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Authors: H. F. Heard


BOOK: Doppelgangers
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H. F. Heard














He who meets his Going Double must go himself.




“You would do anything?”

“Anything.” It was the drill answer, but he gave it with conviction.

“Then read this.” In the silence could just be heard the faint fluttering sound of paper being handled. There followed a click and a fine pencil of rays formed a small spotlight that tracked to and fro for some dozen passes and then, with another click, vanished.

There was, a pause. Then the first voice continued, “You said, ‘Anything,' and you have taken the active-service oath. Now you have seen your instructions, and I gather from the impression that they have made on you that you will not forget them. I will now, therefore, burn this small memo.”

There was a short silence but no flame appeared.

The first voice again was audible: “I am also taking for granted your consent, for you know that anyone who sees an instruction is not open to change his mind.” Another pause. “That's obvious,” the first voice went on; “there can't be people going about who have seen a specific direction with which they have declined to co-operate.”

“But living clay, living clay.”

“Well, it's an apt term. There's nothing to be gained by being imprecise in brief instructions. You're being more highly trusted than any of the front line. You are to be given the one undetectable weapon.”

“What do you mean?”

“You won't have to wait long. We've succeeded. And now it's straightaway for you.”

A match spurted, but its light was under a table. The concealed flame wavered a moment or two and then sank. A chair was pushed back. After a moment another rasped on the stone floor. In the dark a narrow oblong of light began to glimmer.

Now sunk to a whisper, the first voice said, “At corner 45.67.23 at 21:15.”

Two blurs of darkness appeared on the oblong. The footsteps died away up a flight of stairs.

In the street the man under orders stopped. He was by himself and would be for long enough to be able to think. There were a couple of hours until the time given for the assignation. He was to have had a meal, but that was out of the question now. There was no way out, of course. But why should he be pitched on in this way? When he'd first joined—the cubs, they were called—they used to see if they could raise gooseflesh on each other by running through the different kinds of executions and beatings-up an agent might expect. He'd been good at the test; perhaps that was why they'd picked him now. But being killed can't last too long, and beatings-up and the whole sadistic box of tricks was different from this. They'd been taught the way “to hold yourself in.”—Oh yes, the underground had its defenses, and they were pretty good. They'd been scientific, without a doubt. They'd all been drilled in the air-locks, the special twists of internal muscles, even with the tongue swallow, so they could go out when they felt they were near breaking. And, as far as was known, none of the boys had broken, though about half must have been killed already.

Yes, the central Mole, as they called him, no doubt had a brain and was always one step in front of the silly brutes that swaggered and stamped on the surface. They had a cliché joke, “Talpa can always cap Alpha.” But one never thought that basic brain would think up this. Well, that was the curse of a big one; it always had a surprise up its sleeve. And no one had ever accused the Mole of mercy or of endangering the cause by showing any consideration for any agent. One couldn't help wondering whether that big brain had thought up this as a real ruse for undermining the enemy overhead, or simply as a new way of testing-training, just to see what the boys who could stand any of the standard stuff, and were proud of it, would do if met by something that just picked the stuffing out of them. It wouldn't be unlike him, after all. He was always getting a finer edge on his most edged tools. He was always looking for that last little hold of self-respect to cut it out as a dentist cuts nearer and nearer the nerve to be certain the last piece of soft decay has gone—and then builds up a defense, a front that won't break, harder than the original tooth. But that simile wouldn't do—too close to what the truth, the nauseating truth, seemed to be—though, again, you never could be sure. That was, at the start, the excitement of the assignment. But in the end one began to wear. One could be sure of one thing, that if you failed you were got. The trampling Bull above might be clumsy with his goring. The Mole below never missed his bite. But if you obeyed you weren't treated with any more leniency than if you revolted.

That proposition ran in his mind. What were they living for? Of course, for the future when the shadow would be gone and they'd all come out into the light, and, more, those who had gone deepest would be most on top and those who had been most in the mud and horror would be names in everyone's mouth and seen everywhere. But it had gone on a long while. True, they had become more and more skilled, but somehow their strokes, brilliant as they were, had never gone right home. True, they were so well planned that always it was possible to try again. Nothing was ever given away, and certainly Alpha and his tribe were kept in a state of quite unhealthy misgiving as to the ground under their every step. But as long as he and his mouthpiece kept the public ear he had an immense advantage.

You couldn't be a realist—and any sentimental hopefulness was a major disqualification for the Agency—and say it was just a clever coup d'état of a few scoundrels. The people may not have been behind it at the start, but they were now. Alpha could count on popular support if any government could. And that was his main defense, that great open country or belt of land, the good will and so-called patriotism of the people. That had to be crossed before you actually came up against the more scientific and specific defenses. What fools the people were!

But, again—if you were to have that cold mind that you had to have—were they such fools? Alpha gave them a good time, and, damn it, they were healthier and cheerier than they used to be. He'd not only put on monster shows and given them good food—
panem et circenses
—but he'd given them the vivid clothes and ranks and badges they'd always wanted to wear but which respectable democracy had said was in bad taste. Democracy's a gentleman's delusion, a preanthropological pretense.

And this newest of the dictators had learnt everything the others could teach and added a lot more. The elite could be virile but the people could just have a good time. The nonsense of inhibition for which the old totalitarians had fallen, this shrewd mind had seen through. A sour smile twisted the agent's face as he thought of that day long ago in Cuba when they were going to get the temporary tyrant out but he side-stepped them when the mob was ready to rush his guards by giving the cinemas a mass of pornographic films. The stalls filled, the streets emptied, and peace reigned in the capital. Of course, Alpha had improved on such crude inspirations of the moment. He didn't offend the churches by being too frank with the maximum lure. Indeed he was said to be increasingly interested in synthesizing or at least syncretizing Religion. And he'd had the biggest film men to help him. They knew the knife-edge on which to work.

The agent had been walking aimlessly and, like moth to candle, found his feet had taken him to one of the big, brilliantly lit parks in which one of the free cabaret shows was being put on. Troops of people were streaming across the grass to the seats, people as gaily and brightly dressed as if they were performers, too. And weren't they marionettes? He looked at his watch, yes, there was plenty of time before he need be at the corner, and the show might divert him. The shows were always first rate. Authority knew they had to be, and paid top prices for this, the first line of defense, the line of distraction. There was nothing about patriotism in them. That was stale—it was all fun and fooling.

As they all converged, a brightly costumed girl turned and smiled at him. You couldn't say she looked oppressed, unhappy, inhibited, nervous of tyranny or interference—the reverse, quite the reverse. Will we be able to make people as happy? he thought. Will good sense and freedom and responsibility make them as gay and carefree? He remembered the phrase common among his branch of the Agency: castrated animals grow fat. Yes, but these people weren't castrated—they were full of life but not of querulous questions. Surely something had been cut out from them! They were a pollarded people.

BOOK: Doppelgangers
11.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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