The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xiii Part 79
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He sat waiting and listening. Perhaps they had heard his engines, although his own equipment had caught none of their drive-noise.
The computer was able to supervise several tasks at once, and he set it to continue sweeping the horizon with the radar, to listen for sonar code and engine purr while he attended to other matters. He readied two torpedoes and raised a rocket into position for launching. He opened the hatch and climbed to stand in the conning tower again, peering grimly around the horizon.
Minutes later, a buzzer sounded beneath him. The computer had something now. He glanced at the parabolic radar antenna, rearing its head a dozen feet above him. It had stopped its aimless scanning and was quivering steadily on the southeast horizon. Southeast?
He lowered himself quickly into the s.h.i.+p and stared at the luminous screen. Blips--three blips--barely visible. While he watched, a fourth appeared.
He clamped on his headsets. There it was! The faint engine-noise of s.h.i.+ps. His trained senses told him they were subs. Subs out of the southeast? He had expected interception from the west--first aircraft, then light surface vessels.
There was but one possible answer: the enemy.
He dived for the radio and waited impatiently for the tubes to warm again. He found himself shouting into the mic.
"Commsubron Killer, this is Sugar William Niner Zero. Urgent message. Over."
He was a long way from the station. He repeated the call three times. At last a faintly audible voice came from the set.
"... this is Commsubron Killer. You are ordered to return immediately...."
The voice faded again.
"Listen!" Mitch bellowed. "Four, no--five enemy submarine--position 3150' North, 7310' West, proceeding northwest--roughly, toward Was.h.i.+ngton. Probably carrying an answer to Garson's ultimatum. Get help out here. Over."
He heard only a brief mutter this time. "... ordered not to proceed toward Was.h.i.+ngton. Return immediately to--"
"Not me! You fool! Listen! Five--enemy--submarines--" He repeated the message as slowly as he could, repeated it four times.
"... reading you S-1," came the fading answer. "Are you in distress? I say again. Are you in distress? Over."
Angrily Mitch keyed the carrier wave, screwed the b.u.t.ton tightly down, and kicked on the four-hundred cycle modulator. Maybe they could get a directional fix on his signal and home on it.
The blips were gone from the radar scope. The subs had spotted him and submerged. In a moment he would be catching a torpedo, unless he moved. He started the engines quickly, and the surfaced sub lurched ahead. He nosed her toward the enemy craft and opened the throttle. She knifed through the water like a low-running PT boat, throwing a V-shaped fan of spray. When he reached the halfway point between his own former position and the place where the enemy submerged, he began jabbing a release at three second intervals, laying a trail of deadly eggs. He could hear the crash of the exploding depth-charges behind him. He swung around to make another pa.s.s.
Then he saw it--the wet metal hulk rearing up like a ma.s.sive whale dead ahead. They had discovered the insignificance of their lone and pint-sized attacker. They were coming up to take him with deck guns.
Mitch reversed the engines and swung quickly away. The range was too close for a torpedo. The blast would catch them both. He began submerging quickly. A sickening blast s.h.i.+vered his tiny craft, and then another. He dropped to sixty feet, then knifed ahead.
G.o.d! Why was he doing this? There was no sense in it, if he meant to run away. But then the thought came: they're returning Old Man Garson's big-winded threat. They're bringing a snootful of radiological h.e.l.l, and that's the d.a.m.ned bayonet-line across the road.
Depth charges were cras.h.i.+ng around him as he wove a zig-zag course. The computer was buzzing frantically. Then he saw why. The rocket launcher hadn't retracted; there was still a rocket in it--with a snootful of Uranium 235. The thing was dragging at the water, slowing him down, causing the sub to shudder and lurch.
Apparently all the subs had surfaced, for the charges were falling on all sides. With the launcher dragging at him, they would get him sooner or later. He tried to nose upward, but the controls refused.
He knew what would happen if he tried to fire the rocket. h.e.l.l, he didn't have to fire it. All he had to do was fuse it. It had a water-pressure fuse, and he was beneath exploding depth.
Don't think about it! Do it!
No, you've got to think. That's what's wrong. Too much do, not enough think. They're going to wreck mechanical civilization if they keep it up. They're going to wreck Man's tools, cut off his hands, and make him an ape again!
But what's it to you? What can you do?
Dammit! You can destroy five wrong tools that were built to wreck the right tools.
Mitch, who wanted to quit an all-out war, reached for the fusing switch. This part was his war; destroy the destroyers, but not the producers. Even if it didn't make good military sense-- A close explosion sent him lurching aside. He grabbed at the wall and pushed himself back. The switch--the d.a.m.n double-toggle red switch! He screamed a curse and struck at it with both fists.
There came a beautiful, blinding light.
OF TIME AND TEXAS.
By William F. Nolan
Open the C. Cydwick Ohms Time Door, take but a single step, and-- "In one fell swoop," declared Professor C. Cydwick Ohms, releasing a thin blue ribbon of pipe-smoke and rocking back on his heels, "--I intend to solve the greatest problem facing mankind today. Colonizing the Polar Wastes was a messy and fruitless business. And the Enforced Birth Control Program couldn't be enforced. Overpopulation still remains the thorn in our side. Gentlemen--" He paused to look each of the a.s.sembled reporters in the eye. "--there is but one answer."
"Ma.s.s annihilation?" quavered a cub reporter.
"Posh, boy! Certainly not!" The professor bristled. "The answer is--TIME!"
"Exactly," nodded Ohms. With a dramatic flourish he swept aside a red velvet drape--to reveal a tall structure of gleaming metal. "As witness!"
"Golly, what's that thing?" queried the cub.
"This thing," replied the professor acidly, "--is the C. Cydwick Ohms Time Door."
"Whillikers, a Time Machine!"
"Not so, not so. Please, boy! A Time Machine, in the popular sense, is impossible. Wild fancy! However--" The professor tapped the dottle from his pipe. "--by a mathematically precise series of infinite calculations, I have developed the remarkable C. Cydwick Ohms Time Door. Open it, take but a single step--and, presto! The Past!"
"But, where in the past, Prof.?"
Ohms smiled easily down at the tense ring of faces. "Gentlemen, beyond this door lies the sprawling giant of the Southwest--enough land to absorb Earth's overflow like that!" He snapped his fingers. "I speak, gentlemen, of Texas, 1957!"
"What if the Texans object?"
"They have no choice. The Time Door is strictly a one-way pa.s.sage. I saw to that. It will be utterly impossible for anyone in 1957 to re-enter our world of 2057. And now--the Past awaits!"
He tossed aside his professorial robes. Under them Cydwick Ohms wore an ancient and bizarre costume: black riding boots, highly polished and trimmed in silver; wool chaps; a wide, jewel-studded belt with an immense buckle; a brightly checked s.h.i.+rt topped by a blazing red bandana. Briskly, he snapped a tall ten-gallon hat on his head, and stepped to the Time Door.
Gripping an ebony handle, he tugged upward. The huge metal door oiled slowly back. "Time," said Cydwick Ohms simply, gesturing toward the gray nothingness beyond the door.
The reporters and photographers surged forward, notebooks and cameras at the ready. "What if the door swings shut after you're gone?" one of them asked.
"A groundless fear, boy," a.s.sured Ohms. "I have seen to it that the Time Door can never be closed. And now--good-bye, gentlemen. Or, to use the proper colloquialism--so long, hombres!"
Ohms bowed from the waist, gave his ten-gallon hat a final tug, and took a single step forward.
And did not disappear.
He stood, blinking. Then he swore, beat upon the unyielding wall of grayness with clenched fists, and fell back, panting, to his desk.
"I've failed!" he moaned in a lost voice. "The C. Cydwick Ohms Time Door is a botch!" He buried his head in trembling hands.
The reporters and photographers began to file out.
Suddenly the professor raised his head. "Listen!" he warned.
A slow rumbling, muted with distance, emanated from the dense grayness of the Time Door. Faint yips and whoopings were distinct above the rumble. The sounds grew steadily--to a thousand beating drums--to a rolling sea of thunder!
Shrieking, the reporters and photographers scattered for the stairs.
Ah, another knotty problem to be solved, mused Professor Cydwick Ohms, swinging, with some difficulty, onto one of three thousand Texas steers stampeding into the laboratory.
THY NAME IS WOMAN.
By Kenneth O'Hara
Women of earth had finally attained their objective: a new world all their own and--without men! But was it?
After the Doctor gave him the hypo and left the s.h.i.+p, Bowren lay in absolute darkness wondering when the change would start. There would be pain, the Doctor had said. "Then you won't be aware of anything--anything at all."
That was a devil of a thing, Bowren thought, not to be aware of the greatest adventure any man ever had. He, Eddie Bowren, the first to escape the Earth into s.p.a.ce, the first man to Mars!
He was on his back in a small square steel cubicle, a secretly constructed room in the wall of the cargo bin of the big s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p cradled at the New Chicago Port. He was not without fear. But before the s.h.i.+p blasted he wouldn't care--he would be changed by then. He would start turning any minute now, becoming something else; he didn't know exactly what, but that wouldn't matter. After it was over, he wouldn't remember because the higher brain centers, the cortex, the a.n.a.lytical mind, would be completely cut off, short-circuited, during the alteration.
The cubicle was close, hot, sound-proofed, like a tomb. "You will probably make loud unpleasant noises," the Doctor had said, "but no one will hear you. Don't worry about anything until you get to Mars."
That was right, Bowren thought. My only problem is to observe, compute, and get back into this dungeon without being observed, and back to Earth.
The idea was to keep it from the women. The women wouldn't go for this at all. They would object. The women would be able to bring into effect several laws dealing with s.p.a.ceflight, among them the one against stowaways, and especially that particular one about aberrated males sneaking into s.p.a.ce and committing suicide.
A lot of men had tried it, in the beginning. Some of them had managed it, but they had all died. For a long time, the men's egos hadn't been able to admit that the male organism was incapable of standing the rigors of acceleration. Women had had laws pa.s.sed, and if the women caught him doing this, the punishment would be extreme for him, personally, and a lot more extreme for Earth civilization in general. If you could call it a civilization. You could call it anything, Bowren groaned--but it didn't make sense. A world without women. A birthrate reduced to zero.
A trickle of sweat slid past Bowren's eyes, loosening a nervous flush along his back that p.r.i.c.kled painfully. His throat was tense and his heart pounded loud in the hot dark.
A sharp pain ran up his body and exploded in his head. He tried to swallow, but something gagged in his throat. He was afraid of retching. He lay with his mouth open, spittle dribbling over his lips. The pain returned, hammered at his entrails. He fought the pain numbly, like a man grappling in the dark.
The wave subsided and he lay there gasping, his fists clenched.
"The pain will come in increasingly powerful waves," the Doctor had said. "At a certain point, it will be so great, the a.n.a.lytical mind will completely short-circuit. It will stay that way enroute to Mars, and meanwhile your body will rapidly change into that of a beast. Don't worry about it. A catalytic agent will return you to normal before you reach the planet. If you live, you'll be human again."
A male human couldn't stand the acceleration. But a woman could. Animals could. They had experimented on human males and animals in the giant centrifuges, and learned what to do. Animals could stand 25 "G" consistently, or centrifugal forces as high as 120 revolutions a minute. About 10 "G" was the limit of female endurance. Less for men.
It had never been thoroughly determined why women had been able to stand higher acceleration. But human females had the same physical advantages over men as female rats, rabbits, and cats over males of the same species. A woman's cellular structure was different; her center of gravity was different, the brain waves given off during acceleration were different. It was suspected that the autonomic nervous system in women could function more freely to protect the body during emergency situations. The only certainty about it was that no man had ever been able to get into s.p.a.ce and live.
But animals could so they had worked on it and finally they decided to change a man into an animal, at least temporarily. Geneticists and biochemists and other specialists had been able to do a lot with hormones and hard radiation treatment. Especially with hormones. You could shoot a man full of some fluid or another, and do almost anything to his organism. You could induce atavism, regression to some lower form of animal life--a highly speeded up regression. When you did that, naturally the a.n.a.lytical mind, the higher thought centers of a more recent evolutionary development, blanked out and the primal mind took over. The body changed too, considerably.
Bowren was changing. Then the pain came and he couldn't think. He felt his mind cringing--giving way before the onslaught of the pain. Dimly he could feel the agony in his limbs, the throbbing of his heart, the fading power of reason.
He retched, languished through flaccid minutes. There were recurring spasms of s.h.i.+vering as he rolled his thickened tongue in the arid cavity of his mouth. And then, somewhere, a spark exploded, and drowned him in a pool of streaming flame.
Consciousness returned slowly--much as it had gone--in waves of pain. It took a long time. Elements of reason and unreason fusing through distorted nightmares until he was lying there able to remember, able to wonder, able to think.
Inside the tiny compartment were supplies. A hypo, glucose, a durolene suit neatly folded which he put on. He gave himself a needle, swallowed the tablets, and waited until energy and a sense of well-being gave him some degree of confidence.
It was very still. The s.h.i.+p would be cradled on Mars now. He lay there, relaxing, preparing for the real challenge. He thought of how well the Earth Investigation Committee had planned the whole thing.
The last desperate attempt of man to get into s.p.a.ce--to Mars--a woman's world. At least it was supposed to be. Whatever it was, it wasn't a man's world.
The women didn't want Earth anymore. They had something better. But what? There were other questions, and Bowren's job was to find the answers, remain un.o.bserved and get back aboard this s.h.i.+p. He would then hypo himself again, and when the s.h.i.+p blasted off to Earth, he would go through the same transition all over again.
He put on the soft-soled shoes as well as the durolene suit and crawled through the small panel into the big cargo bin. It was empty. Only a dim yellow light shone on the big cargo vices along the curved walls.
He climbed the ladders slowly, cautiously, through a gnawing silence of suspense, over the mesh grid flooring along the tubular corridors. He wondered what he would find.
Could the women have been influenced by some alien life form on Mars?
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xiii Part 79
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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xiii Part 79 summary
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