“I’m glad you’re enjoying your employment.” Braling licked his lips nervously.
“I’m afraid you don’t understand. I think—I’m in love with her.”
Braling took another step and froze. “You’rewhat?”
“And I’ve been thinking,” said Braling Two, “how nice it is in Rio and how I’ll never get there, and I’ve thought about your wife and—I think we could be very happy.”
“T-that’s nice.” Braling strolled as casually as he could to the cellar door. “You won’t mind waiting a moment, will you? I have to make a phone call.”
“To whom?” Braling Two frowned.
“No one important.”
“To Marionettes, Incorporated? To tell them to come get me?”
“No, no—nothing like that!” He tried to rush out the door. A metal-firm grip seized his wrists. “Don’t run!”
“Take your hands off!”
“Did my wife put you up to this?”
“Did she guess? Did she talk to you? Does she know? Is that it?” He screamed. A hand clapped over his mouth.
“You’ll never know, will you?” Braling Two smiled delicately. “You’ll never know.”
Braling struggled. “Shemust have guessed; shemust have affected you!”
Braling Two said, “I’m going to put you in the box, lock it, and lose the key. Then I’ll buy another Rio ticket for your wife.”
“Now, now, wait a minute. Hold on. Don’t be rash. Let’s talk this over!”
Braling stiffened. “What do you mean, ‘good-by’?”
Ten minutes later Mrs. Braling awoke. She put her hand to her cheek. Someone had just kissed it. She shivered and looked up. “Why—you haven’t done that in years,” she murmured.
“We’ll see what we can do about that,” someone said.
* * *
THE city waited twenty thousand years.
The planet moved through space and the flowers of the fields grew up and fell away, and still the city waited; and the rivers of the planet rose and waned and turned to dust. Still the city waited. The winds that had been young and wild grew old and serene, and the clouds of the sky that had been ripped and torn were left alone to drift in idle whitenesses. Still the city waited.
The city waited with its windows and its black obsidian walls and its sky towers and its unpennanted turrets, with its untrod streets and its untouched doorknobs, with not a scrap of paper or a fingerprint upon it. The city waited while the planet arced in space, following its orbit about a blue-white sun, and the seasons passed from ice to fire and back to ice and then to green fields and yellow summer meadows.
It was on a summer afternoon in the middle of the twenty thousandth year that the city ceased waiting.
In the sky a rocket appeared.
The rocket soared over, turned, came back, and landed in the shale meadow fifty yards from the obsidian wall.
There were booted footsteps in the thin grass and calling voices from men within the rocket to men without.
“All right, men. Careful! Into the city. Jensen, you and Hutchinson patrol ahead. Keep a sharp eye.”
The city opened secret nostrils in its black walls and a steady suction vent deep in the body of the city drew storms of air back through channels, through thistle filters and dust collectors, to a fine and tremblingly delicate series of coils and webs which glowed with silver light. Again and again the immense suctions occurred; again and again the odors from the meadow were borne upon warm winds into the city.
“Fire odor, the scent of a fallen meteor, hot metal. A ship has come from another world. The brass smell, the dusty fire smell of burned powder, sulphur, and rocket brimstone.”
This information, stamped on tapes which sprocketed into slots, slid down through yellow cogs into further machines.
A calculator made the sound of a metronome. Five, six, seven, eight nine. Nine men! An instantaneous typewriter inked this message on tape which slithered and vanished.
The city awaited the soft tread of their rubberoid boots.
The great city nostrils dilated again.
The smell of butter. In the city air, from the stalking men, faintly, the aura which wafted to the great Nose broke down into memories of milk, cheese, ice cream, butter, the effluvium of a dairy economy.