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The Wedge   By: (1918-1997)

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[ Transcriber's Note:

This e text was produced from the September 1960 issue of If. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully as possible.

Text that was italic in the original is marked with .]

The Wedge

Finding his way out of this maze was only half the job.



When the concealed gong sounded, the man sitting on the floor sighed. He continued, however, to slump loosely against the curving, pearly plastic of the wall, and took care not to glance toward the translucent ovals he knew to be observation panels.

He was a large man, but thin and bony faced. His dirty gray coverall bore the name "Barnsley" upon grimy white tape over the heart. Except at the shoulders, it looked too big for him. His hair was dark brown, but the sandy ginger of his two week beard seemed a better match for his blue eyes.

Finally, he satisfied the softly insistent gong by standing up and gazing in turn at each of the three doors spaced around the cylindrical chamber. He deliberately adopted an expression of simple minded anticipation as he ambled over to the nearest one.

The door was round, about four feet in diameter, and set in a flattened part of the wall with its lower edge tangent with the floor. Rods about two inches thick projected a hand's breadth at four, eight, and twelve o'clock. The markings around them suggested that each could be rotated to three different positions. Barnsley squatted on his heels to study these.

Noting that all the rods were set at the position he had learned to think of as "one," he reached out to touch the door. It felt slightly warm, so he allowed his fingertips to slide over the upper handle. A tentative tug produced no movement of the door.

"That's it, though," he mumbled quietly. "Well, now to do our little act with the others!"

He moved to the second door, where all the rods were set at "two." Here he fell to manipulating the rod handles, pausing now and then to shove hopefully against the door. Some twenty minutes later, he tried the same routine at the third door.

Eventually, he returned to his starting point and rotated the rods there at random for a few minutes. Having, apparently by accident, arranged them in a sequence of one two three, he contrived to lean against the door at the crucial instant. As it gave beneath his weight, he grabbed the two lower handles and pushed until the door rose to a horizontal position level with its hinged top. It settled there with a loud click.

Barnsley stooped to crawl through into an arched passage of the same pearly plastic. He straightened up and walked along for about twenty feet, flashing a white toothed grin through his beard while muttering curses behind it. Presently, he arrived at a small, round bay, to be confronted by three more doors.

"Bet there's a dozen of you three eyed clods peeping at me," he growled. "How'd you like me to poke a boot through the panel in front of you and kick you blubber balls in all directions? Do you have a page in your data books for that?"

He forced himself to feel sufficiently dull witted to waste ten minutes opening one of the doors. The walls of the succeeding passage were greenish, and the tunnel curved gently downward to the left. Besides being somewhat warmer, the air exuded a faint blend of heated machine oil and something like ripe fish. The next time Barnsley came to a set of doors, he found also a black plastic cube about two feet high. He squatted on his heels to examine it.

I'd better look inside or they'll be disappointed , he told himself.

From the corner of his eye, he watched the movement of shadows behind the translucent panels in the walls... Continue reading book >>

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