The Doll's father was there already behind his desk, studying something as I came in. He looked up, smiled, said, "Hi, guy."
I flipped a finger at him. I wondered if the Doll had told him about last night.
"Wife and I were going to suggest a snack when we got home last night but you had already gone, and Marge was in bed."
I didn't look at him. "Left early, Pop. Growing boy."
"Yeah. You look lousy, guy."
I put my teeth together. I still didn't look at him. "These nights," I said vaguely.
I could feel something in his voice. I took a breath and put my eyes on his. He said, "I'm a hell of an old duck."
"Not so old, Pop."
"Sure I am. But not too old to remember back to the days when I wasn't too old." There was a grave look in his eyes.
I didn't have to answer that. The door banged open and Melrose, the LC, came in. He jerked a look at both of us, butted a cigarette he'd just lit--lighted another, butted that. He ran a hand through thick graying hair and frowned.
"Anybody got a cigarette?" he said sourly. "Couldn't sleep last night. This damned responsibility. Worried all night about something we hadn't thought of."
Pop looked up. Melrose went on. "Light--travels in a straight line, no?" He blinked small nervous eyes at us. Then, "Can't go around corners unless it's helped, you see. I mean just this. The XXE-One is expected to hit a significant fraction of the speed of light once it gets beyond the atmosphere. Now here's the point--how in hell do we control it then?"
He waited. I didn't say anything. Pop didn't say anything. Melrose ran a hand through his hair once more, muttered goddamit to himself, turned around and went barging out the door.
Pop said wryly, "Another quick memo to the Pentagon. He never heard of the Earth's gravity."
"He's heard," I said. "It's just that it slipped his mind these last few years."
Pop grinned. He handed me a sheaf of typewritten notes. "These'll just about make it. You'll notice the initial flight is charted pretty damn closely."
"Thanks, Pop. I better take these, somewhere else to look 'em over. Melrose might be back."
"Pretty damn closely," he repeated. "Almost as closely as if she was going up under radio control...." He stopped. He looked at me from under his eyebrows.
I studied him. "Already told the brass I'd take her up, Pop." I kept my voice down.
"Sure, guy. Sure. Uh--you mention it to Marge?"
"I see." His eyes got suddenly far away. I left him like that. Hell with him--hell with the whole family!
It was in the evening paper, tucked in the second section. They treated it lightly. It seemed the night watchman had opened the rear door of the museum for a breath of air or maybe a smoke. Or maybe to kitchie-koo some babe under the chin in the alley.
That's the only way it could have happened. And he'd discovered the empty exhibit case at 2:10 in the morning. The case still had a little white card on it that told about the Brown Bess musket and the powder horn and the ball shot inside.
But the little white card lied in its teeth. There weren't any such things in the case at all. And he'd notified the curator at once.
There was also mention of a mysterious phone call which couldn't be traced.
Things like this don't happen in 1953. So I didn't get loaded that night. I went home, went to the davenport, sat down and told myself they don't happen. Things like this have never happened, will never happen. What occurred last night was something in the bottom of a bottle of Jamaica rum.
"Thinking, Mr. Anders?"
I took a slow breath. He was swaying gently in the air a foot from my elbow and he was still a black mucous scum, as he had been the night before. I got up.
I said, "I'm not loaded tonight. I haven't had a thing all day." I took two steps toward him.
He wasn't there.
I took another breath--a very very slow breath. I turned around and went back to the davenport.
He was back again.
"They'll find that musket," he said. "I have no use for it now. You see I wanted it only to convince you, Mr. Anders."
I put my hands on my knees and didn't look at him. I was suddenly trying to remember where I'd put that Luger I'd brought home from Germany a couple years back.
"You're not quite convinced yet, Mr. Anders?"
Where in the hell did I put it?
"Very well, Mr. Anders. Now hear this, please. Now watch me." He stirred at about hip height. A shelf-like section of the black mass protruded a little distance from the main part of him. On this shelf suddenly lay a rusted penknife.
"A very little boy, Mr. Anders. And a very long while ago. A talented boy, one of those who has what might be called an exceptional imagination. This boy cherished a penknife when he was quite small. Pick up the knife, Mr. Anders."
The knife was suddenly in my lap. I picked it up. It was rusty. It had a flat bone handle. "Museums again," I whispered to myself.
"So highly did this boy prize his knife that he went to great pains to carve his name very very carefully on one side of the bone handle. Turn the knife over, Mr. Anders."
The name was Edward Anders.
"You lost it when you were eleven. You wouldn't remember though. I found it in an attic where it lay unnoticed. As the years went by you gradually forgot about the knife, you see, and when your mind had completely abandoned the thoughts of it, it was mine--had I wanted it. As a matter of fact I didn't. I retrieved it just today."
I put the knife down. Sweat was coming on my forehead now, I could feel it. I was remembering. I was remembering the knife and what was scaring me even more was I was remembering the very day I had lost it. In the attic.
I said very carefully, "All right. You've made your point. You can take it from there."
"Quite so, Mr. Anders. You now admit I exist, that I have extraordinary powers. I am your own creation, Mr. Anders. As I said before you have exceptional senses, including imagination. And yes, imagination is the greatest of all the senses.
"Some humans with this gift often imagine ludicrous things, exciting things, horrifying things--depending don't you see, on mood, emotion. And the things these mortals imagine become real, are actually, created--only they don't know it, of course."
He stopped. He was probably giving me time to soak that up. Then he went on. "You've forgotten to keep trying to remember where you put that Luger, Mr. Anders. I just picked up the abandoned thought as it left your consciousness just now."
I gulped down something that tried to rise in my throat. I didn't like this guy.
"You created me when you were fourteen, Mr. Anders. You imagined me as a swashbuckling pirate. The only difference between me and the others who have been created in times past is that I have attained the ninth dimension. I am the first to do that. Also the first to capture the secrets of your own third dimension. Naturally then, it would be a pity for me to die."
"Get out," I said.
"Forgive me, Mr. Anders. My time is short. I die tomorrow."
"That's swell. Now get out."
"We're not immortal, you see. When our creators die their imaginations die with them. We too die. It follows. But for some time I've had an idea."
"Out," I said again. "Get the hell out of here!"
"You're going to die tomorrow, Mr. Anders, in that new flying saucer. And I must die with you. Except that I've had this idea."
There are times when you look yourself in the eye and don't like what you see. Or maybe what you see scares the living hell out of you. When those times come along some little something inside tells you you'd better watch out. Then the doubts creep in. After that the melancholy. And from that instant on you aren't very sane anymore.
"Out!" I yelled. "Out, out, OUT! Get the hell out!"
"One moment, Mr. Anders. Now as to this idea of mine. There's this woman--this Margie Hayman. This woman you call the Doll."
That one jerked me around.
"Exactly. Now listen very carefully. You aren't entirely you anymore, Mr. Anders. I mean, you aren't the complete whole individual you as you once were. You love this woman. Something inside you has gone out and is now a part of her."
"Therefore, if you will just discard the thought of her sometime between now and when you take that ship up I can attach myself to her sentient being, don't you see, and thereby exist--at least partly--even though you yourself are dead."
I pushed myself unsteadily to my feet. I stared at the entire black repulsive undulating mass before me. I took a step toward it.
"It isn't much to ask, Mr. Anders. You've quarrelled with her. You want no more of her. You've practically told her that. All I ask is that you finish the job--forget her. Discard her--throw her into the mental junk pile of Abandonment."
I didn't take any more steps. Something inside me was screaming, was ripping at my guts, was roaring with all the cacaphony of all the giant discords of all eternity. Something inside my brain was sucking all my strength in one tremendous, surging power-dive of wish fulfillment. I was willing the black mucous mass of him out of my consciousness.
He was no longer there. The only thing to prove he'd ever been there at all was a very-old, very-rusty penknife over on the table in front of the davenport--the knife with my name carved on the bone handle.
After that I went unsteadily to the dresser in the living room. I got the Doll's picture down off the dresser. I undressed. I took the picture to bed with me. The lights burned in my bedroom the entire night.
Lieutenant Colonel Melrose looked weatherbeaten. His graying hair was pulled here and there like a rag mop that's dried dirty--stiff. He had a freshly lit cigarette between his lips. He grinned nervously when he saw me, butted the cigarette, said in a thin voice, "This is it, Anders. Ship goes up in twenty minutes."
"I know," I said.
He poked another cigarette at his lips. He said, "What?" in a startled tone.
"Nothing," I said. "All right, I'll get ready."
He lit the cigarette, took a puff that made the smoke do a frenetic dance around his nostrils. He jabbed it at an ashtray, bobbed his head in a convulsive movement, said, "Righto!"
They strapped me in. Pop came to the open hatch. He stuck his head in, grinned, said, "Hi, guy," softly. There was something in his eyes. The Doll had told him how I hate sour notes.
"How's the Doll, Pop?" I forced myself to say it.
"Swell, Ed. Just got a call from her. On her way out here to see you take off. Looks like she won't make it now though."
I didn't say anything. His eyes went down to the wallet I had propped up on my knees. The wallet was open, celluloid window showing. Inside the window was the Doll's picture.
"Tell her that, Pop," I said.
"Yeah, guy. Luck."
They shut the hatch.
There was no doubt about the takeoff. If one thing was perfected in the XXE-1 it was that. The ship rose like the mercury in a thermometer on a hot day in July. I took it slow to fifty thousand feet.
"Fifty thousand," I said into the throat mike.
"Hear you, Anders." Melrose's voice.
"Smooth," I said. "Radar on me?"
"On you, Anders."
I let the ship have a little head. This job used the clutch of a tax collector's claws for fuel. It just hooked itself on the nothing around us and yanked--and there we were.
One hundred thousand.
"Double that," I said into the mike.
"Yeah, Anders. How is it?"
"Haven't yet begun. Radar still on me?"
I heard a nervous laugh. He was nervous. "The General--General Hotchkiss just said something, Anders. He--ha, ha--he said you're on plot like stitches in a fat lady's hip. Ha, ha! He's got us all in stitches. Ha, ha!"
This was it. I released my grip on the accelerator control, yet it slide up. They say you can't feel speed in the air unless there's something relative within vision to tip you off. They're going to have to revise that. You can not only feel speed you can reach out and break hunks off it--in the XXE-1, that is. I shook my head, took my eyes off the instruments and looked down at the Doll on my lap.
"Hear you, Anders."
"This is it. Reaching me on radar still?"