The Project Gutenberg EBook of Dreamer's World, by Bryce Walton

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Title: Dreamer's World

Author: Bryce Walton

Release Date: January 11, 2019 [EBook #58670]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

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Dreamer's World

By Bryce Walton

They wanted a world without war. The answer was simple: Stay in bed.

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, May 1952.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


A warning hum started somewhere down in the audoviso.

Greg stared. Perspiration crawled down his face. This was it. This was the end of the nightmare. This had to be Pat Nichols.

After seventy-two hours in which Greg had had to do without anesthesia! Seventy-two hours of reality! Seventy-two hours of consciousness! Consciousness. Reality.

Greg didn't know how he'd managed to remain sane.

It seemed incredible that a man who had advanced to Stage Five in the Dream Continuity Scale, and who had been in anesthesia most of the time, could suffer seventy-two hours of boring, drab, dreary and revolting reality. And still be sane.

Pat Nichols was the answer. Her body faded into slim and luscious focus on the three-dim screen. Her brooding eyes and wide mouth that curled so reprovingly.


In his mind was the certainty: This is no dream.


She had gone psycho. Had fled from the Cowl into the dreadful Outside, seventy-two hours ago. Gone to join that fanatical group of Venusian Colonists, those outlaw schizoids who planned to start over on Venus.

"Pat!" Greg's hand reached as though she weren't just a three-dim image. "Listen, Pat! Thank the Codes, you haven't blasted yet. I've been crazy, waiting for this call. Pat, I can't even go into integrated anesthesia without you around. My dreams don't seem to focus right."

"That's too bad, Greg," she said.

He moistened his lips slowly. He slid his hand toward the warning button beneath the table. Her eyes didn't notice, never left his face. Accusative, sad eyes.

He felt sick. He pushed the button. Now! Now Drakeson up on the apartment roof would trace the point of her call. He'd chart her location with the rhodium tracker beams. Then the two of them would go and pick Pat up and prevent that insane, suicidal, one-way trip to Venus.

She might consider it a very unfair thing, but then she was psycho. She'd be glad of it, after she was brought back, brain-probed, and re-conditioned. The thought made Greg even more ill. Brain-probing and re-conditioning involved months of a kind of mental agony that no one could adequately describe. The words were enough to give anesthetic nightmares to any Citizen. But, it was for the good of the Cowls, and of the psychos.

Her voice was sad too, like her eyes. "I was hoping you would join me, Greg. Anyway, I called to tell you that in about five hours, we're blasting. This is goodby."

He said something. Anything. Keep her talking, listening. Give Drakeson a chance to employ the rhodium tracker, and spot her location.

A kind of panic got loose in Greg's brain. "Pat, don't you have any insight at all? Can't you see that this is advanced psychosis, that—"

She interrupted. "I've tried to explain to you before, Greg. But you've always preferred anesthesia. You loathe reality. But I'm part of reality."

Yes. He had dreams. The anesthetic cubicles, Stage Five where a man was master of thalamic introjection, dream imagery. A stage where any part of reality was supposed to have faded into utter inconsequence. But Pat Nichols had always been a part of his conditioned personality pattern. By taking her out of it, fate had struck him with an unbalance in psyche that disturbed the sole objective of life—to dream.

"But that's a suicide trip, Pat, and you'll never have a chance to be cured of your schizophrenia, even if you do get to Venus—"

Her interruption had weariness in it.

"Goodby, Greg. I'm sorry for you. That silly status quo, and futile dreaming. It will never let you realize what a fine man you are. You'll decay and die in some futile image. So goodby, Greg. And good dreaming."

She was gone from the screen. Maybe from earth, unless he got out there and stopped her before that suicide ship rocketed out from its hidden subterranean blast tube.


Greg Hurried. He didn't realize he could function so rapidly in the world of physical reality. In seconds he had zipped thin resilient aerosilk about his body, and was running across the wide plastic mesh roof toward the heliocruiser in which Drakeson was waiting.

Greg felt the physical power flow as he ran. It sickened him. The conditioners kept the body in good shape, but only to allow the cortical-thalamic imagery faculties to function better. Actual physical business like this was revolting to any Cowl citizen. Any sort of physical and materialistic activity, divorced from anesthesia, might be a sign of encroaching psychosis.

That was the fear. That fear of psychosis that might lead to violence. To change. The Cowls over the Cities protected them from any physical interference with an absolutely stabile, unchanging and static culture. But the Cowls hadn't been able to protect the Citizenry from insanity. During the past year, psychosis had been striking increasingly, without warning, indiscriminately.

Greg dropped down beside the thin ascetic figure at the controls. He grabbed Drakeson's arm.

"Did you pick it up, Drake?"

"Uh-huh," Drakeson drawled. His mouth was cynical, his gray eyes somber. "Traced it down to a ten meter radius, but it's underground. About five miles out of Old Washington, just inside the big radioactivated forest east of the Ruins. About half an hour's flight as the crow might fly. If there was a crow left."

"Then let's go. Lift this gadget out of here!"

A spot of nausea bounced into Greg's stomach at Drakeson's reference to what the big Chain blow-up had done to almost all high cellular life forms, including crows. Only insects and a few shielded humans had withstood the radiation. Most higher complex cellular organisms had paid for their complexity. But thanks to the establishment of the Cowled Cities and the Codes of non-change, non-violence, they wouldn't have to pay again. No chance for social change now that might lead to another such disaster.

If they could only trace the cause for this psychosis epidemic—

Greg hadn't thought about it at all until Pat had started talking peculiarly, then when she had broken up completely and left the Cowl, then it had hit home, hard.

The heliocruiser lifted slowly under Drakeson's awkward guidance. Only the Controllers, the Control Council Guards, could work the gadgetry of the City with practiced ease. Everybody else, naturally, was conditioned to various anesthesia states, and had no reason to deal with materialistic things.

The cruiser lifted until it was flying directly beneath the opaque stuff of the Cowl, lost in the dazzling rainbows of sunlight shattering through.

Drakeson said. "We'll keep up here. Maybe the Controllers won't see us."

"What?" A peculiar coolness slid along Greg's spine.

"Maybe they won't see us," repeated Drakeson, and then he smiled wryly. "Listen, Greg. You're way ahead of me in the Dream Continuity. You're a lot further away from reality than I am. More impractical. So listen to a word or two before we try to break through the Cowl.

"We've never been Outside, don't forget that. It's dangerous. You haven't considered any of the angles. For example, I picked up a couple of shielding suits which you hadn't thought of. And two small wrist Geigers. If I hadn't thought of them, then we'd probably have been contaminated with hard radiation out there, and would have been thrown into the septic pools for about six months."

Greg shivered. That would have been very bad.

"It's deadly out there; poisonous, Greg. Only the insane have wanted to go Outside for the last few years, and only the Controllers have been out, and then only to try to track down the hiding places of the Colonists. You hadn't considered that, but I did. So I had to steal a couple of heat-blasters, from the Museum...."

"You what?" Greg stared at the two deadly coiled weapons Drakeson dragged from beneath the seat. "Do the Controllers know?"

"They've probably found out by now, or will very soon," Drakeson looked grim. "They'll be after us with sky-cars and para-guns. And they're sure to slap a psycho label on us. They would anyway, probably, for just going Outside. But having destructive forbidden weapons on us, they're sure to, and we couldn't go Outside without weapons, Greg."

That was right, Greg knew. Paralysis guns wouldn't have been enough out there. Drakeson said softly:

"Is she worth it, Greg? We may have to be brain-probed. Is she worth that kind of pain?"


Greg's stomach seemed to tie up in knots. Brain-probing, psychometry. Greg whispered hoarsely. "She's worth it, Drake. And besides, it's ridiculous to think that we'll be suspected. I'm only interested in preventing Pat from making that suicide trip. The Controllers have the same interest."

"But that's their job. You and I aren't supposed to be concerned with reality. They've gotten very sensitive this last year. They can't take any chances. At the least sign of disintegration, they have to apprehend and send you to psychometry."

Greg said. "You trying to get out of your bargain, Drake? If you don't want that carton of Stage Five dream capsules, then—"

"Oh no, I'll take a chance to get that carton. I never thought I'd get a chance to experience such premature dreams. It's worth the gamble, we might get away without being probed."

Greg's head ached. Reality always gave him a headache. He wasn't used to it. A man who had reached Stage Five had been an anesthesiac too long to find reality comfortable.

"I know the Codes," Greg whispered. "Legally, there's no reason to be apprehended just for leaving the Cowl. And as for the blasters, well—we can drop them off, hide them, if the Controllers get after us."

The cruiser moved down the sloping arc of the Cowl toward the dark patch that Greg recognized as a merging chamber. The plastic spires of the City reached up around them as though reaching for the sun. Only a few human figures could be seen far below, on roofs, and in the streets. A few low stage humans not in anesthesia.

Greg crawled into the shielding suit. He took over the unfamiliar controls while Drakeson got his own shielding suit on. They weren't heavy, but were sluggish material that could throw off ordinary radiation.

Behind him Greg heard Drakeson's harsh yell. "Sky-cars! Ten of them! Shooting up out of the Control Tower and coming right toward us! Merge, and merge fast, Greg, if you still want to go Outside."

Inside the thick sheeting of the suit, Greg's skin was soaked with perspiration. His face was strained as he moved the cruiser into the first lock chamber. The cruiser had to move through a series of locks to the Outside. A precaution to keep bacteria, radiation, other inimical elements from coming in while an exit from the Cowl was being made.

One by one the locks opened and closed as grav-hooks pulled the cruiser through. It was a precariously balanced culture, this one inside the Cowls, Greg thought. Like living inside a gigantic sealed test-tube. Any slightly alien elements introduced into that test-tube could make it a place of sealed death in a short time. A rigidly controlled, non-changing environment. That was fine, except that some humans within it had a habit of changing, and for the worse. Retrogression, psychosis.

Psychometry was trying frantically to find the cause. It seemed obvious that the Venusian Colonists might be causing psychotics to appear in order to swell their ranks of volunteers to go to Venus to start a "new dynamic, progressive order." Madness. Suicide.

Progressive evolutionary philosophies meant change, and change might lead anywhere. But eventually it could only lead to another horrible Chain. One Chain had been enough.

The earth had been thoroughly wrecked. The few survivors had set up the anti-reality standards, the Cowls and the Codes—and the Controllers. They established the Dream Continuity that led to the various anesthetic stages.

But people went insane. They disagreed. They fled the Cowls. Venusian Colonial Enterprises resulted. It was organized insanity. A neatly planned psychosis, with grandiose delusions of justification. They would save humanity! Madness. Schizophrenia.

Venusian Colonization had been organized three years before. At least four known spaceships had been constructed, stocked, and blasted. They changed their subterranean hideouts after each blast. It had just never occurred to Greg that Pat could go psycho and join them.

It was even more ridiculous for the Controllers to suspect him of being psycho.

He felt a little better as the cruiser broke out beyond the Cowl and into the blazing natural sun of noon. It blinded Greg. Frightened him a little.

He'd never seen the sun before, except dimmed by the Cowl.

He sent the cruiser climbing rapidly above the weird grotesque terrain. Drakeson jumped into the seat beside him. His face was white.

"Open the converter feed valves wide, Greg! Clear open! The Control cars aren't stopping at the merger. They're coming on through. They're right behind us."

Greg looked back. Ten sky-cars, and within neuro-gun range. He jerked the converter wide open. Acceleration slammed him back hard. He knew now what fear was. In dreams you never suffered it.


The audio in the control panel cracked out.

"Dalson! Drakeson! Turn around! Re-enter the Cowl. Return immediately. This is a Control Council order. Do so or we fire with full charge neuro-blasts."

Paralysis guns. And full blast. Greg swallowed. They meant business. And without even a formal enquiry!

Drakeson said in a whisper. "What are we going to do?"

Greg didn't know. How could they think he was psycho?

Drakeson licked his lips. "I don't want to go under the brain-probers, Greg. Nobody does. I don't want to be re-conditioned. I want to stay like I am. I'm not psycho. And they'll brain-probe us sure if we don't turn around and go back. And even if we do—"

The audio's cold impersonal voice said:

"This is the last order. The neuro-guns are ready to fire."

Greg's mind ran in mad circles. He tried to think. He felt Drakeson move, and then he saw Drakeson's hand with that infernal injection solution jiggling around in a big hypodermic syringe.

"I've just given myself another shot, Greg. You'd better have another right now. If we land down there we'll need all the adrenolex we can get."

Greg hardly felt the injection as he tried to think, clarify his situation. I'm not psycho, he thought desperately. I'm doing something a little bit different, but it isn't psychosis.

But good integrated citizens would not fight against the orders from Control. All right. He would submit to brain-probing. But he'd get Pat out of that trap she was in first. He might be able to talk her out of it if he could get to her personally, be with her a while. The Controllers certainly couldn't. They'd drive her away into space as soon as she saw them.

The solution. A legality. He knew the Codes didn't he?

He yelled back at the pursuing sky-cars via the audio:

"Don't fire those neuro-guns. This is Greg Dalson speaking. There's a law against any aggressive destructive action on the part of any Citizen."

The audio replied. "The neuro-guns aren't destructive. Temporary paralysis."

Greg said. "This cruiser is at a high altitude and traveling fast. If you paralyze us now, the cruiser will crash. By using the neuro-guns on us, you will be destructive, homicidal."

A dead silence greeted this statement. Greg went on. "I'm a Stage Five citizen. Legally, there's no restriction against going outside the Cowl. I'll report your action and attitudes to the Council if you fire those neuro-guns."

Drakeson choked something unintelligible. His face was deathly pale. "Clever," he whispered. "But that clinches it. When we do go back, it's psychometry for us, Greg."

Finally the audio answered. The voice was not so cold. It had a tinge of emotionalism. It said. "A technicality, but it does prevent us from firing the neuro-guns. However, we feel it our duty to remain with you until you do return to the Cowl. Because of the recent epidemic of psychosis, we find this authorized by the Control Council...."

Greg savagely flipped off the audio. Drakeson said. "If they stay on our trail, we'll lead them right to Pat. They'll scare her away before you get a chance to talk with her, and try to prevent her from going on the ship."

"I know," Greg said. "I know. We've got to figure something—"

He looked down at the fantastic semi-organic flora below. "How far to go yet, Drake?"

"About three minutes."

"All right. We'll set the cruiser down here, and walk to where Pat is."

Drakeson choked. "That's suicide," he said. "We won't have a chance."


Greg didn't have time to be surprised at his own actions. He pulled Drakeson's hands away from the controls. Drakeson was trying to stop him from bringing the cruiser down.

Drakeson gasped. "Even with the heat-blasters, we'll never get a hundred meters away from where we land. I figured on landing directly over the place—"

"So will the Controllers," Greg said. He hurled Drakeson back, heard him sprawl on the mesh flooring where he lay, half sobbing.

Greg angled the ship down abruptly. "As soon as we land, I'm running for it," he called back. "The Controllers will be down there swarming all over us, and I don't want to lead them to where Pat is."

Drakeson crawled over to the bunk and sat on it. "All right," he said. "I'm with you. It's too late to get out of it now. For a carton of premature dreams, I've gotten myself stuck with a psycho tag. I'm stuck with it anyway, now. Might as well go on, and stay out of the brain-probers as long as possible."

Greg felt a tingling crawl up his wrists as they dropped down above the gigantic, semi-organic forest. Mutated cells in the process of change had played havoc with the pre-Chain life forms. According to what little he had gotten from info-tapes, there was no longer any distinction or at least very little, between organic and inorganic life, outside the Cowls.

Psycho. He'd still argue with Drakeson about that, but he didn't have time. He wasn't psycho. As soon as he persuaded Pat to abandon the flight, they'd give themselves up, return to the Cowl, and things would return to normal, to anesthesia, Stage Five, then Six, then Seven, on to the final eternal dream.

That's the way it was going to be.

And if they had to suffer the hells of brain-probing and the awful ego-loss of re-conditioning, then they would do that too. It was for the good of the Cowls, the preservation of the Codes. A noble sacrifice. Must be no change. No menace to stability. Any suggestion of change made one suspect.

Greg's eyes misted as he brought the cruiser to a half-crash landing. Even as he tried to bring his blurred vision into focus, he was running to the exit. He had the sliding panel open. He was up to his knees in writhing tendrils. He was running through a crimson twilight.

Behind him, he heard Drakeson tearing through the tendrils, and clutching vines. Overhead he could hear the drone of the sky-car's atomurbinic motors. Whether they would land and continue the search on foot through the deadly forest, Greg couldn't know.

He didn't know anything about the Controllers' methods. "How far, Drake," he yelled through the inter-person audio. Drakeson came running up beside Greg. Severed strings of torn, still living life-stuff writhed from his shoulders and legs.

"I'd say about half a mile straight ahead. That's a long way through this nightmare."

Greg screamed. A broad mushroom-like growth had opened a mouth. A gigantic, sickeningly gray mouth full of deadly, flesh-eating acid.

A flower-bright vine with great tensile strength raked Drakeson in toward that gaping maw.

Drakeson's arms were held tight against his sides. He was straining—helpless. Through the glassine mask of his helmet, Greg saw Drakeson's face turning red with constriction.

His voice came to Greg in a burst of fear. "The gun, Greg! The heat-blaster—quick—"

Greg leaned forward, staring in rigid fascination. Fleshy stocks swayed toward him. Other mouths opened, petal mouths. Gigantic floral traps, and cannibal blooms.

"Greg! Greg!" Drakeson was framed now by that great cannibal maw.

Greg had the heat-blaster up. He had it leveled. But he couldn't depress the firing stud.

"Drake! I can't! I can't!"

How could any integrated man be deliberately destructive? How could any sane person—kill?

"I can't—Drake—" The awful conflict seemed to rip through his body. He felt the sweat, hot and profuse, rolling down his face. He concentrated on that gun, on his finger, on the firing stud.

The cannibal blossom was closing. Sticky juices dripped over Drakeson. He was screaming. Greg's finger lifted. He could not fire.

The Codes said no destruction. No killing. The Codes had been established after the great Chain disaster. Violence begets violence, the Codes said. And once begun, it was accumulative, like the snowball rolling down hill.

Greg sagged. His knees buckled. He sprawled out in the slippery muck. Tendrils swished softly and hungrily around him. He heard a shout. He tried to twist his head. Figures blurred before his eyes, and he heard the deadly chehowwwwww of a terrific blast.

The last thing he remembered before the dark wrapped him up softly and warmly, was the cannibal plant exploding in a million fragments of stringy tissue, and Drakeson falling free.

I didn't fire, he was thinking. Someone else saved Drakeson. But I think I might have done it. My finger—it was moving—bending—or was it? No. I couldn't have been destructive. Couldn't have killed.


Consciousness came back to Greg. Painfully. It came back slowly and it took a long time. He lifted his eyelids. He raised himself to a sitting position. He stared down a gloomy, phosphorescent corridor. It was obviously subterranean. It was damp, chill. Cold luciferin light glowed from lichen on walls and low ragged ceiling.

It was long and it finally curved, he decided. But he could look back into a long slow curve of corridor and ahead into the same. Here and there, the mouths of branch corridors came in.

He looked at his hand. It still clutched the butt of the heat-blaster.

He felt strange. The surroundings were very real, yet they seemed somehow not real. The shock of trying to fire that blaster when the sanity in him shrieked "No!" had been too much for him. The shock had blanked him out.

He breathed a deep sigh of temporary relief and triumph. He hadn't killed. He thought of Drakeson. Somebody had saved him. Someone had killed. Not the Controllers. They could employ only the neuro-guns to paralyze. So he decided that Colonists had probably saved Drakeson.

Terror gripped Greg then. He remembered Drakeson yelling at him, the distended eyes, the straining face. And how he himself had almost given in, had almost killed.

Had almost gone psycho.

But he hadn't. That was the important thing. He was still a sane, integrated part of the Cowls and the Codes. And after a test like that, he figured that nothing could break him. Let them send him to psychometry. Let them clamp on the brain-probers and leave them on for months. They'd not find any psycho tendencies in Greg Dalson.

Greg tried to reason. But he had no place, no foundation, for a beginning. He didn't know where he was, or why he had been left here. He knew that someone, the Colonists probably, had saved Drakeson from that plant thing. Some mental pressure had blacked him out, he thought, and then what? He didn't know.

Which way? It didn't seem to matter. He started walking.

He was bone-weary. His head throbbed. His eyes burned. And he was afraid. He had gotten himself into a completely un-Codified situation. He was lost, helpless, outside the protection of the Cowls, the Codes, and anesthesia.

He was surrounded by reality. Reality in all its essential horror. Conflict. Physical danger. Uncertainties. Materialistic barriers. All the old shibboleths that the Cowls and the Codes and the anesthetic dreams had protected him from.

And all because of Pat Nichols.

But he'd stood a big test. And he'd won. He hadn't killed. He wasn't destructive. He—

The cry touched his ears and died. It was too violent and filled with pain and terror to make any definite impression the first time. He crouched. His eyes distended. The scream came again, and this time it chopped through him. His nerves seemed to shrivel and curl beneath the repeated onslaughts of the screams.

Then he was running. He didn't know why, except that he had to run. He ran with fearful, gasping desperation. But he didn't know why.


He ran past the mouth opening into the main corridor. Then came back and ran into the darker, strangely-lighted artery. He ran harder. And yet he wasn't running. Not all of him. As he ran, he was conscious of some undefinable, but terrific conflict.

Beneath the suit, his skin burned with sweat. He felt the rigid pattern of tensed neck and jaw muscles.

I don't feel at all familiar. Something's very wrong. Everything's wrong. I'm displaced, like something that has slipped into an alien dimension.

He stopped, quickly. His heart seemed to swell, burst with terror. Terror and something else. The something else came, and with it came horror of itself. The emotion, and then horror of the emotion. He stood shivering, his teeth clacking like an ancient abacus.

"Pat!" He screamed her name. The cry pounded back into his ears inside the helmet.

This wasn't Drakeson. This was Pat. Pat was going to die now. Not Drakeson.

The walls were—alive. They were not like the walls of the corridors. This was a circular chamber, and the walls were sagging and undulating like part of a giant's flesh. He heard heavy sluggish sounds.

Masses of the gray viscous stuff sagged, changed form, remolded itself into monstrous shapes.

Pat! Only her face and part of her upper body were visible now. The shielding of her suit had been cracked wide open by pressure as the semi-organic thing, whatever it was, had closed around her.

The walls rushed in as Greg stumbled drunkenly. The ceiling sagged lower. Long knobs fell, like globules of paste, then lengthened into shapeless tendrils that snapped out at Greg.

He fell back.

Pat's scream penetrated again. No beauty remained in her face now. Her eyes were sick. Her lips were loose and trembling.

"Greg—help me—help me—see what it does—the others—"

He saw the others then. Maybe he hadn't noticed before, because his mind didn't want him to see.

Husks. Pallid wrinkled husks, sucked dry and shriveled. Several figures not recognizable anymore, hardly recognizable as human. Just vaguely human, broken, sucked dry.

His mind seemed covered by a grotesque shadow. His flesh crawled and his throat turned dry, and perspiration made a stream down his throat. He felt his eyes looking down at his right hand.

It held the heat-blaster. The skin felt tight as though it would split as he gripped the heavy butt of the coiled weapon.

He concentrated on the finger that was frozen on the firing stud. If he could destroy, then he was insane. His experience with Drakeson, that had been no test at all compared with this. This was Pat. Pat, and she was dying—dying unspeakably.

This was the great test of his sanity. He concentrated on the finger. He must keep it frozen. He must back out of here. Get away, get back to the Cowl, back to anesthesia and sleep.

The finger raised slowly from the stud. His feet lifted as his body moved fitfully back, back, back—

"Greg—help me, Greg—"

Her eyes stopped him. They tumbled into terrible clarity. She whispered starkly.

"Greg—help me—kill it, Greg. For me—Kill it."

He felt his lips part in a great and terrible cry of torture. His shoulders began to twitch slightly. His arms and fingers took up the jerky rhythm. Horror and a violent crimson flood of unfamiliar emotions mushroomed like a volcano of madness. Something began crumbling away.

He lurched forward. He felt the heat-blaster heaving, throwing out its deadly load. The gun had weight and power in his hand as he crouched lower and moved in.

The power load swathed in long slicing arcs. Steam and sickening stench fell around him. He moved in. He stumbled forward kicking out to right and left at the quivering slices of stuff that were falling around him.

Destruction. Kill. Death. This was all three, and in a giant, almost inconceivable quantity.

Her face through the steaming cloud. Her throat moving as she swallowed. Brightness, the brightness of disbelief and impossibility coming into her eyes.

He kept moving in until the monstrous mutated gray thing was thoroughly dead. Until every separate tendril and patch was blasted to smoke. Then he lifted her broken body in his arms.

Tears fell on the opaqueness of his helmet. "I'm sorry, Pat," he choked. "I'm sorry it didn't happen sooner. I'm sorry I waited too long—but it isn't easy—to let yourself go insane."

Something was wrong. Pat! Pat! She seemed to be fading away from him, drifting away, melting into tattered veils of cloud. Her face became only two bright glad eyes, then they also melted together into a radiant pool. He toppled into the pool. He sank down, a wonderful lifelessness spreading through him.

He closed his eyes. Something was beginning to be very funny. In the thickening dark, he laughed a little. And in that laugh was a crazy, climbing note of—triumph.


He opened his eyes. He was laughing, in a kind of soft hysteria. He was on a couch. Not a dream couch, but just a plain hard bed. He sat up stiffly. Pain tingled down his legs. He saw Pat Nichols. And another. A man. He remembered him vaguely, one of the first who had escaped from the Cowl. His name—yes—he remembered now. Merrol.

Pat Nichols, alive, and smiling. Very beautiful too in a brief aerosilk bra and shorts and sandals. Her hair was a dark lovely cloud flowing down over bare shoulders.

"Hello, Greg," she said softly. "Welcome to—the Colonists."

"What?" He swung his legs around. "I don't understand. Not entirely."

Merrol, a gaunt elderly man, nodded from behind a desk. Merrol's hair was gray and sparse. Strange, seeing a man who showed age. Within the Cowls, one never grew physically old.

Pat said, "This is Ralph Merrol, Personnel Director of Venusian Colonization Enterprises."

Greg's numbness was filtering away beneath Pat's warm glad eyes. He raised his hand. The heat-blaster was still gripped in his fingers. It evidently hadn't been fired.

"It was all illusion," he said. "The scene in the cavern. It never happened?"

Merrol's care-lined face nodded. "It happened, but in your mind, Greg. We rescued you and Drakeson from the cannibal plant. We brought you here. You had lost consciousness. We put you under the hypnosene rays, and put you through an experience that was quite real to you. We proved something to ourselves, and to you. Greg—you're sane now."

Greg tried to understand. The thing didn't make sense yet, but the glimmerings of the truth were beginning to solidify in his aching brain.

"Sane? But I killed. I wanted to kill. I wanted to destroy, and I did. That's hardly the actions of a—sane man."

Merrol smiled thinly. "From our point of view it is, Greg. We consider ourselves sane. We consider the Cowled Cities, and the Codes insane. It's relative I supposed, but I think we can convince you, if we haven't already."

Greg looked at Pat. She smiled. He smiled back. "Justified or not," he whispered. "I'm here. Sane or insane, I'm one of the Colonists now I guess. Unless I want to return to the Cowls, be probed and re-conditioned."

Pat whispered. "Do you, Greg?"

He shook his head. "Not now. I'm tired. I don't want to now. Maybe I never will. All I want now, is rest."

Merrol leaned across the desk. "Before you rest, you'd better get a few things straight, Greg. We want you to be convinced that you're doing the right thing. We feel that the big Chain blow-up shocked the whole human race into a mass psychosis, comparable to individual cases of hysteria, schizophrenia, escape from reality. That's why the non-change, non-aggressiveness Codes were established. Also, the anesthesia, the Dream Continuity Scale—nothing but hysteria on a mass and planned basis."

Merrol got up. He walked around and sat down beside Greg.

"Carried out to its inevitable end, this could only lead to mass racial suicide. That's obvious. It was a static dead end. A few people recovered from the psychosis. They escaped, and formed the Colonists. But their own welfare wasn't the most important thing.

"They concerned themselves then with the freeing of the Citizens of the Cowls from their psychosis. The world is untenable on a large scale now, due to radioactive poisoning. It will remain untenable for some time. Meanwhile we decided to Colonize Venus. We've established Colonies there. Thriving communities, but the important thing is this, Greg—it's given new impetus and enthusiasm to those who become sane and escape the Cowls. It presents a big challenge and solidifies the cure.

"It's bigger than Control has any idea that it is. It will take a long time yet, but we'll win. You have noticed the increase in so-called insanity in the Cowls. It really means just the opposite. Our numbers are increasing by leaps and bounds."

Greg said, "The Controllers think you're using some psychological or physical pressure to create these—cures."

Merrol smiled. "We've got a recruiting system. Drakeson, for example, is a spy. We have spies all over the Cowls."

Greg stared. "Drakeson?"

A door opened. The lean cynical man entered, nodded, and stood beside Pat. His eyes shone more brightly as he looked at Greg.

"That's right," Drakeson said. "Remember the two injections. I said they were adrenolex. They weren't. Our spies inside the Cowls are equipped with a supply of a certain aggression factor. It used to be called Kappa, or K, for killer. This factor is handed down through the generations in the general cell protoplasm. It forces aggressive tendencies. It makes a man capable of physical aggressive action, and able to kill, if he has to. High motivation is required though, in most cases. With you, my probable death wasn't enough. It took the vision of Pat here in the clutches of a monster to make the Kappa factor work on you, Greg."

Greg rubbed his eyes. Pat came over and he took her hand, held it tightly. A warmth came out of her and into him, into his mind.


Drakeson went on. "We isolated the Kappa factor, made it into solution. We all have it, even the anesthetic citizens of the Cowls, but the mass shock psychosis won't let it work. However, a strong overload of Kappa injection will sometimes break the psychosis, force the person back into an aggressive personality, capable of destruction. Each individual carries an armament of between 200 and 800 particles of the Kappa factor after we give an injection. It took 1600 particles to break your suicidal hysteria."

Pat squeezed his hand. Greg looked up. He grinned with a kind of glad embarrassment.

"I don't know yet whether to thank you or not. Frankly though, I do feel better."

He thought of the Cowls. Test-tubes, glass cages, and dreams that led finally to the final anesthesia, death. He shuddered, and tried to push the memory out of his mind. It seemed unhealthy now. Unclean and—yes, it did seem insane.

He raised his eyes to the ceiling. He saw the self-inverting three dimensional mechanism that had given him that starkly real adventure in which he had been able to kill, for Pat. A dream sequence, partly hypnotic, partly created by cathode image activating the multi-phase AC. A high harmonic of multi-phase AC field hanging over him, and a focusing radiator. Dream. Nightmare.

He looked at Pat. "I think I'll take reality now," he said softly. He felt the pull on his arm, and he got up. She led him through a door and into a soft twilight. He held her tightly against him.

She whispered. "The ship's waiting for us, Greg. The next ship. You're already on the passenger list. You see, I knew you'd come with us. I was hoping so desperately, I couldn't think any differently."

He kissed her. He held her more tightly as though—as though—

He felt her warm muscles tense against him. Her eyes widened.

"Greg! What is it?"

He shook his head. "I—I got to wondering if this too, might not be just a dream. I've been in anesthesia too long maybe. How can I know what's real and what isn't real?"

He felt her warm moist fingers on the back of his neck. He felt her lift on her toes, pull his face down. She kissed him. Her voice was husky, and her breath was warm on his lips.

"Do you know now, Greg? Is this a dream?"

He shook his head. His voice was hoarse.

"No—no—this isn't a dream."

She laughed softly. They moved away, down the corridor toward the ship.





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