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Perchance to Dream   By:

Perchance to Dream by Richard Stockham

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By Richard Stockham

Illustrated by Kelly Freas

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of Science Fiction May 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

[Sidenote: If you wish to escape, if you would go to faraway places, then go to sleep and dream. For sometimes that is the only way.... ]

All along the line of machines, the men's hands and arms worked like the legs of spiders spinning a web. They wound wire and hammered bolts, tied knots and welded pieces of steel and fitted gears. They did not look at each other or sing or whistle or talk or laugh.

And then he made a mistake.

Instantly he stepped back and a trouble shooter moved into his place. The trouble shooter's hands flew over the controls.

The trouble shooter finished and the workman took his place. His arms moved ceaselessly again.

He was a tall man, slim and wiry, his dress identical to that of the others grey coveralls that fit like tights.

Suddenly a red light flashed in his eyes and he began to tremble. He took two steps backward. The trouble shooter moved into the empty space.

The man stood for a moment, like a soldier at attention, turned and walked smartly toward the mouth of a corridor.

The silence was like a motion picture with a dead sound track. There was only motion and him walking down the line of machines where the hands reached out, working, working.

In the corridor now, he looked straight ahead, marching. The walls glowed like water beneath a shallow sea.

He raised his arm, felt the door strike and the heel of his hand; felt it swing open; saw the desk suspended from the ceiling by luminous, silver chains.

A man with a massive, white maned head and a pink, smiling face rose from behind the desk. His suit was like that of a general.

"Well, Twenty three." The Superfather stared down at the dossier on his desk. "Two mistakes in three months. Too bad. Just when you were on your way to the head of the machine room."

"I don't know what's the matter with me," said Twenty three.

"I'm afraid we'll have to drop you back to a less responsible position."

"Of course."

The Superfather looked up quickly. "You accept this? No depression? No threat of suicide?... You are in bad shape." He handed a packet of cards to Twenty three. "Put these in your dream machine tonight. Go to your new job tomorrow."

Twenty three stood motionless, staring over the other man's shoulder.

The Superfather sat down. "Tell me about the dreams you have when you don't use the machine."

Twenty three made a quick decision. He couldn't tell him he didn't use the standard dream cards anymore. And he certainly couldn't tell about the other dream cards he'd been getting from the little man he'd met on the street. He'd simply answer the factual truth to the question that had been asked.

"Well," he said, as though he were confessing a crime. "I dream I'm walking in the city. It's dark. I feel like I've got to find something. I don't know what. But the feeling's very strong. All of a sudden I notice the city's empty. There're just buildings and streets and a faint glow of light. And it comes to me that everybody's dead and buried. Then I know what I'm looking for. I've got to find something alive or I'll die too. So I start running around, in and out buildings, up and down streets. But there's nothing. I'm breathing so hard I think my heart's going to burst. Finally I fall down. I feel myself beginning to die. I try to get up but I can't! I try to yell! I've got no voice! I'm so afraid, I can't stand it! Then I wake up."

The Superfather frowned. "Incredible. Several other cases like yours have turned up in the last month. We're working on them. But yours is the worst yet. You had such high capabilities. Your tests showed, when you first began to work, ten years ago, that you were capable of going to the head of your production line... Continue reading book >>

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