Jack Vance – The Ten Books

They were as alone as it is possible for living man to be in the black gulf between the stars.
Far astern shone the suns of the home worlds-ahead the outer stars and galaxies in a fainter ghostly glimmer.
The cabin was quiet. Betty Welstead sat watching her husband at the assay table, her emotions tuned to his. When the centrifuge scale indicated heavy metal and Welstead leaned forward she leaned forward too in unconscious sympathy. When he burnt scrapings
in the spectroscope and read Lead from the brightest pattern and chewed at his lips Betty released her pent-up breath, fell back in her seat.
Ralph Welstead stood up, a man of medium height- rugged, tough-looking-with hair and skin and eyes the same tawny color. He brushed the whole clutter of rock and ore into the
waste chute and Betty followed him with her eyes.
Welstead said sourly, „We’d be millionaires if that asteroid had been inside the Solar system. Out here, unless it’s pure platinum or uranium, it’s not worth mining.“
Betty broached a subject which for two months had been on the top of her mind. „Perhaps we should start to swing back in.“
Welstead frowned, stepped up into the observation dome. Betty watched after him anxiously. She understood very well that the instinct of the explorer as much as the quest for minerals had brought them out so far.
Welstead stepped back down into the cabin. „There’s a star ahead“ – he put a finger into the three-dimensional chart – „this one right here, Eridanus two thousand nine hundred and thirty-two. Let’s make a quick check-and then we’ll head back in.“
Betty nodded, suddenly happy. „Suits me.“ She jumped up, and together they went to the screen. He aimed the catch-all vortex, dialed the hurrying blur to stability and the star pulsed out like a white-hot coin. A single planet made up the entourage.
„Looks about Earth-size,“ said Welstead, interest in his voice, and Betty’s heart sank a trifle. He tuned the circuit finer, turned up the magnification and the planet leapt at them.
„Look at that atmosphere! Thick!“ He swiveled across the jointed arm holding the thermocouple and together they bent over the dial.
„Nineteen degrees Centigrade. About Earth-norm. Let’s look at that atmosphere. You know, dear, we might have something tremendous here! Earth-size, Earth temperature…
„His voice fell off in a mutter as he peered through the spectroscope, flipping screen after screen past the pattern from the planet. He stood up, cast Betty a swift exultant glance, then squinted in sudden reflection. „Better make sure before we get too excited.“
Betty felt no excitement. She watched without words as Welstead thumbed through the catalogue.
„Whee!“ yelled Welstead, suddenly a small boy. „No listing! It’s ours!“ And Betty’s heart melted at the news. Delay, months of delay, while Welstead explored the planet, charted its oceans and continents, classified its life. At the same time, a spark of her husband’s
enthusiasm caught fire in her brain and interest began to edge aside her gloom.
„We’ll name it ‚Welstead,'“ he said. „Or, no – ‚Elizabeth‘ for you. A planet of your own! Some day there’ll be cities and millions of people. And every time they write a letter or throw a shovelful of dirt or a ship lands – they’ll use your name.“
„No, dear,“ she said. „Don’t be ridiculous. We’ll call it ‚Welstead‘-for us both.“
They felt an involuntary pang of disappointment later on when they found the planet already inhabited, and by men.
Yet their reception astonished them as much as the has discovery of the planet and its people. Curiosity, even hostilily might have been expected…
They had been in no hurry to land, preferring to fall in an orbit just above the atmosphere, the better to study the planet and its inhabitants.
It looked to be a cheerful world. There were a thousand kinds of forest, jungle, savannah.
Sunny rivers coursed green fields. A thousand lakes and three oceans glowed blue. To the far north and far south snowfields glittered, dazzled. Such cities as they found – the world seemed sparsely settled-merged indistinguishably with the countryside.
They were wide low cities, very different from the clanging hives of Earth, and lay under the greenery like carvings in alabaster or miraculous snowflakes. Betty, in whose nature ran a strong streak of the romantic, was entranced.
„They look like cities of Paradise – cities in a dream!“
Welstead said reflectively, „They’re evidently not backward. See that cluster of long gray buildings off to the side? Those are factories.“
Betty voiced a doubt which had been gradually forming into words. „Do you think they might resent our landing? If they’ve gone to the trouble of creating a secret – well, call it Utopia – they might not want to be discovered.“
Welstead turned his head, gazed at her eye to eye. „Do you want to land?“ he asked soberly.
„Why, yes – if you do. If you don’t think it’s dangerous.“
„I don’t know whether it’s dangerous or not. A people as enlightened as those cities would seem to indicate would hardly maltreat strangers.“
Betty searched the face of the planet. „I think it would be safe.“
Welstead laughed. „I’m game. We’ve got to die sometime. Why not out here?“
He jumped up to the controls, nosed the ship down.
„We’ll land right in their laps, right in the middle of that big city down there.“
Betty looked at him questioningly.
„No sense sneaking down out in the wilds,“ said Welstead. „If we’re landing we’ll land with a flourish.“
„And if they shoot us for our insolence?“
„Call it Fate.“
They bellied down into a park in the very center of the city. From the observation dome Welstead glimpsed hurrying knots of people.
„Go to the port, Betty. Open it just a crack and show yourself. I’ll stay at the controls. One false move, one dead cat heaved at us, and we’ll be back in space so fast they won’t remember we arrived.“
Thousands of men and women of all ages had surrounded the ship, all shouting, all agitated by strong emotion.
„They’re throwing flowers“ Betty gasped. She opened the port and stood in the doorway and the people below shouted, chanted, wept. Feeling rather ridiculous, Betty waved, smiled.
She turned to look back up at Welstead. „I don’t know what we’ve done to deserve all this but we’re heroes. Maybe they think we’re somebody else.“
Welstead craned his neck through the observation dome, „They look healthy-normal.“
„They’re beautiful,“ said Betty. „All of them.“
The throng opened, a small group of elderly men and women approached. The leader, a white-haired man, tall, lean, with much the same face as Michelangelo’s Jehovah, stood forth.
„Welcome!“ he called resonantly. „Welcome from the people of Haven!“
Betty stared, and Welstead clambered down from the controls: The words were strangely pronounced, the grammar was archaic-but it was the language of Earth.
The white-haired man spoke on, without calculation, as if delivering a speech of great familiarity. „We have waited two hundred and seventy-one years for your coming, for the
deliverance you will bring us.“
Deliverance? Welstead considered the word. „Don’t see much to deliver ‚em from,“ he muttered aside to Betty. „The sun’s shining, they look well-fed – a lot more enthusiastic than I do. Deliver ‚em from what?“
Betty was climbing down to the ground and Welstead followed.
„Thanks for the welcome,“ said Welstead, trying not to sound like a visiting politician.
„We’re glad to be here. It’s a wonderful experience, coming unexpectedly on a world like this.“
The white-haired man bowed gravely. „Naturally you must be curious – as curious as we are about the civilized universe. But for the present, just one question for the ears of our world. How goes it with Earth?“
Welstead rubbed his chin, acutely conscious of the thousands of eyes, the utter silence.
„Earth,“ he said, „goes about as usual. There’s the same seasons, the same rain, sunshine, frost and wind.“ And the people of Haven breathed in his words as devoutly as if they were the purest poetry. „Earth is still the center of the Cluster and there’s more people living on
Earth than ever before. More noise, more nuisance …“
„Wars? New governments? How far does science reach?“
Welstead considered. „Wars? None to speak of – not since the Hieratic League broke up.
The government still governs, uses lots of statistical machinery. There’s still graft, robbery, inefficiency, if that’s what you mean.
„Science – that’s a big subject. We know a lot but we don’t know a lot more, the way it’s always been. Everything considered, it’s the same Earth it’s always been – some good, a lot of bad.“
He paused, and the pent breath of the listeners went in a great sigh. The white-haired man nodded again, serious, sober-though evidently infected with the excitement that fixed his fellows.
„No more for the present! You’ll be tired and there’s much time for talk. May I offer you the hospitality of my house?“
Welstead looked uncertainly at Betty. Instinct urged him not to leave his ship.
„Or if you’d prefer to remain aboard . . .“ suggested the man of Haven.
„No,“ said Welstead. „We’ll be delighted.“ If harm were intended – as emphatically did not seem likely – their presence aboard the ship would not prevent it. He craned his neck, looked here and there for the officialdom that would be bumptiously present on Earth.
„Is there anyone we should report to? Any law we’ll be breaking by parking our ship here?“
The white-haired man laughed. „What a question! I am Alexander Clay, Mayor of this city Mytilene and Guide of Haven. By my authority and by common will you are free of anything the planet can offer you. Your ship will not be molested.“
He led them to a wide low car and Betty was uncomfortably conscious of her blue shorts, rumpled and untidy by comparison with the many-colored tunics of the women in the crowd.
Welstead was interested in the car as providing a gauge of Haven’s technics. Built of shiny gray metal it hung a foot above the ground, without the intervention of wheels. He gave Clay a startled look. „Anti-gravity? Your fortune’s made.“
Clay shook his head indulgently. „Magnetic fields, antipathetic to the metal in the road. Is it not a commonplace on Earth?“
„No,“ said Welstead. „The theory, of course, is well-known but there is too much opposition, too many roads to dig up. We still use wheels.“
Clay said reflectively, „The force of tradition. The continuity which generates the culture of races. The stream we have been so long lost from…“
Welstead shot him a sidelong glance. Clay was entirely serious.
The car had been sliding down the road at rather high speed through vistas of wonderful quiet and beauty. Every direction showed a new and separate enchantment – a glade surrounded by great trees, a small home of natural wood, a cluster of public buildings around a plaza, a terrace checkered with trees and lined with many-colored shops.
Occasionally there were touches of drama, such as the pylon at the end of a wide avenue. It rose two hundred feet into the air, a structure of concrete, bronze and black metal, and it bore the heroic figure of a man grasping vainly for a star.
Welstead craned his neck like a tourist. „Magnificent!“
Clay assented without enthusiasm. „I suppose it’s not discreditable. Of course, to you, fresh from the worlds of civilization…“ He left the sentence unfinished. „Excuse me, while I call my home.“ He bent his head to a telephone.
Betty said in Welstead’s ear, „This is a city every planner on Earth would sell his soul to build.“
Welstead grunted. „Remember Halleck?“ he muttered. „He was a city planner. He wanted to tear down a square mile of slums in Lanchester, eighteen stories high on the average, nothing but airless three-room apartments.
„First the real estate lobby tore into him, called him a Chaoticist. A rumor circulated among his friends that he was morally degenerate. The poor devils that lived there tried to lynch him because they’d be evicted. The Old Faithfuls read him out of the party because they pulled the votes of the district. The slums are still there and Halleck’s selling farm implements on Arcturus Five.“
Betty looked off through the trees. „Maybe Haven will turn out to be an object lesson for the rest of the cluster.“
Welstead shrugged. „Maybe, maybe not. Peace and seclusion are not something you can show to a million people- because it isn’t peace and seclusion anymore.“
Betty sat up straighter in her seat. „The only way to convince the unbelievers is by showing them, setting them an example. Do you think that if the Lanchester slum-dwellers saw this city they’d go back to their three room apartments without wanting to do something about
„If they saw this city,“ said Welstead, „they’d never leave Haven. By hook or crook, stowaway or workaway, they’d emigrate.“
„Include me in the first wave!“ said Betty indignantly.
The car turned into a leafy tunnel, crossed a carpet of bright green turf, stopped by a house built of dark massive wood. Four high gables in a row overlooked a terrace, where a stream followed its natural bed. The house looked spacious, comfortable – rather like the best
country villas of Earth and the garden planets without the sense of contrived effect, the strain, the staging.
„My home,“ said Clay. He slid back a door of waxed blond wood, ushered them into an entry carpeted with golden rattan, walled with a fabric the color of the forest outside. A bench of glowing dark wood crossed a wall under a framed painting. From no apparent source light flooded the room, like water in a tank.
„One moment,“ said Clay with a trace of embarrassment „My home is poor and makeshift enough without exposing it to your eyes at its worst.“ He was clearly sincere; this was no conventional deprecation.
He started away, paused and said to his half-comprehending guests, „I must apologize for our backwardness but we have no facilities for housing notable guests, no great inns or embassies or state-houses such as must add to the dignity of life on Earth. I can only offer
you the hospitality of my home.“
Welstead and Betty both protested. „We don’t deserve as much. After all we’re only a pair of fly-by-night prospectors.“
Clay smiled and they could see that he had been put more at his ease. „You’re the link between Haven and civilization – the most important visitors we’ve ever had. Excuse me.“
He departed.
Betty went to the picture on the wall, a simple landscape – the slope of a hill, a few trees, a distant range of mountains. Welstead, with small artistic sensibility, looked around for the source of the light – without success. He joined Betty beside the picture. She said half-
breathlessly, „This is a – I’m afraid to say it – a masterpiece.“
Welstead squinted, trying to understand the basis of his wife’s awe and wonderment.
Indeed the picture focused his eyes, drew them in and around the frame, infused him with a pleasant exhilaration, a warmth and serenity.
Clay, returning, noticed their interest. „What do you think of it?“ he asked.
„I think it’s – exceedingly well done,“ said Betty, at a loss for words which would convey her admiration without sounding fulsome.
Clay shook his head ruefully, turned away. „You need not praise an inconsequentiality out of courtesy, Mrs. Welstead. We know our deficiencies. Your eyes have seen the Giottos, the Rembrandts, the Cezannes. This must seem a poor thing.“
Betty began to remonstrate but halted. Words evidently would not convince Clay – or perhaps a convention of his society prompted him to belittle the works of his people and it might be discourteous to argue too vehemently.
„Your quarters are being prepared,“ Clay told them. „I’ve also ordered fresh clothing for you both as I see yours are stained with travel.“
Betty blushed, smoothed the legs of her blue shorts. Welstead sheepishly brushed at his faded blouse. He reached in his pocket, pulled out a bit of gravel. „From an asteroid I prospected a few weeks ago.“ He twisted it around in his fingers. „Nothing but granite, with garnet inclusions.“
Clay took the bit of rock, inspected it with a peculiar reverence. „May I keep this?“
„Why, of course.“
Clay laid the bit of stone on a silver plate. „You will not understand what this small stone symbolizes to us of Haven. Interstellar travel – our goal, our dream for two hundred and seventy-one years.“
The recurrence of the period two hundred and seventy-one years! Welstead calculated.
That put them back into the Era of the Great Excursives, when the over-under space-drive had first come into use, when men drove pell-mell through the galaxy, like bees through a field of flowers and human culture flared through space like a super-nova.
Clay led them through a large room, simple in effect, rich in detail. Welstead’s vision was not analytical enough to catch every particular at first. He sensed overall tones of tan, brown, mellow blue, watery green, in the wood, fabric, glass, pottery – the colors combined
to marvelous effect with the waxy umber gleam of natural wood. At the end of the room a case held ten large books bound in black leather and these, by some indefinable emphasis, seemed to bear the significance of an icon.
They passed through a passage open along one side into a garden filled with flowers, low trees, tame birds. Clay showed them into a long apartment streaming with sunlight.
„Your bath is through the door,“ said Clay. „Fresh clothes are laid out on the bed. When you are rested I shall be in the main hall. Please be at leisure – the house is yours.“
They were alone. Betty sighed happily, sank down on the bed. „Isn’t it wonderful, dear?“
„It’s queer,“ said Welstead, standing in the middle of the room.
„What’s queer?“
„Mainly why these people, apparently gifted and efficient, act so humble, so self-deprecating.“
„They look confident.“
„They are confident. Yet as soon as the word Earth is mentioned it’s like saying Alakland to an exiled Lak. There’s nothing like it.“
Betty shrugged, began to remove her clothes. „There’s probably some very simple explanation. Right now I’m tired of speculating. I’m for that bath. Water, water, water! Tons of it!“
They found Clay in the long hall with his pleasant-faced wife, his four youngest children, whom he gravely introduced.
Welstead and Betty seated themselves on a divan and Clay poured them small china cups of pale yellow-green wine, then settled back in his own seat.
„First I’ll explain our world of Haven to you – or have you surmised our plight?“
Welstead said, „I guess a colony was planted here and forgotten-lost.“
Clay smiled sadly. „Our beginnings were rather more dramatic. Two hundred and seventy-one years ago the passenger-packed Etruria, enroute to Rigel, went out of control.
According to the story handed down to us the bus-bars fused inside the drive-box. If the case were opened the fields would collapse. If it were not the ship would fly until there was no more energy.“
Welstead said, „That was a common accident in the old days. Usually the engineer cut away the thrust-blocks on one side of the hull. Then the ship flew in circles until help arrived.“
Clay made a wry sad grimace. „No one on the Etruria thought of that. The ship left the known universe and finally passed close to a planet that seemed capable of sustaining life.
The sixty-three aboard took to the life-boats and so landed on Haven.
„Thirty-four men, twenty-five women, four children – ranging in age from Dorothy Pell, eight, to Vladimir Hocha, seventy-four, with representatives of every human race. We’re the descendants of the sixty-three, three hundred million of us.“
„Fast work,“ said Betty, with admiration.
„Large families,“ returned Clay. „I have nine children, sixteen grandchildren. From the start our guiding principle has been to keep the culture of Earth intact for our descendants, to teach them what we knew of human tradition.
„So that when rescue came – as it must finally – then our children or our children’s children could return to Earth, not as savages but as citizens. And our invaluable source has been the Ten Books, the only books brought down from the Etruria. We could not have been favored with books more inspiring…“
Clay’s gaze went to the black bound books at the end of the room, and his voice lowered a trifle.
„The Encyclopedia of Human Achievement. The original edition was in ten little plastrol volumes, none of them larger than your hand – but in them was such a treasury of human glory that never could we forget our ancestry, or rest in our efforts to achieve somewhere near the level of the great masters. All the works of the human race we set as our standards – music, art, literature – all were described in the Encyclopedia.“
„Described, you say,“ mused Welstead.
„There were no illustrations?“ asked Betty.
„No,“ said Clay, „there was small compass for pictures in the original edition. However“ – he went to the case, selected a volume at random – „the words left little to the imagination. For example, on the music of Bach – ‚When Bach arrived on the scene the toccata was tentative,
indecisive – a recreation, a tour de force, where the musician might display his virtuosity. In Bach the toccata becomes a medium of the noblest plasticity. The theme he suggests by casual fingering of the keyboard, unrelated runs. Then comes a glorious burst into harmony – the original runs glow like prisms, assume stature, gradually topple together into a miraculous pyramid of sound.‘
„And on Beethoven – ‚A God among men. His music is the voice of the world, the pageant of all imagined splendor. The sounds he invokes are natural forces of the same order as sunsets, storms at sea, the view from mountain crags.“
„And on Leon Bismarck Beiderbecke – ‚His trumpet pours out such a torrent of ecstasy, such triumph, such overriding joys that the heart of man freezes in anguish at not being wholly part of it.'“ Clay closed the book, replaced it. „Such is our heritage. We have tried to keep alive, however poorly, the stream of our original culture.“
„I would say that you have succeeded,“ Welstead remarked dryly.
Betty sighed, a long slow suspiration.
Clay shook his head. „You can’t judge until you’ve seen more of Haven. We’re comfortable enough though our manner of living must seem unimpressive in comparison with the great cities, the magnificent palaces of Earth.“
„No, not at all,“ said Betty but Clay made a polite gesture.
„Don’t feel obliged to flatter us. As I’ve said, we’re aware of our deficiencies. Our music for instance – it is pleasant, sometimes exciting, sometimes profound, but never does it reach the heights of poignancy that the Encyclopedia describes.
„Our art is technically good but we despair of emulating Seurat, who ‚out-lumens light,‘ or Braque, ‚the patterns of the mind in patterns of color on the patterns of life, or Cezanne – ‚the planes which under the guise of natural objects march, merge, meet in accord with remorseless logic, which wheel around and impel the mind to admit the absolute justice of the composition.'“
Betty glanced at her husband, apprehensive lest he speak what she knew must be on his mind. To her relief he kept silent, squinting thoughtfully at Clay. For her part Betty resolved to maintain a noncommittal attitude.
„No,“ Clay said heavily, „we do the best we can, and in some fields we’ve naturally achieved more than in others. To begin with we had the benefit of all human experience in our memories. The paths were charted out for us – we knew the mistakes to avoid. We’ve never
had wars or compulsion. We’ve never permitted unreined authority. Still we’ve tried to reward those who are willing to accept responsibility.
„Our criminals – very few now – are treated for mental disorder on the first and second offense, sterilized on the third, executed on the fourth-our basic law being cooperation and contribution to the society, though there is infinite latitude in how this contribution shall be made. We do not make society a juggernaut. A man may live as integrally or as singularly as he wishes so long as he complies with the basic law.“
Clay paused, looking from Welstead to Betty. „Now do you understand our way of living?“
„More or less,“ said Welstead. „In the outline at least. You seem to have made a great deal of progress technically.“
Clay considered. „From one aspect, yes. From another no. We had the lifeboat tools, we had the technical skills and most important we knew what we were trying to do. Our main goal naturally has been the conquest of space. We’ve gone up in rockets but they can take
us nowhere save around the sun and back. Our scientists are close on the secret of the space-drive but certain practical difficulties are holding them up.“
Welstead laughed. „Space-drive can never be discovered by rational effort. That’s a philosophical question which has been threshed back and forth for hundreds of years.
Reason – the abstract idea – is a function of ordinary time and space. The space-drive has no qualities in common with these ideas and for this reason human thought can never consciously solve the problem of the overdrive. Experiment, trial and error can do it.Thinking about it is useless.“
„Hm,“ said Clay. „That’s a new concept. But now your presence makes it beside the point, for you will be the link back to our homeland.“
Betty could see words trembling on her husband’s tongue. She clenched her hands, willed-willed-willed. Perhaps the effort had some effect because Welstead merely said, „We’ll do anything we can to help.“
All of Mytilene they visited and nearby Tiryns, Dicte and Ilium. They saw industrial centers, atomic power generators, farms, schools. They attended a session of the Council of Guides, both making brief speeches, and they spoke to the people of Haven by television.
Every news organ on the planet carried their words.
They heard music from a green hillside, the orchestra playing from under tremendous smoke black trees. They saw the art of Haven in public galleries, in homes and in common use. They read some of the literature, studied the range of the planet’s science, which was roughly equivalent to that of Earth. And they marveled continually how so few people in so little time could accomplish so much.
They visited the laboratories, where three hundred scientists and engineers strove to force magnetic, gravitic and vortigial fields into the fusion that made star-to-star flight possible. And the scientists watched in breathless tension as Welstead inspected the apparatus.
He saw at a single glance the source of their difficulty. He had read of the same experiments on Earth three hundred years ago and of the fantastic accident that had led Roman-Forteski and Gladheim to enclose the generatrix in a dodecahedron of quartz. Only by such a freak – or by his information – would these scientists of Haven solve the mystery of space-drive.
And Welstead walked thoughtfully from the laboratory, with the disappointed glances of the technicians following him out. And Betty had glanced after him in wonder, and the rest of the day there had been a strain between them.
That night as they lay in the darkness, rigid, wakeful, each could feel the pressure of the other’s thoughts. Betty finally broke the silence, in a voice so blunt that there was no mistaking her feeling.
„Why did you act as you did in the laboratory?“
„Careful,“ muttered Welstead. „Maybe the room is wired for sound.“
Betty laughed scornfully. „This isn’t Earth. These people are trusting, honest…“
It was Welstead’s turn to laugh-a short cheerless laugh. „And that’s the reason I’m ignorant when it comes to space-drive.“
Betty stiffened. „What do you mean?“
„I mean that these people are too damn good to ruin.“
Betty relaxed, sighed, spoke slowly, as if she knew she was in for a long pull. „How – ‚ruin‘?“
Welstead snorted. „It’s perfectly plain. You’ve been to their homes, you’ve read their poetry, listened to their music….“
„Of course. These people live every second of their lives with – well, call it exaltation. A devotion to creation like nothing I’ve ever seen before.“
Welstead said somberly, „They’re living in the grandest illusion ever imagined and they’re riding for an awful fall. They’re like a man on a glorious wine drunk.“
Betty stared through the dark. „Are you crazy?“
„They’re living in exaltation now,“ said Welstead, „but what a bump when the bubble breaks!“
„But why should it break?“ cried Betty. „Why can’t -“
„Betty,“ said Welstead with a cold sardonic voice, „have you ever seen a public park on Earth after a holiday?“
Betty said hotly, „Yes – it’s dreadful. Because the people of Earth have no feeling of community.“
„Right,“ said Welstead. „And these people have. They’re knit very tightly by a compulsion that made them achieve in two hundred-odd years what took seven thousand on Earth.
They’re all facing in the same direction, geared to the same drive. Once that drive is gone how do you expect they’ll hold on to their standards?“
Betty was silent.
„Human beings,“ said Welstead dreamily, „are at their best when the going’s toughest.
They’re either at their best or else they’re nothing. The going’s been tough here – these people have come through. Give them a cheap living, tourist money – then what?
„But that’s not all. In fact it’s only half the story. These people here,“ he stated with emphasis, „are living in a dream. They’re the victims of the Ten Books. They take every word literally and they’ve worked their hearts out trying to come somewhere near what they expect the standards to be.
„Their own stuff doesn’t do half the things to them that the Ten Books says good art ought to do. Whoever wrote those Ten Books must have been a copywriter for an advertising agency.“ Welstead laughed. „Shakespeare wrote good plays – sure, I concede it. But I’ve
never seen ‚fires flickering along the words, gusty winds rushing through the pages.“
„Sibelius I suppose was a great composer – I’m no expert on these things – but whoever listened and became ‚part of Finland’s ice, moss-smelling earth, hoarse-breathing forest,‘ the way the Ten Books said everyone did?“
Betty said, „He was merely trying to express vividly the essence of the artists and musicians.“
„Nothing wrong in that,“ said Welstead. „On Earth we’re conditioned to call everything in print a lie. At least we allow for several hundred percent overstatement. These people out here aren’t immunized. They’ve taken every word at its face value. The Ten Books is their
Bible. They’re trying to equal accomplishments which never existed.“
Betty raised herself up on an elbow, said in a voice of hushed triumph, „And they’ve succeeded! Ralph, they’ve succeeded! They’ve met the challenge, they’ve equaled or beaten anything Earth has ever produced! Ralph, I’m proud to belong to the same race.“
„Same species,“ Welstead corrected dryly. „These people are a mixed race. They’re all races.“
„What’s the difference?“ Betty snapped. „You’re just quibbling. You know what I mean well enough.“
„We’re on a sidetrack,“ said Welstead wearily. „The question is not the people of Haven and their accomplishments. Of course they’re wonderful-now. But how do you think contact with Earth will affect them?
„Do you think they’ll continue producing when the challenge is gone? When they find the Earth is a rookery-nagging, quarreling-full of mediocre hacks and cheap mischief? Where the artists draw nothing but nude women and the musicians make their living reeling out sound, sound, sound – any kind of sound – for television sound-track. Where are all their dreams then?
„Talk about disappointment, staleness! Mark my words, half the population would be suicides and the other half would turn to prostitution and cheating the tourists. It’s a tough proposition. I say, leave them with their dreams. Let them think we’re the worst sort of
villains. I say, get off the planet, get back where we belong.“
Betty said in a troubled voice, „Sooner or later somebody else will find them.“
„Maybe – maybe not. We’ll report the region barren – which it is except for Haven.“
Betty said in a small voice, „Ralph, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t violate their trust.“
„Not even to keep them trusting?“
Betty said wildly, „Don’t you think there’d be an equal deflation if we sneaked away and left them? We’re the climax to their entire two hundred and seventy-one years. Think of the listlessness after we left!“
„They’re working on their space-drive,“ said Welstead. „Chances are a million to one against their stumbling on it. They don’t know that. They’ve got a flicker of a field and they think all they have to do is adjust the power feed, get better insulation. They don’t have the
Mardi Gras lamp that Gladheim snatched up when the lead tank melted.“
„Ralph,“ said Betty, „your words are all very logical. Your arguments stay together – but they’re not satisfying emotionally. I don’t have the feeling of tightness.“
„Pish,“ said Welstead. „Let’s not go spiritual.“
„And,“ said Betty softly, „let’s not try to play God either.“
There was a long silence.
„Ralph?“ said Betty.
„Isn’t there some way …“
„Some way to do what?“
„Why should it be our responsibility?“
„I don’t know whose else it is. We’re the instruments -“
„But it’s their lives.“
„Betty,“ said Welstead wearily, „here’s one time we can’t pass the buck. We’re the people who in the last resort say yes or no. We’re the only people that see on both sides of the fence. It’s an awful decision to make – but 1 say no.“
There was no more talking and after an unmeasured period they fell asleep.
Three nights later Welstead stopped Betty as she began to undress for bed. She gave him a dark wide-eyed stare.
„Throw whatever you’re taking into a bag. We’re leaving.“
Betty’s body was rigid and tense, slowly relaxing as she took a step toward him. „Ralph …“
„What?“ And she could find no softness, no indecision in his topaz eyes.
„Ralph – it’s dangerous for us to go. If they caught us, they’d execute us – for utter depravity.“
And she said in a murmur, looking away, „I suppose they’d be justified too.“
„It’s a chance we’ll have to take. Just what we said the day we decided to land. We’ve got to die sometime. Get your gear and let’s take off.“
„We should leave a note, Ralph. Something …“
He pointed to an envelope. „There it is. Thanking them for their hospitality. I told them we were criminals and couldn’t risk returning to Earth. It’s thin but it’s the best I could do,“
A hint of fire returned to Betty’s voice. „Don’t worry, they’ll believe it.“
Sullenly she tucked a few trinkets into a pouch. „It’s a long way to the ship you know,“ she warned him.
„We’ll take Clay’s car. I’ve watched him and I know how to drive it“
She jerked in a small bitter spasm of laughter. „We’re even car thieves.“
„Got to be,“ said Welstead stonily. He went to the door, listened. The utter silence of honest sleep held the rest of the house. He returned to where Betty stood waiting, watching him coldly with an air of dissociation.
„This way,“ said Welstead. „Out through the terrace.“
They passed out into the moonless night of Haven and the only sound was the glassy tinkle of the little stream that ran in its natural bed through the terrace.
Welstead took Betty’s hand. „Easy now, don’t walk into that bamboo.“ He clutched and they froze to a halt. Through a window had come a sound-a gasp-and then the relieved mutter a person makes on waking from a bad dream.
Slowly, like glass melting under heat, the two came to life, stole across the terrace, out upon the turf beside the house. They circled the vegetable garden and the loom of the car bulked before them.
„Get in,“ whispered Welstead. „I’ll push till we’re down around the bend.“
Betty climbed into the seat and her foot scraped against the metal. Welstead stiffened, listened, pierced the darkness like an eagle. Quiet from the house, the quiet of relaxation, of trust… He pushed at the car and it floated easily across the ground, resisting his hand only through inertia.
It jerked to a sudden halt. And Welstead froze in his tracks again. A burglar alarm of some sort. No, there were no thieves on Haven – except two recently-landed people from Earth. A trap?
„The anchor,“ whispered Betty.
Of course-Welstead almost groaned with relief. Every car had an anchor to prevent the wind from blowing it away. He found it, hooked it into place on the car’s frame and now
the car floated without hindrance down the leafy tunnel that was Clay’s driveway. Around a bend he ran to the door, jumped in, pressed his foot on the power pedal, and the car slid away with the easy grace of a canoe. Out on the main road he switched on the lights and
they rushed off through the night.
„And we still use wheels on Earth,“ said Welstead. „If we only had a tenth of the guts these people have -“
Cars passed them from the other direction. The lights glowed briefly into their faces and they cringed low behind the windscreen.
They came to the park where their ship lay. „If anyone stops us,“ Welstead said in Betty’s ear, „we’ve just driven down to get some personal effects. After all we’re not prisoners.“
But he circled the ship warily before stopping beside it and then he waited a few seconds, straining his eyes through the darkness. But there was no sound, no light, no sign of any guard or human presence.
Welstead jumped from the car. „Fast now. Run over, climb inside. I’ll be right behind you.“
They dashed through the dark, up the rungs welded to the hull, and the cold steel felt like a caress to Welstead’s hot hands. Into the cabin; he thudded the port shut, slammed home the dogs.
Welstead vaulted to the controls, powered the reactors. Dangerous business-but once clear of the atmosphere they could take time to let them warm properly. The ship rose; the darkness and lights of Mytilene fell below. Welstead sighed, suddenly tired, but warm and relaxed.
Up, up – and the planet became a ball, and Eridanus two thousand nine hundred and thirty-two peered around the edge and suddenly, without any noticeable sense of boundary passed, they were out in space.
Welstead sighed. „Lord, what a relief! I never knew how good empty space could look.“
„It looks beautiful to me also,“ said Alexander Clay. „I’ve never seen it before.“
Welstead whirled, jumped to his feet.
Clay came forward from the reaction chamber, watching with a peculiar expression Welstead took to be deadly fury. Betty stood by the bulkhead, looking from one to the other, her face blank as a mirror.
Welstead came slowly down from the controls. „Well – you’ve caught us in the act. I suppose you think we’re treating you pretty rough. Maybe we are. But my conscience is clear. And we’re not going back. Looks like you asked for a ride, and you’re going to get one. If necessary – “ He paused meaningfully.
Then, „How’d you get aboard?“ and after an instant of narrow-eyed speculation, „And why? Why tonight?“
Clay shook his head slowly. „Ralph – you don’t give us any credit for ordinary intelligence, let alone ordinary courage.“
„What do you mean?“
„I mean that I understand your motives – and I admire you for them. Although I think you’ve been bull-headed putting them into action without discussing it with the people most directly concerned.“
Welstead lowered his head, stared with hard eyes. „It’s basically my responsibility. I don’t like it but I’m not afraid of it.“
„It does you credit,“ said Clay mildly. „On Haven we’re used to sharing responsibility. Not diluting it, you understand, but putting a dozen – a hundred – a thousand minds on a problem that might be too much for one. You don’t appreciate us, Ralph. You think we’re soft, spiritless.“
„No,“ said Welstead. „Not exactly – “
„Our civilization is built on adaptability, on growth, on flexibility,“ continued Clay. „We – “
„You don’t understand just what you’d have to adapt to,“ said Welstead harshly. „It’s nothing nice. It’s graft, scheming sharp-shooters, tourists by the million, who’ll leave your planet the way a platoon of invading soldiers leaves the first pretty girl they find.“
„There’ll be problems,“ said Clay. His voice took on power. „But that’s what we want, Ralph – problems. We’re hungry for them, for the problems of ordinary human existence. We want to get back into the stream of life. And if it means grunting and sweating we want it. We’re flesh and blood, just like you are.
„We don’t want Nirvana – we want to test our strength. We want to fight along with the rest of decent humanity. Don’t you fight what you think is unjust?“
Welstead slowly shook his head. „Not any more. It’s too big for me. I tried when I was young, then I gave up. Maybe that’s why Betty and I roam around the outer edges.“
„No,“ said Betty. „That’s not it at all, Ralph, and you know it. You explore because you like exploring. You like the rough and tumble of human contact just as much as anyone else.“
„Rough and rumble,“ said Clay, savoring the words. „That’s what we need on Haven. They had it in the old days. They gave themselves to it, beating the new world into submission. It’s ours now. Another hundred years of nowhere to go and we’d be drugged, lethargic,
Welstead was silent.
„The thing to remember, Ralph,“ said Clay, „is that we’re part of humanity. If there’s good going, fine. But if there are problems we want to help lick them. You said you’d given up because it was too big for you. Do you think it would be too big for a whole planet? Three
hundred million hard honest brains?“
Welstead stared, his imagination kindled. „I don’t see how – “
Clay smiled. „I don’t either. It’s a problem for three hundred million minds. Thinking about it that way it doesn’t seem so big. If it takes three hundred brains three days to figure out a dodecahedron of quartz – “ Welstead jerked, looked accusingly at his wife.
„Betty!“ She shook her head. „I told Clay about our conversation, our argument. We discussed it all around. I told him everything – and I told him I’d give a signal whenever we started to leave. But I never mentioned spacedrive. If they discovered it they did it by themselves.“
Welstead turned slowly back to Clay. „Discovered it? But – that’s impossible.“
Clay said, „Nothing’s impossible. You yourself gave me the hint when you told me human reason was useless because the space-drive worked out of a different environment. So we concentrated not on the drive itself but on the environment. The first results came at us in
terms of twelve directions – hence the dodecahedron. Just a hunch, an experiment and it worked.“
Welstead sighed. „I’m licked. I give in. Clay, the headache is yours. You’ve made it yours. What do you want to do? Go back to Haven?“
Clay smiled, almost with affection. „We’re this far. I’d like to see Earth. For a month, incognito. Then we’ll come back to Haven and make a report to the world. And then there’s three hundred million of us, waiting for the bell in round one.“


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