Ronny got up from the grass and went into the kitchen, stumbling in his walk like a beginning toddler.
"Choc-mil?" he said to his mother.
She poured him some and teased gently, "What's the matter, Ronny--back to baby-talk?"
He looked at her with big solemn eyes and drank slowly, not answering.
In the cell somewhere distant, Dr. Purcell, famous biochemist, began waveringly trying to rise to his feet, unable to remember hunger as anything separate from him that could ever be ended, but weakly wanting a glass of water. Ronny could not feed him with the chocolate milk. Even though this was another himself, the body that was drinking was not the one that was thirsty.
He wandered out into the backyard again, carrying the glass.
"Bang," he said deceptively, pointing with his hand in case his mother was looking. "Bang." Everything had to seem usual; he was sure of that. This was too big a thing, and too private, to tell a grownup.
On the way back from the sink, Dr. Purcell slipped and fell and hit his head against the edge of the iron cot. Ronny felt the edge gashing through skin and into bone, and then a relaxing blankness inside his head, like falling asleep suddenly when they are telling you a fairy story while you want to stay awake to find out what happened next.
"Bang," said Ronny vaguely, pointing at a tree. "Bang." He was ashamed because he had fallen down in the cell and hurt his head and become just Ronny again before he had finished sending out his equations. He tried to make believe he was alive again, but it didn't work.
You could never make-believe anything to a real good finish. They never ended neatly--there was always something unfinished, and something that would go right on after the end.
It would have been nice if the jailers had come in and he had been able to say something noble to them before dying, to show that he was brave.
"Bang," he said randomly, pointing his finger at his head, and then jerked his hand away as if it had burned him. He had become the wrong person that time. The feel of a bullet jolting the side of his head was startling and unpleasant, even if not real, and the flash of someone's vindictive anger and self-pity while pulling a trigger.... My wife will be sorry she ever.... He didn't like that kind of make-believe. It felt unsafe to do it without making up a story first.
Ronny decided to be Indian braves again. They weren't very real, and when they were, they had simple straightforward emotions about courage and skill and pride and friendship that he would like.
A man was leaning his arms on the fence, watching him. "Nice day." What's the matter, kid, are you an esper?
"Hul-lo." Ronny stood on one foot and watched him. Just making believe. I only want to play. They make it too serious, having all these troubles.
"Good countryside." The man gestured at the back yards, all opened in together with tangled bushes here and there to crouch behind, when other kids were there to play hide and seek, and with trees to climb. It can be the Universe if you pick and choose who to be, and don't let wrong choices make you shut off from it. You can make yourself learn from this if you are strong enough. Who have you been?
Ronny stood on the other foot and scratched the back of his leg with his toes. He didn't want to remember. He always forgot right away, but this grownup was confident and young and strong-looking, and meant something when he talked, not like most grownups.
"I was playing Indian." I was an old chief, captured by enemies, trying to pass on to other warriors the wisdom of my life before I died. He made believe he was the chief a little to show the young man what he was talking about.
"Purcell!" The man drew in his breath between his teeth, and his face paled. He pulled back from reaching Ronny with his feelings, like holding his breath in. "Good game." You can learn from him. Don't leave him shut off, I beg you. You can let him influence you without being pulled off your own course. He was a good man. You were honored, and I envy the man you will be if you contacted him on resonant similarities.
The grownup looked frightened. But you are too young. You'll block him out and lose him. Kids have to grow and learn at their own speed.
Then he looked less afraid, but uncertain, and his thoughts struggled against each other. Their own speed. But there should be someone alive with Purcell's pattern and memories. We loved him. Kids should grow at their own speed, but.... How strong are you, Ronny? Can you move ahead of the normal growth pattern?
Grownups always want you to do something. Ronny stared back, clenching his hands and moving his feet uneasily.
The thoughts were open to him. Do you want to be the old chief again, Ronny? Be him often, so you can learn to know what he knew? (And feel as he felt. It would be a stiff dose for a kid.) It will be rich and exciting, full of memories and skills. (But hard to chew. I'm doing this for Purcell, Ronny, not for you. You have to make up your own mind.) "That was a good game. Are you going to play it any more?"
His mother would not like it. She would feel the difference in him, as much as if he had read one of the books she kept away from him, books that were supposed to be for adults only. The difference would hurt her. He was being bad, like eating between meals. But to know what grownups knew....
He tightened his fists and looked down at the grass. "I'll play it some more."
The young man smiled, still pale and holding half his feelings back behind a dam. Then mesh with me a moment. Let me in.
He was in with the thought, feeling Ronny's confused consent, reassuring him by not thinking or looking around inside while sending out a single call, Purcell, Doc, that found the combination key to Ronny's guarded yesterdays and last nights and ten minutes agos. Ronny, I'll set that door, Purcell's memories, open for you. You can't close it, but feel like this about it--and he planted in a strong set, questioning, cool, open, a feeling of absorbing without words ... it will give information when you need it, like a dictionary.
The grownup straightened away from the fence, preparing to walk off. Behind a dam pressed grief and anger for the death of the man he called Purcell.
"And any time you want to be the old chief, at any age he lived, just make believe you are him."
Grief and anger pressed more strongly against the dam, and the man turned and left rapidly, letting his thoughts flicker and scatter through private memories that Ronny did not share, that no one shared, breaking thought contact with everyone so that the man could be alone in his own mind to have his feelings in private.
Ronny picked up the empty glass that had held his chocolate milk from the back steps where he had left it and went inside. As he stepped into the kitchen, he knew what another kitchen had looked like for a five-year-old child who had been Purcell ninety years ago. There had been an iron sink, and a brown-and-green-spotted faucet, and the glass had been heavier and transparent, like real glass.
Ronny reached up and put the colored plastic tumbler down.
"That was a nice young man, dear. What did he say to you?"
Ronny looked up at his mamma, comparing her with the remembered mamma of fifty years ago. He loved the other one, too.
"He tol' me he's glad I play Indian."
THE DEADLY DAUGHTERS.
By Winston K. Marks
These gorgeous fanatics were equally at home with men, murder, or matrimony, and they used all three with amazing success.
Dr. Hubert Long, 40, bachelor and assistant professor of political science at Mentioch University, thrust his rugged, unlovely face forward, sticking out his neck literally and figuratively.
"The Humanist Party," he shouted at the 800 odd students in the lecture hall, "is not a political party at all. It's an oligarchy, so firmly established in Washington that our electoral form of government is an empty ritual, a ridiculous myth. Our elections are rigged to perpetuate a select group of feminists in absolute power."
The mixed group of seniors stirred in their seats with wide eyes, and many began taking notes.
"This may cost me my position at the university," he said grimly, "but the time has come for all responsible citizens to face the fact that the Government of the United States of America has degenerated into little better than an absolute dictatorship!"
This time a rustle of whispering grew to restless buzzing. A young man in a bowtie leaped to his feet breaking the no-questions rule in Long's over-size classes. "May the Mentioch Bugle quote you, Dr. Long?"
"You may headline those views, and I hope you do," Long declared belligerently, adding extra emphasis.
"Exactly what do you imply when you call the Humanist Party a group of feminists?" the young man asked, encouraged.
Long's gaze swept out, noting the mild amusement on the faces of the men students, the growing annoyance in the women. He fixed the reporter for the campus paper with a level stare. "I suppose you feel that because only 30 percent of our legislatures are women, that men still dominate Congress?"
"I think that is the popular conception," the reporter said in a patronizing tone.
"Then think again, young man. Analyze the composition of the Senate and House, and break down the key committee appointments by sexes. You will find three-fourths of these posts held by women, and the balance are held by men whose wives are members of the top-level Humanist Party movement. I say to you that our whole nation is dominated by a handful of female fanatics to whom intellectual integrity is unknown."
"What are your indictments? Please enumerate--"
"I will, I will," Long shouted, ignoring the microphone before him. "Without consideration of our national prestige the Humanist Party has emasculated our influence as a world power with its pacifistic actions. On the domestic front, the Party has initiated a program of so-called Internal Security, a cradle-to-the-grave pampering that amounts to the most vicious State-Socialism the world has seen since the fall of Soviet Russia. We are fast becoming slaves to the soft, gutless bureaucracy in Washington that feeds us, wipes our noses, encourages excessive breeding and enforces its fantastic policies by use of goon squads!"
"Goon squads?" The young reporter lost his smile. "You had better clarify that, Dr. Long. I wouldn't want to join you in a libel action."
"Keep quoting me," Long snarled. "I said goon squads, and I meant just that. Once I belonged to a scholarly fraternity of political scientists who were critical of our government. Of some eighteen members, I am the only one left in public life. The rest have all disappeared, and I have no doubt that my previous silence on these matters is all that has saved me. But the time for discretion is past. If we are to save our independence and democratic freedoms the time for action is now! I say to you--"
It made more than the headlines of the college campus at Mentioch. The news-wire services picked it up, and Dr. Long's radical views made pages two and three all over the nation.
Emily Bogarth, head of Internal Security, raged at her assistant, bald-headed Terman Donlup. "Must I read about these things in the papers to keep up on subversive activity?"
"But the man's record shows complete stability," Donlup defended. "He simply blew up without any warning at all. The Dean of Women at Mentioch tells me that Dr. Long has never had a word of criticism from his department head. I suppose we had better remove him from his position at once, eh?"
Madame Secretary Bogarth shook her head. "That's not enough. This calls for liquidation. I want a special squad on this one." She began writing names on a sheet of paper, names of some of the most effective unscrupulous yet faithful operators in the party's top echelon.
She handed it to Donlup. "This man is dangerous. He could force us into open control of the press and higher education. Get these people here not later than tomorrow. We can't waste time."
"Yes, Madame Secretary," Donlup saluted with a full bow and went to work.
The following afternoon Emily Bogarth faced the squad with its brilliant, green-eyed leader. She told them their mission and then dismissed all but one. "I'm sorry to hand this one to you. I know what a promising career you had before you. But this man is deadly to our purpose. Believe me, I am not wasting your special aptitudes."
"If it's for the good of the Party--"
"Dr. Hubert Long is a lighted fuse," Emily Bogarth said, her cold eyes hard on her operator, "that could blow the Humanist movement sky-high. I want you to snuff out that fuse." She squeezed a forefinger against her spatulate thumb.
The operator nodded and the green eyes flashed with the same fanatic spark that electrified American politics at the turn of the 21st century and launched the Humanist Party into its 30-year tenure of power.
At first only a shocked, embarrassed silence greeted Dr. Long on the campus of Mentioch University, but as the press notices of his utterances grew in volume so did his prestige.
He began to have a number of local visitors who evinced sharp interest in his views. At the end of the first week he was holding forth each evening to a sizable audience in his tiny bungalow on the edge of faculty row.
By nature a careful, practical man, Hubert Long now carried a small pistol in his coat pocket, but being also a fearless, independent individual, he admitted all callers and exposed himself daily to the public. It wasn't entirely personal bravado, however. He knew from his years of intense, discreet research that the goon squads rarely made their attacks in the public eye. When they liquidated him he fervently hoped they would make this mistake and prove his point concerning their operations.
Although he didn't seek martyrdom, Dr. Long was prepared for it, as he explained to the informal seminar that had accumulated at his home this Sunday afternoon. It was now late evening and the endless questions were beginning to grow wearying.
"How do you know," asked a skeptical businessman, "that I am not an assassin who will ambush you on the way to the bathroom tonight?"
There were several ladies present, and bachelor Long blushed with annoyance. "You might very well be," he retorted. "But probably I have some measure of temporary protection from the publicity I have received. My death, if it occurs, will doubtless appear to be from natural causes, or perhaps from a most ordinary but unfortunate accident."
He arose. "It's rather late and I have an early class. Will you excuse me? Thanks for coming, everyone of you." He nodded, trying to smile, but the chill thought from the businessman's remark persisted. Very possible it was that one or more members of a goon squad was among the twenty-some people now beginning to pick themselves off his worn carpet, footstool, coffee table and the meager furniture he could afford on his salary.
With a small start he realized that a youngish woman, in her early thirties, he guessed, was stalling as though she intended to remain behind. Sure enough, she closed the door behind the others and turned a very lovely face to him. "I think you are magnificent, Dr. Long," she said impulsively. "I hope you will spare me just a few minutes alone?"
Long slipped his right hand into his coat pocket casually. On her feet the woman displayed more than a beautiful face. Her figure was alarmingly feminine and rather aggressively displayed, feet akimbo, hips forward, shoulders back. Her hair was nearly platinum, but so expensively dressed it was impossible to determine whether it was artificially so.
She caught his hesitation. "Perhaps you would feel better out on the porch," she offered, smiling with such relaxed understanding that Long felt a little boorish.
"No. Sit down, please, I didn't catch your name earlier."
"Julie Stone," she introduced herself and held out a long, bare arm. Her hand squeezed his fingers warmly, more like a man's grip. "My brother is Senator Stone, and he asked me to stop by and meet you. Secretly he agrees with much of what you have said, but of course he is reluctant to expose himself until something of a formal movement is under way."
Long relaxed a little. This was good news, about the first he had had to date. Political figures were remaining eloquently silent in the press, and this was the first overture he had enjoyed from anyone more influential than the reporters.
She went on, "Specifically, my brother would like to know which of the other two political parties you favor, in the event you make an appeal through such channels."
"Either party," Long asserted with some emphasis. "In fact I would like to see a coalition of the Democratic and Republican Parties to overthrow this unholy Humanist gang."
Her forehead wrinkled. "Precisely Tom's idea. He's not at all certain it can be done, but he thinks that the press reaction you have had indicates there is a possibility if it is played right."
"Yes, the so-called free press," he said. "Some people have thrown that up to me. If the Humanists were dictators, they say, we wouldn't have this free press that has given my remarks currency. I read it differently. The Humanists have sold the press a bill of goods, and so they control the papers in the most effective way of all. You'll notice that they have printed my speeches strictly as news, you might say as oddities in the news. Editorial comment has been extremely noncommittal."
"I hope you are right," Long said. He made a pot of coffee, and they discussed the matter at some length. He liked this woman's direct, open approach, but she startled him as she was leaving.
"I have much to tell my brother," she said. "For my own curiosity, though, are you certain that some personal distrust or dislike for women hasn't influenced your attack against the government?"
It jarred him like an uppercut. Her detached manner had almost made him forget she was a woman herself. Now this.
"Why--why do you ask?"
She shrugged. "It was a natural thought. There aren't many confirmed bachelors these days."