Looking back, Bart could never clearly remember any part of his life before the day when the Ship first woke him from a long, artificially induced sleep, and guided him to the nursery to see the babies.
That day and the first few that followed were very confusing to live through.
The Ship's machines, working with paint and glass and light, had made the nursery spacious-looking and cheerful. Bart counted twenty-four cribs. To count babies would have been harder, because only those who happened to be napping were in their beds. The rest crawled or sat or toddled on the soft-tiled deck, sending up a racket and getting underfoot of their attending machines and images. The babies were all the same age, just about a year old the day Bart first saw them. They wore white diapers, and some had on green hospital gowns like Bart's only of course smaller.
Bart was not tall for almost fourteen but he could easily lift one bare leg after the other over the low barrier the machines had placed to keep the little kids from tottering or crawling out of the nursery into the corridor.
The corridor led in one direction to Bart's small private room and in the other-so his memory, working in a new, selective way, informed him-to the rest of the habitable Ship.
The babies squalled, gurgled, blubbered, or took time out to stare in silence at the world. They made nothing much of Bart's coming in among them. The images that the machines kept projecting and moving around the infants were of solid-looking adult humans, speaking and smiling; they evidently took Bart to be just one more image. The babies reacted more strongly to the machines because of the physical contact they had with them.
"Pick one up, if you wish," the Ship said in his ear. It was able to project its conversation so there was no way of telling just what direction the words came from. The Ship's voice sounded human, but not quite male or female, not quite young or old.
Like a good obedient boy Bart bent to have a try at picking up a baby. The chubby belly felt cool against his hands above the papery diaper and the head of dark, scanty curls turned so that the liquid brown eyes could stare at him uncertainly.
"See how the machines hold them," counseled the Ship. "Their arms are of basically the same form as yours."
He shifted his grip.
"The prime directives under which I operate are very clear. One human parent, adoptive or real, is necessary to the successful maturation of children; images and machines are psychologically inadequate for optimum results.
Therefore, after receiving some elementary preparation for the role, you will serve as adoptive parent for the first generation of colonists."
Colonists. The word evoked in Bart the abstract knowledge that the Ship had started from an orbit around Earth, and was outward bound to seed humanity somewhere among the stars. How long ago the voyage had begun, and whether he himself had witnessed that beginning, were questions that his memory could not answer. Nor did he feel any urgency attached to them.
Somewhere in Bart's lost past he had learned that the Ship was to be trusted utterly and now he could wait patiently for a better understanding of what it meant by its announcement that he was to be a parent. Meanwhile he watched the infants, played a little with them, and tried to comfort and distract those who cried. It seemed to be the thing to do.
The machines labored ceaselessly, patting, changing, feeding, washing, wiping up. Twice they dispensed cups of soup-like stuff for Bart to drink. There were no clocks to watch but he was certain that he had been in the nursery for hours.
At last, one of the machines took him lightly by the arm and pointed back down the corridor whence he had come.
When he had closed himself into his little plastic-walled bedroom the Ship's voice said: "You will be given a substantial breakfast when you wake again. That will be one standard year from now."
He awoke as on the first day, as if from a sound night's sleep, and at once sat up to look over the rim of his bed, which curved around him like a padded bathtub, warm and dry and clean. Just how he was being put to sleep or awakened he didn't know, but certainly there was moire to it than he could see or feel; somehow his gown had been taken off him while he slept and he was naked.
There was a new gown laid out on the room's single small chair, or the same one, washed clean of baby shit and pablum, and he put it on after using the toilet and washing his hands and face. From a panel in the wall he got his promised breakfast, consisting of a warm, milky drink in a plastic cup, and a tray holding chunks of bread, the bread crust hot and crunchy and with pieces of fruit and cheese inside.
One standard year, the Ship had said ... but his hands looked no bigger, nor did the muscles in his thin arms. His face looked no different in the wall mirror, and the fine tawny hair on his head had maintained its crewcut length. There were still no more than a couple of dozen brown pubic hairs curling at the bottom of his belly and he was sure he was no taller.
When he got to the nursery, though, he could well believe a year had passed: it certainly had if these were the same kids. A few were in their beds as before, but now those lying stretched out almost rilled the little cribs. The majority were running about, keeping their balance reasonably skillfully for the most part, and busy with a multitude of toys. They wore shirts now, and shorts or pants over their diapers.
This time the babies were aware that Bart was more than just another image, and some of them took fright at first and clung to the machines. But he kept walking around and talking to them, as the Ship instructed him to, and soon they started to warm up to him.
Again he spent the day in socializing, and this time shared the little kids' food when it was dispensed by the machines. Meaty-tasting, mildly chewy chunks of stuff, and harder, biscuit-like objects that came in both sweet and sour flavors, it tasted good enough to be adult fare. Last year- yesterday-the babies had been drinking from nippled bottles, but today they got water and colored drinks in little cups.
Though he hadn't questioned the Ship on it, Bart was still thinking over the announcement that he was to be a parent. He could imagine himself at the head of an enormous dining table, all these kids, grown a little older, sitting round it, but beyond that his imagination was soon lost. He told himself to be patient; the Ship would provide explanations and instructions as they became necessary.
The continual racket was wearying. By the time the babies were all bedded down for what must be their regular night's sleep, with the lights dimmed, he was ready to go to sleep himself. At a word from the Ship, he walked back yawning to his room.
Again he seemed to be experiencing nothing more than an ordinary night of restful slumber, and again when he awoke he hadn't grown or gotten older. This time he found a pair of shorts and a pullover shirt laid out for him.
After dressing and breakfast he walked to the nursery. Before he got there he could hear a year's worth of change in the children's voices, forming clear words now as they called to one another.
When the new glass doors of the nursery opened to let Bart in, he saw that bigger beds had been installed, and the walls moved back to make more space for play. The kids looked different-and bigger again, of course. After an initial shyness, not so intense as yesterday's, they all came crowding around Bart so that he walked through a little sea of waist-high heads. Here and there a bulge of diaper still peeped out of someone's shorts.
"What's your name?" one tiny voice cried out, insistent above the babble of the others.
"Bartley. Everyone calls me Bart." Who had called him that? Family? Friends? There were still no specific memories available. "What's yours?"
"Armin." Or maybe Ermin was what the child answered. Bart wasn't sure if the speaker was a girl or a boy. The group seemed about evenly divided as to sex.
Again he ate and played with them through the day. This time all accepted his presence unquestioningly before an hour had passed- though he didn't get the feeling that any of them recalled his earlier visits. Today, he noticed, there were fewer projected images of adults about.
A little girl who said her name was Deirdre brought him a wheeled plastic toy whose axle had come loose from its containing grooves.
He forced it back into place, so the wheels could turn again, and Deirdre carried it off, after a machine had made her stand still until she said "Thank you, Bart."
Counting as well as he could in the continuing melee, Bart decided that there were twelve girls and twelve boys in the group.
After dinner, when the machines had begun to pack the kids off to their beds, the Ship said to Bart: "You may remain awake for a few more hours if you wish."
He felt tired out, but not ready to sleep. "Maybe I'll read a book."
"I will provide some in your room."
Stretched out on his bed, he stared at a book for awhile without reading, then put it down and asked the air: "How long have I been here, in the Ship?"
"I have edited your memories of your past life for good reason. Your past contains tragic and violent things. Nothing can be done about the past. We must work for the future and achieve a successful revised mission."
"Are there any other people on board besides me and the little kids?"
"None. Much depends on you."
He lay there looking at the cover of The Young Detectives Visit Earth. Although his bed was comfortable and he was tired he didn't think he was going to be able to sleep.
But he really had no choice.
Again, either his shorts and shirt were washed for him as he slept or it was a clean new outfit that he found on the chair. Breakfast as before, and he was on his way. The books had been removed and there was nothing else to do.
Two boys and two girls, grown bigger since he saw them last, were playing just inside the children's compound; Bart decided it couldn't be thought of as a nursery any more. As he approached the four caught sight of him and jumped with excitement, calling out to others, their voices coming to Bart faintly through the heavy glass doors.
As he entered it, Bart saw that their compound had been enlarged again. There were no more adult images in sight. Children came, hesitantly at first, from everywhere, some pedaling vehicles, others emerging from toy houses of multicolored blocks.
"Hi, I'm Bart," he said to those who gathered close around. "Anybody remember me?"
"The Ship told us you were coming to see us today," a bold little girl spoke as she pushed forward.
"Look, look, see the picture I drew?" It was a row of a dozen or so little circle-faces, each the same size, with lines for hair and nose and eyes, and one large face above, "That's you." In a corner the artist's name stood in big shaky letters: SHARON.
As the day went on Bart heard the names of all the other kids, though he remembered only a few.
He spent his time in play with one group and another, and then read them all stories from a book about old Earth as they sat around him on the floor. When the Ship directed, he saw them off to bed.
"Am I being a good enough parent. Ship?"
"The revised mission plan is proceeding satisfactorily."
All twenty-four of them were waiting for him excitedly just inside the heavy glass doors. This time they all remembered him.
"We're five now, Bart!"
"Ship says we can have a birthday party if we want-" "-like Billy and Lynn-" It took him a while to figure out that Billy and Lynn were characters in some children's story the Ship showed them from time to time.
Lynn and Billy were twins, back on Earth somewhere, and in one episode they had evidently enjoyed an elaborate birthday celebration, complete with cake, candy, and ice cream.
"How old are you, Bart?"
"Will you have a birthday with us?"
"Sure. If the Ship will give us cake and things. Maybe we can have some real candles."
So they had the party, the Ship providing real candles and entrusting Bart with a lighter for them.
The machines even brought forth small paper-wrapped toys as presents for all the five-year-olds.
"Din'choo get a present, Bart?"
"No, it's not my birthday."
"In about a couple of months."
The precise date was something else still sitting undisturbed in his memory, with blank holes knocked all around it. "This was fun. Listen, maybe we can have another birthday party when I come back tomorrow. You'll all be six, if the Ship keeps me on the same schedule."
"Well-next year. See, you and I are running on different schedules; I'm only awake one day every year.
I expect the Ship'll put us on the same time schedule soon."
Bart sighed, seeing that for them the difference between tomorrow and next year was not too clear.
Especially the way he was talking.
This year the difference in time schedules was much easier for them to grasp. So were a lot of other things.
Again the compound in which the children lived had been transformed. Part of it had become what Bart recognized as a school, and everybody was busy at teaching machine consoles when he arrived.
The Ship's voice then declared a holiday for them all.
"Let's have our birthday party!" a boy cried out.
And after Bart had talked with them all, and read them a new story as the Ship directed, and had been shown through the school by his small friends, machines wheeled out a big cake. This time there were balloons as well as little gifts of toys and candy..
"Isn't it your birthday too, Bart?"
"Well, no. Mine's coming in about a couple of months ... in two months and two days."
"How old will you be?"
After the cake and ice cream was finished they had a good time playing games. The kids were awed by Bart's strength and speed and dexterity, and he taught them some of the skills he knew for games with balls and ropes and sticks. Now and then someone who got bumped hard in a game took time out to cry. Bart thought he could tell quicker and better than the machines just how serious the damage was.
Before the seventh-birthday party got started, Bart went through a period of rather intense questioning by a few of the kids; Fuad and Ranjan and Ora wanted to know what he was doing all the time they didn't see him, where and how he spent the year between birthdays.
"I'm sleeping. The Ship can fix it so a person just sleeps all the time."
"Huh," said Ranjan, doubtfully.
"Why does it want you to sleep all the time?" asked Ora. Today she had a loose front tooth she kept wiggling with her tongue.
"I don't know," Bart admitted, feeling foolish.
"Don't you get hungry?" Fuad wanted to know.
"No. I guess it's not like regular sleep." Some vague knowledge of the process was available in his impersonal memory. "It's something like being frozen, only you never feel cold."
This year the games were rougher. When two or three of the boys grabbed Bart by the legs at once, they could tip him over.
Back in his room alone after dinner, he asked: "Ship, am I really helping much, being a parent, if I just come out once a year? How long will I be on this schedule?"
"You will not be on this schedule for any substantial portion of your lifetime. A definite time limit cannot be set now, but all computation on the matter is proceeding properly."
He tried again a little later, before going to sleep, but got essentially the same answer.
When Bart walked into the schoolroom something like boy-girl war was going on, the place in disarray, the weaker or more timid children in tears, the more aggressive screaming insults at one another and hurling toys and writing materials back and forth as missiles, over bookshelves and teaching machines turned into parapets.
Adult images had been brought out by the Ship and were calling sternly and uselessly for order, and outnumbered machines were shaking some of the worst offenders by the arm and lecturing.
"Ship, can I help?" Bart cried.
"Yes. Two boys have got to a lower deck and should be brought back up." Ship's voice was calm and methodical as always, though somewhat louder than usual to be heard plainly above the screaming.
"My machines are busy, and it would be helpful if you went after the boys and got them to come up again. Go down the stairs at the end of the corridor to your right."
It was a passageway he hadn't been in before, evidently one recently opened up by the ongoing enlargement of the living quarters. He found the two truants. Tang and Mal, without much trouble; there wasn't much of the lower level open to their exploration, only a loop of corridor sealed off by heavy glass doors at all other points where other passages intersected. The stair also was sealed where it went on down to still lower regions of the Ship.
The boys were glad to see Bart and willing to go back with him; they had seen enough of the sights down here, interesting though they were. Through the various sets of glass doors you could see other corridors stretching away for hundreds of meters at least. Many other doors were visible, some of which stood open to reveal static glimpses of rooms furnished for human life, but unused and empty of movement.
The lights were dim in that large world outside the glass, and there was not a footstep on the dustless, polished-looking floors.
"I wonder if anybody lives there," Mal had asked, nose against the glass.
"Nobody does,"' said Tang.
"Let's go back up."
"Maybe we will someday," Mal said in a small thoughtful voice.
The war between the sexes was not raging today, but it still smoldered, as Bart could tell readily enough from the grimacing and hair-pulling and name-calling that flared sporadically during the day.
The cake and ice cream lunch was a success, as usual, and the games were fun, though now he had to exert himself somewhat to outdo some of the other players.
A girl and a boy had a brief argument about what mathematical formula should be used to calculate the volume of the basketball they were playing with, and with a start Bart realized that now some of these kids knew things, maybe important things, that he had never learned. And he was supposed to be their parent! Or was it possible he had misunderstood what the Ship was saying?
These things still bothered him when the day was over and he had undressed and climbed back into his isolated bed. " Ship." "Yes."
"... nothing." He decided to let well enough alone. Ship rarely gave him a helpful answer anyway. And he wasn't really all that anxious to be a father, at least not until he was older.
Eating his usual breakfast, Bart felt for the first time a little anxious about meeting the people he was going to find waiting for him in the compound. If they were all another year older, they wouldn't be so much like small kids any more, but people with whom he would have to interact almost as an equal. He shook off his misgivings and walked out.
The kids weren't enormously bigger today, but it was certainly time to celebrate their collective tenth birthday, and they reminded Bart of this right after their first whoops of welcome. They had a big calendar drawn on the wall now, and had been crossing off days, and there was no doubt that another year had passed.
Today when several of the boys ganged up on Bart in a rough game they easily pushed him around. Not that there had been any plan on their part to gang up on him, or that they were not still impressed by his strength.
And this year there were certain moments, talking to the girls, when, oddly, Bart felt almost bashful.
Suddenly some of the boys, Baruch and Olen in particular, were almost as tall as Bart himself. And Deirdre and Sigrid were starting to round out into the shapes of women; only just starting, but you could tell the process had begun.
Right in the middle of the cake-eating, the birthday party turned solemn, and there was a long sober discussion of early memories and hopes for the future.
All of them except Bart shared as some of their major lifetime memories the things that he had seen during the last eleven days- the old nursery, the parental images and the guardian machines, the toys and teaching devices. Of course he had missed the greater part of their history, but he had a sampling of it.
They sat there soberly sipping their sweet party drinks and talking.
When it came Bart's turn to recount his early memories, he explained that the Ship must have scrambled them for him in some way, erasing large sections. "I don't even know if I was raised out of the machines like you, or if my biological parents were on board, or if I was born on Earth."
No one could give him any help with those questions. The talk went on for a long, moody time before they got around to playing games.
Bart found himself looking up at Baruch, and level-eyed at a number of the other kids. The Ship was allowing them more freedom now, and everyone except Trac, who had a stomach-ache, had come to meet Bart right outside his room, the doors of which could only be opened by the Ship. Even Tang was there, though hobbling on a broken leg he said he had got by falling two decks down a stairwell. Ship's medical machines had neatly fixed the bones and told him he was healing.
Today the kids' collective attitude was at first so grown-up and businesslike that Bart was almost intimidated. They explained to him that they had just formed themselves into a society, modeled on old societies of Earth that they had studied through the teaching machines. Baruch had been elected president, and others chosen to fill at least half a dozen additional offices.
Even the birthday party began in an atmosphere of formality, but things soon loosened up. Bart was still stronger than Baruch, and could outwrestle him with an effort. But stocky Kichiro was now slightly stronger than he.
Chao, this month's president, announced early in the morning that this year's party was going to be a thirteenth birthday celebration for Bart as well as all the others. All the others chorused agreement, and Bart went along without protest, though he knew full well he had passed his real thirteenth birthday many months ago. He had not the slightest idea whether there had been any party to mark the event, so he enjoyed this one as his due.
All through the day the girls paid him a great deal of attention, to which he reacted confusedly, enjoying it all one moment and feeling tongue-tied and awkward the next.
He could tell some of the boys were getting jealous.
Every night recently he had been saying goodnight with the feeling of saying farewell, knowing that never again would he meet the same people he was leaving. Tonight he tried to stay with them, but one of the machines came and took him gently by the arm and led him from the group toward his room. He looked round at the other children's faces, and saw sympathy but no help, and knew he had to go.
Every morning now he went to greet some strangers, boys and girls he had heard about indirectly but had never seen before. They resembled other kids he had met yesterday, and had their names, but that was all. Their bodies were melting and altering almost while Bart watched, flesh inflating and stretching over elongating bones; boys' faces sprouting elementary whiskers while their voices deepened, girls' breasts growing, girls' legs curving and rounding to spell out disturbing secret messages in visual code.
And today they could literally talk over his head. Bart was small for his age. That's what-who was it?-always used to say.
During the party, right in the middle of the ice cream and cake, a fistfight broke out between Fritz and Kichiro. They slugged away at each other so hard that Bart saw he wouldn't be able to stand up to either of them for ten seconds.
The machines just stood around like dummies and made no move to halt the fight. Fay, the current president, had to yell repeatedly to get other kids to step in and break it up.
As soon as things had settled down a little, some of the kids began drifting out of the room in pairs, a boy and a girl together kissing and maybe pawing at each other as they left. Bart felt strange and almost frightened. The kids that remained in the dining hall talked and giggled and talked, talked, talked. The conversation was about nothing important, but still it seemed important that it be going on.
Edris came to sit near Bart and talk talk talk with him. A red ribbon tied up her brown hair, but a few strands fell loose down as far as the halter that covered her breasts. Solon got jealous and came over and started an argument. Soon he and Bart were trying to think up insults to call each other.
Bart shoved Solon, who was not too big for him to think of fighting, and Solon punched Bart on the cheek, so his mouth started to bleed inside. Bart hit back, and then they grabbed each other and wrestled in deadly earnest to see who could get the other down. With furniture in the way they couldn't come to any clean conclusion. Bart saw that a couple of machines were hovering near, and Edris was watching with enjoyment. Pretty soon some of the big kids grabbed the combatants and broke up the fight.
The social atmosphere was a little strained for the rest of the day, and Bart went-back to his room earlier than usual, before the machines came to urge him along.
He sat on his room's one chair, arms folded. "Ship, I'm not being a parent. What am I really supposed to be doing?"
"Further instructions will be given you as required."
"Are you still going to wake me up only once a year?"
"The mission is proceeding according to its revised schedule."
He got up and tried to walk out of the room again, but found the door immovable.
He wondered if something vital could be wrong with the Ship.
Might not its planning computers have broken down like so many common machines and be making hideously wrong decisions? Though his bland, smoothed-out memory suggested this was impossible, Bart went worriedly to bed. Sleep was still mechanically fast in coming.
Solon had grown alarmingly large and it was with relief that Bart saw him smile in a friendly if distracted way. The inside of Bart's mouth was still sore from yesterday but Solon said hello as if he didn't recall their fight at all.
Bart's former opponent had other matters on his mind, and returned quickly to a conversation he was conducting in fierce whispers with Fritz and Himyar and one or two other boys. It was shortly concluded, and the bunch of them took off, running grimly and purposefully down a corridor. Bart looked around and realized there was no one left in the common room with him but half a dozen girls, most of whom looked worried.
Galina and Vivian came over to Bart and started trying to explain. It seemed that the boys were now divided into two gangs, of six members each, and between the gangs existed something like open war.
"They've been fighting this way off and on for months now," Galina told him. "Always getting black eyes and bloody noses. Today looks like it might be one of the worst. It started today over whether we should have another birthday party or not." Galina, who was rather plain, was solemn most of the time, usually giving the impression she favored sobriety and order.
"And the trouble is that now half the girls have gotten involved too."
Helsa and Lotis also came over, and the girls debated whether there was anything they could do to stop impending hostilities. All around them the Ship was quiet, ominously so, Bart felt. He stood by, feeling dangerously out of it all. He didn't even know the layout of the passages the girls talked about as they tried to guess where their male friends might be planning fights or ambushes.
While the other girls kept on talking to one another, Lotis came to Bart and with a gesture got him to follow her off into the Ship.
"Where're we going?" he asked, supposing some plan for peacekeeping or hiding out was being put into effect.
"Something I want to show you." She was just barely taller than he, with straight black hair and Chinese eyes. Shortly they came out in a wide, open space, a meeting of corridors where, Bart saw, the kids had improvised a swimming pool. Decking had been taken up, and a room in the lower level flooded.
Lotis pointed out how waterproof patching had been stuck in where necessary, and a water pipe tapped to fill the pool. The water looked deeper than a man's head.
Bart was impressed, but somehow disturbed, too, that they had done this much on their own.
"Didn't the machines do anything to stop you?" A flirt of her head dismissed the powers of the machines. "I'm going in. Do you know anything about swimming? People on Earth used to do it all the time. The records show them doing it in the oceans even."
Lotis pulled off her scanty clothing and slid naked down into the water. She turned over on her back and paddled, smiling knowingly up at Bart while he stared down in helpless fascination. Female nudity was not among the things on which his memory could give him reassurance. His mind lurched in turmoil this way and that.
Suddenly he heard running feet quite near at hand and turned to see a figure dash out of a side corridor.
Fritz was bigger and stronger even than a year ago, but his eyes were wide and frightened; he scarcely looked at either Bart or Lotis, but came running around the pool as if pursued.
He was. Kichiro and Basil and Mat came pounding after him, carrying bludgeons made of the unscrewed legs of chairs, their faces transformed in the fury of the hunt.
Bart started to run too; he realized almost at once this was a mistake but it was too late-someone, responding to his flight with instinctive pursuit, had grabbed him from behind and he was flattened on the deck beneath his captor.
Kichiro had tackled Bart, while Basil and Mal closed in on Fritz. It sounded like all of them were yelling.
Fritz broke away and fled for another corridor, but Basil was too fast and blocked his path. Fritz lunged at him in desperation and before Basil could swing his club he was slammed up against the bulkhead in a choking grip. The club dropped from Basil's hand, and Bart, pinned on the deck under Kichiro's kneeling weight, could see the whites of his eyes seeming to expand.
Mal stepped close to the struggling pair and earnestly swung his plastic chair leg. The impact made an ugly sound and Fritz let go of his enemy, staggered back and fell.
Kichiro had started to get up, and Bart squirmed out from beneath him, tore free of a grasping hand, and ran. His one thought was to reach the safety of his own room.
He had to pass between the group of boys and the pool, where Lotis, open-mouthed, clung to the side and watched.
Mal, turning wild-eyed, saw Bart coming and raised his club for another swing- None of them had seen the machine approach, but now it was on hand as if it had popped out of the many-paneled wall. It took the swinging club from Mal's hand as if it were a feather and in the same instant shoved him violently back, so that he stumbled over Fritz's unmoving legs and fell.
"You hurt me," Mal croaked stupidly from the floor. His hand was scraped raw, oozing blood, where it had collided with the gripper of the machine.
The Ship said loudly to them all: "I have authority to sacrifice individuals, if I judge it necessary for the good of the mission."
No one moved or spoke as the machine walked through their shocked silence to bend over Fritz.
As it picked him up, Bart saw that his eyes were half open but unseeing, and his mouth was slack.
It walked off down a corridor, carrying Fritz in its arms. His limbs hung down, utterly limp. The other boys stirred and followed, their weapons left behind. Bart heard a slosh and trickle behind him: Lotis getting out of the pool. He did not turn to look. The machine went on for a few score meters, then stopped, facing a panel in the wall.
"Ship," Kichiro said, "that's a disposal chute." But Fritz was already gone.
Ignored by the others, Bart ran back to his room and sat there, shivering and staring at the wall.
The Ship served him his dinner without comment. He ate a little, and then soon turned to his bed, where sleep and forgetfulness never failed to come.
All twenty-three of the kids were waiting for him in the corridor when he stuck his head out of his room to see what might be going on. But it was all right.
"No one's going to try to kill you this time," was one of the first things said, by a strong young man with thickening patches of dark beard on cheek and chin. With just a minor effort Bart could recognize the speaker as Kichiro, who, as Bart soon found out, was this year's president. They were having elections only once a year now, he was soon informed.
Fights were evidently much less frequent also, Bart discovered to his great relief. He overheard part of an argument as to who had tried to kill him last year; that was the do" thing to a fight that happened on this birthday.
He also soon found out that birthdays, like gang wars, were now considered kid stuff, and today there was no party. Instead there was a good, elaborate lunch, with ice cream produced unpretentiously for dessert.
Talk turned to Bart, and his purpose in the world. He repeated to the kids everything that the Ship had ever told him about that purpose, which wasn't much.
"I wonder," Basil said to him, "what the Ship'11 do with you now?
I mean we obviously don't need you any more as a father or model or whatever to help us grow."
"I dunno," said Bart, taking a little more ice cream. The kids' eyes were ail sympathetic, but still their silent gaze made him uncomfortable. "Whenever I ask Ship about it, it just says the mission is proceeding as per revised schedule, or something like that."
Sigrid nodded knowingly.
"Ship's that way. If it doesn't want to answer something for you, it just won't."
This morning it was a relief to meet a group of stable, sane-looking people, not too much different from their namesakes he had said goodbye to the night before.
Bart soon noticed that Basil was missing from the group. "Oh, he's all right," said Ora reassuringly.
"He'll be along for lunch. He goes studying the stars."
"We've found a way to reach the outer hull. In one place there's a glass port where you can see the outside of the Ship, and the stars too, of course."
Bart could call up a plain picture of what stars were; sometime, somehow, he had seen them.
"What do you think about the stars, Bart?" Tang asked him patronizingly.
He didn't have a quick answer, and Armin said: "Look, we've been working on this problem of the Ship and where it's going for seventeen years now. And Bart's put in how much time? About seventeen days."
And there was laughter, not unkind.
When Bart mentioned that he thought it would be fun to learn to swim, they took him to the newly remodeled and enlarged pool.
Everyone was matter-of-fact about undressing and after clothes had been off for a minute or two it all seemed practically normal to Bart.
Resting on the pool's edge after some strenuous splashing, they took up again last year's discussion about the Ship and its purposes. Bart got the idea that now they talked a lot on this subject. Today he remarked that maybe soon they would be haying children, so eventually people would fill up the empty rooms still waiting on the other levels.
Fuad shook his head. "The Ship's told us we're all sterile- know what that means?"
"You can't make any babies."
"That's right. Girls and men both. We can do all the sex we want, but nothing can ever happen from it."
Later, alone, Bart asked the Ship: "Am I sterile too? I mean, am I going to be, when..."
That was a definite answer at last, but to his old questions he still got only the old answers.
Bart's chronic worry that his life was going fundamentally wrong was lightened when he met his shipmates today. They were now so obviously adults that he could produce an inner sigh of relief and decide to leave th6 worrying to them.
Most of the teaching machines had been removed. At the few remaining, people were abstractedly at work, printouts and papers stacked around them.
As soon as the word spread that .
Bart had joined them for the day, most of the adults abandoned other activities and came towering around him, smiling and calling greetings, squeezing his shoulders and ruffling his hair. A number of people wanted to show him things.
Basil took him to see the stars.
They went drifting, swimming through a part of the Ship where gravity was turned off, and though there was air Basil made him wear a breathing device, just in case.
Through the glass Bart looked along the curves of the hull, unreal in their great size and distances, and at the stars that looked even more unreal, like a vast bright scattering of powdered paint.
After lunch he asked to go swimming again. Lotis, in the pool with him and others, now had a peculiar slightly mottled look to her thighs that Bart eventually' decided must be caused by fat under the skin. And on her left thigh was the thread-like red tracery of an enlarged vein.
After dinner Baruch and Tang took him aside. "Bart-do you really like this one-day-a-year life?"
"I dunno. It's all right, I guess. The Ship must have some reason. It's taking care of us all, right?" He might have said something else, but Ship heard everything.
The men exchanged glances over his head. With several of the girls they walked him back to his room, when the Ship called for him, and almost tucked him into bed.
He learned soon after rejoining the others that Tang and Ora had been killed, some months ago, trying to work their way into a part of the Ship from which humans were ordinarily sealed out.
"Were they trying ... I mean, did it have anything to do with me? With waking me up more often, or..."
"No." Fay shook her head definitely. "Oh no, Bart, don't worry about that."
The thought hadn't really worried him. Actually it had generated some hope.
"They were trying to get to the far end of the Ship," Ranjan explained, "You know, the aft, as the old records call it. Have you seen any of the old records? The part of the Ship where the drive controls and so many other things seem to be located." They explained to Bart such elementary knowledge of the Ship as they had been able to piece together, and his understanding of it grew a little. He found out also that they meant to keep on trying to get through to the other parts of the Ship, and eventually to take over its control. That was a strange thought, and Bart wasn't at all sure how much he liked it.
It had been many days since his shipmates paid him as little attention as they did today. He was greeted cheerfully enough, but no crowd gathered around. A couple of people went with him to swim, in a pool that had again been remodeled and made safer and more pleasant.
He learned that some of the people were working hard to raise plants from seeds the Ship had long ago provided for their school biology program. They showed him the new garden. It held nothing ready to eat yet, but maybe next time he came.
He saw Kichiro limping by and heard that his knee had been lamed in some contest with another man, but whether it was a fight or a game Bart did not learn.
There were no beds in the old common-room any more, and Bart found that most of the people had paired off two-by-two, sleeping in more or less stable partnerships.
More noticeably, most of the people he talked to today had runny noses. Sharon told him that an experiment in the new biology lab had gone wrong and some viruses had escaped. Nothing to worry about, they assured him. He wasn't worded, really, not about viruses anyway.
All in all, it was a casual, low-pressure sort of day.
Lotis, working in the garden, wore shorts today, and he noticed that her legs and bottom were getting quite lumpy with fat. The red vein on her thigh had extended itself into a little tracery of defective blood vessels in the skin.
All the runny noses had dried up. Some medicine the people had made for themselves was ready for Bart in case he caught the infection too. He didn't.
"Maybe the Ship's still taking good care of you," Chao commented.
No one came down the corridor toward his room to meet him, but as soon as Bart had entered the general living area they all jumped out of hiding with cries of "Surprise!" and "Happy birthday!" It- wasn't his birthday yet, but he soon understood that a sort of general birthday had been declared in which he was being invited to share.
"It's been ten years since we've had one, Bart," said Himyar. "A party, I mean. So we just thought it was time."
"We could make you an honorary fifteen," Fay put in. "Or how about an honorary twenty-four?"
"Have a glass of wine, Bart," said someone else.
"Told you our garden was going to be a success."
"-oh, give him only a small one! He's too young-"
"-one glass won't hurt 'im-"
He realized after a while that some of the people were passing around another kind of drug, something they sniffed up into their nostrils. But he stayed with his one glass of wine, which made him feel just dizzy and high enough to be wary of asking for any more.
The party went on practically all day, with games and jokes and songs. Bart no longer minded when people paired off and vanished for a while, their arms about each other.
This behavior was grownups' doings now, not something in which he might possibly become involved.
He went along with all the partying and had a good time. Still, now and then he caught himself wishing they would, get down to business.
Though he didn't know just what their business was.
This year his wish seemed to have been granted, for he got the impression of a lot of serious business going on. People were punching at computers and crouched over teaching machines, and in some rooms devices Bart couldn't identify had been set up.
He noticed that Olen's hairline was receding sharply, and wondered if the man had some kind of scalp disease. But he didn't ask.
In a large room away from the usual living area, Bart found Himyar working to form a towering metal sculpture, using a torch that showered and streamed electric flames. With this home-made device Himyar brushed the glowing metal into the shapes he wanted.
Parts of the sculpture reminded Bart of flowers in the garden, or, again, of the curves of splashed water that lived momentarily when someone dived into the pool.
They talked for a time, and Himyar showed Bart some paintings Vivian had done. Himyar and Vivian spent most of their time working here or scrounging materials from every part of the Ship that they could reach; they had become known as the Artists.
"And Armin's an artist too, I suppose," said Himyar. "He's made himself a camera and goes around using it. Well, the Ship made some of the component systems for him, and the film."
"I'd like to see that."
Nobody was working quite so hard today. Bart found an elaborate game in progress, a contest involving both physical and mental effort, with complicated rules. It had to do with dividing up the regularly occupied territory of the Ship between two contending factions or teams who struggled to gain more territory from each other. People sometimes were allowed or compelled to switch sides in the game. The dividing line between the territories was marked with bright tapes stuck on the decks and bulkheads, and moved back and forth as people won or lost at events like Indian wrestling-men were matched against men, girls against girls for the physical struggles-or asking each other difficult questions.
"Bart, be referee. Wasn't his foot off the deck just then?"
Powerful Kichiro, still limping on his trick knee, smiled and moved the tape into his opponents' territory by a distance of two wall panels.
"Hey, Bart!" It was Armin, approaching with something in his hand. "You never had a chance to see this. Here's a picture I took of you at the last birthday party. We'll have to have another one of those sometime."
Bart looked. "You hadn't even started with the camera when we had the party. It must have been yesterday when you took this. I mean last year, for you guys."
"Hm. I guess you're right."
He found some of the marker tapes still stuck up in place, but the game wasn't being played today and everyone seemed to have forgotten it. He met Fuad and Trac and was a little surprised to see how fat they both looked, with rolls of flesh above their shorts.
He thought of going down the passageway that led to the stars again, but there was no breathing equipment in the locker where Basil had kept it earlier.
Baruch and Solon came along and asked what he was doing. They soon explained that the breathing equipment was being used in "engineering studies" to find out how to reach the more distant parts of the Ship.
Bart wanted to know more. They told him of the solid walls and sealed doors that cut off access to those regions, and how the Ship refused to discuss letting anyone go there. It had not tried to stop their engineering studies, though; whether it would interfere when they began to break through a wall remained to be seen.
Using explosives aboard a spaceship was intrinsically dangerous: something important and irreplaceable might be damaged, or a compartment's air might explode into vacuum.
"That's how Ora and Tang were killed. And then I was getting some acid ready to eat through a wall, and it disappeared. I suspect some machine found it and took it away." Baruch shrugged, fatalistic but still determined. But we'll see, we'll see." He did not sound or look at all discouraged.
This year Bart got more attention from his shipmates than had been usual his last few days. Edris and Helsa looked at his teeth and wondered out loud if the Ship shouldn't be straightening some of them for him.
"Oh, they're not terribly crooked. But it did as much for some of us when we were kids."
After lunch there was a general discussion of his future, carried on at times as if he were not there, Ranjan said: "I still think the Ship plans to provide him with a bride one of these days, one of these years. Maybe it's already tried to hatch other people from the artificial wombs and something's gone wrong, so it's got poor Bart just marking time."
Another adult asked: "You still think there's a good supply of human genetic material on board?"
"Bound to be. Else the Ship wouldn't have sterilized us, right?"
There was general agreement on that point, but on little else. One body of opinion held that the Ship really wanted the people to take over, now that its own computers had grown crotchety and unreliable with breakdowns and damage. But some kind of glitch prevented it from simply saying what it wanted.
Schizophrenic, it fended off their attempts to gain control with one hand, while feeding and caring for them with the other.
The discussion soon got over Bart's head, but he listened intently, trying to weigh everything they said. He listened for something that might give him confidence, but heard it not.
"I know you've seen our biology before," Galina told him. "But I think you ought to take a real interest. All our futures may lie in this room."
He ceased scratching his back against the doorframe. "How so?"
"Sit down, Bart." When they were seated, she looked at him with concern. "Bart, if the machines never provide you with any people you own age-with a fertile female specifically-then it's going to be up to us to find some way to eventually produce more people, so that the human race can go on. I'm not sure that there are any people left alive on Earth."
"I see." He nodded seriously.
Galina spoke slowly and kept studying him for his reactions. "We know that when the "Ship was launched there was a large supply of human sperm and ova stored on board, all coded as to genetic type, so that people could be conceived and 'raised by machines when the end of the voyage drew near."
She sighed. "I myself suspect that most and perhaps nearly all of this genetic material was lost in some kind of accident that evidently disrupted the voyage in other ways as well. The Ship speaks always of a revised schedule for the mission, a revised plan."
"There's further evidence." She paused. "I said all the human seeds and eggs were coded as to type and potential? There's some indication in the available records that all of us now alive-except you, we don't know where you came from-were conceived from materials not considered of the highest quality. Not that we have any grave genetic defects, of course, no seriously defective material would have been placed aboard. But-not the best. This suggests to me that all the best material was somehow destroyed, and also that there may not be much material left."
Bart nodded, not knowing what else to say or do.
"Except you, Bart, as I said. There may have been a human crew aboard before the accident- whatever the accident was. You may be its only survivor. But I suppose your origins make little difference. Here you are and here we are, and there's the future to be faced. A future to be created-perhaps for the whole human race-out of whatever we have on hand. Would you like to learn something about biology?"
"I guess I'd better," said Bart.
They had a pretty good first lesson, distinguishing plants and animals, marking the first great branches of the tree of life.
"What are those marks on your face?" Bart asked on impulse a few hours later, as they were leaving the lab to go to dinner. He felt he knew Galina pretty well now and wasn't shy about getting a little more personal.
"What marks?" She raised tentative lingers to her cheek.
"Those little lines in the skin, going out from the comers of your eyes."
Today marked a standard month since the Ship had roused Bart from his first period of suspended animation. When he awoke, a machine equipped with measuring devices was waiting at his bedside. It quickly got busy to check his height and weight, looked into his eyes and mouth, listened at his chest.
"How much taller am I than a month ago. Ship?"
"Approximately seventy millimeters," said the expressionless voice.
"And how much heavier?"
"Approximately ninety-five grams."
"Is that good?"
It wouldn't say. But it did adjust his diet, adding a delicious, creamy drink to that very breakfast, served in his room.
When he joined the other people he found Olen half bald, and learned that Basil had gone back to communing with the stars.
Galina gave him another biology lesson, more technical and duller than the first.
Today Bart heard that Dierdre was in her bed, too sick to get up.
"She always liked you, Bart," said Chao sadly. "Go in and talk to her a little."
He went into Deirdre's room, and found her looking much sicker than any human being he had ever seen before. She also seemed too dazed to talk very much.
"Galina's been giving her drugs," Chao explained when he came out. "Otherwise the pain gets too bad."
"Pain? From what?"
"They think it's cancer." Chao and others tried to explain.
Only later did they get around to telling him that Baruch had been killed in some kind of an explosion, trying to force a passage to the forbidden areas of the Ship.
"Remember this photograph, Bart?" said Armin, cheering him up. "I took it of you at our last birthday party. We're going to have another one soon."
"You took it the year after the birthday party, Armin."
"Oh? Maybe you're right."
Galina was busy with her other work today and never got around to teaching him biology.
Deirdre had died, which came as no surprise to Bart but still left with a hollow feeling. Thinking over matters of life and death, he stood at the edge of the garden, a high-domed region full of bright lights, vastly enlarged from the first little plot of synthetic soil. People were jogging for exercise around the walk that circled the perimeter of the garden, while others were working casually inside.
It was strange to see gray in the hair of some of them, but Bart guessed that was just one more thing that happened naturally with age. His own hair, crewcut when his shipmates were babies, was starting to fall over his forehead now.
He went to look up Basil, and asked to go out and see the stars again. Basil was willing. When they got to the observation port, he pointed out to Bart the prow of the Ship, and the aft, or the stern as they sometimes called it, where the engines and their controls were supposed to be.
"And when some people finally get back there," Bart asked, "they'll really be able to take over the whole thing?"
Basil shrugged. He was looking mainly outward, at the stars.
Trac was the first person to meet
Bart as he came down the corridor from his room, and as soon as she smiled in greeting he noticed that several teeth were missing from her lower jaw.
"Had a jaw cyst, Bart. At least that's what Galina and Solon say.
They took it out. Spoils my famous beauty, but they think eventually they'll be able to do something about giving me artificial teeth."
"Couldn't the Ship-?"
"It wouldn't help, whether it could or not. It's giving us less and less help these days. But never mind about that, come along, we've got something to show you."
He followed along. And then they were all jumping out at him, yelling surprise! Birthday party! The common dining room was decorated with streamers and balloons, and the table set for a feast.
"We were going to have one next year, Bart, you know, ten years from the last, but then we decided why not have it now?"
"You can be whatever age you like, Bart. Be an honorary thirty-three with us, if you like."
"That's a third of a century, Mal," a woman cried. "Who wants to be that old?"
They were all good to him, as they usually were these days, petting and hugging him and fussing around, making it his party although it was supposed to be their birthday and he never said what honorary age he wanted. Actually he- didn't want any, his own real age was good enough.
Later he found unnoticed in a corner something that he supposed had been dragged out of storage accidentally with the decorations. It was a wheeled plastic toy that he remembered fixing for Deirdre a month ago.
The marking tapes were up on the bulkheads again, and a few people were playing at the question-and-wrestle game. Meanwhile some had evidently been spending a lot of time working in the garden. It was now huge, and looked like the earthly gardens pictured in the Ship's records, which none of them had ever seen in actuality.
"And now, Bart, we're going to have some prayers. Come along."
"You'll see. It's another old idea that Basil's been putting into practice lately."
They had wanted to hold the prayer meetings out by the observation port, Bart learned, but there wasn't room enough for everyone, and all had wanted to attend the first meetings at least, to see what they were going to be like. That was a month or two ago and by now attendance was dropping slightly.
Bart didn't understand the theory of prayer too well, but at the meeting Basil and the others who got up to talk seemed to be speaking not only to the Ship but to the world outside it, and to some force or power that had made them both.
When Bart emerged from his room most of his shipmates were there in the hall waiting for him, something that hadn't happened since they were sixteen, a day he could remember well. Today they were going to bring him to a meeting, they said, and at first Bart expected more prayers, but this meeting turned out to be more businesslike than that.
It was governmental council, held all day or most of the day around the big table with lunch coming as an interruption. Lunch included fruits and vegetables brought fresh from the garden, as well as the usual rations issued by the Ship.
The proceedings got rather boring for Bart, though his friends made an effort to bring him into it all. They showed him their new system of recordkeeping, of recording all the discoveries of their research for easy access by Bart and future generations.
He looked the question at them.
"It's true, Bart," said Fay. A deep, gentle happiness glowed through her eyes at the thought.
"The Ship has recently promised us, there will be future generations."
"Provided the mission is completed," someone put in.
"Yes. Well." That was enough for Fay, and for the people as a group.
Bart himself thought it sounded fine, but he would still like to know more. He asked the Ship for details later but got nowhere, as usual.
There had been important changes made around him. He knew this the moment he started to come out of sleep. Opening his eyes a groggy second or two later, he realized that he was in a new bedroom, much like his old one but different in detail and bigger.
"Ship ... Ship, where am I? What's happened?"
"You have been moved during your sleep into a new accommodation, Bart. There is no cause for alarm."
He got up and dressed and ate and eliminated as usual. The walls of this room were metal, and its door was thicker, as he saw when it opened for him to go out.
"Why did you move me. Ship?"
"Some of the people were attempting to reach you, to rouse you from sleep at the wrong time. They meant well but it was necessary to prevent their interference."
His door opened into a corridor he had never seen before, leading off in one direction only. It bent sharply several times and was interrupted by two sets of heavy doors that opened as Bart drew near and closed immediately after he had passed.
He found himself coming back into the peopled area of the Ship from a new direction, near the biology lab. The first folk to see him dropped what they were doing and ran to give him a glad welcome.
"I told you he'd be here on schedule!" cried Mal, pounding Bart joyfully on the back. No club in Mal's hand this time.
"Ship was just taking good care of him, that's all!" Sigrid pulled him in for a big hug against her heavy bosom.
Later he learned that an intensive effort had been made to "rescue" him from the machines, set him free from his long sleeps. The attempt had collapsed, foolishly, and no one wanted to talk about it. Then everyone had grown a little worried about Bart and all were glad to see him still coming back, if only for a day each year.
Gray was spreading in the hair of the happy crew around him, and several of the male heads were nearly bald. Many of the people looked a little fatter and squintier than when he had seen them last.
They gave him a big lunch that was almost a birthday party.
Galina and Solon took him on a tour of their biology lab, which was much enlarged and changed since he had seen it last, with cages holding white rats and hamsters, raised from genetic material obtained from the Ship's stores.
"Do you think the long sleeps are harming me?" Bart asked when he had a chance.
"Harming you physically? No, I doubt it." Galina looked at him thoughtfully. "It takes an enormous amount of energy and a great deal of control equipment to keep a human being in such a sleep; even a Ship like this couldn't do it for very many people at a time. It's not just freezing in the ordinary sense, you know. Even the orbital electrons within your body's atoms are kept from moving ... but don't worry about the physical danger of it, that's extremely small."
She was anxious to resume the biology lessons, and they went on a thorough tour of the lab.
"We haven't been able to get any human genetic material from the Ship to work with. Still, in theory it should be possible for us to produce 108 a new human generation here, starting with just ordinary cells from our own bodies. Did I ever tell you anything about cloning cells?"
"I will. Anyway, it hasn't worked out yet. We're not sure if the Ship is interfering in some subtle way, or if there are simply problems we're not aware of."
They showed Bart masses of tissue growing in glass jars. But they had never been able to get the tissue to differentiate properly into all the organs that had to grow in concert to make a person. It looked to Bart as if they hadn't yet even come close to achieving that.
Here and there old colored tapes were stuck to the walls and overhead, but the game they represented seemed to have been utterly abandoned.
The only competition Bart heard about today was in raising the best food plants and flowers.
It was depressing to see Helsa now dragging herself around like an invalid, her arms grown thin and her ankles puffy. Others told Bart that Galina suspected some slow, incurable disease. Then they turned the talk to brighter things.
"There's a lot of card playing going on now, Bart," Sharon informed him.
"Poker, whist, bridge," said Ranjan. "We'll show you. They're old games we dug out of the Ship's records. Then we've also tried two new ways to get through the barriers to reach the control regions of the Ship, but neither has worked."
"We haven't really tried them yet," Fuad objected.
"Well, we've run them on the computer," Lotis put in.
"Bah. I tell you, the Ship is still using that computer against us-"
"No, I keep telling you," argued Ranjan, "we've got it blocked off now against any possibility of the Ship's gaining access-"
"So you think! I don't agree."
The argument was heated, but still showed no sign of coming to blows.
Today there was a prayer meeting, more elaborate in ceremony but less intense in feeling that the last one Bart had attended. He noted that people's clothing, which they now made largely for themselves, was growing more elaborate too, and more voluminous; it covered more of their sagging bodies, and distracted attention from them.
Bart also noticed that a softer, more comfortable type of chair had been manufactured somehow and was now in general use. The legs didn't look as if they could be, unscrewed.
It was birthday party time again.
Only four candles adorned the big cake; each standing for ten years, assomeone explained to Bart. The party was opened with a rather perfunctory prayer.
"Bet you don't remember when I took this picture of you, Bart."
"Yes I do."
Several speeches were made, tracing the recent history of progress in science-mainly astronomical observations and biological research-and in the arts, mainly sculpture, painting, and drawing.
Not much had been done lately in an engineering way, a speaker said, which Bart supposed meant they weren't getting anywhere with plans to take over the Ship.
A new president, Olen, had just been elected for a two-year term, and he pledged in a vague way to get things moving.
All around the table the faces were puffy or lined, continuing to puddle or sag. There was more gray hair than any other color.
Bart found a number of people playing chess, a game they said they would teach him before the day was over.
About dinner time Basil told him something else, more confidentially.
"I'm not going to give you any details, kid, nothing the Ship doesn't already know. Information you don't have can't be pumped out of you. I'll just say that this time we really know what we're doing, and we're not likely to be stopped.
We've been a long time getting ready."
He soon learned that Basil, Mal, and Olen had set out, shortly after Bart's last waking day, on a major effort to force their way into the Ship's control areas. They were not back yet, and by now it was doubtful, to say the least, that they ever would return.
Himyar, the sculptor, proudly showed Bart a tall pair of steel doors on which he was carving the history of their little society in a series of panels. He claimed that he had devised a method of grinding stainless steel that worked beautifully.
Helsa was now much better, Bart saw with some surprise. But Sigrid looked unhealthy and was complaining of vague pains. "We're going to try something new," Bart heard Galina tell her cheerfully. Evidently the Ship was again not helping, or could not.
The garden had once more been enlarged, the entire new area being used for additional food plants.
Basil was back, had been back for several months, but Bart saw that there was still something new and wild and strange in his eyes and he was still emaciated. The other men weren't coming back, Basil said, and that was about all he had to tell about his great adventure, The way Basil looked made Bart timid about pressing him with any further questions. Later he heard more of Basil's story from someone else. The three men had tried going out into space, outside the- Ship, to reach the aft where they intended to get back in. Something had gone wrong with their equipment; maybe the Ship had sabotaged it. They did get back into the Ship, luckily in a region where they could find air and water and stored food enough to keep them alive for a time, but the controls had been as much out of reach as ever. Eventually Basil had made his way back, somehow, through a maze of inner decks and passageways. He had never made it completely clear just how the other two had died, and Bart got the impression that it might be wise not to press too closely on that question.
Himyar had completed his doors and was working with Vivian on a giant mural of Earth, composed of scenes reconstructed imaginatively from old records.
Sigrid's condition was not much changed from last year.
Fay, having recently been named president in a special election, told Bart it had been decided that he should attend school every waking day. The people were getting ready a course of study for him. "The machines insisted on our attending school, I mean in a formal way, and I don't know why they don't with you, but never mind." She brushed back her graying hair and looked at him as if at a challenge.
"It's time and past time that you formed good habits to carry you through the rest of your life."
Bart heard right away that Sigrid had died, only a few days ago.
Maybe this latest death was still on everyone's mind, and that was why his first day of school didn't go too well. Lotis was teaching, and sort of skipped from subject to subject, and technique to technique.
She knew it wasn't going well, and once she sighed: "Someone else will take a turn at teaching next year, I mean tomorrow. Are you able to learn anything from me, Bart?"
His day was almost over before he heard something exciting: it was no longer quite certain that Olen and Mat were dead. At least some garbled message had come in, along disused intercom channels that were thought to connect with control territory. Some almost indecipherable words about surviving. Maybe it was only garbage belched out by the vast intraship communications delay lines or memory drums, maybe not produced by any of this generations's people at all. But maybe...
Himyar had put his clever hands to work, toiling in his improved shop, to outfit several people with eyeglasses. Studies on artificial teeth were now well under way, with Solon doing most of the research. The Ship refused to do anything along prosthetic lines for anyone, though it still treated routine minor injuries.
Bart heard Edris and Trac and Kichiro praying, but no longer to the Ship. He saw Basil, who now stared at walls instead of stars, and still said very little.
School was better today. Fuad as teacher talked with him easily and amused him with stories of old Earth.
Forty-six School again, his teacher Chao, who was grimly determined that he should learn to appreciate the beauties of geometry.
He heard that the garden was just getting over an epidemic of plant disease, caused by no one knew what.
Ranjan had just been elected president, for an indeterminate term, and had pledged to get things moving.
The work on artificial teeth was progressing again after several setbacks. Solon and others looked into Bart's mouth again to judge whether he needed braces, but to his relief decided to let well enough, or almost well enough, alone.
Bart got to see Vivian's and Himyar's finished mural, and part of a championship chess game between Armin and Basil; He tasted a new hybrid fruit from the restored garden.
He heard vague mention of a Golden Birthday celebration that might last for a year and should begin fairly soon.
He saw some artificial teeth in operation.
He heard with blunted shock that Fay, who had been working on and off in the biology lab, had killed herself with quick painless poison.
If anyone knew the reasons, they never made them plain to Bart.
In school Himyar taught him, spiritedly but unintelligibly, about the various traditions of Earthly art.
The gardeners and biologists had reported success in rejuvenating plants, and there was hope of applying their discoveries to people.
Some were saying excitedly that now they understood why the Ship in its wisdom had refused them any help along this line, while letting them work freely at it for themselves. It was beyond the very limited creative capabilities of computers; only humans could do it.
Not everyone agreed.
Bart's school went on with a whole group of teachers. They were trying music appreciation today, and no one on the Ship seemed to have a real bent in this direction.
Bart noticed today that some of the people who had seemed happily and permanently paired off as sex-and-life partners were now paired off in different pairings, and evidently just as happy.
Today in school there was some confusion about just what Bart had been taught in previous sessions, and what he might now be fairly tested on. He did well on the tests when they were finally given, and the arguing teachers were all relieved.
Again the whole group-the fifteen still alive-was on hand to greet Bart when he came through the last heavy door that set aside his private territory. They greeted him with cheers and songs, told him today was a holiday from school, and pulled him away for what they promised would be the biggest and best birthday party yet.
Sharon had just been elected president, and at the party table made a brief speech about how, with the help of all of them, she meant to get things moving again. As she said, she certainly wasn't going to be able to do it all by herself.
There were several games of volleyball. Playing with these old people who had the names of kids he had once briefly met, Bart found himself for a little while one of the gang. He lost himself in the game, jumped nimbly among the jiggling paunches and creaking joints, got knocked down when someone's hundred-kilo mass accidentally crashed into him.
But it was only for a little while that he belonged.
He came into their living area with the feeling that they would have forgotten about keeping him in school, but no, the lessons were on as promised. Today, with Helsa teaching, Bart got a basic course in the Ship, what little the old records actually said about it and its mission, and something of what the people had been able to find out for themselves. After lunch, somewhat to Bart's surprise, Basil came in and took over for a while, describing how the hull looked from outside, and what some of the remoter portions of the Ship were like. He spoke impersonally, and rarely as if he himself had been there.
The whole company was in a state of extreme excitement. About a month ago the world of the Ship had been rocked by an explosion, thought to have taken place a kilometer or two away along the hull, probably toward the aft.
Whether a hurtling meteoric body had struck the hull, or there was some internal cause, was unknown.
The rumor flew by that Mal and Olen were perhaps still alive, and somehow responsible for the blast.
There was a sudden renewal of religious fervor. School was conducted in an atmosphere of tension.
There had been no more explosions, nor any further hints that the lost men had survived. The crisis atmosphere was gone, and talk was again centered on the hoped-for rejuvenation treatments.
Bart saw a proud display of implanted artificial teeth. The method didn't work well in all cases yet but Solon was optimistic about improvements.
School went on. Today a team of instructors tried to teach him a little about human language and its nearinfinite variations, some of which they spoke, or at least could read.
Timber harvested from the enormous garden was being used to build a sort of pavilion, a roofless, high-walled structure which Bart was told would be used as a kind of social center. He thought they built it just to be building something.
Himyar was seeking treatment for arthritis, which had stiffened his fingers and interfered considerably with his work.
Fuad lay on a bed inside the finished pavilion, recuperating from what he said had been a heart attack. Galina said the ECG showed that the worst was over. Bart sat and talked for a while with Fuad who was fatter even than last year, and didn't look good.
People were swinging woven racquets, worn with use, in a game they called squash, played where the volleyball net had been three days ago.
"What I preach to you, Bart," said Basil, taking a turn at being schoolmaster, "what we have evolved here in our little world, is a complete synthesis of all mankind's old creeds and philosophies. I am really certain of this."
"How can you have a complete watchamacallit if they were always contradicting each other, like you say?"
Basil had a long answer, but Bart found it not very satisfying.
A large part of the garden was now taken up by plants grown solely for use in the rejuvenation experiments.
Bart heard at dinner that Chao was now suffering repeated bouts of mental illness, and Galina had to keep her tranquilized and sometimes confined to her own room.
Politics had heated up suddenly.
Edris, who had been acting president, had been removed from office and, as some kind of compromise Trac was in. Bart couldn't figure out what the dispute was about, except some of the people felt themselves insulted by others.
At lunch Trac made a little speech about how she meant to get things moving again, both on exploration of the Ship and the rejuvenation work, which evidently had been allowed to lapse. She said also that expanded medical facilities were needed, and the hospital should be enlarged.
Bart remembered the hospital as I the pavilion or social center, but there were two chronic invalids, Fuad and Chao, living in it now.
Kichiro and Himyar were pointed out to Bart as rejuvenation patients, perhaps already on their way to growing younger, though Galina and Solon didn't want to make any definite claims just yet.
"It's helped me a great deal, too," Trac said. Bart thought to himself how much her face had wrinkled and bagged in the last few days.
Himyar had started working in a new electronic medium, less demanding on the knuckles.
Basil was living apart now, giving much time to fasting and prayer.
Most of the women had taken to dyeing their hair, yellow and red being favorite colors.
Great interest in chess had revived, and a huge birthday party was being planned for next year.
Hair colors were still used, but had been toned down.
School went on, Bart arguing with his teachers that they should show him more about the structure of the Ship than about things of old Earth that didn't seem to him to have any bearing on his present situation. Galina still pushed biology, but Bart could see that you'd have to study that for years to really get anywhere. He didn't know how much time he had to study anything.
A couple of small riding carts had been built, powered by electric motors, and Bart had some fun riding them about. His elders got angry and yelled at him when he drove too wildly.
The most popular physical game consisted of sliding plastic discs over a pattern of numbered squares on the floor.
When he woke up in his room a machine was standing beside him, waiting to give him his monthly physical. His gains in weight and height were both greater than at any time during the previous month. He counted a few more pubic hairs.
This morning the creamy drink was dropped from his solitary breakfast.
The birthday party had more and fancier decorations than before, but little else was different, except that most of the people were content to just sit around and eat and drink and talk. Fuad didn't eat or drink much-he'd lost a lot of weight.
But Chao, as the others said, was having a good day, and joined in merrily.
All in all, the old people had a good time. They fussed over Bart quite a bit, but he felt pretty much out of it. Not sad, really, but detached. School had been recessed for the day, though he would have liked to learn more about the Ship.
Ranjan had suffered a stroke, and was lying paralyzed in the hospital, unable to move anything on his right side. Everyone seemed angry at the Ship, for what they described as cutting back more on its medical programs just as their needs were rising. Part of the space it had formerly used to give them such niggardly medical treatments as it provided had now been walled off.
Something else was going on in there, they said, and nodded angrily, though they didn't know what was going on.
They questioned Bart, something like envy now mixed on their faces with the tenderness they usually accorded him these days. But he had not a scrap of information to provide.
At the moment the office of president was empty, and the question of reorganizing the government was being somewhat crankily debated.
Vivian, who had been getting fat, was wasting and suffering internal pains. Ranjan was still unable to help himself at all. Bart was told these ills and a catalogue of lesser ones as if he should be just bursting with eagerness to hear them.
He was more interested in ping-pong, which was now a favorite game.
The burning social question was whether there should be an attempt at tinkering with the basic food machines to try to get a more easily chewable output from them.
Kichiro, Solon, and Armin, the only really healthy men, were undertaking an ambitious program to get themselves in shape. Edris, Galina, Sharon, Helsa, and Lotis were laughing a lot at the men and pondering a reducing program for themselves. Trac was thin already, maybe because she had trouble eating.
He learned that Vivian was dead, to nobody's surprise.
His school today was conducted by Lotis, who about seven weeks ago had started to seduce him in the swimming pool. Meeting the eyes of the old gray-haired woman now, Bart thought she didn't remember that at all, which was only right; that hadn't been her in the pool at all, only someone with whom she shared a name. Today she taught him gardening.
The garden was being expanded again. A lot of the rejuvenation plants were still there, taking up space, and not so much living room was needed for people any more, Bart supposed. There were fourteen of them alive now instead of twenty-four, and the survivors didn't move around as much as they used to.
"Remember when I took this picture of you, Bart?"
"Yes I do, but you don't." And he went rudely on his way, leaving Armin standing still behind him. It wasn't really Armin that bothered Bart, it was the whole situation.
The future wasn't coming for these old people, but it was sure enough coming for him.
Fuad had just died, of another heart attack, and Bart was solemnly conducted to see the still body being stored in a refrigeration room before they said words over it and gave it back to the Ship through a disposal chute.
"Death is a part of life, Bart," Basil explained. They hadn't given him that reasonable an explanation a couple of months ago when they murdered Fritz before his eyes.
Never mind, he told himself.
The more energetic people were playing squash today, and Bart joined in for a little while. He was fussed over as usual, and after school people pressed cake and cookies on him.
He had noticed for some time that his sessions in the school room (not far from the hospital, from which came now and then a querulous groaning) tended to fall into two types. In the first type a teacher tried very earnestly to cram knowledge into his head; in a lesson of the second type (sometimes conducted by the same man or woman) there were long pauses, and an air of futility hung over the proceedings.
Today's session, starting right after lunch, was of the second type.
After about an hour Sharon, his instructor, left him alone with a teaching machine, from which he abstracted information on the layout of the Ship, until that got boring.
He played with the machine trivially then until they came to get him for dinner.
He asked to be allowed to study on his own again, and when the request was granted he daydreamed and played with the machine for a while. The vision of young Lotis in the pool came to him, and he got up and went to see if the pool was still there.
Gray-haired Lotis, his teacher again today, discovered his unexplained desertion and came after him angrily. They quarreled, and she tried to take him by the hair and drag him back to school.
She was still a sturdy old girl, but in getting free he pushed her hard enough to knock her down.
Alarmed by the way she yelled, he ran away.
Soon Kichiro came limping after him. Bart might have run some more and evaded capture, or sought the safety of his room, but he thrust out his lip and stood his ground.
Kichiro slapped him and overawed him and made him come back to school, the hardest grip that Bart could remember clamped on his arm.
He heard that Ranjan had died, to everyone's relief, after six years of paralysis.
Bart went sullenly into school, under Kichiro's watchful eye.
The regular lesson hadn't gone far before Kichiro interrupted it to make a small impulsive speech.
"Bart, you're about all that we old people have to live for. You and the hope that you represent, that one day there will be more people on the Ship, people who will get out from under the yoke of the machines, something we've never been able to manage. 'We have done those things we ought not to have done, and left undone those things we should have done.'"
Bart didn't know what to say.
"But all our lives make too much of a burden to be put on you, don't they?" Kichiro added with a sigh.
He seemed to be pleading.
"No, it's all right with me if you feel that way."
And his teacher was happy and gave him a manly hug. But Kichiro had missed the point. Bart no longer cared bow any of them felt about anything.
The first person he met was Armin, who told him that Chao and Basil had both died, separately and rather suddenly, in the past year.
Bart went to school and found that they had a test programmed into the teaching machine, ready for him to take. Left alone to work, he answered a couple of the questions, and then, feeling that he had something more important to do on this day, he got up and left the school.
He looked back once and then walked on. Kichiro looked older and less vigorous than he had two years before, and Bart didn't think any of the others would try to get rough with him. Not any more.
He went to the commissary and punched orders for a small birthday cake into the machine, as he had I done for some of those early parties, so long ago. It seemed long to him, now.
Soon he had his cake, and the fourteen small candles he had ordered, and a lighter too. He carried the cake to a refectory table and sat down alone to eat some of it himself. He made a little ceremony of lighting the candles, but would have I felt too silly singing himself any songs.
He had ordered the sweet fizzy drink he usually had at parties but soon got up and went to where the wine was always kept and poured himself a cup of that.
Kichiro came in and stared at him a few moments before speaking.
"You're supposed to be in school."
The old man's voice was half startled and half angry. "What do you think you're doing?"
"It's my fourteenth birthday today. I'm having my cake."
Kichiro stared a little longer through his puffy, old man's eyes.
"Well-I'm sorry if we forgot about your birthday, but that doesn't excuse your running out in the middle of a test." He had left a door open somewhere behind him and all the time he was talking, fretful moaning complaints kept drifting from the direction of the hospital.
Armin and Helsa came into the room. "What's the matter?"
Kichiro told them, and they started arguing, Helsa for taking a different approach with the boy, as she put it, and Armin in favor of declaring another holiday. This last suggestion angered Kichiro. They were still arguing with one another when Bart finished the little piece of cake on his plate and got up and left, practically unnoticed. This time he located the pool but found it had long been dry and empty.
Bart woke up and left his room as usual, and was surprised when the first set of heavy doors that interrupted his private corridor remained closed when he approached.
Then he saw that a new doorway, leading to a new, or newly revealed passageway had been made in the wall at right angles to the doors.
After a moment, Bart took the new way.
"The prime directives under which I operate are very clear," the Ship said in his ear. "At least one human parent is necessary for children to mature to their full potential.
"We will arrive in less than twenty standard years within a system of planets probably suitable for colonization. From now on you will be awakened increasingly often. You will serve the first generation of colonists as parent. Like them, you have first-rate genetic potential, and perhaps you will remain in some position of leadership when they mature. Today begins your apprenticeship in this role; your elementary preparation for it, a course in the basics of human psychology, was completed yesterday."
With gradual comprehension Bart walked on, guided toward the new nursery by the polyphonic squalling from its full cribs.