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The happy man, p.1

The Happy Man, page 1

 

The Happy Man
 


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The Happy Man


  Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  Transcriber's Note:

  This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction March 1963. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

  THE HAPPY MAN

  More's "Utopia" was isolated-- cut off--from the dreary world outside. All Utopias are....

  by GERALD W. PAGE

  ILLUSTRATED BY GEORGE SCHELLING

  * * * * *

  Nelson saw the girl at the same time she saw him. He had just roundedan outcropping of rock about ten miles from the East Coast Mausoleum.They were facing each other, poised defensively, eyes alertly on eachother, about twenty feet apart. She was blond and lean with theconditioning of outdoor life, almost to the point of thinness. Andalthough not really beautiful, she was attractive and young, probablynot yet twenty. Her features were even and smooth, her hair wild abouther face. She wore a light blouse and faded brown shorts made from acoarse homespun material. Nelson had not expected to run into anyoneand apparently, neither had she. They stood staring at each other fora long time; how long, Nelson was unable to decide, later.

  A little foolishly, Nelson realized that something would have to bedone by one of them. "I'm Hal Nelson," he said. It had been a longtime since he had last spoken; his voice sounded strange in thewilderness. The girl moved tensely, but did not come any closer tohim. Her eyes stayed fixed on him and he knew that her ears werestraining for any sound that might warn her of a trap.

  Nelson started to take a step, then checked himself, cursing himselffor his eager blundering. The girl stepped back once, quickly, like ananimal uncertain if it had been threatened. Nelson stepped back,slowly, and spoke again. "I'm a waker, like you. You can tell by myrags." It was true enough, but the girl only frowned. Her alertnessdid not relax.

  "I've been one for ten or twelve years. I escaped from a Commune inTannerville when I was in my senior year. They never even got me intoone of the coffins. As I said, I'm a waker." He spoke slowly, gentlyand he hoped soothingly. "You don't have to be afraid of me. Now tellme who you are."

  The girl pushed a lock of almost yellow hair from her eyes with theback of her hand, but it was her only show of carelessness. She wasstrong and light. She was considerably smaller than he and couldprobably handle herself as well as he in this country. The landscapewas thick with bushes, conifers and rocks. She would have no troublein getting away from him if he scared her; and he would scare her withalmost any sudden movement. It had been too long for Nelson to keeptrack of when he had been accompanied by others and he hungered forcompanionship; especially for a woman. The patrol that had capturedSammy and Jeanne and the old man, Gardner, had also gotten Edna andalmost had gotten him. The fact that the girl was alone now more thanlikely meant that she had no one either. They needed each other.Nelson did not want to scare her off.

  So he sat down on the ground with his back to a large rock andrummaged in his pack to find a can.

  "You hungry?" he asked looking up at her. He couldn't be sure at thedistance, but he thought that her eyes were brown. Brown, and huge;like a colt's. He held the can out where she could see it. Sherepeated the gesture of a while ago to brush back that same lock ofalmost yellow hair, but there was a change in her face which he couldsee even twenty feet away, and another, more subtle change about herwhich he had to sense. "You're hungry, all right, aren't you?" hesaid. He almost tossed her the can, but realized in time that shewould run. He considered for a moment and then held it out to her. Shefocused her eyes on the can and for a moment Nelson might have beenable to reach her before she turned and ran; but he had better sensethan to try.

  Instead, he watched the play of conflicting desires about the girl'sface and body. He could see the uncertainty and indecision in thegirl's nearly imperceptible movement. But she did not come.

  Well, at least she didn't run, either; and Nelson could claim tohaving broken ahead some in stirring up any indecision at all. Hefound the can's release and pressed it with his thumb. There was ahiss as the seal came loose and an odor of cooked food as the contentssizzled with warmth. Nelson looked up at the girl and smiled.

  It could have been wishful thinking, but it seemed to him that she wasa step or two closer than she had been before he had taken his eyesoff her to open the can. He couldn't be sure. He smelled the food forher benefit and told her, "It's pork and beans." He held it out to heragain. "I stole it from a patrol warehouse a few weeks back. It suredoes smell good, doesn't it? You like the smell of that, don't you?"But she still wasn't convinced that this wasn't a patrol stunt to gethands on her and haul her back to a mausoleum. He couldn't blame her.He slowly pushed himself to his feet and walked to a spot about tenfeet from where he had been, and still about twenty feet from her, andput the can carefully on the ground. He went back and seated himselfagainst the same rock to wait for her to make up her mind.

  * * * * *

  It didn't take long. Without taking her eyes from him, she moved likean animal to the food and stooped slowly, keeping alert for any suddenmove on his part, and picked up the food. She stood up, and steppedback a couple of steps.

  She ate with her fingers, dipping them in and extracting hot food,with no apparent concern for the heat. She pushed the food into hermouth and licked her fingers carefully of clinging food. She aterapidly, as if for the first time in weeks. And she kept her eyes, allthe time, on Nelson.

  Nelson didn't care, now; he wouldn't have jumped her, or done anythingto scare her at all, even if her guard were to be let down for amoment.

  He let her finish her meal, then smiled at her when she looked at him.She still held the empty can, and she was wiping her mouth with herfree hand. She stared at him for almost half a minute before he saidslowly, "You like that food. Don't you?" She said nothing. She lookedat him and at the can she held. He knew what was going on in her mindand he believed that he was winning. "You know we'll both be needingsomeone out here, don't you?" But her answer was an uncertainexpression on her face as she stared at him.

  "Loners don't last too long out here. Being alone gets to you sooneror later," he said. "You go mad or you get careless and the patrolgets you."

  The girl opened her mouth and glanced around quickly, then back atNelson. She bent over, still watching Nelson all the time, and put thecan down. Then she stepped backwards, toward the edge of the clearing,feeling the way with her feet and a hand held back to tell her if shewere backing into a tree or rock. When she was almost to the edge ofthe clearing, almost to the trees, she stopped and stared at him.There were shadows now; it was almost night, and night came quickly inthis country. Nelson could not see her face as she looked at him. Sheturned suddenly and ran into the trees. He made no effort to stop heror call her back; any such effort would have been futile and for hispurposes, disastrous. No such effort was necessary.

  He spent the night sheltered between some boulders and awoke the nextmorning rested by an undisturbed sleep.

  He found a small creek near by and washed his face to awaken himself.It was a clear morning, with a warm sun and a cool wafting breeze. Hefelt good; he felt alive and ready for whatever the day had to offer.And he felt ready for breakfast.

  He found another can of pork and beans in his pack and opened it. Itwas, he noted, almost the last. His supplies were getting low. Heconsidered the situation as he slowly ate his breakfast.

  Of course there was only one thing to do. He supposed that he couldhave gotten by simply by hunting his
food, but hunting was at bestseasonal and required that he keep more or less to a specific area;agriculture was about the same, only worse. A farm meant a smallerarea than a hunting preserve and it also meant sticking to it more. Itmeant buildings to store food against winter. It meant inevitable--andalmost certainly prompt--capture by a patrol. No, all thingsconsidered, there was only one answer and he knew the answer from longexperience. Find a patrol warehouse and steal your food there.

  The question of course, was where and when. There was a patrol stationnear where Nelson now was, and that was the natural target. He had afew furnace beam guns--three, to be exact--and since the patrol coulddetect the residue from a furnace beamer a mile away even at lowforce, the only safe thing to use one on was the patrol. And to befrank, he rather enjoyed his brushes with the patrol. Like him, theywere wakers--people
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