Every Sunday I post a classic, full-length sci-fi short story that will make you a more interesting person.
The Ugly Little Boy
By Isaac Asimov
In his cocky introduction to Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories, where you can almost hear Asimov masturbating while explaining his favourite stories, he writes, “My tales tend to be cerebral, but I count on [The Ugly Little Boy] to bring about a tear or two.” The story revolves around a scientific corporation that hires a nurse to be the caretaker of an ugly little boy housed inside the corporation’s laboratory. After his initial primal fear of the nurse, he begins to form a bond with her. The nurse then learns that the boy is not ordinary at all, and his offensive looks have a stunning explanation – he is a Neanderthal (a species that co-existed with humans 300,000 years ago). The corporation has developed the technology to snatch items from the past, and the ugly little boy ignites fascination all around the world. While there are some incredibly thought-provoking implications of the premise, the strength of the story lies in the relationship between the nurse and the ugly little boy, and the story asks – in a non-cliché, literal way – what it means to be human. Certainly the most emotional and moving of all the stories I’ve read by Asimov.
Word count: approx. 14,500 words
Reading difficulty: Easy
Reading time: approx. 40 minutes
Edith Fellowes smoothed her working smock as she always did before opening the elaborately locked door and stepping across the invisible dividing line between the is and the is not. She carried her notebook and her pen although she no longer took notes except when she felt the absolute need for some report.
This time she also carried a suitcase. (“Games for the boy,” she had said, smiling, to the guard—who had long since stopped even thinking of questioning her and who waved her on.)
And, as always, the ugly little boy knew that she had entered and came running to her, crying, “Miss Fellowes—Miss Fellowes—” in his soft, slurring way.
“Timmie,” she said, and passed her hand over the shaggy, brown hair on his misshapen little head. “What’s wrong?”
He said, “Will ferry be back to play again? I’m sorry about what happened.”
“Never mind that now, Timmie. Is that why you’ve been crying?”
He looked away. “Not just about that, Miss Fellowes. I dreamed again.”
“The same dream?” Miss Fellowes’ lips set. Of course, the Jerry affair would bring back the dream.
He nodded. His too large teeth showed as he tried to smile and the lips of his forward-thrusting mouth stretched wide. “When will I be big enough to go out there, Miss Fellowes?”
“Soon,” she said softly, feeling her heart break. “Soon.”
Miss Fellowes let him take her hand and enjoyed the warm touch of the thick dry skin of his palm. He led her through the three rooms that made up the whole of Stasis Section One—comfortable enough, yes, but an eternal prison for the ugly little boy all the seven (was it seven?) years of his life.
He led her to the one window, looking out onto a scrubby woodland section of the world of is (now hidden by night), where a fence and painted instructions allowed no men to wander without permission.
He pressed his nose against the window. “Out there, Miss Fellowes?”
“Better places. Nicer places,” she said sadly as she looked at his poor little imprisoned face outlined in profile against the window. The forehead retreated flatly and his hair lay down in tufts upon it. The back of his skull bulged and seemed to make the head overheavy so that it sagged and bent forward, forcing the whole body into a stoop. Already, bony ridges were beginning to bulge the skin above his eyes. His wide mouth thrust forward more prominently than did his wide and flattened nose and he had no chin to speak of, only a jawbone that curved smoothly down and back. He was small for his years and his stumpy legs were bowed.
He was a very ugly little boy and Edith Fellowes loved him dearly.
Her own face was behind his line of vision, so she allowed her lips the luxury of a tremor.
They would not kill him. She would do anything to prevent it. Anything. She opened the suitcase and began taking out the clothes it contained.
Edith Fellowes had crossed the threshold of Stasis, Inc. for the first time just a little over three years before. She hadn’t, at that time, the slightest idea as to what Stasis meant or what the place did. No one did then, except those who worked there. In fact, it was only the day after she arrived that the news broke upon the world.
At the time, it was just that they had advertised for a woman with knowledge of physiology, experience with clinical chemistry, and a love for children. Edith Fellowes had been a nurse in a maternity ward and believed she fulfilled those qualifications.
Gerald Hoskins, whose name plate on the desk included a Ph.D. after the name, scratched his cheek with his thumb and looked at her steadily.
Miss Fellowes automatically stiffened and felt her face (with its slightly asymmetric nose and its a-trifle- too-heavy eyebrows) twitch.
He’s no dreamboat himself, she thought resentfully. He’s getting fat and bald and he’s got a sullen mouth. — But the salary mentioned had been considerably higher than she had expected, so she waited.
Hoskins said, “Now do you really love children?” “I wouldn’t say I did if I didn’t.” ”Or do you just love pretty children? Nice chubby children with cute little button-noses and gurgly ways?”
Miss Fellowes said, “Children are children, Dr. Hoskins, and the ones that aren’t pretty are just the ones who may happen to need help most.”
“Then suppose we take you on—” ”You mean you’re offering me the job now?” He smiled briefly, and for a moment, his broad face
had an absentminded charm about it. He said, “I make quick decisions. So far the offer is tentative, however. I may make as quick a decision to let you go. Are you ready to take the chance?”
Miss Fellowes clutched at her purse and calculated just as swiftly as she could, then ignored calculations and followed impulse. “All right.”
“Fine. We’re going to form the Stasis tonight and I think you had better be there to take over at once. That will be at 8 P.M. and I’d appreciate it if you could be here at 7:30.”
“Fine. Fine. That will be all now.” On signal, a smiling secretary came in to usher her out.
Miss Fellowes stared back at Dr. Hoskins’ closed door for a moment. What was Stasis? What had this large barn of a building—with its badged employees, its makeshift corridors, and its unmistakable air of engineering— to do with children?
She wondered if she should go back that evening or stay away and teach that arrogant man a lesson. But she knew she would be back if only out of sheer frustration. She would have to find out about the children.
She came back at 7:30 and did not have to announce herself. One after another, men and women seemed to know her and to know her function. She found herself all but placed on skids as she was moved inward.
Dr. Hoskins was there, but he only looked at her distantly and murmured, “Miss Fellowes.”
He did not even suggest that she take a seat, but she drew one calmly up to the railing and sat down.
They were on a balcony, looking down into a large pit, filled with instruments that looked like a cross between the control panel of a spaceship and the working face of a computer. On one side were partitions that seemed to make up an unceilinged apartment, a giant dollhouse into the rooms of which she could look from above.
She could see an electronic cooker and a freeze- space unit in one room and a washroom arrangement off another. And surely the object she made out in another room could only be part of a bed, a small bed.
Hoskins was speaking to another man and, with Miss Fellowes, they made up the total occupancy of the balcony. Hoskins did not offer to introduce the other man, and Miss Fellowes eyed him surreptitiously. He was thin and quite fine-looking in a middle-aged way. He had a small mustache and keen eyes that seemed to busy themselves with everything.
He was saying, “I won’t pretend for one moment that I understand all this, Dr. Hoskins; I mean, except as a layman, a reasonably intelligent layman, may be expected to understand it. Still, if there’s one part I understand less than another, it’s this matter of selectivity. You can only reach out so far; that seems sensible; things get dimmer the further you go; it takes more energy. —But then, you can only reach out so near. That’s the puzzling part.”
“I can make it seem less paradoxical, Deveney, if you will allow me to use an analogy.”
(Miss Fellowes placed the new man the moment she heard his name, and despite herself was impressed. This was obviously Candide Deveney, the science writer of the Telenews, who was notoriously at the scene of every major scientific break-through. She even recognized his face as one she saw on the news-plate when the landing on Mars had been announced. —So Dr. Hoskins must have something important here.
“By all means use an analogy,” said Deveney ruefully, “if you think it will help.”
“Well, then, you can’t read a book with ordinary- sized print if it is held six feet from your eyes, but you can read it if you hold it one foot from your eyes. So far, the closer the better. If you bring the book to within one inch of your eyes, however, you’ve lost it again. There is such a thing as being too close, you see.”
“Hmm,” said Deveney.
“Or take another example. Your right shoulder is about thirty inches from the tip of your right forefinger and you can place your right forefinger on your right shoulder. Your right elbow is only half the distance from the tip of your right forefinger; it should by all ordinary logic be easier to reach, and yet you cannot place your right finger on your right elbow. Again, there is such a thing as being too close.”
Deveney said, “May I use these analogies in my story?”
“Well, of course. Only too glad. I’ve been waiting long enough for someone like you to have a story. I’ll give you anything else you want. It is time, finally, that we want the world looking over our shoulder. They’ll see something.”
(Miss Fellowes found herself admiring his calm certainty despite herself. There was strength there.)
Deveney said, “How far out will you reach?”
“Forty thousand years.”
Miss Fellowes drew in her breath sharply. Years? There was tension in the air. The men at the controls scarcely moved. One man at a microphone spoke into it in a soft monotone, in short phrases that made no sense to Miss Fellowes.
Deveney, leaning over the balcony railing with an intent stare, said, “Will we see anything, Dr. Hoskins?” “What? No. Nothing till the job is done. We detect indirectly, something on the principle of radar, except that we use mesons rather than radiation. Mesons reach backward under the proper conditions. Some are reflected and we must analyze the reflections.”
“That sounds difficult.”
Hoskins smiled again, briefly as always. “It is the end product of fifty years of research; forty years of it before I entered the field. —Yes, it’s difficult.”
The man at the microphone raised one hand.
Hoskins said, “We’ve had the fix on one particular moment in time for weeks; breaking it, remaking it after calculating our own movements in time; making certain that we could handle time-flow with sufficient precision. This must work now.”
But his forehead glistened.
Edith Fellowes found herself out of her seat and at the balcony railing, but there was nothing to see.
The man at the microphone said quietly, “Now.”
There was a space of silence sufficient for one breath and then the sound of a terrified little boy’s scream from the dollhouse rooms. Terror! Piercing terror!
Miss Fellowes’ head twisted in the direction of the cry. A child was involved. She had forgotten.
And Hoskins’ fist pounded on the railing and he said in a tight voice, trembling with triumph, “Did it.”
Miss Fellowes was urged down the short, spiral flight of steps by the hard press of Hoskins’ palm between her shoulder blades. He did not speak to her.
The men who had been at the controls were standing about now, smiling, smoking, watching the three as they entered on the main floor. A very soft buzz sounded from the direction of the dollhouse.
Hoskins said to Deveney, “It’s perfectly safe to enter Stasis. I’ve done it a thousand times. There’s a queer sensation which is momentary and means nothing.”
He stepped through an open door in mute demonstration, and Deveney, smiling stiffly and drawing an obviously deep breath, followed him.
Hoskins said, “Miss Fellowes! Please!” He crooked his forefinger impatiently.
Miss Fellowes nodded and stepped stiffly through. It was as though a ripple went through her, an internal tickle.
But once inside all seemed normal. There was the smell of the fresh wood of the dollhouse and—of—of soil somehow.
There was silence now, no voice at last, but there was the dry shuffling of feet, a scrabbling as of a hand over wood—then a low moan.
“Where is it?” asked Miss Fellowes in distress. Didn’t these fool men care?
The boy was in the bedroom; at least the room with the bed in it.
It was standing naked, with its small, dirt-smeared chest heaving raggedly. A bushel of dirt and coarse grass spread over the floor at his bare brown feet. The smell of soil came from it and a touch of something fetid.
Hoskins followed her horrified glance and said with annoyance, “You can’t pluck a boy cleanly out of time, Miss Fellowes. We had to take some of the surroundings with it for safety. Or would you have preferred to have it arrive here minus a leg or with only half a head?”
“Please!” said Miss Fellowes, in an agony of revulsion. “Are we just to stand here? The poor child is frightened. And it’s filthy.”
She was quite correct. It was smeared with encrusted dirt and grease and had a scratch on its thigh that looked red and sore.
As Hoskins approached him, the boy, who seemed to be something over three years in age, hunched low and backed away rapidly. He lifted his upper lip and snarled in a hissing fashion like a cat. With a rapid gesture, Hoskins seized both the child’s arms and lifted him, writhing and screaming, from the floor.
Miss Fellowes said, “Hold him, now. He needs a warm bath first. He needs to be cleaned. Have you the equipment? If so, have it brought here, and I’ll need to have help in handling him just at first. Then, too, for heaven’s sake, have all this trash and filth removed.”
She was giving the orders now and she felt perfectly good about that. And because now she was an efficient nurse, rather than a confused spectator, she looked at the child with a clinical eye—and hesitated for one shocked moment. She saw past the dirt and shrieking, past the thrashing of limbs and useless twisting. She saw the boy himself.
It was the ugliest little boy she had ever seen. It was horribly ugly from misshapen head to bandy legs.
She got the boy cleaned with three men helping her and with others milling about in their efforts to clean the room. She worked in silence and with a sense of outrage, annoyed by the continued stragglings and outcries of the boy and by the undignified drenchings of soapy water to which she was subjected.
Dr. Hoskins had hinted that the child would not be pretty, but that was far from stating that it would be repulsively deformed. And there was a stench about the boy that soap and water was only alleviating little by little.
She had the strong desire to thrust the boy, soaped as he was, into Hoskins’ arms and walk out; but there was the pride of profession. She had accepted an assignment, after all. —And there would be the look in his eyes. A cold look that would read: Only pretty children, Miss Fellowes?
He was standing apart from them, watching coolly from a distance with a half-smile on his face when he caught her eyes, as though amused at her outrage.
She decided she would wait a while before quitting. To do so now would only demean her.
Then, when the boy was a bearable pink and smelled of scented soap, she felt better anyway. His cries changed to whimpers of exhaustion as he watched carefully, eyes moving in quick frightened suspicion from one to another of those in the room. His cleanness accentuated his thin nakedness as he shivered with cold after his bath.
Miss Fellowes said sharply, “Bring me a nightgown for the child!”
A nightgown appeared at once. It was as though everything were ready and yet nothing were ready unless she gave orders; as though they were deliberately leaving this in her charge without help, to test her.
The newsman, Deveney, approached and said, “I’ll hold him, Miss. You won’t get it on yourself.”
“Thank you,” said Miss Fellowes. And it was a battle indeed, but the nightgown went on, and when the boy made as though to rip it off, she slapped his hand sharply.
The boy reddened, but did not cry. He stared at her and the splayed fingers of one hand moved slowly across the flannel of the nightgown, feeling the strangeness of it.
Miss Fellowes thought desperately: Well, what next?
Everyone seemed in suspended animation, waiting for her—even the ugly little boy.
Miss Fellowes said sharply, “Have you provided food? Milk?”
They had. A mobile unit was wheeled in, with its refrigeration compartment containing three quarts of milk, with a warming unit and a supply of fortifications in the form of vitamin drops, copper-cobalt-iron syrup and others she had no time to be concerned with. There was a variety of canned self-warming junior foods.
She used milk, simply milk, to begin with. The radar unit heated the milk to a set temperature in a matter of ten seconds and clicked off, and she put some in a saucer. She had a certainty about the boy’s savagery. He wouldn’t know how to handle a cup.
Miss Fellowes nodded and said to the boy, “Drink. Drink.” She made a gesture as though to raise the milk to her mouth. The boy’s eyes followed but he made no move.
Suddenly, the nurse resorted to direct measures. She seized the boy’s upper arm in one hand and dipped the other in the milk. She dashed the milk across his lips, so that it dripped down cheeks and receding chin.
For a moment, the child uttered a high-pitched cry, then his tongue moved over his wetted lips. Miss Fellowes stepped back.
The boy approached the saucer, bent toward it, then looked up and behind sharply as though expecting a crouching enemy; bent again and licked at the milk eagerly, like a cat. He made a slurping noise. He did not use his hands to lift the saucer.
Miss Fellowes allowed a bit of the revulsion she felt show on her face. She couldn’t help it.
Deveney caught that, perhaps. He said, “Does the nurse know, Dr. Hos-kins?”
“Know what?” demanded Miss Fellowes.
Deveney hesitated, but Hoskins (again that look of detached amusement on his face) said, “Well, tell her.”
Deveney addressed Miss Fellowes. “You may not suspect it, Miss, but you happen to be the first civilized woman in history ever to be taking care of a Neanderthal youngster.”
She turned on Hoskins with a kind of controlled ferocity. “You might have told me, Doctor.”
“Why? What difference does it make?” ”You said a child.” ”Isn’t that a child? Have you ever had a puppy or a
kitten, Miss Fellowes? Are those closer to the human? If that were a baby chimpanzee, would you be repelled? You’re a nurse, Miss Fellowes. Your record places you in a maternity ward for three years. Have you ever refused to take care of a deformed infant?”
Miss Fellowes felt her case slipping away. She said, with much less decision, “You might have told me.”
“And you would have refused the position? Well, do you refuse it now?” He gazed at her coolly, while Deveney watched from the other side of the room, and the Neanderthal child, having finished the milk and licked the plate, looked up at her with a wet face and wide, longing eyes.
The boy pointed to the milk and suddenly burst out in a short series of sounds repeated over and over; sounds made up of gutturals and elaborate tongue- clickings.
Miss Fellowes said, in surprise, “Why, he talks.”
“Of course,” said Hoskins. “Homo neanderthalensis is not a truly separate species, but rather a subspecies of Homo sapiens. Why shouldn’t he talk? He’s probably asking for more milk.”
Automatically, Miss Fellowes reached for the bottle of milk, but Hoskins seized her wrist. “Now, Miss Fellowes, before we go any further, are you staying on the job?”
Miss Fellowes shook free in annoyance, “Won’t you feed him if I don’t? I’ll stay with him—for a while.”
She poured the milk.
Hoskins said, “We are going to leave you with the boy, Miss Fellowes. This is the only door to Stasis Number One and it is elaborately locked and guarded. I’ll want you to learn the details of the lock which will, of course, be keyed to your fingerprints as they are already keyed to mine. The spaces overhead” (he looked upward to the open ceilings of the dollhouse) “are also guarded and we will be warned if anything untoward takes place in here.”
Miss Fellowes said indignantly, “You mean I’ll be under view.” She thought suddenly of her own survey of the room interiors from the balcony.
“No, no,” said Hoskins seriously, “your privacy will be respected completely. The view will consist of electronic symbolism only, which only a computer will deal with. Now you will stay with him tonight, Miss Fellowes, and every night until further notice. You will be relieved during the day according to some schedule you will find convenient. We will allow you to arrange that.”
Miss Fellowes looked about the dollhouse with a puzzled expression. “But why all this, Dr. Hoskins? Is the boy dangerous?”
“It’s a matter of energy, Miss Fellowes. He must never be allowed to leave these rooms. Never. Not for an instant. Not for any reason. Not to save his life. Not even to save your life, Miss Fellowes. Is that clear?”
Miss Fellowes raised her chin. “I understand the orders, Dr. Hoskins, and the nursing profession is accustomed to placing its duties ahead of self- preservation.”
“Good. You can always signal if you need anyone.” And the two men left.
Miss Fellowes turned to the boy. He was watching her and there was still milk in the saucer. Laboriously, she tried to show him how to lift the saucer and place it to his lips. He resisted, but let her touch him without crying out.
Always, his frightened eyes were on her, watching, watching for the one false move. She found herself soothing him, trying to move her hand very slowly toward his hair, letting him see it every inch of the way, see there was no harm in it.
And she succeeded in stroking his hair for an instant. , She said, “I’m going to have to show you how to use the bathroom. Do you think you can learn?”
She spoke quietly, kindly, knowing he would not understand the words but hoping he would respond to the calmness of the tone.
The boy launched into a clicking phrase again. She said, “May I take your hand?” She held out hers and the boy looked at it. She left
it outstretched and waited. The boy’s own hand crept forward toward hers.
“That’s right,” she said.
It approached within an inch of hers and then the boy’s courage failed him. He snatched it back.
“Well,” said Miss Fellowes calmly, “we’ll try again later. Would you like to sit down here?” She patted the mattress of the bed.
The hours passed slowly and progress was minute. She did not succeed either with bathroom or with the bed. In fact, after the child had given unmistakable signs of sleepiness he lay down on the bare ground and then, with a quick movement, rolled beneath the bed.
She bent to look at him and his eyes gleamed out at her as he tongue-clicked at her.
“All right,” she said, “if you feel safer there, you sleep there.”
She closed the door to the bedroom and retired to the cot that had been placed for her use in the largest room. At her insistence, a make-shift canopy had been stretched over it. She thought: Those stupid men will have to place a mirror in this room and a larger chest of drawers and a separate washroom if they expect me to spend nights here.
It was difficult to sleep. She found herself straining to hear possible sounds in the next room. He couldn’t get out, could he? The walls were sheer and impossibly high but suppose the child could climb like a monkey? Well, Hoskins said there were observational devices watching through the ceiling.
Suddenly she thought: Can he be dangerous? Physically dangerous?
Surely, Hoskins couldn’t have meant that. Surely, he would not have left her here alone, if—
She tried to laugh at herself. He was only a three- or four-year-old child. Still, she had not succeeded in cutting his nails. If he should attack her with nails and teeth while she slept—
Her breath came quickly. Oh, ridiculous, and yet—
She listened with painful attentiveness, and this time she heard the sound.
The boy was crying.
Not shrieking in fear or anger; not yelling or screaming. It was crying softly, and the cry was the heartbroken sobbing of a lonely, lonely child.
For the first time, Miss Fellowes thought with a pang: Poor thing!
Of course, it was a child; what did the shape of its head matter? It was a child that had been orphaned as no child had ever been orphaned before. Not only its mother and father were gone, but all its species. Snatched callously out of time, it was now the only creature of its kind in the world. The last. The only.
She felt pity for it strengthen, and with it shame at her own callousness. Tucking her own nightgown carefully about her calves (incongruously, she thought: Tomorrow I’ll have to bring in a bathrobe) she got out of bed and went into the boy’s room.
“Little boy,” she called in a whisper. “Little boy.”
She was about to reach under the bed, but she thought of a possible bite and did not. Instead, she turned on the night light and moved the bed.
The poor thing was huddled in the corner, knees up against his chin, looking up at her with blurred and apprehensive eyes.
In the dim light, she was not aware of his repulsiveness.
“Poor boy,” she said, “poor boy.” She felt him stiffen as she stroked his hair, then relax. “Poor boy. May I hold you?”
She sat down on the floor next to him and slowly and rhythmically stroked his hair, his cheek, his arm. Softly, she began to sing a slow and gentle song.
He lifted his head at that, staring at her mouth in the dimness, as though wondering at the sound.
She maneuvered him closer while he listened to her. Slowly, she pressed gently against the side of his head, until it rested on her shoulder. She put her arm under his thighs and with a smooth and unhurried motion lifted him into her lap.
She continued singing, the same simple verse over and over, while she rocked back and forth, back and forth.
He stopped crying, and after a while the smooth burr of his breathing showed he was asleep.
With infinite care, she pushed his bed back against the wall and laid him down. She covered him and stared down. His face looked so peaceful and little-boy as he slept. It didn’t matter so much that it was so ugly. Really.
She began to tiptoe out, then thought: If he wakes up?
She came back, battled irresolutely with herself, then sighed and slowly got into bed with the child.
It was too small for her. She was cramped and uneasy at the lack of canopy, but the child’s hand crept into hers and, somehow, she fell asleep in that position.
She awoke with a start and a wild impulse to scream. The latter she just managed to suppress into a gurgle. The boy was looking at her, wide-eyed. It took her a long moment to remember getting into bed with him, and now, slowly, without unfixing her eyes from his, she stretched one leg carefully and let it touch the floor, then the other one.
She cast a quick and apprehensive glance toward the open ceiling, then tensed her muscles for quick disengagement.
But at that moment, the boy’s stubby fingers reached out and touched her lips. He said something.
She shrank at the touch. He was terribly ugly in the light of day.
The boy spoke again. He opened his own mouth and gestured with his hand as though something were coming out.
Miss Fellowes guessed at the meaning and said tremulously, “Do you want me to sing?”
The boy said nothing but stared at her mouth.
In a voice slightly off key with tension, Miss Fellowes began the little song she had sung the night before and the ugly little boy smiled. He swayed clumsily in rough time to the music and made a little gurgly sound that might have been the beginnings of a laugh.
Miss Fellowes sighed inwardly. Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast. It might help—
She said, “You wait. Let me get myself fixed up. It will just take a minute. Then I’ll make breakfast for you.”
She worked rapidly, conscious of the lack of ceiling at all times. The boy remained in bed, watching her when she was in view. She smiled at him at those times and waved. At the end, he waved back, and she found herself being charmed by that.
Finally, she said, “Would you like oatmeal with milk?” It took a moment to prepare, and then she beckoned to him.
Whether he understood the gesture or followed the aroma, Miss Fellowes did not know, but he got out of bed.
She tried to show him how to use a spoon but he shrank away from it in fright. (Time enough, she thought.) She compromised on insisting that he lift the bowl in his hands. He did it clumsily enough and it was incredibly messy but most of it did get into him.
She tried the drinking milk in a glass this time, and the little boy whined when he found the opening too small for him to get his face into conveniently. She held his hand, forcing it around the glass, making him tip it, forcing his mouth to the rim.
Again a mess but again most went into him, and she was used to messes.
The washroom, to her surprise and relief, was a less frustrating matter. He understood what it was she expected him to do.
She found herself patting his head, saying, “Good boy. Smart boy.”
And to Miss Fellowes’ exceeding pleasure, the boy smiled at that.
She thought: when he smiles, he’s quite bearable. Really.
Later in the day, the gentleman of the press arrived.
She held the boy in her arms and he clung to her wildly while across the open door they set cameras to work. The commotion frightened the boy and he began to cry, but it was ten minutes before Miss Fellowes was allowed to retreat and put the boy in the next room.
She emerged again, flushed with indignation, walked out of the apartment (for the first time in eighteen hours) and closed the door behind her. “I think you’ve had enough. It will take me a while to quiet him. Go away.”
“Sure, sure,” said the gentlemen from the Times- Herald. “But is that really a Neanderthal or is this some kind of gag?”
“I assure you,” said Hoskins’ voice, suddenly, from the background, “that this is no gag. The child is authentic Homo neanderthalensis.”
“Is it a boy or a girl?” ”Boy,” said Miss Fellowes briefly. ”Ape-boy,” said the gentleman from the News.
“That’s what we’ve got here. Ape-boy. How does he act, Nurse?”
“He acts exactly like a little boy,” snapped Miss Fellowes, annoyed into the defensive, “and he is not an ape-boy. His name is—is Timothy, Timmie —and he is perfectly normal in his behavior.”
She had chosen the name Timothy at a venture. It was the first that had occurred to her.
“Timmie the Ape-boy,” said the gentleman from the News and, as it turned out, Timmie the Ape-boy was the name under which the child became known to the world.
The gentleman from the Globe turned to Hoskins and said, “Doc, what do you expect to do with the ape- boy?”
Hoskins shrugged. “My original plan was completed when I proved it possible to bring him here. However, the anthropologists will be very interested, I imagine, and the physiologists. We have here, after all, a creature which is at the edge of being human. We should learn a great deal about ourselves and our ancestry from him.”
“How long will you keep him?”
“Until such a time as we need the space more than we need him. Quite a while, perhaps.”
The gentleman from the News said, “Can you bring it out into the open so we can set up sub-etheric equipment and put on a real show?”
“I’m sorry, but the child cannot be removed from Stasis.”
“Exactly what is Stasis?”
“Ah.” Hoskins permitted himself one of his short smiles. “That would take a great deal of explanation, gentlemen. In Stasis, time as we know it doesn’t exist. Those rooms are inside an invisible bubble that is not exactly part of our Universe. That is why the child could be plucked out of time as it was.”
“Well, wait now,” said the gentleman from the News discontentedly, “what are you giving us? The nurse goes into the room and out of it.”
“And so can any of you,” said Hoskins matter-of- factly. “You would be moving parallel to the lines of temporal force and no great energy gain or loss would be involved. The child, however, was taken from the far past. It moved across the lines and gained temporal potential. To move it into the Universe and into our own time would absorb enough energy to burn out every line in the place and probably blank out all power in the city of Washington. We had to store trash brought with him on the premises and will have to remove it little by little.”
The newsmen were writing down sentences busily as Hoskins spoke to them. They did not understand and they were sure their readers would not, but it sounded scientific and that was what counted.
The gentleman from the Times-Herald said, “Would you be available for an all-circuit interview tonight?”
“I think so,” said Hoskins at once, and they all moved off.
Miss Fellowes looked after them. She understood all this about Stasis and temporal force as little as the newsmen but she managed to get this much. Timmie’s imprisonment (she found herself suddenly thinking of the little boy as Timmie) was a real one and not one imposed by the arbitrary fiat of Hoskins. Apparently, it was impossible to let him out of Stasis at all, ever.
Poor child. Poor child.
She was suddenly aware of his crying and she hastened in to console him.
Miss Fellowes did not have a chance to see Hoskins on the all-circuit hookup, and though his interview was beamed to every part of the world and even to the outpost on the Moon, it did not penetrate the apartment in which Miss Fellowes and the ugly little boy lived.
But he was down the next morning, radiant and joyful.
Miss Fellowes said, “Did the interview go well?” “Extremely. And how is—Timmie?” Miss Fellowes found herself pleased at the use of
the name. “Doing quite well. Now come out here, Timmie, the nice gentleman will not hurt you.”
But Timmie stayed in the other room, with a lock of his matted hair showing behind the barrier of the door and, occasionally, the corner of an eye.
“Actually,” said Miss Fellowes, “he is settling down amazingly. He is quite intelligent.”
“Are you surprised?”
She hesitated just a moment, then said, “Yes, I am. I suppose I thought he was an ape-boy.”
“Well, ape-boy or not, he’s done a great deal for us. He’s put Stasis, Inc. on the map. We’re in, Miss Fellowes, we’re in.” It was as though he had to express his triumph to someone, even if only to Miss Fellowes.
“Oh?” She let him talk.
He put his hands in his pockets and said, “We’ve been working on a shoestring for ten years, scrounging funds a penny at a time wherever we could. We had to shoot the works on one big show. It was everything, or nothing. And when I say the works, I mean it. This attempt to bring in a Neanderthal took every cent we could borrow or steal, and some of it was stolen—funds for other projects, used for this one without permission. If that experiment hadn’t succeeded, I’d have been through.”
Miss Fellowes said abruptly, “Is that why there are no ceilings?”
“Eh?” Hoskins looked up. ”Was there no money for ceilings?” ”Oh. Well, that wasn’t the only reason. We didn’t
really know in advance how old the Neanderthal might be exactly. We can detect only dimly in time, and he might have been large and savage. It was possible we might have had to deal with him from a distance, like a caged animal.”
“But since that hasn’t turned out to be so, I suppose you can build a ceiling now.”
“Now, yes. We have plenty of money, now. Funds have been promised from every source. This is all wonderful, Miss Fellowes.” His broad face gleamed with a smile that lasted and when he left, even his back seemed to be smiling.
Miss Fellowes thought: He’s quite a nice man when he’s off guard and forgets about being scientific.
She wondered for an idle moment if he was married, then dismissed the thought in self- embarrassment.
“Timmie,” she called. “Come here, Timmie.”
In the months that passed, Miss Fellowes felt herself grow to be an integral part of Stasis, Inc. She was given a small office of her own with her name on the door, an office quite close to the dollhouse (as she never stopped calling Timmie’s Stasis bubble). She was given a substantial raise. The dollhouse was covered by a ceiling; its furnishings were elaborated and improved; a second washroom was added—and even so, she gained an apartment of her own on the institute grounds and, on occasion, did not stay with Timmie during the night. An intercom was set up between the dollhouse and her apartment and Timmie learned how to use it.
Miss Fellowes got used to Timmie. She even grew less conscious of his ugliness. One day she found herself staring at an ordinary boy in the street and finding something bulgy and unattractive in his high domed forehead and jutting chin. She had to shake herself to break the spell.
It was more pleasant to grow used to Hoskins’ occasional visits. It was obvious he welcomed escape from his increasingly harried role as head of Stasis, Inc., and that he took a sentimental interest in the child who had started it all, but it seemed to Miss Fellowes that he also enjoyed talking to her.
(She had learned some facts about Hoskins, too. He had invented the method of analyzing the reflection of the past-penetrating mesonic beam; he had invented the method of establishing Stasis; his coldness was only an effort to hide a kindly nature; and, oh yes, he was married.)
What Miss Fellowes could not get used to was the fact that she was engaged in a scientific experiment. Despite all she could do, she found herself getting personally involved to the point of quarreling with the physiologists.
On one occasion, Hoskins came down and found her in the midst of a hot urge to kill. They had no right; they had no right— Even if he was a Neanderthal, he still wasn’t an animal.
She was staring after them in a blind fury; staring out the open door and listening to Timmie’s sobbing, when she noticed Hoskins standing before her. He might have been there for minutes.
He said, “May I come in?”
She nodded curtly, then hurried to Timmie, who clung to her, curling his little bandy legs—still thin, so thin—about her.
Hoskins watched, then said gravely, “He seems quite unhappy.”
Miss Fellowes said, “I don’t blame him. They’re at him every day now with their blood samples and their probings. They keep him on synthetic diets that I wouldn’t feed a pig.”
“It’s the sort of thing they can’t try on a human, you know.”
“And they can’t try it on Timmie, either. Dr. Hoskins, I insist. You told me it was Timmie’s coming that put Stasis, Inc. on the map. If you have any gratitude for that at all, you’ve got to keep them away from the poor thing at least until he’s old enough to understand a little more. After he’s had a bad session with them, he has nightmares, he can’t sleep. Now I warn you,” (she reached a sudden peak of fury) “I’m not letting them in here any more.”
(She realized that she had screamed that, but she couldn’t help it.)
She said more quietly, “I know he’s Neanderthal but there’s a great deal we don’t appreciate about Neanderthals. I’ve read up on them. They had a culture of their own. Some of the greatest human inventions arose in Neanderthal times. The domestication of animals, for instance; the wheel; various techniques in grinding stone. They even had spiritual yearnings. They buried their dead and buried possessions with the body, showing they believed in a life after death. It amounts to the fact that they invented religion. Doesn’t that mean Timmie has a right to human treatment?”
She patted the little boy gently on his buttocks and sent him off into his playroom. As the door was opened,
Hoskins smiled briefly at the display of toys that could be seen.
Miss Fellowes said defensively, “The poor child deserves his toys. It’s all he has and he earns them with what he goes through.”
“No, no. No objections, I assure you. I was just thinking how you’ve changed since the first day, when you were quite angry I had foisted a Neanderthal on you.”
Miss Fellowes said in a low voice, “I suppose I didn’t—” and faded off.
Hoskins changed the subject, “How old would you say he is, Miss Fellowes?”
She said, “I can’t say, since we don’t know how Neanderthals develop. In size, he’d only be three but Neanderthals are smaller generally and with all the tampering they do with him, he probably isn’t growing. The way he’s learning English, though, I’d say he was well over four.”
“Really? I haven’t noticed anything about learning English in the reports.”
“He won’t speak to anyone but me. For now, anyway. He’s terribly afraid of others, and no wonder. But he can ask for an article of food; he can indicate any need practically; and he understands almost anything I say. Of course,” (she watched him shrewdly, trying to estimate if this was the time), “his development may not continue.”
“Any child needs stimulation and this one lives a life of solitary confinement. I do what I can, but I’m not with him all the time and I’m not all he needs. What I mean, Dr. Hoskins, is that he needs another boy to play with.”
Hoskins nodded slowly. “Unfortunately, there’s only one of him, isn’t there? Poor child.”
Miss Fellowes warmed to him at once. She said, “You do like Timmie, don’t you?” It was so nice to have someone else feel like that.
“Oh, yes,” said Hoskins, and with his guard down, she could see the weariness in his eyes.
Miss Fellowes dropped her plans to push the matter at once. She said, with real concern, “You look worn out, Dr. Hoskins.”
“Do I, Miss Fellowes? I’ll have to practice looking more lifelike then.”
“I suppose Stasis, Inc. is very busy and that that keeps you very busy.”
Hoskins shrugged. “You suppose right. It’s a matter of animal, vegetable, and mineral in equal parts, Miss Fellowes. But then, I suppose you haven’t ever seen our displays.”
“Actually, I haven’t. —But it’s not because I’m not interested. It’s just that I’ve been so busy.”
“Well, you’re not all that busy right now,” he said with impulsive decision. “I’ll call for you tomorrow at eleven and give you a personal tour. How’s that?”
She smiled happily. “I’d love it.” He nodded and smiled in his turn and left. Miss Fellowes hummed at intervals for the rest of
the day. Really—to think so was ridiculous, of course— but really, it was almost like—like making a date.
He was quite on time the next day, smiling and pleasant. She had replaced her nurse’s uniform with a dress. One of conservative cut, to be sure, but she hadn’t felt so feminine in years.
He complimented her on her appearance with staid formality and she accepted with equally formal grace. It was really a perfect prelude, she thought. And then the additional thought came, prelude to what? , She shut that off by hastening to say good-by to Timmie and to assure him she would be back soon. She made sure he knew all about what and where lunch was.
Hoskins took her into the new wing, into which she had never yet gone. It still had the odor of newness about it and the sound of construction, softly heard, was indication enough that it was still being extended.
“Animal, vegetable, and mineral,” said Hoskins, as he had the day before. “Animal right there; our most spectacular exhibits.”
The space was divided into many rooms, each a separate Stasis bubble. Hoskins brought her to the view- glass of one and she looked in. What she saw impressed her first as a scaled, tailed chicken. Skittering on two thin legs it ran from wall to wall with its delicate birdlike head, surmounted by a bony keel like the comb of a rooster, looking this way and that. The paws on its small forelimbs clenched and unclenched constantly.
Hoskins said, “It’s our dinosaur. We’ve had it for months. I don’t know when we’ll be able to let go of it.”
“Did you expect a giant?”
She dimpled. “One does, I suppose. I know some of them are small.”
“A small one is all we aimed for, believe me. Generally, it’s under investigation, but this seems to be an open hour. Some interesting things have been discovered. For instance, it is not entirely cold-blooded. It has an imperfect method of maintaining internal temperatures higher than that of its environment. Unfortunately, it’s a male. Ever since we brought it in we’ve been trying to get a fix on another that may be female, but we’ve had no luck yet.”
He looked at her quizzically. “So that we might have a fighting chance to obtain fertile eggs, and baby dinosaurs.”
He led her to the trilobite section. “That’s Professor Dwayne of Washington University,” he said. “He’s a nuclear chemist. If I recall correctly, he’s taking an isotope ratio on the oxygen of the water.”
“It’s primeval water; at least half a billion years old. The isotope ratio gives the temperature of the ocean at that time. He himself happens to ignore the trilobites, but others are chiefly concerned in dissecting them. They’re the lucky ones because all they need are scalpels and microscopes. Dwayne has to set up a mass spectrograph each time he conducts an experiment.”
“Why’s that? Can’t he—”
“No, he can’t. He can’t take anything out of the room as far as can be helped.”
There were samples of primordial plant life too and chunks of rock formations. Those were the vegetable and mineral. And every specimen had its investigator. It was like a museum; a museum brought to life and serving as a superactive center of research.
“And you have to supervise all of this, Dr. Hoskins?”
“Only indirectly, Miss Feflowes. I have subordinates, thank heaven. My own interest is entirely in the theoretical aspects of the matter: the nature of Time, the technique of mesonic intertemporal detection and so on. I would exchange all this for a method of detecting objects closer in Time than ten thousand years ago. If we could get into historical times—”
He was interrupted by a commotion at one of the distant booths, a thin voice raised querulously. He frowned, muttered hastily, “Excuse me,” and hastened off.
Miss Fellowes followed as best she could without actually running.
An elderly man, thinly-bearded and red-faced, was saying, “I had vital aspects of my investigations to complete. Don’t you understand that?”
A uniformed technician with the interwoven SI monogram (for Stasis, Inc.) on his lab coat, said, “Dr. Hoskins, it was arranged with Professor Ademewski at the beginning that the specimen could only remain here two weeks.”
“I did not know then how long my investigations would take. I’m not a prophet,” said Ademewski heatedly.
Dr. Hoskins said, “You understand, Professor, we have limited space; we must keep specimens rotating. That piece of chalcopyrite must go back; there are men waiting for the next specimen.”
“Why can’t I have it for myself, then? Let me take it out of there.”
“You know you can’t have it.”
“A piece of chalcopyrite; a miserable five-kilogram piece? Why not?”
“We can’t afford the energy expense!” said Hoskins brusquely. “You know that.”
The technician interrupted. “The point is, Dr. Hoskins, that he tried to remove the rock against the rules and I almost punctured Stasis while he was in there, not knowing he was in there.”
There was a short silence and Dr. Hoskins turned on the investigator with a cold formality. “Is that so, Professor?”
Professor Ademewski coughed. “I saw no harm—”
Hoskins reached up to a hand-pull dangling just within reach, outside the specimen room in question. He pulled it.
Miss Fellowes, who had been peering in, looking at the totally undistinguished sample of rock that occasioned the dispute, drew in her breath sharply as its existence flickered out. The room was empty.
Hoskins said, “Professor, your permit to investigate matters in Stasis will be permanently voided. I am sorry.”
“I am sorry. You have violated one of the stringent rules.”
“I will appeal to the International Association—•”
“Appeal away. In a case like this, you will find I can’t be overruled.” He turned away deliberately, leaving the professor still protesting and said to Miss Fellowes (his face still white with anger), “Would you care to have lunch with me, Miss Fellowes?”
He took her into the small administration alcove of the cafeteria. He greeted others and introduced Miss Fellowes with complete ease, although she herself felt painfully self-conscious.
What must they think, she thought, and tried desperately to appear businesslike.
She said, “Do you have that kind of trouble often, Dr. Hoskins? I mean like that you just had with the professor?” She took her fork in hand and began eating.
“No,” said Hoskins forcefully. “That was the first time. Of course I’m always having to argue men out of removing specimens but this is the first time one actually tried to do it.”
“I remember you once talked about the energy it would consume.”
“That’s right. Of course, we’ve tried to take it into account. Accidents will happen and so we’ve got special power sources designed to stand the drain of accidental removal from Stasis, but that doesn’t mean we want to see a year’s supply of energy gone in half a second—or can afford to without having our plans of expansion delayed for years. —Besides, imagine the professor’s being in the room while Stasis was about to be punctured.”
“What would have happened to him if it had been?”
“Well, we’ve experimented with inanimate objects and with mice and they’ve disappeared. Presumably they’ve traveled back in time; carried along, so to speak, by the pull of the object simultaneously snapping back into its natural time. For that reason, we have to anchor objects within Stasis that we don’t want to move and that’s a complicated procedure. The professor would not have been anchored and he would have gone back to the Pliocene at the moment when we abstracted the rock—plus, of course, the two weeks it had remained here in the present.”
“How dreadful it would have been.”
“Not on account of the professor, I assure you. If he were fool enough to do what he did, it would serve him right. But imagine the effect it would have on the public if the fact came out. All people would need is to become aware of the dangers involved and funds could be choked off like that.” He snapped his fingers and played moodily with his food.
Miss Fellowes said, “Couldn’t you get him back? The way you got the rock in the first place?”
“No, because once an object is returned, the original fix is lost unless we deliberately plan to retain it and there was no reason to do that in this case. There never is. Finding the professor again would mean relocating a specific fix and that would be like dropping a line into the oceanic abyss for the purpose of dredging up a particular fish. —My God, when I think of the precautions we take to prevent accidents, it makes me mad. We have every individual Stasis unit set up with its own puncturing device—we have to, since each unit has its separate fix and must be collapsible independently. The point is, though, none of the puncturing devices is ever activated until the last minute. And then we deliberately make activation impossible except by the pull of a rope carefully led outside the Stasis. The pull is a gross mechanical motion that requires a strong effort, not something that is likely to be done accidentally.”
Miss Fellowes said, “But doesn’t it—change history to move something in and out of Time?”
Hoskins shrugged. “Theoretically, yes; actually, except in unusual cases, no. We move objects out of Stasis all the time. Air molecules. Bacteria. Dust. About 10 percent of our energy consumption goes to make up micro-losses of that nature. But moving even large objects in Time sets up changes that damp out. Take that chalcopyrite from the Pliocene. Because of its absence for two weeks some insect didn’t find the shelter it might have found and is killed. That could initiate a whole series of changes, but the mathematics of Stasis indicates that this is a converging series. The amount of change diminishes with time and then things are as before.”
“You mean, reality heals itself?”
“In a manner of speaking. Abstract a human from time or send one back, and you make a larger wound. If the individual is an ordinary one, that wound still heals itself. Of course, there are a great many people who write to us each day and want us to bring Abraham Lincoln into the present, or Mohammed, or Lenin. That can’t be done, of course. Even if we could find them, the change in reality in moving one of the history molders would be too great to be healed. There are ways of calculating when a change is likely to be too great and we avoid even approaching that limit.”
Miss Fellowes said, “Then, Timmie—”
“No, he presents no problem in that direction. Reality is safe. But—” He gave her a quick, sharp glance, then went on, “But never mind. Yesterday you said Timmie needed companionship.”
“Yes,” Miss Fellowes smiled her delight. “I didn’t think you paid that any attention.”
“Of course I did. I’m fond of the child. I appreciate your feelings for him and I was concerned enough to want to explain to you. Now I have; you’ve seen what we do; you’ve gotten some insight into the difficulties involved; so you know why, with the best will in the world, we can’t supply companionship for Timmie.”
“You can’t?” said Miss Fellowes, with sudden dismay.
“But I’ve just explained. We couldn’t possibly expect to find another Neanderthal his age without incredible luck, and if we could, it wouldn’t be fair to multiply risks by having another human being in Stasis.”
Miss Fellowes put down her spoon and said energetically, “But, Dr. Hos-kins, that is not at all what I meant. I don’t want you to bring another Neanderthal into the present. I know that’s impossible. But it isn’t impossible to bring another child to play with Timmie.”
Hoskins stared at her in concern. “A human child?”
“Another child,” said Miss Fellowes, completely hostile now. “Timmie is human.”
“I couldn’t dream of such a thing.”
“Why not? Why couldn’t you? What is wrong with the notion? You pulled that child out of Time and made him an eternal prisoner. Don’t you owe him something? Dr. Hoskins, if there is any man who, in this world, is that child’s father in every sense but the biological, it is you. Why can’t you do this little thing for him?”
Hoskins said, “His father?” He rose, somewhat unsteadily, to his feet. “Miss Fellowes, I think I’ll take you back now, if you don’t mind.”
They returned to the dollhouse in a complete silence that neither broke.
It was a long time after that before she saw Hoskins again, except for an occasional glimpse in passing. She was sorry about that at times; then, at other times, when Timmie was more than usually woebegone or when he spent silent hours at the window with its prospect of little more than nothing, she thought, fiercely: Stupid man.
Timmie’s speech grew better and more precise each day. It never entirely lost a certain soft, slurriness that Miss Fellowes found rather endearing. In times of excitement, he fell back into tongue-clicking but those times were becoming fewer. He must be forgetting the days before he came into the present—except for dreams.
As he grew older, the physiologists grew less interested and the psychologists more so. Miss Fellowes was not sure that she did not like the new group even less than the first. The needles were gone; the injections and withdrawals of fluid; the special diets. But now Timmie was made to overcome barriers to reach food and water. He had to lift panels, move bars, reach for cords. And the mild electric shocks made him cry and drove Miss Fellowes to distraction.
She did not wish to appeal to Hoskins; she did not wish to have to go to him; for each time she thought of him, she thought of his face over the luncheon table that last time. Her eyes moistened and she thought: Stupid, stupid man.
And then one day Hoskins’ voice sounded unexpectedly, calling into the dollhouse, “Miss Fellowes.”
She came out coldly, smoothing her nurse’s uniform, then stopped in confusion at finding herself in the presence of a pale woman, slender and of middle height. The woman’s fair hair and complexion gave her an appearance of fragility. Standing behind her and clutching at her skirt was a round-faced, large-eyed child of four.
Hoskins said, “Dear, this is Miss Fellowes, the nurse in charge of the boy. Miss Fellowes, this is my wife.”
(Was this his wife? She was not as Miss Fellowes had imagined her to be. But then, why not? A man like Hoskins would choose a weak thing to be his foil. If that was what he wanted—)
She forced a matter-of-fact greeting. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Hoskins. Is this your—your little boy?”
(That was a surprise. She had thought of Hoskins as a husband, but not as a father, except, of course— She suddenly caught Hoskins’ grave eyes and flushed.)
Hoskins said, “Yes, this is my boy, ferry. Say hello to Miss Fellowes, Jerry.”
(Had he stressed the word “this” just a bit? Was he saying this was his son and not—)
Jerry receded a bit further into the folds of the maternal skirt and muttered his hello. Mrs. Hoskins’ eyes were searching over Miss Fellowes’ shoulders, peering into the room, looking for something.
Hoskins said, “Well, let’s go in. Come, dear. There’s a trifling discomfort at the threshold, but it passes.”
Miss Fellowes said, “Do you want Jerry to come in, too?”
“Of course. He is to be Timmie’s playmate. You said that Timmie needed a playmate. Or have you forgotten?”
“But—” She looked at him with a colossal, surprised wonder. “Jburboy?”
He said peevishly, “Well, whose boy, then? Isn’t this what you want? Come on in, dear. Come on in.”
Mrs. Hoskins lifted Jerry into her arms with a distinct effort and, hesitantly, stepped over the threshold. Jerry squirmed as she did so, disliking the sensation.
Mrs. Hoskins said in a thin voice, “Is the creature here? I don’t see him.”
Miss Fellowes called, “Timmie. Come out.”
Timmie peered around the edge of the door, staring up at the little boy who was visiting him. The muscles in Mrs. Hoskins’ arms tensed visibly.
She said to her husband, “Gerald, are you sure it’s safe?”
Miss Fellowes said at once, “If you mean is Timmie safe, why, of course he is. He’s a gentle little boy.”
“But he’s a sa—savage.”
(The ape-boy stories in the newspapers!) Miss Fellowes said emphatically, “He is not a savage. He is just as quiet and reasonable as you can possibly expect a five-and-a-half-year-old to be. It is very generous of you, Mrs. Hoskins, to agree to allow your boy to play with Timmie but please have no fears about it.”
Mrs. Hoskins said with mild heat, “I’m not sure that I agree.”
“We’ve had it out, dear,” said Hoskins. “Let’s not bring up the matter for new argument. Put Jerry down.”
Mrs. Hoskins did so and the boy backed against her, staring at the pair of eyes which were staring back at him from the next room.
“Come here, Timmie,” said Miss Fellowes. “Don’t be afraid.”
Slowly, Timmie stepped into the room. Hoskins bent to disengage Jerry’s fingers from his mother’s skirt. “Step back, dear. Give the children a chance.”
The youngsters faced one another. Although the younger, Jerry was nevertheless an inch taller, and in the presence of his straightness and his high-held, well- proportioned head, Timmie’s grotesqueries were suddenly almost as pronounced as they had been in the first days.
Miss Fellowes’ lips quivered.
It was the little Neanderthal who spoke first, in childish treble. “What’s your name?” And Timmie thrust his face suddenly forward as though to inspect the other’s features more closely.
Startled Jerry responded with a vigorous shove that sent Timmie tumbling. Both began crying loudly and Mrs. Hoskins snatched up her child, while Miss Fellowes, flushed with repressed anger, lifted Timmie and comforted him.
Mrs. Hoskins said, “They just instinctively don’t like one another.”
“No more instinctively,” said her husband wearily, “than any two children dislike each other. Now put Jerry down and let him get used to the situation. In fact, we had better leave. Miss Fellowes can bring Jerry to my office after a while and I’ll have him taken home.”
The two children spent the next hour very aware of each other. Jerry cried for his mother, struck out at Miss Fellowes and, finally, allowed himself to be comforted with a lollipop. Timmie sucked at another, and at the end of an hour, Miss Fellowes had them playing with the same set of blocks, though at opposite ends of the room.
She found herself almost maudlinly grateful to Hoskins when she brought Jerry to him.
She searched for ways to thank him but his very formality was a rebuff. Perhaps he could not forgive her for making him feel like a cruel father. Perhaps the bringing of his own child was an attempt, after all, to prove himself both a kind father to Timmie and, also, not his father at all. Both at the same time!
So all she could say was, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
And all he could say was, “It’s all right. Don’t mention it.”
It became a settled routine. Twice a week, Jerry was brought in for an hour’s play, later extended to two hours’ play. The children learned each other’s names and ways and played together.
And yet, after the first rush of gratitude, Miss Fellowes found herself disliking Jerry. He was larger and heavier and in all things dominant, forcing Timmie into a completely secondary role. All that reconciled her to the situation was the fact that, despite difficulties, Timmie looked forward with more and more delight to the periodic appearances of his playfellow.
It was all he had, she mourned to herself.
And once, as she watched them, she thought: Hoskins’ two children, one by his wife and one by Stasis.
While she herself—
Heavens, she thought, putting her fists to her temples and feeling ashamed: I’m jealous!
“Miss Fellowes,” said Tirnmie (carefully, she had never allowed him to call her anything else) “when will I go to school?”
She looked down at those eager brown eyes turned up to hers and passed her hand softly through his thick, curly hair. It was the most disheveled portion of his appearance, for she cut his hair herself while he sat restlessly under the scissors. She did not ask for professional help, for the very clumsiness of the cut served to mask the retreating fore part of the skull and the bulging hinder part.
She said, “Where did you hear about school?”
“Jerry goes to school. Kin-der-gar-ten.” He said it carefully. “There are lots of places he goes. Outside. When can I go outside, Miss Fellowes?”
A small pain centered in Miss Fellowes’ heart. Of course, she saw, there would be no way of avoiding the inevitability of Timmie’s hearing more and more of the outer world he could never enter.
She said, with an attempt at gaiety, “Why, whatever would you do in kindergarten, Timmie?”
“Jerry says they play games, they have picture tapes. He says there are lots of children. He says—he says—” A thought, then a triumphant upholding of both small hands with the fingers splayed apart. “He says this many.”
Miss Fellowes said, “Would you like picture tapes? I can get you picture tapes. Very nice ones. And music tapes too.”
So that Timmie was temporarily comforted.
He pored over the picture tapes in Jerry’s absence and Miss Fellowes read to him out of ordinary books by the hours.
There was so much to explain in even the simplest story, so much that was outside the perspective of his three rooms. Timmie took to having his dreams more often now that the outside was being introduced to him.
They were always the same, about the outside. He tried haltingly to describe them to Miss Fellowes. In his dreams, he was outside, an empty outside, but very large, with children and queer indescribable objects half-digested in his thought out of bookish descriptions half-understood, or out of distant Neanderthal memories half-recalled.
But the children and objects ignored him and though he was in the world, he was never part of it, but was as alone as though he were in his own room—and would wake up crying.
Miss Fellowes tried to laugh at the dreams, but there were nights in her own apartment when she cried, too.
One day, as Miss Fellowes read, Timmie put his hand under her chin and lifted it gently so that her eyes left the book and met his.
He said, “How do you know what to say, Miss Fellowes?”
She said, “You see these marks? They tell me what to say. These marks make words.”
He stared at them long and curiously, taking the book out of her hands. “Some of these marks are the same.”
She laughed with pleasure at this sign of his shrewdness and said, “So they are. Would you like to have me show you how to make the marks?”
“All right. That would be a nice game.”
It did not occur to her that he could learn to read. Up to the very moment that he read a book to her, it did not occur to her that he could learn to read.
Then, weeks later, the enormity of what had been done struck her. Timmie sat in her lap, following word by word the printing in a child’s book, reading to her. He was reading to her!
She struggled to her feet in amazement and said, “Now Timmie, I’ll be back later. I want to see Dr. Hoskins.”
Excited nearly to frenzy, it seemed to her she might have an answer to Timmie’s unhappiness. If Timmie could not leave to enter the world, the world must be brought into those three rooms to Timmie—the whole world in books and film and sound. He must be educated to his full capacity. So much the world owed him.
She found Hoskins in a mood that was oddly analogous to her own; a kind of triumph and glory. His offices were unusually busy, and for a moment, she thought she would not get to see him, as she stood abashed in the anteroom.
But he saw her, and a smile spread over his broad face. “Miss Fellowes, come here.”
He spoke rapidly into the intercom, then shut it off. “Have you heard?—No, of course, you couldn’t have. We’ve done it. We’ve actually done it. We have intertemporal detection at close range.”
“You mean,” she tried to detach her thought from her own good news for a moment, “that you can get a person from historical times into the present?”
“That’s just what I mean. We have a fix on a fourteenth century individual right now. Imagine. Imagine! If you could only know how glad I’ll be to shift from the eternal concentration on the Mesozoic, replace the paleontologists with the historians— But there’s something you wish to say to me, eh? Well, go ahead; go ahead. You find me in a good mood. Anything you want you can have.”
Miss Fellowes smiled. “I’m glad. Because I wonder if we might not establish a system of instruction for Timmie?”
“Instruction? In what?”
“Well, in everything. A school. So that he might learn.”
“But can he learn?”
“Certainly, he is learning. He can read. I’ve taught him so much myself.”
Hoskins sat there, seeming suddenly depressed. “I don’t know, Miss Fellowes.”
She said, “You just said that anything I wanted—”
“I know and I should not have. You see, Miss Fellowes, I’m sure you must realize that we cannot maintain the Timmie experiment forever.”
She stared at him with sudden horror, not really understanding what he had said. How did he mean “cannot maintain”? With an agonizing flash of recollection, she recalled Professor Ademewski and his mineral specimen that was taken away after two weeks. She said, “But you’re talking about a boy. Not about a rock—”
Dr. Hoskins said uneasily, “Even a boy can’t be given undue importance, Miss Fellowes. Now that we expect individuals out of historical time, we will need Stasis space, all we can get.”
She didn’t grasp it. “But you can’t. Timmie— Timmie—”
“Now, Miss Fellowes, please don’t upset yourself. Timmie won’t go right away; perhaps not for months. Meanwhile we’ll do what we can.”
She was still staring at him. ”Let me get you something, Miss Fellowes.” ”No,” she whispered. “I don’t need anything.” She arose in a kind of nightmare and left. Timmie, she thought, you will not die. You will not die. It was all very well to hold tensely to the thought that Timmie must not die, but how was that to be arranged? In the first weeks, Miss Fellowes clung only to the hope that the attempt to bring forward a man from the fourteenth century would fail completely. Hoskins’ theories might be wrong or his practice defective. Then things could go on as before.
Certainly, that was not the hope of the rest of the world and, irrationally, Miss Fellowes hated the world for it. “Project Middle Ages” reached a climax of white- hot publicity. The press and the public had hungered for something like this. Stasis, Inc. had lacked the necessary sensation for a long time now. A new rock or another ancient fish failed to stir them. But this was it
A historical human; an adult speaking a known language; someone who could open a new page of history to the scholar.
Zero-time was coming and this time it was not a question of three onlookers from the balcony. This time there would be a world-wide audience. This time the technicians of Stasis, Inc. would play their role before nearly all of mankind.
Miss Fellowes was herself all but savage with waiting. When young Jerry Hoskins showed up for his scheduled playtime with Timmie, she scarcely recognized him. He was not the one she was waiting for.
(The secretary who brought him left hurriedly after the barest nod for Miss Fellowes. She was rushing for a good place from which to watch the climax of Project Middle Ages. —And so ought Miss Fellowes with far better reason, she thought bitterly, if only that stupid girl would arrive.)
Jerry Hoskins sidled toward her, embarrassed. “Miss Fellowes?” He took the reproduction of a news- strip out of his pocket.
“Yes? What is it, Jerry?”
“Is this a picture of Timmie?”
Miss Fellowes stared at him, then snatched the strip from Jerry’s hand. The excitement of Project Middle Ages had brought about a pale revival of interest in Timmie on the part of the press.
Jerry watched her narrowly, then said, “It says Timmie is an ape-boy. What does that mean?”
Miss Fellowes caught the youngster’s wrist and repressed the impulse to shake him. “Never say that, Jerry. Never, do you understand? It is a nasty word and you mustn’t use it.”
Jerry struggled out of her grip, frightened.
Miss Fellowes tore up the news-strip with a vicious twist of the wrist. “Now go inside and play with Timmie. He’s got a new book to show you.”
And then, finally, the girl appeared. Miss Fellowes did not know her. None of the usual stand-ins she had used when business took her elsewhere was available now, not with Project Middle Ages at climax, but Hoskins’ secretary had promised to find someone and this must be the girl.
Miss Fellowes tried to keep querulousness out of her voice. “Are you the girl assigned to Stasis Section One?”
“Yes, I’m Mandy Terris. You’re Miss Fellowes, aren’t you?”
“I’m sorry I’m late. There’s just so much excitement.”
“I know. Now I want you—”
Mandy said, “You’ll be watching, I suppose.” Her thin, vacuously pretty face filled with envy.
“Never mind that. Now I want you to come inside and meet Timmie and Jerry. They will be playing for the next two hours so they’ll be giving you no trouble. They’ve got milk handy and plenty of toys. In fact, it will be better if you leave them alone as much as possible. Now I’ll show you where everything is located and—”
“Is it Timmie that’s the ape-b—”
“Timmie is the Stasis subject,” said Miss Fellowes firmly.
“I mean, he’s the one who’s not supposed to get out, is that right?”
“Yes. Now, come in. There isn’t much time.”
And when she finally left, Mandy Terris called after her shrilly, “I hope you get a good seat and, golly, I sure hope it works.”
Miss Fellowes did not trust herself to make a reasonable response. She hurried on without looking back.
But the delay meant she did not get a good seat. She got no nearer than the wall-viewing-plate in the assembly hall. Bitterly, she regretted that. If she could have been on the spot; if she could somehow have reached out for some sensitive portion of the instrumentations; if she were in some way able to wreck the experiment—
She found the strength to beat down her madness. Simple destruction would have done no good. They would have rebuilt and reconstructed and made the effort again. And she would never be allowed to return to Timmie.
Nothing would help. Nothing but that the experiment itself fail; that it break down irretrievably.
So she waited through the countdown, watching every move on the giant screen, scanning the faces of the technicians as the focus shifted from one to the other, watching for the look of worry and uncertainty that would mark something going unexpectedly wrong; watching, watching—
There was no such look. The count reached zero, and very quietly, very unassumingly, the experiment succeeded!
In the new Stasis that had been established there stood a bearded, stoop-shouldered peasant of indeterminate age, in ragged dirty clothing and wooden shoes, staring in dull horror at the sudden mad change that had flung itself over him.
And while the world went mad with jubilation, Miss Fellowes stood frozen in sorrow, jostled and pushed, all but trampled; surrounded by triumph while bowed down with defeat.
And when the loud-speaker called her name with strident force, it sounded it three times before she responded.
“Miss Fellowes. Miss Fellowes. You are wanted in Stasis Section One immediately. Miss Fellowes. Miss Fell—”
“Let me through!” she cried breathlessly, while the loud-speaker continued its repetitions without pause. She forced her way through the crowds with wild energy, beating at it, striking out with closed fists, flailing, moving toward the door in a nightmare slowness.
Mandy Terris was in tears. “I don’t know how it happened. I just went down to the edge of the corridor to watch a pocket-viewing-plate they had put up. Just for a minute. And then before I could move or do anything—”
She cried out in sudden accusation, “You said they would make no trouble; you said to leave them alone— “
Miss Fellowes, disheveled and trembling uncontrollably, glared at her. “Where’s Timmie?”
A nurse was swabbing the arm of a wailing Jerry with disinfectant and another was preparing an anti- tetanus shot. There was blood on Jerry’s clothes.
“He bit me, Miss Fellowes,” Jerry cried in rage. “He bit me.”
But Miss Fellowes didn’t even see him. ”What did you do with Timmie?” she cried out. “I locked him in the bathroom,” said Mandy. “I just threw the little monster in there and locked him in.”
Miss Fellowes ran into the dollhouse. She fumbled at the bathroom door. It took an eternity to get it open and to find the ugly little boy cowering in the corner.
“Don’t whip me, Miss Fellowes,” he whispered. His eyes were red. His lips were quivering. “I didn’t mean to do it.”
“Oh, Timmie, who told you about whips?” She caught him to her, hugging him wildly.
He said tremulously, “She said, with a long rope. She said you would hit me and hit me.”
“You won’t be. She was wicked to say so. But what happened? What happened?”
“He called me an ape-boy. He said I wasn’t a real boy. He said I was an animal.” Timmie dissolved in a flood of tears. “He said he wasn’t going to play with a monkey anymore. I said I wasn’t a monkey; I wasn ‘t a monkey. He said I was all funny-looking. He said I was horrible ugly. He kept saying and saying and I bit him.”
They were both crying now. Miss Fellowes sobbed, “But it isn’t true. You know that, Timmie. You’re a real boy. You’re a dear real boy and the best boy in the world. And no one, no one will ever take you away from me.”
It was easy to make up her mind, now; easy to know what to do. Only it had to be done quickly. Hoskins wouldn’t wait much longer, with his own son mangled—No, it would have to be done this night, this night; with the place four-fifths asleep and the remaining fifth intellectually drunk over Project Middle Ages.
It would be an unusual time for her to return but not an unheard of one. The guard knew her well and would not dream of questioning her. He would think nothing of her carrying a suitcase. She rehearsed the noncommittal phrase, “Games for the boy,” and the calm smile.
Why shouldn’t he believe that?
He did. When she entered the dollhouse again, Timmie was still awake, and she maintained a desperate normality to avoid frightening him. She talked about his dreams with him and listened to him ask wistfully after Jerry.
There would be few to see her afterward, none to question the bundle she would be carrying. Timmie would be very quiet and then it would be a fait accompli. It would be done and what would be the use of trying to undo it. They would leave her be. They would leave them both be.
She opened the suitcase, took out the overcoat, the woolen cap with the ear-flaps and the rest.
Timmie said, with the beginning of alarm, “Why are you putting all these clothes on me, Miss Fellowes?”
She said, “I am going to take you outside, Timmie. To where your dreams are.”
“My dreams?” His face twisted in sudden yearning, yet fear was there, too.
“You won’t be afraid. You’ll be with me. You won’t be afraid if you’re with me, will you, Timmie?”
“No, Miss Fellowes.” He buried his little misshapen head against her side, and under her enclosing arm she could feel his small heart thud.
It was midnight and she lifted him into her arms. She disconnected the alarm and opened the door softly.
And she screamed, for facing her across the open door was Hoskins!
There were two men with him and he stared at her, as astonished as she.
Miss Fellowes recovered first by a second and made a quick attempt to push past him; but even with the second’s delay he had time. He caught her roughly and hurled her back against a chest of drawers. He waved the men in and confronted her, blocking the door.
“I didn’t expect this. Are you completely insane?”
She had managed to interpose her shoulder so that it, rather than Timmie, had struck the chest. She said pleadingly, “What harm can it do if I take him, Dr. Hoskins? You can’t put energy loss ahead of a human life?”
Firmly, Hoskins took Timmie out of her arms. “An energy loss this size would mean millions of dollars lost out of the pockets of investors. It would mean a terrible setback for Stasis, Inc. It would mean eventual publicity about a sentimental nurse destroying all that for the sake of an ape-boy.”
“Ape-boy!” said Miss Fellowes, in helpless fury.
“That’s what the reporters would call him,” said Hoskins.
One of the men emerged now, looping a nylon rope through eyelets along the upper portion of the wall.
Miss Fellowes remembered the rope that Hoskins had pulled outside the room containing Professor Ademewski’s rock specimen so long ago.
She cried out, “No!”
But Hoskins put Timmie down and gently removed the overcoat he was wearing. “You stay here, Timmie. Nothing will happen to you. We’re just going outside for a moment. All right?”
Timmie, white and wordless, managed to nod.
Hoskins steered Miss Fellowes out of the dollhouse ahead of himself. For the moment, Miss Fellowes was beyond resistance. Dully, she noticed the hand-pull being adjusted outside the dollhouse.
“I’m sorry, Miss Fellowes,” said Hoskins. “I would have spared you this. I planned it for the night so that you would know only when it was over.”
She said in a weary whisper, “Because your son was hurt. Because he tormented this child into striking out at him.”
“No. Believe me. I understand about the incident today and I know it was Jerry’s fault. But the story has leaked out. It would have to with the press surrounding us on this day of all days. I can’t risk having a distorted story about negligence and savage Neanderthalers, so-called, distract from the success of Project Middle Ages. Timmie has to go soon anyway; he might as well go now and give the sensationalists as small a peg as possible on which to hang their trash.”
“It’s not like sending a rock back. You’ll be killing a human being.”
“Not killing. There’ll be no sensation. He’ll simply be a Neanderthal boy in a Neanderthal world. He will no longer be a prisoner and alien. He will have a chance at a free life.”
“What chance? He’s only seven years old, used to being taken care of, fed, clothed, sheltered. He will be alone. His tribe may not be at the point where he left them now that four years have passed. And if they were, they would not recognize him. He will have to take care of himself. How will he know how?”
Hoskins shook his head in hopeless negative. “Lord, Miss Fellowes, do you think we haven’t thought of that? Do you think we would have brought in a child if it weren’t that it was the first successful fix of a human or near-human we made and that we did not dare to take the chance of unfixing him and finding another fix as good? Why do you suppose we kept Timmie as long as we did, if it were not for our reluctance to send a child back into the past? It’s just”—his voice took on a desperate urgency—”that we can wait no longer. Timmie stands in the way of expansion! Timmie is a source of possible bad publicity; we are on the threshold of great things, and I’m sorry, Miss Fellowes, but we can’t let Timmie block us. We cannot. We cannot. I’m sorry, Miss Fellowes.”
“Well, then,” said Miss Fellowes sadly. “Let me say good-by. Give me five minutes to say good-by. Spare me that much.”
Hoskins hesitated. “Go ahead.”
Timmie ran to her. For the kst time he ran to her and for the last time Miss Fellowes clasped him in her arms.
For a moment, she hugged him blindly. She caught at a chair with the toe of one foot, moved it against the wall, sat down.
“Don’t be afraid, Timmie.”
“I’m not afraid if you’re here, Miss Fellowes. Is that man mad at me, the man out there?”
“No, he isn’t. He just doesn’t understand about us. —Timmie, do you know what a mother is?”
“Like Jerry’s mother?”
“Did he tell you about his mother?”
“Sometimes. I think maybe a mother is a lady who takes care of you and who’s very nice to you and who does good things.”
“That’s right. Have you ever wanted a mother, Timmie?”
Timmie pulled his head away from her so that he could look into her face. Slowly, he put his hand to her cheek and hair and stroked her, as long, long ago she had stroked him. He said, “Aren’t you my mother?”
“Are you angry because I asked?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Because I know your name is Miss Fellowes, but— but sometimes, I call you ‘Mother’ inside. Is that all right?”
“Yes. Yes. It’s all right. And I won’t leave you any more and nothing will hurt you. I’ll be with you to care for you always. Call me Mother, so I can hear you.”
“Mother,” said Timmie contentedly, leaning his cheek against hers.
She rose, and, still holding him, stepped up on the chair. The sudden beginning of a shout from outside went unheard and, with her free hand, she yanked with all her weight at the cord where it hung suspended between two eyelets. And Stasis was punctured and the room was empty.