The Instant of Now, p.1Irving E. Cox
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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.
[_One of the most intriguing of all science fiction patterns is that of the galactic sweep--the story which takes for granted human travel between stars at speeds far faster than the speed of light. In its most successful form, such a story combines cosmic action with a wholly human plot. In this case Mr. Cox--but read it yourself._]
the instant of now
_by ... Irving E. Cox, Jr._
Revolution is not necessarily a noble thing. Unless shrewdly directed, its best elements may fall victim to its basest impulses.
* * * * *
Eddie Dirrul had destroyed the message seconds after reading it. Yet,as he left the pneumotube from the University, he felt as if it wereburning a hole in his pocket. It had come to him from Paul Sorgel, thenew top-agent from the Planet Vinin. It had been written in HighVininese.
For a moment the alien language had slowed Eddie's reaction to itscontents, as had the shocking nature of its words. It had read--
_Need your help. Glenna and Hurd in brush with Secret Police--both hurt. Come at once._
Luckily old Dr. Kramer had asked no awkward questions when Eddieexcused himself from the balance of the lecture. If the kindlybumbling professor had been inquisitive, Eddie had no idea how hewould have answered. Glenna was his fiancee, Hurd his best friend--andtheir disaster meant disaster for the underground movement that hadbecome the guiding purpose of his entire life.
The night was still young when he emerged from the pneumotube and theslanting ramp-lines of windows in the massive unit-blocks of theWorkers' Suburb rose about him within the darkness of the structuralframes that encased them.
Parks, recreation centers and gaudy amusement halls were aswirl withthe usual evening crowds. With a sort of angry heedlessness Eddieforced his way among tall perpetually-youthful men in bright leisureclothing--and consciously alluring women clad in filmy garments asteasingly transparent as mist.
_Glenna hurt--and Hurd!_ Seriously, of course, or Paul Sorgel wouldnever have risked a hand-message. With quiet desperation he pushedthrough the crowds--in his trim grey Air-command uniform he was onewith them, a nonentity like themselves.
He knew where to find the three he sought. Beyond the outdoor courts,where his fellow-Agronians amused themselves with a variety ofracquet-games, lay a tiny park, wherein a state of wild disorder wascarefuly maintained in imitation of nature.
Few were attracted by its rugged growth, save in very warm weather,when hardy souls ventured within its borders to relax in artificialbreezes created by silent concealed fans. In its center stood a smallstone building that housed the maintenance machinery. It was deserted,except for once each year when the city engineering crews came tocheck the machines and to make minor repairs. There the Libero-FreedomMovement held its meetings, in the shadow of the whirring wheels.
Sorgel came out of the shadows as Dirrul pushed through the thicket ofbrush that surrounded the stone building. In a hushed whisper heasked, "That you, Eddie?"
"Yes--where are they?"
"Inside. I gave them a hypo--they're both under now. It makes iteasier."
"How did it happen, Paul?"
"I was to meet Glenna and Hurd at her apartment, to talk over thedetails of the Plan. The police were there ahead of me but I broke upthe party before they could finish the job. Since they've got to dothis sort of thing unofficially, to be able to deny it later if anyquestions are asked, I scared them off easily enough. I brought Glennaand Hurd here in my Unicyl but I'll need your help to get them out."
"This is the second time it's happened, Paul!" said Eddie. "And thePlan--we'll have to organize all over again. As soon as our peoplehear about this most of them will run like scared rabbits."
"Not if they don't know, Eddie. That's where you come in. We've got toget Glenna and Hurd away from Agron. If there's no evidence of a crimethere's no reason for an investigation."
"But what can I do?"
"Borrow one of the Air-command's surface jets for a while."
Paul Sorgel's plan was simple and efficient. The Air-Command field wasfenced with electronic paralysis barriers and the entrance was heavilyguarded. But no watch was kept inside the encampment except for adaily inspection of the machines when the guard was changed at dawn.Since Dirrul was a Captain of the Space-maintenance Division, 73rdAir-Command Wing, he was able to enter the area at any time withoutquestion. Among the scheduled night training flights for new cadets,the departure of one more surface jet would pass unobserved.
"Come back here for Glenna and Hurd," Sorgel said, "and take them outto the South Desert. If there's no hitch you should be back beforedawn, with time to spare. If not...." Sorgel shrugged. "Eddie, wecan't build a better universe without taking occasional risks."
Slowly Dirrul's body tensed with fear. In a cold dead voice he asked,"Am I to leave them there, without help or medicine, to die of thirstand hunger?"
"Many sacrifices are necessary for the good of the Movement."
"But Glenna and Hurd are our leaders!"
"The freedom of the universe means a little more, I think, than thetemporary safety of two individuals." Sorgel lit a cigarette. In thefaint pink reflection of the Glo-Wave lighter his face was emptilyplacid, a faint smile twisting the corners of his lips. "Suppose I sayit's a command, Dirrul--a Vininese command, calling for Vininesediscipline."
After a moment Dirrul replied in a choked whisper, "I'll take them,sir."
Sorgel smiled and the crisp tone of authority edged out of his voice."As a matter of fact, Eddie, I was curious to see what you would do.The Vininese Confederacy practises neither cruelty nor deception.You'll find one of our Space-dragons hidden in a gorge of the KatskainRange. It's the ship I came in a week ago.
"The pilot was instructed to wait fifteen planetary revolutions in theevent that I might have a report to send back to Headquarters. Youmust learn to trust me, Eddie. From the first, you see, I intended tosend Glenna and Hurd to Vinin. If they get there in time there's achance our Medical Corps can pull them through. They may even be backhere with us for the day when we carry out the Plan."
Dirrul was in no real danger. Much as it benefited the Movement thelaxity of Agronian security was one of the chief reasons why Dirrulscorned the Planetary Union. The space-wide patrols of theAir-Command, the city guards and the electronic paralysis barricadescreated a feeling of internal control--but it was all a glitteringsham. If it were not for the Nuclear Beams the whole system would longsince have crumbled under the first pressure from outside.
With no difficulty he picked up Glenna and Hurd and took them to theSouth Desert, where he put them aboard the sleek Vininese space-ship.It was one of the new Dragon design--compact, efficient, faster thananything built by the Planetary Union, protected by sixteen circularbatteries and yet small enough to be handled by one man.
Dirrul had seen only one other Vininese Space-dragon and that from adistance at the Agronian commercial airport, when the last Vinineseambassador arrived. Technically there was no reason why Paul Sorgelcould not have landed there as well, except that the Customsquestionnaire might have proved embarrassing.
Twenty years earlier, when Dirrul was still a schoolboy, the GalacticWar had ended. Since that time relations between the Planetary Unionand the Vininese Confederacy had steadily improved--at least inappearance. Undoubtedly there were commercial inte
Pain shot through Dirrul's mind as he carried Glenna into thepressurized chamber under the control room. She and Hurd were stillunconscious but Glenna turned in his arms and her eyes fluttered open.She looked at him and screamed in terrible agony before the pilot ofthe Space-dragon plunged a hypodermic sedative into her arm.
"It is better," he said to Dirrul in throaty Vininese. "So beautiful aone should not feel the pain." Carefully he fastened the needlepointof a wall tube into Glenna's vein and another into Hurd's.
"Synthetic blood feeding," he said with a smile.
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