The Complete Stories (Page 74)

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"The law forbids us to do that, George. But look, it will not be bad. We will explain matters to your family so they will not be hurt. At the place to

which you’ll be taken, you’ll be allowed privileges. We’ll get you books and you can learn what you will."

"Dab knowledge in by hand," said George bitterly. "Shred by shred. Then, when I die I’ll know enough to be a Registered Junior Office Boy, Paper-Clip Division."

"Yet I understand you’ve already been studying books."

George froze. He was struck devastatingly by sudden understanding. ”That’s it. .

”What’s it?”

"That fellow Antonelli. He’s knifing me."

"No, George. You’re quite wrong."

"Don’t tell me that." George was in an ecstasy of fury. "That lousy b*****d is selling me out because he thought I was a little too wise for him. I read books and tried to get a head start toward programming. Well, what do you want to square things? Money? You won’t get it. I’m getting out of here and when I finish broadcasting this-"

He was screaming.

Ellenford shook his head and touched a contact.

Two men entered on catfeet and got on either side of George. They pinned his arms to his sides. One of them used an air-spray hypodennic in the hollow of his right elbow and the hypnotic entered his vein and had an almost immediate effect.

His screams cut off and his head fell forward. His knees buckled and only the men on either side kept him erect as he slept.

They took care of George as they said they would; they were good to him and unfailingly kind-about the way, George thought, he himself would be to a sick kitten he had taken pity on.

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They told him that he should sit up and take some interest in life; and then told him that most people who came there had the same attitude of despair at the beginning and that he would snap out of it.

He didn’t even hear them.

Dr. Ellenford himself visited him to tell him that his parents had been informed that he was away on special assignment.

George muttered, "Do they know-"

Ellenford assured him at once, "We gave no details."

At first George had refused to eat. They fed him intravenously. They hid sharp objects and kept him under guard. Hali Omani came to be his roommate and his stolidity had a calming effect.

One day, out of sheer desperate boredom, George asked for a book. Omani, who himself read books constantly, looked up, smiling broadly. George almost withdrew the request then, rather than give any of them satisfaction, then thought: What do I care?

He didn’t specify the book and Omani brought one on chemistry. It was in big print, with small words and many illustrations. It was for teen-agers. He threw the book violently against the wall.

That’s what he would be always. A teen-ager all his life. A pre-Educate forever and special books would have to be written for him. He lay smoldering in bed, staring at the ceiling, and after an hour had passed, he got up sulkily, picked up the book, and began reading.

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It took him a week to finish it and then he asked foi another.

"Do you want to take the first one back?" asked Omani.

George frowned. There were things in the book he had not understood, yet he was not so lost to shame as to say so.

But Omani said, "Come to think of it, you’d better keep it. Books are meant to be read and reread."

It was that same day that he finally yielded to Omani’s invitation that he tour the place. He dogged at the Nigerian’s feet and took in his surroundings with quick hostile glances.

The place was no prison certainly. There were no walls, no locked doors, no guards. But it was a prison in that the inmates had no place to go outside.

It was somehow good to see others like himself by the dozen. It was so easy to believe himself to be the only one in the world so-maimed.

He mumbled, "How many people here anyway?"

"Two hundred and five, George, and this isn’t the only place of the sort in the world. There are thousands."

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Men looked up as he passed, wherever he went; in the gymnasium, along the tennis courts; through the library (he had never in his life imagined books could exist in such numbers; they were stacked, actually stacked, along long shelves). They stared at him curiously and he returned the looks savagely. At least they were no better than he; no call for them to look at him as though he were some sort of curiosity.

Most of them were in their twenties. George said suddenly, "What happens to the older ones?"

Omani said, "This place specializes in the younger ones." Then, as though he suddenly recognized an implication in George’s question that he had missed earlier, he shook his head gravely and said, "They’re not put out of the way, if that’s what you mean. There are other Houses for older ones.”

"Who cares?" mumbled George, who felt he was sounding too interested and in danger of slipping into surrender.

"You might. As you grow older, you will find yourself in a House with Occupants of both sexes."

That surprised George somehow. "Women, too?"

‘Of course. Do you suppose women are immune to this sort of thing?"

George thought of that with more interest and excitement than he had felt for anything since before that day when- He forced his thought away from that.

Ornani stopped at the doorway of a room that contained a small closedCircuit television and a desk computer. Five or six men sat about the

television Orn~ said, "This is a classroom."

George said, "What’s that?"

"The young men in there are being educated. Not," he added, quickly, "in the usual way."

"You mean they’re cramming it in bit by bit."

"That’s right. This is the way everyone did it in ancient times."

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