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´╗┐Title: A Green Cloud Came
Author: Lowndes, Robert W.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Green Cloud Came" ***

                          A GREEN CLOUD CAME

                         by ROBERT W. LOWNDES

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                           Comet January 41.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Her fingers lightly caressed a button on the long table as she
half-turned toward him. At this moment, she was glad they still wore
the semi-barbaric accoutrements donned for last night's festivities,
commemorating the conclusion of the final war--weird, fantastic
trappings, selected more for adornment than for approximations of
ancient military dress--for he would not notice that she was trembling.
When at last she spoke, her voice was steady.

"Please go now, quickly."

His hand made as if to clasp her arm, then dropped to his side. For an
instant he stood there, words welling to his lips, then, with a half
shrug he turned away. She did not move as he strode toward the doorway,
glanced out the window; her back was a picture of composure.

"Natalla!" It was not a command, or yet a call, but a cry of
astonishment blended with horror. Gone was her carefully built-up
poise as she whirled, then gasped as she saw the look in his eyes.
Swiftly she hurried toward the window, but he stood in front of her,
blocking her view.

"What is it, Eric?"

"Don't look," he gasped. For a moment she felt fear coursing through
her, fear that at this moment he would wilt, give way to terror.
She bit her lips, telling herself she couldn't endure the sight of
it. But, an instant later, the panic had left him; she could see
rugged determination flowing back into his being. Almost faint with
thankfulness for the strength of him, she relaxed against his body,
permitted him to lead her across the room to a sofa.

"Do you remember Greer?" His voice was analytically thoughtful. "He was
the little astronomer who made those startlingly radical predictions
about a year ago. Remember how we all checked his data? No one could
find anything of the sort, even though we checked and re-checked a
dozen times. The conclusion was the only one that could be drawn under
such circumstances; Greer was suffering from delusions. So he was cured
by the psychiatry department."

Her nose wrinkled in concentration. "Greer? Wasn't he the one who
claimed to have discovered a sort of gaseous cloud in space? Our system
was supposed to be approaching it; when it reached our atmosphere, it
would prove a deadly poison to all life-forms on this planet."

"Yes--that's it. Well, it seems he was right. It's come--the green
cloud. All I could see out that window was the nauseous swirls of it,
and the people where they'd fallen in the streets. Neither of us can
leave this building." He snapped on the tele-screen. It lit up; he
could hear the faint hum of the machinery, but no images appeared.

[Illustration: _All I could see out the window was green whirls of
it--and people where they had fallen!_]

"Eric, it couldn't be."

He paced up and down the floor, clasping and unclasping his hands. "I
don't know. It came without warning on a night when nearly everyone
was out celebrating. No one in the streets or parks could have been
prepared for it. Most of the dwellings were probably left with windows
opened. It's only sheer luck that it wasn't the case here. And luck
again that we came back early."

"Please sit down," she begged. He looked at her a moment, then
shrugged, came over to the sofa, and sat beside her. "There must have
been some, Eric," she said.

"The law of averages would seem to indicate that. There might be some
who are naturally immune to whatever brand of poison this is; some who
escaped as did we; some who were underground, or in forests. But until
we learn differently, we must assume that we are the only humans alive."

His eyes were haunted. "How could we have missed it?" he whispered. "We
checked and re-checked all the data, and put it to the calculating
machines. The answer was the same each time: no such cloud existed."

"Perhaps there were some factors that only Greer himself knew. Some
small items concerning his calculations which he overlooked in
presenting data, not realizing that it had influenced him. If one
factor were missing, known only to Greer, then all the machines in the
world might well give a negative result."

He shook his head. "It's fantastic--yet, what can we think? If your
idea of a missing factor is correct, we'll never know. Even if Greer is
still alive. He was cured of his delusion."

She was silent for a moment, then she slipped off her gloves, laid a
hand on his arm. "Eric," she whispered. "I'm sorry it had to happen at
a time like this. It may be that Sandra escaped, too. I know what she
means to you. If we find her, later, I shan't stand in the way."

He chewed his lips. "That's all over, now. The first thing we must do
is to check up on the food, water, and sanitation system. Just how long
the machines will run without human supervision is questionable--not
long, at any rate. The robots cannot do everything alone, either."

Her eyes were calm and clear, her voice a breath of cool air in the
heat of his anguish. "Then let's do it the same way, Eric. Nothing
is going to happen for awhile. Let's tackle the problem after we're
refreshed." She moved to free herself from him; he had, automatically,
slipped his arm around her waist, drawn her to him. "You--you can use
the lab for your quarters. Good night, Eric."

He held her back. "Natalla."

"Let me go," she murmured.

"Natalla, wait. I didn't tell you all I saw. It was more than--the
cloud." He fell silent, breathing rapidly.

"Well?" she said.

"I was reading some of the old books yesterday. Some of them centuries
old. The people then, most of them, didn't live as well as we do but
they were very much like us in some other ways.

"They--well, sometimes a man would think he had fallen out of harmony
with his mate. In this book, the man thought he'd found another woman
more suitable to his psyche. He was about to obtain a release--divorce
I think they used to call it--when she was injured in an accident. His
mate, I mean. The medical experts did not think she could live.

"He realized then, when it seemed to be too late, that there could
never be any other mate for him. They didn't have psychoadjusters in
those days, so, if she died, he would be affected for many years. The
only way emotional upsets could wear off was through the primitive
process of letting time wear them down, little by little. It all ended
well, however, because medical experts discovered that it was only her
psyche that made the injury seem fatal; when she found that he still
wanted her to be his mate, she recovered."

"Eric, what are you trying to tell me?"

"That I don't want to be released from you ever. Even if this had never
happened, if what I saw out there was only my imagination.

"I know now that I was only deceiving myself when I sought release
from you. Sandra? Well, I rather like her, but she could never take
your place. I still wish to be your mate, Natalla."

Her eyes answered him, he thought.

"You're tired, Eric. But perhaps you'd better not spend the night in
the lab after all."

He reached down, picked her up in his arms. "In the old days," he said,
"it was considered particularly fine form for a man to carry his mate
to their sleeping quarters."

She smiled and buried her face against his shoulder. No need to tell
him that she, too, had read the old books. Or that she'd rigged up a
z-special screen outside that window, projected a carefully-made film
on it. After all, _she_ hadn't seen the green cloud. He'd held her
back. And hadn't he mentioned something about it being his imagination.

She wouldn't be too harsh on him, of course, tomorrow morning when all
was discovered to be well. And she was positive that he hadn't noticed
her fingers slide over the button as she leaned against the table a
moment ago, the button summoning a robot, pre-instructed to dismantle
the apparatus.

24th Century or no 24th Century, men were still such dear fools.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Green Cloud Came" ***

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