Repairmen of Cyclops by John Brunner

and get her taken by the Receivers, declaring she had

been a useless burden for far too long. But was that a ra-

tional opinion, or the apathetic consequence of the debil-

itating sickness? After so many bouts of it, anyone might

wish to get things over and done with.

“Not far now,” Firdausi whispered. “One more hill,

and we shall be on a good dry road for the rest of the


She gave a nod, but in reality scarcely heard what he

had said.

The sky was grey above; the trees around, draped

with their curious hair-like foliage, were grey-green and

still dripping from the last downpour before dawn. It

was a setting which exactly matched her depressed


Suppose they don’t take her after all? Suppose they

say Fve delayed too longthat if Fd brought her to

them a month sooner, they could have helped her, but

now it’s useless? I shall never forgive myself. Never!

The yorb drew the cart over the crest of the last hill

before their destination, and as Firdausi had promised

they found themselves on a good hard road, well beaten

down and with a top dressing of compacted gravel.

Ahead, the town loomed, much larger than the village

where she had spent her life: there must be almost a

thousand houses, she told herself.

It was hard to credit the stories of the ancients that

men had once been numbered in millions, and dwelt

among the shining stars. . .

A little distance further on, they encountered a farm

labourer backing a balky yorb into the shafts of a cart

piled high with edible roots, and he greeted them civilly.

When they explained the purpose of their errand, he

pointed towards the town.

“The Receivers aren’t yet here, but they’re expected

hourly, I believe. Good health attends my family, luck-

ily, so I made no special inquiry this time. Go to the

market squareyou’ll find others gathered who are af-

flicted as you are.”

“Many thanks,” Firdausi said, and urged their yorb


Lors Heirndall’s lip curled with utter contempt as the

first sign reached him that they were nearing the goal;

the smell.

The stupidity of these people! The dirt, the disease,

the lack of hygiene! How could they be regarded as hu-

man at all when they lived like wild beasts? If this were

truly man’s “natural state”, from which only a slow

process of technical evolution had lifted him towards the

clean bright cities of galactic civilisation, it was a won-

der any progress was ever achieved.

They seemed to lack all rational system, operating by

a bunch of crude uncomprehended near-superstitions:

boiling their drinking-water, for examplefrom here, it

was possible to see the plume of steam ascending over

the local waterworks. That was presumably a diktat im-

posed by one of the original refugees who had kept his

head in the aftermath of disaster, and would have made

sense in the context of a proper sanitary code. As it

stood, it was a pointless ritual negated by the lack of de-

cent drainage.

Still, some of the accidents of cultural evolution had

turned out to be advantageous: the institution of the Re-

ceivers of the Sick, for instance. That must have begun

as a form of quarantine and isolation for sufferers from

diseases which the rudimentary facilities of the refugees

could not cope with; it woTild have been hoped that

some at least of the patients might recover naturally, but

as a precaution they were removed from their own com-

munities to special locations.

The system had fallen almost completely into disuse,

because the staff of these quarantine areas were them-

selves successively wiped out by infections caught from

those they were trying to help. But reviving it had pro-

vided Heirndall and his men with an excellent cover for

their work.

And if it ever came to light what had been done here,

there was little chance of swift retribution. Most civilised

planets recognised the right of euthanasia for the incura-

biy sick, and provided the debate about non-interference,

yes or no, could be kept on the boil the Corps would

never dare execute summary punishment.

He found these reflections comforting to some

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Categories: John Brunner