Warning was a mile from the prison of that metal container which
had borne him for half a year across the terrible emptiness of space before he
even realised that he was walking without protective clothing, without
equipment, breathing air, watching clouds, feeling about him the slight pushing
of a fresh wind, without having taken even the most elementary precautions
against the deceptions of appearance.
How could he have gone through all the rigorous routine
procedures of release and yet have ignored each step in those procedures which
related to his own protection on an alien planet? For six months he had
attended with a dedicated and habitual alertness to every operation required by
his training and in strict accordance with the careful conditioning to which he
had given himself for more than five years.
And yet, here he was, at the extremity of nowhere, completely at
home in a world of utter familiarity, having wantonly forgotten all those
measures designed to keep him alive and healthy.
He knew the reason well enough. This planet so closely resembled
Earth that its every feature served to disarm and reassure him. One look at its
trees flourishing in domestic clusters, its richly burgeoning grass, its little
sluggish streams, its gentle humps and hollows was sufficient to sink deep into
his mind the dangerous and amazing thought: "I'm home".
But he was not home. He was an unimaginable, daunting stream of
distance away from it.
Warning found himself in a strange state of double
consciousness. He at once savoured the sweet, soothing pleasures of recognition
and swam in the bath of familiar sensations and at the same time gazed from
some intimate spiritual distance at his own incredible self-deception. He
seemed too, to experience a third form of awareness - a compound of fear and
the admiring acceptance of all the paths in the maze of contradiction.
The more he walked over the folded hillocks of this kindly
landscape the more that bewilderment of recognition troubled him. It was not
merely Earth whose reality he saw and heard and felt all around him, pouring
into his mind and washing over the exposed skin of his face and hands, it was
Somewhere a skylark rose, trilling, a blackbird whistled sweetly
on a bough, hedges embraced the fields, and amid the hedges five-barred gates
spoke comfortably of man. Prom the distance came the murmur of traffic.
His pace quickened as the immediacy of this dream forced more
vividly home at every stride. Not only the fields and birds and beeches, oaks
and hawthorn hedges of home but the living people, too. For there was a house
on the hill; and there, beyond the wood where the little stream wound down and
vanished into lush meadows, a cluster of houses gathered, not in a primitive
settlement but the mundane villas of a suburb straggling on to receding
When he climbed the third gate - rickety and tied to its post
with twine icy certainty gripped Warning by the heart. There was the very road,
with its tarmacadamed surface and its rush of Fords with their registration
numbers so familiar and pertinent that he didn't need to read them to know that
they were those of his own home county, here in a far planet in a galaxy remote
That was not all. He knew, not only generally but most
precisely, where he was. Three miles down the road, over a gentle hill and
through the declivity beyond, lay the village where he had lived, within that
village the wide-windowed bungalow, and in that bungalow the family that was
For a moment he could neither move nor think. This whole trip,
then, this terrible journey through space, this wearisome intensity of applied
skill, this zeal of concentration for which he had been trained so long, all
this was a dream; he had never strayed farther from his village than five cosy
and domestic miles. And then he glanced down at his own clothes, his own shoes,
those planned and checked and rechecked and counter-checked clothes issued to
him for a journey which had brought him - here .... And the devices clipped
into his concealed pockets, every one of the Government issue space-probe
experimental equipment on which his fellow-astronauts and dedicated scientists
had worked for a decade .... He was not dreaming these. He was here, and it was
not home. It was at the climax of a great curve of exhausting flight.
He knew that only one course lay- open to him. He must walk
three miles to reach his village, to mount the familiar path through the garden
he had dug, to knock at the door with its cracked glass pane, and to greet that
girl, his wife, who would open it - the girl who had suffered so many bitter
hours of resentment which she had striven so hard to overcome before releasing
him for this trip from which it was grimly likely he would never return ...
As he tramped steadily along the hard road he blanked off his
mind t? the solidity of his surroundings, trying to calm the dull thudding of
his heart, the anxiety which constricted his chest and contracted the muscles
of his stomach, to become the man he was trained to be, capable of assessing
the nature of all experience and reporting on it with the objectivity of one
for whom the accuracy of measurement and clarity of perception are basic
requirements, and for whom skill in assessment within a dozen disciplines was a
condition of employment.
He began then to apply all the criteria of his training to all
that he saw about him and to record it on the miniature instrument in his
breast pocket, making no mention of its familiarity but describing only its
characteristics as he observed them; and he knew that the clinical assessors on
Earth would recognise at once that he was describing the terrain and fauna of
the centre of England.
"So they'll know I'm mad," he thought," and the whole mission
wasted. They'll know it for certain. And the computer will confirm it."
And yet. And yet. Here he was, there was the house where the old
man had suffered a heart attack and his wife had run into the road to stop
learning's car, so he went in and loosened the man's collar and stood by the
grey-faced, pain-constricted body until the doctor came. There was the Garage
where he bought his petrol. There was the huge house abandoned half-built when
Fowlie lost his money in the crash of Farthingale's.
He was only half a mile away now, and found himself hoping that
the kettle was on. By the sun it must be mid-afternoon. Mid-afternoon! Six
months space travel from the planet Earth! With a sun and a time-passage whose
rhythm he recognised .... He felt the trembling of his nerves through the
deadened sensibility which familiarity had brought, and as he passed the first
house in the village, so ordinary that you could not remember it, but would
instantly know it as soon as it came into sight, it was all he could to keep
one foot plodding leadenly beyond the other, moving him past the Bull, the Post
Office, the corner shop and down that lane he had used so often he no longer
needed to see it to know its features as part of the pattern of his mind.
If he saw anyone through the agony of his concentration he did
not notice them, yet at the same time he knew that if he had seen no-one he
would have noted that, and would have recorded the deserted character of the
scene; he knew that everything was normal, the people, the things, the
procession of the clouds, the warm calm passing of a midsummer afternoon..
Now he was standing in his own drive. Is my car there, he
wondered? I could drive back to the capsule. But the Garage was shut and there
was no sign of a car. The apple tree would be well laden again. The lawn needed
cutting as always. There were weeds in the flower-beds. Clara loved flowers,
but had a marvellous capacity for ignoring weeds. One of her familiar aprons
hung on a stump where she had forgotten it ...
As he climbed three steps to that utterly ordinary and
acceptable front door he noticed again the slight crack in the glass, just
where it had been for several years, since Tom 'had kicked a ball against it,
and paused with his knuckles raised to knock, why not simply go in? This was
his house, he had a right to enter it. Why go on pretending that he
stood on a planet a galaxy away. No, such a sudden eruption would be too great
a shock for Clara. It was impossible to imagine the sharpness of the effect it
would have on her. He must be careful, gentle, exploratory ... He would knock.
As he waited for his own wife to open his own door on a far
planet his heart began to thump, thump, thump in a heavy awesome manner he had
never experienced before, as if it were emphasising to his whole being its
control of his body - "It is I who bear the strain and if I cannot bear it, out
The front door opened. A small, neat charming woman he did not
know stood there looking at him with faint wonder and alarm in her calm brown
For a moment he could not speak.
"Er - Mr Warning ?" he said at last in a jerky tone.
"Mr Warning ? Oh, I'm sorry." Her voice was clear and sweet. "Mr
Warning's not here I'm afraid."
Very carefully he said: "Would it be troubling you too much to
tell me - where he is?"
"Where he is ?" She gave a small, gentle laugh. "I don't
know, exactly. You see. Well, he's - actually he's gone to some other planet.
That's what they say. He won't be back for - oh, at least a year. So I
can't ask you to wait, can I ? Who - who is it, please? "Who are you?"
She was looking in a puzzled way at his strange clothes.
"Who am I?" Warning stood with a passive, wooden face which
concealed, a stirring of emotion he could not understand. "I wish I could tell
you. Yes. I really wish I knew."