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Measure for a Loner

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SO, GENERAL, I came in to tell you I've found the loneliest man in the world for the Space Force.

How am I supposed to rate his loneliness for you? In Megasorrows or Kilofears? I suspect I know quite a library on the subject, but you know more about stripes and bars. Don't try to stop me this time, General.

Now that you mention it, I'm not drunk. I had to have something to back me up so I stopped off at the dispensary and stole a needle.

I want you to get off my back with that kind of talk. I've got enough there—it bends me over like I had bad kidneys. It isn't any of King Kong's little brothers. They over rate the stuff. It isn't the way you've been riding me either. Never mind what I'm carrying. Whatever it is—and believe me, it is—I have to get rid of it.

Let me tell it, for God's sake.

Then for Security's sake? I thought you would let me tell it, General.

I've been coming in here and giving you pieces of it for months but now I want to let you be drenched in the whole thing. You're going to take it all.

There were the two of them, the two lonely men, and I found them for you.

You remember the way I found them for you.

The intercom on my blond desk made an electronic noise at me and the words I had been arranging in my mind for the morning letters splattered into alphabet soup like a printer dropping a prepared slug of type.

I made the proper motion to still the sound.

"Yes," I grunted.

My secretary cleared her throat on my time.

"Dr. Thorn," she said, "there's a Mr. Madison here to see you. He lays claim to be from the Star Project."

He could come in and file his claim, I told the girl.

I rummaged in the wastebasket and uncrumpled the morning's facsimile newspaper. It was full of material about the Star Project.

We were building Man's first interstellar spaceship.

A surprising number of people considered it important. Flipping from the rear to page one, Wild Bill Star in the comics who had been blasting all the way to forty-first sub-space universe for decades was harking back to the good old days of Man's first star flight (which he had made himself through the magic of time travel), the editor was calling the man to make the jaunt the Lindbergh of Space, and the staff photographer displayed a still of a Space Force pilot in pressure suit up front with his face blotted out by an air-brushed interrogation mark.

Who was going to be the Lindbergh of Space?

We had used up the Columbus of Space, the Magellan of Space, the Van Reck of Space. Now it was time for the Lone Eagle, one man who would wait out the light years to Alpha Centauri.

I remembered the first Lindbergh.

I rode a bus fifty miles to see him at an Air Force Day celebration when I was a dewy-eared kid. It's funny how kids still worship heroes who did everything before they were even born. Uncle Max had told me about standing outside the hospital with a bunch of boys his own age the evening Babe Ruth died of cancer. Lindbergh seemed like an old man to me when I finally saw him, but still active. Nobody had forgotten him. When his speech was over I cheered him with the rest just as if I knew what he had been talking about....