Homo inferior, p.1

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Homo Inferior
 

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Homo Inferior


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  HOMO INFERIOR

  By Mari Wolf

  Illustrated by Rudolph Palais

  [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from If Worlds of ScienceFiction November 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidencethat the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: _The world of the new race was peaceful, comfortable,lovely--and completely static. Only Eric knew the haunting lonelinessthat had carried the old race to the stars, and he couldn't communicateit, even if he had dared to!_]

  _The starship waited. Cylindrical walls enclosed it, and a transparentplastic dome held it back from the sky and the stars. It waited, whilenight changed to day and back again, while the seasons merged one intoanother, and the years, and the centuries. It towered as gleaming and asuncorroded as it had when it was first built, long ago, when men hadbustled about it and in it, their shouting and their laughter and thesound of their tools ringing against the metallic plates._

  _Now few men ever came to it. And those who did come merely looked withquiet faces for a few minutes, and then went away again._

  _The generations kaleidoscoped by. The Starship waited._

  * * * * *

  Eric met the other children when he was four years old. They were out inthe country, and he'd slipped away from his parents and started wadingalong the edge of a tiny stream, kicking at the water spiders.

  His feet were soaked, and his knees were streaked with mud where he'dknelt down to play. His father wouldn't like it later, but right now itdidn't matter. It was fun to be off by himself, splashing along thestream, feeling the sun hot on his back and the water icy against hisfeet.

  A water spider scooted past him, heading for the tangled moss along thebank. He bent down, scooped his hand through the water to catch it. Fora moment he had it, then it slipped over his fingers and darted away,out of his reach.

  As he stood up, disappointed, he saw them: two boys and a girl, not mucholder than he. They were standing at the edge of the trees, watchinghim.

  He'd seen children before, but he'd never met any of them. His parentskept him away from them--and from all strangers. He stood still,watching them, waiting for them to say something. He felt excited anduncomfortable at the same time.

  They didn't say anything. They just watched him, very intently.

  He felt even more uncomfortable.

  The bigger boy laughed. He pointed at Eric and laughed again and lookedover at his companions. They shook their heads.

  Eric waded up out of the water. He didn't know whether to go over tothem or run away, back to his mother. He didn't understand the way theywere looking at him.

  "Hello," he said.

  The big boy laughed again. "See?" he said, pointing at Eric. "He can't."

  "Can't what?" Eric said.

  The three looked at him, not saying anything. Then they all burst outlaughing. They pointed at him, jumped up and down and clapped theirhands together.

  "What's funny?" Eric said, backing away from them, wishing his motherwould come, and yet afraid to turn around and run.

  "You," the girl said. "You're funny. Funny, funny, funny! You'restu-pid."

  The others took it up. "Stu-pid, stu-pid. You can't talk to us, you'retoo stu-pid...."

  They skipped down the bank toward him, laughing and calling. They jumpedup and down and pointed at him, crowded closer and closer.

  "Silly, silly. Can't talk. Silly, silly. Can't talk...."

  Eric backed away from them. He tried to run, but he couldn't. His kneesshook too much. He could hardly move his legs at all. He began to cry.

  They crowded still closer around him. "Stu-pid." Their laughter wasterrible. He couldn't get away from them. He cried louder.

  "Eric!" His mother's voice. He twisted around, saw her coming, runningtoward him along the bank.

  "Mama!" He could move again. He stumbled toward her.

  "He wants his mama," the big boy said. "Funny baby."

  His mother was looking past him, at the other children. They stoppedlaughing abruptly. They looked back at her for a moment, scuffing theirfeet in the dirt and not saying anything. Suddenly the big boy turnedand ran, up over the bank and out of sight. The other boy followed him.

  The girl started to run, and then she looked at Eric's mother again andstopped. She looked back at Eric. "I'm sorry," she said sulkily, andthen she turned and fled after the others.

  Eric's mother picked him up. "It's all right," she said. "Mother's here.It's all right."

  He clung to her, clutching her convulsively, his whole body shaking."Why, Mama? Why?"

  "You're all right, dear."

  She was warm and her arms were tight around him. He was home again, andsafe. He relaxed, slowly.

  "Don't leave me, Mama."

  "I won't, dear."

  She crooned to him, softly, and he relaxed still more. His head droopedon her shoulder and after a while he fell asleep.

  But it wasn't the same as it had been. It wouldn't ever be quite thesame again. He knew he was different now.

  * * * * *

  That night Eric lay asleep. He was curled on his side, one chubby handunder his cheek, the other still holding his favorite animal, the woolylamb his mother had given him for his birthday. He stirred in his sleep,threshing restlessly, and whimpered.

  His mother's face lifted mutely to her husband's.

  "Myron, the things those children said. It must have been terrible forhim. I'm glad at least that he couldn't perceive what they werethinking."

  Myron sighed. He put his arm about her shoulders and drew her closeagainst him. "Don't torture yourself, Gwin. You can't make it easier forhim. There's no way."

  "But we'll have to tell him something."

  He stroked her hair. The four years of their shared sorrow lay heavilybetween them as he looked down over her head at his son.

  "Poor devil. Let him keep his childhood while he can, Gwin. He'll knowhe's all alone soon enough."

  She nodded, burying her face against his chest. "I know...."

  Eric whimpered again, and his hands clenched into fists and came up toprotect his face.

  Instinctively Gwin reached out to him, and then she drew back. Shecouldn't reach his emotions. There was no perception. There was no wayshe could enter his dreams and rearrange them and comfort him.

  "Poor devil," his father said again. "He's got his whole life to belonely in."

  * * * * *

  The summer passed, and another winter and another summer. Eric spentmore and more time by himself. He liked to sit on the glassed-insunporch, bouncing his ball up and down and talking to it, aloud,pretending that it answered him back. He liked to lie on his stomachclose to the wall and look out at the garden with its riotous mass offlowers and the insects that flew among them. Some flew quickly, theirwings moving so fast that they were just blurs. Others flew slowly,swooping on outspread bright-colored wings from petal to petal. He likedthese slow-flying ones the best. He could wiggle his shoulder blades intime with their wings and pretend that he was flying too.

  Sometimes other children came by on the outside of the wall. He couldlook out at them without worrying, because they couldn't see him. Thewall wasn't transparent from the outside. He liked it when three or fourof them came by together, laughing and chasing each other through thegarden. Usually, though, they didn't stay long. After they had played afew minutes his father or his mother went out and looked at them, andthen they went away.

  Eric was playing by himself when the old man came out to the sunporchdoorway and stood there, saying nothing, making no effort
to interruptor to speak. He was so quiet that after a while Eric almost didn't mindhis being there.

  The old man turned back to Myron and Gwin.

  "Of course the boy can learn. He's not stupid."

  Eric bounced the ball, flung it against the transparent glass, caughtit, bounced it again.

  "But how, Walden?" Gwin shook her head. "You offer to teach him, but--"

  Walden smiled. "Remember _these_?"

  _... Walden's study. The familiar curtains drawn aside, and the shelvesbehind them. The rows of bright-backed, box-like objects, most of themold and spotted, quite unhygienic ..._

  Gwin shook her head at the perception, but Myron nodded.

  "Books. I didn't know there were any outside
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