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by Robert Bloch
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Graham is a discontented Talent in futuristic America. He questions the ideology of Planned Society and gets himself in trouble for it. However, he finds an ally in the persons of Doc and Clare, who are outwardly posing as representatives of the Psycho-controlled Insanitarium, but in reality are using it as an underground headquarters for the overthrow of the present system. Together they plan and work on infiltrating the Dome and overpowering the highest leader MGMinence Archer into submission. Success is no guarantee, but they have to try--or else get brainwashed!
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks, 1959 Amazing Stories
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [186 KB]
Reading time: 102-143 min.
The swallow was scarcely more than a fledgling. It had flown up from Sanjancapistrano, and now it was approaching the Laguna Dome.
No Shelley hailed its blithe spirit as the bird spiraled slowly down towards the community nestled between the ocean and the hills. The swallow noted, without comprehension, the hilltop houses and the oxygenerators on the peaks. It circled lower, over the scholasticity, the industricity, the consumarkets and the outlying farmareas, all powered by the atomic plant from distant Longbeach.
None of this interested the swallow. It was searching for something else--something it had not seen during the long flight between Sanjancapistrano and here.
That's what the swallow was looking for. Some sign of life, of sentience. Avian, animal, even human life would suffice: the swallow was lost in a great loneliness. Ever since leaving its nest it had been alone, and only instinctual hunger had sent it on the long, solitary flight in search of fellow-beings. The bird had flown over empty ocean and equally empty land--flown emptily, endlessly, impelled by a need to seek out a living thing from the vast wastes of sand and rock.
The swallow had seen other cities en route, or their remains: skeleton cities, corpse-cities, and bits of disarticulated white bone that had once been connected into roads. But there had been no life.
And now life was at hand. Five thousand feet below, the bird caught glimpses of movement in the city streets. The living creatures were alien--what did the swallow know of humans?--but they were undoubtedly alive. And life called out to life, in wild welcome.
The swallow glided down, circling to dive. Fortunately, it hesitated before actually diving. Thus it was that only its wings struck the plexide transparency of the Dome.
The invisible barrier did not reflect; it merely rejected. The swallow pecked at it vainly, but nothing happened. The Dome remained, inviolate.
So the swallow rose, spiraled again, and descended at a distance. Once more the Dome deflected it. The bird could see life passing below, oblivious to every frantic effort at entry. Time after time the swallow circled and swooped, but wherever it went the Dome was there.
Finally dusk came. The bird, exhausted, circled in the radioactive air, then turned its three eyes to the southern sunset and fluttered away.
It couldn't get inside the Dome.
On the other hand, those inside the Dome couldn't get out..."
* * * *
INSIDE the Dome, in one of the hilltop houses, Graham waited. Palms perspiring, the dark-haired young man adjusted his glasses and then reached for the controls.
He stared into the blackness of the room before him, then blinked at the sudden light. His companion coughed nervously.
Suddenly the plain came into view--the sweeping stretch of sunlit sand beside the sea. Far in the distance a black dot moved. Swiftly it approached, transforming as it neared into the familiar combination of a manicycle and rider.
The manicycle was a standard model, complete with smasher before and rakers behind, but its rider was not garbed for combat. Instead he wore the conventional black uniform and crash-helmet, without covering armor. Through the plexide bubble his features were plainly visible as he ground to a halt and dismounted. And it was then that both Graham and his companion could note, upon closer scrutiny, that he was she--an attractive young blonde.
"Switch," Graham murmured.
His companion grunted.
Boots scuffing sand, the uniformed blonde reached into the saddle-pouch and withdrew a pennant which she staked upright in the center of the plain. She stood there for a moment, then raised her right arm in a signal before returning to the manicycle. Mounting the machine once more, she waited.
Now attention moved again to the far horizon. Two dots this time, approaching still more rapidly than the manicycle had moved.
Within a matter of moments, the dots were rushing into the foreground, easily recognizable for what they were.
The enclosed, armored vehicle with the eight-foot spikes jutting from the bumper was obviously a Cad. And the lowslung open job with the battering-rod extending along the side of the hood was just as obviously a Jag.
Behind the controls of each were the drivers, in full armor.
The young man in the Jag smiled and waved at the Cad driver, who scowled in return. Then both of them glanced at the girl as she signaled.
Side by side the two cars rolled abreast of the pennant in the sand, clicking fenders in the ceremonial gesture. Then the Jag backed away and the Cad turned, backing in reverse. When each car was a hundred yards away from the pennant marker, the girl raised her right arm again.
And so the duel began.
* * * *
The Cad thundered down the sand, shifting from third to fourth in a matter of seconds as it sought its prey. Six thousand pounds of armored might thrust forward, impelling the spikes toward the oncoming Jag.
The smaller car made no effort to swerve. It too came on at top speed, moving so swiftly it almost blurred. Suddenly its driver switched controls, moving the Jag out in a growing arc. At the same time the battering-rod telescoped past the hood as the extension went into play, and smashed the left fender of the Cad as the two cars passed one another with only inches separating them.
"Tournament style," Graham whispered. "Watch, now!"
Both cars wheeled and returned, scarcely slackening speed. Again the Cad hurtled forward, again the Jag dodged. But this time the driver of the Cad had anticipated the feint. He countered with a side-swipe and the spikes on his hood dug squarely into the side of the Jag, almost rolling it over. The driver of the Jag huddled to one side as the righthand door came off, armor and all.
Not giving him time to recover, the Cad halted just ahead and quickly reversed. And now the rippers on the rear-fenders went into play, heading for the vulnerable hood of the floundering Jag. Just in time the driver switched on the exhaust-discharge, and lost himself, squid-fashion, in a murky cloud.
The Cad backed into the cloud, seeking its prey blindly. But the Jag swooped to one side, then described a quick arc. The Cad came out of the cloud, still in reverse, its driver blinded by the smoke. And the Jag was ready. It drove forward, hitting the Cad squarely in the side. At the same time the battering-rod swung around on a moveable extension and struck the windshield, ploughing through until it sheared the top off the heavier machine in a single vicious sideswipe.
The Cad's driver sat there in the arrested vehicle, bowing as if in appreciation. It was a grotesque bow, because the same blow that struck windshield and top had sheared off the top of his skull.
The driver of the Jag grinned and glanced at the girl. There was no need to formally acknowledge the victory--already she had removed her crash-helmet and was divesting herself of the black uniform. Still grinning, the Jag driver stepped out of his vehicle, ready to claim his reward. Now was the time to--
"Turn that bombed thing off!"
Graham glanced at his companion, then shrugged and reached for the switch. The scene faded away, the two screens rose and retracted into the ceiling, and the normal flow of fluorescence returned to the projection room.
"Sorry," Graham murmured. "I know it's hard to get the full effect without the sensories. The tracks are still in processing, and they're beauties--particularly the audio and the olfac. But I thought you could at least get some idea from the video."
"I got an idea, all right, sweetheart." The other man rose from the posture-chair, his checkered robe fluttering in indignant accompaniment to his waving arms. "Great Godfrey--who authorized this?"
"It's my treatment," Graham told him. "Knocked it out in my spare time, and it cost next to nothing, so don't worry."
"I don't give a bomb about time and cost, lover-boy," said the man in the checkered robe. "What I want to know is why you did it in the first place. Trying to give a break to that blonde saddle-partner or something?"
"Please, Zank," Graham answered. "I scarcely know the girl. That wasn't my intention at all. It's just that I've always wanted to try my hand at a Realie for a change."
"Realie!" Zank was so excited he removed his checker-framed glasses. "How often I got to tell you we got a Realie Department already in operation?"
"I know. But I thought this might be a bit different--"
"Different! I'll say it's different! You think we'd ever release something showing a duel? You know better!"
"But people do duel, you know. At least, the Technos do. I tried to make it look authentic. Everything about it is true."
"Darling!" Zank used the traditional phrase sneeringly. "Since when has truth got anything to do with Realies?" He wiped his glistening forehead with a checkered sleeve. "Realies are for Public Information. You know that."
"But why can't we do something different once in a while? Maybe just for a selected audience?"
"Because that's not our job." Zank shook his head. "Listen, Graham. Let me remind you that you're writing for the Space Opera Division. You've got one job, and that's to please your immediate superior--me. And if you want to please me, you'll stick to one plot--Bem meets Fem. That's all."
"I know," Graham sighed. "Only I get sick of it, doing the same old thing again and again. Telling the same old story. Space-travel is dangerous. Other worlds are filled with danger and evil. And so forth."
"And so on," Zank added. "You forget, it serves a purpose. Violence is outlawed here on Earth. We can't show killings and torture and antisocial aggression. So we switch to other planets, transfer the aggressive tendencies from men to the Bug-Eyed Monster. And at the same time, punch home the idea that it's better not to meddle with space-flight. What's the matter, sweetheart, don't tell me you've forgotten the basics?"
"How could I forget?" Graham replied. "That's all I've been hearing since I went to work. Space Operas are an important adjunct of social conditioning. The hero must be dark, the heroine must be blonde, the monster must be green and the plot must be--"
* * * *
This time it was a look rather than a word from Zank that halted him. The little producer smiled at him oddly.
"What's that again, lover?" he murmured. "Do my ears deceive me or are you sounding off like one of those lousy radical politicians? Where'd you pick up that kind of talk, anyway--you got ancestors in the GOP, maybe?"
In spite of himself, Graham paled. Biting his lip, he forced his features into a placating smile.
"Sorry," he said. "Guess I'm a little bit tired."
But Zank continued to grin. "What from?" he asked. "Reading books, perhaps?"
Graham shook his head hastily. "You know better than that, Zank," he protested. "Why, I've never even seen a book. Not a real one, that is. Of course, you understand we Talents have access to microfilms. But the stuff is all selected and approved. I'm not political, Zank, not at all. How could I be cleared for a job like this if anyone thought so?"
* * * *
Zank's grin relaxed a trifle. He sat down again. Abruptly his voice softened. "How old are you, Graham?"
"And you've been with Space Opera for four years, that right?"
"Four years this August."
"Hmmm." Zank clasped his hands together and wriggled his fingers. "I'm forty-four, myself. Got just six years left before I'm Socially Secured. You'd think if anyone wanted to play rebel, I'd be a logical candidate. Not a youngster like you, with half your active life still ahead."
"Half an active life? Twenty-five more years of writing about technicolor tentacles reaching for three-dimensional bosoms?" Graham frowned. "I'm a Talent, Zank. You don't understand what that means, do you? It means I want to express myself."
"I do understand, darling." There was no sarcasm in the producer's voice now. "I'm half-Talent myself, on my mother's side. You didn't know that, did you? Well, it's true. She was in Sadies, big operator in the designing department back East. Plastic stuff--like those old-time what-do-you-call-'em, sculptors, I guess. Did some pretty important things, too. I understand she was the first one to come out with the bleeding dummy models. By the time I was born she was in charge of the whole Eastern Division. And then she got ideas."
Zank paused and wiped his forehead again. "Of course all this is hearsay, because I never saw her--my father was a Techno, and it was just a one-year mating arrangement. But I heard about it from him later. He'd sort of kept track of my mother afterwards, when she went in for free-lance matings. For a while there I guess she changed mates about once a week, but that didn't help. She was headed the wrong way. She wanted some variety in her work, too. Had the same ideas about Realies you seem to be taking up now, only in her case of course she was working with dummies instead of emotion-pictures. Finally she by-passed authorization and installed some new models in the Sadies at Nework. Psychos."
Graham sat up straight. "Psychos?"
"You heard me. Psychos, robes and all, complete with scream-tracks. Claimed the best way for customers to work off aggression would be to carve up facsimiles of Authority." Zank sighed. "Naturally, they quashed that idea in a hurry."
"What happened to your mother?"
Zank sighed again, and shrugged. "What could happen?" he said. "They sent her back to the Womb."
"Well, don't be. Be glad, instead. Glad I told you, gave you an example. Because that's what happens to Talents who decide they've got to express themselves. They think they're heading in a new direction, but they always end up in the same place. Back to the Womb. You don't want that to happen, do you, sweetheart?"
"No." Graham repressed a shudder. Suddenly he reached over and patted his superior on the shoulder. "Look, Zank, I'm sorry about all this. I had no right to experiment. And no reason to talk the way I did. I'm just a bit tired, that's all."
"Maybe you need a rest." Zank stared at him. "How long since you've been to a Psycho for a checkup?"
"There's nothing wrong with me, really there isn't," Graham said, hastily. "I'll snap out of it. All I need is a little hard work to get back into the old routine. Matter of fact, I've been readying a script you're going to like--this one has a real switch, an invisible Bem, you can only see it when it drinks blood and the blood brings its outline into view--"
"Great idea," Zank said. "You can tell me all about it when you come back."
"Back? But I'm not going anywhere."
"Oh yes you are." The producer smiled. "I've made up my mind. What you need to pick you up right now is a good week of relaxation. I'm authorizing you for an immediate Fornivacation." He delved into the folds of his checkered robe and pulled out a small black photoviewer. "Got just the partner for you, too. See this blonde here? 3-D doesn't do her justice; you need 4-D for that. Her name's Wanda. You're going to like her."