Hitler 1100108 was waiting when Dobbs clambered ineptly out of the saucer. "Gaw-dam!" "Bob" thought. A couple of years made a big improvement.
Hitler 1100108 strode forward and hugged him violently. Like most of the clones, her hair was lustrous and black, her skin glowingly golden. She wore a short, pleated white tunic, looking like the girlfriend of an Italian-movie Hercules.
Dark eyes flashing, she lifted "Bob" a foot off the ground and bellowed, "Who's the puny runt now, "Bob" Dobbs?"
"Boy, 'Eight, you sure have grown!" he wheezed. "You're bending me." She dropped him jarringly on the steeloplastium landing pad, grabbed a shoulder before he could fall, and hauled him toward a little gazebo atop a large hairy mound. "Look, my friend! Just grown! The Robots stole it from Russial They dig up under the lab, take a tiny blob in a test tube, and we have two thousand Mammoths! Good, eh?"
"Oh, is that what it is?" "Bob" mumbled, grinning dazedly. Under this funny sun it looked like a big brown plant, a shrub or something. "Lemme put on my gogs."
The goggles cut the glare of eternal noon and made Dobbs look downright weird. "Oh, yeah. Well I'll be darned."
"Come!" 'Eight shouted. "We ride!" She seized the zipper of his cardigan and yanked him sharply toward the Mammoth. "Up to the howdah! Quickly now!"
"Bob" whined, "Hey, take it easy!" as she threw him onto the ladder leaning against the huge animal. With his face inches from the beast's woolly side, he could see, and smell, that this was no shrub. 'Eight had her hands on his buttocks, yelling and pushing him up the ladder, and he wailed, "Criminy! Gimme a break, will ya?"
He scrambled up the ladder and tumbled headfirst into the howdah, landing between two of the thronelike chairs provided for the riders' luxury. The bowl of his Pipe flipped up and whacked against his goggles when he hit, scattering buming coals across his forehead and into his hair. With a shriek, he leaped to his feet, batting at his face.
'Eight bounded over the elaborate rail and turned to pull up the ladder. "You hurt yourself? You be okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," "Bob" muttered, smoothing back his slightly singed hair. "Just my damn Pipe." He sat in one of the massive chairs, pulled a plastic bag out ofthe pocket of his cardigan and refilled his Pipe, grumbling when the Mammoth lurched upward, rising from its knees to its full incredible height. Last time they'd had great little atomic-powered go-karts, like wheeled rockets going a hundred miles an hour. Times change.'Eightwasupfront,whackingthe huge, bobbinghead with a long pole and shouting unintelligible commands over and over.
Satisfied at last that the beast knew where to go, she bounced back to Dobbs and cast herself at his feet. She leaned against the chair, threw a muscular golden arm across his knees and looked up at his manly jaw and boldly chiseled nose.
"So, 'Uncle "Bob," ' " she purred, "why do you come back down here to see us after ignoring us for so long?"
"Bob" leaned back, lit his Pipe, and rested his suede elbow patches on the red velvet of the chair's arms. "Now c'mon, 'Eight! You know I'm a busy man. Got a lotta irons in the fire. Gotta keep up!" He paused, blew a stream of smoke toward the golden stars set into the deep-blue surface of the howdah's domed ceiling and gazed out across the rolling landscape which rose and faded into hazy distance all around. Roman-style villas dotted the verdant hills and Grecian temples stood whitely in groves which sprang up beside sparkling clear brooks.
"Bob" sighed. "Just wondered what you guys were up to, being as I was there at the start."
Nearly twenty years ago he'd wangled, bluffed and bumbled his way into the Dero cloning labs deep beneath Mount Shasta. His Xist contact had a lot of pull with the High Dero, and "Bob" was eager to see if anything from the Dero Group-Mind could be turned to profit; so he was there when the Dero Clone-teks began to build a new race of humans from the brownish bloodstains on a tattered fragment of cloth. 'Eight gestured expansively with her free arm. "Of course you were there! Why, we've even built you a temple outside New Berlin! You are a tutelary deityl The great "Bob" Dobbs who was there at our inception!"
"Yeah," "Bob" chuckled, "I guess I even helped out a little."
"And now, what do you think?" 'Eight shouted, leaping to her feet. She spread her arms wide, taking in the placid landscape, and bellowed, "Is it not BEAUTIFUL?"
"Bob" looked quickly away from her breasts and glanced around at the stagy classicism of the scene. It was like some old landscape painting he saw once-verything perfectly placed, and perfectly nice. "Yeah, beautiful. And corny."
'Eight threw her hands toward him. "This 'corny,' it is good?"
"Bob" laughed once. "Yeah. . . . Yep, it's good."
"And I, am I 'corny' too?"
"Yeah," he said, his grin widening and his cheeks wrinkling up around the goggles. "You're corny, all right."
'Eight bounded into his lap and he spit his Pipe past her ear with the breath which was suddenly crushed out of him. She wrapped her smoothly muscled arms around his neck and touched his ear with her full, dark lips. Her breath tickled the hair inside his ear, making him squirm as she cooed, "And you, "Bob" Dobbs, you are 'comy' too."
The Mammoth toiled slowly up a steep hill, over the brow of which peered the topmost towers of the ancient golden city now known as New Berlin.
'Eight had bounded off his lap again suddenly, and regaled him with one story after another about the thrilling moments of her life. "Bob" ignored most of it except parts which shed light on the social and cultural trends. In a perfect society, really interesting things rarely happen at all. She was recounting what someone had said to her at a party once when he spotted the gleaming city through the mists of the rising land ahead. It was always like the first time, seeing that ancient mass of towers, more ancient than humankind. It made the Potala look like a two-story chicken coop. When the outer world was yet a stomping ground for yard-long bugs and armored fish swarmed through the seabed jungles, the city had been built here on the planet's inner skin. For hundreds of millenia the unknown lords of this glittering immensity, fifty miles in diameter and half a mile high at its center, lived and perhaps died here, then passed on, leaving the broad streets silent and empty as the dinosaurs toppled into the mud of a serenely changing world.
At the top of the hill, "Bob" saw that they were still miles from the city's edge, and stepped to the forward rail. "Say, this is gonna take forever if we ride this thing all the way!"
'Eight laughed and pointed to the side of the road ahead. "Look, impatient man[ We have already plannedl" A beautifully built young man in a white, belted tunic stood beside what could only be the fastest- looking car Dobbs had ever seen. The young clone smiled and waved and 'Eight resumed her pole-pounding act on the Mammoth's skull, shouting tongue-fracturing commands. The silent monster curled its trunk upward, rolled its beady eyes, and lurched to a halt. Ponderously, it tipped back onto its haunches, sending "Bob" flailing into a heavy chair which carried him to the stem rail with a crash. The Mammoth plopped its front end down, the two beautiful clones laughed delightedly and Dobbs cursed under his breath.
The ride into the city was a twenty-minute roller coaster with 'Eight chattering gaily, steering the screaming road rocket one-handed at 350 miles an hour, and Dobbs trying to sink down through the formfitting cocoon of a seat, his jaw clenching spasmodically on the bit of his Pipe. By the time they had flashed through a black speck of a doorway in the city's vast wall, he had gathered the legs of his slacks up around his knees in a pair of damp, wrinkled lumps, exposing his white, sparsely haired shins. When the car's huge windscreen tilted up in the docking bay he was almost too stiff to climb out and his knees trembled weakly as his cuffs crept slowly back down toward the garage's spotless floor.
He had determined to visit the Shrine first, of course, and stutteringly informed 'Eight, who dragged him toward a tube-tram. Minutes later, they were at the heart of the thinly populated city and 'Eight herded him out of the tram stop into the broad, covered parkway which led to the Shrine at the city's geometric center. Its original purpose forever unknown, the soaring structure was now the repository of the history and sacred objects of nine million robotically cloned perfect humans.
Entering the Shrine from the brilliantly illuminated parkway was like entering a mine shai%. Dobbs pushed his goggles up onto his forehead and blinked. Huge pillars of diamond-hard transparent crystalline gold rose row on row of to either side, meeting a quarter of a mile overhead in a bafflingly symbolic medallion, from the center of which a bright beam shot down to illumine a circle of objects in the center of the immense room. A small, four-seated cart stood by the door, resting on rails which led to the bright circle before them.
Dobbs noted that 'Eight had stopped jabbering, her face a mask of religious awe. Taking her arm, he sat her gently in the cart and silently climbed behind the control lever.
There was nothing much to say. Even "Bob" was stmck by the wonder of it as the cart trundled softly down the rail toward the mementos chronicling the origin of a race grown and designed by cold robotic devices to populate a perfect world. It was wonderful and strangely sad. The cart came to a stop before the half-dozen display cases grouped around the central Shrine. They stepped reverently down from the cart and into the light. 'Eight took his hand and they walked slowly around a circle of displays, gazing down at souvenirs of the man revered here as father of a racw-photographs, clothing and military regalia, the Spear of Destiny and a battered volume autographed by its author: "Good luck, A. Hitler." Stolen from the surface world by the Deros, they now graced the memorial of a man cursed as evil and mad by the swarming near-humans outside.
It was to be the Deros' greatest weapon, nine million beautiful, healthy Hitlers to sweep out from the Earth's poles on X-Day, their saucers screaming down to complete the devastation ofthe planet, burning it clean of its festering growth of inferior life. Here was its head, its Genesis.
Completing the round of displays, they tumed to the central Shrine. Twenty feet above, an heroic-sized bust of the Fohrer, its head framed by a golden disk behind it, stared of toward destiny's horizon. The black arms of the swastika reached out like spiders' legs from behind the head to caress the halo's golden rim. Beneath the bust, centered amid the eight serpentine pillars supporting the baroque canopy which burst riotously out from the bust's base, a transparent block about a foot in height perched stolidly on a shod Corinthian column.
Seeing 'Eight kneel before the lustrous wooden railing which stretched from column to column around the Shrine, "Bob" knelt too. "When in Rome . . ." he thought. He inhaled meditatively and blew a gentle stream of smoke toward the scrap of cloth suspended in the clear cube before him.
'Eight sighed. "There, the birth of our race. A bit of bloody handkerchief from which sprang the happiest, luckiest people who ever lived!"
"Bob" glanced at her. Her eyes were glittering with joyous tears. As she tumed and put her hand lovingly on his arm, one glistening tear rolled down her high golden cheekbone. "And you were there. You helped." Her words caught in her muscular throat. "Oh, thank you, "Bob" Dobbs, thank you!"
"Yep," "Bob" said softly. "I helped."
He remembered the chilly underground lab, bustling with crowds of weirdly shaped robots. He remembered waiting for his chance, waiting for the one moment when all scanners would be occupied elsewhere, away from the strip of rag soaked by the blood of Earth's most fiendish maniac.
"Bob" tumed his gaze back to the small stained fragment.
The ashes of the last traces of Hitler's blood, set ablaze by Dobbs' Jet-Flame pipe lighter, had drifted of in the clear mountain air to be lost forever amid Shasta's evergreen mantle as zygotes swelled into fetuses in the tanks a mile beneath his feet, fetuses grown from the bit of cloth Dobbs had brought into the Deros' underground city with him, the stained bit of fiber with which he had replaced the one so carefully stolen by the Robots.
"Beautiful," he said, and grinned wider at the ragged shred of the Shroud of Turin. "And corny."
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