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ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



IF Worlds of Science Fiction May 1954.

Fly By Night

by Arthur Dekker Savage

The general introduced them in the ship's shadow, a trim lieutenant, a clean-cut major. "You probably already think of each other as Carol and Ken. At any rate, there are no two people in the world who have heard as much about each other without previously meeting."

She offered her hand and he took it, held it for a long moment while their eyes locked. "Hello, Carol," he said warmly. "I'd have known you from your pictures." And he realized as never before what a poor substitute were the hoarded scraps of paper.

"Hello—Ken." A smile made her face radiant. "I've sort of studied your pictures too."

Ken turned his eyes to the crowd—a roaring, cheering multitude surrounding the poised rocket ship here on the California desert in this zero hour. To certain harried physicists and engineers, it was a moment promising paramount achievement. To romanticists of 1966, watching their video screens avidly, it was fulfillment of their most sensual dreams: a beautiful girl being given wholly and unreservedly to a handsome young man; the flight around the moon was merely an added fillip. To a few gaunt military psychologists it was the end of a long nightmare of protests by women's clubs, demonstrations by national female societies and actual attempts at murder by fanatical blue-noses; and a mere beginning of the most crucial experiment ever undertaken—which had to be a success.

Suddenly Ken was angry at the knowing looks from the throng's nearest ranks. While the general continued his prepared speech into the mike, focus of the hollow, hungry eyes of the video cameras, Ken pulled Carol to his side and held her with an arm about her waist, glaring when the crowd murmured and the cameras swung their way again. He had not questioned the actions of the military, of the world, before. But now—a public spectacle—

During the years of rigorous, specialized training almost from childhood they had kept him away from Carol, teasing him—it was the only word that now occurred to his mind—with the dangled promise of her presence on the flight. They had let him see her pictures—intimate, almost-nude photos harvested by the gossip columnists, snaps of her glory in bathing attire as she lounged by a swimming pool.

Swimming. Since he had been selected as a boy, every free afternoon he had been made to swim, swim, swim—developing the long, smooth muscles they wanted him to have. It had been, he knew, the same with Carol.

Had they taunted her with his pictures too? Had she responded by wanting him, loving him, longing for him? How did she feel about their first moment together being shared by the greedy eyes of continents?

The President was speaking now, rolling sonorous sentences into the mike, words which would officially sanction this unorthodox act of the military, which would justify the morally unprecedented dispensing of maid to man without benefit of—anything. Because the psychologists had wanted it that way. Ken leaned down to whisper in her ear, "I wish I could get you inside the ship."

She looked at him with sudden coolness. "Impatient, Major?" She turned away quickly and he could feel her body stiffen.

Had he said something wrong? Or—the new thought was jarring disharmony: did he represent the end of this girl's—his girl's—hopes for a conventional, happy marriage? Did she think him the altar of sacrifice, whereupon she would accrue the moralist's scorn and, tomorrow, attract only the lecherous? Or was it just an act? What, besides ship and instrument operation, had they taught her?

Grimly he listened to the President, who was then extolling their merits as though—well, as though they were some sort of laboratory specimens. "... acute hearing, 20/10 vision... perfect health... highest combination of intelligence and fast physical reactions... exceptional bravery and loyalty." Cheers. "... intensive training... youngest to receive their military ranks... expert pilots... fittest humans for this attempt."

Stubbornly, Ken continued to hold her waist. He watched the sun sneak around one stubby wing of the Latecomer. He'd need those glinting wings to land. Land? What were the actual odds against circling the moon and landing again on earth? That phase—and a lot of others—had never been discussed. The speeches were over and he put the thought from his min...

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