The Last Spaceship
Click on image to enlarge.
by Murray Leinster
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Kim Rendall will not yield to the tyranny of the power-madrulers of Alphin III. Branded an outlaw, he is in danger of psychological torture worse than death from the Disiplinary Circuit, which keeps the masses in check. His one hope lies in the Starshine, an outmoded spaceship. In a world where teleportation is the norm, no one travels by interstellar vessel anymore. Rendall plans to use the Starshine to save his girlfriend and himself--and possibly his entire planet!
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 1949 USA
eBookwise Release Date: October 2006
38 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [211 KB]
Reading time: 128-179 min.
1 VICTIM OF TYRANTS
Kim Rendell stood by the propped-up Starshine in the transport hall of the primary museum on Alphin III. He regarded a placard under the spaceship with a grim and entirely mirthless amusement. He was unshaven and hollow-cheeked. He was even ragged. He was a pariah because he had tried to strike at the very foundation of civilization. He stood beside the hundred-foot, tapering hull, his appearance marking him as a blocked man. And he reread the loan-placard within the railing about the exhibit:
Citizens, be granted to Ken Rendell, who shares with you the pleasure of contemplating this heirloom.
This is a spaceship, like those which for ten thousand years were the only means of travel between planets and solar systems. Even after matter-transmitters were devised, spaceships continued to be used for exploration for many years. Since exploration of the Galaxy has been completed and all useful planets colonized and equipped with matter-transmitters, spaceships are no longer in use.
This very vessel, however, was used by Sten Rendell when the first human colonists came in it to Alphin III, bringing with them the matter-transmitter which enabled civilization to enter upon and occupy the planet on which you stand.
This ship is private property, lent to the people of Alphin III by Kim Rendell, great-grandson of Sten Rendell.
Kim Rendell read it again. He was haggard and hungry. He had been guilty of the most horrifying crime imaginable to a man of his time. But the law would not, of course, allow him or any other man to be coerced by any violence or threat to his personal liberty.
Freedom was the law on Alphin III, a wryly humorous law. No man could be punished. No man could have any violence offered him. Theoretically, the individual was free as men had never been free in all of human history. Despite Kim's crime, this spaceship still belonged to him and it could not be taken from him.
Yet he was hungry, and he would remain hungry. He was shabby and he would grow shabbier. This was the only roof on Alphin III which would shelter him, and this solely because the law would not permit any man to be excluded from his rightful possessions.
A lector came up to him and bowed politely.
"Citizen," he said apologetically, "may I speak to you?"
"Why not?" asked Kim grimly. "I am not proud."
The lector said uncomfortably, "I see that you are in difficulty. Your clothes are threadbare." Then he added with unhappy courtesy, "You are a criminal, are you not?"
"I am blocked," said Kim in a hard voice. "I was advised by the Prime Board to leave Alphin Three for my own benefit. I refused. They put on the first block. Automatically, after that, the other blocks came on one each day. I have not eaten for three days. I suppose you would call me a criminal."
"I sympathize deeply," the lector answered unhappily. "I hope that soon you will concede the wisdom of the advised action and be civilized again. But may I ask how you entered the museum? The third block prevents entrance to all places of study."
Kim pointed to the loan-card.
"I am Kim Rendell," he said dryly. "The law does not allow me to be prevented access to my own property. I insisted on my right to visit this ship, and the Disciplinary Circuit for this building had to be turned off at the door so I could enter." He shivered. "It is very cold out-of-doors today, and I could not enter any other building."
The lector looked relieved.
"I am glad to know these things," he said gratefully. "Thank you." He glanced at Kim with a sort of fluttered curiosity. "It is most interesting to meet a criminal. What was your crime?"
Kim looked at him under scowling brows.
"I tried to nullify the Disciplinary Circuit."
The lector blinked at him, fascinated, then walked hastily away as if frightened. Kim Rendell stooped under the railing and approached the Starshine.
The entrance-port was open, and a flush ladder led up to it. Kim, hollow-cheeked and ragged and defiant, climbed the steps and entered. The entry-port gave upon a vestibule which Kim knew from his grandfather's tables to be an airlock. Kim's grandfather had once gone off into space in the Starshine with his father. It was, possibly the last space-flight ever made.
For a hundred years, now, the ship had been a museum-piece, open to public inspection. But parts had been sealed off as uninstructive. Kim broke the seals. This was his property, but if he had not already been a criminal under block, the breaking of the seals would have made him one. At least, it would have had to be explained to a lector who, at discretion, would accept the explanation or refer it to a second-degree counselor.
The counselor might deplore the matter and dismiss it, or suggest corrective self-discipline.
If the seal-breaker did not accept the suggestion the matter would go to a social board whose suggestion in turn, could be rejected. But when it reached the Prime Board--and any matter from the breaking of a seal to mass murder would go there if suggested self-discipline was refused--there was no more nonsense.
Kim's case had reached the Prime Board instantly, and he had been advised to leave Alphin III for his own good. His crime was monstrous, but he had ironically refused exile.
Now he was under block. His psychogram had been placed in the Disciplinary Circuit.
On the first day he was blocked from the customary complete outfit of new garments, clean, sterile, and of his own choice. These garments normally arrived by his bedside in the carrier which took away the old ones to be converted back to raw materials for the garment machines.
On the second day he could enter no place of public recreation. An attempt to pass the door of any sport-field, theatre, or concert stadium caused the Disciplinary Circuit to act. His body began to tingle. He could turn back then. If he persisted, the tingling became more severe. If he was obstinate, it became agony, which continued until he turned back.
On the third day he found it impossible to enter any place of study or labor. The fourth day blocked him from any place where food or drink was served. On the fifth day his own quarters were barred to him.
After seven days the city and the planet would be barred. Anywhere he went, his body would tingle, gently in the morning, more and more strongly as the day wore on, until the torment became unbearable. Then he would go to the matter-transmitter, name his chosen place of exile, and walk off the planet which was Alphin III.
But it happed that Kim was a matter-transmitter technician. It happened that he knew that the Disciplinary Circuit was tied in to the matter-transmitter, and blocked men were not sent to destinations of their own choosing.
Blocked men automatically went to Ades. And they did not come back. Ever.
Behind the sealed-off parts of the spaceship, Kim searched hungrily and worked desperately, not for food, of course. He had determined to attempt the impossible. He had accomplished only the first step toward it when he felt an infinitesimal tingling all over his body. He stood rigid for a second, and then smiled grimly. He closed the casing of the catalyzer he had examined and worked on.
"Jut in time," he said. "The merciless brutes!"
He moved from the catalyzer. A moment later he heard footsteps. Someone came up the flush ladder and into the spaceship. Kim Rendell turned his head. Then he bent over the fuel-register, which amazingly showed the tanks to be almost one-twelfth full of fuel, and stood motionless.
The footsteps moved here and there. Presently they came cautiously to the engine-room. Kim did not stir. A man made an indescribable sound of satisfaction. Kim, not moving even his eyes, saw that it was the lector who had spoken to him outside the ship. He did not address Kim now. With a quite extraordinary air of someone about to pick up an inanimate object, the lector laid hands upon Kim to lift him off his feet.
"Citizen!" Kim said severely. "What does this mean?"
The lector gasped. He fell back. His mouth dropped open and his face went white.
"I--I thought you were paralyzed."
"I do not care what you thought!" Kim said. "It is against the law for any citizen to lay violent hands upon another."
By an effort the lector regained his self-control.
"You--you ... The Circuit failed to work!"
"You reported that I had entered this ship," Kim said dryly. "There is some uneasiness about what I do, because of my crime. So the Circuit was applied to paralyze me, and you were ordered to bring me quietly to the matter-transmitter. As you observe, it is not practical. Go back and report it."
The lector said something incoherent, turned and fled. Kim followed him leisurely to the entry-port. He turned the hand-power wheels which put a barrier across the entrance. He went back to his examination of the ship. The first part of the impossible had been achieved, but there was much more, too much more, which must be done. He worked feverishly.
His grandfather told him many tales of the Starshine. She had made voyages of as long as two years in emptiness, at full acceleration, during which she had covered four hundred light-years of space, had purified her air, and fed her crew. Her tanks could hold fuel for six years' drive at full acceleration and her food-synthesizers, primitive as they were by modern standards, could yet produce some four hundred foodstuffs from the carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and traces of other elements into which almost any organic raw material could be resolved.
She was, in fact, one of the last and most useful spaceships ever constructed at the last spaceship yard in existence. She was almost certainly the last ever to be used. But she was only a museum-piece now and her switches were open and her control-cables severed lest visitors to the museum injure her. But Kim's grandfather had lectured him at great length upon her qualities. The old gentleman had had an elderly man's distaste for modern perfectionism.
Kim threw switches here and there. He spliced cables wherever he found them cut. He was hungry, and he was gaunt, and he worked with a bitter anticipation of failure. He had been in the museum for almost an hour, and in the ship for half of that, when voices called politely through the barrier-grille.
"Citizen Kim Rendell, may we enter?"
He made sure it was safe, then opened the way.
"Enter and welcome, citizens," he said ironically, in the prescribed formula. But his hands were clenched and he was all ready to fight for his life.