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SCIENCE FICTION STORIES

1954

The Brachi wanted to help, and they had fulfilled just
about all the age-old dreams of men. But they never
realized that human beings can't endure perfection
.

And What Remains?

by WINSTON K. MARKS

I SAID, "BUT, Dad, everybody's going to the Brachi Centers now! All the kids'll say—"

"That's no excuse for you to be a fool, too."

"It's free, and the girls are just robots; why, the Brachi have opened Centers on all other planets."

"That doesn't change the moral issue, Andy."

I threw up my hands. "Now you're talking like a Brachi-baiter!"

"Yes, I suppose I am."

"Listen, Dad, things have changed." I tried to sound reasonable, self-possessed. Dad was stubborn and very old-fashioned; you couldn't get any place with him if you lost your temper. I remembered that; but I didn't know much else about him. In the past ten years, Dad hadn't been home more than a dozen times, and then only for a day or so at a time. "The Brachi have given us these things; it isn't right to turn down your friends, Dad."

"You don't throw over your own standards, either."

"Tripe! We've outgrown them!"

He stood up, clenching his fists. "You're not seventeen yet, Andy; when you're old enough to make up your own mind—"

"Lots of kids at the Center are only fourteen."

He ground his hands together; I heard the knuckles crack. "Go to your room, Andy; go to your room before I wipe that smug expression off your face with my fist!"

He meant it, too; Dad was like that. Every time he came home, he turned the whole house inside out with some new idea about discipline. It had been that way ever since Mom died. Of course, I was furious, too—but Dad was bigger and tougher than I am, naturally. He was a space engineer, and he actually piloted his own cargo carrier. Dad was one of those hairy, muscular guys, and I was ashamed of him; he couldn't wear the regular briefs when he went outside, or everybody would have laughed at him—the younger set, anyway. The old spacers and the Brachi-baiters—men Dad's age—still thought it was okay to look like a draft horse.

I went upstairs and sat on my sun balcony. I felt all tied up inside. The Brachi told us it was wrong to be so frustrated; but they wouldn't do anything to help me personally; I couldn't expect that. The Brachi never interfered in our affairs.

I had one consolation. Dad wouldn't be home very long. In a week or so, he would go back to his space-mining, and I'd be able to relax again.

I pushed the button. Carla came and rubbed my back with the rest oil, which the Brachi import from Mars. Carla was as pretty as a doll, and just my age. But a robot, of course; the Brachi made them for us.

My bedroom door swung open. Dad came in, "Send her away, Andy. I want to talk to you." He was furious, but he was trying not to show it.

I SIGHED, and sent Carla back to the cupboard. Dad sat on the couch beside me; he was wearing briefs and his body gleamed in the red light of sunset. I looked away from him, in embarrassment, so I wouldn't see the knotted muscles of his arms and the mat of graying hair on his chest.

"I'm sorry, Andy," he said stiffly. He put his hand on mine; the palms were rough and calloused. "I've forbidden you to use the Brachi Centers, but how about stepping out with me tonight? We could go to the club and swim for an hour or so, and afterwards—"

"That's old stuff, Dad. The other kids would call me a Brachi-baiter."

He moved away from me, wringing his hands. "Andy! What's happened to you? What's happened to the world?"

"Nothing, Dad."

"Ten years ago, you'd have jumped at the chance to go with me."

"I guess I didn't know' any better; I was only seven then."

Dad looked through the window of my sun balcony at the city. The streets were dark beneath the blazing red-orange of the nightsky. Signs glittered in the canyon blackness and we could see the streaking lights of the autochairs. Occasionally you could still find an old-fashioned motor-car in the city, but it was always run by a sour-faced Brachi-baiter. The rest of us used the autochairs, which the Brachi brought in from one of their Centaurian colonies.

"Andy," Dad said gently, "you're too young to remember what it: was like before the Brachi came. We were building our first cargo rocket, then." His voice was low and tense, seething with an emotion I couldn't understand. "Bill Styles and I. We worked on a shoestring and we worked hard; ten hours, twelve hours a day. We had no outside help, and we wanted none."

"But the Brachi had better ships, didn't they, Dad?"

"That's not the point, Andy. When our ship was finished, she was ours. Our ideas, our brains, our dreams—"

"Only she cracked up and you lost everything, like the Brachi said you would; they would have given you one of their ships, Dad."

"The ship was my dream, Andy; not theirs! It was my problem to solve; I had to do it my own way."

"Even when you did build one that could fly, it was so expensive you couldn't compete with ...

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