Authors: Philip Wylie
Tags: #Science Fiction
DOUBLEDAY & COMPANY, INC. GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK
All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER 63-7705
COPYRIGHT © 1963 BY PHILIP WYLIE
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA For Ted and Mike and Gale Pryor
The young man driving the car interrupted a question about mathematics to whistle. "Brother! Is that the one?" He nodded at a private, ten-place jet plane standing in slack-winged silence at the head of the airstrip.
Ben Bernman grinned and, characteristically, answered the math question before he spoke of the plane: "Belongs to Vance Farr, my weekend host."
The pale, intent youth whistled again, but softly. "He must own all the tea in China
the coffee in Brazil!" The other man chuckled. "Maybe he does. He's in the import-export business."
"Oh." The driver braked his secondhand vehicle as it neared the jet.
He remembered something. "Wasn't it his daughter you rescued, last winter?"
The older scientist, who was not really old, busied himself with two items of luggage, a brand-new airplane suitcase made of reinforced magnesium and a second item that invariably went wherever Ben went, and invariably in his hand or at his side: a locked, leather briefcase. With these extricated from the rear seat, he answered. "Faith Farr. Yes. I happened to be the first person to pass the place where she'd skidded off the road, in a blizzard. So naturally I stopped and went back and found the lady."
The other scowled briefly, then smiled in recollection. "Not the way I read it," he said, admiration in his voice. "I remember that plenty of cars had passed and not noticed the drifted signs of that wreck. It took--and I more or less quote--the brilliant Dr.
Bernman to make the scrutiny and deduction, stop, wander with a flashlight in the blinding snowflakes till he found the damsel, hoist her near-freezing and unconscious form to his brawny shoulder, and roar to a hospital."
Ben cuffed Dr. Swenson lightly.
But he went on, eyes twinkling. "She was exceedingly beautiful, judging from the photographs appearing at the time. About--roughly--as attractive as you are homely, Doc.
A coppery-haired blonde, right? Angel face. Brains, too, if I recall the stories. Or was that brains item just press-agent stuff?"
"Faith's plenty bright," Bernman answered. He picked up his luggage and, for an instant, eyed his assistant with an expression that was sad, regretful or, perhaps, meek.
For a man of his reputation, a man who'd won the Fermi Prize at twenty-six and now, ten years later, one who headed a department at Brookhaven, Ben Bernman was far too modest, his assistant and chauffeur felt.
Swenson watched his chief move toward the plane in the staggering heat of the last Thursday of that July, wondering if any very rich girl was bright enough truly to appreciate Doc Bernman. He decided not, and turned the car.
The pilot of Vance Farr's plane came hurriedly and the two men argued a little absurdly about carrying the luggage. Ben gave in with a slightly embarrassed laugh and, sweating, followed the muscular pilot--Al, he'd said his name was--to the jet.
Minutes later it was airborne.
Ben watched the atomic-research facility at Brookhaven as it diminished in the shimmering air to a toylike marvel: bizarre buildings that contained reactors and particle accelerators, lead-walled gardens where experiments went forward in the effect of radiation on plants, red-and-white stacks and shielded earthrises beneath which plasmas, sun-center-hot, stormed in magnetic "bottles" as the search was continued to find a means of transforming the energy of fusion bombs to a practical power source.
They'd been at it for almost twenty years now, and during the past six he'd worked on the theoretical end, at Brookhaven. When the distant toy-town and its Martian aspect were replaced by the blue of Long Island Sound, Ben perceived the speed of this luxurious plane; but the quietude of its blue-and-gold interior surprised him only when the pilot, AI, spoke: "Be over the Connecticut shore in a sec. Then it's only thirteen-fourteen minutes to Uxmal."
"The Farr place. Spelled, 'U-X-M-A-L.' Mayan town in Yucatán."
"Oh, yes!" Ben had never seen Uxmal--or Chichen Itza, either; but he knew about them.
"Ever been there before?"
"Quite a sight. If you like, I'll take a tum around the place, Doctor."
Mrs. Farr told me it was modernistic, with what she called a Mayan-Toltec 'feeling.' But I didn't know--"
"She just picked a name for it last month."
Al listened to talk from some control tower or other, in the headphone covering his opposite ear. His nearer ear was free of its disc for in-flight colloquy. He nodded to himself and went on talking about the Farr "place" in Connecticut:
"It's on a hilltop-young mountain, comparatively, for these parts. Called Sachem's Watch. The Farr family have owned it since before the Revolution. One of those Victorian jobs stood on it--all gables and porches with fretwork. Iron deer in the gardens.
Shrubs clipped to look like birds and animals. Mrs. Farr decided to build the new place maybe ten years ago. About when I signed on as Farr's pilot. They had a turboprop Panther then, and a couple of choppers. Helicopters." The blue-eyed, extraverted man saw Ben had understood "choppers," and grinned. "You probably fly a lot, being in the H-bomb business, eh, Doctor?"
"Some. Though I'm not, really, in the bomb end. Was, for a while. But back there at Brookhaven, we're trying to tum H-bomb power into cheap electricity."
"Hope you do! Anyhow, they tore down the Victorian job, gazebos and all, and had one of that--what-was-his-name--that Frank Lloyd Wright's students--man of fifty, now--design their new house, so-called. Cut a road to the top--the old road was for buggies, I guess--round and round the hill. Going up it dam' near gets you dizzy--a real spiral climb! Mr. Farr sold off a hunk of the hilltop land and some developers built a bunch of co-operative apartment houses there. Mrs. Farr raised hell about that, and planted full-grown white pines and spruces, oaks and maples, all around the new house, to cut off any sign of the development. Candlewood Manor,
called. The Farr place has a lot of history. Big caves under Sachem's Watch. Farr's great-grandfather used 'em, so it goes, to hide slaves in, over a century ago. Thing called the Underground Railway."
"Yes," Ben said.
"Don't suppose your folks had reached America yet." Al said that casually, not meaning to be hurtful and hardly aware he had indicated the evident fact that Dr. Ben C.
Bernman was a Jew.
"Still in Germany," Ben replied pleasantly. "And points east. Estonia. The Ukraine."
"Sure. Well, the Farrs hid slaves that got from Dixie to Long Island Sound as stowaways in ships, before the Civil War. And there were Farrs living on Sachem's Watch before the Revolution. Men who went to fight it with Israel Putnam. Big family, once. Funny, how those big families can dwindle down to--well, even to just one person.
And that, a girl. Faith."
Ben said nothing.
Al shook his head. "Imagine! Imagine having your name as celebrated
historic as 'Farr' and then realizing it is going to disappear, the minute a lone gal becomes Mrs. So-and-so!" He glanced, innocently, at the scientist. "Say!
the man saved her, last winter!"
"Saw you on TV! In the papers! Be damned!" Al meditated a moment. "Didn't mean anything by that crack back there about when your folks reached the good old U.S.A."
"Of course not."
Al relaxed. He listened again to the phantom talk from the unknown source and hooked a throat mike to a blue collar open over red hairs on his chest. He spoke briefly and almost inaudibly insofar as Ben was concerned. Numbers, mainly, and a final,
"Roger!" Then the jet tilted for a slow tum and Al pointed. "Uxmal," he said.
Ben looked down with absorption. The house--if a rectangular set of buildings with a flashing moat, surrounding an interior "patio" so extensive that its flagged areas, gardens, and terraces dwarfed a tennis court, could be called a house--lay ahead of and below the slowing jet. A spiral highway, visible here and there through giant trees, gave the hill a terraced look, suggesting, at least, the step-pyramids of ancient Mayans and Aztecs. The low buildings, flat-roofed, glass-walled, stone-supported, here and there sustained by squared timbers, did resemble pictures of the temple-surrounded playing courts of their barbaric ruins in Yucatán.
"Uxmal" was a good name for the place, Ben thought.
He also noticed, as the plane held its arc, the white, numerous, and many-angled roofs of the cooperative apartments--of Candlewood Manor, he repeated to himself. And he saw the massive tree-plantings that separated Uxmal from the common herd at Candlewood--a nevertheless expensive abode. His attention moved to another phenomenon.
One side of Sachem's Watch had been sheared away--by man or nature, he couldn't be certain in the brief view he had. But he saw a cliff-face that began some distance downhill from Uxmal and then, to his faint surprise, as the plane unfolded it, a mighty slope of raw limestone that had evidently been quarried from the area in recent times, for it lay in glittering beige blocks of enormous size, below the cliff. That evidence of Brobdingnagian blasting vanished as trees intercepted it. Next, for instants, Ben glimpsed the white clapboard sides and slated church steeples of as much of Fenwich Village as tall trees allowed airborne viewers to behold.
The plane straightened, descended, bumped. Ben had a flashing sight of a tall young woman with copper-gold hair, in a light-brown dress, standing beside a cream-and-scarlet automobile.
The jets thundered into air-scoops that threw their power forward; with a gingerly foot, the pilot braked, thrusting Ben forcefully against his safety belt. It was a short airstrip for such a craft, the scientist thought. But long enough.
Ben said, in the sudden diminishing of that final sound, "Nice trip!"
Al grinned. "Poky! Never did over five hundred miles an hour. No time for climbing, to go supersonic." He increased the sound again, swung the plane around, and blasted grass alongside the paved strip as the plane rushed back toward the other end of the field.
There, he cut the two jet engines.
Doors opened automatically, their click amazingly sharp and specific. Hot air rushed in from the wilted field, air bringing the aroma of baking concrete and grass perishing. Al made to unhitch himself and Ben shook his head. "Stay right there, friend!
When the day comes that sees me unable to lug a suitcase and a little locked sack a hundred yards across a field, I won't
"Have it your way! Pleased to meet you."
Faith ran toward him from the shade. He realized the motor of her Jaguar was running and thought it wasteful till he saw its windows up and understood: it was air-conditioned and Faith had not wanted it to heat up inside, as it would have, in minutes, without cooling on this torrid afternoon.
They were almost within handclasp distance when he saw the flare on her ring finger. Not aware that he did so, Ben stopped. So did she. Faith seemed surprised, then understood. "You should read the society pages, darling," she said softly. "Happened a week ago. Kit Barlow. I'd assumed you knew."
He smiled then, and strode forward. "Lucky guy!" he said, and dropped both pieces of luggage. His long arms went around her and his ugly-solemn face bent down.
He kissed her firmly. "I'm glad for both of you," he said.
She looked at him, brows winged, her gold-dappled, hazel eyes alive and truthful.
"The hell you are!"
He kept his smile. "'Have it,' in Al's words, 'your way.''
It was cool in the car, so cool he felt cold. But the thermometer on the dash showed seventy-five degrees. Outside it was probably well over a hundred in the shade.
Which made the contrast.
For the first part of their journey she was occupied by driving. A sweep of paved access-road took them onto the Yankee Turnpike. There, men driving alone in big cars, medium cars, and small cars, along with whole families in cars that sometimes sprouted children from every steaming window, swept north in all three lanes.
But every businessman who could, and every family able to do so, sped outward to escape the brick-kiln walls of Greater New York, to get clear, even, of Bridgeport, in this heat wave, or of any and every city, and to move out into any countryside beyond suburbs. There, still, an excessive glare fell on hamlets and farms and penetrated trees, hot as the pointed fire from sun-aimed magnifying glasses. Even the countryside panted. Its lakes were warm, its ponds hot, and some brooks had vanished, for the midsummer while.