Slave Planet
Chapter 10

Public Domain

The days passed and the training went on, boring and repetitious as each man tried to hammer into the obdurate head of an Albert just enough about his own particular section of machinery so that he could run it capably and call for help in case of emergencies. And, though every man on Fruyling’s World disliked every moment of the job, the job was necessary, and went on: though they, too, were slaves to a great master, none thought of rebelling. For the name of the master was necessity, and economic law, and from that rule there are no rebels. The days passed evenly and the work went slowly on.

And then the training was finished. The new Alberts went on a daily work-schedule, supervised only by the spy-sets and an occasional, deliberately random visit from a master. The visits were necessary, too: the Alberts had not the sophistication to react to a spy-set, and personal supervision was needed to convince them they were still being watched, they still had to work. A master came, a master saw them working: that, they could understand.

That—and the punishments. These went under the name of discipline, and had three grades. The Belbis beams administered all three, by means of a slight readjustment in the ray. It was angled as widely as possible, and the dispersed beam, carefully controlled, acted directly on the nervous system.

Cadnan, troubled by Marvor’s threats and by his own continuing thoughts of Dara, was a trifle absent-minded and a little slower than standard. He drew punishment twice, both times in the first grade only. Albin administered both punishments, explaining to his partner Derbis that he didn’t mind doing it—and, besides, someone had to.

Sometimes Dodd thought of Albin giving out discipline, and of all of his life on Fruyling’s World, in terms of a sign he had once seen. It had been a joke, he remembered that clearly, but it was no more a joke now than the words which flashed nearly ignored at the back of his mind. Once or twice he had imagined this new sign hanging luridly over the entire planet, posted there in the name of profit, in the name of necessity, in the name of economic law.

Everything not compulsory is forbidden

The Alberts had to be trained. The Alberts had to be disciplined. The men had to work with them. The men were forbidden to leave the planet.

And who were the slaves?

That, Dodd told himself cloudily, was far from an easy decision.

Everything not compulsory was forbidden. Even the parties were forbidden ... though it was always possible to find one. Dodd had avoided them completely, afraid now of another breakdown, this time in public. He had not seen Greta or called her (though he had her number now): he had stayed alone as much as possible.

He had no idea what had happened to him: and that added to his fright and to his fear of a recurrence.

But Albin, he knew, was having his fun, and so were others. The older men, it seemed, devoted themselves to running the place, to raising their families and giving good advice, to keeping production up and costs down.

The younger men had fun.

Dodd had thought of marriage. (Now, it was no more than a memory, a hope he might once have had. Now, the end had come: there was no marriage. There was no life. Only the idea of hope remained.) He had never had the vestige of a real female image in his mind. Sometimes he had told himself to be more out-going, to meet more women—but, then, how did a man meet women?

He had fun.

And Dodd had never enjoyed that particular brand of fun—Albin’s brand.

There was a Social, an acceptable party that would get him into no trouble, in Building One. Dodd felt like lying down and letting the day drain out of him into the comforting mattress there in his room. He felt like relaxing in his own company—and that, he saw suddenly, was going to mean drinking.

He could see the future unroll before him. He could see the first drink, and the tenth. Because drink was an escape, and he needed some escape from the world he was pledged to uphold, the world of slavery.

He could not afford to drink again.

So, naturally, he was getting ready to go to the Social. Albin would be there, undoubtedly, some of the older men would be there—and a scattering of women would be there, too. (He remembered himself thinking, long ago before such a party: Tonight might be the night.) He shaved very carefully, faithful to memory, dressed in the best he could find in his closet, and went out, heading for the elevator.

Tonight might be the night—but it made no difference, not any longer.

The trip to Sub-basement took a few whooshing seconds. He stepped out into a lighted, oil-smelling underground corridor, took a deep breath and headed off through gleaming passages toward another elevator at the far end. Before he reached it he took a turning, and then another: after a magnificently confusing trip through an unmarked labyrinth, he found the elevator that led him up into the right section of Building One. That was no special feat, of course: people had been doing the like ever since the first housing-project days, on pre-Confederation Earth. Dodd never gave it a second thought: his mind was busy.

The phrase had floated to the forefront of his brain again, right behind his eyes, lighting up with a regularity that was almost soothing, almost reassuring.

This is the end.

This is the end.

This is the end.

When the elevator door slid open he was grim-faced, withdrawn, and he stepped out like a threat into a cheerful, brightly dressed crowd of people.

“Here he is!” someone shouted. “I told you he’d be here ... I told you...” Dodd turned but the words weren’t meant for him. Down the corridor a knot of men and women was surrounding a new arrival from somewhere else, laughing and talking. As he stepped forward, his eyes still on that celebration, a pathway opened up for him; he was in sober black and he went through the corridor like a pencil-mark down paper, leaving an open trail as he passed.

A girl stopped him before he reached the door of the party room. She stepped directly into his path and he saw her, and his expression began to change, a little at a time, so that his eyes were, for long seconds, happier than his face, and he looked like a young bull-terrier having a birthday party.

“Am I in your way?” the girl said, without budging an inch. She was dressed in a bright green material that seemed to fade so near the glowing happiness of her face. Her hair was brown, a quite ordinary brown, and even in that first second Dodd noticed her hands. They were long and slim, the thumbs pointed outward, and they were clasped at her breast in a pose that should have been mocking, but was only pleasant.

He couldn’t think of anything to say. Finally he settled on: “My name’s Dodd,” as the simplest and quickest way of breaking the ice that surrounded him.

“Very well, then, Mr. Dodd,” the girl said—she wouldn’t go along with polite forms—”am I in your way? Because if I am, I’m terribly sorry.”

“You’re not in my way at all,” Dodd said heavily. “I just—didn’t notice you.” And that was a lie, but there was nothing else to say. The thousands of words that arranged themselves so neatly into patterns when he was alone had sunk to the very bottom of his suddenly leaden mind, almost burying the flashing sign. He felt as if he were growing extra fingers and ears.

“I noticed you,” the girl said. “And I said to myself, I said: ‘What can a person as grim as all that be doing at a Social as gay as all this?’ So I stopped you to see if I could find out.”

Dodd licked his lips. “I don’t know,” he said. “I thought maybe I’d meet somebody. I just thought I’d like to come.”

“Well,” the girl said, “you’ve met somebody. And now what?”

Dodd found some words, not many but enough. “I haven’t met you yet,” he said in what he hoped was a bright tone. “What’s your name?”

The girl smiled, and Dodd saw for the first time that she hadn’t been smiling before. Her face, in repose, was light enough and to spare; when she smiled, he wanted smoked glasses. “Very well,” she said. “My name is Fredericks. Norma Fredericks. And yours is—”

“Dodd,” he said. “John Dodd. They call me Johnny.”

“All right, John,” she said. “You haven’t been to many Socials, have you? Because I’d have seen you—I’m at every one I can find time for. You’d be surprised how many that is. Or maybe you wouldn’t.”

There was no answer to the last half of that, so Dodd backtracked, feeling a shocking relief that she hadn’t been to the party at which he and the other girl (whose name he could very suddenly no longer remember) had made fools of themselves. He gave her an answer to the first half of her question. “I haven’t been to many Socials, no,” he said. “I—” He shrugged and felt mountainous next to her. “I stay by myself, mostly,” he said.

“And now you want to meet people,” Norma said. “All right, Johnny Dodd—you’re going to meet people!” She took him by the arm and half-led, half-dragged him to the door of the party room. Inside, the noise was like a blast of heat, and Dodd stepped involuntarily back. “Now, that’s no way to be,” Norma said cheerfully, and piloted him somehow inside, past a screaming crew of men and women with disposable glasses in their hands, past an oblivious couple, two couples, four, seven—past mountains and masses of color and noise and drink and singing horribly off-key, not bothersome at all, loud and raucous and somehow, Dodd thought wildly, entirely fitting. This was Norma’s element, he told himself, and allowed her to escort him to a far corner of the room, where she sat him down in a chair, said: “Don’t go away, don’t move,” and disappeared.

 
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