FOR YOU SCIFI BUFFS: A parody of Heinlein's "They"

Off topic

They were not terribly bright.

For the second time that week he had walked right off the grounds, through that little gate with the latch and onto the street. Out into broad daylight and freedom, without any of them being the wiser.

He still had on his in-patient whites, yet he scarcely drew a glance from anybody in the surrounding crowd. Everyone seemed to be very much focused on wherever it was they were going--assuming of course that they were in fact going anywhere at all.

He had nowhere else to go now himself.

He decided that it was time for a drink. In honor of this, his latest escape--or perhaps just to heighten the feeling of escape all the more. And right as the thought occurred to him, he noticed the name of the bar on the corner. The White Rabbit.

There was of course some sense to all of it. A guiding hand--no matter how warped. As he watched a small portion of the sky peeling down like a sagging flap of wallpaper. Then, as if in answer to his glance, the flap mysteriously arose, smoothed out and became one with the blue.

He shook his head. It had happened again. Yet, if he were to stop any one of a number of passersby to ask if they had seen it, he knew perfectly well what their response would be. The suspicious stare or sidelong glance, the long swing around him and off. Then perhaps one of them would finally notice what he was wearing.

* * *

That morning he'd been in to see one of his keepers. Dr. Ayres. They had been playing chess again.

"These feelings of yours are nothing new, as I'm sure you must be aware. They are common enough nowadays." As the doctor put his knight down on the KR1 square.

"Yes, I know that."

"Modern literature is full of such things. You might even say they're a symptom of our age."


"So perhaps that is where you got this idea?"

A circular argument. But he said nothing.

"In any case, it's not quite as one-sided a conspiracy if you're not the only victim."

"Yes, it wouldn't be."

"And a far more complicated and cumbersome process for the perpetrators to uphold and do a thorough job."

But they don't do a thorough job. That's just the point.

"As I say, these feelings are rather common."

"Do you have them?"

A shrug. "No, I am not quite so alienated. I am a reasonably happy and well-adjusted member of society."

"Or a well-designed one."

A calm, diplomatic smile. "That is, as always, your opinion."

"I hadn't even thought of it before until I came across a story by Heinlein."

"Oh yes. The old science fiction writer."

"That's right. But in that one, the victim was a slumbering god. An amnesiac. I'm just a regular guy. A schlep. And so I get a world suited for me. To my low station."

The doctor gave a small smile. As he set his other knight down on QR1.

* * *

"What's yours?"

"Excuse me?"

"What'll you have?"

"Whiskey sour."

The bartender eyed his inmate garb as he was pouring the drink. "That's some get-up."


"You just make your escape?" With a broken-toothed grin.

"Yes." As he took the drink.

A sudden shift to suspicion with a darksome scowl. "You don't have to get wise."

"No. No, I don't." And he stepped away. Slapping down the five-dollar bill he found in his pocket onto the counter.

* * *

All the mystics he had read. Those who said the world was an unbearable mess. Or that--if you really looked at it closely--it wasn't. Either way, the only way to transcend it was to think of not-thinking. Then you would realize that it had never really needed transcending at all.

Yes, you couldn't be truly happy unless you had forsaken everything, including forsaking. No thoughts but no-thought. Dying to death. Perfect!

The more he thought about it, the more he realized how appropriate it all was to this place. To this whole paint-by-numbers, supremely tacky, plywood-and-penny-nail universe.

* * *

"Then there's quantum physics--"

"I'm sorry?" Dr. Ayres looked up from considering his latest move.

"The notion that there are waves of probability, rather than matter. And that no one thing is definitely where you expect it to be. And half-lives. Having to depend for everything on statistics."

"I'm afraid that sort of thing is a little over my head," the doctor commented.

"The point is that when you examine it very closely--I mean, everything--it collapses on you. Proves to be chimerical."

"Your move."

"I'm aware of that." He stopped momentarily in his musings to take a rook with his bishop.

Dr. Ayres let out a sigh. And made his move. Promptly losing his queen. "I'm afraid I'm not in very good form today."


* * *

Writers had touched upon it a bit. And artists. But merely as an intellectual problem, or something to symbolize their own inadequacies and frustrations in dealing with society. A sort of petit bourgeois malaise, a fin de siecle tristesse (why did all those words seem to be French?).

But there he was, on a day to day basis. Living it.

* * *

He could still remember the one moment in his life when everything had seemed to be right.

He'd been twenty-one years old. And sitting with Beatrice on the shores of Willow Lake. When the sky seemed to be a sort of sun dome, this cathedral formed of innumerable shades and tints of blue. And he practically felt like breaking into song, like he was living life in some musical.

For that one afternoon. Then Beatrice had caught a cold that night, and they'd started arguing again. Looking back on it now, everything had seemed to go downhill from there.

* * *

Here they were, the latest attendants. Coming in wearing white lab coats and carrying huge butterfly nets.

Then--like something seen through a blur of water--they were being modified. Toned down. Until they were just two quiet, young, efficient-looking men in ordinary clothing. T-shirts and pants.

"Isn't it time for you to be coming along with us?"

They stood unobtrusively, one on each side of his table.

"Yes. Yes, I imagine that it is." He was feeling the effects of the booze, no doubt about that. The one form of certainty left to him ("I am drunk, therefore I am").

"We're really going to have to put a stop to these little excursions of yours," the other one said.

But that's the thing: you can't. No matter what you try, you can't.

He stood there without comment, as they each slipped an arm through his and were walking toward the door. Back outside.

* * *

The creature known as Beatrice still looked very much the creature as he was being escorted in to the building. But then she stood there in human form: radiating compassion and concern once again as his wife, reaching out an arm to touch his as he went past.

He jerked away from her, sending his attendants veering along with his momentum. And heard a sob from behind.

* * *

The straitjacket wasn't even tied properly.

By wriggling around a bit, he realized that the belt on one side was not fastened at all.

He lay there, not bothering to shake off his fetters this time. Not trying to escape.

As he looked up at the bars on the windows, he saw one of them fall off, down from the grate with a rattle on the concrete. It thunked into the bushes. And he looked away.

He was gradually coming to realize--much as the Sufis had long maintained--that there were in actuality two prisons. One like the place where he'd found himself once again, with bars and cells; and the one right outside, with that badly chipped, peeling blue sky.