Skip Navigation LinksThe-Far-Shore

                                                                               THE FAR SHORE

                                                                                         by

                                                                                 Jack McDevitt

 

     The mooonlight was bright on Patricia's grave. Rodney Martin felt the moisture in his eyes, threw a final spadeful of earth, and groped for a prayer to a God whose jurisdiction surely ended somewhere south of here.  Behind him, in the dark, the surf was a muffled boom. 

     The wind blew against him.

     It seemed to him now that he had never known her free of pain.  He had worked with her aboard Alexia for almost three years; yet her lifetime, for him, was bracketed between this night, and that terrible moment on the dark, ripped bridge of the stricken starship, when he had come upon her, mouth full of blood, face pale behind her helmet's plexiglass.

     Grief twisted his features.

     He was reluctant to leave, and stood a long time listening to the forest sounds and the ocean.  The Moon drifted above the trees, not the barren rock of Earth's skies, but a large blue-green globe of continents and water, its arc softened in the shimmering white clouds.

     There was a slight chill in the air.

     After awhile, Martin shouldered the spade and walked slowly back toward the beach.  The trees fell away, replaced by tough, fibrous plants rooted in stony soil.  He looked out at the ocean, on which no ship had ever sailed.

     Long waves broke and slid across the land.  Ahead, the glow from the Monson dome glittered on the water.  He'd been careful to turn the lamps on before leaving, but now it seemed distant and cold.  It was the only artificial light anywhere along the coastline.  It was in fact the only artificial light on the planet.

     He tightened his grip on the spade, and walked past a massive boulder thrown up on the beach during some long-ago cataclysm (he assumed).  It was the size of a small apartment house, its lower sides smoothed by the tides.  Beyond lay the escape capsule, cool and round and black, an enormous bowling ball in the sand, forming a kind of matched pair with the rock.

     He climbed the low ridge behind the capsule , and was home.  The Monson was actually four domes, three smaller ones at right angles to each other, connected by twelve-foot-long tubes to a primary central bubble.  The structure was a bilious opaque green.  Not exactly a Sea Island townhouse, but comfortable, designed to withstand extreme temperatures, assaults by dinosaurs, corrosive atmosphere, whatever.  The ideal survival structure, sufficient to house the entire eight-man crew of Alexia.  He would have a lot of room.

     And a lot of time: possibly enough to sort out what had happened. Screen failure, he suspected.  God knows they had blinked out often enough before.  There was considerable debris in the area, and the ship might simply have got corked by a good-sized rock.

     Whatever it was, the hull had come apar, and apparently dumped everyone but the two sleepers into the void.  During those last frantic minutes, with power and gravity gone, and the star well swirling beneath his feet, he'd searched Alexia's spaces, and found only Patricia, whose first fortunate response had been to launch Datapak.

     Sleep did not come easily.  He tried to read, could not concentrate, turned out the lights, and stared at the ceiling.  The bedroom windows were open: the surf thundered and hissed in a rhythm which blended with the sound of the spade in the hard earth.  Patricia's twilight eyes watched him, her gentle features bright with fear for him.  At the last, he knew, she had tried to pass him her courage.

                                #

     Martin was up early.  Tired, angry, he scrambled an egg for which he had no appetite, added toast and coffee, and went for a swim.  The ocean was cool.  After a while he came in, and stood knee-deep in the surf, enjoying its inconstant tug, feeling it pull the sand from around his toes.  The sea was blue and salty, indistinguishable, as far as he could tell, from the Atlantic.  Strands of weed wrapped about his ankles; things very much like sandcrabs washed in, and buried themselves amid tiny fountains of water.  The white beach, pumnctuated with heaps of late gray rocks, swung in a wide curve for miles, and vanished round the edge of a promontory.  Inland, wooded hills mounted in successive ridges westward to the foot of a distant mountain chain.  A lost floater drifted over the breakers and, as he watched, was picked up by a gust of wind, and carried back into the forest.  The floaters were chlorophyll-colored airbags, apparently airborne plants, resembling nothing so much as lopsided leathery balloons, complete with an anchoring tail.  Seabirds, longer, flatter than gulls, but with similar screams, wheeled overhead.  When the wind was up, and in the trees, the entire seascape churned.

     Was it really so, that no other mind, ever, had contemplated this?

                                                                          #

     He slept most of the afternoon, and awoke feeling better than he had since the accident. 

     Survey had nothing between here and home.  It was 74.6 parsecs to earth.  Empty space every inch of the way.  Alexia's distress signal, riding its subspace carrier, would cross that vast ocean in 26 months and some odd days, which meant that he could expect a rescue party in no less than four and a half to five years.

     He'd be in his thirties by then....

     Fortunately, food was no problem.  Storage lockers on board the SARC, the Sakata-Avery Rescue Chamber, held enough hamburgers and flashlight batteries to maintain eight people six years; that is, to cover the worst possible case.  He had weapons, though this world so far had revealed no predator dangerous to him.

     And he had a pleasant beach home, in a location that, on Earth, would have been well beyond his means.  Rent free, and with his pay piling up.

 

     That evening, he dragged a chair outside, and sat with a novel open on his lap, watching the sun dip into the mountains.  It was whiter than Sol, slightly larger, in reality as well as in appearance.  When the leading edge touched the horizon, Martin set his watch at twelve o'clock.  He needed a more precise measurement of his day, which was approximately twenty-six hours.

     The SARC had come down in the northern hemisphere, and he'd steered for a temperate zone.  The planet was entering that portion of its orbit in which his chosen area wold be tilting away from the sun.  Autumn was approaching.

     He would need a calendar.  This world circled its G2 main sequence primary in seventeen and a fraction months by terrestrial reckoning.  So if he wished to keep only twelve months in his year, he'd have to assign forty days or so to each.

     Declination was only eleven degrees.  So, judging by current weather, he could expect a mild winter.

     Had he overlooked anything?  He had an abundance of solar energy, with backup systems, if necessary.  The shoreline gave no indication of unusual tides, sudden inundations, anything of that nature.

     The SARC possessed an extensive film library: complete runs of the most popular TV shows of the last century.  Mostly they were domestic comedies, down home situations, rasonably well-written, emphasizing traditional values.  There were quiz and discussion shows, and other programs of an educational nature; and a complete run, ten years worth, of Brandenburg and Scott, a "sociodrama" in which two wisecracking government agents helped people adjust toassorted problems arising from ecenomic dislocation, overpopulation, divergence of religious views, and so on.

     He had fifty years of the World Series, and a lot of horse races. And some books: The Bible and The Koran (that seemed odd), a virtual library of contemporary romances and thrillers, an encyclopedia, How to Write Effectively, the Toastmaster's Joke Book, and a copy of Lord Byron.

     No wonder people had gone crazy before being rescued.

     Most of the material was on tape, but the two religious volumes, Byron, and a couple dozen of the novels were actual plastic-bound books, which meant he could take them out to the beach.       

     He also had a radio.  There was, of course, nothing to listen to other than the hourly distress call put out by Datapak, his private orbiter.  Datapak was a highly sophisticated clster of antennas, receivers, and transmitters, aimed at Earth by an on-board computer, beeping across hyphenated space.  It was a state-of-the-art unit, constructed specifically for Survey, deriving energy from both solar radiation and planetary magnetic fields, capable of transmissions of extraordinary power.  Its receivers were designed to pick up stray whispers of signal, electronic sighs to be filtered and dissected, the results channeled into the computer for analysis, enhancement, and ultimate restoration.  It would, one day, lead his rescuers to him.

     The controls for the orbiter were enclosed in a white plastic case, plugged into a display screen, mounted on his coffee table.

                                                                                    #

     Martin's front yard was humanity's most remote outpost. It was half again as far as Calamity, on the other side of Sol.

     A squirrel-like creature sat on its hind legs, watching him.  He went inside and returned with some nuts, one of which he tossed to the animal.  It advanced with some caution, took the nut into its mouth, glanced briefly at him again, and vanished back into the scrub.

     That squirrel, with its quick black eyes, was as high a life-form as men had found, after examining several hundred terrestrial worlds.  Life was everywhere. on frozen moonlets, even on some of the gas giants.  But intelligence was uniformly absent.

     Consequently, Earth was reassuming its Ptolemaic position as center of the universe.  The Theological Implications, a speople were now fond of saying, were obvious.  The primordial soup, stirred centuries ago by evolutionists to evice the Creator, had acquired an extra ingredient.  The position that Man was a direct result of divine intervention was once again respctable; the numerous empty garden worlds, like this one, might almost have been prepared soecifically for his use.  Martin knew what all this suggested to people back home.  But to him, here, the skies were silent, empty.  Perhaps even, as Alexia had discovered, hostile.

     The Survey program was dyting.  Men had more ral estatethat they could use for the foreseeable future.  Expeditions were expensive, ships were wearing out, and the government could see no return for its money. And there was the monotonous sameness everywhere: the wonder had gone out of exploration. Unless someone, somewhere, encountered a strange black ship, or dug up an artifact, the Great Adventure was at an end.  Moreover, it was unlikely that the political power structure wanted any unsettling discoveries.  There would probably be a general sigh of relief when the last Survey vessel returned emptyhanded from its last flight.

     No new unit had been added to the fleet in thirty years.  equipment was run down, and parts were scarce.  In fact, he thought wearily, if the truth were known, the loss of Alexia would probably turn out to be attributable to a busted hose somewhere.

                                                                                    #

     He missed Patricia.

     On the third night after her death, he was oppressed by a deep sense of unease.  Somewhere, in the hills, out to sea, he would have liked to see a light.

     When it got to be too much, he put on a talk show.  And without knowing why, he bolted the door.

 

     Everett Radcliffe, stranded on the back side of the Moon for six months after a series of improbable accidents had carried off his two colleagues, had heard footsteps behind him the rest of his days. Will Evans hadtaken his life after four months in a prototype of Martin's shelter.  Myra Greenway, for whom the syndrome was named, was adrift for a year in a SARC, never close to a planetary surface.  She swore that something had tried continually to get at her.  Brad Kauffman lived eight months alone in a crippled cruiser ater his partner had died, and had refused, after his return to Earth, to come out of his house at night.

     There were other cases.

     Something deep in the soul does not like infinity, and does not like solitude.  Cut whatever it is that ties a man to the rest of his species, plunge him into the outer dark, and you will not get him back whole.

     Martin tried not to think about it.

     Standard procedure was to watch television, cultivate hobbies, keep occupied.  He glanced at the screen, on which an aging beauty was attempting to leer at the host.

     He could collect rocks.

     Martin was not a man easily frightened: he'd intervened in gang assaults, did not fear speaking to large groups of people, and had ridden the grat starships into the unknown.  Nevertheless, he was sitting behind a locked door.

                                                                                      #

     STATUS REPORT 037 ALEXIA 090857 LOCAL TIME (EST): MASON DEAD OF INJURIES SEPTEMBER 3.

     He thought of Patricia's family, two years from now, receiving this news, and added: PEACEFULLY.  He poked in his name, and hit the transmit.

                                                                                   ​        #

     The morning was gray with rain.  he inserted the chess tape, got bored, and tried a novel.  After lunch, he sat down listlessly at the radio, pointed Datapak's antennas at Sirius, and turned on the receiver.  The speakers crackled with static.

     Hello from God.

     Outside, the trees bent under a stiff wind, and the ocean was choppy.  Oblivious to the weather, a groper ambled amiably along the treeline, its oilskin hide glistening.  It probed the branches with long, flexible arms for the yellow fruit on which it seemed exclusively to subsist.

     He'd awakened this morning with a wisp of recollection, a dream, something not quite remembered:

     He was a boy, alone in the house in Atlanta.  And frightened by the shadows and dark places outside the living room.  He'd put on the TV, and looked through the dining room at the gloomy doorway to the kitchen, with its exits opening out back and into the basement.  He'd sat for awhile, trying to pretend it was not there.  Then, he had turned off the television, taken a book, and crawled behind the sofa.

     Had it really happened?  As he reached back, details took shape: it had happened more than once.

     He rotated the orbiter's antenna cluster slowly, randomly, and set the scanner to range over a wide band of frequencies.  There was something constructive he could do: intercept an artificial signal, a navigational beacon in the vicinity of Betelguse, perhaps, or a weather report from the Pleiades.  Do that, and they'd build a shrine on this spot.

     He sat through most of the afternoon, listening to the cosmic racket, wondering whether he would recognize an artificial signal.       Tiring of it, Martinn returned control to the on-board computer, which obediently tracked back across the sky and locked onto its primary target.  The signal changed.

     It was a blip, a rhythmic murmur gone so quickly that he wasn't sure it had been there at all.  He rversed the scanner, and was listening to a jumble of signals, nothing he could make out, but different in quality from the stellar transmissions he'd heard previously.  He used the filters to isolate the strongest signal, and then boosted it.  It became a piano, and a voice:

                    ...a lipstick's traces,

     An airline ticket to romantic places,

     And still my heart has wings;

     These foolish things remind me of you....

     Martin frowned, smiled, shook his head.

     Rescue ship nearby?  That brought a momentary surge of elation, but he knew it could not be.  He got up anyhow and went outside to see if anything was moving against the stars.  The piano sounded very far away.

     ...A telephone that rings, but who's to answer?

     Oh, how the ghost of you clings!....

     The singer finished to a burst of applause, and the melody shifted smoothly.

     Thanks, folks, and goodnight from all of us here at the Music Hall until next Sunday, when we'll be coming your way again with more of America's favorite tunes.

     More applause, music up in volume, and then a fadeaway to another voice:

     This is CBS, the Columbia Broadcasting System.  News is next, with Waldo Anderson.

     Old Earth: he was picking up carrier waves that had left Earth more than two centuries ago!

     Anderson arrived in a clatter of electronic gimmickry, introduced his lead story, which concerned a miscreant, and gave way immediately to a woman with a passion for antacid tablets. Then Anderson returned, speaking in a rich, cultured voice:

     The Willie Starr case went to the jury today.  Starr is one of two men accused in the triple slaying last March at the Graybrook liquor store.  Starr, who has remained impassive throughout the trial, faces death is convicted.  His alleged partner, Joey Horton, has already....

     Martin sighed, and turned it off.  He had found his alien civilization.

                                                                                          #

     The sun broke through, and the day warmed.  Languidly, Martin stripped, and gave himself to the sea.  The water had turned cold.  He swam out beyond the breakers with sure, swift strokes, tunred, and surveyed his world, rising and falling with the waves.

     It was like one of those early summers off St. Simons, minus a few things: the white frame houses, the beachfront restaurants, the copperskinned half-naked girls stretching in the warm sun.  Now: to have omeone, anyone, any alcoholic, rundown, life-battered cynic with whom to share an emotion, an idea, a fact.

     It will be unseasonably cool tonight, Frank.

     Tears mixed with the sea.

                                                                                             #

     Later, wrapped in a terry-cloth robe, he sat on the beach with an interplanetary, a novel set amid the confusion, hardship, and lawlessness of the early days of extraterrestrial settlement.  The author, Reginald Packard, had grown wealthy cranking out these historical romances.

     Martin did not normally read such things.  But he had become engrossed in the book over breakfast.  Now, however, as the sun began its long slide into the mountains, he found that his eyes kept wandering from the rows of neat print to the shadowy places among the trees.

     Something was in there.

     He shuddered, and pulled the robe tight around him.  A long wave unrolled and ran up the beach.  He could not get his eyes off the edge of the forest.

     Nothing moved.

     The Dome was three hundred yards away. A long run in the sand.  How easily he could be cut off!

     His heart pounded.

     The wind blew and the trees writhed.

     Greenway, he thought.  And he understood the woman, hysterical in her capsule somewhere beyond Centaurus, while something with sharp teeth and feral eyes prowled the outside, slavering at her through the viewscreen, gnawing at the airlock.

     His heart beat so wildly that it was hard to breathe.  And suddenly he was on his feet, churning through the loose sand.  He did not look back, but kept his eyes fixed on the Dome.  He fell and, in slow motion, rolled over and over.  Then he was up, running again, pumping wooden legs.

     When he got back to the Dome, he bolted the door behind him, set the shields in place, drew the blinds, and collapsed.  His cheek was scraped.  And he'd lost the book.

                                                                                       #

     That night, still trembling, he concentrated on working out a search pattern for Datapak.  He would focus on Sol, and move out in one-degree blocks, centered on lines running in the four prime directions.  When that was completed, in a year (or two), he could return to his base, and search along lines radiating at 45 degrees.

     And if, by some remote chance, he found what they'd all been looking for so long, they'd have to come get him....  Martin's eyes narrowed at the thought that had surfaced, that he'd refused to consider.  Expense and inconvenience not withstanding, the Service jhad a tradition to maintain. He had nothing to fear.

     Periodically, he crossed the room and peered out through the drawn shades.

     Ignoring his system, he wheeled the antennas around the sky.  He turned the volume off and transferred the signal to the display, where it erupted in a sharp staccato of color.  Then he opened a beer, drank half of it, and threw the rest across the room.  A lamp went over, and the bulb burst. The sudden pop startled him.

                                                                                              #

    

     Deciding that chatter would at least be company, he switched back to the terrestrial radio station and listened to two domestic serials titled "Our Gal Sunday" and "LIfe Can Be Beautiful."  His own tension lessened: the shows had a small-town charm, and the characters seemed generally virtuous and vulnerable, if not bright.  Sunday's voice had a peculiar vitality, a quality of moonlight and laughter.  He tried to picture the actress, and decided he would have liked to know her.

     And there was more news:

     ...Governor Dewey at a press conference this morning stating that police are closing in on Buchalter, and that his arrest is imminent.  Known in gangland as Lepke the Leopard, Buchalter jumped bail two years ago.  Onetime boss of New York's protection racket, Lepke is believed to be....

     He experimented with other terrestrial frequencies.  Most were in foreign languages; others were broadcasting exclusively in morse code.  He listened to 'Ma Perkins" and a quiz show; and had a late dinner with "Terry and the Pirates" and "Jack Armstrong."

                                #

     There were supplies to be got in from the capsule, a job he'd been putting off.  He looked across the mpty beach, turned up the radio, unlocked the door, and forced himself to walk.  On the way back, arms full of dehydrated foods, he heard a familiar name:

     Berlin announced today that Polish authorities were continuing to expel German citizens.  The official Nazi newspaper Volkischer Beobachterreported two men killed near Stettin this afternoon.  Both men were German citizens, and were said to have been fleeing a Polish mob when they ran out onto a highway, and were struck by a bus.

     Chancellor Hitler, speaking at a party meeting in Munich, labeled the incident quote yet another provocation by anti-German leftists in the Polish government unquote.  He called on President Moscicki to intervene, and warned that quote German patience is not without its limits unquote.

     Closer to home....

     Martin, of course, knew Hitler, the twentieth-century warlord, pre-atomic age, frequently associated with group societal psychoses.

     The newscast went on to describe a quarrel in Congress over the Neutrality Act, a bungled attempt at an armored car holdup, and an argument at a schoolboard meeting.  Tomorrow would be sunny and hot.  The current heat wave was going into its sixth day.  And there were some baseball scores. 

     Martin hadn't realized that baseball was so old.  Some of the teams were the same, but it must be a strange version of the gane in which a team might score only three or four runs.

     He slept that night with the shields up, though he knew, really knew, they were unnecessary.

     In the morning, he opened the windows, unlocked the door, and went looking for the Packard novel, which he found where it had fallen.  He stood a long time, studying the tree line which had appeared so ominous.

                                                                                   #

     He tried to pick up "Our Gal Sunday" again next day, but failed to take into account the two-hour-plus time differential resulting from the longer day.  But there were other serials.  He listened with interest: the problems faced by the characters were of a personal nature, rather than the social struggles to which he was accustomed.  These were people for whom there might have been no outside world, but merely the thrust and parry of love and lust.  It was a refrshing change.

     He passed a sizable part of his afternoon with Xavier Cugat and the Boys in "the Green Room of the beautiful Grant Park Hotel in downtown New York."  Despite the innate vitality of Latin adaptations, there was about everything a sadness, asense of things lost.  Between songs, behind the announcer's voice, Martin heard the low murmur of conversation, the clink of china: fragile place of glass and laughter.

     Berlin announced that two unarmed German passenger planes had been fired on by Polish fighters near Danzig. One had crashed in a field, killing all on board; the other had carried a cargo of dead and wounded back into German territory.  Hitler was said to be furious.

     There were also reports of an attack on a German border station.

     The Poles denied it all.

                                                                                        #

     Martin understood that these events were not real, that the people in the Green Room, sipping their martinis and drifting inbto the coming carnage, were long since gone to dust. He might as well have been listening to an account of the Third Crusade.  Yet....

     Warfare had been a common enough occurrence over the centuries, but to Martin it was part of a barbaric past, rlegated to dusty tomes in libraries.  Unthinkable.

                                                                                           #

     He gathered his courage and resumed his routine on the beach.  He even walked briefly into the forest one afternoon, focusing his mind desperately on the young actress who played Sunday.

                                                                                             #

     When, on September 14, Martin's time, the Wehrmacht rolled into Poland, Martin was lying on the sand, naked, tanned, reading Byron.  He hard the news at dinner, listened to appeals from Britain and France, from the White House and the Vatican. After sundown, when the first battle reports came in (both sides were claiming victories), he looked out at the dark, quiet hills, trying to imagine the ponderous tanks clanking toward him, Heinkels crossing his western mountains to drop explosives on his head.

     The Germans bombed Cracow.  Martin listened to an eyewitness description, heavy accent, heavy static, muted blasts, children fleeing the stuttering stukas, Nazi tanks sighted west of the city, everything afire....

     Emory Michael, of the Blue Network, got through from a small town whose name he couldn't get straight.  The townspeople, all women and children, had gathered in a pasture on the west side, watching the Nazi planes circling Cracow, the flames fountaining up around them.

     Michael found a woman who spoke English, and asked where her husband was.  "With the cavalry," she said.  "They will cut the Boche to pieces!"

     Horses, thought Martin.  He turned it off, unlocked the door, and stepped out into the night.  After a long while, he strode off along the beach, listening to the unhurried roar of the sea. From here, the war seemed so distant.  (He smiled at that.)

     He turned inland toward the trees.  Rain clouds were building in the west.

     What was remarkable: thes epeople bombed and strafed --how many would die during this conflagration?-- and it would all pass, leaving only a few ripples on the tide, the wreckage washed out to sea....  And his generation did not remember, knew only there'd been a war, and that so many million had died.

     And Martin himself?  He laughed aloud, and the sound bounced off the trees.  Martin fears shadows.

     He stood, facing the dark, lsitening to the silence.  It had not the sounds of a terrestrial forest: not the loud crickets nor the creaking branches.  A fine spray began to fall.

     Martin walked into the trees, squeezing his mind shut.  The forest floor was covered with leaves, and the wind scattered them before him.  He ducked under a floater that had tethered itself to a low branch.  Something small, with fur, stopped to watch.

     He came to Patricia's grave and said hello, aloud. There was no marker, other than three rough stones.  Eventually, soon, he would correct that.

     He sat down.  It was a beautiful, leafy glade, the sort of place in which children might play, or lovers.  He cradled his chin against his knees, and mourned all those, down the long years, whose lives had been cur short, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, victims of greed, folly, or plain bad luck: Patricia, the children of Cracow, the woman whose husband was in the cavalry, the Roman farmers in the path of the Vandals....  Here's to you all, there's room here, on this nameless world, and welcome.

     The mist was turning to rain.  Above him, on a branch, something stirred, probably getting out of the way.

                                                                                       #

     Amidst it all, there was good news: A woman named Myers was reunited with her mother after 43 years; Lepke turned himself over to a newsman named Winchell; and Martin discovered Fibber McGee.  McGee was a comic character unlike anything he had encountered before: an engaging mixture of pomposity, naive dishonesty, and scrambling insecurity.  McGee's world of goodhearted bumblers seemed untouched by the savagery in the newscasts.

     Martin's first experience with fictional psychotics and madmen came with "The Shadow."  It was a series which would not have been allowed in his own time. And his sheer enjoyment of it made him mildly uncomfortable.  Week after week, as the invisible, slightly schizophrenic hero tracked down and eliminated mass murderers and insane physicians, Martin walked with him.

     Despite the global disaster, orpossibly because of it, there was a warmth to the programing, a good humor, a sense of purpose and community that extended beyond time and space to Martin's beachfront property.  He strolled the tree-lined streets of Philadelphia, dined in some of Chicago's better restaurants.  He became addicted to "Amos 'n' Andy," followed Jack Armstrong into exotic jungle locales, explored the temple of vampires with Jack, Doc, and Reggie.  He was a regular visitor in the Little Theater off Times Square.

     Meanwhile, Hitler's armies swept all oppposition aside.  President Roosevelt appeared frequently in informal broadcasts, discussing the economy and the war.  Repeatedly, he assured his audience that America would stay out. 

     Although he could not recall the course of the struggle (he was not even certain yet which President Roosevelt he was listening to), Martin knew that, in the end, the Western Allies had won; but it was difficult, in the summer of 1940, to see how such an outcome might develop.  Britain, bloody, desperate, stood alone.  And Churchill's regal voice rang defiance across the light years.

     Martin listened with sorrow to Edward R. Murrow in London, as the Nazis pounded the city.  A year later, he was at a football game between the Redskins and the Eagles when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  He fought with the garrison on Luzon, watched the aerial battle over Midway, rode in the desert with Montgomery.

     In the late spring of 1944, Datapak picked up a subspace transmission:  RESCUE FORCE LEAVING HERE THIRTY DAYS.  HANG ON.

     By then Martin had built a portable radio, which went most places with him.  He had taken to getting away from home periodically on two- and three-day jaunts into the countryside.  But he wanted to keep up with the war.

     He was lying in the grass halfway up a mountain in the early afternoon listening to torch songs from the all-night "Dawn Patrol."  He'd been expecting something for a week now, and when the computers broke off the AM broadcast to recite the message text to him, he elaped to his feet and shouted into that vast wilderness, a cry that must have carried down the mountains and across the forests.

     He would have human company again: eyes to look into, voices to compete with the wind.

     He hurried home (singing part of the way with Kate Smith), and celebrated by finishing off a sizable portion of the remaining liquor.

     Meanwhile, Eisenhower's army gathered in Britain.  Everyone knew what was coming; most of the speculation centered on timing and landing points.  Martin wondered if the invasion would happen before the rescue vessel arrived.  He hoped so.  And he discovered that the tension of the last days was mixed with something else, an emotion he could not put a name to.

     When at last it came, it was a sleek silver bulletshaped cruiser. sailing majestically down its magnetics.  (It was the same class vessel as Alexia, but his ship had never looked so good.)  It settled softly into the scrub, dwarfing his capsule.  Hatches rotated, opened, and people spilled out.  Martin hugged everybody.

     They stayed two weeks, splashing in the surf, drinking at night, walking in the woods.  Martin talked constantly, to anyone who would listen.  He paired off with a young technician and rediscovered a few lost emotions.

     Captain and crew gathered around his radio, and listened curiously to news reports and "Big Town."  But they grew quickly bored.  And for Martin, the broadcasts had acquired an artifact quality: the sense of immediacy, of living through another age, had gone.  When, on the fourth day of his rescue, Allies troops stormed ashore on Omaha Beach, he was in a glade with his technician.  And that, he thought later, was the way it should be.  Nevertheless, there were still the old songs; and they did not recede.  Rather, their suggestion of transience and loss grew more explicit.

     Toward the end, they recovered Patricia's body, which would be returned to New Hampshire.  The medical officer and the captain each inquired after his health.  One thought he seemed depressed; the other wondered if he was actually not very happy about being rescued.

     "We've come a long way," the Captain said, making a joke of it, "to have you change your mind and stay here."

     Martin's eyes dimmed.  The thought had occurred to him, but he had not seriously considered it.  Voices need flesh.

     When it was time to leave, Martin shut down Datapak, turned off the lights in his home, and locked the door. He took the portable radio with him.

 

Copyright 1982 Cryptic, Inc. Orignially appeared in Asimov's 1982. 

 

"These Foolish Things Remind Me of You" by Holt Marvell, Jack Strachey, & Harry Link.  Copyright © 1935 by Boosey & Co., Ltd., London, England.  Copyright renewed.  Publication rights for US, Canada and Newfoundland controlled by Bourne Co.  Used by permission.​