ALISTAIR CROMPTON WAS A STEREOTYPE, and he deeply resented the fact; but there was nothing he could do about it. Like it or not, his personality was monolithic, his desires predictable, and his fears apparent to anyone. To make matters worse, his somatotype fit his personality with inhuman perfection.
Crompton was of medium height, painfully thin, sharp-nosed and tight-lipped. His hairline was receding, his glasses were protuberant, his eyes glassy, his face sparse of stubble. He looked like a clerk. He was a clerk.
Glancing at him, anyone could tell that this man was petty, punctilious, cautious, nervous, puritanical, resentful, driven, circumspect and repressed. Dickens would have pictured him with an overblown sense of his own importance, perched on a high stool and scratching thinly in the dusty ledgers of some ancient and respectable company. A 13th century physician would have seen him as an embodiment of one of the four essential humours which rule the human temperament, and whose essences are to be found in the fundamental qualities of earth, air, fire and water. In Crompton's case it was the Melancholic Humour of Water, caused by too much cold, dry black bile, which tended to make him peevish and self-involved.
Moreover, Crompton was a triumph for Lombrose and Kretschmer, a self-contained cautionary tale, a Roman exaggeration, and a sad farce on humanity.
To make matters worse, Crompton was aware, fully and completely, of his thin, misshapen, predictable personality; aware of it, enraged by it, and unable to do anything about it except hate the well-meaning doctors who had brought it about.
On all sides of him, the envious Crompton saw people with all their marvellous complexities and contradictions, constantly bursting out of the stereotypes that society tried to force upon them. He observed prostitutes who were not good-hearted, army sergeants who detested brutality, wealthy men who never gave to charity, Irishmen who hated fighting, Greeks who had never seen a ship, Frenchmen with no sense of logic. Most of the human race seemed to lead lives of a wonderful and unpredictable richness, erupting into sudden passions and strange calms, saying one thing and doing another, repudiating their backgrounds, overcoming their limitations, confounding psychologists and sociologists, and driving psychoanalysts to drink.
But this splendor was impossible for Crompton, whom the doctors had stripped of complexity for sanity's sake.
Crompton, with a robot's damnable regularity, reached his desk promptly at nine o'clock every working morning of his life. At five he put his ledgers neatly aside and returned to his furnished room. There he ate a frugal meal of unappetizing health foods, played three games of solitaire, filled in one crossword puzzle, and retired to his narrow bed. Each Saturday night of his life Crompton saw a movie, jostled by merry and unpredictable teenagers. Sundays and holidays were devoted to the study of Euclidean geometry, for Crompton believed in self-improvement. And once a month Crompton would sneak to a newsstand and purchase a magazine of salacious content. In the privacy of his room he would devour its contents; then, in an ecstacy of self-loathing, rip the detestable thing to shreds.
Crompton was aware, of course, that he had been turned into a stereotype for his own good. He tried to adjust to the fact. For a while he cultivated the company of other slab-sided, centimeter-thin personalities. But the others he met were complacent, self-sufficient, and smug in their rigidity. They had been that way since birth; unlike Crompton, whom the doctors had changed at the age of eleven. He soon found that those like him were insufferable; and he was insufferable to anyone else.
He tried hard to break through the stifling limitations of his personality. For a while he considered emigrating to Venus or Mars, but never did anything about it. He applied to the New York Romance Service, and they arranged a date for him. Crompton went to meet his sweet unknown in front of Loew's Jupiter, with a white carnation pinned in his lapel. But within a block of the theater he was seized by a trembling fit, and forced to retreat to his room. That night he filled six crossword puzzles and played nine games of solitaire to soothe his nerves; but even this change was not lasting.
Try as would, Crompton couldn't help but act within the narrow confines of his character. His rage at himself and at the well-meaning doctors grew, and his need for self-transcendence increased accordingly.
There was only one way for him to acquire the amazing variety of possibilities, the contradictions, the passions, the humanness which other people had. So Crompton worked and waited, and at last reached the age of thirty-five. This was the minimum age of consent for Personality Reintegration as set by federal law.
On the day following his thirty-fifth birthday Crompton resigned his job, withdrew his carefully hoarded savings of seventeen years' work, and went to see his doctor, determined to regain what had been taken from him.
Old Dr. Berrenger led Crompton into his consultation room, gave him a comfortable chair and said, "Well lad, it's been a long time. How are you?"
"Terrible," said Crompton.
"What seems to be troubling you?"
"My personality," Crompton said.
"Ah," said the old doctor, staring keenly at Crompton's clerkly face. "Feels a bit cramped, eh?"
"Cramped is hardly the word," Crompton said primly. "I am a machine, a robot, a nothing--"
"Come now," Dr. Berrenger said. "Surely it isn't as bad as all that. Adjustment takes time--"
"I'm sick to death of myself," Crompton stated flatly. "I want to Reintegrate."
The doctor looked dubious.
"And," Crompton said, "I have passed my thirty-fifth birthday. Under federal law I am legally entitled to Reintegrate."
"You are," Dr. Berrenger said. "But as your friend as well as your doctor, Alistair, I would most strongly advise against it."
The old doctor sighed and made a steeple of his fingers. "It would be dangerous for you. Extremely dangerous. Perhaps fatal."
"But I would have a, chance, wouldn't I?"
"A vanishingly small one."
"Then I demand my privilege of Reintegration."
The doctor sighed again, went to his file and took out a thick folder. "Well," he said, "let me review your case."