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Title: World of the Mad
Author: Anderson, Poul
Language: English
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                           WORLD OF THE MAD

                           By Poul Anderson

              Langdon had found immortality on the planet
         Tanith. Naturally he wanted his wife to share it--if
           he could prevent her from going insane first....

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
                             February 1951
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


He walked slowly through the curling purple mists, feeling the ground
roll and quiver under his feet, hearing the deep-voiced rumble of
shifting strata far underground. There were voices in the fog, singing
in high unhuman tones, and no man had ever learned what it was that
sang--for could the wind utter sounds so elfishly sweet, almost words
that haunted you with half understanding of something you had forgotten
and needed desperately to remember?

A face floated through the swirling mist. It was not human, but it
was very beautiful, and it was blind. He looked away as it mouthed
voiceless murmurs at him.

Somewhere a crystal tree was chiming, a delicate pizzicato of
glass-like leaves vibrating against each other. The man listened to it
and to the low muttering of the earth, for those at least were real and
he was not at all sure whether the other things were there or not.

Even after two hundred years, he wasn't sure.

He went on through the mist. Flowers grew up around him, great fragile
laceries of shining crystalline petals that budded and bloomed and
died even as he walked by. Some of them reached hungrily for him, but
he sidestepped their groping mouths with the unthinking ease of long
habit.

Compasses didn't work on Tanith, and only a few men could even operate
a radio direction finder, but Langdon knew his way and walked steadily
ahead. His sense of direction kept rotating crazily; it insisted he was
going the wrong way, no, now the house lay over to the right--no, the
left, and a few paces straight up.... But by now he had compensated for
that; he didn't need eyes or kinesthetic sense to find his way home.

There was a new singing in the violet air. Langdon checked his stride
with a sudden eerie prickling along his spine. The mist eddied about
him, thick and blinding, but now the city was growing out of it; he saw
the towers and streets and thronging airways come raggedly into being.

Suddenly he stood in the middle of the city. It was complete this time,
not the few fragmentary glimpses he ordinarily had. The mist flowed
through the ghostly spires and pylons but somehow he could see anyway,
the city lay for kilometers around.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not a human city. It lay under three hurtling moons, lit only by
their brilliant silver. But it lived, it pulsed with life about him;
the shining dwellers soared past and seemed to leave a trail of little
sparks luminous against the night. They were not men, the old folk of
Tanith, but they were beautiful.

There was no sound. Langdon stood in a well of silence while the city
lay around him, and he thought that perhaps he was the ghost, alone and
excommunicated on a world which lay beyond even the dreams of man.

But that was nonsense, he thought, angry with himself. It was simply
that temporal mirages transmitted only light, not sound. He was here,
now, alive, and the city was dust these many million years.

Two dwellers flew past him, male and female with arms linked, laughing
soundlessly into each other's golden eyes. The male's great glowing
wings brushed through Langdon's body. He stood briefly in a shower of
whirling light-motes--and they didn't heed him, they didn't know he was
there. They were only for each other, those two, and he was a ghost out
of an unreal and unthinkably remote future.

The mirage faded. Slowly, in bits and patches, it dissolved back into
the purple fog. He was alone again.

He shivered, and hastened his steps homeward.

The mist began to break, raggedly, as he came out of the forest. He
went by a lake of life with only a passing glance at the strangeness
of the new shapes that seethed and bubbled, rose out of its slime and
took shifting form and sank back into chemical disintegration. There
was always something new, grotesque and horrible and sometimes eerily
lovely, to be seen at such a place, but spontaneous generation was an
old story to Langdon by now. And Eileen was waiting.

He came out on the brow of a steep hill that slanted down into the
little cuplike valley where he had his dwelling. The hills were blue
around it, blue with grass that tomorrow might be gold or green or
gray, and the sky was currently blood-red. A grove of feather-like
trees hid the house, swaying where there was no wind and murmuring
to each other in their own language, and a few winged things hovered
darkly overhead. For a moment Langdon paused there, savoring the
richness of it. This was _his_ home.

_His_ land. Back on Terra they had forgotten the fullness that came
with belonging to the earth, but the men who colonized among the stars
remembered. Looking back, Langdon thought that the real instability and
alienness was in the Solar System. Men had no roots there, and it was a
secret woe in them and made them feverish and restless, eager to taste
from all cups but shuddering away from draining any one.

On Tanith, thought Langdon with a quiet sort of exultation, a man drank
his cup to the bottom, and there were many cups--or, if only one, it
was never the same and could never be emptied.

For a man on Tanith did not grow old.

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly he stiffened, and a psyche-feeder swooped low to absorb his
furiously radiated nervous energy. The reaction of it eddied in his
mind as a chilling fear. Angrily, without having to think about it,
he drove the creature off with a jaggedly pulsed mental vibration and
remained standing and listening.

Someone had screamed.

It came again, distorted by the wavering air, hardly recognizable to
one who had not had time to adjust to Tanith, and it was Eileen's
voice. "Joe, Joe, Joe--help--"

He ran, scrambling down the unstable hillside with his mist-wet cloak
flapping behind him. A sword-plant slashed at him with its steely
leaves. He swerved and went on down into the valley, running, leaping,
a bounding black shadow against the burning sky.

Static electricity discharged in crackling blue sheets as he tore
through the grove, hissing against his insulating clothes and stinging
his face and hands. Something floated through the dark air, long and
supple and dripping slime, grimacing at him with its horrible wet
mouth. Another illusion or mirage, he thought somewhere in the back of
his mind. They no longer bothered him--in fact, he'd have missed them
if they never showed up again--but--Eileen--

The cottage nestled under the tall whispering trees, a peak-roofed
stone building in the ancient style that Langdon had thought most
appropriate to the enchanted planet. There was little of Terra about
it after its century and a half of existence; it was covered with
fire-vines over which danced the seeming of little flames; luminous
flying creatures nestled against the doorway, and he had never found
the cause of the dim sweet singing he could always hear around it.

The door stood ajar, and Eileen was sobbing inside. Langdon came in and
found her huddled on a couch before the fireplace, trembling so that it
seemed her body must be shaken apart, and crying, crying.

He sat down and put his arms about her and let her cry herself out.
Then he remained for a while stroking her hair and saying nothing.

She bit her lip to keep it steady. Her voice was like a small child's,
high and toneless and frightened. "It bit," she said.

"It was an illusion," he murmured.

"No. It bit at me. And its eyes were dead. It came out of the floor
there, and it was all in rags."

"You had an illusion frighten you," he said. "A psyche-feeder flying
nearby caught your increased nervous output, drew on it, and that
of course frightened you still more ... they're easy to drive away,
Eileen. They don't like certain pulse patterns--you just think at them
the way I showed you--"

"It was real," she insisted, quietly, with something of a child's
puzzlement that anything should have wanted to hurt her. "It was black,
but there were grays and browns and red too, and it was ragged."

       *       *       *       *       *

He went over to the cupboard and got out a darkly glowing bottle and
poured two full glasses. "This'll help," he said, trying hard to smile
at her. "_Prosit._"

"I shouldn't," said Eileen, still shakily but with some return of
saneness. "Junior--"

"Junior won't take harm from a glass of wine," said Langdon. He sat
down beside her again and they clinked goblets and drank. The fire
wavered ruddily before them, filling the room with warm restless light
and with dancing shadows from which Eileen looked away.

"I'll get an electronic range installed soon," said Langdon, trying to
fill the silence with trivia. "It can't be convenient for you cooking
on an ancient-style stove."

"I thought they didn't work on Tanith--electronics, I mean," she
answered with the same effort of ordinariness.

"Not at first, with the different laws prevailing here. In the first
few decades, we were forced back to the old chemical techniques like
fires. That's one reason so few colonists ever came, or stayed long
if they did come. But bit by bit, little by little, we're learning
the scientific laws and applying them. They've had all the standard
household equipment available here for a century, I guess, but by that
time I'd already built this place and liked my own things, fires and
stoves and all the rest, too well to change. But now that I've got a
wife to do my housekeeping, I ought to provide her with conveniences.
In fact, I should have done so right away."

"It isn't that, Joe," she said. "I'd have squawked long ago if those
little things made any difference. I like handling things myself rather
than turning them over to some robot. It's fun to cook and get wood,
but Joe, it's no fun when a thing rises out of the steam and screams at
you. It's no fun when electric sparks jump over the house and all of a
sudden there's only fear, the whole place is choked with fear--" She
shuddered closer against him.

"This planet is haunted," she whispered.

"The laws of nature are a little different," he answered as calmly
as he could. "But they are still laws. Tanith seems like a chaos,
governed by living spirits and most of them malignant, only because you
don't see the regularity. Its pattern is too different from what you're
used to. Terra herself must have seemed that way to primitive man,
before he discovered order in nature.

"Our scientists here are slowly finding out the answers. Talk to old
Chang sometime, he can tell you more about it than I. But I can see the
order now, a little of it, and it's a richer and deeper thing than the
rest of the universe.

"And you live forever." He gripped her shoulders and looked into her
wide eyes. He had to expel the demons of terror from her. A woman five
months pregnant couldn't go on this way. He was suddenly shocked by how
thin she had grown, and she never stopped shivering under his hands.

"You won't grow old," he said slowly. "We'll be together forever,
Eileen. And our children won't die either."

She looked away from him, and sudden bitterness twisted her mouth. "I
wonder," she said thinly, "whether immortality is worth having--on this
planet."

Suddenly she stiffened, and her lips opened to scream again. Langdon
forgot the hurt of her words and looked wildly about the room. But
there was only the furniture and the firelight and the weaving shadows.
Inside the blood-red windows, the room was sane and real and human.

Eileen shrank against him. "It's over there," she gasped. "Over there
in that corner, creeping closer--"

Langdon's face grew bleak, and there was a desolation rising in him.
Illusions of one sort or another were part of daily life on Tanith,
but they had reality in that they were produced by physical processes
and more than one person could perceive them. But hallucinations were
another story.

He thought back over two hundred years to the first attempts to
colonize. Of an initial three hundred or so, over two-thirds had left
within the first three years. And many of them had been insane when the
ships took them home.

Men came to Tanith and stayed if they could endure it. But if they
couldn't, and tried to stay anyway, they soon fled from the unendurable
madness of its reality to a safer and more orderly madness of their own.

From what he had heard, few of them were cured again, even back on
Terra.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I've got to see Chang," he said.

The colonists on Tanith tended to live well apart from each other, and
unless they owned the new televisors designed especially for the planet
their only contact was physical. Once a month or so he would go to the
planet's one town for supplies and a mild spree, and somewhat oftener
he would spend a while at another house or have guests himself. But
most of the time he had been alone.

And as a man grew older, without loss of physical and mental faculties,
he found more and more within himself, an unfolding inward richness
which none of the short-lived would ever appreciate or even comprehend.
He had less need of other men to prop him up. Or perhaps it was simply
that the wisdom, the fullness which came with immortality, made a
little of the other colonists' company go a long ways.

There was no denying it, Eileen's twenty-three years of life could
not compare with Langdon's two hundred or more. She was like a child,
thoughtless, mentally and physically timid, ignorant, essentially
shallow.

_But I love her. And I can afford to wait. In fifty or a hundred years
she'll begin to grow up. In two hundred or so we'll begin to understand
each other. As our ages increase, the absolute difference between them
will become proportionately insignificant._

_An immortal learns patience. I can wait--and meanwhile I love her very
dearly._

"What do you have to see him about?" asked Eileen.

"Us," he answered bluntly. "Our situation. It isn't good."

"No," she whispered.

"Can't you learn that there's nothing to fear on Tanith?" he asked.
"Death itself, the greatest dread of all, is gone. We've eliminated all
actually dangerous life in the neighborhood of our settlements. There
are things that can be annoying--the sword-plants, the psyche-feeders,
the static discharges--but it's no trick to learn how to avoid them.
Nothing here can hurt you, Eileen."

"I know," she said hopelessly. "But I'm still afraid. Day and night,
I'm afraid. There are worse things than death. Joe."

"But afraid of _what_?"

"I don't know. Fear itself, maybe. How do I know something won't
suddenly be deadly? But I'm not afraid of death. Even with the baby, I
wouldn't be afraid of wild beasts or plague or--anything that I could
understand." She shook her shining head, slowly. "That's just it, Joe.
I don't understand this planet. Nobody does. You don't.... You admit it
yourself."

"Someday I'll know it."

"When? A thousand years from now? A thousand years of horror.... Joe,
some of those things are so hideous I think I'll go mad when they
appear."

"A deep-sea fish on Terra is hideous."

"Not this way. These things aren't _right_. They can't exist, but still
there they are, and I can't forget them, and I never know when they'll
appear next or what they'll be this time--" She checked herself,
gulping.

"This is a very beautiful world," he said stubbornly. "The colors, the
forms, the sounds--"

"None of them are right. Grass may look just as well when it's red or
blue or yellow--but it shouldn't be all of them at different times. The
sky is wrong, the trees are wrong. Those hideous lakes of life and the
things in them, obscene--those voices singing out in the mists, nobody
knows what they are--those images of things a hundred million years
dead--and the faces, and the whisperings, and there's always something
watching and waiting and moving just a little outside the corner of
your eye.... Oh, Joe, Joe, this planet is haunted!"

       *       *       *       *       *

She sobbed in his arms with a rising note of hysteria that she couldn't
quite suppress. He looked grimly over her shoulder. A swirling, chiming
mist of color formed on one corner of the room, amorphous stirrings
within it, a sudden shining birth that laughed and jeered and slipped
out through the wall.

He remembered that he had been frightened and repelled when he first
came here. But not to this degree, and he soon got over it. Now, even
while Eileen wept, he admired the shifting pulse of colors and his
heart quickened to the elfin bells. Terran music sounded wrong to him
after two hundred years of the sounds of Tanith.

He thought that all those voices and whisperings and singings, sliding
up and down an inhuman scale, and the dreams and the visions, had a
pattern, an overall immensity which some day he would grasp. And that
would be a moment of revelation, he would see and know the wholeness
of Tanith and there would be meaning in it. Not the chaotic jumble of
random events which made up the rest of the universe--death-doomed
universe tumbling blindly toward a wreck of level entropy and ashen
suns--but a glimpse of that ultimate purposefulness which some men
called God.

Briefly, a temporal mirage showed beyond the window, a fragmentary
glimpse of a tower reaching for the sky. And it was no work of man, nor
could it ever be, but it was of a heartbreaking loveliness.

He wondered about the ancient natives. Had they simply become extinct,
reached a point of declining evolutionary efficiency such as seemed
fated for all species and gone into limbo some millions of years
previously? Or had they, perhaps, finally seen the allness of the world
and gone--elsewhere? Privately, Langdon rather thought it was the
latter. _World without end_--

But Eileen was crying in his arms.

He kissed her, and tasted salt on her lips that trembled under his.
Poor kid, poor kid, and with a baby on the way....

       *       *       *       *       *

Something of the magic of their first days together came back to him.
It was a disappointment in love which had sent him to Tanith in the
first place, and for all his time here he had lived without that sort
of affection. The women of the town served the casual needs of sex,
which seemed to become less and less frequently manifest as his own
undying personality grew in fullness and self-sufficiency, and that was
all.

Still, a single man was incomplete. And a year ago one of the few
colony ships landed, and Eileen had been aboard, and a forgotten
springtime stirred within him.

Now ... well....

She released herself, smiling with unsteady lips. "I'll be all right
now, dear," she said. "Let's go."

_I have to talk this matter over privately with Chang. His wife can
take care of Eileen. Certainly I can't leave her here alone._

But sooner or later he would have to. It wasn't only that he had
to go out and oversee some of the fields on which grew the native
plants whose secretions, needed by Terran chemistry, gave them their
livelihood. Solitude and long walks through the misty forests and over
the whispering hills had become virtual necessities to him. He had to
get away and think, the mighty thoughts of an immortal which no Terran
could ever comprehend in his pathetic lifetime were being gestated in
his brain. Slowly, piece by piece, the coherent philosophy which is
necessary for sanity was coalescing within him, and he was gathering
into himself the essence of Tanith. Someday, perhaps a thousand years
hence, he would know what it was that haunted him now.

He could not suppress a feeling of annoyance, however. Eileen had
had over a year to adjust now, and she was getting worse instead of
better. A brief sojourn in utter alienness might be merely pleasing and
interesting, but over a longer time one either got used to it or--She'd
have to learn, have to accept the sanity of Tanith and know it for a
deeper and more real one than the sanity of Terra.

Others had done it, why couldn't she?

       *       *       *       *       *

Chang Simon and his wife lived several hundred kilometers away, an
hour's flight by airjet. Their spacious house lay amid lawns and trees
sloping down to a broad river; it held a serenity and graciousness
which Terra had forgotten. Langdon was always glad to be there, and
even Eileen seemed to be soothed. She had screamed once on the flight
over, when the sky had suddenly seethed with hell-blue flame, and she
was still trembling when they arrived. Their hostess took her off for
one of those mysterious private conferences between women which no
merely male creature will ever understand, and Langdon and Chang sat
out on the veranda and talked.

The Chinese had been in his fifties when he came, one of the first load
of colonists, and Tanith could not restore lost youth. But a healthy
middle age had its own advantages, it conferred a peace and depth of
mind more rapidly than an endlessly young body would permit. In the
Solar System, Chang had been a synthesist, taking all knowledge and its
correlation as his field of work, and he had come to Tanith in some
of Langdon's mood of abandonment--futile to attempt the knowing and
understanding of all things, when life had flickered out in a hundred
years. But as an immortal synthesist.

The two men sat in the long twilight, saying little at first. It was
good just to sit, thought Langdon, to let a glass of wine and a cigar
relax tensed muscles while the dusk deepened toward night. At such
times he felt more than ever drawn into the secret whole which was
Tanith--almost, it seemed, he was on the verge of that revelation,
of seeing the manifold aspects of reality gather themselves into
one overwhelming entity of which he would be an integral part. The
philosophers and mystics of Terra had sought such identification, and
the scientists were still striving to build a unified picture of the
cosmic whole. Here, in this environment and with all the ages before
him, a man had a chance to reach that ancient goal, intellectual
understanding and emotional integration--someday, someday.

The twilight was deep and blue and full of flitting ghostly lights. The
feathery trees murmured to each other in a language of their own, and
down under the long slope of dew-shining grass the river gleamed with
shifting phosphorescence. Something was singing in the night, an eerie
wavering scale that woke faint longings and dreads in men and set them
straining after something they had once known and forgotten.

       *       *       *       *       *

Overhead the million thronging stars of Galactic center winked and
blazed through the flickering aurora. One of the moons rose, trailing
golden light through the sky. A wind blew through drifting clouds, and
it seemed as if the wind had language too and spoke to the men, if they
could but understand it.

Chang said at last, slowly and heavily: "I don't know how she got past
the psychologists on Terra."

"Eileen?" asked Langdon unnecessarily.

"Of course." The older man was a shadow in the dusk, but the red
tip of his cigar waxed and waned as he drew on it for comfort.
"Somebody blundered. Or--wait--perhaps it was only that, while she was
fundamentally stable, the otherness of Tanith touched some deep-seated
psychological flaw in her, something that would never appear under any
other environment."

"I don't quite know the system," said Langdon. "What do they do, back
at Sol?"

"The first attempts at colonization showed that only the most stable
personalities could adapt to--or even survive--the apparent instability
of this planet. There aren't many who want to come here at all, of
course, but our planetary government maintains a psychological staff in
the more important worlds of the Galaxy to check those who do apply.
They're supposed to weed out all who couldn't take the strangeness, and
so far it's been very successful. Eileen is the first failure I know
of."

Something cold seemed to close around Langdon. And then, he realized
wryly, he was skirting the main issue--afraid to face it.

"I wonder if we really have the right to keep secret the fact that
there is no death here," he said.

"It was a hard decision to make," answered Chang, "but leaving the
morals of it aside, it was the only practicable way. Suppose it were
generally known that this one place, in all the known universe, has
no age. Imagine all who would want to come here! The planet couldn't
hold a fraction of them. Even as it is, we have to space births very
carefully lest in a few centuries we crowd ourselves off the world.
Furthermore, the unstable social environment produced by such an influx
of colonists, most of whom couldn't stand the place anyway, would
delay, perhaps ruin, the research by which we hope to find out why life
does not grow old here. When we have that answer, and can apply it
outside this region of space, all the Galaxy will have immortality. But
until then, we must wait." He shrugged, a dim movement in the shining
night. "And immortals know how to wait."

"So instead, we simply accept colonists who agree to stay here for
life--and then once they get here they're told how long that life will
be."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Yes. Actually, the miracle is that the first colonists stayed at all,
after most had fled or gone insane. After all, it was ten or twenty
years before we even suspected the truth. A world as alien as this was
settled only because planets habitable to man and without aborigines
are hard to find. Since then, many more such worlds--normal ones--have
been discovered, and few people care to risk madness by coming here.
Tanith is an obscure dominion of the Galactic Union, having a certain
scientific interest because of its unique natural laws--but not too
great even there, when science has so many other things to investigate
just now. And we're quite content to remain in the shadow."

"Of course." Langdon looked up to the swarming stars. A sheet of blue
auroral flame covered them for a moment.

He asked presently: "How much further have our scientists gotten in
explaining the phenomenon?"

"We've come quite a ways, but progress has been mostly in highly
technical fields of mathematical physics. You'll have to take a decade
or two off soon, Joseph, and learn that subject. Briefly, we do
know that this is a region of warped space, similar to those in the
neighborhood of massive bodies but of a different character. As you
know, natural constants are different in such regions from free space,
phenomena such as gravitation and the bending of light appear. This
is another sort of geometric distortion, but basically the same. It
produces differences in--well, in optics, in thermodynamics, in psi
functions, in almost everything. The very laws of probabilities are
different here. As a result, the curious phenomena we know appear.
Many of them, of course, are simply illusions produced by complex
refractions of light and sound waves: others are very real. The time
axis itself is subject to certain transformations which produce the
temporal mirages. And so it goes."

"Yes, yes, I know all that. But what causes the warp itself?"

"We're not sure yet, but we think it's an effect of our being near the
Galactic center of mass, together with--no, it would take me a week to
write out the equations, let alone explain them."

There was a comfort in impersonal discourse, but it was a retreat from
more immediate problems. Langdon fairly rapped out the question: "How
close are you to understanding why we are immortal?"

"Not at all close in detail," said Chang. "We think that it's due to
the difference in thermodynamic properties of matter I mentioned just
now, producing a balance of colloidal entropy. Well, elsewhere life is
metastable and can only endure so long. Here it is the natural tendency
of things, so much so indeed that life is generated spontaneously from
the proper chemical mixtures such as occur in many of the lakes and
pools hereabouts. In our own bodies, there is none of that tendency
toward chemical and colloidal degradation which I think lies at the
root of aging and death.

"But that's just my guess, you know, and biological phenomena are
so extraordinarily complex that it will probably take us centuries
to work it out. After all, we haven't even settled all the laws of
Tanith's physics yet!"

"Several centuries.... And there is no other planet where this might
also happen?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"None have been found, and on the basis of our theory I'm inclined to
believe that Tanith is unique in the Galaxy--perhaps in the universe."
Langdon was aware of Chang's speculative gaze on him. "And if there
were others, they'd be just as foreign to Terra."

"I see--" Langdon looked away, down to the streaming silver gleam of
the river. There was a ring of little lights dancing on the lawn; he
could hear the tinkle of elfland bells and he thought he could see
glowing wings and lithe light forms that were not human--but very
lovely.

"You were thinking of moving away?" asked the synthesist at last.

"Yes. I hated the thought, but Eileen--well--you saw her. And you
remember those first colonists."

"I do. She is exhibiting all their symptoms. She can't stand the
unpredictability of her environment, and she can't adjust her scale of
values enough to see the beauty in what to her is wrong and horrible."
In the vague golden light, Langdon thought he glimpsed a grim smile on
the other man's face. "Perhaps she is right, Joseph. Perhaps it takes
someone not quite sane by the rest of the Galaxy's standards to adjust
to Tanith."

"But--can't she see--I've told her--"

"Intellectual understanding of a problem never solves it, though it may
help. Eileen takes your word for these being purely natural phenomena.
She's not superstitious. It might help if she were! Because explaining
the horror doesn't lessen it to her. Man is not a rational animal,
Joseph, though he likes to pretend he is."

"Can't she be helped? Psychology?"

"No." The old voice held pity, but it did not waver. "I've studied such
cases. If you keep her here much longer, she'll have a miscarriage and
go insane. The insanity might be curable, back at Sol, or it might not,
but as soon as she returned it would come again. Not that she could
ever stand to come back.

"She is inherently unable to adapt herself to an utterly foreign
environment. You'll have to send her home, Joseph. Soon."

"But--she's my _wife_...."

Chang said nothing. A shining golden head swooped past in the darkness,
laughing at them, and the laughter was visible as red pulses in the
night.

There came a step on the veranda. Langdon turned and saw Chang's wife
coming out with Eileen. The girl walked more steadily now. In the dim
radiance from the window, her face was calmer than it had been for some
time, and for an instant there was a flood of love and joy and relief
within Langdon.

Chang was wrong. Eileen would learn. She was already starting to learn.
Tonight was the turning point. Tanith would take her to itself and they
would be together forever.

"Eileen," he said, very softly, and got up and walked toward her.
"Eileen, darling."

The atmosphere trembled between them. She saw the flesh run from his
bones, it was a skull that grinned at her, shining evilly green against
the dark, and the sounds that rasped from it were the mouthings of
nightmare.

Somewhere, far back in the depths of her mind, a little cool voice
told her that there was nothing to be afraid of, that it was a brief
variation in optical and sonic constants which would pass away and then
Joe would be there. But the voice was drowned in her own screaming, she
was screaming for her mother to come and get her, it was a nightmare
_and she couldn't wake up_--

Langdon ran toward her, with the rags of flesh hanging from his
phosphorescent bones, until Chang grabbed him back with a violence he
had never known to be possible in the old man.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a storm outside; the cottage shook to a fury of wind and
was filled with its noise and power. They had a fire going, and its
restless glow played over the room and beat against the calm white
light of fluorotubes, but it could not drive out the luminousness
beyond the window.

"Pull the shades," asked Eileen. "Please, Joe."

He looked away from the window where he stood staring out at the storm.
Fire sleeted across the landscape, whirling heatless flames that hissed
and crackled around the wind-tossed trees, red and blue and yellow and
icy white. The wind roared and boomed, with a hollow voice that seemed
to shout words in some unknown tongue, and from behind the curtain of
flaming rain there was the crimson glow of an open furnace. As if,
thought Langdon, as if the gates of Hell stood open just beyond the
hills.

"It won't hurt us," he said. "It's only a matter of phosphorescence and
static discharges."

"Please, Joe." Her voice was very small in the racket of wind.

He shrugged, and covered the wild scene. He used to like to go out in
fire-storms, he remembered, their blinding berserk fury woke something
elemental in him and he would go striding through them like a god
shouting back at the wind.

Well, it wouldn't be long now. The _Betelgeuse Queen_ was due in a
couple of days on the intragalactic orbit that would take her back to
Sol. Eileen didn't have long to wait.

He took a moody turn about the room. His wife had been very quiet since
her collapse of a week ago. Too quiet. He didn't like it.

She looked wistfully up at his tall form. He thought that she looked
pathetically small and alone, curled up--almost crouched--in the big
armchair. Like a very beautiful child, too thin and hollow-eyed now but
beautiful.

A child.

_She has to go. She can't live here. And I--well--if she goes, it will
be like a death within me. I love her._

"I remember winter storms on Terra," said Eileen softly. "It would be
cold and dark, with a big wind driving snow against the house. We'd
come inside, cold but warm underneath with being out in it, and we'd
sit in front of a fire and have hot cocoa and cheese sandwiches. If it
was around Christmas time, we'd be singing the old songs--"

       *       *       *       *       *

The wind yammered, banging on the door. A stealthy shape of light and
shadow wavered halfway between existence and nonexistence over in a
corner of the room. Eileen's voice trailed off and her eyes widened and
there was a small dry rattle in her throat. She gripped the arms of
her chair with an unnatural tension.

Langdon saw it and came over to sit beside her on one arm of the chair.
Her hand closed tightly around his and she looked away from the weaving
shape in the corner.

"You were always good to me, Joe," she murmured.

"How could I be anything else?" he asked tonelessly. There was a new
voice in the storm now, a great belling organ was crying to him to come
out, Tanith was dancing in a sleet of fire just beyond the door.

"I'll miss you," she said. "I'll miss you very much."

"Why should you? I'll be along."

"Will you. Joe? I wonder. I can't ask it of you. I can't ask you to
trade a thousand years of life, or ten thousand or a million, for the
little sixty or seventy you'll have left out there. I cant ask you to
leave your world for mine. You'll never be at home on Terra."

He smiled, without much mirth. "It's a trite phrase," he said, "but you
know I'd die for you."

"I don't doubt that. Joe. But would you--live for me?"

He kissed her to avoid answering. _I don't know. I honestly don't know._

_It isn't so much a question of losing immortality, though God knows
that means a lot. It means more than any mortal will ever know. It's
that I'd be losing--Tanith._

He thought of Sol, Sirius, Antares, the great suns and planets of
the Galaxy, and could not keep from shuddering. Drabness, deadness,
colorlessness, meaninglessness! Life was a brief blind spasm of
accident and catastrophe, walled in by its own shortness and the barren
environment of a death-doomed cosmos. Too small to achieve any purpose,
too limited even to imagine a goal, it flickered and went out into an
utter dark.

    Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
    Creeps in this petty place from day to day
    To the last syllable of recorded time,
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death....

The storm sang outside, and he heard music and lure and enchantment.
It was not a discord, after two centuries he could hear some of the
tremendous harmony--after another while, he might begin to understand
the song.

If he stayed, if he stayed.

_Eileen._

His face twisted. She saw it, and pain bit at her, but there was
nothing she could say.

He began pacing, and his mind took up the weary track of the past week.
Logic--think it out like a rational being.

       *       *       *       *       *

Eileen had to go. But he could stay, and she would understand insofar
as any mortal could. Somewhere else, back in the Solar system or on
some other of man's many planets, she would find another husband who
could give her all his heart. _Which I could never do, because I love
Tanith. She would come to think of me as dead, she would hold him dear
for the brief span of their lives. She'd be happy. And maybe someday
she'd send the child back to me._

As for himself--well, the initial pain of separation would be hard to
take, but he had an immortal's endurance. Sooner or later, the longing
would die. And there would be another woman someday on one of the
colony ships whom he could love and take to wife forever. He could
wait, he had all time before him....

And he would be on Tanith....

And there would be his friends. He thought of the utter loneliness that
waited for him in the Galaxy. Two hundred years was a sizeable draft
of eternity; he had acquired enough of the immortal's viewpoint and
personality to find the short-lived completely alien. He could never
know more than the most superficial comradeship with even the oldest of
those who were younger than he. He could never be close to his wife;
she would occupy only the smallest part of the emptiness within him.
Because before she had grown enough to match him, they would both be
dead.

_We'll die, go down in the futility of the universe, and Tanith will go
on. I might have been a god, but I'll go down in dust and nothingness.
No one will have gotten any good of me. Unless I stay._

The wind called and called.

_Eileen was right. I'm not afraid to die. But I am afraid to live, in
the way she must. Horribly afraid._

_But I love her._

_Fifty years hence there'll be another woman._

_But I love Eileen now!_

Round and round, a crazy roaring whirlpool swinging and crashing
toward madness. His thoughts were running in a meaningless circle, the
familiar landmarks flickered by with ghastly speed in that devil's
race, the room wavered before him.

He snarled with sudden inarticulate rage and grabbed his insulating
cloak and rushed out the door.

       *       *       *       *       *

Eileen shrank back in her chair. He was gone. She was alone now and all
the powers of Tanith were rising up against her. The wind hooted and
whistled, piping down the chimney and skirling under the eaves. The
blind lifted to an invisible force and she saw the red flames of Hell
blazing outside. The fluoroglobes flickered toward extinction, darkness
closed down; but it was full of dancing light and glimmering shapes
that gibed and jeered and spun closer to her. The room began to whirl,
faster and faster, a tipping tilting saraband on the edge of madness.

All the old forgotten powers of night and dark and Hell were abroad,
whirling on the wind and slamming against the door and banging their
heels on the roof. They rose out of the floor and seeped from the walls
and the air. Fire danced around them, and they neared her, crying
something that she knew would drive her mad when she understood it.

_Joe, Joe, Joe--Mother--God_--Joe was gone out into the storm. Mother
was dead these many years, God had forgotten. And the powers closed in
laughing at her and mocking and whispering what she could not stand to
hear and there and around and around and around and around and around
down, down, down, down, down into darkness--

       *       *       *       *       *

Langdon did not hear her scream the first time. He stood in the living
torrent of light. Fire streamed about him and dripped from his hands;
his hair crackled with static electricity and the wind sang to him.
It filled him, the song of the wind, the song of Tanith. He was lost
in it, whirled up in a great singing joyous laughter. He _knew_--in
another moment he would know, he would be part of the allness and have
peace within him.

Fire, wind, the slender graceful trees laughing as the flames leaped
around them, a great exultant chant from the living forests and the
dancing hills, a glimpse of an ancient Tanithian across many million
years, flying in the storm with the red and gold and blue and bronze
rushing off his wings, Tanith, Tanith, Tanith.

_Tanith, I love you, I am part of you. I can never go. This is the
thing other men do not know. More than immortality, more than all the
mighty dreams you give us, there is yourself. A day on Tanith is more
than a lifetime on Terra, but they will never know that because they
have never felt it. The strong love of a man for his home--but this is
passion, it is the whole of life, and Tanith gives it back. Here, and
here alone, is meaning and beauty and an unending splendid horizon.
Here alone a man can belong._

_See, see that bird with wings like molten silver!_

The second scream was wordless and crazy and horrible, but the dying
fragment of his own name went through him like a knife. For the barest
instant he stood there while the storm roared about him and the fire
rushed over the world. Then, quite simply, he ran back into the house.

The blood and pain and screeching horror of the abortion left him
physically ill, but he managed to get her to bed and even, after a
long while, to sleep. Then he walked over to the window and drew the
blind. His shoulders sagged with the defeat and death and ruin that was
here....

       *       *       *       *       *

The captain of the _Betelgeuse Queen_ did not like Tanith and said as
much to his mate as they relaxed on the promenade deck.

"The place gives you the blue willies," he declared. "Everything's
_wrong_ there. Praise the powers it's so backward and obscure we only
have to stop there once a year or so."

"The colonists seem to like it," said the mate.

"They would," snorted the captain. "Worst bunch of clannish provincials
I ever saw. Why, they hardly ever leave the planet, except maybe for a
year or so at a time on essential business, and they won't be friendly
with anybody. Takes a crazy man to stand that world in the first place."

He pointed to a tall man who was half leading, half supporting a young
woman along the deck. She would have been beautiful had she not been
badly underweight. She smiled at the man, but her eyes were haunted,
and his answering smile was far-away. It went no deeper than his lips.

"That fellow Langdon is the only long-time colonist I ever heard of who
left Tanith for good," said the captain. "He must have been there for
years. Maybe he was born there, but he's coming back to Sol now. His
wife couldn't take the place."

"I think I remember her from a year or so ago," nodded the mate.
"Didn't we carry her out with a few other colonists? Pretty as a
picture then, and full of life and fun--now look at her. Tanith did
that to her."

"Uh-huh," agreed the captain. "I heard a little of the story down by
the spaceport. She nearly went crazy--finally had a miscarriage. It
was all they could do to save her life and sanity. Only then would
that Langdon take her back. He let her go on that way for months."
The captain's mouth twisted with contempt. "Holy sun-spots, what a
cold-blooded devil!"



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