THE PSYCHOLOGICAL REGULATOR
By ARTHUR COOKE
[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Comet March 41.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
The nurse at the desk of Floor 24, Ward 5, flexed a smooth, tan arm and looked at the hall chronometer. She sighed inaudibly. 20:13:09, said the dial. Two more hours on duty for Miss Markett Travenor, F-2349464-23a-10-256W-26. Which was to say that her file was Female number 2349464 in the Register of Persons, that she lived in apartment 23 on floor 10 in building 256 on the West side of parkzone 26. Examination of her face and figure would have convinced you that one as lovely as she could have existed by accident only in the Twentieth Century. Happily, however, by the year 2046 (in which she was born), scientific mating was no dream of a few forward-looking visionaries, but a reality: she was the lovely offspring of a couple carefully paired.
Markett looked down from her chronometer, her green eyes darkly thoughtful. Dr. Ward Alfreed (M-2536478-13a-20-358E-22) was late. She looked down the white-enameled corridor, then at the indicating finger of an elevator. It had not moved. Easily she pressed a communicator attached to a strap of her uniform. Immediately a voice spoke:
“Entrance hall speaking—Central Information Desk.”
Markett snapped a button. “Lee?”, she asked. “Is the hotter down there yet?” “Hotter,” in the year 2066, meant boy-friend.
“Dr. Alfreed,” replied the voice, “is going up now with Patient—just a moment—Patient sixty-six-twenty-five.”
“Thanks,” replied Markett, snapping off the contact. She picked a card from the full-view files before her. Patient sixty-six-twenty-five, Psycho Clinic. “Marked degeneration,” read the card. “Cowardly tendencies—fear of falling, fear of floating, fear of slipping, fear of standing still. Three attempted suicides unsuccessful due to lack of creative technique. Prognosis: doubtful. Use of Psychological Regulator suggested. E. B.” All that, and the date for the operation—today.
She rose and faced the elevator as sharp-tuned ears caught the almost imperceptible hum of doors opening. Dr. Alfreed nodded cheerfully to her, twitched his head for her benefit toward the man whose arm he was grasping. Patient sixty-six-twenty-five, no doubt, she thought, glancing again at his card. Name was Clark Stevens (M-3972677-234a-150N-190), she saw. Tall, too, and well-built. But, somehow, his posture and bearing were almost utterly lacking in masculinity; at the moment he looked the role of a weak, vacillating subject of a rehabilitation test, and he shocked Markett’s sense of what was right and decent with his overclad body. He wore a shirt and trousers, seemingly improvised from a number of the one-piece, short-sleeved suits worn by the world as fashion and comfort decreed. Yet there was something about him—? She wrenched her eyes back to the figure of the doctor, small, compact, and natty in leatheret bandolier. Pity, she thought with professional coldness, must not interfere with her operative functions. However, the sight of Stevens could not help but make her think of pictures she had seen of nurses in the old days, hideously overclad, their freedom of movement hampered. She, as all nurses of this enlightened era, wore only a bandolier, to which was attached a harness carrying the various items which must always be on her person, regulation shorts, and shoes.
Dr. Alfreed took the patient’s card from her and scribbled notations. She turned to take the patient’s arm, but, with a cry of fear, he cowered from her.
“Now,” she said soothingly. “Let’s come along and not have—” she was backing him into the arms of the doctor, of course. He pinioned the patient, and winked at Markett. “Sorry,” he said. “He’s afraid of women too. Forgot to tell you. Let’s take him in.” And the little doctor lifted the big-boned patient easily to his shoulders, holding him helplessly balanced, and trotted down the enameled corridor into a high-walled, darkish room. He dumped the psychotic into one of many deep, padded chairs, and Markett promptly slapped thick, strong bands of a tough plastic across the man’s knees and chest. Patient sixty-six-twenty-five began to weep.
The doctor busied himself with a little projector and screen that constituted the equipment of the room. “What reel?” he called to Markett.
She wrinkled her nose. “Are you going to do it in one shot or work him up to it?” she asked.
“One shot. Might kill him, of course. But if it doesn’t, we’ll have reclaimed a citizen—and from all accounts a good one. He used to be an organizer for a coal-mine before this happened to him. Pathetic, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” agreed Markett, busy fastening meshes of pure copper about the limbs and head of the now quiet patient. “But how about these—these swathings of his? Do the bus-bars have to contact his skin?”
“No,” said the doctor. “We’ll just turn the stuff on and see what happens. It’s as strong as they come—you wouldn’t understand it; I’ve studied ancient history, so it’s a little clearer to me.”
“Well,” said Markett, uncertainly, as the doctor turned off the lights and started the projector. She settled herself in a comfortable double seat, and the doctor joined her, while Experimental Reel Seven, Full Power, went clicking through the camera and onto the screen. But they, being otherwise absorbed, paid little or no attention to it.
The patient—sixty-six-twenty-five—whimpered and tried to scrape off the copper bus-bars that confined him. Then his eyes drifted to the screen, and he beheld a marvelously real landscape, not frozen in paint on canvas but quivering with life. A rabbit started, and the patient, who had never seen a rabbit, recognized the little creature, and worked his jaws. There was an unfamiliar taste in his mouth, as though he were champing something tough-fibred, like a woven cloth or bit of soft wood. He had never eaten meat, so to the still-dominant presence of his ego there was no connotation.
As though he were slowly turning he saw the landscape move, and a walled city came into view. What a walled city was he couldn’t say, but the words were in his brain; and quivering with rage, he wanted to tear down the massive bastions with his own hands, and rend the mailed men who were pacing the ramparts. He clenched his right fist, and felt the hilt of Al Azaaf, his scimitar. Slowly Roald stood up from the grass and settled his greaves about his thighs. “Rouse up, sons of Yggdrasil,” he hissed fiercely, and his men—his terrible Norse, scourge of the coast—appeared from bushes and brakes, drawing axes from belts and fitting pikes to shafts.
“Seventy-and-nine of us there be,” growled Roald without preamble, “and of them an hundred and eighty or more. Who complains?” There was silence on the moor, save for the clank of metal as when dirk touched against breastplate.
Roald grinned savagely and swept aside his long red beard to spit. “The less men the more booty,” he snarled. “Eh? And women—?” He laughed tremendously. Then, whirling his sword he roared, “By the hammer of Thor—Come on!” Roaring wildly Roald and his red-bearded band made across the common at a dead run.
There were screams from the city, and much blowing of horns. Arrows began to smack into the clayey soil about them, and Roald raised his buckler. He saw the gates of the city swinging shut; yelling inarticulately he tore a blazing torch from the fist of a companion and hurled it into the knot of porters and marketmen that was struggling with the heavy bar and hinges; they scattered in terror, only a second before the red demons were within the gates, slashing and clubbing with keen swords and murderous axes.
Roald was the spearhead of the attack, and as he and his men plowed contemptuously through the rabble … tradesmen and shopkeepers … he laughed wildly. “Guard ho!” he yelled. “Who will come to do battle with the chosen of Odin. The curse of Cornwall and the damned, stinking Isle of Britain? Guard ho!” Slash! through the shoulder of a boy with a pike. He drove a mailed fist into the face of a gammer who was struggling aside, unwilling to leave her heavy basket of turnips behind.
Roald grinned savagely in the eyes of an archer. “Draw,” he shouted, and as the Englishman reached he spitted him on the curve of Al Azaaf. A new blade crossed his, and with dirk and sword he ranged up and down the length of a square with his foe, a dark-eyed young man who fought precisely and quietly. Behind him he felt the spearhead break into bits and the body of the guard charged the Norse. The youth extended his body in a strange thrust, and Roald cursed the queer, slim weapon he used—a thing like a dart with a hilt. The Viking slashed once, and the youth parried. Roald slashed again, and there was the shock known to swordsmen as steel clashed steel. The youth was weaponless, and Roald cut him down where he stood, kicked the body in the ribs, then spun to defend himself against an assault from a clumsy pike.
The Viking grinned savagely, and swept aside his beard. “With this draught,” he roared to his men, “I name this city fief to the Vikings and to Roald, and all its values, be they goods or women or children, fief also to their conquerors.” He glared about him from the eminence in the walled city’s central square, on the scene of desolation and butchery. He stood among his Norse having left not one of the hundred and eighty defenders. “Skoal!” he roared, and drank.
And Six-six-twenty-five, otherwise known as Clark Stevens (M-3972677-234a-150N-190), shuddered violently, stared at the screen that had just run blank. “What—?” he began, sitting erect. “Damn!” said Stevens, finding himself strangely trammeled by webworks of pure copper. He wrenched his hands free and tore the wires from his ankles and head. “You!” he roared at a couple snuggled in an easy chair.
“Quite recovered?” smiled Dr. Alfreed, unfastening the plastic bands that were restraining Stevens. “A little dizzy?”
Stevens glared at him, and the Doctor backed away. There was a blinding flash about three inches away from the doctor’s chin, and he went down and out. The patient, rubbing his fist, squinted through the gloom and perceived Miss Travenor. “Ah,” he said gutturally. He stepped out of his improvised shirt and trousers; Markett saw with relief that he was wearing the conventional shorts and bandolier beneath. More unconventional than his former attire, however, was the patient’s new behavior. He spurned the doctor’s body with one foot and picked up the nurse. “Excuse me—” she began plaintively.
“Shut up!” growled Stevens, slinging her over his shoulder.
And that was that.
Dr. Alfreed awoke to realize that he had committed a serious breach of experimental technique. It had been a mistake not to observe the screen during the process of rehabilitation, and it had been a grievous mistake not to check on the patient’s reactions. He cursed softly to himself when he saw clearly enough to be sure that neither patient nor nurse were anywhere in the room.
Alfreed was a thoughtful man; he realized that, in the old days, someone would have gotten hell for a blunder of this nature and scope. In the old days technical superiors would have fired the responsible party for the incompetency when revealed, so Alfreed was thankful that these were not the old days. But further than that he did not think. Perhaps, therefore, he was the truly responsible party for what was to happen to his snug little world of file numbers, ventilated houses, air-conditioned clinics, amiable objectives and pneumatically complacent nurses.
He wasn’t spectacularly worried, having no technical superiors to whom to answer. But he had failed in a social duty. Enough of his careful conditioning had remained to remind him of that.
“Oh, Hell!” he swore softly, thinking of the consequences.
He reached over to his hyper-typer, banged out a full report of the affair and shot it into a tube system, one of whose many mouths gaped from a nearby wall. This, too, was routine. If anything worked to correct his mistakes this would. Section headquarters all over the city would be semi-automatically notified, bulletins flashed to rural districts. Within half an hour millions of citizens would be informed—not alarmed—by the quick-changing public information screens.
And with a sense of duty well done he retired to his quarters on the same floor and stared for a while at a forbidden bottle of wine. Then he got drunk.
Clark Stevens carried Markett Travenor as far as the elevator door. Glancing back at the prostrate form of the man he had hit in the jaw his eyes narrowed. Something of cold reason was coming back. Then, suddenly, he became aware—but acutely—of the girl he was carrying in his arms. “Ah,” he said. Abruptly he shifted one of his hands a trifle; the girl shivered and giggled.
Slowly awareness returned to Stevens. Then he let her drop to the floor. She looked at him again, quizzically, like a trusting child. This man, she thought, is masculine. But not with the familiar air of equality to which I am accustomed—but overbearingly male. A sort of aura covered his body—she sensed something brutish, irresponsible, uncivilized. Everything he did confirmed this idea:
“What—?” said the girl. She scrambled to her feet, not taking her eyes off Stevens.
The man shook his head dazedly. “I won’t hurt you,” he said. “I’m all right.” He hesitated. “I’m—different.” Markett nodded. “What I did back there in England—” he said slowly, and paused. “Do you know?” he asked. “Could you see what I did?”
“No,” said Markett. “I should have watched and checked, but the doctor and I let it go.”
“The doctor,” said Stevens. “The man I hit?” She nodded, half smiling. “And you’d better be getting out of here,” said Markett. “He might wake up angry.” She pushed the button of the elevator, and the doors rolled open. “Come on,” she said, as the man stood silently. “You’re not afraid any more, are you?”
“Afraid?” Stevens laughed. “I was. It was something that happened in the mine—” He drew a hand across his eyes; the elevator’s doors rolled shut, and they began their ascent to the roof.
“Explosion?” asked Markett. “They happen, I hear.”
“Maybe. What the hell?” he said, grinning happily. “I’m here, you’re here, and I’m just after storming a castle in England with my Norsemen. It was terrible, but somehow—I don’t know. I shouldn’t be proud of the things I did.” He shuddered a little. “Killing. Maiming. And I burned the town when there was nothing left I could take from it.”
The doors of the elevator rolled open, and a flood of sunlight poured into the tiny cage. “There,” said the man, pointing out a plane. “That’s the one we’ll take.”
“Did you fly here?” asked the girl. “I thought you were afraid.”
“No,” said Stevens, confidently opening the unlocked door of the plane. “This doesn’t belong to me.”
Markett gasped, as her twenty-odd years of inculcated respect for property came down on her head like a ton of bricks. “You can’t!” she cried. “It isn’t yours—you said so.” Her voice trailed off as she saw the baffled stare in his eyes.
“Come in,” he offered, making room for her beside the pilot’s seat. Limply she entered and closed the door. “Now,” said Stevens, “what did you say?”
“The plane isn’t yours, Clark!” Oddly, she flushed as she called him by his given name.
“Well,” said Stevens, puzzlement written over his face, “it is now.” He started the motor with one kick at the pedal and the plane snapped into the air, hovered for a moment, and shot diagonally up, through and above low-hanging cumulus clouds that glittered in the afternoon sun.
“Why did you come here?” asked Markett. Somehow she felt safe.
“More beautiful,” said Stevens. “And I have plans.”
“Plans?” asked the girl. “For yourself?”
“For the world,” said Stevens. He nodded his head over the control board, and a shaft of light was caught in his hair; made it shine like little curly brass wires. “I must ask you questions,” said the man. “I am different. Can you see it?”
“I can,” said the girl. And at that moment she felt that it would be a better thing for man if she were to seize the controls, send their ship tearing down to smash into the ground.
Traffic control ship seven (for the district) swooped three times on the hovering plane. Pilot Petersen scratched his head. “What’s he doing?” he asked Engineer Handel.
“I dunno. Hold it,” said Handel, bending over his radio set.
“Report from hospital,” said the radio. “Psychotic escaped in plane. Give warnings. The plane will be identified later; its owner is undergoing a serious operation and no records are immediately available. Be advised.”
“That must be it,” said Handel practically. “He’s out of all accepted zones and he hasn’t got any right to hover over a residential district. Call him, Pete.”
Petersen aimed his short beam radio antenna in the general direction of the disputed plane. “Calling Monoplane of class ten,” he said into the mike. “You with the brown body and blue wings. Can y’ hear me?”
Harshly a voice answered. “We hear. What is it?”
“Sorry,” said the pilot, “but you’re hovering over a residential area. That’s not allowed. What’s your number, pilot?”
“I have no number,” said the voice, “and I have no license. Stand off or take the consequences!”
“It’s him—the psycho,” hissed Petersen to Handel. “Call HQ on your set while I keep him busy.”
“Right,” snapped the engineer, tuning in the traffic center.
The pilot turned to his set, his brow wrinkled. How do you handle a psycho? Humor him. “What was that you said?” asked Petersen, smooth as silk.
“Stand off, you fool, or take the consequences! I’ll give you five seconds to get away.”
“Wait,” said Petersen. “Why don’t you—” Then he gasped, as his plans crumbled. The psycho’s ship had winged over with terrible speed and was heading for his ship nose-on. “Stop!” he shrilled into the mike, his hand on the throttle. Then he sent his own plane into a loop that made his bones bend, and streaked for altitude, with the demon plane and its demon pilot on his tail. “I warned you,” ground out of the speaker. “You’ll do well to tell the world that there’s one man alive who’s not afraid to kill or be killed to achieve his ends. Spread the word, friend!” And, when Petersen looked around, the plane was a vanishing speck in the north, as he watched it reach the blending point and vanish in the sky.
Handel, gibbering in a corner of the traffic ship where the last loop had flung him, cried, “What happened to it?”
“I don’t know,” said the pilot soberly. “Did you get HQ?”
“Yes, but the loop smashed my set. What do we do now?”
“Fly back, but fast,” said Petersen, giving his ship the gun.
“Pete,” said Handel.
“What do we do with a thing like that? I mean how do you finally get rid of them?”
“I don’t know,” said the pilot slowly. “Lock them up once you catch them, I suppose.”
“Catch that? He tried to ram us! As he said—he’s not afraid to kill or be killed.” The engineer shuddered. “Do you think,” he asked, “we’ll have to kill him?”
Petersen frowned. “I hope not,” he said, his eyes ahead of him as he prepared to land. “But if there’s no other way—what else can we do?”
“How long since they killed a man—purposely, I mean?” The ship was rolling to a stop.
“I dunno. Maybe a hundred years; maybe more. And who that was, I don’t know either.”
The two left the plane and headed for the manager’s office, their faces wry. Petersen was thinking of blood. He was hoping that if they had to kill the psycho they’d do it some dry, quiet way. And Handel, nursing a bruised lip, was hoping exactly the same thing. Mankind, after many years of mutual hatreds had at last reached unanimity, and an idealistic one at that.
The stolen plane crashed to a halt through the brush and bracken of the abandoned clearing. Markett looked about her.
“Do you know where we are?” asked Stevens.
“I think so,” said the girl slowly. “It must be a park district that’s being allowed to lie fallow. Probably it won’t be touched by anyone for a few years. Or wouldn’t have been.”
Stevens stared at her. “You mean—?” he asked.
“I mean that in a matter of hours the world will be down on you. Sheer force of numbers will make you yield to them. Oh, Clark, can’t you see that you’re wrong?” Her eyes suddenly widened with dread as she saw his hands work convulsively.
“Get out,” he ordered, and she obeyed, thinking wildly of a dash to safety. Safety among the trees? Without a man to help her for perhaps hundreds of miles! Meekly she stood, waiting for what might happen. She could not believe that her life was to end at the hands of a madman. She found it hard, indeed, to believe that Stevens was mad. Confused, rather, by the overdose of the Regulator to which he had been subjected.
“Brave woman,” he said. “I see you do not fear my madness. That is well. You are to be my mate—no, my wife.”
“Wife?” she replied calmly. “But marriages are no longer customary. And, even when they do happen, it is only through consent of the bride.”
“All this,” he said slowly, “must be changed. There is no life in this world, no struggle.” He thought further. “Men must fight—if not each other, as I did in England, then something bigger. We must fight now to bring life to this silly paradise we’re in. Even if it means the spilling of blood.”
She, the nurse, shuddered at the thought of blood. For radio-knife surgery had made incisions a dry affair, without confusion or infection. Accidents were few; many lived their entire lives without seeing their own blood. “Can you do it alone?” she asked.
“I can start alone,” he decided. “I shall find my warriors in the mad-houses and the clinics. Many of the inmates of these institutions are no more mad than I; they’ve merely been put away because they saw clearly, as I do.”
“But they’ll find us. They’ll find you!” she cried in sudden anguish. “They’ll find you! Kill you!” Suddenly sobs choked her.
“They will forget me after awhile. They will think I was a fool and drove my plane into the ground or a hillside. So I shall wait. And then, when it is clear, and they have grown weary of looking, or expecting an attack from me, I’ll go out after my men and women. We’ll place them where best suited; some in transportation; some in utilities, and some in communication. And some with the Psycho Regulators. Then we strike, strike there, and the world is free again!”
Markett grew white as she realized that this dream of power could be more than a dream. She looked up into his face, quiet now. What had happened to him? Would he become more and more obsessed, more violent? Perhaps if she could persuade him to wait—to stay there quietly with her while he worked out plans—the influence of the Regulator would begin to wear off.
Over the course of some two hundred years the white man of North America had lost what backwoods skill he once possessed. The little party snapped twigs and stumbled over stones as they advanced through the wilderness at the dead of night.
“How long?” asked a neuro-muscular specialist.
“About ten minutes more,” said a general practitioner.
“Excuse me,” said the specialist, who became violently sick in a bush. Returning he said, “‘M not ordinarily weak like this, but—”
“I understand,” said a civil engineer. “It’s a pretty revolting notion at best.” He hefted a pick in his hand, and sighed.
“I don’t see why—” began the specialist in loud and irritated tones, only to be cut off by a terrified chorus of “shh!”
“Sorry,” he whispered. “I was saying that I don’t see why there aren’t special bodies of men for this sort of thing. I mean, why pick men like us to do work we haven’t studied?”
“Haven’t had the opportunity,” said a pianist. “And there’s good reason why we haven’t a body of men as you suggested.”
“I can’t think of it,” whispered the specialist.
“Assume,” said the pianist, “that there is a group chosen—by lot, I suppose—to keep in line all eccentrics like the gentlemen on whom we are about to call. Then how do we keep this group in line?”
The general practitioner pondered, and, still pondering, fell into a brook. “Sorry,” he gasped, being helped out. “But I have the answer to your question. How to keep them in line, I mean—if they misbehave you stop their salaries. Right?”
“No,” said the pianist. “Because if they’re trained to inflict suffering as a negative bribe to good conduct how are we to keep them from utilizing their training as a negative bribe to the end of exacting tribute?”
A historian unexpectedly spoke up: “In ancient days that technique was known as the ‘shakedown racket’.”
“Indeed,” said the general practitioner, pondering again. “There must be some way of insuring good conduct,” he brooded. “Why not set up two rival bodies of men to check on each other?”
“Because,” said the specialist, now quite won over, “they would either join forces—disastrous to the common welfare—or they would struggle openly for supremacy and the victor would assume that he had the right to oppress common folk.”
“I see,” sighed the general practitioner. “How much farther?”
“As I remember it,” said a radio engineer, “the message came from the plane as it lay half wrecked by their dwelling. That makes it about—there.” He pointed, and silhouetted in the starlight they could see the outlines of a monoplane. “Type ten,” said a transportation engineer, regretfully tightening his grip on an electric drill’s ponderous bit. “Shall we kill him first or get the girl to safety?”
“Kill him first, I say,” volunteered the historian. “All in favor?” There was a soft chorus of assent. “Well, then,” said the historian, “let’s get as close as possible before he wakes up.”
Stealthily they crept into the clearing and approached the little shack of boughs and trunks which had been flung together.
“Not bad,” whispered a structural operator. “Well chinked, ventilated—in a primitive way one couldn’t wish for anything better.”
The neuro-muscular specialist took a heavy pair of operative forceps from his bandolier, and pushed on the door. It swung open after offering only a slight resistance. The seven others crowded into the large room and distributed themselves strategically. The pianist squinted through the dark and whispered, “There he is. I mean they are.” Lying on a sort of semi-permanent bower were the two outlanders, side by side.
“I saw,” whispered the transportation engineer, “I hadn’t thought it was anything like that—”
“He probably threatened her,” said the specialist. “That must be it.” He raised his forceps and said uncertainly, louder than he had meant to, “Well!”
And Clark Stevens awoke. “Now,” he muttered, and his eyes opened. Like a shot from a gun, his lean body snapped into steely action. The specialist he grasped by the wrist, flung away like a rat.
There was a shrill intake of breath in the room, and the men with weapons poised were frozen where they stood. Every man there knew what should be done, what had to be done for the safety of their civilization, and had spent time studying the use of the weapon he carried. But they couldn’t do it. The genteel conditioning, in which all thoughts of physical violence had been carefully weeded out from birth, left them helpless before this man.
Stevens rose before them, and, in the gloom of the hut, his eyes blazed like twin embers of a burning city. He uttered one inarticulate roar, and started for them. That galvanized them into action; they were capable of as swift motion as he, but in another direction. They dropped their weapons and fled.
Stevens watched the last of them vanish, then felt a hand take his.
“They—they didn’t hurt you?”
Silently he drew her through the door and their bare feet felt the loam of the clearing. The night wind fanned their faces. He turned to her. “I made them run,” he laughed, and she smiled. Markett was used to the bursts of childlike glee, and she loved her husband. He had insisted upon some sort of ceremony which apparently was tied up with Roald. And beside the usual broad grin was a kind of shrewd, calculating glint.
“They can’t fight. They’ve forgotten how. But now they know it.”
“Then,” she whispered, “we’re safe.”
“Safe,” he repeated broodingly. “From men, yes. But they have their machines. And machines can be set to kill as well as to build. We must move on.”
Markett turned slowly and looked at the lean-to where they had been living. She laughed, a little nervously.
“Strange,” she said. “At first I didn’t like our—home. It was small—smaller than any of the apartments in the District Dwellings. And we always had to go outdoors for water—cold water that I couldn’t drink because it hadn’t been distilled so that all the salts and taste had been removed. Must we go, Clark?”
He held her tighter. “It was our home,” he said, “but we must go on!”
Far to the north, where sane men did not go, where enormous trees guarded the silent paths of animals to the water-hole, there was a fire, man-built, cunningly piled against the bole of a tree and slanted away from the wind so that it would burn through the long night as a bed of glowing embers, little tongues of blue flame leaping up now and again to warn off any bear or wildcat that might seek easy pickings among the silent forms huddled in a circle. Men they were, big men with gnarled beards and knotted shoulder-muscles, sleeping restlessly and lightly, with one hand lying near cunningly constructed spring-guns and flat, gleaming backswords, into whose steel blades had been let threads of blue and red enamel in glowing, wide designs.
The crack of a twig broke the stillness of the forest night. With a grunt, the largest of the men sat up, his fist closing tight around the hardwood hilt of his sword.
“Hibron?” he called softly. “Is it you?”
Through the dusk strode a figure—a huge-boney male whose hair and beard were like twisted, golden wires, whose loins were girded in the pelt of a lynx, and who carried a hardwood staff a weaker man could not have lifted. He thundered: “Who’re you and who d’ye take me for?”
Around the fire men sprang to their feet, gripping weapons and raising bows. Their leader held his sword at guard and eyed the stranger coldly. “I mistook you for a missing member of our party,” he said. “Name yourself, stranger.” There was an angry growl from the men around the fire; they advanced, their weapons twitching.
“Are you Fotchy?” spoke up a man in the background.
“Not Hibron nor Fotchy nor any of your people,” answered the stranger, surveying them. “I’m Clark Stevens, wildman and sworn enemy of the city people. Who are you?”
The bearded man lowered his sword. “Come by the fire, enemy of the Fotchy, for their enemies are our friends. Are you alone?”
Stevens beckoned into a brush and a slim, firm-muscled woman dressed briefly in patched remnants of cloth came forth. “Markett, my wife,” he explained. Then to her: “These men are our friends, but who they are, I do not know. They are honest people, I think. Let us sit by their fire.”
He and the woman crossed their legs before the blaze, and one of the band piled wood on top. As the flames rose, the forest shadows were driven back, and every pebble in the little clearing cast its long shadow on the ground. The black-bearded man seated himself before the two strangers and his people arranged themselves in council behind him.
“Selim, Stevens,” began the leader. “I am Isral, one of the judges of the clan of Hebers, expelled and hunted down by the accursed Fotchy these seven generations and more. Are you, too, hounded by the murderous, invading swine?” The firelight gleamed on his nose and played about his curly beard and hair.
“These Fotchy,” said Stevens slowly. “I have never heard of them. But I am hounded by another kind, perhaps. I have forsworn the cities of gleaming metal and glass, with their tasteless water and pulpy food. This I have left to live in the wilderness with my wife, and for that reason, they seek to kill me. These Fotchy—who were they?”
Isral spat. “They came from over the ocean and conquered all things. They imprisoned women and tortured men. Their leaders grew fat and luxurious while the common people were ground into the earth. The Hebers (those who we are) were singled out for destruction, though no one seems to know why. All this have I heard from my father, and there is much in the story that is strange.
“The Hebers were driven into the wilderness one winter to die, but even then we were a hardy people and most of us survived the snow and sleet of the first season. There was trouble as the isolated people met and formed clans, and much struggling for power. In the midst of this they neglected to store up sufficient food for the next winter and many died. For years—twenty, thirty, perhaps—they lived as brutes, with little more than fire to aid them. But, as a new generation grew up, they learned to make things with their hands, to build crude machines, and to turn the laws of nature to the common welfare. And from this time, we have risen in numbers and the enjoyment of life.”
Isral held up a gleaming sword. “We work with iron and pottery and wood, as well as such metals as we can find in the mountains of the north; we have flocks of goats, sheep and bison. Although we live close to nature, we are not helpless before natural forces, though wholly dependent upon them. We whom you see here are a hunting party sent far south to capture living deer for breeding purposes.”
He fell silent and stared inquiringly at Stevens, who cast his eyes over the man, and solemnly extended his hands. The gold-bearded man grinned and said: “You are a real people. I will be your friend.” From the group behind Isral was a pleased murmur. “Then,” said Isral, “you will come with us to the North and live with us, and tell us all you can about the world you have left. There may be much that we can put to good use.”
“I will,” said Stevens. And he was thinking, “These men can fight!”
Dr. Alfreed had begun by discussing the Stevens affair hotly in the Medicos Club; a colleague had mildly objected to his neglect of duty. Alfreed had flared up and called the colleague a dirty name. From then onward Alfreed’s progress was spectacular. There was a challenge to debate the question, and Alfreed had won hands down. His opponent had presented his case clearly and logically, then retired from the stage. Alfreed had walked on with a sneer, the subconscious necessity of defending himself boiling in his breast.
His speech was like nothing that had been heard from the debating platform for a hundred years or more, for he began by lashing out bitterly at the private life of his opponent. Patiently the audience waited for him to get around to the issue in question, finding themselves strangely stirred by the wild denunciation. One man yelled from the floor: “He’s right! I’m for Alfreed!” and the cry was repeated in the hall.
At this the doctor frowned heavily on the audience. “Enough of this!” he barked. “You, my friend, have seen the menace of this wildman loose in our midst. I say to you: ‘Hunt him down! Clark Stevens must be destroyed!'”
The abrupt switch in logic disturbed the crowd not at all. For a hundred years or more they had lain fallow, ready for the first demagogue who came along with a phony cause and a platform technique. In a tremendous burst of enthusiasm the doctor was cheered off the platform and carried through the streets in a spontaneous demonstration, and the cry of the first man to rise had been mutilated into “Right for Alfreed!” which rang all over the city by nightfall.
Deposited at his doorstep the doctor made a gracious speech, referring to the menace of Clark Stevens, and, passing a hand before his eyes, begged to be excused. Once in his apartment, Alfreed fell into a chair, astonished at himself. As he analyzed the matter there had been a psychological necessity to excuse his own mistake by violence misdirected, or not directed at all. But it was a good thing at any rate. Knowing in his heart of hearts that what he told himself was not true, he pledged himself to release what he already thought of as “his men” as soon as the menace of Stevens was eliminated. Then he went to bed. But all night there rang beneath his window the cry or challenge: “Right for Alfreed!”
When he woke, it was to find that his men had been working fast, ranging over the city, spreading the news to their friends—news of this wonderful Dr. Alfreed who had emerged from public obscurity to denounce the dangerous maniac who had been permitted to menace the city by the softlings in administrative control.
His door-signal flashed. “Come,” he called luxuriously from his bed. “‘Lo, Winters,” he greeted an agitated colleague who strode into the room.
“Alfreed,” snapped Winters, “how did you do it? And how are you going to stop them? It isn’t healthy, this concentration on the death of one man.”
“One ruthless, murdering maniac,” said the doctor coldly. “Do you call unhealthy the operation that removes a cancer?” He sat up in bed and brought his fist down emphatically on his knee. “No! The day that Clark Stevens dies I shall rest from my labors, but until then it must and shall be my only thought—and not mine alone but all the people in the city. And those who say otherwise shall be crushed!”
Winters stared him in the eye. “If you’re not mad,” he said, “you’re giving a very accurate imitation of megalomania. But, for the sake of the record, I assure you that I shall never be a Rightman, and that many others have told me the same. Alfreed, you’ll never get a majority in any election, so why continue a futile opposition?”
The doctor frowned. “Get out,” he said. “You will see how a man gets what he wants. He takes it!”
As the door closed on Winters’ back he relaxed in bed. “Rightman,” did the old fool say? Not bad. Not bad at all. He leaped out of bed and dressed. He was nervous, almost hysterically so. As he strode down the corridor of the dwelling, his friends greeted him with cries of “Right!” They were on his side, he thought.
He had to make a speech in the breakfast room of the dwelling and left with the cry of “Right for Alfreed!” crashing in his ears. Time to organize now, he thought. The enthusiasm must not be allowed to die down, for once cold reason was permitted to set in, his cause was lost. There could be no such thing as full debate; he must imbue his followers with such a sense of their truth and right that they would, unthinkingly, stamp on the first murmur of opposition, without listening to what the opposer had to say. Had he really been fooling when he intimated to Winters that he would take over by force? Maybe. He didn’t know yet. First thing the Rightmen would need, he decided, would be some sort of identification. Badges—stars? No, these were too flimsy; they might get lost easily, or then some scoundrel who had no right to them, who did not swear allegiance to the cause, might get hold of them.
What was needed was an ensign more substantial—a staff, perhaps. How about a rod, he thought. A nice, heavy one, of course—it’d look better that way—and it should be painted with bright colors. They could even wear bandoliers and shorts of the same color. Red, of course. Red stood out, attracted attention, and was the color of enthusiasm and violence. The sight of solid red ranks would at once intimidate opposition and attract recruits. “Right Red,” it should be called. “Right Red” for the “Rightmen.” It is the duty, he thought, of the Rightman to defend his person against irresponsible attacks, that he may be preserved for the good of the state.
And, a few hours later, these same words thundered through a microphone to all parts of the city: “It is the Duty of the Rightman to defend his person against irresponsible attacks that he may be preserved for service to the state!” And a thousand bright Red staffs swung up in salute, while from the throats of the bearers came the chant: “Right for Alfreed! Right! Right! RIGHT!”
Isral pointed. “See, Stevens, the sharpened tops of the stockade; logs half buried, upright, ten feet out of the ground showing, so close together that a rabbit couldn’t squeeze through. We’re safe here from any animal or man, I think.”
“I see,” said Stevens, shifting his rucksack. “It’s most ingenious. But shouldn’t you have sentries posted there by the gates?”
“We usually do,” said Isral, puzzled. “I don’t understand—” He broke off sharply as his eyes caught something. “Thundering heavens! The gate’s open! Somebody’s going to catch hell from the judges for this. Come on!” he shouted at the straggling column of men carrying, in a sort of palanquin cage, the live deer they had gone so far South to capture. “I can’t understand it,” he mused fretfully as he and Stevens and Markett ran on the double. They halted before the picketed gate and Markett wrinkled her nose. “What’s that smell?” she asked.
Stevens grimaced at the foul stench that drifted over the high palisade, and turned to Isral for an answer. The Heber had forced his face into lines of composure, but beneath his weather-beaten tan, his skin was white with shock. “Fever,” he said, pushing open the gate. “But twice before it has come, and both times we were able to combat it. Now—look—” Hopelessly he stretched forth his hand, and Stevens turned his head.
There was a long street of neat little houses, log houses, punctuated here and there by little shops of artisans. At the end of the street was a meeting-hall on which, in wood contrasting with the rough, unfinished logs on the outside, was nailed the six-pointed star, tribal symbol of the Hebers. But the pottery wheels and grindstones and forges before the shops were untended, and there was no smoke of cooking from the neat little chimneys of the houses. Lying in the street, or half hidden in doorways, were drawn, gaunt figures, women, children and old people.
With a little cry of alarm, Markett bent over the form of a child and felt its pulse and skin. “Still alive,” she said anxiously. “How do you combat this?”
“A kind of berry,” replied Isral. “But there were none growing this year when we left. They were small and bitter.”
“I know the general type,” said Markett. “The bark does just as well, if you soak it in water. Have you any of the wood about?”
“Here,” replied the Heber, pointing to a bush outside the gate. “This is the kind that grows the berries. And there are others in the forest.” He turned to the bearers. “You!” he barked. “Go pull up every fever-bush you can find and bring it here. You, Samel, draw clean water from the Old Well and fill some tubs. Wash them first. You three, dig a trench. Some of our people are past any service save that.”
“That settles it,” broke in Stevens grimly. “You can’t live here any longer.”
“Why not, friend?” asked Isral, his eyes on the men who were carrying out his orders.
“This sort of thing might strike you any moment. To save those who are still here, we have to kill every fever-bush by uprooting and stripping the bark. How many people live here?”
“There are about two thousand in this suburb. Of these, one thousand may already have died; others have fled to our other cities and towns. In them, if the plague has not been spread; and we have means of keeping it down if there is time for warning; we have seventy thousands in all.”
“Seventy thousand,” Stevens whispered to himself. Then, with a great roar, he cried: “We’ll do it!”
“Go South—all of us, men, women and children. We can do it easily—take the city from which I fled and live there, peacefully and healthily.”
Isral stared at him. “How can we take a great city of the South?”
“Isral,” answered Stevens, “you don’t know what has happened to men in the great cities. They have become soft and helpless. A score of them, all armed, came after me, and fled at the first sign of opposition. A band of determined infants could take the city, for these city-dwellers are incapable of violence. What do you say to that, friend?”
“I say,” declared Heber slowly, “that we’ll do it!”
The Historian faced the little group of men, sweeping the small room with a glance. “Where’s Denning?” he asked.
The General Practitioner coughed. “The Rightmen got him,” he said. “Since Alfreed linked up the entire scientific council with what he calls the subversives, none of us have been able to appear in public safely. Denning’s apartment was raided last night and I think he’s been liquidated.”
The Neuro-specialist drummed the table-top nervously. “It’s incredible the way this psychopathia has spread all over the city. In three short months Alfreed and his followers have become so powerful that they do not need to intimidate opposition; they’re a majority.”
“You’re wrong there,” said the Historian. “They make a lot of noise. But the investigation has shown—well, let’s hear it from first hand sources. Would you please repeat what you told me this morning, Gallacher?”
A tall, thin man arose. “Despite appearance to the contrary,” he began, “Alfreed has only succeeded in winning over a certain part of the population. Those people who have succumbed, and become Rightmen, are those whose social position has been such as to require a minimum training in social consciousness and responsibility, those whose functions are such to require the minimum application of intelligence.
“These people, despite the facilities that the city offers, have been leading very narrow, cramped lives. Their emotional attainment has been very low, frustrated in many cases. Thus, the terrific emotional appeal of Alfreed’s insane program has swept them away, made them willing followers.”
“What,” asked the Practitioner, “has been the actual range of violence and intimidation on the part of the Rightmen?”
“Enough to have a demoralizing effect upon the city as a whole. In fact, enough to make many feel insecure to such an extent that they would join the Rightmen sheerly for self-protection. The cases of violence against citizens, although still small in number, have been increasing, and have been sufficiently ferocious to paralyze, almost completely, any attempt at public opposition.”
“Quite right,” agreed the Historian. “You were correct in one sense,” he said to the Neuro-specialist. “Alfreed does not need a majority to win an election, or to seize power now. He can either intimidate the citizens into voting for him, or to refrain from voting at all.”
“What has been done to combat Alfreed, without using his own methods, of course?” asked an engineer.
“Rightmen have been captured by the ambulance squads, interrogated, then treated with Regulators. The interesting thing is that, once removed from Alfreed’s influence, they return to normal very quickly, and a bit of Regulating makes them permanently immune.”
“The difficulty is,” he went on, “that, so far, the psychopathia has spread more quickly than the antidote. What we must do is set machines to capture the Rightmen, Alfreed in particular, and regulate them. We cannot afford to use violence ourselves because of the deadly effects it has upon those involved in its use.”
The Historian nodded. “We must move quickly,” he stated, “because I greatly think that Alfreed will make an open bid for full power very shortly. Unless there is something else to come up, gentlemen, I suggest we adjourn and get to work.”
A tent camp for women, children and the animals had been pitched far outside the city, and the forty-thousand armed men of Heber were swinging down one of the great, out-moded superhighways which led into the city. Overhead circled spotting planes, a vivid red in hue, marked with symbols strange to the Hebers, and even to Markett and Stevens. “Something must have happened in the city,” the girl hazarded. They could see it not far off, and from it issued along the highway men marching in ragged file, with none of the snap and precision of the Hebers.
“Fools!” spat Stevens. “If they want to reduce our numbers why don’t they drop weights from those planes?” Markett was shocked. “That’s a very clever idea,” she said. “I wonder that nobody’s thought of it before.”
“They haven’t the military mind,” said Stevens. “Such things do not occur to them.” The men from the city were drawing nearer; calmly the Hebers unshipped their weapons, front ranks armed with spring-bows, rear ranks with throwing darts and the savage backswords that could cut down a grizzly bear in midcharge.
An especially large plane roared overhead, and, from it, thundered a great voice. “Halt your forces!”
“Dr. Alfreed!” cried Markett. “That little fool’s trying to order us around.”
“Ignore that,” advised Stevens. “Go straight ahead. Meet that mob and you won’t find any resistance worth speaking of.”
“I have arranged for everything,” said Isral serenely. “Quarter will be given when asked; corpses will not be mutilated, and no vengeance for our own casualties will be taken once resistance has stopped. We will accept them as equals once we have the city in our hands.” He fell silent and the tension grew as the two armies marched toward one another at a steady gait. The huge red plane of Dr. Alfreed yawped hysterical injunctions at the advancing Hebers, who didn’t even look up.
Then, suddenly, there was a brief exchange of throwing-weapons and the armies made contact. Automatically they split up into groups, clubbing and slashing. Stevens waded into the thick of it, swinging a broadsword He was startled to see that all the enemy were wearing vivid red shorts and bandoliers and were uniformly armed with heavy, short clubs. Remembering the timorous party that had first sought to kill him, he was dazed at the savagery with which the city men came to attack, with a suicidal disregard for their own safety and lives.
Further speculation he could not indulge in, for he was hard-pressed by a piquet of men who charged with strange cries of “Right for Alfreed!” One he spitted on his point; another’s legs were cut away from beneath him, and a third landed a wild blow on Stevens’ shoulder before the sizzling sweep of the backsword cut him down.
Stevens’ head was curiously clear in the midst of the turmoil. With a mental start, he realized that something had happened; that this sort of thing no longer seemed glorious. He was not afraid; he saw it as a necessity, but now he realized that his only desire was to get it over with as soon as possible and have done with violence and fighting fellow men. Mechanically he fell in line with a spearhead of Hebers and worked his way along it to the apex; there he stayed, slashing and parrying till a concerted attack from behind dissolved it into skirmishing knots of men.
But now, from the city, came forth things that made the warriors gasp in amazement. Metal cylinders, upright, wheeled, each equipped with tentacle-like projections. They bore down upon the fray, plunging into the ranks of the red-clad fighters. For a moment, Stevens thought them to be reinforcements, but, now, he saw that the machines were for another purpose. The tentacles lashed out and seized the red-clad warriors firmly, yet, it appeared, carefully, so as not to do them harm, and, when their arms were full, turned and made back for the city.
Long tentacles reached out and seized the red-clad warriors, bearing full loads of them back into the city.
Stevens swung wide of a head that bobbed, and a red club came down on his head, while another crashed into his ear. The world spun around, then the ground reached up and struck him sharply. And, suddenly, it was night.
“Hold your head up,” said a voice.
Stevens opened his eyes. “Markett,” he whispered. “What is it?”
“Concussion. You’ve been unconscious for three days. And what days!” She rolled her eyes.
“Exciting? What happened?”
“We were on the verge of losing the battle—they had us outnumbered—when the pursuit machines attacked the Rightmen—that’s what the red-clad fighters are called. That completely demoralized them, and they broke and fled back toward the city. We were almost too amazed to know what to do, but Isral ordered us on, so we advanced after them. When we were almost upon the entrance, a voice came through calling me.”
“Yes. The council was watching the whole affair through tele-screens in the control room. They asked us what we wanted, who we were, and so forth. Isral and I explained, and they offered to take us in if we would lay down our weapons and promise to come peacefully; if we did not, they said they had a sort of gas which would make us all lose consciousness.”
“So you agreed?”
“Certainly. You see, they explained about the Rightmen, too. The people we were fighting are not the city’s army; they were a sort of club taking orders from Dr. Alfreed. A historian told me that it was what you call a dictatorship. They had seized control of the city (although the council had escaped and continued to work opposition, preparing the pursuit machines, etc.) and were beating down the people, not allowing any freedom of speech, so when they saw that we were losing, the people came out and attacked the Rightmen from behind. At the same time the pursuit machines came out, because, of course, no one except the council knew that there was a weapon which could be used against Alfreed’s army.
“It was really the citizens who won because there were not enough of the pursuit machines to beat the Rightmen; all they could do was to create confusion in the Rightmen ranks, and work demoralization by carrying off fighters.”
Stevens was silent for a moment, then: “What happened to the Rightmen—those who weren’t killed?”
“They were Regulated, Alfreed among them, and all came out sane again.”
“And Isral—the Hebers?”
“Doing fine; they’re going into arts and crafts, something which the Chief Historian says has been a lost function with us. We needed them badly.”
He scratched his head. “Somehow,” he said, “I feel different. I’m not the old, frightened Clark Stevens that I once was; and I’m not the man I was when I first ran away with you.
“I want to live here, in the city. Yet I’m still not satisfied with it. It has to be changed.”
He broke off as the Neuro-specialist came in. “Hello,” he said, “what’s up?”
“‘Lo, Stevens,” replied the man. “Feeling all right?”
“We want you on the council. There was a faction that wanted to regulate you again, but most of us agree that we need men of your kind here, so long as they’re not extremists. You seem to have levelled off to just the right point to make you valuable.”
He nodded. “Strange, Clement, but I feel the same about you fellows. At one time, I thought you were all fit for scrapping, but now I see that the city needs you as much as it does me. I think that’s the answer: we need all kinds of people; no one kind can be permitted to dominate, but no one kind can be suppressed, either.”
“Of course,” said Markett. “After that one big burst of violent battle, you worked the ego of Roald the Viking almost completely out of your psychology. Only the part that I like, that I love, is left—and I think that will stay put.”
Stevens reached out and took her hand.
“I—I’d like to wear cloth again instead of leather, Clark.” Markett said—and both men laughed.