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´╗┐Title: First Man
Author: Brown, Clyde
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "First Man" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                             FIRST MAN

                           By CLYDE BROWN

                         Illustrated by WOOD

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction
April 1958. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


[Sidenote: _He obstinately wanted no part in achieving the goal of
generations--but the goal with equal obstinacy wanted all of him!_]


To keep the record straight: Orville Close was first man on the Moon.
Harold Ferguson was second. They never talk about it.

It started on that October morning when the piece came out in the
Parkville _News_. Harold grumbled that they'd gotten the story all
wrong, calling his ship a rocket ship, and treating him like a flagpole
sitter or a man going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. His wife took
their sad, thin little girl and went to live with her brother. The city
police blocked off Elm Street, letting no one through except the
residents. The neighbors were getting up a petition. But Orville refused
to become excited.

What was going to happen?

Why, nothing.

Harold would probably crack up completely, but this evening that thing
would still be standing there, solid as the Washington Monument.

Nevertheless, Orville's wife Polly was going to her sister's, across
town. _She_ wasn't going to stay there and be blown up! While she was
getting ready, Orville picked up a package by the sink and carried it
outside to the alley and dropped it in the garbage can. He wore his
double-breasted fall suit. He strolled to the boundary fence and leaned
against a post.

A reporter was taking angle shots of the spaceship. Flashbulbs were
scattered over Harold's garden.

It really does catch the eye, Orville thought. Smarten the ship up a
little, put some stripes running down from the nose, a few pieces of
chrome around over the body....

       *       *       *       *       *

Poor old Harold came off his back porch carrying a thermos jug and six
loaves of bread.

"Morning, Harold," said Orville.

"Oh--morning, Orville." Harold flinched. Another reporter had come out
of the shed and taken their picture.

"What's your name, mister?" the reporter asked Orville.

"I'd rather you left me out of this," Orville said.

A loaf of bread had broken open and slices were falling out. Harold put
down the thermos jug and picked up the slices and stuffed them back into
the wrapper. The first reporter came over.

[Illustration]

"It's got Vitamin D." Harold grinned wretchedly. "Costs two cents more a
loaf, but I thought, what the heck--"

"How about a shot of you and the missus saying good-by?" the first
reporter said.

"Why--she left me," Harold blurted. He tried to get away, but the
reporters hemmed him in.

"Was she scared?" the second reporter asked.

"Look, boys!" Orville put his hands on the top rail of the fence and
climbed across. He was getting his shoes wet in the weeds in Harold's
garden, but he didn't care. "The man has work to do. Can't you leave him
alone?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He picked up the jug and took Harold by the elbow and led him into the
shed.

There, resting on some concrete blocks on the dirt floor, was the base
of the ship. In the semi-darkness, it looked harmless enough: like a
tank, six or eight feet across, reaching up through a jagged hole in the
roof.

"Harold, you could make a good thing out of this," Orville said. "All
this publicity."

Harold was climbing a rickety ladder to the roof. Orville followed.

"Mount this thing on a trailer. Take her around to fairs and carnivals."

Orville waited on the roof while Harold climbed another ladder to the
small oval door in the side of the ship. Harold called down: "You never
saw the inside. Want to look around?"

"Well...." Orville glanced into his back yard. Polly wasn't ready yet.
He climbed up and handed the jug to Harold and stuck his head in.

"Huh!" There wasn't much to see. Just a small compartment with some
pipes leading from below into the nose. "You got to fix this up," he
said. "Some Rube Goldberg contraptions."

"The works are all up here." Harold climbed a ladder and disappeared
through a hole overhead. "C'mon up, I'd like you to see this!"

Orville looked down again into his yard. "It'll take her forever! Polly,
I mean. Okay, I guess I got time for a look." He stepped in and climbed
until his waist was through the hole.

       *       *       *       *       *

The nose of the ship was dark. Harold was shining an extension lamp
around. There were parts of a junked car and some old plumbing fixtures
and Orville recognized the wheels of a lawnmower he'd left by the alley
for the trash men to pick up. This didn't look like the inside of a
spaceship. It looked exactly like a corner in Harold's basement.

"Oh, Lord," Orville said.

"I call this my scope." Harold was shining the light on a shaving
mirror, on a long arm that could be swung and tilted about. "How about
that? Pretty neat, huh?"

Neat was hardly the word for it. "Look here, Harold! The neighbors are
getting an injunction. Why don't you play it smart? Fight it out in the
courts. There'll be a lot of publicity--"

"They are?" Harold was hurt. He was shining the lamp in Orville's eyes.

"Yeah. Now while you're fighting it out in the courts--"

"Do you call that neighborly?"

"They're scared. They're afraid you'll blow the whole neighborhood to
pieces."

"Well, hell with them!"

"While we're on that subject, ain't that my trouble lamp you're
holding?"

"Yeah. Guess it is. Need it right away?"

"Just want you to remember where it came from."

"Actually, it'll be no use on the trip. I got her fixed so when I take
off, the cord down at the base will come unplugged and--"

"Well, Polly must be ready by now." Orville gave up. Polly was right.
Harold was insane.

Orville tried to turn on the ladder so that he could climb back down.
His foot slipped. He spread his arms to keep from falling through the
hole and knocked over the pile of bread.

"Watch out!" Harold yelped.

"I'm all right." Orville felt a slight tingle.

"Yes, but you--" Harold's voice trailed off with dismay. The light in
his hand had gone out, but Orville didn't think of what this meant at
the time.

There was light coming through the door below and Orville climbed down.
Darn! He pulled out his handkerchief and tried to brush the dust off his
lapels. He'd have to change suits, and that meant changing his socks and
tie, and he was supposed to meet those people about that deal on
Maplehurst Extension at nine. Well, he'd be late. He leaned out of the
door.

"Orville!" shouted Harold. "Come back! Don't step out there!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A lot of fog was blowing down past the nose of the ship. Orville
wondered where it came from. He stuck his foot out, reaching for the
ladder. He heard Harold scrambling down from above and he wanted to get
away from that madman. He reached farther. Harold grabbed his arm.

Then the fog cleared away and Orville swayed dizzily, gaping at where he
had almost stepped. They had been going through a cloud. Now he looked
down at dazzling clouds in the bright October sun and between them he
saw the streets of Parkville, very neat, just like the map hanging in
the office.

He dropped back inside and lay weakly on the floor. He grabbed one of
the pipes and shakily clung to it.

"What happened?" he stammered.

"Hit the main switch." Harold was reaching out for the door handle. He
banged the door shut with a concussion that burst inside Orville's head.
"We took off."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was dark in there, at first; then Orville saw a dim violet light that
filled the inside of the ship.

He followed Harold up the ladder into the nose of the ship and sank to
the floor. Harold was twiddling with some knobs mounted on the dashboard
of the junked car.

"Boy!" Orville pulled out his handkerchief again and swabbed his
forehead. He tried to wipe the grime from his hands. "And I've never
even been in an airplane!"

"Me either." Harold pounded on the dashboard. A meter didn't seem to be
working. "There ... guess I can open her up a little."

"Hey, wait! Take me back!"

Harold moved a knob an eighth of a turn. He switched on the scope and
waited for it to warm up. He took off his glasses and wiped them,
squinting at Orville with that one bad eye.

"Turn it around and take me back!"

"But I can't, Orville." Harold put on the glasses and looked into the
scope. "It's working!"

"I demand it! You've made me late for the office as it is!"

"Sure looks different from the map," Harold said. "Must be the East
Coast. There's Florida sticking out there."

He snapped off the scope and sat opposite Orville. He opened the thermos
and poured coffee into the cap.

"Been so busy, didn't have my breakfast." He held out the cap to
Orville. "I take mine without sugar."

Orville shook his head. "Do I understand--"

"Ugh! It's hot!" Harold put down the coffee and rummaged in some brown
paper bags. "Should be some glazed doughnuts.... Shoot! Bet I left them
in the kitchen!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Orville faced him firmly. "You've shown me it'll fly. I believe you. Now
I give you one more chance--take me back!"

"But I can't!" Harold protested.

"There are laws about this sort of thing, my friend. This is abduction.
Kidnapping. You know what the penalty is for that?"

"Well, gee, I didn't mean to take you along, Orville. You hit that
switch--"

"It's criminal negligence, leaving a switch out there like that where it
could be hit by accident!"

"Had to put it there so I could reach up from below and work it."

Orville balled his fists and stood squarely. Funny--it was no trouble at
all, standing and walking around. If he hadn't seen those clouds, and
the landscape sinking away, he'd swear the two of them were still in
Harold's back yard.

"Do you take me back," he said, "or do I have to break every--"

"But I can't!" Harold grasped his wrist pleadingly. "I got her set up in
a sequence. If I tried to change the sequence now, why--" He shuddered.
"I haven't got any idea what might happen!"

Orville sat back down.

"I'm sorry." The weak way Harold said it made Orville feel worse than
ever.

"Me! Trapped up here in this thing with you!" Orville said bitterly.
"You can't even drive a car! You're just about the worst driver I know!"

"I know," Harold admitted. "But this is safer than a car. Besides, out
where we're going, there'll be no traffic problem." He gave his inane
giggle. "Far as I know, there's no one else at all!"

"And the neighborhood back there. Probably all blown to pieces. Polly.
The house. My car! I got complete coverage on it, but who ever heard of
a car wrecked by a spaceship? When we get back, if my insurance doesn't
cover it, I'll sue you!"

"There's nothing hurt at all," Harold said. "Unless someone had his hand
on the ship when we took off. I'd planned to have 'em stand back."

       *       *       *       *       *

Orville closed his eyes. Something was crossing and crisscrossing inside
him like two rings tossed back and forth by jugglers. It was not
painful, but it was disturbing. Something must be going wrong. He didn't
trust Harold's mechanical ability. In the past ten years, Harold had
been fired from a couple of filling station jobs because of blunders,
once for leaving the plug out of a crank case, and once for botching up
a flat tire repair.

"Running kind of rough, isn't she?" Orville said. "What makes this
little--" He circled his hands sickly in front of his stomach.

Harold closed his eyes and made similar circles. "Oh, that's this
counter-grav of mine. You see, the gravitation of the Earth--"

"Can't you do anything about it?" Orville was in no mood to listen to
one of Harold's lectures.

"I could move her over so we couldn't feel it, but it would be shaking
the ship then. Might tear it apart."

"Won't it tear us apart?"

"I don't think so. We got more give to us than the ship has." Harold was
able to drink the coffee now. "No, I don't think I've done a bad job on
this. First time a machine is built, you're bound to run into a few
bugs. But this is working, so far, even better than I expected."

"Yeah," Orville had to admit, "it ain't bad--for a guy with no
mechanical ability whatever."


II

Harold had opened the ship up a little more, and according to him, they
were now moving eighteen thousand miles per hour or so, approximately.
Orville had tried to drink some water from a milk bottle, but the sight
of the water, bouncing in rhythm to the invisible circles in his
stomach, had given him nausea.

Harold knelt on the floor, smoothing out a soiled sheet of paper. In the
center was a small circle, labeled in Harold's sloppy handwriting
"Earth." An arrow showed the direction of the Earth's motion around the
Sun. Outside this was a larger circle labeled "Orbit of Moon." A spiral
reached out from the Earth to intersect the Moon's orbit.

"Had the darnedest time drawing this," Harold said. "Got it out of an
astronomy book. _Let's Look at the Stars_ by someone. Thirty-five cents.
Let's see now."

He wet the point of the pencil and made a mark. He scratched his head
and erased the mark and made another.

"Harold, another thing," said Orville. "I weigh around one ninety-five.
Won't that take a lot of extra gas?"

"Nope. Doesn't matter if you weigh a ton. According to my counter-grav
principle--"

"Won't it get stuffy in here with two of us?"

"Why, I have some oxygen. That welding place in back of the garage where
I work--got a tank off them. Had to pay cash, but I can turn in the
empty when we get back."

"You sure one tank'll be enough?"

[Illustration]

"Well--" Harold flushed guiltily. "You won't say anything about this? I
took along several extra tanks, just to make sure. I wasn't stealing.
You see, I figure I might make some money out of this thing."

"Say!" Orville hadn't thought of this angle before. "You really could."

"And there should be plenty of food. Let me see now." He fished in his
pocket and brought out a piece of brown wrapping paper. "I'll run over
the list and make sure I didn't forget something." He glanced up
sharply. "Relax! Make yourself to home. And the little boy's room is
down there." He squinted at the paper. "Water. There's plenty. Six
family-size cans pork and beans. Charged 'em." He ran through the list,
mumbling, then looked up brightly. "Yep. Looks all right. Nope, there's
one thing I forgot. Stickum plaster! Doggone. Never go anywhere without
my first aid kit. Never know what's liable to happen."

"Y'know, Harold," Orville said, "I'm beginning to see some possibilities
in this trip. First man on the Moon. Think of the fuss they made over
Lindy and Wrong-way Corrigan. The guys who climbed Mount Everest. Why,
that was nothing!"

"Course, I'm not doing this for fame. Or money, either."

"Then why are you doing it?"

Harold stared vaguely toward where the Moon would be if they could see
it. "I guess ... because it's there."

"Huh! Well, don't forget I'm in on it, too."

       *       *       *       *       *

Some time later, when the Moon first appeared on the scope, about the
size of a basketball, Harold indulged in a mild spree. He opened some
pineapple juice. Orville did not feel like drinking any. In fact, he
felt ill.

"Space sickness," Harold said. "Lot of bread is good for that. Stuff
yourself with it. Just think--back there on Earth, they're going about
their business and no one knows that we're out here heading for the
Moon. Just think--if I'd call them on the radio and report making first
contact with the Moon--"

"Harold, one thing. How're you going to get her down?"

"Naval observatory would be the people to call, I guess. They'd notify
the President and they'd interrupt the TV programs--I thought of putting
a radio in here, but I'd already gone way over my budget."

"How do you plan to land her?"

"And wouldn't those guys at the Atomic Energy Commission have red faces!
You know, I wrote them, asking to use some of their energy and--darn
these government bureaus!--they never even had the courtesy to answer my
letter!"

"Listen--"

"And the birds at the college! When I took that navigation chart to the
astronomy department to see if they'd check it for me, they blew up!
Acted like I had no business flying to the Moon. Acted like they owned
the thing. Bunch of smart-alecs! With their double-talk! Knew less than
I did when I went there."

He looked at his watch. "I'm going to have a snack and then I'll get
some sleep. That's one good thing about having you along. Now I can
sleep and not have to worry."

As Harold sawed at the top of a can of beans with the can-opener.
Orville closed his eyes. Instantly, he saw the ship, heading for the
Moon, and then there was a blinding flash. He opened his eyes. Harold
was digging into the can with a spoon, munching away.

"Just brought one." Harold waved the spoon. "But I'm not poison. Better
have some of these beans. They'll stick to your ribs."

Orville crawled to the door leading to the other compartment, flung it
open and leaned there a while. He sat up, rubbing his eyes. Harold was
wiping the spoon on a piece of brown paper.

"Last call!" Harold giggled and pushed the can to Orville. Orville
pushed it away and closed his eyes and sat, holding his middle. When he
opened them, Harold was sleeping.

Orville crawled over and shook him. "How soon do you want me to wake you
up?"

Harold sat up. "Oh, my gosh! I forgot! Why, don't let me sleep more than
four hours."

       *       *       *       *       *

He went to sleep again. Orville sat back. He could see it. Harold,
watching the Moon grow bigger and bigger on that scope, until they were
right on it, then turning with a surprised look: Oh, my gosh! I forgot
something! Then he'd give that giggle and there'd be that crash....

Orville's watch said two hours, but he wasn't sure. Maybe he'd slept and
the hand had gone clear around. He kept seeing that flash. Some amateur
astronomer, looking at the Moon right then, might see it. He'd be a
bungler, like Harold, and it wouldn't be much of a telescope. He was
always seeing flashes in the thing, from cars or lightning bugs or from
the kitchen door, because his wife was there yelling at him, just like
Rosie yelling at Harold. For they always married women like Rosie, or
they made women turn that way. Polly, now, she nagged all the time, but
that was different!

Orville drank some water and ate some bread, and when he swallowed, he
felt that circular bump-bump grab the bread and chop away at it, just
like Polly feeding stale bread into the meat chopper to make stuffing.

I have no business being out here, he moaned.

Here he was riding to the Moon with a tinkering idiot who couldn't fix a
kitchen faucet or locate a blown fuse in the basement. Streams of
moisture were trickling down the wall. The metal felt cold, like the
window of the car on a day when you needed the heater and defroster. Was
something going wrong?

Maybe they were out of oxygen. He listened to Harold snoring. Once
Harold took a quick breath, and strangled, and turned his head
restlessly. His glasses were slipping off.

Orville looked at his watch. He couldn't believe that just five minutes
had gone by since he'd looked at it last. He could hear Harold's
two-dollar watch ticking away, almost as loud as his own. His was
gaining on Harold's and then they were ticking together so that the
combined pounding sent echoes through the ship. He tried to crawl.

He couldn't move.

"Harold!" The ticking of the watches drowned out his voice. "We're in
trouble! We're out of oxygen! Help!"

It was like a bad dream. Then something woke him: Harold, stumbling
across his legs, turning on the scope and waiting, breathing hard, for
it to come to life.

Harold saw that he was awake. "You went to sleep! You shoulda woke me.
It's been six hours!"

Orville said nothing.

"We may be clear past the Moon by now," Harold grumbled.

       *       *       *       *       *

Orville turned his face to the wall. He heard the hiss as Harold ran in
fresh oxygen. "Shoot! Better go down and hook up a new tank." Harold
clanked around in the other end of the ship and came back.

"How far out are we?" asked Orville.

"Not far. I'm cutting down the speed some."

"Uh ... how do you plan to take her down?"

"That's an interesting point, now. Let's see...."

"Wouldn't it be better if we just flew up close, not too close, and then
headed for home? Of course, there's that problem back there, too."

"Don't you want the beans? I'll eat 'em then."

"But I'd feel better crashing on the Earth, somehow, than on the Moon--"

"Who says we're going to crash? There are several ways to set her down.
Head first, tail first, but I guess I'll lay her in sideways. It'll be
easier to crawl outside."

"What?"

"Sure." Harold was munching beans. Then he rummaged in the supplies and
brought out a jar of peaches. He drank off some of the juice. "Rosie
never gets enough sugar in these to suit me." The peaches slid off the
spoon. He dug in with his fingers and brought out a slice. "Point of the
whole thing. Explore. Look around." He tilted the jar to his mouth and
let slices fall into his mouth. "Pick up some samples of rocks and
things."

"You can get rocks right around home."

"But these are different. These weigh only a quarter as much as the
rocks on Earth. Or is it a sixth?"

"In that case--" Orville started gathering up empty bags and cans and
putting them into a soup carton.

"What're you doing?"

"Cleaning the place up a little. We can get rid of some of this trash."

"Don't throw those out! I paid a deposit on them." Harold pulled out the
empty milk bottles and put them back in the case.


III

Harold had said the landing would be as gentle as laying a baby in its
cradle. It wasn't exactly.

He said: "There!"

"Are we down?"

Harold nodded. Orville let go of the railing he'd been hanging onto.
Harold unplugged something.

The ship went dark and started rolling. It was a slow, drunken roll and
as noisy as an oil drum going down the court house steps. There was a
final hard blow; then the ship rocked and lay still.

Orville sat up. He could hear Harold scrambling about, and then a
flashlight came on.

"What happened?"

"Must have landed on the side of a mountain. Rolled down when I turned
off our counter-grav. Shoot!" Harold held up something. "Broke a lens in
my glasses. There's another trip to the eye-doctor's."

Orville rescued a couple of bottles that were spilling water. Everything
else seemed to be all right. The ship lay on its side now and Harold was
crawling through the hole leading to the other compartment. When Orville
got through, Harold was hauling something from the other end of the
ship.

"What we waiting for?" Orville put his hand on the handle of the outer
door. "Last one out is a--"

"Wait a minute! You gotta wear this thing." Harold was laying out a
spacesuit. He explained how it worked. He didn't object a great deal
when Orville volunteered to go out first.

"We can take turns." Harold helped Orville slide his feet into the thing
and pull it on. It fitted Orville rather tightly in places, but it
seemed to be all right.

"Be careful now." Harold squinted at him through the one lens of his
glasses. "Don't tear her on a rock or anything. You'd pop like a kid's
balloon."

"Wait a minute!"

Harold paused, holding the helmet.

"I can't go through with it," Orville said. "I was planning a mean trick
on you. I was going to be the first man."

"What difference does that make? We're both in on it together." Harold
clapped the helmet down on Orville's shoulders. He tightened some clamps
and leaned close and said something which Orville could not hear. Then
Orville saw that he wanted to shake hands, so Orville shook his hand.

Harold squirmed back through the hole into the nose, waved and shut the
door.

       *       *       *       *       *

Orville aimed the flashlight at the outer door. He turned the valve
beside the door, feeling the suit puff out around him, and when the
pressure in the compartment was gone, he reached toward the handle. His
eyes were watering. He had to use all of his strength to move the
handle; then the door popped open, swinging out and down, and he was
looking out at the Moon.

There was glaring light and a kind of fog. He laid down the flashlight
and, groping, found the soup carton in which he'd put the refuse
accumulated during the trip, and flung the box into the fog.

He looked out again. There was nothing but the glaring white void.
"Well, that settles that!" There was no use getting out. On the other
hand, how about a souvenir?

He stuck a leg out through the opening, which was now about two feet
high and four feet wide. By wriggling, he got the other leg out, but he
couldn't touch the ground. He reached his left foot a little farther and
touched something that rolled slightly, then was solid. That's far
enough, he thought; to hell with the souvenir!

But the mittens were too clumsy. He couldn't pull himself back in. He
lowered himself farther and stood. He shuffled among the loose, rolling
stones and reached down and picked one of them up. Harold was right:
they weighed a lot less than the rocks on Earth. He cradled the thing in
one arm and stood there.

[Illustration]

Here he was, standing on the Moon! The very first man! He hugged the
souvenir to his body. They'd keep it on the coffee table, between those
two awful ashtrays Polly had brought back from Niagara Falls, and when
anyone asked him what was that funny rock lying there, he'd say--

Orville had been reaching, trying to touch the ship. His hand met
nothing....

Now keep calm, he thought. Don't get turned around. And don't panic. It
can't be far away. He reached out in another direction and took a step,
but still his waving hand met nothing. Try this way then....

As he turned, his elbow struck the edge of the opening. Maybe he'd been
waving his arm through the opening all the time!

He tossed in the souvenir. He wriggled in after it. Careful! What did
Harold say about tearing the suit?

He closed the outer door. As he returned the pressure to the
compartment, the suit became limp against him, and Orville was so weak
that he sank to the floor. He was still lying there when Harold took off
the headpiece.

"It's a total flop," Orville told him. "It's been a waste of time. No
use going out."

       *       *       *       *       *

He told Harold about the narrow escape he'd had in the fog. _Fog_ on the
Moon? This didn't sound right to Harold. He was fooling with the helmet,
scratching frost from the inside of the visor. "Couldn't you get the
defroster working? This little button right here. I showed you."

Orville knew, to his shame and disgust, that he had been looking at his
own breath all of that time.

Harold now insisted on going out. Orville shined the flashlight around.
He was looking for the souvenir, and he found it, near their feet.

It was a package carefully wrapped in paper, some of the refuse which he
had thrown outside.

That figures, he thought bitterly. Well, anyway, I was _first man_. They
can't take that away from me!

Harold was gone a long time. The nose of the ship was becoming very cold
and the only light came from the luminous dial of Orville's watch. What
was Harold doing out there? Maybe he'd snagged his suit and blown up
like a soap bubble. How long should Orville wait before giving up? He
should have learned how to run the ship, in case of an emergency like
this.

A distant clank startled him. The ship rolled slightly. Orville reached
out a hand in the dark to steady himself and chilled when he realized
what he'd put his hand on. It was the starting switch.

What was that idiot doing out there?

Then Harold was back, breathing hard, squinting through his one good
lens. "Boy, what a sight! I'd give anything for a camera!"

"Never mind that! Let's go! I'm freezing!"

They were off without any trouble and the dim violet light returned and
the ice on the compartment walls began to melt. When the ship was
settled on course, Harold took off the rest of the spacesuit, pulled
some paper from the glove compartment of the dashboard and began
writing.

"It's the official report," Harold said presently. "Getting it all down
while it's fresh in my mind."

"Let's see that!" Orville couldn't read Harold's handwriting. "What's it
say?"

"You really want to hear it? Well...." Harold cleared his throat
modestly and began to read. "'The _Discovery_'--decided to call her the
_Discovery_ on account of--'the _Discovery_ was lying on her side in the
shade, but a blinding light was coming down from some peaks. It nearly
blinded me! Boy, what a--'" Harold squinted over a word--"'sight!'"

"Wait a minute! You giving me credit?"

"What for?"

"For being the first man."

"Oh, sure. I mention that in here some place."

"Just so there's no mistake!" Orville suddenly felt very drowsy. He
curled up facing the wall and went to sleep.

When he awoke, he saw Harold leaning against the wall, his glasses
sliding down, his head nodding. Orville reached over and jerked his
foot.

"There now," he said. "Old neighbor. You go to sleep. I'll watch her for
a while."

       *       *       *       *       *

Orville felt fine now. While Harold slept, he opened a jar of Rosie's
peaches, drank off the juice and dug in with the spoon. It wasn't really
so bad, not shaving or taking a bath, roughing it out here in space!

He dug into his coat pocket, found a cigar, but it was crushed. Oh,
well. He flung it into the trash. He folded his arms, leaned back his
head.

They sat at the head of a banquet table, he and Harold. The mayor was
there, and the college president, and way down the table was the boss,
old Haverstrom, real proud to be in such important company. And the
governor was there and--by gosh! Sitting right next to Orville was the
President of the United States!

Someone was making a speech--they were awarding some kind of prize for
_first man_ and there was applause and they were waiting for Orville to
get up. He stood, waited for applause to die down.

"Thank you, friends ... all of you ... being no speechmaker ... but I do
want to say right here and now ... no more idea of receiving this great
honor tonight than of--flying to the Moon!"

That would get a laugh. Then he'd go on and give due credit to Harold,
poor old Harold sleeping there, innocent as a baby about such things.

Why, the publicity angle alone could take up a man's full time. Guest
appearances on TV. Getting signed up as technical adviser in Hollywood.
But that was just the beginning.

Take the metal in this ship. Harold had made it out of junk from the
city dump, melting it in a forge he'd fashioned out of an old oil drum.
It had to be cheap and easy to make--but you could probably use it for
almost anything. There was your whole metal industry shot to pieces!

This thing he called a scope now. With a big corporation behind it, Lord
only knew what it would do to the communications setup.

But the big thing was this counter-grav business! _There_ was where you
got into the big leagues. If Harold could do this with it, think what
General Motors could do! Orville could see TWA, B&O and steamship
companies bidding against each other for it. And car manufacturers and
freight handlers--and tugboat owners--and taxi fleets-and the armed
forces--

Harold was waking up. He rubbed his skimpy whiskers, put on his broken
glasses, creaked over to the scope and turned it on. Harold, old boy,
Orville thought tenderly, you don't know it yet, but your troubles are
all over!

"What do you see, Harold?"

"The Earth."

Orville went over. There was a dark green spot on the scope, bright
against deep black. "You sure?"

"Almost positive. That's the only thing that size there is right around
here."

"Well, fine! That calls for a celebration, doesn't it?"

"Oh, yes. Forgot that. We can open the tuna."


IV

"It's about time," Orville said, "that we started figuring out a plan."
He scraped the bottom of the can. The tuna tasted fine. He took a swig
of pineapple juice and passed the can back to Harold.

"Yeah, I been thinking about that," said Harold.

"I've had more experience in that line than you, so maybe--"

"Do you think mankind is ready for my secret?"

"There, you see?" Orville laughed heartily. "Now don't you worry about
such things."

"But look what they did with the atomic bomb. And if this ever got
loose--"

"Harold!" Orville's laugh was less hearty. "Do you think you could keep
this a secret? The minute we land, they'll be all over us. The
government can impound this ship, you know."

"Won't do them any good. They can tear it all apart and never find out a
thing."

Hours later, they were still arguing.

"If the government had it, they'd build a war machine and then the
Russians would steal it--"

"Harold! That's Communist talk!"

"Shoot! I'm no Communist!"

"You're playing right into their hands...."

It went on and on. Then: "Harold--as your neighbor--won't you tell _me_
what it is?"

"I'll try...."

Orville sat up, tingling. You take gravity, Harold said. What do we know
about it? Was it like a lot of rubber bands, stretching back and forth
between everything, or was it a flow, like water? Now if it was a flow,
it would have to flow back some way, or else you'd run out, wouldn't
you? Then if you hooked onto this counter-flow--

Orville nodded. This wasn't so hard to understand. He felt a little
nervous. "Go on, Harold."

"I guess it's none of those things." Harold gave his inane giggle.

Orville felt cheated. "You call this neighborly? Remember when I drove
clear out into the country with a gallon of gas that time when you got
stuck?"

"I'm trying. You gotta think of it up to that point, then you gotta
think the _other_ way. But you can't explain it. You just do it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Harold picked up two of the rings from Rosie's fruit jars and moved them
back and forth across one another. He tried with three rings, dropped
them.

"It's no use."

"Try harder."

Harold shook his head. "I suppose if I wanted to bad enough.... But now
that we been to the Moon, there's nothing else I want to do."

Orville reached for the rings and tried.

Suddenly, Harold sprang up. "Oh, my socks!"

He turned on the scope and swung it wildly back and forth. "You made me
commit a boo-boo. I think we've shot right past the Earth!"

The scope was getting weak. They could not find the Earth until Harold
had reversed course. Then Orville saw it, the edge filling part of the
scope. Harold's eyes were watering. He wiped the good lens of his
glasses and leaned close.

"Can you make out any land?" he asked Orville.

"This looks like Indian Lake. I've fished there lots of times."

"It would be something bigger. Say, Greenland or South America."

This was the first time Orville realized they might not land squarely in
Harold's back yard. He began looking intently at the scope.

"What's this kidney-bean shape?"

Harold squinted. "Think that's Australia. Now we're getting somewhere."

"But it belongs down here."

"We're coming up on it the other way."

"Can't we get closer to home than that?"

"I'll not be too particular where it is, just so it's land. The Earth is
mostly covered with water."

Harold began turning the knobs and muttering. "Let me see now ... gotta
miss Mount Everest...." At last, he turned off the scope. "It's clear
gone. I'm taking her down slow. Will you look outside, Orville?"

Orville gulped. But Harold said it was the only way, so he squeezed into
the other compartment. There were now about six of the little circles
going back and across inside of him. He stood a little to one side and
struck the lever of the outer door sharply with the palm of his hand.
The door gave a faint "swoosh" and was open about an inch. His ears
crackled and there was a dull whispering in his head like the sound in a
sea-shell.

He put his face to the door, but saw nothing except the blue sky.

"You sure we came to the right place?" he asked worriedly.

"Positive ... almost," Harold called back. "Are we over land or water?"

Orville looked up. There was a brown, black and white landscape. Trees
hung down like icicles around a frozen lake.

"There's land, but it's upside down."

"Just a minute." Harold did something and the trees and land swirled
around until they were underneath.

       *       *       *       *       *

Not far away, as they came down gently, Orville saw a building with
people outside. Or he thought they were people. Harold set the ship down
on its side in the snow and Orville stepped out. Then Harold was out
beside him, slapping him on the shoulder.

"Well, old buddy-buddy! How about that?"

"Yeah." Orville spoke with less enthusiasm. "How about that?"

He proposed that they get in and ride back to civilization, but Harold
said there wasn't enough power left and it couldn't be done. They
started walking toward the house Orville had seen.

Halfway there, they met four men wearing gray overcoats and furry hats.
One carried a rifle, and as Harold ran shouting up to him, the man
lifted the rifle and struck Harold across the head, knocking him into
the snow and breaking the other lens of his glasses. For a while,
Orville wondered if it was the right planet after all. But, he decided,
the men were Russian soldiers somewhere in Siberia.

Since the men were more interested in looting the ship than guarding the
prisoners, it was not hard to slip away and get to a railroad that ran
east and west. Even Harold knew which direction to take. Their journey
out of Siberia, through Korea and Japan to San Francisco, though more
difficult than their trip to the Moon, was not very interesting. Once,
on a freighter in mid-Pacific, Harold tried to convince a fellow
deckhand that they were on their way back from the Moon. He agreed not
to talk of it again.

"Looks like Rosie's still gone," Harold said as they slunk up the alley
behind Harold's shed. All the leaves had fallen and the place looked
forlorn without the spaceship poking up through the roof.

"Wonder what they thought," Orville said, "when the ship disappeared,
and us with it?"

"Nothing, I expect."

"If we'd disappeared with a couple of blondes now, the whole world would
know about it."

       *       *       *       *       *

They parted. The back door was locked. As Orville went around the house,
he heard the TV going. Polly sat in the turquoise armchair, sewing on a
dress. She put down the sewing and folded her arms.

The oration lasted five minutes. He could still hear her upstairs
through the noise of the shower.

Then, after a visit to the barber's, he went to face old Haverstrom.
This lecture was not quite as long, and through it the boss had a trace
of a leer, and a certain respect, though he let Orville know these
disappearances should not become a habit.

Harold did not do so well. His old job was gone and he was a whole week
getting another. Rosie did not come back for still another week.

It was hard for Orville to believe that a moonstruck fellow like Harold
could change his ways, but that was what happened. It was as though that
one wild trip had satisfied something inside Harold, for he never fooled
with things like that again. He even joined church.

As for Orville: some evenings, when he reads of artificial satellites or
of trips to the Moon, he feels a sharp rise in blood pressure and he
breathes fast. But a glance across the room at Polly in her turquoise
chair sewing is enough to make him swallow and squirm back and keep his
mouth shut.





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