Authors: Clifford D. Simak
The next day they tried heavier, more complicated things and learned still more.
A radiogram, phoned from the nearest spaceport, forty miles distant, informed them that Wilson would not be back for a few days. His tooth was worse than he had thought, required an operation and treatment of the jaw.
“Hell,” said Russ, “just when he could be so much help.”
With Wilson gone the two of them tackled the controlling device, labored and swore over it. But finally it was completed.
Slumped in chairs, utterly exhausted, they looked proudly at it.
“With that,” said Russ, “we can take an object and transport it any place we want. Not only that, we can pick up any object from an indefinite distance and bring it to us.”
“What a thing for a lazy burglar,” Greg observed sourly.
Worn out, they gulped sandwiches and scalding coffee, tumbled into bed.
outdoor camp meeting was in full swing. The evangelist was in his top form. The sinners’ bench was crowded. Then suddenly, as the evangelist paused for a moment’s silence before he drove home an important point, the music came. Music from the air. Music from somewhere in the sky. The soft, heavenly music of a hymn. As if an angels’ chorus were singing in the blue.
The evangelist froze, one arm pointing upward, with index finger ready to sweep down and emphasize his point. The sinners kneeling at the bench were petrified. The congregation was astounded.
The hymn rolled on, punctuated, backgrounded by deep celestial organ notes. The clear voice of the choir swept high to a bell-like note.
“Behold!” shrieked the evangelist. “Behold, a miracle! Angels singing for us! Kneel! Kneel and pray!”
* * * *
was drunk again. In the piteous glare of mid-morning, he staggered homeward from the poker party in the back of Steve Abram’s harness shop. The light revealed him to the scorn of the entire village.
At the corner of Elm and Third he ran into a maple tree. Uncertainly he backed away, intent on making another try. Suddenly the tree spoke to him:
“Alcohol is the scourge of mankind. It turns men into beasts. It robs them of their brains, it shortens their lives . . .”
Andy stared, unable to believe what he heard. The tree, he had no doubt, was talking to him personally.
The voice of the tree went on: “. . . takes the bread out of the mouths of women and children. Fosters crime. Weakens the moral fiber of the nation.”
“Stop!” screamed Andy. “Stop, I tell you!”
The tree stopped talking. All he could hear was the whisper of wind among its autumn-tinted leaves.
Suddenly running, Andy darted around the corner, headed home.
“Begad,” he told himself, “when trees start talkin’ to you it’s time to lay off the bottle!”
* * * *
another town fifty miles distant from the one in which the tree had talked to Andy McIntyre, another miracle happened that same Sunday morning.
Dozens of people heard the bronze statue of the soldier in the courtyard speak. The statue did not come to life. It stood as ever, a solid piece of golden bronze, in spots turned black and green by weather. But from its lips came words . . . words that burned themselves into the souls of those who heard. Words that exhorted them to defend the principles for which many men had died, to grasp and hold high the torch of democracy and liberty.
In somber bitterness, the statue called Spencer Chambers the greatest threat to that liberty and freedom. For, the statue said, Spencer Chambers and Interplanetary Power were waging an economic war, a bloodless one, but just as truly war as if there were cannons firing and bombs exploding.
For a full five minutes the statue spoke and the crowd, growing by the minute, stood dumbfounded.
Then silence fell over the courtyard. The statue stood as before, unmoving, its timeless eyes staring out from under the ugly helmet, its hands gripping the bayoneted rifle. A blue and white pigeon fluttered softly down, alighted on the bayonet, looked the crowd over and then flew to the courthouse tower.
* * * *
in the laboratory, Russ looked at Greg.
“That radio trick gives me an idea,” he said. “If we can put a radio in statues and trees without interfering with its operation, why can’t we do the same thing with a television set?”
Greg started. “Think of the possibilities of that!” he burst out.
Within an hour a complete television sending apparatus was placed within the field and a receptor screen set up in the laboratory.
The two moved chairs in front of the screen and sat down. Russ reached out and pulled the switch of the field control. The screen came to life, but it was only a gray blur.
“It’s traveling too fast,” said Greg. “Slow it down.”
Russ retarded the lever. “When that thing’s on full, it’s almost instantaneous. It travels in a time dimension and any speed slower than instantaneity is a modification of that force field.”
On the screen swam a panorama of the mountains, mile after mile of snow-capped peaks and valleys ablaze with the flames of autumn foliage. The mountains faded away. There was desert now and then a city. Russ dropped the televisor set lower, down into a street. For half an hour they sat comfortably in their chairs and watched men and women walking, witnessed one dog fight, cruised slowly up and down, looking into windows of homes, window-shopping in the business section.
“There’s just one thing wrong,” said Greg. “We can see everything, but we can’t hear a sound.”
“We can fix that,” Russ told him.
He lifted the televisor set from the streets, brought it back across the desert and mountains into the laboratory.
“We have two practical applications now,” said Greg. “Space drive and television spying. I don’t know which is the best. Do you realize that with this television trick there isn’t a thing that can be hidden from us?”
“I believe we can go to Mars or Mercury or anywhere we want to with this thing. It doesn’t seem to have any particular limits. It handles perfectly. You can move it a fraction of an inch as easily as a hundred miles. And it’s fast. Almost instantaneous. Not quite, for even with our acceleration within time, there is a slight lag.”
By evening they had an audio apparatus incorporated in the set, had wired the screen for sound.
“Let’s put this to practical use,” suggested Greg. “There’s a show at the New Mercury Theater in New York I’ve been wanting to see. Let’s knock off work and take in that show.”
“Now,” said Russ, “you really have an idea. The ticket scalpers are charging a fortune, and it won’t cost us a cent to get in!”
roots burned brightly in the fireplace, snapping and sizzling as the blaze caught and flamed on the resin. Deep in an easy chair, Greg Manning stretched his long legs out toward the fire and lifted his glass, squinting at the flames through the amber drink.
“There’s something that’s been worrying me a little,” he said. “I hadn’t told you about it because I figured it wasn’t as serious as it looked. Maybe it isn’t, but it looks funny.”
“What’s that?” asked Russ.
“The stock market,” replied Greg. “There’s something devilish funny going on there. I’ve lost about a billion dollars in the last two weeks.”
dollars?” gasped Russ.
Greg swirled the whiskey in his glass. “Don’t sound so horrified. The loss is all on paper. My stocks have gone down. Most of them cut in half. Some even less than that. Martian Irrigation is down to 75. I paid 185 for it. It’s worth 200.”
“You mean something has happened to the market?”
“Not to the market. If that was it, I wouldn’t worry. I’ve seen the market go up and down. That’s nothing to worry about. But the market, except for a slight depression, has behaved normally in these past two weeks. It almost looks as if somebody was out to get me.”
“Who’d want to and why?”
Greg sighed. “I wish I knew. I haven’t really lost a cent, of course. My shares can’t stay down for very long. The thing is that right now I can’t sell them even for what I paid for them. If I sold now I’d lose that billion. But as long as I don’t have to sell, the loss is merely on paper.”
He sipped at the drink and stared into the fire.
“If you don’t have to, what are you worrying about?” asked Russ.
“Couple of things. I put that stock up as collateral to get the cash to build the spaceship. At present prices, it will take more securities than I thought. If the prices continue to go down, I’ll have the bulk of my holdings tied up in the spaceship. I might even be forced to liquidate some of it and that would mean an actual loss.”
He hunched forward in the chair, stared at Russ.
“Another thing,” he said grimly, “is that I hate the idea of somebody singling me out as a target. As if they were going to make a financial example of me.”
“And it sounds as if someone has,” agreed Russ.
Greg leaned back again, drained his glass and set it down.
“It certainly does,” he said.
Outside, seen through the window beside the fireplace, the harvest moon was a shield of silver hung in the velvet of the sky. A lonesome wind moaned in the pines and under the eaves.
“I got a report from Belgium the other day,” said Greg. “The spaceship is coming along. It’ll be the biggest thing afloat in space.”
“The biggest and the toughest,” said Russ, and Greg nodded silent agreement.
The ship itself was being manufactured at the great Space Works in Belgium, but other parts of it, apparatus, engines, gadgets of every description, were being manufactured at other widely scattered points. Anyone wondering what kind of ship the finished product would be would have a hard time gathering the correct information, which, of course, was the idea. The “anyone” they were guarding against was Spencer Chambers.
* * * *
need a better television set,” said Russ. “This one we have is all right, but we need the best there is. I wonder if Wilson could get us one in Frisco and bring it back.”
“I don’t see why not,” said Greg. “Send him a radio.”
Russ stepped to the phone, called the spaceport and filed the message.
“He always stays at the Greater Martian,” he told Greg. “We’ll probably catch him there.”
* * * *
hours later the phone rang. It was the spaceport.
“That message you sent to Wilson,” said the voice of the operator, “can’t be delivered. Wilson isn’t at the Greater Martian. The clerk said he checked out for New York last night.”
“Didn’t he leave a forwarding address?” asked Russ.
Russ hung up the receiver, frowning. “Wilson is in New York.”
Greg looked up from a sheet of calculations.
“New York, eh?” he said and then went back to work, but a moment later he straightened from his work. “What would Wilson be doing in New York?”
“I wonder . . .” Russ stopped and shook his head.
“Exactly,” said Greg. He glanced out of the window, considering, the muscles in his cheeks knotting. “Russ, we both are thinking the same thing.”
“I hate to think it,” said Russ evenly. “I hate to think such a thing about a man.”
“One way to find out,” declared Greg. He rose from the chair and walked to the television control board, snapped the switch. Russ took a chair beside him. On the screen the mountains danced weirdly as the set rocketed swiftly away and then came the glint of red and yellow desert. Blackness blanked out the screen as the set plunged into the ground, passing through the curvature of the Earth’s surface. The blackness passed and fields and farms were beneath them on the screen, a green and brown checkerboard with tiny white lines that were roads.
New York was in the screen now. Greg’s hand moved the control and the city rushed up at them, the spires speeding toward them like plunging spears. Down into the canyons plunged the set, down into the financial district with its beetling buildings that hemmed in the roaring traffic.
Grimly, surely, Greg drove his strange machine through New York. Through buildings, through shimmering planes, through men. Like an arrow the television set sped to its mark and then Greg’s hand snapped back the lever and in the screen was a building that covered four whole blocks. Above the entrance was the famous Solar System map and straddling the map were the gleaming golden letters:
“Now we’ll see,” said Greg.
He heard the whistle of the breath in Russ’s nostrils as the television set began to move, saw the tight grip Russ had upon the chair arms.
The interior of the building showed on the screen as he drove the set through steel and stone, offices and corridors and brief glimpses of steel partitions, until it came to a door marked:
SPENCER CHAMBERS, PRESIDENT
Greg’s hand twisted the control slightly and the set went through the door, into the office of Spencer Chambers.
Four men were in the room — Chambers himself; Craven, the scientist; Arnold Grant, head of Interplanetary’s publicity department,
and Harry Wilson