"...this earth, this time, this life, are stranger than a dream."
— Thomas Wolfe, "The Lost Day,"
From The Hills Beyond
[quoteright]When the guards came for Jacoby Wriack on July 7, 1986, he was at first mildly frightened — and then aghast. With no enemies in the world, and without the least idea as to what it would be like to have enemies — or even an enemy — he was walking leisurely along Losoya Street in San Antonio, whistling under his breath, his workday just ended.
As he passed Rosengren's Bookstore the guards approached him from behind. They came up on either side of him, as if to pass. After ten paces Wriack noticed that they were staying abreast, and he gave them two quick sidelong glances. He saw two individuals who appeared to be fashion model types for the ongoing male corporate image, perhaps even models for the Brooks Brothers' line: in their mid-thirties, athletic, matched in blue wool-weave suits, red-stripe ties, executive fedoras.
Just as Wriack started to quicken his pace the limousine slunk up to the curb. With unimaginable swiftness he found himself in the limousine's back seat, a guard seated on each side. The transition had been so abrupt and yet so smooth that he momentarily retained the impression of walking. The sight of the curtained partition which sealed the compartment from the rest of the vehicle aroused him from his disorientation.
"What the hell...!" he yelled, jerking his arms against the hands grasping his wrists. He sought to lunge at the curbside door, but the hands on his wrists shackled his forearms to his thighs, and the convulsive effort resulted only in a ragged turning of his head. That frantic movement revealed to his desperate vision that the door appeared to have no handles. He also saw through the darkly-tinted window a hazy view of the buildings along Broadway slipping steadily to the south.
Wriack's mind seethed with wrenching fear and scurrying thoughts. Hit men! he thought. Mafia killers! I've been mistaken for someone else!
"Listen!" he blurted at high pitch, "My name is Jacoby Wriack. You have the wrong man! Look in my wallet. You'll see I'm not who you're looking for. I know you people don't like to make mistakes. I won't tell anything. Just let me go. I'm a shoe salesman at Longoria's." He saw that the guards were impassively watching the scenery. His frenzy increased. I don't know anything about gambling or numbers or the rackets. My God, don't make a mistake! I have a wife and two kids!"
The guard named Gondor was familiar with Wriack's behavior. It occurred to him that he always felt pity for such an animal. Through the outbreeding of several Earth generations they became terribly debased from the purity of their original line. It was the same with the females, whose ancestors were always sent to Iphigenia IIa. In a not unpleasant voice, Gondor said, "You will be debriefed. You are quite safe. You are going home."
"You will appreciate the difference," the other guard, Lamda, chipped in. "Here is a pill that will help you relax." Wriack felt the pill in the palm of his hand. He noted vaguely that the limousine had passed Loop 1604 and was continuing north on Texas 281, which rolled gently toward the steeper ascent and descent of the Hill country. The pill was clenched in his hand. His thoughts became darting pains. With the sharpened instinct of a trapped rabbit he sensed the falling of dusk outside.
Wriack was totally unaccustomed to stress, mental or physical. He had consciously made his life simple, and had been fortunate to achieve easy compatibility in all his roles: husband, father, shoe salesman. He refused to deal with complexities. Even his dreams were carefree. He became unaware of the pill in his clenched fist as he tried to make sense of his present circumstance. This was no dream, he thought. This is crazy. He felt a primal shock coming over him, the olden shock of the captured; a trembling inanity. Going home? "Jesus God," he moaned.
The spaceship was a few hundred yards off a farm road between San Marcos and Austin. A narrow gravel track over a cattle guard led right up to it. Dim amber lights outlined the contours, tracing a biconvex disk fifty feet at the thickest, a hundred feet in diameter. The limousine was steered straight toward the craft. When it stopped, Wriack heard a humming whine, like the sound of distant jet engines, and felt a prickly static electricity along his skin and in his hair. He thought again of the pill, but his will seemed unincluded in the thin tunnel of consciousness remaining to him. His fear was too deep to be comprehended. He felt remote; outside reality, but aware. It was like the feeling of the twilight anesthesia he had been given during rhinoplasty more than twenty years past.
Then he felt he must be watching a TV science-fiction thriller when he saw a ramp come down out of the saucer. Great photography, stunning effects, he thought, as the limousine eased forward and drove up the ramp. They were aboard.
It seemed to be from a distance that Wriack perceived himself and the two guards exiting the limousine. With a floaty remoteness he observed that they went through a door and into a room furnished with plush couches and chairs, three rows of these facing a dais on which stood an elevated desk-like compartment exactly like a judge's bench. It was, in fact, a courtroom.
Wriack found himself seated between the two guards on a couch in the front row, directly facing the dais. Two individuals fitting the description of the guards came out of a door behind the bench and stepped down to stand on either side of it. Without knowing how or why, Wriack saw that he and the two guards had come to their feet.
An individual came through the door and seated himself at the bench, folding his hands in front of him as he leaned forward on his forearms. He looked much like the guards and the other two individuals, dressed the same except for an armband circling his right arm. Wriack noted the green and scarlet stripes crisscrossing the armband. He had already scrutinized the large seal on the front of the judge's bench, and had made out the lettering — in English — which circled around it. It seemed to be a motto. JUSTICE IS UNIVERSAL AND FOREVER, it said. Wriack was now in a drifting stupor, mesmerized by the inexplicable events; a condition much like a TV trance. With frightened involvement he was anxious to see what came next.
The judge made a motion with one hand and Wriack and the guards sat down. Wriack's eyes were locked with the judge's. Then the judge spoke, in a rhythmic ceremonial tone. His voice was deep, and Wriack felt it had the sound of kindness.
"I am Judge Lanthor," the judge said, moving his clasped hands slightly. "Jacoby Wriack, you have been brought to these proceedings because the sentence will have been served within the hour. Five hundred years ago one of your paternal ancestors, a full-blooded native of our planet Sudra committed a most horrible crime. He conducted unauthorized studies into the double helix configuration and genetic sequencing of our species. He was apprehended, tried, and found guilty. He was sentenced to Earth for 500 years. Naturally, in that horrible environment, he did not live long. He had been modified, of course, to be sexually compatible with the predominant humanoid beings of Earth; the appropriate plasm of his genesis was transmitted, and has descended to you. Except for you, all who bore that tainted line are extinct. Your children have been benignly laserized and are free of contamination.
The judge paused, and Wriack felt his own head giving a slight nod, as if in assent or acknowledgment, though he hardly understood, as a matter of reality, any of the judge's comments — at least not in terms of their applying to him. The judge continued.
"The remaining genetic recombinants will be excised from you during the period in which you are being upgraded to status as a Sudran. The penalties remaining to you, as a terminant of a tainted line, are few. Primarily, you will be without ancestry. You will found a new line. However, certain prerogatives will be denied to you and your progeny for between three and four hundred years." Wriack nodded dumbly again.
The judge, in conclusion, announced: "Jacoby Wriack, these proceedings are adjourned. You are free to go."
Jacoby Wriack, in an anachronistic reflex, looked at his watch. An Earth watch, he mused to himself. Three hours before he had been walking to the high-rise garage to get his car. He and his wife of seventeen years were to celebrate their anniversary that evening. Now he stood in a cosmic courtroom, befuddled, apparently exonerated of crimes he knew nothing about. He was surrounded by the guards and the bailiffs, who shook his hand and patted him on the back. Even the judge came down to congratulate him warmly. In an awkward way, everything seemed fitting. Wriack felt, somewhat ruefully, that some unpleasant mysteries had been explained, and doors opened to broader and perhaps better mysteries.
Time — Earth years, Sudra years — passed. Intricate procedures of microsurgery were performed. Wriack was genetically cleansed and restored. He became Wrikor 23.
Wrikor 23 learned that Earth was the largest prison within a radius of 98 light-years from Sudra. He married compatibly, sired several sons and daughters, and he and his family became contented members of the Sudran culture. Only during the early phases of his cleansing were there any remembrances of Earth to trouble Wrikor.
He was assigned to transportation services, which entailed his escorting the condemned to Earth. Since there were few errants on Sudra, most of his time was spent in private studies. Before long he was transferred to Retrieval.
It was just before his transfer to Retrieval that Wrikor learned the truth about his paternal ancestor who had been sentenced to Earth. This person's name was Jacobor, and it was from Jacobor himself that Wrikor learned the truth. It was a simple thing: Jacobor had programmed himself into all the males of his descending line, right down to Wrikor, who was the key to the lengthy chemical process. In the illicit studies that had caused Jacobor to be imprisoned on Earth, he had gained laser access to subquark levels not reached before and not reached again until Wrikor's probing. At those levels — twistor levels — the existent forces communicated in plain language the secrets of immortality.
Jacobor was told to make a certain laserized change in any one single cell of his own body; from that infinitesimal alteration an anlage process began to evolve. Once started, the process guaranteed a continuing male line, and in the male of each succeeding generation the process took up where it had ended at the death of the immediate paternal ancestor. The process was simply a chemical reaction that required hundreds of years for its completion. The last step required a debased Sudran to be returned from Earth and to undergo cleansing on Sudra. At that point the subquark twistors had access to the proper array of quarks. These they programmed so as arouse in the prepared vessel — the living being which happened to be Wrikor — the impulse to make laser investigations into his own cellular arrangements. Wrikor often chuckled about the revelations that had come to him following the impulse and his response to it. All the cosmic civilizations — how they sought the utmost reaches of outer space, thinking they had fully explored the microscopic! But they had not gone far enough; the answer lay beyond the quarks, in inner space.
The chemical process came to its conclusion in Wrikor. He intuitively connected the proper twistors and he was Jacobor, and Jacobor's son, Spicor, and Spicor's son, Limnor, and all the rest of the line down to himself. He was twenty personalities simultaneously, and these were integrated cooperatively, without friction.
This massive collective intelligence — in the form of Wrikor — made its first and last Retrieval soon after the amalgamation.
Wrikor, accompanied by Sentor, retrieved a man named Johan Dho, who he quickly programmed as the final part of the scheme worked out by Jacobor long ago. When returned to Sudra, Dho was known as Dhor; he had the sole task of performing furtive laser injections upon everyone he met. With each injection Wrikor's consciousness below his primary twenty personalities was increased by one Sudran, for he entered — to direct — the injected subject. The injectees never became aware of the transformation.As always, they retained a sense of independence in the greater cause of Sudran culture. But now the Sudran culture was Wrikor.
In that way Wrikor, from Jacobor on down, became a hive. As such, he comprises approximately one-fourth the humanoid intelligence of the cosmos. By his nature he is advancing on an older hive which composes the rest of cosmic intelligence and which has been, in consequence of its forces, called God. Wrikor's plan is to unite with this older intelligence and undertake the supreme task: to find, or become, God.
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