The Luckiest Man in Denv C M Kornbluth
The Luckiest Man in Denv C M Kornbluth
MAY’S MAN Reuben, of the eighty-third level, Atomist, knew there was something wrong when the binoculars flashed and then went opaque. Inwardly he cursed, hoping that he had not committed himself to anything. Outwardly he was unperturbed. He handed the binoculars back to Rudolph’s man Almon, of the eighty-ninth level, Maintainer, with a smile. “They aren’t very good,” he said. Almon put them to his own eyes, glanced over the parapet, and swore mildly. “Blacker than the heart of a crazy Angelo, eh? Never mind; here’s another pair.” This pair was unremarkable. Through it, Reuben studied the thousand setbacks and penthouses of Denv that ranged themselves below. He was too worried to enjoy his first sight of the vista from the eighty-ninth level, but he let out a murmur of appreciation. Now to get away from this suddenly sinister fellow and try to puzzle it out. “Could we-?” he asked cryptically, with a little upward jerk of his chin.
“It’s better not to,” Almon said hastily, taking the glasses from his hands. “What if somebody with stars happened to see, you know? How’d you like it if you saw some impudent fellow peering up at you?” “He wouldn’t dare!” said Reuben, pretending to be stupid and indignant, and joined a moment later in Almon’s sympathetic laughter. “Never mind,” said Almon. “We are young. Some day, who knows? Perhaps we shall look from the ninety-fifth level, or the bun-” dredth.” Though Reuben knew that the Maintainer was no friend of his, the generous words sent blood hammering through his veins; ambition for a moment. He pulled a long face and told Almon: “Let us hope so. Thank you for being my host. Now I must return to my quarters.” He left the windy parapet for the serene luxury of an eighty-ninth-level corridor and descended slow-moving stairs through gradually less luxurious levels to his own Spartan floor. Selene was waiting, smiling, as he stepped off the stairs. She was decked out nicely-too nicely. She wore a steely hued corselet and a touch of scent; her hair was dressed long. The combination appealed to him, and instantly he was on his guard. Why had she gone to the trouble of learning his tastes? What was she up to? After all, she was Griffin’s woman. “Coming down?” she asked, awed. “Where have you been?” “The eighty-ninth, as a guest of that fellow Almon. The vista is immense.” “I’ve never been . . .” she murmured, and then said decisively: “You belong up there. And higher. Griffin laughs at me, but he’s a fool. Last night in chamber we got to talking about you, I don’t know how, and he finally became quite angry and said he didn’t want to hear another word.” She smiled wickedly. “I was revenged, though.” Blank-faced, he said: “You must be a good hand at revenge, Selene, and at stirring up the need for it.” – The slight hardening of her smile meant that he had scored and he hurried by with a rather formal salutation. Burn him for an Angelo, but she was easy enough to take! The contrast of the metallic garment with her soft, white skin was disturbing, and her long hair suggested things. It was hard to think of her as
scheming something or other; scheming Selene was displaced in his mind by Selene in chamber. But what was she up to? Had she perhaps heard that he was to be elevated? Was Griffin going to be swooped on by the Maintainers? Was he to kill off Griffin so she could leech onto some rising third party? Was she perhaps merely giving her man a touch of the lash? He wished gloomily that tha binoculars problem and the Selene problem had not come together. That trickster Almon had spoken of youth as though it were something for congratulation; he hated being young and stupid and unable to puzzle out the faulty binoculars and the warmth of Griffin’s woman. The attack alarm roared through the Spartan corridor. He ducked through the nearest door into a vacant bedroom and under the heavy steel table. Somebody else floundered under the table a moment later, and a third person tried to join them. The firstcomer roared: “Get out and find your own shelter! I don’t propose to be crowded out by you or to crowd you out either and see your ugly blood and brains if there> a hit. Go, now!” “Forgive me, sir! At once, sir!” the latecomer wailed; and scrambled away as the alarm continued to roar. Reuben gasped at the “sirs” and looked at his neighbor. It was May! Trapped, no doubt, on an inspection tour of the level. “Sir,” he said respectfully, “if you wish to be alone, I can find another room.” “You may stay with me for company. Are you one of mine?” There was power in the general’s voice and on his craggy face. “Yes, sir. May’s man Reuben, of the eighty-third level, Atomist.” May surveyed him, and Reuben noted that there were pouches of skin depending from cheekbones and the jaw line-dead-looking, coarse-pored skin. “You’re a well-made boy, Reuben. Do you have women?” “Yes, sir,” said Reuben hastily. “One after another-I always have women. I’m making up at this time to a charming thing called Selene. Well-rounded, yet firm, soft but supple, with long red hair and long white legs-” “Spare me the details,” muttered the general. “It takes all kinds. An Atomist, you said. That has a future, to be sure. I myself was a Controller long ago. The calling seems to have gone out of fashion-” Abruptly the alarm stopped. The silence was hard to bear.