THE GOLDEN STRING
PROVINCE FIVE, referred to its inhabitants as Tinderland, consists of three inhabited planets around the Voltaire star, 47 orbital settlements, 208 orbital factories and 12 cultivated satellites. It is sparsely populated-during the last census the population was 622 million.
"Hello, Center Tramper. This is Sanitary Ship 3 from the Second Division. We have reached the shipwreck and are approaching slowly. We must take care because of the many large chunks floating weightlessly around the ship. The inscription is illegible. All that is left are the letters "...sta...". It might be a star name. By the look of it there is hardly anybody left alive. It is as though it was ripped apart. Our trampers did a good job. Well done-excellent shot. The ship has been opened for the last three days.... We have docked.... We are going inside. Listen out."
The inside of the wrecked ship was frosted. Heaps of torn metal were lit by the searchlight. Singed and sooty plastic was everywhere-there had been fire for a short time, before the air had escaped in the vacuum of space. Ice could be seen here and there. Multi-colored cables wriggled everywhere like snakes. Many things-broken and smoky-hung loose or rolled down the hallways and rooms. The men started pulling out dead bodies from the wreck.
"Hello, Hearse. This is Center Tramper. Is there anyone left alive?"
"Negative. We haven't finished yet, but we haven't found anybody so far. I'll call you."
"Come on-hurry up. We're running out if time. I sent for a tug. It will arrive there within half an hour. You must be ready by then."
"No problem. We've pulled out 12 corpses so far. There are about 10 more. These bastards managed to get away quickly. There are only 30 some people left out of a 600-man crew. We carry on, listening out."
"And don't be late. You've got only half an hour left. Listen out."
The door of the last section would not open so the captain decided to blast it, but Dr. Waugh objected.
"Cap, you've got no right. There well might be people alive in there."
"Oh, yes. Have you ever taken out a live lobster out of a can? Don't you understand we are in a hurry? A tug has been sent from the tramper ship and it will arrive here in ten minutes to haul the shipwreck. We must be ready by then."
"They don't call you the Hearse for nothing. You are more interested in the dead bodies than in the wounded. I may be a woman, but I am also a doctor from the Security Forces and in this case I will give the orders. Send for a robot to cut the door."
Dr. Waugh's large body became even more bulky and the Hearse went to the rescue ship, muttering to himself. After a while the service robot began to cut the door. Right then something large slammed into the wreck and everything started vibrating and creaking-producing a whole range of unpleasant sounds as metal rubbed against metal. Even the lack of air couldn't spare the unpleasant sensations.
"That must be the tug," Dr. Waugh said. "Only those bastards from the tramper ship could be so clumsy. Robot, can't you hurry up with the cutting?"
"No, Dr. Waugh."
"Damn it. Cut."
Two men in tramper's uniforms approached the rescue group. Their greeting wasn't very respectful. They seem to have spoken to the captain, because the big one addressed Dr. Waugh, saying:
"Doc, we don't have much time left. Let's hook this rusty barrel and go. All the others have already left. You're wasting your time. It's as cold as a morgue here. Even if there were survivors, they would have turned to frozen meat long ago."
"We're finishing," Dr. Waugh said, nodding gravely. "This is the last section. The robot is almost finished with the cutting."
Knowing he had the support of the trampers, the captain swaggered back to the group. The robot stopped cutting and removed the door. Inside, the picture wasn't any different from the rest of the ship. There were only dead bodies. They started pulling them out. The captain of the rescue ship cast an ironic glance at the doctor, but seeing her lips pressed together, he didn't dare make the sarcastic remark which was on the tip of his tongue. In order to finish things off quicker, the two churls also joined in carrying the bodies. But, in their haste, they lacerated one of the corpses' hands on the sheet metal protruding from the ruined door. Drops of blood appeared slowly in the gash. They gazed at the body of the young man in a light military space-suit. It was burned and blackened.
"Come here, Doc. The corpse is bleeding," one of the trampers shouted.
"Hurry up and go into the ship," Dr. Waugh ordered. "In the resuscitation capsule. There's no one else inside. You can haul the shipwreck."
"Have a nice weekend, Dr. Waugh," the captain said.
Sanitary Ship 3 set off for Aristotle Satellite, Province 5, where all the wounded from both sides of the fighting were put together. They were no longer enemies, just suffering human beings-lying side by side, but no one thought of protesting. It was as if they all felt guilty about something and were trying their best to get rid of that feeling.
The Smile of the Lobster
Dr. Waugh obviously took a special interest in the wounded man from the Purple Star, but day after day he failed to please her. He looked awful: he had received burns all over, there was a huge wound on his face and another on his body that would not heal, the crystalline in one of his eyes was burned. Was he going to die for a second time?
He had been unconscious for two weeks already. His chances of staying alive were growing slimmer and slimmer and Dr. Waugh was becoming increasingly worried. She didn't know why it was that he had to live, but it was as if something very important depended on that. She regarded him as her patient and took great pains to bring him back to life, but the lesions done by the electric shock were too big. Experts from the supervision group admonished her for her failure to look around the wreck of the ship and make a report on the case. Damn it, she didn't care exactly how he had got the electric shock or what its voltage had been. She cared even less about its source. Her job was to heal the sick and the wounded and to console them.
Dr. Waugh had arrived in Province 5 as a member of the Second Airspace Assault Division, which was here to put down the local revolt. She was appointed temporarily hospital director, but this position did not appeal to her and she took an active part in treating the casualties. She left the administrative work to Dr. Larkin, who was the real hospital director.
The man from the Purple Star moved. His face was tense.
"....Why is everything dark? There is something unnatural in my hangover this morning. I'm not myself today. I feel inadequate. Why should I feel inadequate?.... Still, it's a way of naming my condition. Things ought to have names. It's easier to think this way.... It's the same as with unintelligent people.... Naming things.... Everything must have a name and follow a strict order.... A, followed by B.... we get to Y and finish off with Z, and no doubts. But I've been fed up for a long time and it's a long time since I doubted at least the intelligence of the alphabeter.... Inadequate.... My brain is stuck, it makes monologues-I've become completely feeble-minded in my head.... Why is it dark, I wonder? As if there's something on my eyes? It must be a bandage. Why did I put it on? Probably to ... probably because of the light, so that it wouldn't hurt my eyes.... My body, it's missing, too. My body is missing. The Eternity-how easy to sink into it. I can lie like this For Ever.... without moving, and I don't want to move.... But what if I rolled down from the bed-won't I get out of the drunken stupor? As if I didn't quite manage. I felt no falling down. Cut me into pieces-I won't feel anything. I wonder what kind of nasty shit we drank last night. Wonder if rolling down the floor will make my blood run faster ... aaaaAAAA.... fucking gravity.... But I can't feel anything, I can't feel my body, I can't judge.... My brain is overworked with so much thinking.... I'll have a rest. I won't think of anything at least two or three centuries.... Such primitive thinking is tiring.... A+ B+ C.... Who?...."
"Hey, orderly. The wounded from bed No 6 fell on the floor. Come, pick him up," the nurse said.
"So, this means he is on the mend since he has enough strength to fall down. Give him a sedative injection, because if he falls for a second time, we'll be in trouble."
"Dr. Waugh, the guy from the Purple Star was identified," the nurse said. "His name is Eugene Kane. He graduated from the Fine Arts Academy on the Earth on a Mondovision allowance for gifted young men. He is an artist, but he has also written a couple of articles on sociological issues which were rejected by the specialists. His address is: Red Stones, F 23.090, Province 5. Red Stones is a big underground city, with about 120,000 inhabitants. You can find all sorts there. It's a real Babylon. There are many artists among them, but no one can say why on Earth they go there. Here is the report. His medical records are underneath. Nothing special-"
"Good. Thank you. I'll look through the papers myself. Hasn't he recovered his speech yet?"
"No. He's been conscious for four days now, but he doesn't speak. He is unaware what's going on around him. At least that's what the instruments show. Lorelei said that he was going to be silent for a long time yet."
"To be silent for a long time," Dr. Waugh said, nodding. "And who's Lorelei?"
"The orderly from Block 1. She is very good at predicting. Never wrong."
"Did she say whether he will ever get well?"
"Dr. Waugh, I don't want to lie to you. I know you have a special sympathy for this patient, but she said he would never recover completely.... He will never be the same. But what does an orderly know? She is not a doctor, is she?"
"Unfortunately, being a doctor myself, I agree with her. Even if he starts speaking, he won't recover completely. His brain is seriously damaged. We'll replace his injured eye, we'll give him cosmetic surgery, we'll operate on his brain, but we won't be able to cure him completely. He will look fine, he will be able to see well, but he won't be able to think well. Sorry, I know these things do not actually concern you. Call me if he wakes up at night."
"But he doesn't sleep at all," the nurse said. "He hasn't closed his eyes since he first opened them."
"I'll stay in the hospital all night. Which of the nurses is on duty?"
"It's me again."
"Well, see you tonight."
....The training room is not big enough. It seats 1500 people, and there are more than 4000 of us. There's not enough air and it smells nasty. It's hot. We take a shower every day, but the smell is still there. When we don't train, we sit or lie squeezed like sardines in a can. We look forward to the training sessions for our platoon. We have also been trained in how to sit motionless for many hours.
A few weeks more.
We also guard the base. That's the most enjoyable thing here. You can freely walk down the corridors of the base for two whole hours. The use of kinetic and powerful ray weapons is forbidden because the space is pressurized. While on watch, we are given low-powered guns whose field paralyzes the target for a spell. Rumor has it that now and then, a robot imitating a human being is sent out to check up on us....
"Kane is lying with his eyes wide open and won't close them at all, Dr. Waugh," the nurse said. "He shows no reaction when he is spoken to or called. His encephalogram has not changed. He's cut off from the rest of the world."
"Let's go to the duty room. We'll watch him on the monitor."
...."Kane, someone is moving along corridor BB. Look at the plan. Check which hiding place will be the best for you to use while you wait for him. He moves according to the plan which you have, from left to right. You have to stop him. Shoot, if necessary. He mustn't get away. Roger that."
Yeah, we'll play games.
"Okay, I'll wait for him at some hiding place and stop him. If it's necessary I'll shoot."
He'll play tricks on me. Shall I blow the robot's brains out? Just for fun-not a good idea-I'll probably be fired and then-no more dough. We'll stick to the rules- Oh, here is the decoy. Damn it, who's the fool that took away the battery from my duty gun? It seems that I am that fool. And I couldn't even realize by its weight that the battery was missing. Okay, we'll play tricks.
"Hey, robot. Come here."
Ow-my body was enveloped in no time by a burning net, but I had already crouched down instinctively and wasn't fully exposed to the ray. Are these bastards trying to make a fool of me? I took out my heavy eight-cartridge Jacques with AP bullets and shot at the running figure. I didn't give a damn, neither for their robot, nor for the pressurized cabin. My second shot brought down the running target. Tricks, h'm. I was almost paralyzed with pain, but I dragged myself to the destroyed robot. Two technicians in space-suits were already making noises in the distance. They hurried to plug the hole made by the first shot. I stopped in front of the robot and lit the torch, as electricity was switched off in corridor BB. The robot was bleeding. It was a man...."
"Nurse, wait," Dr. Waugh shouted. "Don't give him sedatives, because he'll never get well that way. We'll try to soothe him with words until the crisis is over."
"But he can hardly hear us, Dr. Waugh. Look at the screen. And, besides, we won't be able to hold him. He is very strong. There's no orderly at the moment. Let's try and sit on him. That's the only way we can cope."
"What are you talking about?"
"Come on, sit quickly, because I can't stand it any more. I would sit down myself but you are heavier than me by at least one-third. Please, hurry up."
"Well, I'm sitting down-I'm sitting down. Bloody gown. I got completely entangled in it."
"I can't. It's very hot in here but I have no underwear."
"Go ahead, hurry up. These are sick people, not men."
"Just a minute."
"....it's hot. It smells of sweat. It smells of blood all the time. I can't even throw up...."
"Go and bring the belts to bind him while he is calm," Dr. Waugh shouted to the coming orderly.
The huge number of wounded and dead in the Aristotle hospital made Dr. Larkin look even older and feel more depressed than before. However, he was as gallant and kind to the women as ever. Dr. Waugh was sitting in the arm-chair facing him. There was breakfast for two and a pot of coffee on the table between them. His study was decorated with taste and had everything it needed to make it a pleasant and refreshing place to spend one's free hours. They were alone. He said quietly but in a fatherly fashion:
"But, Dr. Waugh, you are wearing yourself out with these night duties. You are not obliged to stay in the hospital day and night. You have to rest."
"Dr. Larkin, my position is such that I alone will judge what I can and what I cannot do."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. It's your right to do as you see fit."
"In fact, I've come to you with a personal request. You are the best neurosurgeon in Province 5. I would like you to examine the wounded Eugene Kane and give me your opinion about the forthcoming brain operation. I would like it if you would take a closer look at this case."
"I know him very well. Unfortunately, although necessary, the operation will hardly be of any big help. Now everything is in his own hands, and if I were religious, I would have said that everything is in God's hands. My forecast is not favorable, I would even say-it's bad. He will probably never be able to recover fully, and to some extent will remain disabled. But I'll make the necessary examinations again and do my best to bring him back as close as possible to his original state. You have my assurances. I think that now is the time to thank you for all your work for the hospital. Thank you."
"Oh, please. Don't exaggerate. The stress from the mass killings in the conflict has made me rather suspicious and hostile towards any display of courtesy. I know this is my problem, but I still can't overcome the shock from the deaths of so many people."
"War has always been a shock for the cultured person. Regrettably, we are faced with the fact of its existence, and the only thing we doctors can do is to help the sick and the wounded. I am too old to do anything more. My nephew was injured too. I also have a request to you, concerning him. One of your tramper ships is going back to Province 3 in a few days. Could you help me arrange my nephew's departure on this ship. I've already paid the bail. The conditions for his recuperation are far better on Yellow Globe than here. There's open landscape there, seas, possibilities for movement in natural conditions. I know that such treatment is expensive, but as long as the costs are within reason, I can provide a certain sum of money."
"I am staying on Aristotle for the time being, but I can arrange the transport," she said. "I'll call and make sure that he will be welcomed and accommodated. You needn't pay for the transport-tramper ships are forbidden to take passengers. Your nephew will be admitted to a public clinic. Many of the services are free of charge, but I would estimate that you will have to pay some 400 to 600 marks daily. That's quite a lot."
"It doesn't matter. I make good money here, but I can't provide him with the best conditions for treatment as long as he remains in our province. Thank you for your responsiveness. I'll be most obliged to you."
"I thank you too."
....attack. A terrible attack which can begin in two minutes or in two weeks. I am trying to overcome fear through logic, but I am more and more convinced this is absolutely impossible. Fear permeates each cell of my body. I have a bottle of alcohol, but my stomach refuses to take any more. I am sick and I keep feeling that I'll throw up at any moment.
Nights are endless and full of nightmares. I open my eyes and take a look at the alarm clock, hoping that it is near dawn, but it turns out it is still the dead of the night. And this goes on for ever. I am so exhausted and even the morning brings no relief. More and more often my heart sinks. I am sick. Every day we are given a handful of pills. I'll throw up. One night, shaking with fear, I took the gun and set it against my right brow. It's so simple-I pull the trigger and put an end to this horror.
I started looking forward to the attack. It was going to put an end to the horror of waiting....
"There is no change, Dr. Waugh. No change. He lies with his eyes open, doesn't speak, doesn't move," the nurse said.
"Even if he becomes delirious, tormented by nightmares, I ask you not to give him electrotherapy," Dr. Waugh said. "As for the sedatives-we've made it clear-no sedatives. I'll stay with you throughout the night. I'll get some sleep in the surgeon's duty room. Whatever happens, call me. Whenever there's a change. Don't take off the belts."
"....Warriors, you are gathered here from the entire inhabited galaxy voluntarily and at your own wish. Some of you are mercenaries, others are here through their own convictions, but for me you're all warriors for our common cause. We are not going to be the first to fight. It may not even come to an armed conflict. I hope this will happen but it's more likely that tramper corps from Province 3 will be sent against us. The trampers from our province won't take part or they will fight on our side.
"I want all of you to be confident that you fight for justice and the freedom of choice, the right of the freedom to choose your own destiny. Our basic demand is modest-to have a right to produce electronic brains for our robots. We could even meet the needs of the neighboring provinces. But the Supreme Council of the Area has imposed an explicit ban on this, citing the Boden Lost case where 42 million died when combat robots were used. And the Supreme Council watches closely to ensure that this ban is observed. So, now robot brains are only produced on the Earth, and under tight control. Our needs for robots are satisfied, more or less, but it costs us too much. The transport of the brain from the Earth to Tinderland alone triples its cost. If we organize local production it will, firstly: allow us to become totally independent and secondly: allow us gradually to invest the money we are now wasting into an expansion of free services and goods. We will start by aiming to reach the standard of living enjoyed by Province 3. Attempts have been made at creating supercomputers in the laboratories of two of our companies and the results are excellent. Unfortunately, the arms control inspectors quickly discovered the experimental production. The samples we have produced have better characteristics than those on the Earth. The intelligence of our brains is higher by an average of 23 percent. With goods like this we could take over a big part of the Area's market-we could even compete in the galactic market.
"We would like to settle the impending crisis through negotiations. We have also expressed our wish to sign an agreement prohibiting the production of combat robots. Our plan envisages to set up a Supervisory Commission with representatives of the Area Supreme Council. But, in my view, there will still be a military conflict.
"Warriors, I appeal to you for brave and resolute fighting when the time should come!
"Warriors of the future, your names will remain forever in the history of the Galaxy...."
"He doesn't move," Dr. Waugh said, "but there's a lot of strain in his eyes. His encephalogram is quite chaotic and you can hardly make it out. Shall we go to him?"
"We'd better wait. We go too often, and the other patient gets irritated," the nurse said. "Did you hear the news today, Dr. Waugh? A trial has begun against the participants in the armed mutiny. That's what they call it-an armed mutiny. The gravely wounded and those disabled above the second level will not be brought to court. They will only have their civil rights restricted for a certain period of time. But this will not apply to the leaders. Our patient is lucky, as lucky as anyone in his position can be. At least he won't roam the wilderness on some nasty planet. The death rate among reclamation brigades is over 20 percent. Dr. Larkin's nephew did not appear to have been so ill, and yet he was sent all the way to Province 3 for treatment, farther from the hand of the law-to a mental clinic, for greater safety. But it seems to me that once the fuss is over, he will get well quite quickly."
"How do you know he is not ill? Was he healed here?"
"At first yes, but afterwards he was moved to a special clinic. And from there, Dr. Larkin, his uncle-"
"I would ask you not to discuss questions beyond your competence."
"I am sorry, but I am just repeating what others said- Look, he has started tossing again."
"Come and help me."
Eugene tried to pull free from the restraints. Dr. Waugh and the nurse attempted to calm him down, talking to him kindly and slowly. All of a sudden he stopped wriggling and his eyes were no longer crazy. He looked around but it seemed that he didn't like something-he wrinkled his nose in nausea and said in a harsh voice:
"It has been proved that things can't be any other way, and since all has been created for some purpose, necessarily all is for the best in the best of worlds. Therefore, to contend that all is well, is stupid; it must be said that all is for the best."
The two women looked at one another with amazement.
"I am Dr. Waugh, your doctor. How are you feeling?"
But Eugene's eyes were fixed on the ceiling and he didn't show any intention of talking to anyone. They soon gave up their attempts to get through to him and went back into the duty room, where they watched him on the monitor screen.
They brooded over his case. Each one tried to find an explanation for what had happened.
"What do you think, Dr. Waugh? He does seem to have gone mad. What did they need that idiotic war for?"
"It is very strange indeed. What did he mean by saying Necessarily all is for the best in the best of worlds?"
"He is out of his mind. If he gets better he will say anything, but not such nonsense. Probably some parts of his memory have become mixed up and are coming out uncontrolled. That's why what he says is meaningless."
"He's started speaking but it doesn't please me somehow."
"There is hope. At least he will be able to talk. Up to now, we were not sure even of this."
Eugene Kane came round with a splitting headache. He looked around the hospital room. There was another patient but he couldn't see him as the other man had pulled the blanket over his head. He felt like going to the bathroom. He didn't want to call the orderly or the nurse, so he tried to wake up the sleeping man to ask him where the bathroom was.
"Hey, man. Wake up. Stop wrapping yourself up in that blanket."
The heap on the bed slowly budged. Removing the cover rather clumsily, a sleepy, tousled head peaked out. He went on making himself comfortable in the bed with chaotic movements.
"What are you messing around with that bloody blanket?" Eugene burst out. "Are you one of us or are you just a patient?"
"I am from the crew of Tramper 5, Second Airspace Assault Division, Space Base C, Province 3." The sound of his voice was odd and inhuman, devoid of any will and desire to live. He finally managed to put the blanket right and only then did Eugene noticed that one of the tramper's arms was missing.
"Are you worried about your arm? The doctors will give you a new one and it will be free of charge. Plus, you will be paid damages."
"I had a freckle on the inside of my elbow," he sighed. "Lillie liked it very much. She won't love me now."
"Are you crazy? For some silly freckle."
Eugene was desperate for the john. He tried to get up and only now did he find out that he was bound with restraints. He had difficulty unbinding them and it took him quite some effort to stand up. His headache got worse and he was on the verge of fainting. Eugene was shaking all over, but he was standing and trying to stabilize himself. Gradually he became dimly aware of his surroundings.
"Hey, tramper, where's the bathroom?"
When Eugene got no answer he headed for the door. He would find it somehow. He stopped a short distance from the door because he could see neither a door handle, nor any buttons for dialing an entry code, or any kind of lock. Is the door sound-activated, he wondered.
"Open," he said but the door made no move.
So, it is not sound-activated. He could not stand it any longer.
"Nuuurse," he yelled desperately. His head almost split from the yell. He squirmed with pain, but he managed to remain upright.
The nurse appeared immediately. She was a pretty, plump, young girl with red hair. She smiled and asked: "Yes, dear? What do you need?"
"I can't open the bloody door."
"This one?.... You needn't do anything. Just come near and it opens. You are standing too far from it. Here, look," the nurse said, approaching the door, which opened obediently before her.
"Thanks, nurse. And after going out through that door, where next?"
"Where is the bathroom?"
"Here it is. This is the one for your room. It opens the same way."
"Thanks. Will you excuse me, I'll take immediate advantage of this newly acquired knowledge."
Eugene shuffled towards the bathroom.
"A-a, am I that monster in the mirror? What a mess I've gotten myself in. That's why I can't find my surroundings. One of my eyes is bandaged and I didn't even realize it.... What a whimpering fool I am.... The docs will sew me up. They will cure me and I'll get well in the end. But, then, the dough.... Shit!...."
"Dr. Larkin, did you see at recording when Eugene Kane came round?" Dr. Waugh asked.
"Yes, I kept my promise and I have been keeping a very close watch on this case."
"Did his first words strike you as strange? His mind is wandering, which I would not have expected in his case. At least not at this stage."
"I do not understand you. Do you mean the quotation from Voltaire?" Dr. Larkin asked.
"I mean his strange words that things have been created with some purpose and so on."
"That is a quotation from Voltaire-from his philosophical essays. There are people who read such things. Usually they are of more mature age, but sometimes young people are attracted to these works, too."
"So, that was Voltaire."
"Don't worry, Dr. Waugh. In fact, it's the first time I have seen a patient quoting Voltaire after being unconscious for a long time. But this does not make things any more complicated. Still, those were his first words and they could be anything."
"No. No. Something is not quite right. Something is out of order. I can't explain it, but my female and doctor's intuition tells me that he has some specific disorder of the thought process. And I doubt if we can cure that."
"Don't be so pessimistic. It is still too early for a final diagnoses."
Dr. Larkin stood up-washed a glass carefully-filled it with water-drank it-and then said, "Let's not hurry. Thank you for your help with the transfer and the accommodation for my nephew. Allow me to express my gratitude and invite you to dinner. It will be just close friends. Tonight, at eight o'clock, in the Small Hall of the Cascade.
"This is wonderful and thank you for the invitation, but I am afraid I have nothing suitable for such posh surroundings."
"I have already taken care of that. Just a moment."
Larkin called on the intercom someone who had been waiting in the reception room. A minute later a man entered.
"This is the best tailor on Aristotle," Larkin said to Dr. Waugh. "He will be honored to make you the most attractive lady at the dinner tonight. Please, don't even think about money and let him choose all the necessary accessories. Promise?"
"It is hard to turn down such a gentleman."
"I'll come by and pick you up at ten to eight. And now, unfortunately, I'll have to go down to the clinic. You follow that magician of lady's fashion and you won't be sorry."
"Thank you for the invitation, Dr. Larkin. Bye."
"See you soon, dear Marilyn."
Suddenly twenty odd kilos vanished from the bulky doctor's body and she felt as though she were floating down the corridors of the hospital with unexpected ease.
Dr. Larkin brooded a few more minutes. Yeah, even the greatest magician of lady's fashion could hardly bring that large body to a more or less decent size and form. Her comfort was probably in her selfless compassion. And that was just as large as she was.
Eugene stood up, wriggled with pain and headed for the door. Everything had hardened in his head and now nothing useful was imprinted on his fossilized brain. It seemed to him that even if he had to stay in front of that stupid door million years, he wouldn't know how to open it.
A plump, smiling matron appeared immediately.
"How on earth can I open this bloody door?"
"Oh, poor man. The young one told me about the door. Come, come here. Just approach it and it will open. If there is something wrong give a shout. I'll come immediately. Oh, poor man. Here is the bathroom. Come, go into it."
Will this headache ever disappear?
He went back to his room.
"Hey, tramper. Stop wrapping yourself up in that blanket. Come out. I want to ask you something," Eugene shouted.
The heap on the bed made a move and was still. After a while it moved slowly again and a blank face appeared out of the heap and whimpered: "Nobody will love me any more. I'll never ever have a freckle under my elbow. Never. Nobody will love me any more."
And the tramper wrapped himself up once again.
Eugene was petrified and began to cry. The constant pain had weakened his nervous system and left him as sensitive as a virgin.
"He is crazy. Am I crazy too? Since we are in the same ward.... And here I am weeping like a fucking virgin...."
"....crazy making headache-I have to get you over. I must. I have to be able to concentrate. Otherwise, I won't be able to think properly. The animal in me will take the upper hand. There will be just cultivated reflexes. Damn it, sophisticated words come to my mind, I put them in the right order, and yet something is wrong. I have to talk with the one-armed. It doesn't matter that he is out of his mind. I haven't become crazy yet, have I? I'll try to retrain my mind."
It took him a lot of effort to sit on the bed. Eugene felt sick and slowly leaned his head against the pillow so as not to vomit. After a while he rose again carefully.
"Hey, tramper," Eugene shouted. He waited for a couple of minutes and shouted again, "Tramper, come out."
There was no movement under the blanket.
"Have you kicked the bucket, bloody bastard?" Eugene looked around, then carefully took the glass from the bed-side, without making sharp movements, and tossed it smoothly onto the adjacent bed.
Finally, the blank face of his room-mate appeared.
"What do you want?" the tramper said.
"Stop making a fool of yourself. I want to talk. I have an injury that is driving me crazy, and I think that if I train my mind I can overcome it. I'd say it will do you good too, if we talk. I am Eugene Kane from Province Five. I live in Red Stones. It is quite a big and pleasant underground town. And who are you?"
"I am nobody, because nobody loves me."
"Don't start again. If you go on like this, you will go completely crazy. If I tell you that I'll love you, will you talk to me normally? We‘ll just talk."
"I am just a wretched tramper who killed hundreds of people. I have no right to be loved. I am nobody."
"It doesn't matter to me what you are. What matters is that we talk. Talk, so that we don't go crazy. Let's talk. I also killed quite a few trampers, but I do not care a damn. And do you know why I did it-for money. I was a mercenary. I was promised CM800,000, if we succeeded. And now I will neither get money, nor will I get better. I feel like a rag. We have to talk. Tell me something."
"I do not hate you. We came to your province and attacked you. You just defended yourselves. We are the bastards."
"You are bastards, that is for sure. But if we talk like this, it seems to me that our conversation will not go on for long. Let's change the subject. Tell me, for example, h'm, where did you lose your hand?"
"The devil kissed my hand."
"You have started talking nonsense again."
"Haven't you heard of the devil's kiss? Some trampers call it death's kiss. You ought to know it. It was your forces that used it against us."
"It's the first time I have heard of it. It is true that my memory is not quite right yet. I feel somewhat confused. I can't understand which memories are mine and which are somebody else's. They are mixed up. But I ought to remember the thing you are talking about."
"There are special micro-bullets which are accelerated to almost light speed. They pierce the ship like paper. When the ship is depressurizing, a distinctive whistling sound can be heard, caused by the rushing air. That is why we called it the kissss, because of the specific sound. We found ourselves in a veer of these bullets and the ship was hit in several spots, vital systems were damaged and the tramper ship became a dangerous place to be. So we hurled ourselves into the rescue capsules and catapulted away from the ship right before she exploded. We were lucky to survive. The other capsules were destroyed by flying chunks from the ship. We found ourselves back in a veer of bullets and were holed several times, but no vital systems were affected. No one in the capsule was hurt, except me. I lost my hand-the hand doing evil. That horror was our punishment for-"
"Yeah, that's right. Now I remember. We call it the diamond drill, because it drills through everything. We knew that some of your ships did not have adequate protection against that weapon which is why we used it. We also tried some anti-matter cannons, but they were not successful weapons because they proved to be very capricious and even dangerous for our ships. Besides, you had quite a good protection against the anti-matter cannons. If you had not had the subspace radar, events would have taken a completely different turn and I would now have 800,000 marks. We had absolutely no idea that such radars existed. There was nothing like it on the tramper ships from our province."
"It was being used for the first time. The inventor, who also engineered the prototype, was with us to test the system made up of cannon, subspace radar and computer. But he died in this hospital two weeks ago. The evil-"
"I wish we had such radars. I would have a lot of money right now."
"I doubt it. They would not allow you to produce electronic brains on your own. The Boden Lost lesson was too frightening-43 million dead are too many. There was no way you could win."
"Anyway. What is the range of the radar?"
"17 minutes and 7 seconds."
"How many kilometers is that?"
"About 307 million. It does not cover the entire area, only a battlefield. It all depends on the settings in the computer. It can also cover the whole area, but then its effective distance is smaller."
"How long does it take to process the information?"
"About 22 seconds."
"Yeah, it's difficult to fight against such a thing. We were quite surprised at the beginning. We wondered how it was possible for you to shoot at our ships before you had seen us. Some wise guys even thought you had discovered rays that run faster than the speed of light, but after making.... with the computer.... some calculations.... Then we made calculations with the computer.... made calculations.... test.... test.... calculations with the computer.... Then.... I have goo to bed.... too bad.... What's baed? You know? Someone lit a candle in this brain of mine again, not a candle-a furnace.... something flashes, stirs.... tries to get out of my head.... then.... again. Does someone know what is baed? Shoot the fucking bastards! One again."
His body convulsed. Dr. Waugh and two nurses ran up to him. They had been watching him on the monitor. The nurses grabbed hold of his arms and legs, and held him while Dr. Waugh tried to soothe him; they gave him cold compresses, but it was hard for them to maintain their grip. A robust orderly came in and bound Eugene with the restraints. One of the nurses cursed and addressed Dr. Waugh angrily, "We had to shot him a sedative. I was kicked all over by that-"
"Shut up and next time hold on more tighter, because otherwise I will give you a good slapping," Dr. Waugh said nervously.
The hospital staff had already got to know the bulky lady doctor and the nurse did not dare say anything more. Besides having a bad temper she surely had a heavy hand too. And her high position made her almost unapproachable.
After such crises Eugene did not talk for a few days. Even if he wanted he could not bring his thoughts together to say something more or less meaningful. The incessant pain in his head was gradually destroying the last islands of his disintegrating personality. He could not fall asleep even for a single minute. The fainting fits that he had now and then, could hardly be called sleep. Dr. Larkin performed a masterly operation on his brain and his condition gradually stabilized, but Eugene remained disabled. The headache continued tormenting him incessantly.
Eugene was exempt from legal proceedings because of his disability, but neither he, nor many other patients from the hospital had the courage to leave. They lacked goals and will. Their confused minds felt good only in the hospital's incubator. Their tormented psyches recovered too slowly. They were moved to a sanatorium, where they underwent an intensive, anti-stress therapy. After a few months the doctors decided that it would be better for their patients if they were returned to their natural surroundings, and sent most of them home.
Eugene Kane came back to Red Stones as a hero from the brain war.
His friends remembered him as a cheerful Bohemian who took nothing seriously and could be found more easily in the cafes, than in his studio. He was handsome and sought after by women. His love affairs were endless and occupied most of his time when he was not sitting around in cafes. Nobody knew when he found the time to paint, but his paintings grew in number, though slowly. He gradually moved from academic painting towards a freer and more independent outlook, but he did not join any movement, group, or philosophy. He was not in a hurry to establish himself as an artist as if eternity was before him-there was time for everything in it, including for a new world, called Eugene Kane, which he was going to create.
When he returned from the war he found that some of the intellectuals he had known before, had long since become famous: Shustov, Bo Deny, Sel Shkolenko, Fridman. He went back to his way of life he had before the war, but he quickly realized his creative powers had deserted him. Many unfinished paintings accumulated in his flat. His harsh laughter could be heard along the corridors of the city for almost a year.
One morning he took out his gun, a heavy eight-cartridge Jacques-a keepsake from the war-pointed it at his head and pulled the trigger. He did not leave a letter.
Because of his advanced age, Dr. Larkin no longer worked full time. He might have been able to work a few more years, but for the death of his nephew, which had greatly aged him. His nephew had died in a helicopter accident when flying while mentally deranged. He still did not want to retire from practice, and devote himself to theoretical research even though he now had more time for this. Dr. Larkin traveled extensively as a consultant. Although his hand was not steady any more and he could no longer operate, his enormous authority and experience were often sought.
During one of these trips he was asked to go to Red Stones for a consultation on a complicated case. Marieta Rowan met Dr. Larkin and told him about Eugene.
"....I had known Gene before the war. He came back from the war as a hero and immediately returned to the Bohemian life. It is primarily intellectuals who gather here, but, like many others, I still cannot understand what draws them to this underground city. I speak of those who have the money to live elsewhere. Most of them dream of sunny houses along the ocean or on a lake, of yachts, of naked swimming nymphs. Sometimes they gather in large gangs and go to the ocean, revel, get drunk, have fun for a month or two and again come back to their underground homes. Seldom do any of them move to an open-air city, even if one get rich. Many are even afraid of the open space-it seems to them unnatural, even dangerous.
"Once I went with Gene to the ocean. Almost everybody had only enough money for a return ticket. Some of them managed to sell two or three paintings to rich tourists. It occurred to Little Kit to process holographic portraits, to make the people in the pictures look ridiculous, or nasty, or frightened or smiling like idiots, or something like this. They earned a lot of money. It turned out that there are plenty of people who want to smash, at least visually, their friends, spouses or bosses. They could have stayed there for a long time with the money they earned, but one day they just said: ‘Let's go,' and they left. Some of their chance companions-models, lovers, rich idlers-did not want to go back, but the gang paid no attention to them. They just left.
"I have grown up in a decent family and no one can persuade me that those people live a normal way of life. I am not conservative, but their extreme individualism-as they call their selfishness-their fantasies, the nasty character of most of them and their endless pretentiousness cannot have a place in a truly civilized society. Similar characteristics can be found among other people as well, I do not deny that, but they are cultivated, tolerant, not wild and repulsive like these. Well, I might be too sensitive, having been brought up in a very different way, but this does not change the nature of things. I got to know them because of Eugene. Otherwise I would never have approached such people.
"After the war Gene was very ill. He suffered from almost constant headaches. Medicine was of no use. He began to drink but this was soon forbidden to him because he drank too much. He was no longer allowed to drink in public but he continued to hit the bottle at home. His friends brought it to him. Then depression hit. It crushed him completely. Up to that moment he had always said he would never fall into depression. It seems that he must have had a premonition. He started falling into prostration as he saw that his friends from the club were prospering and were moving away from him, while he still could not manage to take a step forward. He would never again move forward. Eugene could not resign himself to the fact that he would remain just an ordinary artist. ‘Ther's no such animal as ordinary artist-you are either an artist, or you are nothing,' he shouted.
"He started talking about suicide. I hid his gun, but he got very angry and beat me cruelly. He told me that if I did not return it to him immediately, he would commit suicide by electricity. Why exactly by electricity, I never knew. That was probably one of his freaks. I gave the gun back to him, but first, I gave it to a friend who tampered with it so that Gene could not kill himself if he decided to commit suicide. On the outside the gun looked entirely normal. I could have made arrangements for the authorities to impound his weapon, but then he could have tried to kill himself in a way that was not under my control.
"His wound is not serious, but Gene has not spoken for three weeks-he does not want to speak. I learned from his medical records that he used to be at the hospital on Aristotle. You were once the director of that hospital and it was you who performed his operation. Now I would like to take advantage of your coming into the city and ask you to help him again. I have three thousand CM in cash now and twenty seven thousand in a bank account, so the total is thirty thousand CM. I will give you all this money. Please, help him, Dr. Larkin!"
"Dear Marieta, Eugene is very lucky in one thing. There are always women asking me to cure him. They are even prepared to give me money. I can guess what your feelings for him are, so I will add immediately that the other woman who made a similar request to me was a doctor. She is a charming lady, indeed, but, alas, her weight and form are quite above the norm. I will not accept your money as you will need it. I have already examined Eugene very carefully. The head of the hospital here also consulted his medical records and took advantage of my accidental visit to this city to ask me for a consultation. Eugene's present doctor is a very good specialist and has done all that is necessary. The wound is, indeed, not serious, but the damage from the war have taken their toll and now his state is rather complicated. The psychological shock is especially troublesome. It will be a miracle if we manage to restore him to the condition he was in before the suicide attempt, and that was not very good, as you know. I still have consultations in other hospitals, but I will be back in about a month. I will give some advice to his present doctor, but even without it he is coping excellently. Excuse me, but I have patients. We'll meet in a month. I will call you. See you soon."
"See you, Dr. Larkin. I will be extremely grateful, if you bring him back to me."
Dr. Larkin came back to Red Stones a month and a half later and called Marieta immediately. She had holograms of Eugene at her lodgings dating from before the war and Dr. Larkin was painfully aware that nothing was left from the previous swaggering handsome man.
After his meeting with Marieta, Larkin visited Eugene. His flat looked neglected and uncozy-he did not allow Marieta to tidy up. There were just the two of them in the flat.
"I am sorry, Dr. Larkin, but I can't offer you anything to drink. There are only fizzy drinks and cocoa. Even coffee is detrimental to me."
"Why don't you drink any more?"
"For two reasons, but the second one is that after getting drunk I feel horrible for a couple of days. I can't think of a more suitable word, that is why I say horrible. My nervous system is a total wreck."
"Marieta wants me to heal you. She even offered me money. But neither I, nor any of the medical celebrities I know can cure you. Is the situation clear so far?"
"Yes, Dr. Larkin. That stupid Marieta is to blame for everything."
"In my opinion, she wanted to help you."
"To help me. Only a thick-head like her can think of such a thing. She never wanted to know what I suffer. She doesn't want to know about the horror of the endless nights that never end. That is why I go round to all night bars and stay until the morning. It is easier during the day. She doesn't want to know about the maddening headache. Creative impotence means nothing to her. Has she told you that she is from a decent family?.... Ha, ha.... She still splits my sides with laughter. And why on earth does that Marieta need me. I am not even a man any more."
"How are you right now?"
"I meant, do you fully understand what we are talking about. Is your mind entirely clear?"
"At the moment-yes. Mornings, after taking the pills, I feel better for a couple of hours. These are my clearest hours."
"Okay. Good. Eugene, listen now me carefully. There is one hope, but everything depends on you. The hope is little and uncertain, but the possibility is there. It will take some effort and some.... risk."
"Go ahead, Dr. Larkin. I will either get well or I will shoot myself again."
"Hold off on the shooting for the time being. There is enough time for that. So, I am an old man and I am not working actively as a doctor for some time now. This has given me the opportunity to work on some ideas which I had not been able to consider for some reasons. It is one of these ideas that might save you. What is wrong? Are you feeling bad?"
"I am all right. I will just lie down for a while and that will make me feel better. I told you that my nervous system is shredded and the slightest excitement derails me. Go on, Dr. Larkin. I can listen to you even like this."
"Well. My idea is very interesting but hard to prove. I am not going to give you the theoretical background, but just an overview. My nephew and I were not very close, but I loved him like a son. I have known him since he was a baby but I have never noticed any extraordinary abilities in him. He was an entirely normal child who grew into a completely ordinary teenager. Following the strong family tradition, he also became a doctor, in the field of prosthetics. He was an ordinary doctor too. But after an-year-and-a-half trip around the provinces he returned a genius. Not just gifted, but a genius. Each new prosthesis he made led to something fundamentally new. I was amazed. He was completely changed. I tried to ask him in a roundabout way, half jokingly-half seriously, what had happened to him, but I could not find out anything. He began to dwell on some theoretical aspects of prosthetics. He created the theory of the immune interchangeability out of the blue. He won the Medical Council Annual Prize for it.
"After that he took part in the war and was seriously wounded. He was starting to mend, but died while flying a helicopter in a mentally deranged state. I got to the hospital several hours before he died. Much to my horror, I found myself once again asking him about his genius, as if I was driven by some force which had overtaken me. We both knew these were his last hours. His mind was crystal clear. Perhaps my profession has made me utterly cynical, maybe I was driven by something stronger than myself. I can't even find the exact words to express what I felt then. But it, let's call it intellectual curiosity, proved to be more powerful than my horror at the death of my nephew whom I loved. I did it. At first he did not want to tell me, as if he was trying to protect me from something. Then relatives and friends came to say goodbye. He fell into a crisis and we all had to leave. About an hour later the doctor called me. My nephew was living through his last minutes-they were extremely painful. Not because he suffered physically, but because he was parting with life. He told me he was very much afraid of dying and wanted me to be with him to his end. I held his hand and shook with horror. Suddenly his life force abandoned him, he relaxed and stopped struggling with death; it took him, but just before it took him away Serge managed to whisper a few words to me-a goodbye and about his genius which he had acquired at an illegal clinic, real wizards worked there and there were hundreds of people from different backgrounds who were conditioned by their methods, and...."
Tears rolled down the aged doctor's cheeks. He went to the bathroom, washed his face and sat at the edge of the bathtub.
the next day, the two of them again
"....I did not learn much from my nephew, but the very fact that this had already been done somewhere was enough for me. I did not discuss this issue with anyone as it was connected with the painful death of my nephew. Besides, I was afraid of futile curiosity, even being mocked. People of my age want tranquillity most of all. Not to mention that I did not have any facts. Why am I telling you all this? Because you need that very clinic with its medical wizards. Surely they can manage your case, as they have achieved so much. This is all I can offer you. It is a rather precarious opportunity, but there is no one who can offer you anything better. I want you to try and find these people."
The doctor looked very distant-as if he had come from another world just to tell Eugene something and to disappear.
"Where is the telephone directory?" Eugene's voice startled him.
"Sorry, what telephone directory?"
"The one where I can find the phone number and the address of that mysterious clinic."
"I have thought this over. I was more interested in the theoretical aspect of this issue because my opinion as a specialist is that an operation like this is possible with some people. By saying operation I don't mean exactly surgical, or at least not only surgical. I started looking up created geniuses. At the beginning I searched through the biographies and the information in reference books of our contemporaries who have made it to the top. The methodology of searching proved to be rather difficult for various reasons. One of the problems was that a genius is rarely a child prodigy. This prevented me from identifying him as genius at an early age and thereby dropping him from my list of suspects. More frequently, a true genius is a rather colorless person and his talent reveals itself at a more mature age. This was an obstacle for me-I could not determine whether a particular person was a created genius or a natural one who was not discovered by society until later.
"Tests for gifted children are relatively untrustworthy. They discover talented children who later prove to be good for nothing-far short of being true geniuses. Besides, talent manifests itself at different ages in different fields. You can discover a musician at the age of four, but try to discover a would-be philosopher or writer at that age. The old man is chatting again. I'll finish in a minute. I will not bother you with superfluous details. After a long search, I finally identified four suspicious guys: one artist, two engineers and one musician. Unfortunately I couldn't find a doctor who looked suspicious although I put a lot of effort into the search. These four might be the right people, or they might not be. You will have to take over and check my hypothesis. You will learn the address of the clinic from one of them. I am too old for such things. My jumping days are aver. Well, Eugene, will you try?"
"What? This is your only chance. Isn't there at least some intellectual curiosity left in you?"
"I have no money for such an investigation or for the travel it would entail."
"I have taken care of this too. Your girl friend Marieta will give you thirty thousand marks. I will open a bank account for you with fifty thousand-without any terms or limitations. I think something can be done with this amount of money. Do you agree?"
"H'm, yes. At least I will travel. The secret fund of the war veterans will also cough up twenty or thirty thousand. That's not bad. Agreed. But I do not guarantee the quality of the job that will be done."
"I am glad you pulled yourself together. My biggest apprehension was that you might have lost all interest towards life. It seems to me that you have to start with the artist because you know him. At least that's what Marieta told me."
"Is she also involved in that game with the clinic? I don't think it's very wise to have women involved in this affair."
"Noo, of course not. I just asked her if she knew Sel Shkolenko."
"Who? Sel Shkolenko? The one from Red Stones? Do you have him in mind?"
"Are you joking?"
"Jesus! I was wondering how did it come about that dullard started painting so incredibly well? Sel wasn't bad before, but he was at a space distance from his present pictures. Well, well. If you knew how much beer we had drunk together and I had never even thought that he might become so great.... Well, I thought that suddenly the muse struck him and he outdistanced us at rocket speed. How much my envy and anguish tormented me. How many sleepless nights. Ha, ha, ha. Now when I see him I'll fix him. Playing the genius, yeah? I have had so many sleepless nights, I have cut up so many of my paintings. Ha, ha, ha-genius. Jesus! I'll fix that genius."
"Wait a bit, calm down, Eugene. This is just a speculation and, besides, you have another goal-to learn where that clinic is and to contact the people there. There is no one else who can cure you. Only they. Did you understand? Don't gamble your chance away in a stupid way. And don't forget that this is just a hypothesis for the time being. It can mislead us."
"A hypothesis? This is not a hypothesis, but the truth itself, Dr. Larkin. Only now do I believe-but fully. Such was the affair with my friend Sel. Never mind. The truth comes late but it comes. Start the engines and let's take off."
"Don't get too excited. First I will treat you for some time and only then can you set off. You will be in a better shape after my treatment, at least for several months."
"Go ahead, doc. You're picking up the tab."