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Old Rambling House, Page 2

Frank Herbert


  "Perhaps you and your wife would like to discuss it in private," saidRush. "We will leave you for a moment."

  And they were gone before Ted Graham could protest.

  Martha Graham said, "Ted, I honestly never in my life dreamed--"

  "Something's very wrong, honey."

  "But, Ted--"

  "This house is worth at least a hundred thousand dollars. Maybe more.And they want to trade _this_--" he looked around him--"for aseven-thousand-dollar trailer?"

  "Ted, they're foreigners. And if they're so foolish they don't know thevalue of this place, then why should--"

  "I don't like it," he said. Again he looked around the room, recalledthe fantastic equipment of the house. "But maybe you're right."

  He stared out at the city lights. They had a lacelike quality: tallbuildings linked by lines of flickering incandescence. Something like aRoman candle shot skyward in the distance.

  "Okay!" he said. "If they want to trade, let's go push the deal ..."

  Abruptly, the house shuddered. The city lights blinked out. A hummingsound filled the air.

  Martha Graham clutched her husband's arm. "Ted! Wha-- what was that?"

  "I dunno." He turned. "Mr. Rush!"

  No answer. Only the humming.

  The door at the end of the room opened. A strange man came through it.He wore a short toga-like garment of gray, metallic cloth belted at thewaist by something that glittered and shimmered through every color ofthe spectrum. An aura of coldness and power emanated from him--a senseof untouchable hauteur.

  * * * * *

  He glanced around the room, spoke in the same tongue the Rushes hadused.

  Ted Graham said, "I don't understand you, mister."

  The man put a hand to his flickering belt. Both Ted and Martha Grahamfelt themselves rooted to the floor, a tingling sensation vibratingalong every nerve.

  Again the strange language rolled from the man's tongue, but now thewords were understood.

  "Who are you?"

  "My name's Graham. This is my wife. What's going--"

  "How did you get here?"

  "The Rushes--they wanted to trade us this house for our trailer. Theybrought us. Now look, we--"

  "What is your talent--your occupation?"

  "Tax accountant. Say! Why all these--"

  "That was to be expected," said the man. "Clever! Oh, excessivelyclever!" His hand moved again to the belt. "Now be very quiet. This mayconfuse you momentarily."

  Colored lights filled both the Grahams' minds. They staggered.

  "You are qualified," said the man. "You will serve."

  "Where are we?" demanded Martha Graham.

  "The coordinates would not be intelligible to you," he said. "I am ofthe Rojac. It is sufficient for you to know that you are under Rojacsovereignty."

  * * * * *

  Ted Graham said, "But--"

  "You have, in a way, been kidnapped. And the Raimees have fled to yourplanet--an unregistered planet."

  "I'm afraid," Martha Graham said shakily.

  "You have nothing to fear," said the man. "You are no longer on theplanet of your birth--nor even in the same galaxy." He glanced at TedGraham's wrist. "That device on your wrist--it tells your local time?"


  "That will help in the search. And your sun--can you describe its atomiccycle?"

  Ted Graham groped in his mind for his science memories from school, fromthe Sunday supplements. "I can recall that our galaxy is a spirallike--"

  "Most galaxies are spiral."

  "Is this some kind of a practical joke?" asked Ted Graham.

  The man smiled, a cold, superior smile. "It is no joke. Now I will makeyou a proposition."

  Ted nodded warily. "All right, let's have the stinger."

  "The people who brought you here were tax collectors we Rojac recruitedfrom a subject planet. They were conditioned to make it impossible forthem to leave their job untended. Unfortunately, they were clever enoughto realize that if they brought someone else in who could do their job,they were released from their mental bonds. Very clever."


  "You may have their job," said the man. "Normally, you would be put towork in the lower echelons, but we believe in meting out justicewherever possible. The Raimees undoubtedly stumbled on your planet byaccident and lured you into this position without--"

  "How do you know I can do your job?"

  "That moment of brilliance was an aptitude test. You passed. Well, doyou accept?"

  "What about our baby?" Martha Graham worriedly wanted to know.

  "You will be allowed to keep it until it reaches the age ofdecision--about the time it will take the child to reach adultstature."

  "Then what?" insisted Martha Graham.

  "The child will take its position in society--according to its ability."

  "Will we ever see our child after that?"


  Ted Graham said, "What's the joker in this?"

  Again the cold, superior smile. "You will receive conditioning similarto that which we gave the Raimees. And we will want to examine yourmemories to aid us in our search for your planet. It would be good tofind a new inhabitable place."

  "Why did they trap us like this?" asked Martha Graham.

  "It's lonely work," the man explained. "Your house is actually a type ofspace conveyance that travels along your collection route--and there ismuch travel to the job. And then--you will not have friends, nor timefor much other than work. Our methods are necessarily severe at times."

  "_Travel?_" Martha Graham repeated in dismay.

  "Almost constantly."

  Ted Graham felt his mind whirling. And behind him, he heard his wifesobbing.

  * * * * *

  The Raimees sat in what had been the Grahams' trailer.

  "For a few moments, I feared he would not succumb to the bait," shesaid. "I knew you could never overcome the mental compulsion enough toleave them there without their first agreeing."

  Raimee chuckled. "Yes. And now I'm going to indulge in everything theRojac never permitted. I'm going to write ballads and poems."

  "And I'm going to paint," she said. "Oh, the delicious freedom!"

  "Greed won this for us," he said. "The long study of the Grahams paidoff. They couldn't refuse to trade."

  "I knew they'd agree. The looks in their eyes when they saw the house!They both had ..." She broke off, a look of horror coming into her eyes."One of them did not agree!"

  "They both did. You heard them."

  "The baby?"

  He stared at his wife. "But--but it is not at the age of decision!"

  "In perhaps eighteen of this planet's years, it _will_ be at the age ofdecision. What then?"

  His shoulders sagged. He shuddered. "I will not be able to fight it off.I will have to build a transmitter, call the Rojac and confess!"

  "And they will collect another inhabitable place," she said, her voiceflat and toneless.

  "I've spoiled it," he said. "I've spoiled it!"


  Transcriber's Note:

  This etext was produced from _Galaxy Science Fiction_ April 1958. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note.