Scanners Live in Vain
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by Cordwainer Smith
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Man has conquered space, but not without costs. To maintain the space lanes, Scanners have to undergo an operation in which their brain is severed from their sensory inputs to block the Pain of Space. Martel has made this sacrifice. He must monitor his vital functions via implanted dials and instruments in his chest. His only respite from this isolated existence is his ability to occasionally "cranch" and return to some sort of normalcy with his wife, Luci. But now a man named Adam Stone has claimed that he has a found a way to travel in the deep of space without the use of the Scanners. Through the twisted logic of the community of Scanners, it is decided that Adam Stone must die. Martel, while cranched, realizes the madness of that solution and that all Scanners Live in Vain! Voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the great stories of all time and is included in "The Science Fiction Hall of Fame" anthology.
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks, 1949 Fantasy Book
eBookwise Release Date: September 2008
13 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [62 KB]
Reading time: 37-52 min.
Martel was angry. He did not even adjust his blood away from anger. He stamped across the room by judgment, not by sight. When he saw the table hit the floor, and could tell by the expression on Luci's face that the table must have made a loud crash, he looked down to see if his leg were broken. It was not. Scanner to the core, he had to scan himself. The action was reflex and automatic. The inventory included his legs, abdomen, Chestbox of instruments, hands, arms, face and back with the Mirror. Only then did Martel go back to being angry. He talked with his voice, even though he knew that his wife hated its blare and preferred to have him write.
"I tell you, I must cranch. I have to cranch. It's my worry, isn't it?"
When Luci answered, he saw only a part of her words as he read her lips: "Darling ... you're my husband ... right to love you ... dangerous ... do it ... dangerous ... wait...."
He faced her, but put sound in his voice, letting the blare hurt her again: "I tell you, I'm going to cranch."
Catching her expression, he became rueful and a little tender: "Can't you understand what it means to me? To get out of this horrible prison in my own head? To be a man again--hearing your voice, smelling smoke? To feel again--to feel my feet on the ground, to feel the air move against my face? Don't you know what it means?"
Her wide-eyed worrisome concern thrust him back into pure annoyance. He read only a few words as her lips moved: ".... love you ... your own good ... don't you think I want you to be human? ... your own good ... too much ... he said ... they said...."
When he roared at her, he realized that his voice must be particularly bad. He knew that the sound hurt her no less than did the words: "Do you think I wanted to marry a Scanner? Didn't I tell you we're almost as low as the habermans? We're dead, I tell you. We've got to be dead to do our work. How can anybody go to the Up-and-Out? Can you dream what raw Space is? I warned you. But you married me. All right, you married a man. Please, darling, let me be a man. Let me hear your voice, let me feel the warmth of being alive, of being human. Let me!"
He saw by her look of stricken assent that he had won the argument. He did not use his voice again. Instead, he pulled his tablet up from where it hung against his chest. He wrote on it, using the pointed fingernail of his right forefinger--the Talking Nail of a Scanner--in quick cleancut script: "Pls, drlng, whrse Crnching Wire?"
She pulled the long gold-sheathed wire out of the pocket of her apron. She let its field sphere fall to the carpeted floor. Swiftly, dutifully, with the deft obedience of a Scanner's wife, she wound the Cranching Wire around his head, spirally around his neck and chest. She avoided the instruments set in his chest. She even avoided the radiating scars around the instruments, the stigmata of men who had gone Up and into the Out. Mechanically he lifted a foot as she slipped the wire between his feet. She drew the wire taut. She snapped the small plug into the High Burden Control next to his Heart Reader. She helped him to sit down, arranging his hands for him, pushing his head back into the cup at the top of the chair. She turned then, full-face toward him, so that he could read her lips easily. Her expression was composed.
She knelt, scooped up the sphere at the other end of the wire, stood erect calmly, her back to him. He scanned her, and saw nothing in her posture but grief, which would have escaped the eye of anyone but a Scanner. She spoke: he could see her chest-muscles moving. She realized that she was not facing him, and turned so that he could see her lips.
"Ready at last?"
He smiled a yes.
She turned her back to him again. (Luci could never bear to watch him Under-the-wire.) She tossed the wire-sphere into the air. It caught in the force-field, and hung there. Suddenly it glowed. That was all. All--except for the sudden red stinking roar of coming back to his senses. Coming back, across the wild threshold of pain.