This etext was produced from Amazing Stories October 1956. Extensive
research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this
publication was renewed.
A “JOHNNY MAYHEM” ADVENTURE
A PLACE IN THE
By C. H. THAMES
Mayhem, the man of many bodies, had been given some weird assignments in his
time, but saving The Glory of the Galaxy wasn’t difficult—it was downright
The SOS crackled and hummed through subspace at a speed which left laggard
light far behind. Since subspace distances do not coincide with normal space
distances, the SOS was first picked up by a Fomalhautian freighter bound for
Capella although it had been issued from a point in normal space midway
between the orbit of Mercury and the sun’s corona in the solar system.
A man shoots another man in the back with an energy gun. There are bodies
The terrible weapon blasted death and carnage through the ship.
The radioman of the Fomalhautian freighter gave the distress signal to the
Deck Officer, who looked at it, blinked, and bolted ’bove decks to the
captain’s cabin. His face was very white when he reached the door and his
heart pounded with excitement. As the Deck Officer crossed an electronic
beam before the door a metallic voice said: “The Captain is asleep and will
be disturbed for nothing but emergency priority.”
Nodding, the Deck officer stuck his thumb in the whorl-lock of the door and
entered the cabin. “Begging your pardon, sir,” he cried, “but we just
received an SOS from—”
The Captain stirred groggily, sat up, switched on a green night light and
squinted through it at the Deck Officer. “Well, what is it? Isn’t the Eye
“Yes, sir. An SOS, sir….”
“If we’re close enough to help, subspace or normal space, take the usual
steps, lieutenant. Surely you don’t need me to—”
“The usual steps can’t be taken, sir. Far as I can make out, that ship is
doomed. She’s bound on collision course for Sol, only twenty million miles
“That’s too bad, lieutenant,” the Captain said with genuine sympathy in his
voice. “I’m sorry to hear that. But what do you want me to do about it?”
“The ship, sir. The ship that sent the SOS—hold on to your hat, sir—”
“Get to the point now, will you, young man?” the Captain growled sleepily.
“The ship which sent the SOS signal, the ship heading on collision course
for Sol, is the Glory of the Galaxy!”
For a moment the Captain said nothing. Distantly, you could hear the hum of
the subspace drive-unit and the faint whining of the stasis generator. Then
the Captain bolted out of bed after unstrapping himself. In his haste he
forgot the ship was in weightless deep space and went sailing, arms flailing
air, across the room. The lieutenant helped him down and into his
“My God,” the Captain said finally. “Why did it happen? Why did it have to
happen to the Glory of the Galaxy?”
“What are you going to do, sir?”
“I can’t do anything. I won’t take the responsibility. Have the radioman
contact the Hub at once.”
The Glory of the Galaxy, the SOS ship heading on collision course with the
sun, was making its maiden run from the assembly satellites of Earth across
the inner solar system via the perihelion passage which would bring it
within twenty-odd million miles of the sun, to Mars which now was on the
opposite side of Sol from Earth. Aboard the gleaming new ship was the
President of the Galactic Federation and his entire cabinet.
The Fomalhautian freighter’s emergency message was received at the Hub of
the Galaxy within moments after it had been sent, although the normal space
distance was in the neighborhood of one hundred thousand light years. The
message was bounced—in amazingly quick time—from office to office at the
hub, cutting through the usual red tape because of its top priority.
And—since none of the normal agencies at the Hub could handle it—the message
finally arrived at an office which very rarely received official messages of
any kind. This was the one unofficial, extra-legal office at the Hub of the
Galaxy. Lacking official function, the office had no technical existence and
was not to be found in any Directory of the Hub. At the moment, two young
men were seated inside. Their sole job was to maintain liaison with a man
whose very existence was doubted by most of the human inhabitants of the
Galaxy but whose importance could not be measured by mere human standards in
those early days when the Galactic League was becoming the Galactic
The name of the man with whom they maintained contact was Johnny Mayhem.
“Did you read it?” the blond man asked.
“I read it.”
“If it got down here, that means they can’t handle it anywhere else.”
“Of course they can’t. What the hell could normal slobs like them or like us
do about it?”
“Nothing, I guess. But wait a minute! You don’t mean you’re going to send
Mayhem, without asking him, without telling—”
“We can’t ask him now, can we?”
“Johnny Mayhem’s elan is at the moment speeding from Canopus to Deneb, where
on the fourth planet of the Denebian system a dead body is waiting for him
in cold storage. The turnover from League to Federation status of the
Denebian system is causing trouble in Deneb City, so Mayhem—”
“Deneb City will probably survive without Mayhem. Well, won’t it?”
“I guess so, but—”
“I know. The deal is we’re supposed to tell Mayhem where he’s going and what
he can expect. The deal also is, every inhabited world has a body waiting
for his elan in cold storage. But don’t you think if we could talk to Mayhem
“It isn’t possible. He’s in transit.”
“Don’t you think if we could talk to him now he would agree to board the
Glory of the Galaxy?”
“How should I know? I’m not Johnny Mayhem.”
“If he doesn’t board her, it’s certain death for all of them.”
“And if he does board her, what the hell can he do about it? Besides, there
isn’t any dead body awaiting his elan on that ship or any ship. He wouldn’t
make a very efficacious ghost.”
“But there are live people. Scores of them. Mayhem’s elan is quite capable
of possessing a living host.”
“Sure. Theoretically it is. But damn it all, what would the results be?
We’ve never tried it. It’s liable to damage Mayhem. As for the host—”
“The host might die. I know it. But he’ll die anyway. The whole shipload of
them is heading on collision course for the sun.”
“Does the SOS say why?”
“No. Maybe Mayhem can find out and do something about it.”
“Yeah, maybe. That’s a hell of a way to risk the life of the most important
man in the Galaxy. Because if Mayhem boards that ship and can’t do anything
about it, he’ll die with the rest of them.”
“Why? We could always pluck his elan out again.”
“If he were inhabiting a dead one. In a live body, I don’t think so. The
attraction would be stronger. There would be forces of cohesion—”
“That’s true. Still, Mayhem’s our only hope.”
“I’ll admit it’s a job for Mayhem, but he’s too important.”
“Is he? Don’t be a fool. What, actually, is Johnny Mayhem’s importance? His
importance lies in the very fact that he is expendable. His life—for the
furtherance of the new Galactic Federation.”
“And the President is aboard that ship. Maybe he can’t do as much for the
Galaxy in the long run as Mayhem can, but don’t you see, man, he’s a
figurehead. Right now he’s the most important man in the Galaxy, and if we
could talk to him I’m sure Mayhem would agree. Mayhem would want to board
“It’s funny, we’ve been working with Mayhem all these years and we never
even met the guy.”
“Would you know him if you saw him?”
“Umm-mm, I guess not. Do you think we really can halt his elan in subspace
and divert it over to the Glory of the Galaxy?”
“I take it you’re beginning to see things my way. And the answer to your
question is yes.”
“Poor Mayhem. You know, I actually feel sorry for the guy. He’s had more
adventures than anyone since Homer wrote the Odyssey and there won’t ever be
any rest for him.”
“Stop feeling sorry for him and start hoping he succeeds.”
“And let’s see about getting a bead on his elan.”
The two young men walked to a tri-dim chart which took up much of the room.
One of them touched a button and blue light glowed within the chart, pulsing
brightly and sharply where space-sectors intersected.
“He’s in C-17 now,” one of the men said as a gleaming whiteness was suddenly
superimposed at a single point on the blue.
“Can you bead him?”
“I think so. But I still feel sorry for Mayhem. He’s expecting to wake up in
a cold-storage corpse on Deneb IV but instead he’ll come to in a living body
aboard a spaceship on collision course for the sun.”
“Just hope he—”
“I know. Succeeds. I don’t even want to think of the possibility he might
In seconds, the gleaming white dot crawled across the surface of the tri-dim
chart from sector C-17 to sector S-1.
The Glory of the Galaxy was now nineteen million miles out from the sun and
rushing through space at a hundred miles per second, normal space drive. The
Glory of the Galaxy thus moved a million miles closer to fiery destruction
every three hours—but since the sun’s gravitational force had to be added to
that speed, the ship was slated to plunge into the sun’s corona in little
more than twenty-four hours.
Since the ship’s refrigeration units would function perfectly until the
outer hull reached a temperature of eleven hundred degrees Fahrenheit, none
of its passengers knew that anything was wrong. Even the members of the crew
went through all the normal motions. Only the Glory of the Galaxy’s officers
in their bright new uniforms and gold braid knew the grim truth of what
awaited the gleaming two-thousand ton spaceship less than twenty-four hours
away at the exact center of its perihelion passage.
Something—unidentified as yet—in all the thousands of intricate things that
could go wrong on a spaceship, particularly a new one making its maiden
voyage, had gone wrong. The officers were checking their catalogues and
their various areas of watch meticulously—and not because their own lives
were at stake. In spaceflight, your own life always is at stake. There are
too many imponderables: you are, to a certain degree, expendable. The
commissioned contingent aboard the Glory of the Galaxy was a dedicated
group, hand-picked from all the officers in the solar system.
But they could find nothing. And do nothing.
Within a day, their lives along with the lives of the enlisted men aboard
the Glory of the Galaxy and the passengers on its maiden run, would be
snuffed out in a brilliant burst of solar heat.
And the President of the Galactic Federation would die because some unknown
factor had locked the controls of the spaceship, making it impossible to
turn or use forward rockets against the gravitational pull of the sun.
Nineteen million miles. In normal space, a considerable distance. A hundred
miles a second—a very considerable normal space speed. Increasing….
Ever since they had left Earth’s assembly satellites, Sheila Kelly had seen
a lot of a Secret Serviceman named Larry Grange, who was a member of the
President’s corps of bodyguards. She liked Larry, although there was nothing
serious in their relationship. He was handsome and charming and she was
naturally flattered with his attentions. Still, although he was older than
Sheila, she sensed that he was a boy rather than a man and had the odd
feeling that, faced with a real crisis, he would confirm this tragically.
It was night aboard the Glory of the Galaxy. Which was to say the blue-green
night lights had replaced the white day lights in the companionways and
public rooms of the spaceship, since its ports were sealed against the
fierce glare of the sun. It was hard to believe, Sheila thought, that they
were only nineteen million miles from the sun. Everything was so cool—so
She met Larry in the Sunside Lounge, a cabaret as nice as any terran
nightclub she had ever seen. There were stylistic Zodiac drawings on the
walls and blue-mirrored columns supporting the roof. Like everything else
aboard the Glory of the Galaxy, the Sunside Lounge hardly seemed to belong
on a spaceship. For Sheila Kelly, though—herself a third secretary with the
department of Galactic Economy—it was all very thrilling.
“Hello, Larry,” she said as the Secret Serviceman joined her at their table.
He was a tall young man in his late twenties with crewcut blond hair; but he
sat down heavily now and did not offer Sheila his usual smile.
“Why, what on earth is the matter?” Sheila asked him.
“Nothing. I need a drink, that’s all.”
The drinks came. Larry gulped his and ordered another. His complete silence
baffled Sheila, who finally said:
“Surely it isn’t anything I did.”
“You? Don’t be silly.”
“Well! After the way you said that I don’t know if I should be glad or not.”
“Just forget it. I’m sorry, kid. I—” He reached out and touched her hand.
His own hand was damp and cold.
“Going to tell me, Larry?”
“Listen. What’s a guy supposed to do if he overhears something he’s not
supposed to overhear, and—”
“How should I know unless you tell me what you overheard? It is you you’re
talking about, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. I was going off duty, walking by officer quarters and … oh, forget
it. I better not tell you.”
“I’m a good listener, Larry.”
“Look, Irish. You’re a good anything—and that’s the truth. You have looks
and you have brains and I have a hunch through all that Emerald Isle
sauciness you have a heart too. But—”
“But you don’t want to tell me.”
“It isn’t I don’t want to, but no one’s supposed to know, not even the
“You sure make it sound mysterious.”
“Just the officers. Oh, hell. I don’t know. What good would it do if I told
“I guess you’d just get it off your chest, that’s all.”
“I can’t tell anyone official, Sheila. I’d have my head handed to me. But
I’ve got to think and I’ve got to tell someone. I’ll go crazy, just knowing
and not doing anything.”
“It’s important, isn’t it?”
Larry downed another drink quickly. It was his fourth and Sheila had never
seen him take more than three or four in the course of a whole evening.
“You’re damned right it’s important.” Larry leaned forward across the
postage-stamp table. A liquor-haze clouded his eyes as he said: “It’s so
important that unless someone does something about it, we’ll all be dead
inside of twenty-four hours. Only trouble is, there isn’t anything anyone
can do about it.”
“Larry—you’re a little drunk.”
“I know it. I know I am. I want to be a lot drunker. What the hell can a guy
“What do you know, Larry? What have you heard?”
“I know they have the President of the Galactic Federation aboard this ship
and that he ought to be told the truth.”
“No. I mean—”
“They sent out an SOS, kid. Controls are locked. Lifeboats don’t have enough
power to get us out of the sun’s gravitational pull. We’re all going to
roast, I tell you!”
Sheila felt her heart throb wildly. Even though he was well on the way to
being thoroughly drunk, Larry was telling the truth. Instinctively, she knew
that—was certain of it. “What are you going to do?” she said.
He shrugged. “I guess because I can’t do a damned thing I’m going to get
good and drunk. That’s what I’m going to do. Or maybe—who the hell
knows?—maybe in one minute I’m going to jump up on this table and tell
everyone what I overheard. Maybe I ought to do that, huh?”
“Larry, Larry—if it’s as bad as you say, maybe you ought to think before you
“Who am I to think? I’m one of the muscle men. That’s what they pay me for,
“Larry. You don’t have to shout.”
“Well, isn’t it?”
“If you don’t calm down I’ll have to leave.”
“You can sit still. You can park here all night. I’m leaving.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Oh … that.” Larry got up from the table. He looked suddenly green and
Sheila thought it was because he had too much to drink. “You don’t have to
worry about that, Sheila. Not now you don’t. I all of a sudden don’t feel so
good. Headache. Man, I never felt anything like it. Better go to my cabin
and lie down. Maybe I’ll wake up and find out all this was a dream, huh?”
“Do you need any help?” Sheila demanded, real concern in her voice.
“No. ’Sall right. Man, this headache really snuck up on me. Pow! Without any
“Let me help you.”
“No. Just leave me alone, will you?” Larry staggered off across the crowded
dance floor. He drew angry glances and muttered comments as he disturbed the
dancers waltzing to Carlotti’s Danube in Space.
Why don’t you admit it, Grange, Larry thought as he staggered through the
companionway toward his cabin. That’s what you always wanted, isn’t it—a
place of importance?
A place in the sun, they call it.
“You’re going to get a place in the sun, all right,” he mumbled aloud.
“Right smack in the middle of the sun with everyone else aboard this ship!”
The humor of it amused him perversely. He smiled—but it was closer to a
leer—and lunged into his cabin. What he said to Sheila was no joke. He
really did have a splitting headache. It had come on suddenly and it was
like no headache he had ever known. It pulsed and throbbed and beat against
his temples and held red hot needles to the backs of his eyeballs, almost
blinding him. It sapped all his strength, leaving him physically weak. He
was barely able to close the door behind him and stagger to the shower.
An ice cold shower, he thought would help. He stripped quickly and got under
the needle spray. By that time he was so weak he could barely stand.
A place in the sun, he thought….
Something grabbed his mind and wrenched it.
Johnny Mayhem awoke.
Awakening came slowly, as it always did. It was a rising through infinite
gulfs, a rebirth for a man who had died a hundred times and might die a
thousand times more as the years piled up and became centuries. It was a
spinning, whirling, flashing ascent from blackness to coruscating colors,
And suddenly, it was over.
A needle spray of ice-cold water beat down upon him. He shuddered and
reached for the water-taps, shutting them. Dripping, he climbed from the
And floated up—quite weightless—toward the ceiling.
Frowning with his new and as yet unseen face, Johnny Mayhem propelled
himself to the floor. He looked at his arms. He was naked—at least that much
But obviously, since he was weightless, he was not on Deneb IV. During his
transmigration he had been briefed for the trouble on Deneb IV. Then had a
mistake been made somehow? It was always possible—but it had never happened
Too much precision and careful planning was involved.
Every world which had an Earthman population and a Galactic League—now,
Galactic Federation—post, must have a body in cold storage, waiting for
Johnny Mayhem if his services were required. No one knew when Mayhem’s
services might be required. No one knew exactly under what circumstances the
Galactic Federation Council, operating from the Hub of the Galaxy, might
summon Mayhem. And only a very few people, including those at the Hub and
the Galactic League Firstmen on civilized worlds and Observers on frontier
planets, knew the precise mechanics of Mayhem’s coming.
Johnny Mayhem, a bodiless sentience. Mayhem—Johnny Marlow then—who had been
chased from Earth a pariah and a criminal seven years ago, who had been
mortally wounded on a wild planet deep within the Sagittarian Swarm, whose
life had been saved—after a fashion—by the white magic of that planet.
Mayhem, doomed now to possible immortality as a bodiless sentience, an elan,
which could occupy and activate a corpse if it had been preserved properly …
an elan doomed to wander eternally because it could not remain in one body
for more than a month without body and elan perishing. Mayhem, who had
dedicated his strange, lonely life to the services of the Galactic
League—now the Galactic Federation—because a normal life and normal social
relations were not possible to him….
It did not seem possible, Mayhem thought now, that a mistake could be made.
Then—a sudden change in plans?
It had never happened before, but it was entirely possible. Something,
Mayhem decided, had come up during transmigration. It was terribly important
and the people at the Hub had had no opportunity to brief him on it.
His first shock came a moment later. He walked to a mirror on the wall and
approved of the strong young body which would house his sentience and then
scowled. A thought inside his head said:
So this is what it’s like to have schizophrenia.
What the hell was that? Mayhem thought.
I said, so this is what it’s like to have schizophrenia. First the world’s
worst headache and then I start thinking like two different people.
Aren’t you dead?
Is that supposed to be a joke, alter ego? When do the men in the white suits
Good Lord, this was supposed to be a dead body!
At that, the other sentience which shared the body with Mayhem snickered and
lapsed into silence. Mayhem, for his part, was astounded.
Don’t get ornery now, Mayhem pleaded. I’m Johnny Mayhem. Does that mean
anything to you?
Oh, sure. It means I’m dead. You inhabit dead bodies, right?
Usually. Listen—where are we?
Glory of the Galaxy—bound from Earth to Mars on perihelion.
And there’s trouble?
How do you know there’s trouble?
Otherwise they wouldn’t have diverted me here.
We’ve got the president aboard. We’re going to hit the sun. Then,
grudgingly, Larry went into the details. When he finished he thought
cynically: Now all you have to do is go outside yelling have no fear, Mayhem
is here and everything will be all right, I suppose.
Mayhem didn’t answer. It would be many moments yet before he could adjust to
this new, unexpected situation. But in a way, he thought, it would be a
boon. If he were co-inhabiting the body of a living man who belonged on the
Glory of the Galaxy, there was no need to reveal his identity as Johnny
Mayhem to anyone but his host….
“I tell ya,” Technician First Class Ackerman Boone shouted, “the
refrigeration unit’s gone on the blink. You can’t feel it yet, but I ought
to know. I got the refrigs working full strength and we gained a couple of
degrees heat. Either she’s on the blink or we’re too close to the sun, I
Ackerman Boone was a big man, a veteran spacer with a squat, very strong
body and arms like an orangutan. Under normal circumstances he was a very
fine spacer and a good addition to any crew, but he bore an unreasonable
grudge against the officer corps and would go out of his way to make them
look bad in the eyes of the other enlisted men. A large crowd had gathered
in the hammock-hung crew quarters of the Glory of the Galaxy as Boone went
on in his deep, booming voice: “So I asked the skipper of the watch, I did.
He got shifty-eyed, like they always do. You know. He wasn’t talking, but
sure as my name’s Ackerman Boone, something’s wrong.”
“What do you think it is, Acky?” one of the younger men asked.
“Well, I tell ya this: I know what it isn’t. I checked out the refrigs three
times, see, and came up with nothing. The refrigs are in jig order, and if I
know it then you know it. So, if the refrigs are in jig order, there’s only
one thing it can be: we’re getting too near the sun!” Boone clamped his
mouth shut and stood with thick, muscular arms crossed over his barrel
A young technician third class said in a strident voice, “You mean you think
maybe we’re plunging into the sun, Acky?”
“Well, now, I didn’t say that. Did I, boy? But we are too close and if we
are too close there’s got to be a reason for it. If we stay too close too
long, O.K. Then we’re plunging into the sun. Right now, I dunno.”
They all asked Ackerman Boone, who was an unofficial leader among them, what
he was going to do. He rubbed his big fingers against the thick stubble of
beard on his jaw and you could hear the rasping sound it made. Then he said,
“Nothing, until we find out for sure. But I got a hunch the officers are
trying to pull the wool over the eyes of them politicians we got on board.
That’s all right with me, men. If they want to, they got their reasons. But
I tell ya this: they ain’t going to pull any wool over Acky Boone’s eyes,
and that’s a fact.”
Just then the squawk box called: “Now hear this! Now hear this! Tech/1
Ackerman Boone to Exec’s office. Tech/1 Boone to Exec.”
“You see?” Boone said, smiling grimly. As yet, no one saw. His face still
set in a grim smile, Ackerman Boone headed above decks.
“That, Mr. President,” Vice Admiral T. Shawnley Stapleton said gravely, “is
the problem. We would have come to you sooner, sir, but frankly—”
“I know it, Admiral,” the President said quietly. “I could not have helped
you in any way. There was no sense telling me.”
“We have one chance, sir, and one only. It’s irregular and it will probably
knock the hell out of the Glory of the Galaxy, but it may save our lives. If
we throw the ship suddenly into subspace we could pass right through the
sun’s position and—”
“I’m no scientist, Admiral, but wouldn’t that put tremendous stress not only
on the ship but on all of us aboard?”
“It would, sir. I won’t keep anything from you, of course. We’d all be
subjected to a force of twenty-some gravities for a period of several
seconds. Here aboard the Glory, we don’t have adequate G-equipment. It’s
something like the old days of air flight, sir: as soon as airplanes became
reasonably safe, passenger ships didn’t bother to carry parachutes. Result
over a period of fifty years: thousands of lives lost. We’d all be bruised
and battered, sir. Bones would be broken. There might be a few deaths. But I
see no other way out, sir.”
“Then there was no need to check with me at all, I assure you, Admiral
Stapleton. Do whatever you think is best, sir.”
The Admiral nodded gravely. “Thank you, Mr. President. I will say this,
though: we will wait for a miracle.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow you.”
“Well, I don’t expect a miracle, but the switchover to subspace so suddenly
is bound to be dangerous. Therefore, we’ll wait until the last possible
moment. It will grow uncomfortably warm, let me warn you, but as long as the
subspace drive is in good working order—”
“I see what you mean, Admiral. You have a free hand, sir; let me repeat
that. I will not interfere in any way and I have the utmost confidence in
you.” The President mopped his brow with an already damp handkerchief. It
was growing warm, come to think of it. Uncomfortably warm.
As if everyone aboard the Glory of the Galaxy was slowly being broiled
Ackerman Boone entered the crew quarters with the same smile still on his
lips. At first he said nothing, but his silence drew the men like a magnet
draws iron filings. When they had all clustered about him he spoke.
“The Exec not only chewed my ears off,” he boomed. “He all but spit them in
my face! I was right, men. He admitted it to me after he saw how he couldn’t
get away with anything in front of Ackerman Boone. Men, we’re heading on
collision course with the sun!”
A shocked silence greeted his words and Ackerman Boone, instinctively a born
speaker, paused dramatically to allow each man the private horror of his own
thoughts for a few moments. Then he continued: “The Admiral figures we have
one chance to get out of this alive, men. He figures—”
“What is it, Acky?”
“What will he do?”
“How will the Admiral get us out of this?”
Ackerman Boone spat on the polished, gleaming floor of the crew quarters.
“He’ll never get us out alive, let me tell you. He wants to shift us into
subspace at the last possible minute. Suddenly. Like this—” and Ackerman
Boone snapped his fingers.
“There’d be a ship full of broken bones!” someone protested. “We can’t do a
thing like that.”
“He’ll kill us all!” a very young T/3 cried hysterically.
“Not if I can help it, he won’t,” shouted Ackerman Boone. “Listen, men. This
ain’t a question of discipline. It’s a question of living or dying and I
tell you that’s more important than doing it like the book says or
discipline or anything like that. We got a chance, all right: but it ain’t
what the Admiral thinks it is. We ought to abandon the Glory to her place in
the sun and scram out of here in the lifeboats—every last person aboard
“But will they have enough power to get out of the sun’s gravitational
pull?” someone asked.
Ackerman Boone shrugged. “Don’t look at me,” he said mockingly. “I’m only an
enlisted man and they don’t give enlisted men enough math to answer
questions like that. But reckoning by the seat of my pants I would say, yes.
Yes, we could get away like that—if we act fast. Because every minute we
waste is a minute that brings us closer to the sun and makes it harder to
get away in the lifeboats. If we act, men, we got to act fast.”
“You’re talking mutiny, Boone,” a grizzled old space veteran said. “You can
count me out.”
“What’s the matter, McCormick? Yellow?”
“I’m not yellow. I say it takes guts to maintain discipline in a real
emergency. I say you’re yellow, Boone.”
“You better be ready to back that up with your fists, McCormick,” Boone said
“I’m ready any time you’re ready, you yellow mutinous bastard!”
Ackerman Boone launched himself at the smaller, older man, who stood his
ground unflinchingly although he probably knew he would take a sound
beating. But four or five crewmen came between them and held them apart, one
“Look who’s talking, Boone. You say time’s precious but you’re all set to
start fighting. Every minute—”
“Every second,” Boone said grimly, “brings us more than a hundred miles
closer to the sun.”
“What can we do, Acky?”
Instead of answer, Ackerman Boone dramatically mopped the sweat from his
face. All the men were uncomfortably warm now. It was obvious that the
temperature within the Glory of the Galaxy had now climbed fifteen or twenty
degrees despite the fact that the refrigs were working at full capacity.
Even the bulkheads and the metal floor of crew quarters were unpleasantly
warm to the touch. The air was hot and suddenly very dry.
“I’ll tell you what we ought to do,” Ackerman Boone said finally. “Admiral
Stapleton or no Admiral Stapleton, President of the Galactic Federation or
no President of the Galactic Federation, we ought to take over this ship and
man the life boats for everyone’s good. If they don’t want to save their
lives and ours—let’s us save our lives and theirs!”
Roars of approval greeted Boone’s words, but Spacer McCormick and some of
the other veterans stood apart from the loud speech-making which followed.
Actually, Boone’s wild words—which he gambled with after the first flush of
enthusiasm for his plan—began to lose converts. One by one the men drifted
toward McCormick’s silent group until, finally, Boone had lost almost his
Just then a T/2 rushed into crew quarters and shouted: “Hey, is Boone
around? Has anyone seen Boone?”
This brought general laughter. Under the circumstances, the question was not
without its humorous aspect.
“What’ll you have?” Boone demanded.
“The refrigs, Boone! They are on the blink. Overstrained themselves and
burned themselves out. Inside of half an hour this ship’s going to be an
oven hot enough to kill us all!”
“Half an hour, men!” Ackerman Boone cried. “Now, do we take over the ship
and man those lifeboats or don’t we!”
The roar which followed his words was a decidedly affirmative one.
“These are the figures,” Admiral Stapleton said. “You can see, Mr.
President, that we have absolutely no chance whatever if we man the
lifeboats. We would perish as assuredly as we would if we remained with the
Glory of the Galaxy in normal space.”
“Admiral, I have to hand it to you. I don’t know how you can think—in all
“Have to, sir. Otherwise we all die.”
“The air temperature—”
“Is a hundred and thirty degrees and rising. We’ve passed salt tablets out
to everyone, sir, but even then it’s only a matter of time before we’re all
prostrated. If you’re sure you give your permission, sir—”
“Admiral Stapleton, you are running this ship, not I.”
“Very well, sir. I’ve sent our subspace officer, Lieutenant Ormundy, to
throw in the subspace drive. We should know in a few moments—”
“No crash hammocks or anything?”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“It isn’t your fault, Admiral. I was merely pointing out a fact.”
The squawk box blared: “Now hear this! Now hear this! T/3 Ackerman Boone to
Admiral Stapleton. Are you listening, Admiral?”
Admiral Stapleton’s haggard, heat-worn face bore a look of astonishment as
he listened. Ackerman said, “We have Lieutenant Ormundy, Admiral. He’s not
killing us all by putting us into subspace in minutes when it ought to take
hours, you understand. We have Ormundy and we have the subspace room. A
contingent of our men is getting the lifeboats ready. We’re going to abandon
ship, Admiral, all of us, including you and the politicians even if we have
to drag you aboard the lifeboats at N—gunpoint.”
Admiral Stapleton’s face went ashen. “Let me at a radio!” he roared. “I want
to answer that man and see if he understands exactly what mutiny is!”
While Ackerman Boone was talking over the squawk box, the temperature within
the Glory of the Galaxy rose to 145° Fahrenheit.
“Fifteen minutes,” Larry Grange said. “In fifteen minutes the heat will have
us all unconscious.” Only it wasn’t Larry alone who was talking. It was
Larry and Johnny Mayhem. In a surprisingly short time the young Secret
Serviceman had come to accept the dual occupation of his own mind. It was
there: it was either dual occupation or insanity and if the voice which
spoke inside his head said it was Johnny Mayhem, then it was Johnny Mayhem.
Besides, Larry felt clear-headed in a way he had never felt before, despite
the terrible, sapping heat. It was as if he had matured suddenly—the word
matured came to him instinctively—in the space of minutes. Or, as if a
maturing influence were at work on his mind.
“What can we do?” Sheila said. “The crew has complete control of the ship.”
“Secret Service chief says we’re on our own. There’s no time for
co-ordinated planning, but somehow, within a very few minutes, we’ve got to
get inside the subspace room and throw the ship out of normal space or we’ll
all be roasted.”
“Some of your men are there now, aren’t they?”
“In the companionway outside the subspace room, yeah. But they’ll never
force their way in time. Not with blasters and not with N-guns, either. Not
in ten minutes, they won’t.”
“Larry, all of a sudden I—I’m scared. We’re all going to die, Larry. I don’t
want—Larry, what are you going to do?”
They had been walking in a deserted companionway which brought them to one
of the aft escape hatches of the Glory of the Galaxy. Their clothing was
plastered to their bodies with sweat and every breath was agonizing, furnace
“I’m going outside,” Larry said quietly.
“Outside? What do you mean?”
“Spacesuit, outside. There’s a hatch in the subspace room. If their
attention is diverted to the companionway door, I may be able to get in.
It’s our only chance—ours, and everyone’s.”
“But the spacesuit—”
“I know,” Larry said even as he was climbing into the inflatable vacuum
garment. It was Larry—and it wasn’t Larry. He felt a certain confidence, a
certain sense of doing the right thing—a feeling which Larry Grange had
never experienced before in his life. It was as if the boy had become a man
in the final moments of his life—or, he thought all at once, it was as if
Johnny Mayhem who shared his mind and his body with him was somehow
transmitting some of his own skills and confidence even as he—Mayhem—had
reached the decision to go outside.
“I know,” he said. “The spacesuit isn’t insulated sufficiently. I’ll have
about three minutes out there. Three minutes to get inside. Otherwise, I’m
“Don’t you see, Sheila? What does it matter? Who wants the five or ten extra
minutes if we’re all going to die anyway? This way, there’s a chance.”
He buckled the spacesuit and lifted the heavy fishbowl helmet, preparing to
set it on his shoulders.
“Wait,” Sheila said, and stood on tiptoes to take his face in her hands and
kiss him on the lips. “You—you’re different,” Sheila said. “You’re the same
guy, a lot of fun, but you’re a—man, too. This is for what might have been,
Larry,” she said, and kissed him again. “This is because I love you.”
Before he dropped the helmet in place, Larry said. “It isn’t for what might
have been, Sheila. It’s for what will be.”
The helmet snapped shut over the shoulder ridges of the spacesuit. Moments
later, he had slipped into the airlock.
“I say you’re a fool, Ackerman Boone!” one of the enlisted men rasped at the
leader of the mutiny. “I say now we’ve lost our last chance. Now it’s too
late to get into the lifeboats even if we wanted to. Now all we can do
There were still ten conscious men in the subspace room. The others had
fallen before heat prostration and lay strewn about the floor, wringing wet
and oddly flaccid as if all the moisture had been wrung from their bodies
except for the sweat which covered their skins.
“All right,” Ackerman Boone admitted. “All right, so none of us knows how to
work the subspace mechanism. You think that would have helped? It would have
killed us all, I tell you.”
“It was a chance, Boone. Our last chance and you—”
“Just shut up!” Boone snarled. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking
we ought to let them officers and Secret Servicemen to ram home the subspace
drive. But use your head, man. Probably they’ll kill us all, but if they
“Then you admit there’s a chance!”
“Yeah. All right, a chance. But if they don’t kill us all, if they save us
by ramming home the subspacer, what happens? We’re all taken in on a mutiny
charge. It’s a capital offense, you fool!”
“Well, it’s better than sure death,” the man said, and moved toward the
“Allister, wait!” Boone cried. “Wait, I’m warning you. Any man who tries to
open that door—”
Outside, a steady booming of blaster fire could be heard, but the
assault-proof door stood fast.
“—is going to get himself killed!” Boone finished.
Grimly, Allister reached the door and got his already blistered fingers on
the lock mechanism.
Ackerman Boone shot him in the back with an N-gun.
Larry’s whole body felt like one raw mass of broken blisters as, flat on his
belly, he inched his way along the outside hull of the Glory of the Galaxy.
He had no idea what the heat was out here, but it radiated off the hot hull
of the Glory in scalding, suffocating waves which swept right through the
insulining of the spacesuit. If he didn’t find the proper hatch, and in a
matter of seconds….
“Anyone else?” Ackerman Boone screamed. “Anyone else like Allister?”
But one by one the remaining men were dropping from the heat.
Finally—alone—Ackerman Boone faced the door and stared defiantly at the hot
metal as if he could see his adversaries through it. On the other side, the
firing became more sporadic as the officers and Secret Servicemen collapsed.
His mind crazed with the heat and with fear, Ackerman Boone suddenly wished
he could see the men through the door, wished he could see them die….
It was this hatch or nothing. He thought it was the right one, but couldn’t
be sure. He could no longer see. His vision had gone completely. The pain
was a numb thing now, far away, hardly a part of himself. Maybe Mayhem was
absorbing the pain-sensation for him, he thought. Maybe Mayhem took the pain
and suffered with it in the shared body so he, Larry, could still think.
His blistered fingers were barely able to move within the insulined gloves,
Larry fumbled with the hatch.
Ackerman Boone whirled suddenly. He had been intent upon the companionway
door and the sounds behind him—which he had heard but not registered as
dangerous for several seconds—now made him turn.
The man was peeling off a space suit. Literally peeling it off in strips
from his lobster-red flesh. He blinked at Boone without seeing him.
Dazzle-blinded, Boone thought, then realized his own vision was going.
“I’ll kill you if you go near that subspace drive!” Boone screamed.
“It’s the only chance for all of us and you know it, Boone,” the man said
quietly. “Don’t try to stop me.”
Ackerman Boone lifted his N-gun and squinted through the haze of heat and
blinding light. He couldn’t see! He couldn’t see….
Wildly, he fired the N-gun. Wildly, in all directions, spraying the room
Larry dropped blindly forward. Twice he tripped over unconscious men, but
climbed to his feet and went on. He could not see Boone, but he could
see—vaguely—the muzzle flash of Boone’s N-gun. He staggered across the room
toward that muzzle-flash and finally embraced it—
And found himself fighting for his life. Boone was crazed now—with the heat
and with his own failure. He bit and tore at Larry with strong claw-like
fingers and lashed out with his feet. He balled his fists and hammered air
like a windmill, arms flailing, striking flesh often enough to batter Larry
toward the floor.
Grimly Larry clung to him, pulled himself upright, ducked his head against
his chest and struck out with his own fists, feeling nothing, not knowing
when they landed and when they did not, hearing nothing but a far off
roaring in his ears, a roaring which told him he was losing consciousness
and had to act—soon—if he was going to save anyone….
He stood and pounded with his fists.
He did not know that Boone had collapsed until his feet trod on the man’s
inert body and then, quickly, he rushed toward the control board, rushed
blindly in its direction, or in the direction he thought it would be,
tripped over something, sprawled on the hot, blistering floor, got himself
up somehow, crawled forward, pulled himself upright….
There was no sensation in his fingers. He did not know if he had actually
reached the control board but abruptly he realized that he had not felt
Mayhem’s presence in his mind for several minutes. Was Mayhem conserving his
energy for a final try, letting Larry absorb the punishment now so he—
Yes, Larry remembered thinking vaguely. It had to be that. For Mayhem knew
how to work the controls, and he did not. Now his mind receded into a fog of
semi-consciousness, but he was aware that his blistered fingers were fairly
flying across the control board, aware then of an inward sigh—whether of
relief or triumph, he was never to know—then aware, abruptly and terribly,
of a wrenching pain which seemed to strip his skin from his flesh, his flesh
from his bones, the marrow from….
“Can you see?” the doctor asked.
“Yes,” Larry said as the bandages were removed from his eyes. Three people
were in the room with the doctor—Admiral Stapleton, the President—and
Sheila. Somehow, Sheila was most important.
“We are now in subspace, thanks to you,” the Admiral said. “We all have
minor injuries as a result of the transfer, but there were only two
fatalities, I’m happy to say. And naturally, the ship is now out of danger.”
“What gets me, Grange,” the President said, “is how you managed to work
those controls. What the devil do you know about sub-space, my boy?”
“The two fatalities,” the Admiral said, “were Ackerman Boone and the man he
had killed.” Then the Admiral grinned. “Can’t you see, Mr. President, that
he’s not paying any attention to us? I think, at the moment, the hero of the
hour only has eyes for Miss Kelly here.”
“Begging your pardons, sirs, yes,” Larry said happily.
Nodding and smiling, the President of the Galactic Federation and Admiral
Stapleton left the dispensary room—with the doctor.
“Well, hero,” Sheila said, and smiled.
Larry realized—quite suddenly—that, inside himself, he was alone. Mayhem had
done his job—and vanished utterly.
“You know,” Sheila said, “it’s as if you—well, I hope this doesn’t get you
sore at me—as if you grew up overnight.”
Before he kissed her Larry said: “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’ll tell you
about it someday. But you’d never believe me.”