The Weapons Shop
A. E. Van Vogt
THE VILLAGE at night made a curiously timeless picture. Fara walked contentedly beside his wife along the street. The air was like wine; and he was thinking dimly of the artist who had come up from Imperial City, and made what the telestats called—he remembered the phrase vividly—” a symbolic painting reminiscent of a scene in the electrical age of seven thousand years ago.”
Fara believed that utterly. The street before him with its weedless, automatically tended gardens, its shops set well back among the flowers, its perpetual hard, grassy sidewalks, and its street lamps that glowed from every pore of their structure—this was a restful paradise where time had stood still.
And it was like being a part of life that the great artist’s picture of this quiet, peaceful scene before him was now in the collection of the empress herself. She had praised it, and naturally the thrice-blest artist had immediately and humbly begged her to accept it.
What a joy it must be to be able to offer personal homage to the glorious, the divine, the serenely gracious and lovely Innelda Isher, one thousand one hundred eightieth of her line.
As they walked, Fara half turned to his wife, In the dim light of the nearest street lamp, her kindly, still youthful face was almost lost in shadow. He murmured softly, instinctively muting his voice to harmonize with the pastel shades of night:
“She said—our empress said—that our little village of Clay seemed to her to have in it all the wholesomeness, the gentleness, that constitutes the finest qualities of her people. Wasn’t that a wonderful thought, Creel? She must be a marvelously understanding woman. I—,, He stopped. They had come to a side street, and there was something about a hundred and fifty feet along it that— “Look!” Fara said hoarsely.
He pointed with rigid arm and finger at a sign that glowed in the night, a sign that read:
THE RIGHT TO BUY WEAPONS IS THE RIGHT TO BE FREE
Fara had a strange, empty feeling as he stared at the blazing sign. He saw that other villagers were gathering. He said finally, huskily:
“I’ve heard of these shops. They’re places of infamy, against which the government of the empress will act one of these days. They’re built in hidden factories, and then transported whole to towns like ours and set up in gross defiance of property rights. That one wasn’t there an hour ago.”
Fara’s face hardened. His voice had a harsh edge in it, as he said: “Creel, go home.”
Fara was surprised when Creel did not move off at once. All their married life, she had had a pleasing habit of obedience that had made cohabitation a wonderful thing. He saw that she was looking at him wide-eyed, and that it was a timid alarm that held her there. She said:
“Fara, what do you intend to do? You’re not thinking of—”
“Go home!” Her fear brought out all the grim determination in his nature. “We’re not going to let such a monstrous thing desecrate our village. Think of it”—his voice shivered before the appalling thought—”this fine, old-fashioned community, which we had resolved always to keep exactly as the empress has it in her picture gallery, debauched now, ruined by this . . . this thing— But we won’t have it; that’s all there is to it.”
Creel’s voice came softly out of the half-darkness of the street corner, the timidity gone from it: “Don’t do anything rash, Fara. Remember it is not the first new building to come into Clay—since the picture was painted.”
Fara was silent. This was a quality of his wife of which he did not approve, this reminding him unnecessarily of uTipleasant facts. He knew exactly what she meant. The gigantic, multitentacled corporation, Automatic Atomic Motor Repair Shops, Inc., had come in under the laws of the State with their flashy building, against the wishes of the village council—and had already taken half of Fara’s repair business.
“That’s different!” Fara growled finally. “In the first place people will discover in good time that these new automatic repairers do a poor job. In the second place its fair competition. But this weapon shop is a defiance of all the decencies that make life under the House of Isher such a joy. Look at the hypocritical sign: ‘The right to buy weapons—’ Aaaaahh!”
He broke off with: “Go home, Creel. We’ll see to it that they sell no weapons in this town.”
He watched the slender woman-shape move off into the shadows. She was halfway across the street when a thought occurred to Fara. He called:
“And if you see that son of ours hanging around some street corner, take him home. He’s got to learn to stop staying out so late at night.”
The shadowed figure of his wife did not turn; and after watching her for a moment moving along against the dim background of softly glowing street lights, Fara twisted on his heel, and walked swiftly toward the shop. The crowd was growing larger every minute, and the night pulsed with excited voices.
Beyond doubt, here was the biggest thing that had ever happened to the village of Clay.
The sign of the weapon shop was, he saw, a normal-illusion affair. No matter what his angle of view, he was always looking straight at it. When he paused finally in front of the great display window, the words had pressed back against the store front, and were staring Unwinkingly down at him.
Fara sniffed once more at the meaning of the slogan, then forgot the simple thing. There was another sign in the window, which read:
THE FINEST ENERGY WEAPONS IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE
A spark of interest struck fire inside Fara. He gazed at that brilliant display of guns, fascinated in spite of himself. The weapons were of every size, ranging from tiny little finger pistols to express rifles. They were made of every one of the light, hard, ornamental substances~ glittering glassein, the colorful but opaque Ordine plastic, viridescent magnesitic beryllium. And others.
It was the very deadly extent of the destructive display that brought a chill to Fara. So many weapons for the little village of Clay, where not more than two people to his knowledge had guns, and those only for hunting. Why, the thing was absurd, fantastically mischievous, utterly threatening.
Somewhere behind Fara, a man said: “It’s right on Lan Harris’ lot. Good joke on that old scoundrel. Will he raise a row!”
There was a faint titter from several men, that made an odd patch of sound on the warm, fresh air. And Fara saw that the man had spoken the truth. The weapon shop had a forty-foot frontage. And it occupied the very center of the green, gardenlike lot of tight-fisted old Harris.
Fara frowned. The clever devils, the weapon-shop people, selecting the property of the most disliked man in town, coolly taking it over and giving everybody an agreeable titillation. But the very cunning of it made it vital that the trick shouldn’t succeed.
He was still scowling anxiously when he saw the plump figure of Mel Dale, the mayor. Fara edged toward him hurriedly, touched his hat respectfully, and said:
“Here.” The village constable elbowed his way through a little bundle of men. “Any plans?” he said.
“There’s only one plan,” said Fara boldly. “Co in and arrest them.”
To Fara’s amazement, the two men looked at each other, then at the ground. It was the big constable who answered shortly:
“Door’s locked. And nobody answers our pounding. I was just going to suggest we let the matter ride until morning.”
“Nonsense!” His very astonishment made Fara impatient. “Get an ax and we’ll break the door down. Delay will only encourage such riffraff to resist. We don’t want their kind in our village for so much as a single night. Isn’t that so?”
There was a hasty nod of agreement from everybody in his immediate vicinity. Too hasty. Fara looked around puzzled at eyes that lowered before his level gaze. He thought: “They are all scared. And unwilling.” Before he could speak, Constable Jor said:
“I guess you haven’t heard about those doors or these shops. From all accounts, you can’t break into them.”
It struck Fara with a sudden pang that it was he who would have to act here. He said, “I’ll get my atomic cutting machine from my shop. That’ll fix them. Have I your permission to do that, Mr. Mayor?”
In the glow of the weapon-shop window, the plump man was sweating visibly. He pulled out a handkerchief, and wiped his forehead. He said:
“Maybe I’d better call the commander of the Imperial garrison at Ferd, and ask them.”
“No!” Fara recognized evasion when he saw it. He felt himself steel; the conviction came that all the strength in this village was in him. “We must act ourselves. Other communities have let these people get in because they took no decisive action. We’ve got to resist to the limit. Beginning now. This minute. Well?”