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Title: High Man
Author: Clarke, Jay
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 "High Man" ***

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                               HIGH MAN

                             By JAY CLARKE

                         Illustrated by KOSSIN

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction
June 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 up
with his head in the clouds!_]


London, W. 1
April 3

Roger Brisby
Hotel Massilon
New 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. 1
April 11

Roger dear,

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

Love,
Anne

       *       *       *       *       *

London, W. 1
April 16

My dear Roger,

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

Anne

       *       *       *       *       *

VIA WU CABLES LONDON APR 24
ROGER BRISBY
HOTEL MASSILON NY

FIVE WEEKS SINCE WORD FROM YOU STOP IF DONT HEAR FROM YOU TWENTY FOUR
REPEAT TWENTY FOUR HOURS COMMA ENGAGEMENT BROKEN STOP ALSO WILL SUE FOR
BREACH OF PROMISE COMMA DESERTION COMMA AND EXTORTION AND FRAUD FOR
MONEY YOU HAVE BORROWED FROM ME STOP CABLE COLLECT STOP I STOPPED YOUR
DRAW 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. The
truth 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 came
to be and so prove how unfounded your suspicions were.

You see, shortly after I arrived here, I ran into a Professor
Phelps-Smythe Burdinghaugh, lately of England. Professor Burdinghaugh
has been forced to resign from several universities in England because
of the rather free manner in which he conducted his experiments. He
admitted that no less than 16 physics laboratories have been demolished
through his own miscalculations.

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

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

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

"My boy," he said to me later, as he strapped a bulky belt around my
waist. "My boy, you are about to witness a milestone in history. Most
assuredly, 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, new
civilizations! The whole Galaxy lies before us!"

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

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

He shrugged, then busied himself with some adjustments on the belt he
had wrapped around me. "There," he said finally, stepping back, "it's
ready." 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 for
good food and good drink has paid its price. I am far too heavy for the
belt. That's why I am giving _you_ this chance to roar to fame.
You--_you_ will have the glory, while I...." He choked, then quickly
drained his glass.

"Enough! The stars are waiting! The experiment must begin!" He paused to
refill 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," he
pronounced momentously, "and the Stars." He took a sizable swallow, then
fixed me with a feverish glare.

"_Go!_"

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

The sound of Professor Burdinghaugh's voice brought an abrupt end to
this strange lightness of mind. The Professor was pointing at me with an
intensity 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, saw
that indeed it _was_ working. I was rising slowly from the ground and
was then about a foot in the air.

At this historical juncture, we looked at each other for a moment, then
began to laugh as success rushed to our heads. The Professor even did a
mad 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 to
feel uneasy. I was never one to stomach high altitudes, you might
recall, and the sight of ten feet of emptiness beneath me was
disquieting.

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

Burdinghaugh's glass stopped an inch from his lips. "Turn it off?" he
countered 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, "I
never thought about getting down--been much too concerned with getting
jolly well _up_."

[Illustration]

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

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

"_Professor!_" I screamed futilely, but by then we were too far apart to
make ourselves heard and, even as I wasted my breath, a gust of wind
caught me and sent me soaring 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 my
progress. I fancied that, as I disappeared into the mist, he waved a
solemn good-by and drank my health.

You can't imagine the torture I went through as I sailed through the
air. 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 that
had me gasping. How I managed to survive, I can't understand. Surely, I
would 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 contrary
winds, starved and bitterly cold. Several times, I tried to steer
myself--but to no avail. I was powerless to control my flight. My sense
of direction left me and I had no idea where I was. Sometimes, I would
look down through a rift in the clouds and see farmland, or perhaps
cities. Once I glimpsed the sea--and shut my eyes.

It was not until the sixth day of my flight that I noticed a change. I
was sinking. Slowly but steadily, I was losing altitude. I was at a loss
to explain this phenomenon at first, but then I remembered that the
Professor had said the belt was powered by batteries. Obviously, the
batteries were weakening.

A few hours later, I landed gently, only a few blocks from where I had
started my unwilling flight. During those six frightful days, I must
have been blown around in circles. Weak, starved, shaken, sick, I was
taken to a hospital, from which I have just been released. Needless to
say, I immediately tried to locate Professor Burdinghaugh, but have been
unable to find a trace of him. You might say he has disappeared into
thin air.

You must be wondering, of course, what this singular adventure has to do
with my not writing you earlier. However, I feel certain you understand
now that writing was impossible under the circumstances.

All the ink in my fountain pen leaked out when I reached the altitude of
10,000 feet--I have the kind of pen that writes under water--and I had
to put my pencil between my teeth to keep them from chattering and
knocking out my inlays. During my stay at the hospital, of course, I
couldn't write, as I was too weak even to flirt with the nurses--which,
as you know, is very weak indeed.

So, please forgive my unfortunate lapse in correspondence. Truly, I
would have written, had it been possible.

Devotedly,
Roger

P.S. I resent your implication that I am engaged to you only because of
your money. The fact that you are extremely wealthy and that I have
virtually nothing, as I have told you many times before, never has and
never will have anything to do with my love for you. I'm particularly
hurt by your suspicion that I'd spend your money on other women. Really,
I'm shocked that such a thing could even occur to you. And, now that you
know why I haven't written before, I trust you'll restore my draw on
your account at the bank. My funds are rather low.

Roger

       *       *       *       *       *

London, W. 1
May 1

Dear Roger,

I always sensed you were a despicable, smooth-talking gold-digger--but I
didn't really convince myself of it until I read your letter. Do you
really expect me to believe that story? An anti-gravity belt! What do
you take me for--one of your silly impressionable American women?

Besides, I happen to have met your Professor Phelps-Smythe Burdinghaugh
in London, only a few days ago, and he assured me that, while he _had_
met you in New York, it was under very different circumstances from
those you described. He said you were with two women and that all three
of you were quite drunk. He also said he had never invented an
anti-gravity belt and seemed rather amused at the idea.

Needless to say, he was surprised to learn that I was your fiancée. He
was under the impression that you were engaged to some American girl, he
said, but he couldn't tell _which_ one. That was the last straw.

This is the end, Roger. Our engagement is broken. I bear you no ill
will--indeed, I'm glad it's all over. The one thing I'm furious about is
the way you maligned the Professor, trying to make me think _he_ was
responsible for your not writing. How perfectly ridiculous!

Really, Roger, you would do well to model yourself after the Professor.
He is so charming, so cultured, so thoughtful! I'll never forgive you
for trying to blame him for your own shortcomings.

Anne

P.S. For obvious reasons, I shan't restore your draw on my account at
the bank. And that's another thing. I thought you were awfully vague
about what "business" you had in New York, and now I know. The Professor
said you told him you were on vacation. Business trip indeed! _Cad!_

Anne

       *       *       *       *       *

London, W. 1
May 3

My dear boy,

Ever since I watched you disappear into that cloud, I have been trying
to think of some way to make up to you the beastly suffering you must
have experienced at my behest. At long last, I have discovered a way.

Immediately after the experiment, I found it necessary to return to
London. While there, seeking funds to continue my researches, I happened
to meet your fiancée. It was at this moment that I conceived the plan
for which I know you will be eternally thankful.

I had been troubled by the fact that the world was being deprived of
your obvious natural brilliance in applied science--who else would have
thought of needing a button to _turn off_ the anti-gravity
belt?--because of your ties to more material things. Namely, your
fiancée. I therefore resolved to free you from your bonds--and hers--and
give the world the benefit of your genius.

Carrying out this plan was no easy task, however, and I am sure you will
appreciate the problems involved. I first had to convince Anne that your
story was pure rot, or else she would have hung on to you like a leech
for the rest of your life. This I did by denying all particulars of your
story--or, rather, by telling the truth about your activities in New
York--and adding a few embellishments of my own.

Of course, this was only temporary relief. I knew something more
permanent had to be done to keep her from ruining your bright future. It
was clear there was only one solution--I had to woo her myself. I may
add that she has found me not unattractive and so I have every reason to
believe we shall be married within the fortnight.

Thus, I have rid you of all entanglements and freed you to use your vast
talents to advance the cause of science. At the same time, if I may
return to a more materialistic plane, I have provided myself with
sufficient funds to carry on my researches, since Anne will gladly
supply same.

But please--do not feel in debt to me. I consider it a privilege to
sacrifice myself to Anne for such a glorious cause. Then too, ladies of
such obvious refinement--and means--always have appealed to me.

I hope that in this small way I have in part repaid you for your
invaluable contribution to my work.

Sincerely,
Phelps-Smythe Burdinghaugh

P.S. Since, by marrying Anne, I shall become your creditor, I suggest
you make arrangements with utmost despatch to repay the monies you
borrowed from her. Shall we say thirty days, dear boy?

My researches are quite expensive. I do, you know, still have a quite
genuine fondness for good food and drink.

PSB

       *       *       *       *       *

Brisby Enterprises, Inc., N. Y.
June 5

My dear Burdinghaugh,

You win. Anne is yours, for which I am glad. I may have forgotten to
tell you that nearly all of her funds are in untouchable trusts--not in
bonds.

In regard to the monies due you, my cheque will be in the mails this
week. Such trifling amounts now mean nothing to me.

As for your methods in usurping my relationship with Anne, I have only
admiration--speaking as one professional to another, of course.
Unfortunately, however, in your eagerness to get your hands on Anne's
fortune, you quite overlooked one very important item--the key item, in
fact--the anti-gravity belt.

It may be of interest to you that I have taken out a patent on the belt
and am manufacturing small units for toy spaceships. The "gimmick," as
these American subjects put it, is "hot" and the turnover is fantastic.
The toy ships rise and rise into the sky and never come down and, as
soon as they disappear, the junior rocketmen immediately start bawling
for another one. It isn't quite the Era of Space, but it's considerably
more profitable.

Pity you hadn't thought about patenting the belt--these Americans are so
free with their dollars.

But then, you have Anne. What could be fairer?

Gratefully yours,
Roger





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