The Complete Stories (Page 231)
Did a Door ever break down during passage, leaving half a body here and half there? He had never heard of such a case, but he imagined it could happen.
He returned to his desk and looked up the time of his next appointment. It was obvious to him that Mrs. Hanshaw was annoyed and disappointed at not having arranged for a psychic probe treatment.
Why, for God’s sake? Why should a thing like the probe, an obvious piece of quackery in his own opinion, get such a hold on the general public? It must be part of this general trend toward machines. Anything man can do, machines can do better. Machines! More machines! Machines for anything and everything! O temporal O mores!
His resentment of the probe was beginning to bother him. Was it a fear
of technological unemployment, a basic insecurity on his part, a mecha-nophobia, if that was the word- He made a mental note to discuss this with his own analyst.
Dr. Sloane had to feel his way. The boy wasn’t a patient who had come to him, more or less anxious to talk, more or less anxious to be helped.
Under the circumstances it would have been best to keep his first meeting with Richard short and noncommittal. It would have been sufficient merely to establish himself as something less than a total stranger. The next time he would be someone Richard had seen before. The time after he would be an acquaintance, and after that a friend of the family.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Hanshaw was not likely to accept a long-drawn-out process. She would go searching for a probe and, of course, she would find it.
And harm the boy. He was certain of that.
It was for that reason he felt he must sacrifice a little of the proper caution and risk a small crisis.
An uncomfortable ten minutes had passed when he decided he must try. Mrs. Hanshaw was smiling in a rather rigid way, eyeing him narrowly, as though she expected verbal magic from him. Richard wriggled in his seat, unresponsive to Dr. Sloane’s tentative comments, overcome with boredom and unable not to show it.
Dr. Sloane said, with casual suddenness, "Would you like to take a walk with me, Richard?"
The boy’s eyes widened and he stopped wriggling. He looked directly at Dr. Sloane. "A walk, sir?"
"I mean, outside."
"Do you go-outside?"
"Sometimes. When I feel like it."
Richard was on his feet, holding down a squirming eagerness. "I didn’t think anyone did."
"I do. And I like company."
The boy sat down, uncertainly. "Mom?-"
Mrs. Hanshaw had stiffened in her seat, her compressed lips radiating horror, but she managed to say, "Why certainly, Dickie. But watch yourself."
And she managed a quick and baleful glare at Dr. Sloane.
In one respect, Dr. Sloane had lied. He did not go outside "sometimes." He hadn’t been in the open since early college days. True, he had been athletically inclined (still was to some extent) but in his time the indoor ultra-violet chambers, swimming pools and tennis courts had flourished. For those with the price, they were much more satisfactory than the outdoor equivalents, open to the elements as they were, could possibly be. There was no occasion to go outside.
So there was a crawling sensation about his skin when he felt wind touch it, and he put down his flexied shoes on bare grass with a gingerly movement.
"Hey, look at that." Richard was quite different now, laughing, his reserve broken down.
Dr. Sloane had time only to catch a flash of blue that ended in a tree. Leaves rustled and he lost it.
"What was it?"
"A bird," said Richard. "A blue kind of bird."
Dr. Sloane looked about him in amazement. The Hanshaw residence was on a rise of ground, and he could see for miles. The area was only lightly wooded and between clumps of trees, grass gleamed brightly in the sunlight.
Colors set in deeper green made red and yellow patterns. They were flowers. From the books he had viewed in the course of his lifetime and from the old video shows, he had learned enough so that all this had an eerie sort of familiarity.
And yet the grass was so trim, the flowers so patterned. Dimly, he realized he had been expecting something wilder. He said, "Who takes care of all this?"
Richard shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe the mekkanos do it."
"There’s loads of them around. Sometimes they got a sort of atomic knife they hold near the ground. It cuts the grass. And they’re always fooling around with the flowers and things. There’s one of them over there."
It was a small object, half a mile away. Its metal skin cast back highlights as it moved slowly over the gleaming meadow, engaged in some sort of activity that Dr. Sloane could not identify.
Dr. Sloane was astonished. Here it was a perverse sort of estheticism, a kind of conspicuous consumption-
"What’s that?" he asked suddenly.
Richard looked. He said, "That’s a house. Belongs to the Froehlichs. Coordinates, A-3, 23, 461. That little pointy building over there is the public Door."
Dr. Sloane was staring at the house. Was that what it looked like from the outside? Somehow he had imagined something much more cubic, and taller.
"Come along," shouted Richard, running ahead.
Dr. Sloane followed more sedately. "Do you know all the houses about here?"
"Where is A-23, 26, 475?" It was his own house, of course.
Richard looked about. "Let’s see. Oh, sure, I know where it is-you see that water there?"
"Water?" Dr. Sloane made out a line of silver curving across the green.
"Sure. Real water. Just sort of running over rocks and things. It keeps
running all the time. You can get across it if you step on the rocks. It’s called a river."