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

I am not certain that my situation was improved when these ghouls grabbed me away from those spooks. I suppose that almost everybody has fantasies about making the punishment fit the crime or about some scoundrel who would look his best in the leading role at a funeral. It is a harmless way to kill time during a sleepless night.

But these weirdos mean it.

Murder is all they think about. The first night I was here they listed fifty-odd people who needed to be killed, itemised their crimes, and offered me the honour of being the next member to count coup - pick a client, do! One whose crimes are particularly offensive to you, Milady Johnson -

I admit that the listed miscreants were a scrofulous bunch over whom even their own mothers would not be likely to weep but, like Mr Clemens' favourite son, Huckleberry Finn, I am not much interested in killing strangers. I am not opposed to the death penalty - I voted for it every time the matter came to a vote, which was frequently during the decline and fall of the United States - but in killing pour le sport I need to be emotionally involved. Oh, forced to a choice I would rather shoot a man than a deer; I can't see the ‘sport' in shooting a gentle vegetarian that can't shoot back.

But, given full choice, I would rather watch television than kill a stranger. Some, at least.

I said, ‘I don't see anyone on that list who is to my taste. Do you happen to have in your file of better-deads someone who abandons kittens? '

The fat chairman smiled at me under his dark glasses. Now that's a delicious idea! No, I think no unless by chance there is someone nominated for other reasons who also abandons kittens. I will have Research set up an inquiry at once. Madam, what would be an appropriate termination for such a client? Have you studied it? '

‘No, I haven't. But his death should involve homesickness. .. and loneliness. .. and cold. .. and hunger. .. and fear. .. and utter despair. '

‘Artistic. But perhaps not practical. Such a death might stretch out over months. .. and we really do not have the facilities to permit a deletion to last more than a few days. Ah, Bluebeard! - you have something to add? '

‘Do what our sister suggests for as many days as we can afford the space. Then surround the client by a halo of enormous trucks, giant holos, the way traffic must look to a kitten. Have the images bear down on him, with overpowering sound effects. Then hit him with a real truck - a glancing blow to maim him. Let him die slowly, as is often the case with a road-killed animal. '

"Madam, does that appeal to you? '

(It made me want to throw up. ) ‘Unless something better comes along. '

‘If we can find such a client for you, he will be saved and held at your disposal. In the mean time we must find you someone else for coup, not let you sit among us naked of proper pride. '

That was a week ago and I have begun to feel just a hint of the idea that if I do not promptly find on their list a client I wish to terminate, then. .. just possibly. .. we don't want to hurry you. .. but still. .. if I don't make blood coup soon, how can I be trusted not to betray them to the Supreme Bishop's proctors?

On that Time Corps mission I carried out in Japan in the 1930s, I wish I had investigated those reports of another woman who might be me. If I had proved to myself that I was indeed tripled for 1937-8, then I would sleep better here now, as that third loop would hava to be further ahead on my personal time line. .. which would prove that I will get out of this mess still breathing.

That's the real trick: to keep breathing. Isn't it, Pixel? Pixel? Pixel! Oh, damn!

Changes - in 1972 Princess Polly died in her sleep - heart failure, I think, but I did not have an autopsy. She was a little old lady who had lived a long life and, I think, a happy one, on the whole. I said a prayer to Bubastis, asking her to watch for the arrival in the eternal Catnip Fields of a little black and white cat who had never scratched or bitten without just cause and who had had the misfortune to have had only one kitten - by Caesarean section and the kitten never opened its eyes - and then she had lost her kitten factory by spaying because her surgeon said that she could never have a normal litter and could not safely risk another pregnancy.

I did not get another kitten. In 1972 I was ninety years old (although I admitted only to fifty-nine. .. and tried my darnedest - exercise and diet and posture and cosmetics and clothes - to look forty). Being ninety in fact, it was possible, even likely, that another kitten would outlive me. I chose not to risk that.

I moved to Albuquerque because it had no ghosts for me. Kansas City was choked with ghosts of my past, of every sort, both sad and happy. I preferred not to drive by a site, such as our old home on Benton Boulevard, or where our old farmhouse out south had once been, then driving past would cover the happy used-to-be with dreary or unrecognisable what-is.

I preferred to remember Central High School the way it had been when my children attended it. In those days the scholastic records of Central's graduates at West Point and Annapolis and MIT and other ‘tough' schools caused Central to be rated as the finest secondary school in the west, equal in academics to the best preparatory schools, such as Groton or Lawrenceville - instead of what it had become: mostly babysitting for overgrown infants, a place where police prowl cars gathered every afternoon to stop fights, to confiscate knives, and to shake down the ‘students' for drugs - a ‘high school' where half the students should never have been allowed to graduate from grammar school because they could not read or write well enough to get along in the world outside.

Albuquerque held no ghosts for me; I had never lived them I had no children living there, no grandchildren. (Great-grandchildren? Well, maybe. ) Albuquerque had had the good fortune (from my point of view) to be bypassed by moving roadway Route Sixty-Six. The old paved road numbered route 66 and once called ‘The Main Street of America' had run straight through Albuquerque, but roadcity Route Sixty-Six was miles to the south; one could not hear it or see it.