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ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



Planet Stories

Fall Issue

June-Aug. 1947

Assignment In The Dawn

By BRYCE WALTON

There stood Roland, deep beneath a static, dying civilization, fiercely ready to destroy it—and himself, if need be—for love of Frances. Yet a question nagged him. Who was she—and who was he?

HIS CONSCIOUSNESS filtered in slowly. It stirred like roiled water, and the first lucid cycle of cause and effect in associative memory was beginning. There was a kind of awful searching loneliness—but that was broken by the pleasantly soft voice of the woman who asked, "Is he waking?"

A sweet clear voice. It drew him as if it were some part of him that was missing. She could give meaning to that lonely despair. If he could only remember—. A man answered tensely, "He's waking, all right. Check the spy-circuit again, Fran. Their newly developed rapport-clan is dangerous. They might find out about our new Adam."

Adam?

He heard light footsteps fade off and return. "Circuit's clear, Billy Boy." A pause. "He's attractive, isn't he?"

"Uh-huh."

He heard the man muttering close to his ear. He felt some kind of pressure withdrawn from about his head. There was a sharp, clenching pain, and a flash of agonizing brilliance.

"Well, that's it, Fran," the man breathed heavily.

He felt her warm soft hand moist on his forehead. Why did she remove it? But he heard her say, "All right, Superman. Open your eyes and see the light."

Adam? Superman?

He blinked blindly in the newness of the light until the small naked cubicle and the two people in it clarified. He looked at her first, beauty and warmth. She smiled brightly and winked, a small delicate but full-bodied figure in shorts, bra and sandals, and a lot of olive skin. But their eight-fingered hands! He looked at his own hands. Eight fingers. What—?

He studied the man. He was gaunt and bald, very sad and cynical with his lower lip stuck out. He put out a thin white hand and said sardonically, "I'm Berti. This is Frances. And I suppose you'd like to know who you are?"

He shrugged as he turned his eyes back to the woman and openly appreciated her. She blushed, and he was pleased. Finally he answered the man. "That depends on who I am. An amnesiac is supposed to have good reasons for not remembering."

The man frowned. "You've never had a name. And you're not an amnesiac—not exactly. We've stored your brain with plenty of information. And it will soon become properly integrated as you apply it. But what would you prefer as a label?"

He had never had a name. Somehow, he figured that he should have had one. He shrugged again. "If I've never had a name, it must not be very important."

"Peculiar personality," muttered Berti. "Not uninteresting."

"That's wonderful," giggled Frances. "Now I can pick something that will make an adorable nickname. How about Roland? Then I can call you Rolly."

He nodded and sat up while she giggled eagerly. He looked at his body. He seemed to know all about, his body, yet he had never been conscious of it before, somehow. Translucent shorts and sandals fitted well to a tall, muscled form that he was proud to display to Frances. Did she like his body? That was the important thing.

His eyes shifted back and forth from the woman to the man. Finally he said quietly, "We've got to come to it. What do you want me to do?"

Berti's sharply-ridged face puckered. "Rolly, you have a highly selective education, administered by us. But is it worth while? Science-progress is a maze, a labyrinth. And when you reach the end of the quest, the Minotaur always waits."

Fran's voice interrupted seriously, black eyes shining. "We've given you most of the necessary information, but have omitted details. This the end of the Era of World Brain. It must be the end. It's a ten-acre expanse of electronic brain which is the .unescapable dictator of Worldcity. Absolute mechanical dictator. And there are a thousand plastico-mechanical creations which act positronically under World Brain to carry out its functions."

Berti looked sharply at him. "Roland! Doesn't that seem terribly unjust to you. Monstrously inhuman?"

"If it's mechanical, obviously it's inhuman," said Roland.

Berti said, "Human? Organic? What is life? Only chemistry and that's all any machine is. No, by human I mean one's emotional, thalamic reactions. Do you react negatively to a dictatorial machine that destroys all human characteristics?"

"I'll even hate it," said Roland. He looked at Frances. "If you do."

SHE smiled very pleasantly at him and he asked, "But why did humans create this mechanical dictator?"

"We didn't feed your brain much history. A waste of time," she said. "Anyway, World Brain was a reaction to—to the Atomic War. That almost finished Earth life. And remaining humanity decided it couldn't afford another. Human governmental agency is too unreliable. Even human dictatorship was, of course, variable. So all the greatest scientific minds pooled their brain cells and created World Brain. Now, human culture is fixed and static. For a human, that's death. Nothing can change unless World Br...

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