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"They are very good photos."
"Of course, they're perfect. Expensive too, probably. But any of those scenes by a real artist could be
priceless."
"No room out there for artists yet. Ground-breakers go first, culture follows after."
"Then why don't you change things and recruit a few artists? They might be able to help you find a lot
more ground-breakers."
"Hm," said the officer, "that's an angle. Want to walk around with me some? See more of the sights?"
"Sure," said the boy. "Why not? 'Walk' isn't quite the proper verb, though . . ."
He swung into step beside the officer and they moved about the exhibits.
The scaleboats did a wall crawl to their left, and the claw-cans snapped.
"Is the design of those things really based on the struc-ture of a scorpion's pincers?"
"Yes," said the officer. "Some bright engineer stole a trick from Nature.That is the kind of mind we're
interested in recruiting."
The boy nodded.
"I've lived in Cleveland. Down on the Cuyahoga River they use a thing called a Hulan Conveyor to
unload the ore-boats. It is based on the principle of the grasshopper's leg. Some bright young man with
the sort of mind you're interested in recruiting was lying in his back yard one day, pulling the legs off
grasshoppers, and it hit him: 'Hey,' he said, 'there might be some use to all this action.' He took apart
some more grasshoppers and the Hulan Conveyer was born. Like you say, he stole a trick that Nature
was wasting on things that just hop around in the fields, chewing tobacco and being pesty. My father
once took me on a boat trip up the river and I saw the things in operation. They're great metal legs with
claws at the end, and they make the most godaw-ful unearthly noise I ever heard like the ghosts of all
the tortured grasshoppers. I'm afraid I don't have the kind of mind you're interested in recruiting."
"Well," said the officer, "it seems that you might have the other kind."
"What other kind?"
"The kind you were talking about: The kind that will see and interpret, the kind that will tell the people
back home what it's really like out there."
"You'd take me on as a chronicler?"
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No, we'd have to take you on as something else. But that shouldn't stop you. How many people were
drafted for the World Wars for the purpose of writing war novels? How many war novels were written?
How many good ones? Therewere quite a few, you know. You could plan your back-ground to that
end."
"Maybe," said the boy.
They walked on.
"Come this way?" asked the officer.
The boy nodded and followed him out into a corridor and then into an elevator. It closed its door and
asked them where they wished to be conveyed.
"Sub-balc," said the lieutenant colonel.
There was scarcely a sensation of movement, then the doors opened again. They stepped out onto the
narrow bal-cony which ran around the rim of the soup bowl. It was glassite-enclosed and dimly lit.
Below them lay the pens and a part of the field.
"There will be several vehicles lifting off shortly," said the officer. "I want you to watch them, to see them
go up on their wheels of fire and smoke."
" 'Wheels of fire and smoke,' " said the boy, smiling. "I've seen that phrase in lots of your booklets. Real
poetic, yes sir."
The officer did not answer him. None of the towers of metal moved.
"These don't really go out, you know," he finally said. "They just convey materials and personnel to the
stations in orbit. The real big ships never land."
"Yes, I know. Did a guy really commit suicide on one of your exhibits this morning?"
"No," said the officer, not looking at him, "it was an accident. He stepped into the Mars Grav-room
before the platform was in place or the air cushion built up. Fell down the shaft."
"Then why isn't that exhibit closed?"
"Because all the safety devices are functioning properly. The warning light and the guard rail are both
working all right."
"Then why did you call it an accident?"
"Because he didn't leave a note.  There! Watch now, that one is getting ready to lift!" He pointed with
his pipe.
A blizzard of vapors built up around the base of one of the steel stalagmites. A light was born in its heart.
Then the burning was beneath it, and waves of fumes splashed across the field, broke, rose high into the
air.
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But not quite so high as the ship.
... Because it was moving now.
Almost imperceptibly, it had lifted itself above the ground. Now, though, the movement could be noted.
Suddenly, with a great gushing of flame, it was high in the air, darting against the gray.
It was a bonfire in the sky, then a flare; then it was a star, rushing away from them.
"There is nothing quite like a rocket in flight," said the officer.
"Yes," said the boy. "You're right."
"Do you want to follow it?" said the man. "Do you want to follow that star?"
"Yes," said the boy. "Someday I will."
"My own training was pretty hard, and the requirements are even tougher these days."
They watched two more ships lift off.
"When was the last time you were out, yourself?" asked the boy.
"It's been awhile . . ." said the man.
"I'd better be going now. I've got a paper to write for school."
"Let me give you some of ournew booklets first."
"Thanks, I've got them all."
"Okay, then . . . Good night, fella."
"Good night. Thanks for the show."
The boy moved back toward the elevator. The officer re-mained on the balcony, staring out, staring up,
holding onto his pipe which had gone out.
The light, and twisted figures, struggling . .. Then darkness.
"Oh, the steel! The pain as the blades enter! I am many mouths, all of them vomiting blood!" Silence.
Then comes the applause.
IV [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]