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Shock Treatment   By:

Shock Treatment by Stanley Mullen

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Shock Treatment

By Stanley Mullen

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

[Sidenote: "I'll give you the cure for the most horrible disease," Songeen said. "The sickness of life itself." Newlin replied, "Fine. But first, give me a couple of minutes to kill your husband. Then we'll go on from there." ]

In Venusport, on payday night, it is difficult to tell for certain where the town leaves off and the pink elephants begin. It is difficult to tell about other things, too. Spud Newlin had heard that a man could sometimes get rich overnight just tending bar on such occasions, and he was putting the rumor to the test. Not many bartenders had lasted long enough to find out.

The night had had a good start. Clock hands over the bar in the Spacebell registered 1:18 Venus time, and considering, things were almost dull at the moment. The place had been jumping earlier, but hilarity had worn itself out, the dead had been removed and excitement dulled. No relatives or widows of the dead sportsmen had yet appeared; all corpses elect had died clean, with the minimum of messy violence and, surprisingly, only three more or less innocent bystanders had been burned down in the proceedings. After shattering uproar, such calm was disturbing. Newlin was actually getting bored. Then she came in and he was no longer bored. But, perversely, he resented the surge of interest that ran through him at sight of this out of place girl.

At a casual glance, she might seem ordinary, but Newlin was never superficial. Her kind of beauty was something to be sensed, not catalogued. It was part of the odd grace of movement, of the fine, angular features, of the curious emotion which dwelt upon them, sad and subdued. Even her costume was as out of place in the Spacebell as her mood; the dress was simply cut and expensive, but drab for the time and place. It clung about a slight, well formed body in smoothly curved lines that seemed almost a part of her. Only her hands and eyes showed nervous tension.

At first he thought her eyes were cold, but it was something racial rather than personal. He noticed that they were large and luminous like moonstones with a pearly opaque glimmer as if only upper layers colored and reflected light. In their depths was an odd effect, like metalflakes drifting through ribboned moonlight with abysses of deepest shadow beyond. There was pain, trouble, and sadness in them, and behind that, fear a desperate fear. You thought of wailing, haunted moonlight, and of dreadful things fled from in dreams.

Newlin's first thought was that she was one of the new made widows, and was likely to be all too human about it. Later, when he had begun to doubt that she was all human, her physical charms still went inside him and turned like a dull knife. He was no more immune to animal attraction than the next man, but in this particular woman there was something else even more intriguing and unpredictable. He felt a powerful impulse to do something to relieve her of that paralyzing supernatural dread.

A situation pregnant with violence was working up at one of the gaming tables but Newlin wilfully tore his attention from the mounting tension between the fat Martian gambler and an ugly character from Ganymede.

"Anything I can do for you, sister?"

Her smile was strange, thoughtful, preoccupied. "Yes," she told him. "There is something you can do for me. Unless your question was purely professional. If so, forget it. I need something stronger than the the liquors you serve here."

Newlin grinned sourly. "You don't know our drinks. One sip and a mouse snarls at a snow leopard. The question was not purely professional. Not my profession, anyhow. I don't know about yours... Continue reading book >>

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