Chapter 11
BUT HE DID NOT SPEND AIL THAT TIME DAYDREAMING-TO HISown very great surprise. He found himself caught up in other mental exercises.He had expected no such thing to happen. If anything he was looking forward to a couple of days exploring his more pleasant memories. There was an active pleasure in calling up happy scenes out of his past, and he had been amazed at the detail with which his unconscious recalled them-far beyond what he was used to. Where his ordinary memory would have given him the time, the place, the action and the emotion, this new memory gave him far more. He could study a particular moment he had once lived and simply by looking more closely at it, see the pattern of the fabric on the upholstering of the furniture, the small items scattered about the room, the quality of sunlight coming in the windows. Bit by bit, he had become fascinated, not so much with remembering, as with the capabilities of his memory; and, beyond this, the capabilities and liabilities of his new self.He had always considered himself in excellent physical shape; and as a result he had simply taken his body so much for granted that most of the time he had been used to forgetting that it had demands of its own. Now that he was out of it,117C H A P T E R11118 / Gordon R. Dicksonhe was astonished to find what a busy and signal-sending creature his body had been. It was not that his mind had not always been getting a multitude of messages from it, from "I'm all in order and working" signals to alarms ranging from fatigue to outright pain. It was that his mind had accepted these as so much a part of the normal process of living that it had, most of the time, handled but ignored them.Now he could feel what he had been missing, now that he no longer had the static of the body's responses to interfere with his thinking. Now he was not merely capable of day= dreaming with unusual clarity, he was capable of thinking with unusual clarity.,He could switch from one topic of thought to another instantly, and, having switched, devote all his attention to the new topic as if the earlier one had not existed. At the same time he was not obsessed by his current topic to the point where he lost awareness of his surroundings or himself.The liability was that there was now no more of that purely physical pleasure that the body had been capable of giving him in small to large measures as a reward for paying attention to it. Moreover he felt strangely light-not like someone in a lesser gravity, but more like someone with helium-filled balloons attached to his shoes, so that he was being lifted, but from the soles of his feet only; and it required an effort to balance himself when he took a step forward. It was a mental feeling, not a physical one, but "lightness" was the only way he could find of making some description of it.One of the more curious effects he discovered with his new vision was that he could change the attitudes with which he was normally used to looking at an object, and see it in an entirely new and novel way. Usually, the switch was from a habitual way of seeing something, one which reflected his body's past responses to whatever it was; and the new attitude was one that ignored any connection between it and his body's use for it.The best example of this turned out to be a reclining chair he had bought for his two-room suite in the Bachelor Officers' Quarter. He had always been very fond of that chair; but now, considering it carefully in memory from a bodiless point of view, he found it one of the most ridiculously engineered objects he had ever seen, and ended up laughing at it.THE FOREVER MAN / 119It was all knobs and angles. It was hard to imagine, just looking at it, what odd-shaped sort of creature would have designed such a monstrosity for its comfort. The seat, legsupport and back planes made sense after a fashion as partial containers for whatever or whoever it was planned to support. But those two strange, horizontal members projecting forward, which had their bases attached halfway up the back portion at its outward edges..."You seem to be in a good humor," said Mollen's voice.Jim realized suddenly that he had been laughing aloud. He looked outside himself to see that the general was in the process of entering through a flap in the tent. Behind him entered half a dozen men and women in workmen's white coveralls, two of which at least Jim recognized as maintenance workers from the Fighter Ships Unit."What's everybody here for?" Jim asked Mollen."To check you over before you leave, of course," the general said."Oh, no!" said Jim."No?" Mollen looked surprised and the maintenance people who were already headed toward Jim's entry port came to a halt. "What do you mean, no?""I mean I don't need to be checked over, sir," Jim said. "I can tell you right now that everything about me's all right.""I see. When did you learn all about fusion engines?" Mollen's scraggly brows pulled together."I don't need to learn about them," said Jim. "I can feel that everything's all right inside me.""So the pilots always say to the doc when they show up for their monthly physical," said Mollen. "I think we better have the experts take a look at you anyway."He turned to the maintenance people and nodded."Go ahead," he said.They went ahead. Jim made no more protests, although his human experience intruded on his experience as a spaceship, so that-although there was no pain, of course-he had an uncomfortable feeling that he was being operated upon internally without the courtesy of a general anesthetic.He found that with a little practice he could be aware of where in him every one of the maintenance workers were, and what they were doing. This was a relief, in a way, for it meant120 / Gordon R. Dicksonthat he could be sure nothing could be done to him in the future without his knowledge.Mollen was still standing outside his hull, hands behind his back, watching the movement of people in and out of Jim's entry port which at the moment was standing wide. Jim became conscious that some of the small cases they had brought aboard were evidently not merely devices for the purpose of checking him out, since they were being stowed in places where they would be prevented from sliding about and left behind when those who brought them in left.He tried to see inside them, but they were not an integral part of himself and their cases were opaque to his perceptions."What're these things they're bringing aboard, sir?" he asked the general."Supplemental information units and instruments for Mary," answered Mollen. "She won't be able to read from them directly; but she can direct you on how to go about finding what she wants in them, and once you see what's there, she will, too. Also, there's provision for storage of new information she may be able to collect on the trip.""How much storage does she think she'll need?" said Jim. For the smallest of the cases could have stored the contents of most public branch libraries."I've no idea," said Mollen cheerfully. "Mat's her department."And as if summoned like a genie by Mollen's invisible rubbing of a magic lamp, Mary's voice spoke inside Jim's head."Are my things aboard?""Unless there's more to come," said Jim. "When are you going to be ready to leave?""I'm ready now. Can't you tell? I'm in here with you," said Mary."I didn't know you were here to stay," he said.He checked the ship's chronometer record. Sure enough, it had been two days-well, a little over forty hours-since he had last spoken to her. He had marked the time when she and Mollen had left him before just to make sure that they were not pulling any tricks on him about the apparent speed with which time sometimes seemed to pass when he was alone.THE FOREVER MAN / 121"Well, tell Louis I'm here, would you, please?" asked Mary. "You're the only one who can hear me now.""Mary's here," he told Mollen aloud, suddenly reminded that his verbal exchange with her just now had been strictly on a mental level.He was abruptly, vastly, relieved of a fear that had concerned him to the point that he had hesitated even to ask about it. It had occurred to him during the hours just past that Mary might be able to read his mind once she was part of him and the ship. Now that fear was laid to rest. For one thing, clearly, he could not read her mind-he had not even known of her presence until she asked that question about her equipment just now. But, secondly, he could now feel her mind, not so much as if it was part of his mental machinery, but as if it was simply another part of the ship which that mental machinery controlled.Perhaps if he tried, he could control her mind in the same way as he controlled the rest of the ship.... He backed away hastily from that thought. It was ghoulish."Good to hear you're there, Mary," Mollen had answered when he had passed the word along that she was with him. "The high-hats ought to be along at any minute now; and as soon as they do you two can take off.""What high-hats?" asked Jim. The term was roughly synonymous with "top brass," except that it referred more specifically to civilian authorities."Governmental people who've got the rank to watch you leave," said Mollen. "Doesn't include the President. It was explained to her that it would be too hard maintaining the type of secrecy we've held to this long if she was one of the sendoff party.""Why didn't you tell me people like that were coming?" Jim asked."Colonel," said Mollen. "You're a ship-jockey. The only one of your kind, but still just a ship-jockey. You didn't need to know so you weren't told. Nothing personal. If it'd been up to me, I'd have let you know not only about that, but a lot of other things in past months. But the rules were set up and I had to go with them, like everyone else.""Sony, sir," said Jim. "I understand.""I know you do," said Mollen, a little more kindly. "You122 I Gordon R. Dicksonmight bear in mind while you're gone, though, that Mary like me-has been a person under rules, and still is. She's been ground between a couple of millstones. You, La Chasse Gallerie and Raoul on one hand; and a lot of powerful people on the other. So be decent to her on the mission.""He will-damn it!" said Mary. "I keep forgetting nobody but you can hear me. Tell Louis for me I've got no doubt you'll be decent to me."Jim did so. Privately, he spoke to Mary."Why didn't you rig up some speaking device so you could talk to someone like him directly?" Jim asked. "Some sort of phone line to the hull that would resonate outside='"Because I'm in you, not the ship!" said Mary. "Any phone line I could use has to run through your brain cells and vocal chords, first!""Oh," said Jim."Yes," said Mary."Sorry," said Jim. "I didn't think that through."He waited for her to tell him it was all right, and that she understood how he could have made such a perfectly natural mistake; but she did not."I beg your pardon," said Jim finally. "But I just admitted my error and apologized. It's usual to acknowledge an apology,,."Oh, Lord!" said Mary. "And we aren't even off the ground yet. I'm the one who needs to apologize, Jim. I get wrapped up in what I'm doing and I forget to treat people like people. I'm sorry.""Honors are even," said Jim gravely.To his pleased surprise, he got a silent, but actual, laugh from Mary."No," she said. "Because you can make me laugh. Nobody's done that for years. I used to think it was because you were a featherbrained flyboy-oh, courageous and daring and all the rest of it, but essentially feather-brained, too. Now, after all these months of studying you, I know you better. Forgive me, Jim; and I'll learn to get this ride-roughshod- attitude of mine under control. And, since I've done everything else I ever set out to do, that's a promise.""To be truthful," said Jim, "you've got me on the defen-THE FOREVER MAN / 123sive, now. I'm not sure I've always been that easy to live with myself.""Your excuses for that were better than mine. Anyway, we'll do better from now on?""We shall indeed," said Jim solemnly."The guests are here."They had been talking in the privacy of Jim's mind. Now, Jim looked outside his hull and saw that the high-hats, as Mollen had called them, were just now entering through a flap in the tent wall. There were about a dozen of them, all civilians, roughly half of them men and half, women; and every one at least in his or her forties."How come," said Jim in one last silent aside to Mary, "if you can't talk unless I talk, you can see something before I see it?""You saw them come in. You see everything going on in this ship and outside it all the time. And hear it all," answered Mary. "You know that. You just weren't paying attention to that particular thing. I was.""I see," said Jim.He spoke out loud from his hull to Mollen and the newcomers."Welcome," he said.With his back to those entering, Mollen frowned a warning at the hull. Jim fell silent again, and Mollen turned around to personally greet those coming in. When they were all assembled close to the hull and Mollen had spoken and shaken hands with all of them, the general turned to AndFriend,"Colonel," he said. "On this occasion of your leaving with Dr. Gallegher to explore beyond Laagi space, we're honored to have visitors from the highest offices in the land. Mr. Vice President, this is Colonel Jim Wander and Dr. Mary Gallegher."He had half-turned as he spoke, back toward a tall, athletic looking man in his fifties, in a gray business suit and dark blue weather-cape."Hello, Jim-Dr. Gallegher," said the tall man."Honored to meet you, sir," said Jim. "Dr. Gallegher joins me in saying that.""Actually, he makes a good show, but I wouldn't-and124 / Gordon R. Dicksondidn't-vote for him," commented Mary silently inside Jim. "Actually, of course, it's a thankless sort of job.""The best wishes of this nation go with you, Jim and Mary.""Thank you, sir," said Jim. It was a strange ritual, this, Jim thought. Rather ridiculous, in fact."Mr. Secretary, this is Jim Wander and Dr. Gallegher," said Mollen, turning to the next closest figure. "Jim and Mary, this is Secretary of State Jacob Preuss."The secretary of state was a short, broad man in his sixties or older, looking as if he had too much energy to stand still."Take care of yourselves out there," said Preuss. "You've no idea what you're worth to us.""Twice the man the other one is," was Mary's silent observation."We'll take every possible precaution, sir," Jim was saying. "But I imagine you want getting the job done to come first.""Of course," said Preuss. "Good luck, both of you.""Thank you, sir.""Senator, Jim Wander and Dr. Gallegher. Jim and Mary, this is Senator Anita Wong...."The introductions continued. So did Mary's unheard, internal comments on each person introduced, and some of these were either so pungent or so apposite that Jim had a hard time keeping the proper solemnity of tone in his own audible replies. Finally the round of introductions came to an end. The vice president made a short speech, praising them for going where no humans had ever gone before. Then the visitors all backed up a little, as if there might be something dangerously explosive about AndFriend's departure."Good luck," said Mollen under his breath. "Now get out of here."The whisper in which he spoke was too low-pitched for the dignitaries behind him to hear it; but Jim picked it up with no trouble.He turned his mind to the phase-shift equipment.A moment later they were surrounded by space and stars.