Slave Planet
Chapter 15

Public Domain

Of course there was Norma, Dodd told himself.

There was Norma to make everything worth-while—except that Norma needed something, too, and he couldn’t provide it. No one could provide it, not as long as no one was allowed off-planet. And it was quite certain, Dodd told himself gloomily, that the restrictions that had been in force yesterday were going to look like freedom and carefree joy compared with the ones going into effect tomorrow, or next week.

If, of course, there was going to be a tomorrow ... that, he thought, was always in doubt. He managed sometimes to find a sort of illusory peace in thinking of himself as dead, scattered into component atoms, finished, forever unconscious, no longer wanting anything, no longer seeing the blinking words in his mind. Somewhere in his brain a small germ stirred redly against the prospect, but he tried to ignore it: that was no more than brute self-preservation, incapable of reasoning. That was no more than human nature.

And human nature, he knew with terror, was about to be overthrown once more.

It was only human, after all, to find the cheapest way to do necessary work. It was only human to want the profits high and the costs low. It was only human to look on other races as congenitally inferior, as less-than-man in any possible sense, as materials, in fact, to be used.

That was certainly human: centuries of bloody experience proved it. But the Confederation didn’t want to recognize human nature. The Confederation didn’t like slavery.

The rumor he’d heard from Norma was barely rumor any more: instead, it had become the next thing to an officially announced fact. Everyone knew it, even if next to no one spoke of it. The Confederation was going to send ships—had probably sent ships already. There was going to be a war.

The very word “war” roused that red spark of self-preservation. It was harder, Dodd had found, to live with hope than to live without it: it was always possible to become resigned to a given state of affairs—but not if you kept thinking matters would improve. So he stamped on the spark, kept it down, ignored it. You had to accept things, and go on from there.

It was too bad Norma didn’t know that.

He’d tried to tell her, of course. They’d even been talking, over in Building One, on the very night of the near-escape. He’d explained it all very clearly and lucidly, without passion (since he had cut himself off from hope he found he had very few passions of any kind left, and that made it easy); but she hadn’t been convinced.

“As long as there’s a fighting chance to live, I want to live,” she’d said. “As long as there’s any chance at all—the same as you.”

“I know what I want,” he told her grimly.

“What?” she asked, and smiled. “Do you like what you’re doing? Do you like what I’m doing—what the whole arrangement is here?”

He shrugged. “You know I don’t.”

“Then get out of it,” she said, still smiling. “You can, you know. It’s easy. All you have to do is stop living—just like that! No more trouble.”

“Don’t be sil—”

“It can be done,” she went on flatly. “There are hundreds of ways.” Then the smile again. “But you’d rather live, Johnny. You’d rather live, even this way, being a slaver, than put an end to it and to yourself.”

He paused. “It’s not the same thing.”

“No,” she said. “This way, you’d have to do the killing yourself. When the ships come, you can let them do it for you, just sit and wait for someone to kill you. Like a cataleptic. But you won’t, Johnny.”

“I will,” he said.

She shook her head, the smile remaining. Her voice was quiet and calm, but there was a feeling of strain in it: there was strain everywhere, now. Everyone looked at the sky, and saw nothing: everyone listened for the sound of engines, and there were no engines to hear. “Catalepsy is a kind of death, Johnny. And you’ll have to inflict that much on yourself. You won’t do it.”

“You think I—” He stopped and swallowed. “You think I like living this way, don’t you?”

“I think you like living,” Norma said. “I think we all do, no matter how rough it gets. No matter how it grates on the nerves, or the flesh, of the supersensitive conscience. And I know how you feel, Johnny, I do—I—” She stopped very suddenly.

He heard his voice say: “I love you.”

There was a silence.

“Johnny,” she said, and her hands reached out for him blindly. He saw, incredibly, tears like jewels at the corners of her eyes. “Johnny—”

It was at that moment that the alarm-bell rang. It was heard only faintly in Building One, but that didn’t matter. Dodd knew the direction, and the sound. He turned to go, for a second no more than a machine.

Norma’s voice said: “Escape?”

He came back to her. “I—the alarm tripped off. This time they must have tried it through the front door, or a window. The last one must have tunnelled through—”

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