Our Friends from Frolix 8

PART ONE

ONE

Bobby said. ‘I don’t want to take the test.’

But you must, his father thought. If there is going to be any hope for our family as it extends itself into the future. Into periods lying long after my death – mine and Kleo’s.

‘Let me explain it this way,’ he said aloud, as he moved along the crowded sliding sidewalk in the direction of the Federal Bureau of Personnel Standards. ‘Different people have different ability.’ How well he knew that. ‘My ability, for example, is very limited; I can’t even qualify for a government G-one rating, which is the lowest rating of all.’ It hurt to admit this, but he had to; he had to make the boy understand how vital this was. ‘So I’m not qualified at all. I’ve got a little nongovernment job… nothing, really. Do you want to be like me when you grow up?’

‘You’re okay,’ Bobby said, with the majestic assurance of his twelve years.

‘I’m not,’ Nick said.

‘To me you are.’

He felt baffled. And, as so many times of late, on the edge of despair. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘to the facts of how Terra is run. Two entities maneuver around each other, with first one ruling and then the other. These entities—’

‘I’m not either one,’ his son said. ‘I’m an Old and a Regular. I don’t want to take the test; I know what I am. I know what you are and I’m the same.’

Within him, Nick felt his stomach dry and shrink, and because of that he felt acute need. Looking around, he made out a drugbar on the far side of the street, beyond the traffic of squib cars and the larger, rotund public-transit vehicles. He led Bobby up a ped-ramp, and ten minutes later they had reached the far sidewalk.

‘I’m going into the bar for a couple of minutes,’ Nick said. ‘I’m not well enough to take you to the Federal Building, at this particular junction of time and space.’ He led his son past the eye of the door, into the dark interior of Donovan’s Drugbar – a bar which he had never visited before but liked on first impact.

‘You can’t bring that boy in here,’ the bartender informed him. He pointed to the sign on the wall. ‘He’s not eighteen. Do you want it to look like I sell nibbles to minors?’

‘At my regular bar—’ Nick began, but the bartender cut him brusquely off.

This isn’t your regular bar,’ he declared, and stumped off to wait on a customer at the far end of the shadow-clouded room.

Nick said, ‘You look in the shop windows next door.’ He nudged his son, indicating the door through which they had just entered. ‘I’ll meet you in three or four minutes.’

‘You always say that,’ Bobby said, but he trudged off, out onto the midday sidewalk with its legions of squashed-together humanity… for a moment he paused, glancing back, and then he continued on, out of sight.

Seating himself on a bar stool, Nick said, ‘I’d like fifty milligrams of phenmetrazine hydrochloride and thirty of stelladrine, with a sodium acetyl-salicylate chaser.’

The bartender said, ‘The stelladrine will make you dream of many and far-off stars.’ He placed a tiny plate before Nick, got the pills and then the sodium acetyl-salicylate solution in a plastic glass; laying everything before Nick he stood back, scratching his ear reflectively.

‘I hope it does.’ Nick swallowed the three meagre pills – he could not afford any more this late in the month – and downed the brackish chaser.

‘Taking your son for a Federal test?’

As he got out his wallet he nodded.

‘You think they’re rigged?’ the