THE PERIOD spent in the space-ship ought to have been one of terror and anxiety for Ransom. He was separated by an astronomical distance from every member of the human race except two whom he had excellent reasons for distrusting. He was heading for an unknown destination, and was being brought thither for a purpose which his captors steadily refused to disclose. Devine and Weston relieved each other regularly in a room which Ransom was never allowed to enter and where he supposed the controls of their machine must be. Weston, during his watches off, was almost entirely silent. Devine was more loquacious and would often talk and guffaw with the prisoner until Weston rapped on the wall of the control room and warned them not to waste air. But Devine was secretive after a certain point. He was quite ready to laugh at Weston's solemn scientific idealism. He didn't give a damn, he said, for the future of the species or the meeting of two worlds.
"There's more to Malacandra than that," he would add with a wink. But when Ransom asked him what more, he would lapse into satire and make ironical remarks about the white man's burden and the blessings of civilization.
"It is inhabited, then?" Ransom would press.
"Ah - there's always a native question in these things," Devine would answer. For the most part his conversation ran on the things he would do when he got back to Earth: oceangoing yachts, the most expensive women and a big place on the Riviera figured largely in his plans. "I'm not running all these risks for fun."
Direct questions about Ransom's own role were usually met with silence. Only once, in reply to such a question, Devine, who was then in Ransom's opinion very far from sober, admitted that they were rather "handing him the baby."
"But I'm sure," he added, "you'll live up to the old school tie."
All this, as I have said, was sufficiently disquieting. The odd thing was that it did not very greatly disquiet him. It is hard for a man to brood on the future when he is feeling so extremely well as Ransom now felt. There was an endless night on one side of the ship and an endless day on the other: each was marvellous and he moved from the one to the other at his will delighted. In the nights, which he could create by turning the handle of a door, he lay for hours in contemplation of the skylight. The Earth's disc was nowhere to be seen; the stars, thick as daisies on an uncut lawn, reigned perpetually with no cloud, no moon, no sunrise to dispute their sway. There were planets of unbelievable majesty, and constellations undreamed of: there were celestial sapphires, rubies, emeralds and pin-pricks of burning gold; far out on the left of the picture hung a comet, tiny and remote: and between all and behind all, far more emphatic and palpable than it showed on Earth, the undimensioned, enigmatic blackness. The lights trembled: they seemed to grow brighter as he looked. Stretched naked on his bed, a second Dana, he found it night by night more difficult to disbelieve in old astrology: almost he felt, wholly he imagined, 'sweet influence' pouring or even stabbing into his surrendered body. All was silence but for the irregular tinkling noises. He knew now that these were made by meteorites, small, drifting particles of the worldstuff that smote continually on their hollow drum of steel; and he guessed that at any moment they might meet something large enough to make meteorites of ship and all. But he could not fear. He now felt that Weston had justly called him little-minded in the moment of his first panic. The adventure was too high, its circumstance too solemn, for any emotion save a severe delight. But the days - that is, the hours spent in the sunward hemisphere of their microcosm - were the best of all. Often he rose after only a few hours' sleep to return, drawn by an irresistible attraction, to the regions of light; he could not cease to wonder at the noon which always awaited you however early you were to seek it. There, totally immersed in a bath of pure ethereal colour and of unrelenting though unwounding brightness, stretched his full length and with eyes half closed in the strange chariot that bore them, faintly quivering, through depth after depth of tranquillity far above the reach of night, he felt his body and mind daily rubbed and scoured and filled with new vitality. Weston, in one of his brief, reluctant answers, admitted a scientific basis for these sensations: they were receiving, he said, many rays that never penetrated the terrestrial atmosphere.
But Ransom, as time wore on, became aware of another and more spiritual cause for his progressive lightening and exultation of heart. A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off him. He had read of 'Space': at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now - now that the very name 'Space' seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it 'dead'; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean the worlds and all their life had come? He had thought it barren: he saw now that it was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the Earth with so many eyes - and here, with how many more! No: Space was the wrong name.
Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens - the heavens which declared the glory - the 'happy climes that ly Where day never shuts his eye Up in the broad fields of the sky.'
He quoted Milton's words to himself lovingly, at this time and often.
He did not, of course, spend all his time in basking. He explored the ship (so far as he was allowed), passing from room to room with those slow movements which Weston enjoined upon them lest exertion should overtax their supply of air. From the necessity of its shape, the space-ship contained a good many more chambers than were in regular use: but Ransom was also inclined to think that its owners - or at least Devine - intended these to be filled with cargo of some kind on the return voyage. He also became, by an insensible process, the steward and cook of the company; partly because he felt it natural to share the only labours he could share -he was never allowed into the control room - and partly in order to anticipate a tendency which Weston showed to make him a servant whether he would or not. He preferred to work as a volunteer rather than in admitted slavery: and he liked his own cooking a good deal more than that of his companions.
It was these duties that made him at first the unwilling, and then the alarmed, hearer of a conversation which occurred about a fortnight (he judged) after the beginning of their voyage. He had washed up the remains of their evening meal, basked in the sunlight, chatted with Devine - better company than Weston, though in Ransom's opinion much the more odious of the two - and retired to bed at his usual time. He was a little restless, and after an hour or so it occurred to him that he had forgotten one or two small arrangements in the galley which would facilitate his work in the morning. The galley opened off the saloon or day room, and its door was close to that of the control room. He rose and went there at once. His feet, like the rest of him, were bare.
The galley skylight was on the dark side of the ship, but Ransom did not turn on the light. To leave the door ajar was sufficient, as this admitted a stream of brilliant sunlight. As everyone who has 'kept house' will understand, he found that his preparations for the morning had been even more incomplete than he supposed. He did his work well, from practice, and therefore quietly. He had just finished and was drying his hands on the roller towel behind the galley door when he heard the door of the control room open and saw the silhouette of a man outside the galley - Devine's, he gathered. Devine did not come forward into the saloon, but remained standing and talking - apparently into the control room. It thus came about that while Ransom could hear distinctly what Devine said, he could not make out Weston's answers.
"I think it would be damn' silly," said Devine. "If you could be sure of meeting the brutes where we alight there might be something in it. But suppose we have to trek? All we'd gain by your plan would be having to carry a drugged man and his pack instead of letting a live man walk with us and do his share of the work."
Weston apparently replied.
"But he can't find out," returned Devine. "Unless someone is fool enough to tell him. Anyway, even if he suspects, do you think a man like that would have the guts to run away on a strange planet? Without food? Without weapons? You'll find he'll eat out of your hand at the first sight of a sorn."
Again Ransom heard the indistinct noise of Weston's voice.
"How should I know?" said Devine. "It may be some sort of chief: much more likely a mumbo-jumbo."
This time came a very short utterance from the control room: apparently a question. Devine answered at once.
"It would explain why he was wanted."
Weston asked him something more.
"Human sacrifice, I suppose. At least it wouldn't be human from their point of view; you know what I mean."
Weston had a good deal to say this time, and it elicited Devine's characteristic chuckle.
"Quite, quite," he said. "It is understood that you are doing it, all from the highest motives.
So long as they lead to the same actions as my motives, you are quite welcome to them."
Weston continued, and this time Devine seemed to interrupt him.
"You're not losing your own nerve, are you?" he said. He was then silent for some time, as if listening. Finally, he replied:
"If you're so fond of the brutes as that you'd better stay and interbreed - if they have sexes, which we don't yet know. Don't you worry. When the time comes for cleaning the place up we'll save one or two for you, and you can keep them as pets or vivisect them or sleep with them or all three - whichever way it takes you.... Yes, I know. Perfectly loathsome. I was only joking. Good night."
A moment later Devine closed the door of the control room, crossed the saloon and entered his own cabin. Ransom heard him bolt the door of it according to his invariable, though puzzling, custom. The tension with which he had been listening relaxed. He found that he had been holding his breath, and breathed deeply again. Then cautiously he stepped out into the saloon.
Though he knew that it would be prudent to return to his bed as quickly as possible, he found himself standing still in the now familiar glory of the light and viewing it with a new and poignant emotion. Out of this heaven, these happy climes, they were presently to descend - into what? Sorns, human sacrifice, loathsome sexless monsters. What was a sorn? His own role in the affair was now clear enough. Somebody or something had sent for him. It could hardly be for him personally. The somebody wanted a victim - any victim - from Earth. He had been picked because Devine had done the picking; he realized for the first time - in all circumstances a late and startling discovery - that Devine had hated him all these years as heartily as he hated Devine. But what was a sorn? When he saw them he would eat out of Weston's hands. His mind, like so many minds of his generation, was richly furnished with bogies. He had read his H. G. Wells and others. His universe was peopled with horrors such as ancient and mediaeval mythology could hardly rival. No insect-like, vermiculate or crustacean Abominable, no twitching feelers, rasping wings, slimy coils, curling tentacles, no monstrous union of superhuman intelligence and insatiable cruelty seemed to him anything but likely on an alien world. The sorns would be ... would be ... he dared not think what the sorns would be. And he was to be given to them. Somehow this seemed more horrible than being caught by them. Given, handed over, offered. He saw in imagination various incompatible monstrosities -bulbous eyes, grinning jaws, horns, stings, mandibles. Loathing of insects, loathing of snakes, loathing of things that squashed and squelched, all played their horrible symphonies over his nerves. But the reality would be worse: it would be an extra-terrestrial Otherness - something one had never thought of, never could have thought of. In that moment Ransom made a decision. He could face death, but not the sorns. He must escape when they got to Malacandra, if there were any possibility. Starvation, or even to be chased by sorns, would be better than being handed over. If escape were impossible, then it must be suicide. Ransom was a pious man. He hoped he would be forgiven. It was no more in his power, he thought, to decide otherwise than to grow a new limb. Without hesitation he stole back into the galley and secured the sharpest knife: henceforward he determined never to be parted from it.
Such was the exhaustion produced by terror that when he regained his bed he fell instantly into stupefied and dreamless sleep.