The World of If
In the world of "IF" all futures are possible
Roger Lee Vernon
10N878 Williamsburg Dr.
Elgin IL 60124
Contents: The World of If
1. Humans as Pets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . `1
What if people were pets of a more advanced species?
2. The Wooing of Henry Edmunds . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
What if woman's lib became wildly successful?
3. Space War or Humpty Dumpty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
What if first contact was a space war?
4. The Malthusian Murders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
What if immortality were for sale?
5. The Prodigy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
What if you could remember everything?
6. The Time Tablets Tale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
What if time could be stopped?
7. The Great Encounter . a novella . . . . . . . . . 179
What would the world reaction be if aliens
tried to save the earth from itself
Transferred to a separate blog
8. Everywhere Man . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 180
What would happen if you multi-replicated?
Humans as Pets
What if people were pets of a more advanced species?
Roger Lee Vernon: The World of If – Humans as Pets 2
The Masters were going to try to mate me again! This fellow was taller than I and looked to be pleasant enough, so that I thought it was possible. He seemed to be full-grown, with a lot of facial and chest hair. Not only that, but he knew how to talk in my language.
Hello," he began, smiling shyly, for of course we were both naked except for the security collars. Since he was naked, it was obvious he was excited at seeing me, but the last candidate had exhibited the same difficulty of control.
"You're very pretty," he added which was unnecessary under the circumstances, for as I said it was obvious how he felt. Perhaps when humans were free, when the people were covered, the men's passions were not so easily seen. But this was a warm planet; we did not really need covering.
Maybe my nudity did excite him. I hoped so. My grandmother would have been able to explain all this, but she was long dead.
"Thank you," I replied, standing immobile in the great room.
"The gods brought me to you," he continued, trying to make conversation no doubt.
"They're not gods, but living creatures as we are," I responded. I was hopeful he was not too stupid.
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"I have never seen one of the gods age or die," he divulged, uncertainly. "I have not seen many humans either, but I have seen them age and saw one die." He scratched his head, looking up at a distance where my Master lay in his floating recliner gleaning us from his perch. My Master's six long tentacles were spread out and at rest now.
"They live ten times as long as we do, perhaps longer," I explained, uncertainly. "The child-gods grow larger. So they must also age." It was a simple deduction.
"That is true, about the child-gods. You may be right," he agreed not convinced. I had used the word gods also.
"My grandmother told me many things before I was adopted as a pet in this household," I confided. "We were captured from a human passenger starship when I was just a child. We were traveling together to meet my parents on another planet. My grandmother did not think we ever would be rescued because we were taken a great distance at many times light speed. She said the Masters preyed upon humans, but were kind. I scarcely remember the capture of our ship. I was very young."
I had been sure the gods were going to breed me because suddenly I had been receiving all this attention. My Mistress' forward tentacles had braided my long hair at intervals before, but now she
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took more time. When I was allowed indoors, I was accustomed to watching my owner's language antenna vibrate, twitch with amusement
as I rolled around on the soft rug to dry myself after the bathing pool. But I knew of no other way to achieve the desired effect in the humid climate. Often I had been anointed with the cleansing oil after being flung into the bathing pool to wash myself, as a good pet. But this time, after l emerged from the pool, my whole body was coated with perfume, an aphrodisiac, I decided, for I felt a strong glowing feeling. My grandmother told me this would happen when I was grown and I should anticipate the event.
This was the warm season, really blinding hot from the double suns, and I was being kept outdoors most of the time. Outside, I usually just stayed on my pillows in the shade of the roof overhang. Today after the bathing pool I was allowed to come indoors to the great room where I lay on the rug, feeling the pleasing tickle of the fibers on my skin as I rolled. Then I was anointed. The heady smell of their aphrodisiac perfume had its desired effect, and I soon felt sexually aroused. I could feel the induced passion and struggled to control it.
Then one of the child gods, a godling, picked me up. He held me frighteningly high in but one of its sturdy tentacles. The suction cups, which could administer such pain, were gentle now. The young
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had been warned not to hurt me in the long ago. The godling's antenna twitched in pleasure at my discomfort and helplessness.
All my life since the crèche in this household I had lived with these Masters and I still could not communicate with these gods. Our senses did not match. They uttered no sounds. They could not hear.
They could see, but not as I did. They could smell things so accurately, telling even how long the smell had been there and from which direction it had come. But most importantly they sensed by waves every object around them. I had learned the meaning of some of their antenna movements, perhaps two dozen. I knew my name when I was called, and the names of tricks I was supposed to perform for their pleasure, to show how clever I was. Performing these tricks caused the gods to show satisfaction and I was often rewarded with food treats and playthings.
The call for these tricks by antenna movement caused me to try to please the Masters, so I would on command "Stand," "Sit," "Lie down," "Roll Over," "Jump," "Get," which meant I was to run after a ball that had been flung and throw it back. Those things I knew. I knew "Beg," which meant I was to stand with my hands elevated toward the high table until one of the gods realized I was there and then catch the food thrown. This last was plainly degrading, but better than a continuous diet of the same processed food that I was fed in my bowl on the floor.
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Now my life was about to take a new turn, for I knew nothing of the mating process or the aftermath. No doubt the Masters would help me. The last candidate for my affection had spoken a strange tongue and was neither clean nor pleasing to me. I ran from him even though the Masters coaxed me.
"Tell me about your grandmother," the visitor, the male human man requested.
"You tell me first," I demanded. I was hungry for knowledge and desirous of control.
"I was born to the crèche," he related. "My mother taught me the language I know, and we were together when I was a child. But she too had been born here. After we were separated, I scarcely saw anyone." He paused. "That was long ago," he continued. "I was adopted by a family of the immortal gods. Tell me more of what you know."
I shrugged. He could call them gods all he wanted. "It is obvious you are a second generation pet, bred and raised in captivity. My grandmother stayed with me till she died. She taught me much. We humans have a great civilization somewhere, a place called Earth, and we have colonies among the stars. But the Masters are superior and raid our spaceships at will to seize us for pets or zoo animals sometimes."
"What is a zoo?"
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"A place where various species are placed so that the Masters can go to look at them. I was allowed along once to observe such a place. My Masters brought me to see my reaction. I was naturally on a leash."
"Do you understand their language?" he inquired. "They vibrate their antenna at times. But I do not follow it."
"The antenna are for communication. The tentacles are for seizing things. The pods on the tentacles can inflict great pain."
"Yes I have felt that," he informed me. "I was pained at times until I learned to go outdoors properly. But that was when I was still a child."
"Did you never try to escape?" I asked.
"Escape to what?" he asked. "Yes, I ran off once, but the collar, it hurt more the further I ran away. And the gods knew exactly where I was by the collar. Once I tried to remove it with a tool I found, but the pain was even greater then. It finally put me to sleep. Did you ever try to run off?"
"Yes. It may be in our nature. My grandmother said it was hopeless, but as a child I did this too."
And I thought of the times when the leash was attached to my collar and I was taken for a walk in the neighborhood around here. My Masters in their floating recliner above me actually seemed quite proud of me. Maybe it was because I was a possession. There were a
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pair of pets in the next plantation, a long way off, and I had seen them several times when my Masters took me there. But they were females, as I, and did not speak my language. Or perhaps they knew no language. They hung back when my Child-Master brought me near them. When I spoke to them they did not answer.
Yes, there was a great outside world here and also above in the stars. Sometimes I looked up at the stars and imagined which sun might be near our original home planet. Were we Masters there? Did we have pets there? That thought was almost too much. Now my human male visitor was talking again. "But the antenna are still a mystery," he confided, on another subject now. "They flick in certain ways, but it is too fast to follow."
"The movements all have a meaning, but I know only a few of them," I answered. I told him briefly what I knew.
He nodded and took a step closer. I felt the passion grow.
"I was brought here for a purpose," he divulged, as if I did not know.
"And what purpose was that?" I asked coyly. What would he say?
"I don't understand. But I find you most beautiful."
Again he took a tentative step closer, as if he would run back if I showed fright or said the wrong thing.
"I know nothing about these things," I indicated. "Yet I greet you." The gods were watching from on high in their floating perches, but I did not care. They always watched. They had examined me all
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over when I was a child, perhaps looking for imperfections. Are any of us perfect? My Masters had taught me where it was suitable to defecate in the garden. I preferred a high flower bed where I could not be seen easily. They had been my Masters almost all my life. They took me to be examined at long intervals by other Masters who knew more about humans. I believed this was to determine my health. Sometimes I was given tablets to take and took them without question.
Now my visitor took yet another step closer. It was time! For what I did not know. I extended my arms to him, welcoming this shy one.
He was so close now that his next two steps brought us together. My feeling of passion now became unbearable as his arms held me and I felt his bare skin. I can't believe I voiced it, but the words gushed out from me: "Perhaps we should lie down."
The pain and the pleasure intermingled. Afterwards we lay side by side on the rug for a long time looking at one another. Then I felt his desire stir again and we locked in another embrace.
Exhausted we lay face to face once more. "Probably we will never see each other again," I blurted out my sudden thought. "Now that this is over." I felt terribly sad about that.
Above I noticed my master floating on his perch, watching, and his antenna above his great eyes were flickering in satisfaction.
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I had an identification tag on my pierced earlobe and the man fondled this. "Don't pull it off, that would hurt." I told him.
"I have one too," he replied, showing me.
"I can not read the inscription," I informed him. "We're both pets, both domesticated. But I still sometimes think of escape."
"We would revert to the wild," he suggested.
"No. We were never wild," I told him. "We were all kidnapped from passenger space craft. We are humans who belong to a great civilization. We are so far away from our home planet I do not think we will ever be rescued. The Masters know this, for according to my grandmother their ships are vastly faster than ours and travel further among the stars."
Suddenly I could see by the look in his eyes that he did not understand and would never understand. "The gods have tested you for your time, no doubt," the human man confided to me. Now it was my turn to be not sure what he meant. "You are right about us not seeing each other again. If you are with child, then we are finished. Only when it does not succeed, will I be allowed back."
Suddenly I knew. "You have done this before. You are used by the masters to produce children in the female pets."
"Yes, but you are beautiful." Those were the words he knew and they came out too easily.
"How many times?" I demanded, my anger building.
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"I do not know. I can not count. My mother counted for me on my fingers, but that is not enough."
He began to back away, as if he knew what was coming, but he was not fast enough. I swung my fist at his face hard. His ignorance and single-minded purpose angered me.
Now he jumped up, wiping the blood from his nose. "Thank you," he declared and left hurriedly before I could arise. The mating was over.
The Wooing of Henry Edmunds
What if women's lib was wildly successful?
Roger Lee Vernon: The World of If - Woman’s Lib 13
Henry Edmunds glanced at the floating clock in the corner of the little bar. It was 22:30, an hour before the male curfew. The calendar above the clock showed the date: December 27, 1252 A.S.A., Thursday. It had seemed like Friday all day.
Another year was over. After tomorrow the Year-End Holidays would begin, six of them this year because it was a Leap Year. Gerald Kirby, his married friend, had said this was his last chance to do the asking. After all he was 26, born in the year of the yellow veil. But of course he would never ask. Taking advantage of the holidays was not for him.
There was one again. Looking at him. For a long time he had been able to feel them observing him, without even a peripheral peek. It made his flesh crawl, how they looked you over so appraisingly before they approached. It had been that way all his life. When was he first conscious of the female hunt? Girls and boys played together in the creche and he had always been tall for his age.
He was ten, and already they began looking. The old woman in the theater that time, trying to get fresh with her knee.
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And that teen-aged grocery clerk, lying flat on her stomach, pretending to sort canned goods, while peering up under his robe. Maybe he should be excited by woman's bodies also, but how could one be? There was no mystery. They went naked to the waist on the beach, advertising their wares and . . . Brrr . . . She was coming over to make a play.
"Warm night, isn't it?"
What kind of an approach was that? What did you expect in December in the non-radiation zones of the Southern Hemisphere? Well, don't encourage her. Just turn and stare at her as if she was a mutant and maybe she'll go away.
But no, she continued: "Can I buy you a drink?"
Always buy you a drink. Trying to purchase companionship. Not that his glass wasn't empty and as usual he was short of funds. Too much shopping. But they always wanted something for their drinks.
"I'm drinking N.Z.." That will show her down.
"Fine. Bartender," she waved commandingly, "two N.Z.'s please."
Now he would be expected to feel obligated. Next she'd be rubbing on his knee or worse.
"How are you spending the Holidays?"
So that was it. Get right to the point. No romantic preliminaries. Women were all alike. She was just promoting a date for the Holidays. Henry shrugged. He had his foaming drink now.
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"I was going out to the Pleasure Islands," she declared. Well, she was persistent. You could say that for her. She was tall, tanned, blonde-haired, broad-chested, and probably been working out, in fact an ideal female. She was wearing the typical, white, open business shirt and dark slacks, plain but elegant. What he ought to do is ask her occupation. Marry a millionaire.
"You ever been out there?" she continued.
"No." Henry looked down, keeping his eyes on his drink. He sipped a little.
"My name's Alice. Alice Lawrence."
"I'm Henry Edmunds. How you going to get to the Pleasure Islands?" There it was. Curiosity trapped people.
"Private yacht. I can bring a friend. We'd have separate rooms. Five of the maddest days you ever spent."
For sure they'd have separate rooms. But it did sound like fun. She knew nothing about him and then this invitation. He would have to talk to her. Henry began giving half answers to her questions. She told jokes and he laughed in the right places. It was all a game. He suddenly felt flamboyantly happy, but still concentrating only partially on the conversation. After all it was her job to please him.
Henry knew what he wanted as well as the next man, but even if the right woman came along he was not at all sure he could accept.
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That was the whole trouble. It was hard to even imagine a woman having her way with him. That thought alone brought a tightness to his throat, a churning sensation in his stomach, a natural repulsion and revulsion that made him feel like just shrinking away. He continued to look down. How long, he wondered, had he looked down in the presence of the stronger sex?
The problem was, he just wasn't sure he liked women. There were certainly obvious advantages to being married. It would be wonderful to marry some woman, to impregnate her, so he could have children to care for. Even now he still slept with one of his childhood dolls. And he could quit his menial job, unless he married one of those modern women who expected her husband to still work. The moderns almost seemed set against the "Stability, Unity, and Permanence" motto of the Society in Being itself. Well, that kind of woman was certainly not for him. A man's place was in the home. A man's home was his castle.
And he would certainly be glad to quit his job. His boss, Mrs. Rankin, was rather demanding. She always had that look in her eye, as if to say: "Well things could be much easier for you if you would just play ball." And she was a married woman of fifty. That was another thing about women. They seemed to tire of you so soon. You couldn't really trust any of them. He had certainly found that out.
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Maybe he would feel differently about the job if they paid men the same wages as women. Men couldn't do the physical work that women did, but he was certainly able to operate a communicator as well as anyone. Physical strength didn't enter into it at all there. He did the same work as Sophia and he was paid 20 R's a week less. He had found that out. And Sophia was two years younger than he was. It was ridiculous. Of course Sophia had gone to some business training school. Henry's mother had always said: "Well, a boy doesn't need an education like a girl. Not if he makes the right marriage."
But it wasn't as if he had stopped learning after he was sixteen. He always read a lot. In fact he even read some of the old stories that Gerald loaned him about the adventures of men. They were contraband, actually, certainly not in the local library. It was considered unmasculine to enjoy these. But he had. He had never seen any of the old contraband movies, but they were probably all pirated fakes anyway. Tales from underground.
Still, it was annoying how the world treated men. So few were mentioned in the history books. And women acted as if it was because females had a monopoly on the brains. Well, he could think as clearly as any woman. It was all because men were trained to feel inferior, told they couldn't master science or math or mechanics and were
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usually expected to stay home and care for the children and the house. They were not to think, vote, or get into politics.
Of course he wasn't one of those masculinists. They went too far anyway and they deserved to get into trouble. Especially it seemed silly to continue the old argument over whether the great leaders of the past were really women or men. It was certainly well established that Charlemagne and Alexandria the Great were women. It was all so dreary and long ago anyway.
"Would you like another drink?"
"All right." Alice was certainly free with her money at least. She might well be a good provider. He wasn't a gold digger, but it would be nice to be comfortable. She probably wanted to take him home. Well, it was much more pleasant in a private taxi than a public aircar. The airway would be crowded tonight and safe.
People must have always sat and drank until late, in 500 A.S.A. and even 1000 B.S.A.. Only they must have called it something else. How would it be to live in a society where the men did the asking, not just five or six days at Leap Year of "pretend asking" but really? Henry shuddered slightly at the thought even as he laughed at one of Alice's jokes. Of course there were so few men in the bars, it gave them a sort of scarcity value.
Still, let the timid men sit home alone. He liked to come in for a drink on occasion. He wasn't like some of the men, of course. You could get women to buy you anything, offer you jobs, gifts, if you
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just worked it right. And you didn't really have to do anything in return. Sex was so complicated. Gerald said it was all in the training society gave the child. He said the stories of the aggressive gene changes to preserve peace were nonsense. Probably so. But who could really tell.
Alice was rather nice. She noticed it was almost curfew and suggested they leave without mentioning the restriction. How old do you suppose she was? Thirty-five perhaps, though she looked younger.
It was odd about the age thing. When he was twenty, he expected to date women four or five years his senior, but the older he became the greater the time differential. Well, if Alice asked his age, he would tell the truth. The trouble was not in age itself. It was that by the time a man had a few lines on his face, he was considered all through.
Alice was courteous, protective, as they went through the splendidly lit barroom, out the door, and down to the street below. It didn't really matter, but it showed that a girl really respected a boy. The airway was crowded, but Henry felt uncomfortable in the glass-domed aircar alone with Alice. The other aircars zoomed around them in the force field held air lanes. Many aircars had their tops down, so they were open to view. Still Henry felt better when they reached his landing.
Alice now took his arm and assisted Henry politely onto the beltway. She was insistent about his coming along to the Pleasure Islands for the Holidays. Finally Henry gave her his COM number and suggested she call him in the morning. She seemed satisfied with that. When they reached the right pedway and stepped off at his housewalk under the partial gloom of the trees, Henry felt apprehensive once more. But Alice took a firm grip of his arm and led him in the direction he indicated. She really seemed quite satisfactory. Of course it might be all a performance to get him alone on the Pleasure Isles, but somehow Henry doubted that. He did feel comfortable with her, at ease, as if he had known her all his life.
Mister Alice Lawrence, Henry reflected on names to himself. Mister Henry Lawrence. Mister Lawrence. It had a nice ring to it. No longer Master Henry Edmunds. Mrs. and Mr. Alice Lawrence. Women were automatically called Mrs. after they were eighteen, instead of Miss. Again it seemed unfair that if he did not marry, he would spend his whole life with a title that announced his unmarried state, a prefix glued to his name.
Alice squeezed his arm slightly. "This is my house here," Henry informed her abruptly, pulling away as she attempted to run her fingers through his perfumed beard. And then instead of leaving he was suddenly driven to inquire of Alice what he should wear if he went to the Pleasure Islands. He made sure to mention that he had made himself the lovely robe he was wearing, thus displaying a credible and thoroughly masculine knowledge of housekeeping talents.
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"You're really remarkable," Alice declared, looking down at him with her wide brown eyes.
Henry was quite prepared to believe she was right, however the proximity of Alice concerned him. "You can call me in the morning if you wish," he suggested. "But I do have to go in now. Dad is waiting up for me."
What if first contact was a space war?
Roger Lee Vernon: The World of If – Space War 22
The alarm system went off, a demanding strident buzz that filled the bedroom of the Egg. Ted Wallace awoke instantly, growling his displeasure. He was aware of Lisa Laverti, whom he had nicknamed "Lovely," beside him on the bed, stretching, smiling. It was one of Lovely's little tricks to smile broadly when things went wrong, to calm Ted's quick anger. The alarm system went off only twice a month on the average, when a stray particle of sufficient size drifted into screen range from the outside or even showed up at the force field zone itself. Only this alarm proved to be the long feared real thing! The invasion was on!
Ted and Lisa left the bedroom, quickly climbed the circular stair, and reached the screens of the computer controls. They expected to discover a small meteor and go back to bed after canceling the alert. But a quick check of the sensors revealed that what had triggered the system was no less than three advanced party Alien scout ships approaching. They watched in stunned horror, turning the scopes on full and scanning the immediate area. The Alien scouts were a million kilometers out, 400,000-kilometers to the left, and closing on
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the force field screen at a declining speed, on the very edge of sensor range for that size craft. The slowing scout ships indicated the Aliens had detected the force field and perhaps the location of the Egg as well.
The configuration of the Alien scout ships was cigar-shaped with small fins, only about ten meters long. Putting the viewscreen on telescopic, they saw further out, in the same quadrant of the sky, that the scout ships had been launched from a huge enemy battleship, now stationary, perhaps ten million kilometers away. It was obvious that the Aliens had discovered them well before the Egg's alarm system was triggered. As usual the Aliens had the more sensitive and better equipment. The enemy scouts had been dispatched to determine the nature of the problem ahead.
Lisa Laverti and Ted Wallace stood for several seconds, in stupefied silence. This was the big one, the attack upon Mother Earth and the home planets. Of the thousands of warning outposts facing the direction of the danger, it had to be theirs that was to be sacrificed triggering the alarm. Here was death on the way.
Ted acted mechanically, following procedure. He sent the automatic secondary alarm signal to each of the four command posts in the immediate reticulation. Next he signaled the space base on Pluto, and finally he dispatched a full report to the Atlas, the closest back up Earth battle cruiser in the vicinity.
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Lisa did the tracking on the message to the Atlas. The full report, given orally to the ship computer was sent in one light impulse. It would coincide in time and space with the Atlas in 54 minutes. The Atlas would relay the message to the other 28 ships on active duty in the outer perimeter and to the home fleet. The home fleet on Earth would get ready and launch itself, but remain near Earth. The 28 ships of the outer fleet would converge on this point.
The position of the Atlas in making its rounds was closer than usual at the moment. Ted felt that he and Lovely were at least mildly fortunate in that. But it was immediately obvious to Ted Wallace that he and Lovely would die. The Atlas would change course and swing toward them, almost at the speed of light, but the total elapsed time would be over two hours before this first Earth battleship arrived on the scene. The computer figured it out for them instantly; the best guess probability was 124 minutes.
The real surprise was that they were not dead already. Things happened so fast in space. The Alien scout ships were probably coming in for a quick look before any real power was applied to their outpost. Probes had no doubt been sent ahead of the scouts that set off the Egg's distant sensors. Then the scouts were launched. The Alien scout ships had already reached 500,000-kilometer from the force screen now and began to slow down still more. The scout ships
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remained another 400,000-kilometers from the outer, upper left of the Egg as seen from the viewscreens. The Aliens were coming in at 10 o'clock and showed no sign as yet of having seen their egg-shaped outpost itself, which was an insignificant pea in size, a four story unit only twelve meters in length, motionless in space.
"Lovely, you and I are going to be the next casualties in this war," Ted declared, putting his hand on her narrow shoulder.
"Maybe all of earth, all humans." Her voice was low and constrained.
"We could take to the lifeboats. We've sounded the alarm. We've done our part."
"Not quite. We obey orders and continue to report back. We stay at our posts to the end." She meant it.
Ted nodded. "The lifeboats are too slow for escape anyway," Ted reflected. "The Aliens haven't spotted the Egg yet. But any movement relative to anything and they're going to pick us up at once. They must be scanning the whole area now, especially for movement. If we ran from the Egg, they'd see us and come in full power right through the force field."
Lisa looked more slender, feminine, and vulnerable now than ever. Ted felt a primeval need to protect his woman and there was no hope to do so. Especially he regretted what he must say next: "Since we are still alive, we should get into our space suits." They had never worn
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much in the way of clothes on the Egg. He would see Lovely unadorned for the last time. They had been a pair of lonely anchorites for so long. The days ahead seemed endless. And now?
* * *
This moment of present horror had all begun happily enough with
human exploration of the entire solar system in the twenty-first
century. The Moon base came first and next the slow terraforming of
Mars. Then the colonization and mining of some of the rich asteroids
began along with settlements on the habitable moons of Jupiter and
Saturn. As progress was made in building ever-faster space ships,
early explorers visited the closest neighboring stars. First there
were the robot operated ships, landing, testing for habitable worlds. Then there followed voyages of crews of psychologically tested
compatible people with many skills who volunteered for multi-year
explorations, journeys of eleven, fourteen, eighteen or more years, on
round trips of exploration. Their names were immortalized; they went
into the history books with the great explorers forever.
In the early 22nd century the five planets around the nearest stars that had been discovered with favorable atmospheres were considered for settlement. Four of these distant planets had water and one was a veritable vegetarian paradise, awaiting only animal conquest.
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Of course these settlements of the planets of their star neighbors could not alleviate population pressures on earth. As critics of the space program were eager to point out, it cost more in goods and material to send colonists to the stars than it did to create a new ocean island for settlements on the earth itself.
Travel to homes long years out did give the venturesome a chance for land such as had not been available since the mid-nineteenth century in America and Australia. It also funneled off the aggressive, the warlike adventurers, reducing the tensions back on Mother Earth.
There were major political arguments between the Spacers and the Home People over the cost of exploration. To the Spacers, even those believers who merely remained on earth and planned the ships, the spread of man into the universe was a holy cause. There was pride here. When Horace Greeley said: "Go West young man," in the 19th century, thousands of Americans did. But most stayed home, including Horace Greeley. So with the voyages to the stars.
Then in a series of light messages to Mother Earth, the news of the terrible disasters came. The star colonies had been successful for several years. They were prospering, farming, making discoveries that led to trade with Mother Earth. A second star base on another planet of the same sun system was begun. Then one of earth's exploration ships sent back a light message. It was being attacked.
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An Alien ship was firing upon it and closing in. The exploration ship ceased to broadcast further.
Next the colony at Star Base Two was attacked and destroyed. The two thousand people who had been transported there were killed. Earth outfitted star transports as battleships equipped with weapons that could be fired in space. Force screens, which had shielded national borders and been effective in bringing peace to the earth's nations, were added to defend the ship.
But the disasters continued. One of earth's battleships, on patrol in the far outer zone, was attacked by Alien ships that were faster and more maneuverable. The battleship was shattered, encircled, and finally self-destructed when Alien ships closed in and attempted to board. The colonists at Star Base One were next. Paradise City with its nine thousand people, the largest of the Earth's star bases, was obliterated.
The three light messages received from Paradise City indicated that they had tried to communicate with the Aliens by light, sound, and other signals, but received no response. The Aliens had attempted no known communication. Twenty or more Alien battleships arrived, fired beams at the city force screens and gradually depressed the screens until the power stations could not hold. Next laser-type weapons swept across the new city. The colony was a burnt over
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district afterwards, rather than a town surrounded by lush, green vegetation.
Three space battles later, all lost by Earth, and with only one Alien ship destroyed in all the encounters, with the star bases all gone, the clamor on Earth became irresistible. The Home People were all for retreat to Earth's own solar system. There was to be no more space exploration.
The Earth's people split on the issue into divisions that had long been a part of the human tradition. The two main groups were referred to by their enemies as "The Space Lovers" and "The Isolationists." The Spacers talked of progress, of all the expfrom time immemorial, Marco Polo to the first men on the Moon. They were the climbers of Mount Everest, because it was there, interested in pure research, knowledge for its own sake.
The Isolationists or Solarists said earth and its sister planets were enough. They claimed the Space Lovers had brought on the possible destruction of all of mankind. By venturing out to distant stars, by advertising their presence in the universe, the little planet Earth itself might be discovered by the Aliens and destroyed.
"Not so," the Spacers countered. "The Aliens would have found Mother Earth anyway, eventually, and then without space ships for protection, the battle would be hopeless."
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The Solarists had long been concerned that the Spacers would bring back new diseases from across the stars. Now the Spacers had led "the new barbarians," the Aliens back to wipe out the human race.
There were many speeches and great verbal battles in the World Assembly on earth. In the end, Tsi Sung carried the day. "Gentlemen," he said, "let me tell you an old traditional story I just made up." They all knew him as a bit of a wag. "Once there was a little Chinese village in the far western end of the country and some of the people began to agitate to send an exploring expedition down the road further west to see what was out there. Others were afraid and warned of great dangers in doing this. After a while some men just went exploring. The explorers ran into a party of Huns who followed them back toward the village. Everyone in the village was
angry with these explorers and wanted to kill them. 'No,' said one
man. 'It is too late now. We can not take back the past. Right or wrong the exploration was made and the Huns are approaching. We either stop arguing about whose fault it was and build a wall to protect ourselves, or we die.'"
Tsi Sung paused, then continued: "Let us have reality therapy here. The reality is that the Huns may find us. Perhaps they would have found us anyway. In any case we have our warning. It may be that we are lucky we found these Aliens some distance from our home. We need now to build all the space ships we can and arm them. We need
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a crash program to construct an early warning system at the very edge of our solar system, some distance from our Earth and sun, a system facing the direction where the Aliens are most likely to come."
Both parties united, agreed for now that Earth needed to design better warships to protect the Home Planets. Outposts were established in Pluto's orbit. The Eggs were manufactured hastily, placed in orbit, and readied to send a warning signal back to Earth in case of invasion from outside of the solar system.
* * *
Ted Wallace as a young science reporter remembered going to some of the initial meetings in which the Eggs were described. The meeting, in a big auditorium, showed diagrams of the proposed Eggs, each connected by a force screen net. Dr. Walski, a short man in a Harris tweed jacket, pointed to the picture of the Eggs on the screen. He spoke briefly: "In the mid-21st century we finally found the answer to nuclear weapons with force shields around our major cities. These Eggs apply that technology. We will have a rectilinear net as an early warning system, out beyond Pluto's furthest orbit, facing where we expect an Alien invasion. Force screens will connect all the Eggs. Each Egg will be about 10 light minutes from the next. They will warn Earth of an invasion."
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One reporter raised his hand: "Dr. Walski, some say we should be working on a method of communication with the Aliens instead."
Dr. Walski replied from the stage: "We can not expect these Aliens to look like us or to communicate as we do. They did not grow up on Earth. We have been sending light and sound signals out for over a century without a response. Some scientists even felt we were alone in the Universe. Now we have found out the hard way that we are not alone."
Ted Wallace had leaned over to the reporter sitting next to him. "I am going to volunteer for these Eggs when they do get them afloat. This is where the action is, to save the human race."
* * *
Eight years had passed without further incident, but no one on Earth could forget the possibilities. The full potential of Earth's manufacturing power was unleashed to build a fleet of space ships and Egg outposts facing the direction in which the Aliens had been encountered in the far away star systems. The Eggs were connected by force screens and patrolled by battleships.
Many cities on earth were under constant force screen protection, but the security afforded by the force screens had lasted only a brief time against the Alien warships on the star base colonies. Not only
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that, but the joint Earth command had considerable doubt if they could really build a battleship that could deal with the Aliens on equal terms. Still a planet facing a space ship approaching from an unknown direction at almost the speed of light, firing missiles, such a planet would have no chance at all. The colonies of earth around distant stars had been turned to burnt rubble. Their destruction was total.
The enemy merely came in and destroyed the sitting ducks. Earth must not offer such a target.
* * *
The Eggs were an early warning system, a trip wire to let the Earth know of the arrival of an Alien battle fleet. It was impossible to keep the Earth's entire battle fleet airborne all the time.
Ted and Lisa were one of the many man-woman teams who had been deemed psychologically compatible and signed up for a typical nine-year hitch in space. They had eleven months on their post and one month back on earth each year. After nine years they would be retired with full pension for life as recompense for their service. The maintenance jobs on the outpost were routine and took only about two hours a day. The rest of the time the couple spent reading, watching taped television broadcasts, exercising, and sending messages by light impulse to the other nearby outposts. Ted more and more just
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came to enjoy Lisa's company. This coupling, one compatible male and female, was a combination that had been tried in the early exploration of the home planets. It certainly reduced boredom. The ménages in the sky were attacked by some moralists; but they worked.
Lisa Laverti complained at first that Ted, by nicknaming her "Lovely," reduced her to a mere sex object and was Ted's way of making her second in command on the Egg. But they were compatible, enjoyed Ping-Pong, cards, electronic games, and the same music. Lisa not only talked well, but listened better. At her insistence they both enrolled in some post-graduate college courses through the ship computer.
Ted had come to think of his assignment as a long, super honeymoon. They were only allowed a ration of two alcoholic drinks a day, since they were supposed to remain alert. But Ted felt the Egg was so fully automatic that humans were scarcely necessary. Now their outpost was the focus of the Alien attack upon Mother Earth. They had become the point couple for earth's survival.
"It might be just an exploration party," Lisa suggested hopefully.
She had hardly expressed this wish when they spotted a second Alien battleship further out, barely visible at the maximum
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magnification of their telescopic viewscreens. There were other vague images beyond. It was probably an entire Alien fleet.
They had suited up by this time, donned the full panoply of gear, oxygen pods, launchers, communications, and magnetic boots. The space suits, in spite of all the new materials, the reduction of weight and the increases in flexibility, felt ungainly after months of walking around with little or no clothing. They had the suiting process down to two minutes flat. The see-through helmets had been designed for parties of many people, so that the spacers could identify each other easily. It was not necessary now, with only two people, but Ted found that it was good to be at least still able to see Lovely's face.
Only four minutes had passed since the warning light signals had been dispatched. Still Ted felt some disbelief that he was still alive. In space nothing might happen for years, and then one mistake
and you were dead. That's what the training program had instilled into their very natures. When things happened in space, they went fast.
Lisa guessed at Ted's thoughts. "Why is it taking them so long?" she inquired, not really wanting an answer. Perhaps she hoped to just get it over with.
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Ted decided he was a dead man now; nothing really mattered from here on. He would die regardless of what he did. So he might as well follow procedures exactly. The lifeboats in the Egg were really only for emergency escape, to ride in until the backup Battleship reached them, in case of major equipment failure. When the Alien fleet got moving again, the Egg would be destroyed. If they tried to get away in a slow moving lifeboat, it would be akin to a signal. The Aliens would see them and capture their ship at once. Even when the Atlas did arrive, the earth battleship too would be destroyed.
"The Alien scouts are reporting back to their battle cruisers," Ted hazarded a guess. "Oh, here they come again."
The Alien scout ships were moving once more. Lisa recounted the slow, deliberate Alien progress. "They've moved in to about 200,000-kilometers from the force screen now, 100,000-kilometers, 50,000 from the force screen, and now they have slowed down again, drifting in. Now they are at 30,000-kilometers, 20,000, 10,000, and 5,000. Do you think they have spotted the Egg? It's pretty small in all this space."
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"It's hard to say. They've come to a halt again," Ted declared. "I almost feel sympathy for the Aliens in those three scout ships. They are the point people, expendable, just as we are."
"Don't feel for them," Lisa returned. "They're attacking, we're defending. And they aren't people."
Ted gave a deep sigh and then wished he had not done so. He must keep his own fears from Lisa. "Now the scout ships are moving again. A thousand kilometers from the force screen, 500, 300, 100, 50. They are slowing more and drifting in."
The humans on the Egg felt the Alien probe again; a probe such as this had set off the alarm system originally. This was stronger pressure and sent a shock wave into the computer which registered a "3" on the energy scale. Three percent of the available energy in the entire system went into repulsing that probe. "100" was the artificial point at which the force shield would cut off to let space objects through that were too great to contain. That way a large meteorite would not blow the entire system, but pass through safely, hopefully deflected from the Egg itself.
"Maybe they will just go away," Lisa suggested, forcing a little smile that Ted could see through her space suit visor.
"They're reporting back again. This is no field trip. Not with those battleships back there. Still it has been nine minutes. Why are they so deliberate? They may think it's a trap."
"In two hours the Atlas will be here."
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Ted only nodded. Let her hope. Before he put on his helmet he had gulped a tranquilizer while Lovely's head was turned. He did not want to show his fears.
The nearest scout, at nine o'clock, or "left out" as they said, began moving again. From the command deck they could see fully half of the sky, all the sky facing in the direction where the Aliens were expected to come. And this was the direction from which the Aliens had come. 'Right out', 'left out', 'down out', 'up out', and 'center out', were gross approximations for viewing ahead through the command deck's triple windows.
"Shall I inform all points that we have seen a second battleship and suspect a whole fleet further away beyond viewscreen range?" Lisa inquired.
"Sure. Prepare all the messages and get them set on automatic so you can dispatch them all with one push of the button. We may want to add something. The Aliens are only about ten kilometers from the force screen, but the screen itself is invisible. They are 400,000 kilometers 'out left' of our Egg and haven't seen us yet, apparently. Otherwise they would center their ships on us directly. Or maybe they think they're sneaking up on us from the side." It was best to keep Lisa occupied, Ted decided.
"O.K. Since we are being probed, but nothing more is happening, would it be a good idea to bring Al or Gerry over here to help?"
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"Help do what? You know the problem. If Al or Gerry took off from their Eggs in the slow lifeboats, the Aliens would just seize
them before they arrived here to help. Their lifeboats are so slow they would get here after the Atlas." Ted felt a little annoyed that Lisa would suggest that one of the other men come. He and Lovely would die, but they would die together. Ted had made up his mind to that. There was something sacred about it, almost.
Al and Gerry were two of the male halves of couples they talked to most in the nearest Eggs. They were ten light minutes away, a part of a reticulation that covered this whole quadrant of the sky. Ted and Lisa's only chance was the Atlas, and this Alien fleet wasn't going to wait that long.
Still fourteen minutes had elapsed. The enemy scouts were continuing to drift in toward the force field. Then they felt the probe again. It registered a "4" this time.
"You know," Lisa declared, "with the distances involved, the Aliens really arrived quite close to our Egg. If they had come upon the force screen further out, ten million kilometers away, say, we would not have known what made contact."
"Yes. And they wouldn't have been as likely to find us as easily as they are now," Ted replied. "Their battleships have sensors. The Aliens felt a force field ahead and stopped way out. They sent the
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scout ships ahead to have a look. It was only then that our sensors picked them up."
"They don't know Earth is our home planet or even if we have a base here," Lisa observed. "They won't know this is the group of humans they defeated so easily before. As far as we know, no Earth people have ever been taken prisoner and we humans have sure never seen any of them. They will be cautious because they don't know what they're dealing with."
"I hope they stay cautious and slow. But I don't believe it will last. You know what they did to our colonies."
"But," Lisa persisted after a moment, "if they had just hit the force field ten million kilometers from us, we still would have picked up the probe and they might never have found our Egg."
"They would have gotten tired and just pushed through the screen with their battleships. And we would have had to direct the Atlas to investigate what broke through the force field. Then we wouldn't be sure. Now we know. From the point of view of Earth it's better this way, because we do know the Aliens are coming. From our personal point of view, we are going to be on the front line very shortly."
"We could send a message to the other outposts and then turn off the force screen," Lisa suggested her voice carried the undertone of really knowing it shouldn't be done.
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"Our job now is to hold here as long as possible. It's like the Greek battle of Thermopylae. We are the Spartans this time. We are the outpost of Earth." Ted sighed again in spite of his determination not to give any sign of discouragement. "We are weaponless, useless. I don't know if the time we are buying will be wisely spent by Earth, but we swore to hold this post at all costs and, well . . . that's you and me."
Yes," Lisa replied, and there was no reading the single word.
Now there was an impact. The Alien scout ship had landed, if you could call it that, right on the force field. The other two Scouts landed next. They began simultaneous probes, and the readings jumped to "7" and then moved up to "11."
"What are they up to?" Lisa asked. "Probing, trying to break through." She answered her own question.
The closest scout ship pulled away a little and then returned to hit the force field. It was not going full tilt, and it still got an "18." If a battleship did that it would sail right through.
"Sixteen minutes," Lisa announced. "The Aliens are taking their time. Maybe when you have this much power, you do not need to be in a rush. Perhaps that's it. But there is something else peculiar about it all."
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"Maybe they don't want to risk a big battleship. But the Aliens who wiped out the star colonies are not going to be held back for long by this thin energy net."
The Egg had now fully served its purpose and the two humans aboard knew they should be dead already.
"Our little Egg is not moving relative to anything and will be difficult to see," Lisa began to prattle on in this vein all over again and Ted let her go without replying.
Then the Scouts pulled back. "Look, they're retreating," Lisa asserted.
Ted grunted. He didn't believe it.
Next they both saw the cluster on the horizon. "There is a group
of small scouts coming, diverging, moving in toward the force field, but spreading out widely. There is going to be an exploration in depth by expendable craft. The scouts are pawns in this galactic chess game. "
"And so are we," Lisa added.
"The closest scout ship will be 200,000-kilometers out left when it reaches the screen." Ted announced. "I have counted eighteen craft that I can see clearly, but there could be hundreds more, further away, three, four, five million kilometers away. The scouts are not visible at a distance of much over a million kilometers even when they are moving."
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"The probes are beginning again." Lisa advised. "But twenty minutes has passed."
Ted grunted again. "The probes are still all reading at the "3" level, so this is an effort to see where the power center is. Since the probes are all "Out Left," it will not be easy to trace the Egg that way.
Abruptly their computer transmitter picked up a light beam communication and translated it back into English. The poised, masculine voice of the computer, designed to instill confidence, gave Ted and Lisa the message: "Al/Marie, N746PT, acknowledge message received and we have retransmitted the messages to every Egg and the Earth base. You have seen three Alien scout ships, one battleship,
perhaps more. Al can come via lifeboat if needed. Fill in details. Good luck. Out."
The outposts were almost ten light minutes away, so it had taken twenty minutes for their message to arrive and be returned. If they sent another message, it would be again a twenty-minute round trip. A few seconds later they heard from Gerry/Lill and Burt/Maxine. As always George/Hazel were last. Gerry also offered to come over by lifeboat.
The closest scout was approaching them now, a little erratically. It was still 150,000 kilometers away and continually probing. Another
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ten minutes passed. "It's been half an hour," Lisa declared plaintively.
Then the nearest Alien scout, which had been veering away, paused and abruptly stopped. The Egg had been located. Three nearby scouts began to move in toward the Egg while the other scouts pulled back to the battleship. The three small ships came in, 100,000 kilometers, 50,000, 10,000, 1,000. They reduced speed and began to drift in, taking positions, Up Left, Down Left, and Center.
"It's only a matter of time now," Ted announced. "You can send your message and add that we have been discovered."
Lisa sent the message off to the other outposts, the space base on Pluto and the Battleship Atlas they hoped was on the way. The Alien scout ships drifted in to the hundred kilometer range, paused, and then slowly continued until they finally stood only a few hundred
meters away from the Egg resting right on the force screen. Another probe was attempted from all three points.
"Maybe they're trying to communicate?" Lisa Laverti suggested.
At that moment the three scouts lashed out with nose weapons directly at the Egg. The force field resistance needle jumped to "19." The blasts ceased. Again there was a pause.
"Does that answer your question?" Ted growled. "They're reporting back to the battleships for further orders."
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The Alien scouts began moving again. One dropped a large barrel affair almost over their heads, which seemed to attach itself to the force field and just hang there. The scouts moved off rapidly. Ted reacted at once. He closed the metal hatch over the triple viewplates.
The blast of the explosion went right off the scale. Most of the shock must have been carried off into space, but the impact registered at 100+ on the computer. Ted and Lisa were thrown to the floor of the control room. Ted could smell the burning wiring and see the smoke. He pushed a button to raise the air filters to high and the compartment cleared. Trouble lights were on all over the boards, but there was no drastic damage.
Ted opened the hatch again to view the scout ships, some eight kilometers distant. They were probably not aware they had
hurt the Egg at all. The force screen had cut off automatically at 100 and then come back on instantly after the blast passed through.
Ted looked around. The control room floor had a jagged crack clear across. One view screen on the top right would not function. But the hull was still intact and the problems inside were solvable short term anyway.
The three Alien scouts continued to observe. "We were supposed to wake up and react in some way, but we did nothing," Ted declared. "In fact we can do nothing."
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"Maybe that is just as well and they will go away," Lisa hoped again.
"No chance," Ted told her.
The scouts converged once more, firing blinding light beams from their nose guns. The beams were deflected. Then as the Alien ships came in to a distance of a few hundred meters the quality of the attack beams changed.
"The needle," Lisa indicated, looking at the dial and the power being used up. The deflectors were using up energy at "15," and "20," and then "25."
"They are too small. Their guns don't have the power to break through," Ted decided.
"It's been forty-five minutes," Lisa observed.
"And the Atlas won't even have our message yet," Ted responded.
But several more minutes passed. The Aliens had power even in these scout ships, but they tried everything too long. Ted could not understand it. There was something odd here. After a few more
minutes the scout ships abruptly broke off their attack and scattered as if on cue.
The leading battleship now came closer to the Egg, accelerating rapidly. One moment it had been about ten million-kilometers away and then it was roaring in toward them in an elliptical orbit. The battleship was also cigar-shaped, but a thousand meters long. It
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rushed down into a curve that took it just twenty kilometers from the Egg, firing at them as it passed. The needle went to "72" and stayed there for two seconds while the Egg's force screen deflected the beam. The battleship had almost broken through their force screen power at twenty kilometers away while traveling extremely fast. It was back, far away now, just hanging there, motionless, examining the Egg.
"The battleship will be back," Ted asserted. "When it hits us again, it will go right through the force screen and into the Egg itself. The power system could be put on override, and then we might hold out a bit longer. I've seen statistics that the force screen can be made to go to 160 near the source of its power. The 100 cut off for meteorites doesn't help us here."
They had never expected to have time for these alterations in strategy. The Egg outpost was a "point" as in the nomenclature of old military tactics even before the World Wars of the twentieth century. Ted and Lisa were equivalent to "points," sent ahead to spot the enemy. They were the bell of the alarm for Earth and its billions of people. The function of an alarm system was to go off in times of emergency, to warn, to sound the call for the fleet, to indicate the
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direction from which the enemy was coming. They had served that purpose in full and yet, somehow, they momentarily remained alive.
Ted talked to the computer, explaining the problem in detail. He concluded with questions: "In view of the structural damage to the Egg already, as a result of the explosion, what is our effectiveness? Can we go to manual override and put full power into our shields?"
"Working," the computer replied as always in its well modulated all too human voice. It always began that way, even though the next words came almost at once: "The explosion did no damage to the power floor. The command deck control floor is structurally damaged, but there are no leaks. If manual override is utilized, power could be exerted overhead to 160 and perhaps beyond. Would suggest that decision making be given to the computer. Force screen is being held fifty meters out from the front hull. This could be dropped back even closer before the system was turned off to save blowing out."
Ted disliked giving away autonomy, but the computer had been informed of the problem in full and it could react in microseconds. He talked the matter over with Lisa and then he agreed that the computer could run the show and keep them informed.
Giving away full authority to the computer was an unusual move, but not without precedent. "Working," the computer voice came through again. "Cutting lights to dim and all basic services except life support. Food supply is closed down. If you need a glass of water,
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get it now. All power is going into the force shields. If the control room floor is destroyed by having the force field pushed back through here, you should go to the power floor and take direct control from there. At that point I will have ceased to exist, since I am fixed to the control room floor. Out."
The computer contemplated its own demise with apparent ease. The lights dimmed, the air circulation slowed down to a trickle, even the music ended abruptly. Ted felt his throat dry at the mention of water, but he wasn't going to take off his helmet for even a moment. Lovely sighed deeply. It was like death already.
* * *
The Egg outpost had four floors with a circular stair for climbing through the portholes that separated the top floors and a pole that could be used for climbing up and down to the other floors. Climbing a pole was not difficult in the near weightlessness of space.
The top deck or command floor could be curtained off into three fair-sized rooms by the use of moveable curtains. This deck was almost one-quarter of the Egg and measured fifteen meters in diameter, over two meters high at the sides and three meters in the middle. The command deck came with panels, telescopic viewscreens, and it was curved outward to give the crew a look at the universe. The triple
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windows had a view that was unique and the metal hull could be closed around the viewscreen in emergencies.
The second floor, just below the command deck, was the living floor of the Egg. Floor and ceiling tracks could be set to place moveable walls at all kinds of angles, so that the crew of two, if they grew tired of one interior design, could rearrange room sizes as well as furniture. Right now this floor contained five rooms. The bedroom was a square, five meters on a side, right in the middle of the circular floor.
The rest of the living floor was partitioned off into four somewhat trapezoidal rooms. These outer cubicles were the kitchen, library, lounge, and recreation room. The kitchen was electronic, connected to the computer. The library contained not only books, but also 3D interactive television, video, communication, and audio equipment. The lounge was a bar that also contained a variety of electronic and exercise games. One needed active sports and workouts that kept you moving while you were in space. The recreation room had a ping pong table in it just now, which took up most of the area, and when they played Ted liked to open the wall to the lounge to give them plenty of room.
The third level of the Egg was for storage, held a year's supply of frozen food, water for drinking and showering with recycling
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equipment neither occupant liked to think about, and finally the two small lifeboats, each capable of holding two people. This floor had port doors that swung open wide to admit visitors in anchoring lifeboats. The bottom floor was the power chamber, containing two large energy boxes, Unit A and the backup Unit B, which now was also in use.
* * *
"It's been almost an hour," Lisa intoned.
"I don't know why they are taking so long." Ted grunted and shook his head. "Why don't the Aliens just get it over with. I guess I am determined not to hope anymore. A whole Alien fleet is out there. It is like cat and mouse. But what kind of a sneak attack is this? The Aliens have made no effort to communicate. Perhaps we should try a light signal. Maybe contact could be established yet. But any signaling would change the status quo. The only thing holding up a further attack is probably the Alien concern that this is a trap. If we appear scared, the attack might begin at once. And it will be over at once too."
Then the Egg rocked again. Scout ships once more were firing at the force field, out at great distances, the sensor readings indicated they were more than one hundred million kilometers away, and banging
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on the force screen with vibrations and shock waves that ran from "2" to build ups to "26." The Alien fleet was trying to see if the force field was omnipresent. It wasn't. But from where the Aliens had made contact, near the middle of the system, the enemy could go out a long ways, before they found a path around. Of course if the Aliens explored outward far enough they would first encounter other Eggs.
After a few minutes of rocking, the Alien battleship was back for another dive and attack, slower, and a lot closer in. The blast was
for six seconds, surging up to "148" on the dials, which was near the capacity of the system even on maximum overload. The next attack would probably double in intensity again and they would be shot right out of the sky.
"If we hadn't gone to computer control and override, that would have gotten us," Ted indicated evenly.
"The Atlas will have our message now and be on the way," Lisa replied.
"And in an hour it will be here," Ted growled. Lisa would just not stop telling him what time it was.
"Look, here come two of them," Lisa Laverti indicated. There were two Alien battleships approaching now, obliquely, a hundred thousand kilometers off, slowing, coming in cautiously. At 50,000 kilometers both vessels stopped and fired a blast through their nose
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guns that focused right on the Egg. The force shields gave readings of 20, 40, then 60.
The beams ceased and the Alien battleships moved slowly forward until they reached a range of 20,000 kilometers. Now a differing beam came from the nose guns, emitting little light but more powerful. It was a force beam that struck their own force shield. The numbers moved more rapidly on the dial from 30 to 60 to 90. The beams went off again and the ships came down methodically to the 10,000-kilometer range. The indicator on the Egg showed strikes applying pressure in increasing strength of 55, 110, 167 this time. The lights dimmed further in the command room on the Egg, but the force screen held.
"You had better leave the control floor," the computer voice cut in.
"Acknowledged," Ted replied to the computer. Then he added to Lovely, "If the next surge goes up at the same ratio, they will wrap our power screen around our necks and crush our eggshell."
Ted placed a gloved hand on Lisa's metal clad arm and led her back to the stairs to the bedroom below. Standing here at the porthole on the floor below, they could still watch the screen on the deck above.
The Aliens were coming in again. This was it! The enemy battleships were at 5,000 kilometers, hovering. The beams came on slower than before, and the force field built up more leisurely, but
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it was continuous: 50, 80, 110, 140, 170. The computer voice came on and seemed strained: "Force field bending back. Ten meters, five, two. Status. All power utilized. Closing ports."
"Acknowledged," Ted replied. The ports closed. Then the next surge hit.
"Distance zero. Transferring control to the power deck," the computer voice had become a squeal.
Ted's last view of the control deck was of the hull collapsing inward, the windows shattering, the screens going out, and the ceiling descending toward the floor. He pushed the button to automatically close the hatch between the floors. Even as the hatch snapped into
place they heard the "whoosh" above them as the hull went and with it all the deck equipment vanished into space. They had lost the control deck, the computer, the viewscreens, their communications with the outside, and their ability to coordinate any defense.
Then they watched in something close to despair, as the ceiling above their bedroom seemed to round out and pull away from them. One of the metal pillars parted. In a moment the disaster was going to reach their bedroom, a private place no longer.
"Quick," Ted demanded, and he pushed Lisa for the chute to the next level. It was just a circular opening with a pole and with the near weightlessness they pulled themselves down rapidly.
"The whole Egg is going," Ted moaned. Even as he clamored down he looked back one last time to see the rounded ceiling of the bedroom
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now flatten and descend toward him. Down on the storage floor, Lisa was on the automatic and closed the round port. It too snapped into position.
"We've now done everything required and more. We have a choice. We can get into a lifeboat and head away from this or . . . Wait, Lovely, fix your magnetics full on."
Ted watched approvingly as she pressed the wrist control button and her boot magnetics came on, holding her securely to the metal floor. Then he turned on his own boots. They would be held tightly, but walking would be harder. "Let's try and launch a lifeboat and see what happens to it. If it gets away, we could try escaping in the other one."
Ted reached in to the open lifeboat to set the controls on manual, toward the Sun, full speed take off, in thirty seconds. He jumped back out of the way, and hit the switch to open the launch doors. The doors opened at once, the length of the wall. There was another "whoosh" as every bit of air was pulled from this level. Ted and Lisa swayed on their magnetic boots but remained upright. Even as the lifeboat took off, Ted saw the ceiling above crack. The lights flickered, but came back on. The force shield had quit for good.
The lifeboat sped away and through the open launch doors Ted saw an Alien scout ship fly after the lifeboat, rapidly overtaking it. They were not firing. "That's why they have been fooling around.
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They may have thought it was a trap at first, but now they want some prisoners." With the power off, the Egg could be destroyed in seconds.
"Maybe we can try to get away in the other lifeboat while they are stopping that one," Lisa suggested.
"I see four or five more Alien scout ships out there, and they are all faster than the lifeboat." Ted stood looking through the open launch doors.
"Watch it Ted," Lisa yelled. An Alien scout ship was turning directly for the launch and hanger doors, which still stood wide open. Ted pressed the button to shut the doors. The Alien ship was a hundred meters out as the doors began to close slowly. The hanger doors were not functioning well anymore. There was a crunch and a
soundless rupturing of metal. The Alien ship was stuck more than half way into the Egg and covered a third of the room.
"Get below," Ted shouted. Lisa stepped through the last port and pulled herself down the chute pole to the power floor below, the bottom floor of the Egg. The whole cone end of the Alien scout ship came open as Ted paused to look.
Ted Wallace was the first human to see the Aliens. A space suited head emerged from the scout ship, a huge head, almost a meter in diameter. Then an enormous creature began pulling itself meter by meter out of the small scout ship. The Alien moved slowly,
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cautiously, in what it may have regarded as a suicide mission. "It's more than twice our size," Ted gasped into his space suit microphone. "These creatures are giants."
"Or we are small," Lisa responded.
The Alien's front two feet came down to heavily hit the metal floor, and the form fitting suit indicated huge claws at the end of the toes. Humans classify everything and thus turn the foreign into the familiar. Ted immediately likened what he saw to a great cat. But the final shock came when the single rear leg emerged, just one huge central leg, or perhaps it was a very curved tail. Ted dropped his head through the hatch and Lisa pushed the switch to close the hatch door.
"It's like a three-legged cat, one leg in the rear, and it's five meters long, bigger than both of us together. Those Alien scout ships must be powerful. These creatures take up half of one of their scout
ships. Yet they fly quite fast, carry weapons, and can even transport a barrel of explosives as we have seen. What a report, if we can get back to give it."
"Listen, hear it on the floor above?" Lisa asked. There was no noise in space, but the vibrations above were being carried down through the walls to the floor on which they stood. The creature was banging about. "It's been more than ninety minutes now, Ted. The Atlas will be on the way."
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"We might have done better to just fling ourselves into space with out suits on," Ted suggested. "We would have been small objects to scan and with a four hour air supply, it would be all over one way or another. We can't even get out from this level. No doors, no windows. How do we hold off those things for another forty minutes." Ted laughed a little hysterically. "The creature is ripping the doors off all the cabinets up there. That's the vibration you feel. In a moment, it will try to get at us and then . . . " Ted did not finish.
There was an extra hard blow from above on the floor. The creature had discovered the escape hatch to this lowest level. "He's trying to smash the hatch door."
The hatch door abruptly glowed red and simply dissolved. The edges cooled in a moment in space. A huge paw sheathed in metal armor came through the hatch, feeling below, as a cat might, for mice, slowly, carefully. Now was the time to have a laser pistol or any kind of a weapon. Lisa screamed. Both people backed up to the huge
rectangular Power Unit A that extended from the floor to almost the ceiling, still supplying light in this last grim room left on the Egg.
The claw continued to fumble about for a moment and then retreated. Again a minute passed. Now a wider circle five meters in diameter began to be inscribed by a weapon from above. When the segment was cut, it was lifted out of the way like opening a tin can.
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The humans could both see the creature above now, staring down through the hole at them with an eye that was semi-circular across its entire large head, one elongated continuous eye, a band of flickering light across the upper face, exposed to their view through a visor plate.
The Alien was holding the weapon he had been using in one of its paws, sitting on its curled rear leg on the floor above. For several seconds it held that position now. Then the creature bent its head and descended through the hole it had created in the ceiling. It sat for the moment in the center of the floor in front of them. The weapon pointed at them menacingly and seemed to say: "Don't move." But there was something odd. The Alien had descended so very slowly, so deliberately, its head and one front paw near them now. Lisa screamed again, involuntarily. She probably did not even know she was doing it, Ted reflected.
"Lovely," Ted demanded forcefully, "we've got to try. Crouch down here behind this power unit and get the back cover off. See if you can pull some live wires out to stun that thing. It appears to be moving very slowly. It's our only chance. I will watch it and use my launcher pack to try to distract it by flying over behind Unit B on
the other side of the room. If I aim myself at slow, I can go right past it to the other side. It's got a gun of some kind, but I think it wants us alive. I don't think it can reach behind these units."
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"O.K. Be careful with the launcher. It's not for indoor use." She laughed nervously, and started unbolting the cover at the back of power unit A.
Ted watched for his chance. "O.K. Here I go." Ted leaned forward and pushed his wrist button. The launcher did the rest and carried him right past the Alien to the other side of the room. He bumped the wall with outstretched hands, bounced, and landed upright on his mag boots. The shock was punishing, but he recovered in an instant and stepped behind power Unit B.
He did not believe the Alien could reach into the narrow space behind the power units, but if the creature fired at them, well their suits would open and they would die. Perhaps that was better than being captured. If Lisa could use the main power with two live wires and shock the creature then . . .
The Alien creature had taken its time getting situated on the floor of the power chamber. There was not much room for it to move in between the two huge power units. Now it turned ever so slowly to look at Ted. Then the floor above vibrated. From where he stood, looking up through the hole in the ceiling, Ted could see something forcing the hangar doors open on the floor above. The creature waited patiently for perhaps two minutes, and then Ted saw the hangar doors
snap. The big doors were bent inward and crushed. Another enemy scout ship had docked by affixing itself to the side of the Egg. The
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pilot of this craft was another space suited Alien, the size of the first. He had forced his way into the floor above.
Lisa might actually make it and shock one of the brutes, but not two. The creature on their level moved slowly to the side of Unit B now to get out of the way and its face looked directly at Ted, who was only three meters back, behind the Unit. It tried to reach in a paw, and just as Ted had hoped, the huge space-suited paw would not fit. The second Alien creature was beginning to slowly climb down. Ted thought suddenly of old movies with zombies walking slowly, only this was real. Then the nearer Alien raised its gun.
Ted felt there was nothing for it but to use his launcher and try to reach the other side of the room again. He bent forward, pushed the wrist button and shot out across the center of the room. Using a launcher in a narrow space was neither simple nor safe, but nothing seemed to matter now. As Ted flew across the room this time, he kicked out at the paw of the second Alien descending, and spun, hitting the wall. For a moment the breath left him. Then he stood up.
The second Alien had come down in a heap as if the blow actually hurt. But the creature sat up now, the only position he could take in the low ceiling of this room. Ted was against the side of the wall between the power units. Both aliens stretched out long arms toward him. The Aliens seemed deliberately ponderous, as if they were acting
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in slow motion. Ted cut the power in his mag boots to minimum and ran back to Lisa's side.
Both Aliens made a grab for him and missed. It was hard to believe they could be so ridiculously slow. Ted even felt that one of the Aliens he was watching closely was startled at his speed. But then what must a hyperactive fly think when a huge man aims a hand at him and misses completely? Only the relative speed here was even more extreme. It was no trick at all in running between their languorous paws.
"You're back. Thank God," Lisa shouted. "I've got the wires ready. Four meters length on each side and enough juice to kill an elephant. Be careful of the ends. The way they missed you there, I think you could run out and get them."
Ted turned his magnetic boots back to 20% power; there was no point to stumbling and falling on the dangerous wires. Carefully he grasped the wires by the insulation and noted that Lisa had peeled back the open end a full ten centimeters with the wire cutters in her suit's tool kit. For an instant Ted watched his target, which was still lumbering toward him, so very slowly, one paw extended out. Ted left the shelter behind the power unit to lean forward and touch a wire to either side of the armor-suited paw. The sparks flew. The creature did a jump that carried it slowly to the ceiling and then it
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crumbled back to the floor. The other Alien, further back, moved no closer, but began to raise its gun.
The electrical wires were not going to reach that far! Ted ran back behind the power unit. The Alien weapon was not on low anymore; the blast shook the power unit and dissolved a four square meter chunk in a puff of smoke. Ted touched his wires together for an instant and there were no sparks. They were dead.
But the Alien was so slow. The creature was looking at the effect of its blast now. There was no time to make another hook up from Power Unit B across the room. The creature could continue blasting until it had them. Ted leaned forward, checked his launcher button on the wrist control, which was still on low, and aimed just past the Alien head first. As he passed he kicked at the gun.
To his intense surprise, instead of Ted's own suit ripping, which he had feared, the huge claw of the Alien seemed to shatter and the gun went spinning away. Ted bounced off the opposite wall and landed upright on his mag boots. He rushed back for the gun and picked it up with one sweep.
The Alien also started to reach for the weapon, then paused. When it realized it was too late, it backed away in abject terror, sitting on its rear leg and spreading out its front paws wide to bare its chest. It seemed an obvious gesture of surrender. Ted had no idea as to how to use the huge, but strangely lightweight weapon.
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Still he pointed it menacingly. Ted noted that one of the Alien's paws had been injured, but the suit had resealed itself instantly.
Now the Alien creature began to emit flickers of light from its single curved eye. Perhaps it communicated that way. How, Ted wondered, did you establish contact with a being that communicated by light flashes from its eyes? What did it all mean? The language of the eyes!
Ted and Lisa were still alive, but the situation was impossible. He would have to hold the Alien at bay till the Atlas arrived, and then the Atlas would have to take on a whole enemy fleet.
In the last space battle between Aliens and Humans, Earth had lost four battleships and then somehow by accident or chance destroyed one enemy ship. The Alien ships had then retreated, taking their blasted battleship along. The remaining Earth ships had felt themselves lucky to run and escape.
But at hand to claw combat it might be a different matter. The Aliens were so ponderously slow, working on another time plane entirely, perhaps. How long could he and Lisa continue this stalemate, the one huge Alien sitting there in an attitude of surrender, its companion probably dead beside it on the floor?
"Lovely," Ted shouted, "we have one wild chance. I'm afraid to try to fire this gun. I know nothing about it. He's not going to
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give me a chance to practice. There is a dial and a button on the side, but if I show my ignorance, this creature may come back after me. Run over to Power Unit B and see if you can pull some live wires from there and get up behind this creature and do it in. It worked before."
"I'll try." Lisa darted past the Alien. The creature appeared to be looking up and away from Ted now, its eyes still flashing. Perhaps it was transmitting a message to its home ship.
"Ted," Lisa called, "this panel will be easier than the other."
"Our best chance is speed," Ted declared. "They react slowly and perhaps think slowly. It's as if they were operating within a different time frame. That's probably why they took so long to close in on the Egg. They don't care about communicating with us at all. To them, we're just a smaller, lower form of life to be destroyed, until we trap them like this. Their technology is way ahead of ours. But they are slow. "
After a bit Lisa called: "I'm ready. These wires are longer and will reach further too."
"Be careful when you come up behind it. We don't know about that rear leg." The creature still faced Ted and Lisa was coming from the back. Then the Alien began to turn toward her, slowly, sensing something. Ted dared not shoot his unknown weapon with Lisa nearby.
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Now there was a bump and something locked on to the remainder of the crumbled Egg. The Alien creature lost its balance and pitched over. Lisa ran in with the wires like a matador to touch the Alien's rear paw from each side. The shock of electrical power ran through the creature and it collapsed.
The Egg gave another bump and began to accelerate. Lisa momentarily lost her balance and almost fell on the wires. "Watch it," Ted called uselessly. But Lisa recovered and put the wires down
carefully, moving away from them. "Where are they towing us?" she asked.
"Let me climb up on this wall and look," Ted replied.
"Be careful of the edges of that hole," Lisa warned. "Don't puncture your suit."
Gingerly Ted grabbed the edge of one surface in the ceiling hole and pulled his head up to look through the torn hangar doors of the Egg's supply deck. There was nothing to see but space.
"I see nothing. Wait. We're turning. We're being pulled into the Alien battleship!"
And there it was. Ted saw the enemy battleship; a port door much larger than the Egg was opening. He watched fascinated as they came in slowly to a gigantic chamber with muted blue light. Ted could not see how the Egg had been grappled or conveyed, but now, the
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power was cut and the Egg was deposited inside. He heard the doors of the space ship closing behind them. They were prisoners.
Ted let go and floated to the floor of the power room beside Lisa. He quickly examined the Alien weapon he held. It was twice the size of an Earthly laser pistol, but very light. It gave Ted the feeling of playing with a giant toy. The weapon had a nozzle and a barrel where a claw could hold it. On the side of the gun's handle was a dial and a button in the middle. Ted pointed the gun at the ceiling and pressed the button. A yellow light shot up at the ceiling and glanced off. He held the button down and turned the dial with one
finger. Now the intensity of the beam increased and the ceiling metal sheered off and vanished. That was full power.
"Ill carry this in the kit on my back so they can't see it, right away," he told Lisa. "Let's go out and meet our hosts. We might as well get this over with."
"Ted, in just over fifteen minutes the Atlas will be here and . . . Maybe we can hide in one of the storage lockers on the Egg." Lisa was still hoping.
"When the Atlas does come, it is going to be outnumbered and shooting with all its got at this Alien ship we are on or any enemy ship it sees. Come on."
Ted pulled himself up to the storage level and gave Lisa a hand. Then they looked in shock at the vast room before them on the Alien
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craft. Here the Aliens had deposited them and the remains of the Egg. At the opposite end of the chamber creatures were emerging from a corridor.
At first it was difficult to take it all in. The three Aliens at the other end of the room, not wearing space suits, were if anything larger than the monsters that the humans had encountered before in the Egg. Ted stood tall for an Earthman, at two meters, but these creatures were all over five meters in height, even when walking at a crouch. Their huge back leg, or was it a curled tail, pushed them along, and the front two legs were at mid-body. The first impression was that of huge size, then tawny ocellated fur, a head with round, open mouth, edentate perhaps, and possessing a prognathous
lower jaw. There was no sign of nose or ears, and the eyes were a continuous semi-circular cluster at the top of the head, flashing constantly, in motion, changing colors.
What Ted took to be the leader of the three Aliens was approaching the Egg very slowly. This creature held, as a rider on its upper back, an entity not unlike an Earthly dragonfly, only again it was huge, a meter in wingspread, a neuropterous insect with eight bent, spindly legs, perching on the cat's furry back.
Ted helped Lisa descend to the floor of the Alien battleship. "Put your arms to the side in surrender as the Alien did aboard our Egg," Ted suggested.
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The creatures advanced again. "Their weapons are better than ours," Ted continued, "or at least they were at the time of the last space battle, and I don't think we've improved much. Their ships are faster and more maneuverable. But the creatures themselves are slow. Perhaps time is different for them."
The leading Alien now sat down in position some ten meters away, holding one of their big weapons in a front paw, resting as the others had done on his rear leg. The multiple eyes flashed at them, effulgent gleams of various intensities, a potpourri of color.
Ted waved his arms just a little. "He's trying to communicate. What can we do? What an opportunity. I think they were slow demolishing the Egg because they wanted prisoners."
"It's no good, Ted," Lisa protested. "They destroyed the star colonies. When they find we don't flash our eyes, they'll think we're
just dumb and kill us. We can't communicate; we're worthless to them."
"They look formidable, Lisa, but they're not strong. In my spacesuit, I knocked into the top of the paw of the one and hurt it. I took his gun right away from him. If they raise their guns, I'll turn on my backpack launcher and try to bowl them over. If it works we'll go right down that passage ahead. O.K.?"
"We might as well try. I'm ready to follow. The longer they flash their eyes and waste time, the better."
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Regardless of success before with the two Aliens in the Egg, if Ted had not psyched himself up for almost two hours into believing he was going to die anyway, he probably would not have even suggested attacking these creatures. A grasshopper doing battle with a squirrel was not much more ludicrous.
Abruptly the light flashing eyes seemed to change. The front creature's toothless mouth opened even further and rounder, and then a tractile, long thin tongue emerged, flickering at them, a round purple tongue two meters in length.
"Do you think the dragonflies are pets or enjoy a symbiotic relationship?" Lisa asked.
"That tongue may be a secondary method of communication," Ted suggested. "We can't perform that feat either. Watch out, the gun! Come on." The last was spoken rapidly.
The leading Alien began to raise its weapon. The gun came up so slowly, that Ted thought for a moment how they would have laughed at that draw in the old west. Ted leaned forward, pushed on his wrist control, and his rocket launcher shot him right across the room into the creature. Even after what had occurred before, Ted was not prepared for this. The middle creature reared up, and he caught it squarely in the soft chest. The huge insect on its shoulder was thrown against the ceiling and burst on impact. The leader of the
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Aliens fell backward into the other two creatures as Ted and Lisa, moving fast, continued past them right down the corridor ahead.
The corridor was fifty meters long with side passageways that were narrower. Ahead the hallway opened into a great circular room, thirty meters in diameter, dome-roofed with a convex floor. Many corridors, like spokes of a wheel, converged on this room. A dozen Aliens were accumbent on pillows, couchant, watching screen controls. To Ted this produced all the more the appearance of big cats. Overhead, on perches, two of the huge dragonflies sat motionless. Ted landed with a jar on his magnetic boots. He pulled the Alien gun he had captured from his backpack, set at full power, and fired almost instantly into the controls, the screens, the cat-like creatures, and the dragonflies alike. Smoke and flames erupted from the panels. A dozen Aliens began coming down an opposite corridor toward him.
To Ted's surprise, Lisa pushed her launcher into full power and headed right down the corridor at the oncoming Aliens. She yelled:
"Destroy their control room. I’ll see what I can do to hold them off."
The huge beasts were light for their size, slow, clumsy and weak. Lisa knocked the approaching pack in all directions and she ceased being volitant only after she had compressed a mangle of bodies in the corridor. Yet more continued to come in and to push. Lisa lost her footing and fell. An Alien raised a huge paw atop her. Lisa
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screamed, then slammed both hands down. The paw seemed to crack and was withdrawn.
Ted watched the instruments shatter as he fired the Alien gun, the control panels dissolving, bursting into flames, masses of equipment comminuted, while the creatures ran from him in stark terror. In trying to escape from the room, three of the Alien cats ran down the corridor toward Lisa. Lisa was obviously trapped, unable to move in the press of bodies. Ted dared not fire in that direction.
Then he heard the buzzing. Three dragonflies were approaching down each of two separate corridors. All the dragonflies were carrying a gun in their long black pencil-thick legs, clutched by pinchers in their feet below their bodies.
Ted knew it was just seconds before the dragonflies had him. He pressed his launcher on full and shot down the left corridor and swept under the dragonflies. They turned, very slowly, quite gracefully and dropped to three levels, one below the other. They aimed their weapons. Ted saw the huge door ahead of him closing and he turned sideways in mid-flight and went through. In the room beyond he tried
to turn and catch himself with the magnetic boots on the metal wall at the end. He did not make it.
The crash was a hard one. He felt his right arm go snap and the gun spun away. He landed upright but dazed, his right arm broken and useless. The gun he had been carrying was nowhere to be seen, in
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the mass of Alien paraphernalia on the floor. Ted turned to see the door that had closed behind him being vaporized by the dragonflies' weapons outside. He looked about in desperation now, but there was no other exit from this room. His arm was very painful and his part of the struggle was all over.
He was trapped.
Then the ship began to weave back and forth. This room, his prison, tore open. The whole Alien ship yawed and exploded. Ted found himself in space, thrashing around in debris. The Atlas had arrived to find an Alien ship with its controls gone, wallowing in space.
* * *
Only later, when Ted and Lisa had both been picked up by the Atlas and after the rest of the Alien fleet had retreated, did they learn the full story. In the last battle between the Aliens and Earth, the only occasion when one Alien ship had been damaged, pictures had been taken. It was believed that the Alien ships had a weakness down under their center guns, if they could be hit there.
When the Atlas came on the scene at full speed, it saw one Alien battleship moving unsteadily, out of control, not firing. They did not know this activity was due to Ted and Lisa. The Atlas had not
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hesitated, but instantly tried the often-rehearsed only successful strategy of the last battle, moving down under the Alien ship's guns and firing. They had blown a huge hole in the Alien battleship. Ted had been thrown out of the hole in the ship into space. Lisa and a number of the Alien crew had followed as the air left all the open compartments of the enemy ship. Ted and Lisa survived because they were still wearing space suits.
The remainder of the Alien fleet had immediately retreated, as they had done before when they had a battleship blasted. Only this time they left their defeated vessel behind. Now the Atlas was towing the remains of the Alien ship in to port, with some prisoners of both Alien species safely secured on board in airtight compartments. For the moment the incursion was over.
Perhaps earth scientists could learn to decipher the language of the eyes.
The Malthusian Murders
What if immortality were for sale?
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This is a report on the confession of Bob Fond:
No! I never would have begun the adventure if I had known the denouement, but then how many of life's doorways would we leave unopened if we knew what was beyond? I was moving into an action drama that might have been a movie.
My private seaplane came in from the north, circled the tiny Caribbean Island once, low, and I took some pictures, as if I were a tourist, before I told my pilot to land. I was able to survey the adjacent ship harbor where three large yachts were in view, two anchored at the pier, one just pulling out to sea. They were visitors perhaps. There were two other seaplanes in the landing basin below. The spray of the pontoons made a pretty scene in the water of the smooth inlet, all the way to the plane dock.
I had been annoyed when my own Learjet was refused permission to land here. There was no airstrip and the tiny island accepted only seaplanes. So I had to rent what amounted to an air taxi. A charter ship would have taken a full day's trip each way from Antigua.
There were two burly men waiting on the dock to greet me, looking very tough in their striped tee shirts. On the beach at the base of the cliff, a back up team of three men watched carefully.
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"Hi, I'm Bob Fond, here for an appointment with Dr. Cutter," I told them. My mood was not improved when the guards insisted on padding me down. There was not much room for a weapon in my tight fitting pants and gray short sleeve shirt. Maybe they were looking for a recorder, but I had none. Only after these monkeys frisked me was I allowed to use the outdoor elevator that took people up the sheer cliff from the beach. The cliffside elevator was a nice touch, but I was thinking that it was probably all a scam anyway in spite of what I had been told. It was likely an elaborate con game, but I would never know until I checked it out. Still, Steve Blazer of Argo International had recommended it. Steve was a man to be trusted.
At the top of the cliff I was led to an enormous home, something in the area of 20,000 square feet, I guessed. The walkway up to the house further up a hill twisted and passed through gardens, beside an Olympic outdoor pool. There were two tennis courts next to a walkway leading to a patio and a wrap around veranda before the main entrance.
I was ushered into a small waiting room. All doctors like waiting rooms. I sat facing a wall full of framed university degrees,
medical associations to which the doctor belonged, academic societies, hospital residencies completed, awards won, research completed.
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Then a nurse showed me into the paneled reception room where Dr. Cutter was waiting for me and we finally stood face to face. I had a feeling this was all staged. But after all the phone calls with
information denied, probably because they feared their phone was beomg taped, I at last met the great man.
What a name, I had reflected a number of times. It was a pity Dr. Cutter was not a surgeon instead of a research scientist. Joe Cutter did not look especially young, handsome, or even distinguished, considering what he was selling. I am 47 years old and I guessed the doctor was ten years younger. I'm balding just a little, working on staying slim, and nothing here would help that. I'm still tall, strong, and hoped I was in the prime of life. It would be nice to stay that way awhile. It was exactly why I was here.
Dr. Cutter was a slightly built man, with short blond hair, very tanned, and was dressed not in medical clothes, but quite casually, in an open tan shirt and shorts. Ever since I had entered the business world, a quarter of a century ago, I had habitually looked at other men I met and thought to myself: 'I could lick him.' Now I could think it again. Was that sort of thinking simply business dominance or a flaw in my own character? I wondered. Twenty years ago I had taken up karate, working up to black belt with the same determination I showed in business. Of course there are degrees of black belts. I was only a first degree.
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"I call this place the Island of Dreams. And I welcome you, Mr. Fond," Dr. Cutter declared.
"Thank you. It appears the dreams have done well by you."
Dr. Cutter smiled and led the way back through some French doors onto the open veranda where we had a remarkable view of the harbor, the palm trees below, and the lushness of the tropics. Joe Cutter waved me into a colorful deckchair.
"Would you like a drink?"
"No. Not right now. You said on the phone that you could only tell me about your operation in person."
"That is true. But before we talk, I want you to sign a waiver in which you promise to tell no one what I will reveal to you without my permission." Joe Cutter produced a sheet of paper.
"You didn't tell me, I'd need my attorney." I laughed and took the paper. I had seen enough contracts to feel I was almost a lawyer.
"It is a legal document, but it is as nearly jargon free as I can get it." Joe Cutter had a ruddy, open face, and a happy smile that he turned on now.
It was a single page, essentially stating that certain things were going to be revealed and I was to promise never to tell anyone. If I did talk, I might be sued and damages obtained. If I wished to tell someone about this conversation, I must obtain Dr. Cutter's permission each separate time in advance. How binding the document
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was, that I did not know. But it was obvious since I had traveled four thousand miles from California to learn some things, that unless I signed this paper I might as well go home. Besides, I am not in the
news business. There seemed to be no harm as long as I did not talk. I signed and dated the document, returning it to Dr. Cutter.
"Thank you. It is just a formality, but I do ask for strict confidentiality. I do not want the multitude, the great unwashed out there, knocking on my door and begging to be treated for free. Now tell me exactly what brings you here?"
"I hear you have the fountain of youth."
"No, rather a product designed to arrest the further ravages of time and freeze you where you are now. Why do you want it?"
"That should be obvious. Because there is so little time. Sometimes I have thought I would like the words: 'There was not enough time' on my tombstone. My favorite song is ‘More.’ That’s all I ever wanted."
"It would be even better if there were no tombstone necessary," Dr. Cutter interjected. "Go on."
"I am a businessman and yet there is too little time to make money. I suppose I enjoy the power that I have acquired and would like to hold on to it. If that makes me a bad guy, so be it. I have a younger brother who is a physicist. He has less time than I do, he says."
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"He will have to come out here himself. If you wish to tell him about the program, you will need permission even for a brother. But it is true the most brilliant men may get a Ph.D. at twenty-five and then they have till they are forty to do their best work. But the problem is universal for all short-lived humans, movie starlets,
prizefighters, football stars, and many others have even less time to achieve success."
"Life is short, nasty, and brutish."
"Now you are a philosopher too," Dr. Cutter asserted. "That is a quote from Hobbes. You asked me to come to the point, and I will. The cause of aging is to be found right in the DNA. We each have in our own cells what amounts to a computer tape that dictates how we age, at what rate, and ultimately when we will die. Some people die of accidents before their tape runs out. Some people die of diseases that can't be controlled by the technology available at the time they are living. Some drink or eat to excess. But the rest of the people all eventually die anyway. People age at differing rates, but eventually they all die. So far. I have a product, some pills and a treatment which stops the aging process."
"An anti-aging pill," I suggested.
"You could call it that. After the American laws of 2015 everyone has heard of telomerase. Life extension is illegal on the mainland of all the developed countries now. The population
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explosion, and all that. The facts are easy. In 1650 A.D. there were a half billion people on the entire earth. In 1850 populations doubled to one billion people. Only in the 20th century did the numbers go up to two, three, four, five, and now over six billion. Thomas Malthus warned of excess population in the 18th century. Now there are many new Malthusians."
"When news about immortality leaked out in the media there was consternation," I agreed.
Dr. Cutter laughed. "Yes Bob Fond, if everyone became immortal and had one extra child, the population could double again at once. The ultimate Malthusian dilemma." He paused. "That is why I bought my own island, obtained independent status and . . .”
"Go on," I urged.
"Why do we age at all? Leonard Hayflick, who wrote How and Why we Age explained the problem better than anyone else. He studied replication of cells. As early as 1961 he found that after dividing 50 times, human cells would simply stop or die. This final entropy was called the 'Hayflick limit.' The cells had gotten old or a signal had been given. The older the human being the cells were taken from, the fewer times the cells divided before they stopped. But there have been laboratory treatments that caused human cells to continue to replicate."
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"Then in the 1990's it was discovered that telomeres, small bits at the end of DNA sequences which cap the chromosomes, are shortened with each cell division. The telomere is a molecular clock, programming the cell, telling it when to stop dividing. The next step was telomere stimulators and enhancers, which allowed cells to continue dividing and thus prolong middle age. The ends of the cells could be enhanced so they provided more telomeres and hence divided longer."
I smiled. "I read the magazines and newspapers. The answer for immortality was discovered, but not for the masses."
"Besides," Dr. Cutter continued, "the process is expensive.
Should we deny people who do not have the money? And then the religious organizations got into the act. We were playing God, they said. Pressure was applied to all governments. In the end it was outlawed for all. I feel sure that certain members of Congress, entrepreneurs, stars of the media with enough money, have found ways.
I believe there are other clinics out there. In any case I have such a program. Perhaps I am one of many, but we do not communicate with each other since it is internationally illegal."
"Who would invade your island? The United Nations?" I scoffed, chuckling. "This is the inverse of genocide. The whole effort to prevent the advancement of science amuses me."
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Dr. Cutter paused and then went on: "My program acts upon the DNA, the cellular structure of the body itself. Diseases and accidents will still kill you, but you will not age appreciably under my supervision. You will not become older. You can still get sick, catch a cold, get the flu, and even die of other diseases if you don't seek medical attention. And that is up to you. But you will remain as healthy and youthful as you are now. You will in effect freeze at this age, as it were."
"How long have you had this?" I asked.
"Five years. I experimented three years before developing this formula. By 2007 I was sure I had the process."
"But then it became illegal," I interjected.
"True. But for the last five years I have been selling my wares to a slowly growing group of customers. The price is high
however you are a very rich man." And again Joe Cutter gave his most engaging smile.
"Is five years long enough to be sure?" I asked directly. "A lot of people in their middle years don't seem to age at all in that length of time. People are a long-lived species to test upon."
"That is true. It is why fruit flies and mice have been used in certain experiments. But I have examined the cells, including my own. The proof will be in the pudding a bit later. But this does come with a money back guarantee."
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"And what is your price."
"There is an initial charge of ten million dollars. You must return here for the pills each three months afterwards, and there is a charge of one million dollars a year after that."
I starred in disbelief. This was a bit thicker than I expected. My net worth is probably around five hundred million, and raising ten million was not a problem. But if this were a con game, then what? It was a lot of money to lose. I had expected a price somewhere in the hundred thousands.
"The money back guarantee is simple," Joe Cutter continued.
"If at any time, and that means any time, you wish to quit, permanently and forever, you will receive a full refund of all the money you put in."
"With interest," I asked.
Cutter smiled. "No. I'm afraid not. If you leave the program and the program has not failed, you get back only what you put in.
There is one exception. If the program fails, you will, under the contract, be entitled to receive your money back in full with ten per cent annual interest, compounded. I don't expect the program to fail. If, for instance, you have a heart attack or stroke, your heirs will receive the money and interest.”
"But I am not allowed to tell my heirs!"
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"Without permission, you may tell no one. You have permission to tell one attorney that you have what amounts to a life insurance program stored in your bank vault. You will be given a document, which states that in effect. It is guaranteed. The document can go in your safe or anywhere you choose. The policy does not apply to accidents, suicide, or preventable diseases."
"The compounded interest on such sums alone, over a five or ten year period would be tremendous."
"True. However, that is the deal and you can take it or leave it. And I do not expect to have to pay out."
"Tell me about the health guarantees."
"If I accept you into this program, you may go to your private doctor on the outside and be checked. You must not tell him about the program you are in. You can get the usual base-line medical tests showing your over-all health. If there is aging proven in the future, in one year, five years, ten years, or forever, you are entitled to your money back with interest. If you attempt to climb Mount Everest and are killed, you get nothing. If you pick up some disease and do not seek medical attention, you get nothing."
"I belong to a 'life extension' clinic right now. Can I continue to go to them?"
"Certainly. They do not offer what I do, but they are a good idea. Prevention is always better than trying to cure."
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"What side effects do these pills have? Do they make you sick?"
"No. The initial reaction to the first pill is usually a feeling of tranquility and well-being. This feeling intensifies sometimes as you take more pills. If you pay your deposit, you will be put through a series of tests that will take two or three days. Then you will receive the first pill. You will be expected to return each three months forever, for an hour of tests and your pill. If you don't return, you lose your money and everything."
"Why can't I take the pills along, a year's supply at a time?" I knew the answer to that, but I had to ask.
"For the same reason that you will swallow the pill in front of me each time. I do not want a pill to leave here and be analyzed. This again is one reason I have set up on a private island, independent as a little nation. I do not intend to submit to the tests of any government. Nor do I intend to share this formula with the multitude. There are far too many people in the world now."
"I agree with you on that. This is for the classes, not the masses or the asses. So we're both elitists. How many people do you have in your program now?"
"About thirty. I intend to expand to no more than fifty."
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I smiled. That would be quite a bit of money. Thirty people at ten million each initially, would be three hundred million. Then at a million a year each thereafter, that would be thirty million each year. Joe Cutter could afford his island and his mansion atop the cliff. The money Dr. Cutter received would all be tax free out here, unless the doctor had to pay one of the neighboring island nations for protection, which was quite possible.
"Why is the number of your patients increasing so slowly when you offer immortality?" I inquired.
"The high price and, well . . . I can't advertise. This is illegal. Word of mouth among the elite is slow."
"How many have begun and then dropped out of the program?"
"None. One person has been killed in an accident."
"No refunds on that."
"I'm afraid not." Joe Cutter smiled again, his disarming open grin.
"Have you considered that perhaps the greatest men of our age should be given immortality rather than the richest? Some men might be invited to partake of immortality?"
"That is a question I have never been asked before. You are an unusual person. But I am not in the philanthropy business. On the other hand you could finance such a person yourself. You have the money to do it. You mentioned a brother you had who was a physicist.
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What is greatness, Bob Fond? Define a great man for me. How would you have me choose?"
I did not reply. Instead I asked another question: "What is the longest anyone has been on your pills?"
"Six years. That would be myself."
"How old are you?" I asked Dr. Cutter. We are all more aware of our own age than any other fact. Perhaps that will stop in the future.
"I'm forty-three, now," the Doctor replied. "I started taking the pills when I was thirty-seven. I was quite lucky. I think thirty-five is the optimum age for people. I intend to try to stay close to that age forever."
Joe Cutter did not look forty-three. How do you tell? Now the question was, should I buy in? The money was not a problem, if the treatment really worked. But I had grown up poor and made my money in the software end of the Internet business, which was not as easy as it sounded. I respected money. Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate, had given away two hundred million dollars, but Carnegie never gave to beggars. Carnegie believed everything in life was educational. You taught beggars to continue begging by giving to them. I never gave to beggars either.
"How long do I have to think it over?"
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"As long as you like. Have lunch. Have a swim down there. I have suits available in the cabanas. If you want longer than today, I will ask you to leave and return when you have decided."
"Do you give group rates?" I was stalling now.
"You mean a wife or . . . "
"I am currently long divorced. This is one place where I think the radicals have it right. I do not intend to marry again and get taken. But I do have a young lady friend whom I might be interested in
preserving the youth of, if this seemed to work for me. I also have a son who is twenty and a daughter eighteen, both in college."
Dr. Cutter sighed. "And your lady friend's age?"
"Cynthia is twenty-four." I did not call her by her nickname, 'Sin'.
"Let them all age a little," Dr. Cutter advised. "Then it will be worth more to them. Until people are about twenty-five, there is still a growth cycle, which we must not interfere with."
"So in essence, the people you want most are those in that broad middle ground of life, from twenty-five to fifty-five, where we notice aging the least and therefore could be most easily fooled the longest."
"That is true on the age parameters. Fooled, no. The choice is yours, however. This does work. If at any time, one month, one year, five years from now you feel . . . "
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"I get my money back without interest." I waved my arm to cut him off. "How long has my friend Steve Blazier been in the program?"
"He had my permission to tell you about the program, after I checked on your background . . . "
"And you checked my ability to pay."
"That is true. If you want to ask him that question and he wishes to answer, he may."
"Can I be put in touch with others who believe this has worked for them?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Suppose, Dr. Cutter, you yourself die, in an accident or of old age, what happens?"
The doctor came right back with an answer: "My assistant, Dr. Mel Greer will carry on for me if I have an accident. He is on the island and you will meet him."
"I think I'll borrow a suit and take that swim. I would like a little while to think."
I swam and thought. It had all gone well, maybe too well. 'We're all in sales' had been one of my early mottoes. The first thing we sell is ourselves. Did I want to live forever? Maybe this wasn't forever. I could quit anytime. And lose the big chunk of money I put in. Would people get suspicious in five years or ten if I
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didn't age? No it would take longer than that. This was illegal. But only Dr. Cutter was liable for breaking the law, not the patients. I had done some research of my own. And in ten years or twenty, times could change. Well suppose the laws became even more stringent? If there was DNA testing for instance to discover people who had taken the 'forever pill' then I could always pack my money and buy my own island.
What would it be like to live for eons? One could take it one day at a time. Oddly, the only times I remembered being bored was as a young child.
I thought of Cynthia, my current 'Sin.'
I had married foolishly, rapidly in college and it had not lasted. My life with Helen, Hell I thought of it now, had seemed splendid at first. She was beautiful and we did well for several years. We had two children whom I loved dearly and still see every other weekend. Then one day Helen announced that we needed separate bedrooms and no more sex. She declared she was fulfilled, had served her purpose as a woman, had two children, one of each gender, and she wished now to spend the next twenty years raising them. Perhaps after that we could try sex again.
I could scarcely believe what I heard from Helen. We talked, we argued to no avail. I termed this result "the Black Widow spider" complex. After the female black widow had sex, she ate the male. The
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male was no longer needed. I felt I had children enough, but did not feel sexually fulfilled for a lifetime. I suggested counseling or therapy. No. Helen said she knew what she wanted and did not need any advice from therapists or psychiatrists. Someone said once you really did not know a woman till you met her in divorce court. Yet I was still friends with Helen.
I moved out, gave her the house, and supported her. Fortunately my business had begun to take off and I could afford it. I next lived with a series of women. Cynthia (Sin) was not after my
money. She had finished college and had a good job in the advertising business. She was interested in psychology and philosophy. She was young, but perhaps, if my own aging slowed down we could be even closer in the future. Right now I sometimes I felt as if I were dating a daughter. Someday something beyond living together might happen between Sin and myself, but not now. I was afraid of marriage and needed no more children.
Dr. Cutter had said that especially I must promise not to tell my children or Cynthia. That was an easy promise to make. I would feel foolish telling them that I was seeking immortality.
For immortals how many affairs might there be? Would a person eventually understand their own life and themselves? The Greek philosophers demanded above all: 'Know thyself.' Why was I driven to make more money when I had enough? Did I want to be a billionaire?
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No. It was probably just power. Making money had become a way of life. For better or worse, there it was.
I finished the swim. Yes, I would enter the program. I had done twenty laps of the huge Olympic pool easily. The swim test could be taken annually as well to see if my health was holding up.
* * *
There were medical forms to be filled out, tests to be taken, questions asked. Did I smoke? No. Had I taken hard drugs that might have done things to my chromosomes? No. How much did I drink? I lied a little.
Dr. Cutter’s clinic had equipment that rivaled the world's best hospitals. There was twilight sleep during some tests and injections. Then I was told I had been accepted into the program. The program would work in my case.
Now it was my turn, a matter of selling stock fund options, at not necessarily the best time, and transferring ten million dollars electronically to a neutral Swiss bank. Then there were further injections and not one pill but a series. I was in the program.
Dr. Mel Greer, whom I met during the testing, was tall, stoop shouldered, and shadowy, certainly an assistant, staying in the background. The nurse, Betty Hines, was young, quiet, and could not
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be opened up for conversation. She may have been more than a nurse to Dr. Cutter.
I returned three times to the island clinic, after three, six, and nine months, right on schedule. Schedules were apparently timed so that I saw no other guests at the clinic.
I asked permission to tell my brother George. "Bob, how will your brother George come up with the required fee as an Associate Professor?" Dr. Cutter inquired of me.
"I would finance him," I replied simply, though George was proud and this was not a simple matter. Still it could mean a choice between life and death. Dr. Cutter had agreed George could be told.
But George, who was 39 years old, said he would think about it and I heard no more on the matter from my brother. George thought about things for years. George promised to tell no one.
* * *
And then it happened. The frightening events began. Steve Blazier, who had invited me into the program, saw me at a business dinner and while we were talking casually afterwards Steve said: "It's important I meet with you, Bob. I don't want to say more now. I'd like to arrange lunch at the outside terrace of the Raven." Why outdoors, I wondered, but I agreed.
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Steve Blazier was about fifty, of medium height, but solidly built. He had a flattened nose from a youthful altercation. There was a third man who joined us for the lunch at the Raven, Jerry Walters, CEO of Conrath and on the board of directors of a dozen companies. I did not know Jerry Walters well. He was sixty, perhaps. Jerry always wore gray suits, a nervous, thin man with a hatchet face and a beak nose. Jerry looked ashen now, the color of his suit.
Steve came to the point as soon as we were served our food. "I'm sorry to have to lay this on you, Bob. But I invited you into the program. Jerry, here, invited me in. He was my contact. It's like a chain letter, only with just one link we each know about."
Jerry looked about anxiously before he opened up: "Really, we have promised and even signed a paper to the effect that we would not do what we are doing now." His voice seemed to rasp.
"That's true," I agreed, "but I sure won't give you away. You seem worried.
"Really," Jerry went on, "I've been in the program five years. I'll he sixty-five this year. At sixty, Dr. Cutter said I was entering the program late, but I was in good health and he finally
accepted me. I am not about to retire. I own so much of my company; the Board of Directors can't and won't dump me. But really that's not why we're here. I got Steve in and he got you in. Harold Flowers in London got me in. You've heard of him?"
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I nodded. "Only from the newspapers and TV stations he owns. I never met him. Go on."
"Auto accident. Harold was killed."
"Your only contact. It could be unnerving," I suggested, trying to be soothing, trying to relieve the obvious tension I felt at the table.
"Harold told me last week when he was in L.A. that his contact was Brett Ryan. Really."
I knew Ryan well. He had inexplicably jumped to his death from his penthouse in New York a few weeks ago. Ryan's business seemed solid. There was no suicide note. But there was apparently no one else in the penthouse at the time. It was still under investigation. I nodded again. "I knew Ryan and his family," I divulged.
"Harold told me that if anything happened to him, I really better watch out for myself." Jerry Walters spit out all the words at once, anxious to get this over.
I felt a cold chill. "Is Dr. Cutter rolling up his network because the program doesn't work?" I asked. "There will be no refunds to any of the murdered men."
"We all only know one person, the one we recommended into the link," Steve Blazier suggested, "yet I feel good. I felt the program was working."
"Are they all men? Can't women keep a secret?" I asked.
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"I really recommended someone else," Jerry Walters offered. "Henry Winslow."
I starred in disbelief. "Killed two weeks ago in a hunting accident. So the chain can have more than one link. But, if they cut the links to the chain, how do we know how many before us died?" I wondered out loud.
"Have you recommended anyone?" Steve asked of me.
"My brother George. He'll think it over for years. He isn't in. I received permission to ask him, but he's very indecisive."
"Maybe he's safe," Steve concluded.
I shifted uncomfortably, toying with my salad. Suddenly I wasn't hungry. Then I had some other thoughts. "I also felt like the program was working," I related.
"We all did," Jerry declared. "Really, my medical tests have been so much the same each year that my doctors are surprised. It may be really just a placebo effect, where you feel good because you have been told you will feel good. But no, I think the program is really a
success. Only there is the money. Maybe Dr. Cutter has enough money and wants to get out."
Jerry Walters thought for a while and then let the rest of what he was feeling out: "Really, Bob touched on another element we should examine also. My wife died before I could get her into the program. She was only fifty-four. It was a sudden stroke. She died before I
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found out about the program. Really, I am sure my wife's death had nothing to do with these recent deaths, all in the last month. Now none of the men we have mentioned are or were currently married. That way wives were not told of the program. You can swear people to secrecy, but how far does that go? Sometimes secrets get out because one person is told, who really only tells one other person and so on. Casey who ran the CIA during the Reagan years defined secrecy. He said 'a secret is something you know and tell no one else.' I am telling you what I know. And I'm really scared."
I reviewed in my mind all the names mentioned. None were currently married. Then I suggested: "Where do we start? Some of these men may have asked others into the program that we don't even know of. These deaths go beyond coincidence. We could get a private agency to investigate if other men of great wealth have died in the last month. We would not have to mention Dr. Cutter, the program, or his island. We could discretely inquire of relatives of those who have died if they had heard anything from the deceased before their deaths. The attorneys of the dead men would have investigated their wills and safe deposit boxes. They will have found Dr. Cutter’s documents indicating there was an insurance policy. Questions will be asked."
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"But," Steve interrupted, "the guarantee we received, which looks a lot like an innocuous insurance policy, declares there is no payoff at all in the case of accident or suicide."
"Yes," I agreed, "only the sum of money is such that lawyers would certainly investigate. I wonder what they may have discovered?"
"We really know little of this chain of men who are part of this program," Jerry observed. "Really, Dr. Cutter said he had thirty-five participants when I was in for my annual checkup last month."
"We do have some places to start," Steve indicated. "I will look into the detective agency approach. Jerry, maybe you can contact some of Harold's relatives. This is Tuesday. Maybe we can meet back here at noon Friday?"
"I am going to New York tomorrow," I told them, "but I can be back Friday. I would like to talk to Brett Ryan's sister Peg about her brother's death. I know Peg fairly well. She's married to Hollister Aimes."
Steve gulped. "You haven't heard. Aimes was killed just yesterday in a boating accident."
We looked at each other. It must be that Aimes had been in the program. But here was a married man. The theory of only unmarried men being in the program did not hold up.
We all agreed to meet for lunch at the same place Friday. I walked away feeling a bit dazed.
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It was absurd in a way. Three middle aged rich men seeking immortality and meeting to discuss murder. Perhaps their own murder.
* * *
In New York I arrived just after the funeral. Peg was a willowy woman, distraught over losing her brother and then her husband. Her face was red and puffy and she had not bothered to hide the tears with make-up. Her pent-house over Central Park was plush, lavish, right out of "House Beautiful." There were several people in the place. There were introductions. I had been here before. I offered the usual condolences and was introduced to some others. Then I found a way to get Peg to a quiet corner and ask her if she knew of a program her husband had been in.
Yes, she knew. Her husband and brother both had been in the program. They had told her to say nothing. She was scheduled to go into the program herself next month. Now she was afraid. Peg said that I should talk to General Jackson Turner. He was against the program and had warned her husband.
"Warned him how?" I asked.
"Oh, Jack is all right," Peg insisted. "He's an old friend."
"Yes, but what was his warning?"
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"Jack is a member of the 'Right to Death Society' and a little peculiar on this subject, so you won't want to get him started. But he is not involved in this. He would do nothing to hurt me so."
I thought about this statement. Nothing to hurt her? What of her husband and her brother? Would he hurt them? And then right on cue the doorbell rang and the General was announced.
General Jackson Turner, retired, was tall, gray haired, but very tanned and carried himself severely erect. He was wearing a dark business suit. General Turner seemed startled when Peg introduced me: "This is an old friend, Bob Fond." It was as if the general knew my name, but could not quite place me. He gave Peg a hug that could pass for sorrow over the recent twin funerals, or something else. There was body chemistry here, at least on the General's part. I suddenly felt like an outsider with these two.
In a moment the General opened the conversational gambit further when he declared: "I'm so glad Peg that you did not become a part of this illegal conspiracy." So the General knew of the program.
The General's comment seemed designed to draw me into the net and I accepted the bait. "People have always yearned for longer lives, General," I declared. "That seems natural enough to me. Five years from now or ten, further questions may be asked about life extension, but we seem to be dealing with murder here." There! I put the situation as mildly as I could, but I wanted a response.
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The General gritted his large teeth: "I took retirement three years ago at 52. There were no further promotions in store for me because the whole country has gone lax again after the Terrorist Wars. The military has been cut. People who have not earned it want to live forever, not just five or ten years longer. Congress, the majority at least, has passed laws. It is illegal."
"But you got your star," Peg interrupted.
"Yes, one-star. A retirement gift after five years of being passed up for promotion by lesser men. They were glad to get rid of me. I was a nuisance."
I felt the general wanted more stars, but it went beyond that. Even at his pay scale, he could not afford ten million dollars for Dr. Cutter's clinic. I had talked of murder and the word had been ignored.
"How do you earn immortality, General?" I asked, reverting back to the earlier conversational thread.
"Actually there is no way. No one but God deserves that. The Bible says three score and ten. It is all a matter of allotted time."
"There are many men in all ages that have lived to be a hundred," I informed him. "They were the minority, of course. Perhaps we should change the allotment of time by a lot."
"You make fun of me, sir," the General flushed.
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I wanted to say how easy that would be, but instead I raised the pressure: "Are you planning on suicide at seventy, General?"
Jackson Turner's face went livid. "Have you ever been in the military? Have you served your country? Why should you be chosen for immortality only because you have plenty of money? A missile up your ass would solve the question of immortality pills."
"Now Jack, really, please." Peg remonstrated, but she also squeezed the general's arm. How did the General know I was in the program?
"General, if my country was under attack, I would join, if I could, even at my age."
"Maybe. Man is the dominant creature on this planet because he did not fear hunting and yes, endangering other species. Man domesticated animals, not the other way around. Man attained supremacy not by standing around like cows waiting to be milked."
I had heard enough. Peg continued to hold the General's arm, for support or . . . "I had better go," I declared. "I have a late night flight back to California and I better get ready." Actually I
had decided to move the flight ahead, get out of New York right away and return to an environment I knew where I might feel more secure.
Paying extra always helps especially on first class and I got out of New York quickly. Back at my own home, it was time to tell my live-in long-term girl friend, Cynthia, all that had happened. We
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stood in the oversized kitchen, sipping a light wine. Cynthia stared, her big blue eyes wide in astonishment, twisting, playing with her long blonde hair as always.
"What will you do?" she inquired simply.
"I don't know. Tomorrow is Friday. I'll go back to the Raven Restaurant at noon and meet Steve Blazier and Jerry Walters and see what they have found. If they haven't hired a detective agency and started to investigate then I intend to."
Cynthia nodded. "Come to bed. Tomorrow will be a better day. But I worry about you. If you are doing this because of our age difference, you shouldn’t."
“No. When you are a bit older, I can involve you as well. But right now . . . Well, tomorrow better be a better day.”
* * *
I arrived early on purpose and walked through the Raven restaurant to the wide outside patio overlooking the city. Had I been followed? Was I being watched? Would scanning and listening equipment even now be trained on me? Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you! I found a table where I could survey the entire area. It was nearly noon now.
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Time dragged its feet. Somehow the minutes passed. I ordered just a coke and waited and waited. No one showed. Steve Blazier was always punctual. Jerry Walters would not be a half-hour late. There were no messages of calls when I asked the headwaiter. Then it was half past twelve. No one was coming. I was alone!
I ate alone and left the restaurant walking quickly, sending for my car. I decided to go up to Steve Blazier's home and see what was going on there. I would not call ahead, just drive out and see what was happening.
There are many coastal roads in California along the high cliffs. I had never really thought much before about the four-mile stretch of unpaved road leading finally to Steve Blazier's home, a mansion Steve called "Mountain View". Only as I entered this lonely side road was I aware of being followed. There was a big black van on my tail and it was not even pretending or hanging back. What to do? I had one advantage. I had been to Steve's parties and driven this road several times. But here I was in an open sport car, with a huge van closing fast now. It attempted to ram my bumper from behind.
Then, when I sped up, taking the turns a bit too fast, the van swung to the left lane and there was contact. They were attempting to push me off the road. To my right there was this vast drop. Then for a moment both vehicles passed between rocky cliffs on each edge of the road and both sides of my car showered with sparks. I was being
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crushed between the van and the smooth rocks. In a moment the rocky cliff would end on the right and then the van could push me off the precipice. I hit the brakes hard, nosing into the rocks on the right just before the wall on my right ended and the sheer drop began again. The van swung wide ahead and then in the open space went off the road and over the cliff. It all happened in seconds.
In the movies there is always an explosion and fire. Here there was just roll over and over for the van. The occupants should be killed or badly injured. My right fenders, both front and rear, were gone, torn to shreds. and my right front tire had blown. The wheel felt loose. I walked the final mile to Steve Blazier's house.
His house was deserted. The front door was strangely unlocked, but there were no servants, no secretary, no one to question. It was a fool's errand, a wild people chase in the worst sense.
I have never considered myself to be especially brave or daring. Maybe the general's words had aroused me. Certainly the attempt to kill me was real. I felt totally angry now. I called a taxi and took it back to the nearest town that had a rental car agency. Then I called Cynthia at work. I told her about the events of the morning.
"Cynthia, I want you to leave work. Get a hotel room under another name. Stay out of sight. Tell no one where you are going. From time to time use a public phone and call our home phone and
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listen for my message on the answering machine. I'm going out to the island clinic and confront Dr. Cutter. I want some answers. If you haven't heard from me in two days, you have to assume they got to me too. Then you should pull the money you can from our joint account and leave town. Wait a month or more. I don't think they are after you, but they may assume I told you and try to get you too. I want you to be safe."
"Go to the police," Cynthia pleaded. "This is interstate. The FBI could intervene."
"What I did to try for immortality was also mildly illegal. I feel like I am on my own. I have to do this." We talked further, but I was adamant.
I flew to Miami and then rented a seaplane that came with a pilot. It was already late and the plane would not leave till Saturday morning. I stayed overnight at a hotel under an assumed name and paid cash so there was no way to trace me.
Now I was returning to the island of dreams, but under very different circumstances. The pilot, well paid, noticed my tension. There were no other planes at the island this time and only one yacht in the inlet harbor. I was not met at the dock at all, but three men in their striped shirts waited for me to come to them.
"You have no appointment here," one of the men called to me.
"Get back in your plane and get out of here."
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"I am a patient of Dr. Cutter. I want to see him."
The men waited till I reached the dock shed and then swarmed all over me. "You were told, now go back."
In the movies the hero knows karate and defeats them all.
I landed one good kick, but this was soon over.
Then Dr. Cutter appeared. "Stop," he ordered. "Frisk him and then let him in."
They padded me all over, even more carefully and intrusively than before. "He's clean," one of the men announced.
Again I was alone with Dr. Joe Cutter on the veranda.
"What brings you here?" he inquired his voice not quite normal. "Your next appointment is in a month."
"I think you owe me ten million dollars and an explanation."
Dr. Cutter was pale. "It wasn't you then. My assistant, Dr. Mel Greer, took his yacht and went to Miami for supplies a month ago. He disappeared in Miami."
"Maybe he sold out," I suggested. "Or maybe he is behind a whole series of murders."
"Hardly. They found his body yesterday. He had been tortured and dumped in the ocean some time ago. He probably did talk and told all he knew. Two of my bodyguard assistants were shot by long range snipers yesterday while they waited on the dock. My employees are afraid to go far out on the dock now. My patients are being wiped out
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one by one. I follow on the internet. Some patients did not come in for scheduled appointments. When something happens to high profile people it is easy to follow. I don't know who is killing my patients
or why." Dr. Cutter's words came in short bursts, not necessarily following rationally. "I am packing and going to close down. I did my part of the bargain. I owe no one anything. My patients are all being targeted."
"Shouldn't they all have been warned? How many are left?"
”I don't know. A fellow in Bombay I talked to on the phone last night is still O.K."
"They will probably trace the call and get him too," I ventured.
"Something may happen to me," Dr. Cutter exclaimed his voice rising. "I suppose I owe you something. You thought this was me doing this, and you had the guts to come out here. Here, take this disk. These are my copies of my notes. I have made several disk copies of the formula I use. They may get to me. I would like you to have one copy as insurance." The disk was in a little plastic case enclosed by a plastic zip-lock bag. I took it and put it in my pocket. It could contain something or nothing.
I nodded. Suddenly I believed Dr. Cutter. "When are you leaving?” I asked him. And then I added: "No refunds on any of the murdered people."
"I didn't murder anybody," he replied, angry.
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"You are the one pulling out. The program stops and I get nothing. Is that the way it ends?"
"I can transfer ten million to your bank today," Dr. Cutter replied. He shook his head again. "It takes a while to pack things up. I was never good at that. I have so much research. Will you stay here tonight?"
He wanted company. Maybe he was afraid or wanted a chance to kill me. "No," I countered. "It's still early afternoon. I do believe you. But I see no reason to stay. Do you know a General Jackson Turner?"
"Yes, he has made threats. Tell me what you know."
"No. You tell me more first," I demanded.
"I am in the middle of some computer things," Joe Cutter asserted. "Take a swim in the pool and relax a little. Sorry my guards roughed you up. Perhaps I can pack and get out today too."
The guards could shoot me anytime. But if that were Dr. Cutter's intention, it would be all over already. Why give me a disk unless it was real? Or it could all be a scam. I didn’t really trust anybody. "I want to know more," I told him. "An hour then?"
"All right," Cutter agreed.
I went down to the pool area and changed to one of the swimsuits hanging on hooks in the cabanas. Then luckily, as it turned
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out, I laid my clothes out at the pool edge with the disk in my pants pocket. I swam my twenty laps. It felt good.
Cynthia was right, I decided. I should go to the FBI. I had broken the law trying for immortality, but murder was a bit worse. If I told what I knew, I ought to be able to make a deal. I probably needed to sell some stocks anyway and then leave the country for a while afterwards. I could change my name and identity if necessary. My assistants could manage my corporations. And there were plenty of places to visit in the world. In a few years the governmental policies against immortality could all change.
I was right at the side of the pool beside my clothes when I saw the plane coming in slowly. Then the missile was fired low, heading for Dr. Cutter's house of dreams. "A missile up your ass," General Turner had said.
I grabbed for my clothes and the disk and dived under water. The explosion took out the house and the firestorm rolled right over the pool for an instant. The water felt warmer as I surfaced.
The house was in flames. My pilot in the rented seaplane down at the landing dock made an effort to take off and then there was the rattle of a gun from the attacking plane in the air. My seaplane started to climb and then nosed over, dead in the water.
There was more gunfire beyond my view now. Then the invading plane circled and left. I watched till it was a dot on the horizon.
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I climbed out of the water and checked that the disk was still safe in its plastic bag. Next I wrung out my wet clothes. The house was still burning brightly. I would not have any more conversations with Dr. Cutter. His aides, nurse, and guards were all finished I was sure. I climbed a ridge and looked at the boat harbor. Dr. Cutter's yacht had been shattered by gunfire and sunk. There was still a small speedboat tied to a dock at the other end of the shore. The speedboat was under the trees and hard to see from the air no doubt.
I Looked around a little and then took the speedboat in toward Miami. On the boat I spread out my wet clothes to dry in the sun. There was a compass but I was not sure I was headed in the right direction. The water began to get choppy for the small boat. Then I was stopped by a coast guard ship looking for smugglers.
It was time to tell all and let the coast guard investigate. I was returned to Miami to await special agents. I turned the disk over to the Justice Department.
How many connections General Jackson Turner has, I do not know. General Turner and his organization were going to need them all.
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* * *
This concludes the confession and statement of Bob Fond. He will be a witness in the case against General Jackson Turner. The illegal immortality formula on the disk has been turned over to the investigating authorities.
* * *
The Justice Department wanted to close down the "Right to Death Movement" and here was an opportunity.
Bob Fond made a copy of the disk for himself before he turned it in. Someday there would be a new house of dreams and a fresh start to immortality.
` The Prodigy
What if you remembered everything?
Is there such a thing as remembering too much?
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"Jeremy . . . Jeremy Bryce . . . Come here!" A shrill voice spoke the magic words and a small, skinny boy scampered and skipped into what was curiously called the living room, smiling in anticipation. Mrs. Bryce, Jeremy's mother, was a slender woman with deep-set eyes, a pinched face, and sharp nose. She beamed at the two elderly ladies who were her guests today and had to pay the price for their tea and cookies now.
Jeremy knew what his mother's smirk meant and he beamed, brushing back his straight black hair, and then clasping his little palms behind him. Next he spread his feet far apart until he felt securely balanced for a long siege and began reciting poetry.
In between Mrs. Bryce interjected that these were poems his father had read him only once. The elderly guests exclaimed in disbelief. It was easy to exclaim, for they really didn't believe it.
The poetry was mixed as it poured from the boy's lips. Some words he pronounced poorly and he never stopped for punctuation. The tumbling words were amusing, so the one old guest nudged the other, but they dared not laugh. The titles were run into the verse and since Jeremy started the next rendition immediately after finishing one offering, there was considerable confusion.
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The elderly guests listened with apparent pleasure for several minutes. But as time passed and Jeremy gave no sign of slowing down, the eyes of the visitors began to wander. It took the proud mother some minutes longer to grow restless, but at length she turned to the reciter and declared quietly: "That will be enough now dear."
The boy broke off almost at once, but an unhappy expression crossed his earnest face. "I never get to finish," he grumbled.
His mother was a patient woman: "How much longer will it take, dear?" she asked as the visitors shuddered.
Jeremy looked startled at the question. Then he shrugged his narrow shoulders and declared simply: "Don know."
Mrs. Bryce waited till her son left the room before she exclaimed to the visitors: "Imagine. He won't be five until October. I'm going to try to get him into first grade and skip kindergarten."
As you guessed, this is the story of Jeremy Bryce, who was his mother's first and only adventure into parenting. Jeremy's father was a CPA, working for a large corporation, but he also had a dream of being a poet. Mr. Bryce was a quiet, rotund man, willing to let his wife rule without a struggle. Mrs. Bryce worried and fussed over Jeremy. She had been especially worried when he fell on his head at the age of two months.
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Jeremy was small, but even as a baby there was something distinctive about him. He talked before he was eight months old, repeating whole sentences he had heard. His father read him numerous
stories and poems and Jeremy loved to recite.
There were some expensive private schools in this mid-western suburb, and after due deliberation it was arranged that Jeremy should go to one of these. The school authorities were sufficiently impressed when Jeremy reeled off the first two scenes of Shakespeare's Hamlet to place him in second grade at once. But for a while there was trouble. Jeremy did not seem able to learn to read. At first his teacher was convinced he knew how to read already and was a genius. She was actually a bit frightened of Jeremy. But then one day she gave Jeremy a book he had never heard read out loud and he could not read a word of it.
There followed a bit of a bumpy ride in school. His teacher felt it ought to be easy to teach a child of Jeremy's ability to read, but after she experienced some difficulty, Jeremy was demoted to first grade to pick up the fundamentals. Mrs. Bryce began to work with Jeremy at home on reading and pronunciation. She was really aggravated when in spite of her best efforts Jeremy made very slow progress and flunked first grade.
The principal, who was sympathetic, put it more kindly; declaring Jeremy was "only temporarily detained." The boy was given a push with
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private tutors during the summer and eventually Mrs. Bryce's day did come. Once he did learn to read Jeremy tackled all kinds of books from novels to dictionaries. He was double promoted three times in a
row. He tackled mathematics with violent speed and repeated back everything in amazing fashion.
Jeremy was just twelve when he entered high school. Mrs. Bryce watched eagerly for some direction that would give a clue to Jeremy's life. He took French, Spanish, and German, and soon was speaking these languages as well as the teachers at the school. Chemistry with its formulas was easy. The history instructor swore the boy knew more than she did. He seemed to know every rule in English grammar. In English composition alone he struck a snag, but luckily there was not much essay writing. Teachers did not like to grade such papers.
In physical education Jeremy was undersized and slow, but he knew every baseball and football score since the games had begun. This knowledge won him a few friends and impressed the coach enormously. Jeremy worked hard and finished high school in three years, graduating first in his class at the age of fifteen. His scores on the various college entrance examinations led him to receive a full scholarship.
Mrs. Bryce cried when Jeremy left for the big Eastern University. The school was on the quarter system and Jeremy decided he would go all year round and finish in three years easily. He had a number of college credits already, having taken all the advanced placement
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classes his high school offered. There was something about finishing college at age eighteen that appealed to him. That would make him a genius, wouldn't it? There would be so much time then to decide what to do with the rest of his life. Perhaps he would go on at once for a Ph.D. or an M.D..
He held the thought of being a genius close when he went to sleep on cold winter nights; it kept him from feeling lonely so far from home. He was fortunate in having a comfortable two-person dorm shared with a bright boy, Bertrand Reginald Woodside Dunster III, who came from a wealthy family. Bert had twenty preparations in the bathroom, which somehow still did not cure his pimples.
It was the age of the computer and Jeremy Bryce had his own computer. There was a great deal of information to be learned on the internet.
But sometimes Jeremy was afraid. Like the time in history when he offered to recite the American Constitution and everyone laughed. Why? Something was wrong. But what? He comforted himself that this was one of the trials of being a genius.
His feeling of uneasiness increased during his second year in college. At length Jeremy came to think that he had missed something along the way. He had read thousands of books. But perhaps his knowledge was not systematically arranged. He began reading the Encyclopedia Britannica in the University library.
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It was in the spring quarter that it happened. His psychology professor, Dr. Harvey Fiske, gave him a "B" grade. Dr. Fiske was a man who gave very strange tests and never seemed to notice Jeremy.
When, on top of that, Jeremy received a "C-" in English composition, all other considerations rushed from his mind. The 'minus" seemed particularly appalling. Of course some people did not like anyone smarter than they were. But he must find out what was wrong!
So Jeremy Bryce found himself at the door to the office marked:
"Harvey Fiske, Psychologist".
* * *
Harvey Fiske had never intended to be a psychologist. But he was one and nothing could be done about it now. Not that Harvey Fiske ever really did anything other than lecture anyway. He thought mostly. He thought about thinking. Thinking was an interesting thing to think about. Harvey Fiske had been thinking about thinking for twelve years and now at age 41 he was at the top of his profession. He believed he had thought about thought more than any man. Or so he liked to think. Sometimes he thought words into his recorder and his secretary typed it on the computer and Harvey edited it. Later the critics, who couldn't understand it anyway, said it was a great book.
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But no matter, only a few bought the book. Psychology was like that. Once in a while he lectured. But mostly Harvey Fiske thought.
Tangible things annoyed Harvey Fiske. What was the use of discussing something you could just look up and find out all about. Thought now was different. No one knew what caused thought or how it had all begun. Now there was something to think about. You could sink your teeth into intangibles. Harvey was a fatalist in a way. He felt there were some questions no one would ever be able to answer, for he couldn't.
Harvey Fiske was also a bit of a philosopher. In one of his books he had argued that just as it was impossible to define a word in
terms of itself, so it would be forever impossible to discover the inner workings of the mind by the use of the mind. It was akin to a puzzle solving itself.
Harvey's brother had been feeble minded and Harvey was a genius. His brother's head and brain were the size of his own. And yet his brother had been unable to learn, read, speak, or think at all. About this Harvey thought also. He had known psychologists who went insane thinking about thinking. But then Harvey Fiske was not sure what insanity was either.
* * *
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Harvey Fiske was in. This was his required office hour. Jeremy Bryce knocked diffidently and then at the single word: "Come," he opened the door and rushed in quickly. The office was small, containing a roll top desk and many shelves with books piled high.
Fiske frowned. He was forced to devote three hours a week to consulting students who might need consulting. But he didn't encourage anyone to come. "Yes?" he inquired.
"Dr. Fiske . . . if it please you sir, I . . . uh. I took an intelligence test when I entered this school. What was my score?"
"Uh." Harvey Fiske always said "Uh." Then he questioned: "Your name?" thereby betraying his ignorance of a pupil he had in class for two quarters.
The psychologist asked for other information and then turned to one of his large file cabinets, extracting a manila folder. Finally he requested: "Sit down, won't you."
Jeremy sat. His hands gripped the edge of the chair. "Well?"
"I don't always disclose this information because sometimes due to nervousness or ill health on the day of the test, a student may do poorly and still be quite bright. In your case I find you have achieved a 178, which would rank you in the high 99th percentile. Still one number can't classify a person. There are many kinds of intelligence, musical, artistic, personality, among other things, that are not measured here."
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Jeremy sighed in relief. Then he frowned. "Well then why am I having so much trouble? There's my roommate. He's considered very smart and he got an "A" in your class, but in chemistry he has to read the book over four or five times before he learns it and then he's forgotten half of what he read in a week!"
Fiske raised his eyebrows slightly. "Only half? If you're in my psychology class you should know that half is exceptional after a week. Do you remember what a forgetting curve is?"
Jeremy brightened at this and quickly quoted four paragraphs from each of three texts on the forgetting curve. Fiske was startled.
Slowly he opened one of the volumes Jeremy had quoted and turned to the page. Yes, the answer had been given word for word.
"I didn't ask for memorization in any of my classes," Fiske disclosed. "Besides, one of those definitions is a rather poor one. Why did you learn them?"
"I just read them."
"You mean you only read it once?"
Jeremy felt himself breaking down entirely. There was perspiration on his high forehead. Dr. Fiske seemed to be questioning the very basis of his ability. Jeremy replied rapidly: "Yes, I read it once. Is there something wrong with that? I used to think that everybody read things over once and then remembered them. If you don't remember what's the use of reading? You don't read to forget,
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do you? This isn't a society with thought police yet. Is it a crime to remember what you read?"
"How much of what you read once do you remember?" Fiske asked raising one thick expressive eyebrow very high.
"All of it."
Fiske's other eyebrow leaped up and passed the first.
Jeremy went on: "I thought everyone did that. Or at least all really smart people. But it doesn't seem to do me much good."
Fiske considered the problem. "You are saying you remember everything you read and never forget it.”
Of course the psychologist didn't believe him. Not for a second. "What does a forgetting curve mean to you in your own words?" he inquired.
Jeremy blinked his eyes, contracted his brows, and stared straight ahead for moment. "I don't like those 'in your own words' questions, he replied after a moment. "I just quoted three sources."
"True. But now I would like to determine if you are learning things you don't really understand. Tell me, in your own words, what is a forgetting curve."
Again there was silence for a moment. At last Jeremy brushed the hair back on his head and looked at Dr. Fiske defiantly. Then he replied. "It is a curve showing the time elapsed as people forget
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what they read or heard. But it does not apply to me. I don't know any more than that about forgetting curves."
"So you are mouthing verbalisms. A forgetting curve shows the rate of forgetting for normal human beings. Most of what we learn we forget in 24 hours. How long ago did you read these books?"
"Two I read last month, and the one you are holding, three months ago. I am telling the truth. That should make me a genius or something."
Fiske considered the new problem. "Not necessarily. The intelligence test you were given was weighted with vocabulary, mathematical problems, and things you might have learned and remembered. What other parts of this book did you learn?"
"You still don't understand," Jeremy protested. "I read all three books. I know them all. I've read hundreds of books and I know them all. I am currently reading the Encyclopedia Britannica and have reached 'Q". I also have started the Oxford English Dictionary."
Fiske opened the psychology book he was holding and began jumping from place to place, asking what came after a particular line. Jeremy was one hundred per cent accurate with every quote. For an hour Fiske kept it up and Jeremy beamed with pleasure. He had not been asked to recite for such a long time.
Dr. Fiske tried another book from his shelf Jeremy had read. At last he confessed: "Yes, I believe you."
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"Then I am a genius," Jeremy insisted.
Dr. Fiske felt some annoyance. "Not necessarily," he replied. "It does not seem to me that a genius is one that memorizes everything easily that comes his way. You may be a great walking reference library. But are you an original thinker? A genius, it seems to me, is a person who learns what is known and then adds to it for the good of the human race. To just learn what is known isn't advancing. We need men who will discover, invent, draw, compose, experiment, and add to the sum of our knowledge. What you can do is pretty amazing, but any good public library or computer can supply the same information."
Jeremy Bryce's world seemed to crumble. "But how do you know I'm not original?" he demanded.
"I don't. But I think I would be taking orders from you, even if you are only seventeen, if you coupled originality with such wide learning."
"I'm sixteen," Jeremy corrected.
Fiske rummaged through his desk drawers for a moment and then handed Jeremy some printed pages. "These will test your originality.
Go into the next room through that door and answer these questions. These are problems calling for actions. In most cases you will not have met with similar situations in life. They will test your creative ability."
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Jeremy took the papers into a small room with a table and chairs, simply furnished. He closed the door and sat down. This was surely not what he expected. The problems did not seem to have any possible answer. He hunted through his memory looking for applications. Nothing seemed to click. At last he began to make blind calculations, writing down numbers and ideas. It was akin to the English compositions that did not depend on his life experiences, reading, or current events in the newspapers.
He looked at his watch. He had been at this for an hour and gotten nowhere. He could remember anything he read, saw on television, or was told. But Fiske was right. He wasn't a genius.
There were two doors to the little room where he sat. Jeremy opened the second door. There was a hallway and he made his escape, returning to his dormitory room.
Bertrand Dunster, his pimpled roommate was there, and he had to tell someone. He blurted the whole story out to Bert. Dunster listened in open-eyed amazement and then began pacing the floor with great lanky steps: "Well?" Jeremy asked at last.
'"Well, I believe you. Yes, yes, I believe you. I knew there was something odd about you from the beginning. That was why you never took notes in class. Well, you've got nothing to worry about. So, you're not a genius. So what? You're still a prodigy, and more.
You can finish college. You may not be at the top of the class, but you'll be close. I'll help you with English compositions and you can
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help me. You read and remember and I'll apply things for you." Bertrand Dunster III looked up from his circular pacing, indicating he wanted agreement.
Jeremy nodded solemnly.
"You and I will be partners. How does that sound?"
"Good, I guess," Jeremy agreed.
"Is it a deal?"
"Listen Jeremy, there is a great future for you. You know everything and I'm full of ideas. Look at the quiz shows! Big firms will hire us. Law and medicine are both built upon rote, knowing things. Big law firms will hire you to tell them things. A walking reference library, Fiske said. Well, huh, what's wrong with that? A library is a big place. A computer can give you answers, but it takes time. It takes time to find things on the Internet. But we've got a whole Internet and library in one moveable package, you, Jeremy Bryce. You could learn thirty foreign languages and be the greatest linguist of all time. And remember, I'm your manager."
Jeremy was carried away by his friend's enthusiasm. "Yes, sure," he managed to say.
"Now just don't start forgetting things, that's all,” Bert laughed and abruptly left for a class.
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* * *
The funeral was small. Bertrand Dunster even took three days off from school and went to Jeremy Bryce's hometown. Mrs. Bryce was crying all the time. She asked Bert how it could have happened.
Bert shook his head sadly the first time, but later that night, when Jeremy’s mother insisted, he told her. "You see Mrs. Bryce, Jeremy began going out with girls. . . "
"I knew it," Mrs. Bryce snapped with conviction. "I told him not to see girls yet. Most women will ruin a great man. Some drive them to drink."
"Well, it wasn't really that," Bertrand Dunster hesitated, and then added: "You see he fell pretty hard for this one girl. Patricia something. She was a nice girl, really."
"How can you say that?"
"It wasn't really her fault. He just met her once. They had a pretty intense time of it though. She told Jeremy to call her up some time. Jeremy never did see her again."
"Well then why? Why should he jump from the dormitory window at school over that?"
"You see . . . Well, it's kind of hard to explain. He forgot her phone number."
THE TIME TABLETS TALE
What if time could be stopped?
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This story does not begin with "Once upon a time," but it should.
Terry Thomas first thoughts about the Time Tablets hit him like a tidal wave while he was working on his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University in Los Angles. Later he had forgotten this mystery only to have the problem forced upon him again in a really strange way. At the time the adventure began Terry Thomas was still a University student sitting in his tiny carrel, one of many little offices for graduate students at the school library. He had the door closed while he was reading back and forth from six open books, cross-referencing, searching. He knew the joke about how copying from one book was plagiarism, but copying from six books was research! After hours of suppressing yawns, he had put his head on his arms and taken a nap right there. He awoke in a few minutes to make a startling discovery.
There on the desk, taped to his computer, was a great printed note on a large sheet of his own paper. "Don't take the Time Tablets!" the words read in block letters.
Terry blinked, glanced at his wristwatch, to verify that he had slept only a few minutes. Then he finished the coke on his table, coming wide-awake with the caffeine and the astonishing mystery.
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Terry looked back at the carrel door and it was still shut. He was not a sound sleeper and the door squealed embarrassingly whenever he opened it.
How had anyone entered, written a note on his own paper, placed this note in front of him, and then left without his seeing them? It seemed as close to a magic trick, a grand illusion, as anything he had ever witnessed.
He had no idea what the note meant, then. He did not have friends who were fiendish practical jokers. Indeed, Terry Thomas was rather withdrawn, introverted, shy, bookish, a loner, a nerd in the parlance of the 90's. He was tall, good-looking in spite of thick glasses, but especially now, in graduate school, he had few friends outside of his classes. He had left the small western town of his birth and the friends he had there. Terry was one of those people who always thought wild parties and happy carousing might be fun, but he did nothing to even get to know his college classmates better.
Did the note lead to the experiment, in spite of the admonition? It seemed later to be one of those 'which came first questions,' as in: "Is a chicken just an egg's way of making another egg?"
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* * *
Two years later, when he had landed the job as a chemist with the Los Angles branch of Ersatz Drugs International (EDI) and was experimenting on new products, Terry Thomas came to sampling some hallucinogens naturally. Here again he had plenty of warnings.
Peggy Windsor, the project manager of his section, had come into his cubicle and sat down on the chair beside him one day. Peggy had left the outside door completely open with a gesture that was full of meaning; this was not a social call. But then, as if feeling it was safe to taunt him, she crossed her magnificent legs far too invitingly.
His boss was beautiful, but this conversation was all business. She told Terry bluntly: "You know these are controlled substances you are working with, Thomas."
Somehow by calling him by his last name, Peggy distanced herself from Terry even further. "Every gram must be accounted for," she continued. "Every test must be recorded. Be careful in sampling. A lot of doctors and pharmacists become addicts, because they believe they can play god. They feel they are so smart, that they are above natural laws. No one is." Here was the second warning.
At the time it was difficult to take Peggy Windsor seriously as his boss, though she was probably a bit older than Terry. That might
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have been a sexist attitude, Terry told himself. But she was such an obvious mammal, yet possessed a trim figure, such long dark hair,
a perfect oval face, full lips that teased, lovely deep blue eyes one could dive into and take a swim.
Bob Posak, who was a chemist on the same team as Terry, and indeed occupied the very next cubicle, had quite a different view of the beauteous Peggy Windsor. Terry often ate lunch with Bob in the company cafeteria and they talked of their boss. Terry had declared Peggy was too gorgeous to be a manager.
Bob was a great bear of a man, as tall as Terry, but wide with ample belly. How could Bob really understand? But Bob had opinions and did not mind voicing them while eating heartily: "Watch out for her. She's a man killer, Terry old boy. The guy you're replacing made some mistakes, and she got him. She's hard on the men under her." Bob Posak made a throat cutting gesture across his double chins. "She's all business. How do you think she got to be manager?"
"Talent," Terry suggested casually.
"Using her body. She has eyes for the Vice-President, Harry Powell. Besides she's five years older than you, probably."
"Age is irrelevant," Terry replied.
"My grandmother was beautiful once," Bob declared, with his mouth full, in what he thought was a joking voice. "She's a widow and available." Bob's bulging eyes twinkled in merriment.
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Still Terry Thomas persisted in his fantasies. Every time Peggy Windsor came into his cubicle her perfume seemed to linger there for hours afterwards, remaining in time after the persona left. He asked Peggy’s advice often, and finally nerved himself to invite her to
dinner the following Friday. Amazingly she agreed and for two days Terry walked on air.
Friday night began auspiciously enough. The restaurant and the food were perfection. The wine was fruity and audacious. Afterwards they talked across the dinner table, Terry running through his limited store of jokes. He suggested some further drinks at Nesbitts, a fancy bar nearby, as he reached clumsily to grip her hand. Then Peggy punctured his balloon with an ease that was sad indeed.
She withdrew her hand gently and offered an analysis of their situation. "I want to thank you for the dinner, Thomas," she indicated. "It was great. I don't usually go out with people in my department, but you are a very attractive man. However, Thomas, you
are working for me, and I don't really date such people. I have access to personnel records. I am not only two years older than you are; I am earning $20,000 a year more."
Peggy took a deep breath and continued: "Your clothes are rumpled and you picked me up in an old car. You are not a good people-person, and while you are a very competent chemist, I don't see you rising in the company. If you want an after dinner drink at
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Nesbitts, we can go, and then you will escort me home please." It was hello and goodbye in one sweep.
That Peggy Windsor was correct, Terry could not deny. He was not a good mixer. He was interested in his chemistry laboratory much more than any human chemistry, except that exhibited by Peggy Windsor. She had been cruel to him, but Terry did not see it that way.
When Bob Posak asked him at lunch on Monday how his "date with the Beast from the Black Lagoon" had gone, Terry was not really amused.
"We had fun. But there's no chemistry, I guess," he admitted.
"You better stick to the chemistry you know. She's bad news. Leave her alone," Bob warned. “Chemistry sometimes explodes.”
It seemed to Terry that his timing for the date with Peggy had been poor. If he could make a breakthrough on his experiments, Peggy Windsor would see him in a different light. He was working with controlled substances, but Terry Thomas was really not desirous of trying hallucinogens. He was wary of the Jekyll and Hyde effect. Terry was testing painkillers and the great discovery came almost as a side effect.
Everyone had known for years that certain drugs caused people to experience time differently. There was an apparent speed-up or slow-down in activity caused by various drugs. In some cases this effect had produced a frightening reaction in people who had tried the drugs.
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Experimenters had taken some drugs, which caused them to feel as if it would take forever to just walk out of the room. Time-frame perceptions had altered. Trying some of these drugs led Terry to wonder anew about that apparently immutable dimension: TIME.
The conception of time was different for various people. Could the time-bending features of the drugs be isolated and understood?
Would time-altering drugs be of value in slowing down disease or the human aging process? Either of those alternatives could be most valuable as a discovery.
Terry personally sampled the drugs in such minute quantities that he received little stimulation and saw no danger in addiction. When the danger was perceived, it was too late. He was testing his own concoctions, trying out various formulas upon himself. The breakthrough, when it did come, astonished Terry completely.
One particular formula showed promise and he had produced some tiny blue tablets. There he sat alone in his cubicle at work, using himself as a guinea pig, swallowing the tablet, testing a new designer drug. The first effect he noted, was a ringing in his ears, a vacuum like sensation, as if he were leaving his body behind. The feelings intensified. This would never be a popular drug, he decided. The noisy ringing in his ears, the feeling of being alone in the universe, the isolation, were all unpleasant. He waited a moment for the effect to pass. It seemed to linger.
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Perhaps there would have been nothing else, only an entry in a journal, information which another researcher later might have used to make the real discovery. Then Terry Thomas noticed his digital electric clock on the desktop. It read: "2:58, 14 seconds."
For a moment he thought the clock had stopped. But then the "15 seconds" number came gradually into view, only much too slowly.
He thought that perhaps the clock was going bad. Terry glanced at his wristwatch, which he always kept five minutes ahead, so he
would get to work on time. It was silly, because he certainly knew it was exactly five minutes ahead, and so he allowed for that discrepancy. Only while the watch was five minutes later than the clock and had old-fashioned hands, the sweep second dial was also scarcely moving. The seconds appeared to be passing at maybe one-tenth normal speed.
Of course, all observers are at the center of their own universe, Terry told himself. The universe was not slowing down; it was Terry, himself.
He rubbed his eyes, arose, and walked to his door, determined to get some air. He seemed to be walking all right, though perhaps a little unsteadily. It was akin to learning to walk all over again. The doorknob turned very hard. Was this difficulty with the door just his perception, or also some change in Terry, himself? Suddenly he
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was frightened. What was happening to him? He pulled on the door hard and it opened as if it were a great vault portal weighing tons.
Terry looked out into the corridor. Bob Posak was the only one in close view down the hallway. Bob was heading for his own little office, his back to Terry. But Bob was moving much too leisurely, out of phase, taking a long time to put his foot down, to turn slowly in front of the door. Terry started to call out: "Bob," but even the one word did not seem to come from his lips, lost in the ringing in his ears.
Now Terry was really frightened. He gripped the doorframe for support, watching as Bob Posak laboriously, apparently in slow motion, reached for a key ring attached to his belt to open his door. Terry turned back into his room, without trying to shut the door, and sat back down at his desk.
* * *
What had he done to himself? He came around to a more philosophical question: What was TIME? Sure we all spend time, use time, take time, have time, and run out of time. Only analogies seemed to suffice. Time was a river, sweeping us along. At some point we entered the great river of time-life and at some point we would be washed ashore and leave the Time River. Had he slowed
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himself down in the river? Perhaps he had climbed right out of the river of time and was observing it from the shore.
This was perhaps why some people in the drug culture talked about drugs being a "trip," a good trip or a bad trip. Was it permanent? He had taken only a small, precisely measured amount of the new drug, a tiny tablet. Again he looked at his digital clock. It read: "2:58, 23 seconds." He estimated he had been sitting and thinking for perhaps 10 minutes, yet less than ten seconds of real-time had passed.
What was real? What did it all mean? There was a ringing in his ears, a great feeling of existing in an empty void. Terry had always disliked too much alcoholic drinking. Being high gave him a disjointed unpleasant feeling of not being in control, not being able to do things as he wished. That feeling was present now.
How could he determine the passage of real-time for himself, the observer? One way out was not to think of the consequences, but record everything he was thinking in his journal. He began writing. Writing was almost archaic, but he had never trusted what he might put on his computer. People might come into his cubicle on weekends or at night and steal his research. The ballpoint pen seemed to push hard, but he managed. He finished a whole page, before glancing again at the clock. It read "2:58, 33 seconds." There was no way he could have written that whole page in 10 seconds. But he could copy it as rapidly as possible later, and see how long this took in real-time.
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If there ever were a real-time for him again! Certainly this effect must pass. The drug would wear off. He hoped.
What could he do? Was there an antidote? Perhaps he could dilute the preparation. He picked up the glass of water he had used to take the "Time Tablet" originally. And then the memory of the note on his desk so long ago at the university came back to him with a rush: "Don't take the Time Tablets." He sat at his desk, the glass of water in his hand, shaking, thinking: The story of his life: Bright small town boy, enormous overwhelming University, big city job as a research chemist at a giant multinational company. That was his life. What was success? Here was a key question everyone must answer. And now? What was the meaning of that mystery message on his desk at the University, four years ago?
Terry was shaking, but the water in the glass did not seem to move much. He put it to his lips, and the liquid came too gradually toward him, slower than mercury in a vial. Water did not behave that way naturally. Natural laws operated only in standard time. Suddenly he was afraid of choking on the drink, and put the glass down. If the water went down his throat too gradually, he could choke.. He was breathing more slowly. Were all his bodily functions decelerated?
What was happening outside? He had no window in his cubicle. Terry arose again and walked back to the open door, to look out. Bob Posak was just closing his door. All that time ago Bob had started to
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enter the room and now he was just closing his door. Terry walked out down the corridor. Just ahead were a series of windows, which offered a view of a mall and the street below. His beautiful manager, Peggy Windsor, was also looking out of another window of the corridor, much further down. She stood almost immobile, her hand gradually rising to stroke her hair. Almost without meaning to Terry walked toward her and then paused, looking out of the window.
Then Terry saw the view outside and froze in horror. Here were people in the open mall, eight floors below, standing to talk, walking, but moving in a kind of pantomime slow motion, deliberately, like mimes. Even a running dog was almost stagnant. The moving cars and trucks in the street were scarcely changing position.
Terry held the window-frame for support. His hands were shaking. Then the ringing in his ears seemed to quiet down. It was good to just hold on. The disorientation subsided. The effect was going to end! He was returning to real-time. As he waited, watching, the people in the mall below came back into phase, moving normally.
"Thomas, you gave me a start. You really creep up on a person. I didn't see you approach." It was Peggy talking. "How is your work coming?"
The last message was obvious. It was back to work for him. "Sorry, I . . . I just needed to get out for a moment." Without a word more he turned back and walked to his cubicle. He felt unsteady.
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And he could sense Peggy's eyes burning into his back, watching him return. Would she think he had been drinking because he swayed around?
Inside, Terry shut the door, which closed easily. The door and knob must have been difficult before because he was moving them in such a small amount of time. The glass of water had splashed over one end of his desk and onto the floor. He had moved it too rapidly through time. The water had seemed steady going up or down, but when real-time returned the liquid had reacted in a wide spill.
It was obvious he had made a momentous discovery. But here was a drug he better not even mention to others as yet. The effect lasted for awhile and then came to an end, as with any other drug moving through the body. Aspirin relieved a headache for three or four hours and then its effect ended. But some drugs could kill or permanently alter the body when they paid their visit.
But what good would this drug do? How might it be useful? That was a key question for a pharmaceutical company such as the one for which Terry was working. Certainly in the field of time study, it would be valuable. The drug might well have anti-aging qualities, which was the center of intense effort right now by many chemical companies and had been the focus of his original intention in developing the potion.
A person might slow down their time-frame and live for a long while almost in the present, without aging. Perhaps. Or would you
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grow old anyway within the few minutes that elapsed while you took the Time Tablets?
Would two people who took the tablets simultaneously be in the same phase together? That was doubtful. Even fractions of a second might separate them forever in time.
Only by experimentation, could any of this be verified. He might try it upon old dogs or old mice, and see if it prolonged their life, and what the effect might be. But if the animals lived in another time, what would his view of them be?
Now that he had returned to real-time, as it were, Terry Thomas had a great desire to try the drug again himself. His fear had been that of being trapped in time, a worry about the unknown. But the effect had ended and was probably measurable. The process seemed to have parameters, beginning and ending. In real-time, the whole experiment had lasted less than a minute. Yet he felt that he had been "away" for almost an hour.
His mind ranged back and forth, thinking about these Time Tablets. Bob Posak had not noticed Terry coming out of his cubicle. Peggy Windsor had not seen him come up and stand less than ten feet away at the window. And he had been there awhile, looking out at that strange view below. Part of Peggy's annoyance with him may have been because she did not want to be seen by anyone as wasting time, looking out of the window. She was a company woman all the way.
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For the rest of the afternoon Terry just sat thinking about the use of the Time Tablets. He had a discovery! What good was it? The tablets might slow down aging, but they could never be marketed, he realized with a start. Production would never be allowed because of the way the tablets might be used. FDA approval could never be secured. There were many problem products that never had been allowed on the market, some for good reason and some for unnecessary fear.
For instance, athletes were always looking for ways to run faster in races. Many had gotten into trouble for drug use. A runner who took Time Tablets, could beat everyone in real-time, but no one would even see him run the race or believe it had really happened. A runner who took a Time Tablet at the start of a race would appear to have covered a mile in seconds. The speed would seem such as to be an unbelievable illusion.
If the athlete was to run four times around a quarter mile track, no one would be sure he had really gone around and passed the field four times. What would the cameras show? Probably just a blur.
A racehorse taking a Time Tablet could win a race. But no one would accept it. From the point of view of the observers, the horse would appear to vanish abruptly from view after starting and then arrive suddenly at the finish line. And how could you feed the tablet to a horse at just the moment needed? And what dose would you give a horse?
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On the other hand, a spy under the influence of the drug could enter any top-secret office, if the doors were open, walk past guards, and steal documents. There were so many possibilities. It was scary. No. Production would never be allowed on these pills. It was best to keep these out of the hands of secret organizations. Terry Thomas mind whirred with the possibilities.
People could creep up to others and do bodily harm. Murder could be committed without a clue. Thieves could enter banks and take the money without anyone knowing. This last was worth thinking about. Aside from pure research, robbery seemed to be the most likely effect.
Terry Thomas was the only one with the Time Tablet formula. He could make more. One question in science always was: "Is this replicable?" Could the experiment be repeated with the same results? Also, what were the long-term effects? Were the tablets harmful? Would they kill him? He felt shaky and his head throbbed as if from a hangover. He better not put his body through any more until tomorrow. But there would be a next time! He had already decided.
Animal experiments did not seem to be the answer. Yes, by a series of animal tests, he could determine if his drug would kill an animal. He did not really believe that would happen. The animal might experience time differently, but the human viewer would not know. Animal experiments would require telling people what he intended to do. And that was out of the question. He could buy a
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small dog and test it in his apartment, except dogs were not allowed in his apartment.
Terry went to the washroom and looked at himself in the mirror. There were no changes in his wide face or strong chin. His brown eyes were clear. Even his freckles seemed the same.
Was he addicted already? He felt a need to repeat the experiment, but no driving compulsion to take the drug. But then everyone who took habit-forming drugs turned over first their body and then their soul to a craving. They began by saying they could handle it and ended by desperately seeking more. He needed to be careful. The greatest lies were the ones you told to yourself.
The first thing to do was to make some more Time Tablets, triple the original dose for a real experiment. When he left work, Terry packed a dozen new Time Tablets into his attaché case, along with his journal, which contained the formula and his notes. He did not want anyone spying on him. Maybe he was becoming paranoid about the drug already. On the way out he caught a glimpse of Peggy Windsor watching him appraisingly. She was wondering about him, and that wasn't good. Would she really fire him?
Peggy Windsor wanted money and power. Perhaps money was the key to Peggy. If he had plenty of money, the age difference between them would mean nothing. It was odd how he had fastened his thoughts on this one female. She had really become the epicenter of his
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feelings. Her refusal of him had greatly intensified his desires. He had heard of bonding and now he felt it. There was a compulsion here, an obsession, a feeling that gripped his very being. Terry returned to thinking of banks and money. He remembered reading how once someone asked a famous thief why he robbed banks. "Because that's where the money is," the bandit had replied.
* * *
At home that evening it was a time of thinking and finally decisions. He would go downtown during his lunch hour and take another Time Tablet. He was planning no robbery as yet, just reconnoitering. Terry did a lot of agonizing concerning right and wrong, about good and evil.
It was easy to rationalize and see evil in big banks. Banks borrowed money from people at low interest rates, then loaned it back at higher interest rates and pocketed the difference. Banks could even borrow money from people and indulge in risky ventures on land deals, and if the investments failed, the government (which was everyone in the country) bailed out the banks with public funds. Terry's own parents had struggled to send him to school while fighting a rear guard action to keep a big bank from foreclosing on their
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house. These past events in his life made robbery rationalizations easier.
Terry felt uncommonly tired and went to bed at 9:00 P.M. that night instead of his usual 10:30. When his alarm erupted at 6:00 A.M., he still felt tired. He turned off the alarm and went back to sleep for an hour. Then Terry phoned his company saying that he was not feeling well and would need the day off. He had decided against trying this on his lunch hour.
He was an experimenter, right? Therefore, he should experiment. It would be just a test. Terry took a taxi downtown, walking around, giving his workplace, the EDI Building, a wide berth. He bought a stopwatch at a store and tried it out, pushing and clicking.
After a bit he found a fitting location, a small cafe with wide open doors and great windows looking out on the avenue in the warm Spring. Finding an empty table at a large window, Terry put his attaché case down and ordered a coke from the waitress. Here he could observe the passersby, the busy street, and record everything.
He opened his case and took out a Time Tablet almost tenderly. Terry reflected that if he were falling in love with his drug, he would not be the first to do so. But in the interests of science, the test must be made, he told himself. He swallowed the tablet with his drink, and set the stopwatch. Two minutes passed before the potion dissolved and he heard the first ringing sensation in his ears.
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The effect of the ringing was known now and not as frightening. The feeling of being out of phase, alone in the universe, still was
unnerving. He recorded this all in his journal. Terry watched as the stopwatch appeared to slow down and the motion of the people in the cafe grew more lethargic. Finally the moving customers and waitresses seemed absurd, taking slow steps that took forever to complete. How would they see him if they were looking in his direction?
The dose he had taken was three times the amount of the one he had consumed yesterday. Still the Time Tablets were tiny. He had needed to see what the effect was of a larger dose. Outside the cafe window, the moving traffic had apparently come to a halt. A piece of trash paper flying in the wind seemed stationary in the air; a man who had dropped a package looked absurd, with his parcel falling at a glacial speed even as he reached to try and catch it.
Terry Thomas sat a long time at the cafe window watching the scene outside, thinking of "TIME." It was too bad he could not feed another stopwatch a taste of his time tablet and see how much time was actually passing for him.
Perceptions of time differ. Everyone commented on how Time creeps when we perform tasks we hate and rushes by when we are having fun. We are unable to grip an instant of time, to hold on to the sands falling in the hourglass. Until now. He alone of all humankind
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was removed from the time dimension, savoring an instant, an "augenblick," the Germans called it, the blink of an eye.
At last Terry shut the attaché case, which closed only with extreme difficulty, and he arose, walking around the customers in the aisles, people who were moving so slowly they appeared to be frozen. Here was his first crime; he was not going to pay his bill for the coke drink.
Yes, the slowdown was even greater than with the original dose. Now the people were not laboriously raising and lowering their feet as they walked, moving in very slow motion, today they had completely stopped. He paused before pedestrians on the sidewalk and looked directly into their unseeing eyes. He stood facing a pretty woman, just inches away. It would be unfair to take liberties. He reached into a man's flapping, yet stationary suit coat, lifted out a wallet from the inner pocket, and then returned it. So easy. He danced between the fast moving traffic on the road, which appeared stationary, leaping about exuberantly. Yesterday these frozen objects in time had been terrifying, today he literally took it in his stride. Humans learn to adapt so quickly, he decided. A prehistoric man brought to this city and shown moving traffic for the first time would have been frightened also.
Walking about in the city gave Terry a godlike feeling. He alone was able to do these things. He was alone in the whole
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universe; he alone was in complete control. Then he paused. Ahead was a bank. It possessed revolving doors, with people in the doors, entering and leaving, but unmoving. There was no way past them. He would have to try it again and start from the inside. Besides, how much longer did he have before the effect of this tablet wore off? Tomorrow he could skip work again.
Terry Thomas paused at a fountain, suspended water, waves in the air, moving yet still, in great splashes, so slowly. The effect of the Time Tablet was certainly more pronounced than the first time. The stopwatch showed only the passage of five seconds so far. Time was passing, but so slowly on this occasion, that no one could notice the apparent blur of motion as Terry went along. The whole city seemed to be wide open to his grasp.
How long he walked the streets he did not know. The stopwatch showed only eight seconds of real-time had passed. He estimated the last time he had been "under the influence" while almost a minute of real-time elapsed.
Then the ringing in his ears seemed to subside, a signal, he was about to return to real-time. Terry had barely time to move from a street, where he was playing his game with moving cars, to reach the sidewalk and stand flat against a wall out of the way, before the time came back on with a rush. People who had not seen him standing there before jumped and felt their eyes were playing tricks.
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For his part, Terry felt tired, shaky, and leaned against a building wall for support. But after a few moments he hailed a taxi to drive him home. There was a need now to rest and to arrive at a final decision.
* * *
Back home, his answering machine red light was blinking. The messages were so few that he wondered why he had the machine. Peggy Windsor's voice came on: "Thomas, I'm surprised if you are sick, that I don't find you at home. I just called to see how you were." That was a ridiculous statement. She was checking on him.
He phoned work and asked to speak to Peggy Windsor. He told her he had slept through the phone message, still wasn't feeling well, and wouldn't be in tomorrow either. She told him to get well. It was an order.
Terry awoke in the morning with a headache that under other circumstances would have led to aspirin. Now he was going to experiment with the Time Tablets, and he did not want to mix any drugs. He took the telephone off the hook for the day. Let Peggy Windsor call to check now!
After taking a taxi downtown, he bought some thin plastic gloves and put them in his attaché case. He was going to try the banks.
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Anything might have dissuaded him, but all seemed to work well. He bought a small coke at a vending machine, opened the bottle, took a sip, and made for a large bank.
Inside the bank, he eyed the guards and people. Here teller's windows were all around a circular enclosed area. A guard was watching him. Let him watch. Terry examined the interior of the bank. There were video cameras everywhere, pointing, recording, some sweeping back and forth. The pictures would really be examined if a loss of money was discovered. If they saw a man who was in the pictures and then vanished, it might cause them to look for Terry. That must not happen. He had to try to think of everything. Quickly he walked back to the customer service area where there were desks, bank officers, no money, and especially no video cameras. He sat down on a plush chair around the corner.
Terry took out a Time Tablet, swallowed it, and washed the pill down with the coke. After a few minutes the familiar process of the drug effect swept over him. He set the stopwatch even as he noted the moving people seemed to slow down and then stop. Yes, stop. This time the stopwatch did not appear to move at all. He waited for the next second to come up, but nothing seemed to happen.
Here was a factor worth noting in his journal. The first time the digital clock on his cubicle desk had moved almost a minute, though he had not accurately timed the experience. The next time only eight seconds had passed altogether. And it certainly seemed that he
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had been under longer with the second Time Tablet. On this occasion there appeared to be no movement at all. The second time, he had taken the Time Tablet he judged the difference to be due to the size of the dose. He had increased the Time Tablet size from the first to the second time. But this time, the tablet was exactly the same as the second dose. So the effect was growing.
That could be worrisome. Perhaps he should not do this many more times. He felt like the hero in some of the old fairy stories, the person who received three wishes from a genie, who managed to foul up and get nothing. Well, this was his third time, and it would be the charm. He was about to take advantage of the situation.
Terry put on the plastic gloves, took his attaché case, and walked back to the main banking section. The moving video cameras appeared to have stopped in their surveillance swings back and forth. They would record him as a blur or less. He walked boldly up to one of the tellers, who had just finished with a client. Easing around the departing customer, Terry reached over the cage bars and helped himself to some paper money. If he did this to just one teller, the employee could get into trouble. But if all the tellers suffered a loss at once, there would be no explanation. He had to get inside the cage.
Terry walked around the circular ring of tellers. There was a closed door leading in, only about four feet high. It was locked.
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A stationary, now unseeing guard was standing nearby. Terry put his attaché case on the circular ledge, and clamored up over the door. He was inside. He wandered from teller to teller, taking only stacks of $50 and $100 bills, filling the attaché case. Some of the bills were loose; most were neatly banded.
It would be amusing. Every teller would be missing money, and no one would know how it happened. Some had their cash drawers closed, and he had to pull hard to open them in the fraction of a second he was living through. Some of the cash drawers were locked, and there was no easy way in. He gave up on those.
Terry had completed a entire circle of the tellers and the attaché case was not full. In the center of the room he noticed a safe, partly open, with an attendant standing beside it. She no doubt dispersed the cash to the tellers. Inside were stacks of $100 and $50 bills all in their wrappers. Nearby was a guard pushing a money cart. The whole scene appeared like people in a wax museum. He finally filled his attaché case to the top with bills and closed it.
Terry was sweating out of fear. He climbed up on a desk near the exit door of the central cashier's cages and jumped over. Then he glanced at his stopwatch. It indicated that less than a second had passed since he pushed the "start timing" button.
There was no time for philosophy now. He walked to the bank exit. There were revolving doors, but also doors that could be pulled
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open. Unfortunately these exit doors were filled with people coming in and going out. Abruptly Terry Thomas was gripped by fear. He had to get out. Absolutely, he didn't want to be around when the fireworks broke loose here. He chose a small woman and tried to push past her. Pushing, sliding, he worked his way through the door, which just did not seem capable of opening wider.
Outside, he walked rapidly away. Two blocks off, he slowed down. Here was a park, with some benches. Terry sat down on an unoccupied bench. He took off the plastic gloves and put them in his pocket. Next he recorded all the effects in his journal. Well, the
Time Tablet effect could wear off anytime now. He counted the stacks of bills and loose money in the attaché case; he had over $200,000.
Terry sat idly, looking about. There was a bird, on the wing, as they say, literally, appearing to float in the air. Over there was a fly heading toward a trash basket, immobile, in mid-air. He reached up and plucked the fly from the sky. The insect was oddly resistant, as he moved it rapidly through not just space, but time. Everywhere he looked, it was like a still picture of the earth.
Things could start to move anytime, now. He examined the stacks of currency. The banded labels seemed standard enough, but perhaps there would be some way of tracing them back to the bank. He put the plastic gloves back on, removed the paper wrappers over the banded
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stacks of bills, and found a partly empty bag in the garbage to put them all in. He closed the bag tightly.
Terry sat back down on the park bench. Still less than a second had passed according to the stopwatch. He was definitely at ground zero, now. No time at all was passing. His apartment was only three miles from downtown. He might as well start back. He began walking, avoiding the pedestrians, who appeared to be stationary statues on the street. He moved easily between the vehicles that seemed frozen. Here was a black dog, caught in mid-air, bounding up to a curb, and he stroked its back in passing.
He felt hungry and walked through an open door to help himself to some food at a deli. He seized a sandwich from the tray a waitress
was carrying. That was amusing, but when he bit into the sandwich, it
did not feel right. He could chew, but had such difficulty swallowing that he spit it all back out. It was frightening. No he could not eat in this situation. He walked outside and discarded the sandwich.
Terry was becoming panicky, about the length of time that he was in the dimensional warp. Or wherever he was. The stopwatch still remained immobile, showing less than a second had passed. At last, the high rise building where his apartment was located loomed ahead, and only then did he feel the ringing in his ears begin to subside. He was growing so accustomed to this ringing effect, he had
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almost forgotten it. He was returning to real-time. Whatever real-time was! Was time all an illusion?
Terry had the "never again" feeling of the weekend alcoholic who promises to quit every Monday. But now it seemed all right again. Yes, he had approached zero time passage, or probably had reached it. No time at all had elapsed from when the Time Tablet actually took effect until the end when real-time returned. And he had been under the influence longer each time, perhaps even geometrically longer. But the effect of the pills did wear off. And then it was over.
Abruptly he felt very shaky and extremely tired. When he got back to his apartment he slept much of the day.
* * *
The next day was Friday and Terry called in one more time, to absent himself from work. How to dispose of the money, was the question. He had read, that to foil drug dealers, the government demanded banks report cash deposits of over $10,000. This was also a problem for bank robbers, Terry reflected. The morning newspapers were full of the mysterious, unexplained, major daylight downtown bank robbery. Authorities were saying little. And there were no clues.
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He drove out to some suburban banks, and deposited $8,000 in each. He had heard that a $10,000 cash deposit got you investigated as a drug dealer.
Counting out the bills in advance, he entered the banks, with just $8,000. Establishing an account and getting blank checks took time. After a whole day he had only opened nine accounts. Again there was not enough time. And he was leaving a paper trail all over town. No one asked him where he had obtained all this money, yet! They probably believed he was a gambler or a drug dealer. Banks liked to receive money and they asked few questions.
Los Vegas might be the answer. He could fly out tonight and gamble. If he played for high stakes, he could always claim he had won big and that was the source of his money. He paid cash for the first class air ticket, and no one questioned that. He could fly right away, if he were willing to pay enough for the privilege. The Vegas hotel was delighted to accept cash in advance also. Los Vegas loved cash.
He had been to Vegas before; it was only 300 miles from Los Angles. Previously he had tried the nickel slots and the dollar crap tables as a bit of vacation fun one weekend. Now he felt exuberant. The Casinos were wide open for a wild time. He played with hundred dollar bills on roulette and craps. At first he had a winning streak, and then his luck seemed to sour. By the time he went to bed in the
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late night, he had lost $10,000 as easily as he had lost $100 on the other occasion of his visit to Vegas. Easy come; easy go.
In the morning Terry concluded he did not really enjoy losing money, even when he had plenty. Furthermore, while Vegas deserved to be robbed, even more than the banks, there was little real cash in evidence for a "Time walker" to seize. If he brought time to a standstill for himself, there still seemed little opportunity to do what he had in the banks. Vegas played with chips. All the money at the craps and roulette wheel tables were slid down slots into safes, all to be exchanged for chips. The cashier cages had money, but it would be difficult to get into these areas as a “Time walker.” Vegas liked to hold on to its money.
Terry made some deposits in Vegas banks in the morning, but some of the banks closed , since it was Saturday. Then he flew back to L.A..
Back in L.A., Terry drove to a downtown tailor shop. He bought several expensive new suits, some of which needed alteration, but others he could just bring home. He paid cash.
Terry looked at new cars the next day, deciding to buy a top of the line Cadillac. It was certainly less of a trauma than his usual car buying; since he accepted the sales staff inflated price and paid cash. He negotiated in only a perfunctory manner. The car dealers
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took cash and the salesmen tried hard not to raise their eyebrows. He explained that he had won big in Vegas.
He mailed his parents some checks on the banks where he had deposited funds and told them in a note he had received a big raise. He still had all this money left in the attaché case.
On Monday it was back to work. Peggy Windsor came by his little office, as he knew she would, to check on him. She told Terry his new suit looked very professional. "How are you feeling?" she asked.
"Fine now," he replied. And then he made the pitch he had decided upon. Peggy was standing there, in his office, the door left wide open behind, her perfume already permeating the air, her enormous blue eyes upon him as he sat at his desk.
"Peggy," he began slowly, "I was ill three days last week because a favorite aunt of mine died. It upset me, and I did not want to talk about it. She left me a great fortune, Peggy. I bought some new suits and a Cadillac car yesterday. You could say I've been thinking of what you told me about my car and clothes. I am planning on quitting this job and doing some traveling. Now that I am independently wealthy, I would like to date you as an equal." He arose, to confront her. "If that's all too fast, think it over," he added as she backed away.
Peggy Windsor flushed. Her eyebrows seemed to go up to her hairline. Maybe she liked him better as her employee. What was she
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thinking? And then the flood of words burst forth from her: "Congratulations on your inheritance Terry. But you don't get it, do you? I want to succeed on my own. I have a degree in chemistry just as you do and an MBA in management. I enjoyed the research here, but this company gave me a major promotion as a manager. Are you just going to scrap your degree and travel the rest of your life? I like this job. I don't want a free ride." And then she turned on her heel and was gone.
Terry Thomas sat back down stunned. She had called him "Terry" for the first time. They were equals now. And she had problems, which he had never considered.
He could put a down payment on a house and travel for a while. But he had misled Peggy, in that he didn't have enough money to travel for the rest of his life. A trip with Peggy Windsor, a honeymoon, would be terrific. But he enjoyed the research himself. He didn't want to just travel the rest of his life, running away from himself and everything. He ought to do something beyond the Time Tablets to make this life meaningful.
It was like the experience of people who won the big bucks on the lottery. Often they said they were going to continue their job. But if they had a job they did not care about, they soon quit, no doubt. To do what with their lives?
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If he had enough money, he could open his own small chemical research company. Professional pharmaceutical drugs could be produced and sold. He would enjoy that, and he could hire Peggy to help him at an enormous salary. Would she go for it?
There were more experiments that occurred to him. Would he age if he kept taking Time Tablets? It was too early to tell? He had the formula. He could always make a severely reduced dose, and see if he could live forever that way. But wait. There was always time for that.
Robbing the bank had been easy, and he had to admit it, that while the exploit was frightening, yet it was exciting fun. He walked down to the personnel office at his company and asked for a week's leave without pay to settle his aunt's estate. They agreed. Then he bought two larger attaché cases.
One more really big haul from several banks would do it. He could then fly to various other big cities and make bank deposits all over the country in amounts of $8,000. He might even start buying the stock of the company he worked for, EDI stock, in large amounts from brokers. He could force his way onto the board of directors or be made a vice-president. Pipe dreams! That might take many more millions than he was likely to obtain from this or any other robbery.
Terry was still doing a lot of soul searching. In spite of all his rationalizations, this was wrong. So, he was doing wrong! The
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whole society was at fault in worshipping money. That's what all the criminals believed. It was the fault of society. His thoughts went around and around. Maybe he could even pay the banks back later if he made money. How many felt that way when they did wrong?
But first things first. That very afternoon he walked into a big bank, one with rows of tellers along the side and of course plenty of video cameras. Again he rounded a corner out of sight of the cameras and found a table to set down his attaché cases. He swallowed the Time Tablet and sipped the coke he carried, waiting for it to take effect.
Even as he stood there waiting, he had to admit that above all he had wanted to take this pill. It was addictive! He would have to call it quits after this time. There must be no more, regardless of how much or little he obtained. His desire to take the Time Tablet for its own sake was a bad sign.
He felt the ringing in his ears, the telltale roaring sound, only somehow different, receding instead of approaching. He snapped the stopwatch to see what it would do. The second dial seemed to be unmoving again, and then instead of "00" the "59" came into place. There was some mistake. He looked about. The people were moving, ever so slowly, but they were going backwards!
Time was in reverse for him. Terry stood, shocked. No, this would pass also. The effect of the pill would wear off. He must do
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what he came in to do. And he must do it quickly. A sense of urgency gripped him. No one could see him. He was out of phase, not in their time sequence at all. As long as the sound continued in his ears, he was all right. He walked back to the long row of tellers, put his
attaché cases on a ledge so he could reach them inside, and climbed up over the top. He found a cart with huge stacks of bills being pushed by a guard.
Again he began to load packs of $100 and $50 bills into his cases. When he had finished, he climbed back up over the top of the teller's cage, which was not very high.
Something was very wrong. The people were moving backwards, but the effect was accelerating. They did not see him, but they appeared to be moving faster. He glanced at his stopwatch. Four minutes had passed, in reverse. Time was speeding up for him, even as it ran backwards.
Frightened now, Terry took both attaché cases and moved around people toward the door. They obviously could not see him. It was hard to judge their movements, since everyone appeared to be going contrary to all human movements he had ever witnessed. Running a video in reverse was the closest parallel.
He had checked the door out before he had entered this bank. One door was wide open. He waited while a man and woman appeared to back into the building, and then moving quickly around them, he left the
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bank. Out on the street, the cars were running backwards, the people everywhere moving in a contrary direction. And the effect was continuing to accelerate! He had to get out of this crowded downtown area before someone ran into him . . . in reverse. He did not know what effect that would have.
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A block away he discarded the plastic gloves. The time effect was continuing to accelerate. Cars appeared to be passing at great speed, backwards. The stoplights halted the vehicles for barely enough time for him to cross streets. Ahead was a tiny park and he sat on the cement atop a little hill, away from everything, his back to a wire fence, waiting. Waiting for the Time Tablet effect to cease.
But instead the roaring in his ears had sped up to a constant whine. The effect was increasing rather than slowing. The people and cars were becoming a blur. After a bit the people passing seemed to diminish. It was early morning. The sun was going down or rather coming up in reverse. And then it was dark. Last night!
Terry thought about his condition. He did not feel hungry, thirsty, tired, cold, or warm. He was simply out of it. He was like a man removed from reality, an observer watching absurdity. Perhaps he had taken the Time Tablets one time too many. He should never have tried the Time Tablets in the first place. Shakespeare said: "Why would you put an enemy in your mouth to steal away your brain." Shakespeare was talking of liquor, the drug of his day.
The stopwatch was moving backwards steadily more rapidly. Terry had a feeling of permanence this time, being caught in a forever timewarp. Maybe he would yet return to real-time. But then it became light again. Last evening, he told himself. And he hadn't even made the walk back to his place. The hours of night had passed in a few minutes. The stopwatch was racing backwards with increasing
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velocity, a mechanism gone wild, recording his life which was out of control. He did not need to measure seconds now: hours were passing in a twinkling. The minutes were passing like seconds and still the time scale was accelerating.
People in rapid reverse wandered across the park in a blur or sat for what seemed an instant on some benches. The traffic was going so fast, he dared not cross any streets. They might pass right through him or destroy him completely without knowing. Terry felt he was watching a video moving into ever more rapid reverse.
It was new uncharted ground he was entering now. He could go right back to the beginning of time. The philosophers, cosmologists, psychologists, and physicists had all wondered and theorized about the nature of time. Now, in a very unsophisticated way, Terry Thomas saw three elements to time. It seemed to Terry that Time had three main speeds: forward, call that NORMAL, a condition that most people experienced throughout their lives, NEUTRAL, in which the individual was removed from the time continuum, the time stream, and was free to live a lifetime in an instant, a sort of Time-Stop, and finally, REVERSE, in which the person moved backward in time. There might also be fourth possibility, FORWARD, though how you did that Terry could only guess. There seemed to be gradations, enhanced speeds, no doubt, fast rewind, as the switch says on the video machine.
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Night came on again and then in minutes the next day. It was going faster all the time. He had all this money and nothing to do with it. He put his head down on his raised knees. Darkness, light,
it went on, still increasing in speed. This time it apparently was not going to end. The roaring in his ears had become a hurricane. He began to count the days backward in a kaleidoscope of day and night in a kind of desperation to clutch on to sanity: "One, two, three, four . . ." as daylight and night interspersed.
* * *
What could he do? How could he alter time? How can anyone change the time frame they are in? May had receded into April by now and April into March. He felt neither heat nor cold or wet from the occasional rain. Several times it seemed to rain upward, but he did not feel wet. He was a mere observer, removed from the space-time
continuum, still held to earth by the force of gravity, still in place, but immaterial perhaps. Possibly he could warn himself, somehow. He tried shouting out, but could not hear his own voice. He might not even be here. One proves one is "here" by the presence of others. Perhaps he had reached the point that he was not making sense. Do the insane know they are crazy? What was the use?
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Terry was still miles from his apartment, and it was February already, probably. This was Los Angles so there was no snow. He had moved in to his apartment on the first of February. It was too late to go home and try to warn himself. He wasn't there yet.
If he warned himself, would he change his life and his future, and thus end entirely this timeline in which he was living? It was a wild thought, meaningless. Were there many parallel universes in which the patterns of our lives could be played out differently, if we made differing decisions?
My God, he had tried to warn himself. The note in his University carrel four years before, that was his own note, his warning to himself. But he had not heeded that warning. What to do? He should have made the warning much more definite. He counted the blur of accelerated passing days and tried to estimate. Day, night only took a few moments now, whatever moments were. It was last January, December, November. A prisoner of time, he took out a notepad and pen and marked off the days - in reverse.
It was not safe to move from this park. Terry did not want this adventure to end with his colliding with many objects moving too rapidly to avoid. If he died, he would return to some past, to be found with an attaché case full of money, and leave only a silly mystery as his legacy.
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The months of last year were rushing by in reverse as he checked off the days. Time was no longer accelerating, but there was a constant whirl of day and night passing. Every occasion when he had taken the Time Tablets he had been under the effect for longer. He had gone back at least a year, now, 13 months, 14, 15. He must be somehow existent yet. He felt damp as from repeated dew. His back against the park fence and the cement he sat upon were the only reality as he plunged further into reverse. He estimated, with the help of the check off marks he was making on his notepad, that he was
back two years now. And still it went on. There was no further acceleration, but the progress backward, the twinkling nights and days continued. Perhaps three years. Now almost four.
And then gradually the days, still moving in reverse, appeared longer. The effect was slowing down. At first Terry felt delighted, but then as the lengthening days moved into a parody of real-time, only in reverse, that effect seemed continuous as well. He arose, unsteady, but feeling all right. He felt his chin. He had no beard, no Rip Van Winkle in reverse. What is the reverse of a beard?
He had to warn himself. And it must be more than just the silly warning placed in his University carrel. Still the University office carrel was the place to locate his past self. The University was miles away, and there was nothing to do but walk. Perhaps time would come back on before he got there. He was sure it would not.
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Everything was still moving backwards, but he seemed out of phase, an invisible man moving through a backward universe. Terry's mind tried to come to grips with this new reality.
Still he was carrying hope, the attaché cases filled with money. He walked, watching carefully to avoid the backward moving people, rushed across streets before lights changed, in the early morning.
He paused at a newsstand and examined the papers. It was indeed four years earlier.
The crowds thinned as night came on, and he wandered by streetlights out of the downtown area. By sunset light of the oncoming day he was able to walk on side streets, heading for the
University. In the afternoon he was there.
The library doors were open, but it was tricky to move in around people who from his viewpoint were entering and leaving apparently backwards. He walked up two flights of stairs; it was useless to try an elevator.
Ahead was his old carrel, the small office given to graduate students to study. The door was shut. He would be there, in his own past. Terry felt almost a compulsion to write the exact note he had received -- for starters. He had an assignment: to warn himself. But the previous warning had not been heeded. However, if he gave any other warning would he remove himself entirely from the time he was
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in? He had been thinking about this all the way back to the University. If he did something else to his past life, it would change the future and then he didn't know what would happen. For instance he could throw all his books on the floor to indicate something was wrong or even kill his past self. Then certainly he would disappear in the NOW, whatever that ‘NOW’ was. He had no intention of suicide. That was just a silly desperate passing thought.
Terry pulled open the carrel door, which required all his strength. There was his earlier, younger self, asleep, his head on his arms on the desk. He took a large sheet of his own paper and
wrote in great block letters. "Don't take the Time Tablets!" He taped it to the computer screen.
Now, came the most important decision of his life. Right now he was afraid of continuing back forever in time. The problem was that anything he did at this point in the way of adding to this note would change the whole of the timeline of his past and create an anomaly that could remove him entirely from time and space. He would be changing the past. Could he alter the past? He would have to change the past, if he wanted to make the situation he was in right now different. Yet that was also impossible.
Desperately he wished to stop moving backwards in time, perhaps forever. He wished to escape the trap he had presently gotten into.
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How far back might he go? Where would it stop? Another ten years or fifty and he would be out of touch with all the progress he knew. True, his movement backward had slowed down, but it was continuing.
He stood a while, thinking, standing in that carrel beside himself. Yes, he was beside himself in more ways than one. He had time to consider all this. He had nothing but time now. There was no point to rushing. He had all the time in the world it seemed. No. In a bit his younger self would be awake again. But that bit of sleep could last forever for the Terry now. He had to decide.
And then he felt the ringing in his ears subsiding! The effect of the Time Tablet was at last wearing off. He rushed outside the carrel and slammed the door. What would happen if he discovered himself? That would certainly change the future. He picked up the attaché cases with the money and ran. That was why he had written no more on that note in his carrel. It was a cryptic note but he had literally run out of time.
Terry remembered silly old jokes: "The man found himself. He lost himself in his work. I ran into myself the other day and knocked myself down."
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* * *
Terry Thomas was back four years in time, but once again in real-time. Time was going forward from where he had "landed." It was obvious he would have to avoid himself and all his haunts until his other persona disappeared and that would be four years hence. He sure did not want to corrupt the time line.
The Time Tablet effect on this occasion had been like a statistical bell shaped curve, first sending time gradually into reverse, then speeding up as the full effect of the pill hit him, and finally a similar gradual slow down as the effect diminished. He walked over to a washroom and threw the rest of the Time Tablets into a toilet. Flush! The experiment was over, finished, done.
Terry was sweating all over, tired, shaky. "Get a hotel room, sleep it off, and then decide what to do," he told himself out loud, glad to hear the sound of his own voice. He would take a plane to New York or somewhere. He had money to invest now. There were a lot of things he knew about that had happened in the last four years: sports contest winners, Kentucky derby winners.
Even the pharmaceutical company he had worked for, EDI, was a case in point. EDI stock had come under severe attack, fallen enormously a couple of years ago and then risen again. He had followed the fate of the company and wondered if it would survive,
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before applying for a job there. How did you play the securities game by selling stocks short? He would find out.
He felt guilty over the bank robberies, but if he made enough money he could pay back the banks what he had taken from them with money to spare.
As to Peggy: Unless she had lied about her age, reliving the next four years again would make him older than Peggy Windsor. Yet she would never know or believe he was older. It did not matter.
If he made enough money, he could buy so much of EDI stock he could get on the Board of Directors and Peggy would be working for him! There it was. It wasn't about money. He really cared nothing about the money. It was all about Peggy Windsor.
There was a whole life opening up ahead for Terry Thomas, but it did not involve taking Time Tablets.
The first pill had been a tiny experimental dose. That pill had caused time to slow down enormously, for him. Then he had made larger pills and tripled the dose. The second pill had caused time to almost completely stop. The third pill had caused time to stop completely. That should have been another warning as to what might happen. The fourth pill had sent him back four years. It was an exponential increase. A multiplier. At that rate, the next pill might send him so far back that he would be in Ancient Egypt and
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enslaved to build pyramids. In any case he would never dare to take the chance again.
The Great Encounter
What would the world reaction be if aliens
tried to save the earth from itself?
This story is on a separate blog
YOU CAN'T HIDE FROM YOURSELF
What would happen if you multi-replicated?
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It all began slowly enough. I was walking down the street on a warm Sunday summer afternoon, a day like any other precious, beautiful day, when I passed a man who looked a lot like myself. I paused, turned, and so did the other man. Almost I walked over, stuck out a hand, and introduced myself: "Hi, I'm Keith Jasken." Maybe if I had done this at once, it all could have been avoided. Instead I found myself staring and the other man turned away. I continued on down the avenue.
The street was a quiet suburban one near my home with only a few people out walking. We all have doubles, I told myself. There are thousands of people who look somewhat like each of us. There are dozens who might be mistaken for us if we did not look closely. Would we even recognize ourselves if we met us?
All right, so why this man, this time? I am tall, moderately built, and have a rather large nose a little bent from that fight as a teen-ager. My brown hair waved no matter how I combed it. My eyes were large. This passerby had not only all these characteristics but he seemed to be dressed like me.
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Well, I wasn't really a good "noticer," I told myself. Actually I had wondered at times what would happen if I had to describe someone at a crime scene. Some people would be able to list every detail, but I was sure I would be at a loss. The real oddity here was that we both had turned about to look. I should have gone over to the fellow and studied him closely. But how does one react in a first time situation anyway?
Well, it was over now. Done.
The day was so pleasant, I felt exuberant. I worked on my optimism. Like so many people I had studied economics and business in college, but then decided computers were the wave of the future and now I had a computer job. It paid well. Find a job you like and you'll never have to really work a day in your life. It was something I told myself.
No, it was Sandra, Sandy, my wife, who was the problem. Oh she was a pretty enough woman. When you are in love, all women are beautiful. She was tall, willowy, yet sufficiently mammalian. She had the oval face and the full lips that Hollywood demanded of successful actresses. She was a good kisser.
We had been married five years now. I couldn't really remember how it was I had married her. A chain of events had locked in and there it was. We had been kissing and much more, alone in her college dorm room, when I told Sandy: "I love you." And suddenly Sandra
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asked: "Is this a proposal?" And I had replied, "Yes." And then there were plans and no turning back.
Not that I really wanted to turn back. But it was like stepping on a crowded escalator and wondering too late if you wanted to go up. I had loved her. Oops! There it was, past tense. Well, it seemed as if Sandy talked a lot and picked at things. There was a great deal more love before we married. Maybe that's how life was. I was in no hurry to return home from my walk.
The oddest part of seeing a double is that even now, married, with some semi-friends at work, I am a loner. Perhaps that was why I was imagining this. My parents and younger brother had been killed in a car accident while I was away at college. After I met Sandra at college I was glad to move to her home city and see her parents as maybe mine. Are big cities all alike, disposable, interchangeable?
* * *
It was the next morning when I was taking the town bus to the train that it happened again. The bus was momentarily caught in traffic and as I looked out of the dirt stained window, there was another bus going in the opposite direction with a man staring out at me. The wave of hair. The wide eyes. The slightly bent nose.
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The facial features. It was the same man. Me, I, myself. We both stared. Was it a trick of the light? Then my bus moved on.
I always took the train downtown. There was no doubt that there was a man in my very suburb who looked much like me. At least from a distance. At a quick glance. Yes, close examination would show differences.
Then as I approached the building where I worked there was a man coming toward me. He had on a business suit and was carrying an attaché case. And he looked like me. Even our brown attaché cases looked alike. We both glanced up and down. Now I walked over. I could see no difference. It was like looking in a mirror. "Who are you?" I asked.
"Sorry, not now. I'm late." And the man slid by me and walked on.
Ridiculous! Impossible! The man I had seen on the bus had not been in a suit and had been going away from the Railroad station. He couldn't have changed and driven downtown that fast. The 7:41 train had been on time this morning. Well, what then? I glanced at my watch. I would be late for work if I kept standing there stupidly looking after a departed figure.
All day the absurd coincidence kept coming back to me.
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Not one, but two. Maybe I needed an optometrist. No. Not at age twenty-eight. Not yet. But people hallucinated at any age. And they went crazy anytime.
I surely couldn't tell anyone about this. They would think I was crazy. At noon I ate lunch downstairs with the usual group. The conversation was frenetic. Then I saw the man again, staring at me from outside the cafe through the window. Same sandy hair, same almost brown eyes, the nose, the face, but he was wearing another suit this time. I froze. I sat immobilized. The face in the window disappeared.
That night going home on the train I kept studying faces. There were small differences. I guessed at the ages of my fellow passengers. It was a curious game to play, age guessing, seeking details of appearance. As I left the train and approached the bus that met the passengers at the station, I saw a man still sitting on the train, staring out at me. It was the same man, or another in the series. And then the train pulled out.
I usually rented a movie on Mondays, but not today. I just wanted to go home and stay there. Sandra was already home from her teaching job. She had stories to tell or rather retell about the students, parents, staff, and administration. There was no end to her talk.
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It was later that night, while we were sitting on the sofa, Sandra switched on the news saying: "I wanted to show you the sports announcer on this station. He looks like a dead ringer of you, Keith." I sat blinking. Yes, that is probably how I would look on television, I decided. Which of the many "myselfs" that I had seen today and yesterday was this one? How many were there?
"His name is Keith Sullivan," Sandra offered.
"A coincidence. I saw someone who looked like him today downtown." All my life I had never seen anyone I thought resembled me
in the slightest and now the woods were crawling with them. It was as far as I dared go in telling Sandy the truth of my fears.
"Well," Sandra continued, "I thought you'd be interested. She arched her high eyebrows. "I always thought you were cute. It's why I chose you." I was one of the unwitting chosen.
That night I dreamt of fellow-Keiths, all at a party, all with my face, talking, drinking, and especially starring at me. I awoke with a cold sweat and changed my pajama tops.
The morning was bright and sunny. I threw off the absurd thoughts and dressed methodically as usual. Then I took the bus and the train. There were lots of other people, but no one resembling me. A day or two of madness and now it would all end. Then I looked out on the platform. There I was again, standing there, staring back at me from the station platform. The train pulled away.
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At the city train station it happened again. There I was, standing, staring. I walked over to the look-alike. This time, I would push things. "My name is Keith," I began.
"And my name is Keith,' the stranger replied. "I wish you would quit following me. Just go away." And the stranger turned and walked off.
I was alone in the crowd. How could I tell Sandra or anyone what was happening? I needed psychiatric help, perhaps. It was all too much. There was a silly joke: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you.
Was I really me? Was I being replicated? Who was the essential I? Here was an eternal question everyone could ask in the dark hours of the night? The Greeks said the unexamined life was meaningless? So what was the meaning of life? What was the meaning of meaning? Did we dare examine our life too closely?
Yes, I had taken a philosophy class and found it dull. The improbable Frenchman of the 17th century, Rene Descartes said: "Cogito ergo sum," which came out "I think, therefore I am." Am what? Proving what? Yet that thought made him famous.
I walked slowly into my office building. I would be late and I didn't care now. I took the elevator up.
As I walked through the office corridor between the open desks, several of my colleagues looked at me oddly. No doubt I was
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wearing a strained expression. Then I saw my cubicle and desk ahead. He was sitting there. Or it was a look alike. I paused.
The man looked up startled from my desk. I was wearing my blue suit, but this man could be wearing my brown outfit. "What are you doing here?" the man inquired, angry.
"You're at my desk," I objected.
"Get out of here. Get out of my life. Leave this office or I shall call security." The man actually picked up the phone, my phone.
I turned and left. There was no question; he was me! I was scared. Now I changed my belief from "those others who did not belong," to "I did not belong." I would have to face this madness.
The madness within. The madness was not around the corner but here and now. What was I to do?
I would go home and tell Sandra. Then I could bring her down to my office and show her this impostor. After that we could both figure
out what to do. I took the train back. Yes, I needed help. Who wants to be institutionalized? I couldn't ask anyone in the office. The replica had taken my place. Twice going back on the train, on separate platforms, I saw the same man, the man who was ever myself now, standing there, staring, in a bomber jacket, in sports attire, sitting on a bench with a book.
Sandra would not be home till after 3:00 P.M., when school was out. If I talked to her then, as soon as she came home, and we drove
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downtown and went in to my office, we could see this man in his office before things closed down at 5:00 P.M.. His office! No, it was my office. I paused. I must not crack up now.
Sandra would believe me if she came with me and know I wasn't crazy. If it weren't for Sandra and her parents living in this city, I would just chuck this all as a bad dream and leave this town forever.
It was still morning. I let myself in the house. I didn't want to go out and see those others. Maybe Sandy and I could just go away somewhere. She would never want to leave her parents. I looked in the dresser drawer for our passports that we had gotten when going to the Caribbean.
Yes, the passport picture was mine. The joke was, if you looked like your passport picture you needed the trip. I put the passport in my pocket. Cut and run. No, I would adhere to my original plan and take Sandy downtown to my office. I just lay down on the bed, my mind going round and round. Probably I should call Sandra at school and ask her to come home early. I didn't like telling her these things over the phone.
Then at noon I heard Sandra opening the downstairs door, too early. "It's good to have an in-service morning and an afternoon free," she was saying, "but the best part was you were able to meet me." Who was she talking to?"
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I walked to the top of the bedroom stairs and looked down at the
entrance doorway. A man came out of the car with her. There was this other Keith with Sandra. "My Sandy."
"Who are you?" Sandra asked sharply, looking up the stairs at me.
I wanted to talk to her, but could find no words. "Get out, you impersonator," the man demanded. Suddenly I ran, down the stairs, out the door, past them, away. It was all too much.
I was through with it all now, this town, this life. Stop the world I want to get off. I ran all the way to the wide avenue and hailed a taxi. Then I went to the bank and took out all of our money, $2,000. The money was still there. The bank still knew me.
I took a taxi to the airport. I saw several men who looked like me on the way. Obviously I was going insane. But I would have some fun before the world closed in.
I rushed to the ticket counter and bought an airline ticket around the world, London, Paris, Athens, Istanbul, Delhi, Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo with my charge card. These were places in the travel section of the Sunday paper, ending with Orientals who surely would not have my face.
It was absurd running from myself. Three people in the airport waiting room looked like me. I had no clothes or suitcase for a long trip. But I had the money and credit cards to buy clothes anywhere.
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I had to escape before I just disappeared. The world was closing in. I felt sweaty and chilled at the same time.
I looked around in the cabin. On the plane heading to London at least three passengers had my face. I was for export. I could not even run away from myself. The Captain spoke after take-off. It was my voice.