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´╗┐Title: Until Life Do Us Part
Author: Marks, Winston K.
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 "Until Life Do Us Part" ***

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                         until life do us part

                           BY WINSTON MARKS

                    _It's a long life, when you're
                 immortal. To retain sanity you've got
                 to be unemotional. To be unemotional,
                      you can't fall in love...._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
               Worlds of If Science Fiction, June 1955.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

It was a deathless world, but a woman was dying.

Anne Tabor lay limp and pale, her long, slender limbs making only
shallow depressions on the mercury bath which supported her. Webb
Fellow stood over her awaiting the effects of the sedative to relieve
her pain.

His title was _Doctor_, but almost everyone in this age had an M. D.
certificate with several specialties to his credit. Webb Fellow was
simply one who continued to find interest and diversion in the field
of physiological maintenance.

He stood tall and strong above her, lean-bellied, smooth-faced and calm
appearing, yet he didn't feel especially calm. As the agony eased from
Anne's face he spoke softly.

"I'm glad you came to me, Anne."

She moistened her lips and spoke without opening her eyes. "It was
you or Clifford--and Cliff hasn't practiced for a century or more.
It's--it's quite important to me, Webb. I really want to live. Not
because I'm afraid of dying, but...."

"I know, Anne. I know."

Everyone in Chicago knew. Anne Tabor was the first female of that city
to be chosen for motherhood in almost a decade. And in the three days
since the news had flashed from Washington, Anne Tabor had generated
within the blood-stream of her lovely, near-perfect body, a mutated
cancerous cell that threatened to destroy her. Mutant leukemia!

"Just relax, dear. We have the whole city of Chicago to draw on for
blood while we work this thing out."

He touched a cool hand to her fevered forehead, and the slight motion
stirred the golden halo that her hair made on the silvery surface of
the mercury.

The word, "dear", echoed strangely in his ears once he had said it. Her
eyes had opened at the expression of sentiment, and now they were wide
and blue as they examined him. A tiny smile curved her pale lips. "Did
I hear correctly?"

"Yes, dear." He repeated the word deliberately, and for the first time
since his student days he felt the web of his emotions tighten and
twist into a knot of unreason.

She mustn't die ... not now!

Her smile widened with her look of mild amazement. "Why Webb, I do
believe you mean it!"

"You have always been high in my affections, Anne."

"Yes, but--_it's a long life_. Such a long life!"

_That damned phrase again!_ The essence of sanity, they called it. The
cliche of cliches that under-scored this whole business of immortality.
_Be not concerned for the frustrations of the moment. All obstacles are
transient--all obstacles and all emotions. The price of immortality is
caution, patience, temperance. Deep personal attachments lead to love,
love leads to jealousy, jealousy to un-saneness, insanity to violence_,
violence to--

All he had said was that she was high in his affections, but no one
spoke of such things any more. When one did, it was considered that
more than conventional promiscuity was involved in his intentions.

He turned away abruptly and studied the dials that registered her
blood-pressure, pulse and metabolism. Incredible how even women three
hundred years old remained sensitive to the slightest sign of infantile
passion in their men. And more fantastic yet, that he, Webb Fellow,
of the original generation of immortals some seven hundred years old,
should find the destructive spark of possessiveness still alive in his
semantically adjusted nervous system.

Mechanically he noted the systole and diastole lines on the revolving
chart and ordered an attendant to administer whole blood. Before he
left her he turned back for a moment. "It shouldn't be more than 24
hours, Anne, and I promise you there won't be any impairment of your
maternal capacity."

He was startled to note that tears welled into her eyes. "Thank you,
Webb. Clifford was worried that I might be disqualified."

"Nonsense! Clifford hasn't kept up on things." He strode away without
further comment, but as he stepped from surgery into pathology he was
troubled. Why was Clifford so worried about her? Did Clifford think
that Anne would choose _him_ to father her child?

The thought struck like a snake. Before he could block it the fangs
were deep, and the venom of adolescent jealousy raced from brain to
endocrines to blood-stream, poisoning his whole nervous system.

_It's a long life!_

He resorted to the old antidote himself, despising his weakness as he
breathed the words. They came out as a sigh. He discovered that he was
searching his memory to determine whether he or Clifford could lay
claim to Anne by seniority.

Seniority? What damned nonsense was that? Anne had traded back and
forth between Clifford and him for at least 250 years--with uncounted,
trivial alliances with how many other men?

But the others didn't count. It was he and Clifford whom Anne
preferred, just as he and Clifford had discussed on countless occasions
Anne's perpetual attraction to them both. Anne _was_ Clifford's
favorite, and he'd made no secret of it.

"Over here, Webb. We have it!" It was Porter, the head staff
pathologist holding out a small vial of crimson-clear liquid. "This
ferric-protein salt should cure our famous lady quite quickly. It
played sudden hell in the culture."

"Oh, yes? Fine. Thank you, Porter. Thank you very much!"

The narrow-shouldered pathologist gave him a second look. "Certainly.
Don't mention it." He paused then asked bluntly, "Did she name you for

Webb managed to hold the vial steady to the light, but his voice was a
shade too taut and high. "Not yet--that is, we haven't discussed it.
It's a possibility, I suppose."

"I suppose," Porter mocked gently. "You with the highest
genetic-desirability rating in the State, give or take a couple of

Yes, there were a couple other males in Illinois with as high a genetic
rating as Webb Fellow, and one of them was Clifford Ainsley.

The obvious question thrust itself upon Webb for the first time. Was
that why Anne Tabor had seemed to concentrate her favors upon him and
Clifford? Had she actually anticipated the eventuality of being chosen
for motherhood, and had her criterion for male companionship been
simply a high genetic rating?

_It's a long life._ Even with such unlikely odds against the
contingency, he supposed any qualified female secretly nurtured the
hope that someday--

With the inexplicable tension mounting in him he passed the vial along
to an assistant with instructions for administering it. Anne would be
in no condition to discuss the matter for another day or two.

But he must know. He must know whether she had already chosen Clifford.

He slipped into a light street-jacket, caught an express to top-side
and engaged a taxi. His finger was poised over the destination dial
before he realized with a start that he had forgotten the five-digit
number for Clifford's address. It had been that long since he had
called on his old friend.

Friend? The concept seemed suddenly strange. How long since their
friendship had actually dissolved into an unacknowledged rivalry?

Nonsense. He and Clifford had both been uncommonly busy with their
respective professions. And since Clifford had branched from medicine
into robotics, their paths and interests had simply diverged.
Alternating almost weekly between the two men, Anne Tabor had kept each
more or less informed of the other's activities, but somehow he and
Clifford had ceased looking each other up.

The directory gave him Clifford's number, and he dialed it. The small
vehicle lifted quickly, slipped into the invisible traffic pattern and
began applying the dialed code-address to the electronic grid that
cross-hatched Chicago like a mammoth waffle. As traffic cluttered ahead
on one particular striation, the taxi banked smoothly and right-angled
to the next parallel course and proceeded.

Neat, safe, fool-proof. Perfect transportation within proscribed
geometrical limits, Webb thought. An infinite number of routes from
one point to another--like the course of a human life--but all within
certain proscribed limits.

_It's a long life._

The course of a man's life could be considered a passage with infinite
possibilities only if he were allowed to backtrack occasionally. Was
that what he was doing? Had life grown so dull that he was seeking the
diversion of immaturity again?


Was it really so important? Once there had been a time when love,
open, unashamed love had been accepted as one of life's strongest
motivations. And it wasn't just a feeling of jealous possessiveness.
There was a feeling of mutuality in it, a tenderness, an unselfishness
and closeness of communion between man and woman.

How had this exalted condition become debased into the casual
association that now existed between the sexes? Debased? That was a
loaded term. What was the matter with him? Anne Tabor was a lovely,
desirable creature, but no more lovely, no more desirable than a
hundred other females he knew.

An odd, almost unique feeling of shame swept over him as his cab sank
to the landing strip on Clifford's apartment building. He must conceal
his state of mind from Clifford or be judged a complete imbecile.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well, Webb! This is a surprise." Cliff's face was entirely without
emotion. "Anne! It's about Anne, isn't it?"

"Anne will be fine."

"Good, good! You startled me, standing there in the door like a
messenger of doom. I thought for a moment--well, things wouldn't be the
same without little Annie, would they?"

They had moved into Cliff's apartment, and Webb shrugged out of his
jacket. The spacious quarters and expensive appointments reminded Webb
of Clifford's wealth.

"The robot business must be thriving," Webb remarked. "Anne didn't
mention such luxury over here."

"The girl is tactful, my friend. Tactful, sweet, intelligent."

Webb looked up quickly. He had seated himself, and Clifford stood
before him in a stiff, almost challenging pose. "Am I welcome here?"
the physician asked bluntly.

"Certainly, certainly. We'll always welcome you here. Nothing need be
changed just because Anne is to have a child. Nothing, that is, except
the customary observance of monogamous convention until the child is
born and raised."

A pound of lead sagged in Webb's stomach. "Then--Anne has named you for

Clifford's slender, well-made body lost itself in the precise center of
an over-size chair, he looked at Webb thoughtfully. "Well, practically.
We were discussing it the other night when she had the first symptoms
of this attack." He rubbed his hairless chin. "Why? Did you especially
aspire to the noble station of parenthood?"

The lazy sarcasm was salt in the wound. With difficulty, Webb kept
his face expressionless. "When I heard the news, naturally I gave the
possibility some consideration. That's why I came over here."

"I see. Anne didn't tell you."

"She was in considerable distress when they brought her in. I--I didn't
ask her."

In spite of the raven-black hair and youthful face, there was something
about Clifford that Webb didn't like, a hardness, a lack-luster
indifference verging on boorishness. The thought of losing Anne
completely for more than eighteen years to this man was more painful
even than Webb had anticipated.

Impulsively he said, "For old time's sake, Cliff, will you do me a big

The engineer stared at him and waited.

"Take a vacation. Disappear for a few months."

The dark eyebrows remained in a straight line. "And run out on Anne?
You aren't serious."

"I am."

Clifford laughed without smiling. "You'd better head for hormone harbor
and take _yourself_ a vacation, old man. You're becoming senile."

"Then you won't withdraw?"

"Of course not. You're asking more than a favor. You're asking me to
offend Anne. These things are important to females."

"It's important to me, too, Cliff."

"Well, I'll be--" The smaller man rolled to his feet and put his hands
on his hips. "I never thought to see the day when honored Elder Webb
Fellow would come muling around like a sub-century freshman. Of all the
anachronistic drivel!"

"You see?" Webb said eagerly, "It isn't important to you at all. Why
can't you do this for me, Cliff? I--I just can't stand the thought of
being without Anne all those years."

"Relax, Webb. _It's a long life._ Anne will be back in circulation
before you know it." He paced to a low desk and extracted a small
address book from a drawer. "If you're short of female acquaintances at
the moment you can have these. I won't be needing them for awhile."

He flipped the book at Webb. By chance the cover opened, caught the
air and slanted the book up in its course so it struck the physician's
cheek with a slap. The faint sting was the detonator that exploded all
the careful restraint of seven centuries.

Webb arose to his feet slowly and moved toward Clifford. "So
medicine was too elementary for you? Human physiology and behaviour
has no unsolved problems in it, you said once. So you went into
robotics--positronic brains--infinite variety of response, with built
in neuroses and psychoses. Human behaviour was too stereo-typed for
you, Clifford. Everyone was predictable to seven decimal places. You
were bored."

"You have it about right," the engineer said insolently. He let his
arms drop to his sides, relaxed, unconcerned at the tension in the
physician's voice.

"You build fine chess-playing machines, I hear," Webb said softly,
gradually closing the distance between them. "Your mechanical geniuses
have outstripped our finest playwrights and novelists for creativity
and originality. You've probed every conceivable aberrated twist of
human nature with your psychological-probabilities computers. You've
reduced sociology and human relations to a cipher--"

Clifford shrugged. "Merely an extension of early work in general
semantics--the same work that gave us mental stability to go with
physical immortality. Certainly you don't disparage--"

"I'm disparaging nothing," Webb broke in. "I'm merely pointing out your
blind spot, your fatal blind spot."


"Yes, Clifford, fatal. I'm going to kill you."

The words seemed to have no effect. Not until Webb's powerful surgeon's
hands closed about his neck did Clifford go rigid and begin his futile

Webb did not crush the larynx immediately. He squeezed down with slow,
breath-robbing pressure, feeling for the windpipe under his thumbs.
Clifford gasped, "_'Sa long life, Webb_ ... don't ... commit suicide."

"It's a long life, but not for you, my stupid friend. Sure, they'll
execute me. But you won't have her. Never again, do you hear?"

Clifford's eyes were closed now, and Webb knew that the roaring in his
victim's ears would be blotting out all external sound. The knowledge
infuriated him, and he screamed, "You fool, I pleaded with you. I took
your insults and gave you every clue you needed--didn't you recognize
my condition? You fool! You brilliant, blind fool!"

Clifford collapsed to his knees, and Webb let him go with one final,
irrevocable wrench that certified his death.

Clifford's death and his own. The penalty for murder was still capital
punishment, and in his own case Webb acknowledged the logic and
necessity of such harsh consequences.

If there was one activity that immortal, 28th Century Man could no
longer afford, it was the luxury of falling in love....

       *       *       *       *       *

Webb stood back and looked down at his crumpled victim. The heavy
pressure was subsiding from his temples, and the gray film of
irrational hate faded from his vision.

"Cliff--I--" Then full horror closed in on him and he choked off. His
hands felt slick and slippery, but it was his own sweat, not blood. The
tactile memory of his fingers squeezing, crushing Clifford's throat,
fed details of touch, texture and temperature to his tortured but
clear brain. His surgeon's fingers were twitching, trying to tell him
what they had discovered moments ago, but a more over-whelming thought
blocked the message.

_I've taken a man's life ... and my own. And ruined Anne's happiness.
I've brought her tragedy instead of happiness._

No, not tragedy. Inconvenience. It would still be a long life for Anne.
She would find a suitable mate, then her child would quickly erase the
memory of this day.

Still, he had committed murder, the first deliberate murder the world
had known in centuries. "Damn you!" he screamed down at the body. "Why
didn't you protect yourself?"

"Oh, I did, Webb, I did!"

Webb spun to face the direction of the voice behind him. His eyes
must be playing tricks--an after-image, perhaps. "Who are you?" Webb

"Clifford Ainsley. The prototype, that is, in the flesh and not a
roboid." He nodded at the body on the floor. "Ainsley the Second.
Strictly a lab job."

"Cliff? Oh, my God!" Webb fell into a chair and sobbed with relief.

Clifford Ainsley came to him and put a hand to his shoulder. "I'm truly
sorry, Webb, but it was better this way. We can be thankful that I
anticipated your actions."

Webb looked up. "You--expected me to murder you?"

"The p c--probability computation--was remarkably high. You see, I ran
your genetic pattern into the computer, added the double stress factor
of Anne's serious illness _and_ her forthcoming motherhood, and the
subtotal spelled out a four letter word."

Webb nodded slowly. "Love."

"Right. And you know the corollary to that. When I punched in the
details of your relationship with Anne _and_ me, well, the next
subtotal read--homicide."

The expression of relief in Webb's face changed to show the hurt he
felt. "But if you knew all this, why did you have to play out this
scene, even with a remote control robot?"

"To discharge the murder impulse, my friend. I had to play it straight,
reacting just as I would to your demands, had I not known of your
condition. Otherwise the computations would have been based on false
inter-reaction premises. And until you made the attempt on my life, you
were a real danger to me--and yourself. Now the shock of your murder
attempt and the relief at your failure have dissipated that danger."

It was true, Webb admitted to himself. No longer did he feel the least
malice toward Cliff. But bitterness was still rank on his tongue. "So
how does the story end? Does boy get girl or not?"

"Of course. Boy always gets girl, if he wants her. _It's a long life._
At this phase she wants me."

"Is that your own opinion or just another subtotal of the computer?"


"But--how does it really end. What happens when you punch the _total_

"You ask that, Webb? You, one of the very first to embrace the rigors
of physical immortality? My dear friend, _there is no total key_."

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Until Life Do Us Part" ***

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