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Frederik Pohl - Three Portraits And A Prayer

By George Arnold,2014-11-24 14:42
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Frederik Pohl - Three Portraits And A Prayer

Three Portraits

    and a Prayer

Howard Chandler Christy:

    The Lovely Young Girl

    WHEN Dr. Rhine Cooperstock was put under my care I was enlarged with pride. Dr. Cooperstock was a hero to me. I don’t mean a George Washington, all virtue and no fire. I mean he was a dragon killer. He had carried human knowledge far into the tiny spaces of an atomic nucleus. He was a very great man. And I was his doctor and he was dying.

     Dr. Cooperstock was dying in the finest suite in the Morgan Pavilion and with all the best doctors. (I am not modest.) We couldn’t keep him alive for more than a matter of months, and we couldn’t cure him at all. But we could make him comfortable. If round-theclock nurses and color television constitute comfort.

     I don’t ask you to understand technical medical terms. He was an

    old man, his blood vessels deteriorating, and clots formed, impeding the circulation. One day a clot would form in heart, brain or lungs and he would die. If it was in the lung it would be painful and slow. In the heart, painful and fast. In the brain most painful of all, but so fast that it would be a mercy.

     Meanwhile we fed him heparin and sometimes coumarol and attempted by massages and heat and diet to stave off the end. Although, in fact, he was all but dead anyway, so little freedom of movement we allowed him.

     “Martin, the leg hurts. You’d better leave a pill,” he would say to me once or twice a week, and I would hesitate. “I don’t know if I can make it to the bathroom tonight, Martin,” he would say, his tone

    cheerfully resigned. Then he would call for the bedpan while I was there, or mention casually that some invisible wrinkle in the

    sheet caused him pain and stand by bravely while the bed was remade, and say at last, self-deprecating, “I think I will need that pill,

    Martin.” So I would allow myself to be persuaded and let him have a red-andwhite capsule and in the morning it would be gone. I never told him that they contained only aspirin and he never admitted to me that he did not take the pills at all but was laboriously building up a board against the day when the pain would be really serious and he would take them all at once.

     Dr. Cooperstock knew the lethal dose as well as I did. As he knew the names of all his veins and arteries and the chemistry of his disease. A man like Rhine Cooperstock, even at seventy, can learn enough medicine for that in a week.

     He acquired eleven of the little capsules in one month at the Pavilion;

    I know, because I counted them after he left. That would have been enough for suicide, if they had not been aspirin. I suppose he would have stopped there, perhaps beginning to take a few, now and then, both to keep me from getting suspicious and for the relief of the real pain he must have felt. But he did leave. Nan Halloran came and got him.

     She invaded the Pavilion like a queen. Expensive, celebrated hospital, we were used to the famous; but this was Nan Halloran, blueeyed, black-haired, a face like a lovely child and a voice like the sway of hips. She was a most remarkable woman. I called her a queen, but she was not that; she was a goddess, virgin and fertile. I speak subjectively, of course, for in medical fact she was surely not one and may not have been either. She breezed into the room, wrinkling her nose. “Coopie,” she said, “what is that awful smell? Will you do me a favor, dear? I need it very much.”

     You would not think that a man like Dr. Cooperstock would have much to do with a television star; but he knew her; years before, when he was still teaching sometimes, she had somehow wandered into his class. “Hello, Nan,” he said, looking quite astonished and pleased. “I’ll do anything I can for you, of course. That smell,” he apologized, touching the leg with its bright spots of color and degenerated tissues, “is me.”

     “Poor Coopie.” She looked around at me and smiled. Although I am fat and not attractive and know in my heart that, whatever longterm wonders I may work with the brilliance of my mind and the cleverness of my speech, no woman will ever lust for me on sight, I tingled. I looked away. She said sweetly, “It’s about that fusion power thing, Coopie. You know Wayne Donner, of course? He and I are good friends. He has these utility company interests, and he

    wants to convert them to fusion power, and I told him you were the only man who could help him.”

     Dr. Cooperstock began to laugh, and laughed until he was choking and gagging. I laughed too, although I think that in all the world Dr. Cooperstock and I must be two of the very few men who would laugh at the name of Wayne Donner. “Nan,” he said when he could, “you’re amazing. It’s utterly impossible, I’m afraid.”

     She sat on the edge of his bed with a rustle of petticoats. She had lovely legs. “Oh, did that hurt you? But I didn’t even touch your leg, dear. Would you please get up and come now, because the driver’s waiting?”

     “Nan!” he cried. “Security regulations. Death. Lack of proper engineering! Did you ever think of any of those things? And they’re only a beginning.”

     “If you’re going to make objections we’ll be here all day, darling.

    As far as security is concerned,” she said, “this is for the peaceful use of atomic power, isn’t it? I promise you that Wayne has enough friends in the Senate that there will be no problem. And the engineering’s all right, because Wayne has all those people already, of course. This isn’t any little Manhattan Project, honey. Wayne spends money.”

     Dr. Cooperstock shook his head and, although he was smiling, he was interested, too. “What about death, Nan?” he said gently.

     “Oh, I know, Coopie. It’s terrible. But you can’t lick this thing. So won’t you do it for me? Wayne only needs you for a few weeks and he already talked to some doctors. They said it would be all right.”

     “Miss Halloran,” I said. I admit I was furious. “Dr. Cooperstock

    is my patient. As long as that is so, I will decide what is or is not all right.”

     She looked at me again, sweetly and attentively.

     I have now and had then no doubt at all; I was absolutely right in my position. Yet I felt as though I had committed the act of a clumsy fool. She was clean and lovely, her neck so slim that the dress she wore seemed too large for her, like an adorable child’s. She was no child; I knew that she had had a hundred lovers because everyone knows that, even doctors who are fat and a little ugly and take it all out in intelligence. Yet she possessed an innocence I could not withstand. I wanted to take her sweetly by the hand and shelter her, and walk with her beside a brook and then that night crush her and caress her again and again with such violence and snorting passion that she would Awaken and then, with growing abandon, Respond. I did

    know it was all foolishness. I did. But when she mentioned the names of five or six doctors on Donner’s payroll who would care for Dr.

    Cooperstock and suggested like a child that with them in charge it would really be all right, I agreed. I even apolo~zed. Truth to tell, they were excellent men, those doctors. But if she had named six chiropractors and an unfrocked abortionist I still would have shrugged and shuffled and stammered, “Oh, well, I suppose, Miss Halloran, yes, it will be all right.”

     So we called the nurses in and very carefully dressed the old man and wheeled him out into the hall. I said something else that was foolish in the elevator. I said, because I had assumed that it was so, that she probably had a cab waiting and a cab would not do to transport a man as sick as Dr. Cooperstock. But she had been more sure of herself than that. The driver who was waiting was at the wheel of a private ambulance.

    A TIME cover, attributed to Artzybashefl, with mosaic of dollar signs.

    I did not again hear of Dr. Cooperstock for five weeks. Then I was

    telephoned to come and get him, for he was ready to return to the Pavilion to die. It was Wayne Donner himself who called me.

     I agreed to come to one of Donner’s New York offices to meet him, for in truth I was curious. I knew all about him, of course rather,

    I knew as much as he wished anyone to know. I have seen enough of the world’s household names in the Pavilion to know what their

    public-relations men can do. The facts that were on record about Wayne Donner were that he was very rich. He had gone from a lucky strike in oil and the twenty-seven and a half per cent depletion allowance to aluminum. And thence to electric power. He was almost the wealthiest man in the world, and I know his secret.

     He could afford anything, anything at all, because he had schooled himself to purchase only bargains. For example, I knew that he was Nan Halloran’s lover and, although I do not know her price, I know that it was what he was willing to pay. Otherwise he would have given her that thin, bright smile that meant the parley was over, there would be no contract signed that day, and gone on to another incredible beauty more modest in her bargaining. Donner allowed himself to want only what he could get. I think he was the only terrible man I have ever seen. And he had nearly been President of the United

    States! Except that Governor Hewlett of Ohio spoke so honestly and so truthfully about him in the primaries that not all of Donner’s newspapers could get him the vote; what was terrible was not that he then destroyed Hewlett, but that Hewlett was not destroyed for revenge. Donner hated too deeply to be satisfied with revenge, I think; he was too contemptuous of his enemies to trouble to crush them. He would not give them that satisfaction. Hewlett was blotted out only incidentally. Because Donner’s papers had built the campaign against him to such a pitch that

    it was actually selling papers, and thus it was profitable to go on to ruin the man. When I saw Donner he had Hewlett’s picture framed in gilt in his waiting room. I wondered how many of his visitors understood the message. For that matter I wondered how many needed it.

     When I was admitted, Dr. Cooperstock was on a relaxing couch. “Hello, Martin,” he said over the little drone of its motor. “This is Wayne Donner. Dr. Finneman. Dr. Grace.”

     I shook hands with the doctors first, pettishly enough but I felt obliged to show where I stood, and then with Donner. He was very courteous. He had discovered what bargains could be bought with that coin too. He said, “Dr. Finneman here has a good deal of respect for you, Doctor. I’m sure you’re well placed at the Pavilion. But if you ever consider

    leaving I’d like to talk to you.”

     I thanked him and refused. I was flattered, though. I thought of how his fusion-power nonsense might have killed Dr. Cooperstock before he was ready to die, and I thought of him with Nan Halloran, sweat on

that perfect face. And I am not impressed by money.

     Yet I was flattered that he would take the trouble and time, and God knows how much an hour of his time was worth, to himself offer me a job. I was flattered even though I knew that the courtesy was for his benefit, not mine. He wanted the best he chose to affordin the

    way of a doctor, in my case, but the best of anything else too. If he hired a gardener he would want the man to be a very good gardener. Aware as he was of the dignities assumed by a professional man, he had budgeted the time to give me a personal invitation instead of letting his housekeeper or general manager attend to it. It was only another installment of expense he chose to afford and yet I was glad to get out of there. I was almost afraid I would reconsider and say yes, and I hated that man very much.

     When we got Dr. Cooperstock back and bedded and checked over I examined the records Dr. Finneman had sent. He had furnished complete tests and a politely guarded prognosis, and of course he

    was right; Cooperstock was sinking, but not fast; he was good for another month or two with luck. I told him as much, snappishly. “Don’t be angry with me, Martin,” he said, “you’d have done the same thing for Nan if she asked you.”

     “Probably, but I’m not dying.”

     “Don’t be vulgar, Martin.”

     “I’m not a nuclear physicist, either.”

     “It’s only to make a few dollars for the man, Martin. Heavens. What difference can another billion or two make to Donner? Besides,” he said strongly, “yOu know I’ve always opposed this fetish of security. Think of Oppenheimer, not allowed to read his own papers! Think of the waste, the same work done in a dozen different places, because in Irkutsk they aren’t allowed to know what’s going on in Denver and in Omaha somebody

    forgot to tell them.”

     “Think of Wayne Donner with all the power in the world,” I said. He said, “I guess Nan hit you harder than I thought, to make you so mad.”

     Although I watched the papers I did not see anything about converting Donner’s power stations to fusion energy. In fact, I didn’t see much of Donner’s name at all, which caused me to wonder. Normally he would have been spotted in the Stork or cruising off Bimini or in some other way photographed and written about a couple of times a week. His publicity men must have been laboring extra hard.

     Nan Halloran came to see Dr. Cooperstock but I did not join them. I spent my time with him when there was no one else, after my evening rounds. Sometimes we played cards but more often I listened to him talk. The physics of the atomic nucleus was poetry when he talked of it. He

    told me about Gamow’s primordial atom from which all the stars and dust clouds had exploded. He explained Fred Hoyle to me, and Heisenberg. But he was tiring early now.

     Behind the drawer of his night table, in a used cigarette package thumbtacked to the wood, his store of red-and-white capsules was growing again. They were still aspirin. But I think I would not have denied him the real thing if he had known the deception and asked. We took off two toes in March and it was only a miracle that we saved the leg.

By Gilbert Stuart.

    His late period.

    Size 9’ x 5’; heroic.

     In the beginning of May newspaper stories again began to appear about Donner, but I could not understand them. The stories were datelined Washington. Donner was reported in top-level conferences, deeply classified. There were no leaks, no one knew what the talks were about. But the presidential press secretary was irritable with the reporters who asked questions, and the cabinet members were either visibly worried or visibly under orders to keep their mouths shut. And worried. I showed one or two of the stories to Dr. Cooperstock, but he was too tired to guess at implications.

     He was hanging on, but it would not be for long. Any night I expected the call from his nurses, and we would not be able to save him again.

     Then I was called to my office. I was lecturing to fourth-year men when the annunciator spoke my name; and when I got to my office Governor Hewlett was there.

     “I need to see Dr. Cooperstock,” he said. “I’m afraid it may excite him. The resident thought you should be present.”

     I said, “I suppose you know that any shock may kill him. I hope it’s important.”

     “It is important. Yes.” The Governor limped ahead of me to the elevator, his bald head gleaming, smiling at the nurses with his bad teeth and his wonderful eyes. Dr. Cooperstock was a hero to me. Governor Hewlett was something less, perhaps a saint or a martyr. He was what St. George would have been if in the battle he had been killed as well as the dragon; Hewlett had spent himself against Donner in the campaign and now he lingered on to serve out his punishment for his daring, the weasels always chipping away at him, a constant witness before commissions and committees with slanders thick in the air, a subject for jokes and political cartoons. A few senators and others of his own party still listened to him, but they could not save him from the committees.

     The Governor did not waste words. “Dr. Cooperstock, what have you done? What is Wayne Donner up to?”

     Cooperstock had been dozing. Elaborately he sat up. “I don’t see, sir, that it is—”

     “Will you answer me, please? I’m afraid this is quite serious. The Secretary of Defense, who was with me in the House fifteen years ago, told me something I did not suspect. Do you know that he may be asked to resign and that Wayne Donner may get his job?”

     Dr. Cooperstock said angrily, “That’s nonsense. Donner’s just a businessman now. Anyway, what conceivable difference can—”

     “It makes a difference, Dr. Cooperstock, because the rest of the

    cabinet is to be changed around at the same time. Every post of importance is to go to a man of Donner’s. You recall that he wanted to be President.

    Perhaps this time he does not want to bother with a vote. What weapon have you given him to make him so strong, Dr. Cooperstock?”

     “Weapon? Weapon?” Cooperstock stopped and began to gasp, lying back on his pillow, but he thrust me away when I came to him. “I didn’t give

    him any weapon,” he said thoughtfully, after staring at the Governor’s face for a moment, forcing his lungs to work more easily. “At least, I don’t think I did. It was only a commercial matter. You see, Governor, I have never believed in over-classification. Knowledge should be free. The basic theory—”

     “Donner doesn’t intend to make it free, Dr. Cooperstock, he plans to keep it for himself. Please tell me what you know.”

     “Well, it’s fusion power,” Cooperstock said.

     “The hydrogen bomb?”

     “Oh, for God’s sake, Governor! It is fusion of hydrogen, yes, but

    not in any sense a bomb. The self-supporting reaction takes place in a magnetic bottle. It will not explode, even if the bottle fails; you would have to coax it to make it blow up. Only heat comes out, with which Donner is going to drive steam generators, perfectly normal. I assure you there is no danger of accident.”

     “I was not thinking of an accident,” said the Governor after a moment.

     “Well— In that eventI mean, it is true,” said Cooperstock with some

    difficulty, “that, yes, as the reactor is set up, it would be possible to remove the safeguards. This is only the pilot model. The thing could be done.”

     “By remote control, as I understand,” said Hewlett wearily. “And in that event each of Donner’s power stations would become a hydrogen bomb. Did you know that he has twenty-four of them under construction, all over the nation?”

     Cooperstock said indignantly, “He could not possibly have twentyfour installations completed in this time. I can hardly believe he has even one! In the New York plant on the river we designed only the fusion chamber itself. The hardware involved in generating power

will take months.”

     “But I don’t think he bothered with the hardware for generating power,

    you see,” said the Governor.

     Dr. Cooperstock began to gasp again. The Governor sat watching him for a moment, his face sagging with a painful fatigue, and then he roused himself and said at last, “Well, you shouldn’t have done this, Dr. Cooperstock, but God bless you, you’re a great man. We all owe you a debt. Only we’ll have to do something about this now.”

     In my office the Governor took me aside. “I am sorry to have disturbed your patient. But it was important, as you see.”

     “Donner is a terrible man.”

     “Yes, I think that describes him. Well. It’s all up to us now,” said the Governor, looking very gray. “I confess I don’t know what we can do.”

     “Surely the government can handle—”

     “Doctor,” he said, “I apologize for troubling you with my reflections.

    I’ve not much chance to talk them out with anyone, but I assure you I have thought of everything the government can do. Donner has eight oil senators in his pocket, you know. They would be delighted to fflibuster any legislation. For more direct action, I’m afraid we can’t

    get what we need without a greater risk than I can lightly contemplate. Donner has threatened to blow up every city of over eight hundred thousand, you see. I now find that this threat is not empty. Thank you, Doctor,” he said, getting up. “I hope I haven’t distressed your patient as much as he has distressed me.”

     He limped to the door, shook hands and was gone.

     Half an hour later it was time for my rounds. I had spent the time sitting, doing nothing, almost not even thinking.

     But I managed to go around, and then Dr. Cooperstock’s nurse signaled me. He had asked her to phone Nan Halloran for him, and should she do it? There was a message: “I have something else for Wayne.”

     I found that puzzling but, as you will understand, I was in an emotionally numb state; it was difficult to guess at what it meant. I told the nurse she could transmit the message. But when Nan Halloran arrived, an hour or two later, I waited in the hail outside Dr. Cooperstock’s room until she came out.

     “Why, Doctor,” she said, looking very lovely.

     I took her by the arm. It was the first time I had touched that flesh; we had not even shaken hands before. I took her to my office. She seemed eager to go along with me. She asked no questions.

     In the office, the door closed, I was extremely conscious of being alone in a room with her. She knew that, of course. She took a cigarette out of her purse, sat down and crossed her legs. Gallant, I stumbled

to my desk and found a match to light her cigarette.

     “You’ve been worrying Coopie,” she said reproachfully. “You and that Hewlett. Can’t he stay out of a simple business matter?”

     She surprised me; it was such a foolish thing to say and she was not foolish. I told her very briefly what Hewlett lmd said. No one had told me to be silent. She touched my hand, laughing. “Would it make so very much difference. . . Martin? (May I?) Donner’s not a monster.”

     “I don’t know that.”

     She said impishly, “I do. He’s a man like other men, Martin. And really he’s not so young, even with all the treatments. What would you give him, with all his treatments? Twenty more years, tops?”

     “A dictatorship even for twenty minutes is an evil thing, Miss Halloran,” I said, wondering if I had always sounded so completely pompous.

     “Oh, but bad words don’t make bad things. Sakes! Think what they could call me, dear! Donner’s only throwing his weight around, and doesn’t everyone? As much weight as he has?”

     “Treason—” I began, but she hardly let me get even the one word out.

     “No bad words, Martin. You’d be astonished if you knew what wonderful things Wayne wants to do. It takes a man like him to take care of some problems. He’ll get rid of slums, juvenile delinquents, gangsters . .

     “Some problems are better not solved. Hitler solved the Jewish

    question in Europe.”

     She said sweetly, “I respect you, Martin. So does Wayne. You have no idea how much he and Dr. Cooperstock think of you, and so do I, so please don’t do anything impulsive.”

     She walked out the room and left it very empty.

     I felt turgid, drained and a little bit stupid. I had never wanted anything as much as I had wanted her.

     It was several minutes before I began to wonder why she had taken the trouble to entice me in a pointless conversation. I knew that Nan Halloran was her own bank account, spent as thriftily as Donner’s billions. I wondered what it was that I had had that she was willing to purchase with the small change of a few words and a glimpse of her knees and the scent of her perfume.

     Before I had quite come to puzzle the question through, while I was still regretting I had had no higher-priced commodity for her, my phone rang. It was Dr. Cooperstock’s nurse, hysterical.

     Nan Halloran’s conversation had not been pointless. While we were

    talking two ambulance attendants had come to assist Dr. Cooperstock into a wheelchair, and he was gone.

To Whom

    all things concern

     On the fourth of May Dr. Cooperstock defected and in the morning of the fifth Governor Hewlett telephoned me. “He’s not back?” he said,

    and I said he wasn’t, and Hewlett, pausing only a second, said, “Well. We can’t wait any longer. The Army is moving in.”

     I went from my office to the operating room and I was shaking as I scrubbed in.

     It was a splenectomy, but the woman was grossly fat, with a mild myocarditis that required external circulation. It took all of my attention, for which I was grateful. We were five hours in the room, but it was successful and it was not until I was smoking a cigarette in the little O.R. lounge that I began to shake.

     Twenty-four nuclear bombs in twenty-four cities. And of course one of them, the one that we knew was ready to go off, was in the city I was in. I remembered the power plant, off in the Hudson River under the bridge, yellow brick and green glass. It was not more than a mile away.

     And yet I was alive. The city was not destroyed. There had been no awful blast of heat and concussion.

     I walked into the recovery room to look at the splenectomy. She was all right, but the nurse stared at me, so I went back to my office, realizing that I was crying.

     And Nan Halloran was there waiting for me, looking like a drunken doll.

     She pulled herself together as I came in. Her lipstick was smeared, and she shook. “You win, Martin,” she said, with a little laugh. “Who would have thought old Coopie was such a lion? He gave me something for you.”

     I poured her a drink. “What happened?”

     “Oh,” said she. She drank the whiskey, politely enough, but showing she needed it. “Coopie came to Wayne and made a deal. Politics, he said,

    is out of my line, but you owe me something, I’ve helped you, I’ll help you more, only you must promise that research will be free and well endowed. He had it very carefully worked out, the man is a genius.” She giggled and held out her glass. “Funny. Of course he’s a genius. So Wayne took the hook and said it was a deal, what was Coopie going to do for him next? And Coopie offered to show him how to convert the power plant to a different kind of bomb. Neutrons, he said.” So Dr. Cooperstock had taken the billionaire down into the guarded room and, explaining how it wa~ possible to change the type of nuclear reaction from a simple hot explosion to a cold, killing flood of rays that would leave the city unharmed, if dead, he had diverted the hydrogen fuel supply, starved the reaction and shut off the magnetic field that contained it.

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