By Bryce Walton
They wanted a world without war. The answer was simple: Stay in bed.
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, May 1952.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
A warning hum started somewhere down in the audoviso.
Greg stared. Perspiration crawled down his face. This was it. This wasthe end of the nightmare. This had to be Pat Nichols.
After seventy-two hours in which Greg had had to do without anesthesia!Seventy-two hours of reality! Seventy-two hours of consciousness!Consciousness. Reality.
Greg didn't know how he'd managed to remain sane.
It seemed incredible that a man who had advanced to Stage Five inthe Dream Continuity Scale, and who had been in anesthesia most ofthe time, could suffer seventy-two hours of boring, drab, dreary andrevolting reality. And still be sane.
Pat Nichols was the answer. Her body faded into slim and luscious focuson the three-dim screen. Her brooding eyes and wide mouth that curledso reprovingly.
In his mind was the certainty: This is no dream.
She had gone psycho. Had fled from the Cowl into the dreadful Outside,seventy-two hours ago. Gone to join that fanatical group of VenusianColonists, those outlaw schizoids who planned to start over on Venus.
"Pat!" Greg's hand reached as though she weren't just a three-dimimage. "Listen, Pat! Thank the Codes, you haven't blasted yet. I'vebeen crazy, waiting for this call. Pat, I can't even go into integratedanesthesia without you around. My dreams don't seem to focus right."
"That's too bad, Greg," she said.
He moistened his lips slowly. He slid his hand toward the warningbutton beneath the table. Her eyes didn't notice, never left his face.Accusative, sad eyes.
He felt sick. He pushed the button. Now! Now Drakeson up on theapartment roof would trace the point of her call. He'd chart herlocation with the rhodium tracker beams. Then the two of them wouldgo and pick Pat up and prevent that insane, suicidal, one-way trip toVenus.
She might consider it a very unfair thing, but then she was psycho.She'd be glad of it, after she was brought back, brain-probed, andre-conditioned. The thought made Greg even more ill. Brain-probing andre-conditioning involved months of a kind of mental agony that no onecould adequately describe. The words were enough to give anestheticnightmares to any Citizen. But, it was for the good of the Cowls, andof the psychos.
Her voice was sad too, like her eyes. "I was hoping you would join me,Greg. Anyway, I called to tell you that in about five hours, we'reblasting. This is goodby."
He said something. Anything. Keep her talking, listening. Give Drakesona chance to employ the rhodium tracker, and spot her location.
A kind of panic got loose in Greg's brain. "Pat, don't you have anyinsight at all? Can't you see that this is advanced psychosis, that—"
She interrupted. "I've tried to explain to you before, Greg. But you'vealways preferred anesthesia. You loathe reality. But I'm part ofreality."
Yes. He had dreams. The anesthetic cubicles, Stage Five where a man wasmaster of thalamic introjection, dream imagery. A stage where any partof reality was supposed to have faded into utter inconsequence. But PatNichols had always been a part of his conditioned personality pattern.By taking her out of it, fate had struck him with an unbalance inpsyche that disturbed the sole objective of life—to dream.
"But that's a suicide trip, Pat, and you'll never have a chance to becured of your schizophrenia, even if you do get to Venus—"
Her interruption had weariness in it.
"Goodby, Greg. I'm sorry for you. That silly status quo, and futiledreaming. It will never let you realize what a fine man you are. You'lldecay and die in some futile image. So goodby, Greg. And good dreaming."
She was gone from the screen. Maybe from earth, unless he got out thereand stopped her before that suicide ship rocketed out from its hiddensubterranean blast tube.
Greg Hurried. He didn't realize he could function so rapidly in theworld of physical reality. In seconds he had zipped thin resilientaerosilk about his body, and was running across the wide plastic meshroof toward the heliocruiser in which Drakeson was waiting.
Greg felt the physical power flow as he ran. It sickened him. Theconditioners kept the body in good shape, but only to allow thecortical-thalamic imagery faculties to function better. Actual physicalbusiness like this was revolting to any Cowl citizen. Any sort ofphysical and materialistic activity, divorced from anesthesia, might bea sign of encroaching psychosis.
That was the fear. That fear of psychosis that might lead to violence.To change. The Cowls over the Cities protected them from any physicalinterference with an absolutely stabile, unchanging and static culture.But the Cowls hadn't been able to protect the Citizenry from insanity.During the past year, psychosis had been striking increasingly, withoutwarning, indiscriminately.
Greg dropped down beside the thin ascetic figure at the controls. Hegrabbed Drakeson's arm.
"Did you pick it up, Drake?"
"Uh-huh," Drakeson drawled. His mouth was cynical, his gray eyessomber. "Traced it down to a ten meter radius, but it's underground.About five miles out of Old Washington, just inside the bigradioactivated forest east of the Ruins. About half an hour's flight asthe crow might fly. If there was a crow left."
"Then let's go. Lift this gadget out of here!"
A spot of nausea bounced into Greg's stomach at Drakeson's referenceto what the big Chain blow-up had done to almost all high cellularlife forms, including crows. Only insects and a few shielded humanshad withstood the radiation. Most higher complex cellular organismshad paid for their complexity. But thanks to the establishment of theCowled Cities and the Codes of non-change, non-violence, they wouldn'thave to pay again. No chance for social change now that might lead toanother such disaster.
If they could only trace the cause for this psychosis epidemic—
Greg hadn't thought about it at all until Pat had started talkingpeculiarly, then when she had broken up completely and left the Cowl,then it had hit home, hard.
The heliocruiser lifted slowly under Drakeson's awkward guidance. Onlythe Controllers, the Control Council Guards, could work the gadgetryof the City with practiced ease. Everybody else, naturally, wasconditioned to various anesthesia states, and had no reason to dealwith materialistic things.
The cruiser lifted until it was flying directly beneath the opaquestuff of the Cowl, lost in the dazzling rainbows of sunlight shatteringthrough.
Drakeson said. "We'll keep up here. Maybe the Controllers won't see us."
"What?" A peculiar coolness slid along Greg's spine.
"Maybe they won't see us," repeated Drakeson, and then he smiled wryly."Listen, Greg. You're way ahead of me in the Dream Continuity. You're alot further away from reality than I am. More impractical. So listen toa word or two before we try to break through the Cowl.
"We've never been Outside, don't forget that. It's dangerous. Youhaven't considered any of the angles. For example, I picked up a coupleof shielding suits which you hadn't thought of. And two small wristGeigers. If I hadn't thought of them, then we'd probably have beencontaminated with hard radiation out there, and would have been throwninto the septic pools for about six months."
Greg shivered. That would have been very bad.
"It's deadly out there; poisonous, Greg. Only the insane have wantedto go Outside for the last few years, and only the Controllers havebeen out, and then only to try to track down the hiding places of theColonists. You hadn't considered that, but I did. So I had to steal acouple of heat-blasters, from the Museum...."
"You what?" Greg stared at the two deadly coiled weapons Drakesondragged from beneath the seat. "Do the Controllers know?"
"They've probably found out by now, or will very soon," Drakeson lookedgrim. "They'll be after us with sky-cars and para-guns. And they'resure to slap a psycho label on us. They would anyway, probably, forjust going Outside. But having destructive forbidden weapons on us,they're sure to, and we couldn't go Outside without weapons, Greg."
That was right, Greg knew. Paralysis guns wouldn't have been enough outthere. Drakeson said softly:
"Is she worth it, Greg? We may have to be brain-probed. Is she worththat kind of pain?"
Greg's stomach seemed to tie up in knots. Brain-probing, psychometry.Greg whispered hoarsely. "She's worth it, Drake. And besides, it'sridiculous to think that we'll be suspected. I'm only interested inpreventing Pat from making that suicide trip. The Controllers have thesame interest."
"But that's their job. You and I aren't supposed to be concerned withreality. They've gotten very sensitive this last year. They can'ttake any chances. At the least sign of disintegration, they have toapprehend and send you to psychometry."
Greg said. "You trying to get out of your bargain, Drake? If you don'twant that carton of Stage Five dream capsules, then—"
"Oh no, I'll take a chance to get that carton. I never thought I'd geta chance to experience such premature dreams. It's worth the gamble, wemight get away without being probed."
Greg's head ached. Reality always gave him a headache. He wasn't usedto it. A man who had reached Stage Five had been an anesthesiac toolong to find reality comfortable.
"I know the Codes," Greg whispered. "Legally, there's no reason tobe apprehended just for leaving the Cowl. And as for the blasters,well—we can drop them off, hide them, if the Controllers get after us."
The cruiser moved down the sloping arc of the Cowl toward the darkpatch that Greg recognized as a merging chamber. The plastic spiresof the City reached up around them as though reaching for the sun.Only a few human figures could be seen far below, on roofs, and in thestreets. A few low stage humans not in anesthesia.
Greg crawled into the shielding suit. He took over the unfamiliarcontrols while Drakeson got his own shielding suit on. They weren'theavy, but were sluggish material that could throw off ordinaryradiation.
Behind him Greg heard Drakeson's harsh yell. "Sky-cars! Ten of them!Shooting up out of the Control Tower and coming right toward us! Merge,and merge fast, Greg, if you still want to go Outside."
Inside the thick sheeting of the suit, Greg's skin was soaked withperspiration. His face was strained as he moved the cruiser intothe first lock chamber. The cruiser had to move through a series oflocks to the Outside. A precaution to keep bacteria, radiation, otherinimical elements from coming in while an exit from the Cowl was beingmade.
One by one the locks opened and closed as grav-hooks pulled the cruiserthrough. It was a precariously balanced culture, this one inside theCowls, Greg thought. Like living inside a gigantic sealed test-tube.Any slightly alien elements introduced into that test-tube could makeit a place of sealed death in a short time. A rigidly controlled,non-changing environment. That was fine, except that some humans withinit had a habit of changing, and for the worse. Retrogression, psychosis.
Psychometry was trying frantically to find the cause. It seemed obviousthat the Venusian Colonists might be causing psychotics to appear inorder to swell their ranks of volunteers to go to Venus to start a "newdynamic, progressive order." Madness. Suicide.
Progressive evolutionary philosophies meant change, and change mightlead anywhere. But eventually it could only lead to another horribleChain. One Chain had been enough.
The earth had been thoroughly wrecked. The few survivors had setup the anti-reality standards, the Cowls and the Codes—and theControllers. They established the Dream Continuity that led to thevarious anesthetic stages.
But people went insane. They disagreed. They fled the Cowls. VenusianColonial Enterprises resulted. It was organized insanity. A neatlyplanned psychosis, with grandiose delusions of justification. Theywould save humanity! Madness. Schizophrenia.
Venusian Colonization had been organized three years before. At leastfour known spaceships had been constructed, stocked, and blasted. Theychanged their subterranean hideouts after each blast. It had just neveroccurred to Greg that Pat could go psycho and join them.
It was even more ridiculous for the Controllers to suspect him ofbeing psycho.
He felt a little better as the cruiser broke out beyond the Cowl andinto the blazing natural sun of noon. It blinded Greg. Frightened him alittle.
He'd never seen the sun before, except dimmed by the Cowl.
He sent the cruiser climbing rapidly above the weird grotesque terrain.Drakeson jumped into the seat beside him. His face was white.
"Open the converter feed valves