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The Stutterer   By:

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A man can be killed by a toy gun he can die of fright, for heart attacks can kill. What, then, is the deadly thing that must be sealed away, forever locked in buried concrete a thing or an idea?

Illustrated by Riley


Out of the twenty only one managed to escape the planet. And he did it very simply, merely by walking up to the crowded ticket window at one of the rocket ports and buying passage to Earth. His Army identification papers passed the harassed inspection of the agent, and he gratefully and silently pocketed the small plastic stub that was handed him in exchange for his money.

He picked his way with infinite care through the hordes of ex soldiers clamoring for passage back to the multitudinous planets from which they had come. Then he slowly climbed the heavy ramp into the waiting rocket.

He saw with relief that the seats were strongly constructed, built to survive the pressure of many gravities and he chose one as far removed as possible from the other passengers.

He was still very apprehensive, and, as he waited for the rocket to take off, he tried hard to remember the principles of the pulse drive that powered the ship, and whether his additional weight would upset its efficiency enough to awaken suspicion.

The seats filled quickly with excited hurrying passengers. Soon he heard the great door clang shut, and saw the red light flicker on, warning of the take off. He felt a slow surge of pressure as the ship arose from the ground, and his chair creaked ominously with the extra weight. He became fearful that it might collapse, and he strained forward trying to shift some of the pressure through his feet to the floor. He sat that way, tense and immobile, for what seemed a long time until abruptly the strain was relieved and he heard the rising and falling whine of the rockets that told him the ship was in pulse drive, flickering back and forth across the speed of light.

He realized that the pilots had not discovered his extra weight, and that the initial hazards were over. The important thing was to look like a passenger, a returning soldier like the others, so that no one would notice him and remember his presence.

His fellow travelers were by this time chatting with one another, some playing cards, and others watching the teledepth screens. These were the adventurers who had flocked from all corners of the galaxy to fight in the first national war in centuries. They were the uncivilized few who had read about battle and armed struggle in their history books and found the old stories exciting.

They paid no attention to their silent companion who sat quietly looking through the quartz windows at the diamond bright stars, tacked against the blackness of infinity.

The fugitive scarcely moved the entire time of the passage. Finally when Earth hung out in the sky like a blue balloon, the ship cut its pulsations and swung around for a tail landing.

The atmosphere screamed through the fins of the rocket, and the continents and the countries, and then the rivers and the mountains took shape. The big ship settled down as gently as a snowflake, shuddered a few times and was quiet.

The passengers hurriedly gathered up their scattered belongings and pushed toward the exit in a great rush to be out and back on Earth.

The fugitive was the last to leave. He stayed well away from the others, being fearful that, if he should touch or brush up against someone, his identity might be recognized.

When he saw the ramp running from the ship to the ground, he was dismayed. It seemed a flimsy structure, supported only by tubular steel. Five people were walking down it, and he made a mental calculation of their weight about eight hundred pounds he thought. He weighed five times that. The ramp was obviously never built to support such a load.

He hesitated, and then he realized that he had caught the eye of the stewardess waiting on the ground... Continue reading book >>

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