Too Damn Perfect

by Roderick T. Long

[Written around 12, or 1976-ish, in Idaho Falls; because I wrote this for an elementary-school English class, I used “dang” instead of “damn,” both in the title and within the story, but I always thought of it as “damn,” so I’ve now un-censored it.

The real mystery of the story, reading it now, is why anyone thought the society described was perfect.]

Citizen 376 strode briskly along Way 12-12-7 on his way home from work at the AGMC plant (Atmospheric and Gravitational Maintainment Center). He did not stop to stare at the vast, airless expanse of starry space, separated from him only by a thin band of light which prevented the atmosphere of “Project: Sky City” from escaping into the void beyond. Space was a common sight – even more common than the thin catwalk beneath his feet, known as Way 12-12-7.

Citizen 376 had no fear of falling off the Way (only one of many criss-crossing and intersecting the vast Central Complex of Sky City). All citizens are taught from birth the perfect arts of balance. A Citizen could only fall off a catwalk if pushed off, and aggression and violence were not tolerated in Sky City.

Citizen 376 heard footfalls behind him, but he paid them no mind. Doubtless it was a fellow Citizen returning from AGMC. He did not remember anyone behind him on any previous night, but what did it matter? In New York, a pedestrian might be alarmed if they heard someone following them, thinking it was a mugger. But there were no muggers in Sky City – and Citizen 376 had nothing to steal except for his clothes and his I.D. card, which served as money. And everyone in Sky City had a card, anyway, so why would they want to steal it? Besides, violence was outlawed in “Project: Sky City.” There could be no danger ....

Suddenly, a hand touched Citizen 376’s shoulder. This alarmed him. His Wrist Computer had not shown that he had any appointments for the day – and no one spoke to anyone without an appointment. Citizen 376 wheeled – and started.

The man behind him had no serial number on his uniform. And instead of the usual tight-fitting helmet that covered all but the face, this man’s head was wrapped in a loose, flowing turban attached to his collar. All that could be seen of his face were two staring red eyes that glowed like live coals. Huge eyes ... too huge to be human.

“You – you are not wearing the customary headgear,” stammered 376, “and wh-where is your number?”

The red-eyed man did not answer. He merely placed his cold, fishy hands on 376’s neck and squeezed.

“Th-this is not in the curriculum,” he gasped. “Where is your Authorization Card?” The man made no reply, but only squeezed tighter.

Suddenly, as if in exasperation, the red-eyed man hurled Citizen 376 off the catwalk. 376 cried out as his hands clutched wildly at empty air.

Suddenly, his hurtling body penetrated the Atmospheric Barrier. 376’s lungs gasped frantically for air that was not there, could never be there. Then, he stiffened and went floating out into the void. Behind him, the barrier repaired itself with split-second speed.

For a moment, the red-eyed man stood on the edge of Way 12-12-7, staring dispassionately at 376’s limp body commencing its journey to the farthest reaches of space. Then he turned away and strode on along the catwalk toward the Central Complex.

Sentar 7 stared uncomfortably at the Monitor Board. There was a variation of its usual pattern, which annoyed him. The board showed that Citizen 912 had not moved in the past half-hour. All the Citizens had monitors in their helmets which recorded every move and relayed the information to the Monitor Board in the Central Complex.

Sentar 7 could not understand why 912’s helmet relayed the fact that it had stayed in the same place for the last half-hour. The curriculum in Sky City was a busy one, and no Citizen would stand still unless he were working at his desk or at home. The Working Period had just ended, and no Citizen could have reached his home yet. So either Citizen 912 was standing perfectly still on one of the homeward catwalks, which was unlikely, or he had taken his helmet off, which was against the rules.

Other than that, there was no emergency. There never was. Sentar 7 sometimes almost wished that there would be an emergency, so that he would have something to do. But of course, that would not be in the interests of the City, the Citizens, or the Council of Peers which governed them.

Suddenly, the Emergency Board flashed, something it had never done before, except when the Atmospheric Barrier had been broken. Sentar 7 wheeled, but then gave a sigh of relief. It was only the barrier, broken again. Doubtless, some Citizen had dropped a belonging off the edge of the catwalk. He waited for the Citizen to call in and ask for permission to use grappling hooks to recover the item.

But no one called in. Puzzled, Sentar 7 turned toward the Monitor Board. He gasped. He had discovered so great an emergency that the Emergency Board had no provision for it. Citizen 376 was gone! It was too late for grappling hooks, so Sentar 7 leaped to the Visiphone to inform the Council of Peers.

“Hello, Citizen 912,” said Citizen 553, “did you hear about Citizen 376?”

“Who has not?” replied 912. “But how are you?”

“Fine – but your belt! The register indicates that you have used your Searchlight Glasses in the last twenty-four hours! They are to be used only in Power Shortages or Blackouts. Why did you use them?” asked 553.

“I fell down on top of them the other day, and I wanted to make sure they still shone out their red light,” said 912. Then, he quickly left, before anyone could notice that his helmet had been removed recently also, for that was against the law.

“What’s with him?” Citizen 553 asked his wife, 442. “He sure seemed evasive about Citizen 376!”

“Just what do you think happened to 376 anyhow?” asked 442.

“Probably stumbed,” replied 553. “It’ll serve as a lesson to those youngsters who complain about their Balancing Lessons. In fact, the Council of Peers will most likely issue an edict to all minors, reminding them of what happened and warning them to study hard in their Balancing Lessons.”

And since the Council was very predictable, that is exactly what it did.

912 went home and had a cold Roast Beef Pellet. He could have warmed it up in the Radio Oven, but he didn’t feel like it. As he was about to get into bed, he once more had the strange urge to kill someone. He tore off his helmet and his serial number, put on his turban and Searchlight Glasses, and left the house. He looked up and down Domicile Way, and found someone returning late from work. He was heading toward the very end of the Larger Walk where the houses were.

912 recognized the serial number as 553 – the same man he had talked to that day. He sneaked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. 553 turned and stared in horror. 912 threw him off the catwalk and into space.

The Council of Peers met to decide what to do. They soon came to a decision. 912’s helmet had been motionless during the time the first murder was committed. It had also been motionless the second time. Besides, there had been reports that Citizen 912 had been acting strange. Perhaps he had taken off his helmet and committed the murders. “Since we have the capability to scan a man’s mind, we will send radiowaves to 912’s helmet, and if he’s wearing it now we’ll catch his thoughts,” said the Council Chairman, Aeolus. “Call in Sentar 7. He’s the best one to do it.”

After Sentar 7 had been called in, he established thought contact with 912 via the Mind Machine. However, all he got was a garbled collection of images and emotions. Mostly emotions. Mostly hate.

“He is insane, Chairman Aeolus,” reported Sentar 7.

“But ‘Project: Sky City’ is supposed to eliminate any chance of insanity,” said Aeolus. “You must be mistaken! Sky City is perfect!”

“Perhaps too perfect, eh, Mr. Chairman?” replied Sentar 7. “Perhaps too perfect! Perhaps you were wrong! Perhaps perfection is enough to drive anyone insane! Perhaps I’m insane! Perhaps you’re insane! In fact, you probably are!”

“You dare speak to me like that, Sentar 7?” asked Aeolus.

“Yes, and I dare to do this!” Sentar 7 retorted, and he kicked the Chairman’s ankle.

The other Councilmen gathered around Sentar 7 and tried to hold him, but he hit one in the jaw, and knocked another one down. The remaining Councilmen attacked Sentar 7 and each other, which resulted in a black eye or bloody nose for each of them. As one of the Councilmen started to get up, Sentar 7 grabbed a lamp and hit him over the head with it, killing him.

A few months later, a supply rocket landed at Sky City to bring supplies in to the Citizens. The captain of the rocket radioed the Council to open the airlock, but all he heard were screams and shouts.

He decided to use the Mind Machine to find out what was going on. But the Machine just picked up a garbled collection of images and emotions. Mostly emotions. Mostly hate.

Alarmed, the rocket’s crew smashed through the airlock and entered the streets. There they saw chaos in the most extreme degree. Citizens chased other Citizens down the streets howling and brandishing clubs. The five-man crew was soon destroyed, until only the Captain was left.

Suddenly, the Captain saw Council Chairman Aeolus stabbed in the back by a Citizen in a turban with glowing red eyes. It looked like Citizen 912, but it could just as well have been Michelson, the Peace Officer.

The Captain ran to the Chairman to help him. Suddenly, he realized the Chairman was crazy too. He tried to run, but Aeolus shot him down.

As the Captain crumpled to the ground, he whispered, “Why, Aeolus? Why?”

“Too damn perfect,” mumbled Aeolus.

“Look, Aeolus!” cried the Captain. “That madman’s turning loose the pumps! We’ll all die! Quick! How do I seal the pumps again?”

“What does it matter?” asked Aeolus, as he turned to the captain with glazed eyes. “Nothing matters anymore!”

“Look out! He’s letting the pumps go! Help!” The Captain cried out frantically. “We’re dying!”

“Too damn perfect,” mumbled Aeolus.

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