Sure I'm a Nilly, and I've died seven times, always in the blackness of the outer reaches, and I'm not alone, although there aren't very many of us, never were.
It made sense. Interstellar was new and they wanted him on the ship because he was a trained observer. They wanted facts, not gibberish. But to ask a man to give up two years of his life—well, that was asking a lot. Two years in a sardine can. Still, it had an appeal Keith Ellason knew he couldn't deny, a newsman's joy of the clean beat, a planetary system far afield, a closeup view of the universe, history in the making.
Interstellar Chief Rexroad knocked the dottle from his pipe in a tray, saying, "Transworld Press is willing to let you have a leave of abscence, if you're interested."
He knew Secretary Phipps from years of contacting, and now Phipps said, "Personally, I don't want to see anybody else on the job. You've got a fine record in this sort of thing."
Keith Ellason smiled, but just barely. "You should have called me for the first trip."
Phipps nodded. "I wish we had had you on the Weblor I."
"Crewmen," Rexroad said, "make poor reporters."
The Weblor I had taken off on the first trip to Antheon five years before with a thousand families, reached the planet with less than five hundred surviving colonists. Upon the return to Earth a year later, the crew's report of suffering and chaos during the year's outgoing voyage was twisted, distorted and fragmentary. Ellason remembered it well. The decision of Interstellar was that the colonists started a revolution far out in space, that it was fanned by the ignorance of Captain Sessions in dealing with such matters.
"Space affects men in a peculiar way," Phipps said. "We have conquered the problem of small groups in space—witness the discovery of Antheon, for example—but when there are large groups, control is more difficult."
"Sessions," Rexroad said, "was a bully. The trouble started at about the halfway point. It ended with passengers engaging in open warfare with each other and the crew. Sessions was lucky to escape with his life."
"As I recall," Ellason said, "there was something about stunners."
Phipps rubbed his chin. "No weapons were allowed on the ship, but you must remember the colonists were selected for their intelligence and resourcefulness. They utilized these attributes to set up weapon shops to arm themselves."
"The second trip is history," Rexroad said. "And a puzzle."