"Hell yes, he is," the governor said. "Tops. I've seen his record as State Attorney General and as Lieutenant Governor. And when Governor Dinsmore died three years ago, Fisher did a fine job filling out his last year. But--"
"But he couldn't get re-elected two years ago," Senator Cannon said. "He couldn't keep the governor's office, in spite of the great job he'd done."
"That's right. He's just not a politician, Jim. He doesn't have the ... the personality, the flash, whatever it is that it takes to get a man elected by the people. I've got it; you sure as hell have it; Fisher doesn't."
"That's why I've got Horvin working for us," said Senator Cannon. "Whether I need him or not may be a point of argument. Whether Matthew Fisher needs him or not is a rhetorical question."
Governor Spanding lit a cigarette in silence while he stared at the quasi-riot that was still coming to the screen from Convention Hall. Then he said: "You've been thinking of Matt Fisher all along, then."
"Not Patagonia," said the senator. "Tibet."
"I'll shut up if you want me to, Jim."
"No. Go ahead."
"All right. Jim, I trust your judgment. I've got no designs on the Vice Presidency myself, and you know it. I like to feel that, if I had, you'd give me a crack at it. No, don't answer that, Jim; just let me talk.
"What I'm trying to say is that there are a lot of good men in the party who'd make fine VP's; men who've given their all to get you the nomination, and who'll work even harder to see that you're elected. Why pass them up in favor of a virtual unknown like Matt Fisher?"
Senator Cannon didn't say anything. He knew that Spanding didn't want an answer yet.
"The trouble with Fisher," Spanding went on, "is that he ... well, he's too autocratic. He pulls decisions out of midair. He--" Spanding paused, apparently searching for a way to express himself. Senator Cannon said nothing; he waited expectantly.
"Take a look at the Bossard Decision," Spanding said. "Fisher was Attorney General for his state at the time.
"Bossard was the Mayor of Waynesville--twelve thousand and something population, I forget now. Fisher didn't even know Bossard. But when the big graft scandal came up there in Waynesville, Fisher wouldn't prosecute. He didn't actually refuse, but he hemmed and hawed around for five months before he really started the State's machinery to moving. By that time, Bossard had managed to get enough influence behind him so that he could beat the rap.
"When the case came to trial in the State Supreme Court, Matt Fisher told the Court that it was apparent that Mayor Bossard was the victim of the local district attorney and the chief of police of Waynesville. In spite of the evidence against him, Bossard was acquitted." Spanding took a breath to say something more, but Senator James Cannon interrupted him.
"Not 'acquitted', Harry. 'Exonerated'. Bossard never even should have come to trial," the senator said. "He was a popular, buddy-buddy sort of guy who managed to get himself involved as an unwitting figurehead. Bossard simply wasn't--and isn't--very bright. But he was a friendly, outgoing, warm sort of man who was able to get elected through the auspices of the local city machine. Remember Jimmy Walker?"
Spanding nodded. "Yes, but--"
"Same thing," Cannon cut in. "Bossard was innocent, as far as any criminal intent was concerned, but he was too easy on his so-called friends. He--"
"Oh, crud, Jim!" the governor interrupted vehemently. "That's the same whitewash that Matthew Fisher gave him! The evidence would have convicted Bossard if Fisher hadn't given him time to cover up!"
Senator James Cannon suddenly became angry. He jammed his own cigarette butt into the ash tray, turned toward Spanding, and snapped: "Harry, just for the sake of argument, let's suppose that Bossard wasn't actually guilty. Let's suppose that the Constitution of the United States is really true--that a man isn't guilty until he's proven guilty.
"Just suppose"--his voice and expression became suddenly acid--"that Bossard was not guilty. Try that, huh? Pretend, somewhere in your own little mind, that a mere accusation--no matter what the evidence--doesn't prove anything! Let's just make a little game between the two of us that the ideal of Equality Under the Law means what it says. Want to play?"
"Well, yes, but--"
"O.K.," Cannon went on angrily. "O.K. Then let's suppose that Bossard really was stupid. He could have been framed easily, couldn't he? He could have been set up as a patsy, couldn't he? Couldn't he?"
"Well, sure, but--"
"Sure! Then go on and suppose that the prosecuting attorney had sense enough to see that Bossard had been framed. Suppose further that the prosecutor was enough of a human being to know that Bossard either had to be convicted or completely exonerated. What would he do?"
Governor Spanding carefully put his cigarette into the nearest ash tray. "If that were the case, I'd completely exonerate him. I wouldn't leave it hanging. Matt Fisher didn't do anything but make sure that Bossard couldn't be legally convicted; he didn't prove that Bossard was innocent."
"And what was the result, as far as Bossard was concerned?" the senator asked.
Spanding looked around at the senator, staring Cannon straight in the face. "The result was that Bossard was left hanging, Jim. If I go along with you and assume that Bossard was innocent, then Fisher fouled up just as badly as he would have if he'd fluffed the prosecution of a guilty man. Either a man is guilty, or he's innocent. If, according to your theory, the prosecutor knows he's innocent, then he should exonerate the innocent man! If not, he should do his best to convict!"
"He should?" snapped Cannon. "He should? Harry, you're letting your idealism run away with you! If Bossard were guilty, he should have been convicted--sure! But if he were innocent, should he be exonerated? Should he be allowed to run again for office? Should the people be allowed to think that he was lily-white? Should they be allowed to re-elect a nitwit who'd do the same thing again because he was too stupid to see that he was being used?
"No!" He didn't let the governor time to speak; he went on: "Matthew Fisher set it up perfectly. He exonerated Bossard enough to allow the ex-mayor to continue in private life without any question. But--there remained just enough question to keep him out of public office for the rest of his life. Was that wrong, Harry? Was it?"
Spanding looked blankly at the senator for a moment, then his expression slowly changed to one of grudging admiration. "Well ... if you put it that way ... yeah. I mean, no; it wasn't wrong. It was the only way to play it." He dropped his cigarette into a nearby ash tray. "O.K., Jim; you win. I'll back Fisher all the way."
"Thanks, Harry," Cannon said. "Now, if we--"
Congressman Matson came back into the room, saying, "I got 'em, Jim. Five or ten minutes, they'll be here. Which one of 'em is it going to be?"
"Matt Fisher, if we can come to an agreement," Cannon said, watching Matson's face closely.
Matson chewed at his cigar for a moment, then nodded. "He'll do. Not much political personality, but, hell, he's only running for Veep. We can get him through." He took the cigar out of his mouth. "How do you want to run it?"
"I'll talk to Fisher in my bedroom. You and Harry hold the others in here with the usual chitchat. Tell 'em I'm thinking over the choice of my running mate, but don't tell 'em I've made up my mind yet. If Matt Fisher doesn't want it, we can tell the others that Matt and I were simply talking over the possibilities. I don't want anyone to think he's second choice. Got it?"
Matson nodded. "Whatever you say, Jim."
That year, late August was a real blisterer along the eastern coast of the United States. The great megalopolis that sprawled from Boston to Baltimore in utter scorn of state boundaries sweltered in the kind of atmosphere that is usually only found in the pressing rooms of large tailor shops. Consolidated Edison, New York's Own Power Company, was churning out multimegawatts that served to air condition nearly every enclosed place on the island of Manhattan--which served only to make the open streets even hotter. The power plants in the Bronx, west Brooklyn, and east Queens were busily converting hydrogen into helium and energy, and the energy was being used to convert humid air at ninety-six Fahrenheit into dry air at seventy-one Fahrenheit. The subways were crowded with people who had no intention of going anywhere in particular; they just wanted to retreat from the hot streets to the air-conditioned bowels of the city.
But the heat that can be measured by thermometers was not the kind that was causing two groups of men in two hotels, only a few blocks apart on the East Side of New York's Midtown, to break out in sweat, both figurative and literal.
One group was ensconced in the Presidential Suite of the New Waldorf--the President and Vice President of the United States, both running for re-election, and other high members of the incumbent party.
The other group, consisting of Candidates Cannon and Fisher, and the high members of their party, were occupying the only slightly less pretentious Bridal Suite of a hotel within easy walking distance of the Waldorf.
Senator James Cannon read through the news release that Horvin had handed him, then looked up at the PR man. "This is right off the wire. How long before it's made public?"
Horvin glanced at his watch. "Less than half an hour. There's an NBC news program at five-thirty. Maybe before, if one of the radio stations think it's important enough for a bulletin break."
"That means that it will have been common knowledge for four hours by the time we go on the air for the debate," said Cannon.
Horvin nodded, still looking at his watch. "And even if some people miss the TV broadcast, they'll be able to read all about it. The deadline for the Daily Register is at six; the papers will hit the streets at seven-fifteen, or thereabouts."
Cannon stood up from his chair. "Get your men out on the streets. Get 'em into bars, where they can pick up reactions to this. I want as good a statistical sampling as you can get in so short a time. It'll have to be casual; I don't want your men asking questions as though they were regular pollsters; just find out what the general trend is."
"Right." Horvin got out fast.
The other men in the room were looking expectantly at the senator. He paused for a moment, glancing around at them, and then looked down at the paper and said: "This is a bulletin from Tass News Agency, Moscow." Then he began reading.
"Russian Luna Base One announced that at 1600 Greenwich Standard Time (12:00 N EDST) a presumed spacecraft of unknown design was damaged by Russian rockets and fell to the surface of Luna somewhere in the Mare Serenitas, some three hundred fifty miles from the Soviet base. The craft was hovering approximately four hundred miles above the surface when spotted by Soviet radar installations. Telescopic inspection showed that the craft was not--repeat: not--powered by rockets. Since it failed to respond to the standard United Nations recognition signals, rockets were fired to bring it down. In attempting to avoid the rockets, the craft, according to observers, maneuvered in an entirely unorthodox manner, which cannot be attributed to a rocket drive. A nearby burst, however, visibly damaged the hull of the craft, and it dropped toward Mare Serenitas. Armed Soviet moon-cats are, at this moment, moving toward the downed craft.
"Base Commander Colonel A. V. Gryaznov is quoted as saying: 'There can be no doubt that we shall learn much from this craft, since it is apparently of extraterrestrial origin. We will certainly be able to overpower any resistance it may offer, since it has already proved vulnerable to our weapons. The missiles which were fired toward our base were easily destroyed by our own antimissile missiles, and the craft was unable to either destroy or avoid our own missiles.'
"Further progress will be released by the Soviet Government as it occurs."
Senator Cannon dropped the sheet of paper to his side. "That's it. Matt, come in the bedroom; I'd like to talk to you."
Matthew Fisher, candidate for Vice President of the United States, heaved his two-hundred-fifty-pound bulk out of the chair he had been sitting in and followed the senator into the other room. Behind them, the others suddenly broke out into a blather of conversation. Fisher's closing of the door cut the sound off abruptly.
Senator Cannon threw the newssheet on the nearest bed and swung around to face Matthew Fisher. He looked at the tall, thick, muscular man trying to detect the emotions behind the ugly-handsome face that had been battered up by football and boxing in college, trying to fathom the thoughts beneath the broad forehead and the receding hairline.
"You got any idea what this really means, Matt?" he asked after a second.
Fisher's blue-gray eyes widened almost imperceptibly, and his gaze sharpened. "Not until just this moment," he said.
Cannon looked suddenly puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"Well," Fisher said thoughtfully, "you wouldn't ask me unless it meant something more than appears on the surface." He grinned rather apologetically. "I'm sorry, Jim; it takes a second or two to reconstruct exactly what did go through my mind." His grin faded into a thoughtful frown. "Anyway, you asked me, and since you're head of the Committee on SPACE Travel and Exploration--" He spread his hands in a gesture that managed to convey both futility and apology. "The mystery spacecraft is ours," he said decisively.
James Cannon wiped a palm over his forehead and sat down heavily on one of the beds. "Right. Sit down. Fine. Now; listen: We--the United States--have a space drive that compares to the rocket in the same way that the jet engine compares to the horse. We've been keeping it under wraps that are comparable to those the Manhattan Project was kept under 'way back during World War II. Maybe more so. But--" He stopped, watching Fisher's face. Then: "Can you see it from there?"
"I think so," Fisher said. "The Soviet Government knows that we have something ... in fact, they've known it for a long time. They don't know what, though." He found a heavy briar in his pocket, pulled it out, and began absently stuffing it with tobacco from a pouch he'd pulled out with the pipe. "Our ship didn't shoot at their base. Couldn't, wouldn't have. Um. They shot it down to try to look it over. Purposely made a near-miss with an atomic warhead." He struck a match and puffed the pipe alight.
"Hm-m-m. The Soviet Government," he went on, "must have known that we had something 'way back when they signed the Greenston Agreement." Fisher blew out a cloud of smoke. "They wanted to change the wording of that, as I remember."
"That's right," Cannon said. "We wanted it to read that 'any advances in rocket engineering shall be shared equally among the Members of the United Nations', but the Soviet delegation wanted to change that to 'any advances in space travel'. We only beat them out by a verbal quibble; we insisted that the word 'space', as used, could apply equally to the space between continents or cities or, for that matter, between any two points. By the time we got through arguing, the UN had given up on the Soviet amendment, and the agreement was passed as was."
"Yeah," said Fisher, "I remember. So now we have a space drive that doesn't depend on rockets, and the USSR wants it." He stared at the bowl of his briar for a moment, then looked up at Cannon. "The point is that they've brought down one of our ships, and we have to get it out of there before the Russians get to it. Even if we manage to keep them from finding out anything about the drive, they can raise a lot of fuss in the UN if they can prove that it's our ship."
"Right. They'll ring in the Greenston Agreement even if the ship technically isn't a rocket," Cannon said. "Typical Soviet tactics. They try to time these things to hit at the most embarrassing moments. Four years ago, our worthy opponent got into office because our administration was embarrassed by the Madagascar Crisis. They simply try to show the rest of the world that, no matter which party is in, the United states is run by a bunch of inept fools." He slapped his hand down on the newssheet that lay near him. "This may win us the election," he said angrily, "but it will do us more harm in the long run than if our worthy opponent stayed in the White House."
"Of what avail to win an election and lose the whole Solar System," Fisher paraphrased. "It looks as though the President has a hot potato."
"'Hot' is the word. Pure californium-254." Cannon lit a cigarette and looked moodily at the glowing end. "But this puts us in a hole, too. Do we, or don't we, mention it on the TV debate this evening? If we don't, the public will wonder why; if we do, we'll put the country on the spot."
Matt Fisher thought for a few seconds. Then he said, "The ship must have already been having trouble. Otherwise it wouldn't have been hovering in plain sight of the Soviet radar. How many men does one of those ships hold?"
"Two," the senator told him.
"We do have more than one of those ships, don't we?" Fisher asked suddenly.
"Four on Moon Base; six more building," said Senator Cannon.
"The downed ship must have been in touch with--" He stopped abruptly, paused for a second, then said: "I have an idea, Senator, but you'll have to do the talking. We'll have to convince the President that what we're suggesting is for the good of the country and not just a political trick. And we don't have much time. Those moon-cats shouldn't take more than twelve or fifteen hours to reach the ship."
"What's your idea?"
"Well, it's pretty rough right now; we can't fill in the details until we get more information, but--" He knocked the dottle from his pipe and began outlining his scheme to the senator.
Major Valentin Udovichenko peered through the "windshield" of his moon-cat and slowed the vehicle down as he saw the glint of metal on the Earthlit plain ahead. "Captain!" he snapped. "What does that look like to you?" He pointed with a gloved hand.
The other officer looked. "I should say," he said after a moment, "that we have found what we have been looking for, major."
"So would I. It's a little closer to our base than the radarmen calculated, but it certainly could have swerved after it dropped below the horizon. And we know there hasn't been another ship in this vicinity."
The captain was focusing a pair of powerful field glasses on the object. "That's it!" he said bridling his excitement. "Egg-shaped, and no sign of rocket exhausts. Big dent in one side."
Major Udovichenko had his own binoculars out. "It's as plain as day in this Earthlight. No sign of life, either. We shouldn't have any trouble." He lowered the binoculars and picked up a microphone to give the other nine moon-cats their instructions.
Eight of the vehicles stayed well back, ready to launch rockets directly at the fallen spacecraft if there were any sign of hostility, while two more crept carefully up on her.
They were less than a hundred and fifty yards away when the object they were heading for caught fire. The major braked his vehicle to a sudden halt and stared at the bright blaze that was growing and spreading over the metallic shape ahead. Bursts of flame sprayed out in every direction, the hot gases meeting no resistance from the near-vacuum into which they spread.
Major Udovichenko shouted orders into his microphone and gunned his own motor into life again. The caterpillar treads crunched against the lunar surface as both moon-cats wheeled about and fled. Four hundred yards from the blaze, they stopped again and watched.
By this time, the blaze had eaten away more than half of the hulk, and it was surrounded by a haze of smoke and hot gas that was spreading rapidly away from it. The flare of light far outshone the light reflected from the sun by the Earth overhead.
"Get those cameras going!" the major snapped. He knew that the eight moon-cats that formed the distant perimeter had been recording steadily, but he wanted close-ups, if possible.
None of the cameras got much of anything. The blaze didn't last long, fierce as it was. When it finally died, and the smoke particles settled slowly to the lunar surface, there was only a blackened spot where the bulk of a spaceship had been.
"Well ... I ... will ... be--," said Major Valentin Udovichenko.
The TV debate was over. The senator and the President had gone at each other hot and heavy, hammer and tongs, with the senator clearly emerging as the victor. But no mention whatever had been made of the Soviet announcement from Luna.
At four thirty-five the next morning, the telephone rang in the senator's suite. Cannon had been waiting for it, and he was quick to answer.
The face that appeared on the screen was that of the President of the United States. "Your scheme worked, senator," he said without preamble. There was an aloofness, a coolness in his voice. Which was only natural, considering the heat of the debate the previous evening.
"I'm glad to hear it, Mr. President," the senator said, with only a hair less coolness. "What happened?"
"Your surmise that the Soviet officials did not realize the potential of the new craft was apparently correct," the President said. "General Thayer had already sent another ship in to rescue the crew of the disabled vessel, staying low, below the horizon of the Russian radar. The disabled ship had had some trouble with its drive mechanism; it would never have deliberately exposed itself to Russian detection. General Thayer had already asked my permission to destroy the disabled vessel rather than let the Soviets get their hands on it, and, but for your suggestion, I would have given him a go-ahead.
"But making a replica of the ship in plastic was less than a two-hour job. The materials were at hand; a special foam plastic is used as insulation from the chill of the lunar substrata. The foam plastic was impregnated with ammonium nitrate and foamed up with pure oxygen; since it is catalyst-setting, that could be done at low temperatures. The outside of the form was covered with metallized plastic, also impregnated with ammonium nitrate. I understand that the thing burned like unconfined gunpowder after it was planted in the path of the Soviet moon-cats and set off. The Soviet vehicles are on their way back to their base now."
After a moment's hesitation, he went on: "Senator, in spite of our political differences, I want to say that I appreciate a man who can put his country's welfare ahead of his political ambitions."
"Thank you, Mr. President. That is a compliment I appreciate and accept. But I want you to know that the notion of decoying them away with an inflammable plastic replica was not my idea; it was Matt Fisher's."
"Oh? My compliments to Mr. Fisher." He smiled then. It was obviously forced, but, just as obviously, there was sincerity behind it. "I hope the best team wins. But if it does not, I am secure in the knowledge that the second best team is quite competent."
Firmly repressing a desire to say, I am sorry that I don't feel any such security myself, Cannon merely said: "Thank you again, Mr. President."