Gordon R Dickson - Sleepwalkers' WorldGordon R. Dickson
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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
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“Lucas,” he shouted. LUCAS.
And Lucas came.
He came not in his ordinary shape, but as a great, gaunt ghost-wolf, flickering all over with tiny blue flames that illuminated him and lit up his yellow eyes. He came bounding, leaping into the cavern like a puppy at play . . .
“Give me the knife, Lucas!”
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Look for all these TOR books by Gordon R. Dickson
BEYOND THE DAR AL-HARB (coming in November 1985)
HOKA! (with Poul Anderson)
THE LAST MASTER
THE MAN FROM EARTH
THE OUTPOSTER PLANET RUN (with Keith Laumer)
THE PRITCHER MASS
STEEL BROTHER (coming in December 1985)
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This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 1971 by Gordon R. Dickson
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A TOR Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates
49 West 24 Street
New York, N.Y. 10010
Cover art by M. Morales
First TOR printing: July 1982 Second printing: September 1985
CAN. ED.: 0-812-53557-X
Printed in the United States of America
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“You want a soft and easy death, sheep?
Then go find other graves. On this hill, men die fighting
(Coruna el Man at the Massacre of Bawnpore)
“He With Scars” (Dorsai Tales)
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As he stepped through the door into the cosmonaut’s gym, the same dry smell of old sweat which the air system could never remove filled Martin Pu-Li’s nostrils, and a quarter gravity over Earth normal made his knees bend slightly. The brief case in his hand was suddenly unreasonably heavy. He straightened knees, back, and shoulders against the pull of the artificial gravity. He was no cosmonaut, but at forty-three he was still tall and athletic as ordinary men went—and it was only a quarter extra weight.
At the far end of the gym Rafe Harald was swarming up the climbing rope, using only his arms. Even with his sweat shirt off and his muscles standing out against the effort, his body did not look remarkable. The body of a systems programmer who played a fair amount of handball, perhaps. Martin walked to the foot of the rope.
“Rafe,” he said.
Rafe glanced down from the top of the rope at the ceiling.
“Step back off the mat,” he said.
Martin took two steps backward from the gym mat that was positioned under the bottom end of the climbing rope. There was something like a gasp of air past his face and a jarring thud at his feet. Rafe lay on the mat on his back, smiling, legs together, arms spread wide, palms down on the mat like a child about to make angels in a snowbank.
“What kind of a fool trick’s that,” said Martin, angry without thinking, “in one and a quarter gravities?”
Rafe sat up and got easily to his feet without using his hands. He did not do it like someone who does an exercise. He did it absent-mindedly, as the most convenient way of coming to a standing position from where he was.
“No danger,” he said. “Try a slow-motion camera on me at impact sometime. Toes, ankles, knees, hips—roll backward and slap down with both hands like the villain taking a stage fall in an old-fashioned melodrama.”
“Yes, yes,” said Martin impatiently, glancing at his thumbclock. “The shuttle’s waiting for me. What was it you wanted?”
“You,” said Rafe gently.
He looked directly into the eyes of Martin, and Martin, suddenly reminded of the fact that he was hunching once more under the extra gravity, straightened to his full six feet two, so that he had at least two inches on Rafe.
“Well, I’m here,” he said. “What was it you wanted to see me about? And why did it have to be here, anyway?”
“Here, because no one ever comes here any more—not even my three fellow cosmos,” said Rafe. “And I wanted to see you so I could take over your brief case and some of your other things. I’m going down to Earth.” Under the brown, momentarily tousled hair, his light-blue eyes looked out of a pleasant narrow face with a coldness new to Martin. Rafael Arnoul Harald looked less like a handball-minded programmer now than Martin had ever seen him look before. “You don’t think I’m serious?”
“Or else you’ve gone crazy!” Martin’s voice, a politician’s voice, came closer to sputtering than it had since he had been six years old. “You don’t think I’m going to let one of our cosmonauts risk himself back down on Earth? The four of you represent a trillion-dollar investment—let alone all the hopes of the Project.”
“I’ll take your brief case.” Rafe held out a hand. The other man hesitated, and a little extra gentleness came into Rafe’s voice. “Come on, Martin. You don’t want me to have to take it away from you.”
Wordlessly, Martin passed the brief case into Rafe’s lean hands.
10 Cordon R. Dickson
“Unlock it,” said Rafe. Martin fished in his pocket for the small silver key and complied. Rafe folded the cover back. “Now, empty your pockets into it, wherever there’s room.”
Slowly, Martin brought from his various pockets, pen, pencil, pocket calculator, handkerchief, credit book, card holder—all the little impedimenta of a man about to go on a journey. Rafe accepted them into the open brief case.
“Cash?” Rafe asked when Martin finally stopped digging. The Project Head smiled sourly and reached into a hip pocket to produce a wallet and a handful of coin tabs.
“Thought of that, too, did you?” he said.
“I’ve only been on the Moon four years,” said Rafe. “I remember a few things.” He nodded across the bare gym floor to a brown metal equipment locker. “Over there. I’ll lock you up in that. Don’t worry. There’s a chair inside—even something for you to eat and drink—and plenty of air circulates through it. You won’t be locked up more than about nine hours.”
They were already moving across the room toward the locker.
“What good do you think this is all going to do you?” asked Martin over his shoulder. “The shuttle’s waiting for me. The captain hasn’t any orders to take you to Earth, instead.”
“He hasn’t any orders not to,” said Rafe. “Keep moving, Martin.” Ahead of him the wide-shouldered back of the Project Head was stiff with resentment. Rafe put a hand softly on one blue-velvet-jacketed shoulder and urged the other man forward until they came to the locker itself.
“Open the right-hand door,” said Rafe. “And pass me out the suit and other things you’ll find on some hangers inside there.”
“My God!” he said. For the first time there was something like fear in his voice. “You’re actually going to do it. You’ve gone off the deep end. You’re psychotic!”
“You know better,” said Rafe. “Into the locker. Now, sit down.” He was already stripping off his gym clothes and dressing himself in the street apparel he had not worn since coming up from Earth four years ago, December fourteenth.
Martin turned around and sat down. His face was twisted.
“At least give me an explanation,” he said. “You can do th
at if there’s any sense to all this! Don’t you realize whatever you’re doing could be something that could give the Project a bad name? It could be the last straw in cutting off our appropriations entirely. Earth’s already wound up because we haven’t sent a man out interstellar before this!”
“Earth and most of the people up here, Martin,” said Rafe.
The yellow skin of Martin’s face tightened.
“You’re accusing me of something?”
“Maybe,” said Rafe. “You, or possibly Pao Gallot, or Bill Forebringer.”
Martin stared at him, tight-faced.
“That’s right,” said Rafe, knotting his cravat. “One of you three has to be involved in whatever it is. Together, you run the Earth—and the Project, too.”
“You are crazy!” said Martin. “None of us wants to run anything! Pao lives and dies for the Core Tap stations. Forebringer’s the UN Marshal, nothing more. And I—I’ve given my life to the Project out here to get to the far stars!”
“And every four months the three of you get together down on Earth and decide how the world’s to run until you meet again,” said Rafe.
Martin stared. Then, slowly, he began to shake his head.
“I can’t understand it,” he said. “I’d have sworn of all four cosmos you were the most stable.”
“Was—and still am,” said Rafe. “You still don’t understand? I’ll give you a name, the same one I’m going to be giving Pao and Forebringer as soon as I touch down on Earth and see them. Ab Leesing.”
“Ab . . . who?” Martin frowned.
“Abner Carmody Leesing,” said Rafe.
Martin shook his head.
“I never heard it before.”
“I just called down to Earth yesterday. He’s been missing for eight days. Did one of you have him picked up?”
“I tell you I don’t know who you’re talking about!”
“Come on, Martin,” said Rafe. “There aren’t any ordinary people up here on the Project. And you’re one of the most unordinary of us all. You heard the name once upon a time, and so you can remember it again if you really want to. Make the effort.”
Martin frowned darkly, but for a second his eyes became absent, thoughtful, then clear.
“Abner Carmody Leesing,” he said. “A bio-physicist. You recommended him yourself for the Project, three years ago. A screening committee decided against using him.”
He stared at Rafe.
“I didn’t have anything to do with it,” he said. “If the committee recommends against a man, I’ve got to follow that recommendation. You’re blaming me?”
“You—or somebody. I had a look at the files yesterday afternoon.”
“My files ?” Martin’s dark eyes went opaque, almost muddy.
“The committee minutes in the Ab Leesing case,” said Rafe, buttoning the three ivory buttons of a maroon swallow-tailed jacket at his narrow waist. Dressed up, he looked a little like the character on the label of an old-fashioned Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky bottle. “There wasn’t anything there to make a Congressional case out of. Just two members with their own axes to grind. Only four other men who’d rather play safe than take risks. Only a concentration on details that didn’t count and a total avoidance of the real potentialities of Ab’s work.”
“Proving what? What did we need with another biophysicist?”
“The cryonics approach has failed on the Project, hasn’t it?” said Rafe. “What do you think?—Sit tight, Martin. They’ll be letting you out in about nine hours.”
He closed the one open door of the cabinet, and metal clashed on metal loudly in the silence of the gym. Inside the cabinet Martin said something, but Rafe, already turning away, did not catch the meaning of the words.
He went quickly across the gym and out of the door Martin had entered a few minutes before. In the white-painted metal corridor outside he turned right and went along it until a door let him through into a carpeted section of corridor with imitation wood paneling. It was a short cut through the cosmonauts’ section of Project Far-Star, Moonbase—the closest thing to luxury off Earth, almost a small apartment apiece for the four of them. One of the apartment doors was open, and Mary Vail came out, wrapped in music—Sibelius—from a player in her room.
Unlike Tannina Or, the other woman among the four cosmonauts, Mary was one of those people who could drug herself on music. She had become good at it, particularly this last year. Now she stopped in the doorway of her room, staring at the way he was dressed—a slight, dark-haired girl with golden eyes.
“You’re going to Earth?” she said.
“On the shuttle.” He stopped for a moment to face her. “While Martin stays locked up in the gym. Would you kind of help to keep people clear of the place for the next nine hours?”
She nodded. Suddenly she threw her arms around him and clung to him like a child.
“Do something!” she said, her voice muffled against his chest. “Do something.”
“I’ll try,” he said.
He held her and gently patted the dark crown of her head. It was strange. They did not love each other, but after four years of the four of them being set apart and together like this, they did not not-love each other, either. He could feel the unhappiness in her through his arms, and for a second there it was—all the agony of a world in one small body. He sensed the movement deep within, the near-telepathic empathic gut-feeling that had always been a talent in him. Suddenly, he was as aware of how Mary Vail felt as if he were Mary herself.
She let him go and stood back into her doorway and the sound of her music.
“I’ll watch the gym,” she said. “Be careful.”
“Absolutely,” he said, and went on down the corridor, past the other three closed doors, one of which was his own, and through a further air-lock door into the staging area with its bare metal walls, racked crates, and general warehouse appearance.
At the far end of the staging area was the tunnel entrance to the shuttle. Up at the end of the tunnel, in the open air lock of the shuttle itself, Peer Wallace, one of the crewmen, stood negligent and somewhat sour-faced guard. He brightened at the sight of Rafe.
“Hi, Peer,” said Rafe, ducking his head under the low, curved upper rim of the air lock. The sound of the pressure-gradient air pump, deliberately noisy for safety’s sake, hammered in their ears and made him raise his voice. “Where’s Charlie?”
“Up front,” said Peer. “Better hurry, though. We’re all checked out and on standby, just waiting on P-for-Perfect.” He stared curiously at Rafe’s clothes. “You’re going down with us too?”
“I’ll let Charlie explain it,” said Rafe. He turned and went up the connecting corridor, so narrow he almost needed to walk sideways, and rapped with his knuckles on the half-open air-lock door to the pilot room.
Inside the pilot room one of the command chairs was empty. In the other was a heavy-bodied, hook-nosed man with the graying stubble of a very short haircut on his round skull. He was wearing navy captain’s blues. He spun the chair around to face Rafe at the sound of the knock.
“Rafe!” he said, and smiled. “Well, what’s this? You joining us for the trip down?”
“That’s right,” said Rafe. He turned, put his hand on the edge of the air-lock door, but could not budge it. “How do you close this thing?”
Charlie Purcell reached behind himself without looking and touched a button on a control panel. The air-lock door swung silently closed.
“What is it?” Charlie asked, looking keenly at Rafe. “Something special?”
“Yes,” said Rafe. “You’re sure your intercom and everything like that’s off? All right. I’ve got a special package here.” He patted the brief case he held with his free hand.
Charlie’s face brightened suddenly. His eyes fastened on the brief case.
“A break-through?” he said. His voice was abruptly a little hoarse. “At last—finally they’ve licked the freezing problem?”
/> Rafe shook his head.
“I can’t tell you,” he said. “But I’m taking it down instead of Martin—for good reasons. He won’t be going this trip. You take me instead.”
“But why?” Charlie stared.
“Can’t tell you that either, sorry,” said Rafe. “There are reasons for doing this different from what you’d think. There’s no order cut for me to go down. Nothing. Martin’s sitting in a locker in the cosmos’ gym—with a chair, something to eat and drink, and Mary Vail to stand watch. Only Mary, you, and I know about this.”
“God in heaven!” said Charlie, his face still alight. Then some of the illumination went out of it. “But what’ll I tell the rest of the shuttle crew?”
“Just tell them Martin sent me in his place for reasons that can’t be explained,” Rafe said. He smiled, inviting Charlie to smile back at him. Few people could resist him when he smiled. Charlie grinned back now. “Of course, if they want to go ahead and guess, we can’t stop them. But warn them not to say anything after we’ve landed on Earth.”
“Don’t worry!” Charlie swung energetically back to his controls. “You can trust this crew.”
He began to talk over the intercom. Rafe turned and carried the brief case back down the corridor, off along a side corridor, and through an air-lock door into the passenger section—a round room in the belly of the shuttle with several rows of overstuffed chair seats, three abreast. He chose one. Outside the thick glass of the passenger section’s window, he had a view of a slice of the daylight Moon surface, with the black, star-pricked backdrop of space beyond. Earth was not in view from this angle.
A second later a red warning light shone from the ceiling, there was a slight tremor, and the Moon slice began to rotate away below him. The shuttle had lifted from the moon.