The World Turned Upside Down Part 80

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Sonny stared at him. "Pete! Where you been? What happened? Are you all right?"

Pete s.h.i.+fted a little and grunted. Sonny shrugged and took the audiovid disc out of its wet envelope.

Moisture would not harm it particularly, though it could not be played while wet. It was made of a fine spiral of plastic, insulated between laminations. Electrostatic pickups above and below the turntablewould fluctuate with changes in the dielectric constant which had been impressed by the recording, and these changes were amplified for the scanners. The audio was a conventional hill-and-dale needle. Sonny began to wipe it down carefully.

Pete fought upward out of a vast, green-lit place full of flickering cold fires. Starr was calling him.

Something was punching him, too. He fought it weakly, trying to hear what she was saying. But someone else was jabbering too loud for him to hear.

He opened his eyes. Sonny was shaking him, his round face pink with excitement. The Audiovid was running. Starr was talking. Sonny got up impatiently and turned down the volume. "Pete! Pete! Wake up, will you? I got to tell you something. Listen to me! Wake up, will yuh?"

"Huh?"

"That's better. Now listen. I've just been listening to Starr Anthim-"

"She's dead," said Pete.

Sonny didn't hear. He went on, explosively, "I've figured it out. Starr was sent out here, and all over, to beg someone not to fire any more atom bombs. If the government was sure they wouldn't strike back, they wouldn't've taken the trouble. Somewhere, Pete, there's some way to launch bombs at those murdering cowards-and I've got a pret-ty shrewd idea of how to do it."

Pete strained groggily toward the faint sound of Starr's voice. Sonny talked on. "Now, s'posing there was a master radio key-an automatic code device something like the alarm signal they have on s.h.i.+ps, that rings a bell on any s.h.i.+p within radio range when the operator sends four long dashes. Suppose there's an automatic code machine to launch bombs, with repeaters, maybe, buried all over the country. What would it be? Just a little lever to pull; that's all. How would the thing be hidden? In the middle of a lot of other equipment, that's where; in some place where you'd expect to find crazy-looking secret stuff. Like an experiment station. Like right here. You beginning to get the idea?"

"Shut up, I can't hear her."

"The h.e.l.l with her! You can listen to her some other time. You didn't hear a thing I said!"

"She's dead."

"Yeah. Well, I figure I'll pull that handle. What can I lose? It'll give those murderin'-what?"

"She's dead."

"Dead? Starr Anthim?" His young face twisted, Sonny sank down to the cot. "You're half asleep. You don't know what you're saying."

"She's dead," Pete said hoa.r.s.ely. "She got burned by one of the first bombs. I was with her when she-she- Shut up now and get out of here and let me listen!" he bellowed hoa.r.s.ely.

Sonny stood up slowly. "They killed her, too. They killed her! That does it. That just fixes it up." His face was white. He went out. Pete got up. His legs weren't working right. He almost fell. He brought up against the console with a crash, his outflung arm sending the pickup skittering across the record. He put it on again and turned up the volume, then lay down to listen.

His head was all mixed up. Sonny talked too much. Bomb launchers, automatic code machines- "You gave me your heart," sand Starr. "You gave me your heart. You gave me your heart. You . . ."

Pete heaved himself up again and moved the pickup arm. Anger, not at himself, but at Sonny for causing him to cut the disc that way, welled up.

Starr was talking, stupidly, her face going through the same expression over and over again. "Struck from the east and from the struck from the east and from the . . ."

He got up again wearily and moved the pickup.

"You gave me your heart you gave me . . ."

Pete made an agonized sound that was not a word at all, bent, lifted, and sent the console cras.h.i.+ng over.

In the bludgeoning silence, he said, "I did, too."

Then, "Sonny." He waited.

"Sonny!"

His eyes went wide then, and he cursed and bolted for the corridor.

The panel was closed when he reached it. He kicked at it. It flew open, discovering darkness.

"Hey!" bellowed Sonny. "Shut it! You turned off the lights!"

Pete shut it behind them. The lights blazed.

"Pete! What's the matter?"

"Nothing's the matter, Son," croaked Pete.

"What are you looking at?" said Sonny uneasily.

"I'm sorry," said Pete as gently as he could. "I just wanted to find something out, is all. Did you tell anyone else about this?" He pointed to the lever.

"Why, no. I only just figured it out while you were sleeping, just now."

Pete looked around carefully, while Sonny s.h.i.+fted his weight. Pete moved toward a tool-rack.

"Something you haven't noticed yet, Sonny," he said softly, and pointed. "Up there, on the wall behind you. High up. See?"

Sonny turned. In one fluid movement Pete plucked off a fourteen-inch box wrench and hit Sonny with it as hard as he could. Afterward he went to work systematically on the power supplies. He pulled the plugs on the gas-engines and cracked their cylinders with a maul. He knocked off the tubing of the diesel starters-the tanks let go explosively-and he cut all the cables with bolt-cutters. Then he broke up the relay rack and its lever.

When he was quite finished, he put away his tools and bent and stroked Sonny's tousled hair.

He went out and closed the part.i.tion carefully. It certainly was a wonderful piece of camouflage. He sat down heavily on a workbench nearby.

"You'll have your chance," he said into the far future. "And, by Heaven, you'd better make good."

After that he just waited.

Afterword by Eric Flint When editors put together an anthology like this one, sooner or later they have to deal with what may be the th.o.r.n.i.e.s.t problem of all: Which story do you end with?

In this case, the decision . . . almost made itself. Not quite, I suppose. But in the course of the discussions the three of us had on the subject, "Thunder and Roses"came to the forefront with a certain kind of inevitability. Some of that, no doubt, is due to the factor that Dave discusses in his preface: all three of us were children of the Fifties, and we were shaped to some degree, one way or another, by that ever-looming fear of nuclear obliteration.

But there's more to it than that. "Thunder and Roses"is a horror story, but it's notjust a horror story. It's also a story of transcendent courage, and, in the grimmest possible way, a very inspiring story.

I stated in my preface to the first story in the anthology, Arthur Clarke's "Rescue Party,"that since I was a boy of thirteen I a.s.sociated that story, perhaps more than any other, with the inspiring nature of science fiction, which has always been to me its single most important characteristic.

If it has a contender, though-perhaps even a superior-it's this story by Sturgeon. I knew that even as a boy, although I rarely let myself think about it.

Inspiration, like courage, comes in different forms. There's the sort of courage that Achilles exemplifies, which is inseparable from fame and glory and played out in front of a vast audience. And then there's what I think of as cellar courage-a quiet refusal to yield that goes unrecognized and is noted, if at all, only by the executioner. The courage of nameless heroes who die in the darkness.

I've never liked Achilles-and I wouldn't trust him any farther than I could throw him. Give me cellar courage. If the human race continues to survive, it will ultimately be due to that kind of heroism. Heroism which has none of the trappings of heroes, and is therefore all the more reliable.We began this anthology with inspiration on a galactic scale, and we end it with a man sitting on a bench waiting to die. But not before he made the right decision, after wrestling with it like a quiet t.i.tan.

It seems . . . a very good way to end. A cycle, if you will. The logic of the first story depends, in the end, on the logic of the last. Without the one, you will never reach the other. The road to the stars begins in a cellar. Or, as the poet William Butler Yeats put it: Those masterful images because complete Grew in pure mind but out of what began?

I must lie down where all the ladders start In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

The World Turned Upside Down Part 80

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The World Turned Upside Down Part 80 summary

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