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´╗┐Title: February Strawberries
Author: Harmon, Jim
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 "February Strawberries" ***

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



                        _FEBRUARY STRAWBERRIES_

                             By JIM HARMON

                  _How much is the impossible worth?_

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
               Worlds of If Science Fiction, March 1961.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


Linton lay down his steel fork beside the massively solid transparency
of the restaurant water glass.

"Isn't that Rogers Snead at that table?" he heard himself say stupidly.

Howell, the man across the table from him, looked embarrassed without
looking. "Not at all. Somebody who looks like him. Twin brother. You
know how it is. Snead's dead, don't you remember?"

Linton remembered. Howell had to know that he would remember. What
were they trying to pull on him? "The man who isn't Snead is leaving,"
Linton said, describing the scene over Howell's shoulder. "If that's
Snead's brother, I might catch him to pay my respects."

"No," Howell said, "I wouldn't do that."

"Snead came to Greta's funeral. It's the least I could do."

"I wouldn't. Probably no relation to Snead at all. Somebody who looks
like him."

"He's practically running," Linton said. "He almost ran out of the
restaurant."

"Who? Oh, the man who looked like Snead, you mean."

"Yes," Linton said.

A thick-bodied man at the next table leaned his groaning chair back
intimately against Linton's own chair.

"That fellow who just left looked like a friend of yours, huh?" the
thick man said.

"Couldn't have been him, though," Linton answered automatically. "My
friend's dead."

The thick man rocked forward and came down on all six feet. He threw
paper money on the table as if he were disgusted with it. He plodded
out of the place quickly.

Howell breathed in deeply and sucked back Linton's attention. "Now
you've probably got old Snead into trouble."

"Snead's dead," Linton said.

"Oh, well, 'dead,'" Howell replied.

"What do you say it like that for?" Linton demanded angrily. "The
man's dead. Plain dead. He's not Sherlock Holmes or the Frankenstein
Monster--there's no doubt or semantic leeway to the thing."

"You know how it is," Howell said.

Linton had thought he had known how death was. He had buried his wife,
or rather he had watched the two workmen scoop and shove dirt in on
the sawdust-fresh pine box that held the coffin. He had known what he
sincerely felt to be a genuine affection for Greta. Even after they had
let him out of the asylum as cured, he still secretly believed he had
known a genuine affection for her. But it didn't seem he knew about
death at all.

Linton felt that his silence was asking Howell by this time.

"I don't know, mind you," Howell said, puffing out tobacco smoke, "but
I suppose he might have been resurrected."

"Who by?" Linton asked, thinking: _God?_

"The Mafia, I guess. Who knows who runs it?"

"You mean, somebody has invented a way to bring dead people back to
life?" Linton said.

       *       *       *       *       *

He knew, of course, that Howell did not mean that. Howell meant that
some people had a system of making it appear that a person had died
in order to gain some illegal advantage. But by saying something so
patently ridiculous, Linton hoped to bring the contradicting truth to
the surface immediately.

"An invention? I guess that's how it is," Howell agreed. "I don't know
much about people like that. I'm an honest businessman."

"But it's wonderful," Linton said, thinking his immediate thoughts.
"Wonderful! Why should a thing like that be illegal? Why don't I know
about it?"

"Sh-h," Howell said uneasily. "This is a public place."

"I don't understand," Linton said helplessly.

"Look, Frank, you can't legalize a thing like resurrection," Howell
said with feigned patience. "There are strong religious convictions to
consider. The undertakers have a lobby. I've heard they got spies right
in the White House, ready to assassinate if they have to. Death is
their whole life. You got to realize that."

"That's not enough. Not nearly enough."

"Think of all the problems it would cause. Insurance, for one thing.
Overpopulation. Birth control is a touchy subject. They'd have to take
it up if everybody got resurrected when they died, wouldn't they?"

"But what do they do about it? Against it?"

"There are a lot of fakes and quacks in the resurrection business. When
the cops find out about a place, they break in, smash all the equipment
and arrest everybody in sight. That's about all they can do. The
charges, if any, come under general vice classification."

"I don't understand," Linton complained. "Why haven't I heard about it?"

"They didn't talk much about white slavery in Victorian England. I read
an article in _Time_ the other day that said 'death' was our dirty
word, not sex. You want to shock somebody, you tell him, 'You're going
to be dead someday,' not anything sexual. You know how it is. The
opposite of 'live' these days is 'video-taped.'"

"I see," Linton said.

He tried to assimilate it. Of course he had, he reminded himself, been
out of touch for some time. It might be true. Then again, they might be
trying to trick him. They used to do that to see if he was really well.
But the temptation was too strong.

"Tell me, Howell, where could I find a resurrectionist?"

Howell looked away. "Frank, I don't have anything to do with that kind
of people and if you're smart, you'll not either."

Linton's fingers imprinted the linen. "Damn you, Howell, you tell me!"

Howell climbed to his feet hurriedly. "I take you out to dinner to
console you over the loss of your wife a half a year ago, and to make
you feel welcome back to the society of your fellows after being in the
hospital for a nervous breakdown. I do all that, and for thanks, you
yell at me and curse me. You kooks are all alike!"

Howell threw money on the table with the same kind of disinterest as
the thick-set man and stalked out.

I've got to hurry too, Linton thought. It's Resurrection Day!

       *       *       *       *       *

The doctor fluttered his hands and chirped about the office. "Well,
well, Mr. Linton, we understand you've been causing disturbances."

"Not really," Linton said modestly.

"Come, come," the doctor chided. "You started riots in two places,
attempted to bribe an officer. That's disturbing, Mr. Linton, very
disturbing."

"I was only trying to find out something," Linton maintained. "They
could have told me. Everybody seems to know but me."

The doctor clucked his tongue. "Let's not think any such thing. People
don't know more than you do."

Linton rubbed his shoulder. "That cop knew more about Judo holds than I
did."

"A few specific people know a few specific things you don't. But let me
ask you, Mr. Linton, could Einstein bake a pie?"

"I don't know. Who the hell ever wasted Einstein's time asking him a
thing like that?"

"People who want to know the answers to questions have to ask them. You
can find out anything by asking the right questions of the right person
at the right time."

Linton stared suspiciously. "Do you know where I can find a
resurrectionist?"

"I am a resurrectionist."

"But the policeman brought me to you!"

"Well, that's what you paid him to do, wasn't it? Did you think a
policeman would just steal your money? Cynics--all you young people are
cynics."

Linton scooted forward on the insultingly cold metal chair and really
looked at the doctor for the first time.

"Doctor, can you _really_ resurrect the dead?"

"Will you stop being cynical? Of course I can!"

"Doctor, I'm beginning to believe in you," Linton said, "but tell me,
can you resurrect the _long_ dead?"

"Size has nothing to do with it."

"No, my wife has been dead a long time. Months."

"Months?" The doctor snapped those weeks away with his fingers. "It
could be years. Centuries. It's all mathematics, my boy. I need only
one fragment of the body and my computers can compute what the rest
of it was like and recreate it. It's infallible. Naturally there is a
degree of risk involved."

"Infallible risk, yes," Linton murmured. "Could you go to work right
away?"

"First, I must follow an ancient medical practice. I must bleed you."

Linton grasped the situation immediately. "You mean you want money. You
realize I've just got out of an institution...."

"I've often been in institutions myself, for alcoholism, narcotics
addiction and more."

"What a wonderful professional career," Linton said, when he couldn't
care less.

"Oh, yes--yes, indeed. But I didn't come out broke."

"Neither did I," Linton said hastily. "I invested in shifty stocks,
faltering bonds, and while I was away they sank to rock bottom."

"Then--"

"When they hit rock bottom, they bounced up. If I hadn't found you, I
would have been secure for the rest of my lonely, miserable life."

"All that's ended now," the doctor assured him. "Now we must go dig up
the corpse. The female corpse, eh?"

Resurrection Day!

"Doctor," Linton whispered, "my mind is singing with battalions of
choirs. I hope that doesn't sound irreverent to you."

The doctor stroked his oily palms together. "Oh, but it does.
Beautifully."

       *       *       *       *       *

The certificate to allow reburial in Virginia hadn't been impossible
to obtain. The doctor had taken the body and Linton's fortune and fed
them both into the maw of his calculators, and by means of the secret,
smuggled formulae, Greta would be cybernetically reborn.

Linton shook his head. It seemed impossible. But Greta opened the
olive-drab slab of metal of the door to the doctor's inner-inner
sanctum and walked out into the medicinal cold fluorescent lighting.

It wasn't fair at all, Linton thought. He should have had some time to
prepare himself.

Greta lifted her arms, stretching the white smock over the lines of her
body. "Darling!" she said.

"Greta!" he said, feeling a slight revulsion but repressing it. No
doubt he would be able to adjust to her once having been dead the same
way he had learned to accept the, to him, distasteful duty of kissing
her ears the way she enjoyed.

Greta swirled across the room and folded her arms across his shoulders.
She kissed his cheek. "It's so wonderful to be back. This calls for a
celebration. We must see Nancy, Oscar, Johnny, all our old friends."

"Yes," he said, his heart lurching for her sad ignorance. "But tell
me--how was it being _away_?"

The curves and angles of her flesh changed their positions against his
Ivy dacron. Her attitude altered.

"I can't remember," she said. "I can't really remember anything. Not
really. My memories are ghosts...."

"Now, now," Linton said, "we mustn't get excited. You've been through a
trial."

She accepted the verdict. She pulled away and touched at her hair. It
was the same hair, black as evil, contrasting with her inner purity. Of
course it would be; it hadn't changed even in the grave. He remembered
the snaky tendrils of it growing out of the water-logged casket.

"I must see all our old friends," Greta persisted. "Helen and
Johnny...."

"My darling," he said gently, "about Johnny--"

Her fine black brows made Gothic arches. "Yes? What about Johnny?"

"It was a terrible accident right after--that is, about five months
ago. He was killed."

"Killed?" Greta repeated blankly. "Johnny Gorman was killed?"

"Traffic accident. Killed instantly."

"But Johnny was your friend, your best friend. Why didn't you have him
resurrected the same way you did me?"

"Darling, resurrection is a risky business and an expensive one. You
have to pay premium prices for strawberries in February. I no longer
have the money to pay for a resurrection of Johnny."

Greta turned her back to him. "It's just as well. You shouldn't bring
back Johnny to this dream of life, give him a ghost of mind and the
photograph of a soul. It's monstrous. No one should do that. No one.
But you're _sure_ you haven't the money to do it?"

"No," Linton said. "I'm sold out. I've borrowed on my insurance to the
hilt. It won't pay any more until I'm buried, and then, of course, you
can resurrect me."

"Of course," Greta said. She sighed. "Poor Johnny. He was such a good
friend of yours. You must miss him. I'm so sorry for you."

"I have you," he said with great simplicity.

"Frank," she said, "you should see that place in there. There are
foaming acid baths, great whale-toothed disposals, barrels of chemicals
to quench death and smother decay. It's _perfect_."

"It sounds carnal," he said uneasily.

"No, dear, it's perfect for some things that have to be done."

Her eyes flashed around the doctor's office and settled somewhere, on
something.

Linton followed the direction of Greta's gaze and found only an ashtray
stand, looking vaguely like a fanatic's idol to a heathen religion on a
pedestal.

Greta pounced on the stand, hefted it at the base and ran toward him
with it over her head.

Linton leaped aside and Greta hit the edge of the desk instead of him.

Brain damage, he concluded nervously. Cell deterioration.

       *       *       *       *       *

Greta raised it again and he caught her wrists high over her head. She
writhed against him provocatively. "Frank, I'm sorry, dear, but I have
to have that insurance money. It's hell!"

Linton understood immediately. He felt foolish, humiliated. All that
money! He had resurrected a gold ring that had turned his knuckles
green. No one must ever know.

Linton twisted the stand away from his wife and watched her face
in some appalled form of satisfaction as it registered horror and
acceptance of the crumpled metal disk falling toward it.

He split her head open and watched her float to the floor.

Linton was surprised at the fine wire mesh just below the skin and
those shiny little tabs that looked like pictures of transistors in
institutional advertising.

He knelt beside the body and poked into the bleeding, smoldering
wreckage.

Yes, it seemed they had to automate and modify the bodies somewhat
in resurrection. They couldn't chemically revive the old corpse like
pouring water on a wilted geranium.

Or--

Did they use the old bodies at all? What were all those acid baths for
if the bodies were used? Didn't the resurrectionists just destroy the
old corpses and make androids, synthetic creatures, to take their place?

But it didn't matter. Not a bit.

She had thought she was his wife, sharing her viewpoint down to the
finest detail, and he had thought she was his wife.

It was what you thought was real that made it so, not the other way
around.

"I've killed my wife!" Linton called, rising from his knees, stretching
his hands out to something.

The pain stung him to sleep--a pain in his neck like a needle that left
a hole big enough for a camel to pass through and big enough for him to
follow the camel in his turn.

       *       *       *       *       *

He opened his eyes to the doctor's spotless, well-ordered office. The
doctor looked down at him consolingly. "You'll have to go back, Mr.
Linton. But they'll cure you. You'll be cured of ever thinking your
wife was brought back to life and that you killed her all over again."

"Do you _really_ think so, Doctor?" Linton asked hopefully.





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