Search the Sky
THEIR second day on the bum they accumulated a great deal of change and crowded into a telephone booth. The plan was to try to locate their starship and find out what, if anything, could be done for Sam Jones.
An automatic Central conferred with an automatic Information and decided that they wanted the Captain of the Port, Baltimore Rocket Field.
They got the Port Captain on the wire and Ross asked after the starship. The captain asked, “Who wan’sta know, huh?”
Ross realized he had overdone it and shoved Bernie at the phone. Bernie snorted and guggled and finally got out that he jus’ wannit ta know. The captain warmed up immediately and said oh, sure, the funny-lookin’ ship, it was still there all right.
“How about the fella that’s in it?”
“You mean the funny-lookin’ fella? He went someplace.”
“He went someplace? What place?”
“Someplace. He went away, like. I din’t see him go, mister. I got plenty to do without I should watch out for every dummy that comes along.”
“T’anks,” said Bernie hopelessly at Ross’s signal.
They walked the street, deep in thought. Helena sobbed, “Let’s leave him here, Ross. I don’t like this place.”
Bernie growled, “What’s the difference, Ross? He can get a snootful just as easy here as anywhere else——”
“No! It isn’t the Doc, don’t you see? But this is the place we’re looking for. All the answers we need are here; we’ve got to get them.”
Bernie stepped around two tussling men on the ground, ineffectually thumping each other over a chocolate-covered confection. “Yeah,” he said shortly.
Helena said: “Isn’t that a silly way to put up a big sign like that?”
Ross looked up. “My God,” he said. A gigantic metal sign with the legend, Buy Smogs——You Can SMOKE Them, was being hoisted across the street ahead. The street was nominally closed to traffic by cheerfully inattentive men with red flags; a mobile boom hoist was doing the work, and quite obviously doing it wrong. The angle of the boom arm with the vertical was far too great for stability; the block-long sign was tipping the too-light body of the hoisting engine on its treads...
Ross made a flash calculation: when the sign fell, as fall it inevitably would, perhaps two hundred people who had wandered uncaringly past the warning flags would be under it.
There was a sudden aura of blue light around the engine body.
It tipped back to stability. The boom angle decreased, and the engine crawled forward to take up the horizontal difference.
The blue light went out.
Helena choked and coughed and babbled, “But Ross, it couldn’t have because——”
Ross said: “It’s them!”
Excitedly: “The people behind all this! The people who built the cities and put up the buildings and designed the machines. The people who have the answers! Come on, Bernie. I just seem to antagonize these people—I want you to ask the boom operator what happened.”
The boom operator cheerfully explained that nah, it was just somep’n that happened. Nah, nobody did nothin’ to make it happen. It was in case if anything went wrong, like. You know?
They retired and regrouped their forces.
“Foolproof machines,” Ross said slowly. “And I mean really fool proof. Friends, I was wrong, I admit it; I thought that those buildings and cars were something super-special, and they turned out to be just silly gimcracks. But not this blue light thing. That boom had to fall.”
Bernie shrugged rebelliously. “So what? So they’ve got some kinds of machines you don’t have on Halsey’s Planet?”
“A different order of machines, Bernie! Believe me, that blue light was something as far from any safety device I ever heard of as the starships are from oxcarts. When we find the people who designed them——”
“Suppose they’re all dead?”
Ross winced. He said determinedly, “We’ll find them.” They returned to their begging and were recognized one day by the gray-haired profile of the party. He didn’t remember just who they were or where they were from or where he had met them, but he enthusiastically invited them to yet another party. He told them he was Hennery Matson, owner of an airline.
Ross asked about accidents and blue lights. Matson jovially said some o’ his pilots talked about them things but he din’t bother his head none. Ya get these planes from the field, see, an’ they got all kinds of gadgets on them. Come on to the party!
They went, because Hennery promised them another guest—Sanford Eisner, who was a wealthy aircraft manufacturer. But he din’t bother his head none either; them rockets was hard to make, you had to feed the patterns, like, into the master jigs just so, and, boy!, if you got ‘em in backwards it was a mess. Wheredja get the patterns? Look, mister, we always had the patterns, an’ don’t spoil the party, will ya?
The party was a smasher. They all woke with headaches on Matson’s deep living room rug.
“You did fine, Ross,” Helena softly assured him. “Nobody would have guessed you were any smarter than anybody else here. There wasn’t a bit of trouble.”
Ross seemed to have a hiatus in his memory.
The importance of the hiatus faded as time passed. There was a general move toward the automatic dispensing bar. It seemed to be regulated by a time clock; no matter what you dialed first thing in the morning, it ruthlessly poured a double rye with Worcestershire and tabasco and plopped a fair imitation of a raw egg into the concoction. It helped!
Along about noon something clicked in the bar’s innards. Guests long since surfeited with the prairie oysters joyously dialed martinis and manhattans and the day’s serious drinking began.
Ross fuzzily tried to trace the bar’s supply. There were nickel pipes that led Heaven knew where. Some vast depot of fermentation tanks and stills? Fed grain and cane by crawling harvest-monsters? Grain and cane planted from seed the harvest-monsters carefully culled from the crop for the plow-and-drag-and-drill-and-fertilize-and-cultivate monsters?
His head was beginning to ache again. A jovial martini-drinker who had something to do with a bank—a bank!—roared, “Hey, fellas! I got a idea what we can do! Less go on over to my place!”
So they all went, and that disposed of another day.
It blended into a dream of irresponsible childhood. When your clothes grew shabby you helped yourself to something that fit from your host of the moment’s wardrobe. When you grew tired of one host you switched to another. They seldom remembered you from day to day, and they never asked questions.
Their sex was uninhibited and most of the women were more or less pregnant most of the time. They fought and sulked and made up and giggled and drank and ate and slept. All of the men had jobs, and all of them, once in a while, would remember and stagger over to a phone and make a call to an automatic receptionist to find out if everything was going all right with their jobs. It always was. They loved their children and tolerated anything from them, except shrewd inquisitiveness which drew a fast bust in the teeth from the most indulgent daddy or adoring mommy. They loved their friends and their guests, as long as they weren’t wise guys, and tolerated anything from them—as long as they weren’t wise guys.
Did it last a day, a week, a month?
Ross didn’t know. The only things that were really bothering Ross were, first, nobody wouldn’t tell him nothin’ about the blue lights and, second, that Bernie, he was actin’ like a wise guy.
There came a morning when it ended as it had begun: on somebody’s living room rug with a headache pounding between his eyes. Helena was sobbing softly, and that wise guy, Bernie, was tugging at him.
“Lea’ me alone,” ordered Captain Ross without opening his eyes. Wouldn’t let a man get his rest. What did he have to bring them along for, anyway? Should have left them where he found them, not brought them to this place Earth where they could act like a couple of wise guys and keep getting in his way every time he came close to the blue-light people, the intelligent people, the people with the answers to——to——
He lay there, trying to remember what the question was.
“——have to get him out of here,” said Helena’s voice with a touch of hysteria.
“——go back and get that fellow Haarland,” said Bernie’s voice, equally tense. Ross contemplated the fragments of conversation he had caught, ignoring what the two were saying to him. Haarland, he thought fuzzily, that wise guy...
Bernie had him on his feet. “Leggo,” ordered Ross, but Bernie was tenacious. He stumbled along and found himself in the men’s room of the apartment. The tired-looking attendant appeared from nowhere and Bernie said something to him. The attendant rummaged in his chest and found something that Bernie put into a fizzy drink.
Ross sniffed at it suspiciously. “Wassit?” he asked.
“Please, Ross, drink it. It’ll sober you up. We’ve got to get out of here—we’re going nuts, Helena and me. This has been going on for weeks!”
“Nope. Gotta find a blue light,” Ross said obstinately, swaying.
“But you aren’t finding it, Ross. You aren’t doing anything except get drunk and pass out and wake up and get drunk. Come on, drink the drink.” Ross impatiently dashed it to the floor. Bernie sighed. “All right, Ross,” he said wearily. “Helena can run the ship; we’re taking off.”
“Good-by, Ross. We’re going back to Halsey’s Planet, where you came from. Maybe Haarland can tell us what to do.”
“Go ‘head. That wise guy!” Ross sneered.
The attendant was watching dubiously as Bernie slammed out and Ross peered at himself in a mirror. “Dime?” the attendant asked in his tired voice. Ross gave him one and went back to the party.
Somehow it was not much fun.
He shuffled back to the bar. The boilermaker didn’t taste too good. He set it down and glowered around the room. The party was back in swing already; Helena and Bernie were nowhere in sight. Let them go, then...
He drank, but only when he reminded himself to. This party had become a costume ball; one of the men lurched out of the room and staggered back guffawing. “Looka him!” one of the women shrieked. “He got a woman’s hat on! Horace, you get the craziest kinda ideas!”
Ross glowered. He suddenly realized that, while he wasn’t exactly sober, he wasn’t drunk either. Those soreheads, they had to go and spoil the party...
He began abruptly to get less drunk yet. Back to Halsey’s Planet, they said? Ask Haarland what to do, they said? Leave him here——?