Authors: John Brunner
Tags: #Science fiction
The lack of room to move affected Stepan worst; he was accustomed to exercise, and his restlessness was painful to see. As a substitute, he set himself to work out patterns of gymnastics on the frame that held the bunks, and sometimes an hour went by without him touching the floor as he manhandled himself about the room in ceaseless circling.
For Joe, the lack of privacy in the physical sense was worse than the confinement, simply because he had been accustomed to confinement in the cramped quarters of the starship project, where cabins were scarcely more than tin cans and were sometimes referred to as vampires’ coffins. But he had always been accustomed to being alone occasionally. Only in the memory of what it had meant to him to give up that privilege in order to share Maggie’s time twenty-four hours a day, sustained him. That was perhaps the next most precious gift she had given him after her rich affection.
He had the impression that Mrs. King’s worst lack in this closed room was visual stimulation; after a while, you had
seen everything there was to see, and when he recalled how she had opened his eyes to the almost frightening beauty of the flowers she had found, he suspected that she suffered emotional starvation without it. At any rate, she spent half the day wistfully looking through the windows and talking little, although her composure remained nearly perfect.
What troubled Rohini Das was different again, but harder to define. It was also a question of stimulus, but not so simple as Mrs. King’s. Her mind was lively, but she lacked persistence; in conversation, she evinced interest in almost everything, yet on any subject other than her own two specialties, she had the irritating habit of dashing off down irrelevant side tracks, never quite finishing an argument. There was a pattern to this that implied frustration and inability to accept restrictions even though she had to admit the need for them.
What irked Lawrence Tshekele, it seemed, was simply the absence of change and new challenges in this tight society. To know that eventually a single great challenge would test his talents seemed to be no consolation for him; the situation starved and blunted the keen excited edge of his mind.
Yet none of their mutual irritations struck the fatal spark which could have ended in hate. That this was so was due entirely to Schneider. He himself, displayed no irritation, although he betrayed signs of strain—his voice occasionally sharpened uncontrollably, his hands shook, and more often than the heat would account for, his forehead shone with sweat. But deliberately, whenever the air grew tense, he turned aside the unuttered insult, the outburst of anger. When Stepan’s monotonous circuits of the room without touching the floor got on Lawrence’s nerves, he mildly suggested that Stepan should go the other way; they all laughed and the tension evaporated. When Rohini Das’s unwillingness to finish an argument annoyed Joe, who preferred to straighten out one thing at a time, it was Schneider who deftly distracted them both with a point they had overlooked. When Rohini Das felt that Stepan was watching her too closely as she washed at the single sink and accused him of overly sensual interest, it was Schneider who paid precisely the right compliment about her warm complexion and shapely arms.
Simple physical modesty was the first social convention to be lost between them, but not the last. Those that followed
were subtler, but not less real. Staring at others is impolite as well as disturbing yet Joe found himself being stared at sometimes for a quarter of an hour together and understood that it was because the others were asking themselves what it would be like to share his body. And memories began to be shared, too—a sort of tentative preliminary to the “ultimate nakedness,” when one or other of them would mention casually in a discussion something which would normally be merely hinted at. At first it seemed odd; then it became accepted. To Joe, it was a little shocking to know that Rohini Das had known passions at the age of twelve which western culture frowned on at any time and barely tolerated in adults; still, western culture was western and not terrestrial. And Lawrence’s grandfather had provided him with thirty uncles and nineteen aunts, so that his cousins ran into the hundreds. And Mrs. King, in spite of her modern education, had, as a last act before coming to the island, gone to a shrine preserved as a historical relic and there made a traditional offering—not because she herself believed in the cult, but because the cult was woven into her inheritance.
“It won’t end with us,” said Lawrence abruptly on the afternoon of the last day. He was standing staring out of the window that was usually monopolized by Mrs. King. The others glanced at him.
“What do you mean?” said Joe.
Lawrence turned back into the room, shrugging. “What I say, as always,” he answered with a flash of his habitual selfassertion. “What are we opening the door to? Hasn’t anyone given thought to that?”
Schneider answered, not looking at him, “What are your ideas, Lawrence?”
Lawrence spread his hands. “So many!” he said awkwardly. “With this technique a psychiatrist can enter the brain of a psychotic and can conduct analysis and therapy on the very spot. Lovers will be able to experience the last intimacy. Novelists like myself may experience, instead of observe, the thoughts and feeling of others so that they can re-create them. Why not? Aren’t all these things possible now?”
Schneider hesitated. Then he said in a tired voice, “I’m afraid not, Lawrence.”
“Why not, for heaven’s sake?”
“Because you cannot do more than your raw materials will permit. It may be a thousand years before an average individual is strong enough to retain his personality in face of the shock consequent to this technique.”
“All right then, I was reckless to mention lovers and their intimacy as an example. But why not consider the preservation of the damaged mind of a hopeless cripple?”
“That possibly,” conceded Schneider. “But it will require, I think, artificial bodies rather than the taking over of the bodies of imbeciles. Man is a whole—a personality plus a body, neither one nor the other.”
“That will be done,” said Mrs. King in a soft voice, “and not only between person and person, I am sure of it. I have thought about the possibility of creating bodies for beings which are not human—new animals which we can endow with human intelligence. Joe has said more than once since we were first here that he believes the most important reason for our succeeding in this test is so that we may continue to be stimulated by alien ways of thinking and alien creatures. But if we fail, why should we not create our own if there is a danger of our being rubbed smooth like pebbles in water till we are featureless and uniform?”
“Because human beings can only conceive things in human terms, I’d say,” said Joe. “At best, it could be no more than a consolation prize.”
He glanced at Schneider. “Doc, what do you see coming out of your technique—if it really works with us?”
A ghost of a smile flitted over Schneider’s face. “You might as well have asked the brothers Wright what would come out of their string and wood airplane. Would they have been able to say? They might have suggested warplanes, they might have foreseen airliners—but would they have thought of the social consequences? We aren’t equipped to make predictions. No.” and he shook his head. “I refuse to try and guess.”
“But if you refuse to guess …” began Joe, and got no further.
Suddenly, there was darkness.
before his face. As though the sound were a trigger–afterwards he realized it was a trigger, the key to a hypnotic command–his eyes opened, and touch and hearing came back to him.
Something else came also. This had never happened before–not anywhere, not to anyone.
One man’s eyes opened; one man’s ears began to register sounds; one man’s body reported to consciousness sensations of pressure, warmth, bodily orientation, and six people awoke.
One of six experienced a flash of panic. Six personalities experienced panic. Out of confusion, like the stirring together of six different worlds, a single, calming, controlled thought protruded, a kind of beacon in a stormy sea. Gradually the beacon identified itself: I-Schneider.
This is no nightmare. This is real and I-we are sane
The confusion ended. There were six peaks of consciousness like islands, joined together by the same bedrock. Or there were six flames leaping from the same fire, or six streams fed by a single spring.
In the next few moments it was too fascinating to be alarming. As Schneider had said, this sensation was like remembering, except that it took place in the present. But the resemblance only went so far, because it was possible first, to think as himself, I-Joe, second, to think as the others, any one or all of them, as I-Rohini, I-Lawrence, I-Schneider, I-Stepan, I-King Ti-Pao, third, to remember, knowing that he was remembering, all that any of the others happened to remember.
For an instant he had the idea that his crowded head might blow apart. He jerked himself upright into a sitting position, discovering that he was lying on a hospital bed, and that the fingers snapped before his eyes belonged to Lagenfeld. At once a new feeling overcame him, a feeling that was at once disturbing and oddly comforting. The violence of his movement was checked, not by himself but with his permission, by I-Schneider. I-Schneider was remembering, and the others could remember with him, what it had been like before, when
he transferred himself to the body of his wife; he was aware of why he had checked the motion of this body, and Joe was therefore also aware, understood, granted permission, accepted the reasons for his own future guidance. It was over a thousand times faster than words, or so it felt.
“It’s already happened!”
The thought was simultaneous in five personalities; Joe uttered it with his own mouth and voice, but the act was willed and approved by them all. The sixth personality was Schneider’s.
And Schneider was revealing–not admitting, revealing, because there could be no secrets on the intimate level of contact that now existed between them–that it had been done this way, taking them by surprise, in order to avoid a period of apprehension, the growth of anxiety and the spawning of imaginary fears in their minds. As soon as it was certain that they had endured the close physical confinement of being shut up in that single, cramped room, they had been anesthetized and taken to the secret building where they had never been permitted to enter.
There the subtle electrochemical patterns that constituted the physical counterpart in their brains of their individual personalities had been identified, copied, stored, transferred–until now, they reawoke as passengers within the body of Joseph Hardy Morea.
“How much later?” The question came from I-King; Joe also wanted to know and permitted its utterance. Lagenfeld’s face revealed relief.
He said, “There is only one more day to go–”
Joe could feel his companions adjusting, exploring, inquiring. For the moment, he could think by himself. He seized the chance. “Why so long?” he demanded.
And then he learned one of the first of the thousands of small lessons he was going to have to learn–that all of them were going to have to learn. He had snatched a chance to ask a question while his companions were distracted, and of course he had wasted his energy. The answer he wanted was there in himself, remembered by I-Schneider. He did not have to be told about the delicacy of the process, about the near errors and the success achieved in the nick of time. Schneider knew about them because he had developed the
process originally, and he foresaw that that was how it had to be.
The realization brought an emotional awareness of what had been done to him. It was as though after having lived all his life in a single room he had passed through a door and found other rooms, some of which had windows opening out onto beautiful landscapes. But there were things in some of the newly discovered rooms which were not so pleasant. As there were in the room he had known before.
A wave of hot alarm swept over him. He understood with his whole being that up till now, as he thought casually about secrets he had never parted with to his closest friends before, he had been making one last reservation. He had thought,
At least I do this because I wish to
And that was at an end. There were no more secrets.
The shame he felt had physical counterparts; his heart beat quicker, his breath pumped harder, his guts tautened. Once again Schneider–I-Schneider, speaking as though in memory–was prompt to react.
“Joe, your physical reactions affect us all. Although all of us are together, you remain in first-level control of our body. Be generous with it. Not to have a body to control is frustrating. This is how the control can occur.”
None of that was in words. It came to Joe–and to all the others–directly, as though it were part of their own knowledge. There were never any words between them, only a sort of marshalling of thoughts into order, which was communicated when the order achieved the level at which words might have been fitted to it.
Control passed. Joe felt his body rise to its feet from the edge of the bed. A spasm of panic subsided before it was born, because it was not–as he had imagined for a fraction of a second–like having an outsider in control of his body. It was not like being at the mercy of a Svengali. It was more like being wide-awake but slightly absent-minded, as when one goes through automatic habitual patterns of action which do not demand concentration. Of course, owing to the unbroken contact between their minds, what Schneider was intending to do was already known to Joe as it was done.
The idea flashed across his mind that this was peculiarly pleasant.
He was standing. Before him the cyberneticist Lagenfeld, who had been responsible for the actual transference of the five passenger personalities, scrutinized his-their face.
I-Schneider said, “It worked, Sam. It worked!”
Lagenfeld’s knees suddenly gave way. He stumbled two paces back onto a chair, and sat down abruptly. He said, “Damnation, that’s you talking, Fritz. It’s not your voice, it’s not your face, but it’s you. How are the rest of you?”
So far only Schneider had emerged individually within their shared mind. Now, at Lagenfeld’s question, they all seemed to move into focus with one another, like the matching of images in the viewfinder of a camera.
They recognized each other. They accepted each other. Only at the back or side of their shared mind did a quaver of anxiety blur and tremble like a feather in a breeze. As usual Schneider at once called up reasons not to be afraid, but Joe realized and knew that all the others realized that the anxiety was Schneider’s.
Why should he be anxious? Why should he be the one to mar their confidence?
But they collectively forgot that momentary anxiety as the hours passed. There were so many new things to experience and enjoy. It was necessary for each of them to learn to cooperate with Joe in the smooth borrowing of his body for a given purpose; so, when they had shared a meal they began with Stepan.
Stephan gave them a curious air of nervous determination, like a novice for the first time behind the steering wheel of a car, as though he was in control of himself and of Joe not naturally and relaxed but by sheer willpower. So first he walked about; then suddenly he broke into a run, and they went around the island smoothly, dodging obstacles and leaping on uneven ground with a precision which improved with every stride.
At the end of that sudden run, Joe’s muscles were not tired as he had expected, nor were his lungs burning with the excess of oxygen as he had come to anticipate after such violent effort. His mute “Why not?” was simultaneous with Stepan’s unvoiced explanation.
“The secret is in knowing what not to do and in using the pulse as a kind of master clock.” Behind that, there were
images, memories, the sight of a vast stadium and another runner lunging ahead in the last five strides of a race to win. “But the equipment also is important. You keep yourself well; your body is not so highly tuned as mine, but if you had not spent your last two and a half years in orbit, you would be capable of becoming an excellent athlete.”
Then a thought seemed to strike Stepan, and Joe’s head was thrown back, a deep breath strained his lungs, and his voice rang out in the first three notes of a scale. The sound broke off in bewilderment; the bewilderment spread from Stepan to the others, changed in Mrs. King, became amusement, reflected back to Stepan. For the first time they shared laughter.
“It startled me to find you are a bass-baritone when I am so used to singing tenor!” Stepan flashed.
A bridge of shared warmth born of humor moved between them. Lawrence put thoughts in tentatively between them. They felt he was a bit ashamed of what he wanted, yet, because he presented his motives as well as he understood them, they acceded, and Joe went in search of a mirror.
That too was a bond between them, that Lawrence should wish to exorcise an irrational childhood envy by looking in a glass and seeing–instead of a black face verging on ugliness–a white skin.
There were other things. The sense of triumph and adventure grew. There was satisfaction when Mrs. King found that Joe’s large capable engineer’s hands, used to precision instruments, were equally answerable for the delicate technique of water color painting and for stroking notes on her moon guitar. Rohini Das had no subtle physical accomplishments of that kind, and when control of the body they shared was given to her, she was content to step through a few measures of a classical Indian dance. Analyzing how it felt different from her own. She had reasons for that. They were more than a little shocking to the earnest Stepan, but the less strong reaction of the others calmed him.
They had completed their round of practice when the drone of an airplane approaching the field at the end of the island interrupted them. A thought struck Joe, and he put it to Schneider.
“What’s been going on in the outside world during the time we’ve been away? If the Federation ship is due to arrive
tomorrow, won’t the public be insisting on a grandstand view of the departure?”
He no longer felt apprehensive about the idea of going; he knew, now, that mankind was going to do its collective utmost and that it was useless to fret and wish for more.
“We must ask Lagenfeld,” came the answer. “Myself, I would prefer not to know–but we must.”
He-they hastened in search of Lagenfeld, whom they discovered at the edge of the field, greeting a familiar person who had descended from the plane. Señor Briaros, the secretary-general, himself.
He was pale and worried-looking, and the best response he could muster to Lagenfeld’s introduction of Joe as the representative was a wan smile and a hasty handshake. Puzzlement reflected among the minds of the six; Joe voiced it.
“What’s going on? Why do you look so desperate?”
Briaros passed a tired hand across his forehead. He said in a low tone, “I’m sorry. I meant to greet you with congratulations and messages of good luck from all over Earth. I meant earlier to arrange a vast public ceremony at your departure to emphasize the confidence we feel in you. In the end, I come down to this. You are the greatest achievement of our science so far, and–”
He shrugged. Lagenfeld had a disturbed expression; he was watching Briaros closely.
“As it is,” the secretary-general resumed, “we dare not expose you to the public view. The risk is too great. So far as we know, the location of this island is still a secret. Accordingly, we have arranged with the Federationers–their ship is already in orbit near Mars, and they have been in touch with us–to land here, off the coast, and collect you directly. They have told us that you may bring enough furniture for a small apartment, enough food, a few pastimes, but no scientific equipment and no medicines. Who knows why not medicines?”
“What’s the danger you’re talking about?” The question began with Lawrence; they all acquiesed in its utterance.
Briaros began to walk idly forward. Joe fell in step beside him, with Lagenfeld on the other side. Briaros said, “Well, we now begin to see what Gyul Kodran meant when he said that the way we made our choice would tell the Federation
a great deal. If they’ve been watching, they’ve seen the pettiest set of squabbles and the biggest display of megalomania in history. It wasn’t so bad when a few crackpots put pressure on us to send a particular religious maniac or a particular muscle-head. But lately, because we withheld the announcement of our choice, the difficulty has become a matter of political parties springing up, of fist fights between people who differ about the kind of man we ought to send.”
A car whished past them; Joe caught a glimpse of Major Gupta riding in the back seat. It vanished in the direction of the Tiger’s Claws emplacements.
“Just lately,” said Briaros, ignoring the interruption, “people have even been dragging national honor into it. For God’s dear sake! In the hour when we ought be be all working hard together to justify ourselves, we throw away the lessons of a whole generation–”
There was an ear-splitting crack, and the ground shook. The three of them spun around and saw a streak of heated air stabbing upwards from the Tiger’s Claws emplacements. Briaros clenched his nails into his palms and muttered oaths in Spanish.
Far out over the sea, very high, something bloomed like a dull flower. The sound never reached them.
“It found something,” said Joe. “If the search-and-destroy missiles don’t find anything, they disarm themselves and start broadcasting a direction signal.”