The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 41
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"Take it. I was beginning to feel lonesome, anyway."
He bowed gravely and ordered the porter to bring in his things. I decided he was a musician. Only artists go in for such lovely hair. But he undressed in dignified silence, not casting so much as another glance in my direction, while on my part I also forgot his presence when, looking through the port-hole, I realized that the train had begun to move. Soon the drone of the propelling engines began to make itself heard. Then the train began to dip down and the steel sides of the entrance became too high for me to see over. My friend of the silver hair had already turned off the light, and now I knew by the darkness that we had entered the Tube. For some time I lay awake thinking of "Dutch" and the ultimate failure of his life's dream, as he had outlined it to me, and then I sank into a deep, dreamless sleep.
I was awakened by a terrible shock that hurled me up against the side of the compartment. A dull, red glow poured through the port-hole, lighting up the interior with a weird, b.l.o.o.d.y reflection. I crept painfully up to the port-hole and looked out. The strangest sight that man has ever looked upon met my eyes. The side of the wall had blown out into a gigantic cavern, and with it the rest of the cars had rolled down the bluff a tangled, twisted ma.s.s of steel. My car had almost pa.s.sed by, and now it still stuck in the tube, even though the last port-hole through which I peered seemed to be suspended in air. But it was not the wrecked cars from which rose such wails of despair and agony that held my attention, but the cavern itself. For it was not really a cave, but a vast underground city whose wide, marble streets stretched away to an inferno of flame and lava. By the terrible light was lit up a great white palace with its gold-tipped scrolls, and closer to me, the golden temple of the Sun, with its tiers of l.u.s.trous yellow stairs--stairs worn by the feet of many generations.
Above the stairs towered the great statue of a man on horseback. He was dressed in a sort of tunic, and in his uplifted arm he carried a scroll as if for the people to read. His face was turned toward me, and I marveled even in that wild moment that the unknown sculptor could have caught such an expression of appeal. I can see the high intellectual brow as if it were before me at this moment--the level, sympathetic eyes and the firm chin.
Then something moving caught my eyes, and I swear I saw a child--a living child coming from the burning city--running madly, breathlessly from a wave of glowing lava that threatened to engulf him at any moment. In spite of all the ridicule that has been showered upon me, I still declare that the child did not come from the wreckage and that he wore a tunic similar to the one of the statue and not the torn bit of a nightgown or sheet.
He was some distance from me, but I could plainly see his expression of wild distraction as he began to climb those gleaming stairs. Strangely l.u.s.trous in the weird light, was that worn stairway of gold--gold, the ancient metal of the Sun. With the slowness of one about to faint he dragged himself up, while his breath seemed to be torn from his throat in agonizing gasps. Behind him, the glowing liquid splashed against the steps and the yellow metal of the Sun began to drip into its fiery cauldron.
The child reached the leg of the horse and clung there.
... Then suddenly the whole scene began to shake as if I had been looking at a mirage, while just behind my car I had a flas.h.i.+ng glimpse in that lurid light of an emerald-green deluge bursting in like a dark sky of solid water, and in that split-second before a crus.h.i.+ng blow upon my back, even through that tangle of bedclothes, knocked me into unconsciousness, I seemed to hear again the hopeless note in the voice of my friend as he said: "--an earthquake fault."
After what seemed to me aeons of strange, buzzing noises and peculiar lights, I at last made out the objects around me as those of a hospital. Men with serious faces were watching me. I have since been told that I babbled incoherently about "saving the little fellow" and other equally incomprehensible murmurings. From them I learned that the train the other way was washed out, a tangled ma.s.s of wreckage just like my car, both terminus stations wrecked utterly, and no one found alive except myself. So, although I am to be a hopeless cripple, yet I am not sorry that the skill and untiring patience of the great English surgeon, Dr. Thompson, managed to nurse back the feeble spark of my life through all those weeks that I hung on the borderland; for if he had not, the world never would have known.
As it is, I wonder over the events of that night as if it had not been an experience at all--but a wild weird dream. Even the gentleman with the ma.s.s of silver hair is a mystery, for he was never identified, and yet in my mind's recesses I can still hear his cultured voice asking about the extra berth, and mentioning his pressing mission to Paris. And somehow, he gives the last touch of strangeness to the events of that fatal night, and in my mind, he becomes a part of it no less than the child on the stairs, the burning inferno that lit the background, and the great statue of that unknown hero who held out his scroll for a moment in that lurid light, like a symbol from the sunken City of the Dead.
By Harry Harrison
General Wingrove looked at the rows of faces without seeing them. His vision went beyond the Congress of the United States, past the balmy June day to another day that was coming. A day when the Army would have its destined place of authority.
He drew a deep breath and delivered what was perhaps the shortest speech ever heard in the hallowed halls of Congress: "The General Staff of the U.S. Army requests Congress to abolish the archaic branch of the armed forces known as the U.S. Navy."
The aging Senator from Georgia checked his hearing aid to see if it was in operating order, while the press box emptied itself in one concerted rush and a clatter of running feet that died off in the direction of the telephone room. A buzz of excited comment ran through the giant chamber. One by one the heads turned to face the Naval section where rows of blue figures stirred and buzzed like smoked-out bees. The knot of men around a paunchy figure heavy with gold braid broke up and Admiral Fitzjames climbed slowly to his feet.
Lesser men have quailed before that piercing stare, but General Wingrove was never the lesser man. The admiral tossed his head with disgust, every line of his body denoting outraged dignity. He turned to his audience, a small pulse beating in his forehead.
"I cannot comprehend the general's att.i.tude, nor can I understand why he has attacked the Navy in this unwarranted fas.h.i.+on. The Navy has existed and will always exist as the first barrier of American defense. I ask you, gentlemen, to ignore this request as you would ignore the statements of any person ... er, slightly demented. I should like to offer a recommendation that the general's sanity be investigated, and an inquiry be made as to the mental health of anyone else connected with this preposterous proposal!"
The general smiled calmly. "I understand, Admiral, and really don't blame you for being slightly annoyed. But, please let us not bring this issue of national importance down to a shallow personal level. The Army has facts to back up this request-facts that shall be demonstrated tomorrow morning."
Turning his back on the raging admiral, General Wingrove included all the a.s.sembled solons in one sweeping gesture.
"Reserve your judgment until that time, gentlemen, make no hasty judgments until you have seen the force of argument with which we back up our request. It is the end of an era. In the morning the Navy joins its fellow fossils, the dodo and the brontosaurus."
The admiral's blood pressure mounted to a new record and the gentle thud of his unconscious body striking the floor was the only sound to break the shocked silence of the giant hall.
The early morning sun warmed the white marble of the Jefferson Memorial and glinted from the soldiers' helmets and the roofs of the packed cars that crowded forward in a slow-moving stream. All the gentlemen of Congress were there, the pa.s.sage of their cars cleared by the screaming sirens of motorcycle policemen. Around and under the wheels of the official cars pressed a solid wave of government workers and common citizens of the capital city. The trucks of the radio and television services pressed close, microphones and cameras extended.
The stage was set for a great day. Neat rows of olive drab vehicles curved along the water's edge. Jeeps and half-tracks shouldered close by weapons carriers and six-bys, all of them shrinking to insignificance beside the looming Patton tanks. A speakers' platform was set up in the center of the line, near the audience.
At precisely 10 a.m., General Wingrove stepped forward and scowled at the crowd until they settled into an uncomfortable silence. His speech was short and consisted of nothing more than amplifications of his opening statement that actions speak louder than words. He pointed to the first truck in line, a 2-ton filled with an infantry squad sitting stiffly at attention.
The driver caught the signal and kicked the engine into life; with a grind of gears it moved forward toward the river's edge. There was an indrawn gasp from the crowd as the front wheels ground over the marble parapet-then the truck was plunging down toward the muddy waters of the Potomac.
The wheels touched the water and the surface seemed to sink while taking on a strange gla.s.sy character. The truck roared into high gear and rode forward on the surface of the water surrounded by a saucer-shaped depression. It parked two hundred yards off sh.o.r.e and the soldiers, goaded by the sergeant's bark, leapt out and lined up with a showy present arms.
The general returned the salute and waved to the remaining vehicles. They moved forward in a series of maneuvers that indicated a great number of rehearsal hours on some hidden pond. The tanks rumbled slowly over the water while the jeeps cut back and forth through their lines in intricate patterns. The trucks backed and turned like puffing ballerinas.
The audience was rooted in a hushed silence, their eyeb.a.l.l.s bulging. They continued to watch the amazing display as General Wingrove spoke again: "You see before you a typical example of Army ingenuity, developed in Army laboratories. These motor units are supported on the surface of the water by an intensifying of the surface tension in their immediate area. Their weight is evenly distributed over the surface, causing the shallow depressions you see around them.
"This remarkable feat has been accomplished by the use of the Dornifier. A remarkable invention that is named after that brilliant scientist, Colonel Robert A. Dorn, Commander of the Brooke Point Experimental Laboratory. It was there that one of the civilian employees discovered the Dorn effect-under the Colonel's constant guidance, of course.
"Utilizing this invention the Army now becomes master of the sea as well as the land. Army convoys of trucks and tanks can blanket the world. The surface of the water is our highway, our motor park, our battleground-the airfield and runway for our planes."
Mechanics were pus.h.i.+ng a Shooting Star onto the water. They stepped clear as flame gushed from the tail pipe; with the familiar whoos.h.i.+ng rumble it sped down the Potomac and hurled itself into the air.
"When this cheap and simple method of crossing oceans is adopted, it will of course mean the end of that fantastic medieval anachronism, the Navy. No need for billion-dollar aircraft carriers, battles.h.i.+ps, drydocks and all the other c.u.mbersome junk that keeps those boats and things afloat. Give the taxpayer back his hard-earned dollar!"
Teeth grated in the Naval section as carriers and battles.h.i.+ps were called "boats" and the rest of America's sea might lumped under the casual heading of "things." Lips were curled at the transparent appeal to the taxpayer's pocketbook. But with leaden hearts they knew that all this justified wrath and contempt would avail them nothing. This was Army Day with a vengeance, and the doom of the Navy seemed inescapable.
The Army had made elaborate plans for what they called "Operation Sinker." Even as the general spoke the publicity mills ground into high gear. From coast to coast the citizens absorbed the news with their morning nourishment.
"... Agnes, you hear what the radio said! The Army's gonna give a trip around the world in a B-36 as first prize in this limerick contest. All you have to do is fill in the last line, and mail one copy to the Pentagon and the other to the Navy ..."
The Naval mail room had standing orders to burn all the limericks when they came in, but some of the newer men seemed to think the entire thing was a big joke. Commander Bullman found one in the mess hall: The Army will always be there, On the land, on the sea, in the air.
So why should the Navy Take all of the gravy ...
to which a seagoing scribe had added: And not give us ensigns our share?
The newspapers were filled daily with photographs of mighty B-36's landing on Lake Erie, and grinning soldiers making mock beachhead attacks on Coney Island. Each man wore a buzzing black box at his waist and walked on the bosom of the now quiet Atlantic like a biblical prophet.
Radio and television also carried the thousands of news releases that poured in an unending flow from the Pentagon Building. Cards, letters, telegrams and packages descended on Was.h.i.+ngton in an overwhelming torrent. The Navy Department was the unhappy recipient of deprecatory letters and a vast quant.i.ty of little cardboard battles.h.i.+ps.
The people spoke and their representatives listened closely. This was an election year. There didn't seem to be much doubt as to the decision, particularly when the reduction in the budget was considered.
It took Congress only two months to make up its collective mind. The people were all pro-Army. The novelty of the idea had fired their imaginations.
They were about to take the final vote in the lower house. If the amendment pa.s.sed it would go to the states for ratification, and their votes were certain to follow that of Congress. The Navy had fought a last-ditch battle to no avail. The balloting was going to be pretty much of a sure thing-the wet water Navy would soon become ancient history.
For some reason the admirals didn't look as unhappy as they should.
The Naval Department had requested one last opportunity to address the Congress. Congress had patronizingly granted permission, for even the doomed man is allowed one last speech. Admiral Fitzjames, who had recovered from his choleric attack, was the appointed speaker.
"Gentlemen of the Congress of the United States. We in the Navy have a fighting tradition. We 'd.a.m.n the torpedoes' and sail straight ahead into the enemy's fire if that is necessary. We have been stabbed in the back-we have suffered a second Pearl Harbor sneak attack! The Army relinquished its rights to fair treatment with this attack. Therefore we are counter-attacking!" Worn out by his attacking and mixed metaphors, the Admiral mopped his brow.
"Our laboratories have been working night and day on the perfection of a device we hoped we would never be forced to use. It is now in operation, having pa.s.sed the final trials a few days ago.
"The significance of this device cannot be underestimated. We are so positive of its importance that-we are demanding that the Army be abolished!"
He waved his hand toward the window and bellowed one word.
Everyone looked. They blinked and looked again. They rubbed their eyes and kept looking.
Sailing majestically up the middle of Const.i.tution Avenue was the battles.h.i.+p Missouri.
The Admiral's voice rang through the room like a trumpet of victory.
"The Mark-1 Debinder, as you see, temporarily lessens the binding energies that hold molecules of solid matter together. Solids become liquids, and a s.h.i.+p equipped with this device can sail anywhere in the world-on sea or land. Take your vote, gentlemen; the world awaits your decision."
By HENRY Ha.s.sE
Relentlessly, a narrative as old as time drives forward to a climax as old as man--and points a finger as grim as Death.
In the purely cerebral sense, there was no particular point-of-sequence at which Gral could have been said to Know. The very causality of his existence was a succession of brute obedience to brute awareness, for it was only thus that one survived. There was the danger-sense on those days when the great-toothed cats roamed the valley, and the males-who-will-bring remained huddled and sullen in the caves above the great ledge; there was the hunger-sense when provender was low, and Gor-wah drove them out with grunts and gibes to hunt the wild-dogs and lizards and lesser beasts; and not infrequently there was the other sense, the not-hunger, when the bring had been exceptional and there was somnolence after the gorging.
Gral could not remember when he had experienced the latter, for it was the dictate of Gor-wah, the Old One, that who did not bring did not eat--not until the others had gorged. Gral was small, and weakest of all the males. Not often did he bring. Once on a spurious moment he had scaled the valley-rim, and came out upon the huge plain where it was rumored the little three-toed horses roamed. And he had seen them, he had seen them! He pursued, armed only with blunt shaft and a few of the throw-stones such as Otah used; but he was less swift than the tiny horses, and his throw-stones fell wide, and it was rumored that here roamed the long-tusked s.h.a.ggy ones that were larger than the very caves ... trembling, Gral had retraced his way, to arrive at the ledge and meekly await Gor-wah's word that he could partake of the sinews that night.
... Point of sequence. Causality in action. An atom is dissected, a belly rumbles in hunger, a star blooms into brief nova; a bird wheels in futile escape, an ice-flow impacts, an equation is expressed in awesome mushrooming shape. These are mult.i.tudinous, apocalyptic. They are timeless and equal. These are things whereby suns wheel or blossom or die, a tribe vanishes, a civilization climbs or a world decays.
Or an earlier sun, hot and soft-stroking against leaves. Or a Pleistocene man, smallest of all the males, whose supine acceptance had devolved into laziness....
Gral would not have called it laziness; his crude synapses could not have contained the thought, much less given it relevance. Even later--as Gral-the-Bringer--his only point of relevance was to the Place where the great thing happened.
The Place was a small rocky cleft above the river, not easily accessible.... Gral found it one day because he dearly loved to climb, though all to be found here were the lizards, stringy and without substance. But this day he found more. It was warmth, a warmth immeasurably more satisfying than the caves-above-the-ledge. Here for perhaps an hour the late sun stroked directly in, soft and containing, setting the narrow walls aglow with bright-brushed patterns.
To Gral it was an hour apart. He gathered leaves and placed them here, and here he paused in the lateness of each day though his bring was frugal and his belly would rumble that night. But to that he was accustomed, and this was pleasurable.
It was the time of the thaw. Gral huddled in his Place and welcomed the stroking warmth. He was weary, his forage had been fruitless, his throw-stones wasted ... would he never master them as Otah and the others? He had confronted a wild-dog and pinned it snarling against rock, he had employed his shaft and got it fairly into flesh, only to have the beast slip off the smooth point and escape. Smooth points--they were useless! Briefly, his mind groped with that but could not sustain it.
So Gral burrowed into the leaves, his anger diminished as he watched with drowsy delight the sun-patterns stroking. And his eyes must have closed, half closed....
It was no snarl that brought him back--it was a tread, soft-shod and cautious, very close. The snarl came an instant later, deep-throated with anger and meaning.
Another had found this Place, this warmth, these leaves that were fine for burrowing. Gral came erect and stared into the visage of Obe the Great Bear; just six feet away he saw the great head that swayed with deceptive gentleness, the amber eyes burning, the twinned mountainous muscle of shoulders ... and in that quick moment Gral saw something else. Obe stood directly astride the pointed shaft which Gral had left too far distant.
Gral did not breathe. He did not move. Only his hand crept slowly, but already he knew his throw-stones were gone. Once more Obe snarled, and Gral saw those great shoulder muscles slide. His hand encountered the wall, groped desperately; then his fingers found something--a stick, a root, some gnarled thing that protruded....
In one rearing flow of motion, Obe launched out in a mighty reach. Gral caught part of that sweeping blow; stunned, he managed to gain footing, and now both his hands were on the protruding object. He wrenched and the thing came free, seeming strange and heavy in his hands. Obe was upon him again, the great paws ready to crush ... pure terror sent Gral stumbling back, but it was a different instinct that brought his arms once up and then down in a great arc....
Once only. He felt a wondrous impact that jarred him to the shoulders--and then it was a miracle. Obe was no longer upon him. Obe lay half sprawled, roaring with rage, and from Obe's ma.s.sive head came the crimson life-stuff!
Gral did not question. Avoiding the destructive paws, he leaped in and away, and then in, all the while employing the thing in his hand until Obe's life-stuff had run its course in crimson ruin.
Acceptance came slowly, as Gral sagged in weariness against the wall. He could not believe this thing! Timorously, he approached the great carca.s.s and prodded with his foot. Then he accepted.
Now things were happening inside him--a great turmoil, a throbbing within his chest. Gral straightened; he brought his arms quickly up and around, and the thing-that-slew felt wondrous in the arc. Even better than the throw-stones! It was like--he struggled for the meaning--like an extension of one's self! One threw the stone and yet retained it!
But alas, it was not a stone at all, Gral discovered. He placed the gnarled thing in sunlight and crouched to survey it. This thing-that-slew was but a length of rotting root, frozen at the end with clay and encrusted ice. And already the ice was shattered.
The sun did the rest, as Gral watched in despair; soon there was only soft melting mud and a gnarled stick that would never slay again.
For a long time Gral crouched there, trying to understand. Dimly he perceived, but his mind would not reach. He scowled angrily and flung the useless stick away. There was a thing inside him he did not like, a strange new thing that gnawed and nagged and brought anger again.
It was anger at being robbed of a priceless thing--but the gnawing went deeper.
Wearily, he rose. He began his trek back to the great ledge, to make announcement that his bring this day would be Obe.
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 41
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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 41 summary
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