The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol I Part 90

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The man bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement. "Yes, Mr. Hastings," he said.

Mel was dismayed. "How do you know who I am?" he said.

James Connemorra looked through the port beside Mel and at the stars beyond. "I have been looking for you long enough I ought to know who you are."

Something in the man's voice chilled Mel. "I have been easy enough to find. I'm only a news reporter. Why have you been looking for me?"

Connemorra sank into a deep chair on the opposite side of the room. "Can't you guess?" he said.



"It has something to do with what happened--before?" Mel asked. He backed warily against the opposite wall from Connemorra. "That time when I escaped from the Martian Princess rather than come aboard the black s.h.i.+p?"

Connemorra nodded. "Yes."

"I still don't understand. Why?"

"It's an old story." Connemorra shrugged faintly. "A man learns too much about things he should know nothing of."

"I have a right to know what happened to my wife. You know about her don't you?"

Connemorra nodded.

"What happened to her? Why was she different after her trip to Mars?"

James Connemorra was silent for so long that Mel thought he had not heard him. "Is everyone different when they get back?" Mel demanded. "Does something happen to everybody who takes the Mars trip, the same thing that happened to Alice?"

"You learned so much," said Connemorra, speaking as if to himself, "I had to hunt you down and bring you here."

"What do you mean by that? I came through my own efforts. Your office tried to stop me."

"Yet I knew who you were and that you were here. I must have had something to do with it, don't you think?"

"What?"

"I forced you to come by deception, so that no one knows you are here--except the old man whose name you used. Who will believe him that you came on the Martian Princess? Our records will show that a Jake Norton will be there on Earth. No one can ever prove that Mel Hastings ever came aboard."

Mel let his breath out slowly. His fear suddenly swallowed caution. He took a crouching step forward. Then he stopped, frozen. James Connemorra tilted the small pistol resting in his lap. Mel did not know how it came to be there. He had not seen it a moment ago.

"What are you going to do?" Mel demanded. "What are you going to do with all of us?"

"You know too much," said Connemorra, shrugging in mock helplessness. "What can I do with you?"

"Explain what I don't understand about the things you say I know."

"Explain to you?" The idea seemed to amuse Connemorra greatly, as if it had some utterly ridiculous aspect. "Yes, I might as well explain," he said. "I haven't had anyone interested enough to listen for a long time.

"Men have never been alone in s.p.a.ce. We have been watched, inspected, and studied periodically since Neanderthal times by races in the galaxy who have preceded us in development by hundreds of thousands of years. These observers have been pleasantly excited by some of the things we have done, appalled by others.

"There is a galactic organization that has existed for at least a hundred thousand years. This organization exists for the purpose of mutual development of the worlds and races of the galaxy. It also exists to maintain peace, for there were ages before its organization when interstellar war took place, and more than one great world was wiped out in such senseless wars.

"When men of Earth were ready to step into s.p.a.ce, the Galactic Council had to decide, as it had decided on so many other occasions, whether the new world was to be admitted as a member. The choice is not one which a new world is invited to make; the choice is made for it. A world which begins to send its s.h.i.+ps through s.p.a.ce becomes a member of the Council, or its s.h.i.+ps cease to travel. The world itself may cease to exist."

"You mean this dictatorial Council determines whether a world is fit to survive and actually wipes out those it decides against?" gasped Mel in horror. "They set themselves up as judges in the Universe?"

"That's about the way they operate, to put it bluntly," said Connemorra. "You can call them a thousand unpleasant names, but you can't change the fact of their existence, nor the fact of their successful operation for a period as long as the age of the human race.

"They would never have made their existence known to us if we had not begun sending our s.h.i.+ps into s.p.a.ce. But once we did that we were entering territory staked out by races that were there when we crawled out of our caves. Who can say what their rights are?"

"But to pa.s.s judgment on entire worlds--"

"We have no choice but to accept that such judgment is pa.s.sed."

"And their judgment of Earth--?"

"Was that Earth was not ready for Council members.h.i.+p. Earthmen are still making too many blunders to join creatures that could cross the galaxy at the speed of light when we were learning how to chip flint."

"But they didn't wipe us out!"

James Connemorra looked out at the stars. "I wonder," he said. "I wonder--"

"What do you mean?" Mel said in a tight voice.

"We have defects which are not quite like any they have encountered before. We have developed skills in the manufacture of artifacts, but we have no capacity for using them. For example, we have developed vast systems of communication, but these systems have not improved our communications they have actually blocked communication."

"That's crazy!" said Mel. "Do they suppose smoke signals are superior to the 3-d screens in our homes?"

"As a matter of fact, they do. And so do I. When a man must resort to smoke signals he is very certain that he has something to say before he goes to the trouble of putting the message in the air. But our fabulous screens prevent us from communicating with each other by throwing up a wall of pseudo-communication that we can't get through. We subject ourselves to a barrage of sound and light that has a communication content of almost zero.

"The same is true of our inventions in transportation. We have efficient means of travel to all parts of the world and now to the Universe itself. But we don't travel. We use our machines to block traveling."

"I can understand the first argument, but not this one!" said Mel.

"We move our bodies to new locations with our machines, but our minds remain at home. We take our rutted thoughts, our predispositions, our cultural concepts wherever we go. We do not touch, even with a fragment of our minds, that which our machines give us contact with. We do not travel. We move in s.p.a.ce, but we do not travel.

"This is their accusation. And they're right. We are still doing what we have always done. We are using s.p.a.ce flight for the boring, the trivial, the stupid; using genius for a toy, like a child banging an atomic watch on the floor. It happened with all our great discoveries and inventions: the gasoline engine, the telephone, the wireless. We've built civilizations of monumental stupidity on the wonders of nature. One race of the Galactics has a phrase they apply to people like us: 'If there is a G.o.d in Heaven He has wept for ten thousand years.'

"But all this is not the worst. A race that is merely stupid seldom gets out to s.p.a.ce. But ours has something else they fear: destructiveness. They have plotted our history and extrapolated our future. If they let us come out, war and conflict will follow."

"They can't know that!"

"They say they can. We are in no position to argue."

"So they plan to destroy us--"

"No. They want to try an experiment that has been carried out just a few times previously. They are going to reduce us from what they term the critical ma.s.s which we have achieved."

"Critical ma.s.s? That's a nuclear term."

"Right. Meaning ready to blow up. That's where we are. Two not-so-minor nuclear wars in fifty years. They see us carrying our destructiveness into s.p.a.ce, fighting each other there, infecting other races with our hostility. But if we are broken down into smaller groups, have the tools of war removed, and are forced to take another line of development--well, they have hopes of salvaging us."

"But they can't do a thing like that to us! What do they intend? Taking groups of Earthmen, deporting them to other worlds--breaking them apart from each other forever--?"

The coldness found its resting place in Mel's chest. He stared at James Connemorra. Then his eyes moved slowly over the walls of the room in the black s.h.i.+p and out to the stars. The black s.h.i.+p.

"This s.h.i.+p--! You transfer your pa.s.sengers to this Galactic s.h.i.+p for deportation to other worlds! But they come back--"

"They are sent to colonies on other worlds where conditions are like those on Earth--with significant exceptions. The colonies are small, the largest are only a few thousand. The problems there are different than on Earth--and they are tough. The natural resources are not the same. The development of the resulting cultures will be vastly different from that of Earth. The Galactic Council is very interested in the outcome--which will not be known with certainty for a thousand years or so."

"But they come back," Mel repeated. "You bring them back!"

"For each Earthman who goes out, a replacement is sent back. The replacement is an android supplied by the Council."

"Android!" Mel felt his reason slipping. He knew he was shouting. "Then Alice--the Alice that died was an android, she was not my wife! My Alice is still alive! You can take me to her--"

Connemorra nodded. "Alice is still alive, and well. No harm has come to her."

"Take me to her!" Mel knew he was pleading, but in his anguish he had no pride.

Connemorra seemed to ignore his plea. "Earth's population is slowly being diluted by the removal of top people. The androids behave in every way like the individuals they replace, but they are preconditioned against the inherent destructiveness of Earthmen."

Blind anger seemed to rise within Mel. "You have no right to separate me from Alice. Take me to her!"

His rage ignited and he leaped forward.

The small gun in Connemorra's hand spurted twice. Mel felt a double impact in a moment of great wonder. It couldn't end like this, he thought. It couldn't end without his seeing Alice once more. Just once more-- * * * * *

He sank to the floor. The pain was not great, but he knew he was dying. He looked down at his hand that covered the great wound in his mid-section. There was something wrong.

He felt the stickiness, but the red blood was not welling out. Instead, a thick bubble of green ooze moved from the wound and spread over his clothes and his hand. An alien greenness that was like nothing human.

He had seen it once before.

Alice.

He stared up at Connemorra with wide, wondering eyes.

"Everything went wrong, my poor android," said Connemorra softly. "After your human was brought back to the s.h.i.+p we were forced to go through with the usual process of imprinting his mind content upon his android. But we had to wipe out all memory of the attempted escape from the Martian Princess. This was not successful. It still clung in the nightmares you experienced. And the psycho-recovery brought it all back.

"We tried to cover it with an amnesiac condition instead of the usual pre-printed memory of a Mars vacation. And all this might have worked if the Alice android had not been defective also. A normal android has protective mechanisms that make accidents and subsequent discovery impossible. But the Alice android failed, and you set out on a course to uncover us. I had to find a way to destroy you--murder.

"I'm truly sorry. I don't know how an android thinks or feels. Sometimes I'm afraid of all of you. You are like men, but I've seen the factories in which you are produced. There are many things I do not know. I know only that I had to obey the Galactic Council or Earth would have been destroyed long ago.

"And something else I know: Alice and Mel Hastings are content and happy. They are on a lovely world, very much like Central Valley."

He closed his eyes as he felt the life--or whatever it was--seeping out of him. It came out right, after all, he thought.

Like a wooden soldier with a painted smile, fallen from a shelf, he lay twisted upon the floor.

THE END.

Contents

THE MOON IS GREEN.

By FRITZ LEIBER

Anybody who wanted to escape death could, by paying a very simple price--denial of life!

"Effie! What the devil are you up to?"

Her husband's voice, chopping through her mood of terrified rapture, made her heart jump like a startled cat, yet by some miracle of feminine self-control her body did not show a tremor.

Dear G.o.d, she thought, he mustn't see it. It's so beautiful, and he always kills beauty.

"I'm just looking at the Moon," she said listlessly. "It's green."

Mustn't, mustn't see it. And now, with luck, he wouldn't. For the face, as if it also heard and sensed the menace in the voice, was moving back from the window's glow into the outside dark, but slowly, reluctantly, and still faunlike, pleading, cajoling, tempting, and incredibly beautiful.

"Close the shutters at once, you little fool, and come away from the window!"

"Green as a beer bottle," she went on dreamily, "green as emeralds, green as leaves with suns.h.i.+ne striking through them and green gra.s.s to lie on." She couldn't help saying those last words. They were her token to the face, even though it couldn't hear.

"Effie!"

She knew what that last tone meant. Wearily she swung shut the ponderous lead inner shutters and drove home the heavy bolts. That hurt her fingers; it always did, but he mustn't know that.

"You know that those shutters are not to be touched! Not for five more years at least!"

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol I Part 90

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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol I Part 90 summary

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