The humming grew louder, louder, higher, higher, wilder, stranger, more exhilarating, trembling in him and leaning him forward and pulling him and the ship in a roaring silence and in a kind of metal screaming, while his fists flew over the controls, and his shut eyes quivered, and the sound grew and grew until it was a fire, a strength, a lifting and a pushing of power that threatened to tear him in half. He gasped. He hummed again and again, and did not stop, for it could not be stopped, it could only go on, his eyes tighter, his heart furious. “Taking off!” he screamed.The jolting concussion! The thunder! “The Moon!” he cried, eyes blind, tight. “The meteors!”The silent rush in volcanic light. “Mars. Oh, God, Mars! Mars!”
He fell back, exhausted and panting. His shaking hands came loose of the controls and his head tilted back wildly. He sat for a long time, breathing out and in, his heart slowing.
Slowly, slowly, he opened his eyes.
The junk yard was still there.
He sat motionless. He looked at the heaped piles of metal for a minute, his eyes never leaving them. Then, leaping up, he kicked the levers. “Take off, damn you!”
The ship was silent.
“I’ll show you!” he cried.
Out in the night air, stumbling, he started the fierce motor of his terrible wrecking machine and advanced upon the rocket. He maneuvered the massive weights into the moonlit sky. He readied his trembling hands to plunge the weights, to smash, to rip apart this insolently false dream, this silly thing for which he had paid his money, which would not move, which would not do his bidding. “I’ll teach you!” he shouted.
But his hand stayed.
The silver rocket lay in the light of the moon. And beyond the rocket stood the yellow lights of his home, a block away, burning warmly. He heard the family radio playing some distant music. He sat for half an hour considering the rocket and the house lights, and his eyes narrowed and grew wide. He stepped down from the wrecking machine and began to walk, and as he walked he began to laugh, and when he reached the back door of his house he took a deep breath and called, “Maria, Maria, start packing. We’re going to Mars!”
“I can’tbelieve it!”
“You will, you will.”
The children balanced in the windy yard, under the glowing rocket, not touching it yet. They started to cry.
Maria looked at her husband. “What have you done?” she said. “Taken our money for this? It will never fly.”
“It will fly,” he said, looking at it.
“Rocket ships cost millions. Have you millions?”
“It will fly,” he repeated steadily. “Now, go to the house, all of you. I have phone calls to make, work to do. Tomorrow we leave! Tell no one, understand? It is a secret.”
The children edged off from the rocket, stumbling. He saw their small, feverish faces in the house windows, far away.
Maria had not moved. “You have ruined us,” she said. “Our money used for this—this thing. When it should have been spent on equipment.”
“You will see,” he said.
Without a word she turned away.
“God help me,” he whispered, and started to work.
Through the midnight hours trucks arrived, packages were delivered, and Bodoni, smiling, exhausted his bank account. With blowtorch and metal stripping he assaulted the rocket, added, took away, worked fiery magics and secret insults upon it. He bolted nine ancient automobile motors into the rocket’s empty engine room. Then he welded the engine room shut, so none could see his hidden labor.
At dawn he entered the kitchen. “Maria,” he said, “I’m ready for breakfast.”
She would not speak to him.
At sunset he called to the children. “We’re ready! Come on!” The house was silent.
“I’ve locked them in the closet,” said Maria.
“What do you mean?” he demanded.
“You’ll be killed in that rocket,” she said. “What kind of rocket can you buy for two thousand dollars? A bad one!”
“Listen to me, Maria.”
“It will blow up. Anyway, you are no pilot.”
“Nevertheless, I can flythis ship. I have fixed it.”