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Title: A Green Cloud Came

Author: Robert W. Lowndes

Illustrator: John Giunta

Release date: March 14, 2021 [eBook #64816]

Language: English

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at




[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Comet January 41.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Her fingers lightly caressed a button on the long table as she half-turned toward him. At this moment, she was glad they still wore the semi-barbaric accoutrements donned for last night's festivities, commemorating the conclusion of the final war—weird, fantastic trappings, selected more for adornment than for approximations of ancient military dress—for he would not notice that she was trembling. When at last she spoke, her voice was steady.

"Please go now, quickly."

His hand made as if to clasp her arm, then dropped to his side. For an instant he stood there, words welling to his lips, then, with a half shrug he turned away. She did not move as he strode toward the doorway, glanced out the window; her back was a picture of composure.

"Natalla!" It was not a command, or yet a call, but a cry of astonishment blended with horror. Gone was her carefully built-up poise as she whirled, then gasped as she saw the look in his eyes. Swiftly she hurried toward the window, but he stood in front of her, blocking her view.

"What is it, Eric?"

"Don't look," he gasped. For a moment she felt fear coursing through her, fear that at this moment he would wilt, give way to terror. She bit her lips, telling herself she couldn't endure the sight of it. But, an instant later, the panic had left him; she could see rugged determination flowing back into his being. Almost faint with thankfulness for the strength of him, she relaxed against his body, permitted him to lead her across the room to a sofa.

"Do you remember Greer?" His voice was analytically thoughtful. "He was the little astronomer who made those startlingly radical predictions about a year ago. Remember how we all checked his data? No one could find anything of the sort, even though we checked and re-checked a dozen times. The conclusion was the only one that could be drawn under such circumstances; Greer was suffering from delusions. So he was cured by the psychiatry department."

Her nose wrinkled in concentration. "Greer? Wasn't he the one who claimed to have discovered a sort of gaseous cloud in space? Our system was supposed to be approaching it; when it reached our atmosphere, it would prove a deadly poison to all life-forms on this planet."

"Yes—that's it. Well, it seems he was right. It's come—the green cloud. All I could see out that window was the nauseous swirls of it, and the people where they'd fallen in the streets. Neither of us can leave this building." He snapped on the tele-screen. It lit up; he could hear the faint hum of the machinery, but no images appeared. "Dead!"

All I could see out the window was green whirls of it—and people where they had fallen!

"Eric, it couldn't be."

He paced up and down the floor, clasping and unclasping his hands. "I don't know. It came without warning on a night when nearly everyone was out celebrating. No one in the streets or parks could have been prepared for it. Most of the dwellings were probably left with windows opened. It's only sheer luck that it wasn't the case here. And luck again that we came back early."

"Please sit down," she begged. He looked at her a moment, then shrugged, came over to the sofa, and sat beside her. "There must have been some, Eric," she said.

"The law of averages would seem to indicate that. There might be some who are naturally immune to whatever brand of poison this is; some who escaped as did we; some who were underground, or in forests. But until we learn differently, we must assume that we are the only humans alive."

His eyes were haunted. "How could we have missed it?" he whispered. "We checked and re-checked all the data, and put it to the calculating machines. The answer was the same each time: no such cloud existed."

"Perhaps there were some factors that only Greer himself knew. Some small items concerning his calculations which he overlooked in presenting data, not realizing that it had influenced him. If one factor were missing, known only to Greer, then all the machines in the world might well give a negative result."

He shook his head. "It's fantastic—yet, what can we think? If your idea of a missing factor is correct, we'll never know. Even if Greer is still alive. He was cured of his delusion."

She was silent for a moment, then she slipped off her gloves, laid a hand on his arm. "Eric," she whispered. "I'm sorry it had to happen at a time like this. It may be that Sandra escaped, too. I know what she means to you. If we find her, later, I shan't stand in the way."

He chewed his lips. "That's all over, now. The first thing we must do is to check up on the food, water, and sanitation system. Just how long the machines will run without human supervision is questionable—not long, at any rate. The robots cannot do everything alone, either."

Her eyes were calm and clear, her voice a breath of cool air in the heat of his anguish. "Then let's do it the same way, Eric. Nothing is going to happen for awhile. Let's tackle the problem after we're refreshed." She moved to free herself from him; he had, automatically, slipped his arm around her waist, drawn her to him. "You—you can use the lab for your quarters. Good night, Eric."

He held her back. "Natalla."

"Let me go," she murmured.

"Natalla, wait. I didn't tell you all I saw. It was more than—the cloud." He fell silent, breathing rapidly.

"Well?" she said.

"I was reading some of the old books yesterday. Some of them centuries old. The people then, most of them, didn't live as well as we do but they were very much like us in some other ways.

"They—well, sometimes a man would think he had fallen out of harmony with his mate. In this book, the man thought he'd found another woman more suitable to his psyche. He was about to obtain a release—divorce I think they used to call it—when she was injured in an accident. His mate, I mean. The medical experts did not think she could live.

"He realized then, when it seemed to be too late, that there could never be any other mate for him. They didn't have psychoadjusters in those days, so, if she died, he would be affected for many years. The only way emotional upsets could wear off was through the primitive process of letting time wear them down, little by little. It all ended well, however, because medical experts discovered that it was only her psyche that made the injury seem fatal; when she found that he still wanted her to be his mate, she recovered."

"Eric, what are you trying to tell me?"

"That I don't want to be released from you ever. Even if this had never happened, if what I saw out there was only my imagination.

"I know now that I was only deceiving myself when I sought release from you. Sandra? Well, I rather like her, but she could never take your place. I still wish to be your mate, Natalla."

Her eyes answered him, he thought.

"You're tired, Eric. But perhaps you'd better not spend the night in the lab after all."

He reached down, picked her up in his arms. "In the old days," he said, "it was considered particularly fine form for a man to carry his mate to their sleeping quarters."

She smiled and buried her face against his shoulder. No need to tell him that she, too, had read the old books. Or that she'd rigged up a z-special screen outside that window, projected a carefully-made film on it. After all, she hadn't seen the green cloud. He'd held her back. And hadn't he mentioned something about it being his imagination.

She wouldn't be too harsh on him, of course, tomorrow morning when all was discovered to be well. And she was positive that he hadn't noticed her fingers slide over the button as she leaned against the table a moment ago, the button summoning a robot, pre-instructed to dismantle the apparatus.

24th Century or no 24th Century, men were still such dear fools.