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Perfect Control   By:

Perfect Control by Richard Stockham

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Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction January 1955. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

PERFECT CONTROL

By RICHARD STOCKHAM

Illustrated by MEL HUNTER

Why can't you go home again after years in space? There had to be an answer ... could he find it in time, though?

Sitting at his desk, Colonel Halter brought the images on the telescreen into focus. Four booster tugs were fastening, like sky barnacles, onto the hull of the ancient derelict, Alpha .

He watched as they swung her around, stern down, and sank with her through the blackness, toward the bluish white, moon lighted arc of Earth a thousand miles below.

He pressed a button. The image of tugs and hull faded and the control room of the old ship swam onto the screen.

Colonel Halter saw the crew, sitting in a half circle, before the control panel.

The telescreen in the control room of old Alpha was yet dark. The faces watching it held no care lines or laugh lines, only a vague expression of kindness. They could be faces of wax or those of people dying pleasantly.

Colonel Halter shook his head. Brilliant the finest space people in the field seventy five years back and now he was to get them to come out of that old hull. God almighty, how could you pull people out of an environment they were perfectly adjusted to? Logic? Force? Reason? Humoring? How could you know?

Talk to them, he told himself. He dreaded it, but the problem had to be faced.

He flipped a switch on his desk; saw light jump into their screen and his own face take shape there; saw their faces on his own screen, set now, like the faces of stone idols.

He turned another dial. The picture swung around so that he was looking into their eyes and they into his.

Halter said, "Captain McClelland?"

One of the old men nodded. "Yes."

McClelland was clean shaven. His uniform, treated against deterioration, was immaculate, but his body showed frail and bony through it. His face was long and hollow cheeked, the eyes deep set and bright. The head was like a skull, the nose an eagle's beak.

"I'm Colonel Halter. I'm a psychotherapist."

None of them answered. There was only the faint thrumming of the rockets lowering the old ship to Earth.

"Let me be sure I have your identities right," went on Colonel Halter.

He then looked at the man on the captain's right. "You, I believe, are Lieutenant James Brady."

Brady nodded, his pale, eroded face expressionless.

Colonel Halter saw the neat black uniform, identical with the captain's; saw the cropped gray hair and meticulously trimmed goatee.

"And you," he said to the woman sitting beside the lieutenant, "are Dr. Anna Mueller."

The same nod and thin, expressionless face. The same paleness. Faded hazel eyes; hair white and trimmed close to her head; body emaciated.

"Daniel Carlyle, astrogator."

The nod.

Like the doctor's brother, thought Colonel Halter, and yet like the lieutenant with his cropped hair and with an identical goatee.

"Caroline Gordon, dietician and televisor. John Crowley, rocketman."

Each nodded, expressionless, their faces like white, weathered statues in a desert.

Colonel Halter turned to the captain. The rocket thrum of the tugs had become a roar as the gravity pulled against the antique hull.

"We understand," said Colonel Halter, "that you demand repairs for your ship and fuel enough to take you back into deep space."

"That is right." The voice was low, slightly harsh.

"You're all close to a hundred years old. You'd die out there. Here, with medical aid, you'd easily live to a hundred and twenty five."

Dr. Anna Mueller's head moved slightly. "We're aware of that, Colonel."

"It'd be pointless," said the colonel, "and a shameful waste... Continue reading book >>




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