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It was scary.
Four and a half billion years of natural history had spawned creatures with brontosaurian appetites for competition. Now a contest spanning "only" the last few hundred centuries had spread human beings from pole to pole and put two giant nation-states in the running for first place. Whatever advantages big brains had been exapted to some 250,000 years ago, they were certainly being put to higher use today. The same frontal lobes that once fashioned stone tools and herded mammoths into waiting traps could also plot the overthrow of governments, or probe geometry and the realm of atoms. Given the right incentives, there seemed no limit to what human minds could do.
And there were incentives.
Both the Soviet Union and the United States sought almost instinctively to establish a universal empire. But neither could do so without moving the other out of the way, and neither could move the other out of the way without first incurring a great loss, and each had too much to lose. The result of all this was a whole new brand of competition called "cold war." And so, inevitably...
Down there on Earth, a point of light appeared suddenly in the east, rising vertically and depositing behind itself a column of vapors that stood away from Earth like a white-hot needle. Blazing there, the upshooting light flung itself toward Alaska, its trail becoming horizontal and running parallel with the curving Pacific skin. It began to look as if it might fall back upon the atmosphere, but no, it stayed there in the farthersky, a piece of the planet detached.
On the Saturday morning of October 4 in the otherwise uneventful year of 1957, Homo sapiens had become adult.
It was scary.
They'd come from Mars, or somewhere, and they were a particularly nasty lot, too. They damned near flattened Washington -- mummies in space suits! But Hugh Marlowe kept his head and came through. Undaunted by the fact that they could get here and we couldn't get there (an argument that might have persuaded less clever men to throw in the towel), he sought their weakness, and found it. Simple sound waves. That's all there was to it. So, as the people fled and the army came to pieces and the Capitol burned, Hugh drew his sonic cannon and began to raise all sorts of mischief with the invaders' guidance computers. Flying saucers tilted and swayed as if driven by drunkards. One skidded right through the Washington Monument. And then, the screen went blank.
If you stood outside the old movie house in downtown Stratford, Connecticut, that afternoon, you would have heard hundreds of kids screaming and clapping and making ghost noises in the dark, their hooting carrying right through the brick walls. The projectionist had really goofed up, and he was paying for it. As the theater lights came up to full strength, the unendurable noise rose in a steady crescendo until -- uh-oh, now they'd done it. They'd brought the theater manager striding down the center aisle, and, boy, did he look mad. They knew they'd made too much noise. Knew it. It looked like the matinee was over for today. The manager mounted the stage, and, boy, did he look mad? No. He looked too pale to be mad.. And he was trembling. Something must really be wrong.
He waited for silence. He didn't have to wait very long.
"I want to tell you something," he said. "I want to tell you that the Russians have put a space satellite into orbit around Earth. They call it Sputnik."
The silence was unbroken for a moment. Then for another. At last, an enraged voice cried out, "Oh, go show the movie, you liar!" And the film did come back on, and Hugh Marlowe did wage interplanetary war, and a ten-year-old Stephen King, who loved nothing better than to scare the living daylights out of people, sat alone and depressed and afraid, because he knew the manager wasn't lying.
On the screen ahead, alien spaceships menaced Washington, while somewhere on the other side of the sky a Russian machine flew where no plane could possibly intercept it, loaded, for all Steve knew, with atomic bombs. At any moment, the plutonium fist could come down on the real Washington, D.C., or on Stratford. He did not like the connection between that and what he was seeing on the screen. Science fiction and reality had touched, intimately, and they kept on touching.
"Look to your skies," the aliens said threateningly. "A warning will come from your skies. Look to your skies."
Mike Solan was scared.
His new boss at Baltimore's Martin Marietta Company was one of those German rocket scientists, and Mike somehow got the impression that the man was using him to get even for the way World War II had turned out. He was a sour personality, all right. He had little patience for anything, especially all the red tape -- mountains of paperwork that the U.S. government was forever sending his way. And then Mike's draft notice came across his desk. Here was a young bachelor working in a comfortable office, one who had never been in the military and was counting on the company to get his "Renewal of Deferment" every year, as usual, and this German had shrugged at the piece of paper that meant nothing less than Mike's whole future, then scribbled "engineer" in the space marked "Job Description" and sent it off to the draft board. Fine job, Mike thought. You just don't. do things like that in America. The guy had been around long enough to know better, to know that what you did with draft notices was submit a ten-page report saying that your employee was working in every program the company had, and if he went into the service, everything would come to a screeching halt in Baltimore, and that would cause a major crisis in the national defense and-Christ!...Chariots for Apollo. Copyright � by Charles Pellegrino. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.