Do you remember when first we met? I was turning twenty--well! I don't forget How I walked along, Humming a song Across the fields and down the lane By the country road, and back again To the dear old f... Read more of "A FREE PUFF." at Give Up.caInformational Site Network Informational
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories

Harry Collins 2012

From: The Crowded Earth

Harry crouched behind the boulders, propping the rifle up between the
rocks, and adjusted the telescopic sights. The distant doorway sprang
into sharp focus. Grunting with satisfaction, he settled down to his
vigil. The rifle-barrel had been dulled down against detection by
reflection, and Harry's dark glasses protected him against the glare
of the morning sun. He might have to wait several hours now, but he
didn't care. It had taken him twelve years to come this far, and he
was willing to wait a little while longer.

Twelve years. Was it really that long?

A mirror might have answered him; a mirror might have shown him the
harsh features of a man of forty-two. But Harry needed no mirror. He
could remember the past dozen years only too easily--though they had
not been easy years.

Surviving the river was only the beginning. Animal strength carried
him through that ordeal. But he emerged from the river as an animal; a
wounded animal, crawling through the brush and arroyo outside the
southern Colorado canyon.

And it was animal cunning which preserved him. He'd wandered several
days until he encountered Emil Grizek and his outfit. By that time he
was half-starved and completely delirious. It took a month until he
was up and around again.

But Emil and the boys had nursed him through. They took turns caring
for him in the bunkhouse; their methods were crude but efficient and
Harry was grateful. Best of all, they asked no questions. Harry's
status was that of a hunted fugitive, without a Vocational Apt record
or rating. The authorities or any prospective employers would inquire
into these things, but Emil Grizek never seemed curious. By the time
Harry was up and around again, he'd been accepted as one of the bunch.
He told them his name was Harry Sanders, and that was enough.

Two months after they found him, he'd signed on with Emil Grizek and
found a new role in life.

Harry Collins, advertising copywriter, had become Harry Sanders,
working cowhand.

There was surprisingly little difficulty. Grizek had absentee
employers who weren't interested in their foreman's methods, just as
long as he recruited his own wranglers for the Bar B Ranch. Nobody
demanded to see Apt cards or insisted on making out formal
work-reports, and the pay was in cash. Cowhands were hard to come by
these days, and it was an unspoken premise that the men taking on such
jobs would be vagrants, migratory workers, fugitives from justice and
injustice. A generation or so ago they might have become tramps--but
the last of the hoboes had vanished along with the last of the freight
trains. Once the derelicts haunted the canyons of the big cities;
today there was no place for them there, so they fled to the canyons
of the west. Harry had found himself a new niche, and no questions

Oddly enough, he fitted in. The outdoor life agreed with him, and in a
matter of months he was a passable cowpoke; within a year he was one
of Grizek's top hands.

He learned to ride a bucking jeep with the best of them, and he could
spot, single out, and stun a steer in forty seconds flat; then use his
electronic brander on it and have the critter back on its feet in just
under a minute.

Work was no problem, and neither was recreation. The bunkhouse offered
crude but adequate facilities for living; old-fashioned
air-conditioning and an antique infra-red broiler seemed good enough
for roughing it, and Cookie at least turned out real man-sized meals.
Eating genuine beef and honest-to-goodness baked bread was a treat,
and so was having the luxury of all that space in the sleeping
quarters. Harry thrived on it.

And some of the other hands were interesting companions. True, they
were renegades and mavericks, but they were each of them unique and
individual, and Harry enjoyed listening to them fan the breeze during
the long nights.

There was Big Phil, who was pushing sixty now. But you'd never know
it, not unless you got him to talking about the old days when he'd
been a boy in Detroit. His daddy had been one of the last of the Union
Men, back in the days of what they used to call the Organized Labor
Movement. He could tell you about wage-hour agreements and the
Railroad Brotherhood and contract negotiations almost as if he knew of
these things through personal experience. He even remembered the
Democratic Party. Phil got out when the government took over and set
up Vocational Apt and Industrial Supervision; that's when he drifted

Tom Lowery's family had been military; he claimed to have been a
member of the last graduating class ever to leave West Point. When the
armament race ended, his prospects of a career vanished, and he
settled down as a guard at Canaveral. Finally, he'd headed for the
open country.

Bassett was the scholar of the outfit. He could sit around and quote
old-time book-authors by the hour--classic writers like Prather and
Spillane. In another age he might have been a college professor or
even a football coach; he had an aptitude for the arts.

And there was Lobo, the misogynist, who had fled a wife and eleven
children back in Monterey; and Januzki, who used to be mixed up with
one of those odd religious cults out on the Coast. He bragged he'd
been one of the Big Daddy-Os in the Beat Generationists, and he argued
with Bassett about some old-time evangelist named Kerouac.

* * * * *

Best of all, though, Harry liked talking to Nick Kendrick. Nick's
hobby was music, and he treasured his second-hand stereophonic unit
and collection of tapes. He too was a classicist in his way, and there
was many a long winter night when Harry sat there listening to ancient
folk songs. The quaint atonalities of progressive jazz and the
childishly frantic rhythms of "cool sounds" were somehow soothing and
reassuring in their reminder of a simple heritage from a simpler age.

But above all, these men were wranglers, and they took a peculiar
pride in the traditions of their own calling. There wasn't a one of
them who wouldn't spend hours mulling over the lore of the range and
the prairie. They knew the Great Names from the Great Days--Eugene
Autry, Wyatt Earp, the legendary Thomas Mix, Dale Robertson, Paladin,
and all the others; men who rode actual horses in the era when the
West was really an untamed frontier.

And like the cowboys they were, they maintained the customs of other
days. Every few months they rode a bucking helicopter into some raw
western town--Las Vegas, or Reno, or even over to Palm Springs--to
drink recklessly in the cocktail lounges, gamble wildly at the slots,
or "go down the line" with some telescreen model on location for
outdoor ad-backgrounds. There were still half a dozen such sin-cities
scattered throughout the west; even the government acknowledged the
need of lonely men to blow off steam. And though Ag Culture officially
disapproved of the whole cowhand system, and talked grimly of setting
up new and more efficient methods for training personnel and handling
the cattle ranges, nothing was ever done. Perhaps the authorities knew
that it was a hopeless task; only the outcasts and iconoclasts had the
temperament necessary to survive such loneliness under an open sky.
City-dwelling conformists just could not endure the monotony.

But even Emil Grizek's hands marvelled at the way Harry lived. He
never joined them in their disorderly descent upon the scarlet cities
of the plain, and most of the time he didn't even seem to watch the
telescreen. If anything, he deliberately avoided all possible contact
with civilization.

Since he never volunteered any information about his own past, they
privately concluded that he was just a psychopathic personality.

"Strong regressive and seclusive tendencies," Bassett explained,

"Sure," Nick Kendrick nodded, wisely. "You mean a Mouldy Fig, like."

"Creeping Meatball," muttered cultist Januzki. Not being religious
fanatics, the others didn't understand the reference. But gradually
they came to accept Harry's isolationist ways as the norm--at least,
for him. And since he never quarreled, never exhibited any signs of
dissatisfaction, he was left to his own pattern.

Thus it was all the more surprising when that pattern was rudely and
abruptly shattered.

Harry remembered the occasion well. It was the day the Leff Law was
officially upheld by the Supremist Courts. The whole business came
over the telescreens and there was no way of avoiding it--you couldn't
avoid it, because everybody was talking about it and everybody was

"Now what do you think?" Emil Grizek demanded. "Any woman wants a
baby, she's got to have those shots. They say kids shrink down into
nothing. Weigh less than two pounds when they're born, and never grow
up to be any bigger than midgets. You ask me, the whole thing's plumb
loco, to say nothing of psychotic."

"I dunno." This from Big Phil. "Reckon they just about have to do
something, the way cities are filling up and all. Tell me every spot
in the country, except for the plains states here, is busting at the
seams. Same in Europe, Africa, South America. Running out of space,
running out of food, all over the world. This man Leffingwell figures
on cutting down on size so's to keep the whole shebang going."

"But why couldn't it be done on a voluntary basis?" Bassett demanded.
"These arbitrary rulings are bound to result in frustrations. And can
you imagine what will happen to the individual family constellations?
Take a couple that already has two youngsters, as of now. Suppose the
wife submits to the inoculations for her next child and it's born with
a size-mutation. How in the world will that child survive as a midget
in a family of giants? There'll be untold damage to the personality--"

"We've heard all those arguments," Tom Lowery cut in. "The Naturalists
have been handing out that line for years. What happens to the new
generation of kids, how do we know they won't be mentally defective,
how can they adjust, by what right does the government interfere with
private lives, personal religious beliefs; all that sort of thing. For
over ten years now the debate's been going on. And meanwhile, time is
running out. Space is running out. Food is running out. It isn't a
question of individual choice any longer--it's a question of group
survival. I say the Courts are right. We have to go according to law.
And back the law up with force of arms if necessary."

"We get the message," Januzki agreed. "But something tells me there'll
be trouble. Most folks need a midget like they need a monkey on their

"It's a gasser, pardners," said Nick Kendrick. "Naturalists don't dig
this. They'll fight it all along the line. Everybody's gonna be all
shook up."

"It is still a good idea," Lobo insisted. "This Dr. Leffingwell, he
has made the tests. For years he has given injections and no harm has
come. The children are healthy, they survive. They learn in special

"How do you know?" Bassett demanded. "Maybe it's all a lot of
motivationalist propaganda."

"We have seen them on the telescreens, no?"

"They could be faking the whole thing."

"But Leffingwell, he has offered the shots to other governments beside
our own. The whole world will adopt them--"

"What if some countries don't? What if our kids become midgets and the
Asiatics refuse the inoculations?"

"They won't. They need room even more than we do."

"No sense arguing," Emil Grizek concluded. "It's the law. You know
that. And if you don't like it, join the Naturalists." He chuckled.
"But better hurry. Something tells me there won't be any Naturalists
around after a couple of years. Now that there's a Leff Law, the
government isn't likely to stand for too much criticism." He turned to
Harry. "What do you think?" he asked.

Harry shrugged. "No comment," he said.

But the next day he went to Grizek and demanded his pay in full.

"Leaving?" Grizek muttered. "I don't understand. You've been with us
almost five years. Where you going, what you intend to do? What's got
into you all of a sudden?"

"Time for a change," Harry told him. "I've been saving my money."

"Don't I know it? Never touched a penny in all this time." Grizek ran
a hand across his chin. "Say, if it's a raise you're looking for, I

"No, thanks. It's not that. I've money enough."

"So you have. Around eighteen, twenty thousand, I reckon, what with
the bonuses." Emil Grizek sighed. "Well, if you insist, that's the way
it's got to be, I suppose. When you plan on taking off?"

"Just as soon as there's a 'copter available."

"Got one going up to Colorado Springs tomorrow morning for the mail. I
can get you aboard, give you a check--"

"I'll want my money in cash."

"Well, now, that isn't so easy. Have to send up for a special draft.
Take a week or so."

"I can wait."

"All right. And think it over. Maybe you'll decide to change your

But Harry didn't change his mind. And ten days later he rode a 'copter
into town, his money-belt strapped beneath his safety-belt.

From Colorado Springs he jetted to Kancity, and from Kancity to
Memphisee. As long as he had money, nobody asked any questions. He
holed up in cheap airtels and waited for developments.

It wasn't easy to accustom himself to urbanization again. He had been
away from cities for over seven years now, and it might well have been
seven centuries. The overpopulation problem was appalling. The
outlawing of private automotive vehicles had helped, and the clearing
of the airlanes served a purpose; the widespread increase in the use
of atomic power cut the smog somewhat. But the synthetic food was
frightful, the crowding intolerable, and the welter of rules and
regulations attending the performance of even the simplest human
activity past all his comprehension. Ration cards were in universal
use for almost everything; fortunately for Harry, the black market
accepted cash with no embarrassing inquiries. He found that he could

But Harry's interest was not in survival; he was bent upon
destruction. Surely the Naturalists would be organized and planning a

Back in '98, of course, they'd been merely an articulate minority
without formal unity--an abstract, amorphous group akin to the
"Liberals" of previous generations. A Naturalist could be a Catholic
priest, a Unitarian layman, an atheist factory hand, a government
employee, a housewife with strong prejudices against governmental
controls, a wealthy man who deplored the dangers of growing
industrialization, an Ag Culture worker who dreaded the dwindling of
individual rights, an educator who feared widespread employment of
social psychology, or almost anyone who opposed the concept of Mass
Man, Mass-Motivated. Naturalists had never formed a single class, a
single political party.

Surely, however, the enactment of the Leffingwell Law would have
united them! Harry knew there was strong opposition, not only on the
higher levels but amongst the general population. People would be
afraid of the inoculations; theologians would condemn the process;
economic interests, real-estate owners and transportation magnates and
manufacturers would sense the threat here. They'd sponsor and they'd
subsidize their spokesmen and the Naturalists would evolve into an
efficient body of opposition.

So Harry hoped, and so he thought, until he came out into the cities;
came out into the cities and realized that the very magnitude of Mass
Man mitigated against any attempt to organize him, except as a
creature who labored and consumed. Organization springs from
discussion, and discussion from thought--but who can think in chaos,
discuss in delirium, organize in a vacuum? And the common citizen,
Harry realized, had seemingly lost the capacity for group action. He
remembered his own existence years ago--either he was lost in a crowd
or he was alone, at home. Firm friendships were rare, and family units
survived on the flimsiest of foundations. It took too much time and
effort just to follow the rules, follow the traffic, follow the
incessant routines governing even the simplest life-pattern in the
teeming cities. For leisure there was the telescreen and the
yellowjackets, and serious problems could be referred to the psych in
routine check-ups. Everybody seemed lost in the crowd these days.

Harry discovered that Dr. Manschoff had indeed lied to him; mental
disorders were on the increase. He remembered an old, old book--one of
the very first treatises on sociological psychology. The Lonely
Crowd, wasn't it? Full of mumbo-jumbo about "inner-directed" and
"outer-directed" personalities. Well, there was a grain of truth in it
all. The crowd, and its individual members, lived in loneliness. And
since you didn't know very many people well enough to talk to,
intimately, you talked to yourself. Since you couldn't get away from
physical contact with others whenever you ventured abroad, you stayed
inside--except when you had to go to work, had to line up for
food-rations or supplies, had to wait for hours for your check-ups on
off-days. And staying inside meant being confined to the equivalent of
an old-fashioned prison cell. If you weren't married, you lived in
"solitary"; if you were married, you suffered the presence of
fellow-inmates whose habits became intolerable, in time. So you
watched the screen more and more, or you increased your quota of
sedation, and when that didn't help you looked for a real escape. It
was always available to you if you searched long enough; waiting at
the tip of a knife, in the coil of a rope, the muzzle of a gun. You
could find it at the very bottom of a bottle of pills or at the very
bottom of the courtyard outside your window. Harry recalled looking
for it there himself, so many years ago.

But now he was looking for something else. He was looking for others
who shared not only his viewpoint but his purposefulness.

Where were the Naturalists?

Harry searched for several years.

The press?

But there were no Naturalists visible on the telescreens. The news and
the newsmakers reflected a national philosophy adopted many
generations ago by the Founding Fathers of mass-communication in their
infinite wisdom--"What's good for General Motors is good for the
country." And according to them, everything happening was good for
the country; that was the cardinal precept in the science of
autobuyology. There were no Arnold Ritchies left any more, and the
printed newzine seemed to have vanished.

The clergy?

Individual churches with congregations in physical attendance, seemed
difficult to find. Telepreachers still appeared regularly every
Sunday, but their scripts--like everyone else's--had been processed in
advance. Denominationalism and sectarianism had waned, too; all of
these performers seemed very much alike, in that they were vigorous,
forthright, inspiring champions of the status quo.

The scientists?

But the scientists were a part of the government, and the government
was a one-party system, and the system supported the nation and the
nation supported the scientists. Of course, there were still private
laboratories subsidized for industrial purposes, but the men who
worked in them seemed singularly disinterested in social problems. In
a way, Harry could understand their position. It isn't likely that a
dedicated scientist, a man whose specialized research has won him a
Nobel Prize for creating a new detergent, will be worldly enough to
face unpleasant realities beyond the walls of his antiseptic sanctum.
After all, there was precedent for such isolationism--did the sainted
Betty Crocker ever enlist in any crusades? As for physicians,
psychiatrists and mass-psychologists, they were the very ones who
formed the hard core of Leffingwell's support.

The educators, then?

Vocational Apt was a part of the government. And the poor pedagogues,
who had spent generations hacking their way out of the blackboard
jungles, were only too happy to welcome the notion of a coming
millennium when their small charges would be still smaller. Even
though formal schooling, for most youngsters, terminated at fourteen,
there was still the problem of overcrowding. Telescreening and
teletesting techniques were a help, but the problem was essentially a
physical one. And Leffingwell was providing a physical solution.
Besides, the educators had been themselves educated, through
Vocational Apt. And while they, and the government, fervently upheld
the principle of freedom of speech, they had to draw the line
somewhere. As everyone knows, freedom of speech does not mean freedom
to criticize.

Business men?

Perhaps there were some disgruntled souls in the commercial community,
whose secret heroes were the oil tycoons of a bygone era or the
old-time Stock Exchange clan united under the totems of the bull or
the bear. But the day of the rugged individualist was long departed;
only the flabby individualist remained. And he had the forms to fill
out and the inspectors to contend with, and the rationing to worry
about and the taxes to meet and the quotas to fulfill. But in the long
run, he managed. The business man worked for the government, but the
government also worked for him. His position was protected. And if the
government said the Leff Shots would solve the overpopulation
problem--without cutting down the number of consumers--well, was
that really so bad? Why, in a generation or so there'd be even more
customers! That meant increased property values, too.

It took Harry several years to realize he'd never find Naturalists
organized for group action. The capacity for group action had vanished
as the size of the group increased. All interests were interdependent;
the old civic, fraternal, social and anti-social societies had no
present purpose any more. And the once-familiar rallying-points--whether
they represented idealistic humanitarianism or crass self-interest--had
vanished in the crowd. Patriotism, racialism, unionism, had all been
lost in a moiling megalopolitanism.

There were protests, of course. The mothers objected, some of them. Ag
Culture, in particular, ran into difficulties with women who revived
the quaint custom of "going on strike" against the Leff Law and
refused to take their shots. But it was all on the individual level,
and quickly coped with. Government medical authorities met the women
at checkup time and demonstrated that the Leff Law had teeth in it.
Teeth, and scalpels. The rebellious women were not subdued, slain, or
segregated--they were merely sterilized. Perhaps more would have come
of this if their men had backed them up; but the men, by and large,
were realists. Having a kid was a headache these days. This new
business of injections wasn't so bad, when you came right down to it.
There'd still be youngsters around, and you'd get the same allotment
for extra living space--only the way it worked out, there'd be more
room and the kids would eat less. Pretty good deal. And it wasn't as
if the young ones were harmed. Some of them seemed to be a lot smarter
than ordinary--like on some of the big quizshows, youngsters of eight
and nine were winning all those big prizes. Bright little ones. Of
course, these must be the ones raised in the first special school the
government had set up. They said old Leffingwell, the guy who invented
the shots, was running it himself. Sort of experimenting to see how
this new crop of kids would make out....

It was when Harry learned about the school that he knew what he must

And if nobody else would help him, he'd act on his own. There might
not be any help from organized society, but he still had disorganized
society to turn to.

* * * * *

He spent the next two years and the last of his money finding a way.
The pattern of criminality had changed, too, and it was no easy matter
to find the assistance he needed. About the only group crime still
flourishing was hijacking; it took him a long while to locate a small
under-cover outfit which operated around St. Louie and arrange to
obtain a helicopter and pilot. Getting hold of the rifle was still
more difficult, but he managed. And by the time everything was
assembled, he'd found out what he needed to know about Dr. Leffingwell
and his school.

As he'd suspected, the school was located in the old canyon, right in
the same buildings which had once served as experimental units. How
many youngsters were there, Harry didn't know. Maybe Manschoff was
still on the staff, and maybe they'd brought in a whole new staff.
These things didn't matter. What mattered was that Leffingwell was on
the premises. And a man who knew his way about, a man who worked alone
and to a single purpose, could reach him.

Thus it was that Harry Collins crouched behind the boulder that bright
May morning and waited for Dr. Leffingwell to appear. The helicopter
had dropped him at the upper end of the canyon the day before, giving
him a chance to reconnoitre and familiarize himself with the terrain
once again. He'd located Leffingwell's quarters, even seen the man
through one of the lower windows. Harry had no trouble recognizing
him; the face was only too familiar from a thousand 'casts viewed on a
thousand screens. Inevitably, some time today, he'd emerge from the
building. And when he did, Harry would be waiting.

He shifted behind the rocks and stretched his legs. Twelve years had
passed, and now he'd come full circle. The whole business had started
here, and here it must end. That was simple justice.

And it is justice, Harry told himself. It's not revenge. Because
there'd be no point to revenge; that was only melodramatic nonsense.
He was no Monte Cristo, come to wreak vengeance on his cruel
oppressors. And he was no madman, no victim of a monomaniacal
obsession. What he was doing was the result of lengthy and logical

If Harry Collins, longtime fugitive from a government treatment
center, tried to take his story to the people, he'd be silenced
without a hearing. But his story must be heard. There was only one way
to arrest the attention of a nation--with the report of a rifle.

A bullet in Leffingwell's brain; that was the solution of the problem.
Overnight the assassin would become a national figure. They'd
undoubtedly try him and undoubtedly condemn him, but first he'd have
his day in court. He'd get a chance to speak out. He'd give all the
voiceless, unorganized victims of the Leff Law a reason for
rebellion--and offer them an example. If Leffingwell had to die, it
would be in a good cause. Moreover, he deserved to die. Hadn't he
killed men, women, infants, without mercy?

But it's not revenge, Harry repeated. And I know what I'm doing.
Maybe I was disturbed before, but I'm sane now. Perfectly logical.
Perfectly calm. Perfectly controlled.

Yes, and now his sane, logical, calm, controlled eyes noted that the
distant door was opening, and he sighted through the 'scope and
brought his sane, logical, calm, controlled hand up along the barrel
to the trigger. He could see the two men emerging, and the shorter,
plumper of the two was Leffingwell. He squinted at the high forehead
with its receding hairline; it was a perfect target. A little squeeze
now and he knew what would happen. In his sane, logical, calm,
controlled mind he could visualize the way the black hole would appear
in the center of that forehead, while behind it would be the torn and
dripping redness flecked with gray--

"What are you doing?"

Harry whirled, staring; staring down at the infant who stood smiling
beside him. It was an infant, that was obvious enough, and implicit
in the diminutive stature, the delicate limbs and the oversized head.
But infants do not wear the clothing of pre-adolescent boys, they do
not enunciate with clarity, they do not stare coolly and knowingly at
their elders. They do not say, "Why do you want to harm Dr.

Harry gazed into the wide eyes. He couldn't speak.

"You're sick, aren't you?" the child persisted. "Let me call the
doctor. He can help you."

Harry swung the rifle around. "I'll give you just ten seconds to clear
out of here before I shoot."

The child shook his head. Then he took a step forward. "You wouldn't
hurt me," he said, gravely. "You're just sick. That's why you talk
this way."

Harry leveled the rifle. "I'm not sick," he muttered. "I know what I'm
doing. And I know all about you, too. You're one of them, aren't you?
One of the first of Leffingwell's brood of illegitimates."

The child took another step forward. "I'm not illegitimate," he said.
"I know who I am. I've seen the records. My name is Harry Collins."

Somewhere the rifle exploded, the bullet hurtling harmlessly overhead.
But Harry didn't hear it. All he could hear, exploding in his own
brain as he went down into darkness, was the sane, logical, calm,
controlled voice of his son.

Next: Michael Cavendish 2027

Previous: Minnie Schultz 2009

Add to Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 269