So was Harry Collins' face, when he emerged from his interview with Dr. Manschoff that evening. And it was still pallid the next afternoon when he came down to the river bank and waited for Ritchie to reappear.
The little man emerged from the bushes. He stared at Harry's drawn countenance and nodded slowly.
"I was right, eh?" he muttered.
"It looks that way. But I can't understand what's going on. If this isn't just a treatment center, if they're not really interested in my welfare, then what am I doing here?"
"You're taking part in an experiment. This, my friend, is a laboratory. And you are a nice, healthy guinea pig."
"But that doesn't make sense. I haven't been experimented on. They've let me do as I please."
"Exactly. And what do guinea pigs excel at? Breeding."
"You mean this whole thing was rigged up just so that Sue and I would-?"
"Please, let's not be so egocentric, shall we? After all, you're not the only male patient in this place. There are a dozen others wandering around loose. Some of them have their favorite caves, others have discovered little bypaths, but all of them seem to have located ideal trysting-places. Whereupon, of course, the volunteer nurses have located them."
"Are you telling me the same situation exists with each of the others?"
"Isn't it fairly obvious? You've shown no inclination to become friendly with the rest of the patients here, and none of them have made any overtures to you. That's because everyone has his own little secret, his own private arrangement. And so all of you go around fooling everybody else, and all of you are being fooled. I'll give credit to Manschoff and his staff on that point-he's certainly mastered the principles of practical psychology."
"But you talked about breeding. With our present overpopulation problem, why in the world do they deliberately encourage the birth of more children?"
"Very well put. 'Why in the world' indeed! In order to answer that, you'd better take a good look at the world."
Arnold Ritchie seated himself on the grass, pulled out a pipe, and then replaced it hastily. "Better not smoke," he murmured. "Be awkward if we attracted any attention and were found together."
Harry stared at him. "You are a Naturalist, aren't you?"
"I'm a reporter, by profession."
"No network. Newzines. There are still a few in print, you know."
"I know. But I can't afford them."
"There aren't many left who can, or who even feel the need of reading them. Nevertheless, mavericks like myself still cling to the ancient and honorable practices of the Fourth Estate. One of which is ferreting out the inside story, the news behind the news."
"Then you're not working for the Naturalists."
"Of course I am. I'm working for them and for everybody else who has an interest in learning the truth." Ritchie paused. "By the way, you keep using that term as if it were some kind of dirty word. Just what does it mean? What is a Naturalist, in your book?"
"Why, a radical thinker, of course. An opponent of government policies, of progress. One who believes we're running out of living space, using up the last of our natural resources."
"What do you suppose motivates Naturalists, really?"
"Well, they can't stand the pressures of daily living, or the prospects of a future when we'll be still more hemmed in."
Ritchie nodded. "Any more than you could, a few months ago, when you tried to commit suicide. Wouldn't you say that you were thinking like a Naturalist then?"
Harry grimaced. "I suppose so."
"Don't feel ashamed. You saw the situation clearly, just as the so-called Naturalists do. And just as the government does. Only the government can't dare admit it-hence the secrecy behind this project."
"A hush-hush government plan to stimulate further breeding? I still don't see-"
"Look at the world," Ritchie repeated. "Look at it realistically. What's the situation at present? Population close to six billion, and rising fast. There was a leveling-off period in the Sixties, and then it started to climb again. No wars, no disease to cut it down. The development of synthetic foods, the use of algae and fungi, rules out famine as a limiting factor. Increased harnessing of atomic power has done away with widespread poverty, so there's no economic deterrent to propagation. Neither church nor state dares set up a legal prohibition. So here we are, at the millennium. In place of international tension we've substituted internal tension. In place of thermonuclear explosion, we have a population explosion."
"You make it look pretty grim."
"I'm just talking about today. What happens ten years from now, when we hit a population-level of ten billion? What happens when we reach twenty billion, fifty billion, a hundred? Don't talk to me about more substitutes, more synthetics, new ways of conserving top-soil. There just isn't going to be room for everyone!"
"Then what's the answer?"
"That's what the government wants to know. Believe me, they've done a lot of searching; most of it sub rosa. And then along came this man Leffingwell, with his solution. That's just what it is, of course-an endocrinological solution, for direct injection."
"Leffingwell? The Dr. Leffingwell whose name was on that photostat? What's he got to do with all this?"
"He's boss of this project," Ritchie said. "He's the one who persuaded them to set up a breeding-center. You're his guinea pig."
"But why all the secrecy?"
"That's what I wanted to know. That's why I scurried around, pulled strings to get a lab technician's job here. It wasn't easy, believe me. The whole deal is being kept strictly under wraps until Leffingwell's experiments prove out. They realized right away that it would be fatal to use volunteers for the experiments-they'd be bound to talk, there'd be leaks. And of course, they anticipated some awkward results at first, until the technique is refined and perfected. Well, they were right on that score. I've seen some of their failures." Ritchie shuddered. "Any volunteer-any military man, government employee or even a so-called dedicated scientist who broke away would spread enough rumors about what was going on to kill the entire project. That's why they decided to use mental patients for subjects. God knows, they had millions to choose from, but they were very particular. You're a rare specimen, Collins."
"Because you happen to fit all their specifications. You're young, in good physical condition. Unlike ninety percent of the population, you don't even wear contact lenses, do you? And your aberration was temporary, easily removed by removing you from the tension-sources which created it. You have no family ties, no close friends, to question your absence. That's why you were chosen-one of the two hundred."
"Two hundred? But there's only a dozen others here now."
"A dozen males, yes. You're forgetting the females. Must be about fifty or sixty in the other building."
"But if you're talking about someone like Sue, she's a nurse-"
Ritchie shook his head. "That's what she was told to say. Actually, she's a patient, too. They're all patients. Twelve men and sixty women, at the moment. Originally, about thirty men and a hundred and seventy women."
"What happened to the others?"
"I told you there were some failures. Many of the women died in childbirth. Some of them survived, but found out about the results-and the results, up until now, haven't been perfect. A few of the men found out, too. Well, they have only one method of dealing with failures here. They dispose of them. I told you about that chimney, didn't I?"
"You mean they killed the offspring, killed those who found out about them?"
"But what are they actually doing? Who is this Dr. Leffingwell? What's it all about?"
"I think I can answer those questions for you."
Harry wheeled at the sound of the familiar voice.
Dr. Manschoff beamed down at him from the top of the river bank. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "I wasn't following you with any intent to eavesdrop. I was merely concerned about him." His eyes flickered as he directed his gaze past Harry's shoulder, and Harry turned again to look at Arnold Ritchie.
The little man was no longer standing and he was no longer alone. Two attendants now supported him, one on either side, and Ritchie himself sagged against their grip with eyes closed. A hypodermic needle in one attendant's hand indicated the reason for Ritchie's sudden collapse.
"Merely a heavy sedative," Dr. Manschoff murmured. "We came prepared, in expectation of just such an emergency." He nodded at his companions. "Better take him back now," he said. "I'll look in on him this evening, when he comes out of it."
"Sorry about all this," Manschoff continued, sitting down next to Harry as the orderlies lifted Ritchie's inert form and carried him up the slanting slope. "It's entirely my fault. I misjudged my patient-never should have permitted him such a degree of freedom. Obviously, he's not ready for it yet. I do hope he didn't upset you in any way."
"No. He seemed quite"-Harry hesitated, then went on hastily-"logical."
"Indeed he is." Dr. Manschoff smiled. "Paranoid delusions, as they used to call them, can often be rationalized most convincingly. And from what little I heard, he was doing an excellent job, wasn't he?"
"I know." A slight sigh erased the smile. "Leffingwell and I are mad scientists, conducting biological experiments on human guinea pigs. We've assembled patients for breeding purposes and the government is secretly subsidizing us. Also, we incinerate our victims-again, with full governmental permission. All very logical, isn't it?"
"I didn't mean that," Harry told him. "It's just that he said Sue was pregnant and he was hinting things."
"Said?" Manschoff stood up. "Hinted? I'm surprised he didn't go further than that. Just today, we discovered he'd been using the office facilities-he had a sort of probationary position, as you may have guessed, helping out the staff in administration-to provide tangible proof of his artistic creations. He was writing out 'official reports' and then photostating them. Apparently he intended to circulate the results as 'evidence' to support his delusions. Look, here's a sample."
Dr. Manschoff passed a square of glossy paper to Harry, who scanned it quickly. It was another laboratory report similar to the one Ritchie had shown him, but containing a different set of names.
"No telling how long this sort of thing has been going on," Manschoff said. "He may have made dozens. Naturally, the moment we discovered it, we realized prompt action was necessary. He'll need special attention."
"But what's wrong with him?"
"It's a long story. He was a reporter at one time-he may have told you that. The death of his wife precipitated a severe trauma and brought him to our attention. Actually, I'm not at liberty to say any more regarding his case; you understand, I'm sure."
"Then you're telling me that everything he had to say was a product of his imagination?"
"No, don't misunderstand. It would be more correct to state that he merely distorted reality. For example, there is a Dr. Leffingwell on the staff here; he is a diagnostician and has nothing to do with psychotherapy per se. And he has charge of the hospital ward in Unit Three, the third building you may have noticed behind Administration. That's where the nurses maintain residence, of course. Incidentally, when any nurses take on a-special assignment, as it were, such as yours, Leffingwell does examine and treat them. There's a new oral contraception technique he's evolved which may be quite efficacious. But I'd hardly call it an example of sinister experimentation under the circumstances, would you?"
Harry shook his head. "About Ritchie, though," he said. "What will happen to him?"
"I can't offer any prognosis. In view of my recent error in judgment concerning him, it's hard to say how he'll respond to further treatment. But rest assured that I'll do my best for his case. Chances are you'll be seeing him again before very long."
Dr. Manschoff glanced at his watch. "Shall we go back now?" he suggested. "Supper will be served soon."
The two men toiled up the bank.
Harry discovered that the doctor was right about supper. It was being served as he returned to his room. But the predictions concerning Ritchie didn't work out quite as well.
It was after supper-indeed, quite some hours afterwards, while Harry sat at his window and stared sleeplessly out into the night-that he noted the thick, greasy spirals of black smoke rising suddenly from the chimney of the Third Unit building. And the sight may have prepared him for the failure of Dr. Manschoff's prophecy regarding his disturbed patient.
Harry never asked any questions, and no explanations were ever forthcoming.
But from that evening onward, nobody ever saw Arnold Ritchie again.
3. President Winthrop-1999
The Secretary of State closed the door.
"Well?" he asked.
President Winthrop looked up from the desk and blinked. "Hello, Art," he said. "Sit down."
"Sorry I'm late," the Secretary told him. "I came as soon as I got the call."
"It doesn't matter." The President lit a cigarette and pursed his lips around it until it stopped wobbling. "I've been checking the reports all night."
"You look tired."
"I am. I could sleep for a week. That is, I wish I could."
The President pushed the papers aside and drummed the desk for a moment. Then he offered the Secretary a gray ghost of a smile.
"The answer's still the same."
"But this was our last chance-"
"I know." The President leaned back. "When I think of the time and effort, the money that's been poured into these projects! To say nothing of the hopes we had. And now, it's all for nothing."
"You can't say that," the Secretary answered. "After all, we did reach the moon. We got to Mars." He paused. "No one can take that away from you. You sponsored the Martian flights. You fought for the appropriations, pushed the project, carried it through. You helped mankind realize its greatest dream-"
"Save that for the newscasts," the President said. "The fact remains, we've succeeded. And our success was a failure. Mankind's greatest dream, eh? Read these reports and you'll find out this is mankind's greatest nightmare."
"Is it that bad?"
"Yes." The President slumped in his chair. "It's that bad. We can reach the moon at will. Now we can send a manned flight to Mars. But it means nothing. We can't support life in either place. There's absolutely no possibility of establishing or maintaining an outpost, let alone a large colony or a permanent human residence. That's what all the reports conclusively demonstrate.
"Every bit of oxygen, every bit of food and clothing and material, would have to be supplied. And investigations prove there's no chance of ever realizing any return. The cost of such an operation is staggeringly prohibitive. Even if there was evidence to show it might be possible to undertake some mining projects, it wouldn't begin to defray expenses, once you consider the transportation factor."
"But if they improve the rockets, manage to make room for a bigger payload, wouldn't it be cheaper?"
"It would still cost roughly a billion dollars to equip a flight and maintain a personnel of twenty men for a year," the President told him. "I've checked into that, and even this estimate is based on the most optimistic projection. So you can see there's no use in continuing now. We'll never solve our problems by attempting to colonize the moon or Mars."
"But it's the only possible solution left to us."
"No it isn't," the President said. "There's always our friend Leffingwell."
The Secretary of State turned away. "You can't officially sponsor a thing like that," he muttered. "It's political suicide."