Category Phoenix, p.1Boyd Ellanby
Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
By BOYD ELLANBY
Illustrated by EMSH
[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science FictionMay 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.copyright on this publication was renewed.]
[Sidenote: Man, it would appear, can adapt to any form of society ...but not one in which the knowledge of extending life becomes a passportto death!]
The door-knob turned, then rattled.
Dr. David Wong stepped out from behind the large bookcase, listening. Hepressed the brass handle of the top shelf and the case silently pivotedback to become part of the wall, obliterating the dark passage behindit.
An imperative knocking began at the door; David walked softly to hisdesk and picked up his notebook. He tried to remain relaxed, but hecould feel the tightening of his shoulder muscles. With his right hand,he shut his notebook and concealed it under a mass of papers, while hisleft hand pressed the desk button to release the lock of the door.
The door burst open and two men strode in, a black-uniformed Rulerfollowed by a watchguard. Black-visored cap still on his head, the firstman marched to the desk and spoke without ceremonial greeting.
"The door was locked, Dr. Wong?"
"Correct, Dr. Lanza. The door was locked."
"I shall have to instruct the guard to report it. Have you forgottenLeader Marley's Maxim: Constructive science does not skulk behind lockeddoors?"
Wong leaned back in his chair and smiled at his visitors.
"The wisdom of Leader Marley is a constant help to us all, but hisgenerosity is also a byword. Surely you remember that on the tenthanniversary of his accession, he honored me by the grant of occasionalhours of Privacy, as a reward for my work on Blue Martian Fever?"
"I remember now," said Dr. Lanza.
"But what for?" asked Officer Blagun. "It's anti-social!"
"Evidently you have forgotten, Officer Blagun, another Maxim of LeaderMarley: Nature has not equipped one Category to judge the needs ofanother; only the Leader understands all. Now, Dr. Lanza, will you tellme the reason for this visit? Since your promotion from Research toRuler, I have rarely been honored by your attention."
"I am here with a message," said Lanza. "Leader Marley's compliments,and he requests your presence at a conference on next Wednesday at tenin the morning."
"Why did you have to deliver that in person? What's wrong with usingCommunications?"
"It's not my province to ask questions, Dr. Wong. I was told to comehere, and I was told to wait for a reply."
"Next Wednesday at ten? Let's see, this is Friday." David Wong pressedthe key of his electronic calendar, but he had no need to study the dullgreen and red lights that flashed on to indicate the pattern of his day.He did not delude himself that he had any real choice, but he hadlearned in the past fifteen years that it kept up his courage topreserve at least the forms of independence. He allowed a decent thirtyseconds to ponder the coded lights, then blanked the board and looked upwith an easy smile.
"Dr. Wong's compliments to Leader Marley, and he will be honored toattend a conference on Wednesday at ten."
Nodding his head, Dr. Lanza glanced briefly around the office. "Queer,old-fashioned place you have here."
"Yes. It was built many years ago by a slippery old politician whowanted to be safe from his enemies. Makes a good place for Research,don't you think?"
Lanza did not answer. He strode to the door, then paused to look back.
"You understand, Dr. Wong, that I shall have to report the locked door?I have no choice."
Officer Blagun followed his superior, leaving the door wide open behindthem. Wong remained rigid in his chair until the clack of heels onmarble floor had become a mere echo in his brain, then stretched out hishand to the intercom. He observed with pride that his hand did nottremble as he pressed the dial.
"Get me Dr. Karl Haslam ... Karl? Can you meet me in the lab right away?I've thought of a new approach that might help us crack the WhiteMartian problem. Yes, I know we planned on conferring tomorrow, but it'sgetting later than you think."
Again he pressed the dial. "Get me Leah Hachovnik. Leah? I've got somenew stuff to dictate. Be a good girl and come along right away."
Breaking the connection, he drew out his notebook and opened it.
David Wong was a big man, tall, well-muscled, compact, and he might havebeen handsome but for a vague something in his appearance. His lean faceand upcurving mouth were those of a young man; his hair was a glossyblack, too thick to be disciplined into neatness; and he waswell-dressed, except for the unfashionable bulging of his jacket pocket,where he carried a bulky leather case of everfeed pens and notebooks.But it was his eyes that were disconcerting--an intense blue, brilliantand direct, they had a wisdom and a comprehension that seemedincongruous in so young a face.
A worried frown creased his forehead as he turned back to one of thefirst pages, studying the symbols he had recorded there, but he lookedup without expression on hearing the tapping of slender heels.
"Quick work, Leah. How are you this morning?"
"As if anybody cared!" Leah Hachovnik settled down before the compactstenograph machine, her shoulders slumped, her thin mouth drooping atthe corners.
"Feel like working?" said David.
"As much as I ever do, I guess. Sometimes I wonder if the traitors inthe granite quarries have it any worse than I do. Sometimes I wish I'dbeen born into some other Category. Other people have all the luck. Idon't know what it is, Dr. Wong, but I just don't seem to have the pep Iused to have. Do you think it could be the climate here in New York?"
"People do grow older, Leah," he reminded her gently.
"I know. But Tanya--you remember my twin sister Tanya, the one that gotso sick that time, ten years ago, when you did that experiment with BlueMartian Fever, and she had to be sent out to Arizona? Of course Ihaven't ever seen her since then--people in Office Category never getpermission for that kind of travel--but she writes me that ever sinceshe got well again she feels just like a kid, and works as hard as sheever did, and she still seems to enjoy life. Why, she's had threeproposals of marriage this past year alone, she says, and yet she'sthirty-five, just the same age as I am--being twins, you know?--andnobody's proposed to me in ages. Well, I'm certainly going to try tofind out what her method is. She's coming back tomorrow."
"Coming back. BureauMed is sending her back here to the Institute totake up her old job in Intercom. Funny they haven't told you, her beingan old employee and all."
Dr. Wong was gripping his notebook in stiff fingers, but he repliedeasily, "Oh, well, BureauMed is a complex organization. With all theyhave to do, it's not surprising they get things mixed up sometimes."
"Don't I know!" she sighed, and droned on in a dreary monotone. "Thisone institute alone would turn your hair gray before your time. I don'tknow how some people seem to keep so young. I was just thinking tomyself this morning when I watched you walking through the office, 'Why,Dr. Wong doesn't seem to age a bit! He looks just as young as he everdid, and look at me!'"
Looking at her, David admitted to himself, was not the pleasure it hadonce been. Ten years ago, she and her twin sister Tanya had been plump,delectable, kittenish girls, their mental equipment no more thanstandard for Office Category, of course, but their physical appearancehad been outstanding, almost beautiful enough for Theater Category.Creamy ivory skin, gray eyes, and soft red hair dramatized by a freakishstreak of white that shot abruptly back from the center of the forehe
But the Leah sitting before him now was thin and tired-looking, hersallow skin was lined, and her soft voice had become vinegary withdisappointments. Her red hair had faded to a commonplace brown, and thewhite streak in the center was yellowed. An unwanted, souring old maid.But there was only one response to make.
"You look fine to me, Leah," he said. "What time did you say your sisteris coming?"
"Tomorrow evenings' Playground Jet. Why?"
"We'll have to think of a way to celebrate. But right now, I'd like toget started on my new paper. I've got to meet Dr. Haslam before long."
Category Phoenix by Boyd Ellanby / Science Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on15 votes