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´╗┐Title: The Addicts
Author: Morrison, William Douglas
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 "The Addicts" ***

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                              The Addicts

                          By WILLIAM MORRISON

                     Illustrated by ED. ALEXANDER

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                 Galaxy Science Fiction January 1952.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

                 Wives always try to cure husbands of
                 bad habits, even on lonely asteroids!

You must understand that Palmer loved his wife as much as ever, or he
would never have thought of his simple little scheme at all. It was
entirely for her own good, as he had told himself a dozen times in
the past day. And with that he stilled whatever qualms of conscience
he might otherwise have had. He didn't think of himself as being
something of a murderer.

She was sitting at the artificial fireplace, a cheerful relic of
ancient days, reading just as peacefully as if she had been back home
on Mars, instead of on this desolate outpost of space. She had adjusted
quickly to the loneliness and the strangeness of this life--to the
absence of friends, the need for conserving air, the strange feeling of
an artificial gravity that varied slightly at the whim of impurities in
the station fuel. To everything, in fact, but her husband.

She seemed to sense his eyes on her, for she looked up and smiled.
"Feeling all right, dear?" she asked.

"Naturally. How about you?"

"As well as can be expected."

"Not very good, then."

She didn't reply, and he thought, _She hates to admit it, but she
really envies me. Well, I'll fix it so that she needn't any more._ And
he stared through the thick, transparent metal window at the beauty of
the stars, their light undimmed by dust or atmosphere.

The stories told about the wretchedness of the lighthouse keepers who
lived on asteroids didn't apply at all to this particular bit of cosmic
rock. Life here had been wonderful, incredibly satisfying. At least it
had been that way for him. And now it would be the same way for his
wife as well.

He would have denied it hotly if you had accused him of finding
her repulsive. But to certain drunks, the sober man or woman is an
offense, and Palmer was much more than a drunk. He was a marak addict,
and in the eyes of the marak fiends, all things and all people were
wonderful, except those who did not share their taste for the drug. The
latter were miserable, depraved creatures, practically subhuman.

Of course that was not the way most of them put it. Certainly it was
not the way Palmer did. He regarded his wife, he told himself, as an
unfortunate individual whom he loved very much, one whom it was his
duty to make happy. That her new-found happiness would also hasten
her death was merely an unfortunate coincidence. She was sure to die
anyway, before long, so why not have her live out her last days in the
peace and contentment that only marak could bring?

Louise herself would have had an answer to that, if he had ever put the
question to her. He was careful never to do so.

She laid the book aside and looked up at him again. She said, "Jim,
darling, do you think you could get the television set working again?"

"Not without a mesotron rectifier."

"Even the radio would be a comfort."

"It wouldn't do any good, any way. Too much static from both Mars and
Earth this time of year."

That was the beauty of the marak, he thought. It changed his mood,
and left him calm and in full command of his faculties, able to handle
any problem that came up. He himself, of course, missed neither the
radio nor the television, and he never touched the fine library of
micro-books. He didn't need them.

A shadow flitted by outside the thick window, blotting out for a moment
the blaze of stars. It was the shadow of death, as he knew, and he was
able to smile even at that. Even death was wonderful. When it finally
came, it would find him happy. He would not shudder away from it, as he
saw Louise doing now at the sight of the ominous shadow.

He smiled at his wife again, remembering the six years they had lived
together. It had been a short married life, but--again the word
suggested itself to him--a wonderful one. There had been only one
quarrel of importance, in the second year, and after that they had got
along perfectly. And then, two years ago, he had begun to take marak,
and after that he couldn't have quarreled with anyone. It was a paragon
among drugs, and it was one of the mysteries of his existence that
anybody should object to his using it.

Louise had tried to argue with him after she had found out, but he had
turned every exchange of views into a peaceful discussion, which from
his side, at least, was brimming over with good humor. He had even
been good-humored when she tried to slip the antidote into his food.
It was this attitude of his that had so often left her baffled and
enraged, and he had a good chuckle out of that, too. Imagine a wife
getting angry because her husband was too good-natured.

But she was never going to get angry again. He would see to that. Not
after tonight. A big change was going to take place in her life.

She had picked up another book, and for the moment he pitied her. He
knew that she wasn't interested in any books. She was merely restless,
looking for something to do with herself, seeking some method of
killing time before the shadows outside killed it for her for good and
all. She couldn't understand his being so peaceful and contented, doing
nothing at all.

She threw the second book down and snarled--yes, that was the word,
"You're such a fool, Jim! You sit there, smug and sure of yourself,
your mind blank, just waiting--waiting for them to kill you and me. And
you seem actually happy when I mention it."

"I'm happy at anything and everything, dear."

"At the thought of dying too?"

"Living or dying--it doesn't make any difference. Whatever happens,
I'm incapable of being unhappy."

"If it weren't for the drug, we'd both live. You'd think of a way to
kill them before they killed us."

"There is no way."

"There must be. You just can't think of it while the drug has you in
its grip."

"The drug doesn't have you, dear." He asked without sarcasm, "Why don't
you think of a way?"

"Because I lack the training you have. Because I don't have the
scientific knowledge, and all the equipment scattered around means
nothing to me."

"There's nothing to be done."

Her fists clenched. "If you weren't under the influence of the drug--"

"You know that it doesn't affect the ability to think. Tests have shown

"Tests conducted by addicts themselves!"

"The fact that they can conduct the tests should be proof enough that
there's nothing wrong with their minds."

"But there _is_!" she shouted. "I can see it in you. Oh, I know that
you can still add and subtract, and you can draw lines under two
words which mean the same thing, but that isn't really thinking. Real
thinking means the ability to tackle real problems--hard problems that
you can't handle merely with paper and pencil. It means having the
incentive to use your brain for a long time at a stretch. And that's
what the drug has ruined. It has taken away all your incentive."

"I still go about my duties."

"Not as well as you used to, and even at that, only because they've
become a habit. Just as you talk to me, because I've become a habit. If
you'd let me give you the antidote--"

He chuckled at the absurdity of her suggestion. Once an addict had
been cured, he could not become addicted again. The antidote acted
to produce a permanent immunization against the effects of the drug.
It was the realization of this fact that made addicts fight so hard
against any attempt to cure them. And she thought that she could
convince him by argument!

He said, "_You_ talk of not being able to think!"

"I know," she replied hotly. "_I'm_ the one who blunders. _I'm_ the
fool, for arguing with you, when I realize that it's impossible to
convince a marak addict."

"That's it," he nodded, and chuckled again. But that wasn't quite it.
For he was also chuckling at his plan. She had thought him unable to
tackle a real problem. Well, he would tackle one tonight. Then she
would simply adopt his point of view, and she would no longer be
unhappy. After she had accepted the solution he had provided, she would
wonder how she could ever have opposed him.

He fell into one of his dozes and hardly noticed her glaring at him.
When he came out of it at last, it was to hear her say, "We have to
stay alive as long as possible. For the sake of the lighthouse."

"Of course, my dear. I don't dispute that at all."

"And the longer we stay alive, the more chance there is that some ship
will pick us up."

"Oh, no, there's no chance at all," he asserted cheerfully. "You know
that as well as I do. No use deceiving yourself, my love."

That, he observed to himself, was the way of non-addicts. They couldn't
look facts in the face. They had to cling to a blind and silly optimism
which no facts justified.

_He_ knew that there was no hope. _He_ was able to review the facts
calmly, judiciously, to see the inevitability of their dying--and to
take pleasure even in that.

He reviewed them for her now. "Let us see, sweetheart, whether I've
lost my ability to analyze a situation. We're here with our pretty
little lighthouse in the middle of a group of asteroids between Mars
and Earth. Ships have been wrecked here, and our task is to prevent
further wrecks. The lighthouse sends out a standard high-frequency
beam whose intensity and phase permit astrogators to estimate their
distance and direction from us. Ordinarily, there's nothing for us to
do. But on the rare occasions when the beam fails--"

"That will be the end."

"On those occasions," he continued, unruffled by her interruption, "I
am supposed to leave my cosy little shelter, so thoughtfully equipped
with all the comforts of Earth or Mars, and make repairs as rapidly as
possible. Under the usual conditions, lighthousekeeping is a boring
task. In fact, it has been known to drive people insane. That's why
it's generally assigned to happily married couples like us, who are
accustomed to living quietly, without excitement."

"And that," she added bitterly, "is why even happily married couples
are usually relieved after one year."

"But, darling," he said, his tone cheerful, "you mustn't blame anyone.
Who would have expected that a maverick meteor would come at us and
displace us from our orbit? And who would have expected that the meteor
would have collided first with the outer asteroids, and picked up a
cargo of--those?"

He gestured toward the window, where a shadow had momentarily paused.
By the light that shone through, he could see that the creature was
relatively harmless-looking. It had what appeared to be a round,
humorous face whose unhumorous intentions would be revealed only at
the moment of the kill. The seeming face was actually featureless, for
it was not a face at all. It had neither eyes, nor nose, nor mouth.
The effect of features was given by the odd blend of colors. Almost
escaping notice because of their unusual position and their dull brown
hue were the stomach fangs, in neat rows which could be extended and
retracted like those of a snake.

He noticed that Louise had shuddered again, and said, in the manner
of a man making conversation, "Interesting, aren't they? They're rock
breathers, you know. They need very little oxygen, and they extract
that from the silicates and other oxygen-containing compounds of the

"Don't talk about them."

"All right, if you don't want me to. But about us--you see, my dear,
no one expected us to be lost. And even if the Lighthouse Service has
started to look for us, it'll take a long time to find us."

"We have food, water, air. If not for those beasts, we'd last until a
rescue ship appeared."

"But even a rescue ship wouldn't be able to reach us unless we kept the
beam going. So far, we've been lucky. It's really functioned remarkably
well. But sooner or later it'll go out of order, and then I'll have to
go out and fix it. You agree to that, don't you, Louise, dear?"

She nodded. She said quietly, "The beam must be kept in order."

"That's when the creatures will get me," he said, almost with
satisfaction. "I may kill one or two of them, although the way I feel
toward everything, I hate to kill anything at all. But you know,
sweetheart, that there are more than a dozen of them altogether, and
it's clumsy shooting in a spacesuit at beasts which move as swiftly as
they do."

"And if you don't succeed in fixing what's wrong, if they get you--"
She broke down suddenly and began to cry.

He looked at her with compassion, and smoothed her hair. And yet, under
the influence of the drug, he enjoyed even her crying. It was, as he
never tired of repeating to himself and to her a wonderful drug. Under
its spell, a man--or a woman--could really enjoy life.

Tonight she would begin to enjoy life along with him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Their chronometer functioned perfectly, and they still regulated their
living habits by it, using Greenwich Earth time. At seven in the
evening they sat down to a fine meal. Knowing that tomorrow they might
die, Louise had decided that tonight they would eat and drink as well
as they could, and she had selected a Christmas special. She had merely
to pull a lever, and the food had slid into the oven, to be cooked at
once by an intense beam of high-frequency radiation. Jim himself had
chosen the wine and the brandy--one of the peculiarities of the marak
was that it did not affect the actual enjoyment of alcoholic drinks in
the slightest, and one of the sights of the Solar System was to see an
addict who was also drunk.

But it was a rare sight, for the marak itself created such a pervading
sensation of well-being that it often acted as a cure for alcoholism.
Once an alcoholic had experienced its effect, he had no need to get
drunk to forget his troubles. He enjoyed his troubles instead, and
drank the alcohol for its own sake, for its ability to provide a
slightly different sensation, and not for its ability to release him
from an unhappy world.

So tonight Palmer drank moderately, taking just enough, as it seemed
to him, to stimulate his brain. And he did what he now realized he
should have done long ago. Unobserved, he placed a tablet of marak in
his own wineglass and one in Louise's. The slight bitterness of taste
would be hardly perceptible. And after that Louise would be an addict

That was the way the marak worked. There was nothing mysterious about
the craving. It was simply that once you had experienced how delightful
it was, you wouldn't do without it.

The tablet he had taken that morning was losing its effect, but he felt
so pleased at what he was doing that he didn't mind even that. For the
next half hour he would enjoy himself simply by looking at Louise, and
thinking that now at last they would be united again, no longer kept
apart by her silly ideas about doing something to save themselves. And
then the drug would take effect, and they would feel themselves lifted
to the stars together, never to come down to this substitute for Earth
again until the beam failed, and they went out together to make the
repairs, and the shadows closed in on them.

He had made sure that Louise had her back to him when he dropped the
tablet into her glass, and he saw that she suspected nothing. She drank
her wine, he noticed, without even commenting on the taste. He felt a
sudden impulse to kiss her, and, somewhat to her surprise, he did so.
Then he sat down again and went on with the dinner.

He waited.

An hour later he knew that he had made her happy. She was laughing as
she hadn't laughed for a long time. She laughed at the humorous things
he said, at the flattering way he raised his glass to her, even at what
she saw through the window. Sometimes it seemed to him that she was
laughing at nothing at all.

He tried to think of how he had reacted the first time he had taken
the drug. He hadn't been quite so aggressively cheerful, not quite
so--hysterical. But then, the drug didn't have exactly the same effect
on everyone. She wasn't as well balanced as he had been. The important
thing was that she was happy.

Curiously enough, he himself wasn't happy at all.

It took about five seconds for the thought to become clear to him,
five seconds in which he passed from dull amazement to an enraged and
horrified comprehension. He sprang to his feet, overturning the table
at which they still sat. And he saw that she wasn't surprised at all,
that she still stared at him with a secret satisfaction.

"You've cured me!" he cried. "You've fed me the antidote!"

And he began to curse. He remembered the other time she had tried it,
the time when he had been on the alert, and had easily detected the
strange metallic taste of the stuff. He had spat it out, and under the
influence of the drug from which she had hoped to save him, he had
laughed at her.

Now he was unable to laugh. He had been so intent on feeding the tablet
to her that he had forgotten to guard himself, and he had been caught.
He was normal now--her idea of being normal--and he would never again
know the wonderful feeling the drug gave. He began to realize his
situation on this horrible lonely asteroid. He cast a glance at the
window and at what must be waiting outside, and it was his turn to

He noticed that she was still smiling.

He said bitterly, "You're the addict now and I'm cured."

She stopped smiling and said quietly, "Jim, listen to me. You're wrong,
completely wrong. I didn't give you the antidote, and you didn't give
me the drug."

"I put it in your wineglass myself."

She shook her head. "That was a tablet I substituted for yours. It's
an anti-virus dose from our medicine chest. You took one of the
same things. That's why you feel so depressed. You're not under the
influence of the drug any more."

He took a deep breath. "But I'm not cured?"

"No. I knew that I wouldn't be able to slip you the antidote. The taste
is too strong. Later you'll be able to start taking the drug again.
That is, if you want to, after experiencing for a time what it is to
be normal. But not now. You have to keep your head clear. You have to
think of something to save us."

"But there's nothing to think of!" he shouted angrily. "I told you that
the drug doesn't affect the intelligence!"

"I still don't believe you. If you'd only exert yourself, use your

He said savagely, "I'm not going to bother. Give me those marak

She backed away from him. "I thought you might want them. I took no
chances. I threw them out."

"Out there?" A horrified and incredulous look was on his face. "You
mean that I'm stuck here without them? Louise, you fool, there's no
help for us! The other way, at least, we'd have died happy. But now--"

He stared out the window. The shadows were there in full force. Not
one now, but two, three--he counted half a dozen. It was almost as if
they knew that the end had come.

They had reason to be happy, he thought with despair. And perhaps--
he shrank back from the thought, but it forced itself into his
mind--perhaps, now that all happiness had gone, and wretchedness had
taken its place, he might as well end everything. There would be no
days to spend torturing himself in anticipation of a horrible death.

Louise exclaimed suddenly, "Jim, _look_! They're _frolicking_!"

He looked. The beasts certainly were gay. One of them leaped from
the airless surface of the asteroid and sailed over its fellow. He
had never seen them do that before. Usually they clung to the rocky
surface. Another was spinning around oddly, as if it had lost its sense
of balance.

Louise said, "_They've_ swallowed the tablets! Over a hundred
doses--enough to drug every beast on the asteroid!"

For a moment Palmer stared at the gamboling alien drug addicts. Then
he put on his spacesuit and took his gun, and, without the slightest
danger to himself, went out and shot them one by one. He noted, with a
kind of grim envy, that they died happy.

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