"So, do you know where your pupil, Miss Rose E. Pole, is now?"
Susan remained silent.
"Did you hear my question?"
Susan did not deign to answer.
"She might be in a very bad state," the doctor said to his assistant. "I'll try another one."
He turned back to Susan.
"It is important that we know where Rose is."
"Why? So you can force her to an abortion?"
"Oh, why are you so demonising? You know that is illegal."
Susan said nothing. God knows what she would have done if certain drugs used now had been in use back then.
"Why are you against abortion anyway? You know she cannot get a job, you know her child would depend on her parents?"
Susan could not believe she heard such cynicism. And from a doctor. Then she looked again at the assistant, the man who had envied the Dresden bomber. Now she did believe it.
"You mean that life is sacred to you, in some way?"
"Isn't it to you?" Susan had to force herself to dare respond like that, but she would not respond with less anymosity, and she did not dare not to respond. Like it was a snake and a mouse did not dare take its eyes off it.
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
"In a manner of speaking, life is sacred. But it is short. It is my art which is long. And now it teaches us how to save lives noone could save before. Or to deal death."
"Without death," he continued, as she looked at him sullenly, "life would be crowded and choke itself to death."
She saw a flaw: "It could hardly do that if there was no death for life to choke itself to, even by getting crowded."
"Supposing it did not? Supposing every life engendered was born, and every life born stayed alive for all eternity - on this little earth of ours. But however much you dislike death, it won't happen like that. Death is to the biosphere what surgeons are to bodies."
He continued as she bit her lips: "A surgeon - usually - leaves what is healthy in the body. Death leaves only - that also just usually - what is the most healthy."
"That is a lie." She knew her siblings and cousin and former pupil had not been sick, and even the old ones, Professor Kirke and Miss Plummer, were - except for Professor Kirke's white hairs and ill hearing, from an episode with cannibals with loud drums, as healthy as people can expect when sixtyish.
"Statistically it is true. What does science, what does life as a whole, care about the individual exceptions?"
"I do care. I am neither 'science,' nor 'life as a whole,' but I do care. Have you met them by the way?"
"Science. And life-as-a-whole. Have you met them?"
The doctor nodded to his assistant. He was scribbling.
What he was scribbling she was given an idea of as the doctor said:
"My dear. We must take things easy. We will give you time to rest and think things out. You know - 'science' and 'life as a whole' are not people."
She was flabberghasted. She had never said they were. That had been her whole point ... was he an idiot? She opened her mouth ...
"Hush now. You needn't thank me for pointing out the obvious to you. That is what we are for, here in the loonybin."
She silently appreciated his wonderful "magnanimity".
"But to continue ... I will venture on a bit ... though usually I would just have left you now for at least a month ... You see, death is what drives evolution forward. Without death we would be amoebas."
"It would seem it's rather death that turns us over to amoebas ... or whatever makes corpses smell."
"Well - before it did that, it killed some amoebas in the mud that did not cooperate, while the others who did got to be a manycelled animal."
She was silent.
"Later on, death killed off some manycelled animals because they had no symmetry - and gave a chance to the first spine carrying animal, which conveniently had just developed."
"Are you aware how very much you look like your sister when you say that? She also would not believe evolution."
"Maybe she had some sense?"
"Not exactly what you thought yourself back then. Remember, it was you who confided her to us, both occasions."
She was silent, since she regretted that. But he who had taken advantage was hardly the person to blame her.
"Formerly, people would argue that God created the world. With all species. As far as the species are concerned evolution is God. Death is our god. Death who kills off what does not fit into its environment."
"Wouldn't that be a smelly kind of god? Death brings corruption, most often, and corruption smells."
The doctor turned sadly his eyes to the assitant.
"So there, so there ..." the doctor said soothingly: "don't you believe in science?"
"Which one of them?"
"Well, evolution, for one!"
"As mostly atheist agnostic over past few years, I have a hard time believing in anything supernatural." (She did not feel worth mentioning that she had been a Catholic for a month or so before falling away again after failing to confess the betrayal against Lucy)
"Supernatural?" the doctor raised his voice ... "but it is not supernatural. It's as natural as anything there is. It's as natural as death. It's ... some of us call it the life force. Nothing like a personal god or anything of course."
"Isn't that supernatural?"
The doctor fell silent. He walked to the window. He looked out.
"We'll have to talk about evolution another time. Not now."
Then he paused again. He walked back to Susan and took another subject:
"You must admit that without abortion there would be too many people on earth, right?"
"No, not exactly right."
"Think of it. Some girls get pregnant and cannot afford it. What becomes of their offspring? Beggars!"
He pronounced the word as if it were dirtier than words like "slut".
"Well, I would think any sane beggar prefers having been born," ventured Susan.
"No, no, no: any sane beggar knows he is a burden to society and regrets the day he was born and conceived. You will at least admit condoms are useful to decrease the numbers of the unproductive?"
"No, if they are unproductive it just means they are out of work, usually."
"But if there was no work for them to earn their living with ... why should they have the burden of existance?"
Susan felt as if she was talking to a doctor who had been active in experiments in those horrid camps. Pa said that too few doctors were tried at Nuremberg - and ma heartily agreed. While they lived, that is.
"Why could there not be work for them?"
"They are no longer needed at the farms for one. Nearly everyone lives in cities nowadays. More and more so, actually. So, if one cannot find a decent work in a city, one might as well not have been born."
"If left to themselves, with enough food, people usually find something to do and appreciate each other for, economically as well."
"But have you thought what happens when the petrol ceases to flow? Tractors won't work, so less food will be produced. Cars won't work, so less of the food will get to town. People will die in millions!"
"It's hardly tractors and cars that produce the food ..."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"With people getting back to the country, there will be less need of tractors for plowing, or none at all, and for them no need of the cars either, since they live where the food grows."
"But people are not getting back to the country. It's against progress. It's against evolution. It's against the development."
"How do you know that?"
"Look at what's happening now. People are more and more moving away from farms, especially after the tractors took over their work during war. They won't want to go back. They'd rather die than go back."
"Because it has been going on for quite a while and the trend has not been reversed."
Susan thought a bit of whether there had not been an opposite trend away from cities during the fall of the Roman Empire, but history was not her best subject. So she asked a more principled question:
"So if a trend has gone on in one direction, without being reversed, does that mean to you it will go on forever in that direction?"
"Maybe not forever, but highly unlikelty it changes over night either."
"Why not try to change it to save lives, then?"
"Because that would be against progress."
"Even if progress kills?"
"Just because it is a trend that has been going on?"
"Now, that is fuddled!"
She was usually in the habit of thinking so herself up till now, but she was not so hard into the habit as to condone murderous conclusions of it.
"Ah, it is I who am fuddled, is it?"
"It was you who said ..."
"Enough. It was you who shot arrows into the arm of a policeman, in the vain hope to stop an abortion."
"Vain or not, that is why I did it." Susan did not feel any regrets about that.
"Now, that is what I call fuddled. And here the one who decides what is fuddled is ... I."
He said so with tragic grandour, turned and told his assistant: "she'll have to stay a few days at least," and then walked out.