ameron frowned intently at the top of the desk. It was difficult to concentrate under the circumstances. "Your request was turned over to the Medicouncil," he said. "After studying it, they reported back to the Solar Committee."
Docchi edged forward, his face literally lighting up.
Dr. Cameron kept his eyes averted; the man was damnably disconcerting. "You know what the answer is. A flat no, for the present."
Docchi leaned back. "We should have expected that," he said wearily.
"It's not entirely hopeless. Decisions like this can always be changed."
"Sure," said Docchi. "We've got centuries." His face was flushed—blazing would be a better description.
Absently, Cameron lowered the lights in the room as much as he could. It was still uncomfortably bright. Docchi was a nuisance.
"But why?" asked Docchi. "You know that we're capable. Why did they refuse?"
Cameron had tried to avoid that question. Now it had to be answered with blunt brutality. "Did you think you would be chosen? Or Nona, or Jordan, or Anti?"
Docchi winced. "Maybe not. But we've told you that we're willing to abide by what the experts say. Surely from a thousand of us they can select one qualified crew."
"Perhaps so," said Cameron. He switched on the lights and resumed staring at the top of the desk. "Most of you are biocompensators. Ninety per cent, I believe. I concede that we ought to be able to get together a competent crew." He sighed. "But you're wasting your time discussing this with me. I'm not responsible for the decision. I can't do anything about it."
Docchi stood up. His face was colorless and bright.
Dr. Cameron looked at him directly for the first time. "I suggest you calm down. Be patient and wait; you may get your chance."
"You wait," said Docchi. "We don't intend to."
The door opened for him and closed behind him.
Cameron concentrated on the desk. Actually he was trying to look through it. He wrote down the card sequence he expected to find. He opened a drawer and gazed at the contents, then grimaced in disappointment. No matter how many times he tried, he never got better than strictly average results. Maybe there was something to telepathy, but he hadn't found it yet.
He dismissed it from his mind. It was a private game, a method of avoiding involvement while Docchi was present. But Docchi was gone now, and he had better come up with some answers. The right ones.
He switched on the telecom. "Get me Medicouncilor Thorton," he told the robot operator. "Direct, if you can; indirect if you have to. I'll wait."
With an approximate mean diameter of thirty miles, the asteroid was listed on the charts as Handicap Haven. The regular inhabitants were willing to admit the handicap part of the name, but they didn't call it haven. There were other terms, none of them suggesting sanctuary.
It was a hospital, of course, but even more like a convalescent home, the permanent kind. A healthy and vigorous humanity had built it for those few who were less fortunate. A splendid gesture, but, like many such gestures, the reality fell somewhat short of the original intentions.
The robot operator interrupted his thoughts. "Medicouncilor Thorton will speak to you."
The face of an older man filled the screen. "On my way to the satellites of Jupiter....