The Complete Stories (Page 218)
A month has passed now and I can’t get it out of my mind.
My cars talk to one another. I have no doubt about it anymore. It’s as though they’ve gained confidence; as though they’re not bothering to keep it secret anymore. Their engines rattle and knock continuously.
And they don’t talk among themselves only. They talk to the cars and buses that come into the Farm on business. How long have they been doing that?
They must be understood, too. Gellhorn’s bus understood them, for all it hadn’t been on the grounds more than an hour. I can close my eyes and bring back that dash along the highway, with our cars flanking the bus on either side, clacking their motors at it till it understood, stopped, let me out, and ran off with Gellhorn.
Did my cars tell him to kill Gellhorn? Or was that his idea?
Can cars have such ideas? The motor designers say no. But they mean under ordinary conditions. Have they foreseen everything!’
Cars get ill-used, you know.
Some of them enter the Farm and observe. They get told things. They find out that cars exist whose motors are never stopped, whom no one ever drives, whose every need is supplied.
Then maybe they go out and tell others. Maybe the word is spreading quickly. Maybe they’re going to think that the Farm way should be the way all over the world. They don’t understand. You couldn’t expect them to understand about legacies and the whims of rich men.
There are millions of automatobiles on Earth, tens of millions. If the thought gets rooted in them that they’re slaves; that they should do something about it … If they begin to think the way Gellhorn’s bus did. . . .
Maybe it won’t be till after my time. And then they’ll have to keep a few of us to take care of them, won’t they? They wouldn’t kill us all.
And maybe they would. Maybe they wouldn’t understand about how someone would have to care for them. Maybe they won’t wait.
Every morning I wake up and think, Maybe today. . . .
I don’t get as much pleasure out of my cars as I used to. Lately, I notice that I’m even beginning to avoid Sally.
"Flies!" said Kendell Casey, wearily. He swung his arm. The fly circled, returned and nestled on Casey’s shirt-collar.
From somewhere there sounded the buzzing of a second fly.
Dr. John Polen covered the slight uneasiness of his chin by moving his cigarette quickly to his lips.
He said, "I didn’t expect to meet you, Casey. Or you, Winthrop. Or ought I call you Reverend Winthrop?"
"Ought I call you Professor Polen?" said Winthrop, carefully striking the proper vein of rich-toned friendship.
They were trying to snuggle into the cast-off shell of twenty years back, each of them. Squirming and cramming and not fitting.
Damn, thought Polen fretfully, why do people attend college reunions?
Casey’s hot blue eyes were still filled with the aimless anger of the college sophomore who has discovered intellect, frustration, and the tag-ends of cynical philosophy all at once.
Casey! Bitter man of the campus!
He hadn’t outgrown that. Twenty years later and it was Casey, bitter ex-man of the campus! Polen could see that in the way his finger tips moved aimlessly and in the manner of his spare body.
As for Winthrop? Well, twenty years older, softer, rounder. Skin pinker, eyes milder. Yet no nearer the quiet certainty he would never find. It was all there in the quick smile he never entirely abandoned, as though he feared there would be nothing to take its place, that its absence would turn his face into a smooth and featureless flesh.
Polen was tired of reading the aimless flickering of a muscle’s end; tired of usurping the place of his machines; tired of the too much they told him.
Could they read him as he read them? Could the small restlessness of his own eyes broadcast the fact that he was damp with the disgust that had bred mustily within him?
Damn, thought Polen, why didn’t I stay away?
They stood there, all three, waiting for one another to say something, to flick something from across the gap and bring it, quivering, into the present.
Polen tried it. He said, "Are you still working in chemistry, Casey?"
"In my own way, yes," said Casey, gruffly. "I’m not the scientist you’re considered to be. I do research on insecticides for E. J. Link at Chatham."
Winthrop said, "Are you really? You said you would work on insecticides. Remember, Polen? And with all that, the flies dare still be after you, Casey?"
Casey said, "Can’t get rid of them. I’m the best proving ground in the labs. No compound we’ve made keeps them away when I’m around. Someone once said it was my odor. I attract them."
Polen remembered the someone who had said that.
Winthrop said, "Or else-"
Polen felt it coming. He tensed.
"Or else," said Winthrop, "it’s the curse, you know." His smile intensified to show that he was joking, that he forgave past grudges.
Damn, thought Polen, they haven’t even changed the words. And the past came back.
"Flies," said Casey, swinging his arm, and slapping. "Ever see such a thing? Why don’t they light on you two?"
Johnny Polen laughed at him. He laughed often then. "It’s something in your body odor, Casey. You could be a boon to science. Find out the nature of the odorous chemical, concentrate it, mix it with DDT, and you’ve got the best fly-killer in the world."
"A fine situation. What do I smell like? A lady fly in heat? It’s a shame they have to pick on me when the whole damned world’s a dung heap."
Winthrop frowned and said with a faint flavor of rhetoric, "Beauty is not the only thing, Casey, in the eye of the beholder."
Casey did not deign a direct response. He said to Polen, "You know what Winthrop told me yesterday? He said those damned flies were the curse of Beelzebub."