If There Were No Benny Cemoli
Scampering across the unplowed field the three boys shouted as they saw the ship: it had landed, all right, just where they expected, and they were the first to reach it.
“Hey, that’s the biggest I ever saw!” Panting, the first boy halted. “That’s not from Mars; that’s from farther. It’s from all the way out, I know it is.” He became silent and afraid as he saw the size of it. And then looking up into the sky he realized that an armada had arrived, exactly as everyone had expected. “We better go tell,” he said to his companions.
Back on the ridge, John LeConte stood by his steam-powered chauffeur-driven limousine, impatiently waiting for the boiler to warm. Kids got there first, he said to himself with anger. Whereas I’m supposed to. And the children were ragged; they were merely farm boys.
“Is the phone working today?” LeConte asked his secretary.
Glancing at his clipboard, Mr. Fall said, “Yes, sir. Shall I put through a message to Oklahoma City?” He was the skinniest employee ever assigned to LeConte’s office. The man evidently took nothing for himself, was positively uninterested in food. And he was efficient.
LeConte murmured, “The immigration people ought to hear about this outrage.”
He sighed. It had all gone wrong. The armada from Proxima Centauri had after ten years arrived and none of the early-warning devices had detected it in advance of its landing. Now Oklahoma City would have to deal with the outsiders here on home ground – a psychological disadvantage which LeConte felt keenly.
Look at the equipment they’ve got, he thought as he watched the commercial ships of the flotilla begin to lower their cargos. Why, hell, they make us look like provincials. He wished that his official car did not need twenty minutes to warm up; he wished –
wished that CURB did not exist.
Centaurus Urban Renewal Bureau, a do-gooding body unfortunately vested with enormous inter-system authority. It had been informed of the Misadventure back in 2170 and had started into space like a phototropic organism, sensitive to the mere physical light created by the hydrogen-bomb explosions. But LeConte knew better than that. Actually the governing organizations in the Centaurian system knew many details of the tragedy because they had been in radio contact with other planets of the Sol system. Little of the native forms on Earth had survived. He himself was from Mars; he had headed a relief mission seven years ago, had decided to stay because there were so many opportunities here on Earth, conditions being what they were…
This is all very difficult, he said to himself as he stood waiting for his steam-powered car to warm. We got here first, but CURB does outrank us; we must face that awkward fact. In my opinion, we’ve done a good job of rebuilding. Of course, it isn ‘t like it was before… but ten years is not long. Give us another twenty and we’ll have the trains running again. And our recent road-building bonds sold quite successfully, in fact were oversubscribed.
“Call for you, sir, from Oklahoma City,” Mr. Fall said, holding out the receiver of the portable field-phone.
“Ultimate Representative in the Field John LeConte, here,” LeConte said into it loudly. “Go ahead; I say go ahead.”
“This is Party Headquarters,” the dry official voice at the other end came faintly, mixed with static, in his ear. “We’ve received reports from dozens of alert citizens in Western Oklahoma and Texas of an immense – “