Authors: Ben Bova
As on a Darkling Plain
The Astral Mirror
The Best of the Nebulas
Gremlins Go Home
(with Gordon R. Dickson)
The Kinsman Saga
The Multiple Man
Orion in the Dying Time
Out of the Sun
Star Peace: Assured Survival
Test of Fire
Vengeance of Orion
Voyagers II: The Alien Within
Voyagers III: Star Brothers
The Winds of Altair
Ben Bova’s Discoveries
by Rebecca Ore
by Hayford Peirce
by H. C. Turk
Father to the Man
by John Gribbin
Cortez on Jupiter
by Ernest Hogan
Ben Bova Presents
The Thirteenth Majestral
by Hayford Peirce
by Hayford Peirce
by Rebecca Ore
Human to Human
by Rebbeca Ore
THE ALIEN WITHIN
A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied so that you can enjoy reading it on your personal devices. This e-book is for your personal use only. You may not print or post this e-book, or make this e-book publicly available in any way. You may not copy, reproduce or upload this e-book, other than to read it on one of your personal devices.
To Ruth and Herbert S. Stoltz
Zeus now addressed the immortals: “What a lamentable thing it is that men should blame the gods and regard
as the source of their troubles when it is their own wickedness that brings them sufferings worse than any which Destiny allots them.”
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so
Slowly, reluctantly, Keith Stoner awoke. The dream that had been swirling through his mind over and over again wafted away like drifting smoke, evaporated, until the last faint tendrils of it vanished and left him straining to remember.
Faintly, faintly the dream sang to him of another life, another world, of beauty that no human eye could see. But as he reached out with his mind to recapture the joy of it, the dream disappeared forever, leaving only a distant echo and the inward pain of unfulfilled yearning.
He opened his eyes.
A smooth gray expanse encompassed him. He was lying on his back. He could feel the weight of his body pressing down on a soft, flat surface. Instead of the deathly cold of space, he felt comfortably warm. Instead of the sealed pressure suit and helmet he had worn, he was naked beneath a smooth clean white sheet.
I’m back on Earth, he realized. I’m alive again.
He reached a hand upward. His outstretched fingertips touched the cool smooth curve of gray a scant few inches above his face. It felt like plastic, or perhaps highly polished metal. Something went
. He jerked his hand away. A series of high-pitched beeps chattered, like a dolphin scolding. The gray eggshell slid away, silently.
For long moments Stoner lay unmoving, his eyes focused on the white ceiling overhead. It looked like a normal ceiling of a normal room. It glowed faintly, bathing the room in pale light. Turning his head slightly, he saw that he was not lying on a bed, but on a shelflike extension built into a massive bulk of intricate equipment. A whole wall of gleaming metal and strange, almost menacing machinery, like the cockpit of a space shuttle combined with the jointed arms and grasping metal claws of robot manipulators. The machinery was humming faintly, and Stoner could see a bank of video display screens clustered at the far end of it. He recognized the rhythmic trace of an EKG on one screen, patiently recording his heartbeat. The wriggling lines of the other screens meant nothing to him, but he was certain that they were monitoring his body and brain functions, also. Yet he felt no electrodes on his skin. There were no wires or probes attached to him, not even an intravenous tube.
It was a hospital room, but unlike any hospital room he had ever known. No hospital smell, no odor of disinfectants or human suffering. More electronics and machinery than an intensive care unit. Stoner felt almost like a specimen in a laboratory. Propping himself on his elbows, he saw that the other half of the room was quite normal. The ceiling was smooth and creamy white, the walls a cool pale yellow. Sunlight slanted through the half-closed blinds of a single window and threw warm stripes along the tiled floor. An ordinary upholstered armchair was positioned by the window, with a small table beside it. Two molded plastic chairs stood against the wall. The only other furniture in the room was a small writing desk, its surface completely bare, and a walnutveneer bureau with a mirror atop it.
Stoner looked at himself in the mirror.
None the worse for wear, he thought. His hair was still jet black, and as thick as ever. His face had always been longer than he liked, the nose just a trifle hawkish, the chin square and firm. But there was something strange about his eyes. They were the same gray he remembered, the gray of a winter sea. But somehow they looked different; he could not pin down what it was, but his eyes had changed.
He sat up straight and let the covering sheet drop to his groin. No dizziness. His head felt clear and alert. His naked body was still lean and well muscled; in his earlier life he had driven himself mercilessly in the discipline of tae kwan do.
In my earlier life, he echoed to himself. How many years has it been?
He gripped the sheet, ready to pull it off his legs and get out of bed. But he stopped and looked up at the ceiling. The smooth white was translucent plastic. There were lights behind it. And video cameras, Stoner knew. They were watching him.
He shrugged. Take a good look, he thought.
Yanking the sheet away, he swung his long legs to the floor and stood up. The machinery on the other side of the bed emitted one small, faint peep. Stoner flinched at it, startled, then relaxed into a grin. His legs felt a little rubbery, but he knew that was to be expected after so many years. How long has it been? he wondered again as, naked, he padded to the door that had to be the bathroom.
It was. But when he came out and surveyed his room again, he saw that there was no other door to it. Half stainless-steel laboratory, half cozy bedroom—but there were no closets, no connecting doors, no door anywhere that led out of the room.
going into a board meeting until the experiment is decided, one way or the other.”
Jo Camerata said it quietly, but with an edge of steel. The two men in her office glanced at each other uneasily.
The office was clearly hers. The textured walls blazed with slashing orange and yellow stripes against a deep maroon background, the dramatic colors of the Mediterranean. The carpet was thick and patterned in matching bold tones. If she wished, Jo could change the color scheme at the touch of a dial. This morning the fiery hues of her Neapolitan ancestry suited her mood perfectly.
Two whole walls of the office were taken up by floor-to-ceiling windows. The drapes were pulled back, showing the city of Hilo and, off in the distance, the smoldering dark bulk of Mauna Loa. Through the other window wall the Pacific glittered alluringly under a bright cloudless morning sky.
Although she was president of Vanguard Industries, Jo’s office held none of the usual trappings of power. It was a modest-sized room, not imposing or huge, furnished with comfortable chairs and sofas and a small round table in the corner by the windows. No desk to form a barrier between her and her visitors. No banks of computer screens and telephone terminals. No photographs of herself alongside the great and powerful people of the hour. There was nothing in the room to intimidate her employees, nothing except her own dominant personality and unquenchable drive.
Jo sat in an ultramodern power couch of butter-soft leather the color of light caramel. Designed to resemble an astronaut’s acceleration chair, it held a complete communications console and computer terminal in its armrests. Within its innards, the chair contained equipment for massage, heat therapy, and biofeedback sessions. It molded itself to the shape of her body, it could swivel or tilt back to a full reclining position at the touch of a fingertip.
But Jo was sitting up straight, her back ramrod stiff, her dark eyes blazing.
The two men sitting side by side on the low cushioned sofa both looked unhappy, but for completely different reasons. Healy, chief scientist of Vanguard Industries, wore a loose, short-sleeved white shirt over his shorts. Archie Madigan, the corporation’s top lawyer, one of Jo’s former lovers and still a trusted adviser, was in a more conservative shirt jacket of navy blue and soft pink slacks: the business uniform of the twenty-first-century executive male.
Jo was in uniform, too. For nearly twenty years she had worked and schemed her way to the top of Vanguard Industries. She had brains and energy and a driving, consuming ambition. And she never hesitated to use her femininity to help climb the corporate ladder of power the way some men use their skill at golf or their willingness to lick boots. She was wearing a one-piece zipsuit with tight Velcro cuffs at the ankles and wrists and a mesh midriff. Chocolate brown, it clung lovingly to her tall, lush figure. The zipper that led down the suit’s front was opened just enough to suggest how interesting it would be to slide it down the rest of the way.
Healy ran a hand through his thinning sandy hair. “It’s been a week now and he—”
“Six days,” Jo snapped.
The biophysicist nodded. “Six days. Right. But he shows no signs of awakening.”
“We’ve postponed the board meeting twice now, Jo,” said Madigan. He was a handsome rascal with a poet’s tongue, eyes that twinkled, and a grin that could look rueful and inviting at the same time. This morning it was almost entirely rueful.
“I won’t go before the board until we know,” she insisted.
“Mrs. Nillson,” Healy said softly, “you’ve got to face the possibility that he may
Jo frowned at him, as much from being called by her husband’s name as from his pessimism.
“He is physically recovered, isn’t he?” she demanded.
“And the EEGs show normal brain activity.”
With a shake of his head, Healy replied, “But that doesn’t mean anything at all, Mrs. Nillson. We’re dealing with a human being here, not just a bunch of graphs. All the tests show that he is alive, his body is functioning normally, his brain is active—but he remains in a coma and we don’t know why!”
Jo saw that the scientist was getting himself upset. She made herself smile at him. “Back when I was a student at MIT, we used to say that hell for an engineer is when all the instruments check but nothing works.”
Healy raised his hands, as if in supplication. “That’s where we are. This is the first time anybody’s ever brought a human being back from cryonic suspension—”
Madigan broke in, “The chairman of the board isn’t going to sit in cryonic suspension. You can’t dip your darling husband in liquid nitrogen and put him on hold.”
Fixing him with a grim-faced stare, Jo said, “Archie, I’m getting tired—”
A chime sounded softly from the padded armrest of her couch. Jo cut off Madigan’s reply with a quick movement of one hand as she touched a pad on the armrest’s keyboard with the other.
“I told them not to disturb us unless he showed some change.”
On the wall across the room, the glareless plastic cover over a Mary Cassatt painting of three women admiring a child turned opaque and then took on the three-dimensional form of Jo’s secretary. The young woman was open-mouthed with excitement.
“He’s awake!” she said breathlessly. “He just opened his eyes and got up and started walking around his room.”
Jo could feel her own heart quicken. “Let me see,” she demanded.
Instantly the secretary disappeared, and the three of them saw a view of Keith Stoner standing naked as a newborn by the window of his small room, staring intently out at the view.
“My God, he really is awake,” Healy whispered, almost in awe.
“I didn’t realize he was so big,” said Madigan.
Jo shot him a glance.
“Tall, I mean.”
She suppressed the urge to laugh. He’s alive and awake and just like he was all those years ago. I’ve done it! I’ve brought him back!
She studied Keith Stoner intently, wordlessly, eyes picking out every detail of the face and body that she had known so intimately eighteen years ago.
Eighteen years, Jo thought. Suddenly her hands flew to her face. Eighteen years! He hasn’t aged a moment and I’m eighteen years older.