Hal was stranded in the wilderness with
a beautiful girl, and it was surprisingly
enjoyable—while his conditioning was off.
But, after all, how uncivilized can one get?
[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, May 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Hal Webber leaned back in the soft Formair Executive’s seat. Although he twisted and shifted his position restlessly, he received the same sensation of perfect, comfortable support no matter which way he sat in it. Which was only natural, of course. Formair was the best suspend-field furniture manufactured.
As he squirmed about, he had a faint, puzzled frown on his face, and in his stomach he felt a lurking sensation of unaccustomed tension. Hal simply could not understand it.
There was a faint humming sound, as the door panel slid back. His father entered the office.
“Well Hal,” the old man murmured softly with a placid smile of satisfaction. “We’ve done it.”
“Done what? Oh, you mean the new coloration process?”
“Yes. It will quintuple the net value of the family fortune within a year. We may be the richest people in the world then.”
“That’s nice,” Hal said mildly.
His father flicked a finger across a sensitive spot on the front of the desk and relaxed as a perfect Formair attendant’s chair sprang into existence to fit his gross, soft body.
“Yes indeed,” he said with a mild sigh. “It’s been a long, long time that we’ve been working for that. Worked mighty hard, too.”
“That’s right,” murmured Hal, a little more forcefully than necessary. “Splendid.”
His father’s eyebrows rose at the unusual emphasis, but he was much too cultured to question the point. He continued along the lines of the conversation already started. “We’ll have to do something for Bruchner. He has been of tremendous assistance on that project. Did it practically all by himself. He is a very intelligent man, even if he is an Outlander.”
“Bruchner,” said Hal with mild irritation. “All I hear around here lately is Bruchner. What is he, anyway? Nothing but a savage.”
“Eh?” said his father softly, raising his eyebrows again in polite inquiry.
“If Bruchner is such a brilliant fellow, why doesn’t he take the Treatment and become civilized? I sometimes get a little tired of an employee who tells me I’m wrong all the time.”
“But he is almost always right when he makes such statements, Hal,” Webber pointed out mildly. “For instance, just the other day I asked him about the color range to be used with the new process on the Formair Skydome. He stated flatly that blue was a normal color for sky. Just like that. I was a little startled, of course, at his lack of courtesy. But after I thought it over a while, blue did seem to be a nice color for sky.”
“Aaa, blue,” Hal muttered. “What’s wrong with the green we’ve always used in the past?”
Mr. Webber sighed and squirmed a little to get the chair into a more comfortable fit. Attendant’s chairs were not quite as comfortable as the Executive type, even if they were Formair. Then he cocked an eyebrow and looked at his son with mild concern. “Hal, my boy, what’s the trouble? I’ve never seen you so completely upset in all my life.”
“I feel funny,” murmured Hal. “As a matter of fact, I feel awful. Maybe there’s some connection.”
“Ill,” the old man nodded agreeably. “Yes, I thought you looked it when I came in here. Something in the set of your mouth. Tight, sort of.”
With an expression of mild surprise, Hal reached up and tentatively felt around his mouth with a cleanly manicured forefinger.
“Son,” Webber murmured, “how long has it been since you had your last CC Treatment?”
“Eight years,” Hal admitted. “It’s a little overdue, I suppose, but surely—” His voice trailed off softly, as his mind seized upon the possibility.
“That’s probably what it is,” Webber replied. That was a pretty definite statement for someone to make about another’s sensations, but anyone could see that the old man was concerned over his son. “Five years is the standard period at your age. Why haven’t you taken it?”
“Well, you know,” Hal whispered. “It’s that new thing they have in it now.”
“Ah,” said his father with comprehension. “That’s right, I forgot all about that. A change. But you won’t mind, really you won’t. You just think you will.”
“Perhaps so,” Hal said, and hastily changed the subject of conversation to a less depressing topic. “The new coloration process is a real success, you say?”
“Absolutely. We can now provide flexible hue and chroma for the complete Formair line—Airchair, Aircab and Airdome. We’ll be the only one who has it, and since every Proprietor on the planet will want our new equipment as fast as we turn it out, we’ll put every other firm completely out of the business. I’ve already worked out a method so that we can convert to export goods, too, without waiting for the economic balance to be readjusted. Of course, the colonies will have to curtail a little, but we don’t have to concern ourselves with them.”
“Yes,” agreed Hal.
“Bruchner has been very useful to us on it,” the old man repeated again. “We’ll have to show him we appreciate it.”
Hal’s mouth tightened just perceptibly at the mention of the redoubtable engineer, but he said nothing. His father continued in his soft, mild voice. “We must make him a present of something. Should it be money? Can’t give him property, of course, because he isn’t a citizen.”
“I don’t like the idea of giving an Outlander money. They get their allotments and that’s enough wealth. If you give them money, they will be able to buy more than their allotment, and that could very easily upset our own economic balance, you know.”
“Quite true,” Webber agreed. Then he smiled with placid inspiration. “I know. We’ll give him fame. We’ll name the process after him.”
“Well,” Hal said doubtfully, “I guess that would do it.”
“I think so. He’s been a great help. As a matter of fact, though, most of the Outlanders are helpful. A pity they won’t take the Treatments and become citizens. It seems sort of sad the way their emotions cut them up at times. Like old Tanan last month. Why, up to then he was almost like a civilized man—even without the treatments.”
“I know,” Hal said tonelessly. “It was his son, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. Curious that the old man should be so concerned over that little unpleasantness. So his son did get a little excited and kill a Proprietor and was executed himself. No reason for his father to carry on so about it, is there? I tried to get him to take the Treatment then, but—well, after all, you can hardly expect an uncivilized Outlander to appreciate the advantages, can you?”
“No.” Hal did not refer to the fact that the new element recently put into the standard CC Treatment was causing him to postpone taking it himself, but his father seemed to sense his thought.
“You won’t mind it, son. Really you won’t. The Treatment will take care of the whole thing. It’s perfectly obvious that you are suffering from the effects of the delay right at this moment.”
“Oh Chaos,” Hal swore softly. “Why did they have to go and put that element in anyway?”
“Now Hal, you know better than that,” his father chided him gently. “It was either include a marital inclination or else go in for a complete program of artificial insemination. The women have a vote too, you know, and they wouldn’t hear of it. They don’t object to carrying a child for a few months—that’s always been in their conditioning for some reason or another. But they insisted that if they had to be mothers, the men would have to be fathers. And they insisted on a standard, civilized marriage contract to cover the situation.”
“I know, I know. I’ve heard all the arguments. Racial suicide and all. Nonsense. We can always import Outlanders and force them to take the Treatment. Outlanders,” he pointed out with suitable, mild, cultured disgust, “breed like animals.”
“No son, that wouldn’t do the job. We have to keep the blood line. Outlanders don’t have it, you know. If they did, they would have permitted themselves to be civilized long ago.”
Hal’s fingers drummed nervously on the desk top, and his father again raised an eyebrow in mild concern. He shook his head thoughtfully.
Guiltily, Hal stopped his fingers from their satisfying tattoo. He bunched them into a fist instead, and then gazed at it with mild unbelief.
“All right,” he finally whispered. “This is simply awful. And it looks as if in order to be cured, I’ll have to get me a wife along with it. A pity, though. Everything was perfectly mild without one.”
“You’ll be mild with a wife, Hal,” his father assured him softly. “You don’t like the prospect now, because it means change. Change, of course, is always unpleasant. But the Treatment will take care of it all right. I know that I didn’t expect things to work out so mildly with a wife. It was optional back in those days, and if it hadn’t been for your mother’s family money, I never would have married. Particularly her—with her family history of fecundity. As witnessed by the children we produced—you and your sister. But Formair needed the money, and I was the only available man in the Webber clan. When I agreed to make the sacrifice, they made me president of the firm, because it isn’t often that a man will do so much for his own family. Shows real character. It’s in the cultured family blood, naturally.”
Hal had heard all this many, many times before, but he listened without irritation. Or at least, with only the mild irritation that was the result of his present unstable condition.
“Yes indeed,” his father went on in his mild, comfortable voice. “Hardly knew she was around the house, though, once the Treatment was over with. It was just as if she had been around all my life. Marvelous process.”
“All right,” Hal murmured. “I’ll take it.”
“Be a good idea to pick out a wife first. Sometimes there are a few minor adjustments to make because of outstanding individual characteristics. You get an absolutely perfect fit that way, you know.” He stood up and walked toward the door, the flabby muscles of his body easily supporting the two pounds relative of his weight.
“The Ansermet family has a female available, I believe,” he murmured as he walked. “Excellent choice. But you better have the probability checked anyway.”
“I know about her,” Hal replied thoughtfully. “But what’s she like? Have you ever met her?”
His father smiled benignly back at him, as he practically floated through the doorway. “That doesn’t matter a bit,” he said mildly. “It doesn’t make any difference at all what either of you are like. The Treatment will bring you both back to absolute, statistical normal, and you’ll both be a perfect fit for each other. Quite pleasantly civilized.”
The door hummed shut behind him.
“Well,” Hal announced aloud to himself, “guess that’s it.”
He ordered the automatic secretary to make all suitable arrangements and then stood up. He walked to the elevator, where a soft, hissing breeze conveyed his temporary one-tenth pound relative gently up the tube to the roof. There his weight returned to its normal two pounds relative, and he spoke to the robot attendant. “My cab.” His Formair Aircab was promptly and quietly delivered, and Hal stepped inside.
“Destination?” a voice inquired softly from the control bank.
“Take me to the nearest available Civilization Conditioning Treatment Center.”
At once, the cab took off. It was a silent and comfortable motion. Hal had always liked flying.
The automatic pilot was speaking to him gently. “Central Authority advises that the nearest available CCT Center at this time is in the metropolis of Knoxville. This requires traversing interurban wilderness.”
Hal frowned just slightly. He had never seen the interurban wilderness, of course, and had not the slightest desire to do so. That was chaos. He inquired, “How soon can the local Center take me?”
“Three days, seven hours twenty minutes from reference time. Mark time … mark!” the robot announced the temporal point of reference.
“Too long,” Hal replied wearily. “Let’s go to Knoxville. And shut off all outside views. I do not wish to see the chaos.”
The Aircab obediently turned and transposed through the suspend-field of the York metropolis Airdome. It was an effortless passing, since the field that constituted the wall structure of the Aircab was exactly in phase with that of the Airdome field. Both were Formair manufacture, of course.
The pleasant, silent, effortless motion of the Aircab soon produced its usual somnolent effect on him, and he dozed comfortably off. He slept the entire trip.
At Knoxville, he spoke to the Center Technician briefly, advising the master robot of the possibility of his altered economic status, and the matter was thoroughly checked by the computer at Central Authority. Every conceivable source of psychosomatic tension and internal conflict was studied, and suitable alterations on Hal’s master curve plotted. The process took ten minutes, while Hal dozed under the soothing warmth of the examination cap. There was a crackling buzz, and it was over.
He awoke immediately, and felt wonderful. No tension. No irritation. Not the slightest bit of his recent restlessness. Hal was delighted. On the way out of the cubicle, he encountered another Proprietor, and smiled at him with perfect, civilized mildness.
“York,” he ordered his Aircab. Once again, the sleek button-shaped vehicle soared up through the Airdome and out over the interurban wilderness. Hal contentedly went to sleep right in the middle of the pilot’s automatic rundown of flight data.
He was jolted awake by a raucous rattle from the control bank. Blinking his eyes sleepily, he said, “Please stop all that noise. What is the trouble?”
A very unpleasant and notably ungentle voice replied, “Apologies sir. We are out of control. Aircrash has occurred.”
Aircrash! An almost unheard-of thing that sometimes happened to people who used inferior equipment like that produced by firms other than Formair. People were even known to be killed by it.
“Report,” he said quietly, then flinched a little at the raucous scratching of the speech mechanism.
“Reference point … mark! Altitude eleven thousand three hundred seventy one feet. Velocity reduced to two hundred nine point nine miles per hour. Locus: seven hundred point eight miles from nearest civilized metropolis, which is York.” The voice continued, but became unintelligible as the mangled circuits faltered.
Seven hundred miles from civilization! Wilderness. Chaos; that settled it, of course. Hal smiled gently as he realized that he was about to die. A civilized man obviously could not be expected to survive in chaos. He observed that he was breathing more strenuously, and realized that it was the result of the rapid failure of the antigravity field. Never in his life had Hal been under the full force of the earth’s mass field, but he knew the symptoms. Once he had been exposed to a one-half gee for a few hours. Very unpleasant, he recalled.
The automatic pilot’s unintelligible speech suddenly stopped altogether. There was a heavy, awkward lurch that threw Hal forward against the front panel. But before he struck it, the field generator failed completely, the panel ceased to exist, and Hal was flying through the air. He shut his eyes, and placidly waited for death.
A moment later, he hit the ground sharply, rolled over and over, and lay still.
He sighed heavily. Death? He had always fancied that death would be a complete absence of sensation, and no consciousness of effort whatever. Instead, his breath was coming in deep, heavy sighs, his head hurt, his arm was aching, and something was tickling his nose.
“Come on, wake up,” a voice said briskly.
Hal opened his eyes and looked up at a golden-framed face. It was the face that had been speaking, and the pleasingly shaped lips now moved again. “You aren’t hurt, you know. Just a little shaken up.”
Hal continued to stare at the woman for a moment, then muttered “Umph,” and struggled to a sitting posture. It was a great effort in the unaccustomed full earth gravitational field. The woman was an Outlander, no doubt about it. That was evident from her highly spirited tone of voice. But as Hal looked around at the strange picture of undisturbed interurban wilderness, he found that most astonishingly he did not mind it. As a matter of fact, he rather liked her tone of voice. It was all very puzzling.
“What happened?” he muttered heavily, his eyes moving back to the landscape and the small metal boxes which housed the now defunct suspend-field generators.
“There must have been something wrong with your Aircab,” she replied. “You crashed. The same way I did a couple days ago.” The woman walked over to the generator boxes, picked them up and brought them back to where he was still sitting on the grass. “We’ll need these,” she explained. “There are emergency supplies inside them.”
Hal didn’t move. She waited a moment, then said lightly, tossing her golden hair, “Come along now. We’re way out in the wilderness, you know, and there aren’t any robots to bring us our dinner.”
“Wilderness,” Hal murmured. “That’s right. Well, I guess we’ll die here.”
“Oh nonsense!” She stamped her foot with impatience. “This would have to happen to me. Of all people to be stranded with in the wilderness, I have to get one of you insipid, gutless Proprietors.”
“Oh yes?” Hal said with unconscious anger, lurching to his feet. “Who’s insipid and gutless? I’m considerably more civilized than you are.” Quick surprise crossed her face as she listened. Hal continued his angry speech. “Why is it that all you savages always think you know how to live better than your superiors? If you are so clever, why aren’t you civilized?”
“Well, listen to him. You sound almost human.”
She was laughing at him!
“Damn savage,” he growled. He turned and strode purposefully away from her across the soft matting of grass.
“Where do you think you are going?” she called.
“Away from here,” he replied. But the rapid pace in the unaccustomed gravity was very quickly taking his energy. His breath came in deep, labored gasps already, and he could scarcely move his feet.
He stopped abruptly, and looked at the distant horizon. There was nothing in sight that indicated civilization. These regions had not been inhabited for two hundred and fifty years—ever since the severance of the planetary colonies from political control by the motherland, and the settling of the Proprietors into their well-separated, civilized cities. The land was all owned by the Proprietors, but was unnecessary, and hence not used.
He felt a light touch on his arm.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized softly. “I can understand you a little, but you’re so completely under the influence of your horrible personality conditioning methods that you can’t possibly understand me.”
“Who’s under what influence?” Hal said in a valiant attempt to express his irritation, but his voice held the obvious weakness of fatigue.
“You poor boy,” she sympathized. “You don’t sound very much influenced by it right now.”
At her words, Hal suddenly became aware of the unaccustomed vigor of his own emotions, and he was puzzled by it. But it seemed oddly unimportant for some reason. “How come you can handle this awful weight so easily?” he asked her.
Her laughter was light and delightful. “We spend most of our lives under natural conditions, not under an antigravity machine. I’ve only been on Earth for a few months, visiting my father. But a lot of that time was spent out here in this beautiful wilderness.”
“Horrible chaos,” he muttered. He glanced up and observed a mild, blue, cloud-studded sky. “Why it is blue, after all. Isn’t it?”
She glanced up thoughtfully. “Of course it’s blue. And this is not one of your artificial skys. This is the real thing. There’s no artificial weather control out here, you know. You get natural sunlight, natural winds, storms, rain—oh, lots of things.”
“Gahh,” said Hal.
“What makes you surprised at finding that the sky is blue?”
“Probably because I never saw it before. The only time I ever heard of its being anything other than green was when an engineer we have working for us at the factory said it was blue.”
“Well, never mind the sky. Let’s find some place where we can get a little shelter for the night.” She began to lead him slowly along an animal trail to a cluster of trees on a nearby stream. She walked with the obviously delayed pace one takes with invalids, but Hal had a difficult time keeping up.
Finally, she said, “Here’s a pretty good place. Sit down next to that tree. You must be worn out.”
“Oooo,” he groaned, reclining back against a broad, rough oak trunk, then stiffening painfully away from it again. “It doesn’t fit,” he mourned plaintively.
“Now you’re sounding silly again,” she scolded. “Go on, lean back. There aren’t any suspend-field lounges out here for you, so you take what you get.”
Obediently, he relaxed against the rough, twisting bark. He was very, very tired. On second thought, even this rugged seat was comfortable. He sighed heavily, and then looked pensively around again. “Oh well, what does it matter? We’ll be dead soon.”
“Don’t talk like that!” she snapped with annoyance.
“Why?” he inquired listlessly. “Everybody knows a civilized human being can’t possibly survive in the wilderness. That’s why no one ever comes here. And I’d just as soon die right now, if you have anything suitable for killing.”
The woman stared at him with a tight frown between her eyebrows. Then she shook her head with wonder. “How you people can call yourselves civilized is beyond me. You yourself don’t seem so bad, except that you don’t have any guts. They’ve trained it all out by now.”
“Please,” begged Hal. “You sound like that uncouth engineer that works for us. Impertinent.”
“That what engineer?” she demanded spiritedly. “Who are you, anyway?”
“I’m Webber. Hal Webber. The engineer is a savage—oh sorry.” He smiled weakly. “You’re a savage, too. Guess you Outlanders don’t regard yourselves as such.”
“No we don’t,” she snapped. “And if it weren’t for us, you silly fools here on Earth would have died out long ago.”
“Outlanders are noted for their misplaced pride, of course,” Hal commented with a mildness that was impelled by fatigue rather than civilized conditioning.
“Oh are we now?” she said angrily, standing up and bending over him. “And who do you think you are, Lord Proprietor? Some humble god, perhaps? Let me tell you something, Hal Webber, I’ve heard about you. You know who I am? My name is Lois Bruchner. That uncouth engineer you just referred to happens to be my father.”
Hal was puzzled. “What on earth is the matter?” he asked. “Why are you so excited?”
“You called my father uncouth.”
“Why get excited about that? After all—” Hal gestured weakly, trying to reason with her, “—it’s only your father. I didn’t say you were uncouth. Funny thing is—I like you.”
“Suppose I called your father names?” she demanded, her lower lip protruding belligerently.
“You can call him anything you like as far as I am concerned.”
Lois Bruchner stood there a moment, her mouth open in astonishment. Then she sat down beside him again quietly.
“That’s right,” she murmured, “they even educate love out of you.”
Hal sighed heavily, and slid away from the tree onto the rough, rocky ground. It was painful, but he was so tired. His breath came in regular, deep sighs as he went to sleep.
By the time he woke, Lois had constructed a kind of primitive lean-to shelter over him. Hal was amazed. The sheltering purpose of the structure was evident to him, and he was startled that she should have been able to design such a thing on the spur of the moment.
She heard him stir and looked up from the fire she had built in front of the lean-to. “Hungry?” she asked.
He was ravenous, but his muscles ached in every fibre. His wonder at her cleverness disappeared abruptly when he tried to move. He rolled over groaning and helpless.
Immediately, she was at his side, pushing him back onto the bed of dry, fragrant grass she had put him on. “Now don’t try to move around,” she admonished. “Just a few days, and you’ll be all right.”
“Oooo,” Hal groaned. “This is awful.”
“There, there,” she murmured solicitously. “I’ve made you some soup. You’ll like it.”
“Soup,” he groaned. “I want food. Good solid synthomeat. Don’t you have any food?”
“Solid food in your stomach so soon in this heavy gravity would kill you.”
She went away and returned quickly with a little cup and spoon, and proceeded to empty the container into his lax mouth a few drops at a time. After a while, he ceased his protesting. It was less painful to swallow the slop than to fight it. Very soon afterward, he lost consciousness.
Later, he was again aware of his surroundings. He felt tremendously better, and observed with a peculiar satisfaction that it was morning. Funny sounds were in the air, which he eventually recognized as the cries of wild birds and insects. Insects? He blinked his eyes and struggled to a sitting position, and looked worriedly around. Insects can carry disease, he remembered. And wild animals were reported to be carnivorous.
His clumsy motions awakened Lois, who had been sleeping beside him. Hal looked down at her with a vague wonder. Such a nice looking savage, he thought, as she popped open her eyes. She smiled a pleased morning smile at him and lazily stretched.
“Hi,” she said. “How do you feel?”
“Quite mild,” Hal admitted with wonder. “Odd, too. That junk you fed me last night must have some very efficient drug in it.”
“Junk I fed you last night?” Lois echoed, sitting up. Then she laughed her amusement. “Oh, you mean that soup. That wasn’t last night, Hal Webber. That was last week.”
“But—I just woke up,” he protested.
“Yes.” She smiled at him, reaching up and patting his cheek affectionately. “You’ve been a little delirious. Gravity trauma, very common. You get used to it fast, but that’s one thing they didn’t condition you to, I guess, and your conscious promptly rejected the possibility.”
Sudden remembrance came to Hal of the agony it had been to move the last time he remembered trying it. Cautiously he lifted an arm and flexed it. He glanced back at Lois, who was watching him with amusement. “It feels all right now. Heavy and clumsy, but no pain.”
“Good.” She stood up and brushed her unruly hair away from her forehead. “I’ll fix your breakfast just as soon as I take my bath, all right?” she said. Hal nodded absently. The stream was twenty yards away, and Lois walked quickly over to it. There she pulled her jumper over her head and dove into the crystal water. “Eeii, it’s cold!” she shrieked. Her vigorous splashing threw sharp brilliance in the early morning sunlight. After a few minutes, she came out, letting the water dry on her soft, golden skin.
Hal was watching her in open-mouthed admiration. It was a most remarkable sensation, this pleasure at seeing her move in that lithe, supple way. He had never before experienced such a thing.
As she came up on the grassy bank, she noticed his rapt gaze, and quickly snatched up her single garment and held it in front of her. “All right,” she told him briskly. “You too. You’re much too big for me to handle effectively, so you haven’t had a decent bath since we got here. And it gets pretty hot during the day.”
Obediently, as if in a vic-spell, Hal stood up and walked to the water’s edge, keeping his eyes on her.
“Look where you’re going,” she said sharply, and he shook his head dazedly. He slowly removed his clothing, dropped it on the ground, and jumped into the water.
That was the end of the spell. The water was like ice, he howled like a wounded animal and tried to jump out again. But the gravity made him clumsy and he fell back with a great splash. He rose again, gasping and sputtering, making wild, awkward movements—in a frenzy to get out of the excruciating coldness. Finally he was lying on the grass, panting and exhausted.
Lois was standing over him, her pale blue eyes dancing with delight. “What a spectacle,” she bubbled merrily. “You should have seen yourself. I sure wish I had a vic-o-graph with me. Such performances should be preserved.”
Unaccountably, Hal found himself gurgling like a delighted baby, and then laughing with her in loud, uncivilized guffaws.
After a few minutes, they were both worn out with hilarity. Lois sighed. She gave him a brimming smile, and went on back to the lean-to. “Get your clothes on,” she said. “I’ll have some breakfast for you in a few minutes.”
It was food, Hal agreed, but it was not very good. It had come out of the standard emergency ration from the Aircab master units, and no power on earth could have made it very palatable. And the supply was nearly gone.
“I don’t know how we can get back,” she said thoughtfully, as she chewed on a wafer. “Plenty of Aircabs go by—I’ve seen a dozen or so during the past week. But nobody ever looks out of them except Outlanders, and there aren’t many of us around. So there isn’t any point in building a signal fire.”
Hal did not reply. He lay back on the grass, his belly full with unaccustomed satisfaction, staring at the blue sky. He decided that he still preferred green. “It’s sort of a washed-out color,” he murmured.
“The sky. It’s sort of pallid and weak-looking.”
“That’s haze. But spoken like a big, strong man,” she said lightly. And then wistfully added, “A pity they always take it out of you.”
Hal frowned, and looked down from the sky to the windblown dampness of her golden hair. “What do you mean by that?” he inquired.
“Nothing.” Her gaze returned modestly to her wafer, and she continued the former subject. “We were talking about getting back to what you call civilization, remember? Or do you prefer we become the new Adam and Eve lost in the wilderness?” she asked, her eyes dancing. “We could start a new primitive dynasty of plains savages.”
“Oh.” Hal’s mind came back to the immediate problem. “Oh, yes, that’s right. We have to get back.” He frowned a moment. “Well now, let’s see. There’re a number of emergency stations spotted around the interurban wilderness. Can’t just remember where I learned about them—must have been Treatment information.” He thoughtfully picked up a stick and began drawing diagrams of maps in the loose soil. “There.” He pointed with the stick. “One of them should be about two hundred miles north of where we are now, provided the automatic pilot of my Aircab was accurate in its final position fix.”
Lois was looking at the crude map when he glanced back up at her. There seemed to be a sadness in her expression. She nodded her head at the map. “From that it looks like those emasculating treatments do some good after all.”
“Don’t talk like that,” he reproved her. “The Civilization Conditioning Treatment is the basis of our culture.”
She started to speak, hesitated, and then blurted out, “What, precisely, does it do for you?”
“Don’t you know?” Hal asked astonished, and then answered his own question. “Oh, of course, Outlanders would hardly know much about civilized history. Well, before interplanetary exploration was started, there weren’t any areas at all like this wilderness. The planet was much too crowded. The people lived in huge, contiguous cities and were incessantly battling with each other for economic survival, social survival and animal survival. The vast majority of the population couldn’t stand it. They developed all kinds of psychogenic illnesses. The impact of the uncontrolled inclinations of individuals meeting the absolute self-control required by civilization was killing them.
“Then, gradually, the Civilization Conditioning process was developed. What happened then was just what you would expect—the people who took the Treatments were so much better adapted to civilized living conditions that the others simply didn’t have a chance. Just as soon as planetary colonies were opened up, the savages were all shipped off. There were a lot of riots and small-scale wars for a while, but eventually the superior conditioning of the civilized people won out.
“After things had stabilized again, anyone who wanted to was permitted to become an Earth citizen, but he had to take the Treatment, and keep it up. But by that time, most savages had a lot of peculiar prejudices against it, so the population of Earth has remained very small. The robotic defenses of the Proprietors protected the planet from further invasion, and now the robotic police maintain order everywhere in the system.
“Of course, the planets are extremely poor in natural resources, so we supply the basic material, even though we relinquished political control long ago. The colonies pay us by sending unusually gifted technicians like your father to work for us. Naturally, Outlanders have no rights, whatsoever, here. Not even the right to life or freedom or payment of the material allotment. But unless they commit a crime or otherwise interfere with the Proprietors, there is not the slightest danger of being molested by any citizen, because citizens are civilized.”
Hal stopped his history lecture and looked back up at her. “The Treatment is responsible for the entire rational order of our culture, as you probably know.”
“But look how insipid it makes you all,” she burst out. “You’re so weak and wishy-washy. There isn’t a noble or even a strong sentiment in your entire society.”
“That is how the process works. It is nothing but a series of checks and balances artificially installed in the subconscious which make strong sentiments unnecessary, and which prevent unstable activity. The result is a perfectly smooth existence with no ups or downs, and a perfect cooperation between civilized people.”
Lois thought this over for a moment. Then she asked curiously, “How do you account for the fact that you—after all the Treatments you have taken—are so different from other Proprietors? You, well—” she stumbled, blushing a little—”you seem perfectly normal in your reactions.”
Hal shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe my last Treatment had an error in it.” But he shook his head again at that idea, because the computer at Central Authority never made mistakes. “It is strange.”
“I think it’s wonderful.” She smiled at him with quick radiance.
Hal grinned happily back at her, feeling an alien surge of joy as he looked at the smile and at her. “Well, whatever it is, for the next few months or so it looks like we’ll be savages in fact.”
They were. And they took a long time walking north to their destination. It was a remarkably satisfying experience for Hal. And it was for Lois, too, as she pointed out to him the night after they found the emergency station. There was a small Formair shelter at the place, and a simple automatic distress transmitter which was set in operation by one push of a button. Symbols marked on the case of the transmitter assured them that assistance would be forthcoming within twelve hours.
It was their first night in a civilized shelter, and their last night together in the wilderness. Early the next morning, an Authority Aircab came humming swiftly down to the meadow where they were waiting.
Once inside the Aircab, Hal became taciturn and thoughtful, but Lois was not disturbed. She talked enough for both of them. Hal luxuriated in the pleasant reawakened rapport with the things of civilization.
Back at the city, they went to Bruchner’s residence, and Lois’ father rushed outside to greet them. Lois ran happily to him, embracing him, and volubly explaining how wonderful Hal was, how he had saved her from being gobbled up by a lot of wild animals, and how strong he was, and sundry other affectionately innocuous exaggerations. Hal looked curiously on for a few minutes in idle wonder at the strange attachments of Outlanders. Then Lois proudly pulled him over next to her.
“Isn’t he wonderful? And we’re in love—oh, so much in love.”
“Lois,” Bruchner mumbled unhappily. “There are some things you have to be told. I should have told you before—”
“You don’t have to tell me anything,” she bubbled happily. “You can say all you want to about the Proprietors, but this one is different. He’s—he’s real!”
Hal laughed diffidently, and moved a little further away from her. He gazed around at the city, recognizing it with thirsty familiarity, happily part of it again. The experience of the past three months already seemed far away.
“Hal,” Lois murmured, suddenly aware of his rapidly growing coolness. “Hal, darling, what’s wrong?”
“Why nothing at all, uh, Lois.” He looked at her uncomfortably for a moment, and backed a step further. “It’s just—well, you know.”
“Oh no you don’t,” she cried, rushing up to him and grabbing his arm. “Where are you going—Dad!”
“Please, Miss Bruchner,” Hal murmured mildly, disengaging his arm from her. He gazed hungrily around him again the moment she let go, and looked back at her only when he was startled by a sudden, choking sob. Lois was staring at him, her fist to her mouth, the pale blue eyes brimming.
“Oh no!” she cried tremulously.
“Lois,” Bruchner said, his voice sounding harsh with repressed emotions, “come in here. You’ve got to know what the situation is.” He put his arm around her trembling shoulders and led her off, glaring at Hal in helpless fury.
The moment they were out of sight, Hal turned and stepped back into the Aircab. He ordered it to take him home. His parents were there, watching a vic-entertainment, which Hal promptly turned off.
“Who did that?” his father mumbled, coming immediately out of the trance. “Hal? That wasn’t a very nice thing to do, son.”
“Why Hal,” his mother sighed mildly. “You’re not dead after all. How nice. Don’t pay any attention to your father—it wasn’t a very interesting vic anyway.”
“Shouldn’t turn it off like that, though.”
“Um, sorry,” Hal apologized gently. He relaxed into the comfortable, perfect fit of a Formair lounge. “Just thought I’d let you know I’m still alive.”
“Well, we’re glad,” his mother murmured absently. “Must have been pretty awful.”
“That’s the funny thing about it, though—I didn’t mind it a bit at the time. Very curious. I had an Outlander woman with me—Bruchner’s daughter, as a matter of fact.”
“Oh dear,” Mrs. Webber sighed. “Poor Hal.”
“Well, like I say, it wasn’t exactly mild, but it was quite tolerable, somehow.” He frowned just slightly, and shook his head at the puzzling incongruity. He recalled his three months of association with the uncivilized woman, somewhat wistfully contemplating strong, overpowering sentiments in a chaotic wilderness. “Anyway,” he said at last, “I’m home again, and it’s all over. I won’t have to have anything to do with her now.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Webber murmured. “Odd that you should have survived though, isn’t it? I thought a civilized man in the wilderness would die almost at once.”
Webber gave the cultured equivalent of a mild snort. “Of course he could survive. Oh—” and he laughed softly in apology “—that’s right. I forgot to tell you about that.”
The eyes of his wife politely turned to him and he explained. “A couple of weeks after our son here apparently had been killed, I happened to run into an Authority physician. I mentioned it to him, just in passing. He told me that there was a factor in the CC Treatment that provided for such things.
“It seems that the Civilization Conditioning they give you is only designed to enable a man to survive in a city. In order for the conditioning to function, you have to have that civilized urban environment. Once the environment is removed, the conditioned complex has nothing to react against, and the man immediately becomes almost—but not quite—as savage as a typical Outlander.
“That way, a civilized man can always manage to live in the wilderness, given half a chance. Once he gets back into a city again, the proper, civilized environment is returned, the conditioning starts functioning immediately and presto!—the man is civilized again.”
“Well now, that’s nice,” Mrs. Webber said placidly. “Wouldn’t like to see my boy dead.”
“Yes,” her husband mused. “The physician told me that right after we decided Hal was dead. I was going to mention it to you, but it slipped my mind somehow.”
“Well, you’re just a tiny bit forgetful at times, dear.” Mrs. Webber sighed softly and turned to her son. “Hal, dear, it’s awfully nice to see you back again. Would you be kind enough to switch the vic back on?”
Contentedly, Hal complied, and was himself immediately carried away by the vicarious entertainment, pleased to put the disturbing dream of the past three months comfortably behind him.