The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Viii Part 28

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"But we must find something for him to do," said another. "We can't have an idle person in the State. It's unthinkable."

"But what?" asked the Chief. "He's utterly incapable of running any of the machines. I've tried to teach him. The only things he can do, are already being done much better by robots."

There was a long silence, broken at last by one little, old council member.

"I have it," he cried. "The very thing. We'll make him guard of the Treasure."

"But there's no need of a guard. No one will touch the Treasure without permission. We haven't had a dishonest person in the State for more than three thousand years."



"That's it, exactly. There aren't any dishonest people, so there won't be anything for him to do. But we will have solved the problem of his idleness."

"It might be a solution," said the Chief. "At least, a temporary one. I suppose we will have to find something else later on. But this will give us time to look for something."

So I became guard of the Treasure. With a badge. And nothing to do--unless you count watching the Key. The gates were kept locked, just as they were in the old days, but the large Key hung beside them. Of course, no one wanted to bother carrying it around. It was too heavy. The only ones who ever used it, anyway, were members of the council. As the man said, we haven't had a dishonest person in the State for thousands of years. Even I know that much.

Of course, this left me with lots of time on my hands. That's how I happened to get her in the first place. I'd always wanted one, but pets were forbidden. Busy people didn't have time for them. So I knew I was breaking the Law. But I figured that no one would ever find out.

First I fixed a place for her, and made a brush screen, so that she couldn't be seen by anyone coming to the gates. Then, one night, I sneaked into the forest and got her.

It wasn't so lonely after that. Now I had something to talk to. She was small when I got her--it would be too dangerous to go near a full grown one--but she grew rapidly. That was because I caught small animals and brought them to her. Not having to depend on what she could catch, she grew almost twice as fast as usual, and was so sleek and pretty. Really, she was a pet to be proud of.

I don't know how I could have stood the four months there alone, if I hadn't her to talk to. I don't think she really understood me, but I pretended she did, and that helped.

Every three or four weeks, three of the council members came to take a part of the Treasure, or to add to it. Always three of them.

That's why I was so surprised one day, to see one man coming by himself. It was Gremm, the little old member, who had recommended that I be given this job. I was happy to see him, and we talked for a while, mostly about my work, and how I liked it. I almost told him about my pet, but I didn't, because he might be angry at me for breaking the Law.

Finally, he asked me to give him the Key.

"I've been sent to get something from the Treasure," he explained.

I was unhappy to displease him, but I said, "I can't let you have it. There must be three members. You know that."

"Of course, I know it. But something came up suddenly, so they sent me alone. Now, let me have it."

I shook my head. That was the one order they had given me--never to give the Key to any one person who came alone.

Gremm became quite angry.

"You idiot," he shouted. "Why do you think I had you put out here? It was so I could get in there and help myself to the Treasure."

"But that would be dishonest. And there are no dishonest people in the State."

"For three thousand years. I know." His usually kind face had an ugly look I had never seen before. "But I'm going to get part of that Treasure. And it won't do you any good to report it, because no one is going to take the word of a fool like you, against a respected council member. They'll think you are the dishonest one. Now, give me that Key!"

It's a terrible thing to disobey a council member. But if I obeyed him, I would be disobeying all the others. And that would be worse.

"No!" I shouted.

He threw himself upon me. For his size and age, he was very strong--stronger, even, than I. I fought as hard as I could, but I knew I wouldn't be able to keep him away from the Key for very long. And if he took the Treasure, I would be blamed. The council would have to think a new punishment for dishonesty. Whatever it was, it would be terrible, indeed.

He drew back and rushed at me. Just as he hit me, my foot caught upon a root, and I fell. His rush carried him past me, and he crashed through the brush screen beside the path. I heard him scream twice, then there was silence.

I was bruised all over, but I managed to pull myself up and take away what was left of the screen. There was no sign of Gremm, but my beautiful pet was waving her pearl-green feelers as she always did in thanks for a good meal.

That's why I can't tell anyone what happened. No one would believe that Gremm would be dishonest. And I can't prove it, because she ate the proof.

Even if I did tell them, no one is going to believe that a fly-catcher plant--even a big one like mine--would actually be able to eat a man.

So they think that Gremm disappeared. And I'm still out here--with her. She's grown so much larger now, and more beautiful than ever.

But I hope she hasn't developed a taste for human flesh. Lately, when she stretches out her feelers, it seems that she's trying to reach me.

MONKEY ON HIS BACK.

By Charles V. De Vet

Under the cloud of cast-off ident.i.ties lay the shape of another man-- was it himself?

He was walking endlessly down a long, gla.s.s-walled corridor. Bright sunlight slanted in through one wall, on the blue knapsack across his shoulders. Who he was, and what he was doing here, was clouded. The truth lurked in some corner of his consciousness, but it was not reached by surface awareness.

The corridor opened at last into a large high-domed room, much like a railway station or an air terminal. He walked straight ahead.

At the sight of him a man leaning negligently against a stone pillar, to his right but within vision, straightened and barked an order to him, "Halt!" He lengthened his stride but gave no other sign.

Two men hurried through a doorway of a small anteroom to his left, calling to him. He turned away and began to run.

Shouts and the sound of charging feet came from behind him. He cut to the right, running toward the escalator to the second floor. Another pair of men were hurrying down, two steps at a stride. With no break in pace he veered into an opening beside the escalator.

At the first turn he saw that the aisle merely circled the stairway, coming out into the depot again on the other side. It was a trap. He glanced quickly around him.

At the rear of the s.p.a.ce was a row of lockers for traveler use. He slipped a coin into a pay slot, opened the zipper on his bag and pulled out a flat briefcase. It took him only a few seconds to push the case into the compartment, lock it and slide the key along the floor beneath the locker.

There was nothing to do after that--except wait.

The men pursuing him came hurtling around the turn in the aisle. He kicked his knapsack to one side, spreading his feet wide with an instinctive motion.

Until that instant he had intended to fight. Now he swiftly rea.s.sessed the odds. There were five of them, he saw. He should be able to incapacitate two or three and break out. But the fact that they had been expecting him meant that others would very probably be waiting outside. His best course now was to sham ignorance. He relaxed.

He offered no resistance as they reached him.

They were not gentle men. A tall ruffian, copper-brown face damp with perspiration and body oil, grabbed him by the jacket and slammed him back against the lockers. As he s.h.i.+fted his weight to keep his footing someone drove a fist into his face. He started to raise his hands; and a hard flat object crashed against the side of his skull.

The starch went out of his legs.

"Do you make anything out of it?" the psychoa.n.a.lyst Milton Bergstrom, asked.

John Zarwell shook his head. "Did I talk while I was under?"

"Oh, yes. You were supposed to. That way I follow pretty well what you're reenacting."

"How does it tie in with what I told you before?"

Bergstrom's neat-boned, fair-skinned face betrayed no emotion other than an introspective stillness of his normally alert gaze. "I see no connection," he decided, his words once again precise and meticulous. "We don't have enough to go on. Do you feel able to try another coma.n.a.lysis this afternoon yet?"

"I don't see why not." Zarwell opened the collar of his s.h.i.+rt. The day was hot, and the room had no air conditioning, still a rare luxury on St. Martin's. The office window was open, but it let in no freshness, only the mildly rank odor that pervaded all the planet's habitable area.

"Good." Bergstrom rose. "The serum is quite harmless, John." He maintained a professional diversionary chatter as he administered the drug. "A scopolamine derivative that's been well tested."

The floor beneath Zarwell's feet a.s.sumed abruptly the near transfluent consistency of a damp sponge. It rose in a foot-high wave and rolled gently toward the far wall.

Bergstrom continued talking, with practiced urbanity. "When psychiatry was a less exact science," his voice went on, seeming to come from a great distance, "a doctor had to spend weeks, sometimes months or years interviewing a patient. If he was skilled enough, he could sort the relevancies from the vast amount of chaff. We are able now, with the help of the serum, to confine our discourses to matters cogent to the patient's trouble."

The floor continued its trans.m.u.tation, and Zarwell sank deep into viscous depths. "Lie back and relax. Don't ..."

The words tumbled down from above. They faded, were gone.

Zarwell found himself standing on a vast plain. There was no sky above, and no horizon in the distance. He was in a place without s.p.a.ce or dimension. There was nothing here except himself--and the gun that he held in his hand.

A weapon beautiful in its efficient simplicity.

He should know all about the instrument, its purpose and workings, but he could not bring his thoughts into rational focus. His forehead creased with his mental effort.

Abruptly the unreality about him s.h.i.+fted perspective. He was approaching--not walking, but merely shortening the s.p.a.ce between them--the man who held the gun. The man who was himself. The other "himself" drifted nearer also, as though drawn by a mutual attraction.

The man with the gun raised his weapon and pressed the trigger.

With the action the perspective s.h.i.+fted again. He was watching the face of the man he shot jerk and twitch, expand and contract. The face was unharmed, yet it was no longer the same. No longer his own features.

The stranger face smiled approvingly at him.

"Odd," Bergstrom said. He brought his hands up and joined the tips of his fingers against his chest. "But it's another piece in the jig-saw. In time it will fit into place." He paused. "It means no more to you than the first, I suppose?"

"No," Zarwell answered.

He was not a talking man, Bergstrom reflected. It was more than reticence, however. The man had a hard granite core, only partially concealed by his present perplexity. He was a man who could handle himself well in an emergency.

Bergstrom shrugged, dismissing his strayed thoughts. "I expected as much. A quite normal first phase of treatment." He straightened a paper on his desk. "I think that will be enough for today. Twice in one sitting is about all we ever try. Otherwise some particular episode might cause undue mental stress, and set up a block." He glanced down at his appointment pad. "Tomorrow at two, then?"

Zarwell grunted acknowledgment and pushed himself to his feet, apparently unaware that his s.h.i.+rt clung damply to his body.

The sun was still high when Zarwell left the a.n.a.lyst's office. The white marble of the city's buildings s.h.i.+mmered in the afternoon heat, squat and austere as giant tree trunks, pock-marked and gray-mottled with windows. Zarwell was careful not to rest his hand on the flesh searing surface of the stone.

The evening meal hour was approaching when he reached the Flats, on the way to his apartment. The streets of the old section were near-deserted. The only sounds he heard as he pa.s.sed were the occasional cry of a baby, chronically uncomfortable in the day's heat, and the lowing of imported cattle waiting in a nearby shed to be s.h.i.+pped to the country.

All St. Martin's has a distinctive smell, as of an arid dried-out swamp, with a faint taint of fish. But in the Flats the odor changes. Here is the smell of factories, warehouses, and trading marts; the smell of stale cooking drifting from the homes of the laborers and lower cla.s.s techmen who live there.

Zarwell pa.s.sed a group of smaller children playing a desultory game of lic-lic for pieces of candy and cigarettes. Slowly he climbed the stairs of a stone flat. He prepared a supper for himself and ate it without either enjoyment or distaste. He lay down, fully clothed, on his bed. The visit to the a.n.a.lyst had done nothing to dispel his ennui.

The next morning when Zarwell awoke he lay for a moment, unmoving. The feeling was there again, like a scene waiting only to be gazed at directly to be perceived. It was as though a great wisdom lay at the edge of understanding. If he rested quietly it would all come to him. Yet always, when his mind lost its sleep-induced lethargy, the moment of near understanding slipped away.

This morning, however, the sense of disorientation did not pa.s.s with full wakefulness. He achieved no understanding, but the strangeness did not leave as he sat up.

He gazed about him. The room did not seem to be his own. The furnis.h.i.+ngs, and the clothing he observed in a closet, might have belonged to a stranger.

He pulled himself from his blankets, his body moving with mechanical reaction. The slippers into which he put his feet were larger than he had expected them to be. He walked about the small apartment. The place was familiar, but only as it would have been if he had studied it from blueprints, not as though he lived there.

The feeling was still with him when he returned to the psychoa.n.a.lyst.

The scene this time was more kaleidoscopic, less personal.

A village was being ravaged. Men struggled and died in the streets. Zarwell moved among them, seldom taking part in the individual clashes, yet a moving force in the conflict.

The background changed. He understood that he was on a different world.

Here a city burned. Its resistance was nearing its end. Zarwell was riding a s.h.a.ggy pony outside a high wall surrounding the stricken metropolis. He moved in and joined a party of short, bearded men, directing them as they battered at the wall with a huge log mounted on a many-wheeled truck.

The log broke a breach in the concrete and the besiegers charged through, carrying back the defenders who sought vainly to plug the gap. Soon there would be rioting in the streets again, plundering and killing.

Zarwell was not the leader of the invaders, only a lesser figure in the rebellion. But he had played a leading part in the planning of the strategy that led to the city's fall. The job had been well done.

Time pa.s.sed, without visible break in the panorama. Now Zarwell was fleeing, pursued by the same bearded men who had been his comrades before. Still he moved with the same firm purpose, vigilant, resourceful, and well prepared for the eventuality that had befallen. He made his escape without difficulty.

He alighted from a s.p.a.ce s.h.i.+p on still another world--another s.h.i.+ft in time--and the atmosphere of conflict engulfed him.

Weary but resigned he accepted it, and did what he had to do ...

Bergstrom was regarding him with speculative scrutiny. "You've had quite a past, apparently," he observed.

Zarwell smiled with mild embarra.s.sment. "At least in my dreams."

"Dreams?" Bergstrom's eyes widened in surprise. "Oh, I beg your pardon. I must have forgotten to explain. This work is so routine to me that sometimes I forget it's all new to a patient. Actually what you experienced under the drug were not dreams. They were recollections of real episodes from your past."

Zarwell's expression became wary. He watched Bergstrom closely. After a minute, however, he seemed satisfied, and he let himself settle back against the cus.h.i.+on of his chair. "I remember nothing of what I saw," he observed.

"That's why you're here, you know," Bergstrom answered. "To help you remember."

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Viii Part 28

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