Роберт Шекли. Паломничество на землю (engl)

Robert Sheckley. Pilgrimage to Earth

love , can you? Not love ! I mean, then it isn't really love , is it?" "But of course!" Mr. Tate said, half rising from his chair in astonishment. "That's the whole point! Anyone can buy sex. Good lord, it's the cheapest thing in the universe, next to human life. But love is rare, love is special, love is found only on Earth. Have you read our brochure?" "Bodies on a dark sea-beach?" Simon asked. "Yes, that one. I wrote it. Gives something of the feeling, doesn't it? You can't get that feeling from just anyone , Mr. Simon. You can get that feeling only from someone who loves you." Simon said dubiously, "It's not genuine love, though is it?" "Of course it is! If we were selling simulated love, we'd label it as such. The advertising laws on Earth are strict, I can assure you. Anything can be sold, but it must be labelled properly, That's ethics, Mr. Simon!" Tate caught his breath, and continued in a calmer tone. "No, sir, make no mistake, our product is not a substitute. It is the exact self-same feeling that poets and writers have raved about for thousands of years. Through the wonders of modern science we can bring this feeling to you at your convenience, attractively packaged, completely disposable, and for a ridiculously low price." Simon said, "I pictured something more - spontaneous." "Spontaneity has its charm," Mr. Tate agreed. "Our research labs are working on it. Believe me, there's nothing science can't produce, as long as there's a market for it." "I don't like any of this," Simon said, getting to his feet. "I think I'll just go see a movie." "Wait!" Mr. Tate cried. "You think we're trying to put something over on you. You think we'll introduce you to a girl who will act as though she loved you, but who in reality will not. Is that it?" "I guess so," Simon said. "But it just isn't so! It would be too costly for one thing. For another, the wear and tear on the girl would be tremendous. And it would be psychologically unsound for her to attempt living a lie of such depth and scope." "Then how do you do it?" "By utilizing our understanding of science and the human mind." To Simon, this sounded like double-talk. He moved towards the door. "Tell me something," Mr. Tate said. "You're a bright-looking fellow. Don't you think you could tell real love from a counterfeit item." "Certainly." "There's your safeguard! You must be satisfied, or don't pay us a cent." "I'll think about it," Simon said. "Why delay? Leading psychologists say that real love is a fortifier and a restorer of sanity, a balm for damaged egoes, a restorer of hormone balance, and an improver of the complexion. The love we supply you has everything: deep and abiding affection, unrestrained passion, complete faithfulness, an almost mystic affection for your defects as well as your virtues, a pitiful desire to please, and , as a plus that only Love, Inc. can supply: that uncontrollable first spark, that blinding moment of love at first sight!" Mr. Tate pressed a button. Simon frowned undecisively. The door opened, a girl stepped in, and Simon stopped thinking. She was tall and slender, and her hair was brown with a sheen of red. Simon could have told you nothing about her face, except that it brought tears to his eyes. And if you asked him about her figure, he might have killed you. "Miss Penny Bright", said Tate, "meet Mr. Alfred Simon." The girl tried to speak but no words came, and Simon was equally dumbstruck. He looked at her and knew. Nothing else mattered. To the depths of his heart he knew that he was truly and completely loved. They left at once, hand in hand, and were taken by jet to a small cottage in a pine grove, overlooking the sea, and there they talked and laughed and loved, and later Simon saw his beloved wrapped in the sunset flame like a goddess of fire. And in blue twilight she looked at him with eyes enormous and dark, her known body mysterious again. The moon came up, bright and lunatic, changing flesh to shadow, and she wept and beat his chest with her small fists and Simon wept too, although he did not know why. And at last dawn came, faint and disturbed, glimmering upon their parched lips and locked lips, and nearby the booming surf deafened, inflamed, and maddened them. At noon they were back in the offices of Love, Inc. Penny clutched his hand for a moment, then disappeared through an inner door. "Was it real love?" Mr. Tate asked. "Yes!" "And was everything satisfactory?" "Yes! It was love, it was the real thing! But why did she insist on returning?" "Post-hypnotic command," Mr. Tate said. "What?" "What did you expect? Everyone wants love, but few wish to pay for it. Here's your bill, sir." Simon paid, fuming. "This wasn't necessary," he said. "Of course I would pay you for bringing us together. Where is she now? What have you done with her?" "Please," Mr. Tate said soothingly. "Try to calm yourself." "I don't want to be calm!" Simon shouted. "I want Penny!" "That will be impossible," Mr. Tate said, with the barest hint of frost in his voice. "Kindly stop making a spectacle of yourself." "Are you trying to get more money out of me?" Simon shrieked. "All right, I'll pay. How much do I have to pay you to get her out of your clutches?" And Simon yanked out his wallet and slammed it on the desk. Mr. Tate poked the wallet with a stiffened forefinger. "Put that back in your pocket," he said. "We are an old and respectable firm. If you raise your voice again, I shall be forced to have you ejected." Simon calmed himself with and effort, put the wallet back in his pocket and sat down. He took a deep breath and said, very quietly, "I'm sorry." "That's better," Mr. Tate said. "I will not be shouted at. However, if you are reasonable, I can be reasonable too. Now, what's the trouble?" "The trouble?" Simon's voice started to lift. He controlled it and said, "She loves me." "Of course." "Then how can you separate us?" "What has one thing got to do with another?" Mr. Tate asked. "Love is a delightful interlude, a relaxation, good for the intellect, for the ego, for the hormone balance, and for the skin tone. But one would hardly wish to continue loving, would one?" "I would," Simon said. "This love was special, unique - " "They all are," Mr. Tate said. "But as you know, they are all produced in the same way." "What?" "Surely you know something about the mechanics of love production?" "No," Simon said. "I thought it was - natural." Mr. Tate shook his head. "We gave up natural selection centuries ago, shortly after the Mechanical Revolution. It was too slow, and commercially unfeasible. Why bother with it, when we can produce any feeling at will by conditioning and proper stimulation of certain brain centers? The result? Penny, completely in love with you! Your own bias, which we calculated, in favor of her particular somatype, made it complete. We always throw in a the dark sea-beach, the lunatic moon, the pallid dawn - " "Then she could have been made to love anyone," Simon said slowly. "Could have been brought to love anyone," Mr. Tate corrected. "Oh, lord, how did she get into this horrible work?" Simon asked. "She came in and signed a contract in the usual way," Tate said. "It pays very well. And at the termination of the lease, we return her original personality - untouched! But why do you call the work horrible? There's nothing reprehensible about love." "It wasn't love!" Simon cried. "But it was! The genuine article! Unbiased scientific firms have made qualitative tests of it, in comparison with the natural thing. In every case, our love tested out to more depth, passion, fervor and scope." Simon shut his eyes tightly, opened them and said, "Listen to me. I don't care about your scientific tests. I love her, she loves me, and that's all that counts. Let me speak to her! I want to marry her!" Mr. Tate wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Come, come, young man! You wouldn't want to marry a girl like that! But if it's marriage you're after, we deal in that, too. I can arrange an idyllic and nearly spontaneous love-match with a guaranteed, government-inspected virgin - " "No! I love Penny! At least let me speak to her!" "That will be quite impossible," Mr. Tate said. "Why?" Mr. Tate pushed a button on his desk. "Why do you think? We've wiped out the previous indoctrination. Penny is now in love with someone else." And the Simon understood. He had realized that even now Penny was looking at another man with that passion he had known, feeling for another man that complete and bottomless love that unbiased scientific firms had shone to be so much greater than the old-fashioned, commercially unfeasible natural, and that upon the same dark sea-beach mentioned in the advertising brochure - He lunged for Tate's throat. Two attendants, who had entered the office a few moments earlier, caught him and led him to the door. "Remember!" Tate called. "This in no way invalidates your own experience." Hellishly enough, Simon knew that what Tate said was true. And then he found himself on the street. At first, all he desired was to escape from Earth, where the commercial impracticalities were more than a normal man could afford. He walked very quickly, and his Penny walked beside him, her face glorified with love for him, and him, and him, and you, and you. And of course he came to the shooting gallery. "Try your luck?" the manager asked. "Set'em up," said Alfred Simon.