Slave Planet - Cover

Slave Planet

Public Domain

Chapter 8

This is the end.

Dodd woke with the words in his mind, flashing on and off like a lighted sign. Back in the Confederation (he had seen pictures) there were moving stair-belts, and at the exits, at turnoffs, there were flashing signs. The words in his mind were like that: if he ignored them he would be carried on past his destination, into darkness and strangeness.

But his destination was strange, too. His head pounded, his tongue was thick and cottony in a dry mouth: drinking had provided nothing of an escape and the price he had to pay was much too high.

This is the end.

There was no escape, he told himself dimly! The party had resulted only in that sudden appearance, the grim-mouthed old woman. Drinking had resulted in no more than this new sickness, and a cloudy memory of having talked to an Albert, some Albert, somewhere ... He opened his eyes, felt pain and closed them again. There was no escape: the party Albin had taken him to had led to trouble, his own drunkenness had led to trouble. He saw the days stretching out ahead of him and making years.

It was nearly time now to begin work. To begin the job of training, with the Alberts, the job he was going to do through all those days and years lying ahead.

This is the end.

He found himself rising, dressing, shaving off the stubble of beard. His head hurt, his eyes ached, his mouth was hardly improved by a gargle, but all that was far away, as distant as his own body and his own motions.

His head turned and looked at the clock set into his wall. The eyes noted a position of the hands and passed the information to the brain: 8:47. The brain decided that it was time to go on to work. The body moved itself in accustomed patterns, opening the door, passing through the opening, shutting the door again, walking down the hallway.

All that was very distant. Dodd, himself, was—somewhere else.

He met his partner standing before a group of the Alberts. Dodd’s eyes noted the expression on his partner’s face. The brain registered the information, interpreted it and predicted. Dodd knew he would hear, and did hear, sounds: “What’s wrong with you this morning?”

The correct response was on file. “Drinking a little too much last night, I guess.” It was all automatic: everything was automatic. The Alberts went into their elevator, and Dodd and his partner followed. Dodd’s body did not stumble. But Dodd was somewhere else.

The elevator stopped, the Alberts went off to their sections, Dodd’s partner went to his first assignment, Dodd found his body walking away down the hall, opening a door, going through the opening, shutting the door. The Albert inside looked up.

“Today we are going to do the work together.” Dodd heard his own voice: it was all perfectly automatic, there were no mistakes. “Do you understand?”

“Understand,” the Albert said.

This is the end.

At the end of the day he was back from wherever he had been, from the darkness that had wrapped his mind like cotton and removed him. There was no surprise now. There was no emotion at all: his work was over and he could be himself again. In the back of his mind the single phrase still flashed, but he had long since stopped paying attention to that.

He finished supper and went into the Commons Room, walking aimlessly.

She was sitting in a chair, with her back to the great window. As Dodd came in she looked up at him. “Hello, there.”

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