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The happy unfortunate, p.1
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       The Happy Unfortunate, p.1

           Robert Silverberg
 
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The Happy Unfortunate


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  THE HAPPY UNFORTUNATE

  By ROBERT SILVERBERG

  _Dekker, back from space, found great physical changes in the people of Earth; changes that would have horrified him five years before. But now, he wanted to be like the rest--even if he had to lose an eye and both ears to do it._

  Rolf Dekker stared incredulously at the slim, handsome young Earther whowas approaching the steps of Rolf's tumbling-down Spacertown shack._He's got no ears_, Rolf noted in unbelief. After five years in space,Rolf had come home to a strangely-altered world, and he found it hard toaccept.

  Another Earther appeared. This one was about the same size, and gave thesame impression of fragility. This one had ears, all right--and a pairof gleaming, two-inch horns on his forehead as well. _I'll be eternallyroasted_, Rolf thought. _Now I've seen everything._

  Both Earthers were dressed in neat, gold-inlaid green tunics, costumeswhich looked terribly out of place amid the filth of Spacertown, andtheir hair was dyed a light green to match.

  He had been scrutinizing them for several moments before they becameaware of him. They both spotted him at once and the one with no earsturned to his companion and whispered something. Rolf, leaning forward,strained to hear.

  "... beautiful, isn't he? That's the biggest one I've seen!"

  "Come over here, won't you?" the horned one called, in a soft, gentlevoice which contrasted oddly with the raucous bellowing Rolf had beenaccustomed to hearing in space. "We'd like to talk to you."

  Just then Kanaday emerged from the door of the shack and limped downto the staircase.

  The doctor refused to change Dekker, so Dekker was goingto change the doctor.]

  "Hey, Rolf!" he called. "Leave those things alone!"

  "Let me find out what they want first, huh?"

  "Can't be any good, whatever it is," Kanaday growled. "Tell them to getout of here before I throw them back to wherever they came from. Andmake it fast."

  * * * * *

  The two Earthers looked at each other uneasily. Rolf walked toward them.

  "He doesn't like Earthers, that's all," Rolf explained. "But he won't doanything but yell."

  Kanaday spat in disgust, turned, and limped back inside the shack.

  "I didn't know you were wearing horns," Rolf said.

  The Earther flushed. "New style," he said. "Very expensive."

  "Oh," Rolf said. "I'm new here; I just got back. Five years in space.When I left you people looked all alike. Now you wear horns."

  "It's the new trend," said the earless one. "We're Individs. When youleft the Conforms were in power, style-wise. But the new surgeons can doalmost anything, you see."

  The shadow of a frown crossed Rolf's face. "Anything?"

  "Almost. They can't transform an Earther into a Spacer, and they don'tthink they ever will."

  "Or vice versa?" Rolf asked.

  They sniggered. "What Spacer would want to become an Earther? Who wouldgive up that life, out in the stars?"

  Rolf said nothing. He kicked at the heap of litter in the filthy street._What spacer indeed?_ he thought. He suddenly realized that the twolittle Earthers were staring up at him as if he were some sort of beast.He probably weighed as much as both of them, he knew, and at six-four hewas better than a foot taller. They looked like children next to him,like toys. The savage blast of acceleration would snap their flimsybodies like toothpicks.

  "What places have you been to?" the earless one asked.

  "Two years on Mars, one on Venus, one in the Belt, one on Neptune," Rolfrecited. "I didn't like Neptune. It was best in the Belt; just our oneship, prospecting. We made a pile on Ceres--enough to buy out. I shothalf of it on Neptune. Still have plenty left, but I don't know what Ican do with it." He didn't add that he had come home puzzled, wonderingwhy he was a Spacer instead of an Earther, condemned to live in filthySpacertown when Yawk was just across the river.

  They were looking at his shabby clothes, at the dirty brownstone hovelhe lived in--an antique of a house four or five centuries old.

  "You mean you're rich?" the Earther said.

  "Sure," Rolf said. "Every Spacer is. So what? What can I spend it on? Mymoney's banked on Mars and Venus. Thanks to the law I can't legally getit to Earth. So I live in Spacertown."

  "Have you ever seen an Earther city?" the earless one asked, lookingaround at the quiet streets of Spacertown with big powerful men sittingidly in front of every house.

  "I used to live in Yawk," Rolf said. "My grandmother was an Earther; shebrought me up there. I haven't been back there since I left for space."_They forced me out of Yawk_, he thought. _I'm not part of theirspecies. Not one of them._

  * * * * *

  The two Earthers exchanged glances.

  "Can we interest you in a suggestion?" They drew in their breath as ifthey expected to be knocked sprawling.

  Kanaday appeared at the door of the shack again.

  "Rolf. Hey! You turning into an Earther? Get rid of them two cutiesbefore there's trouble."

  Rolf turned and saw a little knot of Spacers standing on the other sideof the street, watching him with curiosity. He glared at them.

  "I'll do whatever I damn well please," he shouted across.

  He turned back to the two Earthers. "Now, what is it you want?"

  "I'm giving a party next week," the earless one said. "I'd like you tocome. We'd like to get the Spacer slant on life."

  "Party?" Rolf repeated. "You mean, dancing, and games, and stuff likethat?"

  "You'll enjoy it," the Earther said coaxingly. "And we'd all love tohave a real Spacer there."

  "When is it?"

  "A week."

  "I have ten days left of my leave. All right," he said. "I'll come."

  He accepted the Earther's card, looked at it mechanically, saw thename--Kal Quinton--and pocketed it. "Sure," he said. "I'll be there."

  The Earthers moved toward their little jetcar, smiling gratefully. AsRolf crossed the street, the other Spacers greeted him with cold,puzzled stares.

  * * * * *

  Kanaday was almost as tall as Rolf, and even uglier. Rolf's eyebrowswere bold and heavy; Kanaday's, thick, contorted, bushy clumps of hair.Kanaday's nose had been broken long before in some barroom brawl; hischeekbones bulged; his face was strong and hard. More important, hisleft foot was twisted and gnarled beyond hope of redemption by the mostskillful surgeon. He had been crippled in a jet explosion three yearsbefore, and was of no use to the Spacelines any more. They had pensionedhim off. Part of the deal was the dilapidated old house in Spacertownwhich he operated as a boarding-house for transient Spacers.

  "What do you want to do that for?" Kanaday asked. "Haven't thoseEarthers pushed you around enough, so you have to go dance at one oftheir wild parties?"

  "Leave me alone," Rolf muttered.

  "You like this filth you live in? Spacertown is just a ghetto, that'sall. The Earthers have pushed you right into the muck. You're not evena human being to them--just some sort of trained ape. And now you'regoing to go and entertain them. I thought you had brains, Rolf!"

  "Shut up!" He dashed his glass against the table; it bounced off anddropped to the floor, where it shattered.

  Kanaday's girl Laney entered the room at the sound of the crash. She wastall and powerful-looking, with straight black hair and the strongcheekbones that characterized the Spacers. Immediately she stooped andbegan shoveling up the broken glass.

  "That wasn't smart, Rolf
," she said. "That'll cost you half a credit.Wasn't worth it, was it?"

  Rolf laid the coin on the edge of the table. "Tell your pal to shut up,then. If he doesn't stop icing me I'll fix his other foot for him andyou can buy him a dolly."

  She looked from one to the other. "What's bothering you two now?"

  "A couple of Earthers were here this morning," Kanaday said. "Slumming.They took a fancy to our young friend here and invited him to one oftheir parties. He accepted."

  "He _what_?
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