The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iii Part 14
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"What is it?" he said. "What do you want?" He looked in the direction she had pointed. "I don't see anything."
"They? Who? Who are coming?"
"They are. The police. During the night the Sheriff had the state police send cars. All around, everywhere. Blocking the roads. There's about sixty of them coming. Some from town, some around behind." She stopped, gasping. "They said-they said-"
"They said you were some kind of a Communist. They said-"
Conger went into the cage. He put the gun down on the shelf and came back out. He leaped down and went to the girl.
"Thanks. You came here to tell me? You don't believe it?"
"I don't know."
"Did you come alone?"
"No. Joe brought me in his truck. From town."
"Joe? Who's he?"
"Joe French. The plumber. He's a friend of Dad's."
"Let's go." They crossed the snow, up the ridge and onto the field. The little panel truck was parked half way across the field. A heavy short man was sitting behind the wheel, smoking his pipe. He sat up as he saw the two of them coming toward him.
"Are you the one?" he said to Conger.
"Yes. Thanks for warning me."
The plumber shrugged. "I don't know anything about this. Lora says you're all right." He turned around. "It might interest you to know some more of them are coming. Not to warn you-just curious."
"More of them?" Conger looked toward the town. Black shapes were picking their way across the snow.
"People from the town. You can't keep this sort of thing quiet, not in a small town. We all listen to the police radio; they heard the same way Lora did. Someone tuned in, spread it around-"
The shapes were getting closer. Conger could, make out a couple of them. Bill Willet was there, with some boys from the high school. The Appletons were along, hanging back in the rear.
"Even Ed Davies," Conger murmured.
The storekeeper was toiling onto the field, with three or four other men from the town.
"All curious as h.e.l.l," French said. "Well, I guess I'm going back to town. I don't want my truck shot full of holes. Come on, Lora."
She was looking up at Conger, wide-eyed.
"Come on," French said again. "Let's go. You sure as h.e.l.l can't stay here, you know."
"There may be shooting. That's what they all came to see. You know that don't you, Conger?"
"You have a gun? Or don't you care?" French smiled a little. "They've picked up a lot of people in their time, you know. You won't be lonely."
He cared, all right! He had to stay here, on the field. He couldn't afford to let them take him away. Any minute the Founder would appear, would step onto the field. Would he be one of the townsmen, standing silently at the foot of the field, waiting, watching?
Or maybe he was Joe French. Or maybe one of the cops. Anyone of them might find himself moved to speak. And the few words spoken this day were going to be important for a long time.
And Conger had to be there, ready when the first word was uttered!
"I care," he said. "You go on back to town. Take the girl with you."
Lora got stiffly in beside Joe French. The plumber started up the motor. "Look at them, standing there," he said. "Like vultures. Waiting to see someone get killed."
The truck drove away, Lora sitting stiff and silent, frightened now. Conger watched for a moment. Then he dashed back into the woods, between the trees, toward the ridge.
He could get away, of course. Anytime he wanted to he could get away. All he had to do was to leap into the crystal cage and turn the handles. But he had a job, an important job. He had to be here, here at this place, at this time.
He reached the cage and opened the door. He went inside and picked up the gun from the shelf. The Slem-gun would take care of them. He notched it up to full count. The chain reaction from it would flatten them all, the police, the curious, s.a.d.i.s.tic people- They wouldn't take him! Before they got him, all of them would be dead. He would get away. He would escape. By the end of the day they would all be dead, if that was what they wanted, and he- He saw the skull.
Suddenly he put the gun down. He picked up the skull. He turned the skull over. He looked at the teeth. Then he went to the mirror.
He held the skull up, looking in the mirror. He pressed the skull against his cheek. Beside his own face the grinning skull leered back at him, beside his skull, against his living flesh.
He bared his teeth. And he knew.
It was his own skull that he held. He was the one who would die. He was the Founder.
After a time he put the skull down. For a few minutes he stood at the controls, playing with them idly. He could hear the sound of motors outside, the m.u.f.fled noise of men. Should he go back to the present, where the Speaker waited? He could escape, of course- Escape?
He turned toward the skull. There it was, his skull, yellow with age. Escape? Escape, when he had held it in his own hands?
What did it matter if he put it off a month, a year, ten years, even fifty? Time was nothing. He had sipped chocolate with a girl born a hundred and fifty years before his time. Escape? For a little while, perhaps.
But he could not really escape, no more so than anyone else had ever escaped, or ever would.
Only, he had held it in his hands, his own bones, his own death's-head.
They had not.
He went out the door and across the field, empty handed. There were a lot of them standing around, gathered together, waiting. They expected a good fight; they knew he had something. They had heard about the incident at the fountain.
And there were plenty of police-police with guns and tear gas, creeping across the hills and ridges, between the trees, closer and closer. It was an old story, in this century.
One of the men tossed something at him. It fell in the snow by his feet, and he looked down. It was a rock. He smiled.
"Come on!" one of them called. "Don't you have any bombs?"
"Throw a bomb! You with the beard! Throw a bomb!"
"Let 'em have it!"
"Toss a few A Bombs!"
They began to laugh. He smiled. He put his hands to his hips. They suddenly turned silent, seeing that he was going to speak.
"I'm sorry," he said simply. "I don't have any bombs. You're mistaken."
There was a flurry of murmuring.
"I have a gun," he went on. "A very good one. Made by science even more advanced than your own. But I'm not going to use that, either."
They were puzzled.
"Why not?" someone called. At the edge of the group an older woman was watching. He felt a sudden shock. He had seen her before. Where?
He remembered. The day at the library. As he had turned the corner he had seen her. She had noticed him and been astounded. At the time, he did not understand why.
Conger grinned. So he would escape death, the man who right now was voluntarily accepting it. They were laughing, laughing at a man who had a gun but didn't use it. But by a strange twist of science he would appear again, a few months later, after his bones had been buried under the floor of a jail.
And so, in a fas.h.i.+on, he would escape death. He would die, but then, after a period of months, he would live again, briefly, for an afternoon.
An afternoon. Yet long enough for them to see him, to understand that he was still alive. To know that somehow he had returned to life.
And then, finally, he would appear once more, after two hundred years had pa.s.sed. Two centuries later.
He would be born again, born, as a matter of fact, in a small trading village on Mars. He would grow up, learning to hunt and trade- A police car came on the edge of the field and stopped. The people retreated a little. Conger raised his hands.
"I have an odd paradox for you," he said. "Those who take lives will lose their own. Those who kill, will die. But he who gives his own life away will live again!"
They laughed, faintly, nervously. The police were coming out, walking toward him. He smiled. He had said everything he intended to say. It was a good little paradox he had coined. They would puzzle over it, remember it.
Smiling, Conger awaited a death foreordained.
THE EYE OF ALLAH.
By Charles W. Diffin
On the fatal seventh of September a certain Secret Service man sat in the President's chair and--looked back into the Eye of Allah.
Blinky Collins' part in this matter was very brief. Blinky lasted just long enough to make a great discovery, to brag about it as was Blinky's way, and then pa.s.s on to find his reward in whatever hereafter is set apart for weak-minded crooks whose heads are not hard enough to withstand the crus.h.i.+ng impact of a lead-filled pacifier.
The photograph studio of Blinky Collins was on the third floor of a disreputable building in an equally unsavory part of Chicago. There were no tinted pictures of beautiful blondes nor of stern, square-jawed men of affairs in Blinky's reception room. His clients, who came furtively there, were strongly opposed to having their pictures taken--they came for other purposes. For the photographic work of Mr. Collins was strictly commercial--and peculiar. There were fingerprints to be photographed and identified for purpose of private revenge, photographs of people to be merged and repictured in compromising closeness for reasons of blackmail. And even X-Ray photography was included in the scope of his work.
The great discovery came when a box was brought to the dingy room and Mr. Collins was asked to show what was inside it without the bother and inconvenience of disturbing lock and seals. The X-Ray machine sizzled above it, and a photographic plate below was developed to show a string of round discs that could easily have been pearls.
The temporary possessor of the box was pleased with the result--but Blinky was puzzled. For the developer had brought out an odd result. There were the pearls as expected, but, too, there was a small picture superimposed--a picture of a bald head and a body beneath seated beside a desk. The picture had been taken from above looking straight down, and head and desk were familiar.
Blinky knew them both. The odd part was that he knew also that both of them were at that instant on the ground floor of the same disreputable building, directly under and two floors below his workshop.
Like many great discoveries, this of Blinky's came as the result of an accident. He had monkeyed with the X-Ray generator and had made certain subst.i.tutions. And here was the result--a bald head and a desk, photographed plainly through two heavy wood floors. Blinky scratched his own head in deep thought. And then he repeated the operation.
This time there was a blonde head close to the bald one, and two people were close to the desk and to each other. Blinky knew then that there were financial possibilities in this new line of portrait work.
It was some time before the rat eyes of the inventor were able to see exactly what they wanted through this strange device, but Blinky learned. And he fitted a telescope back of the ray and found that he could look along it and see as if through a great funnel what was transpiring blocks and blocks away; he looked where he would, and brick walls or stone were like gla.s.s when the new ray struck through them.
Blinky never knew what he had--never dreamed of the tremendous potentialities in his oscillating ethereal ray that had a range and penetration beyond anything known. But he knew, in a vague way, that this ray was a channel for light waves to follow, and he learned that he could vary the range of the ray and that whatever light was shown at the end of that range came to him as clear and distinct as if he were there in the room.
He sat for hours, staring through the telescope. He would train the device upon a building across the street, then cut down the current until the unseen vibration penetrated inside the building. If there was nothing there of interest he would gradually increase the power, and the ray would extend out and still out into other rooms and beyond them to still others. Blinky had a lot of fun, but he never forgot the practical application of the device--practical, that is, from the distorted viewpoint of a warped mind.
"I've heard about your machine," said a pasty-faced man one day, as he sat in Blinky's room, "and I think it's a lot of hooey. But I'd give just one grand to know who is with the district attorney this minute."
"Where is he?" asked Blinky.
"Two blocks down the street, in the station house ... and if Pokey Barnard is with him, the lousy stool-pigeon--"
Blinky paid no attention to the other's opinion of one Pokey Barnard; he was busy with a sputtering blue light and a telescope behind a s.h.i.+eld of heavy lead.
"Put your money on the table," he said, finally: "there's the d.i.c.ks ... and there's Pokey. Take a look--"
It was some few minutes later that Blinky learned of another valuable feature in his ray. He was watching the district attorney when the pasty-faced man brushed against a hanging incandescent light. There was a bit of bare wire exposed, and as it swung into the ray the fuses in the Collins studio blew out instantly.
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iii Part 14
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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iii Part 14 summary
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