Posts Tagged ‘short story’

29
May

Profession, by Asimov

by adminadam in fiction

Profession, by Isaac Asimov — © 1957

George Platen could not conceal the longing in his voice. It was too much to suppress. He said, “Tomorrow’s 1 May. Olympics!”

He rolled over on his stomach and peered over the foot of his bed at his roommate. Didn’t he feel it, too? Didn’t this make some impression on him?

George’s face was thin and had grown a trifle thinner in the nearly year and a half that he had been at the House. His figure was slight but the look in his blue eyes was as intense as it had ever been, and right now there was a trapped look in the way his fingers curled against the bedspread.

George’s roommate looked up briefly from his book and took the opportunity to adjust the light-level of the stretch of wall near his chair. His name was Hali Omani and he was a Nigerian by birth. His dark brown skin and massive features seemed made for calmness, and mention of the Olympics did not move him.

“I know, George.”

George owed much to Hali’s patience and kindness when it was needed, but even patience and kindness could be overdone.

Was this a time to sit there like a statue built of some dark, warm wood?

George wondered if he himself would grow like that after ten years here and rejected the thought violently. No!

He said defiantly, “I think you’ve forgotten what May means.”

The other said, ”I remember very well what it means. It means nothing! You’re the one who’s forgotten that. May means nothing to you, George Platen, and,’ he added softly, “It means nothing to me, Hali Omani.”

George said, “The ships are coming in for recruits. By June, thousands and thousands will leave with millions of men and women heading for any world you can name, and all that means nothing?”

“Less than nothing. What do you want me to do about it, anyway?” Omani ran his finger along a difficult passage in the book he was reading and his lips moved soundlessly.

George watched him. Damn it, he thought, yell scream; you can do that much. Kick at me, do anything.

It was only that he wanted not to be so alone in his anger. He wanted not to be the only one so filled with resentment, not to be the only one dying a slow death.

It was better those first weeks when the Universe was a small shell of vague light and sound pressing down upon him. It was better before Omani had wavered into view and dragged him back to a life that wasn’t worth living.

Omani! He was old! He was at least thirty. George thought: Will I be like that at thirty? Will I be like that in twelve years?

And because he was afraid he might be, he yelled at Omani, “Will you stop reading that fool book?”

Omani turned a page and read on a few words, then lifted his head with its skullcap of crisply curled hair and said, “What?”

“What good does it do you to read the book?” He stepped forward, snorted “More electronics,” and slapped it out of Omani’s hands.

Omani got up slowly and picked up the book. He smoothed a crumpled page without visible rancor. “Call it the satisfaction of curiosity,” he said. “I understand a little of it today, perhaps a little more tomorrow. That’s a victory in a way.”

“A victory. What kind of a victory? Is that what satisfies you in life? To get to know enough to be a quarter of a Registered Electronician by the time you’re sixty-five?”

“Perhaps by the time I’m thirty-five.”

“And then who’ll want you? Who’ll use you? Where will you go?”

“No one. No one. Nowhere. I’ll stay here and read other books.”

“And that satisfies you? Tell me! You’ve dragged me to class. You’ve got me to reading and memorizing, too. For what? There’s nothing in it that satisfies me.”

“What good will it do you to deny yourself satisfaction?”

“It means I’ll quit the whole farce. I’ll do as I planned to do in the beginning before you dovey-lovied me out of it. I’m going to force them to – to – ”

Omani put down his book. He let the other run down and then said, “To what, George?”

“To correct a miscarriage of justice. A frame-up. I’ll get that Antonelli and force him to admit he – he – ”

Omani shook his head. “Everyone who comes here insists it’s a mistake. I thought you’d passed that stage.”

“Don’t call it a stage,” said George violently. “In my case, it’s a fact. I’ve told you – ”

“You’ve told me, but in your heart you know no one made any mistake as far as you were concerned.”

“Because no one will admit it? You think any of them would admit a mistake unless they were forced to? – Well: I’ll force them.”

It was May that was doing this to George; it was Olympics month. He felt it bring the old wildness back and he couldn’t stop it. He didn’t want to stop it. He had been in danger of forgetting.

He said, “I was going to be a Computer Programmer and I can be one. I could be one today, regardless of what they say analysis shows.” He pounded his mattress. “They’re wrong. They must be.”

“The analysts are never wrong.”

“They must be. Do you doubt my intelligence?”

“Intelligence hasn’t one thing to do with it. Haven’t you been told that often enough? Can’t you understand that?”

George rolled away, lay on his back, and stared somberly at the ceiling.

“What did you want to be, Hali?”

“I had no fixed plans. Hydroponicist would have suited me, I suppose.”

“Did you think you could make it?”

“I wasn’t sure.”

George had never asked personal questions of Omani before. It struck him as queer, almost unnatural, that other people had had ambitions and ended here. Hydroponicist!

He said, “Did you think you ’d make this?”

“No, but here I am just the same.”

“And you’re satisfied. Really, really satisfied. You’re happy. You love it. You wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

Slowly, Omani got to his feet. Carefully, he began to unmake his bed. He said, “George, you’re a hard case. You’re knocking yourself out because you won’t accept the facts about yourself. George, you’re here in what you call the House, but I’ve never heard you give it its full title. Say it, George, say it. Then go to bed and sleep this off.”

George gritted his teeth and showed them. He choked out, “No!”

“Then I will,” said Omani, and he did. He shaped each syllable carefully.

George was bitterly ashamed at the sound of it. He turned his head away.


For most of the first eighteen years of his life, George Platen had headed firmly in one direction, that of Registered Computer Programmer. There were those in his crowd who spoke wisely of Spationautics, Refrigeration Technology, Transportation Control, and even Administration. But George held firm.

He argued relative merits as vigorously as any of them, and why not? Education Day loomed ahead of them and was the great fact of their existence. It approached steadily, as fixed and certain as the calendar – the first day of November of the year following one’s eighteenth birthday. After that day, there were other topics of conversation.

One could discuss with others some detail of the profession, or the virtues of one’s wife and children, or the fate of one’s space-polo team, or one’s experiences in the Olympics. Before Education Day, however, there was only one topic that unfailingly and unwearyingly held everyone’s interest, and that was Education Day.

“What are you going for? Think you’ll make it? Heck, that’s no good. Look at the records; quota’s been cut. Logistics now – ”

Or Hypermechanics now – Or Communications now – Or Gravitics now –

Especially Gravitics at the moment. Everyone had been talking about Gravitics in the few years just before George’s Education Day because of the development of the Gravitic power engine.

Any world within ten light-years of a dwarf star, everyone said, would give its eyeteeth for any kind of Registered Gravitics Engineer. Read the rest of this entry »