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The Very Black online

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partly - even though you yourself are dead."

I pushed myself unsteadily to my feet. I stared at the entire black
repulsive undulating mass before me. I took a step toward it.

"It isn't much to ask, Mr. Anders. You've quarrelled with her. You
want no more of her. You've practically told her that. All I ask is
that you finish the job - forget her. Discard her - throw her into the
mental junk pile of Abandonment."

I didn't take any more steps. Something inside me was screaming, was
ripping at my guts, was roaring with all the cacaphony of all the
giant discords of all eternity. Something inside my brain was sucking
all my strength in one tremendous, surging power-dive of wish
fulfillment. I was willing the black mucous mass of him out of my
consciousness.

He was no longer there. The only thing to prove he'd ever been there
at all was a very-old, very-rusty penknife over on the table in front
of the davenport - the knife with my name carved on the bone handle.

After that I went unsteadily to the dresser in the living room. I got
the Doll's picture down off the dresser. I undressed. I took the
picture to bed with me. The lights burned in my bedroom the entire
night.

* * * * *

Lieutenant Colonel Melrose looked weatherbeaten. His graying hair was
pulled here and there like a rag mop that's dried dirty - stiff. He had
a freshly lit cigarette between his lips. He grinned nervously when he
saw me, butted the cigarette, said in a thin voice, "This is it,
Anders. Ship goes up in twenty minutes."

"I know," I said.

He poked another cigarette at his lips. He said, "What?" in a startled
tone.

"Nothing," I said. "All right, I'll get ready."

He lit the cigarette, took a puff that made the smoke do a frenetic
dance around his nostrils. He jabbed it at an ashtray, bobbed his head
in a convulsive movement, said, "Righto!"

They strapped me in. Pop came to the open hatch. He stuck his head
in, grinned, said, "Hi, guy," softly. There was something in his eyes.
The Doll had told him how I hate sour notes.

"How's the Doll, Pop?" I forced myself to say it.

"Swell, Ed. Just got a call from her. On her way out here to see you
take off. Looks like she won't make it now though."

I didn't say anything. His eyes went down to the wallet I had propped
up on my knees. The wallet was open, celluloid window showing. Inside
the window was the Doll's picture.

"Tell her that, Pop," I said.

"Yeah, guy. Luck."

They shut the hatch.

There was no doubt about the takeoff. If one thing was perfected in
the XXE-1 it was that. The ship rose like the mercury in a thermometer
on a hot day in July. I took it slow to fifty thousand feet.

"Fifty thousand," I said into the throat mike.

"Hear you, Anders." Melrose's voice.

"Smooth," I said. "Radar on me?"

"On you, Anders."

I let the ship have a little head. This job used the clutch of a tax
collector's claws for fuel. It just hooked itself on the nothing
around us and yanked - and there we were.

One hundred thousand.

"Double that," I said into the mike.

"Yeah, Anders. How is it?"

"Haven't yet begun. Radar still on me?"

I heard a nervous laugh. _He_ was nervous. "The General - General
Hotchkiss just said something, Anders. He - ha, ha - he said you're on
plot like stitches in a fat lady's hip. Ha, ha! He's got _us_ all in
stitches. Ha, ha!"

_Ha, ha!_

This was it. I released my grip on the accelerator control, yet it
slide up. They say you can't feel speed in the air unless there's
something relative within vision to tip you off. They're going to have
to revise that. You can not only feel speed you can reach out and
break hunks off it - in the XXE-1, that is. I shook my head, took my
eyes off the instruments and looked down at the Doll on my lap.

"Melrose?"

"Hear you, Anders."

"This is it. Reaching me on radar still?"

"Naturally."

"All right."

This was it. This was where the other four ships like the XXE-1 - the
radio controlled models - had disintegrated. This was where it
happened, and they didn't come back anymore.

I sucked in oxygen and let the accelerator control go over all the
way.

Pulling a ship out of a steep dive, yes. Blackout then, yes. If the wings
stay with you everything's fine and you live to mention the incident at
the bar a little while later. Blackout accelerating - climbing - is not in
the books. But blackout, nevertheless. Not just plain blackout but a
thick mucous, slimy undulating blackout - the very black.

The very very black.

* * * * *

General Hotchkiss, "What's he saying, Melrose?"

Melrose, "Doesn't answer."

General Eaton, "Try again."

Melrose, "Yes sir."

General Hotchkiss, "What's he saying, Melrose?"

General Eaton, "Still nothing?"

Melrose, "Nothing."

General Hotchkiss, "Dammit, you've still got him on radar, haven't
you?"

Melrose, "Yes sir."

General Hotchkiss, "Well, dammit, what's he doing?"

Melrose, "Still going up, sir."

General Eaton, "How far up?"

Melrose, "Signal takes sixty seconds to get back, sir."

General Hotchkiss, "God in heaven! One hundred and twenty thousand
miles out! Halfway to the moon. How much more fuel has he?"

Melrose, "Five seconds, sir. Then the auto-switch cuts in. Power will
go off until he nears atmosphere again. After that, if he isn't
conscious - well, I'm awfully afraid we've lost another ship."

General Eaton, "Cold blooded - "

* * * * *

The purple drapes before my eyes were wavering. Hung like rippled
steel pieces of a caisson suspended by a perilously thin whisper of
thread, they swayed, hesitated, shuddered their entire length, then
began to bend in the middle from the combined weights of thirteen
galaxies. The bend became a cracking bulge that in another second
would explode destruction directly into my face. I screamed.

"Is - is that you, Anders?"

I screamed good this time.

"An - Anders! You all right? What happened? I couldn't get through to
you?"

I took my hand from the accelerator control and stared numbly at it.
The mark of it was deep in the skin. I sucked in oxygen.

"_Anders!_ Your power is off. When you hear the signal you've got just
three more seconds. You know what to do then. You've been out of the
envelope, Anders! You broke through the atmosphere!"

And then I heard him speak to somebody else - he must have been
speaking to somebody else, he couldn't have meant me - "Crissake, give
me a cigarette. The guy's still alive."

I suppose I was grinning when they unstrapped me and slid me out of
the hatch. They were grinning back at any rate. The ground held me up
surprisingly - like it always had all my life before. They'd stopped
grinning now, their eyes were eating the inside of the ship. They
weren't interested in me anymore - all they wanted was the instruments'
readings.

My feet could still move me. Knew where to go. Knew where to find the
door that had the simple word _Plotting_ on it.

The Doll was there with her father. The two of them didn't say
anything, just looked at me - just stared at me. I said, "He tried
damned hard. He put everything he had in it. He got me. He had me down
and there wasn't any up again for the rest of the world. For me there
wasn't."

They stared. Pop stared. The Doll stared.

"Just one thing he forgot," I muttered. "He gave me the tip-off
himself and then he forgot it. He told me I wasn't all me anymore,
that a part of me had gone out to you since I was supposed to be in
love with you. And that's where the tip-off lies. I wasn't all me
anymore but I hadn't lost anything. You know why, Doll?"

They stared.

"Simple - any damn fool would tumble. If I wasn't all me, then you
weren't all you. Part of you was me - get it? And _you_ weren't
scheduled to bust out today. Not you - me! And that's what he couldn't
work over. That's what brought me down again. He couldn't touch that."
I stopped for a moment.

I said suddenly, "What the hell you guys staring at?" I growled.

"That's my Baby," said the Doll.

"No strings," I said.

"Like we said." Her words were soft petals. "Like we said, Baby. Just
like we said."

"Sure. Only damn it, I don't like it that way. I _want_ strings, see?
I want meshes of 'em, balls of 'em, like what comes in yarn - get it?"

The Doll grinned. "Sure, Baby - you're sure you want it that way?"

"Sure I'm sure. I just said it, didn't I? _Didn't_ I?"

"You just said it, Baby." She left her father's side, came over to me,
put her arm in mine, pulled close. We turned, started to go out the
door.

"Where you guys going?" asked Pop. We turned again. He looked like
something was skipped somewhere on a sound track he'd been listening
to. I grinned.

"Gotta look for a Brown Bess," I said. "Museum just lost one."

* * * * *








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Online LibraryDean EvansThe Very Black → online text (page 2 of 2)