At The World’s
End: Six Classic Sci-Fi Short Stories
Copyright 2017 Susan
The Automatic House
Idiots From Earth
Pied Piper of Spring
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
“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
“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.”
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
“No mention of the
president’s response,” he told her. “Why doesn’t he do
“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
“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.
something I can do,” he told her. “Have there been any calls for
“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
Now, let him put
that sense of dare and endurance into the leadership the nation
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?”
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
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
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.”
told him. “Is there something wrong? I know things are a little
“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
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.
Dr. Carlton,” she told him. “Are you okay? Did you want to close
the office early again?”
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 - 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
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
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
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
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?