The Captain glanced down at the screen again. An orangish glow was suffusing the alien ship. A jet slipped in for a rocket shot. The glow pulsed, expanded, touched the jet, and the plane vanished into a rain of wreckage that sped towards the ocean below.
"God!" Davis breathed. "Did you see that?"
The Captain only half heard him. So they were aliens. What did that mean? Beings of different background, different beliefs, different physical structure? He had been one of the first into Berlin after the massacre was over and the Combine had laid the blame on their Berlin Commandant, though it was painfully obvious that he had only followed out instructions. And the shambles he had seen there couldn't have been done by human beings. Four thousand soldiers and close to a hundred thousand civilians killed. Would you call the people who had been responsible for that human beings or ... aliens? Which name fit best?
The Berlin war ...
A dozen different outbreaks, starting with Korea so long ago ...
And then you were supposed to admit that they were blood brothers after all, and that in the face of a mutual threat you should forget your differences and pool your resources against the common enemy.
"There goes another one!"
So in fifteen minutes the Josef would go down. And from him it would bring only cheers, not tears.
But you didn't make decisions on a personal basis, he thought slowly. You had to look at it from the viewpoint of a thousand years. You had to develop a certain detachment, even though one man's lifetime was far too short a period to develop it in.
"Message for you, Captain."
It was a voice message that had been picked up in CIC. It was brief and to the point.
Attention Captain United States Vessel Oahu: Help urgently requested. If aid not granted immediately, all is lost.
Constantin Simenovich, Captain, People's Warship Josef Dzugashvili.
He had a brief mental picture of a young man lying in the shambles of Berlin calling out the same words. And what had he received?
He buried the thought.
The detached viewpoint. Political systems evolved, he thought, they never remained the same. The French Revolution had spawned a thousand human monsters and the blood had run in the streets. But out of it all had come a democratic nation. And a thousand years from now, what would the Combine be? A turn of the wheel and perhaps it would be a peace-loving democracy while the United States would be the abattoir of human hopes. Who could tell? A thousand years from now the present bloodbaths and tortures and mass deaths would be history.
But if the aliens won you ran the chance of there being no history at all.
The wheelhouse was silent. The Captain could feel a dozen pairs of eyes watching him, waiting for his decision. Outside the ports, on the far horizon, there came a steady, golden pulsing.
He looked up at McCandless and Davis. McCandless was young, too inexperienced to realize that situations where today's enemies are tomorrow's friends are the order of the day and not the exception. You adjusted to it or you became bitter. Davis, the gutless bastard, had adjusted to it. He was probably already to make the switch, to go back to drinking toasts in vodka.
The detached viewpoint.
"Send up the jets," the Captain said slowly. "And send a message to the Captain of the Josef, telling him we'll render all the assistance that we can."
The wheelhouse broke into a flurry of activity and a moment later he could hear the sounds of the jets taking off the flight deck. He walked out on the bridge deck and leaned on the railing, staring at the horizon where the alien ship and the Josef were fighting it out. And where planes from the Oahu would shortly be helping the Josef.
But I still hate them, he thought. I hate their goddamned souls!
By Richard Sabia
Clamped to the contour couch, the young girl strained against the padded steel grips and screamed. Again she writhed and screamed as she felt the hideous touch of the monster snatching at her. She struggled frenziedly through the muck of the swamp but the thing with the blood eyes scrabbled faster on its rotten limbs. The thing seized her in its obscene embrace. Raw terror tore another scream from her throat. Behind her on the projector a needle slammed into the red zone. Beyond the hundreds of long rows of couches a warning light flashed on the control console of Mezzanine F and its persistent buzz snared the attention of one of the ushers. He glanced at the light's location number and ran along one of the aisles till he came to the girl. He saw that the projector had shut off the feature feelie and was running the emergency tranquil strip. She had stopped screaming but her breathing was still agitated. He looked around at the rows of couches, nearly all occupied but none of the other patrons seemed more frightened than they should be. Some of the other ushers had halted on their rounds and were looking quizzically across at him. He shrugged the question back at them, removed the feelie permit from its clip on the girl's couch and checked the permitted intensity level against the setting of the projector. They matched. Still puzzled, he examined the other settings without discovering any apparent cause for her fright-hysteria. The tranquil strip ended and the machine shut itself off. The usher moved a switch that released the pressure of the electrodes against the girl's head and retracted them into the headset. Her eyes opened as he removed the apparatus and folded back the clamps.
"Feel all right, miss?" he inquired with a solicitous smile.
She nodded, but her eyes still held echoes of alarm.
"Better come down to the clinic," he said gently, assisting her from the couch.
She said nothing but allowed him to lead her along. They stepped into a float shaft and drifted gently down past other floors of the theater occupied by the myriad rows of feelie couches. When they reached what was obviously an office level, the usher grasped a tug bar which pulled them into a corridor opening. He brought her to the clinic and left her with the doctor after explaining what had happened.
The doctor seated her alongside his desk. "How do you feel now?"
She smiled weakly. "All right Ah guess," she said with a soft drawl.
"Let's see," he said looking at her feelie permit, "you are Miss, ah, Loretta Meenan, and, well, you are from Hammond, Louisiana." He looked up at her and smiled. "May I ask how old you are Miss Meenan?"
"A very charming sixteen, I must say. Are you here with your family?"
"Yes. Ma an' pa are at the convention. They let us come to the feelies."
"Mah older brother, Jason."
"Oh? How old is he?"
"Eighteen. But he's big, real man-lookin' an' folks who don't know mistake him for past twenty."
"What couch did he have?"
"Next to mine on the left."
The doctor consulted his notepad. "Ah, that would make it number, ah, six thousand forty-two. We'll have one of the ushers bring him down."
"Please don't," she said hastily. "Not 'till the feelie's over anyhow. He'll have the furies with me if he misses the endin' on mah account."
"All right," the doctor agreed amiably. "How are you enjoying your visit to New York?"
"Ah'm havin' a dazzlin' time."
"Good. Do you go to the feelies at home?" The doctor saw her tense forward from the curve of the chair.
"Have you ever been badly upset by horror feelies before?"
The doctor was aware of the apprehension behind her guardedness. "Do you have any idea why this one should have upset you so?"
"No, sir, except maybe the excitement. Ah ain't never been much away from home before but once to New Orleans."
The doctor looked at her permit card again. "This isn't a very good likeness of you."
"It does reflect me poorly," she murmured.
The doctor's smile evaporated from his suddenly stern face. "Perhaps it's because this is not your picture and this is not your card."
Her face went white.
"What is your name?"
"Robina Rowe." Her downcast eyes were locked on her fingers squirming in her lap.
"Who's Loretta Meenan?"
"Why did you borrow her card?"
She was close to tears. "Ah jus' had to go to this feelie. It's got mah very favorite actor in it."
"Evidently your card doesn't permit you to attend horror feelies."
"Why not? Nightmares?"
She shook her head.
"Don't tell me you have a bad heart!"
She shook her head again. "Ah'm a Sensitive," she said bleakly.
In a sudden surge of anger the doctor half rose out of his chair and leaned across the desk. "Why you little fool!" he roared. "You little damn fool!"
From the open doorway a shape hurtled across the desk at the doctor and crashed with him to the floor.
"Jason!" Robina shrieked.
"Don't you talk to mah sister that way," Jason shouted as he pummelled the doctor. "Ah'll kill you!"
The usher who had guided Jason to the clinic dashed around the desk to pull the boy from the doctor. Robina tried to help but in the tussle she was knocked down, striking her head on a leg of the overturned chair. Jason, hearing her cry of pain, leaped off the doctor to aid her.
"It's only a little bump," Jason said reassuringly as he cradled her in his arms.
The doctor got to his feet and glared at the tall, strikingly handsome boy-man helping his sister to a chair.
That done, Jason whirled to face the doctor. "Now listen here--"
"Now you listen to me," the doctor shouted. He saw Jason gather himself as if for another leap but Robina placed a restraining hand on his arm and his fists slowly uncurled. "If you loved your sister as much as you pretend to you wouldn't have helped her try to kill herself!"
"What do you mean?" the boy said sullenly.
"You know damn well what I mean," the doctor said. "You know your sister is a Sensitive. She experiences things with ten times the impact of an ordinary person and her empathy threshold is so high a death scene in a feelie could kill her! And if you don't know what some of the words mean," the doctor said, noticing Jason's slight puzzlement, "you do know what your sister is and the care that has to be taken."
The guilt in Jason's abashed face agreed.
Fired by his anger, the doctor raged on. "Why the devil do you think we have laws concerning attendance permits? What do you think all that testing by doctors and psychologists before a permit is issued is for? You, you big ox, could be killed by fright too if the intensity level of the projector was set higher than your psycho-profile rating."
He saw his last words had lost the boy again. "In any case you know better. Why did you allow your sister to endanger her life by letting her illegally use another's permit? And of all things, a horror feelie!"
"Ah didn't want to take her," Jason complained, "but she jus' fussed an' fretted at me 'till Ah gave in."
"Well you've both broken the law. Your parents will be notified and you'll have to stay here until they come." The doctor buzzed and a guard appeared. "Take these two to Mr. Lemson's office," he instructed him.
The guard led them from the floating steel and crystal theater structure of the U-Live-It Corporation complex to the executive wing of the general offices. He stayed with them until the receptionist at the office suite of Vice President Cyrus W. Lemson ushered them inside.
After having them seat themselves, Mr. Lemson stared at Jason in his tight, crimson, dress dungarees and rhinestone speckled, black shirt which accentuated his lithe, muscled body. Eighteen or not, he thought in mild astonishment, that handsome giant is no boy. "The doctor viphoned me about you," he said sternly. He spoke to them further about the seriousness of what they had done and told them their parents were on the way down. Then he took them into an interior office furnished like a luxurious living room. "Please wait here," he said, "until your people arrive. Magazines are there on the table and you may turn on the television set." He closed the door.
"Want me to turn on the television set?" Jason asked.
"No, Ah don't much feel like it."
They settled themselves on the enormous couch and Robina looked at her brother. "Jason, Ah'm real sorry. Ah went an' stirred up a hornet's nest of trouble for you again."
"Don't fret about it, Robee. They won't really do nothin' serious. They'll talk to Ma an' Pa an' Pa'll make like he's goin' to cuff us aroun' when we get back to the hotel an' instead he'll jus' look dark an' make us feel bad with his talk. It'll jus' be a lot of commotion like a bee stuck in a tar bucket."