The Project Gutenberg eBook of Wind in Her Hair, by Kris Neville
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Title: Wind in Her Hair
Author: Kris Neville
Release Date: April 08, 2021 [eBook #65032]
Language: English
Character set encoding: UTF-8
Produced by: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


By Kris Neville

To Marte and Johnny Nine the space ship was
their world. And yet they dreamed of returning
home to Earth ... a planet they had never seen.

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
October 1950
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


His voice echoed hollowly, dying away to an eerie whisper, fainter and fainter.


It was very silent here on the last level below the giant atomic motors.

The feeble light showered down from a single overhead bulb; it was their special bulb. Marte always lit it when she came below.

"Marte!" His voice was almost pleading.

"Here I am, Johnny. Over here."

"Little imp," he said, not unkindly. "What do you mean, hiding?"

"Hiding, Johnny? I wasn't hiding.... And besides, you looked so funny and lost, standing there, calling me."

He saw her, now, sitting half in shadow, leaning against the far bulkhead.

His feet ping-pinged on the uncarpeted deck plates as he crossed to her.

"Hello," she said brightly. She threw back her head, and her eyes caught the dim light and sparkled it. "I hoped you'd come today." Smiling, she held out her hand.

He took it. "I really shouldn't have," he said.

"Oh?" She puckered her lips in mock anger and drew him down beside her. "Didn't you want to come?"

"You know I did."

"Then why?"

"They might need me in Control," he said, half seriously.

Marte's eyes opened an involuntary fraction. "Nothing's wrong, is there?" Her lips had lost their sudden, native smile, and the smile in her eyes half fled.

"No. Everything's fine.... I just meant in case...."

"Oh, Johnny, don't say it; please." Her eyes spoke with her voice, emotions bubbled in them. Her face had something of a woman's seriousness in it, the product more of native understanding than experience, and much of a girl's naivete. "Don't even think about anything like that." She looked up at him, studied his face intently, and then said, "Tell me that: Say nothing's going to go wrong."

"I was just talking, Marte. Nothing can go wrong; not now."

"Say it again!"

"Nothing is going to go wrong," he said slowly, giving each word its full meaning.

"Do you really—really and truly—believe that?" she asked.

"Of course I do, Marte."

The girl smiled. "I do too—only—" The smile faded. Her eyes focused on some distant place, beyond the last level, beyond the Ship itself. "Only sometimes I'm afraid it's too good to happen.... That I'm dreaming, and that all at once I'll wake up, and—" She shook her head. "But that's silly, isn't it, Johnny?"

"Yes," he said. He settled back and rested against the bulkhead.

There was silence for a while, two young people, hand in hand, sitting in silence.

Finally, Marte spoke.

"Here," she said, "feel." She pressed his hand against the bulkhead. "See how cool it is?"

"Of course. It's the outside plate."

"Yes," she said, "I know. There's nothing but space out there." She squeezed his hand. "But just a little while ago, before you came, I was sitting here thinking. And I thought that wind must feel like that. I mean, not how it feels, exactly, but how it makes you feel. Wild and free. Without any bulkheads to keep you from walking and walking."

He shook his head. "Little dreamer," he whispered.

She frowned prettily. "Don't you feel it, too?"

Johnny Nine pressed his hand to the bulkhead again. "Yes, I guess maybe I do. In a way."

"Of course you do! You've just got to. You can't help it! Put your cheek close against the bulkhead and you can almost feel the wind blowing on your face. I can. And if I try hard enough, I can almost smell the fields of flowers all in bloom and hear birds singing, like they were singing from far away.... And I can—"

"You've been reading again," he interrupted with a smile.

"Uh-huh," she said dreamily. "I have.... And when I finished, I came down here, and I thought about it, and I hoped you'd come so we could talk. It was poetry; it was—beautiful....

"You know, Johnny, I'd like to write poetry. If I had the sky and the birds and the rivers and the mountains all to write about."

After a moment, Johnny Nine said, "Go ahead, tell me what the poems were about."

They envisioned themselves running hand in hand, with the wind whispering gently....

"Well...." She drew out the word slowly. "It's not what they were about, exactly. It's what they said, not out loud, but down deep. It's like getting a present that means an awful lot to you; it's not the present, but the way it makes your nose tickle and your stomach feel." She smiled wistfully.

"They were all written a long time ago, even before the First Generation, by men back on Earth, but they seemed to be written just for us.... One was about a bird, and how it made the poet feel to watch it fly and hear it sing; it made him feel all warm inside.... And one was about a young girl who worked in the fields, reaping grain...." That image seemed to reverberate in her mind, for she was quiet a moment, as if to listen for the fading echoes.

"I think that would be the most wonderful thing. To help things grow, with your own two hands, and to harvest them when they're ripe and waiting, not 'ponics, like Sam, but really growing out of the Earth."

"Someday," he said softly, "you're going to write the kind of poetry they wrote."

Marte looked down at her hands.

"I want to do so many things.... Maybe help things grow, most of all.... I think there must be a sort of poetry in that, too.



"Do you think we could get a farm? It wouldn't have to be a very big one; just a little farm, where we could raise things?"

"If you want it, Marte."

"Oh, I do. I do!" Her voice carried the lilt of youth in it.

The silences that frequently spiced their conversation had no embarrassed elements in them; they said as much as words, and they came mutually.

"Some of it was sad. The poetry. I mean, the deep kind of sadness, the real sadness, the kind that has—hopelessness, and lostness, and aloneness in it.

"Here he lies where he longed to be.
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill."

She caught her breath, sharply. "That kind of sadness. The kind that says something about us. How we've dreamed and planned of going Home—"

She let her voice drift.

"I sometimes think Earth is such a beautiful place that you have to be dead to go there."

Johnny Nine said nothing.

"Think of the wide sky, Johnny. Where we can see the sunrise. I've always dreamed about seeing a sunrise.

"A sun. That's a funny word to say; it just sounds warm. Sun. A sun that is like those little points of light, way beyond the bulkheads. When we see them from Observation, they look all cold. Imagine how it would be to be so close to one of them that it's big and warm....

"Johnny, do you think anything could be as pretty as those pictures, in Compartment Seven, of a blue and gold sunrise?"

"Even prettier."

"Say it again!"

"Even prettier."

"I'll stay up, then, all the first night. I know I will. Just to see the sun come up."

She drew in her legs and clasped her arms around them.

"Tell me again what They said."

Johnny Nine did not answer immediately. He sat motionless, trying to make out the bulkhead that marked the other side of the Ship. But their feeble light could not penetrate so much darkness. It almost seemed as if there were no other bulkhead and no Ship, only darkness, there, that spread out to the ends of the Universe.

Finally he spoke. "It was awful hard to hear them; we're too far away. As near as we could understand, they're having a celebration for us. Hundreds and hundreds of people will be there. All to see us."

"Hundreds ... and ... hundreds. Hundreds and hundreds!" She turned her face to his. "It seems hard to believe, doesn't it? All those people!"

"Maybe even more than that, Marte."

"Johnny?" She ducked her head and pulled her legs in tighter. "Johnny?"


"We can have babies, can't we?" She asked it in a rush.

"... Yes. We can have babies. As many as we want."

She wrinkled her nose. "... It seems funny, to be able to have all the babies you want. Not one every time somebody dies: but all you want!"

She smiled at some secret communication with herself. "I think we'll have a dozen....

"Imagine, Johnny. We can have babies that will have a real childhood. Not like ours, in the Ship, but one on Earth. They can play in the wind and in the sunshine.

"And learn things. All kinds of things. They won't be born into one particular job. They can do anything they want to—anything in the whole wide world. And they can live in the air." She blinked her eyes.

"It makes me so glad I want to cry."

The Big Ship, the balanced terrarium of fifty lives, swung downward in her path, rushing toward her parent sun, the first interstellar voyager coming home.

Home. After twenty-one generations had peopled her vast bulk, after four hundred long years in space.

The radio in Control crackled and sputtered; the nearly seven hour wait was over. The Captain, the Mate, and Johnny Nine, the pilot, listened intently.

The language had changed, and the voice that came out of the speaker was reedy, and thin with vast distances.

"Halloo.... Hallooo...." Like a cosmic sigh. Weird. "Yur message...." They could make out the words; the vowels were shorter, the consonants more sibilant, but they could make out the words. "... Repeat ... pilot...." The voice rose and fell, rose and fell. Static hacked away inside the speaker, split sentences, scattered words.

"... World waiting eagerly for...." Hiss and sputter. "In answer.... Repeat.... pilot inside Mar's orbit.... Repeat ... pilot...."

Johnny Nine bent forward. "I guess he means we'll get a pilot ship inside the orbit of Mars. They'll probably set us around Earth. We've got too much bulk to land."

"They'll probably ferry us down in one of their best ships," the Mate said; there was a weariness and an undefined, non-directional bitterness in his voice. A germ of thought lay buried beneath the words, a half-formed memory concept: Ferry us down like they ferried our ancestors up—four hundred years ago—to the Leviathan—built in space—too big ever to land.

The voice from Earth sighed out of the speaker; only the sputter of static remained. Earth was awaiting, now, the reply.

The Mate snapped off the speaker. The new silence was stark, as if something other than sound had been withdrawn.

The Captain rubbed the back of his left hand with the palm of his right.

None of them could quite find words for their thoughts.

It was the Captain, finally, who spoke.

"I guess—there isn't much to tell them, is there?"

The Captain turned his swivel chair until it faced the broad Observation window; through it he could see out into the inconceivable depths of star-clustered space.

"I've been thinking," he mused, half to himself. "Thinking a lot, lately." He rubbed his forehead. "About the Ship ... I've lived here a long time—my whole life. That's a long time. I was wondering how it would seem not to live here anymore."

He put his elbows on his knees and twined his hands before his face. "Not for you, Johnny. For you and Marte, and the rest of the Twenty-first Generation, that's different. I mean for us old timers. When you're twenty, there's a new world ahead; when you're fifty—it's not ahead any more. How will it seem to us?"

The Captain shook his head slowly. "It'll sure seem funny to give this up. This room here, where I've worked all these years. This view—"

He waved his hand toward the Observation window.

"This view clear into Infinity."

Johnny Nine crossed the room and stood before the window. He gazed into space. Without turning, he began to talk. There was no excitement in his voice, only calm certainty.

"Think, Captain: think of other things. Think of trees and running water and blue sky. Think of green grass, real green grass, acres and acres of it, swaying in the wind. Think of that."

The Captain smiled. "Ah, youth, Johnny.... If it had been forty years ago—or thirty—or even ten.... But now...." He shrugged. "We're old and set in our ways. We think of rest and of the familiar."

Johnny Nine still did not turn. "Imagine sitting on a chair, on a porch, facing out to the woods, across a field of corn. Imagine the neighborhood kids gathering about you, and you telling them how you were on the Interstellar Flight. How you came back from the stars."

"Perhaps, Johnny, perhaps.... Perhaps...."

The Mate jammed full power into the heavy transmitter. "I hope these tubes hold," he said matter-of-factly. "I couldn't find the replacements."

The Captain came back from his thoughts. "Did you make a check of the Parts Index?" he asked.

"Sure. They're supposed to be in Compartment Four. Couldn't find them there. Some crazy fool probably made baby rattles out of them a hundred and fifty years ago."

"I'll send someone to see if you overlooked them. You want to go, Johnny?"

"I'll look, sure. Compartment Four, Skippy?"

"Supposed to be."

The Mate turned back to the radio. "Hello, Earth.... Hello, Earth.... Hello, Earth.... This is Interstellar Flight One.... Interstellar Flight One, inside Pluto.... Hello, Earth, this is—"

Johnny Nine closed the door behind him and left the cramped room.

In Compartment Four Johnny Nine switched on the lights; the large center bulb flared blue and the filaments fused. That left the compartment in gloom.

Slowly the Ship was growing old. It no longer functioned as smoothly as before; its spare parts stock was running low. Bulbs were rationed and three whole levels were in continual darkness. The long night was creeping in, as if the jet of space was slowly digesting the interloper.

"Sit down, Johnny. Old Sam wants to talk to you."

Johnny Nine dropped his hand from the switch and turned. "Oh? Oh, Sam.... Where did you come from?"

"I seen you coming down, so I followed you. I wanted to talk to you alone. And when I seen you comin' down here, I said, 'Now, Sam, here's your chance to talk to Johnny.'"

"Yes, Sam?"

"Go ahead, Johnny, sit down."

Johnny Nine crossed to a crate that still contained parts for the atomic motor and sat down. "All right, Sam. Go ahead."

Sam shuffled his feet. "I don't know how to start, hardly. Look, Johnny. Tell me something. True. You will, won't you?"

"Yes, Sam, I will. You know that."

"Sure, I know you will. Why, don't I remember when you was just a little tyke, how you used to come down to the gardens and watch old Sam? And I said, then, that if ever there's a boy that gives you a straight answer, that's Johnny Nine.

"I remember you sayin', once, 'Sam,' you said, 'you've to one blue eye and one brown.'" Sam smiled. "Right out you said it. An' you know, that's right. I have. Nobody else would have told me so, because they were afraid of hurting my feelings. But why should I mind that I've got one blue eye and one brown one? Funny, how other folks think you mind, when really you don't....

"Look, Johnny. About the gardens. I'm getting old—uh-uh, don't say it: I am and you know I am. Lately, folks have been comin' around helpin' me out. They let on that they're just there lookin', but they help me, and I know it. Is it because I'm gettin' old, Johnny?"

"Sam, you're like the Captain. Good for another twenty years."

"Now, Johnny, answer old Sam straight."

Johnny Nine hesitated. "Well," he admitted, "you aren't as young as some of us, Sam. But that doesn't mean you're old. I mean, really old." Johnny Nine turned his head so Sam could not see his face.

Sam cleared his throat. "Look, Johnny!" He held out a tiny bottle.

Johnny Nine glanced around. "Where did you get that?" he demanded angrily when he saw the bottle.

"That's all right. Old Sam's got ways. An' he'll be takin' it any day now. You just say the word, Johnny."

"Did somebody give that to you?" Johnny Nine demanded sharply.

"No. Nobody gave it to me. Old Sam's had this bottle for years. Just waitin', Johnny. Just waitin'. For somebody to say the word."

"Give it to me!"

Sam snatched back the bottle. "No!" His weak old eyes showed traces of fire. "No. Old Sam's—"

"Sam," Johnny Nine said gently, "we're almost Home, Sam, almost Home."

Sam laughed bitterly. He shook his head. "No, Johnny. Can't fool old Sam. 'Course folks say we are. But I know. Old Sam knows. I'll be drinkin' this any day now."

"Sam, listen. In four—" He bit his tongue before he could say 'months'. That superstition. "In a little while, we'll be Home. It's true, Sam, I wouldn't lie."

Sam's eyes brightened. "You ain't foolin' me?"

"No, Sam."

Sam seemed to relax. "Home," he said. "You know, Johnny, lately I've been dreamin' of Home. Now you say we're almost there.... You know, I remember, when old John Turner—I guess you don't remember old John—before your time—when old John, well, he told Molly Dawn (she was his partner), he said, 'Molly, it sure looks like the only way we can get Home is live as long an' as useful a life as Sam. Because Sam is just too stubborn to grow old like the rest of us.' Yes, sir, that's just what he said: 'Old Sam is too downright stubborn to grow old like the rest of us.'"

Sam slapped his knee. "Now don't that beat all? 'Too stubborn,' he says."

Sam leaned back against a row of crates. His eyes glistened in the light. Then the excitement died from them.

"No, Johnny. It don't seem right for me to go on livin' when people come down to 'ponics every day to do my work. It ain't right, Johnny."

"But Sam—"

"Oh. I know. You tell me we're almost Home. But Johnny," Sam leaned forward, "there ain't no Home. It's just a story they tell you when you're little.... Or maybe when you're old, like me. There ain't nothing but this here Ship and—"

"Sam, listen—"

"But me no buts, Johnny. Old Sam knows. Yes, sir, he's been around too long. You're all trying to fool him, but you're not." He paused for breath. "I know, Johnny. That's why I got this here bottle. You don't need to hint around, trying to make it easy. You just speak up. Old Sam can do what's got to be done."

Johnny Nine stood up.

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to take that bottle, Sam."

"No, Johnny."

"Give it to me!"

Johnny Nine took the bottle and smashed it against the deck plates.

"We'll never need one of those again. Where we're going there's no tolerance factor. A man doesn't have to die just because he can't do all the work he once could. Earth is such a big terrarium that a man can just keep on living."

"Johnny, old Sam's confused. He's all mixed up." One lone tear ran down his cheek.

"You go to your cabin and get some rest. You'll never need a bottle. Understand that, Sam? You'll never need a bottle."

"Then you weren't foolin' me? We're really goin' Home? Somebody said we were, and I thought we were, and then I thought you were all foolin' me and then—

"I guess I better had, Johnny. Old Sam's tired. Old Sam's awful tired."

He limped out of the compartment.

Johnny Nine watched his back until it disappeared down the companionway ladder to the passenger quarters. The rest of the passengers had been doing Sam's work for nearly three years now. But it didn't matter. They were so near Home that it didn't matter. They no longer needed to produce a balance for a new generation; it was journey's end.

Johnny Nine began to rummage through the supplies, extra parts for all sorts of fancied emergencies that never occurred, and no parts, of course, for those that did, over the long, four hundred years of the trip.

Johnny Nine finally found the radio spares. Mislaid behind a mass of junk that once had been air control gauges. One of the First Generation had smashed the gauges when he went mad. But the Ship had been lucky. It had survived without them.

"Hello, Johnny. The Captain said you were—oh! Johnny?"

Johnny Nine looked up; he smiled. He slipped out of the headset. "'Lo, Marte. They're broadcasting music to us. Want to listen?" He held out the headset. "It sounds better over these than over the speaker."

She crossed to him, in lithe, swaying youth movements, and took the headset. She fitted it over her hair and began to listen.

At first her face was expressionless. After a while, her mouth formed a little "o" and her eyes widened; she stood for a long time listening, making no sound.

Finally, she removed the headset and laid it on the table. She seemed vaguely puzzled.

"It's awful funny music, isn't it, Johnny? Not at all like ours....

"But then I guess they'd think our songs—"

She began to hum the tune of Long Night. Then she sang softly:

"It's a long night,
A dark night,
Before the day.
It's a long night before the long day,
And we're going Home:
We're going Home!"

She stopped.

"I guess they'll think that's funny, Johnny. Let's not sing it for them, ever. If somebody would laugh at that, it would hurt me, down inside. Let's never sing it again."

"All right, Marte," Johnny Nine said.

After a moment, he stood up. "You didn't come here with the rest."

"No ... I wanted to wait. I hoped maybe I could look at it while you were here. Just you and me."

He crossed to the Observation window. "It's just the little 'scope.... But here, I'll—"

He peered into the eyepiece and adjusted the knobs. "There.... Ah.... That does it. There, Marte."

He stood aside.

She bent over the telescope. The silence drew out and out, almost breath-held.

"It's.... It's.... Johnny, I feel like it was ours. Just yours and mine. Isn't it beautiful, all hazy blue?"

"Can you see the continents?"

"Yes.... Yes, I think I can. Not very well. Just dark patches."

She looked up. "It looks so little, Johnny, like a little ball. So little that if I had a chain, I could put it on it and then wear the chain around my neck."

Johnny Nine laughed gently. "But it's really big, Marte. Bigger than the Ship. A hundred times that big, a thousand—"

"A million!"

"Yes, maybe even that. It doesn't seem possible, does it?"

"Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, I'm so happy!" She looked into the eyepiece again. "I'll never forget this, not as long as I live. That little tiny ball and the Sun. I think I feel something like God must have felt when he made it."

"If you were to look hard enough, Marte, you could almost see our little farm down there—"

"Our farm.... Say it again, Johnny."

"Our farm," he said.

The Ship drew nearer and nearer. The balanced terrarium pointed Home, rushing faster than the wind, faster than sound, faster—

The Captain sat at his desk. For the past hour he had been drawing strange designs, contorted in helical animation, on a pad of yellow paper. Occasionally, he paused to stare out of the Observation window, lost in thought.

Absently, he let the pencil drop to the deck; the sound it made spun away his reverie. He bent and retrieved the pencil.


The Mate looked up from a book. "Yes?"

The Captain chuckled. "I've been thinking about what Johnny said a while back."

The Mate waited.

"You see that star, out there, Skippy? The bright one, there on the left of the field? I've been watching her for years. Even thought up a name for her. Mary Anne. It almost seems that if I could say something, in just the right way, she could understand and answer me."

The Mate closed the book and placed it on the table. When the two of them were alone, they sometimes talked of things that only friends can talk of. He maintained an encouraging silence.

"I've been thinking, too," the Captain continued, "that when I get to Earth, I can still see Mary Anne. If I know where to look, she'll be there, just the same as always....

"There was old Grandfather John Turner (you remember how he used to cuss the filters?) Remember how he talked of going Home. 'I won't live to see it,' he would say. 'I won't be here then,' he would say. But when he talked about it, it didn't seem to matter....

"It was the dream that mattered. A dream of everything that's wonderful. It meant peace and beauty and rest. It meant something too wonderful ever to happen.... For him, it was just a dream.

"Now that we can practically touch it, and see it, and feel it, I find it a rather frightening thing. It makes me feel cold inside; it makes my mouth get dry; it makes my hair prickle.

"Funny, how it gets me."

"I know what you mean," the Mate said.

"Maybe I've been afraid all along to admit that I wanted to go Home; afraid that somehow wanting something so much like a dream would keep me from ever getting it.

"But now that we're almost there, I've changed. Remember what Johnny said, 'How would you like to sit on a porch and tell the kids how you came back from the stars?'"

The Mate nodded and smiled. "It kinda got me too."

The Captain looked at the icy points of light again, set against the ebon of eternal night. "It does get you....

"On Earth, Mary Anne will sparkle. I guess everything sparkles there. Stars sparkle; water sparkles in the sunlight; the air sparkles; life sparkles."

He stood up and turned his back on the window.

"You know, once I get my feet down there, I'm going to see that they stay. I'm never going to take them off. Not even so much as a single mile. I'm going to get me a bushel basket, and I'm going to fill it with Earth, and when I go to bed, I'm going to have it right there beside me, so I can reach out with my hands, anytime in the night, and feel it."

"For a long time, Ed, I was scared, like you were, that something would happen. But now we're so near, I don't know.... I was afraid that maybe things had changed; that there wouldn't be any people. That maybe—I guess I always see the dark side, don't I?"

The Captain said, "Maybe there's some good in that. But this time I'm going to sound a little like Johnny. Things may have changed, Skippy. From what we've read about. We've got to expect that. But it can't be too different. We can adjust. Man can always adjust."

He turned again to the window.

"And there's always Earth herself. You can look through the 'scope and see her out there, just like she's been for a billion years. Home. That hasn't changed. The air of Home; the water of Home. That doesn't change."

"I guess you're right, Ed," the Mate agreed. "That can't change."

He found her down below the motors on the last level. Their light was burning dimly.

She had been crying.

Johnny Nine stood watching her for a long time. Finally he said, "I'm sorry, Marte."

She looked up. Her face was tear-cast, and her eyes were red. "It's.... It's...." Her voice caught in a sob. "Oh, Johnny, why? Why, Johnny?"

Johnny Nine had no answer to that question.

"Why did he have to do it—just when we were almost Home?" She began to cry again.

He sat down beside her, drew her head over on his shoulder.

"We've all got to die sometime. You, me ... Sam."

"But not now, Johnny. Not now!"

He let out his breath in a long sigh. "I know. I—I liked Sam. He was always good to me, always ready to stop work and explain things to me. But he was old, Marte, so awful old."

"But not to see Home, when you're almost there.... He looked through the 'scope, but his eyes were bad and he couldn't see it. And he thought we were all fooling him.... But Johnny, he'd had to believe, once he got his feet down on Earth, once the wind was all around him. Even if he was old. He'd had to believe, then."

"I know, Marte."

There was silence for a moment.

"You know what they say. 'When you die, you go to Earth'. Maybe Sam's already there. Ahead of us. Somehow."

"He used to tell me—me—me—" She choked up; she let out her breath unevenly. "When I was little and went down to look at the gardens, he used to tell me how he—"

"Don't, Marte. Try not to think of it."

"All right, Johnny. I won't. I'll try not to think of it. But Johnny—"

"Now, now, that's enough."

For fully five minutes neither of them spoke.

Then Marte asked, in a small voice, "Johnny?"


"I wonder how he got the bottle."

"Please, Marte...."

"I know, Johnny. But that way. It was so cruel. If he'd just waited." She looked at Johnny Nine.


He was staring at his sandals.



"We aren't—aren't going to reconvert him, are we? Not now?"

"No, Marte." Johnny Nine took a deep breath. "Not now. We're going to take him with us, and bury him, really bury him. Put the Earth over him. He'd like that, Marte. Not in the reconverter, but in the cool Earth, the Earth of Home."

"Yes," she said very softly, "he'd like that."

Closer and closer. The Ship was well inside Jupiter, skyrocketing to her rendezvous with the pilot ship. The radio lapse was less than thirty minutes now.

The Captain turned from the speaker. "You heard it, Johnny. What can we tell them?"

Earth wanted press comments. Tell us about the trip!

The Mate stood up.

Johnny Nine shuffled his feet. There was an awkward silence.

The History of the Ship. Which of them would dare attempt that?

The life of twenty-one generations; the death of nineteen; the dream of Earth....

Their little, circumscribed hopes and fears. The little things out of the night drench of a thousand lives. How well they lived together, the mutual respect and the mutual affection....

The little things whose total is life.

Or the big things.

Like the Great Sickness, during the Second Generation. It had almost finished the Ship.

The little things and the big, all rolled into an emotion that meant the Ship. That was the Ship....

The History of the Ship. Who could tell that? Who?

The Captain walked to the transmitter. He picked up the microphone and switched the "send" lever over.

"Hello, Earth.... Hello, Earth.... Interstellar Flight One.... Interstellar Flight One.... For your press.... Repeat.... For your press...."

There was only one thing to say: "We're coming Home!"

That single sentence crackled its way across the vastness of space.

The Ship sped on. Its forty-nine people worked and slept and played, as their fathers before them, and their fathers before that. But their hearts were glad with a new gladness.

"We're inside Mars!"

Johnny Nine settled back in the pilot seat, aft in the Ship, above the tubes.

"We're inside Mars!"

No one heard him. He was alone in the cramped pilot quarters.

He threw in the forward jets, unused for almost two hundred years, cut in the forward jets to break their fall. Prayed.

The great Ship trembled.

Johnny Nine's hands skipped, in carefully trained movement, over a bewildering array of firing studs. His eyes seemed to dart everywhere, checking the banks of dials. The tempo increased. For ten years he had trained for this job; he knew it well.

Then the Ship began to turn. Slowly, lazily, its nose spewing fire.

It took two hours, and by then, Johnny Nine was exhausted. But it was done. His job was done. He had set the Ship safely in an orbit around the Sun, between Mars and Earth.

He left the tiny pilot cabin.

They would be waiting for him, forward. He wanted to run along the long companionway. He forced himself to walk. His heart was hammering with a mounting tempo.

They were all assembled in the play-area, the only large open space in the whole Ship. Johnny Nine came out onto the platform above it. His hands gripped the guard rail tightly.

He looked down at the passengers below him, saw their white upturned faces, strained, tense. Saw Marte, holding her breath.

"You felt the jets," he said, and his voice carried clear. "That means we're in an orbit around the Sun. Our own Sun. Just like a planet."

There were no cheers. His announcement was greeted only by the low hum of voices, breaking like wind in pines, a sigh of relief.

Then there was a stunned silence, when, for a moment, no one knew quite what to do with himself.

After that, they began to mill around, each going to his neighbor and repeating the news again.

"Well, we're Home."

"Yes, we're Home."

The Ship drifted in its orbit, now, like a planet, like a very small planet, the balanced terrarium.

"Listen," the Mate said. "I've got him!"

He took off the headset and switched open the speaker.

"Interstellar Flight One...."

The voice sounded strong and clear and near.

The Mate spoke into the microphone.

And then they waited, their eyes on the huge sweep hand of the clock.

One second, two, three—



"Flight One. Read you fine. Expect to make approach within an hour. Has yur Ship a carrier magnet plate for coupling?"

The Captain frowned. "Tell him no."

"Hello, pilot ship. No magnet plate, repeat, no magnet plate."

"... All right, Flight One. Has yur Ship serviceable suits?"

The Captain said, "Better check them, Johnny."

Johnny Nine left at a run to test the space suits.

It took him almost half an hour. When he came back, he was breathless.

"They tested, Captain!"

The Mate threw the sending switch.

"Pilot ship. Have suits. Repeat. Have suits."

"Look!" Johnny Nine cried. He was pointing to the Observation window. "See it, that little light. It's their ship!"

The three men looked.

They could see a moving finger of fire, like a tiny comet, except that its tail thrust sunward.

"Have located yur Ship, Flight One. We are making ready for the approach."

The radio was silent a moment. Then:

"We have a request."

"Yes?" the Mate said into the microphone.

"... We have full transmission equipment on our ship for a world program. Since you have no magnet plates to couple us, will you send one of yur passengers over for formal welcome?"

"Tell them yes."

"Yes," the Mate echoed.

The wait was infinitesimal now.

"Fine. Brief ceremony planned. To be broadcast to the three planets. At conclusion of it, we will send yur pilot to you. He will move yur Ship into an orbit around Earth, and you can be taken down within three days. That will be the fastest course, and we know all of you are anxious to land at the first possible moment."

Johnny Nine started for the door.

"Wait!" the Captain ordered. "I'll tell the passengers. You get ready to board their ship for the welcome."

Johnny Nine felt a lump in his throat. "Yes, sir!"

"Hello, Flight One. We can approach you to a thousand meters."

Marte helped him into his suit. Her fingers fluttered nervously.

"Three days, Johnny. Three days! It's not bad luck to say it anymore. Only three more days and we'll be Home!"

Johnny Nine worked the hermetically sealed helmet swivel. His movements were stiff.

"Three days."

"And then—"

"Marte, I love you."

"Of course you do, but say it again."

"I love you, Marte."

He kissed her lightly.

"I love you too," she told him.

The passengers all gathered around him at the air lock. He looked at them, saw each of their faces, knew them as friends.

Over to one side was a long, rude box. Newly made. Sam spoke to him from the muted memory of the dead; the memory not of Sam alone, but of nineteen generations.

Marte, standing at Johnny Nine's side, clinging to his arm, looked up at him, and smiled. She was beautiful with the innocence of youth, and her smile was that of a girl who has never seen her dreams crushed.

He tried to think of something to say.

Finally, in desperation, he said:

"I won't be gone long."

He reached up and flipped his helmet forward. He buckled it in place with stiff fingers and stepped into the airlock. The door clanged shut behind him.

The outer door opened into space and he popped away from the Ship, borne outward by the air pressure.

It was silent.

He could tell by the way the Ship appeared and disappeared that he was spinning end over end. There was no gravity, even this close to the Ship's artificial fields.

It was the first time any of his generation had been in free space.

It was awkward. He floundered.

He could see the pilot ship lying off there to his left. Above him.

Below him.

He tried to do something about that, fumbled for the blast studs, found them, pushed one.

It was like guiding a very small rocket that has very powerful trigger jets.

It seemed to take an eternity to bring himself under control.

But he drew nearer the pilot ship.

He pushed a stud.

The ship loomed large; it hit him. He tried to twist as he had read it should be done, to place his feet against the ship's plates.

Got them there ... and drifted away.

He realized that he had forgotten to switch on the magnetic shoe plates.

He magnetized his plates, gritted his teeth, pushed a stud.

He hit the ship. Hard. Rolled.

There. He was all right now.

He walked toward the open port. It was a peculiar process. First he cut off the left magnet, lifted his left foot, then....

He was inside. Inside the space port of the pilot ship. The outer door swung closed.

Darkness. Then they switched on a light.

After what seemed a long time, there was enough air around him that he could hear it hiss from the vent through his built in outer pick-up.

The inner door opened.

He stepped into the ship proper.

There was a group of friendly Earth-faces waiting for him. They were smiling.

His muscles were knotted with tension. He fumbled with his helmet. He couldn't hold his hands still. They slipped. He twisted at the helmet, futilely.

One of the Earthmen stepped forward to help.

Then. It was off.

And with that, he knew that he was Home. He felt the tension flow away to be replaced by a singing excitement, an excitement so intense as to be almost unbearable.

Something had to give.

... Suddenly he thought of how he must have looked, crossing to the pilot ship—how awkward he must have seemed to the trained spacemen around him.

He started to laugh, explosively. At himself. Twisting awkwardly in space. It was funny.

He laughed, and he didn't care what the Earthmen thought, seeing him laugh. Even if they thought he had gone crazy, he didn't care.

That was the first thing he did. Laugh.

After that....

At first he could not understand what was wrong. The laughter died; it sputtered and died in a strangled gasp.

Then he thought he had eaten fire, and his throat and lungs were raw.

Johnny Nine swayed on his feet. The magnetized soles kept him erect. The Earth-faces spun dizzily around him. He reached for his helmet, instinctively, reached and missed, reached again.

He clawed frantically at his helmet, and everything around him turned black.

The helmet fell in place with a loud clang of steel on steel.

He was unconscious only five minutes, but, as consciousness flowed back, he felt his head hammer with sharp pains, and lights danced before his eyes. He was afraid he was going to be sick inside the space suit.

It was fifteen minutes before he was recovered enough to listen to what they had to tell him.

An Earth doctor, the pilot ship's surgeon, made it very plain.

"... Twenty-one generations is a long time," the doctor had told him, "for an animal that can adapt itself as easily as man...."

Johnny Nine could complete the rest of it: Sometime, long ago, perhaps as early as the Second Generation, perhaps at the time of the Great Sickness, the terrarium had been thrown out of balance. And, as the balance continued to shift, man continued to adapt.


He could hear them, around him, talking quietly.

"We haven't told yur Ship, yet. We thought you'd better do that."

"Yes," Johnny Nine choked.

The Earthmen fell silent, ringing him in.

"Yes," he said, "I'll tell them. I'll tell them Earth's air is poison, and her water, and her land." His voice was hollow. "I'll tell them that."

He staggered toward the space port, blindly.

"We're sorry."

Johnny Nine looked at them, the ring of friendly, kindly, sad faces.

"So—are—we," he said very slowly.

He stepped into the lock, and, when the outer door opened, he popped away from the pilot ship.

He floated toward the Ship that was Home.

How am I going to tell them? he asked himself. How am I going to tell them?

And Marte? Tell her that she will never feel the free wind on her face?

Johnny Nine floated awkwardly away from the pilot ship.

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