Жанр книги: Научная Фантастика
Robert A Heinlein To Sail Beyond The Sunset

A noise woke me up. I was still in that pitch-dark lorry, clutching Pixel to me. ‘Pixel, where are we? '

‘Kuhbleeert! ' (How would I know? )

‘Hush! ' Someone was unlocking the lorry.

‘Meeroow? '

‘I don't know. But don't shoot till you see the whites of their eyes. '

A side door rolled back. Someone was silhouetted against the open door. I blinked.

‘Maureen Long? '

‘I think so. Yes. '

‘I am sorry to have left you in the dark so long. But we had a visit from the Supreme Bishop's proctors and we have just finished bribing them. And now we must move; they don't stay bribed. Second-order dishonesty. May I offer you a hand? '

I accepted his hand - bony, dry, and cold - and he handed me down while I held Pixel in my left arm. He was a small man, in a dark siren suit, and the nearest thing to a living skeleton I have ever seen. He appeared to be yellowed parchment stretched over bones and little else. His skull was completely hairless.

‘Permit me to introduce myself, ' he said. ‘I am Dr Frankenstein. '

‘Frankenstein, ' I repeated. ‘Didn't we meet at Schwab's on Sunset Boulevard? '

He chuckled, a sound like dry leaves rustling. ‘You are jesting. Of course it is not my original name but one I use professionally. You will see. This way, if you please. '

We were in a windowless room, with a vaulted ceiling glowing with what seemed to be Douglas-Martin shadowless skyfoam. He led us to a lift. As the door closed with us inside Pixel tried to get away from me. I dung to him. ‘No, no, Pix! You've got to see where they take me. '

I spoke just to Pixel, almost in a whisper, but my escort answered, ‘Don't worry, Milady Long; you are now in the hands of friends. '

The lift stopped at a lower(? ) level; we got out and we all got into a tube capsule. We zoomed fifty yards, five hundred, five thousand, who knows? - the capsule accelerated decelerated, stopped. We got out. Another lift took us up this time. Shortly we were in a luxurious lounge with about a dozen people in it and more coming in. Dr Frankenstein offered me a comfortable seat in a large circle of chairs, most of them occupied. I sat down.

This time Pixel would not be denied. He wriggled out of my arms, jumped down, explored the place and examined the people, tail up and poking the little pink nose into everything.

There was a wheelchair in the circle, occupied by an excessively fat man, who had one leg off at the knee, the other amputated higher up. He was wearing dark glasses. He felt like a diabetic to me, and I wondered how Galahad would approach the case. He spoke up:

‘Ladies and gentlemen, shall we get started? We have a new sister. ' He pointed with his whole hand at me, like a movie usher. ‘Lady Macbeth. She is -‘

‘Just a moment, ' I put in. ‘I am not Lady Macbeth. I am Maureen Johnson Long. '

He trained his head and dark glasses at me slowly, like a battleship's turret. ‘This is most irregular. Dr Frankenstein?

‘I am sorry, Mr Chairman. The contretemps with the proctors spoiled the schedule. Nothing has been explained to her. '

The fat man let out a long sibilant sigh. Incredible. Madam, we apologise. Let me introduce our circle. We are the dead men. All of us here are enjoying terminal illness. I say "enjoying" because we have found a way - hee, hee, hee, hee! - to relish every golden moment left to us. .. indeed to extend those moments because a happy man lives longer.

Each companion of the Committee for Aesthetic Deletions - at your service, Madam! - spends his remaining days in ensuring that scoundrels whose removal will improve the human breed predecease him. You were elected in absentia to our select circle not merely because you are a walking corpse yourself but as a tribute to the artistic crimes you committed in attaining that status.

‘With that synoptic explanation out of the way, permit me to introduce our noble companions:

‘Dr Fu Manchu. ' (A burly Irishman or Scot. He bowed without getting up. )

‘Lucrezia Borgia. ' (Whistler's mother, with tatting in her lap. She smiled at me and said, ‘Welcome, dear girl! ' in a sweet soprano. )

‘Lucrezia is our most accomplished expunger. Despite inoperable cancer of the liver she has counted coup more than forty times. She usually -‘

‘Stop it, Hassan, ' she said sweetly, ' before you tempt me to put you on your proper track. '

‘I wish you would, dear. I grow weary of this carcass. Beyond Lucrezia is Bluebeard -‘

‘Hiyah, babe! What are you doing after? '

‘Don't fret, Madam; he is disarmed. Next we have Attila the Hun - ‘ (A perfect Caspar Milquetoast, in shorts and singlet. He sat utterly still, save that his head nodded steadily, like a nursery toy. )' - next to him, Lizzie Borden. ' (She was a young and beautiful woman, in a provocative evening gown. She looked quite healthy and she smiled happily at me. ) ‘Lizzie is kept alive by an artificial heart. .. but the fuel that powers it is killing her slowly. Lizzie was formerly a Sister of the Order of Santa Carolita, but she fell out of favour at the Cathedral and was assigned to medical and surgical research. Hence her heart. Hence her fate. Hence her commitment, for Lizzie is ‘a specialist; she terminates only the priesthood of the Church of the Divine Inseminator. Her teeth are very sharp.

‘Next is jack the Ripper -‘

‘Call me Jack. '

‘- and Dr Guillotine. '

‘Your servant, Madam. '

‘Professor Moriarty is lurking back there, and with him is Captain Kidd. That completes our circle tonight, save for myself, chairman for life if I may be permitted a jest. I am the Old Man of the Mountain, Hassan the Assassin. '

‘Where is Count Dracula? '

‘He asked to be excused, Lady Macbeth; he is indisposed something he drank, I believe. '

‘I warned him that Rh-negative would poison him. Hassan, you pretmtious old fraud, this is ridiculous. My name is not Lady Macbeth and I am not a walking corpse; I am in perfect health. I'm lost, that's all:

‘You are indeed lost, my lady, for there is no spot on the globe where in the long run you can escape the Supreme Bishop's proctors. All we offer you, all we can offer you, are some moments of exquisite pleasure before they find you. As for a name, do please pick one that pleases you. Bloody Mary, perhaps? But surely it is prudent to suppress your real name when it is posted in every post office in the realm? But come - enough of business for the nonce. Let sweet music play and good wine flow. Carpe diem, my cousins! Drink up, enjoy the moment. Later, when we again come to order, we will hear nominations of new candidates for termination. ' He touched a control on the arm of his wheelchair, spun round, and rolled to a bar in ore corner.

Most of the others followed him. Lizzie Borden came over to me as I stood up.