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Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe Aug-Sept 1953.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.


[_Anders was pretty sure he was going to die. No one had yet
flown the new-style jet job and lived to tell the tale. A story both
chilling and heart-warming that shows us how bravely the human
equation can operate when the chips are stacked against it._]


the very black


_by ... Dean Evans_


Jet test-pilots and love do not mix too happily as a
rule - especially with a ninth-dimensional alter ego messing
the whole act.

* * * * *




There was nothing peculiar about that certain night I suppose - except
to me personally. A little earlier in the evening I'd walked out on
the Doll, Margie Hayman - and a man doesn't do that and cheer over it.
Not if he's in love with the Doll he doesn't - not _this_ doll. If
you've ever seen her you'll give the nod on that.

The trouble had been Air Force's new triangular ship - the new saucer.
Not radio controlled, this one - this one was to carry a real live
pilot. At least that's what the doll's father, who was Chief Engineer
at Airtech, Inc., had in mind when he designed it.

The doll had said to me sort of casually, "Got something, Baby." She
called me baby. Me, one eighty-five in goose pimples.

"Toss it over, Doll," I said.

"No strings on you, Baby." She'd grinned that little one-sided grin of
hers. "No strings on you. Not even one. You're a flyboy, you are, and
you can take off or land any time any place you feel like it."

"Stake your mom's Charleston cup on that," I said.

She nodded. Her one-sided grin seemed to fade slightly but she hooked
it up again fast. A doll - like I said. This was the original model,
they've never gone into production on girls like her full-time.

She said, "Therefore, I've got no right to go stalking with a salt
shaker in one hand and a pair of shears for your tailfeathers in the
other."

"You're cute, Doll," I said, still going along with her one hundred
percent.

"Nice - we get along nice."

"Somebody oughta set 'em up on that."

"So far."

"Huh?" I blinked. I hate sour notes. That's why I'm not a musician.
You never get a sour note in a jet job - or if you do you don't get
annoyed. That's the sour note to end all sour notes.

"Brace yourself, Baby," she said.

I took a hitch on the highball glass I was holding and let one eye get
a serious look in it. "Shoot," I told her.

"This new job - this new saucer the TV newscasts are blatting about.
You boys in the Air Force heard about it yet?"

"There's been a rumor," I said. I frowned. Top secret - in a pig's
eyelash!

"Uh-huh. Is it true this particular ship is supposed to carry a pilot
this time?"

"Where do they dig up all this old stuff?" I growled. "Hell, I knew
all about that way way back this afternoon already."

"Uh-huh, Is it also true they've asked a flyboy named Eddie Anders to
take it up the first time? This flyboy named Eddie Anders being my
Baby?"

I got bored with the highball. I tossed it down the hole in my head
and put the glass on a table. "You're psychic," I said.

She shrugged. "Good looking, maybe. Nice shape, maybe. Peachy
disposition, maybe. Psychic, unh-unhh. But who else would they ask to
do it?"

"A point," I conceded.

"Fork in the road coming up," the Doll said.

"Huh?"

"Fork - look. It'll be voluntary, won't it? You don't have to do it?
They won't think the worse of you if you refuse?"

"_Huh?_" I gawked at her.

"I'm scared, Baby."

Her eyes weren't blue anymore. They'd been blue before but not now.
Now they were violet balls that were laying me like somebody taking a
last long look at the thing down inside the nice white satin before
they close the cover on it for the final time.

"Have a drink, Doll," I said. I got up, went to the liquor wagon.
"Seltzer? There isn't any mixer left."

"Asked you something, Baby."

I took her glass over. I handed it to her. My own drink I poured down
that same hole in my head. I said finally, "Nice smooth bourbon but I
like scotch better."

"They've already crashed four of this new type on tests, haven't
they?"

I nearly choked. _That_ was supposed to be the very pinnacle of the
top secret stuff. But she was right of course. Four of the earlier
models had cracked up. No pilots in them at the time - radio
controlled. But jobs designed to carry pilots nevertheless.

"Some pitchers have great big ugly-looking ears," I said.

She didn't seem to mind. She said, "Or maybe I'm really psychic as you
said. Or maybe my Dad's being Chief at Airtech has something to do
with it."

"Somebody oughta stitch a zipper across his big fat yap," I said. "And
weld the damn thing shut."

"He told only me," she said softly. "And then only because of you. You
see, Baby, he isn't like us. He's got old fashioned notions you and
I've got strings tied around each other already just because you gave
me a ring."

I stared at her.

"Crazy, isn't it? He isn't sensible like us."

"Can the gag lines, Doll," I said sourly. "The old bird's okay."

And that fetched a few moments of silence in the room - thick pervading
silence. A silence to be broken at any fractional second and
heavy - supercharged - because of it.

I said finally, "Somebody has to take it up. It might as well be me.
And they've already asked me."

"You could refuse, Baby."

"Sure I could. It's voluntary. They don't horsewhip a guy into it."

"Uh-huh - voluntary. And you _can_ refuse." She stopped, waited, then,
"Making me get right down there on the hard bare floor on both knees,
Baby? All right. None of us should be proud. None of us has a right to
be proud, have we?

"All right, Baby. I'm down there - way, way down there. I'm asking you
not to take that ship up. I'm begging you - begging, Baby. Look, on me
you've never seen anything like this before. Begging!"

I looked at my empty glass. The taste in my mouth was suddenly bitter.
"No strings, we said," I said harshly. "A flyboy, we said. Guy who can
take off and land anywhere, anytime he likes. Stuff like that we just
got through saying."

She didn't answer that. I waited. She didn't answer. I got up finally,
got my lousy new officer's cap off the TV set and went over to the
door. I opened the door. I went on through.

But before I closed it I heard her whisper. That's the trouble with
whispers, they go incredible distances to get places. The whisper
said, "That's right, Baby. Right as rain. No strings - _ever!_"

* * * * *

When you don't have any scotch in the house you'd be surprised how
well rum will do - even Jamaica rum. I was on my own davenport in my
own apartment and there were two shot glasses in front of me. I was
taking turns on them so they wouldn't wear out. And what was keeping
these glasses busy was me and a fifth of the Jamaica rum in my right
hand. And that's when it all began.

Across the room a rather stout woman was needling a classic through
the television screen and at the same time needing a shave rather
badly. I wasn't paying any attention to her. I was thinking about the
Doll. Wondering, worrying a little. And that's when it began.

That's when the voice said, "Mr. Anders, would you do me the goodness
to forget that bottle for a moment?"

The voice seemed to be coming from the TV screen although the stout
lady hadn't finished her song. The voice was like the disappointed
sigh of a poor old bloke down to his last beer dime and having to look
up into the bartender's grinning puss as the bartender downs a nice
bubbly glass of champagne somebody bought for him. Poor guy, I
thought. I downed glass number one. And then glass number two. And
then I looked over at the TV screen.

That sent a little shiver up my spine. I dropped my eyes to the
glasses, filled them once more. Strong stuff, Jamaica rum. At the
first the taste is medicine. A little later the taste is pleasant
syrup. And a little later still the taste is delightful. But
strong - the whole way strong. I downed glass number one.

I figured I wouldn't touch glass number two yet. I brought up my eyes,
let them go over to the TV screen again.

He didn't have any eyes. That was the first thing that struck me.
There were other things of course, such as the fact he didn't have any
arms or legs. He didn't have any head either, in case he had eyes in
the first place. He was a black swirling bioplastic mass of something
or other and he was doing a graceful tango directly in front of the TV
screen, thereby blocking off from view the stout woman who needed a
shave.

He said, "Do you have any idea what I am, Mr. Anders?"

"Sure," I said. "Somebody's blennorrheal nightmare."

"Incorrect, Mr. Anders. This substance is not mucous. Mucous is very
seldom black."

"Mucous is very seldom black," I mimicked.

"Correct, Mr. Anders."

So all right. So they were making Jamaica rum a little stronger these
days. So _all right_! Next time I wouldn't get rum, I'd get scotch.
Hell with rum. I dismissed the thought from my mind. I picked up glass
number two, downed it. I wondered if the Doll was feeling sorry for
herself.

"Incorrect, Mr. Anders," he said. "The rum is no stronger than usual."

I jerked. I stared at the black sticky-looking thing he was. I shut my
eyes tightly, snapped them open again. Then I worked the glasses again
with the bottle.

"Don't be shocked, Mr. Anders. I'm not a mind reader. It's just that
you discarded the thought of a moment ago. I picked it up, see?"

"Sure," I said. "You picked it out of the junk pile of my mind, where
all my little gems go."

"Correct, Mr. Anders."

It was about time to empty the glasses again. I varied the routine
this time by picking up number-two glass first.

"Light a cigarette, Mr. Anders."

I'm a guy to go along with a gag. I fished a cigarette out, lit it
"Lit," I said. And just at that instant the stout dame without the
shave hit a sour one way up around A above high C. My ears cringed. I
forgot the cigarette and glared across the room, trying to see through
the black swirling mass that stood in front of the TV screen.

"Puff, Mr. Anders."

I puffed. The puff sounded like somebody getting his lips on a very
full glass of beer and quickly sucking so that foaming clouds don't go
down the sides of the glass and all over the bar. I didn't have any
cigarette.

"_Ah!_"

I blinked. The black swirling mass was going gently to and fro. At
about head height on a man my cigarette was sticking out from it and a
little curl of smoke was coming from the end. Even as I looked the
curl ceased and then a big blue cloud of smoke barreled across the
room toward my face.

"Your cigarette, Mr. Anders."

"Nice trick," I said. "Took it out from between my lips and I never
felt it. Nice trick."

"Incorrect, Mr. Anders. When the singer flatted that particular note
your attention was diverted momentarily. Your senses are exceptional,
you see. Your ears register pain at false sounds. Therefore, you
discarded the thoughts of your cigarette during the moment you
suffered with the singer. Following this reasoning, your cigarette
went into abandonment. And I salvaged it. No trick at all, really."

I thought, to hell with the shot glasses. I put the rum bottle to my
lips and tilted it up and held it there until it wasn't good for
anything anymore. Then I took it down by the neck and heaved it
straight at the black mass.

The television screen didn't shatter, which proved something or other.
The bottle didn't even reach the screen. It hit the black swirling
mass about navel high. It went in, sank in like slamming your fist
into a fat man's stomach. And then it rebounded and clattered on the
floor.

"Scream!" I said thickly. "You dirty black delusion - scream!"

"I _am_ screaming, Mr. Anders. That hurt terribly."

He sort of unfolded then, like unfolding a limp wool sweater in the
air. And from this unfolding, something came forth that could have
been somebody's old fashioned idea of what a rifle looked like. He
held it up in firing position, pointed at my head.

"Don't be alarmed, Mr. Anders. This is to convince you. A gun, yes, a
very old gun - a Brown Bess, they used to call it. I just took it from
the City Museum, where it was on display."

He had a nice point-blank sight on my forehead. Now he moved the gun,
aimed it off me, pointed, it across the room toward the open windows.

"Note the workmanship, Mr. Anders. Note the stock. Someone put a
little effort on the carving. Note the sentiment carved here."

The rum was working hard now. I could feel it climbing hand over hand
up from my knees.

"Let me read what it says, Mr. Anders - '_Deathe to ye Colonies_'. Note
the odd wording, the spelling. And now watch, Mr. Anders."

The gun came up a trifle, stiffened. There was a loud snapping sound,
a click of metal on metal - Flintlock. As all the ancient guns were.

And then came the roar. Wood across the room - the window
casing - splintered and flew wildly. Smoke and smell filled my senses.

He said, chuckling, "Let's call it the Abandonment Theory for lack of
a better name. This old Brown Bess hasn't been thought of
acquisitively for some years. It's been in the museum - abandoned.
T h e r e f o r e subject to the discarded junk pile as you yourself so
cleverly put it before. Do I make myself clear, Mr. Anders?"

Perfectly - oh, perfectly, Mr. Bioplast. The rum was going around my
eyes now. Going up and around and headed like an arrow for the hunk of
my brain that can't seem to hide fast enough.

I guess I made it to the bedroom but I wouldn't put any hard cash on
it. And I guess I passed out.

* * * * *

The morning was a bad one as all bad ones usually are. But no matter
how bad they get there's always the consoling thought that in a few
hours things will ease up. I hugged this thought through a needle
shower, through three cups of coffee in the kitchen. What I was
neglecting in this reasoning was the splintered wood in the living
room.

I saw it on my way out. It hit me starkly, like the blasted section of
a eucalyptus trunk writhing up from the ground. I stopped dead in the
doorway and stared at it. Then I got out my knife and got at it.

I probed but it was going to take more than a pocket knife. The
ball - and it was just that - was buried a half inch in the soft pine of
the casing.

I closed the knife and went to the phone and got Information to ring
the museum.

"You people aren't missing a Brown Bess musket," I said. It was a
question, of course, but not now - not the way I had said it. "Nobody
stole anything out of the museum last night, did they?"

Sweat was oozing over my upper lip. I could feel it. I could feel
sweat wetting the phone in my hand. The woman on the other end told me
to wait. I said, "Yeah" - not realizing. I waited, not realizing, until
a man's voice came on.

"You were saying something about a Brown Bess musket, mister?" A cold
sharp voice - a gutter voice but with the masking tag of _official_
behind it. Like the voice of someone behind a desk writing something
on a blotter - a real police voice.

I put the phone down. I pulled all the shades in the living room, went
out the door, locked it behind me and drove as fast as you can make a
Buick go, out to the field. But _fast_!

The XXE-1 was ready. She'd been ready for weeks. There wasn't a
mechanical or electronic flaw in her. We hoped, I hoped, the man who
designed her hoped. The Doll's father - he hoped most of all. Even
lying quiescent in her hangar, she looked as sleek as a Napoleon hat
done in poured monel. When your eyes went over her you knew
instinctively they'd thrown the mach numbers out the window when she
was done.

I went through a door that had the simple word _Plotting_ on it.

The Doll's father was there already behind his desk, studying
something as I came in. He looked up, smiled, said, "Hi, guy."

I flipped a finger at him. I wondered if the Doll had told him about
last night.

"Wife and I were going to suggest a snack when we got home last night
but you had already gone, and Marge was in bed."

I didn't look at him. "Left early, Pop. Growing boy."

"Yeah. You look lousy, guy."

I put my teeth together. I still didn't look at him. "These nights," I
said vaguely.

"Sure."

I could feel something in his voice. I took a breath and put my eyes
on his. He said, "I'm a hell of an old duck."

"Not so old, Pop."

"Sure I am. But not too old to remember back to the days when I wasn't
too old." There was a grave look in his eyes.

I didn't have to answer that. The door banged open and Melrose, the
LC, came in. He jerked a look at both of us, butted a cigarette he'd
just lit - lighted another, butted that. He ran a hand through thick
graying hair and frowned.

"Anybody got a cigarette?" he said sourly. "Couldn't sleep last night.
This damned responsibility. Worried all night about something we
hadn't thought of."

Pop looked up. Melrose went on. "Light - travels in a straight line,
no?" He blinked small nervous eyes at us. Then, "Can't go around
corners unless it's helped, you see. I mean just this. The XXE-One is
expected to hit a significant fraction of the speed of light once it
gets beyond the atmosphere. Now here's the point - how in hell do we
control it then?"

He waited. I didn't say anything. Pop didn't say anything. Melrose ran
a hand through his hair once more, muttered _goddamit_ to himself,
turned around and went barging out the door.

Pop said wryly, "Another quick memo to the Pentagon. He never heard of
the Earth's gravity."

"He's heard," I said. "It's just that it slipped his mind these last
few years."

Pop grinned. He handed me a sheaf of typewritten notes. "These'll just
about make it. You'll notice the initial flight is charted pretty damn
closely."

"Thanks, Pop. I better take these, somewhere else to look 'em over.
Melrose might be back."

"Pretty damn closely," he repeated. "Almost as closely as if she was
going up under radio control...." He stopped. He looked at me from
under his eyebrows.

I studied him. "Already told the brass I'd take her up, Pop." I kept
my voice down.

"Sure, guy. Sure. Uh - you mention it to Marge?"

"Last night."

"I see." His eyes got suddenly far away. I left him like that. Hell
with him - hell with the whole family!

* * * * *

It was in the evening paper, tucked in the second section. They
treated it lightly. It seemed the night watchman had opened the rear
door of the museum for a breath of air or maybe a smoke. Or maybe to
kitchie-koo some babe under the chin in the alley.

That's the only way it could have happened. And he'd discovered the
empty exhibit case at 2:10 in the morning. The case still had a little
white card on it that told about the Brown Bess musket and the powder
horn and the ball shot inside.

But the little white card lied in its teeth. There weren't any such
things in the case at all. And he'd notified the curator at once.

There was also mention of a mysterious phone call which couldn't be
traced.

Things like this don't happen in 1953. So I didn't get loaded that
night. I went home, went to the davenport, sat down and told myself
they don't happen. Things like this have never happened, will never
happen. What occurred last night was something in the bottom of a
bottle of Jamaica rum.

"Thinking, Mr. Anders?"

I took a slow breath. He was swaying gently in the air a foot from my
elbow and he was still a black mucous scum, as he had been the night
before. I got up.

I said, "I'm not loaded tonight. I haven't had a thing all day." I
took two steps toward him.

He wasn't there.

I took another breath - a very very slow breath. I turned around and
went back to the davenport.

He was back again.

"They'll find that musket," he said. "I have no use for it now. You
see I wanted it only to convince you, Mr. Anders."

I put my hands on my knees and didn't look at him. I was suddenly
trying to remember where I'd put that Luger I'd brought home from
Germany a couple years back.

"You're not quite convinced yet, Mr. Anders?"

_Where in the hell did I put it?_

"Very well, Mr. Anders. Now hear this, please. Now watch me." He
stirred at about hip height. A shelf-like section of the black mass
protruded a little distance from the main part of him. On this shelf
suddenly lay a rusted penknife.

"A very little boy, Mr. Anders. And a very long while ago. A talented
boy, one of those who has what might be called an exceptional
imagination. This boy cherished a penknife when he was quite small.
Pick up the knife, Mr. Anders."

The knife was suddenly in my lap. I picked it up. It was rusty. It had
a flat bone handle. "Museums again," I whispered to myself.

"So highly did this boy prize his knife that he went to great pains to
carve his name very very carefully on one side of the bone handle.
Turn the knife over, Mr. Anders."

The name was Edward Anders.

"You lost it when you were eleven. You wouldn't remember though. I
found it in an attic where it lay unnoticed. As the years went by you
gradually forgot about the knife, you see, and when your mind had
completely abandoned the thoughts of it, it was mine - had I wanted it.
As a matter of fact I didn't. I retrieved it just today."

I put the knife down. Sweat was coming on my forehead now, I could
feel it. I was remembering. I was remembering the knife and what was
scaring me even more was I was remembering the very day I had lost it.
In the attic.

I said very carefully, "All right. You've made your point. You can
take it from there."

"Quite so, Mr. Anders. You now admit I exist, that I have
extraordinary powers. I am your own creation, Mr. Anders. As I said
before you have exceptional senses, including imagination. And yes,
imagination is the greatest of all the senses.

"Some humans with this gift often imagine ludicrous things, exciting
things, horrifying things - depending don't you see, on mood, emotion.
And the things these mortals imagine become real, are actually,
created - only they don't know it, of course."

He stopped. He was probably giving me time to soak that up. Then he
went on. "You've forgotten to keep trying to remember where you put
that Luger, Mr. Anders. I just picked up the abandoned thought as it
left your consciousness just now."

I gulped down something that tried to rise in my throat. I didn't like
this guy.

"You created me when you were fourteen, Mr. Anders. You imagined me as
a swashbuckling pirate. The only difference between me and the others
who have been created in times past is that I have attained the ninth
dimension. I am the first to do that. Also the first to capture the
secrets of your own third dimension. Naturally then, it would be a
pity for me to die."

"Get out," I said.

"Forgive me, Mr. Anders. My time is short. I die tomorrow."

"That's swell. Now get out."

"We're not immortal, you see. When our creators die their imaginations
die with them. We too die. It follows. But for some time I've had an
idea."

"Out," I said again. "Get the hell out of here!"

"You're going to die tomorrow, Mr. Anders, in that new flying saucer.
And I must die with you. Except that I've had this idea."

There are times when you look yourself in the eye and don't like what
you see. Or maybe what you see scares the living hell out of you.
When those times come along some little something inside tells you
you'd better watch out. Then the doubts creep in. After that the
melancholy. And from that instant on you aren't very sane anymore.

"_Out!_" I yelled. "Out, _out_, OUT! Get the hell out!"

"One moment, Mr. Anders. Now as to this idea of mine. There's this
woman - this Margie Hayman. This woman you call the Doll."

That one jerked me around.

"Exactly. Now listen very carefully. You aren't entirely you anymore,
Mr. Anders. I mean, you aren't the complete _whole_ individual you as
you once were. You love this woman. Something inside you has gone out
and is now a part of her."

"Therefore, if you will just discard the thought of her sometime
between now and when you take that ship up I can attach myself to her
sentient being, don't you see, and thereby exist - at least


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