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The second voice, p.1
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       The Second Voice, p.1

           Mann Rubin
 
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The Second Voice


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

  _We proudly enter a new name in the science-fiction sweepstakes. This is Mr. Rubin's initial appearance in the field. His literary efforts to date add up quite handsomely, we think. QUOTE. I have sold to the TV show, TALES OF TOMORROW and two literary quarterlies have published my fiction. Last year I won the Stephen Vincent Benet Award for my one-act plays produced at Stanford University. UNQUOTE. The reading pleasure is yours._

  the second voice

  _by ... Mann Rubin_

  Spud, world-famous dummy, talks to Mars with surprising results.

  Crawford completed the rehearsal in less than an hour. He listened tothe orchestra run through its selections, okayed the song the guestvocalist had chosen, then finished up with a long dialogue between Spudand himself. When it was over he checked timing with the programdirector, made a few script changes and conferred briefly with a SpecialService Officer about the number of troops the auditorium could hold.Everything was running smoothly. It was going to be a neat,action-packed show.

  Backstage he looked at his watch. He had almost two hours before theregular show began and he was restless. Two hours at Harlow Field couldseem like two years. Guards and restrictions all over the place.

  Harlow Field was the largest experimental base in the world, a veritablegarden of atoms, the proving grounds for every secret weapon everimagined. The security and the tight regulations gave Crawford thejitters on each of his visits.

  He smoked a cigarette and tried making small talk with some of thesoldiers on backstage detail. He posed for a picture and gave aninterview to a reporter from an army newspaper, then excused himself andwent to his dressing room with Spud propped in the crook of his arm.

  He was used to it now; the applause, the audiences, the pictures, theautographs, the fuss. Everywhere the response was the same. They hadeither seen him in the movies or on television or in the nightclubs,where he first broke in his act. Now they wanted to establish anidentity with him, to touch the merchandise, to stand close so that theycould write home about the visiting celebrity. Crawford was a realist.It was all part of being a name.

  It had taken him just five years to make the big time. Five years ofroad shows, coast-to-coast tours, one-night stands and a dummy namedSpud to make him the hottest ventriloquist in the business. His act wastight, well-paced and popular. He had a weekly radio show, a televisionprogram and a seven-year contract with a major Hollywood studio. He wasriding high.

  Still he hadn't forgotten the soldiers. Two months each year he tooktime off to travel the USO circuit. His agent tore his hair, remindinghim of the financial losses, but the USO had given him his first breakso he had always answered their call. He liked enthusiastic audiencesand the cheering of laugh-hungry men made him happy. Entertainment washis business and he enjoyed exhibiting his talent. The wider theaudience the better he liked it.

  His dressing room was located back of the auditorium. He closed the doorbehind him, put Spud on a chair and began getting out of his rehearsalclothes. He lit a cigarette and looked at himself in the mirror. He wastired and needed a shave. In the last week the pace had been fast. TheUSO tour still had a few days to run, but he was looking forward to itsend. A vacation, the luxury of relaxation would all be his then.

  He opened a drawer of the dressing table and pulled out a bottle ofScotch. There were two hours to be killed before the show. He drank ashot and thought about it. A shower, a shave, a good dinner and a walkaround the base would consume the time. After the show he would driveback to town and check in at a hotel for a good night's sleep.

  He was putting the bottle back in the drawer when a knock sounded on thedoor. He said "Come in," thinking it was one of the cast and didn't turnaround. He heard the door open, glanced into the mirror and glimpsedColonel Meadows, the Commanding Officer of Harlow Field, and a man incivilian clothes he didn't recognize. He turned around, reached for abathrobe.

  "Don't mind us, Robbie," said the Colonel. "Just dropped by to sayhello." He was a small, plump man and his face was always red andperspiring. Crawford knew him slightly from the other two times he hadplayed Harlow Field, but this was the first time the Colonel had everpaid him a backstage visit.

  "Got a fan here who wants to meet you," continued the Colonel. "Shakehands with Dr. Paul Shalt, one of our base scientists. He and I justcaught your rehearsal. Fine, very fine."

  The doctor's name struck a chord and Crawford dug deep until it focused.Dr. Paul Shalt was a physicist working with the army. He specialized inthe development of radar, was the chief developer of the electricaldetonator used in atomic bombs.

  "I enjoyed your performance very much," said Dr. Shalt. "Your voice isextraordinary." He had a smooth, angular face, black hair and black,penetrating eyes. "Amazing range."

  "Thanks," said Crawford.

  "And the clearness of tone is phenomenal," said Dr. Shalt. "Has italways been like that?"

  Crawford nodded. "When I was a kid it embarrassed me, my voice," hesaid, smiling. "A trick voice, everybody called it. But it's a definiteasset to a practitioner of the art of ventriloquism."

  "You should have seen Dr. Shalt while you were on stage," said ColonelMeadows, beaming at him. "He was running all over the auditorium testingyour voice with one of his gadgets."

  * * * * *

  Crawford grinned. "I didn't realize I moved my audience so."

  Dr. Shalt laughed. "What Colonel Meadows says is true. I'm _very_interested in your vocal range. While you rehearsed I tested the qualityand sound of your tone." He stopped, looked around the room until hediscovered Spud where Crawford had put him on the chair. He walked overto the dummy and touched the wooden head with his hand.

  "Actually it's a _second voice_, that sound and vibration you use forSpud. It's perfect, perfect for what I need, that second voice."

  Dr. Shalt put the dummy back in the position he had found him in,reached into his pocket and brought out a small glass-enclosedinstrument which he held in front of him.

  "Do you know what this is?" he asked, approaching the dressing table.

  "Never saw it before," Crawford said, examining the gadget. A smallarrow flickered nervously within a glass cage.

  "It's called a Voice Oscillator," explained Dr. Shalt. "It's sensitiveto the slightest tonal inflection. We use it to measure the pitch andvolume of a human voice."

  "What's all this got to do with me?" Crawford asked.

  "This--we want to use the voice of Spud for an experiment. A veryimportant experiment. With your permission, we'd like to do itimmediately."

  "I'm afraid that's impossible," said Crawford. "I have a show inabout--"

  "Our equipment is all set up," interrupted the doctor. "The entire testwill take forty-five minutes. We'll have you back in no time."

  Crawford frowned. He was tired and he'd looked forward to relaxing awhile before the show. "Couldn't we make it some other time," he said.

  * * * * *

  The Colonel spoke then. "Robbie, do you remember reading four years agothat our radar system was able to beam signals to the moon and have themreturned?"

  "Sure," said Crawford. "It got a big play in all the newspapers."

  "Well, our scientists are now ready to conduct a similar experiment,"said Colonel Meadows. "This time to Mars."

  "To Mars!" repeated Crawford, wondering what it had to do with him.

  "Only this time we plan to send a _voice_, a human voice that can travelthrough interstellar space," said Dr. Shalt.

  "But that's impossible!" Crawford exclaimed.

  "With the average voice, yes," said Dr. Shalt. "Cosmic
disturbanceswould drown out a normal voice amplified a thousand times beyond itsregular frequency. But a voice in a higher octave--like your secondvoice ... Well, we believe there's a certain resonant intonation whichcan be curved and regulated in any direction, in the voice you use foryour dummy."

  Crawford nodded.

  "Spud's voice contains that quality," continued Dr. Shalt. "I believe itcan reach Mars and bounce back. I'm asking you to be the first man everto throw his voice to another planet."

  There was quiet for a moment when he finished. Crawford's cigarette hadgone out and he relit it. The smoke steadied him. Outside, in theauditorium the orchestra had begun to rehearse again.

  "Where's the station set-up?" asked Crawford finally.

  "It's right here on the field, Robbie," Colonel Meadows said quickly."We've had it under wraps for the last eight months. It'll be atremendous thing if it works."

  Crawford dragged on his cigarette a last time and stamped it out. Hewalked over to Spud, lifted the dummy into position in the crook of hisarm.

  "What do you say, Crawford?" asked Dr. Shalt. There was a note ofurgency in his voice.

  "I don't know," said Crawford slowly. "My crazy voice is my bread andbutter. Can't you use somebody else? Somebody whose voice isn't hislife?"

  "We've wasted weeks testing every man on this field," said Dr. Shaltsolemnly. "The average voice becomes static as soon as it gets pastEarth's atmosphere. But your voice can break through. I've studied everyvibration, every quiver of it. It bends and flexes with each cosmicpressure. You _must_ let us try."

  Crawford looked at Colonel Meadows.

  "Robbie, I promise you there's no danger involved," the Colonel said."There's been a great deal of time and effort put into this project andwe'd like to see it work. This week Mars and Earth are the closestthey'll be for the next three years, so it must be done _now_. It's yourduty to help in this important project."

  Crawford nodded. The matter of patriotism and duty had not occurred tohim. "Of course, Colonel, I'll be glad to help."

  He looked down at the dummy. "What do you say, Spud? Want to be thefirst voice to reach Mars?"

  "Sounds crazy," came the high, squeaking reply. "But it ought to put usin the history books." Spud's glass eyes shifted to the other two men inthe room and one lid winked. "Calling Mars! This is Spud O'Malley, oldquiver voice himself, coming in for a landing."

  "Good! You'll do it," said Dr. Shalt excitedly. "And if we succeed thepublicity will be worldwide."

  "Sure," said Crawford. "An actor likes publicity. But are you sure myvoice won't be strained?"

  "I'm sure," Dr. Shalt said. "You'll be talking into a microphone in thesame tone you use for a broadcast. Nothing more."

  "How long will it take?" asked Crawford.

  Dr. Shalt checked his watch. "Fifteen minutes for the voice to reachMars and fifteen minutes for its return." He took out a black notebookfrom his jacket pocket and began to outline the plan while ColonelMeadows put through a call to the laboratory.

  Spud's voice was to be relayed directly to a giant amplifying unit whichwould project it into space. Those regulating the voice in the controlroom would hear nothing but vibrations because of the high frequency itwould immediately attain while passing through. Only on its return fromMars would Spud's voice become audible on Earth. It sounded fantasticbut Dr. Shalt spoke of it as if it were a certainty and Crawford knew hewas recognized as a great scientist.

  A few minutes later Colonel Meadows hung up the phone. He saidexcitedly, "Everything's set. All the equipment is ready and there's acommand car waiting outside."

  Crawford caught a quick glimpse of himself in the mirror. No shower, noshave, no quiet dinner, no walk; all that would have to come later. He'dbeen hooked. "I'm ready any time you are," he said. He folded Spud inhis arms and followed the two men to the door.

  They did not speak much in the car. The laboratory was on the Northernrim of the field, a ten-minute drive from the auditorium. Approachingthe building, Crawford noticed the high radar towers and the steelfences surrounding its frame. They rode past three different guard postsand numerous military policemen before the car halted at the mainentrance.

  Immediately they were ushered into a small broadcasting studio which wassoundproofed and closed off by a heavy metal door. This was Dr. Shalt'shome grounds and he took charge.

  A microphone had been set up and Dr. Shalt had Crawford test Spud'svoice while a technician in the control booth measured it acoustically.After an exact tone had been determined for the amplification unit, Dr.Shalt briefed him on some details, patted him on the back anddisappeared into the control booth followed by Colonel Meadows.

  Crawford lit another cigarette and smoked nervously while he awaited thego-ahead signal. There was a dry tightness in his throat and heconcentrated on relaxing his tension.

  High on the studio wall a large clock hacked away at the seconds, andbehind the glass facade of the control booth he could see Dr. Shalt andhis assistant manipulating dials on an intricate panel. It was almostthree minutes before he heard another sound beside the creak of his ownimpatient footsteps. Then Dr. Shalt's voice came on the feed-back, thespeaker system connecting the studio with the booth.

  "Crawford, talk into the mike when we flash you the sign. Keep talkingfor a minute. And remember--it's just another broadcast. Good luck."

  Crawford nodded, deposited the cigarette in an ashtray. He moved intoposition and slid his fingers along the inner wires of Spud's back untilthey fitted into place. Spud's head came alive.

  Dr. Shalt brought his right hand down in a long, sweeping motion. Abright red bulb above the control booth winked into life. RobbieCrawford went into his act.

  Inside the booth Dr. Shalt, Colonel Meadows and a technician watchedCrawford performing in pantomime and listened to the strange vibrationsemanating from the speaker. They could distinguish no understandablesound for the amplifier had lifted the voice beyond human hearing as itreleased it to the stratosphere. They sat quietly, content to wait forthe voice to return from its long, lonely journey.

  Crawford spoke until he saw Dr. Shalt signal for a conclusion. A momentlater the red bulb blinked out and the broadcast was ended. Crawfordfelt cold and his hands were perspiring freely. He saw the beaming faceof Colonel Meadows motioning him to come inside the booth. He wiped hisface, and coughed to relieve the tension in his throat.

  The Colonel was the first to greet him as he entered the booth, and hishandshake was enthusiastic and firm. Dr. Shalt remained bent over one ofthe instrument boards rotating a dial, but looked up and noddedexcitedly.

  "It will be another ten minutes," he said. "Sit down. I've sent out forsome supper."

  "How did it go?" Crawford asked.

  "Good! Good! By now it's half way to its destination."

  An orderly came in with a tray of sandwiches and coffee and for the nextfew minutes they ate and Dr. Shalt described the intricacies of theoperation. The technician stayed glued to the receiver, earphonesresting lightly across his head.

  After ten minutes Dr. Shalt stood up and looked at his watch. "It'stime," he said. "Turn up the resonator." He moved closer to thereceiving set as the others gathered around him. The low hum of themonitor signal became louder as the technician switched on a new lever.The static emerging from the speaker thickened, obliterating all othernoises. Another two minutes went by....

  Crawford watched it all, aware of the tension and anxiety on each face,feeling the throbbing excitement himself. So they stood, tenselyexpectant, awaiting the return of his voice....

  Suddenly the technician whispered, "I've got it! It's coming! I hear itreturning!" He swung around, offering his earphones to Dr. Shalt, whograbbed for them hurriedly. The scientist raised the cups to his ear andwaited. The room fell into deeper silence.

  "Yes, yes, it's the voice! Turn up the resonator to full volume! We'vegot it! The voice is completing the circuit!" Dr. Shalt said tensely.

  The technician turned another dial as far as it w
ould go. The sound ofthe static rose to a roar. Then abruptly the static broke, died out anda strange new sound came in. It was Spud! Spud's voice creeping backfrom a trip to Mars, thirty-five million miles away!

  "_Hello.... This is the voice of Spud O'Malley. I speak to you fromHarlow Field in the United States of America. My voice is being sent toyou by a newly invented Amplification Unit developed by Dr. Paul Shaltat this experimental base. This is the first time such an operation hasever been tried. We extend our heartiest greetings, our deepestfelicitations ..._"

  It went on, the high, squeaking voice, friendly, humorous, alive;sending back to them the words that Crawford had spoken into themicrophone a few minutes before.

  Crawford studied the faces of the other men. They had worked and planneda long time for this single moment, the realization of a long pursueddream. Colonel Meadows was rubbing his hands together gleefully. Thevoice was reaching its climax. Success was assured. History had beenmade!

  There was a little silence as Spud finished speaking. The technicianreached across leisurely to shut off the resonator.

  Suddenly the voice started again. The technician's hand froze inmid-air. The same high, squeaking tone, the same inflections, the samepitch. But this time it was commanding, authoritative.

  "_This
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