Joshua Starr lay flat on his back in the middle of his living room carpet. His hand spread across one side of his face, and he talked through spread fingers to Susan Quinn, his secretary, who sat at her desk, taking down each word he said. He was speaking rather loudly because she was some twenty feet away, her typist’s chair backing up to the expanse of window that constituted the entire wall of that side of the living room.
Even lying flat on the floor, Joshua looked weather-beaten and tough, with the appearance of a merchant seaman, or a range rider. His face, with its strongly marked, almost exaggerated features, and its lines of weathered humor and experience, seemed to complete the picture of Joshua as an outdoor man, carefree, thoughtlessly strong, perhaps even a bit cruel; it was only the subtle details of expression and gesture that showed to the experienced eye the high intellect that was so much a part of Joshua’s human personality.
He traced a pattern in the air whose meaning was known only to himself; the tracing took only a few seconds. Susan waited, her fingers poised above the typewriter keys, and looked at him as he lay there. His face was known to millions of TV viewers as the moderator of a daily morning interview that made up a fifteen minute segment of a news and weather show that came out of Washington, and was picked up by one of the networks. The distinctive baritone, not deep-toned, but with an edge of harshness and a slight drawl to its timbre that continued the visual suggestion of the outdoor man, was also familiar to many, many housewives. But, reflected Susan, she knew in some detail what the housewives would never know, for they saw him only in his role as interviewer, sitting in anonymous chairs in conservative suits while she saw him every working day in the far more private role of scriptwriter for television. He and Susan worked well together; she was an excellent typist and quite literate enough to translate Joshua’s spoken word into written syntax at a speed at which Joshua found comfortable to dictate.
He had chosen her for this talent, and had been pleased enough with her intelligent, demonstrative personality to keep her. This was their fourth year together. Susan, for her part, was strongly motivated towards keeping her job, for besides the obvious advantages of a very generous salary and a four-hour working day, there were the manifold delights of knowing Joshua Starr.
He was, today as always, an easy man to look at; although some people thought of him as a homely, even an ugly man, his physical presence was very strong, and it arrested the attention even when it did not please. Most, however, joined with Susan in finding Joshua very handsome indeed. Today his lean, deep-muscled frame was covered with blue jeans and a long-sleeved sweatshirt. He looked shorter than he really was, usually; he carried himself with the unconscious grace of an athlete, and his height seemed entirely in keeping with the proportions of his body. On the carpet, however, he looked his full six feet two inches. From her position above him, Susan could see his face upside down, features calm in concentration, dictating in the direction of the ceiling through his spread fingers, the slightly graying, heavy mop of hair tangling through his fingers and onto the expanse of floor.
“Scene Two,” Joshua was saying.
The telephone rang to break his concentration, and he moved to his feet to answer it, walking the six long strides of space with the ease that was his nature. His hand paused on the receiver while he took a few seconds to reorient his thinking. He had learned not to try to do business with his mind still in the creative realms. The results were always total fiascos, decorated with confused choruses of, “But you SAID …!” His face lost its inward-looking blankness and put on the mask of the celebrity. “Starr speaking,” he said to the telephone.
There was a long pause, while he listened less and less intently. The monologue seemed ultimately to bore him, for he cut in. “Listen, Herman. I said it yesterday, and I’ll say it again today. Handle the money, man, just handle the money. Don’t bug me about the money. Just do your thing. You’ve got full authority with the money bit … No, Herman, I won’t blame you if you lose the money. Just go ahead with the plan … Whatever you think is best … Yes, Herman, I really mean that. I really do. Go ahead with the whole plan … You said all that yesterday, Herman … Well, second thoughts or no second thoughts, I think you’re right. Go ahead, all right? … OK. I’ll see you tomorrow. Good-bye, Herman.”
Joshua shook his head as he replaced the receiver. “He’s one of the best financial wizards around. If he’d just learn to trust his own judgment, he could make a bundle for himself instead of for other people.” He rose from his seat by the telephone and roamed to the glass wall which extended forty feet across the back of the house, looking down, from the crest of the hill on which the house stood, onto the informal, very extensive garden which constituted Joshua’s back yard. The slopes of the valley had been cleared of wild brush and groomed with flowering bushes and rock gardens, and the ground was laid with winding paths and clearings. Its centerpiece was a white building whose roof gleamed in the late afternoon sun.
His secretary’s glance followed his over the lovely grounds which fell away gradually from the window. “Don’t you think you ought to keep a closer watch on Herman? If he did lose your money, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy all this luxury.”
“Luxury?” enquired Joshua. “This bit here with the pretty trees and all the gadgets is here for one reason only. It makes it easier to work. Luxury is a state of mind, girl. Ask anybody where he’d like to be, and chances are that he’ll say some island in the south seas. Well, if I lose all my money I just declare bankruptcy and hold out a ticket for the south seas. That’s luxury, right?”
“Still, I think you ought to pay more attention to what Herman is doing. Wouldn’t you hate to lose all your money?”
Starr turned back from the window and pulled his hands out of their roost in his back pockets to make a mock-Italian gesture towards her. “You trying to ruin me? What about that bit about the camel and the needle, and the rich man and the kingdom of heaven? You trying to keep me out of the kingdom of heaven?”
Susie waved the thought away. “No, no, I mean you’ve already got enough money to be rich. You’re rich whether you like it or not.”
“I sort of figured the parable had to do with how you think about money, not how much of it you have. Anyway, I’ve got things I’d rather do than think about money. Herman knows a lot more about that stuff than I do. If I wanted to go to all the trouble of figuring out what he was doing, I wouldn’t need to hire him in the first place.” He walked as he talked, back to the small black cube which was Susan’s typewriter table. It sat facing away from the front window, and Joshua perched one hip on it. “Now, let’s forget about money and get back to writing this script. After all, I have three minutes left to work.”
Miss Quinn consulted her watch. “6:14, eh? My watch must be slow. It only says 6:12.”
Starr looked faintly shocked. “Gadgets! Of course your watch is running slow again. Because it is precisely …”
Susan cut in. “I know, I know. Spare me. It is precisely 6:14. How do you know what time it is, anyway? I never even see you look at a watch.”
“I don’t own one. I just sort of narrow things down a little closer than people who know whether it’s night or day.”
Susan waited in silence. “That’s all?” She hesitated, looking at him from under her eyelashes, and decided not to ask further. Questions about his various skills and oddities tended to aggravate his normal good humor; it was better to let the question drop. Not that she understood how he knew about time. But she did understand that under no circumstances did Joshua Starr work after 6:17 in the evening. He had not answered her questions about why that cutoff time, either. In fact, he was not an explainable man. She had found the outer surface very attractive; he was extremely good looking, in his rangy way; his face held great strength and self-confidence, and his eyes could be very gentle. He exuded a masculine virility that men felt comfortable with and women were always drawn to; he had many acquaintances and very few enemies.
But she had never been able to see beneath the surface with Joshua. In three years, he had yet to discuss any personal problem with her, although he was always very careful to ask about her affairs, and she had confided in him on occasion. He really baffled he-; and although she was fascinated by him, she wondered sometimes what she would do if he ever asked her to marry him. A lifetime of not understanding the man you loved was not a comfortable one.
But of course, she always reminded herself, he would never ask her in the first place; which relieved her as well as being a bit deflating. That would be too understandable a thing to do, too much within the social pattern. He seemed to operate totally outside, and to Susan’s way of thinking above, the normal society, rambling through life without any particular goal or deep ambition, constantly finding new things to think about, never staying mentally still, although he was a fairly settled person physically, seldom leaving his home base.
And as a professional and careful secretary, she admired the use he made of himself and of her during the four-hour work sessions. He dictated to her at precisely her typing speed, and in one day, he could turn out as much as most television writers did in three. He seldom hesitated for a word and never for an idea, and what he wrote was good, very good. She suspected that he could have worked much faster if it had not been for her limitations of typing speed and the need to change the paper in the machine; he had tried dictating into a recording device, but had found that he was used to having an audience, and, besides, he liked to roam while he was creating, and without the ability to move around freely and get rid of some of the energy his body constantly put out, he found himself unable to work nearly as well. And so they had gone back to, and stayed with, the two two-hour sessions in the afternoon, with his goal being one television hour’s worth of material at each two-hour session. He hadn’t missed that goal in a long time; when he did, it was only because the telephone rang too often.
Now the work was over for the day. Joshua put his palms on the carpet and inverted his body, walking across from the desk to the bar, which was at one end of the room, on his hands.
Susan watched with great affection as he reached the bar and flipped himself to a sitting position on one of the low stools there; she had had no idea he could do that. “Learn something new every day,” she laughed, and then said quickly, “No, no, I’ll do that.”
Josh dropped his hand from the gin bottle as if it carried an electric charge. “OK, OK, officer, I promise I’ll never do it again.” He put his hands back in his back pockets and began to roam in his habitual way across the room. He stood still when he came to the far end of the back window; the sun was in its last moments of setting, and the brassy orange half-disc poured its last thick rays over the far distance and into the valley. He spoke very quietly. “Thirty-eight trips around that star, and it’s getting to me.”
Susan was coping with gin and ice; the clinking of glass on silver obscured his words. “What?”
“Thirty-eight trips around their star. I shouldn’t be this worn out after only thirty-eight trips. Look at me, breathing like a beached whale, and all I did was walk twenty feet on my hands.”
“What are you talking about?” said Susan. “I’ve got no idea what you mean. Here.” She handed him a shaker full of martinis. “Now thirty-eight trips around what star?”
He took the shaker and began to do the honors. “Look. Why should I be so worn out after only thirty-eight trips around this star?” He gestured towards the setting sun. “I mean, that’s not any distance at all. This is really a weird place.”
Susan was catching up now. “You mean you’re thirty-eight years old, you’ve been around the sun thirty eight times?”
“Right, that’s what I said.”
“I never thought of it that way, but I guess that is how we tell ages. By how often the planet goes around the sun.” The thought interested her; she had an active mind, and thoroughly enjoyed playing with new thoughts. “But you don’t look thirty-eight, Josh, you don’t really look thirty, except for the grey in your hair.”
“It doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t look even that old. Going this short distance shouldn’t have had any effect at all.”
“Right. Using a heliocentric coordinate system, and assuming a circular orbit-Josh paused, mentally calculating-well, the planet travels about five hundred and eighty-five million miles a year. So I’m about twenty-two billion miles old.”
“Time equals distance, eh?” Susan’s mind was racing, trying to encompass the new concept. “Well, there goes philosophy. If space and time are the same thing, then the only one who had it right was old Heraclitus, who said that all things were one. And even he didn’t think he could step in the same river twice.”
“Don’t forget the twentieth century.” Josh was shaking the martini mixture gently; “Philosophy isn’t the thing any more. It’s all science. And most of that has gone the way of Einstein. They haven’t come right out and said it yet, but if everything is relative to everything else, then it looks like the old idea that time is time and space is space and never the twain shall meet is wrong. And I am twenty-two billion miles old, and feel about a light year older than that.”
“Tell you what, old man. Get on the next space flight out and go counterclockwise around the earth for about ten years. That should youthen you.”
“The fountain of youth at last. That’s good, Susan. We could sell tickets. Get on our spaceship and unwind!”
“Listen, if we could do that, you could forget about writing for TV. I know a terrific market. The whole country wants to be younger.” She stopped, intrigued by another thought. “How far am I?”
“Oh, you’re just a short distance runner; let’s see, you’re a mere sixteen billion.” He decanted ice-cold martinis into two glasses. “Wow, does that look good,” said Susan, reaching for hers. “You really wear a girl out with that machine-gun dictation.” Josh grinned, the lines at the corners of his eyes crinkling into crows feet. “A toast to the fastest typewriter in the east.”
The telephone interrupted their first sip.
“After business hours,” said Susan, putting her hand on top of his to keep it from moving.
He patted her hand with his free one, and disengaged himself. The phone rang again, and he looked intently at it for a few seconds. “This isn’t business.” He picked up the receiver. “Hello, Pablo. How’s the funny farm?”
Pablo Padeyevsky’s voice came clearly into the quiet room, his clipped accents quite audible to Susan. “Fine. Listen, I’ve found just who we’ve been waiting for.”
“What? You mean for the contact?”
“Yes. We all knew it would have to happen sooner or later, and it did. He just walked into my office at the university.”
“That’s what I would have expected. It never does any good to go looking for things; he was bound to show up. But it’s still hard to believe it’s happened. Are you sure?”
“Well, I was fairly certain, but Esmerelda says she’s absolutely sure. And he’s here right now, Esmerelda’s been working with him for a week or so.
Josh was tangling fingers through his hair in his excitement; the fingers stopped moving. “I wondered why she didn’t show up for work in the temple.” Josh started pulling at his hair again. “Well! Great! Beautiful! Can we go ahead with it now? Can you get over here pretty soon? Do you think we can go ahead with the communication attempt?”
“Well, I thought we might all get together tonight and talk about it. How about our dropping by your place later?”
“Any time. Like, how about any time in the next ten minutes.”
“We can’t make it quite that soon. But we’ll be there.”
“I’ll be expecting you.” Josh put the receiver down and looked up at Susan. She smiled at him. “You look like a little boy who just found out there are two Christmases this year.”
He reached over and took her by the two shoulders, his hands tensing with excitement. “There are for me! I’ve been waiting for this for years.”
“Waiting for what?”
“Well, that’s a little complicated. It has to do with some of my experimental work.”
“Which I don’t understand, nor never will. You tried once to tell me what went on in that garden of yours, and it just sounded strange to me. But I’m very happy for you. Really I am. Here, drink your martini! Celebrate!” She held his glass out for him.
“Nope. I’m on the wagon as of right now, and for a few weeks to come.”
Susan put the glass down, picked hers up, and sipped it thoughtfully. For Josh to stop drinking was a great departure from his normal habits; it told her just how important this call must have been to him. Not that Josh was an alcoholic, he was able to function with or without his evening drinks. But he did have periods of fairly heavy drinking; often lately the martini hour would end after dinner and find Josh wandering out to the porch or garden chairs, carrying a bottle of Matuselum. There he would sit, sipping steadily at his drink, looking off into the deepening night sky until the stars came out. Susan stayed some evenings, at his request, and during these periods would find things to do by herself, for she sensed, and quite rightly, that these moods of his were solitary. He never seemed depressed, nor could she say that he was moody; he just became very detached, and withdrew into himself. She thought of them as times of adjustment for Josh, a sort of substitute for an analyst.
In actuality, although Joshua respected Susan’s competence, and enjoyed her intelligence, he was aware that she would never come close to understanding him. She thought that he sat alone to realign his thinking, get the kinks out of his days; the purpose was quite different: he sat on a planet he had been weary of for some time, dulling a little the daily pain of living in a mental atmosphere that was completely the opposite of what he desired to find, and he looked up at the creation, the millions of stars, and thought of the greatly remote suns as one would wish for home. Susan, he knew, thought of him as an entertaining, but ultimately shallow, person, a person who did not take anything at all seriously. In fact, he was a man who had taken himself so very seriously that it had put him completely alone for a long time, for he had found no one else who paid any attention at all to what he considered utterly central. He had, long ago, found Pablo, and they were friends because Pablo did at least attempt to search for wisdom. And with Esmerelda, Joshua had found one other person who cared as much as he did for her spirit’s welfare. And together they had practiced the rituals of white magic in the temple Joshua had built in his garden.
But, because Joshua had worked with Esmerelda first as a child, he had never discovered her full personality; he thought of her as part of his own consciousness, part of his spiritual strength. Her daily world and his had never meshed at all. And Joshua continued finding the people that he met to be like Susan, aiming at some goal in the temporal future, thinking about their lonelinesses and adjustments and chances for success and chances for failure, and worrying endlessly over things he could only think of as foolish games. And, more and more, he sat alone on a planet to which he was alien, sipping rum, and looking at the stars.
Susan was quite right in thinking that Joshua would never ask her to be his wife, but she had no idea why. She would never have considered herself as lacking in qualifications as a candidate for a wife. But to Josh she was hopelessly inadequate. She was pretty, intelligent, and useful, but she had no ability whatever to warm him, to make his spirit rest. She thought he had no desire to be married; on the contrary, he was already settled, and the very coziness of his home made his aloneness in it more intense; he would have been most happy to fill the place with the genuine warmth of a family. A long, long time ago, he had decided that there was no hope, on this planet, of finding any woman who could be a family to him, and he had closed a door in his mind, and stopped looking. He had grown accustomed to seeing his environment as an alien one, and not expecting anything but foolishness from his fellow humans. The one thing still worthwhile to him had been his research, by himself, and with Esmerelda, and for the past seven years increasingly with Pablo, in the realms of ritual magic. Now, at last, things wished for on spiritual planes were coming to pass in the physical. There was no loneliness in Joshua tonight. He looked at Susan’s surprised and quizzical face and said, “Imagine that, Susie. Me on the wagon! What’s this world coming to?”
Susan gave up again on trying to understand him. “I heard you say that they’ll be over soon. Is it time for me to go?”
Josh put one hand back of her shoulder and shook it, gently. “You sure you don’t mind?”
“Not at all. Are you going to be tied up more than tonight?”
“I really don’t know right now. Can you call in tomorrow, or do you want me to call you?”
Susan thought. “Tell you what. I’ll call tomorrow morning after you’re through with your work at the studio. You tell me then when to report in. If you need some time, I’ll just have the answering service switch all your calls to me. You can call me to give me instructions.”
“Good,” said Josh, steering her to her light coat and helping her with it. “We’re ahead on the writing anyway, and this really might take some time. I’ve got some interviews taped, too, for that matter. You can handle the routine stuff for quite a while. If I don’t phone in, just do what you think best.”
He kissed her lightly, and she responded, putting her hand to his cheek. “OK, Josh. I’ll bankrupt you, or Herman and I’ll do it between us. He’ll probably have a heart attack, come to think of it, without you to talk to every day. But don’t worry. I’ll like you just as well after I ruin your finances.”
“Good girl.” He walked her out to the three car garage which tucked under the first floor at the rear of the house, using the slope of the hill for space. His Lamborghini Muira sat small and elegant next to another car he had owned in the past and never sold; the third space belonged to Susan’s convertible; she was an inveterate driver-with-tops-down, thoroughly enjoying four gears, and driving quite well: she drove the way she typed, quickly and without error, her mind set far ahead of where she actually was, taking all available hints as to her whereabouts in the immediate future, and putting them to good use.
Joshua watched her taillights recede down the driveway and around the first bend in the road. He felt some relief that she was gone, which he would not have felt any other night. But, with the news of Pablo’s discovery fresh in his mind, he was thinking only of the group’s imminent arrival. Lean and dark in the twilight, he hurried back into the living room and cleaned up the bar and tables, removing glasses and wiping up rings of moisture. The typewriter went under its table and the piece of furniture became a simple black cube,, sitting between two comfortable chairs. Then, placing himself by the back window, he took off his shoes and squatted to the floor, crossing his legs Indian-fashion, looking out at the sky and the first stars, and waiting.