The Mindworm C M Kornbluth
The Mindworm C M Kornbluth
THE HANDSOME j. g. and the pretty nurse held out against it as long as they reasonably could, but blue Pacific water, languid tropical nights, the low atoll dreaming on the horizon—and the complete absence of any other nice young people for company on the small, uncomfortable parts boat-did their work. On June 30th they watched through dark glasses as the dazzling thing burst over the fleet and the atoll. Her manicured hand gripped his arm in excitement and terror. Unfelt radiation sleeted through their loins.
A storekeeper-third-class named Bielaski watched the young couple with more interest than he showed in Test Able. After all, he had twenty-five dollars riding on the nurse. That night he lost it to a chief bosun’s mate who had backed the j. g.
In the course of time, the careless nurse was discharged under conditions other than honorable. The j. g., who didn’t like to put things in writing, phoned her all the way from Manila to say it was a
damned shame. When her gratitude gave way to specific inquiry, their overseas connection went bad and he had to hang up.
She had a child, a boy, turned it over to a foundling home, and vanished from his life into a series of good jobs and finally marriage.
The boy grew up stupid, puny and stubborn, greedy and miserable. To the home’s hilarious young athletics director he suddenly said: “You hate me. You think I make the rest of the boys look bad.”
The athletics director blustered and laughed, and later told the doctor over coffee: “I watch myself around the kids. They’re sharp— they catch a look or a gesture and it’s like a blow in the face to them, I know that, so I watch myself. So how did he know?”
The doctor told the boy: “Three pounds more this month isn’t bad, but how about you pitch in and clean up your plate every day? Can’t live on meat and water; those vegetables make you big and strong.”
The boy said: “What’s ‘neurasthenic’ mean?”
The doctor later said to the director: “It made my flesh creep. I was looking at his little spindling body and dishing out the old pep talk about growing big and strong, and inside my head I was thinking Sve’d call him neurasthenic in the old days’ and then out he popped with it. What should we do? Should we do anything? Maybe it’ll go away. I don’t know anything about these things. I don’t know whether anybody does.”
“Reads minds, does he?” asked the director. Be damned if he’s going to read my mind about Schultz Meat Market’s ten percent. “Doctor, I think I’m going to take my vacation a little early this year. Has anybody shown any interest in adopting the child?”
“Not him. He wasn’t a baby doll when we got him, and at present he’s an exceptionally unattractive-looking kid. You know how people don’t give a damn about anything but their looks.”
“Some couples would take anything, or so they tell me.”
“Unapproved for foster-parenthood, you mean?”
“Red tape and arbitrary classifications sometimes limit us too severely in our adoptions.”
“If you’re going to wish him on some screwball couple that the courts turned down as unfit, I want no part of it.”
“You don’t have to have any part of it, doctor. By the way, which dorm does he sleep in?”
“West,” grunted the doctor, leaving the office.
The director called a few friends—a judge, a couple the judge referred him to, a court clerk. Then he left by way of the east wing of the building.
The boy survived three months with the Berrymans. Hard-drinking Mimi alternately caressed and shrieked at him; Edward W. tried to be a good scout and just gradually lost interest, looking clean through him. He hit the road hi June and got by with it for a while. He wore a Boy Scout uniform, and Boy Scouts can turn up anywhere, any time. The money he had taken with him lasted a month. When the last penny of the last dollar was three days spent, he was adrift on a Nebraska prairie. He had walked out of the last small town because the constable was beginning to wonder what on earth he was hanging around fop and who he belonged to. The town was miles behind on the two-lane highway; the infrequent cars did not stop.