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"Have you considered studying law? Many young engineers want to s.p.a.ce-not many lawyers. But the Law goes everywhere. A man skilled in s.p.a.ce law and meta-law would be in a strong position."
"Why not both?" suggested Peewee's Daddy. "I deplore this modern overspecialization."
"That's an idea," agreed Mr. van Duivendijk. "He could then write his own terms."
I was about to say I should stick to electronics-when suddenly I knew what I wanted to do. "Uh, I don't think I could handle both."
"Nonsense!" Professor Reisfeld said severely.
"Yes, sir. But I want to make s.p.a.ce suits that work better. I've got some ideas."
"Mmm, that's mechanical engineering. And many other things, I imagine. But you'll need an M.E. degree." Professor Reisfeld frowned. "As I recall your tape, you pa.s.sed College Boards but hadn't been accepted by a good school." He drummed his desk. "Isn't that silly, Mr. Secretary? The lad goes to the Magellanic Clouds but can't go to the school he wants."
"Well, Professor? You pull while I push?"
"Yes. But wait." Professor Reisfeld picked up his phone. "Susie, get me the President of M.I.T. I know it's a holiday; I don't care if he's in Bombay or in bed; get him. Good girl." He put down the phone. "She's been with the Inst.i.tute five years and on the University switchboard before that. She'll get him."
I felt embarra.s.sed and excited. M.I.T.-anybody would jump at the chance. But tuition alone would stun you. I tried to explain that I didn't have the money. "I'll work the rest of this school and next summer-I'll save it."
The phone rang. "Reisfeld here. Hi, Oppie. At the cla.s.s reunion you made me promise to tell you if Bruck's tic started bothering him. Hold onto your chair; I timed it at twenty-one to the minute. That's a record. . . . Slow down; you won't send anybody, unless I get my pound of flesh. If you start your lecture on academic freedom and 'the right to know,' I'll hang up and call Berkeley. I can do business there-and I know I can here, over on the campus. . . . Not much, just a four-year scholarship, tuition and fees. . . . Don't scream at me; use your discretionary fund-or make it a wash deal in bookkeeping. You're over twenty-one; you can do arithmetic. . . . Nope, no hints. Buy a pig in a poke or your radiation lab won't be in on it. Did I say 'radiation lab'? I meant the entire physical science department. You can flee to South America, don't let me sway you. . . . What? I'm an embezzler, too. Hold it." Professor Reisfeld said to me, "You applied for M.I.T.?"
"Yes, sir, but-"
"He's in your application files, 'Clifford C. Russell.' Send the letter to his home and have the head of your team fetch my copy. . . . Oh, a broad team, headed by a mathematical physicist-Farley, probably; he's got imagination. This is the biggest thing since the apple konked Sir Isaac. . . . Sure, I'm a blackmailer, and you are a chair warmer and a luncheon speaker. When are you returning to the academic life? . . . Best to Beulah. 'Bye."
He hung up. "That's settled. Kip, the one thing that confuses me is why those worm-faced monsters wanted me."
I didn't know how to say it. He had told me only the day before that he had been correlating odd data-unidentified sightings, unexpected opposition to s.p.a.ce travel, many things that did not fit. Such a man is likely to get answers-and be listened to. If he had a weakness, it was modesty-which he hadn't pa.s.sed on to Peewee. If I told him that invaders from outer s.p.a.ce had grown nervous over his intellectual curiosity, he would have pooh-poohed it. So I said, "They never told us, sir. But they thought you were important enough to grab."
Mr. van Duivendijk stood up. "Curt, I won't waste time listening to nonsense. Russell, I'm glad your schooling is arranged. If you need me, call me."
When he was gone, I tried to thank Professor Reisfeld. "I meant to pay my way, sir. I would have earned the money before school opens again."
"In less than three weeks? Come now. Kip."
"I mean the rest of this year and-"
"Waste a year? No."
"But I already-" I looked past his head at green leaves in their garden. "Professor . . . what date is it?"
"Why, Labor Day, of course."
("-forthwith to the s.p.a.ce-time whence they came.") Professor Reisfeld flipped water in my face. "Feeling better?"
"I-I guess so. We were gone for weeks."
"Kip, you've been through too much to let this shake you. You can talk it over with the stratosphere twins-" He gestured at Giomi and Bruck. "-but you won't understand it. At least I didn't. Why not a.s.sume that a hundred and sixty-seven thousand light-years leaves room for Tennessee windage amounting to only a hair's breadth of a fraction of one per cent? Especially when the method doesn't properly use s.p.a.ce-time at all?"
When I left, Mrs. Reisfeld kissed me and Peewee blubbered and had Madame Pompadour say good-bye to Oscar, who was in the back seat because the Professor was driving me to the airport.
On the way he remarked, "Peewee is fond of you."
"Uh, I hope so."
"And you? Or am I impertinent?"
"Am I fond of Peewee? I certainly am! She saved my life four or five times." Peewee could drive you nuts. But she was gallant and loyal and smart-and had guts.
"You won a life-saving medal or two yourself."
I thought about it. "Seems to me I fumbled everything I tried. But I had help and an awful lot of luck." I shivered at how luck alone had kept me out of the soup-real soup.
" 'Luck' is a question-begging word," he answered. "You spoke of the 'amazing luck' that you were listening when my daughter called for help. That wasn't luck."
"Huh? I mean, 'Sir'?"
"Why were you on that frequency? Because you were wearing a s.p.a.ce suit. Why were you wearing it? Because you were determined to s.p.a.ce. When a s.p.a.ce ship called, you answered. If that is luck, then it is luck every time a batter hits a ball. Kip, 'good luck' follows careful preparation; 'bad luck' comes from sloppiness. You convinced a court older than Man himself that you and your kind were worth saving. Was that mere chance?"
"Uh . . . fact is, I got mad and almost ruined things. I was tired of being shoved around."
"The best things in history are accomplished by people who get 'tired of being shoved around.' " He frowned. "I'm glad you like Peewee. She is about twenty years old intellectually and six emotionally; she usually antagonizes people. So I'm glad she has gained a friend who is smarter than she is."
My jaw dropped. "But, Professor, Peewee is much smarter than I am. She runs me ragged."
He glanced at me. "She's run me ragged for years-and I'm not stupid. Don't downgrade yourself, Kip."
"It's the truth."
"So? The greatest mathematical psychologist of our time, a man who always wrote his own ticket even to retiring when it suited him-very difficult, when a man is in demand-this man married his star pupil. I doubt if their offspring is less bright than my own child."
I had to untangle this to realize that he meant me. Then I didn't know what to Say. How many kids really know their parents? Apparently I didn't.
He went on, "Peewee is a handful, even for me. Here's the airport. When you return for school, please plan on visiting us. Thanksgiving, too, if you will-no doubt you'll go home Christmas."
"Uh, thank you, sir. I'll be back."
"Uh, about Peewee-if she gets too difficult, well, you've got the beacon. The Mother Thing can handle her."
"Mmm, that's a thought."
"Peewee tries to get around her but she never does. Oh-I almost forgot. Whom may I tell? Not about Peewee. About the whole thing."
"Isn't that obvious?"
"Tell anybody anything. You won't very often. Almost no one will believe you."
I rode home in a courier jet-those things go fast. Professor Reisfeld had insisted on lending me ten dollars when he found out that I had only a dollar sixty-seven, so I got a haircut at the bus station and bought two tickets to Centerville to keep Oscar out of the luggage compartment; he might have been damaged. The best thing about that scholarship was that now I needn't ever sell him-not that I would.
Centerville looked mighty good, from elms overhead to the chuckholes under foot. The driver stopped near our house because of Oscar; he's clumsy to carry. I went to the barn and racked Oscar, told him I'd see him later, and went in the back door.
Mother wasn't around. Dad was in his study. He looked up from reading. "Hi, Kip."
"Uh, I didn't go to the lake."
"I know. Dr. Reisfeld phoned-he briefed me thoroughly."
"Oh. It was a nice trip-on the whole." I saw that he was holding a volume of the Britannica, open to "Magellanic Clouds."
He followed my glance. "I've never seen them," he said regretfully. "I had a chance once, but I was busy except one cloudy night."
"When was that. Dad?"
"In South America, before you were born."
"I didn't know you had been there."
"It was a cloak-and-daggerish government job-not one to talk about. Are they beautiful?"
"Uh, not exactly." I got another volume, turned to "Nebulae" and found the Great Nebula of Andromeda. "Here is beauty. That's the way we look."
Dad sighed. "It must be lovely."
"It is. I'll tell you all about it. I've got a tape, too."
"No hurry. You've had quite a trip. Three hundred and thirty-three thousand light-years-is that right?"
"Oh, no, just half that."
"I meant the round trip."
"Oh. But we didn't come back the same way."
"I don't know how to put it, but in these ships, if you make a jump, any jump, the short way back is the long way 'round. You go straight ahead until you're back where you started. Well, not 'straight' since s.p.a.ce is curved-but straight as can be. That returns everything to zero."
"A cosmic great-circle?"
"That's the idea. All the way around in a straight line."
"Mmm-" He frowned thoughtfully. "Kip, how far is it, around the Universe? The red-shift limit?"
I hesitated. "Dad, I asked-but the answer didn't mean anything." (The Mother Thing had said, "How can there be 'distance' where there is nothing?") "It's not a distance; it's more of a condition. I didn't travel it; I just went. You don't go through, you slide past."
Dad looked pensive. "I should know not to ask a mathematical question in words."
I was about to suggest that Dr. Bruck could help when Mother sang out: "h.e.l.lo, my darlings!"
For a split second I thought I was hearing the Mother Thing.
She kissed Dad, she kissed me. "I'm glad you're home, dear."
"Uh-" I turned to Dad.
"Yes," Mother agreed in a warm indulgent tone, "and I don't mind where my big boy goes as long as he comes home safely. I know you'll go as far as you want to." She patted my cheek. "And I'll always be proud of you. Myself, I've just been down to the corner for another chop."
Next morning was Tuesday, I went to work early. As I expected, the fountain was a mess. I put on my white jacket and got cracking. Mr. Charton was on the phone; he hung up and came over. "Nice trip. Kip?"
"Very nice, Mr. Charton."
"Kip, there's something I've been meaning to say. Are you still anxious to go to the Moon?"
I was startled. Then I decided that he couldn't know.
Well, I hadn't seen the Moon, hardly, I was still eager-though not as much in a hurry. "Yes, sir. But I'm going to college first."
"That's what I mean. I- Well, I have no children. If you need money, say so."
He had hinted at pharmacy school-but never this. And only last night Dad had told me that he had bought an education policy for me the day I was born-he had been waiting to see what I would do on my own. "Gee, Mr. Charton, that's mighty nice of you!"
"I approve of your wanting an education."
"Uh, I've got things lined up, sir. But I might need a loan someday."
"Or not a loan. Let me know." He bustled away, plainly fussed.
I worked in a warm glow, sometimes touching the happy thing, tucked away in a pocket. Last night I had let Mother and Dad put it to their foreheads. Mother had cried; Dad said solemnly, "I begin to understand, Kip." I decided to let Mr. Charton try it when I could work around to it. I got the fountain shining and checked the air conditioner. It was okay.
About midafternoon Ace Quiggle came in, plunked himself down. "Hi, s.p.a.ce Pirate! What do you hear from the Galactic Overlords? Yuk yuk yukkity yuk!"
What would he have said to a straight answer? I touched the happy thing and said, "What'll it be. Ace?"
"My usual, of course, and snap it up!"
"A choc malt?"
"You know that. Look alive. Junior! Wake up and get hep to the world around you."