Fair and Warmer

Home

2. Disease Of Curiosity



He floated in his focus, idly and uninterestedly contemplating the deep violet far above. A few minutes before, he had been stirred to an elusive and incomprehensible wistfulness which had been, in some way, connected with the aliens. While waiting for the physician, he pondered the brief glimpse he had got of them before the Council clamped down its screen and privacy orders. Now, under the emotionless pseudoconsciousness of the nego, it seemed strange that he could have been interested in those futile and primitive beings. Practically nothing was known about them, because they could not communicate.

Tensor studied the question briefly. There was no answer available in the paucity of information, so he dismissed it without further interest. Insufficient data. Therefore, insoluble problem. Therefore, forget about it.

He continued to stare at the sky, unconsciously and vacantly waiting.

He felt the itch. It was a slight stimulation of his medulary region, indicating somebody's desire to communicate with him. That, however, was impossible at the moment. The only faculties of significance remaining in his neutral somatic state were those which were absolutely necessary for civilized life--levitation to avoid being disturbed by gravity, the focus for personal privacy, the construction of food. Communication was not one of those, so the itch would just have to remain. Tensor contemplated an eternity with the medulary itch without the slightest concern.

Abruptly the itch stopped and Curl was there, looking exhausted, as was the polite fashion, since teleporting oneself was commonly regarded as tiring.

"You've taken nego," the physician murmured aloud, half accusingly.

"Yes sir," Tensor replied, using similar sound patterns. "Ruut ordered me to."

"What in Oxy for?"

"He did not like my attitude."

The physician considered the information, and while he did so, Ruut popped into existence beside him, a most uncivilized look of worry on his face.

"How is he, Curl? What have you found out?"

"No need for excitement, my dear administrator," the physician replied evenly, politely avoiding comment on Ruut's crude, low caste self control. "I just got here. Thanks to your order to the young man to fill himself up with nego, he was unable to let me project a hyperimage."

"But the situation was dangerous. Did you examine him? Did he tell you what he said to me?"

Curl glanced at him, and then quickly sent probing thoughts at Tensor's mind and body. After a moment, he gave it up, shaking his head. "The nego won't let him communicate at all. I'll have to order him to administer an antidote to himself."

"No!" Ruut almost shouted. "It's dangerous." He rapidly gave an oral and somewhat horrified account of his earlier communication with Tensor.

"All right," the physician grudgingly admitted. "I'll try to do it superficially. But it's difficult. It's awfully hard to know what's going on in his body from just looking at it and listening to him talk."

He turned to Tensor. "How long have you been having these--er, spurious moods?"

"About six months."

"Are you having any other troubles?"

"No sir. It's just the simple things, like the weather, that seem to be affected."

"I see. Melancholia." Curl frowned thoughtfully. "These moods come unwillingly, is that it? And they don't go away entirely when you shift your endocrine balance?"

"I'm not so sure about that endocrine shift, sir," Tensor stated emotionlessly.

"You mean--" Curl stopped incredulously. He shook his head as he comprehended. "Great Iso Oxys!"

"What is it?" Ruut asked in a hushed voice.

"This is deeper than I thought, Ruut. You did very well to put him under nego. The man can't control his endocrine system properly."

"Well do something," Ruut demanded. "Don't just float there."

"All I can do," Curl said, raising his voice exactly one decibel to show his irritation, "is give advice. Obviously, in his condition, the man can't follow it."

Ruut gazed unhappily at his friend. He was in authority over Tensor, and therefore far inferior in native gifts. Now it seemed that Tensor was regressing in some obscure way to his own level, a tragic and uncivilized situation.

"This has happened before," Curl admitted. "But I can't quite remember when." He sighed resignedly. "I guess I'll have to teleport again. Somebody probably remembers."

He disappeared for a few minutes and returned again, face beaming despite the fatigue.

"Oh yes," he said cheerfully. "Now I know."

Tensor stared at him with uninterested eyes.

"The man is dying," Curl explained with satisfaction.

"Dying?" Ruut murmured incredulously. "But that's impossible unless the Council orders him to destroy himself. Why--why that would make him just like an animal."

"That's what it is," Curl insisted.

Ordinarily, Tensor would have been somewhat interested to know about this strange process that was taking place within his body, but the nego kept his mind dull and unconcerned. He did not even question for reasons.

Ruut, however, did, and the physician happily explained. "You just have never been concerned with these rare symptoms, my dear administrator. You see, actually we are animals in a sense. We don't die like them, but if we are not in a focus we could be killed through some accidental injury. The principal difference between us and the small animals that occasionally cause Prime trouble with his landscaping is control. They have no control over their endocrine systems. We have."

"Of course," Ruut said. "I know that."

"Ah, but perhaps you don't know that our race at one time had no more control over our endocrine systems than those little animals.

"There are a lot of ways to account for the change, and it makes very fascinating discussion because it's absolutely unimportant. However, under such conditions, a human being would automatically reach a certain stable level of development. But then, after an incredibly short time, the essential chaos within its body due to lack of endocrine control causes it to deteriorate. Eventually it is no longer capable of sustaining life and it dies."

The physician moved his hands in an awkward but eloquent gesture. "And that's all there is to it."

"Oh," Ruut murmured in an awed tone, not even comprehending the extent of the disease but trying to accept the staggering idea of natural death. "Can't you do anything for him?"

Curl turned his attention casually back to the sick man again. "Possibly. Dying, of course, is not a disease in itself, but merely a symptom of one." He shook his head. "I certainly wish I could examine him directly without getting involved in a major social crisis."

"Oh, Prime would be furious," Ruut warned.

"No doubt. Well--he said that this started six months ago. Now what could have happened six months ago?"

"The aliens," Ruut said flatly. "That's what caused it."

"Oh, come now, Ruut," Curl said amusedly. "Don't be superstitious. What connection could these--these aliens possibly have?"

"Well, that's when the Council clamped down on them. Something funny about the way they did that, too."

"Not at all funny," Curl told him in a superior tone of voice. "It is simply that the aliens appeared to be of a higher type of animal class without communication. Surely you wouldn't want to have anything to do with such contradictory beings."

"Of course not. But Tensor got sick right after he visited them."

"He went to visit them?" Curl was pensive a moment, and his eyes lighted up. "In that case, Ruut, there may be some connection after all."

Ruut nodded without speaking.

"Tensor," Curl said thoughtfully, "did you actually go to inspect the savages?"

"Yes sir."

"When?"

"Just before the Council stopped it."

"Uh huh. Did you have a reaction?"

Tensor considered. He recalled every detail of the fleeting impressions that had been his during the few brief moments of his presence near the peculiar organisms. The impressions were confused and mingled with sensations of teleport fatigue, but there was a definite and strange sentiment involved somewhere.

"Yer, sir," he said woodenly. "There seems to have been a reaction."

"Ha!" The physician glanced significantly at Ruut. "What kind of a reaction, Tensor? And how strong was it?"

"I do not recognize it, sir. But it was stronger than the ordinary ones."

Curl floated over close to him, peering intently up into the unconscious man's eyes. "Tell me the characteristics."

Tensor thought a moment and replied, "Chaotic in one sense. Specific in another."

"Speculative?" Curl's eyes were eager with interest.

"Yes sir. I believe that would define it best. It was a sort of wild and ungovernable desire to speculate on the origin of the aliens. A very singular experience," he added.

"I knew it!" Curl almost shouted. Then he quickly glanced about and composed himself stiffly. That was an embarrassing thing to do. In front of an administrator, too.

"Very well," he said. "That confirms my diagnosis. I shall report it to the Council and let them decide what to do."

"What is it?" Ruut asked.

"A very strange disease. Rare, too. I haven't had a case of it for centuries." He paused and shook his head. "Too bad. I don't recall a single recovery from it once it got a good start."

"It is--contagious?" Ruut asked timidly.

"Oh, not for you," Curl smiled. "It's called intellectual curiosity, and it requires somewhat more brain power than you have."

"Thank Oxy for that," Ruut breathed fervently. His eyes went back to the recumbent form of the diseased citizen.

"Yes. The Council will dearly love this." Curl said with satisfaction. "Most unusual. He'll have to be destroyed, of course."

"But can't you do anything for it?"

"Not likely. You see, it's the only appetite of which we are capable that can't be controlled by shifting endocrine balance. Ordinarily, our civilized manner of living prevents it from being aroused--that's the advantage of being civilized. Because, once the appetite shows up, it simply must be satisfied, or it's apt to do all sorts of poisonous things to you, as you can see. The trouble is, satisfying curiosity generally involves at least some work, and what civilized man is going to get himself involved with anything like that?"

"Insidious," Ruut whispered.

Curl turned away, but then hesitated and glanced back. "Still, since it concerns the aliens--" He frowned pensively. "There is a scheme we've never tried before that would probably cure him. I remember somebody mentioned it about eight hundred years ago, and we decided to try it out on the next case. Never did, though. Nobody was interested. It's sort of uncivilized, but I'll bring it up and see what the Council thinks."

He nodded shortly, and evacuated to his own focus.

"Well, my boy," Ruut said to Tensor. "I'm going to miss you."

"There is no need to concern yourself over me, sir," Tensor replied unemotionally. "It does not bother me in the slightest."

Ruut knew that to be the truth, but it made him feel sad to think of such a highly civilized man as Tensor falling to a level that was even below an administrator. Abruptly, he caught himself and readjusted the endocrine balance in his own body to compensate for the character of his thought, and the moody spell passed.

He left, and Tensor continued to stare unconsciously at the brilliant, deep violet of the sky, noting without appreciation the jewel-like points of light that were the stars.