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Open the door. I can't; she's locked it.
Talk to her. I can't; she won't listen.
Turn on your air. I can't; she has control of the system.
Get control of the system. I can't; she is in control.
Find help inside the room. I can't; there is nothing left to help me.
Then leave. I can't; I -
He paused. That wasn't true. He could leave by smashing a porthole, or, for that matter, by opening the hatch in the ceiling. But there was no place to go. He didn't have a suit. The water was freezing. He had been exposed to that freezing water for only a few seconds and he had nearly died. If he were to leave the room for the open ocean, he would almost surely die. He'd probably be fatally chilled before the chamber even filled with water. He would surely die.
In his mind he saw Stein raise his bushy eyebrows, give his quizzical smile. So? You'll die anyway. What have you got to lose?
A plan began to form in Norman's mind. If he opened the ceiling hatch, he could go outside the habitat. Once outside, perhaps he could make his way down to A Cyl, get back in through the airlock, and put his suit on. Then he would be okay.
If he could make it to the airlock. How long would that take? Thirty seconds? A minute? Could he hold his breath that long? Could he withstand the cold that long?
You'll die anyway.
And then he thought, You damn fool, you're holding an oxygen bottle in your hand; you have enough air if you don't stay here, wasting time worrying. Get on with it.
No, he thought, there's something else, something I'm forgetting. ...
Get on with it!
So he stopped thinking, and climbed up to the ceiling hatch at the top of the cylinder. Then he held his breath, braced himself, and spun the wheel, opening the hatch.
"Norman! Norman, what are you doing? Norman! You are insa - " he heard Beth shout, and then the rest was lost in the roar of freezing water pouring like a mighty waterfall into the habitat, filling the room.
The moment he was outside, he realized his mistake. He needed weights. His body was buoyant, tugging him up toward the surface. He sucked a final breath, dropped the oxygen bottle, and desperately gripped the cold pipes on the outside of the habitat, knowing that if he lost his grip, there would be nothing to stop him, nothing to grab onto, all the way to the surface. He would reach the surface and explode like a balloon.
Holding the pipes, he pulled himself down, hand over hand, looking for the next pipe, the next protrusion to grab. It was like mountain-climbing in reverse; if he let go, he would fall upward and die. His hands were long since numb. His body was stiff with cold, slow with cold. His lungs burned.
He had very little time.
He reached the bottom, swung under D Cyl, pulled himself along, felt in the darkness for the airlock. It wasn't there! The airlock was gone! Then he saw he was beneath B Cyl. He moved over to A, felt the airlock. The airlock was closed. He tugged the wheel. It was shut tight. He pulled on it, but he could not move it.
He was locked out.
The most intense fear gripped him. His body was almost immobile from cold; he knew he had only a few seconds of consciousness remaining. He had to open the hatch. He pounded it, pounded the metal around the rim, feeling nothing in his numb hands.
The wheel began to spin by itself. The hatch popped open. There must have been an emergency button, he must have - He burst above the surface of the water, gasped air, and sank again. He came back up, but he couldn't climb out into the cylinder. He was too numb, his muscles frozen, his body unresponsive.
You have to do it, he thought. You have to do it. His fingers gripped metal, slipped off, gripped again. One pull, he thought. One last pull. He heaved his chest over the metal rim, flopped onto the deck. He couldn't feel anything, he was so cold. He twisted his body, trying to pull his legs up, and fell back into the icy water.
He pulled himself up again, one last time - again over the rim, again onto the deck, and he twisted, twisted, one leg up, his balance precarious, then the other leg, he couldn't really feel it, and then he was out of the water, and lying on the deck.
He was shivering. He tried to stand, and fell over. His whole body was shaking so hard he could not keep his balance.
Across the airlock he saw his suit, hanging on the wall of the cylinder. He saw the helmet, "JOHNSON" stenciled on it. Norman crawled toward the suit, his body shaking violently. He tried to stand, and could not. The boots of his suit were directly in front of his face. He tried to grip them in his hands, but his hands could not close. He tried to bite the suit, to pull himself up with his teeth, but his teeth were chattering uncontrollably.
The intercom crackled.
"Norman! I know what you're doing, Norman!"
Any minute, Beth would be here. He had to get into the suit. He stared at it, inches from him, but his hands still shook, he could not hold anything. Finally he saw the fabric loops near the waist to clip instruments. He hooked one hand into the loop, managed to hold on. He pulled himself upright. He got one foot into the suit, then the other.
He reached for the helmet. The helmet drummed in a staccato beat against the wall before he managed to get it free of the peg and drop it over his head. He twisted it, heard the click of the snap-lock.
He was still very cold. Why wasn't the suit heating up? Then he realized, no power. The power was in the tank pack. Norman backed up against the tank, shrugged it on, staggered under the weight. He had to hook the umbilicus - he reached behind him, felt it - held it - hook it into the suit - at the waist - hook it
He heard a click.
The fan hummed.
He felt long streaks of pain all over his body. The electrical elements were heating, painful against his frozen skin. He felt pins and needles all over. Beth was talking - he heard her through the intercom - but he couldn't listen to her. He sat heavily on the deck, breathing hard.
But already he knew that he was going to be all right; the pain was lessening, his head was clearing, and he was no longer shaking so badly. He had been chilled, but not long enough for it to be central. He was recovering fast.
The radio crackled.
"You'll never get to me, Norman!"
He got to his feet, pulled on his weight belt, locked the buckles.
He said nothing. He felt quite warm now, quite normal. "Norman! I am surrounded by explosives! If you come anywhere near me, I will blow you to pieces! You'll die, Norman! You'll never get near me!"
But Norman wasn't going to Beth. He had another plan entirely. He heard his tank air hiss as the pressure equalized in his suit.
He jumped back into the water.
The sphere gleamed in the light. Norman saw himself reflected in its perfectly polished surface, then saw his image break up, fragmented on the convolutions, as he moved around to the back.
To the door.
It looked like a mouth, he thought. Like the maw of some primitive creature, about to eat him. Confronted by the sphere, seeing once again the alien, unhuman pattern of the convolutions, he felt his intention dissolve. He was suddenly afraid. He didn't think he could go through with it.
Don't be silly, he told himself. Harry did it. And Beth did it. They survived.
He examined the convolutions, as if for reassurance. But there wasn't any reassurance to be obtained. Just curved grooves in the metal, reflecting back the light.
Okay, he thought finally. I'll do it. I've come this far, I've survived everything so far. I might as well do it.
Go ahead and open up.
But the sphere did not open. It remained exactly as it was, a gleaming, polished, perfect shape.
What was the purpose of the thing? He wished he understood its purpose.
He thought of Dr. Stein again. What was Stein's favorite line? "Understanding is a delaying tactic." Stein used to get angry about that. When the graduate students would intellectualize, going on and on about patients and their problems, he would interrupt in annoyance, "Who cares? Who cares whether we understand the psychodynamics in this case? Do you want to understand how to swim, or do you want to jump in and start swimming? Only people who are afraid of the water want to understand it. Other people jump in and get wet."
Okay, Norman thought. Let's get wet.
He turned to face the sphere, and thought, Open up.
The sphere did not open.
"Open up," he said aloud. The sphere did not open.
Of course he knew that wouldn't work, because Ted had tried it for hours. When Harry and Beth went in, they hadn't said anything. They just did something in their minds.
He closed his eyes, focused his attention, and thought, Open up.
He opened his eyes and looked at the sphere. It was still closed.
I am ready for you to open up, he thought. I am ready now.
Nothing happened. The sphere did not open.
Norman hadn't considered the possibility that he would be unable to open the sphere. After all, two others had already done it. How had they managed it?
Harry, with his logical brain, had been the first to figure it out. But Harry had only figured it out after he had seen Beth's tape. So Harry had discovered a clue in the tape, an important clue.
Beth had also reviewed the tape, watching it again and again, until she finally figured it out, too. Something in the tape ...
Too bad he didn't have the tape here, Norman thought. But he had seen it often, he could probably reconstruct it, play it back in his mind. How did it go? In his mind he saw the images: Beth and Tina talking. Beth eating cake. Then Tina had said something about the tapes being stored in the submarine. And Beth said something back. Then Tina had moved away, out of the picture, but she had said, "Do you think they'll ever get the sphere open?"
And Beth said, "Maybe. I don't know." And the sphere had opened at that moment.
"Do you think they'll ever get the sphere open?" Tina had asked. And in response to such a question, Beth must have imagined the sphere open, must have seen an image of the open sphere in her mind
There was a deep, low rumble, a vibration that filled the room.
The sphere was open, the door gaping wide and black.
That's it, he thought. Visualize it happening and it happens. Which meant that if he also visualized the sphere door closed -
With another deep rumble, the sphere closed.
- or open -
The sphere opened again.
"I'd better not press my luck," he said aloud. The door was still open. He peered in the doorway but saw only deep, undifferentiated blackness. It's now or never, he thought. He stepped inside.
The sphere closed behind him.
There is darkness, and then, as his eyes adjust, something like fireflies. It is a dancing, luminous foam, millions of points of light, swirling around him.
What is this? he thinks. All he sees is the foam. There is no structure to it and apparently no limit. It is a surging ocean, a glistening, multifaceted foam. He feels great beauty and peace. It is restful to be here.
He moves his hands, scooping the foam, his movements making it swirl. But then he notices that his hands are becoming transparent, that he can see the sparkling foam through his own flesh. He looks down at his body. His legs, his torso, everything is becoming transparent to the foam. He is part of the foam. The sensation is very pleasant.
He grows lighter. Soon he is lifted, and floats in the limitless ocean foam. He puts his hands behind his neck and floats. He feels happy. He feels he could stay here forever.
He becomes aware of something else in this ocean, some other presence.
"Anybody here?" he says.
I am here.
He almost jumps, it is so loud. Or it seems loud. Then he wonders if he has heard anything at all.
"Did you speak?"
How are we communicating? he wonders.
The way everything communicates with everything else.
Which way is that?
Why do you ask if you already know the answer?
But I don't know the answer.
The foam moves him gently, peacefully, but he receives no answer for a time. He wonders if he is alone again.
Are you there?
I thought you had gone away.
There is nowhere to go.
Do you mean you are imprisoned inside this sphere?
Will you answer a question? Who are you?
I am not a who.
Are you God?
God is a word.
I mean, are you a higher being, or a higher consciousness?
Higher than what?
Higher than me, I suppose.
How high are you?
Pretty low. At least, I imagine so.
Well, then, that's your trouble.
Riding in the foam, he is disturbed by the possibility that God is making fun of him. He thinks, Are you making a joke?
Why do you ask if you already know the answer?
Am I talking to God?
You are not talking at all.
You take what I say very literally. Is this because you are from another planet?
Are you from another planet?
Are you from another civilization?
Where are you from?
Why do you ask if you already know the answer?
In another time, he thinks, he would be irritated by this repetitive answer, but now he feels no emotions. There are no judgments. He is simply receiving information, a response. He thinks, But this sphere comes from another civilization.
And maybe from another time.
And aren't you a part of this sphere?
I am now.
So, where are you from?
Why do you ask if you already know the answer?
The foam gently shifts him, rocking him soothingly.
Are you still there?
Yes. There is nowhere to go.
I'm afraid I am not very knowledgeable about religion. I am a psychologist. I deal with how people think. In my training, I never learned much about religion.
Oh, I see.
Psychology doesn't have much to do with religion.
So you agree?
I agree with you.
I don't see why.
Who is I?
He rocks in the foam, feeling a deep peace despite the difficulties of this conversation.
I am troubled, he thinks.
I am troubled because you sound like Jerry.
That is to be expected.
But Jerry was really Harry.
So are you Harry, too?
No. Of course not.
Who are you?
I am not a who.
Then why do you sound like Jerry or Harry?
Because we spring from the same source.
I don't understand.
When you look in the mirror, who do you see?
I see myself.
Isn't that right?
It's up to you.
I don't understand.
What you see is up to you.
I already know that. Everybody knows that. That is a psychological truism, a cliche.
Are you an alien intelligence?
Are you an alien intelligence?
I find you difficult to talk to. Will you give me the power?
The power you gave to Harry and Beth. The power to make things happen by imagination. Will you give it to me?
Because you already have it.
I don't feel as if I have it.
Then how is it that I have the power?
How did you get in here?
I imagined the door opening.
Rocking in the foam, waiting for a further response, but there is no response, there is only gentle movement in the foam, a peaceful timelessness, and a drowsy sensation.
After a passage of time, he thinks, I am sorry, but I wish you would just explain and stop speaking in riddles.
On your planet you have an animal called a bear. It is a large animal, sometimes larger than you, and it is clever and has ingenuity, and it has a brain as large as yours. But the bear differs from you in one important way. It cannot perform the activity you call imagining. It cannot make mental images of how reality might be. It cannot envision what you call the past and what you call the future. This special ability of imagination is what has made your - species as great as it is. Nothing else. It is not your ape - nature, not your tool-using nature, not language or your violence or your caring for young or your social groupings. It is none of these things, which are all found in other animals. Your greatness lies in imagination.
The ability to imagine is the largest part of what you call intelligence. You think the ability to imagine is merely a useful step on the way to solving a problem or making something happen. But imagining it is what makes it happen.
This is the gift of your species and this is the danger, because you do not choose to control your imaginings. You imagine wonderful things and you imagine terrible things, and you take no responsibility for the choice. You say you have inside you both the power of good and the power of evil, the angel and the devil, but in truth you have just one thing inside you - the ability to imagine.
I hope you enjoyed this speech, which I plan to give at the next meeting of the American Association of Psychologists and Social Workers, which is meeting in Houston in March. I feel it will be quite well received.
What? he thinks, startled.
Who did you think you were talking to? God?
Who is this? he thinks.
You, of course.
But you are somebody different from me, separate. You are not me, he thinks.
Yes l am. You imagined me.
Tell me more.
There is no more.
His cheek rested on cold metal. He rolled onto his back and looked at the polished surface of the sphere, curving above him. The convolutions of the door had changed again.
Norman got to his feet. He felt relaxed and at peace, as if he had been sleeping a long time. He felt as if he had had a wonderful dream. He remembered everything quite clearly.
He moved through the ship, back to the flight deck, and then down the hallway with the ultraviolet lights to the room with all the tubes on the wall.
The tubes were filled. There was a crewman in each one. Just as he thought: Beth had manifested a single crewman - a solitary woman - as a way of warning them. Now Norman was in charge, and he found the room full.
Not bad, he thought.
He looked at the room and thought: Gone, one at a time. One by one, the crew members in the tubes vanished before his eyes, until they were all gone.
Back, one at a time.
The crew members popped back in the tubes, materializing on demand.
The women were changed into men.
They all became women.
He had the power.
Beth's voice over the loudspeakers, hissing through the empty spacecraft.
"Where are you, Norman? I know you're there somewhere. I can feel you, Norman."
Norman was moving through the kitchen, past the empty cans of Coke on the counter, then through the heavy door and into the flight deck. He saw Beth's face on all the console screens, Beth seeming to see him, the image repeated a dozen times.
"Norman. I know where you've been. You've been inside the sphere, haven't you, Norman?"
He pressed the consoles with the flat of his hand, trying to turn off the screens. He couldn't do it; the images remained.
"Norman. Answer me, Norman."
He moved past the flight deck, going toward the airlock. "It won't do you any good, Norman. I'm in charge now. Do you hear me, Norman?"
In the airlock, he heard a click as his helmet ring locked; the air from the tanks was cool and dry. He listened to the even sound of his own breathing.
"Norman." Beth, on the intercom in his helmet. "Why don't you speak to me, Norman? Are you afraid, Norman?" The repetition of his name irritated him. He pressed the buttons to open the airlock. Water began to flood in from the floor, rising swiftly.
"Oh, there you are, Norman. I see you now." And she began to laugh, a high, cackling laugh.
Norman turned around, saw the video camera mounted on the robot, still inside the airlock. He shoved the camera, spinning it away.
"That won't do any good, Norman."
He was back outside the spacecraft, standing by the air lock. The Tevac explosives, rows of glowing red dots, extended away in erratic lines, like an airplane runway laid out by some demented engineer.
"Norman? Why don't you answer me, Norman?"
Beth was unstable, erratic. He could hear it in her voice. He had to deprive her of her weapons, to turn off the explosives, if he could.
Off, he thought. Let's have the explosives off and disarmed.
All the red lights immediately went off.
Not bad, he thought, with a burst of pleasure. A moment later, the red lights blinked back on.
"You can't do it, Norman," Beth said, laughing. "Not to me. I can fight you."
He knew she was right. They were having an argument, a test of wills, turning the explosives on and off. And the argument couldn't ever be resolved. Not that way. He would have to do something more direct.
He moved toward the nearest of the Tevac explosives. Up close, the cone was larger than he had thought, four feet high, with a red light at the top.
"I can see you, Norman. I see what you're doing."
There was writing on the cone, yellow letters stenciled on the gray surface. Norman bent to read it. His faceplate was slightly fogged, but he could still make out the words.
DANGER - TEVAC EXPLOSIVES
U.S.N. CONSTRUCTION/DEMOLITION USE ONLY
DEFAULT DETONATE SEQUENCE 20:00
CONSULT MANUAL USN/VV/512-A
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY
There was still more writing beneath that, but it was smaller, and he couldn't make it out.
"Norman! What're you doing with my explosives, Norman?"
Norman didn't answer her. He looked at the wiring. One thin cable ran into the base of the cone, and a second cable ran out. The second cable went along the muddy bottom to the next cone, where there were again just two cables - one in, and one out.
"Get away from there, Norman. You're making me nervous.
One cable in, and one cable out.
Beth had wired the cones together in series, like Christmas-tree bulbs! By pulling out a single cable, Norman would disconnect the entire line of explosives. He reached forward and gripped the cable in his gloved hand.
"Norman! Don't touch that wire, Norman!"
"Take it easy, Beth."
His fingers closed around the cable. He felt the soft plastic coating, gripped it tightly.