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Science Fiction Quarterly

February 1954

In science-fiction, one of the many things an author can do is to take an established trend and carry it on to extremities. Such stories are rarely good prophecy, since they cannot foresee other developments of the future which are most likely to modify the trend with which they are dealing. But such stories make good reading nonetheless, and can be delightfully unpleasant—as in the present instance.

AUDIENCE REACTION

by Robert F. Young

While the first mass-produced telempathy sets represented a tremendous step in the evolution of mass-media, they were handicapped by a number of serious technical flaws. It is one of the paradoxes of our civilization that those very flaws led to a form of art which remains unparallelled, even to this day. The first sets, for example, while they were able to focus the fictitious background and general narrative trend of the sensual, proved inadequate in the more exacting field of characterization. The participator had to fill in the characters himself, give them names, and supply them with sufficient detail to bring them to life.
(Virgith's "All The World's A Stage"; p.23)

THE MESMERIZER whirled faster and faster. It became a wild kaleidoscope, a vertiginous swirl of interblended colors. There was the usual transitory blankness that preceded identication, then—

He was an escaped prisoner. He was somewhere in the deserted section of the City of the Red Sands, Mars. His name was—His name was—

Richard Forrester!

He relived a brief flashback: he had been born on Earth. Not long after the death of his mother, his father had been convicted of illegal experimentation and sentenced to the Martian penal colony for life. His father had fled to the moon, taking the boy with him, and found sanctuary with the Interworld Scientist League in their Leibnitz mountain fortress.

When he was twenty, he was captured in the same encounter with the Interplanetary Police that cost his father's life, and sentenced to ten years in the Martian penal colony. He served three of those years without hope in the grim labor-camps of the Red Sands sector. At the end of the third year, the underground agents of the League finally located him. Then he had undergone six months of surreptitious pre-escape conditioning, and had waited six more for the exacting details of his escape to be arranged.

The desert was still vivid in his memory. The desert at night, with the searchbeams of the alerted guard-cruisers stalking whitely all around him, the ventral guns waiting impatiently above him, eager to speak their short staccato sentences. He had run wildly through the night to the deserted outskirts of the city, and he had pounded through the silent labyrinth of streets to the intersection where his contact was supposed to meet him. And the intersection had been empty—as utterly empty as he had become, standing all alone in the yellow light of the corner streetlight.

He cowered now in the shadows of the corner building, out of range of the light, clinging stubbornly to the hope that his contact might still show up. His bitterness surfeited him. Four years, he thought. Four years with nothing but a promise to keep me alive. And now they've broken the promise!

The facades of the ugly tenements loomed on either side of the street. The hollow windows were blurs of blackness in the pale darkness of the night. Through the broken banks of the rooftops he could see a ragged river of sky and stars.

He shuddered, wondered how long he had to live.

He was safe enough for the moment. The guard-cruisers could not leave the desert; Interplanetary Law not only forbade their loosing their guns into an alien city; it also forbade their even approaching an alien city beyond a designated perimeter. The alarm, of course, had gone out to the Interplanetary Police, and very shortly he was going to have the ferrets to deal with. But in the labyrinthine streets and alleys of the tenement-section, he could elude them for a long time; with luck he could elude them altogether.

Richard Forrester began to feel better. He stood up straighter in the shadows. He felt the hard, sinewy strength of his young body. He remembered his marvelous condition—the result of four years of ha...

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