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Authors: Fred Hoyle,Geoffrey Hoyle

Tags: #sf

Seven Steps to the Sun

SEVEN STEPS TO THE SUN
by FRED HOYLE and GEOFFREY HOYLE
1
'I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.'
Einstein
Hot still air hung over the evening rush hour as Mike Jerome walked wearily from the dubbing studio. He stood on the edge of the pavement in Bayswater Road jaded by thoughts of the immense amount of writing he'd put into this film. Distracted by a girl among the rush hour travellers he was reminded vividly of Sue—she'd not been in touch since their bitter parting in New York. Still he wasn't unhappy. Just tired. An empty cab appeared and he moved quickly into the road flailing his arms. The driver manoeuvred his vehicle deftly from the outside lane.
'47 Frith Street,' said Mike, as he settled back.
His mind wandered over the petty events that led up to the quarrel with Sue. She'd wanted to stay on in New York, where she could enjoy her new found friends, while he battled with the television and film people to get some work. He wouldn't have minded, as he liked New York, but it was obvious Sue was interested in one of the men she'd met, and he didn't intend spending vast sums of his hard-earned money feathering her nest to share with someone else. The row had been short, sharp and final. Since he'd started working on this film his tolerance level had dropped almost to zero. The flat was a bit of a problem with too*much in it reminding him of her.
The taxi suddenly pulled up with a jolt; he was outside 47 Frith Street. Descending the stairs of the building to the basement door, he pushed it open and went into the jazz club. A moment or two and his eyes grew accustomed to the dim light. Standing up against the bar was the vast dark form of Pete Jones. Mike had met Pete some ten years before in Paris, when Pete was studying music at the Sorbonne, and he himself had been picking up spare cash by playing jazz piano in a club. From those very early days in Paris they had remained close friends.
'How'd it go, man?' asked Pete as Mike approached the bar.
'So, so.'
'Drink?'
'Thanks, when did you start?'
'Around ten, ten thirty,' came the bored reply.
'Idiot, when did you start boozing?' asked Mike.
'I think I must have been about six months old. My mother used to get me tight so that I wouldn't cry while I was teething, ever since then I've been addicted.'
'It must be about time someone put food in that stomach, then.'
Pete's face lit up, 'You're paying?' he said, as the two men finished their drinks and started to leave the club.
'You know, one of these days I'll drop dead with your generosity,' said Mike.
'Where to?' Pete asked, taking no notice of the heavy traffic as he crossed Shaftesbury Avenue against the lights.
'Wheeler's; it's fish night.'
They made their way through crowded Soho to Old Compton Street.
There wasn't a table ready, so they deposited themselves in the bar with two large whiskies.
'Got rid of her junk yet?' asked Pete, draining his glass in one go.
'No, but I'll get round to it.'
'Good, you're well clear of that bitch.'
·Right all along 1'
'Well, now that that relationship's over, who's next?' asked Pete, with a big hearty chuckle.
'Got any ideas?' Mike grinned suddenly.
He remembered the nights they'd spent on boulevard St Germain, looking for talent in cafes. Usually they'd spend a fortune, or what seemed like a fortune, buying likely young women drinks, only to find themselves almost invariably cut off without any return on their investment. At these times, Pete would shake his head, sigh, and say with relish, 'Well, now that that relationship's over, who's next?' They would count up their remaining few francs and start again.
Pete ordered more whisky and looked thoughtfully at his friend.
'Man, what's bothering you?'
'This,' said Mike quietly banging his head with his hand. 'I'm so tired I don't really have much idea of what I'm doing.'
'Take a break,' urged Pete sternly.
'I can't, I've got this television programme to write.'
'Drop it.'
'Can't afford to; it'll be a stopgap until the film comes out. Then if everything goes, I'll be able to do what I want to.'
'Maybe, but it'll be no use to you if you're ill, or dead from a heart attack.'
'Well, I'm not; and if you were in the same position you'd do the same.'
'Sure, but you don't use anything to keep you going,' said Pete.
'No. I've seen enough of you under the influence of drugs and drink not to want them.'
'O.K., so go to a doctor, and see what he can do for you.'
'Why waste the money? I know what they'll say. Take a holiday.'
'Well, whatever you say, Mike, I still think you need something to keep you from walking under a bus.'
Mike stretched out wearily. 'There is something I could do with, and that's a good massage, to iron out some of the aches and pains.'
'That's a great idea. There's a girl in Harley Street. Don't know how good she is at body rubbing, but she looks fabulous,' said Pete with an evil grin.
'What's her name?'
'Couldn't tell you. She was in the club some time ago. You know, a little over-enthusiastic, talked to me. Most of the evening and then said she worked in Harley Street, and any time I wanted a rub down, to go along.'
The restaurant manager came into the bar and told the two men their table was ready. They climbed the stairs to the first floor and settled into two very comfortable chairs in a corner.
'You know,' said Pete, tucking into his sole with relish, 'you ought to concentrate on writing novels. You never seem to be under as much strain when you're doing that.'
'True, but novels don't pay as well as screen writing. I have a great objection to film companies' buying good stories for peanuts, then employing someone at a very high fee to write a screen play.'
'Maybe you're right, but the money you earned at novel writing didn't leave you exactly poverty stricken,' said Pete, pouring out more wine.
'That's true. Maybe after I've finished the television project, I'll get down to writing a novel.'
'Any idea what you'll write about?'
'I don't really know, but I've always wanted to write a book about the last few seconds of life. I've often thought that in those moments one might see something of the future,' said Mike seriously.
'You mean to say that when I snuff it, there will be a moment before death, when the whole future that I might have had will flash before me?' asked Pete with solemn interest.
'Something like that. With all the talk of E.S.P., and other forms of telepathic communications, I think it might sell.'
'It's a bit gruesome, isn't it?'
'Not really. Think of what one can say. I could even include my thoughts on the inevitable collapse of civilization as we know it today.'
'That's sheer pessimism. Everyone knows the dangers of over population. Surely something will be done about it?' said Pete confidently.
'Maybe, but I feel that it's been left too late. Scientists are not allowed to do much about it, and the politicians won't, for fear of being unpopular.' They ate in silence for a few minutes. 'There's only one snag to that bright idea of yours: each person's idea of his future might be different?' said Pete, emptying the wine bottle.
'Yes, that's true. Each one of us is conditioned to certain outside events, and finally we will be limited by these conditions. Look at the amount of conditioning the general public have had about the threat of a nuclear war. If this conditioning was released at death, most of them would probably only see their future in relation to a third world war.'
'I think you're going to have one hell of a problem writing this little lot up,' Pete said, smiling at Mike, who grinned back.
'That's why I must get some massage; otherwise my typing shoulders won't be able to function properly.'
The meal over, Mike and Pete made their way out of the restaurant into the street. A clock above a shop showed nine forty-five. The two men started strolling leisurely back to Frith Street. The June evening was still hot, but not too heavy.
'Are you going to sit in with us?' asked Pete as they re crossed Shaftesbury Avenue.
'I shouldn't think so, but I'll come in for a while.' The club was not full. Pete made his way backstage while Mike squeezed onto a small table with four other jazz enthusiasts. The five-piece band, with Pete playing drums, thundered away for over two hours before they took their first break. Mike came out of his semi-conscious state when Pete got hold of his arm and dragged him to the bar, for whisky.
'Do you want to tinkle the keys?' Pete asked, passing Mike a large full glass.
I’m glad these are on the house.'
'That's not what I said, man.'
'I know. No, I don't feel like it. I must say you've improved since Christmas.'
'What? I was so high I don't remember Christmas.'
'I know. You brought Christmas up all over Sue's new carpet and then fell in it.'
'You didn't do a good job in cleaning up. I remember smelling myself at New Year,' Pete started to laugh.
'Cleaning you up. Easier said than done. Have you ever tried bathing two hundred and twenty odd pounds of giggling fun?'
'No, but I'd sure like to try,' said Pete, pushing an elbow into Mike's side.
'Pete, before this conversation drops much lower, I think I'd better make my way home. How about dinner tomorrow night? I'll be here about seven.'
'Sure, that'll be great. Don't forget your massage,' said Pete, putting his arm round Mike's shoulders and riving them a squeeze.
'I won't,' Mike said, looking for somewhere to put his glass down.
'You're not feeling sad now, are you?' asked Pete quietly, as they moved into the fresher air of Frith Street.
'I don't feel depressed, just tired.'
'Sure, and you'll find Uncle Pete was right about that bitch.'
'Come off it. She had her bad side, but she also had some warmth,' Mike said defensively.
'Of course, and from looking at you, you could do with some warmth to bring you in from the cold bad side.'
Mike laughed, gave Pete a feign punch, bade him good night, and walked reflectively away.
The morning sun streamed in through the bedroom window. Mike opened a weary eye. From the height of the yellow fireball in the sky he surmised that it must be around nine o'clock. A careful study of the sounds of the traffic activity in Albany Street convinced him. He opened both eyes, stretched, and reached out for his glasses. His guess at the time was only half an hour out. It was almost eight thirty.
Mike got up, turned the radio on and went into the kitchen. He put the kettle on, took a large old mug off a shelf, added two very large heaped teaspoons of coffee and retreated to the bathroom. He studied his beard in the mirror, then shaved. This chore finished, and no sound from the kettle, gave him time to put his contact lenses in. It took him a few minutes to clean them as they always seemed to be covered in muck, especially when he'd been in a smoky atmosphere. He put the clean right lens onto the tip of his index finger, opened the lids of his eye wide, and placed the lens on the iris. Vision came slowly into the eye as the lens settled. He repeated the operation with his left eye.
The kettle whistled and he poured the hot water into his coffee mug. There wasn't any milk. No woman, no milk. He shrugged his defiance and, equipped with his mug of black coffee, dressed. He slid into pair of honey-coloured cords, and an almost matching roll neck sweater. A rummage round the bottom of the wardrobe produced his old desert boots, which he fought to get on. He closed the wardrobe doors. Sue hadn't been to collect her things or asked for them to be sent on. In a cowardly way he always hoped he'd come and collect her clothes while he was out.
Mike was now dressed, but felt aimlessly that he had nowhere to go. Be industrious, he thought to himself, looking at his desk. He didn't really want to get down to work, so he compromised. He would first go for a massage. He remembered Pete's enthusiasm and booked an appointment, with what sounded like a very sexy voice. He finished his coffee, picked up hit old well worn suede jacket. A feeling of guilt swept over him, as he looked again at the notes for the television idea but before his conscience could get the letter of him he'd left the flat and descended to the lobby.
'Morning Sam,' said Mike, as he sauntered through.

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