The Status Civilization.  Robert Sheckley

The Status Civilization

By Robert Sheckley

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Synopsis

The Status Civilization His return to consciousness was a slow and painful process. It was a journey in which he traversed all time. He dreamed. He rose through thick layers of sleep, out of the imaginary beginnings of all things. He lifted a pseudopod from primordial ooze, and the pseudopod was him. He became an amoeba which contained his essence; then a fish marked with his own peculiar individuality; then an ape unlike all other apes. And finally, he became a man. What kind of man? Dimly he saw himself, faceless, a beamer gripped tight on one hand, a corpse at his feet. That kind of man. He awoke, rubbed his eyes, and waited for further memories to come. No memories came. Not even his name. He sat up hastily and willed memory to return. When it didn't, he looked around, seeking in his surroundings some clue to his identity. He was sitting on a bed in a small gray room. There was a closed door on one side. On the other, through a curtained alcove, he could see a tiny lavatory. Light came into the room from some hidden source, perhaps from the ceiling itself. The room had a bed and a single chair, and nothing else. He held his chin in his hand and closed his eyes. He tried to catalogue all his knowledge, and the implications of that knowledge. He knew that he was a man, species Homo sapiens, an inhabitant of the planet Earth. He spoke a language which he knew was English. (Did that mean that there were other languages?) He knew the commonplace names for things: room, light, chair. He possessed in addition a limited amount of general knowledge. He knew that there were many important things which he did not know, which he once had known. Something must have happened to me. That something could have been worse. If it had gone a little further, he might have been left a mindless creature without a language, unaware of being human, of being a man, of being of Earth. A certain amount had been left to him. But when he tried to think beyond the basic facts in his possession, he came to a dark and horror-filled area. Do Not Enter. Exploration into his own mind was as dangerous as a journey to—what? He couldn't find an analogue, though he suspected that many existed. I must have been sick. That was the only reasonable explanation. He was a man with the recollection of memories. He must at one time have had that priceless wealth of recall which now he could only deduce from the limited evidence at his disposal. At one time he must have had specific memories of birds, trees, friends, family, status, a wife perhaps. Now he could only theorize about them. Once he had been able to say, this is like, or, that reminds me of. Now nothing reminded him of anything, and things were only like themselves. He had lost his powers of contrast and comparison. He could no longer analyze the present in terms of the experienced past.

Robert Sheckley


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