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Hawksbill station, p.1
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       Hawksbill Station, p.1

           Robert Silverberg
 
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Hawksbill Station


  The men of Hawksbill Station were outcasts and exiles; their world was a billion years away—lost to them forever.

  They were revolutionaries and anarchists; political dissenters banished, rather than executed, by the Big-Brotherly government of the twenty-first century—banished a billion years into the past, to the gray and barren world of the late Cambrian age.

  It was a one-way ticket to madness and despair. Death was the only pardon.

  Jim Barrett was the acknowledged leader at Hawksbill Station. He did his best to hold the men together but he was getting old, he was crippled and very tired and disintegration was slowly undermining the bleak little colony. Altman was building a woman he hoped to animate with lightning, like Frankenstein’s monster; Latimer was trying to reach his own world with ESP; Galliard spent his days praying for alien beings to rescue him from his misery.

  And then a newcomer dropped into their midst, a man who puzzled, and troubled Barrett. He was too young to be a political prisoner, he seemed to know almost nothing about the world he just left and he refused to answer any direct questions. And Barrett had the uneasy feeling that something was about to happen to all of them…

  This novel is an exciting, new slant on the time machine theme, set in the complicated political world of the future and the empty world of the prehistoric past. But the men who move through these worlds are the men of any age who have given themselves to a cause and paid a terrible price for their beliefs.

  All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  THIS NOVEL IS AN EXPANDED VERSION OF THE

  STORY THAT APPEARED IN GALAXY MAGAZINE

  Copyright © 1968 by Robert Silverberg

  © 1967 by Galaxy Publishing Corporation

  All Rights Reserved

  Printed in the United States of America

  CONTENTS

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  ONE

  Barrett was the uncrowned king of Hawksbill Station. No one disputed that. He had been there the longest; he had suffered the most; he had the deepest inner resources of strength. Before his accident, he had been able to whip any man in the place. Now, to be sure, he was a cripple; but he still retained that aura of power that gave him command. When there were problems at the Station, they were brought to Barrett, and he took care of them. That went without saying. He was the king.

  He ruled over quite a kingdom, too. In effect it was the whole world, pole to pole, meridian to meridian, the entire blessed earth. For what it was worth. It wasn’t worth very much.

  Now it was raining again. Barrett shrugged himself to his feet in that quick, easy gesture that cost him such an infinite amount of carefully concealed agony, and shuffled to the door of his hut. Rain made him tense and impatient, the sort of rain that fell here. The constant pounding of those great greasy drops against the corrugated tin roof was enough even to drive a Jim Barrett loony. The Chinese water torture wouldn’t be invented for another billion years or so, but Barrett understood its effects all too well.

  He nudged the door open. Standing in the doorway of his hut, Barrett looked out over his kingdom.

  He saw barren rock, reaching nearly to the horizon. A shield of raw dolomite going on and on. Raindrops danced and bounced and splattered on that continental slab of glossy rock. No trees. No grass. Behind Barrett’s sun lay the heavy sea, gray and vast. The sky was gray too, even when it didn’t happen to be raining.

  He hobbled out into the rain.

  Manipulating his crutch was getting to be a simple matter for him now. At first the muscles of his armpit and side had rebelled at the thought that he needed help at all in walking, but they had fallen into line, and the crutch seemed merely to be an extension of his body. He leaned comfortably, letting his crushed left foot dangle unsupported.

  A rockslide had pinned him last year, during a trip to the edge of the Inland Sea. Pinned him and ruined him. Back home, Barrett would have been hauled to the nearest state hospital, fitted with prosthetics, and that would have been the end of it: a new ankle, a new instep, refurbished ligaments and tendons, a swathe of homogeneous acrylic fibers where the damaged foot had been. But home was a billion years away from Hawksbill Station, and home there’s no returning. The rain hit him hard, thudding against his skull, plastering the graying hair across his forehead. He scowled. He moved a little farther out of his hut, just taking stock.

  Barrett was a big man, six and a half feet tall, with hooded dark eyes, a jutting nose, a chin that was a monarch among chins. He had weighed better than two hundred fifty pounds in his prime, in the good old agitating days Up Front when he had carried banners and shouted angry slogans and pounded out manifestoes. But now he was past sixty and beginning to shrink a little, the skin getting loose around the places where the mighty muscles once had been. It was hard to keep your weight up to par in Hawksbill Station. The food was nutritious, but it lacked…intensity. A man came to miss steak passionately, after a while. Eating brachiopod stew and trilobite hash wasn’t the same thing at all.

  Barrett was past all bitterness, though. That was another reason why the men regarded him as the Station’s leader. He was solid. He didn’t bellow. He didn’t rant. He had become resigned to his fate, tolerant of eternal exile, and so he could help the others get over that difficult, heart-clawing period of transition, as they came to grips with the numbing fact that the world they knew was lost to them forever.

  A figure arrived, jogging awkwardly through the rain: Charley Norton. The doctrinaire Khrushchevist with the Trotskyite leanings, a revisionist from way back. Norton was a small, excitable man who frequently appointed himself messenger when there was news at the Station. He came sprinting toward Barrett’s hut, slipping and sliding over the naked rocks, elbows lashing wildly at the air.

  Barrett held up a meaty hand as he approached. “Whoa, Charley. Whoa! Take it easy or you’ll break your neck!”

  Norton halted with difficulty in front of the hut. The rain had pasted the widely spaced strands of his brown hair to his skull in an odd pattern of stripes. His eyes had the fixed, glossy look of fanaticism—or perhaps it was just astigmatism. He gasped for breath and staggered into the hut, standing in the open doorway and shaking himself like a wet puppy. Obviously he had run all the way from the main building of the Station, three hundred yards away. That was a long dash in this rain, and a dangerous one; the rock shield was slippery.

  “Why are you standing around out there in the rain?” Norton asked.

  “To get wet,” Barrett said simply. He stepped into the hut and looked down at Norton. “What’s the news?”

  “The Hammer’s glowing. We’re going to get some company pretty soon.”

  “How do you know it’s going to be a live shipment?”

  “The Hammer’s been glowing for fifteen minutes. That means they’re taking precautions with what they’re shipping. Obviously they’re sending us a new prisoner. Anyway, no supplies shipment is due right now.”

  Barrett nodded. “Okay. I’ll come over and see what’s up. If we get a new man, we’ll bunk him in with Latimer, I guess.”

  Norton managed a rasping laugh. “Maybe he’s a materialist. If he is, Latimer will drive him crazy with all that mystic nonsense of his. We could put him with Altman instead.”

  “And he’ll be raped in half an hour.”

  “Altman
s off that kick now, didn’t you hear?” said Norton. “He’s trying to create a real woman, instead of looking for second-rate substitutes.”

  “Maybe our new man doesn’t have any ribs to spare.”

  “Very funny, Jim.” Norton did not look amused. There was sudden new intensity in his glittering little eyes. “Do you know what I want the new man to be?” he asked hoarsely. “A conservative, that’s what. A black-souled reactionary straight out of Adam Smith. God, that’s what I want those bastards to send us!”

  “Wouldn’t you be just as happy with a fellow Bolshevik, Charley?”

  “This place is full of Bolsheviks,” said Norton. “We’ve got them in all shades from pale pink to flagrant scarlet. Don’t you think I’m sick of them? Sitting around all day fishing for trilobites and discussing the relative merits of Kerensky and Malenkov? I need somebody to talk to, Jim. Somebody I can really fight with.”

  “All right,” Barrett said, slipping into his rain gear. “I’ll see what I can do about hocusing a debating partner out of the Hammer for you. Maybe a rip-roaring Objectivist, okay?” Barrett laughed. Then he said quietly, “You know something, Charley, maybe there’s been a revolution Up Front since we got our last news from there. Maybe the left is in and the right is out, now, and they’ll start shipping us nothing but reactionaries. How would you like that? Say, fifty or a hundred storm troopers coming here for a start, Charley? You’d have plenty of material for your economics debates. And the place will go on filling up with them as the heads roll Up Front, more and more of them shipped back here, until we’re outnumbered, and then maybe the newcomers will decide to have a putsch and get rid of all the stinking leftists that were sent here by the old regime, and—”

  Barrett stopped. Norton was staring at him in blank amazement, his faded eyes wide, his hand compulsively smoothing his thinning hair to hide his distress and embarrassment.

  Barrett realized that he had just committed one of the most heinous crimes possible at Hawksbill Station: he had started to run off at the mouth. There hadn’t been any call for his little outburst just now. What made it all the more troublesome was the fact that he was the one who had permitted himself such a luxury. He was supposed to be the strong man of this place, the stabilizer, the man of absolute integrity and principle and sanity on whom the others could lean when they felt themselves losing control. And suddenly he had lost control. It was a bad sign. His dead foot was throbbing again; possibly that was the reason.

  In a tight voice Barrett said, “Let’s go. Maybe the new man is here already.”

  They stepped outside. The rain was beginning to let up now; the storm was moving out to sea. In the east, over what would one day be called the Atlantic, the sky was still clotted with swirling wisps of gray mist, but to the west a different grayness was emerging, the shade of normal gray that meant dry weather. Before he had been sent back here, Barrett had expected to find the sky practically black, because this far in the past there ought to be fewer dust particles to bounce the light around and turn things blue. But the sky had turned out to be a weary beige. So much for theories conceived in advance. He had never pretended to be a scientist, anyway.

  Through the thinning rain the two men walked toward the main building of the Station. Norton accommodated himself subtly to Barrett’s limping pace, and Barrett, wielding his crutch furiously, did his damnedest not to let his infirmity slow them up. Twice he nearly lost his footing, and each time he fought hard not to let Norton see what had happened.

  Hawksbill Station spread out before them.

  The Station covered about five hundred acres in a wide crescent. In the center of everything was the main building, an ample dome that contained most of the prisoners’ equipment and supplies. Flanking it at widely spaced intervals, rising from the sleek rock shield like grotesque giant green mushrooms, were the plastic blisters that were the individual dwellings. Some huts, like Barrett’s, were shielded by tin sheeting that had been salvaged from shipments arriving from Up Front. Others stood unprotected, naked plastic, just as they had come from the mouth of the extruder.

  The huts numbered about eighty. At the moment, there were a hundred forty inmates at Hawksbill Station, which was pretty close to the all-time high, and indicated a rising temperature on the political scene Up Front. Up Front hadn’t bothered to send back any hut-building materials for a long time, and so all the newer arrivals had to double up with bunkmates. Barrett and the others whose exiles had begun before 2014 had the privilege of occupying private dwellings, if they wanted them. Some men did not wish to live alone; Barrett, to preserve his own authority, felt that he was required to.

  As new exiles arrived, they bunked in with those who currently lived alone. Private huts were surrendered in reverse order of seniority. Most of the exiles sent back in 2015 had been forced to take roommates by now. If another dozen deportees arrived, the 2014 group would have to start doubling up. Of course, there were deaths all up and down the line of seniority, which eased things a little, and there were plenty of men who didn’t mind having company in their huts—who were eager for it, in fact.

  Barrett felt, though, that a man who has been sentenced to life imprisonment without hope of parole ought to have the privilege of privacy, if he desires it. One of his biggest problems at Hawksbill Station was keeping people from cracking up because there was too little privacy. Propinquity could be intolerable in a place like this.

  Norton pointed toward the big shiny-skinned green dome of the main building. “There’s Altman going in now. And Rudiger. And Hutchett. Something must be happening!”

  Barrett stepped up his pace, wincing a little. Some of the men entering the administration building saw his bulky figure coming over the rise in the humpbacked rock shield, and waved to him. Barrett lifted a massive arm in reply. He felt a mounting throb of excitement. It was a big event at the Station whenever a new man arrived—practically the only kind of event they ever had here. Without new men, they had no clue to what might be happening Up Front. Nobody had come to Hawksbill for six months, now, after a cascade of new arrivals late last year. They had been getting five or six a day, for a while—and then the flow stopped. And stayed stopped. Six months, and no one exiled: that was the longest gap Barrett could remember. It had started to seem as though no one would ever be sent to the Station again.

  Which would be a catastrophe. New men were all that stood between the older inmates and insanity. New men brought news from the future, news from the world that had been left behind for all eternity. And they contributed the interplay of new personalities to a tight group that was always in danger of going stale.

  Then, too, Barrett was aware, some of the men—he was not one—lived in the deluded hope that the next arrival might just be a woman.

  That was why they flocked to the main building to see what was happening when the Hammer began to glow. Barrett hobbled down the path. The last trickle of rain died away just as he reached the entrance.

  Within the building, sixty or seventy of the Station’s residents crowded the chamber of the Hammer—just about every man in the place who was able in body and mind, and who was still alert enough to register curiosity about a newcomer. They shouted their greetings to Barrett as he moved toward the center of the group. He nodded, smiled, deflected their chattering questions with amiable gestures.

  “Who’s it going to be this time, Jim?”

  “Maybe a girl, huh? Around nineteen years old, blond, built like—”

  “I hope he can play stochastic chess, anyway.”

  “Look at the glow! It’s deepening!”

  Barrett, like the others, stared at the Hammer, watching change come over the thick column that was the time-travel device. The complex, involuted collection of unfathomable instruments burned a bright cherry red now, betokening the surge of who knew how many kilowatts being pumped in by the generators at the far end of the line, Up Front. There was a hissing in the air; the floor rumbled faintly. The glow had spread to the
Anvil, now, that broad aluminum bedplate on which all shipments from the future were dropped. In another moment—

  “Condition Crimson!” somebody yelled. “Here he comes!”

  TWO

  A billion years up the time-line, a surge of power was flooding into the real Hammer of which this was only the partial replica. Potential was building up moment by moment in that huge grim room that everyone in Hawksbill Station remembered only too vividly. A man—or something else, perhaps just a shipment of supplies—stood in the center of the real Anvil in that room, engulfed by fate. Barrett knew what it was like to stand there, waiting for the Hawksbill Field to enfold you and kick you back to the early Paleozoic. Cold eyes watched you as you awaited your exile, and those eyes gleamed in triumph, telling you that they were glad to be rid of you. And then the Hammer did its work and off you went on your one-way journey. The effect of being sent through time was very much like being hit with a gigantic hammer and driven clear through the walls of the continuum: hence the governing metaphors for the functional parts of the machine.

  Everything in Hawksbill Station had come via the Hammer. Setting up the Station had been a long, slow, expensive job, the work of methodical men who were willing to go to any lengths to get rid of their opponents in what was considered the humane, twenty-first-century way of doing it. The Hammer had knocked a pathway through time and had sent back the nucleus of a receiving station, first. Since there was no receiving station already on hand in the Paleozoic to receive the receiving station, a certain amount of unavoidable waste had occurred. It wasn’t strictly necessary to have a Hammer and Anvil on the receiving end, except as a fine control to prevent temporal spread; without the receiving equipment, the field tended to wander a little, though. Shipments emanating from consecutive points along the time-line, sent back all in the same day or week, might easily get scattered over a span of twenty or thirty years of the past, without the receiving equipment to guide it in. There was plenty of such temporal garbage all around Hawksbill Station: stuff that had been intended for the original installation, but that because of tuning imprecisions in the pre-Hammer days had landed a couple of decades (and a couple of hundred miles) away from the intended site.

 
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