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Title: Conditionally Human
Author: Miller, Walter M.
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 "Conditionally Human" ***

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                          Conditionally Human

                       By WALTER M. MILLER, JR.

                      Illustrated by DAVID STONE

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



              They were such cute synthetic creatures, it
              was impossible not to love them. Of course,
              that was precisely why they were dangerous!


There was no use hanging around after breakfast. His wife was in a hurt
mood, and he could neither endure the hurt nor remove it. He put on his
coat in the kitchen and stood for a moment with his hat in his hands.
His wife was still at the table, absently fingering the handle of her
cup and staring fixedly out the window at the kennels behind the house.
He moved quietly up behind her and touched her silk-clad shoulder. The
shoulder shivered away from him, and her dark hair swung shiningly as
she shuddered. He drew his hand back and his bewildered face went slack
and miserable.

"Honeymoon's over, huh?"

She said nothing, but shrugged faintly.

"You knew I worked for the F.B.A.," he said. "You knew I'd have charge
of a district pound. You knew it before we got married."

"I didn't know you killed them," she said venomously.

"I won't have to kill many. Besides, they're only animals."

"_Intelligent_ animals!"

"Intelligent as a human imbecile, maybe."

"A small child is an imbecile. Would you kill a small child?"

"You're taking intelligence as the only criterion of humanity," he
protested hopelessly, knowing that a logical defense was useless
against sentimentality. "Baby--"

"Don't call me baby! Call _them_ baby!"

Norris backed a few steps toward the door. Against his better judgment,
he spoke again. "Anne honey, look! Think of the _good_ things about the
job. Sure, everything has its ugly angles. But think--we get this house
rent-free; I've got my own district with no bosses around; I make my
own hours; you'll meet lots of people that stop in at the pound. It's a
_fine_ job, honey!"

She sipped her coffee and appeared to be listening, so he went on.

"And what can I do? You know how the Federation handles employment.
They looked over my aptitude tests and sent me to Bio-Administration.
If I don't want to follow my aptitudes, the only choice is common
labor. That's the _law_."

"I suppose you have an aptitude for killing babies?" she said sweetly.

Norris withered. His voice went desperate. "They assigned me to it
because I _liked_ babies. And because I have a B.S. in biology and an
aptitude for dealing with people. Can't you understand? Destroying
unclaimed units is the smallest part of it. Honey, before the
evolvotron, before Anthropos went into the mutant-animal business,
people used to elect dogcatchers. Think of it that way--I'm just a
dogcatcher."

Her cool green eyes turned slowly to meet his gaze. Her face was
delicately cut from cold marble. She was a small woman, slender and
fragile, but her quiet contempt made her loom.

He backed closer to the door.

"Well, I've got to get on the job." He put on his hat and picked at a
splinter on the door. He frowned studiously at the splinter. "I--I'll
see you tonight." He ripped the splinter loose when it became obvious
that she didn't want to be kissed.

He grunted a nervous good-by and stumbled down the hall and out of the
house. The honeymoon was over, all right.

He climbed in the kennel-truck and drove east toward the highway. The
suburban street wound among the pastel plasticoid cottages that were
set approximately two to an acre on the lightly wooded land. With its
population legally fixed at three hundred million, most of the country
had become one big suburb, dotted with community centers and lined
with narrow belts of industrial development. Norris wished there were
someplace where he could be completely alone.

As he approached an intersection, he saw a small animal sitting on the
curb, wrapped in its own bushy tail. Its oversized head was bald on
top, but the rest of its body was covered with blue-gray fur. Its tiny
pink tongue was licking daintily at small forepaws with prehensile
thumbs. It was a cat-Q-5. It glanced curiously at the truck as Norris
pulled to a halt.

He smiled at it from the window and called, "What's your name, kitten?"

The cat-Q-5 stared at him impassively for a moment, let out a
stuttering high-pitched wail, then: "Kiyi Rorry."

"Whose child are you, Rorry?" he asked. "Where do you live?"

The cat-Q-5 took its time about answering. There were no houses near
the intersection, and Norris feared that the animal might be lost.
It blinked at him, sleepily bored, and resumed its paw-washing. He
repeated the questions.

"Mama kiyi," said the cat-Q-5 disgustedly.

"That's right, Mama's kitty. But where is Mama? Do you suppose she ran
away?"

The cat-Q-5 looked startled. It stuttered for a moment, and its fur
crept slowly erect. It glanced around hurriedly, then shot off down the
street at a fast scamper. He followed it in the truck until it darted
onto a porch and began wailing through the screen, "Mama no run ray!
Mama no run ray!"

Norris grinned and drove on. A class-C couple, allowed no children
of their own, could get quite attached to a cat-Q-5. The felines
were emotionally safer than the quasi-human chimp-K series called
"neutroids." When a pet neutroid died, a family was broken with grief;
but most couples could endure the death of a cat-Q or a dog-F. Class-C
couples were allowed two lesser units or one neutroid.

His grin faded as he wondered which Anne would choose. The Norrises
were class-C--defective heredity.

       *       *       *       *       *

He found himself in Sherman III Community Center--eight blocks of
commercial buildings, serving the surrounding suburbs. He stopped at
the message office to pick up his mail. There was a memo from Chief
Franklin. He tore it open nervously and read it in the truck. It was
something he had been expecting for several days.

    Attention All District Inspectors:
    Subject: Deviant Neutroid.

    You will immediately begin a systematic and thorough survey of all
    animals whose serial numbers fall in the Bermuda-K-99 series for
    birth dates during July 2234. This is in connection with the
    Delmont Negligency Case. Seize all animals in this category,
    impound, and run proper sections of normalcy tests. Watch for
    mental and glandular deviation. Delmont has confessed to passing
    only one non-standard unit, but there may be others. He disclaims
    memory of deviant's serial number. This could be a ruse to bring
    a stop to investigations when one animal is found. Be thorough.

    If allowed to reach age-set or adulthood, such a deviant could be
    dangerous to its owner or to others. Hold all seized K-99s who show
    the slightest abnormality in the normalcy tests. Forward to central
    lab. Return standard units to their owners. Accomplish entire
    survey project within seven days.

    C. Franklin

Norris frowned at the last sentence. His district covered about two
hundred square miles. Its replacement-quota of new neutroids was around
three hundred animals a month. He tried to estimate how many of July's
influx had been K-99s from Bermuda Factory. Forty, at least. Could he
do it in a week? And there were only eleven empty neutroid cages in his
kennel. The other forty-nine were occupied by the previous inspector's
"unclaimed" inventory--awaiting destruction.

He wadded the memo in his pocket, then nosed the truck onto the highway
and headed toward Wylo City and the district wholesale offices of
Anthropos, Inc. They should be able to give him a list of all July's
Bermuda K-99 serial numbers that had entered his territory, together
with the retailers to whom the animals had been sold. A week's deadline
for finding and testing forty neutroids would put him in a tight
squeeze.

He was halfway to Wylo City when the radiophone buzzed on his
dashboard. He pulled into the slow lane and answered quickly, hoping
for Anne's voice. A polite professional purr came instead.

"Inspector Norris? This is Doctor Georges. We haven't met, but I
imagine we will. Are you extremely busy at the moment?"

Norris hesitated. "Extremely," he said.

"Well, this won't take long. One of my patients--a Mrs. Sarah
Glubbes--called a while ago and said her baby was sick. I must be
getting absent-minded, because I forgot she was class C until I got
there." He hesitated. "The baby turned out to be a neutroid. It's
dying. Eighteenth order virus."

"So?"

"Well, she's--uh--rather a _peculiar_ woman, Inspector. Keeps telling
me how much trouble she had in childbirth, and how she can't ever
have another one. It's pathetic. She _believes_ it's her own. Do you
understand?"

"I think so," Norris replied slowly. "But what do you want me to do?
Can't you send the neutroid to a vet?"

"She insists it's going to a hospital. Worst part is that she's heard
of the disease. Knows it can be cured with the proper treatment--in
humans. Of course, no hospital would play along with her fantasy and
take a neutroid, especially since she couldn't pay for its treatment."

"I still don't see--"

"I thought perhaps you could help me fake a substitution. It's a K-48
series, five-year-old, three-year set. Do you have one in the pound
that's not claimed?"

Norris thought for a moment. "I think I have _one_. You're welcome to
it, Doctor, but you can't fake a serial number. She'll know it. And
even though they look exactly alike, the new one won't recognize her.
It'll be spooky."

There was a long pause, followed by a sigh. "I'll try it anyway. Can I
come get the animal now?"

"I'm on the highway--"

"Please, Norris! This is urgent. That woman will lose her mind
completely if--"

"All right, I'll call my wife and tell her to open the pound for you.
Pick out the K-48 and sign for it. And listen--"

"Yes?"

"Don't let me catch you falsifying a serial number."

Doctor Georges laughed faintly. "I won't, Norris. Thanks a million." He
hung up quickly.

Norris immediately regretted his consent. It bordered on being illegal.
But he saw it as a quick way to get rid of an animal that might later
have to be killed.

He called Anne. Her voice was dull. She seemed depressed, but not
angry. When he finished talking, she said, "All right, Terry," and hung
up.

       *       *       *       *       *

By noon, he had finished checking the shipping lists at the wholesale
house in Wylo City. Only thirty-five of July's Bermuda-K-99s had
entered his territory, and they were about equally divided among five
pet shops, three of which were in Wylo City.

After lunch, he called each of the retail dealers, read them the serial
numbers, and asked them to check the sales records for names and
addresses of individual buyers. By three o'clock, he had the entire
list filled out, and the task began to look easier. All that remained
was to pick up the thirty-five animals.

And _that_, he thought, was like trying to take a year-old baby away
from its doting mother. He sighed and drove to the Wylo suburbs to
begin his rounds.

Anne met him at the door when he came home at six. He stood on the
porch for a moment, smiling at her weakly. The smile was not returned.

"Doctor Georges came," she told him. "He signed for the--" She stopped
to stare at him. "Darling, your face! What happened?"

Gingerly he touch the livid welts down the side of his cheek. "Just
scratched a little," he muttered. He pushed past her and went to the
phone in the hall. He sat eying it distastefully for a moment, not
liking what he had to do. Anne came to stand beside him and examine the
scratches.

Finally he lifted the phone and dialed the Wylo exchange. A grating
mechanical voice answered, "Locator center. Your party, please."

"Sheriff Yates," Norris grunted.

The robot operator, which had on tape the working habits of each Wylo
City citizen, began calling numbers. It found the off-duty sheriff on
its third try, in a Wylo pool hall.

"I'm getting so I hate that infernal gadget," Yates grumbled. "I think
it's got me psyched. What do you want, Norris?"

"Cooperation. I'm mailing you three letters charging three Wylo
citizens with resisting a Federal official--namely _me_--and charging
one of them with assault. I tried to pick up their neutroids for a
pound inspection--"

Yates bellowed lusty laughter into the phone.

"It's not funny. I've got to get those neutroids. It's in connection
with the Delmont case."

Yates stopped laughing. "Oh. Well, I'll take care of it."

"It's a rush-order, Sheriff. Can you get the warrants tonight and pick
up the animals in the morning?"

"Easy on those warrants, boy. Judge Charleman can't be disturbed just
any time. I can get the newts to you by noon, I guess, provided we
don't have to get a helicopter posse to chase down the mothers."

"That'll be all right. And listen, Yates--fix it so the charges will
be dropped if they cooperate. Don't shake those warrants around unless
they just won't listen to reason. But get those neutroids."

"Okay, boy. Gotcha."

Norris gave him the names and addresses of the three unwilling mothers.
As soon as he hung up, Anne touched his shoulders and said, "Sit
still." She began smoothing a chilly ointment over his burning cheek.

"Hard day?" she asked.

"Not too hard. Those were just three out of fifteen. I got the other
twelve. They're in the truck."

"That's good," she said. "You've got only twelve empty cages."

He neglected to tell her that he had stopped at twelve for just this
reason. "Guess I better get them unloaded," he said, standing up.

"Can I help you?"

He stared at her for a moment, saying nothing. She smiled a little and
looked aside. "Terry, I'm sorry--about this morning. I--I know you've
got a job that has to be--" Her lip quivered slightly.

Norris grinned, caught her shoulders, and pulled her close.

"Honeymoon's on again, huh?" she whispered against his neck.

"Come on," he grunted. "Let's unload some neutroids, before I forget
all about work."

       *       *       *       *       *

They went out to the kennels together. The cages were inside a
sprawling concrete barn, which was divided into three large rooms--one
for the fragile neuter humanoid creatures, and another for the lesser
mutants, such as cat-Qs, dog-Fs, dwarf bears, and foot-high lambs that
never matured into sheep. The third room contained a small gas chamber
with a conveyor belt leading from it to a crematory-incinerator.

Norris kept the third locked lest his wife see its furnishings.

The doll-like neutroids began their mindless chatter as soon as their
keepers entered the building. Dozens of blazing blond heads began
dancing about their cages. Their bodies thwacked against the wire mesh
as they leaped about their compartments with monkey grace.

Their human appearance was broken by only two distinct features: short
beaverlike tails decorated with fluffy curls of fur, and an erect
thatch of scalp-hair that grew up into a bright candleflame. Otherwise,
they appeared completely human, with baby-pink skin, quick little
smiles, and cherubic faces. They were sexually neuter and never grew
beyond a predetermined age-set which varied for each series. Age-sets
were available from one to ten years human equivalent. Once a neutroid
reached its age-set, it remained at the set's child-development level
until death.

"They must be getting to know you pretty well," Anne said, glancing
around at the cages.

Norris was wearing a slight frown as he inspected the room. "They've
never gotten this excited before."

He walked along a row of cages, then stopped by a K-76 to stare.

"_Apple cores!_" He turned to face his wife. "How did apples get in
there?"

She reddened. "I felt sorry for them, eating that goo from the
mechanical feeder. I drove down to Sherman III and bought six dozen
cooking apples."

"That was a mistake."

She frowned irritably. "We can afford it."

"That's not the point. There's a reason for the mechanical feeders." He
paused, wondering how he could tell her the truth. He blundered on:
"They get to love whoever feeds them."

"I can't see--"

"How would you feel about disposing of something that loved you?"

Anne folded her arms and stared at him. "Planning to dispose of any
soon?" she asked acidly.

"Honeymoon's off again, eh?"

She turned away. "I'm sorry, Terry. I'll try not to mention it again."

He began unloading the truck, pulling the frightened and squirming
doll-things forth one at a time with a snare-pole. They were one-man
pets, always frightened of strangers.

"What's the Delmont case, Terry?" Anne asked while he worked.

"Huh?"

"I heard you mention it on the phone. Anything to do with why you got
your face scratched?"

He nodded sourly. "Indirectly, yes. It's a long story."

"Tell me."

"Well, Delmont was a green-horn evolvotron operator at the Bermuda
plant. His job was taking the unfertilized chimpanzee ova out of the
egg-multiplier, mounting them in his machine, and bombarding the
gene structure with sub-atomic particles. It's tricky business. He
flashes a huge enlargement of the ovum on the electron microscope
screen--large enough so he can see the individual protein molecules. He
has an artificial gene pattern to compare it with. It's like shooting
sub-atomic billiards. He's got to fire alpha-particles into the gene
structure and displace certain links by just the right amount. And
he's got to be quick about it before the ovum dies from an overdose of
radiation from the enlarger. A good operator can get one success out of
seven tries.

"Well, Delmont worked a week and spoiled over a hundred ova without a
single success. They threatened to fire him. I guess he got hysterical.
Anyway, he reported one success the next day. It was faked. The ovum
had a couple of flaws--something wrong in the central nervous system's
determinants, and in the glandular makeup. Not a standard neutroid
ovum. He passed it on to the incubators to get a credit, knowing it
wouldn't be caught until after birth."

"It wasn't caught at all?" Anne asked.

"Funny thing, he was afraid it wouldn't be. He got to worrying about
it, thought maybe a mental-deviant would pass, and that it might be
dangerous. So he went back to its incubator and cut off the hormone
flow into its compartment."

"Why that?"

"So it _would_ develop sexuality. A neutroid would be born a female
if they didn't give it suppressive doses of male hormone prenatally.
That keeps ovaries from developing and it comes out neuter. But
Delmont figured a female would be caught and stopped before the final
inspection. They'd dispose of her without even bothering to examine for
the other defects. And he could blame the sexuality on an equipment
malfunction. He thought it was pretty smart. Trouble was they didn't
catch the female. She went on through; they all _look_ female."

"How did they find out about it now?"

"He got caught last month, trying it again. And he confessed to doing
it once before. No telling how many times he _really_ did it."

Norris held up the final kicking, squealing, tassel-haired doll from
the back of the kennel-truck. He grinned at his wife. "This little
fellow, for instance. It might be a potential she. It might also be a
potential murderer. _All_ these kiddos are from the machines in the
section where Delmont worked."

Anne snorted and caught the baby-creature in her arms. It struggled and
tried to bite, but subsided a little when she disentangled it from the
snare. "Kkr-r-reee," it cooed nervously. "Kkr-r-reee!"

"You tell him you're no murderer," Anne purred to it.

Norris watched disapprovingly while she fondled it. One thing he had
learned: to steer clear of emotional attachments. It was eight months
old and looked like a child of two years--a year short of its age-set.
And it was designed to be as affectionate as a human child.

"Put it in the cage, Anne," he said quietly.

She looked up and shook her head.

"It belongs to somebody else. If it fixes a libido attachment on you,
you're actually robbing its owner. They can't love many people at once."

She snorted, but installed the thing in its cage.

"Anne--" Norris hesitated, hating to approach the subject. "Do
you--want one--for yourself? I can sign an unclaimed one over to you to
keep in the house. It won't cost us anything."

Slowly she shook her head, and her pale eyes went moody and luminous.
"I'm going to have one of my own," she said.

He stood in the back of the truck, staring down at her. "Do you realize
what--"

"I know what I'm saying. We're class-C on account of heart-trouble in
both our families. Well, I don't care, Terry. I'm not going to waste a
heart over one of these pathetic little artificial animals. We're going
to have a baby."

"You know what they'd do to us?"

"If they catch us, yes--compulsory divorce, sterilization. But they
won't catch us. I'll have it at home, Terry. Not even a doctor. We'll
hide it."

"I won't let you do such a thing."

She faced him angrily. "Oh, this whole rotten _world_!" she choked.
Suddenly she turned and fled out of the building. She was sobbing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Norris climbed slowly down from the truck and wandered on into the
house. She was not in the kitchen nor the living room. The bedroom door
was locked. He shrugged and went to sit on the sofa. The television
set was on, and a newscast was coming from a local station.

"... we were unable to get shots of the body," the announcer was
saying. "But here is a view of the Georges residence. I'll switch you
to our mobile unit in Sherman II, James Duncan reporting."

Norris frowned with bewilderment as the scene shifted to a two-story
plasticoid house among the elm trees. It was after dark, but the mobile
unit's powerful floodlights made daylight of the house and its yard and
the police 'copters sitting in a side lot. An ambulance was parked in
the street. A new voice came on the audio.

"This is James Duncan, ladies and gentlemen, speaking to you from our
mobile unit in front of the late Doctor Hiram Georges' residence just
west of Sherman II. We are waiting for the stretcher to be brought out,
and Police Chief Erskine Miler is standing here beside me to give us a
word about the case. Doctor Georges' death has shocked the community
deeply. Most of you local listeners have known him for many years--some
of you have depended upon his services as a family physician. He was a
man well known, well loved. But now let's listen to Chief Miler."

Norris sat breathing quickly. There could scarcely be two Doctor
Georges in the community, but only this morning....

A growling drawl came from the audio. "This's Chief Miler speaking,
folks. I just want to say that if any of you know the whereabouts of a
Mrs. Sarah Glubbes, call me immediately. She's wanted for questioning."

"Thank you, Chief. This is James Duncan again. I'll review the facts
for you briefly again, ladies and gentlemen. At seven o'clock,
less than an hour ago, a woman--allegedly Mrs. Glubbes--burst into
Doctor Georges' dining room while the family was at dinner. She was
brandishing a pistol and screaming, 'You stole my baby! You gave me the
wrong baby! Where's my baby?'

"When the doctor assured her that there was no other baby, she fired,
shattering his salad plate. Glancing off it, the bullet pierced his
heart. The woman fled. A peculiar feature of the case is that Mrs.
Glubbes, the alleged intruder, _has no baby_. Just a minute--just a
minute--here comes the stretcher now."

Norris turned the set off and went to call the police. He told them
what he knew and promised to make himself available for questioning if
it became necessary. When he turned from the phone, Anne was standing
in the bedroom doorway. She might have been crying a little, but she
concealed it well.

"What was all that?" she asked.

"Woman killed a man. I happened to know the motive."

"What was it?"

"Neutroid trouble."

"You meet up with a lot of unpleasantness in this business, don't you?"

"Lot of unpleasant emotions tangled up in it," he admitted.

"I know. Well, supper's been keeping hot for two hours. Shall we eat?"

       *       *       *       *       *

They went to bed at midnight, but it was after one when he became
certain that his wife was asleep. He lay in darkness for a time,
listening to her even breathing. Then he cautiously eased himself out
of bed and tiptoed quietly through the door, carrying his shoes and
trousers. He put them on in the kitchen and stole silently out to the
kennels. A half moon hung low in a misty sky, and the wind was chilly
out of the north.

He went into the neutroid room and flicked a switch. A few sleepy
chatters greeted the light.

One at a time, he awoke twenty-three of the older doll-things and
carried them to a large glass-walled compartment. These were the
long-time residents; they knew him well, and they came with him
willingly--like children after the Piper of Hamlin. When he had gotten
them in the glass chamber, he sealed the door and turned on the gas.
The conveyor would automatically carry them on to the incinerator.

Now he had enough cages for the Bermuda-K-99s.

He hurriedly quit the kennels and went to sit on the back steps. His
eyes were burning, but the thought of tears made him sicker. It was
like an assassin crying while he stabbed his victim. It was more honest
just to retch.

When he tiptoed back inside, he got as far as the hall. Then he saw
Anne's small figure framed in the bedroom window, silhouetted against
the moonlit yard. She had slipped into her negligee and was sitting on
the narrow windowstool, staring silently out at the dull red tongue of
exhaust gases from the crematory's chimney.

Norris backed away. He went to the parlor and lay down on the couch.

After a while he heard her come into the room. She paused in the center
of the rug, a fragile mist in the darkness. He turned his face away and
waited for the rasping accusation. But soon she came to sit on the edge
of the sofa. She said nothing. Her hand crept out and touched his cheek
lightly. He felt her cool finger-tips trace a soft line up his temple.

"It's all right, Terry," she whispered.

He kept his face averted. Her fingers traced a last stroke. Then she
padded quietly back to the bedroom. He lay awake until dawn, knowing
that it would never be all right, neither the creating nor the killing,
until he--and the whole world--completely lost sanity. And then
everything would be all right, only it still wouldn't make sense.

       *       *       *       *       *

Anne was asleep when he left the house. The night mist had gathered
into clouds that made a gloomy morning of it. He drove on out in the
kennel-truck, meaning to get the rest of the Bermuda-K-99s so that he
could begin his testing.

Still he felt the night's guilt, like a sticky dew that refused to
depart with morning. Why should he have to kill the things? The answer
was obvious. Society manufactured them because killing them was
permissible. Human babies could not be disposed of when the market
became glutted. The neutroids offered solace to childless women, kept
them satisfied with a restricted birth rate. And why a restricted
birth rate? Because by keeping the population at five billions, the
Federation could insure a decent living standard for everybody.

Where there was giving, Norris thought glumly, there was also taking
away. Man had always deluded himself by thinking that he "created," but
he created nothing. He thought that he had created--with his medical
science and his end to wars--a longer life for the individual. But he
found that he had only taken the lives of the unborn and added them to
the years of the aged. Man now had a life expectancy of eighty, except
that he had damn little chance of being born to enjoy it.

A neutroid filled the cradle in his stead. A neutroid that never ate
as much, or grew up to be unemployed. A neutroid could be killed if
things got tough, but could still satisfy a woman's craving to mother
something small.

Norris gave up thinking about it. Eventually he would have to adjust
to it. He was already adjusted to a world that loved the artificial
mutants as children. He had been brought up in it. Emotion came in
conflict with the grim necessities of his job. Somehow he would have
to love them in the parlor and kill them in the kennel. It was only a
matter of adjustment.

       *       *       *       *       *

At noon, he brought back another dozen K-99s and installed them in his
cages. There had been two highly reluctant mothers, but he skipped
them and left the seizure to the local authorities. Yates had already
brought in the three from yesterday.

"No more scratches?" Anne asked him while they ate lunch. They did not
speak of the night's mass-disposal.

Norris smiled mechanically. "I learned my lesson yesterday. If
they bare their fangs, I get out without another word. Funny thing
though--I've got a feeling one mother pulled a fast one."

"What happened?"

"Well, I told her what I wanted and why. She didn't like it, but she
let me in. I started out with her newt, but she wanted a receipt. So I
gave her one; took the serial number off my checklist. She looked at
it and said, 'Why, that's not Chichi's number!' I looked at the newt's
foot, and sure enough it wasn't. I had to leave it. It was a K-99, but
not even from Bermuda."

"I thought they were all registered," Anne said.

"They are. I told her she had the wrong neutroid, but she got mad. Went
and got the sales receipt. It checked with her newt, and it was from
O'Reilley's pet shop--right place, wrong number. I just don't get it."

"Nothing to worry about, is it Terry?"

He looked at her peculiarly. "Ever think what might happen if someone
started a black market in neutroids?"

They finished the meal in silence. After lunch he went out again to
gather up the rest of the group. By four o'clock, he had gotten all
that were to be had without the threat of a warrant. The screams and
pleas and tears of the owners left him gloomily despising himself.

If Delmont's falsification had been widespread, he might have to turn
several of the thirty-five over to central lab for dissection and
ultimate destruction. That would bring the murderous wrath of their
owners down upon him. He began to understand why bio-inspectors were
frequently shifted from one territory to another.

On the way home, he stopped in Sherman II to check on the missing
number. It was the largest of the Sherman communities, covering fifty
blocks of commercial buildings. He parked in the outskirts and took a
sidewalk escalator toward O'Reilley's address.

It was on a dingy sidestreet, reminiscent of past centuries, a street
of small bars and bowling alleys and cigar stores. There was even a
shop with three gold balls above the entrance, but the place was now
an antique store. A light mist was falling when he stepped off the
escalator and stood in front of the pet shop. A sign hung out over the
sidewalk, announcing:

                         J. "DOGGY" O'REILLEY
                             PETS FOR SALE
                       DUMB BLONDES AND GOLDFISH
                       MUTANTS FOR THE CHILDLESS
                          BUY A BUNDLE OF JOY

Norris frowned at the sign and wandered inside. The place was warm
and gloomy. He wrinkled his nose at the strong musk of animal odors.
O'Reilley's was not a shining example of cleanliness.

Somewhere a puppy was yapping, and a parrot croaked the lyrics of _A
Chimp to Call My Own_, which Norris recognized as the theme song of a
popular soap-opera about a lady evolvotron operator.

He paused briefly by a tank of silk-draped goldfish. The shop had a
customer. An elderly lady was haggling with a wizened manager over the
price of a half grown second-hand dog-F. She was shaking her last dog's
death certificate under his nose and demanding a guarantee of the dog's
alleged F-5 intelligence. The old man offered to swear on a Bible, but
he demurred when it came to swearing on a ledger.

The dog was saying, "Don' sell me, Dada. Don' sell me."

Norris smiled sardonically to himself. The non-human pets were smarter
than the neutroids. A K-108 could speak a dozen words, and a K-99
never got farther than "mamma," "pappa," and "cookie." Anthropos was
afraid to make the quasi-humans too intelligent, lest sentimentalists
proclaim them really human.

He wandered on toward the back of the building, pausing briefly by
the cash register to inspect O'Reilley's license, which hung in a
dusty frame on the wall behind the counter. "James Fallon
O'Reilley ... authorized dealer in mutant animals ... all non-predatory
mammals including chimpanzee-K series ... license expires June 1, 2235."

It seemed in order, although the expiration date was approaching. He
started toward a bank of neutroid cages along the opposite wall, but
O'Reilley was mincing across the floor to meet him. The customer had
gone. The little manager wore an elfin professional smile, and his bald
head bobbled in a welcoming nod.

"Good day, sir, good day! May I show you a dwarf kangaroo, or a--" He
stopped and adjusted his spectacles. He blinked and peered as Norris
flashed his badge. His smile waned.

"I'm Agent Norris, Mr. O'Reilley. Called you yesterday for that rundown
on K-99 sales."

O'Reilley looked suddenly nervous. "Oh, yes. Find 'em all?"

Norris shook his head. "No. That's why I stopped by. There's some
mistake on--" he glanced at his list--"on K-99-LJZ-351. Let's check it
again."

O'Reilley seemed to cringe. "No mistake. I gave you the buyer's name."

"She has a different number."

"Can I help it if she traded with somebody?"

"She didn't. She bought it here. I saw the receipt."

"Then she traded with one of my other customers!" snapped the old man.

"Two of your customers have the same name--Adelia Schultz? Not likely.
Let's see your duplicate receipt book."

O'Reilley's wrinkled face set itself into a stubborn mask. "Doubt if
it's still around."

Norris frowned. "Look, pop, I've had a rough day. I _could_ start
naming some things around here that need fixing--sanitary violations
and such. Not to mention that sign--'dumb blondes.' They outlawed that
one when they executed that shyster doctor for shooting K-108s full
of growth hormones, trying to raise himself a harem to sell. Besides,
you're required to keep sales records until they've been micro-filmed.
There hasn't been a microfilming since July."

The wrinkled face twitched with frustrated anger. O'Reilley shuffled
to the counter while Norris followed. He got a fat binder from under
the register and started toward a wooden stairway.

"Where you going?" Norris called.

"Get my old glasses," the manager grumbled. "Can't see through these
new things."

"Leave the book here and _I'll_ check it," Norris offered.

But O'Reilley was already limping quickly up the stairs. He seemed not
to hear. He shut the door behind him, and Norris heard the lock click.
The bio-agent waited. Again the thought of a black market troubled him.
Unauthorized neutroids could mean lots of trouble.

       *       *       *       *       *

Five minutes passed before the old man came down the stairs. He said
nothing as he placed the book on the counter. Norris noticed that his
hands were trembling as he shuffled through the pages.

"Let _me_ look," said the bio-agent.

O'Reilley stepped reluctantly aside. Norris had memorized the owner's
receipt number, and he found the duplicate quickly. He stared at it
silently. "Mrs. Adele Schultz ... chimpanzee-K-99-LJZ-351." It was
the number of the animal he wanted, but it wasn't the number on Mrs.
Schultz's neutroid nor on her original copy of the receipt.

He held the book up to his eye and aimed across the page at the light.
O'Reilley's breathing became audible. Norris put the book down, folded
two thicknesses of handkerchief over the blade of his pocketknife, and
ran it down the seam between the pages. He took the sheet he wanted,
folded it, and stowed it in his vest pocket. O'Reilley was stuttering
angrily.

Norris turned to face him coldly. "Nice erasure job, for a carbon copy."

The old man prepared himself for exploding. Norris quietly put on his
hat.

"See you in court, O'Reilley."

"_Wait!_"

Norris turned. "Okay, I'm waiting."

The old man sagged into a deflated bag of wrinkles. "Let's sit down
first," he said weakly.

Norris followed him up the stairs and into a dingy parlor. The tiny
apartment smelled of boiled cabbage and sweat. An orange-haired
neutroid lay asleep on a small rug in a corner. Norris knelt
beside it and read the tattooed figures on the sole of its left
foot--K-99-LJZ-351. Somehow he was not surprised.

When he stood up, the old man was sagged in an ancient armchair, his
head propped on a hand that covered his eyes.

"Lots of good explanations, I guess?" Norris asked quietly.

"Not good ones."

"Let's hear them, anyway."

O'Reilley sighed and straightened. He blinked at the inspector
and spoke in a monotone. "My missus died five years back. We were
class-B--allowed one child of our own--if we could have one. We
couldn't. But since we were class-B, we couldn't own a neutroid either.
Sorta got around it by running a pet shop. Mary--she always cried when
we sold a neut. I sorta felt bad about it myself. But we never did
swipe one. Last year this Bermuda shipment come in. I sold most of 'em
pretty quick, but Peony here--she was kinda puny. Seemed like nobody
wanted her. Kept her around so long, I got attached to her. 'Fraid
somebody'd buy her. So I faked the receipt and moved her up here."

"That all?"

The old man nodded.

"Ever done this before?"

He shook his head.

Norris let a long silence pass while he struggled with himself. At last
he said, "Your license could be revoked, you know."

"I know."

Norris ground his fist thoughtfully in his palm and stared at the
sleeping doll-thing. "I'll take your books home with me tonight,"
he said. "I want to make a complete check for similar changes. Any
objections?"

"None. It's the only trick I've pulled, so help me."

"If that's true, I won't report you. We'll just attach a correction
to that page, and you'll put the newt back in stock." He hesitated.
"Providing it's not a deviant. I'll have to take it in for examination."

A choking sound came from the armchair. Norris stared curiously at the
old man. Moisture was creeping in the wrinkles around his eyes.

"Something the matter?"

O'Reilley nodded. "She's a deviant."

"How do you know?"

The dealer pulled himself erect and hobbled to the sleeping neutroid.
He knelt beside it and stroked a small bare shoulder gently.

"Peony," he breathed. "Peony, girl--wake up."

Its fluffy tail twitched for a moment. Then it sat up, rubbing its eyes
and yawning. It _looked_ normal, like a two-year-old girl with soft
brown eyes. It pouted at O'Reilley for awakening it. It saw Norris and
ignored him, apparently too sleepy to be frightened.

"How's my Peony-girl?" the dealer purred.

It licked its lips. "Wanna g'ass o' water, Daddy," it said drowsily.

Norris caught his breath. No K-99 should be able to make a speech that
long, even when it reached the developmental limit. He glanced at
O'Reilley. The old man nodded slowly, then went to the kitchen for a
glass of water. She drank greedily and eyed her foster-parent.

"Daddy crying."

O'Reilley glowered at her and blew his nose solemnly. "Don't be silly,
child. Now get your coat on and go with Mister Norris. He's taking you
for a ride in his truck. Won't that be fine?"

"I don't want to. I wanna stay here."

"_Peeony!_ On with you!"

She brought her coat and stared at Norris with childish contempt. "Can
Daddy go, too?"

"Be on your way!" growled O'Reilley. "I got things to do."

"We're coming back?"

"Of course you're coming back! _Git_ now--or shall I get my spanking
switch?"

Peony strolled out the door ahead of Norris.

"Oh, inspector, would you be punching the night latch for me as you
leave the shop? I think I'll be closing for the day."

Norris paused at the head of the stairs, looking back at the old man.
But O'Reilley closed himself inside and the lock clicked. The agent
sighed and glanced down at the small being beside him.

"Want me to carry you, Peony?"

She sniffed disdainfully. She hopped upon the banister and slid down
ahead of him. Her motor-responses were typically neutroid--something
like a monkey, something like a squirrel. But there was no question
about it; she was one of Delmont's deviants. He wondered what they
would do with her in central lab. He could remember no instance of an
intelligent mutant getting into the market.

Somehow he could not consign her to a cage in the back of the truck. He
drove home while she sat beside him on the front seat. She watched the
scenery and remained aloof, occasionally looking around to ask, "Can we
go back now?"

Norris could not bring himself to answer.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he got home, he led her into the house and stopped in the hall to
call Chief Franklin. The operator said, "His office doesn't answer,
sir. Shall I give you the robot locator?"

Norris hesitated. His wife came into the hall. She stooped to grin at
Peony, and Peony said, "Do you live here, too?" Anne gasped and sat on
the floor to stare.

Norris said, "Cancel the call. It'll wait till tomorrow." He dropped
the phone quickly.

"What series is it?" Anne asked excitedly. "I never saw one that could
talk."

"_It_ is a _she_," he said. "And she's a series unto herself. Some of
Delmont's work."

Peony was looking from one to the other of them with a baffled face.
"Can we go back now?"

Norris shook his head. "You're going to spend the night with us,
Peony," he said softly. "Your daddy wants you to."

His wife was watching him thoughtfully. Norris looked aside and plucked
nervously at a corner of the telephone book. Suddenly she caught
Peony's hand and led her toward the kitchen.

"Come on, baby, let's go find a cookie or something."

Norris started out the front door, but in a moment Anne was back. She
caught at his collar and tugged. "Not so fast!"

He turned to frown. Her face accused him at a six-inch range.

"Just what do you think you're going to do with that child?"

He was silent for a long time. "You know what I'm _supposed_ to do."

Her unchanging stare told him that she wouldn't accept any evasions. "I
heard you trying to get your boss on the phone."

"I canceled it, didn't I?"

"Until tomorrow."

He worked his hands nervously. "I don't know, honey--I just don't know."

"They'd kill her at central lab, wouldn't they?"

"Well, they'd need her as evidence in Delmont's trial."

"They'd kill her, wouldn't they?"

"When it was over--it's hard to say. The law says deviants must be
destroyed, but--"

"Well?"

He paused miserably. "We've got a few days to think about it, honey. I
don't have to make my report for a week."

He sidled out the door. Looking back, he saw the hard determination in
her eyes as she watched him. He knew somehow that he was going to lose
either his job or his wife. Maybe both. He shuffled moodily out to the
kennels to care for his charges.

       *       *       *       *       *

A great silence filled the house during the evening. Supper was a
gloomy meal. Only Peony spoke; she sat propped on two cushions at the
table, using her silver with remarkable skill.

Norris wondered about her intelligence. Her chronological age was ten
months; her physical age was about two years; but her mental age seemed
to compare favorably with at least a three year old.

Once he reached across the table to touch her forehead. She eyed
him curiously for a moment and continued eating. Her temperature was
warmer than human, but not too warm for the normally high neutroid
metabolism--somewhere around 101°. The rapid rate of maturation made
I.Q. determination impossible.

"You've got a good appetite, Peony," Anne remarked.

"I like Daddy's cooking better," she said with innocent bluntness.
"When can I go home?"

Anne looked at Norris and waited for an answer. He managed a smile at
the flame-haired cherub. "Tell you what we'll do. I'll call your daddy
on the phone and let you say hello. Would you like that?"

She giggled, then nodded. "Uh-huh! When can we do it?"

"Later."

Anne tapped her fork thoughtfully against the edge of her plate. "I
think we better have a nice long talk tonight, Terry," she said.

"Is there anything to talk about?" He pushed the plate away. "I'm not
hungry."

       *       *       *       *       *

He left the table and went to sit in darkness by the parlor window,
while his wife did the dishes and Peony played with a handful of
walnuts on the kitchen floor.

He watched the scattered lights of the suburbs and tried to think of
nothing. The lights were peaceful, glimmering through the trees.

Once there had been no lights, only the flickering campfires of hunters
shivering in the forest, when the world was young and sparsely planted
with the seed of Man. Now the world was infected with his lights, and
with the sound of his engines and the roar of his rockets. He had
inherited the Earth and had filled it--too full.

There was no escape. His rockets had touched two of the planets, but
even the new worlds offered no sanctuary for the unborn. Man could have
babies--if allowed--faster than he could build ships to haul them away.
He could only choose between a higher death rate and a lower birth rate.

And unborn children were not eligible to vote when Man made his choice.

His choice had robbed his wife of a biological need, and so he made a
disposable baby with which to pacify her. He gave it a tail and only
half a mind, so that it could not be confused with his own occasional
children.

But Peony had only the tail. Still she was not born of the seed of Man.
Strange seed, out of the jungle, warped toward the human pole, but
still not human.

       *       *       *       *       *

Norris heard a car approaching in the street. Its headlights swung
along the curb, and it slowed to a halt in front of the house. A tall,
slender man in a dark suit climbed out and stood for a moment, staring
toward the house. He was only a shadow in the faint street light.
Norris could not place him. Suddenly the man snapped on a flashlight
and played it over the porch. Norris caught his breath and darted
toward the kitchen. Anne stared at him questioningly, while Peony
peered up from her play.

He stooped beside her. "Listen, child!" he said quickly. "Do you know
what a neutroid is?"

She nodded slowly. "They play in cages. They don't talk."

"Can you pretend you're a neutroid?"

"I can play neutroid. I play neutroid with Daddy sometimes, when people
come to see him. He gives me candy when I play it. When can I go home?"

"Not now. There's a man coming to see us. Can you play neutroid for me?
We'll give you lots of candy. Just don't talk. Pretend you're asleep."

"Now?"

"Now." He heard the door chimes ringing.

"Who is it?" Anne asked.

"I don't know. He may have the wrong house. Take Peony in the bedroom.
I'll answer it."

His wife caught the child-thing up in her arms and hurried away. The
chimes sounded again. Norris stalked down the hall and switched on the
porch-light. The visitor was an elderly man, erect in his black suit
and radiating dignity. As he smiled and nodded, Norris noticed his
collar. A clergyman. Must have the wrong place, Norris thought.

"Are you Inspector Norris?"

The agent nodded, not daring to talk.

"I'm Father Paulson. I'm calling on behalf of a James O'Reilley. I
think you know him. May I come in?"

Grudgingly, Norris swung open the door. "If you can stand the smell of
paganism, come on in."

The priest chuckled politely. Norris led him to the parlor and turned
on the light. He waved toward a chair.

"What's this all about? Does O'Reilley want something?"

Paulson smiled at the inspector's brusque tone and settled himself in
the chair. "O'Reilley is a sick man," he said.

The inspector frowned. "He didn't look it to me."

"Sick of heart, Inspector. He came to me for advice. I couldn't give
him any. He told me the story--about this Peony. I came to have a look
at her, if I may."

Norris said nothing for a moment. O'Reilley had better keep his mouth
shut, he thought, especially around clergymen. Most of them took a dim
view of the whole mutant business.

"I didn't think you'd associate with O'Reilley," he said. "I thought
you people excommunicated everybody that owns a neutroid. O'Reilley
owns a whole shopful."

"That's true. But who knows? He might get rid of his shop. May I see
this neutroid?"

"Why?"

"O'Reilley said it could talk. Is that true or is O'Reilley suffering
delusions? That's what I came to find out."

"Neutroids don't talk."

The priest stared at him for a time, then nodded slowly, as if
approving something. "You can rest assured," he said quietly, "that
I'll say nothing of this visit, that I'll speak to no one about this
creature."

Norris looked up to see his wife watching them from the doorway.

"Get Peony," he said.

"It's true then?" Paulson asked.

"I'll let you see for yourself."

Anne brought the small child-thing into the room and set her on the
floor. Peony saw the visitor, chattered with fright, and bounded upon
the back of the sofa to sit and scold. She was playing her game well,
Norris thought.

The priest watched her with quiet interest. "Hello, little one."

Peony babbled gibberish. Paulson kept his eyes on her every movement.
Suddenly he said, "I just saw your daddy, Peony. He wanted me to talk
to you."

Her babbling ceased. The spell of the game was ended. Her eyes went
sober. Then she looked at Norris and pouted. "I don't want any candy. I
wanna go home."

Norris let out a deep breath. "I didn't say she couldn't talk," he
pointed out sullenly.

"I didn't say you did," said Paulson. "You invited me to see for
myself."

Anne confronted the clergyman. "What do you want?" she demanded. "The
child's death? Did you come to assure yourself that she'd be turned
over to the lab? I know your kind! You'd do anything to get rid of
neutroids!"

"I came only to assure myself that O'Reilley's sane," Paulson told her.

"I don't believe you," she snapped.

He stared at her in wounded surprise; then he chuckled. "People used
to trust the cloth. Ah, well. Listen, my child, you have us wrong. We
say it's evil to create the creatures. We say _also_ that it's evil
to destroy them after they're made. Not murder, exactly, but--mockery
of life, perhaps. It's the entire institution that's evil. Do you
understand? As for this small creature of O'Reilley's--well, I hardly
know what to make of her, but I certainly wouldn't wish
her--uh--d-e-a-d."

Peony was listening solemnly to the conversation. Somehow Norris sensed
a disinterested friend, if not an ally, in the priest. He looked at his
wife. Her eyes were still suspicious.

"Tell me, Father," Norris asked, "if you were in my position, what
would you do?"

Paulson fumbled with a button of his coat and stared at the floor while
he pondered. "I wouldn't be in your position, young man. But if I were,
I think I'd withhold her from my superiors. I'd also quit my job and go
away."

It wasn't what Norris wanted to hear. But his wife's expression
suddenly changed; she looked at the priest with a new interest. "And
give Peony back to O'Reilley," she added.

"I shouldn't be giving you advice," he said unhappily. "I'm duty-bound
to ask O'Reilley to give up his business and have nothing further to do
with neutroids."

"But Peony's _human_," Anne argued. "She's _different_."

"I fail to agree."

"What!" Anne confronted him again. "What makes _you_ human?"

"A soul, my child."

Anne put her hands on her hips and leaned forward to glare down at him
like something unwholesome. "Can you put a voltmeter between your ears
and measure it?"

The priest looked helplessly at Norris.

"_No!_" she said. "And you can't do it to Peony either!"

"Perhaps I had better go," Paulson said to his host.

Norris sighed. "Maybe you better, Padre. You found out what you wanted
to know."

Anne stalked angrily out of the room, her dark hair swishing like a
battle-pennant with each step. When the priest was gone, Norris picked
up the child and held her in his lap. She was shivering with fright,
as if she understood what had been said. Love them in the parlor, he
thought, and kill them in the kennels.

"Can I go home? Doesn't Daddy want me any more?"

"Sure he does, baby. You just be good and everything'll be all right."

       *       *       *       *       *

Norris felt a bad taste in his mouth as he laid her sleeping body on
the sofa half an hour later. Everything was all wrong and it promised
to remain that way. He couldn't give her back to O'Reilley, because she
would be caught again when the auditor came to microfilm the records.
And he certainly couldn't keep her himself--not with other Bio-agents
wandering in and out every few days. She could not be concealed in a
world where there were no longer any sparsely populated regions. There
was nothing to do but obey the law and turn her over to Franklin's lab.

He closed his eyes and shuddered. If he did that, he could do
anything--stomach anything--adapt to any vicious demands society made
of him. If he sent the child away to die, he would know that he had
attained an "objective" outlook. And what more could he want from life
than adaptation and objectivity?

Well--his wife, for one thing.

He left the child on the sofa, turned out the light, and wandered into
the bedroom. Anne was in bed, reading. She did not look up when she
said, "Terry, if you let that baby be destroyed, I'll...."

"Don't say it," he cut in. "Any time you feel like leaving, you just
leave. But don't threaten me with it."

She watched him silently for a moment. Then she handed him the
newspaper she had been reading. It was folded around an advertisement.

                           BIOLOGISTS WANTED
                                  by
                        ANTHROPOS INCORPORATED
                                  for
                         Evolvotron Operators
                           Incubator Tenders
                          Nursery Supervisors
                         Laboratory Personnel
                                 _in_
                           NEW ATLANTA PLANT
                    _Call or write: Personnel Mgr._
                            ANTHROPOS INC.
                            _Atlanta, Ga._
                     _Note: Secure Work Department
                       release from present job
                           before applying._

He looked at Anne curiously. "So?"

She shrugged. "So there's a job, if you want to quit this one."

"What's this got to do with Peony, if anything?"

"We could take her with us."

"Not a chance," he said. "Do you suppose a talking neutroid would be
any safer there?"

She demanded angrily, "Why should they want to destroy her?"

Norris sat on the edge of the bed and thought about it. "No particular
_individual_ wants to, honey. It's the law."

"But _why_?"

"Generally, because deviants are unknown quantities. They can be
dangerous."

"That child--_dangerous_?"

"Dangerous to a concept, a vague belief that Man is something special,
a closed tribe. And in a practical sense, she's dangerous because she's
not a neuter. The Federation insists that all mutants be neuter and
infertile, so it can control the mutant population. If mutants started
reproducing, that could be a real threat in a world whose economy is so
delicately balanced."

"Well, you're not going to let them have her, do you hear me?"

"I hear you," he grumbled.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the following day, he went down to police headquarters to sign a
statement concerning the motive in Doctor Georges' murder. As a result,
Mrs. Glubbes was put away in the psycho-ward.

"It's funny, Norris," said Chief Miler, "what people'll do over a
neutroid. Like Mrs. Glubbes thinking that newt was her own. I sure
don't envy you your job. It's a wonder you don't get your head blown
off. You must have an iron stomach."

Norris signed the paper and looked up briefly. "Sure, Chief. Just a
matter of adaptation."

"Guess so." Miler patted his paunch and yawned. "How you coming on this
Delmont business? Picked up any deviants yet?"

Norris laid down the pen abruptly. "No! Of course not! What made you
think I had?"

Miler stopped in the middle of his yawn and stared at Norris curiously.
"Touchy, aren't you?" he asked thoughtfully. "When I get that kind of
answer from a prisoner, I right away start thinking--"

"Save it for your interrogation room," Norris growled. He stalked
quickly out of the office while Chief Miler tapped his pencil absently
and stared after him.

He was angry with himself for his indecision. He had to make a choice
and make it soon. He was climbing in his car when a voice called after
him from the building. He looked back to see Chief Miler trotting down
the steps, his pudgy face glistening in the morning sun.

"Hey, Norris! Your missus is on the phone. Says it's urgent."

Norris went back grudgingly. A premonition of trouble gripped him.

"Phone's right there," the chief said, pointing with a stubby thumb.

The receiver lay on the desk, and he could hear it saying,
"Hello--hello--" before he picked it up.

"Anne? What's the matter?"

Her voice was low and strained, trying to be cheerful. "Nothing's the
matter, darling. We have a visitor. Come right home, will you? Chief
Franklin's here."

It knocked the breath out of him. He felt himself going white. He
glanced at Chief Miler, calmly sitting nearby.

"Can you tell me about it now?" he asked her.

"Not very well. Please hurry home. He wants to talk to you about the
K-99s."

"Have the two of them met?"

"Yes, they have." She paused, as if listening to him speak, then said,
"Oh, _that_! The game, honey--remember the _game_?"

"Good," he grunted. "I'll be right there." He hung up and started out.

"Troubles?" the chief called after him.

"Just a sick newt," he said, "if it's any of your business."

       *       *       *       *       *

Chief Franklin's helicopter was parked in the empty lot next door when
Norris drove up in front of the house. The official heard the truck
and came out on the porch to watch his agent walk up the path. His
lanky, emaciated body was loosely draped in gray tweeds, and his thin
hawk face was a dark and solemn mask. He was a middle-aged man, his
skin seamed with wrinkles, but his hair was still abnormally black. He
greeted Norris with a slow, almost sarcastic nod.

"I see you don't read your mail. If you'd looked at it, you'd have
known I was coming. I wrote you yesterday."

"Sorry, Chief, I didn't have a chance to stop by the message office
this morning."

Franklin grunted. "Then you don't know why I'm here?"

"No, sir."

"Let's sit out on the porch," Franklin said, and perched his bony
frame on the railing. "We've got to get busy on these Bermuda-K-99s,
Norris. How many have you got?"

"Thirty-four, I think."

"I counted thirty-five."

"Maybe you're right. I--I'm not sure."

"Found any deviants yet?"

"Uh--I haven't run any tests yet, sir."

Franklin's voice went sharp. "Do you need a test to know when a
neutroid is talking a blue streak?"

"What do you mean?"

"Just this. We've found at least a dozen of Delmont's units that have
mental ages that correspond to their physical age. What's more, they're
functioning females, and they have normal pituitaries. Know what that
means?"

"They won't take an age-set then," Norris said. "They'll grow to
adulthood."

"And have children."

Norris frowned. "How can they have children? There aren't any males."

"No? Guess what we found in one of Delmont's incubators."

"Not a--"

"Yeah. And it's probably not the first. This business about padding
his quota is baloney! Hell, man, he was going to start his own black
market! He finally admitted it, after twenty-hours' questioning without
a letup. He was going to raise them, Norris. He was stealing them
right out of the incubators before an inspector ever saw them. The
K-99s--the numbered ones--are just the ones he couldn't get back. Lord
knows how many males he's got hidden away someplace!"

"What're you going to do?"

"_Do!_ What do you _think_ we'll do? Smash the whole scheme, that's
what! Find the deviants and kill them. We've got enough now for lab
work."

Norris felt sick. He looked away. "I suppose you'll want me to handle
the destruction, then."

Franklin gave him a suspicious glance. "Yes, but why do you ask? You
_have_ found one, haven't you?"

"Yes, sir," he admitted.

A moan came from the doorway. Norris looked up to see his wife's white
face staring at him in horror, just before she turned and fled into the
house. Franklin's bony head lifted.

"I see," he said. "We have a fixation on our deviant. Very well,
Norris, I'll take care of it myself. Where is it?"

"In the house, sir. My wife's bedroom."

"Get it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Norris went glumly in the house. The bedroom door was locked.

"Honey," he called softly. There was no answer. He knocked gently.

A key turned in the lock, and his wife stood facing him. Her eyes were
weeping ice.

"Stay back!" she said. He could see Peony behind her, sitting in the
center of the floor and looking mystified.

Then he saw his own service revolver in her trembling hand.

"Look, honey--it's _me_."

She shook her head. "No, it's not you. It's a man that wants to kill a
little girl. Stay back."

"You'd shoot, wouldn't you?" he asked softly.

"Try to come in and find out," she invited.

"Let me have Peony."

She laughed, her eyes bright with hate. "I wonder where Terry went. I
guess he died. Or adapted. I guess I'm a widow now. Stay back, Mister,
or I'll kill you."

Norris smiled. "Okay, I'll stay back. But the gun isn't loaded."

She tried to slam the door; he caught it with his foot. She struck at
him with the pistol, but he dragged it out of her hand. He pushed her
aside and held her against the wall while she clawed at his arm.

"Stop it!" he said. "Nothing will happen to Peony, I promise you!" He
glanced back at the child-thing, who had begun to cry.

Anne subsided a little, staring at him angrily.

"There's no other way out, honey. Just trust me. She'll be all right."

Breathing quickly, Anne stood aside and watched him. "Okay, Terry.
But if you're lying--tell me, is it murder to kill a man to protect a
child?"

Norris lifted Peony in his arms. Her wailing ceased, but her tail
switched nervously.

"In whose law book?" he asked his wife. "I was wondering the same
thing." Norris started toward the door. "By the way--find my
instruments while I'm outside, will you?"

"The dissecting instruments?" she gasped. "If you intend--"

"Let's call them surgical instruments, shall we? And get them
sterilized."

He went on outside, carrying the child. Franklin was waiting for him in
the kennel doorway.

"Was that Mrs. Norris I heard screaming?"

Norris nodded. "Let's get this over with. I don't stomach it so well."
He let his eyes rest unhappily on the top of Peony's head.

Franklin grinned at her and took a bit of candy out of his pocket. She
refused it and snuggled closer to Norris.

"When can I go home?" she piped. "I want Daddy."

Franklin straightened, watching her with amusement. "You're going home
in a few minutes, little newt. Just a few minutes."

They went into the kennels together, and Franklin headed straight for
the third room. He seemed to be enjoying the situation. Norris hating
him silently, stopped at a workbench and pulled on a pair of gloves.
Then he called after Franklin.

"Chief, since you're in there, check the outlet pressure while I turn
on the main line, will you?"

Franklin nodded assent. He stood outside the gas-chamber, watching
the dials on the door. Norris could see his back while he twisted the
main-line valve.

"Pressure's up!" Franklin called.

"Okay. Leave the hatch ajar so it won't lock, and crack the intake
valves. Read it again."

"Got a mask for me?"

Norris laughed. "If you're scared, there's one on the shelf. But just
open the hatch, take a reading, and close it. There's no danger."

Franklin frowned at him and cracked the intakes. Norris quietly closed
the main valve again.

"Drops to zero!" Franklin called.

"Leave it open, then. Smell anything?"

"No. I'm turning it off, Norris." He twisted the intakes.

Simultaneously, Norris opened the main line.

"Pressure's up again!"

Norris dropped his wrench and walked back to the chamber, leaving Peony
perched on the workbench.

"Trouble with the intakes," he said gruffly. "It's happened before.
Mind getting your hands dirty with me, Chief?"

Franklin frowned irritably. "Let's hurry this up, Norris. I've got five
territories to visit."

"Okay, but we'd better put on our masks." He climbed a metal ladder to
the top of the chamber, leaned over to inspect the intakes. On his way
down, he shouldered a light-bulb over the door, shattering it. Franklin
cursed and stepped back, brushing glass fragments from his head and
shoulders.

"Good thing the light was off," he snapped.

Norris handed him the gas-mask and put on his own. "The main switch
is off," he said. He opened the intakes again. This time the dials
fell to normal open-line pressure. "Well, look--it's okay," he called
through the mask. "You sure it was zero before?"

"Of course I'm sure!" came the muffled reply.

"Leave it on for a minute. We'll see. I'll go get the newt. Don't let
the door close, sir. It'll start the automatics and we can't get it
open for half an hour."

"I know, Norris. Hurry up."

Norris left him standing just outside the chamber, propping the door
open with his foot. A faint wind was coming through the opening. It
should reach an explosive mixture quickly with the hatch ajar.

He stepped into the next room, waited a moment, and jerked the switch.
The roar was deafening as the exposed tungsten filament flared and
detonated the escaping anesthetic vapor. Norris went to cut off the
main line. Peony was crying plaintively. He moved to the door and
glanced at the smouldering remains of Franklin.

       *       *       *       *       *

Feeling no emotion whatever, Norris left the kennels, carrying
the sobbing child under one arm. His wife stared at him without
understanding.

"Here, hold Peony while I call the police," he said.

"_Police?_ What's happened?"

He dialed quickly. "Chief Miler? This is Norris. Get over here quick.
My gas chamber exploded--killed Chief Agent Franklin. Man, it's awful!
Hurry."

He hung up and went back to the kennels. He selected a normal
Bermuda-K-99 and coldly killed it with a wrench. "You'll serve for a
deviant," he said, and left it lying in the middle of the floor.

Then he went back to the house, mixed a sleeping capsule in a glass of
water, and forced Peony to drink it.

"So she'll be out when the cops come," he explained to Anne.

She stamped her foot. "Will you tell me what's happened?"

"You heard me on the phone. Franklin accidentally died. That's all you
have to know."

He carried Peony out and locked her in a cage. She was too sleepy to
protest, and she was dozing when the police came.

Chief Miler strode about the three rooms like a man looking for a
burglar at midnight. He nudged the body of the neutroid with his foot.
"What's this, Norris?"

"The deviant we were about to destroy. I finished her with a wrench."

"I thought you said there weren't any deviants."

"As far as the public's concerned, there aren't. I couldn't see that it
was any of your business. It still isn't."

"I see. It may become my business, though. How'd the blast happen?"

Norris told him the story up to the point of the detonation. "The light
over the door was loose. Kept flickering on and off. Franklin reached
up to tighten it. Must have been a little gas in the socket. Soon as he
touched it--wham!"

"Why was the door open with the gas on?"

"I told you--we were checking the intakes. If you close the door, it
starts the automatics. Then you can't get it open till the cycle's
finished."

"Where were you?"

"I'd gone to cut off the gas again."

"Okay, stay in the house until we're finished out here."

       *       *       *       *       *

When Norris went back in the house, his wife's white face turned slowly
toward him.

She sat stiffly by the living room window, looking sick. Her voice was
quietly frightened.

"Terry, I'm sorry about everything."

"Skip it."

"What did you do?"

He grinned sourly. "I adapted to an era. Did you find the instruments?"

She nodded. "What are they for?"

"To cut off a tail and skin a tattooed foot. Go to the store and buy
some brown hair-dye and a pair of boy's trousers, age two. Peony's
going to get a crew-cut. From now on, she's Mike."

"We're class-C, Terry! We can't pass her off as our own."

"We're class-A, honey. I'm going to forge a heredity certificate."

Anne put her face in her hands and rocked slowly to and fro.

"Don't feel bad, baby. It was Franklin or a little girl. And from now
on, it's society or the Norrises."

"What'll we do?"

"Go to Atlanta and work for Anthropos. I'll take up where Delmont left
off."

"_Terry!_"

"Peony will need a husband. They may find all of Delmont's males. I'll
_make_ her one. Then we'll see if a pair of chimp-Ks can do better than
their makers."

Wearily, he stretched out on the sofa.

"What about that priest? Suppose he tells about Peony. Suppose he
guesses about Franklin and tells the police?"

"The police," he said, "would then smell a motive. They'd figure it out
and I'd be finished. We'll wait and see. Let's don't talk; I'm tired.
We'll just wait for Miler to come in."

She began rubbing his temples gently, and he smiled.

"So we wait," she said. "Shall I read to you, Terry?"

"That would be pleasant," he murmured, closing his eyes.

She slipped away, but returned quickly. He heard the rustle of dry
pages and smelled musty leather. Then her voice came, speaking old
words softly. And he thought of the small child-thing lying peacefully
in her cage while angry men stalked about her. A small life with a
mind; she came into the world as quietly as a thief, a burglar in the
crowded house of Man.

"_I will send my fear before thee, and I will destroy the peoples
before whom thou shalt come, sending hornets to drive out the Hevite
and the Canaanite and the Hethite before thou enterest the land. Little
by little I will drive them out before thee, till thou be increased,
and dost possess the land. Then shalt thou be to me a new people, and I
to thee a God...._"

And on the quiet afternoon in May, while he waited for the police to
finish puzzling in the kennels, it seemed to Terrell Norris that an end
to scheming and pushing and arrogance was not too far ahead. It should
be a pretty good world then.

He hoped Man could fit into it somehow.





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