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Of Death What Dreams


"Left hand," the thin man said tonelessly. "Wrist up."

William Bailey peeled back his cuff; the thin man put something cold against it, nodded toward the nearest door.

"Through there, first slab on the right," he said, and turned away.

"Just a minute," Bailey started. "I wanted—"

"Let's get going, buddy," the thin man said. "That stuff is fast."

Bailey felt something stab up under his heart. "You mean—you've already . . . that's all there is to it?"

"That's what you came for, right? Slab one, friend. Let's go."

"But—I haven't been here two minutes—"

"Whatta you expect—organ music? Look, pal," the thin man shot a glance at the wall clock. "I'm on my break, know what I mean?"

"I thought I'd at least have time for . . . for . . ." 

"Have a heart, chum. You make it under your own power, I don't have to haul you, see?" The thin man was pushing open the door, urging Bailey through into an odor of chemicals and unlive flesh. In a narrow, curtained alcove, he indicated a padded cot.

"On your back, arms and legs straight out."

Bailey assumed the position, tensed as the thin man began fitting straps over his ankles.

"Relax. It's just if we get a little behind and I don't get back to a client for maybe a couple hours and they stiffen up . . . well, them issue boxes is just the one size, you know what I mean?"

A wave of softness, warmness, swept over Bailey as he lay back.

"Hey, you didn't eat nothing the last twelve hours?" The thin man's face was a hazy pink blur.

"I awrrr mmmm," Bailey heard himself say.

"OK, sleep tight, paisan. . . ." The thin man's voice boomed and faded. Bailey's last thought as the endless blackness closed in was of the words cut in the granite over the portal to the Euthanasia Center:

" . . . send me your tired, your poor, your hopeless, yearning to be free. To them I raise the lamp beside the brazen door. . . ."
















Bailey's first thought when he opened his eyes was one of surprise that a girl had taken the thin man's place. She looked young, with a finely chiseled, too-pale face.

"Are you all right?" she asked. Her voice was soft and breathy, but with an undernote of strength.

He started to nod; then the wrongness of it penetrated. This wasn't the Euthanasia Center. Behind the girl, he saw the dun walls and plastic fixtures of a Class Yellow Nine flat. He made an effort to sit up and became aware of a deathly sickness all through his body.

"My chest hurts," he managed to gasp. "What happened? Why am I alive?"

The girl leaned closer. "You were really—inside?"

Bailey thought about it. "I remember going into the cubicle. The attendant gave me a hypo and strapped me down. Then I passed out . . ." His eyes searched the girl's face. "Am I dreaming this?"

She shook her head without impatience. "I found you in the serviceway behind the center. I brought you here."

"But—" Bailey croaked, "I'm supposed to be dead!"

"How did you get outside?" the girl asked.

For an instant, a ghostly memory brushed Bailey's mind: cold, and darkness, and a bodiless voice that spoke from emptiness . . . "I don't know. I was there . . . and now I'm here."

"Are you sorry?"

Bailey started to answer quickly, then paused. "No," he said, wonderingly. "I'm not."

"Then sleep," the girl said.




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