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´╗┐Title: Citizen Jell
Author: Shaara, Michael
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 "Citizen Jell" ***

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                             Citizen Jell

                           By MICHAEL SHAARA

                      Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                     Galaxy Magazine August 1959.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



                   The problem with working wonders
                   is they must be worked--even when
                   they're against all common sense!


None of his neighbors knew Mr. Jell's great problem. None of his
neighbors, in truth, knew Mr. Jell at all. He was only an odd old man
who lived alone in a little house on the riverbank. He had the usual
little mail box, marked "E. Jell," set on a post in front of his house,
but he never got any mail, and it was not long before people began
wondering where he got the money he lived on.

Not that he lived well, certainly; all he ever seemed to do was just
fish, or just sit on the riverbank watching the sky, telling tall
stories to small children. And none of that took any money to do.

But still, he _was_ a little odd; people sensed that. The stories he
told all his young friends, for instance--wild, weird tales about
spacemen and other planets--people hardly expected tales like that
from such an old man. Tales about cowboys and Indians they might have
understood, but spaceships?

So he was definitely an odd old man, but just how odd, of course, no
one ever really knew. The stories he told the children, stories about
space travel, about weird creatures far off in the Galaxy--those
stories were all true.

Mr. Jell was, in fact, a retired spaceman.

Now that was part of Mr. Jell's problem, but it was not all of it.
He had very good reasons for not telling anybody the truth about
himself--no one except the children--and he had even more excellent
reasons for not letting his own people know where he was.

The race from which Mr. Jell had sprung did not allow this sort of
thing--retirement to Earth. They were a fine, tolerant, extremely
advanced people, and they had learned long ago to leave undeveloped
races, like the one on Earth, alone. Bitter experience had taught them
that more harm than good came out of giving scientific advances to
backward races, and often just the knowledge of their existence caused
trouble among primitive peoples.

No, Mr. Jell's race had for a long while quietly avoided contact with
planets like Earth, and if they had known Mr. Jell had violated the
law, they would have come swiftly and taken him away--a thing Mr. Jell
would have died rather than let happen.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Jell was unhuman, yes, but other than that he was a very gentle,
usual old man. He had been born and raised on a planet so overpopulated
that it was one vast city from pole to pole. It was the kind of
place where a man could walk under the open sky only on rooftops,
where vacant lots were a mark of incredible wealth. Mr. Jell had
passed most of his long life under unbelievably cramped and crowded
conditions--either in small spaceships or in the tiny rooms of unending
apartment buildings.

When Mr. Jell had happened across Earth on a long voyage some years
ago, he had recognized it instantly as the place of his dreams. He had
had to plan very carefully, but when the time came for his retirement,
he was able to slip away. The language of Earth was already on record;
he had no trouble learning it, no trouble buying a small cottage on the
river in a lovely warm place called Florida. He settled down quietly, a
retired old man of one hundred and eighty-five, looking forward to the
best days of his life.

And Earth turned out to be more wonderful than his dreams. He
discovered almost immediately that he had a great natural aptitude for
fishing, and though the hunting instinct had been nearly bred out of
him and he could no longer summon up the will to kill, still he could
walk in the open woods and marvel at the room, the incredible open,
wide, and unoccupied room, live animals in a real forest, and the sky
above, clouds seen through the trees--_real trees_, which Mr. Jell had
seldom seen before. And, for a long while, Mr. Jell was certainly the
happiest man on Earth.

He would arise, very early, to watch the sun rise. After that, he might
fish, depending on the weather, or sit home just listening to the
lovely rain on the roof, watching the mighty clouds, the lightning.
Later in the afternoon, he might go for a walk along the riverbank,
waiting for school to be out so he could pass some time with the
children.

Whatever else he did, he would certainly go looking for the children.

A lifetime of too much company had pushed the need for companionship
pretty well out of him, but then he had always loved children, and they
made his life on the river complete. They _believed_ him; he could
tell them his memories in safety, and there was something very special
in that, to have secrets with friends. One or two of them, the most
trustworthy, he even allowed to see the Box.

Now the Box _was_ something extraordinary, even to so advanced a man as
Mr. Jell. It was a device which analyzed matter, made a record of it,
and then duplicated it. The Box could duplicate anything.

What Mr. Jell would do, for example, would be to put a loaf of bread
into the Box, and press a button, and presto, there would be _two_
loaves of bread, each perfectly alike, atom for atom. It would be
absolutely impossible for anyone to tell them apart. This was the way
Mr. Jell made most of his food, and all of his money. Once he had
gotten one original dollar bill, the Box went on duplicating it--and
bread, meat, potatoes, anything else Mr. Jell desired was instantly
available at the touch of a button.

       *       *       *       *       *

Once the Box duplicated a thing, anything, it was no longer necessary
to have the original. The Box filed a record in its electronic memory,
describing, say, bread, and Mr. Jell had only to dial a number any time
he wanted bread. And the Box needed no fuel except dirt, leaves, old
pieces of wood, just anything made out of atoms--most of which it would
arrange into bread or meat or whatever Mr. Jell wanted, and the rest of
which it would use as a source of power.

So the Box made Mr. Jell entirely independent, but it did even more
than that; it had one other remarkable feature. It could be used also
as a transmitter and receiver. Of matter. It was, in effect, the Sears
Roebuck catalogue of Mr. Jell's people, with its own built-in delivery
service.

If there was an item Mr. Jell needed, any item at all, and that item
was available on any of the planets ruled by Mr. Jell's people, Mr.
Jell could dial for it, and it would appear in the Box in a matter of
seconds.

The makers of the Box prided themselves on the speed of their delivery,
the ease with which they could transmit matter instantaneously across
light-years of space. Mr. Jell admired this property, too, but he could
make no use of it. For once he had dialed, he would also be billed. And
of course his Box would be traced to Earth. That Mr. Jell could not
allow.

No, he would make do with whatever was available on Earth. He had to
get along without the catalogue.

And he really never needed the catalogue, not at least for the first
year, which was perhaps the finest year of his life. He lived in
perfect freedom, ever-continuing joy, on the riverbank, and made some
special friends: one Charlie, aged five, one Linda, aged four, one Sam,
aged six. He spent a great deal of his time with these friends, and
their parents approved of him happily as a free baby-sitter, and he was
well into his second year on Earth when the first temptation arose.

Bugs.

Try as he might, Mr. Jell could not learn to get along with bugs. His
air-conditioned, antiseptic, neat and odorless existence back home had
been an irritation, yes, but he had never in his life learned to live
with bugs of any kind, and he was too old to start now. But he had
picked an unfortunate spot. The state of Florida was a heaven for Mr.
Jell, but it was also a heaven for bugs.

There is probably nowhere on Earth with a greater variety of insects,
large and small, winged and stinging, than Florida, and the natural
portion of all kinds found their ways into Mr. Jell's peaceful
existence. He was unable even to clear out his own house--never mind
the endless swarms of mosquitoes that haunted the riverbank--and the
bugs gave him some very nasty moments. And the temptation was that he
alone, of all people on Earth, could have exterminated the bugs at will.

One of the best-selling export gadgets on Mr. Jell's home world was
a small, flying, burrowing, electronic device which had been built
specifically to destroy bugs on planets they traded with. Mr. Jell
was something of a technician, and he might not even have had to order
a Destroyer through the catalogue, but there were other problems.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Jell's people had not been merely capricious when they formed their
policy of non-intervention. Mr. Jell's bug-destroyer would kill all the
bugs, but it would undoubtedly ruin the biological balance upon which
the country's animal life rested. The birds which fed on the bugs would
die, and the animals which fed on the birds, and so on, down a course
which could only be disastrous. And even one of the little Destroyers
would put an extraordinary dent in the bug population of the area; once
sent out into the woods, it could not be recalled or turned off, and it
would run for years.

No, Mr. Jell made the valiant decision to endure little itchy bumps on
his arms for the rest of his days.

Yet that was only the first temptation. Soon there were others, much
bigger and more serious. Mr. Jell had never considered this problem
at all, but he began to realize at last that his people had been more
right than he knew. He was in the uncomfortable position of a man who
can do almost anything, and does not dare do it. A miracle man who must
hide his miracles.

The second temptation was rain. In the middle of Mr. Jell's second
year, a drought began, a drought which covered all of Florida. He sat
by helplessly, day after day, while the water level fell in his own
beloved river, and fish died gasping breaths, trapped in little pockets
upstream. Several months of that produced Mr. Jell's second great
temptation. Lakes and wells were dry all over the country, farms and
orange groves were dry, there were great fires in the woods, birds and
animals died by the thousands.

All that while, of course, Mr. Jell could easily have made it rain.
Another simple matter, although this time he would have had to send
away for the materials, through the Box. But he couldn't do that. If he
did, _they_ would come for him, and he consoled himself by arguing that
he had no right to make it rain. That was not strictly controllable,
either. It might rain and rain for several days, once started, filling
up the lakes, yes, and robbing water from somewhere else, and then what
would happen when the normal rainy season came?

Mr. Jell shuddered to think that he might be the cause, for all his
good intentions, of vast floods, and he resisted the second temptation.
But that was relatively easy. The third temptation turned out to be
infinitely harder.

Little Charlie, aged five, owned a dog, a grave, sober, studious dog
named Oscar. On a morning near the end of Mr. Jell's second year, Oscar
was run over by a truck. And Charlie gathered the dog up, all crumpled
and bleeding and already dead, and carried him tearfully but faithfully
off to Mr. Jell, who could fix _anything_.

And Mr. Jell could certainly have fixed Oscar. Hoping to guard against
just such an accident, he had already made a "recording" of Oscar
several months before. The Box had scanned Oscar and discovered exactly
how he was made--for the Box, as has been said, could duplicate
anything--and Mr. Jell had only to dial Oscar number to produce a new
Oscar. A live Oscar, grave and sober, atom for atom identical with the
Oscar that was dead.

       *       *       *       *       *

But young Charlie's parents, who had been unable to comfort the boy,
came to Mr. Jell's house with him. And Mr. Jell had to stand there,
red-faced and very sad, and deny to Charlie that there was anything
he could do, and watch the look in Charlie's eyes turn into black
betrayal. And when the boy ran off crying, Mr. Jell had the worst
temptation of all.

He thought so at the time, but he could not know that the dog had not
been the worst. The worst was yet to come.

He resisted a great many temptations after that, but now for the first
time doubt had begun to seep in to his otherwise magnificent existence.
He swore to himself that he could never give this life up. Here on the
riverbank, dry and buggy as it well was, was still the most wonderful
life he had ever known, infinitely preferable to the drab crowds he
would face at home. He was an old man, grimly aware of the passage of
time. He would consider himself the luckiest of men to be allowed to
die and be buried here.

But the temptations went on.

First there was the Red Tide, a fish-killing disease which often sweeps
Florida's coast, murdering fish by the hundreds of millions. He could
have cured that, but he would have had to send off for the chemicals.

Next there was an infestation of the Mediterranean fruit fly, a bug
which threatened most of Florida's citrus crop and very nearly ruined
little Linda's father, a farmer. There was a Destroyer available which
could be set to kill just one type of bug, Mr. Jell knew, but he would
have had to order it, again, from the catalogue. So he had to let
Linda's father lose most of his life's savings.

Shortly after that, he found himself tempted by a young, gloomy couple,
a Mr. and Mrs. Ridge, whom he visited one day looking for their young
son, and found himself in the midst of a morbid quarrel. Mr. Ridge's
incredible point of view was that this was too terrible a world to
bring children into. Mr. Jell found himself on the verge of saying that
he himself had personally visited forty-seven other worlds, and not one
could hold a candle to this one.

He resisted that, at last, but it was surprising how close he had come
to talking, even over such a relatively small thing as that, and he had
concluded that he was beginning to wear under the strain, when there
came the day of the last temptation.

Linda, the four-year-old, came down with a sickness. Mr. Jell learned
with a shock that everyone on Earth believed her incurable.

       *       *       *       *       *

He had no choice then. He knew that from the moment he heard of the
illness, and he wondered why he had never until that moment anticipated
this. There was, of course, nothing else he could do, much as he loved
this Earth, and much as he knew little Linda would certainly have died
in the natural order of things. All of that made no difference; it had
finally come home to him that if a man is able to help his neighbors
and does not, then he ends up something less than a man.

He went out on the riverbank and thought about it all that afternoon,
but he was only delaying the decision. He knew he could not go on
living here or anywhere with the knowledge of the one small grave for
which he would be forever responsible. He knew Linda would not begrudge
him those few moments, that one afternoon more. He waited, watching the
sun go down, and then he went back into the house and looked through
the catalogue. He found the number of the serum and dialed for it.

The serum appeared within less than a minute. He took it out of the
Box and stared at it, the thought of the life it would bring to Linda
driving all despair out of his mind. It was a universal serum; it would
protect her from all disease for the rest of her life. _They_ would
be coming for him soon, but he knew it would take them a while to get
here, perhaps even a full day. He did not bother to run. He was much to
old to run and hide.

He sat for a while thinking of how to get the serum to her, but that
was no problem. Her parents would give her anything she asked now, and
he made up some candy, injecting the serum microscopically into the
chunks of chocolate, and then suddenly had a wondrous idea. He put the
chunks into the Box and went on duplicating candy until he had several
boxes.

When he was finished with that, he went visiting all the houses of all
the good people he knew, leaving candy for them and their children. He
knew he should not do that, but, he thought, it couldn't really do much
harm, could it? Just those few lives altered, out of an entire world?

But the idea had started wheels turning in his mind, and toward the
end of that night, he began to chuckle with delight. Might as well be
flashed for a rogg as a zilb.

He ordered out one special little bug Destroyer, from the Box, set
to kill just one bug, the medfly, and sent it happily down the road
toward Linda's farm. After that, he duplicated Oscar and sent the dog
yelping homeward with a note on his collar. When he was done with that,
he ordered a batch of chemicals, several tons of it, and ordered a
conveyor to carry it down and dump it into the river, where it would be
washed out to sea and so end the Red Tide.

By the time that was over, he was very tired; he had been up the whole
night. He did not know what to do about young Mr. Ridge, the one who
did not want children. He decided that if the man was that foolish,
nothing could help him. But there was one other thing he could do.
Praying silently that once he started this thing, it would not get out
of hand, he made it rain.

In this way, he deprived himself of the last sunrise. There was nothing
but gray sky, misty, blowing, when he went out onto the riverbank that
morning. But he did not really mind. The fresh air and the rain on
his face were all the good-by he could have asked for. He was sitting
on wet grass wondering the last thought--why in God's name don't more
people here realize what a beautiful world this is?--when he heard a
voice behind him.

The voice was deep and very firm.

"Citizen Jell," it said.

The old man sighed.

"Coming," he said, "coming."





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