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Authors: Anne McCaffrey

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BOOK: Restoree
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Monsorlit eyed him dispassionately.

“One day my techniques will replace this . . . this,” his gesture indicated the gardens and cottages, “unprofessional arrangement. There will be no need for it. Men may come to my hospital, broken in body or mind, and leave whole and sane.”

Gleto’s little eyes widened with a touch of horror.

“They aren’t dummies then; you’ve been restoring again. That’s your deal with Gorlot. I thought your safe-from-Milness had taken a tumble.” Gleto laughed derisively now. “How long do you think it’ll be before Council finds out! And gasses you and your vegetables!” Gleto stopped with a sudden thought and gasped, looking at me in terror. “Is this one a restoree? Are all these dummies restorees? Are you unloading the dead-alive on me?” he screeched, advancing on Monsorlit.

“Does she act like a restoree?” the physician asked calmly. “No, she acts exactly as she is, a moron from my Mental Defectives Clinic, repossessed through shock techniques of enough intelligence to perform the monotonous and routine duties of your establishment just as others from my Clinic pick fruits and vegetables in the farmlands of Motlina and South Cant. Don’t think you’re the only miser to take advantage of this type of limited perception personnel in these times of worker rebellions and rising prices. And don’t think you do me a favor when you use them. The only favor is to your fat self and your fattening purse.” Monsorlit accurately judged the fat man’s capacity for insult and took up another subject.

“The technician will be sent here for Harlan’s absorption rates and, because of his limited intelligence, will be unable to grasp the necessity for performing any other tests. Trenor will, for all his imperfections, take a jaundiced view toward your neglect of his nine reluctant patients. The decision is up to you and I believe your loss would be the greatest.”

Monsorlit left the room, motioning to the technician to collect the cart.

Gleto stared after the precise figure, pouting angrily, and when the technician nervously tipped over several bottles on the table, his fat fist clubbed the man viciously. Satisfied, he hitched his tunic into a more comfortable crease over his shoulders and stalked out. I stood staring in front of me while the cart was wheeled out and for some minutes after the lock snapped into place. The tension of the scene between Gleto and Monsorlit was cold and heavy in the room and I was cold and scared.

 

CHAPTER TWO

T
HE UGLY MAN WHOM THEY
called Harlan lay twitching occasionally. I had considered it misfortune enough that he should have fallen over the edge of sanity in the prime of life. Now I knew him to be an unwilling drugged victim of some scheme, my pity was tinged with outraged righteousness. I looked more closely at the face, hoping to find in it some vestige of intelligence I had missed, some reassurance of personality to fit in with the entirely different role in which he was cast.

His gray eyes, their pupils dilated to the edge of the iris, stared with their customary vacuity at the ceiling. I saw now that the ugly face did have an innate strength and that immobility did not rob his long, heavily boned frame of its look of power. I wondered if a vibrant personality overcame the basic ugliness of features. Perhaps a smile. I fashioned one on the lax lips, but it was too much a mockery for me to judge the spontaneous effect.

I had noticed during my care of him the scars on his person: the new tissues were smooth, no gaping pulls to indicate stitches, not even on the raggedy gash across one cheek. The tip of one index finger was missing. He was a battered and bedamned fellow.

As I pitied him, I pitied myself, for my sympathy now tied me to him more effectively than any possible dedication to a mental cripple. I was stung with an impulse to batter down the door and run, run, run away from the fear, the implications of evil, the vulgarity of the guards and the massive frustrating boredom. I wanted to leave all this unfamiliarity, and somehow, although logic indicated I was nowhere near my own world, find my way home.

After I had settled him for the night, it occurred to me that if he were sane, he could help. And perhaps, he could be made sane. Monsorlit had spoken of doses in his food. If I could withhold his food long enough, he might partially recover, at least enough to help me.

There was one drawback. If I didn’t feed him, his hunger would betray me. And I would go hungry if I fed him all my food. I decided, in the final analysis, that I had no choice but to try this idea. I certainly didn’t know the planet and he did.

The next morning I fed him most of my food, and just a little of his own, eating the remainder of mine and some of his to sustain me. I felt strangely disoriented all day and had difficulty in forcing myself to move. The next day this feeling had increased so noticeably that I ate none of his food and gave him none. I got very hungry.

By the fifth day, I was ravenous and he was so restless during the night I had to block the speaker grill with a pillow. He was hungry, too, and bit savagely at the spoon, so that I gave him even the little I had reserved for myself, eating only enough of the blue food to stop the roaring within me.

That night, he spoke in his sleep and I lay rigid with terror that the pillow had not sufficiently muffled the sound. Every moment I expected the guard to come striding in.

During breakfast on the sixth day, his eyes blinked and he tried desperately to focus them. He was struggling so hard, mouthing sounds in an effort to speak, that I was torn between the desire to hear and the necessity of keeping him quiet.

Such hope as swelled in my heart for his return to sanity was rudely disappointed during our morning walk. He did not seem to grasp my furtive, whispered explanations. His eyes still blinking furiously to focus were as vacuous as ever. At dinner, he ate more normally, chewing with intense concentration. The night was a continual struggle for me, against the sleep I desperately craved, against his moaning which I had to muffle against my shoulder. The next morning, he actually seemed to see me and I smiled encouragingly, hopefully, patting his hand reassuringly. The witlessness had left his expression and he looked at me, deeply puzzled, struggling to form a question when the guard walked in on one of his sporadic visits. Rigid with horror, I stared at the man I had almost rescued, my one chance to leave this horrible place suddenly torn from me as success was so near.

The guard barely glanced at me. Furiously he jerked his finger at the red bowls and then, shouting a litany of “Blue bowl for the patient. Blue bowl for the patient,” he struck me again and again with his whip. I shrieked in pain and fear and cringed back from the flailing whip, trying to climb under the bed, away from the searing lash.

“This imbecile piece of idiocy is color-blind all of a sudden,” he yelled at the loudspeaker. “Blue bowl for the patient. Blue bowl for the patient,” he shouted, emphasizing his phrases with lashes for me until his rage was spent and I lay weeping, sore and bleeding, half under the bed.

Gleto arrived in minutes and examined the patient, giving him an injection and watching as I was made to feed Harlan from the blue bowls. Gleto added his blows to my painful back, grinning sadistically at my yelps. I cowered back against the wall as far from him as I could get.

“What bowl do you feed the patient from?” he demanded, advancing on me. “Red bowl?”

I shook my head violently.

“Blue bowl?”

I nodded violently.

“Blue bowl, blue bowl, blue, blue, blue,” he roared, punctuating each word with an open-handed slap on whatever part of my twisting body it met.

“Blue, blue, blue,” I shrieked back, covering my face with my arms and keeping my back to the wall.

“That’ll take care of her,” Gleto grunted with satisfaction and, to my weeping relief, he and the guard left.

Although some of the weals on my back and legs were bleeding, a warm soaking in the shower was all the treatment I had. That night, uncomfortable to the point where no position gave me relief or the solace of sleep, I lay awake. Several times, Harlan’s heavy limbs overlapped me and made me cry out involuntarily. The speaker chortled back with delight at my discomfort. I resolved not to give them additional satisfaction and stifled my moans.

Mulling over my “bravery,” I realized that I had actually escaped very lightly. The guards and Gleto were so secure in their assumption of my idiocy, they never once had questioned a deliberate attempt on my part to feed the prisoner the wrong food. They also assumed that I had made the mistake only once. They had not examined Harlan closely, but the administration of the drug had drawn him back into his witlessness. No technician, though, had come to take an absorption count. I had not yet lost my chance to escape nor to free Harlan from his stupor.

I was not lucky enough to continue my experiment with Harlan as immediately as I had resolved. A guard was present at every feeding for the next four days. Four longer days I never endured, filled with constant cuffs that added new bruises to barely healed ones and new obscenities to a list my limited experience had never wildly imagined.

As soon as I was sure they had decided I had learned my lesson, I started again. Nothing could have induced me to acquiesce now. That brief, if interrupted, respite from the drugged food contributed to Harlan’s quicker recovery. By the fourth day, he responded to my insistent urgings for silence. On the fifth day, he spoke for the first time on the morning walk. I saw the deliberate effort he made to keep his voice low. It was difficult for him to enunciate. He had to repeat the simplest phrase with frustrating ineptness.

“They beat you,” he managed to say finally, his eyes focusing on the bruises on my face and arms. I clutched at him and nearly wept for the unexpected comfort of his first rational words. A deep feeling of gratitude, joy, respect and love flooded me. I had been too long denied a normal society. The bruises abruptly lost their aches and I straightened shoulders I had curved against the tenderness of my back.

“How long?” he struggled to say, “am I here?”

“I don’t know. I have no way of telling.”

The approach of the guard curtailed conversation for a while.

“Way escape?”

“I don’t know.”

“You must,” he insisted.

I steered him toward the menacing opacity of the force screen fence and he nodded imperceptibly in understanding.

“There has to be a way,” he asserted. “The date?” and I could only shake my head as his look reproached me for my ignorance. He couldn’t know I had never been taught to tell the time of his world nor understand the names of days and months.

We were herded back to the cottage and the guard, while I shuddered apprehensively, kicked Harlan into the room as he always did. I ducked by as quickly as I could as much to escape the lascivious touch of the guard as to caution Harlan against violence and warn him about the ceiling speaker. He was staring at it as I hurried to him, his lips moving, his eyes snapping as the therapy of anger cleared his mind of the last hold of the drug.

He examined his jacket with care and discovered the needle and its paralytic fluid. With bare nails we managed to pry it out of the stiff fabric. He held it in his hand thoughtfully for the prize it was, looking speculatively at the door. He grinned suddenly, not at all nicely, and secreted the vial in the belt of his loose tunic.

I indicated that we would have to sit down, would have to follow the orders of the speaker assiduously, pantomined the pillow over the grillwork and nighttime. He nodded comprehension, sighing with impatience.

So we sat, facing each other. He looked above my head, deep in thought, his big hands flexing and stroking the arm of the chair as we waited.

Now his face was alive with the spirit of him, he was no longer an ugly person. His deep-set eyes sparkled and his mobile face showed some of the changes within him his thoughts provoked. Occasionally he would glance at me, curiously, smiling to reassure me. Once or twice, after some thought struck him, he inhaled as if to speak, caught himself and compressed his lips impatiently.

The arrival of dinner was a very welcome diversion. He reached for the blue bowl and I all but snatched it out of his hands. I hurriedly dumped it in the commode and showed him that it could not be eaten.

With a quizzical expression he regarded the one small portion of dinner that remained, shrugged his shoulders and divided it in two. Bowing with mock ceremony, he handed me my spoon with a flourish that made me want to laugh. We ate slowly to make our stomachs think they were being fed. I have since looked back on that bizarre first meal with Harlan as one of the happiest moments of my life.

To have found a friend, again, to be companionable with another human!

The next day, at lunchtime, we had an awful moment. As Harlan was about to dump the blue bowl with obvious relish, I heard the lock turn. Harlan needed no prompting to assume a stupid expression. I began, slowly, to feed him from the blue bowl. The guard watched this performance, fingering his whip. I trusted he interpreted my trembling as fear of a beating rather than terror at discovery. He left and the lock clicked us into privacy.

Harlan rose swiftly and, by the simple expedient of thrusting a finger down his throat, expelled the drugged food.

That first night, lying beside him on our mutual bed after the muffling pillow had been crammed against the grillwork was another of my special memories. I was keenly aware of his warm strength beside me. Before I had had no thoughts at all about the propriety of sleeping next to an inert moron, but a vibrant personality rested beside me now and I was acutely conscious of myself and him.

Harlan recovered control of his tongue, but he was puzzled at my own still-halting speech and my inability to understand parts of his questions.

His perplexity made me nervous in a half-fearful way as if by the mere accident of not speaking clearly, I had committed some wrong. Defensively and with some involved explanations of my presence, I managed to make it clear that I knew I came from another solar system. His doubt was so apparent that I sketched the Sun and its planets by fingernail into the bedsheet. It held the impression long enough for him to grasp my meaning.

Immediately his expression became wary and veiled. He strained to see me clearly in the moonlight and shook his head impatiently at the limitations of that glow. We were lying side by side when he suddenly leaned away from his close inspection. He took my hands in his, stroking my wrists with hard thumbs. He sat up and did the same thing to my ankles, then my hairline. His confusion persisted and, against my soundless protest, he turned back my dress to run light, impersonal fingers over the rest of my body as though I had been someone dead. This reassured whatever worried him. But his body remained tense and his expression was no longer as open and friendly as before.

He asked me almost too casually how I got here.

“I don’t know. But you do believe me . . . that I’m not from this world?”

He shrugged.

“My sun has nine planets, my world only one moon; my sun is golden, not green,” I persisted urgently. “And the reason I have trouble understanding you is that you speak so fast and use words I don’t know. It isn’t because I’m stupid . . . or insane.”

His withdrawal made me frantic that I might lose the precious companionship I had so recently won. He must understand me so he would take me with him. I could see he had every intention of escaping as soon as he could. I had no doubts he would succeed or die in the attempt. Death to me was preferable to the alternative of remaining in this ghastly place.

BOOK: Restoree
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