Excerpt of Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut
(Page 5 of 8)
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"Nothing would, then," said Groszinger.
"That's exactly right. I'd be a hell of a general if anything would. For all I know, the moon is made of green cheese. So what. All I want is a man out there to tell me that I'm hitting what I'm shooting at. I don't give a damn what's going on in outer space."
"Don't you see, sir?" said the radio operator. "Don't you see? It's an omen. When people find out about all the spirits out there they'll forget about war. They won't want to think about anything but the spirits."
"Relax, Sergeant," said the General. "Nobody's going to find out about them, understand?"
"You can't suppress a discovery like this," said Groszinger.
"You're nuts if you think I can't," said General Dane. "How're you going to tell anybody about this business without telling them we've got a rocket ship out there?"
"They've got a right to know," said the radio operator.
"If the world finds out we have that ship out there, that's the start of World War Three,"said the General. "Now tell me you want that. The enemy won't have any choice but to try and blow the hell out of us before we can put Major Rice to any use. And there'd be nothing for us to do but try and blow the hell out of them first. Is that what you want?"
"No, sir," said the radio operator. "I guess not, sir."
"Well, we can experiment, anyway," said Groszinger. "We can find out as much as possible about what the spirits are like. We can send Rice into a wider orbit to find out how far out he can hear the voices, and whether---"
"Not on Air Force funds, you can't," said General Dane. "That isn't what Rice is out there for. We can't afford to piddle around. We need him right there."
"All right, all right," said Groszinger. "Then let's hear what he has to say."
"Tune him in, Sergeant," said the General.
"Yes, sir." The radio operator fiddled with the dials. "He doesn't seem to be transmitting now, sir."The shushing noise of a transmitter cut into the hum of the loudspeaker. "I guess he's coming in again. Able Baker Fox, this is Dog Easy Charley---"
"King Two X-ray William Love, this is William Five Zebra Zebra King in Dallas," said the loudspeaker. The voice had a soft drawl and was pitched higher than Major Rice's.
A bass voice answered: "This is King Two X-ray William Love in Albany. Come in W5ZZK, I hear you well. How do you hear me? Over."
"You're clear as a bell, K2XWL---twenty-five thousand megacycles on the button. I'm trying to cut down on my drift with a---"
The voice of Major Rice interrupted. "I can't hear you clearly, Dog Easy Charley. The voices are a steady roar now. I can catch bits of what they're saying. Grantland Whitman, the Hollywood actor, is yelling that his will was tampered with by his nephew Carl. He says---"
"Say again, K2XWL,"said the drawling voice. "I must have misunderstood you. Over."
"I didn't say anything, W5ZZK. What was that about Grantland Whitman? Over."
"The crowd's quieting down," said Major Rice. "Now there's just one voice---a young woman, I think. It's so soft I can't make out what she's saying."
"What's going on, K2XWL? Can you hear me, K2XWL?"
"She's calling my name. Do you hear it? She's calling my name," said Major Rice.
"Jam the frequency, dammit!" cried the General. "Yell, whistle---do something!"
Early-morning traffic past the university came to a honking, bad-tempered stop, as Groszinger absently crossed the street against the light, on his way back to his office and the radio room. He looked up in surprise, mumbled an apology, and hurried to the curb. He had had a solitary breakfast in an all-night diner a block and a half from the laboratory building, and then he'd taken a long walk. He had hoped that getting away for a couple of hours would clear his head---but the feeling of confusion and helplessness was still with him. Did the world have a right to know, or didn't it?
Reprinted from Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by Kurt Vonnegut. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.