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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE SENSE OF WONDER *** Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
The Sense of Wonder


Illustrated by HARRY ROSENBAUM

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction September 1951.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

When nobody aboard ship remembers where it's
going, how can they tell when it has arrived?

Every day for a week now, Rikud had come to the viewport to watch the great changeless sweep of space. He could not quite explain the feelings within him; they were so alien, so unnatural. But ever since the engines somewhere in the rear of the world had changed their tone, from the steady whining Rikud had heard all twenty-five years of his life, to the sullen roar that came to his ears now, the feelings had grown.

If anyone else had noticed the change, he failed to mention it. This disturbed Rikud, although he could not tell why. And, because he had realized this odd difference in himself, he kept it locked up inside him.

Today, space looked somehow different. The starsโ€”it was a meaningless concept to Rikud, but that was what everyone called the bright pinpoints of light on the black backdrop in the viewportโ€”were not apparent in the speckled profusion Rikud had always known. Instead, there was more of the blackness, and one very bright star set apart by itself in the middle of the viewport.

If he had understood the term, Rikud would have told himself this was odd. His head ached with the half-born thought. It wasโ€”it wasโ€”what was it?

Someone was clomping up the companionway behind Rikud. He turned and greeted gray-haired old Chuls.

"In five more years," the older man chided, "you'll be ready to sire children. And all you can do in the meantime is gaze out at the stars."

Rikud knew he should be exercising now, or bathing in the rays of the health-lamps. It had never occurred to him that he didn't feel like it; he just didn't, without comprehending.

Chuls' reminder fostered uneasiness. Often Rikud had dreamed of the time he would be thirty and a father. Whom would the Calculator select as his mate? The first time this idea had occurred to him, Rikud ignored it. But it came again, and each time it left him with a feeling he could not explain. Why should he think thoughts that no other man had? Why should he think he was thinking such thoughts, when it always embroiled him in a hopeless, infinite confusion that left him with a headache?

Chuls said, "It is time for my bath in the health-rays. I saw you here and knew it was your time, too...."

His voice trailed off. Rikud knew that something which he could not explain had entered the elder man's head for a moment, but it had departed almost before Chuls knew of its existence.

"I'll go with you," Rikud told him.

A hardly perceptible purple glow pervaded the air in the room of the health-rays. Perhaps two score men lay about, naked, under the ray tubes. Chuls stripped himself and selected the space under a vacant tube. Rikud, for his part, wanted to get back to the viewport and watch the one new bright star. He had the distinct notion it was growing larger every moment. He turned to go, but the door clicked shut and a metallic voice said. "Fifteen minutes under the tubes, please."

Rikud muttered to himself and undressed. The world had begun to annoy him. Now why shouldn't a man be permitted to do what he wanted, when he wanted to do it? There was a strange thought, and Rikud's brain whirled once more down the tortuous course of half-formed questions and unsatisfactory answers.

He had even wondered what it was like to get hurt. No one ever got hurt. Once, here in this same ray room, he had had the impulse to hurl himself head-first against the wall, just to see what would happen. But something soft had cushioned the impactโ€”something which had come into being just for the moment and then abruptly passed into non-being again, something which was as impalpable as air.

Rikud had been stopped in this action, although there was no real authority to stop him. This puzzled him, because somehow he felt that there should have been authority. A long time ago the reading machine in the library had told him of the eldersโ€”a meaningless termโ€”who had governed the world. They told you to do something and you did it, but that was silly, because now no one told you to do anything. You only listened to the buzzer.

And Rikud could remember the rest of what the reading machine had said. There had been a revoltโ€”again a term without any real meaning, a term that could have no reality outside of the reading machineโ€”and the elders were overthrown. Here Rikud had been lost utterly. The people had decided that they did not know where they were going, or why, and that it was unfair that the elders alone had this authority. They were born and they lived and they died as the elders directed, like little cogs in a great machine. Much of this Rikud could not understand, but he knew enough to realize that the reading machine had sided with the people against the elders, and it said the people had won.

Now in the health room, Rikud felt a warmth in the rays. Grudgingly, he had to admit to himself that it was not unpleasant. He could see the look of easy contentment on Chuls' face as the rays fanned down upon him, bathing his old body in a forgotten magic which, many generations before Rikud's time, had negated the necessity for a knowledge of medicine. But when, in another ten years, Chuls would perish of old age, the rays would no longer suffice. Nothing would, for Chuls. Rikud often thought of his own death, still seventy-five years in the future, not without a sense of alarm. Yet old Chuls seemed heedless, with only a decade to go.

Under the tube at Rikud's left lay Crifer. The man was short and heavy through the shoulders and chest, and he had a lame foot. Every time Rikud looked at that foot, it was with a sense of satisfaction. True, this was the only case of its kind, the exception to the rule, but it proved the world was not perfect. Rikud was guiltily glad when he saw Crifer limp.

But, if anyone else saw it, he never said a word. Not even Crifer.

Now Crifer said, "I've been reading again, Rikud."

"Yes?" Almost no one read any more, and the library was heavy with the smell of dust. Reading represented initiative on the part of Crifer; it meant that, in the two unoccupied hours before sleep, he went to the library and listened to the reading machine. Everyone else simply sat about and talked. That was the custom. Everyone did it.

But if he wasn't reading himself, Rikud usually went to sleep. All the people ever talked about was what they had done during the day, and it was always the same.

"Yes," said Crifer. "I found a book about the stars. They're also called astronomy, I think."

This was a new thought to Rikud, and he propped his head up on one elbow. "What did you find out?"

"That's about all. They're just called astronomy, I think."

"Well, where's the book?" Rikud would read it tomorrow.

"I left it in the library. You can find several of them under 'astronomy,' with a cross-reference under 'stars.' They're synonymous terms."

"You know," Rikud said, sitting up now, "the stars in the viewport are changing."

"Changing?" Crifer questioned the fuzzy concept as much as he questioned what it might mean in this particular case.

"Yes, there are less of them, and one is bigger and brighter than the others."

"Astronomy says some stars are variable," Crifer offered, but Rikud knew his lame-footed companion understood the word no better than he did.

Over on Rikud's right, Chuls began to dress. "Variability," he told them, "is a contradictory term. Nothing is variable. It can't be."

"I'm only saying what I read in the book," Crifer protested mildly.

"Well, it's wrong. Variability and change are two words without meaning."

"People grow old," Rikud suggested.

A buzzer signified that his fifteen minutes under the rays were up, and Chuls said, "It's almost time for me to eat."

Rikud frowned. Chuls hadn't even seen the connection between the two concepts, yet it was so clear. Or was it? He had had it a moment ago, but now it faded, and change and old were just two words.

His own buzzer sounded a moment later, and it was with a strange feeling of elation that he dressed and made his way back to the viewport. When he passed the door which led to the women's half of the world, however, he paused. He wanted to open that door and see a woman. He had been told about them and he had seen pictures, and he dimly remembered his childhood among women. But his feelings had changed; this was different. Again there were inexplicable feelingsโ€”strange channelings of Rikud's energy in new and confusing directions.

He shrugged and reserved the thought for later. He wanted to see the stars again.

The view had changed, and the strangeness of it made Rikud's pulses leap with excitement. All the stars were paler now than before, and where Rikud had seen the one bright central star, he now saw a globe of light, white with a tinge of blue in it, and so bright that it hurt his eyes to look.

Yes, hurt! Rikud looked and looked until his eyes teared and he had to turn away. Here was an unknown factor which the perfect world failed to control. But how could a star change into a blinking blue-white globeโ€”if, indeed, that was the star Rikud had seen earlier? There was that word change again. Didn't it have something to do with age? Rikud couldn't remember, and he suddenly wished he could read Crifer's book on astronomy, which meant the same as stars. Except that it was variable, which was like change, being tied up somehow with age.

Presently Rikud became aware that his eyes were not tearing any longer, and he turned to look at the viewport. What he saw now was so new that he couldn't at first accept it. Instead, he blinked and rubbed his eyes, sure that the ball of blue-white fire somehow had damaged them. But the new view persisted.

Of stars there were few, and of the blackness, almost nothing. Gone, too, was the burning globe. Something loomed there in the port, so huge that it spread out over almost the entire surface. Something big and round, all grays and greens and browns, and something for which Rikud had no name.

A few moments more, and Rikud no longer could see the sphere. A section of it had expanded outward and assumed the rectangular shape of the viewport, and its size as well. It seemed neatly sheered down the middle, so that on one side Rikud saw an expanse of brown and green, and on the other, blue.

Startled, Rikud leaped back. The sullen roar in the rear of the world had ceased abruptly. Instead an ominous silence, broken at regular intervals by a sharp booming.


"Won't you eat, Rikud?" Chuls called from somewhere down below.

"Damn the man," Rikud thought. Then aloud: "Yes, I'll eat. Later."

"It's time...." Chuls' voice trailed off again, impotently.

But Rikud forgot the old man completely. A new idea occurred to him, and for a while he struggled with it. What he sawโ€”what he had always seen, except that now there was the added factor of changeโ€”perhaps did not exist in the viewport.

Maybe it existed through the viewport.

That was maddening. Rikud turned again to the port, where he could see nothing but an obscuring cloud of white vapor, murky, swirling, more confusing than ever.

"Chuls," he called, remembering, "come here."

"I am here," said a voice at his elbow.

Rikud whirled on the little figure and pointed to the swirling cloud of vapor. "What do you see?"

Chuls looked. "The viewport, of course."

"What else?"

"Else? Nothing."

Anger welled up inside Rikud. "All right," he said, "listen. What do you hear?"

"Broom, brroom, brrroom!" Chuls imitated the intermittent blasting of the engines. "I'm hungry, Rikud."

The old man turned and strode off down the corridor toward the dining room, and Rikud was glad to be alone once more.

Now the vapor had departed, except for a few tenuous whisps. For a moment Rikud thought he could see the gardens rearward in the world. But that was silly. What were the gardens doing in the viewport? And besides, Rikud had the

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