Лекция: Марк Леви 5 страница
«This really tough is,» Priar said. «Nothing like this ever happened before. We've had Blake-Moffet pirate stuff; we've lost stuff; we've been beaten to ideas. But we never had anybody at top level go over bag and baggage.»
«We never fired anybody before,» Allen reminded him. He was thinking how much Luddy resented the firing. «They can do us real harm. And with Luddy there they probably will. Grudge stuff. We've never run into that before. The personal element. Bitter, to-the-death tangling.»
After Priar left, Allen got up and paced around his office. Tomorrow was Friday, his last full day to decide about the directorship of T-M. The statue problem would still be with him the rest of the week; as Malparto said, therapy would drag on indefinitely.
Either he went into T-M as he was now or he declined the job. On Saturday he would still be the same elusive personality, with the same switches to be pulled from deep within.
It was depressing to consider how little practical help the Health Resort had given him. Doctor Malparto was off in the clouds, thinking in terms of a lifetime of test-giving, reaction-measuring. And meanwhile the practical situation floundered. He had to make a decision, and without Malparto's help. Without, in effect, anybody's help. He was back where he started before Gretchen gave him the folded slip.
Picking up the phone he called his apartment.
«Hello,» Janet's voice came, laden with dread.
«This is the Mortuary League,» Allen said. «It is my duty to inform you that your husband was sucked into the manifold of an autofac ship and never heard from again.» He examined his watch. «At precisely five-fifteen.»
A terrible hushed silence, and then Janet said: «But that's now.»
«If you listen,» Allen said, «you can hear him breathing. He's not gone yet, but he's pretty far down.»
Janet said: «You inhuman monster.»
«What I want to find out,» Allen said, «is what are we doing this evening?»
«I'm taking Lena's kids to the history museum.» Lena was his wife's married sister. «You're not doing anything.»
«I'll tag along,» he decided. «I want to discuss something with you.»
«Discuss what?» she asked instantly.
«Same old thing.» The history museum would make as good a place as any; so many people passed through that no juvenile would single them out. «I'll be home around six. What's for dinner?»
«How about 'steak'?»
«Fine,» he said, and hung up.
After dinner they walked over to Lena's and picked up the two kids. Ned was eight and Pat was seven, and they scurried excitedly along the twilight lane and up the steps
of the museum. Allen and his wife came more slowly, hand in hand, saying little. For once the evening was pleasant. The sky was cloud-scattered but mild, and many people were out to enjoy themselves in the few ways open to them.
«Museums,» Allen said. «And art exhibits. And concerts. And lectures. And discussions of public affairs.» He thought of Gates' phonograph playing «I Can't Get Started,» the taste of sherry, and, beyond everything else, the litter of the twentieth century that had focalized in the water-soaked copy of Ulysses. «And there's always Juggle.»
Clinging wistfully to him, Janet said: «Sometimes I wish I was a kid again. Look at them go.» The children had vanished inside the museum. To them the exhibits were still interesting; they hadn't wearied of the intricate tableaux.
«Someday,» Allen said, «I'd like to take you where you can relax.» He wondered where that would be. Certainly no place in the Morec scheme. Perhaps on some remote colony planet, when they had grown old and been discarded. «Your childhood days again. Where you can take off your shoes and wriggle your toes.» As he had first found her: a shy, thin, very pretty girl, living with her nonleased family on bucolic Betelgeuse 4.
«Could we sometime take a trip?» Janet asked. «Anywhere—maybe to a place where there's open country and streams and—» She broke off. «And grass.»
The hub of the museum was its twentieth century exhibit. An entire white-stucco house had been painstakingly reconstructed, with sidewalk and lawn, garage and parked Ford. The house was complete with furniture, robot mannikins, hot food on the table, scented water in the tile bathtub. It walked, talked, sang and glowed. The exhibit revolved in such a way that every part of the interior was visible. Visitors lined up at the circular railing and watched as Life in the Age of Waste rotated by.
Over the house was an illuminated sign:
HOW THEY LIVED
«Can I press the button?» Ned yammered, racing up to Allen. «Let me press it; nobody's pressed it. It's time to press it.»
«Sure,» Allen said. «Go ahead. Before somebody beats you to it.»
Ned scampered back, squeezed to the railing where Pat waited, and jabbed the button. The spectators gazed benignly at the lush house and furnishings, knowing what was coming. They were watching, for awhile, at least, the last of the house. They drank in the opulence: the stocks of canned food, the great freezer and stove and sink and washer and drier, the car that seemed made of diamonds and emeralds.
Over the exhibit the sign winked out. An ugly cloud of smoke rolled up, obscuring the house. Its lights dimmed, turned dull red, and dried up. The exhibit trembled, and, to the spectators, a rumble came, the lazy tremor of a subterranean wind.
When the smoke departed, the house was gone. All that remained of the exhibit was an expanse of broken bones. A few steel supports jutted, and bricks and sections of stucco lay strewn everywhere.
In the ruins of the cellar the surviving mannikins huddled over their pitiful possessions: a tank of decontaminated water, a dog they were stewing, a radio, medicines. Only three mannikins had survived, and they were haggard and ill. Their clothing was in shreds and their skins were seared with radiation burns.
Over this hemisphere of the exhibit the sign concluded:
«Gee,» Ned said, returning. «How do they do that?»
«Simple,» Allen said. «The house isn't really in there, on that stage. It's an image projected from above. They merely substitute the alternate image. When you press the button its starts the cycle.»
«Can I press it again?» Ned begged. «Please, I want to press it again; I want to blow the house up again.»
As they wandered on, Allen said to his wife: «I wanted you to enjoy dinner. Have you?»
She clutched his arm. «Tell me.»
«The whirlwind is coming back to be reaped. And it's an angry whirlwind. Luddy took off with everything he could lay his hands on, right to Blake-Moffet. He's probably vice president, with what he brought.»
She nodded forlornly. «Oh.»
«In a way, we're ruined. We have no backlog; all we are is a bunch of clever new ideas. And Luddy took them... roughly, us for the next year. That's how far ahead we had it. But that isn't the real problem. As an official of Blake-Moffet he'll be in a position to get back at me. And he will. Let's face it; I showed Luddy up for a sycophant. And that fun isn't.»
«What are you going to do?»
«Defend myself, naturally. Luddy was a hard worker, competent, with a good sense of organization. But he wasn't original. He could take somebody else's idea—my idea—and milk a great deal from it. He used to build up whole packets from the smallest grain. But I have him on the creativity. So I can still run rings around Blake-Moffet, assuming I'm in the field a year from now.»
«You sound almost—cheerful.»
«Why not?» He shrugged. «It merely makes a bad situation worse. Blake-Moffet have always been the inertial stone dragging us into the grave. Every time they project a boy-gets-good-girl packet they blow the breath of age on us. We have to struggle out from under the dust before we can move.» He pointed. «Like that house.»
The opulent twentieth century house, with its Ford and Bendix washer, had reappeared. The cycle had returned to its source.
«How they lived,» Allen quoted. «And died. That could be us. We're living now, but that doesn't mean anything.»
«What happened at the Resort?»
«Nothing. I saw the Analyst; I recalled; I got up and left. Next Monday I go back.»
«Can they help you?»
«Sure, given time.»
Janet asked: «What are you going to do?»
«Take the job. Go to work as Director of Telemedia.»
«I see.» Then she asked: «Why?»
«Several reasons. First, because I can do a good job.»
«What about the statue?»
«The statue isn't going away. Someday I'll find out why I japed it, but not by Saturday morning. Meanwhile, I'll have to live. And make decisions. By the way... the salary's about what I'm making now.»
«If you're at T-M can Luddy hurt you more?»
«He can hurt the Agency more, because I'll be gone.» He reflected. «Maybe I'll dismember it. I'll wait and see; it depends on how I do at T-M. In six months I may want to go back.»
«What about you?»
Truthfully, he said: «He can hurt me more, too. I'll be fair game for everybody. Look at Mavis. Four giants in the field, and all of them trying to get into T-M. And I'll have one giant with a gnat stinging it.»
«I suppose,» Janet said, «that's another of the several reasons. You want to tangle with Luddy head-on.»
«I want to meet him, yes. And I wouldn't mind hitting up against Blake-Moffet from that position. They're moribund; they're calcified. As Director of Telemedia I'll do my best to put them out of business.»
«They probably expect that.»
«Of course they do. One of their packets is enough for a year; I told Mrs. Frost that. As a competitor of Blake-Moffet I could run alongside them for years, hitting them now and then, getting hit in return. But as Director of T-M we'll have a grandiose showdown. Once I'm in, there's no other way.»
Janet studied an exhibit of extinct flowers: poppies and lilies and gladioli and roses. «When are you going to tell Mrs. Frost?»
«I'll go over to her office tomorrow. She'll probably be expecting me... it's the last working day. Apparently she agrees with me on Blake-Moffet; this should please her. But that's another thing only time will tell.»
The next morning he rented a little Getabout from a dealer and drove from his housing unit to the Committee building.
Myron Mavis, he reflected, would be giving up his within-walking-distance apartment. Protocol required that a man lease close to his job; in the next week or so it behooved him to ask for Mavis' setup. As Director of T-M he would need to live the role. There was slight latitude, and he was already resigned to the strictures. It was the price paid for public service in the higher brackets.
As soon as he entered the Committee building, the front secretary passed him through. There was no waiting, and, within five minutes, he was being ushered into Mrs. Frost's private office.
She rose graciously. «Mr. Purcell. How nice.»
«You're looking well.» They shook hands. «Is this a good time to talk to you?»
«Excellent,» Mrs. Frost said, smiling. Today she wore a trim brown suit of some crisp fabric, unknown to him. «Sit down.»
«Thank you.» He seated himself facing her. «I see no point in waiting until the last moment.»
Allen said: «I'll accept the job. And I apologize for stringing it out.»
Waving her hand, Mrs. Frost dismissed his apology. «You should have time.» And then her face glowed in a swift, beaming warmth of delight. «I'm so glad.»
Touched, he said: «So am I.» And he really meant it.
«When will you be ready to start?» She laughed and held up her hands. «Look at me; I'm as nervous as you.»
«I want to start as soon as possible.» He consulted with himself; it would take at least a week to wind up affairs at the Agency. «What about a week from Monday?»
She was disappointed, but she suppressed it. «Yes, you should have that much time for the transfer. And—perhaps we can get together socially. For dinner some evening. And for Juggle. I'm quite a demon; I play every chance I get. And I'd like very much to meet your wife.»
«Fine,» Allen said, sharing her enthusiasm. «We'll arrange that.»
the dream, large and gray, hanging like the tatters of a web, gathered itself around him and hugged him greedily. He screamed, but instead of sounds there drifted out of him stars. The stars rose until they reached the panoply of web, and there they struck fast, and were extinguished.
He screamed again, and this time the force of his voice rolled him downhill. Crashing through dripping vines he came to rest in a muddy trough, a furrow half-clogged with water. The water, brackish, stung his nostrils, choking him. He gasped, floundered, crept against roots.
It was a moist jungle of growing things in which he lay. The steaming hulks of plants pressed and shoved for water. They drank noisily, grew and expanded, split with a showering burst of particles. Around him the jungle altered through centuries of life. Moonlight, strained through bulging
leaves, drizzled gummy and yellow around him, as thick as syrup.
And, in the midst of the creeping plant-pulp, was an artificial structure.
Toward it he struggled, reaching. The structure was flat, thin, with a brittle hardness. It was opaque. It was made of boards.
Joy submerged him as he touched its side. He screamed, and this time the sound carried his body upward. He floated, drifted, clutched at the wood surface. His nails scrabbled, and splinters pierced his flesh. With a metal wheel he sawed through the wood and stripped it away, husk-like, dropping it and stamping on it. The wood broke loudly, echoing in the dream-silence.
Behind the wood was stone.
Gazing at the stone he felt awe. It had endured; it had not been carried away or destroyed. The stone loomed as he remembered it. No change had occurred, and that was very good. He felt the emotion all through him.
He reached out, and, bracing himself, plucked from the stone a round part of itself. Weighed down, he staggered off, and plunged head-first into the oozing warmth of plant-pulp.
For a time he lay gasping, his face pressed against slime. Once, an insect walked across his cheek. Far off, something stirred mournfully. At last, with great effort, he roused himself and began searching. The round stone lay half-buried in silt, at the edge of water. He found the metal wheel and cut away the groping roots. Then, bracing his knees, he lifted the stone and dragged it away, across a grassy hill so vast that it faded into infinity.
At the end of the hill he dropped the stone crashing into a little parked Getabout. Nobody saw him. It was almost dawn. The sky, streaked with yellow, would soon be drained, would soon become a hazy gray through which the sun could beat.
Getting into the front seat, he started up the steam pressure and drove carefully up the lane. The lane stretched out ahead of him, faintly damp, faintly luminous. On both sides housing units were jutting lumps of coal: oddly hardened organic substances. No light showed within them and nothing stirred.
When he reached his own housing unit he parked the car—making no sound—and began lugging the stone up the rear ramp. It took a long time, and he was trembling and perspiring when he reached his own floor. And still nobody saw him. He unlocked his door and dragged the stone inside.
Unhinged with relief, he sank down on the edge of the bed. It was over: he had done it. In her bed his wife stirred fretfully, sighed, turned over on her face. Janet did not wake up; nobody woke up. The city, the society, slept.
Presently he removed his clothes and climbed into bed. He fell asleep almost at once, his mind and body free of all tension, every trouble.
Dreamless, like an amoeba, he, too, slept.
sunlight streamed through the bedroom, warm and pleasant. Beside Allen in the bed lay his wife, also warm and pleasant. Her hair had tumbled against his face and now he turned to kiss her.
«Uh,» Janet murmured, blinking.
«It's morning. Time to get up.» But he, himself, remained inert. He felt lazy. Contentment spread through him;
instead of getting up he put his arm around Janet and hugged her.
«Did the—tape go off?» she asked drowsily.
«This is Saturday. We're in charge, today.» Caressing Janet's shoulder he said: «The pulsing fullness of firm flesh.»
«Thank you,» she murmured, yawning and stretching. Then she became serious. «Allen, were you sick last night?» Sitting up quickly, she said: «Around three o'clock you got out of bed and went to the bathroom. You were gone a long time.»
«How long?» He had no memory of it.
«I fell asleep. So I can't say. But a long time.»
In any case he felt fine, now. «You're thinking of earlier this week. You've got everything confused.»
«No, it was last night. Early this morning.» Wide-awake, she slid from the bed and onto her feet. «You didn't go out, did you?»
He thought about it. There was some vague phantasmagoria in his mind, a confusion of dreamlike events. The taste of brackish water, the wet presence of plants. «I was on a distant jungle planet,» he decided. «With torrid jungle priestesses whose breasts were like two cones of white marble.» He tried to recall how the passage had read. «Bulging within the flimsy covering of her dress. Peeking through. Panting with hot need.»
Exasperated, she caught hold of his arm and tugged. «Get up. I'm ashamed of you. You—adolescent.»
Allen got to his feet and began searching for his towel. His arms, he discovered, were stiff. He flexed and unflexed his muscles, rubbed his wrists, inspected a scratch.
«Did you cut yourself?» Janet asked, alarmed.
He had. And, he noticed, the suit he had left on a hanger the night before now lay in a chaotic tumble on the floor. Lifting it up he spread it out on the bed and smoothed it. The suit was muddy and one trouser leg was torn.
Outside in the hall, doors opened and tenants wandered out to form the bathroom line. Sleepy voices muttered.
«Shall I go first?» Janet asked.
Still examining his suit he nodded. «Go ahead.»
«Thank you.» She opened the closet and reached for a slip and dress. «You're always so sweet to let me—» Her voice trailed off.
«What is it?»
He bounded to the closet and lifted her aside.
On the floor of the closet was a bronzed thermoplastic head. The head stared nobly past him at a fixed point beyond. The head was huge, larger than life, a great solemn Dutch gargoyle head resting between pairs of shoes and the laundry bag. It was the head of Major Streiter.
«Oh God,» Janet whispered, her hands to her face.
«Take it easy.» He had never heard her blaspheme, and it added the final stamp of menace and collapse. «Go make sure the door's locked.»
«It is.» She returned. «That's part of the statue, isn't it?» Her voice shrilled. «Last night—you went and got it. That's where you were.»
The jungle hadn't been a dream. He had stumbled through the dark, deserted Park, falling among the flowers and grass. Getting up and going on until he came to the boarded-up statue.
«How—did you get it home?» she asked. «In the Getabout.» The same Getabout, ironically, that he had rented to visit Sue Frost.
«What'll we do?» Janet said monotonously, her face stricken, caved in by the calamity. «Allen, what'll happen?»
«You get dressed and go wash.» He began stripping off his pajamas. «And don't speak to anybody. Not one d--n word.»
She gave a muffled yip, then turned, caught up her robe and towel, and left. Alone, Allen selected an undamaged
suit and dressed. By the time he was tying his necktie he had remembered the night's sequence pretty much intact.
«Then it's going to go on,» Janet said, returning.
«Lock the door.»
«You're still doing it.» Her voice was thick, suppressed. In the bathroom she had swallowed a handful of sedatives and anti-anxiety pills. «It's not over.»
«No,» he admitted. «Apparently it's not.»
«What comes next?»
«Don't ask me. I'm as mystified as you.»
«You'll have to get rid of it.» She came toward him accusingly. «You can't leave it lying around like part of a—corpse.»
«It's safe enough.» Presumably no one had seen him. Or, as before, he would already have been arrested.
«And you took that job. You're this way, doing insane things like this, and you accepted that job. You weren't drunk last night, were you?»
«So that isn't it. What is it, then?»
«Ask Doctor Malparto.» He went to the phone and picked up the receiver. «Or maybe I will. If he's there.» He dialed.
«Mental Health Resort,» the friendly, bureaucratic voice answered.
«Is Doctor Malparto there today? This is a patient of his.»
«Doctor Malparto will be in at eight. Shall I have him call you? Who is calling, please?»
«This is Mr.—Coates,» Allen said. «Tell Doctor Malparto I'd like an emergency appointment. Tell him I'll be in at eight. I'll wait there until he can see me.»
In his office at the Mental Health Resort, Doctor Malparto said with agitation: «What do you suppose happened?»
«Let him in and ask him.» Gretchen stood by the window drinking a cup of coffee. «Don't keep him out there in the lounge; he's pacing like an animal. You're both so—»
«I don't have all my testing apparatus. Some of it's loaned to Heely's staff.»
«He probably set fire to the Committee building.»
«Don't be funny!»
«Maybe he did. Ask him; I'm curious.»
«That night you bumped into him at the statue.» He eyed his sister hostilely. «Did you know he had japed the statue?»
«I knew somebody had. No, I didn't know—what's the name you give him here?» She snatched up the dossier and leafed through it. «I was unaware that Mr. Coates was the japer. I went because I was interested. Nothing like that ever happened before.»
«Boring world, isn't it?» Malparto strode down the corridor to the lounge and opened the door. «Mr. Coates, you may come in now.»
Mr. Coates followed him rapidly. His face was strained and set, and he glared straight ahead. «I'm glad you could see me.»
«You told the receptionist that it's urgent.» Malparto ushered him into his office. «This is my sister, Gretchen. But you've already met.»
«Hello,» Gretchen said, sipping her coffee. «What have you done this time?»
Malparto saw his patient flinch.
«Sit down,» Malparto said, showing him to a chair. Mr. Coates went obediently, and Malparto seated himself facing him. Gretchen remained at the window with her coffee cup. She obviously intended to stay.
«Coffee?» she asked, to Malparto's annoyance. «Black and hot. Real coffee, too. From vacuum tins, an old U.S. Army supply depot. Here.» She filled a cup and passed it to Mr. Coates, who accepted it. «Almost the last.»
«Very good,» Mr. Coates murmured.
«Now,» Malparto said, «I don't as a rule hold sessions this early. But in view of your extreme—»
«I stole the statue's head,» Mr. Coates interrupted. «Last night, about three a.m.»
Extraordinary, Malparto thought.
«I took it home, hid it in the closet. This morning Janet found it. And I called you.»
«Do you—» Malparto hesitated, «have any plans for it?»
«None that I'm aware of.»
Gretchen said: «I wonder what the market value would be.»
«To help you,» Malparto said, glancing irritably at his sister, «I must first gather information about your mind; I must learn its potentialities. Therefore I ask you to submit to a series of tests, the purpose of which is to determine your various psychic capacities.»
His patient looked dubious. «Is that necessary?»
«The cause of your complex may lie outside the ordinary human range. It's my personal belief that you contain a unique psychological element.» He dimmed the office lights. «You're familiar with the ESP deck?»
Mr. Coates made a faint motion.
«I am going to examine five cards,» Malparto said. «You will not see their faces, only the backs. As I study them one by one I want you to tell me what each is. Are you ready to start?»
Mr. Coates made an even fainter motion.
«Good.» Malparto drew a star card. He concentrated. «Do you receive an impression?»
Mr. Coates said: «Circle.»
That was wrong, and Malparto went onto the next. «What is this one?»
The telepathy test was a failure, and Malparto indicated so on his check-sheet. «Now,» he stated, «we'll try a different test. This will not involve the reading of my mind.» He shuffled the deck and laid five cards face-down on the desk. «Study their backs and tell me each one in order.»
His patient got one out of the five.
«We'll leave the deck for a moment.» Malparto brought out the dice-rolling cage and set it into motion. «Observe these dice. They fall in a random pattern. I want you to concentrate on a particular showing: seven, or five, anything that can come up.»
His patient concentrated on the dice for fifteen minutes. At the end of that time Malparto compared the showing with the statistical tables. No significant change could be observed.
«Back to the cards,» Malparto said, gathering up the deck. «We'll give you a test for precognition. In this test I'll ask you what card I'm about to select.» He laid the deck down and waited.
«Circle,» Mr. Coates said listlessly.
Malparto handed his sister the check-sheet, and he kept the precog test going for almost an hour. At the end of that time his patient was surly and exhausted, and the results were inconclusive.
«The cards don't lie,» Gretchen quoted, handing back the sheet.
«What do you mean by that?»
«I mean go on to the next test.»
«Mr. Coates,» Malparto said, «do you feel able to continue?»
His patient blearily raised his head. «Is this getting us anywhere?»
«I think it is. It's clear that you don't possess any of the usual extra-sensory talents. It's my hunch that you're a Psi-plus. Your talent is of a less common nature.»
«EEP,» Gretchen said tartly. «Extra extra-sensory perception.»
«The first of this series,» Malparto said, ignoring her, «will involve the projection of your will on another human.» He unfolded his blackboard and chalk stick. «As I stand here, you concentrate on forcing me to write certain numbers. It should be your will superimposed over mine.»
Time passed. Finally, feeling a few vague tendrils of psychic will, Malparto wrote: 3-6-9.
«Wrong,» Mr. Coates mumured. «I was thinking 7,842.»
«Now,» Malparto said, setting out a small gray stone, «I want you to duplicate this inorganic matter. Try to summon a replica immediately tangent to it.»