The Pirates of Ersatz-Five-The mysterious death curse

The Pirates of Ersatz-Five-The mysterious death curse

Presently his friend Derec came to see him in the tool-steel cell in which he had been placed. Derec looked white and stricken.

“I’m in trouble because I’m your friend, Bron,” he said miserably, “but I asked permission to explain things to you. After all, I caused your arrest. I urged you not to connect up your receptor without permission!”

“I know,” growled Hoddan, “but there are some people so stupid you have to show them everything. I didn’t realize that there are people so stupid you can’t show them anything.””You … showed something you didn’t intend,” said Derec miserably. “Bron, I … I have to tell you. When they went to charge the carbon bins at the power station, they … they found a dead man, Bron!”

Hoddan sat up.

“What’s that?”

“Your machine–killed him. He was outside the building at the foot of a tree. Your receptor killed him through a stone wall! It broke his bones and killed him…. Bron–” Derec wrung his hands. “At some stage of power-drain your receptor makes deathrays!”

Hoddan had had a good many shocks today. When Derec arrived, he’d been incredulously comparing the treatment he’d received and the panic about him, with the charges made against him in court. They didn’t add up. This new, previously undisclosed item left him speechless. He goggled at Derec, who fairly wept.

“Don’t you see?” asked Derec pleadingly. “That’s why I had to tell the police it was you. We can’t have deathrays! The police can’t let anybody go free who knows how to make them! This is a wonderful world, but there are lots of crackpots. They’ll do anything! The police daren’t let it even be suspected that deathrays can be made! That’s why you weren’t charged with murder. People all over the planet would start doing research, hoping to satisfy all their grudges by committing suicide for all their enemies with themselves! For the sake of civilization your secret has to be suppressed–and you with it. It’s terrible for you, Bron, but there’s nothing else to do!”

Hoddan said dazedly:

“But I only have to put up a bond to be released!””The … the justice,” said Derec tearfully, “didn’t name it in court, because it would have to be published. But he’s set your bond at fifty million credits! Nobody could raise that for you, Bron! And with the reason for it what it is, you’ll never be able to get it reduced.”
“But anybody who looks at the plans of the receptor will know it can’t make deathrays!” protested Hoddan blankly.

“Nobody will look,” said Derec tearfully. “Anybody who knows how to make it will have to be locked up. They checked the patent examiners. They’ve forgotten. Nobody dared examine the device you had working. They’d be jailed if they understood it! Nobody will ever risk learning how to make deathrays–not on a world as civilized as this, with so many people anxious to kill everybody else. You have to be locked up forever, Bron. You have to!”
Hoddan said inadequately:

“I beg your forgiveness for having you arrested,” said Derec in abysmal sorrow, “but I couldn’t do anything but tell–“
Hoddan stared at his cell wall. Derec went away weeping. He was an admirable, honorable, not-too-bright young man who had been Hoddan’s only friend.
Hoddan stared blankly at nothing. As an event, it was preposterous, and yet it was wholly natural. When in the course of human events somebody does something that puts somebody else to the trouble of adjusting the numb routine of his life, the adjustee is resentful. The richer he is and the more satisfactory he considers his life, the more resentful he is at any change, however minute. And of all the changes which offend people, changes which require them to think are most disliked.The high brass in the Power Board considered that everything was moving smoothly.

There was no need to consider new devices. Hoddan’s drawings and plans had simply never been bothered with, because there was no recognized need for them. And when he forced acknowledgment that his receptor worked, the unwelcome demonstration was highly offensive in itself. It was natural, it was inevitable, it should have been infallibly certain that any possible excuse for not thinking about the receptor would be seized upon. And a single dead man found near the operating demonstrator…. If one assumed that the demonstrator had killed him,–why one could react emotionally, feel vast indignation, frantically command that the device and its inventor be suppressed together, and go on living happily without doing any thinking or making any other change in anything at all.

Hoddan was appalled. Now that it had happened, he could see that it had to. The world of Walden was at the very peak of human culture. It had arrived at so splendid a plane of civilization that nobody could imagine any improvement–unless a better tranquilizer could be designed to make it more endurable. Nobody ever really wants anything he didn’t think of for himself. Nobody can want anything he doesn’t know exists–or that he can’t imagine to exist. On Walden nobody wanted anything, unless it was relief from the tedium of ultra-civilized life. Hoddan’s electronic device did not fill a human need; only a technical one. It had, therefore, no value that would make anybody hospitable to it.And Hoddan would spend his life in jail for failing to recognize the fact.

He revolted, immediately. _He_ wanted something! He wanted out. And because he was that kind of man he put his mind to work devising something he wanted, simply and directly, without trying to get it by furnishing other people with what they turned out not to want. He set about designing his escape. With his enforced change in viewpoint, he took the view that he must seem, at least, to give his captors and jailers and–as he saw it–his persecutors what they wanted.

They would be pleased to have him dead, provided their consciences were clear. He built on that as a foundation.

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The Pirates of Ersatz-Five-The mysterious death curse

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