The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert (Excerpt)

Frank Herbert, the bestselling author of Dune, is one of the most celebrated and commercially successful science fiction writers of all time. But while best known for originating the character of Paul Atreides and the desert world of Arrakis, Herbert was also a prolific writer of short fiction. His stories were published individually in numerous pulps and anthologies spanning decades, but never collected. Until now.

Frank Herbert: Collected Stories is the most complete collection of Herbert’s short fiction ever assembled—available November 18th from Tor Books!

The collection contains thirty-seven stories originally published between 1952 and 1979, plus one story, “The Daddy Box,” that has never been appeared before.

 

 

THE DADDY BOX

 

To understand what happened to Henry Alexander when his son, Billy, came home with the ferosslk, you’re going to be asked to make several mind-stretching mental adjustments. These mental gymnastics are certain to leave your mind permanently changed.

You’ve been warned.

In the first place, just to get a loose idea of a ferosslk’s original purpose, you must think of it as a toy designed primarily for educating the young. But your concept of toy should be modified to think of a device which, under special circumstances, will play with its owner.

You’ll also have to modify your concept of education to include the idea of occasionally altering the universe to fit a new interesting idea; that is, fitting the universe to the concept, rather than fitting the concept to the universe.

The ferosslk originates with seventh-order, multidimensional beings. You can think of them as Sevens. Their other labels would be more or less incomprehensible. The Sevens are not now aware and never have been aware the universe contains any such thing as a Henry Alexander or a human male offspring.

This oversight was rather unfortunate for Henry. His mind had never been stretched to contain the concept of a ferosslk. He could conceive of fission bombs, nerve gas, napalm and germ warfare. But these things might be thought of as silly putty when compared with a ferosslk.

Which is a rather neat analogy because the shape of a ferosslk is profoundly dependent upon external pressures. That is to say, although a ferosslk can be conceived of as an artifact, it is safer to think of it as alive.

To begin at one of the beginnings, Billy Alexander, age eight, human male, found the ferosslk in tall weeds beside a path across an empty lot adjoining his urban home.

Saying he found it described the circumstances from Billy’s superficial point of view. It would be just as accurate to say the ferosslk found Billy.

As far as Billy was concerned, the ferosslk was a box. You may as well think of it that way, too. No sense stretching your mind completely out of shape. You wouldn’t be able to read the rest of this account.

A box then. It appeared to be about nine inches long, three inches wide and four inches deep. It looked like dark green stone except for what was obviously the top, because that’s where the writing appeared.

You can call it writing because Billy was just beginning to shift from print to cursive and that’s the way he saw it.

Words flowed across the box top: THIS IS A DADDY BOX.

Billy picked it up. The surface was cold under his hands. He thought perhaps this was some kind of toy television, its words projected from inside.

(Some of the words actually were coming out of Billy’s own mind.)

Daddy box? he wondered.

Daddy was a symbol-identifier more than five years old for him. His daddy had been killed in a war. Now, Billy had a stepfather with the same name as his real father’s. The two had been cousins.

New information flowed across the top: THIS BOX MAY BE OPENED ONLY BY THE YOUNG.

(That was a game the ferosslk had played and enjoyed many times before. Don’t try to imagine how a ferosslk enjoys. The attempt could injure your frontal lobes.)

Now, the box top provided Billy with precise instructions on how it could be opened.

Billy went through the indicated steps, which included urinating on an ant hill, and the box dutifully opened.

For almost an hour, Billy sat in the empty lot enraptured by the educational/creative tableau thus unveiled. For his edification, human shapes in the box fought wars, manufactured artifacts, made love, wrote books, created paintings and sculpture… and changed the universe. The human shapes debated, formed governments, nurtured the earth and destroyed it.

In that relative time of little less than an hour, Billy aged mentally some five hundred and sixteen human years. On the outside, Billy remained a male child about forty-nine inches tall, weight approximately fifty-six pounds, skin white but grimy from play, hair blond and mussed.

His eyes were still blue, but they had acquired a hard and penetrating stare. The motor cells in his medulla and his spinal cord had begun increasing dramatically in number with an increased myelinization of the anterior roots and peripheral nerves.

Every normal sense he possessed had been increased in potency and he was embarked on a growth pattern which would further heighten this effect.

The whole thing made him sad, but he knew what he had to do, having come very close to understanding what a ferosslk was all about.

It was now about 6:18 p.m. on a Friday evening. Billy took the box in both hands and trudged across the lot toward his back door.

His mother, whose left arm still bore bruises from a blow struck by her husband, was peeling potatoes at the kitchen sink. She was a small blonde woman, once doll-like, fast turning to mouse.

At Billy’s entrance, she shook tears out of her eyes, smiled at him, glanced toward the living room and shook her head—all in one continuous movement. She appeared not to notice the box in Billy’s hands, but she did note the boy appeared very much like his real father tonight.

This thought brought more tears to her eyes, and she turned away, thus failing to see Billy go on into the living room despite her silent warning that his stepfather was there and in a bad mood.

The ferosslk, having shared Billy’s emotional reaction to this moment, created a new order of expletives which it introduced into another dimension.

Henry Alexander sensed Billy’s presence in the room, lowered the evening newspaper and stared over it into the boy’s newly-aged eyes. Henry was a pale-skinned, flabby man, going to fat after a youth spent as a semiprofessional athlete. He interpreted the look in Billy’s eyes as a reflection of their mutual hate.

“What’s that box?” Henry demanded.

Billy shrugged. “It’s a daddy box.”

“A what?”

Billy remained silent, placed the box to his ear. The ferosslk had converted to a faint audio mode and the voices coming from the box for Billy’s ears alone carried a certain suggestive educational quality.

“Why’re you holding the damn thing against your ear?” Henry demanded. He had already decided to take the box away from the boy, but was drawing the pleasure-moment out.

“I’m listening,” Billy said. He sensed the precise pacing of these moments, observed minute nuances in the set of his stepfather’s jaw, the content of the man’s perspiration.

“Is it a music box?”

Henry studied the thing in Billy’s hand. It looked old… ancient, even. He couldn’t quite say why he felt this.

Again, Billy shrugged.

“Where’d you get it?” Henry asked.

“I found it.”

“Where could you find a thing like that? It looks like a real antique. Might even be jade.”

“I found it in the lot.” Billy hesitated on the point of adding a precise location to where he’d found the box, but held back. That would be out of character.

“Are you sure you didn’t steal it?”

“I found it.”

“Don’t you sass me!” Henry threw his newspaper to the floor.

Having heard the loud voices, Billy’s mother hurried into the living room, hovered behind her son.

“What’s… what’s the matter?” she ventured.

“You stay out of this, Helen!” Henry barked. “That brat of yours has stolen a valuable antique and he—”

“A Chinese box! He wouldn’t.”

“I told you to stay out of this!” Henry glared at her. The box had assumed for him now exactly the quality he had just given it: valuable antique. Theft was as good as certain—although that might complicate his present plans for confiscation and profit.

Billy suppressed a smile. His mother’s interruption, which he assumed to be fortuitous since he did not completely understand the functioning of a ferosslk, had provided just the delay required here. The situation had entered the timing system for which he had maneuvered.

“Bring that box here,” Henry ordered.

“It’s mine,” Billy said. As he said it, he experienced a flash of insight which told him he belonged as much to the box as it belonged to him.

“Look here, you disrespectful brat, if you don’t give me that box immediately, we’re going to have another session in the woodshed!”

Billy’s mother touched his arm, said: “Son… you’d better…”

“Okay,” Billy said. “But it’s just a trick box—like those Chinese things.”

“I said bring it here, dammit!”

Clutching the box to his chest now, Billy crossed the room, timing his movements with careful precision. Just a few more seconds… now!

He extended the box to his stepfather.

Henry snatched the ferosslk, was surprised at how cold it felt. Obviously stone. Cold stone. He turned the thing over and over in his hands. There were strange markings on the top—wedges, curves, twisting designs. He put it to his ear, listened.

Silence.

Billy smiled.

Henry jerked the box away from his ear. Trick, eh? The kid was playing a trick on him, trying to make him look like a fool.

“So it’s a box,” Henry said. “Have you opened it?”

“Yes. It’s got lots of things inside.”

“Things? What things?”

“Just things.”

Henry had an immediate vision of valuable jewels. This thing could be a jewel box.

“How does it open?” he demanded.

“You just do things,” Billy said.

“Don’t you play smart with me! I gave you an order: Tell me how you open this thing.”

“I can’t.”

“You mean you won’t!”

“I can’t.”

 

Excerpted from “The Daddy Box,” The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert © Frank Herbert

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