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IV

  • SEE, what we really wanted was an ocean liner.
  • The rest of us probably would have been happy enough to stay in Lehigh County, but Arthur was getting restless.
  • He was a terrible responsibility, in a way. I suppose there were a hundred thousand people or so left in the country, and not more than forty or fifty of them were like Arthur—I mean if you want to call a man in a prosthetic tank a “person.” But we all did. We’d got pretty used to him. We’d shipped together in the war—and survived together, as a few of the actual fighters did, those who were lucky enough to be underwater or high in the air when the ICBMs landed—and as few civilians did.
  • I mean there wasn’t much chance for surviving, for anybody who happened to be breathing the open air when it happened. I mean you can do just so much about making a “clean” H-bomb, and if you cut out the long-life fission products, the short-life ones get pretty deadly.
  • Anyway, there wasn’t much damage, except of course that everybody was dead.
  • All the surface vessels lost their crews. All the population of the cities were gone. And so then, when Arthur slipped on the gangplank coming into Newport News and broke his fool neck, why, we had the whole staff of the  _Sea Sprite_  to work on him. I mean what else did the surgeons have to do?
  • Of course, that was a long time ago.
  • But we’d stayed together. We headed for the farm country around Allentown, Pennsylvania, because Arthur and Vern Engdahl claimed to know it pretty well.
  • I think maybe they had some hope of finding family or friends, but naturally there wasn’t any of that. And when you got into the inland towns, there hadn’t been much of an attempt to clean them up. At least the big cities and the ports had been gone over, in some spots anyway, by burial squads. Although when we finally decided to move out and went to Philadelphia—
  • Well, let’s be fair; there had been fighting around there after the big fight.
  • Anyway, that wasn’t  so very uncommon. That was one of the reasons that for a long time—four or five years, at any rate—we stayed away from big cities.
  • We holed up in a big farmhouse in Lehigh County. It had its own generator from a little stream, and that took care of Arthur’s power needs; and the previous occupants had been just crazy about stashing away food. There was enough to last a century, and that took care of the two of us. We appreciated that. We even took the old folks out and gave them a decent burial. I mean they’d all been in the family car, so we just had to tow it to a gravel pit and push it in.
  • The place had its own well, with an electric pump and a hot-water system—oh, it was nice. I was sorry to leave but, frankly, Arthur was driving us nuts.
  • We never could make the television work—maybe there weren’t any stations near enough. But we pulled in a couple of radio stations pretty well and Arthur got a big charge out of listening to them—see, he could hear four or five at a time and I suppose that made him feel better than the rest of us.
  • He heard that the big cities were cleaned up and every one of them seemed to want immigrants—they were pleading, pleading all the time, like the TV-set and vacuum-cleaner people used to in the old days; they guaranteed we’d like it if we only came to live in Philly, or Richmond, or Baltimore, or wherever. And I guess Arthur kind of hoped we might find another pross. And then—well, Engdahl came up with this idea of an ocean liner.
  • It figured. I mean you get out in the middle of the ocean and what’s the difference what it’s like on land? And it especially appealed to Arthur because he wanted to do some surface sailing. He never had when he was real—I mean when he had arms and legs like anybody else. He’d gone right into the undersea service the minute he got out of school.
  • And—well, sailing was what Arthur knew something about and I suppose even a prosthetic man wants to feel useful. It was like Amy said: He could be hooked up to an automated factory—
  • Or to a ship.
  • HQ for the Major’s Temporary Military Government—that’s what the sign said—was on the 91st floor of the Empire State Building, and right there that tells you something about the man. I mean you know how much power it takes to run those elevators all the way up to the top? But the Major must have liked being able to look down on everybody else.
  • Amy Bankhead conducted me to his office and sat me down to wait for His Military Excellency  to arrive. She filled me in on him, to some degree. He’d been an absolute nothing before the war; but he had a reserve commission in the Air Force, and when things began to look sticky, they’d called him up and put him in a Missile Master control point, underground somewhere up around Ossining.
  • He was the duty officer when it happened, and naturally he hadn’t noticed anything like an enemy aircraft, and naturally the anti-missile missiles were still rusting in their racks all around the city; but since the place had been operating on sealed ventilation, the duty complement could stay there until the short half-life radioisotopes wore themselves out.
  • And then the Major found out that he was not only in charge of the fourteen men and women of his division at the center—he was ranking United States Military Establishment officer farther than the eye could see. So he beat it, fast as he could, for New York, because what Army officer doesn’t dream about being stationed in New York? And he set up his Temporary Military Government—and that was nine years ago.
  • If there hadn’t been plenty to go around, I don’t suppose he would have lasted a week—none of these city chiefs would have. But as things were, he was in on the ground floor, and as newcomers trickled into the city, his boys already had things nicely organized.
  • It was a soft touch.
  • WELL, we were about a week getting settled in New York and things were looking pretty good. Vern calmed me down by pointing out that, after all, we had to sell Arthur, and hadn’t we come out of it plenty okay?
  • And we had. There was no doubt about it. Not only did we have a fat price for Arthur, which was useful because there were a lot of things we would have to buy, but we both had jobs working for the Major.
  • Vern was his specialist in the care and feeding of Arthur and I was his chief of office routine—and, as such, I delighted his fussy little soul, because by adding what I remembered of Navy protocol to what he was able to teach me of Army routine, we came up with as snarled a mass of red tape as any field-grade officer in the whole history of all armed forces had been able to accumulate.
  • Oh, I tell you, nobody sneezed in New York without a report being made out in triplicate, with eight endorsements.
  • Of course there wasn’t anybody to send them to, but that didn’t stop the Major. He said with determination: “Nobody’s ever going to chew  _me_  out for non-compliance with regulations—even if I have to invent the regulations myself!”
  • We set up in a bachelor apartment on Central Park South—the Major had the penthouse; the whole building had been converted to barracks—and the first chance we got, Vern snaffled some transportation and we set out to find an ocean liner.
  • See, the thing was that an ocean liner isn’t easy to steal. I mean we’d scouted out the lay of the land before we ever entered the city itself, and there were plenty of liners, but there wasn’t one that looked like we could just jump in and sail it away. For that we needed an organization. Since we didn’t have one, the best thing to do was borrow the Major’s.
  • Vern turned up with Amy Bankhead’s MG, and he also turned up with Amy. I can’t say I was displeased, because I was beginning to like the girl; but did you ever try to ride three people in the seats of an MG? Well, the way to do it is by having one passenger sit in the other passenger’s lap, which would have been all right except that Amy insisted on driving.
  • We headed downtown and over to the West Side. The Major’s Topographical Section—one former billboard artist—had prepared road maps with little red-ink Xs marking the streets that were blocked, which was most of the streets; but we charted a course that would take us where we wanted to go. Thirty-fourth Street was open, and so was Fifth Avenue all of its length, so we scooted down Fifth, crossed over, got under the Elevated Highway and whined along uptown toward the Fifties.
  • “There’s one,” cried Amy, pointing.
  • I was on Vern’s lap, so I was making the notes. It was a Fruit Company combination freighter-passenger vessel. I looked at Vern, and Vern shrugged as best he could, so I wrote it down; but it wasn’t exactly what we wanted. No, not by a long shot.
  • STILL, the thing to do was to survey our resources, and then we could pick the one we liked best. We went all the way up to the end of the big-ship docks, and then turned and came back down, all the way to the Battery. It wasn’t pleasure driving, exactly—half a dozen times we had to get out the map and detour around impenetrable jams of stalled and empty cars—or anyway, if they weren’t exactly empty, the people in them were no longer in shape to get out of our way. But we made it.
  • We counted sixteen ships in dock that looked as though they might do for our purposes. We had to rule out the newer ones and the reconverted jobs. I mean, after all, U-235 just lasts so long, and  you can steam around the world on a walnut-shell of it, or whatever it is, but you can’t store it. So we had to stick with the ships that were powered with conventional fuel—and, on consideration, only oil at that.
  • But that left sixteen, as I say. Some of them, though, had suffered visibly from being left untended for nearly a decade, so that for our purposes they might as well have been abandoned in the middle of the Atlantic; we didn’t have the equipment or ambition to do any great amount of salvage work.
  • The  _Empress of Britain_  would have been a pretty good bet, for instance, except that it was lying at pretty nearly a forty-five-degree angle in its berth. So was the  _United States_ , and so was the _Caronia_. The _Stockholm_  was straight enough, but I took a good look, and only one tier of portholes was showing above the water—evidently it had settled nice and even, but it was on the bottom all the same. Well, that mud sucks with a fine tight grip, and we weren’t going to try to loosen it.
  • All in all, eleven of the sixteen ships were out of commission just from what we could see driving by.
  • Vern and I looked at each other. We stood by the MG, while Amy sprawled her legs over the side and waited for us to make up our minds.
  • “Not good, Sam,” said Vern, looking worried.
  • I said: “Well, that still leaves five. There’s the  _Vulcania_ , the _Cristobal_ —”
  • “Too small.”
  • “All right. The  _Manhattan_ , the  _Liberté_  and the  _Queen Elizabeth_.”
  • Amy looked up, her eyes gleaming. “Where’s the question?” she demanded.
  • “Naturally, it’s the _Queen_.”
  • I tried to explain. “Please, Amy. Leave these things to us, will you?”
  • “But the Major won’t settle for anything but the best!”
  • “The  _Major_?”
  • I GLANCED at Vern, who wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Well,” I said, “look at the problems, Amy. First we have to check it over. Maybe it’s been burned out—how do we know? Maybe the channel isn’t even deep enough to float it any more—how do we know? Where are we going to get the oil for it?”
  • “We’ll get the oil,” Amy said cheerfully.
  • “And what if the channel isn’t deep enough?”
  • “She’ll float,” Amy promised. “At high tide, anyway. Even if the channel hasn’t been dredged in ten years.”
  • I shrugged and gave up. What  was the use of arguing?
  • We drove back to the  _Queen Elizabeth_  and I had to admit that there was a certain attraction about that big old dowager. We all got out and strolled down the pier, looking over as much as we could see.
  • The pier had never been cleaned out. It bothered me a little—I mean I don’t like skeletons much—but Amy didn’t seem to mind. The  _Queen_  must have just docked when it happened, because you could still see bony queues, as though they were waiting for customs inspection.
  • Some of the bags had been opened and the contents scattered around—naturally, somebody was bound to think of looting the  _Queen_. But there were as many that hadn’t been touched as that had been opened, and the whole thing had the look of an amateur attempt. And that was all to the good, because the fewer persons who had boarded the  _Queen_  in the decade since it happened, the more chance of our finding it in usable shape.
  • Amy saw a gangplank still up, and with cries of girlish glee ran aboard.
  • I plucked at Vern’s sleeve. “You,” I said. “What’s this about what the _Major_  won’t settle for less than?”
  • He said: “Aw, Sam, I had to tell her something, didn’t I?”
  • “But what about the Major—”
  • He said patiently: “You don’t understand. It’s all part of my plan, see? The Major is the big thing here and he’s got a birthday coming up next month.
  • Well, the way I put it to Amy, we’ll fix him up with a yacht as a birthday present, see? And, of course, when it’s all fixed up and ready to lift anchor—”
  • I said doubtfully: “That’s the hard way, Vern. Why couldn’t we just sort of get steam up and take off?”
  • He shook his head. “ _That_  is the hard way. This way we get all the help and supplies we need, understand?”
  • I shrugged. That was the way it was, so what was the use of arguing?
  • But there was one thing more on my mind. I said: “How come Amy’s so interested in making the Major happy?”
  • Vern chortled. “Jealous, eh?”
  • “I asked a question!”
  • “Calm down, boy. It’s just that he’s in charge of things here so naturally she wants to keep in good with him.”
  • I scowled. “I keep hearing stories about how the Major’s chief interest in life is women. You sure she isn’t ambitious to be one of them?”
  • He said: “The reason she wants to keep him happy is so she  _won’t_  be one of them.”