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´╗┐Title: Native Son
Author: Hamm, T. D.
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 "Native Son" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration]


                NATIVE SON

                   _By
                T. D. Hamm_


     Tommy hated Earth, knowing his mother
 might go home to Mars without him. Worse,
 would a robot secretly take her place?...


Tommy Benton, on his first visit to Earth, found the long-anticipated
wonders of twenty-first-century New York thrilling the first week,
boring and unhappy the second week, and at the end of the third he was
definitely ready to go home.

The never-ending racket of traffic was torture to his abnormally acute
ears. Increased atmospheric pressure did funny things to his chest and
stomach. And quick and sure-footed on Mars, he struggled constantly
against the heavy gravity that made all his movements clumsy and
uncoordinated.

The endless canyons of towering buildings, with their connecting
Skywalks, oppressed and smothered him. Remembering the endless vistas of
_rabbara_ fields beside a canal that was like an inland sea,
homesickness flooded over him.

He hated the people who stared at him with either open or hidden
amusement. His Aunt Bee, for instance, who looked him up and down with
frank disapproval and said loudly, "For Heavens sake, Helen! Take him to
a _good_ tailor and get those bones covered up!"

Was it his fault he was six inches taller than Terran boys his age, and
had long, thin arms and legs? Or that his chest was abnormally developed
to compensate for an oxygen-thin atmosphere? I'd like to see _her_, he
thought fiercely, out on the Flatlands; she'd be gasping like a
canal-fish out of water.

Even his parents, happily riding the social merry-go-round of Terra,
after eleven years in the Martian flatlands, didn't seem to understand
how he felt.

"Don't you _like_ Earth, Tommy?" queried his mother anxiously.

"Oh ... it's all right, I guess."

"... 'A nice place to visit' ..." said his father sardonically.

"... 'but I wouldn't live here if they gave me the place!' ..." said his
mother, and they both burst out laughing for no reason that Tommy could
see. Of course, they did that lots of times at home and Tommy laughed
with them just for the warm, secure feeling of belonging. This time he
didn't feel like laughing.

"When _are_ we going home?" he repeated stubbornly.

His father pulled Tommy over in the crook of his arm and said gently,
"Well, not right away, son. As a matter of fact, how would you like to
stay here and go to school?"

Tommy pulled away and looked at him incredulously.

"I've _been_ to school!"

"Well, yes," admitted his father. "But only to the colony schools. You
don't want to grow up and be an ignorant Martian sandfoot all your life,
do you?"

"Yes, I do! I _want_ to be a Martian sandfoot. And I want to go home
where people don't _look_ at me and say, 'So this is your little
Martian!'"

Benton, Sr., put his arm around Tommy's stiffly resistant shoulders.
"Look here, old man," he said persuasively. "I thought you wanted to be
a space engineer. You can't do that without an education you know. And
your Aunt Bee will take good care of you."

Tommy faced him stubbornly. "I don't want to be any old spaceman. I want
to be a sandfoot like old Pete. And I want to go home."

Helen bit back a smile at the two earnest, stubborn faces so
ridiculously alike, and hastened to avert the gathering storm.

"Now look, fellows. Tommy's career doesn't have to be decided in the
next five minutes ... after all, he's only ten. He can make up his mind
later on if he wants to be an engineer or a _rabbara_ farmer. Right now,
he's going to stay here and go to school ... _and_ I'm staying with
him."

Resolutely avoiding both crestfallen faces, Helen, having shepherded
Tommy to bed, returned to the living room acutely conscious of Big Tom's
bleak, hurt gaze at her back.

"Helen, you're going to make a sissy out of the boy," he said at last.
"There isn't any reason why he can't stay here at home with Bee."

Helen turned to face him.

"Earth _isn't_ home to Tommy. And your sister Bee told him he ought to
be out playing football with the boys instead of hanging around the
house."

"But she knows the doctor said he'd have to take it easy for a year till
he was accustomed to the change in gravity and air-pressure," he
answered incredulously.

"Exactly. She also asked me," Helen went on grimly, "if I thought he'd
be less of a freak as he got older."

Tom Benton swore. "Bee always did have less sense than the average hen,"
he gritted. "My son a freak! Hell's-bells!"

Tommy, arriving at the hall door in time to hear the tail-end of the
sentence, crept back to bed feeling numb and dazed. So even his father
thought he was a freak.

       *       *       *       *       *

The last few days before parting was one of strain for all of them. If
Tommy was unnaturally subdued, no one noticed it; his parents were not
feeling any great impulse toward gaiety either.

They all went dutifully sight-seeing as before; they saw the Zoo, and
went shopping on the Skywalks, and on the last day wound up at the great
showrooms of "Androids, Inc."

Tommy had hated them on sight; they were at once too human and too
inhuman for comfort. The hotel was full of them, and most private homes
had at least one. Now they saw the great incubating vats, and the
processing and finally the showroom where one of the finished products
was on display as a maid, sweeping and dusting.

"There's one that's a dead-ringer for you, Helen. If you were a little
better looking, that is." Tommy's dad pretended to compare them
judicially. Helen laughed, but Tommy looked at him with a resentfulness.
Comparing his mother to an Android....

"They say for a little extra you can get an exact resemblance. Maybe I'd
better have one fixed up like you to take back with me," Big Tom added
teasingly. Then as Helen's face clouded over, "Oh, hon, you know I was
only kidding. Let's get out of here; this place gives me the
collywobbles. Besides, I've got to pick up my watch."

But his mother's face was still unhappy and Tommy glowered sullenly at
his father's back all the way to the watch-shop.

It was a small shop, with an inconspicuous sign down in one corner of
the window that said only, "KRUMBEIN--watches," and was probably the
most famous shop of its kind in the world. Every spaceman landing on
Terra left his watch to be checked by the dusty, little old man who was
the genius of the place. Tommy ranged wide-eyed about the clock and
chronometer crammed interior. He stopped fascinated before the last
case. In it was a watch ... but, _what_ a watch! Besides the regulation
Terran dial, it had a second smaller dial that registered the
corresponding time on Mars. Tommy's whole heart went out to it in an
ecstasy of longing. He thought wistfully that if you could know what
time it was there, you could imagine what everyone was doing and it
wouldn't seem so far away. Haltingly, he tried to explain.

"Look, Mom," he said breathlessly. "It's almost five o'clock at home.
Douwie will be coming up to the barn to be fed. Gosh, do you suppose old
Pete will remember about her?"

His mother smiled at him reassuringly. "Of course he will, silly. Don't
forget he was the one who caught and tamed her for you."

Tommy gulped as he thought of Douwie. Scarcely as tall as himself; the
big, rounded, mouselike ears, and the flat, cloven pads that could carry
her so swiftly over the sandy Martian flatlands. One of the last
dwindling herds of native Martian douwies, burden-carriers of a vanished
race, she had been Tommy's particular pride and joy for the last three
years.

Behind him, Tommy heard his mother murmur under her breath, "Tom ... the
watch; _could_ we?"

And his Dad regretfully, "It's a pretty expensive toy for a youngster,
Helen. And even a _rabbara_ raiser's bank account has limits."

"Of course, dear; it was silly of me." Helen smiled a little ruefully.
"And if Mr. Krumbein has your watch ready, we _must_ go. Bee and some of
her friends are coming over, and it's only a few hours 'till you ...
leave."

Big Tom squeezed her elbow gently, understandingly, as she blinked back
quick tears. Trailing after them, Tommy saw the little by-play and his
heart ached. The guilt-complex building up in him grew and deepened.

He knew he had only to say, "Look, I don't mind staying. Aunt Bee and I
will get along swell," and everything would be all right again. Then the
terror of this new and complex world--as it would be without a familiar
face--swept over him and kept him silent.

His overwrought feelings expressed themselves in a nervously rebelling
stomach, culminating in a disgraceful moment over the nearest gutter.
The rest of the afternoon he spent in bed recuperating.

In the living room Aunt Bee spoke her mind in her usual, high-pitched
voice.

"It's disgraceful, Helen. A boy his age.... None of the _Bentons_ ever
had nerves."

His mother's reply was inaudible, but on the heels of his father's
deeper tones, Aunt Bee's voice rose in rasping indignation.

"_Well!_ I never! And from my own brother, too. From now on don't come
to me for help with your spoiled brat. Good-_bye_!"

The door slammed indignantly, his mother chuckled, and there was a
spontaneous burst of laughter. Tommy relaxed and lay back happily.
Anyway, that was the last of Aunt Bee!

       *       *       *       *       *

The next hour or two passed in a flurry of ringing phones, people coming
and going, and last-minute words and reminders. Then suddenly it was
time to leave. Dad burst in for a last quick hug and a promise to send
him pictures of Douwie and her foal, due next month; Mother dropped a
hasty kiss on his hair and promised to hurry back from the Spaceport.
Then Tommy was alone, with a large, painful lump where his heart ought
to be.

The only activity was the almost noiseless buzzing as the hotel android
ran the cleaner over the living room. Presently even that ceased, and
Tommy lay relaxed and inert, sleepily watching the curtains blow in and
out at the open window. Thirty stories above the street the noises were
pleasantly muffled and remote, and his senses drifted aimlessly to and
fro on the tides of half-sleep.

Drowsily his mind wandered from the hotel's android servants ... to
the strictly utilitarian mechanical monstrosity at home, known
affectionately as "Old John" ... to the android showroom where they
had seen the one that Dad said looked like Mother....

He jolted suddenly, sickeningly awake. Suppose, his mind whispered
treacherously, suppose that Dad _had_ ordered one to take Mom's
place ... not on Mars, but _here_ while she returned to Mars with him.
Suppose that instead of Mom he discovered one of those _Things_ ... or
even worse, suppose he went on from day to day not even knowing....

It was a bad five minutes; he was wet with perspiration when he lay back
on his pillows, a shaky smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He
had a secret defense against the Terror. He giggled a little at the
thought of what Aunt Bee would say if she knew.

And what had brought him back from the edge of hysteria was the
triumphant knowledge that with the abnormally acute hearing bred in the
thin atmosphere of Mars, no robot ever created could hide from him the
infinitesimal ticking of the electronic relays that gave it life. Secure
at last, his overstrung nerves relaxed and he slid gratefully over the
edge of sleep.

He woke abruptly, groping after some vaguely remembered sound. A soft
clicking of heels down the hall.... Of course, his mother back from the
Spaceport! Now she would be stopping at his door to see if he were
asleep. He lay silently; through his eyelashes he could see her outlined
in the soft light from the hall. She was coming in to see if he was
tucked in. In a moment he would jump up and startle her with a hug, as
she leaned over him. In a moment....

Screaming desperately, he was out of bed, backing heedlessly across the
room. He was still screaming as the low sill of the open window caught
him behind the knees and toppled him thirty stories to the street.

Alone in the silent room, Helen Benton stood dazed, staring blindly at
the empty window.

Tommy's parting gift from his father slid from her hand and lay on the
carpet, still ticking gently.

It was 9:23 on Mars.


The End



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Imagination Stories of Science and
    Fantasy_ July 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence
    that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor
    spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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