Five Fates by Various, 1971

Five Fates by Various

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Murder Will In, by Frank Herbert can be found in a book called Five Fates, also containing stories by Keith Laumer, Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson and Harlan Ellison. Each story in this book is a different take on what happens when a guy named William Bailey goes to the Euthanasia Center to do himself in. Herbert's story starts as Bailey's body is starting to get cold. According to other sources I have, this story is also in the May, 1970 issue of Astounding, and the collections The Priests of Psi, and Eye, by Herbert.

At the point that Bailey expires in the center a pair of symbiotic parasites living inside of Bailey, called the Tegas and the Bacit, begin to wake up. Actually, I think that the Tegas was awake all the time, but the Bacit may have been sleeping inside Bailey. The relationship between these parasites is difficult to comprehend. At one point the Bacit seems to want to keep the Tegas locked inside the dying flesh of Bailey, which would spell the ultimate destruction of both parasites. At other times the Bacit taunts the Tegas. In the end the Bacit urges the Tegas forward to do whatever is needed to save them both.

The pair of symbiotes are near immortal, in that they have lived for an extremely long time, and cannot expire naturally, as they bounce from host to host. They are not actually immortal, in that if they stay inside dying flesh until all activity stops, they die too. Further, Its not clear if this story takes place on another world colonized by humans, or if it is actually Earth, but it is clear that the Tegas and the Bacit are of extraterrestrial origin, and came to whatever planet this is a long time ago. Whichever the case, one of the former hosts dies in a place called "Canton," so I assume that this is Earth, and the parasites are extraterrestrial visitors here.

In order to jump from host to host the Tegas, occupying and controlling the body and mind of the host while the Bacit sits in the background, drives others into an emotional frenzy. Once the new host is all wound up, the jump from host to host can be done. Usually the Tegas gets the new host into a murderous rage, so that s/he will kill the current host. The purpose of the murder is that once the Tegas/Bacit jump, the original "owner," if you will, of the body will come back into possession of his body and brain, and it just wouldn't do to have a former host blabbing about this parasite combo. And that is what brings us to the euthanasia center; the Tegas realizes that the host will be killed, but fails to realize that it will be done in an impersonal manner with virtually no emotion. Once Bailey is dead, the Tegas realizes its mistake, and begins flailing around inside Bailey, desperately seeking some emotional upset in a human within range.

Well, it finds it, in the body of a criminal who is about to be put to death in the same center. The pair jump into Vicentelli, just before he is to be put to death. They realize that there is another human hunting the Tegas/Bacit in the same center when they overhear him giving orders to underlings. The pair is caught, and Vicentelli is tortured, with the idea of getting the Tegas/Bacit to admit who or what they are. Unusually, this time the Vicentelli consciousness is aware and awake inside his own body, and has no problem with being an observer as the Tegas runs the show from now on. However the Bacit talks the Tegas into letting the Vicentelli consciousness take control during the torture, so that the correct answers are given. You see the problem is that the Tegas has full memories of all persons he has inhabited in the past, but is afraid that in the moment of pain, he will give an answer that gives them away, and the Tegas and Bacit will be caputred. Vicentelli passes the test, but unfortunately is ordered to death by the torturer. The torturer, being a sadistic screwball, orders the android guards out of the chamber, giving the Tegas and Bacit an opportunity to jump into him at the moment he snuffs out Vicentelli's flame. Voila! The Tegas and Bacit just walk out of the Center, while the torturer's consciousness is pushed down into the little toe of his former body.

This story was pretty interesting, even though it was commissioned by the editor. It was a little unusual that each author published their own story, but I still think that they were commissioned, due largely to the common theme. I have noticed in the past that commissioned stories just don't have the fire that stories dreamed up by the author have, but this is an exception. I find this story interesting because it recycles two (or more) ideas FH used in Dune (it was written in 1970); specifically, memory of others inside one body (the spice trance when one reverend mother puts the OM of all her RM predecessors into a new RM), and long life (the Spice Melange's geriatic effect), as occupation by the Tegas/Bacit causes the host to live up to 300 years (which itself is apparently the average lifespan of a spice addict). This is accomplished after the Tegas tweaks and fixes problems inside the host body, in a very prana/bindu manner. There is also the bit about another personality occupying and controlling the body of a host, but the similarity is quite extreme. The similarities, however, never get closer than that. It is no more than similar ideas expressed in a different way, in a different context.

The story also was interesting in that it was the only one that did not take the moral high-ground when discussing the Euthanasia Center. In the Herbert story, it was just something to be accepted, just as the government sponsored torturer was to be accepted. And I suppose that this may be a theme that runs through the Dune series as well, in that a government is established and in control, but individual rights are sacrificed for the good of society. But even if that was what FH was trying to do in this story, the short format definately limited his ability to do so well.

All in all, this was a pretty good story. When I bought the book, I was hoping for something of novella length, but despite the fact that it was not, the story was probably the strongest one in the book. I wonder if the book, Eye, has any additional commentary from FH? If so, I would like to see what he has to say about this story. I give it a 3 out of 5, with reductions for complexity and unexplained elements of the story, which does not work as well in the short story format as it does in the novel length Dune books.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)

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