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       High Man, p.1

           Jay Clarke
 
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High Man


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  HIGH MAN

  By JAY CLARKE

  Illustrated by KOSSIN

  [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science FictionJune 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: _Roger got his chance to rise in the world ... and wound upwith his head in the clouds!_]

  London, W. 1April 3

  Roger BrisbyHotel MassilonNew York, N. Y.

  Roger dearest,

  I haven't heard from you since you arrived in New York. Are you well?

  All my love,Anne

  * * * * *

  London, W. 1April 11

  Roger dear,

  Really, Roger, you might have some consideration. After all, I _am_ yourfiancee. The very least you could do is drop me a postal card, even ifyou _are_ on a business trip. I worry about you, Roger. It's been threeweeks since I've heard from you.

  Love,Anne

  * * * * *

  London, W. 1April 16

  My dear Roger,

  I won't stand for it. I simply _won't_! I know you too well! You'reprobably running around with those awful American women, and using _my_money to do it! Business trip, indeed! Don't think an ocean between usis going to stop me from finding out what you're doing! You write methis instant!

  Anne

  * * * * *

  VIA WU CABLES LONDON APR 24ROGER BRISBYHOTEL MASSILON NY

  FIVE WEEKS SINCE WORD FROM YOU STOP IF DONT HEAR FROM YOU TWENTY FOURREPEAT TWENTY FOUR HOURS COMMA ENGAGEMENT BROKEN STOP ALSO WILL SUE FORBREACH OF PROMISE COMMA DESERTION COMMA AND EXTORTION AND FRAUD FORMONEY YOU HAVE BORROWED FROM ME STOP CABLE COLLECT STOP I STOPPED YOURDRAW ON MY ACCOUNT AT BANK STOP ANNE

  * * * * *

  Hotel Massilon, N. Y.April 25

  My dearest Anne,

  Please forgive the delay in replying to your letters and cable. Thetruth is that I was quite unable to write, anxious as I was to do so.It's a rather long story, but I would like to explain just how this cameto be and so prove how unfounded your suspicions were.

  You see, shortly after I arrived here, I ran into a ProfessorPhelps-Smythe Burdinghaugh, lately of England. Professor Burdinghaughhas been forced to resign from several universities in England becauseof the rather free manner in which he conducted his experiments. Headmitted that no less than 16 physics laboratories have been demolishedthrough his own miscalculations.

  At any rate, finding the atmosphere in our country somewhat cool towardhis continued researches, he came to New York, which, as you know, isinhabited wholly by wealthy eccentrics, tourists and boors. Such anenvironment was eminently suited to the Professor's needs and he settledhere to work on an anti-gravity belt, his lifelong project.

  You may wonder, reasonably enough, what Professor Burdinghaugh has to dowith the delay in writing to you, but I assure you that, were it not forhim, you would have heard from me much sooner. Much sooner indeed.

  It all began with a Scotch-and-water. The Professor and I were eachhaving one and inevitably we struck up a conversation. We chatted on agreat number of topics and I remember that he was quite impressed when Itold him you were indeed the _Chemicals_ Anne Harrodsbury. Not longafter this, the old boy (he is fiftyish and rather heavy) invited me inthe flush of good comradeship (and good Scotch) to take part in hislatest experiment with his anti-gravity unit. Feeling ratherlight-headed, I heartily acclaimed his suggestion and we repaired to hislaboratory.

  "My boy," he said to me later, as he strapped a bulky belt around mywaist. "My boy, you are about to witness a milestone in history. Mostassuredly, a milestone."

  I nodded, basking in the old boy's magnificent confidence.

  "We are about to enter a new era," he continued. "The Era of Space!"

  His voice dropped to a low, comradely whisper. "And I have chosen you,my boy, to assist me in forging this trail to new suns, new worlds, newcivilizations! The whole Galaxy lies before us!"

  I could see only Professor Burdinghaugh's massive girth before me, but Iassumed he could see things much more clearly than I.

  The Professor filled our glasses from the bottle I had bought, then puthis face close to mine. "Do you know why no one has ever invented ananti-gravity belt?" he confided. "_I'll_ tell you--it takes research,and research takes money. And money is very hard to get. Especially," headded, gazing somberly at his highball, "in _my_ field of research."

  He shrugged, then busied himself with some adjustments on the belt hehad wrapped around me. "There," he said finally, stepping back, "it'sready." We went outside to the garden behind his laboratory.

  "All my life," he mused, "I've wanted to be the first to defy gravity,but--" here a suspicious wetness glistened in his eyes--"my fondness forgood food and good drink has paid its price. I am far too heavy for thebelt. That's why I am giving _you_ this chance to roar to fame.You--_you_ will have the glory, while I...." He choked, then quicklydrained his glass.

  "Enough! The stars are waiting! The experiment must begin!" He paused torefill his glass from the bottle he had brought out with him.

  "When I say, '_Go!_' push this button on the belt," he explained."Ready?"

  I nodded.

  "A toast first!" he cried. Soberly, he gazed at his glass. "To Man," hepronounced momentously, "and the Stars." He took a sizable swallow, thenfixed me with a feverish glare.

  "_Go!_"

  I confess that never, before or since, have I felt such a strangesensation as when I pushed the button on the belt. Suddenly, I felt likea leaf, or a feather, floating on a soft warm curl of cloud. It was asif all the troubles, all the cares of the world had been miraculouslylifted from my shoulders. A glow of well-being seemed to pulse throughmy whole body.

  The sound of Professor Burdinghaugh's voice brought an abrupt end tothis strange lightness of mind. The Professor was pointing at me with anintensity I rarely before have seen, muttering, "It works--_it works!_"He seemed rather amazed.

  I looked down and, with a feeling I can only describe as giddiness, sawthat indeed it _was_ working. I was rising slowly from the ground andwas then about a foot in the air.

  At this historical juncture, we looked at each other for a moment, thenbegan to laugh as success rushed to our heads. The Professor even did amad little jig while, for my part, I gyrated in the air unrestrained.

  It was not until I was about ten feet off the ground that I began tofeel uneasy. I was never one to stomach high altitudes, you mightrecall, and the sight of ten feet of emptiness beneath me wasdisquieting.

  "Professor," I asked hesitantly, "how do I turn off the belt?"

  Burdinghaugh's glass stopped an inch from his lips. "Turn it off?" hecountered thickly.

  "_Yes!_" I shouted, now fifteen feet in the air. "How do I turn it off?How do I get down?"

  The Professor gazed up at me thoughtfully. "My boy," he said at last, "Inever thought about getting down--been much too concerned with gettingjolly well _up_."

  "_Burdinghaugh!_" I screamed. "Get me _down_!" I was now twenty feetabove the ground.

  "I'm sorry, old boy, dreadfully sorry," he called to me. "I can't. Butdon't think your life will have been spent in vain. Indeed not! I'll seeto it that you get proper credit as my assistant when the anti-gravitybelt is perfected. You've been invaluable, dear boy, invaluable!" Hisvoice faded.

  "_Professor!_" I screamed futilely, but by then we were too far apart tomake ourselves heard and, even as I wasted my breath, a gust of windcaught me and sent me soa
ring into the air, spinning like a top. But,just before I entered a cloud, I saw the Professor standing far below,his feet planted wide apart, his head thrown back while he watched myprogress. I fancied that, as I disappeared into the mist, he waved asolemn good-by and drank my health.

  You can't imagine the torture I went through as I sailed through theair. During those first few moments, I had felt light, carefree,buoyant. But, in these higher altitudes, I was buffeted by strong winds,pelted by rain in enormous quantities and subjected to sudden drops thathad me gasping. How I managed to survive, I can't understand. Surely, Iwould have died if I had floated completely out of the atmosphere but,luckily, the belt's power to lift me leveled off at about 10,000 feet.

  For days, I drifted at that altitude, blown willy-nilly by the
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