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The Short Life   By:

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The Alien had to choose and fast a living entity to act through. He chose ... but he made one error....


Illustrated by Rogers


An embryo stirred very slightly in the warm, dark womb that held it. Chemical stimuli and minute pulses of energy that were forming the complex proteins faltered. A catalyst failed briefly in its task, then resumed, but the damage had been done. A vital circuit remained incomplete, a neural path blocked. Time passed....

An embryo gathered in a metal womb, controlled potential building to titanic birth. A thread of wire melted under a breath of energy and a tiny, glowing light winked out. A rodentlike maintenance robot, scurrying to an unimportant repair task, saw no warning signal and crossed a control panel from behind at the moment that a relay closed automatically. Obliterated, the robot only briefly interfered with the proper functioning of the machine, but the damage had been done. For a split second at a critical moment, a mighty engine reacted out of control. Time passed....

An embryo jerked convulsively under a frightful onslaught, strained for life in a crowded womb while the mother's convulsions threatened it with death. The convulsions passed, the mother lived, the womb emptied, but the damage had been done, a record had been cut. Time passed....


There are logical limits for any pretense limits beyond which the pretense becomes demonstrably absurd. Mother love enabled the woman Helen Douglas to evade logic up to and beyond the point of absurdity, but even mother love is not proof against the turmoil of the subconscious. A survival factor pried up a safety valve, and Helen Douglas found herself suddenly face to face with the admission that she had so desperately suppressed. She reacted with a terrible storm of weeping that shook the bed and was watched with complete disinterest by the dry eyed imbecile beside her. Two year old Timothy Wainwright Douglas, congenital idiot, couldn't care less. It was nothing to him that his mother had at last faced the ugly knowledge that her only child should have been born dead. It was less than nothing to him that she could almost find it in her heart to wish him dead.

Release from the crowded womb brought no immediate awakening from the long sleep of gestation, for a sense of identity comes only slowly to the very young, the new born. He did not realize that his intellectual awakening, gradual as it seemed to him, was really extraordinarily rapid, a matter of only two or three weeks after birth. To him, with no frame of reference, it was a time of mystery that was not recognized as mystery. At first there was only Warmth and Hunger, for which he had no names but which he recognized by their presence or absence. There was the satisfying of Hunger, Sleep, and the return of Hunger. Had he been inclined to philosophy at that tender age, he would have considered the cycle a complete and satisfying one. In a few days, however, there were longer periods between the satisfying of Hunger and the coming of Sleep a sort of comfortable, full stomached reverie that was the beginning of the end.

With astounding precocity of which he was completely unaware, he began rapidly sorting and cataloguing noises that had previously conveyed no meaning. He now learned to associate certain sounds with certain sources and place others under tentative listings while awaiting further data. Smells received the same treatment as noises and often the two could be related. A certain smell and a certain gobbling sort of noise were often followed by a frightening swoop as he was lifted, but his eyes were not yet focused and could give him little information as to the manner or purpose of lifting... Continue reading book >>

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