The gray smile returned to the gray lips. "Suicide? What do you know about suicide, Art? I've been reading a few statistics on that, too. How many actual suicides do you think we had in this country last year?"
"A hundred thousand? Two hundred, maybe?"
"Two million." The President leaned forward. "Add to that, over a million murders and six million crimes of violence."
"I never knew-"
"Damned right you didn't! We used to have a Federal Bureau of Investigation to help prevent such things. Now the big job is merely to hush them up. We're doing everything in our power just to keep these matters quiet, or else there'd be utter panic. Then there's the accident total and the psycho rate. We can't build institutions fast enough to hold the mental cases, nor train doctors enough to care for them. Shifting them into other jobs in other areas doesn't cure, and it no longer even disguises what is happening. At this rate, another ten years will see half the nation going insane. And it's like this all over the world.
"This is race-suicide, Art. Race-suicide through sheer fecundity. Leffingwell is right. The reproductive instinct, unchecked, will overbalance group survival in the end. How long has it been since you were out on the streets?"
The Secretary of State shrugged. "You know I never go out on the streets," he said. "It isn't very safe."
"Of course not. But it's no safer for the hundreds of millions who have to go out every day. Accident, crime, the sheer maddening proximity of the crowds-these phenomena are increasing through mathematical progression. And they must be stopped. Leffingwell has the only answer."
"They won't buy it," warned the Secretary. "Congress won't, and the voters won't, any more than they bought birth-control. And this is worse."
"I know that, too." The President rose and walked over to the window, looking out at the sky-scraper apartments which loomed across what had once been the Mall. He was trying to find the dwarfed spire of Washington's Monument in the tangled maze of stone.
"If I go before the people and sponsor Leffingwell, I'm through. Through as President, through with the Party. They'll crucify me. But somebody in authority must push this project. That's the beginning. Once it's known, people will have to think about the possibilities. There'll be opposition, then controversy, then debate. And gradually Leffingwell will gain adherents. It may take five years, it may take ten. Finally, the change will come. First through volunteers. Then by law. I only pray that it happens soon."
"They'll curse your name," the Secretary said. "They'll try to kill you. It's going to be hell."
"Hell for me if I do, yes. Worse hell for the whole world if I don't."
"But are you quite sure it will work? His method, I mean?"
"You saw the reports on his tests, didn't you? It works, all right. We've got more than just abstract data, now. We've got films for the telescreenings all set up."
"Films? You mean you'll actually show what the results are? Why, just telling the people will be bad enough. And admitting the government sponsored the project under wraps. But when they see, nothing on earth can save you from assassination."
"Perhaps. It doesn't really matter." The President crushed his cigarette in the ashtray. "One less mouth to feed. And I'm getting pretty sick of synthetic meals, anyway."
President Winthrop turned to the Secretary, his eyes brightening momentarily. "Tell you what, Art. I'm not planning on breaking the proposal to the public until next Monday. What say we have a little private dinner party on Saturday evening, just the Cabinet members and their wives? Sort of a farewell celebration, in a way, but we won't call it that, of course? Chef tells me there's still twenty pounds of hamburger in the freezers."
"Twenty pounds of hamburger? You mean it?" The Secretary of State was smiling, too.
"That's right." The President of the United States grinned in anticipation. "Been a long time since I've tasted a real, honest-to-goodness hamburger."
4. Harry Collins-2000
Harry didn't ask any questions. He just kept his mouth shut and waited. Maybe Dr. Manschoff suspected and maybe he didn't. Anyway, there was no trouble. Harry figured there wouldn't be, as long as he stayed in line and went through the proper motions. It was all a matter of pretending to conform, pretending to agree, pretending to believe.
So he watched his step-except in the dreams, and then he was always falling into the yawning abyss.
He kept his nose clean-but in the dreams he smelled the blood and brimstone of the pit.
He managed to retain a cheerful smile at all times-though, in the dreams, he screamed.
Eventually, he even met Myrna. She was the pretty little brunette whom Ritchie had mentioned, and she did her best to console him-only in dreams, when he embraced her, he was embracing a writhing coil of slimy smoke.
It may have been that Harry Collins went a little mad, just having to pretend that he was sane. But he learned the way, and he managed. He saved the madness (or was it the reality?) for the dreams.
Meanwhile he waited and said nothing.
He said nothing when, after three months or so, Myrna was suddenly "transferred" without warning.
He said nothing when, once a week or so, he went in to visit with Dr. Manschoff.
He said nothing when Manschoff volunteered the information that Ritchie had been "transferred" too, or suggested that it would be best to stay on for "further therapy."
And he said nothing when still a third nurse came his way; a woman who was callid, complaisant, and nauseatingly nymphomaniac.
The important thing was to stay alive. Stay alive and try to learn.
It took him almost an additional year to find out what he wanted to find out. More than eight months passed before he found a way of sneaking out of his room at night, and a way of getting into that Third Unit through a delivery door which was occasionally left open through negligence.
Even then, all he learned was that the female patients did have their living quarters here, along with the members of the staff and-presumably-Dr. Leffingwell. Many of the women were patients rather than nurses, as claimed, and a good number of them were in various stages of pregnancy, but this proved nothing.
Several times Harry debated the possibilities of taking some of the other men in his Unit into his confidence. Then he remembered what had happened to Arnold Ritchie and decided against this course. The risk was too great. He had to continue alone.
It wasn't until Harry managed to get into Unit Four that he got what he wanted (what he didn't want) and learned that reality and dreams were one and the same.
There was the night, more than a year after he'd come to the treatment center, when he finally broke into the basement and found the incinerators. And the incinerators led to the operating and delivery chambers, and the delivery chambers led to the laboratory and the laboratory led to the incubators and the incubators led to the nightmare.
In the nightmare Harry found himself looking down at the mistakes and the failures and he recognized them for what they were, and he knew then why the incinerators were kept busy and why the black smoke poured.
In the nightmare he saw the special units containing those which were not mistakes or failures, and in a way they were worse than the others. They were red and wriggling there beneath the glass, and on the glass surfaces hung the charts which gave the data. Then Harry saw the names, saw his own name repeated twice-once for Sue, once for Myrna. And he realized that he had contributed to the successful outcome or issue of the experiments (outcome? Issue? These horrors?) and that was why Manschoff must have chosen to take the risk of keeping him alive. Because he was one of the good guinea pigs, and he had spawned, spawned living, mewing abominations.
He had dreamed of these things, and now he saw that they were real, so that nightmare merged with now, and he could gaze down at it with open eyes and scream at last with open mouth.
Then, of course, an attendant came running (although he seemed to be moving ever so slowly, because everything moves so slowly in a dream) and Harry saw him coming and lifted a bell-glass and smashed it down over the man's head (slowly, ever so slowly) and then he heard the others coming and he climbed out of the window and ran.
The searchlights winked across the courtyards and the sirens vomited hysteria from metallic throats and the night was filled with shadows that pursued.
But Harry knew where to run. He ran straight through the nightmare, through all the fantastic but familiar convolutions of sight and sound, and then he came to the river and plunged in.
Now the nightmare was not sight or sound, but merely sensation. Icy cold and distilled darkness; ripples that ran, then raced and roiled and roared. But there had to be a way out of the nightmare and there had to be a way out of the canyon, and that way was the river.
Apparently no one else had thought of the river; perhaps they had considered it as a possible avenue of escape and then discarded the notion when they realized how it ripped and raged among the rocks as it finally plunged from the canyon's mouth. Obviously, no one could hope to combat that current and survive.
But strange things happen in nightmares. And you fight the numbness and the blackness and you claw and convulse and you twist and turn and toss and then you ride the crests of frenzy and plunge into the troughs of panic and despair and you sweep round and round and sink down into nothingness until you break through to the freedom which comes only with oblivion.
Somewhere beyond the canyon's moiling maw, Harry Collins found that freedom and that oblivion. He escaped from the nightmare, just as he escaped from the river.
The river itself roared on without him.
And the nightmare continued, too....
5. Minnie Schultz-2009
When Frank came home, Minnie met him at the door. She didn't say a word, just handed him the envelope containing the notice.
"What's the matter?" Frank asked, trying to take her in his arms. "You been crying."
"Never mind." Minnie freed herself. "Just read what it says there."
Frank read slowly, determinedly, his features contorted in concentration. Vocational Apt had terminated his schooling at the old grade-school level, and while like all students he had been taught enough so that he could read the necessary advertising commercials, any printed message of this sort provided a definite challenge.
Halfway through the notice he started to scowl. "What kind of monkey business is this?"
"No monkey business. It's the new law. Everybody that gets married in Angelisco takes the shots, from now on. Fella from State Hall, he told me when he delivered this."
"We'll see about this," Frank muttered. "No damn government's gonna tell me how to run my life. Sa free country, ain't so?"
Minnie's mouth began to twitch. "They're coming back tomorra morning, the fella said. To give me the first shots. Gee, honey, I'm scared, like. I don't want 'em."
"That settles it," Frank said. "We're getting out of this place, fast."
"Where'd we go?"
"Dunno. Someplace. Texas, maybe. I was listening to the 'casts at work today. They don't have this law in Texas. Not yet, anyway. Come on, start packing."
"Packing? But how'll we get there?"
"Fly. We'll jet right out."
"You got prior'ty reservations or something?"
"No." The scowl returned to Frank's forehead. "But maybe if I pitch 'em a sob story, tell 'em it's our honeymoon, you know, then we could-"
Minnie shook her head. "It won't work, honey. You know that. Takes six months to get a prior'ty clearance or whatever they call it. Besides, your job and all-what'll you do in Texas? They've got your number listed here. Why, we couldn't even land, like. I bet Texas is even more crowded than Angelisco these days, in the cities. And all the rest of it is Ag Culture project, isn't it?"
Frank was leaning against the sink, listening. Now he took three steps forward and sat down on the bed. He didn't look at her as he spoke.
"Well, we gotta do something," he said. "You don't want those shots and that's for sure. Maybe I can have one of those other things instead, those whaddya-call-'ems."
"You mean where they operate you, like?"
"That's right. A vas-something. You know, sterilize you. Then we won't have to worry."
Minnie took a deep breath. Then she sat down and put her arm around Frank.
"But you wanted kids," she murmured. "You told me, when we got married, you always wanted to have a son-"
Frank pulled away.
"Sure I do," he said. "A son. That's what I want. A real son. Not a freak. Not a damned little monster that has to go to the Clinic every month and take injections so it won't grow. And what happens to you if you take your shots now? What if they drive you crazy or something?"
Minnie put her arm around Frank again and made him look at her. "That's not true," she told him. "That's just a lot of Naturalist talk. I know."
"Hell you do."
"But I do, honey! Honest, like! May Stebbins, she took the shots last year, when they asked for volunteers. And she's all right. You seen her baby yourself, remember? It's the sweetest little thing, and awful smart! So maybe it wouldn't be so bad."
"I'll ask about being operated tomorrow," Frank said. "Forget it. It don't matter."
"Of course it matters." Minnie looked straight at him. "Don't you think I know what you been going through? Sweating it out on that job day after day, going nuts in the traffic, saving up the ration coupons so's we'd have extra food for the honeymoon and all?
"You didn't have to marry me, you know that. It was just like we could have a place of our own together, and kids. Well, we're gonna have 'em, honey. I'll take the shots."
Frank shook his head but said nothing.
"It won't be so bad," Minnie went on. "The shots don't hurt at all, and they make it easier, carrying the baby. They say you don't even get morning sickness or anything. And just think, when we have a kid, we get a chance for a bigger place. We go right on the housing lists. We can have two rooms. A real bedroom, maybe."
Frank stared at her. "Is that all you can think about?" he asked. "A real bedroom?"
"What about the kid?" he muttered. "How you suppose it's gonna feel? How'd you like to grow up and not grow up? How'd you like to be a midget three feet high in a world where everybody else is bigger? What kind of a life you call that? I want my son to have a decent chance."
"He will have."
Minnie stared back at him, but she wasn't seeing his face. "Don't you understand, honey? This isn't just something happening to us. We're not special. It's happening to everybody, all over the country, all over the world. You seen it in the 'casts, haven't you? Most states, they adopted the laws. And in a couple more years it'll be the only way anyone will ever have kids. Ten, twenty years from now, the kids will be growing up. Ours won't be different then, because from now on all the kids will be just like he is. The same size."
"I thought you was afraid of the shots," Frank said.
Minnie was still staring. "I was, honey. Only, I dunno. I keep thinking about Grandma."
"What's the old lady got to do with it?"
"Well, I remember when I was a little girl, like. How my Grandma always used to tell me about her Grandma, when she was a little girl.
"She was saying about how in the old days, before there even was an Angelisco-when her Grandma came out here in a covered wagon. Just think, honey, she was younger than I am, and she come thousands and thousands of miles in a wagon! With real horses, like! Wasn't any houses, no people or nothing. Except Indians that shot at them. And they climbed up the mountains and they crossed over the deserts and went hungry and thirsty and had fights with those Indians all the way. But they never stopped until they got here. Because they was the pioneers."
"That's what Grandma said her Grandma called herself. A pioneer. She was real proud of it, too. Because it means having the courage to cut loose from all the old things and try something new when you need to. Start a whole new world, a whole new kind of life."
She sighed. "I always wanted to be a pioneer, like, but I never thought I'd get the chance."