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´╗┐Title: Bright Islands
Author: Riley, Frank
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 "Bright Islands" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                            BRIGHT ISLANDS

                            BY FRANK RILEY

                 _The future enters into us, in order
                to transform itself in us, long before
                   it happens._--RAINER MARIA RILKE

           [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.]


When the two Geno-Doctors were gone, Miryam took the red capsule from
under the base of the bedlamp and slipped it between her dry lips.

Reason told her to swallow the capsule quickly, but instead she held it
under her tongue, clinging, against her will, to the last few moments
of life.

She knew she was being weak, that she was still seeking hope where
there was no hope, and she prayed to the ancient God of the Ghetto that
the gelatin coating would dissolve quickly.

Pain interrupted the prayer, spreading like slow fire from deep within
her young body, where the unwanted child of Genetics Center stirred so
restlessly, so impatient to be born.

The white walls of her Center room blurred in and out of focus. Shadows
merged together in brief, uncertain patterns. Lights flickered where
there were no lights, and the darkness was so intense it had a glare of
its own.

At the worst of the pain cycle, Miryam bit down on her under lip until
the flesh showed as white as her teeth. She fought off temptation to
crunch the capsule and put an end to all pain, all fear.

No, she would not go that way. She would go in a moment of blinding
clarity, knowing why, savoring the last bitter sweet second of her
triumph.

With a subconscious gesture of femininity, Miryam brushed the dark,
damp hair from her forehead, and wiped the perspiration from her lips.

"Pretty little thing," one of the Geno-Service agents had called her,
when she was arrested last fall in the Warsaw suburb where she had
taught nursery school since escaping from the Ghetto.

"Doesn't look a bit like one of her kind," another agent had said,
putting his hand under her chin and turning her face to the glare of
his flashlight. "No wonder she fooled the Psycho and Chemico squads....
Lucky for us!"

"What's the matter, little one?" the first agent had spoken again.
"Didn't you know we were coming? I thought all of you people were
supposed to be telepaths.... Or doesn't it work when you're asleep?"

He flipped the covers off her trembling body and whistled.

"Hands off!" the Geno-Sergeant had warned sharply. "She's for Center!"

Now the capsule under her tongue was moist and soft. Time fled on
swift, fluttering wings. Soon the horror would be done.

But the stubborn spark still glowed, and Miryam allowed her mind to
drift down the long, shining corridor to the room where the younger of
the two Geno-Doctors was changing into a white coat. The older man, who
wore the gold trefoil of Geno-Sar on his collar, tilted back in his
chair.

"She should be just about due," he said cheerfully.

"Yes, Sir," replied the young doctor, sounding the proper note of
deference for a man who communed daily with the political elite.

"What do you think of her?"

"Well, Sir, frankly--I was surprised--" The young doctor twisted
muscular arms to button the back of his jacket. He had but recently
come from the Genetics Sanitarium on the Black Sea, and his face was
tanned deep brown. "From reading the weekly reports of your staff, I
didn't know she was that--that young--"

Miryam trembled with a hope she dared not recognize, but it was crushed
out of her by the Geno-Sar's booming voice.

"Not only one of the youngest--but one of the very best specimens we've
had to work with at Center! You read her psi rating?"

"Yes, Sir. Seventy-two point four, wasn't it?"

"Seventy-two point six! Absolutely phenomenal! Closest thing to a pure
telepath our agents have ever turned up for us! This could be a big
night for Center, my boy.... A big night!"

The young doctor shook his head to clear away the lingering image of a
tragic, lovely face against a tear-stained pillow. Miryam was startled
to find this image in his mind, and her pulse leaped again.

In a carefully professional tone, the young doctor asked:

"What was her rating after insemination? Did the emotional shock...?"

"Not at all! Oh, naturally, she was uncooperative in the tests, but
pentathol and our cross-references gave us a true picture!"

"And the spermatozoa?"

"Best we could get! Refrigerated about thirty years ago from a specimen
that tested forty-seven point eight."

The Geno-Sar paused, and because a comment was obviously in order, the
young doctor said:

"This certainly could be a big night for Center!"

The Geno-Sar snapped his cigarette lighter with an expansive flourish.

"All the sciences have been taking a crack at psi--ever since the last
Politbureau directive gave it number one priority. You should have
heard the talk at Sar-Bureau meeting this afternoon! The Math-Sar
actually laughed at Genetics ... told us to stick to our white mice!"

The young doctor made a polite cluck of disapproval.

"Those stupid mathematicians could learn something of heredity from
their own ancients," the Geno-Sar continued, growing heated. "Think of
Liebnitz, gifted at 14--Galois, a genius before he was 21!"

The Geno-Sar recovered his temper, and winked.

"Of course, I didn't say that at the meeting--the Bureau chief is very
partial to Math--but I did remind them, most pointedly, of the known
data on inherited sensory differences between individuals. And you
should have seen the squirming! Especially when I got into the taste
studies and the phenyl-thio-carbamide tests! Then, when I told of
Genetics research on sense of time--sense of direction--sensitivity to
pain, sound and smells--Well, the Chief was hanging on my every word!
The Psycho-Sar became desperate to the point of rashness, and he jibed
at me about our ancient master, Profim Lysenko." The Geno-Sar's head
inclined slightly as he pronounced the name. "But the Chief himself
gave the correct answer! He quoted from a Bureau directive which stated
clearly that sensory characteristics, like any others, could well have
been acquired in the first place, and then passed on through heredity!
Oh, I tell you, it was a heart-warming afternoon!"

The younger man had been paying him only half attention.

"It's strange we should find some cases of psi among her people," he
mused. "When I was at the University I always meant to study something
about the--" he hesitated and searched for the approved term, "--the
specimen races, but I never had time...."

For an instant the Geno-Sar's steel-blue eyes narrowed, and Miryam was
shocked to find him appraising the young man for possible heresy. She
had always regarded the scientific mind as something remote, cold, but
never as something that could commit a heresy.

However, the Geno-Sar decided to table the subject.

"Of course you didn't!" he boomed. "You couldn't have made such a
splendid record without total specialization! Each to his own, that's
how science has prospered under the benevolence of our party!" He
glanced up at the clock. "Well, aren't we just about ready for this
delivery?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Miryam drew back her mind. What a fool she was to go on seeking!

The child resumed its inexorable turning within her swollen body,
and she knew she could never give to the world a life conceived so
terribly, so coldly, without love or passion or tenderness.

Even in these final moments, with the gelatin melting under her tongue,
Miryam shuddered with the remembered anguish of struggling up from the
depths of anaesthesia to find herself bearing the seed of a child, from
a faceless man who had died long ago.

Often, during the carefully guarded months of pregnancy, she had
wondered about that man, who he had been, how his talent had compared
with hers.

Miryam knew little about genetics, or any other science. The scientific
mind had always frightened her, and she had feared to explore it.
But she knew there was no truth to the folklore that psi was a
characteristic of her people. She knew of only a few cases outside
her own family, although within her family it seemed to have been a
characteristic that had recurred frequently for many generations. Her
father had cautioned her about selecting a husband, and pleaded with
her not to flee the Ghetto.

For the past three days, since the nurse had momentarily left the
cabinet at the end of the corridor unlocked and unguarded, Miryam had
known that she need not be concerned about the success or failure of
this terrible experiment. From the nurse's mind she had plucked the
essential facts about the potency of the red capsule. This knowledge,
for all its loneliness, had been something to cherish, to press to her
full breasts, as she would never hold that child of horror.

Tears filled her eyes, squeezed in droplets between the closed lids.
Tears because she was so alone. Tears of unbearable sadness and pity,
for her people, for her youth and her young body, for the warmth that
would be eternally cold, for the unnatural child that squirmed and
turned, and would never cry.

In a last forlorn gesture, in a final seeking before the darkness
closed, Miryam let her mind stray out of the white room, out of the
marble magnificence of Center. She let her thoughts escape on the soft
breeze of the early summer evening.

How beautiful it was, even here in the city, amid the science buildings
that formed bright islands of light around the minarets and vaulted
domes of Government Square.

Even these awesome buildings were lovely in the purple dusk. Their
windows were like scattered emeralds of light.

How could there be so much beauty without compassion? So much knowledge
without understanding? So much human genius without humanity?

And what a battering of thoughts in the mild air around the centers of
science! What a discordance! What a tumult of theories, each of them
nurtured within its own walls by the zealous Sars.

There were the Departments of Chemistry and Physics. There was the
glass-walled tower of Astronomy! There was the Institute of Psychology,
with all its many bureaus. And the new Electronics Building, alabaster
even in the dusk.

They were all there, extending in stately splendor along the main
avenues, and along the park, where the gossamer mist was rising.

How intolerant were the thoughts they radiated! How sure!

Electronics said: "Quite obviously the answer to psi is in the
electrical currents of the brain. Our newest electro-encephalograph has
demonstrated...."

Chemistry said: "Solution to psi inevitably will be found in the
chemical balance of the cells...."

Parapsychology said: "We must continue to ignore those who insist upon
attributing physical properties to a non-physical characteristic...."

And underneath this learned babble, Miryam heard the moth-like
whispering of her own people, starving in the Ghetto, or hidden
throughout the city, disguised, furtive, tense.

Her mind came close to Government Square, and she cringed, as she
had cringed all her young life. The somatics were unbearable. Hatred
and fear, blind prejudice, jealousy, cunning, ceaseless intrigue and
plotting, setting Sar against Sar, using the genius of each science,
dividing and ruling.

No, there was nothing left. No hope, no promise. This was the end of
time. This was the night of the world.

Withdrawing again, retreating into itself, Miryam's mind brushed the
fragment of a thought. It was a half-formed thought, more a groping,
more a question, than an idea. It was delicate, fragile, a wraith and a
wisp. But it came to her as clear as the note from a silver bell.

Startled, she hesitated in her withdrawal, and perceived the young
Geno-Doctor in the corridor near her room. He had paused by the
casement window, and was staring out at the twinkling islands of light
around Government Square.

And as his gaze wandered moodily from Tech, to Psycho, to Chemico, to
all the incandescent, isolated centers of genius, the idle speculation
had formed.

"Wouldn't it be an unusual view if all those bright islands were
connected by strings of light...?"

Once formed, the speculation had fanned the ember of a thought:

"Wonder if psi will build those strings of lights?"

Then the young doctor turned almost guiltily from the window to
meet the Geno-Sar coming down the corridor. And he said with crisp
efficiency,

"I'll check out 12-A for delivery."

"Good boy! I'll go on up and check the staff...." The Geno-Sar rubbed
his hands together, and walked off, repeating nervously, "Two psi
characteristics must be the answer--two psi--"

"Maybe they are," the young doctor murmured softly. "Maybe they are...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Delivery, Miryam thought. The life within her throbbed and prodded.
There was an ebbing of pain for a moment, and in that moment she saw
with the blinding clarity she had sought that this child of hers might
bring new hope to the world. That psi ability might be the answer to
many things for the race of mankind. What did it matter that it was
conceived without love and emotion. What did it matter that she was
being used as an experiment ... if this child within her could fulfill
the promise.

Miryam spat the soft capsule between her quivering lips. She watched it
roll and bounce across the polished tile floor, toward the door.

Pain returned, and its fire was warm. There were no shadows on the
wall. Pain returned, and it had purpose and promise. Wonderingly, she
beheld the concept that science, too, lived with fear, each science in
its own Ghetto. And if the young doctor was right, if psi....

As the doctor stepped into the room, he bent over and picked up the
red capsule. His thumb and forefinger felt the warmth, the moisture,
and he looked long and thoughtfully into Miryam's dark, glowing eyes.

His fingers shook as he wrapped the capsule in a piece of tissue and
dropped it into the pocket of his white jacket. He picked up the chart
from the foot of the bed.

"Miryam--" His voice was not under complete control, and he began
again, with an effort at lightness. "Miryam--that's a strange name.
What does it mean?"

"It is an ancient spelling," she whispered, her eyes deep and dark,
filled with pain and wonder. "You may find it easier to call me--Mary."





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