The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester - ebook

In this pulse-quickening novel, Alfred Bester imagines a future in which people "jaunte" a thousand miles with a single thought, where the rich barricade themselves in labyrinths and protect themselves with radioactive hit men - and where an inarticulate outcast is the most valuable and dangerous man alive. The Stars My Destination is a classic of technological prophecy and timeless narrative enchantment by an acknowledged master of science fiction. 

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The Stars
a novel
by Alfred Bester
1230 Park Avenue
New York, New York 10128
Tel: 212-427-7139 ·
All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American CopyrightConventions. Printed in the United States by J.Boylston & Company, Publishers,New York. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The iPicturebooks colophon is a trademark of J. Boylston & Company, Publishers.
A Byron Preiss Visual Publications,
Special thanks to Kirby McCauley, J. Edward Kastenmeier, Martin Asher, and Keith R. A. DeCandido
Copyright © 1956 by Alfred Bester
Copyright renewed 1984 by Alfred Bester
Special restored text of this edition copyright ©
1996 by the Estate of Alfred Bester
Introduction copyright © 1996 by Neil Gaiman
Special calligraphy and ideographs in Chapter 15
created by Jack Gaughan.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bester, Alfred.
The stars my destination / by Alfred
Bester-1st iPicturebooks Books ed.
ISBN-13: 978-1-87696-346-0, Trade Paper
PS3552.E796S73 1996
Science Fiction
Steam Punk/Adventure
Second Trade Paper Edition
July 2011
The Stars
by Alfred Bester
Alfred Bester was born in New York in 1913. After attending the University of Pennsylvania, he sold several short stories toThrilling Wonder Storiesin the early 1940s. He then embarked on a career as a scripter for comics, radio, and television, where he worked on such classic characters as Superman, Batman, Nick Carter, Charlie Chan, Tom Corbett, and the Shadow. In the 1950s, he returned to prose, publishing a number of short stories and two brilliant, seminal novels,The Demolished Man(which was the first winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel) andThe Stars My Destination. In the late 1950s, he wrote travel articles forHolidaymagazine and eventually became their senior literary editor, keeping the position until the magazine folded in the 1970s. In 1974, he once again came back to writing science fiction, with the novelsThe Computer Connection,GolemlOO, andThe Deceivers, and numerous short stories. After being a New Yorker all his life, he died in Pennsylvania in 1987, but not before he was honored by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America with a Grandmaster Award.
The Stars My Destination
The Demolished Man
The Deceivers
The Computer Connection
by Neil Gaiman
You can tell when a Hollywood historical film was made by looking at the eye makeup of the leading ladies, and you can tell the date of an old science fiction novel by every word on the page. Nothing dates harder and faster and more strangely than the future.
This was not always true, but somewhere in the last thirty years (somewhere between the beginning of the death of what John Clute and Peter Nicholls termed, in theirEncyclopedia of Science Fiction,“First SF” in 1957 whenSputnikbrought space down to earth and 1984, the year that George Orwell ended and William Gibson started) we lurched into the futures we now try to inhabit, and all the old SF futures found themselves surplus to requirements, standing alone on the sidewalk, pensioned off and abandoned. Or were they?
SF is a difficult and transient literature at the best of times, ultimately problematic. It claims to treat of the future, all the what-ifs and if-this-goes-ons; but the what-ifs and if-this-goes-ons are always founded here and hard in today. Whatever today is.
To put it another way, nothing dates harder than historical fiction and science fiction. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s historical fiction and his SF are of a piece—and both have dated in a way in which Sherlock Holmes, pinned to his time in the gaslit streets of Victorian London, has not.
Dated? Rather, they are of their time.
For there are always exceptions. There may, for instance, be nothing in Alfred Bester’sTiger! Tiger!(1956 U.K.; republished in the U.S. under the original 1956Galaxymagazine title,The Stars My Destination,in 1957) that radically transgresses any of the speculative notions SF writers then shared about the possible shape of a future solar system. But Gully Foyle, the obsessive protagonist who dominates every page of the tale, has not dated a moment. In a fashion which inescapably reminds us of the great grotesques of other literary traditions, of dark figures from Poe or Gogol or Dickens, Gully Foylecontrolsthe world around him, so that the awkwardnesses of the 1956 future do not so much fade into the background as obey his obsessive dance.If he were not so intransigent, so utterly bloody-minded, so unborn, Gully Foyle could have become an icon like Sherlock Holmes. But he is; and even though Bester based him on a quote—he is a reworking of the Byronesque magus Edmond Dantès whose revenge over his oppressors takes a thousand pages of Alexandre Dumas’sThe Count of Monte Cristo(1844) to accomplish—he cannot himself be quoted.
When I read this book—or one very similar; you can no more read the same book again than you can step into the same river—in the early 1970s, as a young teenager, I read it under the titleTiger! Tiger!It’s a title I prefer to the rather more upbeatThe Stars My Destination.It is a title of warning, of admiration. God, we are reminded in Blake’s poem, created the tiger too. The God who made the lamb also made the carnivores that prey upon it. And Gully Foyle,our hero, is a predator. We meet him and are informed that he is everyman, a nonentity; then Bester lights the touchpaper, and we stand back and watch him flare and burn and illuminate: almost illiterate, stupid, single-minded, amoral (not in the hip sense of being too cool for morality, but simply utterly, blindly selfish), he is a murderer—perhaps a multiple murderer—a rapist, a monster. A tiger.
(And because Bester began working on the book in England, naming his characters from an English telephone directory, Foyle shares a name with the largest, and most irritating book shop in London—and with Lemuel Gulliver, who voyaged among strange peoples. Dagenham, Yeovil, and Sheffield are all English cities.)
We are entering a second-stage world of introductions to SF. It is not long since everyone knew everybody. I for one never met Alfred Bester: I never travelled to America as a young man, and by the time he was due to come to England, to the 1987 Brighton Worldcon, his health did not permit it, and he died shortly after the convention.
I can offer no personal encomia to Bester the man—author of many fine short stories, two remarkable SF novels in the first round of his career(The Demolished Manand the book you now hold in your hand); author of three somewhat less notable SF books in later life. (Also a fascinating psychological thriller calledThe Rat Race,about the world of New York television in the 1950s.)
He began his career as a writer in the SF pulps, moved from there to comics, writing Superman, Green Lantern (he created the “Green Lantern Oath”), and many other characters; he moved from there to radio, writing forCharlie ChanandThe Shadow.“The comic book days were over, but the splendid training I received in visualization, attack, dialogue, and economy stayed with me forever,” he said in a memoir.
He was one of the only—perhaps the only—SF writers to be revered by the old timers (“First SF”), by the radical “New Wave” of the 1960s and early 1970s, and, in the 1980s, by the “cyberpunks.” When he died in 1987, three years into the flowering of cyberpunk, it was apparent that the 1980s genre owed an enormous debt to Bester—and to this book in particular.
The Stars My Destinationis, after all, the perfect cyberpunk novel: it contains such cheerfully protocyber elements as multinational corporate intrigue; a dangerous, mysterious, hyperscientific McGuffin (PyrE); an amoral hero; a supercool thief woman …
But what makesThe Stars My Destinationmore interesting—and ten years on, lessdated—than most cyberpunk, is watching Gully Foyle become a moral creature, during his sequence of transfigurations (keep all heroes going long enough, and they become gods). The tiger tattoos force him to learn control. His emotional state is no longer written in his face—it forces him to move beyond predation, beyond rage, back to the womb, as it were. (And what a sequence of wombs the book gives us: the coffin, theNomad,the Goufre Martel, St. Pat’s, and finally theNomadagain.) It gives us more than that. It gives us:
A word of warning: the vintage of the book demands more work from the reader than she or he may be used to. Were it written now, its author would have shown us the rape, not implied it, just as we would have been permitted to watch the sex on the grass in the night after the Goufre Martel, before the sun came up, and she saw his face…
So assume it’s 1956 again. You are about to meet Gully Foyle, and to learn how to jaunte. You are on the way to the future.
It was, or is, or will be, as Bester might have said, had someone not beaten him to it,the best of times. It will be the worst of times….
The Stars
Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
This was a Golden Age, a time of high adventure, rich living, and hard dying…but nobody thought so. This was a future of fortune and theft, pillage and rapine, culture and vice…but nobody admitted it. This was an age of extremes, a fascinating century of freaks…but nobody loved it.
All the habitable worlds of the solar system were occupied. Three planets and eight satellites and eleven millionmillionpeople swarmed in one of the most exciting ages ever known, yet minds still yearned for other times, as always. The solar system seethed with activity…fighting, feeding, and breeding, learning the new technologies that spewed forth almost before the old had been mastered, girding itself for the first exploration of the far stars in deep space; but—
“Where are the new frontiers?” the Romantics cried, unaware that the frontier of the mind had opened in a laboratory on Callisto at the turn of the twenty-fourth century. A researcher named Jaunte set fire to his bench and himself (accidentally) and let out a yell for help with particular reference to a fire extinguisher. Who so surprised as Jaunte and his colleagues when he found himself standing alongside said extinguisher, seventy feet removed from his lab bench.
They put Jaunte out and went into the whys and wherefores of his instantaneous seventy-foot journey. Teleportation…the transportation of oneself through space by an effort of the mind alone…had long been a theoretic concept, and there were a few hundred badly documented proofs that it had happened in the past. This was the first time that it had ever taken place before professional observers.
They investigated the Jaunte Effect savagely. This was something too earth-shaking tohandle with kid gloves, and Jaunte was anxious to make his name immortal. He made his will and said farewell to his friends. Jaunte knew he was going to die—because his fellow researchers were determined to kill him, if necessary. There was no doubt about that.
Twelve psychologists, parapsychologists, and neurometrists of varying specialization were called in as observers. The experimenters sealed Jaunte into an unbreakable crystal tank. They opened a water valve, feeding water into the tank, and let Jaunte watch them smash the valve handle. It was impossible to open the tank; it was impossible to stop the flow of water.
The theory was that if it had required the threat of death to goad Jaunte into teleporting himself in the first place, they’d damned well threaten him with death again. The tank filled quickly. The observers collected data with the tense precision of an eclipse camera crew. Jaunte began to drown. Then he was out side the tank, dripping and coughing explosively. He’d teleported again.
The experts examined and questioned him. They studied graphs and X-rays, neural patterns and body chemistry. They began to get an inkling of how Jaunte had teleported. On the technical grapevine (this had to be kept secret) they sent out a call for suicide volunteers. They were still in the primitive stage of teleportation; death was the only spur they knew.
They briefed the volunteers thoroughly. Jaunte lectured on what he had done and how he thought he had done it. Then they proceeded to murder the volunteers. They drowned them, hanged them, burned them; they invented new forms of slow and controlled death. There was never any doubt in any of the subjects that death was the object.
Eighty per cent of the volunteers died, and the agonies and remorse of their murderers would make a fascinating and horrible study, but that has no place in this history except to highlight the monstrosity of the times. Eighty per cent of the volunteers died, but 20 per cent jaunted. (The name became a word almost immediately.)
“Bring back the romantic age,” the Romantics pleaded, “when men could risk their lives in high adventure.”
The body of knowledge grew rapidly. By the first decade of the twenty-fifth century the principles of jaunting were established and the first school was opened by Charles Fort Jaunte himself, then fifty-seven, immortalized, and ashamed to admit that he had never dared jaunte again. But the primitive days were past; it was no longer necessary to threaten a man with death to make him teleport. They had learned how to teach man to recognize, discipline, and exploit yet another resource of his limitless mind.
How, exactly, did man teleport? One of the most unsatisfactory explanations was provided by Spencer Thompson, publicity representative of the Jaunte Schools, in a press interview.
THOMPSON: Jaunting is like seeing; it is a natural aptitude of almost everyhuman organism, but it can only be developed by training and experience.
REPORTER: You mean we couldn’t see without practice?
THOMPSON: Obviously you’re either unmarried or have no children … preferably both.
REPORTER: I don’t understand.
THOMPSON: Anyone who’s observed an infant learning to use itseyes, would.
REPORTER: But whatisteleportation?
THOMPSON: The transportation of oneself from one locality to another by an effort of the mind alone.
REPORTER: You mean we canthinkourselves from…say…New York to Chicago?
THOMPSON: Precisely.
REPORTER: Would we arrive naked?
THOMPSON: If you started naked.
REPORTER: I mean, would our clothes teleport with us?
THOMPSON: When people teleport, they also teleport the clothes they wear and whatever they are strong enough to carry. I hate to disappoint you, but even ladies’ clothes would arrive with them.
REPORTER: But how do we do it?
THOMPSON: How do we think?
REPORTER: With our minds.
THOMPSON: And how does the mind think? What is the thinking process? Exactly how do we remember, imagine, deduce,create? Exactly how do the brain cells operate?
REPORTER: I don’t know. Nobody knows.
THOMPSON: And nobody knows exactly how we teleport either, but we know we can do it—just as we know that we can think. Have you ever heard of Descartes? He said:Cogito ergo sum.I think, therefore I am. We say:Cogito ergo jaunteo.I think, therefore I jaunte.
If it is thought that Thompson’s explanation is exasperating, inspect this report of Sir John Kelvin to the Royal Society on the mechanism of jaunting:
We have established that the teleportative ability is associated with the Nissl bodies, or Tigroid Substance in nerve cells. The Tigroid Substance is easiest demonstrated by Nissl’s method using 3.75 g. of methylene blue and 1.75 g. of Venetian soap dissolved in 1,000 cc. of water.
Where the Tigroid Substance does not appear, jaunting is impossible. Teleportation is a Tigroid Function.
Any man was capable of jaunting provided he developed two faculties, visualization and concentration. He had to visualize, completely and precisely, the spot to which he desired to teleport himself; and he had to concentrate the latent energy of his mind into a single thrust to get him there. Above all, he had to have faith…the faith that Charles Fort Jaunte never recovered. He had to believe he would jaunte. The slightest doubt would block the mind-thrust necessary for teleportation.
The limitations with which every man is born necessarily limited the ability to jaunte. Some could visualize magnificently and set the co-ordinates of their destination with precision, but lacked the power to get there. Others had the power but could not, so to speak, see where they were jaunting. And space set a final limitation, for no man had ever jaunted further than a thousand miles. He could work his way in jaunting jumps over land and water from Nome to Mexico, but no jump could exceed a thousand miles.
By the 2420’s, this form of employment application blank had become a commonplace:
This space
reserved for
retina pattern identification
JAUNTE CLASS (Official Rating; Check One Only):
M(1,000 miles):…….L(50 miles):……..
D(500 miles):……….X(10 miles):……..
C (100 miles):..………V(5 miles):……….
The old Bureau of Motor Vehicles took over the new job and regularly tested and classed jaunte applicants, and the old American Automobile Association changed its initials to AJA.
Despite all efforts, no man had ever jaunted across the voids of space, although many experts and fools had tried. Helmut Grant, for one, who spent a month memorizing the co-ordinates of a jaunte stage on the moon and visualized every mile of the two hundred and forty thousand-mile trajectory from Times Square to Kepler City. Grant jaunted and disappeared. They never found him. They never found Enzio Dandridge, a Los Angeles revivalist looking for Heaven; Jacob Maria Freundlich, a paraphysicist who should have known better than to jaunte into deep space searching for metadimensions; Shipwreck Cogan, a professional seeker after notoriety; and hundreds of others, lunatic-fringers, neurotics, escapists, and suicides. Space was closed to teleportation. Jaunting was restricted to the surfaces of the planets of the solar system.
But within three generations the entire solar system was on the jaunte. The transition was more spectacular than the change over from horse and buggy to gasoline age five centuries before. On three planets and eight satellites, social legal and economic structures crashed while the new customs and laws demanded by universal jaunting mushroomed in their place.
There were land riots as the jaunting poor deserted slums to squat in plains and forests, raiding the livestock and wildlife. There was a revolution in home and office building: labyrinths and masking devices had to be introduced to prevent unlawful entry by jaunting. There were crashes and panics and strikes and famines as pre-jaunte industries failed.
Plagues and pandemics raged as jaunting vagrants carried disease and vermin into defenseless countries. Malaria, elephantiasis, and the breakbone fever came north to Greenland; rabies returned to England after an absence of three hundred years. The Japanese beetle, the citrus scale, the chestnut blight, and the elm borer spread to every corner of the world, and from one forgotten pesthole in Borneo, leprosy, long imagined extinct, reappeared.
Crime waves swept the planets and satellites as their under worlds took to jaunting with the night around the clock, and there were brutalities as the police fought them without quarter. There came a hideous return to the worst prudery of Victorianism as society fought the sexual and moral dangers of jaunting with protocol and taboo. A cruel and vicious war broke out between the Inner Planets—Venus, Terra, and Mars—and the Outer Satellites…a war brought on by the economic and political pressures of teleportation.
Until the Jaunte Age dawned, the three Inner Planets (and the Moon) had lived in delicate economic balance with the seven inhabited Outer Satellites: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto of Jupiter; Rhea and Titan of Saturn; and Lassell of Neptune. The United Outer Satellites supplied raw materials for the Inner Planets’ manufactories, and a market for their finished goods. Within a decade this balance was destroyed by jaunting.
The Outer Satellites, raw young worlds in the making, had bought 70 per cent of the I.P. transportation production. Jaunting ended that. They had bought 90 per cent of the I.P.communications production. Jaunting ended that too. In consequence I.P. purchase of O.S. raw materials fell off.
With trade exchange destroyed it was inevitable that the economic war would degenerate into a shooting war. Inner Planets’ cartels refused to ship manufacturing equipment to the Outer Satellites, attempting to protect themselves against competition. The O.S. confiscated the plants already in operation on their worlds, broke patent agreements, ignored royalty obligations…and the war was on.
It was an age of freaks, monsters, and grotesques. Allthe world was misshapen in marvelous and malevolent ways. The Classicists and Romantics who hated it were unaware of the potential greatness of the twenty-fifth century. They were blind to a cold fact of evolution…that progress stems from the clashing merger of antagonistic extremes, out of the marriage of pinnacle freaks. Classicists and Romantics alike were unaware that the Solar System was trembling on the verge of a human explosion that would transform man and make him the master of the universe.
It is against this seething background of the twenty-fifth century that the vengeful history of Gulliver Foyle begins.
He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead. He fought for survival with the passion of a beast in a trap. He was delirious and rotting, but occasionally his primitive mind emerged from the burning nightmare of survival into something resembling sanity. Then he lifted his mute face to Eternity and muttered: “What’s a matter, me? Help, you goddamn gods! Help, is all.”
Blasphemy came easily to him: it was half his speech, all his life. He had been raised in the gutter school of the twenty-fifth century and spoke nothing but the gutter tongue. Of all brutes in the world he was among the least valuable alive and most likely to survive. So he struggled and prayed in blasphemy; but occasionally his raveling mind leaped backward thirty years to his childhood and remembered a nursery jingle:
Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation.
Deep space is my dwelling place
And death’s my destination.
He was Gulliver Foyle, Mechanic’s Mate 3rd Class, thirty years old, big boned and rough…and one hundred and seventy days adrift in space. He was Gully Foyle, the oiler, wiper, bunkerman; too easy for trouble, too slow for fun, too empty for friendship, too lazy for love. The lethargic outlines of his character showed in the official Merchant Marine records:
FOYLE, GULLIVER––––––AS-128/127:006
A man of physical strength and intellectual potential stunted by lack of ambition. Energizes at minimum. The stereotype Common Man. Some unexpected shock might possibly awaken him, but Psych cannot find the key. Not recommended for promotion. Has reached a dead end.
He had reached a dead end. He had been content to drift from moment to moment of existence for thirty years like some heavily armored creature, sluggish and indifferent—Gully Foyle, the stereotype Common Man—but now he was adrift in space for one hundred and seventy days, and the key to his awakening was in the lock. Presently it would turn and open the door to holocaust.
The spaceshipNomaddrifted halfway between Mars and Jupiter. Whatever war catastrophe had wrecked it had taken a sleek steel rocket, one hundred yards long and one hundred feet broad, and mangled it into a skeleton on which was mounted the remains of cabins, holds, decks, and bulkheads. Great rents in the hull were blazes of light on the sunside and frosty blotches of stars on the darkside. The S.S.Nomadwas a weightless emptiness of blinding sun and jet shadow, frozen and silent.
The wreck was filled with a floating conglomerate of frozen debris that hung within the destroyed vessel like an instantaneous photograph of an explosion. The minute gravitational attraction of the bits of rubble for each other was slowly drawing them into clusters which were periodically torn apart by the passage through them of the one survivor still aliveon the wreck, Gulliver Foyle,AS-128/127:006.
He lived in the only airtight room left intact in the wreck, a tool locker off the main-deck corridor. The locker was four feet wide, four feet deep, and nine feet high. It was the size of a giant’s coffin. Six hundred years before, it had been judged the most exquisite Oriental torture to imprison a man in a cage that size for a few weeks. Yet Foyle had existed in this lightless coffin for five months, twenty days, and four hours.
“Who are you?”
“Gully Foyle is my name.”
“Where are you from?”
“Terra is my nation.”
“Where are you now?”
“Deep space is my dwelling place.”
“Where are you bound?”
“Death’s my destination.”
On the one hundred and seventy-first day of his fight for survival, Foyle answered these questions and awoke. His heart hammered and his throat burned. He groped in the dark for the air tank which shared his coffin with him and checked it. The tank was empty. Another would have to be moved in at once. So this day would commence with an extra skirmish with death which Foyle accepted with mute endurance.
He felt through the locker shelves and located a torn space suit. It was the only one aboardNomadand Foyle no longer remembered where or how he had found it. He had sealed the tear with emergency spray, but had no way of refilling or replacing the empty oxygen cartridges on the back. Foyle got into the suit. It would hold enough air from the locker to allow him five minutes in vacuum…no more.
Foyle opened the locker door and plunged out into the black frost of space. The air in the locker puffed out with him and its moisture congealed into a tiny snow cloud that drifted down the torn main-deck corridor. Foyle heaved at the exhausted air tank, floated it out of the locker and abandoned it. One minute was gone.
He turned and propelled himself through the floating debris toward the hatch to the ballast hold. He did not run:his gait was the unique locomotion of free-fall and weightlessness…thrusts with foot, elbow and hand against deck, wall and corner, a slow motion darting through space like a bat flying under water. Foyle shot through the hatch into the darkside ballast hold. Two minutes were gone.
Like all spaceships,Nomadwas ballasted and stiffened with the mass of her gas tanks laid down the length of her keel like a long lumber raft tapped at the sides by a labyrinth of pipe fittings. Foyle took a minute disconnecting an air tank. He had no way of knowing whether it was full or already exhausted; whether he would fight it back to his locker only to discover that it was empty and his life was ended. Once a week he endured this game of space roulette.
There was a roaring in his ears; the air in his spacesuit was rapidly going foul. He yanked the massy cylinder toward the ballast hatch, ducked to let it sail over his head, then thrust himself after it. He swung the tank through the hatch. Four minutes had elapsed and he was shaking and blacking out. He guided the tank down the main-deck corridor and bulled it into the tool locker.
He slammed the locker door, dogged it, found a hammer on a shelf and swung it thrice against the frozen tank to loosen the valve. Foyle twisted the handle grimly. With the last of his strength he unsealed the helmet of his spacesuit, lest he suffocate within the suit while the locker filled with air…if this tank contained air. He fainted, as he had fainted so often before, never knowing whether this was death.
“Who are you?”
“Gully Foyle.”
“Where are you from?”
“Where are you now?”
“Where are you bound?”
He awoke. He was alive. He wasted no time on prayer or thanks but continued the business of survival. In the darkness he explored the locker shelves where he kept his rations. There were only a few packets left. Since he was already wearing the patched spacesuit he might just as well run the gantlet of vacuum again and replenish his supplies.
He flooded his spacesuit with air from the tank, resealed his helmet and sailed out into the frost and light again. He squirmed down the main-deck corridor and ascended the remains of a stairway to control deck, which was no more than a roofed corridor in space. Most of the walls were destroyed.
With the sun on his right and the stars on his left, Foyle shot aft toward the galley storeroom. Halfway down the corridor he passed a door frame still standing foursquare between deck and roof. The leaf stillhung on its hinges, half-open,a door to nowhere. Behind it was all space and the steady stars.
As Foyle passed the door he had a quick view of himself reflected in the polished chrome of the leaf…Gully Foyle, a giant black creature, bearded, crusted with dried blood and filth, emaciated, with sick, patient eyes…and followed always by a stream of floating debris, the raffle disturbed by his motion and following him through space like the tail of a festering comet.
Foyle turned into the galley storeroom and began looting with the methodical speed of five months’ habit. Most of the bottled goods were frozen solid and exploded. Much of the canned goods had lost their containers, for tin crumbles to dust in the absolute zero of space. Foyle gathered up ration packets, concentrates, and a chunk of ice from the burst water tank. He threw everything into a large copper cauldron, turned and darted out of the storeroom, carrying the cauldron.
At the door to nowhere Foyle glanced at himself again, reflected in the chrome leaf framed in the stars. Then he stopped his motion in bewilderment. He stared at the stars behind the door which had become familiar friends after five months. There was an intruder among them; a comet, it seemed, with an invisible head and a short, spurting tail. Then Foyle realized he was staring at a spaceship, stern rockets flaring as it accelerated on a sunward course which must pass him.
“No,” he muttered. “No, man. No.”
He was continually suffering from hallucinations. He turned to resume the journey back to his coffin. Then he looked again. It was still a spaceship, stern rockets flaring as it accelerated on a sunward course which must pass him. He discussed the illusion with Eternity.
“Six months already,” he said in his gutter tongue. “Is it now? You listen a me, lousy gods. I talkin’ a deal, is all. I look again, sweet prayer-men. If it’s a ship, I’m yours. You own me. But if it’s a gaff, man…if it’s no ship…I unseal right now and blow my guts. We both ballast level, us. Now reach me the sign, yes or no, is all.”
He looked for a third time. For a third time he saw a spaceship, stern rockets flaring as it accelerated on a sunward course which must pass him.
It was the sign. He believed. He was saved.
Foyle shoved off and went hurtling down control-deck corridor toward the bridge. But at the companionway stairs he restrained himself. He could not remain conscious for more than a few more moments without refilling his spacesuit. He gave the approaching spaceship one pleading look, then shot down to the tool locker and pumped his suit full.
He mounted to the control bridge. Through the starboard observation port he saw the spaceship, stern rockets still flaring, evidently making a major alteration in course, for it was bearing down on him very slowly.
On a panel marked FLARES, Foyle pressed the DISTRESS button. There was a three-second pause during which he suffered. Then white radiance blinded him as the distress signal went off in three triple bursts, nine prayers for help. Foyle pressed the button twice again, and twice more the flares flashed in space while the radioactives incorporated in their combustion set up a static howl that must register on any waveband of any receiver.
The stranger’s jets cut off. He had been seen. He would be saved. He was reborn. He exulted.
Foyle darted back to his locker and replenished his spacesuit again. He began to weep. He started to gather his possessions—a faceless clock which he kept wound just to listen to the ticking, a lug wrench with a hand-shaped handle which he would hold in lonely moments, an egg slicer upon whose wires he would pluck primitive tunes… .He dropped them in his excitement, hunted for them in the dark, then began to laugh at himself.
He filled his spacesuit with air once more and capered back to the bridge. He punched a flare button labelled: RESCUE. From the hull of theNomadshot a sunlet that burst and hung, flooding miles of space with harsh white light.
“Come on, baby you,” Foyle crooned. “Hurry up, man. Come on, baby baby you.”
Like a ghost torpedo, the stranger slid into the outermost rim of light, approaching slowly, looking him over. For a moment Foyle’s heart constricted; the ship was behaving so cautiously that he feared she was an enemy vessel from the Outer Satellites. Then he saw the famous red and blue emblem on her side, the trademark of the mighty industrial clan of Presteign; Presteign of Terra, powerful, munificent, beneficent. And he knew this was a sister ship, for theNomadwas also Presteign-owned. He knew this was an angel from space hovering over him.
“Sweet sister,” Foyle crooned. “Baby angel, flyaway home with me.”
The ship came abreast of Foyle, illuminated ports along its side glowing with friendly light, its name and registry number clearly visible in illuminated figures on the hull:Vorga-T:1339.The ship was alongside him in a moment, passing him in a second, disappearing in a third.
The sister had spurned him; the angel had abandoned him.
Foyle stopped dancing and crooning. He stared in dismay. He leaped to the flare panel and slapped buttons. Distress signals, landing, take-off, and quarantine flares burst from the hull of theNomadin a madness of white, red and green light, pulsing, pleading…andVorga-T:1339 passed silently and implacably, stern jets flaring again as it accelerated on a sunward course.
So, in five seconds, he was born, he lived, and he died. After thirty years of existence and six months of torture, Gully Foyle, the stereotype Common Man, was no more. The key turned in the lock of his soul and the door was opened. What emerged expunged the Common Man forever.
“You pass me by,” he said with slow mounting fury. “You leave me rot like a dog. You leave me die,Vorga…Vorga-T:1339.No. I get out of here, me. I follow you,Vorga.I find you,Vorga.I pay you back, me. I rot you. I kill you,Vorga.I kill you filthy.”
The acid of fury ran through him, eating away the brute patience and sluggishness that had made a cipher of Gully Foyle, precipitating a chain of reactions that would make an infernal machine of Gully Foyle. He was dedicated.
“Vorga,I kill you filthy.”
He did what the cipher could not do; he rescued himself.
For two days he combed the wreckage in five-minute forays, and devised a harness for his shoulders. He attached an air tank to the harness and connected the tank to his spacesuit helmet with an improvised hose. He wriggled through space like an ant dragging a log, but he had the freedom of theNomadfor all time.
He thought.
In the control bridge he taught himself to use the few navigation instruments that were still unbroken, studying the standard manuals that littered the wrecked navigation room. In the ten years of his service in space he had never dreamed of at tempting such a thing, despite the rewards of promotion and pay; but now he hadVorga-T:1339to reward him.
He took sights. TheNomadwas drifting in space on the ecliptic, three hundred million miles from the sun. Before him were spread the constellations Perseus, Andromeda, and Pisces. Hanging almost in the foreground was a dusty orange spot that was Jupiter, distinctly a planetary disc to the naked eye. With any luck he could make a course for Jupiter and rescue.
Jupiter was not, could never be habitable. Like all the outer planets beyond the asteroid orbits, it was a frozen mass of methane and ammonia; but its four largest satellites swarmed with cities and populations now at war with the Inner Planets. He would be a war prisoner, but he had to stay alive to settle accounts withVorga-T:1339.
Foyle inspected the engine room of theNomad.There was Hi-Thrust fuel remaining in the tanks and one of the four tail jets was still in operative condition. Foyle found the engine room manuals and studied them. He repaired the connection between fuel tanks and the one jet chamber. The tanks were on the sunside of the wreck and warmed above freezing point. The Hi-Thrust was still liquid, but it would not flow. In free-fall there was no gravity to draw the fuel down the pipes.
Foyle studied a space manual and learned something about theoretical gravity. If he could put theNomadinto a spin, centrifugal force would impart enough gravitation to the ship to draw fuel down into the combustion chamber of the jet. If he could fire the combustion chamber, the unequal thrust of the one jet would impart a spin to theNomad.
But he couldn’t fire the jet without first having the spin; and he couldn’t get the spin without first firing the jet.
He thought his way out of the deadlock; he was inspired byVorga.
Foyle opened the drainage petcock in the combustion chamber of the jet and torturously filled the chamber with fuel by hand. He had primed the pump. Now, if he ignited the fuel, it would fire long enough to impart the spin and start gravity. Then the flow from the tanks would commence and the rocketing would continue.
He tried matches.
Matches will not burn in the vacuum of space.
He tried flint and steel.
Sparks will not glow in the absolute zero of space.
He thought of red-hot filaments.
He had no electric power of any description aboard theNomadto make a filament red hot.
He found texts and read. Although he was blacking out frequently and close to complete collapse, he thought and planned. He was inspired to greatness byVorga.
Foyle brought ice from the frozen galley tanks, melted it with his own body heat, and added water to the jet combustion chamber. The fuel and the water were nonmiscible, they did not mix. The water floated in a thin layer over the fuel.
From the chemical stores Foyle brought a silvery bit of wire, pure sodium metal. He poked the wire through the open petcock. The sodium ignited when it touched the water and flared with high heat. The heat touched off the Hi-Thrust which burst in a needle flame from the petcock. Foyle closed the petcock with a wrench. The ignition held in the chamber and the lone aft jet slammed out flame with a soundless vibration that shook the ship.
The off-center thrust of the jet twisted theNomadinto a slow spin. The torque imparted a slight gravity. Weight returned. The floating debris that cluttered the hull fell to decks, walls and ceilings; and the gravity kept the fuel feeding from tanks to combustion chamber.
Foyle wasted no time on cheers. He left the engine room and struggled forward in desperate haste for a final, fatal observation from the control bridge. This would tell him whether theNomadwas committed to a wild plunge out into the no-return of deep space, or a course for Jupiter and rescue.
The slight gravity made his air tank almost impossible to drag. The sudden forward surge of acceleration shook loose masses of debris which flew backward through theNomad.As Foyle struggled up the companionway stairs to the control deck, the rubble from the bridge came hurtling back down the corridor and smashed into him. He was caught up in this tumbleweed in space, rolled back the length of the empty corridor, and brought up against the galley bulkhead with an impact that shattered his last hold on consciousness. He lay pinned in the center of half a ton of wreckage, helpless, barely alive, but still raging for vengeance.
“Who are you?”
“Where are you from?”
“Where are you now?”
“Where are you bound?”