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Roger Zelazny

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Amber 2 - Pušky Avalonu - Zelazny Roger


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Chapter 1

Lying, left hand for a pillow, on the shingled slant of the roof, there in the shade of the gable, staring at the cloud-curdles in afternoon's blue pool, I seemed to see, between blinks, above the campus and myself, an instant piece of sky-writing.


A moment's appraisal and it was gone. I shrugged. I also sniffed at the small breeze that had decided but moments before to pass that way.

"Sorry," I mumbled to the supernatural journalist. "No special stinks."

I yawned then and stretched. I had been dozing, had regarded the tag end of a dream, I supposed. Probably just as well that I could not recall it. I glanced at my watch. It indicated that I was late for my appointment. But then, it could be wrong. In fact, it usually was.

I edged forward into a 45° hunker, my heels still resting against the ice-catching eyelets, my right hand now upon the gable. Five stories below me the Quad was a study in green and concrete, shade and sunlight, people in slow motion, a fountain like a phallus that had taken a charge of buckshot at its farther end. Beyond the phountain lay Jefferson Hall, and up on Jeff's third floor was the office of my latest adviser, Dennis Wexroth. I patted my hip pocket. The edge of my schedule card still jutted there. Good.

To go in, go down, go across and go up seemed an awful waste of time when I was already up. Although it was somewhat out of keeping with the grand old tradition as well as my personal practice to do much climbing before sundown, the way across-with all the buildings connected or extremely adjacent-was easy and reasonably inconspicuous.

I worked my way about the gable and over to the far eave. About three feet outward and six down, an easy jump, and I was on the library's flat roof and trotting. Across the roofs and about the chimneys on a row of converted townhouses then. Over the chapel. Quasimodolike-a bit tricky there-along a ledge, down a drainpipe, another ledge, through the big oak tree and over to the final ledge. Excellent! I had saved six or seven minutes, I was certain.

And I felt most considerate as I peered in the window, for the clock on the wall showed me that I was three minutes early.

Wide-eyed, openmouthed, Dennis Wexroth's head rose from its reading angle, turned slowly, darkened then, continued upward, dragged the rest of him to his feet, about his desk, toward me.

I was looking back over my shoulder to see what he was glaring at when he heaved the window open and said, "Mister Cassidy, just what the hell are you doing?"

I turned back. He was gripping the sill as if it were very important to him and I had sought its removal.

"I was waiting to see you," I said. "I'm three minutes early for my appointment."

"Well, you can just go back down and come in the same way any . . ." he began. Then: "No! Wait!" he said. "That might make me an accomplice to something. Get in here!"

He stepped aside and I entered the room. I wiped my hand on my trousers, but he declined to take it.

He turned away, walked back to his desk, sat dawn.

"There is a rule against climbing around on the buildings," he said.

"Yes," I said, "but it's just a matter of form. They had to pass something as a disclaimer, that's all. Nobody pays any atten-"

"You," he said, shaking his head. "You are the reason for the rule. I may be new here, but I've done my homework so far as you are concerned."

"It's not really very important," I said. "So long as I'm discreet about it, nobody much cares-"

"Acrophilia!" he snorted, slapping the folder that lay on his desk. "You once bought a screwball medical opinion that saved you from being suspended, that even got you some sympathy, made you a minor celebrity. I just read it. It's a piece of garbage. I don't buy it. I don't even think it's funny."

I shrugged. "I like to climb things," I said. "I like to be up in high places. I never said it was funny, and Doctor Marko is not a screwball."

He emitted a labial consonant and began flipping through pages in the folder. I was beginning to feel a dislike for the man. Close-cut, sandy hair, a neat, matching beard and mustache that almost hid his mean little mouth. Somewhere in his mid-twenties, I guessed. Here he was getting nasty and authoritarian and not even offering me a seat, and I was probably several years his senior and had taken pains to get there on time. I had met him only once before, briefly, at a party. He had been stoned at the time and considerably more congenial. Hadn't seen my file yet, of course. Still, that should make no difference. He should deal with me de novo, not on the basis of a lot of hearsay. But advisers come and go-general, departmental, special. I've dealt with the best and I've dealt with the worst. Offhand, I can't say who was my favorite. Maybe Merimee. Maybe Crawford. Merimee helped me head off a suspension action. A very decent fellow. Crawford almost tricked me into graduating, which would probably have gotten him the Adviser of the Year award. A good guy, nevertheless. Just a little too creative. Where are they now?

I drew up a chair and made myself comfortable, lighting a cigarette and using the wastebasket for an ashtray. He did not seem to notice but went on paging through the materials.

Several minutes passed in this fashion, then: "All right," he said, "I'm ready for you."

He looked up at me then and he smiled.

"This semester. Mister Cassidy, we are going to graduate you," he said.

I smiled back at him.

"That, Mister Wexroth, will be a cold day in hell," I said.

"I believe that I have been a little more thorough than my predecessors," he replied. "I take it you are up on all the university's regulations?"

"I go over them fairly regularly."

"I also assume you are aware of all the courses being offered this coming semester?"

"That's a safe assumption."

He withdrew a pipe and pouch from within his jacket, and he began loading the thing slowly, with great attention to each fleck and strand, seeming to relish the moment. I had had him pegged as a pipe smoker all along.

He bit it, lit it, puffed it, withdrew it and stared at me through the smoke.

"Then we've got you on a mandatory graduation," he said, "under the departmental major rule."

"But you haven't even seen my preregistration card."

"It doesn't matter. I've had every choice you could make, every possible combination of courses you might select to retain your full-time status worked out by one of the computer people. I had all of these matched up with your rather extensive record, and in each instance I've come up with a way of getting rid of you. No matter what you select, you are going to complete a departmental major in something."

"Sounds as if you've been pretty thorough."

"I have."

"Mind if I ask why you are so eager to get rid of me?"

"Not at all," he replied. "The fact of the matter is, you are a drone."

"A drone?"

"A drone. You don't do anything but hang around."

"What's wrong with that?"

"You are a liability, a drain on the intellectual and emotional resources of the academic community."

"Crap," I observed. "I've published some pretty good papers."

"Precisely. You should be off teaching or doing research-with a couple degrees after your name-not filling a space some poor undergrad could be occupying."

I dismissed a mental picture of the poor would-be undergrad-lean, hollow-eyed, nose and fingertips pressed against the glass, his breath fogging it, slavering after the education I was denying him-and I said, "Crap again. Why do you really want to get rid of me?"

He stared at his pipe, almost thoughtfully, for a moment, then said, "When you get right down to basics, I just plain don't like you."

"But why? You hardly know me."

"I know about you-which is more than sufficient." He tapped my file. "It's all in there," he said. "You represent an attitude for which I have no respect."

"Would you mind being more specific?"

"All right," he said, turning the pages to one of many markers that protruded from the file. "According to the record, you have been an undergraduate here for-let me see-approximately thirteen years."

"That sounds about right."

"Full-time," he added.

"Yes, I've always been full-time."

"You entered the university at an early age. You were a precocious little fellow. Your grades have always been quite good."

"Thank you."

"That was not a compliment. It was an observation. Lots of grad material too, but always for undergrad credit. Quantity-wise, in fact, there is the substance of a couple of doctorates in here. Several composites suggest themselves-"

"Composites do not come under the departmental major rule."

"Yes. I am well aware of that. We are both quite well aware of that. It has become obvious over the years that your intention is to retain your full-time status but never to graduate."

"I never said that."

"An acknowledgment would be redundant. Mister Cassidy. The record speaks for itself. Once you had all the general requirements out of the way, it was still relatively simple for you to avoid graduation by switching your major periodically and obtaining a new set of special requirements. After a time, however, these began to overlap. It soon became necessary for you to switch every semester. The rule concerning mandatory graduation on completion of a departmental major was, as I understand it, passed solely because of you. You have done a lot of sidestepping, but this time you are all out of sides to step to. Time runs, the clock will strike. This is the last interview of this sort you will ever have."

"I hope so. I just came to get my card signed."

"You also asked me a question."

"Yes, but I can see now that you're busy and I'm willing to let you off the hook."

"That's quite all right. I'm here to answer your questions. To continue, when I first learned of your case, I was naturally curious as to the reason for your peculiar behavior. When I was offered the opportunity of becoming your adviser, I made it my business to find out-"

" 'Offered'? You mean you're doing this by choice?"

"Very much so. I wanted to be the one to say goodbye to you, to see you off on your way into the real world."

"If you'd just sign my card-"

"Not yet. Mister Cassidy. You wanted to know why I dislike you. When you leave here-via the door-you will know. To begin with, I have succeeded where my predecessors failed. I am familiar with the provisions of your uncle's will."

I nodded. I had had a feeling he was driving that way.

"You seem to have exceeded the scope of your appointment," I said. "That is a personal matter."

"When it touches upon your activities here, it comes within my area of interest-and speculation. As I understand it, your late uncle left a fairly sizable fund out of which you receive an extremely liberal allowance for so long as you are a full-time student working on a degree. Once you receive a degree of any sort, the allowance terminates and the balance remaining in the fund is to be distributed to representatives of the Irish Republican Army. I believe I have described the situation fairly?"

"As fairly as an unfair situation can be described, I suppose. Poor, batty old Uncle Albert. Poor me, actually. Yes, you have the facts straight."

"It would seem that the man's intention was to provide for your receiving an adequate education-no more, no less-and then leaving it to you to make your own way in the world. A most sensible notion, as I see it."

"I had already guessed that."

"And one to which you, obviously, do not subscribe."

"True. Two very different philosophies of education are obviously involved here."

"Mister Cassidy, I believe that economics rather than philosophy controls the situation. For thirteen years you have contrived to remain a full-time student without taking a degree so that your stipend would continue. You have taken gross advantage of the loophole in your uncle's will because you are a playboy and a dilettante, with no real desire ever to work, to hold a job, to repay society for suffering your existence. You are an opportunist. You are irresponsible. You are a drone."

I nodded. "All right. You have satisfied my curiosity as to your way of thinking. Thank you."

His brows fell into a frown and he studied my face.

"Since you may be my adviser for a long while," I said, "I wanted to know something of your attitude. Now I do."

He chuckled. "You are bluffing."

I shrugged. "If you'll just sign my card, I'll be on my way."

"I do not have to see that card," he said slowly, "to know that I will not be your adviser for a long while. This is it, Cassidy, an end to your flippancy."

I withdrew the card and extended it. He ignored it and continued. "And with your demoralizing effect here at the university, I cannot help but wonder how your uncle would feel if he knew how his wishes were being thwarted. He-"

"I'll ask him when he comes around," I said. "But when I saw him last month he wasn't exactly turning over."

"Beg pardon? I didn't quite . . ."

"Uncle Albert was one of the fortunate ones in the Bide-A-Wee scandal. About a year ago. Remember?"

He shook his head slowly. "I'm afraid not. I thought your uncle was dead. In fact, he has to be. If the will . . ."

"It's a delicate philosophical point," I said. "Legally, he's dead all right. But he had himself frozen and stored at Bide-A-Wee-one of those cryonic outfits. The proprietors proved somewhat less than scrupulous, however, and the authorities had him moved to a different establishment along with the other survivors."


"I suppose that's the best word. Bide-A-Wee had over five hundred customers on their books, but they actually only had around fifty on ice. Made a tremendous profit that way."

"I don't understand. What became of the others?"

"Their better components wound up in gray-market organ banks. That was another area where Bide-A-Wee turned a handsome profit."

"I do seem to remember hearing about it now. But what did they do with the. . . remains?"

"One of the partners also owned a funeral establishment. He just disposed of things in the course of that employment."

"Oh. Well . . . Wait a minute. What did they do if someone came around and wanted to view a frozen friend or relative?"

"They switched nameplates. One frozen body seen through a frosted panel looks pretty much like any other-sort of like a popsicle in cellophane. Anyway, Uncle Albert was one of the ones they kept for show. He always was lucky."

"How did they finally get tripped up?"

"Tax evasion. They got greedy."

"I see. Then your uncle actually could show up for an accounting one day?"

"There is always that possibility. Of course, there have been very few successful revivals."

"The possibility doesn't trouble you?"

"I deal with things as they arise. So far. Uncle Albert hasn't."

"Along with the university and your uncle's wishes, I feel obliged to point out that you are doing violence in another place as well."

I looked all around the room. Under my chair, even.

"I give up," I said.



"Yourself. By accepting the easy economic security of the situation, you are yielding to inertia. You are ruining your chances of ever really amounting to anything. You are growing in your dronehood."


"Dronehood. Hanging around and not doing anything."

"So you are really acting in my best interests if you succeed in kicking me out, huh?"


"I hate to tell you, but history is full of people like you. We tend to judge them harshly."


"Not the department. The phenomenon."

He sighed and shook his head. He accepted my card, leaned back, puffed on his pipe, began to study what I had written.

I wondered whether he really believed he was doing me a favor by trying to destroy my way of life. Probably.

"Wait a minute," he said. "There's a mistake here."

"No mistake."

"The hours are wrong."

"No. I need twelve and there are twelve."

"I'm not disputing that, but-"

"Six hours, personal project, interdisciplinary, for art history credit, on site, Australia in my case."

"You know it should really be anthropology. But that would complete a major. But that's not what I'm-"

"Then three hours of comparative lit with that course on the troubadours. I'm still safe with that, and I can catch it on video-the same as with that one-hour currentevents thing for social-science credit. Safe there, and that's ten hours. Then two hours' credit for advanced basket weaving, and that's twelve. Home free."

"No, sir! You are not! That last one is a three-hour course, and that gives you a major in it!"

"Haven't seen Circular fifty-seven yet, have you?"


"It's been changed."

"I don't believe you."

I glanced at his IN basket.

"Read your mail."

He snatched at the basket; he rifled it. Somewhere near the middle of things he found the paper. Clocking his expressions, I noted disbelief, rage and puzzlement within the first five seconds. I was hoping for despair, but you can't have everything all at once.

Frustration and bewilderment were what remained when he turned to me once again and said, "How did you do it?"

"Why must you look for the worst?"

"Because I've read your file. You got to the instructor some way, didn't you?"

"That's most ignoble of you. And I'd be a fool to admit it, wouldn't I?"

He sighed. "I suppose so."

He withdrew a pen, clicked it with unnecessary force and scrawled his name on the "Approved by" line at the bottom of the card.

Returning the card, he observed, "This is the closest you've come, you know. It was just under the wire this time. What are you going to do for an encore?"

"I understand that two new majors will be instituted next year. I suppose I should see the proper departmental adviser if I am interested in changing my area."

"You'll see me," he said, "and I will confer with the person involved."

"Everyone else has a departmental adviser."

"You are a special case requiring special handling. You are to report here again next time."

"All right," I said, filing the card in my hip pocket as I rose. "See you then."

As I headed for the door he said, "I'll find a way."

I paused on the threshold.

"You," I said pleasantly, "and the Flying Dutchman."

I closed the door gently behind me.


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