Read an Excerpt
This Perfect Day
By Ira Levin
PEGASUS BOOKSCopyright © 1970 Ira Levin
All rights reserved.
A city's blank white concrete slabs, the giant ones ringed by the less giant, gave space in their midst to a broad pink-floored plaza, a playground in which some two hundred young children played and exercised under the care of a dozen supervisors in white coveralls. Most of the children, bare, tan, and black-haired, were crawling through red and yellow cylinders, swinging on swings, or doing group calisthenics; but in a shadowed corner where a hopscotch grid was inlaid, five of them sat in a close, quiet circle, four of them listening and one speaking.
"They catch animals and eat them and wear their skins," the speaker, a boy of about eight, said. "And they—they do a thing called 'fighting.' That means they hurt each other, on purpose, with their hands or with rocks and things. They don't love and help each other at all."
The listeners sat wide-eyed. A girl younger than the boy said, "But you can't take off your bracelet. It's impossible." She pulled at her own bracelet with one finger, to show how safely-strong the links were.
"You can if you've got the right tools," the boy said. "It's taken off on your linkday, isn't it?"
"Only for a second."
"But it's taken off, isn't it?"
"Where do they live?" another girl asked.
"On mountaintops," the boy said. "In deep caves. In all kinds of places where we can't find them."
The first girl said, "They must be sick."
"Of course they are," the boy said, laughing. "That's what 'incurable' means, sick. That's why they're called incurables, because they're very, very sick."
The youngest child, a boy of about six, said, "Don't they get their treatments?"
The older boy looked at him scornfully. "Without their bracelets?" he said. "Living in caves?"
"But how do they get sick?" the six-year-old asked. "They get their treatments until they run away, don't they?"
"Treatments," the older boy said, "don't always work."
The six-year-old stared at him. "They do," he said.
"No they don't."
"My goodness," a supervisor said, coming to the group with volley balls tucked one under each arm, "aren't you sitting too close together? What are you playing, Who's Got the Rabbit?"
The children quickly hitched away from one another, separating into a larger circle—except the six-year-old boy, who stayed where he was, not moving at all. The supervisor looked at him curiously.
A two-note chime sounded on loudspeakers. "Shower and dress," the supervisor said, and the children hopped to their feet and raced away.
"Shower and dress!" the supervisor called to a group of children playing passball nearby.
The six-year-old boy stood up, looking troubled and unhappy. The supervisor crouched before him and looked into his face with concern. "What's wrong?" she asked.
The boy, whose right eye was green instead of brown, looked at her and blinked.
The supervisor let drop her volley balls, turned the boy's wrist to look at his bracelet, and took him gently by the shoulders. "What is it, Li?" she asked. "Did you lose the game? Losing's the same as winning; you know that, don't you?"
The boy nodded.
"What's important is having fun and getting exercise, right?"
The boy nodded again and tried to smile.
"Well, that's better," the supervisor said. "That's a little better. Now you don't look like such a sad old sad-monkey."
The boy smiled.
"Shower and dress," the supervisor said with relief. She turned the boy around and gave him a pat on his bottom. "Go on," she said, "skedaddle."
The boy, who was sometimes called Chip but more often Li—his nameber was Li RM35M4419—said scarcely a word while eating, but his sister Peace kept up a continuous jabbering and neither of his parents noticed his silence. It wasn't until all four had seated themselves in the TV chairs that his mother took a good look at him and said, "Are you feeling all right, Chip?"
"Yes, I feel fine," he said.
His mother turned to his father and said, "He hasn't said a word all evening."
Chip said, "I feel fine."
"Then why are you so quiet?" his mother asked.
"Shh," his father said. The screen had flicked on and was finding its right colors.
When the first hour was over and the children were getting ready for bed, Chip's mother went into the bathroom and watched him finish cleaning his teeth and pull his mouthpiece from the tube. "What is it?" she said. "Did somebody say something about your eye?"
"No," he said, reddening.
"Rinse it," she said.
He rinsed his mouthpiece and, stretching, hung it in its place on the rack. "Jesus was talking," he said. "Jesus DV. During play."
"About what? Your eye?"
"No, not my eye, Nobody says anything about my eye."
He shrugged. "Members who—get sick and—leave the Family. Run away and take off their bracelets."
His mother looked at him nervously. "Incurables," she said.
He nodded, her manner and her knowing the name making him more uneasy. "It's true?" he said.
"No," she said. "No, it isn't. No. I'm going to call Bob. He'll explain it to you." She turned and hurried from the room, slipping past Peace, who was coming in closing her pajamas.
In the living room Chip's father said, "Two more minutes. Are they in bed?"
Chip's mother said, "One of the children told Chip about the incurables."
"Hate," his father said.
"I'm calling Bob," his mother said, going to the phone.
"It's after eight."
"He'll come," she said. She touched her bracelet to the phone's plate and read out the nameber red-printed on a card tucked under the screen rim: "Bob NE20G3018." She waited, rubbing the heels of her palms tightly together. "I knew something was bothering him," she said. "He didn't say a single word all evening."
Chip's father got up from his chair. "I'll go talk to him," he said, going.
"Let Bob do it!" Chip's mother called. "Get Peace into bed; she's still in the bathroom!"
Bob came twenty minutes later.
"He's in his room," Chip's mother said.
"You two watch the program," Bob said. "Go on, sit down and watch." He smiled at them. "There's nothing to worry about," he said. "Really. It happens every day."
"Still?" Chip's father said.
"Of course," Bob said. "And it'll happen a hundred years from now. Kids are kids."
He was the youngest adviser they had ever had—twenty-one, and barely a year out of the Academy. There was nothing diffident or unsure about him though; on the contrary, he was more relaxed and confident than advisers of fifty or fifty-five. They were pleased with him.
He went to Chip's room and looked in. Chip was in bed, lying on an elbow with his head in his hand, a comic book spread open before him.
"Hi, Li," Bob said.
Chip said, "Hi, Bob."
Bob went in and sat down on the side of the bed. He put his telecomp on the floor between his feet, felt Chip's forehead and ruffled his hair. "Whatcha readin'?" he said.
"Wood's Struggle," Chip said, showing Bob the cover of the comic book. He let it drop closed on the bed and, with his forefinger, began tracing the wide yellow W of "Wood's."
Bob said, "I hear somebody's been giving you some cloth about incurables."
"Is that what it is?" Chip asked, not looking up from his moving finger.
"That's what it is, Li," Bob said. "It used to be true, a long, long time ago, but not any more; now it's just cloth."
Chip was silent, retracing the W.
"We didn't always know as much about medicine and chemistry as we do today," Bob said, watching him, "and until fifty years or so after the Unification, members used to get sick sometimes, a very few of them, and feel that they weren't members. Some of them ran away and lived by themselves in places the Family wasn't using, barren islands and mountain peaks and so forth."
"And they took off their bracelets?"
"I suppose they did," Bob said. "Bracelets wouldn't have been much use to them in places like that, would they, with no scanners to put them to?"
"Jesus said they did something called 'fighting.'"
Bob looked away and then back again. "'Acting aggressively' is a nicer way of putting it," he said. "Yes, they did that."
Chip looked up at him. "But they're dead now?" he said.
"Yes, all dead," Bob said. "Every last one of them." He smoothed Chip's hair. "It was a long, long time ago," he said. "Nobody gets that way today."
Chip said, "We know more about medicine and chemistry today. Treatments work."
"Right you are," Bob said. "And don't forget there were five separate computers in those days. Once one of those sick members had left his home continent, he was completely unconnected."
"My grandfather helped build UniComp."
"I know he did, Li. So next time anyone tells you about the incurables, you remember two things: one, treatments are much more effective today than they were a long time ago; and two, we've got UniComp looking out for us everywhere on Earth. Okay?"
"Okay," Chip said, and smiled.
"Let's see what it says about you" Bob said, picking up his telecomp and opening it on his knees.
Chip sat up and moved close, pushing his pajama sleeve clear of his bracelet. "Do you think I'll get an extra treatment?" he asked.
"If you need one," Bob said. "Do you want to turn it on?"
"Me?" Chip said. "May I?"
"Sure," Bob said.
Chip put his thumb and forefinger cautiously to the telecomp's on-off switch. He clicked it over, and small lights came on—blue, amber, amber. He smiled at them.
Bob, watching him, smiled and said, "Touch."
Chip touched his bracelet to the scanner plate, and the blue light beside it turned red.
Bob tapped the input keys. Chip watched his quickly moving fingers. Bob kept tapping and then pressed the answer button; a line of green symbols glowed on the screen, and then a second line beneath the first. Bob studied the symbols. Chip watched him.
Bob looked at Chip from the corners of his eyes, smiling. "Tomorrow at 12:25," he said.
"Good!" Chip said. "Thank you!"
"Thank Uni," Bob said, switching off the telecomp and closing its cover. "Who told you about the incurables?" he asked. "Jesus who?"
"DV33-something," Chip said. "He lives on the twenty-fourth floor."
Bob snapped the telecomp's catches. "He's probably as worried as you were," he said.
"Can he have an extra treatment too?"
"If he needs one; I'll alert his adviser. Now to sleep, brother; you've got school tomorrow." Bob took Chip's comic book and put it on the night table.
Chip lay down and snuggled smilingly into his pillow, and Bob stood up, tapped off the lamp, ruffled Chip's hair again, and bent and kissed the back of his head.
"See you Friday," Chip said.
"Right," Bob said. "Good night."
Chip's parents stood up anxiously when Bob came into the living room.
"He's fine," Bob said. "Practically asleep already. He's getting an extra treatment during his lunch hour tomorrow, probably a bit of tranquilizer."
"Oh, what a relief," Chip's mother said, and his father said, "Thanks, Bob."
"Thank Uni," Bob said. He went to the phone. "I want to get some help to the other boy," he said, "the one who told him"—and touched his bracelet to the phone's plate.
The next day, after lunch, Chip rode the escalators down from his school to the medicenter three floors below. His bracelet, touched to the scanner at the medicenter's entrance, produced a winking green yes on the indicator; and another winking green yes at the door of the therapy section; and another winking green yes at the door of the treatment room.
Four of the fifteen units were being serviced, so the line was fairly long. Soon enough, though, he was mounting children's steps and thrusting his arm, with the sleeve pushed high, through a rubber-rimmed opening. He held his arm grown-uply still while the scanner inside found and fastened on his bracelet and the infusion disc nuzzled warm and smooth against his upper arm's softness. Motors burred inside the unit, liquids trickled. The blue light overhead turned red and the infusion disc tickled-buzzed-stung his arm; and then the light turned blue again.
Later that day, in the playground, Jesus DV, the boy who had told him about the incurables, sought Chip out and thanked him for helping him.
"Thank Uni," Chip said. "I got an extra treatment; did you?"
"Yes," Jesus said. "So did the other kids and Bob UT. He's the one who told me."
"It scared me a little," Chip said, "thinking about members getting sick and running away."
"Me too a little," Jesus said. "But it doesn't happen any more; it was a long, long time ago."
"Treatments are better now than they used to be," Chip said.
Jesus said, "And we've got UniComp watching out for us everywhere on Earth."
"Right you are," Chip said.
A supervisor came and shooed them into a passball circle, an enormous one of fifty or sixty boys and girls spaced out at fingertip distance, taking up more than a quarter of the busy playground.CHAPTER 2
Chip's grandfather was the one who had given him the name Chip. He had given all of them extra names that were different from their real ones: Chip's mother, who was his daughter, he called "Suzu" instead of Anna; Chip's father was "Mike" not Jesus (and thought the idea foolish); and Peace was "Willow," which she refused to have anything at all to do with. "No! Don't call me that! I'm Peace! I'm Peace KD37T5002!"
Papa Jan was odd. Odd-looking, naturally; all grandparents had their marked peculiarities—a few centimeters too much or too little of height, skin that was too light or too dark, big ears, a bent nose. Papa Jan was both taller and darker than normal, his eyes were big and bulging, and there were two reddish patches in his graying hair. But he wasn't only odd-looking, he was odd-talking; that was the real oddness about him. He was always saying things vigorously and with enthusiasm and yet giving Chip the feeling that he didn't mean them at all, that he meant in fact their exact opposites. On that subject of names, for instance: "Marvelous! Wonderful!" he said. "Four names for boys, four names for girls! What could be more friction-free, more everyone-the-same? Everybody would name boys after Christ, Marx, Wood, or Wei anyway, wouldn't they?"
"Yes," Chip said.
"Of course!" Papa Jan said. "And if Uni gives out four names for boys it has to give out four names for girls too, right? Obviously! Listen." He stopped Chip and, crouching down, spoke face to face with him, his bulging eyes dancing as if he was about to laugh. It was a holiday and they were on their way to the parade, Unification Day or Wei's Birthday or whatever; Chip was seven. "Listen, Li RM35M26J449988WXYZ," Papa Jan said. "Listen, I'm going to tell you something fantastic, incredible. In my day—are you listening?—in my day there were oyer twenty different names for boys alone! Would you believe it? Love of Family, it's the truth. There was 'Jan,' and 'John,' and 'Amu,' and 'Lev.' 'Higa' and 'Mike'! 'Tonio'! And in my father's time there were even more, maybe forty or fifty! Isn't that ridiculous? All those different names when members themselves are exactly the same and interchangeable? Isn't that the silliest thing you ever heard of?"
And Chip nodded, confused, feeling that Papa Jan meant the opposite, that somehow it wasn't silly and ridiculous to have forty or fifty different names for boys alone.
"Look at them!" Papa Jan said, taking Chip's hand and walking on with him—through Unity Park to the Wei's Birthday parade. "Exactly the same! Isn't it marvelous? Hair the same, eyes the same, skin the same, shape the same; boys, girls, all the same. Like peas in a pod. Isn't it fine? Isn't it top speed?"
Chip, flushing (not his green eye, not the same as anybody's), said, "What does 'peezinapod' mean?"
"I don't know," Papa Jan said. "Things members used to eat before totalcakes. Sharya used to say it."
He was a construction supervisor in EUR55131, twenty kilometers from '55128, where Chip and his family lived. On Sundays and holidays he rode over and visited them. His wife, Sharya, had drowned in a sightseeing-boat disaster in 135, the same year Chip was born; he hadn't remarried.
Chip's other grandparents, his father's mother and father, lived in MEX10405, and the only time he saw them was when they phoned on birthdays. They were odd, but not nearly as odd as Papa Jan.
School was pleasant and play was pleasant. The Pre-U Museum was pleasant although some of the exhibits were a bit scary—the "spears" and "guns," for instance, and the "prison cell" with its striped-suited "convict" sitting on the cot and clutching his head in motionless month-after-month woe. Chip always looked at him—he would slip away from the rest of the class if he had to—and having looked, he always walked quickly away.
Ice cream and toys and comic books were pleasant too. Once when Chip put his bracelet and a toy's sticker to a supply-center scanner, its indicator red-winked no and he had to put the toy, a construction set, in the turn-back bin. He couldn't understand why Uni had refused him; it was the right day and the toy was in the right category. "There must be a reason, dear," the member behind him said. "You go call your adviser and find out."
Excerpted from This Perfect Day by Ira Levin. Copyright © 1970 Ira Levin. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
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