She looked at him coolly for almost a minute. "All right, Frank," she said quietly. "Follow your nose. It's just liable to be right on the beam--for you. I might follow mine. I don't know."
"Joe and Two-and-Two are around--if you need anything, Nance," he said. "I'll tell them. Gimp, I hear, is on the way. Not much point in my waiting for him, though..."
Somehow he loved Nance Codiss as much or more than ever. But how could he tell her that and make sense? Not much made sense to him anymore. It seemed that he had to get away from everybody that he had ever seen in space.
Fifty hours before his departure with a returning bubb caravan that had brought more Earth-emigrants, Nelsen acquired a travelling companion who had arrived from Pallastown with a small caravan bringing machinery. The passenger-hostess brought him to Nelsen's prefab. He was a grave little guy, five years old. He was solemn, polite, frightened, tall for his age--funny how corn and kids grew at almost zero-gravity.
The boy handed Nelsen a letter. "From my father and mother, sir," he said.
Nelsen read the typed missive.
"Dear Frank: The rumor has come that you are going home. You have our very best wishes, as always. Our son, Davy, is being sent to his paternal grandmother, now living in Minneapolis. He will go to school there. He is capable of making the trip without any special attention. But--a small imposition. If you can manage it, please look in on him once in a while, on the way. We would appreciate this favor. Thank you, take care of yourself, and we shall hope to see you somewhere within the next few months. Your sincere friends, David and Helen Lester."
A lot of nerve, Nelsen thought first. But he tried to grin engagingly at the kid and almost succeeded.
"We're in luck, Dave," he said. "I'm going to Minneapolis, too. I'm afraid of a lot of things. What are you afraid of?"
The small fry's jutting lip trembled. "Earth," he said. "A great big planet. Hoppers tell me I won't even be able to stand up or breathe."
Nelsen very nearly laughed and went into hiccups, again. Fantastic. Another viewpoint. Seeing through the other end of the telescope. But how else would it be for a youngster born in the Belt, while being sent--in the old colonial pattern--to the place that his parents regarded as home?
"Those jokers," Nelsen scoffed. "They're pulling your leg! It just isn't so, Davy. Anyhow, during the trip, the big bubb will be spun fast enough, so that we will get used to the greater Earth-gravity. Let me tell you something. I guess it's space and the Belt that I'm afraid of. I never quite got over it. Silly, huh?"
But as Nelsen watched the kid brighten, he remembered that he, himself, had been scared of Earth, too. Scared to return, to show weakness, to lack pride... Well, to hell with that. He had accomplished enough, now, maybe, to cancel such objections. Now it seemed that he had to get to Earth before it vanished because of something he had helped start. Silly, of course...
He and Davy travelled fast and almost in luxury. Within two weeks they were in orbit around the bulk of the Old World. Then, in the powerful tender with its nuclear retard rockets, there was the Blast In--the reverse of that costly agony that had once meant hard won and enormous freedom, when he was poor in money and rich in mighty yearning. But now Nelsen yielded in all to the mother clutch of the gravity. The whole process had been gentled and improved. There were special anti-knock seats. There was sound- and vibration-insulation. Even Davy's slight fear was more than half thrill.
At the new Minneapolis port, Nelsen delivered David Lester, Junior into the care of his grandmother, who seemed much more human than Nelsen once had thought long ago. Then he excused himself quickly.
Seeking the shelter of anonymity, he bought a rucksack for his few clothes, and boarded a bus which dropped him at Jarviston, Minnesota, at two a.m. He thrust his hands into his pockets, partly like a lonesome tramp, partly like some carefree immortal, and partly like a mixed-up wraith who didn't quite know who or what he was, or where he belonged.
In his wallet he had about five hundred dollars. How much more he might have commanded, he couldn't even guess. Wups, fella, he told himself. That's too weird, too indigestible--don't start hiccuping again. How old are you--twenty-five, or twenty-five thousand years? Wups--careful...
The full Moon was past zenith, looking much as it always had. The blue-tinted air domes of colossal industrial development, were mostly too small at this distance to be seen without a glass. Good...
With wondering absorption he sniffed the mingling of ripe field and road smells, borne on the warm breeze of the late-August night. Some few cars evidently still ran on gasoline. For a moment he watched neon signs blink. In the desertion he walked past Lehman's Drug Store and Otto Kramer's bar, and crossed over to pause for a nameless moment in front of Paul Hendricks' Hobby Center, which was all dark, and seemed little changed. He took to a side street, and won back the rustle of trees and the click of his heels in the silence.
A few more buildings--that was about all that was visibly different in Jarviston, Minnesota.
A young cop eyed him as he returned to the main drag and paused near a street lamp. He had a flash of panic, thinking that the cop was somebody, grown up, now, who would recognize him. But at least it was no one that he remembered.
The cop grinned. "Get settled in a hotel, buddy," he said. "Or else move on, out of town."
Nelsen grinned back, and ambled out to the highway, where intermittent clumps of traffic whispered.
There he paused, and looked up at the sky, again. The electric beacon of a weather observation satellite blinked on and off, moving slowly. Venus had long since set, with hard-to-see Mercury preceding it. Jupiter glowed in the south. Mars looked as remote and changeless as it must have looked in the Stone Age. The asteroids were never even visible here without a telescope.
The people that he knew, and the events that he had experienced Out There, were like myths, now. How could he ever put Here and There together, and unite the mismatched halves of himself and his experience? He had been born on Earth, the single home of his kind from the beginning. How could he ever even have been Out There?
He didn't try to hitch a ride. He walked fourteen miles to the next town, bought a small tent, provisions and a special, miniaturized radio. Then he slipped into the woods, along Hickman's Lake, where he used to go.
There he camped, through September, and deep into October. He fished, he swam again. He dropped stones into the water, and watched the circles form, with a kind of puzzled groping in his memory. He retreated from the staggering magnificence of his recent past and clutched at old simplicities.
On those rare occasions when he shaved, he saw the confused sickness in his face, reflected by his mirror. Sometimes, for a moment, he felt hot, and then cold, as if his blood still held a tiny trace of Syrtis Fever. If there was such a thing? No--don't start to laugh, he warned himself. Relax. Let the phantoms fade away. Somewhere, that multiple bigness of Nothing, of life and death, of success and unfairness and surprise, must have reality--but not here...
Occasionally he listened to news on the radio. But mostly he shut it off--out. Until boredom at last began to overtake him--because he had been used to so much more than what was here. Until--specifically--one morning, when the news came too quickly, and with too much impact. It was a recording, scratchy, and full of unthinkable distance.
"... Frank, Gimp, Two-and-Two, Paul, Mr. Reynolds, Otto, Les, Joe, Art, everybody--especially you, Eileen--remember what you promised, when I get back, Eileen...! Here I am, on Pluto--edge of the star desert! Clear sailing--all the way. All I see, yet, is twilight, rocks, mountains, snow which must be frozen atmosphere--and one big star, Sol. But I'll get the data, and be back..."
Nelsen listened to the end, with panic in his face--as if such adventures and such living were too gigantic and too rich... He hiccuped once. Then he held himself very still and concentrated. He had known that voice Out There and Here, too. Now, as he heard it again--Here, but from Out There--it became like a joining force to bring them both together within himself. Though how could it be...?
"Ramos," he said aloud. "Made it... Another good guy, accomplishing what he wanted... Hey...! Hey, that's swell... Like things should happen."
He didn't hiccup anymore, or laugh. By being very careful, he just grinned, instead. He arose to his feet, slowly.
"What am I doing here--wasting time?" he seemed to ask the woods.
Without picking up his camping gear at all, he headed for the road, thumbed a ride to Jarviston, where he arrived before eight o'clock. Somebody had started ringing the city hall bell. Celebration?
Hendricks' was the most logical place for Nelsen to go, but he passed it by, following a hunch to his old street. She had almost said that she might come home, too. He touched the buzzer.
Not looking too completely dishevelled himself, he stood there, as a girl--briskly early in dress and impulse, so as not to waste the bright morning--opened the door.
"Yeah, Nance--me," he croaked apologetically. "Ramos has reached Pluto!"
"I know, Frankie!" she burst out.
But his words rushed on. "I've been goofing off--by Hickman's Lake. Over now. Emotional indigestion, I guess--from living too big, before I could take it. I figured you might be here. If you weren't, I'd come... Because I know where I belong. Nance--I hope you're not angry. Maybe we're pulling together, at last?"
"Angry--when I was the first fumbler? How could that be, Frank? Oh, I knew where you were--folks found out. I told them to leave you alone, because I understood some of what you were digging through. Because it was a little the same--for me... So, you see, I didn't just tag after you." She laughed a little. "That wouldn't be proud, would it? Even though Joe and Two-and-Two said I had to go bring you back..."
His arms went tight around her, right there on the old porch. "Nance--love you," he whispered. "And we've got to be tough. Everybody's got to be tough--to match what we've come to. Even little kids. But it was always like that--on any kind of frontier, wasn't it? A few will get killed, but more will live--many more..."
Like that, Frank Nelsen shook the last of the cobwebs out of his brain--and got back to his greater destiny.
"I'll buy all of that philosophy," Nance chuckled gently. "But you still look as though you needed some breakfast, Frank."
He grinned. "Later. Let's go to see Paul, first. A big day for him--because of Ramos. Paul is getting feeble, I suppose?" Nelsen's face had sobered.
"Not so you could notice it much, Frank," Nance answered. "There's a new therapy--another side of What's Coming, I guess..."
They walked the few blocks. The owner of the Hobby Center was now a long-time member of KRNH Enterprises. He had the means to expand and modernize the place beyond recognition. But clearly he had realized that some things should not change.
In the display window, however, there gleamed a brand-new Archer Nine, beautiful as a garden or a town floating, unsupported, under the stars--beautiful as the Future, which was born of the Past.
A Bunch of fellas--the current crop of aficionados--were inside the store, making lots of noise over the news. Was that Chip Potter, grown tall? Was that his same old dog, Blaster? Frank Nelsen could see Paul Hendricks' white-fringed bald-spot.
"Go ahead--open the door. Or are you still scared?" Nance challenged lightly.
"No--just anticipating," Nelsen gruffed. "And seeing if I can remember what's Out There ... Serene, bubb, Belt, Pallas..." He spoke the words like comic incantations, yet with a dash of reverence.
"Superbia?" Nance teased.
"That is somebody's impertinent joke!" he growled in feigned solemnity. "Anyhow, it would be too bad if something that important couldn't take a little ribbing. Shucks--we've hardly started to work, yet!"
He drew Nance back a pace, out of sight of those in the store, and kissed her long and rather savagely.
"With all its super-complications, life still seems pretty nice," he commented.
The door squeaked, just as it used to, as Nelsen pushed it open. The old overhead bell jangled.
Pale, watery eyes lifted and lighted with another fulfilment.
"Well, Frank! Long time no see...!"
HAIL TO THE CHIEF.
By Randall Garrett
The tumult in Convention Hall was a hurricane of sound that lashed at a sea of human beings that surged and eddied around the broad floor. Men and women, delegates and spectators, aged party wheelhorses and youngsters who would vote for the first time that November, all lost their identities to merge with that swirling tide. Over their heads, like agitated bits of flotsam, pennants fluttered and placards rose and dipped. Beneath their feet, discarded metal buttons that bore the names of two or three "favorite sons" and those that had touted the only serious contender against the party's new candidate were trodden flat. None of them had ever really had a chance.
The buttons that were now pinned on every lapel said: "Blast 'em With Cannon!" or "Cannon Can Do!" The placards and the box-shaped signs, with a trifle more dignity, said: WIN WITH CANNON and CANNON FOR PRESIDENT and simply JAMES H. CANNON.
Occasionally, in the roar of noise, there were shouts of "Cannon! Cannon! Rah! Rah! Rah! Cannon! Cannon! Sis-boom-bah!" and snatches of old popular tunes hurriedly set with new words: On with Cannon, on with Cannon! White House, here we come! He's a winner, no beginner; He can get things done! (Rah! Rah! Rah!) And, over in one corner, a group of college girls were enthusiastically chanting: He is handsome! He is sexy! We want J. H. C. for Prexy!
It was a demonstration that lasted nearly three times as long as the eighty-five-minute demonstration that had occurred when Representative Matson had first proposed his name for the party's nomination.
Spatially, Senator James Harrington Cannon was four blocks away from Convention Hall, in a suite at the Statler-Hilton, but electronically, he was no farther away than the television camera that watched the cheering multitude from above the floor of the hall.
The hotel room was tastefully and expensively decorated, but neither the senator nor any of the other men in the room were looking at anything else except the big thirty-six-inch screen that glowed and danced with color. The network announcer's words were almost inaudible, since the volume had been turned way down, but his voice sounded almost as excited as those from the convention floor.
Senator Cannon's broad, handsome face showed a smile that indicated pleasure, happiness, and a touch of triumph. His dark, slightly wavy hair, with the broad swathes of silver at the temples, was a little disarrayed, and there was a splash of cigarette ash on one trouser leg, but otherwise, even sitting there in his shirt sleeves, he looked well-dressed. His wide shoulders tapered down to a narrow waist and lean hips, and he looked a good ten years younger than his actual fifty-two.
He lit another cigarette, but a careful scrutiny of his face would have revealed that, though his eyes were on the screen, his thoughts were not in Convention Hall.
Representative Matson, looking like an amazed bulldog, managed to chew and puff on his cigar simultaneously and still speak understandable English. "Never saw anything like it. Never. First ballot and you had it, Jim. I know Texas was going to put up Perez as a favorite son on the first ballot, but they couldn't do anything except jump on the bandwagon by the time the vote reached them. Unanimous on the first ballot."
Governor Spanding, a lantern-jawed, lean man sitting on the other side of Senator Cannon, gave a short chuckle and said, "Came close not t' being unanimous. The delegate from Alabama looked as though he was going to stick to his 'One vote for Byron Beauregarde Cadwallader' until Cadwallader himself went over to make him change his vote before the first ballot was complete."
The door opened, and a man came in from the other room. He bounced in on the balls of his feet, clapped his hands together, and dry-washed them briskly. "We're in!" he said, with businesslike glee. "Image, gentlemen! That's what does it: Image!" He was a tall, rather bony-faced man in his early forties, and his manner was that of the self-satisfied businessman who is quite certain that he knows all of the answers and all of the questions. "Create an image that the public goes for, and you're in!"
Senator Cannon turned his head around and grinned. "Thanks, Horvin, but let's remember that we still have an election to win."
"We'll win it," Horvin said confidently. "A properly projected image attracts the public--"
"Oh, crud," said Representative Matson in a growly voice. "The opposition has just as good a staff of PR men as we do. If we beat 'em, it'll be because we've got a better man, not because we've got better public relations."
"Of course," said Horvin, unabashed. "We can project a better image because we've got better material to work with. We--"
"Jim managed to get elected to the Senate without any of your help, and he went in with an avalanche. If there's any 'image projecting' done around here, Jim is the one who does it."
Horvin nodded his head as though he were in complete agreement with Matson. "Exactly. His natural ability plus the scientific application of mass psychology make an unbeatable team."
Matson started to say something, but Senator Cannon cut in first. "He's right, Ed. We've got to use every weapon we have to win this election. Another four years of the present policies, and the Sino-Russian Bloc will be able to start unilateral disarmament. They won't have to start a war to bury us."
Horvin looked nervous. "Uh ... Senator--"
Cannon made a motion in the air. "I know, I know. Our policy during the campaign will be to run down the opposition, not the United States. We are still in a strong position, but if this goes on--Don't worry, Horvin; the whole thing will be handled properly."
Before any of them could say anything, Senator Cannon turned to Representative Matson and said: "Ed, will you get Matthew Fisher on the phone? And the Governor of Pennsylvania and ... let's see ... Senator Hidekai and Joe Vitelli."
"I didn't even know Fisher was here," Matson said. "What do you want him for?"
"I just want to talk to him, Ed. Get him up here, with the others, will you?"
"Sure, Jim; sure." He got up and walked over to the phone.
Horvin, the PR man, said: "Well, Senator, now that you're the party's candidate for the Presidency of the United States, who are you going to pick for your running mate? Vollinger was the only one who came even close to giving you a run for your money, and it would be good public relations if you chose him. He's got the kind of personality that would make a good image."
"Horvin," the senator said kindly, "I'll pick the men; you build the image from the raw material I give you. You're the only man I know who can convince the public that a sow's ear is really a silk purse, and you may have to do just that.
"You can start right now. Go down and get hold of the news boys and tell them that the announcement of my running mate will be made as soon as this demonstration is over.
"Tell them you can't give them any information other than that, but give them the impression that you already know. Since you don't know, don't try to guess; that way you won't let any cats out of the wrong bags. But you do know that he's a fine man, and you're pleased as all hell that I made such a good choice. Got that?"
Horvin grinned. "Got it. You pick the man; I'll build the image." He went out the door.
When the door had closed, Governor Spanding said: "So it's going to be Fisher, is it?"
"You know too much, Harry," said Senator Cannon, grinning. "Remind me to appoint you ambassador to Patagonia after Inauguration Day."
"If I lose the election at home, I may take you up on it. But why Matthew Fisher?"
"He's a good man, Harry."