The Forever Man
By Gordon R. Dickson
There was absolutely no light within the sealed interior of the alien vessel, so Jim did not see in the sense of using his eyes. Rather he felt everything within it so clearly that his mind was able to form a picture of what was there as well as if the interior had been lighted.
It was immediately apparent why the Laagi ships had the pregnant look that was so characteristic of them. The second member of the ship’s crew did not seat behind the first as in the human ships, but directly underneath the first. There was nothing between the two positions, and they were close enough that even human could have reached down, or up, as the case might be, and clasped hands with a shipmate.
But whoever had been the pilot and gunner of this ship – if indeed that was the way the Laagi divided up the duties of the two who operated the vessel – they were now long dead, even though Jim felt that the interior of the ship still held an oxygen-bearing, but unearthlike atmosphere that his body would have tolerated only with difficulty. It was a somewhat sulphurous atmosphere as far as his senses of it could tell him, but what less odorous gases it held beyond that he had no way of telling.
The two operating positions in the ship were up front before an open space that was divided into open compartments which could have been bunks or storage spaces. The operating positions consisted essentially of two metallic-looking vertical rings encircling what looked like oversize golf tees. These had their base on flooring behind the rings and angled forward so that the cap of this tee-structure sat in the center of the ring, the cap itself tilted, so it sat horizontally – that is, parallel to the floor below.
The inside of the ring was studded with what were easily recognizable as controls, buttons and small levers. On the cap itself sat something almost indescribable ; what looked like a pile of hooplike rings of bones or cartilage from a quarter to a half-meter in diameter, enclosed with what might have been a dark, thin, leatherlike skin, that was, however, now dried and cracked open under its own weight to show hoopelike bones beneath. It was hardly possible to relate the remains of skin that rested on and hung down from the two cup-ends with any imaginable shape of living creature.
The instruments and controls also seemed non-functioning. Experimentally, Jim willed some of the buttons and switches into movement, as he was used to doing with those in AndFriend, but nothing happened. The ship was dead – powerless. He was left with the enigma of what he had found, plus something else he could not identify and which he was not entirely sure he would have noticed if he had been there in the flesh.
It was a strangeness – a non-physical feeling that compounded the disgust he might have felt in a charnel house with a sadness of a graveside or a feeling of despair. Now that he had noticed it, it grew on him, mounting steadily from a whisper toward a scream in his mind; and he literally fled, in his point of view, to a position on the outside hull of the alien ship.
No telling how long the ship has been sitting there (Gordon R. Dickson). Illustration: Megan Jorgensen