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Copyright © 2017 by Kris Neville.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations em- bodied in critical articles or reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organiza- tions, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For information contact :
Sheba Blake Publishing
Book and Cover design by Sheba Blake Publishing
First Edition: January 2017
TABLE OF CONTENTS
When Julia (she pronounced the name without the "a" at the end) was twenty-four, she inherited $22,000 from an obscure uncle in California. After deducting taxes and administrative expenses, the California State Court ordered the money transferred to her bank account. It came to $20,247.50.
She had been working in a local book store. "I haven't the vaguest idea why it came to me," she told the curious and covertly envious customers. "I guess he just didn't know anybody else."
She was a small, slender girl. Her eyes were bright and enthusiastic, her open smile so friendly that it was infectious.
The first afternoon when the money was actually in the bank under her own name, her father asked, "Well, what are you going to do with it?" He was genuinely curious. He owned his own home and was about to retire on a pension. He felt uncomfortable in the face of $20,247.50--for which he was not able even to imagine a use.
Julia said, "I haven't exactly made up my mind yet." She intended to shop around for a husband, but she did not say this. She thought it would sound very callous to say: I'm going to buy me a husband: I've always wanted one.
* * * * *
Julia gave two weeks notice at the book store. When the time was up she took her last pay check and went to one of the modest dress shops and bought herself a conservative brown suit.
"You have a very nice figure," the clerk told her.
"Thank you." She studied him critically and then shook her head sadly. He wouldn't do.
I've got to be sure I get the right one, she thought. I'll know him when I see him, she reassured herself. It certainly isn't this one.
There ought, she thought, to be a lot of eligible bachelors in Hollywood. The movies ought to attract them.
* * * * *
Two days later she walked down to the bank and instructed the teller to transfer $5,000 of her money to a checking account in her name at the Security First National Bank in Los Angeles.
She told her father she was going to take a little vacation.
"There's plenty of eligible bachelors here," he said.
"Why dad!" she exclaimed indignantly. "... And anyway, none of them ever has asked me."
"God help the man you set your mind on, that's all I can say."
Out beyond the orbit of the moon there was a huge, wheel-shaped space station. Its rapid spin pressed the equivalent of one Earth gravity against its broad, thick rim. Once when the distortion field failed, the Mt. Palomar telescope tracked it for the better part of an hour, but earth astronomers attributed the track either to an irregularity in the photographic plate or to some peculiarity in the atmosphere.
Near the hub where the gravity was weak, the nine aliens lived; in the two rim compartments lived the mutants. There were almost a thousand of the latter--both male and female--in the larger compartment; and fewer than thirty--all male--in the smaller one.
"Soon, now," the mutants told each other with growing excitement, "we shall go down and kill them."
The aliens stepped up the power in the larger of the two transmitters. "Our indoctrination is perfect," they reassured themselves. "The mutants will not get out of hand."
Julia bought a round trip ticket on the Greyhound Bus and carried her bag to the waiting room. A few minutes later the bus drew up outside, bringing with it the exciting travel-smell of hot rubber and gasoline. Most of the passengers climbed out to stretch in the winter sunlight.
"Fifteen minutes," the driver said.
Julia picked up her bag and carried it outside. She gave her ticket to the driver, who was standing by the door, smoking a cigarette. Half way back in the bus she found an empty seat. She hoisted the bag--standing on her tip toes--to the rack above and settled into the seat, primly rearranging her dress.
But she was unable to relax. She stared out the window; the building across the lot presented an uninteresting and windowless expanse of brick. She yawned nervously and surveyed the other passengers who were beginning to filter back.
The driver dropped heavily into his seat behind the wheel; he pulled the door closed, and the motor purred. He counted his passengers in the mirror.
Julia tightened her lips, and her face wrinkled into a stubborn little frown. Her finger tapped restlessly on her knee. She resolved to bring the husband back with her.
She could buy the Castle Place out on Mannor Street for $4,000. She would have $10,000 left to buy him--to make the down payment on, at least--Beck's Hardware Store. From that they would realize a steady and an adequate income. She would give Saturday teas for the society women and show her husband off--in a neat, double breasted suit--in church on Sunday. They would go to the movies twice a week; they would go dancing once a month. They would have three children, two boys and a girl. She would let her husband go moose hunting in Canada once a year, and weekends during bass season they'd go up to the lodge (I should be able to buy the Roger's cabin on Center Creek for a few hundred, she thought) and fish.
She suddenly wished she had flown to Hollywood. She was in a great hurry to get there, get the selecting over and done with, and get back.
At Joplin a young man got on and sat down beside her. She watched him, from time to time, out of the corner of her eye. Outside, the huge chat piles (said by the civic boosters to be the biggest in the world) paraded by the bus. Ought to start snowing again pretty soon, she thought.... It will be fun to swim in the Pacific in February.
* * * * *
After the bus crossed the Missouri-Kansas line she turned to the young man seated beside her. "I'm going to Hollywood," she said.
"Going to get in the movies?"
"Oh, no," Julia said, "... no." Her finger tapped impatiently on her knee.
"That's why most pretty girls go to Hollywood."
Julia blushed. Her eyes, brown and friendly, searched his face. "I'm the domestic sort," she said. "My name's Julia. What's yours?"
"My name's William."
"That's a nice name."
"Julia's a nice name, too."
"I majored in literature in high school," Julia said. "I like to read. I worked in a book store back home."
William shifted uncomfortably. "I don't read much."
Julia frowned. "I read a lot."
"Reading's all right."
"I like to curl up with a good book."
They fell silent.
Julia bit her lip, nipping it into redness with her white, even teeth. I guess I'm not much of a conversationalist, she thought. For a moment she felt tiny and afraid.
Dispiritedly she searched in her sandwich bag for an apple. She brought it out and regarded it intently.
"You want half?"
She found a pen knife in her hand bag and began to peel the apple, wrinkling her forehead in concentration.
The bus was in a state supervised section of the highway. It hit a chuck hole, and the pen knife slipped, slicing deeply into her finger. Annoyed and embarrassed, she watched the blood well up in the cut. She put the apple in her lap. "Oh, dear...." She held the finger away from her.
* * * * *
William bent forward. "Euuuu," he said sympathetically. "Here...." He reached for his handkerchief. But before the hand got to it, he reconsidered, perhaps remembering that handkerchiefs are unsanitary. "Euuuu," he said again, shuddering. He moved his hands helplessly and stared at the blood trickling from the finger onto the floor. "Euuuu."
Julia decided: No, he certainly won't do.
She glared angrily at her finger.
And the cut closed; the edges came together and joined in a neat, red line. The blood ceased to flow. The red line vanished as the flesh knitted. The finger was as scarless as it had been moments before.
"I'll be God damned," the young man said.
"... that's very odd," Julia said. She held up the finger. She put the pen knife in her lap beside the apple and felt the finger.
"You must have some rare type of blood," William said.
She wiggled the finger. "You mean something like the reverse of hemophilia?"
"I don't guess I read enough to know big words: just some rare type of blood."
"Nothing like this ever happened before," Julia said, still watching the finger suspiciously. "I've never heard of anything like it."
"Hello," she answered.
"What did you say?" the young man asked.
"I said, 'Hello'."
"Didn't you say hello a moment ago?" Julia said, looking at him with an annoyed little frown on her face.
Hello. Where are you?
"I'm right here beside you," she said.
"What are you talking about?" the young man said.
What planet are you on?
William's lips hadn't moved that time. She'd been watching. She thought the young man was somehow trying to make fun of her.
"Excuse me," she said coldly. She picked up her apple and her pen knife and her handbag and brushed past him into the aisle. She looked around, saw a seat three rows back on the opposite side of the bus. She went to it and settled down, moving over against the window.
William was staring around at her with a puzzled expression on his face.
She jerked her head away from him angrily and stared out the window at the cold, barren plain. He's not at all nice, she thought.
Grimly she refused to listen. He must be doing it with a sort of radio set, she thought. It's probably some sort of thing they advertize in magazines for $2.98. She blinked her eyes. I wish he'd stop. I don't think it's a bit funny.
After a few more miles, the voice stopped.
Morosely Julia finished peeling her apple.
* * * * *
It was cold in the Hollywood bus depot; chill rain drizzled down from a leaden sky.
She stood in the protection of the building, bag in hand, shivering miserably. Twice she waved futilely for a cab. On the third attempt, she got one.
The driver opened the door for her, and she bolted through the rain to its inviting back seat.
"Take me to some nice hotel," she said.
The driver flipped up the flag and gunned the motor.
Five minutes later she was paying him ninety cents; leaving the extra dime out of the dollar for a tip, she ran for the hotel steps.
After she registered, she asked the fatherly old gentleman at the desk, "Where does a person go to meet people?" Water trickled down from her hair and across her face.
He bent forward and narrowed his eyes. "Meet people?" he asked; his tone had grown cold and suspicious.
She bit her lip in embarrassment. Did I say something wrong? she thought. "Never mind," she said, wanting to cry. "I'm not going to stay in this horrible town a minute more than I have to!"
"She," the bellboy said when he came down stairs, "is crazy."
"What do you mean?"
"You should have seen her walk through the door." He pronounced the last word emphatically.
"You mean doorway."
"I mean door," the bell boy said. "It was closed when she done it."
"I'm going to have to keep an eye on her," the clerk said, clucking his tongue in dry disapproval.
* * * * *
Now how did I do that? Julia asked herself. She walked to the door and put her hand through it. She wiggled her fingers. She half-opened the door and put her hand through it again. It came out on the other side. She moved her arm back and forth. It felt prickly.
She crossed to the bed and sat down. This isn't so good, she thought. I've got to figure out how I did that.
She closed her eyes tightly. Other people can't put their hands through doors, she thought. Other people can't heal cuts by looking at them, either.... I never could before; I don't feel any different from other people.
And then a little chill of fear ran up and down her spine. Suppose the bed, the floor, the earth below were suddenly to become as unsubstantial as the door. I might drop clear through to China, to, to....
Her fingernails were making red creases in her palms.
She stood up and stamped on the floor. Her knees trembled. The floor was solid.
She went to the door. It is solid, she thought. She let her fingers explore the surface. She sighed, feeling the rough texture of the wood.
Now, she thought. I can reach through it.
Her hand passed through it easily.
She went back to the bed and sat down.
I did it with my mind, she thought. I wanted to put my hand through the door, and I did. In front of the bell hop, I suddenly felt so sure that I could walk through the door that ... I did.
I'm going to figure out how I did that, she thought, her mouth tightening into a thin little line of resolution. Because if I learned to do it, anyone else could learn....
Her hands clenched into annoyed little fists. She went to the window and looked out. She opened the door and looked up and down the corridor. No William.
"He ... hello."
Good, you can hear me. What planet are you on?
"The same planet everyone else is."
... the third one from the sun?
She tried to remember her high school science survey course; and she found that she could remember it very clearly. Of course, it is.
* * * * *
She realized that she had thought her last statement, and that he (she was sure that the voice belonged to a he) had answered it nevertheless. She was exchanging thoughts with someone!
Hello, she thought weakly. She gulped. What do you look like? How many arms and legs do you have?
Two of each.
Her mind was very alert and active. She could think with great clarity. Describe yourself. She received a mental impression of him.
She let out her breath. He was human, after all; as human as anybody. And handsome.
She laughed softly with relief: since he has never been able to find anyone like himself, he thought I was from another planet!
Describe yourself again.
Suddenly she knew with absolute certainty that this was the one she was looking for. Out of all the people on earth, here was a man made for her.
Could you put your hand through a wooden door?
She smiled happily. She meant to have him.
There was silence.
She wrinkled her forehead and tapped her knee. He had ceased transmitting.
He'll be back, she thought with satisfaction. I wonder what size suit he wears? I think I'll buy him a nice wool one. I want my husband to look presentable.
Smiling, she went to the phone. She called her bank and ordered her account transferred to the all-night branch in Los Angeles. She wanted to have her money available so she could leave town to go to him the moment she found out where he lived: or (assuming he came to her) to have it handy so she could leave town with him the moment he proposed to her--even if it were in the middle of the night.
After that, she went to the door and put her hand through it.
I'm going to have to figure this out, she thought. If I figure out how I did it, I'm sure I can teach other people. I'm no different than they are; and I don't intend to be.
She went back to the bed and sat down and began to think.
And she discovered that she could remember the greater part of everything she'd ever read.
Calvin practiced teleportation for endless hours. He kept the metal ball Forential had given him in almost constant motion.
He would exclaim delightedly and hurl it toward one of the twenty-seven other mutants in his compartment. Until the time he hit John in the back of the head with it, his intended victims had always parried it. John lay in a pool of blood, and Calvin began to cry--loud, shrill wails of despair and contrition. When Forential came, he knew instinctively what had happened.
Calvin represented the only failure the aliens had experienced in their mutation program; ten years ago his mind had ceased to develop. But for Forential's intercession, the council would have had him destroyed long ago; Forential, like a proud parent, kept hoping to overcome Calvin's heredity.
Forential waved his tentacles in exasperation. "You, here, Walt," he said. "We'll have to hurry. I'll show you how, and you can do it."
Walt, the most adept mutant in the compartment, listened attentively and then began to heal John. His face wrinkled in deep concentration. Flesh came together; blood ceased to flow; bone knitted. Forential grunted approval.
"Watch Walt, now," the alien instructed. "He's doing it nicely."
The others, breath held, watched.
At length John's head was healed. John stirred. He opened his eyes and looked about angrily. He stood up and hit Calvin in the face with his fist. Calvin, tears streaming down his cheeks, fingered his nose and sobbed brokenly. He put out a hand to touch Walt reassuringly.
Walt was his friend.
Walt--he had no other name--was six feet two inches tall, and, as Julia observed, handsome. His parents--he did not know this--were Americans; he had never seen them. He had been stolen from the hospital by Forential shortly after he was born. The alien, invisible, had come for him, clucked softly, wrapped him in a warm, invisible mantle, and taken him away; and the council of aliens had drawn a line through the names of another set of parents who had been exposed to the powerful, mutation-inducing field. Walt thought of Forential--in charge of their compartment--as a friend, as a parent, as a playmate, and as a counselor.
* * * * *
Shortly after Walt had healed John, the mutants of the smaller compartment gathered at the observation screen in the floor--or what was to them the floor: it was actually the broad rim of the wheel. They could look down at the screen and see a somewhat flickering image of Earth lying below their feet.
"Forential told us we'd get many strange powers...." one said.
Just before we went down to the planet, another completed the thought.
It's growing time, then.
They laughed together with excitement, and Calvin cracked his knuckles nervously.
"Let's play a trick on Forential," Calvin said. "Let's see if we can go through the bulkhead." His face was bright and hopeful. "Let's huh?"
Calvin raced to the far end of the compartment. "Come on!"
Like guilty children, they looked at one another. Then a few of them joined Calvin. All right, let's.
"Don't," Walt cautioned. "It's just machinery on the other side."
Why can't our thoughts penetrate it, then?
We aren't developed enough, Walt thought.
"Huh?" Calvin asked. He began pounding the bulkhead with his fist.