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Charley de Milo   By: (1933-2002)

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Illustrated by Emsh

It isn't at all obvious at first thought that having two perfectly good, usable arms could be a real handicap to a man....

"To be, or not to be that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms ..." Hamlet , Act III, Scene I

The rocket was on the way up, but Professor Lightning didn't seem to care. Outside the cooktent Wrout flapped his arms and, on that signal, Seaman started up the big electric band, whooping it up with John Philip Sousa for openers, while all over the midway the lights snapped on, big whites and yellows, reds, greens, purples and dusky violets framing, in a titillating dimness, the front flap of the girlie tent. The outside talkers were busy outside the spectacle tents like Wicks' Hell Drivers, Biggest Auto Show in Fifty States outside the grind shows, the eats, the rides: "Here and now, for the fourth part of one single dollar bill, the most amazing ..." "... Terrifying and strange beings from the farthest reaches of the Earth who will exhibit ..." "... Dances learned at the Court of the Sultan, Ay rab dances right here, right on the inside, for only "

And the crowd, filing in, laughed and chattered and shrieked on swooping rides, the Great Crane, the Space Race, the Merry Go Round and the Horses, threw down money to win a kewpie doll, a Hawaiian lei, a real life size imitation scale model of Luna in three real dimensions ... living it up on the first show, while the rocket climbed on and out, and bubbled excitement in the blood.

The rocket was up: the carnival was open. But Professor Lightning didn't seem to care. He sat in the cooktent with his eyes hooded and hidden under the unshaded glow of a hundred and fifty watt Forever bulb, while Charley de Milo fidgeted his feet, and listened, and tried to cut the old man off.

"Look, professor," he said nervously, "why don't we talk about it later? Table it, till after the show?" He scratched the side of his head with his left foot. "I got to go on in a couple of minutes," he said. "I can hear the talker going now. I got to "

"Forget the show," Professor Lightning said. His voice was flatter and harsher, and his face more tense, than Charley ever remembered seeing it. "The show isn't important."

Charley blinked, trying to understand. "But, Professor "

"Listen to me," Professor Lightning said. "The world is at the beginning of a new cultural revolution. Since the Cold War melted, and freedom of inquiry and research began to live again on both sides of the old Iron Curtain, science has begun a new Renaissance. The cultural interflow has "

"Please, professor," Charley said miserably, rubbing his toes together. "There isn't much time before I got to go on. And you ought to be inside the Science tent, too, because any minute "

"If I am not in the tent," Professor Lightning said calmly, "I will not appear in the show. It does not matter."

"But they'll fire you," Charley said. He grabbed for a cigarette with his right foot and got it into his mouth. Striking a match with his left foot, he lit the cigarette and blew out a long, ragged plume of smoke. "If you're not there on time," he said in strained tones, "they'll fire you. And what about me?"

Professor Lightning gestured with both big hands. It was the same movement he used every night, when he showed the crowd there were no wires or batteries secreted on his person. Charley half expected him to grab hold of a couple of light bulbs and show them glowing in his fists. But the gesture was meant, this time, as an aid to relaxation. "Don't worry," Professor Lightning said, in a grating sort of caricature of a soothing tone. "If they fire me ... well, then, they save me the trouble of quitting. And as for you, my boy, a carnival job should be the furthest thing from your thoughts... Continue reading book >>

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