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THE FIRST ONE

By HERBERT D. KASTLE

Illustrated by von Dongen

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Analog July 1961. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

The first man to return from beyond the Great Frontier may be welcomed ... but will it be as a curiosity, rather than as a hero...?

There was the usual welcoming crowd for a celebrity, and the usual speeches by the usual politicians who met him at the airport which had once been twenty miles outside of Croton, but which the growing city had since engulfed and placed well within its boundaries. But everything wasn't usual. The crowd was quiet, and the mayor didn't seem quite as at ease as he'd been on his last big welcoming for Corporal Berringer, one of the crew of the spaceship Washington , first to set Americans upon Mars. His Honor's handclasp was somewhat moist and cold. His Honor's eyes held a trace of remoteness.

Still, he was the honored home comer, the successful returnee, the hometown boy who had made good in a big way, and they took the triumphal tour up Main Street to the new square and the grandstand. There he sat between the mayor and a nervous young coed chosen as homecoming queen, and looked out at the police and fire department bands, the National Guard, the boy scouts and girl scouts, the Elks and Masons. Several of the churches in town had shown indecision as to how to instruct their parishioners to treat him. But they had all come around. The tremendous national interest, the fact that he was the First One, had made them come around. It was obvious by now that they would have to adjust as they'd adjusted to all the other firsts taking place in these as the newspapers had dubbed the start of the Twenty first Century the Galloping Twenties.

He was glad when the official greeting was over. He was a very tired man and he had come farther, traveled longer and over darker country, than any man who'd ever lived before. He wanted a meal at his own table, a kiss from his wife, a word from his son, and later to see some old friends and a relative or two. He didn't want to talk about the journey. He wanted to forget the immediacy, the urgency, the terror; then perhaps he would talk.

Or would he? For he had very little to tell. He had traveled and he had returned and his voyage was very much like the voyages of the great mariners, from Columbus onward long, dull periods of time passing, passing, and then the arrival.

The house had changed. He saw that as soon as the official car let him off at 45 Roosevelt Street. The change was, he knew, for the better. They had put a porch in front. They had rehabilitated, spruced up, almost rebuilt the entire outside and grounds. But he was sorry. He had wanted it to be as before.

The head of the American Legion and the chief of police, who had escorted him on this trip from the square, didn't ask to go in with him. He was glad. He'd had enough of strangers. Not that he was through with strangers. There were dozens of them up and down the street, standing beside parked cars, looking at him. But when he looked back at them, their eyes dropped, they turned away, they began moving off. He was still too much the First One to have his gaze met.

He walked up what had once been a concrete path and was now an ornate flagstone path. He climbed the new porch and raised the ornamental knocker on the new door and heard the soft music sound within. He was surprised that he'd had to do this. He'd thought Edith would be watching at a window.

And perhaps she had been watching ... but she hadn't opened the door.

The door opened; he looked at her. It hadn't been too long and she hadn't changed at all. She was still the small, slender girl he'd loved in high school, the small, slender woman he'd married twelve years ago. Ralphie was with her. They held onto each other as if seeking mutual support, the thirty three year old woman and ten year old boy... Continue reading book >>




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