originally appeared in the may-june 1947 through sept-oct 1947 issues of the magazine of excitement and illumination
part one of three
bud bradley watched through the glass dome of spaceport 3-a as the mission to arcturus blasted off.
gosh darn it! he wished he was on it.
but it was the explorer corps that was manning the ships to arcturus.
and bud was in the defense corps - charged with defending earth against any invaders who might show up from the depths of space.
the invaders who never showed up.
year after year the explorer corps blasted off with the cheers of billions ringing in their ears, earning glory and honors as earth's empire increased in size and scope.
and year after year the defense corps stayed on earth. training, training, eternally training - for the so far non-existent invaders.
how many times had bud and the other fellows in his outfit read the accounts in the official and unofficial history books, and watched the grainy old films showing the congressional hearings back in the 1950's in which it had been decided that the two separate space corps should be established.
it had seemed like a good idea at the time.
professor mordred, the most respected scientist on earth, had testified that it was a certainty that there were intelligent beings in other solar systems and galaxies. and that it was a virtual certainty that some of them would take notice when humans began probing outer space.
and that they probably would regard the earthlings as a threat.
and seek to eliminate them before they got too far into space.
therefore it was imperative that a strong space defense corps be established, and that the boldest and bravest and truest humans be encouraged to join it.
bud's dad and older brother jud had been among the first to rally to the new green white and blue colors of the defense corps.
twenty years had gone by. earth had become one nation under the guiding hand of the space exploration commission, which had brought peace and freedom and justice to the world.
there had been no more war. only peaceful cooperation among all the peoples of the earth in the great enterprise of exploring and colonizing space.
bud's dad, colonel buck bradley, had finally retired without ever firing a shot at an alien. he had been promoted to the rank of general before being eased out, but it was small consolation.
of course when buck had retired he had said all the right things - the same things jud and bud and all the other fellows were taught to say whenever the subject came up - with civilians and especially journalists - that they sure were glad there was peace, because even though they were ready any time, nobody wanted war, blah, blah.
that's what they were taught to say.
but they wanted to see some action, gosh darn it!
here it was almost 1980, and still not an invader in sight!
the last glimmer of blast fumes from the ship to arcturus vanished into the summer air outside the spaceport.
a green light came on over the door to the launching pad. this was a signal from the ship that take off had gone with 100% smoothness and that they were safely on their way to arcturus.
a cheer broke out from the crowd.
bud joined in, along with the man he was accompanying, colonel hank moresby.
colonel moresby, who had the title, for what it was worth, of operations officer of the defense corps, was attending as the representative of the corps, and bud was his assistant.
assistant operations officer of the whole defense corps - it sure sounded swell, all right !
when the cheering subsided, colonel moresby took a deep breath and looked around. he tried not to be too obvious about it but his eyes roamed over toward the spaceport bar.
the slight twitching of his graying mustache under his red nose signaled that he hadn't had his first drink of the day.
the bradleys and the moresbys had crossed swords in the war between the states, the bradleys with the blue and the moresbys with the gray. bud respected colonel moresby as a fine officer. but the long inactivity was getting to everybody, he understood that.
"well." the colonel cleared his throat. "there's more than one way to celebrate this momentous occasion." he looked frankly over toward the bar. "oh, no."
bud and the colonel both saw her at the same time.
florinda farquharson, ace reporter for the spaceport sentinel.
of the pittsburgh and newport farquharsons.
with her trademark brown derby hat with the red feather in it.
and her old-fashioned three piece suit, which, bud had to admit, she filled out quite nicely.
and no doubt, her same stupid questions which she never seemed to tire of asking.
"i can take care of her, colonel, " said bud. "if you like," he quickly added.
"oh, please do, bud." the colonel started to move away. "please do."
but florinda was already upon them. "good afternoon, gentlemen," she smiled.
the colonel made a slight bow to her. "good afternoon to you, miss farquharson. it's always a pleasure to see you here on these historic occasions."
florinda affected to look around the inside dock area. most of the people who had been in attendance had already left, either to the bar or to the cabs and limousines lined up outside the port. "not so historic as all that, do you think? these things are getting are sort of old hat."
"exploring the universe and advancing the cause of humanity are never old hat, miss farquharson, " the colonel replied with a smile.
"really?" florinda smiled back. "but i didn't see the president here."
"i am sure president harrison had something important to attend to," the colonel answered.
"and no speaker grimsby? no professor wetherall? and - not to make light of you fine gentlemen, not even any general ormswell? poor sparky - he hardly had anyone to take a picture of."
"perhaps," bud told her, "the unblemished safety record of the space program and the explorer corps has given the public a feeling that little suspense is attached to these events. but that does not mark them as any less historic - or detract in any way from the heroism and dedication of all involved."
"by thunder, that's well said!" colonel moresby cried. "you see, miss farquharson, what a way with words my assistant has. i'll leave you with him, no doubt he will have even more fine things to say." he bowed to her again and turned to leave.
"very well. if you happen to see sparky in - the refreshment area, colonel, tell him i won't keep him waiting long."
"i will do that." the colonel left.
florinda watched him cross the now almost empty expanse to the bar. "poor man, i guess he didn't want to hear my exciting news."
"you have news, miss farquharson?" bud almost felt like yawning in her face. he was familiar with, and up to her tricks.
"indeed i do. news that just might knock your navy blue socks off."
"news? or some sort of rumors?"
"i suppose some people might classify them as rumors."
"rumors from - where, exactly? the senate? the committee of world safety?"
"oh, no. from an observatory. a scientific observatory in the south pole somewhere."
"i see." bud looked around. the dock area was now deserted. they were effectively alone.
"you remember my cousin antoine, don't you?"
"um - i'm not sure that i do."
"come on, bud, stop being such a big stuffed shirt like you don't even know me. you must have met him at roberta rowlandson's ball, last christmas."
"i'm sorry, florinda, i really don't think i do remember him." antoine? maybe that twerpy little guy with horn rimmed glasses and a green bow tie?
"well, whether you remember him or not, he has a pretty exciting story."
"really? exciting enough for anybody to pass on to president harrison or professor wetherell?'
"they might have." florinda lowered her voice. "that just might be why neither of them were here this afternoon."
"you don't say." bud had heard this sort of thing before - from florinda and other reporters. suddenly he had a craving for a big glass of tomato juice or carrot juice. and a good run around the spaceport.
he knew it was rude, but he glanced down at his two-way wrist watch.
bud was just important enough to have a little blue light on the face of his watch.
a little blue light that would shine if there were ever a confirmed invasion.