The Very Black, p.1Dean Evans
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This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe Aug-Sept 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
[_Anders was pretty sure he was going to die. No one had yet flown the new-style jet job and lived to tell the tale. A story both chilling and heart-warming that shows us how bravely the human equation can operate when the chips are stacked against it._]
the very black
_by ... Dean Evans_
Jet test-pilots and love do not mix too happily as a rule--especially with a ninth-dimensional alter ego messing the whole act.
* * * * *
There was nothing peculiar about that certain night I suppose--exceptto me personally. A little earlier in the evening I'd walked out onthe Doll, Margie Hayman--and a man doesn't do that and cheer over it.Not if he's in love with the Doll he doesn't--not _this_ doll. Ifyou've ever seen her you'll give the nod on that.
The trouble had been Air Force's new triangular ship--the new saucer.Not radio controlled, this one--this one was to carry a real livepilot. At least that's what the doll's father, who was Chief Engineerat Airtech, Inc., had in mind when he designed it.
The doll had said to me sort of casually, "Got something, Baby." Shecalled me baby. Me, one eighty-five in goose pimples.
"Toss it over, Doll," I said.
"No strings on you, Baby." She'd grinned that little one-sided grin ofhers. "No strings on you. Not even one. You're a flyboy, you are, andyou can take off or land any time any place you feel like it."
"Stake your mom's Charleston cup on that," I said.
She nodded. Her one-sided grin seemed to fade slightly but she hookedit up again fast. A doll--like I said. This was the original model,they've never gone into production on girls like her full-time.
She said, "Therefore, I've got no right to go stalking with a saltshaker in one hand and a pair of shears for your tailfeathers in theother."
"You're cute, Doll," I said, still going along with her one hundredpercent.
"Nice--we get along nice."
"Somebody oughta set 'em up on that."
"Huh?" I blinked. I hate sour notes. That's why I'm not a musician.You never get a sour note in a jet job--or if you do you don't getannoyed. That's the sour note to end all sour notes.
"Brace yourself, Baby," she said.
I took a hitch on the highball glass I was holding and let one eye geta serious look in it. "Shoot," I told her.
"This new job--this new saucer the TV newscasts are blatting about.You boys in the Air Force heard about it yet?"
"There's been a rumor," I said. I frowned. Top secret--in a pig'seyelash!
"Uh-huh. Is it true this particular ship is supposed to carry a pilotthis time?"
"Where do they dig up all this old stuff?" I growled. "Hell, I knewall about that way way back this afternoon already."
"Uh-huh, Is it also true they've asked a flyboy named Eddie Anders totake it up the first time? This flyboy named Eddie Anders being myBaby?"
I got bored with the highball. I tossed it down the hole in my headand put the glass on a table. "You're psychic," I said.
She shrugged. "Good looking, maybe. Nice shape, maybe. Peachydisposition, maybe. Psychic, unh-unhh. But who else would they ask todo it?"
"A point," I conceded.
"Fork in the road coming up," the Doll said.
"Fork--look. It'll be voluntary, won't it? You don't have to do it?They won't think the worse of you if you refuse?"
"_Huh?_" I gawked at her.
"I'm scared, Baby."
Her eyes weren't blue anymore. They'd been blue before but not now.Now they were violet balls that were laying me like somebody taking alast long look at the thing down inside the nice white satin beforethey close the cover on it for the final time.
"Have a drink, Doll," I said. I got up, went to the liquor wagon."Seltzer? There isn't any mixer left."
"Asked you something, Baby."
I took her glass over. I handed it to her. My own drink I poured downthat same hole in my head. I said finally, "Nice smooth bourbon but Ilike scotch better."
"They've already crashed four of this new type on tests, haven'tthey?"
I nearly choked. _That_ was supposed to be the very pinnacle of thetop secret stuff. But she was right of course. Four of the earliermodels had cracked up. No pilots in them at the time--radiocontrolled. But jobs designed to carry pilots nevertheless.
"Some pitchers have great big ugly-looking ears," I said.
She didn't seem to mind. She said, "Or maybe I'm really psychic as yousaid. Or maybe my Dad's being Chief at Airtech has something to dowith it."
"Somebody oughta stitch a zipper across his big fat yap," I said. "Andweld the damn thing shut."
"He told only me," she said softly. "And then only because of you. Yousee, Baby, he isn't like us. He's got old fashioned notions you andI've got strings tied around each other already just because you gaveme a ring."
I stared at her.
"Crazy, isn't it? He isn't sensible like us."
"Can the gag lines, Doll," I said sourly. "The old bird's okay."
And that fetched a few moments of silence in the room--thick pervadingsilence. A silence to be broken at any fractional second andheavy--supercharged--because of it.
I said finally, "Somebody has to take it up. It might as well be me.And they've already asked me."
"You could refuse, Baby."
"Sure I could. It's voluntary. They don't horsewhip a guy into it."
"Uh-huh--voluntary. And you _can_ refuse." She stopped, waited, then,"Making me get right down there on the hard bare floor on both knees,Baby? All right. None of us should be proud. None of us has a right tobe proud, have we?
"All right, Baby. I'm down there--way, way down there. I'm asking younot to take that ship up. I'm begging you--begging, Baby. Look, on meyou've never seen anything like this before. Begging!"
I looked at my empty glass. The taste in my mouth was suddenly bitter."No strings, we said," I said harshly. "A flyboy, we said. Guy who cantake off and land anywhere, anytime he likes. Stuff like that we justgot through saying."
She didn't answer that. I waited. She didn't answer. I got up finally,got my lousy new officer's cap off the TV set and went over to thedoor. I opened the door. I went on through.
But before I closed it I heard her whisper. That's the trouble withwhispers, they go incredible distances to get places. The whispersaid, "That's right, Baby. Right as rain. No strings--_ever!_"
* * * * *
When you don't have any scotch in the house you'd be surprised howwell rum will do--even Jamaica rum. I was on my own davenport in myown apartment and there were two shot glasses in front of me. I wastaking turns on them so they wouldn't wear out. And what was keepingthese glasses busy was me and a fifth of the Jamaica rum in my righthand. And that's when it all began.
Across the room a rather stout woman was needling a classic throughthe television screen and at the same time needing a shave ratherbadly. I wasn't paying any attention to her. I was thinking about theDoll. Wondering, worrying a little. And that's when it began.
That's when the voice said, "Mr. Anders, would you do me the goodnessto forget that bottle for a moment?"
The voice seemed to be coming from the TV screen although the stoutlady hadn't finished her song. The voice was like the disappointedsigh of a poor old bloke down to his la
That sent a little shiver up my spine. I dropped my eyes to theglasses, filled them once more. Strong stuff, Jamaica rum. At thefirst the taste is medicine. A little later the taste is pleasantsyrup. And a little later still the taste is delightful. Butstrong--the whole way strong. I downed glass
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