In the Imagicon

By Joe Haley

(Based on an original story by George Henry Smith)


Dandor leaned back on the warm silk of the lounge and stretched, letting his eyes wander up to the high ceiling of the palace and then down to the beautiful blonde who sat beside him on a stool. She was putting the finishing touches on his carefully manicured fingernails while her companion with the mobile hips and the full red mouth leaned forward to playfully pop another grape into his mouth.

He studied the blonde, whose name was Cecilia, and thought about the other service she had performed for him last night. That had been nice…. very nice. But today he felt bored with her, just as he was bored with her companion whose name he couldn’t remember, and with the cuddly golden haired twins and with….

Dandor yawned. Why were they all so damn deferential and always so eager to please him?

It was almost as though they were products of his imagination, or rather – products of his planet’s latest invention, the Imagicon.

"There now, don’t they look nice?" Cecilia asked, sitting back to admire her handiwork.

Dandor looked at the manicure and grimaced. It made him feel silly.

Then Cecilia leaned over and kissed him. "Oh Dandor, I love you so much!"

Dandor resisted the temptation to laugh. He resisted it because even at times like this when his life with these women began to seem unreal, he tried to be as kind as possible to them. Even when their adoration threatened to bore him to death, he tried to be kind.

So instead of laughing, he yawned.

The effect, however, was almost the same. Cecilia’s blue eyes widened in fear and her lips began to tremble.

"You… you’re going to leave us, aren’t you?" she asked.

He yawned again and patted her head. "Just for a little while, darling."

"Don’t you love us, Dandor?" asked the other blonde.

"Of course I do, but—"

"Dandor, please don’t go," Cecilia begged, "We’ll do anything to make you happy!"

"I know," he said, getting to his feet and stretching. "You’re both very sweet, but somehow I just feel drawn to…"

"Please stay," the second blonde pleaded. "We’ll have a party with champagne. Any kind of pleasure you desire. We’ll go get the other girls…. I’ll dance for you…"

"I’m sorry, Daphne," he said, finally remembering her name, "but you girls are beginning to seem unreal to me. And when that happens, I must go."

"But –"Cecelia was crying so hard she could hardly get the words out. "When you leave us… it’s a-almost … as though we’re … turned off."

Her words saddened him a little because in a way it was true. When he left it was almost like turning them off. But true or not, he couldn’t do anything about it because he felt his time running out. He took one last look around at the incredible luxury of his palace, at the beauty of the women and at the warm sun shining through the windows, and then he was gone.

The first thing he heard when he came out of the Imagicon was the howling of the arctic wind outside his door. There was a distinct chill in the room too, even though he knew the heat was turned up high. The next thing that assaulted his ears was the rasping screech of his wife’s voice. "So you finally came out of it, did you?" Nona was yelling. "It’s about time, you good for nothing little prick!"

He sadly looked around him. It was hard to believe, but he was really back on Nestrond, the coldest hell of a colony planet anywhere in the galaxy. The walls, floor and ceiling of the cave had been sealed with insulation and modernized in an attempt to make the dwelling more civilized. Fluorescent light lit the room. He hadn’t really wanted to come back. But here he was … back on Nestrond - and back with Nona.

"You’ve been gone long enough!" Nona said. She was a big, rawboned woman with stringy black hair, a broad, flat face with thin lips and uneven yellowish teeth.

God but she’s ugly, he thought as he stared at her. Beside her, Cecilia and the others were goddesses.

"It’s a good thing you’re back cause the ice wolves are getting closer every night and we need fuel for the reactor."

Dandor just stood there and listened as she went on with the long list of chores that needed to be done. Why, he wondered didn’t she get one of the miners to do these things? He knew without being told that other men had been around while he was "gone". Nona was as horny as she was ugly. And since there were twenty men for every woman on Nestrond she had plenty of opportunity.

"…. And the door on the auto-barn needs repairing," she finished.

When he didn’t answer immediately, she thrust her face close to his. "Did you hear

me? I said there’s work to be done."

"Yeah, I heard you," he said.

"Then don’t stand there like an idiot. Sit down and eat your breakfast and the get to work!"

Breakfast was a thick, greasy piece of rancid meat and a bowl of lukewarm grits. Dandor choked on it but finally forced it down. Then he put on his thermal suit and started for the door.

"Here stupid!" Nona said, picking up his facemask from a pile of equipment on the floor and flinging it at him. "Do you want to freeze your nose off?"

He slapped the mask on quickly so she wouldn’t see the anger on his face, opened the door and plunged out. The wind immediately hit him in the face, hurling jagged ice crystals against his mask. Nestrond. My God, why Nestrond? He thought longingly of the comparative warmth of the cave as he stared out at the bleak landscape. He thought of the large black box that was the Imagicon. It sat in one corner of the cave and was the only way back to…

But no, he couldn’t go back yet. There were too many chores to be done. So with zap saw in hand, he climbed on the ice sled and drove off across the frozen waste to the ancient peat bog where they cut their fuel.

All morning long, with the wind raging at him and the bitter cold making every breath an aching torment in his chest, he cut and stacked the frozen peat. When the pale white sun peaked through the clouds for a moment and he saw it was almost noon, he tied up a large bundle of the brick-like slabs and loaded them on the back on the sled and drove back to the settlement.

Nona slapped a bowl of thin soup and a piece of stale bread down in front of him and called it lunch. He ate in silence, and when he was finished, went outside again to spend the afternoon fixing the frozen septic tank.

This made the work of the morning seem easy. The ground had been frozen since Nestrond first began its distant orbit around its inadequate sun. By late afternoon, every bone and muscle in his body ached. Even with the power shovel, he had only managed to excavate two feet into the rock hard ground. As the sun went down, he staggered back to the cave with only one thought on his mind…. sleep.

He shed his thermal suit and crawled into bed fully clothed. No sooner had he dozed off than he was wrenched awake by a loud, eerie howl that seemed to go on forever.

"Wha… what’s that?" he asked.

"Ice wolves, you idiot," Nona screeched. "They’re trying to get in the auto-barn. You should have fixed that door!"

Dandor staggered to his feet and reached for his thermal suit as another howl rent the night. He strapped a pistol around his waste. "That’s useless against a wolf!" Nona snapped. She thrust a laser rifle into his hands.

He left the comparative warmth of the cave with the rifle in one hand and a flashlight in the other. He saw them at once. There were two of the six-legged brutes. One of them was raised up on its four back legs, its massive jaws and forelegs ripping at the gap in the broken barn door. From inside the barn came the bellow of the terrified animals.

His feet crunched on the hard snow as he approached the creature. The wolf heard him and turned steely gray eyes in his direction. A low growl came from its mouth as it bounded towards Dandor and leaped for his throat.

There was no time to aim. Instead, Dandor fired from the hip and the laser caught the monster in the shoulder. It wasn’t a clean kill though. Dandor stepped aside as the huge body hurtled past him, and then he blasted its head off. But then Dandor almost died himself. He almost died because for a split second he forgot about the dead wolf’s mate.

He remembered only when the enraged creature struck him from behind and sent him sprawling on the frozen snow. He rolled over on his back and the monstrous beast leapt on top of him. The wolf’s sharp talons ripped through his thermal suit and slashed his leg all the way to the bone. He screamed as the flesh tore away from his thigh and the powerful jaws moved towards his throat.

Dandor pulled the pistol from the hostler and emptied the magazine into the creature’s stomach and groin. The wolf screamed in pain and bounded off into the darkness. The stars seemed to spin above Dandor’s head. Then blackness closed over him.

When he came to, he was lying on the table in the cave’s dining area. Nona and a strange man were bending over him.

"Well, you got yourself in a pretty mess this time!" Nona said as his eyes opened.

"That leg is going to have to come off," the stranger said.

"Are you a doctor?" Dandor asked in a husky croak.

"Only one on Nestrond," the man said.

"The pain…. Can’t you give me something for the pain?"

"I used up all my meds after the mine accident last week," said the doctor. "No more till the ship gets here. On most planets we could save that leg, but here –"He made a helpless gesture.

White-hot flame seemed to envelop the slashed leg. Dandor winced and then saw the half smile on Nona’s lips as she said, "With nothing to give him, cutting off that leg is gonna hurt like hell, ain’t it doc?"

"I do have some brandy," said the doctor. "I’ll go get it." He opened an inner door went hobbling off down a tunnel.

Nona leaned over and looked down at Dandor. "It’s really gonna hurt, honey. It’s going to hurt you just like it hurt me all those times when you went off and left me for those dream girls of yours. She gestured toward the Imagicon in the corner.

"No, Nona, no!" It didn’t hurt you. You’re not –" He almost said she wasn’t capable of being hurt. But he stopped, because he didn’t know for sure if that were true.

"With only one leg, you’re not going to be able to get in that damn thing by yourself," she said. "You’re gonna have to stay here and be nice to me."

"Nona! You don’t understand!" He started to plead with her, but then the doctor returned with a quart of brandy and his surgery kit.

"Here drink this fast," the man said handing Dandor the bottle.

He drank deeply and quickly. The brandy burned his throat and he thought for a moment he was going to throw up. Nona strapped him to the table with some belts and the doctor opened his bag.

As the doctor cut and sawed, Dandor was sure his screams would burst his skull. At times he wondered why his curses didn’t snap the belts that held him down or drive off the two tormentors bending over him.

"Well, I guess that’s it," the doctor was saying when the agony dragged him up toward consciousness again. "We’re gonna have to cauterize the stump or he’ll bleed to death. I ain’t got nothing but heat to do it with either. The doctor applied a makeshift tourniquet and turned to Nona. "Show me where your kitchen is, woman."

Dandor came fully awake and saw Nona looking over her shoulder at him as she accompanied the doctor out of the room. It was almost as if she had said aloud, "You belong to me now, only to me. There won’t be any more hiding from reality in that mind machine."

But she couldn’t. How could she? Through the haze of alcohol and pain, Dandor tried to ask him self…. Why would she treat me this way? He couldn’t think of any answer.

And as they left the room to heat the cauterizing iron for the bloody stump of his leg, the black coffin-like shape of the Imagicon filled his eyes and his mind.

If the pain hadn’t already been more than reason could bear, he wouldn’t have had the courage to loosen the straps and roll off the table. He crawled slowly toward the Imagicon, leaving a trail of blood behind him. The black box. Somehow he knew it represented a surcease from pain and a promise of ultimate safety.

He reached it before they returned, and by making a supreme effort, he pulled himself up high enough to press his palm against the sensor that identified him instantly, and that was the only way to gain access to the machine.

He collapsed, more dead than alive, into the seat and pressed the helmet down firmly on his skull.

Then there was a bright warm world around him and bright young faces above him. "Oh Dandor, darling!" Cecilia cried, putting her soft, warm arms around him.

"Sweetheart, you’ve come back!" Daphne whispered

"We’re so happy to see you!" the golden haired Terri murmured.

"We’re so happy to see you!" her twin, Jerri, repeated.

"And I’m the happiest of all!" Dandor assured them, gazing down at his leg… at his perfectly whole, intact leg which felt no pain whatsoever. "Thank God! Thank God, I’m back."

The Imagicon had worked! It had worked once again. It had taken him to the world of imagination and back again to reality… to wonderful, wonderful reality!

For he was Dandor X arel, head of the Supreme Council of Velor. As the high counselor on a world ruled by men, he had his choice of numerous women. And not, just any women, but Velorian women. Strong, blonde, blue eyed women with perfect bodies and perfect genes.

When Velor’s scientists had invented the Imagicon, some men had used it to create even more exotic and wonderful worlds than the one they lived in. But that had proved too much of a good thing. With endless pleasure and nothing to challenge them they grew depressed and despondent.

But Dandor had been wise. With his Imagicon, he had created an entirely different kind of world, a world of cold and terror called Nestrond. So even though the Arion problem persisted, and the budget was out of balance, thanks to the Imagicon, he could keep things in perspective. After all, what good was paradise without something to compare it too? Without a taste of hell from time to time, how could a man appreciate heaven?