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Sound of Terror   By:

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[Illustration: Illustrated by Ed Emsh]

What is more frightening than the fear of the unknown? Johnny found out!

SOUND OF TERROR

BY DON BERRY

The day was still no more than a ragged streak of red in the east; the pre dawn air was sharply cold, making Johnny Youngbear's face feel slightly brittle as he dressed quietly in the gray bedroom.

He sat down on the bed, pulling on his boots, and felt his wife stir sleepily beneath the covers. Suddenly she stiffened, sat upright in the bed, startled into wakefulness. Johnny put one dark, bony hand on her white shoulder, gently, reassuring. After a moment, finding herself, she turned away and lit a cigarette. Johnny finished pulling on his boots and stood, his hawk like face unreadable in the cold gray light streaming through the huge picture window.

"Johnny?" said his wife hesitantly.

He murmured an acknowledgement, watching the bright flare of color as she drew on the cigarette. Her soft, dark hair was coiled loosely around her shoulders, very black against the pale skin. Her eyes were invisible in shadow, and Johnny could not read their expression. He turned away, knowing she was watching him.

"Be careful," she said simply.

"Try," he said. Then he shrugged. "Not my day, anyway."

"I know," she said. "But be careful."

He left the house and walked out into the chill desert dawn. He turned his face to the brightness in the east, trying to catch a little warmth, but could not.

He warmed up the jeep, listening to the engine grumble protest until it settled to a flat, banging roar. He swerved out of the driveway with a screaming of tires. Reaching the long ribbon of concrete that led out into the desert, he settled down hard on the accelerator, indifferent to the whining complaint of the jeep's motor.

It was eight miles from his sprawling house to the Mesa Dry Lake launching site, due east, into the sun. He pulled to the top of Six Mile Hill and stopped in the middle of the highway. Two miles ahead was Launching Base I, throwing long, sharp shadows at him in the rosy dawn light. A cluster of squat, gray blockhouses; a long runway tapering into the distance with an Air Force B 52 motionless at the near end; that was all.

Except the Ship.

The Ship towered high, dominating the desert like a pinnacle of bright silver. Even silhouetted against the eastern sky, it sparkled and glistened. Impassive it stood, graceful, seeming to strain into the sky, anxious to be off and gone. The loading gantry was a dark, spidery framework beside The Ship, leaning against it, drawing strength from its sleek beauty.

Johnny watched it in silence for a moment, then turned his eyes up, to the sky. Somewhere up there a tiny satellite spun wildly about the earth, a little silver ball in some celestial roulette wheel. Gradually it would spiral closer and closer, caught by the planet's implacable grasp, until it flared brightly like a cigarette in the heavens before dissolving into drops of molten metal.

But it would have served its purpose. In its short life it would have given Man knowledge; knowledge of space, knowledge enough that he could go himself, knowing what he would find in the emptiness between the earth and the moon. Or knowing nearly.

What's it like out there?

The satellite answered partly; the Ship would answer more.

Johnny slammed the jeep into gear, hurtled down the other side of Six Mile Hill. Through his mind ran the insistent repetition of an old song he knew, and he hummed it tunelessly through closed teeth.

I had a true wife but I left her ... oh, oh, oh.

The jeep skidded to a halt beside Control. Mitch Campbell's green station wagon was already there, creaking and settling as the motor cooled.

Control was full of people; Air Force brass, technicians, observers, enlisted men of indiscernible purpose. The room hummed with the muted buzz of low, serious conversation... Continue reading book >>




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