Book: The Midas Plague



The Midas Plague

The Midas Plague

by Frederik Pohl

And so they were married.

The bride and groom made a beautiful couple, she in her twenty-yard frill of immaculate white, he in his formal gray ruffled blouse and pleated pantaloons.

It was a small wedding—the best he could afford. For guests, they had only the immediate family and a few close friends. And when the minister had performed the ceremony, Morey Fry kissed his bride and they drove off to the reception. There were twenty-eight limousines in all (though it is true that twenty of them contained only the caterer’s robots) and three flower cars.

“Bless you both,” said old man Elon sentimentally. “You’ve got a fine girl in our Cherry, Morey.” He blew his nose on a ragged square of cambric.

The old folks behaved very well, Morey thought. At the reception, surrounded by the enormous stacks of wedding gifts, they drank the champagne and ate a great many of the tiny, delicious canapes. They listened politely to the fifteen-piece orchestra, and Cherry’s mother even danced one dance with Morey for sentiment’s sake, though it was clear that dancing was far from the usual pattern of her life. They tried as hard as they could to blend into the gathering, but all the same, the two elderly figures in severely simple and probably rented garments were dismayingly conspicuous in the quarter-acre of tapestries and tinkling fountains that was the main ballroom of Morey’s country home.

When it was time for the guests to go home and let the newlyweds begin their life together Cherry’s father shook Morey by the hand and Cherry’s mother kissed him. But as they drove away in their tiny runabout their faces were full of foreboding.

It was nothing against Morey as a person, of course. But poor people should not marry wealth.

Morey and Cherry loved each other, certainly. That helped. They told each other so, a dozen times an hour, all of the long hours they were together, for all of the first months of their marriage. Morey even took time off to go shopping with his bride, which endeared him to her enormously. They drove their shopping carts through the immense vaulted corridors of the supermarket, Morey checking off the items on the shopping list as Cherry picked out the goods. It was fun.

For a while.

Their first fight started in the supermarket, between Breakfast Foods and Floor Furnishings, just where the new Precious Stones department was being opened.

Morey called off from the list, “Diamond lavaliere, costume rings, earbobs.”

Cherry said rebelliously, “Morey, I have a lavaliere. Please, dear!”

Morey folded back the pages of the list uncertainly. The lavaliere was on there, all right, and no alternative selection was shown.

“How about a bracelet?” he coaxed. “Look, they have some nice ruby ones there. See how beautifully they go with your hair, darling!” He beckoned a robot clerk, who bustled up and handed Cherry the bracelet tray. “Lovely,” Morey exclaimed as Cherry slipped the largest of the lot on her wrist.

“And I don’t have to have a lavaliere?” Cherry asked.

“Of course not.” He peeked at the tag. “Same number of ration points exactly!” Since Cherry looked only dubious, not convinced, he said briskly, “And now we’d better be getting along to the shoe department. I’ve got to pick up some dancing pumps.”

Cherry made no objection, neither then nor throughout the rest of their shopping tour. At the end, while they were sitting in the supermarket’s ground-floor lounge waiting for the robot accountants to tote up their bill and the robot cashiers to stamp their ration books, Morey remembered to have the shipping department save out the bracelet.

“I don’t want that sent with the other stuff, darling,” he explained. “I want you to wear it right now. Honestly, I don’t think I ever saw anything looking so right for you.”

Cherry looked flustered and pleased. Morey was delighted with himself; it wasn’t everybody who knew how to handle these little domestic problems just right!

He stayed self-satisfied all the way home, while Henry, their companion-robot, regaled them with funny stories of the factory in which it had been built and trained. Cherry wasn’t used to Henry by a long shot, but it was hard not to like the robot. Jokes and funny stories when you needed amusement, sympathy when you were depressed, a never-failing supply of news and information on any subject you cared to name—Henry was easy enough to take. Cherry even made a special point of asking Henry to keep them company through dinner, and she laughed as thoroughly as Morey himself at its droll anecdotes.

But later, in the conservatory, when Henry had considerately left them alone, the laughter dried up.

Morey didn’t notice. He was very conscientiously making the rounds: turning on the tri-D, selecting their after-dinner liqueurs, scanning the evening newspapers.

Cherry cleared her throat self-consciously, and Morey stopped what he was doing. “Dear,” she said tentatively, “I’m feeling kind of restless tonight. Could we—I mean do you think we could just sort of stay home and—well, relax?”

Morey looked at her with a touch of concern. She lay back wearily, eyes half closed. “Are you feeling all right?” he asked.

“Perfectly. I just don’t want to go out tonight, dear. I don’t feel up to it.”

He sat down and automatically lit a cigarette. “I see,” he said. The tri-D was beginning a comedy show; he got up to turn it oflf, snapping on the tape-player. Muted strings filled the room.

“We had reservations at the club tonight,” he reminded her.

Cherry shifted uncomfortably. “I know.”

“And we have the opera tickets that I turned last week’s in for. I hate to nag, darling, but we haven’t used any of our opera tickets.”

“We can see them right here on the tri-D,” she said in a small voice.

“That has nothing to do with it, sweetheart. I—I didn’t want to tell you about it, but Wainwright, down at the office, said something to me yesterday. He told me he would be at the circus last night and as much as said he’d be looking to see if we were there, too. Well, we weren’t there. Heaven knows what I’ll tell him next week.”

He waited for Cherry to answer, but she was silent.

He went on reasonably, “So if you could see your way clear to going out tonight—”

He stopped, slack-jawed. Cherry was crying, silently and in quantity.

“Darling!” he said inarticulately.

He hurried to her, but she fended him off. He stood helpless over her, watching her cry.

“Dear, what’s the matter?” he asked.

She turned her head away.

Morey rocked back on his heels. It wasn’t exactly the first time he’d seen Cherry cry—there had been that poignant scene when they Gave Each Other Up, realizing that their backgrounds were too far apart for happiness, before the realization that they had to have each other, no matter what… But it was the first time her tears had made him feel guilty.

And he did feel guilty. He stood there staring at her.

Then he turned his back on her and walked over to the bar. He ignored the ready liqueurs and poured two stiff highballs, brought them back to her. He set one down beside her, took a long drink from the other.

In quite a different tone, he said, “Dear, what’s the matter?”

No answer.

“Come on. What is it?”

She looked up at him and rubbed at her eyes. Almost sullenly, she said, “Sorry.”

“I know you’re sorry. Look, we love each other. Let’s talk this thing out.”

She picked up her drink and held it for a moment, before setting it down untasted. “What’s the use, Morey?”

“Please. Let’s try.”

She shrugged.

He went on remorselessly, “You aren’t happy, are you? And it’s because of—well, all this.” His gesture took in the richly furnished conservatory, the thick-piled carpet, the host of machines and contrivances for their comfort and entertainment that waited for their touch. By implication it took in twenty-six rooms, five cars, nine robots. Morey said, with an effort, “It isn’t what you’re used to, is it?”

“I can’t help it,” Cherry said. “Morey, you know I’ve tried. But back home—”

“Dammit,” he flared, “this is your home. You don’t live with your father any more in that five-room cottage; you don’t spend your evenings hoeing the garden or playing cards for matchsticks. You live here, with me, your husband! You knew what you were getting into. We talked all this out long before we were married—”

The words stopped, because words were useless. Cherry was crying again, but not silently.

Through her tears, she wailed: “Darling, I’ve tried. You don’t know how I’ve tried! I’ve worn all those silly clothes and I’ve played all those silly games and I’ve gone out with you as much as I possibly could and—I’ve eaten all that terrible food until I’m actually getting fa-fa-ter! I thought I could stand it. But I just can’t go on like this; I’m not used to it. I—I love you, Morey, but I’m going crazy, living like this. I can’t help it, Morey—I’m tired of being poor!”

Eventually the tears dried up, and the quarrel healed, and the lovers kissed and made up. But Morey lay awake that night, listening to his wife’s gentle breathing from the suite next to his own, staring into the darkness as tragically as any pauper before him had ever done.

Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed Morey, heir to more worldly goods than he could possibly consume.

Morey Fry, steeped in grinding poverty, had never gone hungry a day in his life, never lacked for anything his heart could desire in the way of food, or clothing, or a place to sleep. In Morey’s world, no one lacked for these things; no one could.

Malthus was right—for a civilization without machines, automatic factories, hydroponics and food synthesis, nuclear breeder plants, ocean-mining for metals and minerals…

And a vastly increasing supply of labor…

And architecture that rose high in the air and dug deep in the ground and floated far out on the water on piers and pontoons… architecture that could be poured one day and lived in the next…

And robots.

Above all, robots… robots to burrow and haul and smelt and fabricate, to build and farm and weave and sew.

What the land lacked in wealth, the sea was made to yield and the laboratory invented the rest… and the factories became a pipeline of plenty, churning out enough to feed and clothe and house a dozen worlds.

Limitless discovery, infinite power in the atom, tireless labor of humanity and robots, mechanization that drove jungle and swamp and ice off the Earth, and put up office buildings and manufacturing centers and rocket ports in their place…

The pipeline of production spewed out riches that no king in the time of Malthus could have known.

But a pipeline has two ends. The invention and power and labor pouring in at one end must somehow be drained out at the other…

Lucky Morey, blessed economic-consuming unit, drowning in the pipeline’s flood, striving manfully to eat and drink and wear and wear out his share of the ceaseless tide of wealth.

Morey felt far from blessed, for the blessings of the poor are always best appreciated from afar.

Quotas worried his sleep until he awoke at eight o’clock the next morning, red-eyed and haggard, but inwardly resolved. He had reached a decision. He was starting a new life.

There was trouble in the morning mail. Under the letterhead of the National Ration Board, it said:

“We regret to advise you that the following items returned by you in connection with your August quotas as used and no longer serviceable have been inspected and found insufficiently worn.” The list followed—a long one, Morey saw to his sick disappointment. “Credit is hereby disallowed for these and you are therefore given an additional consuming quota for the current month in the amount of 435 points, at least 350 points of which must be in the textile and home-furnishing categories.”

Morey dashed the letter to the floor. The valet picked it up emo-tionlessly, creased it and set it on his desk.

It wasn’t fair! All right, maybe the bathing trunks and beach umbrellas hadn’t been really used very much—though how the devil, he asked himself bitterly, did you go about using up swimming gear when you didn’t have time for such leisurely pursuits as swimming? But certainly the hiking slacks were used! He’d worn them for three whole days and part of a fourth; what did they expect him to do, go around in rags?

Morey looked belligerently at the coffee and toast that the valet-robot had brought in with the mail, and then steeled his resolve. Unfair or not, he had to play the game according to the rules. It was for Cherry, more than for himself, and the way to begin a new way of life was to begin it.

Morey was going to consume for two.

He told the valet-robot, “Take that stuff back. I want cream and sugar with the coffee—lots of cream and sugar. And besides the toast, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, orange juice—no, make it half a grapefruit. And orange juice, come to think of it.”

“Right away, sir,” said the valet. “You won’t be having breakfast at nine then, will you, sir?”

“I certainly will,” said Morey virtuously. “Double portions!” As the robot was closing the door, he called after it, “Butter and marmalade with the toast!”

He went to the bath; he had a full schedule and no time to waste. In the shower, he carefully sprayed himself with lather three times. When he had rinsed the soap off, he went through the whole assortment of taps in order: three lotions, plain talcum, scented talcum and thirty seconds of ultra-violet. Then he lathered and rinsed again, and dried himself with a towel instead of using the hot-air drying jet. Most of the miscellaneous scents went down the drain with the rinse water, but if the Ration Board accused him of waste, he could claim he was experimenting. The effect, as a matter of fact, wasn’t bad at all.

He stepped out, full of exuberance. Cherry was awake, staring in dismay at the tray the valet had brought. “Good morning, dear,” she said faintly. “Ugh.”

Morey kissed her and patted her hand. “Well!” he said, looking at the tray with a big, hollow smile. “Food!”

“Isn’t that a lot for just the two of us?”

“Two of us?” repeated Morey masterfully. “Nonsense, my dear, I’m going to eat it all by myself!”

“Oh, Morey!” gasped Cherry, and the adoring look she gave him was enough to pay for a dozen such meals.

Which, he thought as he finished his morning exercises with the sparring-robot and sat down to his real breakfast, it just about had to be, day in and day out, for a long, long time.

Still, Morey had made up his mind. As he worked his way through the kippered herring, tea and crumpets, he ran over his plans with Henry. He swallowed a mouthful and said, “I want you to line up some appointments for me right away. Three hours a week in an exercise gym—pick one with lots of reducing equipment, Henry. I think I’m going to need it. And fittings for some new clothes—I’ve had these for weeks. And, let’s see, doctor, dentist—say, Henry, don’t I have a psychiatrist’s date coming up?”

“Indeed you do, sir!” it said warmly. “This morning, in fact. I’ve already instructed the chauffeur and notified your office.”

“Fine! Well, get started on the other things, Henry.”

“Yes, sir,” said Henry, and assumed the curious absent look of a robot talking on its TBR circuits—the “Talk Between Robots” radio-as it arranged the appointments for its master.

Morey finished his breakfast in silence, pleased with his own virtue, at peace with the world. It wasn’t so hard to be a proper, industrious consumer if you worked at it, he reflected. It was only the malcontents, the ne’er-do-wells and the incompetents who simply could not adjust to the world around them. Well, he thought with distant pity, someone had to suffer; you couldn’t break eggs without making an omelet. And his proper duty was not to be some sort of wild-eyed crank, challenging the social order and beating his breast about injustice, but to take care of his wife and his home.

It was too bad he couldn’t really get right down to work on consuming today. But this was his one day a week to hold a job—four of the other six days were devoted to solid consuming—and, besides, he had a group therapy session scheduled as well. His analysis, Morey told himself, would certainly take a sharp turn for the better, now that he had faced up to his problems.

Morey was immersed in a glow of self-righteousness as he kissed Cherry good-by (she had finally got up, all in a confusion of delight at the new regime) and walked out the door to his car. He hardly noticed the little man in enormous floppy hat and garishly ruffled trousers who was standing almost hidden in the shrubs.

“Hey, Mac.” The man’s voice was almost a whisper.

“Huh? Oh-what is it?”

The man looked around furtively. “Listen, friend,” he said rapidly, “you look like an intelligent man who could use a little help. Times are tough; you help me, I’ll help you. Want to make a deal on ration stamps? Six for one. One of yours for six of mine, the best deal you’ll get anywhere in town. Naturally, my stamps aren’t exactly the real McCoy, but they’ll pass, friend, they’ll pass—”

Morey blinked at him. “No!” he said violently, and pushed the man aside. Now it’s racketeers, he thought bitterly. Slums and endless sordid preoccupation with rations weren’t enough to inflict on Cherry; now the neighborhood was becoming a hangout for people on the shady side of the law. It was not, of course, the first time he had ever been approached by a counterfeit ration-stamp hoodlum, but never at his own front door!

Morey thought briefly, as he climbed into his car, of calling the police. But certainly the man would be gone before they could get there; and, after all, he had handled it pretty well as it was.

Of course, it would be nice to get six stamps for one.

But very far from nice if he got caught.

“Good morning, Mr. Fry,” tinkled the robot receptionist. “Won’t you go right in?” With a steel-tipped finger, it pointed to the door marked GROUP THERAPY.

Someday, Morey vowed to himself as he nodded and complied, he would be in a position to afford a private analyst of his own. Group therapy helped relieve the infinite stresses of modern living, and without it he might find himself as badly off as the hysterical mobs in the ration riots, or as dangerously anti-social as the counterfeiters. But it lacked the personal touch. It was, he thought, too public a performance of what should be a private affair, like trying to live a happy married life with an interfering, ever-present crowd of robots in the house—

Morey brought himself up in panic. How had that thought crept in? He was shaken visibly as he entered the room and greeted the group to which he was assigned.

There were eleven of them: four Freudians, two Reichians, two Jungians, a Gestalter, a shock therapist and the elderly and rather quiet Sullivanite. Even the members of the majority groups had their own individual differences in technique and creed, but, despite four years with this particular group of analysts, Morey hadn’t quite been able to keep them separate in his mind. Their names, though, he knew well enough.

“Morning, Doctors,” he said. “What is it today?”

“Morning,” said Semmelweiss morosely. “Today you come into the room for the first time looking as if something is really bothering you, and yet the schedule calls for psychodrama. Dr. Fairless,” he appealed, “can’t we change the schedule a little bit? Fry here is obviously under a strain; that’s the time to start digging and see what he can find. We can do your psychodrama next time, can’t we?”

Fairless shook his gracefully bald old head. “Sorry, Doctor. If it were up to me, of course—but you know the rules.”

“Rules, rules,” jeered Semmelweiss. “Ah, what’s the use? Here’s a patient in an acute anxiety state if I ever saw one—and believe me, I saw plenty—and we ignore it because the rules say ignore it. Is that professional? Is that how to cure a patient?”

Little Blaine said frostily, “If I may say so, Dr. Semmelweiss, there have been a great many cures made without the necessity of departing from the rules. I myself, in fact—”

“You yourself!” mimicked Semmelweiss. “You yourself never handled a patient alone in your life. When you going to get out of a group, Blaine?”

Blaine said furiously, “Dr. Fairless, I don’t think I have to stand for this sort of personal attack. Just because Semmelweiss has seniority and a couple of private patients one day a week, he thinks—”

“Gentlemen,” said Fairless mildly. “Please, let’s get on with the work. Mr. Fry has come to us for help, not to listen to us losing our tempers.”

“Sorry,” said Semmelweiss curtly. “All the same, I appeal from the arbitrary and mechanistic ruling of the chair.”

Fairless inclined his head. “All in favor of the ruling of the chair? Nine, I count. That leaves only you opposed, Dr. Semmelweiss. We’ll proceed with the psychodrama, if the recorder will read us the notes and comments of the last session.”

The recorder, a pudgy, low-ranking youngster named Sprogue, flipped back the pages of his notebook and read in a chanting voice, “Session of twenty-fourth May, subject, Morey Fry; in attendance, Doctors Fairless, Bileck, Semmelweiss, Carrado, Weber—”

Fairless interrupted kindly, “Just the last page, if you please, Dr. Sprogue.”

“Um—oh, yes. After a ten-minute recess for additional Rorschachs and an electro-encephalogram, the group convened and conducted rapid-fire word association. Results were tabulated and compared with standard deviation patterns, and it was determined that subject’s major traumas derived from, respectively—”

Morey found his attention waning. Therapy was good; everybody knew that, but every once in a while he found it a little dull. If it weren’t for therapy, though, there was no telling what might happen. Certainly, Morey told himself, he had been helped considerably —at least he hadn’t set fire to his house and shrieked at the fire-robots, hke Newell down the block when his eldest daughter divorced her husband and came back to live with him, bringing her ration quota along, of course. Morey hadn’t even been tempted to do anything as outrageously, frighteningly immoral as destroy things or waste them— well, he admitted to himself honestly, perhaps a little tempted, once in a great while. But never anything important enough to worry about; he was sound, perfectly sound.

He looked up, startled. All the doctors were staring at him. “Mr. Fry,” Fairless repeated, “will you take your place?”

“Certainly,” Morey said hastily. “Uh-where?”

Semmelweiss guffawed. “Told you. Never mind, Morey; you didn’t miss much. We’re going to run through one of the big scenes in your life, the one you told us about last time. Remember? You were fourteen years old, you said. Christmas time. Your mother had made you a promise.”

Morey swallowed. “I remember,” he said unhappily. “Well, all right. Where do I stand?”

“Right here,” said Fairless. “You’re you, Carrado is your mother, I’m your father. Will the doctors not participating mind moving back? Fine. Now, Morey, here we are on Christmas morning. Merry Christmas, Morey!”

“Merry Christmas,” Morey said half-heartedly. “Uh—Father dear, where’s my—uh—my puppy that Mother promised me?”

“Puppy!” said Fairless heartily. “Your mother and I have something much better than a puppy for you. Just take a look under the tree there—it’s a robot! Yes, Morey, your very own robot—a full-size thirty-eight-tube fully automatic companion robot for you! Go ahead, Morey, go right up and speak to it. Its name is Henry. Go on, boy.”

Morey felt a sudden, incomprehensible tingle inside the bridge of his nose. He said shakily, “But I—I didn’t want a robot.”

“Of course you want a robot,” Carrado interrupted. “Go on, child, play with your nice robot.”

Morey said violently, “I hate robots!” He looked around him at the doctors, at the gray-paneled consulting room. He added defiantly, “You hear me, all of you? I still hate robots!”

There was a second’s pause; then the questions began.

In that half hour, Morey had got over his trembling and lost his wild, momentary passion, but he had remembered what for thirteen years he had forgotten.

He hated robots.

The surprising thing was not that young Morey had hated robots. It was that the Robot Riots, the ultimate violent outbreak of flesh against metal, the battle to the death between mankind and its machine heirs… never happened. A little boy hated robots, but the man he became worked with them hand in hand.

And yet, always and always before, the new worker, the competitor for the job, was at once and inevitably outside the law. The waves swelled in—the Irish, the Negroes, the Jews, the Italians. They were squeezed into their ghettoes, where they encysted, seethed and struck out, until the burgeoning generations became indistinguishable.

For the robots, that genetic relief was not in sight. And still the conflict never came. The feed-back circuits aimed the anti-aircraft guns and, reshaped and newly planned, found a place in a new sort of machine, together with a miraculous trail of cams and levers, an indestructible and potent power source and a hundred thousand parts and sub-assemblies.

And the first robot clanked off the bench.

Its mission was its own destruction; but from the scavenged wreck of its pilot body, a hundred better robots drew their inspiration. And the hundred went to work, and hundreds more, until there were millions upon untold millions.

And still the riots never happened.

For the robots came bearing a gift and the name of it was “Plenty.”

And by the time the gift had shown its own unguessed ills, the time for a Robot Riot was past. Plenty is a habit-forming drug. You do not cut the dosage down. You kick it if you can; you stop the dose entirely. But the convulsions that follow may wreck the body once and for all.

The addict craves the grainy white powder; he doesn’t hate it, or the runner who sells it to him. And if Morey as a little boy could hate the robot that had deprived him of his pup, Morey the man was perfectly aware that the robots were his servants and his friends.

But the little Morey inside the man—he had never been convinced.

Morey ordinarily looked forward to his work. The one day a week at which he did anything was a wonderful change from the dreary consume, consume, consume grind. He entered the bright-lit drafting room of the Bradmoor Amusements Company with a feeling of uplift.

But as he was changing from street garb to his drafting smock, Howland from Procurement came over with a knowing look. “Wain-wright’s been looking for you,” Howland whispered. “Better get right in there.”

Morey nervously thanked him and got. Wainwright’s office was the size of a phone booth and as bare as Antarctic ice. Every time Morey saw it, he felt his insides churn with envy. Think of a desk with nothing on it but work surface—no calendar-clock, no twelve-color pen rack, no dictating machines!

He squeezed himself in and sat down while Wainwright finished a phone call. He mentally reviewed the possible reasons why Wainwright would want to talk to him in person instead of over the phone, or by dropping a word to him as he passed through the drafting room.

Very few of them were good.

Wainwright put down the phone and Morey straightened up. “You sent for me?” he asked.

Wainwright in a chubby world was aristocratically lean. As General Superintendent of the Design Development Section of the Bradmoor Amusements Company, he ranked high in the upper section of the well-to-do. He rasped, “I certainly did. Fry, just what the hell do you think you’re up to now?”

“I don’t know what you m-mean, Mr. Wainwright,” Morey stammered, crossing off the list of possible reasons for the interview all of the good ones.

Wainwright snorted, “I guess you don’t. Not because you weren’t told, but because you don’t want to know. Think back a whole week. What did I have you on the carpet for then?”

Morey said sickly, “My ration book. Look, Mr. Wainwright, I know I’m running a little bit behind, but—”

“But nothing! How do you think it looks to the Committee, Fry?

They got a complaint from the Ration Board about you. Naturally they passed it on to me. And naturally I’m going to pass it right along to you. The question is, what are you going to do about it? Good God, man, look at these figures—textiles, fifty-one per cent; food, sixty-seven per cent; amusements and entertainment, thirty per cent! You haven’t come up to your ration in anything for months!”

Morey stared at the card miserably. “We—that is, my wife and I— just had a long talk about that last night, Mr. Wainwright. And, believe me, we’re going to do better. We’re going to buckle right down and get to work and—uh—do better,” he finished weakly.

Wainwright nodded, and for the first time there was a note of sympathy in his voice. “Your wife. Judge Elon’s daughter, isn’t she? Good family. I’ve met the Judge many times.” Then, gruffly, “Well, nevertheless, Fry, I’m warning you. I don’t care how you straighten this out, but don’t let the Committee mention this to me again”



“No, sir.”

“All right. Finished with the schematics on the new K-50?”

Morey brightened. “Just about, sir! I’m putting the first section on tape today. I’m very pleased with it, Mr. Wainwright, honestly I am. Tve got more than eighteen thousand moving parts in it now, and that’s without—”

“Good. Good.” Wainwright glanced down at his desk. “Get back to it. And straighten out this other thing. You can do it, Fry. Consuming is everybody’s duty. Just keep that in mind.”

Howland followed Morey out of the drafting room, down to the spotless shops. “Bad time?” he inquired solicitously. Morey grunted. It was none of Howland’s business.

Howland looked over his shoulder as he was setting up the programing panel. Morey studied the matrices silently, then got busy reading the summary tapes, checking them back against the schematics, setting up the instructions on the programing board. Howland kept quiet as Morey completed the setup and ran off a test tape. It checked perfectly; Morey stepped back to light a cigarette in celebration before pushing the start button.

Howland said, “Go on, run it. I can’t go until you put it in the works.”

Morey grinned and pushed the button. The board lighted up; within it, a tiny metronomic beep began to pulse. That was all. At the other end of the quarter-mile shed, Morey knew, the automatic sorters and conveyers were fingering through the copper reels and steel ingots, measuring hoppers of plastic powder and colors, setting up an intricate weaving path for the thousands of individual components that would make up Bradmoor’s new K-50 Spin-a-Game. But from where they stood, in the elaborately muraled programing room, nothing showed. Bradmoor was an ultra-modernized plant; in the manufacturing end, even robots had been dispensed with in favor of machines that guided themselves.

Morey glanced at his watch and logged in the starting time while Howland quickly counter-checked Morey’s raw-material flow program.

“Checks out,” Howland said solemnly, slapping him on the back. “Calls for a celebration. Anyway, it’s your first design, isn’t it?”

“Yes. First all by myself, at any rate.”

Howland was already fishing in his private locker for the bottle he kept against emergency needs. He poured with a flourish. “To Morey Fry,” he said, “our most favorite designer, in whom we are much pleased.”

Morey drank. It went down easily enough. Morey had conscientiously used his liquor rations for years, but he had never gone beyond the minimum, so that although liquor was no new experience to him, the single drink immediately warmed him. It warmed his mouth, his throat, the hollows of his chest; and it settled down with a warm glow inside him. Howland, exerting himself to be nice, complimented Morey fatuously on the design and poured another drink. Morey didn’t utter any protest at all.

Howland drained his glass. “You may wonder,” he said formally, “why I am so pleased with you, Morey Fry. I will tell you why this is.”

Morey grinned. “Please do.”

Howland nodded. “I will. It’s because I am pleased with the world, Morey. My wife left me last night.”

Morey was as shocked as only a recent bridegroom can be by the news of a crumbling marriage. “That’s too ba—I mean is that a fact?”

“Yes, she left my beds and board and five robots, and I’m happy to see her go.” He poured another drink for both of them. “Women. Can’t live with them and can’t live without them. First you sigh and pant and chase after ’em—you like poetry?” he demanded suddenly.

Morey said cautiously, “Some poetry.”

Howland quoted: “’How long, my love, shall I behold this wall between our gardens—yours the rose, and mine the swooning lily.’ Like it? I wrote it for Jocelyn—that’s my wife—when we were first going together.”

“It’s beautiful,” said Morey.

“She wouldn’t talk to me for two days.” Howland drained his drink. “Lots of spirit, that girl. Anyway, I hunted her like a tiger. And then I caught her. Wow!”

Morey took a deep drink from his own glass. “What do you mean, wow?” he asked.

“Wow” Howland pointed his finger at Morey. “Wow, that’s what I mean. We got married and I took her home to the dive I was living in, and wow we had a kid, and wow I got in a little trouble with the Ration Board—nothing serious, of course, but there was a mixup— and wow fights.

“Everything was a fight,” he explained. “She’d start with a little nagging, and naturally I’d say something or other back, and bang we were off. Budget, budget, budget; I hope to die if I ever hear the word ‘budget’ again. Morey, you’re a married man; you know what it’s like. Tell me the truth, weren’t you just about ready to blow your top the first time you caught your wife cheating on the budget?”

“Cheating on the budget?” Morey was startled. “Cheating how?”

“Oh, lots of ways. Making your portions bigger than hers. Sneaking extra shirts for you on her clothing ration. You know.”

“Damn it, I do not know!” cried Morey. “Cherry wouldn’t do anything like that!”

Howland looked at him opaquely for a long second. “Of course not,” he said at last. “Let’s have another drink.”

Ruffled, Morey held out his glass. Cherry wasn’t the type of girl to cheat. Of course she wasn’t. A fine, loving girl like her—a pretty girl, of a good family; she wouldn’t know how to begin.

Howland was saying, in a sort of chant, “No more budget. No more fights. No more ‘Daddy never treated me like this.’ No more nagging. No more extra rations for household allowance. No more—Morey, what do you say we go out and have a few drinks? I know a place where—”

“Sorry, Howland,” Morey said. “I’ve got to get back to the office, you know.”

Howland guffawed. He held out his wristwatch. As Morey, a little unsteadily, bent over it, it tinkled out the hour. It was a matter of minutes before the office closed for the day.

“Oh,” said Morey. “I didn’t realize—Well, anyway, Howland, thanks, but I can’t. My wife will be expecting me.”

“She certainly will,” Howland sniggered. “Won’t catch her eating up your rations and hers tonight.”

Morey said tightly, “Howland!”

“Oh, sorry, sorry.” Howland waved an arm. “Don’t mean to say anything against your wife, of course. Guess maybe Jocelyn soured me on women. But honest, Morey, you’d like this place. Name of Uncle Piggotty’s, down in the Old Town. Crazy bunch hangs out there. You’d like them. Couple nights last week they had—I mean, you understand, Morey, I don’t go there as often as all that, but I just happened to drop in and—”

Morey interrupted firmly. “Thank you, Howland. Must go home. Wife expects it. Decent of you to offer. Good night. Be seeing you.”

He walked out, turned at the door to bow politely, and in turning back cracked the side of his face against the door jamb. A sort of pleasant numbness had taken possession of his entire skin surface, though, and it wasn’t until he perceived Henry chattering at him sympathetically that he noticed a trickle of blood running down the side of his face.

“Mere flesh wound,” he said with dignity. “Nothing to cause you least conshter—consternation, Henry. Now kindly shut your ugly face. Want to think.”

And he slept in the car all the way home.

It was worse than a hangover. The name is “holdover.” You’ve had some drinks; you’ve started to sober up by catching a little sleep. Then you are required to be awake and to function. The consequent state has the worst features of hangover and intoxication; your head thumps and your mouth tastes like the floor of a bear-pit, but you are nowhere near sober.

There is one cure. Morey said thickly, “Let’s have a cocktail, dear.” Cherry was delighted to share a cocktail with him before dinner. Cherry, Morey thought lovingly, was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful-He found his head nodding in time to his thoughts and the motion made him wince.

Cherry flew to his side and touched his temple. “Is it bothering you, darling?” she asked solicitously. “Where you ran into the door, I mean?”

Morey looked at her sharply, but her expression was open and adoring. He said bravely, “Just a little. Nothing to it, really.”

The butler brought the cocktails and retired. Cherry lifted her glass. Morey raised his, caught a whiff of the liquor and nearly dropped it. He bit down hard on his churning insides and forced himself to swallow.

He was surprised but grateful: It stayed down. In a moment, the curious phenomenon of warmth began to repeat itself. He swallowed the rest of the drink and held out his glass for a refill. He even tried a smile. Oddly enough, his face didn’t fall off.

One more drink did it. Morey felt happy and relaxed, but by no means drunk. They went in to dinner in fine spirits. They chatted cheerfully with each other and Henry, and Morey found time to feel sentimentally sorry for poor Howland, who couldn’t make a go of his marriage, when marriage was obviously such an easy relationship, so beneficial to both sides, so warm and relaxing…

Startled, he said, “What?”

Cherry repeated, “It’s the cleverest scheme I ever heard of. Such a funny little man, dear. All kind of nervous, if you know what I mean. He kept looking at the door as if he was expecting someone, but of course that was silly. None of his friends would have come to our house to see him.”

Morey said tensely, “Cherry, please! What was that you said about ration stamps?”

“But I told you, darling! It was just after you left this morning. This funny little man came to the door; the butler said he wouldn’t give any name. Anyway, I talked to him. I thought he might be a neighbor and I certainly would never be rude to any neighbor who might come to call, even if the neighborhood was—”

“The ration stamps!” Morey begged. “Did I hear you say he was peddling phony ration stamps?”

Cherry said uncertainly, “Well, I suppose that in a way they’re phony. The way he explained it, they weren’t the regular official kind. But it was four for one, dear—four of his stamps for one of ours. So I just took out our household book and steamed off a couple of weeks’ stamps and—”

“How many?” Morey bellowed.

Cherry blinked. “About—about two weeks’ quota,” she said faintly. “Was that wrong, dear?”

Morey closed his eyes dizzily. “A couple of weeks’ stamps,” he repeated. “Four for one—you didn’t even get the regular rate.”

Cherry wailed, “How was I supposed to know? I never had anything like this when I was home! We didn’t have food riots and slums and all these horrible robots and filthy little revolting men coming to the door!”

Morey stared at her woodenly. She was crying again, but it made no impression on the case-hardened armor that was suddenly thrown around his heart.

Henry made a tentative sound that, in a human, would have been a preparatory cough, but Morey froze him with a white-eyed look.

Morey said in a dreary monotone that barely penetrated the sound of Cherry’s tears, “Let me tell you just what it was you did. Assuming, at best, that these stamps you got are at least average good counterfeits, and not so bad that the best thing to do with them is throw them away before we get caught with them in our possession, you have approximately a two-month supply of funny stamps. In case you didn’t know it, those ration books are not merely ornamental. They have to be turned in every month to prove that we have completed our consuming quota for the month.

“When they are turned in, they are spot-checked. Every book is at least glanced at. A big chunk of them are gone over very carefully by the inspectors, and a certain percentage are tested by ultra-violet, infra-red, X-ray, radioisotopes, bleaches, fumes, paper chromatography and every other damned test known to Man.” His voice was rising to an uneven crescendo. “If we are lucky enough to get away with using any of these stamps at all, we daren’t—we simply dare not—use more than one or two counterfeits to every dozen or more real stamps.

“That means, Cherry, that what you bought is not a two-month supply, but maybe a two-year supply—and since, as you no doubt have never noticed, the things have expiration dates on them, there is probably no chance in the world that we can ever hope to use more than half of them.” He was bellowing by the time he pushed back his chair and towered over her. “Moreover,” he went on, “right now, right as of this minute, we have to make up the stamps you gave away, which means that at the very best we are going to be on double rations for two weeks or so.

“And that says nothing about the one feature of this whole grisly mess that you seem to have thought of least, namely that counterfeit stamps are against the law! I’m poor, Cherry; I live in a slum, and I know it; I’ve got a long way to go before I’m as rich or respected or powerful as your father, about whom I am beginning to get considerably tired of hearing. But poor as I may be, I can tell you this for sure: Up until now, at any rate, I have been honest.”

Cherry’s tears had stopped entirely and she was bowed white-faced and dry-eyed by the time Morey had finished. He had spent himself; there was no violence left in him.

He stared dismally at Cherry for a moment, then turned wordlessly and stamped out of the house.

Marriage! he thought as he left.

He walked for hours, blind to where he was going.

What brought him back to awareness was a sensation he had not felt in a dozen years. It was not, Morey abruptly realized, the dying traces of his hangover that made his stomach feel so queer. He was hungry—actually hungry.

He looked about him. He was in the Old Town, miles from home, jostled by crowds of lower-class people. The block he was on was as atrocious a slum as Morey had ever seen—Chinese pagodas stood next to rococo imitations of the chapels around Versailles; gingerbread marred every facade; no building was without its brilliant signs and flarelights.

He saw a blindingly overdecorated eating establishment called Billie’s Budget Busy Bee and crossed the street toward it, dodging through the unending streams of traflfic. It was a miserable excuse for a restaurant, but Morey was in no mood to care. He found a seat under a potted palm, as far from the tinkling fountains and robot string ensemble as he could manage, and ordered recklessly, paying no attention to the ration prices. As the waiter was gliding noiselessly away, Morey had a sickening realization: He’d come out without his ration book. He groaned out loud; it was too late to leave without causing a disturbance. But then, he thought rebelliously, what difference did one more unrationed meal make, anyhow?

Food made him feel a little better. He finished the last of his profiterole an chocolate, not even leaving on the plate the uneaten one-third that tradition permitted, and paid his check. The robot cashier reached automatically for his ration book. Morey had a moment of grandeur as he said simply, “No ration stamps.”

Robot cashiers are not equipped to display surprise, but this one tried. The man behind Morey in line audibly caught his breath, and less audibly mumbled something about slummers. Morey took it as a compliment and strode outside feeling almost in good humor.

Good enough to go home to Cherry? Morey thought seriously of it for a second; but he wasn’t going to pretend he was wrong and certainly Cherry wasn’t going to be willing to admit that she was at fault.

Besides, Morey told himself grimly, she was undoubtedly asleep. That was an annoying thing about Cherry at best: she never had any trouble getting to sleep. Didn’t even use her quota of sleeping tablets, though Morey had spoken to her about it more than once. Of course, he reminded himself, he had been so polite and tactful about it, as befits a newlywed, that very likely she hadn’t even understood that it was a complaint. Well, that would stop!

Man’s man Morey Fry, wearing no collar ruff but his own, strode determinedly down the streets of the Old Town.

“Hey, Joe, want a good time?”

Morey took one unbelieving look. “You again!” he roared.

The little man stared at him in genuine surprise. Then a faint glimmer of recognition crossed his face. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “This morning, huh?” He clucked commiseratingly. “Too bad you wouldn’t deal with me. Your wife was a lot smarter. Of course, you got me a little sore, Jack, so naturally I had to raise the price a little bit.”

“You skunk, you cheated my poor wife blind! You and I are going to the local station house and talk this over.”

The little man pursed his lips. “We are, huh?”

Morey nodded vigorously. “Damn right! And let me tell you—” He stopped in the middle of a threat as a large hand cupped around his shoulder.

The equally large man who owned the hand said, in a mild and cultured voice, “Is this gentleman disturbing you, Sam?”

“Not so far,” the little man conceded. “He might want to, though, so don’t go away.”

Morey wrenched his shoulder away. “Don’t think you can strong-arm me. I’m taking you to the police.”

Sam shook his head unbelievingly. “You mean you’re going to call the law in on this?”

“I certainly am!”

Sam sighed regretfully. “What do you think of that, Walter? Treating his wife like that. Such a nice lady, too.”

“What are you talking about?” Morey demanded, stung on a peculiarly sensitive spot.

“I’m talking about your wife,” Sam explained. “Of course, I’m not married myself. But it seems to me that if I was, I wouldn’t call the police when my wife was engaged in some kind of criminal activity or other. No, sir, I’d try to settle it myself. Tell you what,” he advised, “why don’t you talk this over with her? Make her see the error of—”

“Wait a minute,” Morey interrupted. “You mean you’d involve my wife in this thing?”

The man spread his hands helplessly. “It’s not me that would involve her, Buster,” he said. “She already involved her own self. It takes two to make a crime, you know. I sell, maybe; I won’t deny it. But after all, I can’t sell unless somebody buys, can I?”

Morey stared at him glumly. He glanced in quick speculation at the large-sized Walter; but Walter was just as big as he’d remembered, so that took care of that. Violence was out; the police were out; that left no really attractive way of capitalizing on the good luck of running into the man again.

Sam said, “Well, I’m glad to see that’s off your mind. Now, returning to my original question, Mac, how would you like a good time? You look like a smart fellow to me; you look like you’d be kind of interested in a place I happen to know of down the block.”

Morey said bitterly, “So you’re a dive-steerer, too. A real talented man.”

“I admit it,” Sam agreed. “Stamp business is slow at night, in my experience. People have their minds more on a good time. And, believe me, a good time is what I can show ’em. Take this place I’m talking about, Uncle Piggotty’s is the name of it, it’s what I would call an unusual kind of place. Wouldn’t you say so, Walter?”

“Oh, I agree with you entirely,” Walter rumbled.

But Morey was hardly listening. He said, “Uncle Piggotty’s, you say?”

“That’s right,” said Sam.

Morey frowned for a moment, digesting an idea. Uncle Piggotty’s sounded like the place Howland had been talking about back at the plant; it might be interesting, at that.

While he was making up his mind, Sam slipped an arm through his on one side and Walter amiably wrapped a big hand around the other. Morey found himself walking.

“You’ll like it,” Sam promised comfortably. “No hard feelings about this morning, sport? Of course not. Once you get a look at Piggotty’s, you’ll get over your mad, anyhow. It’s something special. I swear, on what they pay me for bringing in customers, I wouldn’t do it unless I believed in it.”

“Dance, Jack?” the hostess yelled over the noise at the bar. She stepped back, lifted her flounced skirts to ankle height and executed a tricky nine-step.

“My name is Morey,” Morey yelled back. “And I don’t want to dance, thanks.”

The hostess shrugged, frowned meaningfully at Sam and danced away.

Sam flagged the bartender. “First round’s on us,” he explained to Morey. “Then we won’t bother you any more. Unless you want us to, of course. Like the place?” Morey hesitated, but Sam didn’t wait. “Fine place,” he yelled, and picked up the drink the bartender left him. “See you around.”

He and the big man were gone. Morey stared after them uncertainly, then gave it up. He was here, anyhow; might as well at least have a drink. He ordered and looked around.

Uncle Piggotty’s was a third-rate dive disguised to look, in parts of it at least, like one of the exclusive upper-class country clubs. The bar, for instance, was treated to resemble the clean lines of nailed wood; but underneath the surface treatment, Morey could detect the intricate laminations of plyplastic. What at first glance appeared to be burlap hangings were in actuality elaborately textured synthetics. And all through the bar the motif was carried out.

A floor show of sorts was going on, but nobody seemed to be paying much attention to it. Morey, straining briefly to hear the master of ceremonies, gathered that the unit was on a more than mildly vulgar level. There was a dispirited string of chorus beauties in long ruffled pantaloons and diaphanous tops; one of them, Morey was almost sure, was the hostess who had talked to him just a few moments before.

Next to him a man was declaiming to a middle-aged woman:

Smote I the monstrous rock, yahoot Smote I the turgid tube, Bully Boy! Smote I the cankered hill—

“Why, Morey!” he interrupted himself. “What are you doing here?”

He turned farther around and Morey recognized him. “Hello, How-land,” he said. “I—uh—I happened to be free tonight, so I thought—”

Howland sniggered. “Well, guess your wife is more liberal than mine was. Order a drink, boy.”

“Thanks, I’ve got one,” said Morey.

The woman, with a tigerish look at Morey, said, “Don’t stop, Everett. That was one of your most beautiful things.”

“Oh, Morey’s heard my poetry,” Howland said. “Morey, I’d like you to meet a very lovely and talented young lady, Tanaquil Bigelow. Morey works in the office with me, Tan.”

“Obviously,” said Tanaquil Bigelow in a frozen voice, and Morey hastily withdrew the hand he had begun to put out.

The conversation stuck there, impaled, the woman cold, Howland relaxed and abstracted, Morey wondering if, after all, this had been such a good idea. He caught the eye-cell of the robot bartender and ordered a round of drinks for the three of them, politely putting them on Howland’s ration book. By the time the drinks had come and Morey had just got around to deciding that it wasn’t a very good idea, the woman had all of a sudden become thawed.

She said abruptly, “You look like the kind of man who thinks, Morey, and I like to talk to that kind of man. Frankly, Morey, I just don’t have any patience at all with the stupid, stodgy men who just work in their offices all day and eat all their dinners every night, and gad about and consume like mad and where does it all get them, anyhow? That’s right, I can see you understand. Just one crazy rush of consume, consume from the day you’re born plop to the day you’re buried pop! And who’s to blame if not the robots?”

Faintly, a tinge of worry began to appear on the surface of How-land’s relaxed calm. “Tan,” he chided, “Morey may not be very interested in politics.”

Politics, Morey thought; well, at least that was a clue. He’d had the dizzying feeling, while the woman was talking, that he himself was the ball in the games machine he had designed for the shop earlier that day. Following the woman’s conversation might, at that, give his next design some valuable pointers in swoops, curves and obstacles.

He said, with more than half truth, “No, please go on, Miss Bige-low. I’m very much interested.”

She smiled; then abruptly her face changed to a frightening scowl. Morey flinched, but evidently the scowl wasn’t meant for him. “Robots!” she hissed. “Supposed to work for us, aren’t they? Hah! We’re their slaves, slaves for every moment of every miserable day of our lives. Slaves! Wouldn’t you like to join us and be free, Morey?”

Morey took cover in his drink. He made an expressive gesture with his free hand—expressive of exactly what, he didn’t truly know, for he was lost. But it seemed to satisfy the woman.

She said accusingly, “Did you know that more than three-quarters of the people in this country have had a nervous breakdown in the past five years and four months? That more than half of them are under the constant care of psychiatrists for psychosis—not just plain ordinary neurosis like my husband’s got and Howland here has got and you’ve got, but psychosis. Like I’ve got. Did you know that? Did you know that forty per cent of the population are essentially manic depressive, thirty-one per cent are schizoid, thirty-eight per cent have an assortment of other unfixed psychogenic disturbances and twenty-four—”

“Hold it a minute, Tan,” Howland interrupted critically. “You’ve got too many per cents there. Start over again.”

“Oh, the hell with it,” the woman said moodily. “I wish my husband were here. He expresses it so much better than I do.” She swallowed her drink. “Since you’ve wriggled off the hook,” she said nastily to Morey, “how about setting up another round—on my ration book this time?”

Morey did; it was the simplest thing to do in his confusion. When that was gone, they had another on Howland’s book.

As near as he could figure out, the woman, her husband and quite possibly Howland as well belonged to some kind of anti-robot group. Morey had heard of such things; they had a quasi-legal status, neither approved nor prohibited, but he had never come into contact with them before. Remembering the hatred he had so painfully relived at the psychodrama session, he thought anxiously that perhaps he belonged with them. But, question them though he might, he couldn’t seem to get the principles of the organization firmly in mind.

The woman finally gave up trying to explain it, and went off to find her husband while Morey and Howland had another drink and listened to two drunks squabble over who bought the next round. They were at the Alphonse-Gaston stage of inebriation; they would regret it in the morning; for each was bending over backward to permit the other to pay the ration points. Morey wondered uneasily about his own points; Howland was certainly getting credit for a lot of Morey’s drinking tonight. Served him right for forgetting his book, of course.

When the woman came back, it was with the large man Morey had encountered in the company of Sam, the counterfeiter, steerer and general man about Old Town.

“A remarkably small world, isn’t it?” boomed Walter Bigelow, only slightly crushing Morey’s hand in his. “Well, sir, my wife has told me how interested you are in the basic philosophical drives behind our movement, and I should like to discuss them further with you. To begin with, sir, have you considered the principle of Twoness?”

Morey said, “Why—”

“Very good,” said Bigelow courteously. He cleared his throat and declaimed:

Han-headed Cathay saw it first,

Bright as brightest solar burst;

Whipped it into boy and girl,

The blinding spiral-sliced swirl:

Yang And Yin.

He shrugged deprecatingly. “Just the first stanza,” he said. “I don’t know if you got much out of it.” “Well, no,” Morey admitted. “Second stanza,” Bigelow said firmly:

Hegal saw it, saw it clear;

Jackal Marx drew near, drew near:

O’er his shoulder saw it plain,

Turned it upside down again:

Yang

And Yin.

There was an expectant pause. Morey said, “I—uh—” “Wraps it all up, doesn’t it?” Bigelow’s wife demanded. “Oh, if only others could see it as clearly as you do! The robot peril and the robot savior. Starvation and surfeit. Always twoness, always!”

Bigelow patted Morey’s shoulder. “The next stanza makes it even clearer,” he said. “It’s really very clever—I shouldn’t say it, of course, but it’s Howland’s as much as it’s mine. He helped me with the verses.” Morey darted a glance at Howland, but Howland was carefully looking away. “Third stanza,” said Bigelow. “This is a hard one, because it’s long, so pay attention.”

Justice, tip your sightless scales; One pan rises, one pan fails.

“Howland,” he interrupted himself, “are you sure about that rhyme? I always trip over it. Well, anyway:

Add to A and B grows less;

A’s B’s partner, nonetheless.

Next, the Twoness that there be

In even electricity.

Chart the current as it’s found:

Sine the hot lead, line the ground.

The wild sine dances, soars and falls,

But only to figures the zero calls.

Sine wave, scales, all things that be

Share a reciprocity.

Male and female, light and dark:

Name the numbers of Noah’s Ark!

Yang

And Yin!

“Dearest!” shrieked Bigelow’s wife. “You’ve never done it better!” There was a spatter of applause, and Morey realized for the first time that half the bar had stopped its noisy revel to listen to them. Bigelow was evidently quite a well-known figure here.



Morey said weakly, “I’ve never heard anything like it.”

He turned hesitantly to Howland, who promptly said, “Drink! What we all need right now is a drink.”

They had a drink on Bigelow’s book.

Morey got Howland aside and asked him, “Look, level with me. Are these people nuts?”

Howland showed pique. “No. Certainly not.”

“Does that poem mean anything? Does this whole business of twoness mean anything?”

Howland shrugged. “If it means something to them, it means something. They’re philosophers, Morey. They see deep into things. You don’t know what a privilege it is for me to be allowed to associate with them.”

They had another drink. On Howland’s book, of course.

Morey eased Walter Bigelow over to a quiet spot. He said, “Leaving twoness out of it for the moment, what’s this about the robots?”

Bigelow looked at him round-eyed. “Didn’t you understand the poem?”

“Of course I did. But diagram it for me in simple terms so I can tell my wife.”

Bigelow beamed. “It’s about the dichotomy of robots,” he explained. “Like the Utile salt mill that the boy wished for: it ground out salt and ground out salt and ground out salt. He had to have salt, but not that much salt. Whitehead explains it clearly—”

They had another drink on Bigelow’s book.

Morey wavered over to Tanaquil Bigelow. He said fuzzily, “Listen. Mrs. Walter Tanaquil Strongarm Bigelow. Listen.”

She grinned smugly at him. “Brown hair,” she said dreamily.

Morey shook his head vigorously. “Never mind hair,” he ordered. “Never mind poem. Listen. In pre-cise and el-e-men-ta-ry terms, explain to me what is wrong with the world today.”

“Not enough brown hair,” she said promptly.

“Never mind hair!”

“All right,” she said agreeably. “Too many robots. Too many robots make too much of everything.”

“Ha! Got it!” Morey exclaimed triumphantly. “Get rid of robots!”

“Oh, no. No! No! No. We wouldn’t eat. Everything is mechanized. Can’t get rid of them, can’t slow down production—slowing down is dying, stopping is quicker dying. Principle of twoness is the concept that clarifies all these—”

“No!” Morey said violently. “What should we do?”

“Do? I’ll tell you what we should do, if that’s what you want. I can tell you.”

“Then tell me.”

“What we should do is—” Tanaquil hiccupped with a look of refined consternation—“have another drink.”

They had another drink. He gallantly let her pay, of course. She ungallantly argued with the bartender about the ration points due her.

Though not a two-fisted drinker, Morey tried. He really worked at it.

He paid the price, too. For some little time before his limbs stopped moving, his mind stopped functioning. Blackout. Almost a blackout, at any rate, for all he retained of the late evening was a kaleidoscope of people and places and things. Howland was there, drunk as a skunk, disgracefully drunk, Morey remembered thinking as he stared up at Howland from the floor. The Bigelows were there. His wife, Cherry, solicitous and amused, was there. And oddly enough, Henry was there…

It was very, very hard to reconstruct. Morey devoted a whole morning’s hangover to the effort. It was important to reconstruct it, for some reason. But Morey couldn’t even remember what the reason was; and finally he dismissed it, guessing that he had either solved the secret of twoness or whether Tanaquil Bigelow’s remarkable figure was natural.

He did, however, know that the next morning he had waked in his own bed, with no recollection of getting there. No recollection of anything much, at least not of anything that fit into the proper chronological order or seemed to mesh with anything else, after the dozenth drink when he and Howland, arms around each other’s shoulders, composed a new verse on twoness and, plagiarizing an old marching tune, howled it across the boisterous bar-room:

A twoness on the scene much later

Rests in your refrigerator.

Heat your house and insulate it.

Next your food: Refrigerate it.

Frost will damp your Freon coils,

So flux in nichrome till it boils.

See the picture? Heat in cold

In heat in cold, the story’s told!

Giant-writ the sacred scrawl:

Oh, the twoness of it all!

Yang

And Yin!

It had, at any rate, seemed to mean something at the time.

If alcohol opened Morey’s eyes to the fact that there was a twoness, perhaps alcohol was what he needed. For there was.

Call it a dichotomy, if the word seems more couth. A kind of two-pronged struggle, the struggle of two unwearying runners in an immortal race. There is the refrigerator inside the house. The cold air, the bubble of heated air that is the house, the bubble of cooled air that is the refrigerator, the momentary bubble of heated air that defrosts it. Call the heat Yang, if you will. Call the cold Yin. Yang overtakes Yin. Then Yin passes Yang. Then Yang passes Yin. Then-Give them other names. Call Yin a mouth; call Yang a hand.

If the hand rests, the mouth will starve. If the mouth stops, the hand will die. The hand, Yang, moves faster.

Yin may not lag behind.

Then call Yang a robot.

And remember that a pipeline has two ends.

Like any once-in-a-lifetime lush, Morey braced himself for the consequences—and found startledly that there were none.

Cherry was a surprise to him. “You were so funny,” she giggled. “And, honestly, so romantic.”

He shakily swallowed his breakfast coffee.

The office staff roared and slapped him on the back. “Howland tells us you’re living high, boy!” they bellowed more or less in the same words. “Hey, listen to what Morey did—went on the town for the night of a lifetime and didn’t even bring his ration book along to cash in!”

They thought it was a wonderful joke.

But, then, everything was going well. Cherry, it seemed, had reformed out of recognition. True, she still hated to go out in the evening and Morey never saw her forcing herself to gorge on unwanted food or play undesired games. But, moping into the pantry one afternoon, he found to his incredulous delight that they were well ahead of their ration quotas. In some items, in fact, they were out—a. month’s supply and more was gone ahead of schedule!

Nor was it the counterfeit stamps, for he had found them tucked behind a bain-marie and quietly burned them. He cast about for ways of complimenting her, but caution prevailed. She was sensitive on the subject; leave it be.

And virtue had its reward.

Wainwright called him in, all smiles. “Morey, great news! We’ve all appreciated your work here and we’ve been able to show it in some more tangible way than compliments. I didn’t want to say anything till it was definite, but—your status has been reviewed by Classification and the Ration Board. You’re out of Class Four Minor, Morey!”

Morey said tremulously, hardly daring to hope, “I’m a full Class Four?”

“Class Five, Morey. Class Five! When we do something, we do it right. We asked for a special waiver and got it—you’ve skipped a whole class.” He added honestly, “Not that it was just our backing that did it, of course. Your own recent splendid record of consumption helped a lot. I told you you could do it!”

Morey had to sit down. He missed the rest of what Wainwright had to say, but it couldn’t have mattered. He escaped from the office, side-stepped the knot of fellow-employees waiting to congratulate him, and got to a phone.

Cherry was as ecstatic and inarticulate as he. “Oh, darling!” was all she could say.

“And I couldn’t have done it without you,” he babbled. “Wainwright as much as said so himself. Said if it wasn’t for the way we— well, you have been keeping up with the rations, it never would have got by the Board. I’ve been meaning to say something to you about that, dear, but I just haven’t known how. But I do appreciate it. I— Hello?” There was a curious silence at the other end of the phone. “Hello?” he repeated worriedly.

Cherry’s voice was intense and low. “Morey Fry, I think you’re mean. I wish you hadn’t spoiled the good news.” And she hung up.

Morey stared slack-jawed at the phone.

Howland appeared behind him, chuckling. “Women,” he said. “Never try to figure them. Anyway, congratulations, Morey.”

“Thanks,” Morey mumbled.

Howland coughed and said, “Uh—by the way, Morey, now that you’re one of the big shots, so to speak, you won’t—uh—feel obliged to—well, say anything to Wainwright, for instance, about anything I may have said while we—”

“Excuse me,” Morey said, unhearing, and pushed past him. He thought wildly of calling Cherry back, of racing home to see just what he’d said that was wrong. Not that there was much doubt, of course. He’d touched her on her sore point.

Anyhow, his wristwatch was chiming a reminder of the fact that his psychiatric appointment for the week was coming up.

Morey sighed. The day gives and the day takes away. Blessed is the day that gives only good things.

If any.

The session went badly. Many of the sessions had been going badly, Morey decided; there had been more and more whispering in knots of doctors from which he was excluded, poking and probing in the dark instead of the precise psychic surgery he was used to. Something was wrong, he thought.

Something was. Semmelweiss confirmed it when he adjourned the group session. After the other doctor had left, he sat Morey down for a private talk. On his own time, too—he didn’t ask for his usual ration fee. That told Morey how important the problem was.

“Morey,” said Semmelweiss, “you’re holding back.”

“I don’t mean to, Doctor,” Morey said earnestly.

“Who knows what you ‘mean’ to do? Part of you ‘means’ to. We’ve dug pretty deep and we’ve found some important things. Now there’s something I can’t put my finger on. Exploring the mind, Morey, is like sending scouts through cannibal territory. You can’t see the cannibals—until it’s too late. But if you send a scout through the jungle and he doesn’t show up on the other side, it’s a fair assumption that something obstructed his way. In that case, we would label the obstruction ‘cannibals.’ In the case of the human mind, we label the obstruction a ‘trauma.’ What the trauma is, or what its effects on behavior will be, we have to find out, once we know that it’s there.”

Morey nodded. All of this was familiar; he couldn’t see what Semmelweiss was driving at.

Semmelweiss sighed. “The trouble with healing traumas and penetrating psychic blocks and releasing inhibitions—the trouble with everything we psychiatrists do, in fact, is that we can’t afford to do it too well. An inhibited man is under a strain. We try to relieve the strain. But if we succeed completely, leaving him with no inhibitions at all, we have an outlaw, Morey. Inhibitions are often socially necessary. Suppose, for instance, that an average man were not inhibited against blatant waste. It could happen, you know. Suppose that instead of consuming his ration quota in an orderly and responsible way, he did such things as set fire to his house and everything in it or dumped his food allotment in the river.

“When only a few individuals are doing it, we treat the individuals. But if it were done on a mass scale, Morey, it would be the end of society as we know it. Think of the whole collection of anti-social actions that you see in every paper. Man beats wife; wife turns into a harpy; junior smashes up windows; husband starts a black-market stamp racket. And every one of them traces to a basic weakness in the mind’s defenses against the most important single anti-social phenomenon—failure to consume.”

Morey flared, “That’s not fair, Doctor! That was weeks ago! We’ve certainly been on the ball lately. I was just commended by the Board, in fact—”

The doctor said mildly, “Why so violent, Morey? I only made a general remark.”

“It’s just natural to resent being accused.”

The doctor shrugged. “First, foremost and above all, we do not accuse patients of things. We try to help you find things out.” He lit his end-of-session cigarette. “Think about it, please. I’ll see you next week.”

Cherry was composed and unapproachable. She kissed him remotely when he came in. She said, “I called Mother and told her the good news. She and Dad promised to come over here to celebrate.”

“Yeah,” said Morey. “Darling, what did I say wrong on the phone?”

“They’ll be here about six.”

“Sure. But what did I say? Was it about the rations? If you’re sensitive, I swear I’ll never mention them again.”

“I am sensitive, Morey.”

He said despairingly, “I’m sorry. I just—”

He had a better idea. He kissed her.

Cherry was passive at first, but not for long. When he had finished kissing her, she pushed him away and actually giggled. “Let me get dressed for dinner.”

“Certainly. Anyhow, I was just—”

She laid a finger on his lips.

He let her escape and, feeling much less tense, drifted into the library. The afternoon papers were waiting for him. Virtuously, he sat down and began going through them in order. Midway through the World-Telegram-Sun-Post-and-News, he rang for Henry.

Morey had read clear through to the drama section of the Times-Herald-Tribune-Mirror before the robot appeared. “Good evening,” it said politely.

“What took you so long?” Morey demanded. “Where are all the robots?”

Robots do not stammer, but there was a distinct pause before Henry said, “Belowstairs, sir. Did you want them for something?”

“Well, no. I just haven’t seen them around. Get me a drink.”

It hesitated. “Scotch, sir?”

“Before dinner? Get me a Manhattan.”

“We’re all out of Vermouth, sir.”

“All out? Would you mind telling me how?”

“It’s all used up, sir.”

“Now that’s just ridiculous,” Morey snapped. “We have never run out of liquor in our whole lives and you know it. Good heavens, we just got our allotment in the other day and I certainly—”

He checked himself. There was a sudden flicker of horror in his eyes as he stared at Henry.

“You certainly what, sir?” the robot prompted.

Morey swallowed. “Henry, did I—did I do something I shouldn’t have?”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t know, sir. It isn’t up to me to say what you should and shouldn’t do.”

“Of course not,” Morey agreed grayly.

He sat rigid, staring hopelessly into space, remembering. What he remembered was no pleasure to him at all.

“Henry,” he said. “Come along, we’re going belowstairs. Right now!”

It had been Tanaquil Bigelow’s remark about the robots. Too many robots—make too much of everything.

That had implanted the idea; it germinated in Morey’s home. More than a little drunk, less than ordinarily inhibited, he had found the problem clear and the answer obvious.

He stared around him in dismal worry. His own robots, following his own orders, given weeks before…

Henry said, “It’s just what you told us to do, sir.”

Morey groaned. He was watching a scene of unparalleled activity, and it sent shivers up and down his spine.

There was the butler-robot, hard at work, his copper face expressionless. Dressed in Morey’s own sports knickers and golfing shoes, the robot solemnly hit a ball against the wall, picked it up and teed it, hit it again, over and again, with Morey’s own clubs. Until the ball wore ragged and was replaced; and the shafts of the clubs leaned out of true; and the close-stitched seams in the clothing began to stretch and abrade.

“My God!” said Morey hollowly.

There were the maid-robots, exquisitely dressed in Cherry’s best, walking up and down in the delicate, slim shoes, sitting and rising and bending and turning. The cook-robots and the serving-robots were preparing dionysian meals.

Morey swallowed. “You—you’ve been doing this right along,” he said to Henry. “That’s why the quotas have been filled.”

“Oh, yes, sir. Just as you told us.”

Morey had to sit down. One of the serving-robots politely scurried over with a chair, brought from upstairs for their new chores.

Waste.

Morey tasted the word between his lips.

Waste.

You never wasted things. You used them. If necessary, you drove yourself to the edge of breakdown to use them; you made every breath a burden and every hour a torment to use them, until through diligent consuming and/or occupational merit, you were promoted to the next higher class, and were allowed to consume less frantically. But you didn’t wantonly destroy or throw out. You consumed.

Morey thought fearfully: When the Board finds out about this…

Still, he reminded himself, the Board hadn’t found out. It might take some time before they did, for humans, after all, never entered robot quarters. There was no law against it, not even a sacrosanct custom. But there was no reason to. When breaks occurred, which was infrequently, maintenance robots or repair squads came in and put them back in order. Usually the humans involved didn’t even know it had happened, because the robots used their own TBR radio circuits and the process was next thing to automatic.

Morey said reprovingly, “Henry, you should have told—well, I mean reminded me about this.”

“But, sir!” Henry protested. “’Don’t tell a living soul,’ you said. You made it a direct order.”

“Umph. Well, keep it that way. I—uh—I have to go back upstairs. Better get the rest of the robots started on dinner.”

Morey left, not comfortably.

The dinner to celebrate Morey’s promotion was difficult. Morey liked Cherry’s parents. Old Elon, after the premarriage inquisition that father must inevitably give to daughter’s suitor, had buckled right down to the job of adjustment. The old folks were good about not interfering, good about keeping their superior social status to themselves, good about helping out on the budget—at least once a week, they could be relied on to come over for a hearty meal, and Mrs. Elon had more than once remade some of Cherry’s new dresses to fit herself, even to the extent of wearing all the high-point ornamentation.

And they had been wonderful about the wedding gifts, when Morey and their daughter got married. The most any member of Morey’s family had been willing to take was a silver set or a few crystal table pieces. The Elons had come through with a dazzling promise to accept a car, a birdbath for their garden and a complete set of living-room furniture! Of course, they could afford it—they had to consume so little that it wasn’t much strain for them even to take gifts of that magnitude. But without their help, Morey knew, the first few months of matrimony would have been even tougher consuming than they were.

But on this particular night it was hard for Morey to like anyone. He responded with monosyllables; he barely grunted when Elon proposed a toast to his promotion and his brilliant future. He was preoccupied.

Rightly so. Morey, in his deepest, bravest searching, could find no clue in his memory as to just what the punishment might be for what he had done. But he had a sick certainty that trouble lay ahead.

Morey went over his problem so many times that an anesthesia set in. By the time dinner was ended and he and his father-in-law were in the den with their brandy, he was more or less functioning again.

Elon, for the first time since Morey had known him, offered him one of his cigars. “You’re Grade Five—can afford to smoke somebody else’s now, hey?”

“Yeah,” Morey said glumly.

There was a moment of silence. Then Elon, as punctilious as any companion-robot, coughed and tried again. “Remember being peaked till I hit Grade Five,” he reminisced meaningfully. “Consuming keeps a man on the go, all right. Things piled up at the law office, couldn’t be taken care of while ration points piled up, too. And consuming comes first, of course—that’s a citizen’s prime duty. Mother and I had our share of grief over that, but a couple that wants to make a go of marriage and citizenship just pitches in and does the job, hey?”

Morey repressed a shudder and managed to nod.

“Best thing about upgrading,” Elon went on, as if he had elicited a satisfactory answer, “don’t have to spend so much time consuming, give more attention to work. Greatest luxury in the world, work. Wish I had as much stamina as you young fellows. Five days a week in court are about all I can manage. Hit six for a while, relaxed first time in my life, but my doctor made me cut down. Said we can’t overdo pleasures. You’ll be working two days a week now, hey?”

Morey produced another nod.

Elon drew deeply on his cigar, his eyes bright as they watched Morey. He was visibly puzzled, and Morey, even in his half-daze, could recognize the exact moment at which Elon drew the wrong inference. “Ah, everything okay with you and Cherry?” he asked diplomatically.

“Fine!” Morey exclaimed. “Couldn’t be better!”

“Good. Good.” Elon changed the subject with almost an audible wrench. “Speaking of court, had an interesting case the other day. Young fellow—year or two younger than you, I guess—came in with a Section Ninety-seven on him. Know what that is? Breaking and entering!”

“Breaking and entering,” Morey repeated wonderingly, interested in spite of himself. “Breaking and entering what?”

“Houses. Old term; law’s full of them. Originally applied to stealing things. Still does, I discovered.”

“You mean he stole something?” Morey asked in bewilderment.

“Exactly! He stole. Strangest thing I ever came across. Talked it over with one of his bunch of lawyers later; new one on him, too. Seems this kid had a girl friend, nice kid but a little, you know, plump. She got interested in art.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Morey said.

“Nothing wrong with her, either. She didn’t do anything. She didn’t like him too much, though. Wouldn’t marry him. Kid got to thinking about how he could get her to change her mind and—well, you know that big Mondrian in the Museum?”

“I’ve never been there,” Morey said, somewhat embarrassed.

“Um. Ought to try it someday, boy. Anyway, comes closing time at the Museum the other day, this kid sneaks in. He steals the painting. That’s right—steals it. Takes it to give to the girl.”

Morey shook his head blankly. “I never heard of anything like that in my life.”

“Not many have. Girl wouldn’t take it, by the way. Got scared when he brought it to her. She must’ve tipped off the police, I guess. Somebody did. Took ’em three hours to find it, even when they knew it was hanging on a wall. Pretty poor kid. Forty-two room house.”

“And there was a law against it?” Morey asked. “I mean it’s like making a law against breathing.”

“Certainly was. Old law, of course. Kid got set back two grades. Would have been more but, my God, he was only a Grade Three as it was.”

“Yeah,” said Morey, wetting his lips. “Say, Dad—”

“Um?”

Morey cleared his throat. “Uh—I wonder—I mean what’s the penalty, for instance, for things like—well, misusing rations or anything like that?”

Elon’s eyebrows went high. “Misusing rations?”

“Say you had a liquor ration, it might be, and instead of drinking it, you—well, flushed it down the drain or something…”

His voice trailed off. Elon was frowning. He said, “Funny thing, seems I’m not as broadminded as I thought I was. For some reason, I don’t find that amusing.”

“Sorry,” Morey croaked.

And he certainly was.

It might be dishonest, but it was doing him a lot of good, for days went by and no one seemed to have penetrated his secret. Cherry was happy. Wainwright found occasion after occasion to pat Morey’s back. The wages of sin were turning out to be prosperity and happiness.

There was a bad moment when Morey came home to find Cherry in the middle of supervising a team of packing-robots; the new house, suitable to his higher grade, was ready, and they were expected to move in the next day. But Cherry hadn’t been belowstairs, and Morey had his household robots clean up the evidences of what they had been doing before the packers got that far.

The new house was, by Morey’s standards, pure luxury.

It was only fifteen rooms. Morey had shrewdly retained one more robot than was required for a Class Five, and had been allowed a compensating deduction in the size of his house.

The robot quarters were less secluded than in the old house, though, and that was a disadvantage. More than once Cherry had snuggled up to him in the delightful intimacy of their one bed in their single bedroom and said, with faint curiosity, “I wish they’d stop that noise.” And Morey had promised to speak to Henry about it in the morning. But there was nothing he could say to Henry, of course, unless he ordered Henry to stop the tireless consuming through each of the day’s twenty-four hours that kept them always ahead, but never quite far enough ahead, of the inexorable weekly increment of ration quotas.

But, though Cherry might once in a while have a moment’s curiosity about what the robots were doing, she was not likely to be able to guess at the facts. Her up-bringing was, for once, on Morey’s side —she knew so little of the grind, grind, grind of consuming that was the lot of the lower classes that she scarcely noticed that there was less of it.

Morey almost, sometimes, relaxed.

He thought of many ingenious chores for robots, and the robots politely and emotionlessly obeyed.

Morey was a success.

It wasn’t all gravy. There was a nervous moment for Morey when the quarterly survey report came in the mail. As the day for the Ration Board to check over the degree of wear on the turned-in discards came due, Morey began to sweat. The clothing and furniture and household goods the robots had consumed for him were very nearly in shreds. It had to look plausible, that was the big thing—no normal person would wear a hole completely through the knee of a pair of pants, as Henry had done with his dress suit before Morey stopped him. Would the Board question it?

Worse, was there something about the way the robots consumed the stuff that would give the whole show away? Some special wear point in the robot anatomy, for instance, that would rub a hole where no human’s body could, or stretch a seam that should normally be under no strain at all?

It was worrisome. But the worry was needless. When the report of survey came, Morey let out a long-held breath. Not a single item disallowed!

Morey was a success—and so was his scheme!

To the successful man come the rewards of success. Morey arrived home one evening after a hard day’s work at the office and was alarmed to find another car parked in his drive. It was a tiny two-seater, the sort affected by top officials and the very well-to-do.

Right then and there Morey learned the first half of the embezzler’s lesson: Anything different is dangerous. He came uneasily into his own home, fearful that some high officer of the Ration Board had come to ask questions.

But Cherry was glowing. “Mr. Porfirio is a newspaper feature writer and he wants to write you up for their ‘Consumers of Distinction’ page! Morey, I couldn’t be more proud!”

“Thanks,” said Morey glumly. “Hello.”

Mr. Porfirio shook Morey’s hand warmly. “I’m not exactly from a newspaper,” he corrected. “Trans-video Press is what it is, actually. We’re a news wire service; we supply forty-seven hundred papers with news and feature material. Every one of them,” he added complacently, “on the required consumption list of Grades One through Six inclusive. We have a Sunday supplement self-help feature on consuming problems and we like to—well, give credit where credit is due. You’ve established an enviable record, Mr. Fry. We’d like to tell our readers about it.”

“Urn,” said Morey. “Let’s go in the drawing room.”

“Oh, no!” Cherry said firmly. “I want to hear this. He’s so modest, Mr. Porfirio, you’d really never know what kind of a man he is just to listen to him talk. Why, my goodness, I’m his wife and I swear I don’t know how he does all the consuming he does. He simply—”

“Have a drink, Mr. Porfirio,” Morey said, against all etiquette. “Rye? Scotch? Bourbon? Gin-and-tonic? Brandy Alexander? Dry Manna—I mean what would you like?” He became conscious that he was babbling like a fool.

“Anything,” said the newsman. “Rye is fine. Now, Mr. Fry, I notice you’ve fixed up your place very attractively here and your wife says that your country home is just as nice. As soon as I came in, I said to myself, ‘Beautiful home. Hardly a stick of furniture that isn’t absolutely necessary. Might be a Grade Six or Seven.’ And Mrs. Fry says the other place is even barer.”

“She does, does she?” Morey challenged sharply. “Well, let me tell you, Mr. Porfirio, that every last scrap of my furniture allowance is accounted for! I don’t know what you’re getting at, but—”

“Oh, I certainly didn’t mean to imply anything like that! I just want to get some information from you that I can pass on to our readers. You know, to sort of help them do as well as yourself. How do you do it?”



Morey swallowed. “We—uh—well, we just keep after it. Hard work, that’s all.”

Porfirio nodded admiringly. “Hard work,” he repeated, and fished a triple-folded sheet of paper out of his pocket to make notes on. “Would you say,” he went on, “that anyone could do as well as you simply by devoting himself to it—setting a regular schedule, for example, and keeping to it very strictly?”

“Oh, yes,” said Morey.

“In other words, it’s only a matter of doing what you have to do every day?”

“That’s it exactly. I handle the budget in my house—more experience than my wife, you see—but no reason a woman can’t do it.”

“Budgeting,” Porfirio recorded approvingly. “That’s our policy, too.”

The interview was not the terror it had seemed, not even when Porfirio tactfully called attention to Cherry’s slim waistline (“So many housewives, Mrs. Fry, find it difficult to keep from being—well, a little plump”) and Morey had to invent endless hours on the exercise machines, while Cherry looked faintly perplexed, but did not interrupt.

From the interview, however, Morey learned the second half of the embezzler’s lesson. After Porfirio had gone, he leaped in and spoke more than a little firmly to Cherry. “That business of exercise, dear. We really have to start doing it. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but you are beginning to get just a trifle heavier and we don’t want that to happen, do we?”

In the following grim and unnecessary sessions on the mechanical horses, Morey had plenty of time to reflect on the lesson. Stolen treasures are less sweet than one would like, when one dare not enjoy them in the open.

But some of Morey’s treasures were fairly earned.

The new Bradmoor K-50 Spin-a-Game, for instance, was his very own. His job was design and creation, and he was a fortunate man in that his efforts were permitted to be expended along the line of greatest social utility—namely, to increase consumption.

The Spin-a-Game was a well-nigh perfect machine for the purpose. “Brilliant,” said Wainwright, beaming, when the pilot machine had been put through its first tests. “Guess they don’t call me the Talent-picker for nothing. I knew you could do it, boy!”

Even Howland was lavish in his praise. He sat munching on a plate of petits-fours (he was still only a Grade Three) while the tests were going on, and when they were over, he said enthusiastically, “It’s a beauty, Morey. That series-corrupter—sensational! Never saw a prettier piece of machinery.”

Morey flushed gratefully.

Wainwright left, exuding praise, and Morey patted his pilot model affectionately and admired its polychrome gleam. The looks of the machine, as Wainwright had lectured many a time, were as important as its function: “You have to make them want to play it, boy! They won’t play it if they don’t see it!” And consequently the whole K series was distinguished by flashing rainbows of light, provocative strains of music, haunting scents that drifted into the nostrils of the passerby with compelling effect.

Morey had drawn heavily on all the old masterpieces of design— the one-arm bandit, the pinball machine, the juke box. You put your ration book in the hopper. You spun the wheels until you selected the game you wanted to play against the machine. You punched buttons or spun dials or, in any of 325 different ways, you pitted your human skill against the magnetic-taped skills of the machine.

And you lost. You had a chance to win, but the inexorable statistics of the machine’s setting made sure that if you played long enough, you had to lose.

That is to say, if you risked a ten-point ration stamp—showing, perhaps, that you had consumed three six-course meals—your statistic return was eight points. You might hit the jackpot and get a thousand points back, and thus be exempt from a whole freezerful of steaks and joints and prepared vegetables; but it seldom happened. Most likely you lost and got nothing.

Got nothing, that is, in the way of your hazarded ration stamps. But the beauty of the machine, which was Morey’s main contribution, was that, win or lose, you always found a pellet of vitamin-drenched, sugarcoated antibiotic hormone gum in the hopper. You played your game, won or lost your stake, popped your hormone gum into your mouth and played another. By the time that game was ended, the gum was used up, the coating dissolved; you discarded it and started another.

“That’s what the man from the NRB liked,” Howland told Morey confidentially. “He took a set of schematics back with him; they might install it on all new machines. Oh, you’re the fair-haired boy, all right!”

It was the first Morey had heard about a man from the National Ration Board. It was good news. He excused himself and hurried to phone Cherry the story of his latest successes. He reached her at her mother’s, where she was spending the evening, and she was properly impressed and affectionate. He came back to Howland in a glowing humor.

“Drink?” said Howland diffidently.

“Sure,” said Morey. He could afford, he thought, to drink as much of Howland’s liquor as he liked; poor guy, sunk in the consuming quicksands of Class Three. Only fair for somebody a little more successful to give him a hand once in a while.

And when Howland, learning that Cherry had left Morey a bachelor for the evening, proposed Uncle Piggotty’s again, Morey hardly hesitated at all.

The Bigelows were delighted to see him. Morey wondered briefly if they had a home; certainly they didn’t seem to spend much time in it.

It turned out they did, because when Morey indicated virtuously that he’d only stopped in at Piggotty’s for a single drink before dinner, and Howland revealed that he was free for the evening, they captured Morey and bore him off to their house.

Tanaquil Bigelow was haughtily apologetic. “I don’t suppose this is the kind of place Mr. Fry is used to,” she observed to her husband, right across Morey, who was standing between them. “Still, we call it home.”

Morey made an appropriately polite remark. Actually, the place nearly turned his stomach. It was an enormous glaringly new mansion, bigger even than Morey’s former house, stuffed to bursting with bulging sofas and pianos and massive mahogany chairs and tri-D sets and bedrooms and drawing rooms and breakfast rooms and nurseries.

The nurseries were a shock to Morey; it had never occurred to him that the Bigelows had children. But they did and, though the ■children were only five and eight, they were still up, under the care of a brace of robot nursemaids, doggedly playing with their overstuffed animals and miniature trains.

“You don’t know what a comfort Tony and Dick are,” Tanaquil Bigelow told Morey. “They consume so much more than their rations. Walter says that every family ought to have at least two or three children to, you know. Help out. Walter’s so intelligent about these things, it’s a pleasure to hear him talk. Have you heard his poem, Morey? The one he calls The Twoness of—”

Morey hastily admitted that he had. He reconciled himself to a glum evening. The Bigelows had been eccentric but fun back at Uncle Piggotty’s. On their own ground, they seemed just as eccentric, but painfully dull.

They had a round of cocktails, and another, and then the Bigelows no longer seemed so dull. Dinner was ghastly, of course; Morey was nouveau-riche enough to be a snob about his relatively Spartan table. But he minded his manners and sampled, with grim concentration, each successive course of chunky protein and rich marinades. With the help of the endless succession of table wines and liqueurs, dinner ended without destroying his evening or his strained digestive system.

And afterward, they were a pleasant company in the Bigelows’ ornate drawing room. Tanaquil Bigelow, in consultation with the children, checked over their ration books and came up with the announcement that they would have a brief recital by a pair of robot dancers, followed by string music by a robot quartet. Morey prepared himself for the worst, but found before the dancers were through that he was enjoying himself. Strange lesson for Morey: When you didn’t have to watch them, the robot entertainers were fun!

“Good night, dears,” Tanaquil Bigelow said firmly to the children when the dancers were done. The boys rebelled, naturally, but they went. It was only a matter of minutes, though, before one of them was back, clutching at Morey’s sleeve with a pudgy hand.

Morey looked at the boy uneasily, having little experience with children. He said, “Uh-what is it, Tony?”

“Dick, you mean,” the boy said. “Gimme your autograph.” He poked an engraved pad and a vulgarly jeweled pencil at Morey.

Morey dazedly signed and the child ran off, Morey staring after him. Tanaquil Bigelow laughed and explained, “He saw your name in Porfirio’s column. Dick loves Porfirio, reads him every day. He’s such an intellectual kid, really. He’d always have his nose in a book if I didn’t keep after him to play with his trains and watch tri-D.”

“That was quite a nice write-up,” Walter Bigelow commented—a little enviously, Morey thought. “Bet you make Consumer of the Year. I wish,” he signed, “that we could get a little ahead on the quotas the way you did. But it just never seems to work out. We eat and play and consume like crazy, and somehow at the end of the month we’re always a little behind in something—everything keeps piling up—and then the Board sends us a warning, and they call me down and, first thing you know, I’ve got a couple of hundred added penalty points and we’re worse off than before.”

“Never you mind,” Tanaquil replied staunchly. “Consuming isn’t everything in life. You have your work.”

Bigelow nodded judiciously and offered Morey another drink. Another drink, however, was not what Morey needed. He was sitting in a rosy glow, less of alcohol than of sheer contentment with the world.

He said suddenly, “Listen.”

Bigelow looked up from his own drink. “Eh?”

“If I tell you something that’s a secret, will you keep it that way?”

Bigelow rumbled, “Why, I guess so, Morey.”

But his wife cut in sharply, “Certainly we will, Morey. Of course! What is it?” There was a gleam in her eye, Morey noticed. It puzzled him, but he decided to ignore it.

He said, “About that write-up. I—I’m not such a hot-shot consumer, really, you know. In fact—” All of a sudden, everyone’s eyes seemed to be on him. For a tortured moment, Morey wondered if he was doing the right thing. A secret that two people know is compromised, and a secret known to three people is no secret. Still—

“It’s like this,” he said firmly. “You remember what we were talking about at Uncle Piggotty’s that night? Well, when I went home I went down to the robot quarters, and I—”

He went on from there.

Tanaquil Bigelow said triumphantly, “I knew it!”

Walter Bigelow gave his wife a mild, reproving look. He declared soberly, “You’ve done a big thing, Morey. A mighty big thing. God willing, you’ve pronounced the death sentence on our society as we know it. Future generations will revere the name of Morey Fry.” He solemnly shook Morey’s hand.

Morey said dazedly, “I what?

Walter nodded. It was a valedictory. He turned to his wife. “Tanaquil, we’ll have to call an emergency meeting.”

“Of course, Walter,” she said devotedly.

“And Morey will have to be there. Yes, you’ll have to, Morey; no excuses. We want the Brotherhood to meet you. Right, Howland?”

Howland coughed uneasily. He nodded noncommittally and took another drink.

Morey demanded desperately, “What are you talking about? Howland, you tell me!”

Howland fiddled with his drink. “Well,” he said, “it’s like Tan was telling you that night. A few of us, well, politically mature persons have formed a little group. We—”

“Little group!” Tanaquil Bigelow said scornfully. “Howland, sometimes I wonder if you really catch the spirit of the thing at all! It’s everybody, Morey, everybody in the world. Why, there are eighteen of us right here in Old Town! There are scores more all over the world! I knew you were up to something like this, Morey. I told Walter so the morning after we met you. I said, ‘Walter, mark my words, that man Morey is up to something.’ But I must say,” she admitted worshipfully, “I didn’t know it would have the scope of what you’re proposing now! Imagine—a whole world of consumers, rising as one man, shouting the name of Morey Fry, fighting the Ration Board with the Board’s own weapon—the robots. What poetic justice!”

Bigelow nodded enthusiastically. “Call Uncle Piggotty’s, dear,” he ordered. “See if you can round up a quorum right now! Meanwhile, Morey and I are going belowstairs. Let’s go, Morey—let’s get the new world started!”

Morey sat there open-mouthed. He closed it with a snap. “Bigelow,” he whispered, “do you mean to say that you’re going to spread this idea around through some kind of subversive organization?”

“Subversive?” Bigelow repeated stiffly. “My dear man, all creative minds are subversive, whether they operate singly or in such a group as the Brotherhood of Freemen. I scarcely like—”

“Never mind what you like,” Morey insisted. “You’re going to call a meeting of this Brotherhood and you want me to tell them what I just told you. Is that right?”

“Well-yes.”

Morey got up. “I wish I could say it’s been nice, but it hasn’t. Good night!”

And he stormed out before they could stop him.

Out on the street, though, his resolution deserted him. He hailed a robot cab and ordered the driver to take him on the traditional time-killing ride through the park while he made up his mind.

The fact that he had left, of course, was not going to keep Bigelow from going through with his announced intention. Morey remembered, now, fragments of conversation from Bigelow and his wife at Uncle Piggotty’s, and cursed himself. They had, it was perfectly true, said and hinted enough about politics and purposes to put him on his guard. All that nonsense about twoness had diverted him from what should have been perfectly clear: They were subversives indeed.

He glanced at his watch. Late, but not too late; Cherry would still be at her parents’ home.

He leaned forward and gave the driver their address. It was like beginning the first of a hundred-shot series of injections: you know it’s going to cure you, but it hurts just the same.

Morey said manfully: “And that’s it, sir. I know I’ve been a fool. I’m willing to take the consequences.”

Old Elon rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. “Ura,” he said.

Cherry and her mother had long passed the point where they could say anything at all; they were seated side by side on a couch across the room, listening with expressions of strain and incredulity.

Elon said abruptly, “Excuse me. Phone call to make.” He left the room to make a brief call and returned. He said over his shoulder to his wife, “Coffee. We’ll need it. Got a problem here.”

Morey said, “Do you think—I mean what should I do?”

Elon shrugged, then, surprisingly, grinned. “What can you do?” he demanded cheerfully. “Done plenty already, I’d say. Drink some coffee. Call I made,” he explained, “was to Jim, my law clerk. He’ll be here in a minute. Get some dope from Jim, then we’ll know better.”

Cherry came over to Morey and sat beside him. All she said was, “Don’t worry,” but to Morey it conveyed all the meaning in the world. He returned the pressure of her hand with a feeling of deepest relief. Hell, he said to himself, why should I worry? Worst they can do to me is drop me a couple of grades and what’s so bad about that?

He grimaced involuntarily. He had remembered his own early struggles as a Class One and what was so bad about that.

The law clerk arrived, a smallish robot with a battered stainless-steel hide and dull coppery features. Elon took the robot aside for a terse conversation before he came back to Morey.

“As I thought,” he said in satisfaction. “No precedent. No laws prohibiting. Therefore no crime.”

“Thank heaven!” Morey said in ecstatic relief.

Elon shook his head. “They’ll probably give you a reconditioning and you can’t expect to keep your Grade Five. Probably call it antisocial behavior. Is, isn’t it?”

Dashed, Morey said, “Oh.” He frowned briefly, then looked up. “All right, Dad, if I’ve got it coming to me, I’ll take my medicine.”

“Way to talk,” Elon said approvingly. “Now go home. Get a good night’s sleep. First thing in the morning, go to the Ration Board. Tell ’em the whole story, beginning to end. They’ll be easy on you.” Elon hesitated. “Well, fairly easy,” he amended. “I hope.”

The condemned man ate a hearty breakfast.

He had to. That morning, as Morey awoke, he had the sick certainty that he was going to be consuming triple rations for a long, long time to come.

He kissed Cherry good-by and took the long ride to the Ration Board in silence. He even left Henry behind.

At the Board, he stammered at a series of receptionist robots and was finally brought into the presence of a mildly supercilious young man named Hachette.

“My name,” he started, “is Morey Fry. I—I’ve come to—talk over something I’ve been doing with—”

“Certainly, Mr. Fry,” said Hachette. “I’ll take you in to Mr. Newman right away.”

“Don’t you want to know what I did?” demanded Morey.

Hachette smiled. “What makes you think we don’t know?” he said, and left.

That was Surprise Number One.

Newman explained it. He grinned at Morey and ruefully shook his head. “All the time we get this,” he complained. “People just don’t take the trouble to learn anything about the world around them. Son,” he demanded, “what do you think a robot is?”

Morey said, “Huh?”

“I mean how do you think it operates? Do you think it’s just a kind of a man with a tin skin and wire nerves?”

“Why, no. It’s a machine, of course. It isn’t human.”

Newman beamed. “Fine!” he said. “It’s a machine. It hasn’t got flesh or blood or intestines—or a brain. Oh”—he held up a hand—“robots are smart enough. I don’t mean that. But an electronic thinking machine, Mr. Fry, takes about as much space as the house you’re living in. It has to. Robots don’t carry brains around with them; brains are too heavy and much too bulky.”

“Then how do they think?”

“With their brains, of course.”

“But you just said—”

“I said they didn’t carry them. Each robot is in constant radio communication with the Master Control on its TBR circuit—the ‘Talk Between Robots’ radio. Master Control gives the answer, the robot acts.”

“I see,” said Morey. “Well, that’s very interesting, but—”

“But you still don’t see,” said Newman. “Figure it out. If the robot gets information from Master Control, do you see that Master Control in return necessarily gets information from the robot?”

“Oh,” said Morey. Then, louder, “Oh! You mean that all my robots have been—” The words wouldn’t come.

Newman nodded in satisfaction. “Every bit of information of that sort comes to us as a matter of course. Why, Mr. Fry, if you hadn’t come in today, we would have been sending for you within a very short time.”

That was the second surprise. Morey bore up under it bravely. After all, it changed nothing, he reminded himself.

He said, “Well, be that as it may, sir, here I am. I came in of my own free will. I’ve been using my robots to consume my ration quotas—”

“Indeed you have,” said Newman.

“—and I’m willing to sign a statement to that effect any time you like. I don’t know what the penalty is, but I’ll take it. I’m guilty; I admit my guilt.”

Newman’s eyes were wide. “Guilty?” he repeated. “Penalty?”

Morey was startled. “Why, yes,” he said. “I’m not denying anything.”

“Penalties,” repeated Newman musingly. Then he began to laugh. He laughed, Morey thought, to considerable excess; Morey saw nothing he could laugh at, himself, in the situation. But the situation, Morey was forced to admit, was rapidly getting completely incomprehensible.

“Sorry,” said Newman at last, wiping his eyes, “but I couldn’t help it. Penalties! Well, Mr. Fry, let me set your mind at rest. I wouldn’t worry about the penalties if I were you. As soon as the reports began coming through on what you had done with your robots, we naturally assigned a special team to keep observing you, and we forwarded a report to the national headquarters. We made certain—ah—recommendations in it and—well, to make a long story short, the answers came back yesterday.

“Mr. Fry, the National Ration Board is delighted to know of your contribution toward improving our distribution problem. Pending a further study, a tentative program has been adopted for setting up consuming-robot units all over the country based on your scheme. Penalties? Mr. Fry, you’re a hero!”

A hero has responsibilities. Morey’s were quickly made clear to him. He was allowed time for a brief reassuring visit to Cherry, a triumphal tour of his old office, and then he was rushed off to Washington to be quizzed. He found the National Ration Board in a frenzy of work.

“The most important job we’ve ever done,” one of the high officers told him. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the last one we ever have! Yes, sir, we’re trying to put ourselves out of business for good and we don’t want a single thing to go wrong.”

“Anything I can do to help—” Morey began diffidently.

“You’ve done fine, Mr. Fry. Gave us just the push we’ve been needing. It was there all the time for us to see, but we were too close to the forest to see the trees, if you get what I mean. Look, I’m not much on rhetoric and this is the biggest step mankind has taken in centuries and I can’t put it into words. Let me show you what we’ve been doing.”

He and a delegation of other officials of the Ration Board and men whose names Morey had repeatedly seen in the newspapers took Morey on an inspection tour of the entire plant.

“It’s a closed cycle, you see,” he was told, as they looked over a chamber of industriously plodding consumer-robots working off a shipment of shoes. “Nothing is permanently lost. If you want a car, you get one of the newest and best. If not, your car gets driven by a robot until it’s ready to be turned in and a new one gets built for next year. We don’t lose the metals—they can be salvaged. All we lose is a little power and labor. And the Sun and the atom give us all the power we need, and the robots give us more labor than we can use. Same thing applies, of course, to all products.”

“But what’s in it for the robots?” Morey asked.

“I beg your pardon?” one of the biggest men in the country said uncomprehendingly.

Morey had a difficult moment. His analysis had conditioned him against waste and this decidedly was sheer destruction of goods, no matter how scientific the jargon might be.

“If the consumer is just using up things for the sake of using them up,” he said doggedly, realizing the danger he was inviting, “we could use wear-and-tear machines instead of robots. After all why waste them?”

They looked at each other worriedly.

“But that’s what you were doing,” one pointed out with a faint note of threat.

“Oh, no!” Morey quickly objected. “I built in satisfaction circuits —my training in design, you know. Adjustable circuits, of course.”

“Satisfaction circuits?” he was asked. “Adjustable?”

“Well, sure. If the robot gets no satisfaction out of using up things—”

“Don’t talk nonsense,” growled the Ration Board official. “Robots aren’t human. How do you make them feel satisfaction? And adjustable satisfaction at that!”

Morey explained. It was a highly technical explanation, involving the use of great sheets of paper and elaborate diagrams. But there were trained men in the group and they became even more excited than before.

“Beautiful!” one cried in scientific rapture. “Why, it takes care of every possible moral, legal and psychological argument!”

“What does?” the Ration Board official demanded. “How?”

“You tell him, Mr. Fry.”

Morey tried and couldn’t. But he could show how his principle operated. The Ration Board lab was turned over to him, complete with more assistants than he knew how to give orders to, and they built satisfaction circuits for a squad of robots working in a hat factory.

Then Morey gave his demonstration. The robots manufactured hats of all sorts. He adjusted the circuits at the end of the day and the robots began trying on the hats, squabbling over them, each coming away triumphantly with a huge and diverse selection. Their metallic features were incapable of showing pride or pleasure, but both were evident in the way they wore their hats, their fierce possessiveness… and their faster, neater, more intensive, more dedicated work to produce a still greater quantity of hats… which they also were allowed to own.

“You see?” an engineer exclaimed delightedly. “They can be adjusted to want hats, to wear them lovingly, to wear the hats to pieces. And not just for the sake of wearing them out—the hats are an incentive for them!”

“But how can we go on producing just hats and more hats?” the Ration Board man asked puzzledly. “Civilization does not live by hats alone.”

“That,” said Morey modestly, “is the beauty of it. Look.”

He set the adjustment of the satisfaction circuit as porter robots brought in skids of gloves. The hat-manufacturing robots fought over the gloves with the same mechanical passion as they had for hats.

“And that can apply to anything we—or the robots—produce,”

Morey added. “Everything from pins to yachts. But the point is that they get satisfaction from possession, and the craving can be regulated according to the glut in various industries, and the robots show their appreciation by working harder.” He hesitated. “That’s what I did for my servant-robots. It’s a feedback, you see. Satisfaction leads to more work—and better work—and that means more goods, which they can be made to want, which means incentive to work, and so on, all around.”

“Closed cycle,” whispered the Ration Board man in awe. “A real closed cycle this time!”

And so the inexorable laws of supply and demand were irrevocably repealed. No longer was mankind hampered by inadequate supply or drowned by overproduction. What mankind needed was there. What the race did not require passed into the insatiable—and adjustable-robot maw. Nothing was wasted.

For a pipeline has two ends.

Morey was thanked, complimented, rewarded, given a ticker-tape parade through the city, and put on a plane back home. By that time, the Ration Board had liquidated itself.

Cherry met him at the airport. They jabbered excitedly at each other all the way to the house.

In their own living room, they finished the kiss they had greeted each other with. At last Cherry broke away, laughing.

Morey said, “Did I tell you I’m through with Bradmoor? From now on I work for the Board as civilian consultant. And,” he added impressively, “starting right away, I’m a Class Eight!”

“My!” gasped Cherry, so worshipfully that Morey felt a twinge of conscience.

He said honestly, “Of course, if what they were saying in Washington is so, the classes aren’t going to mean much pretty soon. Still, it’s quite an honor.”

“It certainly is,” Cherry said staunchly. “Why, Dad’s only a Class Eight himself and he’s been a judge for I don’t know how many years.”

Morey pursed his lips. “We can’t all be fortunate,” he said generously. “Of course, the classes still will count for something—that is, a Class One will have so much to consume in a year, a Class Two will have a little less, and so on. But each person in each class will have robot help, you see, to do the actual consuming. The way it’s going to be, special facsimile robots will—”

Cherry flagged him down. “I know, dear. Each family gets a robot duplicate of every person in the family.”

“Oh,” said Morey, slightly annoyed. “How did you know?”

“Ours came yesterday,” she explained. “The man from the Board said we were the first in the area—because it was your idea, of course. They haven’t even been activated yet. I’ve still got them in the Green Room. Want to see them?”

“Sure,” said Morey buoyantly. He dashed ahead of Cherry to inspect the results of his own brainstorm. There they were, standing statue-still against the wall, waiting to be energized to begin their endless tasks.

“Yours is real pretty,” Morey said gallantly. “But—say, is that thing supposed to look like me?” He inspected the chromium face of the man-robot disapprovingly.

“Only roughly, the man said.” Cherry was right behind him. “Notice anything else?”

Morey leaned closer, inspecting the features of the facsimile robot at a close range. “Well, no,” he said. “It’s got a kind of a squint that I don’t like, but—Oh, you mean that!” he bent over to examine a smaller robot, half hidden between the other pair. It was less than two feet high, big-headed, pudgy-limbed, thick-bellied. In fact, Morey thought wonderingly, it looked almost like—



“My God!” Morey spun around, staring wide-eyed at his wife. “You mean—”

“I mean,” said Cherry, blushing slightly.

Morey reached out to grab her in his arms.

“Darling!” he cried. “Why didn’t you tell me?”




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