"There's no point in making a mistake unless you understand the mistake so that you don’t make it again."
- Alfred Bester
||Powerful enough to destroy a flying city.
|The cities hung poised tensely in their orbits. For seconds, nothing happened.
Then pear-shaped, bumpy police battleships began springing out of nothingness around the jungle. Almost instantly, four cities raved into boiling clouds of gas.
The Dinwiddie pickup in the proxy backed itself hurriedly down the intensity scale until it could see again through the glare. The cities were still hanging there, seemingly stunned—as was Amalfi, for he had not imagined that Earth could have come to such a pass. Only an ideal combination of guilt and savagery could have produced so murderous a response; but evidently the president and MacMillan made up between them the necessary combination …
“Fight!” the King’s voice roared. “Fight, you lunkheads! They’re going to wipe us out! Fight!”
Another city went up. The cops were using Bethé blasters; the Dinwiddie circuit, stopped down to accommodate the hydrogen-helium explosions, could not pick up the pale guide beams of the weapons; it would have been decidedly difficult to follow the King’s order effectively.
But the city of Buda-Pesht was already sweeping forward out of the head of the cone, arcing toward Earth. It spat murder back at the police ships, and actually caught one. The mass of incandescent, melting metal appeared as a dim blob in Amalfi’s helmet, then faded out again. A few cities followed the King; then a larger number; and then, suddenly, a great wave.
“MacMillan, stop them! I’ll have you shot! They’re going to invade—”
New police craft sprang into being every second. A haze gradually began to define the area of the Okie encampment: a planetary nebula of gas molecules, dust, and condensations of metal and water vapor. Through it the Bethé guide beams played, just on the edge of visibility now, but the sun, too, was acting on the cloud, and the whole mass was beginning to re-radiate, casting a deepening luminous veil over the whole scene, about which the Dinwiddie circuit could do very little. The whole spectacle reminded Amalfi of NGC 1435 in Taurus, with exploding cities substituting novas for the Pleiades.
But there were more novas than the cities could account for, novas outside the cone of the encampment. The police craft, Amalfi noted with amazement, were beginning to burst almost as fast as they appeared. The swarming, disorganized cities were fighting back; but their inherent inefficiency as fighting machines ruled them out as the prime causes of such heavy police losses. Something else, something new was happening—something utterly deadly was loose among the cops …
|From Cities in Flight,
by James Blish.
Published by Avon in 1957
Additional resources -
The blaster used a guide beam to first illuminate the target:
Then there was nothing left but the skeleton of the city, glowing whitely, evaporating in the blackness. The pale, innocent light of the guide beam for a Bethé blaster played over it, but it was still impossible to see who was wielding the weapon.
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