Read The Iron Dream Online

Authors: Norman Spinrad

Tags: #General, #Science Fiction, #Fiction

The Iron Dream (2 page)

BOOK: The Iron Dream
2.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Why then did such patently contaminated material presume to attempt to pass Helder customs? The Borgravian in front of him was a fair example. True his surface veneer of genetic purity was marred only by an acrid chemical odor exuded by his skin, but such an obvious somatic aberration was sure indication of thoroughly contaminated genetic material. The Helder genetic analyst would spot it in an instant, even without recourse to 17

instruments. The Treaty of Karmak had forced Heldon to open its borders, but only to certifiable humans. Perhaps the answer was merely the pathetic desire of even the most genetically debased mongrel to gain admittance to the brotherhood of true men, a desire sometimes strong enough to override reason or the truth in the mirror.

- At any rate, the queue was moving along quite swiftly into the customs fortress; no doubt very rapid processing and rejection of most of the Borgravians was taking place inside. It was not long before Feric passed by the portal guards, through the portal itself, and stood on what might in a sense be regarded as Helder soil for the first time in his life.

The interior of the customs fortress was unmistakably Helder, in sharp contrast to everything else south of the Ulm, where unfortunate circumstance had confined Feric during his growth to manhood. The large antechamber bad a floor of smart red, black, and white tile, and similarly styled paintwork embellished the polished oaken walls. The chamber was brightened by powerful electric globes. What a far cry from the crudely finished, poured concrete interiors and tallow candles of the typical Borgravian public building!

A few yards inside the portal, a Helder customs guard in a somewhat slovenly gray uniform with tarnished brasswork divided the queue into two streams. All the more obvious mutants and mongrels were directed across the chamber and out through a door in the far wall. Feric approved heartily—there was no point in wasting the time of a genetic analyst with shambling quasi-humans such as these. An ordinary customs guard was quite qualified to dismiss them without further examination. The smaller number of hopefuls that the guard directed through a nearer door included quite a number of very dubious cases, such as the foul-smelling Borgravian who preceded Feric, but nothing on the order of a Blueskin or Parrotface.

However, as he approached the guard, Feric noticed a strange and disquieting thing. The guard seemed to nod to a good many of the mutants he guided into the reject line as if acknowledging familiarity; moreover, the Borgravians themselves acted as if they knew the drill, and, strangest of ally uttered not a word of protest at their exclusion, indeed displayed little emotion at all. Could it be that these sorry creatures were all so below the human geno-18

type in intelligence that they were incapable of retaining memories for more than a day or so and thus returned day after day ritualistically? Feric had heard that such fixated behavior was not unknown in the real genetic sinkholes of Cressia and Arbona, but he had never observed anything of the like in Borgravia, where the gene pool was constantly enriched by the exile of native-born Helder who could not quite be certified true humans, but who certainly were close enough to bring the level of the Borgravian gene pool far above that of places like Arbona or Zind.

As Feric reached the head of the queue, the customs guard addressed him in a flat, rather bored tone. "Day pass, citizen, or citizen candidate?"

"Citizen candidate," Feric replied crisply. Surely the only conceivable pass into Heldon was an official certificate of genetic purity! Either you already held Helder citizenship or you applied for certification and were found pure or you were refused admission to Heldon. What was this impossible third category?

The guard directed Feric into the smaller line with no more significant a gesture than the slack nodding of his head in the indicated direction. There was a pattern in all this, something about the whole tone of the operation, that Feric found profoundly disturbing, a wrongness that seemed to hover in the air, a deadness, a definite lack of the traditional Helder snap and dash. Had their daily isolation on the Borgravian side of the Ulm had some subtle detrimental effect on the esprit and will of these genetically robust Helder?

Wrapped in these somewhat somber musings, Feric followed the queue through the indicated doorway and into a long narrow room paneled in pine set off tastefully with ornately carved wooden trim depicting typical scenes from the Emerald Wood. A counter of black stone, polished to a high gloss and accented with inlaid stainless steel, ran down the length of the room, separating the queue from the four Helder customs officers who stood behind it.

These fellows seemed fine specimens of true humanity, but their uniforms were somewhat slovenly, and a certain proper soldierliness was absent from their bearing. They looked more like clerks in a money depository or a public post office than customs troops manning a citadel of genetic purity.

Feric's uneasiness grew as the sour-reeking Borgravian 19

preceding him finished his short interview with the first of the officers, wiped fingerprint ink off his hands with a rather soiled cloth, and followed the queue on down the line to the next Helder official. At the far end of the long room, Feric perceived the entrance to the bridge itself, where a guard armed with a truncheon and a pistol seemed to be passing an extremely dubious collection of genetic baggage on through to Heldon. In fact there was an insane perfunctory air about the whole operation.

The first Helder officer was young, blond, and a prime example of the true human genotype; moreover, though Feric sensed a certain laxness in his demeanor, his uniform was better tailored than most of the others Feric had noticed, freshly pressed, and the brasswork was at least untarnished, if not exactly gleaming. Before him on the shiny black counter were a pile of forms, a scriber, a blotter, a soiled scrap of cloth, and an inkpad.

The officer looked Feric straight in the eye, but the manliness of his gaze lacked a certain conviction. "Do you hold a certificate of genetic purity issued by the High Republic of Heldon?" he asked formally.

"I am applying for certification and admission to the High Republic as a Citizen and a true man," Feric replied with a dignity he hoped was sufficient to the occasion.

"So," the officer muttered diffidently, reaching for his scriber and the top form on the pile, and averting his blue eyes from Feric's person. "Let us dispose of the formalities. Name?"

"Feric Jaggar," Feric answered proudly, hoping for a flicker of recognition. For although Heermark Jaggar had only been a cabinet subofficial at the time of the peace of Karmak, there were surely those in the fatherland who Still revered the names of the martyrs of Karmak. But the guard showed no recognition of the honor implicit in Feric's pedigree and wrote the name on the form in a casual, even somewhat imprecise hand.

"Place of birth?"

"Gormond, Borgravia."

"Present citizenship?"

Feric winced somewhat as he was forced to admit his technical Borgravian nationality. "However," he felt constrained to add, "both my parents were native Helder, certificate holders, and pure humans. My father was Heermark Jaggar, who, served as undersecretary of genetic evaluation during the Great War."


"Surely you realize that not even the most illustrious pedigree can guarantee even a native-born Helder certification as a true man."

Feric's fair skin reddened. "I merely wish to point out that my father was exiled not for genetic contamination but for service to Heldon. Like many other good Helder, he was victimized by the loathsome Treaty of Karmak."

"It's none of my affair," the officer replied, inking Feric's fingertips and applying them to the proper boxes engraved on the form. "I'm not much interested in politics."

"Genetic purity is the politics of human survival!" Feric snapped.

"I suppose it is," the officer muttered inanely, handing him the odious ink rag, contaminated by the fingers of the mongrel in the queue before him—and by fate only knew how many others before that. Feric gingerly removed the ink from his fingers as best he could with a small unsoiled comer of the rag, while the young officer passed his form along to the Helder on his right.

This officer was an older man with trimly cropped gray hair and a dignified waxed mustache; obviously he had been an impressive figure in his prime. Now his eyes were red and rheumy as if from fatigue, and his shoulders stooped as if with the actual physical weight of the tremendous responsibility they metaphorically bore, for on the shoulder of his tunic was the red caducous in the black fist emblematic of the genetic analyst. The analyst glanced at the form, then spoke in a diffident voice, without looking directly at Peric.

"Trueman Jaggar, I am Dr. Heimat. It will be necessary to perform certain tests before issuing you a certificate of genetic purity."

Feric could scarcely credit his ears. What sort of genetic analyst was this that would so state the obvious while implicitly granting him the honorific of "Trueman" beforehand? Where was their sufficient cause to explain the slackness and incredible lack of rigor in the bearing and manner of the men manning this customs fortress?

Heimat passed the form to the underling at his right, a somewhat slender, fair young man with chestnut hair bearing the ensign of a scribe on his uniform. As the paper was handed over, Feric's attention was momentarily drawn to this scribe, and his puzzlement was instantly resolved in the most horrifying manner conceivable.

For although the scribe appeared genetically pure to all 21

but the highly sensitized eye, Feric knew for a certainty that this was a Dom!

He could not have precisely specified the characteristics of the scribe which marked him as a Dominator, but the total gestalt of the creature's presense fairly shrieked Dom at him through all his known and perhaps several unknown senses: a certain rodential gleam in the creature's eyes, a subtle smugness about his bearing. Perhaps there were other guideposts that Feric perceived on an entirely subliminal level: a wrongness in the body odor detectable only to the back reaches of his brain, an actual broadcast of electromagnetic energy subtle enough to arouse his suspicion even though the dominance field was not being directed at his own person. Perhaps it was simply that Feric, a true man isolated for- the most part among mutants and mongrels in a land heavily influenced by the Doms, had developed a psychic sensitivity to their presence that Helder who dwelt among their own kind lacked. At any rate, though constantly exposed to Dominators throughout his life, Feric had never been snared in a Dom's mental net, though at times his will had been severely taxed. This continuous exposure certainly enabled him to sniff out a Dom, whatever the subtleties of his method might be.

And standing there before him with scriber and form in hand at the very shoulder of a Helder genetic analyst in a most critical position was one of the loathsome creatures!

It explained everything. The whole garrison must be ensnared in varying degrees in the dominance pattern that this seemingly insignificant scribe had no doubt slowly and painstakingly constructed. It was monstrous! But what could be done? How could men trapped in the dominance net themselves be convinced of the presence of their master?

Heimat had a small panoply of his science's paraphernalia out before him, but it seemed a paltry display; the Borgravian quack he had been forced to settle for in Gormond had employed a broader spectrum of tests than the Helder had equipped himself to perform.

He handed Feric a large blue balloon. "Breathe into this, please," he said. "It's been chemically treated so that only the biochemical breath-profile associated with the pure human genotype will turn it green."

Feric exhaled into, the balloon, knowing full well that this was one of the most basic of tests; innumerable 22

mongrels had been known to have passed it, and, moreover, it was totally ineffective in weeding out Doms.

Presently, the balloon turned a bright green. "Breath analysis—positive," Heimat called out, and the Dominator scribe, without looking at either of them, made the appropriate mark on the form.

The analyst handed Feric a glass vial. "Expectorate into this, please. I will subject the composition of your saliva to chemical analysis."

Feric spat into the vial, wishing fervently that it were the face of the Dominator, who now looked up and stared at him with an infuriatingly feigned mildness.

Dr. Heimat diluted the saliva with water, then pipetted a bit of the liquid into each of a rack of ten glass tubes.

From a series of bottles, he decanted various chemicals into the tubes, so that the clear liquid in each turned colors: black, aqua, yellow, brick-orange, aqua again, red, once more yellow, yet again aqua, purple, and opaque white.

"Saliva analysis—one hundred percent perfect," the genetic analyst called out. This test, taking ten separate characteristics of pure human saliva separately as genetic criteria rather than merely testing the total biochemical gestalt, had perforce a much greater precision. However, there were dozens of mutations from the true human norm that were in no way linked to the composition of saliva or breath, including the Dominator mutation itself, which could not be smelled out by somatic tests at all.

Feric glared at the Dominator, daring the creature to test his will and reveal his true colors. But of course the scribe directed no psychic energies in his direction. Why should he expose himself to a passing stranger and thus risk the dissolution of his dominance pattern, when circumstances foreclosed the possibility of adding him to the string?

Dr. Heimat affixed the twin electrodes of a P-meter to the skin of Feric's right palm with a gummy vegetable adhesive. The P-meter consisted of a device for detecting the minute changes in bioelectricity generated by psychic responses, and a pen-and-drum apparatus for recording the resultant psychic profile. Its adherents claimed that, properly used, it was efficacious in the detection of Doms.

But it was impossible to be certain that the Doms had no conscious control over their psychic discharges and, there-23

BOOK: The Iron Dream
2.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Killing by Robert Muchamore
Unexpected by Lietha Wards
In the Belly of Jonah by Brannan, Sandra
Unhallowed Ground by Gillian White
Rosehaven by Catherine Coulter
Mendoza's Return by Susan Crosby
Decision Time by Earl Sewell
A Manual for Creating Atheists by Boghossian, Peter
The One Place by Laurel Curtis
Pets on Parade (Prospect House 2) by Welshman, Malcolm D.