Лекция: Марк Леви 6 страница
That test was a failure, too. Disappointed, Malparto put the stone away.
«Now levitation. Mr. Coates, I want you to close your eyes and attempt—psychically—to lift yourself from the floor.»
Mr. Coates attempted, without result.
«Next,» Malparto said, «I want you to place your open palm against the wall behind you. Push, and at the same time, concentrate on passing your hand between the molecules of the wall.»
The hand failed to pass between the molecules.
«This time,» Malparto said gamely, «we'll attempt to measusure [sic] your ability to communicate with lower life forms.» A lizard, in a box, was brought out. «Stand with your head near the lid. See if you can tune into the lizard's mental pattern.»
There was no result.
«Maybe the lizard has no mental pattern,» Mr. Coates said.
«Nonsense.» Malparto's annoyance was growing wildly. He brought forth a hair resting in a dish of water. «See if you can animate the hair. Try to transform it into a worm.»
Mr. Coates failed.
«Were you really trying?» Gretchen asked.
Mr. Coates smiled. «Very hard.»
«I should think that would be easy enough,» she said. «There's not much difference between a hair and a worm On a cloudy day—»
«Now,» Malparto broke in, «we'll test your ability to heal.» He had noticed the scratch on Allen's wrist. «Direct
your psychic powers toward that damaged tissue. Try to restore it to health.»
The scratch remained.
«Too bad,» Gretchen said. «That would be a useful one.»
Malparto, overcome by abandon, brought out a water wand and asked his patient to divine. A bowl of water was skillfully hidden, and Mr. Coates lumbered about the office. The wand did not dip.
«Bad wood,» Gretchen said.
Depressed, Malparto examined the list of remaining tests
Ability to contact spirits of the dead
Capacity to transmute lead into gold
Ability to assume alternate forms
Ability to create rain of vermin and/or filth
Power to kill or damage at a distance
«I have a feeling,» he said finally, «that due to fatigue you're growing subconsciously uncooperative. Therefore it's my decision that we defer the balance of the tests to some other time.»
Gretchen asked Mr. Coates: «Can you kindle fire? Can you slay seven with one blow? Can your father lick my father?»
«I can steal,» the patient said.
«That's not much. Anything else?»
He reflected. «Afraid that's all.» Getting to his feet he said to Malparto: «I assume the Monday appointment is void.»
«Well,» he said, «there's no point sticking around here.» He reached for the doorknob. «We haven't got anywhere.»
«And you won't be coming back?»
At the door he paused. «Probably not,» he decided. At the moment all he wanted to do was go home. «If I change my mind I'll call you.» He started to pull the door shut.
That was when all the lights went out around him.
The bus lifted from the stop and continued across roof tops. Houses sparkled beneath, in planned patterns, separated by lawns. A swimming pool lay like a blue eye. But, he noticed, the pool far below was not perfectly round. At one end the tiles formed a patio. He saw tables, beach umbrellas. Tiny shapes were people reclining at leisure.
«Four,» the bus said metallically.
A woman rose and found the rear door. The bus lowered to the stop, the door slithered aside, the woman stepped down.
«Watch your step,» the bus said. «Exit by the rear.» It ascended, and again houses sparkled beneath.
Next to Allen the large gentleman mopped his forehead. «Warm day.»
«Yes,» Allen agreed. To himself he said: Say nothing. Do nothing. Don't even move.
«You hold this a minute, young fellow? Like to tie my shoe.» The large gentleman passed his armload of bundles across. «Go shopping, you have to lug it home. That's the gimmick.»
«Five,» the bus said. Nobody got up, so the bus continued. Below, a shopping section was visible: a clump of bright stores.
«They say shop near home,» the large gentleman said, «but you can save money if you go downtown. Sales, you know. They buy in quantity.» Out of a long paper bag he
lifted a jacket. «Nice, eh? Real cow.» He showed Allen a can of wax. «Got to keep it moist or it cracks. Rain's bad for it. Another gimmick. But you can't have everything.»
«Exit by the rear,» the bus said. «No smoking. Step to the back, please.» More houses passed beneath.
«You feel all right?» the large gentleman asked. «Seems to me you look like you might have a touch of sunstroke. A lot of people, they go out in the sun on a hot day like this. Don't know any better.» He chuckled. «Feel cold? Nauseated?»
«Yes,» Allen said.
«Probably been running around playing Quart. You a pretty good quartist?» He sized Allen up. «Good shoulders, arms. Young fellow like you probably be right-wing. Eh?»
«Not yet,» Allen said. He looked through the window of the of the bus and then down through the transparent floor at the city. Into his mind came the thought that he didn't even know where to get off. He didn't know where he was going or why or where he was now.
He was not in the Health Resort. That was the sole fact, and he took hold of it and made it the hub of his new universe. He made it the reference point and he began to creep cautiously from there.
This was not the Morec society, because there were no swimming pools and wide lawns and separate houses and glass-bottomed busses in the Morec society. There were no people basking in the sun in the middle of the day. There was no game called Quart. And this was not a vast historical exhibit such as the twentieth century house in the museum, because he could see the date on the magazine being read across the aisle, and it was the right month and year.
«Can I ask you something?» he said to the large gentleman.
«Surely.» The large gentleman beamed.
«What's the name of this town?»
The large gentleman's face changed color. «Why, this is Chicago.»
«Six,» the bus said. Two young women got up, and the bus lowered to let them off. «Exit at the rear. No smoking, please.»
Allen got up, squeezed to the aisle, and followed the women from the bus.
The air smelled fresh, full of the nearness of trees. He took a deep breath, walked a few steps, halted. The bus had let him off in a residential section; only houses were visible, set along wide, tree-lined streets. Children were playing, and, on the lawn of one house, a girl was sun-bathing. Her body was quite tan and her breasts were highly upraised. And her nipples were a pretty pastel pink.
If anything proved his separation from the Morec society it was the naked young lady stretched out on the grass. He had never seen anything like it. In spite of himself he walked that way.
«What are you looking at?» the girl asked, her head on her folded arms, face-up in the deep green lawn.
«I'm lost.» It was the first thing that entered his mind.
«This is Holly Street and the cross street is Glen. Where do you want to be?»
«I want to be home,» he said.
«I don't know.»
«Look at your ident card. In your wallet.»
He reached into his coat and brought out his wallet. The card was there, a strip of plastic with words and numbers punched into it.
2319 Pepper Lane
That was his address, and above it was his name. He read that, too.
Coates, John B.
«I slipped over,» he said.
«Over what?» She raised her head.
Bending down he showed her the ident card. «Look, it says John Coates. But my name's Allen Purcell; I picked the
name Coates at random.» He ran his thumb across the raised plastic, feeling it.
The girl sat up and tucked her bare, deeply-tanned legs under her. Her breasts, even as she sat, remained up-tilted. Her nipples projected prettily. «Very interesting,» she said.
«Now I'm Mr. Coates.»
«Then what happened to Allen Purcell?» She smoothed her hair back and smiled up.
«He must be back there,» Mr. Coates said. «But I'm Allen Purcell,» Allen said. «It doesn't make sense.»
Sliding to her feet the girl put a hand on his shoulder and guided him to the sidewalk. «On the corner is a cab-box. Ask the cab to take you home. Pepper Lane is about two miles from here. Do you want me to call it for you?»
«No,» he said. «I can do it.»
He set off along the pavement, looking for the cab-box. Never having seen one, he walked past it.
«There,» the girl called, hands cupped to her mouth.
Nodding, he pulled the switch. A moment later the cab dropped to the pavement beside him and said: «Where to, sir?»
The trip took only a minute. The cab landed; he pushed coins into its slot; and then he was standing before a house.
The house was big, imposing, dominating a ridge of cedars and peppers. Sprinklers hurled water across the sloping lawns on both sides of the brick path. In the rear was a garden of dahlias and wisteria, a tumbling patch of deep red and purple.
On the front porch was a baby. An agile sitter perched on the railing nearby, its lens monitoring. The baby noticed Mr. Coates; smiling, it reached up its arm and burbled.
The front door—solid hard wood, with brass inlay—was wide open. From within the house drifted the sounds of music: a jazzy dance band.
The living room was deserted. He examined the rug, the fireplace, the piano, and he recognized it from his research. Reaching, he plinked a few notes. Then he wandered into the dining room. A large mahogany table filled the center. On the table was a vase of iris. Along two walls were a line of mounted plates, glazed and ornate; he inspected them and then passed on, into a hall. Broad stairs led up: he gazed up, saw a landing and open doors, then turned toward the kitchen.
The kitchen overwhelmed him. It was long, gleaming-white, and it contained every kind of appliance he had heard of and some he had not. On the immense stove a meal was cooking, and he peered into a pot, sniffing. Lamb, he decided.
While he was sniffing there was a noise behind him. The back door opened and a woman entered, breathless and flushed.
«Darling!» she exclaimed, hurrying to him. «When did you get home?»
She was dark, with tumbles of hair bouncing against her shoulders. Her eyes were huge and intense. She wore shorts and a halter and sandals.
She was Gretchen Malparto.
The clock on the mantel read four-thirty. Gretchen had drawn the drapes, and the living room was in shadow. Now she paced about, smoking, gesturing jerkily. She had changed to a print skirt and peasant blouse. The baby, whom Gretchen called «Donna,» was upstairs in her crib, asleep.
«Something's wrong,» Gretchen repeated. «I wish you'd tell me what it is. Damn it, do I have to beg?» Turning, she faced him defiantly. «Johnny, this isn't like you.»
He lay on the couch, stretched out, a gin sling in one hand. Above him the ceiling was a mild green, and he contemplated it until Gretchen's voice shattered at him.
«Johnny, for Christ's sake!»
He roused himself. «I'm right here. I'm not standing outdoors.»
«Tell me what happened.» She came over and settled on the arm of the couch. «Is it because of what happened Wednesday?»
«What happened Wednesday?» He was, in a detached way, interested.
«At Frank's party. When you found me upstairs with—» She looked away. «I forget his name. The tall, blond-haired one. You seemed mad; you were a little this way. Is that it? I thought we agreed not to interfere with each other. Or do you want it to work just one way?»
He asked: «How long have we been married?»
«This is a lecture, I suppose.» She sighed. «Go ahead. Then it's my turn.»
«Just answer my question.»
Meditating, he said: «I thought wives always knew.»
«Oh, come off it.» She pulled away and stalked over to the phonograph. «Let's eat. I'll have it serve us. Or do you want to go out for dinner? Maybe you'll feel better where there's people—instead of cooped up here.»
He didn't feel cooped up. From where he lay he could see most of the downstairs of the house. Room after room... like living in an office building. Renting a whole floor; two floors. And in the back of the house, in the garden, was a three-room guest cottage.
In fact, he felt nothing at all. The gin sling had anesthetized him.
«Care to buy a head?» he asked her.
«I don't understand.»
«A stone head. Bronzed thermoplastic, to be absolutely accurate. Responds to cutting tools. Doesn't that ring a bell? You thought the job was quite original.»
He said: «A year? Two years? Approximately.»
«We were married in April 2110. So it must be four years.»
«That's a good long time,» he said. «Mrs. Coates.»
«Yes, Mr. Coates.»
«And this house?» He liked the house.
«This house,» Gretchen said fiercely, «belonged to your mother. And I'm sick of hearing about it. I wish we had never moved here; I wish we had sold the goddamn thing. We could have got a good price two years ago; now real estate's down.»
«It'll go up. It always does.»
Glaring at him, Gretchen strode across the living room to the hall. «I'll be upstairs, changing for dinner. Tell it to serve.»
«Serve,» he said.
With a snort of exasperation, Gretchen left. He heard the click of her heels on the stairs and then that, too, faded.
The house was lovely: it was spacious, luxuriously furnished, solidly built, and modern. It would last a century. The garden was full of flowers and the freezer was full of food. Like heaven, he thought. Like a vision of the after-reward, for all the years of public service. For all the sacrifice and struggle, bickerings and Mrs. Birmingham. The ordeal of the block meetings. The tension and sternness of the Morec society.
A part of him reached out to this, and he knew what that part was named. John Coates was now in his own world, and it was the antithesis of Morec.
Close to his ear, a voice said: «There remains some island of ego.»
A second voice, a woman's, said: «But submerged.»
«Totally withdrawn,» the man said. «The shock of failure. When the Psi-testing collapsed. He was at the edge of the Resort, starting back out. And he couldn't.»
The woman asked: «Isn't there a better solution?»
«He needed one at that instant. He couldn't return to Morec,
and he had found no help at the Resort. For that I'm partly to blame; I wasted time on the testing.»
«You thought it would help.» The woman seemed to be moving nearer. «Can he hear us?»
«I doubt it. There's no way to tell. The catalepsy is complete, so he can't signal.»
«How long will it last?»
«Hard to say. Days, weeks, maybe the balance of his life.» Malparto's voice seemed to recede, and he strained to catch it. «Maybe we should inform his wife.»
«Can you tell anything about his inner world?» Gretchen, too, was dimming. «What kind of fantasy is he lost in?»
«An escape.» The voice vanished, then momentarily returned. «Time will tell.» It was gone.
Struggling from the couch, Mr. John Coates shouted: «Did you hear them? Did you?»
At the top of the stairs Gretchen appeared, hairbrush in one hand, stockings over her arm. «What's the matter?»
He appealed in despair. «It was you and your brother. Couldn't you hear them? This is a—» He broke off.
«A what?» She came calmly downstairs. «What are you talking about?»
A pool had formed where his drink glass had fallen; he bent down to sop it up, «I have news for you,» he said. «This isn't real. I'm sick; this is a psychotic retreat.»
«I'm surprised at you,» she said. «Really, I am. You sound like a college sophomore. Solipsism—skepticism. Bishop Berkeley, all that ultimate-reality stuff.»
As his fingers touched the drink glass, the wall behind it vanished.
Still stooping, he saw out into the world beyond. He saw the street, other houses. He was afraid to lift his head. The mantel and fireplace, the rug and deep chairs... even the lamp and bric-a-brac, all were gone. Only a void. Emptiness.
«There it is,» Gretchen said. «Right by your hand.»
He saw no glass, now; it had vanished with the room. In spite of himself, he turned his head. There was nothing behind him. Gretchen was gone, too. He was standing alone in emptiness. Only the next house, a long way off, remained. Along the street a car moved, followed by a second. At a neighboring house a curtain was drawn. Darkness was descending everywhere.
«Gretchen,» he said.
There was no response. Only silence.
he closed his eyes and willed. He imagined the room: he pictured Gretchen, the coffee table, the package of cigarettes, the lighter beside it. He pictured the ashtray, the drapes, the couch and phonograph.
When he opened his eyes the room was back. But Gretchen was gone. He was alone in the house.
The shades were all down, and he had a deep intuition of lateness. As if, he thought, time had passed. A clock on the mantel read eight-thirty. Had four whole hours gone by? Four hours.. .
«Gretchen?» he said, experimentally. He went to the stairs and started up. Still no sign of her. The house was warm, the air pleasant and fresh. Somewhere an automatic heating unit functioned.
A room to his right was her bedroom. He glanced in.
The small ivory clock on the dressing table did not read eight-thirty. It read a quarter to five. Gretchen had overlooked it. She had not set it forward with the one downstairs.
Instantly he was running back downstairs, two steps at a time.
The voices had reached him as he lay on the couch. Kneeling, he pressed his hands over the fabric, across the arms and back, under the cushions. Finally he dragged the couch away from the wall.
The first speaker was mounted within a coil of back-spring. A second and then a third were concealed under the rug; they were as flat as paper. He estimated that at least a dozen speakers had been mounted throughout the room.
Since Gretchen had been upstairs the control unit was undoubtedly there. Again he climbed the stairs and entered her bedroom.
At first he failed to recognize it. The control lay in plain sight, on the woman's dressing table, with the jars and tubes and packages of cosmetics. The hairbrush. He picked it up and rotated the plastic handle.
From downstairs boomed a man's voice. «There remains some island of ego.»
Gretchen's voice answered. «But submerged.»
«Totally withdrawn,» Malparto continued. «The shock—»
Allen snapped the handle back, and the voices departed. The tape transport, mounted somewhere in the walls of the house, had halted in the middle of its cycle.
Downstairs again, he searched for the means by which Gretchen had dissolved the house. When he found it, he was chagrined. The unit was built into the fireplace, in open view, one of the many comfort-making gadgets. He pressed the stud and the room around him with its furnishings and rich textures seeped away. The outside world remained: houses, the street, the sky. A glimmer of stars.
The device was a mere romantic gadget. For long, dull evenings. Gretchen was an active girl.
In a closet, under a heap of blankets, he found a newspaper used as a shelf-liner; it was empirical proof. The news-
paper was the Vega Sentinel. He was not in a fantasy world; he was on the fourth planet of the Vega System.
He was on Other World, the permanent refuge maintained by the Mental Health Resort. Maintained for persons who had come—not for therapy—but for sanctuary.
Finding the phone, he dialed zero.
«Number please,» the operator said, the faint, tinny, and terribly reassuring voice.
«Give me one of the space ports,» he said. «Any one that has inter-system service.»
A series of clicks, buzzes, and then he was connected with the ticket office. A methodical male voice on the other end of the wire said,
«Yes sir. What can I do for you?»
«What's the fare to Earth?» He wondered, in a stricken way, just how long he had been here. A week? A month?
«One way, first class. Nine hundred thirty dollars. Plus twenty percent luxury tax.» The voice was without emotion.
He had no such money. «What's the next system in order?»
«How much is that?» He didn't have over fifty dollars in his wallet. And this planet was under the jurisdiction of the Health Resort: it had acquired it with its deed.
«One way, first class. Tax included... comes to seven hundred forty-two dollars.»
He calculated. «What's it cost to phone Earth?»
The ticket agent said, «You'll have to ask the phone company, mister. That's not our business.»
When he had gotten the operator again, Allen said, «I'd like to place a call to Earth.»
«Yes sir.» She did not seem surprised. «What number, sir?»
He gave Telemedia's number, and then the number on the phone he was using. It was as simple as that.
After several minutes of buzzing, the operator said, «I'm sorry, sir. Your party does not answer.»
«What time is it there?»
A moment and then: «In that time zone it is three a.m., sir.»
In a husky voice he said, «Look, I've been kidnapped. I have to get out of here—back to Earth.»
«I suggest you call one of the inter-system transport fields, sir,» the operator said.
«All I've got is fifty bucks!»
«I'm sorry, sir. I can connect you with one of the fields if you wish.»
He hung up.
There was no point staying in the house, but he lingered long enough to type out a note—a note with a vengeance. He left the note in the middle of the coffee table, where Gretchen would be sure to see it.
Dear Mrs. Coates,
You remember Molly. Damned if I didn't run
into her at the Brass Poker. Says she's pregnant,
but you know how that kind are. Think I better
stay with her until we can get her a you-know-what.
Expensive, but it's the price you pay.
He signed it Johnny and then left the house.
Other World had plenty of roving taxis, and within five minutes he was in the downtown business district with its lights and flow of people.
At the space port a full-size ship stood upright on its tail. He guessed, with almost frenzied despair, that it was in the process of leaving for the next system. A line of supply trucks dashed back and forth; the ship was already in the final stages of loading.
Paying off the taxi, he tramped across the gravel parking
lot of the field, down, the street until he arrived at a syndrome of life: a restaurant doing an active business, full of patrons and noise and chatter. Feeling like a fool he buttoned his coat up around him and strode through the doorway to the cashier.
«Put up your hands, lady,» he said, jutting out his pocket. «Before I put a McAllister heat beam through your head.»
The girl gasped, raised her hands, opened her mouth and gave a terrified bleat. Patrons at nearby tables glanced up in disbelief.
«Okay,» Allen said, in a normally-loud voice. «Now let's have the money. Push it across the counter before I blow out your brains with my McAllister heat beam.»
«Oh dear,» the girl said.
From behind him two Other World police wearing helmets and crisp blue uniforms appeared and grabbed his arms. The girl flopped out of sight and Allen's hand was yanked from his pocket.
«A noose,» one cop said. «A super-noose. It's troublemakers like this ruin a clean neighborhood.»
«Let go of me,» Allen said. «Before I blow off your heads with my McAllister heat beam.»
«Buddy,» one of the cops said, as they dragged him from the restaurant, «this cancels the Resort's obligations to succor you. You've shown your unreliability by committing a felony.»
«I'll blow all of you to bits,» Allen said, as they bundled him into the police car. «This heat beam talks.»
«Get his ident.» A cop snatched Allen's wallet. «John B. Coates. 2319 Pepper Lane. Well, Mr. Coates, you've had your chance. Now you're on your way back to Morec. How does that sound?»
«You won't live to send me back,» Allen said. The car was sprinting toward the field, and the big ship was still there. «I'll get you. You'll see.»
The car, flying a foot above the gravel, turned onto the
field and made directly for the ship. The siren came on; field attendants stopped work and watched.
«Tell them to hold it,» one of the cops said. He got out a microphone and contacted the field's tower. «Another super-noose. Open up the fleebee.»
In a matter of seconds the car had come alongside the ship, the doors had united, and Allen was in the hands of the ship's sheriff.
«Welcome back to Morec,» a run-down fellow super-noose muttered, as Allen was deposited beside him in the restricted area.
«Thanks,» Allen said, with relief. «It's good to be back.» Now he was wondering if he would reach Earth by Sunday. On Monday morning his job at Telemedia started. Had he lost too much time?
Whoosh, the floor went. The ship was rising.
the trip began Wednesday night, and by Sunday night he was back on Earth. The notation was arbitrary, of course, but the interval was real. Tired, sweaty, Allen emerged from the ship and back into the Morec society.
The field was not far from the Spire and his housing unit, but he balked at the idea of walking. It seemed unnecessarily strict; the supplicants in Other World showed no sign of degeneracy because they rode busses. Going into a phone booth at the field he called Janet.
«Oh!» she gasped. «They released you? You're—all right?»
He asked: «What did Malparto tell you?»
«They said you had gone to Other World for treatment. They said you might be there several weeks.»
Now it made even more sense. In several weeks he would have lost his directorship and his status in the Morec world. After that it wouldn't matter if he discovered the hoax or not; without a lease, without a job, he would fairly well have to remain on Vega 4.
«Did he say anything about you joining me?»
There was a hasty flutter from the phone. «Y-yes, he did. He said you'd adjust to Other World, but if you couldn't adjust to this, then—»
«I didn't adjust to Other World. Just a lot of people lounging around sun-bathing. Is that Getabout still there? The one I rented?»
Janet, it developed, had returned the Getabout to the rental outfit. The charge was steep, and the Health Resort had already begun to tap his salary. Somehow that seemed to complete the outrage: the Resort, in the guise of helping him, had kidnapped him, and then billed him for services rendered.