THE STARS MY DESTINATION -- CHAPTER TWO
Between Mars and Jupiter is spread the broad belt of the asteroids. Of the thousands, known and unknown, most unique to the Freak Century was the Sargasso Asteroid, a tiny planet manufactured of natural rock and wreckage salvaged by its inhabitants in the course of two hundred years.
They were savages, the only savages of the twenty-fifth century; descendants of a research team of scientists that had been lost and marooned in the asteroid belt two centuries before when their ship had failed. By the time their descendants were rediscovered they had built up a world and a culture of their own, and preferred to remain in space, salvaging and spoiling, and practicing a barbaric travesty of the scientific method they remembered from their forebears. They called themselves The Scientific People. The world promptly forgot them.
S. S. Nomad looped through space, neither on a course for Jupiter nor the far stars, but drifting across the asteroid belt in the slow spiral of a dying animalcule. It passed within a mile of the Sargasso Asteroid, and it was immediately captured by The Scientific People to be incorporated into their little planet. They found Foyle.
He awoke once while he was being carried in triumph on a litter through the natural and artificial passages within the scavenger asteroid. They were constructed of meteor metal, stone, and hull plates. Some of the plates still bore names long forgotten in the history of space travel: INDUS QUEEN, TERRA; SYRTIS RAMBLER, MARS; THREE RING CIRCUS, SATURN. The passages led to great halls. storerooms, apartments, and homes, all built of salvaged ships cemented into the asteroid.
In rapid succession Foyle was borne through an ancient Ganymede scow, a Lassell ice borer, a captain's barge, a Callisto heavy cruiser, a twenty-second-century fuel transport with glass tanks still filled with smoky rocket fuel. Two centuries of salvage were gathered in this hive: armories of weapons, libraries of books, museums of costumes, warehouses of machinery, tools, rations, drink, chemicals. synthetics, and surrogates.
A crowd around the litter was howling triumphantly. "Quant Suff!" they shouted. A woman's chorus began an excited bleating:
Ammonium bromide gr. 1-1/2
"Quant Suff!" The Scientific People roared. "Quant Suff!"
He awoke again. He had been taken out of his spacesuit. He was in the greenhouse of the asteroid where plants were grown for fresh oxygen. The hundred-yard hull of an old ore carrier formed the room, and one wall had been entirely fitted with salvaged windows ... round ports, square ports, diamond, hexagonal ... every shape and age of port had been introduced until the vast wall was a crazy quilt of glass and light.
The distant sun blazed through; the air was hot and moist. Foyle gazed around dimly. A devil face peered at him. Cheeks, chin, nose, and eyelids were hideously tattooed like an ancient Maori mask. Across the brow was tattooed JOSEPH. The "O" in JOSEPH had a tiny arrow thrust up from the right shoulder, turning it into the symbol of Mars, used by scientists to designate male sex.
"We are The Scientific People," Joseph said. "I am Joseph; these are my brethren."
He gestured. Foyle gazed at the grinning crowd surrounding his litter. All faces were tattooed into devil masks; all brows had names blazoned across them.
"How long did you drift?" Joseph asked.
"Vorga," Foyle mumbled.
"You are the first to arrive alive in fifty years. You are a puissant man. Very. Arrival of the fittest is the doctrine of Holy Darwin. Most scientific."
"Quant Suff!" the crowd bellowed.
Joseph seized Foyle's elbow in the manner of a physician taking a pulse. His devil mouth counted solemnly up to ninety-eight.
"Your pulse. Ninety-eight-point-six," Joseph said, producing a thermometer and shaking it reverently. "Most scientific."
"Quant Suff!" came the chorus.
Joseph proffered an Erlenmeyer flask. It was labeled: Lung, Cat, c.s., hematoxylin & eosin. "Vitamin?" Joseph inquired.
When Foyle did not respond, Joseph removed a large pill from the flask, placed it in the bowl of a pipe, and lit it. He puffed once and then gestured. Three girls appeared before Foyle. Their faces were hideously tattooed. Across each brow was a name: JOAN and MOIRA and POLLY. The "O" of each name had a tiny cross at the base.
"Choose," Joseph said. "The Scientific People practice Natural Selection. Be scientific in your choice. Be genetic."
As Foyle fainted again, his arm slid off the litter and glanced against Moira.
He was in a circular hall with a domed roof. The hall was filled with rusting antique apparatus: a centrifuge, an operating table, a wrecked fluoroscope, autoclaves, cases of corroded surgical instruments.
They strapped Foyle down on the operating table while he raved and rambled. They fed him. They shaved and bathed him. Two men began turning the ancient centrifuge by hand. It emitted a rhythmic clanking like the pounding of a war drum. Those assembled began tramping and chanting.
They turned on the ancient autoclave. It boiled and geysered, filling the hall with howling steam. They turned on the old fluoroscope. It was short-circuited and spat sizzling bolts of lightning across the steaming hall.
A ten foot figure loomed up to the table. It was Joseph on stilts. He wore a surgical cap, a surgical mask, and a surgeon's gown that hung from his shoulders to the floor. The gown was heavily embroidered with red and black thread illustrating anatomical sections of the body. Joseph was a lurid tapestry out of a surgical text.
"I pronounce you Nomad!" Joseph intoned.
The uproar became deafening. Joseph tilted a rusty can over Foyle's body. There was the reek of ether.
Foyle lost his tatters of consciousness and darkness enveloped him. Out of the darkness Vorga-T:1339 surged again and again, accelerating on a sunward course that burst through Foyle's blood and brains until he could not stop screaming silently for vengeance.
He was dimly aware of washings and feedings and trampings and chantings. At last he awoke to a lucid interval. There was silence. He was in a bed. The girl, Moira, was in bed with him.
"Who you?" Foyle croaked.
"Your wife, Nomad."
"Your wife. You chose me, Nomad. We are gametes."
"Scientifically mated," Moira said proudly. She pulled up the sleeve of her nightgown and showed him her arm. It was disfigured by four ugly slashes. "I have been inoculated with something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue."
Foyle struggled out of the bed.
"Where we now?"
"In our home."
"Yours. You are one of us, Nomad. You must marry every month and beget many children. That will be scientific. But I am the first."
Foyle ignored her and explored. He was in the main cabin of a small rocket launch of the early 2300's ... once a private yacht. The main cabin had been converted into a bedroom.
He lurched to the ports and looked out. The launch was sealed into the mass of the asteroid, connected by passages to the main body. He went aft. Two smaller cabins were filled with growing plants for oxygen. The engine room had been converted into a kitchen. There was Hi-Thrust in the fuel tanks, but it fed the burners of a small stove atop the rocket chambers. Foyle went forward. The control cabin was now a parlor, but the controls were still operative.
He went aft to the kitchen and dismantled the stove. He re-connected the fuel tanks to the original jet combustion chambers. Moira followed him curiously.
"What are you doing, Nomad?"
"Got to get out of here, girl," Foyle mumbled. "Got business with a ship called Vorga. You dig me, girl? Going to ram out in this boat, is all."
Moira backed away in alarm. Foyle saw the look in her eyes and leaped for her. He was so crippled that she avoided him easily. She opened her mouth and let out a piercing scream. At that moment a mighty clangor filled the launch; it was Joseph and his devil-faced Scientific People outside, banging on the metal hull, going through the ritual of a scientific charivari for the newly weds.
Moira screamed and dodged while Foyle pursued her patiently. He trapped her in a corner, ripped her nightgown off and bound and gagged her with it. Moira made enough noise to split the asteroid open, but the scientific charivari was louder.
Foyle finished his rough patching of the engine room; he was almost an expert by now. He picked up the writhing girl and took her to the main hatch.
"Leaving," he shouted in Moira's ear. "Takeoff. Blast right out of asteroid. Hell of a smash, girl. Maybe all die, you. Everything busted wide open. Guesses for grabs what happens. No more air. "No more asteroid. Go tell'm. Warn'm. Go, girl."
He opened the hatch, shoved Moira out, slammed the hatch and dogged it. The charivari stopped abruptly.
At the controls Foyle pressed ignition. The automatic take-off siren began a howl that had not sounded in decades. The jet chambers ignited with dull concussions. Foyle waited for the temperature to reach firing heat. While he waited he suffered. The launch was cemented into the asteroid. It was surrounded by stone and iron. Its rear jets were flush on the hull of another ship packed into the mass. He didn't know what would happen when his jets began their thrust, but he was driven to gamble by Vorga.
He fired the jets. There was a hollow explosion as Hi-Thrust flamed out of the stern of the ship. The launch shuddered, yawed, heated. A squeal of metal began. Then the launch grated forward. Metal, stone, and glass split asunder and the ship burst out of the asteroid into space.
The Inner Planets navy picked him up ninety thousand miles outside Mars's orbit. After seven months of shooting war, the I.P. patrols were alert but reckless. When the launch failed to answer and give recognition countersigns, it should have been shattered with a blast and questions could have been asked of the wreckage later. But the launch was small and the cruiser crew was hot for prize money. They closed and grappled.
They found Foyle inside, crawling like a headless worm through a junk heap of spaceship and home furnishings. He was bleeding again, ripe with stinking gangrene, and one side of his head was pulpy. They brought him into the sick bay aboard the cruiser and carefully curtained his tank. Foyle was no sight even for the tough stomachs of lower deck navy men.
They patched his carcass in the amniotic tank while they completed their tour of duty. On the jet back to Terra, Foyle recovered consciousness and bubbled words beginning with V. He knew he was saved. He knew that only time stood between him and vengeance. The sick bay orderly heard him exulting in his tank and parted the curtains. Foyle's filmed eyes looked up. The orderly could not restrain his curiosity.
"You hear me, man?" he whispered.
Foyle grunted. The orderly bent lower.
"What happened? Who in hell done that to you?"
"What?" Foyle croaked.
"Don't you know?"
"What? What's a matter, you?"
"Wait a minute, is all."
The orderly disappeared as he jaunted to a supply cabin, and reappeared alongside the tank five seconds later. Foyle struggled out of the fluid. His eyes blazed.
"It's coming back, man. Some of it. Jaunte. I couldn't jaunte the Nomad, me."
"I was off my head."
"Man, you didn't have no head left, you."
"I couldn't jaunte. I forgot how, is all. I forgot everything, me. Still don't remember much. I --"
He recoiled in terror as the orderly thrust the picture of a hideous tattooed face before him. It was a Maori mask. Cheeks, nose, and eyelids were decorated with stripes and swirls, the brow was blazoned NOMAD. Foyle stared, then cried in agony. The picture was a mirror. The face was his own.