Сборники Художественной, Технической, Справочной, Английской, Нормативной, Исторической, и др. литературы.

OUTSIDE by Brian W.Aldiss

    They never went out of the house. The man whose name was Harley  used
to get up first. Sometimes he would take a stroll through the building  in
his sleeping suit - the temperature remained always mild, day  after  day.
Then he would rouse Calvin, the handsome, broad man who looked  as  if  he
could command a dozen talents and never actually used one. He made as much
company as Harley needed.
    Dapple, the girl with killing grey eyes and black hair, was  a  light
sleeper. The sound of the two men talking would wake her. She would get up
and go to rouse May; together they would go down and prepare a meal. While
they were doing that, the other two members of the household,  Jagger  and
Pief, would be rousing.
    That was how every "day" began: not with the inkling of anything like
dawn, but just when the  six  of  them  had  slept  themselves  back  into
wakefulness. They never exerted themselves during  the  day,  but  somehow
when they climbed back into their beds they slept soundly enough.
    The only excitement of the day occured when  they  first  opened  the
store. The store was a small room between the kitchen and the  blue  room.
In the far wall was set a wide shelf, and upon this shelf their  existence
depended. Here, all the supplies "arrived". They would lock  the  door  of
the bare room last thing, and when they  returned  in  the  morning  their
needs - food, linen, a new washing machine - would be awaiting them on the
shelf. That was just an accepted feature of their  existence:  they  never
questioned it among themselves.
    On this morning, Dapple and May were ready with the meal  before  the
four men came down. Dapple even had to go to the foot of the  wide  stairs
and call before Pief appeared; so that the opening of the store had to  be
postponed till after they had eaten, for although the opening  had  in  no
way become a ceremony, the women were nervous of going in  alone.  It  was
one of those things...
    "I hope to get some tobacco," Harley said as he  unlocked  the  door.
"I'm nearly out of it."
    They walked in and looked at the shelf. It was all but empty.
    "No food," observed May, hands on her aproned waist. "We shall be  on
short rations today."
    It was not the first time this had happened. Once - how long ago now?
- they kept little track of time - no food had appeared for three days and
the shelf had remained empty. They had accepted the shortage placidly.
    "We shall eat you before we starve, May," Pief said, and they laughed
briefly to acknowledge the joke, although Pief had cracked  it  last  time
too. Pief was an unobtrusive little man: not the sort one would notice  in
a crowd. His small jokes were his most precious possession.
    Two packets only lay on the ledge. One was Harley's tobacco, one  was
a pack of cards. Harley pocketed the one with a grunt  and  displayed  the
other, slipping the pack from its wrapping  and  fanning  it  towards  the
    "Anyone play?" he asked.
    "Poker," Jagger said.
    "Gin rummy."
    "We'll play later," Calvin said. "It'll pass the time in the evening.
" The cards would be a challenge to them; they would have to sit  together
to play, round a table, facing each other.
    Nothing was in operation to separate them, but there seemed no strong
force to keep them together, once the tiny business of opening  the  store
was over. Jagger worked the vacuum cleanser down the hall, past the  front
door that did not open, and rode it up  the  stairs  to  clean  the  upper
landings; not that the place was dirty, but cleaning was something you did
anyway in the morning. The women sat with Pief desultorily discussing  how
to manage the rationing, but after that they lost contact with each  other
and drifted away on their own. Calvin and Harley had already strolled  off
in different directions.
    The house was a rambling affair. It had  few  windows,  and  such  as
there were did not open, were unbreakable and admitted no light.  Darkness
lay everywhere; illumination from an invisible source followed one's entry
into a room - but the black had to be entered before it faded. Every  room
was furnished, but with odd pieces  that  bore  little  relation  to  each
other, as if there was  no  purpose  for  the  room.  Rooms  equipped  for
purposeless beings have that air about them.
    No plan was discernable on first or second floor or in the long empty
attics. Only familiarity could reduce the maze-like quality  of  room  and
corridor. At least there was ample time for familiarity.
    Harley spent a long while walking about, hands  in  pockets.  At  one
point he met Dapple:  she  was  drooping  gracefully  over  a  sketchbook,
amateurishly copying a picture that hung on one of the walls -  a  picture
fo the room in which she sat. They exchanged  a  few  words,  then  Harley
moved on.
    Something lurked in the edge of his mind like a spider in the  corner
of its web. He stepped into what they called the piano room  and  then  he
realized what was worrying him. Almost furtively, he glanced round as  the
darkness slipped away, and then he looked at the big piano.  Some  strange
things had arrived on the shelf from time to time and had been distributed
over the house: one of them stood on the top of the piano now.
    It was a model, heavy and about two feet high, squat,  almost  round,
with a sharp nose and four buttressed vanes. Harley knew what it  was.  It
was a ground-to-space ship, a model of the burly ferries that lumbered  up
to the spaceship proper.
    That had caused them more unsettlement than when the piano itself had
appeared in the store. Keeping  his  eyes  on  the  model,  Harley  seated
himself at the piano stool and sat tensely, trying to draw something  from
the rear of his mind ... something connected with spaceships.
    Whatever it was, it was unpleasant, and it dodged backwards  whenever
he thought he had laid a mental finger on it. So it always eluded him.  If
only he could discuss it with someone, it  might  be  teased  out  of  its
hiding place. Unpleasant: menacing, yet with a promise  entangled  in  the
    If he could get at it, meet it boldly face to face, he could  do  ...
something definite. And until he faced it, he could not even say what  the
something definite was he wanted to do.
    A footfall behind him. Without turning, Harley deftly pushed  up  the
piano lid and ran a finger along the keys. Only  then  did  he  look  back
carelessly over his  shoulder.  Calvin  stood  there,  hands  in  pockets,
looking solid and comfortable.
    "Saw the light in here," he said easily. "I thought I'd drop in as  I
was passing."
    "I was thinking I would play the piano awhile," Harley answered  with
a smile. The thing was not discussable, even with a near acquaintance like
Calvin because ... because of the nature of the thing ... because one  had
to behave like a normal, unworried human being. That at  least  was  sound
and clear and gave him comfort: behave like a normal human being.
    Reassured, he pulled a gentle tumble of music from the  keyboard.  He
played well. They all played well, Dapple, May, Pief ... as soon  as  they
had assembled the piano, they had all played well.  Was  that  -  natural?
Harley shot a  glance  at  Calvin.  The  stocky  man  leaned  against  the
instrument, back to that disconcerting model, not a  care  in  the  world.
Nothing showed on his face but an expression  of  bland  amiability.  They
were all amiable, never quarrelling together.
    The six of them gathered for a scanty lunch, their talk was trite and
cheerful, and the afternoon followed on the same pattern as  the  morning,
as all the other mornings: secure, comfortable, aimless.  Only  to  Harley
did the pattern seem slightly out of focus; he  now  had  a  clue  to  the
problem. It was small enough, but in the dead calm of their  days  it  was
large enough.
    May had dropped the clue. When she helped herself  to  jelly,  Jagger
laughingly accused her of taking more than her  fair  share.  Dapple,  who
always defended May, said: "She's taken less than you, Jagger."
    "No," May corrected, "I think I have more than anyone else. I took it
for an interior motive."
    It was the kind of pun anyone made at times. But  Harley  carried  it
away to consider. He paced  round  one  of  the  silent  rooms.  Interior,
ulterior motives... Did the others here feel the  disquiet  he  felt?  Had
they a reason for concealing that disquiet? And another question:
    Where was "here"?
    He shut that one down sharply.
    Deal with one thing at a time. Grope your way gently  to  the  abyss.
Categorize your knowledge.
    One: Earth was getting slightly the worst of a cold war with Nitity.
    Two: the Nititians possessed the alarming ability of  being  able  to
assume the identical appearance of their enemies.
    Three: by this means they could permeate human society.
    Four: Earth was unable to view the Nititian civilization from inside.
    Inside ... a wave of claustrophobia swept over Harley as he  realized
that these cardinal facts he knew bore no relation to  this  little  world
inside. They came, by what means he did not know, from outside,  the  vast
abstraction that one of them had ever seen. He had a mental picture  of  a
starry void in which men and monsters swam or battled,  and  then  swiftly
erased it. Such ideas did not conform with  the  quiet  behaviour  of  his
companions; if they never spoke about outside, did they think about it?
    Uneasily, Harley moved about the room; the parquet floor  echoed  the
indecision of his footsteps. He had walked into the billiards room. Now he
prodded the balls across the green cloth with one  finger,  preyed  on  by
conflicting intentions. The white spheres touched and rolled  apart.  That
was how the two halves of his mind worked. Irreconcilables: he should stay
here and conform; he should - not stay here (remembering no time  when  he
was not here, Harley could frame the second  idea  no  more  clearly  than
that). Another point of pain was that "here" and "not here" seemed  to  be
not two halves of a homogeneous whole, but two dissonances.
    The ivory slid wearily into a pocket. He decided. He would not  sleep
in his room tonight.
    They came from the various parts of the  house  to  share  a  bedtime
drink. By tacit consent the cards had  been  postponed  until  some  other
time: there was, after all, so much other time.
    They talked about the slight nothings that comprised their  day,  the
model of one of the rooms that Calvin was building and May furnishing, the
faulty light in the upper corridor which came on  too  slowly.  They  were
subdued. It was time once more to sleep, and in that sleep who  knew  what
dreams might come? But they WOULD sleep. Harley knew -  wondering  if  the
others also knew - that with the darkness which descended as they  climbed
into bed would come an undeniable command to sleep.
    He stood tensely just inside his bedroom door, intensely aware of the
unorthodoxy of his behaviour. His head hammered painfully and he pressed a
cold hand against his temple. He heard the others go one by one  to  their
separate rooms. Pief called good night to  him;  Harley  replied.  Silence
    As he stepped nervously into the passage, the light came on. Yes,  it
was slow - reluctant. His heart pumped. He was committed. He did not  know
what he was going to do or what was going to happen, but he was committed.
The compulsion to sleep had been avoided. Now he had to hide, and wait.
    It is not easy to hide when a light signal follows wherever  you  go.
But by entering a recess which led to a disused  room,  opening  the  door
slightly and crouching in the doorway, Harley  found  the  faulty  landing
light dimmed off and left him in the dark.
    He was neither happy nor comfortable. His brain seethed in a conflict
he hardly understood. He was alarmed to think he had broken the rules  and
frightened of the creaking darkness about him. But the  suspense  did  not
last for long.
    The corridor light came back on.  Jagger  was  leaving  his  bedroom,
taking no precaution to be silent. The door swung loudly shut behind  him.
Harley caught a glimpse of his face before he  turned  and  made  for  the
stairs: he looked noncommittal but serene - like a man going off duty.  He
went downstairs in bouncy, jaunty fashion.
    Jagger should have been in bed asleep.  A  law  of  nature  had  been
    Unhesitatingly, Harley followed. He had been prepared  for  something
and something had  happened,  but  his  flesh  crawled  with  fright.  The
light-headed notion came to him that he might disintegrate with fear.  All
the same, he kept doggedly down the stairs, feet noiseless  on  the  heavy
    Jagger had rounded a corner. He was whistling  quietly  as  he  went.
Harley heard him unlock a door. That would be the store - no  other  doors
were locked. The whistling faded.
    The store was open. No sound came  from  within.  Cautiously,  Harley
peered inside. The  far  wall  had  swung  open  about  a  central  pivot,
revealing a passage beyond. For minutes Harley  could  not  move,  staring
fixedly at this breach.
    Finally, and with a sense  of  suffocation,  he  entered  the  store.
Jagger had gone through there. Harley also went through. Somewhere he  did
not know, somewhere whose existence he had not guessed .... Somewhere that
wasn't the house.... The passage was short and had two doors, one  at  the
end rather like a cage door (Harley did not recognize a lift when  he  saw
one), one in the side, narrow and with a window.
    The window was transparent. Harley looked through it  and  then  fell
back choking. Dizziness swept in and shook him by the throat.
    Stars shone outside.
    With an effort, he mastered himself and made his way  back  upstairs,
lurching against the banisters. They had all been living under  a  ghastly
    He barged into Calvin's room and the light lit. A faint, sweet  smell
was in the air, and Calvin lay on his broad back, fast asleep.
    "Calvin! Wake up!" Harley shouted.
    The sleeper never  moved.  Harley  was  suddenly  aware  of  his  own
loneliness and the eerie feel of the great house about him.  Bending  over
the bed, he shook Calvin violently by the shoulders and slapped his face.
    Calvin groaned and opened one eye.
    "Wake up, man," Harley said. "Something terrible's going on here."
    The other propped himself on one elbow, communicated fear rousing him
    "Jagger's LEFT THE HOUSE," Harley told him. " There's a way  outside.
We're - we've got to  find  out  what  we  are."  His  voice  rose  to  an
hysterical pitch. He was shaking Calvin again. "We must  find  out  what's
wrong here. Either we are victims of some ghastly experiment  -  or  we're
all monsters!"
    And as he spoke, before  his  staring  eyes,  beneath  his  clutching
hands, Calvin began to wrinkle up and fold  and  blur,  his  eyes  running
together and his great  torso  contracting.  Something  else  -  something
lively and alive - was forming in his place.
    Harley only stopped yelling  when,  having  plunged  downstairs,  the
sight of the stars through the small window steadied him. He  had  to  get
out, wherever "out" was.
    He pulled the small door open and stood in fresh night air.
    Harley's eye was not accustomed to judging  distances.  It  took  him
some while to realize the nature of  his  surroundings,  to  realize  that
mountains stood distantly against the starlit sky,  and  that  he  himself
stood on a platform twelve feet above  the  ground.  Some  distance  away,
lights gleamed, throwing bright rectangles onto an expanse of tarmac.
    There was a steel ladder at the edge of the platform. Biting his lip,
Harley approached it and climbed clumsily down. He was  shaking  violently
with cold and fear. When his feet touched solid ground, he began  to  run.
Once he looked back: the house perched on its platform like a frog hunched
on top of a rat trap.
    He stopped abruptly then, in almost dark. Abhorrence jerked up inside
him like retching. The high, crackling stars and the pale serration of the
mountains began to  spin,  and  he  clenched  his  fists  to  hold  on  to
consciousness. That house, whatever it was, was the embodiment of all  the
coldness in his mind. Harley said to himself: "Whatever has been  done  to
me, I've been cheated. Someone has robbed me of something so thoroughly  I
don't even know what it is. It's been a cheat, a cheat...." And he  choked
on the idea of those years that had been pilfered from  him.  No  thought:
thought scorched the synapses and ran like acid through the brain.  Action
only! His leg muscles jerked into movement again.
    Buildings loomed about him. He simply ran for the nearest  light  and
burst into the nearest door. Then he pulled up sharp, panting and blinking
the harsh illumination out of his pupils.
    The walls of the room were covered with graphs  and  charts.  In  the
centre of the room was a wide desk with vision-screen and  loudspeaker  on
it. It was a business-like room with overloaded ashtrays and  a  state  of
ordered untidiness. A thin man sat alertly at the  desk;  he  had  a  thin
    Four other men stood  in  the  room,  all  were  armed,  none  seemed
surprised to see him. The man at the desk wore a  neat  suit;  the  others
were in uniform.
    Harley leant on the door-jamb and sobbed. He could find no  words  to
    "It has taken you four years to get out of there," the thin man said.
He had a thin voice.
    "Come and look at this," he said, indicating the screen  before  him.
With an effort, Harley complied; his legs worked like rickety crutches.
    On the screen, clear and real, was Calvin's bedroom. The  outer  wall
gaped, and through it two uniformed men were dragging a strange  creature,
a wiry, mechanical-looking being that had once been called Calvin.
    "Calvin was a Nititian," Harley observed dully. He was conscious of a
sort of stupid surprise at his own observation.
    The thin man nodded approvingly.
    "Enemy infiltrations constituted quite a threat," he  said.  "Nowhere
on Earth was safe from them: they can kill a man, dispose of him and  turn
into exact replicas of him. Makes things difficult.... We lost  a  lot  of
state secrets that way. But Nititian ships have to land here to  disembark
the Non-Men and to pick them up again after their work is  done.  That  is
the weak link in their chain.
    "We intercepted one such ship-load and bagged them singly after  they
had assumed humanoid form. We subjected them to artificial amnesia and put
small groups of them into different environments for study.  This  is  the
Army Institute for Investigation of Non-Men, by the way.  We've  learnt  a
lot ... quite enough to combat the menace.... Your group, of  course,  was
one such."
    Harley asked in a gritty voice: "Why did you put me in with them?"
    The thin man rattled a ruler between his teeth before answering.
    "Each group has to have a human observer in their very midst, despite
all the scanning devices that watch from outside. You see, a Nititian uses
a deal of energy maintaining a human form; once in that shape, he is  kept
in it by self-hypnosis which only breaks down  in  times  of  stress,  the
amount of stress bearable varying from one individual to another. A  human
on the spot can sense such stresses.... It's a tiring job for him; we  get
doubles always to work day on, day off -"
    "But I've always been there -"
    "Of your group," the thin man cut in, "the human was Jagger,  or  two
men alternating as Jagger. You caught one of them going off duty."
    "That doesn't make sense," Harley shouted. "You're trying to say that
I -"
    He choked on the words. They were no longer  pronounceable.  He  felt
his outer form flowing away like sand as from the other side of  the  desk
revolver barrels were levelled at him.
    "Your stress level is  remarkably  high,"  continued  the  thin  man,
turning his gaze away from the spectacle. "But where you fail is where you
all fail. Like Earth's insects which imitate vegetables,  your  cleverness
cripples you. You can only be carbon copies. Because Jagger did nothing in
the house, all the rest of you instinctively followed suit. You didn't get
bored - you didn't even try to make passes at Dapple  -  as  personable  a
Non-man as I ever saw. Even the  model  spaceship  jerked  no  appreciable
reaction out of you."
    Brushing his suit down, he rose before the skeletal being  which  now
cowered in a corner.
    "The inhumanity inside will always give you away,"  he  said  evenly.
"However human you are outside."

Яндекс цитирования