The Moon and the Sun by James McKimmey

[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories March 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

The rocket waited, a gleaming yellow-finned tube, pointing its nose at the depths of space. Time ticked in the control tower which rested in the shadow of the great monster. Six minutes left. Sunlight danced on silver curves.

Tick, tick, tick, tick. The time was in Charters’ brain like the sound of a pendulum in a grandfather’s clock. The end was nearing.

It was almost over.

Charters turned his thick wrist and looked at his watch.

Outside the sun was a strong white fire in a blue sky. Sand stretched away endlessly from the circular cluster of buildings, from which the rocket had been conceived and nurtured and born.

Seconds crept, and there was a dead silence in the tower room.

“We’ve done it,” Charters said, his voice like a snapping of brittle wires.

Lampson, his assistant, nodded and watched the rocket. “Yes,” he said.

“Greatest victory of the age!” said Charters, grinning and gaily wiping his hands together.

Lampson watched the way the sun struck the glistening silver body of the rocket.

“Have you nothing to say, man?” Charters asked.

“I was just thinking.”

“This is no time to think,” Charters said, his eyes bright and winking. “This is a time to let your thoughts drain out of your head. To feel the damned meaning of this thing! To let it get inside you and fill you up to the brains! This is the time to laugh and cry, Lampson. To let your insides quiver with the pure joy of it! We’ve done it!”

“Yes,” Lampson said. “Only I was thinking about Randall, sitting out there, waiting.”

“He’ll be all right.”

“I know he will. I don’t mean that. I mean, the way he feels about things, yet sitting there, waiting to guide it to the Moon, to prove its reality. And all the time, he—”

“He’s caught in a stream, Lampson. A swift, driving stream that won’t let him stop. He can’t help himself.”

Lampson shook his head. “I can’t believe he’s really going through with it.”

“He’s different now,” Charters said. “A few months ago, he had all these ideas about the rocket being used for military reasons, for killing, and all that other nonsense. Now he’s caught in the grip of this thing. He’s watched his own work blossom and turn into a remarkably beautiful finished miracle.”

Charters watched the rocket, eyes half-closed, seeming to feel the strength of it in his own hands as he closed them slowly, tightly.

“Ah—” he said, lips curling. “The beautiful, beautiful thing!”

Lampson watched through the thick window, unblinking. “He was right, you know.”

“Who was right?”

“Randall. He was right about this rocket. We won’t use it for anything but just another weapon. All this work and planning. All Randall’s sweat and blood. For no reason, but just another weapon.”

“It’s too late now.”

“Yes. And you knew it, didn’t you?” Lampson said to Charters, looking at the man. “You knew what this would mean. When Randall wanted to quit, and you finally got him to go ahead, you knew what we’d use it for.”

“You don’t quit after ten years.” Charters looked at his watch, counting silently.

“He’s been sold out,” Lampson said, thinking of Randall, sitting in the rocket. “A lifetime of worry and work and prayer. Now he’s been sold out.”

“Damn it, man,” Charters said, “it’s nearly ready to happen!”

The room was silent, and the ticking was in the air again. A steady, rhythmic ticking, that got into the brain and beat time with the heart.

One minute.

The rocket rested on its launch, as though tightening its metallic muscles and cords, to spring into the air like a wild frenzied terror, to cut through the sky, through space, to touch the Moon.

“Thirty seconds,” Charters said, his voice trembling.

Lampson closed his hands and his eyes.

“Twenty seconds.” Charters bent his head over his watch. His breathing shortened and he waited, tensed, crouched. “Ten. Five, four, three, two…”

The ground shook as though a chasm had split beneath its surface! There was a streaking in the air. The rocket sped away and away.

“Over!” said Charters, his face to the sky. “It’s over!”

Lampson turned from the window and stood quietly, watching the floor. His shoulders were limp, his hands still and quiet at his sides.

“By God!” said Charters, whirling, slapping his palms together. “What an entirely immense thing!” He grinned widely and moved his feet as though he were dancing.

“Randall,” said Lampson, his voice a lost, dead sound.

“Randall, Randall,” Charters mimicked. He moved about quickly, this way and that, waving his hands, grinning. “This is much greater than Randall!”

Lampson was silent while Charters cracked his hands together. “The Moon,” Charters breathed. “The Moon!”

There was a loud shuffling outside the door then, and suddenly the door swung open and a wide-eyed man in the white coveralls stood, staring at Charters.

“What’s the matter?” said Charters, freezing.

“I can’t believe it,” said the man. “I really can’t believe it!”

“What, man?” said Charters, moving toward the door.

“Mr. Randall. He just climbed out of the rocket and walked away. Six seconds before it went up.”

Charters stopped, staring with wild eyes. His face colored. Rage choked his voice.

“WHY?” barked the man.

Lampson stood at the window, his eyes lighting. He smiled, then laughed. And far away, a gleaming yellow-finned rocket drove up, up, finding the path through space that would carry it, alone, past the Moon, to the Sun.