The Complete Stories (Page 46)
"Teeming with energy in every golden, crispy flake-" cried Billikan, Junior.
"Covered with honey-sweet, crystalline sugar; a confection and a food- growled Billikan, Senior.
"To tempt the most jaded appetite," roared Billikan, Grandsenior.
"Exactly," said R.E. "What appetite?"
They stared stolidly at him. "I beg your pardon," said Billikan, Junior.
"Are any of you hungry?" asked R.E. "I’m not."
"What is this fool maundering about?" demanded Billikan, Grandsenior, angrily. His invisible cane would have been prodding R.E. in the navel had it (the cane, not the navel) existed.
R.E. said, "I’m trying to tell you that no one will ever eat again. It is the hereafter, and food is unnecessary."
The expressions on the faces of the Billikans needed no interpretation. It was obvious that they had tried their own appetites and found them wanting.
Billikan, Junior, said ashenly, "Ruined!"
Billikan, Grandsenior, pounded the floor heavily and noiselessly with his imaginary cane. "This is confiscation of property without due process of law.
I’ll sue. I’ll sue."
"Quite unconstitutional," agreed Billikan, Senior.
"If you can find anyone to sue, I wish you all good fortune," said R.E. agreeably. "And now if you’ll excuse me I think I’ll walk toward th" graveyard."
He put his hat on his head and walked out the door.
Etheriel, his vortices quivering, stood before the glory of a six-winged cherub.
The cherub said, "If I understand you, your particular universe r"as been dismantled." 111 "Exactly."
"Well, surely, now, you don’t expect me to set it up again?"
"I don’t expect you to do anything," said Etheriel, "except to arrange an appointment for me with the Chief."
The cherub gestured his respect instantly at hearing the word. Two wing-tips covered his feet, two his eyes and two his mouth. He restored hi tnself to normal and said, "The Chief is quite busy. There are a myriad score of matters for him to decide."
"Who denies that? I merely point out that if matters stand as ney are now, there will have been a universe in which Satan will have won the final victory."
"It’s the Hebrew word for Adversary," said Etheriel impatiently. 1 could say Ahriman, which is the Persian word. In any case, I mean the Adversary."
The cherub said, "But what will an interview with the Chief accomplish? The document authorizing the Last Trump was countersigned by the Chief,
and you know that it is irrevocable for that reason. The Chief would never limit his own omnipotence by canceling a word he had spoken in his official capacity."
"Is that final? You will not arrange an appointment?"
Etheriel said, "In that case, 1 shall seek out the Chief without one. I will invade the Primum Mobile. If it means my destruction, so be it." He gathered his energies. . . .
The cherub murmured in horror, "Sacrilege!" and there was a faint gathering of thunder as Etheriel sprang upward and was gone.
R. E. Mann passed through the crowding streets and grew used to the sight of people bewildered, disbelieving, apathetic, in makeshift clothing or, usually, none at all.
A girl, who looked about twelve, leaned over an iron gate, one foot on a crossbar, swinging it to and fro, and said as he passed, "Hello, mister."
"Hello," said R.E. The girl was dressed. She was not one of the-uh- returnees.
The girl said, "We got a new baby in our house. She’s a sister I once had. Mommy is crying and they sent me here."
R.E. said, "Well, well," passed through the gate and up the paved walk to the house, one with modest pretensions to middle-class gentility. He rang the bell, obtained no answer, opened the door and walked in.
He followed the sound of sobbing and knocked at an inner door. A stout man of about fifty with little hair and a comfortable supply of cheek and chin looked out at him with mingled astonishment and resentment.
"Who are you?"
R.E. removed his hat. "I thought I might be able to help. Your little girl outside-"
A woman looked up at him hopelessly from a chair by a double bed. Her hair was beginning to gray. Her face was puffed and unsightly with weeping and the veins stood out bluely on the back of her hands. A baby lay on the bed, plump and naked. It kicked its feet languidly and its sightless baby eyes turned aimlessly here and there.
"This is my baby," said the woman. "She was born twenty-three years ago in this house and she died when she was ten days old in this house. I wanted her back so much."
"And now you have her," said R.E.
"But it’s too late," cried the woman vehemently. "I’ve had three other children. My oldest girl is married; my son is in the army. I’m too old to have a baby now. And even if-even if-"
Her features worked in a heroic effort to keep back the tears and failed.
Her husband said with flat tonelessness, "It’s not a real baby. It doesn’t
cry. It doesn’t soil itself. It won’t take milk. What will we do? It’ll never grow. It’ll always be a baby."
R.E. shook his head. "I don’t know," he said. "I’m afraid I can do nothing to help."
Quietly he left. Quietly he thought of the hospitals. Thousands of babies must be appearing at each one.
Place them in racks, he thought, sardonically. Stack them like cordwood. They need no care. Their little bodies are merely each the custodian of an indestructible spark of life.
He passed two little boys of apparently equal chronological age, perhaps ten. Their voices were shrill. The body of one glistened white in the sunless light so he was a returnee. The other was not. R.E. paused to listen.