DON’T believe it.” The astronomer was looking into the telescope.
“Believe what?” asked Sam. It was dark inside the observatory.
“I don’t believe what I see.”
“What do you see?”
“Here take a look.” The astronomer stepped aside so Sam could look into the eyepiece.
“Where is it? I can’t find it.”
“See the two brightest specks of light in the center? It’s the one on the right. The irregular shaped one. The other one is Mars.”
“Okay. I see it. It’s so far away that it’s hard to tell what it is. It looks something like a teddy bear. A brown and white teddy bear.”
“It’s good to hear you say that. That’s what it looks like to me, too.”
“What is it really?”
“I don’t know. No one’s reported it, and it’s not on the charts. It’s no toy. It’s big, it’s heavy, and it’s heading this way.”
“How big? How heavy?”
“Can’t tell yet. We can only guess. It’s fifty thousand miles away, so judge for yourself. Maybe five, ten miles from top to bottom.”
Sam tried to imagine a five mile tall teddy bear. “Shouldn’t we tell somebody about it? I mean, if it’s coming this way—”
“I’ve been meaning to. Turn on that light switch over there. I’m going to call Palomar right now and get them to confirm it.”
“They’ll think we’re nuts.”
“I’m not going to tell them what it is. Just get them to look at it. Let’s see, where’s that stupid number? Ah here it is.” The astronomer dialed the long-distance number on a wall telephone. There was a wait of a few seconds while the connection was made.
“Hello . . . yes it’s me again . . . don’t give me that stuff tonight. This is a good one . . . no I don’t even know what it is. Just set your sights on Mars and you’ll see it. It’s coming this way so make it snappy. Let me know the minute you get anything on it, okay? . . . Thanks. Good night to you, too. Bye.” The astronomer hung up. “They’ll check it out and call me back.”
“It won’t hit the earth will it?” asked Sam.
“I hope not. It’s approaching at an incredible rate of speed. We wouldn’t have much time.”
“What would happen if it did collide?”
“I shudder at the thought. But it would have to be aimed just right. It’ll probably flash right by.”
“Like a comet?”
“Unlike any comet anyone has ever seen before. People could panic when they see a giant teddy bear in the sky. In fact it might be visible now without the aid of a telescope, though it certainly wouldn’t be recognizable. Let’s go outside and see.”
The night was cool and windy but clear. There was a full moon, and all of the stars shone rather than sparkled. “I don’t see anything unusual,” said Sam.
“It’s there. I can see it,” said the astronomer. He was pointing. “See that bright speck? That’s Mars. Now look just to the right of Mars and up a hair. It’s a real dim point of light, like a distant star.”
“That is a star, isn’t it?”
“No. It’s the bear. There shouldn’t be a star there. Anyway not a bright enough one to be visible without a telescope, as that is. Let’s go back inside. I don’t want to miss Palomar.”
They were climbing the stairs to the dome when the telephone rang. The astronomer ran ahead, and by the time Sam reached the top of the stairs the astronomer was engaged in excited conversation: “ . . . I don’t blame you. I had trouble believing it myself . . . I’m sorry I didn’t call you last night when I discovered it. It was just a speck then and I wasn’t sure it was anything unusual . . . that’s bad . . . oh no . . . but that’s just a little over an hour from now! . . . You do that. Call the Air Force. Better yet call the President. There’s got to be something somebody can do. We can’t go down like this . . . Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“That was Mount Palomar?”
“Yes. With bad news. The bear will collide with the earth in about an hour if it maintains its present speed and course. Should such a collision occur, it will be the end of the world. The bear is as large and as heavy as a small planet.”
“The real end of the world?”
“The one and only end of the world.”
That’s terrible. But who would do such a thing? Where is this bear coming from?”
“The astronomers at Mount Palomar think it’s coming from Mars. But as to the question of why, nobody there has any ideas.”
“What’s it made of?”
“Its mass is too great to be just rock, even solid rock. It could be similar in composition to a meteorite, containing a mixture of iron and nickel.”
Through the telescope the bear was noticeably larger. But there was still nothing in its appearance to distinguish it from an ordinary child’s toy. Its head, arms, and legs were brown. Its belly, snout, ears, and ends of its arms and legs were white. A black line across the snout suggested a mouth, and the head accessories were completed by a pair of round eyes.
By now it was on television. On a portable set downstairs Sam and the astronomer watched grim faced newscasters chart in somber tones the bear’s approach. Pictures taken from other larger telescopes showed new details, such as fur. There was no panic, only a kind of bleak resignation. Many people had gathered in churches to pray and sing hymns. Others went outside and sat on chairs and blankets to watch, aided by whatever telescopes or binoculars that they possessed.
Sam was so engrossed with the television that he had noticed without being consciously aware of it that his companion had stepped outside, leaving the door to the observatory open. Almost immediately the astronomer rushed back in and began shaking Sam out of his stupor. “The bear!” he cried. “Come out and look at the bear!” He started to pull on Sam. Then he fell to his knees, sobbing.
Sam left the astronomer and hurried out through the open door. The bear was plainly recognizable in the night sky, almost as big and as bright as the moon. Sam braced himself, and retraced his steps to where the astronomer, having apparently regained his composure, was struggling to his feet.
Sam picked up the portable television with one hand and offered his other hand to the astronomer for support. “We still have a few minutes. Let’s go up to the telescope.” The astronomer leaned on Sam heavily, so it was all of two minutes before they arrived at the top of the stairs. But by then the astronomer could stand by himself. Sam set the television on the floor and plugged it in. They would wait here to the end.
The astronomer went immediately to the telescope. “The bear is so big that I can actually see it coming closer. It expands slowly but steadily. Wait. What’s this? It’s being towed by two flying saucers!”
“Let me look,” said Sam. Sure enough, two small, silvery discs were pulling the huge bear. The towlines were faintly visible. “And now the bear has stopped! It’s not getting any closer! The flying saucers are disconnecting from the bear! They’re leaving the bear!”
“Follow them with the telescope. Where are they going?”
Sam activated the controls to the telescope. Electric motors whirred, and there was a rumbling noise as the large overhead dome turned. “They’ve arrived at the moon! They’re hooking up their lines to the moon! They’re taking the moon away!"
“Sam, the President is on television.”
Both turned to watch. The President had already started his speech: “ . . . I come to you tonight, fellow citizens, humble and apologetic for what just happened. In my secret negotiations with the Martians, I agreed to trade our moon for one of theirs, completely forgetting that a rich man on Mars had carved it into the shape of a teddy bear to amuse his children.
“I realize now that there was no excuse for my blunder at that negotiating session. But it had been a bad day from the beginning . . . ”
“So the whole thing was just a lot of bureaucratic bungling,” moaned Sam.
The astronomer turned off the television. “I told you what would happen if that bunch got in.”