Slave Planet
Chapter 17

Public Domain

The office was dim now, at evening, but the figure behind the desk was rigid and unchanging, and the voice as singular as ever. “Do what you will,” Dr. Haenlingen said. “I have always viewed love as the final aberration: it is the trap which lies in wait for the unwary sane. But no aberration is important, any more...”

“I’m trying to help him—” Norma began.

“You can’t help him, child,” Dr. Haenlingen said. Her eyes were closed: she looked as if she were preparing, at last, for death. “You feel too closely for him: you can’t see him clearly enough to know what help he needs.”

“But I’ve got to—”

“Nothing is predicated on necessity but action,” Dr. Haenlingen said. “Certainly not success.”

Norma went to the desk, leaned over it, looking down into the still, blank face. “It’s too soon to give up,” she said tensely. “You’re just backing down, and there’s no need for that yet—”

“You think not?” The face was still.

“There are lots of rumors, that’s true,” Norma said. “But—even if the worst comes to the worst—we have time. They aren’t here yet. We can prepare—”

“Of course,” the voice said. “We can prepare—as I am doing. There is nothing else for us, not any more. Idealism has taken over, and what we are and what we’ve done can go right on down the drain. Norma, you’re a bright girl—”

“Too bright to sit around and do nothing!”

“But you don’t understand this. Maybe you will, some day. Maybe I’ll have a chance—but that’s for later. Not now.”

Norma almost reached forward to shake some sense into the old woman. But she was Dr. Haenlingen, after all—

Norma’s hand drew back again. “You can’t just sit back and wait for them to come!”

“There is nothing else to do.” The words were flat, echoless.

“Besides,” Norma said desperately, “they’re only rumors—”

She never finished her sentence. The blast rocked the room, and the window thrummed, steadied and then suddenly tinkled into pieces on the carpeted floor.

Norma was standing erect. “What’s that?”

Dr. Haenlingen had barely moved. The eyes, in dimness, were open now. “That, my dear,” the old woman said, “was your rumor.”


The blast was repeated. Ornaments on the desk rattled, a picture came off the far wall and thudded to the carpet. The air was filled with a fine dust and, far below, Norma could hear noise, a babel of voices...

“They’re here!” she screamed.

Dr. Haenlingen sat very still, saying nothing. The eyes watched, but the voice made no comment. The hands were still, flat on the desk. Below, the voices continued: and then Dr. Haenlingen spoke.

“You’d better go,” the calm voice said. “There will be others needing help—and you will be safer underground, in any case.”

“But you—” Norma began.

“I may be lucky,” Dr. Haenlingen said. “One of their bombs may actually kill me.”

Her mouth open in an unreasoning accession of horror, Norma turned and fled. The third blast rattled the corridor as she ran crazily along it.

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