Judas Ram

by Sam Merwin

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: The house was furnished with all luxuries, including women. If it only had a lease that could be broken

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

Roger Tennant, crossing the lawn, could see two of the three wings of the house, which radiated spoke-like from its heptagonal central portion. The wing on the left was white, with slim square pillars, reminiscent of scores of movie sets of the Deep South. That on the right was sundeck solar-house living-machine modern, something like a montage of shoeboxes. The wing hidden by the rest of the house was, he knew, spired, gabled and multicolored, like an ancient building in pre-Hitler Cracow.

Dana was lying under a tree near the door, stretched out on a sort of deck chair with her eyes closed. She wore a golden gown, long and close-fitting and slit up the leg like the gown of a Chinese woman. Above it her comely face was sullen beneath its sleek cocoon of auburn hair.

She opened her eyes at his approach and regarded him with nothing like favor. Involuntarily he glanced down at the tartan shorts that were his only garment to make sure that they were on properly. They were. He had thought them up in a moment of utter boredom and they were extremely comfortable. However, the near-Buchanan tartan did not crease or even wrinkle when he moved. Their captors had no idea of how a woven design should behave.

“Waiting for me?” Tennant asked the girl.

She said, “I’d rather be dead. Maybe I am. Maybe we’re all dead and this is Hell.”

He stood over her and looked down until she turned away her reddening face. He said, “So it’s going to be you again, Dana. You’ll be the first to come back for a second run.”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” she replied angrily. She sat up, pushed back her hair, got to her feet a trifle awkwardly because of the tight-fitting tubular gown. “If I could do anything about it...”

“But you can’t,” he told her. “They’re too clever.”

“Is this crop rotation or did you send for me?” she asked cynically. “If you did, I wish you hadn’t. You haven’t asked about your son.”

“I don’t even want to think about him,” said Tennant. “Let’s get on with it.” He could sense the restless stirring of the woman within Dana, just as he could feel the stirring toward her within himself--desire that both of them loathed because it was implanted within them by their captors.

They walked toward the house.

It didn’t look like a prison--or a cage. Within the dome of the barrier, it looked more like a well-kept if bizarre little country estate. There was clipped lawn, a scattering of trees, even a clear little brook that chattered unending annoyance at the small stones which impeded its flow.

But the lawn was not of grass--it was of a bright green substance that might have been cellophane but wasn’t, and it sprouted from a fabric that might have been canvas but was something else. The trees looked like trees, only their trunks were bark all the way through--except that it was not bark. The brook was practically water, but the small stones over which it flowed were of no earthly mineral.

They entered the house, which had no roof, continued to move beneath a sky that glowed with light which did not come from a sun or moon. It might have been a well-kept if bizarre little country estate, but it wasn’t. It was a prison, a cage.

The other two women were sitting in the heptagonal central hall. Eudalia, who had borne twin girls recently, was lying back, newly thin and dark of skin and hair, smoking a scentless cigarette. A tall woman, thirtyish, she wore a sort of shimmering green strapless evening gown. Tennant wondered how she maintained it in place, for despite her recent double motherhood, she was almost flat of bosom. He asked her how she was feeling.

“Okay, I guess,” she said. “The way they manage it, there’s nothing to it.” She had a flat, potentially raucous voice. Eudalia had been a female foreman in a garment-cutting shop before being captured and brought through.

“Good,” he said. “Glad to hear it.” He felt oddly embarrassed. He turned to Olga, broad, blonde and curiously vital, who sat perfectly still, regarding him over the pregnant swell of her dirndl-clad waist. Olga had been a waitress in a mining town hash-house near Scranton.

Tennant wanted to put an encouraging hand on her shoulder, to say something that might cheer her up, for she was by far the youngest of the three female captives, barely nineteen. But with the eyes of the other two, especially Dana, upon him, he could not.

“I guess I wasn’t cut out to be a Turk,” he said. “I don’t feel at ease in a harem, even when it’s supposedly my own.”

“You’re not doing so badly,” Dana replied acidly.

“Lay off--he can’t help it,” said Eudalia unexpectedly. “He doesn’t like it any better than we do.”

“But he doesn’t have to--have them,” objected Olga. She had a trace of Polish accent that was not unpleasant. In fact, Tennant thought, only her laughter was unpleasant, a shrill, uncontrolled burst of staccato sound that jarred him to his heels. Olga had not laughed of late, however. She was too frightened.

“Let’s get the meal ordered,” said Dana and they were all silent, thinking of what they wanted to eat but would not enjoy when it came. Tennant finished with his order, then got busy with his surprise.

It arrived before the meal, materializing against one of the seven walls of the roofless chamber. It was a large cabinet on slender straight legs that resembled dark polished wood. Tennant went to it, opened a hingeless door and pushed a knob on the inner surface. At once the air was hideous with the acerate harmony of a singing commercial...

... so go soak your head,

be it gold, brown or red,

in Any-tone Shampoo!

A disc jockey’s buoyant tones cut in quickly as the final ooooo faded. “This is Grady Martin, your old night-owl, coming to you with your requests over Station WZZX, Manhattan. Here’s a wire from Theresa McManus and the girls in the family entrance of Conaghan’s Bar and Grill on West...”

Tennant watched the girls as a sweet-voiced crooner began to ply an unfamiliar love lyric to a melody whose similarity to a thousand predecessors doomed it to instant success.

Olga sat up straight, her pale blue eyes round with utter disbelief. She looked at the radio, at Tennant, at the other two women, then back at the machine. She murmured something in Polish that was inaudible, but her expression showed that it must have been wistful.

Eudalia grinned at Tennant and, rising, did a sort of tap dance to the music, then whirled back into her chair, green dress ashimmer, and sank into it just to listen.

Dana stood almost in the center of the room, carmine-tipped fingers clasped beneath the swell of her breasts. She might have been listening to Brahms or Debussy. Her eyes glowed with the salty brilliance of emotion and she was almost beautiful.

Rog!“ she cried softly when the music stopped. “A radio and WZZX! Is it--are they--real?”

“As real as you or I,” he told her. “It took quite a bit of doing, getting them to put a set together. And I wasn’t sure that radio would get through. TV doesn’t seem to. Somehow it brings things closer...”

Olga got up quite suddenly, went to the machine and, after frowning at it for a moment, tuned in another station from which a Polish-speaking announcer was followed by polka music. She leaned against the wall, resting one smooth forearm on the top of the machine. Her eyes closed and she swayed a little in time to the polka beat.

Tennant caught Dana looking at him and there was near approval in her expression--approval that faded quickly as soon as she caught his gaze upon her. The food arrived then and they sat down at the round table to eat it.

Tennant’s meat looked like steak, it felt like steak, but, lacking the aroma of steak, it was almost tasteless. This was so with all of their foods, with their cigarettes, with everything in their prison--or their cage. Their captors were utterly without a human conception of smell, living, apparently, in a world without odor at all.

Dana said suddenly, “I named the boy Tom, after somebody I hate almost as much as I hate you.”

Eudalia laid down her fork with a clatter and regarded Dana disapprovingly. “Why take it out on Rog?” she asked bluntly. “He didn’t ask to come here any more than we did. He’s got a wife back home. Maybe you want him to fall in love with you? Maybe you’re jealous because he doesn’t? Well, maybe he can’t! And maybe it wouldn’t work, the way things are arranged here.”

“Thanks, Eudalia,” said Tennant. “I think I can defend myself. But she’s right, Dana. We’re as helpless as--laboratory animals. They have the means to make us do whatever they want.”

“Rog,” said Dana, looking suddenly scared, “I’m sorry I snapped at you. I know it’s not your fault. I’m--changing.”

He shook his head. “No, Dana, you’re not changing. You’re adapting. We all are. We seem to be in a universe of different properties as well as different dimensions. We’re adjusting. I can do a thing or two myself that seem absolutely impossible.”

“Are we really in the fourth dimension?” Dana asked. Of the three of them, she alone had more than a high-school education.

“We may be in the eleventh for all I know,” he told her. “But I’ll settle for the fourth--a fourth dimension in space, if that makes scientific sense, because we don’t seem to have moved in time. I wasn’t sure of that, though, till we got the radio.”

“Why haven’t they brought more of us through?” Eudalia asked, tamping out ashes in a tray that might have been silver.

“I’m not sure,” he said thoughtfully. “I think it’s hard for them. They have a hell of a time bringing anyone through alive, and lately they haven’t brought anyone through--not alive.”

“Why do they do it--the other way, I mean?” asked Dana.

Tennant shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it. I suppose it’s because they’re pretty human.”

Human!“ Dana was outraged. “Do you call it human to--”

“Hold on,” he said. “They pass through their gateway to Earth at considerable danger and, probably, expense of some kind. Some of them don’t come back. They kill those of us who put up a fight. Those who don’t--or can’t--they bring back with them. Live or dead, we’re just laboratory specimens.”

“Maybe,” Eudalia conceded doubtfully. Then her eyes blazed. “But the things they do--stuffing people, mounting their heads, keeping them on display in their--their whatever they live in. You call that human, Rog?”

“Were you ever in a big-game hunter’s trophy room?” Tennant asked quietly. “Or in a Museum of Natural History? A zoo? A naturalist’s lab? Or even, maybe, photographed as a baby on a bear-skin rug?”

“I was,” said Olga. “But that’s not the same thing.”

“Of course not,” he agreed. “In the one instance, we’re the hunters, the breeders, the trophy collectors. In the other”--he shrugged--”we’re the trophies.”

There was a long silence. They finished eating and then Dana stood up and said, “I’m going out on the lawn for a while.” She unzipped her golden gown, stepped out of it to reveal a pair of tartan shorts that matched his, and a narrow halter.

“You thought those up while we ate,” he said. It annoyed him to be copied, though he did not know why. She laughed at him silently, tossed her auburn hair back from her face and went out of the roofless house, holding the gold dress casually over her bare arm.

Eudalia took him to the nursery. He was irritated now in another, angrier way. The infants, protected by cellophane-like coverlets, were asleep.

“They never cry,” the thin woman told him. “But they grow--God, how they grow!”

“Good,” said Tennant, fighting down his anger. He kissed her, held her close, although neither of them felt desire at the moment. Their captors had seen to that; it wasn’t Eudalia’s turn. Tennant said, “I wish I could do something about this. I hate seeing Dana so bitter and Olga so scared. It isn’t their fault.”

“And it’s not yours,” insisted Eudalia. “Don’t let them make you think it is.”

“I’ll try not to,” he said and stopped, realizing the family party was over. He had felt the inner tug of command, said good-by to the women and returned to his smaller compound within its own barrier dome.

Then came the invisible aura of strain in the air, the shimmering illusion of heat that was not heat, that was prelude to his teleportation ... if that were the word. It was neither pleasant nor unpleasant; it was, that was all.

He called it the training hall, not because it looked like a training hall but because that was its function. It didn’t actually look like anything save some half-nourished dream a surrealist might have discarded as too nightmarish for belief.

As in all of this strange universe, excepting the dome-cages in which the captives were held, the training hall followed no rules of three-dimensional space. One wall looked normal for perhaps a third of its length, then it simply wasn’t for a bit. It came back farther on at an impossible angle. Yet, walking along it, touching it, it felt perfectly smooth and continuously straight.

The opposite wall resembled a diagonal cross-section of an asymmetrical dumbbell--that was the closest Tennant could come to it in words. And it, too, felt straight. The floor looked like crystal smashed by some cosmic impact, yet it had reason. He knew this even though no reason was apparent to his three-dimensional vision. The ceiling, where he could see it, was beyond description.

The captor Tennant called Opal came in through a far corner of the ceiling. He--if it was a he--was not large, although this, Tennant knew, meant nothing; Opal might extend thousands of yards in some unseen direction. He had no regular shape and much of him was iridescent and shot with constantly changing colors. Hence the name Opal.

Communication was telepathic. Tennant could have yodeled or yelled or sung Mississippi Mud and Opal would have shown no reaction. Yet Tennant suspected that the captors could hear somewhere along the auditory scale, just as perhaps they could smell, although not in any human sense.

You will approach without use of your appendages.

The command was as clear as if it had been spoken aloud. Tennant took a deep breath. He thought of the space beside Opal. It took about three seconds and he was there, having spanned a distance of some ninety feet. He was getting good at it.

Dog does trick, he thought.

He went through the entire routine at Opal’s bidding. When at last he was allowed to relax, he wondered, not for the first time, if he weren’t mastering some of the alleged Guru arts. At once he felt probing investigation. Opal, like the rest of the captors, was as curious as a cat--or a human being.

Tennant sat against a wall, drenched with sweat. There would be endless repetition before his workout was done. On Earth, dogs were said to be intellectually two-dimensional creatures. He wondered if they felt this helpless futility when their masters taught them to heel, to point, to retrieve.

Some days later, the training routine was broken. He felt a sudden stir of near-sick excitement as he received the thought:

Now you are ready. We are going through at last.

Opal was nervous, so much so that he revealed more than he intended. Or perhaps that was his intent; Tennant could never be sure. They were going through to Tennant’s own dimension. He wondered briefly just what his role was to be.

He had little time to speculate before Opal seemed to envelop him. There was the blurring wrench of forced teleportation and they were in another room, a room which ended in a huge irregular passage that might have been the interior of a giant concertina--or an old-fashioned kodak.

He stood before a kidney-shaped object over whose jagged surface colors played constantly. From Opal’s thoughts it appeared to be some sort of ultradimensional television set, but to Tennant it was as incomprehensible as an oil painting to an animal.

Opal was annoyed that Tennant could make nothing of it. Then came the thought:

What cover must your body have not to be conspicuous?

Tennant wondered, cynically, what would happen if he were to demand a costume of mediaeval motley, complete with Pied Piper’s flute. He received quick reproof that made his head ring as from a blow.

He asked Opal where and when they were going, was informed that he would soon emerge on Earth where he had left it. That told him everything but the date and season. Opal, like the rest of the captors, seemed to have no understanding of time in a human sense.

Waiting, Tennant tried not to think of his wife, of the fact that he hadn’t seen her in--was it more than a year and a half on Earth? He could have controlled his heartbeat with one of his new powers, but that might have made Opal suspicious. He should be somewhat excited. He allowed himself to be, though he obscured the reasons. He was going to see his wife again ... and maybe he could trick his way into not returning.

The maid who opened the door for him was new, although her eyes were old. But she recognized him and stood aside to let him enter. There must, he thought, still be pictures of him around. He wondered how Agatha could afford a servant.

“Is Mrs. Tennant in?” he asked.

She shook her head and fright made twin stoplights of the rouge on her cheeks as she shut the door behind him. He went into the living room, directly to the long silver cigarette box on the coffee table. It was proof of homecoming to fill his lungs with smoke he could smell. He took another drag, saw the maid still in the doorway, staring.

“There’s no need for fright,” he told her. “I believe I still own this house.” Then, “When do you expect Mrs. Tennant?”

“She just called. She’s on her way home from the club.”

Still looking frightened, she departed for the rear of the house. Tennant stared after her puzzledly until the kitchen door swung shut behind her. The club? What club?

He shrugged, returned to the feeling of comfort that came from being back here, about to see Agatha again, hold her close in no more than a few minutes. And stay, his mind began to add eagerly, but he pushed the thought down where Opal could not detect it.

He took another deep, lung-filling drag on his cigarette, looked around the room that was so important a part of his life. The three women back there would be in a ghastly spot. He felt like a heel for wanting to leave them there, then knew that he would try somehow to get them out. Not, of course, anything that would endanger his remaining with Agatha; the only way his captors would get him back would be as a taxidermist’s specimen.

He realized, shocked and scared, that his thoughts of escape had slipped past his mental censor, and he waited apprehensively for Opal to strike. Nothing happened and he warily relaxed. Opal wasn’t tapping his thoughts. Because he felt sure of his captive ... or because he couldn’t on Earth?

It was like being let out of a cage. Tennant grinned at the bookcase; the ebony-and-ivory elephants that Agatha had never liked were gone, but he’d get them back or another pair. The credenza had been replaced by a huge and ugly television console. That, he resolved, would go down in the cellar rumpus room, where its bleached modernity wouldn’t clash with the casual antiquity of the living room.

Agatha would complain, naturally, but his being back would make up for any amount of furniture shifting. He imagined her standing close to him, her lovely face lifted to be kissed, and his heart lurched like an adolescent’s. This hunger was real, not implanted. Everything would be real ... his love for her, the food he ate, the things he touched, his house, his life...

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