XXXV

So this is failure, Eva Armour thought. This is how failure feels. Dry in the throat and heavy in the heart and tiredness in the brain.

I am bitter, she told herself, and I have a right to be. Although I am so tired with trying and with failure that the knife edge of bitterness is dulled.

“The psych-tracer in Adams’ office has stopped,” Herkimer had said and then the plate had gone dead as he cut the visor.

There was no trace of Sutton and the tracer had gone dead.

That meant that Sutton was dead and he could not be dead, for historically he had written a book and as yet he had not written it.

Although history was something that you couldn’t trust. It was put together wrong, or copied wrong, or misinterpreted, or improved upon by a man with a misplaced imagination. Truth was so hard to keep, myth and fable so easy to breathe into a life that was more logical and more acceptable than truth.

Half the history of Sutton, Eva knew, must be purely apocryphal. And yet there were certain truths that must be truths indeed.

Someone had written a book and it would have had to be Sutton, for no one else could break the language in which his notes were written and the words themselves breathed the very sincerity of the man himself.

Sutton had died, but not on Earth nor in Earth’s solar system and not at the age of sixty. He had died on a planet circling some far star and he had not died for many, many years.

These were truths that could not well be twisted. These were truths that had to stand until they were disproved.

And yet the tracer had stopped.

Eva got up from her chair and walked across the room to the window that looked out on the landscaped grounds of the Orion Arms. Fireflies were dotting the bushes with their brief, cold flame and the late moon was coming up behind a cloud that looked like a gentle hill.

So much work, she thought. So many years of planning. Androids who had worn no mark upon their forehead and who had been formed to look exactly like the humans they replaced. And other androids who had marks upon their foreheads, but who had not been the androids made in the laboratories of the eightieth century. Elaborate networks of espionage, waiting for the day Sutton would come home. Years of puzzling over the records of the past, trying to separate the truth from the half-truth and the downright error.

Years of watching and of waiting, parrying the counterespionage of the Revisionists, laying the groundwork for the day of action. And being careful…always careful. For the eightieth century must not know, must not even guess.

But there had been unseen factors.

Morgan had come back and warned Adams that Sutton must be killed.

Two humans had been planted on the asteroid.

Although those two factors could not account entirely for what had happened. There was another factor somewhere.

She stood at the window, looking out at the rising moon, and her brows knit into crinkling lines of thought. But she was too tired. No thought would come.

Except defeat.

Defeat would explain it all.

Sutton might be dead and that would be defeat, utter and complete defeat. Victory for an officialdom that was at once too timid and too vicious to take any active part in the struggle of the book. An officialdom that sought to keep the status quo, willing to wipe out centuries of thought to safely maintain its foothold in the galaxy.

Such a defeat, she knew, would be even worse than a defeat by the Revisionists, for if the Revisionists had won, there still would be a book, there still would be the teaching of Man’s own destiny. And that, she told herself, was better than no inkling of destiny at all.

Behind her, the visaphone purred, and she spun around, hurried across the room.

A robot said, “Mr. Sutton called. He asked about Wisconsin.”

“Wisconsin?”

“It’s an old place name,” the robot said. “He asked about a place called Bridgeport, Wisconsin.”

“As if he were going there?”

“As if he were going there,” the robot said.

“Quick,” said Eva, “tell me. Where is this Bridgeport?”

“Five or six miles away,” said the robot, “and at least four thousand years.”

She caught her breath. “In time,” she said.

“Yes, miss, in time.”

“Tell me exactly,” Eva told him, but the robot shook his head.

“I don’t know. I couldn’t catch it. His mind was all roiled up. He’d just come through a trying experience.”

“Then you don’t know.”

“I wouldn’t bother if I were you,” the robot told her. “He struck me as a man who knew what he was doing. He’ll come out all right.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“I’m sure of it,” the robot said.

Eva snapped the visor off and walked back to the window.

Ash, she thought. Ash, my love, you simply have to be all right. You must know what you’re doing. You must come back to us and you must write the book and…

Not for me alone, she said. Not for me alone, for I, least of all of them, have a claim on you. But the galaxy has a claim on you, and maybe someday the universe. The little striving lives are waiting for your words and the hope and dignity they spell. And most of all the dignity, she said. Dignity ahead of hope. The dignity of equality — the dignity of the knowledge that all life is on an equal basis, that life is all that matters, that life is the badge of a greater brotherhood than anything the mind of Man has ever spelled out in all its theorizing.

And I, she thought. I have no right to think the way I do, to feel the way I do.

But I can’t help it, Ash.

I can’t help but love you, Ash.

Someday, she said. Someday.

She stood straight and lonely and the tears came in her eyes and trickled down her cheeks and she did not raise her hand to wipe them off.

Dreams, she said. Broken dreams are bad enough. But the dream that has no hope…the dream that is doomed long before it’s broken, that’s the worst of all.

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