Science Fiction Vol. 1 (3 of 3)

Uploaded by The16thCavern on 05.11.2012

The Repairman by HARRY HARRISON
(quote) Being an interstellar trouble shooter wouldn't
be so bad ... if I could shoot the trouble!
(end quote)
The Old Man had that look of intense glee on his face that meant someone
was in for a very rough time. Since we were alone, it took no great feat
of intelligence to figure it would be me. I talked first, bold attack
being the best defense and so forth.
"I quit. Don't bother telling me what dirty job you have cooked up,
because I have already quit and you do not want to reveal company
secrets to me."
The grin was even wider now and he actually chortled as he thumbed a
button on his console. A thick legal document slid out of the delivery
slot onto his desk.
"This is your contract," he said. "It tells how and when you will work.
A steel-and-vanadium-bound contract that you couldn't crack with a
molecular disruptor."
I leaned out quickly, grabbed it and threw it into the air with a single
motion. Before it could fall, I had my Solar out and, with a wide-angle
shot, burned the contract to ashes.
The Old Man pressed the button again and another contract slid out on
his desk. If possible, the smile was still wider now.
"I should have said a _duplicate_ of your contract—like this one here."
He made a quick note on his secretary plate. "I have deducted 13 credits
from your salary for the cost of the duplicate—as well as a 100-credit
fine for firing a Solar inside a building."
I slumped, defeated, waiting for the blow to land. The Old Man fondled
my contract.
"According to this document, you can't quit. Ever. Therefore I have a
little job I know you'll enjoy. Repair job. The Centauri beacon has shut
down. It's a Mark III beacon...."
"_What_ kind of beacon?" I asked him. I have repaired hyperspace beacons
from one arm of the Galaxy to the other and was sure I had worked on
every type or model made. But I had never heard of this kind.
"Mark III," the Old Man repeated, practically chortling. "I never heard
of it either until Records dug up the specs. They found them buried in
the back of their oldest warehouse. This was the earliest type of beacon
ever built—by Earth, no less. Considering its location on one of the
Proxima Centauri planets, it might very well be the first beacon."
I looked at the blueprints he handed me and felt my eyes glaze with
horror. "It's a monstrosity! It looks more like a distillery than a
beacon—must be at least a few hundred meters high. I'm a repairman, not
an archeologist. This pile of junk is over 2000 years old. Just forget
about it and build a new one."
The Old Man leaned over his desk, breathing into my face. "It would take
a year to install a new beacon—besides being too expensive—and this
relic is on one of the main routes. We have ships making
fifteen-light-year detours now."
He leaned back, wiped his hands on his handkerchief and gave me Lecture
Forty-four on Company Duty and My Troubles.
"This department is officially called Maintenance and Repair, when it
really should be called trouble-shooting. Hyperspace beacons are made to
last forever—or damn close to it. When one of them breaks down, it is
_never_ an accident, and repairing the thing is never a matter of just
plugging in a new part."
He was telling _me_—the guy who did the job while he sat back on his
fat paycheck in an air-conditioned office.
He rambled on. "How I wish that were all it took! I would have a fleet
of parts ships and junior mechanics to install them. But its not like
that at all. I have a fleet of expensive ships that are equipped to do
almost anything—manned by a bunch of irresponsibles like _you_."
I nodded moodily at his pointing finger.
"How I wish I could fire you all! Combination space-jockeys, mechanics,
engineers, soldiers, con-men and anything else it takes to do the
repairs. I have to browbeat, bribe, blackmail and bulldoze you thugs
into doing a simple job. If you think you're fed up, just think how I
feel. But the ships must go through! The beacons must operate!"
I recognized this deathless line as the curtain speech and crawled to my
feet. He threw the Mark III file at me and went back to scratching in
his papers. Just as I reached the door, he looked up and impaled me on
his finger again.
"And don't get any fancy ideas about jumping your contract. We can
attach that bank account of yours on Algol II long before you could draw
the money out."
I smiled, a little weakly, I'm afraid, as if I had never meant to keep
that account a secret. His spies were getting more efficient every day.
Walking down the hall, I tried to figure a way to transfer the money
without his catching on—and knew at the same time he was figuring a way
to outfigure me.
It was all very depressing, so I stopped for a drink, then went on to
the spaceport.
By the time the ship was serviced, I had a course charted. The nearest
beacon to the broken-down Proxima Centauri Beacon was on one of the
planets of Beta Circinus and I headed there first, a short trip of only
about nine days in hyperspace.
To understand the importance of the beacons, you have to understand
hyperspace. Not that many people do, but it is easy enough to understand
that in this _non_-space the regular rules don't apply. Speed and
measurements are a matter of relationship, not constant facts like the
fixed universe.
The first ships to enter hyperspace had no place to go—and no way to
even tell if they had moved. The beacons solved that problem and opened
the entire universe. They are built on planets and generate tremendous
amounts of power. This power is turned into radiation that is punched
through into hyperspace. Every beacon has a code signal as part of its
radiation and represents a measurable point in hyperspace. Triangulation
and quadrature of the beacons works for navigation—only it follows its
own rules. The rules are complex and variable, but they are still rules
that a navigator can follow.
For a hyperspace jump, you need at least four beacons for an accurate
fix. For long jumps, navigators use as many as seven or eight. So every
beacon is important and every one has to keep operating. That is where I
and the other trouble-shooters came in.
We travel in well-stocked ships that carry a little bit of everything;
only one man to a ship because that is all it takes to operate the
overly efficient repair machinery. Due to the very nature of our job, we
spend most of our time just rocketing through normal space. After all,
when a beacon breaks down, how do you find it?
Not through hyperspace. All you can do is approach as close as you can
by using other beacons, then finish the trip in normal space. This can
take months, and often does.
This job didn't turn out to be quite that bad. I zeroed on the Beta
Circinus beacon and ran a complicated eight-point problem through the
navigator, using every beacon I could get an accurate fix on. The
computer gave me a course with an estimated point-of-arrival as well as
a built-in safety factor I never could eliminate from the machine.
I would much rather take a chance of breaking through near some star
than spend time just barreling through normal space, but apparently Tech
knows this, too. They had a safety factor built into the computer so you
couldn't end up inside a star no matter how hard you tried. I'm sure
there was no humaneness in this decision. They just didn't want to lose
the ship.
It was a twenty-hour jump, ship's time, and I came through in the middle
of nowhere. The robot analyzer chuckled to itself and scanned all the
stars, comparing them to the spectra of Proxima Centauri. It finally
rang a bell and blinked a light. I peeped through the eyepiece.
A fast reading with the photocell gave me the apparent magnitude and a
comparison with its absolute magnitude showed its distance. Not as bad
as I had thought—a six-week run, give or take a few days. After feeding
a course tape into the robot pilot, I strapped into the acceleration
tank and went to sleep.
The time went fast. I rebuilt my camera for about the twentieth time and
just about finished a correspondence course in nucleonics. Most
repairmen take these courses. Besides their always coming in handy, the
company grades your pay by the number of specialties you can handle. All
this, with some oil painting and free-fall workouts in the gym, passed
the time. I was asleep when the alarm went off that announced planetary
Planet two, where the beacon was situated according to the old charts,
was a mushy-looking, wet kind of globe. I tried to make sense out of
the ancient directions and finally located the right area. Staying
outside the atmosphere, I sent a flying eye down to look things over. In
this business, you learn early when and where to risk your own skin. The
eye would be good enough for the preliminary survey.
The old boys had enough brains to choose a traceable site for the
beacon, equidistant on a line between two of the most prominent mountain
peaks. I located the peaks easily enough and started the eye out from
the first peak and kept it on a course directly toward the second. There
was a nose and tail radar in the eye and I fed their signals into a
scope as an amplitude curve. When the two peaks coincided, I spun the
eye controls and dived the thing down.
I cut out the radar and cut in the nose orthicon and sat back to watch
the beacon appear on the screen.
The image blinked, focused—and a great damn pyramid swam into view. I
cursed and wheeled the eye in circles, scanning the surrounding country.
It was flat, marshy bottom land without a bump. The only thing in a
ten-mile circle was this pyramid—and that definitely wasn't my beacon.
Or wasn't it?
I dived the eye lower. The pyramid was a crude-looking thing of
undressed stone, without carvings or decorations. There was a shimmer of
light from the top and I took a closer look at it. On the peak of the
pyramid was a hollow basin filled with water. When I saw that, something
clicked in my mind.
Locking the eye in a circular course, I dug through the Mark III
plans—and there it was. The beacon had a precipitating field and a
basin on top of it for water; this was used to cool the reactor that
powered the monstrosity. If the water was still there, the beacon was
still there—inside the pyramid. The natives, who, of course, weren't
even mentioned by the idiots who constructed the thing, had built a nice
heavy, thick stone pyramid around the beacon.
I took another look at the screen and realized that I had locked the eye
into a circular orbit about twenty feet above the pyramid. The summit of
the stone pile was now covered with lizards of some type, apparently the
local life-form. They had what looked like throwing sticks and arbalasts
and were trying to shoot down the eye, a cloud of arrows and rocks
flying in every direction.
I pulled the eye straight up and away and threw in the control circuit
that would return it automatically to the ship.
Then I went to the galley for a long, strong drink. My beacon was not
only locked inside a mountain of handmade stone, but I had managed to
irritate the things who had built the pyramid. A great beginning for a
job and one clearly designed to drive a stronger man than me to the
Normally, a repairman stays away from native cultures. They are poison.
Anthropologists may not mind being dissected for their science, but a
repairman wants to make no sacrifices of any kind for his job. For this
reason, most beacons are built on uninhabited planets. If a beacon _has_
to go on a planet with a culture, it is usually built in some
inaccessible place.
Why this beacon had been built within reach of the local claws, I had
yet to find out. But that would come in time. The first thing to do was
make contact. To make contact, you have to know the local language.
And, for _that_, I had long before worked out a system that was
I had a pryeye of my own construction. It looked like a piece of rock
about a foot long. Once on the ground, it would never be noticed, though
it was a little disconcerting to see it float by. I located a lizard
town about a thousand kilometers from the pyramid and dropped the eye.
It swished down and landed at night in the bank of the local mud wallow.
This was a favorite spot that drew a good crowd during the day. In the
morning, when the first wallowers arrived, I flipped on the recorder.
After about five of the local days, I had a sea of native conversation
in the memory bank of the machine translator and had tagged a few
expressions. This is fairly easy to do when you have a machine memory to
work with. One of the lizards gargled at another one and the second one
turned around. I tagged this expression with the phrase, "Hey, George!"
and waited my chance to use it. Later the same day, I caught one of them
alone and shouted "Hey, George!" at him. It gurgled out through the
speaker in the local tongue and he turned around.
When you get enough reference phrases like this in the memory bank, the
MT brain takes over and starts filling in the missing pieces. As soon as
the MT could give a running translation of any conversation it heard, I
figured it was time to make a contact.
I found him easily enough. He was the Centaurian version of a
goat-boy—he herded a particularly loathsome form of local life in the
swamps outside the town. I had one of the working eyes dig a cave in an
outcropping of rock and wait for him.
When he passed next day, I whispered into the mike: "Welcome, O
Goat-boy Grandson! This is your grandfather's spirit speaking from
paradise." This fitted in with what I could make out of the local
Goat-boy stopped as if he'd been shot. Before he could move, I pushed a
switch and a handful of the local currency, wampum-type shells, rolled
out of the cave and landed at his feet.
"Here is some money from paradise, because you have been a good boy."
Not really from paradise—I had lifted it from the treasury the night
before. "Come back tomorrow and we will talk some more," I called after
the fleeing figure. I was pleased to notice that he took the cash before
taking off.
After that, Grandpa in paradise had many heart-to-heart talks with
Grandson, who found the heavenly loot more than he could resist. Grandpa
had been out of touch with things since his death and Goat-boy happily
filled him in.
I learned all I needed to know of the history, past and recent, and it
wasn't nice.
In addition to the pyramid being around the beacon, there was a nice
little religious war going on around the pyramid.
It all began with the land bridge. Apparently the local lizards had been
living in the swamps when the beacon was built, but the builders didn't
think much of them. They were a low type and confined to a distant
continent. The idea that the race would develop and might reach _this_
continent never occurred to the beacon mechanics. Which is, of course,
what happened.
A little geological turnover, a swampy land bridge formed in the right
spot, and the lizards began to wander up beacon valley. And found
religion. A shiny metal temple out of which poured a constant stream of
magic water—the reactor-cooling water pumped down from the atmosphere
condenser on the roof. The radioactivity in the water didn't hurt the
natives. It caused mutations that bred true.
A city was built around the temple and, through the centuries, the
pyramid was put up around the beacon. A special branch of the priesthood
served the temple. All went well until one of the priests violated the
temple and destroyed the holy waters. There had been revolt, strife,
murder and destruction since then. But still the holy waters would not
flow. Now armed mobs fought around the temple each day and a new band of
priests guarded the sacred fount.
And I had to walk into the middle of that mess and repair the thing.
It would have been easy enough if we were allowed a little mayhem. I
could have had a lizard fry, fixed the beacon and taken off. Only
"native life-forms" were quite well protected. There were spy cells on
my ship, all of which I hadn't found, that would cheerfully rat on me
when I got back.
Diplomacy was called for. I sighed and dragged out the plastiflesh
Working from 3D snaps of Grandson, I modeled a passable reptile head
over my own features. It was a little short in the jaw, me not having
one of their toothy mandibles, but that was all right. I didn't have to
look _exactly_ like them, just something close, to soothe the native
mind. It's logical. If I were an ignorant aborigine of Earth and I ran
into a Spican, who looks like a two-foot gob of dried shellac, I would
immediately leave the scene. However, if the Spican was wearing a suit
of plastiflesh that looked remotely humanoid, I would at least stay and
talk to him. This was what I was aiming to do with the Centaurians.
When the head was done, I peeled it off and attached it to an attractive
suit of green plastic, complete with tail. I was really glad they had
tails. The lizards didn't wear clothes and I wanted to take along a lot
of electronic equipment. I built the tail over a metal frame that
anchored around my waist. Then I filled the frame with all the equipment
I would need and began to wire the suit.
When it was done, I tried it on in front of a full-length mirror. It was
horrible but effective. The tail dragged me down in the rear and gave me
a duck-waddle, but that only helped the resemblance.
That night I took the ship down into the hills nearest the pyramid, an
out-of-the-way dry spot where the amphibious natives would never go. A
little before dawn, the eye hooked onto my shoulders and we sailed
straight up. We hovered above the temple at about 2,000 meters, until it
was light, then dropped straight down.
It must have been a grand sight. The eye was camouflaged to look like a
flying lizard, sort of a cardboard pterodactyl, and the slowly flapping
wings obviously had nothing to do with our flight. But it was impressive
enough for the natives. The first one that spotted me screamed and
dropped over on his back. The others came running. They milled and
mobbed and piled on top of one another, and by that time I had landed in
the plaza fronting the temple. The priesthood arrived.
I folded my arms in a regal stance. "Greetings, O noble servers of the
Great God," I said. Of course I didn't say it out loud, just whispered
loud enough for the throat mike to catch. This was radioed back to the
MT and the translation shot back to a speaker in my jaws.
The natives chomped and rattled and the translation rolled out almost
instantly. I had the volume turned up and the whole square echoed.
Some of the more credulous natives prostrated themselves and others fled
screaming. One doubtful type raised a spear, but no one else tried that
after the pterodactyl-eye picked him up and dropped him in the swamp.
The priests were a hard-headed lot and weren't buying any lizards in a
poke; they just stood and muttered. I had to take the offensive again.
"Begone, O faithful steed," I said to the eye, and pressed the control
in my palm at the same time.
It took off straight up a bit faster than I wanted; little pieces of
wind-torn plastic rained down. While the crowd was ogling this ascent, I
walked through the temple doors.
"I would talk with you, O noble priests," I said.
Before they could think up a good answer, I was inside.
The temple was a small one built against the base of the pyramid. I
hoped I wasn't breaking too many taboos by going in. I wasn't stopped,
so it looked all right. The temple was a single room with a
murky-looking pool at one end. Sloshing in the pool was an ancient
reptile who clearly was one of the leaders. I waddled toward him and he
gave me a cold and fishy eye, then growled something.
The MT whispered into my ear, "Just what in the name of the thirteenth
sin are you and what are you doing here?"
I drew up my scaly figure in a noble gesture and pointed toward the
ceiling. "I come from your ancestors to help you. I am here to restore
the Holy Waters."
This raised a buzz of conversation behind me, but got no rise out of the
chief. He sank slowly into the water until only his eyes were showing. I
could almost hear the wheels turning behind that moss-covered forehead.
Then he lunged up and pointed a dripping finger at me.
"You are a liar! You are no ancestor of ours! We will—"
"Stop!" I thundered before he got so far in that he couldn't back out.
"I said your ancestors sent me as emissary—I am not one of your
ancestors. Do not try to harm me or the wrath of those who have Passed
On will turn against you."
When I said this, I turned to jab a claw at the other priests, using the
motion to cover my flicking a coin grenade toward them. It blew a nice
hole in the floor with a great show of noise and smoke.
The First Lizard knew I was talking sense then and immediately called a
meeting of the shamans. It, of course, took place in the public bathtub
and I had to join them there. We jawed and gurgled for about an hour and
settled all the major points.
I found out that they were new priests; the previous ones had all been
boiled for letting the Holy Waters cease. They found out I was there
only to help them restore the flow of the waters. They bought this,
tentatively, and we all heaved out of the tub and trickled muddy paths
across the floor. There was a bolted and guarded door that led into the
pyramid proper. While it was being opened, the First Lizard turned to
"Undoubtedly you know of the rule," he said. "Because the old priests
did pry and peer, it was ruled henceforth that only the blind could
enter the Holy of Holies." I'd swear he was smiling, if thirty teeth
peeking out of what looked like a crack in an old suitcase can be called
He was also signaling to him an underpriest who carried a brazier of
charcoal complete with red-hot irons. All I could do was stand and watch
as he stirred up the coals, pulled out the ruddiest iron and turned
toward me. He was just drawing a bead on my right eyeball when my brain
got back in gear.
"Of course," I said, "blinding is only right. But in my case you will
have to blind me before I _leave_ the Holy of Holies, not now. I need my
eyes to see and mend the Fount of Holy Waters. Once the waters flow
again, I will laugh as I hurl myself on the burning iron."
He took a good thirty seconds to think it over and had to agree with me.
The local torturer sniffled a bit and threw a little more charcoal on
the fire. The gate crashed open and I stalked through; then it banged to
behind me and I was alone in the dark.
But not for long—there was a shuffling nearby and I took a chance and
turned on my flash. Three priests were groping toward me, their
eye-sockets red pits of burned flesh. They knew what I wanted and led
the way without a word.
A crumbling and cracked stone stairway brought us up to a solid metal
doorway labeled in archaic script _MARK III BEACON—AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL
ONLY_. The trusting builders counted on the sign to do the whole job,
for there wasn't a trace of a lock on the door. One lizard merely turned
the handle and we were inside the beacon.
I unzipped the front of my camouflage suit and pulled out the
blueprints. With the faithful priests stumbling after me, I located the
control room and turned on the lights. There was a residue of charge in
the emergency batteries, just enough to give a dim light. The meters and
indicators looked to be in good shape; if anything, unexpectedly bright
from constant polishing.
I checked the readings carefully and found just what I had suspected.
One of the eager lizards had managed to open a circuit box and had
polished the switches inside. While doing this, he had thrown one of the
switches and that had caused the trouble.
Rather, that had _started_ the trouble. It wasn't going to be ended by
just reversing the water-valve switch. This valve was supposed to be
used only for repairs, after the pile was damped. When the water was cut
off with the pile in operation, it had started to overheat and the
automatic safeties had dumped the charge down the pit.
I could start the water again easily enough, but there was no fuel left
in the reactor.
I wasn't going to play with the fuel problem at all. It would be far
easier to install a new power plant. I had one in the ship that was
about a tenth the size of the ancient bucket of bolts and produced at
least four times the power. Before I sent for it, I checked over the
rest of the beacon. In 2000 years, there should be _some_ sign of wear.
The old boys had built well, I'll give them credit for that. Ninety per
cent of the machinery had no moving parts and had suffered no wear
whatever. Other parts they had beefed up, figuring they would wear, but
slowly. The water-feed pipe from the roof, for example. The pipe walls
were at least three meters thick—and the pipe opening itself no bigger
than my head. There were some things I could do, though, and I made a
list of parts.
The parts, the new power plant and a few other odds and ends were chuted
into a neat pile on the ship. I checked all the parts by screen before
they were loaded in a metal crate. In the darkest hour before dawn, the
heavy-duty eye dropped the crate outside the temple and darted away
without being seen.
I watched the priests through the pryeye while they tried to open it.
When they had given up, I boomed orders at them through a speaker in the
crate. They spent most of the day sweating the heavy box up through the
narrow temple stairs and I enjoyed a good sleep. It was resting inside
the beacon door when I woke up.
The repairs didn't take long, though there was plenty of groaning from
the blind lizards when they heard me ripping the wall open to get at the
power leads. I even hooked a gadget to the water pipe so their Holy
Waters would have the usual refreshing radioactivity when they started
flowing again. The moment this was all finished, I did the job they were
waiting for.
I threw the switch that started the water flowing again.
There were a few minutes while the water began to gurgle down through
the dry pipe. Then a roar came from outside the pyramid that must have
shaken its stone walls. Shaking my hands once over my head, I went down
for the eye-burning ceremony.
The blind lizards were waiting for me by the door and looked even
unhappier than usual. When I tried the door, I found out why—it was
bolted and barred from the other side.
"It has been decided," a lizard said, "that you shall remain here
forever and tend the Holy Waters. We will stay with you and serve your
every need."
A delightful prospect, eternity spent in a locked beacon with three
blind lizards. In spite of their hospitality, I couldn't accept.
"What—you dare interfere with the messenger of your ancestors!" I had
the speaker on full volume and the vibration almost shook my head off.
The lizards cringed and I set my Solar for a narrow beam and ran it
around the door jamb. There was a great crunching and banging from the
junk piled against it, and then the door swung free. I threw it open.
Before they could protest, I had pushed the priests out through it.
The rest of their clan showed up at the foot of the stairs and made a
great ruckus while I finished welding the door shut. Running through the
crowd, I faced up to the First Lizard in his tub. He sank slowly beneath
the surface.
"What lack of courtesy!" I shouted. He made little bubbles in the water.
"The ancestors are annoyed and have decided to forbid entrance to the
Inner Temple forever; though, out of kindness, they will let the waters
flow. Now I must return—on with the ceremony!"
The torture-master was too frightened to move, so I grabbed out his hot
iron. A touch on the side of my face dropped a steel plate over my eyes,
under the plastiskin. Then I jammed the iron hard into my phony
eye-sockets and the plastic gave off an authentic odor.
A cry went up from the crowd as I dropped the iron and staggered in
blind circles. I must admit it went off pretty well.
Before they could get any more bright ideas, I threw the switch and my
plastic pterodactyl sailed in through the door. I couldn't see it, of
course, but I knew it had arrived when the grapples in the claws latched
onto the steel plates on my shoulders.
I had got turned around after the eye-burning and my flying beast hooked
onto me backward. I had meant to sail out bravely, blind eyes facing
into the sunset; instead, I faced the crowd as I soared away, so I made
the most of a bad situation and threw them a snappy military salute.
Then I was out in the fresh air and away.
When I lifted the plate and poked holes in the seared plastic, I could
see the pyramid growing smaller behind me, water gushing out of the base
and a happy crowd of reptiles sporting in its radioactive rush. I
counted off on my talons to see if I had forgotten anything.
One: The beacon was repaired.
Two: The door was sealed, so there should be no more sabotage,
accidental or deliberate.
Three: The priests should be satisfied. The water was running again, my
eyes had been duly burned out, and they were back in business. Which
added up to—
Four: The fact that they would probably let another repairman in, under
the same conditions, if the beacon conked out again. At least I had done
nothing, like butchering a few of them, that would make them
antagonistic toward future ancestral messengers.
I stripped off my tattered lizard suit back in the ship, very glad that
it would be some other repairman who'd get the job.
End of The Repairman by HARRY HARRISON
Toy Shop by Harry Harrison
Because there were few adults in the crowd, and Colonel "Biff" Hawton
stood over six feet tall, he could see every detail of the
demonstration. The children—and most of the parents—gaped in wide-eyed
wonder. Biff Hawton was too sophisticated to be awed. He stayed on
because he wanted to find out what the trick was that made the gadget
"It's all explained right here in your instruction book," the
demonstrator said, holding up a garishly printed booklet opened to a
four-color diagram. "You all know how magnets pick up things and I bet
you even know that the earth itself is one great big magnet—that's why
compasses always point north. Well ... the Atomic Wonder Space Wave
Tapper hangs onto those space waves. Invisibly all about us, and even
going right through us, are the magnetic waves of the earth. The Atomic
Wonder rides these waves just the way a ship rides the waves in the
ocean. Now watch...."
Every eye was on him as he put the gaudy model rocketship on top of the
table and stepped back. It was made of stamped metal and seemed as
incapable of flying as a can of ham—which it very much resembled.
Neither wings, propellors, nor jets broke through the painted surface.
It rested on three rubber wheels and coming out through the bottom was a
double strand of thin insulated wire. This white wire ran across the top
of the black table and terminated in a control box in the demonstrator's
hand. An indicator light, a switch and a knob appeared to be the only
"I turn on the Power Switch, sending a surge of current to the Wave
Receptors," he said. The switch clicked and the light blinked on and off
with a steady pulse. Then the man began to slowly turn the knob. "A
careful touch on the Wave Generator is necessary as we are dealing with
the powers of the whole world here...."
A concerted _ahhhh_ swept through the crowd as the Space Wave Tapper
shivered a bit, then rose slowly into the air. The demonstrator stepped
back and the toy rose higher and higher, bobbing gently on the invisible
waves of magnetic force that supported it. Ever so slowly the power was
reduced and it settled back to the table.
"Only $17.95," the young man said, putting a large price sign on the
table. "For the complete set of the Atomic Wonder, the Space Tapper
control box, battery and instruction book ..."
At the appearance of the price card the crowd broke up noisily and the
children rushed away towards the operating model trains. The
demonstrator's words were lost in their noisy passage, and after a
moment he sank into a gloomy silence. He put the control box down,
yawned and sat on the edge of the table. Colonel Hawton was the only one
left after the crowd had moved on.
"Could you tell me how this thing works?" the colonel asked, coming
forward. The demonstrator brightened up and picked up one of the toys.
"Well, if you will look here, sir...." He opened the hinged top. "You
will see the Space Wave coils at each end of the ship." With a pencil he
pointed out the odd shaped plastic forms about an inch in diameter that
had been wound—apparently at random—with a few turns of copper wire.
Except for these coils the interior of the model was empty. The coils
were wired together and other wires ran out through the hole in the
bottom of the control box. Biff Hawton turned a very quizzical eye on
the gadget and upon the demonstrator who completely ignored this sign of
"Inside the control box is the battery," the young man said, snapping it
open and pointing to an ordinary flashlight battery. "The current goes
through the Power Switch and Power Light to the Wave Generator ..."
"What you mean to say," Biff broke in, "is that the juice from this
fifteen cent battery goes through this cheap rheostat to those
meaningless coils in the model and absolutely nothing happens. Now tell
me what really flies the thing. If I'm going to drop eighteen bucks for
six-bits worth of tin, I want to know what I'm getting."
The demonstrator flushed. "I'm sorry, sir," he stammered. "I wasn't
trying to hide anything. Like any magic trick this one can't be really
demonstrated until it has been purchased." He leaned forward and
whispered confidentially. "I'll tell you what I'll do though. This
thing is way overpriced and hasn't been moving at all. The manager said
I could let them go at three dollars if I could find any takers. If you
want to buy it for that price...."
"Sold, my boy!" the colonel said, slamming three bills down on the
table. "I'll give that much for it no matter _how_ it works. The boys in
the shop will get a kick out of it," he tapped the winged rocket on his
chest. "Now _really_—what holds it up?"
The demonstrator looked around carefully, then pointed. "Strings!" he
said. "Or rather a black thread. It runs from the top of the model,
through a tiny loop in the ceiling, and back down to my hand—tied to
this ring on my finger. When I back up—the model rises. It's as simple
as that."
"All good illusions are simple," the colonel grunted, tracing the black
thread with his eye. "As long as there is plenty of flimflam to distract
the viewer."
"If you don't have a black table, a black cloth will do," the young man
said. "And the arch of a doorway is a good site, just see that the room
in back is dark."
"Wrap it up, my boy, I wasn't born yesterday. I'm an old hand at this
kind of thing."
Biff Hawton sprang it at the next Thursday-night poker party. The gang
were all missile men and they cheered and jeered as he hammed up the
"Let me copy the diagram, Biff, I could use some of those magnetic waves
in the new bird!"
"Those flashlight batteries are cheaper than lox, this is the thing of
the future!"
Only Teddy Kaner caught wise as the flight began. He was an amateur
magician and spotted the gimmick at once. He kept silent with
professional courtesy, and smiled ironically as the rest of the bunch
grew silent one by one. The colonel was a good showman and he had set
the scene well. He almost had them believing in the Space Wave Tapper
before he was through. When the model had landed and he had switched it
off he couldn't stop them from crowding around the table.
"A thread!" one of the engineers shouted, almost with relief, and they
all laughed along with him.
"Too bad," the head project physicist said, "I was hoping that a little
Space Wave Tapping could help us out. Let me try a flight with it."
"Teddy Kaner first," Biff announced. "He spotted it while you were all
watching the flashing lights, only he didn't say anything."
Kaner slipped the ring with the black thread over his finger and started
to step back.
"You have to turn the switch on first," Biff said.
"I know," Kaner smiled. "But that's part of illusion—the spiel and the
misdirection. I'm going to try this cold first, so I can get it moving
up and down smoothly, then go through it with the whole works."
He moved his hand back smoothly, in a professional manner that drew no
attention to it. The model lifted from the table—then crashed back
"The thread broke," Kaner said.
"You jerked it, instead of pulling smoothly," Biff said and knotted the
broken thread. "Here let me show you how to do it."
The thread broke again when Biff tried it, which got a good laugh that
made his collar a little warm. Someone mentioned the poker game.
This was the only time that poker was mentioned or even remembered that
night. Because very soon after this they found that the thread would
lift the model only when the switch was on and two and a half volts
flowing through the joke coils. With the current turned off the model
was too heavy to lift. The thread broke every time.
"I still think it's a screwy idea," the young man said. "One week
getting fallen arches, demonstrating those toy ships for every brat
within a thousand miles. Then selling the things for three bucks when
they must have cost at least a hundred dollars apiece to make."
"But you _did_ sell the ten of them to people who would be interested?"
the older man asked.
"I think so, I caught a few Air Force officers and a colonel in missiles
one day. Then there was one official I remembered from the Bureau of
Standards. Luckily he didn't recognize me. Then those two professors you
spotted from the university."
"Then the problem is out of our hands and into theirs. All we have to do
now is sit back and wait for results."
"_What_ results?! These people weren't interested when we were hammering
on their doors with the proof. We've patented the coils and can prove to
anyone that there is a reduction in weight around them when they are
"But a small reduction. And we don't know what is causing it. No one can
be interested in a thing like that—a fractional weight decrease in a
clumsy model, certainly not enough to lift the weight of the generator.
No one wrapped up in massive fuel consumption, tons of lift and such is
going to have time to worry about a crackpot who thinks he has found a
minor slip in Newton's laws."
"You think they will now?" the young man asked, cracking his knuckles
"I _know_ they will. The tensile strength of that thread is correctly
adjusted to the weight of the model. The thread will break if you try to
lift the model with it. Yet you can lift the model—after a small
increment of its weight has been removed by the coils. This is going to
bug these men. Nobody is going to ask them to solve the problem or
concern themselves with it. But it will nag at them because they know
this effect can't possibly exist. They'll see at once that the
magnetic-wave theory is nonsense. Or perhaps true? We don't know. But
they will all be thinking about it and worrying about it. Someone is
going to experiment in his basement—just as a hobby of course—to find
the cause of the error. And he or someone else is going to find out what
makes those coils work, or maybe a way to improve them!"
"And we have the patents...."
"Correct. They will be doing the research that will take them out of the
massive-lift-propulsion business and into the field of pure space
"And in doing so they will be making us rich—whenever the time comes to
manufacture," the young man said cynically.
"We'll all be rich, son," the older man said, patting him on the
shoulder. "Believe me, you're not going to recognize this old world ten
years from now."
End of Toy Shop by Harry Harrison
Warning from the Stars by Ron Cocking
It was a beautifully machined container, shaped like a two pound
chocolate candy box, the color and texture of lead. The cover fitted so
accurately that it was difficult to see where it met the lip on the
Yet when Forster lifted the container from the desk in the security
guards' office, he almost hit himself in the face with it, so light was
He read the words clumsily etched by hand into the top surface with some
sharp instrument:
TO BE OPENED ONLY BY: Dr. Richard Forster,
Assistant Director, Air Force Special Research Center,
Petersport, Md.
CAUTION: Open not later than 24 hours after receipt.
DO NOT OPEN in atmosphere less than equivalent of 65,000 feet
above M.S.L.
He turned the container over and over. It bore no other markings—no
express label or stamps, no file or reference number, no return address.
It was superbly machined, he saw.
Tentatively he pulled at the container cover, it was as firm as if it
had been welded on. But then, if the cover had been closed in the thin
atmosphere of 65,000 feet, it would be held on by the terrific pressure
of a column of air twelve miles high.
Forster looked up at the burly guard.
"Who left this here?"
"Your guess is as good as mine, sir." The man's voice was as close to
insolence as the difference in status would allow, and Forster
"I just clocked in an hour ago. There was a thick fog came on all of a
sudden, and there was a bit of confusion when we were changing over.
They didn't say anything about the box when I relieved."
"Fog?" Forster queried. "How could fog form on a warm morning like
"You're the scientist, sir. You tell me. Went as fast as it came."
"Well—it looks like very sloppy security. The contents of this thing
must almost certainly be classified. Give me the book and I'll sign for
it. I'll phone you the file number when I find the covering
Forster was a nervous, over-conscientious little man, and his day was
already ruined, because any departure from strict administrative routine
worried and upset him. Only in his field of aviation medicine did he
feel competent, secure.
He knew that around the center they contemptuously called him
"Lilliput." The younger researchers were constantly trying to think up
new ways to play jokes on him, and annoy him.
Crawley Preston, the research center's director and his chief, had been
summoned to Washington the night before. Forster wished fervently that
he was around to deal with this matter. Now that relations between East
and West had reached the snapping point, the slightest deviation from
security regulations usually meant a full-scale inquiry.
He signed for the container, and carried it out to the car, still
seething impotently over the guard's insolence.
He placed it beside him on the front seat of his car and drove up to the
building which housed part of the labs and also his office.
He climbed out, then as he slammed the door he happened to glance into
the car again.
The seat covers were made of plastic in a maroon and blue plaid pattern.
But where the box had rested there was a dirty grey rectangular patch
that hadn't been there before.
Forster stared, then opened the door again. He rubbed his fingers over
the discolored spot; it felt no different than the rest of the fabric.
Then he placed the box over the area—it fitted perfectly.
He flopped down on the seat, his legs dangling out of the car, fighting
down a sudden irrational wave of panic. He pushed the container to the
other end of the seat.
_After all_, he rationalized, _plastics are notoriously unstable under
certain conditions. This is probably a new alloy Washington wants tested
for behavior under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure.
What's gotten into you?_
He took a deep breath, picked up the box again. Where it had rested
there was another discolored patch on the car seat covers.
Holding it away from him, Forster hurried into the office, then dumped
the box into a metal wastebasket. Then he went to a cabinet and pulled
out a Geiger counter, carried it over to the wastebasket. As he pointed
the probe at the box the familiar slow clicking reassured him, and
feeling a little foolish he put the instrument back on its shelf.
[Illustration: In his pressurized chamber, Forster read the startling
Hurriedly, he went through his mail; there was nothing in it referring
to the package. Then he called the classified filing section; nobody
there knew anything about it either.
For some reason he couldn't explain to himself, he wasn't even
He stared into the wastebasket. The clumsily etched instructions glinted
up at him: "_To be opened as soon as possible...._"
He picked up the phone and called the decompression chamber building.
There was no valid reason why he should have been self-conscious as he
talked to the lab attendant in charge of the decompression tank. He used
it a dozen times a month for tests and experiments, yet when he gave his
instructions his voice was labored and strained.
"Some genius in Washington sent this thing down without any covering
instructions, but it has to be opened in a hurry in a thin atmosphere.
Er—I'd like you to stay on the intercom for a while in case it blows up
in my face or something." He tried to laugh, but all that came out was a
The attendant nodded indifferently, then helped Forster into the helmet
of his pressure suit. He climbed up the steps into the chamber, pulling
the airtight door shut behind him. He placed the box on the desk in
front of the instrument panel, then turned back to push the door clamps
into place.
For the first time in the hundreds of hours he'd spent in the tank, he
knew the meaning of claustrophobia.
Mechanically, he plugged in his intercom and air lines, went through the
other routine checks before ascent, tested communications with the lab
attendant, then flicked the exhaust motor switch.
Now there was little to do except wait. He stared at the box; in the
artificial light it seemed full of hidden menace, a knowing aliveness of
its own....
Forster shrugged his shoulders impatiently, as though to throw off the
vague blanket of uneasiness that was settling around him. So somebody
had forgotten to send a covering message with the container, or else it
had been mislaid—that could happen, although with security routine as
strict as it was, the possibility was remote. All the same, it could
happen. After all, what other explanation was there? What was it he was
afraid of? There was something about it—
He glanced at the altimeter. The needle showed only 10,000 feet, and
seemed to be crawling around the dial. He resolved not to look at it
for three minutes by the clock on the panel.
When he checked the altimeter again, it registered just over 30,000
feet. Not even half way yet.
As the pressure in the tank decreased, he began to be conscious of the
need for "reverse breathing"—and he concentrated on using his tongue to
check the flow of air into his lungs, then using the thoracic muscles to
exhale against the higher pressure inside the suit.
Time seemed to be passing in micro-seconds ... 25,000 feet ... 30,000
... 40,000 ... 50,000.
At 62,500 feet he gently tested the cover of the container again; it
As the altimeter needle flickered on the 65,000-foot mark, he cut the
exhaust motor and picked up the box. The cover slipped off easily.
His feeling of anticlimax was almost ludicrous. As he looked in, all the
box contained was a flattened roll of some greyish material.
He took it out; despite its comparative bulk, it was feather-light. It
had the appearance of metal, but was as porous and pliable as a good
grade of bond paper. He could not feel its texture through his heavy
gloves. He took a good look.
It was new all right—no doubt Washington wanted some tests run on it,
although without covering instructions and data this trip was wasted.
But some heads would roll when he reported back on the way the container
had been shipped in.
He started to unroll the material to get a better look at it, then he
saw that it was covered with cramped, closely spaced handwriting in a
purplish ink—handwriting that was elusively familiar.
Then he read the words written in neat capitals at the top, the name of
the man with the familiar handwriting, and fear came back, clamped cold
fingers around his throat:
_James Rawdon Bentley_
Dear Dick, the writing went on, Take a large economy-size grip on
yourself. I know this is going to sound like a voice from the dead, but
I'm very much alive and kicking—in the best of health in fact....
The writing blurred, and instinctively Forster put his fist up to rub
his eyes, only to meet the hard plastic of his helmet visor. James
Rawdon Bentley....
It was January 18, 1951, three years ago, and the jagged line of the
Australian coast stretched like a small-scale map to the black curve of
the horizon.
From the converted bomber that was his flying lab, Forster could see the
other American observation plane cruising on a parallel course, about
half a mile away, and beyond it downwind the fringe of the billowing
cloud dome of the super-secret British thermonuclear shot.
Then suddenly Bentley's voice from the other plane was crackling over
the earphones, sharp and urgent:
"Our Geigers and scintillometers are going crazy! We're getting out of
here! There's something coming inside ... a light...."
Silence. Forster had watched in helpless horror as the other ship dipped
a silver wing, then nosed down ever so slowly, it seemed ... down ...
down ... in a dive that seemed to take hours as Forster's plane tracked
it, ending in a tiny splash like a pebble being thrown into a pond; then
the grimly beautiful iridescence of oil and gasoline spreading across
the glassy waters of the Timor Sea.
No parachutes had opened on the long journey down. An Australian air sea
rescue launch and helicopter were at the scene of the crash in minutes,
but neither bodies nor survivors had been found, then or later....
"Everything okay, Doctor Forster?"
"Yes," he said hoarsely. "Yes ... everything's okay ... just routine."
Forster focussed his eyes on the writing again. There was no doubt at
all that it was Bentley's. They had roomed and studied together for four
years at MIT, and then there had been a couple of years' post-graduate
work after that. During all that time they had used each other's notes
But Bentley was dead.
Forster read on, stunned:
First, you'll want to know what happened over the Timor Sea after the
shot. Put very simply, I, the rest of the technicians, and the crew of
the B-29 were transhipped to another vehicle—without any damage to
ourselves. How, I'm not allowed to explain at this stage. Actually, they
only wanted me, but it wasn't feasible to collect me and leave the rest
behind, so they're all here, safe and well.
Who are "they," and where am I? The second question I can't answer—not
allowed to. "They," roughly translated, are "The Shining Ones," which
doesn't tell you anything, of course. Briefly, they're a couple of
light-years ahead of Earth in evolution—mentally, morally, and
physically, although I use the last word loosely. Too bad that English
is a commercial language, it's so hard to discuss really abstract ideas.
Why am I here? The whole reason for this message is wrapped up in the
answer to that.
As you probably know, Project Longfall, which I was heading up was
delayed about a year due to my removal. That was the sole purpose,
although I and the rest of us are getting special instruction to keep us
About the same time, they also took several other key people from
Britain, Russia, and the United States. Others were already here.
The idea then was _delay_—to delay more test shots of atomic weapons,
in the hope that East and West would come to some agreement. Now,
because of the growing volume of tests, and the critical tension which
prevails, delay will no longer suffice, and far more drastic steps are
to be taken.
I wish you could be here for only a few minutes to see what happens
after a multi-megaton thermonuclear test shot is set off on Earth.
I can't describe it in terms which would have any relation to your
present knowledge of physics. All I can say is that life here is
intimately bound up with the higher laws of electro-magnetism which at
present are only being guessed at on your level. It's not the
radioactivity which you know as such which causes the trouble—there are
neutralizing devices throughout the planetary system to take care of
that. The damage is caused by an ultra-ultra-short wave radiation which
not even the most sensitive scintillometer you have can pick up, a very
subtle by-product of every chain reaction.
It doesn't have too much immediate effect on the lower forms of
life—including human beings, if you'll pardon the expression. But here,
it causes a ghastly carnage, so ghastly it sickens me even to think
about it for a second.
The incredible thing is that the people here could stop Earth from
firing another shot if they wished to, and at 24 hours' notice, but
their philosophy is totally opposed to force, even when it means their
own destruction. That will give you an idea of the kind of people they
(Here they say that Einstein was on the fringe of discovering the theory
involved when he died, but was having trouble with the mathematics.
Remember how Einstein always complained that he was really a poor
But with atomic warfare threatening to break out on Earth at any minute,
they have got to do something.
This is what they plan to do—this is what they _are going to do_.
Starting within a few hours after you receive this message, a mass
removal of key scientists will begin. They will take 20, 30, or
40—roughly equal numbers from both sides—every few hours as technical
conditions allow. That will go on until East and West agree to drop this
whole mad weapons race. It will be done quietly, peacefully. Nobody will
be hurt except by a fluke. But if needs be, they will lift every major
scientific brain off the face of Earth to stop the present drift to
disaster for everybody. There are no weapons, no devices that you have
at present, which can stop this plan going into effect. There it
is—it's as simple as that.
If you knew what you were really headed for, it would need no steps
from here to make both sides on Earth stop this horrible foolishness in
a moment.
The lesson of Mars is part of the orientation course here. (I'm _not_ on
Mars). I'm using up space, so I'll go into note form for a bit. Martians
had an atomic war—forgot they had to breathe ... destroyed 60 per cent
of their atmosphere ... canals on Mars aren't ... they're closely-spaced
line of shafts leading to underground cities ... view from Earth
telescopes, shaft mouths appear as dots which run together into lines
due to eye-fatigue ... British Royal Astronomical Society figured that
out 30 years ago at least ... see papers on their proceedings ...
photographs here show monsters created by wholesale mutations ... lasted
about four generations before reproduction failed ... now only
vegetation on Mars ... saw pictures of last survivors ... horrible ... I
was ill for days after ... imagine having to take 40 separate breaths
after making a single step!
Getting back to the others here ... a regular U. N. Remember O'Connor
and Walters in our class? They're here. Check, you'll find that O'Connor
is "detached" from Oak Ridge and Walters from Aiken for "special duty."
That's Central Intelligence's story for their disappearance.
Remember those top German boys the Russians were supposed to have gotten
to before the Allies could reach them after the Nazi collapse? _They're
here too!_ And Kamalnikov, and Pretchkin of the Russian Academy.
Believe me (the style and the writing was a little less urgent again
now), I've had all the intellectual stuffing knocked out of me here.
We all have had, for that matter. We're supposed to be the cream of the
crop, but imagine sitting down to instruction from people whose I.Q.s
start where yours leaves off!
But what has really made most of us here feel pretty humble is the way
they have demolished Earth's so-called "scientific method"—and used the
method itself to prove that it doesn't stand up!
You know how we've always been taught to observe, collect data, then
erect a theory to fit the data, a theory which has to be modified when
other data came along which don't fit into it.
Here they work the opposite way—they say: "Know the fundamental
principles governing the operation of the universe and then all the
pieces fit together inside this final Truth."
I understand now why so many of the Oak Ridge boys turned to religion
after they had been exposed to the electron microscope for a while—they
realized they had gone as far as their "scientific" training would ever
take them.
Time and space are running out. I know all this must sound confused and
incredible, Dick; I'm still confused myself. But I want you to think
about what I've written, then take the action you think best. I know it
won't be easy for you.
If you think this is some maniac's idea of a joke, you'll have proof
very soon that it isn't, because _one of the people at your Center is
due to leave for here any time now_.
You're wondering why I used this weird and wonderful means of
communication. The problem was to find a writing material which would
stand up in Earth's atmosphere—oddly enough, it's not the oxygen which
causes the trouble, but the so-called "inert" nitrogen. The container
will probably not disintegrate for a couple of days at sea level
atmospheric pressure, but this material I'm writing on would not last
more than a few seconds. That's one reason they picked you—most people
just don't have a spare decompression chamber up in the attic! The other
reason was that with your photographic memory, you'll know this is my
handwriting, beyond the shadow of a doubt, I hope.
I'm sure you've sat in that pressure suit long enough. But remember, if
you want to take another look at this, you'll have to put it back in the
container before you go "down."
Wishing you all you would wish for yourself,
Forster examined the signature. That was the way Bentley made the
capital J—it looked almost like a T, with just a faint hook on the
bottom of the down-stroke. Then the way it joined the—
"Hey, Doc—are you going to tie up the tank all day? I've got work to
Forster recognized the voice on the intercom as Tom Summerford's.
Summerford was one of the crop of recent graduates to join the
Center—brash, noisy, irresponsible like the rest of them. He knew
Forster hated being called "Doc," so he never lost an opportunity to use
the word. True, he was gifted and well-trained, but he was a ringleader
in playing the practical jokes on Forster which might have been funny in
college, but which only wasted a research team's time in these critical
Practical joke.
Anger flooded over him.
Yes, this was all a macabre game cooked up by Summerford, with the help
of some of his pals. Probably they were all out there now, snickering
among themselves, waiting to see his face when he came out of the
decompression chamber ... waiting to gloat....
"Hey Doc! You still with us?"
"I'll be out very shortly," Forster said grimly. "Just wait right
He spun the air inlet controls; impatiently, he watched as the
altimeter needle began its anti-clockwise movement.
He'd call a staff meeting right away, find the culprits and suspend them
from duty. Preston would have to back him up. If Summerford proved to be
the ringleader, he would insist on his dismissal, Forster decided. And
he would see to it that the young punk had trouble getting another post.
The fantastic waste of time involved in such an elaborate forgery ...
Forster trembled with indignation. And using the name of a dead man,
above all a scientist who had died in the interests of research, leaving
behind him a mystery which still troubled the Atomic Energy Commission,
because nobody had ever been able to explain that sudden dive in a plane
which was apparently functioning perfectly, and flown by a veteran
He glanced down at the roll.
Was it his imagination, or had the purplish ink begun to fade? He ran a
length of it through his fingers, and then he saw that in places there
were gaps where the writing had disappeared altogether. He glanced up at
the altimeter needle, which was sliding by the 24,000-foot mark.
He looked back at his hands again, just in time to see the roll part in
two places, leaving only the narrow strip he held between his gloved
He put the strip on the desk, and bent clumsily in his suit to retrieve
the other pieces from the floor. But wherever he grabbed it, it fell
apart. Now it seemed to be melting before his eyes. In a few seconds
there was nothing.
He straightened up. The strip he had left on the desk had disappeared,
too. No ash, no residue. Nothing.
His thought processes seemed to freeze. He glanced mechanically at the
altimeter. It read 2,500 feet.
He grabbed at the two pieces of the container. They still felt as rigid
as ever. He fitted them together carefully, gaining a crumb of security
from the act.
He realized vaguely that the altimeter needle was resting on zero, but
he had no idea how long he had been sitting there, trying to find a
thread of logic in the confused welter of thoughts, when he heard the
scrape of metal on metal as somebody wrestled with the door clamps from
the outside.
He was certain of only one thing. His memory told him that the signature
that was no longer a signature had been written by Jim Rawdon, who
couldn't possibly have survived that crash into the Timor Sea....
From behind, somebody was fumbling with his helmet connections, then
fresh air and familiar sounds rushed in on him as the helmet was taken
Summerford's thin, intelligent face was opposite his.
"Doc! Are you all right?" he was asking sharply. For once, there was no
superciliousness in his voice.
"I'm fine," Forster said heavily. "I—I've got a headache. Stayed in
here too long, I suppose."
"What's in the box?" Summerford asked.
The way he asked told Forster at once that the youngster knew nothing
about it.
"Er—just some half-baked idea out of the Pentagon. Some colonel trying
to justify his existence." He clutched the box to him as though
Summerford might try to take it away. "The tank's all yours."
He turned and clambered out of the chamber. He put the box down on the
concrete floor, and climbed out of the pressure suit, watching the box
all the time. It seemed to gleam up at him, as though it had eyes, full
of silent menace.
He realized vaguely that Summerford was standing in front of him again,
looking anxious.
"Are you quite sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine," Forster said, hardly recognizing his own voice.
He picked up the box and stumbled out, heading for his office.
When he walked in, his secretary was answering the line fitted with a
scrambler, which connected directly with the Pentagon.
"General Morganson," she said, handing him the receiver.
Forster took the receiver, sat down at his desk and took a deep breath,
fighting hard to regain his self control.
"Forster," he said into the mouthpiece when the office door closed
behind the girl.
"Forster! What the dickens has happened to Preston? My driver met the
train here this morning, but there was no sign of him. But the Pullman
porter checked him in last night, and we found all his gear and papers
in his compartment!"
"He left here in plenty of time to catch the train, General," Forster
heard himself say. "He took the train to get a night's rest." He
realized how irrelevant the last statement was only after he had made
The General was talking again ... important meeting with the Joint
Chiefs ... whole briefing team was being held up ... he'd reported it to
the C.I.A. as a precautionary measure....
Forster could see the words on the roll, the roll that wasn't, as though
they were engraved on his eye-retinas: _As a beginning, and to prove
this isn't just a bit of hocus-pocus, one of the people at your Center
is due to leave for here any time now._
"General," Forster broke in hoarsely. "I've got some very important
information which you must have. I'll leave by heliplane right away."
He replaced the phone receiver in its cradle, wondering how convincing
he would be able to make his story. At least, even if he didn't have
Bentley's letter, he had the container. That should help.
But when he looked across the desk, he saw that it too had disappeared,
without a trace.
General Morganson was the newest product of the Atomic Age, half
soldier, half scientist—shrewd and perceptive, an intellectual giant.
He listened carefully, without comment or change of expression, as
Forster doggedly went through his story in chronological order.
Half way through, he held up his hand and started pushing buttons on the
console built into his desk. Within a few moments men began filing into
the room, and sat down around Forster.
Then the general motioned to the clerk seated in the corner by a tape
"Gentlemen, listen to this playback and then I'll have Dr. Forster here
go on from there."
What was left of Forster's confidence leaked away as he heard his own
diffident voice filling the room again. It was like being awake in the
middle of a weird dream.
But when the tape recorder hissed into silence, he went on, staring
straight ahead of him in quiet desperation.
When he ended his story, there was silence for a moment. Everyone sat
Then Morganson looked up and around.
"Well gentlemen? Mr. Bates, C.I.A. first."
This was no longer a story told by one man; it had become a problem, a
situation to be evaluated objectively.
"Well, sir ... the only part of the thing I can comment on at this point
is the stuff about O'Connor and Walters. That checks. They both
disappeared without a trace. It was treated as a maximum security
situation, and we did give out the story they had been assigned to
special duty." He glanced briefly at Forster. "Up until now, we assumed
that only the directors at Aiken and Oak Ridge knew the real
situation—outside of the Atomic Energy Commission and C.I.A., of
course. This represents a very serious leak—or...." His voice trailed
"Colonel Barfield, Intelligence?"
The young colonel tried to sound flippant, unsuccessfully.
"General, acting on the assumption the story is true, it would answer
about two hundred question marks in our files. Maybe more, with further
The C.I.A. man cleared his throat and raised a finger.
"For everybody's information," he said, "a preliminary field check shows
that Dr. Preston's train was stopped for ten minutes by fog last night.
The train's radar installation failed simultaneously. There wouldn't be
anything odd about that except the temperature at the time was about 65
degrees, and the humidity was only 55 per cent. Consider that,
"Theoretically, fog can't form under such conditions. Similar local fog
occurred on the occasions when O'Connor and Walters were reported
missing. The Met. people couldn't explain that, either. That's all."
Morganson sat up straight, as though he had suddenly made a decision.
"I don't think there's any value in further discussion at this point.
You will all have transcripts of Dr. Forster's statement within a few
minutes. According to that statement, we are due to lose a number of key
men in the next few hours. I'll have Code One emergency precautions
instituted at all research establishments, and I think the chairman of
the Joint Chiefs should hear from me right away. Colonel Barfield, I'd
like you to ask Colonel Malinowski, the Russian military attaché to see
me here not later than an hour from now. We'll have a full dress
conference here at 8 o'clock tomorrow morning, with written evaluation
reports in detail from all branches. Dr. Forster, consider yourself
assigned to Pentagon duty as of now, and until further notice."
Forster sat, dazed, until he realized that the others had left, and the
general was standing in front of him.
"Go get some rest, Forster," the other man said with surprising
gentleness. "You've had a tough day."
As Forster slept that early summer night, weathermen across the world
were marking their weather maps with thousands of observations—feathery
wind arrows, temperatures, barometric pressures and relative humidities.
Then, as they drew their isobars, the pattern for the northern
hemisphere emerged. A giant high pressure system with its center in
northern Oklahoma promised warm fair weather across America. Another,
centered east of the Ural Mountains, forecast clear weather for most of
Europe and northern Asia.
A low pressure trough between was dropping light warm rain on the green
fields of England, but from Seattle to Washington, D. C, from Stettin to
Vladivostock the sun was rising or setting in clear skies.
Then about 9 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, a thickening mist descended
over warm and drowsy southwest South Carolina. It was a fog that was not
a fog, observers said afterwards, because there was no damp, no
coldness—just a steady loss of visibility until a man couldn't see his
hand held up in front of his face, even though a bright moon was
shining. Most of the reporting night shift at the Aiken hydrogen bomb
plant never reached the tightly-guarded gates. Those who did were not
allowed in.
At the same hour, across the world at the newly-built underground heavy
water factory of Rossilovskigorsk, west of the southern tip of Lake
Baikal, the late morning sun cast deep shadows into the gaping holes in
the hillside which marked the plant entrances and exits. Deep below,
miles of filtration chambers hissed quietly as they prepared their
deadly concentrate.
Then, without warning, the sun grew watery and paled, and within a few
minutes a haze began to form at ground level. It grew thicker and
thicker; the sun became a dim orange sphere, then was blotted out. Total
darkness enveloped the area.
And at the same hour, the watchers manning the lonely circle of probing
radar domes, facing each other across the frozen wastes of the Arctic,
cursed softly in Russian and English as their scopes sweeping the upper
air first went blank and then dark.
They were shaken men at the meeting in General Morganson's office the
next morning.
"Over 30 key men gone from Aiken," Morganson was saying. "In terms of
goals, it means that our 1960 program now cannot possibly be fulfilled
until 1965. If the situation develops as forecast in Dr. Forster's
statement, our entire nuclear weapons program will grind to a halt
within two weeks. If we drain men from civilian research, it will cause
a total breakdown in the civilian atomic power production program. As
you all know, the nation's entire economic expansion program is based on
the availability of that power. Without it, industry will be forced into
a deep freeze. That in turn means we might as well run up a white flag
on the White House lawn."
He smiled thinly. "I would be a lot more worried than I am except we
have the first indications that the other side is in the same boat. I
broke every regulation in the book last night when I talked to
Malinowski. I took the liberty of warning him, on the basis that there
was nothing to lose. His reaction then was that it was all a Wall
Street-capitalist plot—'psychological warfare,' he called it.
"He phoned me an hour ago. Sounded as though he'd just seen a ghost. He
said the Russian ambassador had asked for an appointment with the
Secretary of State this morning...."
Forster, bewildered and out of his depth in these global problems, let
the flood of words pour over him.
Then he realized that Morganson was staring at him over the telephone
receiver at his ear, and that the room was very quiet.
Then Morganson said respectfully: "Very well, Mr. President. We'll have
Doctor Forster there."
Forster was relegated to the sidelines after his interview with the
grave-faced man in the White House. Events were moving swiftly—events
which Forster could read behind the blurred black headlines of the
The Russian ambassador was closeted with the Secretary of State for a
record six-hour talk. Then the Soviet Foreign Minister took off for
Washington at 30 minutes' notice, and another record was made when he
spent all day with the President. The Washington columnists began to
hint of lessening tension in the cold war, and the wire services carried
reports of Russian radio broadcasts talking of a new era of cooperation
between East and West.
Only fragments of the broadcasts could be monitored, because radio
reception had suddenly deteriorated right across the world. The reports
could not be confirmed because Russia had cut all phone communication
with the outside world. There was no possible mode of contact.
Meanwhile, in the United States, television reception was blacking out
for hours at a time, with no explanation available. The Civil
Aeronautics Administration and the Air Force banned all plane movements
under instrument flight conditions, because radar navigational equipment
had become so unreliable as to be useless.
Newspapers across the nation were reporting sudden fogs of short
duration which baffled local weathermen. The U. S. Weather Bureau in
Washington refused to comment.
For the first time in the history of an East-West conference, there was
no haggling, no propaganda speeches. Hour after hour, even as the talks
went on, the cream of the world's scientific brains quietly continued to
disappear, it was revealed later.
In three days, the major powers accomplished what they had failed to do
in the previous 15 years. Just 4 days and 21 hours after Forster had
first talked to General Morganson at the Pentagon, a treaty was signed
ending the world atomic weapons race.
And it had all happened, was over and done, before the people of the
globe could realize what was happening, before they could rise in mass
panic in the face of the incredible unknown.
Almost immediately after the announcement, radio and radar
communications suddenly returned to normal, and reports of the
mysterious fogs ceased.
Back at the Center, as he walked down the floodlit ramp of the heliport
towards his car, Forster found himself thinking of the experimental work
on the dream state which he had performed as a graduate student. He knew
that a dream which might take half an hour to recount took only a
fraction of a second to occur in the sub-conscious of the sleeper as he
It was the same way with the events of the last five days; already
details were becoming fuzzy and blurred as though they had happened
five years ago.
He opened the car door, and the soft glow of the dome light filled the
Then he saw again the neat rectangular discoloration on the seat covers,
and the jolt back to reality was almost a physical thing. Relief,
overwhelming, flooded over him.
He looked up into the indigo-velvet sky. Above him was the enormous
triangle formed by Deneb, Vega, and Altair. Framed within it were a
thousand other dimmer stars, but all, he knew, far, far bigger than the
speck of solidified gases called Earth.
Somewhere out there, living, thinking, breathing was Bentley.
"Good night," Forster said out loud.
And somehow, he was sure he wasn't talking into thin air.
End of Warning from the Stars by Ron Cocking