The thought of being sued softened Mr. Cruthers' attitude. "Well, I'm very sorry, pal, but every contingent in this parade is listed on my clipboard and you're not. I know this list by heart. What did you say the name of your group was?"
"The Martian V.F.W."
Mr. Cruthers was amused. "Those sure are the craziest outfits I've ever seen," he chuckled. "Where'd you get them? Walt Disney make them for you?" He followed his own little joke with a long throaty laugh.
The ant was impatient. "About the parade, Mr. Cruthers, there isn't much time."
"Oh, yes, the parade. Well, let me see," he thumbed through the clipboard, "I guess there's always room for a few laughs. How many in your group?"
"One hundred and fifty. And we also have a float with us. Not a very large one. It measures twenty by twenty."
"Tell you what. You move your group to the corner of Thompson Street and Third Street. Get behind the Tiffany float and follow them, okay?"
The ant paused a moment to record the instructions in his mind. Then he turned to leave.
"Oh, wait a minute," Mr. Cruthers cried before the ant could rejoin his group. "Just who did you speak to at the National Academy of Sciences?"
"I believe it was a Mr. Canfield."
Mr. Cruthers' face lit up. "Well, why didn't you say so in the first place! I'd have placed you right away."
"That's perfectly all right, Mr. Cruthers."
"Listen, I don't know what you guys do but those costumes should certainly bring the house down. There's going to be four million people watching this parade. I bet that's the biggest audience you've ever seen."
"It certainly is." With that the ant strode away.
"Good luck!" Mr. Cruthers shouted after him.
"Daddy! Daddy, look! Look at the big rocket!" The little boy jumped up and down gleefully. "It must be a whole mile long, Daddy! What kind is it?"
"That's the Vanguard, son."
An autumn breeze from the East River chilled their vantage point at Sixty-First Street and Fifth Avenue.
"The Vanguard?" The name meant nothing to the boy. "Gee, I'll bet it can fly all the way to the stars!"
"It's the rocket that carried the first artificial satellite into space."
The parade, now three hours old, continued past the reviewing stand.
"I wanna get a better look at the Vanguard!" the boy shouted.
The father lifted the boy onto his shoulders. The little fellow laughed and whooped it up, firing several shots from his Captain Video Ray gun at the passing missile.
The rocket moved on and the noise of the crowd diminished slightly.
A one-hundred piece brass band was passing in front of them. They were playing "The Stars and Stripes Forever." They were followed by the Sak's Fifth Avenue display; nine small floats, each depicting life on another planet. The National Academy of Sciences had a success on its hands.
"Wow! Daddy, I wanna ride on it! I wanna ride on that float and visit all those planets! Can I, Daddy!" The boy became all limbs trying to squirm down from his father's shoulders.
"You stay right where you are, young man," the father struggled to hold his balance.
"But I wanna go to the stars. I can watch the rest of the parade from Venus or Mercury! Please, Daddy!"
The father grinned. "Not just yet, son, but it won't be long before man will go to the stars."
"Who lives up there, Daddy?"
"Oh, there isn't any life up there yet."
"If no one's living up there why does anyone want to go there?"
"Well, maybe there'll be too many people on earth someday and then we'll have to find other planets with more room."
Another monstrous brass band was going by. The boy became restless. He began to toy with his ray gun, half interested in seeing if there were any sparks left in it. "Why can't there be something besides so many bands in a parade? I wanna see another float."
The father tried to interest the boy by pointing out all the famous people who were also there: a variety of statesmen the world's leading scientists and religious and cultural leaders, the president of the United States.
The boy was interested but not in what his elder was saying to him. He was looking downtown, his eyes squinting, trying to make out figures as far away as Fifty-sixth Street. Then his mouth opened, not uttering a sound yet, just waiting to burst with joy at what was coming toward them.
His father looked up at him. "I wish you'd tell me what you are looking at. I'm all the way down here on street level, remember?"
"Daddy, they look like ants!"
"Ants, Daddy, ants! A whole army of them. Ain't it exciting?"
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"They're doing somersaults and back flips and everything! They're coming right this way! Gee, there's hundreds of them. And they got a float behind them, Daddy! A great big float with something burning on it."
The child sitting on his shoulders made mobility impossible for the father. And he couldn't see around the spectators. He resigned himself to stand and wait for this new spectacle to overtake them. The reaction to this new sight had already begun to work its way uptown. In the distance, but getting closer every second, he could hear unrestrained laughter and rejoicing.
"Hey, take it easy!" The boy was beginning to ride the shoulders like a bronco buster. "By the time they get here I won't have any shoulders left. Where are they now?"
"They're almost here, Daddy! And they aren't ants at all. They're just a bunch of clowns dressed up like it." He began to giggle hysterically. "Golly, they're funny. Can you see them yet, Daddy?"
Before the father could produce an answer the ants were in view. They were a sight that couldn't fail to stimulate the funny bone. By comparison with real ants everything about them had been grossly exaggerated to achieve the proper effect. They walked on their two back legs but the four front apertures were far from idle. Some of them turned somersaults, others did complicated flips consisting of two or three spins in mid-air. Still others, doing a kind of animated cakewalk, carried toy ray guns which they fired at random into the crowd. The guns were something like the little boy's Captain Video ray gun, only larger. They emitted little streaks of blue sparks which shone brightly but disappeared when contact was made with air.
They were easily the hit of the parade, a three ring circus all by themselves, as they pranced and clowned their way up Fifth Avenue giving the spectators a whale of a show that was completely new.
The guests on the reviewing stand refrained from any hilarity until they saw the float that four of the ants were pulling behind them. It was in keeping with the rest of the nonsense they were perpetrating. The float boasted eight larger ray guns, three on either side and two in the rear, that fired the same fascinating blue sparks. Behind each gun an ant stood on its head, wildly waving six legs in the breeze, begging to be noticed and laughed at. Above the guns, emblazoned in fiery orange letters, were the words: "MARTIAN V.F.W." This was interpreted by one and all as a punch line and was treated accordingly.
It was heartwarming to be able to see the president and so many other dignitaries abandon composure in favor of a good old fashioned belly laugh.
"Daddy, I can't laugh any more," the boy had to pause between every other word. "My stomach hurts. Aren't they the funniest things you ever saw?"
The father was too convulsed to be able to answer him.
"Daddy, one of them is coming this way! He's firing his Captain Video ray gun at us!" They boy squeezed his father and held on tight.
The father took a deep breath in order to be able to speak. "Take your gun and fire back at him, son. Fire away! Go on, he's just being playful!" He broke forth with another gust of laughter. "I won't see anything as funny as this again if I live to be a hundred!"
The ant pranced over to where they were standing, firing its gun in every direction. The boy fired back. The ant took one look at the lad's gun and let out a long cackling sound which built to a crescendo and then stopped as though it had been turned off. The ant rejoined the group and they continued on their merry way.
The boy fired several shots into the float as it passed. He wanted to see if he could knock out those blazing orange letters: MARTIAN V.F.W. The letters continued to burn, but in the boy's mind he was certain he had made several direct hits.
The boy and his father watched the float until it was out of sight. They knew there wouldn't be another attraction like those ants. They must have been real professionals, the father thought. Such teamwork! Such precision! Each one of them having a specific job to do and each doing it to perfection. After them everything was bound to be anticlimactic.
More marchers, more bands, a few more floats. The boy was beginning to tire. It had been a long day. Now everything was dull. "Daddy, I don't want to see any more. Let's go home."
"We'll stay another five minutes."
The parade somehow seemed to be slowing down. The father yawned and let his son down from his shoulders. He looked across the street at the president and the other dignitaries on the reviewing stand. All were slowly raising their hands in salute as another color guard drowsily made its way by.
Soon the last group in the parade was passing the reviewing stand. Another brass band. They were moving with the speed of a glacier. A full five seconds elapsed between each note of music. Everything was happening in slow motion. On the reviewing stand the dignified hands went up, agonizingly slow, to a final salute and they stayed there. The greatest minds in the world stood motionless, unalterably still. Just as each wave of pandemonium had unfurled itself up Fifth Avenue during the parade, so now did silence take command.
The little boy tugged at his father's coat. "Daddy! Daddy," he pleaded, "why has the parade stopped? I wan-na-go-home--" His words came more slowly with each passing second, like a high speed phonograph playing at thirty-three and a third r.p.m. "Dad-dy--why--don't--you--an--swer--me--Da--ddy--why--don't--" His father never heard him.
Fifty miles above the Atlantic the fleet of spaceships hung suspended like lanterns. In the lead ship the ant in charge of communications reported to the commander.
"We've just received the first communique from the advance guard, sir."
"Read it to me."
The communications chief read from a large perforated paper. "Time--0600--mission accomplished. Manhattan island cut down the middle--immediate result of super-isonic rays; four million dead--rays spreading east and west--estimated time of rays' full effect; 0800--island will then be neutralized--awaiting further orders." The ant folded the paper and looked up at the commander. "Shall I relay further orders, sir?"
"No." The commander of the ants paused and stroked his chin. "We're moving in."
By Harl Vincent
In her deep-buried kingdom of Theros, Phaestra reveals the amazing secret of the Silver Dome.
In a secluded spot among the hills of northern New Jersey stood the old DeBost mansion, a rambling frame structure of many wings and gables that was well-nigh hidden from the road by the half-mile or more of second-growth timber which intervened. High on the hill it stood, and it was only by virtue of its altitude that an occasional glimpse might be obtained of weatherbeaten gable or partly tumbled-down chimney. The place was reputed to be haunted since the death of old DeBost, some seven years previously, and the path which had once been a winding driveway was now seldom trod by human foot.
It was now two years since Edwin Leland bought the estate for a song and took up his residence in the gloomy old house. And it had then been vacant for five years since DeBost shot himself in the northeast bedroom. Leland's associates were sure he would repent of his bargain in a very short time, but he stayed on and on in the place, with no company save that of his man-servant, an aged hunch-back who was known to outsiders only as Thomas.
Leland was a scientist of note before he buried himself in the DeBost place, and had been employed in the New York research laboratory of one of the large electrical manufacturers, where he was much admired and not a little envied by his fellow workers. These knew almost nothing of his habits or of his personal affairs, and were much surprised when he announced one day that he had come into a sizable fortune and was leaving the organization to go in for private research and study. Attempts to dissuade him were of no avail, and the purchase of the DeBost property followed, after which Leland dropped from sight for nearly two years.
Then, on a blustery winter day, a strange telephone call was received at the laboratory where he had previously worked. It was from old Thomas, out there in the DeBost mansion, and his quavering voice asked for Frank Rowley, the genial young engineer whose work had been most closely associated with Leland's.
"Oh, Mr. Rowley," wailed the old man, when Frank responded to the call, "I wish you would come out here right away. The master has been acting very queerly of late, and to-day he has locked himself in his laboratory and will not answer my knocks."
"Why don't you break in the door?" asked Frank, looking through the window at the snow storm that still raged.
"I thought of that, Mr. Rowley, but it is of oak and very thick. Besides, it is bound with steel or iron straps and is beyond my powers."
"Why not call the police?" growled Frank. He did not relish the idea of a sixty or seventy mile drive in the blizzard.
"Oh--no--no--no!" Old Thomas was panicky at the suggestion. "The master told me he'd kill me if I ever did that."
Before Frank could formulate a reply, there came a sharp gasp from the other end of the line, a wailing cry and a thud as of a falling body; then silence. All efforts to raise Leland's number merely resulted in "busy" or "line out of order" reports.
Frank Rowley was genuinely concerned. Though he had never been a close friend of Leland's, the two had worked on many a knotty problem together and were in daily contact during the nearly ten years that the other man had worked in the same laboratory.
"Say, Tommy," said Frank, replacing the receiver and turning to his friend, Arnold Thompson, who sat at an adjoining desk, "something has happened out at Leland's place in Sussex County. Want to take a drive out there with me?"
"What? On a day like this? Why not take the train?"
"Don't be foolish, Tommy," said Frank. "The place is eight miles from the nearest station, which is a flag stop out in the wilds. And, even if you could find a cab there--which you couldn't--there isn't a taxi driver in Jersey who'd take you up into those mountains on a day like this. No, we'll have to drive. It'll be okay. I've got chains on the rear and a heater in the old coupe, so it shouldn't be so bad. What do you say?"
So Tommy, who usually followed wherever Frank led, was prevailed upon to make the trip. He had no particular feeling for Leland, but he sensed an adventure, and, in Frank's company, he could ask for no more.