"Nothing too spectacular. We'll leave for the blasting pits at 3:00 o'clock. I'd be honored if you'd ride with me."
"Do you still own a car?"
"A small one. Its value is negligible."
"We'll go in one of mine. Be here at five minutes to three."
"Certainly." Joshua put his hat on and walked out....
They rode across the Nevada desert in a black Cadillac with the chauffeur sitting at attention and staring straight ahead. Joshua stared straight ahead also. He asked, "Are you going to stop the flight?"
Beside him, leaning forward, clutching with both hands the silver knob on a black mahogany cane, Gorman replied, "I haven't made up my mind yet."
A dot on the desert expanded into a pit, a tower, and some small buildings. The car followed the ruts of the tractors that had hauled the rocket to the launching site, and came to a halt. "That small, glass-encased platform," Joshua said. "We'll view the proceedings from there."
Gorman snorted. "I'll view them from where I please."
They were standing beside the car, Joshua slightly behind his benefactor. "From the platform."
Gorman scowled and half turned. "What are you doing?"
"I'm holding a gun against your back. It is a very small gun. No one can see it and it probably wouldn't kill you. Then again, it might. We will walk to the platform and stand together to watch the blast-off."
"You'd actually--kill, to get that ship into the air?"
"If I committed murder, I would certainly regret it the rest of my life, but the rocket must be launched."
They stood in the glass enclosure on the platform and no one came near them. Several people veered close and waved. Joshua waved back with his free hand and the people went on their way.
An hour passed. There was vast activity on the field. Gorman said, "I'm tired. I want to sit down."
"It was thoughtless of me. I should have provided chairs. It won't be long now."
It wasn't long. Five minutes later there was a roar, an explosion of color, and a silver rocket flash up into the sky almost faster than the eye could follow.
Gorman slammed the heel of his hand against the side of his head in order to restore hearing. "You can put that gun away."
"Of course. And you'll want to call the police."
Gorman growled like an annoyed bull. He jerked open the door and strode away.
Three hours later, Joshua and Myra Lake were seated in the small patio beside their home. They were seated very close together, and Myra was stroking Joshua's hand. "It's been a long time, dear; a very long time."
"Are you happy?"
"I'm--well, satisfied--at least partially. We've passed a big milestone. But it isn't over yet."
"You're sure this time, though?"
"Thank heaven we won't have much longer to wait."
The wait was slightly less than ten minutes. Then Lee Gorman strode into the patio. Joshua sprang to his feet. "Any news?"
"Then they should have phoned me. I left word to be called."
"No one could get up the courage. The rocket crashed in Canada."
Joshua swayed. When he looked at Lee, his eyes were filled with a mute plea. "That is the truth?"
"It's the truth. The first flash said it appears the tail broke off in high space."
Joshua sank into his chair. "The crew--died?"
"Four more men sacrificed to your--" Gorman stopped and did not use the word obsession. There was too much agony in Joshua's face. "I'm taking the plant--I'm taking everything. I've got to. I've paid for them."
Lee Gorman walked from the patio. His steps echoed and died.
Joshua and Myra sat for a long time in silence. Myra was holding his hand. Finally she spoke. "Well, at least it's over. Now you can rest. Successful or not--you've earned it."
Joshua turned and looked into her face--looked at her as though she had just entered. "Oh no, my dear. You certainly don't expect me to--"
"Why, I'm only sixty-three. I never felt better in my life. I have a lot of good productive years ahead."
"Joshua! What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to be the first man to send a rocket to the Moon."
THE MAN FROM TIME.
By Frank Belknap Long
Deep in the Future he found the answer to Man's age-old problem.
Daring Moonson, he was called. It was a proud name, a brave name. But what good was a name that rang out like a summons to battle if the man who bore it could not repeat it aloud without fear?
Moonson had tried telling himself that a man could conquer fear if he could but once summon the courage to laugh at all the sins that ever were, and do as he damned well pleased. An ancient phrase that--damned well. It went clear back to the Elizabethan Age, and Moonson had tried picturing himself as an Elizabethan man with a ruffle at his throat and a rapier in his clasp, brawling lustily in a tavern.
In the Elizabethan Age men had thrown caution to the winds and lived with their whole bodies, not just with their minds alone. Perhaps that was why, even in the year 3689, defiant names still cropped up. Names like Independence Forest and Man, Live Forever!
It was not easy for a man to live up to a name like Man, Live Forever! But Moonson was ready to believe that it could be done. There was something in human nature which made a man abandon caution and try to live up to the claims made for him by his parents at birth.
It must be bad, Moonson thought. It must be bad if I can't control the trembling of my hands, the pounding of the blood at my temples. I am like a child shut up alone in the dark, hearing rats scurrying in a closet thick with cobwebs and the tapping of a blind man's cane on a deserted street at midnight.
Tap, tap, tap--nearer and nearer through the darkness. How soon would the rats be swarming out, blood-fanged and wholly vicious? How soon would the cane strike?
He looked up quickly, his eyes searching the shadows. For almost a month now the gleaming intricacies of the machine had given him a complete sense of security. As a scholar traveling in Time he had been accepted by his fellow travelers as a man of great courage and firm determination.
For twenty-seven days a smooth surface of shining metal had walled him in, enabling him to grapple with reality on a completely adult level. For twenty-seven days he had gone pridefully back through Time, taking creative delight in watching the heritage of the human race unroll before him like a cineramoscope under glass.
Watching a green land in the dying golden sunlight of an age lost to human memory could restore a man's strength of purpose by its serenity alone. But even an age of war and pestilence could be observed without torment from behind the protective shields of the Time Machine. Danger, accidents, catastrophe could not touch him personally.
To watch death and destruction as a spectator in a traveling Time Observatory was like watching a cobra poised to strike from behind a pane of crystal-bright glass in a zoological garden.
You got a tremendous thrill in just thinking: How dreadful if the glass should not be there! How lucky I am to be alive, with a thing so deadly and monstrous within striking distance of me!
For twenty-seven days now he had traveled without fear. Sometimes the Time Observatory would pinpoint an age and hover over it while his companions took painstaking historical notes. Sometimes it would retrace its course and circle back. A new age would come under scrutiny and more notes would be taken.
But a horrible thing that had happened to him, had awakened in him a lonely nightmare of restlessness. Childhood fears he had thought buried forever had returned to plague him and he had developed a sudden, terrible dread of the fogginess outside the moving viewpane, the way the machine itself wheeled and dipped when an ancient ruin came sweeping toward him. He had developed a fear of Time.
There was no escape from that Time Fear. The instant it came upon him he lost all interest in historical research. 1069, 732, 2407, 1928--every date terrified him. The Black Plague in London, the Great Fire, the Spanish Armada in flames off the coast of a bleak little island that would soon mold the destiny of half the world--how meaningless it all seemed in the shadow of his fear!
Had the human race really advanced so much? Time had been conquered but no man was yet wise enough to heal himself if a stark, unreasoning fear took possession of his mind and heart, giving him no peace.
Moonson lowered his eyes, saw that Rutella was watching him in the manner of a shy woman not wishing to break in too abruptly on the thoughts of a stranger.
Deep within him he knew that he had become a stranger to his own wife and the realization sharply increased his torment. He stared down at her head against his knee, at her beautiful back and sleek, dark hair. Violet eyes she had, not black as they seemed at first glance but a deep, lustrous violet.
He remembered suddenly that he was still a young man, with a young man's ardor surging strong in him. He bent swiftly, kissed her lips and eyes. As he did so her arms tightened about him until he found himself wondering what he could have done to deserve such a woman.
She had never seemed more precious to him and for an instant he could feel his fear lessening a little. But it came back and was worse than before. It was like an old pain returning at an unexpected moment to chill a man with the sickening reminder that all joy must end.
His decision to act was made quickly.
The first step was the most difficult but with a deliberate effort of will he accomplished it to his satisfaction. His secret thoughts he buried beneath a continuous mental preoccupation with the vain and the trivial. It was important to the success of his plan that his companions should suspect nothing.
The second step was less difficult. The mental block remained firm and he succeeded in carrying on actual preparations for his departure in complete secrecy.
The third step was the final one and it took him from a large compartment to a small one, from a high-arching surface of metal to a maze of intricate control mechanisms in a space so narrow that he had to crouch to work with accuracy.
Swiftly and competently his fingers moved over instruments of science which only a completely sane man would have known how to manipulate. It was an acid test of his sanity and he knew as he worked that his reasoning faculties at least had suffered no impairment.
Beneath his hands the Time Observatory's controls were solid shafts of metal. But suddenly as he worked he found himself thinking of them as fluid abstractions, each a milestone in man's long progress from the jungle to the stars. Time and space--mass and velocity.
How incredible that it had taken centuries of patient technological research to master in a practical way the tremendous implications of Einstein's original postulate. Warp space with a rapidly moving object, move away from the observer with the speed of light--and the whole of human history assumed the firm contours of a landscape in space. Time and space merged and became one. And a man in an intricately-equipped Time Observatory could revisit the past as easily as he could travel across the great curve of the universe to the farthest planet of the farthest star.
The controls were suddenly firm in his hands. He knew precisely what adjustments to make. The iris of the human eye dilates and contracts with every shift of illumination, and the Time Observatory had an iris too. That iris could be opened without endangering his companions in the least--if he took care to widen it just enough to accommodate only one sturdily built man of medium height.
Sweat came out in great beads on his forehead as he worked. The light that came through the machine's iris was faint at first, the barest glimmer of white in deep darkness. But as he adjusted controls the light grew brighter and brighter, beating in upon him until he was kneeling in a circle of radiance that dazzled his eyes and set his heart to pounding.
I've lived too long with fear, he thought. I've lived like a man imprisoned, shut away from the sunlight. Now, when freedom beckons, I must act quickly or I shall be powerless to act at all.
He stood erect, took a slow step forward, his eyes squeezed shut. Another step, another--and suddenly he knew he was at the gateway to Time's sure knowledge, in actual contact with the past for his ears were now assailed by the high confusion of ancient sounds and voices!
He left the Time machine in a flying leap, one arm held before his face. He tried to keep his eyes covered as the ground seemed to rise to meet him. But he lurched in an agony of unbalance and opened his eyes--to see the green surface beneath him flashing like a suddenly uncovered jewel.
He remained on his feet just long enough to see his Time Observatory dim and vanish. Then his knees gave way and he collapsed with a despairing cry as the fear enveloped him ...
There were daisies in the field where he lay, his shoulders and naked chest pressed to the earth. A gentle wind stirred the grass, and the flute-like warble of a song bird was repeated close to his ear, over and over with a tireless persistence.
Abruptly he sat up and stared about him. Running parallel to the field was a winding country road and down it came a yellow and silver vehicle on wheels, its entire upper section encased in glass which mirrored the autumnal landscape with a startling clearness.
The vehicle halted directly in front of him and a man with ruddy cheeks and snow-white hair leaned out to wave at him.
"Good morning, mister!" the man shouted. "Can I give you a lift into town?"
Moonson rose unsteadily, alarm and suspicion in his stare. Very cautiously he lowered the mental barrier and the man's thoughts impinged on his mind in bewildering confusion.
He's not a farmer, that's sure ... must have been swimming in the creek, but those bathing trunks he's wearing are out of this world!
Huh! I wouldn't have the nerve to parade around in trunks like that even on a public beach. Probably an exhibitionist ... But why should he wear 'em out here in the woods? No blonds or redheads to knock silly out here!
Huh! He might have the courtesy to answer me ... Well, if he doesn't want a lift into town it's no concern of mine!
Moonson stood watching the vehicle sweep away out of sight. Obviously he had angered the man by his silence, but he could answer only by shaking his head.
He began to walk, pausing an instant in the middle of the bridge to stare down at a stream of water that rippled in the sunlight over moss-covered rocks. Tiny silver fish darted to and fro beneath a tumbling waterfall and he felt calmed and reassured by the sight. Shoulders erect now, he walked on ...
It was high noon when he reached the tavern. He went inside, saw men and women dancing in a dim light, and there was a huge, rainbow-colored musical instrument by the door which startled him by its resonance. The music was wild, weird, a little terrifying.
He sat down at a table near the door and searched the minds of the dancers for a clue to the meaning of what he saw.