The old man turned at last and said, “Come along. I would actually have let you walk right out of my house. I am a cowardly old fool.”
Faber opened the bedroom door and led Montag into a small chamber where stood a table upon which a number of metal tools lay among a welter of microscopic wire-hairs, tiny coils, bobbins, and crystals.
“What’s this?” asked Montag.
“Proof of my terrible cowardice. I’ve lived alone so many years, throwing images on walls with my imagination. Fiddling with electronics, radio-transmission, has been my hobby. My cowardice is of such a passion, complementing the revolutionary spirit that lives in its shadow, I was forced to design this.”
He picked up a small green-metal object no larger than a .22 bullet.
“I paid for all this-how? Playing the stock-market, of course, the last refuge in the world for the dangerous intellectual out of a job. Well, I played the market and built all this and I’ve waited. I’ve waited, trembling, half a lifetime for someone to speak to me. I dared speak to no one. That day in the park when we sat together, I knew that some day you might drop by, with fire or friendship, it was hard to guess. I’ve had this little item ready for months. But I almost let you go, I’m that afraid!”
“It looks like a Seashell radio.”
“And something more! It listens! If you put it in your ear, Montag, I can sit comfortably home, warming my frightened bones, and hear and analyse the firemen’s world, find its weaknesses, without danger. I’m the Queen Bee, safe in the hive. You will be the drone, the travelling ear. Eventually, I could put out ears into all parts of the city, with various men, listening and evaluating. If the drones die, I’m still safe at home, tending my fright with a maximum of comfort and a minimum of chance. See how safe I play it, how contemptible I am?”
Montag placed the green bullet in his ear. The old man inserted a similar object in his own ear and moved his lips.
The voice was in Montag’s head.
“I hear you! ”
The old man laughed. “You’re coming over fine, too!” Faber whispered, but the voice in Montag’s head was clear. “Go to the firehouse when it’s time. I’ll be with you. Let’s listen to this Captain Beatty together. He could be one of us. God knows. I’ll give you things to say. We’ll give him a good show. Do you hate me for this electronic cowardice of mine? Here I am sending you out into the night, while I stay behind the lines with my damned ears listening for you to get your head chopped off.”
“We all do what we do,” said Montag. He put the Bible in the old man’s hands. “Here.
I’ll chance turning in a substitute. Tomorrow–”
“I’ll see the unemployed printer, yes; that much I can do.”
“Good night, Professor.”
“Not good night. I’ll be with you the rest of the night, a vinegar gnat tickling your ear when you need me. But good night and good luck, anyway.”
The door opened and shut. Montag was in the dark street again, looking at the world.
You could feel the war getting ready in the sky that night. The way the clouds moved aside and came back, and the way the stars looked, a million of them swimming between the clouds, like the enemy discs, and the feeling that the sky might fall upon the city and turn it to chalk dust, and the moon go up in red fire; that was how the night felt.
Montag walked from the subway with the money in his pocket (he had visited the bank which was open all night and every night with robot tellers in attendance) and as he walked he was listening to the Seashell radio in one car… “We have mobilized
a million men. Quick victory is ours if the war comes .. ..” Music flooded over the voice quickly and it was gone.
“Ten million men mobilized,” Faber’s voice whispered in his other ear. “But say one million. It’s happier.”