So I had to--that compulsion--go close the door. Then I sat down to think.
Anyway I thought I sat down to think. But, suddenly, my thoughts were not my own.
I wasn't producing them; I was receiving them.
"Barth! Oh, Land of Barth. Do you read us, oh Barthland? Do you read us?"
I didn't hear that, you understand. It wasn't a voice. It was all thoughts inside my head. But to me they came in terms of words.
I took it calmly. Surprisingly, I was no longer upset--which, as I think it over, was probably more an achievement of internal engineering than personal stability.
"Yeah," I said, "I read you. So who in hell--" a poor choice of expression--"are you? What are you doing here? Answer me that." I didn't have to say it, the thought would have been enough. I knew that. But it made me feel better to speak out.
"We are Barthians, of course. We are your people. We live here."
"Well, you're trespassing on private property! Get out, you hear me? Get out!"
"Now, now, noble Fatherland. Please, do not become upset and unreasonable. We honor you greatly as our home and country. Surely we who were born and raised here have our rights. True, our forefathers who made the great voyage through space settled first here in a frightful wilderness some four generations back. But we are neither pioneers nor immigrants. We are citizens born."
"Citizens of Barthland."
"Invaded! Good Lord, of all the people in the world, why me? Nothing like this ever happened to anyone. Why did I have to be picked to be a territory--the first man to have queer things living in me?"
"Oh, please, gracious Fatherland! Permit us to correct you. In the day of our fathers, conditions were, we can assure you, chaotic. Many horrible things lived here. Wild beasts and plant growths of the most vicious types were everywhere."
"What you would call microbes. Bacteria. Fungi. Viruses. Terrible devouring wild creatures everywhere. You were a howling wilderness. Of course, we have cleaned those things up now. Today you are civilized--a fine, healthy individual of your species--and our revered Fatherland. Surely you have noted the vast improvement in your condition!"
"And we pledge our lives to you, oh Barthland. As patriotic citizens we will defend you to the death. We promise you will never be successfully invaded."
Yeah. Well, that was nice. But already I felt as crowded as a subway train with the power cut out at rush hour.
But there was no room for doubt either. I'd had it. I still did have it; had no chance at all of getting rid of it.
They went on then and told me their story.
I won't try to repeat it all verbatim. I couldn't now, since my memory--but that's something else. Anyway, I finally got the picture.
But I didn't get it all the same evening. Oh, no. At ten I had to knock it off to go to bed, get my sleep, keep up my health. They were insistent.
As they put it, even if I didn't care for myself I had to think about an entire population and generations yet unborn. Or unbudded, which was the way they did it.
Well, as they said, we had the whole weekend to work out an understanding. Which we did. When we were through, I didn't like it a whole lot better, but at least I could understand it.
It was all a perfectly logical proposition from their point of view--which differed in quite a number of respects from my own. To them it was simply a matter of survival for their race and their culture. To me it was a matter of who or what I was going to be. But then, I had no choice.
According to the Official History I was given, they came from a tiny planet of a small sun. Actually, their sun was itself a planet, still incandescent, distant perhaps like Jupiter from the true sun. Their planet or moon was tiny, wet and warm. And the temperature was constant.
These conditions, naturally, governed their development--and, eventually, mine.
Of course they were very small, about the size of a dysentery amoeba. The individual life span was short as compared to ours but the accelerated pace of their lives balanced it out. In the beginning, something like four of our days was a lifetime. So they lived, grew, developed, evolved. They learned to communicate. They became civilized--far more so than we have, according to them. And I guess that was true. They were even able to extend their life span to something like two months.
"And to what," I inquired--but without much fire, I'm afraid; I was losing fight--"to what am I indebted for this intrusion?"
It was, to them. Their sun had begun to cool. It was their eviction notice.
They had to move or adapt themselves to immeasurably harsher conditions; and they had become so highly developed, so specialized, that change of that sort would have been difficult if not impossible. And they didn't want to change, anyway. They liked themselves as they were.
The only other thing was to escape. They had to work for flight through space. And they succeeded.
There were planets nearer to them than Earth. But these were enormous worlds to them, and the conditions were intolerably harsh. They found one planet with conditions much like those on Earth a few million years back. It was a jungle world, dominated by giant reptiles--which were of no use to the folk. But there were a few, small, struggling, warm-blooded animals. Small to us, that is--they were county size to the folk.
Some genius had a great inspiration. While the environment of the planet itself was impossibly harsh and hostile, the conditions inside these warm little animals were highly suitable!
It seemed to be the solution to their problem of survival. Small, trial colonies were established. Communication with the space ships from home was achieved.
The experiment was a success.
The trouble was that each colony's existence depended on the life of the host. When the animal died, the colony died.
Life on the planet was savage. New colonies would, of course, be passed from individual to individual and generation to generation of the host species. But the inevitable toll of attrition from the violent deaths of the animals appalled this gentle race. And there was nothing they could do about it. They could give protection against disease, but they could not control the hosts. Their scientists figured that, if they could find a form of life having conscious power of reason, they would be able to establish communication and a measure of control. But it was not possible where only instinct existed.
They went ahead because they had no choice. Their only chance was to establish their colonies, accepting the certainty of the slaughter of hundreds upon hundreds of entire communities--and hoping that, with their help, evolution on the planet would eventually produce a better host organism. Even of this they were by no means sure. It was a hope. For all they could know, the struggling mammalian life might well be doomed to extermination by the giant reptiles.
They took the gamble. Hundreds of colonies were planted.
They did it but they weren't satisfied with it. So, back on the dying home moon, survivors continued to work. Before the end came they made one more desperate bid for race survival.
They built interstellar ships to be launched on possibly endless journeys into space. A nucleus of select individuals in a spore-like form of suspended animation was placed on each ship. Ships were launched in pairs, with automatic controls to be activated when they entered into the radius of attraction of a sun. Should the sun have planets such as their own home world--or Earth type--the ships would be guided there. In the case of an Earth type planet having intelligent life, they would---- They would do just what my damned "meteor" had done.
They would home in on an individual, "explode," penetrate--and set up heavy housekeeping on a permanent basis. They did. Lovely. Oh, joy!
Well. We would all like to see the Garden of Eden; but being it is something quite else again.
Me, a colony!
My--uh--population had no idea where they were in relation to their original home, or how long they had traveled through space. They did hope that someplace on Earth their companion ship had established another settlement. But they didn't know. So far on our world, with its masses of powerful electrical impulses, plus those of our own brains, they had found distance communication impossible.
"Well, look, fellows," I said. "Look here now. This is a noble, inspiring story. The heroic struggle of your--uh--people to survive, overcoming all odds and stuff, it's wonderful! And I admire you for it, indeed I do. But--what about me?"
"You, Great Land of Barth, are our beloved home and fatherland for many, many generations to come. You are the mighty base from which we can spread over this enormous planet."
"That's you. What I mean is, what about me?"
"Oh? But there is no conflict. Your interests are our interests."
That was how they looked at it. Sincerely. As they said, they weren't ruthless conquerors. They only wanted to get along.
And all they wanted for me were such fine things as good health, long life, contentment. Contentment, sure. Continued irritation--a sour disposition resulting in excess flow of bile--did not provide just the sort of environment in which they cared to bring up the kiddies. Smoking? No. It wasn't healthy. Alcohol? Well, they were willing to declare a national holiday now and then. Within reason.
Which, as I already knew, meant two to four shots once or twice a week.
Sex? Themselves, they didn't have any. "But," they told me with an attitude of broad tolerance, "we want to be fair. We will not interfere with you in this matter--other than to assist you in the use of sound judgment in the selection of a partner."
But I shouldn't feel that any of this was in any way real restrictive. It was merely practical common sense.
For observing it I would get their valuable advice and assistance in all phases of my life. I would enjoy--or have, anyway--perfect health. My life, if that's what it was, would be extended by better than 100 years. "You are fortunate," they pointed out, a little smugly I thought, "that we, unlike your race, are conservationists in the truest sense. Far from despoiling our homeland and laying waste its resources and natural scenic wonders, we will improve it."
I had to be careful because, as they explained it, even a small nick with a razor might wipe out an entire suburban family.
"But fellows! I want to live my own life."
"Come now. Please remember that you are not alone now."
"Aw, fellows. Look, I'll get a dog, lots of dogs--fine purebreds, not mongrels like me. The finest. I'll pamper them. They'll live like kings.... Wouldn't you consider moving?"
"Out of the question."
"An elephant then? Think of the space, the room for the kids to play----"
"Damn it! Take me to--no, I mean let me talk to your leader."
That got me no place. It seemed I was already talking to their highest government councils. All of my suggestions were considered, debated, voted on--and rejected.
They were democratic, they said. They counted my vote in favor; but that was just one vote. Rather a small minority.
As I suppose I should have figured, my thoughts were coming through over a period that was, to them, equal to weeks. They recorded them, accelerated them, broadcast them all around, held elections and recorded replies to be played back to me at my own slow tempo by the time I had a new thought ready. No, they wouldn't take time to let me count the votes. And there is where you might say I lost my self control.
"Damn it!" I said. Or shouted. "I won't have it! I won't put up with it. I'll--uh--I'll get us all dead drunk. I'll take dope! I'll go out and get a shot of penicillin and--"
I didn't do a damned thing. I couldn't.
Their control of my actions was just as complete as they wanted to make it. While they didn't exercise it all the time, they made the rules. According to them, they could have controlled my thoughts too if they had wanted to. They didn't because they felt that wouldn't be democratic. Actually, I suppose they were pretty fair and reasonable--from their point of view. Certainly it could have been a lot worse.
I wasn't as bad off as old Faust and his deal with the devil. My soul was still my own. But my body was community property--and I couldn't, by God, so much as bite my own tongue without feeling like a bloody murderer--and being made to suffer for it, too.
Perhaps you don't think biting your tongue is any great privilege to have to give up. Maybe not. But, no matter how you figure, you've got to admit the situation was--well--confining.
And it lasted for over nine years.
Nine miserable years of semi-slavery? Well, no. I couldn't honestly say that it was that bad. There were all the restrictions and limitations, but also there was my perfect health; and what you might call a sort of a sense of inner well-being. Added to that, there was my sensationally successful career. And the money.
All at once, almost anything I undertook to do was sensationally successful. I wrote, in several different styles and fields and under a number of different names; I was terrific. My painting was the talk of the art world. "Superb," said the critics. "An astonishing other-worldly quality." How right they were--even if they didn't know why. I patented a few little inventions, just for fun; and I invested. The money poured in so fast I couldn't count it. I hired people to count it, and to help guide it through the tax loopholes--although there I was able to give them a few sneaky little ideas that even our sharpest tax lawyers hadn't worked out.
Of course the catch in all that was that, actually, I was not so much a rich, brilliant, successful man. I was a booming, prosperous nation.
The satisfaction I could take in all my success was limited by my knowledge that it was a group effort. How could I help being successful? I had a very fair part of the resources of a society substantially ahead of our own working for me. As for knowledge of our world, they didn't just know everything I did. They knew everything I ever had known--or seen, heard, read, dreamed or thought of. They could dig up anything, explore it, expand it and use it in ways I couldn't have worked out in a thousand years. Sure, I was successful. I did stay out of sports--too dangerous; entertainment--didn't lend itself too well to the group approach; and music--they had never developed or used sound, and we agreed not to go into it. As I figured it, music in the soul may be very beautiful; but a full-size symphony in a sinus I could do without.
So I had success. And there was another thing I had too. Company.
Privacy? No, I had less privacy than any man who ever lived, although I admit that my people, as long as I obeyed the rules, were never pushy or intrusive. They didn't come barging into my thoughts unless I invited them. But they were always ready. And if those nine years were less than perfect, at least I was never lonesome. Success, with me, was not a lonely thing.
And there were women.
Yes, there were women. And finally, at the end of it, there was a woman--and that was it.
As they had explained it, they were prepared to be tolerant about my--ah--relations with women as long as I was "reasonable" in my selection. Come to find out, they were prepared to be not just tolerant but insistent--and very selective.
First there was Helga.
Helga was Uncle John's secretary, a great big, healthy, rosy-cheeked, blonde Swedish girl, terrific if you liked the type. Me, I hadn't ever made a move in her direction, partly because she was so close to Uncle John, but mostly because my tastes always ran to the smaller types. But tastes can be changed.
Ten days after that first conversation with my people I'd already cleared something like $50,000 in a few speculations in the commodity market. I was feeling a little moody in spite of it, and I decided to quit my job. So I went up that afternoon to Uncle John's office to tell him.
Uncle John was out. Helga was in. There she was, five foot eleven of big, bouncy, blonde smorgasbord. Wow! Before, I'd seen Helga a hundred times, looked with mild admiration but not one real ripple inside. And now, all at once, wow! That was my people, of course, manipulating glands, thoughts, feelings. "Wow!" it was.
First things first. "Helga, Doll! Ah! Where's Uncle John?"
"Johnny! That's the first time you ever called me--hm-m--Mr. Barth has gone for the day ... Johnny."
She hadn't even looked at me before. My--uh--government was growing more powerful. It was establishing outside spheres of influence. Of course, at the time, I didn't take the trouble to analyze the situation; I just went to work on it.
As they say, it is nice work if you can get it.
I could get it.
It was a good thing Uncle John didn't come bustling back after something he'd forgotten that afternoon.
I didn't get around to quitting my job that afternoon. Later on that evening, I took her home. She wanted me to come in and meet her parents, yet! But I begged off that--and then she came up with a snapper. "But we will be married, Johnny darling. Won't we? Real soon!"
"Uh," I said, making a quick mental plane reservation for Rio, "sure, Doll. Sure we will." I broke away right quick after that. There was a problem I wanted to get a little advice on.
What I did get, actually, was a nasty shock.
Back in my apartment--my big, new, plush apartment--I sat down to go over the thing with the Department of the Interior. The enthusiastic response I got surprised me. "Magnificent," was the word. "Superb. Great!"
Well, I thought myself that I had turned in a pretty outstanding performance, but I hadn't expected such applause. "It is a first step, a splendid beginning! A fully equipped, well-armed expedition will have the place settled, under cultivation and reasonably civilized inside of a day or two, your time. It will be simple for them. So much more so than in your case--since we now know precisely what to expect."