- Author: Richard Wilson
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ACE BOOKS, INC.
23 West 47th Street, New York 36, N.Y.
AND THEN THE TOWN TOOK OFF
Copyright �, 1960, by Ace Books, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
For Felicitas K. Wilson
THE SIOUX SPACEMAN
Copyright �, 1960, by Ace Books, Inc.
Printed in U.S.A.THE CITY THAT RAN OFF THE MAP
The town of Superior, Ohio, certainly was living up to its name! In what was undoubtedly the most spectacular feat of the century, it simply picked itself up one night and rose two full miles above Earth!
Radio messages stated simply that Superior had seceded from Earth. But Don Cort, stranded on that rising town, was beginning to suspect that nothing was simple about Superior except its citizens. Calmly they accepted their rise in the world as being due to one of their local townspeople, a crackpot professor.
But after a couple of weeks of floating around, it began to be obvious that the professor had no idea how to get them down. So then it was up to Cort: either find a way to anchor Superior, or spend the rest of his days on the smallest—and the nuttiest—planet in the galaxy!I
The town of Superior, Ohio, disappeared on the night of October 31.
A truck driver named Pierce Knaubloch was the first to report it. He had been highballing west along Route 202, making up for the time he'd spent over a second cup of coffee in a diner, when he screeched to a stop. If he'd gone another twenty-five feet he'd have gone into the pit where Superior had been.
Knaubloch couldn't see the extent of the pit because it was too dark, but it looked big. Bigger than if a nitro truck had blown up, which was his first thought. He backed up two hundred feet, set out flares, then sped off to a telephone.
The state police converged on the former site of Superior from several directions. Communicating by radiophone across the vast pit, they confirmed that the town undoubtedly was missing. They put in a call to the National Guard.
The guard surrounded the area with troops—more than a thousand were needed—to keep people from falling into the pit. A pilot who flew over it reported that it looked as if a great ice-cream scoop had bitten into the Ohio countryside.
The Pennsylvania Railroad complained that one of its passenger trains was missing. The train's schedule called for it to pass through but not stop at Superior at 11:58. That seemed to fix the time of the disappearance at midnight. The truck driver had made his discovery shortly after midnight.
Someone pointed out that October 31 was Halloween and that midnight was the witching hour.
Somebody else said nonsense, they'd better check for radiation. A civil defense official brought up a Geiger counter, but no matter how he shook it and rapped on it, it refused to click.
A National Guard officer volunteered to take a jeep down into the pit, having found a spot that seemed navigable. He was gone a long time but when he came out the other side he reported that the pit was concave, relatively smooth, and did not smell of high explosives. He'd found no people, no houses—no sign of anything except the pit itself.
The Governor of Ohio asked Washington whether any unidentified planes had been over the state. Washington said no. The Pentagon and the Atomic Energy Commission denied that they had been conducting secret experiments.
Nor had there been any defense plants in Superior that might have blown up. The town's biggest factory made kitchen sinks and the next biggest made bubble gum.
A United Airlines pilot found Superior early on the morning of November 1. The pilot, Captain Eric Studley, who had never seen a flying saucer and hoped never to see one, was afraid now that he had. The object loomed out of a cloudbank at twelve thousand feet and Studley changed course to avoid it. He noted with only minimum satisfaction that his co-pilot also saw the thing and wondered why it wasn't moving at the terrific speed flying saucers were allegedly capable of.
Then he saw the church steeple on it.
A few minutes later he had relayed a message from Superior, formerly of Ohio, addressed to whom it might concern:
It said that Superior had seceded from Earth.
One other radio message came from Superior, now airborne, on that first day. A ham radio operator reported an unidentified voice as saying plaintively:
"Cold up here!"
Don Cort had been dozing in what passed for the club car on the Buckeye Cannonball when the train braked to a stop. He looked out the window, hoping this was Columbus, where he planned to catch a plane east. But it wasn't Columbus. All he could see were some lanterns jogging as trainmen hurried along the tracks.
The conductor looked into the car. The redhead across the aisle in whom Don had taken a passing interest earlier in the evening asked, "Why did we stop?"
"Somebody flagged us down," the conductor said. "We don't make a station stop at Superior on this run."
The girl's hair was a subtle red, but false. When Don had entered the club car he'd seen her hatless head from above and noticed that the hair along the part was dark. Her eyes had been on a book and Don had the opportunity for a brief study of her face. The cheeks were full and untouched by make-up. There were lines at the corners of her mouth which indicated a tendency to arrange her expression into one of disapproval. The lips were full, like the cheeks, but it was obvious that the scarlet lipstick had contrived a mouth a trifle bigger than the one nature had given her.
Her glance upward at that moment interrupted his examination, which had been about to go on to her figure. Later, though, he was able to observe that it was more than adequate.
If the girl had given Don Cort more than that one glance, or if it had been a trained, all-encompassing glance, she would have seen a man in his mid-twenties—about her age—lean, tall and straight-shouldered, with once-blond hair now verging on dark brown, a face neither handsome nor ugly, and a habit of drawing the inside of his left cheek between his teeth and nibbling at it thoughtfully.
But it was likely that all she noticed then was the brief case he carried, attached by a chain to a handcuff on his left wrist.
"Will we be here long?" Don asked the conductor. He didn't want to miss his plane at Columbus. The sooner he got to Washington, the sooner he'd get rid of the brief case. The handcuff it was attached to was one reason why his interest in the redhead had been only passing.
"Can't say," the conductor told him. He let the door close again and went down to the tracks.
Don hesitated, shrugged at the redhead, said, "Excuse me," and followed the conductor. About a dozen people were milling around the train as it sat in the dark, hissing steam. Don made his way up to the locomotive and found a bigger knot of people gathered in front of the cowcatcher.
Some sort of barricade had been put up across the tracks and it was covered with every imaginable kind of warning device. There were red lanterns, both battery and electric; flashlights; road flares; and even an old red shirt.
Don saw two men who must have been the engineer and the fireman talking to an old bearded gentleman wearing a civil defense helmet, a topcoat and riding boots.
"You'd go over the edge, I tell you," the old gentleman was saying.
"If you don't get this junk off the line," the engineer said, "I'll plow right through it. Off the edge! you crazy or something?"
"Look for yourself," the old man in the white helmet said. "Go ahead. Look."
The engineer was exasperated. He turned to the fireman. "You look. Humor the old man. Then let's go."
The bearded man—he called himself Professor Garet—went off with the fireman. Don followed them. They had tramped a quarter of a mile along the gravel when the fireman stopped. "Okay," he said "where's the edge? I don't see nothing." The tracks seemed to stretch forever into the darkness.
"It's another half mile or so," the professor said.
"Well, let's hurry up. We haven't got all night."
The old man chuckled. "I'm afraid you have."
They came to it at last, stopping well back from it. Professor Garet swelled with pride, it seemed, as he made a theatrical gesture.
"Behold," he said. "Something even Columbus couldn't find. The edge of the world."
True, everything seemed to stop, and they could see stars shining low on the horizon where stars could not properly be expected to be seen.
Don Cort and the fireman walked cautiously toward the edge while the professor ambled ahead with the familiarity of one who had been there before. But there was a wind and they did not venture too close. Nevertheless, Don could see that it apparently was a neat, sharp edge, not one of your old ragged, random edges such as might have been caused by an explosion. This one had the feeling of design behind it.
Standing on tiptoe and repressing a touch of giddiness, Don looked over the edge. He didn't have to stand on tiptoe any more than he had to sit on the edge of his seat during the exciting part of a movie, but the situation seemed to call for it. Over the edge could be seen a big section of Ohio. At least he supposed it was Ohio.
Don looked at the fireman, who had an unbelieving expression on his face, then at the bearded old man, who was smiling and nodding.
"You see what I mean," he said. "You would have gone right over. I believe you would have had a two-mile fall."
"Of course you could have stayed aboard the train," the man driving the old Pontiac said, "but I really think you'll be more comfortable at Cavalier."
Don Cort, sitting in the back seat of the car with the redhead from the club car, asked, "Cavalier?"
"The college. The institute, really; it's not accredited. What did you say your name was, miss?"
"Jen Jervis," she said. "Geneva Jervis, formally."
"Miss Jervis. I'm Civek. You know Mr. Cort, I suppose."
The girl smiled sideways. "We have a nodding acquaintance." Don nodded and grinned.
"There's plenty of room in the dormitories," Civek said. "People don't exactly pound on the gates and scream to be admitted to Cavalier."
"Are you connected with the college?" Don asked.
"Me? No. I'm the mayor of Superior. The old town's really come up in the world, hasn't it?"
"Overnight," Geneva Jervis said. "If what Mr. Cort and the fireman say is true. I haven't seen the edge myself."
"You'll have a better chance to look at it in the morning," the mayor said, "if we don't settle back in the meantime."
"Was there any sort of explosion?" Don asked.
"No. There wasn't any sensation at all, as far as I noticed. I was watching the late show—or trying to. My house is down in a hollow and reception isn't very good, especially with old English movies. Well, all of a sudden the picture sharpened up and I could see just as plain. Then the phone rang and it was Professor Garet."
"The old fellow with the whiskers and the riding boots?" Jen Jervis asked.
"Yes. Osbert Garet, Professor of Magnology at the Cavalier Institute of Applied Sciences."
"Professor of what?"
"Magnology. As I say, the school isn't accredited. Well, Professor Garet telephoned and said, 'Hector'—that's my name, Hector Civek—'everything's up in the air.' He was having his little joke, of course. I said, 'What?' and then he told me."
"Told you what?" Jen Jervis asked. "I mean, does he have any theory about it?"
"He has a theory about everything. I think what he was trying to convey was that this—this levitation confirmed his magnology principle."
"What's that?" Don asked.
"I haven't the faintest idea. I'm a politician, not a scientist. Professor Garet went on about it for a while, on the telephone, about magnetism and gravity, but I think he was only calling as a courtesy, so the mayor wouldn't look foolish the next morning, not knowing his town had flown the coop."
"What's the population of Superior?"
"Three thousand, including the students at the institute. Three thousand and forty, counting you people from the train. I guess you'll be with us for a while."
"What do you mean by that?" Jen Jervis asked.
"Well, I don't see how you can get down. Do you?"
"Does Superior have an airport?" Don asked.