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Title: Freudian Slip
Author: Abel, Franklin
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Freudian Slip" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction May 1952.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed.


                            Freudian Slip


                           By FRANKLIN ABEL


                      Illustrated by HARRINGTON


     Things are exactly what they seem? Life is real? Life is
     earnest? Well, that depends.

       *       *       *       *       *



On the day the Earth vanished, Herman Raye was earnestly fishing for
trout, hip-deep in a mountain stream in upstate New York.

Herman was a tall, serious, sensitive, healthy, well-muscled young man
with an outsize jaw and a brush of red-brown hair. He wore spectacles
to correct a slight hyperopia, and they had heavy black rims because
he knew his patients expected it. In his off hours, he was fond of
books with titles like _Personality and the Behavior Disorders_,
_Self-esteem and Sexuality in Women_, _Juvenile Totem and Taboo: A
study of adolescent culture-groups_, and _A New Theory of Economic
Cycles_; but he also liked baseball, beer and bebop.

This day, the last of Herman's vacation, was a perfect specimen: sunny
and still, the sky dotted with antiseptic tufts of cloud. The trout
were biting. Herman had two in his creel, and was casting into the
shallow pool across the stream in the confident hope of getting
another, when the Universe gave one horrible sliding lurch.

Herman braced himself instinctively, shock pounding through his body,
and looked down at the pebbly stream-bed under his feet.

It wasn't there.

He was standing, to all appearances, in three feet of clear water with
sheer, black nothing under it: nothing, the abysmal color of a
moonless night, pierced by the diamond points of a half-dozen
incredible stars.

He had only that single glimpse; then he found himself gazing across
at the pool under the far bank, whose waters reflected the tranquil
imagery of trees. He raised his casting rod, swung it back over his
shoulder, brought it forward again with a practiced flick of his
wrist, and watched the lure drop.

Within the range of his vision now, everything was entirely normal;
nevertheless, Herman wanted very much to stop fishing and look down to
see if that horrifying void was still there. He couldn't do it.

Doggedly, he tried again and again. The result was always the same. It
was exactly as if he were a man who had made up his mind to fling
himself over a cliff, or break a window and snatch a loaf of bread, or
say in a loud voice to an important person at a party, "I think you
stink." Determination was followed by effort, by ghastly, sweating,
heart-stopping fear, by relief as he gave up and did something else.

_All right_, he thought finally, _there's no point going on with it_.
_Data established: hallucination, compulsion, inhibition._ _Where do
we go from here?_

The obvious first hypothesis was that he was insane. Herman considered
that briefly, and left the question open. Three or four selected
psychoanalyst jokes paraded through his mind, led by the classic,
"You're fine, how am I?"

There was this much truth, he thought, in the popular belief that all
analysts were a little cracked themselves: a good proportion of the
people who get all the way through the man-killing course that makes
an orthodox analyst--a course in which an M.D. degree is only a
beginning--are impelled to do so in the first place by a consuming
interest in their own neuroses. Herman, for example, from the age of
fifteen up until the completion of his own analysis at twenty-six, had
been so claustrophobic that he couldn't force himself into a subway
car or an elevator.

But was he now insane?

Can a foot-rule measure itself?

Herman finished. At an appropriate hour he waded ashore, cleaned his
catch, cooked it and ate it. Where the ground had been bare around his
cooking spot, he saw empty darkness, star-studded, rimmed by a tangled
webwork of bare rootlets. He tried to go on looking at it when he had
finished eating the fish. He couldn't.

After the meal, he tried to take out his notebook and pen. He
couldn't.

In fact, it occurred to him, _he was helpless to do anything that he
wouldn't normally have done_.

Pondering that discovery, after he had cleaned his utensils and
finished his other chores, Herman crawled into his tent and went to
sleep.

Burying the garbage had been an unsettling experience. Like a lunatic
building a machine nobody else can see, he had lifted successive
shovels-full of nothing, dropped the empty cans and rubbish ten inches
into nothing, and shoveled nothing carefully over them again....

       *       *       *       *       *

The light woke him, long before dawn. From where he lay on his back,
he could see an incredible pale radiance streaming upward all around
him, outlining the shadow of his body at the ridge of the tent,
picking out the under-surfaces of the trees against the night sky. He
strained, until he was weak and dizzy, to roll over so that he could
see its source; but he had to give up and wait another ten minutes
until his body turned "naturally," just as if he had still been
asleep.

Then he was looking straight down into a milky transparency that
started under his nose and continued into unguessable depths. First
came the matted clumps of grass, black against the light, every blade
and root as clear as if they had been set in transparent plastic. Then
longer, writhing roots of trees and shrubs, sprouting thickets of
hair-thin rootlets. Between these, and continuing downward level by
level, was spread an infinity of tiny specks, seed-shapes, spores.
Some of them moved, Herman realized with a shock. Insects burrowing
in the emptiness where the Earth should be?

In the morning, when he crawled out of the tent and went to the
bottomless stream to wash, he noticed something he had missed the day
before. The network of grasses gave springily under his feet--not like
turf, but like stretched rubber. Herman conceived an instant dislike
for walking, especially when he had to cross bare ground, because when
that happened, he felt exactly what he saw: nothing whatever
underfoot. "Walking on air," he realized, was not as pleasant an
experience as the popular songs would lead you to expect.

Herman shaved, cooked and ate breakfast, washed the dishes, did the
chores, and packed up his belongings. With a mighty effort, he pried
out the tent stakes, which were bedded in nothing but a loose network
of roots. He shouldered the load and carried it a quarter of a mile
through pine woods to his car.

The car stood at ground level, but the ground was not there any more.
The road was now nothing more than a long, irregular trough formed by
the spreading roots of the pines on either side. Shuddering, Herman
stowed his gear in the trunk and got in behind the wheel.

When he put the motor into gear, the sedan moved sedately and normally
forward. But the motor raced madly, and there was no feeling that it
was taking hold. With screaming engine, Herman drove homeward over a
nonexistent road. Inwardly and silently, he gibbered.

Six miles down the mountain, he pulled up beside a white-painted fence
enclosing a neat yard and a fussy little blue-shuttered house. On the
opposite side of the fence stood a middle-aged woman with a floppy hat
awry on her head and a gardening trowel in one of her gloved hands.
She looked up with an air of vague dismay when he got out of the car.

"Some more eggs today, Dr. Raye?" she asked, and smiled. The smile was
like painted china. Her eyes, lost in her fleshy face, were clearly
trying not to look downward.

"Not today, Mrs. Richards," Herman said. "I just stopped to say
good-by. I'm on my way home."

"Isn't that a shame?" she said mechanically. "Well, come again next
year."

Herman wanted to say, "Next year I'll probably be in a strait-jacket."
He tried to say it. He stuttered, "N-n-n-n--" and ended, glancing at
the ground at her feet, "Transplanting some petunias?"

The woman's mouth worked. She said, "Yes. I thought I might's well put
them along here, where they'd get more sun. Aren't they pretty?"

"Very pretty," said Herman helplessly.

The petunias, roots as naked as if they had been scrubbed, were
nesting in a bed of stars. Mrs. Richards' gloves and trowel were
spotlessly clean.

       *       *       *       *       *

On Fourth Avenue, below Fourteenth Street, Herman met two frightful
little men.

He had expected the city to be better, but it was worse; it was a
nightmare. The avenues between the buildings were bottomless troughs
of darkness. The bedrock was gone; the concrete was gone; the asphalt
was gone.

The buildings themselves were hardly recognizable unless you knew what
they were. New York had been a city of stone--built on stone, built of
stone, as cold as stone.

Uptown, the city looked half-built, but insanely occupied, a forest of
orange-painted girders. In the Village the old brick houses were
worse. No brick; no mortar; nothing but the grotesque shells of rooms
in lath and a paper-thickness of paint.

The wrought-iron railings were gone, too.

On Fourth Avenue, bookseller's row, you could almost persuade yourself
that nothing had happened, provided you did not look down. The
buildings had been made of wood, and wood they remained. The
second-hand books in their wooden racks would have been comforting
except that they were so clean. There was not a spot of dirt anywhere;
the air was more than country-pure.

There was an insane selective principle at work here, Herman realized.
Everything from bedrock to loam that belonged to the Earth itself had
disappeared. So had everything that had a mineral origin and been
changed by refinement and mixture: concrete, wrought iron, brick, but
steel and glass, porcelain and paint remained. It looked as if the
planet had been the joint property of two children, one of whom didn't
want to play any more, so they had split up their possessions--this is
yours, this is yours, this is _mine_....

The two little men popped into view not six feet in front of Herman as
he was passing a sidewalk bookstall. Both were dressed in what looked
like workmen's overalls made of lucite chain-mail, or knitted
glow-worms. One of them had four eyes, two brown, two blue, with
spectacles for the middle pair. Ears grew like cabbages all over his
bald head. The other had two eyes, the pupils of which were
cross-shaped, and no other discernible features except when he opened
his gap-toothed mouth: the rest of his head, face and all, was
completely covered by a dense forest of red hair.

As they came forward, Herman's control of his body suddenly returned.
He was trying his best to turn around and go away from there, and that
was what his body started to do. Moreover, certain sounds of a
prayerful character, namely "Oh dear sweet Jesus," which Herman was
forming in his mind, involuntarily issued from his lips.

Before he had taken the first step in a rearward direction, however,
the hairy little man curved around him in a blur of motion, barring
the way with two long, muscular, red-furred arms. Herman turned. The
four-eyed little man had closed in. Herman, gasping, backed up against
the bookstall.

People who were headed directly for them, although showing no
recognition that Herman and the little men were there, moved stiffly
aside like dancing automatons, strode past, then made another stiff
sidewise motion to bring them back to the original line of march
before they went on their way.

"Olaph dzenn Härm Rai gjo glerr-dregnarr?" demanded Hairy.

Herman gulped, half-stunned. "Huh?" he said.

Hairy turned to Four-Eyes. "Grinnr alaz harisi nuya."

"Izzred alph! Meggi erd-halaza riggbörd els kamma gredyik. Lukhhal!"

Hairy turned back to Herman. Blinking his eyes rapidly, for they
closed like the shutter of a camera, he made a placating gesture with
both huge furry hands. "Kelagg ikri odrum faz," he said, and, reaching
out to the bookstall, he plucked out a handful of volumes, fanned them
like playing cards and displayed them to Four-Eyes. A heated
discussion ensued, at the end of which Hairy kept _For Whom the Bell
Tolls_, Four-Eyes took _The Blonde in the Bathtub_, and Hairy threw
the rest away.

Then, while Herman gaped and made retching sounds, the two disgusting
little men tore pages out of the books and stuffed them in their
mouths. When they finished the pages, they ate the bindings. Then
there was a rather sick pause while they seemed to digest the contents
of the books they had literally devoured. Herman had the wild thought
that they were blurb writers whose jobs had gone to their heads.

The one with the four eyes rolled three of them horribly. "That's more
like it," he said in nasal but recognizable English. "Let's start
over. Are you Herman Raye, the skull doc?"

Herman produced a series of incoherent sounds.

"My brother expresses himself crudely," said Hairy in a rich, fruity
baritone. "Please forgive him. He is a man of much heart."

"Uh?" said Herman.

"Truly," said Hairy. "And of much ears," he added with a glance at his
companion. "But again, as to this affair--tell me true, are you Herman
Raye, the analyst of minds?"

"Suppose I am?" Herman asked cautiously.

Hairy turned to Four-eyes. "Arghraz iktri 'Suppose I am,' Gurh? Olaph
iktri erz ogromat, lekh--"

"Talk English, can't you?" Four-eyes broke in. "You know he don't
understand that caveman jabber. Anyhow, yeah, yeah, it's him. He just
don't want to say so." He reached out and took Herman by the collar.
"Come on, boy, the boss is waitin'."

There were two circular hair-lines of glowing crimson where Hairy and
Four-eyes had originally appeared. They reached the spot in one jump,
Hairy bringing up the rear.

"But tell me truly," he said anxiously. "You _are_ that same Herman
Raye?"

Herman paid no attention. Below, under the two glowing circles, was
the terrifying gulf that had replaced the Earth; and this time, Herman
was somehow convinced, it was not going to hold him up.

"Let go!" he shouted, struggling. "Ouch!" He had struck Four-eyes
squarely on the flat nose, and it felt as if he had slugged an anvil.

Paying no attention, Four-eyes turned Herman over, pinned his arms to
his sides, and dropped him neatly through the larger of the two
circles.

Herman shut his eyes tightly and despairingly repeated the
multiplication table up to 14 x 14. When he opened them again, he was
apparently hanging in mid-space, with Hairy to his left and Four-eyes
to his right. The visible globe around them was so curiously tinted
and mottled that it took Herman a long time to puzzle it out. Ahead of
them was the darkest area--the void he had seen before. This was oval
in shape, and in places the stars shone through it clearly. In others,
they were blocked off entirely or dimmed by a sort of haze.

Surrounding this, and forming the rest of the sphere, was an area that
shaded from gold shot with violet at the borders, to an unbearable
blaze of glory at the center, back the way they had come and a little
to the right. Within this lighted section were other amorphous areas
which were much darker, almost opaque; and still others where the
light shone through diluted to a ruddy ghost of itself, like
candlelight through parchment.

Gradually Herman realized that the shapes and colors he saw were the
lighted and dark hemispheres of Earth. The dark areas were the oceans,
deep enough in most places to shut out the light altogether, and those
parts of the continents, North and South America behind him, Europe
and Asia ahead, Africa down to the right, which were heavily forested.

Herman's earlier conviction returned. Things like this just did not
happen. _Physician, heal thyself!_

"You're not real," he said bitterly to Four-eyes.

"Not very," Four-eyes agreed. "I'm twice as real as that jerk,
though," he insisted, pointing to Hairy.

Ahead of them, or "below," a point of orange light was slowly
swelling. Herman watched it without much interest.

Hairy broke out into a torrent of cursing. "I this and that in the
milk of your this!" he said. "I this, that and the other in the this
of your that. Your sister! Your cousin! Your grandmother's uncle!"

Four-eyes listened with awed approval. "Them was good books, hah?" he
asked happily.

"Better than those scratchings in the caves," Hairy said.

"Something to think about till they haul us out again. Well," said
Four-eyes philosophically, "here we are."

       *       *       *       *       *

The orange spot had enlarged into the semblance of a lighted room,
rather like a stage setting. Inside were two enormous Persons, one
sitting, one standing. Otherwise, and except for three upholstered
chairs, the room was bare. No--as they swooped down toward it, Herman
blinked and looked again. A leather couch had appeared against the far
wall.

At the last moment, there was a flicker of motion off to Herman's
left. Something that looked like a short, pudgy human being
accompanied by two little men the size of Hairy and Four-eyes whooshed
off into the distance, back toward the surface of the planet.

Herman landed. Hairy and Four-eyes, after bowing low to the standing
Person, turned and leaped out of the room. When Herman, feeling
abandoned, turned to see where they had gone, he discovered that the
room now had four walls and no windows or doors.

The Person said, "How do you do, Doctor Raye?"

Herman looked at him. Although his figure had a disquieting tendency
to quiver and flow, so that it was hard to judge, he seemed to be
about eight feet tall. He was dressed in what would have seemed an
ordinary dark-blue business suit, with an equally ordinary white shirt
and blue tie, except that all three garments had the sheen of polished
metal. His face was bony and severe, but not repellently so; he looked
absent-minded rather than stern.

The other Person, whose suit was brown, had a broad, kindly and rather
stupid face; his hair was white. He sat quietly, not looking at
Herman, or, apparently, at anything else.

Herman sat down in one of the upholstered chairs. "All right," he said
with helpless defiance. "What's it all about?"

"I'm glad we can come to the point at once," said the Person. He
paused, moving his lips silently. "Ah, excuse me. I'm sorry." A second
head, with identical features, popped into view next to the first. His
eyes were closed. "It's necessary, I'm afraid," said head number one
apologetically. "I have so much to remember, you know."

Herman took a deep breath and said nothing.

"You may call me Secundus, if you like," resumed the Person, "and this
gentleman Primus, since it is with him that you will have principally
to deal. Now, our problem here is one of amnesia, and I will confess
to you frankly that we ourselves are totally inadequate to cope with
it. In theory, we are not subject to disorders of the mind, and that's
what makes us so vulnerable now that it has happened. Do you see?"

A fantastic suspicion crept into Herman's mind. "Just a moment," he
said carefully. "If you don't mind telling me, what is it that you
have to remember?"

"Well, Doctor, my field is human beings; that's why it became my duty
to search you out and consult with you. And there _is_ a great deal
for me to carry in my mind, you know, especially under these abnormal
conditions. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say it is a
full-time job."

"Are you going to tell me," asked Herman, more carefully still, "that
this--gentleman--is the one who is supposed to remember the Earth
itself? The rocks and minerals and so on?"

"Yes, exactly. I was about to tell you--"

"And that the planet has disappeared because he has amnesia?" Herman
demanded on a rising note.

Secundus beamed. "Concisely expressed. I myself, being, so to speak,
saturated with the thoughts and habits of human beings, who are, you
must admit, a garrulous race, could not--"

"Oh, no!" said Herman.

"Oh, yes," Secundus corrected. "I can understand that the idea is
difficult for you to accept, since you naturally believe that you
yourself have a real existence, or, to be more precise, that you
belong to the world of phenomena as opposed to that of noumena." He
beamed. "Now I will be silent, a considerable task for me, and let you
ask questions."

Herman fought a successful battle with his impulse to stand Up and
shout "To hell with it!" He had been through a great deal, but he was
a serious and realistic young man. He set himself to think the problem
through logically. If, as seemed more than probable, Secundus, Primus,
Hairy, Four-eyes, and this whole Alice-in-Wonderland situation existed
only as his hallucinations, then it did not matter much whether he
took them seriously or not. If they were real, then he wasn't, and
vice versa. It didn't make any difference which was which.

He relaxed deliberately and folded his hands against his abdomen. "Let
me see if I can get this clear," he said. "I'm a noumenon, not a
phenomenon. In cruder terms, I exist only in your mind. Is that true?"

Secundus beamed. "Correct."

"If _you_ got amnesia, I and the rest of the human race would
disappear."

Secundus looked worried, "That is also correct, and if that should
happen, you will readily understand that we _would_ be in difficulty.
The situation is extremely--But pardon me. I had promised to be silent
except when answering questions."

"This is the part I fail to understand, Mr. Secundus. I gather that
you brought me here to treat Mr. Primus. Now, if I exist as a thought
in your mind, you necessarily know everything I know. Why don't you
treat him yourself?"

Secundus shook his head disapprovingly. "Oh, no, Dr. Raye, that is not
the case at all. It cannot be said that I _know_ everything that you
know; rather we should say that I _remember_ you. In other words, that
I maintain your existence by an act of memory. The two functions,
knowledge and memory, are not identical, although, of course, the
second cannot be considered to exist without the first. But before we
become entangled in our own terms, I should perhaps remind you that
when I employ the word 'memory' I am only making use of a convenient
approximation. Perhaps it would be helpful to say that my memory is
comparable to the structure-memory of a living organism, although
that, too, has certain semantic disadvantages. Were you about to make
a remark, Doctor?"

"It still seems to me," Herman said stubbornly, "that if you remember
me, structurally or otherwise, that includes everything I remember. If
you're going to tell me that you remember human knowledge, including
Freudian theory and practice, but are unable to manipulate it, that
seems to me to be contradicted by internal evidence in what you've
already said. For example, it's clear that in the field of
epistemology--the knowledge of knowledge, you might say--you have the
knowledge _and_ manipulate it."

"Ah," said Secundus, smiling shyly, "but, you see, that happens to be
my line. Psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, being specializations, are
not. As I mentioned previously, persons of our order are theoretically
not capable of psychic deterioration. That is why we come to you, Dr.
Raye. We are unable to help ourselves; we ask your help. We place
ourselves unreservedly in your hands."

The question, "How was I chosen?" occurred to Herman, but he left it
unasked. He knew that the answer was much likelier to be, "At random,"
than, "Because we wanted the most brilliant and talented psychoanalyst
on the planet."

"I gather that I'm not the first person you've tried," he said.

"Oh, you saw Dr. Buddolphson departing? Yes, it is true that in our
ignorance of the subject we did not immediately turn to practitioners
of your psychological orientation. In fact, if you will not be
offended, I may say that you are practically our last hope. We have
already had one eminent gentleman whose method was simply to talk over
Mr. Primus's problems with him and endeavor to help him reach an
adjustment; he failed because Mr. Primus, so far as he is aware, has
no problems except that he has lost his memory. Then we had another
whose system, as he explained it to me, was simply to repeat, in a
sympathetic manner, everything that the patient said to him; Mr.
Primus was not sufficiently prolix for this method to be of avail.

"Then there was another who wished to treat Mr. Primus by encouraging
him to relive his past experiences: 'taking him back along the
time-track,' as he called it; but--" Secundus looked mournful--"Mr.
Primus has actually _had_ no experiences in the usual sense of the
term, though he very obligingly made up a number of them. Our
ontogeny, Dr. Raye, is so simple that it can scarcely be said to
exist at all. Each of us normally has only one function, the one I
have already mentioned, and, until this occurrence, it has always been
fulfilled successfully.

"We also had a man who proposed to reawaken Mr. Primus's memory by
electric shock, but Mr. Primus is quite impervious to currents of
electricity and we were unable to hit upon an acceptable substitute.
In short, Dr. Raye, if you should prove unable to help us, we will
have no one left to fall back upon except, possibly, the Yogi."

"They might do you more good, at that," Herman said, looking at Mr.
Primus. "Well, I'll do what I can, though the function of analysis is
to get the patient to accept reality, and this is the opposite. What
can you tell me, to begin with, about Mr. Primus's personality, the
onset of the disturbance, and so on--and, in particular, what are you
two? Who's your boss? What's it all for and how does it work?"

Secundus said, "I can give you very little assistance, I am afraid. I
would characterize Primus as a very steady person, extremely accurate
in his work, but not very imaginative. His memory loss occurred
abruptly, as you yourself witnessed yesterday afternoon. As to your
other questions--forgive me, Dr. Raye, but it is to your own advantage
if I fail to answer them. I am, of course, the merest amateur in
psychology, but I sincerely feel that your own psyche might be damaged
if you were to learn the fragment of the truth which I could give
you."

He paused. A sheaf of papers, which Herman had not noticed before, lay
on a small table that he had not noticed, either. Secundus picked them
up and handed them over.

"Here are testing materials," he said. "If you need anything else, you
have only to call on me. But I trust you will find these complete."

He turned to go. "And one more thing, Dr. Raye," he said with an
apologetic smile. "_Hurry_, if you possibly can."

       *       *       *       *       *

Primus, looking rather like a sarcophagus ornament, lay limply supine
on the ten-foot couch, arms at his sides, eyes closed. When Herman had
first told him to relax, Primus had had to have the word carefully
explained to him; from then on he had done it--or seemed to do
it--perfectly.

In his preliminary tests, the Binet, the Minnesota Multiphasic
Personality Index and the Berneuter P.I., he had drawn almost a
complete blank. Standard testing methods did not work on Mr. Primus,
and the reason was obvious enough. Mr. Primus simply was not a human
being.

This room, no doubt, was an illusion, and so was Mr. Primus's
anthropomorphic appearance....

Herman felt like a surgeon trying to operate blindfolded while wearing
a catcher's mitt on each hand. But he kept trying; he was getting
results, though whether or not they meant anything, he was unable to
guess.

On the Rorschach they had done a little better, at least in volume of
response. "That looks like a cliff," Primus would say eagerly. "That
looks like a--piece of sandstone. This part looks like two volcanoes
and a cave." Of course, Herman realized, the poor old gentleman was
only trying to please him. He had no more idea than a goldfish what a
volcano or a rock looked like, but he wanted desperately to help.

Even so, it was possible to score the results. According to Herman's
interpretation, Primus was a case of arrested infantile sexualism,
with traces of conversion hysteria and a strong Oedipus complex.
Herman entered the protocol solemnly in his notes and kept going.

Next came free association, and, after that, recounting of dreams.
Feeling that he might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, Herman
carefully explained to Primus what "sleep" and "dreams" were.

Primus had promised to do his best; he had been lying there now,
without moving, for--how long? Startled, Herman looked at his watch.
It had stopped.

Scoring the Rorschach alone, Herman realized suddenly, should have
taken him nearly a full day, even considering the fact that he hadn't
eaten anything, or taken time out to rest, or--Herman bewilderedly
felt his jaw. There was only the slightest stubble. He didn't feel
hungry or tired, or cramped from sitting....

"Secundus!" he called.

A door opened in the wall to his right, and Secundus stepped through.
The door disappeared.

"Yes, Dr. Raye? Is anything wrong?"

"How long have I been here?"

Secundus' right-hand head looked embarrassed. "Well, Doctor, without
bringing in the difficult questions of absolute versus relative
duration, and the definition of an arbitrary position--"

"Don't stall. How long have I been here in my own subjective time?"

"Well, I was about to say, without being unnecessarily inclusive, the
question is still very difficult. However, bearing in mind that the
answer is only a rough approximation--about one hundred hours."

Herman rubbed his chin. "I don't like your tampering with me," he said
slowly. "You've speeded me up--is that it? And at the same time
inhibited my fatigue reactions, and God knows what else, so that I
didn't even notice I'd been working longer than I normally could until
just now?"

Secundus looked distressed. "I'm afraid I have made rather a botch of
it, Dr. Raye. I should not have allowed you to notice at all, but it
is growing increasingly difficult to restrain your fellow-creatures to
their ordinary routines. My attention strayed, I am sorry to say." He
glanced at the recumbent form of Primus. "My word! What is Mr. Primus
doing, Dr. Raye?"

"Sleeping," Herman answered curtly.

"Remarkable! I hope he does not make a habit of it. Will he awaken
soon, do you think, Doctor?"

"I have no idea," said Herman helplessly; but at that moment Primus
stirred, opened his eyes, and sat up with his usual vague, kindly
smile.

"Did you dream?" Herman asked him.

Primus blinked slowly. "Yes. Yes, I did," he said in his profoundly
heavy voice.

"Tell me all you can remember about it."

"Well," said Primus, sinking back onto the couch, "I dreamed I was in
a room with a large bed. It had heavy wooden posts and a big bolster.
I wanted to lie down and rest in the bed, but the bolster made me
uncomfortable. It was too dark to see, to rearrange the bed, so I
tried to light a candle, but the matches kept going out...."

Herman took it all down, word for word, with growing excitement and
growing dismay. The dream was too good. It might have come out of Dr.
Freud's original case histories. When Primus had finished, Herman
searched back through his notes. Did Primus _know_ what a bed was, or
what a bolster was, or a candle? How much had Herman told him?

"Bed" was there, of course. Primus: "What are 'dreams?'" Herman:
"Well, when a human being goes to bed, and sleeps...." "Bolster" was
there, too, but not in the same sense. Herman: "To bolster its
argument, the unconscious--what we call the id--frequently alters the
person's likes and dislikes on what seem to be petty and commonplace
subjects...." And "candle?" Herman: "I want you to understand that I
don't know all about this subject myself, Mr. Primus. Nobody does; our
knowledge is just a candle in the darkness...."

Herman gave up. He glanced at Secundus, who was watching him
expectantly. "May I talk to you privately?"

"Of course." Secundus nodded to Primus, who stood up awkwardly and
then vanished with a _pop_. Secundus tut-tutted regretfully.

Herman took a firm grip on himself. "Look," he said, "the data I have
now suggest that Primus had some traumatic experience in his infancy
which arrested his development in various ways and also strengthened
his Oedipus complex--that is, intensified his feelings of fear, hatred
and rivalry toward his father. Now, that may sound to you as if we're
making some progress. I would feel that way myself--if I had the
slightest reason for believing that Primus ever had a father."

Secundus started to speak; but Herman cut him off. "Wait, let me
finish. I can go ahead on that basis, but as far as I'm concerned I
might just as well be counting the angels on the head of a pin. You've
got to give me more information, Secundus. I want to know who you are,
and who Primus is, and whether there's any other being with whom
Primus could possibly have a filial relationship. And if you can't
tell me all that without giving me the Secret of the Universe, then
you'd better give it to me whether it's good for me or not. I can't
work in the dark."

Secundus pursed his lips. "There is justice in what you say, Doctor.
Very well, I shall be entirely frank with you--in so far as it is
possible for me to do so of course. Let's see, where can I begin?"

"First question," retorted Herman. "Who are you?"

"We are--" Secundus thought a moment, then spread his hands with a
helpless smile. "There are no words, Doctor. To put the case in
negatives, we are not evolved organisms, we are not mortal, we are
not, speaking in the usual sense, alive, although, of course--I hope
you will not be offended--neither are you."

Herman's brow wrinkled. "Are you _real_?" he demanded finally.

Secundus looked embarrassed. "You have found me out, Dr. Raye. I
endeavored to give you that impression--through vanity, I am ashamed
to say--but, unhappily, it is not true. I, too, belong to the realm of
noumena."

"Then, blast it all, what _is_ real? This planet isn't. You're not.
What's it all for?" He paused a moment reflectively. "We're getting on
to my second question, about Primus's attitude toward his 'father.'
Perhaps I should have asked just now, '_Who_ is real?' Who remembers
you, Secundus?"

"This question, unfortunately, is the one I cannot answer with
complete frankness, Doctor. I assure you that it is not because I do
not wish to; I have no option in the matter. I can tell you only that
there is a Person of whom it might be said that He stands in the
parental relationship to Primus, to me, and all the rest of our
order."

"God?" Herman inquired. "Jahweh? Allah?"

"Please, no names, Doctor." Secundus looked apprehensive.

"Then, damn it, tell me the rest!" Herman realized vaguely that he was
soothing his own hurt vanity at Secundus's expense, but he was
enjoying himself too much to stop. "You're afraid of something; that's
been obvious right along. And there must be a time limit on it, or you
wouldn't be rushing me. Why? Are you afraid that if this unnamable
Person finds out you've botched your job, He'll wipe you out of
existence and start over with a new bunch?"

A cold wind blew down Herman's back. "Not us alone, Dr. Raye," said
Secundus gravely. "If the Inspector discovers this blunder--and the
time is coming soon when He must--no corrections will be attempted.
When a mistake occurs, it is--painted out."

"Oh," said Herman after a moment. He sat down again, weakly. "How long
have we got?"

"Approximately one and a quarter days have gone by at the Earth's
normal rate since Primus lost his memory," Secundus said. "I have not
been able to 'speed you up,' as you termed it, by more than a
twenty-to-one ratio. The deadline will have arrived, by my
calculation, in fifteen minutes of normal time, or five hours at your
present accelerated rate."

Primus stepped into the room, crossed to the couch and lay down
placidly. Secundus turned to go, then paused.

"As for your final question, Doctor--you might think of the Universe
as a Pointillist painting, in which this planet is one infinitesimally
small dot of color. The work is wholly imaginary, of course, since
neither the canvas nor the pigment has what you would term an
independent existence. Nevertheless, the artist takes it seriously. He
would not care to find, so to speak, mustaches daubed on it."

Herman sat limply, staring after him as he moved to the door. Secundus
turned once more.

"I hope you will not think that I am displeased with you, Doctor," he
said. "On the contrary, I feel that you are accomplishing more than
anyone else has. However, should you succeed, as I devoutly hope,
there may not be sufficient time to congratulate you as you deserve. I
shall have to replace you immediately in your normal world-line, for
your absence would constitute as noticeable a flaw as that of the
planet. In that event, my present thanks and congratulations will have
to serve."

With a friendly smile, he disappeared.

Herman wound his watch.

Two hours later, Primus's answers to his questions began to show a
touch of resentment and surly defiance. _Transference_, Herman
thought, with a constriction of his throat, and kept working
desperately.

Three hours. "What does the bolster remind you of?"

"I seem to see a big cylinder rolling through space, sweeping the
stars out of its way...."

Four hours. Only three minutes left now, in the normal world. _I can't
wait to get any deeper_, Herman thought. _It's got to be now or
never._

"You must understand that these feelings of resentment and hatred are
normal," he said, trying to keep the strain out of his voice, "but, at
the same time, you have outgrown them--you can rise above them now.
You are an individual in your own right, Primus. You have a job to do
that only you can fill, and it's an important job. That's what
matters, not all this infantile emotional clutter...."

He talked on, not daring to look at his watch.

Primus looked up, and a huge smile broke over his face. He began,
"Why, of--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Herman found himself walking along Forty-second Street, heading toward
the Hudson. The pavement was solid under his feet; the canyon between
the buildings was filled with the soft violet-orange glow of a summer
evening in New York. In the eyes of the people he passed, he saw the
same incredulous relief he felt. It was over. He'd done it.

He'd broken all the rules, but, incredibly, he'd got results.

Then he looked up and a chill spread over him. No one who knew the
city would accept that ithyphallic parody as the Empire State
Building, or those huge fleshy curves, as wanton as the mountains in
which Mr. Maugham's "Sadie Thompson" had her lusty existence, as the
prosaic hills of New Jersey.

Psychoanalysis had certainly removed Mr. Primus's inhibitions. The
world was like a fence scrawled on by a naughty little boy. Mr. Primus
would outgrow it in time, but life until then might be somewhat
disconcerting.

Those two clouds, for instance....

                                                            --FRANKLIN ABEL

       *       *       *       *       *





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