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Category Phoenix by Boyd Ellanby

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Illustrated by EMSH

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction May 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

[Sidenote: Man, it would appear, can adapt to any form of society ... but not one in which the knowledge of extending life becomes a passport to death!]

The door knob turned, then rattled.

Dr. David Wong stepped out from behind the large bookcase, listening. He pressed the brass handle of the top shelf and the case silently pivoted back to become part of the wall, obliterating the dark passage behind it.

An imperative knocking began at the door; David walked softly to his desk and picked up his notebook. He tried to remain relaxed, but he could feel the tightening of his shoulder muscles. With his right hand, he shut his notebook and concealed it under a mass of papers, while his left hand pressed the desk button to release the lock of the door.

The door burst open and two men strode in, a black uniformed Ruler followed by a watchguard. Black visored cap still on his head, the first man marched to the desk and spoke without ceremonial greeting.

"The door was locked, Dr. Wong?"

"Correct, Dr. Lanza. The door was locked."

"I shall have to instruct the guard to report it. Have you forgotten Leader Marley's Maxim: Constructive science does not skulk behind locked doors?"

Wong leaned back in his chair and smiled at his visitors.

"The wisdom of Leader Marley is a constant help to us all, but his generosity is also a byword. Surely you remember that on the tenth anniversary of his accession, he honored me by the grant of occasional hours of Privacy, as a reward for my work on Blue Martian Fever?"

"I remember now," said Dr. Lanza.

"But what for?" asked Officer Blagun. "It's anti social!"

"Evidently you have forgotten, Officer Blagun, another Maxim of Leader Marley: Nature has not equipped one Category to judge the needs of another; only the Leader understands all. Now, Dr. Lanza, will you tell me the reason for this visit? Since your promotion from Research to Ruler, I have rarely been honored by your attention."

"I am here with a message," said Lanza. "Leader Marley's compliments, and he requests your presence at a conference on next Wednesday at ten in the morning."

"Why did you have to deliver that in person? What's wrong with using Communications?"

"It's not my province to ask questions, Dr. Wong. I was told to come here, and I was told to wait for a reply."

"Next Wednesday at ten? Let's see, this is Friday." David Wong pressed the key of his electronic calendar, but he had no need to study the dull green and red lights that flashed on to indicate the pattern of his day. He did not delude himself that he had any real choice, but he had learned in the past fifteen years that it kept up his courage to preserve at least the forms of independence. He allowed a decent thirty seconds to ponder the coded lights, then blanked the board and looked up with an easy smile.

"Dr. Wong's compliments to Leader Marley, and he will be honored to attend a conference on Wednesday at ten."

Nodding his head, Dr. Lanza glanced briefly around the office. "Queer, old fashioned place you have here."

"Yes. It was built many years ago by a slippery old politician who wanted to be safe from his enemies. Makes a good place for Research, don't you think?"

Lanza did not answer. He strode to the door, then paused to look back.

"You understand, Dr. Wong, that I shall have to report the locked door? I have no choice."

"Has anyone?"

Officer Blagun followed his superior, leaving the door wide open behind them. Wong remained rigid in his chair until the clack of heels on marble floor had become a mere echo in his brain, then stretched out his hand to the intercom... Continue reading book >>

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