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At The World’s End: Six Classic Sci-Fi Short Stories


Susan Hart

Copyright 2017 Susan Hart


Raymond The Automatic House

Help Wanted

Two Idiots From Earth

The Pied Piper of Spring

Weather Modification Sucks


Synopsis: Empathy – A man with psychic and empathetic powers decides that the fragile and topsy-turvy state of the union is about to collapse, so he devises a plan to fix it. This is a thought-provoking, near future science fiction short story.

Carlo sat in his office in the tall Chicago building. The newspaper was in front of him and he worried there wouldn’t be another edition before the government shut it down. Things were out of control in the streets below him and he didn’t know what to do. There was talk of another bad run in the stock market.

He stood up, went to the window, and looked out. Down below he could see the mobs milling around, which had no idea what was about to happen in New York and Washington. The other day the candy vendor told him he’d put everything in the bond market. The days before that, he overheard three janitors talk about how good the stock market was doing and they were about to move all their money into it.

It was so different not fifteen years ago during the Great War. He was sent over with a group of mentalists from the university to see if a way could be found to break the northern German offensive. Most of his group was useless and couldn’t find any mental reason the Germans might attack in one spot over another. They were all sent back to the states. All of them, except Carlo. He could see a way through it all. He could feel the fear, which emanated from the German lines. And, best of all, he could feel the excitement which rose from a particular point the moment before the attack. The army deployed him to the front lines and he found the attack point moments before the German would attempt the charge.

When he returned home after the armistice was signed, Carlo was a mess. He couldn’t focus on his academic work and the university got rid of him. It didn’t help that he was forced to bath in the combined fear and hate of thousands of men every day. Carlo knew from an early age he was an empath; someone who could feel other people’s emotional overloads. If someone in the room next to him smashed a finger, he would sense the pain. Usually, these things didn’t bother him much.

One day he walked down the street to see the fire department dowsing a burning building. The combined emotional responses from the crowd outside it and the people trying to escape on the inside were too much. For two days, he’d wondered the streets until he returned to his senses.

He found relief in the study of pure logic. His academic work transferred to the study of mathematics. From this, he became an actuary for a major accounting firm, studying the rates of accidents by population groups for big insurance companies. His cool, impassionate work made him the ideal man for the job and it allowed him to focus on numbers. The focus of his work kept him away from the emotions behind the figures. His abilities made him a splendid researcher and lecturer at the university at the same time.

However, the months he spent on the front lines in the war shook his ability to reason. When he returned, he fought daily to keep the emotional waves out of his mind. It didn’t work and he was forced to leave the university because he couldn’t stand the close proximity to the students.

As he was forced to earn a living, Carlo turned to the one field people where he could earn some money. He became a fortuneteller. His ability to sense the emotional state and inner turmoil of people was an asset to him. He could give his clients advice, which, although vague, was beneficial enough to help them. He refused to dress in the robes and turban for the role, even if it was what these people expected.

It was this ability that allowed him to foresee a major crash in the national economy. He used his sensory input to track the fears and desires of people around him. The presidential election had placed a man into office that only cared about the business aspect of the country. He was famous as the man who said, “The business of America is business.”

“Did you read the papers this morning?” Carlo asked the man behind the lunch counter where he had breakfast every morning. “It seems things are beginning to happen in the stock market.” He still had enough of his math sense to realize the breezy financial reports didn’t make sense.

“Great!” the man said to him. “I bought fifty shares of mutual assurance last week. They’ve already doubled in value. If they continue to climb, I can sell them and leave this racket.”

Sell to whom? Carlo thought. There was a brokerage firm down the hall from his office. The anxiety, which emitted from it as of late, nearly knocked him over yesterday. The door had opened briefly to show a man starring at a stock ticker ribbon in horror. Something wasn’t going right and the people who were buying stock refused to admit it.

Nor would the government be of any help. Carlo could feel the current president’s emotional state for some reason. He couldn’t understand how this was possible, since the president was hundreds of miles away, but he could sense the way the man felt. It must have something to do with his meeting the president years ago when the man was merely an undersecretary. Somehow he’d found a way to link with him even thought so much space separated the two of them.

Carlo greeted the elevator operator and steeped inside. The operator pulled the door and began to ascend all the way to the upper floor where Carlo had his consulting office. It helped to have your office somewhere people respected and felt safe when they visited. He avoided the obvious trappings of mysticism and called himself “Dr. Carlton” to his clients. His diplomas shown on the wall where from institutes where he’d purchased the degrees for small fees. It was legal and helped ease his clients when they came to see him.

“So what do you think of the future, John?” he asked the elevator operator as they began to move up to the floor. “Don’t you write poetry on the side?”

“Yes I do Dr. Carlton,” he affirmed. John always looked so proper in that uniform. He’d once told Carlo he served in the Great War too.

“I try not to think too much about the future, sir,” John continued. “Or the past. The present concerns me the most. I can’t do much to effect what is in front or behind me, but I can struggle with the present.”

“Well spoken,” he told John, just as his floor came up.

Carlo continued to look at his newspaper and seek out information on what might take place in the coming days as he walked to the office. He could feel stirrings in the sensations of the men in the places next to him who made their living in finance. Something was up and he couldn’t identify exactly what it was. Something seeped out of the offices and into the atmosphere. Even the women who came to see him for advice complained their business-interested husbands cared nothing for them and spent most of their waking hours trying to study financial reports.

The newspapers told him the same thing each day. He felt the sensations of confusion in the air and tried to understand what was about to happen. But he was most frustrated by the president’s refusal to do anything. The president seemed oblivious, when he should know better as a former engineer about the stress of systems. For some reason, the president seemed to think “volunteers” would solve everything.

Carlo’s first patient that day was a woman whose husband ran a manufacturing plant near the city’s south side. She was full of anxiety and let him know about her condition right away. He listened to her fears and closed his eyes while he told his secretary to hold all his appointments for the afternoon.

His secretary was a woman with whom he enjoyed a discreet relationship. He’d helped her overcome some inner turmoil in the past and go on to enjoy her life to the fullest. When she came to him five years ago, she was Midwestern farm girl who dressed in a plain cotton frock and was certain demons infested her apartment. A few sessions later he determined the demons were the product of the attention she received from three different men. She worked as a shipping clerk and they were in the employed by the same company. He exorcized the demons and she was free to pursue relations with each of them at different days of the week. Now she dressed as a flapper and bobbed her hair.

Carlo put his client in a light hypnotic trance, which made it easier for her to open up. He felt her fear cloud the room as it almost choked him with its presence. He’d learned hypnosis in the army and used it whenever he felt it productive. Today he nearly gasped as her emotions hit him with the force of a tidal wave. When he managed to sit down after the effects passed over him, Carlo was able to get the woman to talk about her current condition.

“My husband is worried the company will go under,” she told him. “He claims the line of credit they have with the banks is almost exhausted and no one buys the pencil sharpeners they make. He doesn’t know what will happen to us if the factory is forced to close down.”

Once again, Carlo was reminded of the shortsightedness in the government. Just this morning he’d felt another wave of sensation from the man in the executive office. The president truly felt calm in the face of the storm. Not the calm of a person who needed to remain in this state because of danger, but the sensation of a person who didn’t understand what he was up against right now. Did the president not read the papers? Did he not have advisors who would tell him what to do?

He listened to her fears and tried to direct them somewhere else. Carlo learned years ago he could take the emotional burst sent out by someone and send it to a separate place. He could even spread it out over a large population center. It was the only way he’d kept his sanity in the Great War. He could send a wave of ferocity to the allied troops opposed to the Germans and use it to counter the assault. He could spread it so thin the fear or anger would not be shown in the overall population.

But this was not an option when he practiced in Chicago. The fear this woman had inside her was contagious. With fear and anxiety all over the city, he didn’t dare to add to the increase of it. He thought for a few minutes and decided another person full of fear wouldn’t make a difference to the overall cloud and sent her fear into it. Carlo checked the woman’s blood pressure and pulse. She was in much better shape today.

She told him how relaxed she felt when he brought her out of the trance. Carlo had her make an appointment with his secretary and sent her home. He knew she would return next week with the fear again and the anxiety with it. In the current atmosphere of the city, it was self-generating.

“So did you have all the clients stay home for the day,” he asked his secretary when he left his office. “I spent hours with her. She’s good for the bill, at least this week, but I don’t know about the future.”

“I called the ones who have phones,” she told him. “The others had numbers where I could leave a message. Most of them were irritated by the cancelation. They’ll be back, where else can they go?”

“I don’t know,” he told her. “No one else can do what I do. But I sense bad vibrations in the air.”

The crash came two days later.

When Carlo walked up to his building, he felt the emotions of rage, fear, anger and sadness. They were mixed together and he felt them from all the financial centers as he walked down the street. What happened? He saw a newsboy selling papers and picked up one with told him the sad tale: The stock market had imploded this morning. It began as a few investors decided the market was tapped and began to sell their investments. By the early morning, the other stockbrokers noticed what they did and began to sell theirs as well. By noon, it was full-on panic as everyone began to unload their stocks and bonds at a rate faster than anyone had ever witnessed. By the end of the day, the market lost was a sad reflection of its former value.

This was the source of anxiety Carlo felt the day before. The financial people in the building where his office was located knew about the market panic and he felt their fear. But, unlike the time he served on the Eastern front, there was no rage, no sense of courage in the face of danger. The stockbrokers were terrified and didn’t know what to do. Therefore, they did the only thing they knew how to do and sold off their holdings.

“Looking bad?” his secretary said to him as she strolled into the office. She saw the newspaper under his arm and the garish headlines.

“About as bad as it can get,” he responded. Carlo unfolded the paper and looked at it.

“No mention of the president’s response,” he told her. “Why doesn’t he do anything?”

“Can he do anything,” she asked him.

“Of course he can. The president can inspire confidence. He can use the radios everyone seems to have these days and bring calm to the nation. He can summon all the financial people to the executive suite and tell them to stop it with the run on the stocks. If he doesn’t, it will get much worse.”

“I hope it all blows over it a few days,” she told him. “It did the last time.”

“I wish I could believe in that,” Carlo responded as he folded his newspaper back up. “But this time it’s much worse.” The level of fear and horror in the atmosphere of Chicago was tenfold over the last time there was a financial panic.

He closed his eyes and reached out to the mental emanations from the president. All he saw was confusion. Here he was, the most powerful man in the country and he didn’t understand the crisis that was about to descend on the nation. Someone had to do something before it was too late. The panic would only multiply. It wouldn’t be long before people would hurl themselves from their office windows and the streets would fill with the unemployed.

“There is something I can do,” he told her. “Have there been any calls for me?”

“Not yet, Dr. Carlton,” she told him. “They usually don’t call until ten. Is there something you want of me?” The last sentence was said in a seductive manner. Even without his ability to sense the offer behind it, Carlo could recognize the invitation.

“I need you to let my clients know I will be busy until two in the afternoon. Are there any appointments in the book?”

She opened the grey ledger and looked through it. “Just one and I can call her; she has a phone.” The secretary closed the book and placed it next to her inkpot and fountain pen.

“Good. Tell her something important happened, which is true. I’ll be in my office ‘til two, so don’t disturb me.”

She frowned. Carlo could feel her disappointment. He didn’t turn her offers down very often, but his attention was needed elsewhere. He closed the door behind him and locked it when he was in his office.

Carlo walked to the window and opened it to let the fall air into the room. It was cool outside, but too warm in his office. He needed the air to flow inside to think and concentrate. He looked out the window and saw other men who sat next to the windows. They starred not in concentration, but in fear at the news from the day before. He needed to get started or they would be leaving by those windows.

Carlo lay down on the couch in his office and concentrated. He located the sensations, which emitted from the president without much trouble. The man still didn’t understand what he faced. Carlo felt confusion and dissonance, but not the determination to lead the country out of the crisis. He then sank into a deep trance, a thing that he’d learned to do in the Great War.

With his abilities, Carlo could direct the emotions of fear and hate away from their original source. He could also change their direction. Sometimes it was possible to change hate to love and fear to joy. He couldn’t do it for large groups of people, but for one man, anything was possible. As he lay on the couch, he changed the emotions of confusion to determination and insensitivity to compassion.

By noon, Carlo had changed the direction of the country.

He didn’t have to convince the president something needed to be done; just place the sensations in his mind. It would cause him to seek out and discover the truth about the national economy. Instead of ignoring the situation, he would put his training as an engineer toward a fix. The president made his fortune in remote mines where few people wanted to go.

Now, let him put that sense of dare and endurance into the leadership the nation needed.

At two, Carlo woke from his nap and went to the door of his office. He left it and shut it behind him as he entered the outer room where his secretary had her office. She looked up from the magazine on her desk.

“The one lady I called said she would reschedule for next week, Dr. Carlton,” she told him. “A few other people made appointments. Is there anything else you wanted me to do for the day?”

“No,” he replied. “You may take the rest of the day off. I’m going home. Report back in here tomorrow. I’ll lock the office door as I leave.”

She looked at him a little bit strangely and picked up her purse. “Is everything all right? I know you were worried about the stock market. Did you have a lot of money invested in stocks?”

“Not a bit. However, I no longer worry about the future of this country. Tomorrow, everything will have adjusted. In fact, I think we are on a new age of greatness.”

She left a few minutes later. Carlo left not long afterwards. He locked the door behind him and went straight to the elevator with a smile on his face.

John the elevator operator wasn’t in such a good mood. “Did you hear the news, Dr. Carlton?” he asked Carlo on the way down to the main floor. “Wall Street is in a panic. People are selling off everything. I don’t know what will happen next.”

“I’m sure it will work itself out,” Carlo replied, as he hid his optimism.

That night he went to bed and slept soundly. The city was full of emotions out of control. Bankers packing their bags, people lining up at the banks, factories about to close early. But he didn’t worry. What he’d done should set things to the right. In the morning, a new age would dawn on the country.

Carlo woke the next day and went to the newsstand as soon as he left. The newspapers didn’t talk much about the events in Wall Street. Instead, they mentioned the president had called an emergency meeting of everyone on Capitol Hill. He was scheduled to address congress in an emergency session to combat the effects of the stock market crash. Carlo smiled. He could feel the relief in the air as thousands of his fellow citizens now understood the president was about to do something to manage the economy.

No longer would it spin out of control.

Even his clients seemed in a better mood that day. Word spread through the city the federal government would take swift action to bring order to the financial sector. He stayed until six and took a hopeful view of the city from his office window. No more men stood at the windows looking down in despair. It was very good. He took his secretary out for dinner and accepted her offer to spend the evening with him.

The next day he woke to the sensations of fear again. After seeing his secretary out of the house, he dressed and went to buy a newspaper. Carlo paid the newsboy and looked at the headlines in horror.

The president was shutting down the entire government. He’d personally opened the offices of the Federal Reserve Bank and gave away millions of dollars to anyone who walked by in the first two hours before the secret service whisked him away. The entire government was in confusion and the populace didn’t know what to make of it.

Both parties were calling for his impeachment, but he threatened to disclose personal secrets that would be damaging to the politicians in Washington D C. The article ended with the account of the president opening the executive mansion to anyone who wanted to live there.

With the federal government in as much chaos as the financial sector, the country was in grave danger. On his way to the office, Carlo listened to any number of corner speakers rage on about the class struggle, Armageddon, the Army of God, or any other topic their scattered minds would proclaim. What worried him the most was how many people listened to them.

He went into the office and greeted his secretary. “I need you to leave me alone for the rest of the day,” he told her. “I’ll be in my office. If I’m still there by the end of the day, just go home and lock the door behind you.”

“Alright,” she told him. “Is there something wrong? I know things are a little crazy outside.”

“I have to fix something,” he explained, and entered his office.

Carlo lay down again on his couch and put himself in the light trance. There he was: The president. It didn’t take him long to find his aura. His emanations were that of a saint, but a saint wasn’t needed right now. Carlo would put everything back the way it was. However, to do that, he would need to boost his own ego high enough to compensate for the distance. It was a minor problem and one he could perform.

By that evening, the president was his old self. He explained to his staff he’d suffered a break down from the stress of office and would retire. His vice president was capable and eager to fix the problems caused by the collapse of Wall Street, but not to the extent the president had gone.

Two hours later, his secretary looked up to see Carlo staring down at her. She’d been going over the accounts and he startled her by his appearance. She didn’t even hear the door to his office open.

“Good afternoon, Dr. Carlton,” she told him. “Are you okay? Did you want to close the office early again?”

“We’ll be working late this evening,” he told her in a firm voice. “We’ll work late many evenings this week and into the future, but don’t worry; you’ll always have a place by my side.”

Something about the good doctor changed. She couldn’t put a finger on it.

“I have a lot to do,” he told her. “Things need to be fixed in this country and I’m the man to do it.”

He turned to her and smiled. “There will be a New Order.”


Raymond The Automatic House

Synopsis: Raymond The Automatic House - A surviving government official after a worldwide upheaval manages to escape a ravaging mob and then stumbles across a self-contained automatic house set in a remote area of woods. What he didn’t expect was its lone inhabitant.

When Ron saw the automatic house in the distance, most of his melted shoes were ruined.

Ron was outside the bunker when the electrical generator exploded, which sent him back across the perimeter. He pulled himself up by his arms to a standing position next to the last tree inside the barricade. He felt the burning on his shirt and quickly stamped out the flames. By then there was no further recourse. He saw the motorcycle spin past and heard the crack of the rifle. He knew everything was lost.

Somehow, the gang had bombed the generator, the last thing keeping them out. The bunker was in flames and he knew they would be looking for survivors.

He ran. He ran to the gate on his side of the barricade and jumped over it. Ron knew the secret tunnel that ran outside, but he never wanted to use it. If he knew about it, someone else did and it would be compromised. He wasn’t even sure he could make it over the barricade on the rear perimeter, but he had to try. He ran up to it, rolled an empty drum to the corner and pushed it firmly in place.

With the generator gone, the electric fence, which ran over the temporary wall they had installed over the top, would be useless.

Ron put one foot on the top of the drum and jumped up to the corner of the wall. He wasn’t that tall, but he was light. He hesitated before placing his hand on the fence. If it was still electrified, one touch would fry him. Ron didn’t think it was because they no longer had a back-up generator. The military took the one they had last month and never returned it. What did they care about a bunch of civilian engineers and scientists who were supposed to find a new way to make cheap energy after the oil ran dry?

The shipments from Indonesia ended three months ago and most of the West Coast was in flames. The installation where he worked was on fire and he had to get out.

He slammed his hand down on the wall. If he was to be fried, let it happen quickly. But nothing took place; the power was still off. He looked down the line of the barricade. Men with guns were swarming over the top near the old entrance. He wanted to do something, but there was nothing he could do. Ron fell over the other side and ran. He ran as far away from the noise as he could.

The concussions and crack of weapon fire were soon far in the background. It was night and he had to be careful. One false step and he would ruin an ankle. Then what? How could he ever get help out here? People were dying from simple infections all over the state of Kansas. The place was in the process of returning to the prairie and nothing would save it this time.

Ron finally quit running two days later. By now, he had to think about supplies and how would he defend himself. The law was gone and with it any protection for loners. The worst thing he could do was wander around the former state and hope to find a settlement. The ones he knew about didn’t accept strangers and routinely burned the shantytowns that had sprung up on the outside. The last report one of the engineers showed him was how a defensive hamlet below Topeka turned a series of homemade flamethrowers on a caravan of people seeking help. They were from what had been the university.

Wolves ruled the world and the sheep days were numbered.

He woke up that morning and found himself sleeping in a field. Ron had no sense of direction and for a minute worried he’d ran in circles back to the research installation. He was employed there as a technician for the army. The raiders appeared last year and tried to find a way across the fence, which is why they put the barricade up. It held them off for a while, but the next bunch required help from an attack helicopter.

When the helicopters were needed elsewhere, the pentagon managed to send a platoon of soldiers to guard the installation. The soldiers disappeared the night after they lost contact with Washington DC.

Ron walked further until he realized he was clueless about his location. He looked down and saw the rubber soles of his shoes melted. They would stay in place for a little bit, but eventually they would fall apart. He stood closer to that power generator than he’d thought when the bomb detonated. The blast had knocked him in the air and the fireball had reached his shoes.

Well, wasn’t this just fine? He was somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, miles from any kind of settlement or military base. Even if he did manager to locate either of those two, there was no guarantee anyone would help him. Most people were busy trying to survive on their own. Charity was awful scarce these days.

So, he continued walking. Ron avoided the few people he did see in the distance. Most of them were carrying guns. He didn’t want to end up on the receiving end of a buckshot load or rifle bullet. They were easy enough to avoid if you understood what you were doing. Just never step on a dry stick or make sudden movements. He survived by finding a few stores that were still intact and took supplies from them. Most of the stores and warehouses were emptied out of anything useful, but he found a few along the way that had hidden caches. Again, easy enough to find if you knew what to look for.

He came upon the automatic house a few days later. It stood in the middle of a bland field with wheat growing around it. There was a road which lead to the house and across the field , but someone had enough sense to cover it up. Ron had never seen one of these houses; they were all the rage the years before the oil began to run out. Some computer center in the Boston area hooked up with a builder and began making full-automatic houses. They concept was sound: Why did a house need to look like every other one on the block?

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