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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Status Civilization - Chapter 23
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The Status Civilization - Chapter 23 Post by :Hugh_de_Payen Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Sheckley Date :May 2012 Read :2940

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The Status Civilization - Chapter 23

Chapter Twenty-Three


Half an hour later, Barrent still hadn't figured out a way of getting past the check squad. They had finished inspecting the lower levels and were moving up to the control room deck. Barrent could hear them marching down the hallways. He kept on walking, a hundred yards in front, trying to find some way of hiding.

There should be a staircase at the end of this passageway. He could take it down to a different level, a part of the ship which had already been searched. He hurried on, wondering if he were wrong about the location of the staircase. He still had only the haziest idea of the layout of the ship. If he were wrong, he would be trapped.

He came to the end of the corridor, and the staircase was there. The footsteps behind him sounded closer. He started down, peering backwards over his shoulder.

And ran headfirst into a man's huge chest.

Barrent flung himself back, bringing his plastic gun to bear on the enormous figure. But he stopped himself from firing. The thing that stood in front of him was not human.

It stood nearly seven feet high, dressed in a black uniform with INSPECTION TEAM--ANDROID B212 stenciled on its front. Its face was a stylization of a human's, cleverly sculptured out of putty-colored plastic. Its eyes glowed a deep, impossible red. It swayed on two legs, balancing carefully, looking at Barrent, moving slowly toward him. Barrent backed away, wondering if a needlebeam could stop it.

He never had a chance to find out, for the android walked past him and continued up the stairs. Stenciled on the back of its uniform were the words RODENT CONTROL DIVISION. This particular android, Barrent realized, was programmed only to look for rats and mice. The presence of a stowaway had made no impression on it. Presumably the other androids were similarly specialized.

He stayed in an empty storage room on a lower level until he heard the sounds of the androids leaving. Then he hurried back to the control room. No guards came aboard. Exactly on schedule, the big ship left the checkpoint. Destination: Earth.

* * * * *

The rest of the journey was uneventful. Barrent slept and ate and, before the craft entered subspace, watched the endless spectacle of the stars through the viewport. He tried to visualize the planet he was coming to, but no pictures formed in his mind. What sort of a people built huge starships but failed to equip them with a crew? Why did they send out inspection teams, then give those teams the narrowest and most specialized sort of vision? Why did they have to deport a sizable portion of their population--and then fail to control the conditions under which the deportees lived and died? Why was it necessary for them to wipe the prisoners' minds clean of all memory of Earth?

Barrent couldn't think of any answers.

The control room clocks moved steadily on, counting off the minutes and hours of the trip. The ship entered, then emerged from subspace and went into deceleration orbit around a blue and green world which Barrent observed with mixed emotions. He found it hard to realize that he was returning at last to Earth.

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Chapter Twenty-Four The starship landed at noon on a brilliant sunlit day, somewhere on Earth's North American continent. Barrent had planned on waiting for darkness before leaving; but the control room screens flashed an ancient and ironic warning: _All passengers and crew must disembark at once. Ship rigged for full decontamination procedure. Twenty minutes. He didn't know what was meant by full decontamination procedure. But since the crew was emphatically ordered to leave, a respirator might not provide much safety. Of the two dangers, leaving the ship seemed the lesser. The members of Group Two had given a good deal of
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Chapter Twenty-Two Barrent's return to consciousness was sudden and complete. He sat up and saw that he had fallen inside the control room. The metal door was closed behind him, and he was breathing without difficulty. He could see no sign of the crew. They must have gone after the guards, assuming he would stay unconscious. He scrambled to his feet, instinctively picking up his needlebeam. He examined the weapon closely, then frowned and put it away. Why, he wondered, would the crew leave him alone in the control room, the most important part of the ship? Why would they leave
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