Worlds Without End and Other Stories
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by Clifford D. Simak
Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Description: A link between yesterday and the tomorrow that was here already ? The closer you move to something the farther away it got ? Dreams constructed and maintained by society ? Stranded on an alien world with nobody to talk to except your spaceship ? A world-to-world search for an elusive secret ? The bizarre, weird, strange creations of thing and worlds only Science Fiction Grand Master, Clifford D. Simak could have written ? and make believable.
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks,
eBookwise Release Date: March 2010
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [239 KB]
Reading time: 157-221 min.
WORLDS WITHOUT END
She did not look like the kind of person who would want to take the Dream. Although, Norman Blaine reflected, one could never tell.
He wrote the name she had given him down on the scratch pad, instead of putting it on the application blank, he wrote it slowly, deliberately, to give himself time to think, for there was something here that was puzzling.
Peculiar name, he thought. Not like a real name. More like a stage name taken to cover up plain Susan Brown, or ordinary Betty Smith, or some other common run of name.
He wrote it slowly so that he could think, but he couldn't think too well. There were too many other things cluttering up his brain: The shakeup rumor that had whispered its way for days back and forth within the Center, his own connection with that rumor, and the advice that had been given him--there was something funny about the job. The advice was: don't trust Farris (as if he needed that advice!)--look it over well if it is offered you. It was all kindly-meant advice, but not very helpful.
And there was the lapel-clinging Buttonholer who had caught him in the parking lot that morning and had clung onto him when he tried to push him off; there was Harriet Marsh, with whom he had a date this very night.
Now, finally, this woman across the desk from him.
Although it was foolish, Blaine told himself--to think a thing like that, to tie her up with all the other, thoughts that were bumping together like driftwood in his brain. For there could be no connection--there simply couldn't be.
She was Lucinda Silone, she'd said. Something about the name and something, as well, about the way she said it--the little lilting tones meant consciously to give it grace and make it sparkle--set tiny alarm bells ringing in his brain.
"You're with Entertainment." He said it casually, very much off-hand; this was a trick question and one that must be rightly put.
"Why, no," she replied, "I'm not."
Listening to the way she said it, Blaine could find nothing wrong. Her voice held a touch of fluttery happiness that betrayed pleasure at his thinking she must be Entertainment. And that was just as it should be. It was exactly the way that most of the others answered--flattered at the implication that they belonged to the fabulous Entertainment guild.
He gave her her money's worth. "I would have guessed you were."
He looked directly at Lucinda Silone, watching the expression on her face, but seeing all the other good points, too. "We get good at judging people here," he said. "We aren't often wrong."
She didn't wince. There was no reaction--no start of guilt, no flutter of confusion.
Her hair was honey color, her eyes were china blue, and her skin so milky white that one looked a second time to make sure that it was real.
We don't get many like this one, thought Blaine. The old and sick and the disappointed. The desperate ones and those who know frustration.
"You're mistaken, Mr. Blaine," she said. "I am Education."
He wrote Education on the scratch pad, and said, "It may have been the name. It's a very good name. Easy to say. Musical. It would go well on the stage."
He looked up from the pad and said, smiling--making himself smile against the inexplicable tension that was rising in him: "Although it was not the name alone; I am sure of that."
She didn't smile and he wondered swiftly if he had been awkward. He snapped the words he'd said in quick review across his mind and decided that he'd not been awkward. When you were director of Fabrication, you were not an awkward man. You knew how to handle people; you had to know how to handle them. And you knew, as well, how to handle yourself--how to make your face say one thing while your mind might be thinking something else.
No, his words had been a compliment, and not too badly put. She should have smiled. That she had failed to smile might mean something--or it mightn't mean a thing, except that she was clever. Norman Blaine had no doubt that Lucinda Silone was clever, and as cool a customer as he had ever seen.
Although coolness in itself was not too unusual. You got the cool ones, too--the cool and calculating--the ones who had figured it all out well ahead of time and knew what they were doing. And there were others, too, who had cut off all retreat behind them.
"You wish a Sleep," he said.
"And a Dream?"
"And a Dream," she said.
"You've thought it out quite thoroughly, I suppose. You wouldn't come, of course, if you had any doubts."
"I've thought it through," she told him, "and I have no doubts."
"You still have time. You'll have time to change your mind up to the final moment. We're most anxious that you get that fact fixed firmly in your mind."
"I'll not change my mind," she said.
"We still prefer to assume you may. We do not try to change your mind, but we insist upon complete understanding upon your part that a change is possible. You are under no obligation to us. No matter how far we've gone, there still is no obligation. The Dream may have been fabricated and processed; you may have paid your fee; you may already have entered the receptacle--there's still time to change your mind. The Dream will then be destroyed, your fee will be returned, and the record will be expunged. So far as we are then concerned, we will have never seen you."
"I quite understand," she said.
He nodded quietly. "We'll proceed on that understanding."
He picked up his pencil and wrote her name and classification on the application blank. "Age?"
"Nearest of kin?"
She gave him the name and he wrote it down, with address, age and classification of the aunt.
"None at all."
Her parents had been dead for years, she said; she was an only child. She gave her parents' names, their classifications, their ages at the time of death, their last place of residence, their place of burial.
"You'll check on all of this?" she asked.
"We check on everything."
Here was the place where most of the applicants--even those who had nothing in their life to hide--would show some nervousness, would frantically start checking back along their memories to unearth some possible, long-forgotten incident which might turn up in the course of investigation to embarrass or impede them.
Lucinda Silone was not nervous; she sat there, waiting for the other questions.
Norman Blaine asked them: The number of her guild, her card number, her immediate superior, last medical exam, physical or psychic defects or ailments--all the other trivia which went into the details of daily life.
Finally he was finished and laid the pencil down. "Still no doubts?"
She shook her head.
"I keep harking back to that," said Blaine, "to make absolutely certain we have a willing client; otherwise we have no legal status. But aside from that, there is the matter of ethics ... "
"I understand," she said, "that you are very ethical."
It might have been mockery; if so, it was very clever mockery. He tried to decide if it were or not, but he wasn't sure.
He let it drop. "We have to be," he told her. "Here is a setup which, to survive, must be based on the highest code of ethics. You give your body into our hands for our safekeeping over a number of years. What is more, you give your mind over to us, to a lesser extent. We gain much intimate knowledge of your life in the course of our work with you. To continue in the job we're doing, we must enjoy the complete confidence not only of our clients, but of the general public. The slightest breath of scandal ... "
"There has never been a scandal?"
"In the early days, there were a few. They've been forgotten now, or we hope they have. It was those early scandals which made our guild realize how important it was that we keep ourselves free of any professional taint. A scandal in any of the other guilds is no more than a legal matter which can be adjudicated in the courts and then forgiven and forgotten. But with us there'd be no forgiving or forgetting; we'd never live it down."
Sitting there, Norman Blaine thought of his pride in the work he did--a bright and shining pride, a comfortable and contented pride in a job well done. And this feeling was not confined to he himself alone, but was held by everyone at Center. They might be flippant when they talked among themselves, but the pride was there, hidden deep beneath the flippancy and the workaday approach.
"You almost sound," she said, "like a dedicated people."
Mockery again, he wondered. Or was it flattery to match his own. He smiled a little at it. "Not dedicated," he said. "At least, we never think of ourselves as dedicated."
And that was not quite right, he knew, for there were times when every one of them must have thought of themselves as dedicated. It was not a thing, of course, that one could say aloud--but the thought was there.
It was a strange situation, he thought--the pride of work, the fierce loyalty to the guild itself, and, then, the cutthroat competition, and the vicious Center politics which existed in the midst of that pride and loyalty.
Take Roemer for example. Roemer, who after years of work, was on his way out. That had been the talk for days--the open secret which had been whispered through the Center. Farris had something to do with it, Lew Giesey was involved in some way, and there were others who were mentioned. Blaine himself, for example, had been mentioned as one of the men who might be chosen to step up into Roemer's position. Thank goodness, he had steered clear of Center politics all these years. There was too much headache in Center politics. Norman Blaine's work had been enough for him.
Although it would be fine, he thought, if he were picked to take over Roemer's job. It was higher up the ladder; the pay was better; and maybe if he got more money he could talk Harriet into giving up her newspaper job and ...
He pulled himself back to the job at hand.
"There are certain considerations which you should take into account," he told the woman across the desk. "You should realize all the implications of what your decision means before you go ahead. You must realize that once you go to sleep, you will awaken in a culture different than your own. The planets will not stand still while you sleep; they will advance--or at least we hope they will. Much will be different. Styles will change, in clothing and in manners. Thought and speech and perspective--all will change. You will awaken an alien in a world that has left you far behind; you will be old fashioned.
"There will be public issues of which there now is not the faintest inkling. Governments may have evolved, and customs will be different. What is illegal today may have become quite acceptable; what is acceptable and legal today may have become outrageous or illegal then. Your friends will all be dead ... "
"I have no friends," Lucinda Silone said.
He disregarded her and went on: "What I am trying to impress upon you is that once you wake you cannot step from here straight back into the world, for it will be your world no longer. Your world will have died many years before; you will have to be readjusted, will have to take a course in reorientation. In certain instances, depending upon the awakened person to some extent, to the cultural changes to an even greater extent, this matter of reorientation may take quite some time. For we must give you not only the facts of the changes which have occurred while you were asleep--we must gain your acceptance of those changes. Until you have readjusted not only your data, but your culture as well, we cannot let you go. To live a normal life in that world in which you wake you must accept it as if you had been born into it--you must become, in fact, part of it. And that must often be a long and painful process."
"I realize all that," she said; "I'm ready to abide by all the conditions you lay down."
She had not hesitated once. Lucinda Silone had shown no regret or nervousness. She was as cool and calm as when she'd walked into the office.
"Now," Blaine said, "the reason."
"The reason why you wish to take the Sleep; we must know."
"You'll investigate that, too?"
"We shall; we must be sure, you see. There are many reasons--many more than you'd think there'd be."
He kept on talking, to give her a chance to steel herself and tell him the reason. More often than not this was the hardest thing of all that a client faced. "There are those," he said, "who take the Sleep because they have a disease which at the moment is incurable. They do not contract for a Sleep of any specified length, but only till the day when a cure has been discovered.
"Then there are those who wish to wait out the time against the return of a loved one who is traveling to the stars--waiting out on Earth the subjective time of the faster-than-light flights. And there are those who wish to sleep out an investment which they are sure, given time, will make them a fortune. Usually we try to talk them out of it; we call in our economists, who try to show them ... "
She interrupted him. "Would ennui be enough?" she asked. "Just simple ennui?"
He wrote ennui for the reason and shoved the application to one side. "You can sign it later."
"I can sign it now."
"We'd prefer you wait a little."
Blaine fiddled with the pencil, trying to think it out--wondering why this client should disturb him so. Lucinda Silone was wrong and he couldn't place the wrongness; yet, he knew he should be able to, for he met all sorts of clients.
"If you wish," he said, "we could discuss the Dream. Usually we don't but ... "
"Let's discuss it," she said.
"A Dream is not necessary," he told her. "There are those who take the Sleep without one. I don't wish to appear to be arguing against a Dream; in many cases it appears to me to be preferable. You would not be conscious of the time--an hour or a century is no longer than a second. You go to sleep; then you wake, and it is as if there had been no time at all ... "
"I want a Dream," she said.
"In that case, we are glad to serve you. Have you thought what kind?"
"A friendly dream. A restful one and friendly."
"No excitement? No adventure?"
"Some; perhaps, it might get monotonous otherwise. But genteel, if you please."
"A polite society, perhaps," suggested Blaine. "Let's say, one much concerned with manners."
"And no competition, if you can manage it; no rushing about to beat out someone else."
"An old, established home," continued Blaine. "Good position in the community, high family traditions; sufficient income to banish money worries."
"It sounds a bit archaic."
"It's the kind of Dream you asked for."
"Of course," she said. "What am I thinking of? It will be lovely. It's the sort of thing, the sort ... " she laughed. "The sort of thing you dream of."
He laughed with her.
"You like it? We can change it, bring it up to date."
"Don't you dare, it's just what I want."
"You'll want to be young, I suppose, younger than twenty-nine--sixteen or seventeen."
"And pretty, of course, you would be beautiful despite anything we did."
She did not answer.
"Plenty of admirers," he said. "We could put in lots of them."
"A few, don't overdo it, though."
"We'll keep it dignified," he promised. "You'll have no regrets; we'll give you a Dream you'll need not be ashamed of--one you can look back upon with a lot of happiness. There naturally will have to be some disappointments, a few heart-aches; happiness can't run on forever without getting stale. There must be something, even in a Dream, upon which you can establish comparative values."
"I'll leave that all to you."
"All right, then, we'll get to work on it. Could you come back, say in three days' time? We'll have it roughed out then and we can go over it together. It may take half a dozen--well, let us call them fittings, before we have what you want."
Lucinda Silone rose and held out her hand. Her clasp was firm and friendly. "I'll stop at the cashier's and pay the fee," she said. "And thanks, so very much."
"There's no need to pay the fee this soon."
"I'll feel better when I do."
Norman Blaine watched her go, then sat back down again. The intercom buzzed. "Yes, Irma."
His secretary said, "Harriet called. You were with the client, and couldn't be disturbed; she left a message."
"What did she want?"
"Just to let you know she can't have dinner with you tonight. She said something about an assignment, some big bug from Centauri."
He said: "Irma, let me give you a tip. Never fall in love with Communications. You can't depend on them."
"You keep forgetting, Mr. Blaine; I married Transportation."
"So I do," said Blaine.
"George and Herb are out here waiting. They've been slapping one another on the back and rolling on the floor. Take them off my hands before I go stark raving."
"Send them in," he said.
"Are they all right?"
"George and Herb?"
"Certainly, Irma; it's just the way they work."
"It's a comfort to know that," she said, "I'll shoo them in."
He settled back and watched the two come in. They sprawled themselves in chairs.
George shied a folder at him. "The Jenkins Dream; we got it all worked out."
"He's a jerk who wants to hunt big game, said Herb; we cooked up some dillies for him."
"We made it authentic," George declared with pride; we didn't skip a thing. We put him in the jungle, and we put in mud and insects and the heat; we crammed the place with ravenous nightmares. There's something thirsting for his blood behind every bush."
"It's no hunt," said Herb; "it's a running battle. When he isn't scared, he's jumpy. Damned if I can figure out a guy like that."
"It takes all kinds," said Blaine.
"Sure; and we get them all."
"Some day," Blaine told them drily, "you guys will lay it on so thick you'll get booted to Conditioning."
"They can't do that," said Herb. "You got to have a medical degree to get into Conditioning. And George and me, we couldn't bandage a finger the way it should be done."
George shrugged. "We haven't a thing to worry about; Myrt takes care of that. When we go too hog wild, she tames it down."
Blaine laid the folder to one side. "I'll feed it in before I leave tonight." He picked up the pad. "I have something different here. You'll have to slick down your hair and get on good behavior before I turn you loose on it."
"The one who just went out?"
"I could cook up a Dream for her," said Herb.
"She wants peace and dignity," Blaine informed them. "Genteel society. A sort of modern version of mid-nineteenth century Old Plantation days. No rough stuff; just magnolia and white columns; horses in the bluegrass."
"Likker," said Herb. "Oceans of likker. Bourbon and mint leaves and ... "
"Cocktails," Blaine told him, "and not too many of them."
"Fried chicken," said George, getting into the act. "Watermelon. Moonlight. River boats. Lemme at it."
"Not so fast; you have the wrong approach. Slow and easy. Tame down. Imagine slow music. A sort of eternal waltz."
"We could put in a war," said Herb; "they fought polite in those days. Sabers and all dressed up in fancy uniforms."
"She doesn't want a war."
"You gotta have some action."
"No action--or very little of it. No worry; no competition. Gentility ... "
"And us," lamented George, "all spattered up with jungle mud."
The intercom buzzed. "The b.a. wants to see you," Irma said.
"O.K., tell him ... "
"He wants to see you now."
"Oh, oh," said George.
"I always liked you, Norm," said Herb.
"All right," said Blaine. "Tell him I'll be right up."
"After all these years," Herb said, sadly. "Cutting throats and stabbing backs to get ahead and now it comes to this."
George drew his forefinger across his throat and made a hissing sound, like a blade slashing into flesh.
They were very funny.