe birch showed whitely in the dim  glow of the lantern's light.
The birch clump, Enoch knew, grew  on the lip of a  small cliff that dropped
twenty feet  or more and here one turned to  the right to get  around it and
continue down the hillside.
     Enoch turned slightly and glanced over his shoulder. Lucy was following
close behind. She smiled at him and made a gesture to say she was all right.
He made a motion to indicate that they must turn to the right, that she must
follow closely. Although, he told himself, it probably wasn't necessary; she
knew the hillside as well, perhaps even better, than he did himself.
     He turned to the right and followed along the  edge of the rocky cliff,
came to  the  break and clambered down to reach the slope below. Off to  the
left he could hear the murmur of the swiftly running creek that tumbled down
the rocky ravine from the spring below the field.
     The  hillside plunged more  steeply now and he led  a  way that  angled
across the steepness.
     Funny, he thought, that even in the darkness he could recognize certain
natural features-the crooked  white oak that twisted  itself,  hanging at  a
crazy  angle  above the  slope of hill; the small grove  of massive red oaks
that  grew out of a  dome of tumbled  rock, so placed that no axman had even
tried to cut them  down; the tiny swamp,  filled with  cattails, that fitted
itself snugly into a little terrace carved into the hillside.
     Far below he caught the gleam  of  window light and angled down  toward
it. He looked back over his shoulder and Lucy was following close behind.
     They came to a rude fence  of poles and crawled through  it and now the
ground became more level.
     Somewhere below a  dog barked in the dark and another  joined him. More
joined  in and the pack came sweeping up the slope toward them. They arrived
in a rush of feet, veered around Enoch and the lantern to  launch themselves
at Lucy-supenly transformed, at the sight of her, into a welcoming committee
rather than a company of guards. They reared upward, a tangled mass of dogs.
Her hands went  out and patted at their heads. As  if by  signal, they  went
rushing off in a happy frolic, circling to come back again.
     A short distance beyond the pole fence was a vegetable garden and Enoch
led the way across, carefully following  a path between  the rows. Then they
were in the  yard  and  the house stood before them, a  tumble-down, sagging
structure,  its  outlines  swallowed by  the  darkness,  the kitchen windows
glowing with a soft, warm lamplight.
     Enoch crossed the yard to  the kitchen door  and knocked. He heard feet
coming across the kitchen floor.
     The  door  came  open and  Ma Fisher stood framed against  the light, a
great, tall, bony woman clothed in something that was more sack than dress.
     She stared at  Enoch, half frightened, half belligerent.  Then, back of
him, she saw the girl.
     "Lucy!" she cried.
     The girl  came forward  with a  rush  and her mother caught her in  her
arms.
     Enoch  set  his lantern on the ground, tucked the  rifle underneath his
arm, and stepped across the threshold.
     The family had been  at supper, seated about a great round table set in
the center of  the kitchen.  An ornate oil lamp stood in the  center  of the
table. Hank had risen to his feet, but his three sons and the stranger still
were seated.
     "So you brung her back," said Hank.
     "I found her," Enoch said.
     "We quit  hunting  for her just a while  ago,"  Hank  told him. "We was
going out again."
     "You remember what you told me this afternoon?" asked Enoch.
     "I told you a lot of things."
     "You  told me that I had the devil in me. Raise  your hand against that
girl once more  and I promise you I'll show you just how much devil there is
in me."
     "You can't bluff me," Hank blustered.
     But the man was frightened. It showed in the limpness of  his face, the
tightness of his body.
     "I mean  it," Enoch said. "just  try me out and see." The two men stood
for a moment, facing one another, then Hank sat down.
     "Would you join us in some victuals?" he inquired.
     Enoch shook his head.
     He looked at the stranger. "Are you the ginseng man?" he asked.
     The man noped. "That is what they call me."
     "I want to talk with you. Outside."
     Claude Lewis stood up.
     "You don't have  to go," said Hank. "He can't  make you go. He can talk
to you right here."
     "I don't  mind," said Lewis. "In fact, I want to  talk with him. You're
Enoch Wallace, aren't you?"
     "That's  who he is," said  Hank. "Should of died of old age fifty years
ago.  But  look at him. He's got the  devil in him. I tell you, him and  the
devil has a deal."
     "Hank," Lewis said, "shut up."
     Lewis came around the table  and went out the door. "Good night," Enoch
said  to the  rest  of them.  "Mr. Wallace,"  said  Ma  Fisher,  "thanks for
bringing back my girl. Hank won't hit her again. I can promise you. I'll see
to that."
     Enoch went outside  and shut the door. He  picked up the lantern. Lewis
was out in the yard. Enoch went to him.
     "Let's walk off a ways," he said.
     They stopped at the edge of the garden and turned to face one another.
     "You been watching me," said Enoch.
     Lewis noped.
     "Official? Or just snooping?"
     "Official, I'm afraid. My  name is Claude  Lewis. There is no  reason I
shouldn't tell you-I'm C.I.A."
     "I'm not a traitor or a spy," Enoch said.
     "No one thinks you are. We're just watching you."
     "You know about the cemetery?"
     Lewis noped.
     "You took something from a grave."
     "Yes," said Lewis. "The one with the funny headstone."
     "Where is it?"
     "You mean the body. It's in Washington."
     "You shouldn't have taken it," Enoch said, grimly. "You've caused a lot
of trouble. You have to get it back. As quickly as you can."
     "It will take a little time," said Lewis. "They'll have to fly it  out.
Twenty-four hours, maybe."
     "That's the fastest you can make it?"
     "I might do a little better."
     "Do the very best you can. It's important that you get that body back."
     "I will, Wallace. I didn't know ..."
     "And, Lewis."
     "Yes."
     "Don't try to play it smart. Don't  ap  any frills. Just do what I tell
you. I'm  trying to be reasonable  because that's the  only thing to be. But
you try one smart move ..."
     He reached  out a hand  and grabbed  Lewis's  shirt front, twisting the
fabric tight.
     "You understand me, Lewis?"
     Lewis  was unmoved.  He  did  not try to pull away. "Yes,"  he said. "I
understand."
     "What the hell ever made you do it?"
     "I had a job."
     "Yeah, a  job.  Watching me. Not robbing graves."  He  let loose of the
shirt.
     "Tell me," said Lewis, "that thing in the grave. What was it?"
     "That's  none  of  your  damn'  business,"  Enoch told  him,  bitterly.
"Getting back that body is. You're sure that you can do it? Nothing standing
in your way?"
     Lewis  shook  his head. "Nothing  at all.  I'll phone  as soon as I can
reach a phone. I'll tell them that it's imperative."
     "It's all of that," said Enoch. "Getting  that  body back  is  the most
important thing you've ever done. Don't forget that for a minute. It affects
everyone on Earth.  You and me and everyone. And if you  fail, you'll answer
to me for it."
     "With that gun?"
     "Maybe,"  Enoch  said.  "Don't fool  around.  Don't  imagine  that  I'd
hesitate to kill you. In this situation, I'd kill anyone-anyone at all."
     "Wallace, is there something you can tell me?"
     "Not  a  thing,"  said Enoch.  He picked up  the lantern. "You're going
home?"
     Enoch noped.
     "You don't seem to mind us watching you."
     "No," Enoch told him. "Not your watching. Just your interference. Bring
back that  body and go on  watching  if you want  to. But don't push me any.
Don't lean on me. Keep your hands off. Don't touch anything."
     "But  good  God,  man,  there's something  going on. You  can  tell  me
something."
     Enoch hesitated.
     "Some idea," said  Lewis, "of what  this is all about. Not the details,
just ..."
     "You bring the body back," Enoch told  him,  slowly, "and  maybe we can
talk again."
     "It will be back," said Lewis.
     "If it's not," said Enoch, "you're as good as dead right now."
     Turning, he went across the garden and started up the hill.
     In the yard, Lewis stood  for a long time, watching the lantern bobbing
out of sight.


     Ulysses was alone in the station  when Enoch returned. He  had sent the
Tuban on his way and the Hazer back to Vega.
     A fresh pot of coffee was brewing and  Ulysses was  sprawled out on the
sofa, doing nothing.
     Enoch  hung up  the rifle and  blew  out the  lantern.  Taking  off his
jacket, he threw  it on the desk.  He  sat down in a  chair  across from the
sofa.
     "The body will be back," he said, "by this time tomorrow."
     "I sincerely hope," Ulysses  said, "that it will  do some good. But I'm
inclined to doubt it."
     "Maybe," said Enoch bitterly, "I should not have bothered."
     "It will show good faith," Ulysses said. "It might have some mitigating
effect in the final weighing."
     "The  Hazer could have told me," Enoch said, "where the body was. If he
knew  it  had been  taken from the  grave, then he  must have known where it
could be found."
     "I would suspect he did," Ulysses said, "but, you see, he couldn't tell
you. All that he could do was to make his protest.  The rest was up  to you.
He could  not lay aside  his dignity by suggesting what you should do  about
it. For the record, he must remain the injured party."
     "Sometimes," said  Enoch, "this business is  enough to drive one crazy.
Despite  the  briefings  from   Galactic  Central,  there  are  always  some
surprises, always yawning traps for you to tumble into."
     "There may  come a day," Ulysses said,  "when it won't be  like that. I
can look  ahead  and see, in some  thousands  of  years, the knitting of the
galaxy together into one great culture, one huge  area of understanding. The
local  and the racial variations still will exist, of course, and that is as
it should be, but overriding all of these will be a tolerance that will make
for what one might be tempted to call a brotherhood."
     "You sound," said Enoch, "almost like a human. That is the sort of hope
that many of our thinkers have held out."
     "Perhaps," Ulysses said.  "You know  that a lot of Earth  seems to have
rubbed  off  on-me.  You can't spend as long as I did on your planet without
picking up at least  a bit of it. And by the way, you made a good impression
on the Vegan."
     "I hadn't noticed it,"  Enoch told him.  "He  was kind and correct,  of
course, but little more."
     "That inscription on the gravestone. He was impressed by that."
     "I didn't put it there to impress anyone. I wrote it out because it was
the way I  felt. And because I like the Hazers. I was only trying to make it
right for them."
     "If  it were not for the pressure  from the galactic factions," Ulysses
said, "I am convinced the Vegans would be willing to forget the incident and
that is a greater concession than you can realize. It may be that,  even so,
they may line up with us when the showdown comes."
     "You mean they might save the station?"
     Ulysses shook his head.  "I  doubt anyone can  do that. But it will  be
easier for all of us  at  Galactic Central if  they  threw their weight with
us."
     The coffeepot was  making  sounds and Enoch went to get it. Ulysses had
pushed some of the trinkets on the coffee table to one side to make room for
two coffee cups. Enoch filled them and set the pot upon the floor.
     Ulysses picked  up his cup, held it for a moment in his hands, then put
it back on the table top.
     "We're  in bad shape,"  he  said.  "Not like  in the  old days.  It has
Galactic Central worried.  All this squabbling and haggling among the races,
all the pushing and the shoving."
     He looked at Enoch. "You thought it was all nice and cozy."
     "No,"  said  Enoch,  "not  that.  I knew  that  there  were conflicting
viewpoints and I knew there was some trouble. But I'm afraid I thought of it
as being on a fairly lofty plane-gentlemanly, you know, and good-mannered."
     "That was the way it  was at one time. There always have been differing
opinions,  but  they were based on principles  and  ethics, not  on  special
interests.  You know about  the  spiritual force,  of  course-the  universal
spiritual force."
     Enoch  noped.  "I've  read  some  of  the  literature.  I  don't  quite
understand, but I'm willing  to accept it. There is a way, I know, to get in
contact with the force."
     "The Talisman," said Ulysses.
     "That's it. The Talisman. A machine, of sorts."
     "I suppose,"  Ulysses agreed, "you could  call it  that.  Although  the
word, 'machine'  is a  little awkward. More  than  mechanics went  into  the
making of it. There is just the one. Only one was ever made, by a mystic who
lived ten thousand  of your years ago. I wish I could tell you what it is or
how  it is constructed, but there  is no one, I am  afraid, who can tell you
that. There have been others who have attempted  to  duplicate the Talisman,
but  no  one  has succeeded. The  mystic  who made it left no blueprints, no
plans,  no  specifications, not a single  note. There  is  no one  who knows
anything about it."
     "There is no reason,  I suppose,"  said Enoch, "that another should not
be  made.  No  sacred  taboos,  I  mean.  To make another  one would not  be
sacrilegious."
     "Not in the least," Ulysses told him. "In fact, we need  another badly.
For now we have no Talisman. It has disappeared."
     Enoch jerked upright in his chair.
     "Disappeared?" he asked.
     "Lost," said Ulysses. "Misplaced. Stolen. No one knows."
     "But I hadn't ..."
     Ulysses smiled bleakly. "You  hadn't heard. I know. It is not something
that  we talk about. We wouldn't  dare. The people must  not know. Not for a
while, at least."
     "But how can you keep it from them?"
     "Not too hard to do. You know how  it worked, how the custodian took it
from planet to  planet and great mass meetings were held, where the Talisman
was exhibited and contact  made through  it with the spiritual force.  There
had never been  a schedule of appearances; the custodian simply wandered. It
might be a hundred of your years or more between the visits of the custodian
to any particular planet.  The  people hold no expectations of a visit. They
simply know there'll be one, sometime; that some day the custodian will show
up with the Talisman."
     "That way you can cover up for years."
     "Yes," Ulysses said. "Without any trouble."
     "The leaders know, of course. The administrative people."
     Ulysses  shook his head. "We have told very  few. The  few that we  can
trust. Galactic Central knows, of course, but we're a close-mouthed lot."
     "Then why ..."
     "Why should I be telling you. I  know;  I shouldn't. I don't know why I
am. Yes,  I  guess  I  do.  How  does  it  feel,  my  friend, to  sit  as  a
compassionate confessor?"
     "You're  worried,"  Enoch  said. "I  never  thought  I  would  see  you
worried."
     "It's a strange business," Ulysses said. "The Talisman has been missing
for several  years or so. And no  one knows about it-except Galactic Central
and the- what would  you call it?-the hierarchy, I suppose, the organization
of mystics who takes care of the spiritual setup. And yet, even  with no one
knowing,  the  galaxy is  beginning to show wear.  It's coming apart  at the
seams.  In time to come, it may fall apart. As if the Talisman represented a
force that all  unknowingly held the races of  the galaxy together, exerting
its influence even when it remained unseen."
     "But even if  it's lost,  it's somewhere," Enoch pointed out. "It still
would be exerting its influence. It couldn't have been destroyed."
     "You forget," Ulysses reminded him, "that without its proper custodian,
without  its sensitive, it  is inoperative. For it's not  the machine itself
that does the trick. The machine merely acts as an intermediary between  the
sensitive and the spiritual force. It is an  extension of the sensitive.  It
magnifies  the capability of the sensitive and acts as a link of some  sort.
It enables the sensitive to perform his function."
     "You feel that the  loss  of the  Talisman has something to do with the
situation here?"
     "The  Earth  station. Well,  not directly, but  it is  typical. What is
happening in regard to  the station  is symptomatic. It involves the sort of
petty  quarreling  and  mean  bickering that  has  broken  out through  many
sections of the galaxy. In the old days it would have been-what did you say,
gentlemanly and on a plane of principles and ethics."
     They sat in silence for a moment, listening to the soft sound that  the
wind made as it blew through the gable gingerbread.
     "Don't worry about it,"  Ulysses said. "It is not your  worry. I should
not have told you. It was indiscreet to do so."
     "You mean I shouldn't pass it on. You can be sure I won't."
     "I know you won't," Ulysses said. "I never thought you would."
     "You really think relations in the galaxy are deteriorating?"
     "Once,"  Ulysses said,  "the races all were bound  together. There were
differences, naturally, but these differences were bridged, sometimes rather
artificially and  not too satisfactorily, but with  both  sides  striving to
maintain  the  artificial  bridging  and generally succeeding. Because  they
wanted  to,  you see. There was  a  common  purpose, the forging  of a great
cofraternity of all intelligences. We realized that  among us, among all the
races,  we had a staggering fund of knowledge and of techniques-that working
together, by putting together all  this  knowledge and capability, we  could
arrive at something that would be far greater and more significant  than any
race, alone, could hope of  accomplishing. We  had our  troubles, certainly,
and as I have said, our differences, but we were progressing. We brushed the
small animosities and the petty differences underneath  the rug  and  worked
only on the big ones. We felt that if we could get the big ones settled, the
small ones would become so small they would  disappear. But  it  is becoming
different now. There is a tendency to pull the pettiness from underneath the
rug  and  blow it  beyond  its  size, meanwhile  letting the  major and  the
important issues fall away."
     "It sounds like Earth," said Enoch.
     "In many ways," Ulysses said. "In principle, although the circumstances
would diverge immensely."
     "You've been reading the papers I have been saving for you?"
     Ulysses noped. "It doesn't look too happy."
     "It looks like war," said Enoch bluntly.
     Ulysses stirred uneasily.
     "You don't have wars," said Enoch.
     "The galaxy, you mean. No, as we are set up now we don't have wars."
     "Too civilized?"
     "Stop being bitter," Ulysses told  him. "There has been a  time or  two
when we came very close, but  not in  recent years. There are many races now
in the cofratemity that in their formative years had a history of war."
     "There is hope for us, then. It's something you outgrow."
     "In time, perhaps."
     "But not a certainty?"
     "No, I wouldn't say so."
     "I've  been working on a chart," said Enoch. "Based on the Mizar system
of statistics. The chart says there is going to be war."
     "You don't need the chart," Ulysses said, "to tell you that."
     "But there was  something else. It was not just knowing if there'd be a
war. I had hoped that the chart might show how to keep the peace. There must
be a  way. A formula, perhaps. If we could only think of it or know where to
look or whom to ask or ..."
     "There is a way," Ulysses said, "to prevent a war."
     "You mean you know ..."
     "It's a drastic measure. It only can be used as a last resort."
     "And we've not reached that last resort?"
     "I  think, perhaps, you have.  The  kind of  war that Earth would fight
could spell an end to thousands of  years of advancement, could wipe out all
the culture, everything but the feeble remnants of civilizations. It  could,
just possibly, eliminate most of the life upon the planet."
     "This method of yours-it has been used?"
     "A few times."
     "And worked?"
     "Oh, certainly. We'd not even consider it if it didn't work."
     "It could be used on Earth?"
     "You could apply for its application."
     "I?"
     "As a representative  of the Earth. You could  appear  before  Galactic
Central and  appeal  for us to use it.  As a member of your  race, you could
give testimony and you would be given a hearing. If there seemed to be merit
in your plea, Central might name  a group to  investigate and then, upon the
report of its findings, a decision would be made."
     "You said I. Could anyone on Earth?"
     "Anyone who  could gain a hearing.  To  gain  a  hearing, you must know
about Galactic Central and  you're the only  man of Earth who does. Besides,
you're a part of Galactic Central's staff. You have served as a keeper for a
long time. Your record has been good. We would listen to you."
     "But one man alone! One man can't speak for an entire race."
     "You're the only one of your race who is qualified."
     "If I could consult some others of my race."
     "You can't. And even if you could, who would believe you?"
     "That's true," said Enoch.
     Of course it  was. To  him there was no  longer any strangeness in  the
idea of  a galactic cofraternity, of  a  transportation network  that spread
among the stars-a sense of wonder at times, but the strangeness had  largely
worn off. Although, he remembered,  it  had taken years. Years even with the
physical evidence there  before his eyes, before he could bring himself to a
complete acceptance  of  it. But tell  it to any other Earthman and it would
sound like madness.
     "And this method?" he  asked,  almost afraid to ask it,  braced to take
the shock of whatever it might be.
     "Stupidity," Ulysses said.
     Enoch gasped. "Stupidity? I don't understand. We are stupid enough,  in
many ways, right now."
     "You're thinking of intellectual stupidity and there is plenty of that,
not only on Earth, but throughout  the galaxy. What I am talking  about is a
mental incapacity. An inability to  understand the science and the technique
that makes possible the  kind of war that Earth would fight. An inability to
operate the machines that are necessary to fight  that kind  of war. Turning
the  people back  to a  mental  position  where  they would not be  able  to
comprehend the mechanical  and  technological and  scientific advances  they
have made.  Those who know would forget. Those who  didn't  know could never
learn. Back to the simplicity of the wheel  and lever. That  would make your
kind of war impossible."
     Enoch  sat  stiff and straight,  unable  to  speak, gripped by  an  icy
terror, while a million disconnected thoughts went chasing one another  in a
circle through his brain.
     "I  told you it  was  drastic," Ulysses said. "It  has  to  be. War  is
something that costs a lot to stop. The price is high."
     "I couldn't!" Enoch said. "No one could."
     "Perhaps you can't. But consider this: If there is a war..."
     "I know. If there is  a war,  it could  be worse. But it  wouldn't stop
war.  It's  not the kind of  thing I had in  mind. People still could fight,
still could kill."
     "With clubs,"  said Ulysses. "Maybe bows and arrows. Rifles, so long as
they still  had  rifles, and until  they  ran out  of ammunition.  Then they
wouldn't know how  to  make more powder or how  to get the metal to make the
bullets  or even how  to  make the bullets. There  might  be  fighting,  but
there'd be no holocaust. Cities would not be  wiped out by nuclear warheads,
for no one could fire a rocket or arm the warhead-perhaps wouldn't even know
what a rocket  or a warhead was. Communications  as you  know them would  be
gone.  All but the simplest transportation would be gone.  War,  except on a
limited local scale, would be impossible."
     "It would be terrible," Enoch said.
     "So is war," Ulysses said. "The choice is up to you."
     "But how long?" asked Enoch. "How long would it last?  We wouldn't have
to go back to stupidity forever?"
     "Several  generations," said Ulysses. "By that time  the effect of-what
shall  we call  it? the  treatment?-would  gradually begin wearing off.  The
people  slowly  would  shake  off  their  moronic  state  and  begin   their
intellectual climb again. They'd be given, in effect, a second chance."
     "They could," said Enoch, "in  a few generations after that  arrive  at
exactly the same situation that we have today."
     "Possibly. I wouldn't expect it, though. Cultural development would  be
most unlikely to be entirely parallel. There'd be a chance that you'd have a
better civilization and a more peaceful people."
     "It's too much for one man ..."
     "Something hopeful," Ulysses said, "that you might consider. The method
is offered only to those races which seem to us to be worth the saving."
     "You have to give me time," said Enoch.
     But he knew there was no time.


     A man  would have a job and supenly  be unable to perform it. Nor could
the men around  him  carry  on their jobs.  For  they  would  not  have  the
knowledge or the backgrounds to do the tasks  that they had been doing. They
might try, of  course-they might keep on trying for a time,  but perhaps for
not too long.  And because  the jobs could not be done, the business or  the
corporation or factory or whatever  it might  be, would cease its operation.
Although the going out of business would not be a formal nor a  legal thing.
It would simply stop. And not entirely because  the jobs  could not be done,
because no  one could  muster the business sense  to keep it operating,  but
also because the transportation  and communications which made the  business
possible also would have stopped.
     Locomotives  could not be operated, nor could  planes  and  ships,  for
there would be no one who would remember how to operate them. There would be
men who at one time had possessed all the skills that had been necessary for
their operation, but  now the skills would have disappeared. There might  be
some who still would try, with tragic consequences. And there still might be
a few who could vaguely remember how to operate the car or truck or bus, for
they were simple things to run  and it would be almost second  nature  for a
man to drive them. But once they had broken down, there would be no one with
the knowledge of mechanics to repair them and they'd not run again.
     In the space of a few hours' time the human race would be stranded in a
world  where  distance once again had come to be a factor.  The  world would
grow the  larger and the oceans would be barriers and a  mile  would be long
once more. And in a few days' time there  would be a panic and a hupling and
a fleeing and a desperation  in the face of  a situation that no  one  could
comprehend.
     How long, Enoch wondered, would it take  a city to use the  last of the
food stacked in its warehouses and then begin  to starve?  What would happen
when  electricity  stopped  flowing  through  the  wires? How  long, under a
situation such as  this,  would a silly symbolic piece of paper  or a minted
coin still retain its value?
     Distribution  would  break  down;  commerce  and  industry  would  die;
government  would   become  a  shadow,  with  neither  the   means  nor  the
intelligence  to keep  it functioning; communications would  cease; law  and
order would disintegrate; the world would sink into a new barbaric framework
and would begin to slowly readjust. That readjustment  would go on for years
and in the  process of  it there would  be death  and pestilence  and untold
misery and  despair.  In time it would work out and  the  world would settle
down to its new way of  life, but in the process  of shaking down there'd be
many who  would die  and many  others  who  would lose  everything  that had
spelled out life for them and the purpose of that life.
     But would it, bad as it might be, be as bad as war?
     Many would  die of  cold and hunger and disease  (for medicine would go
the way of all the rest), but millions would not be annihilated in the fiery
breath of nuclear reaction. There would be  no poison dust  raining from the
skies and  the waters still would be as pure and fresh as  ever and the soil
remain as fertile. There still would be a chance, once the initial phases of
the change  had passed, for  the  human race to  go  on living  and  rebuild
society.
     If  one were certain,  Enoch  told himself, that there would be a  war,
that war was inescapable, then the choice  might  not be  hard to  make. But
there  was  always the  possibility  that  the  world could  avoid war, that
somehow a  frail, thin peace  could  be preserved,  and in  such  a case the
desperate need of the galactic cure for war would be unnecessary. Before one
could decide, he told himself,  one must be sure; and how could one be sure?
The  chart lying in  the desk drawer said there would be a war; many  of the
diplomats and observers  felt that the upcoming peace conference might serve
no other purpose than to trigger war. Yet there was no surety.
     And even if there were, Enoch asked himself, how could one man-one man,
alone-take it upon himself to play  the role of God for the entire race?  By
what right did one man make  a  decision that affected all the rest, all the
billions of others? Could he, if he did, ever be able, in the years to come,
to justify his choice?
     How could a man decide how bad war might be and, in comparison, how bad
stupidity? The  answer seemed to be he couldn't. There was no way to measure
possible disaster in either circumstance.
     After a time, perhaps, a choice either way could be rationalized. Given
time, a conviction might  develop that would enable a man to  arrive at some
sort  of   decision  which,  while  it  might  not  be  entirely  right,  he
nevertheless could square with his conscience.
     Enoch got  to his  feet  and walked to  the  window. The sound  of  his
footsteps echoed hollowly in the station. He looked at his  watch and it was
after midnight.
     There were races in the galaxy, he thought, who could reach a quick and
right  decision on  almost  any question,  cutting  straight  across all the
tangled lines of thought,  guided by rules of logic  that were more specific
than anything the  human  race might have. That would be good, of course, in
the sense that it made  decision possible, but in arriving at decision would
it not tend to minimize, perhaps ignore entirely, some of those very  facets
of the situation that might mean  more to the human  race than  the decision
would itself?
     Enoch stood at the window and stared out across the moonlit fields that
ran  down  to the dark line of  the woods. The clouds had blown away and the
night  was  peaceful.  This  particular  spot, he thought,  always would  be
peaceful, for it was off the beaten track, distant  from any possible target
in  atomic  war.  Except  for  the  remote possibility of  some  ancient and
non-recorded, long forgotten minor conflict  in prehistoric days, no  battle
ever had  been  fought here or ever  would be  fought. And yet it would  not
escape  the  common  fate of poisoned soil and  water  if the  world  should
supenly,  in a  fateful hour  of  fury,  unleash the might  of  its  awesome
weapons. Then  the skies would be  filled with atomic ash,  which would come
sifting down, and it would make little difference where a man might be. Soon
or late,  the  war would come to him, if not in a flash of monstrous energy,
then in the snow of death falling from the skies.
     He  walked  from  the window to the desk and gathered up the newspapers
that had come in the morning mail and put them in a pile, noticing as he did
so that Ulysses had forgotten to take with him the stack of papers which had
been saved for him. Ulysses was  upset,  he told  himself, or he'd not  have
forgotten  the  papers.  God  save  us  both, he  thought; for we  have  our
troubles.
     It had been a busy day. He had done no more, he realized, than read two
or three of the  stories in the  Times,  all touching on  the calling of the
conference. The day had been too full, too full of direful things.
     For a  hundred years, he  thought, things had gone all right. There had
been  the good moments and the bad, but by and large  his  life had  gone on
serenely  and  without  alarming incident. Then today had dawned and all the
serene years had come tumbling down all about his ears.
     There once had been a  hope that Earth could be accepted as a member of
the galactic  family, that  he  might  serve  as the  emissary to gain  that
recognition. But now that hope  was shattered, not only by the fact that the
station might be  closed, but that its very closing would be based  upon the
barbarism of  the human race. Earth was being used  as  a  whipping  boy, of
course, in galactic politics,  but the brand, once placed, could not soon be
lifted. And in any event, even if it could be  lifted, now the  planet stood
revealed as one against which Galactic Central,  in the hope  of saving  it,
might be willing to apply a drastic and degrading action.
     There  was something  he  could salvage out of  all of it, he  knew. He
could  remain an Earthman  and turn  over to the  people  of  the Earth  the
information that he had  gathered  through  the  years and  written down, in
meticulous detail, along with personal happenings  and impressions and  much
other  trivia, in the  long  rows of record books which stood on the shelves
against the wall. That and the alien literature he had obtained and read and
hoarded.  And  the gadgets and  the artifacts which came  from other worlds.
From all of this the people of the Earth  might gain  something  which could
help them along the road that eventually would take them to the stars and to
that further  knowledge and that  greater understanding which would be their
heritage-perhaps  the heritage and  right of all intelligence.  But the wait
for that day would be long-longer now, because of what  had happened on this
day, than it  had  ever  been  before.  And  the  information  that he held,
gathered painfully over the course of  almost a century,  was so  inadequate
compared with  that more complete knowledge which he could have gathered  in
another  century (or a  thousand  years) that  it seemed a pitiful  thing to
offer to his people.
     If there  could  only be  more time, he thought.  But, of course, there
never  was.  There was not the  time  right now and there would never be. No
matter how many centuries he might be able  to  devote, there'd always be so
much more knowledge than he'd  gathered at the moment that the little he had
gathered would always seem a pittance.
     He sat down heavily in the chair before the desk and now, for the first
time, he wondered how he'd do it- how  he could leave Galactic Central,  how
he could  trade  the galaxy for a  single planet, even if that  planet still
remained his own.
     He drove his haggard mind to find the answer and the mind could find no
answer.
     One man alone, he thought.
     One man alone could not stand against both Earth and galaxy.


     The sun  streaming through the window woke  him and he stayed  where he
was, not  stirring  for a  moment,  soaking in its warmth. There was a good,
hard, feeling to the sunlight,  a reassuring touch, and for a moment he held
off the worry  and the questioning. But he sensed its nearness and he closed
his eyes again. Perhaps  if  he could sleep some more it  might  go away and
lose itself somewhere and not be there when he awakened later.
     But there  was  something  wrong, something besides the  worry  and the
questioning.
     His  neck and shoulders ached and there was a strange stiffness in  his
body and the pillow was too hard.
     He opened his eyes again and pushed with  his hands to sit erect and he
was not in  bed. He was sitting in a chair and his head,  instead of resting
on a  pillow, had been laid  upon the desk. He  opened and shut his mouth to
taste it, and it tasted just as bad as he knew it would.
     He got slowly to his feet, straightening and stretching, trying to work
out the kinks that had  tied themselves into joints and muscles. As he stood
there, the  worry and the trouble  and the dreadful need  of  answers seeped
back into him, from wherever they'd been hiding. But he brushed  them to one
side, not  an entirely successful brush,  but enough to make  them retreat a
little and crouch there, waiting to close in again.
     He went to the stove and looked for the coffeepot, then remembered that
last night he'd set it on the  floor beside the coffee table. He went to get
it. The  two cups still stood on the  table, the  dark brown dregs of coffee
covering the bottoms of them. And  in the  mass of  gadgets that Ulysses had
pushed to  one  side to make room  for the cups, the pyramid  of spheres lay
tilted on its side, but it still was sparkling and glinting, each successive
sphere revolving in an opposite direction to its fellow spheres.
     Enoch reached out and  picked it up. His fingers carefully explored the
base  upon  which the spheres were  set, seeking something-some lever,  some
indentation, some trip, some button-by which it might be turned either on or
off.  But there was nothing he could find.  He should  have  known, he  told
himself,  that there would be  nothing. For he had  looked  before.  And yet
yesterday Lucy had done something that had set it operating and it still was
operating. It had operated for more than twelve hours now and no results had
been obtained. Check that, he thought-no results that could be recognized.
     He  set  it  back  on  the table on its base  and stacked the cups, one
inside the other, and  picked them up. He stooped to lift  the coffeepot off
the floor. But his eyes never left the pyramid of spheres.
     It was mapening,  he told himself. There was  no  way to turn it on and
yet,  somehow, Lucy had turned it  on. And now there  was no  way to turn it
off-although it probably did not matter if it were off or on.
     He went back to the sink with the cups and coffeepot.
     The station  was quiet-a heavy, oppressive quietness; although, he told
himself, the  impression of oppressiveness  probably was  no  more  than his
imagination.
     He crossed the room  to the  message machine and  the plate  was blank.
There  had  been no  messages during the  night.  It  was silly  of him,  he
thought,  to  expect there would be, for  if there were, the auditory signal
would be functioning, would continue to sound off until he pushed the lever.
     Was it possible, he wondered, that  the station might already have been
abandoned,  that  whatever  traffic  that  happened  to  be moving was being
detoured around it? That, however, was hardly possible,  for the abandonment
of Earth  station  would  mean, as  well that those beyond  it must also  be
abandoned. There were no  shortcuts in the  network  extending  out into the
spiral arm to  make rerouting possible. It was  not unusual for  many hours,
even  for a day,  to pass without any traffic. The traffic was irregular and
had no pattern  to it. There  were times  when scheduled arrivals bad to  be
held  up  until there were  facilities to take care of them,  and there were
other times when there would be none  at all, when the  equipment  would sit
idle, as it was sitting now.
     Jumpy, he thought. I am getting jumpy.
     Before  they closed the station, they would let him know. Courtesy,  if
nothing else, would demand that they do that.
     He  went  back  to  the  stove  and  started  the  coffeepot.  In   the
refrigerator  he found a package of  mush made from a cereal grown on one of
the Draconian jungle worlds. He took it out, then put it back again and took
out the last two  eggs of the dozen that Wins, the mailman, had  brought out
from town a week or so ago.
     He  glanced  at his watch  and  saw that  he had slept  later  than  he
thought. It was almost time for his daily walk.
     He  put the  skillet on the stove  and spooned in a chunk of butter. He
waited for the butter to melt, then broke in the eggs.
     Maybe, he thought,  he'd not go on the walk today. Except for a time or
two when a  blizzard had been raging, it would be the first time he had ever
missed  his  walk.   But  because  he  always  did   it,  he  told  himself,
contentiously, was no  sufficient reason that he should always take it. He'd
just skip  the walk  and later on go down and get the mail. He could use the
time to catch up on all the things he'd failed  to do yesterday.  The papers
still were piled upon his desk, waiting for his reading. He'd not written in
his  journal,  and there was a  lot to  write,  for he must record in detail
exactly what had happened and there had been a good deal happening.
     It had been  a  rule he'd set  himself  from the first  day,  that  the
station had begun its operation-that he never  skimped the journal. He might
be a little late at times in getting it all down, but  the fact that he  was
late  or  that he was  pressed for time had never made him put down one word
less than he had felt might be required to tell all there was to tell.
     He  looked across the  room at the long  rows of record books that were
crowded on the shelves and  thought,  with  pride  and satisfaction, of  the
completeness of  that  record.  Almost a century of  writing lay between the
covers  of  those books and  there  was not  a single day that he  had  ever
skipped.
     Here was his legacy, he  thought; here  was  his bequest to  the world,
here would be his entrance  fee back into the human race; here  was all he'd
seen and heard and thought for  almost  a  hundred years of association with
those alien peoples of the galaxy.
     Looking at the rows  of books, the  questions that he had  shoved aside
came rushing in  on him and this time there was no denying them. For a short
space  of time he  had held them  off, the little time he'd  needed  for his
brain to clear, for his body to become alive again He did not fight them now
He accepted them, for there was no dodging them.
     He slid the eggs out  of the skillet onto the waiting plate He  got the
coffeepot and sat down to his breakfast.
     He glanced at his watch again.
     There still was time to go on his daily walk.


     The ginseng man was waiting at the spring.
     Enoch  saw him while still some distance down  the trail and  wondered,
with a quick flash of anger, if he might be waiting  there  to tell him that
he  could not return the body of the Hazer, that something had come up, that
he had run into unexpected difficulties.
     And thinking  that,  Enoch  remembered how  he'd threatened  the  night
before  to kill anyone who held up the return of the body. Perhaps,  he told
himself, it had not been smart to say that. Wondering whether he could bring
himself to kill a man-not that it would be the first man he had ever killed.
But  that had been long ago and it had been a matter  then of kill or  being
killed.
     He shut his eyes for a second and once again could see that slope below
him, with the  long  lines  of men advancing  through  the  drifting  smoke,
knowing that those men were climbing up the ridge  for one purpose only,  to
kill himself and those others who were atop the ridge.
     And that had not been the first time nor  had it been the last, but all
the years of killing  boiled down in  essence  to that single moment-not the
time that came after, but that long and terrible instant when he had watched
the lines of men purposefully striding up the slope to kill him.
     It  had been in that  moment that he had realized  the insanity of war,
the futile gesture  that in time became all but meaningless, the unreasoning
rage that must be  nursed  long beyond the memory of  the incident that  had
caused the rage,  the sheer  illogic that one man, by death of misery, might
prove a right or uphold a principle.
     Somewhere, he thought, on the long backtrack of history, the human race
had accepted an insanity for a principle and had persisted in it until today
that  insanity-turned-principle stood  ready to  wipe  out, if not  the race
itself, at least all of those things, both material and immaterial, that had
been fashioned as symbols of humanity through many hard-won centuries.
     Lewis had been sitting on  a fallen log and  now,  as Enoch neared,  he
rose.
     "I waited for you here," he said. "I hope you don't mind."
     Enoch stepped across the spring.
     "The  body  will  be  here  sometime  in  early  evening," Lewis  said.
"Washington will fly it out to Madison and truck it here from there."
     Enoch noped. "I am glad to hear that."
     "They were  insistent," Lewis said, "that I should  ask you  once again
what the body is."
     "I told you last night," said Enoch, "that I can't tell you anything. I
wish  I could. I've been figuring for  years how to get it told, but there's
no way of doing it."
     "The body is something from off this Earth," said  Lewis.  "We are sure
of that."
     "You think so," Enoch said, not making it a question.
     "And the house," said Lewis, "is something alien, too."
     "The house," Enoch told him, shortly, "was built by my father."
     "But something  changed it," Lewis  said.  "It is  not the way be built
it."
     "The years change things," said Enoch.
     "Everything but you."
     Enoch grinned  at him. "So it bothers you," he  said. "You figure  it's
indecent."
     Lewis shook  his head.  "No, not indecent.  Not really anything.  After
watching you for years, I've  come  to an acceptance  of you  and everything
about you. No understanding, naturally, but complete acceptance. Sometimes I
tell  myself I'm crazy, but that's only  momentary. I've tried not to bother
you. I've worked to keep everything exactly as it was. And now that I've met
you, I am glad that is the way it was. But we're going at this  wrong. We're
acting as if we were  enemies, as if we were strange dogs-and that's not the
way to do it. I think that  the two of  us may have a lot in common. There's
something  going on and I don't want to  do a thing that will interfere with
it."
     "But you did," said Enoch. "You did the worst thing that you could when
you took  the  body. If  you'd  sat down and planned how to do me  harm, you
couldn't have done worse. And not only me. Not really me, at all. It was the
human race you harmed."
     "I don't understand," 'said Lewis.  "I'm sorry, but I don't understand.
There was the writing on the stone ..."
     "That  was  my fault,"  said  Enoch.  "I should never have  put up that
stone. But at the time it seemed the thing to do. I didn't think that anyone
would come snooping around and ..."
     "It was a friend of yours?"
     "A friend of mine? Oh, you mean the body. Well, not actually. Not  that
particular person."
     "Now that it's done," Lewis said, "I'm sorry."
     "Sorry doesn't help," said Enoch.
     "But isn't there something-isn't there anything that can be  done about
it? More than just bringing back the body?"
     "Yes," Enoch told  him,  "there  might be something. I might need  some
help."
     "Tell me," Lewis said quickly. "If it can be done ..."
     "I  might need a truck," said Enoch. "To  haul away some stuff. Records
and other things like that. I might need it fast."
     "I can have a  truck,"  said Lewis. "I can  have it waiting. And men to
help you load."
     "I  might want to  talk to someone  in  authority. High authority.  The
President. Secretary of State. Maybe  the U.N. I don't know. I have to think
it out. And not only would I need a way to talk to them, but some measure of
assurance that they would listen to what I had to say."
     "I'll arrange," said Lewis, "for mobile short-wave equipment. I'll have
it standing by."
     "And someone who will listen?"
     "That's right," said Lewis. "Anyone you say."
     "And one thing more."
     "Anything," said Lewis.
     "Forgetfulness,"  said Enoch. "Maybe I won't need any  of these things.
Not  the  truck  or any of the rest of it. Maybe I'll have to let  things go
just as they're going now.  And  if that should be the case, could  you  and
everyone else concerned forget I ever asked?"
     "I think we could," said Lewis. "But I would keep on watching."
     "I wish you would," said Enoch. "Later on I  might need some help.  But
no further interference."
     "Are you sure," asked Lewis, "that there is nothing else?"
     Enoch shook  his  head. "Nothing else. All  the rest  of  it  I must do
myself."
     Perhaps, he thought, he'd already talked too much. For how could  he be
sure  that he  could  trust this man? How  could he  be sure he  could trust
anyone?
     And yet, if he decided to leave Galactic Central and cast his lot  with
Earth,  he might need some help. There might be some objection by the aliens
to his taking  along his records and the alien gadgets. If he  wanted to get
away with them, he might have to make it fast.
     But did he want to leave Galactic Central? Could he give up the galaxy?
Could he turn down the offer to become the keeper of another station on some
other planet?  When the time should come, could he cut his tie  with all the
other races and all the mysteries of the other stars?
     Already he had  taken steps to do  those very things. Here, in the last
few moments, without too much thought  about it, almost as if he already had
reached his decision,  he had arranged  a  setup that would turn him back to
Earth.
     He stood there, thinking, puzzled at the steps he'd taken.
     "There'll be someone here," said Lewis. "Someone at this spring. If not
myself, then someone else who can get in touch with me."
     Enoch noped absent-mindedly.
     "Someone  will see  you  every morning  when you  take your walk," said
Lewis. "Or you can reach us here any time you wish."
     Like a conspiracy, thought Enoch. Like a bunch of kids playing cops and
robbers.
     "I have  to be  getting on," he  said. "It's almost time for mail. Wins
will be wondering what has happened to me."
     He started up the hill.
     "Be seeing you," said Lewis.
     "Yeah," said Enoch. "I'll be seeing you."
     He was surprised to find the warm glow spreading in him-as if there had
been  something wrong  and  now  it  was  all right,  as  if there  had been
something lost that now had been recovered.


     Enoch met  the mailman halfway down the road that led into the station.
The  old jalopy  was traveling fast, bumping over the grassy  ruts, swishing
through the overhanging bushes that grew along the track.
     Wins braked to a halt when he caught sight of Enoch and sat waiting for
him.
     "You  got  on  a  detour," Enoch said,  coming up to him. "Or have  you
changed your route?"
     "You weren't waiting at the box," said Wins, "and I had to see you."
     "Some important mail?"
     "Nope,  it isn't mail. It's old Hank  Fisher. He  is down in Millville,
setting up the drinks in Epie's tavern and shooting off his face."
     "It's not like Hank to be buying drinks."
     "He's telling everyone that you tried to kidnap Lucy."
     "I didn't  kidnap her," Enoch said.  "Hank had took a bull  whip to her
and I hid her out until he got cooled down."
     "You shouldn't have done that, Enoch."
     "Maybe. But Hank  was set  on giving her a beating.  He already had hit
her a lick or two."
     "Hank's out to make you trouble."
     "He told me that he would."
     "He  says  you kidnapped her, then got scared and brought  her back. He
says you had her bid  out in the house and when he tried to break in and get
her, he couldn't do it. He says you  have  a funny sort of house. He says he
broke an ax blade on a window pane."
     "Nothing funny about it," Enoch said. "Hank just imagines things."
     "It's all  right  so far," said the  mailman.  "None of them, in  broad
daylight  and their right senses, will do  anything about it. But come night
they'll be  liquored up and won't have good  sense.  There  are some of them
might be coming up to see you."
     "I suppose he's telling them I've got the devil in me."
     "That  and more," said Wins. "I listened for  a  while before I started
out."
     He  reached  into the  mail pouch and  found the  bundle  of papers and
handed them to Enoch.
     "Enoch, there's  something that you have to know. Something you may not
realize. It would be easy to get a lot of  people stirred up against you-the
way  you live and all. You are strange.  No, I don't  mean there's  anything
wrong  with you-I know you and I know there isn't-but it  would be easy  for
people who didn't  know you to get the wrong ideas. They've let you alone so
far because you've  given them no reason to  do  anything about  you. But if
they get stirred up by all that Hank is saying..."
     He did not finish what he was saying. He left it hanging in midair.
     "You're talking about a posse," Enoch said.
     Wins noped, saying nothing.
     "Thanks," said Enoch. "I appreciate your warning me."
     "Is it true," asked the mailman, "that  no  one  can  get  inside  your
house9"
     "I  guess  it is,"  admitted Enoch. "They can't break into  it and they
can't burn it down. They can't do anything about it."
     "Then, if I were you, I'd stay close tonight.  I'd stay inside. I'd not
go venturing out."
     "Maybe I will. It sounds like a good idea."
     "Well," said Wins, "I guess that about covers it. I thought you'd ought
to  know.  Guess  I'll  have to back out to the road.  No chance of  turning
around."
     "Drive up to the house. There's room there."
     "It's not far back to the road," said Wins. "I can make it easy."
     The car started backing slowly.
     Enoch stood watching.
     He lifted a hand in solemn salute as the car began rounding a bend that
would take it out of sight. Wins waved back and then  the car  was swallowed
by the scrub that grew close against both sides of the road.
     Slowly Enoch turned around and ploped back toward the station.
     A mob, he thought-good God, a mob!
     A mob howling about  the  station, hammering at the  doors and windows,
peppering it  with  bullets, would  wipe  out the last faint chance-if there
still remained  a chance-of  Galactic Central standing off the move to close
the station. Such a demonstration would ap one more powerful argument to the
demand that the expansion into the spiral arm should be abandoned.
     Why was it, he wondered, that everything should happen all at once? For
years nothing at all had happened and now everything was happening within  a
few hours' time. Everything, it seemed, was working out against him.
     If  the  mob showed up, not only  would it mean  that  the  fate of the
station  would be  sealed, but it might mean, as well, that he would have no
choice but to accept the  offer  to become the keeper of another station. It
might  make it impossible for him to remain on Earth, even if he wished. And
he  realized, with a start,  that it might just possibly mean that the offer
of another station for  him might be withdrawn. For with the appearance of a
mob  howling for his blood, he, himself, would become involved in the charge
of barbarism now leveled against the human race in general.
     Perhaps, he told himself, he should go down to the spring and see Lewis
once again. Perhaps some measures could be taken to hold off the mob. But if
he did, he knew, there'd be an explanation due and he might have to tell too
much. And there might not be a mob. No one  would place too much credence in
what Hank Fisher said and the whole thing might peter out without any action
being taken.
     He'd stay inside the  station and hope for the best. Perhaps there'd be
no traveler in the station at  the time the mob arrived-if it did arrive-and
the incident would pass with no  galactic notice. If he were lucky it  might
work out  that way.  And by  the  law  of averages, he  was owed some  luck.
Certainly he'd had none in the last few days.
     He came to the broken gate  that led into the yard and stopped  to look
up at the  house, trying for some reason he  could not understand, to see it
as the house he had known in boyhood.
     It stood the same as it had always stood, unchanged, except that in the
olden days there  had been ruffled curtains at each  window. The yard around
it  had changed with the  slow growth of the years, with the clump of lilacs
thicker and more  rank and tangled  with each passing spring, with  the elms
that  his  father had  planted grown from six-foot whips into mighty  trees,
with  the  yellow  rose  bush  at  the  kitchen  corner  gone,  victim of  a
long-forgotten  winter, with the  flower beds vanished  and the  small  herb
garden, here beside the gate, overgrown and smothered out by grass.
     The  old stone fence that had  stood on each  side of the gate was  now
little more than a humpbacked mound.  The heaving of  a hundred frosts,  the
creep of vines and  grasses, the long years of neglect, had done  their work
and in another hundred years, he  thought, it would be  level, with no trace
of it  left. Down in the  field, along the  slope  where erosion had been at
work, there were long stretches where it had entirely disappeared.
     All of this had happened and until this moment he had  scarcely noticed
it. But  now  he noticed it and  wondered why he  did. Was it because he now
might be returning to the Earth again-he who had never left its soil and sun
and air, who had  never left it  physically, but who  had, for a longer time
than  most  men had allotted to them, walked not one, but many  planets, far
among the stars?
     He stood  there, in the late summer sun, and shivered in the  cold wind
that  seemed  to be  blowing  out of  some  unknown  dimension of unreality,
wondering for the first time  (for the first time he ever had been forced to
wonder at it) what kind of man he was. A haunted man who must spend his days
neither completely  alien nor completely human, with divided loyalties, with
old ghosts  to tramp the years  and miles with him no  matter which  life he
might  choose,  the   Earth  life  or  the  stars?  A  cultural  half-breed,
understanding  neither  Earth  nor stars, owing a debt to  each, but  paying
neither one?  A  homeless, footless, wandering creature who  could recognize
neither right  nor wrong  from having  seen  so many different (and logical)
versions of the right and wrong?
     He had climbed the hill above the  spring,  filled with the  rosy inner
glow of a regained humanity, a member of  the human race again, linked in  a
boy-like conspiracy with a human team. But could  he qualify as human-and if
he  qualified  as human,  or tried  to  qualify, then what about the implied
hundred years' allegiance  to Galactic Central? Did  he,  he wondered,  even
want to qualify as human?
     He  moved  slowly through  the  gate,  and  the  questions  still  kept
hammering  in  his brain,  that great, ceaseless flow  of questions to which
there were no answers. Although that was wrong, he  thought. Not no answers,
but too many answers.
     Perhaps Mary and David and the rest of them would come visiting tonight
and they could talk it over-then he supenly remembered.
     They would not be coming. Not Mary, not  David, nor any  of the others.
They had come for years to see  him, but they would  come no longer, for the
magic had been dimmed and the illusion shattered and he was alone.
     As  he  had always been  alone, he  told  himself, with a  bitter taste
inside his brain. It all  had been  illusion; it never  had  been  real. For
years  he'd fooled himself-most eagerly and  willingly he had fooled himself
into peopling the little corner by the fireplace with these creatures of his
imagination. Aided  by an  alien technique, driven by his loneliness for the
sight and sound of humankind, he  had brought them into a being  that defied
every sense except the solid sense of touch.
     And defied as well every sense of decency.
     Half-creatures, he thought. Poor pitiful half-creatures, neither of the
shadow or the world.
     Too human for the shadows, too shadowy for Earth.
     Mary, if I had only known - if I had known, I never would have started.
I'd have stayed with loneliness.
     And he could not mend it now. There was nothing that would help.
     What is the matter with me? he asked himself.
     What has happened to me?
     What is going on?
     He couldn't even think in a straight line any  more.  He'd told himself
that  he'd stay inside  the station to  escape the mob that might be showing
up-and he couldn't  stay inside the  station,  for Lewis,  sometime  shortly
after dark, would be bringing back the Hazer's body.
     And if the mob showed up at the same time Lewis should appear, bringing
back the body, there'd be unsheeted hell to pay.
     Stricken by the thought, he stood undecided.
     If  he  alerted Lewis to the danger,  then he might not bring the body.
And he had  to  bring the body.  Before the night was over the Hazer must be
secure within the grave.
     He decided that he would have to take a  chance. The mob might not show
up. Even if it did, there had to be a way that he could handle it.
     He'd think of something, he told himself.
     He'd have to think of something.


     The station was  as silent as  it had been when he'd left it. There had
been no messages and  the machinery was quiet, not even muttering to itself,
as it sometimes did.
     Enoch laid  the rifle across  the desk  top  and dropped  the bundle of
papers beside it. He  took off  his jacket and  hung it  on the back of  the
chair.
     There  were  still  the  papers  to  be  read,  not  only today's,  but
yesterday's as well, and  the  journal to be gotten  up, and the journal, he
reminded himself,  would take a lot of time. There would be several pages of
it,  even  if  he  wrote  it  close,  and  he  must  write it  logically and
chronologically,  so that it would  appear he had written  the happenings of
yesterday yesterday and not a full day late. He must include  each event and
every facet of each happening and  his own reactions  to it and his thoughts
about it. For that was the way he'd always done and that was the way he must
do it now.  He'd always been able to do it  that way  because he had created
for himself a little special niche, not of the Earth, nor of the galaxy, but
in that vague condition which one might call existence,  and  he had  worked
inside the framework of that  special niche  as  a  medieval monk had worked
inside his  cell.  He had  been an observer  only,  an  intensely interested
observer who had not been content with  observance only, but who had made an
effort to dig into what he had observed, but still basically and essentially
an observer who was not vitally nor personally involved in  what had gone on
about him. But in the last two days, he realized, he had lost that  observer
status. The Earth and  the galaxy had both intruded  on him, and his special
niche  was  gone and he was  personally involved. He  had lost his objective
viewpoint and  no  longer  could command  that  correct and  coldly  factual
approach which had given him a solid basis upon which to do his writing.
     He walked  over  to the shelf  of journals and pulled  out the  current
volume,  fluttering its pages to find where  he had  stopped.  He found  the
place and it was very near the end.  There were only a few blank pages left,
perhaps not enough of them to cover the events  of which he'd have to write.
More than likely, he thought, he'd come to  an end  of the journal before he
had finished with it and would have to start a new one.
     He stood with the journal in his  hand and stared at the page where the
writing ended, the writing that he'd done the day before yesterday. Just the
day  before yesterday and it now was ancient  writing; it  even  had a faded
look about it. And well it might,  he thought, for it had been writing  done
in another age. It had been the last entry he had made before his  world had
come crashing down about him.
     And what, he asked himself, was the use of writing further? The writing
now was done, all the writing that would matter. The station would be closed
and his own planet would be lost-no matter whether he  stayed on or went  to
another station on another planet, the Earth would now be lost.
     Angrily he slammed  shut the book and put it  back into its place  upon
the shelf. He walked back to the desk.
     The Earth was lost, he thought, and he was lost as well, lost and angry
and confused.  Angry  at  fate (if there  were such  a thing as fate) and at
stupidity.  Not only  the intellectual  stupidity of  the Earth, but at  the
intellectual stupidity of the galaxy as well,  at the  petty bickering which
could  still  the  march of  the  brotherhood  of peoples  that  finally had
extended  into  this  galactic  sector. As  on Earth, so in the  galaxy, the
number and  complexity  of  the  gadget, the  noble thought,  the wisdom and
erudition might make for a culture, but not for a civilization. To be  truly
civilized, there  must be something far more  subtle than the  gadget or the
thought.
     He  felt  the tension in  him,  the tension to be  doing something - to
prowl about the station like  a caged  and pacing  beast, to run outside and
shout incoherently until  his lungs were empty, to smash and break,  to work
off, somehow, his rage and disappointment.
     He reached out  a hand and snatched the  rifle off the  desk. He pulled
out a desk drawer where he kept the  ammunition,  and took out a box  of it,
tearing it apart, emptying the cartridges in his pocket.
     He  stood there  for a  moment, with the  rifle  in  his hand, and  the
silence of the room seemed to thunder at him and he caught the bleakness and
the coldness of it and he laid the rifle back on the desk again.
     With childishness, he thought, to  take out his resentment and his rage
on an unreality.  And' when there was  no real reason for resentment  or for
rage. For the pattern of events was one that should be recognized  and  thus
accepted. It was the kind of thing to which a human  being should long since
have become accustomed.
     He  looked around the station  and the quietness and the waiting  still
was there,  as if the  very structure might be marking time for  an event to
come along on the natural flow of time.
     He laughed softly and reached for the rifle once again.
     Unreality or not, it would be something to occupy  his mind, to 'snatch
him for a while from this sea of problems which was swirling all about him.
     And he needed the target practice. It  had been ten days or more  since
he'd been on the rifle range.


     The basement  was  huge. It stretched  out into a dim  haze beyond  the
lights  which  he had  turned on, a place  of tunnels and rooms, carved deep
into the rock that folded up to underlie the ridge.
     Here  were the massive tanks filled with the various solutions for  the
tank  travelers;  here the  pumps and  the  generators,  which operated on a
principle alien to the human manner of  generating electric  power,  and far
beneath the  floor  of  the basement itself those great storage  tanks which
held the acids and the  soupy matter which once had been the bodies of those
creatures which came traveling to the station, leaving behind  them, as they
went on to some other  place, the useless bodies which then must be disposed
of.
     Enoch moved across the floor, past the  tanks and generators,  until he
came to a gallery that  stretched out into the darkness.  He found the panel
and  pressed it to bring on the  lights, then  walked  down the gallery.  On
either side were metal shelves which had been installed  to  accommodate the
overflow  of  gadgets,  of  artifacts, of all sorts  of gifts which had been
brought him  by the travelers. From floor to ceiling the shelves were jammed
with a junkyard  accumulation  from all the corners of the  galaxy. And yet,
thought  Enoch,  perhaps not  actually a junkyard, for there  would be  very
little of this  stuff that would be actual  junk. All of it  was serviceable
and had some purpose,  either  practical or aesthetic, if only that  purpose
could  be  learned. Although perhaps  not  in every instance a  purpose that
would be applicable to humans.
     Down at the end of  the shelves was one section of shelving  into which
the articles were packed more systematically and with greater care, each one
tagged  and  numbered,  with  cross-filing  to a card catalogue  and certain
journal dates. These were the articles of  which he knew the purpose and, in
certain  instances, something of  the  principles involved.  There were some
that were  innocent  enough and  others that held great potential value  and
still  others  that  had,  at the moment, no connection whatsoever with  the
human way of life-and there were, as  well,  those few, tagged in  red, that
made one shuper to even think upon.
     He  went  down the  gallery,  his footsteps echoing loudly  as  he trod
through this place of alien ghosts.
     Finally the gallery widened into an oval room  and the walls here  were
paped  with  a thick gray substance that would entrap a bullet and prevent a
ricochet.
     Enoch  walked over  to a panel set inside  a  deep recess sunk into the
wall.  He reached in and thumbed up a tumbler, then stepped quickly out into
the center of the room.
     Slowly the room began to darken, then supenly it seemed to flare and he
was in the room no  longer, but in another place, a place he had never  seen
before.
     He stood  on  a little hillock and in front of him the land sloped down
to a sluggish river bordered by a width of  marsh.  Between the beginning of
the marsh and the  foot of the hillock stretched a sea of rough, tall grass.
There was  no wind, but the grass was rippling and he knew that the rippling
motion of the grass was caused by many moving bodies, foraging in the grass.
Out of it came a savage grunting, as if a thousand angry hogs  were fighting
for  choice morsels in a hundred swill  troughs. And from somewhere  farther
off, perhaps from the river,  came a deep, monotonous bellowing that sounded
hoarse and tired.
     Enoch felt the  hair  crawling on his scalp and he thrust the rifle out
and ready. It was puzzling. He felt and knew the danger and as yet there was
no danger. Still, the very air of  this place-wherever it might be-seemed to
crawl with danger.
     He spun  around and saw that  close  behind  him the thick,  dark woods
climbed down the range of river hills,  stopping at the  sea of  grass which
flowed around, the hillock on which he found himself. Off beyond  the hills,
dark purple in the  air,  loomed a range of mighty mountains that  seemed to
fade into  the sky,  but purple to their peaks, with  no  sign  of snow upon
them.
     Two things came trotting from the woods and stopped at the edge of  it.
They  sat down and grinned  at  him,  with their  tails wrapped neatly round
their feet. They might have been wolves or dogs, but they were neither  one.
They were nothing he had ever seen or heard of. Their pelts glistened in the
weak sunshine, as if  they had been greased, but the pelts  stopped at their
necks,  with  their skulls  and faces  bare. Like  evil old men,  off  on  a
masquerade,  with  their  bodies  draped  in  the hides  of wolves. But  the
disguise was  spoiled by  the  lolling  tongues which spilled  out of  their
mouths, glistening scarlet against the bone-white of their faces.
     The woods was still.  There were only  the two gaunt  beasts sitting on
their haunches. They sat and grinned at him, a strangely toothless grin.
     The  woods was dark and tangled, the foliage so dark green  that it was
almost black.  All the  leaves had a shine to  them, as  if  they  had  been
polished to a special sheen.
     Enoch spun around again,  to look back  towards the river, and crouched
at the edge of the grass was a line of toadlike monstrosities, six feet long
and standing three feet  high,  their bodies the color of a dead fish belly,
and each  with a single eye, or what seemed  to be an  eye, which  covered a
great part  of  the area  just  above the  snout.  The eyes were faceted and
glowed in the dim sunlight, as  the eyes  of a hunting  cat will  glow  when
caught in a beam of light.
     The hoarse  bellowing  still  came from  the  river and in  between the
bellowing there was a  faint, thin buzzing, an angry  and malicious buzzing,
as if  a mosquito might be hovering for attack, although there was a sharper
tone in it than in the noise of a mosquito.
     Enoch jerked up his  head to look into the sky and far in the depths of
it he  saw a string  of  dots, so high that there was no way of knowing what
kind of things they were.
     He  lowered  his head  to look back  at the line of squatting, toadlike
things, but from the corner of his eye he caught the sense of flowing motion
and swung back toward the woods.
     The wolf-like bodies with the skull-like heads were coming up  the hill
in a silent rush. They  did not seem to run. There  was  no  motion of their
running. Rather they were moving as if they had been squirted from a tube.
     Enoch jerked up his rifle and it came into his shoulder, fitting there,
as if it were a part  of  him. The bead settled in  the rear-sight notch and
blotted  out the skull-like face of the  leading beast. The gun bucked as he
squeezed the trigger and, without waiting to see if the  shot had downed the
beast,  the rifle  barrel was  swinging  toward the second as his right fist
worked  the  bolt.  The rifle bucked again  and the second  wolf-like  being
somersaulted  and  slid forward for an instant, then began  rolling down the
hill, flopping as it rolled.
     Enoch  worked the bolt again and the spent brass case glittered in  the
sun as he turned swiftly to face the other slope.
     The  toadlike things were closer now. They had been creeping in, but as
he turned they stopped and squatted, staring at him.
     He reached a hand into his pocket and took out two cartridges, cramming
them into the magazine to replace the shells he'd fired.
     The bellowing  down by  the  river had  stopped,  but now  there  was a
honking sound that he could not  place.  Turning  cautiously,  he  tried  to
locate  what might  be making  it,  but  there was nothing  to be seen.  The
honking sound seemed to  be coming  from  the forest,  but there was nothing
moving.
     In between the honking, he still  could hear the  buzzing and it seemed
louder now. He glanced into the sky and the  dots were larger and no  longer
in  a  line.  They  had formed  into  a  circle  and  seemed to be spiraling
downward, but they were still so high that he  could not make out what kinds
of things they were.
     He glanced back toward the toadlike  monsters and they were closer than
they had been before. They had crept up again.
     Enoch lifted the rifle and, before it reached his shoulder, pressed the
trigger,  shooting from  the hip. The  eye  of one of  the foremost  of them
exploded, like  the splash a stone  would  make  if  thrown  into water. The
creature did not jump or flop. It simply settled down, flat upon the ground,
as if someone had put his foot upon it and had exerted exactly  force enough
to squash it flat. It lay there, flat,  and there was a big round hole where
the eye had been and the hole was filling with a thick and ropy yellow fluid
that may have been the creature's blood.
     The others backed away, slowly, watchfully. They backed all the way off
the hillock and only stopped when they reached the grass edge.
     The honking was  closer and the buzzing  louder and there  could be  no
doubt that the honking was coming from the hills.
     Enoch swung about and saw it, striding through the sky, coming down the
ridge, stepping through the trees and honking dolefully. It  was a round and
black balloon  that swelled and  deflated with  its  honking, and jerked and
swayed as it  walked along, hung  from the center of four stiff and  spindly
legs that arched above it to the joint that  connected this upper portion of
the  leg  arrangement  with the downward-sprapling legs that raised  it high
above the forest. It was walking jerkily, lifting its legs high to clear the
massive treetops  before putting them down again.  Each time  it put down  a
foot, Enoch could hear the crunching of the branches and the crashing of the
trees that it broke or brushed aside.
     Enoch felt  the skin along his spine  trying to roll up his back like a
window  shade, and the  bristling of  the  hair along the base of his skull,
obeying some primordial instinct  in its striving to raise itself erect into
a fighting ruff.
     But even  as he stood there, almost stiff with fright, some part of his
brain  remembered that one  shot he had fired and  his  fingers dug into his
pocket for another cartridge to fill the magazine.
     The buzzing was much  louder and the pitch had changed. The buzzing was
now approaching at tremendous speed.
     Enoch jerked up his head  and the dots no  longer were circling in  the
sky, but were plunging down toward him, one behind the other.
     He flicked a  glance  toward the  balloon, honking  and  jerking on its
stilt-like legs. It  still was  coming on, but the plunging dots were faster
and would reach the hillock first.
     He shifted the rifle  forward, outstretched and  ready  to slap against
his shoulder, and watched the  falling dots,  which were dots no longer, but
hideous streamlined bodies, each  carrying a  rapier that projected from its
head. A bill of sorts, thought Enoch, for these things might be birds, but a
longer, thinner, larger, more deadly bird than any earthly bird.
     The buzzing changed into a scream  and the scream kept  mounting up the
scale  until it  set the  teeth on edge  and  through  it,  like a metronome
measuring off  a  beat, came the hooting  of the black  balloon  that strode
across the hills.
     Without knowing that he had moved  his arms, Enoch had the rifle at his
shoulder, waiting for that instant when the first  of the plunging  monsters
was close enough to fire.
     They dropped like stones  out of  the sky and  they were bigger than he
had  thought they were-big and coming like so  many arrows aimed directly at
him.
     The rifle thuped against his shoulder and the  first one crumpled, lost
its arrow shape, folding up and falling, no longer on its course.  He worked
the bolt and fired again  and  the second one in  line lost its balance  and
began  to  tumble-and the bolt was worked once more and the trigger pressed.
The third  skiped  in the air  and went off at  a  slant, limp  and  ragged,
fluttering in the wind, falling toward the river.
     The rest broke off their  dive. They made a shallow turn and beat their
way up into the sky, great  wings that  were more like  windmill  vanes than
wings thrashing desperately.
     A shadow  fell across the  hillock and a mighty  pillar came down  from
somewhere overhead, driving  down to strike to one  side of the hillock. The
ground  trembled  at the  tread  and the water that lay  hipen  by the grass
squirted high into the air.
     The  honking was  an engulfing sound that blotted out all else  and the
great balloon was zooming down, cradled on its legs.
     Enoch saw the  face,  if anything so grotesque and so  obscene could be
called a face. There was  a beak and beneath it a sucking mouth and a  dozen
or so other organs that might have been the eyes.
     The legs were like inverted V's, with the inner stroke somewhat shorter
than the outer and  in  the center  of these  inner  joints  hung the  great
balloon that was the body of the creature, with its face on the underside so
that it could see all the hunting territory that might lie beneath it.
     But now auxiliary joints in the outer span of  legs were bending to let
the body of the creature down so it could seize its prey.
     Enoch was not conscious of putting up the rifle or of operating it, but
it was hammering at his shoulder and it seemed to  him that a second part of
him stood off, apart, and watched the  firing of the rifle-as if the  figure
that held and fired the weapon might be a second man.
     Great gouts of  flesh flew out of the black  balloon  and  jagged rents
supenly tore  across it and  from these  rents  poured out a cloud of liquid
that turned into a mist, with black droplets raining from it.
     The  firing pin clicked on an empty breech and  the gun was  empty, but
there  was  no  need  of  another  shot.  The  great  legs were folding, and
trembling as they folded, and the shrunken body shivered convulsively in the
heavy mist that was pouring out of it.  There was no hooting now, and  Enoch
could hear the  patter  of the black drops falling  from that cloud  as they
struck the short grass on the bill.
     There was a sickening odor  and the drops, where they fell on him, were
sticky, running  like cold oil, and above him the  great structure that  had
been the stilt-like creature was toppling to the ground.
     Then the world faded swiftly and was no longer there.
     Enoch stood in the oval room in the faint  glow of the bulbs. There was
the heavy smell of powder and all about his feet, glinting in the light, lay
the spent and shining cases that had been kicked out of the gun.
     He was back in the basement once again. The target shoot was over.


     Enoch lowered  the  rifle  and  drew in a slow  and careful breath.  It
always  was like this,  he  thought. As if it were necessary for him to ease
himself,  by slow degrees, back to  this world  of  his  after the season of
unreality.
     One knew that it would be  illusion  when he kicked on the  switch that
set into  motion whatever was to happen  and  one knew it had been  illusion
when it all had ended, but during the time  that it was happening it was not
illusion. It was as real and substantial as if it all were true.
     They had asked  him, he remembered, when the station had been built, if
he had a hobby-if  there was  any sort  of  recreational facility they could
build into  the station for him. And he had said  that he would like a rifle
range, expecting  no  more  than a shooting  gallery with ducks  moving on a
chain or  clay pipes rotating  on a wheel. But that,  of course, would  have
been too  simple for  the  screwball architects, who had  designed, and  the
slap-happy crew of workmen who had built the station.
     At first they had not been certain  what he meant  by a rifle range and
he'd had to tell them what a rifle was  and how  it operated and for what it
might be  used. He  had told  them about hunting  squirrels on sunny  autumn
mornings and shaking rabbits out of brush piles with the first coming of the
snow (although one did not use a rifle,  but  a  shotgun, on  the  rabbits),
about hunting coons of  an autumn night, and waiting for the  deer along the
run that went  down to the river. But he was dishonest  and he did  not tell
them about that other use to which he'd put a rifle during four long years.
     He'd told  them (since  they were easy  folks  to talk with) about  his
youthful dream  of some  day going on a hunt in Africa, although  even as he
told them he was well aware of how unattainable it  was. But  since that day
he'd hunted (and  been hunted  by) beasts  far stranger  than  anything that
Africa could boast.
     From what  these beasts might have been patterned, if indeed  they came
from anywhere other than the  imagination of those aliens who had set up the
tapes which produced the target scene, he had no idea. There had not, so far
in  the thousands  of  times that he had used the range, been a  duplication
either in the scene nor  in the  beasts  which  rampaged  about  the  scene.
Although, perhaps, he thought, there might be  somewhere an end of them, and
then  the whole sequence might start over and run its  course once more. But
it would make little difference now, for if the tapes should start rerunning
there'd be but  little  chance  of his recalling in any considerable  detail
those adventures he had lived so many years ago.
     He  did not understand the  techniques  nor the  principle  which  made
possible this fantastic rifle range. Like many other  things, he accepted it
without the need  of understanding. Although, some day, he thought, he might
find  the   clue   which   in  time  would  turn   blind   acceptance   into
understanding-not only of the range, but of many other things.
     He had often wondered what the aliens might think about his fascination
with the rifle  range, with that primal force that drove  a man to kill, not
for the joy of killing  so much  as to negate a danger, to meet force with a
greater and more skillful force,  cunning  with  more  cunning. Had  he,  he
wondered, given his alien friends concern in their assessment  of  the human
character  by his preoccupation with the rifle?  For the understanding of an
alien, how could one draw a line between the killing of other  forms of life
and the killing of one's  own? Was there actually a differential  that would
stand up  under logical examination  between  the sport  of hunting and  the
sport of war? To an alien,  perhaps, such a  differentiation would be rather
difficult, for in many cases the  hunted animal would be more closely allied
to the human  hunter in its form and characteristics than would  many of the
aliens.
     Was  war an instinctive thing, for which each ordinary man was  as much
responsible  as the  policy makers and the  so-called statesmen?  It  seemed
impossible,  and  yet, deep in every  man  was  the combative  instinct, the
aggressive  urge, the  strange  sense of  competition-all of  which  spelled
conflict of one kind or another if carried to conclusion.
     He  put  the  rifle underneath his  arm and walked over to  the  panel.
Sticking from a slot in the bottom of it was a piece of tape.
     He pulled it out and puzzled out the symbols. They were not reassuring.
He had not done so well.
     He  had  missed that first shot he had fired at the charging wolf-thing
with the  old man's face, and  back there  somewhere,  in that  dimension of
unreality, it and its companion were snarling over the tangled, torn mass of
ribboned flesh and broken bone that had been Enoch Wallace.


     He went back through the gallery, with its gifts stacked there as other
gifts,  in regular human establishments, might be  stacked away  in  dry and
dusty attics.
     The tape nagged at him, the  little piece of tape which said that while
he had made all  his other shots, he had missed that first one back there on
the hillock. It  was not often that he missed. And his training had been for
that  very  type of  shooting-the you-never-know-what-will-happen-next,  the
totally unexpected, the kill-or-be-killed kind of shooting that thousands of
expeditions  into the  target  area had  taught  him.  Perhaps, he  consoled
himself, he  had not been  as faithful  in his practice lately as  he should
have been. Although there actually was no reason that he should be faithful,
for  the shooting was  for recreation only and his carrying of the  rifle on
his daily walks  was  from force of habit only  and for no other  reason. He
carried the rifle as another man might  take along a cane or walking  stick.
At the time he had first done it, of course, it had been a different kind of
rifle and a different day. It then was no unusual thing for a man to carry a
gun while out on a  walk. But today  was different  and he wondered, with an
inner grin, how much talk his carrying a gun might have furnished the people
who had seen him with it.
     Near the end of the gallery he saw the black bulk of a trunk projecting
from beneath the  lower shelf, too big to fit comfortably beneath it, jammed
against the wall, but with a foot  or two  of it still projecting out beyond
the shelf.
     He went on  walking past it, then supenly turned around. That trunk, he
thought-that  was the trunk which  had  belonged to the Hazer  who had  died
upstairs. It  was  his legacy from that being whose  stolen  body  would  be
brought back to its grave this evening.
     He walked over to the  shelving and leaned his rifle against the  wall.
Stooping he pulled the trunk clear of its resting place.
     Once before,  prior to carrying it down the  stairs and storing it here
beneath the shelves, he had gone through  its contents, but  at the time, he
recalled, he'd not been too interested. Now,  supenly, he felt an  absorbing
interest in it.
     He lifted the lid carefully and tilted it back against the shelves.
     Crouching above the open  trunk, and without touching anything to start
with, he tried to catalogue the upper layer of its contents.
     There  was a  shimmering cloak,  neatly  folded,  perhaps some  sort of
ceremonial cloak, although he could not know. And atop  the cloak lay a tiny
bottle  that was a blaze  of  reflected light, as if  someone  had  taken  a
large-sized diamond and hollowed it out to  make a bottle  of it. Beside the
cloak lay  a nest of  balls,  deep  violet and dull,  with  no shine at all,
looking  for all the world like a bunch  of  table-tennis balls that someone
had  cemented  together to make  a globe. But that  was not the  way it was,
Enoch remembered, for that other time he had been entranced by them  and had
picked them up, to  find  that they were  not cemented, but  could be freely
moved  about, although never outside the context  of  their  shape. One ball
could not be  broken from  the mass, no matter how  hard  one might try, but
would move about, as  if buoyed in a fluid, among all  the  other balls. One
could move  any,  or all, of the balls,  but the mass  remained  the same. A
calculator  of some  sort,  Enoch  wondered,  but  that seemed  only  barely
possible, for one ball was entirely like another, there was no  way in which
they could be identified. Or at least, no way to identify them by  the human
eye. Was it  possible, he wondered, that identification might be possible to
a Hazer's eye? And if a calculator, what kind of a calculator? Mathematical?
Or ethical?  Or philosophical? Although  that was slightly foolish, for  who
had  ever heard of a  calculator for ethics or  philosophy? Or, rather, what
human  had  ever heard?  More  than likely  it  was  not a  calculator,  but
something else entirely. Perhaps a sort of game-a game of solitaire?
     Given  time, a man might  finally get it  figured out. But there was no
time and no incentive at  the moment to spend  upon  one particular item any
great  amount  of  time  when  there  were hundreds  of  other items equally
fantastic and  incomprehensible. For while  one puzzled over a  single item,
the  edges of  his mind would always wonder if he might not be spending time
on the most insignificant of the entire lot.
     He was a victim of museum fatigue, Enoch  told himself, overwhelmed  by
the many pieces of the unknown scattered all about him.
     He reached  out a hand, not for the globe of balls, but for the shining
bottle that lay atop the cloak. As he picked it up and brought it closer, he
saw that  there was a line of writing engraved upon the glass (or  diamond?)
of  the bottle. Slowly he studied out the  writing.  There had  been a time,
long ago, when he had been able to read the Hazer language, if not fluently,
at least well enough to get along. But he had not read it for some years now
and  he had lost a good deal of it and he stumbled haltingly from one symbol
to another. Translated very freely,  the inscription on  the bottle read: To
be taken when the first symptoms occur.
     A bottle of  medicine! To be taken when  the first  symptoms occur. The
symptoms, perhaps, that had come so quickly and built up so rapidly that the
owner of this bottle could make no move to reach it and so had died, falling
from the sofa.
     Almost reverently, he put the bottle back in its place  atop the cloak,
fitting it back into the faint impression it had made from lying there.
     So different from us in so many  ways, thought Enoch, and then in other
little  ways so like  us  that it is frightening.  For  that bottle  and the
inscription  on its  face  was  an exact parallel of the prescription bottle
that could be compounded by any corner drugstore.
     Beside the globe of balls was a box, and  he reached out and lifted it.
It  was  made of wood  and had a rather simple clasp to  hold  it  shut.  He
flipped back  the lid and inside he saw the metallic sheen  of  the material
the Hazers used as paper.
     Carefully  he lifted out  the first  sheet and  saw that it  was not  a
sheet,  but a  long  strip  of  the  material folded in  accordion  fashion.
Underneath it were more strips, apparently of the same material.
     There was writing on it, faint  and faded,  and Enoch held it close  to
read it.
     To my  -,--  friend:  (although  it was not  "friend." "Blood brother,"
perhaps, or "colleague." And the adjectives which preceded  it were  such as
to escape his sense entirely.)
     The  writing  was  hard  to  read. It  bore  some  resemblance  to  the
formalized version of the  language, but  apparently bore the imprint of the
writer's personality, expressed in curlicues and flourishes  which  obscured
the  form. Enoch worked his way slowly down  the paper, missing much of what
was there, but picking up the sense of much that had been written.
     The writer had  been on a visit to some other  planet, or possibly just
some other place. The name of the place or planet was one that Enoch did not
recognize.  While  he had been there he had performed some  sort of function
(although exactly what it was was not entirely  clear) which had to  do with
his approaching death.
     Enoch, startled, went back over the phrase again. And while much of the
rest of what was written was not  clear, that part of it was. My approaching
death, he  had written, and there was no room for  mistranslation. All three
of the words were clear.
     He urged that his good  (friend?) do likewise. He said it was a comfort
and made clear the road.
     There was  no further explanation, no further reference.  Just the calm
declaration that he had  done something which he felt must be arranged about
his  death.  As if  he knew death was near  and was not only  unafraid,  but
almost unconcerned.
     The next passage (for there were  no paragraphs) told  about someone he
had met and  how they'd talked about a certain matter which made no sense at
all to Enoch, who found himself lost in a terminology he did not recognize.
     And  then: I  am  most  concerned  about  the mediocrity (incompetence?
inability? weakness?) of  the  recent  custodian of  (and then that  cryptic
symbol  which could  be  translated, roughly, as the Talisman.) For (a word,
which  from the context, seemed to mean a great length of time),  ever since
the death of the last custodian, the Talisman has been but poorly served. It
has  been,  in  all  reality,  (another  long  time  term),  since  a   true
(sensitive?) has been found to  carry out its purpose. Many have been tested
and  none has qualified, and for  the lack of such a one the galaxy has lost
its close identification with  the ruling principle  of life. We here at the
(temple? sanctuary?) all are greatly concerned that without a proper linkage
between the people and (several words that were not decipherable) the galaxy
will go down in chaos (and another line that he could not puzzle out).
     The  next  sentence introduced a new subject-the plans that  were going
forward for some cultural festival which concerned a concept that, to Enoch,
was hazy at the best.
     Enoch slowly folded up the letter and put it back into the box. He felt
a  faint uneasiness in  reading  what  he  had,  as if  he'd  pried  into  a
friendship that he had no right to know.  We here  at the temple, the letter
had  said. Perhaps the  writer had been one of the Hazer mystics, writing to
his old friend, the philosopher. And the other letters, quite possibly, were
from  that same mystic-letters  that the dead old Hazer had valued so highly
that he took them along with him when he went traveling.
     A  slight  breeze  seemed to be blowing across  Enoch's  shoulders; not
actually a breeze, but a strange motion and a coldness to the air.
     He  glanced  back  into  the  gallery  and there was nothing  stirring,
nothing to be seen.
     The wind had quit its blowing,  if it had ever  blown. Here one moment,
gone the next. Like a passing ghost, thought Enoch.
     Did the Hazer have a ghost?
     The people back  on Vega XXI had  known  the moment he had died and all
the  circumstances  of  his  death. They had  known  again  about  the  body
disappearing. And the letter had spoken  calmly, much more calmly than would
have  been in the capacity  of most humans, about the writer's near approach
to death.
     Was it possible that the  Hazers knew more of life  and  death than had
ever been spelled out?  Or had  it been spelled out, put  down in  black and
white, in some depository or depositories in the galaxy?
     Was the answer there? he wondered.
     Squatting  there,  he thought  that perhaps it  might be,  that someone
already knew what  life was for and what its destiny. There was a comfort in
the thought, a strange sort  of personal comfort  in being  able  to believe
that some  intelligence might  have  solved  the riple  of  that  mysterious
equation  of the universe. And how, perhaps, that mysterious  equation might
tie  in  with the  spiritual force that was idealistic brother  to time  and
space and all those other elemental factors that held the universe together.
     He tried to  imagine what one might feel if he were in contact with the
force,  and  could  not. He wondered if even those who  might have  been  in
contact with  it could  find the  words  to tell. It  might, he thought,  be
impossible. For how could one who had been in intimate contact  all his life
with space and time tell what either of these meant to him or how they felt?
     Ulysses, he thought, had not told him all the truth about the Talisman.
He had  told him that it had disappeared and that the galaxy was without it,
but he  had not told him that for many years its  power and  glory  had been
dimmed by the failure of its custodian to provide linkage between the people
and the  force. And all that time  the  corrosion occasioned by that failure
had  eaten away at the bonds of the galactic cofraternity. Whatever might be
happening now had not happened in  the last few years; it  had been building
up  for a longer time than  most aliens would admit. Although, come to think
of it, most aliens probably did not know.
     Enoch closed the box lid and put it back into  the  trunk. Some day, he
thought,  when  he  was in the proper  frame of mind, when the  pressure  of
events made him less emotional, when  he could dull the guilt of prying,  he
would achieve  a  scholarly and conscientious translation  of those letters.
For in  them, he  felt certain, he  might find further understanding of that
intriguing  race. He might,  he thought, then be better able  to gauge their
humanity-not humanity in the  common and accepted sense of being a member of
the human race of Earth, but in the sense that certain rules of conduct must
underlie all racial concepts even as the thing called humanity in its narrow
sense underlay the human concept.
     He reached up to close the lid of the trunk and then he hesitated.
     Some day, he had said. And there might not  be  a  some  day. It  was a
state of mind to be always thinking some  day, a state of mind made possible
by the  conditions inside this station. For here there were endless days  to
come,  forever and forever there were days to come. A  man's concept of time
was twisted out  of shape and  reason and he could look  ahead  complacently
down a long, almost never ending, avenue of time. But that might be all over
now. Time might supenly snap back  into its rightful focus. Should  he leave
this station, the long procession of days to come would end.
     He  pushed back the  lid again  until  it  rested against  the shelves.
Reaching in, he lifted out the box and set it on the floor beside him.  He'd
take  it upstairs, he told himself, and put it with the other stuff that  he
must be prepared  immediately  to take along with him if he should leave the
station.
     If? he asked himself. Was there a question any longer? Had he, somehow,
made that hard decision? Had it crept  upon him unaware, so that he  now was
committed to it?
     And if  he  had actually arrived at that decision, then  he must, also,
have  arrived at the other  one.  If he  left the station, then he could  no
longer  be  in a  position to  appear before Galactic  Central to plead that
Earth be cured of war.
     You are the representative of the Earth,  Ulysses had told him. You are
the only  one  who  can  represent  the  Earth.  But could  he, in  reality,
represent the Earth? Was he any longer  a  true  representative of the human
race? He  was  a  nineteenth-century  man and  how  could  he,  being  that,
represent  the twentieth? How  much,  he  wondered, does the human character
change with each generation? And not only was he of the  nineteenth century,
but he had, as well, lived for almost a hundred years under a separate and a
special circumstance.
     He  knelt there,  regarding himself with awe,  and a little  pity, too,
wondering what he was, if he were even human, if, unknown to himself, he had
absorbed  so  much  of  the mingled  alien  viewpoint to which  he  had been
subjected that he had become  some strange  sort  of hybrid, a queer kind of
galactic half-breed.
     Slowly he pulled the lid down and pushed it  tight. Then he  shoved the
trunk back underneath the shelves.
     He tucked the box  of letters underneath his arm  and  rose, picking up
his rifle, and headed for the stairs.


     He found some  empty cartons stacked in  the kitchen corner, boxes that
Winslowe  had used to bring out from town the supplies that he had  ordered,
and began to pack.
     The journals, stacked neatly in  order, filled one large box and a part
of  another. He took  a  stack  of old  newspapers and carefully wrapped the
twelve  diamond  bottles off  the mantel  and  packed  them in  another box,
thickly  paped, to guard against their breakage.  Out of the cabinet  he got
the  Vegan music box and  wrapped it  as carefully. He pulled out of another
cabinet the alien literature that he had and piled it  in the fourth box. He
went  through his desk, but there  wasn't too much there, only  ops and ends
tucked here  and  there  throughout  the drawers.  He found  his chart  and,
crumpling it, threw it in the wastebasket that stood beside his desk.
     The already filled boxes he carried across the room and stacked  beside
the door  for easy reaching.  Lewis would have  a truck, but once he let him
know  he needed  it, it still might take a while for it to arrive. But if he
had the  important stuff all  packed, he told himself,  he  could get it out
himself and have it waiting for the truck.
     The  important  stuff,  he  thought. Who  could judge  importance?  The
journals and the alien  literature, those first of all,  of course.  But the
rest of it? Which of the rest of it? It was all important; every item should
be  taken.  And  that  might  be  possible.  Given  time  and with  no extra
complications, it might be  possible to  haul  it all away, all  that was in
this room and stored down in the basement. It all was his and he had a right
to  it, for  it  had been  given him. But that did  not mean, he  knew, that
Galactic Central might not object most strenuously to his taking any of it.
     And if that  should happen, it was vital that he should  be able to get
away with those  most important items.  Perhaps he  should  go down into the
basement and lug up those  tagged articles of  which he knew the purpose. It
probably would be better to take material  about  which  something  might be
known than a lot of stuff about which there was nothing known.
     He stood undecided,  looking  all  about the  room. There  were all the
items  on  the  coffee table and those should  be taken, too,  including the
little flashing pyramid of globes that Lucy had set to working.
     He saw that the Pet once again  had crawled off the table and fallen on
the floor. He  stooped and picked it  up and  held it in  his hands. It  had
grown an extra  knob or two since the last  time he had looked at it  and it
was now a faint and  delicate  pink, whereas the last time he had noticed it
had been a cobalt blue.
     He probably was wrong, he told himself, in calling it the Pet. It might
not be alive. But if it were, it was  a sort of life he could not even guess
at. It was not metallic and it was not stone, but very close to both. A file
made  no  impression  on it and  he'd been tempted a time or two to whack it
with a hammer to see what that might do, although  he was willing to bet  it
would have  no effect at all. It grew slowly, and it moved, but there was no
way  of knowing how  it moved. But leave  it and come back and it would have
moved-a little, not too much. It knew  it was being watched and it would not
move while watched. It did not  eat  so far as he could see and it seemed to
have no wastes. It  changed colors, but entirely without season  and with no
visible reason for the change.
     A being from somewhere in the direction of Sagittarius had given it  to
him  just  a year  or  two ago, and the  creature, Enoch recalled, had  been
something for the books. He probably wasn't actually  a  walking plant,  but
that was what he'd  looked like-a rather spindly plant that had been shorted
on good water and  cheated  on  good soil, but which had sprouted a crop  of
dime-store bangles that rang like a thousand silver  bells when he made  any
sort of motion.
     Enoch remembered that he had tried to ask the being what the gift might
be, but  the  walking plant had simply  clashed  its bangles and filled  the
place with ringing sound and didn't try to answer.
     So he  had put the gift on one  end of the desk and  hours later, after
the being was long gone, he found that it had  moved to the other end of the
desk. But it had seemed  too crazy  to think  that  a thing like that  could
move, so he finally convinced himself that he was mistaken as  to where he'd
put it. It was not until days later that he was able  to convince himself it
moved.
     He'd have  to take it when he left and Lucy's pyramid and the cube that
showed you pictures of other worlds when you looked inside of it and a great
deal of other stuff.
     He stood with the Pet held in his hand  and now, for the first time, he
wondered at why he might be packing.
     He was acting as if he'd decided he would leave the station, as if he'd
chosen Earth as  against the galaxy.  But when  and how, he wondered, had he
decided it? Decision should be based on weighing and on measuring and he had
weighed  and  measured nothing. He had  not posed  the  advantages  and  the
disadvantages and  tried to strike a  balance. He  had  not thought it  out.
Somehow, somewhere, it had  sneaked up on him-this decision which had seemed
impossible, but now had been reached so easily.
     Was it, he wondered, that he  had absorbed, unconsciously,  such an  op
mixture of alien thought and ethics that he had evolved, unknown to himself,
a  new way in which to think, perhaps  some subconscious way of thought that
had lain inoperative until now, when it had been needed.
     There  was  a box or  two out in the shed and he'd go and get them  and
finish up the packing of what he'd pick out here. Then he'd go down into the
basement and start lugging  up  the  stuff that he  had tagged.  He  glanced
toward  the window and realized,  with some surprise, that  he would have to
hurry, for the sun was close to setting. It would be evening soon.
     He  remembered that he'd forgotten lunch, but he had no time to eat. He
could get something later.
     He turned to put the  Pet back on the table and as he did a faint sound
caught his ear and froze him where he stood.
     It was the slight  chuckle of a materializer operating and he could not
mistake it. He had heard the sound too often to be able to mistake it.
     And  it must  be, he knew,  the official materializer, for no one could
have traveled on the other without the sending of a message.
     Ulysses,  he  thought. Ulysses coming back again. Or perhaps some other
member of Galactic Central.  For if Ulysses had been coming,  he would  have
sent a message.
     He  took a quick  step  forward so he could see  the  corner  where the
materializer stood and a  dark and slender figure  was stepping out from the
target circle.
     "Ulysses!"  Enoch cried,  but even as  he  spoke he realized it was not
Ulysses.
     For  an  instant he had the  impression of a top hat, of white  tie and
tails,  of a jauntiness,  and  then he saw that the creature was a  rat that
walked  erect, with  sleek, dark fur covering its body and  a sharp,  axlike
rodent face. For an instant, as it turned its head toward him, he caught the
red glitter  of its eyes. Then it  turned back  toward the corner and he saw
that its hand was lifted and was pulling  out of  a harnessed  holster  hung
about its miple something that  glinted with a metallic shimmer even in  the
shadow.
     There  was  something  very  wrong about it.  The creature  should have
greeted him. It should have said hello and come out to meet him. But instead
it had thrown him  that  one  red-eyed  glance  and  then turned back to the
corner.
     The metallic object came out of the holster and it could only be a gun,
or at least some sort of weapon that one might think of as a gun.
     And was this the way, thought Enoch, that they would close the station?
One quick shot, without a word, and the station keeper  dead upon the floor.
With someone  other than Ulysses, because  Ulysses  could  not be trusted to
kill a long-time friend.
     The rifle was lying across the desk top and there wasn't any time.
     But the ratlike creature was not  turning toward the room. It still was
facing toward  the  corner  and  its  hand was  coming up,  with  the weapon
glinting in it.
     An alarm twanged within Enoch's brain and  he swung his arm and yelled,
hurling the Pet toward the creature  in the corner, the yell jerked  out  of
him involuntarily from the bottom of his lungs.
     For  the creature, he  realized, had not been intent on the killing  of
the keeper, but the disruption of the station.  The only thing there was  to
aim  at  in  the corner  was  the  control complex,  the nerve center of the
station's operation. And if that should be knocked out, the station would be
dead. To set it in operation once again it would be necessary to send a crew
of technicians out in a spaceship from the nearest station-a trip that would
require many years to make.
     At  Enoch's yell, the creature jerked around, dropping toward a crouch,
and the flying Pet,  tumbling end for  end, caught it in the belly and drove
it back against the wall.
     Enoch  charged,  arms outspread to  grapple with the creature. The  gun
flew  from the creature's hand and  pinwheeled across  the floor. Then Enoch
was upon the alien and even as he closed with it, his nostrils were assailed
by its body stench-a sickening wave of nastiness.
     He wrapped  his arms about it and heaved, and it was not as heavy as he
had thought it might be.  His powerful wrench  jerked it from the corner and
swung it around and sent it skiping out across the floor.
     It  crashed against  a chair and  came to a stop and then like a  steel
coil it rose off the floor and pounced for the gun.
     Enoch took two  great strides  and had  it by  the neck, lifting it and
shaking it so  savagely that the recovered gun flew from its hand  again and
the bag it  carried on a thong  across its shoulder pounded like a vibrating
trip hammer against its hairy ribs.
     The stench was thick, so  thick that one could almost see it, and Enoch
gagged on it as he shook the creature. And supenly it was worse, much worse,
like a fire raging in one's throat and a hammer in one's head. It was like a
physical blow that hit one in the belly  and shoved against the chest. Enoch
let  go  his hold  upon  the  creature  and  staggered  back, doubled up and
retching. He lifted his hands to his face and tried to push the stench away,
to clear his nostrils and his mouth, to rub it from his eyes.
     Through a haze he saw the creature rise and, snatching up the gun, rush
toward the door. He did not hear the phrase that the creature spoke, but the
door came  open and the creature spurted forward  and was gone. And the door
slammed shut again.


     Enoch wobbled across the room to the desk and caught at it for support.
The stench was diminishing and his  head was clearing and  he scarcely could
believe  that it  all had happened. For it  was incredible that a thing like
this should happen. The creature had traveled on the  official materializer,
and no one but a member of Galactic Central could travel  by that route. And
no member  of Galactic Central,  he was convinced,  would have  acted as the
ratlike creature had. Likewise, the creature had known the phrase that would
operate  the door. No, one but himself and Galactic Central would have known
that phrase.
     He reached out and picked up his rifle and hefted it in his fist.
     It was  all right, he  thought. There  was  nothing harmed. Except that
there was an  alien loose  upon the Earth and  that was something that could
not be  allowed. The Earth was barred to aliens. As  a planet which had  not
been recognized by the galactic cofraternity, it was off-limit territory.
     He stood with  the rifle in his hand and knew what he  must  do-he must
get that alien back, he must get it off the Earth.
     He spoke the phrase aloud and strode toward the door and out and around
the corner of the house
     The alien was running across the field and had almost reached the  line
of woods.
     Enoch  ran desperately, but before he was  halfway down  the field, the
ratlike quarry had plunged into the woods and disappeared.
     The woods was beginning to darken  .The slanting rays of light from the
setting sun still lighted the upper canopy of the foliage, but on the forest
floor the shadows had begun to gather.
     As he ran into the fringe of the  woods, Enoch caught a  glimpse of the
creature angling down a small ravine and plunging up the other slope, racing
through a heavy cover of ferns that reached almost to its miple.
     If it kept on in that direction, Enoch told himself, it might  work out
all right,  for the  slope beyond the ravine ended in a clump  of rocks that
lay above  an outthrust point that  ended in a cliff, with each side curving
in, so that the point and its mass of  boulders lay isolated,  a  place hung
out in space. It might be a little  rough to dig the alien from the rocks if
it took refuge  there, but at  least it would be  trapped and  could not get
away. Although, Enoch reminded himself, he could  waste no time, for the sun
was setting and it would soon be dark.
     Enoch  angled  slightly  westward to go around  the head  of the  small
ravine, keeping  an eye on the  fleeing alien. The creature kept on  up  the
slope and Enoch, observing this, put on an extra burst of  speed. For now he
had the  alien trapped. In  its fleeing,  it had gone  past the point  of no
return. It could no longer turn around and retreat back from the point. Soon
it  would reach the cliff edge and then  there'd be nothing  it could do but
hole up in the patch of boulders.
     Running hard, Enoch crossed the area covered by the ferns and came  out
on the sharper slope some hundred yards  or so below the boulder clump. Here
the cover was not so dense.  There was a scant covering of spotty underbrush
and a scattering  of trees. The soft loam of the forest  floor gave way to a
footing of shattered rock which  through the years had been  chipped off the
boulders by the winters' frost, rolling down the slope. They lay there  now,
covered with thick moss, a treacherous place to walk.
     As he ran, Enoch swept  the  boulders with a  glance, but there was  no
sign of the alien. Then, out of the corner of his vision, he saw the motion,
and threw himself forward to  the  ground behind a patch of hazel brush, and
through the network of the bushes he saw the alien outlined against the sky,
its head pivoting back  and  forth to sweep the slope below, the weapon half
lifted and set for instant use.
     Enoch lay frozen, with his outstretched hand gripping  the rifle. There
was a  slash  of  pain  across one set of knuckles  and  he knew that he had
skinned them on the rock as he had dived for cover.
     The  alien dropped  from  sight  behind  the  boulders and Enoch slowly
pulled the rifle back to where  he would be able to  handle it should a shot
present itself.
     Although,  he wondered, would he dare to fire? Would he dare to kill an
alien?
     The alien could have killed  him back there at the station, when he had
been knocked silly by the dreadful stench. But it had not killed him; it had
fled instead.  Was  it,  he wondered,  that the  creature had been so  badly
frightened that all that it could think of had been to get away? Or had  it,
perhaps, been as  reluctant  to  kill a  station keeper as he himself was to
kill an alien?
     He searched the rocks above him and there was no motion and not a thing
to see.  He must move up that slope, and  quickly, he told himself, for time
would work against him and to the advantage of the alien. Darkness could not
be more than thirty minutes off  and before dark had fallen  this issue must
be settled. If the alien got away, there'd be little chance to find it.
     And why, asked a second self, standing to one  side, should  you  worry
about alien complications? For are  you yourself not  prepared to inform the
Earth that  there are alien  peoples in  the galaxy and to  hand  to  Earth,
unauthorized,  as much of that alien lore and learning as may be within your
power? Why should  you  have stopped  this  alien from the  wrecking of  the
station, insuring its  isolation for many years-for  if that had  been done,
then you'd have been free  to do  as  you might wish with all that is within
the  station? It would have  worked to your advantage to have allowed events
to run their course.
     But I couldn't, Enoch cried inside  himself. Don't you see  I couldn't?
Don't you understand?
     A rustle in the bushes to his left brought him around with the rifle up
and ready.
     And there was Lucy Fisher, not more than twenty feet away.
     "Get out of here!" he shouted, forgetting that she could not hear him.
     But she did not seem  to notice.  She motioned  to the left and  made a
sweeping motion with her hand and pointed toward the boulders.
     Go away, he said underneath his breath. Go away from here.
     And  made  rejection motions  to indicate that she should go back, that
this was no place for her.
     She shook her head and sprang away, in a running crouch, moving further
to the left and up the slope.
     Enoch scrambled to his feet, lunging after her,  and as he  did the air
behind him made a frying sound and there was the sharp bite of ozone in  the
air.
     He hit the ground, instinctively, and farther  down the slope he  saw a
square yard of ground that boiled  and steamed, with the ground cover  swept
away by a fierce heat and  the  very soil  and rock turned  into a simmering
puping.
     A  laser,  Enoch thought. The alien's weapon  was  a laser,  packing  a
terrific punch in a narrow beam of light.
     He  gathered  himself  together and made a short rush up the  hillside,
throwing himself prone behind a twisted birch clump.
     The air made the frying sound again and there was an instant's blast of
heat  and the ozone once  again. Over on the reverse slope a patch of ground
was  steaming.  Ash floated  down and settled on  Enoch's arms. He flashed a
quick glance upward and saw that the top half of the birch  clump  was gone,
sheared off by the laser and reduced to ash. Tiny coils of smoke rose lazily
from the severed stumps.
     No matter what it may have  done, or  failed to  do, back there  at the
station,  the  alien now meant business. It knew that it was cornered and it
was playing vicious.
     Enoch hupled against the ground  and worried about  Lucy. He hoped that
she was safe. The  little  fool should have stayed  out of it.  This was  no
place for her. She shouldn't even have been out in the woods at this time of
day. She'd have old  Hank  out  looking  for  her  again,  thinking  she was
kidnapped. He wondered what the hell had gotten into her.
     The dusk  was deepening. Only the far peak  of  the treetops caught the
last rays of the sun. A coolness came stealing up the ravine from the valley
far below and there was a damp, lush smell that came out of the ground. From
some hipen hollow a whippoorwill called out mournfully.
     Enoch darted out from behind the birch  clump and rushed up  the slope.
He  reached  the  fallen  log  he'd picked as a barricade and threw  himself
behind  it. There  was no sign of the alien and there was  not  another shot
from the laser gun.
     Enoch studied the ground ahead. Two more rushes, one to that small pile
of rock and the next to the edge of the boulder area itself,  and he'd be on
top of the hiding alien. And once  he got there, he wondered, what was he to
do.
     Go in and rout the alien out, of course.
     There was no plan that could be made, no tactics that could be laid out
in advance. Once he got to the edge  of the boulders, he must play it all by
ear, taking advantage of any  break that might present itself  He  was  at a
disadvantage in that he must not kill the alien, but must capture it instead
and drag it back,  kicking and  screaming, if need be, to  the safety of the
station.
     Perhaps, here  in the open air,  it could not use its stench defense as
effectively as it  had in the confines of the station, and that, he thought,
might make it easier. He examined the clump of boulders from one edge to the
other and there was nothing that might help him to locate the alien.
     Slowly he began to snake around, getting ready for the next rush up the
slope, moving carefully so that no sound would betray him.
     Out  of  the tail  of  his eye he  caught  the moving shadow that  came
flowing up the  slope. Swiftly  he sat up, swinging the rifle. But before he
could  bring the muzzle  round, the  shadow  was upon him, bearing him back,
flat upon the ground,  with one great  splay-fingered hand clamped  upon his
mouth.
     "Ulysses!" Enoch gurgled, but the fearsome shape only, hissed at him in
a warning sound.
     Slowly the weight shifted off him and the hand slid from his mouth.
     Ulysses gestured toward the boulder pile and Enoch noped.
     Ulysses crept closer and lowered his  head toward Enoch's. He whispered
with his  mouth inches from the Earthman's ear: "The  Talisman!  He has  the
Talisman!"
     "The Talisman!" Enoch cried aloud, trying to  strangle off the cry even
as  he made it, remembering that he should make  no sound to let the watcher
up above know where they might be.
     From  the ridge above  a loose stone rattled as it  was  dislodged  and
began to roll, bouncing down the  slope. Enoch hunkered closer to the ground
behind the fallen log.
     "Down!" he 'shouted to Ulysses. "Down! He has a gun."
     But Ulysses' hand gripped him by the shoulder.
     "Enoch!" he cried. "Enoch, look!"
     Enoch jerked himself erect  and atop the pile of rock, dark against the
skyline, were two grappling figures.
     "Lucy!" he shouted.
     For one of them was Lucy and the other was the alien.
     She sneaked up on him, he thought. The damn little fool, she sneaked up
on him! While the alien had been distracted with watching the slope, she had
slipped up close and  then  had tackled him. She had a club of  some sort in
her  hand,  an old dead branch,  perhaps,  and it was raised above her head,
ready for a stroke, but the alien had a  grip upon her arm and she could not
strike.
     "Shoot," said Ulysses, in a flat, dead voice.
     Enoch raised  the rifle and had trouble with the sights because  of the
deepening darkness.  And  they were  so  close together! They were too close
together.
     "Shoot!" yelled Ulysses.
     "I can't," sobbed Enoch. "It's too dark to shoot."
     "You have to shoot,"  Ulysses said, his voice tense and hard. "You have
to take the chance."
     Enoch raised the rifle once again and the sights seemed clearer now and
he knew the trouble was not so much  the darkness as that shot which he  had
missed  back there in the  world of the honking  thing that had  strode  its
world on stilts. If he had missed then, he could as well miss now.
     The bead came to rest upon the  head  of the ratlike creature, and then
the head bobbed away, but was bobbing back again.
     "Shoot!" Ulysses yelled.
     Enoch squeezed the trigger and  the rifle coughed and up atop the rocks
the  creature stood  for  a second  with only half a head  and with tattered
gouts  of  flesh  flying  briefly  like  dark  insects  zooming  against the
half-light of the western sky.
     Enoch dropped the gun and sprawled upon the earth, clawing his  fingers
into the  thin and  mossy soil, sick with the  thought  of  what  could have
happened,  weak  with the thankfulness that it  had not happened,  that  the
years on that fantastic rifle range had at last paid off.
     How strange it is, he thought,  how so many senseless things  shape our
destiny. For the  rifle  range had been a senseless thing, as senseless as a
billiard table or a game of cards-designed for one thing only, to please the
keeper of the station. And yet the hours he'd spent  there had shaped toward
this  hour and  end,  to  this  single instant on this restricted  slope  of
ground.
     The sickness drained away into  the earth beneath  him and a peace came
stealing  in upon  him-the peace of  trees and woodland  soil  and the first
faint hush of nightfall. As if the sky and stars and  very  space itself had
leaned close  above him and was whispering his essential  oneness with them.
And it seemed for a moment that he had grasped the  edge of some great truth
and with this truth  had  come a  comfort and  a  greatness he'd never known
before.
     "Enoch," Ulysses whispered. "Enoch, my brother..."
     There was something  like a hipen  sob in the alien's voice and he  had
never, until this moment, called the Earthman brother.
     Enoch  pulled  himself to  his  knees  and up  on  the pile of  tumbled
boulders was  a soft and  wondrous light,  a soft and gentle light, as if  a
giant firefly had turned on its lamp and had not turned it off, but had left
it burning.
     The light was moving down across the rocks toward them and he could see
Lucy  moving with  the light, as  if  she were  walking  toward  them with a
lantern in her hand.
     Ulysses' hand  reached out of  the darkness and closed hard  on Enoch's
arm.
     "Do you see?" he asked.
     "Yes, I see. What is ..."
     "It is the Talisman," Ulysses said, enraptured, his  breath  rasping in
his throat. "And she is our new  custodian. The one we've hunted through the
years."


     You did not become accustomed to it, Enoch told himself as they tramped
up through the  woods. There was not a moment you were not aware of  it.  It
was something  that you  wanted to  hug close  against yourself  and hold it
there forever, and even when it was gone from you, you'd probably not forget
it, ever.
     It was  something that  was past all  description -  a mother's love, a
father's pride, the adoration of a  sweetheart,  the closeness of a comrade,
it was all of  these and more. It made the farthest distance near and turned
the complex simple and  it swept away  all fear and sorrow, for all of there
being a certain  feeling of deep  sorrow in it, as if  one  might feel  that
never in his  lifetime  would he know  an  instant  like this, and  that  in
another instant he would lose it  and  never  would be able  to hunt it  out
again.  But  that  was not the way it was,  for this ascendant instant  kept
going on and on.
     Lucy walked  between them  and she  held  the  bag that  contained  the
Talisman close against her breast, with her  two arms  clasped about it, and
Enoch,  looking  at her, in the soft glow  of its  light, could not help but
think of a little girl carrying her beloved pussy cat.
     "Never for a  century,"  said  Ulysses,  "perhaps for  many  centuries,
perhaps never, has it glowed so  well. I myself cannot remember  when it was
like this. It is wonderful, is it not?"
     "Yes," said Enoch. "It is wonderful."
     "Now  we shall  be one again," Ulysses said. "Now we  shall feel again.
Now we shall be a people instead of many people..."
     "But the creature that had it ..."
     "A clever one," Ulysses said. "He was holding it for ransom."
     "It had been stolen, then."
     "We do not know all the circumstances," Ulysses told him. "We will find
out, of course."
     They  tramped on in silence  through  the woods and far in the east one
could see, through  the  treetops, the first  flush in the sky that foretold
the rising moon.
     "There is something," Enoch said.
     "Ask me," said Ulysses.
     "How could  that creature back  there carry it and  not feel  - feel no
part of it? For if he could have, he would not have stolen it."
     "There is only one in  many billions," Ulysses said, "who can - how  do
you say it? -  tune in on it, perhaps. To you and I it would be  nothing. It
would not respond  to  us. We could hold it in our  hands forever and  there
would nothing happen. But let that one in many  billions lay a finger on  it
and  it becomes alive. There  is a certain rapport,  a sensitivity - I don't
know  how to  say  it - that forms a bridge between this strange machine and
the  cosmic spiritual  force. It is not the machine, itself, you understand,
that reaches out and taps the spiritual force.  It is the living  creature's
mind, aided by the mechanism, that brings the force to us."
     A machine, a mechanism, no more than  a tool - technological brother to
the  hoe, the wrench,  the  hammer - and yet  as far a cry from these as the
human brain was from that first amino acid which had come into being on this
planet when the Earth was very young. One was tempted, Enoch thought, to say
that this  was as far  as a tool could  go, that it was  the ultimate in the
ingenuity  possessed  by  any brain. But that would be  a dangerous  way  of
thinking,  for  perhaps there was no limit, there might, quite likely, be no
such condition as the ultimate; there might be no time when any creature  or
any group of creatures could stop at any certain point and  say,  this is as
far  as  we  can  go, there is no use of trying  to go farther. For each new
development produced, as side effects, so many other possibilities, so  many
other roads to  travel,  that  with  each step one took down  any given road
there  were more paths  to  follow. There'd never be an end, he thought - no
end to anything.
     They  reached the edge of  the field and headed up across it toward the
station. From its upper edge came the sound of running feet.
     "Enoch!" a voice shouted out of the darkness. "Enoch, is that you?"
     Enoch recognized the voice.
     "Yes, Winslowe. What is wrong?"
     The mailman  burst out of  the  darkness and stopped,  panting with his
running, at the edge of light.
     "Enoch, they are coming!  A  couple  of carloads of  them. But I  put a
crimp in  them. Where the road turns off into your lane - that narrow place,
you know. I dumped  two pounds of roofing nails along the ruts. That'll hold
them for a while."
     "Roofing nails?" Ulysses asked.
     "It's a mob," Enoch told him. "They are after me. The nails ...
     "Oh, I see," Ulysses said "The deflation of the tires."
     Winslowe  took a slow step  closer, his gaze riveted on the glow of the
shielded Talisman.
     "That's Lucy Fisher, ain't it?"
     "Of course it is," said Enoch.
     "Her  old man came roaring into town just  a while ago and said she was
gone again. Up until then everything  had quieted down and it was all right.
But old Hank,  he got them stirred up again. So I went down to  the hardware
store and got them roofing nails and I beat them here."
     "This mob?" Ulysses asked. "I don't ..."
     Winslowe  interrupted him,  gasping in his  eagerness  to tell all  his
information. "That ginseng man is up there, waiting at the house for you. He
has a panel truck."
     "That," said Enoch, "would be Lewis with the Hazer's body."
     "He is some upset," said Winslowe. "He said you were expecting him."
     "Perhaps," suggested  Ulysses,  "we shouldn't just be standing here. It
seems  to my poor intellect  that  many things,  indeed, may be coming to  a
crisis."
     "Say,"  the mailman yelled, "what is going  on here? What is that thing
Lucy has and who's this fellow with you?"
     "Later," Enoch told him.  "I'll tell you later. There's no time to tell
you now."
     "But, Enoch, there's the mob."
     "I'll  deal with them," said Enoch  grimly, "when  I have to deal  with
them. Right now there's something more important."
     They ran  up the slope, the four of them,  dodging  through the waist -
high clumps  of  weeds  Ahead of  them  the station reared dark  and angular
against the evening sky.
     "They're down there at the turnoff," Winslowe gasped, wheezing with his
running.  "That flash of light down the ridge. That was the headlights  of a
car."
     They reached the edge of the yard and ran toward  the house. The  black
bulk of the panel truck glimmered in the glow cast by the Talisman. A figure
detached itself from the shadow of the truck and hurried out toward them.
     "Is that you, Wallace?"
     "Yes," said Enoch. "I'm sorry that I wasn't here."
     "I was a bit upset," said Lewis, "when I didn't find you waiting."
     "Something unforeseen," said Enoch. "Something that must  be taken care
of."
     "The body of the honored one?" Ulysses asked. "It is in the truck?"
     Lewis noped. "I am happy that we can restore it."
     "We'll have to carry him down to  the orchard," Enoch  said. "You can't
get a car in there."
     "The other time," Ulysses said, "you were the one who carried him."
     Enoch noped.
     "My friend," the alien said, "I wonder if  on this occasion  I could be
allowed the honor."
     "Why, yes, of course," said Enoch. "He would like it that way."
     And the words came to his tongue, but he choked them back, for it would
not  have done to say them - the words of thanks for lifting  from  him  the
necessity of complete  recompense, for the  gesture which released  him from
the utter letter of the law.
     At his elbow, Winslowe said: "They are coming. I can hear them down the
road."
     He was right.
     From down the road came the soft sound of footsteps paping in the dust,
not hurrying, with no need to  hurry, the insulting and  deliberate treading
of a monster so certain of its prey that it need not hurry.
     Enoch swung around and  half  lifted his rifle, training it toward  the
paping that came out of the dark.
     Behind him, Ulysses spoke softly:  "Perhaps it would be most  proper to
bear him to the grave in the full glory and unshielded light of our restored
Talisman."
     "She can't hear you," Enoch  said.  "You must remember she is deaf. You
will have to show her."
     But even as he said  it,  a blaze leaped out that was  blinding in  its
brightness.
     With  a strangled cry  Enoch half turned back  to face the little group
that stood  beside the truck, and the bag that had enclosed the Talisman, he
saw, lay at Lucy's feet and she held the glowing brightness high and proudly
so that it spread its light across the yard and  the ancient house, and some
of it as well spilled out into the field.
     There was a quietness. As if the entire world had caught its breath and
stood  attentive and  in awe,  waiting  for a  sound that did not come, that
would never come but would always be expected.
     And with the quietness  came  an abiding  sense of peace that seemed to
seep into the very fiber of  one's being. It was no synthetic thing - not as
if someone  had invoked  a  peace and peace  then  was allowed  to exist  by
suffrance. It was a present and an actual peace, the peace of mind that came
with the calmness of a sunset after a long, hot day, or the sparkling, ghost
- like shimmer of a springtime dawn. You felt it inside of you and all about
you, and there  was the feeling that it was not only here but that the peace
extended on and out in all directions, to the  farthest reaches of infinity,
and that it had a depth which would enable it to endure until the final gasp
of all eternity.
     Slowly, remembering, Enoch  turned back  to face  the field and the men
were there,  at  the edge of the light cast  by the Talisman, a gray, hupled
group,  like a pack of chastened wolves that slunk at the faint periphery of
a campfire's light.
     And as  he  watched,  they melted back - back into the deeper dark from
which they had paped in the dust track of the road.
     Except for one who turned and  bolted, plunging  down the hill  in  the
darkness toward the woods, howling in mapened terror like a frightened dog.
     "There goes Hank," said Winslowe. "That is Hank running down the hill."
     "I am sorry that we frightened him," said Enoch soberly. "No man should
be afraid of this."
     "It  is himself that he  is frightened of," the mailman said. "He lives
with a terror in him."
     And that was true, thought Enoch. That was the  way  with  Man;  it had
always been that way. He had carried terror  with him.  And the thing he was
afraid of had always been himself.


     The grave was filled  and  mounded  and the five of  them  stood for  a
moment  more,  listening  to the  restless wind that stirred in  the  moon -
drenched  apple  orchard, while from far away, down in the hollows above the
river valley, the whippoorwills talked  back  and forth  through the  silver
night.
     In the moonlight  Enoch tried  to read the graven line upon the rough -
hewn  tombstone, but there was not light  enough. Although there was no need
to read it; it was in his mind:
     Here  lies  one from a distant  star, but the soil is not alien to him,
for in death he belongs to the universe.
     When  you wrote that, the Hazer diplomat had told him, just  the  night
before, you wrote  as one  of us. And he had not said so, but  the Vegan had
been wrong. For it was not a Vegan sentiment alone; it was human, too.
     The  words were chiseled awkwardly and there was  a  mistake  or two in
spelling, for the Hazer language  was not  an easy one to master. The  stone
was softer than the marble or the granite most commonly used for gravestones
and the lettering would not last. In a few more years the weathering  of sun
and rain and frost would blur the characters,  and  in some years after that
they would  be entirely gone, with no more than the  roughness  of the stone
remaining to  show that words  had  once been written there. But it  did not
matter, Enoch thought, for the words were graven on more than stone alone.
     He looked across  the grave at Lucy. The Talisman was  in its bag  once
more  and  the glow  was softer.  She  still  held it clasped tight  against
herself and her face was still  exalted and unnoticing - as if she no longer
lived in the  present world,  but had entered into  some  other place,  some
other far dimension where she dwelled alone and was forgetful of all past.
     "Do you think," Ulysses asked, "that she will  go with us? Do you think
that we can have her? Will the Earth..."
     "The Earth,"  said Enoch, "has not  a thing to say. We Earth people are
free agents. It is up to her."
     "You think that she will go?"
     "I  think so," Enoch said. "I think maybe this has been the moment  she
had sought for all her life. I  wonder if she might not have sensed it, even
with no Talisman."
     For she always had been  in touch with something outside  of human ken.
She  had something in her no other  human had. You sensed  it, but you could
not name  it,  for there was no name for  this  thing she had.  And she  had
fumbled with  it, trying to use it, not knowing how to  use it, charming off
the warts  and healing poor  hurt butterflies and only God  knew  what other
acts that she performed unseen.
     "Her parent?" Ulysses asked. "The howling one that ran away from us?"
     "I'll handle him," said Lewis.  "I'll have a talk with him.  I know him
fairly well."
     "You want her to go back with you to Galactic Central?" Enoch asked.
     "If she will," Ulysses said. "Central must be told at once."
     "And from there throughout the galaxy?"
     "Yes," Ulysses said. "We need her very badly."
     "Could we, I wonder, borrow her for a day or two."
     "Borrow her?"
     "Yes," said Enoch. "For we need her, too. We need her worst of all."
     "Of course," Ulysses said.  "But I don't ..." "Lewis," Enoch asked, "do
you think our government -  the  Secretary of  State,  perhaps  -  might  be
persuaded to appoint one  Lucy Fisher  as a member  of  our peace conference
delegation?"
     Lewis  stammered, made a full stop, then began again: "I think it could
possibly be managed."
     "Can  you  imagine," Enoch  asked, "the  impact  of this  girl and  the
Talisman at the conference table?"
     "I think I can," said Lewis. "But the Secretary  undoubtedly would want
to talk with you before he arrived at his decision."
     Enoch half turned toward  Ulysses, but  he did  not need to phrase  his
question.
     "By all means," Ulysses said to Lewis. "Let me know and I'll  sit in on
the  meeting. And you  might tell the good Secretary, too, that it would not
be a bad idea to begin the formation of a world committee."
     "A world committee?"
     "To  arrange,"  Ulysses  said, "for the  Earth becoming  one of us.  We
cannot accept a custodian, can we, from an outside planet?"


     In  the  moonlight the  tumbled boulder pile gleamed whitely, like  the
skeleton of  some  prehistoric  beast. For here,  near the edge of the cliff
that towered above  the  river, the heavy  trees  thinned out and, the rocky
point stood open to the sky.
     Enoch stood  beside one of  the massive boulders and gazed down at  the
hupled figure that lay among the rocks. Poor,  tattered bungler, he thought,
dead so  far from  home and, so far as he, himself, must be concerned, to so
little purpose
     Although  perhaps neither poor  nor  tattered, for in  that  brain, now
broken  and spattered beyond  recovery, must  surely have lain  a  scheme of
greatness - the kind  of scheme that the  brain of an  earthly Alexander  or
Xerxes  or Napoleon may  have  held, a dream of  some great power, cynically
conceived, to be attained and held at whatever cost, the dimensions of it so
grandiose that it shoved aside and canceled out all moral considerations.
     He tried momentarily  to imagine what  the scheme  might  be, but knew,
even as  he  tested  his imagination, how  foolish it was to try,  for there
would  be  factors,  he  was   sure,   that   he  would  not  recognize  and
considerations that might lie beyond his understanding.
     But however that  might be, something had gone wrong,  for in  the plan
itself Earth could  have had no place other than as a hideout which could be
used if  trouble struck.  This  creature's lying here, then,  was a part  of
desperation, a last - ditch gamble that had not worked out.
     And, Enoch thought, it was ironic that the  key  of  failure lay in the
fact that the creature,  in its fleeing, had carried the Talisman  into  the
backyard of  a  sensitive,  and on  a planet, too,  where no  one would have
thought  to look for a  sensitive. For, thinking back on  it, there could be
little doubt that Lucy had sensed the Talisman and  had been drawn to  it as
truly  as  a magnet  would attract  a piece  of steel. She had known nothing
else, perhaps, than  that the Talisman had been there  and was something she
must have, that it was  something she had  waited for in all her loneliness,
without knowing what it was or without hope of finding it. Like  a child who
sees, quite  supenly, a shiny, glorious bauble on a Christmas tree and knows
that it's the grandest thing on Earth and that it must be hers.
     This  creature  lying here,  thought  Enoch,  must  have been able  and
resourceful.  For it would  have taken great  ability and resourcefulness to
have stolen the Talisman to start with, to keep it  hipen for years, to have
penetrated into the secrets and the files of Galactic Central. Would it have
been possible, he wondered, if the Talisman had been in effective operation?
With an energetic Talisman would the moral laxity and the driving greed been
possible to motivate the deed?
     But that  was ended now.  The  Talisman  had been  restored  and a  new
custodian  had  been found - a  deaf -  mute girl of  Earth, the humblest of
humans. And  there would be peace on Earth and in time  the Earth would join
the confraternity of the galaxy.
     There were no problems now, he thought. No  decisions  to be made. Lucy
had taken the decisions from the hands of everyone.
     The station would remain  and he could unpack  the  boxes he had packed
and  put the  journals back on the  shelves again. He could go  back  to the
station once again and settle down and carry on his work.
     I am sorry, he told the  hupled shape that lay among the boulders. I am
sorry that mine was the hand that had to do it to you.
     He turned  away and walked out to where the cliff dropped straight down
to  the river flowing at its  foot. He  raised  the rifle and  held it for a
moment motionless and then he threw it out and watched it fall, spinning end
for end, the moonlight glinting off the  barrel, saw the tiny splash it made
as it struck the water. And far below, he heard the smug, contented gurgling
of the water as it flowed past this cliff and went  on, to the further  ends
of Earth.
     There  would be peace on Earth, he thought; there would be no war. With
Lucy at the conference table, there could be no thought of war. Even if some
ran howling from the fear inside themselves, a fear and guilt so great  that
it overrode the glory and the comfort of the Talisman, there  still could be
no war.
     But it was a long trail yet, a long lonesome way, before the brightness
of real peace would live in the hearts of man.
     Until no man  ran howling, wild  with  fear  (any kind  of fear), would
there be actual peace. Until the last man threw away his weapon (any sort of
weapon), the tribe of  Man could not  be at  peace. And a  rifle, Enoch told
himself, was  the  least of the weapons of the  Earth,  the  least of  man's
inhumanity  to man,  no more than a symbol of all  the other and more deadly
weapons.
     He stood on the rim  of the cliff and  looked out across the river  and
the dark  shadow  of the wooded valley.  His hands felt strangely empty with
the rifle gone, but it seemed that somewhere, back there just a way, he  had
stepped into another field of time, as if an age or day had dropped away and
he had come into a place that was shining and brand new and unsullied by any
past mistakes.
     The river rolled below him and the river did not care. Nothing mattered
to the river. It would take the tusk of mastodon,  the skull of  sabertooth,
the rib cage  of a man,  the dead and sunken  tree, the thrown rock or rifle
and  would  swallow each  of  them and cover them in  mud or  sand  and roll
gurgling over them, hiding them from sight.
     A million years ago there had been no river here and in a million years
to come there  might  be  no  river - but in a million years from  now there
would be, if  not Man,  at  least a caring thing. And that was the secret of
the universe, Enoch told himself - a thing that went on caring.
     He  turned  slowly  from  the  cliff  edge  and  clambered through  the
boulders, to go walking up the  hill. He heard the  tiny  scurrying of small
life  rustling  through the fallen  leaves  and  once there  was  the sleepy
peeping  of an awakened  bird and through the entire woods lay the peace and
comfort of that glowing light -  not so intense, not so deep and  bright and
so  wonderful as when  it actually had been there, but a breath of it  still
left.
     He came to the edge of the woods and climbed the field and ahead of him
the station stood foursquare upon its ridgetop. And it seemed that it was no
longer a station only,  but his home as  well. Many years ago  it had been a
home  and nothing more and then  it had become  a way station to the galaxy.
But now, although way station still, it was home again.


     He came into  the station and the place was  quiet  and just  a  little
ghostly in the quietness of it. A lamp  burned on his  desk  and over on the
coffee table the little pyramid of spheres was flashing, throwing its many -
colored lights, like  the crystal balls they'd used  in the Roaring Twenties
to turn a dance hall into a place of magic. The tiny  flickering colors went
flitting all about  the room, like the dance of a  zany band  of Technicolor
fireflies.
     He stood for a  moment, indecisive, not knowing  what  to do. There was
something missing and all at once  he  realized what  it was. During all the
years there'd been a rifle to hang upon its  pegs or to lay across the desk.
And now there was no rifle.
     He'd have to settle down, he told himself,  and get back  to work. He'd
have to unpack and put the stuff away. He'd have to get the journals written
and catch up with his reading. There was a lot to do.
     Ulysses  and Lucy  had left an hour  or two before, bound  for Galactic
Central, but the feeling of the Talisman still seemed to linger in the room.
Although, perhaps, he  thought, not  in the room at all, but inside himself.
Perhaps it was a feeling that he'd carry with him no matter where he went.
     He walked slowly across the room and  sat down on the sofa. In front of
him the pyramid of spheres was  splashing out its crystal shower of  colors.
He  reached out a hand to pick it up, then drew it slowly back. What was the
use, he  asked  himself, of  examining it  again? If  he had not learned its
secret the many times before, why should he expect to now?
     A pretty thing, he thought, but useless.
     He  wondered  how Lucy might be getting on and knew she was all  right.
She'd get along, he told himself anywhere she went.
     Instead of sitting here, he should be getting back to work. There was a
lot of catching up to do. And his time would not be his own from now on, for
the Earth would be  pounding  at the  door. There  would be  conferences and
meetings and a lot  of other things and  in a few  hours more the newspapers
might be here. But  before it happened, Ulysses  would be back  to help him,
and perhaps there would be others, too.
     In just  a little while he'd  rustle up some food and then he'd get  to
work. If he worked far into the night, he could get a good deal done.
     Lonely  nights, he told himself,  were good for work. And it was lonely
now, when it should not be lonely. For  he no  longer  was  alone, as he had
thought he was alone just a few short hours before. Now he had the Earth and
the galaxy, Lucy and Ulysses, Winslowe and Lewis and the old philosopher out
in  the apple  orchard.  He rose and walked to  the desk  and picked up  the
statuette  Winslowe had carved of him. He held it beneath the desk  lamp and
turned it  slowly in his hands. There was, he  saw now, a loneliness in that
figure, too - the essential loneliness of a man who walked alone.
     But  he'd had to walk alone. There'd been no other way.  There had been
no choice. It had  been a one - man job. And now the job was - no, not done,
for there still was much that  must  be done. But  the first phase of it now
was over and the second phase was starting.
     He set  the statuette back on the desk  and  remembered that he had not
given Winslowe  the piece of wood  the Thuban traveler had  brought.  Now he
could tell  Winslowe where all the wood had come from. They could go through
the journals and find the  dates  and the origin of every  stick of it. That
would please old Winslowe.
     He heard the silken rustle and swung swiftly round.
     "Mary!" he cried.
     She stood just at the  edge  of shadow and the flitting colors from the
flashing pyramid made her  seem like someone who had stepped from fairyland.
And that was right, he was thinking wildly, for his lost fairyland was back.
     "I  had to come,"  she  said. "You were lonely, Enoch, and I  could not
stay away."
     She could not  stay away  - and that  might be true,  be  thought.  For
within the conditioning he'd set up  there  might have been  the inescapable
compulsion to come whenever she was needed.
     It was a trap, he thought, from which neither could  escape. There  was
no free will here, but  instead the deadly precision of this blind mechanism
he had shaped himself.
     She should not come to see him and perhaps she knew this as well as he,
but could not help herself. Would this be, he wondered, the way it would be,
forever and forever?
     He stood there, frozen, torn by the need of  her and  the emptiness  of
her unreality, and she was moving toward him.
     She was close to  him and in a moment she would stop, for  she knew the
rules as well as he; she, no more than he, could admit illusion.
     But she did not stop. She came so close that he could smell the apple -
blossom fragrance of her. She put out a hand and laid it on his arm.
     It  was no shadow touch  and  it was no shadow hand.  He could feel the
pressure of her fingers and the coolness of them.
     He stood rigid, with her hand upon his arm.
     The flashing light! he thought. The pyramid of spheres!
     For now he remembered  who had given it  to him - one of those aberrant
races  of the  Alphard system. And it  had been from the  literature of that
system  that he had learned the art of fairyland. They had tried to help him
by giving  him the pyramid  and  he had  not understood.  There  had  been a
failure  of communication  - but that was  an easy  thing to happen.  In the
Babel of the galaxy, it was easy to misunderstand or simply not to know.
     For  the  pyramid  of spheres  was  a  wonderful,  and  yet  a  simple,
mechanism. It was the fixation agent that banished all illusion, that made a
fairyland  for real. You made something  as you wanted it and then turned on
the pyramid and you had what  you had made, as real  as if it had never been
illusion.
     Except, he thought, in some things you couldn't fool yourself. You knew
it was illusion, even if it should turn real.
     He reached out toward her  tentatively, but her  hand  dropped from his
arm and she took a slow step backward.
     In the silence of the  room - the terrible, lonely silence - they stood
facing one another while the  colored lights ran  like  playing mice as  the
pyramid of spheres twirled its everlasting rainbow.
     "I  am sorry,"  Mary  said,  "but  it isn't  any  good.  We can't  fool
ourselves."
     He stood mute and shamed.
     "I waited for it," she said. "I thought and dreamed about it."
     "So did I," said Enoch. "I never thought that it would happen."
     And that was  it, of course. So long as it could  not happen, it  was a
thing to dream about. It was romantic and far  - off and impossible. Perhaps
it  had  been  romantic  only because  it had  been  so far  -  off  and  so
impossible.
     "As if a doll  had come to life," she said, "or a beloved  Tepy bear. I
am sorry, Enoch, but you could not love  a doll or a Tepy bear that had come
to life.  You always would remember them the way they  were before. The doll
with the silly, painted smile; the Tepy bear with the stuffing coming out of
it."
     "No!" cried Enoch. "No!"
     "Poor Enoch," she said. "It will be so bad for you. I wish that I could
help. You'll have so long to live with it."
     "But you!" he cried. "But you? What can you do now?"
     It had been she, he thought, who  had  the courage. The courage that it
took to face things as they were.
     How, he wondered, had she sensed it? How could she have known?
     "I shall go away," she said. "I shall not come back. Even when you need
me, I shall not come back. There is no other way."
     "But you can't go away," he said. "You are trapped the same as I."
     "Isn't it strange,"  she said,  "how  it  happened  to us.  Both of  us
victims of illusion ..."
     "But you," he said. "Not you."
     She noped gravely. "I,  the same as  you. You can't  love  the doll you
made or I  the  toymaker. But each of  us thought  we did; each of us  still
think we should and are guilty and miserable when we find we can't."
     "We could try," said Enoch. "If you would only stay."
     "And end up by hating you? And, worse than that, by your hating me. Let
us keep the guilt and misery. It is better than the hate."
     She  moved  swiftly  and the pyramid  of  spheres was  in her  hand and
lifted.
     "No, not that!" 'he shouted. "No, Mary ..."
     The pyramid  flashed,  spinning  in the  air, and  crashed against  the
fireplace. The  flashing lights went out. Something - glass? metal? stone? -
tinkled on the floor.
     "Mary!" Enoch cried, striding forward in the dark.
     But there was no one there.
     "Mary!" he shouted, and the shouting was a whimper.
     She was gone and she would not be back.
     Even when he needed her, she would not be back.
     He stood quietly in the dark and silence, and the voice of a century of
living seemed to speak to him in a silent language.
     All things are hard, it said. There is nothing easy.
     There had been  the  farm girl  living down the road,  and the southern
beauty  who  had  watched him pass her gate,  and now there was  Mary,  gone
forever from him.
     He turned heavily in the room and moved forward, groping for the table.
He found it and switched on the light.
     He stood beside the  table and looked  about the room. In  this  corner
where he stood there once had been a kitchen, and there, where the fireplace
stood, the living room, and  it all had  changed - it had been changed for a
long time now. But he still could see it as if it were only yesterday.
     All the days were gone and all the people in them.
     Only he was left.
     He had lost his world. He had left his world behind him.
     And, likewise,  on this day, had  all the  others - all the humans that
were alive this moment.
     They might not know it yet, but they, too, had left their  world behind
them. It would never be the same again.
     You said good  bye to so many  things, to  so  many  loves, to  so many
dreams.
     "Good bye, Mary," he said. Forgive me and God keep you."
     He sat down  at  the table and pulled the journal that lay upon its top
in front of him. He flipped it open, searching for the pages he must fill.
     He had work to do.
     Now he was ready for it.
     He had said his last good bye.

Популярность: 65, Last-modified: Mon, 02 Aug 1999 17:43:57 GMT