Read book online «Wolfbane by C. M. Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl (classic romance novels .TXT) 📕». Author - C. M. Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl
By FREDERIK POHL and C. M. KORNBLUTH
Illustrated by WOOD
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction October and November 1957.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Appallingly, the Earth and the Moon had been
kidnapped from the Solar System—but who were
the kidnappers and what ransom did they want?
Roget Germyn, banker, of Wheeling, West Virginia, a Citizen, woke gently from a Citizen's dreamless sleep. It was the third-hour-rising time, the time proper to a day of exceptional opportunity to appreciate.
Citizen Germyn dressed himself in the clothes proper for the appreciation of great works—such as viewing the Empire State ruins against storm clouds from a small boat, or walking in silent single file across the remaining course of the Golden Gate Bridge. Or as today—one hoped—witnessing the Re-creation of the Sun.
Germyn with difficulty retained a Citizen's necessary calm. One was tempted to meditate on improper things: Would the Sun be re-created? What if it were not?
He put his mind to his dress. First of all, he put on an old and storied bracelet, a veritable identity bracelet of heavy silver links and a plate which was inscribed:
PFC JOE HARTMANN
His fellow jewelry-appreciators would have envied him that bracelet—if they had been capable of such an emotion as envy. No other ID bracelet as much as two hundred and fifty years old was known to exist in Wheeling.
His finest shirt and pair of light pants went next to his skin, and over them he wore a loose parka whose seams had been carefully weakened. When the Sun was re-created, every five years or so, it was the custom to remove the parka gravely and rend it with the prescribed graceful gestures ... but not so drastically that it could not be stitched together again. Hence the weakened seams.
This was, he counted, the forty-first day on which he and all of Wheeling had do-nned the appropriate Sun Re-creation clothing. It was the forty-first day on which the Sun—no longer white, no longer blazing yellow, no longer even bright red—had risen and displayed a color that was darker maroon and always darker.
It had, thought Citizen Germyn, never grown so dark and so cold in all of his life. Perhaps it was an occasion for special viewing. For surely it would never come again, this opportunity to see the old Sun so near to death....
Gravely, Citizen Germyn completed his dressing, thinking only of the act of dressing itself. It was by no means his specialty, but he considered, when it was done, that he had done it well, in the traditional flowing gestures, with no flailing, at all times balanced lightly on the ball of the foot. It was all the more perfectly consummated because no one saw it but himself.
He woke his wife gently, by placing the palm of his hand on her forehead as she lay neatly, in the prescribed fashion, on the Woman's Third of the bed.
The warmth of his hand gradually penetrated the layers of sleep. Her eyes demurely opened.
"Citizeness Germyn," he greeted her, making the assurance-of-identity sign with his left hand.
"Citizen Germyn," she said, with the assurance-of-identity inclination of the head which was prescribed when the hands are covered.
He retired to his tiny study.
It was the time appropriate to meditation on the properties of Connectivity. Citizen Germyn was skilled in meditation, even for a banker; it was a grace in which he had schooled himself since earliest childhood.
Citizen Germyn, his young face composed, his slim body erect as he sat but in no way tense or straining, successfully blanked out, one after another, all of the external sounds and sights and feelings that interfered with proper meditation. His mind was very nearly vacant except of one central problem: Connectivity.
Over his head and behind, out of sight, the cold air of the room seemed to thicken and form a—call it a blob; a blob of air.
There was a name for those blobs of air. They had been seen before. They were a known fact of existence in Wheeling and in all the world. They came. They hovered. And they went away—sometimes not alone. If someone had been in the room with Citizen Germyn to look at it, he would have seen a distortion, a twisting of what was behind the blob, like flawed glass, a lens, like an eye. And they were called Eye.
The blob of air grew and slowly moved. A vagrant current that spun out from it caught a fragment of paper and whirled it to the floor. Germyn stirred. The blob retreated.
Germyn, all unaware, disciplined his thoughts to disregard the interruption, to return to the central problem of Connectivity. The blob hovered....
From the other room, his wife's small, thrice-repeated throat-clearing signaled to him that she was dressed. Germyn got up to go to her, his mind returning to the world; and the overhead Eye spun relentlessly, and disappeared.
Some miles east of Wheeling, Glenn Tropile—of a class which found it wisest to give itself no special name, and which had devoted much time and thought to shaking the unwelcome name it had been given—awoke on the couch of his apartment.
He sat up, shivering. It was cold. The damned Sun was still bloody dark outside the window and the apartment was soggy and chilled.
He had kicked off the blankets in his sleep. Why couldn't he learn to sleep quietly, like anybody else? Lacking a robe, he clutched the blankets around him, got up and walked to the unglassed window.
It was not unusual for Glenn Tropile to wake up on his couch. This happened because Gala Tropile had a temper, was inclined to exile him from her bed after a quarrel, and—the operative factor—he knew he always had the advantage over her for the whole day following the night's exile. Therefore the quarrel was worth it. An advantage was, by definition, worth anything you paid for it or else it was no advantage.
He could hear her moving about in one of the other rooms and cocked an ear, satisfied. She hadn't waked him. Therefore she was about to make amends. A little itch in his spine or his brain—it was not a physical itch, so he couldn't locate it; he could only be sure that it was there—stopped troubling him momentarily; he was winning a contest. It was Glenn Tropile's nature to win contests ... and his nature to create them.
Gala Tropile, young, dark, attractive, with a haunted look, came in tentatively carrying coffee from some secret hoard of hers.
Glenn Tropile affected not to notice. He stared coldly out at the cold landscape. The sea, white with thin ice, was nearly out of sight, so far had it retreated as the little sun waned.
Ah, good! Glenn. Where was the proper mode of first-greeting-one's-husband? Where was the prescribed throat-clearing upon entering a room?
Assiduously, he had untaught her the meticulous ritual of manners that they had all of them been brought up to know; and it was the greatest of his many victories over her that sometimes, now, she was the aggressor, she would be the first to depart from the formal behavior prescribed for Citizens.
Sometimes they would touch each other at times which were not the appropriate coming-together times, Gala sitting on her husband's lap in the late evening, perhaps, or Tropile kissing her awake in the morning. Sometimes he would force her to let him watch her dress—no, not now, for the cold of the waning sun made that sort of frolic unattractive, but she had permitted it before; and such was his mastery over her that he knew she would permit it again, when the Sun was re-created....
If, a thought came to him, if the Sun was re-created.
He turned away from the cold outside and looked at his wife. "Good morning, darling." She was contrite.
He demanded jarringly: "Is it?" Deliberately he stretched, deliberately he yawned, deliberately he scratched his chest. Every movement was ugly. Gala Tropile quivered, but said nothing.
Tropile flung himself on the better of the two chairs, one hairy leg protruding from under the wrapped blankets. His wife was on her best behavior—in his unique terms; she didn't avert her eyes.
"What've you got there?" he asked. "Coffee?"
"Yes, dear. I thought—"
"Where'd you get it?"
The haunted eyes looked away. Still better, thought Glenn Tropile, more satisfied even than usual; she's been ransacking an old warehouse again. It was a trick he had taught her, and like all of the illicit tricks she had learned from him, a handy weapon when he chose to use it.
It was not prescribed that a Citizen should rummage through Old Places. A Citizen did his work, whatever that work might be—banker, baker or furniture repairman. He received what rewards were his due for the work he did. A Citizen never took anything that was not his due—not even if it lay abandoned and rotting.
It was one of the differences between Glenn Tropile and the people he moved among.
I've got it made, he exulted; it was what I needed to clinch my victory over her.
He spoke: "I need you more than I need coffee, Gala."
She looked up, troubled.
"What would I do," he demanded, "if a beam fell on you one day while you were scrambling through the fancy groceries? How can you take such chances? Don't you know what you mean to me?"
She sniffed a couple of times. She said brokenly: "Darling, about last night—I'm sorry—" and miserably held out the cup. He took it and set it down. He took her hand, looked up at her, and kissed it lingeringly. He felt her tremble. Then she gave him a wild, adoring look and flung herself into his arms.
A new dominance cycle was begun at the moment he returned her frantic kisses.
Glenn knew, and Gala knew, that he had over her an edge, an advantage—the weather gauge, initiative of fire, percentage, the can't-lose lack of tension. Call it anything, but it was life itself to such as Glenn Tropile. He knew, and she knew, that having the advantage he would press it and she would yield—on and on, in a rising spiral.
He did it because it was his life, the attaining of an advantage over anyone he might encounter; because he was (unwelcomely but justly) called a Son of the Wolf.
A world away, a Pyramid squatted sullenly on the planed-off top of the highest peak of the Himalayas.
It had not been built there. It had not been carried there by Man or Man's machines. It had—come, in its own time; for its own reasons.
Did it wake on that day, the thing atop Mount Everest, or did it ever sleep? Nobody knew. It stood, or sat, there, approximately a tetrahedron. Its appearance was known: constructed on a base line of some thirty-five yards, slaggy, midnight-blue in color. Almost nothing else about it was known—at least, to mankind.
It was the only one of its kind on Earth, though men thought (without much sure knowledge) that there were more, perhaps many thousands more, like it on the unfamiliar planet that was Earth's binary, swinging around the miniature Sun that hung at their common center of gravity like an unbalanced dumbbell. But men knew very little about that planet itself, only that it had come out of space and was now there.
Time was when men had tried to label that binary, more than two centuries before, when it had first appeared. "Runaway Planet." "The Invader." "Rejoice in Messias, the Day Is at Hand." The labels were sense-free; they were Xs in an equation, signifying only that there was something there which was unknown.
"The Runaway Planet" stopped running when it closed on Earth.
"The Invader" didn't invade; it merely sent down one slaggy, midnight-blue tetrahedron to Everest.
And "Rejoice in Messias" stole Earth from its sun—with Earth's old moon, which it converted into a miniature sun of its own.
That was the time when men were plentiful and strong—or thought they were—with many huge cities and countless powerful machines. It didn't matter. The new binary planet showed no interest in the cities or the machines.
There was a plague of things like Eyes—dust-devils without dust, motionless air that suddenly tensed and quivered into lenticular shapes. They came with the planet and the Pyramid, so that there probably was some connection. But there was nothing to do about the Eyes. Striking at them was like striking at air—was the same thing, in fact.
While the men and machines tried uselessly to do something about it, the new binary system—the