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´╗┐Title: When I Grow Up
Author: Lowe, Richard E.
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 "When I Grow Up" ***

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    _A good many science fiction writers seem determined to depict
    children as little monsters. Not all children perhaps, and not with
    completely merciless regularity. But often enough to make us
    shudder. Only Richard Lowe remains independent. The youngster of
    this story isn't a child monster at all. He's just--a "destructor."
    And that in itself is somehow unimaginably terrifying!_


 _by ... Richard E. Lowe_

 The two professors couldn't agree on the fundamentals of
 child behavior. But that was before they met little Herbux!

The University sprawled casually, unashamed of its disordered ranks,
over a hundred thousand acres of grassy, rolling countryside. It was the
year A.D. 3896, and the vast assemblage of schools and colleges and
laboratories had been growing on this site for more than two thousand

It had survived political and industrial revolutions, local
insurrections, global, inter-terrestrial and nuclear wars, and it had
become the acknowledged center of learning for the entire known

No subject was too small to escape attention at the University. None was
too large to be attacked by the fearless, probing fingers of curiosity,
or to in any way over-awe students and teachers in this great
institution of learning.

No book was ever closed in the University and no clue, however tiny, was
discarded as useless in the ceaseless search for knowledge which was the
University's prime and overriding goal.

For no matter how fast and far the spaceships might fly, or what strange
creatures might be brought back across the great curve of the universe
or how deeply the past was resurrected or the future probed, of one
thing only was the University quite sure--_man did not know enough_.

All manner of schools had come into being at the University, and often
they functioned in pairs, one devoted to proving a proposition, and the
other to disproving it. And among these pairs of schools two, in
particular, seemed to exist on a most tenuous basis. Their avowed
mission was to settle the age-old argument concerning the relative
influences of heredity and environment.

One, headed by Professor Miltcheck von Possenfeller, worked tirelessly
to prove that there was no such determining factor as heredity, and that
environment alone was the governing influence in human behavior.

The other, under the direction of Dr. Arthur D. Smithlawn, was dedicated
to the task of proving that environment meant nothing, and that only
heredity was important.

Success, in short, could only come to those who were born with the genes
of success in their bodies, and failure was as preordained for the rest
as was ultimate death for all.

Over a period of more than two hundred years the School of Environment
had been taking babies from among the thousands of homeless waifs
gathered in throughout the universe, and raising them carefully in a
closely supervised, cultural atmosphere.

The School of Heredity, on the other hand, was more select. Its pupils
came only from families whose genealogy could be traced back for at
least a thousand years. Freedom of choice and expression was the rule
here, since the school was attempting to prove that a child's inherited
tendencies will send it inevitably along a predetermined path,
completely uninfluenced by outside help or hindrance.

In two centuries neither school had been able to develop an overpowering
case in support of its own theory. Hence they both thrived, and
cheerfully ignored the discrepancies which existed in the case records
of individuals who had not turned out according to the book.

Although they were zealous professional rivals, Prof. von Possenfeller
and Dr. Smithlawn were devoted personal friends. They called each other
Possy and Smithy and got together once a week to play chess and exchange
views on the universe in general. Only one subject was taboo between
them--their experimental work.

On this particular Saturday night, however, Smithy noticed that his good
friend Possy was terribly agitated and disturbed, and had for the third
time carelessly put his queen in jeopardy.

"My dear friend," exclaimed Possy, blindly moving his king into check.
"Could you possibly be persuaded to ignore for the moment our ban on
professional talk? There is something--"

Smithy, secretly, was only too anxious to talk at great length. But he
pretended to give the request serious consideration.

"If it is really important," he said. "Yes, by all means. Go right

"Smithy," Possy plunged on, "I am nonplussed. I am really, terribly
disturbed. I've never felt like this before."

Smithy waited patiently while Possy poured himself a large brandy and
soda, hastily gulped it down, and made a face as he regretted the

"How much do you know about our methods of working in the School of
Environment?" the professor asked, taking a new tack.

"Nothing, of course," replied Smithy. The statement was not precisely
true, but Smithy was not yet ready to confess that he had spies in his
friend's school.

"Well, then," said Possy, knowing full well that Smithy had been getting
reports on his college for many years, and feeling secretly glad that
he, in turn, had been spying.

"Well, then," he repeated, "you should be aware that we know _absolutely
nothing_ about the children we enroll. Most of them are infants. We do
not know who their parents were, or where they were born. Except for the
obvious clues which their bodies furnish, we do not even know their
national or racial origins.

"We bring them up with absolutely equal treatment--the finest of
everything. At the age of five we divide them arbitrarily into classes
and begin training them for occupations. Some we educate as scholars,
some laborers, some professional men. In me, dear friend, you see one of
the triumphs of our methods. I myself was a foundling--raised and
educated in the School of Environment. Whatever I may be, I owe to the

He paused to give Smithy a chance to digest the statement.

"Of course," Possy continued, "we take into consideration such factors
as physical build and muscular development. We don't train undersized
boys to be freight handlers. But in general the division is arbitrary.
And you'd be amazed how they respond to it. To keep a check on things,
we interview our students twice a year to see how much they have

"We always ask them what they want to be when they grow up. That enables
us to determine whether or not the training is really taking hold.
Occasionally, it is true, we find a case where the schooling seems to
run counter to natural aptitudes--"

Smithy could not resist interrupting. "Natural aptitudes? I am surprised
to hear you use such an expression. I thought you furnished your
students with aptitudes through environmental conditioning."

Stiffly, Possy retorted, "Sometime we will have a full, objective
discussion of the matter. It is not pertinent at this moment. Of course
I believe in natural, or instinctive aptitudes. But I do not believe
that they are inherited from parents or even from remote ancestors."

"Cosmic rays, perhaps," needled Smithy, and became instantly sorry when
his friend's face began to redden. Possy didn't believe in cosmic rays,
obviously. Smithy apologized.

Possy sighed deeply and made a fresh start. "My friend," he said, "in
your work, as I understand it, you learn everything you can about a
student's past--and about his progenitors. By so doing you hope to be
able to predict his future abilities, his likes and dislikes. But what
course do you pursue when you find a boy who just doesn't prove out
according to the prognostications?"

Smithy mumbled a few evasive words in reply, but refused to be drawn
into giving a positive answer.

"Never mind," Possy said. "What would you say if you asked a boy what he
liked, or what he wanted to do and his answer concerned something that
never existed, or had never been dreamed of? Something horrible."

Smithy's eyebrows perked up. He made no attempt to conceal the fact that
his interest had been aroused.

"What, precisely, do you mean?" he demanded.

"Just this," Possy said, leaning forward to give emphasis to his words.
"We have a boy who is being trained as a space navigator. He is very
bright. He is of medium build, as a spaceman must be, and he learns
easily and willingly. We are sure now that he will be ready for
pre-space school two years before he reaches the minimum age. Yet,
whenever this boy is asked what he wants to do, he replies, 'I want to
be a Destructor.'"

Smithy's lips parted. But for a moment he remained completely silent
while his mind stumbled over the strange term.

"Destructor?" he repeated, at last.

"Wait," said Possy, "and listen carefully. This boy is now ten years
old. He first gave me that answer three days ago. He repeated it two
days ago, then yesterday and again today. I had never interviewed him
before. I never interview a student personally until the tenth year--so
I quite naturally had his files double-checked. Smithy, he's been giving
the same answer ever since he was five years old. Two interviews a year
for six years--and three extra ones this week! Imagine! Fifteen times
this boy has said he wants to be a Destructor--and no one even knows
what a Destructor is."

"Well," Smithy said with a shrug, convinced that Possy was getting all
excited over nothing, "I admit it seems strange--and highly
single-minded for so young a boy. But don't you imagine it's some word
he just made up?"

"I admitted that as a possibility until this morning. But look here."

Possy reached behind his chair and took up a small leather bag. Slowly
he unzipped it and delved inside. Then, with a grim flourish, he brought
forth the body of a cat.

As Smithy's eyes widened, Possy said dramatically: "Smithy, that boy
killed this cat with a _glance_."

"With a--a what?"

"A glance! You heard me correctly. He just looked at the cat, and the
beast dropped dead. And he did it to other things, too--a sparrow, a
baby fox. Why, he even did it to a rat that had been cornered by this
very cat.

"I tell you, I had never been so shaken by anything in all my life. I
said to myself, 'Possy, have you got yourself a mutant?' 'No,' I
replied. 'He's completely normal in every respect, physically and
otherwise. He's a bit brighter than average, perhaps--ninety-eight six
in his studies, including elementary astrophysics. He speaks
brilliantly, composes poetry, even invents little gadgets. He's a
genius, maybe, but not a mutant.' Then I asked myself, 'how do you
account for the cat?'"

Possy paused, inferentially transferring the question to his friend.

"I can't account for the cat," Smithy said. "Unless we assume its death
was a coincidence. But I confess you've aroused my curiosity. Could I
see and talk to this boy who wants to be a--" he grimaced--"a

"I'm glad you asked." Possy sighed with relief. "Actually he is outside
now, waiting to join us. But I must warn you that you'll find him quite
precocious. However, he's extremely amenable."

Possy went quickly to the door, opened it and called, "Herbux, come in."

The boy entered. He was, Smithy observed, a quite ordinary-looking boy.
He was so obviously ten years old that you couldn't say he was either
old or young, large or small, fat or thin or anything else, "for his
age." He was just ten years old and a boy.

"Herbux," said Possy, "I want you to meet a friend of mine--the famous
Dr. Smithlawn."

"How do you do, sir," Herbux said politely.

"How do _you_ do," returned Smithy. He had already decided not to be
patronizing, but to take a bold, frank, comradely course with the lad.

"Herbux," he said, "Professor von Possenfeller has been telling me the
story of your life. Now you tell me, Herbux. Not _what_ you want to be
when you grow up, but _why_."

"I don't know why, sir," Herbux replied easily. "I only know that I want
to be a Destructor."

"But, Herbux, what _is_ a Destructor?"

Herbux looked around the room. He saw Smithy's birdcage, walked over to
it and stared for a moment quietly at Dicky, the doctor's parakeet.

Dicky looked back, chirped angrily twice and toppled from his perch. He
landed on his back, his tiny feet rigid and unmoving. He was quite dead,
Smithy observed, with a sudden, detached, unbelieving horror. Why, Dicky
was seven years old and he had been as good a pet as any lonely old
professor could have desired as a cheery avian companion.

"Look here, young man," he began sternly. Then, as the shock passed, he
hastily changed his tone. Suppose this child _did_ have some strange
sort of power--mystic perhaps, but definitely abnormal. He may belong in
the School of the Future, Smithy thought. Or perhaps in the School of
the Past--the Dark Ages Department. But not here!

"Don't worry, sir," Herbux said. "I can't do it to you."

"But--do _what_?" Smithy cried. "What did you do?"

"I destructed."

Smithy took a deep breath. He felt as though a cruel hoax had been
played on him. After all, Possy could have lied about the cat and the
other creatures. And the boy was quite obviously bright enough to learn
lines and play a part. But how explain Dicky?

He tried to calculate the coincidental odds that might have caused Dicky
to die a natural death at one precise instant in time under unusual and
exact circumstances. They proved to be incalculable to his
unmathematical brain. He rubbed his face with the palms of both hands.
Then he turned abruptly to Possy.

"I just don't know what to say about it," he explained. "How _could_ I
know? How could anybody know?"

He faced the boy again. "Look here, Herbux. This--this power of yours.
When did you first notice you had it?"

"Last year, sir. I always knew I would do it sometime. But one day I was
looking at a bird perched on my windowsill, and it fell over dead, just
as your parakeet did. I thought it was an accident or a coincidence. But
then the next day it happened again--with a squirrel. Soon I got to
where I could do it on purpose. But I don't know how."

"Well, how do you _feel_ about it? Do you _want_ to kill these harmless

"Oh, no, sir. I don't want to _kill_ them. I just want to be a

Smithy had a sudden, disquieting conviction that he was in the presence
of some completely alien, dangerous being. A cold breeze seemed to
shiver through the room, though he knew that his quarters were airtight
and perfectly ventilated. _This is ridiculous_, he told himself,
turning to Possy with a helpless shrug. To feel like this over such a
nice-looking young lad ...

"My friend," he said, "all this has occurred so suddenly I must have
time to think. Such a thing could never have happened in _my_ school.
Perhaps you should--but doubtless it has already occurred to you--turn
him over to physio-psychological rebuilding?"

Possy nodded. "It has, of course. But then I said to myself, 'Possy,
they are a bunch of dunderheaded old fossils over there. They can take a
criminal and tear him apart and make a good citizen out of him, granted.
But do they find out _why_ he was a criminal? Have they reduced the
number of new criminals? No. And they would not find out why this boy
wants to be a Destructor--nor even what a Destructor is.'

"'You're right,' I told myself. 'And besides, Herbux is a nice boy. Why,
with this power of his--if he _wanted_ to do harm--there wouldn't be an
animal left alive around the whole University. And if he could do it to
people he's had many an opportunity to practice on me. But has he? No,
not once. Besides, if you keep him in school, you can maintain a good
close watch over him. Herbux has promised to keep me fully informed as
to the progress of his strange power. If he feels it getting stronger,
he will let me know immediately.' Isn't that right, Herbux?"

"Yes, sir," said the boy quietly.

"You are quite sure," Smithy asked, "that you know absolutely nothing
about this boy's past? His parents, his birthplace--anything at all?
There must be _some_ clue."

"You know very well I don't," Possy retorted angrily.

"I just thought that perhaps you might have subjected him to
hypno-research," Smithy said, placatingly.

"I wouldn't dream of such a thing--" Possy began--and stopped with a
gasp. "How did you know about that?" he demanded.

Smithy was flustered. "I--well, that is--" He could think of no
convincing answer. Hypno-research was one of Possy's most secret
projects. He had used it constantly in his efforts to determine reasons
for non-conformity to set patterns of behavior in some of his more
recalcitrant students. He had kept it a secret because it added up to an
admission that perhaps heredity could play a part in the development of
a student's character.

"Smithy, my dear old friend," he said with mock humility. "This is no
time for us to quarrel. Let us face the facts candidly. You have been
spying on my school--and I in turn have been spying on yours. I know,
for instance, that when your students don't behave the way their
heredity charts predict you often use hypno-therapy to change their
thought-lines, and force them to conform. Is that any less fair than
what I do?"

Smithy sighed. "I guess not, my friend. No, wait. I will go farther than
that. It is not a matter of guessing. I am quite certain about it. We
are a couple of aging frauds, struggling selfishly along, playing with
the lives of these children solely to keep our jobs. Perhaps we

"Nevertheless, we have a problem," interrupted Possy. "It's a problem
that won't be solved by our becoming senile idiots. Get your mind back
on Herbux, and help me. I feel this is a most desperate situation. If it
gets beyond just the two of us, we are likely to be thoroughly
investigated. Then goodness knows what would happen."

"But why? The child can do no real harm. Suppose he does 'destruct' an
animal or two? There are plenty more. And sooner or later they would die
of natural causes, anyway. And it's unthinkable that he could ever do it
to--to people ..."

Smithy paused, obviously struck by a startling thought. He turned to
Herbux. "Boy," he said, quite sternly. "Come here."

Herbux obeyed, advancing to within a foot of the old doctor and facing
him squarely.

"Look me in the eyes," Smithy commanded.

Questioningly, Herbux began to stare at Smithy.

"Well," Smithy said, after a time, "turn it on."

A set look came over Herbux's face. His lips were compressed and a thin
dew of sweat had broken out on his forehead.

Possy stood aghast, slowly comprehending what his old friend Smithy was
doing. He was actually risking his life--or so he believed--to prove
that the child could not destruct a human being. He wanted to stop the
boy, but he could not move from where he stood.

Suddenly Herbux broke and turned away. He began to sob.

"It's no use!" he cried. "I can't do it. I just can't do it ..."

Smithy went to him and put an arm on his shoulders.

"Tell me, boy," he exclaimed. "What do you mean? Do you mean that you
can't _bring yourself_ to do it, or that it is physically impossible?"

Herbux just stood there, his head bowed, crying wildly.

"I just can't do it," he repeated, sounding now completely heart-broken.

Possy, coming alive again, said soothingly, "Don't cry, son. It's not
bad. It's good, that you can't do it."

Herbux whirled around, facing Possy, his face inflamed with a sudden

"But I will," he screamed, "I will do it! I will! _When I grow up!_"

Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Fantastic Universe_ September 1956.
    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.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "When I Grow Up" ***

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