The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Ii Part 103
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"Nora tried to get them to stop it, Father, but she couldn't get in to see anybody but the butler. He told her he'd tell Mrs. Keith, but nothing happened. It's just as loud as before."
"Well, as long as Donny doesn't mind--"
"He just says that. You know how he is."
"What're they celebrating, Martha?"
"Young Ronald's leaving--for pre-s.p.a.ce training. It's a going-away affair." They paused in the doorway. The small priest smiled in at Donegal and nodded. He set his black bag on the floor inside, winked solemnly at the patient.
"I'll leave you two alone," said Martha. She closed the door and her footsteps wandered off down the hall.
Donegal and the young priest eyed each other warily.
"You look like h.e.l.l, Donegal," the padre offered jovially. "Feeling nasty?"
"Skip the small talk. Let's get this routine over with."
The priest humphed thoughtfully, sauntered across to the bed, gazed down at the old man disinterestedly. "What's the matter? Don't want the 'routine'? Rather play it tough?"
"What's the difference?" he growled. "Hurry up and get out. I want to hear the beast blast off."
"You won't be able to," said the priest, glancing at the window, now closed again. "That's quite a racket next door."
"They'd better stop for it. They'd better quiet down for it. They'll have to turn it off for five minutes or so."
"Maybe they won't."
It was a new idea, and it frightened him. He liked the music, and the party's gaiety, the nearness of youth and good times--but it hadn't occurred to him that it wouldn't stop so he could hear the beast.
"Don't get upset, Donegal. You know what a blast-off sounds like."
"But it's the last one. The last time. I want to hear."
"How do you know it's the last time?"
"h.e.l.l, don't I know when I'm kicking off?"
"Maybe, maybe not. It's hardly your decision."
"It's not, eh?" Old Donegal fumed. "Well, bigawd you'd think it wasn't. You'd think it was Martha's and yours and that damfool medic's. You'd think I got no say-so. Who's doing it anyway?"
"I would guess," Father Paul grunted sourly, "that Providence might appreciate His fair share of the credit."
Old Donegal made a surly noise and hunched his head back into the pillow to glower.
"You want me?" the priest asked. "Or is this just a case of wifely conscience?"
"What's the difference? Give me the business and scram."
"No soap. Do you want the sacrament, or are you just being kind to your wife? If it's for Martha, I'll go now."
Old Donegal glared at him for a time, then wilted. The priest brought his bag to the bedside.
"Bless me, father, for I have sinned."
"Bless you, son."
"I accuse myself ..."
Tension, anger, helplessness--they had piled up on him, and now he was feeling the after-effects. Vertigo, nausea, and the black confetti--a bad spell. The whiskey--if he could only reach the whiskey. Then he remembered he was receiving a Sacrament, and struggled to get on with it. Tell him, old man, tell him of your various rottennesses and vile transgressions, if you can remember some. A sin is whatever you're sorry for, maybe. But Old Donegal, you're sorry for the wrong things, and this young jesuitical gadget wouldn't like listening to it. I'm sorry I didn't get it instead of Oley, and I'm sorry I fought in the war, and I'm sorry I can't get out of this bed and take a belt to my daughter's backside for making a puny whelp out of Ken, and I'm sorry I gave Martha such a rough time all these years--and wound up dying in a cheap flat, instead of giving her things like the Keiths had. I wish I had been a sharpster, contractor, or thief ... instead of a common laboring s.p.a.cer, whose species lost its glamor after the war.
Listen, old man, you made your soul yourself, and it's yours. This young dispenser of oils, substances, and mysteries wishes only to help you sc.r.a.pe off the rough edges and gouge out the bad spots. He will not steal it, nor distort it with his supernatural chisels, nor make fun of it. He can take nothing away, but only cauterize and neutralize, he says, so why not let him try? Tell him the rotten messes.
"Are you finished, my son?"
Old Donegal nodded wearily, and said what he was asked to say, and heard the soft mutter of Latin that washed him inside and behind his ghostly ears ... ego te absolvo in Nomine Patris ... and he accepted the rest of it lying quietly in the candlelight and the red glow of the sunset through the window, while the priest anointed him and gave him bread, and read the words of the soul in greeting its spouse: "I was asleep, but my heart waked; it is the voice of my beloved calling: come to me my love, my dove, my undefiled ..." and from beyond the closed window came the sarcastic wail of a clarinet painting hot slides against a rhythmic background.
It wasn't so bad, Old Donegal thought when the priest was done. He felt like a schoolboy in a starched s.h.i.+rt on Sunday morning, and it wasn't a bad feeling, though it left him weak.
The priest opened the window for him again, and repacked his bag. "Ten minutes till blast-off," he said. "I'll see what I can do about the racket next door."
When he was gone, Martha came back in, and he looked at her face and was glad. She was smiling when she kissed him, and she looked less tired.
"Is it all right for me to die now?" he grunted.
"Donny, don't start that again."
"Where's the boots? You promised to bring them?"
"They're in the hall. Donny, you don't want them."
"I want them, and I want a drink of whiskey, and I want to hear them fire the beast." He said it slow and hard, and he left no room for argument.
When she had got the huge boots over his shrunken feet, the magnasoles clanged against the iron bedframe and clung there, and she rolled him up so that he could look at them, and Old Donegal chuckled inside. He felt warm and clean and pleasantly dizzy.
"The whiskey, Martha, and for G.o.d's sake, make them stop the noise till after the firing. Please!"
She went to the window and looked out for a long time. Then she came back and poured him an insignificant drink.
"I don't know," she said. "I saw Father Paul on the terrace, talking to somebody."
"Is it time?"
She glanced at the clock, looked at him doubtfully, and nodded. "Nearly time."
The orchestra finished a number, but the babble of laughing voices continued. Old Donegal sagged. "They won't do it. They're the Keiths, Martha. Why should I ruin their party?"
She turned to stare at him, slowly shook her head. He heard someone shouting, but then a trumpet started softly, introducing a new number. Martha sucked in a hurt breath, pressed her hands together, and hurried from the room.
"It's too late," he said after her.
Her footsteps stopped on the stairs. The trumpet was alone. Donegal listened; and there was no babble of voices, and the rest of the orchestra was silent. Only the trumpet sang--and it puzzled him, hearing the same slow bugle-notes of the call played at the lowering of the colors.
The trumpet stopped suddenly. Then he knew it had been for him.
A brief hush--then thunder came from the blast-station two miles to the west. First the low reverberation, rattling the windows, then the rising growl as the sleek beast knifed skyward on a column of blue-white h.e.l.l. It grew and grew until it drowned the distant traffic sounds and dominated the silence outside.
Quit crying, you old fool, you maudlin a.s.s ...
"My boots," he whispered, "my boots ... please ..."
"You've got them on, Donny."
He sank quietly then. He closed his eyes and let his heart go up with the beast, and he sank into the gravity padding of the blastroom, and Caid was with him, and Oley. And when Ronald Keith, III, instructed the orchestra to play Blastroom Man, after the beast's rumble had waned, Old Donegal was on his last moon-run, and he was grinning. He'd had a good day.
Martha went to the window to stare out at the thin black trail that curled starward above the blast-station through the twilight sky. Guests on the terrace were watching it too.
The doorbell rang. That would be Ken, too late. She closed the window against the chill breeze, and went back to the bed. The boots, the heavy, clumsy boots--they clung to the bedframe, with his feet half out of them. She took them off gently and set them out of company's sight. Then she went to answer the door.
THE PEOPLE OF THE CRATER.
By Andre Norton
"Send the Black Throne to dust; conquer the Black Ones, and bring the Daughter from the Caves of Darkness." These were the tasks Garin must perform to fulfill the prophecy of the Ancient Ones--and establish his own destiny in this hidden land!
Through the Blue Haze Six months and three days after the Peace of Shanghai was signed and the great War of 1965-1970 declared at an end by an exhausted world, a young man huddled on a park bench in New York, staring miserably at the gravel beneath his badly worn shoes. He had been trained to fill the pilot's seat in the control cabin of a fighting plane and for nothing else. The search for a niche in civilian life had cost him both health and ambition.
A newcomer dropped down on the other end of the bench. The flyer studied him bitterly. He had decent shoes, a warm coat, and that air of satisfaction with the world which is the result of economic security. Although he was well into middle age, the man had a compact grace of movement and an air of alertness.
"Aren't you Captain Garin Featherstone?"
Startled, the flyer nodded dumbly.
From a plump billfold the man drew a clipping and waved it toward his seat mate. Two years before, Captain Garin Featherstone of the United Democratic Forces had led a perilous bombing raid into the wilds of Siberia to wipe out the vast expeditionary army secretly gathering there. It had been a spectacular affair and had brought the survivors some fleeting fame.
"You're the sort of chap I've been looking for," the stranger folded the clipping again, "a flyer with courage, initiative and brains. The man who led that raid is worth investing in."
"What's the proposition?" asked Featherstone wearily. He no longer believed in luck.
"I'm Gregory Farson," the other returned as if that should answer the question.
"The Antarctic man!"
"Just so. As you have probably heard, I was halted on the eve of my last expedition by the sudden spread of war to this country. Now I am preparing to sail south again."
"But I don't see--"
"How you can help me? Very simple, Captain Featherstone. I need pilots. Unfortunately the war has disposed of most of them. I'm lucky to contact one such as yourself--"
And it was as simple as that. But Garin didn't really believe that it was more than a dream until they touched the glacial sh.o.r.es of the polar continent some months later. As they brought ash.o.r.e the three large planes, he began to wonder at the driving motive behind Farson's vague plans.
When the supply s.h.i.+p sailed, not to return for a year, Farson called them together. Three of the company were pilots, all war veterans, and two were engineers who spent most of their waking hours engrossed in the maps Farson produced.
"Tomorrow," the leader glanced from face to face, "we start inland. Here--" On a map spread before him he indicated a line marked in purple.
"Ten years ago I was a member of the Verdane expedition. Once, when flying due south, our plane was caught by some freakish air current and drawn off its course. When we were totally off our map, we saw in the distance a thick bluish haze. It seemed to rise in a straight line from the ice plain to the sky. Unfortunately our fuel was low and we dared not risk a closer investigation. So we fought our way back to the base.
"Verdane, however, had little interest in our report and we did not investigate it. Three years ago that Kattack expedition, hunting oil deposits by the order of the Dictator, reported seeing the same haze. This time we are going to explore it!"
"Why," Garin asked curiously, "are you so eager to penetrate this haze?--I gather that's what we're to do--"
Farson hesitated before answering. "It has often been suggested that beneath the ice sheeting of this continent may be hidden mineral wealth. I believe that the haze is caused by some form of volcanic activity, and perhaps a break in the crust."
Garin frowned at the map. He wasn't so sure about that explanation, but Farson was paying the bills. The flyer shrugged away his uneasiness. Much could be forgiven a man who allowed one to eat regularly again.
Four days later they set out. Helmly, one of the engineers, Rawlson, a pilot, and Farson occupied the first plane. The other engineer and pilot were in the second and Garin, with the extra supplies, was alone in the third.
He was content to be alone as they took off across the blue-white waste. His s.h.i.+p, because of its load, was loggy, so he did not attempt to follow the other two into the higher lane. They were in communication by radio and Garin, as he snapped on his earphones, remembered something Farson had said that morning: "The haze affects radio. On our trip near it the static was very bad. Almost," with a laugh, "like speech in some foreign tongue."
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Ii Part 103
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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Ii Part 103 summary
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