Kellogg's hands were on my shoulders, holding me, pulling me back from the darkness. "You're alive," he said, prayer-like. "Thank God you're alive!"
My tongue tasted like clay, dry and immovable in the cave of my mouth, and all the hammers of Hell were at work on a spot just behind my eyes. "Wait," Kellogg said, "here. Hold still, turn your head this way . . . that's better. Now."
He carefully swabbed my mouth with something wet, and slowly the caked leather softened, worked, tried to form words. Kellogg shushed me. "It's all right, you made it through the regenerator. You're alive. Get some sleep now, you need it badly. We'll talk later."
Kellogg gave me a shot. Sleep came as abruptly as a slamming door.
A long time of quiet. Then somebody was saying, "How do you feel now?"
I opened my eyes. It was Kellogg. I hunted around for my voice, found it in a cracked skin bag somewhere in my throat, tried to hook it up to my mouth. "Better, I got out.
"That's good, take it easy. Don't try to move around yet. Regeneration is a shock."
Ignoring him, I struggled to a half-upright position, one elbow propping me up like a beached ship. Kellogg gently pushed me back. "Plenty of time for that. We're in no hurry, not where we're going. Otto will still be there."
Ice chips began to surface in the river of my brain. Otto . . . short for Orbiting Technical Observatory. Working in a repair pod outside. Explosion. Pod breaking away at high velocity . . . a wave of nausea hit me, and I clutched the edge of the bunk, fighting to keep my stomach down. I looked at Kellogg. "Where are we?"
He grimaced. "Hard to say. The explosion gave us a fat libration. It's still with us. No way to take sightings with what's on hand."
What was I doing in a regenerator-and how the hell did one get inside a repair pod? Kellogg must have been watching my face because he said, "You were rammed by a hatchway door. Blood clot on the brain. Death. The regenerator was on board to keep it out of the way until it could be dropped Earthside; it's obsolete. Nothing but luck. It didn't take long in the tank to straighten your head out; I got to you almost immediately."
"How long was I in?"
"Then we could be anywhere."
Kellogg shrugged. "Within a certain radius, yes. They'll be hunting for us with radar."
"Why radar? What's wrong with the beacon?"
"You'll be able to tell better than I could; it's your line."
"I suppose so." I wiped my hand across my face; I was having trouble getting my memories
straight. I said so.
"The regenerator always wipes short-term memory," Kellogg said, sitting on the edge of the bunk. "The rest'll come back in a few hours."
I looked up at him. "How can you tell that?"
Something flicked across his face, maybe an emotion, gone so fast that I couldn't even be sure that I'd seen anything. He looked at the wall for a second, then back at me. "I had a course in emergency procedures with the thing sometime back. It's absolute chance that there was a manual with this one." Before I could get my thoughts together, he jumped down off the bunk, said briskly, "We can straighten all that out after you're rested. You still look pretty beat."
He was right about that; I felt like death warmed over-which, in a sense, was pretty close to the truth. I lay back and slept, in spite of being scared out of my mind.
The module in which we happened to be at the time of the explosion was a small repair pod. It consisted of two levels connected by a hatchway. The "upper" level contained communications equipment (apparently useless after the explosion), propulsion controls, the tiny "galley" with its warmer, and two old-style acceleration bunks. "Upper" level was in the shape of a cone, with the intership access hatch at the apex. Fortunately this hatch, which lacked an airlock, had been closed at the time of the explosion. The "lower" compartment contained the head, storage lockers, a small scavenging-type airlock . . . and, through some freakish chance, the regenerator. It carried its own supply tanks and operated on ship's current. Kellogg had been able to jury-rig it into operation within a few minutes after I got my skull stove in.
My first interest, after conquering my rubbery arms and legs, was the communications equipment. There were no specialized tools, no VTVMs aboard the -pod. Still, even without meters, there are ways of jury-rigging a simple beacon and making reasonably sure that it's putting out stuff. I got a stylus and pad and started to make up a list of things to scavenge. The communicator was useless, since we employed it mainly to talk back and forth to whatever we were tied up to while we were working. I was pretty sure 'that it would have enough stuff to get the beacon on the air.
About five minutes later I realized that building the beacon would take a little longer than -I'd anticipated; apparently regeneration leaves you weak and tired for a while. I found myself nodding off while I made up the list, letting the pencil slip out of my fingers and closing my eyes for a minute. Finally I gave in to it and leaned back.
I must have really dropped off into a deep sleep because I began to have dreams-bad dreams-not the nmning, scary kind, but really nauseous ones in which undefined things crawled loathsomely toward me in the dark. It went on and on for what seemed a long time. Finally I couldn't nm any further and the stuff touched me. I recoiled so violently that I woke myself up. I was covered with cold sweat, my palms were clammy, and I was anything but rested.
Kellogg had been at the galley while I slept. When he heard me wake, he brought over some soup and attempted to feed me. I declined politely, took the bag myself. "I'm not that weak any more," I said, grinning.
Kellogg grinned back. "Just trying to help out," he said. "I used to be a pretty fair cook Earthside, you know."
I nodded in appreciation.
"You ought to eat a little more of that," he said. "Regeneration cuts into your protein reserves badly."
I nodded. "Right." I looked at the bag, then at Kellogg. "Yeah, thanks for thinking of it."
Kellogg nodded back, watching. I sucked at the bag indifferently, then glanced at him again. The guy was standing there on the verge of nodding encouragement. "Go on," he said. "It's what you need."
I put the bag down. "Look," I said, "if it's all the same to you, I appreciate the consideration but I'm really okay now. I can make my own food. You really don't have to do it for me." It made me feel silly, the elaborate formality implicit in what I was saying, but it could help to keep us sane. In the long rtm, if the beacon didn't check out right away, we'd be in each other's company for-days? Weeks? Weeks maybe-until rescue ships spotted us, caught up with us, and hauled us in. And even then, if the lock were jammed from the explosion, even after we were hauled in we would have to ride the capsule back on the inside. There was no spacesuit aboard, no way to use the tiny scavenger lock. Kellogg might be overconcerned, as a result of being confronted with spending an indeterminate amount of time with a corpse for company, and I saw no sense in abrading him-the two of us would have a tough time getting further than five feet apart, unless one of us moved to the "lower" compartment.
Still, I had the distinct feeling that KeRogg's feelings had been hurt. Maybe he was feeling paternal. Seeing somebody through regeneration, particularly when it was the only other person in your tiny, metal-walled universe, could generate a hell of a cathelds. And I noticed, in the next hours, that even when our routine duties kept us occupied as we worked to make the tiny repair pod sustain our metabolisms, Kellogg found little things to do to make my time a little easier.
Little niggling things.
Look-I'm just not used to being worried about. Since my wife and I got shut of each other, I've been the only person responsible for my welfare, and I like it that way. Did I say worried about? That's not the term I want. It's almost like . . . what's the word I want? Almost like being fussed over. I rested the screwdriver I was working with on a magnetic hold and thought about it. Kellogg spent several days alone while I was in the regenerator. Maybe the loneliness and the uncertainty of the jury-rigged regenerator had gotten to him, and he had tasted the feeling of being trapped in the pod alone, possibly without the knowledge to jury-rig the beacon. That would be enough to do it.
Or would it? Maybe the shock had been harder on him than I'd imagined, and maybe he was overreacting. Small wonder. I resolved to be more diplomatic, if that were possible, avoid hurting Kellogg's feelings if I could, until we were out of this thing.
Came a sleep period. I dreamed of something that enfolded me in horrifying, cloying closeness, something that enveloped me with loathing. I woke trembling, unrested. Tried again, found myself kept awake by fear-fear of the dream. I gave up the sleep period as a bad job.
The jury-rigged test set I was building took slow shape under my hands. I had no solder, few tools, and had to scavenge wire from the useless intercom. Kellogg tended to the balky air-regeneration system, which had never been designed for extended periods of use. He periodically attempted to take position sightings, but our simple-minded computer couldn't handle the libration we'd picked up in being blown away. He continued his mother-hen attitude; I fielded his concern with the deftness of a ballet dancer. And so we continued our ritual of amenities, Kellogg advancing and I parrying, while the "days" slipped by.
By the fifth "day" I was beginnmg to feel definite signs of the strain. My newly sprouting beard itched intolerably; my eyes, sandpapered by lack of restful sleep, showed red-rimmed in the head's tiny mirror, and I began to have trouble focusing. I badly needed sleep; the dreams were regular events that I feared with an irrational dread and fought with an unthinking fury. It was getting so that my spasmodic reactions to my own dreams were consistently waking me; it was impossible to get any solid shut-eye.
Kellogg became, if anything, more solicitous. It left me with the haggard impression that he was wearing himself down worrying about me, rather than about rescue. In fact, he seemed relatively unworried about rescue. As he had explained to me, even in the event that the beacon was unworkable, eventually we would be radared, our velocity checked out by angle intercept and Doppler, and our blip identified as us.
"True enough," I commented to Kellogg, "but only possible up to a certain distance. If they don't lock onto us within a reasonable time, we'll look like another asteroid to their radar."
"They'll find us," Kellogg said, with surprising equanimity. "One way or another. They'll find us even if you don't get the beacon working."
And he turned away, to put two dinners in the warmer before I could stop him. Two dinners. I'd been finding out that it was virtually impossible for me to do such simple things as prepare my own meals or do the tiny amount of policing that was necessary without Kellogg getting there first. It was beginning to wear, getting harder for me to restrain myself from blowing up at him. My patience wore thinner along with my sleep.
I resolved to keep busier, which wasn't easy. Id been on the go almost all the time already, in an effort to avoid quiet periods in which I'd start to dwell on the possibilities of rescue. I was checking the antenna wiring, which ran through the deck plates in the "lower" compartment, and that necessitated taking up some of the plates. I found a ball bearing there, loose. Apparently it had dropped between the capsule's skin and the decking.. It was resting now in a small, cupshaped depression stamped into the skin of the pod. As I picked it out between thumb and forefinger, I reflected that the libration of the pod should have caused the ball to roll in its cup, leaving a tiny mark. With the aid of that mark, we might be able to help our half-witted computer along in calculating where we were.
I inspected the cup carefully, looking for the tiny mark in the metal that the unlubricated ball would have left as it traced out the irregularity in our motion. I couldn't find it. I got out a pocket magnifier and checked as closely as I could. There was no mark.
Days of near-sleeplessness interfered badly with my judgment. And at the rate that the dreams were recurring, I'd be a jacket case long before the rescue ships locked onto us. I fumbled my way forward, through the hatch, showed the ball to Kellogg. Kellogg, looking depressingly alert and well rested, took the ball in his palm and looked at it.
"What is it?"
"Just a ball bearing I found loose between the deck plates," I said. "It was resting in a little depression, and I thought we might be able to help out Old Halfwit by getting the libration angle from the mark it made in the metal." I rubbed at my already sore eyes.
Kellogg was looking at me. "Well?"
"I coiadn't find any marks."
"Well, our libration isn't that large."
"Yeah, but if it's that small, you should be able to sight on something through the docking port."
"True, but the docking port is so badly situated for anything except docking and inspection that it's all but useless for actually looking around."
"Now if only we could get outside," Kellogg sighed, "there'd be no trouble at all. With a view that large, we'd know right away where we were. If we only had a spacesuit."
"Yeah," I said, rubbing my eyes. "If."
I was getting a few hours of fitful sleep each "night" period in spite of my dreams, when one night I put in a good, solid couple of hours. I awoke draggy and listless, to find Kellogg watching me.
"Feel refreshed?" he said.
"Not exactly," I mumbled, "how did you know I was sleeping better?"
"I put a pill in your coffee. It wasn't a great idea to do it without asking you, but you were sleeping so badly that I decided I'd have to do it -to save your sanity." He smiled in his vaguely simpering way.
My temper, rubbed raw over the days, burst its restraint. "Look," I snarled, "when I decide I want a pill, I'll take one myself, okay?"
It was the first time a voice was raised in the tiny pod. The silence afterwards was deafening. Kellogg's face worked for a moment; then he turned away.
"I'm sorry," I mumbled, "too little sleep."
He didn't answer.
My raw temper swung back the other way. "Look," I said to his retreating back, "I apologize. I'm sorry I got angry." I fumbled for words. "Look, I appreciate all the worrying you do on my account. There are just some things I feel I have to do for myself. You can understand that, can't you?"
He didn't answer. Fatigue was wearing me down, fast. "Okay," I said, with an air of finality "I'm still sorry. I'll try to keep m@ temper in check after this."
He grunted something. To ease the tension, I got out of my bunk and moseyed to the beacon panel, now spread out on the jury-rigged shelf below. I expected to be able to fire up the beacon today. I hadn't told Kellogg yet, since I wasn't sure it was ready, and I wanted to pace the good things to suit the tension. Or had I told him?, Stale air, dreams, the growing tension between us that Kellogg's fawning efforts only intensified, had frayed my nerves so badly that I couldn't be sure whether I'd mentioned it before I'd dropped off to sleep or not. Maybe my short-term memory was still affected by the regenerator.
I switched in the power to the oscillator, and after a moment's pause to keep the semi-conductors from blowing out, discovered immediately that I couldn't load the antenna.
I switched off again, puzzled, and repeated the wiring c@ecks I'd recently finished. The antenna had loaded yesterday at test power. At least, I'd thought that it loaded. Today, nothing.
Mavbe something was screwy. I reduc@d power to test level, fired up again. Still nothing. I switched off and stood looking at the unit, biting my already overchewed lip and thinking. Nothing was different. The antenna was connected at the beacon end, ran through a vacuum seal behind the panel and out to the antenna. The antenna coupling was made on the outside, in hard vacuum; no possible way to reach it. Yet overnight, sonfething had happened between the beacon and the antenna.
I reflected that maybe we had had the extreme bad fortune to take a meteorite at the coupling point.
But I felt sure that we would have heard an impact of that magnitude clearly through the thin skin, and fragments would almost certainly have penetrated.
I was about to ask Kellogg if he knew anything about it, then changed my mind and decided to wait. Kellogg was radiating such an impression of wounded feelings that I was afraid of provoking some sort of retaliation. In fact, I reflected, Kellogg's attitude the past few days could only be described as . . . bitchy. So I checked everything through again carefully, or as carefully as my frayed nerves allowed. I stopped to rub the spots away from my eyes; caught sight of my haggard, seamed face reflected in a metal panel.
A few more days, I thought, and I'll be finished; even if we get back, they'll have to put me away for a while. Tiredness was a stone heartbeat in my temples. Exhaustion and-exhaustion and undernourishment and-being'smothered with attention. Big Marna over there.
In fact, it dawned on me that, in a, peculiar way, Kellogg seemed to be feeding on my tiredness. Or so it seemed. It seemed as though the more haggard and debilitated I became, the fatter and sassier andyes-bitchier Kellogg became. Kellogg's personality was gradually pushing me into a comer, harrying me with solicitousness, sponging me to death.
But the beacon would change all that. I'd find the antenna defect and put the beacon on the air. The beacon would bring rescue ships with their radios and their hot showers and beds and their . . . space. Space between people, space separating people. And for the first few days, I wouldn't even look at another person, not get anywhere near anybody, just luxuriate in the bliss of being alone. Of being away from Kellogg, of being away from Kellogg and Kellogg's cloying attentions. Of being clean and rested and alone.. . .
I slipped into a fitful doze. The dream returned from where it had been hovering at the edges of my consciousness, snuffling, waiting to snigger in and worry at my sanity like a dirty, bloody rag. It cloyed at me with its loathsome, honeyed horror. It left me wide-eyed, rawnerved and covered with sweat.
The twelfth day out I found the spacesuit.
I didn't find it bang, like that, but little by little. It was most cunningly concealed, behind access panels that neither of us had any occasion to open. It was broken down into small component pieces, each piece workable, each fitted neatly into its hiding place. Kellogg was asleep when I found the first piece. I'd been idly inspecting a screw-secured access panel when I'd noticed the fresh breaks on the screwheads, the sort of ma- rks that a man with poor tools would make trying to loosen them. It started me wondering what Kellogg had been doing with this particular access panel. I quietly retrieved my screwdriver from the table and gave the captive screws a half turn. The panel dropped away, and a pressure boot bulged out.
I stood looking at the boot for fully five minutes, my exhausted brain working and churning furiously. Then I quietly worked it out of the space between the plates, replaced the panel, and took the boot down to the lower compartment. The compartment where the lock was. The lock that had fresh scratches on the access door.
Leaving the boot there, I made a tour of the capsule, lifting all access panels I hadn't opened since we'd been here as quickly and quietly as I could manage. Within an hour I had the rest of the suit. I didn't think about how it got there or what its presence meant. I didn't want to. I simply collected its pieces in the lower compartment. When I had all of them laid out on the deck plates, I quietly closed the interconnecting hatch and got into the suit. It sent a good feeling up my arms, a sensation of action, of being in control again, ready for anything. The fabric of the body felt fine against my overworn coverall. I flexed my fingers, checked the air tanks: half full.
The lock cycled in silence, ionic pumps scavenging the air. I swung out, a little clumsy after twelve days without practice, holding myself against the slight centrifugal force of our spin, and immediately encountered the beacon antenna. The coupling had been neatly disconnected.
I stood looking at it, whistling through my teeth, trying to think. I found that nearly impossible. I reached down and reconnected the coupling. It went together smoothly and solidly, and I knew that the beacon would work. I had maybe five minutes in which to get back inside and get out a locator signal before Kellogg . . .
What the hell was going on here? The antenna disconnected secretly, the suit hidden . . . you'd think that Kellogg didn't want to be picked up.
Maybe he didn't.
Chill. It wasn't the dark side of the pod that made my skin crawl, tighten up along my backbone. My God, even now we might be so far from the rescue operation that it could take days for a ship to reach them, days during which I'd be cooped up inside that hot little capsule with Kellogg. Let's see, if I could eyeball Mars or some other big hunk of mass nearby, I could estimate our distance and our chances. . . .
I watched things drift by for a minute. Then two. Then three. Gradually it dawned on me that something was terribly wrong.
There were no visible discs in sight at all. None. Only stars.
We couldn't possibly have drifted beyond sight of a planet, at least beyond sight of a disc visible to the naked eye. And where the hell was Sol? We'd have to have been drifting for months, perhaps years. And the blowup couldn't have been more than a few weeks ago!
Unless . . .
Things were coming a little too fast. I was letting repeated shocks numb me. I ducked back into the lock and cycled. There was a way to find out. If I had to wring it out of him.. . .
Kellogg met me as the lock opened to the inside. I'd been fumbling with the suit, trying to get it loose, but there's no room to maneuver in a scavenging lock. I slung the helmet aside, but my movements were still hampered by the deflated suit. Kellogg came on. "You couldn't wait," he said. "You weren't content. You couldn't wait and give things time to straighten out. Time for us to get to know each other. You were in such a hurry to get out, to get back . . . I couldn't let you do it, you know. I couldn't let you get away and apart, if they found us it would be all over between us, you have to understand . . . I couldn't. . ." Tears leaked out of his eyes. He had a large lug wrench.
I didn't wait to see what was going to happen; I didn't like the way he held that wrench. Not like a tool; like a club. I threw myself at him but he bounced out of the way.
The blow caught me on the neck. Light exploded inside my head and my body went numb. I sailed on by, crashed into the bulkhead, rolling onto my back. I tried to struggle away, couldn't coordinate my muscles. Dimly I could see Kellogg approaching slowly, almost tenderly, touching my face with one hand, tears running down his cheeks.
Revulsion surged through me, not at what he was doing but at what it reminded me of. The dream . . . the dream that regeneration couldn't quite erase, the dream that was real.
Inwardly I was screaming. I made a tremendous effort to get to my feet, strike out at him, but I couldn't get my muscles to work; I only twitched feebly.
'We'll work it out eventually, you know," Kellogg said, conviction swelling his voice. "You and I. You'll find out all the wonderful things I can do for you. You'll see...
The lug wrench swung up, ever so slowly, and the dream in my mind surged forward, a mirror in which this scene was reflected, ten times, twenty times, countless times, again and again, each time ending with that tender touch . . . and that lug wrench . . .
It crashed down. Pain, breaking sounds. Vision dissolved in red haze. Again. Again. And again. Painl Pain! Painl
And finally, blackness. .
Death. A vast poem of silence.
Lethe, the gift of forgetfulness darkness and forgetfulness . . . and then:
Kellogg's hands were on my shoulders, holding me, pulling me back from the darkness. "You're alive," he whispered, prayer-like. "Thank God you're alive. . ."
- end -