Holloway was used to big game hunters and their expeditions to other worlds. But this trip was sheer madness—a space ship stalking among—
he examiner looked doubtful and said, "But Mr. Holloway, regulations require that I read your log before I take verbal testimony."
Holloway's face was drawn and ravaged. His bloodshot eyes sat in black pits. They were trained on the Examiner but looked through him rather than at him.
Holloway said, "But, I must talk! I've got to tell you about it. I have to keep talking."
Holloway's words tumbled out. "It started in the control cabin there in deep space. When Mrs. Kelvey came in. She was the blonde one. I turned around and she said, 'Captain, there's a great big tiger in the companionway.'"
The desperate Holloway, fearful of being stopped or running out of words, went into minute detail. "She made the statement as a pouting complaint, almost casually. Then, before I could speak, she realized what she'd said and her face changed. A kind of horrified double-take. 'A tiger? In the companionway of a space ship?' This last was an incredulous question she asked herself. Then she fainted. I looked outside. I thought I saw something blurred and indistinct but it vanished quickly if it was really there at all. The companionway was empty. No tiger. No animal of any kind—"
The Examiner, holding up a hand of protest, looked like a man directing traffic. "Please, Mr. Holloway—please. We must remember regulations."
Holloway's eyes closed for a moment but he resolutely forced them open as though afraid of something.
The scene was Holloway's two-room suite in the Space Port Hotel. There were three men present—Holloway, skipper of the Space King, John Mason, Port Resident, and Merle Kennedy, Section Examiner for the Space Authority people. Kennedy regarded Holloway with frank concern. Good heavens—the man was a complete mess. Looked ready to collapse. Kennedy turned to Mason. "This can be postponed, you know."
Mason was regarding Holloway also. Strange, he thought; Holloway had left in a fanfare of publicity. Now it appeared his return would be even more dramatic. Maybe Holloway was that kind of a chap; the kind things just happened to.
He was quite young though he certainly didn't look it now. He'd been known as a playboy ever since his father struck it big in Venusian oil. But good-looking, personable, he had worn the label well. He'd been good copy because the public regarded him with patronizing affection. To them, he'd been a nice kid having fun; not a young wastrel wasting his father's money.
Naturally he would pick a glamour girl to play the romantic feminine role and Melody Hayden had filled the bill perfectly. Together, they had enchanted the public. Princess and Prince Charming stuff. Then tragedy. Disaster in a rocketing sports car; Melody's coffin sealed before the funeral; young Holloway coming off without a scratch. Melody's death was a bombshell and everyone asked. What will he do now? expecting of course, something sensational.
He didn't let them down. Dramatically, he announced a completely new life. He bought a space ship and foreswore his old ways. He had quite a reputation as a big game hunter. He'd stalked the vicious Plutonian ice bears and lain in Venusian swamps waiting for the ten-ton lizards to rise out of the slime. He had knocked over the wiliest of animals, a telepathic Uranian mountain wolf and had dropped in flight a Martian radar-bat, a feat duplicated by only three other marksmen of record.
So what more natural occupation than guiding hunting parties in deep space? Holloway had been obviously torn by Melody's tragic death. Perhaps out among the stars he could forget.
here had been some trouble, Mason recalled, in clearing Holloway's first cruise. A party of five. Not to any established hunting ground but a D. U. thing. Destination Unknown, and they were always trouble. Clearance had been made, though, and now—here was Holloway back again—dramatically of course—with one of his party dead and the other four in trance-like stupors. Strange.
And stranger still, Holloway's reason for wanting to talk immediately; with no rest—no medical attention:
"It will help keep me awake. I mustn't go to sleep. Can't I make you understand? I've got to stay awake."
Mason pitied the man. He turned to Kennedy. "I have the log here, sir. Perhaps you could go over it now—"
Holloway leaned forward. "I'll tell you what's in the log. Every word of it. If I just sit here waiting—"
Mason laid a hand on his knee. "It's all right, old chap. I won't let you go to sleep. You and I will talk while Mr. Kennedy goes through the log. It won't take long."
Mason handed the book to Kennedy. He was almost apologetic. "It's a strange log, sir, It—"
"Strange?" Kennedy frowned. Logs had no right to be strange. There were regulations—rules stating exactly how a log should be kept.
"Well sir, the lad is young. His first trip. I just meant there's perhaps a little more in the log than should appear there."
"We'll see," Kennedy said. There was a slight frost on his words. If disciplinary measures were in the offing it would pay not to get too cozy with Holloway and the Resident.
Kennedy opened the log. The first entry was dated June 3rd, 4:10 p. m. Earth time. Kennedy frowned. Permissible of course, but sloppy, very sloppy. The better skippers computed from Orion immediately after blast-off. Kennedy set back and began to read:
June 3rd, 4:10 p. m.
We blasted at 2:18 p. m. A good getaway. Course 58.329 by the polar angle. No blast sickness among the passengers. They are old hands. I put the automatic board into control at 3:50 p. m. I checked the tubes. Pressures balanced and equal.
I don't like this cruise. I don't like Murdo. He's a domineering slob. The other four, well—Keebler is an alcoholic, Kelvey an empty-headed opportunist. I don't particularly dislike them. They're just a worthless pair who would rather fawn on Murdo and take his insults than work for a living. The two wives are both young. Martha Keebler has a child's mind in a woman's body. Jane Kelvey is an oversexed witch with an indecent exposure complex. I may have trouble with her. Already she's parading around in skimpy shorts and a bra. Evidently Murdo doesn't care for women. He pays no attention to her. Money and power are his dish. And a terrible restlessness.
Melody baby—I wish you were here—
June 4th, 3:00 p. m.
I had a talk with Murdo about this silly cruise. Tried to swing him onto something that makes a little more sense. Pluto, Venus, Ganymede—some hunting ground I'm familiar with. No good. Even a suggestion and he thinks you're crossing him and snorts like a bull. Still demands to go to this place where big game prowls in space. Where elephants and leopards and snakes and anything you can name fly around your ship and look in your ports. Where you do your hunting in space suits right out in the void.
Why in hell did I fall for this idiocy? Guess I just didn't care. Maybe I thought it was a good idea because it sounded like a cruise you could get killed on without much trouble. No—I shouldn't say that. Melody wouldn't like me to say it. She was so wonderful—so level-headed. How wrong they all were about us. About her. Because she was so beautiful, I guess. I tried to tell them I'd married an angel and they took bets among themselves on how long it would last. The answer to that would have been forever. It still is. I've lost so much and learned so much in such a very short time. The hell with Murdo and his four puppets. I'll take them out and bring them back. Then I'll go somewhere alone and I won't come back at all.
Course 28.493 by the polar angle. Went through small asteroid field....
ennedy looked up sharply. He frowned. "This log is unacceptable."
Holloway was pacing the floor, his eyes blank and terrible "Unacceptable?"
"Course and position should be noted within each twenty-four hour period. You missed June 5th entirely. You—" Kennedy leafed through the pages. "Why at times you missed three and four days in sequence!"
"Sometimes I didn't have time to write."
Mason tried to hide his disgust. How did men like Kennedy get into positions they weren't fitted for? The ass! Couldn't he see this man was suffering? Mason said, "Why not reserve comment until you've finished, Mr. Kennedy?"
Kennedy's eyes widened at the sharp tone of Mason's voice. Really. When residents start dictating to Examiners—Kennedy saw the stiffness in Mason's face. And something more. He went quickly back to his reading:
June 6, 1:00 p. m.
I talked some more with Murdo about this fool cruise. He got wind of our destination—wherever it is—from some rich idiot in Paris. And I don't use idiot figuratively. His informant was in some kind of a private nut house—an exclusive insane asylum of idiots with lots of money—and he had lucid intervals. At one of these times he told Murdo where he'd been and what had happened. I don't think Murdo believes all of it but he wants to see for himself. Well, if he wants to spend his money chasing meteorites it's his business.
Keebler got drunk as a goat. Strapped him in his bunk and left him there. Murdo spent a few hours explaining guns to Mrs. Keebler. I think he enjoys the look of wonder on her face. Makes him feel very superior knowledgewise. Her face is just built that way and so far as she's concerned he could be talking Greek. He thinks she's very beautiful. I wonder if he ever saw Melody's picture?
Course 36.829 by the Orion angle. All clear.
June 9th, 1:00 a. m.
Course 36.841 by the Orion angle. Small asteroids.
Jane Kelvey is bored and has started taking it out on me. When I passed her door it was open. She was taking a sponge bath, stark naked in the middle of the cabin. She turned around to face me and did a very bad job of acting flustered, trying to cover herself up with a small sponge! How crude can a female get? She was hoping I'd come in. If I had it would have been to slap her face. I got away as fast as I could.
June 10th, 7 p. m.
Course 41.864 by the Orion angle. Brushed a small asteroid.
I've been noting the time wrong. It should be figured on a twenty-four-hour cycle. Midnight to midnight, the hell with it.
Had a fight with Murdo. He wanted to take over the ship. His words were, "Let's get some speed out of this slop bucket." I reminded him I was Captain. He reminded me he was footing the bills. I asked him how he would like to be locked in his cabin for the remainder of the cruise? He didn't say, but I guess he wouldn't have liked it because he quieted down. Keebler has been quietly drunk for the last two days. Lucky Keebler.
June 13th, 18 hours.
Course 26.932 by the Virgo angle. Went four degrees off course to avoid small planetoid.
Jane Kelvey came to my cabin an hour ago. The rest were asleep. She wore a blue dressing gown with nothing under it. I want to set down what happened in case there's ever a kickback although I don't think there ever will be.
I was sitting in a chair and she came up behind me and it was very unfortunate because I saw the blue dressing gown first. By sheer chance it was almost exactly like the one Melody wore that first night. I was thinking of Melody. Melody was all around me and inside me. In my mind, in my heart, in all my aching regrets.
So when that dressing gown brushed me, something electric happened inside and I got up and took Jane Kelvey in my arms. It wasn't more than three or four seconds but in that time the gown had been brushed aside. Then I came to my senses and pushed her away.
The dressing gown stayed parted. She stepped back, confused. She said, "What's the matter? Are you scared?"
"I'm disgusted. Button your gown. Get out of here!"
"What are you? Not one of those noble creatures I hope—who wouldn't touch a man's wife."
"I said get out! I wouldn't touch you regardless."
"But you just did."
"It was a mistake. I—"
"Look—I'm a woman. You're a man—I think. We're alone in space and life is short. Let's have fun and then forget about it."
I slapped her across the mouth. A skipper can be jailed for life for striking a passenger. Even with cause. But I slapped her and I'm setting it down in the log....
ennedy looked up from his reading. "Jane Kelvey—she is the dead one?"
Kennedy looked at Holloway with marked severity. "Are you sure you only slapped her?"
Mason exploded. "Good God, man. Did you see the body? You're not implying he did that to her, are you?"
"I'm not implying anything," Kennedy said within a restrained grimness that infuriated Mason.
"Why don't you finish the log before you start passing judgment?"
Kennedy leafed through the pages. "I—wait a minute! This log doesn't cover the whole cruise! It breaks off in the middle of a sentence!"
"Read what's there, man! Read what's there."
"Very serious—very serious," Kennedy muttered. "Not completing a log. No license should have been issued this man. Lax! Very lax." He sat back to make himself more comfortable and prepared to go on with his reading.
June 30th—3 hours
Course 29.341 by the Virgo angle. I think that's the course. The instruments are acting funny. In fact a lot of things seem to be wrong. Some of the constellations aren't in the right places anymore.
I began noticing these things a couple of days ago and spoke to Murdo. I suggested we turn back. I told him it was my duty as a skipper to look out for the welfare of my passengers. And that included not continuing if vital instruments showed signs of failure.
He sneered at me and said, "I thought you were a big game hunter, Holloway?"
I told him I'd hunted big game—yes.
"It doesn't sound like it. You sound like a timid old woman. So you've made some miscalculations. The course is still right. It's on the flight pattern in the automatic control board and I know it's correct because I gave it to you."
"But if instruments fail nothing stays right."
"Okay—you're the skipper. If you've turned yellow and want to show your tail I guess there's nothing I can do about it."
He almost got his jaw broken, but I was able to hold myself. Then, suddenly, I didn't care. I didn't care whether Murdo stayed alive or got killed. As to the others—they'd come on the cruise with their eyes open. They deserved whatever they got. And I certainly didn't give a damn about myself. Guess I wasn't cut out to skipper a ship. A skipper should care. That's all he should do. Just care. I'd rather dream about Melody.
I don't know what the date is. The chronometer stopped so I don't even know what time it is. But what does it matter about the time if you don't even know what day it is? We just go on and on.
Murdo—I can't figure out. Windbag or not—braggart or no—he has an iron will. I think he's scared but he won't admit it. And some stubborn streak inside him won't let him turn tail and run. He hides his fear behind long accounts of his hunting trips. He describes the vicious animals he's killed. He bores us with accounts of his skill as a great hunter.
The rest listen because they have to. I go to my cabin and remember Melody.
The rest are scared too, but they're too scared of Murdo to let him know it. That's an odd one. Scared for your life but afraid to tell the big man because he might kill you. Would Murdo kill in a fit of rage? I don't know.
Keebler stays drunk so none of it bothers him. Keebler's wife, I think, is in love with Murdo but it's a kind of little-girl love. She never quite grew up. Kelvey glues himself to Murdo and sticks like a plaster. He seems to consider Murdo a haven, as though Murdo's bulk will make everything all right.
Jane Kelvey hasn't quit making passes at me but they're half-hearted. She bothers me. I'm uneasy when she's around. I get the feeling that any minute she might drop to her knees and beg. What do you do with a woman on her knees before you, begging? Maybe before long her husband will look good to her. Maybe she'll be able to get him away from Murdo's side for a while.
I look at both these women and realize what I lost. Melody.
ane Kelvey came to my cabin. It's hit her that things aren't right. She's scared. She asked, "Why did you tell Murdo you wanted to turn back?"
"Because I thought we'd come too far."
"Do you still think so?"
"Everything will be all right."
"The instruments—are they working again?"
I lied to her. "They're working."
"Do you think it's really as Murdo says—that there are animals out in space?"
"I don't know."
She looked wan and forlorn and I was sorry for her. She said, "I've only been on one hunting trip in my life."
"Is that so?"
"In India. A boy carried my gun for me. When the tiger came the boy handed me the gun and told me where to point. I fired but I didn't hit the tiger. Somebody else shot it."
"That was too bad."
"No, it was all right. He was such a big beautiful animal. So sleek and powerful."
I saw her body tremble as she closed her eyes. I said, "You better get some rest."
She passed a hand over her eyes and then gave me an odd wistful smile. "Animals are smarter, I think. We do make awful messes out of our lives, don't we?"
"I'm afraid we do."
"But is it our fault? God makes us this way. We can't help that."
"No, I guess we can't."
"Why did God make us like we are?"
"I don't know, Jane. Let's hope He does."
"Isn't that sacrilege or something? Doubting Him?"
"I guess it is."
She reached out suddenly and touched my face. "You're a nice guy. I don't blame you for slapping me."
"I'm sorry. You're pretty nice yourself."
The smile faded. "I'm not," she said miserably, and left the cabin.
Poor kid. I forgot her and thought of Melody.
Something's gone wrong with everything. Not a very scientific statement for a skipper to make but that's how it is. The stars have disappeared. The instruments jumped around as though they had minds of their own. The dial needles spin around like crazy.
And something else—something even worse. Space has changed. I mean there's something out there in space. First I just felt it. A raw uneasiness. Then I trained a light through the port and I could see it. Stuff that looks like dust but isn't. It's hazy and yet it sparkles and you have a sense of being on a ship that's pushing its way through a fog so thick the friction holds you back. And there's something more about this sparkling fog. You look out at it and it seems to be looking back at you. Or maybe I'm losing my mind. Anyhow, that's the way it seems. As though it's waiting for you to speak to it—say hello or something.
I guess I'm going crazy.
The sparkling fog is affecting the others, too. They've all quieted down and they slip along the bulkheads as though they were being followed. Only Murdo blusters back. He says, what the hell? We expected something different, didn't we? Well, this is sure different enough, isn't it?
I'd turn back but I don't know how. I have nothing to go by. The instruments make no sense.
I am going crazy. I looked out the port just now and saw a water buffalo. It was standing right out there in space with its head down looking at the ship! I had a light turned on it and suddenly it charged and hit the port headon. It bounced off and went staggering away and disappeared.
But it left a big white scratch on the quartz outside. At least I think it did. Wait. I'll look again. Yes. A big white scratch. It's still there. So how can I be mad? Maybe it's a new kind of madness....
ome of the sparkling fog has penetrated the ship. Turn out the light and you can see it in the cabin. Not as thick as out in the void but thick enough to see; thick enough to stand there and ask you to talk to it.
Murdo is ready to turn back. He came to the control room and said, "I saw it out there."
"You saw what?"
His face was pale and his hands twitched. "A boa-constrictor. Exactly like the one I killed four years ago on the Amazon. It came to the port and looked in at me."
"It must be your imagination."
"No. It was there. Let's turn back. Get out of this."
"I wish we could."
"I don't know where back is. We might just as well go as we are. Changing course doesn't help if you don't know your directions. Our only hope is to drive on out of this cloud. If I turned I might go right back into it."
"Then one direction is as good as another?"
His mind wandered as he turned away. "I didn't know it would be like this," he muttered. "I thought it would be fun—sport. I thought we'd put on space suits and go out and make a kill. I thought—"
"The space suits are ready. Do you want to try it?"
He shuddered, his hanging jowls almost flapping. "You couldn't drag me out there."
The stuff is getting thicker in the ship.
Jane came into my cabin. She had an odd look on her face. She said, "There's a big tiger in the companionway."
I got up from my bunk and suddenly she seemed to realize what she'd said. She repeated it. Then she fell down in a faint. I put her in my bunk and looked out into the companionway. The sparkling fog glittered but there was no tiger.
When she came to, she didn't seem to know where she was. Then she smiled. "I must have been drinking too much," she said. Then she realized where she was. "But look where it got me? Into your bunk."
"Do you feel all right now?"
"I guess so. I can get up now. I do have to get up, don't I?"
"I think you'd better."
After she left I did some thinking. The sparkling haze had been outside the ship and I'd seen a water buffalo through the port. Murdo had seen a boa-constrictor. Then the haze penetrated the hull and got inside the ship. And Jane had seen a tiger in the companionway.
Were they phantoms? Was Jane's tiger a tiger of the mind? Murdo swore his snake had been real and my buffalo left a mark on the port. I sat there trying to think. With the sparkling fog drifting around me. It seemed to be trying to tell me something.
Things grow worse. Today, at mess, Murdo was holding forth about a Plutonian ice bear he'd killed. I think he was trying to cover the gloom that has settled over us. Anyhow, he'd just got to the point where the bear was charging down on him when we heard the roar of thunder from outside. Maybe I'd better repeat that for the record. We heard a roaring through the walls of the space ship. In the void. Nothing goes through the walls of a space ship in the void but we all heard it and jumped to the port. And we all saw it.
An ice bear as big as ten of the largest that ever lived in the Plutonian ice flows. A huge ravening beast that rushed through the void at the ship and tried to tear the port out of its metal seat with teeth as big as the height of a man.
The women fell back, screaming. Keebler, in his usual stupor stared blankly as though not realizing what was going on. Kelvey looked to Murdo for guidance. When none came he crouched behind a chair.
Murdo fell back slowly, step by step as though his eyes were fastened to the quartz and it was hard to pull away. I don't remember what I did. Murdo was saying "My God—my God—my God," as though chanting a ritual. He tore his eyes from the sight and looked at me.
"You wanted big game, buster," I croaked. "There it is."
"But it can't be real. It can't!"
"Maybe not, but if that port gives I'll bet it won't be from vacuum pressure."
"Vacuum draws. It doesn't press," Kelvey babbled inanely, but nobody paid any attention to him.
The beast made two more charges on the ship, then drew back screaming in rage from a snapped tooth. And all around us, there in the ship, the sparkling fog glittered and tried to talk.
Two hours. The beast still rages in the void outside our ship.
ane is dead. She was horribly mangled. I put her in her bunk and laid a blanket over her and now the blanket is soaked in her blood.
No one could have helped her. It happened in the lounge. She was in there alone. I was in the control room. I don't know where the rest were.
I was working uselessly with the controls when I heard a terrible scream mixed with a hideous snarling. I ran into the companionway and stared toward the lounge. Murdo appeared from somewhere and we were shouldering each other on the companion ladder. Murdo fell heavily. Then we were both looking into the lounge.
It was too late to help Jane. We saw her there, still and bloody. A shiny black leopard was crouching gory-mouthed over her body with its paws on her breast. It's eyes were black magnets, holding mine.
I said, "Get a gun," trying to speak without moving my lips.
"Damn you—get a gun!"
Murdo staggered away. It seemed a year before he came back with a Hinzie Special .442. The leopard was tight, ready to spring. I didn't dare move a muscle. I said, "Over my shoulder. Get him. Don't miss."
That last was a little silly. How could a man miss with a Hinzie at ten feet? Murdo fired and tore the leopard's head off. It was down already so it didn't move. It sat there headless, its tail twitching slightly. Then it was still.
I didn't hesitate this time. I said, "Come on. We've got to get this out of here before the others show."
We put the dead leopard into the forward storage bunker. Then I picked up poor Jane and carried her to her room. Murdo helped me up the ladder. The others were in the companionway and they pressed back in horror to let me pass. For the first time since we'd started, Keebler was sober. Ashen, shaking, stone sober. He broke; screamed and ran for his bottle, the world of reality too terrible for him to bear.
There was no huddle, no conference, no meeting of the minds. Everyone else went to the galley and sat staring into space; stared at the dancing little sparkles in the air.
I went to my cabin.
When confronted by a reality no matter how crazy and improbable, a man must not turn from it. He can not carry the mangled body of a woman in his arms and then say to himself: This isn't real because it doesn't make sense. It does make sense—some kind of sense or it would not exist. A man must say rather: I don't understand this and maybe I never will but God gave me a brain and I must try. I can't sit back and deny reality. I must try to understand it. I cleared my mind and tried to rationalize the things around us.
Out in the darkness there was a terrible roaring and yammering. The thuds and bellows of violence. I went to the port.
There, in the light from the ship, the ice bear and the water buffalo were fighting. It was a terrible and magnificent thing but to me it was anticlimax; a sideshow of almost casual interest.
The ice bear outsized the water buff by too much to be in any danger, but the buff fought savagely and the ice bear had no easy time. The buff opened a long deep gash in the bear's throat when the bear missed a lunge and the Plutonian mammal fell back with a roar of pain and fury. They came together again and this time the bear got the buff in a hug and it was all over. The buff's spine broke and the bear bent the body double, then tore it to pieces. I wondered if the others were watching.
I went back to pacing; back to my thinking.
I have been thinking, thinking, thinking; wracking my brain. And of one thing I am sure. Some invisible intelligence is trying to help me; trying to give me knowledge. The sparkling fog?
great and wonderful thing has happened.
And I know. Do you realize what that means? To know in a situation like this? And to be wonderfully and wildly happy? The knowledge was not all given me. There was a thought process of my own developing. The thing given me was the basic knowledge upon which to build. And proof of this knowledge. Absolute and indisputable proof.
The sparkling fog is mind stuff.
I will not defend that statement. I will not rationalize it. But I will seek explanations; consider possibilities.
Known: This sparkling fog through which we drift is intelligent matter; the stuff of thoughts; the basic material from which consciousness springs. It is consciousness itself.
Supposed: It is probably electronuclear in composition, and appears to be completely innocent. By that I mean it has no intention to harm, perhaps because it does not understand the difference between good and evil, harm and help, pain and pleasure.
It has only one urge; the basic urge of all creation. To evolve, to develop. As the tree has but one basic urge—to grow and greaten; the flower but one desire—to bloom, to improve; to assert itself through evolution and become better.
Perhaps—and who can successfully deny it?—this great space cloud could be a storage place of the Creator Himself; a storage place for mind stuff. When an infant or an animal or a plant is touched with the magic thing called life—where does that magic come from? Is it created at the very moment or does it come somehow from a source-pile? Is this cloud a source-pile of life itself? No one can say. But I think I've hit on a limitation of this mind stuff. I'm going to try an experiment and pray to God it works.
I'm going to find Murdo and knock him unconscious.
I have solved the mind-stuff. What just happened is the last bit of proof I need. I went to the galley. Murdo had wandered away. I found him in the lounge. I stepped casually in front of him, set myself, and drove a straight right to his jaw. He went down like a log.
I closed my eyes and counted to twenty praying to God to make me right in my belief—in the crazy theory I evolved. I opened my eyes and turned to the storage locker. I looked inside.
The dead leopard was gone.
I went to the port and looked out. The huge ice bear had been ravening insanely among the shreds of the water buffalo's body. As I watched both bear and buff began fading.
Before my eyes, they disappeared, evolved back into the stuff of the sparkling fog. I had proved my theory.
Now all the parts dropped into place. The mind stuff has only the ability and the urge to evolve—nothing else—no imagination. It can evolve only if given something to reproduce.
This it can get only from a human mind. It is able to see an image pictured in the human memory and reproduce it in a state of absolute reality.
Witness: Jane saw a tiger in the companionway. Clear in her memory was the image of the tiger she had shot at in India. The mind-stuff saw it and reproduced it in reality. The water buffalo came from my own mind. I killed one exactly like it a year ago. The ice bear was out of Murdo's memory as was the black leopard and the snake.
Witness: The three animals created inside the ship did not appear until the mind stuff from outside penetrated the hull and entered the ship. They were of normal size. But the animals created outside the ship were far out of proportion, the ice bear especially. Why? Because, I believe, the mind stuff is denser in the void. There it has more strength.
My defense against the mind stuff was formulated almost accidentally. I remembered the sequence of Jane's tiger. She saw it, entered my cabin, realized its significance, and fainted. I looked into the companionway and saw the tiger fading.
So I knocked out Murdo for final proof and got it. As soon as he lapsed into unconsciousness the recreations from his mind turned back into sparkling fog. Obviously, and a heaven-sent phenomenon it is—the mind stuff immediately loses its subject-image when the mind from which it came goes unconscious. The mind-stuff has no memory of its own and cannot hold its recreated image in the evolved form under conditions of unconsciousness. The answer now becomes simple.
I drugged Murdo before he regained consciousness. I drugged the other three by means of whisky and food. They have been unconscious for twelve hours. Nothing has happened. I shall keep them that way.
The mind-stuff is trying to complain to me. Almost petulantly; as a child. I sense it sharply. It does not understand the wrong it has done and feels it has been deprived of its right.
I have no time for the mind-stuff. I guard myself against it and ignore it. There are other things on my mind. Shall I go back if we ever escape from the sparkling fog? I don't know. I don't want to go back. I want to go on and on forever just like this. But the others cannot go on like this. It would be murder. I don't know.—I don't know.
I must keep awake. I use drugs. I must not sleep—not sleep.
We have cleared the fog. The instruments are working again. Again the stars glow. What shall I do. Melody....
ennedy looked up from his reading. "As I said,"—and he spoke severely—"you break off at an abrupt point. You did not complete the log."
Holloway's red eyes were glazed. "I had other things to do. I was tired of keeping a log."
Mason sought to draw Kennedy off his quarry. "There's an odd point," he said, looking at Holloway. "Only animals were recreated. Do you think the mind stuff was capable only of recreating animals?"
Holloway spoke in an exhausted monotone. "It took the clearest image from the strongest minds. Murdo thought mainly of hunting. He pondered on his more spectacular kills. Thus the mind-stuff used his images."
Holloway seemed to sag—to shrink. He said, "The mind-stuff could recreate anything. It brought Melody back to me."
Kennedy sprang to his feet. "There is no reference in this log to—"
Mason turned on him. "Shut up, you fool!" He laid a gentle hand on Holloway's shoulder. "Tell us about it, old chap."
Holloway turned his burning eyes on the closed door to the next room. "She's in there. I wanted to get rid of you. I was afraid you would take her away from me. But it's no use. I can't hold my consciousness much longer. Then she will vanish."
Holloway tried weakly to rise from his chair. He called, "Melody—Melody baby!"
The door opened. A beautiful girl in a blue dressing gown came gracefully into the room. She walked straight to Holloway and took his tortured head into her soft hands. Her eyes pleaded with the men. "He suffers so. He will not sleep. I can't make him sleep. I—I don't understand."
Holloway's head dropped suddenly onto his chest. He slumped down in his chair. And as he did so, a change took place. The two men stood rooted, staring.
As Melody began to fade. Slowly, slowly, into a transparent image, into a mist, into a handful of sparkling fog.
Then she was gone.
Mason knelt by the bone-thin body in the chair. He made a quick examination and got wearily to his feet.
"Holloway is dead," he murmured. "Drugs of that nature would kill an elephant. I can't understand how he lived so long."
Kennedy blinked and seemed to come out of a trance. He frowned. "And the investigation hardly started."
Mason shook his head and looked pityingly at Kennedy. It was just no use with a man like him. Mason said. "There's one point entirely apparent without an investigation."
Mason's voice was sharp and cold. "That our little playboy, for all his reputation of frivolity, was a better man than you and I put together. Does that register, Mr. Kennedy?"
Kennedy flared. "Now see here. I'm only doing my job!"
"Oh shut up," Mason said.
And strode out of the room.