by Robert Silverberg
Barrett was the uncrowned King of Hawksbill Station. He had been there the longest; he had suffered the most; he had the deepest inner resources of strength. Before his accident, he had been able to whip any man in the place. Now he was a cripple, but he still had that aura of power that gave him command. When there were problems at the Station, they were brought to Barrett. That was axiomatic. He was the king.
He ruled over quite a kingdom, too. In effect it was the whole world, pole to pole, meridian to meridian. For what it was worth. It wasn’t worth very much.
Now it was raining again. Barrett shrugged himself to his feet in the quick, easy gesture that cost him an infinite amount of carefully concealed agony, and shuffled to the door of his hut. Rain made him impatient:. the pounding of those great greasy drops against the corrugated tin roof was enough even to drive a Jim Barrett loony. He nudged the door open. Standing in the doorway, Barrett looked out over his kingdom.
Barren rock, nearly to the horizon. A shield of raw dolomite going on and on. Raindrops danced and bounced on that continental slab of rock. No trees. No grass. Behind Barrett’s hut lay the sea, gray and vast. The sky was gray too, even when it wasn’t raining.
He hobbled out into the rain. Manipulating his crutch was getting to be a simple matter for him now. He leaned comfortably, letting his crushed left foot dangle. A rockslide had pinned him last year during a trip to the edge of the Inland Sea. Back home, Barrett would have been fitted with prosthetics and that would have been the end of it: a new ankle, a new instep, refurbished ligaments and tendons. But home was a billion years away, and home there’s no returning.
The rain hit him hard. Barrett was a big man, six and a half feet tall, with hooded dark eyes, a jutting nose, a chin that was a monarch among chins. He had weighed two hundred fifty pounds in his prime, in the good old agitating days when he had carried banners and pounded out manifestos. But now he was past sixty and beginning to shrink a little, the skin getting loose around the places where the mighty muscles used to be. It was hard to keep your weight in Hawksbill Station. The food was nutritious, but it lacked intensity. A man got to miss steak. Eating brachiopod stew and trilobite hash wasn’t the same thing at all. Barrett was past all bitterness, though. That was another reason why the men regarded him as the leader. He didn’t scowl. He didn’t rant. He was resigned to his fate, tolerant of eternal exile, and so he could help the others get over that difficult, heart-clawing period of transition.
A figure arrived, jogging through the rain: Norton. The doctrinaire Khrushchevist with the Trotskyite leanings. A small, excitable man who frequently appointed himself messenger whenever there was news at the Station. He sprinted toward Barrett’s hut, slipping and sliding over the naked rocks.
Barrett held up a meaty hand. “Whoa, Charley. Take it easy or you’ll break your neck!”
Norton halted in front of the hut. The rain had pasted the widely spaced strands of his brown hair to his skull. His eyes had the fixed, glossy look of fanaticism—or perhaps just astigmatism. He gasped for breath and staggered into the hut, shaking himself like a wet puppy. He obviously had run all the way from the main building of the Station, three hundred yards away—a long dash over rock that slippery.
“Why are you standing around in the rain?” Norton asked.
“To get wet,” said Barrett, following him inside. “What’s the news?”
“The Hammer’s glowing. We’re getting company.”
“How do you know it’s a live shipment?”
“It’s been glowing for half an hour. That means they’re taking precautions. They’re sending a new prisoner. Anyway, no supplies shipment is due.”
Barrett nodded. “Okay. I’ll come over. If it’s a new man, we’ll bunk him in with Latimer.”
Norton managed a rasping laugh. “Maybe he’s a materialist. Latimer will drive him crazy with all that mystic nonsense. We could put him with Altman instead.”
“And he’ll be raped in half an hour.”
“Altman’s off that kick now,” said Norton. “He’s trying to create a real woman, not looking for second-rate substitutes.”
“Maybe our new man doesn’t have any spare ribs.”
“Very funny, Jim.” Norton did not look amused. “You know what I want the new man to be? A conservative, that’s what. A black-souled reactionary straight out of Adam Smith. God, that’s what I want!”
“Wouldn’t you be happy with a fellow Bolshevik?”
“This place is full of Bolsheviks,” said Norton. “Of all shades from pale pink to flagrant scarlet. Don’t you think I’m sick of them? Sitting around fishing for trilobites and discussing the relative merits of Kerensky and Malenkov? I need somebody to talk to, Jim. Somebody I can fight with.”
“All right,” Barrett said, slipping into his rain gear. “I’ll see what I can do about hocusing a debating partner out of the Hammer for you. A rip-roaring Objectivist, okay?” He laughed. “You know something, maybe there’s been a revolution Up Front since we got our last man? Maybe the left is in and the right is out, and they’ll start shipping us nothing but reactionaries. How would you like that? Fifty or a hundred storm troopers, Charley? Plenty of material to debate economics with. And the place will fill up with more and more of them, until we’re outnumbered, and then maybe they’ll have a putsch and get rid of all the stinking leftists sent here by the old regime, and—”
Barrett stopped. Norton was staring at him in amazement, his faded eyes wide, his hand compulsively smoothing his thinning hair to hide his embarrassment. Barrett realized that he had just committed one of the most heinous crimes possible at Hawksbill Station: he had started to run off at the mouth. There hadn’t been any call for his little outburst. What made it more troublesome was the fact that he was the one who had permitted himself such a luxury. He was supposed to be the strong one of this place, the stabilizer, the man of absolute integrity and principle and sanity on whom the others could lean. And suddenly he had lost control. It was a bad sign. His dead foot was throbbing again; possibly that was the reason.
In a tight voice he said, “Let’s go. Maybe the new man is here already.”
They stepped outside. The rain was beginning to let up; the storm was moving out to sea. In the east, over what would one day be the Atlantic, the sky was still clotted with gray mist, but to the west a different grayness was emerging, the shade of normal gray that meant dry weather. Before he had come out here, Barrett had expected to find the sky practically black, because there’d be fewer dust particles to bounce the light around and turn things blue. But the sky seemed to be a weary beige. So much for a priori theories.
Through the thinning rain they walked toward the main building. Norton accommodated himself to Barrett’s limping pace, and Barrett, wielding his crutch furiously, did his damndest not to let his infirmity slow them up. He nearly lost his footing twice, and fought hard not to let Norton see.
Hawksbill Station spread out before them.
It covered about five hundred acres. In the center of everything was the main building, an ample dome that contained most of their equipment and supplies. At widely paced intervals, rising from the rock shield like grotesque giant green mushrooms, were the plastic blisters of the individual dwellings. Some, like Barrett’s, were shielded by tin sheeting salvaged from shipments from Up Front. Others stood unprotected, just as they had come from the mouth of the extruder.
The huts numbered about eighty. At that moment, there were 140 inmates in Hawksbill Station, pretty close to the all-time high. Up Front hadn’t sent back any hut-building materials for a long time, and so all the newer arrivals had to double up with bunkmates. Barrett and all those whose exile had begun before 2014 had the privilege of private dwellings, if they wanted them. (Some did not wish to live alone; Barrett, to preserve his own authority, felt that he was required to.) As new exiles arrived, they bunked in with those who currently lived alone, in reverse order of seniority. Most of the 2015 exiles had been forced to take roommates now. Another dozen deportees and the 2014 group would be doubling up. Of course, there were deaths all up and down the line, and there were plenty who were eager to have company in their huts.
Barrett felt, though, that a man who has to be sentenced to life imprisonment ought to have the privilege of privacy if he desires it. One of his biggest problems here was keeping people from cracking up because there was too little privacy. Propinquity could be intolerable in a place like this.
Norton pointed toward the big shiny-skinned green dome of the main building. “There’s Altman going in now. And Rudiger. And Hutchett. Something’s happening!”
Barrett stepped up his pace. Some of the men entering the building saw his bulky figure coming over the rise in the rock, and waved to him. Barrett lifted a massive hand in reply. He felt mounting excitement. It was a big event at the Station whenever a new man arrived. Nobody had come for six months, now. That was the longest gap he could remember. It had started to seem as though no one would ever come again.
That would be a catastrophe. New men were all that stood between the older inmates and insanity. New men brought news from the future, news from the world that was entirely left behind. They contributed new personalities to a group that always was in danger of going stale.
And, Barrett knew, some men—he was not one—lived in the deluded hope that the next arrival might just be a woman.
That was why they flocked to the main building when the Hammer began to glow. Barrett hobbled down the path. The rain died away just as he reached the entrance.
Within, sixty or seventy Station residents crowded the chamber of the Hammer—just about every man in the place who was able in body and mind, and still alert enough to show curiosity about a newcomer. They shouted their greetings to Barrett. He nodded, smiled, deflected their questions with amiable gestures.
“Who’s it going to be this time, Jim?”
“Maybe a girl, huh? Around nineteen years old, blonde, built like—”
“I hope he can play stochastic chess, anyway.”
“Look at the glow! It’s deepening!”
Barrett, like the others, stared at the Hammer. The complex, involuted collection of unfathomable instruments burned a bright cherry-red now, betokening the surge of who knew how many kilowatts being pumped in at the far end of the line. The glow had spread to the Anvil now, that broad aluminum bedplate on which all shipments from the future were dropped. In another moment—
“Condition Crimson!” somebody yelled. “Here he comes!”
A billion years up the time-line, power was flooding into the real Hammer of which this was only the partial replica. A man—or something else—stood in the center of the real Anvil, waiting for the Hawksbill Field to unfold him and kick him back to the early Paleozoic. The effect of time travel was very much like being hit with a gigantic hammer and driven clear through the walls of the continuum: hence the governing metaphors for the parts of the machine.
Setting up Hawksbill Station had been a long, slow job. The Hammer had knocked a pathway and had sent back the nucleus of the receiving station first. Since there was no receiving station on hand to receive the receiving station, a certain amount of waste had occurred. It wasn’t necessary to have a Hammer and Anvil on the receiving end, except as a fine control to prevent temporal spread; without the equipment, the field wandered a little, and it was possible to scatter consecutive shipments over a span of twenty or thirty years. There was plenty of such temporal garbage all around Hawksbill Station: stuff that had been intended for the original installation, but which because of tuning imprecisions in the pre-Hammer days had landed a couple of decades (and a couple of hundred miles) away from the intended site.
Despite such difficulties, they had finally sent through enough components to the master temporal site to allow for the construction of a receiving station. Then the first prisoners had gone through: technicians who knew how to put the Hammer and Anvil together. Of course, it was their privilege to refuse to cooperate. But it was to their own advantage to assemble the receiving station, thus making it possible for them to be sure of getting further supplies from Up Front. They had done the job. After that, outfitting Hawksbill Station had been easy.
Now the Hammer glowed, meaning that they had activated the Hawksbill Field on the sending end, somewhere up around 2028 or 2030 A.D. All the sending was done there. All the receiving was done here. It didn’t work the other way. Nobody really knew why, although there was a lot of superficially profound talk about the rules of entropy.
There was a whining, hissing sound as the edges of the Hawksbill Field began to ionize the atmosphere in the room. Then came the expected thunderclap of implosion, caused by an imperfect overlapping of the quantity of air that was subtracted from this era and the quantity of air was being thrust into it. And then abruptly, a man dropped out of the Hammer and lay stunned and limp, on the gleaming Anvil.
He looked young, which surprised Barrett considerably. He seemed to be well under thirty. Generally, only middle-aged men were sent to Hawksbill Station. Incorrigibles, who had to be separated from humanity for the general good. The youngest man in the place now had been close to forty when he arrived. The sight of this lean, clean-cut boy drew a hiss of anguish from a couple of the men in the room, and Barrett understood the constellation of emotions that pained them.
The new man sat up. He stirred like a child coming out of a long, deep sleep. He looked around.
His face was very pale. His thin lips seemed bloodless. His blue eyes blinked rapidly. His jaws worked as though he wanted to say something, but could not find the words.
There were no physiological harmful effects to time travel, but it could be a rough jolt to the consciousness. The last moments before the Hammer descended were very much like the final moments beneath the guillotine, since exile to Hawksbill Station was tantamount to a sentence of death. The departing prisoner took his last look at the world of rocket transport and artificial organs, at the world in which he had lived and loved and agitated for a political cause, and then he was rammed into an inconceivably remote past on a one-way journey. It was a gloomy business, and it was not very surprising that the newcomers arrived in a state of emotional shock.
Barrett elbowed his way through the crowd. Automatically the others made way for him. He reached the lip of the Anvil and leaned over it, extending a hand to the new man. His broad smile was met by a look of blank bewilderment.
“I’m Jim Barrett. Welcome to Hawksbill Station. Here—get off that thing before a load of groceries lands on top of you.” Wincing a little as he shifted his weight, Barrett pulled the new man down from the Anvil. It was altogether likely for the idiots Up Front to shoot another shipment along a minute after sending a man.
Barrett beckoned to Mel Rudiger, and the plump anarchist handed the new man an alcohol capsule. He took it and pressed it to his arm without a word. Charley Norton offered him a candy bar. The man shook it off. He looked groggy—a real case of temporal shock, Barrett thought, possibly the worst he had ever seen. The newcomer hadn’t even spoken yet. Could the effect really be that extreme?
Barrett said, “We’ll go to the infirmary and check you out. Then I’ll assign you your quarters. There’s time for you to find your way around and meet everybody later on. What’s your name?”
“Hahn. Lew Hahn.”
“I can’t hear you.”
“Hahn,” the man repeated, still only barely audible.
“When are you from, Lew?”
“You feel pretty sick?”
“I feel awful. I don’t even believe this is happening to me. There’s no such place as Hawksbill Station, is there?”
“I’m afraid there is,” Barrett said. “At least, for most of us. A few of the boys think it’s all an illusion induced by drugs. But I have my doubts of that. If it’s an illusion, it’s damned good. Look.”
He put one arm around Hahn’s shoulders and guided him through the press of prisoners, out of the Hammer chamber and toward the nearby infirmary. Although Hahn looked thin, even fragile, Barrett was surprised to feel the rippling muscles in those shoulders. He suspected that this man was a lot less helpless and ineffectual than he seemed to be right now. He had to be: he had earned banishment to Hawksbill Station.
They passed the open door of the building. “Look out there,” Barrett commanded.
Hahn looked. He passed a hand across his eyes as though to clear away unseen cobwebs, and looked again.
“A Late Cambrian landscape,” said Barrett quietly. “This view would be a geologist’s dream, except that geologists don’t tend to become political prisoners, it seems. Out in front of you is what they call Appalachia. It’s a strip of rock a few hundred miles wide and a few thousand miles long, running from the Gulf of Mexico to Newfoundland. To the east we’ve got the Atlantic Ocean. A little way to the west we’ve got a thing called the Appalachian Geosyncline, which is a trough five hundred miles wide full of water. Somewhere about two thousand miles to the west there’s another trough that they call the Cordilleran Geosyncline. It’s full of water too, and at this particular stage of geological history the patch of land between the geosynclines is below sea level, so where Appalachia ends we’ve got the Inland Sea, currently, running way out to the west. On the far side of the Inland Sea is a narrow north-south land mass called Cascadia that’s going to be California and Oregon and Washington someday. Don’t hold your breath till it happens. I hope you like seafood, Lew.”
Hahn stared, and Barrett, standing beside him at the doorway, stared also. You never got used to the alienness of this place, not even after you had lived here twenty years, as Barrett had. It was Earth, and yet it was not really Earth at all, because it was somber and empty and unreal. The gray oceans swarmed with life, of course. But there was nothing on land except occasional patches of moss in the occasional patches of soil that had formed on the bare rock. Even a few cockroaches would be welcome; but insects, it seemed, were still a couple of geological periods in the future. To land dwellers, this was a dead world, a world unborn.
Shaking his head, Hahn moved away from the door. Barrett led him down the corridor and into the small, brightly lit room that served as the infirmary. Doc Quesada was waiting. Quesada wasn’t really a doctor, but he had been a medical technician once, and that was good enough. He was a compact, swarthy man with a look of complete self-assurance. He hadn’t lost too many patients, all things considered. Barrett had watched him removing appendixes with total aplomb. In his white smock, Quesada looked sufficiently medical to fit the role.
Barrett said, “Doc, this is Lew Hahn. He’s in temporal shock. Fix him up.”
Quesada nudged the newcomer onto a webfoam cradle and unzipped his blue jersey. Then he reached for his medical kit. Hawksbill Station was well equipped for most medical emergencies, now. The people Up Front had no wish to be inhumane, and they sent back all sorts of useful things, like anesthetics and surgical clamps and medicines and dermal probes. Barrett could remember a time at the beginning when there had been nothing much here but the empty huts, and a man who hurt himself was in real trouble.
“He’s had a drink already,” said Barrett.
“I see that,” Quesada murmured. He scratched at his short-cropped, bristly mustache. The little diagnostat in the cradle had gone rapidly to work, flashing information about Hahn’s blood pressure, potassium count, dilation index, and much else. Quesada seemed to comprehend the barrage of facts. After a moment he said to Hahn, “You aren’t really sick, are you? Just shaken up a little. I don’t blame you. Here—I’ll give you a quick jolt to calm your nerves, and you’ll be all right. As all right as any of us ever are.”
He put a tube to Hahn’s carotid and thumbed the snout. The subsonic whirred, and a tranquilizing compound slid into the man’s bloodstream. Hahn shivered.
Quesada said, “Let him rest for five minutes. Then he’ll be over the hump.”
They left Hahn in his cradle and went out of the infirmary. In the hall, Barrett looked down at the little medic and said, “What’s the report on Valdosto?”
Valdosto had gone into psychotic collapse several weeks before. Quesada was keeping him drugged and trying to bring him slowly back to the reality of Hawksbill Station. Shrugging, he replied, “The status is quo. I let him out from under the dream juice this morning and he was the same as he’s been.”
“You don’t think he’ll come out of it?”
“I doubt it. He’s cracked for keeps. They could paste him together Up Front, but—”
“Yeah,” Barrett said. If he could get Up Front at all, Valdosto wouldn’t have cracked. “Keep him happy, then. If he can’t be sane, he can at least be comfortable. What about Altman? Still got the shakes?”
“He’s building a woman,” Quesada said.
“That’s what Charley Norton told me. What’s he using? A rag, a bone—”
“I gave him some surplus chemicals. Chosen for their color, mainly. He’s got some foul green copper compounds and a little bit of ethyl alcohol and six or seven other things, and he collected some soil and threw in a lot of dead shellfish, and he’s sculpting it all into what he claims is female shape and waiting for lightning to strike it.”
“In other words, he’s gone crazy,” Barrett said.
“I think that’s a safe assumption. But he’s not molesting his friends any more, anyway. You didn’t think his homosexual phase would last much longer, as I recall.”
“No, but I didn’t think he’d go off the deep end. If a man needs sex and he can find some consenting playmates here, that’s quite all right with me. But when he starts putting a woman together out of some dirt and rotten brachiopod meat it means we’ve lost him. It’s too bad.”
Quesada’s dark eyes flickered. “We’re all going to go that way sooner or later, Jim.”
“I haven’t. You haven’t.”
“Give us time. I’ve only been here eleven years.”
“Altman’s been here only eight. Valdosto even less.”
“Some shells crack faster than others,” said Quesada.
“Here’ s our new friend.”
Hahn had come out of the infirmary to join them. He still looked pale, but the fright was gone from his eyes. He was beginning to adjust to the unthinkable. He said, “I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. Is there a lot of mental illness here?”
“Some of the men haven’t been able to find anything meaningful to do here,” Barrett said. “It eats them away. Quesada here has his medical work. I’ve got administrative duties. A couple of the fellows are studying the sea life. We’ve got a newspaper to keep some busy. But there are always those who just let themselves slide into despair, and they crack up. I’d say we have thirty or forty certifiable maniacs here at the moment, out of 140 residents.”
“That’s not so bad,” Hahn said. “Considering the inherent instability of the men who get sent here, and the unusual conditions of life here.”
Barrett laughed. “Hey, you’re suddenly pretty articulate, aren’t you? What was in the stuff Doc Quesada jolted you with?”
“I didn’t mean to sound superior,” Hahn said quickly. “Maybe that came out a little too smug. I mean—”
“Forget it. What did you do Up Front, anyway?”
“I was an economist.”
“Just what we need,” said Quesada. “He can help us solve our balance-of-payments problem.”
Barrett said, “If you were an economist, you’ll have plenty to discuss here. This place is full of economic theorists who’ll want to bounce their ideas off you. Some of them are almost sane, too. Come with me and I’ll show you where you’re going to stay.”
The patio from the main building to the hut of Donald Latimer was mainly downhill, for which Barrett was grateful even though he knew that he’d have to negotiate the uphill return in a little while. Latimer’s hut was on the eastern side of the Station, looking out over the ocean. They walked slowly toward it. Hahn was solicitous of Barrett’s game leg, and Barrett was irritated by the exaggerated care the younger man took to keep pace with him.
He was puzzled by this Hahn. The man was full of seeming contradictions—showing up here with the worst case of arrival shock Barrett had ever seen, then snapping out of it with remarkable quickness; looking frail and shy, but hiding solid muscles inside his jersey; giving an outer appearance of incompetence, but speaking with calm control. Barrett wondered what this young man had done to earn him the trip to Hawksbill Station, but there was time for such inquiries later. All the time in the world.
Hahn said, “Is everything like this? Just rock and ocean?”
“That’s all. Land life hasn’t evolved yet. Everything’s wonderfully simple, isn’t it? No clutter. No urban sprawl. There’s some moss moving onto land, but not much.”
“And in the sea? Swimming dinosaurs?”
Barrett shook his head. “There won’t be any vertebrates for millions of years. We don’t even have fish yet, let alone reptiles out there. All we can offer is that which creepeth. Some shellfish, some big fellows that look like squids, and trilobites. Seven hundred billion different species of trilobites. We’ve got a man named Rudiger—he’s the one who gave you the drink—who’s making a collection of them. He’s writing the world’s definitive text on trilobites.”
“But nobody will ever read it in—in the future.”
“Up Front, we say.”
“‘That’s the pity of it,” said Barrett. “We told Rudiger to inscribe his book on imperishable plates of gold and hope that it’s found by paleontologists. But he says the odds are against it. A billion years of geology will chew his plates to hell before they can be found.”
Hahn sniffed. “Why does the air smell so strange?”
“It’s a different mix,” Barrett said. “We’ve analyzed it. More nitrogen, a little less oxygen, hardly any CO2 at all. But that isn’t really why it smells odd to you. The thing is, it’s pure air, unpolluted by the exhalations of life. Nobody’s been respiring into it but us lads, and there aren’t enough of us to matter.”
Smiling, Hahn said, “ I feel a little cheated that it’s so empty. I expected lush jungles of weird plants, and pterodactyls swooping through the air, and maybe a tyrannosaur crashing into a fence around the Station.”
“No jungles. No pterodactyls. No tyrannosaurs. No fences. You didn’t do your homework.”
“This is the Late Cambrian. Sea life exclusively.”
“It was very kind of them to pick such a peaceful era as the dumping ground for political prisoners,” Hahn said. “I was afraid it would be all teeth and claws.”
“Kind, hell! They were looking for an era where we couldn’t do any harm. That meant tossing us back before the evolution of mammals, just in case we’d accidentally get hold of the ancestor of all humanity and snuff him out. And while they were at it, they decided to stash us so far in the past that we’d be beyond all land life, on the theory that maybe even if we slaughtered a baby dinosaur it might affect the entire course of the future.”
“They don’t mind if we catch a few trilobites?”
“Evidently they think it’s safe,” Barrett said. “It looks as though they were right. Hawksbill Station has been here for twenty-five years, and it doesn’t seem as though we’ve tampered with future history in any measurable way. Of course, they’re careful not to send us any women.”
“Why is that?”
“So we don’t start reproducing and perpetuating ourselves. Wouldn’t that mess up the time-lines? A successful human outpost in One Billion B.C., that’s had all that time to evolve and mutate and grow? By the time the twenty-first century came around, our descendants would be in charge and the other kind of human being would probably be in penal servitude, and there’d be more paradoxes created than you could shake a trilobite at. So they don’t send the women here. There’s a prison camp for women, too, but it’s a few hundred million years up the time line in the Late Silurian, and never the twain shall meet. That’s why Ned Altman’s trying to build a woman out of dust and garbage.”
“God made Adam out of less.”
“Altman isn’t God,” Barrett said. “That’s the root of his whole problem. Look, here’s the hut where you’re going to stay. I’m rooming you with Don Latimer. He’s a very sensitive, interesting, pleasant person. He used to be a physicist before he got into politics, and he’s been here about a dozen years, and I might as well warn you that he’s developed a strong and somewhat cockeyed mystic streak lately. The fellow he was rooming with killed himself last year, and since then he’s been trying to find some way out of here through extrasensory powers.”
“Is he serious?”
“I’m afraid he is. And we try to take him seriously. We all humor each other at Hawksbill Station; it’s the only way we avoid a mass psychosis. Latimer will probably try to get you to collaborate with him on his project. If you don’t like living with him, I can arrange a transfer for you. But I want to see how he reacts to someone new at the Station. I’d like you to give him a chance.”
“Maybe I’ll even help him find his psionic gateway.”
“If you do, take me along,” said Barrett. They both laughed. Then he rapped at Latimer’s door. There was no answer, and after a moment Barrett pushed the door open. Hawksbill Station had no locks.
Latimer sat in the middle of the bare rock floor, cross-legged, meditating. He was a slender, gentle-faced man just beginning to look old. Right now he seemed a million miles away, ignoring them completely. Hahn shrugged. Barrett put a finger to his lips. They waited in silence for a few minutes, and then Latimer showed signs of coming up from his trance.
He got to his feet in a single flowing motion, without using his hands. In a low, courteous voice he said to Hahn, “Have you just arrived?”
“Within the last hour. I’m Lew Hahn.”
“Donald Latimer. I regret that I have to make your acquaintance in these surroundings. But maybe we won’t have to tolerate this illegal imprisonment much longer.”
Barrett said, “Don, Lew is going to bunk with you. I think you’ll get along well. He was an economist in 2029 until they gave him the Hammer.”
“Where did you live?” Latimer asked, animation coming into his eyes.
The glow faded. Latimer said, “Were you ever in Toronto? I’m from there. I had a daughter—she’d be twenty-three now, Nella Latimer—I wondered if you knew her.”
“No. I’m, sorry.”
“It wasn’t very likely. But I’d love to know what kind of a woman she became. She was a little girl when I last saw her. Now I guess she’s married. Or perhaps they’ve sent her to the other Station. Nella Latimer—you’re sure you didn’t know her?”
Barrett left them together. It looked as though they’d get along. He told Latimer to bring Hahn up to the main building at dinner for introductions, and went out. A chilly drizzle had begun again. Barrett made his way slowly, painfully up the hill. It had been sad to see the light flicker from Latimer’s eyes when Hahn said he didn’t know his daughter. Most of the time, men at Hawksbill Station tried not to speak about their families, preferring to keep those tormenting memories well repressed. But the arrival of newcomers generally stirred old ties. There was never any news of relatives, and no way to obtain any, because it was impossible for the Station to communicate with anyone Up Front. No way to ask for the photo of a loved one, no way to request specific medicines, no way to obtain a certain book or a coveted tape. In a mindless, impersonal way, Up Front sent periodic shipments to the Station of things thought useful—reading matter, medical supplies, technical equipment, food. Occasionally they were startling in their generosity, as when they sent a case of Burgundy, or a box of sensory spools, or a recharger for the power pack. Such gifts usually meant a brief thaw in the world situation, which customarily produced a short-lived desire to be kind to the boys in Hawksbill Station. But they had a policy about sending information about relatives. Or about contemporary newspapers. Fine wine, yes; a tridim of a daughter who would never be seen again, no.
For all Up Front knew, there was no one alive in Hawksbill Station. A plague could have killed every one off ten years ago, but there was no way of telling. That was why the shipments still came back. The government whirred and clicked with predictable continuity. The government, whatever else it might be, was not malicious. There were other kinds of totalitarianism beside bloody repressive tyranny.
Pausing at the top of the hill, Barrett caught his breath. Naturally, the alien air no longer smelled strange to him. He filled his lungs with it. Once again the rain ceased. Through the grayness came the sunshine, making the naked rocks sparkle. Barrett closed his eyes a moment and leaned on his crutch, and saw as though on an inner screen the creatures with many legs climbing up out of the sea, and the mossy carpets spreading, and the flowerless plants uncoiling and spreading their scaly branches, and the dull hides of eerie amphibians glistening on the shores, and the tropic heat of the coal-forming epoch descending like a glove over the world.
All that lay far in the future. Dinosaurs. Little chittering mammals. Pithecanthropus in the forests of Java. Sargon and Hannibal and Attila, and Orville Wright, and Thomas Edison, and Edmond Hawksbill. And finally a benign government that would find the thoughts of some men so intolerable that the only safe place to which they could be banished was a rock at the beginning of time. The government was too civilized to put men to death for subversive activities, and too cowardly to let them remain alive. The compromise was the living death of Hawksbill Station. A billion years of impassable time was suitable insulation even for the most nihilistic idea.
Grimacing, Barrett struggled the rest of the way back toward his hut. He had long since come to accept his exile, but accepting his ruined foot was another matter entirely. The idle wish to find a way to regain the freedom of his own time no longer possessed him; but he wished with all his soul that the blank-faced administrators Up Front would send back a kit that would allow him to rebuild his foot.
He entered his hut and flung his crutch aside, sinking down instantly on his cot. There had been no cots when he had come to Hawksbill Station. He had come here in the fourth year of the Station, when there were only a dozen buildings and little in the way of creature comforts. It had been a miserable place then, but the steady accretion of shipments from Up Front had made it relatively tolerable. Of the fifty or so prisoners who had preceded Barrett to Hawksbill, none remained alive. He had held highest seniority for almost ten years. Time moved here at a one-to-one correlation with time Up Front; the Hammer was locked on this point of time, so that Hahn, arriving here today more than twenty years after Barrett, had departed from a year Up Front more than twenty years after the time of Barrett’s expulsion. Barrett had not had the heart to begin pumping Hahn for news of 2029 so soon. He would learn all he needed to know, and small cheer it would be, anyway.
Barrett reached for a book. But the fatigue of hobbling around the Station had taken more out him than he realized. He looked at the page for a moment. Then he put it away, and closed his eyes and dozed.
That evening, as every evening, the men of Hawksbill Station gathered in the main building for dinner and recreation. It was not mandatory, and some men chose to eat alone. But tonight nearly everyone who was in full possession of his faculties was there, because this was one of the infrequent occasions when a newcomer had arrived to be questioned about the world of men.
Hahn looked uneasy about his sudden notoriety. He seemed to be basically shy, unwilling to accept all the attention now being thrust upon him. There he sat in the middle of the group, while men twenty and thirty years his senior crowded in on him with their questions, and it was obvious that he wasn’t enjoying the session.
Sitting to one side, Barrett took little part in the discussion. His curiosity about Up Front’s ideological shifts had ebbed a long time ago. It was hard for him to realize that he had once been so passionately concerned about concepts like syndicalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat and the guaranteed annual wage that he had been willing to risk imprisonment over them. His concern for humanity had not waned, merely the degree of his involvement in the twenty-first cen- tury’s political problems. After twenty years at Hawksbill Station, Up Front had become unreal to Jim Barrett, and his energies centered around the crises and challenges of what he had come to think of as “his own” time—the late Cambrian.
So he listened, but more with an ear for what the talk revealed about Lew Hahn than for what it revealed about current events Up Front. And what it revealed about Lew Hahn was mainly a matter of what was not revealed.
Hahn didn’t say much. He seemed to be feinting and evading.
Charley Norton wanted to know, “Is there any sign of a weakening of the phony conservatism yet? I mean, they’ve been promising the end of big government for thirty years and it gets bigger all the time.”
Hahn moved restlessly in his chair. “They still promise. As soon as conditions become stabilized—”
“Which is when?”
“I don’t know. I suppose they’re just making words.”
“What about the Martian Commune?” demanded Sid Hutchett. “Have they been infiltrating agents onto Earth?”
“I couldn’t really say.”
“How about the Gross Global Product?” Mel Rudiger wanted to know. “What’s its curve? Still holding level, or has it started to drop?”
Hahn tugged at his ear. “I think it’s slowly edging down.”
“Where does the index stand?” Rudiger asked. “The last figures we had, for ’25, it was at 909. But in four years—”
“It might be something like 875 now,” said Hahn.
It struck Barrett as a little odd that an economist would be so hazy about the basic economic statistic. Of course, he didn’t know how long Hahn had been imprisoned before getting the Hammer. Maybe he simply wasn’t up on recent figures. Barrett held his peace.
Charley Norton wanted to find out some things about the legal rights of citizens. Hahn couldn’t tell him. Rudiger asked about the impact of weather control—whether the supposedly conservative government of liberators was still ramming programmed weather down the mouths of the citizens—and Hahn wasn’t sure. Hahn couldn’t rightly say much about the functions of the judiciary, whether it had recovered any of the power stripped from it by the Enabling Act of ’18. He didn’t have any comments to offer on the tricky subject of population control. In fact, his performance was striking for its lack of hard information.
“He isn’t saying much at all,” Charley Norton grumbled to the silent Barrett. “He’s putting up a smokescreen. But either he’s not telling what he knows, or he doesn’t know.”
“Maybe he’s not very bright,” Barrett suggested.
“What did he do to get here? He must have had some kind of deep commitment. But it doesn’t show, Jim! He’s an intelligent kid, but he doesn’t seem plugged in to anything that ever mattered to any of us.”
Doc Quesada offered a thought. “Suppose he isn’t political at all. Suppose they’re sending a different kind of prisoner back here now. Axe murderers, or something. A quiet kid who very quietly chopped up sixteen people one Sunday morning. Naturally he isn’t interested in politics.”
Barrett shook his head. “I doubt that. I think he’s just clamming up because he’s shy or ill at ease. It’s his first night here, remember. He’s just been kicked out of his own world and there’s no going back. He may have left a wife and baby behind, you know. He may simply not give a damn tonight about sitting up there and spouting the latest word on abstract philosophical theory, when all he wants to do is go off and cry his eyes out. I say we ought to leave him alone.”
Quesada and Norton looked convinced. They shook their heads in agreement; but Barrett didn’t voice his opinion to the room in general. He let the quizzing of Hahn continue until it petered out of its own accord. The men began to drift away. A couple of them went back to convert Hahn’s vague generalities into the lead story for the next handwritten edition of the Hawksbill Station Times. Rudiger stood on a table and shouted out that he was going night-fishing, and four men asked to join him. Charley Norton sought out his usual debating partner, the nihilist Ken Belardi, and reopened, like a festering wound, their discussion of planning versus chaos, which bored them both to the point of screaming. The nightly games of stochastic chess began. The loners who had made rare visits to the main building simply to see the new man went back to their huts to do whatever it was they did in them alone each night.
Hahn stood apart, fidgeting and uncertain.
Barrett went up to him. “I guess you didn’t really want to be quizzed tonight,” he said.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t have been more informative. I’ve been out of circulation a while, you see.”
“But you were politically active, weren’t you?”
“Oh, yes,” Hahn said. “Of course.” He flicked his tongue over his lips. “What’s supposed to happen now?”
“Nothing in particular. We don’t have organized activities here. Doc and I are going out on sick call. Care to join us?”
“What does it involve?” asked Hahn.
“Visiting some of the worst cases. It can be grim, but you’ll get a panoramic view of Hawksbill Station in a hurry.”
“I’d like to go.”
Barrett gestured to Quesada and the three of them left the building. This was a nightly ritual for Barrett, difficult as it was since he had hurt his foot. Before turning in, he visited the goofy ones and the psycho ones and the catatonic ones, tucked them in, wish them a good night and a healed mind in the morning. Someone had to show them that he cared. Barrett did.
Outside, Hahn peered up at the moon. It was nearly full tonight, shining like a burnished coin, its face a pale salmon color and hardly pockmarked at all.
“It looks so different here,” Hahn said. “The craters—where are the craters?”
“Most of them haven’t been formed yet,” said Barrett. “A billion years is a long time even for the moon. Most of its upheavals are still ahead. We think it may still have an atmosphere, too. That’s why it looks pink to us. Of course, Up Front hasn’t bothered to send us much in the way of astronomical equipment. We can only guess.”
Hahn started to say something. He cut himself off after one blurted syllable.
Quesada said, “Don’t hold it back. What were you about to suggest?”
Hahn laughed in self-mockery. “That you ought to fly up there and take a look. It struck me as odd that you’d spend all these years here theorizing about whether the moon’s got an atmosphere, and wouldn’t ever once go up to look. But I forgot.”
“It would be useful if we got a commute ship from Up Front,” Barrett said. “But it hasn’t occurred to them. All we can do is look. The moon’s a popular place in ’29, is it?”
“The biggest resort in the System,” said Hahn. “I was there on my honeymoon. Leah and I—”
He stopped again.
Barrett said hurriedly. “This is Bruce Valdosto’s hut. He cracked up a few weeks ago. When we go in, stand behind us so he doesn’t see you. He might be violent with a stranger. He’s unpredictable.”
Valdosto was a husky man in his late forties, with swarthy skin, coarse curling black hair, and the broadest shoulders any man had ever had. Sitting down, he looked even burlier than Jim Barrett, which was saying a great deal. But Valdosto had short, stumpy legs, the legs of a man of ordinary stature tacked to the trunk of a giant, which spoiled the effect completely. In his years Up Front he had totally refused any prosthesis. He believed in living with deformities. Right now he was strapped into a webfoam cradle. His domed forehead was flecked with beads of sweat, his eyes were glittering beadily in the darkness. He was a very sick man. Once he had been clear-minded enough to throw a sleet-bomb into a meeting of the Council of Syndics, giving a dozen of them a bad case of gamma poisoning, but now he scarcely knew up from down, right from left.
Barrett leaned over him and said, “How are you, Bruce?”
“Jim. It’s a beautiful night, Bruce. How’d you like to come outside and get some fresh air? The moon’s almost full.”
“I’ve got to rest. The committee meeting tomorrow—”
“It’s been postponed.”
“But how can it? The Revolution—”
“That’s been postponed too. Indefinitely.”
“Are they disbanding the cells?” Valdosto asked harshly.
“We don’t know yet. We’re waiting for orders. Come outside, Bruce. The air will do you good.”
Muttering, Valdosto let himself be unlaced. Quesada and Barrett pulled him to his feet and propelled him through the door of the hut. Barrett caught sight of Hahn in the shadows, his face somber with shock.
They stood together outside the hut. Barrett pointed to the moon. “It’s got such a lovely color here. Not like the dead thing Up Front. And look, look down there, Bruce. The sea breaking on the rocky shore. Rudiger’s out fishing. I can see his boat by moonlight.”
“Striped bass,” said Valdosto. “Sunnies. Maybe he’ll catch some sunnies.”
“There aren’t any sunnies here. They haven’t evolved yet.” Barrett fished in his pocket and drew out something ridged and glossy, about two inches long. It was the exoskeleton of a small trilobite. He offered it to Valdosto, who shook his head.
“Don’t give me that cockeyed crab.”
“It’s a trilobite, Bruce. It’s extinct, but so are we. We’re a billion years in our own past.”
“You must be crazy,” Valdosto said in a calm, low voice that belied his wild-eyed appearance. He took the trilobite from Barrett and hurled it against the rocks. “Cockeyed crab,” he muttered.
Quesada shook his head sadly. He and Barrett led the sick man into the hut again. Valdosto did not protest as the medic gave him the sedative. His weary mind, rebelling entirely against the monstrous concept that he had been exiled to the inconceivably remote past, welcomed sleep.
When they went out Barrett saw Hahn holding the trilobite on his palm and staring at it in wonder. Hahn offered it to him, but Barrett brushed it away.
“Keep it if you like,” he said. “There are more where I got that one.”
They went on. They found Ned Altman beside his hut, crouching on his knees and patting his hands over the crude, lopsided form of what, from its exaggerated breasts and hips, appeared to be the image of a woman. He stood up when they appeared. Altman was a neat little man with yellow hair and nearly invisible white eyebrows. Unlike anyone else in the Station, he had actually been a government man once, fifteen years ago, before seeing through the myth of syndicalist capitalism and joining one of the underground factions. Eight years at Hawksbill Station had done things to him.
Altman pointed to his golem and said, “I hoped there’d be lightning in the rain today. That’ll do it, you know. But there isn’t much lightning this time of year. She’ll get up alive, and then I’ll need you, Doc, to give her shots and trim away some of the tough places.”
Quesada forced a smile. “I’ll be glad to do it, Ned. But you know the terms.”
“Sure. When I’m through with her, you get her. You think I’m a goddamn monopolist? I’ll share her. There’ll be a waiting list. Just so you don’t forget who made her, though. She’ll remain mine, whenever I need her.” He noticed Hahn. “Who are you?”
“He’s new,” Barrett said. “Lew Hahn. He came this afternoon.”
“Ned Altman,” said Altman with a courtly bow. “Formerly in government service. You’re pretty young, aren’t you? How’s your sex orientation? Hetero?”
Hahn winced. “I’m afraid so.”
“It’s okay. I wouldn’t touch you. I’ve got a project going here. But I just want you to know, I’ll put you on my list. You’re young and you’ve probably got stronger needs than some of us. I won’t forget about you, even though you’re new here.”
Quesada coughed. “You ought to get some rest now, Ned. Maybe there’ll be lightning tomorrow.”
Altman did not resist. The doctor took him inside and put him to bed while Hahn and Barrett surveyed the man’s handiwork. Hahn pointed toward the figure’s middle.
“He’s left out something essential,” he said. “If he’s planning to make love to this girl after he’s finished creating her, he’d better—”
“It was there yesterday,” said Barrett. “He must be changing orientation again.” Quesada emerged from the hut. They went on, down the rocky path.
Barrett did not make the complete circuit that night. Ordinarily, he would have gone all the way down to Latimer’s hut overlooking the sea, for Latimer was on his list of sick ones. But Barrett had visited Latimer once that day, and he didn’t think his aching good leg was up to another hike that far. So after he and Quesada and Hahn had been to all of the easily accessible huts, and visited the man who prayed for alien beings to rescue him and the man who was trying to break into a parallel universe where everything was as it ought to be in the world and the man who lay on his cot sobbing for all his wakeful hours, Barrett said good night to his companions and allowed Quesada to escort Hahn back to his hut without him.
Alter observing Hahn for half a day, Barrett realized he did not know much more about him than when he had first dropped onto the Anvil. That was odd. But maybe Hahn would open up a little more after he’d been here a while. Barrett stared up at the salmon moon, and reached into his pocket to finger the little trilobite before he remembered that he had given it to Hahn. He shuffled into his hut. He wondered how long ago Hahn had taken that lunar honeymoon trip.
Rudiger’s catch was spread out in front of the main building the next morning when Barrett came up for breakfast. He had had a good night’s fishing, obviously. He usually did. Rudiger went out three or four nights a week, in the little dinghy that he had cobbled together a few years ago from salvaged materials, and he took with him a team of friends whom he had trained in the deft use of the trawling nets.
It was an irony that Rudiger, the anarchist, the man who believed in individualism and the abolition of all political institutions, should be so good at leading a team of fishermen. Rudiger didn’t care for teamwork in the abstract. But it was hard to manipulate the nets alone, he had discovered. Hawksbill Station had many little ironies of that sort. Political theorists tend to swallow their theories when forced back on pragmatic measures of survival.
The prize of the catch was a cephalopod about a dozen feet long—a rigid conical tube out of which some limp squidlike tentacles dangled. Plenty of meat on that one, Barrett thought. Dozens of trilobites were arrayed around it, ranging in size from the inch-long kind to the three-footers with their baroquely involuted exo-skeletons. Rudiger fished both for food and for science; evidently these trilobites were discards— species that he already had studied, or he wouldn’t have left them here to go into the food hoppers. His hut was stacked ceiling-high with trilobites. It kept him sane to collect and analyze them, and no one begrudged him his hobby.
Near the heap of trilobites were some clusters of hinged brachiopods, looking like scallops that had gone awry, and a pile of snails. The warm, shallow waters just off the coastal shelf teemed with life, in striking contrast to the barren land. Rudiger had also brought in a mound of shiny black seaweed. Barrett hoped someone would gather all this stuff up and get it into their heat-sink cooler before it spoiled. The bacteria of decay worked a lot slower here than they did Up Front, but a few hours in the mild air would do Rudiger’s haul no good.
Today Barrett planned to recruit some men for the annual Inland Sea expedition. Traditionally, he led that trek himself, but his injury made it impossible for him even to consider going any more. Each year, a dozen or so able-bodied men went out on a wide-ranging reconnaissance that took them in a big circle, looping northwestward until they reached the sea, then coming around to the south and back to the Station. One purpose of the trip was to gather any temporal garbage that might have materialized in the vicinity of the Station during the past year. There was no way of knowing how wide a margin of error had been allowed during the early attempts to set up the Station, and the scattershot technique of hurling material into the past had been pretty unreliable. New stuff was turning up all the time that had been aimed for Minus One Billion, Two Thousand Oh Five A.D., but which didn’t get there until a few decades later. Hawksbill Station needed all the spare equipment it could get, and Barrett didn’t miss a chance to round up any of the debris.
There was another reason for the Inland Sea expeditions, though. They served as a focus for the year, an annual ritual, something to peg a custom to. It was a rite of spring here. The dozen strongest men, going on foot to the distant rock-rimmed shores of the tepid sea that drowned the middle of North America, were performing the closest thing Hawksbill Station had to a religious function, although they did nothing more mystical when they reached the Inland Sea than to net a few trilobites and eat them. The trip meant more to Barrett himself than he had even suspected, also. He realized that now, when he was unable to go. He had led every such expedition for twenty years.
But last year he had gone scrabbling over boulders loosened by the tireless action of the waves, venturing into risky territory for no rational reason that he could name, and his aging muscles had betrayed him. Often at night he woke sweating to escape from the dream in which he relived that ugly moment: slipping and sliding, clawing at the rocks, a mass of stone dislodged from somewhere and crashing down with improbably agonizing impact on his foot, pinning him, crushing him. He could not forget the sound of grinding bones. Nor was he likely to lose the memory of the homeward march, across hundreds of miles of bare rock, his bulky body slung between the bowed forms of his companions. He thought he would lose the foot, but Quesada had spared gun him from the amputation. He simply could not touch the foot to the ground and put weight on it now, or ever again. It might have been simpler to have the dead appendage sliced off. Quesada vetoed that, though. “Who knows,” he had said, “some day they might send us a transplant kit. I can’t` rebuild a leg that’s been amputated.” So Barrett had kept his crushed foot. But he had never been quite the same since, and now someone else would have to lead the march.
Who would it be, he asked himself?
Quesada was the likeliest. Next to Barrett, he was the strongest man here, in all the ways that it was important to be strong. But Quesada couldn’t be spared at the Station. It might be handy to have a medic along on the trip, but it was vital to have one here. After some reflection Barrett put down Charley Norton as the leader. He added Ken Belardi—someone for Norton to talk to. Rudiger? A tower of strength last year after Barrett had been injured; Barrett didn’t particularly want to let Rudiger leave the Station so long; he needed able men for the expedition, true, but he didn’t want to strip the home base down to invalids, crackpots, and psychotics. Rudiger stayed. Two of his fellow fishermen went on the list. So did Sid Hutchett and Arny Jean-Claude.
Barrett thought about putting Don Latimer in the group. Latimer was coming to be something of a borderline mental case, but he was rational enough except when he lapsed into his psionic meditations, and he’d pull his own weight on the expedition. On the other hand, Latimer was Lew Hahn’s roommate, and Barrett wanted Latimer around to observe Hahn at close range. He toyed with the idea of sending both of them out, but nixed it. Hahn was still an unknown quantity. It was too risky to let him go with the Inland Sea party this year. Probably he’d be in next spring’s group, though.
Finally Barrett had his dozen men chosen. He chalked their names on the slate in front of the mess hall, and found Charley Norton at breakfast to tell him he was in charge.
It felt strange to know that he’d have to stay home while the others went. It was an admission that he was beginning to abdicate after running this place so long. A crippled old man was what he was, whether he liked to admit it to himself or not, and that was something he’d have to come to terms with soon.
In the afternoon, the men of the Inland Sea expedition gathered to select their gear and plan their route. Barrett kept away from the meeting. This was Charley Norton’s show, now. He’d made eight or ten trips, and he knew what to do. Barrett didn’t want to interfere.
But some masochistic compulsion in him drove him to take a trek of his own. If he couldn’t see the western waters this year, the least he could do was pay a visit to the Atlantic, in his own back yard. Barrett stopped off in the infirmary and, finding Quesada elsewhere, helped himself to a tube of neural depressant. He scrambled along the eastern trail until he was a few hundred yards from the main building, dropped his trousers, and quickly gave each thigh a jolt of the drug, first the good leg, then the gimpy one. That would numb the muscles just enough so that he’d be able to take an extended hike without feeling the fire of fatigue in his protesting joints. He’d pay for it, he knew, eight hours from now, when the depressant wore off and the full impact of his exertion hit him like a million daggers. But he was willing to accept that price.
The road to the sea was a long, lonely one. Hawksbill Station was perched on the eastern rim of Appalachia, more than eight hundred feet above sea level. During the first half dozen years, the men of the Station had reached the ocean by a suicidal route across sheer rock faces, but Barrett had incited a ten-year project to carve a path. Now wide steps descended to the Atlantic. Chopping them out of the rock had kept a lot of men busy for a long time, too busy to worry or to slip into insanity. Barrett regretted that he couldn’t conceive some comparable works project to occupy them nowadays.
The steps formed a succession of shallow platforms that switchbacked to the edge of the water. Even for a healthy man it was a strenuous walk. For Barrett in his present condition it was an ordeal. It took him two hours to descend a distance that normally could be traversed in a quarter of that time. When he reached the bottom, he sank down exhaustedly on a flat rock licked by the waves, and dropped his crutch. The fingers of his left hand were cramped and gnarled from gripping the crutch, and his entire body was bathed in sweat.
The water looked gray and somehow oily. Barrett could not explain the prevailing colorlessness of the Late Cambrian world, with its somber sky and somber land and somber sea, but his heart quietly ached for a glimpse of green vegetation again. He missed chlorophyll. The dark wavelets lapped against his rock, pushing a mass of floating black seaweed back and forth. The sea stretched to infinity. He didn’t have the faintest idea how much of Europe, if any, was above water in this epoch. At the best of times most of the planet was submerged; here, only a few hundred million years after the white-hot rocks of the land had pushed into view, it was likely that all that was above water on Earth was a strip of territory here and there. Had the Himalayas been born yet? The Rockies? The Andes? He knew the approximate outlines of Late Cambrian North America, but the rest was a mystery. Blanks in knowledge were not easy to fill when the only link with Up Front was by one-way transport; Hawksbill Station had to rely on the random assortment of reading matter that came back in time, and it was furiously frustrating to lack information that any college geology text could supply.
As he watched, a big trilobite unexpectedly came scuttering up out of the water. It was the spike-tailed kind, about a yard long, with an eggplant-purple shell and a bristling arrangement of slender spines along the margins. There seemed to be a lot of legs underneath. The trilobite crawled up on the shore—no sand, no beach, just a shelf of rock—and advanced until it was eight or ten feet from the waves.
Good for you, Barrett thought. Maybe you’re the first one who ever came out on land to see what it was like. The pioneer. The trailblazer.
It occurred to him that this adventurous trilobite might well be the ancestor of all the land-dwelling creatures of the eons to come. It was biological nonsense, but Barrett’s weary mind conjured a picture of an evolutionary procession, with fish and amphibians and reptiles and mammals and man all stemming in unbroken sequence from this grotesque armored thing that moved in uncertain circles near his feet.
And if I were to step on you, he thought?
A quick motion—the sound of crunching chitin—the wild scrabbling of a host of little legs—
And the whole chain of life snapped in its first link. Evolution undone. No land creatures ever developed. With the descent of that heavy foot all the future would change and there would never have been any Hawksbill Station, no human race, no James Edward Barrett. In an instant he would have both revenge on those who had condemned him to live out his days in this place, and release from his sentence.
He did nothing. The trilobite completed its slow perambulation of the shoreline rocks and scattered back into the sea unharmed.
The soft voice of Don Latimer said, “I saw you sitting down here, Jim. Do you mind if I join you?”
Barrett swung around, momentarily surprised. Latimer had come down from his hilltop but so quietly that Barrett hadn’t heard a thing. He recovered and grinned and beckoned Latimer to an adjoining rock.
“You fishing?” Latimer asked.
“Just sitting. An old man sunning himself.”
“You took a hike like that just to sun yourself?” Latimer laughed. “Come off it. You’re trying to get away from it all, and you probably wish I hadn’t disturbed you.”
“That’s not so. Stay here. How’s your new roommate getting along?”
“It’s been strange,” said Latimer. “That’s one reason I came down here to talk to you.” He leaned forward and peered searchingly into Barrett’s eyes. “Jim, tell me: do you think I’m a madman?”
“Why should I?”
“The ESP-ing business. My attempt to break through to another realm of consciousness. I know you’re tough-minded and skeptical. You probably think it’s all a lot of nonsense.”
Barrett shrugged and said, “If you want the blunt truth, I do. I don’t have the remotest belief that you’re going to get us anywhere, Don. I think it’s a complete waste of time and energy for you to sit there for hours harnessing your psionic powers, or whatever it is you do. But no, I don’t think you’re crazy. I think you’re entitled to your obsession and that you’re going about a basically futile thing in a reasonably level-headed way. Fair enough?”
“More than fair. I don’t ask you to put any credence in my research, but I don’t want you to think I’m a total lunatic for trying it. It’s important that you regard me as sane, or else what I want to tell you about Hahn won’ t be valid to you.”
“I don’t see the connection.”
“It’s this,” said Latimer. “On the basis of one evening’s acquaintance, I’ve formed an opinion about Hahn. It’s the kind of an opinion that might be formed by a garden-variety paranoid, and if you think I’m nuts you’re likely to discount my idea about Hahn.”
“I don’t think you’re nuts. What’s your idea?”
“That he’s spying on us.”
Barrett had to work hard to keep from emitting the guffaw that would shatter Latimer’s fragile self-esteem. “Spying?” he said casually. “You can’t mean that. How can anyone spy here? I mean, how can he report his findings?”
“I don’t know,” Latimer said. “But he asked me a million questions last night. About you, about Quesada, about some of the sick men. He wanted to know everything.”
“The normal curiosity of a new man.”
“Jim, he was taking notes. I saw him after he thought I was asleep. He sat up for two hours writing it all down in a little book.”
Barrett frowned. “Maybe he’s going to write a novel about us.”
“I’m serious,” Latimer said. “Questions—-notes. And he’s shifty. Try to get him to talk about himself!”
“I did. I didn’t learn much.”
“Do you know why he’s been sent here?”
“Neither do I,” said Latimer. “Political crimes, he said, but he was vague as hell. He hardly seemed to know what the present government was up to, let alone what his own opinions were toward it. I don’t detect any passionate philosophical convictions in Mr. Hahn. And you know as well as I do that Hawksbill Station is the refuse heap for revolutionaries and agitators and subversives and all sorts of similar trash, but that we’ve never had any other kind of prisoner here.”
“I agree that Hahn’s a puzzle. But who could he be spying for? He’s got no way to file a report, if he’s a government agent. He’s stranded here for keeps, same as the rest of us.”
“Maybe he was sent to keep an eye on us—to make sure we aren’t cooking up some way to escape. Maybe he’s a volunteer who willingly gave up his twenty-first-century life so he could come among us and thwart anything we might be hatching. Perhaps they’re afraid we’ve invented forward time travel. Or that we’ve become a threat to the sequence of the time-lines. Anything. So Hahn comes among us to snoop around and block any dangers before they arrive.”
Barrett felt a twinge of alarm. He saw how close to paranoia Latimer was hewing, now: in half a dozen sentences he had journeyed from the rational expression of some justifiable suspicions to the fretful fear that the men from Up Front were going to take steps to choke off the escape route that he was so close to perfecting.
He kept his voice level as he told Latimer, “I don’t think you need to worry, Don. Hahn’s an odd one, but he’s not here to make trouble for us. The fellows Up Front have already made all the trouble they ever will.”
“Would you keep an eye on him, anyway?”
“You know I will. And don’t hesitate to let me know if Hahn does anything else out of the ordinary. You’re in a better spot to notice than anyone else.”
“I’ll be watching,” Latimer said. “We can’t tolerate any spies from Up Front among us.” he got to his feet and gave Barrett a pleasant smile. “I’ll let you get back to your sunning now, Jim.”
Latimer went up the path. Barrett eyed him until he was close to the top, only a faint dot against the stony backdrop. After a long while Barrett seized his crutch and levered himself to his feet. He stood staring down at the surf, dipping the tip of his crutch into the water to send a couple of little crawling things scurrying away. At length he turned and began the long, slow climb back to the Station.
A couple of days passed before Barrett had the chance to draw Lew Hahn aside for a spot of political discussion. The Inland Sea party had set out, and in a way that was too bad, for Barrett could have used Charley Norton’s services in penetrating Hahn’s armor. Norton was the most gifted theorist around, a man who could weave a tissue of dialectic from the least promising material. If anyone could find out the depth of Hahn’s Marxist commitment, if any, it was Norton. But Norton was leading the expedition, so Barrett had to do the interrogating him- self. His Marxism was a trifle rusty, and he couldn’t thread his path through the Leninist, Stalinist, Trotskyite, Khrushchevist, Maoist, Berenkovskyite and Mgumbweist schools with Charley Norton’s skills. Yet he knew what questions to ask.
He picked a rainy evening when Hahn seemed to be in a fairly outgoing mood. There had been an hour’s entertainment that night, an ingenious computer-composed film that Sid Hutchett had programmed last week. Up Front had been kind enough to ship back a modest computer, and Hutchett had rigged it to do animations by specifying line widths and lengths, shades of gray, and progression of raster units. It was a simple but remarkably clever business, and it brightened a dull night.
Afterward, sensing that Hahn was relaxed enough to lower his guard a bit, Barrett said, “Hutchett’s a rare one. Did you meet him before he went on the trip?”
“Tall fellow with a sharp nose and no chin?”
“That’s the one. A clever boy. He was the top computer man for the Continental Liberation Front until they caught him in ’19. He programmed that fake broadcast in which Chancellor Dantell denounced his own regime. Remember?”
“I’m not sure I do.” Hahn frowned. “How long ago was this?”
“The broadcast was in 2018. Would that be before your time? Only eleven years ago—”
“I was nineteen then,” said Hahn. “I guess I wasn’t very politically sophisticated.”
“Too busy studying economics, I guess.”
Hahn grinned. “That’s right. Deep in the dismal science.”
“And you never heard that broadcast? Or even heard of it?”
“I must have forgotten.”
“The biggest hoax of the century,” Barrett said, “and you forgot it. You know the Continental Liberation Front, of course.”
“Of course.” Hahn looked uneasy.
“Which group did you say you were with?”
“The People’s Crusade for Liberty.”
“I don’t know it. One of the newer groups?”
“Less than five years old. It started in California.”
“What’s its program?”
“Oh, the usual,” Hahn said. “Free elections, representative government, an opening of the security files, restoration of civil liberties.”
“And the economic orientation? Pure Marxist or one of the offshoots?”
“Not really any, I guess. We believed in a kind of—well, capitalism with some government restraints.”
“A little to the right of state socialism, and a little to the left of laissez faire?” Barrett suggested.
“Something like that.”
“But that system was tried and failed, wasn’t it? It had its day. It led inevitably to total socialism, which produced the compensating backlash of syndicalist capitalism, and then we got a government that pretended to be libertarian while actually stifling all individual liberties in the name of freedom. So if your group simply wanted to turn the clock back to 1955, say, there couldn’t be much to its ideas.”
Hahn looked bored. “You’ve got to understand I wasn’t in the top ideological councils.”
“Just an economist?”
“That’s it. I drew up plans for the conversion to our system.”
“Basing your work on the modified liberalism of Ricardo?”
“Well, in a sense.”
“And avoiding the tendency to fascism that was found in the thinking of Keynes?”
“You could say so,” Hahn said. He stood up, flashing a quick, vague smile. “Look, Jim, I’d love to argue this further with you some other time, but I’ve really got to go now. Ned Altman talked me into coming around and helping him do a lightning-dance to bring that pile of dirt to life. So if you don’t mind—”
Hahn beat a hasty retreat.
Barrett was more perplexed then ever, now. Hahn hadn’t been “arguing” anything. He had been carrying on a lame and feeble conversation, letting himself be pushed hither and thither by Barrett’s questions. And he had spouted a lot of nonsense. He didn’t seem to know Keynes from Ricardo, nor to care about it, which was odd for a self-professed economist. He didn’t have a shred of an idea of what his own political party stood for. He had so little revolutionary background that he was unaware even of Hutchett’ s astonishing hoax of eleven years back.
He seemed phony from top to bottom.
How was it possible that this kid had been deemed worthy of exile to Hawksbill Station, anyhow? Only the top firebrands went there. Sentencing a man to Hawksbill was like sentencing him to death, and it wasn’t done lightly. Barrett couldn’t imagine why Hahn was here. He seemed genuinely distressed at being exiled, and evidently he had left a beloved young wife behind, but nothing else rang true about the man.
Was he as Latimer suggested—some kind of spy?
Barrett rejected the idea out of hand. He didn’t want Latimer’s paranoia infecting him. The government wasn’t likely to send anyone on a one-way trip to the Late Cambrian just to spy on a bunch of aging revolutionaries who could never make trouble again. But what was Hahn doing here, then?
He would bear further watching, Barrett thought.
Barrett took care of some of the watching himself. But he had plenty of assistance. Latimer. Altman. Six or seven others. Latimer had recruited most of the ambulatory psycho cases, the ones who were superficially functional but full of all kinds of fears and credulities.
They were keeping an eye on the new man.
On the fifth day after his arrival, Hahn went out fishing in Rudiger’s crew. Barrett stood for a long time on the edge of the world, watching the little boat bobbing in the surging Atlantic. Rudiger never went far from shore—eight hundred, a thousand yards out—but the water was rough even there. The waves came rolling in with X thousand miles of gathered impact behind them. A continental shelf sloped off at a wide angle, so that even at a substantial distance off shore the water wasn’t very deep. Rudiger had taken soundings up to a mile out, and had reported depths no greater than 160 feet. Nobody had gone past a mile.
It wasn’t that they were afraid of falling off the side of the world if they went too far east. It was simply that a mile was a long distance to row in an open boat, using stubby oars made from old packing cases. Up Front hadn’t thought to spare an outboard motor for them.
Looking toward the horizon, Barrett had an odd thought. He had been told that the women’s equivalent of Hawksbill Station was safely segregated out of reach, a couple of hundred million years up the time-line. But how did he know that? There could be another Station somewhere else in this very year, and they’d never know about it. A camp of women, say, living on the far side of the ocean, or even across the Inland Sea.
It wasn’t very likely, he knew. With the entire past to pick from, the edgy men Up Front wouldn’t take any chance that the two groups of exiles might get together and spawn a tribe of little subversives. They’d take every precaution to put an impenetrable barrier of epochs between them. Yet Barrett thought he could make it sound convincing to the other men. With a little effort he could get them to believe in the existence of several simultaneous Hawksbill Stations scattered on this level of time.
Which could be our salvation, he thought.
The instances of degenerative psychosis were beginning to snowball, now. Too many men had been here too long, and one crackup was starting to feed the next, in this blank lifeless world where humans were never meant to live. The men needed projects to keep them going. They were starting to slip off into harebrained projects, like Altman’s Frankenstein girlfriend and Latimer’s psi pursuit.
Suppose, Barrett thought, I could get them steamed up about reaching the other continents?
A round-the-world expedition. Maybe they could build some kind of big ship. That would keep a lot of men busy for a long time. And they’d need navigational equipment—compasses, sextants, chronometers, whatnot. Somebody would have to design an improvised radio, too. It was the kind of project that might take thirty or forty years. A focus for our energies, Barrett thought. Of course, I won’t live to see the ship set sail. But even so, it’s a way of staving off collapse. We’ve built our staircase to the sea. Now we need something bigger to do. Idle hands make for idle minds…sick minds….
He liked the idea he had hatched. For several weeks, now, Barrett had been worrying about the deteriorating state of affairs in the Station, and looking for some way to cope with it. Now he thought he had his way.
Turning, he saw Latimer and Altman standing behind him.
“How long have you been there?” he asked.
“Two minutes,” said Latimer. “We brought you something to look at.”
Altman nodded vigorously. “You ought to read it. We brought it for you to read.”
“What is it?”
Latimer handed over a folded sheaf of papers. “I found this tucked away in Hahn’s bunk after he went out with Rudiger. I know I’m not supposed to be invading his privacy, but I had to have a look at what he’s been writing. There it is. He’s a spy, all right.”
Barrett glanced at the papers in his hand. “I’ll read it a little later. What is it about?”
“It’s a description of the Station, and a profile of most of the men in it,” said Latimer. He smiled frostily. “Hahn’s private opinion of me is that I’ve gone mad. His private opinion of you is a little more flattering, but not much.”
Altman said, “He’s also been hanging around the Hammer.”
“I saw him going there late last night. He went into the building. I followed him. He was looking at the Hammer.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that right away?” Barrett snapped.
“I wasn’t sure it was important,” Altman said. “I had to talk it over with Don first. And I couldn’t do that until Hahn had gone out fishing.”
Sweat burst out on Barrett’s face. “Listen, Ned, if you ever catch Hahn going near the time-travel equipment again, you let me know in a hurry. Without consulting Don or anyone else. Clear?”
“Clear,” said Altman. He giggled. “You know what I think? They’ve decided to exterminate us Up Front. Hahn’s been sent here to check us out as a suicide volunteer. Then they’re going to send a bomb through the Hammer and blow the Station up. We ought to wreck the Hammer and Anvil before they get a chance.”
“But why would they send a suicide volunteer?” Latimer asked. “Unless they’ve got some way to rescue their spy—”
“In any case we shouldn’t take any chance,” Altman argued. “Wreck the Hammer. Make it impossible for them to bomb us from Up Front.”
“That might be a good idea. But—”
“Shut up, both of you,” Barrett growled. “Let me look at these papers.”
He walked a few steps away from them and sat down on a shelf of rock. He unfolded the sheaf. He began to read.
Hahn had a cramped, crabbed handwriting that packed a maximum of information into a minimum of space, as though he regarded it as a mortal sin to waste paper. Fair enough; paper was a scarce commodity here, and evidently Hahn had brought these sheets with him from Up Front. His script was clear, though. So were his opinions. Painfully so.
He had written an analysis of conditions at Hawksbill Station, setting forth in about five thousand words everything that Barrett knew was going sour here. He had neatly ticked off the men as aging revolutionaries in whom the old fervor had turned rancid; he listed the ones who were certifiably psycho, and the ones who were on the edge, and the ones who were hanging on, like Quesada and Norton and Rudiger. Barrett was interested to see that Hahn rated even those three as suffering from severe strain and likely to fly apart at any moment. To him, Quesada and Norton and Rudiger seemed just about as stable as when they had first dropped onto the Anvil of Hawksbill Station; but there was possibly the distorting effect of his own blurred perceptions. To an outsider like Hahn, the view was different and perhaps more accurate.
Barrett forced himself not to skip ahead to Hahn’s evaluation of him.
He wasn’t pleased when he came to it. “Barrett,” Hahn had written, “is like a mighty beam that’s been gnawed from within by termites. He looks solid, but one good push would break him apart. A recent injury to his foot has evidently had a bad effect on him. The other men say he used to be physically vigorous and derived much of his authority from his size and strength. Now he can hardly walk. But I feel the trouble with Barrett is inherent in the life of Hawksbill Station, and doesn’t have much to do with his lameness. He’s been cut off from normal human drives for too long. The exercise of power here has provided the illusion of stability for him, but it’s power in a vacuum, and things have happened within Barrett of which he’s totally unaware. He’s in bad need of therapy. He may be beyond help.”
Barrett read that several times. Gnawed from within by termites…one good push…things have happened within him…bad need of therapy… beyond help.
He was less angered than he thought he should have been. Hahn was entitled to his views. Barrett finally stopped rereading his profile and pushed his way to the last page of Hahn’s essay. It ended with the words, “Therefore I recommend prompt termination of the Hawksbill Station penal colony, and, where possible, the therapeutic rehabilitation of its inmates.”
What the hell was this?
It sounded like the report of a parole commissioner! But there was no parole from Hawksbill Station. That final sentence let all the viability of what had gone before bleed away. Hahn was pretending to be composing a report to the government Up Front, obviously. But a wall a billion years thick made filing of that report impossible. So Hahn was suffering from delusions, just like Altman and Valdosto and the others. In his fevered mind he believed he could send messages Up Front, pompous documents delineating the flaws and foibles of his fellow prisoners.
That raised a chilling prospect. Hahn might be crazy, but he hadn’t been in the Station long enough to have gone crazy here. He must have brought his insanity with him.
What if they had stopped using Hawksbill Station as a camp for political prisoners, Barrett asked himself, and were starting to use it as an insane asylum?
A cascade of psychos descending on them. Men who had gone honorably buggy under the stress of confinement would have to make room for ordinary bedlamites. Barrett shivered. He folded up Hahn’s papers and handed them to Latimer, who was sitting a few yards away, watching him intently.
“What did you think of that?” Latimer asked.
“I think it’s hard to evaluate. But possibly friend Hahn is emotionally disturbed. Put this stuff back exactly where you got it, Don. And don’t give Hahn the faintest inkling that you’ve read or removed it.”
“And come to me whenever you think there’s something I ought to know about him,” Barrett said. “He may be a very sick boy. He may need all the help we can give.”
The fishing expedition returned in early afternoon. Barrett saw that the dinghy was overflowing with the haul, and Hahn, coming into the camp with his arms full of gaffed trilobites, looked sunburned and pleased with his outing. Barrett came over to inspect the catch. Rudiger was in an effusive mood, and held up a bright red crustacean that might have been the great-great-grandfather of all boiled lobsters, except that it had no front claws and a wicked-looking triple spike where a tail should have been. It was about two feet long, and ugly.
“A new species!” Rudiger crowed. “There’s nothing like this in any museum. I wish I could put it where it would be found. Some mountaintop, maybe.”
“If it could be found, it would have been found,” Barrett reminded him. “Some paleontologist of the twentieth century would have dug it out. So forget it, Mel.”
Hahn said, “I’ve been wondering about that point. How is it nobody Up Front ever dug up the fossil remains of Hawksbill Station? Aren’t they worried that one of the early fossil hunters will find it in the Cambrian strata and raise a fuss?”
Barrett shook his head. “For one thing, no paleontologist from the beginning of the science to the founding of the Station in 2005 ever did dig up Hawksbill. That’s a matter of record, so there was nothing to worry about. If it came to light after 2005, why, everyone would know what it was. No paradox there.”
“Besides,” said Rudiger sadly, “in another billion years this whole strip of rock will be on the floor of the Atlantic, with a couple of miles of sediment over it. There’s not a chance we’ll be found. Or that anyone Up Front will ever see this guy I caught today. Not that I give a damn. I’ve seen him. I’ll dissect him. Their loss.”
“But you regret the fact that science will never know of this species,” Hahn said.
“Sure I do. But is it my fault? Science does know of this species. Me. I’m science. I’m the leading paleontologist of this epoch. Can I help it if I can’t publish my discoveries in the professional journals?” He scowled and walked away, carrying the big red crustacean.
Hahn and Barrett looked at each other. They smiled, in a natural mutual response to Rudiger’s grumbled outburst. Then Barrett’s smile faded.
…termites…one good push…therapy…
“Something wrong?” Hahn asked.
“You looked so bleak, all of a sudden.”
“My foot gave me a twinge,” Barrett said. “It does that, you know. Here. I’ll give you a hand carrying those things. We’ll have fresh trilobite cocktail tonight.”
A little before midnight, Barrett was awakened by footsteps outside his hut. As he sat up, groping for the luminescence switch, Ned Altman came blundering through the door. Barrett blinked at him. “What’s the matter?”
“Hahn!” Altman rasped. “He’s fooling around with the Hammer again. We just saw him go into the building.”
Barrett shed his sleepiness like a seal bursting out of water. Ignoring the insistent throb in his left leg, he pulled himself from his bed and grabbed some clothing. He was more apprehensive than he wanted Altman to see. If Hahn, fooling around with the temporal mechanism, accidentally smashed the Hammer, they might never get replacement equipment from Up Front. Which would mean that all future shipments of supplies—if there were any—would come as random shoots that might land in any old year. What business did Hahn have with the machine, anyway?
Altman said, “Latimer’s up there keeping an eye on him. He got suspicious when Hahn didn’t come back to the hut, and he got me, and we went looking for him. And there he was, sniffing around the Hammer.”
“I don’t know. As soon as we saw him go in, I came down here to get you. Don’s watching.”
Barrett stumped his way out of the hut and did his best to run toward the main building. Pain shot like trails of hot acid up the lower half of his body. The crutch dug mercilessly into his left armpit as he leaned all his weight into it. His crippled foot, swinging freely, burned with a cold glow. His right leg, which was carrying most of the burden, creaked and popped. Altman ran breathlessly alongside him. The Station was terribly silent at this hour.
As they passed Quesada’s hut, Barrett considered waking the medic and taking him along. He decided against it. Whatever trouble Hahn might be up to, Barrett felt he could handle it himself. There was some strength left in the old gnawed beam, after all.
Latimer stood at the entrance to the main dome. He was right at the edge of panic, or perhaps over the edge. He seemed to be gibbering with fear and shock. Barrett had never seen a man gibber before.
He clamped a big paw on Latimer’s thin shoulder and said harshly, “Where is he? Where’s Hahn?”
“What do you mean? Where did he go?”
Latimer moaned. His face was fish-belly white. “He got onto the Anvil,” Latimer blurted. “The light came on—the glow. And then Hahn disappeared!”
“No,” Barrett said. “It isn’t possible. You must be mistaken.”
“I saw him go!”
“He’s hiding somewhere in the building,” Barrett insisted. “Close that door! Search for him!”
Altman said, “He probably did disappear, Jim. If Don says he disappeared—”
“He climbed right on the Anvil. Then everything turned red and he was gone.”
Barrett clenched his fists. There was a white-hot blaze just behind his forehead that almost made him forget about his foot. He saw his mistake, now. He had depended for his espionage on two men who were patently and unmistakably insane, and that had been itself a not very sane thing to do. A man is known by his choice of lieutenants. Well, he had relied on Altman and Latimer, and now they were giving him the sort of information that such spies could be counted on to supply.
“You’re hallucinating,” he told Latimer curtly. “Ned, go wake Quesada and get him here right away. You, Don, you stand here by the entrance, and if Hahn shows up I want you to scream at the top of your lungs. I’m going to search the building for him.”
“Wait,” Latimer said. He seemed to be in control of himself again. “Jim, do you remember when I asked you if you thought I was crazy? You said you didn’t. You trusted me. Well, don’t stop trusting me now. I tell you I’m not hallucinating. I saw Hahn disappear. I can’t explain it, but I’m rational enough to know what I saw.”
In a milder tone Barrett said, “All right. Maybe so. Stay by the door, anyway. I’ll run a quick check.”
He started to make the circuit of the dome, beginning with the room where the Hammer was located. Everything seemed to be in order there. No Hawksbill Field glow was in evidence, and nothing had been disturbed. The room had no closets or cupboards in which Hahn could be hiding. When he had inspected it thoroughly, Barrett moved on, looking into the infirmary, the mess hall, the kitchen, the recreation room. He looked high and low. No Hahn. Of course, there were plenty of places in those rooms where Hahn might have secreted himself, but Barrett doubted that he was there. So it had all been some feverish fantasy of Latimer’s, then. He completed the route and found himself back at the main entrance. Latimer still stood guard there. He had been joined by a sleepy Quesada. Altman, pale and shaky-looking, was just outside the door.
“What’s happening?” Quesada asked.
“I’m not sure,” said Barrett. “Don and Ned had the idea they saw Lew Hahn fooling around with the time equipment. I’ve checked the building, and he’s not here, so maybe they made a little mistake. I suggest you take them both into the infirmary and give them a shot of something to settle their nerves, and we’ll all try to get back to sleep.”
Latimer said, “I tell you, I saw—”
“Shut up!” Altman broke in. “Listen! What’s the noise?”
Barrett listened. The sound was clear and loud: the hissing whine of ionization. It was the sound produced by a functioning Hawksbill Field. Suddenly there were goose-pimples on his flesh. In a low voice he said, “The field’s on. We’re probably getting some supplies.”
“At this hour?” said Latimer.
“We don’t know what time it is Up Front. All of you stay here. I’ll check the Hammer.”
“Perhaps I ought to go with you,” Quesada suggested mildly.
“Stay here!” Barrett thundered. He paused, embarrassed at his own explosive show of wrath. “It only takes one of us. I’ll be right back.”
Without waiting for further dissent, he pivoted and limped down the hall to the Hammer room. He shouldered. the door open and looked in. There was no need for him to switch on the light. The red glow of the Hawksbill Field illuminated everything.
Barrett stationed himself just within the door. Hardly daring to breathe, he stared fixedly at the Hammer, watching as the glow deepened through various shades of pink toward crimson, and then spread until it enfolded the waiting Anvil beneath it. An endless moment passed.
Then came the implosive thunderclap, and Lew Hahn dropped out of nowhere and lay for a moment in temporal shock on the broad plate of the Anvil.
In the darkness, Hahn did not notice Barrett at first. He sat up slowly, shaking off the stunning effects of a trip through time. After a few seconds he pushed himself toward the lip of the Anvil and let his legs dangle over it. He swung them to get the circulation going. He took a series of deep breaths. Finally he slipped to the floor. The glow of the field had gone out in the moment of his arrival, and so he moved warily, as though not wanting to bump into anything.
Abruptly Barrett switched on the light and said, “What have you been up to, Hahn?”
The younger man recoiled as though he had been jabbed in the gut. He gasped, hopped backward a few steps, and flung up both hands in a defensive gesture.
“Answer me,” Barrett said.
Hahn regained his equilibrium. He shot a quick glance past Barrett’s bulky form toward the hallway and said, “Let me go, will you? I can’t explain now.”
“You’d better explain now.”
“It’ll be easier for everyone if I don’t,” said Hahn. “Please. Let me pass.”
Barrett continued to block the door. “I want to know where you’ve been. What have you been doing with the Hammer?”
“Nothing. Just studying it.”
“You weren’t in this room a minute ago. Then you appeared. Where’d you come from, Hahn?”
“You’re mistaken. I was standing right behind the Hammer. I didn’t—”
“I saw you drop down on the Anvil. You took a time trip, didn’t you?”
“Don’t lie to me! You’ve got some way of going forward in time, isn’t that so? You’ve been spying on us, and you just went somewhere to file your report—somewhere—and now you’re back.”
Hahn’s forehead was glistening. He said, “I warn you, don’t ask too many questions. You’ll know everything in due time. This isn’t the time. Please, now. Let me pass.”
“I want answers first,” Barrett said. He realized that he was trembling. He already knew the answers, and they were answers that shook him to the core of his soul. He knew where Hahn had been.
But Hahn had to admit it himself.
Hahn said nothing. He took a couple of hesitant steps toward Barrett, who did not move. He seemed to be gathering momentum for a rush at the doorway.
Barrett said, “You aren’t getting out of here until you tell me what I want to know.”
Barrett planted himself squarely, crutch braced against the doorframe, his good foot flat on the floor, and waited for the younger man to reach him. He figured he outweighed Hahn by eighty pounds. That might be enough to balance the fact that he was spotting Hahn thirty years and one leg. They came together, and Barrett drove his hands down onto Hahn’s shoulders, trying to hold him, to force him back into the room.
Hahn gave an inch or two. He looked up at Barrett without speaking and pushed forward again.
“Don’t—don’t—” Barrett grunted. “I won’t let you—”
“I don’t want to do this,” Hahn said.
He pushed again. Barrett felt himself buckling under the impact. He dug his hands as hard as he could into Hahn’s shoulders, and tried to shove the other man backward into the room, but Hahn held firm and all of Barrett’s energy was converted into a backward thrust rebounding on himself. He lost control of his crutch, and it slithered out from under his arm. For one agonizing moment Barrett’s full weight rested on the crushed uselessness of his left foot, and then, as though his limbs were melting away beneath him, he began to sink toward the floor. He landed with a reverberating crash.
Quesada, Altman, and Latimer came rushing in. Barrett writhed in pain on the floor. Hahn stood over him, looking unhappy, his hands locked together.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You shouldn’t have tried to muscle me like that.”
Barrett glowered at him. “You were traveling in time, weren’t you? You can answer me now!”
“Yes,” Hahn said at last. “I went Up Front.”
An hour later, after Quesada had pumped him with enough neural depressants to keep him from jumping out of his skin, Barrett got the full story. Hahn hadn’t wanted to reveal it so soon, but he had changed his mind after his little scuffle.
It was all very simple. Time travel now worked in both directions. The glib, impressive noises about the flow of entropy had turned out to be just noises.
“How long has this been known?” Barrett asked.
“At least five years. We aren’t sure yet exactly when the breakthrough came. After we’re finished going through all the suppressed records of the former government—”
“The former government?”
Hahn nodded. “The revolution came in January. Not really a violent one, either. The syndicalists just mildewed from within, and when they got the first push they fell over.”
“Was it mildew?” Barrett asked, coloring. “Or termites? Keep your metaphors straight.”
Hahn glanced away. “Anyway, the government fell. We’ve got a provisional liberal regime in office now. Don’t ask me much about it. I’m not a political theorist. I’m not even an economist. You guessed as much.”
“What are you; then?”
“A policeman,” Hahn said. “Part of the commission that’s investigating the prison system of the former government. Including this prison.”
Barrett looked at Quesada, then at Hahn. Thoughts were streaming turbulently through him, and he could not remember when he had last been so overwhelmed by events. He had to work hard to keep from breaking into the shakes again. His voice quavered a little as he said, “You came back to observe Hawksbill Station, right? And you went Up Front tonight to tell them what you saw here. You think we’re a pretty sad bunch, eh?”
“You’ve all been under heavy stress here,” Hahn said. “Considering the circumstances of your imprisonment—”
Quesada broke in. “If there’s a liberal government in power, now, and it’s possible to travel both ways in time, then am I right in assuming that the Hawksbill prisoners are going to be sent Up Front?”
“Of course,” said Hahn. “It’ll be done as soon as possible. That’s been the whole purpose of my reconnaissance mission. To find out if you people were still alive, first, and then to see what shape you’re in, how badly in need of treatment you are. You’ll be given every available benefit of modern therapy, naturally. No expense spared to—”
Barrett scarcely paid attention to Hahn’s words. He had been fearing something like this all night, ever since Altman had told him Hahn was monkeying with the Hammer, but he had never fully allowed himself to believe that it could really be possible.
He saw his kingdom crumbling, now.
He saw himself returned to a world he could not begin to comprehend—a lame Rip van Winkle, coming back after twenty years.
He saw himself leaving a place that had become his home.
Barrett said tiredly, “You know, some of the men aren’t going to be able to adapt to the shock of freedom. It might just kill them to be dumped into the real world again. I mean advanced psychos—Valdosto, and such.”
“Yes,” Hahn said. “I’ve mentioned them in my report.”
“It’ll be necessary to get them ready for a return in gradual stages. It might take several years to condition them to the idea. It might even take longer than that.”
“I’m no therapist,” said Hahn. “Whatever the doctors think is right for them is what’ll be done. Maybe it will be necessary to keep them here. I can see where it would be pretty potent to send them back, after they’ve spent all these years believing there’s no return.”
“More than that,” said Barrett. “There’s a lot of work that can be done here. Scientific works. Exploration. I don’t think Hawksbill Station ought to be closed down.”
“No one said it would be. We have every intention of keeping it going. But not as a prison. The prison concept is out.”
“Good,” Barrett said. He fumbled for his crutch, found it, and got heavily to his feet. Quesada moved toward him as though to steady him, but Barrett shook him off. “Let’s go outside,” he said.
They left the building. A gray mist had come in over the Station, and a fine drizzle had begun to fall. Barrett looked around at the scattering of huts. At the ocean, dimly visible to the east in the faint moonlight. He thought of Charley Norton and the party that had gone on the annual expedition to the Inland Sea. That bunch was going to be in for a real surprise, when they got back here in a few weeks and discovered that everybody was free to go home.
Very strangely, Barrett felt a sudden pressure forming around his eyelids, as of tears trying to force their way out into the open.
Then he turned to Hahn and Quesada. In a low voice he said, “Have you followed what I’ve been trying to tell you? Someone’s got to stay here and ease the transition for the sick men who won’t be able to stand the shock of return. Someone’s got to keep the base running. Someone’s got to explain things to the new men who’ll be coming back here, the scientists.”
“Naturally,” Hahn said.
“The one who does that—the one who stays behind—I think it ought to be someone who knows the Station well, someone who’s fit to return Up Front, but who’s willing to make the sacrifice and stay. Do you follow me? A volunteer.” They were smiling at him now. Barrett wondered if there might not be something patronizing about those smiles. He wondered if he might not be a little too transparent. To hell with both of them, he thought. He sucked the Cambrian air into his lungs until his chest swelled grandly.
“I’m offering to stay,” Barrett said in a loud tone. He glared at them to keep them from objecting. But they wouldn’t dare object, he knew. In Hawksbill Station, he was the king. And he meant to keep it that way. “I’ll be the volunteer,” he said. “I’ll be the one who stays.”
He looked out over his kingdom from the top of the hill.
About the Author
Robert Silverberg (born January 15, 1935) is an American author and editor, best known for writing science fiction. He is a multiple winner of both Hugo and Nebula Awards, a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, and a Grand Master of SF. He is noted for having attended every Hugo Awards ceremony since the inaugural event in 1953.
About the Narrator
Paul Tevis is an Ennie-award winning podcaster whose shows Have Games, Will Travel and The Voice of the Revolution discuss games, game design, and gamer subculture. He is an active participant in this subculture, and is a recognizable figure at many of its conventions. He has released his own game, A Penny for My Thoughts, in the summer of 2009 through Evil Hat Productions.